Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Dark Zodiac

I have always been fascinated with the zodiac and think it remains really gameable for an RPG campaign.  People have thought for generations that maybe the personalities of newborns were shaped by the Zodiac. Fast forward to 2016 and I still find it fun to poke around modern horoscopes when I see them. The Vistani and their fortune telling seem to align perfectly with the Zodiac. Below is a list I was working on for my own Curse of Strahd campaign. It could be used during character generation or alternatively when travelers cross the mist into the Demiplane of Dread.

The attribute changes are just suggestions based on the feel I was trying to accomplish. Obviously change them as you see fit for your own campaign. The dark powers are strange and affect everyone in ways that are not always the sum total of game mechanics. In the very least the Dark Zodiac opens all sorts of role-playing doors for your group while on vacation in Barovia.

No mater your choice, the Dark Zodiac is a fun way to introduce changes in a character’s personality. The more time they spend in Strahd’s domain the darkness seeps into them. Some of their worst qualities are heightened, while perhaps more redeeming ones are suppressed. Perhaps the characters can explore these changes around a campfire with a Vistani fortune teller? Maybe there is a way to reverse the changes that only the Vistani know about!

Dark Zodiac (1d12)

1. The Despot: March 21 - April 19 (Aries): You begin acting impulsively and demand things more often. You are prone to losing your temper when things don’t go your way. -1 to Wisdom and +1 to Strength

2. The Sinful: April 20- May 20 (Taurus): Your vanity knows no bounds. In addition you have become very materialistic. Self-indulgence is your new guilty pleasure. -1 to Wisdom +1 to Charisma

3. The Doppelganger: May 21 - June 20 (Gemini): You are prone to extreme shifts of being cheerful and then melancholy. You also love to hear yourself talk. -1 to Charisma +1 to Wisdom

4. The Spider: June 21 - July 22 (Cancer): You are very cautious and will not be easily pried away from your perceived safety zone. You have little trust of others. -1 Charisma +1 Intelligence

5. The Radiant: July 23 - August 22 (Leo): You are extremely charming but often to your detriment. You prefer to be the center of attention, regardless of the cost. -1 Wisdom +1 Charisma

6. The Mist: August 23 - September 22 (Virgo): You have become very pessimistic about everything. So much that you question the trust of everyone around you. -1 Wisdom +1 Intelligence

7. The Gargoyle: September 23 - October 22 (Libra): You have become very unsure of things and must weigh every option before making a decision. -1 Dexterity +1 Wisdom

8. The Zealot: October 23 - November 21 (Scorpio): Your mood has become fiery to say the least. What used to be passion is now anger over most things. -1 Wisdom +1 Constitution.

9. The Arcane: November 22 - December 21 (Sagittarius): You have become an insufferable know-it all with little social filter. Blunt would be putting it mildly. -1 Wisdom +1 Intelligence

10. The Monarch: December 22 - January 19 (Capricorn): You have developed a taste for controlling those around you. Everyone else is there for your benefit after all. -1 Constitution +1 Charisma

11. The Crow: January 20 - February 18 (Aquarius): Those around you are suspect and you now feel it’s your duty to judge them all. You often seem cold and aloof to others. -1 Charisma +1 Constitution

12. The Vagabond: February 19 - March 20 (Pisces): You have become gullible in wishing to leave this dark land. Your lack of direction at times is an albatross. -1 Wisdom +1 Dexterity

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Quest: Hugh's Weird Dice

Hugh the Valiant...
  • He once won a fist fight, only using his moustache.
  • His bell bottoms never wrinkle.
  • When critically hit, his blood smells like cologne.
  • He once rolled a fumble, just to see how it feels.
  • His friends call him by his name, his enemies don't call him anything because they are all dead.
He is the most Interesting Barbarian in the World.

Hugh is one of the iconic characters of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. A few years ago an official tube of weird dice belonging to themed after Hugh were released. The dice are colored the same white and red as Hugh's legendary bell bottoms.They contained D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8, D10, D%10, D12, D14, D16, D20, D24, and D30.

Unfortunately, they have been sold out at the Goodman Games website for quite some time. I have been told on several occasions there is no intention for now to make them again.

For the better part of the last year I have been trying to find a set to no avail. If you know anyone with a tube for sale (or trade) and could point me in the right direction it would be greatly appreciated. Please email me at realmofultanya@gmail[dot]com

Thank you in advance for helping complete this quest!

UPDATE: My quest is complete. Special thanks to Matt Hildebrand​​ for trading with me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Play’s The Thing

This past weekend marked the fifth year of our friends and family event, Ultracon. A good portion of the year two other DM’s and I work on a collaborative adventure. One which will accommodate up to eighteen players over the course of two days. This year we re-skinned the classic D&D module, S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I plan to write another blog post with details and pictures, but suffice to say the event was a blast. Crashed spaceship and lasers? Roll initiative!

In the evening we had after hours gaming and I ran DCC RPG using Black Powder, Black Magic by Stormlord Publishing. I used the zero level funnel in volume one, The Devil’s Cauldron and everyone enjoyed it. It was at the very moment I realized just looking around the room how much I enjoy actually PLAYING these games. As an adult with a ridiculous schedule it’s very easy to lose track of how much fun the RPG hobby is.

I can count on two hands the amount of times we gathered for a game session in the past year. Most of the gamers in my circle have kids, crazy work hours, and just family life in general. I’m definitely counted among one of those with the wackiest of schedules. Ultimately this is why our event Ultracon is so important, as it gathers us all for a short period of time. That said, I can see the same sentiment being shared by attendees of Gen Con this past week. Reconnecting with old friends and enjoying the timeless pastime of RPGs is invigorating.

So who else is left with wanting more? I personally have been filling the gaming void with DIY publishing and blogging over the years. It really has scratched that itch to play for me and served as a great creative outlet. But after every Ultracon I realize that it’s really just a band aid, a dice tower to contain that d20 just wishing to roll across the table. I have even purchased more OSR products then I can ever use as my gaming library is massive. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all of these publications and admire the work of the amazing OSR community. In the end through, all this reading throughout the year is just another distraction. A good one, but a distraction.

I plan to try and game more often in the future. Because nothing replaces gathering around the table, wooden or virtual, to enjoy an RPG. I often wonder when I read the plethora of blog posts every week if other people are suffering the same fate. Everyone seems to be talking about gaming, but how many are actually playing? If you are counted among those living vicariously through watching other people play, or reading about it, make a change.

Sure everyone’s circumstances are different, and schedules don’t fit neatly in a box. But with a little effort you may be able to help organize more game sessions, whatever your favorite RPG may be. Social media alone is riddled with players looking to connect and gather for a game. Or you may not have to look further then your own friends and family.

I purposefully named this blog post The Play’s The Thing. Shakespeare's plays were created first with performance in mind. For the uninitiated, they first existed on the stage well before ever existing on the page. In my opinion reading Shakespeare is far duller then experiencing it. The same can be said for RPGs, which ultimately are a collaborative story telling performance. Whatever your strategy may be, make it happen and roll more dice, because nothing replaces actually playing the game!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Castles Made of Sand

As usual my blog went mostly silent in July as I prepared for Ultracon and was on family vacation. I cannot reveal the theme for this year’s Ultracon as some of the players read this blog. Suffice to say, it contains six months of work and a custom 5E adventure. I will follow-up for sure with a post-convention report to share what we did. While on vacation I made a promise to myself that I would read a book. Interestingly, not was I only able to complete the book, but I never turned on my laptop once during vacation. My choice was Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer.

For the uninitiated, this is the dramatized biography of Gary Gygax, co-founder of Dungeons & Dragons. I had several people asking me on Twitter if I enjoyed the book and my response is a resounding YES! If you have ever been curious about the origin of this wonderful hobby, and D&D specifically, you should read this book. I was pleasantly surprised of how easy of a read it was, and was wishing for more at the end.

The book was a fascinating look into how the game was created, TSR was formed, and the rags to riches – and back to rags element. Working in the legal field, the litigious nature of the gaming industry was saddening to read about. That said the vignettes of Gary’s early life were my favorite part of the book. I think Witwer did a good job of taking us back to the beginning and showing all of Gary’s influences. My only criticism of the book is the length at 300 pages which I think is a tad short. It seems to me a life so well played has many more stories to tell. Maybe the Gygax children will follow-up one day with their own books.

Gary Gygax day actually just passed on July 27th, which celebrates Gary’s birthday each year. One of the items featured in Empire of Imagination is Gary’s legendary sand-topped table. Gary played many wargames on that table in the basement of his home. In the video below gaming historian Jon Peterson visits the old Gygax residence and shows what the sand table would have looked like:

As my own feet were buried in the sand of the beach, reading Empire of Imagination, my mind started to wander. What if player characters found a similar table that was magic? What sort of strange trinkets and objects may be buried in the sand? Please find below the start of fun list of such Gygax themed items. Perhaps you can help expand it by posting an idea?

Mordenkainen’s Marvelous Miniatures (1d4)

1.    A 35mm Tiger tank, complete with working cannon. The tank is able to attack as per a Lightning Bolt spell cast by an 11th level wizard once per day. If left in the sand of a gaming table for 24-hours it will recharge.

2.    70mm Fire Giant, complete with Hellhound sidekick. Upon the command of Ironbelly the figures will animate and attack one chosen target. Even in their diminutive state they have full attacks as per the Monster Manual. After one full round the figures turn to a pile of smoking ash.

3.    25mm Green Devil Face on a small stand. If taken off the stand the face will open its mouth, thus activating the Sphere of Annihilation inside. Any object inserted into the mouth will be subject to the sphere. Once something is so affected the Green Devil Face will dissolve into a cloud of smoke which briefly spells the name Acererak.

4.    54mm thimble which appears to be a suit of Chainmail armor. If placed on a finger it will magically garb the user in chainmail which is virtually weightless. The armor will last until the end of one full combat, at which point it reverts back to its original form. If left in the sand of a gaming table for 24-hours it will recharge.

And so castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kickstarter: Mutant Crawl Classics

Just in case you have been laying low in your fallout bunker, I wanted to boost the signal for Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC RPG). The latest Kickstarter from Goodman Games offers a post-apocalyptic version of their core game. Developed by Jim Wampler, MCC RPG should be making old Gamma World fans bask in the sun of irradiated beaches. I personally pledged the Kickstarter as soon as it went live and the offerings are fantastic. For more flavor on MCC RPG here is the project background:

Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic

You’re no zero. You’re a wasteland wanderer: a mutant, a seeker, a robot-killer, a stoic shaman guarding forgotten ancient sciences. You seek triumph and technology, winning it with mutations and magic, soaked in the radiation and quantum fields of the mutated, the savage, the semi-sentient, and the artificially intelligent. There are treasures to be won in the taboo lands and ruins, and you shall have them.

Return to the glory days of science fiction gaming with the Mutant Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure like it’s 1978 again, with modern rules grounded in the origins of post-apocalyptic role playing. Fast play, a mysterious future, and 100% compatibility with the DCC RPG system await you — just activate your artifact... 

Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC RPG) is a stand-alone setting that applies the DCC RPG rules to a post-apocalyptic setting. You'll love MCC if you like Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, or DCC RPG. You don't need to own DCC to play MCC.

Still not convinced? Here are additional resources to marinate on while you sip on that Mutant Cola:

•    A 29-page preview of the complete game, originally published in the Goodman Games 2015 Gen Con Program Guide. Includes information on the setting, character creation, character classes, mutations, artifacts, patron A.I.'s, and more!

•    A complete 13-page level 0 adventure, The Museum At the End of Time, originally published in the 2016 Free RPG Day module.

Here is actual play of the adventure, The Museum At the End of Time:

Still not sure if this game is for you? Maybe you don’t think you have the time to play it, or you are unsure of the genre, or perhaps you have never played DCC RPG. I would not let any of that dissuade you as this is a great opportunity to get in on the ground level. I consider myself a very careful Kickstarter backer as the stories are endless of failed or undelivered campaigns. MCC RPG comes from a respected company that is quite frankly just wonderful to the fans. This is one of those Kickstarters that I think people will regret not participating in if able. There are 8 days left for the Kickstarter and all the stretch goals are attainable!

Just for fun I decided to create a few things a wasteland wanderer may find in MCC RPG:

Oddities of the Wasteland (1d3)

1. You find a strange metallic device with a row of pointy prongs similar to teeth. Upon touch it begins to beep and feels slightly warm. This is a Power Comb which was created by the ancients. Unfortunately, its prior owner was a mutant who was diseased with Rad Lice. Anyone using the comb must make a DC15 Fortitude save or contract Rad Lice. These irradiated little beasties cause the inflicted to lose or gain mutations when making a Radburn check on a roll of 1-2 or 19-20. The Rad Lice have a life cycle of 1d16 days. Tech Level: 4 Complexity Level: 3

2. There is an small statue of a child in this room. As you get closer it appears to be an ancient doll in remarkable condition. Upon close examination you see its torso has a working power source. If the chest is depressed this old Laughter Bot is activated and it cackles immediately. Between shrieking laughter it says, “mama mama”  with outstretched hands. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the laughter bot’s hideous voice causes Croachlings to go berserk. The high frequency will summon all Croachlings in a 200’ radius, and they will attack any living creatures. Tech Level: 4 Complexity Level: 2

3. Digging through the sand you locate a bizarre sphere of pitted metal. Palm sized, it also appears to have an area which may be depressed similar to a button. No other markings or indications of its purpose are available. This five-pound device is a Viscid Grenade which was once used to control crowds. It contains enough material to be used three times before becoming useless. Once activated it will beep and cook-off for 1d3 rounds. Then sticky strands of material will fire in every direction from the device in a 20-foot radius. Anyone in the target area must make a DC15 Reflex save or become stuck in the strands for 1d3 rounds. A DC 20 Strength check is required to break free before the duration end. Tech Level: 4 Complexity Level: 3

MCC RPG Links:

Facebook Group

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: RPG Coasters

One thing common at every gaming table are a variety of beverages. Coasters keep the surface of the table safe from drips and condensation. If you are a gamer then you need cool coasters, right? Well look no further then! RPG Coasters are designed by Alexander Ingram and first started as a Kickstarter in 2015. I learned about these awesome coasters just after the Kickstarter had ended. I reached out to Alex and asked him to contact me when they became available for general sale.

Last week my set arrived and I spent a few days putting them through some tests. To say the coasters are beautiful table accessories would be an understatement. They are crafted using hard maple, black walnut and cherry wood.  My coasters arrived all individually packaged and ready for instant use in the Game Tavern. I was immediately impressed with the intricate design and craftsmanship. I requested a mixture of the three wood types for this review, although Cherry I thought was the standout. Black walnut remains my least favorite, as the darker color makes the design work a tad harder to see.

Each coaster is padded on the bottom with a ring of felt material to ensure your table is not scratched. This first set focuses on RPG character classes although custom orders are available. I decided to create a few custom pieces such as Game Tavern, Grand DM, and my wife’s favorite character Anjelica the Red. Alex has informed me the next coaster themed Kickstarter will probably be for horror, sci-fi and maybe modern games themed!

Available to order with your coasters is a very useful stand. These coaster stands hold the coasters upright so you can see and display the icons. The stand is sized for how many coasters you purchase. You also get to pick from the three wood types which is a nice added touch. The standard sizes in North America for beer coasters are 3.5 inch and 4 inch. RPG Coasters measure about 3.75 inches and therefore will accommodate most drinks. To provide you with a more a visual guide, I decided to test them with some of the drink ware in the Game Tavern.
The tools of the trade!

Standard Mead Horn

Standard Wine Goblet

Standard Whiskey Glass (sorry whiskey not included)

Standard Beer Bottle

Ceramic Beer Tankard

Pint Tankard (oops...where did the coaster go?)

I also used an RPG coaster most of the week to see how they held up to condensation. They are treated with a clear finish and definitely water resistant. I can report that these coasters have a high Armor Class, as no rings were left behind and they did not stick to my glass. Not only are these thematic coasters, but they are really nice pieces of furniture. Aside from their functionality, RPG Coasters are a wonderful conversation piece to add to your gaming area or home bar.

If you need a gift for that gamer that has everything your quest may be over! RPG Coasters would even be a great gift for the regular players of a gaming group. Who would not love to have a coaster customized with their favorite character’s name? Or maybe you want to get that awesome Dungeon Master in your life something epic for their game room?

Well now is the time to consider it. If you use the code ULTANYA at checkout you will receive 15% off your entire order until 7/20/16.

Level up your gaming table with some RPG Coasters!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Unhallowed Garrison, a Weird Civil War scenario.

This past weekend my family and I spent the day at a Civil War reenactment. Many years ago I was involved in Civil War living history in Gettysburg during the summer. I personally love the time period and hope to get back into the hobby now that my children are getting older. Of course while at the reenactment my mind kept wandering to potential gaming scenarios. As a big fan of Black Powder, Black Magic I decided to create one. With the announcement of volume #3 and several articles addressing black powder, I thought it appropriate to post this home-brew scenario I whipped up.

Unhallowed Garrison

This short 0-level funnel for DCC RPG is set during the mid-point of the American Civil War in the year 1863. The players will assume the role of men and women traveling to a remote recruiting garrison. Some are going to volunteer for service and others are delivering supplies. Unfortunately for the PCs all the soldiers in the garrison are now undead. Constructed on top of a vein of demon ore, something was released into the garrison causing this supernatural calamity.

The garrison can be placed anywhere in the States or Dark Territories. For purposes of this adventure the garrison soldiers do not know they are undead. They still perform their daily soldiering duties but with decayed minds. The commander of the garrison is Captain Simon Buckner. The captain is duty bound and was known in life for shooting deserters, something that continues in undeath.

When the PCs arrive at the garrison it will be in the middle of the night. A terrible stench of decay will permeate the area. Although nauseating, odors like this are not uncommon during this time frame. The garrison is small and consists of a palisade surrounding a few buildings. A large sign with an arrow points to the recruiting station. The garrison will appear to be deserted but a flickering light can be seen emanating from the shuttered windows of the recruiting station.

Recruiting Station

Inside the PCs will find Captain Simon Buckner, his back to them, seated at a desk. The reek of death is almost palpable here and flies buzz around the entire room. Once he is addressed the Captain will turn around revealing his emaciated and rotted countenance. The Captain has absorbed the bulk of whatever foul essence was inside the demon ore.  He is now considered a patron level creature, known by his men as The Old Soldier. As such the Captain is immune to mundane attacks, and any attempts by the PCs will be fruitless.

The Captain will demand the PCs sign their recruitment forms and prepare for the company surgeon to perform a medical inspection. At this point the characters should be terrified and running for their lives. When they spill out into the garrison more soldiers in various state of decay will start to appear. The Captain will follow screaming the PCs are deserters and commanding his men to kill them.

On The Run

If the PCs stay and fight it should be a slaughter. The garrison has thirty undead Union soldiers and of course Captain Buckner himself. One takeaway of this adventure is to expose PCs to The Old Soldier so he can be used as a recurring villain in a future games. As most BPBM sessions occur in 1880, legends of The Old Soldier could have been passed down to the next generation. Below please find several encounters to use as the PCs try to escape the garrison soldiers.

1. Undead Infantry Attack. Several of the rotting soldiers pursue the PCs. Although they shamble some and can be outran, their Springfield rifles have a long reach. The undead never tire and will track the PCs all night, able to smell the warm blood coursing through their veins. They will march is close formation; fire volleys when possible, and fix bayonets if melee occurs.

Undead Union Soldier (10). Init -1; Atk Bayonet +1 melee (1d6) or rifle +1 missile (1d12); AC 10; HD 1d6; MV 20’, Act 1d20, SP un-dead; SV Fort +4, Ref -1, Will +2; AL C. Each soldier is armed with a Springfield Model 1861 and 10 minié bullets.

2. Undead Artillery Battery.  This unit is setup on a low ridge with a clear view of the valley leaving the garrison. It will fire the cannon on the PCs if they are being pursued by any infantry from their company. They are using shrapnel rounds with a bursting charge which consists of 75 iron balls. The cannon has a range of 400 yards and will be fired to explode some 15’ overhead of the PCs. Each time the cannon is fired the PCs must make a DC12 Reflex save to avoid the bursting rounds. Those which fail take 1d30 damage. If the PCs cross the valley and charge the artillery position, the crew will defend the cannon. Anyone with the appropriate background (Artilleryman, Gunsmith, etc.) may be able to operate the cannon with some help.

Undead Union Cannoneer (4). Init -1; Atk knife +0 melee (1d4) or light pistol +1 missile (1d8); AC 10; HD 1d6; MV 20’, Act 1d20, SP un-dead; SV Fort +4, Ref -1, Will +2; AL C. Each cannoneer is armed with a knife, Colt Model 1860 Army, and 12 bullets.

3. Sacred Cabin. A storm will enter the valley causing a down pour of rain and lightning strikes. The weather will hamper the PCs greatly and also risk potential death. Every round the PCs stay traveling in the storm there is a cumulative 5% chance of a lightning strike which causes 4d6 damage. Those looking for shelter will notice some nearby ruins. One of the buildings appears to be an old wooden cabin with a serviceable roof. The inside of the cabin is Spartan with a filthy old mattress, broken desk, and ash filled fireplace. Unfortunately, it was built atop a sacred burial site of a local Indian tribe. The combination of the storm and undead activity in the area has awoken a violent spirit. When the storm passes the PCs will find the remnants of a haunted bivouac site outside.

Angry Ghost. Init +1; Atk lifedrain +2 melee (1d6); AC 12; HD 2d12; MV 30’ fly; Act 1d20; SP un-dead, life drain; SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +4; AL C. Life drain: This attack withers the target and replenishes the Angry Ghost’s HP total.

4. Powder Mill. Perched nearby a river is the old Croxton Powder Mill. Several accidental explosions in 1861 closed the mill permanently. The orders for powder far exceeded what the little mill could handle and greed cast safety aside. With the garrison soldiers still in hot pursuit, this large building is a perfect place for the PCs to make their last stand. All walls are constructed from stone and still sturdy. The inside is mostly devoid of anything but enterprising PCs will find barrels of powdered charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter.

Anyone with the appropriate background could lead the group into making some makeshift powder kegs. Since this is the final encounter let the player’s use their lobby GM roll liberally. Allow the PCs to create 2d30+28 damage points of powder kegs before the garrison soldiers siege the powder mill. They can divide the points up into different increments per keg, with a minimum of 10 points. When they explode anyone in a 30’ radius takes the damage, DC12 Reflex save for half.

Undead Union Soldier (10). Init -1; Atk Bayonet +1 melee (1d6) or rifle +1 missile (1d12); AC 10; HD 1d6; MV 20’, Act 1d20, SP un-dead; SV Fort +4, Ref -1, Will +2; AL C. Each soldier is armed with a Springfield Model 1861 and 10 minié bullets.

Undead Union Cavalryman (6). Init -1; Atk Sabre +1 melee (1d6) or light pistol +1 missile (1d8); AC 10; HD 1d6; MV 20’, Act 1d20, SP un-dead; SV Fort +4, Ref -1, Will +2; AL C. Each cavalryman is armed with a sabre, Colt Model 1860 Army, and 12 bullets. These undead are mounted on skeletal horses which have a MV of 40’. The latter will collapse into a pile of bones if its rider is destroyed.