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.