Thursday, December 14, 2023

Shrine Of The Demon Goddess

SO...last Wednesday I wrote about my tournament scenarios for the Cauldron convention, promising (more-or-less) that I'd release my con notes for the adventures, including the new scenario, Shrine of the Demon Goddess. Unfortunately, events conspired to make me late in delivering on that promise. 

Don't they always?

Well, better late than never. Here are the downloads:

It's been a while since I've uploaded anything to MediaFire...please let me know if there are problems with the links.  The Forbidden City PDF contains all my tournament notes, including the notes for the first two scenarios; you will need an actual copy of I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City to make much sense of those (this would be the first five pages of the PDF).

Shrine of the Demon Goddess beings on page 5. Despite being three levels deep, it is only 27 encounters in is designed for a short excursion (suitable for a four-hour tournament time slot). It IS possible for a group, given four hours of play time to dig out at least TWO of the substantial "pay drops" (I know...I've seen it in testing) but clearing the whole dungeon in such a time frame would be pretty close to impossible...give it a session for each level if you want to run it as a "standard adventure."

As usual, feel free to hit me up with any questions and/or comments.

OH...just by the way, I'll throw in a PDF of the pre-gens I brought to the tournament. Those who have a copy of I1 will recognize these as the 20 pre-generated characters provided in the back of the adventure module, though some have been modified to better work with the level of the scenarios given here:

: )

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Why AD&D For Fantasy Adventure Gaming

Over at the "Classic Adventure Gaming" discord, there is a channel/thread with the subject title of this blog post.  The originator of the conversation had several questions they wanted addressed, including:
  • Why is it the Fantasy Adventure Gaming style prefers AD&D to other "old school" versions of the game? 
  • Is running a B/X game in the Adventure Gaming style possible? 
  • Is the Advanced Fantasy of OSE a reasonable middle ground? 
  • Is running a game RAW an element of Adventure Gaming? 
  • Any advice on how to sell AD&D to your players who like B/X for the simplicity?
This was posed back in November (when I was deep in the heart of Mexico), or I would have weighed in (duh). As is, most of what I would have said was rather sufficiently answered (and probably more succinctly and elegantly) than anything I would have written anyway.

And, yet, the subject continues to come up, in various shapes and forms: here was a comment recently posed on a different blog:
"...what’s the beef people have with OSE? It’s a retelling of BX using modern layout and publishing tools."
[this with regard to a criticism of OSE: Advanced being less-than-wonderful as a system for high level game play]

Of course, here at the B/X Blackrazor blog, I made my "reputation" (such as it is) in part by propping up the B/X system and extolling its virtues, long before there even was such a thing as "OSE" (close to ten years before, seeing as I started blogging circa 2009). So, I think it's safe to say I know some stuff about B/X play...the good and the bad. I think, if required, I could defend the system pretty well...the Basic edition of the game does have virtues, not the least of which include its clarity, accessibility, compactness, and simplicity. 

These are EXCELLENT things...for learning how to play D&D.

I now run AD&D exclusively (when I run games) even for new (i.e. "never have I experienced D&D") players. Not because it is clear, accessible, compact, or simple...first edition AD&D is NONE of those things. But none of those things matter to ME, because I already know how to play and (more importantly) how to RUN D&D. I know how to be a Dungeon Master. Can I be a better one? can always get better at their craft. Experience, practice, self-evaluation/reflection, research...all these things go into honing one's skills (not just running and managing players, but building worlds and scenarios and running campaigns). It is an on-going process of refinement. If I am judged a "better DM" than others (I won't make that claim myself), it is ONLY because I've been doing it longer. There are PLENTY of DMs out there that have been doing it longer than me, who are smarter than me, who have been more consistent than me. But I know that I am competent...and I think that most people should be able to obtain a solid degree of competence with a few decades of practice; I am not unique in this regard.

SO...part of being a competent DM is knowing how to run the game at table. And running the game at table OFTEN involves picking up the slack for players. It is not imperative for players to know all the rules of the system (though the best players will have a high degree of knowledge/mastery when it comes to game mechanics). However, it IS imperative...heck, essential...that the DM has a good grasp of the game concepts and how they function. Which is one of the reasons the original B/X (Moldvay/Cook/Marsh) edition of D&D is so darn provides ALL THE TOOLS NEEDED for a beginning Dungeon Master to 'learn the ropes:' clarity, accessibility, compactness, and simplicity. You have a Basic book of 64 pages (with plenty of examples) describing the most elementary concepts of a very complex game, and then an Expert book of 64 pages (most of which is simply new CONTENT...spells, monsters, treasure, extended tables...not CONCEPTS) to fill in a few additional "blank" spots in the game. These are GREAT TOOLS...for learning how to play D&D.

Everyone needs to learn how to play somehow. Learning to play as a player is "a piece of easy, chummer" so long as you have a competent DM running the game; most folks content to play a PC have little need to crack a rule book at all, except as a reference. The lack of actual nuts-n-bolts mechanics (saves, combat tables, etc.) in the original PHB may have simply been Gygax acknowledging the way MOST players approach the game: the DM is going to tell them their "target numbers" for dice rolls (or what followers are going to be available, etc.), what they need to know is how close they are to leveling up, and what new capabilities such leveling will convey to their character (in terms of hit dice, spells, skill percentages, etc.). The PHB is a lovely reference...and everything a (1E) player really needs as a reference.

Learning to be a Dungeon Master is a different story. It requires reading (and knowing and understanding) the rule books. I will argue (strenuously) that it's not something you just "pick up" from watching other DMs at the table or...worse!...from videos on Ye Old Internet. Such viewing can CLARIFY certain concepts, but you have to read the damn book. You have to know the game to run the game, and the knowing comes from reading (and learning) the rules which (surprise!) are found in the rulebook.

The B/X rules are short. Even at 64 pages, Moldvay's book includes...roughly...thirty-three pages of instructional text, of which at least five pages are EXAMPLES of: character creation, encumbrance, x.p. calculation, combat, dungeon design, and running a session. So, 27-28 pages of instruction? Is that too many? I don't think so...but I'm an old man who grew up reading books from a young age. If you want to learn how to be a Dungeon Master for the greatest game ever penned, I think that an afternoon or evening's reading seems like a small price to pay for the opportunity.

'Great, JB. We get it. SO...why then make AD&D your staple for adventure gaming? Why not just run Labyrinth Lord or OSE, or (even) "OSE Advanced" if you miss the inclusion of illusionists and beholders? Why insist on running 1st edition? What gives man?!'

B/X is a GREAT game...for learning to play D&D. But for running the game long-term, it is my opinion that you need a more robust game system. I have written about it at length before, but those posts are divided over many topics. Let's see if I can collate them here.

First you have to get on-board with a premise: that the game is at its best when run in the form of a long-term campaign. That means: there is a (fictional) world that PCs adventure in, that is sustained over time and that exhibits consistency. That PCs advance in level and thereby have opportunities to experience MORE content and adventure. If you can't buy into that premise, it doesn't matter what system you're running nor (probably) what game. 

SO, assuming you buy said premise, you need a system that sustains long-term play. And that is NOT just a matter of "bonus content." It's not just about adding additional levels of spell-casting or a larger selection of treasure and magic items or extra, more powerful monsters. If that was all there is to it then, sure, OSE Advanced might be your huckleberry. After all, it adds more content to OSE: AD&D classes, AD&D monsters, AD&D magic-items, etc.

But it's not the content (alone) that makes a game suitable for long-term play. Does OSE Advanced address issues of PC survivability that allows sustained play and advancement over time? AD&D does, adding clerical spells at 1st level (and bonus spells for WIS), increasing HD dice types, reducing penalties for low ability scores, adding rules for negative HPs, and increasing weapon damage versus large-sized monsters. Does OSE Advanced address issues of game economy, by adding x.p. and g.p. values for magic items, instituting training costs, and monthly expenses as AD&D does? Does OSE Advanced add systems that increase or promote verisimilitude like urban encounters, disease, racial relations (between sentient humanoids), discussions of medieval politics and taxes, folklore remedies and dungeon trappings? Does OSE Advanced introduce cosmological considerations, outer planes, interactions between clerics and their deities, dimensional cross-overs for even wilder fantasy well as getting down to the nitty gritty of troop movements and costs for traditional war gamers?

Perhaps OSE Advanced DOES do all this? I honestly don't know, as I don't own the OSE Advanced books. But I know that 1st Edition AD&D does all this...and it does so in two books (the PHB and the DMG), one of which is 126 pages (and mostly "reference material:) and the other of which is 240 pages...of which more than half is non-instructional material: tables and charts and treasure descriptions and random dungeons and appendices and glossary and index and (repeated) cheat sheets.

SO...100 or so pages of DM-facing rules? For a system that supports long-term, sustained campaign play?

OSE Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome is 248 pages. OSE Advanced Fantasy Referee's Tome is 248 pages.  Sure, much of that latter book includes the monster to have more content!...but does it have the oomph to use that content? And even if it did...which I'm not sure it does...why not just stick with my 1E PHB and DMG? Their page count means they take up less space in my backpack when I take them on the road.

There are other advantages to using 1E. It is OLD and it is MODULAR. There is a LOT of material that has been written for it over the years. I don't use the Unearthed Arcana or the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide or the Manual of the Planes...but I could. I don't use the vast majority of suggestions and variants and house rules found in the pages of Dragon magazine...but I could. In general, I have enough experience with the system that it's not necessary for me to consult the plethora of grey-beard AD&D players that exist in various forums and discord channels and chat groups...but I could, if I needed to do so. Those resources are available, which are great aids for would-be DMs trying to get better at their craft.

"But JB, those books (the PHB and DMG) are so OLD! And clunky! And crunchy! Hell, they aren't even SOLD anymore!" Oh, wait. Yeah...they are

But okay, let's talk about "crunch." I know several folks via the blog-o-sphere who will swear up and down that they run a B/X or (more usually) a BECMI or RC game, and have for years...long-term, campaign play...using nothing more than the simpler, stream-lined rules these Basic games provide. That, in fact, they do not want additional complexity. And these are guys older than me, with more years of experience...competent, veteran Dungeon Masters. Why? Why does it work for them?

I cannot say...I haven't played in their games. I could speculate, but instead I'll focus on the question at hand: "Why choose AD&D?" I can only discuss (with confidence) why I choose AD&D. For on-going campaign play, I want a robust system, designed in conjunction with that "added content." For me, a B/X fan, AD&D functions better and for a longer time than the Basic alternative.

As said (at the start of this post), I have played a LOT of B/ home, on the road, in campaigns, at conventions, in my youth, and as an adult, with family, friends, and complete strangers. What I have found is written...the game does not sustain play over the long-term. Rather, the system becomes a source of frustration

Now some folks would say: "just add the changes you need to add to make the system sustainable." And that's fine advice. However, in practice what I find is that I simply end up adding pieces from AD&D. EXCEPT THAT a "patch" doesn't work as well as simply using the rule with the system for which it was designed and (presumably) play-tested. 

I could use the treasure tables from the DMG, the classes and spell lists from the PHB, the monsters in the MM...but then why not just play 1E? I like that fighters improve in hitting at every level. Why not 'port the combat matrix into my B/X game? Why? Because I can simply play 1E and discard the extra books.

Why play AD&D? Why NOT play AD&D? What is the issue? That it's hard to find the specific rules you're looking for in the book? Because it's "poorly organized" (the common complaint)? It still has an index and a table of contents; it still has quick reference sheets at the back of the book. I don't know, fella...I have little problem finding info I need within the book. And it's easy enough to create my own cheat sheets (if needed). So...what else? You don't like the artwork? You don't like Gygax? I mean, what is it, really?

A lot of folks talking these days about ACKS and (the soon-to-be-published) ACKS II. Okay. I picked up ACKS: it's a 270 page book that takes B/X and adds some extra elements to extend game play, specifically (what is commonly referred to as) domain play for high level characters. Fine and dandy. But AD&D's system, the way it's written, extends "standard" adventure play into high levels, while giving you options for that "domain stuff." To be clear, a lot of ACKS "extras" can be seen as having their precursors in AD&D. And so I ask again: why not just play AD&D? Because you want a single, enormous book to flip through? Because you want new art? Because you don't like the occasional Gygaxian digression into statistical analysis or flanking maneuvers from his war-game days?


So sorry folks. So sorry this post is so long, and that I've taken up so much of your time. After all, none of this is terribly important anyway...the most important thing is (of course) that you play, regardless of what you choose to play and/or what your reasons are for playing the system you choose. Hopefully, I have managed to communicate my reasons (for those who are so interested) and this will be an issue I don't have to address again in the future. Hopefully. 
; )

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Tuesday Night Musings

Man, I started TWO (2) posts today, on different subjects, and posted neither. Sheesh.

Writing about D&D is not nearly as much fun as playing D&D...and I just haven't had the time to do much of that lately. It's tough that there aren't enough hours in the day to do ALL the things we'd like to do...but we all have priorities. Pick and choose, pick and choose. *sigh* It is what it is.

What I need is a weekly game. Unfortunately, with my ever-shifting schedule, that's a tough ask. 

It. Just. Is.

*sigh* (again)

I almost posted another Blood Bowl post yesterday (Monday). Man O Man. Did people watch the Niners dominate the Seahawks? Sure, the orks kept it close (for a while), but the dwarves still piled up more than 500 yards of offense. Dwarves! That is what happens when you don't tackle. When you pay too much money for goblins.

Mm. I'll be at the game versus the Eagles on Monday.  Taking the daughter. Only fitting as Philly is her favorite type of BB team (Chaos Renegade). Fingers crossed that their defense sucks worse than ours.

[Drew Lock wasn't bad. He's just another ork thrower]

Ugh. I want to play some D&D. World building is fun, adventure writing is fun. But it's not the same as playing. It's a step up from blogging or chatting on social media. But it's not the same as playing. Playing puts into practice, into action all the things you work on as a DM. The perpetual campaign is is an electric curent, always running in the background; playing is PLUGGING IN to that current. Playing is watching the lights come on.

In better news: the dishwasher got fixed, finally (only took 32 days). Kids are out of school Friday. Got most of my Christmas shopping done. Got the gutter cleaners scheduled. Soccer season is over till the New Year after Thursday (still have basketball). Things are clearing up; schedule is opening.

[still need to find time to get to the dentist]

Gaming is coming. Soon. It'll be kid gaming (I've got five lined up to play, soon as school's out) with possibly one or more adult "uncles" showing up. We'll see. That'll be fun. But I need regular gaming, too. Not just holiday one-offs. 

Ah, well. Better than no gaming.

Okay, I'm tired. Good night!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Taking Castles

Oh, the things I get dragged into.
; )

Over on the Pedantic discord (I think) there was a minor dustup over such-n-such argument about BrOSR/Jeffrogaxian 1:1 time play not being conducive (or supported) by the 1E "domain" rules or somethin-somethin. Not a terribly big deal (IMO) as I've already settled my thoughts/feelings on 1:1 time play and I'm content to NOT tell people how to enjoy themselves when it comes to running their campaigns (folks are going to do what they're going to do till they're tired of it). 

But then Ash wrote the following: 
It is better to take existing castles, at first. This is true for literally any campaign, timekeeping or no...One of my players took over a ruined keep, and made it a stronghold. however, that same player (once the ruined keep was established) began the process of building new strongholds/buildings from scratch
To which I had to put my foot in it, with this:
Rehabbing a house (let alone a ruined castle) would be a tremendous job given the presumed state of a pseudo-medieval campaign world. You're going to get skilled laborers, masons, carpenters, etc. to come out to the middle of an orc-infested wilderness to re-build a used lair? Are you kidding? Such a place probably ain't fit for human habitation, even after you clean out the slimes, vermin, and to burn it to the ground.
And also:
Taking over a ruin (that itself was, presumably, taken over in the past by whatever monsters were lairing there) isn't as easy as just killing the critters and moving in.
As well as:
A ruin would require substantial rehabilitation after recovering it from the monstrous creatures that live there before it would be a fit habitation for your average player character type? Um...that seems pretty obvious. Though, I suppose, only if one gives a shit about world building...nothing in the rules demand such action, though I suppose a DM could make it pretty difficult for PCs using the disease tables. 
Normal folks (even adventurous PCs) don't usually want to settle down in a troll cave. And a ruin would step up from that?
Oh, AND this:
A fortress built by a humanoid tribe is quite another issue. I was talking about a once-human (or dwarf or whatever) ruin that had taken over by hobgoblins. You want to claim an orc fort as your base of operations? You want to be the guy who lives in the orc hut? What is that going to do to your PCs' reputation?
I was having a bad day, I suppose (actually I was) and was in a combative mode...silly and childish on my part. Ash later discussed the incident on the Rolling Bones v-cast, refuting my protestations as (in part) one example of folks not grokking how domain play can function when running an AD&D campaign with 1:1 time. Which wasn't really the case...or, rather, wasn't really the point I was trying to communicate. The POINT, in fact, was just that taking over a ruin (or a lair or a "dungeon") for use as a stronghold isn't something to be done on a whim or a lark.

Doesn't mean you can't do so...I've had my own musings regarding taking such action. However, one should note that even back in 2009 (the hay-day of my adult B/X play), I was't so glib as to say such would be easy, and there were extenuating circumstances that made such a location worthy of consideration for my toad-worshipping cleric; observe the thoughts of "Younger Me:"
Sure, it would take a little work to get it up and running (a rickety bridge would need to be replaced, new furnishings added, kicked-in doors re-built). But for the most part, the place was of good dwarvish construction, had its own water supply, was located only a day from civilization (a little out-of-the way from curious travelers, but not inconvenient for obtaining supplies). Plus the waterfall and underground pond/river, and the small pool outside all said, “great-place-to-worship-amphibious-deity” to me.
Even at the tender age of 36 (before I'd started to grasp the importance of world-building and thoughtful campaign planning), I had an inkling that such undertakings would not be a walk-in-the-park. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but rewards of value (even in D&D-land) require effort. DMs that skimp on the effort do so at their own peril. Yes, the game is a game and we want to maintain its "game-ness;" however, we don't want it to devolve into Ren-faire farce. That way lies contempt, much the same as fudging dice rolls.

Every would be stronghold-nee-lair requires its own consideration in this regard. When the Starks retake WinterFell from the Boltons, it's mainly a job of policing the corpses and cleaning bloodstains off the cobblestones. In other words: normal castle maintenance (in a violent D&D world anyway). But that's humans taking a human habitation from humans that were using it for the same purpose (human habitation) that it was originally intended. We're not talking about a place with walking deads, acid-dripping slimes, otughs and owlbears. We're not talking about a ruin or a tomb or a "dungeon."

I discussed this with my nine year old daughter (1E player): she was aghast at the idea. "It's a ruin! You'd need to fix it before living in it!" The idea of living in a place once inhabited by monsters sounded crazy to her. What kind of stench is left behind by a tribe of goblins or gnolls? How about the walking corpses that roamed the halls?

Yes, orcs build their own longhouses and forts, but how long to air the thing out once the orcs are gone? Do they employ glaziers? Doubtful given their aversion to sunlight. Would a lair built by inhuman hands be suitable for human habitation? Maybe. A goblin or kobold hall would probably have low ceilings; a fortress built to accommodate giants might have really, really heavy doors.

The desire for PCs to own property...some place to stash their treasure, some place to act as a base of a natural desire, and one likely to come up sooner rather than later in any established campaign. And such desires are likely to come up long before their characters reach 9th level or find an excess of gold burning holes in their trousers...why not use one of these cleaned out lairs as "adventurer HQ?" It's got walls and a roof, doesn't it?

But in a well-designed campaign, "walls and a roof" aren't the only consideration. Living in a cave (or under a bridge) is fine-and-dandy for a nest of trolls. But that's not a suitable demesne for a group of 5th and 6th level PCs, despite the expedience of such a shelter. Regardless of a lair's defensibleness, it's location (in a swamp, on a mountain top, underground, whatever) just might not make it livable. Probably not a place to entertain the local duke, or the princess, or the wizard that has a quest for you.

That's the thing: an orcish hill fort, a crumbling tower, a haunted moathouse...these are not places one wants to set up shop, generally speaking. Unless they are in an ideal location (close to resources...both material and personnel), and possibly not even then. The hobgoblin fortress had been lording it over the local villagers for years, and now they've been wiped out...but does it still stand as a symbol of degradation and malevolence? Is it a constant reminder of slavery and subjugation? Should it not be torn down and something new, bright and hopeful, be erected in its place?

Maybe not...maybe such issues don't arise in your campaign. Or maybe, like me, it appeals to your dark humor to build your base in a rustic humanoid have a certain penchant for the dramatic flair of Kraven the Hunter, and relish the idea of a PC warlord whose stronghold is decorated in skulls and antlers and the occasional banner sewn from skinned humanoid. Even then, it's generally going to take your character(s) a while to bring the place up to snuff. 

No site is going to be "move in ready" from the jump. Cheaper than building your own castle? Sure. Faster to rehab then quarrying the stone and prepping the timber. 100%. But no easy-breezy.

And me saying that has nothing to do with robbing players of their "shortcuts;" it CAN be a "shortcut" to claim Quasqueton as your new abode. Of course it can! And that's a nice little reward (on top of whatever loot you plumbed from it) for cleaning out the various monsters and villains, undead and vermin, that had (previously) spent YEARS if not DECADES (or CENTURIES) leaving their filth all over the place: bones and excrement and the detritus of uncared for interior structures. If I don't vacuum my house every couple weeks, the floors get FILTHY, and I'm just raising two kids, not a tribe of kobolds that cook indoors and aren't known for washing much. Don't forget Gygax included systems for dealing out diseases and parasitic infections, too!

It's not "screwing the players" to make them work a bit turning a hovel into a home; it's simply common sense (oh! that phrase!). Some things (some!) can be inferred from our own maybe there are times when PCs should take off their armor and unbuckle their sword belts. We don't need to have overly complex systems in place to handle cleanup operations, but neither should we simply hand-waive such inconveniences...unless (maybe) PCs have access to a pocket djinni or similar. TIME. MONEY. These are the driving factors of the D&D game. Hand-waive them at your own peril. 

NOW...does all this seem like some argument against using 1:1 time in your campaign/game? Maybe. Fact is, the thought hadn't really crossed my mind, even when I was initially putting my foot in my mouth. As I said, I'm not interested nor worried in the slightest about the debate over whether or not 1:1 time is valid or "the only valid" way to play D&D. That debate has no influence over how I run my campaign. In general, I run AD&D based on the guidelines in the DMG ("G" for "guide," yeah?)...and the DMG includes notes for construction and labor and materials. So why shouldn't I use those notes and instructions...both for players wishing to build their own castles, and as inspiration (and guidelines) when it comes to how challenging it'll be to re-hab the party's new (half-destroyed) digs. 

Hope all that makes sense and doesn't overly annoy too many people. G'night!
; )

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Storming the Forbidden City


For the Cauldron convention, I decided I would run a number of scenarios based on the classic (TSR) adventure I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City, an AD&D (1E) module I've blogged about on more than one occasion.

There was, of course, a little impishness to my choice: the (main) convention organizer (the much esteemed Settembrini) is an outspoken critic of David "Zeb" Cook, author of Forbidden City. While I agree that there's plenty to criticize about Zeb's work, it's not ALL bad, and I'm trying, Ringo, to be a Good Shepherd these days...even when it's so darn hard not to be the overly negative 'Tyranny of Evil Men.'

[that's a 90s film reference for you young 'uns]

ANYhoo...I1. Great adventure (IMO) and one I hadn't run in a while. Also, fairly massive in scope (if sketchy in the details): a whole city full of potential danger and antagonists. Far too much for a 4-hour convention time slot...and, yet, the adventure as originally conceived was designed for tournament (convention) play.  The thought that struck me: can I rehab this thing and make it a showstopper?

Having decided to give it a shot, I hit upon the following strategy:
  1. I would offer three separate, successive scenarios, all set in the Forbidden City.
  2. Each scenario would "ramp up" in difficulty (expected level of participating PC).
  3. Each scenario would present a different environmental/situational challenge, despite using the same theme.
  4. Each scenario would offer enough reward ("treasure") to level up the presumed party, allowing players who wished to continue to play each successive scenario.
For the first scenario ("To Rescue A Prince") I used the original tournament scenario from the module (section "A" of the I1 publication). Section A consists of a linear map with 10 encounter areas, including several challenging set pieces. For this scenario, I changed very little of the original scenario; designed for six characters of levels 4th - 7th level, the original pre-gens actually average 6th level. So, I tightened it up by making sure no pregens under 5th would be allowed, made sure I had eight available, and upped the treasure take to ensure that even the 5th level PCs could expect to rise in level...should they survive and succeed at their objective.

I removed the sleep gas trap (it really doesn't make sense, and the reverse gravity field is enough as far as the "reasons" for its inclusion) and changed the bugbears to skulks, which I felt were a little more thematic given the jungle theme while retaining (more-or-less) the danger level (semi-invisible backstabbers are on-par with wookies that more easily surprise).  I previously wrote about the play-testing of this scenario, and found that four hours was just a tiny bit too short to get through, though I chalked that in part due to the party's wizard getting eaten by crocs in the first encounter and thus having some difficulty with the more populated encounters (tasloi and whatnot).

[unfortunately, even though the Cauldron party retained their MU (and, in fact, carried a second spell-caster...a fighter/magic-user) the convention group would still fail to make it to the final encounter in the four-hour time slot]

My second convention scenario ("The House of Horan") was also taken directly from I1. The wizard Horan is named as the mastermind behind the newly organized and ambitious raiding groups from the City; he resides with his apprentice in a well-kept, walled compound that contains his house, gardens, and more than a few guardsmen (bullywugs, leopards, and...*sigh*...bugbears). For a con, I set the adventure one week following the first, giving adequate time for the party to recover their strength and (as background/intro to the scenario), discover through careful scouting this "suspicious stronghold" in the midst of the ruined city.

Horan's house is quite a different scenario from the linear affair that is the original tournament adventure. It is, in fact, extremely open: a classic housebreaking situation, the PCs are given full autonomy to decide how they approach the thing. It is exceptionally dangerous, even for a party of 6th - 8th level PCs; the first time I play-tested, it resulted in a TPK. The second play-test wasn't much better, despite the PCs knowing (somewhat) what to's just very difficult to tackle a 12th level wizard in his home, if he's prepared for such a possibility with reasonable defenses. 

[the Cauldron players fared all right: a couple deaths, a couple zero-outs, but they managed to conquer the wizard while playing on the edge of their seats. It was a near thing...which is the way I like to run adventures, just by the way]

For the third scenario ("Shrine of the Demon Goddess"), I crafted an entirely new adventure: a three level, traditional dungeon of 27 encounters for 7th - 9th level characters. As readers might surmise from the title there is, in fact, a demon in the thing: a type V demon, inspired by (and foreshadowed by) the first encounter location of the tournament adventure:
"The walls of the alcove are worked with carvings of snakes and men in a pastoral scene and at its back stands a large statue of a snake-bodied, six-armed woman."
The adventure module, as published, has no real "base of operations" or headquarters of yuan-ti...something that's been pointed out by plenty of folks, along with a general "incompleteness" to the thing. But the very incompleteness provides plenty of potential for DMs/designers to add to the Forbidden City...which is what I did, creating a temple within a temple, complete with catacombs, remnants of the prior (pre-snake) religion/culture, and a Hell-like cavern section full of dretches and assorted badness, including a pool of inky black capable of transforming normal folks into snake-folk.

The City: lots of room for more lairs.

Good stuff, in other words.

Scenario three also has plenty of treasure squirreled away, at least three large pockets of it. When play-tested at home, my players found troves #1 and #3...the Cauldron players found #2 and, yes, it all turned out as decidedly deadly as a DM could ask for (if you're giving away big heaping piles of loot, there better be the potential for a decent body count). 

*ahem* I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City is available at DriveThru for a grand total of $4.99 (PDF only...sorry), it's easy enough for people to see the bulk of my first two scenarios, including maps. As for the third scenario? Eh...I'll probably just make it available here on Ye Old Blog as a free download in the next few days...just as soon as I can get my maps scanned. And, yes, it will contain my notes/changes (especially treasure counts) for the first two scenarios. Look for, probably.

All right...that's enough for now. I'll talk some of the specifics of my Cauldron play experience in a future post.

: )

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

And Finally (*sigh*) Blood Bowl

This will not be a long post. 

We are 12 games through the (now) 17 game season...more than 70%. The end is fast approaching and the Seahawks are probably looking at missing the playoffs. Losing to the Rams twice means the skaven have the tie-breaker over us (even though they are a bad, bad team).  The Packers, Lord help us, are probably going to get 10 wins down the stretch with their remaining schedule. And the Vikings, despite all their woes might...might...even have a chance to sneak in over us. 

Even after a 6-3 start. Even after acquiring everything Pete Carroll said they needed to acquire in the off-season, two years running: offensive linemen. Pass rushers. More stellar defensive backs. Bobby Wagner. And more offensive weapons (Charbonnet and Smith-Njigma) to add to a full cupboard of offensive weapons (Metcalf, Lockett, Walker).

What. The. Hell. Is the problem?

Orks. Orks being orks. That's it.

Oh...and Jamal Adams. And Geno Smith.

Smith is...fine. He's an ork thrower: no more, no less. Not every team in the NFL is composed of high elves and wood elves...they just ain't. There are those teams, make no mistake. But the Seahawks have never been that type of outfit...not when they've been good, certainly not when they've been bad. They are a waaagh team; always have been. We can go down the list:

Jim Zorn: ork thrower
Dave Krieg: ork lineman (but with a lot of star skills)
Rick Mirer: ork thrower (add dodge...happy feet!)
Warren Moon: ork thrower (with a LOT of arm talent, despite being long in the tooth)
Matthew Hasselbeck: ork thrower (good number of star player points)
Tavaris Jackson: ork thrower
Russell Wilson: goblin (with a lot of star player skills)

[there really no need to mention guys like Gelbaugh, McGwire, Stouffer, Whitehurst...oh, boy, we've had some baaaaad ork QBs]

None of these guys fit the mold of the high elf...or even human!...thrower. And that's fine. In Blood Bowl, ork throwers are plenty serviceable. No, they're not going to be setting any passing records (on this team...Moon did most of his damage before coming to the 'Hawks).  But that's not the orks' game. They are grinders that play solid defense.

Problem here is you're counting on a damn goblin to play linebacker.

I am sorry, Jamal Adams. I know I've called you trash before (and a "pigeon") later retracting the former accusation. But you're an idiot. Not only were you the obvious target in the Dallas game (giving up a touchdown and 2-point conversion on back-to-back plays against the dark elves), but then you take shots at a critical reporter's wife? Pretty f'ing classless, considering the impact you've had this year while healthy (spoiler: zero sacks, which is especially damning when you consider A) this is supposed to be his specialty and B) 12 different Seahawks have at least one sack this season, including guys who aren't even starters). What an a-hole.

SO...ork thrower (Gino). Fine. But, generally, not going to win you any games with his arm. Going to have some good offensive performances (vs. Detroit, Dallas) and some stinkers (Rams, Niners) depending on how the dice fall. That's to be expected. But when you're giving up a bunch of points on defense, it makes it tough for the orks to catch Blood Bowl, ork teams are just not built that way.

I've talked about it before: the NFL has a LOT of similarities to BB, the way it's structured. Most NFL teams have a maximum of 7 or so STAR (i.e. standout) players on their roster; the others are position guys who are...fine. Nothing special. How the Stars perform (and how the coaches use the players they have) are going to go a long way towards determining the outcome of games. Seahawks current stars this year include:

Kenneth Walker III (blitzer)
Abe Lucas (black ork blocker)
DK Metcalf (blitzer)
Tyler Lockett (goblin)
Jackson Smith-Njigba (goblin)
Bobby Wagner (blitzer)
Devon Witherspoon (goblin)

And Walker's hurt. And Lucas has been injured for most of the season (he just came back, in the Cowboys game, and it showed on offense).

Charles Cross is a black ork blocker. Jordyn Brooks and Charbonnet are standard blitzers. The tight ends (and Jake Bobo) are simply lineorks. And Adams is nothing but a goblin who woofs at opposing teams every time he makes a tackle on some "big guy," even though he gave up 12-15 yards (and a first down). 


Sevenbastard suggested (in the comments of my last post) there might be some worry about the Seahawks winning another game this season. This is not my worry...I am CERTAIN the Seahawks will win another game. Heck, I'm 95% sure they'll win THREE more games, achieving a 9-8 record...a winning season in a year where every team plays 17 games. 

But I don't see them making the playoffs this year...not if they insist on continuing to play Adams on defense...and they have shown that they absolutely Will NOT Stop playing this guy, no matter how bad he sucks. They let Ryan Neal WALK even though he showed...again and again...that despite his cheap salary, he was a better asset on the field as a replacement when Adams was injured. It may just be that the Seahawks managed to get to the playoffs last year precisely because Jamal was out (he played only one game in the 2022 season) and Seattle was forced to make do with "lesser" talent. 

You play the pigeon, and opposing teams will target the pigeon. 

And 9-8 simply will not cut it this year when it comes to making the playoffs. And THAT is disappointing. Because there is a LOT of star power on the Seahawks team...real star power, real talent. And it would be nice to see them do some damage in the playoffs.

Ork teams cannot rely on goblins. That's just not good roster construction.

SO...just like the 90s, we're going to see a middling record, and a middling draft pick and a tough time clawing our way out of this hole. The Seahawks aren't exactly "risk averse" (when it comes to picking players), but they can be loyal to a fault, and doubling down on their mistakes (like Adams) is going to hurt them. It's already hurt them. Second chances are cool, but sometimes you have to admit you were wrong and cut bait.

*sigh* It's oh so silly. It's just entertainment. It's just live-action Blood Bowl.

By the way, I am fully aware that I am (probably) being overly harsh on a guy who's selling his body for my entertainment. Oh, well. I'm a fan...that's what fans do. He's paid millions of dollars (in a league that has a hard salary cap). I'm allowed to be critical. 

At least I continue to watch the Seahawks. At this point, I've all but decided to boycott the Mariners.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Sunday NIght Musings

Man, I started writing a post...mmm...yesterday morning (I think)?...a whole 'hey, I'm back, here's what's up, here's what I'm doing, blah-blah-blah' thing, with some sort of half-hearted segue into role-playing theory.

Let's forget all that for the nonce.

The 2023 year has nearly slipped away from me, at this point. 47 posts at this lowest output total since starting this blog in 2009. Wow. Crap. That's what happens when you have a bunch of f'ing family members die on you, I suppose. 

And yet, some stellar game related stuff occurred, too. Ran some great D&D sessions. Campaign is struggling, limping along, but it's still going. Got to Germany for Cauldron...that was fantastic. Got my submission in for Prince's "No Art-Punk" contest for the third year running...that was, mm, grueling, but a hell of an accomplishment, considering the time constraints. So much travel this year (California, Port Angeles, Montana, Germany, Mexico). So much...

I need a break. And, yet, I don't. I need to do more work. More Work work (capital-W)...more vocational work. This game, this's my calling. It's what I do. Dumb as that is.

[just some Sunday night musings]

Been spouting off on a lot of different outlets lately. Mainly Discord servers. A podcast or two. In person (at the Cauldron convention). Other places. Some people care what I have to say; others don't. Some care but don't understand. All that's okay. Mainly I just have to be slightly careful of how I present information...I don't want some folks to make the wrong inference just because I wasn't thoughtful enough in my monologue.

Take the Cauldron convention, for instance: I set about crafting three different scenarios for it with very specific objectives. I like how they turned out...they more-or-less fulfilled my objectives. But do I think that my approach was the "right" approach? Or the "best" approach? Or the "only appropriate" approach that I could have taken? No...not at all! I created mid-level adventure scenarios with lots of danger (and lots of treasure) specifically because of the convention setting and its adherence to ADDKON rules (the German equivalent of the old FLAILSNAILS Conventions). I was writing scenarios for people to bring their home campaign PCs, place in danger, and yet reap big rewards (if successful).

I could have just easily run some sort of High Level one-off to showcase AD&D's extended potential. Or I could have run low level AD&D play, to demonstrate the survivability of such characters (in clear contrast to B/X play). Heck, there's lots of things I could have done for the con, but I figured I'd rather give the players some real up-the-ante, risk-reward stuff. Because if you're going to let players bring their own hard-ridden characters...then, yeah, let's give 'em some good stuff!

But I have to explain this to folks: I have to be explicit that just because I'm writing/running mid-level adventures does not mean that I presume this is "the best tier of play" or something. Honestly, I don't think there is a "best" tier of play...ALL tiers offer different experiences of game play, and the Great Joy of D&D...more specifically, Advanced D& that it facilitates game play at ALL these tiers. 

[and, what's more, it's possible to mix-and-match within the tiers...though that's a story for different day]


Man, I've been spending far too much time lately on social media platforms, particularly Discord. It's just so nice to interact with other humans who both A) have an understanding of, and B) give a rip about D&D gaming. But I think I'm going to cut back a bit...that, as much as anything, has contributed to the lightness of blog posts this year. Too many times someone has posted a query or a thought exercise or a subject of conversation that I've been all-too-willing to engage with (in long-winded format) when what I could be doing is writing about the topic Right Here. It might not be especially "deep," but it is (generally) on game-related (i.e. "on topic") and it gives my readership a reason to come back besides looking at old posts about yadda-yadda.

*sigh* More later...time to sleep.

[posted Monday morning, as I could barely keep my eyes open]