Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Legends of Law: Von Hoff

 Wampus Country has had its share of heroes, both in antiquity and in the modern era, but perhaps none is held up as the flower of knighthood quite as much as the crusading paladin known as Von Hoff.

During the last days of the Peacock Throne, as that great empire and its rivals all crumbled into smaller, warring kingdoms, Von Hoff made his name as a swordsman and scion of Law.  It is said he began his career as a healer and hospitaller but soon took to errant deeds, plunging himself into those lawless border regions and taking on subhumans, trolls, criminal syndicates, and the like with equal glee.  His famous steed was an immense black tiger, gifted to him by the Lost Gods of the Sixty-Sixth Path (who were less Lost in those days, we imagine).  This red-eyed beast, more intelligent than most men, served as Von Hoff's battle-companion for many years; they say the tiger could leap incredible distances.

At some point, Von Hoff departed from the blasted Painlands and resettled in what is today Trident Bay.  There he built a watchtower and recruited a retinue of crimson-cloaked heroes to watch over the bay.  Again, an entire region was kept safe due to Von Hoff's vigilance.  Von Hoff and his Watch staved off more than one incursion of hostile fish-men and crab-men; the paladin himself was awarded an enchanted trident by some deity of the sea.  Legend tells us that this legendary trident - today known to sorcerers as Tempest-tide- holds within it a fragment of Von Hoff's mind, and perhaps his musical talent as well.  The weapon is held, alongside others of similar puissance, within Old Man Hut-Tep's lethal museum deep underneath the mountain peak called Smokestack Lightning.

Von Hoff's resting-place is unknown; some have suggested it is deep within an eerie tower - perhaps his original watchtower - which rises from the sea every seven years, off the coast in Trident Bay.  Local tales offer the possibility that, should the fish-men once again rise to attack the dry lands, Von Hoff himself will climb out of his tomb to repel them.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Cosmic Connections

 My fellow wizards, adventuring-frontiersmen, and priests of suitable repute - we have gathered here today in this dubious saloon to cogitate.  To place together our mighty brains, and come up with a solution, a path, a strategy to confront that which is ailing our beloved Wampus Country.

As you all well know, for several years now, fell things have been on the rise.

Nine years past, the deviltry of Hell and its cruel representatives here - that nefarious association known as the Web - attempted to secure the so-called Egg of the Phoenix.  Thankfully, they were foiled. [1]

Eight years ago, the archdevil Fyvee invaded our realm with his retinue of fashionably evil spawn.  Praise the petty gods, he was mostly repulsed. [2]

Since that time, we have not been so lucky.  The unearthing of the Eye of the Leviathan has brought woe to the land.  Evil stirs.  Dark shadows grow long - and bold.  Chaotic creatures not seen since cave paintings gallop across the land.  [3]

In Snollygoster Swamp, the pig-men beat war drums and sing the songs of their god, Porcus.  They have been so bold as to murder and kidnap some of the elders of the frog folk.  [4] There are rumors that even now, they capture and tame snollygosters as beasts of war, awaiting a signal from beyond.

North, in the Snowdeeps, civil war continues among the giant tribes.  That ongoing conflict has occasionally spilled into our own green lands, with destruction in its wake. [5]

Our sources in the east report an army, gathered across the desert, has marched nearly to the edge of the Badlands, and may soon be upon us in Thistlemarch and River-Town, if it so wishes.  At the head of this army, they say, stands a mysterious dark magician. [6]

And now, the seers and augurists paint a bleak picture.  Many of them see the same sorts of images - a war in the heavens, a black blade, a feathered serpent.  We do not yet know what it means.  But we must presume we are on the brink of a very dark age here in Wampus Country.

A very dark age indeed.

This kind of thing is going on constantly.


1.  It's true, in 2013 the Rat-House Bastards and some allies played through an adaptation of the module Egg of the Phoenix.  The artifact itself was given to witches for disposal.  Where it now sits...no PCs know.

2. It's true!  In 2014 an archdevil and his warbands pierced the Midnight Sea and arrived in Wampus Country.  Thankfully only a handful of tieflings survived the incursion and subsequent battles.

3. Also true.  The Company of the Black Pearl marched around Wampus Country with an artifact that increased and attracted Evil Stuff for several years.  Lots of goat-men on the rise, and chaotic minotaurs to boot.  Rumblings about a dark Hoofed God.

4. Super true.  Happened during a Wampus Country session run at Hoffcon; luckily the PCs managed to rescue the frogfolk priestess Big Mama Mumu from the clutches of the porcs.

5. Certainly true.  The Critter Gitters in 2021 dealt with some of the fallout of a giant power struggle caused by something the Rat-House Bastards did in 2012.

6. Truly true.  The Critter Gitters watched the beginnings of this army form over a year ago but did not intercede at the time.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

ERB and Not ERB

 Typically when people first read Edgar Rice Burroughs, it's the big three - Tarzan, John Carter, and maybe Pellucidar.  These are the best-known Burroughs for good reason, but there are some second-tier books I've read recently that I really enjoyed.  There are also plenty of homages, continuations, and pastiche that might be worth looking at as well.  Below, a few I've recently digested.

A ton of well-described fight scenes in this one.

The Monster Men (1913).  Burroughs' take on Frankenstein/Moreau - maybe - set in the South Pacific. It has monstrous created men, steaming jungles, and pirates!  I listened to this on Librivox and enjoyed it greatly.  Once I'd finished, I found myself wondering why this one hadn't been adapted to the screen.

A nice counterpoint to see how ERB does Carter that isn't Carter (if you've never read Carson or Innes, I guess).  Look, it has cannibal centaurs, that should sell itself.

Now that I've read the tales within, I have quibbles about this cover, but you can't beat an action cover that makes you want to read the book.

The Moon Maid & The Moon Men (1922...but some parts earlier...).   Burroughs stitched together a sword-and-planet adventure, a political tale previously rejected by editors, and an adventuresome part three conclusion into a solid thrillogy.  The first part, The Moon Maid, is the most Burroughsian at first blush due to the exotic location and classic tropes, but the three parts together actually feature a lot of Burroughs staples.  Good action throughout, including some fairly big battles.  I strongly recommend these.

Time's Last Gift.  I enjoy Philip Jose Farmer for the most part, and he has his share of pastiche characters.  "Spoilers" about this novel are all over the internet for you to read on your own if you wish, but suffice it to say there are Burroughs ties within.  A story of time-traveling researchers in the Magdalenian period, Time's Last Gift was a pretty breezy read, with some good drama and action.

It's not as "yass queen slay" as you might think.

Dejah Thoris.  Dynamite Comics.  The John Carter comics from Dynamite are kind of all over the map.  Warlord of Mars is a workmanlike retelling of several of the novels; the most recent series, John Carter of Mars, is just plain ugly.  In-between these, Dynamite published a 37-issue run of Dejah Thoris, featuring the princess' pulpy adventures prior to John Carter's arrival - and I really enjoyed this comic.  Nice art, enjoyable adventures, recurring villains and themes that tie the whole run together.  The second DJ series, and the limited series, aren't as good.  A little more detail on this comic here in my Twitter thread.

Airships versus giant laser colossus.  Come on, people, this is dope.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

D&D Comics, part one: the 5e era

Dragon vs Giant action from Frost Giant's Fury

 Various publishers have had the rights to Dungeons & Dragons in comic book form over the years.  As I read (or in some cases, re-read) through these volumes, I'll summarize my recommendations here on the blog.

Here's the bottom line: the D&D comics from IDW are a mixed bag at best.

While some runs are good adventure comics, others are a mess - featuring disappointing writing, sub-par art, or both.  The "Baldur's Gate" series of mini-series occasionally has some highlights but is burdened by its product-of-the-year tie-in nature, and the insufferable "comedy" of Minsc & Boo.  The lead characters in that run who are not Minsc do tend to grow over time and get more interesting.

None of these are "run out and get it!" recommendations, but sometimes you find TPBs marked down, or single-issues in bargain bins.

At The Spine of the World

At The Spine Of The World.  I liked this Icewind Dale mini-series - the art is nice, the story is well-presented.  Bonus points for being self-contained and having precisely zero Minsc in it.

Frost Giant's Fury

Infernal Tides


Frost Giant's Fury.  Best of the Minsc & Boo series as far as sword-and-sorcery action.

Infernal Tides.  One of the better Minsc & Boo outings.

Mindbreaker.  Minsc & Boo vs mind flayers.

Mindbreaker ties in with the Baldur's Gate 3 vidya game 


Legends of Baldur's Gate.  The start of our current troubles - the beginning of the Minsc saga.

Shadows of the Vampire.  Minsc & Boo in Ravenloft.  I note that one of the main characters gets a consequence in this run, but they have failed to pull the trigger on that obvious consequence 25 issues later.

Evil At Baldur's Gate. More Minsc & Boo.  So much investment in this series!

A Darkened Wish.  An ambitious story jammed incautiously into five issues of dubious art.

Actual action shot of a dragonborn from A Darkened Wish. 

Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle.   Set in the reimagined 5e Ravenloft, this one's about Viktra Mordenheim, the brilliant scientist and abusive weirdo, as well as the girl she's experimenting on, and Viktra's former lover Elise (the monster).  The art is very 2022, and the pacing tells me the writer wants this story to be a slow-burn mystery and maybe a dysfunctional love triangle.  Unfortunately it's burning so slowly I can't possibly care about the characters.  Things look up a tad in issue #3 as Elise arrives, but I can't promise I'm going to finish this one.

Orphan of Agony Isle

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gunsi versus the B-Series

 Gunsi the Squirrel, my son's fighter, pushed through a good bit of adventure during the lockdown and post-lockdown period.  Since we were running a single PC, I was using lower-level published TSR-era material as a skeleton to challenge a fifth-, then sixth-level 5e PC.  Gunsi has been searching for his missing sister for some time in the campaign, and he wanted to follow rumors about a squirrel city in the Lumberlands.  In order to get to the Lumberlands most directly, Gunsi elected to travel through the region known as Three Rivers.

Check out what I can do to water with but a wave of my hand!  Isn't it WEIRD?

Along the road, Gunsi teamed up with another PC, Juniper Muffington (thief, spy, girl-of-the-camp) in an attempt to recover the missing Jade Hare statuette.  They didn't get very far in their exploration of the dungeon -- they both blew their stealth and got jammed up by a mess of goblins.  Licking their (considerable) wounds, Juniper and Gunsi noped out of that dungeon and never went back.  The Mad Warlock Abu-Ghabar eventually took the enchanted statue back to his Master in the east.

Gunsi continued on into Three Rivers, arriving at the fortress-town of Ironwrack.  As a sympathetic hero type, the squirrel got mixed up with some revolutionaries trying to overthrow the master of the fortress, who de facto ruled the countryside and controlled the road.  Gunsi agreed to sneak into Ironwrack and steal a possibly-enchanted jewel, but he wanted some help (those goblin-scars were still fresh).  I generated some rebels for him to choose from as a henchman, and soon Gunsi was on his way, accompanied by milquetoast cleric Martholomew Rambleshart.  Sneaking into the fortress by underground means, Gunsi did manage to secure the Eye, but unfortunately poor Marty was killed.  The mystic eye was delivered to the rebels, and Gunsi continued his journey deeper into Three Rivers.

As he traveled, Gunsi came to see that Three Rivers had a goblin problem.  He experienced a raid on a ranch, chased down some warbands, tangled with the local evil slaver faction, and so forth.  Multiple sessions of this.  Gunsi was doing fine and earning some xp but I think he was getting tired of making ends meet doing goblin stuff.  Finally he had enough money saved to hire some mercenaries to support him as he goes upriver to tackle the Goblin King.  A successful assault (and on New Year's Eve, no less), although Gunsi did not investigate the lower levels of the place - it was enough to slay the Goblin King.  Gunsi took his winnings and kitted up for the long wilderness travel to the Lumberlands...

Night's Dark Terror is awesome and I wish I'd used more of it in play.

During this period I fielded material from The Jade Hare, B10 Night's Dark Terror, and DDA3 Eye of Traldar.  I had DDA4 The Dymrak Dread ready for a session as well, but never used it.  It was a twofold experiment, both the one-on-one adventuring, and seeding a single map with content from several thematically-related modules.  

Results to note for the campaign:

* The Mad Warlock takes the possibly-powerful Jade Hare to his Master in the desert, possibly increasing the Master's power.  (The Critter Gitters group would later tangle with the Master's forces in the east).

* A certain hidden city in Night's Dark Terror remains undiscovered.

* The goblin activity in Three Rivers was put down; should take several years for the goblins there to rebuild their numbers.

* Those in Three Rivers who would like to see the Lord of Ironwrack deposed have been encouraged and empowered.

Principles to pay attention to:

* PCs can and do fail.  They fail, they give up, they run away.  This is proper.

* PCs can get bored of what's in front of them.  When they want to walk away from it, LET THEM.

* Things that happen in your campaign must have consequences, even if the PCs who triggered the consequence never see it.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Beacon of the Lizard King

This post contains spoilers for TSR-era modules. 

Today's post is a little bit about dismembering published adventures and stitching them together.  There's plenty of discussion out there about whether modules are worth using, and if so, how best to use them.  Do you run them straight?  Re-skin most of it?  Or cannibalize it for parts?  In today's example, we're somewhere between ghoulishly stealing parts and a Frankenstein re-skinning.  

I was running 5e for some folks and wanted to steal liberally from a TSR-era adventure, so I was looking at the I-series modules.  There's this bit of overlap that intrigued me...  I2 Tomb of the Lizard King gives us the vampire lizardman Sakatha.  I7 Baltron's Beacon happens to have a (quite alive) lizard chieftain, Yiss, raising an army in the swamp.  Both NPCs have pet dragons.  What if they were the same dude?  Couldn't I just replace Yiss with Sakatha, and put all this stuff on the same map?  Answer: yes.

AH YISS it ya boi comin' at ya with the latest swamp nonsense, pound that like button

First thing I did was dub the vampire lizard emperor Ah Yiss.  There's the stupid joke there (I envisioned players saying AWWWW YISS!) but the sound pattern of the joke name also suggested a pseudo-Mayan thing, so that's what I went with for the lizardfolk here.  I kept the lizard king's pan lung dragon mount from Beacon, because why wouldn't you?  So we have Ah Yiss and his rising forces out in the swamp surrounding his tomb, plop that on the map.  The only thing we're using from Tomb is the swamp and the tomb - we're ignoring all the intro stuff in that module.

Now we take a look at Baltron's Beacon and see it's about a ruined keep where various parts of the complex are held by (competing) nasties, and the PCs are expected to investigate the newly-lit eponymous beacon.  Easy-peasy.  Plop the keep on the map over here.  Be ready with appropriate NPCs who can offer information about the place or steer the PCs into the great swamp.

Game-time came around, and for the initial session I had only three PCs present:

Blitz Donner, thunder priest

Gunsi the Squirrel, sellsword

Lini the Tortle, swamp warrior (new PC)

Just as you would've done, I made sure new PC Lini had knowledge of the area - a way to get info download to the group but also tie the new PC right into things.  Lini's band of tortles had been recently displaced from the swamp as the lizardfolk got frisky (following Ah Yiss waking up).  Now Blitz and Gunsi had arrived in this small swamp-adjacent village that was overrun by expatriate tortles.  Tensions weren't too bad yet, but clearly the situation was untenable.  When the PCs also heard about the lighting of the strange beacon in the swamp, they knew the whole thing was chock full of xp, and resolved to head into the swamp with Lini as their local guide.  I was thrilled that we had avoided the hamfisted "please go do this" sections of both modules.  It seems like multiple pages are wasted on these vanilla expository bits in every otherwise-raidable module.

The guys tromp through the swamp - I think there was a wilderness encounter, can't remember - and make it to the keep relatively unmolested.  They scout around and decide to attempt to go in from the TOP of the thing, I think in part because this is 5e and 2/3 of the group can levitate or whatever.  That caper brings them face-to-face with this guy, his bugbear pals, and his pet hieracosphinx:

There is nearly a skirmish, then there is a parley, and next thing you know the PCs are begrudging allies (frenemies?) of Antarcus Giantbane.  He spares them and dispatches them back into the swamp to scout for other warbands and report back to him - since he's lightly allied with the lizards and, as a 9th-level fighter, knows this keep is inevitably going to be the only defensible position if and when stuff goes down.  The PCs agree to do the scouting and depart.  Never to return.

I mean "never to return" twofold there - first because the PCs agreed they were going to burn this guy and were not going to even pretend to work for him, and second because these PCs never got together again.  At the end of the session, they were trudging back toward the village, with minimal xp and essentially no treasure.  COVID hysteria hit and people stopped seeing one another, so that was the last in-person game for that group, which did not successfully slide online.

Sometimes a fallen ranger pays a little too much attention to his sphinx

But time marches on, and the campaign exists outside of one playgroup, so we have to look at what happened next.  That's my job as the DM, to keep the world moving even when players aren't putting their grubby paws all over it.

Gunsi the Squirrel got on the road and headed toward the region called Three Rivers, on his way toward the Lumberlands.  We know this because Gunsi's player is my son, so COVID didn't stop him interacting with the campaign.  He had a teamup with another PC and then a series of solo adventures in Three Rivers which we may talk about another time.  Today, Gunsi is sitting in the town of Squeamish, in the Lumberlands.

Blitz and Lini haven't played again, so I have to presume, absent player actions, they stayed somewhere near that whole swamp nonsense.  The more important question is, what's going on two years later with Ah Yiss the vampire, his dragon steed, and his lizardman army?  Fantastic question.  I should've run it at the time, and didn't.  I know now I could've - should've - run a sweet big battle at the keep between some defenders (or the villagers) and the lizards.  I'm sure I have wargamer pals who would've happily adjudicated that for me.  But now, two years later, I think I need to just weave from whole cloth based on what was likely to happen.

There's this:

Absent the intervention of PCs or some other regional power, it seems inevitable to me that the risen Ah Yiss, with his lizard horde and assorted evil non-lizard allies, would control the great swamp pretty completely.  Perhaps Antacus advises him, and also Leptor (the 9th-level wizard from Beacon), and Ah Yiss still has those brigands from Tomb in his employ.  This alliance may even control the demonic blackflame in the keep.  And potentially they have a good number of magical items as well - not just arms and armor, but assorted potions and things.  With two years to consolidate, it's a safe bet that Ah Yiss rules the area, and is now ready to consider expansion, or reach out for further allies.  Worth noting that this swamp is up north on the map, and is not Snollygoster Swamp, so (for now) Ah Yiss doesn't have any dinosaurs to command.

Looks like trouble for certain parts of Wampus Country.  And Ah Yiss isn't the only nefarious army-builder on the map...

Monday, August 15, 2022

Colony of Death (and Rabbits)

 If you haven't checked out the new online rpg store in town, Big Geek Emporium, you should.  It's early days but this is a good time to stress-test the place and investigate products from small presses with which you may not be familiar.  And some you know - I uploaded some Wampus Country pdfs up there as well.  I picked up some stuff at the Emporium last night, including Colony of Death (which I already had somewhere) - so I want to tell you a bit about these adventures.

Colony of Death, by Mark Hess, is a mini-setting for Lamentations of the Flame Princess that brings the action to 17th-century colonial Maryland.  As a Maryland native who went to college at St. Mary's, I'm already partial to the gimmick.  But, bias aside, Hess does a good job here of giving us an interesting basic setup - the colony, a hexmap to populate, and random encounter tables that reflect the time period but also inject suitable weirdness.  There are also several short adventures, or adventure setups.

The first adventure in the collection has the PCs dealing with a mystery and a serial killer (we did say LotFP), but importantly one of the likely rewards for dealing with the issue is a land grant.  This kind of setup is imperative to getting the PCs thinking of themselves as movers and shakers rather than murderhobos - once they own some farmland upriver, they'll have a homebase, something to invest in, something to defend, and they're going to really start giving a damn about what goes on in the colony.  Other adventure setups feature Pennsylvania Dutch-style hex magic and the conflict between two magical critters, some awful Viking relics, and of course a good old-fashioned witch-burning.  There is a short appendix about the contemporary tobacco industry which you're going to want to have the players read once they set up some tobacco farms on their land!  A supplemental page that comes with the book (and is PWYW elsewhere) details a new sorcerous foe, the buffalo shaman.

The Doom That Came To Chapman Farm is a full adventure for Colony of Death - if you're running CoD, go ahead and pick this one up as well, but you could run this adventure transplanted to your game quite easily.  The adventure is all about a descendant of magician John Dee who comes to the colony and immediately gets in over his head with magic he hasn't mastered.  Now you have this demonically-possessed axe-murderer holed up in the Chapmans' house, with hostages.  Oh, and there's something awful in the barn.  Nicely illustrated in black and white, this adventure brings the weird and would make a pretty good con one-shot to boot.

Unrelated to Colony of Death is Rise of the Lagomorphs, the cover of which sells itself ably with the medieval illustration of a giant rabbit decapitating a man with an immense sword.  In this LotFP adventure - set in England but easily repositioned to Maryland in my opinion - something bizarre is mutating the local rabbits.  They become legion, then they become big and intelligent, and then...  The whole thing moves fast, the rabbits are aggressive dog-sized specimens one day, and man-sized and intelligent soon after.  Run this thing like a horror movie and I think you'll get your payoff.  The PCs will do battle with the newly-uplifted army of rabbits, led by their charismatic king...  this one could be a con session as well if you paced it right.  Definitely memorable.

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.


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.


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?


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).


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


 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.


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.