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Grimtooth

Well, here’s my latest light reading.

As I’ve come to expect from Goodman Games, this is a beautiful book. The cover is lovely, the binding is excellent, and the contents are well restored. It’s a wonderful collection of all the old Grimtooth’s Traps books, including a variety of new material and interviews.

If you’re not familiar, back in the 80’s and early 90’s there was a series of books collecting some of the most diabolical and completely unfair traps ever designed. These were rules agnostic monstrosities that would make Tomb of Horrors traps look like amateur designs.

Truth be told, for the most part they aren’t anything I would use in my dungeon design. Most are too “funhouse” for me, but the pleasure is in the reading. These books are fun.

And if my players were afraid I might actually use them? Well, that was fun too.

Now the entire series is available in an outstanding Goodman Games omnibus edition. The Kickstarter backers are receiving their copies now, so they should be available for retail purchase soon. Keep an eye on the Goodman Games website.

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You know, I could adapt these for a superhero game. Something involving Arcade’s Murderworld from Marvel Comics. Hmm…

 

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A List for Mugs and Molls

Here’s a classic web tool if ever there was one.

Twists, Slugs, and Roscoes: a Glossary of Hardboiled Slang has been on the Internet since 1993. As the name suggests, it’s a glorious collection of terms straight out of the noir pulps and movies, and comes complete with its own bibliography. It’s perfect to spice up any gangster-era game.

So glom that list you ginks, before I make you chew a gat.

MF-spy

 

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Stop the Presses!

One of the perks of living in Southwest Ohio is that I’m not terribly far from the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. It’s a wonderful facility, filled with aircraft and artifacts from every era of flight. Including of course the dawn of flight, appropriate for a museum located not far from the Wright Brothers’ home.

Not long ago we took a family trip to the museum. In the section where they have a Wright Flyer they also have an issue of the Washington Post dated Saturday, July 31st, 1909 that includes the announcement of the Wright Brother’s first flight.

This is a cool thing in itself, but what caught my gamer’s eye were two more articles that also ran on the front page; one is about a new secret weapon rumored to have been developed by the U.S. military and the second regarding a medical breakthrough that would be quite at home in the annals of mad science.

Please excuse the image quality. I had planned to find better shots online, but the Post’s archives are behind a paywall.

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The first story is about a death ray that can hurl lighting to, “Make Enemy’s Guns Useless, Slay Men, and Cripple Ships.” The story comes from an anonymous source within a European government, and is used as an explanation for why the U.S. military seemed to have very little interest in the success of the Wright Flyer. The suggestion is that aircraft would be insignificant against an army capable of swatting them out of the sky with lightning bolts.

The second story is unrelated to flight, but no less intriguing:

WashPost2

The topic is a medical procedure being explored in Paris, by which a surgeon could sever a nerve in the brain. Doctor Bonnier believed that removal of this nerve, “relieved greatly persons suffering from melancholia and timidity.” Speculation was that the procedure had, “the possibility of turning a coward into a hero by a surgical operation,” a concept that was of interest in 1909, when everyone knew that another major European war would happen sooner or later.

I couldn’t locate more information on Dr. Bonnier, though I did find reference to the article in a professional journal of Phrenology. However it’s worth noting that the article uses the past tense regarding the doctor’s procedure.

He’d already performed the operation. More than once.

To sum up; we have the front page of a world-renowned newspaper running articles about aircraft, death rays, and medically created supermen.

Happy gaming!

 
 

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A Familiar Addendum

An interesting idea has come to mind, following up on my post about familiars:

“At 10th Level (Master Thief), thieves are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature.

1st Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 27

With the right scroll, a Master Thief could have a familiar! Given the abilities of the familiars in 1st Edition, they’d be more advantageous to a thief than a magic-user. And if they managed to roll a special familiar? A 10th level chaotic neutral Master Thief with a pseudo-dragon!

How did I never think of this in my Monty Haul days?

And we can extrapolate this even further:

“Tertiary functions of assassins are the same as thieves. They have all the abilities and functions of thieves; but, except for back stabbing, assassins perform thieving at two levels below their assassin level…”

1st Edition AD&D PHB, pg 29

A 12th Level Chief Assassin with an imp for a familiar…

 

 
 

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A Familiar Problem

There is a segment in a recent episode of Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff discussing how to make a magic-user’s familiar more interesting. It’s a good bit and it has me reconsidering their use in Dungeons & Dragons, however a glance at the spell description in 1st Edition reminded me why we stopped using them.

On the plus side, familiars give magic users a few perks. These include serving as a spy for their master and the ability to converse with the magician. I’d thought that a telepathic link existed between them as well, but this isn’t part of the 1st Edition spell. There’s also a 1 in 20 chance that the player will summon a special familiar, the type being determined by the caster’s alignment. These are the really cool and useful familiars and include creatures like pseudo-dragons and imps.

Possibly the biggest benefit from a familiar is that they add their hit points to the caster’s, which is excellent for a low level magic-user. However this is also the biggest danger, because of what happens if the familiar dies.

“Normal familiars have 2-4hit points and armor class of 7 (due to size, speed, etc.). Each is abnormally intelligent and totally faithful to the magic-user whose familiar it becomes. The number of the familiar’s hit points is added to the hit point total of the magic-user when it is within 12″ of its master, but if the familiar should ever be killed, the magic-user will permanently lose double that number of hit points.”

1st Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 66*

So the death of an AC7 creature with three hit points means the magic-user will permanently lose six hit points.

Ah… yes. That would be why our casters stopped summoning familiars.

I was curious if 2nd Edition AD&D did anything to fix the problem. The spell’s entry is almost twice as long and adds a few extra benefits.

“The wizard receives the heightened senses of his familiar, which grants the wizard a +1 bonus to all surprise die rolls. Normal familiars have 2-4 hit points plus 1 hit point per caster level, and an Armor Class of 7 (due to size, speed, etc.).”

“The wizard has an empathic link with the familiar and can issue it mental commands at a distance of up to one mile.”

“When the familiar is in physical contact with its wizard, it gains the wizard’s saving throws against special attacks. If a special attack would normally cause damage, the familiar suffers no damage if the saving throw is successful and half damage if the saving throw is failed.”

2nd Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 134

That is a little better; the benefits are boosted, the extra hit points are nice, and the saving throw certainly helps. This flavor of familiars is more useful for a low level wizard, however it’s still going to be a liability once the magician starts facing things like dragon breath and fireballs. No problem, once the caster reaches those levels they can leave their familiar at home. Right?

“If separated from the caster, the familiar loses 1 hit point each day, and dies if reduced to 0 hit points.”

2nd Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 134

Okay… so that’s not an option. Well, on the plus side, in 2nd Edition you don’t lose twice the familiar’s hit points when it dies. However,

If the familiar dies, the wizard must successfully roll an immediate system shock check or die. Even if he survives this check, the wizard loses 1 point from his Constitution when the familiar dies.”

2nd Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 134

In the end, 2nd Edition familiars are less risky to have than their 1st Edition counterparts, but the benefits still don’t match the danger. Also, they did away with the special familiars, removing the chances of a really useful sidekick.

The idea of familiars is cool and suitably thematic for a magic-user, but their implementation in early D&D doesn’t justify the risk. There should be risk involved, but it needs to be something more balanced with the rewards they provide. I’ve been considering the following for my games:

  • The familiar is able to communicate telepathically with the magic-user.
  • Once per day, the caster can telepathically “ride” their familiar. This allows them to see, hear, and smell what the familiar can. The magic-user can also cast a spell through the familiar. This action cancels the link for the day.
  • The familiar adds to the magic-user’s spellcasting. The magic-user can memorize one additional spell per spell level available to them.
  • The familiar’s saving throws are equal to the casters.
  • Familiars and their magicians are linked and share a common pool of hit points. Attacks directed at either target will damage both. This is not limited by range, so a captured familiar can be used to torment the caster, like a Voodoo doll. Area of Effect attacks that catch both targets do not do double damage.
  • The death of a familiar causes the caster to make an immediate Save vs Death Magic or die. If the save is successful the caster loses one point of Constitution. (Alternately, roll randomly to see which attribute loses a point.)

This is still a work in progress. My priorities are:

  • A familiar should provide significant, thematic benefits.
  • A familiar should provide a risk to the caster, one that will make a lasting impact on the character but not out of proportion to the benefits they bring.
  • The familiar should work in tandem with the spellcaster. The mechanics should promote a partnership beyond that of a pet or henchman.
  • Things that help spellcasters cast more spells are good things.

Do you use familiars in your games? Have you revamped them? I’d love to hear stories. Also, I have no idea how D&D handles familiars in editions after 2nd, so I’d welcome any information on that.

Familiar

*For those not familiar with 1st edition AD&D, 1″ equals ten feet indoors or ten yards outdoors.

 
 

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The Doctor and Krynn

A post on the excellent “Old School FRP” Tumblr gave me a cool bit of information; Keith Parkinson snuck the TARDIS into several of his Dragonlance pictures.

For fandom, this is better than “Where is Waldo”! Of course, now I’ll never be able to look at one of Parkinson’s images without scanning it for signs of the Doctor.

Hmmm… if Raistalin and The Master teamed up…

You can find the post right here.

 

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy

 

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C.S. Lewis as a DM

For bedtime my family has been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia and we’re currently on Book 6, The Magician’s Nephew*. It’s been a lot of fun rediscovering these stories with my kids and this is one of the books I don’t remember very well.

Last night we came across a passage that made me realize what a great dungeon master C.S. Lewis would have been. The children, Digory and Polly, have come to a room filled with people, or excellent simulacrums of them, dressed as royalty and sitting in chairs. In the room is a low stone pillar with enchanted writing carved in it. Sitting on top is a small golden bell and hammer. The inscription reads:

“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger:

Strike the bell and bide the danger,

Or wonder, till it drives you mad,

What would have followed if you had.”

The Magician’s Nephew, Pg. 50

Beautifully insidious. Really, for any adventuring party worth its salt, you don’t even need an enchantment to compel and torment the players. Their imaginations will do all the work.

“‘Oh but don’t you see it’s no good!’ said Digory. ‘We can’t get out of it now. We shall always be wondering what would have happened if we had struck the bell. I’m not going home to be driven mad by always thinking of that. No fear!'”

The Magician’s Nephew, Pg. 50

The best part is that my children recognized the trap immediately, and loved it. Especially my daughter, who is now gaming with us in my Stonehell Dungeon campaign.

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*We are of course reading it in the classic order, not the heretical “chronological” order that they’re published in today. Such blasphemy.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Books and Comics

 

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Fat Dragon Games – Sale

Fat Dragon Games has kicked off their GM’s Day Sale early!

I do not use a lot of terrain in my games. We usually play without miniatures or I use my trusty old Battlemat. However, when I have used terrain it’s been from Fat Dragon. These people use the full potential of .PDF files for papercrafting.

The artwork is great, the designs are excellent, the instructions are clear, and they use layers to let you increase the visual variety. I’ve built a few of their sets and when I wanted to create a city for my Car Wars game, picking Fat Dragon’s products was a no-brainer.

Until March 1st their entire catalog is 50% off, so if you’re looking to get some quality papercraft terrain for your games, this is a good time to make the jump and give Fat Dragon a try.

CarWars1

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Cool Stuff, Gaming

 

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Survival in Stonehell

It’s been a busy week, so I’ve been neglecting the Belfry, but I wanted to pop in and leave a game update.

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, they were lost on the 2nd level of Stonehell, somewhere in the Reptile House. They managed to rest up and regain spells, then deliberated on what to do next.

They decided to try and make their way back up the slide, determining that it would be safer to brave the climb than the unknown dangers, and hoping that the zombies were not still waiting above the pit. So they sent the thief on up, armed with determination and a lot of rope.

As luck would have it the zombies had indeed returned to their crypt, but while hauling people up they did have an encounter. A kobold work crew, moving as silently as possible, came in to check on the pit. The party has learned enough about how Stonehell works to understand the kobold’s role, did nothing threatening. Looking at the tools the kobolds were carrying, they realized that the work crew was there to reset the pit trap. But because the party did nothing hostile they were happy to wait while the adventures pulled the rest of their friends up. The cleric of Set, who speaks kobold, was even able to share a (quiet) laugh at their predicament. They asked for the shortest directions to reach Kobold Corners, and the work crew obliged, giving them instructions that would bring them to the back door.

The kobolds neglected to mention the locked gate. Not for any nefarious reasons, mind you. It just didn’t occur to them to mention it. The party thanked them and moved off down the quiet corridors, leaving the kobolds to their work.

Their next surprise came when zombies in hidden crypts began breaking through the walls on either side of them. The team made a run for it, looking over their shoulders long enough to see a dozen or more zombies stumbling into the corridor. What followed was a wonderful chase through darkened halls; doors were barricaded and beaten down, wrong turns were taken, pitfalls were overcome, and they had an encounter with a mysterious madman who they believe to be a necromancer.

The finale of the chase had part of the party throwing all their weight against an unlockable door with the entire horde pushing on it, while the thief and elf frantically worked on the locked gate. They popped the lock, jumped through the gate, and slammed it just as the zombie horde burst through.

It was glorious.

After that they had an audience with the head kobold, Trustee Sniv, and made a generous contribution to his coffers to compensate for the disturbance. After that Elf the elf made his booze delivery to the bar, followed by a few drinks, and then they retired to the inn to get some rest. Several of the characters were seriously injured and the chance of sanctuary was very welcome.

The party has several choices to make in the next game. The thief, blinded by the Wheel of Fortune in their previous delve, now wears an enchanted scarf over her eyes that gives her sight. It was given to her by a masked sorceress known as The Veiled Lady, who has tasked her to find a lost magician’s laboratory, hidden somewhere near Kobold Corners. It seems likely that they will begin their search for it in the next session, but I’ve learned not to take anything for granted with my party.

Ossuary_(909213294)

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Fantasy, Gaming

 

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The Fleet is In

My new space armada has arrived!

I picked up a set of plastic space ship miniatures on a recent Amazon order. I’ve been looking for a decent and cheap source for ships to use in various games and this pack looked like just the ticket. You can find them here.

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These plastic ships come in a pack of 144 for under $7.00 and use a variety of molds. Their quality is fine, they won’t blow you away but they are not bad at all, and the quantity you get for the price is impressive.

Some of the molds look familiar to me, while others I’ve never seen. And then there is this one, that hit my nostalgia buttons very hard:

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Way back in the early 80’s I was a brand new gamer. I had just gotten my first copy of TSR’s Star Frontiers and falling in love with sci-fi gaming. I was getting into miniatures and had a few boxes of fantasy figures, but was having trouble finding sci-fi sets.

Then one day I was in the toy section of a department store and there on the shelf was a set of Traveller 15mm lead figures. The set had various space adventurers and this air car, complete with a removable figure. I snatched it up. (Lead gaming figures in a department store toy aisle, rare in the 80’s but impossible to imagine today).

I never found any more figures for Traveller, nor for that matter did I find the game itself. The only store in town with gaming stuff didn’t carry it and I did not yet really get ordering by mail, but I played with those figures for years.

I’m pleased with my purchase and finding this blast from the past is icing on the cake. I don’t have any specific plans for them, but sooner or later I’ll unleash them on my tabletop.

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