Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Draft pic of Doctor Tyranno

Yeah, that's right, I'm a dino scientist with a raygun...
So I thought I'd take a stab at a rough sketch of what I thought Doctor Tyranno would look like.  Sure, he's campy, but he's campy in the Jack Kirby kind of way.

Anyone want to do a little artwork for me?

With all the superhero movies out there, and my son and daughter getting into comic books, I've been thinking about running a superhero RPG for them. If it goes well, maybe I'll take it to a larger audience.

In any case, I've been working up an introductory scenario, "The Danger of Doctor Tyranno."  Anyone interested in helping me with a little character illustration?  Doctor Tyranno is a millenia-old super-intelligent dinosaur cum mad-scientist whose goal it is to overthrow humanity and re-establish saurians as the master species of earth.

If it works out well, I'll publish the adventure here on this blog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jared, Shifter Druid

"Tolan, Male Druid" by Reaper Miniatures
I painted this fellow to represent Jared, a Shifter Druid in my D&D 4E Campaign.  Back when we were short players, one of the players played two characters: Jared and a minotaur barbarian.  Since our group has grown, the player settled on the barbarian, and Jared has faded way into the woodwork, no pun intended.

Monday, July 25, 2011

MegaDungeon Gallery added

For almost a year I've been slowly adding pieces to a modular dungeon.  This is actually the third or fourth modular dungeon I have built in the past decade or so using Hirst Arts blocks, but none of my previous creations made it with me when I moved to my new home almost a year ago.  Thus, I started another, using a technique I had been considering for a while, namely using the mini-walls from the "Stone Arch Mold" (#88) and the "Cracked Floor Tiles Mold" (#203).  These two molds work together to made a fairly simple but effective layout.  The walls of the dungeon are represented without blocking view on the table.  The downside comes with flexibility--when you have a "dungeon tile" layout you can put the door anywhere in the room you like.  But that's the sacrifice you have to make with a layout like this.

Anyways, the terrain-building bug as struck again, and after cranking out a quick wargaming piece I thought I'd start adding to the MegaDungeon again.  To celebrate this, I've added a gallery of existing MegaDungeon pieces to the blog as a separate page.  You can access it from the bar at the top of the blog.

As always, thanks for looking!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 5

The fifth round of books from the Mystery RPG Box of Mystery is:

  • Queen of the Demonweb Pits, Module Q1 (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)
  • Signs and Portents: Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game and Fact Book (Mongoose Publishing)
  • Missions (Shadowrun, FASA)
All right, now we're talking.

Queen of the Demonweb Pits was the final episode is series of modules running though the "Against the Giants" (G1-3) and "Drow" (D1-3) modules.  The PC's have made their way through some standard monster lairs, an underground wilderness, a mega-dungeon/lair, and finally an entire city-nation of evil elves.  Where to go from there?  Apparently even Gary Gygax didn't know, so he gave the job to in-house artist David Sutherland, who had some ideas about an extra-planar realm that would serve as the home of the drow goddess Lolth, Queen of Spiders.  Q1 is probably best known for the map of the Demonweb, an elaborate maze involving some non-Euclidean geometry.  In addition to various rooms on the web (oddly not a reference to the internet) that feature some very un-demonic monsters like werewolves, the module also features several pocket dimensions, each only taking up a page or two of text.  The final encounter is fairly notorious, because Lolth's home is a giant mechanical spider, which people tend to love or hate depending on how "pure fantasy" their taste in D&D is.
The module, for all its iconic history, is a mixed bag of shells.  It was hard for Gygax himself to come up with a way to create a climax after Vault of the Drow.  Sutherland broke ground in creating an extra-planar adventure, but this is definitely one that could be retread into something else.

I'll admit up front that I have watched all of one episode of Babylon 5.  Its heyday was during a time when I was in graduate school and having my first child and the last thing I wanted to try to shoehorn in was another serial television series, especially one that seemed to me to be "Star Trek for people who didn't want to be another Trekkie like everyone else."  I'm not being insulting, I just know a lot of people who were passionate about the show and resented the hell out of anyone comparing it unfavorably to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Anyways, this is licensed RPG for the series, done by Mongoose Publishing.  For some odd reason, they decided to go with an OGL product, even stating on the back cover that you needed a copy of the D&D Player's Guide.  My question is, why?  You could cobble together a workable skill-based system without shackling yourselves to the D&D formula.  They even implement a different ruleset for hitting people not based on armor, but use the obvious "armor removes points of damage, not make you hard to hit" that would be essential for any game involving firearms, much less a sci-fi one.  But for those who are a fan of the series, there's lot of information about the series setting, the races, psychic powers, et al.  There's rules for surviving (or not) in the vacuum of space, starship combat, and all the other things you'd need for a sci-fi RPG.
What I found most interesting, especially as an outsider to the series, was how weak the characters from the series are made.  The highest level character shown is only fifth level.  I thought to myself, in D&D under fifth level is all kobolds and copper pieces, and these guys were the main characters in a TV series?  Maybe it does deserve a look.

Finally, Missions is a sourcebook for Shadowrun, Second Edition.  For those who don't know, Shadowrun was and is a pastiche of traditional fantasy elements in a Cyberpunk setting (William Gibson said that they had spliced his literary DNA with an elf).   Specifically Missions provides scenarios for the Shadowrun Companion.  The Companion was an attempt to take Shadowrun into some alternative campaigns, such as having the PC's not be corporate spies/thieves/terrorists but instead personae like Lone Star operatives.  Missions provides four scenarios, each for a different kind of campaign.  The scenarios are laid out in what could best be described as a flowchart format (there actually are flowcharts in the book) in which the PC's start out at Encounter A, then can go to B or C, then maybe back to the one they didn't go to first (so PC's that went to C could then go to B), then finally end up at the closing scene D.  How they handled the previous encounters affects how the closing scene goes down.  It is all laid out pretty clearly and cleanly in a way that would probably appall some GM's who prefer things to be a bit looser, but be appealing to people who don't want to put a lot of prep time into a gaming session.
Since the scenarios are all genre-specific, there's not a sense that you could use all four in a single campaign, but could either use the missions as one-shot diversions from a typical campaign or use them to kick off a longer-running alternative campaign.  Shadowrun is a a tough genre to port stuff into other campaigns, although you could just scrub out the magic in some of the scenarios and run them as straight cyberpunk stories without a lot of effort.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I actually did an earlier draft of this post but realized that most people were not interested in a play-by-play description of all my comings and goings, my struggles and victories, and everything else involving my weekend at KantCon.  So here's the brief recap:

The Good

  • Great location 
  • Good food
  • Friendly people
The Not So Good
  • On Friday there were not games available for people who had not pre-registered (like me)
What I bought
  • Ingenium by Silver Gryphon Games.  This is a great lightweight fantasy RPG that clocked in at $20 for 98 pages.  I literally crammed the rulebook in thirty minutes and was playing with my kids half an hour after that.  I'll do a review later, but both running and playing in this game was a breeze.
  • OSRIC this is the new giant black book from Black Blade Publishing.  Yes, it's 1st Ed. AD&D with a new slipcover, but at $26 for essentially the three core rulebooks in a beautiful binding its a deal for those who want the rules, and I think there's something to be said for supporting ambitious efforts like this, especially when they show up at small conventions.
What I played
  • Mousetrap 
  • Order of the Stick 
  • Ingenium
  • Car Wars
  • Black Friday 
  • Lab Monkeys
Most of these games I ended up playing with the kids.  Because of schedule issues and some other things I ended up not getting in as much gaming as I hoped.  I think in the future I will leave the kids behind and probably not carpool with someone else.  Being tethered to another person, who often was doing different things than me, sometimes kept me hanging around doing nothing while he finished up his stuff.  Lessons learned.

P.S. Go buy Ingenium.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 4

The fourth round of the Mystery RPG Box of Mystery contains

  • Wild Dragon Den, an adventure for D&D
  • Denizens of Earthdawn Part One, a sourcebook for Earthdawn
  • Ravenloft II: the House on Gryphon Hill (module I10, for AD&D)
Still a little heavy on the D&D stuff, but that's no mind.

Wild Dragon Den is the first adventure from the same boxed set that Wyrmhaven came from, built for four 1st-to-3rd level adventurers.  The format is simple to the point of being trite: a wealthy patron seeks adventurers to exterminate the lair of a black dragon and her lizardmen henchlings (is henchling a word?)  Like Wyrmhaven, the PC's are equipped by the patron with flashlights, healing potions, and equipment designed to neuter the main villain, namely the aforementioned black dragon.  In this case the equipment is several potions for curing poison, and two shields who remove most, but not all, of the damage from the dragon's acid breath.
I actually like Wild Dragon Den better than Wyrmhaven for the location, a limestone cavern whose walls and ceiling can be knocked down by enough damage.  There are flooded rooms and mudpits and lots of little touches that given the place more character than a simple stone complex.  Nonetheless, the adventure is pretty colorless and indistinct from every other generic monster lair out there.

If Wild Dragon Den lacked color, Denizens of Earthdawn Part One is overdone with it.  This sourcebook for Earthdawn (aka FASA's fantasy RPG and in many ways the prototype for D&D Fourth Edition even before Third Edition came out) features an encyclopedic background for Elves, Humans, T'skrang (the lizardmen PC race), and Wildlings (the pixies).  You get history, religion, arts, architecture, philosophy, etc. for the various races.  At the end are some additional disciplines (classes) and talents (skills) for the game, the only real "crunch" in a book composed mostly of "fluff."  Earthdawn is very world-specific as an RPG, and this book is even more world-specific, so its value lies either in fleshing out the game designer's vision of their world, or pinching cultures for your own campaign.  But there is so much and it gets into so much minutiae (the etiquette of T'skrangs' tails, for example) that you really, really have to like Earthdawn to get into this book.

Once again I seem to be getting into sequels before the first installments, since Ravenloft II: the House on Gryphon Hill is theoretically a sequel to the breakthrough module Ravenloft. Except it isn't.  As James over at Grognardia caught, Tracy and Laura Hickman are listed as authors on the cover but the inside shows them as only providing the story outline.  Moreover the central NPC of Ravenloft, the vampire Strahd, has been bolted onto an entirely different plot, with the module's authors suggesting that either the plot featuring Strahd of Ravenloft or Strahd of Ravenloft II is a dream the PC's are having.  In Ravenloft III, Strahd is shot by another NPC only to appear in the shower at the end of the adventure.
Anyways, the module isn't really an adventure per se, it's a story, with the PC's playing only a facilitating role. The PC's stumble across a community being besieged by your typical undead-related underlings.  The town's primary inhabitants are the local nobleman, his lovely daughter, and her fiance', a charming and fair alchemist.  The alchemist is the Dr. Jekyll to Strahd, who serves as the Hyde in this completely hackneyed plot.  The PC's basically wander about the town fighting minions until the DM nudges them forcibly to get one of the NPC's to a local mesmerist, where they finally get the clues to the true identity of Strahd (he isn't necessarily his good counterpart), his goals (also flexible), and the location of a few crucial pieces of machinery to a device that can stop him (the locations of which are also up for grabs).  This mirrors the plot device of the gypsy in the first Ravenloft mystery, where there's some "random" elements to the plot.  What isn't random though is that all of these things move the story to its climax, the showdown between the Alchemist and the Vampire, while the PC's are relegated to mere witnesses.  The use of Strahd by TSR in this story is pure exploitation, and the story tries to capture much of the gimmickry of the first module but lacks anything of redeeming value.  I'm not sure, but I think this module didn't even make it into the "canon" of the Ravenloft backstory when it became a whole campaign universe, not just a single module.

Some Gold Stolen from Somewhere Else

Over at Dragonsfoot, Evereaux once said the following about his Megadungeon campaign:

The Dungeon is a weird, unfathomable, and deadly place, and as such it should sound an irresistible call to those with the doughty hearts of adventurers. It is the paragon of Chaos, a limitless manifestation of danger, chaos, and alien strangeness, just as the Town is the paragon of Law, a physical embodiment of safety, uprightness, and predictability. Within the dungeon, you will find ferocious monsters, lethal traps, cunning tricks and buried secrets, tortuous layouts and forgotten ways, baffling riddles, and best of all, fabulous treasure beyond imagining. You the player will be challenged as much, if not more, than your PC, and it will take the combined skills of both to succeed. This place is not merely a workaday, subterranean lair, with logically arranged sleeping and eating areas for a species simply somewhat different from (or even antagonistic toward) humans and demi-humans. The door you open is a portal, the stairs you descend a path, into the mythic and fantastical Underworld, luring you farther from the rational and sane daylight lands above, where a man may plot his way with confidence in the laws of nature, and into a nightmarish world of magic, evil, and fantastic elements that can devour your PC's very soul. You must be constantly on guard for peril from any quarter; you must manage your resources carefully, retreating when it is wise yet advancing when the time is right; you must demonstrate bravery, intelligence, and prowess as well, if your efforts are to be repaid with wealth and power. Not everything within the crumbling walls, forsaken chambers, and winding ways is hostile, and you may find allies in strange places or negotiate safe passage from others--but be wary of treachery and ill will. Those who think and fight their way back out may bear the riches that will spread their names throughout the realms of Man; those who do not will die a lonely death far from the places they know and cherish.
I'm just putting here so I can easily come back to it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 3

The third round of books from the Mystery RPG Box of Mystery contains:

  • Wyrmhaven, an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons (1992)
  • Smuggler's Run, a sourcebook for the Dragonstar game (Fantasy Flight Games)
  • Oasis of the While Palm, a module for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1983)
All right, I'm moving out of the generic rulebook part and into some adventures and sourcebooks.

Wyrmhaven is actually out of the Dragon's Den box set that came out in the struggling years of TSR.  The hope was to induce new players by creating a sort of hybrid game reminiscent of boardgames with which young people could transition into RPG's.  With that in mind, TSR created the "Easy to Master" Dungeons & Dragons, essentially a re-tooling of the Basic D&D into a box set that looked like a board game in size.  To supplement the game they created several box set adventures, including Dragon's Den, which featured three adventures, all featuring dragons.
The problems for me with this are manifold.  Clearly I'm not the intended audience.  Second, in order to have introductory level characters (Wyrmhaven is intended for PC's level 2-4) face dragons, the dragons are greatly weakened and the PC's are tooled up.  In addition, the story is so forced it would make a 4E game designer blush.  Wyrmhaven is the second of the series, and I don't know if the box holds the first, so the adventure presumes the DM and the players know the NPC mentor, who once again calls the PC's together to fight a dragon that has made its home in a local cave.  The dragon is a very young green one, and the mentor knows through eyewitnesses that it appears to be "skilled in illusion."  This deduction is apparently because the dragon is hard to spot and disappears easily.  With that in mind, the PC's are given the fantasy equivalent of gas masks, continual light stones, three healing potions, and several scrolls that allow them to dispel illusion.  So essentially you've knocked out the dragon's breath weapon and spell-casting abilities (not to mention given you a leg up on the troglodytes that serve the young dragon as protectors.
Included with the booklet is a pull out map with 1" grids marked on it, making me think I had another 3.X or 4E adventure, but the scale (which appears nowhere in the booklet) is 1"=10', not 5' as later conventions would hold.
What's fascinating is that, despite it being almost eight years before third edition, all the early signs of later iterations are there: a simplified plot; greatly lessened threats to allow lower-level PC's to face off against impressive, iconic foes; and a grid-based map with figures to create tactical gameplay.  What's funny is the idea was to bring board game enthusiasts into RPG's.  What happened was RPG's becoming board games.

In my experience, almost every starship-oriented sci-fi campaign I am aware of, the genre of the campaign could be described as a "merchant marine" campaign.  By that I mean that the game usually revolves around a ship and its crew engaged in high-risk commercial enterprises.  Not only does this connect with the iconic figure of Han Solo, it also allows for militaristic, technical, and personality-driven PC's to all have a role in the game.  It also, as Firefly points out, makes for a good story.  Smuggler's Run tries to help DM's (do they call them that in Dragonstar games?) run a good "merchant marine" campaign in the Dragonstar setting.  From what I can ascertain from the sourcebook and the interwebs, Dragonstar is basically D&D in Space, complete with elves, druids, spells, etc.  It reminds me of Shadowrun in that kind of "mash-up D&D fantasy with something else and see what happens" sort of vibe.  Which, frankly, doesn't mean it will fail.
Smuggler's Run has a lot of helpful information, however.  The first chapter covers the ins and outs of how a DM adjudicates commercial transactions, including gauging the needs of the market and the effects of competition.  The second chapter covers the PC's and how every class fits (or doesn't fit, in the case of the monk) into the campaign.  It also features some  prestige classes and some NPC's.  Chapter three is equipment and chapter four is vehicles, all applicable to the genre.  Chapter five outlines an example of a typical region of space for the PC's to ply their trade, named eponymously the Smuggler's Run.
Like I said earlier, most sci-fi RPG's tend to tack in this direction, and the information within is easily adaptable to any similar game, so this sourcebook is a solid hit out of the Mystery Box.  So much so, that I will probably be giving it to a friend who is launching a Traveller campaign in July.

Like Wyrmhaven, Oasis of the White Palm (module I4) is actually a sequel to an earlier Hickman module, Pharoah, and without that introduction the DM has to do some wrangling to get the PC's into the adventure.  What Hickman does well in modules is tell a story, and Oasis basically follows a plot line: the PC's have been set out into the Desert of Desolation to discover the source of the evil afflicting the area.  The module begins with what could be construed as a wilderness adventure sandbox, except the area is shaped to guide the PC's along a certain path that will take them through various encounters that will get them along the narrative, in this case the discovery of the Oasis and its sheik, the plot of the missing princess, and her eventual recovery and destruction of the villain.  For all its appearance as a location adventure, the module actually moves in ways subtle and unsubtle the PC's through the story to the ultimate end, which in modern parlance would be called a "cutscene."  There's some opportunity for wandering about and getting into trouble, and the designers realistically understand that the PC's just might try to kill everything and take their stuff, but this really does exemplify the "story" model of adventure modules for D&D.  How you feel about that will have a lot to do with how you would like Oasis of the White Palm.

Sometime I will have to give my own take on the subject.

Over at Strange Vistas