Friday, February 28, 2014

Finding the Gems: WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins [Part 2]

In this second and final installment reviewing WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins, we'll cover The Tower of War, The Tower of Power, and the Tower of Zagig--each of which are almost completely separate dungeons in their own right. But first, the obligatory SPOILER ALERT and a few notes:

--What I said about boxed texts in the first part of the review isn't necessarily true. While there is only one example of boxed text, many of the encounters begin with a short introductory paragraph that sounds like it should be read allowed to your players. You may or may not, but they are not "boxed" so to speak.

--There's lots of treasure to be found within the ruins--so much it might unbalance your game. Fortunately, there's ways of taking it away, too.

--Paint up more miniatures. Readers of 3e+ editions of D&D might be surprised at how many monsters there are in many of these encounters--especially in the Tower of War.

--The module features monsters that may have been lost in later editions: spriggans, the giant two-headed troll, the urd, the orog (though I'd prefer to call them "black orcs" or "Uruk-hai.")

The Tower of War
If you're looking for plot, you'll find it in this dungeon. The "underworlders" (as the module designers call them) have set their sights on attacking Greyhawk City itself. And they'll eventually have the means to do it. They first, however, need to secure the massive War Wagon on the first level and quell a civil war amid their ranks. Even a couple of gods have gotten involved.

Here you have lots and lots of goblinoids and giants, with a number of other races at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

The PCs also have to contend with dwarves exacting tribute everytime the PCs leave the dungeon.

The PCs will discover the secret behind this campaign against Greyhawk on the final level.

The Tower of Power 
This place is sometimes called the "Tower of Magic"--sometimes the text alternates between the two names.

These dungeons are stocked full of weird magic and experiments. A cadre of spellcasters run this dungeon; the DM has to come with his own stats for them, which is fine. This enables the DM to customize the module for his own game.

A lot of interesting weapons and magic can be found, along with a history of Castle Greyhawk and Zagig--and even a secret pertaining to Oerth itself.

The Tower of Zagig
This is best described as an "adventurers graveyard." According to the introductory text, so many adventurers have died within this ruins that their bones litter the ground every where. During combat, both the PCs and their opponents must make dexterity checks for fall prone. Past adventurers/victims have scrawled graffiti on the walls.

This also the most difficult of the three towers. The PCs have to go through a series of landings (each with traps or monsters) to even reach the first level. Many encounters feature instant kills.

Also, there's a lot of empty rooms in comparison to the other towers. Not sure why--perhaps its to represent that the tower has been looted--but it also contains lots of potent monsters.

Be prepared for some weird encounters meant to confuse the PCs.

The final levels are almost unreachable unless the PCs know what to look for (or get lucky).

Augmenting Greyhawk Ruins
1. Avoiding the "Crawl" in Dungeon Crawl. 
As I read through the Tower of Power, the "Crater Ridge Mines" from the 3e adventure Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil came to mind. Anybody who's played through it can attest to how much of a slog that area can be. The same might hold true for many parts of Greyhawk Ruins. 

Solution: A lot of these areas are set up so that the creatures from one area can interact with creatures from another area. The PCs should always be on their guard for reinforcements--especially in the more populated areas. Use the random encounter charts.

2. Add your own levels. I mentioned this in part one. The best place to do this would be in the Tower of Zagig between each of the landings.

3. Soundtracks
The Tower of War: Conan the BarbarianHerzeleid
Tower of Power: Excalibur movie soundtrack
Tower of Zagig: The Ninth Gate, Selections from Eyes Wide Shut

Get this if: You want to complete your collection of Greyhawk materials. You want to run a campaign featuring the Greyhawk Ruins. Your players like exploring dungeons full of traps, monsters, and treasure--even though some it might not make logical sense.

Don't get this if: You're not interested in 2e adventures or you still have a 25 year old grudge against TSR.

Day 28: Remember Why You're There. Playing D&D Matters.

That would be the single most important lesson I've learned from playing D&D, and it applies to other activities in life. Let me elaborate. 

When I'm working, I'm working. When I'm writing, I'm writing. When I'm playing D&D, I'm playing D&D. 

A lot of gamers lack commitment, they play D&D with one foot in. They do it for many reasons--maybe they don't know the other players very well, or maybe they'll think the campaign will fold soon. They'd rather talk about politics. They surf the Internet during the game. They chronically show up late. While there's other priorities out there that certainly surpass D&D, they don't give the game the priority it deserves. 

Playing D&D matters, because its an opportunity to shut out life's problems, play a character in a mythical world, and just have fun with a group of friends. Its escapism, pure and simple. But it's colaborative.

A player once told me that my Sunday afternoon game was the only time she could relax--she was a full time student with a full time job. The game has helped friends with PTSD by giving them something else to think about. Years ago, D&D helped me get out of a depression when I realized I was playing it way too much.  

Yet you must have a certain amount of discipline to play D&D and keep out the countless distractions that beg for your attention. You're sitting down and interacting with a group of people for an average of 4 hours per session. A lot of people can't do that. 

The DM has to spend additional time, often alone, developing adventures and a campaign setting. A lot of people can't do that either. 

This discipline has translated over into other aspects of my life. 

Playing D&D can help make you a better, dare I say "enlightened," person.  Just read this article. And this article. And this article. The list goes on. 

Playing D&D matters. Remember that. It matters to you, those around you, those who came before, and those who'll come after.  If it didn't, then it wouldn't have lasted for 40 years. 

Happy 40th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons! 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

I would focus on one thing at a time. 

Back when I first started playing D&D, TSR cranked out a smorgasborg of campaign settings. My players first romped through Greyhawk, but then we discovered Ravenloft, then Planescape. They even gamed in an early version of my homebrew setting: Domikka. Others in the group ran Dragonlance and Dark Sun. We wanted it all. We thought we had all of the time in the world.

But as I mentioned on Day 25, the Greyhawk Campaign never got finished. 

So I would have focused on getting that done, before moving on to another setting. I would have made Planescape a seperate campaign.

But we did have a blast, despite the distractions. 

In recent years, when I start a new campaign, I aim for a shorter time committment. I tell my players: "I plan on running this campaign for a year. Can you commit to that? Can you commit to playing every (Sunday Afternoon/two weeks/etc.) for a year?"

I've finished more campaigns that way. 

For my next campaign I might break it down into "seasons" of about three to six months (depending on how often we play).

But for now, I'm easing off running campaigns. 

I'm focusing on just being a player in both wargaming and roleplaying. I've got miniatures to paint up. The time I would normally use to prep a campaign is being focused on painting up those.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I want to cast a Fireball... When's the last time you cast a Fireball?

The blog hop and playing Grimmsgate has gotten me thinking about a lot gaming-related things. For some reason, I just got to thinking about the last time I had a character cast fireball. A nice healthy fireball, doing at least 6d6 damage, where the opponent doesn't make a saving throw.

It's been about eight years, unfortunately. I had a 10th level wizard incinerate a charging group of orc warg-riders. A fireball took out most of them and followed it up with a wall of fire. The DM just kinda rolled his eyes and said, "so much for that."

Upper level wizards can be so broken. But they were charging the group across an open field and made such easy target.

When's the last time you had a character cast fireball? 

(Or maybe I just used this post as an excuse to post a Rammstein pic)


Day 26: Do I still game with the group that introduced me to the hobby?

The group that introduced me to D&D was my brother's group so long ago. As I mentioned on the very first day of this Blog Hop Challenge, I was barely more than a toddler when they started gaming at our house. So I didn't get to play, but I did watch from time-to-time.

The games my brother ran were but one-on-one sessions where I was the only player. Those didn't last too long.

Back in the day I wished I'd gotten more experience being a player before becoming a dungeon master, but it just didn't happen that way.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 25: Longest Running Campaign/Gaming Group I've Been In

That's a map from the Greyhawk: From the Ashes boxed set. I used it a lot during the 10 years I ran my Greyhawk Campaign, from 6th grade until my 4th year in college.

The PCs travelled all over that map. They romped all over the Wild Coast, adventured in the Free City of Greyhawk, delved into ruins in the Cairn Hills, and explored lost ruins in the Gnarley and Welkwood forests. They even went outside the map at times, even travelling to and from Ravenloft and Planescape.

We had a good run. Alex, Ian, Nathan, Mike, and the other Mike--even my brother who introduced me to D&D would play sometimes. There we other gamers, but those stuck with it, more or less, for the long haul.

I'd run more-or-less monthly--or try to. Scheduling was always a problem. Sometimes, after we hadn't played in awhile, we'd do marathon sessions starting Saturday afternoon, play until 3 am, stuff ourselves full of snacks and pizza, go to sleep, wake up late Sunday morning, and play for a few more hours.

Sometimes things got pretty loopy at 3 am. But it was fun.

It always amazed me how much material the group would get through. I was the great DM who prepared everything, but sometimes I'd have to wing it--or pull out another module I'd somewhat familiar enough to to run.

There was always another adventure. The campaign had a grand story arc. It should have wrapped up at the end of high school, but the last session left players wanting more (it was also one massive railroad that kinda left a bad taste in my mouth).

So I continued running for those who'd be home on the weekends from college. We all still pretty much lived in Iowa. The clock was ticking though. By my 4th year in college, the group had pretty much drifted apart.

We were only, at most, 2-3 sessions (or one marathon session) away from the campaign's climactic conclusion.

Sometime after, I told Alex, who had only missed one session during the entire campaign all of the secrets of the campaign and he said, "Whoa."

It seems like we had all the time in the world. Yet the world caught up with us.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mini Monday: Combining Wargaming and Roleplaying--your experiences?

Have you ever played in a campaign that where the GM ran both roleplaying and wargaming sessions? Like a massive military campaign where the adventurers go off to adventure while armies fight?

Since I got into the wargaming hobby some 14 years ago, I've always wanted to run a campaign where
miniature battles on the tabletop would influence what happens in the RPGs session.

Aside from a few skirmishes, however, my ambition was far bigger than abilities and the number of miniatures I had painted. Neither the massive siege of a city that I envisioned early on came to fruition, nor did any pitched battles. Also, most of the wargamers I knew played historical wargame--not too many fantasy armies, even for Warhammer, were available.

I once ran a scenario featuring a raid on a village. A PC participated on the raid and later became a true paladin as part of his back story to repent what he had done.

But what I'm talking about would feature military objectives. Armies would, for example, have to hold a bridge against an enemy while the PCs explore some nearby ruins looking for treasure and magic. I can even envision PCs becoming captains of their own mercenary bands at high enough level.

As my thoughts turn toward running my next campaign, I realize now that many of these resources are available. I have enough Hundred Years' War figures for two armies. Others I know own fantasy armies.

A simple rule system like Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming can be used for the wargaming, while a AD&D 2e or a retroclone would be used for the roleplaying. I wouldn't want anything too complicated.

Have you done or participated in anything like this? How did it go?

Day 24: First movie that comes to mind that I associate with D&D.

Maybe I should move on; its been almost 14 years. 

But the first movie that comes to mind when I think of D&D is the stupid D&D movie from the year 2000. Why couldn't it have been Lord of the Rings, or Conan the Barbarian? Anything but Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie. 

Because neither of these movies tried to fit the plot and story into the context of a game, and neither had a Wayans Brother make a smartass remark in every scene he was in. 

It was almost all too reminiscent of what happens when things digress too much at the gaming table, when players say they're playing D&D but instead jack around, quote Monty Python, and generally waste time. Meanwhile, the DM sends half-baked villains at the party that nobody takes seriously, all the while trying to cover up his plot holes with accessories ("look my new"--badly--"painted miniatures", which equates to the CGI in the movie, or Damodar's lipstick.)

Even worse, the movie actually turned off a prospective player to D&D. He played wargames, but wasn't sure about D&D. But he figured that the D&D movie might be somewhat representative of what happens in a D&D game. So we went to see it.

I came out of theater shaking my head. He came out saying, "Nah, I think I'll pass..."

But my games aren't like that! Really, they're not!

I think I let out a little cheer in the movie theater when Snails died.

EDIT: Here's how they could have made the movie better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Playing Grimmsgate! [Part 4 -- Finale]

[Obligatory Spoiler Alert]

Grimmsgate is done.

We had a good time, despite the fact that only two players showed up at first. And, though a third player arrived, the second player had to leave early. So the DM allowed us to run two character each.

So I pulled out my dwarf fighter/thief, Wolfram, and my new character from the last session, a Cleric of Virtoaa named Kristopf who speaks German and broken Common. The other player ran two fighters.

We first dealt with Ralmar, the sleazy the barkeep of the Silver Dagger Inn. That morning we found the common room empty. A few moments later Ralmar came out of the wine cellar followed by a terrible smell. He shut and locked the door and announced there would be no alcohol that day.

That wouldn't do. So we pressed him and he ran off.

We descended into the wine cellar and discovered a small dungeon with rats both big and small. At the end there was a summoning room, complete with a pentagram on the floor.

Suddenly, Ralmar came through a secret entrance and confronted us. He morphed into a strange ratman/demon thing. After a brief fight, Wolfram successfully moved silently and back stabbed the creature for maximum damage (Natural 20 for 16 hp!) with his +1 Shortsword.

Then we found a pulsating red gem covered in slime. An evil voice said that it'd get its revenge on us as the slime melted away, leaving behind a valuable gem.

By that time the third player showed up to help use finish clearing out the brief dungeon beneath the tavern. He brought his wizard. But then the second player had to go to another engagement. *Sigh* So the third player ran one of the fighters along with his wizard.

With the Ralmar dead, the drunken tavern owner, Gus, finally took back control of the Inn.

Kristopf gained enough XP to reach level 2. Now he could cast spells!

The group then made one final expedition into the ruins of the Temple of Law. We cleared out some unexplored rooms with more mutant molemen and learned more of the temple's history.

Finally, we confronted the source of the evil within the dungeon: the demon-host Arundel and its imp minions. We threw vials of  holy water found from a nearby blessed spring/pool. We attacked with spell and weapon. The demon's choking ash cloud made it hard to hit. But one by one the imps fell.

Kristopf used a cure light wounds heal the fighter, named Silver, wounded by Arundel. Then Arundel raged against Kristopf and the sun god he worshipped, tearing at him with claws. Kristopf collapsed, mortally wounded, but the wizard saved him with a potion of healing.

Wolfram tried to sneak up and back stab the demon-host, but missed with his attack, much to the dismay of the group.

Once on his feet, Kristopf raised his two-handed warhammer and shouted:

"Die Sonne scheint mir aus den Handen, kann verbrennen, kann auch blinden!"

The DM asked, "What does that mean?"

"The sun shining from my hands, can burn you, can blind you."

Kristopf smited the demon-host, destroying it once and for all.

(I had rolled another natural 20 for maximum damage)

We found some treasure, but Virtoaa awarded Kristopf by changing his two-handed warhammer with a spike on the end into a magical +1 weapon.

As we went outside, suddenly a wyrmling, possibly sensing the fall of Arundel, swooped down and attacked us. We had another difficult fight, but Rhaal, the last priest of the Temple of Law, aided us.

Finally, the evils both in and around Grimmsgate came to an end.

At this point, the other player went off to a Pathfinder game at another table (yeah...).  While he was gone, I sent Wolfram to find the wyrmling's lair. He discovered some treasure, as well as a treasure map.

When the player came back he asked, "Did you find anything in the dragon's lair?"


Playing through Grimmsgate was a lot of fun. I'm glad I put off reading through so I could play through it. I'll have a retrospective up soon, once I read through the module to see what parts we missed... ;)

Starting a New Campaign Syndrome (SNCS)

Do you or your group suffer from Starting a New Campaign Syndrome (SNCS)? 

Symptoms include: 
--Somebody announcing a new campaign almost every time you play.
--Playing only 2-3 sessions before the DM quits.
--Constant arguments over why certain rules are broken and how you'd run the game.
--Purchasing a bunch of rule books in a given system, playing only 2-3 sessions, and then dropping the system, only to start the cycle over with another system.
--Spotty attendance because multiple DMs are inadvertently competing for a limiting player base.

Snark aside, I've notice in my neck of the woods that somebody is always starting a new campaign, and its roughly within a "pool" of the same nebulous group of gamers. 

They'll have a session where they roll up characters. They'll play 1-3 sessions. And then the old campaign dies as somebody announces a new game. The cycle repeats. Multiple campaigns run simultaneously but they rarely make it past the third session. Gamers both young and old are involved.

In the midst of it all, they'll argue about the rules, why some aren't logical, why some character classes are broken, etc. One DM wanted to revamp the entire Pathfinder magic system. He did. Ran two sessions, and then gave up.

I've seen this behavior elsewhere over the years. I once new a close-knit group of 4 players that had been playing together since the late 1970s. But I knew them since the early 2000s. Every month it seemed they would start a GURPS campaign, frustrated that the last one didn't "work." They eventually switched to 3.5e, decided they didn't like that. Then they bought a bunch of 4e books, and then ditched 4e.

I just don't get it. It's not like they're rotating DMs. It's like just they can't focus enough to complete a campaign.

Do you, or anybody you know, suffer from or are recoverng from SNCS? Then please share your story. 

Because I really want to understand the psychology of this phenomenon, even though I'm keeping my distance...

Day 23: The Anvil of Crom

Conan the Barbarian was one of the first soundtracks I bought to play for my D&D games way back in late middle school. I'd just finally gotten a boombox with a CD player. See, "normal" people would go out and buy CDs of their favorite bands. But no, I wanted good music for my games.

I remember the session I first played "The Anvil of Crom." The group had been split up for some reason--all of the fighter-types were off doing something else, leaving the cleric, magic-users, and thief by themselves in the Cairn Hills a few days travel from the City of Greyhawk.

Suddenly, the group got ambushed by ogres. Just as all seemed lost, the fighter-types returned on horseback, making a grand cavalry charge into the ogres with their heavy horse lances (that's 6d6 damage against large creatures back in the day!) Then they fought the rest with their longswords and two-handed swords.

Before I got the CD played I'd make mixed tapes. Sometimes I'd record sounds off the TV, even soundtracks from video games like Final Fantasy II and III.

My goal, for the longest time, was to get a 5-disc CD changer. But by the time I got that, mp3s started being all the rage. Now I hook up a couple small speakers to my laptop and use I-Tunes.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 22: First D&D-based Novel I Ever Read

Upon reflection, the first D&D books I read were probably those Endless Quest books. But I'd hardly call them novels, per se. Most of them were fun reads, though.

The first D&D-based novel I read was Artifact of Evil, by Gary Gygax himself. I still have my brother's old and ragged copy. I was probably 10 or 11, and was a little shocked and amused at some of the foul language used by the villains in the story: the infamous dwarf Lord Obmi and hid insane elf accomplice Keak.

But I liked Gord's quest across the continent with his companions to hunt for the Artifact of Evil. It starts with the end of a massive siege in the Pomarj and ends up in the Vesve forest. Adventurers come and go (and even perish) from Gord's group.

On the way they passed through the Village of Hommlet, met Melf the Elf, and even the Archmage Tenster. Its starts with the end of a massive siege in the Pomarj and ends up in the Vesve forest. Adventurers come and go (and even perish) from Gord's group. My favorite character was actually Gellor the half-elf bard.

It's a good meat-and-potatoes book with its simple plot, though at first I didn't understand what the Artifact of Evil would do (it'd be many years before I'd get the chance to read Saga of the Old City, the first book in the series--which is also a good read).

Its also the best book of the series, though I say this without having read all of the succeeding books. I read Sea of Death but couldn't get through Come Endless Darkness. The writing style had changed, was less vibrant, some parts were a chore to get though. No doubt Gygax's ousting from TSR affected the execution of these books beyond just having to change many of the names when he published the rest under New Infinities.

Still. Artifact the Evil is a high point and worth reading.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day 21: First D&D Books I sold for whatever reason

I don't remember. I think it might have been some Forgotten Realms material in the late 2000s.

But I really hated only getting $30 for a small collection at Half-Priced Books around 2005 or so. Money, however, was tight. And that's usually the only time I sell off parts of my collection. Even then, I'm pretty reluctant to do so.

Finding the Gems: WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins

This is the first part of a comprehensive review of WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins. Given some of the controversy surrounding this module, I felt like it needed an in-depth look, especially since its available again. 

It was first published way back in 1990, with Black Mobley and Timothy B. Brown as lead designers. It didn't really get much attention back then, perhaps they were leery after being insulted by its joke of a predecessor: WG7: Greyhawk Castle.

White Wolf magazine reviewed in issue #24 back then. But I don't have access to it. Not even Dragon magazine promoted the module outside of its "Previews" section issue #160.

In 1991, Lawence Schick, author of Heroic Words: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games called it "a classic illogical 'gilded hole' dungeon."

In 2008, Joseph Bloch called it an "anathema to the spirit of Greyhawk" because it has a plot.

In 2012,  James Maliszewksi said " Greyhawk Ruins may not be a particularly inspired example of a megadungeon, but it is a megadungeon and I give it points for that alone."

So let's go ahead address these criticisms before moving on to the good stuff.
--Greyhawk Ruins isn't Gygax's famous megadungeon. True, it isn't. Is it "anathema" to Greyhawk? That's for you to decide. I'm deliberately side-stepping the module's zeitgeist, and asking you to do the same, while focusing on finding the gems within, namely its playability and, if failing that, mining the module for ideas. 

--It is a classic dungeon, though illogical, designed with lots of monsters, traps, and treasure--there's lots of treasure to be found. Some people like this form of dungeon, others don't. But what do you expect from dungeon created by a mad wizard. As for being uninspiring, I disagree.

--Yes, there is a plot. 2e modules were known for there "lead them by the nose plots." Yet the plot here really isn't as overt as you'd find in other modules.

--The maps don't use grids, and are multicolored to indicate elevation. They're also skewed (see the picture to the right).

This is a fair assessment. I don't like these maps much either. But that can be fixed now.

So what do we have here? 
--A megadungeon set in the official World of Greyhawk campaign setting for AD&D 2nd Edition.

--You can base an entire campaign around the exploration of its ruins, since its meant for character levels 2-15.

--There are nearly 1,000 encounter descriptions. The dungeon is stuffed full of monsters, traps, and treasure.

--It introduced new monsters for the 2e game (or updated old ones for those still playing 1e--depending on your take).

--A rumors chart that ties into the general history of the ruins (The Circle of Eight, the escape of Iuz, and so on).

--A megadungeon that's been divided into almost three separate dungeons: The Tower of Power, the Tower of War, and the Tower of Zagig. While there's some connection between the dungeons beneath each tower, each has its own distinct "flavor" and monsters.

--A brief overview and summary of each "dungeon" at the beginning of the module.

--At the start of each level, there's also a brief overview of said level, to aid DMs.

Finding the Gems
I'll cover the Tower of Power, the Tower of War, and the Tower of Zagig in upcoming posts. But here's what's good about the overall module.

--The maps on the inside of the cover show the area surrounding the ruins and a cross section of the megadungeon itself. (See right)

--As an interesting twist, typically "good" races  like dwarves and elves try to extort money from the PCs when they come and go from different parts of the dungeon.

--I think color-coded maps showing elevations are a good idea, it keeps the PCs guessing whether or not they are ascending or decending to a different level.

--Lots of encounters. Even if you don't use this module, there's plenty of ideas to take and plunk down in your own games.

--Some of these encounters reveal clues to the history of the place.

--There's only one example of boxed text.

--An entire campaign can be based on the exploration of this megadungeon.

--You get to adventure in a version of Castle Greyhawk, the dungeon that started it all.

Augmenting the Adventure
--Photocopy/Print the Monster Statistics charts on pages 4-7. They'll come in handy. The same with the wandering monster charts. There are no stat blocks for "standard monsters" in the text.

[EDIT, 3/22/14: In my copy of the pdf, the stats on page 4 are blurred]

--Have some secret entrance points into the dungeon from the wilderness. 

--If you want, using editing software to print off the maps in a non-skewed fashion. 

--Add your own NPCs/Villains. In fact, there's a couple spots where the module encourages you to do so.

--Add dead adventuring parties here and there, so the ruins live up to their reputation. 

--Make the adventure your own. This isn't Gygax's "Castle Greyhawk," its your Castle Greyhawk. Run it as you see fit. Add stuff from other "Greyhawk" sources."  Greyhawk Ruins is generic enough that it can be placed in your own campaign. Add your own levels. Use 1e adventures like EX1 Dungeonland and EX1: Beyond the Magic Mirror for more light-hearted play. 

I can understand the criticisms toward Greyhawk Ruins. Back in 1990, people were expecting something different. like the original notes from Gygax himself. Or they were upset that TSR ousted Gygax.

But that was 25 years ago. Since then the adventure has largely been unavailable, leaving up to a whole generation of younger gamers to just trust the words of their elders.

I paid $75 for my used hardcopy a couple years back. When I started reading through it, I said to myself: "This isn't bad. In fact, some of this stuff in here is quite good." 

Greyhawk Ruins is now available for  $$4.99 in pdf. For that price, isn't it worth taking another look? 

(No. I didn't get paid by WotC to write this review, which is solely based on the hard copy. Though, I own both now. Part 2 will be up next week.)

In Retrospect: Captive Planet, ENDLESS QUEST Book #17, by Morris Simon

Charles Akins over at Dyvers is showcasing old school fantasy art this month. One of his first this piece of art by Clyde Caldwell. I looked at it and was like: "Hey, I've still got Captive Planet laying around somewhere. Maybe I should do a review." Well, here it is.  

I remember buying this book in the late 1980s, before I was even playing D&D. They had a bunch of these Endless Quest books at 2 for $1 at KB Toys at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids. They're like Choose Your Own Adventure books, but based on D&D. A lot of them, I remember, are quite good--I've taken ideas from them to use in my own games over the years.

This one, however, is for Star Frontiers, TSR's contribution to the Space Opera genre (which I've never played). When I picked it up, I remembered not thinking it was a good as the other Endless Quest books. And when I read it, I was right. 

The dragon with the lasers on his head does appear in the book. In fact, there's more than one. But I never got that far after three tries. I only saw the dragons in the interior illustrations. 

In the story you are Andru, a robotics/computer whiz, who's lost contact with his parents on the Planet New Pale. You join forces with Brim Darkstar, galactic adventurer and sole survivor of a planet swallowed by a black hole, to discover what has happened, and why all communications with New Pale have been cut off. 

The problem with the book is that it takes awhile to even meet Brim Darkstar, and then it takes awhile to get to New Pale. And once on New Pale you spend a lot of time avoiding interesting things--though you do take control of a nuclear-powered plow. Any choice that leads to potential action gets you killed, while those that don't makes the story just snooze a long. 

At one point, the action picked up when the "garbot" came a long--a giant industrial sized vacuum cleaner. One of your companions, a hairy Yazarian, already has two grenades in his hand.

"Come on you big vacuum cleaner!" the warrior snarls. "Open your mouth for real nice treat!" 

He the garbot sucks up the grenades and blows up. 

After that you're given the choice to split the group or to keep the group together. I just to keep the group together and then everybody died. 

Yes, I'm taking into account that his book is meant for 10-year-olds, but I think even a 10-year-old would find it boring, because I do remember being bored with it when I was 10. 

The other Endless Quest books are better, like Mountain of Mirrors or The Dragon's Ransom. 

All of these books have cool artwork on their covers to lure you in. Inside each are ideas you can use for your games. But Captive Planet was a mediocre read. 

Maybe I'll review more of these books in the future, but right now I've got enough on my plate. 

My review for WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins will be up later today, along with my post for the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dark Dungeons: The Movie

Zombie Orpheus Entertainment
I completely forgot all about this Kickstarter to make Jack Chick's infamous tract into movie until stumbling upon on a link to it today. J.R. Ralls, the creator, raised just over $25k back in may. The movie isn't out yet--its missed in Nov. 2013 release. But  according to their Facebook page, they've begun filming.

It looks like most of the actors and actress are from the Seattle, WA, area. They've even got somebody to play Marcie's character Blackleaf. (I just wonder how big of a role it'll be).
Zombie Orpheus Entertainment 
I'm still not sure how J.R. Ralls, the producer, got Jack Chick's approval of this. He says it isn't meant to be a parody. If so, I guess every body's going get what they want from it. Jack Chick, and others who might be opposed to RPGs, will see it as great way to spread their message. Meanwhile, roleplayers will find it funny.

In other movie news, Nicholas Cage is starring in the latest version of Left Behind, though some are questioning his faith.

Ah the Rapture, scaring and confusing Christians since the 2nd Great Awakening, if not earlier. 

I just want there to be scene where Cage says, "I can't be-lieve I've been left... be-hind." 

Day 20: The First non-D&D RPG I played.

That would be Shadowrun, I believe. 

I think this was late in my 9th grade year in High School. And the GM ended up cross-dressing, though not during our games. 

My first impression was that Shadowrun was far more complicated than AD&D 2e. The GM, Charles, must have thought so, too. He gave us some pre-gens to choose from. I still have the character sheet for Fandarin, the elf combat mage, who drove around on a Harley Scorpion looking all badass.

I don't remember too much about the first adventure, save Charles telling everybody how to run their character and saying, "You chew up the pavement," every time you missed at shooting. It seemed like Fandarin had a lot of cool spells, but I could never make the spell roll or whatever check needed to cast them. So Charles would tell me to just shoot stuff--but Fandarin wasn't good at shooting.

The first session ended with everybody unloading into a vampire as it tried to get away in a helicopter.  That was fun.

The second session had something to do with going to Hawaii, but we couldn't take all of our cool equipment on the plane. So we left most of it behind.

When he got to Hawaii, Charles had an NPC show up and say, "well, why didn't you just dis-assemble all of your guns?"

I remember all of us getting pretty annoyed at that. Charles kept saying, "Well, this is a scenario for advanced players and characters." And I was like, "but this is only the second time we've ever played."

It was also the last time. I think he folded the game because he couldn't find "good enough" players.

I don't think I saw him much after that. I think he dropped out of school, becoming one of the 25% of  my class that didn't make it from their freshman to their senior year. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 19: And Now the Severe Beating of the First Gamer who just Annoyed the Hell out of Me.

Let's call him Jack.

Jack joined the ever-rotating roster of players I had in Middle School.

I DMed for him, I played alongside him, and it was irritating to do both. 

See, he had a character die in nearly every single session. And everytime a character died, he'd get mad. But then he'd do something similar that'd get his new character killed in the next game. 

It didn't matter if it was D&D, Middle Earth Roleplaying, or Star Wars d6. He would roll up a character, and it'd often be dead in the very same session.

We started calling him "Cannon fodder Jack." 

What's even worse that he often refused to look at the rules. He wouldn't pay attention to the game. I let him play because he didn't have too many other friends, and he would almost aways roll up a fighter. The group always seemed to need a fighter in those days. 

One of Jack's first characters was a human fighter. It got killed in the Haunted House outside of Saltmarsh. Something about, "don't search the dead body, let's poke it first." But he searched the body, and died of rot grubs. 

Next character: A human fighter who wandered away from the group for no apparent reason. He just suddenly announced he was walking away from the group. Killed by a random encounter with orcs or goblins after two days of walking away from the group. 

Next character: A Half-Ogre fighter. A real brute. Killed while charging a warband of 30 or so orcs after the group said, "NO! STAY BACK! Let's hit them with missile fire and draw them into an ambush." (I'd even fudged a few die rolls to try to keep the character alive). 

Sometimes, however, we'd end up in a game together at somebody else's house, and he would pull the same stupid crap. Once, in MERP, a fellow PC and I actually tied up Jack's hobbit because Jack's hobbit was trying to kill our character. (This was after his last character got surrounded and killed by 10 orcs after we told him to run away, fall back with the rest of the group)

At some point, a mutual friend told me that Jack did not like me at all. He thought I was trying to take the few friends he had away. He thought I was out to get him. Once I asked Jack about this, but he wouldn't say anything. This was before he stole from me.

I should have cut him loose then, if not before. But little did I know I'd fallen into 5 Geek Social FallaciesBut I tolerated him for a couple years because I could count on him showing up to a session.

Jack's next and LAST character: A thief. Killed while climbing the walls inside of a tower, making himself the perfect target for an enemy crossbowman, while the rest of the group engaged in melee combat with the rest of the enemies. 

After the session ended, I discovered Jack was a thief in real life; he stole some of my miniatures. The miniatures were on the kitchen table when I went back to my room to put some books away. I overheard Jack say, "Well, I'm gonna go." He was standing next to the kitchen table. When I came back out, Jack was gone and so were the miniatures. I banned him from my home. 

And then things went downhill from there. He started prank calling me, or trying to start fights on the bus afterschool. Jack also had a minor role in a mutual friend's D&D stuff getting burned. Jack would rat him out to his parents whenever he found out I running a D&D game at my place.

We got into a lot of fights. 

Once, after a game and somebody else's place, he slammed the front door on my nose. I pushed the door back open, punched him in the throat, which sent him backward over a kitchen chair. I stormed home with a bloody nose.

Another time he ran at me, swinging a rusty saw (its a long story as to why he had the saw), so I picked up a large stick and bapped him over the head. He said, "Ow!" And dropped the saw. I dropped the stick and proceeded to beat the crap out of him. 

I remember getting in trouble for it, and I'm surprised the police didn't get involved. But once I said, "Jack charged me with a rusty saw," Jack was the one who got in the most trouble, despite me being the one to give him the serious drubbing. 

Yeah. Fun times.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 18: A confession--I don't go to gaming conventions often...

I've only been to a handful of gaming conventions in my whole gaming career and, except for DragonCon, there were less than 100 people each.

My first was Fields of Honor, a wargaming convention in Des Moines, Iowa, back in 2003 or 4. I've been to that once twice. I'm not sure if CyCon in Ames, Iowa, counts. Apparently it was big in the late 1990s. But every year I went it was just the same gamers from around ISU until it went defunct a few years back.

I volunteered for DragonCon last year, but my weekend got shot out from under me after the first day because of an emergency.

Time and money were both problems. Still are. I just don't have the luxury to spend hundreds of dollars to go to a big convention where I know I'll spend hundreds of dollars more on merchandise. (Perhaps in the future).

Apparently, from all the stories I've heard, big conventions are either awesome or completely suck.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mini Monday: How to paint fire?

My painting spree from January has fizzled somewhat. I've got a number of projects in the works but only 2 figures completed, both from Reaper: A Burning Sphere and St. Tarkus.

So that's 75 figures for this year.

While I think I did a decent job with both, I'm wondering if there's a better way to paint fire. Here's what I did: 

I primed the figure black, then painted a base coat of Army Painter Matte White. Then I used a mix of Matte White and Games Workshop's Golden Yellow for the second coat. I recall then drybrushing a pure Golden Yellow--but that was too bright, so I washed it down with the Sunburst/Matt White mixed and then dry brushed on GW Blazing Orange. I topped of the edges of the flames with an very orange-looking red.

I'm satisfied with the result--it doesn't look like a ball of ketchup and mustard--but how would you paint flames? 

Day 17: The first time I heard that D&D was somehow "evil."

It was in sixth grade.

I was with my friend Nathan (who would later become the DM who killed my first character with a pit fiend) after school, walking from his place to mine.

We'd been at his place. I asked about rolling up his character in front of his older sister. He looked at me and drew his thumb and forefinger across his lips, telling me to be quiet.

On the way to my place he explained that his sister probably wouldn't rat him out.

I was confused.

His parents, he continued, thought D&D was evil. But they used to play it back in the day before they became hardcore Christians--later I learned that his father was trying to established his own fundamentalist church in town.

They'd gotten rid of all of their books, but Nathan had found his dad's AD&D Monster Manual in a closet sometime before we'd met. His parents took it away, maybe even burned it. But he wanted to know more about D&D, so he started reading the Dragonlance Chronicles. Oddly enough, his parents were okay with those--maybe they didn't see the connection. I don't know.

Nathan insisted that his parents could never find out he was playing D&D, ever.

I found it strange, partly because I didn't have a particularly religious upbringing, but also that people would get riled up over a game. 

We kept this secret for almost three years, until the summer between 9th and 10th grade.  His mother discovered his D&D books the regular way mothers do when they find drugs, Playboys, and other contraband: she cleaned his room.

His parents took Nathan somewhere (out in the country, I recall) and burned his D&D books while they prayed for his soul. This included HeroQuest, his Dragonlance novels, and my old copies of the Monstrous Compendiums I & II.

It was traumatic for everybody involved. I remember Nathan calling me, telling me what had happened, saying that we couldn't hang out anymore.

Sometimes he'd sneak over to my place. But if his parents suspected anything, they'd get in the car and lay siege to the apartment building I'd lived in until he came out. This happened about 4-5 times--once he wasn't even there.

In retrospect, things weren't that bad--for me anyway--despite being the center of a witch hunt. Yet at the time I risked losing a friend and I was scared of what might happen next.

And yeah, Jack Chick is funny... until people believe him and do something about it. 

In order for his parents to lay off, and for Nathan and I to be friends again, I had to tell them that I got rid of my books. I'm still not proud of that lie.

But the drama was getting out of hand, spreading. I'd share more but it'd mean a much longer post. 

Maybe I'll talk about it more in my memoirs someday...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Finding the Gems: Monstrous Compendiums I & II [Part 2]

From Dragon Magazine #155.

This is sort of a follow up to Finding the Gems review on Feb. 13.

While combing through Dragon #155, looking for reviews on WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins, I came up on a "Sage Advice" column where Skip Williams answer questions about the Monstrous Compendiums. I found some of these questions and answers amusing. They also give us some insight how the Monstrous Compendiums were edited what monsters were chosen for 2e.

If you have Dragon #155--open it an read it. There's a number of other gems you can find it besides this column. This is back when Dragon was a hobby magazine, covering other games besides D&D. 

From Dragon #155, Page 8
Williams lays the smack down with his first response to the first question: why hasn't devils and demons made an appearance in 2e? 

Williams chides the questioner for his ignorance about society and then point out that the "Satanic Panic" toward D&D was caused by handful of people "well known for their questionable religious dogmas long before the D&D and AD&D games came on the scene."

You can read both parts of the complete answer on the right.

Still, the "vituperation" made TSR decide to keep them out of the new edition. In my mind, this was a mistake, just as renaming them "Baatezu" and "Tanar'ri."

In my experience, those of "questionable religious dogmas" still hated the game and burned books anyway.

Now on to the more amusing questions: 

"How come dragons are allowed armor classes better than -10 when the DMG limits characters to -10?" 
Answer: "Dragons aren't characters."

Yeah! That's right. None of this stuff where every freaking monster gets a stat block like in later editions!

"How can a fire giant be totally immune to red dragon breath.... and still be vulnerable to fireballs...?
Answer: "This was the subject of heated discussion during the game's production." First, dragon breath isn't magical. Second, since there's so many fire spells in the game, making fire giants immune might unbalance things. 

Aren't one leader and three assistants for every three orcs simply too many leaders and assistants?
Answer: "Yes. The correct number is one leader and three assistants for every 30 orcs."

This is my favorite, because I was just reading about this in the Let's Read the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual pdf downloaded at Monsters and Manuals.

I remember looking at that and scratching my head back in the day. 

The odd thing: despite this being pointed out in "Sage Advice," the entry never got corrected in any of the printings of the Monstrous Manual as far as I know. I have both the 1993 and 1995 versions.

It also still amazes how much Dragon changed over the years. Issue #155 came out in 1990. Back in those days you could find reviews on fiction, games besides D&D, and even computer games. It used to cover wargaming and miniatures as well. 

Even in that Sage Advice article, Williams answered a question about AD&D 1e. 

Next gem to dig for...

WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins. 

Day 16: Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win?

Oh yes, I remember my first Edition War very clearly, though I didn't realize I was fighting one at the time. In the short term, I did lose--I wouldn't get anybody to play 3e for awhile. But I won in the long run, because I learned some valuable lessons.

A month or two after 3e came out, I started going to school at Iowa State University and joined the Guild of Wargamers and Roleplayers there. They met Saturdays in the Memorial Union. I couldn't wait to meet some like-minded people who wanted to try out 3e like I did. I was excited for the new edition and really wanted give it a shot. Somebody mentioned I should talk to the roleplaying groups down the hall. 

I ended up being in a group of 15 players and one harried DM, all packed into little conference room. I'd only heard stories of groups that massive, but there I was, rolling up a character. They were preparing to take their characters on some grand expedition. 

What followed was madness. 

Two hours later we still hadn't started the adventure. The DM looked haggard from getting bombarded with questions. The DM looked haggard from getting bombarded with questions. Half of the players weren't paying attention. The other half were getting annoyed at the first half. 

Surely, I thought, somebody here would be interested in trying a different game, since this one is going nowhere. I wanted to, in part, to help the DM out. So I asked if anybody was interested in playing 3e. 

Boy, did I get an ear-full. I didn't get criticized by everybody in that group, but the minority sure made up for the the majority. 

"I don't wanna have to use miniatures to play D&D." 

"They nerfed rangers in 3e." 

"I'm not gonna buy another set of expensive books. Wizards of the Coast is just trying to make more money." 

"We're here to play AD&D 2e, and that's that." 

I tried to defending my viewpoint, but it was no use. So I shut up. 

Sometime after that the expedition finally began. Our first encounter consisted of goblins riding teradactyl-like flying mounts. Only half of the group had missile weapons that could hit them. My character, a rogue if I remember, didn't. The combat took forever. I'd wasted an afternoon, gotten criticized for even bringing up 3e, and now my character couldn't do much of anything except hide. So I bowed out. 

I eventually did get a 3e group going, but nobody from that 15 player group joined. It took awhile. I remember spending a couple Saturday afternoons down the hall in a smaller conference room waiting for players who said they'd show up but didn't. 

Lessons learned: 
1. Don't recruit for your game in another DM's session. 
2. DM's should use the power of "no" to avoid running large groups. 
3. Know when to walk away instead of trying to explain your position. 
4. Some gamers would rather do "nothing" for an entire afternoon rather than try something new or different. 

It's the last lesson that puzzles me. I'm sure these gamers have their reasons. Some of players in the aforementioned group kept telling me that the DM was a great DM. Little did they know, however, that said DM told me he wanted to start killing off characters to get people out of the group--even he admitted the campaign wasn't going anywhere. 

Last year, when I was running Swords & Wizardry at my FLGS, a Pathfinder player walked up, wondering what we were doing. It turns out his group wasn't meeting that night after all. So we invited him to join us. Give S&W a try. He kinda turned up his nose at the prospect. 

Instead he sat by himself for 2-3 hours at nearby table, looking over his Pathfinder books, while we played S&W and had a great time. 

Is this where have Edition Wars have gotten us? Gamers would rather do NOTHING, rather than TRY another version of D&D? 

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