The Making of the Ghost Ring Review DCCRPG

May 20, 2015 Leave a comment

GhostRing-600I picked this up at GaryCon, but just gave it a thorough read-thru yesterday. The Making of the Ghost Ring is a 4th level adventure from Michael Curtis. The basic premise is to provide an example for the type of quests GMs can create around the creation of a magic item. While rules and tables for creating magic swords and staves (staffs?) are detailed in the core book, rings are not. Sidenote: The adventure it makes reference to the first DCCRPG Annual (ha!) for more information about creating magical rings. For those of you who have been DCC fans as long as I have, the Annual has become a bit of an in-joke, as the first “Annual” has been talked about since about 2012. Hopefully it will come in the form of something like Unearthed Arcana did for D&D, a bunch of cool, optional additions you can use to spice up your game. And now, back to the review…

The structure of this adventure works as you might expect. In order to complete the ring, certain tasks must be performed before a deadline, but true to Michael Curtis and DCCRPG adventures in general, the tasks you encounter will most definitely be memorable. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers in here for folks who may play the adventure. This one weighs in at 20 pages with maps, and would likely take 2 solid gaming sessions to complete. I would *not* recommend this for a convention, as there is too much to do to fit most con slots.

One minor gripe that stuck out for me is the name of the place you seek out the ghost. She lives deep in a fetid swamp called… the Stink Pools. Really? C’mon Michael Curtis, are you going for laughs with that name? And this from the author of Gnatdamp in Gygax Magazine #1, an entire swampy town filled with great names! The other names in this are outstanding! The Ghost: Lifthrasir, the halfling: Nikademos Phedge, even the town is Oolvanvar. All great names. I know! It’s a little thing, and could be renamed something awesome, but just seems lame on the page.

The art throughout is excellent, and features an all female Band as the back inside cover. The wrap-around outside cover is one of Doug’s best. Mark Allen does the cartography which is good, but would benefit from hand-lettering the way Doug has done on previous adventures. The maps have awesome illustrations outside of the rooms to give you a flavor of the different areas, but the text in a plain font just isn’t as cool.

The overall adventure should provide some great fun, as the encounters are varied, and include a nice mix of strategy, traps and combat. 4th level seems to be a really nice sweet-spot for DCC in which the PCs are powerful, but not yet ridiculous. This adventure could also be a nice side-quest for an existing campaign, and Mr. Curtis leaves us plenty of adventure seeds at the end to continue the story or tie it in to a larger story arc. Overall, I would recommend picking this one up. It has some classic adventure elements with those memorable DCC twists that will keep your players talking about this one for many gaming sessions to come!

Princes of the Apocalypse Review PLUS Converting the Temple of Elemental Evil: T1 – The Village of Hommlet to 5th Edition

May 11, 2015 3 comments

First, let’s talk about Princes of the Apocalypse:

I picked up Princes of the Apocalypse a few weeks ago, after we had completed the Hommlet section of Temple of Elemental Evil.  In case you weren’t aware, Princes of the Apocalypse is 5th Edition’s campaign for this year, and is not a reboot of the classic module, but derives core ideas and starts a series of entirely new adventures.  They’ve done good work in not respawning the old story, but creating a new story with continuity to the old.

The philosophy is that Elemental Evil is something that transcends existence, touching down on various worlds through sheer force of will, infecting different communities with its blight.  Ergo, Greyhawk is one of the first places to suffer its wrath, but this time it has found the Forgotten Realms.   I can buy that, despite my intense love for  Greyhawk .

Fortunately, they have a simple and clever conversion guide showing how to place the new events of the Princes of the Apocalypse in Greyhawk, Eberron, Athas, and other worlds.  They translate factions to local entities, making the Harpers equate to the Circle of Eight, the Zhentarim to the Greyhawk Thieves Guild, and so on.

I love the old Temple of Elemental Evil, but as my group stares down the barrel of its 300 room dungeon, I am reminded now that my love is rooted in nostalgia that newer players will likely not appreciate.  Accordingly, it is perhaps necessary for a more modern take on game design be applied to a new module.  The designers nod to the old module, directing you how to get a copy and advising the ease of conversion (which is somewhat true).  I think they have narrowly avoided angering grognards and new players alike by pumping out a spruced up but changed Hommlet and Temple.  They’re not imitating the past, they’re building on it, depriving us curmudgeons of an opportunity to bitch about how they messed everything up in the reboot. So, well played, sirs.

Princes of the Apocalypse contains several new regional settings, great maps, and a story that crosses boundaries, suggesting a unifying element to Elemental Evil.   The remainder of the book contains items make this a must-have for those converting the old Temple.

First, there are several stat blocks for elemental priests and acolytes.  These are kept in a separate section of the book, and are easy to reference.  This is going to save you a fair bit of time when going through the various sects, with stats for elemental creatures as well that are completely new, but add nicely to the campaign world.  Temple of Elemental Evil suffered from a problem of having somewhat limited options (Monster Manual I) for filling the monster hotel.  Choice replacement may spice things up a bit in making your conversion, so I recommend you look at what’s here.

Secondly, Spells, many of which are fairly classic, are found in this book.  I did not pick up the Tyranny of the Dragon Queen, and I’m starting to worry that key and classic spells are going to start to appear in the back of numerous $50+ books, pushing players to collect them for  just a section of the book.  That may be the new way, unless they can be found elsewhere on a legitimate basis.  It’s not a good way to collect information, but I anticipate increasing web resources to fill that gap.

Third, Magic items are found in the book with details on several weapons of great power (artifacts) which I am going to place into my game in key places. Other more miscellaneous magic items also exist, fleshing out the DMG’s selection and providing thematically entertaining tools that keep the mystery of magic items alive.

For those reasons, I would recommend checking it out.  It’s good in it’s own right, and is  a truly epic campaign (taking the players up to 15th level).  I think that you’ll want to have it if you’re doing the old Temple, and see what you want to bring to it or change.

CONVERTING T1- THE VILLAGE OF HOMMLET

We’ve just finished this part of the module, so I can place the conversion material here now.  NOTE THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD so anyone getting ready to play the old T1: Village of Hommlet should stop reading now.  Below are a complete list of monsters found in the Moathouse and their page number in the Monster Manual. Some are quite obvious, but others not so much. I found these to most closely match the original intention and play of the first mod, and the challenge seemed spot-on.

  • Brigands p. 343
  • Bugbear p. 33
  • Crayfish, Giant  = (as Giant Scorpion p. 327 but no sting attack)
  • Frogs, Giant (Large) = Giant Toad p.329
  • Frogs, Giant (Small) = Giant Frogs 325
  • Ghouls p.148
  • Gnoll p.163
  • Green Slime DMG p.105 (it’s a hazard now)
  • Guardsman = Guard p.347
  • Lareth the Beautiful = See below
  • Leader = Berserker p.344
  • Lieutenant = Bandit Captain p. 344
  • Lizard, Giant = p.326 but add 2 to AC because of magic shield in its belly. Stupid, but true to form.
  • Ogre p.237
  • Rats, Giant p. 327
  • Sergeant = Thug p.350
  • Snake, Giant p327
  • Spider, Huge p.328
  • Tick, Giant = See below
  • Zombie p 316


Giant Tick

Reaper’s Giant Tick

Medium Beast, unaligned

AC 16, HP 22, Speed: 20′ Climb 20′

Str 14 Dex 8 Con 16 Int 2 Wis  8 Cha 6

Senses: Darkvision 60ft , Passive Perception 9

Languages — None

Challenge 1/4 (50XP)

SA: Blood Drain Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one reature. Hit: 1d6+2 piercing damage, and attaches to target.  While attached, Giant Tick doesn’t attack, each round target loses 1d6+2 for bloodloss.

Giant Tick can detach itself by spending 5 feet of its movement.  Drops off after draining 15 hp.  DC 14 Str check to remove)


Lareth the Beautiful

Medium Humanoid (Drow Elf)

Lareth the Beautiful

Level 5 ClericProficiency bonus +3

AC 21 HP 55 Speed: 25′

Senses: Darkvision 120′

Special Abilities – Sunlight Sensitivity, Channel Divinity (Trickery), Divine Spellcasting, Blessing of the Trickster, Invoke Duplicity

Str 18 (Save +4)

Dex 17 (Save +3)

Con 16 (Save +3)

Int 14 (Save +2)

Wis 18 (Save +7)

Chr 18 (Save +7)

Skills: Deception +7, Insight +7, Persuasion +7, Sleight of Hand +6

Abilities: Dancing Lights 1/day; Darkness 1/day

Attacks:

Staff of Striking [DMG p. 203] (+10 to hit, 1d6+7 plus 1d6 per charge expended)

Inventory – Plate Mail +1, Shield, Staff of Striking, Silver Holy Symbol, etc

Spells (DC 15)

Cantrips –  Guidance, Resistance, Sacred Flame, Thaumaturgy,

Level 1 –Bane, Charm person, Disguise Self, Healing Word, Inflict Wounds

Level 2 – Blindness, Hold Person, Silence

Level 3 –Animate Dead, Bestow Curse, Mirror Image, Pass without trace

Edge Bounty Hunters Guild – Careers

May 4, 2015 Comments off

Mandalorian_logoI’ve been kicking around this idea since picking up the Bounty Hunter’s Code 6 months ago, and I’ve decided to start a series of articles about setting up a pick-up game of Edge of the Empire, based on being Guild Bounty Hunters. What day better than May the 4th (be with you) to kick it off! Ideally the GM would have 2-3 scenarios prepped, each focusing on different sets of skills. The higher the bounty, the more difficult the baddies.

The players would bring 2-3 Guild bounty hunter PCs to the table, and choose from their stable the best team of hunters based on who shows up for game day. This would get boring quickly if we restricted the career and specialization to just that of Bounty Hunter (Gadgeteer) Bounty Hunter (Assassin) and Bounty Hunter (Survivalist). All three of course would be welcome on just about any hunt, but there are plenty of careers and specializations outside of the namesake that would make excellent hunters.

BHCAs I was re-reading the Bounty Hunter’s Code, the one that immediately jumped to mind is the Marshall, from the Colonist sourcebook. The Guild treats hunting like a very specialized version of law enforcement, and a Marshall (or narratively, ex-Marshall) with a past could make a really awesome vigilante-like hunter. Not only are you great in a fight, the Marshall has some social talents in Good Cop and Bad Cop that could be useful in tracking down leads; one way or the other.

Another fun option from the soucebooks would be Enforcer from the book on Hired Guns. Enforcer would be ideal for a player’s stable of hunters when the party needs to get up close and personal. This specialization blends melee and brawl skills with some talents that combine street smarts and an intimidating presence for those dens of inequity that require a bit of swagger. This blend of skills and talents would make for a strong addition to the party on an urban hunt.

SWE10-Book-leftIf you don’t have all the awesome sourcebooks out there (which I can understand, but they are SO good), there are plenty of specializations in the core book that could make fine additions to a Guild hunt. An Explorer (Scout) would make a great versatile edition to a team, especially for hunts that require travel to a remote destination or sparsely inhabited world. Survival can be a rare skill, but medicine is the big advantage, as few hunters would have training in that. I would also submit Technician (Slicer), as it never hurts to have a computer expert that can also train in mechanics and stealth.

This is just the beginning. One could make a case for several other “outside-of-the-box” hunter careers and specializations. Who will be available for the next job? What skills will they bring to the hunt to insure success? Next installment (which will likely be in several weeks), sample bounties!

Zine Scene: Black Powder, Black Magic

April 27, 2015 Comments off

One of the amazing things about Goodman Games and Dungeon Crawl Classics (and there’s quite a few amazing things) is the way they embrace third-party publishers. As Kevin said in his review of the newest DCC module ‘Hole In The Sky’ when he and I went to GaryCon I bought some zines while there. Okay. Some. ALL. All. The. Zines!

All 10 issues of Crawl! …

All 6 issues of Crawling Under A Broken Moon …

All 3 of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad… and #3 was, I believe LITERALLY fresh off the press …

Jobe Bittman’s Into the Demon Idol module …

Hack! by the Reverend Dak Ultimak (with a great way of using Firearms in DCC) …

And one lonely little module called “The Well of Souls” by Stormlord Publishing.

We returned from GaryCon and a few weeks later our group decided to give Deadlands a play. It’s our “off” week and when we’re not ankle-deep in the moathouse of the Temple of Elemental Evil we switch it up. I always vote for DCC, but was outvoted and figured that Deadlands would be a good break and it’s always fun to try something new.

Little did I know that I could have had both.

When I got back from GaryCon I noticed that Stormlord Publishing was pitching a new product: Black Powder, Black Magic: A Zine of Six-Guns and Sorcery. Having read through and been thoroughly impressed by “Well of Souls”, I quickly sent away for my copy and coincidentally got it back the same day we were to begin playing Deadlands.

 

BPBMFeatured

It’s fantastic. The end. That’s all you really need to know. If you like DCC. If you like Deadlands. If you like the “Weird West” anything… you need this product. The fact that it is “Volume 1″ and they plan on doing more fills me with glee.

BPBM contains pretty much everything you need to begin a 0-level funnel set in an Old West where magic, demon ore, firearms and cowboys all meet in a town called Brimstone. There’s some great choices available on the new profession tables – who doesn’t want to play a druggist with a big needle and vial of morphine or a housekeeper with some Sundy linens? I can also see an Infantryman with a civilian rifle (which does d12) as the new “farmer with a pitchfork” – and cheers for a good roll. There’s great choices on the new name tables for both men and women – everything from European-sounding names, American Indian names, something for everyone and a great way to instantly add some dimension to your character beyond being a random farmer. As well as a new Mighty Deed for firearms, hints of a patron… this zine has it all. A great addition is the Tokens of the Past table (ticket to the Ford Theater!?) and the Motivations for Heading West table “You are wanted for train robbery.”

Sample character: Benjamin, a paper-hanger with a paper-hanging stick (1d4) and a pot of glue, carrying an ace of spades with a name written on it who has come to Brimstone seeking to unravel the mysteries of the universe. All kinds of great roleplaying opportunities with just a few rolls of some dice!

You could definitely run the funnel as it is presented, and scattered throughout are numerous ‘hooks’ for increasing the world. More patrons, secret organizations, a cursed book, an old miner with strange powers… and more. The writing by Carl Bussler and Eric Hoffman really shines… there’s a four-page story at the end which I hope is setting the tone for Volume 2. The illustrations by Todd McGowan are all spot-on.

I really cannot wait to start exploring Brimstone.

Categories: Adventure, Books, DCCRPG, RPGs, Zines

Review: Inside the Demon Idol

April 20, 2015 1 comment

into-the-demon-idolI made a number of purchases at GaryCon. I am still reading and sorting through some of the adventures I picked up. My con-buddy and fellow Skyland Games guy Mike bought EVERY zine at the DCC booth. Needless to say he has got some reading ahead of him. Watch this space for reviews of those in subsequent weeks. In the meantime, I finally read through Into the Demon Idol by Jobe Bittman of Bloody Hammer Games and Spellburn fame.

This is the expanded edition of what was a very memorable 2013 submission to the one page dungeon contest. The premise is an adventure based around the iconic art from the cover of the 1e AD&D players handbook.The expanded print version provides some details about areas surrounding the temple, including a hex map with friendly towns, a fort, and a conclave of lizardman tribes that are the big threat to the region.

I honestly don’t remember what I paid for it, as the purchase was made amidst a pile of others in the dealer room, and I haven’t been able to find an online price or source for a print or PDF version. It is 18 pages long in digest/zine format. Interestingly, while creatures are mentioned throughout the adventure, the stat blocks for them are printed on a separate insert for 3 systems: Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords and Wizardry. Fellow spellburner Jeffrey Tadlock provided the stats for LL and SW. I like how skill checks are handled. Since this could be played in several systems, skill challenges are just assigned as Easy, Average, Hard, or Very Hard, roughly corresponding with DC 5, 10, 15, and 20 respectively. Despite referencing the typical AD&D stats in the skills section, throughout the text what would be DEX checks are instead referred to as Agility, revealing a DCC bias. Not that it’s difficult to figure out and adapt to whatever system you would like.

1st-Edition-Players-HandbookMost of the creatures on the statblocks card have a variety section. Much like beastmen in the iconic Sailors on the Starless Sea or undead from the DCC rule book, there are variations on the creatures you encounter. Some lack much detail as to their effect. For instance, one type of lizardman can transmit lycanthropy with a bite (awesome!), but is there a save? Do they turn into a werewolf or werelizard? Be prepared to roll with the punches and make some rulings on the fly.

There is a lot of great stuff in this adventure, and the expansion on the one page dungeon would allow you to really take your time as you travel to the different points of interest on the map, and play out the final scene. I don’t want to mention what that is (because spoilers), but the cover of the adventure is a big clue. You could also feasibly run it at a con if you skipped the hex-crawl bit, and focused on the Idol itself.

Overall, it will definitely provide a memorable game night or two, and makes me want to scan other iconic artwork for adventure ideas! If you are lucky enough to spot this in a dealer booth at a con, scoop it up!

DCCRPG Hole in the Sky review

April 13, 2015 Comments off

GMG5087CoverLargeIt has been a long wait for another official funnel after the now classic Sailors on the Starless Sea, but I’m here to tell you, Hole in the Sky does not disappoint. I had the fantastic fortune to land a spot in the author’s game of this during GaryCon, which was an awesome and unique experience. He had been running it off of notes in a notebook and illustrations off of his phone for several sessions, and our game ended up being the first time he had seen it in print. If you ever see Brendan LaSalle running games at a con near you, fight tooth and nail to get in to at least one.

Nothing beats having the author of the adventure run it for you, but this adventure stands on its own. I’ll try not to get too crazy with the spoilers as I’ll likely run this for some locals who may be reading this, but the adventure summary hints at the very coolest feature of this 0-level adventure:

“…the Lady offers a reward beyond all the riches of the world: the chance to change the very stars these peasants were born under, and thus change their destiny.”

What this ends up meaning is that the survivors get a chance to spin the “wheel of destiny,” which ends up mechanically being a table that has modifiers applied to it based on the actions of the individual PCs during the adventure. Depending on the result, they may get the chance to re-roll their birth augur, re-roll an ability score, chose a new starting occupation, or be completely written out of history. This feature came out of discussions with players going thru the DCC funnel that got a birth augur that does nothing for their character, and the disappointment that comes along with that. I know I’ve had that discussion with many new DCC players, and Brendan decided to do something about it. It makes for a really cool and dramatic ending to the funnel experience, but what about the beginning and middle?

Each scene in this adventure is both fantastically memorable and original, and somehow just what you would expect from the DCC line of adventures: outlandish, deadly, and something you won’t soon forget. The design principles of DCC have matured and evolved in a way that steps out of the shadow of Tolkien-rooted fantasy rather quickly and creates unique encounters that keep characters guessing. Hole in the Sky is an excellent example of this.

carlosOne of my favorite parts of this adventure is when the party meets up with another group of survivors being led by a dwarf named Karlos. I gained a point of luck for recognizing the Freaks and Geeks reference at the table. If you guys don’t get it, I would highly encourage you to check out the show that first brought James Franco together with Seth Rogen. It has a great cast, and a lot of fantastic moments, not the least of which is Franco’s character getting introduced to D&D.

The only slight disappointment was that the cartography is not done by Doug Kovacs. I really got in to buying DCC adventures from the cartography. It’s not that Mark Allen didn’t do a fine job, but he has some huge shoes to fill. The picture of the titan in the map is really cool, as is the illustration in the back to the titular Hole in the Sky. Thankfully, as usual, we get to see Kovacs illustrate a member of the band meet their grisly end. The art throughout is excellent and features a lot of DCC regulars like Brad McDevitt, Steven Poag, William McAusland and Michael Wilson.

This 0-level adventure would make for a memorable introduction to DCC for new players, as well as a fresh take on the funnel process with a nice twist at the end for DCC veterans. This one should be in your collection.

Resurrection Revisited

April 6, 2015 Comments off

Avalynethelifegiver1988The Easter season is a time that rebirth is on our minds, with the backdrop of the story of the Resurrection prominent for many, and the revitalization Spring brings.

It made me think about the role of resurrection and ‘raise dead‘ in fantasy role playing. Most systems have something of this sort at some level of play, and conquering death is one of the big fantasies we have in reality and fiction. That said, as an element of a gaming setting, it’s a complete game changer.  And here’s the thing: It is horrible.

Resurrection ruins games.  It ruins good story-telling. It cheapens heroism, belittles triumphs, and obliterates drama. It destroys the impact and gravity of the greatest story telling device there is: Death.  Without death, there is no finality, no consequences to any event that can’t be unmade or recycled.  Heroes need not live up to a higher standard where they might just prevail by way of a Holy Mulligan. It’s a softening of the game world that detracts from the story, and thereby detracts from the game itself.

We finished up Paizo’s Reign of Winter adventure path this past year. After we hit the midway point of the series,  it became apparent that the presence of raise dead and resurrection was quickly arrived at as the easy remedy for character death. A shoulder shrug followed by a quick calculation of how many diamonds it would deplete from the party stores was all the drama that such an event as character death added.  It was a failure of the system if not myself, the storyteller.  Death had lost its finality, and the threat of death was greatly offset by the players calling my bluff of a TPK, which I theoretically wouldn’t let happen (though I would, with some caveats that I went into last year in my article “The Art of Fail“) . That is a problem.

Outside of a softening of the consequences, it is problematic from a general story telling perspective.  How can the loss of life of villagers in a goblin raid remain poignant when someone can walk up and raise the victims?  Why stop there?  Why not raise random people of historical note?  The King murdered?  Bring ’em back?  It only takes 10 minutes in some of these systems, so he might not even be missed!   It cheapens the value of life and the story telling dynamic, and creates numerous plot holes that are hard to work around without clumsy artifice on the part of the GM.

And you shouldn’t do that!  Resurrection and Raise Dead should be rare, almost wish-like events that are costly.  Costly, painful rituals for a loved friend and companion, like we see in Conan the Barbarian.  Some of these costs are built in, but if it’s just money, it’s a pittance (get a character to sacrifice their most powerful magic item and you’ll see them weep openly).  Promises should be required to raise the dead.  Oaths. Blood sacrifice.

Some of you might have played under old rules in OD&D that indicated that an elf could not be resurrected.  We did, back in 1997, and when a elven ranger died at the hands of a certain Troll  in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we all realized that he was DEAD DEAD, and it sobered the players that evening.  When not long after, a paladin of St. Cuthbert was mostly devoured by rats, the drama of her resurrection was a story in itself; an epic race to the nearest city that had a priest of sufficient level to raise her, a debt undertaken, oaths sworn, and a battle with a cult of Iuzian priests fighting to interrupt the ritual.  The resurrection became a story in itself, and carried weight.

It’s a hard choice to ditch resurrection or deny its availability to players.  They will hate you for it, so you had better telegraph those decisions early on before it becomes a resource they anticipate. When the playing field is clear before hand, few have reason to complain (especially where the challenges are freely taken and understood).  Games that let you know that they plan on killing you can be strangely refreshing, like Paranoia (giving you six clones is a good indicator of the cheapness of human life) or Dungeon Crawl Classics, where the 0-level funnel has you generate 3 to 4 peasants who try to try to survive a normal first level adventure (protip: your most unworthy character will always be the sole survivor).  While seemingly depressing, the result is a certain lack of attachment for more lighthearted games, which is surprisingly welcome.  Alternately, for more serious games, a grim determination and earnest concern for other characters becomes more pressing.

Perhaps the biggest downside to this approach is when it takes effect, and a favorite character is gone without the realistic possibility of a remedy.  Sometimes, this can be a game-ending or campaign-ending event, especially if more than one character bites the bullet.  My advice is to play through it and see if you can’t come out on the other side.  That said, you know your players.  The point, is to have fun (Commandment #10) so as long as folks are having a good time, it’s worth it, but remember you may have missed an opportunity for players and characters to grow a little, which could lead to even better results.

Try it on, or say you’re going to, and see how it changes your player’s play-style.  You might just be surprised what the fear of death will do for your next game.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers