Monday, 31 December 2012

DCC House Rule: Character Age

Young/Adult:     No modifiers to stats as rolled
Mature:             –(1d3-1) Str/Agi/Sta, +(1d3-1) Int
Old:                   –(1d3-1) Str/Agi/Sta, +(1d4-2) Int*
Venerable:        –(1d3-1) Str/Agi/Sta, –(1d3-2) Int/Per**
Ancient:            –1d3 Str/Agi/Sta, –(1d3-1) Int, Per

* If a “1” is rolled on the 4-sided die, a -1 penalty occurs.
** If a “1” is rolled on the 3-sided die, a +1 bonus is gained.  Congratulations!   You've aged well.

Note that each modifier is rolled separately.  For example, an old character rolls 1d3-1 for Strength, a separate 1d3-1 for Agility, and a third 1d3-1 for Stamina.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

My Date With the Cinder Claws

Thursday night was the final gaming night before Christmas, and I ran The Thing in the Chimney for a table of six, two of whom were new gamers, and for whom TTITC was their “zero-level funnel”.  The other characters were the newly-levelled survivors from Fallen Tempesta in my home game….an online version of this adventure is being played out here.

The game started with the characters in the Great Hall, and then almost immediately split up.  Some went to the wood growing at one of the hall, some took the passage to the kitchen, and some stayed in the Great Hall to look around.

There was actually a surprising amount of party-splitting in this adventure, and it had interesting repercussions to game play.  I was surprised and pleased to note that the players immediately began to make a map, and they were not at all confused by the way the Cinder Claws’ home worked….they caught on mighty quick.  I suppose I should not have been surprised, though, as they have been steadily developing in the mapping department.

The characters decided not to disturb the cooks in the kitchen.  One of them stole a couple of cookies, to see if there would be a reaction, but there was none.  They then proceeded through both alternate doors, splitting the party up further. 

One group investigated the reindeer stables, but passed on quickly.  A shovel was taken here, that was later put to good use.

Meanwhile, another part of the group discovered the tinsel on the trees, and became aware of the large double-doors.  Throwing caution to the wind, the entered the wood, and met with the tinsel spiders.  One of the other groups came out of the reindeer area and was able to render aid…they fought 3 out of 5 spiders without any real incident.  They fought the other two when they tried to push the door open….and one of the characters, a halfling, got silver glop stuck on his left hand.

They pushed the door open, discovered the wasteland outside, and realized that they could not close it.  Ah, well, spiders don’t like cold.

Needless to say, players began having characters in the scrying chamber check the list to see if they were Naughty or Nice.  This led to one of the PCs (a thief whose occupation was “counterfeiter”) trying to change what the list said, to no avail.  They also, predictably, made attempts to steal the list, and the snow globe.  They were so focused on these items, though, that they ignored or forgot about the rubies on the snow globe stand.

They found the sleigh, and one character took the cindercrop.  Exploration of the enormous red velvet bag was not very thorough, and it was left behind.  The players originally thought that the double doors in the sleigh room and the Great Hall must connect.  Now they are not so sure, because of the events in the Great Hall, and they are considering not opening them.

Dealing with the fruitcake was relatively easy for them, as one of the PCs had previously gained the ability to create strong pheromones once per day, which were used to counteract the fruitcake’s lure.  Throwing the ancient, evil desert into the fireplace, they discovered the empty stockings for the first time.

They also discovered that tinsel spider glop cannot be removed by clerical healing. 

Most of the characters return to the Great Hall, where they decide to split up and explore the remaining two archways – half the party heads to the sweatshop, while the other half heads to the guard room.  At the guard room, four elf spears are cast into the front line, and the first character is slain.

At this point, all hell finally breaks loose.  The PCs headed towards the guard room flee, with six elf guards behind them.  The PCs in the sweatshop pass through the green door, and arrive in the guard room behind the other six guards.  Two snowmen are back in the hall where the door has been left open.  In the general melee that follows, one character is killed when a snowman throws a snowball at him, gets a critical hit, shatters the character’s forearm, and does enough damage to down him.  When the other PCs turn over the body, it is too late.

I rule that, due to the distraction of the other characters, the PCs coming through the green door get surprise.  Between two locations, elves, and snowmen, a great deal of fun is to be had.  Someone shouted “knock off their hats!” right away, but no one heeded this advice.  The PCs are battered and bruised, but ultimately victorious.

(As a side note:  The PC whose forearm was broken, and who subsequently died, was a cleric who pushed his luck, had to roll 5d4 for disapproval, and then was found (thus far) to be pretty much a man of the world.  This was the “worst” disapproval rolled at my table yet, or the “best”, depending upon your point of view, but it really reinforced my enjoyment of the system.)

Of course, being players, they had to open the other double doors (giving the sleigh access to outside), and fought the snowman with the ukulele.  I played Burl Ives singing Silver and Gold and Perry Como singing Winter Wonderland to simulate the snowman’s singing.  “Wait a minute….is the snowman really singing that?!?”  “Yes.”

At this point, the night was getting late, and I was ready to fill their stockings.  However, because they kept splitting the party, and there were always folks in the Great Hall, there was no chance for the Cinder Claws to come immediately.  One of the players tried to put the fire out with the snow, but the fire was too great for what she could do with the shovel.  So, she decided to take coals from the fire and burn the wood down instead.  With the resultant smoke and heat, the group scattered out of the Great Hall, and I was able to stage the final encounter.

(That was a pleasantly unexpected action for a player to think of.)

The hands were very effective.  The long, flexible arms were great.  That the Cinder Claws was strong they already knew from the doors; that he was stronger than eight people trying to keep his arm from going back up the chimney was a new, and perhaps frightening, revelation.

When the Cinder Claws actually appeared, though, Fate takes a hand, and the dice roll very hot for the players.  There are a number of critical hits as the Claws pulls itself from the chimney, resulting in its being severely damaged by the beginning of the first round.  It lets out a Ho Ho Ho! and two icicles fall.  The players like that it has a chance of being hit by this.  One PC is hit and killed by falling ice.  And then the PCs remaining lay into the Cinder Claws, and he retreats back up the chimney in a bloody mess.

But that first round has a terrible cost for one PC.  Using my “Slippery Slope of Arcane Doom” house rule, one character tries to learn magic shield on the fly.  He succeeds, but his Mercurial Magic is unfortunate – each time the spell is cast, someone he knows dies.  The Tempesta start includes everyone (apart from the party) in the PCs’ homeland being slain….and the PCs are now on another plane of existence from where they began in any event.  The magic, I rule, utilizes the life force of someone you know to grant the bonus – and one of the PCs dies. 

That’s about it.  They grab their stockings, and flee through the portal.  Luckily, they remember to take their moon rover with them.

But that’s another story.

I am thinking of doing another one for next year:  Revenge of the Cinder Claws.  What do you think?

(BTW, if you like bygrinstow's illustration of a sugar plum faerie, above, please drop by his blog and tell him so!)

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Thing in the Chimney

With special thanks to Bygrinstow for illustrations, and to Joseph Goodman for okaying an un-licensed adventure, I proudly present something to ruin the holidays for you forever:

The Thing in the Chimney

Completely bookmarked.  Crappy hand-drawn maps at no extra cost.

Best of all?


Monday, 10 December 2012

Rules that Tie the GM’s Hands

A while back, I espoused what I thought was a fairly simple concept.  Although I know it is not for everyone, I strongly believe that it will make the average GM better.

While I've written longer essays on the concept, it can be embodied in three simple rules:

1.   If you don’t want something to rely on chance, don’t roll for it.  I.e., if your game absolutely requires that the PCs succumb to sleeping gas, don’t allow a save.  Certainly don’t allow a save with some penalty under the belief that no player will roll a 20!  Likewise, if you absolutely cannot stand by a roll that gives a PC 24 points of damage, don’t roll 4d6.  Or make the roll “4d6, to a maximum of 20”, etc.

2.  If there is something that you can’t accept occurring, don’t make it a possibility.  Most of the time, this will mean not making something a consequence of failure if you cannot accept it occurring, so that you don’t change events to “force” a PC win.

3.  If you do roll for it, abide by the dice.

It is my thought that, if you follow the first two principles, following the third will be easy.  There should be no reason to fudge a roll if the result is one you can accept. 

Now, my thinking on this concept is that there is an implicit contract between the players and the Game Master that the decisions of the players will matter.  And, in order to make those decisions matter, the Game Master will present a world, present options, and allow the results of the players’ choices within the options presented to play out.

I believe that this is the second most fundamental contract between the players and the Game Master.  The Game Master will not change the scenario so as to thwart the players when they make good decisions.  Nor with the Game Master change the scenario to cushion the consequences of poor decisions.  I will go further and say that the Game Master should not ameliorate the consequences of good or bad luck, either, as (1) luck has a tendency to ameliorate itself, and (2) total failure does not generally revolve upon a single unlucky roll – the players made decisions that led their characters to this pass.  If you let the good things happen when players gamble and win, you should also let the bad things happen when players gamble and lose.

The contract at your table may be different.  It may be explicit or implicit that the Game Master will not let you lose.  It may be that death is off the table.  It may be that the Game Master is going to tell you a story, and that you are only going to make choices that allow you to remain within the framework of that story.

If that is the way you want to play, that’s cool.  Really.  In fact, you can play in all three of these ways and still never fudge a single die roll if you don’t want to.  Those first two rules support the third rule.  Being knocked to 0 hp can mean that you are knocked out, if that is the game you want to run.  It can mean that you are just unable to fight.  A monster reaching 0 hp can mean that it is slain in a gruesome way, or that it simply runs away. 

You can alter these rules to do whatever you want them to do, and you can be honest about what you are doing.

That is what I believe is the most fundamental implicit contract between the Game Master and the players.  When I am running a game, I will present the world as honestly as possible, within my understanding of how your characters would perceive it.  I may roll a die that doesn’t matter to indicate uncertainty – which I believe is part of verisimilitude – but if the roll says the monster did 6 hp of damage, I will neither pump it up nor deflate it to make what I want to have happen occur.

In fact, with very few exceptions, I will roll the dice where you can see them.  And those exceptions are only where the characters themselves experience uncertainty.

These are not, IMHO, “rules that tie the GM’s hands”, despite the fact that some seem determined to present them that way.  I can’t imagine any scenario which I cannot present using these rules.  I certainly do not feel that my hands are tied.  I have a hard time imagining anyone who has ever gamed with me entertaining a notion that I stand for dis-empowering the GM.  I am the GM, far more often than not.  I run games that I want to run, in the way that I want to run them.

But neither do I imagine that players have no right to judge my GMing, or my methods.  I expect their trust.  If the experience is worth playing, then play, and don’t bitch and moan that things are unfair when things go against you.  I get to judge you, too, and if I find you wanting, you are gone.  I have no interest in running games that are not fun for me.  If you want to play in my game, you might have to suck it up once in a while.

If you don’t want to play in my game, walk.  There will be no hard feelings.  I get to judge whether or not I want you in my game.  You get to judge whether or not you want to be there.  I will be as honest as I can about what I am running, and how, to help you make up your mind.  I don’t want you there if this is a game you won’t enjoy.

I cannot fathom how this becomes “rules that tie the GM’s hands”.

Something that is not for you?  Sure, I can see that.  Your game won’t be for me, but I can see that my game might not be for you.  But “rules that tie the GM’s hands”?  I can see that, if you are just starting, you might not realize that 4d6 damage can result in 24.  I can see that, if you are relatively inexperienced, that you might not understand how to create an adventure, and you might feel a need to modify your work as you see the unintended consequences of your design choices. 

I can see those things.  Folks grow as GMs, same as they grow as players.  I have a hard time imagining any GM of even halfway decent calibre, though, who would feel like his hands were tied by not rolling for things he didn’t want to leave to chance.  It begs the question – just why would you feel your hands were tied?  What is it, exactly, that these principles prevent you from doing?  

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More Useful Elements From Appendix N


“Does not that Law say plainly: ‘That thou lovest all things in nature. That thou shalt suffer no person to be harmed by thy hands or in thy mind. That thou walkest humbly in the ways of men and in the ways of gods. Contentment thou shalt at last learn through suffering and from long patient years, and from nobility of mind and service. For the wise never grow old.’”

Tamar is a wise woman who lived in Dimsdale during the American Colonial period, the sister of Hagar. She followed the Law and used magic to heal and aid the locals, but the malice of Hagar and the appearance of the Wade children (Holly, Judy, and Crockett) from the future led to her being accused of black magic. The Wade children were again able to travel into the past on Halloween to give Tamar a chance to unhinge her cottage from time. Although beautiful in her own way, her face and clothing were plain. She now dwells in her own demi-plane which is connected to the material world through the Dimsdale Hedge Maze. She took Holly Wade as her apprentice.

Tamar is able to communicate telepathically in dreams through the dream pillow. She can focus spells through her familiar, Tomkit, and can use his actions to help indicate her desires. She can no longer invite people directly to her cottage through the Dimsdale Hedge Maze, however, and thus must interact with the material world primarily through dreams. The link between her cottage and the maze grants a +1 Luck bonus to any non-malicious, non-selfish checks made within Dimsdale town limits.

Tamar possesses a magic mirror that she can use to scry once a month. She can use it to locate anyone or anything she is aware of. She must be attempting to locate a specific item or a specific individual. The effort of using the mirror drains 1d6 hit points.

Tamar (Wizard 5/Herbalist): Init +0; Atk none; AC 10; HD 5d4; hp 10; MV 30’; Act 1d20 + 1d14; SP Spells; SV Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +6; Str 9, Agl 11, Sta 10, Per 13, Int 13, Luck 15, AL L. Spells Known (+6 to spell checks): Find familiar, runic alphabet (mortal)(Mercurial Effect: breath of life), detect evil, make potion, planar step.

Tamar as a Minor Patron

Tamar may act as a minor patron to anyone who performs a patron bond ceremony within the confines of the Dimsdale hedge maze. She will only bond with Lawful characters. What she can offer is extremely minor; she has no specific patron spells, no real patron taint, and no special rules for spellburn. If patron taint is indicated, the character must plant some beneficial herbs within 1 week, or have a -1 penalty to Luck until this has been done. Roll 1d16 to determine the herbs to be planted: (1) mint, (2) bee balm, (3) costmary, (4) marigolds, (5) pennyroyal, (6) cowslips, (7) basil, (8) thyme, (9) rosemary, (10) rue, (11) meadowsweet, (12) red yarrow, (13) white yarrow, (14) sage, (15) purselane, or (16) pimpernel.

Invoke Patron Results

12-13 Sometimes it be true that the ills of the spirit lie harsher on mankind than do the ills of the flesh that he weareth for so short a span of years. Preoccupied with other matters, Tamar has little time to do more than bolster the caster’s courage. The caster gains a +2 bonus to Will saves for the next 1d6 + CL minutes.

14-17 Blessed Be! With a little more time available, Tamar can hear the petitioner’s problem and offer some sound advice (as determined by the judge). Due to the nature of Tamar’s timeless abode, the caster has an opportunity to have up to a 10 minute conversation with Tamar, all of which takes place in a seeming daydream, in a fraction of a second.

18-19 There must lie truth within the heart, lest thy every effort be doomed to failure. By spending one round gazing deep into her own soul, the caster can gather the will needed to make her next action more likely to succeed. Her next skill check, save, attack roll, or spell check is made using the next highest die on the dice chain.

20-23 The good, be it strong enough, will drive out the ill. If the caster is suffering from a spell, disease, poison, or curse, the influence of Tamar allows the caster to attempt another saving throw with a +4 bonus to the roll. If the condition does not allow a save normally, the caster may make an attempt at DC 15. If the caster touches an ally, she may aid the ally in this same way. The caster may aid one ally with each Action Die, and may continue to do so for CL rounds before the power departs.

24-27 Is my power great enough? How shall I know? The proof be in the doing. Tamar attempts to cast one of her spells through the caster. The judge chooses the most appropriate spell, but the caster is able to choose all particulars if the spell is successful. The spell is cast exactly as if the caster had cast it herself (and she gains the effects of Tamar’s mercurial magic for runic alphabet, mortal), but the difficulty in casting this way means that the spell is cast with a total modifier of -2. The caster never suffers corruption from this, but may experience misfire.

28+ So mote it be! Tamar’s power reaches out and reshapes the world in a minor way, imparting some form of blessing. The exact nature of the blessing must be determined by the judge, but it should be relevant to either the problem at hand, or some greater problem (or farther-reaching goal) of the caster. For example, Tamar blessed Crockett Wade with an amulet of wax to aid him in the skillful making of beautiful things, and Tamar blessed Holly Wade with the sure knowledge that her father - who had been lost and presumed dead in Vietnam - would return home.

Source: Andre Norton (Lavender-Green Magic: Ace Books, 1974)


Ishnuvakardi was a minor god, carried on the Roolanga, an aerial whaling ship flying out of Zalarapamtra. His idol was carved from a piece of vrishkaw, a foot high, ivory-white with red, green, and black striations. Ishnuvakardi is half human and half wind whale, with a bestial head, human torso, and the tail and flukes of a wind whale.

The little god of an aerial ship is worshipped on an altar of bone. The crew gives its thanks to the little god, who in turn passes those thanks - and his own - to the major god of the city. The devotions to Ishnuvakardi included the priestess or acolyte donning a wooden mask to which hundreds of pieces of red aerial brit had been glued, a fire burning in a wooden cup before the idol, and the crew falling to its knees. The language in which the service is addressed is not everyday speech, but rather a language reserved for religious services.

As with all the gods carved from vrishkaw, Ishnuvakardi exudes an overpoweringly sweet, intoxicating perfume, known as the divine perspiration. The first time one inhales the divine perspiration, a Fort save must be made each round. The second time, a Fort save must be made each minute. Someone who has become accustomed to the divine perspiration need only make the save every ten minutes, but that individual must be a priest or acolyte to gain this level of ability to resist the divine perspiration.

Merely inhaling the divine perspiration makes one feel happy and a little dizzy, without any save.

The first time a save is failed from the divine perspiration, the character feels drunk, taking 1d3 points of temporary damage to both Agility and Intelligence.

The second time a save is failed, the character feels very drunk, taking 1d3 points of temporary damage to Agility, Intelligence, and Personality.

The third time a save is failed, the character passes out, and remains comatose for 1d6 x 5 minutes. The character is helpless during this time.

The save DC for Ishnuvakardi is 10.

Source: Philip José Farmer: The Wind Whales of Ishmael (Ace Books, 1971)

Web Makers

These strange, six-legged creatures have round grey bodies approximately the size of a human head. It has a single large eye, and a slit-like mouth from which a long tooth protrudes. The creature attaches itself to the ceiling with a long slimy line of web-cable, then launches itself at potential prey. The creature coils this grey web-cable inside its body, so that it can control its distance to the ground.

When a victim comes within range, the web maker swings out on its cable, or drops from above, trying to grab hold with its poisonous claws. It aims for the head. If it hits, it clings to its victim, attempting to stab it with its long, hollow tooth. If it succeeds, it proceeds to drain blood at a rate of 1d6 hit points per round. If its poison has been effective, it will drain its victim in 2d6 rounds. The creature’s powerful poison requires a DC 10 + 1d6 Fort save to avoid instant death. The variable is based upon the number of claws that actually hit with a successful attack, and each claw leaves a reddish mark. The poison is a pale green liquid, stored within the creature’s body.

These creatures live in colonies in large chambers, which may number up to 1,000 individuals. They have an instinctive sense that allows them to time their attacks so that they do not interfere with each other. Usually, an attack is launched only once every three rounds. Characters which become aware of this pattern of attacks may gain a +4 bonus to AC by anticipating these attacks and moving to avoid them.

A web maker is paralysed when caught within strongly presented light, even torchlight. This does not prevent other web makers in the colony from swinging in to the attack.

These creatures spin spider-like webs out of a grey substance that contains bits of mica within it. The webs are easily burned or pushed through, but disturbing them alerts the creatures. The web makers can create such a web with astounding speed, so that, once one has gotten through, if that person looks back a minute or so later, the web is restored, and there is no sign of what has done it.

Web maker: Init +0; Atk claws +0 melee (1 plus poison) or bite +1 melee (1 plus blood drain); AC 8; HD 1d4; hp 2; MV 20’ or climb 20’; Act 1d20; SP Poison (Fort DC 10 +1d6 or die), blood drain (1d6), swing, paralysed by light; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0; AL N.

Source: Philip José Farmer: The Wind Whales of Ishmael (Ace Books, 1971)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Useful Elements From Appendix N

For my own purposes, I've decided to slowly create an "Appendix N Cyclopedia"....strictly for my own use in devising adventures and deciding on story elements.  But, having a sharing nature, from time to time I will post some snippets here.


An ancient polished mahogany idol, placed upon a diorite pedestal, which had been worshipped for ages prior to the advent of Sheemish. Chu-Bu was a minor god, with fat fingers and toes being the only specific features noted. Holy birds were kept in his temple.

Chu-Bu had been worshipped for a century or more by burning spices in braziers and fat on flat gold plates, by offerings of honey and maize, and by the words “There is none but Chu-Bu” on Tuesdays. Although a minor god, he was believed by the people of his city to have created everything. In actual fact, the only service he can offer those who pray to him is to grant +1d3 Luck as a bonus to a single check within any given seven day period.

The rivalry between Chu-Bu and Sheemish ended with a minor earthquake, wrought by both gods working in opposition, that destroyed the Temple of Chu-Bu.

Source: Lord Dunsany (Chu-Bu and Sheemish: Saturday Review, 30 December 1911)

Tree Spirits of the Vosges

On the eastern shores of a high, lonely lake in the Vosges, the trees are sentient and have been at war with the peasantry for hundreds of years. To eyes that can see, the trees are only the outward manifestations of the tree spirits, which dwell in an adjacent plane, which can be glimpsed through the aether by those they desire to converse with.

When viewed in this way, the female tree spirits are humanoid, and beautiful, with golden hair and large pupil-less green eyes, akin to those of deer, that dance with moonbeam motes. Their lips appear to be notably thirsty. The male tree spirits wear dark green kilts, and have blue or brown eyes. They are darker of skin and hair, and are very muscular. 

 The tree spirits can compel a creature to a copse where they can communicate with him (Will DC 10 resists), and are able to charm mortal men (as charm person with a +3 to the spell check)with their kisses. They desire to use mortal men to slay their enemies in this fashion, for they cannot act directly on the world.

However, they can cause the most hideous of accidents to befall those who cut wood within their forests - they are able to make a retaliatory attack whenever a tree is felled. This attack has a +4 attack bonus, and does 1d4 damage. Such an attack achieves a critical hit on a 18-20, using 1d8 on Crit Table I. These strikes occur from seeming-chance: as one tree falls, it bends the branch of another, which is whipped back; a branch gouges out an eye; a tree is felled upon the hapless woodcutter.

Their plane appears as a vast, silent world with opalescent palaces, great hills and mountains, circling plains, and where the leaping trout of this world appear as leviathans. The golden moss on the ground is spangled with tiny blue flowers. The only sound is the singing or speech of the tree spirits. Their lives are bound to the trees, which appear as the ghosts of trees on their plane. While they can share this life to some degree, by tapping a ghost tree and giving a tree spirit the golden sap to drink, if the spirit’s tree has been felled, this is but a short respite before withering.

Source: A. Merritt (The Woman of the Wood; Weird Tales, August 1926)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Half-Levels REVISED

Half-Levels:  An Optional Multi-Classing System for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Game
By Daniel J. Bishop

Revised 9 Dec 2012

At some point, players ask why their halfling cannot become a thief.  Or why their warrior cannot also become a cleric.  Half-levels are my answer to this.

If a human wants to take levels in another class, he must first take a half-level in the new class.  Once this is done, he can take levels in his original class or his new class at will, whenever he has enough experience points to gain a new level.  After the half-level, the first level gained in the half-level class is 1st level.  Gaining a half-class level is exactly like gaining a level in terms of XP requirements.

Things work a little different for demi-humans.  Demi-human classes do not have half-levels.  An elf who takes the Elf class always gains the full first level, even if he has taken levels in other classes.  The same is true for halflings and dwarves.  However, if an elf wants to become, say, a thief after gaining his first 10 XP, then he must take a half-level first.

It is possible to gain three or more classes by taking multiple half-levels.

The following general rules apply:

  • All classes gain a full Hit Die, as though they had taken a standard level in the class.
  • Attack bonuses, saving throw bonuses, and caster level do not “stack”; the character takes the best attack bonus offered, and the best saving throw bonus for each category offered by any of his classes.  Caster level is determined on the basis of each class, so that an elf wizard would have an Elf caster level and a Wizard caster level.
  • In my home campaigns, a specific relationship with the gods is one of the things that sets humans apart from demi-humans, so no demi-humans may take half-levels or levels in Cleric.  Check with your judge to see if this restriction applies to his or her campaign milieu.
  • In my home campaigns, halflings are not skilled in magic, so no halfling may take a half-level or levels in Wizard.  Check with your judge to see if this restriction applies to his or her campaign milieu

Attack/Deed Die
Crit Die/Table
Threat Range
Action Dice
Max Spells
Luck Die

Special rules for each class follow.


  • Caster Level is 0.
  • Turn Unholy is gained.
  • Lay on Hands is not gained until 1st level.
  • Divine Aid is not gained until 1st level.


  • Thieves’ Cant is not learned until 1st level.
  • Skill bonus for all thief skills are ½ the listed 1st level value, rounded down.
  • Cast spell from scroll is 1d10 regardless of alignment.
  • A halfling thief gains the better of his Halfling stealth bonus or his Thief bonuses; they do not stack.
  • A halfling thief rolls a Luck Die, but always gains a benefit of 2 or more.  If the halfling thief acts as a Lucky Charm, the benefit is always based off of his Halfling class.  A halfling thief only regains 1 point of Luck each day (not 2).


  • With a d2 Deed Die, a ½ level Warrior cannot perform Mighty Deeds.
  • The warrior’s Lucky weapon can be chosen at either the ½ level or at 1st level, as determined by the player, but the bonus is not in effect until it is chosen.
  • A warrior (or dwarf) who also has an attack bonus from another class always gets the better of his attack bonus or the result of his Deed Die, whichever is better.  Whether or not a Deed succeeds is always dependent upon the Deed Die roll, however.  The result of the Deed Die is added to damage as normal.
  • A dwarf warrior gains the better of his Dwarf Deed Die or his Warrior Deed Die; they do not stack.


  • Caster Level is 0.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Everyone Else IX: Transylvanian Adventures

It may seem strange to be talking about a product that is not out yet in this series, but I was lucky enough to have a chance to playtest some of Transylvanian Adventures.  In case you think it biases my opinion, I should also note that I created six illustrations for this product as well.

Transylvanian Adventures, the brain-child of S.A. Mathis, is an expansion of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game core rules that allows you to play Gothic horror scenarios like those found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the many, many horror films based off of them – particularly those of the original Hammer Films era. 

Fantasy role-playing games have always been rife with images from this genre, going back at least as far as the inclusion of the vampire, flesh golem, werewolf, and similar monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  The first edition of Pacesetter’s Chill was the first time I encountered a game that actually made strong use of the horror elements, instead of simply using a horror gloss on what was otherwise straight adventures.

Yet, horror elements are often used to good effect in weird fantasy, and are a staple of such Appendix N authors as Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and H.P. Lovecraft.  As has been noted by others, the Hammer Horror films had a definite impact on Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, with the ability to “turn undead” being based largely off of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing, and the abilities and limitations of vampires being based off of Dracula, as portrayed by such stalwarts as Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.

Moreover, the Gothic era is on the cusp of the supposedly rational modern world, wherein the irrational makes inroads into the orderly conduct of the Age of Reason.  This is not only directly used in the oeuvre of Appendix N, but its opposite number is as well – modern or near-modern men who fall backwards in time, who travel to far planes of existence, or who otherwise enter secondary worlds where the rational tenets of the Age of Reason may or may not apply.  Transylvanian Adventures not only allows you to play a Jonathan Harker or a Mina Murray, but it makes strong inroads into letting you play the kinds of characters you read about in The Moon Pool, Lest Darkness Fall, The Carnelian Cube, The Dwellers in the Mirage, At the Mountains of Madness, Witch World, and so on.

I am not allowed to discuss specific mechanics, but I can say that there are some mechanics in the nascent work which will allow judges to better use the tropes of the Gothic Horror genre.  There are also mechanics that you will want to expand upon to better use the tropes of the Sword & Sorcery genre.  Like first edition Chill before it, Transylvanian Adventures wisely avoids taking the path of introspective navel-gazing – a definite danger when writing a horror role-playing game, wherein the author can so disempower the characters to increase the “horror” that they become nothing more than pawns.  No, Transylvanian Adventures is written to be one part Gothic horror to two parts ass kicking.  It is a potent mix.

Included with the playtesting materials I received from the author was an introductory adventure, a 0-level funnel for Transylvanian Adventures characters.  This adventure makes good use of the tropes of the genre, and plays well with the new rules of the main work.  I would be happy to see a line of Transylvanian Adventures supporting Transylvanian Adventures; I would certainly buy them if they were the same quality as the first.

I find myself counting the weeks until this project is finished, and in my possession.  How many weeks?  Luckily, I am not counting alone.  You can find out more about Transylvanian Adventures at

Reading Appendix N: Shadow Kingdoms

Starting in 2004, Wildside Press began to publish all of Robert E. Howard’s work from Weird Tales, sequentially as it appeared, under the sobriquet of “The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard”.  To round out the volume, they include a few other pieces of Howard’s poetry, which were published elsewhere.  Shadow Kingdoms is the first volume, and contains 24 short stories and poems.

If you have read much of what I’ve written, you will know that I am a fan of Howard’s writing, so I find it a distinct pleasure to have a volume that shows how he grew as a writer over a relatively short period of time. 

Spear and Fang is a caveman story.  Stories about cave men are actually well represented in Appendix N, including Manly Wade Wellman’s excellent Hok the Mighty stories and a lot of work by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Howard’s Spear and Fang is not going to displace the writing of these other writers here, but we are at the dawn of Howard’s career as well as at the dawn of man, so we might forgive the fact that he is not yet at the height of his powers.

In the Forest of Villefore is a werewolf story.  Again, not a perfect story, but it does have one cool idea to steal for your game:  slain as a man, the spirit of the werewolf would haunt the protagonist forever.  It is not enough to slay the werewolf; the beast must be slain in its bestial form.  Howard actually goes into this more in the next story, Wolfshead, in which his strong powers as a storyteller begin to truly come to the fore.  These two stories, together, can be used by the aspiring judge to craft a werewolf adventure that players will long remember.

The next story, The Lost Race, has yet another take on the werewolf legend…one which might work better as a lead-in to an adventure, or a portion of an adventure, but which is probably not strong enough to be the major driving force.  In a way, this story is a step back from Wolfshead.

Three poems follow:  The Song of the Bats, The Ride of Falume, and The Riders of Babylon.  Howard is a fairly good poet already, and these are worth reading, although there is no direct gaming material herein.  The Song of the Bats, in particular, might be used as a handout for another adventure, were the judge so inclined (and thanks to Sir Robilarfor the idea) .

The Dream Snake would be tough to turn into an adventure, but worthwhile if done well.  One element of horror that does not often make its way into adventure gaming is forcing the PCs to wait before they can deal with a threat.  Another is the threat that a single character must face alone, even if he surrounds himself with other.  In The Dream Snake, a character dreams of a snake coming to slay him, which, it is implied, eventually happens.  One could see this as a punishment for defying a Patron of some sort (and there is one perfect for this in the upcoming Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between sourcebook), or as the result of a curse.  I made use of the general idea in a short encounter submitted to Crawl! Fanzine, which may eventually see publication, which I called “At Least He Had Guts!”.  When you read it, you will know the inspiration.

The Hyena is a great story, marred only by the racial politics of the time it was written.  Senecoza, the festish-man in the story, would make a fantastic recurrent villain in the DCC rpg…or in any other.  This is another glimpse of the stronger writing which Howard would later produce, and it is amazing to see him writing like this so early on.  It makes one wonder, had Howard not taken his life, what he would eventually have been able to produce.

The poem, Remembrance, follows, with its theme of reincarnation and being haunted by the misdeeds of past lives.  Reincarnation is another major Appendix N theme, appearing in Howard, Burroughs, Merritt, and others.  Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” cycle hinges upon it.

Sea Curse is a story about a curse, obviously, which includes a damned ship that would be at home in a DCC campaign.

A poem, The Gates of Ninevah, follows.

And then the first Solomon Kane story, Red Shadows, makes its appearance.  There are a lot of elements to steal here for a weird fiction campaign.  When the PCs wrong another, the idea of the pursuing avenging angel in mortal form, their own Solomon Kane, is more than appropriate.  The bandit leader, Le Loup, is a great character that I have made use of in my own online Barrowmaze campaign (using DCC rules).  The Black God, N’Longa, and the interaction between the gorilla hunter and the gorilla (itself a revenge story that parallels that of Solomon Kane and Le Loup) are worth emulating.  There are, again, racial elements in this story that 21st Century readers may well find offensive, but if you strip those elements, there is much of use to the aspiring judge herein.

Two more poems follow:  The Harp of Alfred and Easter Island.

Skulls in the Stars is another Solomon Kane story, which could easily be adapted to a role-playing scenario.  The idea of ghosts and spirits returning to avenge those who wrongfully murder them for gold is one that ought to give pause to a PC or two....

Two more poems, Crete and Moon Mockery, follow. 

Then we have a third Solomon Kane story, Rattle of Bones, which could be easily adapted to an effective role-playing game scenario.  It would be fairly easy to enlarge upon the theme – a murdered sorcerer whose bones are chained in a room, a murderous innkeeper, and an unrecognized enemy as a fellow-wayfarer. 

The next poem, Forbidden Magic, contains some imagery of use to the DCC judge.

The Shadow Kingdom is the first Kull story, which introduces the serpent people who masquerade as men.  This ancient rivalry between humans and reptilian humanoids is echoes not only in later Howard work, but in other Appendix N writers, such as the Dragon Kings of Lin Carter’s Thongor stories.  Howard’s is the original and the best.  Consider also that, at some point, players will want their characters to be something more than mere freebooters.  They will not want to merely explore the world, but to order it to their liking.  In this respect, the Kull and King Conan stories of Robert E. Howard can point the aspiring judge to elements that can make ruling as much an adventure as wandering the lands.

The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune is the second Kull story, which deals with mirrors that are both magical portals (for visions, and perhaps more) and a trap.  A good story, and a good element for a DCC adventure, but not enough action for an adventure by itself. 

Two more poems round out the collection:  The Moor Ghost (which may point to an interesting encounter, but is largely a reprisal of Skulls in the Stars), and Red Thunder.

Overall, this is a fine collection for reading, and a good collection for garnering game ideas.  The titles of Howard’s works are inspirational even if you don’t consider the stories and poems that follow.  In this collection, we see one of the greatest pulp writers of all time first approaching his craft, and rise quickly to its mastery.  This volume is very much recommended.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cross-posted from the Goodman Games Forums

Giant mutated turkey: Init +4; Atk bite +3 melee (1d6+2) or kick +1 melee (dmg 1d8+3); AC 10; HD 5d8; MV 30’ or fly 5’; Act 2d20; SP gobble, spew stuffing, induce lethargy; SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +5; AL N.

The giant mutated turkey is as tall as a man, with powerful drumsticks armed with sharp claws. It is capable of limited flight despite being plucked and overweight. Each round it can make one of three special attacks as a free action:

Gobble: The giant mutated turkey can gobble, creating a sonic attack that does 1d3 damage to all within 15'.

Spew stuffing: The giant mutated turkey spews a stream of stuffing in a 30' line at a single target (+4 to hit, 1d3 damage, and the target must make a DC 10 Will save or spend its next action either cleaning the stuff off or eating it, according to how the target views stuffing). A character who knows the spell consult spirit can make use of this stuffing to contact a sage that it contains, whose areas of knowledge are cooking (especially deep frying and roasting), spice racks, and American holidays. Admittedly, these areas of knowledge are rather useless in most campaign milieus.

Induce lethargy: Every creature within 30' of the giant mutated turkey must make a DC 10 Fort save or its initiative count goes down by 2. Any creature that bites the turkey automatically suffers this effect with no save. A creature whose initiative count is reduced below 0 by this effect may still participate in the combat, but must first loosen its belt a notch and look for a couch to lay down upon.

Primordial cranberry jelly: Init +0; Atk pseudopod +5 melee (2d3); AC 8; HD 8d10; MV 5’; Act 1d20; SP 15' reach, cranberries; SV Fort +8, Ref -4, Will +0; AL N.

The primordial cranberry jelly (in some areas, known as a "sauce") is often shaped exactly like a can, down to the ridges of the can's surface.  It lashes out with a single pseudopod, but it has a 15' reach with this attack.  Not all primordial cranberry jellies have whole cranberries within them, but those which do (about 25%-50%, depending upon the region you are in) can shoot them up to 60 feet as a ranged attack with a +6 bonus to hit causing 2d5 damage, once every 4 rounds.

The primordial cranberry jelly is not often considered a very dangerous monster - most adventurers can quickly get out of the range of the average specimen - but it is known to herald, in roughly one month's time, a truly horrendous beast:  petrified fruitcake from the dawn of time!

Use 'em in an adventure if you can!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Everyone Else VIII: Attack of the Frawgs!

Attack of the Frawgs!, by Stephen Newton, is the first module from Thick Skull Adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.  It is the first in an intended series, to be followed by the Princes of Kaimai adventure series.

This is the first DCC module I played which had direct ties back to DCC’s D&D (via the OGL) roots – the background mentions various humanoids, and the setting is the closest to a “D&D normal” setting I’ve seen with DCC.  This is neither good nor bad, and I used the connection to set my home campaign’s version of Barrowmaze I close by.

The adventure is largely a wilderness-based one.  Like Doom of the Savage Kings and The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, it is a wilderness that you r players are not simply going to wander about in.  The encounters placed here all range around a lake, so, unless your 0-level funnel characters miraculously have a boat, there is a definite order to the encounters.  This is, again, neither good nor bad intrinsically, but I look forward to a DCC hexcrawl.  The encounters here are a bit linear for my taste, but my players definitely enjoyed it.

The module intro suggests that the action starts at dusk, but all of the area descriptions assume daytime, so make sure that you account for that in your setup when running this adventure.  It’s a pretty simple matter to tell the players that their ardour cooled with the approaching dark, and it seemed better to investigate when the sun was up.

It is also clear that this module was intended as a prologue to another adventure…it leaves some large questions in the players’ minds, which are waiting for future releases to answer.  Things happen in the adventure writing game, and in real life while you are trying to write adventure modules, so I understand why the next instalment isn’t available yet…but I am sometimes impatient. 

Okay, enough of mild complaints, and on to what I liked!

This module includes giant casteroids which seem to be a cross between a beaver and a bear.  Naturally, my players had to explore the dam/lodge of these creatures….singularly, this is what I thought was the best encounter in the module, and I hope they make an appearance in future releases.  I cannot even say exactly why I like this encounter so much.  It is just that I can really picture it in my mind, perhaps, or that the PCs are stuck in a truly unusual location.

My players are usually pretty canny, and they were able to deal with most of the lead-up encounters pretty easily.  This is not a complaint; smart play should be rewarded, and it is usually where PCs blunder in that they are lost.  The lake itself, offering a relatively clear field of view, changes the nature of encounters and allows the players an opportunity to plan for some of them at least.  It offered a very different feel, at my table at least, to have the 0-level funnel characters actually seem relatively competent.  Of course, the final encounters in the caverns more than make up for that, so all is well in terms of character attrition as well.

My players are relatively slow-going as well.  They average three sessions per module, so I was somewhat surprised when they finished Attack of the Frawgs! with enough time to start another adventure.   Partly, this is because Attack is a relatively slender module, and in part this is because the nature of the encounters around the lake make the players’ choices more obvious. 

Were I seeking a game for a convention, or a demonstration, where players familiar with D&D had a limited time to generate characters and play through a scenario, Frawgs would be my top choice.  If I were looking to make use of older D&D modules, or modules for “retro-clone” games like Labyrinth Lord, Frawgs is a good introductory funnel.  I haven’t been disappointed by anything Joseph Goodman has approved yet.  I will certainly be getting the Princes of Kaimai adventure series when it becomes available.

Make no mistake, though, Attack of the Frawgs! cleaves far closer to the game’s D&D roots than does the Goodman Games or Purple Sorcerer modules.  This means that it is instantly graspable by players new to DCC (but not rpgs), but it also means that the judge might long for more of the “weird fantasy” elements of other DCC adventures.  Haunting of Larvik Island is slated as a remake of a 4th Edition module, so there will continue to be obvious ties to D&D in all likelihood. 

Personally, I would encourage the author to move farther from standard D&D tropes as the Princes of Kaimai series expands, but I am also interested in whatever Stephen Newton chooses to do with the series.  It worked quite well for me as a set-up for Barrowmaze I.

Should you get it?  I did, first in pdf and then in print when print became available.  I feel that my money was well spent.  I will continue to buy from Thick Skull when more product becomes available.  But, while waiting for Haunting of Larvik Island, I do have to warn you that you might want more answers immediately for your heroes of Dead Goblin Lake....

Friday, 16 November 2012

Difficulty: Not Just For Players

What if the players one-shot your BBEG?  Do you fudge his hit points?

What if the players decide to head north, when your elaborate deathtrap dungeon is to the south?

Do you use DM-PCs to keep the party going “where it should go”?  What if the players refuse to listen to the DM-PCs?  What if they slaughter them in their sleep?

In a recent blog post, I talked about “difficulty” in role-playing game scenarios.  That post was about the kinds of difficulties players experience to make an interesting game.  But difficulty is not just for players.  The Game Master also experiences difficulty, both away from and at the table.

A lot has been written about the difficulty GMs experience away from the table – after all, designing a scenario has its own types of difficulty.  Designing a scenario well may be one of the largest challenges facing a role-playing game enthusiast.  One might even say that, the better you design your scenario away from the table, the less difficulty you will experience at the table.  But there is no getting away from difficulty at the table entirely, and the way you handle it says much about the kind of Game Master you are.

To some degree, role-playing games are built upon a fundamental tension between the people playing the game and the person running it.  The person running the game has done some heavy lifting in the design department, or spent money for a module, and wants that investment to pay off in terms of the players going along with the scenario the GM wishes to present.  The players, for their part, want to have fun, have their characters survive, and have their characters prosper.

The experienced GM knows that players have the most fun when they overcome adversity.  The blog post about difficulty was, in some ways, a discussion of what adversity is within the context of a role-playing game.  Yet the experienced GM also knows that the player goals of “survive and prosper” run counter to “meet adversity” where the outcome of that meeting is not known ahead of time.  Players want to “play smart”; the GM wants to lure them into situations where the outcome is uncertain.  Both players and GM are trying to meet the goal of making the game as fun as possible.

Trying to keep the players “on track” is trying to keep play in the zone “where the fun is”.  This is a potentially laudable goal, if the players are of the same mind as to what “the fun is”.  In this event, the GM need merely provide more context to the players in which to make their choices, and the result is good for everyone.  Sometimes, though, the GM is trying to protect his investment, and the interests of the players is not taken into account as strongly as they should be.  In such a situation, the players cannot “play smart” – they are not allowed to.  Dungeons move, die rolls are fudged, and events conspire to drive the players “where the fun is”.

I am not a big fan of this sort of thing.  When the party heads north even though they know that “the adventure” is to the south, chooses to avoid your carefully stocked dungeon, and runs like hell from your DM-PCs, maybe it is time to re-evaluate how you are running your game.

Dealing with the unexpected actions of the players generates at-the-table difficulty for the Game Master.  Want your players to deal well with the difficulties you put in their path?  Now is the time to show them how, by dealing well with the difficulties they put in your path.  Sooner or later, the players are going to diverge from the path you imagined.  Tacking with the wind is an essential skill for good GMing.

Note that this does not mean that there has to be “an adventure” anywhere the PCs go.  It does not mean that everywhere need be equally interesting.  But it does mean that there should be options and that, when it makes sense within the context of the world, going away from the expected route should be rewarded.

Why rewarded?  Doesn’t that train the players to ignore adventure hooks?

Well, it does to some degree, but it also teaches the players that their choices matter.  It teaches them that the world is not just the GM telling them where to go and what to do; when they end up in difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  If a character dies because of those difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  If there is a TPK because of those difficulties, it is not because the GM forced them into it.  By being allowed to make these kinds of choices, players become responsible for the choices that they make.

If the GM really wants the group to explore the Death Trap of Deadly Von Lich, don’t force it on them.  Entice them.  Let them know something about the treasure that might be found there.  Give them reasons to make going there a goal that they choose.  Have dangers issue from there.  Dare them.  Indeed, warning them away from the dungeon is the strongest lure to it for some players.  In other words, supply some context that motivates your particular group.  Create hooks between various locations in your game milieu, to remind players of areas yet unexplored, to pull them back to old areas, and to entice them into new.  That’s just part of good scenario design and presentation.

The GM has vast powers within the context of the game.  When things don’t go the way you planned, it is tempting – and all too easy – to merely force things back on track.  Just like experiencing difficulty makes things better for the players, doing the difficult thing, and letting the players go where they will, can make things better for you. 

Remember how the players having to change tactics denotes difficulty for them?  Well, so does the GM having to change tactics denote difficulty for you.  Have fun with it.  Keep a couple of minor lairs ready to place where you will.  Roll for wandering encounters.  Make shit up.  Keep in mind what is nearby, and important, and keep throwing hooks to those areas – towns, dungeons, castles, or whatever.  Let the PCs encounter a wandering circus. 

Although it may seem strange, I have found that the more you allow the players to take their characters wherever they will, the more attention they pay to the hooks you hand out.  After all, now it is incumbent on them to figure out where “the adventure is”!  The more choices the players feel they have, the less likely they are to avoid following your lead on principle.

Most of the difficulty the Game Master experiences is away from the table, in scenario design, selection, and/or comprehension.  There is always difficulty at the table, though, unless you demand your players to run their characters in lock-step with your wishes.  Accepting difficulty in play is less frequent for the GM than the players, but, if anything, it is more important that the GM be willing to experience difficulty for the game to be its best.