Spelunking with Monsters

Okay, so…I know I have been going on and on about LotFP, but the publisher puts out some great stuff. (I just finished Zak S’s Frostbitten and Mutilated and it is great!) But the one I am going to review today is one that you should own because it is going to have application in any game setting and any game system. I’m talking about Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart.

This book is a revelation. It is a big, 357 page tomb of “why didn’t I think of this!?” It is something every Gamemaster should have in their library. Whether you are running standard dungeon crawls, an Underdark campaign, an eldritch horror game, or even a sci-fi space hulk adventure (more on that below), you need this book.

First, let me say I love the layout of the book. It starts with a monster menagerie that does something I have never seen any other supplement do: it provides you with little in the way of sight imagery. Yes, there are these wonderful sketches by Scrap Princess, but that is it. What you do get is a description of sound and smell for the creatures. The art of Scrap Princess is but what you would “see” in the gloom of flickering (and possibly dying) torch light. All of this vague or, perhaps, non-standard description sets you up for the real reason to purchase this book.

Light. It is a commodity. It is a precious commodity; and when it goes out, all you have is the sounds of the dark around you. It is horrifying. Veins of the Earth presents the dark as a living entity that is every much a threat to the players as the monsters lurking in the dark recesses of the cave complex they are exploring. (Did you know that there were 12 different kinds of dark? Well…there is now!) This section of the book alone is worth the purchase. It gives you the tools and advice you need to make a dungeon delve scary…and a dungeon delve should be scary!

Veins presents new rules to supplement a delve into the earth. The climbing skill has been expanded and adds additional realism and danger to your PC’s spelunking efforts. Encumbrance is expanded-again- to add a level of realism to your dungeon crawl. (Like who in the right mind goes spelunking with plate mail? A player who is interested in rolling up a new character, that’s who!) There is madness, hunger, and hypothermia presented as another challenge for your players. The challenges provided are not only awesome, but a breath of fresh air to reinvigorate an RPG trope that is as old as the game itself.

As I mentioned in a previous post Veins of the Earth has a cavern complex and cave system generator that is just fun to play around with and it has universal application. I’m using it for my annual Halloween one-shot for my main gaming crew. This year I am using Free League’s Alien to run a sci-fi horror game. Veins of the Earth is helping me to create a system of ducks, crawl spaces, maintenance hallways, and main hallways of the ship where the story will take place. I am having a blast putting this ship together…especially considering I am not tech savvy and generally find dungeon/cavern design annoying and/or boring. Veins of the Earth is making it loads of fun.

To sum up: Buy this book and make your players face the Dark like never before.

My first Dark Sun post: a meditation on world building

The Dragon by Brom (’nuff said)

To begin, I want to be sure that I clear up something. In a prior post I stated that I saw some efforts by others to re-imagine Dark Sun using Lamentations of the Flame Princess or some other OSR game engine and I said I didn’t like it. I don’t want to disparage the efforts of the authors. I think they are valiant efforts and I like some of the ideas, but I think the problem is that these game masters/designers made a mistake by starting with character generation. It is a logical first choice IF your world, campaign, or one-shot adopts the typical fantasy role-playing tropes of a medieval European world. That ain’t Dark Sun by a long shot. You need to start with the world and the mechanics that effect the game before you go into how characters mechanically function in that world.

Dark Sun’s world is called Athas. It is a world devastated by ecological disaster brought on by war and the misuse of magic. The result of which is that many (if not all) of the typical fantasy RPG tropes have been turned on their head, if not completely replaced. It is my position that, because of Athas’ history and backstory (it is a character in its own right, isn’t it?), we need to start with the fundamental rules that govern the world itself. These rules will make the post-apocalyptic desert more than just window-dressing in a description provided by the game master or referee. These rules will have a direct effect on the choices the PCs make for there will be both an in-game consequence, as well as a real world consequence that the player will have to contend with in terms of dice rolls, penalties, set-backs, etc.

I should also take a moment to interject and note that currently there are D&D 5e projects out there that have people jazzed about bringing Dark Sun into the brave new world of 5e. I have taken a look at several. The one at GM Binder looks fairly decent. It honestly appears similar to some of the choices I made when I tried to make a 5e version of Dark Sun back in 2015. I am not going to comment on it other than to say I think it will be suitable to your needs to play a 5e version of Dark Sun. The author has also provided some interesting rules options for flavor. But, as a game master, you will need to do a lot of monster stat conversions, find some psionic rules (I made my own…never play tested unfortunately), and figure out how to make survival “a thing.” Again, as per the first paragraph of this post, the author focused on character creation first. I made the same mistake with my 5e Dark Sun campaign. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but there was something missing.

One of the reasons I want to look at a “retro-clone” of the earlier versions of D&D is that the current version of D&D makes the player-characters too powerful and game balance is decidedly in their favor. I do not think you can capture the flavor and tone of Dark Sun in a system designed for the players to succeed on average 60-75% of the time. Dark Sun needs to be hard and it is the hard that makes it great! That is why I think an OSR styled project is in order here.

At the time it came out, the D&D 2e resource materials did a fine job defining the world and provided alternative rules that brought the world of Athas to life. I loved it. No other campaign world provided such detail in terms of game mechanics. Thus, my disappointment with some of the stuff that is out there. WoTC’s 4E was an absolute joke (chitin plate mail? What!?) However, 2ed D&D, in general, was not without its problems…*cough* THAC0 *cough* Thus, using and/or designing my own retro clone is the way to go.

So, with all that said, I am going to turn to what every foray into Dark Sun starts out with: what makes Athas (and a campaign in Dark Sun) different.

  1. The World is a Desert – Survival under the hot sun is going to be difficult as water is scarce. There are no rivers or lakes. The terrain is treacherous (salt flats, deserts, etc.). Thus, rules governing weather, travel & encumbrance, supplies & resource management, as well as specific rules for water & dehydration will need consideration.
  2. The World is Savage – Life is brutal and short on Athas. Everything is about competition for survival. Whether your PCs are facing off with terror from the desert, a group of desperate and hungry dune raiders, or the minions of a tyrannical sorcerer-king, the PCs will have to fight and they will have to win. Thus, rules governing hit point loss, recovery, and combat will have to be examined. In my old game, I used permanent injury rules to make things even harder on the players. I am already considering doing away with initiative just to add to the ferocity of combat.
  3. Metal is Scarce – Due to the socioeconomic set backs created by the ecological disaster that is Athas, metal is just not available. Plus, there is a level of impracticality to walking around in 120-degree heat wearing a suit of metal. Thus, rules for alternative materials for weapons, armor, and other mundane objects are necessary. Weapon breakage was a big thing back in Dark Sun’s heyday. I will most certainly be utilizing something such as this.
  4. Arcane Magic Defiled the World – Magic is powered by the essence of life. Thus, to cast a spell, a magic-user would destroy the life around him. At higher levels, this could actually cause physical harm to non-vegetation. I think this treatment of magic fits nicely with the LotFP view on magic being dangerous and weird. I think I will shift away from weird, and hit upon dangerous and frightening. I also think this may be an opportunity to develop more than just how defiling works. Rather, how about devising a totally new magic system where a miscast of magic can cause even more disastrous results…?
  5. Sorcerer Kings Rule the Cities – The sorcerer kings jealously guard oases where their city-states reside. They also jealously guard the secrets that made them kings. Sorcerer Kings can be villains, quest-givers, or both. They are, at all levels of the game, beings to fear. Given that they rule through priesthoods and bureaucracies, I think a more robust social encounter system is in order. I think The One Ring and its 5e doppelganger, Adventures in Middle-Earth, did a nice job developing how a PCs background and social cast can effect how a ruler or lord would respond to a PCs entreaty. I am going to piggyback off this.
  6. The Gods are Silent – So there are no gods in Dark Sun. To me, this is one of the more profound deviations from typical fantasy worlds. There are no gods to worship. By the time 4E Dark Sun came around, the gods had been killed by the primordial elements. It is an idea I like and I ran with in my 5e game. Where I differed was to place the concept in an anthropological context. For the people of Athas, most of whom are slaves in some way, saw the primordials as slaves to the gods. They rose up and tore them down. In terms of game mechanics, this is really about clerics and what to do with them. The sorcerer-kings can grant power to those devoted to them–the Templars. This class would function very similar to the cleric. But, for those who worship the elements and/or nature, nature magic and an entirely new class will need to be generated.
  7. The Rise of Psionics – Back in the 2ed days, psionics wasn’t wildly used and I suspect Dark Sun was a means of bringing psionics to the forefront of any D&D gaming group. I will be doing it here as well. That will require development of an entirely new system, probably borrowing much from the 2ed game. I plan on working off the 5e home-brew supplement that I drafted which divided the metaphysics of psionics into three parts (Mind, Body, and Self). This allowed me to incorporate monks into a 5e Dark Sun game (theirs was a study of “Body”). I am going to use this to create a class that is versatile and captures the metaphysics of psionics.
  8. Fierce Monsters Roam the Land – The monsters of Athas were no joke. Small villages huddled around a puddle of mud they called an oasis could be devastated by a monster looking for food and/or water. Your PCs could be killed by a 25 hit dice wandering monster at 1st level. (A more memorable gaming moment as a player in Dark Sun comes from one such occasion…my brand new 1st level character didn’t make it!) Staying in the cities made a lot of sense. Dark Sun had its own monster manual, but I think I want to take a stab at creating my own. Given the backstory of ecological disaster, wild magic, and defilement, the PCs can encounter just about anything out there in the wilds.
  9. Familiar Races and Classes Aren’t What You Expect – Finally, after all of the above, we come to class and race. Because of the devastation and brutality, dwarves and elves aren’t the dwarves and elves of Tolkien. Halflings are wild and feral…although, they still have a fondness for cooking. Its just that what they cook tend to be humans. There are new races, such as the Mul (or half-dwarf) who is purposefully bred for slave labor. There are new character classes, like the gladiator or merchant. All of this is a direct result of the above world considerations. All of the choices a player makes during character creation must take the above into consideration. Everything is different. That is why I do not think it makes much sense to start here.

I like the idea of using the class system of the old D&D basic set where race and class are one. However, like Five Torches Deep, I may give each class an option or path to choose from so as to provide some player choice. I will probably add to the character generation process something to do with backgrounds for more choice. I think the 2ed skills system was a joke and cumbersome. I do like how Lamentations of the Flame Princess handles most common adventuring skills. I will probably incorporate something like that system, but with some tweaks.

Anyway…so there it is. The beginning outline of my next home-brew project. I can’t wait to really dig into this. I hope you stay tuned for updates on this. When it is completed, I am going to put together a hex crawl campaign for Athas. Maybe I will do live plays…? I don’t know. I do not want to get ahead of myself. But regardless, I hope you enjoy following along with me on this project, dear readers.

And always remember, whether you are making your way across a burning salt flat or a sea of endless dunes in Athas, no matter how thirsty you are, never trust an elf…

GTFO Dude! Seriously…we need to GTFO.

Trust me, the plague doctor suit is NOT going to help you!

Last night I Refereed a Lamentations of the Flame Princess publication, Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds, by Zzarchov Kowolski. It was an online one-shot with my podcast compatriots, Gary and Brian. I was a bit nervous as this was pure voice chat–no zoom meetings, no discord-esque screen shares for images, and certainly no handy-dandy maps to share via a platform like Fantasy Grounds. Just my nasally voice describing everything to two seasoned players–no, seasoned game masters! To say I wasn’t at all worried would make me a terrible liar. But we had fun and I have to say it was a smashing success. I will post a link to the podcast live play of the session when it is ready. We will also be doing a session debrief where we discuss our impression of LotFP and GTFO now that we have actually used the system.

With regard to the module, I have to say this is a perfect little introduction to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. First, it is a nice modular adventure that can be dropped into any campaign at any time. Zzarchov Kowolski has provided some nice ideas for adventure hooks that can pretty much go in any direction the Referee or his/her players feel they need to take it. Secondly, (and this is important), GTFO breaks quite a few rules of RPGs. Game balance is tossed out the window, and, unlike what is recommended for a LotFP game, the author has filled this game with a bunch of gross monsters/adversaries that can (and almost did) overwhelm the party. I say “this is important” as my take on the LotFP brand is that it likes breaking the traditional rules of RPGs. GTFO breaks those rules and even those rules of the rule-breaker…if that makes any sense. Just pick up the damned module! It’s awesome!


So the whole story behind Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds is that a rogue member of the church has discovered the ability to travel between worlds. By using the dark arts, the priest can open a portal to another dimension that, in turn, can take the dimension hopping tourist to another place. Misguided members of the clergy have allowed this Jesuit priest to build a temple (or something like a temple) in this middle dimension which will act as a staging ground to bring the light of the Holy Mother Church to other planets. Sounds pretty straight forward right?

Well, the problem is that this pocket dimension has some properties that cause a problem for visitors. First, fire tends to burn more intensely and can cause seemingly ordinary torches to..*ahem*…explode in the hands of their wielders. Secondly, thoughts can create nightmarish demons to attack the party. Finally, if you fall asleep in this place, your dreams will cause you to move toward another sleeper, which will cause you to meld with that creature. For example, there is a “survivor” of some incident (not detailed) who has a living cat melded into his chest, with flies stuck to his face. The only way to avoid being melded with another being is to get blackout drunk so you do not dream.

One plot hook is that the Church lost contact with the priest and the party needs to go into the other dimension, find out what happened, destroy the place (maybe), and GET THE FUCK OUT! As the party explores, they will face off with survivors, contend with the dimension’s random flares, and, potentially, face off with a demon or two, or three, or…who knows how many!

For a game master, I would recommend doing a bit of leg work up front before running the adventure as there are some mechanics that could slow down the pace of your adventure. Sometimes a demon will randomly come through a portal. You are instructed to roll up a random demon using the Summon spell. If you do not know how Summon works in LotFP, there are charts, upon charts, upon charts to create random, but totally weird and cool, monsters. Making a demon can take some time. I made six minor demons and 1 major one ahead of time just in case I needed them. I did and I am glad I was prepared.

I think pacing is key here as the PCs are going to start losing resources and become desperate to figure out how to escape the dimension. So, I recommend keeping track of time and be religious in rolling on the random events chart. You must put pressure on the players. You must be the terminator-you do not let up and you absolutely do not stop.

I am not going to tell you what happened with my play through. But I will certainly use this module again as it does have replay value in terms of how the portals (and related spells) are added to a campaign…that and it was damned good time!

Another Lamentations Review…well, sort of…

So, per my prior post, I have been devouring material published for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And I want to make an observation that I think is very important as I believe it distinguishes LotFP from WoTC. Products produced by LotFP have a game component in them that, in a way, is a solo game for the GM, DM, Referee, etc. Typically, we see these sorts of things as a series of tables, charts, die rolls, graphs, etc. as simply tools for the gamemaster to assist in designing a dungeon, a session, or even a world. But the sheer plethora of material that contains this very unique random [insert whatever you want here] generators provided by Lamentations of the Flame Princess suggest to me a stylistic theme from LotFP that you just don’t see anywhere else.

So, what the hell am I talking about?

For example, The Seclusiam of Orphone of the Three Visions by D. Vicent Baker is, at its heart, a random wizard’s tower generator. But it is more than that. He approaches it like an anthropologist would approach a subject. The idea is that a wizard’s tower goes through phases and, when the adventurers tackle a mage’s tower, they are tackling it during its “vulnerable phase” where the wizard has left for some reason and the tower is empty–well, sort of. This anthropological approach gives you, the reader, something fascinating to read that is beyond just a series of charts or a recitation of old wizard’s tower tropes. It is a wholly unique take on the subject of a wizard’s tower.

But! The charts are fun to roll through. It’s like a game for the gamemaster as he is prepping his next adventure. What are you going to roll? What are you going to come up with?

Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart and illustrations by Scrap Princess is another great example of this. This book is about designing cave systems. On a personal note, I hate drawing dungeons and the random generators you get from WotC are not very exciting. Veins of the Earth approaches the cavern system in a very unique way that is–again–incredibly fun to work through as you prep an adventure, session, or whatever. (I think Veins of the Earth deserves its own post as it is one of my favorite books from LotFP, so stay tuned True Believer!)

Vornheim by Zak Smith is another one. It is just a fun way to design a city and encounters within a city. His approach to random encounter generation is one of the weirdest and innovative I have ever seen. This is another book deserving of its own post.

You really do not get this sort of treatment with WoTC products…and when you do, what is generated feels rehashed or bland. I submit to you the 4e base model for encounter generation or the ubiquitous “random dungeon” generator that has changed very little since the early days of the game. You know what I am talking about: the assumption that the dungeon (which could be anything, a cavern, a castle, a wizard’s tower, etc.) where all of the floors, rooms, etc. are generated with a 5’x5′ or 10’x10′ grid in mind. Then you have some random elements you might put in there. It has its uses, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t have quite the amount of fun that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is providing me as a gamemaster.

And, while I’m meditating on this, WoTC is about to publish (or has published) another game supplement, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.  While I haven’t purchased it yet, the reviews that I have seen at this point give me a sense that it was designed with a focus group in mind (rather than the brainchild of a specific author). And, like early supplements for the WoTC brand, this is designed mostly for players.

As gamemasters, we spend a lot of time alone in our thoughts prepping a game, a session, a world, etc. It has been said that a gamemaster is more invested in his/her game than anyone else at the table. That is true. I often feel very selfish when speaking about my campaigns with players outside of the game as I feel like I am talking about what is going on inside my head-when all they want to do is watch the football game and drink a few beers. So, for me, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is providing a product with me in mind. It is giving me something fun to do while I prep a session. It is allowing me to have my thoughts and wizardly musings as I contemplate my next session or campaign, or just meditate on the craft of a gamemaster in general.

Gamemaster’s Getaway

Okay…so another thing I started doing during this pandemic (hereinafter referred to as “Nurgle’s Side Bitch,” a/k/a “Das Rona”) is a podcast with some dudes I met on a Facebook group, Dungeoncraft. (You should check out Dungeoncraft as Professor Dungeon Master is very knowledgeable and he is not some schlocky talking head like some of the other guys out there in the great unknown (read: “the Internet”)).

Gamemaster’s Getaway is, essentially, three guys (Gary, Brian, and I) just sitting around talking about gaming from a gamemaster’s perspective. We are system agnostic. This is not necessarily about D&D 5e, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Star Wars, or [insert your favorite game here]. Our focus is the one commonality between these games: the people who play them, especially the gamemaster.

We are trying to keep this informal and conversational. I do not expect us to finish a topic in one night. Rather, we will be revisiting topics as our own knowledge base increases and our evolution as gamemasters continue. We are not trying to come to a consensus to “Tell you how to play [insert favorite game here].” Rather, we are just talking about what has worked for us and what hasn’t. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we don’t. I find the more interesting conversations are the ones where we do not come to a consensus.

We will be doing some live plays of games as well. We plan on discussing games, reviewing them, and just plain having fun. I am going to do my first live play on 8/28/20. I will be posting my thoughts on it shortly thereafter. I’m running “Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds” by Zzarchov Kowolski. It is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess publication. I’m looking forward to it.

We would like to have guests as well. Not sure how that is going to work yet, but I like the idea of bringing in other people in the community. Because this isn’t about us, really. It is about the craft of being a gamemaster. Everyone should join the conversation so this wonderful hobby can grow and continue to thrive.

We are still working out the kinks on marketing and presentation, (apparently we are on Spotify) but it has been a lot of fun and I look forward to our Wednesday night recording sessions. Our Facebook page is up and I would appreciate it if you “liked” it.

Gary had the idea back in June and I responded to him on a lark. I’m glad I did. Because Gary and Brian know a lot…and I mean A LOT. Just participating in this project has made me a better gamemaster. I hope you listen to our discussions…and, if you are interested in being a gamemaster, I hope we make you a better gamemaster too.

And…by all means…if we get it wrong, let us know. Join the conversation!

My new obsession

If you buy the core rule book you will see how she lost her leg!!!

Hello, 2020! Hello, the brave new world of insanity…quarantines, riots, angry internet people…it is as if the Seventh Seal has been opened and, well, here we are. If Kirk Cameron had mysteriously disappeared, I would have concluded that the Rapture happened and we all have been Left Behind. I guess the good news is that he’s still around, so the world hasn’t ended…yet.

Ironically, COVID-19 expanded my gaming significantly. I have been gaming more than I was a year ago. It has been great! I am currently playing in a D&D 5e Curse of Strahd game. We are taking a brief break from that as the dungeon master wanted some time to meditate on the game and avoid burnout. He has been running downtime via email so we can still “play” our characters until “CoS Season 2” starts in October. He has been doing a great job and I look forward to when we pick it back up. Every now and again there is a Tyranny of Dragons game I play in as well. That one has yet to hit its stride, but it has been fun playing a wise-cracking halfling wild-mage gambler.

As a game-master, I am running a ton of campaigns and it is awesome. I am running a D&D 5e campaign based on the Tales from the Yawning Portal campaign book. We meet every Thursday night for that. It is a blast. I am also running a Waterdeep Dragonheist campaign every other Friday night. That is an interesting campaign. I suspect I will have to start writing about both of these campaigns. Recently, my main gaming group got back together after a six-month COVID-19 hiatus. It is a homebrew campaign in a world of my own devising: Arynor/E’turia.

On top of all that, I started a podcast with a couple of guys I met online who are longtime gamemasters. It is called “Gamemaster’s Getaway.” We are still working on the marketing side of things, but I will be posting links soon.

But my inordinate amount of D&D 5e games is not the “new obsession.” No. In fact, I think the saturation of 5e gaming is the reason I have this new obsession. My new obsession is a little independent gaming company called Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I picked up the core rulebook about a year ago on a lark. I was learning about Old School Rennaissance (OSR) and wanted to see what it was all about. I picked up the book, saw the art, and was blown away. I couldn’t believe someone out there was making stuff like this. As my gaming group at the time (December 2019) was not interested in OSR, I did not push it or consider picking up any further products from the publisher. Then COVID-19 happened and my main homebrew epic storyline involving the beleaguered kingdoms of Arynor had to be placed on hold.

My friend Jeremiah started running CoS on Fantasy Grounds. The idea was that we needed to stay in touch, play games, and keep our sanity. I, too, started running games (Waterdeep & Tales) using Fantasy Grounds. But I gotta say…I have had my fill of 5e.

*Enter stage left a flame-haired beauty sporting a peg leg and a silver rapier. She speaks with a decidedly Finnish accent and she is into heavy metal*

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a breath of fresh air in a gaming community saturated with milquetoast easy to digest games and story hooks. That’s not to say that Wizards of the Coast is not putting out a good product. They are. But DM’s Guild and other independent 5E designers and writers are not doing it for me. To be honest, I am tired of the safety of political correct stories, concepts, tropes, etc. I just do not find it innovative or creative. That, and coupled with some mechanics issues I have with 5E, I am craving something new. Indeed, I started writing something to publish on the DM’s Guild and I stopped because I am just bored with 5E. (I still intend to finish it…I will let you know when it is up. I hope people like it!)

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a punk rock, heavy metal vibe, which I love. The artwork depicts a very brutal and risque game world. All bets are off. If you are squeamish or easily offended, do not buy this game. Do not waste your time buying it and complaining about it on Twitter. Just don’t…the world is bad enough as is.

For the past few months, I have spent a significant amount of money picking up adventures and supplements for this game. I have not been disappointed with any of the products I have purchased. As a general matter, the quality of art and writing is great. It almost feels personal when compared to the writing from Wizards of the Coast. Where WotC is technical and instructional, I feel like I am reading experimental prose or avant-garde storytelling. In fact, when you read an adventure from the brainchild behind Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward Raggi IV, it is very personal. I am hesitant to refer to an RPG as “art,” but this stuff is bordering on art qua art. In the future, this blog will be bloviating on some of the stuff I have read and giving you some of my thoughts on the modules and supplements.

On two occasions, I have had a chance to play Lamentations of the Flame Princess one-shots online. They were a blast and brought me back to when I first started playing D&D, but with a horrific and weird twist. A fun and wonderful experience to be sure.

For a bit more detail: Lamentations is a D&D “retro-clone” of the Basic D&D system. There are seven classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Specialist (all human), Dwarf, Elf, and Halfing. Rather than using THACO (To Hit Armor Class 0), it uses the d20 mechanic of an ascending armor rating for attacks. There are the classic saving throws from Basic D&D (Paralyze, Poison, Breath Weapon, Magical Device, and Magic). The target numbers of a character’s saving throw progressively decrease as the character gains in level, thus an easier save. When you roll your character, you buy some equipment and off you go. The character classes are distinct and there are no feats, passive/active abilities, or special powers. You have your sword, your armor, (and hopefully) your wits as a player. That’s it.

The most intriguing part of this game is the skill system. Rather than have your specialist (formerly called “the thief”) roll percentile checks, all skills are reduced to a 1/6 chance on a die roll. Everyone can search for traps, open doors, know a language, hide, etc. The specialist gains points to add to increase his chance 2/6, 3/6, etc. Obviously, the demi-humans have access to a few of these skills as well. This skill system is elegant in its simplicity.

The game itself feels like something you can pick up and play. But, also, there is all of this room for you to add your own “stuff” to it, to customize the game to fit your style and personal predilections as a Gamemaster. This is what I have been missing with 5e. 5e is a very tight and integrated game system that any tinkering with can easily spiral out of control and lead you down a path of ruin. (A topic for a future blog post). But the simplicity of Lamentations of the Flame Princess allows the Gamemaster a lot of creative control mechanically. We all know that the Gamemaster can do whatever he wants at his table. (He is the master of the game after all). But it is one thing to retcon some Forgotten Realms canon in order to fit a story arc, it is another to try to mechanically change the way the game is played to fit the story and/or world you created. (Again, another topic for a blog post). Lamentations of the Flame Princess makes it easy to do just that. Indeed, if you read Vornheim, Veins of the Earth, or The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, and others, you can see the potential a creative mechanically inclined Gamemaster has with this system.

In fact, I hereby declare that I am going to be using this system to tinker with the old AD&D 2e Darksun world! I know someone has tried to do it, but I don’t like it and it is not complete. I will be dedicating future blog posts to this endeavor.

Anyway…go buy the core rulebook. You will not be disappointed.

Well, here it goes!

Just sent my first submission proposals to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragon magazines.  I hope they like them. I haven’t submitted any writings proposals before, but I am fully aware that I am more likely to get turned down than accepted.  Every writer’s workshop has insisted on that.  It would be nice if they accepted my ideas, because then I would get paid for them.  But, should they choose to reject my ideas, I will post them here anyway.  I like them, that’s why I sent them!

I would like to do more game design to expand on the Dark Sun Campaign setting as I felt the book was lacking in material.  Fortunately for me, a few in my gaming group have indicated they would like to return to my Dark Sun campaign.  I shall have to enlist them as guinea pigs.

Anyway, wish me luck!

There are no atheists at game tables…

Dude, I know you saw that blast of holy light. C'mon! It's real!

Pardon my wizardly musing, but I have noticed trend growing in my game group. Atheism. Not their atheism, (I could care less about their personal worldview), but character atheism.  I have to ask: Does that make any sense?

What is atheism? Put simply, it is the denial of the existence of a higher power. It is not skepticism as to the truth of a divine being. It is the acceptance, as true, the following proposition: “God does not exist.” How does one come to that conclusion? Well, again to keep it simple, by examining the evidence, or lack thereof, and reasoning one’s way to that conclusion.

Again, I am not about to comment on a player’s personal position on that proposition.  My focus is on the player’s character at the game table.  That is why I have been generally perplexed by the atheist PC.  I have to ask: why doesn’t your character believe in the gods? Seriously.  Given the evidence (in the game world), good and evil priests are wielding divine magic and hurling it at each other, raising undead armies and using very powerful blessings to accomplish various tasks.

Isn’t that enough evidence to prove the existence of very powerful deities influencing the world? Sometimes, especially on Aber-Torril and Krynn, the gods themselves walk the land.  Does it make any sense for a PC to not believe in the gods?

To be sure, I have no problem with a PC who, for whatever reason, hates the gods and does not worship them. That is completely different.  But outright rejection of the divine?  It makes no sense to me.

Perhaps I should develop an atheist theme wherein you don’t benefit at all from divine magic, nor are they harmed by it. I could base it off of the “NegaPsychic” character class from Paladium’s “Beyond the Supernatural” (a great game, by the way).

Or, I could tell them that there are no atheists at the game table.

…because his name is on the box.

Drizzt Do'Urden (Duh!)

Yesterday, my group and I got together to celebrate the belated birthday of one of our own. He’s a huge R. A. Salvatore fan so we got him the new Legend of Drizzt board game.  I had purchased the Wrath of Ashardalon game some time ago and it had been received well, so I figured this would be an excellent gift.  Wrath of Ashardalon is a fun game and makes for a quick D&D-esque experience and is easy to play even after a drinking way too much beer from watching football before sitting down to play a game. Why wouldn’t Drizzt’s own boardgame be any different?

Indeed, it is pretty much the same set-up as Wrath of Ashardalon. And like Wrath of Ashardalon, it is a quick game for bored gamers who can’t decide on what type of campaign to get involved in or what character to make once a campaign has been decided upon.  The game designers incorporated some new elements in the Legend of Drizzt that separates the dungeon from the Ashardalon dungeon.  I am glad for this because I was afraid that this would be an exact duplicate of Wrath of Ashardalon.

Also, the character powers were custom-made to parallel their counterparts in Mr. Salvatore’s novels.  My friend had a huge smile on his face as he summoned Guenhwyvar. You know, the big cat that follows Drizzt around. Yeah, well if you play Drizzt you get to have Guen…

There are, however, plenty of choices so playing Drizzt, Wulfgar, and the team can be different each time you approach the game.

I played Bruenor only because, for reasons beyond my understanding, the game designers decided not to have Thibbldorf Pwent make an appearance. Seriously. Where is the battlerager? While I am not a huge Salvatore fan (I prefer the early years as opposed to the past 10), I thought Thibbldorf was pretty cool. I’m pretty sure most people do to. Why did they not include him? The saving grace (from my perspective) was that Bruenor can take an extra point of damage to inflict another point on a creature he recently attacked.  Drizzt, of course, gets to make two attacks…and have a cat…

I got the impression that Drizzt is a little over-powered. But I guess that should be expected as his name is on the box.

We all (generally) enjoyed the game, but not enough to play for too long. I think its fun, but it is not really a substitute for role-playing with your gaming group. A nice distraction, but that is all.

But this latest installment of the Wizard’s 4E board game series led me to ponder the following:

What is it with Wizards of the Coast game designers obsession with so many game components? There are so many pieces to the board games, that Jer, a member of my gaming group and NOT a fan of the board games, basically said he would rather jot down his condition on a piece of paper. (which I responded, “so shouldn’t we be playing D&D?”)

But even the table top version of 4E is littered with too many components to it now (fortune cards, power cards, miniatures, etc.) that I am not exactly sure what I am playing anymore.  It has just recently struck me: why, when I print out a character sheet from the character generator, do I get 8 pages of cards? I don’t want to play Magic, I want to play D&D. What is up with the all the cards?

I digress. Legend of Drizzt was a fun game, even if some of the pieces seemed a little superfluous.

Winter is Coming

First, I got married and I’m really excited because, while my wife thinks my gaming hobby is nerdy, she is totally supportive of my interest in, and writing about, gaming.  She does a great job at pretending to be interested in my stories and character ideas. Who could ask for anything more?

Second, winter will be setting in here in Upstate New York which means my group is going to start gaming again. And with the start of the “gaming season”, I have found myself contemplating what I need to do to keep my player’s interested in our games.  You see, I have a problem. I love to role-play. I mean, I really love role-playing and I don’t think my players are all that into it.  They like the challenge of a fight and the thrill of opening a treasure chest, but when it comes to interacting with my NPCs (or each other for that matter!), it’s like pulling teeth.  I have been desperately trying to figure out a way to get these guys serious about role-playing something.

Compounding the issue for me is that I have just discovered George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. (Yes, I know. I am way behind the times on this one.) I purchased Robert Schwalb’s RPG set in Westeros and it is fantastic! I have always liked the story-teller game system. (It uses a roll and keep system similar to Legend of the Five Rings and Seventh Sea.) But, more importantly, character design is linked to house design. Meaning, in order to make your character, you have to build your character’s family house!

How cool is that!

Anyway. As you can probably guess, I want to play Song of Ice and Fire. But will my players? We shall see. My players have been uncertain and non-comittal about starting up again. The last time we hit a lull in gaming we didn’t return to gaming for quite some time. My great concern is that, indeed, a long winter is around the corner: a winter devoid of gaming.