Tuesday, 16 October 2018

An old school British roleplaying retrospective

I sometimes find the OSR a bit too stars and stripes, which makes sense considering patient zero was D&D. American fantasy has always interested me in its depictions not of sweeping fields of emerald grass, but it's dustbowl aesthetic borrowed from sword and sorcery. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, but I wanted to delve today into the British side of the OSR, since it may be our sole export after Brexit.

We were late to get D&D over here. It wasn't until Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone set up Games Workshop in 1975 that we heard about this weird little game. While the States were pumping out games, we were still pretty much infatuated with wargaming.

Lock up your daughters

Ok, I could be wrong here but I believe that 1979 saw the release of the first British roleplaying game - Heroes. This was a historical game set in the dark ages with a cover by the venerable John Blanche. From what I can tell, this is a grim and gritty game - a reflection of the state of Britain at the time. You can still buy the game.

When I think British roleplaying, really the first thing that springs to mind is Fighting Fantasy. Despite being solo books (up until Dungeoneer's release) I count these as OSR. Plus the art was so much better than what D&D was doing at the time. What kids were doing around a table on the other side of the Atlantic, we were doing with FF books. Fighting Fantasy spawned a slew of pretenders, but one of the most successful was Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's Lone Wolf series.

In 1984 FF publisher Puffin were keen to capitalise on the series' success with a fully-fledged roleplaying game - Maelstrom, a game I own but have never played. It's basically a d100 historical fantasy game famed for its attention to historical detail. The game has since been re-released by Arion Games, who also brought back Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

Speaking of which, 1989 saw the release of Dungeoneer by Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn. This was the first book in the Advanced Fighting Fantasy system, introducing the FF world to the tabletop. This was followed the year after by Blacksand! And in 1994 by Allansia (which goes for a pretty penny on eBay). It's basically the same Fighting Fantasy system with, uh, some advancements. It's good. So good that Daniel Sell based the awesome Troika! on it. More of that in a bit.
AFF is still around, updated by Arion Games and still coming out with material, like Stellar Adventures.

If we trot back a few years to 1985 Corgi (who produced the UK edition of T&T 5e) published the first in a series of Dragon Warriors books by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson. I don't know what it was with UK publishers putting out novel sized books, but I dig it (aside from the fact that there were six core books). Again, it's a simple enough game - no universal mechanic but it seems like it plays well (another one I own but have yet to play). Also another one that has been re-released in recent years in a big hardback.

Art from Dragon Warriors

round the same time Standard Games released Dragonroar, which had an adventure on cassette! That's pretty damned 80s. The game has since been lost to history and was pretty unremarkable aside from it listing a war hedgehog in its bestiary (of 12 creatures). It was more of a minis combat game, with no rules for non-combat abilities.

A year prior to Dragonroar (I know, I'm all over the place), Games Workshop released  Golden Heroes, the first British superhero roleplaying game. Originally created as a Marvel property, Golden Heroes allowed players to roll random heroes and retrospectively give them an origin story based on their powers. I don't own this, so I'm unsure of its mechanics, but combat was done in frames, adding to the comic book feel. This had a bit of a re-imagining by Simon Burley in 2015 as Squadron UK.

Add for Dragonroar. That hedgehog is a PC

It would be remiss of me to forget Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay from 1986, a game that still thrives today under Cubicle 7. It's grim, dark and humorous. You know the drill by now..

So where does the UK OSR stand now? As you can see, there are loads of reprints and new editions of AFF, Maelstrom and Dragon Warriors, which I'd say make up the trifecta of the British old school roleplaying scene. Troika! is a recent piece of hotness inspired by AFF but featuring some gonzo classes and world building - a far cry from the spit and gristle that became the hallmark of British gaming. Warhammer Fantasy has Zweihander, which I don't own but hear good things about.

There's definitely room in the hobby to revitalise some of these games and offer further support. Maybe not Dragonroar, though. Let's leave that in the basement.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Farewell to Greg Stafford

There are few legends left and now another one has said farewell.

Very sad news today that Pendragon designer and Glorantha creator (among many other achievements) Greg Stafford has passed away at the age of 70.

Chaosium has a full obituary.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The doom that came to Google Plus

In 2011 I became a beta user of a brand new social network called Google Plus. For me, it was a haven from people I knew in real life and a way to meet new people online. As users grew, I found that roleplaying fans were in abundance and the conversation was GREAT.

Plus became not only an amazing place to discover great new things happening in the DIY RPG community, but also a valuable tool for me in my game design. It's where I found playtesters, where people fed back and where communities around my games sprang up. Sure, there was drama, but at the end of the day the quality of conversation outshone the Twitters and Facebooks of the world.

And now as the death knell sounds for Plus, I realize how lucky I've been to be able to be part of that community. While I'm not jumping ship yet - there's 10 months left - I think it's worth saying that the network had value for a lot of us. Sure, people love to mock it. Why? They didn't understand it (and it was a bit clunky too). Those of us who did understand managed to make it worth our while.

A large exodus has happened. We're looking for a new home to accommodate our hobby. Right now a fair few of us have pitched up in MeWe, who have noted the influx of nerd refugees and are speaking to our number about adding features we loved about Plus. Will we stay there? Only time will tell, but as of now this blog will be my main way of communicating to the roleplaying world.

Our community might be fractured for a time, but it will never die.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD quick start first impressions

Being a 2000 AD and Judge Dredd fan, I've been following the recent Kickstarter by EN Publishing for the (wordy) Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD.

Recently they've released their free quick start rules and adventure to help people get a feel for the game, so I wanted to give my first impressions.

The WOIN system is simple enough - it probably translates well across genres, being an easy d6 pool system, which I guess is why it was used. I've not played NEW so I don't know how pared back the quick start is, but there are some stats we have to ignore in the QS that will come into play in the main game. It's certainty not crunchy - rolling a d6 pool of attribute + skill and attempting to meet a target. There are also exploits in the game, offering further abilities, but these aren't detailed here. While this won't be to everyone's taste, I like a lite game so I'd be happy to play this.

It's interesting that you can play as judges, perps or citizens. While the QS doesn't have character creation, I'd be interested to see how much these characters differ. Will there be perp scenarios and judge scenarios when the game releases? This would make sense, it's tough to wrap up two or potentially three play styles in a single scenario.

The QS does include a scenario and, honestly, if this is what they want a Dredd game to be like, then I'm seriously disappointed. The adventure takes place in the Empire State Building, where a crazy perp called Ricki Rocco is holed up with a load of gang members. You're offered hooks for judges, citizens and perps, but the scenario only comes with 4 pre gen judges. I suppose it could be played when the full rules are released, but that defeats the point, right?

The scenario has some weird errors. Some of the section sub heads dealing with intros for perps and citizens are inconsistent. At the beginning, it says the perp section is titled In and Out, but the actual section is called Criminal Empire. The citizen section is referred to as Lost and Found, but later it's called Little Lost Ray Fey. Also, the citizen hook is baffling, mentioning that they could be after the cursed treasure of skull island. Where the hell did that come from? Maybe I missed something, but it doesn't seem like a thing.

The scenario is fairly rudimentary, but suffers from wall of text syndrome. There are very few bullets, no key info bolded, so it's not super useful at the table. There are also some really boring rooms containing nothing. You can search an empty office for an hour and surprise, surprise, you won't find anything. There are restrooms, explaining that the juves keep clean. I don't think this needed spelling out. The third floor is a series of empty offices, but it also says it's full of booby traps - yet it goes into no detail about what and where those traps are. So lots of fun to be had in rooms where nothing is happening! I do like that there's a room full of helpful robots who will do whatever you want, which could lead to some interesting situations, but these little nuggets are few and far between.

I really think an intro scenario should help the GM and players get to grips with the rules by offering ways to use attributes and skills. Not so much in this scenario. I counted a total of two checks and one instance of using tactical cover. While I don't think this would be so bad as a scenario for experienced players, this is not that.

When we reach the basement, we again find another glaring error. From what I can tell, there's supposed to be a giant toad in its lair, but the lair text doesn't actually say this. Instead it just says 'suddenly an immense form comes barreling out of the refuse...' and that's it. No mention of a giant toad, but in a later room it refers to the toad's lair. Then under the city, it says that you can add in another toad, blind crocodiles or troggies. But it doesn't give stats for these other two creatures, so why include them?

Honestly, this adventure is a bit poor. Clearly rushed out of the gate, it definitely needed another editing pass. They were clearly going for a Dredd movie vibe so that people only familiar with that would grok it but dear lord is this stale. You have the entirety of the Judge Dredd legacy to build on, a comic noted for its larger than life characters and insane situations. I get they wanted a scenario that could be used by all character types without having to change much, but I really hope this isn't the norm for adventures.

I'm cool with the system. It's basic, but that's my jam. The scenario, however, really could have been better.

Friday, 5 October 2018

D12 magic items of little consequence

Roll that d12.

1. A stone snail garden ornament. At dusk it mimics the call of a red stoat.

2. A black ring made of warg tongue. Emits a hum when bread is near.

3. A wooden doll shaped like a fairy. At night it polishes your boots.

4. A deerstalker hat that never gets wet.

5. A goat horn containing a powder. When huffed your eyes turn purple.

6. A scabbard of cloud. Anything inside it falls through.

7. An amulet of dinosaur tears that wards off blacksmiths

8. An eyeball on a chain. Wherever it swings there is butter.

9. A lantern of demon skin that casts shadow.

10. A hand harp that automatically plays the queen's second favourite childhood song.

11. A croquet ball made of glass. Smashing it releases a dancing mouse.

12. A compass that points towards your heart.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Dragons as spirits of place

What if dragons are just manifestations of place? They're born from the very essence of the location - the genius loci, appearing from the fog, the rock, the sand or the snow.

Manifestations of place aren't readily 'beatable'. You can't defeat the ground you walk on or the air you breathe. Dragonslayers are puffed up braggards attempting to attain legendary status through tall tales.

Ancient dragons take on the form of their place - red dragons become crusty with igneous rock, black grow willows from their necks. Eventually the oldest become the place itself, yet remaining sentient and all-knowing.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Forests in roleplaying games

Aside from the dungeon, the forest is potentially the most ubiquitous environment in fantasy roleplaying. Chances are you've passed through, delved into and become lost in a woodland on many occasions. We love forests because they're liminal places. When you enter one you're in essence transported from one world to another - one where things might work a little differently.

Folklore has a lot to answer for here. Back when common fairy tales would have been told, the woods were a real risk. Bandits would waylay travellers, while some held the danger of wolf packs on the prowl. So tales were populated by witches, fairies and goblins. The forest became its own character - dark, gnarled, enchanted, forbidding, mysterious. One sure thing is that you'd never be the same person coming out as you were going in.

I don't believe in 'passing through a forest uneventfully'. For me that's like taking a quick detour through a dungeon where nothing happens. This is a place where you can let your imagination run riot. Start by thinking about the character of your forest. What's its essence? Is it filled with dread? Is it a confusing place where paths shift? Is it a tease to lure in strangers before showing its true colours? Is it playful and enchanted? Then think about how its character affects the forest physically. A forest of the undead would probably be blackened, rotten, replete with fungi. An enchanted forest will be brighter, with flowers, birdsong and little calm pools.

Every forest needs a guardian - a creature that could be good or evil (or neutral). This is the being that, above all else, locals are aware of. They tell tales of the guardian in taverns, they have folk songs about it. You might decide on creating some rumours - some true, others false and it's up to the players to discover which is which. Guardians aren't necessarily the most powerful beings in the forest, but they should be the catalyst for how the PCs are altered. Witches are common forest guardians, like Baba Yaga in her chicken-leg hut or the witch in the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. These are the essence of the forest personified, usually found at the heart of the wood.

Aside from the guardian, you've got the flora and fauna of the forest, some of which will be working with the guardian (whether they're conscious of it or not), while others will be neutral or perhaps antagonistic to the guardian. I like to have at least one helper in the forest - a wise old hermit, a dark elk queen, a happy Muppet - whatever it is, it's going to act as a guide through the forest, perhaps giving them a clue as to how to defeat the guardian. They can also equip the PCs with something to aid their quest (think the Phial of Galdriel). At least two warring parties in the forest can allow the players to pick a side (and face the consequences of picking a side).

I love the forest. It's an organic funky dungeon where you can pretty much do anything you want. The above is just a template I like to use when designing them, but don't let that hold you back from adding and removing elements.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

T&T character type: Botanist

Botanists in Trollworld aren't really related to the real world profession. Sure, they still work with plants and they know all the Latin (well, not Latin per se - Troll, actually) names for them. Botanists tend to raise plants to help them hunt for treasure in the depths of the world. They use plants as ropes, lights, lockpicks and even weapons. 

Prime attributes: INT/CHA/LK/DEX

Prerequisites: Must have 13+ INT

Recommended talents: Botany (duh) (INT), Thievery (DEX), Nature (INT), Inventor (INT), Poisons (INT)

Plant armour
Botanists can choose to have plant armour covering their body. When they wear no armour, the plant armour wraps around them giving 6 armour. Increase this armour by 1 every two levels. 

Clever vines
Botanists train sentient vines called Velluns to help them in treacherous locations. These vines can do the following:
- Become a grappling hook to save you from falling. Roll a SR-CHA with a level equivalent to the number of feet you will fall divided by 10- if successful you are saved and lowered harmlessly.
- Become a 3d6 melee weapon. 
- Become a 2d6 ranged weapon with a range of 15ft
- Create a flower that glows up to 50ft.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

D20 strange dungeon doors

1. A swirling yellow portal taking you to the next room, but all you armour is removed, becomes sentient and attacks.

2. A face on the door that must be kissed by good aligned PCs to open.

3. A door of rancid ogre flesh with a bone handle.

4. A sentient door that must be put to sleep to relax its lock and open.

5. A door with a mouth that must be fed fresh meat every hour otherwise it calls an alarm in another room/level.

6. A door you must make laugh to open (in reality, make the GM laugh).

7. A furry door that if stroked lets off a pheromone that attracts cat people in all adjacent rooms

8. A mirror that you walk inside to find yourself in a backwards version of the previous dungeon (and everything happens backwards - alignments swap)

9. A huge dead toad that contains a staircase beneath it's tongue.

10. A door with six knockers that must be 'played' in order to perform the wizard's favourite song.

11. A door that was once a witch. Entering through it curses the first person to vomit for 1d4 hours.

12. The word DOOR written vertically in chalk sure enough opens somehow.
13. A door of suspended acid that must be neutralised with alkali.

14. A sentient door that must reveal a PC secret in order to unlock.

15. A door that if opened outside reduces Dex to 2. If opened inside Dex is boosted by 5 for an hour.

16. A door with a shaggy dog's head that must be fussed and called a good boy to open (its tail initially bars the other side until it wags)

17. A door formed of 10,000 mouse skulls
18. A demon door that tells a truth and a lie about the next room

19. A clockwork door that unlocks for a minute at the chime of midnight

20. A door that eats the three most valuable items in the party

Monday, 10 September 2018

Game this: dancing plagues

Many hundreds in Strassburg began
To dance and hop, women and men,
In the public market, in alleys and streets,
Day and night; and many of them ate nothing
Until at last the sickness left them.
This affliction was called St Vitus’ dance.

Often a dancing plague begins in the throes of jubilant celebration. Groups of revellers dance, music plays and jesters slake their thirst with warm ale. But the dance takes a hold - the kinetic energy increases and refuses to let up. Soon spectators are joining in, a crowd of gyrating peasants writhe, hop and clap their way around town. They can go on for days with no food, finally collapsing due to exhaustion. The clerics blame it on overheated blood. Some chime in, offering a cure - to dance the plague away. Soon halls are cleared out and makeshift dancefloors created to lure in the revellers. Musicians are paid to keep playing. Don't stop - the demons will remain of you stop.

Of course, the dancing plague continues. Only a blessing from a divine fountain can cure it, showered on the crowd. Those who contract the plague will dance for 1d6+1 days and nights, with a 10% cumulative chance of death for every day danced.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Let's take a look at T&T Adventures Japan

Despite Tunnels and Trolls being the second roleplaying game ever, the majority of material created for the system is made by small press publishers like my own. In fact, in the scheme of RPGs T&T is one of the more obscure (criminally so). Despite this, the game has enjoyed great support over in Japan where it was actually released before D&D (I believe the same goes for the UK through Corgi publishing).

The most prominent publisher of T&T material in the land of the rising sun is SNE, who produced the localised Deluxe T&T, a series of adventures and T&T Adventures Magazine, which includes solos, GM adventures and manga. This is all genuinely high quality stuff with its own art, including Kiyoshi Arai (Final Fantasy VII). Earlier this year T&T Adventures was released for the first time in English, complete with original manga plus some Steve Crompton illustrations.

T&T Adventures is an introduction to the game with examples told through some light-hearted manga antics starring a dwarf warrior, human rogue, elf wizard and fairy wizard. It's a nice little explainer that leads into a few pages of mini rules and a short spell list. Rather than using the classic racial multipliers, the mini rules give you bonuses to add. It's not a bad idea actually, though it means you're less likely to get the swingy attributes we all know and love. That said, it gives you everything you need to get started and I kind of love it.

After the rules we get into the adventures. First up we have Kitten-napped, where the PCs have to become tiny animals to save a little girl from a troll. Yeah, it's manga-licious and beginner friendly. The Secret Order of the Eye is the solo adventure, which has a pretty cool innovation where NPCs will change their reactions towards you as the adventure goes on. It's something I've not seen in a solo before. Journey to the Black wall Street is the final GM adventure in the book, which is followed by some  more manga to close everything out.

If you want to introduce a newbie to T&T, give them this. It really is everything they need and more, complete with manga that both brings the rules to life and provides veterans with a fresh perspective on the game.

Images: Group SNE/ Flying Buffalo Inc.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Thief of Kasar now available

I've just released my new mini solo for Deluxe T&T - Thief of Kasar, which you can download as a pay what you want PDF.

Kasar is a city of corruption and riches, and a place a thief for hire can make a pretty penny if they know who to seek out. Fortunately for you the job has found you, but it'll take all you skills to steal back a magical talisman.

What I learned about Pathfinder second edition after playing it

As can be expected at the release of a new playtest, there's a tonne of theorising on the internet about how Pathfinder 2nd edition plays but far fewer people actually playing the game. My group took a weekend in the first week of release to launch our first foray into the ruleset and we've continued the Doomsday Dawn adventure over Roll20, so we have a pretty good grasp of how the game actually plays.

As a bit of background, I've been kicking it in Golarion for around five years now so I'm more than familiar with Pathfinder and what constitutes the game. That said, what follows isn't just a comparison to that game. I want to treat the new edition on its own merits. That said, there is clear inspiration found here from other games, so I'm going to talk about that.

The Main Changes

As you'd expect in a brand spanking new edition, there are changes (though no 4e paradigm shifts) - for better and worse, but that's the entire point of a playtest, right?

Take resonance for example. Charisma has become magic item fuel (why? Not sure) in the form of resonance points. You need these to use magic items, which includes swigging a potion. This rule obviously limits the number of magic trinkets, weapons and whatnot you can use at a time - perhaps inspired by 5e's attunement rules. So far in our games, this hasn't presented an issue and it's probably a fair limitation.

A rule, however, that will crop up time and again for obvious reasons is initiative. This is now based on what you're doing at the time that the encounter starts. Are you sneaking? Roll stealth for initiative. Tracking? Roll survival. Most of the time you'll be rolling perception, which is fine. In our games this has generally been fine and it's a nice way of getting players to think about what they're doing during exploration (which is now he highlighted as a distinct 'mode'). It caused a few issues with stealth (they had a glowing bear at one point, which kind of detracts from the stealth angle). Overall, fine.

I'll tell you what's a real improvement, though. The action economy. You get three actions - any action. Want three attacks? Have them, but with penalties to each subsequent attach. Move twice, raise your shield. Attack, move, grapple. For our group the action economy is by far the best element of the game so far as we're finding it keeps combat fluid. Not having attacks of opportunity being a universal rule (it's now a fighter thing) makes combat a bit less of a chore. But, with a wider variety of bespoke monster reactions, you still have to second guess whether an enemy you're pulling away from might smack you good with something.

And believe me, if you have a magic weapon you'll be smacking real good. A +1 weapon now adds an extra damage die, meaning a +1 greataxe is 2d12, critting with 4d12. In Doomsday Dawn it's possible to have this very early on. What's more is that crits now happen by getting 10+ over your target, so low AC is punishing. I should know - I played a barbarian at one point and I got utterly decimated a lot, but I also dealt crazy damage (magic greataxe and rage). Speaking of AC, the new design makes everyone pretty much end up with the same.

You could take a swingy-as-hell system as a positive or negative (I quite like swingy), but something I've found to be a real positive is the proficiency system, which allows you to become trained, expert, master etc in skills, weapons and armour. There are no skill points - you can upgrade from trained to expert in a skill for a set bonus. Clean and simple.

Something that seems clean and simple, but I've not really made up my mind about yet is the ability score creation. Rolling isn't the default anymore - instead every ability starts at 10 and you get bonuses from your class, background and ancestry (race), plus some free ones. You basically end up with an array, which is fine but we found that the order to do this presented in the book was a little confusing.

Future Fixes

Let's get one thing straight. Magic items as presented in the playtest are pretty humdrum. There's nothing weird or particularly interesting, but I do give them kudos for not making everything about combat. I'd love to see items that are a bit more imaginative.

Right now there's a clear imbalance in classes, with rogues getting a lot of love and rangers being just plain dull. The problem with the ranger is that they will generally have one class feat from the selection that far outshines the others, so that's what people will go with. Barbarians are still pretty cool, but as I said before the new crit system is not kind to them. I know, I know, I'm not actually a fan of game balance (T&T fan over here), but since Pathfinder is more combat oriented, it's needed moreso.

Main takeaways

Ultimately, we're enjoying the playtest. While we recognise classes aren't yet up to snuff and perhaps the feats are a little bit on the game side, the action economy and streamlined skills system do make things cleaner. Pathfinder will never be my favourite system, but cutting back on the bloat of the first edition can only be a good thing.

Images: Paizo Publishing

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Toxic fiends of Zzozz swamp

The swamp of Zzozz is the eventual dumping ground for spend potions used by Vincher's College of Wizarding in nearby T'wux. As a result, the swamp water is not only fetid - it's seeped in all kinds of magical garbage, which has somewhat of an adverse effect on local flora and fauna. Here are their stories. Chung chung.

Mutant Skeleton
MR 56
Spite: 2/ Toxic Vom: The skeleton vomits luminous green bile into the eyes of the nearest opponent. The target must succeed a L2SR-DEX or LK or become blinded for 1d3 rounds. While blinded they do not include their adds in attacks.

With its flesh sloughing off its bones, this reanimated body of a lost adventurer loves to chuck up on the things it attacks while screaming in agony.

Ray Bat
MR 68
Spite: 3/ Ultra ray: The bat rears up and fires a red ray from its eyes at a random opponent. They must succeed a L2SR-DEX or LK or be fried for a further 2d6 damage and temporary reduce STR by 2.

These giant yellow bats have rayguns for eyes and mouth full of razor teeth. Their eyes make an authentic 'pew pew' sound.

Rat Mamba
MR 120
Spite: 4/ Heat coil: the rat mamba wraps around a random opponent. They must succeed a L4SR-STR or become squeezed and burnt, taking 4d6 damage and being unable to move for 1d6 rounds.

Created as a large mamba snake was eating it's rodent prey, the rat mamba is everything awful about both creatures plus the ability to increase its body temperature to ridiculous levels. The rat mamba is also a popular dance on the planes of Whelp, but that's a different thing entirely.

Reaping Willow
MR 80
Spite 3/ Terror: The reaping Willow changes its form into that which the observer is most terrified. All who are looking at it must make a successful L3SR-INT or break down into gibbering wrecks for 1d4 rounds. During this time they can only cry and rock back and forth.

Seasons don't fear the reaper, but pretty much every poor sod who comes across one does. The Reaping Willow looks like an ordinary willow, aside from its hidden red eyes on its trunk. It can transform into someone's worst fears - like ogres or taxes.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

My five favourite roleplaying games of all time

Before I begin, I'm obviously not including any of my own games in here. That would be super un-British of me. Also, I've been informed that there are quite a few games out there, some say there could be more than eleven games! I've not played them all. These are just the favourite of those that I've played, obviously.

So what do I love about a game? My preference is rules lite to middling, where combat isn't too complex and minis aren't a necessity. These are my five favourites (in no particular order):

Tunnels and Trolls

If you've been following Trollish Delver over the past nine years, you'll know how much I love T&T. In fact my last few posts have been all about it. For those who don't know, T&T is the second roleplaying game and a response to the percieved complexity of the original D&D rules. Created by Trollgod Ken St. Andre, T&T eschewed the wargame-derived combat for something more abstract and simple. It also introduced a ridiculous slew of weapon types to choose from and peppered the game with humour where D&D may have been a bit more po-faced. For me, the best part is the proliferation of solo adventures for the system, meaning you can take a character on a solitary campaign, from the crucible of Buffalo Castle, through the Arena of Khazan and beneath Blue Frog Tavern. To T&T enthusiasts, places like Gull, Kasar and Khosht are as iconic as Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate or Blackmoor. My personal favourite is 5th edition, with house rules inspired by 7e and Deluxe - but most editions are compatible.

Call of Cthulhu

Cosmic horror is my literary jam and Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is, for me, the definitive Lovecraftian game. The BRP system is simple to grasp but robust, leading to a great roleplaying experience. Some of the best games I've run have been CoC, with a slow-burning horror, cosmic horrors that can't be defeated and the players' spiral into insanity. Don't expect to survive an adventure - most PCs end up either dead or in an institution.

Swords and Wizardry White Box

This is my favourite flavour of D&D. Simple, race-as-class, roll-under, deadly. I think the OSR lives in the imagination and White Box really encourages creative thinking because turns are quick and efficient. PCs don't have a slew of powers at their disposal and they're not superheroes. It's simply a game you can read in an afternoon and get down to playing at the table. That said, I also love games like The Black Hack and Lamentations of the Flame Princess for these reasons.

Tales from the Wood

Despite never really being a fan of things like Watership Down and Animals of Farthing Wood, Tales from the Wood by Simon Washbourne (Barbarians of Lemuria) captivated me and was an inspiration for my own games. Tales from the Wood is about woodland animals of the British countryside essentially trying to survive this tooth and claw world. The rules are simple and there's a cool mythology woven into the game. Oh, and you're not anthropomorphic animals - you're real animals - no weird clothing needed.

D&D 5th edition

Oh, Scott, what a boring pick. Yeah, sure, it might be, but in my eyes 5e is the most recent version of the rules I can really get behind. After 4e, which I thought was great at what it did, but broke at higher levels, 5e took a step back to assess the philosophy of what D&D truly was, even bringing along OSR-famed consultants to advise. What we got at the end was a great, pared back rules set that pushed roleplaying more to the forefront than the last few editions. Is this one for crunchy powergamers? No, not at all. The crazy amount of character options you get with the likes of Pathfinder aren't there, but the trade-off is an elegant set of mechanics and a nod to old school gaming. For me, it's everything I want from a new D&D game.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Barsoomian archetypes for USR

I love the Barsoom books, so here's some archetypes for your USR game:

Earth Soldier

Earth people are unlike anything else on Mars. Their strength is heightened by the Martian gravity, allowing them to take on a Warhoon in single combat and leap 30ft in the air with ease.

Mighty leap: You can leap huge distances. Make an action test (easy). For every 1 you roll over the target, you can leap 10ft.

Firearms (Action), Battle Cunning (Wits), Acrobatics (Action)

Red Martian Aristocrat

The predominant Martian race, the 'reds' have coppery skin and wear little attire save for jewels and some silks. Aristocrats are close to the ruling Jed of Helium, rich and usually powerful.

Ruling Class: You hold sway due to your status. When attempting to persuade a fellow red martian, you may re-roll and take the highest.

Barsoom cultures (Wits), Persuasive (Ego), Science (Wits)

Thark Warrior

The green-skinned tharks are one of the mighty warrior races on Mars. Their four arms and facial tusks make them an imposing people, but in combat they are a force to be reckoned with.

Deadly Force: You do +1 damage in melee combat.

Thark culture (Wits), War savvy (Wits), Brute strength (Action)

Black Martian Pirate

The Black Martians were the first born on Barsoom, with narrow eyes and polished ebony skin. The pirates pilot great ships, capturing There's and red Martians before enslaving them in the name of their goddess Issus.

Dervish: When using a bladed weapon, you can make a secondary attack at -2.

Piloting (Action), Climbing (Action), Barsoomian knowledge (Wits)

Thursday, 30 August 2018

T&T micro-solo: Shadow of the Wytch

The Golden Barrow Inn is one of the most pleasant places you've rested at since leaving Gull three weeks ago. A cosy hearth roars under the stuffed head of a silver stag, a known rarity in the region of Devil's Mound where you have spent the last two nights. A timid elf call Quallex who you have exchanged several words with pulls up a seat as you tuck into your roast lamb and mint sauce.

"Sorry to disturb you, but I need your help," he says quietly. Your ears prick up. "It's my homestead, you see. There's a witch abroad." You take a swig of Gruglik's ale and raise an eyebrow. Quallex continues, "I'm looking to move out and unfortunately this magical hag is bringing down the value of my property just by existing. I need her gone." The elf slides a cloth pouch over to you. You too it out onto the table and count 50 gold pieces. "Fifty now and two hundred when you get rid of her." You can't say no to a deal like that. After all, it's just a crone with a newt eye fetish. Go to 1.

1. You're up first thing in the morning with a spring in your step. Quallex's home lies on the border of the Ravenblood Forest, named after famed hobb philanthropist Tuck Ravenblood. It's but an hour's walk away, but your elf friend warned that the local goblin family has been up to their old tricks again, so you should take care. Go to 5.

2. Just as you're about to put your foot down, you notice a crude rusted animal trap on the ground. Quickly pulling your foot away you realise the field is full of them. Upon closer inspection, the traps appear to be goblin made, as the words "hooman trappy" are scrawled onto the side in what appears to be mucus. Go to 6.

3. You seem to half remember overhearing that witches live in damp caves, so you set out in search of one. Soon you find just what you're after and enter. Unfortunately for you, you've just stumbled into a red ogre's den. You must fight it. It has MR26. If you survive, you discover an amulet of khaala, which offers an armour bonus of 2. Go to 4.

4. Soon you find a rickety hovel that reeks of gingerbread. Mustering your courage you kick down the door and enter. A wrinkled crone is bent over a bubbling cauldron. She looks at you and cackles. "Seems I have a visitor. Won't you stay for supper?" She suddenly launches at you. She is MR36 and when she rolls 2 sixes your next attack is reduced by 1 die due to a curse she weaves. If you win, you find a potion that raises your STR by 5 for 24 hours and a bottle of liquid that recovers 2d6 CON. Go to 11.

5. It's a pleasant day as you make your way over the Doomjaw Fields, named after legendary beauty queen Esmeralda Doomjaw. Make a level 1 DEX saving roll. If you succeed, go to 2. If you fail, go to 7.

6. You reach an inviting copse of trees whose serenity is marred by three goblins chucking rocks at each other. One is wearing a pan on its head while the other throw stones at it, making a 'ding' sound. Fight them - go to 10. Ignore them and continue - go to 8.

7. SNAP. A crude, rusted trap closes around your ankle. Take 3 CON damage. You should be more careful next time. Upon closer inspection, the trap appears to be goblin made, as the words "hooman trappy" are scrawled onto the side in what appears to be mucus. Go to 6.

8. These goblins aren't worth your time, so you decide to continue your journey. Go to 12.

9. Fortunately you have had some experience in tracking witches and know that the smell of gingerbread is always nearby. You begin to pick up a hint of gingerbread as you pass further into the forest. Go to 4.

10. Disgusting creatures. You charge them and show them what for. You are fighting three MR9 goblins. If you win you find 20gp and a 2d dagger, go to 12.

11. You return to the inn where you meet the elf. Handing over the witch's head, he smiles and gives you 250gp. Gain 300ap for completing this adventure.

12. Finally you reach the quaint elven homestead nestled near the forest. Now to look for signs of witches. Make a level 1 INT saving roll. If you are successful, go to 9. If you aren't, go to 3.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Piss up in a brewery - a little T&T adventure

This short Tunnels and Trolls adventure is suitable for Delvers with no more than 30 personal adds.

Fornigan's Pale - the gold standard of ales on the Dragon Continent. Nothing else comes close, though Fornigan's recipe has always remained a tightly guarded secret that only himself and his dwarf business party Grummp know. The brewery stands in the middle of nowhere, with high stone walls to prevent urook raids and private guards posted along the wall as lookout.

Rumour has it that Fornigan is set to unveil a brand new ale - the likes of which have never been seen before. Unfortunately he seems to have disappeared and Grummp is nowhere to be found either. The PCs have been hired to investigate the disappearances.

So what's happened?

Fornigan is dead. The new hope he imported from the Blasted Land were actually hatchlings of a creature called the Skrith - a large, deadly mantis the size of a goblin. Once the fermentation process began, the eggs hatched and the Skrith began their killing spree. Grummp is currently holes up eating rats and pretty much anything he can get his hands on. But now some of the Skrith are mutating - becoming larger and more vicious. Of course, without shipments of this amazing brew, the surrounding cities are becoming restless.

The outer walls

The 100ft stone walls are silent. A L1-SR on IQ reveals there should be at least four guards on patrol at this time. A thick iron gate is open, leading to the entrance.

The atrium

A wide, marble room with a semicircular reception desk. A statue of Fornigan stands in the middle holding a beer aloft. His other arm has broken off. Closer inspection reveals deep gouges in the stone created from the Skrith claws. A door leads to the mill room.

Mill room

There is a distinct malty smell here. Three green orbs are stuck to the ceiling. These are eggs, which will hatch when the PCs enter reveling three Skrith larvae (MR8, 1/screech - emits a high-pitched screech alerting others of an intruder). If any have the chance to use it's screech ability, the Skrith Stalker from the fermentation room comes barrelling in from the north door.

Two guard bodies are here, their bodies half eaten and faces deformed. A L2-SR IQ reveals it was acid that caused this. Each guard has a shortsword and helmet.

Fermentation room

Three large copper silos fill the room. A scream echoed out as the PCs see a hulking Skrith Stalker (MR 40, 2/Acid Spit - fires 40ft, doing 3 Con damage. L1-SR on DX negates) dangling a brewery worker over its clacking maw. Another watches as if amused. A body with no head lies on the ground.

An eastern door leads to a small office. Papers on the desk indicate a recent shipment of hops from the Blasted Lands. A golden tankard with Fornigan's name engraved on it sits here, worth 300gp.

Barreling room

Hundreds of wooden barrels are stacked around this room. A two-headed Skrith with blades for arms screams and charges at the PCs. MR54, 3/ Decapitation - Slices a head clean off. L1-SR on DX or LK negates. It's blades can be used as 4d6 melee weapons with a STR 16 requirenent.

Whimpering comes from one of the barrels. It's Grummp crying his eyes out. He explains what has happened and that his partner was eaten by one of the creatures. He warns that they are mutating into even more terrible things.


When the PCs try to escape they are blocked by a 15ft five-headed Skrith Emperor (MR70, 3/Acid Bath - 1d6 targets are bathed in acid, taking 6d6 Con damage. L3-SR on DX or LK halves damage. If they escape and Grummp survives, he gives them 500gp for saving him. The city mayor gives 2000gp for investigatoin.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Elves of Scourgeworld - the Burnt Ones

Alabaster of flesh, warpaint streaked faces and teeth filed to points, the elves of the Scourgeworld are known in the common tongue as the burnt ones. Their skin is tattooed with the blood of the last goliath god, giving them enhanced strength.

Droog riders have tamed the red desert worm, forming a bond in their dreams. The lugsnapped are former droog riders whose minds became one with the droog, who imitate the slithering worm in all they do.

Elf speech is moontongue. It can be understood by all in the moonlight, aside from dwarves who cannot hear elf speech (they are deaf to it).

Elves do not get on with the Leth scarabmen. Chieftains often wear Leth carapace armour embroidered with desert jewels.

They worship the ever rotting hand of the last goliath, which is wrapped in carpet and pulled in a cart by two camels. The Hand Speaker delivers decrees from the scabby appendage. These are often of war and pillagery. They wear the veil of a thousand eyes and eat sand. There's a 70% chance the hand will heal all wounds.

Burnt One warrior
MR 24 (3+12)
Special damage: 2/Inked might - the burnt one rolls and extra 2d6 this combat.
Special abilities: Cateyes - can see in low light conditions.

Burnt One, Hand Speaker
MR 20 (3+10)
Special damage: 1/1 normal spite
Special abilities: If holding the hand of the last goliath, the Hand Speaker may heal 2d6 Con.

Burn One Warchief
MR 40 (5+20)
Special damage: 3/ Spear gore - the Warchief deals 1d6 spite damage and the opponent is thrown to the ground.
Special abilities: Cateyes - can see in low light conditions.

MR 62 (7+31)
Special damage: 3/ Swallow - the droog swallows whole a creature unless they succeed SR-30 on DX. Once inside, the victim is dissolved by its stomach acid, taking 2d6 Con damage every combat round. They may attempt to escape with a SR-30 STR or LK roll.
Special abilities: Bury - the droog can bury deep into the sand and move underground.

Friday, 10 August 2018

D6 addictive things

Let's get addicted to:

1. Felger - this thin viscous coating remains on the target of a spell. It smells vaguely of popcorn. Snuffers visit wizard mausoleums to scrape the residue off dead sorcerors where they smear the stuff in their nasal cavities. After ingesting the user sees the laquered purple eyes of the Indecent God. This is not a vision. There is a 5% chance the user gains the spell that killed the corpse.

2. Altosh, the Dreamer's Tongue - Altosh is an addictive language spoken by the wormkin of Gulath. The sounds are potent, pulling those who hear it into a dreamlike state. The wormkin enjoy feasting on dreamers (they, of course, are immune to Altosh). There's a 10% chance the dreamer gains telepathy for 1d10 days.

3. Bugbug mushroom - a particular favourite of mud goblins. Bugbug is first chewed by the gorberry caterpillar (deadly to the touch) before being harvested from bark. The mushroom is then made into a tea. The effects give the user a sprouting of translucent wings. Overdosing gives a 30% chance the user will turn into a giant fly.

4. Porting - stepping through a portal offers a very quick rush, but stepping through a series multiplies it exponentially. Porters line up a series of portals, dozens at a time and fall through them. There's a 5% chance a user's skin is ripped off. This goes up by 5% for every portal after the 7th.

5. Elfsleep - most elves don't actually sleep, instead going into a trance. Elfsleep was a potion created for other races to experience this trance. It's highly addictive and incredibly blissful. There's a 10% chance a user will remain in elfsleep indefinitely.

6. Vlute music - the vlute is an instrument native to the tok tok orc tribe of the Fell Hills. It's a cross between a guitar and a bassoon, made of wood and cartilage. The sound it emits causes non orcs to mindlessly do art. They will pick up whatever is near them and produce drawings, paintings, sculptures. The brain-dead creativity and outcome is so addictive that people travel thousands of miles to visit the tok tok. The tok tok mostly eat their heads.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Rotgobs for Tunnels and Trolls

Rotgobs are essentially undead goblins, returned to life by a nekromancer or a particularly goth goblin teenager. They share the same mind - the mind of the conjurer (the nekrobrain) and do her wishes. If the nekrobrain dies, the rotgobs go completely insane and even more murderous.

MR 24 (3+12)
Spite 2/ brain munch - do an extra d6 damage if the target fails a L1SR-DX. Ignores armour. Also reduce IQ by 1.
Special: For every other Rotgobs attacking the same target, increase the number of dice you roll in combat by one.

Some rotgobs are raised with innate magic still festering in their veins.

Rotgob magician
MR 28 (3+14)
Spite 2/ cast TTYF or Freeze Please
Spite 3/ cast Protective Pentagram
Special: the nekrobrain may optionally siphon the magic from the rotgob. If so, they gain 2d6 spell points on their turn, but the Rotgob cannot act on its next turn. After 20 total points have been taken, no more can be spared.

The most common method of creating a rotgob is through enchanted jewelry - talismans, rings, bracelets etc. The nekrobrain must have a matching piece of control jewelry to command their minions. If someone else tries to wear it, they may spend 10 spell points to become the new nekrobrain.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Three Witches of the Dreadoak

In the times before the wizard wars, when magic was raw and untamed, the Hidden God created the Weavespider who spun together the first milky strands of fate between the two quartz trees. His web sang a hymn to the breeze, a melody that attracted the attention of three witches who lived in the branches of the towering dreadoak where they had existed since the second sun was ignited by Hod.

The most courageous of the witches, whose name causes men to suffocate, plucked one of the strands and heard the Harmony of the Web and at once was captivated. After years of strumming, the three realised the song was directly tied to the machinations of the young beings who walked the land - the Eck Dwarves, whose lamps would burn long after the suns faded; the Shade Elves, whose gods crawled in the earth; and the realm of man, who had mastered the skies with Smoothdrakes.

The witches played the symphony of the threads, watching savage queens perish and titan wretches spawn as the notes of fate sang in the hills of Ormun. The Hidden God was displeased - the witches had become as gods. In a dream he visited the warrior Aleena, who had slaughtered the host of the Everskull just the previous month and bore the axe legend calls Direwatch. Aleena was instructed to destroy the web.

She travelled to Ormun, having fought the greybeard ghasts and scarlet seraphim along the way. When she reached the witches, they saw what she wanted to do and intervened, promising to play a melody that would give her great power and riches. Aleena agreed and true to their word, the witches strummed a sweet tune. Aleena would become the high empress of men and all would bow to her. She declared war on the Hidden God who would have the web destroyed. The god became mortal to face her in battle, but was slain and his Godhead taken. After drinking his blood, Aleena ascended to brcobethe new Hidden God.

The song of the weave continues to ring out to this day while the spiders dance.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Vote Trollish Delver Games for fan favourite publisher at the ENnies

It's ENnies season and once again I humbly request your vote in the fan favourite publisher category. Please take 10 seconds to give Trollish Delver Games a 1 ranking http://ennie-awards.com/vote/2018/ballot.php?category_id=24

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Some things you can do with SHATTER6

SHATTER6 is designed to be flexible so I wanted to talk a little about some things you can do with it.

Imbue items with shatterdice

Shatterdice help you achieve the impossible, but your pool is limited. So why not have magic weapons with shatterdice? These could be refreshable daily, or one-use only. For example, a sorcerer uses starlight to forge the Celestial Hammer. The GM says that the hammer is so awesome that it has 5 shatterdice assigned to it, but once the dice are used they don't replenish for another week as it recharges.

Include hordes as single enemies

SHATTER6 is all about cinematic coolness, so having a warrior cut through hundreds of demonspawn is just the type of thing it should be enabling. Create a horde as a single enemy, like:

300 demons
TR: 18
Damage: 4
A horde of 300 slavering winged demons weilding sickles.

Make cutting through them a real challenge - it may take a few really good successes to destroy them all.

Escape from the otherworld 

Losing all wounds doesn't necessarily mean death. In fact, death should only come if the player is cool with it being an integral part of the story. But what if you do die? Maybe the GM decrees that your soul is trapped in the otherworld and it must fight its way out. Failure means it's gone forever, but therest a chance you could cheat death in am awesome way.

Go big or go home

Bigger is better in SHATTER6. The GM has license to go completely epic to challenge the players to come up with novel and exciting ways to tackle them. They should battle giant gods, ride city-sized dragons and attempt to cut planets in two.

Make magic volatile

Having a freeform magic system means players can pretty much do anything they dream of with it. But don't be afraid to make it backfire if the player is unsuccessful in casting. Come up with novel ways of making things go wrong.

SHATTER6 available to download

SHATTER6 is a new system I cooked up early one morning after my cat woke me up by jumping on my back. I've been thinking recently about creating a new open system that encourages players to do really awesome things. SHATTER6 is now live on Drivethurpg as a PWYW PDF.

What is SHATTER6?

SHATTER6 is a totally open roleplaying system, free for anyone and everyone to use. The mechanics are lite and designed for collaborative roleplaying where the golden rule is the Rule of Cool.

How does it differ from other systems?

SHATTER6 isn't about book-keeping and the minutiae of combat. Rather, the game is about telling mind-blowing stories and empowering players to do really awesome things. Enemies don't have hit points, whether they perish or not is up to how much effort players put into their actions. There are no classes, so players are free to concoct wild characters with few restraints. NPCs are easy to create on the fly, meaning those who value less prep time will get to the table quicker. The shatterdice let players attempt the impossible to create memorable gaming moments that you will be able to talk about for years to come.

The tag system

In SHATTER6 the players are encouraged to build their own classes by mixing and matching tags, skills that provide broad bonuses to their actions. For example, mixing the charming, crafting and streetwise tags might give you a Forge Thief who specialises in crafting thieves tools and sweet talking their way into the houses of the rich and famous before stealing their stuff. Invent your own tags for truly infinite possibilities.

Flexible combat that puts awesomeness first

If you want to fire off three burning arrows into the eyes of the demonlord while backflipping out of danger, you're free to do it with a roll. Using abilities, tags and shatterdice, SHATTER6 empowers players to dream up awesome actions and carry them out. This isn't about how many hits an enemy can take - the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.

A system that begs to be hacked

As an open system, anyone is free to take SHATTER6 and do what they like with it. Create new settings or alter the rules and publish for others to play.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Quill has been updated

I've never really been happy with the layout of Quill, so yesterday I fixed this by uploading a new file on Drivethrurpg. If you already have Quill, you can go and download the fresh new look right now. I've also taken this opportunity to make some rules clarifications I get frequently and add some bits and bobs.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Review: The Gates of Death (Fighting Fantasy)

Praise be the gods, the Fighting Fantasy gamebook legacy continues with The Gates of Death, the second new title in the series since Scholastic took on publishing duties (an effective move to ensure that the new generation of whippersnappers get to experience the books), this time written by FF newbie Charlie Higson (British actor/ director/ writer). But is it good?

In the book Allansia is being torn apart by the Evil Dead. Well, pretty much. People are becoming flesh-hungry demons, turning others into demons and generally causing chaos. Early on in proceedings there's a scene where, ducking through the streets of Salamonis, you witness the titular king of the city in demonic form. It was here it was clear Higson was more than happy to shake up the status quo, and not just with the FF universe. There's much more freedom with weapon use here, with different weapons having varying effects - from axes to bread knives to the khopesh gifted to you by Lord Azzur of Port Blacksand (or, rather, his 'eyes, ears and mouth'). Unlike previous entries, you don't start with a weapon or a batch of trusty provisions, which makes every victory worth something in the early game. Late game, however, you could find yourself a bit overpowered depending on what you pick up, making most fights a doddle, though this entirely depends on your SKILL attribute. Make no mistake - this adventure isn't afraid to pummel you and drain your stats.

The Evil Dead comparison isn't inaccurate. Higson essentially flings a load of deadites at you, including a girl in a cellar and emotionally-manipulative demons. While the theme is based on these films, the story itself is one of the better ones in the series. You're looking for an invisible city where priests will manufacture a cure for the demon plague, but also much dive head first through the gates of hell.

If that sounds a little too adult for a Scholastic book, rest assured there are lots of moments of levity. Case in point - a bum-faced demon. That's right - it's a bent-over warrior exposing his arse that happens to have a snarling face on each cheek. Higson doesn't shy away from moments that make you remember that this is for kids. This is an aspect that didn't really play out in previous books, which sometimes got a little grimdark.

On the subject of a new generation of readers, we need to talk about the art. At the Scholastic reveal at Fighting Fantasy Fest 2017 Jackson and Livingstone commented that the art has had a massive overhaul, pretty much in line with what kids expect from those phone apps they have these days (get off my lawn). It was a shock. Fighting Fantasy, in a large part, comes alive with its intricate illustrations. Russ Nicholson, Iain McCaig, Tony Hough, John Blanche - these are the names that brought Titan and other worlds to life. Now in their place we have, well, muddy digital sketches. To be fair, some of the illustrations aren't half bad, but the majority are simply off-putting in comparison to those classic pieces.

While we're talking negatives, I've noticed some bugs in the book. From having characters referenced to you as if you've previously met them, despite never having done so, to a weird time travel loop that occurs after flinging yourself into a demon portal, which I can't imagine is intentional. There's even a paragraph that gives you several options, but if you can't perform any of those actions you're stuck there for eternity. These all amount to being irksome, but nothing that totally ruins the enjoyment of the game.

The Gates of Death is a fun enough ride, with lots of weapon options, some nice characters and a great premise, let down by sub-par art and needless bugs. Higson doesn't mind laying on the fan service for older readers and doesn't shy away from violent descriptions, but doesn't forget that he's writing for youngsters. So yes, to answer my previous question, it's good. It's worth your time, but it probably won't be a fan favourite.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The grey kin of Beregond

The grey kin are the ancient offspring of high elves and deep dwarves who once came together in a unity they called Tuvanay, which in greytongue is The Binding. While taller and more slender in stature than dwarves, they are hardy and are known throughout Beregond for their fierce temper and loyalty.

Felegas is the crown king of Beregond, whose mother Sembelene was an elven general from far Turambor, the shivered dale. Eschewing the weilding of the dwarven greataxe, the grey kin use shinkalas - curved broad blades inscribed with the words of dead gods. Their armour is Beregondian mail, which allows for freedom of movement while being tough.

The grey kin seldom leave Beregond - there is much distrust of this folk from the realms of man, elf and even dwarf. Those who do venture out have a difficult time integrating.

  • +4 saving throws against magic effects
  • Dark vision up to 60ft
  • May find a secret door on a roll of 4+
  • Int 14+ may become a magic-user

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Blazing Sands campaign diary #6 - Carcosa revealed

Forgot to do my usual write up of last week's game, but to be honest it was essentially one big fight.

The PCs had uncovered Sultan Yassin's chambers where there found a marble chest. Inside they discovered a lamp. Ashana got pretty excited, but the party didn't particularly trust her (maybe she was too excited).

A rushing noise and a SLAM came from the main chamber and when they went to investigate they found the south doors shattered and the room filled with faceless stalkers and byhakees. In the centre was Hastur - the King in Yellow.

After some attacks they discovered that not only was Hastur impervious to damage, any melee weapon used would send an electric shock to the weilder. One PC got sucked into Hastur's cloak where they were trapped in a dark dimension for a while.

They figured out that there was a lake to the south beyond the room where a great gem was hovering. Those looking in the lake could see Carcosa reflected in it.

In the main fight Younis threw the lamp to Ashana, the genie binder, who released the Efreeti within and subsequently binded her. Of course, Ashana had never thought this far ahead - sheds dreamt of binding with a genie but didn't quite know what to do. Younis told her to have the genie defend them, as they were being assaulted by a byhakee. Cue a fight between Hastur and an Efreeti with a flaming falchion as the others tried to smash the gem over Carcosa that seemed to be giving Hastur power.

The gem eventually shattered, the portal to Carcosa closing. Hastur got ganged up on and was 'killed' (negated from this plain).

At the end, they were left, Ashana bound to the genie. The PCs told her to get rid of the genie, but she refused.

This week is the final session of the campaign, so let's see how it's all tied up.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Magic item - The Tantalon crown

 In the second age of the serpent the sorcerer Tantalon stole the light of the stars and moon. First the elves mourned, for the moon provided them with the hope that even in the darkest of times light and goodness could exist. Then mourned the race of men, whose ancestors were among the stars, looking down on them from above. Using the stars as his furnace and the steel of the moon Tantalon forged a crown more magnificent and dire than any before it and he did declare himself the lord of shadows. And so the orcs, goblins and demons of the world rejoiced for the darkness gave them strength. Tantalon led his night hordes against the free people, his eye ever on extinguishing his final foe - the sun.

But there arose a group of heroes whose songs are still sung in the halls of queens. Gandarin of the bladesworn, Drigg the halfling, Selenda of the enchanted wood and Timra the stout of the gray dwarfhold marched against the darkness and smote Tantalon. In the fray his crown was lost and none know where it now is.

Tantalon Crown
Forged of starfire and moonstone
While wearing this crown, the wearer gains +4 AC. Once per day, the crown can be used to control 1d8 evil creatures for 1d10+2 hours. At the beginning of each turn heal 2d6 HP.

After 1 month of wearing the crown, the wearer's alignment takes a step towards evil. Each subsequent month continues this journey to evil. On the sixth month the wearer takes on the appearance and personality of Tantalon.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Free OSR adventure - Burning Rain

This short free adventure was created with Swords and Wizardry in mind, but it works with many flavours of D&D. This would be a tough one for lower level characters, especially if they run afoul of the hill giant family who will simply tear them apart. Higher level parties will have an easier time of things. I've not drawn maps for this, but explained what the PCs will find in the area.

Vorten the black dragon has risen from his three century slumber and must feed on the souls of the living. The nearby villages of Estagard and Candlewick have been violently attacked by the creature, who has left their homes in ruins and families in tatters. The three mages of the Red Coast have been summoned by the King Diregor to understand what can be done to stop such a beast. The mages met for thirteen days in the basement of the old Goldspire University in the city of Goldspire. They emerged with a plan, but one of great peril that would require keen minds, mighty strength and great wisdom to undertake. In the Book of Hallows they discovered the only hope they have for ending Vorten's reign once and for all - the Harp of Eversleep. This enchanted harp was created by the magic artificer Eldreen Hex, who existed four hundred years ago. The harp is able to put to slumber any creature for 100 years, but it was lost when Eldreen took it down into a giant's lair, where she was slain.

The king's emissary took off at once to find a group of adventurers willing to take the task. Having heard of their exploits, she approaches the PCs with the tale. A handsome fee of 1000 gold pieces will be paid upon completion of the quest, and they would have a position as royal adventurers on the King's retainer, meaning they would receive a wage from the city in addition to the palace library.

After being told of the quest, the emissary has the PCs meet the three mages at the university: Dandra (dwarf), Hornbeam (elf) and Lebb (human).

Goldspire University

 This grand institution is known throughout the realm as one of the finest universities for the study of magic. Turrets float above towers, gargoyle heads leer from rooftops, occasionally spitting at passersby; small explosions can be heard in some of the rooms, followed by multicoloured gas curling from beneath the doors. The mages are waiting in the basement, which is completely covered in books - you can't see the floor. A goblin wearing a red cap and glasses croaks a greeting at them when they enter. This is Winslow Godberry - a goblin experiment who was captured by some students and enchanted to do their chores. When the Dean found out, he took the goblin away and put it to work doing clerical tasks in the university. Today he is cleaning a large telescope.

  • Hornbeam, a lithe male elf with purple eyes, explains that the need for the harp is dire and that it's hidden away in the Caves of Wretched Darkness. They should take care as the giant family likely still exists there. If nobody in the party speaks giant, he gives one of the PCs a small metal tube. After talking a sentence into the tube, it echoes the words but in the language of giants. 
  • Lebb, a squat portly fellow with a long pipe, says that it's likely Vorten will attack in five days, as this seems to have been his pattern. They should make haste. He offers them a number of small clay horses equal to the number of PCs. When water is added, these horses grow and become real for 12 hours at a time. 
  • Dandra, a stout female dwarf with gold-rimmed spectacles, offers them a map to reach the caves. It is a day's ride from the city, and three days ride to Torrigen's Swamp, where the black dragon makes its lair. She also gives one of them two dice. These can be rolled once per day. On a 7, they will heal all within a 20ft radius by 1d6+5 HP. On any other number they heal 1d6 HP. 
So why can't the mages go instead? Simply, while they are quite powerful, they are fragile. Should anything happen to them the order of the Red Coast would be no more. 

The way to the Cave of Wretched Darkness

Being a day's ride overland, roll a random encounter every hour with a d6. On a 1 or 2 they have an encounter. Roll below:

1. A frightened family who have taken to living in a wagon after their home in Candlewick was destroyed. They have little in the way of food and say a nearby group of goblins have been harassing them almost every night. There are 8 goblins, painted red. Goblin: HD 1d6hp; AC 6 [13]; Atk 1 weapon (1d6); Move 9; Save 18; AL C; CL/XP B/10; Special: -1 to hit in sunlight.

2. 1d6+1 red painted goblins, two carrying sacks of meat. One is drunk (-2 penalty to any action). They must return by sundown or they will be in trouble with their chief. 

3. 2d6 bandits, known as the Filth Rats (50% chance one of them will be a berserker). They want money rather than a fight. They have been having trouble with a local hill giant who has raised their camp on more than one occasion. Human Bandit: HD 1; AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15; Special: None

Human Berserker: HD 1; AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 2/30; Special: +2 to hit in berserk state

4. An elderly man followed by ten chickens. He offers a chicken for 1gp. He seems afraid of them. 

5. 1d3 hill giants sniffing out a cure for a the toe rot sickness they have contracted. This is in the form of the Rumcap mushroom (tastes just like rum). Hill Giant: HD 8+2; AC 4 [15]; Atk 1 weapon (2d8); Move 12; Save 8; AL C; CL/XP 9/1100; Special: Throw boulders (2d8 damage)

6. A rundown farmstead captured by goblins. They have a little girl called Ryel who they have caught in a rope trap. They plan on using her to lure others in before killing them. 

The Caves of Wretched Darkness

The cave entrance is guarded by two pet wolves (Dusty and Grim). Discarded rabbit carcasses lie near them. Wolf: HD 2+2; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 bite (1d4+1); Move 18; Save 16; AL N; CL/XP 2/30; Special: None.

There's a stream running through a few rooms, as a result much of the ground is slippery. Cave paintings depict a war between trolls and goblins. Goblin skulls sit on rocks as warnings. 

A family of five hill giants live here. The matriarch is the most frightening, with an eye missing. The father catches fish in the stream with a net. The broken body of a treasure hunter is at the bottom of a waterfall, arms removed. Her pack contains a dagger, grappling hook and mouldy bread and cheese. The body has attracted 5 stirges who drain it's blood. Stirge: HD 1+1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 proboscis (1d3); Move 3 (Fly 18); Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 2/30; Special: blood drain (1d4), +2 to hit bonus. After a stirge’s first hit, it drains blood automatically at a rate of 1d4 hp per round

The giants are hostile, but stupid. The matriarch dislikes humans, but doesn't hate dwarves. She calls them 'little builders' - they helped giants fighting in the kobold battles. Dwarves are depicted on the walls as heroes along with giants. The giants are currently at war with the hundreds of goblins who live close by. They hate goblins more than anything.

There are several piercers in some caves dropping on heads. Noticeable via an intelligence check or prolonged inspection. Piercer (2 HD): HD 2; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 drop and pierce (2d6); Move 1; Save 16; AL N; CL/XP 2/30; Special: None

The ''waste" room has a cravasse full of dung. An otyugh has recently taken residence in there. Otyugh: HD 7; AC 3 [16]; Atk 2 tentacles (1d8), bite (1d4+1); Move 6; Save 9; AL N; CL/XP 8/800; Special: Disease - Anyone bitten by an otyugh’s mouth has a 90% chance of contracting a fatal disease (death in 3d6 days unless cured)

The Harp of Eversleep is discarded at the side of a cave wall with human bones close by (the body of Eldreen Hex). The matriarch is here making a necklace from goblin bones. 

When the harp is played it casts a powerful sleep spell that will put a creature under for 100 years. It has 2 more charges of the spell in it. 

The road to Torrigen's swamp

It's a three day horse journey to the swamp. The party will bypass the destruction left in Vorten's wake. They may even stop off to help people rebuild.

Roll a random encounter for each day this time (most things are terrified of the dragon, so are in hiding).

1. A group of mourners around a funeral pyre. A priest recants the rites of Porrin, the local messenger between the living and dead. They recount how Vorten showered their village with acid.

2. A field of dead cattle - their bones can be seen and faces part melted. A pack of 1d6+2 wolves are on the prowl.

3. 2d8 orcs are attacking a farmstead - the farmer and her wife cornered, pitchforks at the ready. Orc: HD 1; AC 6 [13]; Atk 1 by weapon, usually spear (1d6) or scimitar (1d8); Move 9; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15; Special: None.

4. A travelling salesman is selling 'anti-dragon' tonic. This is nothing more than water dyed green. He has made 300gp today. 

5. A patrol of elven healers who have come to aid the villagers. Many villagers don't trust elves, so refuse treatment.

6. A chilling screech rings out in the distance. This belongs to Vorten, who grows hungry.

Torrigen's swamp

Five hunters from Candlewick have gone into the swamp to kill the dragon (all HD1 human soldiers). Have PCs find clues they are around - packs snagged on branches, a discarded boot, a burnt torch. 

1d10+2 wild boars roam the swamp. They will happily eat corpses. Wild Boar: HD 3+3; AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 gore (3d4); Move 15; Save 14; AL N; CL/XP 4/120; Special: continue attacks 2 rounds after death

Biting swamp flies carry disease. There's a 2 in 6 chance every hour that a PC will be bitten, contracting swamp sickness. This temporarily reduces Str, Dex and Con by 2 for 1d6 days or until cured using the sap from a Goliath tree. 

Vorten lies in a clearing, gaining his strength. The bodies of hunters lie around him, their flesh dissolved. Their bodies carry 30gp, 3 small flasks of healing potion, and jewelry worth 200gp. Adult Black Dragon (6 HD): HD 6 (24hp); AC 2 [17]; Atk 2 claws (1d4), 1 bite (3d6); Move 9 (Fly 24); Save 11; AL C; CL/XP 8/800; Special: Spits acid.

When the PCs set foot in the clearing, 4 skeletons rise from the wet ground. Skeleton: HD 1; AC 8[11] or 7[12] with shield; Atk 1 weapon or strike (1d6) or (1d6+1 two-handed); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15; Special: Immune to sleep and charm spells.

Concluding the adventure

If Vorten is killed then the king grants them 2000gp and title of royal adventurers (should they accept). For every adventure they will be paid 200gp default.

If he is put to sleep and not killed, the reward is 1000gp and the title.

If he is not killed, he will continue to attack. Eventually he reaches Goldspire and wreaks carnage. Without the party, there's a 1 in 6 chance the city falls into ruin. 

If most or all of the hill giants in the cave are killed, the party will be sought by the League of Monster Hunters, who wish to recruit them. 

If the harp is returned to the mages, they lock it away in the university, which pays 500gp for it with a charge left, or 200gp without. If they keep the harp, they will eventually be hunted by the mages.