Saturday, December 26, 2015

Giveaway results!


I had a total of 20 entries for my 12 Days of OSR Christmas giveaway between blog posts and emails. I randomly rolled a trusty D20 and the following are the winners:

Congratulations and I will be emailing all three of you to get the email/physical address of your nominees. Thanks and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

12 Days of OSR Christmas

Today the original cover art of Tales from the Game Tavern # 1 was sent to +Christopher Hardy. Back in November I did a giveaway and he was the lucky roll to receive Smite or Treat. The piece is the fine work of Ike Horton Arts and looks very nice framed as depicted below.

As this will probably be my last post this year I wanted to do one last giveaway! Tenkar’s Tavern is once again hosting the OSR Christmas and I wanted to participate. For background this is a yearly event organized by Tenkar in which items are gifted throughout the gaming community. It’s a really cool thing to do and the spirit behind it is just wonderful.

For my portion of the giveaway I wanted to focus on those gamers that may be down on their luck this season. I would like to send out a couple zines to gamers who could really use some encouragement. Do you know someone who doesn’t get much over the holidays – but always provides for everyone around them? Do you know a gamer that could use a smile going into the New Year?

If the answer is yes, I would like you to nominate them. Here is how to proceed:

In the comments below, please include: (You can also email your nominations to realmofultanya[at]

• How you know this fellow gamer
• Why you feel they should receive this gift
• Please DO NOT include their name. I will follow-up to get that information later.

I will randomly roll to determine three recipients of Tales from the Game Tavern issue #2 (Print +PDF). With Christmas being this Friday, I will probably alert the winners over the weekend. Thanks and best wishes for a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tales from the Game Tavern: Issue #2

Looking for inspiration for your winter game sessions? Tales from the Game Tavern issue #2 is now available for purchase in hard copy and PDF! This has been a really fun project since there little secret how much I love anything Krampus related. The old pagan traditions of the holiday season are just wonderful for table-top gaming. With Krampus becoming so popular this seemed like a perfect time to create this issue. Inside you will find all system agnostic game material. So whether you play BCMI, a retro clone or 5E it does not matter.

The contents of issue #2 as follows:

  • Klergy of Krampus: They know when you’re naughty or nice.  
  • Figurines of Mischievous Power: Four statuettes with a devilish side.
  • The Frozen Man: A bone-chilling terror for your campaign.    
  • Gruss vom Krampus: A mid-level seasonal adventure and hex crawl.
  • Krampusnacht Curios: Twelve minor magic items gifted by Krampus.    
  • Roast Beast Soup: A delicious recipe for the cold winter nights

As you can see there is a wonderful assortment of Krampus related material for your campaign. If you are planning on gathering after the New Year, Gruss vom Krampus is a perfect adventure and story of redemption to run the players through. I hope all of you have as much fun reading and using issue #2 as I had creating it.

Obviously by releasing this issue during the holidays we will be subject to slowed shipping. That being said, if it takes a few days longer to arrive I would ask for your patience. Best wishes to everyone for a safe and happy holiday season. Wassail!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: D100

Back in the 1980s collecting dice was part and parcel with playing role playing games. There was no online ordering or social media to help spread images of new products all over. Sure there were printed publications but they only reached the audience that purchased them. I think as a young gamer part of the fun was just discovering new things and it made the FLGS very important. My favorite haunt was Allied Hobbies in Philadelphia during that time frame. It was there that I saw my very first D100 or correctly known as the Zocchihedron.

Having already been enamored with collecting polyhedral dice this monstrosity was the big times! WOW. It had 100 facets and was the size of a golf ball. When rolled on the table it would barrel over miniatures like the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder trap! I NEEDED one of these and would double my chore efforts to save enough for one. I eventually collected quite a few of them and ironically they never saw much use. They were utilized more as little maracas by my younger sisters than ever on the game table. The sound came from diminutive weights inside the die which assisted it to settle when rolled.

Lou Zocchi, the founder of Gamescience, invented the Zocchihedron after several years of development. Lou’s dice are definitely my favorite to this day and I was very excited to see Gamescience back in business after a short hiatus. The Zocchihedron to me is synonymous with old school nostalgia. Even to this day they are a blast to pull out and use even when two D10s would be easier. This is especially true if you are playing any sort of percentile based RPG. The Zocchihedron can be used to create some table suspense as everyone crowds around to see the result of some important roll.

The die did not come without some old drama however which started in the 1987 issue 85 of White Dwarf. An analysis sent in by reader Jason Mills allegedly showed bias to numbers at the poles of the die. My understanding is Lou Zocchi subsequently corrected the issue by using less glue that held the two die halves together. That remedial measure removed extra weight which in turn was causing the potential bias. I personally never experienced this and my Zocchihedrons have always seemed to roll rather randomly.

So did you collect the legendary Zocchihedron? Have you used them during your game sessions or are they only a novelty die? With the holiday season upon us a Zocchihedron would be a fun gift for that hard to buy for gamer. In the very least they make for a great conversation piece and ultimately are really fun to roll.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Crown Royal Bags

According to their website approximately fifty million velvet bags are stitched for Crown Royal every year. With inventory like that being distributed all over the world it’s no wonder they became filled with dice at so many game tables. I still recall using mine as a dice bag in the early 80s because my father enjoyed Crown Royal during the holidays. In fact I specifically remember him giving me one because he had no use for it. Admittedly I think at first I stored my marble collection inside it.

Back then there was no social media helping to set trends. Rather RPG players just gravitated to them because they were awesome for dice storage. Shades of purple are a very medieval theme with the gold stitching and draw strings just enhancing the presentation.

This past summer I purchased thirty to use as loot bags for our friends and family gathering Ultracon. It was really fun having so many sprawled out all over the Game Tavern. After all these years they still remain my favorite dice bags and I’m sure nostalgia plays a role in that. However I challenge you to find a dice bag anywhere else that comes with a free bottle of whiskey!

Interestingly Crown Royal is now offering custom bags with which you can add your own message. All of the colors are available making it a great resource if you are on the hunt for a particular bag. If you are looking for a gift this holiday season for that special gamer this may be a good choice. Below are a few examples of some colors rarely seen even around popular game conventions:

So do you use a Crown Royal bag for your dice? If so do you recall the earliest time you had one? Or were they never a thing at your game gatherings. When I was growing up you were not cool unless you had one but I know people have different experiences. One thing is for sure if you meet the Crown Royal Wizard during a dungeon crawl wearing the below robe you better roll initiative or run away!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Interview: Jarrod Shaw of Mythoard

Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Jarrod Shaw of Mythoard. For the uninitiated Mythoard is a monthly subscription box filled with RPG material. The typical content consists of modules, supplements, dice, minis, zines, maps, accessories and more. If you are looking for a gift this holiday season for someone who enjoys RPGs then consider Mythoard. Or maybe you just want to give yourself a gift subscription?  Hey, it’s a lot of work being a game master and Mythoard delivers inspiration every month!

As a small DIY publisher I was excited to include Tales from the Game Tavern #1 in the October 2015 Mythoard. I definitely will be back to the hoard in the future and encourage other publishers to consider it.

Without further ado’ here is the interview:

Interview: Jarrod Shaw

Date: 24 November 2015

For background how long have you been a gamer?

First introduced in '89, I was 8, then got my first book, Rules Cyclopedia in '91

For those readers new to Mythoard can you explain what it is?

Mythoard is a monthly subscription box, which only contains TTRPGs.  Each month, our members get a box mailed to them that is packed with great gaming material, primarily from small press and indie publishers and makers.

I really like the name, Mythoard. Any particular inspiration when deciding on it?

I was spit-balling ideas for the company around with several folks at the time. When speaking with Michael Tresca about name possibilities, he tossed out Mythoard, and the family and I were instantly in love with the name.  I can't take credit for that!

I suppose the name indicates, at least in my brain, a mammoth cavern, full of rare treasures.  Definitely a quest location!

So in November Mythoard was celebrating its one year anniversary. Looking ahead what can we expect in 2016?

We have a lot planned for the upcoming year!  We are just finishing up an upgrade to our site which will allow members to sign into their own account. A feedback system is in the works, which will allow members to rate and comment on the items in the hoard each month.  We would like to get custom boxes soon.  Also, we plan on doing at least 6 cons in 2016, as opposed to 2 this year.  More Prizes.  More Press.  More Mythoard!

What separates Mythoard from all the other subscription boxes out there?

Content.  Absolutely.  To my knowledge, no one is doing what we are doing.  Not only are we offering only TTRPGs, we are focused sharply on the small press.

How should a potential RPG maker or DIY publisher contact you?

Email is the best route,

If someone was skeptical of subscription boxes what would your advice be?

Give us a try.  It's only $25 shipped, and it could change your life.  Seriously, our boxes are sexy, and when someone sees you reading material from it, they will praise you unending for your outright coolness.  If not, well, it's only twenty five bucks.

What is your go to tabletop game at the moment?

DCC.  Dragon Quest is a close second right now though. I have only gotten to run it a handful of times, but the mechanics blow me away.

THACO, love it or leave it?

It confused the hell out of me as a youngin'.  Haven't ran 2nd in a decade I bet, but THAC0 has never scared me off.

I see the OSR is dead posts now again and they make me chuckle. What are your thoughts on that?

Seems pretty damn vibrant to me!  OSR is not a simple, one size fits all label. People like to slander things that don't adhere to a definable protocol.  Haters gonna hate.

I was curious if Mythoard will ever assemble some themed boxes down the road?

Yes.  It's a beast to arrange a regular box, so the curating for a themed box seems scary, but I'd like to try it out one month.

The MEGA HOARD seems like a good marketing opportunity. Can publishers donate items to that?

That's the primary source of acquirement!  Absolutely!

OK, you are in a dark corridor and your torch is about to flicker out. A nasty gash on your head from a battle with a goblin has left your vision blurred. The way behind you is clear but ahead there is chest filled with treasure. You sense the presence of something else in the corridor. What do you do?

There's likely more goblins here so I'd say in broken goblin.  "I've still got a good fight in me, so if you wish to leave unharmed, we can half this treasure and go our separate ways." Then try to backstab, backstab, backstab.
Some past spoils of the hoard!

OK, now for some really fun questions!

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?

Elfin.  Or Fissure.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Music. Gaming. Cannabinoids.

What turns you off?


What is your favorite curse word

Sh*ta$s (it’s a compound word)

What sound or noise do you love?

When its really quiet and a hundred birds just take off, all at once.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Babys Crying. Fake twang.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


What profession would you not like to do?


If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"Finally...  What took you so long? Get on in here! Here's the keys to my mansion, Maserati, and moonshine cabinet.  I am going out for a while and I don't know when I will be back.  Watch over my creations.  Don't be afraid to toss some disaster down there if they get unruly!  Heck, throw some down there anyway.  Keeps em on their toes!  My boy is around here somewhere.  He's a big fan and was wondering if you wanted to split a bottle of wine and throw some dice.  Just shoot him a text when you are settled in.  And remember, above all else, take your shoes off in my dojo!  I just had that floor refinished..."  Something like that anyhow.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Return to Brookmere

In Return to Brookmere, you will be an elven fighter named Brion. As Brion, you are five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds. You have shoulder-length honey blonde hair, pointed ears, and brilliant gray-green eyes. Like all elves, you have elvensight allowing you to see object up to 60 feet away in the dark by the heat they give off. Although elves are not as strong as humans, they are very clever and quick. Elves are able to speak the languages of orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, and gnolls as well as the "common" language of humans.

For your adventure, your father, King Cedrus, has given you a finely made suit of silvery chainmail that covers you from head to waist. Chain mail looks like a heavy knit silver sweater but its woven from metal, not wool. Chainmail is light, flexible and will protect you in combat. You wear your chainmail under a purple wool tunic. Sturdy black leather breeches and tall black boots complete your outfit. You are armed with a sword and a dagger and carry a polished metal shield. A leather pouch filled with food and water is tied at your waist.

There is a heavy gold chain around your neck. At the end of the chain is a golden charm, worked in precious gems, in the shape of dragon's head. The charm is the fabled amulet, the Mouth of Mimulus. With the help of this magical necklace, you will be able to speak with and understand any creature you meet on your adventure.

The dangers awaiting you will challenge your skills to the limit. Gather your wits about you. Take a firm hold on your sword, and take the first step into . . . adventure!

This was the first of the Endless Quest series I read when I was ten years old. As a young player I voraciously poured over the series when I could not gather anyone to play D&D with. There was a total of 36 books in the original series all released during the 1982-1987 time frame. Most of my collection was lost over the years or destroyed in a basement flood. But I have managed to slowly cobble the collection back together using sites like Ebay. 

Return to Brookmere will always be my favorite because as a young reader it was very absorbing. I must have tried every possible combination of results before finally putting it down. Tim Truman's interior art I have always found to be very compelling and thumbing through the book creates nostalgia. I enjoy the full color art in many modern systems but nothing can beat the old back and white drawings. 

If you have any young gamers in your house these books would be worth picking up as a holiday gift.  Especially if they are fledgling D&D players since they will encounter everything from a talking amulet to a gelatinous cube! Granted the books have no characteristics, maps, or combat rolls but capture the essence of D&D very well.

So what was your favorite Endless Quest book? Have you ever converted any of them into an adventure for your players? And most importantly do you still have any of them in your collection?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Giveaway Results!

The Tales from the Game Tavern #1 giveaway results are in! I used my Halloween colored Gamescience dice to roll up the winners which are as follows:

Congratulations to the winners! Please be sure send your mailing address to realmofultanya (AT) gmail (DOT) com. In the email also please include your Google+ name. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tales from the Game Tavern Giveaway!

Tales from the Game Tavern issue #1 was launched with a giveaway contest for the original cover art by Ike Horton Arts. Every dead tree copy purchased during the month of October counted as a raffle ticket. This morning I used a random generator to select a winner and Christopher Hardy will be the proud owner of Smite or Treat! Congratulations Chris, we hope the painting finds a display place in your gaming area and that it inspires you every Halloween!

Smite or Treat original painting

Smite or Treat as it appears on issue #1

When originally designing the first issue I was not sure what to expect in terms of the community. The response was wonderful and I’m happy to report I have begun working on issue #2. That being said the creation of any publication is a big learning process. No matter how many times you proof read a few typos are bound to slip through. To that end I have six copies of issue #1 with minor mistakes I will be giving away!

To be entered in the giveaway respond to this post with what Halloween themed gaming you did during October. If you did not have a chance to roll any dice this year than a past experience is fine also. One entry per person! Because of shipping costs this giveaway will only be open to US entrants. I will use a random generator to pick the winners on the 12th of November. Good luck!

Finally I just wanted to thank Ike Horton for not only creating the amazing cover of issue #1 but also donating the original to the launch raffle. If anyone needs paper cut art Ike is the guy you should be contacting. Not only does he have amazing talent but he can visualize exactly what you are looking for. Check out some of Ike's other work here!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Session Report: I6 Ravenloft

With Halloween still upon us I thought this post may be helpful for those planning their own Ravenloft excursion this month. I6: Ravenloft is gothic horror classic and my favorite of all the early AD&D published modules. Every October I run the adventure because it has such wonderful replay value. The main villain, Count Strahd von Zarovich has the classic yet tragic story of a fall from grace. As a vampire who is hundreds of years old his motivations can be different every time you play the adventure. Additionally, castle Ravenloft itself is so voluminous it’s impossible to explore in one game session. This makes it absolutely perfect as a Halloween one shot every year.

Always wanting to mix things up, I created a situation this year which was a mash-up an existing motivation and something new. For background Strahd once loved a woman named Tatyana, who rejected him in favor of his younger brother Sergei. On Sergei and Tatyana's wedding day Strahd murdered his brother and the grieving Tatyana jumped from the walls of Ravenloft to her death. Hundreds of years later in the small town of Barovia dwells a woman named Ireena Kolyana, who is basically a reincarnation of Tatyana. Strahd in the madness of his undead curse still loves Tatyana and wants Ireena to be her.

Traditionally the player characters are drawn into this adventure when they arrive in Barovia and learn Ireena has been bitten twice by a vampire. One of the published motivations of Strahd in I6 is: Strahd will attempt to charm all of the PCs, and make them attack Ireena. When they attack, Strahd will swoop down and save her from the PCs. Strahd hopes that the rescue will turn Ireena's heart to him. He wants Ireena to love him willingly rather than by force.

My twist this year included this motivation as part of my story. First I wanted to design some dark and gothic characters for the players to pick from. I have enjoyed the game Darkest Dungeon and thought the character types in the game were a great source of inspiration. Using the 5E ruleset I created a Bounty Hunter (ranger), Grave Robber (rogue), Mortician (rogue/wizard), Exorcist (fighter/cleric), Leper (fighter), and Plague Doctor (cleric). After tweaking their backgrounds a bit I had a cadre of gothic characters fit for a night of Ravenloft.  I also used the character images from Darkest Dungeon to make table name cards for the players.

My friend Tom was driving about six hours to attend the tabletop session so I decided to make his character the de facto leader of the group. He played the Bounty Hunter and had a career altering mark to collect in the lands of Barovia. Knowing of the darkness that is prevalent there he gathered his associates to ensure success. The bounty was a man named Lief and apparently the burgomaster of Barovia knew his whereabouts. Why his client wanted this man and was willing to pay so much money was never revealed. In I6 Lief Lipsiege is actually an accountant who has been in the service of Strahd for years.

For my session this year Lief was changed to a vampire spawn traveling the land in the disguise of a Vistani gypsy. The bounty was an elaborate setup to draw powerful opponents into Barovia so Strahd could complete his goal of “saving Ireena”. Without outsiders there is little in the way of challenge for a 400 year old and very legendary vampire. The players arrived on the outskirts of Barovia and stopped at an inn for a hot meal and room for the night. A stranger (Lief) appeared and delivered them a forged letter from the Burgomaster asking for their help in Barovia. This was curious to the players since they were already heading there. The real letter was in the hand of a man who perished a week earlier at the hands of Strahd’s creatures of the night. This was actually the first tip off that something was very much afoot and not right. For my story Strahd was concerned news may have spread to the outlining borders that he was a vampire. He could not risk losing his opportunity to impress Ireena and wanted ensure the heroes actually came.

The players would eventually find the actual letter after crossing over into Barovia. But unfortunately they also became aware that the strange mists prevented them from leaving. I usually try and design props for special game sessions but had time constraints this year. However I was able to create both the letters which consisted of printing them on my inkjet and aging the paper. I used a technique which has never failed me for years. Liberally wet the paper and dissolve instant coffee on it. Let the paper marinate in the instant coffee for darkness and then drain. I then bake the paper in the oven at 350 until it dry’s and curls and then have awesome looking (and smelling) parchment props. Tactile props can really add atmosphere to your game if not overused.

The players enjoyed handling the letters and comparing the differences in real time. And the fact that they appear as they would in the game really adds to immersion. In terms of other props I also took some old six sided dice and splattered them with red paint to appear bloody. These twelve dice were part of the Dark Inspiration pool. I then placed them inside a gothic looking bowl right in the center of the game table. At any time during the session a player could use one to increase an ability check, saving throw or to hit roll. The catch was for every dark inspiration die used one had to be given to the Dungeon Master. Dark powers are tempting but alas they come with a price!

Soon the players made their way into the forlorn village of Barovia. Here they would meet Ireena, a priest who was protecting the village with nightly prayers and learn the burgomaster was indeed dead. Using magic and elbow grease they helped to rebuild the church some but were stopped by the attacks for Strahd’s night creatures. Strahd himself pounded on the Wizard Locked doors and not much sleep was had by anyone. In the morning the players accompanied with Ireena set off to find a camp of Vistani gypsies who apparently knew where Lief may be.

Eventually the players would learn Lief was inside Castle Ravenloft and they would strike a deal with the Vistani. One of their own, a women named Helga was Strahd’s captive. If they would liberate this woman the Vistani would provide them with the secret of parting the mists and escaping Barovia. With Lief and Helga potentially in the same place they headed to the imposing castle. Once inside they had dinner with Strahd (or his illusions) with one player chomping happily on grapes which turned out to be eyeballs!

Their adventures inside the castle eventually led them to a sweeping staircase filled with portraits and murals. The images were blurred and writing smeared or scratched. The Mortician decided to use his Mending cantrip to clear them up a bit. Unfortunately the first one he repaired was the painting of Sergei to which Ireena recognized and read his name out loud. To this point the players had not encountered Strahd but I placed an hour glass on the table. They had no idea what this meant but it was my timer for when he would make his first appearance.

When this incident occurred it only had about five minutes left and I decided Ireena being exposed to the painting would enrage Strahd. So he dropped down from the rafters and smacked Ireena right off the landing. She fell over 70’ to her death below on the stone floor similar to Tatyana’s fate so long ago. The first battle did not go well for the player characters as the Exorcist became the subject of Strahd’s anger and also perished. After a few moments Strahd withdrew with a diabolical laughter. His plans ruined he would now toy with these men and woman with a game of cat and mouse.

Soon the players would also find Helga who unbeknownst to them was a vampire spawn. Not caring any longer about the bounty for Lief they began to flee Ravenloft with Helga. Half way out of the castle she attacked as the sand in the timer was getting dangerously low again. The tension created by the hour glass along was music from Dracula Untold was palpable. Right after defeating Helga the Bounty Hunter opened a door and Strahd was standing there.

The second battle was a great example of sound strategy and epic dice rolling. Using the Mold Earth cantrip the players excavated the ground beneath Strahd. Unfortunately he grabbed the Bounty Hunter and started biting him on the face. As the players attacked Strahd he floated in the hole and used his legendary actions to press his attack on the Bounty Hunter. Amazingly the Bounty Hunter rolled two natural 20s on his turn and took Strahd’s life total down by 75% just with his attacks! A well placed sneak attack with a magic shovel from the Grave Robber and some radiant damage from the Exorcist had Strahd on the ropes.

The Bounty hunter then died the next round as the Mortician cast Earth Bind on Strahd slamming him into the ground over 30’ in the room below. This was enough to make him form into mist and return to his resting place. The players then gathered themselves and proof of Helga’s demise and ran out of Ravenloft castle. The Vistani were saddened by the news of Helga but kept of their end of the bargain. Soon after the player characters crossed the borders of Barovia with use of a special elixir and never looked back.

Obviously, I did not include all the details of our 8 hour game session but I think I gave a good flavor. The foundation I believe in running I6 is the gothic horror element of it. The story needs a slow build up to the point where they player characters encounter Strahd. In traditional gothic horror there is a pervading sense of uncertainty coupled with usually a nearly insurmountable foe. This was my eleventh Halloween season running this adventure and Strahd has most of the victories. This year the player’s legitimately won and can wear that badge of honor with pride. When Strahd became mist there was a round of hi-fives all around the game table.

In a decade, only once has Strahd been staked in my game sessions and that occurrence will continue to be a rare very instance. Defeating Strahd in my opinion should be surviving him and stopping whatever his immediate machinations may be. Strahd will always be a name that strikes fear in the players which gather around the table in the Game Tavern. After all he is ancient, he is the land, he is Strahd…

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future

With today being Back to the Future Day I could not help to reflect on 1985 versus 2015. Certainly role playing games have come a very long way from the witch hunts of the 80s. Now just about every facet of pop-culture phenomena has been touched in some way by my favorite game, Dungeons & Dragons. Back in 1985 I had been playing the game for a whole two years at that point. I definitely considered myself a seasoned dungeon master and wish I had some Polaroids of those early sessions. After all we were playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons unlike some of the kids in the neighborhood!

I did manage to find a few of my old adventures scribbled on graph paper and jammed into a Trapper Keeper. How anyone survived those games is beyond me as they were loaded with every horror imaginable. Below is a 1985 clipping from Newsweek which really gives a glimpse into the ridiculous fear D&D generated:

Back to the Future, we now know all that fear was completely unfounded and that role playing games are wonderful creative outlets. Other benefits include social interaction, teamwork, problem solving and mathematics. In fact role playing games are absolutely wonderful for kids! For adults role playing games allow us to exhibit skills we may not otherwise tap into on a daily basis. Things like leadership, project management and logistics. But most important of all is gathering with friends and family to help tell a story and use our imaginations.

In Back to the Future II Marty McFly read a paper which forecast certain things about 2015. Interestingly some of the predictions back in 1989 were correct about the future. So I thought what would a Dragon Magazine cover maybe look like if they added it to the movie? Hopefully this generates a chuckle of two for some of you today…and remember as Doc Brown said, “Your future is whatever you make it – so make it a good one."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Another D&D Movie

So the new Dungeons & Dragons movie will be moving ahead because of a settlement agreement. Admittedly I’m excited about this news but will reserve the right to make a saving throw once we learn more about it. Exploiting the geek culture has been really rampant the last few years. Big companies have realized there is lots of money to be made and now everyone wants “geek cred”. The problem is those of us that have always been here can sniff out a poser faster than you can roll a D20. Forbes had a great post called Fake Geek Girls Go Away a few years ago that was right on point.

That remains my biggest concern when something as big as Dungeons & Dragons comes back to the big screen. I know Hasbro is involved but honestly that can mean many different things. Will actual players of the game be consulted and utilized? Will it be screened by those of us that were rolling dice and exploring dungeons before it was cool? Or will it helmed by yet another director and group of producers that think they are in touch with the RPG culture? Having the poser geeks running things behind the DM screen will be another recipe for disaster regardless of what their cinema credentials may be.

There has been some recent stir about Vin Diesel possibly being involved in the movie. While I think that would be the icing on the potential awesome cake it does not excite me on a granular level. What would excite me would be the approach Wizards of the Coast took when designing 5th edition. They polled the community of real players and actually used the feedback provided. Quite honestly, even if they never used ANY of the feedback it was a smart marketing strategy. And if anything it put their internal ideas to test against a much bigger think tank, i.e. the public.

Even though I highly doubt Hollywood would ever use a strategy like that I think it’s a missed opportunity. The previous Dungeons & Dragons movies were dismal in so many ways it was almost laughable. I just cannot imagine spending millions of dollars on a project without completely understanding the game and its fans. Many people want to be part of the geek renaissance but their true investment in the culture is only skin deep. Sort of like the guy who was trying to convince me he had the same Game of Thrones shirt. I had to ruin his day and explain I was actually wearing the Dungeons & Dragons ampersand.

What are your thoughts or hopes for the new Dungeons & Dragons movie?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Character Sheets

When I think of old school D&D images like the Red Box, light blue dice, crayons, and character sheets come to mind. Specifically the green colored basic sheet and AD&D goldenrod colored sheet. I can still see the eraser hole in the hit point box on my first green sheet. Back in the early 1980s I could not just run off an endless supply of character sheets on my printer. Official character sheets were like gaming group treasure!

At one point our supply was so limited everyone just used notebook paper. If your character survived to 3rd level you were permitted to use one of the coveted green sheets. The former became a badge of honor in our little gaming circle. The theme of character sheets adding to player credibility was taken a step further when we moved onto AD&D. I mean come on after all this was ADVANCED D&D we were talking about!

If you had a character on a goldenrod sheet that meant you were clearly a veteran player. At ten or eleven years old most of us could not even navigate the Gygaxian prose of the AD&D books. When I think back to all of this now it gives me a good chuckle. But alas, that was the logic of a bunch of kids learning the game together over what seemed like an endless summer. 

A few years later we would be making our own character sheets and printing them with a Dot Matrix. Back then we called our heavily house ruled version of the game ID&D for Improved Dungeons & Dragons. I think some of the grognards in my circle may actually still have a few copies. Nowadays there is virtually any type of character sheet you could dream up available for download. Mad Irishman Productions made replicas of the green and goldenrod vintage sheets. They are available for download in PDF on their website below:

Download AD&D2 1st Edition Character Record Replicas (2 pages, 804 K) 

So thinking back on this Throwback Thursday which of the old school character sheets are your favorite?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Side Trek: Haunted House

Haunted houses have captured the imagination of people around camp fires and Halloween gatherings for years. Every family and group of friends has their own stories to tell about strange occurrences that may have been supernatural phenomena. As a kid I can recall many abandoned and creepy houses that my friends and I found in the woods. At least one of those times several of us thought we saw some pale face staring back at us from an attic window. During October game sessions I think players are expecting the DM to whip up something scary. So below please find a side trek to add to your seasonal tool belt of horror. 

This house once belonged to a family which retained a gypsy to conduct a séance. They wished to make contact with the other side to determine if the house was haunted. Strange things had been occurring in and around the home which caused some significant injuries. One family member had fallen from a ladder but reported they were actually pushed off.  One of the children became lost in the woods and nearly drowned in the nearby river before being discovered. The child’s story was she was lead to the river by a nice old lady.

The gypsy was well regarded and arrived to work as a medium with the help of her Ouija board. Legend holds that whatever malevolent spirit indeed haunted the house became enraged when the séance began. The poltergeist possessed the body of the gypsy and violently attacked the assembled family. What became of them still to this day no one can say but the house has been long abandoned.

Player Hooks (1d4)
1.    The player characters learn about the haunted house while frequenting a local tavern. Use some of the background information mixed with false rumors.
2.    After traveling for several hours and exhausted the characters decide to seek shelter from the rain in what appears to be an abandoned house.
3.    One of the characters was related to the now deceased family of the house. While passing through the area in-between adventurers they decide to visit.
4.    The player characters are hired by the nearby village to clean the house of the evil spirit which dwells there. Again use the background information to fill in the story.

The Home: dilapidated condition; broken glass underfoot; odor of decay; strange air pressure; oppressive darkness. When the characters venture inside they find dried brown splatters of blood everywhere. The only remaining objects inside are a table and six chairs which appear untouched by weather or time. Lying atop the table is a flat board with the letters of the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9; the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners, “goodbye” at the bottom. A tear dropped piece of wood lays atop the board.

Note: Any player character touching the Ouija board will automatically summon the poltergeist. They along with any companions will be instantly teleported onto the chairs around the table. Unable to move or leave the chairs, they will be compelled to engage the poltergeist with the Ouija board.

Game Outside the Box: You will need a real Ouija board for this part of the adventure to work correctly. Just a quick Google search and I found plenty that are relatively inexpensive. The poltergeist will answer as many questions as the DM will allow the characters to ask. As long as the players are having fun I would continue the exercise and really get the hair on nape of everyone’s neck on end. 

My suggestion is conduct the séance by real candlelight and maybe include some very faint haunting music in the background. When an opportune time presents itself a sudden outburst from the DM should really startle the players good. This could be either role playing the poltergeist or demanding initiative rolls be made!

The poltergeist still has control over the corpse of the long dead gypsy. Through the use of dark eldritch magic it has been preserved so the poltergeist has a physical host. The poltergeist uses the question time around the Ouija board to evaluate a potential new host among the player characters. The characters should have to make a very difficult Wisdom check to break free of the magic hold. If successful they regain control of their bodies in this order:

Round 1: Head
Round 2: Upper extremities
Round 3: Lower

The poltergeist will appear as the horrific corpse of the gypsy woman complete with a sickening pallor and terrible evil eye. The former will be used by the poltergeist to cause necrotic damage in a 20’ cone to anyone who tries to stop it from possessing a target. If the player characters destroy the corpse host the poltergeist will abandon the area and return another day. In terms of statistics match the encounter to the level of the party but make sure it’s a tough fight. 

New Magic Item

Ouija Board
This strange board was crafted from a petrified tree found in an ancient graveyard. For some inexplicable reason the spirits of those which have perished violently in life are attracted to it. Legend holds using the Ouija board is extremely unpredictable and often dangerous. The Ouija board allows the casting of Speak with Dead and Augury each three times per day. Alternatively use a real Ouija board and use the results as part of your story and role playing. Tormented spirits will seek out the owner of the
Ouija board wherever they may travel. 
This beautiful Ouija board can be found at on Etsy.

If you enjoyed this post and are looking for more Halloween inspiration it can be found in Tales from the Game Tavern. The theme of issue one is Halloween and there are plenty of additional adventure seeds and material to make your October games memorable!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Witch's Bookshelf

Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look upon.

~William Shakespeare

While looking through all the décor at various craft stores my eyes are always drawn to the faux books. All sorts of great titles exist on the spines such as venomous potions, spells & incantations, hexes and curses. While the most infamous of all witching tools remains the cauldron, what about all the magic knowledge used in conjunction with it? D&D players love to explore the environment around them and being ready with filler material is important. Witchcraft is such a great topic for Halloween inspired game sessions I wanted to make a new table for everyone to use.

The books below and the powers or banes they grant should not be considered standard. Spells which remove curses or disease should be ineffective. Instead use these books as adventure seeds or a jumping off points for a quest. When digging through a witch’s library adventurers should be wary of what may become of them when dealing with forbidden knowledge.

Witch’s Book Shelf (1d4)

1. Libro Venenum: This vile text is filled with pages of aged papyrus and wrapped in dried lizard hide. Translated it proclaims to be the Book (of) Poisons and must be handled with absolute care. Anyone attempting to read the book must make a difficult constitution check or take 10d6 poison damage. A successful roll grants temporary insight into the long forgotten art of toxic magic.

A spell caster may add 1d6 poison damage to any offensive spell they cast. This effect lasts for 24 hours and may be repeated with a successful constitution check on subsequent days. Every use of the book is accompanied with a cumulative 10% chance of developing large green boils. These are filled with toxic puss which may erupt as determined by the DM. An eruption causes the permanent loss of 1d4 hit points to the afflicted. Additionally anyone within 15’ must make a difficult constitution check or take 5d6 poison damage.

2. Folio Malevolence: The spine of this book is crafted from the bones of tormented fairies. The pages are all exposed with no actual cover and emit a foul odor. Upon close examination one can see skin has been stretched and matted onto the parchment. The runes on these pages make the reader feel uneasy and waves of hatred flow over them. Good aligned characters will feel immediate aversion to the text.

The dark power of the book will grant a cursed boon to anyone who completes reading it. Ask the player to list on a piece of paper the four things their character dislikes the most. Then in that order while filled with seething hatred their character will seek those four choices out.  Nothing else will matter to the character but their malevolence will make them stronger. When dealing with the items on their list they may re-roll any D20 attempt but must keep the new result.

3. Malleus Maleficarum: This tome was created to condemn the practices of witchcraft. Translated it means the Hammer of the Witches and is brimming with theoretical and factual information. Powerful witches usually study the volume to learn the best way to defeat rivals and protect themselves. Because of this some adventurers will brave the lair of a witch just to find a copy of the legendary tome. Stealing a witch’s copy of the Malleus Maleficarum however will draw the ire of entire coven.

If anyone studies this witch hunting treatise, taking a minimum of three days, they gain a permanent bonus of +1 to attack or defenses against all witches. This magic may only be transferred 1d4 times before the book crumbles into a pile of dust. The dust however is also an effective tool to be used against a witch. If mixed with holy water it creates a paste which can be smeared on weapons. This causes an additional 1d6 holy damage to a witch for one attack.

4. Opuscule Covetous:  A small notebook created with haphazard pieces of vellum tied together with gold wire. If the pages are spread out they appear to be covered in numbered pictures. Anyone who puts the pages in the correct order will see the drawings magically animate. The story they show will be rapturing and include scenes of immense wealth and decadence. Those viewing will be intoxicated with avarice and immediately desire the treasures presented in the story.

Unbeknownst to the cursed readers this is an elaborate trap set by a witch. What appear to be treasures are actually items the witch herself desires but cannot obtain. Examples would be a holy item wished destroyed, a newborn child or perhaps a lock of hair from a person pure of heart. No matter what the item they will always appear as something else to the afflicted character. The curse will cease once one or all of the items are obtained and presented to the witch.

If you enjoyed this post and are looking for more Halloween inspiration it can be found in Tales from the Game Tavern. The theme of issue one is Halloween and there are plenty of additional adventure seeds and material to make your October games memorable!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Remembering Dave Arneson

In memoriam, I wanted to talk a bit about Dave Arneson. Today would have been his birthday as he was born October 1, 1947. Best known as one of the co-creators of my favorite game Dungeons & Dragons, I will not be exploring his departure from TSR during this post. Rather I just wanted to celebrate his contributions to the gaming industry because they are important.

Dave’s love of games really took off in the 1960s when he attended the University of Minnesota. Historic miniature war gaming was his regular hobby, but it was about to change dramatically. Dave was very interested in having individual war game models learn from their experiences in-between battles. This desire to develop one model, instead of the entire military unit, was a great example of the earliest stages of role playing games. Dave put these concepts to test in his campaign world named Blackmoor.

Soon Dave met another gaming enthusiast named Gary Gygax at Gen Con in 1969. Their amazing collaboration would go on to create the wonderful pastime that so many of us enjoy today. 1974 marks the year that famous little white box appeared, which would change tabletop gaming forever. In 1975 Supplement II: Blackmoor was released with a forward by Gary Gygax. In the former Gary goes on to say that Blackmoor is the “oldest and longest running Dungeons & Dragons game”.

In the years after leaving TSR, Dave continued to publish more role-playing game material and taught classes at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. In 2010, Full Sail University dedicated the student game development studio space as "Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Studios" in Arneson's honor. Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online added an in-game memorial altar to Arneson and also created an in-game item named the "Mantle of the Worldshaper". 

Admittedly, for many years I had no idea who Dave Arneson even was. As a young player cutting my teeth on BCMI and eventually AD&D he was just not on my radar. But as I grew older and the history of the game started to fascinate me I eventually learned about Dave. Ironically sometime in late 2001 when the MMORPG explosion occurred I was playing Dark Age of Camelot with one of his students. Every time he had a chance this student heaped praise upon Dave’s name as a professor. 

At the time I thought it was cool he had one of the co-creators of D&D as a teacher. Now so many years later my only regret was not listening more closely to those stories. If anything that experience is a constant reminder to me that the old guard is slowly passing on. It remains my sincere hope that we as a community will continue to seek out as much gaming history as possible.

So later today maybe take a stroll through Dave’s Lake Gloomey to the Temple of the Frog. Just remember to bring your favorite D20, because Dave will almost certainly be asking you to roll for initiative! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Smite or Treat

I just wanted to show everyone the original paper cut artwork entitled Smite or Treat. This scene is what graces the cover of Tales from the Game Tavern issue one. As part of a promotion the artist, Ike Horton will be graciously donating the original for a raffle. Every physical copy of the Tales from the Game Tavern issue one sold directly from will count as a raffle ticket. As previously mentioned our tentative plans are to announce the winner in November.

Ike’s comments on the piece are as follows:
SMITE OR TREAT all finished but the signature. This the closest to a traditional cut paper piece as I've done. All the black silhouette parts are cut from single piece of Watercolor paper and painted a satin Mars Black. The darker crater color of the moon was painted directly on the background with Yellow Ochre with a wash of Cadmium Yellow Medium and the lighter is Watercolor paper painted with Cadmium Yellow Medium. The background is various washes of Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red Medium mixtures.

I actually own several paper cut pieces crafted by Ike and I can tell you pictures do them no justice. Very often the three dimensional aspects are not captured by a camera. Additionally the intricate cutting involved cannot be fully appreciated until you see the work in person. If you are looking for a wonderful piece of Halloween décor Smite or Treat would be a good addition. Ike also does commissions so if you get a chance check out his Facebook page and give it a like. 


Monday, September 21, 2015

Tales from the Game Tavern

This new zine will be filled each issue with system agnostic role playing game material. The hope is this will appeal to a larger audience since there is virtually nothing to convert. When applicable, statistics and examples will be provided with common RPG terminology. My goal is to share with the community the types of material that are commonplace in the Game Tavern. The publication is designed to have the vibe of a classic zine while keeping to a theme with every issue.

Tales from the Game Tavern is a fun creative outlet for me and as such will not adhere to a strict publishing schedule. My hope is that I will be able to release a new issue every two months but that may be ambitious. Depending on the feedback I receive from the community subscriptions may become available down the road. In terms of submissions I’m not actively looking for them now but will listen to any pitch sent to me. This includes artwork or system agnostic gaming material.

The first issue totals 28 pages and is aptly themed Halloween for the Autumn release. Inside you will find the following content:

  • Flesh Golem Redux: The Brides of Frankenstein think you’re cute!
  • Haunted Armor: Four pieces of protection with a tainted past.
  • Tavern Ghosts: Are they just local stories or true hauntings?
  • Grody the Ghoul: A low level seasonal adventure and hex crawl.
  • Alien Abduction: Tables for creating an encounter of the 3rd kind!
  • Malignant Scourge: Add a zombie apocalypse to your campaign.
  • Game Tavern Ghoulash: A tavern favorite to cook on your own game night!
There will be a print run of 200 physical issues. The silhouette cover art for issue #1 was designed by Ike Horton Arts. As part of a promotion for the debut issue the original art will be raffled off. Each physical copy directly purchased will count as one (1) ticket for the raffle. Tentative date to announce the winner is November 1st, 2015. PDF copies purchased at RPGNow will not count as tickets.