Thursday, November 3, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Horror of Strahd's Power

This past weekend one of our regular groups gathered for our Curse of Strahd campaign. The characters are all level five now and had just finished up with the Wizard of Wines scenario. They had been planning their next moves, which included delivering wine to Krezck and taking on Yester Hill. I will not go into much detail on those places as not to spoil things for those still playing. We gathered for our game session sort of at the last minute, so I was not as prepared as I would like to be.

I decided to spend the night showing how powerful Strahd was to the group. By level five the legendary vampire should now be taking interest in the adventurers. They have interfered with his plans for Ireena, and perhaps even defeated some of his minions by now. Strahd, being ancient does not feel threatened yet, but perhaps is experiencing exhilaration for the first time in ages. He likes these new playthings and will test them to see if they are worthy opponents or maybe even servants.

Because of life and summer conventions this campaign was on hiatus for a bit. So rather then get wrapped up in the story to much this was a good opportunity to shake off the rust. The adventurers found themselves back on the Old Svalich Road when a light rain began to fall. In the distance through the fog they found an old cemetery and church they could use for shelter. The cemetery was completely churned with tombstones and coffins protruding in twisted ways. This description caused some immediate jokes around the table like, “what could go wrong” etcetera. That said, their investigation of the immediate area proved to be rather benign save some howling wolves in the distance.

This is when I decided to have Strahd’s black carriage make its first appearance. The tenebrous transport, pulled by snorting horses pulled right up next to the cemetery. The door swung open and out stepped Strahd to the immediate pale faces of the players (and probably their characters). The vampire lord walked over to the two female characters (one with red hair like Ireena) and immediately tried to charm them. Amazingly the players rolled an 18 and a natural 20 for their Wisdom saves. Even when this failed the sweat on their brows continued to flow. Strahd explained to the group that “Ireena was his and they should remember that.”

Strahd then turned his attention to the group’s cleric, who rolled a 4 and failed his save, thus becoming charmed. Strahd allegedly handed him an object and explained he wanted him to drop it in the cemetery when he left. This was nothing more than the first show of power since Strahd gave nothing to the cleric. Strahd then departed, and the group decided to attack the cleric for fear of what may be in his hand. As he walked toward the cemetery with his placebo item he nearly died from the assault. The characters felt terrible afterward for succumbing to this fear.

When the dust settled Strahd’s laughter could be heard throughout the area as the cemetery began to rumble. Before their very eyes, the PCs watched as the earth congealed with casket and tombstone forming into monstrous creatures which attacked them. These Gravestone Elementals turned out to be quite a challenge for the group. I mixed an Earth Elemental with a Shambling Mound in terms of statistics as follows:

Gravestone Elemental
Large elemental, neutral
Armor Class 17
Hit Points 126 (12d10 + 60)
Speed 30 ft., burrow 30 ft.
STR 20 (+5)
DEX 8 (-1)
CON 20 (+5)
INT 5 (-3)
WIS 10 (+0)
CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Vulnerabilities thunder
Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities poison, lightning
Condition Immunities exhaustion, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, unconscious
Senses darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages Terran
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)
Special Traits
  • Earth Glide: The elemental can burrow through nonmagical, unworked earth and stone. While doing so, the elemental doesn't disturb the material it moves through. 
  • Siege Monster: The elemental deals double damage to objects and structures.
  • Lightning Absorption: Whenever the gravestone elemental is subjected to lightning damage, it takes no damage and regains hit points equal to the lightning damage dealt.
  • Multiattack: The gravestone elemental makes two slam attacks. If both attacks hit a Medium or smaller target, the target is grappled (escape DC 14), and the gravestone elemental uses its Engulf on it.
  • Slam: Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8 + 5) bludgeoning damage.
  • Engulf: The gravestone elemental engulfs a Medium or smaller creature grappled by it. The engulfed target is blinded, restrained, and unable to breathe, and it must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw at the start of each of the elemental's turns or take 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage. If the elemental moves, the engulfed target moves with it. The elemental can have only one creature engulfed at a time.
These statistics are just what I whipped up quickly for my game session so feel free to adjust them for your own campaign. I considered also allowing them to pull tombstones from their bodies and use them as missile attacks. This never came up since the battle immediately turned to a vicious melee. A few well-placed Thunderwaves turned out to be a big help by the group’s wizard.

I enjoyed running these encounters to show the group the level of Strahd’s power. The vampire himself never lifted a finger, yet caused so much mayhem. We all want to believe we have agency over our own choices and destiny, yet Strahd almost forced the group to dispatch one of their own. Then with another display of power or perhaps force of will, Strahd commanded these elementals to destroy the group.

I think introducing Strahd into the campaign is perhaps the most difficult thing for any Dungeon Master. Most of these early encounters probably end up being a combat, which I would argue is incredibly boring. A big part of gothic horror is suspense and nerve wracking build-up. Having Strahd working in the background using his servants and various mind compulsion is terrifying. It creates an atmosphere of dread and keeps the players on their toes. Furthermore, it puts the players on notice that this is a villain who is much more than statistics on a page!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Playing D&D With Kids

This past weekend I ran a game session for five children. For background it was my son’s tenth birthday and he wanted to invite some friends over from school. The best part was none of these kids had ever played D&D, or any role-playing game for that matter. This was an interesting challenge since the last time I DM’ed a room full of ten year olds was 1983, when I was ten! Admittedly I did not really have much time to prepare since I have been working around the clock. That said, the game lasted around 2.5 hours and the kids had a blast.

A few months ago when Bryce initially asked me to do this I started planning the day. Since I knew the children being invited had never played, I wanted them to leave with the game. I combined the 5E Basic PDFs into a book and had them printed on Lulu. For the cover I used the mock-up by TheBlueKnight found here on EnWorld, and added my son’s name and birthday party date in Photoshop. As pictured below the books turned out fantastic and the children all left with a unique party favor. In addition they all received their very own first set of polyhedral dice.

My initial idea was to run a spooky Halloween themed adventure complete with fun props. But time just was not on my side and I was left scrambling the morning of the party. That is when I found On a Children's Quest, A Starter 5e Adventure. What initially attracted me to the adventure was the illustrated map, which seemed perfect for a bunch of novices. I did not use the adventure completely as presented, but rather as a template to take the kids wherever their imagination wanted. Having actually used this adventure in live play, I will say there is lots of potential here in terms of format with kids.

People (especially kids) are very imaginative and visual so having the illustrated map was a win. Each of them was provided with their own copy they could mark-up or add notes with. At the table I used a combination of miniatures, Chessex play mat, Dwarven Forge, and miscellaneous terrain pieces to create the environment. The kids absolutely loved looking at everything and being involved with these tactile elements. Just holding and rolling their new dice alone was fun, especially when someone rolled a coveted 20!

The pre-generated characters I used were complete but we almost never referenced the sheets during play. Instead I explained the basic concepts and the kids began picking it up quick. For instance, at one point a strength check was needed to move something. This prompted everyone to look at their character sheets and the kids had fun comparing their attribute scores. I’m a big fan of the KISS acronym ("Keep it simple, stupid") and it paid off big when introducing these kids to the game. My reasoning for giving them completed characters was so they have a template for later.

Overall I must say this was equally a fun experience for me as a Dungeon Master. Not only was I sharing this wonderful hobby with new players, but hopefully making some lifelong ones. Although it’s early in the process to see if they caught the D&D bug, there is already talk of starting a club amongst they kids at school. My son has volunteered to be the Dungeon Master which really makes me smile. If anything seeing these children unplugged for a few hours and enjoying a table-top game was worth the price of admission.

Faces blurred for privacy.

During our session they expanded their vocabulary (portcullis…what is that!), did lots of math, and most importantly worked as a team to come up with plans to negotiate the various challenges of the adventure. If you are reading this and considering introducing your children to role-playing games I highly recommend it. Not only does it have the aforementioned benefits, but it also lets them exhibit qualities like leadership and critical thinking. Furthermore they are presented with constant hypothetical situations they must work through as a group.

My final advice when running a game for kids is keeping it short and simple. The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure and this could not ring truer with kids. My group started to get restless around the one hour mark so we took liberal breaks. Some kids have longer attention spans then others so be aware that a D&D session is not an endurance contest. Also be sure to put the spotlight on every child as some have stronger personalities then others. Just like an adult session, it's quite possible for one player to run the table if the DM does not stay on their toes.

We finished our session with a sundae bar and talked about the game. I asked the kids what they liked the most and least about the experience. Universally they enjoyed exploring and finding treasure, and did not like that the adventure was over. Finally I asked them all if they would like to play again to which I received a resounding YES!

The kid's reenactment of a failed Death Save.

So to all the veteran players and DMs out there take some time to share the hobby with the next generation. They will be as wide-eyed and interested as you were when first discovering role-playing games….they just don’t know it yet!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons Has Always Been Cool

This morning I read this article and immediately wanted to follow-up. Dungeons and Dragons has always been cool. Sure there was a time when it was not socially accepted by the mainstream. But that was also during an age when information was shared by only the press and various networks. Today social media has opened the eyes of many people regarding a plethora of subjects. Role-playing games have certainly gained traction because of this phenomenon.

The difference between the gross misinformation of the 70s and 80s, and watching people having fun playing D&D on YouTube is like night and day. Now even the remotely curious can investigate any tabletop game before purchasing it. Since 1974 players have been sitting around a table with friends playing Dungeons & Dragons. I would argue that other forms of entertainment will never be as compelling. Why? Because whether playing a video game, watching a movie, or reading a book, you are using someone else’s imagination.

Figment is exhausted after batting around a D20.
When playing a game such as Dungeons & Dragons you are using your own imagination. In terms of a collaborative story-telling game, it’s just timeless. It does not matter what edition you play, or the genre, role-playing games are a wonderful hobby. If anything I think we are experiencing a renaissance of sorts right now with table-top games.

While social media is wonderful, we are really NOT connected by it. Nothing replaces gathering a few friends and socializing in real time. A role-playing game is often a great catalyst to make this happen. Even if your table-top is virtual, the end result is better than refreshing Twitter or Facebook relentlessly while bored out of your gourd.

So yes Dungeons & Dragons has ALWAYS been cool. For over thirty years dedicated and enthusiastic players have helped to make the pastime infectious. I’m glad some people are finally catching up! And more importantly that a new generation of players is growing into the hobby during this wonderful and open-minded time. So dig out those dice and take a romp through the dungeon this weekend. Who knows what adventures await!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monster: Pumpkin (Spice) Pudding

As usual this time of year the pumpkin spice apocalypse has started early. Everywhere you look products that should not even have the flavor are jumping on the pumpkin cart. In response to this craze I decided to create a monster for use in during your Fall game sessions. In the very least this should cause a few chuckles around the table. Well at least until they realize this nasty ooze is more than tongue in cheek.

These custard horrors are formed from the innards of a rotted pumpkin. The latter cannot be any ordinary jack-o’-lantern however. Instead it must be from a pumpkin patch which has been enchanted with foul magic. The origin of the magic is often debated by scholars, but almost always involves malicious fey. Pumpkin delights are popular in the realm when the leaves begin to change color and fall. The fey decided to emulate these treats and punish the humans encroaching on their sacred forests.

A pumpkin pudding appears and smells much like its namesake. Unlike other oozes, a pumpkin pudding is intelligent and very patient. The creature wishes to be consumed so it may create more Pumpkin Zombies for the control of its fey masters. If discovered, the pumpkin pudding will fight to the death if escape is not an option. If the opportunity presents itself, the pudding will attempt to slither into the mouth of any unconscious or disabled foe. There are even tales of these puddings creeping into the mouth, nose, or ears of sleeping victims.

Pumpkin (Spice) Pudding
Small ooze, unaligned
Armor Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8 + 9)
Speed 10 ft., climb 10 ft.
STR 12 (+1) DEX 6 (-2) CON 16 (+3) INT 10 (+0) WIS 10 (+0) CHA 2 (-4)   
Skills Stealth +2
Damage Resistances acid, cold, fire, bludgeoning, piercing, slashing.
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, prone
Senses blindsight 60 ft. (blind beyond this radius), passive Perception 8
Languages —
Challenge 2 (450 XP)

Amorphous: The ooze can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
False Appearance: While the ooze remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a delicious treat.
Pulpy Innards: If consumed, 9 (2d6 + 2) necrotic damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0. A humanoid slain by this attack rises 24 hours later as a Pumpkin Zombie under the control of dark fey. The caveat being the humanoid is restored to life or its body is destroyed.

Pseudopod: Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage.

DM Tips
Although it’s a very tough creature because of its resistances, combat is something the pudding prefers to avoid. Instead it will wait patiently to be consumed or for an opportunity to enter a helpless victim. As an agent of evil fey, the pudding is calculating and very careful.

For some added fun, when using this monster be sure to include some real pumpkin pudding to your game session. Although the players may be a tad reluctant to eat it after meeting these creamy nightmares!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Adventures in the Upside Down

*Warning Spoilers* After watching Stranger Things, I spent some time digging through old D&D books. Since I started playing D&D in 1983 the show really resonated with me. It was like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King sat around and created an old school D&D module. Like most viewers I became very interested in the Vale of Shadows as referenced by the kids:

“The Vale of Shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a [place] with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.”

There has been some postulation that the Vale of Shadows is just the Plane of Shadows or the Shadowfell from the Forgotten Realms. But in the spirit of D&D canon, and looking back to 1983, I found something more compelling to use. In Dragon 73 (May 1983) Gary Gygax explores quasi-elemental planes. One of these places which existed between the Positive and Negative elemental planes was the Plane of Ash.

It was not until 1987 that Jeff Grubb expanded the quasi-elemental Plane of Ash in the Manual of the Planes. As I read through some of the descriptive material in my copy it was hauntingly similar to the Upside Down. Here are a few potentially relevant excerpts:

The plane of Ash exists without light, heat, or flame in the same fashion as Vacuum exists without air. Breathing is difficult as there is no breathable air, similar to the plane of Vacuum. Unlike in Vacuum, the cool, charred remains of this plane can be transformed into a breathable element.

“The atmosphere is toxic” - Chapter Eight: The Upside Down

Art by Matt Ferguson
The plane of quasi-elemental Ash is the depletion of warmth and fire. The transition from the plane of Fire to that of Ash occurs in a region of cooling temperature and the dusty remains of burned materials hanging in the atmosphere. The plane is bone chillingly cold. Finally, the ash thickens to a grey, dusty wall, beyond which is the darkness of the Negative Material plane.

Vision in the plane of Ash is reduced to 30 yards because of the dust-like particles in the air.

Obviously I am not suggesting that the Upside Down is indeed the Plane of Ash. That said I think it would be good starting point to design your own version of the Upside Down. Ash by its very definition is the residue of something destroyed and descriptive of death. Perhaps in this alternate dimension or potential future reality as we understand it is destroyed, reduced to ashes. The membranous material seen in the Upside Down reminds me of something new growing from the decay.

That strange something may indeed also be the weird alien creature, or Demogorgon as referenced by the kids.  Whatever this tenebrous reality may be, it remains a very intriguing place for adventurers to explore in a table-top session. Perhaps the creatures inside the Upside Down are powerless to affect our world until a portal is mistakenly opened? This could be a great adventure hook because of some magical mishap, or ill-advised use of psionic powers.

At first the creature begins to hunt for food in the game world, which consists of hapless animals. Then it grows more daring and takes humanoid victims to incubate with parasitoids. These larvae will eventually consume their victims and grow into offspring. The adventurers are perhaps hired by some remote village to investigate the disappearances. For fans of Stranger Things a session like this could be a fun diversion from a regular slog through the dungeon. And with Halloween around the corner it contains enough mystery and horror elements for a scary evening of D&D.

If you are looking for an example Demogorgon to use for your own Upside Down, Newbie DM released one today.
Shirt available here

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 matter 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

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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 miniĆ© 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 miniĆ© 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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Road Trip: The Frazetta Art Museum

This past weekend I completed a quest long in the making with two good friends. For many years the three of us wanted to visit the Frazetta Art Museum in East Stroudsburg, PA. Being Pennsylvania residents this seemed like a no-brainer. However, busy family life often has a way of placing road trips like this on the back burner. Fortunately, we were finally able to coordinate our trip and it was well worth the wait. But before I discuss our visit to the museum it may be best to talk about its namesake.

Frank Frazetta (1928 - 2010) is a legend. I can think of no other fantasy artist in recent history that is more iconic and influential. Anyone who is a fantasy paperback reader from the 1960s on should instantly recognize his amazing work. My favorite piece, Princess of Mars from the Edgar rice Burroughs novel, hangs proudly in my office. My buddy Ike tells a great story of how he found two Conan novels in his Easter basket as a child (coolest Mom ever award?). It was that unique imagery that instantly hooked him to the genre.

Frazetta’s work had its own vibe of fantastical beasts, diabolic sorcerers, curvaceous women, savage warriors, and vivid colors. Interestingly Frazetta, both handsome and muscular, almost appeared to be one of his characters. His amazing illustrations would go on to both grace and influence music and cinema projects. When it comes to role-playing games, more often than not, my mind’s eye definitely was influenced by Frazetta. Especially when you are not using a pseudo medieval backdrop for you campaign world. When looking for inspiration for a brutal realm of sword and sorcery, I can think of no better place then Frazetta.

It was for all these reasons my friends and I wanted to visit the Frazetta Art Museum. The museum resides on the original 67 acres of Mr. Frazetta's private estate, in the heart of the Pocono Mountains. Inside is a wonderful gallery of original works and several item collections from Frazetta’s personal life.

My friends and I left early since we had a little less than two hours of driving to get there. The weather was beautiful, we had some old school metal playing, and the trek felt like a teenage road trip of yore. Just finding the museum however was part of the quest, as there were no signs or indicators once we got close. Our GPS ended in the middle of a tree line, so we found a place to turn around and alas, it was actually the driveway entrance to the property! A narrow, winding path lead us under canopy of trees whose tops were lost above us. Then suddenly a red capped building, complete with iron gates and statues came into view. We had arrived at the Frazetta museum!

We were a tad early and needed to stretch our legs so we decided to walk the property a bit. A large pond extended away from the museum, complete with a small dock. All around majestic trees almost seemed to wall the property in. It was obvious that Frank Frazetta was in part a private man, and the estate around us reflected it. Soon someone appeared in the distance and waved us toward the museum. We would later learn this was Frank Frazetta Jr. after he greeted all three of us inside.

I’ll be honest, I was not sure what to expect when I passed through the iron gates and double wooden doors. I originally envisioned a much more cavernous space. That being said, I would categorize the interior as large, and you need a good hour to take it all in. We perused some of the art for a bit and then Lori Frazetta arrived and gave us a fantastic tour of the collection. Not only was she incredibly personable, but Lori really was a wellspring of information. Learning the history of the various pieces displayed really added to the enjoyment factor of our visit.

Below are some pictures that were taken with permission of Frank Frazetta Jr. and Lori Frazetta. I explained to them I was a blogger and wanted to help the museum get more exposure. You will notice all my shots were taken with a wide view. I did this intentionally since I don’t want to ruin the experience of visiting for anyone. Besides, a close up photo of any of the pieces would do them no justice. You really need to visit the museum and see the wonderful work of Frank Frazetta for yourself.

Frank Jr. and Lori Frazetta were gracious hosts and very passionate about the museum. I could definitely sense their joy in telling stories about the life of Frank Frazetta and sharing his fantastic work. They have several plans to hopefully expand the museum in the future which I would love to see come to fruition.

If I could pick one thing to improve it would be the inclusion of description plaques. It would be nice to see the name of the painting and when it was created.  During our visit there were several pieces I had never seen before. While this was exciting, I instantly wanted to know more about them without having to keep asking questions. Obviously this is a minor point, but one that may also help when there are several visitors at once.

If you live in the Tri-state area, or happen to be visiting, I encourage you to explore the Frazetta Art Museum. In terms of bucket list items this should be one any fantasy art fan should include. Places like this are magical and the continued support of fans is very important. Please re-share this post so other Frazetta fans potentially unaware of the museum can learn about it. For additional information about The Frazetta Art Museum please use the following links:

Frazetta Art Museum

Frazetta Art Museum Facebook

Frazetta Fans Facebook