Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Flashback - Halloween Creature Feature

A little Creature Feature for All Hallows Eve courtesy of a distinctively off-beat band, The Cramps. The Cramps, formed in 1976 by the only permanent band members, Lux Interior and Poison Ivy (pictured, left), are credited with beginning the 'Psychobilly' sound; a unique mix of Punk, Rockabilly and Surf Music. I copied this from a blurb on Last FM:

"The content of their songs and image is sleaze, trashy Americana (much in the style of filmmaker John Waters), sexual fetishism, clever bad jokes, and cheap, horror B-movie clich├ęs."

What's not to like about that?

The Cramps - Goo Goo Muck - Live 1981

And a pair from the same live show in 1980, fimed for Urgh! A Music War:

The Cramps - Human Fly - Live 1980

The Cramps - I Was A Teenage Werewolf - Live 1980

Not the best audio on the last two, but I like watching the live cuts. I enjoy the lyrics from Human Fly:

Well i'm a human fly
it's spelt F-L-Y
I say buzz,buzz,buzz,and it's just becuzz...
I'm a human fly and i don't know why
I got ninety six tears in my ninety six eyes

I got a garbage brain, it's drivin' me insane
And i don't like your ride, so push that pesticide
And baby i won't care, cuz baby i don't scare
Cuz i'm a reborn maggot using germ warfare

Happy Halloween!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

*edit* Blogger is acting funny. For some reason the post options keeps prohibiting comments, even after I deleted and reposted this entry. I'll try to fix it tonight.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Sixth Table part III

Continuing the Sixth Table theme, here's 76-77 The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz. ‘Kral Zoraz’, huh? Looks like some good old flavorful naming, but no hidden meaning as far as I can tell. Maybe I was too quick to assume that Mr. Kuntz had used a lot of wordplay devices with this collection of Artifacts, unless Rob Kuntz had a friend named Karl Razzo or something. Moving right along…here we go with part 3.

The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz

Disclaimer: The entire series of ‘Supreme Artifacts’ is based upon handwritten notes by Rob Kuntz. I take no credit for the table, title or names of any of these ‘Supreme Artifacts’. Mr. Kuntz’s creation, Table 6 Supreme Artifacts, serves as inspirational material and nothing more. The theme is indeed 'Supreme Artifacts', but individual Referees should feel free to adjust the relative power of any of the items presented here to fit their own campaign's needs.

In the time now known as The Dawn of Man, when the Fae still held sway over this world, there was a grim, bloody era which preceded The Sundering, that chaotic world altering event that would herald The Age of Man. By now, the dispassionate, heedless Fae had been compelled to take notice of Mankind and its ceaseless expansion throughout the Four Corners. The Young Magic of Mankind was spreading like a plague, stifling the natural order of the world, and loosening the very foundations of creation from its bond with Fae Magic.

This was not a period measured by years, decades or even centuries, but an epoch which was an interminable precursor to The Sundering. What would become of Man after The Sundering was not yet determined, but it was certain that the Fae descent into obscurity would be irreversible. In those days, in the now buried nation of Kesh’al, a prominent hero called Zoraz had risen through sheer force of will and determination to the rank of Warlord, or Kral, of the Clans.

Kral Zoraz commanded his advisors to commission a weapon worthy of his lofty station, a sword that, as it turned out, would become more legendary than the man himself. And so, to the far flung Elf Realms of the All-King was brought the plunder and spoils from many a campaign, a ransom in rare minerals and gems, enough to outfit ten armies in finely crafted manmade swords and cuirasses. The All-King refused the offering, and insisted that the Elf Realms would offer a gift to Kral Zoraz, a sword “fit for such a famous leader of Men”.

After many months the newly forged sword was born back to Kesh’al, and into the waiting hands of the Warlord. The Kral increased his army and nation five fold while carrying the Elf sword at his side. As Kesh’al continued to expand its borders, it began to impinge on the very edges of the Elf Realms, and it was only a matter of time before Kral Zoraz began his war with those Fae who had remained outside of the struggles of mortals. Legend tells us that as soon as Man first spilled Fae blood, a terrible curse upon humankind was unleashed in the form of the Hobgoblins, themselves a race of mortal Fae who would rise up and challenge Man in the ages to come. Whether this blood was spilt by the Elf sword is not known, but what happened when that finely crafted sword did fell an Elf is hinted at in the mythology of the time before The Sundering.

The All-King had foreseen the possibility of such a war with Kesh’al, and had placed a dormant Unseelie Spirit within the weapon, one which would awaken if the Elf sword ever tasted Fae blood. What is known is vague, but Kesh’al ultimately failed in its war with the Elves, and it is said that Kral Zoraz was dethroned in a bloody rebellion which led to the eventual collapse of the Clan nation. The sword, which came to be called The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz, has cropped up from time to time throughout history, but its name and story are little more than the stuff of tall tales and fanciful song.

The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz is older than any man can say, forged by ancient Fae in the age old bronze technique perfected by their kind before The Sundering. It is a heavy short sword, nearly two and a half feet in length, with a vaguely leaf shaped blade. The blade itself is of exquisite craftsmanship, faintly dark-grey with a green hue to the thick, razor sharp bronze. The hilt and small guard of the sword are of finely carved bone, and a large, heavy, round pommel of bronze tips off the unassuming weapon.

This Sword, +1 has a number of venerable Elf enchantments which might not be apparent at first. The sword acts as +5 for purposes of saving throws or determining whether it can penetrate special defenses. No non-magic force is capable of destroying the sword, and the amount and power of magic required to break the sword is rarely realized in this day and age.

While the sword deals a rather modest 1d6 damage, there is a chance that a special power will be triggered with each damage roll. On a roll of ‘5’ on the d6, the wielder throws an extra d6 for damage, and is healed by one half of the resulting roll on that extra d6 (1, 2 or 3 HP). On a roll of ‘6’ on the d6, the wielder throws two extra d6 for added damage, and is healed by one half that extra amount (1-6 HP). While the extra damage will be rolled against any target, the healing will only function when the extra damage is dealt to living targets.

The sword creates a dim green glow, shedding light in a radius of 10’. Any living being, other than the wielder, within this aura will be unable to heal wounds or damage, magically or naturally. Furthermore, once the sword has slain a target, the aura will visibly intensify for six rounds. During this time, any living being within the 10’ radius will lose 1 HP, and the sword bearer will be healed 1 HP. This life drain takes effect at the end of each of the six rounds, harming both friend and foe. This regenerative aura will never heal more than 1 HP per round for the sword’s wielder, and only functions when there is a living being other than the wielder within 10’.

The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz was created as a foil to the magic of Man, and its wielder will receive +4 on all saving throws vs. spells, wands, etc. On a natural roll to hit of 18 or higher, the strike of the sword will dampen any magic upon the target, effectively dispelling enchantments and rendering magic items ineffective for 1 full turn. The victim may not use any magic, nor be effected by any magic, including spells meant to help or harm. This magic deadening will not protect the target from any of the Fae powers of the Blood Sword, however.

The sword has no communicative traits or intellect until its dormant spirit is awakened.

Once the Blood Sword strikes a Fae (defined as an Elf, Dryad, Nixie, Centaur, Unicorn, etc; but not those of Goblin blood), it will awaken the sleeping Unseelie Spirit imprisoned in the blade. At this time the weapon will begin a ceaseless thirst for blood, finally revealing its Cursed nature.

Once awake, the Unseelie Spirit will insist on blood, blood and more blood. What the Spirit does not get from the victims of the sword, it will take from the wielder. How the sword controls its owner is determined by the Referee, but it will be difficult if at all possible to remove the sword from its owners white-knuckled grip.

After the Spirirt is awake, any roll to hit which misses its target will cause the wielder 1 damage.

The Spirit will demand three kills per day, and if this thirst is not quenched, it will attempt to control the wielder’s hand. Furthermore, if a full day passes without quenching the sword’s thirst, the wielder will sustain 1 damage per hour, and 3 damage on any roll to hit which misses, until the three kills are made.

In OD&D terms, The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz looks like this:
Dormant state: non-aligned, 0 Intelligence, 0 Ego, no origin/purpose.
Awake state: chaotic, 10 Intelligence, 12 Ego (total Ego Rating: 26), purpose: described above.

If the awakened sword goes for 9 days with no kills, the Unseelie Spirirt will return to its dormant state.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

D&D, A Worthwhile Hobby?

You be the judge!

Four Very Rare D&D Modules.

Let's see, fix the roof, replace the heat pump and air conditioning, repair the cars, or own a vital chunk of gaming history? Oh, but if I were a single man! (I am half joking here).

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Solstice: Through The Ages

Excerpts from my tiddly site's Solstice Introduction:

This is not a world of damsels in distress and princes galloping to their rescue, this is a world where the cold harsh reality of evil and darkness pervade everyday life. Mankind is pitted against threats from within and without while the uncaring Fae look on, unconcerned with the meaningless, pitiful lives of mortals. Solstice is a world of ruthless dictators, murderous bandits, greedy merchants, power-hungry generals, corrupt clergymen, brutish lawmen and torch-bearing mobs. It’s a testament to mankind that it has not collapsed in upon itself. Were it not for the constant dangers presented by the monstrous beings of this world, perhaps mankind would have exterminated itself by now.

Solstice is a land overrun by monstrous civilizations; mad wizards in lost towers; labyrinthine, inexplicable underworld dungeons; forgotten ziggurats of demon-worship; secret temples of forbidden rites; cities ruled by unprincipled despots; lost societies of Neolithic savages; vast unexplored wastelands; enigmatic ruins beneath the seas; frozen citadels atop colossal mountains; in short, a bleak, harrowing world of unreason, disorder and chaos.It is within this world of Solstice that your tales of fortunes and fools shall be written. May your tales be remembered and retold.

Solstice is a loose collection of various ideas and notes from my own Game Mastering history, stretching back to the late 70’s. Very little if anything remains from those earliest creative efforts, when world building consisted of a dungeon, inn and village. Solstice does represent nearly thirty years of working toward actually constructing a viable, fleshed out campaign setting. Through the years the campaigns were set in various locales, including Greyhawk, Arduin, and even Waterdeep. The worlds were actually of my own making, but I used the maps, history and trappings of those settings in some form or another. I added regions, fleshed out scant descriptions, and generally turned them all upside down; shaking out the good stuff and ignoring that which didn’t interest me.

In between these published settings, Blackthorn began to grow and take shape. The end result was a system of heavily homebrewed rules highlighted by very specific character Races and Classes. Blackthorn was a dead end of sorts, though. It’s technically an AD&D supplement, wrapped around a world map and some very basic history. Although I typed up and printed off Blackthorn, and distributed copies to my players at the time, we never actually played a game using it.

What remains of Blackthorn is the world map and historical entries. From this brief stab at an actual homebrewed setting grew the roots of Solstice. In creating Blackthorn, the first thing I had to do was expunge all those elements of the aforementioned Greyhawk, Arduin and Waterdeep. Arduin was the last to go, as it was a central nation on the small continent which had hosted two different long running campaigns. The idea at the time was to simply replace Arduin with a new central nation, that being Blackthorn, hence the name of the supplement. I later realized that the title Blackthorn was not the best choice for a D&D supplement, and now here I sit years later using the same theory, instead with Solstice supplanting the original name.

What I wish to do with Solstice is present a modular sand-box setting featuring maps, history, hex details, adventure locales, races, monsters, treasure, and perhaps some optional house rules. This is not a new desire or goal, but I have been encouraged by old school efforts of late, including Fight On! and Swords & Wizardry.

One aspect of Solstice that I have been attempting to fine tune is the various eras and ages of the land. Here are the primary epochs as I have imagined them:

I: The Dawn of Man
II: The Age of Man
III: The Twilight of Man
The Dawn of Man encompasses the age when the Fae slowly lost dominion over Solstice to Mankind. The Age of Man is the time in which Solstice, as currently written, takes place, when Mankind rules the land. The Twilight of Man is the era described in No Future, when Mankind is fading after the cataclysmic events that ended the previous age.

I think The Twilight of Man might now be viewed as a poor copy of Carcosa, even though the concept was formed long before I knew that Geoffrey McKinney was preparing to publish his homebrewed setting. The Age of Man might be too generic, and the Dawn of Man is a recent view of Solstice I’ve formed through some of my creative projects.

So, I don’t know exactly how to proceed. Perhaps move forward and fully flesh Solstice out in the Age of Man, as originally intended, with sections covering those epochs before and after. In the end, the ‘generic’ approach can be eclipsed by good old fashioned creativity.

My current plan is to create a setting using Swords & Wizardry as a rules reference, and get the whole thing polished and presentable. Lastly I’d make it available as a template for inserting adventures and hosting a campaign. I’m hoping I can follow through and get this particular project completed and available to interested parties in the near future.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Sixth Table part II

Continuing the Sixth Table theme, here's 41-44 The Skull Staff of Zaln. I don't see any wordplay device involved with Zaln. This one's off the cuff.

The Skull Staff of Zaln

Disclaimer: The entire series of ‘Supreme Artifacts’ is based upon handwritten notes by Rob Kuntz. I take no credit for the table, title or names of any of these ‘Supreme Artifacts’. Mr. Kuntz’s creation, Table 6 Supreme Artifacts, serves as inspirational material and nothing more. The theme is indeed 'Supreme Artifacts', but individual Referees should feel free to adjust the relative power of any of the items presented here to fit their own campaign's needs.

In the years before The Vast Discord, in the time lost land of Ayr-Avad, the Almighty Zaln ruled from his Tower Indomitable high on Mount Al-Armagt. As far as Zaln could see, and even beyond the horizon and across the Stirring Sands, were the lands of Ayr-Avad, Zaln’s Empire. Time itself was Zaln’s last enemy, the final foe with whom he now struggled with each day and every night, for Zaln was nearing the end of his mortal life. After countless scholars, wizards, oracles and prophets had been put to the spear for their empty promises of turning back the ravages of Time, Zaln had finally found his answer in a sorcerer named Balophaer. Giving over every ounce of his confidence in his nigh desperate state, Zaln entered into Balophaer’s long and arduous arcane rites. Life Everlasting had been the promise, and Life Everlasting had been delivered; but as one might guess, the end only justified the means as far as Balophaer was concerned.

Awakening from his horrific, drug induced nightmarish slumber, Zaln found that the rites had indeed been enacted, but his headless corpse was before him in a pool of darkening blood, prostrate and encompassed by a still smoldering rune-circle of magical power. Zaln’s Regal Sentinels, ready to impale Balophaer at the first sign of treachery, were now bedazzled and unaware of the potent sorcerer’s deviousness. Zaln was certainly immortal and timeless, but his head was mounted atop a carven blood-soaked staff of oak, a staff in the clutches of the vile and contemptuous Balophaer. Balophaer now took on the guise of Zaln, and ruled Ayr-Avad successfully for three score years, until Zaln exacted his revenge in a most cold blooded manner; only befitting given the injustice enacted upon the once mighty Emperor. Ayr-Avad and Mount Al-Armagt are but dim, distant memories now. The Legend of Zaln has been retold and handed down through the generations, and is a somewhat famous fable across the land. Pure mythology, as far as the scholars are concerned.

The Skull Staff of Zaln is an intricately carved, 4’ length of thick, old dark oak, topped by an ancient chipped, cracked and now jawless human skull. This is indeed the age-old skull of the Almighty Zaln. The skull has been covered in layers of pine tar and odd scribbling through the ages, as it’s previous owners have tried to preserve the skull, and also unlock its secrets. The staff will only reveal its minor powers to a Magic User who possesses it, these are listed below:

Charm Person, Charm Monster, Confusion, Guise, Hold Person, Hold Monster. Each minor spell-like power drains one charge from the staff. The staff generates three charges per day, and will never hold more than six charges.

Guise: This power allows the staff holder to magically transform to take on the appearance, mannerisms and vocabulary of a single target whose name is known to the caster. The Guise will be permanent until dispelled by the wielder, or until a new Guise is assumed.

The staff can also be used to invoke the following major powers as the campaign unfolds, with this knowledge unlocked by the player in a method determined by the Referee:

Death Spell, Disintegrate, Geas. Each major spell-like power drains three charges from the staff.

The wielder of The Skull Staff of Zaln is also protected with powerful enchantments which confer a protective magical power called Avoid Harm. Avoid Harm translates in game terms to: AC 4, +2 on all Saving Throws, minus four from all physical damage sustained, minus ten from all magical and elemental damage sustained, and immunity to poison.

The staff becomes powerless and drained of all charges when within sixty feet of Zaln’s remains.

The Almighty Zaln will slowly begin to gain lucidity from beyond the wall of sleep with each passing day once the staff has a new owner. Slowly, his spirit will begin to communicate with the staff wielder. First with dreaming whispers, then waking mental impressions, and finally with actual telepathic messages. Zaln is still, after all, ‘alive’, his spirit shackled to this world by Balophaer’s hoary rites of sorcery. Ultimately, Zaln seeks to join his psyche with his spirit to put an end to the accursed prison into which he was cast so many centuries ago. The mystical curse under which he now lives on may only be broken by joining his skull with his headless skeletal remains through some long forgotten ritual. As soon as Zaln begins to gain lucidity, his headless remains stir and begin to seek out the skull’s location. Eventually, Zaln’s remains will find the skull, and at that time Zaln will attempt to enact the same murderous revenge experienced by Balophaer high atop Mount Al-Armagt, in the Tower Indomitable, all those long, tormented decades ago.

The series of nightmarish events which might culminate in the strangulation or beheading of the staff wielder are to be played out as the Referee sees fit. If the staff wielder is slain, Zaln will make off with the staff, and hide it somewhere away from the light of day, sadly falling into his silent dreaming state once more before he can successfully break the age-old enchantment.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

The Sixth Table part I

Here‘s a slice of gaming history, dripping with old school homebrew protoplasmic ooze. It is one of the surviving bits of Mr. Rob Kuntz’s notes from his work on the never published Supplement V for D&D (OD&D) titled Kalibruhn. I enjoy the direct connect to the early gaming roots that fragments such as this produce. Furthermore, I can't resist the evocative names of the artifacts contained on this page. The names alone are unquestioningly inspirational:

Sand Cubes of Nomilmon, The Blood Sword of Kral Zoraz, The Green Wand and The Stone Servant of Kalib, The Pillar of Sa-Hazruul.

I love this sort of stuff. What I particularly appreciate is that this list is just that, a list. No actual descriptions are provided. I’m not sure how fleshed out these artifacts would have been in Supplement V: Kalibruhn, or whether the same items have appeared in subsequent works by Rob Kuntz (many available at Pied Piper Publishing), but I’m happy to take this list and play around with it, fleshing out the history and powers of some of these mysterious relics of gaming past.

I can’t quite make out all of the names, but that’s fine…I find it adds to the charm of the original that some of the words are therefore open to my interpretation. For example 02-06 Amulet of the Abhorred (?) Destiny. Or 54-60 The Fruits of Zhethap (?). And even 72-75 The Bemalize (?) Wand. I assume 71 is The Brass Ring of Opening. I’ll just fake it until said item looks or sounds right.

I’ll homebrew a few of these to get the theme going. If I stick with it I will continue with more and eventually detail all three dozen Artifacts.

I know some of the item names upon this list must be anagrams, or other wordplay devices. 16-18 Crown of Ecilam and 25-27 3 Golden Globes of Ecilam are the most obvious and rudimentary examples. Ecilam is simply Malice backwards. A brief overview of the list doesn’t produce any other immediate recognition in the way of reference or inference for me, but perhaps others will chime in with their own observations.

There are likely some campaign inspired items that should have a shared history, with common themes, such as 13-15 Saphire of The Sorcerer Demons and 61 Fire Spear of The Sorcerer Demons. I’ve absolutely no idea what the real history or influence or even original design was for any of these Artifacts, so I will apologize to Rob Kuntz in advance for any rough or unfair treatment of his personal creations found on Table 6 Supreme Artifacts.

Rather than take these on in the order presented, I will pick and choose a few before I commit to all 36, starting with 53 The Unknown Weapon of Nodah. The only possible wordplay device I see here is that Nodah could be unscrambled to form Honda. I don’t see any reason for such a reference, so I’ll ignore that possible anagram. Nodah apparently might mean ‘known’ according to some brief internet research. Perhaps The Unknown Weapon of Known was a bit of wordplay, but any significance that might hold is lost upon me. One particular link led me to a page that included a blurb about The Maharal of Prague, and the legend of his Golem, Yossele. Now properly inspired, here’s the first entry for The Sixth Table.

The Unknown Weapon of Nodah

Disclaimer: The entire series of ‘Supreme Artifacts’ is based upon handwritten notes by Rob Kuntz. I take no credit for the table, title or names of any of these ‘Supreme Artifacts’. Mr. Kuntz’s creation, Table 6 Supreme Artifacts, serves as inspirational material and nothing more. The theme is indeed 'Supreme Artifacts', but individual Referees should feel free to adjust the relative power of any of the items presented here to fit their own campaign's needs.

This secret weapon was constructed and employed by a High Cabal of Ven Vorheesh Priests to oust the conquering Mag’hiim from their lands. A living, walking manlike automaton of clay, this Golem was infused with the wrath of Nodah, the Ven Vorheesh deity. Hidden and protected during the day, and unleashed to wreak havoc during the night, the Unknown Weapon of Nodah proved to be a dangerous means of defense, as it eventually turned upon it’s creators and toppled both temple and shrine in it’s uncontrollable frenzies. Finally deactivated and hidden away, the Golem and its legend was forgotten. The Ven Vorheesh and the Mag’hiim are now but faded writings in the history of man, and the Unknown Weapon of Nodah remains a mystery today.

The Golem can be found in either a deactivated or activated state, at the Referee’s discretion. The Golem is a hardened, solid as stone, fired clay construct in the shape of a man some seven feet tall. When activated it’s eyes open to reveal dimly blue glowing sapphires, and it’s mouth can open or close with a locking, lower hinged jaw fashioned of old bronze, revealing a small recessed niche behind. The entire form of the Golem is chipped and pocked, and covered with black scorch marks. The Golem weighs nearly 2,000 pounds, being a massive, formidable slab of ancient earth. The Golem will, at all times, have one of two ancient Ven Vorheesh words scrawled upon it’s large forehead, Life or Death. The former activates the Golem, and the latter deactivates it. If a small calfskin scroll, containing the master’s name written in blood, is placed within the Golem’s mouth, it will follow very basic commands from that individual. If activated with no such scroll, or by anyone other than it's master, the Golem will enter a destructive rampage until it has successfully slain a random number (1d6 or more) of nonbelievers before deactivating itself once more.

Nodah’s Golem: AC 5, Hit Dice 10, Hit Points 47, Move 6”. Only damaged by +1 or higher magic weapons, and physical attacks always cause minimum damage. Immune to mind influencing magic, fire, electricity, poison, acid and cold. If possible, the Golem automatically rolls successfully when saving versus any magical spell or attack. The Golem attacks once each round causing 3d6 damage. While in combat, the Golem emanates a powerful aura of magic. All living beings within a 40’ radius of the Golem are subjected to a Slow spell. If faced with more than 5 foes, it can unleash gouts of flame from vents in the palms of its 'hands' every third round in lieu of physical attacks. The flames engulf an area in a 10’ radius around the Golem, and burn for 10d6 initially, and one half that on the following round (save vs. Dragon Breath for half damage and no damage on the following round). If the Golem is in melee with the same foe for four consecutive rounds, it will attack that target with a magic gaze beam emanating from it’s glowing sapphire eyes. The target must save vs. Spell at -2 or become Paralyzed for 12 turns.

The Golem, when activated, will only allow its master to approach close enough to open its jaw or write upon its forehead. How this is otherwise accomplished during play is up to the Referee. When deactivated, the Golem will slowly regenerate damage at a rate of 1 Hit Point per day. The Unknown Weapon of Nodah will deactivate whenever it is reduced to 10 or fewer Hit Points, and will not activate once more until it has regenerated at least 30 points of damage (30 days). If the Golem is reduced to zero Hit Points, it will be forever destroyed.

The Unknown Weapon of Nodah obeys it’s commands quite literally, never discerning between friend or foe. Furthermore, there is a chance each turn while it is active that the Golem will enter a frenzied state of destructive vengeance upon all nonbelievers (including its own master). If The Unknown Weapon of Nodah’s master is slain, the Golem will deactivate wherever it stands. The chance for such a rampaging state is left for the Referee to determine, but it is suggested that it begin after a predetermined time of activity (1d6 turns or more), and increase with each subsequent turn of activity. For example, perhaps a cumulative 1% chance per turn beginning after 3 turns. The Golem’s rampages include destruction of inanimate objects and anything that moves until it has slain a random number of nonbelievers and deactivates itself once more. There is also a chance that it will only deactivate once it has slain its blasphemous master. Such an unfortunate turn of events has a chance to occur as determined by the Referee, which should ultimately be increased or decreased based upon the actions of the master.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Realm of Unreason

Michael Curtis, aka Amityville Mike, in case you’ve been like me and fallen out of the blogo-loop of late, has started an excellent blog at The Society of the Torch, Pole and Rope.

One particular post Mike wrote made me revisit and remember why I returned to the gaming roots that allowed me to enjoy D&D way back when, before I started to become a ‘serious’ campaign and dungeon designer. I think my needless descent down the realism track started with an article by Richard Gilbert that I read in Best of The Dragon Vol. I at some point in the early 80’s. Something about the article, titled ‘Let There Be A Method To Your Madness’, rang true with me at the time, and I tired of certain players asking questions like, “This makes no sense, what do these monsters eat?” or “What are these Trolls doing here? Shouldn’t they be fighting the Ogres down the hall?”

From the early 80’s right on through almost all of my designs after that, I spent a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ work on history, plot, motives, rationale and logic. Each room had a purpose. Ecology and realism haunted my every step. Each map was an exercise in questions and answers. All of my dungeons, and there were scores of them over the years, were mission and plot driven, with a clear goal and a definite end. None were larger than three levels that I can recall, and few had more than twenty rooms per level (most were a dozen or so rooms and a big encounter at the end).

Toward the very end of my regular D&D days, before my old gaming crew matured, got jobs, and scattered across the state, my return to the roots began in a short lived mini-campaign I started. It was dubbed The Classic Campaign, and I promised the players that nothing more than AD&D 1e, just the DMG, PHB and MM, was going to be used. The campaign centered around the home brewed Tower of the Overlord. I didn’t know what a megadungeon was, but decided I would tackle a 10 level dungeon, that promised to see return visits and extensive play. Thus was born my largest dungeon right up until I began working on Ulin-Uthor.

This desire to play classic AD&D 1e, and this desire to construct a ten level campaign central dungeon stuck with me for years and years. When I returned to D&D earlier this year, I was delighted to find that there was indeed a sect of old school, dungeon crawl fans out there, and now I even had a term for the large dungeon I wished to focus a campaign around. All was well with the world.

As I dove into my design process for Ulin-Uthor, I basically had to unlearn all I had acquired through those long years after reading Mr. Gilbert’s article. A fine article it is, but why bother with all of this realism when building a dungeon? Realistically, who in their right mind would build down into the depths past maybe one, or even two levels in the earth? I realized to explain the inexplicable I had to engage illogic and embrace the absurd. Thus, Ulin-Uthor is intended to be nonsensical and downright weird. It’s part of the allure of the underworld, that the players are leaving the light of day behind and entering a dimension of mystery and a realm of unreason.

Now, I am able to crank out maps and encounters that I KNOW the players will enjoy while taking on the challenges therein and maintaining that sense of wonder that kept me so enthralled as a youth. What player truly wants to explore abandoned Barracks, Kitchens, Storage Rooms, and Water Closets? “Ho-hum, more cots, chests and empty weapon racks? Seems we’ve been here before.”

Sure, I do indeed have certain regions and areas that are filled with just such trappings, but for the most part, Ulin-Uthor is a departure from attempting to have a ‘method to my madness’. My madness shines when I dispense of the methods accepted as reality. Funky traps, weird tricks, things that go bump in the night, these are the things that make a dungeon fun for the players. There is a certain level of logic, but it’s underworld logic here, not the logic of man.

My greatest deficiency in dungeon design is leaving rooms empty. I have an almost insatiable need to fill every empty expanse of the dungeon. It’s something I’m working on. The point is that it’s OK if a room is nothing more than just that…a room.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Dim Expanse part X

This past week I have copied and pasted Info, Tables and a sneak peek for eight of the keyed areas found in the upper levels of Ulin-Uthor, The Dim Expanse. Here's some more information in regard to the megadungeon.

On the first level, those maps designated as Level One, there are seven seperate sheets of graph paper crammed with keyed areas. These maps constitute 288 keyed areas. Amongst them are rooms with a single sentence of description, and rooms such as The Gallery, which claims over two pages of information. No one has found The Gallery yet, and it's many mysteries and secrets might never been unlocked.

Aside from the Recurring Encounters, of which I have provided two such examples in the past week, few of the rooms have any actual monster descriptions. Once the dungeon is written, I use methods for filling it based upon the region and the Wandering Monsters Table. I've been using the simple OD&D method for stocking, and a system of index cards. Thus during play I have my printed sheets as shown this week, my hand drawn maps, and two card files with hand written index cards for monsters, treasure and a large stack of pre-rolled Wandering Monster encounters. When the dice call for a Wandering Monster, I simply mix up the cards and draw a random one.

I award experience immediately after the melee is concluded, but experience for gold will not be awarded until it is actually removed from the dungeon and brought back to town. I am mulling over the idea of 'on the spot' leveling, but since no one has earned enough experience to become 2nd Level as of yet, I haven't decided exactly how this will play out.

Ulin-Uthor currently consists of sub-regions; collections of dungeon levels with a particular theme or history. All of these fit together to form The Dim Expanse, and I strive to make sure they don't simply feel like seperate dungeons stapled together to form the larger picture. Thus I have included features that involve the regions with one another.

The regions are hinted at and talked about through rumors and local legend. They are Krawlspace, Lahromil's Demise, Hundred Pits, The City Below, The Weeping Caves and The Slumbering Vault. I have plans for more, as needed. In general terms, each region encompasses two levels (aside from Krawlspace which is more or less a sub-region of Lahromil's Demise). Thus, the lowest level of The Slumbering Vault is Level 10 in the dungeon. There are currently six entrances into Ulin-Uthor, each ranging from well-known to forgotten. There will be more as I continue to write the megadungeon.

The Donjon, which I will need to revise and rewrite, can be accessed through Level 10, and for now will be the bottom of Ulin-Uthor proper. More than likely The Donjon will connect in some way to deeper, darker mysteries below. The Donjon is my old homage to S1, Tomb of Horrors.

Here's a little blurb I wrote up to aid me in keeping track of time during actual play:

Time in Dim X

The Hourglass:
Movement and searching turns should be tracked using a large d6 and a large d10, called The Hourglass. Every time the d6 changes from 6 to 1, an hour has passed. Make a record of 1 hour’s passing by moving the d10 by 1 to track the hours spent. Thus The Hourglass indicates time spent underground in hours and turns. Once 10 hours have been recorded, it is important to keep track of further time spent underground, as the party will now be subject to penalties from becoming taxed or heavily taxed.

Searching requires 1 full turn. An individual PC may search a specific 10’x10’ area in a turn. Thus, a party of 6 could search 6 separate 10’x10’ areas in 1 turn. Searching also includes the actions involved with opening locks, breaking down doors, extricating a PC from a pit, exploring the contents of a detailed room, etc. These turns must also be timed on The Hourglass.

Party movement through Ulin-Uthor will be measured in turns, using the slowest party member’s movement rate.

The dice I use for The Hourglass are large and sit off to my left during play. The ease of using a d6 and a d10 for tracking time has enabled me to remember when to check for Wandering Monsters, and to easily note the time spent delving the depths.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Dim Expanse part IX

Two more pasted rooms from my Dim Expanse files. Both have been ventured through by the first party to set foot in Ulin-Uthor. The first example is a risk-reward area that sits in a junction of sorts, so it has been traversed a number of times during play. Thus far it has been nothing more than a nuisance as PC's scamper through it. The Magic User member of the party risked life and limb twice trying to figure out exactly how to claim the large tome, to no avail. I'll probably change the magic command word in the future.

7: The Flying Books. This large, dusty room has a 20’ high ceiling and is stocked with leather bound books, numbering in the hundreds, sitting upon shelves lining the walls. At the room’s center are various dilapidated pieces of furniture. A few dusty old books are scattered about on the floor. The books are all enchanted, and when someone enters the center of the room, books will begin to shake, kicking up dust and falling from the shelves with a thud. Then, the books will begin to ‘flap’ their covers, and will soon flit about, clumsily taking flight. Seemingly harmless at first, the books will begin to gain momentum. Within a few rounds, the room is filled with flying books, colliding into each other, and the walls, and anyone still in the room. Small squeaky voices in various languages begin to demand “Read me!” “No, ME!” “I’m more interesting!” “I’ve a better plot” “I have fancy drawings!” etc. Every round after the books reach speed, a character will have to save vs. PoD or suffer 1 damage from a book. One particularly huge tome flies slowly about the room. There is a 1 in 10 chance of taking a hit from this book, inflicting 2 damage instead of 1. All of the books reset if no one is within the room, or if the command “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” or any variation thereof is uttered. When the command is used, all flying ceases for 1 full day. Only the large tome will allow itself to be opened, and NONE of the books may be removed from the room (they fly back).

The singular large tome is actually a spell book. It contains: Shield, Sleep, Charm, Magic Missile, Knock, Mirror Image, Web, Dispel Magic, Hold Person, Confusion, Polymorph Self, and Hold Monster.

Lastly, another example of a Recurring Encounter. In Solstice, Goblins are spawned from the very chaos of the underworld, and this area is the result of a failed experiment by some long forgotten Magic User.

20: Goblins Gone Bad! Rooms 20-21 are crawling with the basest form of Goblin spawning, a failed experiment having produced these virtually mindless, violent Goblins. The Goblins Gone Bad are all stooped mottled yellow and orange and each seems to have some sort of defect; no mouth, one eye, ears in wrong place, three arms, two heads, etc. The entire area is demolished and collapsed due to the GGB clawing at the walls, slinging rocks, bashing one another, or anything that moves. Their number is constantly replenished at the Spawning Pit in 21. GGB will not attack on sight, but rather each round when PC’s are within 20-21, there is an accumulative 1 in 6 chance of an attack, reaching 6 in 6 by round 6. Once GGB attack, another GGB will join in at a rate of 1 per round. There are a total of 60 in this area, milling about, crying, screaming, bashing the walls, clawing the floors, fighting one another, and just behaving like GGB. See 21 for spawn rates. All GGB are as follows:

Goblin Gone Bad (60) (AC 9, HD 1-1, Damage 1d3, HP always 3).

Since there are seven areas in which the GGB are milling about, assume that each room has 5 + 1d6 GGB when entered, with room 23 rounding out the number to 60 total. If a long melee ensues, GGB from other rooms will certainly be attracted and join the fray, but only one at a time as noted.

The low level Recurring Encounters allow a Referee to control the level of difficulty if he chooses, and can certainly provide for a nice rolling melee. This particular area provided some heroic moments for the PC's, and some very close calls as it ended with a full and hasty retreat.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Dim Expanse part VIII

The next two copied and pasted rooms have hosted a group run by my 14 year old Son, but not the current group. As such their location remains a mystery to the current party. The first is more for flavor and foreshadowing than anything else, and allows the Referee a certain measure of descriptive narrative.

2: The Viewing Gallery. Large chamber, to the south is a balcony overlooking room 3. There are nine carved stone contraptions here. Basically a pedestal with a roughly cubical carved shape, with two ‘eyeholes’ for viewing. Carved into each is a coin slot for activating the contraption. Each is a magic Viewatron. If a GP is deposited into the slot, the Viewatron is activated, and a faint glow can be seen coming from the eyeholes. Each GP allows 3 rounds of viewing. The view is dimly glowing, illuminating even the darkest areas, but only for the viewer. The GP drops down into a repository on level 2A, but cannot be recovered from here.

The Scenes:
1 - Ghoul Pit. Tons of Ghouls.
2 - Gargoyle Lord. Perched over a pile of coins.
3 - Large eating, sleeping or prowling Albino Ape.
4 - The Pit Goblin Hound Master, with Hell Hounds.
5 - Wrecked room with a stagnant pool and Owlbears.
6 - Cave with a pile of coins. Sometimes a Minotaur with a glowing Axe appears.
7 - A carved stone throne, a Troll wearing a crown is counting gems.
8 - Wrecked area, rubble. 1 in 6 chance that a Vampire passes scene carrying a victim.
9 - A haunting scene! The being viewed is aware when being watched. A large, fat grotesque man will motion to his vast treasure trove of coins, gems and chests, then beckon the viewer while laughing.

The next room provided some fun chase scenes for the group. It's my first posted example of a room type I have included throughout Ulin-Uthor thus far: Recurring Encounters. I have many examples of this, not limited to Skeletons, but including Goblin Spawning, Undead Stirring, Insect Nests, Rat Infestations, etc.

15: Strange Temple. This gigantic room has a 25’ high ceiling and consists of a large pool of foul liquid, covered with a thick layer of disgusting greenish brown growth. The north half of the Temple has a balcony like area, which overlooks the pool, supported by a dozen stone pillars, reachable by a pair of iron ladders mounted on the north wall. Old faded stucco, falling off or broken off for the most part, covers the walls and ceiling. It is faded beyond recognition. The floor is dusty and musty large granite slabs, now quite uneven and loose. The railing on the balcony overlooking the pool has a small swinging gate at it’s center. The liquid in the pool is 15’ deep, and is filled with hundreds upon hundreds of Goblin skeletons (if some enterprising group desired to empty this pool, figure there are 350 here). Every round in the Temple, there is a 1 in 6 chance of a Skeleton emerging from the pool, and this chance increases by 1 for each accumulative round spent here, so if 6 rounds are spent here, a Skeleton will emerge each round. Skeletons are all Goblin sized (each has 4 HP), and unarmed (dealing only 1d4 damage), and will happily pursue throughout the dungeon, but they will stop emerging if the Temple is empty. The chance for a Skeleton emerging is ‘reset’ once the Temple is empty. Skeletons turned by a Cleric leap back into the pool (unless destroyed).

Temple Skeleton (unlimited) (AC 7, HD 1-1, Damage 1d3, HP always 3, sharp weapons cause only 1 damage).

The west and east walls of the Temple Balcony are lined with old stone benches, beneath which are storage areas (20 in all) that can be searched. The north door, located under the balcony level, is locked tight, and stuck with age.

As always, questions or comments welcome, and these rooms can certainly be easily lifted and dropped into your own dungeons.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Swords & Wizardry

Readers of Grognardia will already be aware that there is more news to report in regard to the 0e retro-clone that Matt Finch has been so diligently preparing of late.

There are currently a few ways you can get your own copy of Swords & Wizardry, all found at the S&W site. The news today is that the book is finally available for print on demand from Lulu.

Go read JamesM's post at his blog for more information, or follow the above linked S&W site.

The cover art is fantastic! I'll be ordering a copy from Lulu later today.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Post Script: Ordered through Lulu! Can't wait to see it in print.

The Dim Expanse part VII

Another pair of rooms copied and pasted from my files for UU-KS-1F. The Mermaid Fountain proved deadly once, and did save one other hapless PC from imminent death. When it was encountered, there was a group of adventuring Kobolds here in the room, arguing over who should test the water. None of them did, and they parleyed with the player group before moving on, leaving the PC's to their own devices. The fountain itself and how it functions is not an original idea, but the graffiti and the fact that it will still heal even if ingested threw the PC's off a bit.

15: The Mermaid Fountain: At the center of this chamber is a large 10’ diameter fountain, with the statue of a mermaid at it’s center, with water burbling forth from a large vessel which she holds with both arms. There is some old graffiti on the south wall, scrawled very sloppily in Kobold, it reads “These waters heal wounds”, and written beneath in another hand it reads, “So drink deeply, but only from the falling water.” This is in fact a fountain of healing waters, but…the waters function as a topical healing liquid, to be applied externally. If anyone drinks the water from the fountain, they will need to save vs. poison or die. When applied to a wound or upon the flesh (including drinking, which still necessitates a save), the water will heal 2d4 damage. The fountain may only be used once per day per individual, and the water will only retain it’s power for one day if removed from the fountain. There are two secret doors in this room. The north secret door is opened by depressing a button located within the vessel held by the mermaid, and the south secret door is opened by depressing a loose stone in the wall nearby.

This next room allowed me to have some fun. Heckler was inspired by a character in the movie The Last Unicorn, and allowed me to role play in an effort to rile the PC's by questioning their abilities. The group ended up dragging a slain Giant Spider back here to feed the mold. They figured out the twist here, but never traversed the room.

17: Moldy Mess: This room is rank, musty and damp. The walls, floor and ceiling are covered in a layer of putrid brown and black mold, 1’ thick. A clear track is ‘cut’ through the room, running from the south entrance to the east hall, a full 3’ wide. It clearly reveals the locations of both secret doors, and from this direction the doors are plainly visible due to opening and closing. In the north west corner of the room, clean of all mold, is a stone pedestal, 7’ high, atop of which is a skeleton, named Heckler. Heckler will taunt and laugh at those who enter this room. Heckler will tell the PC’s that they are doomed, that they are going to become so much insect food soon, that they are fools for walking on the clearly trapped path, and that the mold is safer. Heckler is attached to the pedestal, and may not be dislodged. Heckler may be conversed with once he tires of his teasing and taunting. Heckler explains that if the PC’s desire any of his knowledge, they must return to him with a sack of freshly killed flesh, of any sort, that they can feed to his pet. Heckler’s ‘pet’ is the mold in this room, which does indeed eat flesh at a rate of 1 hit point per round. The mold is immune to all elements except Cold, which causes it to recede and dissipate slowly. Flaming oil is doused, as are torches inserted into the mold. If the PC’s do return with meat for the mold, Heckler will tell them to strew it about into the mold and then he will answer their questions. During the feeding, Heckler will seemingly be in a state of bliss. Heckler’s ‘talking’ is actually the manifestation of the sentient mold within this room, and it knows nothing of the dungeon. Heckler will laugh at the PC’s and tell them “I am still hungry, fools!”…”Oooops I mean my pet is still hungry …”. Heckler’s purpose is to lure food into the mold.

Heckler will likely make another appearance deeper in Dim X, but next time in a Dunking Tank of sorts.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Dim Expanse part VI

Here are two copied and pasted rooms which the current adventuring group has encountered. These are copied directly from my own files and as such may not make sense to readers. Questions are welcome, and of course as always these can be lifted and deposited directly into your own dungeons.

39: The Fourteen of Smithereen: This entire section of hall, lined at 10’ intervals with 10’ alcoves, is choked full with a thick, damp, silver mist which reduces vision to but five feet. The center of the hall is painted with a dimly glowing gold ‘path’ which runs from one end of this area to the other. Within each alcove, indicated as A-N, is a 6’ tall ‘statue’ of iron, each depicting an Orc. The Fourteen of Smithereen is an infamous band of Orcs which served the evil anti-cleric who built the Temple of Hizvhanus (The Terrible Temple). The Fourteen were aided by Hizvhanus as they came to power lower, deeper in Ulin-Uthor. Worshippers of Hizvhanus were required to walk the path through this area and pay tribute to each of the Orcs depicted here. All metallic items exposed to the silvery mist will emerge from the hall coated in sparkling glitter which will render said item ‘+0 Magic’ for 6 turns, or until washed/scraped off. Now the hall is simply a good ambush site for denizens of the dungeon. If each statue is checked, they do all indeed have names, written in Orcish, engraved on bronze plaques at their bases.

A- Helnma, B- Dlogvel, C- Sovs, D- Ulcyad, E- Namthar, F- Nolg, G- Pucp, H- Trifles, I- Lestrelmar, J- Thrwig, K- Trotep, L- Thims, M- Zenglert, N-Anbwom.

40: The Cartogropher’s Crypt: In the center of this large room is a huge pile, some 15’ around and 6’ high, of charred, burnt wood debris from some huge fire. The ceiling of the room is sooty black from smoke, and the entire place reeks of cinder and ash. This one time crypt has had all of it’s contents piled in the center and set to flame. There is a unique spirit within this room, that of the long dead mapmaker Trebor. Trebor had some hand in the construction and design of Krawlspace, and was then put to death and buried here so that he might take his secrets to the grave. By some twist of fate, Trebor’s spirit rose from the dead, whether it was days, years or decades later, his spirit woke to tell his secrets to those who might find this cursed place. Trebor is invisible and cannot communicate in any way other than using pieces of charcoal to write scribbled messages or draw maps upon the walls here. When the PC’s enter, there is a 1in8 chance that Trebor will be drawing a Map, otherwise his spirit is resting and gathering his energy to continue his work. Trebor seems to be oblivious to visitors, and it requires a great deal of effort for the spirit to be able to pick up and draw with the bits of burnt wood here. Furthermore, oftentimes denizens or visitors will arrive, and erase his markings from the walls. Upon finding this room, the PC’s will discover one of six possible maps which Trebor has worked on, and each subsequent visit, another of the maps will be found, determined randomly. Roll 1d8 below to see what Trebor has drawn:

1 - Map 1, 2 - Map 2, 3 - Map 3, 4 - Map 4, 5 - Map 5, 6 - Map 6, 7-8 - Roll 1d6 twice for two Maps.

These maps are to be drawn on index cards for live play, filed under Trebor‘s Maps, and if using screen monkey may be drawn/saved as maps there as well.

Any words written by Trebor will be associated with the Map indicated.

The secret door to the west is particularly difficult to open and will require a pry bar.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Dim Expanse part V

Today I'm sharing some long overdue insight into my ongoing megadungeon project, Ulin-Uthor aka The Dim Expanse. Below I am simply pasting two passages that were typed 'for my eyes only' while creating this dungeon. The first is the Info portion, and then the level specific Wandering Monsters Table. Aside from a handful of areas, Krawlspace truly was filled using the OD&D method, and my oft-referenced index card system.

I'll be sharing actual room descriptions after I set the table with this post. Everything I offer in these 'behind the scenes' posts are the actual copy and pastes. I'm interested to see what people take from this and if the descriptions make sense at all to other readers. I've found myself grappling over my own notes years later when I didn't write up an encounter well enough...wondering what my intent was years ago and being unable to remember what my notes meant. Hopefully Dim X will prove to be clear and concise so as not to lose those little inspirations for the individual rooms.


The following information is a description of the rooms and features of UU-KS-1E. For information about other encounters and treasure located within, see the index card files.

Krawl’s Pace (aka Krawlspace, and Kraw’s Place) Level 1E

The entire dungeon is filled with Vermin Holes. These holes impinge upon the map in many numerous areas, too many to count, and come in the form of holes in the floor or walls, as well as cracks and slits through the very stone, on any surface. Behind these holes is a vast complex network of vermin tunnels used by centipedes, rats, beetles and any of the other vermin encountered in this dungeon. They are so common, in fact, that to key them is pointless. Suffice to say that they are a part of the construction of Ulin-Uthor as a whole. Whenever a party asks about them, they will in fact see one, or remember having recently seen one and thought nothing of it. If they continue to seek them out, or prod at them, have some vermin emerge to devour the curious adventurers.

Doors in KS. Unless otherwise noted, all doors are standard heavy treated oak, bound with iron and reinforced with iron rivets. Handles are all simple push down latches, which for the most part will open just by pushing (or pulling) upon the door (the latches are rather old) and open ‘out’ into the hall. Doors are thick and heavy, with an interior rod inset to floor and ceiling rather than being hinged. If a door is locked, it will be noted. All doors are counterbalanced and will shut unless blocked or spiked open.

Secret Doors are stone, pivoting types that are counterbalanced and will close unless blocked. Most such doors need to be triggered to open.

Construction is of intermingled shaped stone, stacked and mortared. Ceilings are 10’ high unless otherwise noted. Height of the natural caves/roughed out areas varies from 12’-15’ unless otherwise noted.

Many of the rooms on this level are designed with the author’s intent of using the OD&D dungeon stocking guide in Vol. III, p. 6-8. Nip-Nak and Kraw are old school Bumbles, and prefer a very basic challenge for adventurers in their area of Krawlspace.

Using the guide as presented, it details placing the most important treasures manually, with or without guardians, and then simply dicing for the rest of the rooms. We’ll see how the OD&D system works out here on Level 1E.

2in6 equals a Monster. These will be random from the list of Wandering Monsters I have created for Krawlspace Wandering Monster index cards. Next, roll again for each room, 3in6 means there is treasure in those rooms with Monsters, and 1in6 means there is treasure in those rooms which are empty.

I have fine tuned the OD&D rules, and these new rules are in the Solstice Core Rules, and will be used, probably throughout Ulin-Uthor.

As I restock this level, I will maintain this approach and possibly even dice the empty rooms ‘on the fly’.

The following rooms will not be diced using the random method:

4: Skeletons
18, 19: Swarms
21: Giant Centipedes
40, 41: Sentinels
42, 43: No Wandering Monsters
49-52: Pack Rats

That leaves 41 rooms to dice.

Here's the blurb for the Activity and Wandering Monsters Tables:


Activity Table and Wandering Monsters (adjust # encountered based on party size)

The Activity Table is used as a guide to randomly determine exactly what monsters encountered within the dungeon are doing at the time the group approaches. It is to be used as an optional guide, and as a handy tool when a character is perhaps sneaking ahead of the group in order to scout, or even as a method to determine what noise might be heard from behind a dungeon door.

Activity Table (roll d12)
1 - Sleeping (fast asleep)
2-3 - Resting (not asleep, but taking a break and silent)
4-5 - Eating (another Wandering Monster maybe)
6-7 - Making Noise (doing some noisy activity, talking, gambling, etc)
8-10 - Ambushing (lying in wait for dinner)
11 - Fighting (each other if more than one)
12 - Combat (engaged with another Wandering Monster)

Wandering Monsters: Once every other Turn, check with 1d6. A roll of ‘6’ indicates a Wandering Monster. There is a 1in10 chance that the monsters have been stumbled upon by the adventurers. In which case this should be treated as a standard encounter, with sighting distance of 2d4x10 feet, and both sides roll for surprise. The rest of the time, the monsters are pursuing the adventurers, and only the adventurers need to check for surprise. If not surprised, sighting distance is 2d4x10 feet, if surprised (2in6 chance) sighting distance is 1d3x10 feet.

Krawlspace (roll d12)
1: Swarm, 1@1HD
2: Pack Rats, 1
3: Giant Centipedes, 3d6
4: Giant Beetles, 2d4
5: Giant Spider, 1
6: Skeletons, 2d6
7: Zombies, 1d6
8-9: Kobolds, 2d6: 1d6x5 SP, 1d6 GP each.
10: Bandits, 1d6+1 Leader: 1d6x5 SP, 1d6 GP each.
11: Goblins, 1d6+1, 1d6x5 SP, 1d6x5 GP each. Random Red, Yellow or Orange.
12: Special (either NPC or Visitor from Hundred Pits)

Next up, as promised, I'll paste some rooms that have seen actual live play, then it's onto some of the rooms not yet used (so if you're a player in Of Fortunes & Fools, this info is subject to change 'on the fly').

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Post Script: I just realized that the current group is actually on UU-KS-1F, not 1E. The rooms I'm featuring in the upcoming posts are actually found on 1F!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MMO Blueprint

1974 to the present. 34 years and counting. In 1974 Gygax and Arneson published the first version of this FRP concept, and are widely credited with creating it (although earlier, less refined forms certainly existed prior to 1974). Dungeons & Dragons took the gaming world by storm, and the starting point for the form had now been clearly marked.

Fast forward to 2008. Computers have of course become the gaming medium of choice. It’s a no-brainer, really. And thanks to the internet, the entire concept of gathering fellow gamers together for face to face gaming seems almost arduous. The modern form of FRP, nee D&D, is the Massive Multiplayer Online fantasy game. In fact, I would bet that World of Warcraft today currently has more players than D&D had at any one time in it’s glorious history. Playing a computer game is, well, somehow more accepted than gathering your buddies together in the basement, rolling dice, speaking in funny voices, and grazing on cheese curls and cola for an entire afternoon or evening.

This is neither a pro nor a con post. I do enjoy computer games, and I know that MMO's aren’t truly role playing as the term was originally set forth. Now, ‘role playing’, to the younger generations, simply means a game in which you control a single avatar, and progress through various challenges while accumulating wealth and power. It was a rude awakening when someone told me their favorite role playing game was Final Fantasy…“But, that’s a console game…isn’t it?” I retorted, naively.

It’s just that, well, computer gaming is easier.

Other than the medium, FRP hasn’t truly changed THAT much since 1974. The way the rules are applied, the sheer amount of rules, the published material available; yes, all of these things have evolved. But nothing has truly changed that much, in reality. The basic concept is still, and always will be, the same. Play a character, gain treasure and experience, feel good about overcoming obstacles (whether alone, in groups, face to face, across the internet, or in the basement). I’ve come to accept this over the years, despite my earliest protestations.

I look back with pride knowing that I was in on it in the early days. In fact, if given the choice in 1979, pen and paper or computer, I think the choice would’ve been easy. There was no such choice then, thankfully. I might have missed what was in fact a revolution in gaming. I was in on the computer thing, as well, and I am happy that Dungeons & Dragons preceded computer gaming. Why? I don’t think the game would’ve been able to grow and prosper as it has. Dungeons & Dragons, when played the way it was meant to be played, can never really fit into a boxed computer DVD game.

Nevertheless, I still enjoy seeing and experiencing the divergent path that the computer game versions of FRP have taken. In my own humble opinion, it’s to the point now that WotC is looking to MMO's for cues on how to increase profits. Which is fine, if that’s your thing go for it and I’m sure your gaming group will be able to make as many lasting memories of face to face, pen and paper gaming as my friends and I did back in the years BC (Before Computer).

The fact is, as computer games progress, the actual freedom afforded players under the truest form becomes more and more narrow. The pinnacle of MMO's (aside from Player vs. Player) is Raiding. Raiding is the antithesis of player freedom. Success in Raiding is dependant upon very exacting standards, and trial and error before a routine is established. Computer games are also all about repetition. And don’t get me started on player death in D&D vs. player death in computer games. But I digress.

The FRP evolution to which I speak now is the Archetypes. The D&D three-pronged crown of Fighting Man-Magic User-Cleric is essential to all of these MMO's. In fact, I sit in amazement now looking at how this innocent little trilogy published in 1974 basically set in stone the blueprint for all MMO's, even 34 years later. Wow, indeed. Add in a few fluff classes for flavor and variety to sustain player interest, and you have the basic MMO model. Tank-Caster-Healer. With Support and Hybrid classes on the periphery to supplement, fill-in or fight for spots in a group or Raid.

The bottom line is that you need these three archetypes to succeed in the most demanding parts of MMO's. Someone to take the brunt of the damage (Tank), someone to dish out lots of damage or control the encounter (Caster), and someone to keep everything moving along, or raise the fallen (Healer). What a simple, elegant system. 34 years and counting is the proof.

Support and Hybrid classes were added later in D&D in the form of Thief, Paladin, Druid, Monk, Bard, etc. Yes, even the Support/Hybrid concept was lifted straight from the works found in original Dungeons & Dragons. Not happy being a humdrum Fighting Man? Try a Paladin. Looking to outwit and elude the opposition? Try a Thief. Care to do a bit of everything? Try a Bard. It’s the same Class/Subclass system, all rotating around the three-pronged crown established in Men & Magic.

It’s funny when you look back at the genesis of the Cleric. I wonder how modern MMO's would look if there had never been a Sir Fang? One cannot simply assume that the Healer archetype would've arisen without being set in place in 1974. I'll echo my earlier post of the same name and once again say Thank You, Sir Fang.

For the record, I am looking forward somewhat to Wrath of the Lich King (even though I am never going to be a Raiding player again), but perhaps more so to Diablo III, which should suit my instant gratification computer gaming needs much better, while still allowing me to replicate D&D as best I can…in my basement, perhaps making funny voices between handfuls of cheese curls and sips of cola.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No Sith, Sherlock

I’m a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, Vol. III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. More than any of the original trilogy of rules, this volume actually aids the neophyte Referee in understanding how to prepare and play a session of D&D. Does it answer all of the questions that arise when preparing to take the plunge into the whole role playing concept? No. Nothing replaces actually playing and learning through hands-on experience, but whereas Volume I is mostly the actual ‘rules’ of the game, and Volume II gives examples and ‘stats’ for Monsters and Treasure, Volume III puts forth a decent effort in pulling the whole concept together into a cohesive system. It spells out exactly HOW to play.

Granted, a large portion of this third volume has never seen any use in my own campaigns. I am referring to pages 25-35, which cover rules for handling various rarely used (again, in MY campaigns to date) combat situations. Despite this fact, I find myself coming back more and more frequently to appreciate the importance on this little book. It’s essentially the Father of my favorite D&D book ever, the Dungeon Master’s Guide by Gary Gygax. It’s missing the game rules that are found in Volume I in this original set, and the treasure that is found in Volume II, but otherwise it’s information intended for the Referee’s eyes only. It wraps everything up in a nice, neat, tidy format and says, “OK, so here’s how the previous two volumes are intended to be used.” And when I say “nice, neat, tidy format” I actually mean “disorganized, vague, ever so fun to peruse format”. So sue me, I like the rough around the edges feel of the ‘Real Thing’ that is Dungeons & Dragons (aka OD&D).

Less often these days I find something ‘new’ to my eyes within these pages, but I still enjoy picking up all three volumes and spending a few moments reading a passage or a table contained therein. While working on my current project for Fight On!, my mind was wandering and the seeds of a separate adventure (in other words, an idea that simply would NOT fit within my current project) were being sown. I decided to refocus a bit and grabbed the volume I’ve been sticking my nose into more frequently of late. Lo and behold, on page 19, an interesting outdoor random encounter met my eyes.

Optional Arid Plains, a result of 8 on a d12 caught my fancy. Yep. Sith! Poor saps. I can see it now;

Our intrepid adventurers, searching for the Long Lost Geegaw of Golliwag, trekking near and far, seemingly lost and at the edge of madness, spy a dark figure approaching them. Flowing black cloak whippping in the wind, jet black armor glinting in the sunlight, the mysterious visage appears to be accompanied by a pack of (result 5 on a d12) White Apes toting ebony crossbows. The party weighs their options: Flee, Parley, Fight. The choice is clear, given the flat, trackless environs, Parley, but prepare for melee. As the black figure closes in, he motions his White Apes to hold, and approaches the party of adventurers rather boldly. Just as the player character leader of the band begins to open his mouth to speak, the dark figure draws a blazing, glowing sword of bright red energy, and with a flick of his other hand sends the party leader flying through the air with some immense, invisible, telekinetic force. Landing unceremoniously thirty feet behind his adventuring mates, the leader thinks he sees a brightly costumed figure flying through the air, directly at the silent, black cloaked menace, just before he blacks out from pain.

Sith, huh? Honestly I don’t recognize many of the other entries on that particular Arid Plains table. My best guess is perhaps these are more Edgar Rice Burroughs influences. There’s already a cool Desert (Mars) table on page 18, just before this one, that likewise includes Tharks. Result 2 on a d12 for the Arid Plains table is Banths! Ya think George Lucas was a John Carter fan? Aren’t the big mounts in his sci-fi space opera called Banthas? Yeah, I think there’s a pattern here.

I know that SITH is an acronym for Sick In The Head, but this deserves further research. So this led me to turn to the infallible world wide web, and Google the word ‘Sith’. After sithing...err sifting through the first several pages of results, I found a reference NOT related to Star Wars. Awesome! As it turns out, Sith is Gaelic (or Celtic) for…get ready for it…‘Fairy’. Furthermore, the mythical Cu Sith, or ‘Fairy Dog’, is a huge canine with a greenish coat. Didn’t sound familiar to me until I further read that Cu Sith is pronounced "Coo Shee".

The results of my brief and utterly unscientific research have led me to a few conclusions: that Cooshee isn’t just some lame throwaway entry from Gygax’s Monster Manual II (it’s actually based on Celtic Myth); that George Lucas was/is a John Carter fan boy; and that Darth Vader is, in fact, a Fairy.

But what of our intrepid adventurers, face to face with some deranged Referee’s ad lib version of a Sith encountered in an Optional Arid Plains setting? By now you may have guessed, that rather than end the campaign here so unceremoniously, the Referee thought quickly on his toes, and placed the party, unbeknownst to them at the time, between two heated adversaries. Yep, that fleeting glimpse of a colorfully costumed flying figure was indeed the Lord of a nearby Fortress, found on the Occupant column for the random Castle Guards/Retainers table on page 15, to be exact, result 2 on a d6.

And the party leader gains consciousness to witness his unscathed companions enjoying delicious piping hot mugs of result 4 on the d4 roll in that Occupant’s row.

I’m sure glad to have Volume III to show me how to play this game that lets me pit the players against sci-fi and comic book characters, with modern trappings to take the edge off. Now, make mine a Grande Coffee of the Day, black please.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee