Sunday, May 20, 2018

Olde School Wizardry: Telephones?

A while back, I got into a conversation with one of my Olde School Wizardry players about how remote communication works in our campaign world.  He had a couple ideas for how his wizard might create magical ear-pieces for profit.  To assist, I sketched out how tele-communication worked using the rules of our homebrew system, so he could devise improved and alternate methods. Some of that content follows, mainly so that it isn't just floating around in my gmail but here where I can find it!


The Olde School establishment tends to value tradition over innovation and it's only the young bucks trying to earn prestige by developing new Sciences and Formulae who are motivated to innovate, and even then the innovation isn't really about practical application, merely about doing something new.

Traditional, arcane tele-communication is probably accomplished most often through one of two methods:

A. A Muttering Stone ("mussare-lith?"): Enchant, Science [Stone, Wood, Cheese, etc.], no Spatial, Shadow of Lurrock, Thaumic = something similar to Rice's Discord (which repeats sounds), but this allowing the caster to hear as if his ear was located where the spell's focus is.  The object goes into a thin, sealed box and gets exchanged with another wizard who has done likewise.  This is funny because the box of course muffles the sound somewhat so both users need to speak LOUDLY and slowly.  Miscommunication is frequent.  Storing the box is inconvenient because of privacy and the potential to annoy the fellow on the other end with random, muffled sounds at all hours.

Image result for deaf monkB. Sound is an established Science.  Along with Gonfur's Circle, or something similar, one could Conjure the Sounds from a particular area at a pre-established time.  The communication is uni-directional of course.  Two circles laid out side-by-side could allow for a sort of telegraph/hopscotch.
Speech, in the backwards world of Olde School Wizardry, is considered to have less gravitas than the written word (which can be chosen with great care, repeated without alteration, and which can grant the wizard a sort of immortality).  Much tele-communication then depends on print.  A writing tablet made of Science X is carefully handled and marked by wizards within that School.  Spatial Formula, Gore's Sigil of Choice, is applied and the wizards can now Conjure that item back and forth between themselves at will, making a sort of chain letter.  Punk, neophyte wizards who have only very shabby Temporal Formulae end up having less bandwidth of course.

Stone Tooth, to help in the crafting of magical charms, is a pretty good application of magic and those who hold the proper licenses from the Estates Arcanum to manufacture and sell them do a brisk business (as do counterfeiters).  The average peasant cannot afford one and has to take his chances.  The average nobleman has his own wizard on retainer to put broader spells of Warding and Restoration on things and seldom has interest unless they are rendered with particular attention to fashion and artistry (a brocade hem to a tunic festooned with a rainbow of Enchanted gemstones for instance).  Consumers, therefore, tend to be members of the small (but growing) middle class ... merchants, professional soldiers of a certain type, ship captains, and wizards.  Any wizard can counter these amulets and charms (Spellcraft, Minor Temporal Tweaker), so anyone likely to run afoul of a wizard (or an enemy employing one) may as well save his coin.

Image result for deaf monkThe alternate idea of using portal-magery to Conjure or broadcast sounds directly into the "portal" of a person's ear-canal (with or without that person's permission/knowledge) is complicated, funny, and a very good idea.  You should definitely try it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Homeguard Campaign: Our Module List

Image result for marsh cook d&dI really enjoy published modules -- even the real rotters.  I can almost always find a way to springboard off of a premise or stitch together scenarios by having NPCs pull double duty as recurring enemies, foils, or allies.  After finishing a scenario this weekend, I decided to make a list of what I've played with my daughters in our "Homeguard" B/X D&D campaign over the last five years ... it's quite a run!

1. In Search of the Unknown (B1)
2. Shrine of the Sacred Spring (home brew five level dungeon)
3. The Keep on the Borderlands (B2)
4. Keep on the Shadowfell (H1 for 4e)
5. The Forest Oracle (N2)
6. Horror on the Hill (B5)
7. Palace of the Silver Princess (B3)
8. The Great Escape (chapter from B9)
9. Rahasia (B7)
10. Journey to the Rock (B8)
11. The Isle of Dread (X1)
12. Hoard of the Dragon Queen (5e) -- also select chapters after #7, #15, and #17
13. Castle Ravenloft (I6)
14. The Clearing of Castle Caldwell and Dungeons of Terror (chapters from B9)
15. Against the Cult of the Reptile God (N1)
16. The Lost City (B4)
17. Beyond the Crystal Cave (UK1)
18. Xonthal's Tower chapter from The Rise of Tiamat (5e)
19. The Eye of the Serpent (UK5)
20. Chapter from Bestiary of Giants and Dragons (AC10)
21. The Sunless Citadel (3e)
22. The Gauntlet (UK3)
23. Castle Amber (X2)
24. Tales of Enchantment (GA3, 2e)
25. The Forge of Fury (3e)
26. Castle Greyhawk -- select chapters (WG7)
27. Drums on Fire Mountain (X8)

This weekend three beloved characters finally hit level 7--quite an accomplishment!
I should mention that each of my players maintains a stable of PCs, so not every character goes on every adventure.  Often "The Golden Dragons" are scattered across hundreds of miles or even across different worlds, chasing down separate leads.  

Image result for danse macabreAlso, while I don't use level drain for undead (I find that it interrupts play in a way that's anticlimactic--I use permanent hit point loss instead), I do use a house rule that a PC raised from the dead returns one level lower than she was before ... meaning that 1st level characters can be brought back, but that their careers are over and that "Normal Man" types cannot be raised at all.  Obviously this approach slows advancement too.

In addition to this list, we play many other one-shots and homebrew adventures that aren't part of this campaign.  For example, Stonehell: Down Night Haunted Halls, Master of the Desert Nomads, and Temple of Death.  Our play ranges outside of D&D too of course ... White Star, Star Frontiers, Gamma World (2e), Advanced Marvel Super Heroes, Call of Cthulhu (1890s), and even some Gangbusters have all made entertaining palette cleansers and diversions along the way!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Oasis of Death

Over Spring Break I ran a miniatures skirmish for a couple friends via text.  I'd photo the battlefield from various points of view and ask them for orders, handling the actual movement of the miniatures and dice rolling on my end before sending updates.  I intentionally said nothing about the mechanics I used so that the experience would be entirely narrative and rules-blind for the players.

The photos and text below are from the match:

Princess Shirharaz travels the ruby sands of the Desert of Zin, hastening to the side of her beloved Amir. Choosing a route that cuts a great loop off better traveled paths, her party rests their beasts at a small oasis. Had they but known to ask, the Turshan tribesmen of that region would have told tales of why that place was shunned and why it was known as "The Oasis of Death" ...

As Shirharaz 
of the dusky skin paid the proscribed obeisance before the idol of her people's gods, her seven loyal companions exchanged tales of their daring exploits while the sun crawled toward the horizon.

The princess's prized macrauchinia, "Follet," grows suddenly restless, tugging at his lead. 

The cruel figures appearing to the west could only be the beastmen of the jackal haunted wastes!  Merciless admixtures of lost travelers and their hapless beasts of burden. 

But what's this? A clamour has arisen amid the mirage - clothed dunes to the east!  More attackers approach from that direction!

Though Shirharaz is as lovely as the crescent moon above the twin silver domes of the tomb of the ancient sybils, and though wore she not a three-fold veil, men might find their senses slipping away from them, she's bloody useless in a fight.  She dashes for her tent, her delicate slipper finding an upturned stone!

By the dangling dugs of D'thaqu! The northeastern herd of attackers gives up all attempts at stealth and charges!

(Looking northeast) "Aw, by the Brass Hells, it was a boring tale anyway."

[At this point the human player decided to try and "motivate" one of the group's pack animals by stabbing it in the behind with a sword in hopes that it would panic, charge, and break up the enemy advance.  I made a quick ruling and tossed some dice.]

Follet trumpets in surprise and deep disappointment!

Follet thunders east through the center of the oasis, toppling the idol to the ancient gods!

The beastmen on the east side have halted, jeering and clamoring just out of spear reach.

 The dam breaks! The northwestern herd crashes into the oasis!

Another companion goes down beneath Follet's flight!

The horrid calls of the eastern creatures seem almost to form garbled words: "It is touched by the horned god!  Let it pass!"

In the wake of Follet's charge, the surviving companions spring forth! One foe is cut down, but the sight of blood on the long spears of the enemy and the mad roaring of a huge "bull" inflame the enemy to madness!

To the west, the old veteran who prodded Follet goes down under the churning hooves of the herd.

Damn them! Lowering horns and spears, the beastmen make a slow advance from all sides. Even the rage of the ashen [beastmen coated in the gray ashes of cremated herdmates] are tempered by clear and clean victory!

Her companions blood spilled, with a wail, the princess tries to flee the closing ring, only to find herself flung into the reeking embrace of the massive beastman bull!

Amid the horrid sounds of ghastly feasting, the sun hides its face from the Oasis of Death.

The End


Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Cheers for Ted

One of the (many) gratifying parts about running my weekly after school games club for middle schoolers is when kids from former years return to say, "hi" or even to run a game or two for their younger peers.

File:Doré by Nadar 1867 cropped.jpg
Recently, the player of "Ted the Goblin" (that most malodorous trickster and expert tunnel-maker from a fifth edition Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign a few years back) appeared and showed me a new header that he had knocked together for the blog!  

He knew how much I loved the art of Gustav Dore, especially his work on Orlando Furioso ... and he included the piece that actually inspired me to write my own homebrew RPG (also titled "Olde School Wizardry").

So, in the end, though Ted was a scoundrel (who lurked under the outhouses of Phandalin to give the Redbrand briggands a real reason to fear the night), it turns out that he had a heart of gold all along.

Thanks, Ted!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Redeeming Castle Greyhawk

My youngest found herself in need of an army.  

Her party had been driven out of Castle Adlerweg by  hobgoblins, and though they'd pacified the giant who had allied with the bellicose creatures by returning his daughter, there were just too many of the fell folk to best in battle--a hasty retreat was by far the best option.

Now, however, she had to turn her mind to how she could recapture the fortress ... ideally before Baron Kelvin learned of the debacle ... and it wouldn't be easy.  Adlerweg was built high in a pass, straddling the overland route connecting her homeland with the Duchy of Rhoona and the steep valley of Barovia.

Image result for D&D palace of the silver princess argenta

She'd need some stalwart allies; preferably an army of them ... though, she considered, a dragon might do in a pinch. 

Of course she still had that enchanted ring given her by Princess Argenta when the party had traveled by magic to Haven to liberate the silver lady's palace from its curse.  They had parted ways on quite good terms, and Argenta's champion rode a silver dragon; a friendly enough chap too!

The ring had to be "charged" with magic to bear its wearer and her companions back to Haven, and even then nothing was ever guaranteed where such otherworldly magic was concerned ... but how many scrolls should she expend in the effort?

It turns out that "one" was definitely not the right answer.

Now the party is ... elsewhere.  Where exactly?  A city in some strange crossroads world where distances seem to wrap in on themselves and all sorts of strange creatures rub elbows.  This place seems full of magic and routes to other worlds, but which doorway is the right one?  And how can a person get the proper key?  

Now many of the odd and shady denizens of this city-between-worlds have taken an interest in the newcomers.  It seems that there's plenty of help to be had in these parts ... for a price.


Here's where one of TSR's most-maligned products comes in ... 

This city of strange magical gateways is, I decided on a whim, a fine location to plug in chunks of TSR's 1988 Castle Greyhawk!

Yes.  Greyhawk is a series of short "comedy" adventures ... many of them more weird than funny.  Many are parodies of TSR products ... D&D getting roasted via a D&D publication.

Yes.  Despite the name, you don't get to see any of Gary's original mega-dungeon.

Yes.  Some of the writers go out of their way to mock Gygax (and the players).

... but for all of that ... there's something there.  

Setting aside some of the blatant nonsense of "Drider-man," "Captain Kork," and "Elfin John," there are some compelling and strange elements scattered among the eleven adventures and 128 pages.

Consider the through-the-looking-glass tumble of "There's No Place Like Up" by Paul Jaquays, where north is replaced by "up" and the party must struggle to escape a pocket dimension where gravity is their implacable enemy.  

Rick Swan's "It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want to" is a funny, but quite reasonable take on the standard bunch of humanoid badies trying to get noticed and recruited by their dark overlord of choice.  Rather than just attacking the party, the critters assume the explorers are VIPs, giving them a chance to unravel the plot as long as they can keep up the charade.

Even "Against the Little Guys" by Steven Gilbert, featuring a magician-huckster who tries to exploit his discovery of a magic gate in an ill-advised plan to make a quick buck, has a very solid concept and requires only modest polishing to make a workable non-parody adventure.

Finally, I've got to say that, as a DM, running crummy or fixer-upper adventurers can be pretty liberating.  The flaws are obvious and clamor to be fixed, but also there's very little pressure to "do it right" in some quixotic quest to "do justice" to the source material.  

Running Maze of the Blue Medusa could be really intimidating when you want to help the players experience the awesome ... but the bar is considerably lower when DMing Castle Greyhawk's "The Temple of the Really Bad Dead Things."

What fixer-upper adventures have you gotten the most miles out of? 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Six Against Savage Quen!

Here's a quick photo from my after-school club--six set out at low tide to wrest the fabled black pearl from the sunken tower ... but the four elves and their two lion companions will have to outsmart the notorious pirate Savage Quen if they are to win the prize!

DCC79-5Taking a break from a couple months of 5th edition, we've turned back to a much simpler house-ruled Basic D&D, retaining ascending AC and Death Checks for fallen explorers.  Dungeon Crawl Classics, though often a bit verbose and mechanically crunchy for my taste, is easy to adapt on the fly.

Though DCC scenarios are generally pretty short in terms of encounters (if not word-count), we've already played two full sessions in the tower and, given 6th grader focus, we probably go two more until they either achieve victory or taste bitter defeat.