Friday, December 30, 2022

In Search Of The Unknown

So...huh. Looks like I do have another post or two left in me before 2023.

Holiday playdates have been going on this week...Wednesday, we had Maceo over and Lo and Behold, the kids did not want to play laser tag, sing karaoke, or show off their Minecraft creations. Nope, they wanted Dungeons & Dragons and nothing but. 

Not only that, but they're starting to get to the point they can sit and engage with the game for hours without needing 'brain breaks.' Kid got over to our house around 12:20 and after 15-20 minutes or so of the usual catch-up with buddy you haven't seen in weeks, they had butts at the table and ready to go. And stayed that way till 5pm. Could have continued, but we had to kick the kid out at 5 since we had plans to hear Beethoven's 9th at the Seattle Symphony in the evening. 

[it was magnificent, by the way]

However, the kids did NOT want to run with their beefy, mid-level (elven) assassins. Instead, they wanted to make brand new 1st level characters. Reason being: level restrictions. Knowing they were starting to reach the top end (well, being more than halfway there) and seeing the writing on the wall, they decided to move onto new characters rather than invest more time in the old ones. The new characters: an elven thief ("Donc"), a human ranger ("Luther von Dink"), and a human cleric ("Brother Dank").

[yes, Dink-Donk-Dank...there was some silliness involved, and that's fine. Always some jitters/nerves when starting out...we can always retcon and rename later if we want]

Luther had a rolled strength of 18/93, which makes him the second-strongest ranger to have graced our table (Diego had previously had a ranger with...natural!...18/00 strength that perished in Hommlet). Using my updated height/weight tables we determined he was 6'2", 313# , giving him roughly the same size and build as Drew Desjarlais of the New Orleans Saints (I pick Drew because he's from Ontario and most rangers should be modeled after Canadians). 

Donc is typical of elven adventurers in my campaigns: a lowdown scoundrel with a debased and incorrigible disposition. I don't get it, haven't these kids ever watched those LotR films?  I suppose Diego ran a Legolas clone in his early days, but...well whatever. Mace just likes roguish wastrels with pointy ears. 

Sofia refuses to play elves (half-elves are okay). She joined the game a little belatedly, jumping in with a new cleric to round out the party. Clerics aren't her usual shtick, but so long as her character can wield a flail (her preferred weapon) she's generally unbiased in what she plays. 

SO...yeah, new characters, so no Desert of Desolation reclamation project. Which is, you know, fine. It's not really ready anyway...and, as with my (similar) Ravenloft project may end up being for lower leveled characters than the 5th-9th range, more like 3rd+.

[what I'm actually doing is reworking the whole thing as a more open "sandbox" environment for exploration with various interconnected plots/factions, all laid over a map of southern Idaho...however, the dungeons/monsters get bigger/meaner/tougher the deeper one gets into the desert. Fewer purple worms in the west than in the east, for example]

New characters need a new adventure and I decided to run B1: In Search of the Unknown, an adventure that I haven't ever run "straight" (at least, not in recent memory). For my world, Quesqueton is located in the Cascade foothills, just outside of Issaquah, up the side of Tiger Mountain in what the internet tells me is "the Issaquah Alps" (I have never heard this term and I've hiked Tiger dozens of times over the years). The party was hipped to the location by a local thief ("Garbo," halfling) who was willing to sell them a map to the 'legendary stronghold.' Little did they realize this is just the local scam business, and all number of adventurers have picked the place over during the last couple-three decades.

Turned out to be a fun little romp. My players are pretty solid with regard to adventuring logistics...outfitting themselves with lanterns, oil, donkeys, saddlebags, rope, rations and water. Upon locating the entrance to the old fortress, their first priority was building a shelter for the animals and a base of operations for themselves. Initial scouting found old guard stations that...with modification...could act as a makeshift stable. Thus securing their pack animals, the delve proceeded.

It was soon apparent the the place had long been picked over by prior invaders. Various vermin-type monsters were found and dispatched (giant rats, a pair of primitive troglodytes), as well as humanoid looters (gnolls..."we hate these guys"). A small tribe of goblins were found to be squatting in the fortress barracks and negotiations were struck up with them and bloodshed avoided altogether. 

Lots of neat discoveries...B1 has a lot of "interactivity" within it, leaving aside monster encounters and plunder. The famous "pool room" accounted for quite a bit of fun, with the players using fish from the "fish pool" to test the waters of the various magical pools. Much harm was avoided in this way, though the cleric still managed to get himself magically silenced, prompting the adventurers to depart (no voice, no spells).

The treasure take wasn't bad for their initial excursion: in addition to a scroll of clerical spells, they recovered a bit more than 500 gold pieces worth of salvage, with some 'big ticket' items (a marble statue, a beautifully carved rosewood bedroom set) left behind and marked for later carry-out. Plans were made to return to town and hire mercenaries, using acquired loot, for the removal of these exceptionally heavy/bulky objects (the statue in the lounge has no weight but is described solely as a "life-sized" marble statue; the Venus de Milo is a bit larger than life-sized and weighs some 900kg. Based on some rough dimensions and the density of marble, the statue probably comes in somewhere between 1500 and 1800 pounds).

But, overall, it was a successful little venture. Three-ish hours of delving netted the characters a good amount of experience, and if they can somehow recover that statue, they should all level up (even the ranger!). Personally, I would have tried to harness the goblins as a work gang, but they'd still need some sort of cart to get the thing back to town (some seven miles distant on foot). An interesting quandary.

Anyway. Good fun. Not sure what 2023 is going to hold as far as gaming is concerned, but it's nice to see the kids are still interested in that old edition magic.  If I get another post off before year's end, it will probably be some sort of "review" or discussion on new resolutions. Time to make the kids some breakfast. 

Happy Friday, folks!
: )

Friday, December 23, 2022

Killing It Softly

All right...maybe a very SHORT blog post. 
; )

There is weirdness in the virtual (internet) air these days...anxiety over Dungeons & Dragons that I simply don't understand. Stuff about One D&D and the new OGL and the "death" of the game or the "death" of the OSR or...I don't know. Anxiety.

And I conclude this is just a cyclical thing, because Once Upon A Time, many years ago, I had similar anxieties. The Game Will Die. Go the dodo. And my children's children's children will never know the joy of kicking in a dungeon door and sticking their imaginary blade in some fairytale monstrosity.

Alexis used to give me a hard time for worrying about that kind of thing. 

Who would carry on the legacy of D&D when all the old idiots like me had passed from this planet? Who would be left to understand the "right" way to play D&D?

*sigh*  It seems like every few years I have to take stock of my own past idiocies. It's a constant process of refinement called "living an introspective life."

Cyclical. I was recently hipped to this old Raggi blog post from waaaay back in 2008...never read it at the time, and only heard about it through this video post of him reading the transcript.  However, even if I had read it back in 2008, I'm afraid much of it would have been over my head...just as it is clear from the comments that much of it was over LOTS of folks' heads. The problem is, he is conflating multiple issues into a single rant and thereby burying (or at least, confusing) the kernels of truth that he'd hit upon. 

It's taken me decades of self-work and re-wiring analysis to synthesize this kind of thing. Here's probably the best bit:
You're not playing a game pretending to navigate your playing piece (called "a character") through some story where you get to be the hero! You are using the rules to pretend to be someone and experience and react as that person would though a dangerous world. Nothing more, and nothing less. If you want to be the hero...then you get to try. To guarantee success is to defeat the entire purpose of role-playing.
[if you want to read the most pertinent bits of the post, rather than the entire screed, I'd suggest beginning your read AFTER the indented tangent]

And, you see, to me that IS fun...if by 'fun' one means an enjoyable pastime that one wants to continue pursuing for the pleasure of it. Despite his provocative title, Raggi doesn't "hate fun;" he hate's a particular brand of time-wasting that some folks (including he himself!) lazily assign the convenient label of "fun."  

I can grok that. I've been hitting the holiday goodies and holiday booze a little too hard lately myself (and my waistline bears witness to the fact). Tis the season, as they say. And while it's all well and good to hate one's lax discipline in January (and vow to take steps to rectify the back-sliding), it's important that we appreciate just why we have this period of time when we "let ourselves go:" we are enjoying the company of our fellow humans and sharing a bond of seasonal joy (and stress!) together.

Which is, of course, one of the great benefits of the Great Game of Dungeons & Dragons. It helps us connect with our fellow humans, sharing joys and excitements and stresses with them in a fashion that is UN-likely to leave (real) folks dead and bleeding on the ground.

Has crass commercialism killed the spirit of Christmas? I realize that sometimes it can feel like this. But what IS the "spirit of Christmas?" It's not like Jesus (the dude my fellow Christians and I celebrate) was born on December 25th...that was simply the day the Romans celebrated their winter solstice festival...the darkest day of the year and the mark of the return to growing light in the world. Folks wanting to listen to cheerful music, decorate their homes with lights, give gifts, and eat/drink special foods with loved ones this time of year should feel little guilt in their holiday enjoyment...whether they're believers in Christ and His message or not! If you're celebrating your shared humanity...and not robbing and murdering folks...then you're probably showing more "Christmas spirit" than MANY of us display for MOST of the year.

I celebrate Christmas in my own way...just as I play Dungeons & Dragons in my own way. I have adapted holiday traditions of my mother's family, my father's family, and my wife's family, as well as creating traditions of my own for my own family. My children will synthesize these traditions and add their own twists and tweaks...just as they will do with their D&D games. Just as their children will do, some day down the road.

Will the continued commodification of D&D and the iron grip of corporate greed destroy D&D? Are you kidding me?

Pick up an extra copy of your favorite rule system (print on demand is still available for many books). Teach the game to someone young and imaginative. Pass along the rules to them to explore on their own. Share your joy. Engage with your fellow humans in a deep and meaningful that is active rather than that of the passive consumer.

Doing this might assuage some of the anxiety. Maybe even cause it to dissipate entirely.

I (half-)joke that I'm an old man. "Old" is an extremely relative term. I'm not even 50 (that's next year), and my low impact, semi-healthful lifestyle has kept me at about the same level of fitness for a couple decades. Even so, I've been playing D&D for longer than many players have been ALIVE...that makes me a real geezer in relation to the gaming community.

Here's my "geezer wisdom" for my fellow gamers this holiday season. Worry less, play more. Play for the experience; play for the connections it makes with others. 

I'll talk at y'all in the New Year (or possibly, next week). Have a happy one, folks!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's not the snow...hasn't snowed in a couple days and Seattle didn't get more than 3-4 inches anyway. It's the temperature. 20 degrees right now (which is nothing compared to Montana, yes, I know) and the little snow received has been packed down into a sheet of ice covering the roads. Which in a hilly town like Seattle (city of Seven Hills...and upteen smaller ones) makes for not-too-safe driving.

Tuesday, I was out in it...had to go to Queen Anne in order to pick up a last-minute, hard-to-find Christmas gift for the boy. This was...extremely...rough, as it was the first day of the serious ice, and the snow was still falling. Somehow I made it there and back but it's not an experience I'd want to repeat, and when I finally pulled into the garage it was with a flat-as-a-pancake tire. Spent 4.5 hours at the dealership yesterday paying an exorbitant amount of money on four tires and a realignment. 

And that was with the temperature around 27ish. It's been dropping steadily since then.

Now, I'm prepping to go out in it again. Well, I say "prepping" but I'm really just drinking coffee and surfing the blogs while waiting for shops to open. 10am is the time things open and I've got a haircut, a vacuum repair shop, and one more (secret) shopping run to make. 

Ugh. It does look exceptionally cold out there, though. Gusty, too, Not really looking forward to stepping outside.

RE Gaming Topics

Turns out I might (MIGHT) have one(-ish) more gaming subjects to discuss before the end of the year.  Yeah, it's about D&D...all that sitting around the dealership yesterday led me down too many internet rabbit holes (and I had no laptop on which to type). 

Probably tomorrow, if I can find the time. Just let me think on it a bit.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Shutting Down For '22

Wow. Things just got real busy around here real fast.

I've been sick with a flu bug for the last week or so (did I already mention this? yeah, I did)...just have this lingering cough that is a killer for trying to get to sleep at night. *sigh*  Lots going on around here...probably working myself a little too much.

[doesn't help that every time I have a beer I suffer a bit of a setback. And yesterday's shellacking of the Seahawks at the hands of the 49ers was worth three...]

A week till Christmas and the tree's not even up yet. 

So, apologies to everyone but I'm going to have to shut it down for the year. Totally lame since this has been my lowest output of blog posts since 2018 and I was really hoping to at least hit triple digits this year. Unfortunately, far too many of my posts have simply been tiny missives like this or mini-rants...not really enough content for my taste.

But what can I say? I wasn't trying to putz out on folks. Fact is, I probably did more gaming this year than my B/X hay-days, pre-Paraguay. Both running AND playing. That's...well, that's good progress. If I haven't been writing as many theoretical essays, or posting the speculative rule modifications of yesteryear, you can blame it on the fact that I've been deep in the AD&D...and the game just doesn't need much change at all. It's a solid game (as I've written more than once) that simply needs to be respected and taken seriously to provide solid hours of enjoyment.

Ya basta. Enough of that noise. Folks can go "rules light" if they wish, and still get more-or-less the same result, so long as they put in the world building stuff (just means you end up doing more heavy lifting down the road). I'm not harping on that.

Instead, I'll just wish folks a festive holiday season and a happy New Year. 

See you all in 2023. Blessings and best wishes!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Idaho Deathlands

My plan to write more got derailed by ending up flat on my back with the flu the last three-four days. Just a bad week to be sick (and, yes, now it's hit other family members, including the wife and daughter) what with the in-laws in town and mi suegra's birthday to celebrate. Ah, well. Most of us...including me...are on the mend and the boy's iron constitution has once again proven to be immune to the soft depredations of the rest of us frails.

SO. What am I working on today. Sticking the Desert of Desolation into my campaign world. Specifically in Idaho, in the eastern half of the Snake River Valley, a.k.a the "Great Rift of Idaho." This was a tricky one; not only did I need to find an area of similar size in specifications (the I3-I5 series encompasses a mapped wilderness roughly 110 miles long by 60 miles wide), it had to be an area that could be 1) easily converted to desert, and 2) be bordered by mountainous foothills and broken lands of the type described in the modules. A great sandbox of death, in other words.

Building on my Micronauts-inspired, post-apocalyptic wasteland, the easiest way to get to where I wanted was to look at climate change projections and blow-up the human-made irrigation systems that allowed Magic Valley to transform from an uninhabitable wasteland it was as recently as the 20th century. Knock out the dams and infrastructure and Twin Falls dies in (probably) a cannibalistic apocalypse...especially when you factor in standard D&D monsters looking for sustenance. 

Fortunately (for me), there really aren't that many towns I need to raze /de-populate once you remove the "Magic Valley" issue. Gooding is pretty much the "last outpost" of humanity: 2020 census puts the population under 4,000 anyway, and my campaign generally cuts pop by a factor of seven to ten...well, when I'm not using the 1890 figures (my go-to default). As such, the Great Kingdom of Boise is really the only organized civilization west of the Desert...and it may be more "bandit kingdom" than anything else at this point. 

Well...maybe. Thing is, when doing pop. figures I'm generally looking at post-European settler / pre-railroad for determining what kind of populations my "D&D-tech-level" can support. Because despite the existence of magic, it's a tough ol' world for these fantasy colonists and this ain't no magical Renfair society. Magic-users (um...sorcerers? witches?) are generally feared and/or misunderstood and the "awe-inspiring" bit only holds until you've got a big enough mob of peasants with pitch-forks. Magic (and its counterpart, "high technology") is generally blamed for the current shambled state of 'the world that is;' peoples are trying to make their way without magic, rather than with it. 

What's the stress-level of people living near Hanford? Do you really want a wizard capable of summoning demons living inside your town? Even one claiming to be beneficent? Yeah, clean, nuclear power...totally cool with that, right?

So, yeah. No railroads. Lose the infrastructure it makes possible. Up the temperature a few degrees, add some heavy desertification (possibly helped along by a magic/tech catastrophe a couple centuries prior) and voila!...a setting for exploration and uncovering of ancient, treasure-filled ruins. 

Now, I did say that the Desert of Desolation wilderness is about 100-110 miles long that, even starting with Gooding, doesn't quite take us all the way to Idaho Falls, let alone I-15 and the cities along that route. But, that's actually fine as it helps explain one of the things left unexplained by Oasis of the White Palm, namely where the heck are the slavers of the Sandvoyagers Guild selling their kidnapped victims. Yes, yes, the module tells us that Thurnas Netmaster (leader of the slavers) "is working with Drow allies," from which we might infer that captives are being taken into the UnderDark...except that the presence of the Drow in the desert is patently ridiculous (how the hell did they get there? There are no subterranean tunnels or methods of reaching the UnderDark from the oasis. The slavers own excavation efforts have led them nowhere! And there are no ways for a dark elf to get across the burning sands with their special "Drow gear" intact...the two presented by the module are given nothing in the way of personality, background, or motivation and exist solely to fight and die on the blades of adventurers).  So, Drow. Which means we still need a buyer of slaves. And while the savage centauri are likely to use such captives as a foodsource, I'm thinking of placing a slave-owning/slave-trading nation/culture EAST of the desert...should the players decide to continue adventuring that direction.

After all, I've still got the Slaver series to re-work. And if one needed a place to put the volcano-situated city of Sunderham, well, you really need look no farther than the caldera of Big Southern Butte, some 90 miles east of Gooding and 47 miles west of Idaho Falls...a perfect location for the secret City of the Slave-Lords. 
; )
The adventure to follow....

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Something Different

December...well, the winter holiday season in general...always seems to be a tough one for blogging about RPGs. So many distractions: not just family/vacation/travel stuff, but just non-gaming stuff (like football season playoff races, holiday parties, school activities, surprise snow falls, etc.), This year, I've got the in-laws in town through the New Year and World Cup soccer to watch as well. 'Course it didn't help that my electricity was shut off for eight hours yesterday (that was planned power company work, not weather related)  Plenty of reasons not to sit down and blog.

Not that I don't want to. Woke up sometime around 4am this morning wanting to reel off a long-winded rant, mostly political in nature, and only tangentially tied to gaming. Instead, I spent a little time surfing the net, popping off on other folks' web sites and (eventually) going back to bed. After all, in addition to everything else, I do need sleep and four hours a night just isn't enough.

But here's the thing: much as I like writing my commentary on gaming (and occasional, practical ideas), I do have some writing projects I'm working on (and, no, not just Micronauts-related). And with limited opportunities for any type of 'sit-down-compose-my-thoughts-and-type,' I'm left with a tough decision: put in effort on things that may (or may not) bear fruit down the road OR bloggity-blog-blog and keep my readership entertained.

And you know I do love you guys.
; )

Soooo...I think I'm going to try something different, at least till the end of the year. I'm going to spend my spare moments working on projects and, when I have opportunities, I may just post excerpts...probably sans explanation. I realize that's kind of lame (no one likes a tease), but I really want to bang out some solid page counts on these ideas, see if they have "legs," and I just can't do that when I keep taking time off to blog about my research on the Great Rift of Idaho (for example) and how it pertains to my AD&D campaign.  Ya' know?

Yeah, yeah...not a very merry Christmas gift for readers, I'm afraid. Maybe it won't be so bad...or maybe I'll change my mind in a week (so wishy-washy!). But that's my plan for the next four weeks.

Later, gators. Much love to all of you.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Sand Zones, Star Scepters, And Pharoid's Legacy

SO...looking back over my old blog posts, I thought for sure I'd mentioned my love/fascination with Micronauts somewhere. Clearly this isn't the case. I suppose another dive into my personal history is necessary.

My earliest memories of Micronauts are, of course, the toys which for several years (I'm guessing 1977 to 1980 based on release dates) would inexplicably appear beneath my Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

I say "inexplicably" because (as far as I can remember) I never asked Santa (or my parents) for a Micronaut toy ever (at least, not till the very final series) and they were largely off my "kid radar;" I didn't see ads on TV for them (Saturday morning cartoons had not yet started marketing toys via serial tie-ins to children), my cousins/friends didn't own them (so far as I knew), nor did I ever see them in the stores (not that I frequented these regularly as a small child).  In later years, following the first batch's appearance on Christmas morning, my brother and I, now familiar with them, would sometimes pore over the Sears "wishbook," divvying up which Micronauts each of us would eventually own (as we did with ALL toys appearing in such catalogues)...but we never went so far as to actually LIST these, so far as I can recall.

Typical Micronaut
As a matter of fact, this led to tears (on my part) one Christmas morning when I received a Galactic Command Center and my brother received a Star Wars "landspeeder." While the Micronauts base was, by far, the more interesting and useful toy of the two gifts, all my young mind could process was the fact that my brother had received a Star Wars spaceship...and I had not. Where was my tie fighter? Where was my X-wing? Ah, well, I did get over it (even the same day) as children do, and while I have immense affection for all the Star Wars toys and action figures I received over the years of my childhood, the Micronauts, in retrospect, are far more interesting. There are many times I've thought that I'd wished I'd been a bit older when they'd been released so that I'd appreciated them more.

Then again, if I had been older would they have gotten so tightly woven into my subconscious imagination?

If you had asked me, as a child, which was my favorite Micronaut toy EVER, I would probably cite the last one received: centaurus, with his laser crossbow and glow-in-the-dark (removable!) brain. That's a figure I absolutely wanted and asked for...even saw it on a store toy rack before Christmas. And even today, it's still of the coolest action figures I remember owning. But two other figures stand out as being exceptionally loved and played with by Yours Truly. One was the (original) Acroyear, whose dagger I managed to retain for years, despite being of the age when one loses accessories right and left. The other was Pharoid and his Time Chamber which fascinated me endlessly. I took it with me to Christmas morning Mass (the only toy I ever treated with such reverence) and recall spending long hours just...fiddling...with the thing. Opening the tomb. Putting him in the tomb. Taking him out. Repeat. What was the story of this guy?

Such a weird toy.

[if I had to guess, the Egyptian motif probably had much to do with the fascination. The King Tut exhibit traveled to Seattle in 1978, and was another momentous experience in my formative years]

But regardless of childhood toys, it was the Marvel comics written by Bill Mantlo that really cemented my love of the Micronauts.  I am 99.9% sure I started reading Micronauts with issue #34 (circa 1981) in the middle of the whole "Enigma Force" storyline (guest starring Doctor Strange!). I mean, talk about starting with a bang: mysticism, magic, super science, alien species, drama, betrayal...and, of course, a murderous band of gunslinging adventurer-heroes...all in the desert environment ("Sand Zone") of Aegyptia, with its towering tomb monuments, said to house the giant ancestors of the Microversians.

In addition, there was also Pharoid and Acroyear, Force Commander and Baron Karza. 

Well, whatever. I collected more than a few of the comics during its 50-some issue runs, including several of the back issues...mostly ones that were Micronauts-specific rather than crossovers with the X-Men and such. See, I wanted stories steeped in the lore of the specific IP, strange as it was, weird as it was...and, often, quite "dark" in nature (considering the concept's origin as a children's toy line). Some of those body bank stories...brr, frighteningly gruesome. A lot of body horror in Ye Old Micronauts, even the first issue of "The New Voyages" (the last issue I ever purchased, summer of '84) when protagonist Commander Rann was forced to sever his own hand at the wrist

[and people wonder why I like to make player characters suffer...]

Okay, okay, enough with the nostalgia: why am I writing about the Micronauts? Well, the last few days I've been working with the Desert of Desolation module series (I3: Pharaoh, I4: Oasis of the White Palm, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek), seeing if there is some way, somehow, that I can twist them into something fun and functional for use in my own D&D campaign.  After all, they ARE just sitting there on my shelf, and I have fond memories of them as a child. Plus, they seem to be...more or the proper "level range" for my current batch of players.

Mm. I won't lie. They're all pretty bad. Or, maybe, "inconsistent" is the operative word. Take Martek, for example: it's got some pretty cool ideas in it. The Cursed Garden. The Abyss. The Moebius Tower. But it's a real stinker of an adventure...just really poorly designed and fatally flawed in several gross ways (the Skysea is AWESOME...but it also one of the easiest TPKs I've ever seen in a TSR module). As well, it is just...missing...stuff. Things to do. Monsters to fight. Places to a non-linear, nor railroad fashion. There are several "here's a place that the DM can long as it doesn't PCs too long from the story being told" instances. Why the heck not? Because we're in such a hurry to get onto the next story? 

[probably...considering the absolute dearth of requisite treasure levels in these modules]

SO...interesting concepts/ideas, poor-to-terrible execution...and as with my analysis of I6: Ravenloft, I find that a LOT of this adventure would work just fine for LOWER LEVEL CHARACTERS. There is really nothing "mid-level" about this adventure, save that all the Hit Dice of encounters have been pumped no good end.

FOR EXAMPLE: You don't need these unique "noble class" djinni and efreeti...a normal 10 HD efreet with max hit points would work JUST FINE for characters of levels 3 to 5 (remember also that the MM specifically says there are noble djinni with the same HD as an efreet). You don't need all these 4 hit dice dervishes and air lancers...just make them standard dervishes and nomads of the MM. And these new undead? They're just 8 and 10 hit dice NOTHINGS that cause fear and hit for 1d10 points of damage. Just what the hell are we playing at Hickman? It's not like the treasure count justifies a party of 6th - 8th level!

And remember that whole post about how much water you need to carry? In AD&D (the edition for which these adventures were...ostensibly...written) a cleric receives the create water spell at 1st level. By 5th level (the minimum suggested level for I3: Pharaoh), a cleric with a 16 WIS can cast five such spells per day, each casting conjuring 20 gallons of water per day...enough for some 25 humans. As with my review of I6: Ravenloft, it appears that Hickman's design assumptions are based on an earlier rule set (in OD&D, only a 6th level bishop can create water...and doing so leaves the character without the ability to neutralize poison, cure serious wounds, or cast protection from evil 10' radius). 

[side note: when I ran the Desert of Desolation series in my youth, the party tackled it withOUT a cleric, making the adventure considerably more difficult]


SO...the modules are crap, but they're crap with interesting bits. They're railroads and poorly stocked, but they've got a bunch of maps that ain't terrible. So when I think of how to fix take their interesting bits, and make them both playable and (if possible) more interesting...I keep coming back to the Micronauts and those images from my youth: Giant, upright sarcophagus-tombs. Ancient tech/magic lost centuries before. Techno-bedouins riding giant, domesticated "ostras" (think: axebeak) against horse-headed "centauri" (re-skinned centaurs) in tribal warfare. And somewhere, lost in the sands, a laboratory-temple housing the ghost of Baron Karza, waiting to be resurrected and resume his conqueror's ways.

Lots of ways to spin and 'skin this thing. And probably a lot of ways to do it in a way that doesn't require a large group of mid-level characters. A post-apocalyptic, desert wasteland concealing generational secrets buried beneath riddles, legends, and sand. Sand and blood and treasure. Dig it.

Who needs "Sambayan air lancers"
and "Thune dervishes?"

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Giving Thanks

A few minutes here. Not enough to write anything major.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Too many things to list, even if I had the time. It's been a lovely week. The in-laws in town, the kids home from school. the wife off work...and no need to travel anywhere. Just chilling at home. Some people prefer to lie on a beach to reduce stress...I prefer to lie on my couch.

I hope that whoever you are reading this, wherever you are reading this...I hope that you are able to find your own pile of blessings to be thankful for. Whatever they are...even if it's just a chance to put your feet up for a few minutes and watch a football (or futbol) game. Take a moment, take a few deep breaths, and be glad that you can.

There's always something. But my fervent wish, hope, and prayer is that whatever your stress and anxiety and fears are that haunt you this holiday season...whatever negativity might be lurking in your mind...I hope you find a way and means to reduce it. And by doing so, increase your enjoyment of life. 

That's it. Have a happy one.
: )

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

World Cup

Spending my early mornings watching World Cup (it's halftime right now). Sorry, folks. in-laws are flying in this evening and will be with us till the end of the year. Makes for busy evenings.

If you don't see anything here before Thursday, please know I'm wishing all my readers a happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your loved ones; and be safe. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

No Fun Friday

In my last post, Jacob72 commented (in part):
Logistics and encumbrance are proper fun killers for a lot of folks and I think that it is no accident that a lot of modern games and even OSR house rules lighten the burden of it by moving to a slots or item system. Even the Appendix N source material was vague about these aspects for Fafhrd & Gray Mouser or Cugel.
He also mentioned Prince of Nothing's somewhat recent blogpost on the subject. That's a fairly good one, but I'd also draw folks attention to his earlier post on the subject, especially the comments thread and some of my comments, which included nice pertinent links.

My own feelings on encumbrance were addressed back in 2020 (though I peg 2019 about the time those feelings "crystalized"), when I rather large letters:

You can NOT have a meaningful campaign if strict encumbrance records are not kept.

"Strict" is pretty harsh. I'm not calling for rigid, rigorous bean counting in play; as I wrote at the time:
In real life, we only bother with our nice, neat packing when we have ample time to prepare...say before setting off on a journey. However, what happens when you wake up late and need to stuff everything in your bag just in time to check out and make your plane connection? Stuff still "fits" (even those extra souvenirs and books you picked up while sight-seeing) it's just that your bags are over-stretched, bumpy, and straining at the zippers. Kept in a such a state, they will eventually wear out, burst their seams and fastenings, cause straps to break, etc. but for the short-term, they'll make it just fine. 

Treat your D&D encumbrance like that. Players can (and should be) exacting prior to game play (i.e. when preparing for their expedition). During play, don't sweat the small stuff too much. Packs and bags don't necessarily carry the exact weight listed. D&D encumbrance is a measure of bulk as well as weight. And different items made in different styles may encumber at different rates from "standard." Eyeball amounts. Have a rough idea of what each character can carry before movement decreases (that's part of your prep, O Great And Powerful DM). When the treasure carried (or goblin swords being looted for Lord knows why) start hitting...or coming the break points in your notes, inform the players and ask them if there's any vital equipment they're willing to discard prior to being reduced to a crawl. Make them sweat the situation, without making them pull out their calculator app at the table. 

Time enough for the exact count in between sessions...presumably when the characters have made it back to town.
That's how I've been handling encumbrance for at least three years now.

I'm sorry if it sounds like a "fun-killer" for folks...math is hard, amIright? But let me tell you how it works in practice:
  1. Despite being a geezer, I handle a lot of my DM prep on Ye Old Laptop (duh), mostly in Excel spreadsheets. Calculating monsters, treasures, experience, etc.? All handled quickly and easily, even without creating auto-formulae (which I have done in the past). Opening up a spreadsheet, listing weights for items, and hitting "sum" takes Very Little Time and is part of my prep/cleanup either pre- or post-session. I do it. I keep the players' character sheets, after all (keeping all the game material together in one place...i.e. with the convenient for staying organized). 
  2. I don't write on or notate players' character sheets (while I retain sheets between sessions, their sheets are still their own). But when the next session starts, IF there has been a change in encumbrance level or movement (based on my calculations) I inform the player of this at the start of the session...just in case he/she wants to make a note (they usually do). Regardless, I take any new movement rates into account in terms of exploration (random encounters, resource expenditure, etc.), and mobility limitations (as per PHB p.101-102...inability to run, hustle, etc.). 
  3. Once players are aware of their limitations based on encumbrance, they are more inclined to self-police themselves...cutting down on unnecessary equipment, choosing lighter weight armor, etc. They also start to get a good sense of when to leave a dungeon environment based on the bulging sacks of treasure that they are accumulating (contrariwise, empty sacks push them to explore further even as they eye their dwindling supplies of torches, etc.). I'm also quick to point out that a party can't travel faster than their slowest member, so they tend to HELP each other (both in terms of critiquing load outs AND sharing burdens between party members).
  4. Between dungeon delves, encumbrance management provides an important logistical consideration for and what to hire, what animals are needed to pull wagons, do we charter/purchase a ship, etc. As you might imagine, it's far more fun (and entertaining) for players to organize their own caravan than to look for work as "caravan guards." That is work for broke-ass (or low level) adventurers...ignominious, thankless work requiring little skill and paying a pittance; far better to be caravan masters than caravan servants.
In practice this kind of game play actually works to engage the players' attention. It's not just an exercise in accounting; rather, it helps put the players in their characters headspace. Which is to say, it forces the PCs to worry about the same sort of things that a "real life adventurer" would be worrying about.

Let me drill down right here: I haven't played in a 5E game since the thing was first in public Beta testing. But I've since read the PHB and have heard many anecdotal accounts of gameplay. It appears that 5E mechanics engage players by focusing them on their character: its background, its abilities, certain choices that come up as the character rises in level. It is very inward looking...pushing players into their own imagination, from whence they (in theory) bring forth something to display at the table: their proficiency at "playing in character," their effectiveness in using their character's traits tactically, etc.

AD&D doesn't do this: after all, once you've rolled your abilities and chosen your race and class, there's not much more "introspection" that's needed. All paladins of a given level have the same abilities. There aren't any backgrounds. If you go buy the "racial preference" chart, every elf have a similar attitude towards dwarves and halflings as an any other.

Instead of focusing on yourself, you are forced to focus on...and engage with...the game and (presumably) the adventure at hand. Did anyone buy a rope? How many torches should we take with us? How much oil? The fighter's wearing heavy armor and has her hands full with sword and is she going to see to fight? Can the wizard carry a (full) large sack while maintaining the light spell?

Dealing with the "nitty-gritty" puts the players in the minds of their makes them feel like they're IN the adventure, rather than watching some show or reading/telling some story ABOUT an adventurer.  "Who cares whether I'm the illegitimate son of a the hell are we going to get this chest of gold out of the oubliette without a block and tackle? And even if we do, how are we going to carry it out of the dungeon before some hobgoblin war party catches up to us?"

I prefer orienting the players in this fashion. It's not about being an anal retentive, number crunching rules-monger. What I have found is that without this "accountability," the game becomes less-and-less about experiencing adventure in a fantasy world. Which is (for me) the point of play. 

"How JB? How is it about 'experiencing fantasy adventure?' What you describe just sounds like an exercise in number juggling!"

*sigh* Okay. There's two parts to this for each side of the screen:

For the Players: they're NOT seeing a lot of number crunching. As I said, they get the end result calculated from me (weight, movement, etc.)...the same way they get the final tally of calculated experience from me. They can then make choices. "How much am I over? Fifteen pounds? Okay, what can I drop that'll get my load down to a more manageable level?" 

It's not Papers&Paychecks here. Look, do you allow your players to buy their own equipment? Choose their own spells and weapon proficiencies? And does that 'shut down' the game by over-burdening the players with choices? In my experience: no. Instead, it makes them think and consider things like an adventurer. It contributes to experiential play.

For the Dungeon Master: sure, you've got more work to do...but it's not that hard. Far harder to come up with a "new, awesome" adventure (the concept, the map, the keying, the stocking, etc.). It sounds more daunting than what it actually is.

And what is gained is enormous. Not only am I rewarded with players who tend to be more engaged and cooperative, accounting like this forces me to up my game as a DM and world builder. Spending the time to figure out the ins and outs of nomadic desert life from a historic perspective is fun research for me, but it also makes it easier to craft a richer, deeper campaign world that I find entertaining and worth engaging with...and I'd hope my enthusiasm (at the very least) bleeds through as extra energy during any game session I'm running.

Yes. Just from worrying how much water you need to carry and how much it weighs.

I don't doubt that some people shake their heads in disbelief at these ideas. I was much the same mindset, just a few short years ago, all but unwilling to even give this stuff a try. Suffice is to say: I'm a changed man. Having taken a few baby steps...and then a few more, and a few more...well, now I see that my prior thinking was in error. 

Maybe, once upon a time (in that fabled time before laptops and spreadsheets and the internet) such "minutia" was too much effort for the pleasure gained. Now, though, with the ease by which all this is accomplished? Not doing the work is just laziness. 

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Dreaming Dromedaries

So, let's talk camels for a minute. For fun.

Per I3: Pharaoh, the players are given the following equipment (in addition to their normal gear):

Enough water for the entire party to travel in the desert for seven days (10,000 gp weight).

Three large tents with poles, 10 feet x 20 feet in size, weighing 4,000 gp each. They require four turns (40 minutes) to set up or take down.

One Writ of Authority granting permission to be in the Desert of Desolation. It weighs 1 gp.

Ten bundles of firewood weighting 20 lbs. (200 gp weight) each. One bundle provides one night's fire.

One old map of a pyramid. It weighs 1 gp.


2,000 sp for expenses.

Two bags containing food. One bag contains one week's standard ration [sic] weighing 20 lbs. (200 gp weight) while the other contains two weeks' iron rations weighing 15 lbs. (150 gp weight). 

Their choice of either a camel or a draft horse.
Earlier in the "prologue" section, the adventure is explicit that the party's escort provides them with "enough water for their party, including their pack animals, to travel in the desert for seven days." Each player is thus allowed to choose either a camel (presumably a dromedary, given the Arabian setting of the adventures) or a draft horse. Here are the movement rates given for both animal choices:

Camel (under 400# load): 21"
Camel (under 500# load): 15"
Camel (under 600# load): 9"
Draft Horse (under 400# load): 18"
Draft Horse (under 650# load): 9"

Per the adventure module, a character with a movement rate of 12" can cross one hex per two hours, and all movement should be adjusted accordingly (for example, a character with 6" movement takes four hours to cross one hex). Each hex is two miles across, so: one mile per hour at standard, unburdened (12") walking rate...with ten hours being listed as the normal limit of walking, that's 10 miles (5 hexes) per day.

This is the same rate given for Very Rugged terrain in the DMG (page 58), at least for a "movement afoot." It doesn't however, jibe with the mounted movement rates...but we'll get to that in a sec. Because the first question is:


Let's start with water: the most important factor in desert survival. How much water does a human need to survive? Well, Ye Old Internets tell me that 3L of water per person per day is pretty much standard for desert survival. Since the party is being supplied with 7 days worth, that means 21L per person, weighing 21kg...about 46 pounds

Of course, horses need water, too: about 5 to 10 gallons per day. Since it's desert, and the horse is working, we could go with TEN, but let's just take the average (7.5). That's a bit more than 28L, so for a week's worth you're talking 199kg worth...nearly 439#. You're going to force the horse to carry almost 500 pounds of water, plus an armored rider, plus food?


You know how much water a camel needs to carry for a week? Zero. Camels can survive up to 15 days without water. Assuming the camels were "gassed" up ahead of time, a seven day stretch is no issue for your standard dromedary. 

And how fast are they? Well, Arabian "baggage camels" are capable of carrying 200kg of weight up to 40 miles per day...and I assume this over desert, as that's the terrain for which they've been adapted. 

Horses hooves, meanwhile, are not suitable for desert sands AT ALL and will be slower then camels regardless of load and hydration; stumbling and leg-breaking is a major consideration if trying to push a horse for "speed" in terrain conditions like that posed by the Desert of Desolation.

SO...dromedary only. 440# of load weight (including rider), 20 hexes per day. Besides our 50# of water (and a hope and a prayer that the party can find an oasis area within 7-10 days), let's look at that OTHER gear we're carrying...we'll consider a party of SEVEN characters:

Food for marching soldiers is 3# per day. Until further notice, that's our "iron ration" weight. This, of course, matches the 30 coin weight given for iron rations in the DMG (p.225) if one assumes this is a daily amount. SO for each character, two weeks of iron rations = 42#...a little more than the 15 estimated in the adventure. Let's forget the "standard" rations completely.

Food for camels: it took me a while to find this, but it appears that a camel can "thrive" on just 5kg (11#) of dry feed per day. Assuming ten days (about the longest a waterless dromedary can travel while maintaining work level), that means 110# of feed. 

Tents are tougher. My internet tells me that a traditional Moroccan camping tent (camel and goat hair) of the dimensions listed will accommodate 17-19 people...which sounds quite large for a party of six to eight PCs. Until you realize that you also have to shelter the camels, especially during a sudden sandstorm. Maybe two would be enough (men's and women's). 40# each, however, sounds extremely optimistic. An ultralight, modern tent of the same dimensions has a carry weight of 106#. Can we just say 110# for the sake of simplicity? Sure, let's do that.

[***EDIT: Faoladh just pointed out (in the comments) that the original text listed tent weight at 400#, not 40#. That makes a SUBSTANTIAL difference to the calculations below and (if accurate) will limit the party to WALKING (rather than riding) until they can purchase/steal additional camels***]

Firewood is a bit easier. While rate of burn really depends on type and density of wood (and is generally measured in length), this web site gives some simple numbers that are effective: a "bundle" of prepared firewood weighs about 20-27#, will burn for an hour, and should be enough to cook a fast, easy meal (probably the only type that can be cooked on the hardtack/field rations PCs are carrying). I can roll with that, rather than make the PCs collect and dry camel dung.

Finally: 2000 silver pieces for each PC? Ignoring for the moment that "standard" D&D would account this as 200# weight, requiring several large sacks to load (each!)...ignoring that for a second, why would the local ruler would send good silver out into a cursed, magical desert on a probably suicide run? Just what are the characters supposed to buy with this expense money?

Well, anyway...when researching the medieval Middle East for my Five Ancient Kingdoms game, I did some research on the ancient coinage of the region. The silver dihram weighed 2.975g, giving about 150 dihrams to the pound. 2000 dihrams would thus weigh only 13.3#...far more reasonable (though still wondering why His Majesty would want to send silver out into the desert sands on camelback). 

And speaking of camels: 600 Greek drachma seems to have been about the right price for a camel "back in the day." The drachma was larger than the dihram (4.5g of silver), giving the replacement price of a dromedary something in the neighborhood of 908 dihram. Giving each PC enough money to buy two replacement mounts? Still seems overly about 500 silver per character (3,500 total for a party of seven), which is just a bit more than a three pound bag each. Keep those camels safe! Your lives depend on it!


322# of water + 294# of rations + 770# of feed + 220# of tents + 200# of firewood + 23# of silver = 1829# of gear.

Divided by seven camels = an average load of 261#. Each camel would thus be able to carry approximately 178# of additional weight (which should include 6#-8# worth of saddle and tack). Not much wiggle room there, especially if the party includes a lot of Big Boys (my height/weight tables are based on character species and character strength...fighters with exceptional strength are heavy). 

This is the logistics game which, in a forbidding desert wilderness, is a game of survival...even without factoring in dust diggers and bandits and purple worms. Figuring out how to balance the load/gear between party members is important...but FORTUNATELY with an updated movement rate (20 hexes instead of 6-7!) the party should be able to reach an oasis or two within four or five days, depending on how much time they spend exploring various adventure sites along the way. And if they're SMART they'll pick up extra dromedaries from the first camel merchant they come across, extending their range and ability to carry treasure/spoils.

But no horses please. And I really, really don't know what to think of the Symbayan "air lancers" and their pegasi. 

"Ship of the Desert?" Yeah. Absolutely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Truth To Power

Earlier this evening, I was doing dishes/cleaning the kitchen while waiting to take the boy to basketball practice, and I told him about today's dissection of the Desert of Desolations series, including such things as Hickman's manifesto and the way-too-low treasure count of I4: Oasis of the White Palm.

[sorry...I just got momentarily distracted. As I type this I'm sitting in a neighborhood bar, having a beer, and there is what...what I assume of those Fast/Furious films on the screen. I assume, because I've never watched a single minute of a single film till now (I just recognize the actors). The sound is off...all I see are visuals. I can already tell (without sound) that: the acting is terrible. The cinematography is terrible. The writing must be nonsensical. Someone's house blew up...from a small package on the porch. Diesel is trying to look "shaken;" perhaps with sound there would be "dramatic music" but without, he just just looks confused and kind of sad. Mmm]

ANYway...I was telling him about I5: Lost Tomb of Martek and the substantial lack of treasure, including the whole each-PC-gets-three-items-from-the-vaults thing at the end as a reward as well as the whole all-treasure-is-magicked-to-stay-here-and-cannot-be-removed-without-Martek's-permission thing.

"Why couldn't we just kill Martek? Wouldn't that allow us to take all the treasure?"

You know, the thought had honestly never occurred to me.

You CAN'T kill Martek...not only does the module not give the literally provides no stats for the character. And this is, frankly, amazing considering all the NPCs that have been statted out in this series (sometimes multiple times, with regard to I4). But, of course, it makes sense: the player characters are supposed to be HEROIC GOOD GUYS that are SAVING THE WORLD from an evil, giant (noble) efreeti. You are supposed to watch as Martek, etc. does battle with the thing and destroys it. 

Which is, in the end, the final insult. The "heroism" of your characters matters not one shit in the scheme of things...check out this ending (after the PCs watch from afar Martek's victory over the Big Bad):
Martek's voice comes to you again: "The desert is returned to its people, the Efreeti is no more. One final gift I give to you. Those people that cast you into this desert will no longer remember you. You are once again free to travel the face of the world as you want. All to whom you tell this tale will believe it to be but a fable. Only you shall know the truth of what you have seen."
Fuck. You. Martek. AND Hickman. Seriously. You BOTH suck.

What a rook.

Okay, tomorrow: dromedaries.

Good picture; shitty adventure


The last couple days I've been going through the old TSR modules I3: Pharaoh, I4: Oasis of the White Palm, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek. Pharaoh was Laura and Tracy Hickman's first (self-published) adventure module prior to their being hired on at TSR...along with Rahasia, it was on the strength of this module that the couple were acquired. I've owned the TSR version of Pharaoh...and the its sequel titles...for decades. I first ran I4 for several cousins at a Christmas gathering in Port Angeles, circa 1986 or '87. I ran the entire trilogy for my brother and his friends circa '88 or '89.

I don't think I've looked at them since. And it shows as, in more than a decade of writing this blog, I've mentioned them only a couple times...and then only briefly. 

[oh, what's all this about then? Aren't I supposed to be continuing my prior post about "adventures?" Yeah, I am. Is this a sign that I'm procrastinating? Probably. Still figuring out how I want to start and whether or not it needs to be a two-parter. Patience, folks! I'll get to it!]

So why am I looking for them now? Well, in considering fitting the entirety of the War of the Lance campaign (a campaign played out on a rather small continent) into my little corner of fantasy reality, I started thinking about the Hickman's other noteworthy creation (not Ravenloft): the Desert of Desolation trilogy. After all, the desert was a magical, cursed big is it that it couldn't be laid over a corner of my world?  

Welp, it turns out...not very big at all. The area it encompasses is about 90 miles across its longest axis and 50 miles the other way. It's too much area to wedge in south of the Palouse (where I would have liked to have it), but it would be pretty easy to throw in that southeast corner of Oregon.  Just means I have to actually develop Oregon, a world building exercise I'm NOT extremely enthused about.

But WHY Desolation? Well, it's in that low/mid-range level of adventures. My players are in that range. And they were pre-Dragonlance/story garbage, so they should, okay? And they're well-written/laid out (i.e. nice and clear for reading) so prep is minimal. And I do have fond memories of would my memories hold up upon analysis with my old, veteran (geezer) eyes.

How indeed.

I3: Pharaoh is "designed for a party of six to eight players of the 5th to 7th levels of experience." I4: Oasis of the White Palm is written for characters of level 6th to 8th. I5: Lost Tomb of Martek is written for levels 7th to 9th. Reading this we can infer that a party of the proper number should expect to gain a level of experience upon completion of each portion of the trilogy (or, at least, after finishing the first two portions).

SO...a party of the maximum size (eight) should EXPECT to receive enough x.p. to level them from 5th to 6th level after I3 and from 6th to 7th after I4. Everyone groks this, right? A 5th level fighter needs 17,000 experience points to rise to 6th level, but I think it's okay peg this at 15.5, considering almost all fighters should receive a 10% bonus, given the ability score guidelines in the PHB. So, 15.5 x 8 = 124K. Now, for me, I'd probably want that entire amount (124,000) available in potential treasure found, especially in a trap/trick-heavy dungeon like Pharaoh, but I'd be satisfied with 60%-70% considering monster encounters and the possibility of selling unwanted magic items (yes, there is such a thing in AD&D). So, let's call it 74K - 86K worth of treasure at minimum.

A quest-giving ghost isn't
bad...but what if the cleric turns it?
How much does Pharaoh offer? 72,335 worth (if one counts the Star of Mo-Pelar as a gem of seeing). And that's pretty close to right! Especially when one understands the Hickman's presume goody-good adventurers who will most likely sell that libram of ineffable damnation for 40,000 rather than retaining (and using) it for 8,000. 104,000 x.p.? Not bad. And while the distribution isn't great (just under 33% of numbered encounters have treasure)'s OKAY (B/X distribution is one-to-three, but I prefer my AD&D adventures to have more of a 40-50% ratio). Yes, the Hickmans had some design chops, back in the day.

Oasis of the White Palm, unfortunately, is not quite as good. A group of eight 6th level PCs of the fighter variety would need 255K (including 10% bonus) to achieve 7th level...the minimum suggested for the final part of the trilogy. I4 (credited to Tracy Hickman and Philip Meyers) provides only a bit more than 62,000 (62,519, to be exact), of which barely more than 35K is monetary treasure. 

A couple quick caveats: there is MORE treasure than that in the adventure, but acquiring it would require the PCs to rob/kill the many good-aligned NPCs that they are supposed to be aiding (I don't think that's the authors' intention!). The players are working for a Sheik Kassim Arslan, who does offer "the wealth of my tent" in exchange for the PCs' help which means, taken literally, that he could dig up another 17,250 worth of treasure experience (16,250 x.p. worth is actual monetary treasure). BUT...would the leader of his tribe REALLY give up a decanter of endless water (considering they're a band of desert nomads!)? Would he bankrupt his clan out of gratitude? Um...

Even so, that's under 80K in treasure experience. Even if we gave 'em that 60% leeway you're only about halfway to where you need to be (you'd want over 152,000). This is TERRIBLE...especially considering the overall quality of the module (in comparison to other modules of the time) and the attention displayed in I3. Quite possibly Oasis was rolled out with less play-testing (I3 had been developed over several years prior to its TSR publication in 1982; I4 was published in 1983).

Anyway, it IS possible to get the treasure count higher: by selling all the crap magic items that are present throughout the adventure. Four maces +1. Chainmail +2, plate +1. A scimitar +1, shield +2, sword +2. 6 arrows +1 and a potion of gaseous form. And...hoo boy!...more cursed magic items than I've EVER seen in a single adventure; here's the full list:

Potion of poison, incense of obsession (x2!), phylactery of monstrous attention, periapt of foul rotting, necklace of strangulation, helmet of opposite alignment, and the skull of cargath (an evil artifact that injures non-evil clerics if used). Of course, there's also a libram of gainful conjuration that only functions for neutral magic-users and drive NON-magic-users insane. 

I mean, it's really notable just how shitty the treasure is in this adventure. 20,000 g.p. worth of the monetary treasure comes from a pair of gemstone eyes in a statue that will PROBABLY BE DESTROYED by the PCs as the statue summons a relentless hoard of monsters so long as the eyes are functioning, and they may be destroyed far more swiftly than pried out (resulting in the total treasure "take" to be reduced substantially). Likewise, two of the major opponents in the adventure are DROW (in the desert! In the freaking desert!!) armed with all the usual Drow goodies (magic weapons, armor, cloaks, boots, etc.) ALL of which dissolve in sunlight (and such is stated in the module text). Did I mention this adventure takes place in a DESERT?

*sigh* Now I feel bad for pumping the tires on this module.  I'm going to blame the absence of Laura from the design process, but...poorly done, Oasis. Poorly done.

Lastly, we come to I5: Lost Tomb of Martek (credited solely to Tracy Raye Hickman). Assuming, somehow, we get the character to the minimum suggested level (7th) to tackle this, will they find the adventure "rewarding?" How does 127,000 experience points worth of potential treasure sound? To me, it sounds like "not much" for a party of eight 7th level characters. Considering a fighter is looking for 55,000 x.p. to advance (and an 8th level character would be looking for 125K!!!) that's a pretty small dent in the overall pie needed to level up.

"But JB! They don't NEED to level up at the end of this epic adventure do they?" No, I suppose not. But 80+ numbered encounters (in I5 alone)? How many sessions to navigate this thing? How many months spent playing out the entirety of this trilogy? Still: here's the part that REALLY chaps my hide:

There are only eight encounter areas in the entire adventure module that contain treasure. That's less than 1-in-10.  That SUCKS.

And really only SIX encounter areas...because at the end of the adventure, after you've gone through all the time, space, distance distortion levels and fought upteen monsters (many the same-same types of monsters) and halve faced untold frustrations with the crazy tricks/traps...after all THAT you get to Martek's dimensionally displaced tomb and see his treasure halls (three different chambers) with wealth so vast that the thieves that beat you there have LITERALLY DIED OF HEART ATTACKS FROM GLIMPSING THE TREASURE and you (DM) get the following instructions from the module:
Everything in the citadel. including all treasure, cannot be taken out of the citadel without Martek's permission. All of Martek's treasure has been magically enchanted so that it cannot be removed from this citadel. Only Martek can remove that enchantment, so unless he says it can go, it stays.
So, guess what: the PCs don't get to cart off all the treasure. IF they raise Martek from the dead (the goal of the adventure) he thanks the PCs and allows each to select THREE items from the hoard of items available. That 127K figure I came to? That's from assuming you have an average (surviving) party size of six and are selecting the 18 most profitable (in terms of x.p.) items from the hoard.

Still, it would be unfair not to point that many of these items are rare, "big ticket" types, easily worth three to five times their value on the open market: a lot of magical books (including a book of infinite spells), a dancing sword, a nine lives stealer, a shield +5. Selling those items (instead of retaining them) would make for a fairly profitable haul...AND keep the party's inventory of enchanted items manageable.

[for what it's worth, Lost Tomb of Martek is also mercifully devoid of cursed magic items]

When it comes to AD&D, selling magic items is both valid and necessary with regard to the game economy. It doesn't mean that there are "magic shops" in your game world (*barf*)...generally, the DM simply hand waves the sale and the item vanishes from play, replaced with a pile of gold (and x.p.). You can make it a bigger deal, forcing players to find buyers. etc. (I've done this at times), but then you risk players trying to steal items back or knock-over the dude who has the money for such a purchase...which short-circuits the game economy (not the game world economy, but the way the mechanics of the game interacts with each other). 

Still, finding buyers of 20K or 40K items in the middle of the desert (much less willing to buy cursed items) is a bit of a stretch for the verisimilitude of one's campaign.

[as an aside, I'll note that Anthony Huso, in his adventure design, uses the cash value of magic items when doing his spreadsheets for treasure as opposed to x.p. value (which I generally do). This is probably the better procedure for DMs whose players are likely to dig every piece out of all the nooks and crannies, or who play regular, looong sessions. For an intermittent campaign, or one where players routinely miss half of what's available, using the x.p. value for treasure counts seems to work slightly better]

Of course, Hickman is not overly concerned with verisimilitude. He clearly stated his design priorities long before joining TSR with his wife, endeavoring to meet four objectives:
  1. a player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing
  2. an intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself
  3. dungeons with some sort of architectural sense, AND
  4. an attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time
That's really the whole "Hickman Revolution" in a nutshell, isn't it? Less attention paid to the mechanics of D&D (like treasure acquisition), instead looking to meeting "story goals." Elaborate plots and story arcs to be played out (with hard rails coded in to prohibit deviation). Expansive, isometric dungeon maps. And assumptions of "heroic goodness" from the players in a battle against evil.

[ha! Just realized Oasis of the White Palm, much like DL2: Dragons of Flame, has one of those "dying bystander" info-dump encounters where the NPC dies, no matter how much healing PCs might apply. See GusL's post for an echo of my opinions on this tactic]

Okay...that's long enough for now; have to run some errands before the kids get out of school (Wednesday's their short day). I have a couple more things to say about the Desert of Desolation series...especially with regard to dromedaries and the logistics of desert travel...but that's going to have to wait for a later post. Maybe tomorrow. When I try to tie this whole thing into the "better adventure design" conversation.
; )

Later, Gators.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

That's A Lot Of Germans

6:30am and the Tampa Bay Bucs are about to kick-off to the Seattle Seahawks in Munich, Germany. I woke up before my alarm, round about 6:10. The rest of my family is asleep (even the dog, next to me on the couch)...we were up till midnight or so last night.

Today's my birthday, though, and they left me a couple gifts and decorations to greet me. Very kind.

[the Bucs go three-and-out on their first possession. Punt down to the 25]

They did NOT, however, make me coffee. I'm going to have to do that. Might even use mix in a little of the caffeinated stuff.

[Seahawks get a first down to DK Metcalf, then get a delay of game penalty and take a big sack on 3rd and 10. Another punt and the Bucs are in great field position]

Later this morning (around 10), I'll be going to my son's soccer game. My mom's making dinner for my birthday...that's at 5:30. In between, I'll be finding some time to take a long siesta, probably with the dog (she sleeps a lot), and play some games with the kids while my wife makes my annual pineapple upside-down cake.

[Bucs get their first first down on a pas to Mike Evans, then try a 52 yard field goal after failing to convert 3rd down. It misses; 'Hawks get the ball back and Geno goes back to work]

Lot of Germans at this game. Well, a lot of people. A pretty good portion seem to be wearing Seahawks gear (though about a third are just wearing random team jerseys...supporting their favorites I presume). Seems pretty loud no matter who's on the field.

[Seahawks move the ball well, then a stupid (unnecessary) penalty on Damien Lewis makes it 3rd and 24. Geno gets back 15, but the Seahawks still punt down to the 7. Bucs start moving the ball by going to the ground game, hoping to set up Brady's play-action. Seahawks making Leonard Fournette look better than he is...shades of rhe first couple-three Seahawks games this season]

End of the 1st quarter. Bucs are marching, having just crossed the 50. The beagles's gotten up a couple times, but then keeps going back to sleep. Sky's getting light, but no sun yet. And Amazon has some sort of advertisement with a yeti at a party? What the hell is that and what does it have to do with Amazon?

All right. I'm going to go.  Time to make coffee. Have a happy Sunday, everyone!

[Julio Jones catches a short pass over the middle on 3rd and 10 and turns it into a 31 yard touchdown reception; appears to have been a busted coverage from the rookie corner, Bryant. We'll see if the Seahawks can answer back. Hopefully. It's my birthday after all!]

; )