One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Friday, April 29, 2011

Zothique, Ghouls, And Other Daemonic Strangeness

Finishing out this weeks theme of Call of Cthulhu I discuss My introduction to Clark Ashton Smith, and another kick ass campaign from Pagan Publishing.

A long while back I was kicking it in the store that I used to buy all my gaming stuff. I noticed this new book on the shelf that while looked interesting probably wouldn’t have moved me to pick it up if I hadn’t noticed the Call of Cthulhu logo on the botom of it. This was The Realm of Shadows campaign book, published by Pagan Publishing in 1997, and written by John H. Crowe III, and beautifully illustrated by Blair Reynolds. This book weighs in at a 204 pages and kicks ass and takes names. Heres the blurb from the back:

1940. Europe is burning…But a greater threat dwells in the shadows.

Dr. Franklin Quigley has a delicate problem: his wife has lost her mind and fled with their strangely deformed young daughter.

His innocent request: find them and bring them back.

But when the cemetery earth churns with the blood of the dead and the ground reverberates with the cries of feasting, innocence begets only corruption.
The Realm of Shadows is a major new Call of Cthulhu campaign from the author of Walker in the Wastes and Coming Full Circle. Inside you’ll find source material on ghouls, the cult of the Charnel God, and the notorious Cultes des Goules, as well as four adventures that take the investigators through Massachusetts, the Dreamlands, and the rain forests of French Guiana. Featuring extensive investigations, numerous player aids, and terrifying opponents, The Realm of Shadows is a feast of horror.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, so what’s so great about his book Zombiecowboy? Well I’m glad you asked. No really, I am! The first thing you need to understand is that the author does his freaking research. Not just a little bit, but a lot. And it really shows in this book. Not only that but he does it consistently. Unfortunately Crowe doesn’t write very much Cthulhu material and from what I understand his last output in the field was a part of the writing in Pagan’s Mysteries of Mesoamerica.

One of the sources that Crowe used and highly recommends that the Keeper get his tentacles on is Clark Ashton Smith’s venerable Tales of Zothique. At the time Tales of Zothique was being published by the small Necronomicon Press, but I’m pretty sure that the stories have been collected into a newer hardcover edition by Night Shade Books, of which I have the first four volumes. More on this in a bit.

In addition to just being a well written and researched book, it’s also a beautiful looking inside and out. The art is amazing. The layout is wonderful, and extremely well indexed with multiple table of contents and bibliography. The four adventures are fun and exciting, and interestingly, take place in the 1940s. This is that sort of no mans land of a time period that strays from the classical roaring twenties and dirty thirties period that most CoC adventures fall into. But I honestly feel that it’s a time period that has a lot to offer Keepers, as this book just goes to show. With World War II raging, and the steady rise of the United States as a super power, it’s an exciting time to face off against the lurking Mythos threat. In fact it would be fun to run a Delta Green campaign while the organization itself was just coming into it’s own and still sanctioned by the government. And of course wasting Nazi’s is always good fun right?

Another unique feature of this campaign is that part of it takes place in the Dreamlands. Unfortunately, Crowe took some liberties here, and even admits to as much in the book. He felt that Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique fit nicely in the alien fantasy world that is Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. And really it's hard to argue with that kind of logic. In fact I feel that Zothique is in many ways just a lot more interesting the Lovecraft's Dreamlands. During the last adventure in the campaign the Investigator’s have a chance to visit the grim city of Zul-Bha-Sair, home to the great ghoul-god Mordiggian. It’s at this point that things can quickly turn into something more akin to a fantasy romp al-la D&D style, as the Investigators explore the city and perhaps even invade the Temple of Mordiggian itself.

As I said earlier this was my first real introduction to the writing of Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve read very little of his non-Zothique stories, which is strange since I really enjoyed the little that I hvae read. It’s doubley weird since as I said before, I do own what I would consider to be a rather complete collection of his work. Even though I had heard of CAS before this point, and I knew that he had been a part of the Lovecraft Circle, somehow I just was never able to really find any of his writing to pick up and read.

Perhaps what I really dig about CoC in general is that interconnection between the fiction and the RPG. It’s the way both elements are able to weave into one another, and create a richer tapestry greater than the sum of it's indivuvial parts. That, and I really love how CoC warps history in a way that says this may be what people believed happened, but here’s the horrific truth. It’s the way that the fantasy, science, and the weird elements all combined to create something so much better than a Reese’s peanut butter cup….Mmmm peanut butter cup….

Anyway, you get my point. The bottom line is this: Not only was this a great book and campaign, but it also opened up a lot of other doors for me that, had I passed it by, might not have ever opened for me. So if you ever get the chance to pick this sucker up, or be a player in it, do it! It would be well worth your time and money.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How I Survived A Mi-Go Anal Probe Part 2

The Mi-Go with the rubber glove was surprisingly gentle…I wonder what the sexual term is for someone who enjoys having sex with extra-terrestrials is? In this day and age I would think this rather odd. I mean Captain Kirk fucked a whole bunch of aliens…Anyway, that’s not the topic of todays post. No dear and gentle readers, today I’m going to rave about the second best Delta Green book that should be on your shelf. If you haven’t already you might want to read Part 1 here first.

So what is this the title of this book, and why is it so flipping great?

The book is called Delta Green: Alien Intelligence, and it’s a collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories of modern horror and conspiracy. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

You are not cleared for this book. These eight tales of cosmic horror and personal apocalypse were not written to make you feel secure about your place in the universe. They are here to unsettle you, to horrify you, and to challenge your misguided notions of history, humanity, and morality. Enjoy.

Born of the federal government’s 1928 raid on the degenerate coastal town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, the covert agency known as Delta Green spent four decades opposing the forces of darkness with honor, but without glory. Stripped of sanction after a disastrous 1969 operation in Cambodia, Delta Green’s leaders made a secret pact: to continue their work without authority, without support, and without fear. Delta Green agents slip through the system, manipulating the federal bureaucracy while pushing the darkness back for another day-but often at a shattering personal cost.
Oh yeah that felt good didn’t it. Breath that shit in. Go on just sit back, close your eyes, and open your mind to the possibilities. Damn, just reading that gets me pumped to run a DG centered campaign. But I digress ( don't I always?). Weighing in at a nice and easy 189 pages this book has got to be by far the best collection of Mythos stories ever written. Of course not counting the Old Gent himself, I mean we wouldn’t even have a Cthulhu Mythos if it wasn’t for Lovecraft.

On the front cover there’s a quote attributed to Lucius Shepard. I have no idea who this guy is but what he says is this:

“As a training text for young mutants, I cannot endorse it too highly”
Then if you look on the front inside cover there’s another blurb attributed to him again:

“I unearthed a dog-eared copy of Alien Intelligence from beneath the stained pillow of a hooker in Huehuetenango.

Something pulled me into the pages, and after a long night of ignoring the woman, reading feverishly, I emerged with my mind on fire, filled with the irresistible impulse to shoot anything that looked the least suspicious.

As a training text for young mutants, I cannot endorse it too highly.”
I’ve often wondered if this Shepard dude is a real person, or if he was just some guy they made up in order to have a name to give the quote. If he is a real figure from myth, fiction, or reality, I’d love to know. Perhaps it’s an inside joke that I have failed to get. Regardless, I find something haunting about that statement. It gives me the creeps. I get this weird feeling in my gut, and my balls unwillingly retract inside me. I just know that that hooker wasn’t a real woman at all, but some weird Mythos warped succubus with row on row of razor sharp, shark like teeth inside her vagina just waiting to emasculate any man dumb enough to stick his junk inside there.

Weird, I know. But hey, tell me the same sick thought didn’t cross your mind either, OK? I mean if that kind of thing disturbs you then you probably shouldn’t read this collection of stories. Not because it has a woman with shark teeth in her baby maker, ( I just made that up) but because these stories are truly horrific. They hit home and make you squirm the way a good piece of horror writing should. They give a great modern take on how the Mythos really fucks you up. These stories are a great template for both running a Call of Cthulhu game, but in particular how to to run a Delta Green game. It highlights a number of the movers and shakers, as well as the important organizations from the main source book.

I’ll leave you with one last quote taken from the book:

“This is like nothing anyone has ever understood. This is pure evil, pure destruction. This is t he apocalypse.”

-Major General Reginald Fairfield, U.S. Army (Ret.), On the day of his assassination by members of Majestic-12

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How I Survived A Mi-Go Anal Probe Part 1

The Call of Cthulhu theme continues. Today I explain how Innsmouth has left it’s scars, yet prepared me for the future, when I would be kidnapped and relentlessly anal probed by the Fungi from Yuggoth.

After the sanity blasting experience of playing in the Escape From Innsmouth campaign, there was a lull in Call of Cthulhu and we moved on to explore other RPGs and games. Yet I had become a hopeless Lovecraft addict. Much like one of the ill fated protagonists of his stories I couldn’t stop and leave well enough alone. For better or worse I hunted down more collections of Lovecraft’s writing. Some were gems, and some were indescribable piles of shoggoth shit. At the Mountains of Madness, The Whisperer in the Darkness, and a slew of the Dreamlands tales culminating in the epic The Dream Quest For Unknown Kadath, being some of my favourites. They along with many others will always all hold a special place in my heart.

Then came the day that I discovered something that would get me more excited than the first time I cracked a dirty nudie magazine. Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green. Things were never the same for me there after. While there are a lot of awesome products from Pagan Publishing there are two that I think should have a special place on your gaming bookshelf.

The first book of course is the core Delta Green Campaign setting. This is the definitive modern Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, first published in 1996. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Welcome to America at the dawn of the millennium. Do you know who is pulling the strings? Delta Green knows. Things from beyond space and time that lurk and titter in the shadows, the slow rot at the core of humanity, the dark stars that whirl madly above-these are the true masters of the world. Delta Green has been fighting them since the 1928 Raid on Innsmouth, and the fight still rages on.

This book is your weapon and your guide. The largest Call of Cthulhu sourcebook ever.

Inside you’ll find a secret history of the 20th century, and the movers and shakers who are players in the game: Delta Green, the outlaw conspiracy working inside the U.S. government to fight the darkness; Majestic-12, the clandestine agency that cuts deals with aliens and reports to no one; Saucer Watch, a UFO study group closer to the truth than they know; The Karotechia, immortal Nazis who serve a risen Hitler; and the Fate, an occult criminal syndicate that knows where the bodies are buried. Plus: new skills, spells, weapons, mythos tomes, profiles of 36 real-world intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, with character templates for each, a look at Mi-Go biology, philosophy, and operations, analysis of the Cthulhu mythos in the modern day, a factual history of the U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement community, dozens of useful NPCs, campaign construction guidelines, 2 scenarios, a short campaign, and more.
Yeah…take a second to clean the shit out of your pants. I’ll wait, because like you I was there once. I get it. This is one of those rare RPG books that can do that kinda thing to you. Gross yes. But so worth it. 

As you can see Delta Green has it’s origins in the 1928 Raid on Innsmouth. I immediately felt a kinship. This book brought up feelings in me that I can imagine are only shared between soliders that have shared a trench while bullets and bombshells explode way too close for comfort. That feeling are we going to make it out of this bullshit? Because I had been in those metaphorical trenches. I fought the Deep Ones, and the Deep Ones lost…Or did they? I really feel like you need to experience the Raid on Innsmouth to get the full appreciation for this book.

Regardless this book haunted me with it’s great writing and imagery. Its tight and polished, a true labour of love. You just know that the whole crew at Pagan sacrificed a part of their souls when they published this thing. Reading this book really shows you how to properly bring the mythos into the 90s. It makes you look at things differently, and soon the headlines in the news papers seem to have another meaning hidden in between the lines, mysteries and questions start to form. Before you know it you have yourself a whole campaign based on what’s going on in your own backyard and the world around you.

Tomorrow I’ll continue on in part 2 with what I consider another gem of the Delta Green era. That is unless the Mi-Go decided that their not down with the anal probing…

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Innsmouth Look

Yesterday I wrote about how I first came to learn about Lovecraft and the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Today I wanted to write about one of my favourite Lovecraft stories of all time, as well as the first CoC camapign I ever played in. That being the Shadow Over Innsmouth, and Escape From Innsmouth respectively.

During the winter of 1927-28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting - under suitable precautions - of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the abandoned waterfront. Uninquiring souls let this occurrence pass as one of the major clashes in a spasmodic war on liquor.

And so begins the fateful tale of one Robert Olmstead the narrator of this yarn first published in April of 1936. I’m not sure what it is exactly that endears this story so close to my heart. Perhaps it’s that of all of Lovecraft’s stories the main character is one that I can really identify with. There’s something about staying in a creepy backwater little town and then having to flee in the middle of the night that just captures my imagination. The entire tale is just so well written that it makes you actually believe that this mysterious and horrific place really does exist on the coast of Massachusetts.

The first time I read this story it was because my friend had invited me to play the Call of Cthulhu RPG for the first time. I was super excited and he handed me his beat up well read copy of The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. I remember eating that book up, and hungering for more. Today it’s still one of my most cherished collections of Lovecraft’s stories.

The campaign that we were playing was of course Escape From Innsmouth. My friends excitement at running this thing was super high, and soon we had all created a team of investigators. My character if I remember right was Jim Dickson, a photo journalist that lived in a boarding house in the city Arkham.
One of the things that I’ll always remember about this campaign was all the stupid little things that came out of it. Little sayings and one liners that are only funny only to the small circle of us who had been there at the time. There was almost a palpable mystery and tension in the air during those game sessions. Part of that I chalk up to the newness of everything for me.

Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the campaign was when my girlfriend (who I would later marry) decided after a long run of me pestering her finally caved in and created a character. She was the daughter of an Irish mobster, and carried two violin cases with Tommy guns inside them. A couple of the group had broken into the local grocery store to gather some clues. While the rest of us kept watch the local (and corrupt) law enforcement showed up to investigate why a bunch of nosey outsiders were lurking around the closed grocery store. Hoping to buy our buddies on the inside some time in the store poor old Jim decided to cause a scene. He started spouting off about his civil rights, and how it was his God given right as an American citizen to go about were ever he damn well pleased. I knew Jim had it coming to him. The Sherriff started to beat the shit out of him, and that was when my wife decided it was a good time to bust out the Tommy guns. Well things escalated pretty fast from there. Pretty soon the whole town was coming down on our asses. That was more or less when we put the “Escape” in the Escape from Innsmouth campaign. Poor Jim didn’t make it unfortunately. As he hid in an ally he was wasted by a local with a well aimed spray of buck shot. Good times. Oh did I mention that Jim never took any pictures. He wasn’t a very good photo journalist either.

The coolest thing about Escape From Innsmouth in my opinion was how it doubled as both a collection of adventures as well as a sourcebook on the town of Innsmouth in Lovecraft country. In addition the actual raid on Innsmouth is divided into several scenarios (six of believe). Each scenario was one objective of the Federal Governments plan to secure the town. What was neat about this was that each of our main characters became leaders or advisors for the mission. Then everyone else got to play the soldiers and federal agents that were apart of that group, so you didn’t feel bad when the body count started to rack up. Let me tell you, the sanity checks and body count were huge.

Yet despite how cool this campaign was, for some reason it seems to get short shrift when compared to some of Chaosiums other campaigns.
Masks of Nyarlathotep and Beyound the Mountains of Madness seem to be talked about a lot more. I’m not really sure why that is. Regardless, this would be an important next step in my Call of Cthulhu career. Tomorrow I’ll explain why.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Introduction To Call of Cthulhu

I’ve written a few post’s now that reference the Call of Cthulhu RPG. This week I felt like writing a little bit on Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu as the theme for my posts. Today I’m going to start things off by writing a little about how I first came to discover Lovecraft, and as the week progresses I’ll talk about a little about some of my favorite stories and moments that I’ve had over the years.

I didn’t come to discover the Call of Cthulhu RPG through what I would consider normal channels. In fact it was the movie Army of Darkness that first piqued my interest in the works of Lovecraft’s fiction, never mind the fact than an RPG existed to support it. Yeah, Bruce Campbell, and the Army of Darkness lead me to discover Lovecraft. Weird huh? It was this opening dialog in the movie that moved me in a way that was neither healthy nor right for any young person to be moved at such a tender and impressionable age.
My name is Ash and I am a slave. As far as I can figure, the year is thirteen hundred A.D and I'm being dragged to my death. It wasn't always like this, I had a real life, once. A job. I had a wonderful girlfriend Linda. Together we drove to a small cabin in the mountains. It seems an archeologist had come to this remote place to translate and study his latest find: Necronomicon exmortis. The Book of the Dead. Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, this ancient Sumarian text contained bizarre burial rights, funeral incantations, and demon resurrection passages, it was never meant for the world of the living. The book awoke something dark in the woods, something evil. It took Linda. Then it came after me, it got into my hand and it went bad, so I lopped it off at the wrist. But that didn't stop it, it came back big time.

There was something insidiously beautiful about that book. It I began to obsess about it. After seeing this movie, despite it being a comedy horror fest, I wanted, nay needed to learn more and delve deeper, to explore it’s origins, and perhaps to see if there was in fact any basis for this blasphemous tome.

Not long I found a cheap soft cover version in the new age section of my local bookstore in the mall. Even though I bought it I was disappointed. This was decidedly not the book I was looking for. Much later I would discover the internet. At the time I had not idea that this new wonder would open up a whole new world. A world built of pornography, forums to enable masses of faceless haters to spew off whatever vitriol laden bullshit they desired, and whole new definition of what spam was. At the time the internet to me was the information highway. Un-restricted access to knowledge that somehow was being kept from the youth of the world and stopping us from taking over from the old people whom controlled everything. The first thing I looked up wasn’t porn but the Necronomicon.

And that was the first time I discovered this dude named H.P. Lovecraft. So the Necronomicon was fiction. Invented by a dude whose name could have been that of some cheesy 70’s porn actor. Yet at the time trying to get a hold of his fiction at the time was fairly difficult at the time. It seems as if for a period of time Lovecraft had fallen into the cracks. Only later when I moved to Montreal and joined a gaming club in college did I discover there was a Call of Cthulhu RPG. It would be several more years later that I actually got to play this game for the first time. It would also be around this time that I would actually read for the first time any of Lovecraft’s fiction. But that’s for a later post. Suffice it to say I thank Army of Darkness and the other Evil Dead movies for my first introduction to Lovecraft and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the first time I actually played the game, and what has become one of my favorite Lovecraft stories of all time…

Friday, April 22, 2011

Savage Sword Saturday

So I've never seen this cover before but I like it. It has all the classic elements that I've come to love about these comic book covers. We've got Conan in the classic "I'm ready to kick your ass all over the floor" stance, blades akimbo. Of course we have the hot chick laying in a helpless position on the floor. Though why she's holding a skull and in pig tails is a little weird if you ask me. It almost look like see was sun tanning when all of a sudden a fight just broke out and now she's all upset with the interruption. Lastly we have the obligatory enemy that Conan must face down. Not only do we have some bad ass serpent dudes in armour, we also have some weird headless sorcerer sitting on the throne in the background with his Serpent man high major domo directing the warriors. If that headless sorcerer guy ain't crying out for some stating up in your next D&D campaign I don't really know what to tell you. Till next week enjoy!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

I'm still jonesing to run a western adventure. I'm strongly considering picking up the Savage Worlds explorers guide very soon. With that said, one of the movies I'm really looking forward to coming out this summer is Cowboys & Aliens. Directed by the same dude who did a kick ass job on the last two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau, I have high expectations for this one. The movie is based on a comic book and not only does it star Daniel Craig, but Harrison Ford as well. Talk about winning! I feel like theres something refreshing about this movie. OK, so it's based on a comic book, but with all the remakes of various franchises out there its nice to see something that's at least a little original.    

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Am Scorpion Clan

Yesterday I got an email from Noble Knight Games saying that they were having a sale. One of the first items on the list was a Legend of the Five Rings product.

I feel like my gaming career began rather atypical to how I imagine most people get into the hobby. Aside from that one failed D&D session I wrote about yesterday, the first real gaming I ever did was Call of Cthulhu, Escape from Innsmouth. But that's a story for a whole other time. Trust me, it's a doozy.

Not long after that game ended we played a little bit of D&D, but quickly moved on to Legend of the Five Rings. I remember falling deeply in love with this game. In fact it was the first rule book that I ever bought, and I would quickly build my RPG library with more titles from the line.

So when I saw that email it got me thinking. "Hey?" I said, "Whatever happened with that game anyway?" So I went over to the AEG site and somehow I found myself taking this little "What Clan are you?" test. As the title of this post clearly states, I am a Scorpion. Which is the Clan I would have played had the GM at the time allowed us to choose it. I mean I already knew I was a bad guy, but this just proves it. Perhaps this is another one of those signs that I need to go back to my gaming roots. Good times...

What Clan are you?

Holy Shit, We're All Gonna Die!

See that picture up there? I first saw that on the box cover for what I believe was an introductory set for D&D 2e. Whatever, it was that's not whats important here. What is important is the picture itself. Look at that dragon. Now look at that dude in the cloak wielding that puny axe. Look at the size of that dragon's teeth and claws, and now back to the warrior's axe. 

All I could remember thinking when I saw that picture was Holy shit, that guy is SO dead. I actually remember feeling fear for him. I remember thinking how brave he must have been. Or if we got a close up on his face would we see the fear etched there. Would we smell the shit in his pants if we were for some reason able to be standing next to him at that exact moment. Today I've come to the realization that that guy was a hero, and he was going to take that tooth-pick of an axe and single-handedly kill that  fucking dragon. Because that's what hero's do. 

Fast forward about a little less than a decade later. Some friends invite me to play D&D with  them. It will be the first time I ever get to play the game. I show up and it's a sausage fest in my friends bedroom. It would all be a little creepy if I wasn't so excited to play this game, a game that I have be dying to learn how to play for a long, long time.   

The DM helps me make a character. I have no idea what I'm doing or even what has gone before, but everyone else has a character already and stuff has clearly happened before this point. I created an illusionist. Why didn't someone guide me to a better choice for a first time player I don't know, but I had recently fallen in love with Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions and that's what I wanted to be.

The adventure begins. We are recruited by some person to check out a lair of hill giants. Yeah, that one, the steading of the hill giant chief. So we sneak into this place and in no time flat we are in the great hall itself. Packed with giants having a party. Did I mention that I was noob playing a human illusionist? I say that I have never actually played this module because as soon as the fight started I more or less just sat back and watched the action. My character ran and hid, he might have even casted invisibility on himself, I can't remember now. But I remember being scared shitless. I mean these were freaking giants. What was I supposed to do? 

So the combat ended successfully in our favor. I never ended up playing again after that, and I have no idea whatever became of that whole thing. Did they go into the dungeon below? Did they head off to the Glacial Rift? Whatever.

So what's the point here?

Fear. That feeling of being put into a situation so dire that it needs a hero of the greatest caliber to overcome it. I miss that. There's something that happens after playing this game for so long that sucks the wonder out of it. I guess it's that fear of the unknown really. Once you've mastered the game and understand it's in and outs it sort of robs you of that mystery. The more I think about it this is something that I would love to be able to fix in my next game. 

How about you? Do you recall any of those past moments when you were filled with awe and wonder, or fear and terror that your death was just a short breath away?

As for me, if I ever find that guy who let me be an illusionist that night in G1, I'm going to punch him square in the neck. Just saying. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Savage Worlds + Charlie Sheen = Winning!

Pinnacle games recently announced that this August they are releasing a deluxe hardcover edition of their flagship system Savage Worlds. This is one of those systems that I've really wanted to play for some time now but just haven't yet had the chance to try out yet. So many games, not enough time. Sounds like a James Bond movie, doesn't it? Anyway, Savage Worlds is a universal game engine, meaning that it can be used to power whatever game you want. The reviews of it have been freaking great and their is a shit-ton of material for it out there. Most importantly to me how,ever is that it's the game engine that's now used to power the Deadlands setting.

Deadlands was one of the first games that I ever participated in as a game master, and not a player. My campaign was brief, and ended in a way that left me unsatisfied, yet always yearning to go back to it one day. I feel like that time is now. I've learned a lot since then, and while I've never read the new rules I think that they probably make things run a lot smoother. From the sounds of it this edition will add in more material and other cool stuff as well as clarify the older rules. So it's looks like this August Daddy is going to do a little shopping.

On a funny note I found these edges ( I guess this games version of feats for d20) on the Pinnacle site. Who knew that Charlie Sheen would turn into so much game fodder for us nerds the Cult of Sheen.

10 New Edges with Sheen
Take your games where they've never been before with these ten new Edges, and be sure to enjoy your April Fool's Day!

Tiger Blood
Your character either naturally has tiger blood in his veins or is able to absorb it through consumption (drinking it). You gain a +2 bonus to Vigor rolls to resist poisons and drugs.

Adonis DNA
Novice, Tiger Blood
Your genetic structure has strands from the gods and attracts the rare people attuned to sense it. You gain a +4 bonus to Charisma when dealing with characters that have the Hindrance Quirk ("Adult" actor).

Fire-breathing Fists
Seasoned, Tiger Blood, Fighting d6
You can shoot fire from your fists. To use this ability, use Fighting for an attack roll and place a Cone Template in front of your character. Every character touching the template must make an Agility roll opposing the Fighting result or takes 2d10 damage (and potentially catch on fire). After using this ability, roll Vigor and suffer a level of Fatigue on a failure. You may shoot fire from both hands using the standard multiple action and offhand penalties, but you must roll separately to avoid the Fatigue effect.

10,000 Year Old Brain
Novice, Smarts d10+
Your character is capable of acts of will by using pure intellect to overcome them. When spending a benny to reroll a Spirit roll, you may choose to use your Smarts die type instead.

High Priest
Seasoned, Spirit d8+
Your character has been inducted as a high priest and gains +2 Charisma with members of his religion.

Vatican Assassin
Veteran, High Priest
Your character has been promoted to official Vatican Assassin. You gain the right to kill anyone on the Vatican hit list, and a +2 bonus to Intimidation against those on the list or who are in danger of being put on it.

Heroic, Vatican Assassin, Smarts d8+
You have been taught the secret magic of the hidden hierarchy of the Vatican Assassins. You gain one power you can activate with a Smarts roll, and you have Power Points equal to twice your Spirit die type. Regardless of any listed range, the power has a range of Touch and requires using one hand to activate as the magic is at the fingertips.

Feast on Troll Bones
Novice, Tiger Blood, Vigor d8+
You have learned to absorb the strength of trolls by consuming their bones. Any time you eat troll bones equal to twice your Vigor die type in pounds, you may make a Natural Healing roll.

Rock Star from Mars
Novice, Filthy Rich
Your character has a nearly indefatigable sense of self. Opponents no longer gain a +2 bonus to affect you for a successful Test of Will, though you can still be Shaken on a raise.

Duh, Winning!
Legendary, Tiger Blood, Adonis DNA, Fire-breathing Fists, 10,000 Year Old Brain, High Priest, Vatican Assassin, Warlock, Feast on Troll Bones, Rock Star from Mars
You may spend a benny immediately after any roll by the GM to make it a critical failure, or you may spend a benny before any roll you would make to automatically succeed as if you rolled a raise. However, following either of these uses, the next roll you make is unavoidably considered to be a critical failure. To use this ability, you must say “Duh, Winning!” when turning in your benny.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blackmarsh Review

I picked up Rob Conley's Blackmarsh supplement a couple days ago and thought I would give it a quick review.

Blackmarsh is compatible with the Delving Deeper rules, as well as the original version of D&D. While this is true, because there are no real rules material, or stat blocks in the supplement you could really use this with anyone of your favorite fantasy rules. Personally I love this touch since it really makes it easy to use this product by the biggest number of people possible. I really fee like this book is as close to a universal product as your going to get, and I'd love to see more stuff like this come out in the future.

The art is black and white, and for the most part is pretty great, particularly the stuff by The Forge. The maps are also excellent, and Rob proves that he is an awesome cartographer in his own right. My only minor nit-pick is in the case of the Castle Blackmarsh map. I'm not down with the use of the hex-map for settlements, and I find in this case the hexes make things a little too busy for my tastes.

Down to the meat of this thing. When it comes down to it this 24 page supplement is what Rob does best, and that's the sandbox thing. This sucker is packed with great wilderness locations and encounters that would work well for any DM who is looking for a great way to kick off a new campaign, or an excellent template for how to do it themselves.

  • You have roughly one page that provides an introduction and describes how to use the booklet.
  • Another page describes the the history of the area and more notes on how to use this material in your game.
  • About two and a half pages discuss the geography of the area, followed up with a table of rumors.
  • Then you get about twelve or so pages covering the various locales found on the Blackmarsh wilderness map.
  • A 1 page full map of castle Blackmarsh, and two pages covering the locals in the castle area.
My Verdict
5 brains out of 5
This is a no brainer in my book. It's a rock solid product, and if you are looking for a place to start your next campaign, or a new location for your characters to explore this would be it. Once again Rob proves that he is the master of the Sandbox play arena, and I highly suggest you pick Blackmarsh up ASAP, if you haven't already.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

War of the Worlds-Goliath

I just discovered this trailer over at the blog Third Point of Singularity. What a great idea! This would so rock as a RPG campaign using Dream Pod 9's, Heavy Gear rules set. Tank mecha vs. aliens in giant tripod mecha. Maybe DP9's Gear Krieg would be the better setting/rules choice? Either way this could prove to be some serious fun.   

Savage Swords Saturday

Today I wanted to introduce a new weekly feature, Savage Sword Saturday. I loved these Conan comics as a kid, and I still do today. So every Saturday I'm going to post a new cover. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Killer DM And The Gritty Game

I’ve never really understood the mind set behind being a killer DM. I mean I can see the appeal to a certain degree, but when it comes down to it, as a DM it’s easy to kill characters. As a DM your word is that of God. As the clichéd saying goes with great power comes great responsibility. On some level there is this unwritten, and unspoken contract between the DM and players that the DM will not abuse his power of Godhood lest he bring down the wrath of the players. Whom, will in turn leave to worship a less blood thirsty deity.

When it comes down to it the DMs role is to be fair. He is to remain impartial, keep things entertaining and challenging for the players. It’s a fine line, and one that can be easily crossed in the heat of the moment. Maybe I’m just a pussy of a DM, because I take no satisfaction in killing PCs. I want my players to succeed, yet I defiantly don’t want it to be a cake walk. The way I see it, its my job to beat the PCs to within an inch of their fictional lives, make them beg and scrap by for every advantage, and then when they reach the victory line successful, it’s all that more meaningful to the players.
Lately I’ve been thinking about running a more gritty kind of game. This is something the older editions of D&D had, as well as games like Call of Cthulhu, or Legend of the Five Rings. One wrong move on the part of the character and he might as well kiss his ass good-bye. Yet I hesitate.
The problem I keep coming back to is that if one or two people in the party dies its OK. The story can carry on. But if it’s a TPK, then everything that has been gained over months or years of gaming comes to mean absolutely zero.
As an example, I ran the Call of Cthulhu campaign Shadows of Yog-Sothoth for an old group of players I had. They went through much of the campaign investigating the various mysteries thrown at them. They began to develop a nice relationship with various NPCs and each other. But most of all they came to develop this burning hatred for the main villain. When they got the chance they were going to make sure that this guy paid dearly for his sins and the pain, suffering, and evil he had caused.
But then they were all wiped out by some invisible monsters that they had no freaking chance of defeating.

The player’s all took it well. Almost too well. In fact I feel like despite this being a game players should have a certain amount of a healthy attachment to their characters. This isn’t fucking Super Mario Brothers. There’s no up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, A, B Konami code to give you a hundred lives. It’s a ROLE-playing game. Can you really be taking your character seriously if you don’t give a shit if he dies? If your playing a goofy light hearted game that’s one thing. But if you feel the need to give your character a serious name, and a plausible background story why the fuck wouldn’t you care if your character died?

When I think about all this it makes me wonder if perhaps I take the game too seriously. But is it too much to ask for a serious game? Do I need to pack up my dice and books and call it quits? Or are there others out there who feel as I do?

Back to my story. So the players died, and so did the story. Sure they rolled up new characters, and we finished the campaign. Yet at the conclusion of it all it just felt forced and hollow. The villain in question died, yet it was an anti-climactic death with very little meaning behind it. I mean this was the culmination of one of the few campaigns I’ve ever run that saw it’s way to it’s proper end, and I felt very unsatisfied as a DM.

So my question to all you out there reading this, What’s up with the killer DM thing and how do you stop it from just becoming a player vs. DM thing? How do you keep the tension up in a gritty game without having the TPK and ruining everything thats come before?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Weird Westerns

Jamie over at For A Fistful Of Coppers has been pondering running a spaghetti western style game. Or as he refers to it a bullets and tequila adventure. I can just imagine the sub-title on the movie poster, "If the bullets don't kill ya, the tequila will".

Well damn it all to hell! Now I'm thinking about running a western game. As if i really needed to be tempted with another sweet idea to tease me and remind me just how deep my gamer ADD really runs. Thanks Jamie, thanks a lot.

So in an effort to exorcise my gamer ADD demons here we go.

  • I want at least one adventure that deals with people fighting on top of a moving train.
  • It's all about six-shooters and tomahawks.
  • In the spirit of Call of Cthulhu the PCs are ordinary people who get swept up in extraordinary events. I think magic and weird shit should happen but not be something the PC's get to handle. Magic is bad. If you mess with it you will get fucked up.
  • Mooks. I love the scenes in those spaghetti westerns when a single gunfighter can take out a ton of mooks. Mooks getting shot and falling from the roofs of buildings, getting shot off horses, and waves of mooks getting shot down when the gunslinger fans his trusty peace maker.
  • Monsters are scary. They will mess you up and swallow your soul. Bullets will do jack shit (except maybe silver bullets on were-wolves) to them. In order to defeat a monster you must finds its weakness or some kind of special way to stop it.
  • I want an ancient Chinese sorcerer to be the major villain. He can send ninja assassins, evil spirits, and a mass of eager goons and minor villains to make the PCs life difficult.
  • Indians will be bad ass noble savages. They are that group that's could either be good for the PCs, or their worst fucking nightmare depending on how they handle things with them.
Crap. This didn't do shit except me want to run something like this even more! Oh well, more fodder for the notebook. Then one day, it will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.  

If Jeff Rients Told Me To Jump Off A Bridge I Would...

Because when Jeff says do something I do it! You can now create PDF's and printer friendly versions of my blog posts now by clicking on that new nifty little button at the bottom of each post I make. I just tested it out and it works great! Thanks to Jeff and Matthew over at Rended Press who started the whole ball of wax going in the first place. That's a gold star that was well earned.

Just Dropping In!

It was either in the Ruins of Undermountain or the City of Splendors box set that Ed wrote about how his players would go on merry chases across the roof tops in the city of Waterdeep. These chases would invariably lead to the PCs crashing through a skylight or roof to land in the precarious position of interrupting some sort of activity in the room below unexpectdly. This in turn might lead to a new adventure or just a fun encounter to break things up for a bit. So I thought it would be fun to create a random table you could use to create some unexpected twists and turns in your own game. Thus I present the Random Crashing Through The Roof Table. 

Random Crashing Through The Roof Table
Roll 1d12 or choose one:
1. A group of thieves are in the middle of planning a robbery.
2. A group of nobles masked and having an orgy.
3. A midnight tryst with a couple of important people having a secret scandalous affair.
4. A bizarre cult in the middle of a dark ritual or roll 1d4 below:
(1. summoning a demon 2. scarificing a virgin 3. opening a gate 4. rasing a dead comrade) 
5. A bunch of young drunk bravos looking for a fight.
6. A wizard in the middle of a very sensitive magical experiment.
7. The resting place of a monster.
8. The room contains a glowing gate to another place of the DMs choice.
9. A group of bandit counting their loot an a recent job.
10. A giant attic spider nest full of cobwebs and baby spider swarms.
11. The house is haunted and now the PC's are trapped inside until they can figure out how to get the spirit(s) in the house to rest in peace.
12. The PC's crash into a store or other place of business thats just been robbed. The city watch has just arrived and its looks like they are the ones that did the breaking in! Roll 1d6 below for type of shop:
(1. Book Store 2. Bank 3. Jewellery Shop 4. Antique Store 5. Magic Shop 6. Weapons Shop)

Thanks for dropping in!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ruins Of Intrigue

Yesterday I said I would start talking about how I wanted to go about presenting the information in my Swords & Wizardry module code named Operation: Demogorgon. Why use a code name? Because code names are cool thats why.

Here's a secret. One of my inspirations for this project is not "old School" at all. I never grew up playing D&D back in the day. I started playing in the the late 90's with second edition, and to be completely honest I found it really confusing. It was only when third edition was released that I really began playing D&D hardcore. This was the during the d20 boom, and I would go on a limb to say that it was even a new golden age for the hobby itself. Shit loads of new material from a myriad of publishers began to overwhelm the shelves of local gaming stores. There was a lot of crap, but eventually a number of great d20 publishers began to emerge.

One of those rock solid publishers was Monte Cook's, Malhavoc Press. In a lot of ways it would probably have been a bad sign if his company hadn't done well, particularly since he was one of the co-designers of the new edition, and of course the author of the 3e DMG. Eventually Monte would create his own d20 variant player's handbook called Arcana Unearthed, which would constantly be confused with WotC's Unearthed Arcana that came out a few months before riffinng off 1st edition version. Later, perhaps in order to reduce the confusion, Monte would revamp and repackage the book with his directors cut version and renaming it Arcana Evolved.

At about this time Mike Mearls joined Malhavoc Press. Before he moved on to work for WotC he wrote a ton of material. In fact it's unbelievable just how much stuff Mike wrote during the d20 boom. Not only did he write a lot, the quality was always high and you knew that you could trust that a book with his name on it wasn't going to suck.

All of which brings me to Ruins of Intrigue. Mike wrote this 96 page campaign sourcebook for Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved. So whats so special about this book, and why has it influenced me in Operation: Demogorgon? The answer is utility and organisation. This quote is taken from one of Mike's design diary entries:

Unfortunately, adventure design poses a single, basic problem to writers and publishers: Every group has different needs. It's easy for a DM to find something useful in a book with dozens of feats and prestige classes, but most adventures live and die by their basic premise. If the plot doesn't fit the group's setting, or if the encounters are designed for too high or low a level, a DM probably doesn't have much use for it. True, you can always cannibalize an adventure for NPCs, encounters, and monsters, but in most cases they aren't organized for this sort of use. If you have a shelf full of modules, it's difficult to remember exactly which one had that 5th-level NPC you need for tonight's session.
Later in the same article:

The answer occurred to me as I looked over my collection of modules and back issues of Dungeon magazine. An adventure typically provides the important facts needed to manage the environment or story it presents. If an NPC is a lying villain, the adventure tells you so. When describing the caves outside of town, it lists the exact number of trolls, their stats, and their treasure. What if, I wondered, an adventure didn't provide all the answers? It could suggest a variety of possibilities instead of one canonical truth. If a traditional adventure were a picture of a situation or area, this new format would be a jigsaw puzzle that you could put together in different ways, depending on how you wanted the resulting picture to look. You could create only a finite number of pictures with it, but that's more than the single situation or area that most adventures cover.
And Finally:

The final format for Ruins of Intrigue came into focus as I read over my old issues of Dragon. Ray Winninger, designer of the Underground roleplaying game and a multitude of books from Mayfair's late, lamented RPG division, wrote a series of articles on campaign design for Dragon a few years back. One of the ideas he put forth was that every important NPC in your campaign should have a secret.
So how does Mike go about doing this? First he breaks up the key elements of what makes an adventure. His basic formula for adventure design breaks down like this:

Hook + Goal + Obstacles = Adventure

Each NPC and location is given a tag detailing one or more of those adventure elements (hook, goal, or obstacle) . Then those same NPCs or locations are also tagged based on the level it's approriate for (any level, low-level, mid-level, and high-level). These tags can then be used to mix and match as the DM wishes to create a variety of diffrent adventures by filling in the advneture formula above and getting creative with things. In the appendix at the back of  the book a Tag Reference Table makes it easy to locate and utilize each of these elements and where they can be found in the book. 

But the utility dosent stop there. Mike gives each NPC and location at least two or more secrets for the DM to choose from. This not only allows maximum flexibilty for the DM in terms of how he can use a particular NPC or location, but it means that you can actually get two or three diffrent locations or NPC's if you choose to use each secret speratly. So really an NPC with two secrets could be used as one or two diffrent NPC's for the price of one with very little work on the DMs part.

But don't just take my word on it. I highly reccomend that you check out Ruins of Intrigue yourself and see what I mean first hand. I'm really surprised that this style of adventure design was never adopted by anyone else before now. This will be the model for how I plan on presenting my own forthcomming S&W module. Of course I can still hear the grumbling comming from some of you skeptical grognards in the OSR. Quiet down you there! Heres a quote from Mike on page 12 of Ruins of Intrigue that might make you calm down, re-consider, and pick this awesome sourcebook up for yourself:
One of the biggest themes running throughout Ruins of Intrigue is the idea of strange, wonderous magic that seems to violate or transcend the established rules.
Later on in the same section he writes:
Fantasy roleplaying game material from the early 1980s often proves a particularly good source of ideas for bizarre magical traps, weird chambers and locations within dungeons, and other inspirations.

The point here is that despite certain elements that need to be pinned down from the start, I want my adventure module to be as useful to as many people as possible. One of the key elements that I have observed in the OSR is that player's and DM's alike dont want to be railroaded down a path to adventure. Rather, the goal is that the adventure or campaign evolves organically based on player choice.  

Im A 3rd Level Blogger!

Yay! I just got my tenth follower. According to From the Sorcerers Skulls blog rankings that makes me an Enthusiast. Awesome. Thanks to everyone who is currently following me now. You are the bomb.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fear & Loathing On Operation: Demogorgon

It's official, work on my OSR project, Operation: Demogorgon has stalled out at the same 4,000 words I last reported on. I've been struggling to figure out what my problem is, and why I cant move forward. Here are a few of the sad conclusions I came to.

First is a lack of discipline. I really need to just harden the fuck up and just write everyday. No more bloody excuses.

Secondly, and a this is a truth that's hard to admit, is fear. Fear of this thing sucking. Fear of what the critics, and particularly the very opinionated and passionate OSR community might say about it. After all this project is meant to be directed towards them, since I do plan on it being a Swords & Wizardry product. Fear of failure. Better to have never tried, than to have done it and joined the bloated ranks in the Legion of Suck and Fail.

Here's the deal. In the time that I have spent lurking in the OSR blogo-sphere, I've seen some pretty amazing stuff come out. I mean just look at the Swords & Wizardry core rules PDF itself. It's a solid, well put together piece of work with great art, and it's free. Then I look at all the other awesome modules that have been produced. I look at their low price point and high quality and it blows my socks off. When I see a guy like James over at Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I feel like there's just no way a guy like me can compete with his amazing work. What he's doing is more than a hobby, it's a second job, and that's not really what I'm doing this for. I want to share with the community. I want be apart of something greater. I'm not interested in making any money out of the deal. At least not in the RPG business anyway. I feel like those who do of the OSR, don't get the full credit they deserve. Seriously you guys do some damn good work, and my hat is off to you all! You make it look easy, and I'm discovering that is so not the case.

So yeah, I have this fear that Just cant live up to the standards of the OSR. But not only that, it's a fear that being from the d20 era, I just don't get the old school mentality. Because of this lack of understanding I feel that whatever I write will be blatantly rejected by the OSR, for failing to be old school. I'll admit that I do understand that there's more to it than just the rules, that it has to do with your mindset and how you approach the game itself. So perhaps this fear is unfounded bull-shit on my part.

So now that it's out there and I recognize that I have some issues, how am I going to deal with them?

As I already said I need to just do it. I need to power on and stop being such a self conscious whiny little bitch. I need to be someone who does, and not someone who just shoots his mouth off about doing something.

In addition I've decided that I'm going to start opening up a little during this week about what the project is, and a preview of what it's all about. Tomorrow, I will talk about the approach I want to use to convey the information in the module.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tell Me I Suck!

I was checking out a bunch of blogs to add to the growing list of blogs I follow today. As I did this I came across Ostensible Cats post from way back on March 9th which in turn he references a post made by Cyclopeatron here. The basic argument being put forth is that blog post's about opinions tend to generate more comments than blog posts with actual content in them.

Generally I try to write and share posts with content. Despite all the tools available to monitor the traffic on my blog I still find myself wondering is what I write about is interesting to others or not. So please do me a favour and let me know it I suck! Or if on the odd occasion I do hit the mark you can let me know as well.

Oh, and I'm on facebook now! So feel free to friend me, and my blog.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Ruins Of Myth Drannor

So today I wrap up my week of talking about some of my favorite Ed Greenwood, Forgotten Realms stuff. You might have missed Monday's, and Tuesday's posts on my old, and now defunct blog Zombie World, due to me switching over to this new blog halfway during the week.

Today's post features the Ruins of Myth Drannor box set. Here's what you get inside this slim box:

4 Poster maps
8 cardsheets, featuring important locations in the ruins, and random tables
A 128-page Campaign Guide
A 32-page Adventure Booklet
Why does this box kick more ass than Chuck Norris after drinking a 4 pack of Red Bulls? It's because it's a mega-dungeon in disguise. At least it took me a little time to figure that out. It's essentially a giant above ground dungeon that collects a series of what some people today would call lairs, or mini-dungeons into one location.

I sort of imagine Myth Drannor as what Rivendell from Lord of the Rings might have been like if Sauron managed to infest it with his evilness and monsters. Minus that big silly flaming eye. I'm mean really? A flaming eye? Really?

So you have this awesome ancient elven city, long ago it embraces all the other cool races, like humans, dwarves, halfling, and gnomes. They live in harmony and do all sorts of cool and awesome things, and then the shit hits the fan. Boom. Myth Drannor gets a serious case of evil invaders syndrome. Orcs and goblin kind are everywhere. Evil Dudes 1, Good Guys 0.

So today you have a Myth Drannor full of a variety of evil factions all seeking to rape and plunder the once glorious elven city for everything it ever had. Wealth, magic, and all sorts of cool magical nick-knacks like awesome rings of totally rad wishes, wands of yo-momma, magic 8-balls, and that really rare 1977, July issue of Playboy magazine (really, I just read it for the articles).

Basically it provides the DM with an awesome framework from which to build his own campaign. But even if your not into pre-made stuff, there's more than enough material here that you can rip off for your own game.

One of my favorite quotes from the box is found on page 3 of the Adventure Book:

On the Other hand, many AD&D game adventures begin with the warning that random encounters should be used with caution, so as not to ruin a party's chances by overwhelming them before they get anywhere. Apply no such caution here! If your PCs start to feel like rocks bouncing down a mountainside during an avalanche, you're doing it right!

What I dig about this is that it basically states that Myth Drannor is a deadly place. Just trying to reach a location in the ruins is tough, never mind the location itself. Of course the rewards for such danger are just as equal. Not only that, but the satisfaction of having accomplished something in an environment so tough is also just as rewarding as cool treasure and new magical doodads.

Final thoughts. This seems like a pretty original module, and well executed to boot. Defiantly an important piece of Realms lore, and a must have for any DM that really wants to have a feel for what the Forgotten Realms is really like.

F@$%&*g Computer!

So I had a new post all lined up for this morning and a huge chuck of it didnt get saved! ARG! Anyway I should have it up this afternoon when I get done work. Man thus just gets my goat. Sometimes I just want to smash the shit out of technology.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The City Of Splendors

Today I'm continuing on with the theme of chatting up some of my favorite Forgotten Realms and Ed Greenwood products from back in the day.

Yesterday I wrote about my love for the first Undermountain box set. The city of Waterdeep and Undermountain go hand in hand. It's like Batman and Robin, milk and Oreo cookies, or me and your mom...Annnyway, today I follow up with The City of Splendors box set.

This is what you get in the box:

  • A 128-page Campaign Guide with expanded city map keys and new information on every part of the city

  • A 96-page Who's Who, giving you details on the nobles and other NPCs of Waterdeep (over 100 new characters in this book alone!)

  • A 64-page Adventurer's Guide for players, with the Adventurers' Quarter, a new area of Waterdeep complete with over 50 new NPCs

  • A 16-page Secrets book, hiding the secrets of the NPCs and adventures of the Adventurers' Quarter

  • 6 poster maps, including new maps of the city and two photo maps of the Adventurers' Quarter

  • 16 MONSTROUS COMPENDIUM Appendix pages, with 13 never-before-seen monsters to haunt the shadows of the city

  • Dude, that's a lot of stuff.

    When it comes down to it that's what the beauty of box sets is in my opinion. Hardcover books have their place, but when you want to disseminate a metric shit ton of information on an imaginary fantasy city this is the only way to go in my opinion. For example, I own the wicked awesome Ptolus campaign setting by one of my heroes Monte Cook. Ptolus is probably one of my most prized RPG books. The problem is it's so fricken huge. I have a hard time lugging the 700 page full colour hardcover behemoth around to read in my free time, and it can be really unwieldy to flip through when your looking for specific things. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love that book, and it sets the bar at an all new level, but sometimes size does matter.

    To be honest I haven't read through the entirety of all of the books included in the City of Splendors box. From the good portion I have read, there's a lot of excellent information here that a DM needs to know if you wants to actually run this thing. Probably more information than you really need, or could actually use in an entire campaign of your own. Combine this with the Ruins of Undermountain box and you've got enough stuff to play for years and years and not need to purchase anything else...Right...Because us gamer types are known for only buying shit were actually going to use.

    So what are my final tthoughts on this thing? While this box might not be as good as the Ruins of Undermountain box,  it's still full of some ass kicking, grade A gaming material. And as I said before if you plan on running a true Forgotten Realms campaign with Undermountain, it's really hard to go wrong with this. Even if your version of the Realms is 3e this box really puts the 3e version of the Waterdeep source book to shame. Yeah, OK, it might be a little bit shiny with it's alluring full colour art work and the flip out centerfold of your mom in the middle, but really I found there was very little meat to it. So if your going to play in Waterdeep, I feel like you own it to yourself to scrounge the back alleys of the inter-webs and pick this up. You can thank WotC/Hasbro for making that job harder than it really had to be since they stopped selling PDFs a while back.

    Oh, one last thing. Fuck that 4e version of the Realms. I'm sure even Ed Greenwood thinks it's bullshit. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if in some grand conspiracy they have the real Ed Greenwood locked up in the dungeon under the WotC headquarters, and have replaced him with a 4e loving robot under their control. Of course now that I've revealed that I'm going to have to go into hiding in order to evade the assassin robots that they will be sending to kill my ass.

    I'm on to you WotC!

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    The Ruins Of Undermountain

    Undermountain, the largest known mass grave in Faerun.

    I don't own the actual boxed set, but I do have a PDF version that I was able to print out and bind. And because a friend of my does own the real thing, I was able to get the four poster maps copied in black and white by a friend of mine in the printing business.

    This sucker came out in 1991, and I feel as if it's another one of those essential Realms products. This is probably the first so called mega-dungeon to ever be actually published. at the very least it was probably one of the better produced ones at the time. In a lot of ways I feel as if it still holds it's own today against a lot of modern products.

    So whats in this thing anyway?

    The set includes:
    • A 128-page book describing Undermountain, its history, its horrors, and details of the first three levels of the dungeon;
    • A 32-page adventure book for use exclusively with Undermountain and Waterdeep;
    • Four full-color maps of the vast and dangerous dungeon;
    • Eight Monstrous Compendium pages of new monsters; and
    • Eight durable cards loaded with traps, treasures, and trinkets to fill your dungeons.
    So here's the deal. I think that when a lot of people first see Undermountain they they think they're getting a fully fleshed out mega-dungeon. When they find out that it appears to be incomplete they leave disappointed. But you know what? With the exception of a few things, I think it's pretty much perfect.

    Starting with the 128 guide book. We get all the important basic information we need to understand and run this behemoth of a dungeon, all in the first 15 pages. Think about it after reading those 15 pages you can master what it takes to run this thing, and most importantly make it your Undermountain.  The next hundred pages cover the key locations spread out over the first 3 levels presented. This gives you an idea of what you can do in Undermountain and help you create your own adventures. The last section covers important NPCs, new magic items and spells, as well as some advice on running and expanding this thing.

    The second book covers adventures. For the most part these adventures are really just a frame work for the DM to flesh out and customize for his players. Having cut my teeth during the 3e days the first time I saw the format I kinda balked at it. Today I've gained an appreciation for this kind of presentation. Like the key room encounters in the Undermountain guide book, I feel like less is more, and really allows the DM to better mold his adventures to his own style and preferences. Then there's a section on older monsters and their variants, with an explanation on how they fit into the dungeon.

    Of course as it seems was common back in the day you get 8 Monstrous Compendium pages. In a way I kinda wish they still made monster books like this. Perhaps that could be an OSR project I could get on at some time in the future. But the real gems here are the 8 cards loaded with traps, treasures, and other random tables to run things on the fly and add something special during a game session. I mean holy shit, there's a Snares and Lures card! How great is that?! Theres also a Dungeon Dressing table that includes sounds, smells, and things. Pure gold if you ask me.

    Lastly the poster maps. So I have mixed feeling on these, and if I have any complaints about the box it's here. I find that the maps might be cool to put on the wall, their just too big to be practical in an actual game session. In addition, they have the random encounter tables on them, which I also feel was not the best place for them. Better to have made additional stock cards for them in addition to the one with traps and what not. On a cool not there are two kinds. There are the traditional Wandering Monster Encounters, and then the Attracted Monster Encounter tables to roll on anytime the PCs are in a fight or make other loud noise. This is in order to highlight just how deadly this dungeon really is, and I think it's brilliant!

    Finally the maps themselves. Personally I just feel they're not the most interesting to explore. I do like how the keyed areas are highlighted on the maps. But over all the rooms and halls just seem for the most part to be too open, and perhaps too random. By that I mean I feel like little thought was put into the creation of the dungeon itself. OK so it was created by a Mad Wizard, but even then, I feel like the dungeon needs to be a little more modular with discreet sections to it that could be made into little lairs spread across the whole thing. Who knows, I've never actually used them myself so perhaps I'm just talking shit. At any rate this this the thing about the box I like least.

    Final thoughts. Another home run. You could do a lot worse than buy and use pieces of it in your campaign. As a tool for teaching new DMs I think it's invaluable, and i highly recommend the use of the collection of random traps, and dungeon dressing, and other cards to be used at the game table. Every time I see my copy of Undermountain on the shelf, My heart aches to run it. There's just something powerful about this piece of gaming history. Of course if you disagree with me feel free to let me know in the comments.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Welcome To My New Blog!

    Since late July of 2010 I had another blog called Zombie World. The blog was hosted on Wordpress and I was becoming more and more frustrated with it. Chief among my pet peeves with it was the lack of a widget or gadget that would allow me to add followers to my side bar.

    In addition I had been contemplating starting fresh with a new blog anyway. The old one was a hodge podge of topics and not always very focused. With this blog I intend it to be more or less completely game related. In particular, I have fallen in love with the traditions and trappings of the old school mindset. So with this blog I hope to share with other members of the OSR blogo-sphere, as well as anyone else who might be interested what I learn along the way.

    Zombie World is dead. It will not be updated again. So if you were one of the people who checked in there on a regular basis, and liked what you saw there, then this will more than likely be the place for you. Become one of the infected and follow Zombiecowboy's Game Blog!

    My intention is to post from Mondays to Fridays first thing in the morning if possible. I might post more often, or on the weekends but that will be the exception to the rule. Also, I want to hear from you people. Feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions, I promise I wont cry. Well maybe just a little...;)

    Till next time, see ya'all on the flip side. The "Horde" is on the move.