Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I'm doing for my summer vacation

Lately I haven't been posting because I have been steadily working on projects and playing a lot.

My bi-weekly LL game is moving along nicely. I set up the characters in the Keep on the Borderlands and populated the wilderness around the keep with the standard encounters from that module, the dungeons of Quasqueton, and a couple of other adventures and scenarios from some old Dungeon magazines. All of this is setup for a mix of several classic modules and a bit of homemade stuff coming down the line. So far the characters have killed some bandits, subdued the hermit after killing his mountain lion, explored a bit of Quasqueton, explored and cleared a pair of towers with an interdimensional gate connecting them, destroyed some undead in a ruin on the other side of the portal, and lost a party member to an incorporeal undead in the same ruin. We've played five or six sessions, and they have yet to get anywhere near the Caves of Chaos. They have three meatshields that travel with them, and only one of them has a habit of running away. They've uncovered a few hints of things that are happening in the area, including some organized bandit activity and hints of the cult of Iuz. They have caroused and careened their way through quite a bit, in between the typical stalling, chatting, doodling on maps, and table-talk that go along with a game. The thief is second level. Everyone else is flirting with leveling, and we all seem to be having a good time with it.

I keep hoping to be able to post more info from the game, but the players are taking their time exploring the area, moving in different directions, and generally refusing to focus on any particular thread. I haven't been overly giving, preferring to let them have their way and go where they want. I'll probably drop some more hints of things over the next few sessions, but I like letting them determine what is going to happen. I already know what the main antagonists are going to do if the PCs don't interfere, so I just run with that and let them know what's happening. If they jump on some of the tracks toward the various adventures I have placed, cool. If not, that's good too. Either way, I am having fun imagining what the NPCs in the world are doing and reacting to whatever the PCs do.

I have also been working on a few editing and proofreading projects. I'm putting the finishing touches on the AEC reference sheets. I have a few more tables to dress up and then I just have to polish the OGL page and it will be finished. I'm working on copy editing one fairly lengthy manuscript and proofreading another for other people. Once I get more done on them, I'll be plugging them a bit more. I'm also working on finishing the layout for the game that my friend Jack sent me so I can release that here. Expect a few of these to get polished in the next week or so.

Around the house it's spring cleaning time, and that means I am trying to get rid of more stuff. A few years ago I got heavily into the voluntary simplicity idea, and I have been slowly purging unnecessary things since. Gamers tend to be packrats, and I was definitely one of the worst. I had a tendency to collect a lot more things that I could ever play, resulting in an entire large room full of gaming stuff that just sat on shelves. Now I am finally getting to the bottom of the unused games pile. That means I am finally going through my miniatures and getting rid of everything I don't use and don't have a real desire to paint. That means all of my Warhammer and 40K stuff is going. I'll try to post here when I put things on ebay, but keep an eye on my seller page if you're interested. At the moment, I have some Flames of War books and minis there.

Aside from my LL game, most of my gaming attention has been going to miniatures, specifically Warmaster Ancients, some 10mm WW1, a couple of WW1 aerial games, and some WW2 hex-and-counter games. Hopefully clearing out the old stuff will make more time and energy for some of this new stuff. I haven't posted anything about the minis stuff here, but let me know if you'd like to see some of it. If so, I'll start taking some pics so you can see what I'm doing.

Finally, if you made it this far, congratulations and thanks! I am coming up on a blog anniversary at the beginning of June. In the meantime, I am also creeping toward both 200 posts and 100 followers. I have won quite a few contests from other bloggers, so it's time to give it back. At the moment, I am thinking of doing a contest for each of the three - 100 followers, 200 posts, and 2 years blogging. If you have some suggestions of the kinds of prizes you'd like to see, let me know. Otherwise, keep an eye on the blog. Details to follow, as they say.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mare Nostrum

A while ago, I was looking for some good naval rules that I could incorporate into my toolbox for D&D and Labyrinth Lord. I was looking for a simple set of rules that I could tweak a bit and make work for a scenario I have in mind down the road in my current campaign. That search made me realize that there really are not that many medieval or fantasy naval games available.

All of the fantasy sets I could find had too many fantasy elements that complicated the rules and make the games harder to play. They may be good in their own right, but they don't fit with what I wanted. Most of the historical naval games seem to cluster around ancients, the Age of Sail, or modern, including World War II. Obviously the modern rules were out. In terms of tactics, medieval naval fighting follow the ancient period for the most part, but there are a few telling differences. Unfortunately, most of the ancients games didn't allow for medieval developments. The Age of Sail games all include cannon and tactics that derive from their use. Since I'm not a fan of gunpowder in D&D, that ruled them out.

Finally, I found a set of rules that covered both the ancient and medieval periods, were simple and self-contained, and (best of all) free. Mare Nostrum seemed to have everything I needed. Unfortunately, the rules were in Italian, a language that I don't even pretend to read or speak. I managed to find the author's email address and dropped him a message. Despite not speaking a bit of English, he was able to put enough together to let me know that the game was only available in Italian.

A couple pleas on Google+ fell into the void without any real response, so I did what I could with Google Translate, Babel Fish, my rudimentary Latin, and a bit of naval history. In the end, I was able to put together a basic English translation of the rules for Mare Nostrum. I fired off another email to Mr. Affinati, and he agreed that I could publish the rules here.

I don't pretend this is the most accurate translation. I tried to present the intent of the rules rather than a word-for-word rendering. If anyone knows Italian and can suggest improvements in the translation, let me know. Also, if you play the game and have suggestions for ways to improve it, I would be happy to hear those comments as well.

I'll be working on translating the scenarios and adding some variants as I get time. If anyone has suggestions for what they might want to see in that regard, drop me a line.

Mare Nostrum Rules - English

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Random Campaign Setting

Over at Monsters and Manuals, noisms threw out the challenge to take 2d6 random monsters from your bestiary of choice and build a setting around them as the intelligent races of the campaign world.

I decided to roll randomly to choose between the three main monster books from AD&D and go from there. I rolled the Fiend Folio and then randomly picked the following monsters:

Dark Creeper, Drow Elf, Flind, Githzerai, Sheet Ghoul, and Thoqqua.

All of them are normally intelligent except the Thoqqua, which is also my only non-humanoid. It's pretty easy to build a setting around these then.

The majority of the surface world is overrun with sheet ghouls. These are the remnants of a great civilization that fell into decadence and consumed itself. Being undead, the sheet ghouls do not normally die. They maintain a mockery of life, performing all manner of depraved and sadistic acts, seeking to find some meaning and pleasure in their endless existence.

The githzerai have a civilization almost as old as the ghoul kingdom. They maintain strong fortresses on the surface from which they wage war against the ghouls, along with vast subterranean gardens in which the majority of their people live. In their gardens, they work to perfect their psionic abilities and maintain their ancient ways. They are constantly wary of beings from other planes, fearing the arrival of their ancient enemies.

Primitive flind bands go to the surface to raid and perform their rites of passage. They otherwise live in caves and caverns between the surface and the deep reaches. They have a rigid, militaristic warrior culture that emphasizes strength and honor above all else.

The other races inhabit the deep reaches, an endless network of tunnels underground. These tunnels are the neverending work of the thoqqua. The rock worms move constantly between the other races, serving as messengers and mediators. They also study the other races, and they have records of their history that go back thousands of years. These records are completely indecipherable to other races, being recorded in the folds and striations of rock in the thoqqua tunnels.

The drow and dark creepers are regularly at war with one another over the scant resources underground. They are both masters of stealth and ambush and use this to their advantage against each other. Occasionally, a large war party of one race will attack a settlement of the other, but most of the fighting between them is confined to opportunistic raids.

This is obviously just a quick sketch, but it actually might be fun to play a session or two there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Not so friendly local game stores

I haven't written anything here for a while. There are several reasons for that including starting a new job, starting classes again, and trying to finish quite a few other projects. I've also been spending quite a bit of time actually playing and preparing games. All that has meant significantly less time left to write posts here. That said, I've got a few things in the works that I should be posting here soon. In the meantime, though, I want to talk about game stores.

Yesterday, I stopped by Saltire Games, one of the local stores in Indianapolis, hoping to pick up some paint for a painting project I've been working on. When I went in the store, their electronic notification system dutifully announced that I entered through the front door. There were two people working in the shop. Neither of them greeted me or otherwise acknowledged my presence. I found the paint I wanted and decided to check out the used games. One of the employees was straightening them at the time. I said, "Excuse me," and waited for her to move aside so I could check the shelves. I tried saying it again when she didn't respond. Finally, I gave up and went to the counter to check out. I waited for about three minutes before anyone came to check me out. They asked if I had a loyalty card for the shop. I do, but I didn't have the card with me. They found me in their computer, but they had my old address. I was a little surprised by this, as I had given them the updated address the last time I was in the shop. They asked me to give it to them again. I was in a hurry and didn't have time to wait around anymore, so I asked if I could just do it next time. They said they couldn't do anything until I updated my address, so I decided to just leave.

Later, I went to Gamerz to see if they had the paint I needed. Turns out, they went to the same school of customer service. The person working there also did not bother to acknowledge that I was in their store until I had already walked through the entire sales area and then specifically asked if they had the paint I wanted. Instead of answering the question, he pointed me to the paint they had, which was only sold in themed boxed sets and was not even from the same company as what I asked for. I know this store used to carry what I was after, but the total lack of engagement and service caused me to leave there as well.

Finally, I went to Game Preserve. They actually had the paint I was looking for. I had to interrupt the game the employee was playing to ask him where it was, but they had it. They were also able to find my info for their loyalty program. Unfortunately, they still have it listed under a phone number I used over ten years ago, and they have no way to update it.

These were three of the five different game stores in Indianapolis on a Saturday afternoon. None had what I would call even passable customer service. If you want to know why friendly local game stores are declining, I'll hold this up as the perfect example of one of the primary reasons. The friendly local game store isn't friendly at all. They don't care if you're there. They don't care if they have or could order what you want. They don't care if what they do while you are in the store does anything to make you want to come back. Most of them don't even care if what they know about you is accurate and up to date.

In the past I was a strong proponent of supporting local game shops. Now I feel the need to qualify that. Support your local game shops, as long as they are willing to support their local gamers. Otherwise, go to an online shop that does. At least then you can get some decent prices while you're being ignored. I'll be taking my business online from now on.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hex Crawl Locations

These are some hex crawl locations I threw together for the Hexographer Hex-Crawl Contest. I already have full licenses for Hexographer and Dungeonographer and a set of the DungeonMorph Cards, so I'm hoping to earn a set of the DungeonMorph Dice or the Coat of Arms Design Studio. Each of these locations is something that you could easily drop into a hex to give some flavor and difference to the wilderness. With a bit of creativity, they could also be expanded into full adventures for a night or more of play.

If you use them in your game, drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

1. The Dragon’s Bowl

A narrow path descends steeply into a natural bowl of rock with a deep, clear pool at the bottom. The water is ice cold, but clean and potable. There are several small shelves of rock around the pool, each shelf shaded from weather by a low overhang. The whole place seems like a perfect place to rest and recover.

The bowl is protected by the spirit of an ancient dragon spirit. Any being that sleeps overnight on one of the shelves will recover the maximum possible hit points and be healed an additional 1d4 hit points by the spirit. They will also dream that they are having a conversation with the spirit. The dragon will answer 1-3 questions posed by the character. Each answer has an equal chance of being answered truthfully or with a half-truth.

2. Little Dragon in the Woods

A huge dragon skull is sunk into the ground along the side of the road or path on which the characters are traveling. Exploring around the skull reveals other bones that are obviously the remains of a powerful dragon that died here at least a decade ago. Further exploration turns up a camouflaged door where the front of the ribcage would be. The door leads into a small sod house that is poorly but comfortably appointed.

The house is the residence of a wisenend, dirty hermit. He claims that he was once a great warrior that gave up the sword after defeating his arch-nemesis, the very dragon in which he has made his home. He claims that he buried his magical equipment in the woods nearby. If only he could remember where...

3. The Terrible Temple of Arn

An ancient shrine is submerged in about three feet of brackish water. The shrine is topped with the menacing figure of a demonic frog-like being. Its mouth is partially opened and the tip of its tongue is visible between a pair of sharpened ridges of teeth. Its skin is covered with warts and knobs, several of which have malevolent, opened eyes. Beneath the demon-frog, seated on a simple stone throne between a pair of fluted columns is a short, bearded human with a broad face, short beard, and some kind of brimmed cap. He appears to be smiling mischievously. In front of the statue is a small altar inlaid with a gridded pattern and strange sigils. Scattered across the top of the altar are a variety of crystals and gems (each worth 10-50 gp). The gems are carved and decorated with ancients number symbols.

If the characters take the gems, they will be immediately attacked by lizard men or frog men that emerge from surrounding swamp. If they escape the guardians, they will be cursed and hunted by the temple's guardians until they return the gems to the altar. If they roll the gems across the top of the altar, the statue will seem to animate and wink at them. They will discover a minor magic item appropriate to the character the next time that they rest.

4. Goodberry Inn

A small travelers’ inn sits next to a remote crossroads. The inn has passable food and comfortable accommodations. What it is mostly noted for is a completely unique type of wine.

Goodberry wine is mostly white with a slight bluish tint. It is light, sweet, and remarkably refreshing and restores 1 hp to anyone that drinks a glass. For anyone drinking a glass, it also imposes a -1 penalty to all saving throws against sleep or charm effects for a full 12 hours. The owner of the inn will not reveal the recipe or the source of the fruit from which the wine is made.

The wine is actually made from a mix of common white grapes and berries from the realm of faerie. It is brewed in a secret room in a hollow hill behind the inn by a pair of faeries. The faeries were bound to a hundred years and a day of servitude. They can be freed by pronouncing their names backwards three times and removing the bracelet of child’s hair bound around each of their wrists. They cannot reveal the method of their release directly to anyone.

5. The Face of Fate

The characters find a limestone cliff covered in vines. A stern face with an ornate headdress is carved into the face of the cliff. The mouth of the face is opened wide enough that a character could easily slip a hand inside. The half-rotten remains of fruit, native totems, and other offerings can be seen inside the mouth. If the characters look straight into the mouth, they will also see a glint of light reflected from something inside. Characters reaching into the mouth have an equal chance of finding a small totem made of gold and gems (10-20 gp value), a large uncut gem (50-200 gp value uncut, 500-1000 gp cut and polished), an aggressive venomous snake, or 1-3 giant centipedes.

6. The River of Plenty

The characters see an underground river ahead of them flowing across the passage. The river is suspended perfectly in the middle of the passage, passing smoothly between two five foot-wide holes in the walls of the passage. Blind cave fish can be seen swimming in the water of the river.

None of the water will ever splash the walls, floor, or ceiling here. Characters can easily pass over, under or through the water with no ill effects. The water is clean and potable, and the fish are edible and nutritious.
Creatures in the area are completely aware of the water and food available here. Characters that linger here have triple the normal chance of a random encounter here.

7. The Moaning Tower
Grassland, Farmland, Forest, Hills, or Jungle

The characters find the tumbled remains of an ancient tower. The stumps of the walls are overgrown with vines, trees, and dense shrubs. There is a passable opening in the wall and the overgrowth where the door of the tower once was. As the party approaches the tower, they can hear a low moaning sound coming from inside.

The tower is inhabited by a small hive of giant bees. The moaning sound is the resonance of the buzz of the bees through the foliage and rubble inside the ruin. The bees have completely filled the larder and dungeons below the ruins with their hive, tunneling deeper into the hillside for the queen’s chamber. They will not bother anyone who approaches the tower unless they are attacked or someone attempts to enter or disturb the hive.

8. Dust to Dust
Badlands or Desert

The characters see a huge number of dust devils on the horizon. The mini-whirlwinds are all concentrated in an area a couple dozen yards across and appear to be weaving in and out of each other. Nothing about the scene appears natural or normal.

The whirlwinds are actually the spirits of a tribe of bandits and a unit of caravan guards that fought and died here centuries ago. Their spirits are trapped in the sand here and forced to relive their final moments over and over for eternity.

Anyone who waits for 1d30+30 minutes will see the dust devils disappear one by one until the area is completely calm. 30 minutes later, all of the spirits will rise again and resume their dance.
A character that approaches within twenty feet of the spirit battle will take 1d6 damage per round from the whirling sand in the area. A character that actually enters the battle while the spirits are active will take 3d6 damage per round. Animals will try to avoid the area completely, possibly bolting if their riders try to force them too close to the battleground.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Five-Minute Map

Somebody over on Google+ started a challenge where people take five minutes on Friday to draw a map and then post them for the world to see. This is my first map for it. Like I said in my post on G+, if I had about five more minutes, I would have added a bit of furniture and some more trees.

In a similar vein, I have been sketching quite a few small maps of late. I keep a small notebook (3.75 x 6 in) and some pencils and Sharpie pens on my bedside table. Whenever I need to empty my head or distract myself for a bit before sleeping, I sketch a little map or make some notes for the Borderlands game.

Eventually I'll be posting a lot of that material here. Unfortunately, that has to wait until the players are done exploring it.