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Ye Olde Gaming Shoppes

Greetings Programs,

Life has been quite hectic recently, which has left less time for blogging and a lot less time for gaming. So posting will continue being less consistent than normal (as if it was ever consistent). However, even though I haven’t been gaming I have had the opportunity to hit some really good stores.

First on the list is Yottaquest. Located on the north side of Cincinnati this is a store I’ve known about for a while but just visited for the first time. It’s a good sized store with a friendly staff who were happy to talk. The front of the store is dominated by Warhammer and similar miniatures displays, as well as popular gateway board and card games. Moving deeper you’ll find a wide variety of offerings to suit whatever geekish tastes you prefer, and in good quantities. Role playing games of all types are represented, including a decent selection of Dungeon Crawl Classics products. Board and war games fill several shelves and there is a generous selection of comics and manga. I am particularly delighted that they sell used and out-of-print games, just the thing to warm my OSR heart. I am impressed by how the store manages to embrace current gaming store trends while keeping an old school game store feeling. Yottaquest is definitely on my “to visit” list for future trips.

Next on my list was re-visiting two of my old haunts. One of Cincinnati’s small communities is Mt. Lookout, which boasts a nice collection of locally owned restaurants and shops. I used to make regular trips down to Mt. Lookout to grab a burger at Zip’s Cafe and hit the stores, but it’s been a good ten years since I’ve last been there. When I found myself in the area with some time on my hands I jumped at the chance to drop by, with two stores in particular as my goal.

Boardwalk Hobby Shop is a nice store with its own distinctive style. The biggest draw at Boardwalk is modeling and there are kits of every type available, as well as all the paints and tools you could want. They don’t carry any miniature gaming figures but they have a better selection of paints and brushes than most stores that are dominated by Warhammer. Aside from the models they also have a good selection of board games, ranging from classic and family games to more “gamer” oriented fare. Boardwalk also offers a section of puzzles, including a better selection of 3D puzzles than I’ve seen in a long time.

Unfortunately for me, since my last visit they have moved away from carrying role playing games. They only offer a small number of 5th Edition D&D books where once two aisles were filled by D&D, GURPS, and Chaosium titles. But if you are looking for a board game, model, or painting supplies, Boardwalk is a good place to visit.

Last is the jewel in the crown, the place I most wanted to visit again, that store which makes my wallet tremble in fear. The Dust Jacket.

The Dust Jacket is not a gaming store, it’s a rare book store. The first thing you see when you walk in are shelves filled with leather bound tomes, set collections, and 1st edition books. Moving deeper you’ll find an impressive collection of books on all subjects. Their world and military history sections are particularly good. This place is a treasure vault for bookworms that goes beyond a simple used bookstore. You’ll find books on World War One written in the 1920’s, poetry books from the 19th century, novels that have never been reprinted, and more.

If we lived in a Call of Cthulhu world this store would either be our last hope or the place where the end of humanity begins.

If I have any nits to pick with The Dust Jacket, it’s that their science fiction section is unimpressive. However the wonderful selection of history books more than makes up for it.

Often when you revisit an old favorite store you find that things have changed or that they aren’t as good as you remembered. In the case of The Dust Jacket, I swear the store is even better than I remembered. I will not let another decade go by without returning, no matter how much my wallet begs me to do otherwise.

Agent13small

My Favorite Yottaquest Acquisition!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming, Reviews

 

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The Secret of Bone Hill

“Danger lurks in the Lendore Isles. Bands of evil creatures prowl the hills overlooking the town of Restenford, seeking unwary victims.”

-The Secret of Bone Hill, front cover

If you ask an old Dungeons & Dragons player what module best represents the game you’ll get plenty of answers. For many it’s The Keep on the Borderlands, home of the iconic Caves of Chaos. Others will say In Search of the Unknown, or The Village of Hommlet, or maybe even Tomb of Horrors. These are fine choices, but for me the answer is module L1, The Secret of Bone Hill.

Written by Lenard Lakofka and published in 1981, Bone Hill has a dose of everything a D&D party could want. The module is designed for 2-8 characters from levels 2-4, which makes it suitable for adventurers with some experience under their belts, looking to face bigger challenges. It provides a modest sized wilderness area with several different locations containing both random and set encounters. There are some dynamic threats for the DM to use, such as a group of brigands and a pack of gnolls, and places weird and fantastic that may provide aid instead of danger to a party that minds its manners.

There is the town of Restenford, which is well mapped and completely keyed out, rivaling the village of Hommlet for completeness. All the townsfolk, including the inhabitants of the baron’s castle, are given names and stats. Only a few are given descriptions beyond this, but it’s easy to build motivations on top of what the Dungeon Master is given and if the DM is inclined towards intrigue then it won’t be hard to incorporate into the lives of the townsfolk. Restenford is an archetypical D&D fantasy town, mostly human with a smattering of other races living alongside them. Magic is also not too uncommon, with several magic-users living within the town and more than one person armed with low powered magical weapons and armor.

Then there is Bone Hill itself and the ruined castle looming over the countryside. There is a good mix of standard and new monsters lurking within its depths and two factions that have an uneasy coexistence. This is a well realized dungeon site, not very large but well thought out and stocked with a generous amount of treasure for those who survive its dangers.

The module also uses plenty of old school concepts in its design. Most importantly it makes no assumptions about the party’s motivations, beyond that they seek adventure. There are no quest givers with exclamation marks hovering over their heads, waiting to tell the players what needs to be done. It is up to them to explore Restenford and its environs and it is up to them to unearth the stories that will lead them into danger.

That’s not to say the adventure doesn’t give them some direction. In true old school fashion Bone Hill has an extensive list of rumors that the party can hear during their interactions around the town. How much they can trust those rumors is another decision the party will have to make and a wise group will be cautious about what they believe.

One related detail that I enjoy is that a few of the illustrations depict scenes from the rumor table that are not true. It makes me wonder if these rumors are based on things that happened in the author’s gaming group.

There are two other details that I appreciate about The Secret of Bone Hill. The first is that the castle of Restenford is completely mapped out and keyed, with rumors around the town that the ruling family’s wealth is secured within. As I mentioned, the module makes no assumptions about the adventurers’ motivations and the castle is not simply a place to go and receive quests from the baron and baroness. A group may prefer to try their luck at robbing the castle instead of risking the horrors of Bone Hill.

The other detail I love is found at the ruins on Bone Hill. The history of the ruined castle is not told within the module, but a lot of its story can be discerned from the map and the location descriptions. The remains of siege engines can be found outside of ruined walls. There are areas that show substantial fire damage, including burn circles marked on the map. Many skeletal remains can be found around the siege engines and within the courtyard, telling of a fierce battle between bugbears and humans. We don’t know the details, but the clues to the castle’s history are compelling, all the more because they are told through what the party sees and can deduce.

If there is one criticism I have it’s that the main threats lack an element of the fantastic. There is no dragon, no demon lord, no alien monstrosity that strikes terror into the players when their characters come face-to-face with it. Nothing that is epic by its existence alone. This can be remedied by developing the personalities of the intelligent villains and making them a more aggressive threat to the characters and the region.

Of course, you can also add a horrifying threat of your own.

The Secret of Bone Hill encapsulates what I think of in old school Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a small sandbox where low-to-mid level characters can make their own way, free from any expectations beyond their thirst for adventure. There are mysteries, there are opportunities for role playing, there are unforgiving threats, and a wealth of treasure to be discovered.

The Secret of Bone Hill is available in .pdf format on dndclassics.com. Give it a look, you won’t be disappointed.

BoneHillCover

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Dungeon Design, Fantasy, Gaming, Reviews

 

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It Came from the Blogosphere!

Several very cool things have popped up in my RSS feed lately.

  • The Hack & Slash blog has done an impressive analysis of the various treasure types in the 1st Edition Monster Manual that discusses what each type consists of, what types of monsters are assigned to them, and what the treasure types say about the ecology of the creatures involved. It’s an impressive bit of analysis that’s both informative and interesting to read. The follow up post about how to use treasure hoards in adventure design is also quite good.
  • Dyson’s Dodecahedron has announced that he’s hit his goal of $300 per update via Patreon. Dyson has always offered his maps for personal use, but hitting this goal means he’s making them freely available for commercial use (with proper attribution of course). That’s both cool and generous. Dyson’s maps are excellent and if more people start using them in commercial adventures? That’s a win for everyone. It’s also neat to see someone really leveraging Patreon to do what they love and give back to the OSR community.
  • The amazingly cool Ask About Middle-Earth Tumblr was involved in helping fact check the latest CGP Grey video that does an excellent job of summing up how the rings of power work. I’ve become quite a fan of the Ask About Middle-Earth blog (along with a gazillion other people) and the author’s sense of fun and passion for Tolkien’s works always shows through in her work. Check out her site and definitely watch the video.
  • Lastly, I saw the image below on the Jewel in the Skull Tumblr page and it just makes my Saturday morning cartoon soul just sing. If my Google-Fu is accurate, these links go to the inker and colorist for this geekishly wonderful cross-over.

80sSwordsSmall

 

 

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The Intergalactic Nemesis

“The year is 1933. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Molly Sloan and her intrepid research assistant Timmy Mendez team up with a mysterious librarian from Flagstaff, Arizona, named Ben Wilcott. Together, they travel from Rumania to Scotland to the Alps to Tunis to the Robot Planet and finally to Imperial Zygon to defeat a terrible threat to the very future of humanity: an invading force of sludge-monsters from the planet Zygon!”

-The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth

Last night my kids and I enjoyed a unique stage show called, The Intergalactic Nemesis. The show is the live performance of a graphic novel done in the style of an old science fiction melodrama. It’s a fantastic blend of performance where all the aspects of the show are on stage for everyone to see.

At one end of the stage they have a live pianist who improvises the score for every show. The center stage is dominated by the folly artist and her table, giving the audience a rare glimpse at the art of producing sound effects as part of the performance. Above her is a large screen on which they project panels taken straight from the graphic novel, which are controlled by a board operator who is also on stage. She also handles organ music. Finally there are the three voice actors, up front with their microphones, each actor deftly handling a total of about 30 characters.

The story is something straight from a pulp novel, where Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers would feel right at home. There is murder, intrigue, a mind controlling master villain, alien invaders, a square jawed heroic librarian, a fresh faced kid from Texas, and a woman reporter with enough moxie to impress Lois Lane.

There is also humor. Lots of humor. The story has tongue in cheek without drifting into outright satire. This is a love note to pulp fiction, not a parody, and the enthusiasm the cast projects is contagious. An infection they enhance by encouraging audience participation. The audience is encouraged to cheer the heroes, boo the villains, and gasp in shock.

My children had a tendency to cheer for the villains. This should surprise no one.

The Intergalactic Nemesis is the brainchild of Ray Golgan and Jason Neulander, who came up with the idea back in 1996. The project evolved many times over the years and the current incarnation has been touring the world since 2010. In addition to their stage performance they have three dramas available on CD and two in graphic novel format with the third book slated to be released soon.

My kids and I immensely enjoyed the performance and I recommend you catch the show if they show up in your area. Information about the show, tour dates, and copies of their merchandise can be found on their website, The Intergalactic Nemesis. They even have a YouTube channel where you can watch their performances!

It is a joy to see people with a love for the genre who have found such a unique way to share it with audiences and I hope their schedule will bring them back to our area in the future.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Books and Comics, Reviews, Science Fiction

 

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Trying Too Hard

I follow several Tumblr pages devoted to fantasy artwork, especially those of the Old School variety.

One of my favorites is Meanwhile, Back in the Dungeon, which features images both sublime and silly.

This would be of the latter type:

Cattaur

I adore this image. Fantasy artwork is known for being over-the-top and it can be hard to tell where the line is between “awesome” and “trying too hard”. I’m not sure where that line is, but I am sure that this… cattaur? It’s definitely well past that line.

At the same time the swordswoman is far better attired than the norm for fantasy artwork. She’s reasonably armed, posed, and dressed, which somehow makes the overall image even more strange.

This screams “80’s paperback cover”. Does anyone know what it is from?

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy, Weirdness

 

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Reskinning Saltmarsh

Riffing on my review of The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh I got into a discussion on how this adventure would be easy to reskin for other genres. Without further ado, here are some of my ideas.

1. Call of Cthulhu – This one is simple, as the setup for Saltmarsh is practically a 20’s pulp adventure already. The smugglers are gangsters running alcohol who have hired a down-and-out stage magician to rig up the hauntings that keep people away. The alchemist’s hidden lab remains practically unchanged, with the addition of a mythos tome. Otherwise the mansion remains mostly the same.

But since this is Call of Cthulhu we need to add some hooks. Something is wrong with the hooch being brought in by the smugglers. Some people who drink in the speakeasies supplied by the gang seem to go mad and even experience physical mutations. The gangsters captured a few of the worst cases, fitted them with cement overshoes, and sent them to sleep with the fishes. Unfortunately those individuals came back to shore. The gangsters now have them locked in the zombie room.

The rum is being stored in a cave underneath the alchemist’s lab. Magics from his experiments have seeped down into the cavern and infected the alcohol, which has begun mutating certain sensitive individuals into Deep Ones.

The sea elf prisoner on the ship is replaced with a deep one hybrid who has a psychic connection with sea life. The ringleader of the smugglers forces the hybrid to use his powers to allow them to avoid coast guard patrols.

2. Sci-Fi – This one is for Stars Without Number or Traveler fans. The mansion is a derelict research station in deep orbit that was once the property of a private research firm. Rumors say that the crew was killed when something they were working on got loose; a biological weapon, a killer robot, or out of control nano-technology. A former employee for the company claims to have discovered a shutdown code in the now defunct company’s files and is looking for a crew to salvage the stations data core. There are megacorporations who will pay good money for any files remaining in the station’s data core.

Unknown to the players, the threat was neutralized long ago and the station is now being used as a base for space pirates. The alchemist’s lab can be the station’s dormant AI, or a locked down cryo-statsis unit storing inert genetically engineered monsters. This could lead to an unstable alliance between the party and the pirates should the insane AI or the inert creatures be unleashed.

If you are playing Star Frontiers the sea elf prisoner should become a Sathar, alive but in stasis. A live Sathar would be worth more than the entire station and all its contents, if the players can get it to the right person.

3. Cyberpunk – The mansion is turned into a data vault that once belonged to a criminal syndicate. The mob was broken up decades ago but their intranet is still running, protected by an AI armed with high powered black ICE. Rumors on the dark web say that more than one decker has had their mind fried trying to run the node. However the party’s fixer has information of interest to the party. The old gang had blackmail material about one of the team’s powerful enemies. If that information still exists it would be in their old data vault and if the team could recover it, they’d have a powerful weapon against their enemies.

The vault was protected by a dangerous AI, but what they don’t know is that the AI was taken offline a few years ago by enterprising hackers. The vault now serves as a virtual information bazaar where world class deckers come to store and sell their illegally obtained files. Anyone who gets deep enough into the VR environment to discover this will find a very upset collection of capable deckers who will be quick to protect their secret.

Should the AI be brought back online it will determine that anyone it finds inside the data vault is an intruder and will unleash its countermeasures to eliminate them.

4. Pulp Adventure – Another relatively straight forward conversion, this time set during WWII. The mansion is a front for a Nazi spy ring. Or move it to the 60’s and use the KGB.

The hook for the players would be a series of sabotage incidents at factories in the region. Throw in the disappearance of an allied agent and the kidnapping of a senator’s son or daughter (to replace the sea elf) and you’ll have ample reason for agents to investigate the mansion.

It’s likely this will end up being a straight forward raid by the agents on the spy’s lair. For an added twist, as the battle plays out, have something get loose from the alchemist’s lab. Perfect for swerving the adventure from conventional secret agents into Delta Green territory.

5. Role Reversal – The characters are the ones charged with keeping the Sinister Secret, be it a speakeasy or an OSS base in occupied Europe. Let the players come up with ways to perpetuate the scary rumors that keep curious people away. Make them try to spot enemy agents or federal officers and find ways to throw them off the track.

Or the group of meddling kids and their dog.

They may also have to deal with anything they find still hidden in the basement chambers. Or which comes crawling up out of the sea, answering the call of something inside the mansion.

—–

Do you have any classic modules you’ve reskinned for other games? Any more ideas for Saltmarsh? I’d love to hear about them.

SinisterSaltmarsh

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Cyberpunk, Fantasy, Gaming, Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Batman Story Cubes

The Fractal-family are big fans of Rory’s Story Cubes.

If you’re not familiar, they’re sets of dice with symbols on each face. You roll the dice and then tell a story that somehow incorporates each image. It’s good fun for kids and adults and the implications for gamers should be obvious.

Via Purple Pawn I see that this Fall they’ll be releasing a new set of Batman Story Cubes!

Have I ever mentioned that my gaming group loves superhero RPGs?

What would make this even more fantastic would be a comic introducing a new Batman villain who uses Story Cubes in his crimes. Just a one shot tie-in issue like they used to do in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s the perfect gimmick for a Batman villain.

I dream of a day when they start making Rory’s Story Cube sets for other genres; Dungeons & Dragons, Stars Without Number, Call of Cthulhu…

Okay, maybe that last one is a bad idea…

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming

 

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