An English Vampire in Africa

Hey folks – it’s a three day weekend in these parts, so I’m still on schedule with a post every weekend.

I was going to do a Dragon-by-Dragon today, but instead decided to write about a little B-movie I finished watching last night, the 1945 “classic” The Vampire’s Ghost. While the movie does not involve a vampire’s ghost, it is a better movie than it has a right to be, possibly because it was written by Leigh Brackett. If you don’t know who Leigh Brackett is, well go find out. She was a classic sci-fi author, and did some fine screenwriting on The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. The film we’re talking about today was her first such effort, and in it she brings more talent to the picture than one would expect of a low-budget Republic film.

She’s joined in this by the the villain in the piece, John Abbott. Just to maintain the Star Trek theme I’ve been on for a while, he played the lead Organian in the episode “Errand of Mercy”. In this picture, he plays the vampire, and I think he’s one of my favorites. In classic Hollywood, the Vampire didn’t usually have much depth, and was often played for shock value. Bela Lugosi’s turn as Dracula is an exception, of course.

It also helps that the movie is based loosely on “The Vampyre” written by John William Polidori in 1816. Between Polidori, Brackett and Abbott, you get a hidden nugget from the studio days of Hollywood.

In The Vampire’s Ghost, Abbott plays Webb Fallon, an English vampire who has “lived” at least since the days of the Spanish Armada. He brings a really rate matter-of-factness to his vampire portrayal – he’s not happy about his condition, but he shows no remorse for his victims, and he mostly uses his ability to hypnotize and control people to get away with it. In the film, he is now running a drinking establishment in the African town of Bakunda. As in Dracula, the movie wastes little time in revealing that the mysterious killer around Bakunda is a vampire, and that Fallon is that vampire. The natives discover it first, and the “hero” of the picture, Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) is soon clued in, but is hypnotized by Fallon before he can do anything about it. Strange for many such movies, the supposed hero spends most of the movie unable to do anything against the villain. The vampire really is the protagonist in the film, making all the moves and committing his villainy unrestrained until … well, I won’t give everything away.

The main point here is that, in this largely forgotten B-movie, there’s a really cool vampire depiction thanks largely to two talented people, Leigh Brackett and John Abbott, and despite the low budget and relative apathy of Republic Pictures. To tie this in to roleplaying games, the Webb Fallon vampire should give a good game master some ideas about playing a vampire in a game in a way that might surprise the players.

Check it out, if you have a mind to …

Family Game Night Reviews

Because setting yourself up for failure is fun, I’m going to take a shot at getting a post up each weekend in 2020. They might not all be strictly gaming related … but what the heck – it’s my blog and I suppose I can do what I want with it!

To kick 2020 off, I’ll do some “timely” game reviews. I had some time off this Christmas season, so the family had time for a couple family game nights. We had a few games recently purchased and un-played, so we gave them a twirl.

First up is Charlie’s Angels, published in 1977 by Milton Bradley. I’m a total sucker for any board game involving a 1970’s or 1980’s TV property (well, almost all of them), so when we saw this baby priced $20 in an antique shop, it was a shoo-in.

I instantly called Sabrina when we got the game home, but we soon discovered that each player takes control of their own team of Angels for the game, so no fighting over the individual Angels is required. The game concept is kinda cool. You have a board that is a sort of a modified grid. Onto this grid you place the Villain. The Villain moves one space on each player’s turn, the direction of the move chosen by the player in question. The player then rolls two dice and can move one of his or her angels each with each dice. If you can’t move the entire number on the dice with an Angel, you give up your move.

The goal is to trap the Villain – sort of a Charlie’s Angels checkmate. Each Angel that is in on the trapping is worth one point for their player. You play three games, total the points, and determine the winner. There are some cards that can be helpful … or harmful … so you take a risk pulling one. You also have to think a bit about how you want to move the Villain – you don’t want to be left out of the capture, so sometimes you’re really on the Villain’s side in the game. We had a good time with Charlie’s Angels, with the game ending in a three-way tie – not a bad ending for a family game.

One issue – I noted that the rules did not specifically disallow moving back on your path on your turn. They probably should have, because this seemed to make the game too easy, and it just didn’t feel right.

Next up was a funny little dice game – really a packaged version of old dice rules – called Skunk. Simple concept – you have two dice to roll. The dice replace the “1” with a skunk. On their turn, a player takes the dice and can roll them as often as they like, totaling the points rolled. If they roll a skunk, they get no points for this turn and have to pay a penalty (1 chip, or 2 if you rolled a skunk and a “2”). If you roll two skunks, you lose all the points you’ve acquired and pay a 4 chip penalty. To win, a player must get his total above 100 – she can go as high above 100 as she dares. Once a player goes over 100, the other players have to try to beat them on their next turn. The chips in the pot do to the winner of each round.

The game is really all about risk – how daring are you, and how lucky?

In our first game, I managed to zero-out midway through. When my daughter went over 100, I needed something like 60 points to beat her. I started rolling, got hot, and actually won the game. On our third game, I decided to do exactly that each turn, figuring I might eventually get hot again … and wound up rolling a skunk every time on my first or second roll.

We had a fun time with Skunk, and since up to 8 people can play it would probably make a fun party game. To make it more “grown up” you could turn it into a drinking game, with a drink taken on every skunk or double skunk. I suppose you could also play Strip Skunk … but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, published in 2000, also by Milton Bradley. We bought this one for my daughter for Christmas, and she was raring to play it. It took a while to read the rules, but they weren’t too complicated and we had a good time playing it.

I took control of the bad guys, while my wife had to play Oz and Xander and my daughter got Buffy and Willow. The game is fun, pretty fast paced, and pretty easy to figure out. Evil sure looked like it was going to win this one – in short order, two of the goodies were out of the game and Evil had all the magic items. In the end, though, Buffy and Willow knocked off the evil minions and then teamed up on the Evil vampire and snuffed him out. Fortunately for them, the main villain doesn’t automatically get to move every turn. My guy spent three turns in a row not moving while they beat the crap out of him. C’est la vie.

So there you have it – three fun games for the family. All were purchased in antique stores for low prices and all were well worth it.

Star Trek at Rules Lite Speed

Playing around on the Internet Archive recently, I came upon some old issues of Different Worlds magazine. This was a magazine I was unaware of in my youth, and I’ve enjoyed looking at another take on the RPG world in its infancy. One article in particular, “Kirk on Karit 2” by Emmet F. Milestone in issue No. 4 (1979) brought to my attention the first licensed Star Trek RPG, Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. I did a little hunting, and found a copy for sale, and I’m glad I did.

Written by Michael Scott in 1978 for Heritage Models to support their range of Star Trek miniatures, Star Trek (which is what I’ll call it from now on in this review to save time and space) is a dandy little game – very old school, very rules lite. In fact, some folks seem to think it a little too rules lite, but not me. I love discovering these little games from the hobby’s origins, because they remind you just how much you can do with a very light rules set.

Here are a few highlights –

The game is very focused on its mission, which is to simulate Star Trek landing parties – I think it does this pretty well. In fact, you could spin this thing into doing Star Trek dungeon crawls with very little trouble.

Being written in 1978, it is all original Trek, including the animated series, which I really dig. This means you get stats for creatures like the K’zin and Skorr.

The rules are really simple – in the basic and advanced versions – and meld pretty well with old school D&D. The six ability scores are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Luck and Mentality. Not too difficult to track those to D&D. Ability scores range from 3 to 18 (3d6). Characters get a modifier that is positive for every point a score is above 12 and a negative for every point a score is below 9. They also have a hand-to-hand combat value and equipment. In th basic game, you play one of the characters from actual Star Trek – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. In the advanced game you can roll up a character yourself.

Sometimes hand-to-hand means butt-to-face

Combat is simple – roll 1d6 to attack, adding strength, dexterity and hand-to-hand bonus to determine total potential damage while the defender subtracts 1d6 plus luck and hand-to-hand modifiers. The resulting damage, if there is any left, is deducted from the defender’s constitution score. If damage equals more than half of the character’s remaining constitution, they are knocked out. Ranged combat is a little different, but just as simple – you have to roll below a number based on your dexterity score, with modifiers for a few common situations. Damage is based on the ranged weapon used.

The advanced game has more hand-to-hand weapons, which involve rolling more d6’s for the attack, and armor to reduce damage suffered.

Skill checks are a roll of 3d6 which must be less than or equal to whatever ability score makes the most sense. If Spock is trying to use his tri-corder to pick up signs of life, he makes a roll against his Mentality. Easy … but I would personally change it to a d20 roll rather than 3d6.

Psionic powers work basically the same way – roll under Mentality.

There is no experience point or leveling system in the game, but the author mentions that as characters succeed in adventures their hand-to-hand rating can improve or they can get bonuses to certain tasks. I like the idea of advancement being kind of arbitrary, though you would need a good Mission Master to keep things from getting out of hand.

The game has stats for all sorts of Star Trek monsters – again, a Trek dungeon would probably be lots of fun. Given that Kirk and Spock had to deal with ancient Rome, the Roaring ’20s and the Old West, a dungeon crawl would not be too outrageous … and nicknaming the hirelings “red shirts” would be entirely appropriate.

Spock: “I use my tricorder to scan for life forms on the other side of the door.”

MM: Rolling … “You detect no life forms.”

Kirk: “I bust open the door and somersault into the room.”

MM: The room contains four Klingon warriors – roll for initiative!

I really grok how simple this game is – you can pick it up and get going within minutes if you have players who understand the basics of role playing games and Star Trek. I especially love that it instantly lit a fire in me to play it and play with it – why not work up quick stats for Doctor Who characters and creatures, or Star Wars or Next Generation or whatever – it would be so easy!

If you get a chance, check it out. Expect simplicity, “rulings not rules” and lots of thinking on your feet, but also a game that you can get up and running quickly.

Also – check out that article I mentioned above – Emmet F. Milestone came up with a dandy little scheme for characters falling in love with one another – a must if Kirk is in your boarding party, though as Emmet often remarks, “Kirk has no luck in love, so his Luck modifier is never added in a Romance Roll”. I instantly want to use this in my next D&D dungeon crawl.

Heritage Star Trek miniatures – image found at Noble Knight Games

Slumming Once Again

After having reviewed David Lewis Johnson‘s fine Gathox Vertical Slum recently, I was delighted to be given the chance of reviewing a recently released adventure for the setting called Quake Alley Mayhem.

From the introduction:

“GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem is a tournament-style module set in the world of Gathox Vertical Slum, for use with Swords & Wizardry White Box or a similar old school system, focusing on a team of fresh gang members and their attempt to retrieve an artifact for their boss.”

The adventure is nicely done, with a tidy set-up that meshes well with its setting, plus the bonus of being a tournament module – you don’t see many of those lately – and with an emphasis not on fighting, but on dealing with traps. In other words, like the Gathox setting as a whole, it’s not the same old thing.

Quake Alley Mayhem centers around a machine that one gang, the Kermen, stole from another gang, the Purple Rockets. They have this item hidden in – appropriately enough – their hideout. The adventurer’s task is to get it back, and it will not be easy. The chambers through which they must pass are trapped – not all of them, but most of them – and are sometimes guarded by monsters. In addition, the hideout is in a quake-prone area; every 20 minutes there is a quake, and every quake has the chance of altering the hideout’s layout or even dealing damage to the adventurers.

The room descriptions in the 40 page module take up 8 pages, and are well laid out for easy reading and use. The module has a brief introduction, rules on running the quakes, a guide to tournament scoring and random tables for rumors, random encounters, reactions and death and dismemberment. There is a list of three contracts the adventurers can take on to earn additional points in the tournament scoring and to spice up the mission a bit with extra goals. There are also seven pre-generated characters with character sheets so that players can get right down to business. The module also provides a Module Tracking Sheet for the GM and a blank character sheet. And, of course, the module has lots of nice art by David.

Quake Alley Mayhem is a nice introductory adventure for the Gathox setting, and at only $6.99 I heartily recommend it.

Gathox Vertical Slum – A Review

I have recently been given the priveledge of perusing Gathox Vertical Slum by its author and artist, David Lewis Johnson. For readers of this blog who also read my NOD magazine, Johnson should be well known, as his art has graced many issues of NOD (and will grace many more, God willin’ and the crik don’t rise).

I approach game materials in two ways – as stand-alone, run-as-written products (i.e. can I grab it off the shelf and run with it) and as tool boxes. David’s book, I am happy to say, works well in both in capacities.

As a “module”, it is fantastic. A well-developed city, incredibly imaginative with new things around every corner, that can play host to all sorts of adventures. Explorers will not be bored in Gathox, and players who like mysteries, puzzles, interaction and, of course, fisticuffs, will find plenty to do in Gathox provided their referee knows what he or she is doing. While Gathox is fully fleshed out and ready to go, I think one could also make modifications as needed for their group.

I also appreciate the fact that Gathox, as designed, can be dropped (almost literally) into any campaign and a wide variety of games, from pure fantasy to sword & planet to post-apocalyptic to sci-fi. The city is a wandering entity, you see, and it could show up in the World of Greyhawk just as easily as my Nod campaign world or wherever you happen to play.

As a toolbox, Gathox has all sorts of goodies between its covers. There are new and very imaginative monsters, a pretty boss little mutant class and clever rules for running competing gangs in a city setting. The rules as written are compatible with old school games of the D&D variety, so it should be as easily converted to other systems as other old school games.

Gathox Vertical Slum is published by DIY RPG Productions (just look for the sign of the flipping bird), with chapter fiction written by Josh Wagner and editing and layout design by Mike Evans. It is a well designed book – easy on the eyes, easy to read and well organized. Johnson’s art is great (but hey, obviously I’m biased there) and the fiction does a great job of conveying the intended feel of the setting.

Folks, I give David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox Vertical Slum my highest recommendation. It’s a great book – so great that I’m going to shell out some hard currency for a physical copy. I have some 5E D&D-ers that might get a fun surprise if they walk through a shimmering portal one day in the depths of Stonehell.

You can grab a copy (and I recommend you do) HERE.

Dragon by Dragon – January 1982 (57)

Wow – 1982. I was ten years old (well, nine in January) and still a couple years away from learning about Dungeons & Dragons. Thirty-six years ago – much as changed, and much has not. I guess all these years later, we can be happy that people are still playing D&D and AD&D and other “old school” games. Let’s start the new year by looking at the new year in 1982 in gaming …

Let’s start with the cover, because it’s pretty different from the traditional fantasy fare. We have a woman, maybe modern, knitting dragons (or something like them) onto a blanket  and the dragons are becoming real and flying into the fireplace, all while a strange painting of a man or woman looks on. The tragedy is that I can’t quite make out the signature, and I didn’t see the artist’s name in the magazine.

Update: Nathan Irving writes me to let me know the artist is Dean Morrissey, who provided covers for 16, 18, 28, 60, 84 and 91.

The first big article is “Modern Monsters” by Ed Greenwood. It’s a great article, giving modern (in 1982) vehicles and firearms stats for D&D. The article also goes into some of the pitfalls of pitting “medieval” characters against modern characters. It really all goes to the point that jumping from one reality into another was assumed to be a regular feature by our elders in the hobby. Here’s one insight you might enjoy:

Magic will ultimately determine the fate of an AD&D party in a modern setting. It is the party’s “heavy artillery,” and must be expended with caution, for it is not wholly renewable. Magic users without spell books will be unable to regain their spells.

Lenard Lakofka presents some useful ideas and tables in “Shield and Weapon Skills”, including this insight about shields after he watched some folks from the SCA put on a demonstration of medieval fighting:

Fully 60% of the blows are caught by the shield. Second, a trained fighter who normally uses a broadsword is a much poorer fighter when using a battle axe for the first time. To place these facts in terms of AD&D™ rules, some minor rule changes are proposed. A shield will now give +2 to armor class instead of just +1.

He also presents some rules for determining how long shields last in combat. My favorite scheme is for shields to have to make an item save whenever an attack roll is a natural ’20’.

The tables I mentioned are for determining an NPC’s weapon proficiencies, but they could also be used to determine an NPC’s armaments.

In the “Sorcerer’s Scroll”, one E. Gary Gygax presents some more details about the Greyhawk setting – a good read for those who use that campaign setting.

In “In Search of a James Bond”, Mark Mulkins covers how in a TOP SECRET game one could work for three different operational bureaus at the same time without sacrificing experience points. What Mark covers in three pages I would just hand wave.

Up next is an article I kinda dig called “Random Magic Items” by Pete Mohney. It’s a collection of some groovy little random tables for generating magic items. I’ll generate three of them now:

1) A magic girdle, not cursed, that gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws.

2) An amulet shaped like a double-headed axe that allows the wearer to control animals once per week.

3) A hat that provides a +1 bonus to intelligence – we’ll call it a thinking cap.

If you’re a player of DragonQuest, this issue has an article about magicians by Jon Mattson. Since I’ve never played the game, I can’t comment on the merits of the article.

This issue’s Giants in the Earth covers a couple characters I don’t know – C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Vanye (with art by Jim Holloway) from the books Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan and Fires of Azeroth, Lynn Abbey’s Rifkind from Daughter of the Bright Moon and The Black Flame, and two characters created by Robert E. Howard – Belit and Dark Agnes. Howard. Belit is a Chaotic Evil 10th level fighter in this write-up, though I would probably go Neutral Evil given her devotion to Conan since I conceive of Chaotic Evil as being utterly self-interested.

The special feature of this issue is an AD&D adventure called “The Wandering Trees” by Michael Malone. It is intended for characters level 6th to 9th. The adventure begins thus:

Long ago, so far back that even the elves are not sure when, Termlane Forest was the home of a tribe of tree-worshipping men. These men built a great temple at the heart of The Forest, where they worshipped their mysterious tree-gods.

The adventure concerns a forest of moving trees with only two safe ways through, and a lost temple somewhere in between. It’s a hell of a dangerous forest, so beware. The adventure also includes stakes for the Phooka.

In “Up on a Soapbox”, there are two essays – one by Brian Blume on the problems with playing evil characters in games, and another by Roger E. Moore on the benefits of playing rpg’s with women.

Michael Kluever has an interesting look at “The History of the Shield”. It’s a good primer for those who like to get crunchy. It’s not a short article, and it is well researched with a useful bibliography.

There’s a great insight into 1982 geekdom in “The Electric Eye”, namely the results of a survey regarding to what high tech goodies readers of the magazine had to play with. The results:

  • 46% have an Apple II or Apple II+
  • 38% have a TRS-80
  • 20% have an Atari 400 or 800
  • 9% have a CBM
  • 6% have no computer
  • 6% have a S-100
  • 3% have a North Star
  • 3% have a VIC
  • and 20% have some other computer

The bottom line, apparently was:

Who is the average Electric Eye reader? He’s a 17-year-old male high school student. He has owned a 48K Apple-l I+ with a disk drive, a printer, and a joystick or a paddle set for about a year. He has spent a little over $100 on software, but he mainly either copies out of magazines or does it himself. He reads The Electric Eye for the program listings and reviews, but he is also interested in other facets of computer gaming.

As always, I leave you with Wormy

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Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival

I’ve finally found the time, between impromptu trips to Iowa and too dang much work (the real work, not the silly game writing work), to peruse Kabuki Kaiser’s Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival, with fantastic art by Evelyn M. Kabuki was kind enough to send me a review copy (PDF), and I’m sure glad he did.

I well remember when Evelyn first showed off some of the artwork on Google+ – my first thought was “dammit – flower liches – I wish I’d thought of that!” Such an enticing notion – a nice twist on an old idea.

Now I can happily report that Flower Liches is a very groovy book. You get a nice adventure with lots of action and mystery, plus a sourcebook for an interesting Asian setting that can also fit nicely into people’s existing settings (it would slip into my Mu-Pan setting in NOD like a treat), plus a dragonboat race minigame with different levels of complexity.

The book is 95 pages long, with a creative, attractive layout and the aforementioned beautiful art by Evelyn M. The text is dense – there is plenty to digest, and all of it is useful. When the text is evocative and descriptive, and it often is, it has a Clark Ashton Smith feel – weird fantasy. You get the practical and the aesthetic all in one package.

In a nutshell, the game describes itself as:

“Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival is a Chinese ghost story, a Kung-Fu action movie adventure, and a detective story. It features both location- and event-based
sequences built upon sets of tables which encourage the action to derail and to switch between martial arts displays, thoughtful inquiries, and high octane dungeon action with spirits, monsters with giant bloated tongues, and porcelain faces. They’re meant to be grotesque, picaresque, and gross; they’re spirits and liches, after all. Like in all classic Kung-Fu and Chinese ghost stories, magic and philosophical whatnot alternate
seamlessly with flurries of fists and things that croak and go bump in the dark.”

In my opinion, the game really delivers the goods. You get a colorful romp, very “D&D” and thus easy to include in existing campaigns, that challenges the players in multiple ways, including a mystery to solve (I won’t say much, to keep from spoiling it), monsters to slay and numerous strange and wonderful locales to explore.

If you dig wuxia, mysteries and weird fantasy, get yourself a copy of Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival folks – a truly original addition to the OSR.

And I’m still pissed I didn’t think of it first.

Simplicity Himself

I discovered Warhammer in high school. Some friends I met in art class were into the miniatures, and brought a catalog with them to school one day. Needless to say, I was impressed. I’d never been into miniatures before that, and the old Warhammer stuff was pretty cool. That led to me playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buying, though never actually playing, WFRP and Rogue Trader. I didn’t keep up with Warhammer, but the old stuff definitely certainly fired my imagination.

Which brings me to Simplicius Simplicissimus, Warhammer’s great-grandfather (or maybe closer than that). Written in 1668 by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, it is a picaresque novel set in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). It is the story of a simple country boy who gets whisked into the big events of the day, and I would say definitely an influence on the grim world of perilous adventure presented in Warhammer … except I don’t actually know that this is true. I suppose if you’re making a game/setting inspired by the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, you’re going to end up with something akin to a book about those same events.

The main thing that makes me think there’s a link is the progression of Simplicius from career to career over the course of the book. He begins as a simple farm laborer, and then becomes a religious hermit, a fool, an outlaw and sneak thief, a dragoon, a charlatan, etc.

No trollslayers, but still …

The book is a fun read, and the Alfred Thomas Scrope Goodrick translation I read (from Project Gutenberg) was easier going than you might expect for something written a few hundred years ago. I’ll also note that the book moves along at a pretty good pace – old books are sometimes slow (because they didn’t need to compete with TV), but I never had the temptation to skip ahead in Simplicius. The book isn’t entirely “safe for work”, but it doesn’t delve too far into sex and bloody brutality. I definitely give it my recommendation as a book to read on par with most modern adventure fiction.

Literary merits aside, the book presents good fodder for fantasy gaming, Warhammer-style gaming especially. The supernatural shows up a couple times, but isn’t prevalent, so it’s mostly about normal people trying to make their way in a rough time and place. Here are a few passages from the book that I found particularly interesting:

This is the introduction to the hermit who takes him in. This guy is about as Lawful as the book gets:

So I plucked up heart to come out of my hollow tree and to draw nigh to the voice I had heard, where I was ware of a tall man with long greyish hair which fell in confusion over his shoulders: a tangled beard he had shapen like to a Swiss cheese; his face yellow and thin yet kindly enough, and his long gown made up of more than a thousand pieces of cloth of all sorts sewn together one upon another. Round his neck and body he had wound a heavy iron chain like St. William, and in other ways seemed in mine eyes so grisly and terrible that I began to shake like a wet dog.

A description of the soldier’s life. This would apply to most old school fantasy adventurers as well:

For gluttony and drunkenness, hunger and thirst, wenching and dicing and playing, riot and roaring, murdering and being murdered, slaying and being slain, torturing and being tortured, hunting and being hunted, harrying and being harried, robbing and being robbed, frighting and being frighted, causing trouble and suffering trouble, beating and being beaten: in a word, hurting and harming, and in turn being hurt and harmed–this was their whole life.

The goings on of the aristocracy at a party – I thought it might make a good random table for behavior in inns and taverns:

‘Twas indeed a wonderful pantomime to see how they did fool, and yet none wondered but I. One sang: one wept: one laughed: another moaned: one cursed: another prayed: one shouted “Courage!” another could not even speak. One was quiet and peaceable: another would drive the devil out by swaggering: one slept and was silent, another talked so fast that none could stand up against him. One told stories of tender love adventures, another of his dreadful deeds in war. Some talked of church and clergy, some of the constitution, of politics, of the affairs of the empire and of the world. Some ran hither and thither and could not keep still: some lay where they were and could not stir a finger, much less stand up or walk. Some were still eating like ploughmen, and as if they had been a week without food, while others were vomiting up what they had eaten that very day.

A list of hangover cures:

There wormwood, sage wine, elecampane, quince and lemon drinks, with hippocras, were to clear the heads and stomachs of the drinkers;

A strange spell from the book:

And no sooner had the rogue mumbled some words than there sprang out of each man’s breeches, sleeves, boots and pockets, and all other openings in their clothes, one, two, three, or more young puppies. And these sniffed round and round in the tent, and pretty beasts they were, of all manner of colours, and each with some special ornament, so that ’twas a right merry sight.

If you like gore, the book has some gore. This could also work as a description of a fantasy battlefield:

The earth, whose custom it is to cover the dead was there itself covered with them, and those variously distinguished: for here lay heads that had lost their natural owners, and there bodies that lacked their heads: some had their bowels hanging out in most ghastly and pitiful fashion, and others had their heads cleft and their brains scattered: there one could see how lifeless bodies were deprived of their blood while the living were covered with the blood of others; here lay arms shot off, on which the fingers still moved, as if they would yet be fighting; and elsewhere rascals were in full flight that had shed no drop of blood: there lay severed legs, which though delivered from the burden of the body, yet were far heavier than they had been before: there could one see crippled soldiers begging for death, and on the contrary others beseeching quarter and the sparing of their lives. In a word, ’twas naught but a miserable and pitiful sight.

The effect of gunpowder on the world (i.e. look out high level fighters):

But ’twas this cause made me so great a man, that nowadays the veriest horse-boy can shoot the greatest hero in the world; and had not gunpowder been invented I must have put my pride in my pocket.

On the glories of gold (and some supernatural associations with gemstones):

Yea, I could even take upon me to prove that this same money possesses all virtues and powers more than any precious stones; for it can drive away all melancholia like the diamond: it causeth love and inclination to study, like the emerald (for so comes it that commonly students have more money than poor folk’s children): it taketh away fear and maketh man joyful and happy like unto the ruby: ’tis often an hindrance to sleep, like the garnet: on the other hand, it hath great power to produce repose of mind and so sleep, like the jacinth: it strengtheneth the heart and maketh a man jolly and companionable, lively and kind, like the sapphire and amethyst: it driveth away bad dreams, giveth joy, sharpeneth the understanding, and if one have a plaint against another it gaineth him the victory, like the sardius (and in especial if the judge’s palm be first well oiled therewith): it quencheth unchaste desire, for by means of gold one can possess fair women: and in a word, ’tis not to be exprest what gold can do, as I have before set forth in my book intituled “Black and White,” if any man know how rightly to use and employ this information.

Probably not the best name for a game (bolded text):

And though I did no deed evil enough to forfeit my life, yet was I so reckless that, save for sorcerers and sodomites, no worse man could be found.

On random encounters in the Black Forest:

… that I should not escape from the peasants of the Black Forest, which were then famous for the knocking of soldiers on the head.

A melee:

… when we did least expect it, came six musqueteers with a corporal to our hut with their pieces ready and their matches burning, who burst in the door and cried to us to surrender. But Oliver (that, like me, had ever his loaded piece lying by him and his sharp sword also, and then sat behind the table, and I by the stove behind the door) answered them with a couple of musquet-balls, wherewith he brought two to the ground, while I with a like shot slew one and wounded the fourth. Then Oliver whipped out his terrible sword (that could cut hairs asunder and might well be compared to Caliburn, the sword of King Arthur of England) and therewith he clove the fifth man from the shoulder to the belly, so that his bowels gushed out and he himself fell down beside them in gruesome fashion. And meanwhile I knocked the sixth man on the head with the butt-end of my piece, so that he fell lifeless: but Oliver got even such a blow from the seventh, and that with such force that his brains flew out, and I in turn dealt him that did that such a crack that he must needs join his comrades on the dead muster-roll. So when the one that I had shot at and wounded was ware of such cuffs and saw that I made for him with the butt of my piece also, he threw away his gun and began to run as if the devil was at his heels. Yet all this fight lasted no longer than one could say a paternoster, in which brief space seven brave soldiers did bite the dust.

A spell to force thieves to give back their stolen goods, worth 10 sp (or more or less, depending on your system):

And since ’tis as grievous to lose such things as ’tis hard to get them, therefore the said Switzer would move heaven and earth to come by them again, and did even send for the famous devil-driver of the Goatskin, which did so plague the thief by his charms that he must needs restore the stolen goods to their proper place: for which the wizard earned ten rix-dollars.

I hope this motivates you to give the book a read, especially if you’re a WFRP player or game master. Well worth the time!

Dragon by Dragon – November 1981 (55)

Getting back on the blogging track means getting back into the Dragon by Dragon articles.

This week, I’m going to take a look at Dragon #55, from November 1981. This one has a really good beginning – a cover by Erol Otus. The best thing about the cover – I have no idea what that monstrous thing is. This, to me, lies at the heart of old school games – the freedom to invent something new every game, or to add all sorts of fun details to things old and well-known without the need to invent new mechanics.

I think one of the downfalls of 3rd edition D&D was the attempt to standardize fantasy. Standardization may be important for “branding”, but it’s terrible for creativity. I think many corporations these days are cutting their own throats by pushing “branding” over creativity.

On to the review …

First, a moment of righteous anger from the letters page:

“A lot of people seem to have a warped view of how to create a character. Some think you start off at 20th level with all the magic you can carry. Others have the strange notion that you get experience from taking damage. (A character in my world was nearly cut in half by a weapon hit and demanded he get experience for it: Why didn’t he just beat his head against a wall until he achieved godhood?)”

I enjoyed that bit – well said Greg Fox of Scotia, New York

Second, a note of the beginning of the end of Old School in Ed Greenwood’s review of the Fiend Folio

“The beauty of the AD&D rule system is its careful attention to detail, “serious” (i.e., treating monsters as creatures in a fantasy world, not as constructs in a fantasy game) tone, and consistency. The FIEND FOLIO Tome mars this beauty. In its pages this DM finds too much lack of detail, too many shifts in tone, and too many breaches of consistency.”

Here we see the cleaving of the playership – one side needing a “serious” imaginary world and the other just needing a fun place to play for a few hours. I’m in the latter group, and of course love the Fiend Folio. It’s probably not a surprise that I don’t much are for Mr. Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting – though I mean no disrespect to Mr. Greenwood. He’s a hell of a creator, and deserves great respect in the gaming world. It just sounds like we’re looking for different things from our gaming.

I’ll note one more line from the review:

“Perhaps it should have been a D&D® book, not one for the AD&D™ game.”

Guess that’s why I always liked the D&D rules better than the AD&D rules.

I will indulge my sense of humor for reviews one last time here, with this peach from a second review of the Fiend Folio.

“First, the names of the dragons are given in the wrong order. If you look in the Monster Manual under the entry indexed as “Dragon: White” you would see at the top of the description, “White Dragon (Draco Rigidus Frigidus).” The Latin name of the dragon is put in parentheses after the English name. But in the FIEND FOLIO under “Dragon, Oriental” a subtitle will read, “Li Lung (Earth Dragon),” with the Chinese name first and the English name in parentheses. Now, who is going to call this dragon “Li Lung” when “Earth Dragon” is much easier to remember? The names should have been given in reverse form (Oriental name last) for the sake of convenience, if nothing more.”

The joy of writing for nerds. At least the reviewer was focusing on the big picture, and not nitpicking.

Now to the feature articles:

Dinosaurs: New Theories for Old Monsters by Lawrence Schick raises the problem we still face with these creatures that we don’t face with fantasy monsters – we don’t know enough. We know more now than we did then, of course, which means we could well be revising monster stats for these beasts forever. This is why I prefer using dinosaurs in my games as though they were fantasy monsters based on what you got in old movies … with just a dash of what we now know (the potential for brilliant plummage, for example) to make them weird.

Gary Gygax has a nice article covering some of the peoples of Oerth. This was reprinted in the old Greyhawk boxed set, and I remember reading it there and thinking “Wow, I didn’t realize you could make this kind of thing up.” It was one of those “unknown unknowns” to me as a kid. I mean, the world is full of people, so I guess people in a D&D world will look like people in our own world, so you don’t really need to describe them. I had a lot to learn about the joys of fantasy.

Katherine Kerr has a nice piece on Robin Hood (he has a price of 200 gp on his head, you know). She makes him a 12th level fighter, Chaotic Good, with some pretty high ability scores. This brings up a thought – that D&D is actually better at depicting cruel reality than heroic fantasy in some ways. After all, when we try to model heroes of fantasy literature in D&D, we have to make them very high level and usually give them very high ability scores. Much of the “evolution” of D&D over the years seems to have been an effort to make it more amenable to fantasy heroes than the original game. Sounds funny to say this, given the presence of “heroes” and “super-heroes” in OD&D.

Oh – I should add that Will Scarlet is an 8th level thief, Little John a 10th level fighter, Friar Tuck a 7th level cleric and the evil Sheriff (lawful evil, to be precise) a 6th level fighter.

“It has been recorded, in the lost scrolls of Caractos the Scribe, of which only fragments now exist, that… from the ice-world of Northumbria, many ages ago, there came a youth named Niall, son of Thorkon the Mighty, who was destined to roam the world as he knew it, and to whom was to be given the appellation, the Far-Traveler…”

So begins another tale of Niall by Gardner Fox.This is good, old-fashioned pulp barbarian stuff, so worth a read for old school sorts like myself.

Speaking of old school, this issue has a Basic D&D adventure called The Creature of Rhyl by Kevin Knuth (could this be him?).

The adventure scores one old school point with reversed names – King Namreh (Herman) and Prince Laechim (Michael). It involves treking into the wilderness to hunt a giant monster and rescue the prince from an evil magician.

My only quibble with this dungeon is the presence of some pretty decent magic items on the upper level without too much guarding it. This may be because there are a couple tough monsters lurking in the lower levels that have to be dealt with. There is a nice puzzle room here, and overall it seems like a good rescue mission sort of adventure.

Pat Reinken (perhaps this fellow?) has a nice article on the tactics of escaping danger, mostly covering magic items that help you get away from danger in one piece.

The Dragon’s Bestiary features the Devil Spider with awesome Erol Otus artwork, which makes sense since Otus invented the monster. The monster is predicated on trying to escape from sticky webs, in such a manner as to make for an exciting fight. It’s a tough monster, so don’t play with it unless you’re high enough level not to end up spider food.

Jeff Brandt introduces the Surchur, which is quite a horrifying thing, humanoid with a mass of tentacles in place of a head. It’s a mid-level monster that doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve, but which could still give a party lots of problems. Kind of a good Lovecraftian thug.

Ed Greenwood presents the dyll in this issue, essentially a swarm of flying leeches.

The final monster is Craig Stenseth‘s poltergeist, the spirit of chaotic gnomes from Limbo and Gladsheim sent to the Material Plane to spread chaos. Nice origin idea for them.

Speaking of monsters – the magazine reviews a cool miniature called the “gorillasaurus”, which is actually a hybrid of gorilla and rhinoceros (so maybe gorillaceros would have been a better name). The image is terrible in the magazine, but I found a good shot at the AD&D 2nd Edition Holdout blog that tells a good story about using it in-game.

For comic fans, this issue has an early Snarfquest, a nice Wormy entry and a What’s New?.

As always, I’ll leave you with some Tramp and his wonderful little tree trolls …

God bless – be kind to one another – and have some fun for crying out loud!

Dragon by Dragon – October 1981 (54)

Has it been that long since the last Dragon by Dragon? Time flies and time is tight, but there should always be time to travel down through that great gaming oak to the roots and ferment in the brew of our elders.

What the hell am I talking about? The bourbon is doing its job. Let’s get started on issue 54 of the venerable Dragon and see what inspiration we can pull from this issue. Yeah, this will be less review and more “what’s cool that we can use today”.

Cool Cover

How about those angry trees on the cover by Jack Crane. How about a high level druid illusion spell:

Maddening Wood
Level: Druid 7
Area of Effect: One 6-mile hex of woodland per druid level
Duration: One season

The druid enchants a woodland with terrible phantasms. When one approaches the woods proper, the trees loom over them and seem to animate, with grotesque faces and bony claws. Creatures with fewer than 3 HD must pass a saving throw vs. fear or be frightened away. Those who are not afraid initially may plunge into the woods, but things grow worse before they get better. With each step, a save is required for creatures one additional HD higher (i.e. one step in and creatures with 4 HD must save, the next requires creatures with 5 HD to save, and so on). If a creature becomes frightened, all creatures with fewer HD must save again. As one moves deeper into the woods, the wind whips up, the owls hoot, the foliage closes in and becomes more noisome … until one has gone 10 paces in, when the illusory magic ceases and the woods become normal once again.

Eternal Complaint Dept.

“My “lack of realism” argument is very well supported in all of the AD&D entries. By taking a close look you will find an incredibly large amount of monsters in a relatively small area, which, in most cases, has not the means to support even a few of the creatures presented.”

Ruins: Rotted and Risky – but Rewarding by Arn Ashleigh Parker (R.I.P.)

Here’s the first article I dug in this issue, covering ruins – the much neglected cousin to dungeons in D&D. The article contains ideas on designing ruined cities (and thus non-ruined cities), and I love the asumptions made in the article. These are fantasy cities from the mind of Mr. Parker, and they’re awesome. Here’s a few thoughts I enjoyed:

1. Give the players a map showing the perimeter of the ruins, with credit going to the party thief. This saves time, and doesn’t give too much away.

2. Go through the map and decide which buildings are monster lairs; don’t determine what the building actually is until the players investigate.

3. The table of buildings that might be in a ruin (and thus also useful for randomly determining building use in a city)

4. Random bank vault contents! (also useful in modern games, I would think)

5. “The chance for a given thief to open the lock on a bank vault is computed by multiplying the height of the vault (in stories) by 20, and subtracting that number from the thief’s normal percentage chance to open a lock. Thus, a 17th level dwarven thief with a dextereity of 17, who would have an adjusted open-locks chance of 119% for normal locks, has only a 49% chance of cracking a third-story vault, and no chance to open a vault on the sixth story, because the adjustment for the vault’s height (6×20=120) is greater than 119.”

This is what made AD&D great.

6. Private residences are 1d4 stories high. 10% are unusual and were owned by …

7. How long does it take to find a particular building:

 

The Righteous Robbers of Liang Shan P’o by Joseph Ravitts

Cool article with NPC stats for some bad boys of the Water Margin. They include Kung Sun Sheng (“Dragon in the Clouds”), Tai Chung (“The Magic Messenger”), Chang Shun (“White Stripe in the Waves”), Li K’uei (“The Black Whirlwind”) and Shih Hsiu (“The One Who Heeds Not His Life”).

This is followed up by a Giants in the Earth covering E. R. Eddison‘s Four Lords of Demonland.

I Want One of These

Would also be a great game – Wizard Dragon Dwarf Assassin

Beware the Jabberwock by Mark Nuiver

This one presents stats for the Jabberwock, along with a stunning piece of art. The B&T stats are:

Jabberwock

Type: Monster
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 10 to 12
Armor Class:
Attack: 2 claws (4d4), bite (3d12 + swallow) and tail (2d12)
Movement: 20 ft.
Save: 12
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic (NE) or Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL:

SQ-Surprised (1 in 6), darkvision 90 feet, detect vorpal blade (1 mile range)

Notes: Jabberwocks mature as do dragons. They have a fearsome gaze (creatures less than 4+1 HD; frightens; frightened creatures must pass a second save or be paralyzed with fear for 2d4 rounds). Tail attacks anyone behind the creature, with a -2 penalty to attack.

Cavern Quest by Bill Fawcett

Worth mentioning this module for AD&D, which is also a sort of quiz with a system for scoring. It’s strange, but probably worth checking out, especially if you want to prove you’re better at AD&D than a friend … or foe! Each room gives you a number of options, usually preparations and actions. Based on your choices, you score points and prove your superiority over other dungeoneers. Cavern Quest could be a fun thing to run on G+ using the polling function, but it is probably too long to make it work.

Cash and Carry for Cowboys by Glenn Rahman

If you need some price lists for an Old West game, this is worth checking out. I wish I’d seen it before writing GRIT & VIGOR.

Bottle of Undead by Bruce Sears

A magic item in the Bazaar of the Bizarre. It is basically an efreet bottle that spews [01-20] a ghost, [21-35] banshee, [36-55] 1d3 spectres, [56-70] 1d2 vampires or [71-00] 1d6 wraiths.

This Makes Me Happy …

As always, I leave you with Tramp …