Thursday, March 28, 2013

Challenge of the Dungeon Masters #1

Inspired by what I saw at the Iron GM website, I decided to post this challenge to those Dungeon Masters who believe themselves capable.  However, I wanted to go a bit further.  Instead of a word or short phrase - why not an entire paragraph?  To wit: incorporate all three the following disparate elements into your next fantasy roleplaying adventure.  Exactly how you do this is, of course, entirely up to the individual.

1)  A slender, male Drow wearing violet robes decorated with an arachnid motif.  The Dark Elf is named Rentham, and he is in exile for blasphemously surmising that Lloth isn't so much a Goddess as merely the Demon-Queen of Spiders.  Exalted... yet not exactly divine.  Rentham, for all the suffering his race has called, is actually a likable fellow, as well as, being extremely intelligent, wise, and full of chock-full of Drow culture, conventions, and eldritch lore in the city of S'poztria (which means "black dream" in their tongue).

Rentham has no love for many of the Drow responsible for his exile; however, he won't give information which would ruin S'poztria.  Specifically, he knows of a sacred vault dedicated to Lloth containing many items worth stealing.

2)  An ice cavern where everything within is either frozen solid or covered with a layer of frost.  The cold emanates from a pale blue cube 7" x 7" x 7" easily found in the middle of the cave.  Adventurers notice all manner of things encased in a translucent tomb of ice - Dwarves, Elves, Human wizards and warriors, weapons (at least one appears to be jewel-encrusted and/or magical), as well as, a trio of Monstrous Winged Azure Worms.

The cube belongs to the sorcerer Ilmantrix.

3)   At some point in the session, the PCs must be transported to a beach of black sand adjacent to a colorless ocean stinking of rotting fish and the corpses of various aquatic lifeforms.  This ocean is a dead world, corrupted by the foul sorcery of wizards from another dimension.  However, there is an undead Aboleth patiently waiting for adventurers to come near the water.  It is a warm, pallid grey with the slimy, gelatinous exterior of something abhorrently unwholesome.


There you go!

Do as you will with them.  However, you do receive critical heroic awesome Venger Points if you're able to wedge all three into your next scenario.  Hey, even incorporating two is pretty cool.  The more seamless, the better - if your players can't tell, then feel free to pat yourself on the back without anyone being the wiser.  Or, direct your players to this post and watch their reaction!


p.s.  If there are any amateur artists interested in illustrating some of my blog posts, please contact me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Skittering Maw

Some call it a Centipede Shark, others have given it the name Sharktipede; however, those who have faced this monster and lived to tell the tale know it as Skittering Maw!

The Half-Orc cleric and death priest of Yogsoggoth, Yorlsen Gramz, was ridiculed one loathsome night just outside the local ruins.  This was nearly a decade ago, when the spawn of Yogsoggoth roamed the land, fruitful because of Yorlsen's dedication to that pallid masked Devil-God of unspeakable chaos - Yogsoggoth!  Yorlsen Gramz was spat upon and laughed at by the leader of a competing sect as unremarkable as they are unremembered.

Precious few believed Yorlsen had the understanding of outer sorcery to combine two opposed species into a single unnatural abomination.  But it was the leader of that sect who called him out.  As the Half-Orc had many times in the past, the death priest of Yogsoggoth accepted the challenge set out before him.

He walked under the horned moon, searching for a suitable creature.  Seconds later, he noticed a giant centipede weaving in and out of the forbidden ruins.  Wrestling it to the ground, Yorlsen proceeded to summon a larger beast from a dimension familiar to him - an oceanic world.  A shark appeared, thrashing and flopping before all in attendance.

With the willpower of a thousand birthing demonesses, Yorlsen Gramz forcibly merged the two species into one.  A hideous shriek resounded through the lightless air as if observing Gods of order could not abide such an unwholesome union.  Nevertheless, the Half-Orc's hybrid held its spliced molecular structure.  In less than a minute, the ridiculing leader of that forgotten sect was beheaded by an acolyte of Yogsoggoth and his body fed to the Sharktipede.

Since its creation nine years hence, various wizards and clerics devoted to Yogsoggoth have managed to replicate the Skittering Maw, placing their creations in various dungeons, towers, and sorcery ravaged wastelands.  The beauty of the hybrid beast is this: it retains the ferocious nature of the shark while enjoying the centipede's sustainability upon dry land.  However, there are a few Skittering Maws which live and fight exclusively in water.

Skittering Maw

HD:  9
HP:  57
AC:  14
Attack Bonus:  +6
# of Attacks:  1d8 centipede legs and one bite
Damage:  1d4 + special; 2d12

Special Attack:  each centipede leg has hundreds of tiny, stiff fibers which may temporarily paralyze those hit by one.  Roll save giving the victim a +2 bonus to resist the paralysis poison.  On a natural "20" regarding the shark bite, victim is severed into two pieces, yet able to act (albeit without much movement) for 1d8 rounds following the severing.

Special Defense:  three out of four Sharktipedes have 30% spell resistance, one out of four magnifies any magic cast within a 30' radius of itself - multiply the spell's duration, range, damage, etc. by 1.5

Treasure:  a Skittering Maw is only likely to keep gold, gemstones, and magical items from those creatures and adventurers it devours.

This creation is not my own, but came from the twisted minds of Blizak, his brother Chris, the artist Ryan Browning, and the Adventurer Conqueror King roleplaying game.  Thanks for letting me freestyle riff all over this thing, guys!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old School Spelljammer

[Today started nightmarishly - a water hose burst on the 10th floor of an apartment building my family owns. So, forgive this post if it's not as polished as others.]

I'll admit this right up front.  I don't know much about Spelljammer.  Neither did anyone else at the table.  But we knew that it was basically D&D in space.  Towards the end of this post, you'll see why Spelljammer came to mind.

After two weeks of not gaming due to poor attendance, last Saturday night the game continued.  It was the second part of Within the Radiant Dome by Gavin Norman and published by Geoffrey McKinney.  Fitting, as I decided to have the end of WtRD lead straight to McKinney's Carcosa.

It was a great game, though I say it myself.  Within the Radiant Dome had some nice touches which I usually tweaked here and there to my own tastes.  I won't reveal many spoilers in this post.  The following list contains the top moments...

*  West's cleric being turned into crystal by a Beholder after failing his saving throw.  The day after, I realized West could have burned some of his cleric's fortune (luck) in order to succeed.  Oh well, he knew about the rule.  His characters keep getting killed so I think he's just getting used to the idea of deadly old school fantasy roleplaying.  That's why I encourage players to have at least two characters - even if one of them is a glorified torch bearer.

*  Something so simple being so effective.  A mirrored hall where the adventurers can walk through the mirrors, encountering some robed humanoids and a book on a pedestal.  I decided to add a little spice to that scene.  On the other side of the hall, one of Harold's characters was able to hear furry patter and tittering of the Giant Albino Devil-Spiders encountered in the last session.  Just the suggestion that those creatures might be on their way sent Harold and therefore his characters, as well as the PCs he was traveling with, into a panic.  It made the entire scene more terrifying and tense.

*  Harold's Elf using the crystal cleric as a makeshift spell component to fuel his magic missiles.  The crystal got all used up but those robed mirror people were obliterated.

*  The spectacular success rolled by Harold's Elf when asking Tsathogguoa's favor upon meeting a hybrid Octopus Bear creature.  He rolled 00 or 100%.  So, he got what he asked for.  The Octobear shrunk down to the size of a large cat and became his familiar.

*  West's Drow decided to try on a magical gauntlet he found.  The results were hilarious... but not for West or his character.

*  West's newly rolled cleric made an equally spectacular divine healing check - he was able to heal everyone up to their full hit points, and even regenerated 2 fingers from Harold's character's hand.

*  West's cleric rolled spectacularly bad causing the spaceship bridge full of corpses to reanimate in search of brains.

*  Harold's Dwarf taking the wheel and steering the lifeless spaceship into a shiny, swirling purple hole in space, and then turning the crash landing into a less deadly crash landing.  The party was just about to make a break for it back to the smaller vessel from which they came to the spaceship, using it like an escape pod.  Before he left the the bridge, I told him his character looked back and could see that the spaceship was about to crash into a planet and that there was a chance he could steer the ship to prevent a disaster.  The fact that his character had a choice, as well as, an active role in the determination of the story gave the entire session a +2 bonus for awesome.

*  Setting foot on Carcosa.  During one of our non-gaming nights, Harold and I had briefly discussed the Carcosa book and setting.  He was excited by the prospect of gaming in such a weird world.  I agreed, and the scifi ending to Within the Radiant Dome became a perfect vehicle, if you will, for bringing the adventurers to that Lovecraftian realm.

For those who don't know, my game is a blend of original D&D, AD&D, and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Clerics can keep healing, blessing, and protecting themselves from evil as much as they want.  However, if I roll 1% - 10%, then their God is noticeably displeased.

For wizards and Elves, I use a casting check of 10 + spell level versus d20 + intelligence modifier + bonuses due to sacrifice, ritual copulation, etc.  Natural 1 means something catastrophic has occurred, natural 18 - 20 means the spell packed a bigger punch than expected.

I asked myself the following questions at least once...

*  How can I ratchet up the tension and/or raise the stakes in this scene / encounter?

*  What's the worst / best thing that could happen in this moment?

*  What aspect from a previous session can I seamlessly incorporate into the game?

*  What would be a really cool twist or unexpected detail I could add right about now?

*  How can I place the player characters in the driver's seat, allowing them to drive the action?

Basically, Dungeon Masters have to know when it's time to set the game notes aside and just go with the creative flow.  That's just as important as compromise and the old 33% chance of "x" happening, when "x" is something that pops into your (or a player's) head.  If you roll 33 or under on the percentile dice, then it has been decided by the oracular power of the dice!

So yeah, the characters were on a spaceship, worrying about Kurgan warships, being rounded up as slaves, going through a wormhole, crash landing unto an alien world, and what's to become of their lives on Carcosa.  Should be a lot of fun next session!

The word "Spelljammer" came up multiple times, and not in a negative way, thank our Dread Lord.  Yes, some of us were actively gaming when Spelljammer first came out, but none of us ever played it.  In fact, I remember it being ridiculed by various gamers back then.  But now, it's part of the rich gonzo scifi history of our beloved hobby.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Call of Cthulhu scenario inspired by DIO's Holy Diver

This was for a contest:  make a video describing an RPG scenario relating to or inspired by a particular song.  I chose DIO's Holy Diver.  After making the vid, I decided to write the scenario out on my gaming blog.  Ok, here goes...

Holy Diver

This is an underwater scenario involving the sunken corpse-city R'lyeh.

R'lyeh is where Dread Cthulhu waits, not dead but dreaming.  Just as Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones will not awaken nor break through into our reality until the stars are right, so obscured is passage to R'lyeh.  The emerald corpse-city has been displaced from our time-space continuum.  No human can reach it... except for one spot.

Off the coast of the Philippines is a body of water known by some occultists as the Midnight Sea.  For some reason, an extra-dimensional gate or wormhole exists at the bottom of it, leading directly to R'lyeh.

Owner and pilot of a deep sea diving vessel called The Tiger (because of its black stripes), Captain Meeno has been down in the Midnight Sea several times looking for diamonds.  On his last voyage, Captain Meeno accidentally found his way to R'lyeh.  He took a few photos before returning home.  Announcing to the world a lost city at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, Meeno began selecting individuals to accompany him in a bit of exploration and treasure-seeking.  Unfortunately, virtually everyone in the scientific world believes this to be a hoax.  There's nothing to be found in the spot where Captain Meeno claims he saw the city.  And yet, there are still a handful of believers... perhaps by the will of Dread Cthulhu?!?

So far, the expedition is made up of...

Bishop Alphonso DiSalva who believes his rightful promotion to Archbishop was blocked because of his association with Ujieffski.  DiSalva is more than a little bitter about being passed over for promotion, so he sees this as his chance to cement his name in history, as well as, prove to the Church that his friendship with Ujieffski is not a liability.  He hopes to find some kind of holy city beneath the waves.

Ujieffski is a mystic with shaved head and overgrown bushy mustache who was also a member of the Catholic Church before the College of Cardinals deemed his visions to be an instrument of the Devil, whereupon he was excommunicated.  Ujieffski and Alphonso DiSalva became lifelong friends when DiSalva was stationed in the Ukraine decades ago.  Ujieffski has been having a singular yet reoccurring vision since Meeno's announcement - an antediluvian city of secrets, dreams, and untold power!

Wilkinson Smythe III... the third member of Captain Meeno's expedition should probably be hand-picked by the Keeper of Arcane Lore himself as that's the most likely entrance for the investigators.

Once aboard, the expedition will undoubtedly have one or two encounters, such as a competing deep sea vessel full of cultists, an unnatural squid / sea monster attack, or some entity swimming up against The Tiger as it moves through the gateway / wormhole.

As for the emerald corpse-city of R'lyeh, well, that should also be up to the Keeper of Arcane Lore.  One thing is for certain - there should be plenty of conflict between members of this expedition.  Bishop DiSalva will want to claim the lost city for his Catholic Church while Ujieffski will receive very strong impressions that the slumbering God within is the only truth of this fragile universe.  Meanwhile, Captain Meeno will be more interested in looting the place.

If this scenario is a one-shot, then why not allow the investigators or Ujieffski to disturb Cthulhu's sleep?  Or maybe this scenario is part of an ongoing campaign - in that case, the ultra-telluric architecture (complete with horrific bas-reliefs) of R'lyeh will undoubtedly reveal clues as to what the Mythos is really about.  It will take a lot of time, energy, and ritual knowledge to awaken Cthulhu.  And don't forget about those cultists who followed The Tiger through the gate.  Not only do they crave whatever valuables are lying around, such as those cyplopean Art Deco seals made of platinum... but for their Lord to rise!

For those interested, here's the Holy Diver video and the song's lyrics below...

Holy Diver
You've been down too long in the midnight sea
Oh what's becoming of me?

Ride the tiger
You can see his stripes but you know he's clean
Oh don't you see what I mean?

Gotta get away
Holy Diver

Shiny diamonds
Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue
Something is coming for you

Look out!
Race for the morning
You can hide in the sun 'till you see the light
Oh we will pray it's all right

Gotta get away-get away
Get away,
Gotta get away,
Get away

Between the velvet lies
There's a truth that's hard as steel
The vision never dies
Life's a never ending wheel

Holy Diver
You're the star of the masquerade
No need to look so afraid

Jump, jump!  Jump on the tiger
You can feel his heart but you know he's mean
Some light can never be seen

Holy Diver
You've been down too long in the midnight sea
Oh what's becoming of me

Ride the tiger
You can see his stripes but you know he's clean
Oh don't you see what I mean

Gotta get away
Get away
Gotta get away
Get away yeah

Holy Diver
sole survivor
your armor’s clean

Holy Diver



p.s.  Just found out that my entry won third place in the contest.  Sweet!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crawling Emissary of Yogsoggoth

The most forbidding dungeons and terrifying reaches of the Nether-Realms harbor creatures which the average adventurer has never seen.  One such abomination is the Crawling Emissary of Yogsoggoth, a thing chiefly composed of eyes and tentacles.  However, one human survivor claimed it had a face... though he admits it's entirely possible the Emissary was merely feasting upon the head of a fresh victim when his party of adventurers unknowingly stumbled upon it.

The wisest of sages know that Crawling Emissaries of Yogsoggoth were created as a servitor race aeons ago by the pallid masked Devil-God and key to boundless, unspeakable chaos known as Yogsoggoth - a warped reflection of the renowned Yog-sothoth.  Emissaries were often used to guard powerful magic items from unwanted hands.  Most have been slain in the centuries following their creation, yet a few linger on... protecting the black artifacts and elder relics of the Old Ones.

A Crawling Emissary of Yogsoggoth is not easy to behold.  It has the taint of primordial darkness, as does all things Yogsoggothian.  A Crawling Emissary moves slowly upon its mass of writhing, pustule ridden tentacles, leaving a trail of translucent watery-green goo in its wake.  As it crawls, one can hear it whispering dark susurrations as a hundred red veined, milky white orbs glare in all directions at once.

Unsuspecting adventurers may believe the Emissary is trying to communicate.  Alas no, its hushed tones are merely a distraction until the thing is able to reach humanoids with all of its tentacles.

Crawling Emissary of Yogsoggoth

Hit Dice:  13
Hit Points:  78
AC:  18
Attack Bonus:  +8
# of Attacks: Variable; roll 2d4 each round (tentacles)
Damage:  2d8

Special Attack:  If the Dungeon Master rolls a natural "20", the Emissary successfully performs a neck-snap; a tentacle is wrapped around the PC's head before a wild jerking motion is applied.  33% chance of paralysis from the neck down, 67% chance the PC dies.

Special Defense:  Can only be harmed by magical weapons.  Those in melee combat with an Emissary who roll a "1" slip on its slime trail, falling to the ground.  Due to its unnatural aura of fear, PCs have a -4 to any combat maneuver attempted other than an ordinary attack.

Treasure:  The DM should work this out ahead of time.  As stated, a Crawling Emissary of Yogsoggoth frequently guards a very powerful magic item.

My thanks goes out to Josha Petronis-Akins for his initial idea: the Crawling Emissary of Vecna.

I hope everyone enjoys this Lovecraftian home-brewed monster.  If you use it in your game, please let me know.  Also, feel free to comment below with your thoughts on this and what you'd like to see in future posts!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Influence of Other Games

Ironically, it was my wife who suggested I find someone else's game to play in.  It's ironic because she would prefer it if I had no life at all beyond staying home and raising our two young daughters.  That's her calling, Dread Cthulhu bless her, reluctant some days as she might seem.  She suggested the idea because I've been working like the dickens to find interested, reliable, and available players for my own weekly roleplaying game.  Sometimes it works out, lately it hasn't.

So, that's what I did.  I went to a traditional (old school) RPG meetup at my not-too-far-away game store.  Didn't know what to expect, but I did know that any momentary trepidation was just the newness of the experience and needed to be overridden.  It was fun; it was different.  Different because it wasn't me behind the screen running the game.  I got a chance to experience Empire of the Petal Throne.  A fascinating setting.  And, if my wife doesn't strongly object, I'll keep coming back.

That difference is part of what made it important.  Besides having the opportunity to play and making contacts in order to fill my table at home, playing in another Dungeon Master's game gave me a fresh perspective.  Good, bad, or weird... games influence each other.  That influence keeps one's game world from remaining in a vacuum, giving it new life and energy.

Of course, sometimes it's better to resist outside influences, to keep our subjective vision uncorrupted.  After all, we don't want D&D to become too homogenous or standardized.  That way lies sanity - the opposite of madness.  And madness, if you think about it, is where many of us want to go - into that unknown abyss of black secrets and dreams, deep down within gaming's sorcerer-demon soul.  Nevertheless, all Masters of the Game will benefit from playing every once in awhile.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Investigator Origins

Below are three options for getting 1920's and 30's era Call of Cthulhu investigators involved in the Mythos.  They are origin stories hooking ordinary men (or women with some changes) into a larger, weirder world of supernatural strangeness.  Keepers of Arcane Lore might want to roleplay these situations at the outset of a campaign.  Alternatively, they could be describe before play begins or have the player read his account aloud in order to set the scene.

1.  "Something in that night-haunted alleyway killed my partner.  There was a sound like a man's scream, quickly followed by the ungodly roar of a wild animal.  Henry and I went in.  I was immediately thrown back by something large and wet that knocked the wind out of me.  Seconds later, I got up, ran into the darkness with my flashlight shining and gun at the ready.  Henry's mutilated body lay before me - ripped apart by the ferocious beast we heard moments before rushing in.  No animal was ever found, though."

2.  "We had staked out the factory for three nights in a row, desperate to catch the men who had been kidnapping women each month and killing them in some kind of gruesome ceremony.  Finally, our coffee and donuts laced skulking paid off - three men approached the factory, a woman with them, clearly being forced along.  Another full moon hung heavy in the night sky.  We crept in, got close to them... real close.  Near enough to smell some kind of exotic incense or spice.  They were preparing their ceremony and distracted.  Walter shouted for them to put their hands up.  The group scattered.  A gunfight ensued.  Two of the men were shot, one through the heart, the other in his head.  The last one escaped down a row of machine parts.  I don't know how it's possible, but they both vanished.  We searched the factory high and low, finding no trace.  Nothing outside the factory either."

3.  "I used to work at a nightclub called All That Jazz; played the saxophone.  But the club showcased more than just music - all kinds of acts.  Just before I quit, there was a ventriloquist - you know, a guy who could throw his voice to make like his dummy is really talking.  The ventriloquist always gave me the heebie-jeebies... his big wooden doll, too.  Anyways, one night the cat finishes performing and starts putting his doll away in this old beat-up suitcase, except this long lump of wood is staring at me, and just before he closes the lid on the case, the dummy winked at me.  After that, I tried to stay out of their way."

Of course, each backstory can be expanded upon by an enterprising Keeper of Arcane Lore.  Many a couple different investigators have the same history?  Let me know if you use this in your Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Unexpected Encounters #2

The Mauve Sphere

This could be in a dungeon, tower, keep, ruin, fortress, cavern, wizard's abode, or even the wilderness.  Adventurers see a pale lavender ball, 1' in diameter, floating in the air about 5' off the ground.  There's a subtle glow about it.  When engaged in conversation, it slowly and silently drifts closer to whomever is speaking.  Simply touching a sphere does nothing, except provide a strange physical sensation.

The Mauve Sphere is an intelligent creature with almost no way of communicating with those not of its race.  However, this lavender ball is quite sociable and will stay near those who seem friendly, though it can only move at about half the rate of the slowest party member.  If one of them befriends an adventurer, then it will happily travel with him or an entire party.  Mauve Spheres who realize their traveling companions are in serious trouble will do what they can to either protect their favorite creatures or absorb a particularly devastating opponent (assuming they haven't eaten within 24 hours).

These beings have only one known attack: the magical absorption of a single creature into its sphere-body.  Witnesses claim that victims touched by a preying sphere turn black, then dark purple, then violet and keep getting lighter in hue until reaching the sphere's coloring.  Unfortunately, no one can say exactly how the victim gets inside the sphere.  Each occurrence is preceded by a lightning bolt explosion followed by a cloud of dust and ash.  The victim appears within the sphere for a few minutes before absorption process is finished.

Absorption occurs once per day, and not again until 24 hours have passed.  Mauve Spheres can go a week without nourishment.  They tend to pick their meals based upon the temperament and affability of those around them.  Generally, the most hostile in a group are chosen over others.

Mauve Spheres are born of another world; their semi-translucent pale lavender surface cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons... even magical weapons and spells result in minimal damage.  A dimensional weapon such as a phase sword is required to slay these glowing balls.

They carry nothing with them; any treasure to be had would consist only of their remains.  A sorcerer might pay a couple hundred gold pieces for a Mauve Sphere corpse in good condition.

Thanks for reading and commenting.  Let me know if you use such an encounter in your game!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mazes and Monsters... better than nothing, I guess.

The next time we have to cancel a session on short notice because of last minute excuses from some of the more fair weather gamers in our weekly RPG group... we're watching Mazes and Monsters!  That's what I told Harold.  He was all for it since neither of us have ever seen the 1982 movie about the perils of roleplaying starring Tom Hanks and some other people.  So, that's what we did last night.

It wasn't bad.  Sort of what I expected while not being what I expected, too.  Mazes and Monsters struck a decent balance between the lives of typical college students and what some people must imagine Dungeons & Dragons to be like since they've never actually played it.  The line about blurring fantasy and reality hit home because deep down I believe that's what makes a terrific game.  But that doesn't mean players believe they're master swordsmen once they leave the table.

Some elements were interesting, such as "You play Mazes and Monsters?  What level?  9?  Awesome, that means you can create your own fantasy world Maze!"  Or something to like that.  Harold and I wished there had been more "actual play" in the movie because the footage we saw was over-the-top and kind of ominous  - dark room lit only by candles, the Maze Controller reminding everyone that "Your lives are in my hands", and later the costumes with fantasy paraphernalia worn in the caverns.  Why Maze Controller?  Why not Maze Master or Master of the Maze?

The fact that the M&M group was rather fanatical about playing was pretty cool.  I was able to dimly recall the obsession some of us had about roleplaying back in the day.  Not so much these days.  Now, I'm lucky to have three players seated at my table once a week.  Of course, our campaign is new and I've been out of touch with the local gaming scene for a couple years.

As for the last half of the film, it kept me entertained, and I was interested to see what was going to happen next.  The girl M&M player gets around!  Nice.  When the cops started asking questions, it felt like games like D&D were on the verge of being outlawed.  Rather than focusing on any inherent Satanism within M&M, the movie zeroed in on psychological distress and working through emotional problems at the risk of making them worse.  M&M added fuel to Tom Hanks' flame.  The last few minutes were pretty damn unrealistic, even if we assume that roleplaying games are potentially damaging to those on the edge of sanity.

At least I can say that I've seen it.  Not sure I need to ever see it again.  Would I recommend it to others?  Sure, if you're into roleplaying games, I suppose you could do a lot worse.  Overall, Mazes and Monsters was gratuitous enough to get the juices flowing, but clearly the story departs from realism here and there.  I guess that's it.  Still annoyed that we didn't play last night.  I suppose Jay Jay and I have that in common.  Definitely not the hat wearing...


Friday, March 15, 2013

You can't put your wizard miniature in the same dungeon crawl twice!

Ok, first off, this is a brand new post.  Not one I transferred from the old new RPG blog.  So, the area around the text should be the same color as the actual blog background.  Yay!

Man, when is the New World Order going to take over and fix everything?  Shouldn't incompatibility be a non-issue in 2013?  Fuck the idea of Google or one giant corporation taking over.  No, that's not what I want.  That's not what 99% of us want.  However, I believe that an overriding system or authority or mandate will eventually manifest which saves our collapsing sociocultural infrastructure from being crushed by its own weight, as well as, blasting all the parasitic assholes which hasten our collective soul annihilation into space.  Who's with me!?!

Anyways, on to today's post.  It's an informal response to a blog post I read the other day:

I commented at the bottom of the author's post.  It has to be moderated first, but basically this is what I said (expanded upon here):  Not only is there no "one right way" to run a game, there isn't even a way that works 100% of the time for one group.  Things need to be changed up every so often or stagnation takes hold; ruining the game on a micro level and potentially ruining the entire hobby on a macro level.

Gaming methodologies require evolution or else they become prisons.  Even a nice, comfortable prison with curtains that serves your favorite kind of tea is still a prison.  Break out!  Do something different.  All those people railing against Jeff's blog post, as well as, those supporting him, will eventually have to alter their game's modus operandi or deal with the consequences.

Just as you cannot put your hand in the same river twice, a Dungeon Master cannot make the Player-Characters struggle throughout an entire campaign just to amass a couple hundred gold pieces or a measly +1 sword.  Not unless you want the fun to flag, the novelty to wear off.  The same goes for session after session filled with easily-won riches and power.  Where's the unexpected?  Do you know about the law of diminishing returns?  Once might be awesome, but the hundredth time means death for your campaign, DM.  Change things up before it's too late.

Would you want to see the exact same TV show (more or less) every year?  Hells no!  Even with a couple variations here and there, that would still get super boring, right?  I'm sure players feel the same way when each campaign begins and ends pretty much like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that, etc.

So, how does an enterprising DM keep things interesting?  He shifts gears.  If the PCs were struggling in the last campaign, then spoil them in the next one.  If it was magic and artifact poor, then make this campaign overflowing with the stuff!  Did all the characters begin the game as lowly peasants?  Well, make them lords now!  Of course, a certain level of challenge must be inherent in every adventure.  That isn't what you're taking away - you, self-aware old school Dungeon Master, are altering the way your PCs are challenged.

It all comes back to non-standardization.  It's so easy to codify rules and settings and ways to run a game.  Create a mold that works and keep mass producing campaigns based on that mold.  Makes sense - maybe it even saves time... nevertheless, it's antithetical to the Old School Renaissance [OSR].  Fresh, imaginative, revolutionary ideas are the lifeblood of old school gaming.

I'm not just talking about throwing a new monster into the dungeon or allowing access to a new spell.  That's OSR for noobs!  I'm talking about occasionally (if not frequently) retooling your whole approach to running the game and campaign creation.  This is not easy.  This is not quick.  And sometimes it's not very much fun, either.  Which is exactly why the OSR relies so heavily on community.  At the roots of the word "community" is the notion of sharing.  There are literally thousands of fascinating D&D concepts out there in cyberland which are utterly alien to you and your particular style of play.  Some of those concepts, such as going diceless or setting a campaign in Carcosa, might scare you.  That's ok.  Besides frightening us, exploration of the unknown is supposed to be fun, too, right?  After all, we Dungeon Masters send wizards, warriors, and thieves down into the bowels of the earth to encounter God knows what!

So, take some chances.  Don't just game awesome... game eldritch!  Oh, and let the OSR community hear about your results.  That keeps the OSR movement growing.

Framing this post in conclusion, I long for standards without the mistake that is standardization... just as I hope humanity achieves self-actualization via benevolent force in the next couple decades.  What I'm talking about is the Third Side.  Not black, not white, nor grey... but green!

Agree?  Hate my guts?  Don't know WTF I'm talking about?  Leave a comment!

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scrambling for Truth

I ran the 6th session of our Dungeon Crawl Classics / (A)D&D game last night.  Even though there were only a couple guys who showed up, I was still of the mind that THE GAME MUST GO ON!!!  Years ago, I probably would have just cancelled the session if there weren’t at least three players.  But not these days.  Gaming time is too valuable now that I’m married with children (cue the Sinatra).

So yeah, it was awesome.  We were midway through an old school renaissance indie module called “Within the Radiant Dome” by Geoffrey McKinney.  Since the other guys were absent (one was sick, the other busy) I decided to test drive my D&D reference chart of random awesomeness…

It worked well.  I let it be known that strange dimensional anomalies were happening within the radiant dome.  Rooms, corridors, and caves could move of their own accord.  So, all the rolling before they opened that next door or sneaked through the next cavern made sense.

With the reference, there was just enough information to set the scene.  I read a brief description while occasionally adding a few bits of flair from off the top of my imagination.  For the next three hours, the party encountered a lot of unusual mixed with routine stuff.  For instance, a scouting party of Drow investigating a rust-colored alien plant creature in this giant cavern.  And then there was one of my favorites: a tribe of mutated Yellow-Men festively prostrating themselves before their lethal divinity – a badass magic sword!  And the gemstone rolling – craziness!  It took about ten minutes to learn about the gems their characters made off with.  But believe me, both players enjoyed the discovery process!

I also decided to take Unexpected Encounters #1 for a spin.  You can find that as an earlier post on this blog.  Worked like a charm – even the Devil-Spiders!  It was definitely something different.  The exact type of stuff which had been missing from my D&D 4th edition game over two years ago, as well as, several roleplaying sessions with 3rd and 3.5.

And yet… I don’t know how many other Dungeon Masters experience this, but no matter how prepared I am or how well things are going… I still have moments of uncertainty, of doubt.  Like a couple hours before game time, every once in awhile, I’ll have a few seconds of panic, thinking to myself “What am I doing?  Soon, I will be sitting at a table with a bunch of other grown men attempting to collectively tell a story of knights and wizards and purple wyrms as if I’m the head God of this illusory realm.  Is this utter silliness?  No, of course not.  It’s a hobby.  Gaming is fun!  Ok, assuming it isn’t too silly to throw myself into the role of DM (or head-God)… could I accept such a huge responsibility?”

In those moments, it feels like I’m scrambling for truth because the entire world rests upon our collective shoulders – especially mine.  Yes, roleplaying games are fantasy (or scifi, horror, comic book super heroes, etc.).  Obviously, there are going to be times when the world we’re building seems less real than it could be.  Or extremely real… but squirming out of control.  Multiple imaginations focused on a singular concept is a potentially powerful thing.  It’s the act of creation.  Order out of chaos!

Last night, instead of letting those brief nagging doubts get to me, I simply pushed on through with a firm decision (or a roll and then a firm decision) to the other side.  ”For the next few hours”, I said to myself, “this is my reality”.  I chose to be awesome and to DM awesome as well.  And that made all the difference.

Can you relate?  Comment below with some of your personal stories at the game table.  Is it always smooth sailing or are you occasionally plagued with doubts about the session or your abilities?  Thanks for reading!

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir

Unique Magical Auras

Adventurers find magic items.  It happens regularly – at least your players hope it does!  The Old School Renaissance dictates (suggests?) that Dungeon Masters provide some inventiveness, some imagination when describing new found items.  Of course, not every wand, sword, or pair of gloves the adventurers stumble upon is going to be entirely unique.  However, it never hurts to throw in a few words which seem fresh to the characters, as well as, the players.  It heightens that feeling of the unknown.  To me, that’s the heart of old school fantasy gaming.

Use the following list to (randomly) choose a unique aura for the next magic item the adventurers come across.  They see…

1)  a magical aura of some bizarre hue… orange lavender with gold flecks.
2)  a swirling magenta midnight field of energy.
3)  undulating patterns of vibrant crimson illumination.
4)  a dark array of demon-haunted faces screaming in both ecstasy and torment.
5)  spectral green ichor oozing over its surface.
6)  a subtle violet glow accompanied by the sound of ominous droning.
7)  visions of a man with horns and bone-white flesh clothed in dark robes.  With yellow eyes, he stares into a yawning abyss as if waiting for something to emerge from the empty blackness.
8)  shimmering waves of azure flowing in and out of reality, betwixt this world and several others.

There they are – eight non-standard magic item auras.  Go forth and standardize no more!  Also, be sure to mention those auras (even if it’s just a single aspect) the next time it’s used.  Calling back to the original details will strengthen the vitality of your game.  If you occasionally struggle (as I do) with remembering that a certain description goes with a certain item, then do yourself a favor – write down a little cheat sheet and keep it next to your adventure notes for easy reference.

Feedback time!  Is this the kind of thing you’re likely to use in a game?  If so, please let me know by commenting.  Also, don’t be afraid to share this post (and blog) with others!

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir

Unexpected Encounters #1  ~  The Time Piece

Standing before the adventurers, along the western wall, is a large floor clock (what we’d call a grandfather clock).  It’s old with faded, warped wood broken in places and covered in cobwebs and dust.  The clock’s unmoving face has a hair-line crack.

Careful search reveals two secret compartments.  The first, down towards the base.  The second, on the upper right side.

1.  Within is a small but long, dark wooden box.  It looks untouched by the ravages of time.  This diminutive box opens easily, revealing a 6″ doll… a man wearing dark plum velvet robes with teeny-tiny gilded symbols etched upon it.

Flopping around, the intricate detail, and feel of its flesh… dear Gods!  Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that this isn’t a doll at all but a shrunken person.  There’s no sign of life remaining in the shrunken man’s limp body.

2.  The second compartment conceals a scroll.  Not a spell, but yellow, flaky parchment scrawled with ink.  It reads, “I hereby bequeath my time piece to you, Arkebeezer.  By right, it should be yours as you were the last wizard standing.  If the Old Gods yet gaze kindly upon us, the race who built it are long dead.  May their loathsome, spidery ways rot in all nine circles of Hell.”

If the ornate, black hands of the clock’s face are moved in a particular direction, a temporal distortion is created.  This could be anything from a few minutes ago to untold centuries.  Adventurers messing about with it should be in for a surprise.  The Dungeon Master may roll, if he chooses…

1)  1,600 years ago
2)  900 years ago
3)  200 years ago
4)  1 year ago
5) an hour ago
6) an hour from now
7) a year from now
8) 300 years from now

Regardless of the temporal distortion, there’s a 33% chance that a trio of giant Albino Arachnid Devils come crawling forth upon a spider web stretching throughout all of space and time.

Initiative: +6  HD: 7  HP: 42  AC: 13  #Attacks: 1  Attack: +9  Damage: 2d6 + poison (shrinks victim down to 6″ if saving throw failed)  Special: 20% of Albino Arachnid Devils have psionic abilities.  No treasure; however, they are extremely knowledgeable – especially about inter-dimensional travel.


Is this the kind of thing you like?  If so, comment!

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir

Feels like the first time

Yes.  Yes, it does.  I remember the first time my D&D character walked upon the Dark Sun sands of Athas.  The first time a character licked blood from an evil blade.  The first time my Half-Orc rogue shot an arrow through that NPC’s throat as a sneak attack, killing him outright… even though he was supposed to tell us where to go and what we were supposed to do that night.  Aged gamers, like myself, are far from virgins; however, the spray of gore still feels fresh, not to mention wet, upon bearded face!

To go with my renewed lust for pen and paper tabletop roleplaying games, I have a recently created youtube channel and, now, a new blog.  This one.  During the last couple weeks, I was thinking of creating a new website to hold all my ideas and passionate musings on setting, character creation, the sword & sorcery genre, “official” vs. home-brewed rules, as well as, the activity of roleplaying itself – what actually happens when we sit around a table with friends, collectively imagining ourselves as different people existing in a world not our own.

As luck would have it, a poker friend of mine, Brent West, discovered this Empower Network thing.  He blogged about poker.  It looked like something I might be interested in, so I jumped in with flashing blades and a cold, dark fury in my eyes.  Here I am.  This is my new blog.  I’m paying for it right now, but soon… it will be paying for me.

Gah!  Damn you, Empower Network, internet pyramid schemes, and my own foolishness!  Damn you all to Hell!!!  Continuing on...

So, keep coming back to see my daily posts on all things RPG.  Reviews, rumors, and dread ruminations!  I’m mainly focused on old school fantasy D&D type stuff right now because it’s what I’m currently running on Saturday nights… Dungeon Crawl Classics, AD&D, and everything related.  However, I love other games from my nostalgia tinged youth like Vampire, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu, and Star Wars (especially West End Games’ d6).  I’ll get to play, run, and write about those, too, I’m sure.  All in good time.

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir

Who is the Grognard de Noir Venger Satanis?

I’ll make this extremely brief.  I’m an outsider with a weird vision.  This website serves multiple roles.  The one I’m focusing on has to do with a magenta box given to me in the early to mid eighties.  A warrior and sorceress are fighting off some aquatic Dragon creature in a dungeon.  Need I say more?
I was born the year Dungeons & Dragons was created: 1974.  It’s in the stars and in my blood.  If you love it, dear reader, then more power to you, but 4th edition and the current trends of gaming make me want to puke.  I’m a dinosaur… old school.  I consider myself to be an ancient, black guardian of roleplaying past, present, and future.
Stick with me, and I’ll show you another place, another time… another reality to which our mundane existence can’t hold a torch.

Venger Satanis
Grognard de Noir