Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Mysterious Valley

 There's so much material out there for D&Dlike games, it's almost impossible to be exposed to all of it.  In aid of this dilemma, today I want to highlight a particular issue of DAMN magazine.

DAMN - standing for DCC Adventure Magazine and News - was a short run of Dungeon Crawl Classics-focused magazines.  Each one is stuffed to the gills with adventures, and then-current news of DCC third-party releases and shenanigans.  It started out under the aegis of one publisher but ended up with Mystic Bull Games.  There was a kickstarter to get the thing going, and the three issues are great, but eventually it became too much to produce regularly.  That's a shame, but don't let that discourage you from looking at these.  Each issue has several adventures, by known DCC authors like the inimitable Daniel Bishop and the doughty Paul Wolfe.  They're available at Goodman Games and at DriveThru.

Forgotten Reavers of Praeder Peak has nasty worm-men, and they aren't even the lead baddie.


One issue in particular is the specimen I wish to call to your attention: it's issue #1, with the cyclops on the cover.  All the material in this one is solid - definitely check out Paul Wolfe's Praeder Peak adventure featuring vikings in the jungle, memory-swapping, and an undead menace - but the highlight is Daniel Bishop's The Mysterious Valley.

Only ten dollars, and beyond worth it.

Here's the pitch: a jungle hexcrawl nicely populated with everything Ray Harryhausen created.

That's enough, right?  You want the adventure now, surely.  

The Mysterious Valley isn't just a handful of Harryhausen-inspired locations, it's a full hexcrawl with dinosaurs and natives and ruins, appropriate tables, factions, and all the monsters you would hope are in there.  Cyclops.  Rhedosaur.  Clash of the Titans stuff.  All in one tropical valley that would work great appended to the Isle of Dread, or Chult, or sandwiched between some arctic glaciers Savage Land-style.  You're going to get plenty of sessions out of your PCs tromping around this joint.  Just oozing with flavor.

If you're running DCC this is a no-brainer.  Anything 3.x-adjacent could run this on the fly, and if you're using an old-school engine, you can easily adapt it.  You can read Daniel's account of the issue's creation here.  Go get this adventure.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Revisiting the Golden Crab Mallet Awards

 In 2017, for TridentCon, we attempted to run The Golden Crab Mallet Awards - clearly the premiere rpg-related awards process.  We solicited pdf entries in two categories: "Free Product" and "Fun Adventure".  That was it.  We had five judges, three from TridentCon, and two volunteers from The Internet. The nominees would be read by the judges, there would be voting, and the winners would be announced at TridentCon 2017, showering great prestige upon those who wore the laurels.

Since it's GenCon and Ennies Nonsense Time, let's look back at those products and the winners from five years ago.


FUN ADVENTURE

First Place: Crypts of Indormancy, Ezra Claverie, Melsonian Arts Council

Second Place: Mortzengersturm, Trey Causey & Jeff Call, Hydra Cooperative

Honorable Mention: Veins of the Earth, Patrick Stuart, LotFP

Honorable Mention: Escape From The Shrouded Fen, Terry Olson, Purple Sorcerer

Twenty Dungeon Starters, Marshall Miller & Mark Tygart

The Necropolis of Nuromen, Justin Becker, Dreamscape Design

The Palace of Alkmeenon, David Baity, Sanctum Media

Excavation of the Tomb of Lorninane, Jason Hobbs, Hobbs & Friends

Blood In The Chocolate, Kiel Chenier, LotFP

Broodmother Skyfortress, Jeff Rients, LotFP

First off, note the nice participation by small publishers you've heard of - I am very grateful that TridentCon was regularly privileged with assistance from small publishers, whether it was in an endeavor like this, or in providing prize support for the con.

I still haven't run Crypts of Indormancy, and I should.  I've run Mortzengersturm, though - which is no surprise given the tone of the thing and my own preferences.  I also ran Excavation of the Tomb of Lorninane at some point, although I don't remember much about how that session went.


FREE PRODUCT

First Place: Vacation At The Shore, Noah Stevens, Hapless Henchman

Second Place: Blueholme Prentice Rules, Michael Thomas, Dreamscape Design

Honorable Mention: Sanctum Secorum #23, Sanctum Media

Honorable Mention: Guild Dogs Guild Generator, Michael Raston

Troika!, Daniel Sell, Melsonian Arts Council

Tombs of Atuan, Mark Tygart

The Tall Witch, Daimon Games

"Free Product" is a weird category since it can include rules, adventures, curated lists, or who-knows-what.    I need to take another look at Tombs of Atuan, I've forgotten what that one was all about!  There is so much free content out there, including stuff on blogs, that you could fuel your imagination and your campaign for years to come without ever throwing a coin into the coffer of Some Controversial PDF Reseller.


I strongly encourage you to support small publishers, independent authors, and blogger-types by checking out their stuff!  Maybe it's time to do a 2022 Golden Crab Mallet Awards?


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

I Want My Mummy

 The other day, frolicking in the pool, our six-year-old was going on and on about some kind of imaginary Egyptian adventure, with pyramids, mummies that tried to eat him, and 'ancient autographs' (I presume he meant artifacts, but what do I know).  The result, of course, is this blogpost.  First, some cannibal mummies... we tend to associate flesh-eating with zombies, and blood-drinking with vampires, but then there are those great scenes in the modern version of The Mummy where Imhotep regenerates himself by absorbing those who desecrated his resting-place.  What if more mummies could do that?


CANNIBAL MUMMIES OF HUL THAZZAR

The necromantic arts of mummification may predate human civilization, but surely they were mastered by the dark sorcerers of the Painlands, in particular the kingdom scholars today know as the Eye culture.  The fabled Hul Thazzar, known to poets as the City of Stars, lies buried in the sands to this day, but its rulers, princelings, and priests wait patiently in hidden sarcophagi that dot the entire face of what is now Wampus Country.  While it is thought that the practice of mummification was first practiced on the ruling Sky Pharaohs, by the end of the Eye civilization a thousand years later, even the lowliest thunder-priest was likely to be so entombed.  It is these lesser, later mummies so often encountered by today's tomb-robbers and adventurers.

On occasion, however, an older, more powerful mummy is awakened - one who bears undiluted the blood of the Sky Pharaohs, perhaps, or dates to an earlier age.  Such a mummy wakes with insatiable hunger, and consumes the living in order to grow hearty and more powerful.  A mummy or mummy lord like this might have one or more of the following abilities.

Grave-born Hunger.  As the mummy slays and then consumes the living, it grows more powerful.  For every hit die of intelligent life it eats, the mummy gains 1d6 hit points (either healing damage, or gaining new non-temporary hit points).  If the mummy eats a spellcaster, it will "learn" 1d4 levels of spells which it can then cast (this may be four 1st-level or one 4th level, etc, depending on what the caster knew).

Solar Strength.  Mummies from a sun-worshipping culture, once awakened, may strive to reach daylight.  A sun-fueled mummy, upon bathing in real sunlight, will heal 1d8 damage per hit die and lose its vulnerability to fire until nightfall.

Storm Fury.  Mummies from a storm-worshipping culture (like those of late-period Hul Thazzar) will seek out rainstorms (a good soaking will heal 1d6 damage per hit die), and attract lightning strikes.  A storm mummy struck by lightning from any source (watch out, wizards) will convert the damage to healing and/or temporary hit points and become electrified (+1d4 electrical damage to its touch or slam attacks).


THE SHIELD OF THE SLEEPERS

These enchanted shields were once carried by the war-brothers of a life-affirming order of priests who sought to destroy undead and return whatever portion of human soul remained within those abominations back to their eternal rest.

The shield of the sleepers is in all respects a shield +1 until borne by a cleric or paladin who destroys an undead creature.  Thenceforth, two powers manifest:

The Power of Life Compels You.  The shield manifests imagery similar or compatible to the cleric's holy symbol on the face, and may serve as a holy symbol in all respects.  Further, the cleric enjoys a +2 saving throw bonus against the ancillary powers of any undead (paralyzation, charm, mummy rot) while the shield is in hand.

Ancient Autographs.  Each time the cleric, bearing the shield, destroys an undead creature, that creature's name in life appears in very small script on the inside of the shield. When the cleric has personally accrued 100 hit dice of undead destroyed (and names recorded), the shield becomes +2.  Clever clerics will have other uses for the names of the undead as well.

If the owner of the shield fails to carry it for three days, it resets to being a shield +1.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

#JULYGANTIC - What's Next?

 In reading through all these Giant-related adventures and sourcebooks, occasionally some ideas sparked - things I would want to try, were I writing up some adventure sites for each of the classic Giants.  

Early on, after reading Crypt of the Death Giants, I knew doing something with a giant tomb or burial complex would be a fun write-up.  For whatever reason, rather than thinking about the big giants, my mind went immediately to hill giants - in particular hill giants as mound-builders, late paleolithic or early Bronze Age, that sort of thing.  The trick here is how to make the site interesting without just saying "okay, undead hill giants".  You'd want some of that, yes, but unless it's a small site, there would need to be something else going on.   Maybe throw some modern-day hill giants into the mix, some internal strife or rivalry.  A question of royal descent, or rival ancestor cults, so "who is actually buried here" starts to matter more than the cool-factor of bashing undead giants (which is still cool, but benefits from some slight context).

Stone giants are more difficult for me.  We've seen several riffs on making stone giants memorable beyond the Monster Manual basics, and I think some of them (stone giant monks!) are a bit of a stretch.  How do you do novel stone giants without doing the same "talking to stones", stone shape, rock carving rune stuff?  Maybe this is the spot to indulge my love of "giants on huge beasts".  Purple worm?  Could we do a Mad Max gang of stone giants who ride small purple worms or other beasts through the ancient colossal worm-tunnels?



For the storm giant, I'd write up a single storm/sea giant who lives in a lake and really play up the tutelary spirit angle.  The giant is the lake and the lake is the giant, and the smallfolk of the fishing village treat him like the demigod he is.  Perhaps I'd make him a literal demigod, and truly tied to the lake - as in, he can't leave.  Maybe his ancestors could, back when the lake was better-tied to rivers and things, but with the changing landscape this isolated mountain lake is both the giant's kingdom and his prison.  You could do the whole thing where he needs a bride, that would be suitably fairy-tale.  You think the PCs want to be matchmakers for the lake giant?  What would they get out of it?  Things to think about.

I know for a frost giant location I'd want to eschew the traditional "frozen viking" thing and use a different skin for the frost giants - probably do a riff on cartoon Soviets.  Frost giants with ushanka and furred longcoats, then riff on either Soviet-era nonsense or Peter the Great type stuff as desired.  I have this mental image of a potemkin village sculpted out of ice, but I don't have a why yet, and that's what would have to drive the adventure.  But a setup with a Dear Leader/Burgomeister Meisterburger type, with limited troops, might suggest a scenario more appropriate for sneaking around by PCs of lower than standard level for dealing with frost giants, and that would have some value.

The idea of a vast subterranean fire giant city intrigues me, but I think that's too ambitious to actually write up in a shareable form.  Perhaps a mountaintop trading post where the fire giants interact with other giants, or other races.  What would such a thing look like, and who would visit it?  Maybe envision a mixture of frontier trading post and a stock exchange.  I like the idea of it, but I haven't figured how to weaponize it as a useful adventure site yet.

Finally, for the cloud giants, it has to be a cloud island.  In this case, I'm thinking of a cloud giant palace with a village on the large island, fallen into disrepute.  The previous ruler(s) are gone, and now the spendthrift, layabout son is in charge, and this new Raja is a mess.  He's turned the place into a debauched salon for all of his hipster friends where they lay around drinking fashionable beverages, talking petty trash, pretending to be philosophers, that sort of thing.  Is there something up there the PCs need?  Is it worth overthrowing the Raja?

I've jotted all these down in a googledoc and will keep messing with them.  Who knows, maybe they'll see full writeup here on the blog, or via another venue eventually.  The key to these things is to keep thinking, keep experimenting, and most of all - keep playing.



Saturday, July 30, 2022

#JULYGANTIC in Summary - The Best

 Here we are, wrapping up #JULYGANTIC - a whole month of giants.

The experiment was a failure on several important levels.  Firstly, because I didn't manage to run any giant-related adventures this month (or any D&D at all).  Playing > Writing About.  The second failing was that nobody else got in on the hashtag, far as I can tell.  Oh well, this is why we try things.  I hope it's been entertaining for regular readers, maybe picked up some new readers, and introduced folks to adventures they didn't know were out there.

The success of JULYGANTIC is that I cranked out so many posts - some short, some longer, but building some discipline in pre-writing and scheduling blogposts was probably worth it for me.  And now of course I must be acknowledged as the world's greatest expert in giant-themed adventures.  Or something.



Of all the material I read through in the past two months, these are the adventures I would consider running (and these are maybe in order of preference, but I'm not 100% on that):

Dark Clouds Gather. Nicely-done TSR-era adventure with strong "exotic" S&S vibe.


In Vino Gigantus. 5e jam with solid fairy-tale and old-school-grind undertone.


Ark of the Mountains. 5e DDAL adventure that seems adaptable to a great romp on a flying ship.


Aerie of the Cloud Giant Strategos. AD&D/OSRIC module, suitable for pairing with Against the Giants or running by itself.


Sanctuary of Belches. 5e dungeon with an interesting setup.


Ancient Blood. AD&D, nice Beowulf/curses vibe.


Them Apples. AD&D, low-level low-power sneak-heist with good humor potential.


Palace In The Sky. AD&D, solid cloud giant flying-island adventure with motivated NPCs.


Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane. 4e, good representation of the Against the Giants model.


There are sections or encounters from a number of other adventures that I would consider stealing outright and dropping on a hexmap, but the above are the ones that make me say “huh, I could run this”.  Obviously I’m biased - some of the scenarios there are ones that have a fun/gonzo/goofy factor higher than average. I didn't discuss it in this series, but I've run Cloud Giant's Bargain twice, and I think there's good stuff to be used there as well.


I was also surprised and pleased with the content in all three of the giant-themed sourcebooks I read during #JULYGANTIC. While I really only recommend Giantcraft for Forgotten Realms/5e DMs, Legends & Lairs Giant Lore and Role-Aids Giants were both solid reads full of useable ideas.


Tomorrow's post will cover "giant concepts inspired by all this reading" - some ideas I want to throw out in the ether and maybe develop and add to my own campaign map.

Friday, July 29, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Giant Lore & Giants

GIANT LORE

 Remember all those Legends & Lairs books that came out during Third Edition.  They did one on Giant Lore - let's see how much novelty and inspiration it holds!  Keep in mind that since this is from the d20 era, a good bit of it may be pretty easily compatible with 5e or any Pathfinder with a few tweaks.  More work required for OSR of course.

Dire frost troll, at your service.

The first chapter offers new giants.  The giant amazons, with their beguiling gaze, are suitably pulpy and a nice spin.  The half-ogre, half-hobgoblin brutigans don't do much for me, though.  Dire frost trolls at first seem like something you don't need separate stats for, but then they give them an interesting battle howl and some spell resistance (because they're from the dawn of time and stuff) and we start to see how we might want to use a monster.  Next are ghost giants, who aren't ghosts, but instead stealthy mercenaries with shadow powers.  Ninja giants, anybody?  If you're doing Shadowfell stuff, maybe these guys could play a role.  Glutton giants, self-explanatory.  Nightmare giants that literally puppet sleeping victims like marionettes hanging from their astral silver cords?  Now that's interesting.  Some variant trolls up next.  Finally the tinkerkin, who are giant crafters; I think this statblock makes more sense as a one-off faerie giant thing than yet another subspecies or caste of giants, but you could put one of these guys somewhere on a mountain hex and just let the magic happen.

This being 3e, the next chapter is templates for giants.  We get Avarice, Envy, Wrath, and Plague- all pretty interesting - and then rules for giant-kin lycanthropes.  There's a little templating subsystem for giant lycanthropes of course, but most intriguing are the sample ones they have statted out - the ogre were-rhino and the fire giant were-tyrannosaur in particular.  What if King Snurre turned into a tyrannosaur mid-combat?  One of the templates in this chapter is "troll-blooded", which is painfully 3e.  Why do we need an entire template for this instead of just saying "this giant regenerates at rate x"?  I guess because they add a rending attack.  This one fails the "wow I wouldn't have thought of that" test hard.  Regardless, if you know you're running a lot of giants - especially if they're mostly the same type - maybe a look at this template chapter will provide some variation to keep your players from yawning.  This is followed by a chapter of prestige classes (thankfully they're for giants and don't rehash giant-hunting), which will serve the same purpose for our 3.x friends.

Do all the Legends & Lairs have art this dope?

The feats chapter which follows is full of some pretty standard attempts at specializing giants, but it might serve to inspire.  Of interest is the optional "hammerfall" attack which giants may perform, hurling themselves forward to crush smaller creatures.  We are given details and cost for armor for Large and larger creatures, which could come in handy.  Next up are some spells which...well, other than true enlarge, have nothing to do with giants.

The magic items have more giant flavor to them for sure.  There are giant drums, some weapons, and a cloak which turns a giant into a waterfall.  That's very cool, and there's your encounter right there in the item description.

Dang it, the last chapter is about prestige classes for people who aren't giants.  We get a giant slayer (of course), and the more interesting giant-seed, who emulates a particular kind of giant.  Feats are provided here as well.

As someone who isn't going to use a good chunk of this book, I have to say the parts I do find intriguing - the new monsters, the magic items, the templates and general inspiration - are probably worth the five bucks this pdf costs.  If you're planning a giant-focused campaign - and we've been talking about several of them on the blog this month - dropping the five bucks for these inspirations is probably worth it, even if you're running a pre-d20 version of D&D.  Now I'm wondering if any of the other Legends & Lairs are worth it...

Wizard in the corner has some serious B/X vibes.


GIANTS

Back in the 80s Mayfair Games gave us the "Role Aids" series of AD&D-compatible supplements; Giants is not only all about giants, but designed to accompany a series of Grenadier miniatures.  I remember the Role Aids ads in Dragon magazine - Lich Lords in particular - but the only one I ever owned was one of the monster books.

Giant magic is to be feared!


The work begins with an origin story for the giant races involving Titans, runemagic, and other concepts you've seen before, but mixed in a nice way.  It features not only a unified giant society at one point (like we see in Faerun's Ostoria), but also a fairly recent giant civil war, which is pretty intriguing, and the idea of fire giant vs frost giant (and various allies on both sides) makes good mythic sense.  There's a good section about giant biology, and information on giant society in general (including their pets). Finally, we're introduced to giant magic in the form of runecasting as well as the giant's curse.  Throughout, Giants keeps its subjects mythical and magical.  The first section of the book is rounded out by note on giant weaponry, and using giants as player characters (!).

Then we get into the giants by type!  Each subsection follows the same pattern - we get a description of the giant type, stats, a map of a lair, stats for pets and companions, and appropriate magic items and hooks.  Not too shabby.

The Titans are shining Hellenic good guys, as per the Monster Manual, with pet sphinxes and shedu.

The warped Chaos Giants get a random feature generator, lots of background (because these aren't standard AD&D giants I guess), spells, items.  One of their typical spells calls nearby creatures of chaos, which could be a neat encounter.

The Dwarven Giant seems a strange concept at first, but they could fill an interesting role in your campaign.  They are Lawful, dwarflike in temperament, and often friendly to small-folk.  Plus they have pet xorn!

Just your friendly neighborhood dwarven giant!

The Fire Giants here are pretty standard, although the bonus pets (lava snakes!) are cool.  

Forest Giants are huge druid/ranger types, with all the tropes that entails.  Giant squirrels, tree-shepherds, the whole nine yards.

Frost Giants, too, hew close to their Monster Manual origins, although in the Giants telling of things, the Frost Giants are the progenitors of some of these variant species.  One of the magic items here turns a giant into a snow-shark that can swim through snow and ice; that's pretty keen, but I think I'd want to just give that power to some frost giants were-snow-sharks and see where it takes us.

You want to do a 'cattle raid of Cooley' gimmick with gorgons?  Could be very cool...

The Hill Giants in this book have as their pets giant weasels and a kind of small tyrannosaur (which hunts in packs), and they use gorgons as beasts of burden.  The Sea and Stone giants deliver some minor variation from what you'd expect (the Stone giants in this book keep strange cats in their caverns).  Here the Storm giants are the offspring of Chaos and Frost.  We also get a writeup on Two-Headed Giants, primitive and dangerous.

The last giant is the Death Giant, of which there is only one, though he has many avatars.  He's basically the grim reaper for giants, or the Black Racer if you know your Fourth World.  The last connection between the giants scattered around the multiverse and their plane of origin.

Next up we have a section detailing the city of Clanfast, where giants come together to trade and have council.  I don't think I've seen "mixed city of giants" written up before in a product.  Lots of info and potential encounters here, especially in the part of the city where the dreams of the Titans take material form.  There's an underworld, too, of course.

Mayfair's Giants is pretty interesting.  If you're looking for a substantially-different take on giants, this book will certainly provide that.  The couple novel giant types are interesting, as are the surprising twists on a few of them.  The lair maps might come in handy, too.


Thursday, July 28, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: In Vino Gigantus

 Today's read-through is of the Frog God adventure In Vino Gigantus, penned by TridentCon attendee James Spahn.  It's for lower-level 5e characters.  Let's read!

In theory you could append the Wine Cellar to any old Cloud Castle map...

The gimmick: a debauched storm giant noble shanghais the PCs into dealing with his flooded wine cellar.  That's it, that's the setup - prepare for Basement Adventure, but at ten times normal size.

The adventure starts with the PCs being magically taken and transported to the flying home of the storm giant lush, where he proceeds to read an entire column of boxed text while the PCs eat an amazing repast in his hall.  Attacking Clovis the giant and his ogre servants (not to mention his ogre mage butler) is probably a bad idea at this level.  Far better to take the job - there's pay at the end, after all.  Unrelated gripe: vanilla ogres as the servitors of a fancy storm giant noble don't sit right with me...I'd have to reskin them as tempest ogres (whatever that means), or give them bird heads or something.  Eagle-headed ogres in fine livery sounds pretty fantastic to me.

The wine cellar is immense by small-folk standards, and contains "mundane" hazards like giant centipedes, rats, and frogs so you can do a proper Incredible Shrinking Man homage (and you should).  PCs will want to climb up on barrels and furniture as the adventure moves on, so there's a good bit of potential verticality throughout.  There do seem to be some scenes here where we're imagining the storm giant being even bigger than the 'canon' thirty feet or so - I think for a setup like this the PCs work best at "action figure size" but really they ought to be one-fifth the height of the storm giant?  The fight with the salt & pepper shakers makes less sense with bigger PCs.  Regardless, the whole adventure has size in mind - how are you going to pull the giant wine bottle that opens the secret door, that sort of thing.  There's a basement kitchen, a cold-storage room, and so forth.  Beware the weasels!

So many salt and pepper jokes you could do

One interesting bit is that there's another adventuring party down here.  Clovis sent them on the same mission you're on and then either forgot or presumed they failed, but here they still are.  Some other solid encounters follow, including the feral undead cats - yes, you read that right - and plenty of giant rats and spiders.  There are a lot of critters down here, especially if you trigger a lot of random encounters in the long slog across the biggest rooms - which means this adventure is potentially more lethal than it first seems.  Maybe that's why Clovis gives you healing potions at the start!

Eventually the heroes will find the storm giant's dog (Donner the Thunder Terrier), who is both captive of the giant spiders and the actual cause of the flooding.  What group of PCs wouldn't try to save the giant lightning dog?  This is a neat fight, with Donner's panicked thunder-barks causing the unstable foundation beneath your feet to crumble away, falling into the cloudstuff and sky below.

All in all, this is a solid low- or even mid-level scenario.  It could work as a DCC funnel or fit in a con slot if you dialed back on the extra random encounters.  I could see myself using this - the memorable parts, besides the dog, are going to be the interaction with the 'big' environment and how the PCs get around some of the obstacles.