Monday, December 14, 2009

Wilderlands of 'Hawk Fantasy - Hexcrawl Notes

In designing the wilderness area for my Greyhawk campaign, I'm finding that I have a million and one choices to make as to my "wilderness procedures", and that these will shape a) how I prepare my material, and b) how smoothly the game runs when we're in the thick of it.

It all comes down to encounter checks (of several varieties). In order to capture the level of simulation (and risk vs. reward) I'm looking for, I'm going to have time-based encounters (as per the DMG - checks at predefined intervals during the day) and exploration-based encounters (1 check for every new hex entered, probably a 1 in 6 or a 1 in 10, with the chance for encounter increased in dangerous hexes like mountains and forests). Exploration checks will draw from nearby lairs (with a chance to find the lair itself based on "% in lair"), while time-based checks will be from a terrain-based encounter table (and may add new lairs to the map, again depending on the "% in lair" rolled). Encounter checks within a few hexes of settlements will have a chance of being converted into a "patrol" encounter (which may or may not benefit the PCs, depending on what they've been up to lately), while encounters on a road or frequently-traveled trade route will use a dedicated "on the road" encounter table (which itself contains a certain chance of monster encounters).

I'm also splitting "creature checks" (monsters, travelers, patrols, etc.) from "location checks" (ruins, relics, settlements, etc.). Passing through a hex, I'll roll a "chance to spot" for each listed (and previously undiscovered) ruin or relic in the hex (setting this on-the-fly - something small but in the open would be a 1 in 6, something big a 2 in 6, a settlement 3 in 6 assuming it's out in the open, while something concealed might be a 1 in 8 or 1 in 10). Searching a hex will take as long as crossing the hex twice, and will allow another roll to spot (with the chance to spot improved by 1). If the PCs spot nothing (or they've already discovered everything in the hex), I'll roll a 1 in 6 chance to discover something new (taken from a pregenerated list of unassigned R&Rs) and add it to the hex. (I expect frequently-traveled wilderness routes will become quite detailed as the campaign matures.)

Now, I know the chances to spot something in an actual 25 square mile area are miniscule, but this is a game conceit I'm willing to live with. I'm generating between 1 and 3 locations for each hex on my initial pass-through - it's to be assumed each hex contains many more than this, and that the others will be added on subsequent passes (once the pregenerated ones are discovered). This is all conjecture until it actually sees play, of course - I'll hopefully get to try it Tuesday, and I'll check in to report how it goes. I'm aiming to have three full "Darlene hexes" (the 30-mile hexes from the folio map) detailed at "Wilderness Grand Tactical" scale (5-mile hexes) by then, and I'll let the players know that if they get off that map, then the FPS (fights per second) of the game is going to slow drastically (while I whip up new crap).


Thursday, December 10, 2009


Hahahaha... Stupid Google tries to show me "D&D" results instead of "AD&D" when I ask for them, and then begrudgingly tells me, if I insist, "Oh OK, I SUPPOSE I can show you this "AD&D" you speak of." It's only one more click, but I don't have time to sit around clicking on websites all day, I HAVE CRAP TO DO, JACK.



Roll For Initiative podcast is up now, you go listen.

Check this shit out: Roll For Initiative is a brandy-new first-edition-centric podcast by two guys from the DF forums. It's pretty cool so far - they're 2 episodes in (each is something like an hour+), and they're already starting to get their dynamic going. The guys are pretty decent on the mic, the lack of which skill is the downfall of most well-intentioned 'casts I've heard (admittedly not many), they seem well-prepared, and they know how to discuss a subject without just sounding like two dudes having a conversation at the game store. (The smell is better as well, which is nice.)

The show is, regardless, painfully nerdy at times (expect a lot of rolled eyes from your girlfriend if she's walking around the apartment while you listen would be my advice), but that's as much of a feature as it is a bug in my department. LOL It's far worse when folks try to turn D&D into something Xtreem like BMX or MMA or cat juggling or whatever. This is honest. This is pure. I want to bask in the nerdliness when they're talking about the Deck of Many Things (and the inevitable campaign-nuking that ensues when you drop one as a DM).

They're focusing on 1e, and what I really like is that there's back-and-forth about how the hosts (and others) interpret BTB rules, and discussion of house rules from different campaigns as well. These guys get 1e - there's a lot of talk about all the different ways you can run your campaign, and about the flexibility and "open-sourced-ness" of OAD&D. I'm totally on board with the idea that the game just plain works better when you take Gygax's "make it your own damn game and stop asking me how initiative works already" mandate to heart.

(Presumably recurring) features include a monster spotlight (they're working from the Dragon "Creature Catalog" beasties now, I believe), a magic item spotlight, and a "Stickler's Corner" where they discuss obscure and fiddly rules. (Yay!) In the second episode they talk to the guy who wrote that Dragonfire DM program back in the day. There was some other stuff, I don't remember, I've been smoking resin this morning.

They also have a website with links and extra stuff from the show; you can get the shows in m4u or mp3 format direct from the site, or by RSS feed. You go there now.


Monday, December 7, 2009

This is fucking D&D. This right here.

From the DF general forum (in a thread about a) Frank Frazetta claiming never to have read any Conan stories (and that nobody else read them either), and b) some new Conan collection where the guy writing the intro bashes REH):

Man, speaking of - this picture just says "friggin' D&D" to me all over. There's a big raging fighter-type (who appears to be flying, or at least leaping for somebody's throat), a cultist with a censer and an altar and the nekkid sacrificial girl with teh bewbs and everything, some kind of magic brazier spewing eerie smoke, demons or gargoyles or something in the background, and then for some reason there's an alligator and an octopus. If I was playing this session I'd think my GM was either on powerful hallucinogenics or a goddamn genius. :lol:


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Greyhawk Creation Comix

Just stumbled across this nifty little beginner's primer on Oerth's creation myth. lulzy.


P.S.: Going to see Until the Light Takes Us tonight at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence. I'll let you know if it sucks.
P.P.S.: It didn't suck. I enjoyed it; can't wait until there's a DVD version (hopefully with some unedited interview footage).

Friday, December 4, 2009

7 Angry Dwarves (give or take a few) b/w The Bastard Squad in "Sex in the City"

Special double half post, which is like one regular post but with ADD.

I just played in the second session of a 1e AD&D campaign that is officially Fucking Awesome: It's Dwarf Fortress, for AD&D. If you haven't heard of it, DF is the most brain-tazeringly complex and in-depth Roguelike RTS city sim featuring manic depressive alcoholic dwarves out there on the market today. It also has ASCII graphics. Did I mention it's free? (Check HERE for how this campaign got started, and HERE for the #1 reason why you need to check out DF. Trust me.)

Long story short: We're 5 dwarves (two clerics - brothers - and three fighters - also brothers - think the Hanson boys in Slapshot) sent from our native hold way the fuck up in the mountains to scout out a site for a new settlement. We've got a wagon of supplies, two 0-lvl dwarven hirelings (a cartographer and a party grunt/porter/wagon watcher), and not one but TWO burglars (a human and a halfling). That's one more than Thorin had, so we've got to be successful, right? Problem is, one of'em (the halfling) is chronically lazy and semi-suicidal (character quote: "Life is pain!"), so he's half useless. On top of that, the other cleric's player has decided to run him as senile as hu- er, dwarvenly possible. The comedy relief is in full effect here, folks.

So that's awesome, so far. Brandon runs a great game, and the players are a blast. We've been hugely successful so far - several experienced players playing smart and hard, plus the fact that five heavily-armored dwarves cut through gobbos and hobbos (and bugbears, oh my!) like a knife through hot butter. A drunken dwarven knife through cowardly goblin butter. We've already cleared out one lair (a ruined monastery) and have started preparing it as a base camp for further expeditions into the surrounding hills. I know Brando's tendency to pile on the hurt when he thinks the players are doing too well for his tastes, though, so I'm sure there's a shitstorm coming our way real soon. But we're fucking dwarves, we'll deal.


In my game, meanwhile, the guys are taking the evil party thing to heart in a big way. Which is also very very awesome. I ran my very first assassination mission at the start of our last session - given the option of a straight roll on the table, or playing out the scenario (and having the opportunity to improve his chances through smart play), the player chose the latter. It was largely a cakewalk - Angus chose the right contract (out of two offered), and took his time casing the location and mapping out the target's moves. When it came down to it, his roll for death attack didn't succeed, but he was able to silence the target with traditional melee and get the fuck outta Dodge anyway. Mission accomplished.

That completed, we went on to determine what the other players' PCs were doing while this was going on (the whole thing took about a week, game time). As I've mentioned here before, I'm using the Midkemia Cities book (which I highly recommend) for its city encounters, but there's also a "city catch-up table" for determining what (if anything) happens to a character during their off-time. They can adjust their chance for an event (up or down) by a certain amount based on their intelligence and/or wisdom. Some of the events on there can have some pretty profound effects on the game, especially if the player chooses to pursue them - for example, one player got "offered dangerous mission". PC gets offered a mission (with the price determined randomly before they accept), and if they choose to attempt it, they have a straight percentage chance of either making it back (with a big bonus in gold and xp) or simply dying. My brother's PC took his chances (for a first-level character it's a smart gamble), but the dice didn't agree, and he bought it. To his credit, Dave shrugged and asked for a clean sheet. (Vive la AD&D! LOL)

The other present player for this session (we were a bit short-handed this night) got a result of "make a friend / your friend has insulted someone / friend asks for help". A few more rolls, we find out that a co-worker (these tables allow for PCs to actually get a job while they're killing time in they city - I decided this was just a fellow adventurer) has insulted a powerful personage, has to get out of the city or face assassination, and asks the PC for assistance. Brandon, without missing a beat, offered to take this guy along to the Castle, and then asks Angus about taking the contract. LOL So now I've got two players in the assassins' guild. EVIL PARTY FOR THE WIN. (They also hired a couple of 0-level spearmen, but these men-at-arms didn't stick around for long once they saw the kind of shenanigans my guys get up to. Hahaha...)

Since they were pretty short (and planning on killing the NPC they'd already hired), they went about looking for a healer to hire on. Since they're complete bastards, this would have been somewhat problematic, except that they thought to inquire through the assassins' guild as to "sympathetic clerics." What they got was one crazy SOB cleric of Erythnul, who was almost more sadistic then they were, and a damn sight creepier. The expedition assembled, they headed off down the Old Castle Track towards the Little Hillwood (and Castle Greyhawk beyond). Oh, with a quick stop to kill the NPC fighter and stash his body.

They delved into the Castle ruins, touched up the map some, encountered some bullywugs (who'd just moved into the lair of some goblins the PCs had "forcibly evicted" a few games earlier), and defeated them. One PC was wounded (the assassin), so they stashed him in their secret bolthole and pressed on. They then returned to the room where, several trips back, they'd fought an evil cleric and his gnoll minions. They'd driven off most of the gnolls and killed the priest last time; anticipating that the gnolls might have returned (but presumably without their clerical backup), they didn't anticipate any problems cleaning up. Which would have been true if the leaderless gnolls hadn't allied with the nearby Old Guard Kobolds. A sound PC rout followed. ("Game over, man, game over!!!")

Getting back to town, our aspiring assassin came up with an interesting way to get treasure identified (they'd come across a potion and a magic dagger in the bullywugs' bindles) - send his hos out to track down a sympathetic bard, and then treat him to a triple-around-the-world on the house. I gave it a chance on the dice, and it came up jackpot, so this worked. (Hey, I'd have gone for it.) So they were able to avoid dealing with the Striped Mage (and his occasionally reasonable but highly variable prices). All in all, a unique session by any standard (well, mine at least).


Monday, November 30, 2009

Bardic Lore Pt. 1: You Spoony Bard!

So, in a very roundabout way I've finally had to address the question of bards in my campaign. To wit: Dealing with last week's Advanced Prostitutes & Procurers game led me to look at the Thieves' Guild structure in the City of Greyhawk, which prompted me to take into consideration the "other" illicit guilds described in The Canting Crew: The Assassins' Guild, the Beggars' Guild, and the Vagabonds' Guild. This last encompasses Jongleurs, Gypsies, Strolling Players, Mountebanks and Tinkers (with a great deal of overlap between them). In other words, itinerant entertainers - which inevitably leads us to bards.

Now, I've always had a soft spot for the class. As a player (probably because I get to actually "play" so infrequently), I love "in-between" classes and jack-of-all-trades characters. As a GM, having a bard of any stripe in the party inevitably leads to hilarious situations and juicy complications (not to mention a great information pipeline when I want it). That said, it's had a bit of an identity crisis through the years (and editions).

The original (OD&D) version appears as early as Strategic Review #6, and already we're told that it's basically an amalgamation of the Nordic skald, the Celtic bard, and the medieval minstrel. The class has lore abilities (specifically used here to ID magic items in the dungeon), a basic bent (if not a requirement) towards Neutrality (the bard in all TSR editions seems to have a Heart Full of Neutrality), access to tons of languages (1 per point of Intelligence), and the odd mish-mash of fighter, thief, and (upon attaining 2nd level) spellcasting ability (here from the MU list). Interestingly, elves, dwarves and hobbits may all pursue the class, albeit with limits to their advancement. The 0e bard has a d6 for hit dice and attacks as a fighter of equivalent level. Thieving ability is as per a thief of half their level, rounded down (thus presumably not accessible at 1st level), with the backstab specifically excluded. Here the bard may use any weapon, but is limited to chainmail or leather armor (chain, however, precludes his ability to climb walls and move silently). The article is silent on whether they're allowed to use a shield (I'd guess no). The 0e bard has a % chance per level to mesmerize opponents (once per day per level), and once this is done he may plant a suggestion as per the spell; he may also use his music to counter song-based effects (the harpy's song is mentioned). Perhaps most unusual is that the bard here attracts followers starting at 2nd level, and these followers increase in number and level as the bard advances in experience. The Gaelic college names (Fochlucan, Mac-Fuirmidh, etc.) are present already. (Note: I had assumed these to be "mock Gaelic" and pseudo-historical; not so, as it turns out - check this link for a metric ton of bardy goodness.)

AD&D and the Players Handbook brought us the 1e bard, AKA "the original prestige class" - prestigious indeed, due to the requirements in getting one through actual play! The class seems to be a retro-fit of the 0e version, adding in a highly unusual (and somewhat problematic to arbitrate) "training period" before you actually get to the bardyness. (That's a word, right? Bardyness? Should be, anyway.) What's more, the progression here (gaining at least five but less than eight levels of fighter, then gaining at least five but less than nine levels of thief before finally switching to bard) works completely different from the standard dual-class (or multi-class) systems (which has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth over at the Dragonsfoot forums, I can assure you). The class as presented here has a reputation for a huge power bump once the bard levels are attained (as the xp progression given here is somewhere between the fighter and the cleric, yet for some reason the bard BTB gets a new HD every bard level, again flying in the face of the traditional dual-class system where you don't get new HD until your new class exceeds the old), as well as the near-mythical rarity of actual, played-from-first-level 1e bard PCs.

All that craziness aside, the actual class is pretty close to how it's presented for 0e. Races are limited to elven and half-elven. (This is parodied somewhat in the novel Azure Bonds, with the halfling "bard" Olive.) (Note how retardedly powerful the actual bard in this story is, too - he becomes a friggin' god by the end of the series! Clearly either Novak or Grubb had seen one in play at the table. LOL) Alignment is now required to be Neutral in at least one of its axises (this would also stay put until d20 rears its ugly and oh-so-permissive head). Hit dice are still a d6, but the 1e bard attacks as per his fighter level, which never increases once the class is abandoned (more on that later), while thieving ability is as per thief level. Weapons are now restricted (the druid list plus non-two-handed swords), and now only magical chain is permissible (presumably once you've worked through ten levels of fighter and thief, this is not too problematic). Spells are now from the druid list, and go up to 5th level; what's more, the 1e bard gains all druid abilities as a druid equal to their bard level. Additional languages are granted as the bard advances in level. The Legend Lore, Charm and Counter-song abilities of the older class are present, largely unchanged (albeit at a slower rate of advancement), and are supplemented by the now-ubiquitous ability to inspire his allies in battle (+1 to attack, +10% to morale, requires 2 rounds of singing and lasts a turn).

It took AD&D players all of three years to decide that the weird advancement was a little unwieldy, and the concept perhaps a bit muddled, and to do something about it. Dragon #56 (December '81) saw the publication of "Singing a new tune - A different bard, not quite so hard" by Jeffery Goelz. Goelz takes the bard as presented in both previous incarnations, and melds it into a single-class warrior-druid-illusionist (without the thieving associations or the attendant skills). This is informally known as the "Welsh bard," taken more or less from the Welsh Mabingion cycle. The Welsh bard may be human, elven or half-elven (with unlimited advancement); halflings and dwarves may only attain up to 5th level. Alignment is sort of weird - no evil, tending towards law and/or neutrality. Armor is leather only, but may be supplemented with a wooden shield (i.e., as per the druid), although the shield will interfere with Charming. Weapons are as per the druid with the addition of non-bastard-or-two-handed swords, handaxe, hammer, and horseman's mace, and excluding the spear. (Which seems pretty rough giving the poor armor situation and the back-rank position this implies - I'd be inclined to add it back in.) The Dragon bard attacks as a fighter, but does not gain multiple attacks per level or versus "insignificant opponents". They receive but one starting weapon proficiency, and attack with a -4 penalty to non-proficient weapons. They are also prohibited from using an off-hand weapon (such as a dagger or handaxe). (Again, seems a weird restriction.) Here the bard gains druid spells upon attaining 2nd level, and illusionist spells on reaching 4th. However, there is a list of spells from both traditions which are unusable by (these) bards. This bard does not gain extra languages per se, but rather adds a Read Languages ability to their Charm and Lore abilities; the Charm ability here is unrestricted by uses per day. The Inspire ability is as presented in the PHB, with the addition of a +2 bonus to saves vs. fear, and only requires one round of singing (or poetic oratory). The Counter-song ability, in addition to providing complete protection vs. harpies and the like, grants a +1 to saves vs. non-song sonic effects (such as that of a groaning spirit). Interestingly, the bard may also sooth road-weary travellers (I should note that this has never proven the case in my campaigns ;) ), granting a bonus to mounted or pedestrian movement overland. Lastly, the druid abilities are scaled back to just the shape-shift ability, and this at 11th (rather than 7th) level.

(Read in Flavor Flav voice:) Oooohhhh NINETEEN EIGHTY-NINE!!! 2e drops (yo), and the bard gets a single-class overhaul. This is the bard I grew up with, and the genesis of the modern concept of the class. We're firmly in minstrel/jongleur territory, here - the Celtic origin of the class is touched upon, but the actual class described is basically a fighter/thief/MU (errr, "mage") with good people skills. Races allowed are back to human/half-elf, alignments are back to neutral/something. Armor up to chain is allowed (with attendant adjustments to thieving skills), but no shield; weapons are unrestricted. Spells are now from the MU ("wizard") list again, and there is mention of the need for a spellbook. Hit dice are on a d6, with fighting ability as per a thief. Thieving abilities are restricted to Climb Walls, Detect Noise, Pick Pockets, and Read Languages; the 2e bard is better at Detect and Read than a thief, but suckier at Climb and Pick. The Charm ability of previous incarnations has been reduced to a chance to shift listener's reaction category by one place (with an equal and opposite reaction if the target makes a saving throw). The Inspire ability is present, here it can provide (either) a +1 to attacks, a +1 to (all!) saves, or a +2 to morale; it now requires three rounds of singing to work, and lasts 1 round per level of the bard. Countersong is limited to song-based effects, and requires the bard to make a save to get the effect. The Legend Lore ability is present (5% chance per level), albeit somewhat gimped and ambiguous (does not reveal pluses or powers, only alignment, cursed-osity, and history). Finally, 2e bards can attempt to use scrolls as a thief (just a little bit better).

Lastly, we have the bard as presented in WotC's 3rd Edition. Without going into it too much, the d20 bard is essentially akin to his 2e presentation, with much more emphasis on the "skill monkey" aspect of the class (since now there are skills), spells as per a 3e Sorceror (just a few spells known from the Wizard list, but you can cast'em a zillion times, no book), some weapon restrictions (basically simple weapons with "fencer-type" weapons added on top), limited to light armor (leather up to chain shirt) and (non-tower) shields (albeit with a chance of spell failure when casting in armor). The Lore ability is now Bardic Knowledge, works pretty much the same. Inspire, Counter-song and Charm (now Fascinate) are present, but the reason I include this class is the division of the Inspire ability into Inspire Courage (pluses to combat like we're used to), and "Inspire Competence", which allows you to sing a song and make somebody better at any random task, and is fucking hilarious. The character of Elan (from Order of the Stick) is pretty much based around this, and the "Bluff, Bluff, Bluff, Bluff the Stupid Ogre!" song is one of my top ten webcomic comedy moments; hence this class's inclusion.

So that's the rich tradition of the bard, as seen through the lens of a game about genocidal murder and doing B&Es. Next time we get to look at how I'm bringing some of these classes in line with each other for (simultaneous, parallel) inclusion in my AD&D game. There will be fucktons of charts.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Old Guard Kobolds (or, "Pimpin' Ain't Easy")

Tuesday's game was an interesting session.

Last time, the PCs were on a map-and-loot jaunt through the Storerooms (level 1 of the Castle Greyhawk dungeons). Near the end of the night, they managed to discover a long-hidden secret chamber. Shortly after, a nasty skirmish with a band of goblins left them pretty banged up, and they retreated to the secret bolthole for a rest.

Now, they were careful to cover their tracks and leave no obvious trace of their passage, so I allowed that they'd be pretty safe there, as long as they Anne Franked it. Usually I've encouraged a trip back to town at the end of a session (since you never know who's gonna be around for the next session, and I try to avoid having un-played PCs in the game), but here at least the players who turned up could operate out of the secret room, with the inactive PCs hiding out. Well, next session we ended up with 3 players.

There was some discussion of turning back to town and assembling some hirelings, but instead the 3 PCs mounted a scouting expedition. They spent a few turns double-checking the party map (there've been a handful of mappers working on it, which tends to make things nice and confusing), and then headed off to the quarter they hadn't hit, yet. And met the Old Guard Kobolds.

If you're an adherent of the Lake Geneva Campaign, you've heard the stories, if not - well, just suffice it to say that these are some Very Burly Kobolds (who've been taking out PC parties for decades, now). The party as it stood was about as tough as a 3-member low-level party can be (two tanky fighters and a fighter/cleric), but right off the players knew something was up. The little bastards were falling like so much wheat (or at least the ones in the front were), but only due to some fancy rolling on the players' part - and they weren't falling fast enough, since the ones in back were tossing oil - and then some of them turn out to be capable swordsmen - and that one's wearing fucking PLATE MAIL - and here come two more units of'em - SHIT SHIT SHIT LET'S GET OUT OF HERE - and I laughed very much.

To their credit, they just exactly pulled it out of the fire, with only one fatality and a handful of hit points left, but (by at least one of my players' admission) their reluctance to flee was almost the death of them. I'd like to say the lesson was learned, but of course they're already plotting out bloody vengeance against the kobs. I suspect it won't be as easy as they're imagining. [EVIL DM GRIN] Their early realization that these weren't "just kobolds" was downright heart-warming, however; if they can at least take away from this that they can't always rely on their knowledge of the Monster Manual to gauge encounters, I'll consider us ahead of the game.

After that fiasco, the party hoofed it back to the Free City of Greyhawk. This was the first time I broke out the map (I'm using Joe Bloch's maps - Joe Bloch of the Greyhawk Grognard blog and the thoroughly awesome WG13 - for my City of Hawks and so far they're eminently suitable), and the first time I plotted the party's course to their destination, with encounters every few thousand feet courtesy of the Midkemia Cities book (I'm loving this supplement so far - read on).

The first encounter I rolled up, as the party was traversing the main drag north towards the Old City, was a prostitute. Consulting the sub-table, I learn that this is exactly (*roll*) one prostitute, who is (*roll*) approaching one of the characters for (*roll*) help. Off the top of my head, it becomes apparent that this is a street girl, and that some bruisers from the bawdy house nearby have been trying to run her and her co-workers off of their corner (nobody likes competition). The players bite and we're off on our first city adventure of the campaign.

This ends up being an interesting exercise in on-the-spot content creation. They head to the spot, the party leader gets the girls to point out their antagonists, and the PCs go to "straighten out the situation". After a few tough words are exchanged, they demand to speak to the thugs' boss; the thugs are only too happy to show the PCs in so that they can fall in behind and bash their collective brains out in private. A close-quarters melee follows (in the foyer next to the coatroom), and, with the thugs realizing the futility of direct attacks (one fighter in plate mail, and we're using weapons VS. AC, they'd be hitting on 20) I got to break out the pummeling and overbearing rules from UA. (Lesson learned here being that you really need multiple bodies for the overbearing thing to work well.) With the largest of the three doormen downed, and the other two wounded and fled, the party leader relays his message to some newly-arriving bravos (that the girls ought not be messed with from here on out), and they take off. Being smart enough to have the hookers show them through the back alley, they even avoid the watch patrol that's headed to investigate the disturbance. The girls are brought to the Green Dragon (where the regular working girls shoot them dirty looks), and it is decided at that these will now be two of our PCs' hos, and that they will now look after the ladies.

So now my PCs have some hos. I'm still figuring out how to handle this. Gary Gygax's Canting Crew book has some amazingly detailed thieves' guild info (that I'm using pretty much as-is for my City), and from here I learn that not only is prostitution a guild-run activity, but that there's even different branches for different types (high-class girls, house girls, street girls, etc.). So not only are they horning in on one branch's racket, they're interfering with another's. I suspect they'll find that pimpin' ain't easy, even in the City of Greyhawk. LOL

All in all, out of one random encounter I got a new city location, the name of its owner (and an idea of what its foyer looks like), two new slightly-detailed NPC enemies (the escaped doormen), a potential in-town conflict for the PCs to deal with (the guild), and a rather interesting and potentially hilarious campaign complication (i.e., "How the shit do I handle PC ho income?")("And do they gain XP for it?")

Hell of a session.


PS: This post at Old Guard Gaming Accoutrements is awesome.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WTF, Sparta. Seriously?

LOL - I just stumbled across this tidbit on - from the article on "Annoying Arrows" (i.e., the tendency for characters in media to get stuck full of arrows and keep on fighting) (yeah, D&D gets namechecked here):

300 in a way both overstated and understated the effectiveness of Persian arrows. The arrows were actually very light, like most weapons used by the Persians, and would bounce off Greek shields and armor instead of sticking into them like in the film. But the Persian army was renowned less for its ground archers and more for its mounted archers, who would ride close to the enemy and harass them with targeted arrow fire, which the Greeks at the time had no defense against. After the war, the Spartans actually invented the "hoplite run," in which a soldier would have to sprint the better part of a mile in their armor to train for running down enemy cavalry.

Seriously, Sparta? When presented with deadly enemy horse archers, your response is "JUST RUN THE HORSES DOWN AND PWN THEM YOU PUSSIES"?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Greyhawk Sandbox Project (Steps 1-10)

Tuesday is AD&D night around here, so I'm spending some time before the game to get all my campaign ducks in a row, so to speak. One thing that's topping my list at the moment is an overland map - I don't have one (or at least one with a finer scale than the Darlene map's 30 mile hex - great for getting an overview, but not so useful for hexcrawl-style wilderness adventure). So far we've been concentrating on the dungeon (Castle Greyhawk), with the city itself (Free City of Greyhawk) only just starting to show up in play - but it's only a matter of time before somebody picks up one of the adventure hooks laying around (or gets bored) and wants to do some hiking.

Bat in the Attic blog (a fine OSR destination if you haven't checked it out yet) outlines 34 steps to make a fantasy sandbox, and I'm dying to try his method. The first three steps (1 world map, 2 label important regions, 3 write region blurbs) are already taken care of thanks to the World of Greyhawk folio, and step 4 is to choose your starting region - again, centering on the Free City of Greyhawk, the choice is made for me. Steps 5-10 involve detailing the local map, so that's where I'll be starting.

Now, surprisingly, there's not a single zoomed-in hexmap of the Greyhawk region that I can find. There are plenty of beautifully illustrated maps out there, most of which look like they'd be useless in my gaming (and most of which incorporate elements from 2e modules and the 3e Living Greyhawk campaign, none of which I'm using). So it falls to me to create a usable hexcrawl map of the area. I'll likely be doing this with the DMG random terrain tables as inspiration (although I'll place the result generated with some mind as to "realistic" terrain).

Something else I stumbled across last night: Bat in the Attic has also put up a great rundown-by-pantheon of the Greyhawk deities - something I've meant to do for quite some time (long enough that I probably never would have). The posting is HERE, and the full rundown is HERE. Great stuff.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Game Store Gloat

Holy fuck - quite a run to the local game pit this afternoon. Check it out:

JG88 Dark Tower (Paul Jaquays' legendary "upside-down dungeon", set in Judges Guild's Wilderlands setting.)
FR5 The Savage Frontier (Also by Jaquays - a classic sandboxing/expansion of Ed Greenwood's FR1 Waterdeep and the North. It's like Forgotten Wilderlands; been meaning to pick up a hard copy of this for years now.)
9031 The Rogues Gallery (Random NPC generation guidelines and stats for TSR employees' PCs - some of them included under protest, while Blume was forced to make up others when the players wouldn't cooperate. 1980 edition, B+W with Erol Otus art on the front and bogus Mordenkainen and Robilar stats inside.)
9047 Monster & Treasure Assortment (Dungeon level-appropriate encounters and treasures, 100 a piece for 9 levels, and trap/trick tables. I already have one of these, but this is useful enough to keep a copy in each campaign binder - I'm up to maybe four at this point.) (!!!)
B1-9 In Search of Adventure (Compilation of the first 9 modules in the B series, loosely tied together in a campaign. I've got maybe half of these already - from what I hear, the half that matter - and by all accounts this compilation contains heavily-expurgated and hacked-together versions of these modules, but I'm curious to check it out, and from a completist's point of view - well, it was missing from the collection. What can I say? LOL)

All of these for $5 or less. FUCKING SCORE. Dark Tower goes with the JG pile - the Wilderlands is my "someday maybe" setting, as I'm working on the GH stuff first. Savage Frontier was a must before I restarted my Realms campaign, so maybe that'll get going a little sooner. (This would be the PCs from my rather long-running (now defunct) d20/1e hybrid Realms game, only converted over to Hackmaster/1e hybrid stats and thrown some 30 years back in time to the Grey Box era. They keep requesting this, and I keep not having it done. It'll likely involve a lot of Hacking in Undermountain, so once I've got Castle Greyhawk out of my system and my megadungeon legs under me, that'll be a prime candidate. One of these days.) M&T and the Rogues Gallery are just great all-around table aids. (Although I should mention that Kellri's Encounter Netbook is a more-than-suitable replacement for both products, plus a whole shit-ton more. Worth checking out for any pre-2000 D&D edition.)

Damn this collector bug. Hahaha...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What is good in life, Conan?

Nothing momentous to report. Just another Tuesday night around here: Me and some good buds enjoyed some single-malt scotch and some good buds. The party dickered over terms with some hirelings, then made an expedition to Castle Greyhawk, only to run into a hobgoblin and his goblin cronies - the same group that they'd only a few sessions earlier routed with judicious application of murder holes and flaming oil. It was a near thing, with the party pulling out a win but with the thief injured and the rest near "E" on healing and hp, but the haul was just worth it. The hired spearman ate it, while the torchboy ran away. They returned to the city, blew a week while the thief rested up (two members were offered positions in the military, another Gilliganed his way into a possible knightly appointment, and the thief picked up a nagging chest cold that will slow him down for a few weeks)*, then wandered the streets (passing by a Pelorite pilgrimage being harassed by street urchins)* hocking their ill-begotten gains and recruiting for the next adventure.

Man, D&D fucking rules.

* Random city events courtesy of Midkemia Press's fine "Cities" book - now re-available from Midkemia's website here: LINKY)


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cyberpunk 2025 (or, "15 Shitty Years")

Speaking of GM ADD...

I made what I would consider to be a fairly successful FLGS raid last week. I scored a really nice copy of Warhammer City (with the map in) for WFRP, a Role Aids Dwarves module (cool detail on a few dwarven settlements and an adventure for dwarven PCs), the Traveller introductory adventure (I've got tons of supplements, still need to track down the 3BBs) and, most relevant to today's mental meanderings, two Cyberpunk supplements - Rockerboy for Cyberpunk 1e (AKA Cyberpunk 2013) and Eurosource Plus (for Cyberpunk 2020 - an update of a previous CP1 supplement, as I understand it).

Now, it just so happens that while AD&D 2e was my first love, gaming-wise, CP2020 was always the girl on the side. Second game I ever ran, with even less resulting campaign play then AD&D - sessions generally went catastrophically off-script as soon as the players realized they could just run around shooting shit, and tended to culminate in Grand Theft Auto 3-style SWAT showdowns. Everyone always had a blast regardless, but it was irritatingly dissatisfying as a neophyte GM. Anyway, flipping through my newly acquired nerd lore, all kinds of fun one-off ideas started to run through my head. I'll run it in a month or so just once, I told myself. Just once - got a new AD&D campaign to play, after all.

Enter my IT recruiter with a two-day contract working on Blackberries in Boston. This job involves my taking the (stupid fucking) Commuter Rail into Boston, so I have plenty of time to read my new CP crap on the train. What I do not have, however, is time to prepare for the 1e session on Tuesday (not slinging my CZ stuff in a backpack to get banged up), nor the energy or inspiration to freestyle one.

Luckily, I'd just spent two days going back and forth between my slacker metalhead home life and my fast-paced tech-y corporate life, pounding pavement in Boston's glittering yet filthy downtown financial district, working on improbably tiny yet ubiquitous hand-held portable PCs - the kind of experience that drives home how close we really are to the cyberpunk era (and how close Gibson and pals really came to outright prophecy in their fiction). CP2020 inspiration I had in spades (and my players weren't tough to convince), so we whipped up some characters and ran'em through a few introductory encounters (read: gruesome and needless firefights) to get a feeling for the system. (Protip: If you're an unprepared GM who needs time to throw together a quick scenario, hand your players the CP2020 cyberware and/or gun list. Guaranteed at least an hour of drooling while you get your homework done.)

A few things about running CP2020: First, the system is suckawesometastic. By that I mean that it's a great base mechanic (ability 1-10 + skill 1-10 + roll 1-10 to hit a target number anywhere from 10 and up) with a super-brutal and nicely medium-crunchy combat engine built on top, but there are a decent amount of holes in the combat system (forcing GMs to make some tough calls on some pretty basic combat procedures), and the character creation is both inspired and super super super broken. Now, it needs to be said that this was published in 1990 (based on a ruleset from '87 IIRC), and that kind of thing was a lot more acceptable then. If anything, the ambiguities and rough spots give an experienced GM plenty of elbowroom to tinker - and CP is an old school system in that it responds beautifully to careful house ruling (and in that this is almost a necessity in places). However, as a newbie GM in the early '90s, this was a bit beyond me, and as a result combat was slow and often confused, while characters were bristling with guns, cybered to the gills, and world-class combatants to a man.

Then there's the assumed setting, the timeline, the net, and the glam rock. (Oh, the glam rock.) 2020, from 2009, looks hilariously late '80s - the graphics, the lyrics, the culture, etc. The USSR never fell, we got space shit done on time (instead of falling into a post-Challenger funk), the US economy collapsed in the '90s (without the benefit of the dot com boom) and cybernetics are everywhere. The net is pretty much as all-encompassing as it is now - dead-on in places - but the specifics are laughable from where we stand (even if you buy into VR/simstim as a viable consumer interface).

There are three ways to handle this: Draw up your own timeline, say fuck it and call it a divergent timeline (from say 1990 on), or some combination of both. There's a lot to be said for just rolling with the silly - CP works as a game even if the assumptions are a bit off, and the gonzo anime feel you get from the CP2020 setting material is cool in its own right. On the other hand, devising your own timeline is a great mental exercise (I love this shit - extrapolation is what real SF is all about), and you end up with a more plausible future from where we sit. I went with option C, and started drawing up a timeline that takes us from where we are now (with a few "top secret technologies" retconned into the last decade or so) to pretty much where the 2020 book puts us, with a good bit of the Net and other tech stuff given a modern facelift (along with some of the cultural stuff). I was able to come up with a workable sequence of events that gets us there in 15 (admittedly tumultuous) years, giving me a street date of 2025 (which is a nice round number and can also coincidentally refer to the houseruled-to-fuck "version 2.5" that I'm running). I kept most of the classic setting elements (Arasaka and the other friendly corps, hyperviolent and strongly-themed gangs a la "The Warriors", the Sprawl, the Combat Zone, balkanization of the Americas, etc.), I just chose to get us there in a different way. On top of that, I was able to whip up a gutload of new stuff - if there's one thing I can do easily (almost reflexively), it's dream up ways things can go as tragically wrong as possible. I'm also stealing with abandon from the standards - Gibson, Neal Stephenson (especially the strip mall/franchise culture from Snow Crash), etc. I plan on a bit of Appleseed-style hardsuit cop drama (in my Boston, the Highway Patrol has their own reality show - sponsored by Militech, which indidentally provides all their equipment and training), a bunch of street-level craziness (the Bay flooded, and downtown got rebuilt around the elevated highway, so the North End is now a series of canals under the "shelf" of the new downtown), and a good dose of Mad Max highway combat.

Anyway, gotta go - playing in Long Island with my boy's folk rock thing. Here's 3 great CP2020 resources on the web to tide you over:

The Blackhammer Cyberpunk Project:
Datafortress 2020:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

About The New Campaign (Or "GM ADD Strikes Again") [CZ:UW+WG13/1e]

When I stopped posting a few months back, my main campaign was my B/X homebrew sandbox. Sketchily detailed fantasy city-state with attendant a-wizard-did-it megadungeon below, Wilderlands-style hexcrawl areas in the surrounding hills, forests and swamps (using the Known World map from the Expert Set, but ignoring the Mystara stuff). One of the nice things thing about this campaign is its portability - I can run it with just one binder, no bookshelf required. Since I was running a lot of games out of my house, that was huge. However, my gaming time sorta fizzled around May, and I wasn't running games for a while.

Right when I got some free time to game again, a few things happened at once. I got some of the guys from the band hooked right around the same time several players from my old group became available on weeknights, so I suddenly had a double-handful of players. The GM of the BFRPG / Castle Zagyg game I was playing in abruptly suspended the campaign, and I'd been sitting on a brand new (unread) Castle Zagyg:Upper Works boxed set since the winter con season. And I needed a good excuse to clean out the Nerd Loft (incidentally, where my big table and AD&D / HackMaster shelf reside). A recipe for GM ADD if there ever was one.

So now we're on the fourth or fifth session of AD&D First Edition, using CZ:UW and Joe Bloch's WG13 as Castle Greyhawk, placed 2-3 hours' walk to the east of the Free City of Greyhawk (ignoring Yggsburgh and all TSR-published versions of both the City and the Castle), with the '81 folio and '83 boxed set versions of the World of Greyhawk campaign settings for background. I'm keeping most of the background material from the pre-'85 modules (I've got most of the 1e-era stuff) but ignoring most of the other Greyhawk material and changing whatever strikes me at the moment. I'm using lots of anecdotal material from the Lake Geneva campaign (pulled from forum posts and interviews on the net) for inspiration, but I'm not worried about canon or any aspirations to "authenticity". From what I can tell, the key to running a Gygaxian campaign is not obsessively parroting details from the game he ran, but rolling with the punches and thinking on your feet to see what kind of game you can come up with.

The group itself is a blast: Three players from my first long-term campaign (all hardened AD&D vets), three complete D&D virgins (the guys from the band - all 3 have played plenty of PCRPGs, including Baldur's Gate, so they're picking up fast), and rotating assortment of other folks - I'm seeing anywhere between 6 and 9 folks turning out every week. (It occasionally strikes me that I'm a lucky bastard - all I ever read is tales of woe from guys trying to get 3 players at an OAD&D table on the same day, and I'm almost to the point of turning good players away.) Running a group this size is an interesting challenge, but using a caller (and loudly-rolled wandering monster dice) is keeping things pretty smooth.

In keeping with my understanding of the original campaign, I've thrown alignment restrictions to the winds, so of course the guys immediately seized on playing an eeeeeeeeeevil party. In practice, they're not going as apeshit as I expected them to - it may be that, over the years, I've impressed upon them the repercussions for out-of-control PCs who Get Caught. (Hahaha...) They're plotting the betrayal of good-aligned adventuring parties, terrorizing small farming hamlets, abusing hapless hirelings, and indulging in the occasional good-natured inter-party assassination bidding war, but nothing that would arouse the wrath of the gods (or the guard) so I'm letting them play it out. All parties involved are half-expecting the whole thing to go down in a bloody PC-on-PC TPK at some point, but so far they're actually more or less working together.

What's more, they're actually succeeding. [CASTLE ZAGYG SPOILERS TO FOLLOW] They've made the trip to the Castle grounds a few times now (over a couple weeks of game time), in which time they've made a cursory exploration of the lower and middle courtyards, successfuly penetrated the dungeons (huh-huh, "penetrate"), and made inroads to Level 1 (the Store Rooms). Nobody's died yet (to my utter consternation), although they've had several close calls. They've had skirmishes with various humanoids in the Ruins level, and driven off the gnoll minions of a rival evil cleric (who they then seriously murdered to death*). (The party currently contains 3 evil clerics, so clearly they were protecting their job security.) They've managed to secure a defensible (if somewhat nightmare-inducing) refuge from the predations of the undead. The party MU also managed a neat little coup - they scored a few magic items by smart (and lucky) play, gave them to the MU, and he netted enough XP to go from level 1 to the cusp of level 3 in the space of two games. This, and the plate mail they liberated from the cleric, should give them a decent toehold on survivability, and it's looking like this batch just may make it over that 1st level hump.

Here's the line-up as it stands now:

Grishnakh Skuthne - Half-Orc Fighter 1
Baldermir Von Bizmark - Human Fighter 1 (on the cusp of 2)
Vladimir - Human "Fighter" (Assasssin) 1
Gozher the Gaucherion - Mountain Dwarf Cleric (Abbathor) 1
Mordis Pitborn - Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric (Incabulous)
Rudger - Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric (Fuck if I can remember)
Vas Deferenez - Half-Elf Fighter/MU 1/1
Treg Kerelius - Human MU 2 (on the cusp of 3)
Alberoth (AKA Dingle) - High Elf Thief 1
Falatious Bowlhard - Grey Elf "Thief" (Assassin) 1

Currently they're on level 1, just having won the fight with the gnolls (I'll be giving them the results of the room-loot next session.)

More on last session later.


* Man, speaking of players messing up a perfectly good plan. Gnolls, 4th-level cleric with hold person on tap. Rough situation for a 1st level group - unless the friggin' F/C PC on point wins initiative and drops a darkness spell on the enemy priest (who then obligingly fails his save like a good little xp-container)(grumble grumble). Tough to cast PC-party-fucking spells when you can't see them. *grump*

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Basically, I waste him with my crossbow. [Sort-of HackMaster Basic Review]

So, I got to try out HackMaster Basic today. My overall reaction would be more or less "fuck yeah."

I should preface by admitting that it was a pretty stellar and Hack-appropriate group, so the target audience was firmly in place. The player group consisted of: Dale (who runs the monthly-or so HM 4th Edition game I play in, and who hosted), Tyson (he'll be joining Dale's regular game next week), and myself (with a BTB HM4 campaign on hold and a HM4/AD&D hybrid campaign in early prep stages). GMing was Charles Brown, who's authored a couple Kenzer HM modules (Dead Gawd's Hand comes to mind as I write this); Chuck's a pretty active HackMaster booster in the local gaming scene.

I was ready to be fairly critical, sitting down at the table - I play HM4 for the AD&Disms, and tend to cross-pollinate the two systems pretty freely, so the news that HM5 wasn't going to be AD&D-based was a downer for me. Overall, new HM material is only useful to me as far as it's easily converted / ported over to my heavily-customized AD&D engine. That said, I was also licking my chops anticipating what cool rules I could steal for my HM4 game.

Come to find out that, while it may not strictly be "1e on crack" like HM4, it's not that damn far off. It sure as hell isn't d20 (and it's a far cry from World of 4craft). From AD&D, we still have "6+1 stats" (the familiar 6 along with "Looks" subbing in for Comeliness), and the super-granular stat bonus charts from HM (most bonuses and penalties start below 9 and above 11), but the functions of these scores has been shuffled around. Strength no longer provides a bonus to hit, however both Dexterity AND Intelligence do. Similarly, Dexterity provides a defensive adjustment - as does Wisdom (!). (The dumb fighter, as both Dale and I would learn, is not nearly as effective in HM5 than in previous editions.) Score generation is more flexible now - you have the option to take six-in-a-row, swap two scores, or arrange to taste - but you earn big Build Point bonuses by taking the more restrictive options (25 for swapping, 50 for taking it like a man). Scores can still be increased by cashing in Build Points (5 fractional points per BP as opposed to 25 in HM4). I rolled decent Dex, average Str and Con, and abysmal everything else. I decided to play a dwarf fighter. (When all was said and done, I was able to buy the Str and Con up to respectable levels, but everything else stayed crappy - I ended up with a 3 Charisma.)

Skills are percentage-based, where the score to hit is the relevant ability score plus whatever mastery dice the player bought in character creation (this more or less directly from HM4), but now we have a whole list of skills that regular people "just have" at a base rate (a nice addition). Also, wherever a skill depends on two scores, the lower is used (where previously they were averaged). I kinda like that - again, makes dumb PCs a little tougher to deal with. There isn't really a dump stat in HMB. With my lower-than-low mental scores, most of my skills were absolute crap. I also took a roll in swimming and one in first aid on top of the freebies.

Nobody played a spellcaster, but apparently there's a spell point system. *shrug* I like my clunky old slots/level Vancian dealie, but I'm sure that's house-rule-able.

Quirks and Flaws: In HM4, these are rolled randomly (as many times as you're dumb enough to ask for), and you earn BPs based on how hard you get boned. Here they don't buy you anything, instead all PCs roll for one Quirk (mental) and one Flaw (physical) (I think). I got "Foul-Mouthed" (like he wasn't gonna be anyway with a 3 Charisma) and "Pocking" (i.e., I got acne scars, -1 to Looks).

Combat: Here's where things get crazy/awesome. First off, instead of ACs and to-hit charts, combat is an opposed test. (Lots of things seem to be opposed tests.) The attacker rolls their to-hit (on a d20, no worries), and adds any bonuses from level, abilities, specialization, talents, magic, and so on. (These are, thankfully, all summed up on the weapon profile - no hastily adding them up on the spot.) The enemy makes a defense roll (d20 if they're aware, d8 if surprised or prone), adding in defense modifiers from abilities, magic, and such. If the attacker wins, the enemy is hit. Shields and weapons both boost defense (if the character is aware and can bring them to bear), whereas armor does NOT - however, both armor and shields absorb damage from a successful hit. If a shield is hit (i.e., makes the difference between a hit and a not-hit), it makes a save against breakage (modified by the damage and shield size). There's also knockback if you score enough damage (not sure of the math, but it happened once or twice). Interestingly, there's still crits, but now you can also roll a Perfect Defense and score yourself a free counter-attack.

Initiative is cascading - everybody rolls once (on a d12!), and then initiative is counted up from 1 (no rounds, the count doesn't "reset"). Attacking adds your weapon's speed to the count, attacking again adds it again. It's surprisingly fluid, and makes high-speed weapons like daggers nice and mean. (Honestly, this is a big change but I think I really like it - HM4 has this weird dichotomy between its round-based initiative (imported almost verbatim from the 1e DMG) and its tracking of movement and non-spell-melee-or-missile actions by segments. This system seems to remedy that.)

We played the introductory module that (as I understand it) is downloadable from the Kenzer & Co. site. To sum up (SPOILER ALERTS): Stuff is missing, go find out who took the stuff and get the stuff back, murdering the stuff-takers is optional. We got to the place, fought some wolves, fought some snakes, defeated a (normal, non-magical) apple tree, talked to (and successfully resisted the urge to murder) an old lady, murdered some halflings (the GM insisted they were kobolds but we had decided early on that the culprits of the stuff-taking were halflings, and wouldn't be dissuaded) ("mountain halflings" my dwarf theorized), and got the stuff. Then the guy wouldn't pay us because he keeps his money in a module that hasn't been published yet (no, really, I'm not making that part up). A good time was had by all, we won at HackMaster.

So, I'll be ordering myself a copy about as quickly as I can manage - it's pretty crunchy, which is not exactly how I prefer my AD&D, but as its own game it's got an awful lot going for it. (I'll be stealing from it liberally, both for 1e and HM4.) And the one-book presentation is a big plus. If you can arrange to sit down at a table for a test-drive, do yourself a favor. Thumbs up.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Attention Vault-Dwellers

Holy fuck, this is awesome:


Wasteland is basically Fallout for tabletop, using a modified Traveller engine. Everything's there - the weapons, the creatures, the whole lot. This is sheer brilliance. I want to run it right away. DAMN YOU, GM ADD!!!1!!11

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hey, I was gone for awhile* but apparently I'm back**, so here's a random (experimental) house rule to screw with.


I always liked the skill systems in games like Ultima Online or old BBS MUDs, particularly the ability to learn a skill either by in-game practice or by training from an instructor. However, tying skill advancement to repeatedly performing a task over and over again is tricky.

First off, in online CRPGs game time generally equates to real time (albeit at a compressed rate), so advancement by practice is at least limited by the player's playing schedule and/or capacity for boredom. In a pen-and-paper RPG, where real time has an extremely nebulous relationship to game time, there's little to keep enterprising players from simply saying, for example, "I climb the inn wall a hundred times, let's start making skill rolls". How exciting for you and your players. Players should be rewarded for working on skills in-game without reducing play to a MMO-style grind session.

Second, some skills are way, way easier to learn than others. You can learn to build a fire effectively with only a few attempts (even quicker if you're camping out in the cold without a gore-tex mummy bag), while some hunters hunt for several seasons before ever making a kill (especially if they're doing it without a hunting buddy who knows what he's doing).

That in mind, consider assigning a die type to a skill based on how tough it is to learn (small dice for easy skills). Taking examples from the Wilderness Survival Guide, fire-building might have a d4, fishing perhaps a d6. Something like hunting maybe as much as a d8 or d10. On a skill practice attempt, the die type assigned is rolled - if a 1 is rolled, further attempts are made on the next lower die type. If the player gets a 1 on a d4, they have successfully learned the skill.
A player may make only 1 such practice attempt a day in this manner. (Not to say they can't keep trying, but only the first roll counts,). Basically, either you practiced (GM's call on how practice for any given skill takes), or you didn't.

To account for a trainer, a practice attempt could be considered successful on a 1 or a 2. This could be used for a peer trainer (i.e., PC training PC), where perhaps a master trainer could even allow success on a 1, 2, or 3.

Furthermore, in a game where skills are rated by competence (as opposed to binary "you have it or you don't" skills), this system can be reversed to track advancement beyond simple competence. Roll from d4 up to d6 and so on, and assign a skill level to the die type being rolled - maybe d4 = clueless, d6 = novice, d8 = apprentice, d10 = average, yadda yadda yadda. (Could also apply to NWPs that have multiple slots.) You could assign different ratings for different skills if you wanted that degree of granularity.

Keep in mind this is all system-neutral brainstorming, except that it obviously assumes some sort of skill system is in play. I use simple roll-under ability checks in Basic, but I'm considering working NWPs and/or secondary skills (as per the 1e DMG)into my new AD&D campaign - however I'm not a fan of the "proficiency slots per level" system in the Survival Guides. In any case, the above could be used in any game with a similar system. I may use it, or a variant thereof, for LBB Traveller at some point soon.


* Family illness + PC issues + unemployment + new band getting ready to play shows, all teamed up to make blogging (and gaming) the last thing on my mind for a few weeks, there.

** However, a) things calmed down a little bit, b) my bandmates started asking about D&D, and c) the guy running the fucking sweet BFRPG/Castle Zagyg campaign I had been playing in made a sudden departure from gaming, leaving me free to read mine. It was immediately necessary to start a new 1e / Castle Greyhawk campaign. ;) More on that in probably my next post.

*** Also I got a Blackberry so I can post random nonsense as it pops out of my head now, and then I sat down for a smoke, read about rules for catfish noodling being included in an old issue of White Dwarf, and the preceding rule nugget popped out. Yay for the illuminating properties of the halfling's weed.

**** wait, there wasn't even a "***" up there, why did you read that last bit? why are you even reading this?

Friday, May 1, 2009


Thread here got me thinking on yet another house rule for B/X – seems like as good a time as any to run down what I’m currently using while I’m adding another one.

First the new steez: IMC, so far, I've given MUs Read Magic on top of the two random spells they get. Up until now I've just rolled straight random - yeah, I'm a meanie, let's see what you can do with floating disc and ventriloquism (for some reason that combo comes up a lot) - but I'm going to try something different.


MUs (not elves) get read magic in addition to their ususal two starting spells, as part of their training. For each of the two remaining spells, the DM will roll two spells and the MU player may pick which they want.

(This gives the MU SOME control over what they get, and a better chance of getting at least one combat spell, but they're still at the mercy of the dice. (Somehow I predict a lot of people rolling floating disc and ventriloquism twice in a row. LOL) Looking at it now, elves may or may not get the choice. Suck it up, pointy - enjoy AC2 and a non-suck hit die.)

That gets added to what’s already in play – let’s take a look.


I specifically haven’t specified this in the house rules docco, but my go-to method is 4d6 (best 3), in order – if I’m feeling magnanimous, you might get to swap any two scores. For a one-shot or special occasion, I might go with something different.

Also, I tend to use the adventuring equipment packs from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess when rolling up PCs for a whole group – having a table full of people all poring over how much wolfs bane to take and who has the torches takes way too much time from kobold whack-a-mole, and the packs give the group a good selection of standard equipment they might not think to take otherwise (like iron spikes).


They’re in, subject to highly arbitrary DM approval. As per the “Customized Character Classes” article from Dragon #109. (Get it if you don’t have it – must-have stuff for Classic, IMO.) Pitch me a concept (whether an AD&D race-and-class combo or something funky like a monster), and we’ll talk. (Vampiric gelatinous cube monk, anyone? :D) (NO.)


Spellcasting humans (i.e., clerics and magic-users) whose prime requisites are 16 or greater receive one bonus 1st level spell per day; those whose prime requisites are 18 (or greater) receive two. Note that this will allow a 1st level cleric to cast spells.

That last part is a deliberate design decision on my part – this lets me still have groups of 1st-lvl “acolytes” (usually cultists IMC, at least in the dungeon) functioning as sub-par fighters, but gives a PC cleric the possibility of a spell.

I realize that granting 1st-level MUs up to 3 SPD can significantly up the “nuke factor” if they get lucky and score sleep, but even with the new rule the chances of getting 18 Int AND “win encounter” are pretty low. (Hell, gotta let’em win sometimes.)


Consider actions such as changing one weapon for another or removing something from a belt pouch to take roughly half a round. If the party rolled 4-6 on the initiative die for this round, perform the action on the party’s initiative and then drop your relative initiative by 3 for your attack – this could result in your attack taking place after the monsters’, even if the party won initiative. If the party rolled 1-3 on the initiative die, the action takes up the whole round, and you cannot attack this round. Note that attacks with two-handed melee weapons always come last in the initiative sequence – you can’t combine these attacks with another action, other than movement. Dropping an item to the ground is free, and retrieving an item from a backpack or other storage takes an entire round.

(This one occasionally gets almost cut – so far I’ve avoided having to refer to the initiative die beyond “you won/lost,” and focusing on the actual numbers rolled starts to bring us into AD&D territory – I can run an AD&D melee round easily enough, but it’s not what I’m going for with B/X. I dunno, it hasn’t been much of a pain in play, so it’ll stay in until it gets to be a pain in the ass.)


Casting MU spells requires at least one free hand and the ability to speak clearly. Swapping equipment to free up a hand for spellcasting is a miscellaneous action as described above; swapping equipment back into the hand would require an additional miscellaneous action.

Casting clerical spells requires that the caster be able to speak clearly, and present a holy symbol. Note that “holy symbol” can simply be a weapon or shield, properly sanctified (in a ritual that takes 1 hour and 50gp worth of material) (and assuming the cleric's order is not ideologically opposed to such a thing).

(Classic doesn’t get into spell components (V/S/M), and I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that merely being loud and demonstrative with your cleric badge out is enough for a clerical spell. MUs are the ones who have to manipulate bizarre pseudo-science and eldritch formulas.)


Attempting to fire a missile while in melee will allow the foe to make a free strike against the character – if the attack is successful, the shot will be ruined.

In addition, when firing a missile weapon while engaged in melee, there is a -4 modifier to the attack roll (stacking with any range modifiers).


MUs can use quarterstaffs. OH, THE POWERGAMING

Ok, enough for now - I'll post more later. Home now, then to Paganfest. (I get to see Moonsorrow, Primordial, AND Korpiklaani in the same night. I'm awesome. LOL)


First level characters are too powerful - did you know?

Nagora posted this insightful little essay on Dragonsfoot:

First level characters are too powerful

That got your attention, didn't it? Well, half seriously, here's what I've been thinking recently:

In AD&D, zero-level characters are pretty weak. Even men-at-arms have only 4-7hp and normal people have somwhere in the region of 1-5 or so. Now, BtB, "normal people" are 99% of the population (I'm only dealing with humans here). So in a town of 3000 adults, 2770 of them will have less than 8hp; probably more than 1500 will have less than 6hp.

It is these people to which weapons are scaled. A dagger stab is not a serious threat to a first level character given how common it is to grant firsties a hp boost (I rountinely give average hp or the hps rolled, whichever is higher, many people simply give max hp at first level) and, of course, PCs get CON bonuses which 0-levels rarely do (BtB their max CON is 15).

A first level magic user fights as well as any normal person and, equipped with a sleep spell can absolutely count on facing down and killing a gang of 4 such people (perhaps more) single-handedly. If s/he has magic missile then s/he can make most normal people drop dead from 210 feet away. With charm person they can make a town's mayor into a puppet from 360 feet away - while the latter makes a speech or some such. The potential for gaining political power is staggering!

A first level fighter is probably a bit less frightening to normal people, but is still generally able to laugh off even a good sword stroke from puny "norms" whilst their potential for great strength, say 18/51, means that even a glancing blow with a broadsword for minimum damage will almost certainly slaughter even the toughest soldier. Normal people never get a STR bonus to-hit or damage. The first level ranger does all this AND gets a double CON bonus and special abilities too!

Clerics, of course, frequently get bonus spells at first level and don't have to hope on random selection for their spells. So, in addtion to being armed and armoured and better than a normal trained soldier at combat, a cleric can command, cause fear, and/or darkness which the normal person has little defense against.

Thieves are "merely" equal to a trained soldier in direct combat, and have poorer armour in all likelihood, but their potential for DEX bonuses will probably take their overall AC to something in the region of chainmail and their ability to backstab gives them horrendous potential when combined with their ability to get into places where they can attack by surprise.

A party of 6 of these guys in a village is very serious trouble for the inhabitants if the party is hostile!


Okay, so it's overstated (and I carefully avoided the monk) but the point is that many experienced players lose sight of how capable first level characters actually are. They are in fact pretty tough compared to normal people, yet players used to higher level play can be very cautious when playing firsties again, to the point where they sometimes play them as more cautious than I think the player would be in real life!

I recently had a situation with a very old-timer player who, when given a first-level ranger to play hardly ventured out of town and explained that he was just playing "the way I think a first level character would be". Yet this first level character was big, strong, in his 20's and far more capable of surviving a one-on-one attack than most real people, even soldiers. The player's pre-concieved notion of first-level characters as little more than helpless babes crippled his ability to play the character.

Back in the days of OD&D this was understandable - there was no such notion as 0-level and when wandering about, for example, the City State of the Invincible Overlord, everyone you met was basically one of the leveled classes and if you were first level then, quite logically, most of these people were better than you.

With AD&D the "background level" was drastically reduced and in the process the heroicness of the player characters massively boosted. Yet it seems to me that most people never noticed. I think mainly because most play is not in towns, cities, and villages. It's in places where the opposition is almost all supernatural in some way or other.

Re-reading Conan I was struck by how much of the time he is facing hordes of normal people in towns with a tougher leader and/or a single supernatural sidekick. I think this is a much better model for low-level adventuring than the normal "dungeon full of kobolds" model. By placing the first-level characters into a setting of normal people, the superiority of the characters is established by simple comparison while the nature of an "urban" setting allows the party to flee, regroup, rest and so forth in a much less artificial way than most low-level dungeon or wilderness scenarios.

There is a learnt helplessness about low-level play that I think is discouraging for players (how many people here have heard the lament "can't we start at 3rd?"?) while simultainiously draining the colour out of the background and the specialness out of being one of the elite 1% that should be fun rather than a chore on the way to higher levels.

And it cuts the other way too. As I mentioned on another thread, a dragon is the nuclear weapon of the AD&D world, from the point of view of normal people. A dragon played BtB will land in a county and OWN it - simply flying overhead will cause all opposition to flee, the breath weapon of an adult green dragon will kill evey living thing in a market square; a red's will do likewise in an even larger area while also setting the town alight. Economic ruin and destruction are the inevitable result of a dragon entering even the most powerful empire's borders. Nothing and no one can stand in the way of these beasts. Except...the heroes!

Yet these monsters are routinely dismissed as "whimpy" or "in need boosting". Because most of the time they are not in any context which shows how fantastic either the dragon or the dragon-slayer are.

So I'd encourage all DMs to take a little more time to ground their games in the reality of the normal people before they start to complain that 11th level characters are "not high level", or that magic items are what separates a character from the mundane, or even take the fighter's multiple attacks against under 1HD creatures away from them. The more you let the players feel that their character's are special then I think the more fun they will have, and the more they enjoy rather than dread playing 1st level characters then the more willing they will be to take risks and act (anti-)heroiclly and everyone will enjoy the results.

Thus endith the sermon.

There's a lot to chew on, here. One thing I've always been struck by is how many folks see that AD&D (for example) has 20 levels built in, and assume that you're therefore actually supposed to get to 20th level in the course of normal gameplay. Where, from a logical standpoint, 9th (i.e., name) level characters are world-changing heroes, superhuman in almost every way. This puts the lower levels in the proper perspective, I think. (There's a reason an 8th-level fighter is a "super hero"!)

Anyway, good stuff.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

This is how you do it: New York Red Box

Just ran across this site. From what I can gather, it's a wiki for not one but two B/X campaigns being run by a group of NYC gamers (as well as other stuff - so far I can see pages for a White Box campaign and a Traveller campaign). There are articles about things like house rules, rules and procedures cribbed from other editions/games, settings, campaign logs, individual PCs, and pretty much everything else. Lots of good stuff on hexmapping. Some of the articles are "bloggish," with sections cut-and-pasted from various rulebooks and musings as to their possible application in the game. Overall, these folks have really taken the B/X toolkit and made it do whatever the hell they wanted it to do, which is awesome. (There's even a "mission statement" to this effect on the homepage, with a link to Matt Finch's "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.") There's a forum, which I haven't reall poked around on yet, but overall I get the impression of a bunch of guys having a blast exploring the old school landscape, and bringing the gospel to the masses. I like.




Part II of this.

The art of Jim “The PCs are SCREWED” Holloway
The art of Frank Frazetta
The works of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
The works of Robert A. Heinlein (not just “Glory Road,” but all of his works – in particular the concept of “pantheistic solipsism” introduced in “The Number of the Beast” – and, yes, all my campaign worlds have an axis on the Burroughs continuum)
Dark Tower (the Milton Bradley game, not the Judges Guild module or the Stephen King book)
Endless Quest books (particularly Circus of Fear and Under Dragon’s Wing)
The 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit (screw you, I like it)



Flower, the trap-springing gnome-on-a-rope, was a PC in the first “real” D&D game I ever played in. (Not 100% on the name, but if it wasn’t “Flower,” it was something like it.) He was played by the 12 year old brother of one of the older players, who was (and remained for years afterwards) completely nutso off-the-wall hyper, and he played his character much the same way. His PC was basically the slave of the party MU, and he was led around on a rope tether (which he was constantly straining against to reach shiny things and levers). When the party would come to a suspicious-looking section of corridor, the party meatshields would heave-ho Flower down the hall, and then proceed to drag him back by his leash, springing any traps he bounced across along the way. At the time this treatment seemed somewhat harsh (albeit hilarious), but looking back now, the trouble his PC would’ve gotten in were he not tethered to the party would probably make a few 10’ pits seem like a walk in the park.

Here’s to innovation in dungeoneering!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Poking through the archive of Amityville Mike's frequently-awesome blog, and I dug up a neat little morsel of FUCKING AWESOME. Check it out.

The Wandering Chamber Table

This is SO going in my DM pack. Hell, after I run out to this interview, I may just sit down at home and whip up some plug-and-play random dungeon nodes.*


EDIT: * I did.


I’ve never been entirely comfortable with mundane weapon immunity in D&D. (Silver to hit, magic to hit, etc.) I appreciate the intent, and there’s definitely something special about the palpable dread an experienced player group experiences when they realize that they can’t even scratch the things they’re fighting. However, it tends to result in cartoonish situations, especially with lycanthropes. Having these creatures be just flat immune to damage seems to conjure images of two-handed sword blows just bouncing off without messing up their fur – even if you accept the abstraction, it tends to nag a bit. For me, at least.

That said, I do want to maintain the nastiness of these creatures, and a certain degree of invulnerability is inherent in their nature. The rationalization I’ve always made for were-creatures’ immunity to mundane weapons is that the wounds simply close as fast as they’re inflicted, rendering the blow moot. This line of thinking has usually led to the conclusion that, if you get one of these creatures pinned and have a big hacking blade handy, you can still remove the head and kill it. Not strictly within the letter of the rule, but it’s always seemed like an appropriate sop to fantasy realism.

I’ve wrestled with these issues somewhat while working on my current campaign, but I didn’t expect anybody to run into a lycanthrope for a good long while, and so had put them on the back burner. Last night, sure enough, the party ran into were-rat territory and I was obliged to think about them pretty damn fast.

What I’ve come up with, as a (tentative) compromise, is this: Non-silvered weapons do only half damage to lycanthropes (well, were-rats, at least – I’ll deal with the other types individually), and the wounds from these weapons heal at 1hp a round (even past the point of “death”). Their skeletal structures are also remarkably resilient, so that a player attempting to decapitate a downed rat-man must bring it down to a full -10hp (while getting past the resistance and still regenerating) before the head can be fully removed. Otherwise, the foul creatures will continue to regain 1hp a round, regaining consciousness (and mobility) at 1hp.

In practice, this worked pretty well. A bit more book-keeping than I usually like to do with a monster, but were-creatures should be pretty rare, so it’s not like it’ll come up all the time. You end up with a 3HD monster that has (effectively) the hp of a 6HD monster, and regeneration on top of that – pretty damn survivable, but possible to overcome with a concerted effort. 3 ratmen ambushed a fighter-heavy 6-man party (all 1st level), and it was a pretty close thing – one ratman permadead, one downed but escaped, and one never below half hp, only breaking off combat once the other had fled. The party had one member incapacitated and lost better than half their total hp – they definitely learned to respect the little grey bastards. This was against only 3 of them – I’m hoping that, after this experience, they’ll know enough to run should they bumble into a full-sized patrol, but if not, their next PCs might. ; )

Speaking of were-creatures (and RE: this post’s title), this morning I found myself sick to death of the Slough Feg CD I’ve been OD’ing on, and all the other metal stuff in my car besides. I randomly dug out the one mellow CD in the car at the moment: Ulver’s “Lyckantropen Themes.” Laughed at the appropriateness considering last night's session, and gave it another spin. Without going too much into Ulver’s career-long musical self-reinvention (check them out on Wikipedophile if you’re curious), this is the original soundtrack to Lyckantropen, a Swedish werewolf movie. It’s 10 tracks of dreary, dreamlike atmosphere based around a single 3-note piano riff, and (since it’s an Ulver release) it’s damn near perfect. In addition to being a good listen on its own merits, this CD makes an amazing dungeon soundtrack – it’s alternately laid-back and tense, with lots of barely-heard background sound. I use it on the regular.

Give it a listen, why don'cha?



It should be no revelation to anyone who’s GM’ed more than a game or two that you can’t predict what players are going to do (or where they’re going to go). The best (and only) way to guide their movements short of laying down the rails is to selectively skimp on prep-work. If you’ve left a corner of your dungeon level bare of detail, they’re going to zoom in on it with player sonar and start digging around in it. They’re like fucking ferrets – they get into EVERYTHING (and tend to smell weird).

Accordingly, when I lovingly re-drew, detailed and re-stocked two sheets’ worth of dungeon levels last night, I practically FORCED my guys to flee the area like so many suspiciously-well-armed refugees. They got through a door I didn’t expect them to get through (and which may be replaced with a stronger version in the near future by a pissed-off landlord), wandered down several hundred yards of unpleasant, single-file (and barely sketched) corridor, whomping vermin and deftly avoiding every potentially gainful distraction I put in their path until they finally wandered into a real fight (and got banged up enough that it was time to make for the surface). No hard feelings, though – I can improv when I need to. It’s like jazz – it’s dungeon scat. (Actually, no, that sounds horrible, it’s nothing like that. Don’t Google that term, either.)

FWIW, I actually like having areas that were developed during play. I do stuff I wouldn’t normally do when I’m pressed for time, and let things get into the game that otherwise (were I sitting at home, unharried by bloodthirsty players), I’d overthink and try to rationalize. Frankly, I tend towards the realistic, the well-reasoned, and the explainable in my designs, and this isn’t always a good thing. The weird, random, unexplainable shit is where a lot of the wonder of the dungeon comes from, and going “off the map” tends to draw some of that into the overall fabric. Can’t be a bad thing.

Next time, though, I’m gonna be ready. My goal, as of late, has been to provide myself with a handy “DM pack” to run Zent-Mer with – something that, along with a red book and the map, will be all the material I need for a long session. Inspired largely by Kellri’s Old School Encounters Reference, I’ve been distilling any number of charts and lists into an information-dense 8.5”x11” booklet. Next addition: A selection of small dungeon “nodes,” straight outta Appendix A (1e DMG), ready to plug in and stock when the ferrets get loose.


PS: Oh, yeah, they got into a fight. More on that in a few – I’m still tossing around an on-the-fly rules hack I stumbled into last night, we’ll see if it sticks.

PPS: Another thing, going back one more link in the inspiration chain from Kellri’s book: No DM running Classic D&D should be without a copy of Monster & Treasure Assortment. Such a simple idea, such pure DM gold when you’re running on the fly (or stocking in a hurry).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Maybe it’s just because I grew up at the right time, or got turned on to both a bit earlier than what might be the norm, but D&D and metal have always gone together for me like peanut butter and Satan. I mean chocolate. But, really, what personifies the heart and soul of E.T./Reagan-era AD&D more than a bunch of denim-girded teenagers listening to Ride the Lightning and slaying their way through the Deities & Demigods? White hi-tops and Chessex golf ball d100s and bong hits in the basement. I can see it now.

And it’s easy to see metal’s influence on D&D’s players (and, arguably, metal’s album covers on D&D’s artists), if not necessarily on its initial creators. (Not sure Gary was much of a Slayer fan.) Fantasy permeated the music of proto-metal bands such as Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and (as perhaps best articulated by superfan Brock Samson) Led Zeppelin.

“Listen to those lyrics, man. That song's about love, and longing... yes, and hobbits. Look, it's a metaphor!” – Brock Samson

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (yes, caps are necessary) brought fantasy- and history-inspired bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Grim Reaper to US orc massacrists. New York power metal pioneers Manowar rocked the full barbarian garb and sang about swords and shit.

Perhaps most telling is that both were at the center of the ‘80s moral panic craze. (Start one today!) Apocryphal stories of devil worship, drug use, human sacrifice, and naked boobs on album covers (or Monster Manuals) were traded over Twinkies and Tab at countless PTA meetings, and the moms and pastors of America got organized (and annoying). Our multifaceted and finely-nuanced culture was undoubtedly enriched by the addition of backwards Ozzy and Priest records and super-well-researched Chick tracts. (Blackleaf – NOOO!) Of course, all of this, in reality, contributed to more cross-pollination between the two camps than before. “If you already think swords and demons and pissing off your folks are pretty cool, then here’s another hobby for you!”

And then at a certain point, the pendulum started to swing the other way, although it’s tough to pinpoint exactly where. Bathory (and sole member/multi-instrumentalist Quorthon) came out of Sweden with a raw, thrash-influenced sound (almost single-handedly creating the genres of black metal and, shortly after, Viking metal). The lyrics were clearly influenced by the folk tales and legends of the Norse people, but I think it’s tough not to see a good bit of Gygax’s touch in songs like A Fine Day to Die and One Rode to Asa Bay. There’s a certain longing for adventure in Bathory’s music that rings damn familiar to me, and I’m pretty sure that’s why.

In Norway, while second-wave black metal pioneers Mayhem were still evolving their signature sound, the members of Old Funeral were running around in the woods ‘til 4 in the morning whacking each other with swords and tackling the Temple of Elemental Evil. Count Grishnack (later Varg Vikernes) would leave Old Funeral to form the vastly influential black metal project Burzum. Vikernes acknowledges the influence T1-4 had on the covers of his early records, and how playing AD&D and MERP would influence the concepts that led to Burzum. ("A Burzum Story, Part I")

Meanwhile the remaining members of Old Funeral would found Immortal, whose lyrics mostly deal with a a frozen, wintry hellworld called Blashyrkh.

Blashyrkh mighty be your name victorious a kingdom we made
with strength and pride all the way you are at the heart of winter
The statue watches the kingdom your giant wings make all beneath
I'm staring forth the raventhrone I know I'm at the heart of winter – Immortal, “At the Heart of Winter”

You do the math.

90s power metal act Blind Guardian would bring a number of innovations to the genre, but they also wore their nerd influences on their sleeves (with songs about wizards and elves and an entire freakin’ Silmarillion concept record) and name-check Dragonlance in their lyrics. Bolt Thrower created a dirge-y, grind-influenced death metal sound, but the band were also gamers in the UK – Warhammer players – and managed to work out a deal with Games Workshop allowing the band to use Warhammer 40K art for the cover and 40K concepts in the lyrics on their debut album. US folk/power metal outfit The Lord Weird Slough Feg (shortened to simply “Slough Feg” as of late) take their name from a character in the very metal 2000AD comic Sláine(featuring the exploits of the Celtic barbarian of the same name), while their lyrics deal with a number of gaming-related topics (with song titles like "Troll Pack") - hell, they actually have a Traveller concept record.

Finally, Richmond, VA’s Battlemaster are purely gaming metal. Their debut record is entitled “Power Word: Kill,” and has a big’ol d20 on the front, song titles from their releases include “Dungeon Crawl” and Undermountain.” Swedish-style melodic death with lyrics about critical hits, mind flayers and liches. No fucking around, here.

I’m skipping a million other bands (look up Battlelore for a laugh sometime), but you get the picture.

Speaking of D&D in metal, I’ll be running tonight for a couple of guys in the band (one of which has played already – once – and has apparently been practicing on Baldur’s Gate II, hahaha) and some other assorted Worcester ruffians. Finishing one-page template version of the main Level 1 hub today, and laying out my DM pack so (in theory) I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me. Should be a blast or several.