Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The 12 Days of Gamer Christmas - Day Two

Gamers can be tough to shop for. I hope you will find at least one useful gift idea for the gamer in your life in this series of posts. Merry Chistmas!

Day Two - Gaming Mats

Many RPGs use miniatures for tactical situations and combats.A vinyl gaming mat is always a useful tool for a GM to thrown down and sketch out an encounter on. Chessex makes some of the best in my opinion. Most are double-sided with squares on one side and hexes on the other. They also come in a variety of sizes. Don't forget to throw in some overhead projector pens to use for drawing on the mat. Do NOT use dry erase markers or anything else.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The 12 Days of Gamer Christmas - Day One

Gamers can be hard to shop for. Over the next 12 days I will try to make gift suggestions that will hopefully please even the pickiest gamer on your list. Merry Christmas!

Day One - Dice

It goes without saying that almost ANY gamer can use dice. You can't go wrong by choosing a set from one of the original and best dice manufacturers - Gamescience. I am particularly fond of their 'gem' dice sets, but they have a fine selection of opaque and specialty dice as well. You can purchase them from your Friendly Local Game Store or online from

If you need more proof that Gamescience dice are the way to go, check out THIS link for a YouTube video of Colonel Lou Zocchi himself extolling their virtues.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looks Like I Bought A Book With Stolen Art

I don't know for sure yet, but according to THIS thread on, it looks like the PDF of the unofficial 6th Edition Tunnels and Trolls rulebook that I purchased from DriveThruRPG used a piece of art without the authorization of the artist.

Not only that, it looks like James Shipman and Outlaw Press have done this multiple times with other products. If this is true, this sucks and I am sorry that I supported them with my purchase. Uggh...

UPDATE: It looks like the offending books (including the one that I purchased) have been removed. I will take that as validation of the accusations...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tunnels & Trolls 6th Edition

5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls is one of my guilty gaming pleasures. Even with all of its warts, the game still brings a smile to my face. Years ago, I undertook the task of 'fixing' some of the things that I didn't like about the game, including multiplying attributes for non-humans, using strength to power spells, etc. but I never finished.

Now I have stumbled across an unofficial Tunnels & Trolls 6th Edition of the game on Lulu that looks like it has done the work for me. Is anyone familiar with it? I want to know more before I burn $16.00...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Castles & Crusades Books on DrivethruRPG

The latest printings of the Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook* and Monsters & Treasure* are now up on DriveThruRPG*. The editing, art and layout has come a long way IMHO since the first printings. I picked up both books in dead tree form at Gen Con this year and I am very pleased with them. You could run a very satisfying campaign with these books and nothing else (although getting the Castle Keeper's Guide eventually sure would be nice!).

I really think C&C has almost the perfect amount of rules detail for me. Not too light and not too heavy. If you are looking for a new-school fantasy RPG with lots of old-school flavor, I can't think of a better choice.

*Full Disclosure: These links include my Affiliate ID. I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to be sneaky!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Knockspell #3 Hits the Virtual Stands

Just picked up the PDF of Knockspell #3 from Black Blade Publishing. The content is pretty nifty for fans of the old-school stuff like me. Tim Kask has another cranky editorial. There is an OSRIC/1E treatment of the anti-paladin (Dragon #39 was the second issue I ever bought!). And there is lots more, including two adventures for Swords & Wizardry.

My complaints are minor. The BBP web store is pretty unintuitive. Some of the bookmarks in the PDF do not work. And the PDF itself seems to display kind of 'funky'* in my version of Adobe Reader.

*This is sort of hard to explain. The reader seems to show one complete page and then the margin of the next page. Even if I resize and/or zoom out or in, the effect doesn't go away.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Horror at Dagger Rock

Paizo Publishing has posted a FREE module entitled Horror at Dagger Rock and, while it is designed for the Pathfinder RPG, it is dripping with lots of old-school style. I have only had a chance to have a cursory look at it but it seems to have a lot to offer; a fully populated village, rumors, various random encounters and a fairly extensive dungeon.

Ever since I read early modules like N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God and T1: Village of Hommlet, I have been of the opinion that the 'village and nearby dungeon' make for an excellent way to start a fantasy campaign. Download it and have a look.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sword & Wizardry Quick Start on the Kindle!

Ok. It's not a 'real' Kindle book, but I did manage to convert my Swords & Wizardry Quick Start PDF and put it on my Kindle. Aside from some obvious glitches in the graphics, it is quite readable and I am happy with the results.

I am not sure if there is enough of a user base for rpg publishers to justify releasing books in Kindle format, but I do plan to try and convert some of my other gaming PDFs to see how they turn out.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Surviving an Old-School Game

One of the problems with playing in an old-school game is the inherent fragility of the player characters, especially for the first few levels. Making the assumption that this is a feature and not a bug, there are things that both the players and DM can do to make the game a little more survivable, while still maintaining the old-school style of play.


Players only familiar with the more modern incarnations of RPGs might not be familiar with the concept of bringing a group of henchmen and/or hirelings into the dungeon. Clever use of these NPCs by the players can go a long way toward keeping a group of player characters alive, especially at low level. Even a couple of 0-level henchmen wearing leather armor and armed with simple swords can make the difference between a TPK and a successful adventure.

Of course it goes without saying that the DM shouldn’t allow the players to misuse and abuse such NPCs. Cheating, failing to pay or putting them in excessive danger should at best negatively affect their morale and at worst result in their deserting the party at inopportune moments. Both original and retro-clone games have morale rules for this situation. Also, if multiple residents of a particular town or village fail to return from their adventures, the player characters may find it difficult to recruit future employees from that area.


As mentioned above, a staple of old-school game are rules for morale. These cover both NPCs, as previously outlined, and monsters. Not all monsters fight to the death. Intelligent creatures might flee or even surrender if they fail their morale checks as outlined in the rules. While the DM should feel free to modify or even ignore the morale rules, based on their unique game situations, they can be a useful tool. Even a mighty dragon might be subdued or barter for its life in the right situation.

Multiple PCs

Some DMs don’t allow 1st level PCs to hire henchmen, but they do allow them to run multiple player characters. This increases the chance that at least one of them will survive the adventure and advance in level. It also pads out the party and even gives players a chance to experiment with different character classes. Not all DMs allow multiple characters to be run by a single player so check with yours first.


The open style of old-school games is particularly suited for ingenuity and clever ideas from the players. For instance, if the DM designs an airtight room in his dungeon and the players come up with a solid plan to lure monsters into the room and suffocate them – great! While the DM shouldn’t allow just any crackpot idea or shoddily designed scheme from the players to automatically succeed, outstanding play on the part of the players should be actively encouraged and rewarded. If the DM deems that a particular idea has merit, he should decide on percentage chance of success and roll. Old-school games depend as much on player ability as they do on character ability.

I haven’t even attempted to comprehensively cover every method that can be used by players and DMs to help the harried low-level player character survive. But I do hope that at least some of my ideas will prove useful. Old-school games really are different than their modern counterparts and require different approaches to play in many cases. Good luck and may your sword arm never fail you!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Learning to Hack: Part One - Getting Started

This is the first in a series of articles that I will be posting about learning to play the new HackMaster Basic roleplaying game from Kenzer & Company. In this and upcoming articles, I will discuss character creation, combat, magic and more. I hope you enjoy it and your feedback is appreciated!

Part One - Getting Started

First things first. If you haven't done so already, you need to buy the HackMaster Basic rulebook. You can go down to your Friendly Local Gaming Store and demand a copy or you can purchase it online from the Kenzer & Company website. I will wait here while you get it...

...Ok. Now that you have the book we can take a look at it. Despite the word 'Basic' in the title, you can probably see from just a cursory read that this is not exactly a 'rules lite' affair. Real RPGs need rules. But don't despair. Learning to create a character and play the game is lots of fun and you won't even have to purchase a subscription to some fancy online character creation tool. If you do want some electronic help, however, you can head over to the Kenzer website and download several handy tidbits, including a character sheet, Quick-Start Rules reference sheet and an index.

My advice for learning the rules is to first scan Chapter One to get the basics of character creation down. After you have read that, have a look at the next five chapters to get a complete picture of how to create a character. If you have any questions at that point, head over to the Kenzer forums. The kind people there would glad to help you.

After you have given the character creation rules the once over, it's time to sit down and create your first character. I will cover that in Part Two.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rebooting My Interest in Roleplaying

I admit it.  I have been burned out on roleplaying.  I even thought about just chucking the whole hobby, but I couldn't do it - it's in my blood.  Well, after lots of procrastinating and general teeth gnashing, I decided to pick up the banner again.

I also decided that I just couldn't do D&D (of any edition) for awhile.  I want something different.  I always liked westerns and so I seized on the idea of trying Aces & Eights.  Much to my surprise, my gaming group (composed completely of aging gamers with 1st Edition AD&D books gripped tightly in their fists) actually agreed to give it a try.

Unfortunately, I stupidly sold the core rulebook about a year ago because I thought that I would never get a chance to play.  Equally unfortunate is the fact that Kenzer does not offer it as a PDF.  However, I did download the Showdown PDF from, which is basically an abbreviated version of the combat rules.  This way I can least get familar with running combats.  Now I just have to locate a copy of the rulebook and I can get back in the saddle.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wizards of the Coast Continues to Disappoint

I have been playing D&D for a LONG time (over 25 years) and it saddens me that Wizards of the Coast has disappointed me as a customer so many times as of late. I recently stopped playing 4E and sold off my books (for a variety of reasons) but I still hadn't completely given up on the new edition of the game. Why? Well, as an adult with a job and family, it's hard for me to get a group together to play very often. But WotC has promised the game table so I could at least play online occasionally. For that reason, I have kept my DDI subscription active.

Then I read the following post yesterday on the DDI forums (emphasis mine):

So last week we announced that we were working on a set of Campaign Tools with the intention of helping players manage and run their ongoing games and campaigns. These tools will focus on encounters, monsters, mapping and adventures.

Previously, we focused all of our energies and effort into making the Character Builder the best tool it could be. We're going to continue that focused effort as we move forward - we're just shifting our attention to the Campaign Tools. This means that we're not actively working on any other unreleased tools, which includes the game table and the character visualizer. Once we have the Campaign Tools out and we're as happy with them as we are with the Character Builder, we'll have a better idea of what our next step is.

This means that the game table will not be seeing the light of day anytime soon. Just DAMN.

On an unrelated note, Wizards finally posted a gallery of all 18 miniatures from the Player's Handbook Heroes Set 1. While I haven't seen them in real life yet - color me unimpressed.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Fanboys Don't Give a DA@N

I am somewhat amused at the wave of rage and gnashing of teeth that has been sweeping the Blogosphere and the Twitterverse over the WoTC PDF debacle. Don't the commentators realize that the average fanboy doesn't care? I doubt if 1/10 of 1% of the customers that purchase 4E D&D products from Wizards of the Coast will change their buying habits over this situation.

The fact remains that WoTC is a VERY big fish in a VERY small pond. They can basically do whatever they want and their fans will continue to support them. They sell D AND D and their customers want to play D AND D - no questions asked. For all intents and purposes, Wizards of the Coast IS the 'roleplaying industry'. Everyone else a ripple in the pond.

For a little perspective, point your browser to Google Trends sometime and do a search for terms like 'roleplaying game' or 'dungeons & dragons'. The results are very enlightening. As for me? I could care less. I love roleplaying games and I will continue to play roleplaying games. I made up my mind about (not) continuing to play and support 4E several weeks ago, however, so the decision for me is an easy one...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

TARANTIS: An Old-School City

I noticed that DriveThruRPG has posted a scanned PDF copy of Tarantis*, the third of the city-states published by Judges Guild. I have fond memories of purchasing it 'back in the day'. I eagerly ripped off the plastic and geekily lusted over those wonderful yellowish city maps. I also seem to remember really liking it, but honestly none of the details of exactly why. It was a LONG time ago afterall. I may have to download it and give it a read.

They also have the revised City State of the Invincible Overlord, but oddly I do not see City State of the World Emperor.

*I also noticed that cut and paste is disabled in the PDF...caveat emptor.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Editions and Old Fans

The announcement of the upcoming 6th Edition of the Hero System got me to thinking about the process that goes into conceiving and producing a new edition of a game system (especially a well-established and popular one).  From reading the Discussion Forums about the new edition of Hero, it looks like there is a fair amount of dialog about exactly what to change and how extensive those changes should be.  It's very interesting stuff to read.

Many games that were recently updated, including the 4th Editions of Shadowrun and Dungeons & Dragons, made significant changes from previous editions.  The 5th Edition of HackMaster also looks like it will be a pretty big departure from the previous edition (some of that by necessity I understand).  I know the case of D&D is a fairly unique one, but I wonder how dangerous it is for the average game company to make such a radical change in an established game.  How many new players are gained versus how many old fans are driven away?  Can the new edition of a game sink an established property?

Also, it looks like many new editions are produced in order to 'streamline' and 'clean up' an older edition.  Is this what the average RPG player wants?  I ask because, although I have been a fan of Champions and the Hero System since the early '80's, I have to admit that I wouldn't mind a version that requires a little less calculator work.  But is this what most Hero fans want?  Enquiring minds want to know....

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Review of Knights of the Dinner Table #149

Wow. I can't believe Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT) magazine has almost reached issue #150! I started reading with issue #38 and the magazine has only gotten bigger and better. In fact, it's (at lease that I am aware of) the ONLY 'general purpose' gaming magazine left.

If you haven't ever read KoDT or haven't read in a long time, you might be interested to know that, while the general format and content have remained the same for quite awhile, there have been some tweaks. The layout is slightly different and some features have been removed and others added. It also looks like the fonts have been altered. All in all, I am pleased with the changes. The magazine is clean looking and easy to read. Now, onto the contents of issue #149.

This issue has seven strips. You have the Knights of course, the continuing saga around Hard 8, and the Black Hands continue their CattlePunk Campaign. I won't spoiler any of the particulars. but there is a cliffhanger of sorts at the end of the last strip, which I assume will be resolved in issue #150.*

*UPDATE: One of the editors over at KoDT (Barbara Blackburn) let me know that issue #150 will have a bushel basket of one-shot strips.  We will have to wait until issue #151 for the resolution of the cliffhanger from this issue...

As far as the rest of the issue's contents, I thought they were a mixed bag - and that's a good thing. While I never like every article in an issue of KoDT, I almost always like at least some of them. In this issue, forinstance, I really enjoyed the Web Scryer. It has a healthy dose of internet resources for the World of Darkness. I am thinking about working on a Vampire: The Dark Ages campaign at some point and so that information is useful to me. On the other hand, I have no desire to game in the universe of Quentin Tarantino and so Gaming the Movies held little interest for me. The regulars are all here too, including Bait & Tackle, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, and Lost Game Safari. You even get a complete fantasy d20 adventure; Tomb of the Frost Kings.

I really like Knights of the Dinner Table. The strips are always entertaining and every issue has at least some content that is interesting and/or useful to me. If you aren't reading it or haven't read it in a long time, I would recommend picking up. And don't miss issue #150. It contains a free copy of DAWG: the Role-Playing Game - hoody-hoo!

I nearly forgot.  If you are interesting in more info about issue #149 or if you don't have a FLGS and want to pick this issue up, click HERE for a link to its product page on the Kenzer & Company website.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ok That Tears It - 4E and I are Done!

I came to the stunning realization today that in 4E even an ADULT red dragon can't take down a lowly 3rd level fighter by breathing on him - even with a good damage roll. I could care less about the design decisions behind this. The fact just sticks in my craw. The game is called Dungeons & DRAGONS after all

Time to eBay my 4E books. I just wish that I hadn't gotten rid of all my 3.5 books, except for my Player's Handbook. Most of them are wicked expensive on the secondary market. *SIGH*

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Thoughts About 4E

I have really been thinking hard about 4E and I stumbled across THIS post on Unnatural20 that neatly sums up some of my issues with the game. Namely that combat encounters grind on way too long and that there is a certain 'sameness' to all the character classes because of the powers system.

Do I think 4E is a bad game? No. I just think it might not be the game for me. so, if not 4E, what should I be playing? 2nd Edition AD&D? 3.5 D&D? HARP? Something else? I just don't know right now...

Monday, March 23, 2009

D&D Game Day: 4E and I May be Done

I want to say thanks to everyone that turned out for my 4E game at Games Plus this Saturday. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. I have to say that as for me, however, I left the game feeling somewhat disillusioned about what 4E D&D has to offer.

What really did me in was the fact that the first encounter took over TWO HOURS to complete! I know that four of the five players were new to 4E and the characters were 9th level - but that's ridiculous. I don't think the players took excessive time to choose their actions and the game flow was ok. It just took way too long to grind the monsters down. The second encounter was not as bad, but I made a stupid error when I forgot the beholder's aura. We never got to the third encounter.

I am definitely going to take some time to mull this episode over and try to decide whether or not I am going to sink any more time and money into 4E. I play roleplaying games because they are FUN and based on the amount of time that I put into preparing and running the game Saturday, I can't say I got much fun in return for my investment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Modern Appendix N Reading List

I stumbled on an interested thread over at ENWorld that mentions creating a modern updated reading list similar to the one Gary Gygax included in Appendix N of the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. I think that's a great idea! I can see lots of possible candidates, including Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company series, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books and a lot more. What books would you include? Comment up with your choices.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dungeon Delve: First Impressions

Had a chance to read a bit of Dungeon Delve last night. Adversarial DMing... D&D as boardgame... Tool for learning to DM... One-shots... Con games... Side treks... Interesting stuff indeed. More in-depth review to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unsheath Your SORD!

I run a very occasional 3.5 D&D game for some old buddies of mine in Macon, GA. While preparing for my next session, I picked up a copy of SORD version 1.4 from DriveThruRPG. If you haven't seen it, SORD is basically a big 34-page PDF full of charts, tables and cheat sheets for running a game of 3.5 D&D.

While that may sound boring, it looks like a FANTASTIC way to speed up a game. The PDF is colorful, laid out well and chock full of content. I can't wait to use it for my next session. I believe it was a $1.95 well spent...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Some Pics of Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1

I did purchase and download Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1 yesterday as part of the GM's Day Sale at DriveThruRPG. I also managed to find the time to print out and mount some of the counters. Below are a few shots of my handiwork. NOTE: the tile pictured is NOT part of the set. I just used it for 'set dressing' to see how the counters would look on the tabletop.

The counters are pretty neat. The art is slightly 'cartoony', but does a good job of representing each 'heroic tier' creature found in the 4th Edition D&D Monster Manual. I also like the little spot on the counter for writing a number. Very useful for keeping track of that horde of minions.

I mounted mine on plain old pasteboard box style cardboard. This seemed to work out pretty well. The tiles are light, but thick enough to pick up easily.

If you are looking for a cheap and attractive source of counters for your 4E game, i recommend that you check Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1 out. I am very pleased with my purchase. And the price was right!

UPDATE: For those of you that would prefer the convenience of a pre-printed version, Jason of Fiery Dragon Enterprises reminded me that they now offer a boxed version of the 4E counters that are already diecut for your convenience. Check them out HERE.

Monday, March 02, 2009

GM's Day Sale at DriveThruRPG

I am excited about the GM's Day Sale at DriveThruRPG. There is so much to choose from, but I definitely think that I am going to buy Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1. I have used counters in several 4E games and they make for a great portable alternative to minis.

Now I just have to figure out the best thing to print them on. I might try packing box cardboard or foamcore. Time to download...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poll Follow-Up

Wow. I guess hardly anyone has any opinion about what I post on my blog since I have gotten exactly ONE comment and ONE vote. With that in mind, I guess I am going to focus on getting back to the campaign series and posting more content that DMs can plug into their campaigns.

However, if you DO care and just have not voted or commented yet - please do. I look forward to reading your comments!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Poll

I am always interested in what YOU the reader are interested in reading about. To that end, I am putting up a poll to try and figure what you would like to see me posting about on this blog. What a concept! Please vote and feel free to comment as well. Make your opinions known!

Monday, February 23, 2009

What’s He Got in His Pocket? Nine Interesting Items for Pickpockets to Lift

Player character rogues and thieves seem to want to pickpocket random NPCs at the most inopportune times.  This can be a headache for you, the beleaguered GM, if you need to come up with something interesting for the pickpocket to lift than just another bag of 10 gold pieces.  To ease the burden, I have compiled a list of nine items for the prospective pickpocket to steal.  The items look innocuous when first inspected, but, at your discretion they can serve as adventure hooks.  Have fun with them.

A Small Book

The pocket-sized journal is filled with handwritten notes, diagrams, maps and prayers – to a particularly vicious evil deity.  The book’s owner might be the leader of an underground cult that worships the deity and is recruiting members in the area.  The notes in the book provide clues to the owner’s identity, as well as to the location of the cult’s hidden temple.  Of course, if the pickpocket asks questions of the wrong people or starts snooping around, he might well find himself a leading candidate to become the cult’s next sacrificial victim.  The book might also have been carried by a religious inquisitor that is working undercover to hunt down the members of the cult.  Of course, the inquisitor will probably want the book back and might be willing to take it by force.

A Metal Box

The box appears to be made of steel and is about an inch long on each side.  It has no obvious openings, but rattles when shaken.  The box can be opened with magic or perhaps a great deal of physical force.  When finally opened, it’s found to contain a small red bead that has cracks all along its surface (perhaps from all that shaking).  The bead is actually a ‘demon ball’ and the cracks in it have started to release its contents - a very angry extra planar creature.  Fun for all involved will surely follow.  (Yes.  The Wormy reference is intentional.)

A Brass Key

The brass key is finely crafted and appears to be designed to fit a complex lock.  The lock is on a vault owned by a prominent merchant.  A crest on the key can be used to identify the merchant.  The merchant has important papers in the vault that he desperately wants.  They might be needed to close a sensitive business deal or perhaps for something more sinister like blackmail.  He wants the key back badly enough to pay handsomely for it.  On the other hand, if the pickpocket is too greedy or slow to deal, the merchant might be content to send an assassin to retrieve it.

A Piece of Bread (Wrapped in Paper)

The bread is just a piece of moldy bread.  The paper, however, appears to be an old and faded piece of parchment torn from a book.  The writing might require translation or even magic to be read.  Once it is, the parchment is found to contain directions to the location of an ancient crypt.  The crypt might contain any number of treasures – and terrors or it might have been emptied long ago.  As an added complication, if the pickpocket uses an NPC to translate the parchment, the NPC may tip off another group of adventurers that might be interested in exploring the crypt themselves.

A Wooden Whistle

The whistle is simply carved from animal bone.  When blown, it makes a high-pitched, almost imperceptible tone.  The whistle could summon a guardian animal of some kind that might – or might not be friendly to the whistle’s new owner.  It might even magically summon a horde of small animals or insects.  Alternately, the whistle might be the key that unlocks a secret door or even a portal to another plane.

A Sealed Letter

The letter is folded and closed with a wax seal.  If read, it is found to be a steamy love letter from a well respected (and married) female member of the local nobility to a much younger captain of the local guard or militia.  She is very keen to not have the letter become public of course and is willing to pay a reasonable amount of blackmail to prevent it.  Of course, she also might pull some strings and have the pickpocket arrested and thrown into the local dungeon until he turns it over.

A Dirty Handkerchief

The handkerchief is made from fine silk.  Unfortunately, it has also been heavily used.  Even more unfortunately, the owner was infected with some sort of contagious disease that the pickpocket has now contracted.  As a less dangerous alternative, handling the handkerchief might leave the pickpocket with a strange red rash on his hands.  The rash is harmless, but of course the pickpocket won’t know that.

A Mysterious Marble

The marble is approximately an inch in diameter and appears to be made of glass.  It is initially clear when found, but as it is examined later it will turn various colors and even appear to glow from within.  It is actually just a toy created by a mage to amuse a child, but the pickpocket might well mistake it for something else.  And of course it might very well be something more powerful (or sinister) at the GM’s discretion.

A Yellowed Fang

The fang or tooth is nearly six inches long.  A character with the proper skill can identify it as the incisor of a large animal or monster.  It is yellowed and dark and looks smooth as if from years of handling.  The fang might be the component for a spell, a spell focus, etc.  It might even turn into a powerful monster if the proper spell is cast on it or perhaps if it is planted in the ground, ala Jason and the Argonauts.  Of course it might also just be an old tooth and nothing more.

4E at Games Plus was Fun!

I had a blast running 4E at Games Plus on Sunday.  A big shout out to Rob, Todd and Chad (from the Lords of Tyr) and Matt for coming out and playing.  I don't think that I did a perfect job, but I hope everyone had a good time!  More thoughts about the game later...

Friday, February 20, 2009

My DM Status is Now Official

I apologize for the lack of updates, but I have been preparing for the 4E game that I am going to run this Sunday. I did take the time, however, to take the Herald level test on the RPGA website. My DM status is now official...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

D&D 4E at Games Plus this Weekend!

I am going to be running a one-shot 4th Edition D&D game at 2:00 PM this Sunday at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL.  The format is a 'delve style' adventure for a party of 3rd-level characters.  I can run multiple sessions if I get a big group.  If you are interested in a little dungeon crawl or just want to playtest one of the character classes from DDI, drop me a comment - and come by to play!

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Subscription to DDI Has Expired!

Well, my 3-month subscription to Dungeons & Dragons Insider has expired. I'm really torn about whether or not to renew it. I mainly joined for the electronic tools and while the Character Builder is great, there just isn't much else that excites me. I don't really use the Compendium and there still doesn't seem to be a timetable for the other tools to be rolled out. On top of that I'm not much of an 'early adopter' so the preview stuff doesn't really excite me. Dragon and Dungeon are pretty good, but I don't know if I can justify the cost just to have access to them. Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Finding the Lair - A 4E Skill Challenge

Building a bit on my previous post about skill challenges, I thought that I would post a sample skill challenge of my own design. I would really like some feedback on it. Is it interesting? Does it suck? How could it be better? Comment away!

Finding the Lair

You enter the edge of the forest, determined to find the hidden lair.

Setup: To successfully complete this skill challenge, the PCs must make their way through the forest and locate a hidden lair.
Level: Equal to the level of the party.
Complexity: 1 (requires 4 successes before 2 failures).
Primary Skills: History, Nature, Perception.
History (moderate DC): You remember details about locations in the forest that might serve as a lair.
Nature: (easy DC): You are able to locate a trail in the forest that leads you closer to the hidden lair.
Perception (moderate DC): You notice a trail sign or spoor that leads you toward to the lair’s location.
Success: The PCs locate the lair.
Failure: The PCs are unable to locate the lair. If they only accumulate 1 or 2 successes before 2 failures, they are also lost in the forest. If they accumulate no successes before 2 failures, they are ambushed and immediately enter a combat encounter.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

4E Skill Challenges - Broadening the Band

I was listening to Episode 35 of Paul Tevis' excellent Have Games, Will Travel podcast and he mentioned the 'narrow band of success and failure' in RPGs. It strikes me that Skill Challenges are an excellent way to 'broaden this band' in 4E D&D. Mike Mearls has discussed creating better Skill Challenges in his excellent Ruling Skill Challenges series of articles in Dungeon magazine, but I think that we as DMs can take this even further.

We should be constructing our skill challenges (at least the more important ones) so that not only does success or failure have tangible consequences, but there is a broad band of consequences for that success or failure. I will try to create an example of this soon and post it for your comments...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Coming Flood of 4E D&D Books

I was listening to the Wizards of the Coast DDXP 2009 Product Announcements on the latest Radio Free Hommlet podcast and the approach that 'everything is core' kind of stuck me. I don't know if I like this approach or not. If every book released and every article from Dragon and Dungeon magazines is considered 'core', I think that puts a lot of pressure on the DM to include EVERTHING in his campaign. This is further enforced by the approach of releasing a books that provides a broad overview of something (Player's Handbook for instance) and then follow-up books that provide more details (Martial Power, Arcane Power, etc.) Further enforcing this is the fact that WotC is including 'must have' components in new books like familiars in Arcane Power and item sets in Adventurer's Vault 2. I realize that there is a long tradition of 'splat' books in the RPG industry, but I still find the concept frustrating.

NOTE: Yes, I realize that I have a choice and I can say 'NO' to anything that I don't want to include, but the whole concept does tend to enforce the conspiratorial notion the WotC has a not-so-hidden agenda to subconciously force me to buy every D&D product that they release...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Printing to PDF With Character Builder

For those of you that might be interested in printing your character sheets from WotC's 4E Character Builder to PDF, I have had success with CutePDF Writer. It seems to work flawlessly (albeit a little slowly) with my Vista laptop and I am pleased with the output quality. Even better is the fact that it is FREE! Now you can save all those characters you have been generating to a USB stick and print them out at work! (Of course I would never condone such a thing...)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hero Lab is Very Cool

I have owned Hero Lab for awhile, but I never noticed that it did HTML outptut until today. I needed to whip up a quick Ranger NPC for my 3.5 D&D campaign and so ten minutes later had I had the following:

Male Human Ranger 3
CG Medium Humanoid
Init +2; Listen +4, Spot +6
Languages Common, Goblin, Elven

AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12
(+2 Dex, +2 armor)
hp 16 (3d8)
Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +1

Speed 30ft.
Melee weapon Unarmed Strike +5 (1d3+2) and
Longsword +6 (1d8+2)
Ranged weapon Longbow +5 (1d8)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Base Atk +3; Grp +5
Combat Gear Unarmed Strike, Longsword, Longbow, Leather
Ranger Spells Prepared (CL 3, +5 melee touch, +5 ranged touch):

Abilities Str 15 Dex 14 Con 11 Int 14 Wis 11 Cha 13
SQ Track, Wild Empathy (Ex), Endurance, Favored Enemy: Humanoids (Goblinoid) (+2 bonus) (Ex), Combat Reflexes
Feats Armor Proficiency (Light), Shield Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency - All, Martial Weapon Proficiency - All, Track, Endurance, Animal Affinity, Weapon Focus - Longsword, Two-weapon Fighting, Combat Reflexes
Skills Climb +6, Handle Animal +9, Heal +4, Hide +8, Listen +4, Move Silently +8, Ride +10, Search +6, Spot +6, Survival +6, Swim +6

Track You can track opponents.
Wild Empathy (Ex) Improve the atttitude of an animal, as if using Diplomacy.
Endurance +4 to a variety of skill checks. Sleep in L/M armor with no fatigue.
Favored Enemy: Humanoids (Goblinoid) (+2 bonus) (Ex)
Combat Reflexes You can make extra attacks of opportunity.

Very, very cool...

Religions and Not Just Gods

While preparing for my series on Campaign Building I have been doing a lot of thinking about the poor job that I have done in the past with building 'realistic' religions for my campaigns. I have read some good things about The Book of the Righteous from Green Ronin and I am thinking about picking it up. Has anyone else had experience with it? Comments are welcome!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Character Builder Success - Finally!!

After deleting every file that even sounded like DDI or Wizards of the Coast on my hard drive, I was finally able to get the full version of Character Builder downloaded and installed. However, I am still a little irritated by the whole affair. If it had not been for the kind people that posted their own workarounds on the WotC forums, I might have just quit in disgust.

The whole process was a real pain and I consider myself pretty darn computer savvy. What do you think the 'average' user would have done? I don't think this bodes well for future electronic releases from WotC, but I'll just have to wait and see...

A Couple of HARP Questions Answered

I got a couple of comments about my HARP post yesterday and so I thought that I would post my answers here...

Tony Reyes said...
I've been looking into HARP for the past few weeks. Testimonials of the rules set's value make me really interested in buying the book. I have a question, how would you compare it to Rolemaster Express ( which I know HARP is a simplification of)?

I can't speak for the designer (Tim Dugger), but I think of HARP as a reimagining of Rolemaster, rather than just a simplification. I own Rolemaster Express too and it is more of a straight cutdown version of the full Rolemaster.

Stargazer said...
Thanks for giving us that NPC writeup. Can you tell us how long it took you to create that NPC? One of Rolemaster's problems was that it took the better half of a day to create NPCs.IMHO HARP is a good alternative for D&D but it's much overlooked by the roleplaying community. I have to admit that even I played it only a couple of times.

I agree that creating NPCs for Rolemaster was a pain. The process is not as hard with HARP, but I think that I actually used an auto-calculating spreadsheet that I got in the downloads section of the HARP website to create this one and that eased the process even more.

Thanks for all your comments about the HARP post! Maybe I will put up some more NPCs or even a short adventure or two. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

HARP: A Good Game System

I stumbled across posts today about the HARP game system on the RPG Blog II and Stargazer's World. HARP just happens to be my favorite 'non-D&D' game system. It is light, fun and the free version is remarkably complete. In that spirit, here is an NPC for the system that I wrote up some time ago. Enjoy...

Hagetha – Human Hedge Wizard Level 4
Hits: 43 PP: 69 Init: +6 DB: +0 BMR: 8

St: 30 -6 Sd: 65 +3
Co: 45 +0 Qu: 50 +0
Ag: 55 +1 Re: 70 +6
In: 70 +6 Pr: 65 +3

Weapon Skills: Quarterstaff (2) +5
Armor: None

Key Skill: Endurance (3) +18, Foraging/Survival (2) +22, Healing (6) +42, Herbcraft (7) +47, Lore (Region) (3) + 27

Universal Sphere: Minor Healing (6) +39

Cleric Sphere: Calm (4) +29, Dreams (6) +39, Neutralize Poison (7) +44

Description: Hagetha is a human female who appears to be in her mid-fifties. Her face is weathered and brown from years of sun and wind. Her eyes are green and bright. Her gray hair falls well past her shoulders and she keeps it pulled into a neat pony tail. She is usually dressed in somber shades of green and brown, and she often goes out wearing a vest and breeches, a fashion usually only worn by men of the hamlet.

Background: Hagetha lives outside of the hamlet proper, but residents often visit her to trade for herbs or to ask for help treating some malady or injury. She is a loner and she can come across as a bit of a curmudgeon, but she is willing to offer assistance even to strangers if they approach her in an open and friendly manner.

Plot Hooks: Hagetha can certainly be useful if an adventurer is wounded or poisoned since she is the only real source of healing in the hamlet. She is also a good source of information about the area around the hamlet since she has rambled far and wide in her search for herbs and medicinal plants.

Character Builder Woes Continue

My problems with Character Builder continue. I still cannot get the darn thing to update correctly to the full version and it looks like I am not alone. I came across THIS thread on the WotC discussion forums and it looks like lots of other people are in the same boat. At least I have Hero Lab for my 3.5 game...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Rant: Why I am Cancelling My Subscription to D&D Insider

I am cancelling my subscription to D&D Insider. Why? Well, the final straw for me was my experience today trying to update to the full version of the Character Builder. I downloaded, installed, uninstalled, reinstalled and I STILL cannot get the darn thing to update or to create characters over 3rd level. I'm just fed up. Once they get the darn thing working right (and the Game Table working) I might subscribe again. But for the time being - I AM DONE!! Arrghh...

EDIT: I tried to be a good boy and go through the WotC Help system to report my problem. I followed the link, input my credentials and the following popped up:

A technical error has occurred. Please close your browser and try again

Just great...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Real Life Rears Its Ugly Head

I apologize to you dear readers but the next installment of my World Building series will be delayed until at least Wednesday. I am in a bit of a project crunch at work (pray to the gods of COBOL for me) and I have not had time to thoroughly polish the post. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Part Three: Decision, Decisions

Before we get down to the nuts and bolts of drawing maps, we need to make some high-level decisions about our new campaign setting. I am going to provide them without much background comment, but I will explore that further in future posts.

Campaign Setting: The East March
Geography/Climate: Similar to Bavaria/Southeastern Germany

For the campaign’s initial home base, I plan to map out an area of approximately 2500 square miles (50 miles X 50 miles) around a settlement that I am calling Ostburgh. You will note the ‘Germanic’ influence already and this is intentional. I always find it easier and more comfortable to lean a little on the real world, especially when it comes to subjects like names. Pure fantasy names always sound a little contrived to me. I don’t intend to go overboard with it, however, and I won’t try to follow any actual German language rules for naming or whatever.

Of course, there are lots of other decisions to make. I haven’t touched on religion, political structure, prevalence and location of non-human settlements and lots more. For now, here are some ideas that I have been knocking around:

  • There was a broad-reaching empire that ended some 500 years ago because of a great catastrophe.
  • Political structure is a ‘fantasy light’ version of feudalism with possible manorial system.
  • The East March is a border region between civilized lands and the frontier.
  • No more than a dozen major deities. One or two prominently worshipped in the region.
  • Pockets of all major demihuman races in the region, including dwarves, elves, halflings and gnomes.
  • That’s about it for now. The next post should go up on Monday, January 26th. At that time we will make some more decisions about our new campaign setting and prepare to draw a regional map. I would love to hear some feedback from you the reader about this series! Comment with your likes/dislikes, what you would like to see, etc.

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Part Two: Gathering Your Resources

    Before we start making some intitial decisions about our campaign world, I thought that I would mention some of the resources that I will be using for ideas and inspiration. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list. It's just a rundown of some books that I actually own and enjoy.

    The 2nd Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide is infamously not very helpful when it comes to campaign building, but the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide by Paul Jaquays and William W. Conners has lots of useful advice and tidbits. I also like A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe for its healthy dose of real medieval flavor. In a similar vein is Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies.

    Of course, you can't ignore the numerous resource on the internet. Wikipedia is not 100% authoritative on every subject, but it's at least useful for a 'snapshot' of most topics. For instance, I used it to research the term 'margrave' in preparation for this campaign series. Another neat resource is S. John Ross's Medieval Demographics Made Easy. It's a really cool way to 'realistically' determine campaign world details like the number of guards in a city.

    The next post in the series should go up on Friday, January 23rd. In that one we will start making some hard choices about weighty topics like religions and forms of government. Stay tuned for more campaign goodness!

    Friday, January 16, 2009

    Part One: Begin from the Beginning

    An obvious first question about campaign building is where do you start? The two basic approaches are the 'top-down' approach, where you start by determining major details like the number of countries and the types of deities, and the 'bottom up' approach where you start by statting up a number of encounters or maybe populating a small dungeon. Many gamers start both approaches by doing something most every gamer loves to do - drawing maps.

    With the top-down approach, you draw a map of your entire world and include major details like the names of major cities and the locations of mountain ranges and forests. Of course, the time and effort involved in such an approach is pretty daunting. It can also be a little tough to create a satisfying map if you have little artistic talent and/or knowledge of geography. On top of that, you can spend a lot of time creating details that are never even 'seen' by the PCs.

    The opposite is the bottom-up approach. Map a dungeon, drop in some monsters and turn the PCs loose. Details like the nature of the terrain around the dungeon or the location of nearby towns are made up as needed. The big drawback to this approach is that you usually end up with a patchwork 'unrealistic' world. It's also a real hassle to continuously try to 'keep ahead' of the players as they explore the world around them.

    An approach that compromises between top-down and bottom-up is to map out a hamlet or small village and a nearby dungeon. You fill in enough details to keep the PCs occupied for several sessions of play and then expand from there. Classic 1st Edition AD&D ‘village and dungeon’ modules include T1: The Village of Hommlet and N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God. This is the approach that I will be taking with this series. I think it is the best choice for the novice Dungeon Master. The amount of work is not terribly daunting and we should be able create enough material to keep the players busy for some time.

    In our next installment, we will try and answer a few initial questions about the campaign world. After that we will get down to the nuts and bolts of drawing the maps for and populating our little village and dungeon.

    New Series: Stay Tuned

    Sorry for the delay in starting the new series on World Building.  I was traveling yesterday.  I will get Part One up later today.  Stay tuned...

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    New Series: World Building for Beginners

    Creating a campaign world is one of the most daunting tasks for a new Dungeon Master. In the series that follows, I will endeavor to build a detailed campaign setting from scratch. Following are some of the ground rules for the project:
    • Rules set is core 2nd Edition D&D - I realize that 2E is the red-headed stepchild of D&D, but that's what I'm going with for a variety of reasons. I may consider including suggestions for adapting it to other rules sets in the future...
    • 'Sandbox World' - I'm not trying to create an epic Story Path. This will be no metaplot or major world-changing events planned, etc.
    • Generic with personality - I want the setting to appeal to a wide variety of tastes and play styles.
    • Useful stuff included! - I will be including detailed NPCs, fleshed out encounters and actual mapped dungeons. This is a project with an eye toward usability and not just theory.

    As the project goes forward, I plan to include lots of notes and suggestions to help other DMs create their own worlds. If you have suggestions or input please comment! This is not a truly collaborative project, but all feedback is appreciated.

    Stay tuned tomorrow for Part One: Begin from the Beginning.

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    Some Initial Thoughts About the Warden

    Wizards of the Coast has put up a preview of the Warden class from the upcoming Player's Handbook 2. As has become the norm with previous previews it covers levels 1-3 of the class progression.  The Warden is a primal defender and sort of reminds me of a barbarian/druid.

    The class's list of powers are interesting.  The powers do a good job of representing the 'wrath of nature' aspect of the class.  I couldn't help but chuckle at Nature's Abundance though.  It creates a 'zone of plants' that provides cover.  I can just see the mighty Warden hero summoning forth a patch of sunflowers to hide behind...

    Other class powers are a little worrisome though.  Powers like Warden's Grasp, combined with the Warden's ability to mark each adjacent enemy might make bookkeeping tasks a bit of pain for the DM.  I really hope that WotC keeps these sorts of powers to a minimum.  Keeping up with the effects of multiple marks from Multiple PCs on multiple enemies is not my idea of fun.

    Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    Books You Can Use: A World Lit Only by Fire

    I am always on the lookout for books that I can use to mine for ideas that I can use in my roleplaying games. I stumbled across Willaim Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age while I browsing the bookstore and (since I had a Christmas gift card to burn) I picked it up.

    Now, I realize that the book and its author have gotten flamed pretty badly by some historians and reviewers and I am not vouching for its historical accuracy. However, I am DEFINITELY going to use some its descriptions of what life was like in the Middle Ages for my next 4th Edition D&D campaign. Some of the ideas and details that I plan to gleefully use (read that as rip off!) include.

    - A land that is heavily forested with only small pockets of open area for fields and towns.
    - An illiterate peasantry that never travels far from home and is always one bad harvest away from famine.
    - A population that is spread out in lots of little villages that contain only a hundred people or so.
    - etc.

    So, check the book out and see for yourself. It may not be the best history of the medieval period, but it is definitely an enjoyable read and filled with ideas that you can mine for your own campaigns. I reccomend it!

    Friday, January 02, 2009

    Building Dungeons on the Cheap

    If you play 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you will need some kind of tactical grid for your miniatures or counters. Official Dungeon Tiles from Wizards of the Coast are one option, but they can start to get expensive if you buy multiple sets to try and get a variety of terrain. An alternative is to purchase and download tiles in PDF. They are relatively cheap and you can print as many as you need. The set pictured is Dragon Tiles: Dungeon Set 1 that I purchased from DriveThruRPG. It has a nice selection of generic tiles and includes a few extras like pits and doors.

    You can use the tiles that you print out as is or you can mount them if you want a more durable tile. I like to use foamcore. It's cheap and easy to cut. The only real tools that you will need are a straight edge of some kind and a razor/x-acto type knife (be careful!) I cut on a special cutting mat, but you can lay down layers of thick cardboard if you don't have a mat. Just make sure not to ruin Mom's dining room table! I am not an expert at the process, but even my tiles look pretty decent:

    One other thing that you can do to touch up you tiles is to edge them with a black marker. I think it really makes the tiles look more finished. Finally, if your tiles slide around too much on the tabletop, you can stick toothpicks in the foamcore and push the tiles together. It's easy to remove the toothpicks when you are done playing.

    So, consider printing your own tiles if you want a cheap way to build those dungeons in 2009!