Saturday, August 30, 2014

Qelong hard road out of Hell


This afternoon, I ran another 5th edition D&D game for a local meetup of the geek persuasion.  You get really big groups when you forget to put a cap on attendance.  At one point there were about 12 RSVPs, then a couple backed out and one no-show.  So, it was myself and 8 players.  For someone who used to struggle getting 3 players at a table, the meetup games are a dream come true.

Anyways, I purchased Qelong weeks ago.  It's a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure written by Kenneth Hite.  The hook sounded alluring with Mythos elements galore.  The stars were right.

Reading through Qelong, I was hit over the head by its strangeness and eloquence and depth.  This was no ordinary module / campaign setting.  This was fantasy fucking Vietnam with equal parts LotFP despair and Hite's obsession with Lovecraft.  Really a small, beautiful work of art.  Shades of Carcosa...

Luckily, I budgeted 4 1/2 hours for the session because this week was incredibly busy and there was no time to make the pre-generated 3rd level characters I had promised.  Instead, I had everyone make fresh adventurers - 1st level and without much in the way of equipment, background, skills, feats, or anything besides the essentials.  It wasn't so much an attempt at old school (even let the players roll 4d6 and drop the lowest for ability scores - still made them go in order down the line, though) as it was a desperate race to the finish line so these PCs could get gaming already.

45 minutes later, we had enough.  Oh yeah, this was my very 1st session with the new Player's Handbook.  It got passed around quite a bit.  Didn't have as much time to familiarize myself with it as I would have liked.  I still don't know if racial ability bonuses are added to racial subtype bonuses or if you only get to use one.

I took the spell casters aside, their characters had been approached by an Archmage of Chaos named Ibzuul the mad.  He wanted the cylinder's seal for himself.  I gotta say, it's just so god damn awesome when something that inspires you to the nth degree trips the same trigger as other artists and visionaries and creative types.  If you've never seen the original black and white British tv serial / film Quatermass and the Pit, do yourself a favor and watch it.  Assuming you don't mind vintage Doctor Who, you'll probably love it to bits.

Anyways, the adventurers travel to Sajavedra.  Sig the human sorcerer, Four Acre the straightforward mountain dwarf barbarian, Palleous the drow ranger, Rivken the dwarven cleric, Olo Underbow the halfling rogue, Chai Too the elven monk, Thimblerod the gnome monk, and finally Azidah the gnome wizard.  I have to hand it to this group.  Lots of roleplaying, speaking in character, witty banter, etc.  After a half hour, I just gave everyone a point of inspiration in the form of a little greenish yellow stone because they all deserved it.

Qelong is saturated with a sense of place and mood.  It was easy coming up with encounters since the text provides lots of suggestions for each location.  I did my best to evoke decay and ruin and some kind of Cambodian noir with magic-users.  How often do you get a chance to run something like that?

Skipping to the end, the PCs fought their most recent employer, another dangerous wizard who also wanted the cylinder rune-plate or whatever it was.  Oh, they had a good reason for turning on him.  He was working on a spell to bring the Great Old Ones forth.  I think Mr. Hite would be pleased.

I rolled a "1" for his initiative.  By the end of the first round, the wizard had one hit point remaining.  So, obviously he was going to cast fireball.  What else?  Well, I didn't realize until after I declared his action how much a 5e fireball does.  8d6!  Without keeping in mind the fact that the party is still 1st level, I roll the dice.  The total is 22.  Everyone rolls their saving throw.  A couple used their inspiration for advantage (basically, I just let those who failed re-roll).  The only one who wasn't either dead or unconscious was the barbarian because he started out with 12.  Now, he was down to 1.

This was one of those moments where everything - the entire 4+ hour session would come down to a single roll.  He was out of inspiration and I had already told the players the wizard's armor class: 17.  Well, even with the bless and all the usual bonuses, Four Acre came up a couple points short.

I fudged it.  Yeah, even with the dice out in front of everyone and the numbers clear as day, I told them the wizard's magic force shield wavered because he had just cast fireball and the hit connected.  Wizard hacked to pieces.

Normally, I wouldn't do that.  I'm not in the habit of granting phantom bonuses, fudging dice, or letting the PCs win just because.  It was a combination of DM error (I should have remembered to scale things back because they were only 1st level and I should also have known how much a fireball does or gone with my instinct and rolled 5 or 6d6 instead) and cinematic flair.  This adventure felt like a movie - a movie where the heroes conquer the apocalyptic sorcerer because that's the kind of epic storytelling we really want.

So, I consider that last roll to have included a DM ineptitude bonus or, if I'm being kind to myself, a swagger bonus because that mountain dwarf kept it real the whole time.  He was after gold and only gold... until the price was simply too much to pay.

I was on such a DM high from that moment that I allowed the dead PCs (those who failed their save against the fireball) to be revived by the monastery's resurrection scrolls.  Even more rejoicing!

By now I was convinced this was Quatermass and the Pit meets Indiana Jones.  The monastery also included a well that led down deep into the earth, possibly to its molten core.  I also started ad-libbing a prophecy about some magical super weapon and how it would one day be destroyed by dropping it down into the well.  The adventurers obliged.

This probably goes against everything that James Raggi believes in, but I even mentioned the land being healed by the disposal of this Cthuloid licence plate of doom.  Some day, it might even become the idyllic paradise it had once been.  Nihilistic blasphemy!  Might as well bring in Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the Qelong sequel, right?

What can I say?  It felt... right.

Wondering what the Call of Cthulhu RPG was doing there?  I flipped through the book for the perfect guardian entity that might be protecting the cylinder.  They ran and ran screaming!

Oh, and the unbridled to-his-face racism endured by the dark elf was something else.  That poor ranger.  Everyone was taking shots at him (even me).  I don't know if this comes up in other groups but during the adventure I seriously felt bad for drow culture and those dark elves who are more misunderstood than evil.  Still, a lot of the ridicule made us laugh in an out-of-character way.

Good times.


VS



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Draconic Magazine launch!


I'm pleased to finally announce that Draconic Magazine is live (be sure to bookmark it or whatever those tech-savvy kids are doing these days).  It's my way of celebrating 40 years of the world's original fantasy roleplaying game.

However, just because the site's up and running doesn't mean everything is in its place.  There are plenty of gaps in content, the subscription + bonus content / paypal thing isn't finished, and you might notice a glitch or two.  Hey, it's a brand new website.  With your input (and contributions, hopefully), Draconic Magazine will keep evolving.

Even though I'm calling it a "magazine", content won't come monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or yearly, and there are no "issues".  Eventually, my goal is to have something new up on the site at least 3 times a week.  Speaking of content - Draconic is focused on tabletop fantasy RPGs, but that won't stop us from publishing articles about space opera, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and supernatural horror.  Want to see something in particular?  Tell us what you want!

Here's what we have for you at the moment (with more to come)...

  • A review of the D&D Player's Handbook.
  • A reaction table for when the party encounters humanoids.
  • The Backbreaker - a new monster.
  • A pre-campaign checklist of important questions to ask yourself and players.
  • An article about last minute world creation.
  • Weird plants of the Nether-Realms.
  • An overview of Torth - a shared campaign setting for organized play
  • And the obligatory poll about your favorite edition (go to war!).

Before I forget, I'd like to thank the following individuals who helped shape this project:  Tod Foley from As If Productions for website design, Caio Monteiro who did the main illustration for the site, Terry Pavlet for the logo and lettering, as well as, all the Draconians who've bounced ideas around, written articles, and provided valuable feedback.  Thanks, guys!


VS

p.s.  Promotional spots advertising my own RPG products on the right-hand sidebar are just placeholders until I've worked out deals with suitable RPG publishers.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My thoughts on the Neuroglyph / Mike Mearls interview (part 2)


Like the post earlier today, I'm responding to this.

Mearls:  And if you think back to the Red Box in ‘83, when we had that choose your own adventure text… that heavy reading, right, so like a person that wants to play a role-playing game, they probably read a choose-your-own-adventure book. And that’s why when we thought about the 5th [Edition] Starter Set, should have a choose your own kinda adventure thing? Where for 90% of the people this like the first time they encounter a choose-you-own-adventure style play, they’ve never seen this before. But they’ve probably played a role-playing game… they’ve played Skyrim or [World ofWarcraft or any of those game, so they probably actually know what a role-playing game is. We can probably just assume they know what a role-playing game is and they know they just need to make a character, and let’s just start explaining how this game works. So what I think, as opposed to what happened before was, we were trying to predict the future, and then trying to get a sense of the audience, ok? 

Is the Red Box like a choose your own adventure book?  I'm thinking that's more the design team's impression than a deliberate emulation circa 1983.  But is it accurate?  I'll let you guys decide for yourself.

Below, Neuroglyph answers the million dollar question.  As an aside, I can tell you that Neuroglyph's PHB review seemed to hint at OSR criticism...

Well, Mearls' answer goes both ways.  Yes, the old school renaissance was influential but not so much that the designers tried to forge 5e by using an old school philosophy alone.  Basically, Mearls considers the OSR movement reactionary.  It grew out of disdain for RPG design that went too extreme.

I'll tell you what - for as OSR compatible as 5e tries to be (at times), it fell down and fell down hard from the get-go.  Here's a quote of some actual play transcribed by the PHB on page 5...

Dungeon Master (DM):  OK, one at a time.  Phillip, you're looking at the gargoyles?
Phillip:  Yeah, Is there any hint they might be creatures and not decorations?
DM:  Make an intelligence check.
Phillip:  Does my Investigation skill apply?
DM:  Sure!
Phillip (rolling a d20):  Ugh.  Seven.
DM:  They look like decorations to you.  And Amy, Riva is checking out the drawbridge?
__________

NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Anyone who's had the revelatory pleasure of reading Quick Primer for Old School Gaming knows that that kind of skill check nonsense takes you out of character, out of the story, and out of the game.  Rolling to see if you examine a statue, tapestry, or dungeon wall carefully enough - without taking the time and effort to describe the action from the character's point of view - is the worst.  It's not old school but the very opposite.

Well, my PHB review is coming in a day or two, so I won't go any further into it.  BTW, not trying to bash 5e or harsh anyone's mellow yellow.  For the most part, I love what they've done with D&D.  Just wish a few things were different.


VS




My thoughts on the Neuroglyph / Mike Mearls interview (part 1)


This is the latest from EnWorld.  An interview with Mike Mearls that took place during GENCON 2014.  I'm going to take this in stages because I'm about to leave work...

Neuroglyph: As one of the main Lead Designers for the new edition of D&D, how did you find your experience with the whole design process, and what was it like to work on the project?

Mike Mearls: I think the biggest difference… I mean obviously there’s the playtest… and I think what the biggest difference, say, between 2005 and 2011… 2012… was that when we started this game in ‘05, we had to guess, right? Gaming was changing… World of Warcraft had come out, obviously consoles like the Xbox Live and Playstation III and online multi-player had become the mainstream. And people still liked first person shooters and stuff, where people would set up a LAN party and stuff like that. And now there were services coming into to play where you could play head-to-head on the internet with other people - so gaming was definitely changing. And I think what 4th Edition, looking back, what we were trying to do was to start predicting for D&D where we thought the game was heading… so that was a big part of it. So what we think, when people are coming to role-playing games, they’re going to have that MMO background or a video game background. 



So, all those people who said I was being dismissive by stating that 4e fans who dislike 5e might get their gaming fix by playing something like World of Warcraft can officially suck on it.


VS



Friday, August 22, 2014

Like Homophobia but different


It started with a crowdfunding RPG project based on the Chronicles of Gor here.  +James Desborough is behind it.  I found out about it from Tenkar's Tavern here.  +Erik Tenkar is behind that.

Before encountering this post, my only exposure to the Gorean Chronicles was from spending a couple years in the BDSM scene.  Some liked them, others did not.  Yet no one condemned the twisted turn-ons of another.

I met a lot of different people on places like FetLife (online and face-to-face), many of them interested in Dominant/submissive, Master/slave, rape-play, and probably a hundred other things rarely heard of or discussed on non-BDSM websites.

For whatever reason, those into power dynamics get off on pretending that their actually a slave, slave master, sexually forcing themselves on someone, or being sexually forced to do whatever it is they secretly want be doing.

Obviously, if this was actual rape, it would be a criminal act.  However, rape-play is something that millions of consenting adults have participated in for mutual sexual fulfillment.  Why am I even bringing this up?  Well, Tenkar's Tavern has comments describing such a thing (and the people who enjoy it) as nauseating, disgusting, shameful, creepy, dickish, stupid, etc.

Responding to one of my comments, Erik Tenkar said "slavery and rape fantasies are not a 'thing'."

Well, they actually are a thing; things that many healthy, normal consenting adults enjoy.  It may not be your thing (whoever's reading this), but it exists in the world and makes many, many, many people happy.

Like homophobia, it's more or less "fine" if individuals find the particular sexual practices of others revolting in their private thoughts.  Personally, I do not want to think about two dudes getting it on.  However, it would be a different story for me to call attention to a roleplaying game involving gay sex and then trash it because I'm repulsed by those preferences.  Nowadays, that's what the kids call homophobia.  Back when I was a kid, it was considered normal to ridicule or shame those who were different - even beat them up occasionally.  Not so much anymore.  That's a very good thing.


VS





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Raiders of the Forgotten Treasure


This mini-dungeon was conceived by a 7 year old Game Master.  An age when things like backstory and adventurer level doesn't come close to the really important things like traps, monsters, and treasure!  Although, the adventure does state that Raiders of the Forgotten Treasure is suitable for 1st - 3rd level characters.

Complete with printable paper miniatures and dungeon tiles, this Swords & Wizardry (or any OSR rule-set) appetizer gets you right into the action with a 6-armed goblin, vampire beetles (don't get bit and if you do get bit, for the love of god, make your save!), and a trap inspired by a microwave.

The scribbled, loose leaf paper graphic design gave me that 3rd grade feel.  However, the illustrations and map look nice for such a DIY four-area dungeon.

All in all, this was an impressive and fun little crawl created by a GM who's only 7.  I'm curious to see what The Inkling comes up with next!

Until it's available on DriveThru, you can acquire Raiders of the Forgotten Treasure here.


VS




Monday, August 18, 2014

2 more Purple reviews


I knew there'd be two The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence reviews coming back-to-back, so I decided to link them both in a single blog post.

This is from +Justin Kowalski and that is by the hand of +Patrick Henry Downs.  Thanks, guys!  May putrescent entities of a fiendishly familiar purple hue come for you in the night...


VS



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen


There's a lot of stuff out there.  If you know where to look, you can't throw a poison-tipped dagger +1 without accidentally critting a dozen different RPGs (1d4 of them old school), as well as, a plethora of adventures, campaign settings, and gaming aids (might as well get out your percentile dice).

The signal to meh ratio is about average, meaning gamers need to focus on keywords and names (because artwork alone can't tell you if something is awesome or sucky).  Anything that might clue them in to discovering off-beat adventure, bizarre encounters, and crazy hi-jinks.  Or you could read a review...

Well, Mark Taormino reached out to me, asking if I'd take a gander at his first, homemade OSR module called The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen.  Sure, I said.  It took me a few days to actually open the PDF up and start reading.

This book is something quite different, a rare blood diamond tournament-style scenario crossing Tomb of Horrors with a Vampirella comic book.  It reads like a choose-your-own-adventure in the vein of Tales from the Crypt.

It started with a kickstarter campaign.  You can see the author's passion for this work.  You can also see, he's no slouch.

Ok, so why do I love The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen so much?  Let's do this in bullet points...

  • Great hook!  This bloodsucking bitch has you imprisoned and for some strange reason (you'll find out later) she challenges a small band of the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) prisoners to escape her dungeon.
  • Cinematic feel!  The writing draws you in, chock full of sensory details and lurid visuals.  As a GM, you'll be excited to read the next boxed text, surprising your players with smells, sights, and far-out goings on.
  • It's sexy as hell!  From the cover and interior art to the description of the PC's erotic host.  I really enjoyed the lascivious moments - really brought the Player's Background section to (un)life!  Used sparingly, Hanging Coffins hits the right notes of exploitation. 
  • The rest of the artwork is also cool.  Personally, when I get to see a Minotaur rip a man's arm off - everybody wins!  Except the armless man, I suppose.
  • It's for high-level characters.  10th - 14th level characters and the dungeon is deadly enough to need at least 8 of them.  
  • A blue map - just like we used to get decades ago!  Also old school: the aforementioned boxed text, a rumor table, pre-generated characters, a section of new monsters, and familiar references to 80's D&D (with plenty of unexpected twists).
  • A sense of humor!  Oh man, does this hobby need it.  Not just gamers, human beings of every stripe take themselves very seriously.  More laughter, less rage.  Anton LaVey said that anyone without a sense of humor is too pretentious to be a good magician.  I believe the same holds true for an RPG author, especially if he's going for an old school vibe.
  • Non-standard encounters!  Each room feels special.  There's nothing cookie-cutter about this module. 

As a small critique, I noticed a few typos, some of the wandering monster stats referenced page numbers in the OSRIC book, and a few items of treasure had ridiculous appraisals - 6,000 gp estimated value for a non-magical medallion - really?  I also wish the Author's Note section had been much longer.  But, hey, that's my opportunity to interview him when Hanging Coffins becomes available on DriveThruRPG.  At the moment, you can only get it here.

Those minor quibbles aside, this was surprisingly fun to read.  It made me want to run it super bad.  As far as ratings go, it gets the highest possible - upon finishing the PDF, I laid out cold, hard, electronic cash for a physical copy.  The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen shares my aesthetic wavelength.  Can't wait for his sophomore effort!  I'm just glad there are a few fresh voices out there in the dungeon wilderness, shredding the paper walls of conformity.


VS




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Conquest & The Devil's Sword


If you'll remember, I recounted my top 10 sword and sorcery films here.  Well, I had a little time to myself this weekend.  Some might say I used my time wisely while others would claim that I abused it wickedly.

Nevertheless, it had been far too long since watching Conquest and The Devil's Sword.  I started with the latter...

This has one of the most straightforwardly awesome intros that a fantasy film could have.  Meteor falls from the sky as bearded monk meditates in the darkness.  Apparently, the monk is also quite the blacksmith because he forges a magical sword out of the alien metal.

From there, the film falls off a bit - unless you're into kung-fu with poorly dubbed one-liners.  The Devil's Sword is Indonesian, so prepare yourself.  Lots of flying around, martial arts, and sword play.  Also, chest licking and face kissing.

The hero journeys into some cavern saturated with magenta light.  He encounters the kind of traps you'd see in a typical dungeon.  Fighting crocodile-men are another highlight!  After all, the antagonist is "the sexually insatiable Crocodile Queen", says the back of the DVD.

The crocodile theme continues as we see her subterranean palace decked out with gigantic stone crocodile jaws, inside of which are equally gigantic purple crystals.  Nice!

Finally, we watch the showdown.  Hot villainess turns ugly and is eventually defeated by the hero, some dude's wife, and that meteor sword.

Not the best sword and sorcery film ever but worth seeing once.

The next day, I watched Conquest.        
I had forgotten how awesome and loopy this film is.  Also forgot that it was directed by the Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci.  He isn't called the Maestro of Gore for nothing!  There are a few sickening practical special effects.  Lots of blood.

The audience is treated to some weird humanoids that look like gnolls or something.  The villainess of this film is naked throughout, except for spiked metal panties.  Oh yeah, she's always seen wearing a gold mask.  Creepy, sexy, and mysterious.  Also, quite a bit of snake writhing.  The kind of thing you wouldn't want to watch with your daughter.

What else?  There's a magical bow.  The first few minutes provides exposition, but since it happens in a dream or the afterlife or something it's all echo-y and hard to hear.  Meanwhile, there's an older cynical mentor / survivalist dude.  Basically, the Han Solo of Conquest's strange and violent fantasy world.

My wife was trying to tell me something about vacation plans or the real housewives of Atlanta or something while this next part was playing... most likely a key part of the film because the next thing I know, the hero's severed head is being carried around by the masked woman's champion.

In the end, this villainess, too, is revealed to be ugly as sin.  Well, you knew she was probably wearing that gold mask for a reason.

It's weird, erotic, and occasionally comical... punctuated with moments of hyper-violence and bloodshed.  Definitely see this movie before you die, but that one time will probably be enough.


VS