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Tag Archives: Free Resources

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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One Page Dungeons

I don’t hear much about One Page Dungeons these days.

They’re still out there and the annual One Page Dungeon Contest continues to rock along each year, but there seems to be less attention on them than there used to be. For a while you couldn’t open your RSS feed without seeing posts discussing the format or showing off the latest offering. Maybe that’s the way of things, maybe everything worth saying has already been said.

Still, the OSR is all about revisiting the past, including its own.

When One Page Dungeons first showed up on the scene these small adventures had a big impact, and with good reason. They demonstrated that you could strip a module down to the essentials without draining away the sense of adventure. In many ways they represent a lot of the Old School Renaissance’s attitudes; do it yourself, less is more, and unburdening creativity through simplifying.

I was skeptical of the format at first, they seemed too small. I still have big dungeons stuck in my imagination, the kind we ran back in school where we’d play for eight hours every weekend. However the flexibility of the format won me over thanks in no small part to three particular adventures.

The first One Page Dungeon that made an impact on me was Dungeon From a Distant Star by Stuart Robertson. This fantastic (in every sense of the word) pay-what-you-want adventure shows the amount of creativity and fun you can pack into a single page, presenting a game suitable not just for D&D retro-clones, but any genre you want to toss a little sci-fi into, from Mutant Futures to Delta Green. It’s perfect to pull out for a one shot game and it will present your players with a truly alien realm to explore and dangerous challenges to face. I used Dungeon From a Distant Star for my first session of Stars Without Number and it was perfect both for letting me get a handle on the session and for setting the stage for my players.

The next offering that won me over is Dyson’s DelveThis “mini-megadungeon” is the product of the OSR’s Patron Saint of Maps, Dyson Logos, who literally took the format to the next level. Taking advantage of their compact nature Dyson stacked them on top of each other creating an 11 level dungeon crawl. Dyson’s Delve is a free offering and there is plenty of adventure packed into it’s tight space. Dyson’s Delve would be excellent for sporadic games or as a good sized secondary site in a campaign with a tentpole dungeon.

The triumph of the One Page Dungeon format is realized in Michael Curtis’ spectacular Stonehell Dungeon. While it does not use the One Page format in its pure form, the influence is clear. Stonehell is my favorite of the new megadungeons and a great deal of why is the innovative presentation that has its roots firmly planted in the One Page format. To get a glimpse of Stonehell take a look at the free sample, Level 1A: Hell’s AntichamberMy love for Stonehell runs deep, as deep as the dungeon itself will be once volume two comes out.

Which I’m waiting for.

Patiently. See how patient I am?

We wantsssss it. Precioussss megadungeon….

The One Page Dungeon format has several advantages. It allows a DM to pack a lot of game in a little space. They’re good for quick pickup games or to seed adventure sites through a hexcrawl region. They can be built on to make larger games or left to stand on their own. They’re also great to mine for ideas, letting the DM pick up gems from different sources to drop into their own dungeons. The One Page Dungeon format is also accessible, particularly for a novice DM, by allowing him or her to focus on getting the essentials onto the page.

Have you seen any new One Page Dungeons that you really liked? Any old ones that captured your imagination? I’d love to hear about them.

Dungeon Distant Star Cover

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Fantasy, Game Design and Mechanics, Gaming

 

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Bundles Without Numbers

Greetings Programs!

Just popping in to plug the current Bundle of Holding collection. It’s a great stash of Stars Without Number books.

I’m a big fan of Sine Nomine’s books and the Stars series in particular. I’m currently running a campaign on G+ using the Hard Light book offered in the base level bundle and I already own most of these in both PDF and hard copy.

This is a great opportunity to get into the Stars system. If you’re still on the fence, download the free version of the core rules from Drive Thru RPG. The GM’s tools alone make it worth a look.

Okay, back to Pennsic prep.

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Call of Trekthulhu

Space, the final frontier.

These are the voyages of the starship Exeter, whose five year mission is to seek out new worlds and new civilizations.

And probably blow them up.

Last year I decided to run a few Star Trek games and I recently came across my notes. They were meant to be episodic one-off games, allowing us to drop them in whenever we wanted a break in our usual routine and it worked out quite nicely.

In designing the game I took a lot of inspiration from Where No Man Has Gone Before, an excellent little rules light home grown game you can download from the author’s blog. There are a lot of good source ideas packed into the tight rules set. I also made good use of the free paper Star Trek minis you can download from the page. The figures were designed by David Okum of the Okum Arts Tumblr and it was my first exposure to his work, but not the last.

While I raided the document for source, I decided to go a different direction for mechanics and kit bash Call of Cthulhu for my rules set. I chose CoC because my players are old hands at the game, because the percentile based skill system is flexible and easy to bolt on to, because the magic point system is adaptable for special abilities, and because I wanted the sanity mechanic it offered. Sanity was important not because I would be putting the crew up against the Elder Gods, though I didn’t rule it out, but because in the old series we often saw characters pushed past the breaking point. My game was set in the Original Series era and I wanted to make sure that this was part of the game’s feel.

Because we are all Star Trek geeks I wanted to base the game in Trek lore. So the back story is that Starfleet recovered and refit the U.S.S. Exeter, a Constitution class starship that was left adrift after the episode The Omega GloryYes, that horrible episode where the writers must have failed their Sanity roll more than the Exeter’s captain did.

“Ay plegli ianectu flaggen, tupep like for stahn.”

-The Omega Glory

When we began character creation I had the players draw a card at random, each card had one of the department heads listed on it. This made short work of deciding who would be captain, science officer, etc… I also allowed players to choose any established Federation races from the Original or Animated series.

Soon we had our crew; an Andorian weapons officer, a Vulcan chief engineer, the requisite human Dr. McCoy analog, and an Iotian science officer (the gangster culture from A Piece of the Action. His uniform had pin stripes). The crew was under the leadership of Captain Ivan Kirkov.

Acts like Kirk, sounds like Chekhov. You’ve got to love it.

I wrote up several new rules for the game. One area I didn’t get into was starship combat. Before Wrath of Khan, starship combat was not a major factor in Star Trek and I figured I could wing it if needed.

 

Fractalbat’s House Rules for Star Trekthulhu

RolesThese function as Occupations from Call of Cthulhu. New skills are listed in italics.

Science Officer

Astronomy, Biology, Chemestry, Computer Programing, Library Use, Other Language, Persuade, Physics, Psychology, Sensors any two of the following skills; Antrhopology, Archaeology, Geology, History, Medicine, Natural History, Subspace Communications, one other skill as a personal specialty.

Medical Officer

Biology, Chemistry, Computer Programing, First Aid, Latin, Medicine, Natural History, Pharmacy, Psychoanalysis, Psychology.

Engineer

Chemistry, Computer Programing, Electrical Repair, Geology, Library Use, Mechanical Repair, Physics, Sensors, Starship Engineering, Subspace Communications, Starship Shields, Starship Weapons, one other as a personal specialty.

Security/Weapons Officer

Climb, Conceal, Dodge, First Aid, Grapple, Handgun, Hide, Listen, Martial Arts, Punch, Sneak, Spot Hidden, Starship Shields, Starship Weapons, two others as personal specialties

Starship Captain  

Bargain, Fast Talk, Handgun, Persuade, Psychology, Spot Hidden, Any four New Skills and any two additional skills as personal specialties.

 

New Skills:

Computer Programing – Base 00%  This is the ability to program or reprogram computers. It is not needed for operation of computers. This skill may be unnecessary if a friendly artificial intelligence is involved.

Starship Engineering – Base 00%  This is the skill of repairing and modifying the large and complex systems that run starships, starbases, and other large scale systems. It may also be used to boost power to other systems such as shields, sensors, and weapons.

Subspace Communications – Base 15%  This is the skill of operating and monitoring subspace radio messages. It may be used to jam transmissions, to break through jamming, to send encoded transmissions, and to conceal or detect subspace radio activity.

Sensors – Base 15% This is the skill of using and interpreting the results of sensor scans. It may also be used to operate a scientific tricorder or a medical tricorder with a -15% penalty.

Medicine – Base 05%  Same as normal. If the user has access to a medical tri-corder or other medical supplies the medic can heal 1d10 health. This skill also allows use of a medical tri-corder which acts as a portable med-bay for all but the most serious conditions. A scientific tri-corder may be used for diagnosis at -30%, but gives no additional treatment abilities.

Starship Weapons – Base 10%  This skill allows the use of a starship’s weapons systems, including phasers and photon torpedoes. It may be used for various special maneuvers, such as using phasers for targeting specific systems or to stun entire city blocks.

Starship Shields – Base 10%  This skill is used to adjust and reinforce shields. On a successful roll a player may restore a shield’s score by 1d10, if the player rolls under half their skill the boost is 2d10.

Starship Manuvering – Base 05%  This is the skill of moving a starship at sub-warp speeds. It may be used to gain an advantage in combat, avoid hazards in space, stabilize a ship, or any other tasks that require steering the ship.

Starship Astrogation – Base 05%  This is the skill of plotting a course through warp. It is also used to boost warp speed and maintain the warp field at emergency speeds, and any other tasks involving the warp drive.

 

Aiding Other Stations:

A starship operates based on the quality of a crew’s teamwork, not on the individual prowess of its members. An officer in one department may use their skill to boost the skill rolls of another department. To do this the player gives an explanation of how they wish to help out and make a roll on the appropriate skill. A successful roll gives a +5% bonus. Succeeding by half or more gives a +10%. An impaling roll gives +15%.

For example, a Federation starship is in combat with an Orion pirate. The chief engineer increases power to the ship’s shields, giving the navigator a +5% to boost shields. The captain uses his own targeting skills to boost the weapons officer’s targeting skill by +5%.

 

Special Abilities:

Special abilities are used by characters to pull off amazing feats within their specialty. They rely on a character’s force of will to achieve success and cost magic points to use. Failing any special ability roll shakes a character’s confidence and costs 1d4 SAN. Use of a special ability has a base 10% chance of working with an additional +10% for every magic point spent on the roll. The player must describe what they are doing. Each crew role has one special ability associated with it.

“This is the Captain Speaking.” Starship captains are a rare breed, with a wide breadth of experience both technical and social. A starship captain’s words can snap a person out of shock, direct the actions of an entire crew, persuade a mass of people to a different course of action, and seduce a high priestess. At its core it is a super communication skill. The ability must be based on a reasonable line of thought. For example, it could be used to persuade a torch bearing mob to pause and listen to new evidence that a monster is innocent of the crimes it is accused of. It could not be used to convince the mob to jump off a cliff. It could be used to trick a Klingon captain into being overconfident and making a bad move, but not for him to break off hostilities and depart peacefully.

“Invert the Polarities in the Tacyon Wave” Science officers have a gift for coming up with amazing solutions in a short amount of time. They find ways to punch holes in unbreachable barriers, scan unscannable objects, and disrupt powerful streams of energy. This ability is how they do that. The player must come up with the technobabble to make this ability work.

“I’m Giving Her all She’s Got!” Engineers are miracle workers. This is the ability to accomplish the impossible in a short amount of time. Examples include reinforcing the hull when the ship is about to break up, restarting the warp drives when they’re offline, or getting one more blast out of the phasers even though the banks have been destroyed.

“I’m a Doctor, not a Floor Wax!” Chief medical officers have astonishing powers of healing. This ability is a hyper-version of the Medicine skill. It could be used to revive someone recently killed (but not disintegrated), find a cure for an incurable disease, or discover the vector used by a plague.

“Respect the Red Shirt” You don’t get to be a chief of security in Starfleet without some amazing resilience. Using this ability allows the player to soak one damage point per magic point spent. This ability may be used after the damage roll has been made.

 

Other Abilities:

Vulcan Nerve Pinch: On a successful grapple a Vulcan can force a target to make a resistance roll between the Vulcan’s POW and the target’s current HP. If the Vulcan wins the target falls unconscious. The target must have a physiology reasonably similar to Vulcans and each use costs four magic points.

Vulcan Mind Meld: The ability for a Vulcan to read minds. The target must be restrained or otherwise not physically resisting. A target may mentally resist, in which case a POW vs POW roll is required for the Vulcan to force its way into the target’s mind.  The Vulcan may read the target’s mind and may plant information there. Using a Vulcan Mind Meld costs the Vulcan six magic points and both the Vulcan and the target lose 1d10 SAN if the target resists and 1d4 SAN if the target is willing.

 

Equipment:

Phasers:  Phasers are beam weapons that use the pistol skill to fire. They do 1d6 damage per level of power and if they reduce a target to more than -5 HP the target is disintigrated.

A phaser may also be set to stun. A target can resist being stunned by making a resistance roll using CON against the phaser’s damage roll.  A phaser set to stun may also be set to wide dispersal in order to stun multiple targets. Divide the total damage done by the number of targets hit and have each target make a resistance roll.

Phasers set to a tight beam may be used as a cutting tool or with wide dispersal it may be used to warm rocks for heat. A phaser set to overload will explode in 1d6 rounds doing Xd6 damage where X is the weapon’s maximum power setting.

There are two types of phasers. A phaser I is easier to conceal and is often carried when subtlety is needed. The maximum power of a phaser I is five. A phaser II is larger than a phaser I and has a maximum power setting of 10. Disruptors are effectively the same as phasers, only without the stun setting.

Tri-Corder: A tri-corder is a portable scanning and tool device. There are two variations, the science tri-corder and the medical tri-corder. Using a tri-corder is almost like having a full ship’s station at your disposal.

Communicator: A communicator is capable of reaching ships in orbit and other crew members anywhere on a planet. They may be used as a homing beacon.

Transporters: Matter transporters allow the teleportation of individuals and equipment over long distances. If there are transporter pads on both sides of the transport it improves the chances of cutting through any interference. Transporters cannot go through shields.

Starship Phasers: These are powerful and versatile beam weapons. They may be used for general ship-to-ship attacks, to target specific systems, and may be used for orbital bombardment. Phasers cannot be used at warp speed.

Photon Torpedoes: Starships carry a limited supply of photon torpedoes. They are not as versatile as phasers and are unable to target specific sections of a ship. They do large amounts of damage in a single hit and may be configured for use at warp speed.


These rules haven’t been extensively play tested, but they got the job done. If you use them, in whole or as inspiration, I would love to hear about it. If you’ve ever kit bashed your own rules for Star Trek I’d love to hear about that too!

1000px-USS_Exeter_remastered

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Map Musings

I love maps.

It’s certainly one of the things that has always attracted me to Dungeons & Dragons.

I love dungeon maps. From the classic old blue grid maps like the Caves of Chaos, to the isometric maps of Ravenloft and Dragons of Dispair (for all the flaws with that module the map is solid gold), or the beautifully styled maps we see in Goodman Game’s modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics.

I love world maps. Darlene’s Greyhawk is still the gold standard, but the map of the Forgotten Realms from the grey box is also magnificent. Our local museum used to have a map of Middle Earth on the back of the door to their office. It was a straight forward line drawing, but not the one from the books and I’ve never seen that specific design again. I spent as much time looking at that map as some of the exhibits.

Years ago an individual used to make hand drawn maps of the Known World of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have one on my wall, from way back in A.S. 22 (1988 for non SCAdians). It’s a marvelous piece of art on par with anything TSR put out. Duke Syr Merowald of the Midrealm is the artist.

I adore the cloth maps that came with the Ultima computer games. The map of Britannia from Ultima V is my favorite.

Maps represent possibilities. They let our imaginations explore as we dream of where we can go and what we can find. For me, role playing games are about exploration and maps represent that.

Every now and then I pull out my sketch book and make my own attempts at designing maps. Over the years I’ve found I have certain preferences. These are not “right or wrong” rules of map making, they’re just the things I like. For instance, with dungeon maps I prefer black-and-white (or blue-and-white) to full color and I don’t care for textures, especially on the dungeon floors. I find that these tend to distract the eye from the layout.

However, I do like simple graphics and icons in the map, such as summoning circles or wells drawn in the rooms. I like the occasional 3d element, like an archway or dolmen drawn as the gateway to a standard 2d hallway. I love artwork around the sides of the map, which can be simple filler art or the extravagant and intricate images worked into the Dungeon Crawl Classics maps.

While aesthetically I appreciate dungeon maps done without a grid, such as the wonderful maps Dyson Logos produces, for practical use I still prefer to have a grid. It’s the old school Dungeon Master in me, who wants to figure the blast radius of a fireball quickly. But I must admit, the work Dyson creates is winning me over.

If you’re not familiar with his blog, Dyson’s Dodecahedron, you really need to change that.

Like, now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

For world maps I like both color and black-and-white, but I still prefer simple styles. I don’t want my eyes spending too much time figuring out what something is, I want them to roam over the map with ease. This map from FreeFantasyMaps.org has captured my imagination with its style and my sketchbook is currently filling up with ideas based on it. The map was created using Campaign Cartographer, which is the name in map making software. It’s not cheap, but it’s amazing what you can produce with it.

For those of us on a budget, I recommend Hexographer. The free online version suits my regular needs and the pro version is not expensive.

I’ve also experimented with drawing on my iPad, described here and here, and for that I still recommend Sketchbook Pro. It’s a bit limited, but you can still whip out some decent maps in short order. Plus the cost of the app and a simple stylus will only put you out around $10, so it’s definitely worth giving a try.

Still, for the most part I like the Luddite method of pencils, pens, and paper. One of these days I’ll even learn to use my scanner correctly and then I’ll post some of my own maps.

What do you like in a good map? What maps in particular have captured your imagination? How do you make your own maps?

PlayerRegionMap1

I made this map using Hexographer’s free online tool. I like the overall design, but if I were going to remake it I would drastically reduce the variety of icons I used. How many different forest icons do I really need? Still, it’s a good example of what the tool has to offer.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Gaming, Maps

 

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Review-a-Palooza by Needles

Needles runs a couple of blogs I read regularly.  Swords & Stitchery is focused on science fiction gaming and Dark Corners of Role Playing is focused on horror and fantasy gaming.

Recently he’s been on a roll, churning out reviews about game aids that have largely gone under-the-radar.  Also, most of them are free resources.

Go take a look and see what he’s found hiding out in the aether, waiting for adventurous game masters to uncover their secrets.

Make sure to go lurking through his archives too, especially if you’re a fan of old science fiction.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2013 in Cool Stuff

 

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Podcasts – Entertainment from the Aether

I love podcasts.

I love spoken media.  I also have a long daily commute, and an iPod, so the advent of podcasting has been a tremendous blessing.  There’s a wealth of great stuff out there in the aether just waiting for you to track it down.  These range from simple amateur affairs to polished professional shows and everything in between.

Three of the finest providers for quality fiction podcasts are Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle, which collectively fall under the banner of Escape Artists, Inc.  The brainchild of Steve Eley, these podcasts began with the bold idea to pay authors professional rates for their stories and provide them to the listeners for free.  The podcasts are supported by fan donations and the stories are free to download and distribute, as long as they are redistributed in full and at no charge.

Escape Pod is the flagship show, started in May of 2005, followed by Pseudopod in August of 2006, and Podcastle in July of 2007.  All three shows release new episodes every week and their full archives are available online, meaning that there is a staggering library of stories available.

Escape Pod refers to itself as, “the premier science fiction podcast magazine,” and it’s hard to dispute that claim.  There are over 400 stories in the Escape Pod archive with works from new authors as well as masters like Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  Escape Pod stories feature protagonists from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds, which provides a range of perspectives.  The exposure to this variety is one of the things I like best about Escape Pod and is a refreshing change from the homogeneous selection of voices that dominate bookstore shelves.

Each year Escape Pod also offers Hugo Month when they produce the stories nominated for that year’s Hugo Awards.

The show has excellent readers and I have never been disappointed in the quality of their episodes.  There is no set time limit for stories, but they average about 45 minutes in length.  I highly recommend Escape Pod, not just for fans of science fiction but for listeners curious about what the genre has to offer.

Pseudopod was next to launch and delivers a healthy dose of horror every week.  There are currently over 350 episodes in their archive and like Escape Pod, Pseudopod features a variety of perspectives and styles.  Stories tend to come from more recent authors and run about 45 minutes on average.

I have a special fondness for Pseudopod.  I am a long time fan of old school horror and weird fiction and I love a good ghost story, but I never had much interest in modern works of horror.  Listening to Pseudopod has changed that and I look forward to when each new episode hits my iTunes library.  The high quality stories combined with the excellent readers and production values have gripped my imagination and fueled my interest in modern horror.

Podcastle rounds out the Escape Artists’ lineup.  In keeping with the philosophy of its sister-casts, Podcastle usually eschews the Tolkien-esq style of swords and sorcery and focuses on stories of a more fantastic nature.  There is more variety in story length on Podcastle, with shorter flash fiction and longer giant episodes being more common than with the other shows.  There are also several classic folk tales that make their appearance, such as a two-episode production of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.

I admire everything about what Escape Artists has accomplished.  Their business model embodies the idealism we hoped that the Internet would enable and everyone benefits from their success.  The passion of the producers combined with the generosity of their listeners has created a real literary treasure for everyone to enjoy.

Give these shows a try and you won’t be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Cool Stuff, Podcasts

 

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