Sunday, July 31, 2011

OD&D and AD&D Fonts

I'm not sure how many of you will find this useful, but I did a search on the old D&D fonts, which led me to a thread on enworld with a link to a now defunct geocities page. Thankfully with the help of the way back machine, I was able to view an archived version of the page from 2009, which lists most of the fonts TSR used for OD&D and AD&D and most of their products associated with the brand. I used screengrab to snap up a pic of it, which you can find below. Some of this may be common knowledge, but there's a lot of other useful info there as well, and many variations of these fonts can be found on the web for free (i.e. Quentin Caps on

**edit** Thanks to Ohio Metal Militia, this page now has a new home.

Here's the snapshot.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Great AD&D Amazon Score

The other day I decided to order a 1e AD&D DMG from Amazon.  I mainly wanted a cheap used copy to use as a game aid at the table for our D&D sessions.  The seller was letting it go for around $6 and according to the description from the seller: "a little shelf wear, binding intact, good usable copy."  So I ordered it and it arrived today in the mail, and after opening up the package, I was almost struck unconscious by the condition of this magnificent tome.  The binding was in perfect condition, there was some minor shelf wear on the corners, and the pages were even white with no yellowing!  No drawings or pen marks, no missing pages, and completely intact.  These pictures really don't do it justice, but here they are anyway.

Click to enlarge.  Cover is in remarkable condition.
As you can see above, the cover is in unbelievable condition.  Hard to tell there, but it even still has a little shine to it.

The binding is in near perfect condition.
Just as the seller said the binding is indeed intact, but I was shocked at just how "intact" it was.  No tears, or rips at all.

Pages are white and all there. No markings inside.
I'm not really sure if the pic above can do it justice, but the pages are crisp and white, and not yellowed with age at all nor brittle.  They're all there with no markings or writings.  They look brand new in fact.

Clean back cover with no scratches or scuffs.
The back cover has no scratches or scuffs, and much like the front cover, still has a little shine on it.

To say I was shocked at this find is an understatement.  I'm honestly not certain how they were able to maintain this book in this condition without realizing the value of it.  A copy like this could easily sell for $40-$50 on ebay or some other site.  I was expecting something heavily used and worn out, which was fine, because I was planning on using it at the table myself, as I said above.  Instead, I'm thinking of holding this one back and not using it at all.  It's rare to find a copy of this book in this good a shape and not pay an arm and a leg for it.  I'm very pleased.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Q&A with Freelance Wizards of the Coast Designer and Author Scott Fitzgerald Gray Part 1

About a week ago, to my surprise, I was fortunate enough to receive an email from a reader. It was none other than Scott Fitzgerald Gray, freelance RPG designer and author, thanking me for my contributions to the gaming community through my blog. He was also kind enough to give me a copy of his current novel/short story collection "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales," which is currently keeping me up past my bedtime turning pages.

Mr. Gray has worked as an editor and RPG game designer for Wizards of the Coast among many others. Most are probably familiar with his work as co-designer of the D&D 4th edition incarnation of the Tomb of Horrors. He was also kind enough to conduct a Q&A with me in which we discuss his work with Wizards, thoughts on the upcoming big announcement about D&D at GenCon, his thoughts on gaming and the OSR, and his new book.

RC:  Give us a little background on yourself and how you first got into D&D, and gaming in general.

SFG: Like many disaffected youth of my high school generation (late 70s/early 80s), I and my core group of friends were heavily into speculative fiction and fantasy. Our lives were comics, sci-fi novels, Star Wars, and all the other escapism we could get our hands on. As I know is less common, we were also into wargaming, whiling away the weekends with Kingmaker, Squad Leader, and the other Avalon Hill classics. However, growing up in a small western-Canadian town of 2,000 people, we were totally off the grid as far as D&D went. I can remember quite clearly seeing the Holmes blue box and the original AD&D manuals in gaming and toy stores, looking them over, and not quite getting it. But then at the end of 10th grade (summer 1980), a friend of mine (Kevin, one of the four friends mentioned here: moved down to Vancouver temporarily with his family, and came back saying "I've been playing this game called Dungeons & Dragons, and you have to try it."

My very first D&D game was down in Vancouver with Kev and Dave (another friend mentioned in the post above). Kev was trying to explain the game without much success, and then (as is so often the case) finally just said "Okay, I'll show you." Except we had no books on hand. No rules, no character sheets. So we cut up paper chits to use for dice, rolled up the most generic 1st-level characters imaginable, played a fast and dirty three-room dungeon (complete with dragon) using the rules as Kev remembered them off the top of his head. By any standard, it should have been a train wreck -- but when we were done, I knew I had just experienced something that would change my life.

I bought the Holmes blue box immediately but never actually played it, going straight to AD&D when Dave discovered a guy (Mitch, soon to become the fourth friend mentioned in the above post) reading a "Players Handbook" in the school library. From there, the last two years of high school were pretty much nothing but gaming for all of us, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

RC: And in the link you give there (which I highly recommend having a look over for the readers here), you speak on your work with Wizards of the Coast on the 4th edition version of Tomb of Horrors, which leads to my next question.  You were able to do what many in our hobby, especially those who tend to GM most of the time, only dream of doing; you managed to make a career in game design.  How did you first become involved in the field professionally?  Tell us a little about the projects you have worked on previously.

SFG: My RPG work was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I had just gotten back into D&D (and gaming in general) after a fairly lengthy midlife hiatus, mostly as a result of becoming really enthusiastic about the OGL as the foundation of D&D 3rd Edition. The creative possibilities excited me, and I really found myself getting behind the vision and potential of an "open game". In 2004, I'd already spent most of my life working in publishing and film, so I had solid experience as a writer and editor but had never done any gaming work. (The closest I'd come previously was a couple of articles written for "Dragon" way back in the AD&D days that I never submitted because I couldn't make myself believe they were good enough. In hindsight, I'm sure I was right.)

Totally by happenstance, I saw a note from Sue Cook on the Malhavoc website saying that she'd heard Wizards was looking for freelance editors. I got in touch with them, harassed the most excellent Kim Mohan for a month or two by email, and received back an editing test assignment on a section of the "Frostburn" book. Kim being the evil genius that he is, this test was entirely old-school -- to be printed out, marked up with proofreader's marks, and sent back as hard copy. (One of the advantages of being as aggressively middle-aged as I am is that you actually know forgotten arcana like proof-reader's marks.) I got an email back from Kim a couple of months later with the terrifying subject line "Your Test Results", but it turned out he liked my work and gave me my first assignment -- editing half of "Complete Arcane" under the direction of the most excellent Chris Youngs. Kim liked my work on that book enough that he offered me a second assignment -- "Races of Eberron" -- and things carried on from there.

I've done much more editing work for Wizards than design work (my first design job came in 2006 with "Secrets of Sarlona" for the Eberron campaign setting). I also worked on a half-dozen or so books with the force of nature that is Rob Schwalb when he was with Green Ronin, and a couple of projects for Malhavoc. However, the bulk of my RPG work has been for Wizards.

RC: So, having played through most of the editions of D&D, and having read your experience with the original Tomb of Horrors as a player, I know you must have been quite excited to have the opportunity to help design the 4th edition incarnation.  I understand you did one for the RPGA as well which precedes the events in the 4th edition version, which is more closely like the original module.  How did you get involved with the Tomb of Horrors project?

D&D 4e Tomb of Horrors

SFG: "Excited" is the minimal description of how I felt being asked to work on the Tomb of Horrors, yes. The super-adventure came first, with an email in April 2009 from Andy Collins, who said that he and James Wyatt wanted me to work on it, and was I interested. When I regained consciousness, I replied "Yes, please." The excellent Ari Marmell was already on board as lead designer and was hammering together the outline. I'd edited a few of Ari's projects before, but the chance to work directly with him for the first time was very cool. He and I first touched base on the project toward the end of May, then worked like madmen through to completion in August 2009, with the book released in July 2010. (I assume most people know this, but that year-long lead time between when a designer works on a book for Wizards and when it finally appears is fairly standard.)

The RPGA Tomb of Horrors came about entirely as a reaction to/result of the super-adventure. (Warning: Massive spoiler alert!) Ari's outline for the super-adventure did what I thought was a very cool thing by advancing the timeline to a period long after the events of the original Tomb and Bruce Cordell's amazing "Return to the Tomb of Horrors" box set for 2nd Edition AD&D. In the super-adventure, the original Tomb is an all-but-abandoned ruin drained of its magical power, which gave us the opportunity to do some truly original things with Acererak and his long-term plots, rather than just revisiting the same ideas already covered so well in ToH and RToH. At the same time, however, we were both cognizant that the then-recently released "Open Grave" treated the RToH backstory as "current canon" that would be violated in some way by our adventure, as would Rob Schwalb's excellent 4e updating of RToH's Skull City in "Legacy of Acererak" (Dragon #371). As an editor, trying to find ways to iron out inconsistencies in canon is a kind of unconscious reflex, and so totally out of the blue, I hit upon what i thought was a novel idea. I pitched James Wyatt on the concept of doing a straight 4e update of the original "Tomb of Horrors" module, which i saw as a kind of promotional prequel to the super-adventure, saying:

Within EToH ["Expedition to the Tomb of Horrors", the working title of the super-adventure], we've established a bit of a nominal timeline that places the events of the adventure in the very recent past relative to the timeframe of the PCs' campaign. The destruction of the Tomb of Horrors is set as approximately one year before the adventure kicks off (adjusted according to the DM's needs, of course). Alongside that, we explain what Acererak has been doing, how he survived RToH, et al. That means that for all the time up until the adventure is actually published, we have a canon in which the old Tomb still exists and is thriving -- as described in "Open Grave" (which treats the RToH backstory as current) and Rob Schwalb's piece on Acererak and Skull City in Dragon 371. Within this existing canon, prior to the release of EToH, a group can go to Skull City as it is "now" (from Dragon) and do the Tomb as it is "now" (from Dungeon). The publication of EToH then shatters that canon -- draining the Tomb, razing Skull City, and spinning things off in new directions.

James liked the idea, but wanted it done up as an RPGA rewards adventure instead, which i was totally cool with.

RC: And, as you point out in your post in the link earlier here, you had a unique opportunity to sort of immortalize your old gaming group in the Tomb of Horrors adventure.  Are the characters in that adventure more based on the players and their personalities, or were those the actual characters (i.e. race, class, etc.) the guys ran in the Tomb of Horrors game when you originally ran through it back in the day?

SFG: Mostly the actual players' personalities, but a little of both. Mitch was (and remains) the most studiously "cosmic" one of the bunch, so a deva seemed a fitting homage. Dave has played more than his share of rangers; my best fighter character from back in the day always favored the bastard sword, et al. That fighter of mine was one of the survivors of our original foray into the Tomb of Horrors in the spring of 1982, but I can still remember a few of the other characters as well.

RC: You mentioned earlier that it is not uncommon for a project to take up to a year to complete.  Can you take us through the process Wizards uses from pitch to project completion?  I understand the processes may vary depending on the project, but what about something like Tomb of Horrors, a super-adventure, or module?

SFC: Well, as a freelancer, my insight is limited because the initial decisions regarding Wizards projects are all made in-house. (The RPGA Tomb of Horrors was an exception to that, but it was initially a project intended for Dungeon, and so was pitched very much like I or any writer would pitch a Dungeon adventure or an article for Dragon.) However, the overall process is usually fairly consistent. The chiefs of RPG design and development are the starting point, deciding what books go on the schedule. The lead designer is next up, working with the department heads to create or finalize an outline that becomes the starting point for the other designers, each of whom will take on a specific portion of the book. Sometimes this is assigned by the lead; sometimes the designers get to call certain sections or discuss who would be best to work on a specific topic or area.

During the design phase, there's a lot of back and forth and discussion of ideas, especially where what's happening in one section will impact another designer's section. As a designer, the goal is to turn over the best possible work -- not just the writing, but creating quality maps (for adventures and setting books) and art orders. You have to decide which parts of your section will take an illustration based on the amount of illo space the lead designer has been told is available, then you need to describe that illustration in a way that gives the artist a starting point. Once a designer's work is done, the lead designer pulls everything together and makes sure it all fits properly before turning over to development. The developers do a comprehensive pass  pass through the work, focusing primarily on mechanics and rules issues. The book is then turned over to editing, where the focus is more on clarity, continuity, and making sure everything has the proper amount of punch.

The process obviously differs depending on the book. For something like a Monster Manual, development is obviously hugely important because the vast majority of the book is rules related. For something like the Tomb of Horrors super-adventure, it's a more balanced mix of design, development, and editing all contributing to the quality of the final product.

RC: Going back to the OGL, and how that has impacted the RPG field, we've seen a variety of retro-clones hit the scene of previous editions, such as Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and other variations such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which has spawned this so called "old school renaissance" in gaming.  It seems that over the past few years, the OSR has started to gain steam, as people are returning to their table top roots.  Obviously as far as Wizards is concerned, Paizo's recent continued success with the Pathfinder game has created quite the stir.  What are your thoughts on the rise of the OSR and the fact that the movement seems to be gaining a lot of momentum in the gaming community?

SFG: For me, the rise of the retro-clones really underscores the creative freedom promised by the OGL and the vision of Ryan Dancey, Peter Adkison, and the other folks who shaped that core of 3rd Edition. From an even older perspective, though, the many and varied ways in which D&D can be played today (whether by that name or otherwise) seems like an open acknowledgement that D&D has always been about people playing the game any way they wanted to. As I think is true for most gamers of my generation, the D&D that I played as a wayward youth was a chaotic mishmash of AD&D with a ton of house rules (including custom hit points and classes), a bunch of official rules we ignored because they didn't add to the game for us (weapon speed factor, anyone?), and liberal borrowings from Holmes Basic (including the 10-second melee round) and Cook/Moldvay. For us, D&D was always about picking and choosing elements from countless sources in pursuit of shaping the game that felt right to us as players and DMs. Thirty years after I started playing (dear god...), that kind of "My D&D" approach has not only taken the lead in the way the game is played, it's been made unofficially official. For me, this is a good thing.

I can't speak for anyone in the industry but myself, but as far I'm concerned, the more people that are engaged in fantasy role-playing, the better. I've done my level best to avoid the 3e/4e/Pathfinder superiority wars because I've always subscribed to the adage that the best version of D&D is the one you're playing and enjoying right now. My philosophy is that first we get everybody in the world gaming. Then and only then, we can argue over which version of which game they should be playing.

RC: There has been a significant rumor brewing in the online world about an announcement by Wizards at the upcoming GenCon in reference to some big news concerning the D&D product line?  Some are speculating the announcement concerns a possible 5th edition of the game, while others have said Wizards is considering shelving the brand in favor of a move towards board games with the brand name behind it.  I understand you might not be privy to this sort of information as a freelancer, but having worked closely with many of the designers and editors, what is your take on this announcement, and the changes coming down the pipe for the game of D&D?

SFG: As a freelancer, I have absolutely no inside information on what Wizards might or might not be announcing at GenCon. Like any publisher, Wizards needs to be very circumspect with its planning, and I totally understand and appreciate that. Having said that, however, I'd be very surprised if the most extreme rumblings of the rumor mill turn out to be even close to reality. Like any player and fan, I look to the most recent developments of the game to try to get a sense of where it's going. And when I do, I see those developments as indicative of a game that continues to evolve and grow in response to how people are playing it. To me, the process of development that's given rise to D&D Essentials (just to cite one example) is the same sort of process that's given rise to the OSR (though I respect that many OSR people would likely disagree with me). It's about letting people play the game they way they want to. Likewise, things like Mike Mearls' "Legends and Lore" column on the Wizards' website highlight the notion that D&D is a mutable continuum, not a fixed set of "definitive edition" data points. I know that some people read what Mike is saying in his columns and assume that he's specifically foreshadowing new directions for 5th Edition. I can't say they're wrong (if only because I honestly don't know). However, more important to me is the knowledge that the people in charge of Dungeons & Dragons understand that where the game has come from must always remain a big part of its overall direction.

RC: Yes, I think the fact that there are so many variations on the game really allow for a lot of customization.  I run a hybrid mix of 1e and 2e myself, and I try to take what I think are the best elements of both, and incorporate them into my campaign.  I understand much of your time devoted to the hobby is now spent behind the scenes working on projects and the like, but do you currently GM/play in any campaigns?  Do you have a regular group you play with?  What is your take on using technology like Skype in playing/hosting RPG sessions?

SFG: I currently play in two campaigns -- one, a home game with my wife and daughters; the other a play-by-post game on a private forum i run, which also serves as a testbed for some personal RPG design projects. The home game is v3.5 with a fair bit of customization (specifically, the spell points system from "Unearthed Arcana"). The PBP game is using an OGL/3.5-derived totally gestalt classless/level-free system that's been a pet project of mine for years, and which (if I ever get around to finishing it) is meant to be a single system that can encompass pretty much any style of play, from straight-up simple BD&D to a heavily tactics-oriented game like 4e. (When i say that, I'm sure I sound like more of an megalomaniac than I actually am...) My 4e games tend to be one-offs as opposed to long-term campaigns, because i'm usually using them to test projects i'm working on that don't necessarily link together in any useful way.

I'm definitely of the opinion that online play can be a great boon for tabletop gaming. Using my play-by-post game as an example, that campaign presently involves three players from back in the high-school days (including two of the Tomb of Horrors crew) and another friend relatively new to D&D. However, given that we're all several thousand miles apart from each other, being able to play online is the only way this game would ever happen. We've toyed with the idea of using Skype or some other video chat or online play system to play in real-time. However, the play-by-post format lets us work around our time zone differences more effectively.

RC: I'd like to briefly discuss something you touched upon there about 4e seeming like a tactics-oriented game.  There are many in the OSR who compare 4e to a lot of the video games in its approach to the hobby, which differs greatly with previous editions and incarnations of the game.  Do you think the video game and MMORPG culture has had an impact in the design of 4e or was this change in approach simply something more natural for the game?

SFG: I think it's more accurate to say that developments in MMORPG culture have had an effect on the overall culture of gaming, which then feeds into the ongoing evolution of D&D. Every MMORPG in existence is built on the foundations and language that Dungeons & Dragons and the other original RPGs created. Each new generation of RPG designers thus creates new games based on their own experiences of gaming, so it's not surprising that a person can look at 4e and see the overall influence of the three generations of RPG culture that have arisen since 1974. More importantly, though, I think people need to recognize that a focus on tactics is hardly a new development synonymous only with MMORPGs. Looked at completely objectively, 4th Edition probably has less in common with WoW than it does with classic tactical wargames like Squad Leader, which are full of turn-based tactical minutiae, stackable conditions, terrain modifiers, and often-insane number crunching to resolve combat. (I await someone's upcoming scathing blog attack revealing how 4e proves that Hasbro is planning on spinning off D&D under the Avalon Hill brand any day now.)

RC: And ironically enough, OD&D spawned from miniature wargaming anyway, which is in of itself, very tactical in nature. Another big change in later editions was the encouraged focus on storyline play as opposed to "sandbox" play.  Many have debated the merits of both ad nauseam in the blogging world, but what are your thoughts on the adventure path/storyline focus of modern RPG adventures as opposed to the more classic sandbox approach?  What has led to this progression, and do you forsee Wizards or any of the other big fish going back to the sandbox style?

SFG: As said above, I think that many specific trends in RPG design can be explained simply by acknowledging the way that each new generation of gamers reacts to and seeks to "improve upon" what came before. When sandbox play was the norm (as epitomized by the classic AD&D and D&D adventure modules as individual units, connected by only the most rudimentary story), it was easy to get excited by something like Dragonlance with its implicit promise of "This will be different!" But then a generation later, when complex narratives had become the norm because of the success of Dragonlance, it was just easy to get excited by a return to the older, simpler approach.  I personally think that sandbox play and more complex story-based play are equally valid approaches to D&D --  and not to keep harping on the same point, but the beauty of D&D for me has always been that it can encompass both those paradigms with equal ease.

One other important factor, though, is the way that gaming groups have changed over time. Back in the day, groups tended to be large and chaotic. Four players one week, then ten the next, with half playing two or more PCs -- this was the AD&D way, and in that kind of environment, sandbox play is usually the better option. As D&D got more mainstream and it became possible to establish a more consistent expectation of gaming with a core group of players, story-based play often offered a richer ongoing campaign experience. These days, a player's preference might well stem from what kind of group they play with. If it's fast and informal, sandbox style is often best (as is the case for my own 4e games). With a consistent base of players and characters, more detailed story-based narratives have a lot to offer (as they do in my home game and my PBP game).

As far as industry trends, i expect it's always going to be a balance. I think that many designers implicitly like the idea of shaping story within the context of adventure writing (and i'll certainly cop to being one of those designers). But at the same time, we recognize that we're doing a disservice to certain types of players if we force our story ideas on them, so we try to offer options for both styles of play.

Be sure to check back on Monday for Part 2 of our Q&A session in which we talk about more gaming, Scott's new book, and the world building and writing process.

About Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Scott Fitzgerald Gray is a specially constructed biogenetic simulacrum built around an array of experimental consciousness-sharing techniques — a product of the finest minds of Canadian science until the grant money ran out. Accidentally set loose during an unauthorized midnight rave at the lab, the S.F. Gray entity is currently at large amongst an unsuspecting populace, where his work as an author, screenwriter, editor, RPG designer, and story editor for feature film keeps him off the streets.

More info on Scott and his work (some of it even occasionally truthful) can be found by reading between the lines at

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Playing D&D With Strangers

I've always been a fairly reserved person in real life, at least around people I don't know very well.  Generally the first impression I give people is "quiet and serious," and if I meet someone I must interact with regularly, but don't care to get to know (i.e. 99% of my co-workers), this impression usually turns into a lasting one.  The reason for my reservation lies primarily with the fact that I can be pretty obnoxious at times.  The people that I allow to see that side often find me to be quite the opposite of "quiet and serious," and more attune to "loud and hilarious."  Because I have enough self-awareness to realize that my personality could possibly come off as obnoxious and abrasive to some.  I like to joke (often at my own expense and even more often at the expense of others...but in a funny way as opposed to an assholish manner), I like to swear (way more than I should probably), I like to get drunk sometimes (which usually adds to the obnoxiousness), and I love to game.  That is the real me, and a side not often seen by many people.

Now, you're probably reading this, and thinking "why is he telling us this? Who gives a crap?"  I grew up playing D&D, and various other games, with a small group of friends in my high school years.  Not all of us attended the same school, but we all met up on the weekends at our FLGS to game.  As time went on, and we graduated, things began changing, which is natural.  Some went off to college, some were working, I joined the military, etc., and our gaming group fell to the wayside.  We were a close group (often to this day we refer to ourselves in the manner of brothers as opposed to friends), and had gamed together for years.  These are the people with whom I learned to play the game, and with a few exceptions, were the only people I'd ever really played D&D with, or any of our other games for that matter.

When I was away in the military, I was often asked by several of my friends, why I didn't find a FLGS where I was stationed so I could play some D&D.  Perhaps it's just due to the fact that we had such a close and tightly structured group back in the day, but I just couldn't see myself walking into a FLGS and just suddenly popping in with a group of strangers to play D&D.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was getting older, and they say it's harder to make friends the older you get.  We tend to get more set in our ways as we age.  I had a perception of how I thought D&D should be played (still do), and I always felt it would just seem strange to start playing the game with people I didn't know at all.  I still feel this way.  This is one of the bigger reasons I've never gone to a Con and would never likely jump in a random game run at a Con with a bunch of people I don't know.  I know a lot of people in the hobby like to socialize and mingle, and D&D is a great means for them to do that, but I'm not really one of those people.

I say all this, because Zak recently posted an article in reference to what he termed "ConstantCon 2011," the idea behind which is that people can share their google+ information, and use the video hangouts to host/play in various D&D games with people in our "community" (my term not his, but I use it loosely.)  While I have expressed my interest in doing this to him, I'm still not sure if I can go through with it.  I read a lot of blogs and often find myself thinking, man, I'd love to play D&D with that guy, but ultimately, it's probably something I'll never actually do.  The idea of using something like google+ to play with other gamers across the world is fascinating to me though.  And this doesn't really stem from any sense of insecurity, or anything.  Rather, it has more to do with the fact that I would simply find it odd to sit and play a game with a bunch of people I've met, literally, just then.  It would just seem strange to me.  Maybe one of these days I'll give it a try...maybe.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running Dread Rock Dungeon

Yesterday I posted about possibly getting a skype game going with a few guys from my old gaming group.  Most of these guys are in my table top Cormyr game, but one of them, who happens to be my best friend, lives a few hours away from us.  I'm planning on running them through the first quadrant of Dread Rock to begin.  It'll be a good way for me to really playtest it out with a good group of veteran old school players.  We created characters late last night on skype. 

One of my players is running a dwarf with an 18 CON, which in 2e means at 1st level he has ridiculous bonuses to his saves vs poison, staves, rods, wands, and spells.  On top of it all he's playing a multi-class thief with a high find/remove traps and open locks.  And of course, his high CON means he has a huge bonus to his hit points.  I told him his nickname was going to be Seagal (a reference to the film Hard to Kill).  This player was pretty legendary for us back in the day when we went through two underdark crawls back to back in Undermountain and Night Below.  He really shines in the dungeon environment as a player, despite his often reckless behavior in them.  Usually the results are pretty hilarious when he's involved in a dungeon crawl.

My best friend is running a specialist mage (necromancer) who happens to hate the undead.  He's making it his mission to hunt down and destroy undead and those who would defile the dead by raising/animating them.  An interesting choice to play considering necromancers can't cast spells from enchantment/charm and illusion schools, which means no Sleep spell at 1st level, which we know is usually the saving grace of any low level mage.  Keeping him alive for a while is going to be difficult.

I have one more player that will be joining us, but we're not sure what he'll be playing at this point.  I'm going to run a Fighter NPC with the party, and of course, I'm sure they'll opt to shop around for some hirelings.  I'm pretty anxious to give Dread Rock a spin in actual play.  I understand quite a few people have downloaded the first quadrant to run in their games.  If you've been running Dread Rock at all, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, so feel free to drop me a line at robertchandler AT gmail DOT com, or just comment here on the blog somewhere.

Happy B'day, Gary

73 years ago today, the overlords of the universe, whomever they may be, brought Gary Gygax into this world, and it's a better place now because of him. Somewhere he is rolling dice and having a least I like to think so anyway.  Happy birthday, Gary.   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Playing D&D with Skype and Gametable

I know there are many of you out there that play in skype gaming sessions regularly, and perhaps some of you could enlighten me a bit.  I'm currently trying to convince some of my old gaming crew (the ones separated by time/distance) that we can use skype and a virtual table top like OpenRPG+ or Gametable to run a D&D game once or twice a month.  This will give me a perfect opportunity to playtest my Dreadrock megadungeon project as well, so I wouldn't have to do much in the way of prep for the game.

For those of you that do use this method to play D&D, what sort of advice can you give?  What are the best programs for incorporating the virtual table top element?  Which one is easiest to use, import maps into, etc?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Spicing Up Wilderness Encounters

I'm in the middle of fleshing out my hex map for the Stonelands for my tabletop Cormyr campaign, and after some time keying the main points of interest, I decided rather than key the rest of the hexes with otherwise mundane notes, I'd simply create a table, which could apply to most wilderness excursions.  Besides, this gives me another perfect excuse to use my d30 in play.  If you don't own a d30, not to worry.  Just use a d20 and use the first 20 encounters.  When you use an encounter with the d20, scratch it off and replace that number with one of the 10 remaining for future use.

Here's how it works: When checking for random wilderness encounters, if you roll for an encounter, roll another d6.  On a 1-4 use your standard wandering monster/wilderness encounter table you've prepared for the area.  On a 5 or 6 use the following table:

d30 Hexcrawling Wilderness Oddities

01. Makeshift altar with humanoid remains and dried blood staining the ground.  A sacrifice to some cruel god took place here.
02. Unconscious man/woman is tied to a tree (or bound to some other wilderness feature). Naked and has been robbed by brigands.  Hungry and weak from dehydration (perhaps a frostbite victim if traveling in winter season).
03. A pack of wolves (or other animals) is surrounding a woman and small child, threatening to attack.
04. Campsite with a smoldering campfire.  Anyone with tracking can make a check to determine there were 6-7 people camping here a few hours before and left heading the same direction as the party's goal.  Perhaps a group of adventurers seeking the same destination as the party?
05. Scene of a recent skirmish.  Dead humans/demi-humans (possibly adventurers) along with several gnolls scattered about.
06. Shallow grave with makeshift tombstone, on which is written: "Here lies Ralston. Thief, liar, and craven."
07. A cougar (or some other animal) chewing on the remains of a goblin.
08. A mage sitting under a tree reading over a book.  He tells party he is waiting on a friend, but doesn't mention why or whom.  He answers questions vaguely.  After a few minutes he starts repeating himself.  Eventually, he fades away/vanishes.
09. A female boar and several piglets.  The female will attack if PC's seem threatening to her piglets.
10.  An unoccupied cottage. Remains of farm animals outside. Bowls with food on a table within.  Abandoned for some time, but occupants seemingly just up and left.
11. Band of gypsies (possibly lycanthropes.) They offer various sundries and oddities for sale, and will read the fortunes of the PCs.
12. Lost caravan guard. He/she was guarding a merchant caravan which was attacked by bandits. He/she fled, and is now lost in the wilderness.
13. Remains of a funeral pyre.  Fire has long since burned out.  Ashen remains of humanoid on top of pyre.
14. Small pond with a beautiful woman swimming nude, her clothes on the bank.  She will seem surprised, and will attempt to seduce a party member.  She is actually a succubus.
15. Skull of a hill giant, now covered in moss and grass in patches.  Looking inside the mouth reveals a small cache with 100sp (and possibly a clue relevant to the adventure/area.)
16. Traveling pilgrims of some lesser deity.  They will offer healing, or other priestly services for a charitable contribution (which is unreasonably high.)
17. Body of a dead adventurer in chain armor, pierced with several arrows.  He is holding a sword to his chest in ritualistic fashion.  Searching the body reveals a clue about the PCs goal, or a map to another site.
18. A chimera flies overhead carrying in one of its jaws the dead body of a human.  It won't seem to notice the party unless they engage it.
19. Mad hermit named Boltus.  Adorned in the skins of various animals.  He seems crazy, but is actually a 9th level Ranger.  If PCs ask questions relevant to their adventure, there is a chance he can give info amidst his seemingly insane rants.
20. Band of hunters camping.  They know the area well, and if PCs are friendly will offer assistance.
21. Large overturned statue of a cloaked figure holding a sword covered in vines and other vegetation.  At base of statue is a secret compartment containing a map/clue of area.
22. Twisted dead tree in the distance with what appears to be a humanoid hanging from a limb by a rope.  When PCs approach, the figure is gone.  Tree is gray and dead, and marked with arcane runes of some foul god.
23. A wandering druid with a bear.  He/she will offer assistance and information to area, if PCs can somehow prove they are not endangering the lands.
24. Stone statues of 3 ogres twisted in horrific poses.  They are somewhat crumbling and covered in vegetation. Perhaps victims of some spell or monster effect from long ago.
25. A magical well seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  If PCs drink from the well, they instantly feel rejuvenated, and gain +1 to all attacks and saving throws for 3d10 turns.
26. A young boy pinned under a fallen tree from a lightning strike.  His leg is broken and he can't pull himself free.
27. A stone bridge over a small river crossing guarded by a gnome mage who seems of little consequence to adventurers.  He charges 50sp to cross his bridge.  PCs can easily overpower him and cross the bridge.  If they do so, however, they will be hunted by an Invisible Stalker.
28. A rare fungus is found which has a purple luminescence.  If any herbalists are in party, they can identify as a component for certain disease cures and potions.
29. A man lying unconscious and naked on the ground.  He doesn't remember how he got there, and seems in a panic with a nervous demeanor.  He will flee as soon as possible.  Man is actually a werewolf.
30. A small abandoned cave.  Entrance is overgrown with vegetation.  Inside is a cot, and a locked chest.  Chest contains 100gp.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

BHD Facebook Page: More Social Network Stuff

Okay this will be the last post I intend to make about social networking for a while, but I wanted to let folks who enjoy reading my blog know about the new facebook page I have created for the site.  I'm sure most of you grognards already have a way you go about reading the blogs in your blogroll (via the blogger dashboard, google reader, or something else), but for those inclined to "like" the BHD facebook page, you'll find me sharing links to not only content here, but other interesting game related content I might find.  Same goes for those following me on Google+

So, enough of all that...let's get back to gaming.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thoughts on Google+

Thanks to Risus Monkey, I was able to get an invite to use Google+ which is Google's new social networking site currently in beta.  After using it for a few days now, I must say I'm impressed with the service.  It works sort of like a combination of facebook and twitter, and with the circles feature allows you to easily control what you share and with whom.

Thus far, I've found a ton of OSR bloggers on there and have added them to my D&D circle.  Of particular interest is the ability to video chat with multiple people at the same time, which is great for groups looking to do some gaming, but are separated by time zones and long distances.  I'm anxious to use this feature, but I'm going to have to get myself a webcam. 

If you're interested in joining, I can send out invites.  Just leave me a comment with your email addy, or shoot me an email at robertchandler AT gmail DOT com, and I'll be happy to send you one. 

If you're already on Google+ and would like to add me to your circles, my profile can be found at

Friday, July 22, 2011

AD&D 2e Clone: For Gold & Glory - First Impressions

The OSR has certainly seen its fair share of retro-clones since Wizards released the OGL, but while OD&D players were enjoying retro hits like Swords & Wizardry, and 1e players were knee deep in OSRIC, we 2nd edition players were sort of lost in the wilderness.

Within the OSR "community" the 2nd edition fans have always been somewhat of the the red-haired step children. Our presence is not wanted on such popular hangouts as Knights & Knaves or the OD&D Forum, at least when it comes to talking 2nd edition anyway. Dragonsfoot has one small board dedicated to us, but considering the rest of that forum, it almost seems like a nanny ushering children away so everyone else can be in peace; "here, you all go play in the corner, you're disturbing the rest of us."

True enough, I'm not sure there is even a demand for a 2nd edition retro-clone considering many of the books are still readily available second-hand for dirt cheap prices. I believe recently I spent no more than $30 on a set of used core rulebooks (all 3), and that was with shipping. In fairness, mechanically speaking, there is little difference in the core rules of 2nd edition and those of 1st. The major differences, aside from dropping classes and races from 1st edition, were the introduction of the proficiency system, which would become the bane of most 1e players looking to move over.

Nonetheless, while there might not be a strong demand for a 2nd edition clone, it would seem that one is coming anyway. Justen Brown of Fey Square is personally working on compiling a 2nd edition clone called For Gold & Glory. His work is almost complete, and a preview edition is up for view on his blog. Presently he is completing the spell index, and working on the monsters for the book, which will be available for free to the community as a PDF download.

Having thumbed through the virtual preview, I must say, I'm impressed so far, both with the presentation and layout, and the succinct simplicity by which Justen conveys the essence of the game. Justen is focusing on just those rules which are "core" to the system, so you won't find options such as the much reviled proficiency system. And we will not see a new skill system to take its place, as I understand it. Justen has said:
"I’m not a game designer and my intention isn’t to change what has been created by professionals with twice as much experience as I."

I admire Justen's patience for taking on a project such as this, and I hope the project turns out to be a success. So far it looks like he's going in the right direction.

Preview: Dreadrock Dungeon Level 1-2

click to enlarge

Here's a quick preview of level 1-2 of the Dreadrock megadungeon project.  I still have to clean it up, and key it.  This one will feature a higher empty room vs monster ratio than level 1-1, as this quadrant's population isn't as dense.  I'm hoping to have it keyed up and compiled into a PDF by this weekend.  That large octagonal "room" is actually the ruins of the ancient dwarven proving grounds arena.  That large cavernous looking area is actually a chasm which drops down several levels with a stone bridge stretching across, which the dwarves used for mining and moving ores and precious metals to the top level for working in the forge.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Your Players Aren't Heroes

This guy would probably rape your sister
A primary difference between new school and old school D&D, at least to me, is the concept of the player character as a hero.  In new school D&D (3e, 3.5, 4e, and even a lot of old 2e), characters are generally bound to some sort of storyline which will ultimately have them becoming heroic figures through their various adventures along the story path.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, it is quite a bit different than old school gaming.  In old school D&D, and games built around old school principles, the character is not a hero; he/she is a mercenary and a conqueror.  Sure, he might perform a heroic deed, and true enough, most adventures may revolve around resolving some quest which by nature seems "heroic," but ultimately the PC in the old school game has three main goals: survival, killing shit, and taking their stuff. 

Think about this for a moment before brushing it off or dismissing it entirely.  In old school formats the brunt of your characters' experience is gained from living, killing monsters, and accumulating wealth.  Sure you might save a princess here or there, or save a village from a mad wizard, but you're also a tomb raider, and a sword for hire.  Let's face it, a rag-tag group of adventurers not bound by any sort of overlying story, are mercenaries.  They're hired to complete a task, which usually includes killing monsters (and sometimes other humans/elves/dwarves etc), and stealing the shit they've managed to accumulate.  Ultimately the character is seeking to get enough power to overthrow that despotic ruler, build a keep, and establish an army, only to eventually become the very despot and tyrant they conquered.  Some up-and-coming adventuring party is out there, just as you once were, and they're seeking to overthrow you, conquer your kingdom, and take your shit from you.  Because that's what it's all about in the old school.

In old school D&D you are an adventurer, mercenary, grave robber, and a conqueror.  As you continue to survive and build a name for yourself, its usually accompanied by fear among the populace, because you accomplish your goals through the blade at your side, or the spells in your spellbook.  Your character may be "good" in terms of alignment, but a hero he is not.  Survive, kill shit, and steal shit; these are the principles the old school player lives upon.  These are the only forces that guide his fate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Magical Item: The Horn of Souls

If you've been following my table top Cormyr Campaign, you're probably aware of the fact that the party is now in search of a supposed merchant's stolen wares.  The "merchant" is paying the party 1,000 gold to return his goods, which were stolen by the Rogues of Tilverton.  Within his wares, lies a piece of an artifact with great power.  It is for this reason the "merchant" has hired the PC's to find and retrieve his "wares."  Here's a rundown of what this powerful item actually is.

The Horn of Souls

The horn of souls is a black curved horn about 7 inches in length.  Within it rests part of the essence of Myrkul, the former God of the Dead.  It is one of four horns which, when combined with the silver Circlet of Shadow, makes up the Crown of Horns, an artifact of devastating power.

At first glance, the Horn of Souls looks to be some form of semi-precious element like obsidian, but in truth, the horn is not of the prime material plane.  It is the horn of a demon.  While the power of the Horn of Souls is great, it comes with a serious price to its user.

Powers: Speak with Dead, as the spell, once per day.  If used as a weapon, it deals 1d4+1 damage, which is transferred to the weilder.  If used in this manner against undead creatures, however, it will restore hit points equal to the damage rolled to the creature.  It is treated as a magical +1 weapon if used in combat.  If wielded by a priest of Myrkul it grants the cleric, as well as all clerics of the dead god within a 50' radius, the ability to cast spells.

Once any of the horn's abilities have been used, it is forever bound to the wielder.  It thirts for the souls of the living, and each day the weilder must somehow use it in this fashion or he/she will be plagued with nightmares resulting in -1 to all attack rolls and saving throws.  In addition, each day the wielder does not use the horn to restore life force, he/she loses 1 point of Constitution, which is cumulative.  Constitution loss is not permanent, and will be replaced only by using the horn as a weapon.  In addition to draining life force, it will restore the same amount of Constitution lost as damage rolled.  If the wielder's Constitution becomes 0, however, he/she will be turned into a wight.

There is no way to destroy the item through non-magical means.  It must either be destroyed using a Wish, or thrown back into the negative material plane.

An Identify spell will only reveal this as a +1 magical weapon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quick Mini-Dungeon Generator Tables

We've all been in the DM chair when we're put into a spot we haven't quite planned out.  It could be a random encounter, or a part of a dungeon we haven't yet mapped out.  I created this basic mini-dungeon generator system to make a small dungeon with 3-8 rooms on the fly.  It takes about 5 minutes to roll one up.  I've tested it out a few times and it works fine for me.

First just grab a scratch piece of paper.  You're just going to be sketching the layout quickly.  After all, this is on the fly, and you don't want to hold the game up for 30 minutes drawing out a dungeon map.  Odds are, you already have an idea of what may be in the dungeon (i.e you rolled for Orcs in a random encounter, etc.) for stocking purposes.  For this generator you'll need a d4, d6, and a d8. Here's how it works. 

Roll 1d6+2 for the number of rooms in the dungeon

Traps are equal to 1d3+ 1/2 number of total rooms rounded up (example: roll a 1 on a d3 with a dungeon with 5 rooms total. 1+3=4 total traps)
Tricks are equal to 1 + 1/4 number of total rooms rounded up (example: 1 base trick in a dungeon with 6 rooms total. 1 + 1 for rooms = 2 tricks total)
Secret/concealed doors/passages are equal to 1/3 number of total rooms rounded up (6 rooms = 2 secret doors/passages)

If using a secret passage roll 2d* where * is the die most appropriate to the number of rooms (i.e. d4, d6, d8.)  The numbers on each die are the rooms connected by the passage.  If 2 of same number are rolled, re-roll 1d* for the other room.

Roll 1d4 for dungeon type (if you don't already know...most of the time you'll know this, but if not...)
1. ruin
2. tomb
3. cavernous
4. arcane - built for a mysterious purpose.  Perhaps by a long dead wizard to store his sundries, or a mad lord for his own brutal entertainment

Roll 1d6 to determine room type for each room
1. T-shaped
2. Circular
3. Square
4. Rectangle
5. Octagonal
6. Re-roll twice and combine results. Re-roll any further 6s

Roll 1d6 to determine how each room connects to the other starting with 1 to 2, 2 to 3, etc.
1. Straight passage north/south
2. L-shaped passage north/south
3. Straight passage east/west
4. L-shaped passage east/west
5. Stairs going up/down
6. Connects directly to next room

Roll 1d6 to determine if Entrance/Exit to room/passage is:
1. Door unlocked
2. Door locked
3. Open
4. Archway
5. Door locked and trapped
6. Door unlocked and trapped

Once the base linear dungeon is created, connect some of the rooms together in some fashion so you're not railroading.  Once you have the layout sketched, you'll see this is easily accomplished most of the time.  Next, I'll be coming up with a random trap/trick table you can use quickly to place those in the dungeon, but on the fly, you can use simple ones like pit, dart, skythe traps, etc.  This system should give you a quick and usable dungeon in just about 5 minutes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hex Map of The Stonelands

Click image to enlarge

Above is my hexographed version of The Stonelands area of Cormyr for my current Cormyr campaign.  I used the free hex mapper at and imported a map I got from Candlekeep of the area to trace over.  Each hex = 6 miles.  The red trail there is a tunnel leading into the Tilverton sewer system from the Stonelands area, which is what my players are currently looking for right now in the game.  I plotted this map out because I imagine they'll be spending a great deal of time in this area over the next few sessions.  Currently I'm working on keying up the important areas on the map.  Although I've played with hexographer here and there, this was the first time I've ever used it to trace a map.  Hexographer is a great tool, although a bit cumbersome to use until you get used to it.  I'm not telling most of you anything new, most likely, as many of you are already very familiar with the program.  I mainly wanted a hex version of this map so I could key up interesting points and keep track of their progress through the area.  There's nothing quite like some good old wilderness hex crawling.

On Thorin II Oakenshield The King Under the Mountain

There have been quite a few comments in the OSRsphere lately on the recently revealed image of Richard Armitage as Thorin II Oakenshield.  Many are quite upset about the depiction comparing him to a Klingon, and even Jon Travolta's character in Battlefield Earth.  In my personal opinion, I think Peter Jackson and co. did a fantastic job in bringing the world of Middle-earth and its characters to life on the screen, and I tend to believe that he will do the same for The Hobbit films.  I think our perception on how these dwarves are supposed to look is based in the Rankin/Bass cartoon generally, but I thought I'd do a bit of digging on the character of Thorin II since it's been quite a while since reading The Hobbit or the appendices of the Lord of the Rings.

Thorin II is described in The Hobbit as being very stern with a long beard and a cloak the color of sky blue.  Further information on Thorin II is detailed in Appendix A in Return of the King in the subject of Durin's Folk.  Thorin II was born in the Third Age in 2746.  After his family was driven from the Lonely Mountain by Smaug, they wandered around for a while in search of a new home.  They wandered the lands homeless for many years, and for a while settled in Dunland.  Thorin's grandfather, and King Under the Mountain when Smaug descended upon the Lonely Mountain, Thror, embarked on a quest to reclaim the realm of Moria.  In his attempt, Thror was slain by the orc king there.

In 2799, Thorin II fought in the Battle of Azanulbizar where he earned the name Oakenshield after having his shield shattered and using an oak branch in its place.  Eventually Thorin and his folk left Moria despite winning the war against the orcs, because of rumors that the balrog still lurked within the depths.  They settled in the Blue Mountains, and were somewhat prosperous for a time.  The exiled king, Thain (father of Thorin II) embarked on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, but never made it there.  He was captured by Sauron's agents and held captive in Dol Guldur.  It was at this time that Thain gave Gandalf the map of the Lonely Mountain, although the wizard held onto it for many years, not knowing who Thain's heir was.

Thorin II became king of the exiled dwarves and they prospered and grew in the Blue Mountains under his lead.  Eventually Thorin longed to return to the Lonely Mountain and reclaim what was his by rights.  In 2941 Thorin assembled his group to embark on the quest to reclaim the mountain, which eventually would include Bilbo Baggins.  That same year, after reclaiming the mountain thanks to the help of Bilbo, he perished in the Battle of the Five Armies, never truly getting to see the full glory of his kingdom restored.

In the time in which The Hobbit is set, the year is 2941 of the Third Age, putting Thorin II Oakenshield as 195 years old.  Certainly an aged and hardened dwarf.  In various depictions of the character by Alan Lee, Thorin II is shown to be an older dwarf with a long thick gray beard.  There are obvious differences in that description and the recently released image of Armitage as Thorin II.  His beard appears short and cropped and although he is certainly not a young looking character, he hardly resembles the aging appearance we are given by the previous depictions, as well as the general description we can gather based upon his age at the time of The Hobbit.

Perhaps this entry comes off a little "fanboyish" in nature, but Jackson's detail to the original source material, at least by appearance of the characters in the films, has stood up to the literary sources.  I find it strange that he would not invoke this same detail in his depiction of Thorin II, who is one of the most iconic characters in The Hobbit, and indeed in all of Middle-earth.  I can only fathom that these are perhaps simply early release stills and not the final version of the character that we'll see in the film.  I am still faithful that Jackson will do The Hobbit justice, but I, like many of my fellow bloggers, stand scratching my head at this depiction of the King Under the Mountain.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Making Zero Level Villains that Can Terrorize the Party

I posted a campaign summary of the first session of my Cormyr campaign a week ago or so. If you read that post, you are probably already somewhat familiar with Lasander Highmoon, the NPC that hired the party to retrieve his supposed "stolen merchant wares" from the Rogues of Tilverton. Highmoon introduced himself to the party as a merchant from Arabel and proprietor of the Red Sun Trading Coster.

Some simple investigating from the party would have revealed much about Highmoon, had they not been so impulsive (or greedy.) For one, Highmoon seemed to know a lot about Tilverton, and more importantly the thieves guild therein. He knew a lot about the intricate sewer network the rogues use to smuggle goods, the black market in the sewers, and he even knew where his goods were being kept and the main access points to get into the place. In other words, he knew a hell of a lot more about this city than any simple merchant from another city should know.

The PC's never bothered to talk to any other locals about Highmoon. They never asked any questions of the man. Some of the locals likely would have pointed out that Highmoon is, in fact, a local of Tilverton. They also never checked into this supposed merchant company he owns. A quick public record search would have revealed there is no merchant company called "Red Sun Trading Coster" in Cormyr.

The PC's were rather curious at the large sum of money they were to receive for retrieving the goods (1,000 gp), but their lust for money overcame their sense of curiosity, and thus they attempted to raid the warehouse that very night, which was a botched effort entirely.

So, who is Lasander Highmoon really? He is a pawn himself, but a smart one. He serves a death cult devoted to the dead god Myrkul, who operates out of the sealed off crypts underneath the city of Tilverton. What exactly is in those crates that were stolen? A piece of an ancient evil artifact called the Crown of Horns, which contains the essence of Myrkul within. I'll go into more detail about this item in a later post.

Highmoon is a zero level NPC, and one whom will likely be a focus of the party's attention when they finally figure out what he's up to (if they do find out anyway.)
As I know they'll meta-game the hell out of this guy once they figure some things out, I imagine they'll likely be terrified to confront him for fear that he is some evil high level cleric capable of obliterating them at lower levels. He, of course, could do no such thing, and were the party to search him out and manage to confront him, they'd slay him rather easily, but they won't do that...not for a while at least because they will dwell in terror of this NPC.

A zero level NPC, with the proper backing and means, can become a true horror in the eyes of your players, and especially when they don't know that he's just a common man. Villains in the campaign are supposed to be crafty and cunning, and they don't have to be of a high level to terrorize your party. With the proper motivation and means, even a common man can be a threat to a group of adventurers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit - Review: A Must Have for Any DM

If you are a blogger, or follower of the OSR blogging/forums world, chances are you've already heard of Vornheim.  For the uninitiated, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit details the city used by Zak S. in his D&D campaign.  The title, serving itself as a "complete city kit" is a bold one, but it is no misnomer.  As Zak points out in his introduction, the supplement is not so much a detailed overview of Vornheim as it is a tool designed for any DM to use to bring a city to life...on the fly.  

Vornheim is not vanilla fantasy, first and foremost.  This is a city in the vein of something you might see by Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, or Guillermo Del Toro as opposed to Gygax or Greenwood.  It is a dark, cold, and vast sprawl with twisted black spires and bridges connecting the buildings from above.  It is a place where wizards and sages acquire knowledge and lore by reading the skins of serpents, a nightingale runs a menagerie of twisted and fantastic creatures, and humunculi possess victims by invading their skulls in the most literal sense.  Even if you prefer your fantasy vanilla, however, there is still plenty of very useful and helpful info within its pages.

Within this tome you'll find a brief overview of the city of Vornheim, with just enough information to give you a feel of the cultural climate of the city.  Included are 3 adventures set within its walls, which effectively serve to give the players a sense of the overall strangeness that surrounds the place.  In this way, Zak "shows" rather than simply "tells" you what makes Vornheim tick.  What really makes this supplement shine as more than just a place to run some adventures, are the tables within.  There are tables for influential NPCs with ideas for adventure hooks attached, encounter tables while your players are traversing the city, tables on book types PC's may stumble upon, and even a quick and easy mechanic using a d6 for crafting a room layout should your party enter an area in the city you hadn't prepared for.  As Zak points out, this supplement isn't about detailing every nook and cranny of a city, it's about using quick and interesting resources to help you get to the good stuff without being bogged down in the mire of having to plan for things your players may never see or experience.

The art within is well presented, imaginative and fits in quite nicely with the theme of the book and Vornheim itself.  The dungeon maps and layouts are unorthodox and unconventional in presentation, which might frustrate some people, but taking the time to look it over you'll find it easy enough to get used to.

I unfortunately have not yet received my hardcover copy yet, but as soon as you order, the PDF is made available instantly, which makes this an even sweeter product.  At roughly $26 with shipping, it's a hell of a deal.

Vornheim is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative RPG products I've seen in years.  It is exactly what it claims to be, a city building toolkit designed to make life easier for the DM and provide a vast and interesting urban sprawl for your players.  If you are even remotely entertaining the possibility of a city-based campaign, you need this book.

**UPDATE 7-22-2011**

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

Having now received my hardcover copy of Vornheim, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the physical print copy.  The book is 6" x 8.5", with a slip cover which contains a fantastic map of the city of Vornheim.  Although the map is not entirely practical for gaming purposes, it is a fantastic piece of art which illustrates the style of both the book, and the city in which it describes.   The paper is not glossy, but still of good quality, and while the font is a bit small, it is certainly not so small as to be rendered unusable.  The outer hard covers include charts which require the roll of a single d4 which can provide you with a multitude of information for various options including locations, attacks, and characters.

The binding is tight and durable, and the compact size of the book allows it to be easily included with your typical gaming resources at the table.  And within this compact tome, is a wealth of city building information that can speed up your urban game sessions tremendously.  I dare say I have never before seen so much useful information packed into one compact book.  While the PDF alone is certainly fantastic, there's nothing quite like having a hardback copy.  As stated previously, this is one of the best and most useful RPG products I've seen in years, and perhaps ever.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some Clarifications on Dreadrock Level 1-1

David, over at Tower of the Archmage, had some questions in reference to the first quadrant of Dreadrock, and rather than simply reply to the comment, I thought the clarifications deserved their own post, because I feel the questions he's raised are really good, and are probably questions many DM's interested in running it might have.

First, I'd like to say that some of these clarifications will be made when I complete the project in the notes on running the campaign in Dreadrock.  For the sake of simplicity, however, and to minimize the amount of text for the first quadrant, I left much of it out of the first quadrant.  The idea being, this dungeon could be used as a stand-alone filler, because many of the "hooks" here that I plan on incorporating could have longer term effects on the entire campaign.  So, I simply included the "one page dungeon" format as a means to get the DM familiar and provide just enough information to run this quadrant.  That said, any DM could feel free to change up elements as he/she sees fit.  Now, I have highlighted David's comments in bold, and provide my feedback in italics below.  I hope this can clarify some of the questions for all.

Initial thoughts in no particular order:

Revised formatting is MUCH BETTER! Still think the margins could be pushed out more, easy a half inch on each side with a slight increase in text size.

I keep wanting to call it Dreadlock Dungeon or Deadrock Dungeon.

Yes, I played around with it a bit.  I did not like the first layout I created because I felt it was too cumbersome and the numbering too difficult to read (my poor hand writing+scanning just didn't work well).  I imagine most people will want to call it Dreadlock Dungeon as well, since that seems to roll off the tongue easier.

That's a lot of orcs!

Indeed it is.  Because of the way I've populated this section, and the adventure seed ideas I have planted, this area has a higher ratio of monsters vs empty rooms.  Much higher.  Essentially this quadrant of the dungeon is home to the Rakshir orc tribe.  They have occupied most of this area for quite a while now and have been in a struggle as of late with a rival tribe of goblins (in another quadrant of the dungeon).  This is why there is a high volume of orcs in this section.

The orcs keep the ogre locked up, but he's unwilling to aid the PC's? Wouldn't he (she??) be more likely to want to beat up the orcs and take over this section of the dungeon with the PC's help? Is he a friend or ally of the goblins?

I didn't go much into Slaveck's role with the orcs, but I plan on clarifying it when the project is complete.  Essentially he is a prisoner of the orcs, but he is more a tool or weapon of theirs.  They keep him subdued and unleash his rage on the goblins when larger skirmishes break out in the dungeon.  That said, they are able to control him to a degree, however, if the PC's were to free him, he would simply try to murder them out of a bloodlust rage (and the fact that he's hungry).  Of course, any DM could effectively change this and easily allow the ogre to aid the party clear out the area.

Sign from note A should be way closer to room 37 to the south.

Essentially I wanted the sign to be posted in the hall as they round the bend there.  But a DM could easily move it to a more suitable location should he/she desire.

Where are the slaves digging their tunnels?

The tunnel itself is still very small and leads to nowhere at this point, and as such, I didn't include it on the map.  Presently it is being dug out of area 44 on the map, which is listed there in the dungeon key.

Rm 22 - Same ax as the Orc chief has?

I was afraid there would be some confusion here.  No, that isn't an actual axe.  It's just a statue of the dwarf lord with an axe.  The entire statue is stone.  I should probably clarify that so it is clear to the DM.

Rm 26 - Why is the chief not wearing the ring of protection? Maybe the captain or shaman should have it?

The simple answer is, he doesn't know it's a ring of protection.  It's just a very shiny treasure to him.  He doesn't know its magical properties.  Of course, any DM could change that and have him actually wearing it.  The chieftain sees it more as an item of value than anything, which is why he doesn't wear it.  That was the thought behind it anyway.

Rm 11 - North wall bricked up?

No, there should definitely be a door there.  I will correct this. Not sure what I was thinking there.  Must have simply slipped my mind.

Rm 10 - Scythe trap leading into the Bar??

Yes.  One thing about having traps in a dungeon is the residents have to know their way around it.  The trap was actually implaced by the orcs and is rather crude in nature, as are most of the traps on this level.  Just a means of trying to protect their place from adventurers and goblins.  The orcs know the pressure plate is there and simply walk around it.  Then again, orcs aren't that bright, and could easily stumble out of the makeshift tavern and strike the plate setting off their own trap.  That would be a rather unique twist in the game wouldn't it?  But yes, it was placed there on purpose by myself.  To provide a more logical answer, the makeshift bar has only recently been set up in that room. The trap was placed there before the bar was set up.

S1A - No one is using the magic armor or weapons?

This is a sub-level area, which is reached from the Orc shaman's lair (the orc temple in the dungeon).  Essentially the idea was the orcs offer these fine weapons and armor to their god as an offering.  The shaman keeps them in the sub-level area below his chamber.  Of course, a DM could easily change this and have some of the orcs using the weapons/armor should he/she see fit, but that was the logic behind having it there.

The goblins at war, but aside from a scout party they don't have a toe hold in the area?

No, not yet.  They do not have a firm hold anywhere in this section.  The orcs have managed to keep them at bay, but how long can that last?  Up to the DM.

Rm 43 - That's a long way away from the front lines.

Yes, they keep the ogre away from the front lines as a control measure for their own safety.  That and they don't want to give the goblins a chance to free him.  They can attempt to contain him within the tunnel there should he escape.

Wandering Monsters - Ogre = Slavack or a free roaming ogre? Same with the basilisk, same as Rm 20, or another one?

Yes, the ogre=Slavack and the basilisk is Stone-eye from area 20.

Rm 20 - what is the thing dividing the 3rd cavern almost in half?

That is a natural ravine in the cave.  I probably should have clarified the depth, but it's 30 feet deep with a land bridge across to the rear of the cavern.

Thanks for having a look over this and bringing these points to my attention, David.  Again, most of these items I plan on clarifying in detail when I get the entire supplement complete, but I see some of them probably need some immediate explanation so the DM isn't scratching his/her head in wonder over why some of the things are the way they are here.