Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Holiday Gift from Beyond the Black Gate

Beyond the Black Gate Compendium 2010 is here, Happy Holidays! This year's compendium features new items, houserules, monsters, a new character class, an adventure, PC Events, and more random tables than you can shake a yule log at. Hope you like it, and it finds some use at your table :)

Be sure to print it "little booklet" style for maximum old-school effect.

See you in 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PC Events: Thief

PC Events are to be rolled each month (or per period of down time in between adventures if you're a little more casual about timekeeping) to give each character a little something to do in their "real" lives. Erase each result as you use them, and replace them with others of your own creation. It should be up to the player whether to involve the other characters in his/her personal extracurricular activities or not.

PC Events: Thief (d12)
1. The local thieves' guild has placed a bounty on someone whose description closely matches that of one of your companions.
2. A shifty-looking halfling delivers a scroll to you and runs off. On the scroll is a black lightning bolt scrawled in charcoal.
3. The three prostitutes who live next door come to you in tears. Their pimp has been killed in a turf dispute and they beg you to take his place.
4. A fellow thief turned up at your door last night, handed you a small package to hold for him, made you swear not to open it, and left. This morning, he turned up dead in an alley.
5. A local minstrel is singing songs about a fellow committing acts of larceny you committed! While he doesn't call you out by name, it must be you. Or are you just being paranoid?
6. While counting your money, you notice an odd coin. It looks like a rare gold crown from the Lost Kingdom! You think you pinched it from that merchant over on Barrel Street. Where could he have gotten it from?
7.A foreign baron has taken lodging at the fanciest Inn in town, along with his three daughters. Each is dazzling, and each wears a stunning emerald necklace!
8. Every time you go out to make your rounds at night, you're followed by a watchful, white and gray owl. What the hells is going on?
9. A friend tells you a bounty hunter is headed into town today with a wanted poster featuring your ugly face!
10. The local constables burst into your room late one night, pinning you to the wall while they tear your room apart. They leave again, empty handed, warning you to keep your mouth shut. What were they looking for?
11. The daughter of an old, dead partner shows up at your door. She wants to be a thief like her dad, and she expects you to train her. And you're pretty sure she has a thing for you!
12. The mayor is throwing a ball tomorrow night. All the richest citizens will be there, wearing their richest jewelry! You must find an invitation!

Last Time: Rangers

And that wraps up the whole series, folks! Hope you get some use out of them :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Megadungeons: Don't Fall Asleep!

"Good luck young adventurer! The Forsaken Halls await you. But a word of warning: do not fall asleep - it is said that those who slumber in the Halls will awaken only to madness! If you absolutely must pass a night in the Halls, seek you a place of sanctuary, such as a shrine of Law. Heed me well, for the town asylum is full of those who did not!"

Sleeping in the Forsaken Halls is not a good idea. Anyone sleeping for more than a consecutive hour must Save (vs. Spells) or wake up completely mad (Wis 1). The madness of the Halls plunges the victim into a waking nightmare, screaming, weeping, and flailing until remove curse or some similar healing is administered.

There are, however, a few safe locations in the Forsaken Halls. The challenge is testing them.

Taking a victim out of the Halls' can be dangerous too, due to all the screaming and wailing. Double the chance for wandering monsters.

This is a good way to discourage players from stopping to sleep every time the Magic User uses his magic missile spell up. The saving throw is an interesting way to handle it, because as characters level, their chance of making it through the night unharmed gets better. It also makes an interesting default trap out of simply getting the characters stuck in a room or difficult level for a long time, and have to start making some kind of save or check to stay awake!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Random Table: Weird Things in Rooms

The holidays are a time to decorate, so decorate your Megadungeon rooms with some of these:

Random Table: Weird Things in Rooms (d100)
1. Two copper pipes along one wall from floor to ceiling, one steaming, one frosty.
2. A large stone pipe opening in wall drips greenish fluid onto floor.
3. A large stone wheel set on one wall, clicks when turned.
4. A stone sundial in center of room under ceiling painted to look like the sky.
5. A ceramic wall-fixture shaped like a grinning buddha with open hands.
6. The walls are lined with stone flower boxes filled with unsettling-scented green and purple flowers.
7. A natural spring in the center of the room surrounded by glowing mushrooms.
8. Several 4'-long rose-quartz outcroppings from the ceiling.
9. The floor is covered in upright, magnetized needles (10d10).
10. An alcove on one wall is filled with neatly-stacked, empty wooden mugs.
11. A giant red "X" has been sloppily painted in the center of the floor.
12. "Chog loves Jessika" is scratched in charcoal on one wall.
13. The ceiling is covered in upside-down furniture, bolted to the stone.
14. One wall has been painted to look like three windows looking out into a lovely garden.
15. The skeleton of a small dog is curled forlornly around a well-gnawed scorpion tail.
16. A pale white pine tree sprouts from the floor in one corner.
17. The skeleton of a monkey lies in a far corner, its hand in a ceramic jar wrapped around a gem.
18. A brass lever is set into the middle of one wall. "Do not pull" is scrawled next to it.
19. A viking longship, far too big to fit through a door, fills the room.
20. A stone frame in the ceiling hangs above a pile of broken pieces of mirror.
21. A comfy chair sits in one corner with a table beside it. On the table are a pair of broken spectacles and a book called "For Doom, the Fell Trolls".
22. An unlit chandelier hangs from the ceiling. It holds thirteen black candles and is creepy as hell.
23. A brass hookah is here, surrounded by seven overstuffed ottomans.
24. A massive gong in the center of the room with a bone striker.
25. Bloody footprints lead from the entrance of the room to stop at a seemingly blank wall.
26. Three big wooden buckets filled with smashed grapes sit on one side of the room.
27. Bloated, pale vines hang from the dirt ceiling here.
28. A pair of human eyes float in a jar left in a corner of the room. Did they just move!?
29. The hilt and 6" of the blade of a sword jut from the solid stone floor of the room.
30. An intricate water clock has been installed on one side of this room. Instead of water, it appears to have been filled with vinegar.
31. One wall of this room appears to be made entirely of smoky quartz, and shapes seem to writhe and twist within it.
32. A small stone pyramid is built into the ceiling, pointing down.
33. Seven fluffy orbs of light dance and float in the air of this room, remaining ever beyond your reach.
34. This room is choked with stinging, prickly weeds.
35. The hollow carapace of a great beetle nearly fills this room. A doorway appears to have been cut into its side.
36. Plaintive music seems to come from somewhere beyond the ceiling of this room.
37. A large, black, wood-and-hide drum sits in the middle of the room.
38. A porcelain bathtub, filled with steaming water, sits invitingly in the corner.
39. A strange hole in one wall, no more than 5" wide, emits an odd odor.
40. Three dead kobolds, dressed as human children, lay side-by-side in front of a smoldering fireplace.
41. An empty bookcase has been smashed to bits in this room.
42. A tiny door, only 2' tall, is set into one wall of this room.
43. A dartboard hangs on one wall, full of manticore spines.
44. A small hibachi sizzles merrily on a stout oak table.
45. Three tiny alcoves set high on the wall near the ceiling each containing a grinning imp sculpture.
46. A large roll of black silk lies in one corner. If unrolled, a human corpse falls out.
47. A massive harp, with strings all broken, sits by a stool in the center of the room.
48. A small bar with several stools sits on one side of the room.
49. A broken birdcage lies in a corner. A copious amount of blood has been splashed on the walls of this room.
50. A still-smoking pipe sits in an ashtray on a small table here.
51. A nest containing three purple eggs sits on a high ledge near the ceiling.
52. An extensive set of wooden toy blocks has been set up on the floor of this room. The layout vaguely reminds you of your home town, but a hideous stone idol squats in the main square.
53. A stinking pile of refuse is heaped in front of the entrance to this room. Ugh!
54. A torn bag of sand has been scattered around the room. Huge footsteps are visible in it here and there.
55. A marble pedestal sits in the center of the room, with a hand-shaped depression in its center.
56. A stack of hand-written papers sits in a corner, 200 sheets in all, with the words "This is not the way" written over and over again on them.
57. A mannequin hangs from a noose in this room. It is crawling with flies!
58. Something that leaves a slimy trail has dug a 3' wide tunnel into the floor of this room.
59. Two stone dogs sit at attention on either side of the entrance of this room. One has a struggling mouse beneath one supposedly-immobile stone paw.
60. A giant mousetrap, 6' x 3', sits in the center of the room with a human arm on the trigger.
61. Half a human face, and one limp hand, jut from the solid stone wall of this room.
62. The odor of brimstone hangs in the air of this room. A magic circle has been inscribed on the floor with salt.
63. A filthy torn dress lies on the floor, along with a silver holy symbol on a chain.
64. An iron cage sits in the room. A skeleton lies half in and half out of it between the bars.
65. A red rune has been painted in the ceiling of the room. An empty wardrobe sits beneath a white sheet with several weird symbols burned into it.
66. A drooping potted plant sits in one corner with a single glossy red fruit.
67. A fishbowl sits on a wooden pedestal with three piranha floating lazily within it.
68. A ledge near the ceiling is crowded with noisy pigeons.
69. A strange console is built into the wall here with three red buttons.
70. A mannequin stands in one corner wearing a surcoat made from fresh meat.
71. A stained oak box, 4' to a side, sits in the center of the room. It is carved with grinning imps and has no visible lid or opening.
72. A stack of wooden doors, each with a brass knocker shaped like a hand, sits along one wall.
73. A small canvas tent has been set up in this room. Inside is clothing, food, and other personal effects.
74. A circular glass plate, like a window, is set into one wall, but nothing but stone is visible beyond it.
75. The walls, floor, and ceiling of this room are covered in frost. Its freezing in here!
76. The corners of this room seem to be off. Trying to figure out these unnatural angles is nauseating!
77. A black hole, 5' across, yawns in the center of the room, with no bottom in sight.
78. A marble head, as if broken off a statue, lies on the floor here. The room stinks of urine.
79. A crushed halfling, looking for all the world like a mouse regurgitated by some huge owl, lies on the floor.
80. Five red, wooden, creepy, horned masks, hang on the wall here.
81. A barrel of stagnant water sits in a corner. Something moves within it!
82. A human foot, still wearing a blue velvet slipper, lies on the floor, covered in ants.
83. A quivering chunk of Gelatinous Cube sits on a ceramic plate on a small wooden table with a knife and fork beside it.
84. A framed painting of a trio of dancing nymphs in a garden adorns one wall. A dark face is barely visible in the foliage behind them, ripe with evil intent.
85. A massive granite sphynx lies on its side in this room. A narrow stair descends into the floor where it used to sit.
86. A ring of pale green toadstools grows in the center of the floor here.
87. The rough stone figurine of a leering frog-deity lies in an empty, stained tub.
88. The rank mold growing on one wall gives off scorching heat.
89. A pool of blood spreads on the floor, fed by a slow dripping from the ceiling above.
90. A fireplace on one wall has been stuffed with defaced books.
91. Four lit incense burners swing from chains fixed to the ceiling.
92. An icy copper bell hangs from a wooden frame on one wall. It is numbing to the touch.
93. A deep throbbing, like a heartbeat, can be felt in the floor here.
94. A dome of black glass rises from the center of the room. Viewing it fills you with a sense of dread.
95. A mage's star-adorned pointy hat has been pinned to the wall with a dagger here.
96. A maiden lies in an unnatural slumber on a divan here, wearing the gauzy dress of a harem girl.
97. Ghostly couples, heedless of onlookers, waltz around the room to spectral music.
98. A pair of ridiculous clown-like shoes sits by the doorway.
99. A rude collection of hand-drawn orc erotica has been hidden behind a loose stone.
00. A crystal ball floats at eye-level in the center of the room, giving off intermittent flashes of red and green light.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lazy Blog Post - Star Wars Bounty Hunters

Why were those for-hire villains of Star Wars so intriguing? As a kid, I was blown away by the implications when Vader suddenly had a bunch of unscrupulous rogues lined up on the deck of his star destroyer, lecturing them about "no disintegrations!". I had always hoped for the backstory on Vader's connection to the underworld when the prequels came out, but no such luck. I guess Anakin's brief career as a bail bondsman will have to remain a mystery for now!

Incidentally, I've gotten to meet many of the "men behind the masks" of the bounty hunters over the years, and despite the scurrilous nature of the characters, they all seem like pretty nice guys. Some did charge an awful lot for an autograph though, so...;)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PC Events: Ranger

PC Events are to be rolled each month (or per period of down time in between adventures if you're a little more casual about timekeeping) to give each character a little something to do in their "real" lives. Erase each result as you use them, and replace them with others of your own creation. It should be up to the player whether to involve the other characters in his/her personal extracurricular activities or not.

PC Events: Ranger (d12)
1. Three rangers have recently come into town, in disguise. None of them has contacted you. Should you contact them to see what's afoot, or do you risk blowing their cover?
2. You hear talk in taverns that a mysterious fire in the nearby woods has uncovered a ruined shrine.
3. One of your fellow rangers has taken ill and asks you to patrol his stretch of wilderness until he recovers.
4. Some odd-looking fellows have been seen around town the last few days. Their description sounds to you like half-orcs may be spying!
5. When going through your equipment for regular cleaning and maintenance, you discover a white arrow you've never seen before! You're sure it wasn't there just a couple of days ago, and it is etched with letters in an ancient-looking language.
6. You've noticed some odd-looking trail signs over the last week or so. They are kind of like the ones your order normally uses, but a bit off.
7. In the last month, three local farmsteads have been burnt to the ground, and everyone is missing. What's going on here?
8. A friendly contact from the mercantile district has given you a book, purportedly a relic of the Lost Kingdom. The ancient dialect it is written in seems to bear this out. You can't wait to plumb its mysteries!
9. An old friend you trained with in your youth has gone missing, apparently while engaged in some personal mission or grudge.
10. A notorious criminal, who always seemed to evade justice through one technicality or another due to his link to a Noble House, has been discovered this morning hung in the town square. Who is the vigilante that did him in, and what repercussions do you risk by investigating further?
11. A strange, evil-looking, never-before-seen species of black flower has been sprouting in the woods recently, and along the edge of town. There is something unnatural about them...
12. A group of two dozen refugees, wounded and starving, has just arrived in town from a nearby village. What doom befell their lost home?

Up Next: The Thief

Last Time: The Paladin

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gygax's private game collection for sale.

Well, looks like someone's emptying out Gary's game closet for sale on EBay. I just hope the proceeds are going to a cool charity (toys for tots?) and not to some MMORPG developer. Per Purple Pawn:

"Gail Gygax, Gary’s widow, and The Collector’s Trove are auctioning off Gary Gygax’s personal game collection. Bids for the first batch of 204 items close Wednesday afternoon (ET). The selection includes games he authored, games he played, and still shrink-wrapped comp copies of various games provided to him as TSR’s founder. Just a few of the highlights:

Crank up your speakers for this!

I never get tired of this. "Mee-coo-roh-maaaaannnnn!" :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Will old-school gaming and MMORPGs ever cross paths?

Will old-school gaming and MMORPGs ever cross paths?

Yesterday's brief rant has me pondering whether the things I like about "old-school" pen & paper, tabletop gaming could ever really be experienced in an immersive, multi-user computer environment. I should say up front that I played WoW for about a year (2008-2009), running my sneaky, backstabbing rogue Qoi through most of what the game had to offer. But ultimately, I got bored with it. Some things I missed in relation to "traditional" gaming:

1. Infinite setting customization. The designers of WoW have come up with a fantastic array of environments, territories, and places to explore. But the game simply can't instantly introduce elements of whatever you happen to be into at the time. For instance, if I'm reading Vance and loving it, and one of the players is reading Lovecraft and loving it, I can, with very little prep or even forethought, introduce elements that bring those influences into my setting.

2. Infinite rules customization. If I or a player ever feel one class or another needs a tweak or a new feature to "fit" better with our playstyle or setting, I can, again, introduce them on a whim with little planning or forethought. No call to tech support needed.

3. Character development drives the game. There's something that happens around level 3 or 4 in an old-school tabletop game. You've survived the "easy kill" levels and your character is changing from a series of numbers into an actual "character". You start to think a bit more about his or her place in the world of the setting, goals you want him or her to achieve and so on. WoW has done a wonderful job of adding elements like guild memberships and craftsmanship and so on, and there are some "RP servers" where socialization-oriented roleplay is the focus. But there is still a strong element of gaining levels, matching sets of magic items, the trendiest accoutrement and so on. And those guilds and craftsmanship sidebars are mostly inflexible.

Now, I'm using WoW as my MMORPG example because it is, in my opinion at least (and 10 million or so other players' apparently), the best of the lot. But it still falls short of achieving the full range of imaginative possibilities of the classic tabletop rpg.

If i may be permitted to gaze into the future, its not unlikely that the three elements I listed above will become more accessible in an immersive online game. Money drives the development of technology and MMORPGs generate big bucks. Really F'n big. And that means lots of money for research and development. So yes, there may come a day when you plug your iRing into the access port at the base of your skull and you're whisked off into Fantasy Matrix, where powerful AI's detect your every whim and interest and change the game environment to keep pace with you and your friends.

But will it put you into a room with real people able to share the latest microbrew, throw dice when you're pissed off, and shoo the cat away from your box of miniature orcs? Will it recall those less stressful days in the ever-increasingly distant past hanging out with your buddies after school? Because those things, perhaps, even more so than the three very cool things about old-school tabletop RPGs I listed above, may be what we really keep coming back for.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Castle Greyhawk, the MMORPG

Few things get my "nerd rage" going like the tragic disappearance and mishandling of Castle Greyhawk, so my apologies ahead of time for taking BtBG out of its normally Neutral status.

A discussed here, its been nearly 7 years since we were teased with the prospect of seeing a "real" version of the holy grail of Megadungeons, Castle Greyhawk, brought to print. Its been 3 years since the IP was removed from Troll Lord Games and taken of to Gygax Games, to disappear into a pit of mystery.

But we at least know one reason why it hasn't yet, and likely won't see print. Us tabletop gamers just don't generate enough cash to properly honor Gary's memory, as we see in this recent ENWorld post here:

"I don't think any of you should expect a traditional release in the near future--that is, don't expect this to suddenly pick up where everything left off, or to see a sudden announcement from Gygax Games on their web site...The tabletop market is too small right now to justify that type of release."

As many of the people reading this know, you can release something surprisingly nice with just a little time, effort, and creativity, for little cost. So what is being talked about here is that the tabletop gaming crowd just won't generate Gygax Games enough revenue to go from "almost free" to millions of dollars.

Why would I think they are expecting millions?

Because I left out the best part of that quote, in the middle:

"If we get to see Castle Zagyg again in print at all, it would have to be funded by a more wider-release that is released to all audiences, such as a computer game or MMORPG."

Yeah, I'm sure the WoW and Halo crowds are going to be all over that. Some advice, Greyhawk fans:

A) Don't expect to see any computer-platform Greyhawk for another 10 years or so, because it takes that long (see Diablo 3).

B) My naturally suspicious mind is telling me that someone has latched onto Gail Gygax Wormtongue-style and is talking her into this. Because it means dumping a whole lot of cash into production, if true.

I'll disgustedly leave this subject alone now, with one last quote from here.

"Gail's goal is to make Gary's work available to the widest amount of people out there, not just the die hards who argue about the "old school", etc. You have to admit computer games is the way to go if you're going to present gaming."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Swords & Wizardry Complete Now Available

The new Swords & Wizardry Complete version is now available for sale here. For those who don't know, this is the standard Swords & Wizardry (a clone of the "little brown books" OD&D), plus lots of stuff from the later supplements now added in. It seems planted very firmly between OD&D and 1E AD&D, which I suspect may appeal to a lot of people who liked all the class options of AD&D (you get everything but the Illusionist and Bard with this book), but also preferred the simpler combat mechanics of OD&D or B/X. I'll probably do a more in-depth review once I've had a chance to give it a thorough read-thru, but it seems like a worthy purchase.

Note also that this was produced by Frog God Games (formerly giant third-party D&D publisher Necromancer Games), so you're getting layout and art (a lot of art) as professional as they come, which is kind of neat to look at in conjunction with a 35+ year old ruleset! And its not that much more polished than the DIY retro-clones already out there, which is good, 'cause I tend to like DIY more than polished. At any rate, it can help you imagine what D&D might have been like today if the game's owners had, as Call of Cthulhu's owners, decided to refine rather than overhaul, re-imagine, and redefine the game every 8 years or so.

Pick it up soon if you want it, there's only 300 first-print copies (hardcover + softcover), but be patient: as of this posting, the ordering servers are a bit overloaded. You get a free .pdf of the book with purchase of the hardcopy, so you have something to read while you're waiting for the postman!

Footnote: As a ref, I'm appreciating the fleshed-out wilderness encounter tables, and the "sneak peaks" at Matt's Mythrus Tower and Bill's Rappan Athuk dungeons included in this book.

Update (if ordering still down at site):
We broke the server this morning due to high volume of orders--you may paypal me directly to this email ( a subject line stating which books. Shipping will be emailed to each person to pay separately. -Bill W.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Frazetta

After a short break due to Ymir pounding us with 42"of snow last week, Friday Frazetta is back with a very nice piece indeed! While known predominantly for his pulp horror and sci-fi work, there are also a few "epic fantasy" Tolkien pieces by Frazetta out there that I really like, especially this one. Unlike many depictions of Ringwraiths, and despite the usual missing face and glowing lights for eyes, this Wraith is manifesting a very solid presence in the real world (note the solid hands and arms raising the morning-star to strike), giving this depiction an added element of menace. And both characters have very cool helmets! :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Omegea: House Rules

I always enjoy reading others' house rules, so thought I'd post my own as they currently stand for my Swords & Wizardry Omegea campaign.

Non-variable weapon damage: All weapons do a flat 1d6 of damage. Two-handed weapons roll 2d6, and pick the higher result of the two. Two-weapon fighters (Dex 13+ only) may choose either +1 to hit, or apply +1 to AC. Long weapons such as pole arms and spears may be “set” or used to reach through a “front line” of allies to strike at opponents. Axes or spiked weapons convey a +1 bonus to the normal chance to break through doors.

Healing: Characters heal at a rate of 1d3+level per day of complete rest, or 1hp per day of normal activity or rest “in the rough”. After any combat encounter, characters may spend 1 turn on first aid to heal 1d3 points of damage incurred in that encounter only. Characters reduced to 0 hit points are incapacitated/unconscious, those below 0 must roll 1d6 – the result indicates how many rounds the character has to live unless aid is administered, and how many days of complete rest are required to get back to 1hp and resume normal daily healing.

Actions: Most actions such as searching for traps or secret doors, breaking through stuck doors, tracking creatures, sneaking, listening at doors and such can be achieved with a simple roll of 1 on a d6. In many cases evocative player description of the action taken may positively modify the die roll or negate the need for a roll at all.

Class Weapon and Armor Restrictions: There are no restrictions on what weapons a character may use based on class: every class may use any and every weapon. Magic Users are still prohibited from using any armor, unless they are Elven, in which case they may wear leather or chain mail. Thieves may wear only Leather armor.

Helms & Shields: Helms and Shields convey a bonus of +1 to Armor Class, but may also impose a penalty of -1 to the chance to listen at doors, climb, etc (unless removed or stowed during the action performed). A helm or shield may be willingly sacrificed (broken) to avoid 1d6hp of damage from a successful hit.

Critical Hits and Fumbles: A natural roll of “20” is always a hit, and a natural roll of “1” is always a miss. In the case of a “20” the damage is 1d6+6 (plus any other normal modifiers), and in the case of a fumble a dexterity check may be called for to determine the harsh consequences of missing so poorly.

Firing a missile weapon into melee combat: Missile weapons fired into melee combat that miss have a chance of hitting a friendly target instead. A character may alternatively opt to take a -4 penalty to-hit to avoid any chance of hitting a friendly target.

Fighting Men: Fighting Men gain a bonus of +1 to-hit and damage with either melee or ranged weapons (chosen at time of character generation). Anytime a Fighting Man kills an opponent, he may take an immediate second attack against any other foe within range.

Thieves: The thief class from Beyondtheblackgate is used.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Beyond (or "ouch, that was my eyeball!")

I've been enjoying the TCM Underground series of films, schlocky sci-fi (like the recent and always enjoyable Galaxy of Terror), horror, suspense, and other oddities that show every Friday around 2am (I dvr them). Last night I witnessed the horror of The Beyond.

This is either the best horror film ever, or the most bizarre use of film since Manos: The Hands of Fate. At any rate, a psychotherapist could have a field day with this one - the director seems to have a deep-set hatred of the human face. 90% of the killings in the film are done via serious truama to the face. A hand will reach out and squeeze a face until the eyeballs pop out. 36 gallons of acid will slowly pour out of a 1 gallon jar onto a face until it erupts into a geyser of blood. Plastic tarantulas will rip eyeballs and tongues free of their fleshy moorings. Chains will tear cheeks, dogs will tear ears, nails will push out eyeballs from behind, zombies will poke... well you get the idea. All accompanied by the most wonderfull music!

No face (or eyeball, or nose, etc) is safe from the deprivations of The Beyond!

Oh, and falls of 8 feet or less result in immediate paralysis and blood gushing from mouths. Remember that for next sessions, referees!

Somewhere amidst all the eyeball abuse is a plot about a blonde ex-exotic dancer and waitress from New York, where ghost education is mandatory ("I spent my whole life in New York and if there's one thing I learned its not to believe in ghost stories!"), who inherits an old hotel that just happens to be One Of The Seven Gates to Hell. They repeat this several times, "ONE OF THE SEVEN GATES OF HELL!", so rest assured you're only getting one seventh of the story here (I guess). Apparently hotels that are ONE OF THE SEVEN GATES OF HELL also feature flooded, cavernous basements, which was actually kind of cool.

I highly recommend viewing this movie. Preferably with a few friends and a good supply of a strong IPA.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Omegea - Session 4

After a short break to delve into the Forsaken Halls, Omegea Session 5 is coming up shortly, so here's a recap of Session 4 (the characters are all level 2 now, btw).

Session 3 found the adventurers deep within the winding, bewildering corridors of the Underworld after gaining entry to one of the legendary Portals of Kn'Deesh (the infamous Grogor Obelisk in the center of Majinta). Session 4 picked up with them trying to bargain their way past the ominous guards with greatswords, who warned them the price of entry is a fresh head. Unwilling to chance combat with these guys, the party backtracked and tried another of the weird, wobbling suspended bridges, ending up in a series of corridors carved from some unnatural, pulsing black stone.

They soon discovered the Underworld is full of nasty predators looking for an easy meal, including a great, glowing purple spider that nearly TPK'd the whole group. in one odd room, they discovered a well lined with runestone, with a mirror-like surface of liquid far below, and a large bucket suspended over it from a sturdy winch. The dropped a torch into it and it disappeared with a wet hiss, though the mirror-like surface of the water was left undisturbed. The Magic User then lowered himself into the well via the bucket, passing through the surface of the "water". After a weird sensation of gravity reversing, the magic user found he had bobbed to the surface of of a wide, flowing river, lined with seeping weird vegetation on one side, and a fantastic ruined city on the other!

Realizing he had discovered one of the many access or exit points of the Portals, he convinced the rest of the group to follow (after some heated argument!) and see what lies beyond. The party sets off, bobs to the surface, and swims for the ruined shore. They discover that despite the ruined state of the city, it is populated with wealthy revelers indulging in all manner of narcotic herbs and concoctions, while being waited on by a large staff of slaves (who are in turn watched over by two different companies of mercenaries).

They explore the city (Hathras, City of Dreams), gradually discovering the way things work here. Though the decadent citizens of the city are outnumbered 3 or 4 to one by their slaves, something keeps them passive and content with their lot. The mercenaries seem to do little but guard against encroachments from the outside world. The city appears to be ruled by a few bureaucratic tax officials and a caste of aloof "Dream Witches" who have kept a living god (Grom) in a fitful slumber for many years. Every so often, huge black bubbles come tumbling down the streets of Hathras, and the city folk keep well away, for they are the living embodiment of the sleeping god's dreams, and anything can come out of them.

The party deliberately intercepts a couple of them, in one instance setting loose a swarm of beautiful butterflies, and in another, a swarm of crawling predatory creatures of unnatural origin.

They eventually secure lodging at the "Foreigner's Pavilion", an entire city square covered in majestic tents filled with scores of slaves, steaming baths, musicians, and merchants from all over Eastern Omegea (even some from nearby Majinta). They pester a couple of the slaves about their lot in life, and are puzzled by their complacency. They also visit several small markets and stock up on supplies.

They discover that a large part of the city has been abandoned, and is partitioned from the rest of the city by a wooden stockade guarded by a group of savage jungle mercenaries called "Dogmen" (referring to their canine headdress). Curious as to what treasures might remain within the silent mansions, the party begins to explore the more interesting looking sites.

They do turn up a few treasures (and a few nasty beasties), and in one basement discover a group of outlaw slaves! They appear to be free of whatever soporific affect plagues the slaves in the city proper, and instead of slaughtering the slaves for plunder, the party passes around a few bottles of wine and hunkers down to make nice and find out what exactly their story is, which is where the session ended.

Depending on the player's choices, Session 5 will likely feature an "Apocalypse Now"-style hex-trip down the River Lozsh to the Unneeded Tomb of Jingolor (the most famous minstrel of Omegea), which I'm looking forward to. Oh, and two new magic items, a new tech item, and maybe some platoon-scale military action too. :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

PC Events: Paladin

PC Events are to be rolled each month (or per period of down time in between adventures if you're a little more casual about timekeeping) to give each character a little something to do in their "real" lives. Erase each result as you use them, and replace them with others of your own creation. It should be up to the player whether to involve the other characters in his/her personal extracurricular activities or not.

PC Events: Paladin (d12)
1. The head of your order, whom you have always known to be a paragon of virtue, has recently been accused of corruption. Are these accusations true, or is something dark at play? You owe it to him to get to the bottom of the situation either way.
2. The barmaid at the local watering hole has become infatuated with you and seems determined to lead you astray.
3. The local magistrate has asked you to perform an execution slated for dawn tomorrow. Your conscience leads you to accept the man's confession the tonight, and he spins a very convincing tale of innocence. Only 10 hours until execution time - what should you do?
4. An indiscretion committed in your youth has come back to haunt you in the form of a formal complaint filed with your order. Do you fight the charges or accept your punishment?
5. Under cover of darkness, a pagan faerie creature from the nearby Old Wood has come to you seeking aid against some evil encroachment. You have sworn to protect the innocent, but creatures of this sort are notorious for their licentious abandon and dubious morals.
6. A maiden from a passing nomadic caravan appears on your doorstep, begging you to accept an orphan.
7. Is it your imagination, or has your armor slowly been darkening to the color of blood over the last few days? Is this some portent, divine warning, or have you been under too much stress?
8. Your patron visits you in your dreams and silently lays three crushed, black lilies at your feet. It then fixes you with a stern gaze and fades away again. What can this mean?
9. The local farmers have inexplicably begun to speak ill of you in the local markets and taverns. What have you done to deserve their sudden hostility?
10. On your way about town, you notice some graffiti scrawled on the wall of an inn. You can't be sure, but to your trained eyes it appears to be some sort of diabolic symbolism. This bears further investigation!
11. Some monster hunters have come into town with a snarling wight in a cage. Here's an odd moral quandary...
12. You are blessed by your patron with wondrous abilities, but in your mind you have done little to deserve such favor save loot the odd dungeon. Perhaps a vigil will reveal what greater service you can offer?

Up next: The Ranger

Last time: The Magic User

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Non-variable weapon damage and critical hits

Having gotten used to non-variable weapon damage a bit, I'm starting to think about how to handle "critical hits". Typically, I've used a simple "roll a natural twenty and get double damage" model, but that's really gotten a bit stale, and I constantly waffle about whether to add modifiers like strength, magic, etc. to that doubling. On top of that, crits just don't seem to happen very often, and when they do, it seems like the critting player all-too-often rolls a "1" for damage, which immediately turns that critical hit into a deflating, anti-climactic boo-fest.

That's not to say its "all about the damage"; its great when a 20 gets rolled when the player is doing something cool like lobbing a grenade into a giant toad's mouth or participating in an archery contest against the evil baron's head marksman, no damage roll necessary to achieve the desired result. But it would be nice to chop an orc in half once in a while, and sometimes it seems like what you really need are two lucky rolls (first a 20, then a 5 or 6, for instance) to really enjoy that rare critical hit.

So I'm pondering taking the critical hit away from the roll-to-hit mechanic and making it a function of the damage dice instead. I like the old "exploding dice" houserule, so I'm going to try something along those lines.

When a damage result of "6" is rolled, the player gets to roll another d6 and add the result to the previous 6 points of damage. So a "critical hit" essentially means 1d6+6 points of damage, or 9.5 points of damage on average. And 1 in 6 hits is "critical" on average, a grisly figure that lines up better with my gritty pulp sensibilities than 1 in 20.

Whats really interesting about this model is that when you add it to the non-variable weapon damage of two-handed weapons (roll 2d6 and pick the better die), you get an increased chance of a critical hit. Which seems very appropriate for Zweihanders and Dane Axes when you think about it.

And since there is no to-hit roll involved, spellcasters could enjoy the occasional critical hit as well (death by magic missile!, life by cure light wounds!).

So what about those "nat 20's"?

Well, there's a sticking point. I could either just rule a nat 20 always hits (which is kinda special, kinda meh), rule that a nat 20 always hits and is an automatic crit (roll d6+6 for damage), really ramp up the damage potential by allowing a possible third roll for damage (roll d6+6, roll another d6 if that damage result is 6 or greater), or just let the player decide what happens when a crit is rolled ("I impale him to the wall!").

I've looked at a couple of critical hit charts, too. But this is one thing I always enjoy immensely for reading purposes, but absolutely hate in actual play. I want me and the players to decide when a hand is chopped off, not a chart, and I hate stopping the narrative and speed of combat to roll yet again and check yet another chart.

What would you guys do?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lazy Blog Post - Cthulhu

So I got the giant book above, "Necronomicon, The Best Weird Tales of HP Lovecraft", and am enjoying re-reading these stories very much. I already have most of the tales in various other books, but this compiles them together in one big book, and matches my giant Conan book.

Unfortunately, this probably doesn't bode well for the players in my Omegea campaign. ;)


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