Saturday, May 30, 2015

1PDC Follow-up

The 2015 contest results are in and overall there is just a massive collection of awesome entries. Admittedly I was disappointed that my own entry did not place this year but do not lament it. I do remain completely perplexed by some choices made by the judges and then on another hand could not agree with them more on others. That being said, I have noticed unproductive negativity bouncing around on various forums following the event. Enough that I felt compelled to highlight something I thought was extraordinary.

I can speak from authority about the sheer amount of logistics it takes to put an event like this together. It consumes personal time, has aspects of frustration, and requires leadership and diplomacy. Most of all the ever critical eye of the internet is cast upon you like Sauron. This is an all-volunteer event which at the end of the day provides us with wonderful home brew material.

For those unaware the current organizer of the event is a nice fellow who goes by the handle of Random Wizard. Last night while perusing my Google Plus feed I saw a post made by Random Wizard that really seemed selfless to me. In order to award all 13 of the 3rd place finishers with a cool prize he sold off some of his personal RPG collection. I just wanted to make sure that this very generous act did not slip by without some recognition.

Finally if you enjoyed any of the dungeons enough to download them reach out to their respective creators. Also remember just because one was not picked by this year’s judges does not minimize its awesomeness. I myself plan to send emails on a few favorites because I want to see their creators return next year. The added benefit being you may be able to learn about other material the author has worked on or has brewing. 

See you in the dungeon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

I can still smell the gasoline fumes and my eyes sting from all the wasteland dust. This movie was a thrilling two hour ride of nonstop action that I will never forget. I always like to say that life is about experiences rather than material things. I can promise you this film really fits the mold of a big cinema experience you do not want to miss. Set in the dystopian future and filled with enough absurd vehicles to make any Carmageddon fan happy this movie just drips with badassery.

My wife was so impressed she is now curious about original Mad Max stories after seeing Fury Road. As we left the theater I started to imagine armor plating and a swivel mounted Ma Deuce on my Odyssey van. That would be be really cool for those two hour long traffic jams so common outside the city! The biggest take away however was me immediately digging out my Car Wars box and dreaming up a new campaign.

My wife suggested that maybe we use the End of the World RPG for the characters and I may run with the idea. The great thing about the world of Mad Max is the complete and utter chaos it swirls in. I really like the idea of a campaign where the player’s ultimate goal is just survival. The former lends itself to sandbox style play better than just about any scenario save just good old exploration.

If you have been on the fence about Fury Road I encourage you to go see it. After being drowned in super hero cinema, vanilla action movies, and fantasy flicks that have lost their luster Fury Road is high octane awesomeness. Don’t let negative blog posts trying to pin the movie with gender politics cloud your vision. Get your wasteland goggles on and go enjoy probably one of the best nitrous powered apocalypse movies made.

For those of you planning on running a similar campaign after being inspired by Fury Road here is a random table of wasteland encounters. Ultimate difficulty is up to you my fellow game masters. Now get a d6 and roll away but warn your players their mileage may vary!

Wasteland Encounters (d6)

1.    An emaciated dog found by the side of the road. One of its legs was replaced with a fully functional cybernetic limb. The dog is friendly and happy to see people. Whoever feeds it will gain loyalty from the dog. Close examination of the dog reveals fresh one eyed skull branding on its hindquarter. 

2.    A motor bike driving down the road without any passengers. The speed of the vehicle is approximately 20mph and it has two large saddle bags. The bike is being controlled remotely by nearby bandits. If a player vehicle gets close to the bike the saddle bags will detonate with road spikes in an attempt to flatten their tires.

3.    A dilapidated building that once served as a fuel stop. Investigating PC’s will notice the smell of fuel around the area. Next to one of the old pumps are two fuel canisters. Inside the building is a horribly mutated wanderer who has been syphoning the fuel. The wanderer is addicted to the fumes and will defend his “fix station” to the death.

4.    The sounds of strange music will fill the area as the PC’s see a vintage ice cream truck. Atop the truck is a massive chocolate cone decoration which conceals twin machine guns. The driver is a cannibal dressed in clown attire with rotted yellow teeth. The truck will stop and just play its music until curiosity brings the next meal close enough. The refrigerators inside the truck still work but are currently filled with unsavory things.

5.    A crashed tour bus which appears to have had its tires spiked long ago. The bus was refitted with iron plating although some of its tinted windows are visible. Smear marks from inside the bus are visible to those inspecting. Any PC approaching will be startled by ghoulish faces smashing up against the windows and horrific growls. The tour bus contains 2d10+5 wasteland zombies and also a very visible supply of sealed military rations.

6.    A lone child walking the wasteland covered in black ash. She appears to be unharmed and wears suitable clothing for wasteland travel. She cannot remember her name and only recalls a loud explosion. The PC’s will notice someone wrote a message on her backpack which reads, “Please save Lucinda. Take her to Geartown to the west. You will be rewarded”. Unbeknownst to the PC’s Lucinda is not this child. This child was part of the raiders which destroyed Lucinda’s convoy and she took the backpack. During the event one of the vehicles exploded crashing the child against a rock and she was left for dead. The child has acute amnesia of the event however giving the PC’s little warning.

It does not get more metal then this!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Dwarves of Demrel

I’m not sure how I did not hear about this Kickstarter until this morning but I wanted to shed some light on it. The Dwarves of Demrel spins a tale about the trials and tribulations of three trapped dwarven miners. Apparently there is also a human trapped with them who may have been the overseer of the project. According to the creators Zachary W. Amundson and Christopher Raney the film will explore relationships, test resolve and even touch on racial misunderstandings.

I think this is a fascinating concept since by the admission of the creators we will get to spend more time with the characters. That is one of the great things about role playing games and it may just be captured on the screen here. When we gather around the table to game the characters are the focal point instead of the world they live in. That being said, part of the reason for the Kickstarter is to help make the film more of a visual feast. Just looking at the characters alone with all their gear and grit gives you a good feeling for the potential vibe of the film.

The four characters are as follows:

BRENN - Large, muscular, tattooed, and rugged, Brenn has been a miner all of his life and a pretty good one at that. Think of him as your veteran factory worker. Relying on alcohol/tobacco to deal with life's problems, he constantly sees himself as a "victim" to the fantastical "man", and because of which, cannot take responsibility for a myriad of terrible life decisions. All of which aide to his antagonistic nature and caustic views towards most things...

CALCAS - If there was a black sheep within the mining company, Calcas is it. As an ex-accountant with a questionable past and questionable loyalties; he is an enigmatic, cryptic figure. The pragmatic dwarf's intelligence and demeanor alienate him from the other dwarves initially. It isn't until the confinements of the mine and the stress of their force interaction. Calcas is the smallest of the three and the most aware...

ODRYD - Married early with five kids, Odryd is a "family dwarf" by default. Although he floats from job to job (with mining being his latest) he is not as rough or as seasoned as one may think. He is impressionable and naive. However, Odyd is also probably the most charming due to his natural optimism...

DRUSSO - A byproduct of nepotism, Drusso is a human from the "Capital" -- the largest metropolis in Rye. She came into a position of power when her uncle bought the mining company. As a result, many of the native, dwarven miners greatly resent her (Brenn especially). The progressive Capital is a threat to both the dwarves' more primitive culture, as well as their main economic industry. For example, humans have been unable breath underground until their most recent oxygen purifying gas mask (Drusso's head gear)...

Any fantasy fan should appreciate this project as the sort of inventive and refreshing material that Kickstarter is made for. I encourage you to back this Kickstarter by word of mouth or financially if it interests you at that level. Dwarves, steampunk and a fresh take on a fantasy film? I'm not sure how much more awesome you can fit in there...well there may be a monster also. By Moradin’s beard let’s help the Dwarves of Demrel escape those accursed mines!

For more information:


Note: The Grand DM and are not affiliated with The Dwarves of Demrel project in any fashion. I just call out cool when I see it. Now roll for initiative and go play some RPGs!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Red Box

The Red Box as it’s so lovingly called by those of us old enough to remember it is the ultimate throwback. No other TSR product in my mind symbolizes D&D like the bright red box emblazoned with Larry Elmore’s art. The caveat being the AD&D Player’s Handbook complete with Dave Trampier’s demon idol. The former incidentally is my favorite old school piece but you would never know that by the background image on this blog!

Perhaps the red box resonates with me so much because that was what I learned on. Previously I told the story of how I spent a good portion of my 10 year old summer engrossed in it. Everything from the atmospheric art, the writing style and the presentation was perfect. Frank Mentzer had really created a gem which is probably why it still remains the bestselling D&D product of all time.

Everything from inking your own dice to running the awesome solo adventure was such a rite of passage. I honestly was hoping that Wizards would have followed this model and still to this date they have fallen short. I recall when the 4E red box was first announced and how excited this made me. In fact when it became available I had a copy that very day. I ended up being disappointed in the product as it was not a good enough homage to the original.

When the 5E Green Box was announced I really hoped it would include non-inked dice and a crayon just for nostalgia. But more importantly the lack of a solo adventure was a missed opportunity. I believe choose your own path scenarios help inspire new DMs and players alike. I can speak of this first hand since that was exactly my experience in 1983. Including an adventure with some new scheme by the wizard Bargle would have really brought the green box full circle. Yes, I’m still mad decades later that poor Aleena fell to him!

Now that my own kids have voraciously started reading I plan to leave my red box laying out in the Game Tavern. Although we have played D&D several times already together I think they will have fun with the 1983 solo adventure. I even have plenty of 30 year old Gamescience dice that still need to be inked and no shortage of crayons! What are your memories of the red box and most importantly do you still have yours?

Great vintage add

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Hawk the Slayer

For Throwback Thursday I thought I would take a stroll down cinema lane. Over the past few decades there have been many B-rated movies that were complete sleepers. Hawk the Slayer was released in 1980 and still to this day I believe fits that criteria. The movie has a very unpretentious style which gives it a continuing charm. Additionally in my opinion it captures very well the vibe of an RPG adventure. The cast of characters looks like something rolled right out of the AD&D Player’s Handbook:

Hawk (John Terry): Classic noble fighter who wields the elven Mind Sword.
Ranulf (Morgan Sheppard): The one handed veteran who employs a repeating crossbow.

Gort (Bernard Bresslaw): The strongman of the party who wields a huge maul.

Baldin (Peter O’Farrell): The “dwarven” thief who uses a whip and daggers.

Crow (Ray Charleson): An elven ranger whose archery skills would make Legolas envious.

Voltan (Jack Palance): The dark one and Hawk’s evil brother.

Overall I think the cast did a great job for such a low budget creation. Jack Palance’s performance alone is enough to inspire any DM with role playing goodness for their next campaign villain. One of my favorite interactions in the movie is between Gort and Baldin when they are in the monastery. Baldin tricks Gort out of a rather delicious meal by convincing him it may be “holy” food. This is the sort of fun role playing banter that happens routinely in a good game of tabletop.

This movie really influenced me as a Dungeon Master early on. After seeing the repeating crossbow used by Ranulf it was immediately integrated into my campaign. And Crow firing his bow multiple times before anyone could even reach him made me take a hard look at initiative rules. Anyone who thinks Crow’s archery ability is cheesy obviously has never seen Lars Anderson. But more important was the abrasive and grim feeling of the world the characters existed in. It was just another inspiration source to draw from when dreaming up my own campaign locales.

Hawk the Slayer has a cult following in some circles and is the topic of endless jokes in others. If you have never seen the movie I recommend checking it out. Especially if you are a fan of old school gaming since it really oozes with that type of atmosphere. The only thing this quest driven tale is missing would be a dungeon crawl. It has a gritty and sorrowful landscape, colorful characters, good action and plenty of failed saving throws.

There have always been rumors of a sequel being produced but they were never corroborated until now! Writer and director Terry Marcel and actor Ray Charleson (Crow) recently announced “Even as we speak, the wizards gather in the south.” Hawk the Hunter is being produced and fans have been delighted with this awesome teaser video.

For more information you can follow the progress of the movie on Facebook or Twitter

Ray Charleson (Crow) holding the Mind Sword

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review: White Star Science Fiction RPG

I just spent some time reviewing my PDF copy of White Star by James Spahn this morning. With today being Star Wars day (may the 4th be with you!) this was a clever time to release such a pulpy sci-fi RPG. White Star is based on the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox and truly is OSR (old school renaissance) in space. One important thing to consider before purchasing White Star is this is a rules light RPG. If you are looking for a system coated in heavy mechanics oil this game is not for you. Rather if your interests are more based on a foundation of table rulings and not rules then look no further.

White Star is broken into twelve chapters at at 132 pages. The layout of the book is easy to follow and is what gamers should come to expect from a new product. The first thing I did was a spot check of the entire system to get a sense of what it was trying to accomplish. My hope for a space opera RPG I could twist and bend to my heart’s content was realized. Let me follow-up on my previous statement for the benefit of modern gamers not very familiar with the OSR. One of the hallmarks of old school gaming is rules are completely optional. You are encouraged to twist, bend, discard and mutate them if it means the game table is having fun. White Star comes complete with House Rule suggestions which are very helpful and will inspire you to design your own.

In terms of character creation I was very happy with my cursory review of the races and classes as presented. The Star Knight class seems to accomplish the difficult task of creating a Jedi type character that does not dominate every session. That being said some of their powers (meditations) will require careful adjudication by a game master. Charm Person for example which is a staple of RPGs seems overpowered in some instances and potentially useless in others. One hour is a long time in my opinion to be under the caster's influence without additional saving throws. On the flip side I can see Robots being a popular race among Meta gaming players to avoid such meditations as Charm Person.


My criticism of the former however always has that careful caveat that these rules are all optional. For example cybernetics are available in White Star and as presented really have little drawback. I immediately began thinking of ways house rules in my own games could be implemented to make them more balanced. Since robots cannot be healed by Cure Wounds I thought at what point does a player with cybernetics become more “machine then man”?

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of White Star is the streamlined rules for starship combat. This is yet another example of simplicity shining through since it mostly follows the same rules as personal combat. I have always had a disdain for systems which have a game inside a game and this avoids that problem completely. For example both ships and characters have AC, HP, and Movement. This is easy to understand and keeps the focus on the action and not mechanics. I should mention AC in White Star is listed in both descending and ascending formats so fans of THACO and more modern systems should be pleased. 

Also included in White Star is a robust alien & creatures bestiary which should make most GMs happy. I think this is important since it gives us a flavorful foundation for our own DIY baddies. So far my favorite is the Living Asteroid and I can already envision a high speed chase through a belt full of them. Just imagine the PCs navigating past living asteroids as pursuing ships zig where they should have zagged and get chomped on! 

In the game master section of White Star there are several good suggestions for themes related to a campaign. Included is a good synopsis of running an interstellar civil war campaign. We get a hex map of the Kelran sector and some background on the planets which are part of it. Finally a 15 page example adventure for 6-8 characters of 1st to 3rd level is included. This is important since it provides an aspiring game master a jumping off point and inspiration for creating their own adventures.

The Good: With the popularity of cinema like Guardians of the Galaxy and soon Star Wars: The Force Awakens White Star gives us that vibe at the game table. This is a great mash-up of your favorite space adventures in a completely moldable galactic OSR game.

The Bad: As a rules light RPG some modern gamers may be turned off by the potentially ambiguous nature of the system. I personally find this to be one of the strengths of White Star but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea…or Procyon brandy. You will need to purchase White Star to find out what a Procyon is!

For a discounted copy of White Star in PDF head over to Tenkar’s Tavern!