Dear oh dear oh dear

After a false start last week, I re-started my S&W campaign last night. Oh deary deary me.

I totally sucked. The suckage was immense. I stand in awe at my own suckitude.

I was really not on my game at all; I forgot to take all my maps and other prep stuff for a start — we were playing at Andrew's place, not mine, so instead of just going to another room to get the stuff I'd forgotten I had to go home again. Then, once we got going I found that I was really just not feeling the vibe, and my descriptive powers were bland and lacklustre to say the least. I managed to kill one of the party more or less accidentally in the set-up to the campaign start, and then killed half the party with trolls later on due to woolly-headed thinking about the nature of the battlefield* (it was on board a small ship). I may have to go back to using miniatures and tabletop battle-maps so that people can make meaningful tactical decisions without having to rely on my worthless brain-meats to keep track of everything.

Now, I don't actually mind too much killing characters, but I really do prefer it if it's their fault (or at least, the fault of an uncaring universe via random probability variations) and not mine. Annette really takes it personally, but then she seems to think that the GM should actually be benevolently on the side of the characters, poor naïve trusting soul that she is. I don't think that, but I don't think the GM's incompetence should have to be one of the challenges the characters have to work against.

D. Must try harder. See me after class.


* In my own defence, nobody except Andrew actually asked any questions about the battlefield or attempted any sort of tactical action, so the combat just boiled down to a dice-rolling competition — three 5th-level characters against five critters, each roughly the combat-equivalent of a 9th-level fighter. I'd say they got off lightly, really.

More creativity from somebody else

Zak, from over at Playing D&D With Porn Stars, came up with this excellent rationalization of a D&D-style multiplanar milieu. I do believe I may steal it in its entirety and run off sniggering into the night, with a muah-ha-ha-haaaa and a twirling of my dastardly moustachios.

Monsters and Manuals: Yes I Just Collated Loads Of Stuff From Other Blog Entries

Monsters and Manuals: Yes I Just Collated Loads Of Stuff From Other Blog Entries

Oh, the irony. Sort of. Of just publishing a link to a collation. I don't necessarily agree with 100% of what noisms has to say, but he does often stir up my brain-meats.

Talking Animals

I was reading through some AD&D spell descriptions yesterday, and noted that the druid and magic-user versions of Reincarnation differ quite dramatically in the range of critters a dead character can come back as. The druid spell will probably bring you back as an animal of some kind, while the magic-user version will always result in some humanoid type or other.

Dark Sword anthropomorphic mouse fighter,
nice miniatures, if you like that sort of thing
In my Swords & Wizardry campaigns, I've conflated the magic-user and cleric spell lists, so there's just the one version of reincarnation, and there's no set list of resulting creature types. It occurs to me that the spell would be an ideal explanation for the existence of talking anthropomorphic animals with opposable thumbs and a bad attitude....

It's an outcome that would have to be employed with some care. Not every player is a secret (or not-so-secret) furry, not every player is going to enjoy waking up as a talking badger. But for those who swing that way, it could be fun, until the novelty wears off.

I've never really seen the point of the druidic reincarnation spell; it always seemed to me that it was mostly a pointless waste of time and an annoying "gotcha!" — your character dies, boo-hoo, but not to worry, you can be reincarnated! And you come back to life, but as a muskrat or something, and scurry off to burrow through the leaf-litter eating bugs (or whatever muskrats do). Not a lot of scope for adventuring there.

Hirelings




Looking back over some old — sometimes very old — campaign journals, I note that hirelings are most notable by their absence. It seems to be taken for granted in all the old-school rulebooks that PCs will hire flunkies to do their heavy carrying and what-not, but we almost never did as far as I can find.

Maybe it's because we were always too cheap to pay wages, but I think it's more likely because we were a bunch of softies who felt guilty at the inevitable demise of such fragile creatures, for whom we felt a responsibility of care. It's bad enough having to constantly replace horses, especially if (by some miracle) they'd lasted a couple of adventures without being gutted and eaten by some hideous abomination.

It's a pity really; the addition of a miscellaneous group of sometimes questionable reliability or loyalty, largely reliant on the PCs for their very survival, can add an interesting social element to running a party. It actually makes Charisma useful, instead of becoming the inevitable dump-stat. And if, as we were, the players are basically decent types who played basically decent types, the very vulnerability of the hirelings to a ridiculously dangerous environment can provide the DM with a host of side-quest ideas.

NOTE: The picture to the right, of Bearer No.4, was one of the very first things I coloured in Photoshop 2, but I can't for the life of me find the coloured version, so this will just have to do. The one to the left is a recent thing that I doodled in Painter VIII.

Adder-wyrm

Adder-wyrm

HD: 1-3 hp
AC: 5 [14]
Attack: Bite 1-2 pts, claws 1-3 pts
Move: 12"
Save: 18
Special: Venomous bite, climbing, camouflage

These shy, diminutive creatures are hunters and scavengers, about the size of a chihuahua, preying on any insect, reptile or mammal up to about the size of a rat, or feeding on the remains of any larger animals they may find. They are not particularly aggressive unless cornered, and will (if possible) flee from anything larger or more dangerous than their prey; if they attack a larger creature, it will be solely so that they can escape, and they will not persist if an escape route presents itself.

Their needle-like fangs can inflict deep puncture wounds, and the bite is venomous: a paralysing and  necrotizing poison that numbs and eats away at the surrounding tissue, leaving it dead and gangrenous. A bite to a hand or foot will, over the course of a few Turns, will leave it numb, useless and stinking. A bite to the head or neck can easily kill the victim.

The adder-wyrm has gecko-like pads on its spatulate toes, allowing it to run up sheer surfaces and even across ceilings. Like a chameleon, it has an extensible tongue that it can use to attack flying insects and the like, and it can also change its colour to match its background — when motionless, an adder-wyrm can be quite difficult to detect.

The retiring nature of the adder-wyrm means that it usually presents no great threat to adventurers, but they will sometimes creep into a bag or pack in search of food, and may sometimes be surprised during the search of a chamber.

Adder-wyrms live in all sorts of environments short of arctic cold, and in the tropics they can become something of a pest, as they breed more successfully the warmer and more humid the climate. They are often found underground when food is plentiful.

Adder-wyrms make very poor pets, but might possibly serve as a wizard's familiar.

Byzantium


I'm not sure where this excellent map of Old Constantinople came from, but it's great. It wouldn't be as easy to use in a game as a boring old plan view of the city, and it's certainly not accurate to scale, but it's a wonderfully evocative image.

This is a modern image, but it's very reminiscent of 15th-16th century woodcut city maps I've seen from Northern Europe, especially Germany.

Treasure Map

I like to have physical props for my players to fiddle with, and one of the ones I've created over the years was this treasure map which I made to go with the opening of a low-level campaign I ran once.

All the characters started out as zero-level farm brats, the McMurdoch siblings, forced off the farm upon the death of their father. This map was found amongst his effects, along with his old sword and chain shirt.

That campaign was at its most fun when the characters were all hopelessly incompetent, but as they gained experience it became a lot more run-of-the-mill — I don't mean it wasn't fun then too, but it wasn't really much different to any other campaign. In the beginning, decisions like what farm equipment to take with them really mattered (they decided to take the anvil, for some reason). Later on, that sort of stuff disappeared. Ah well.

Anyway, I drew the map with coloured ink on heavy rag paper, and then baked it until it became quite fragile so that the players (just like their characters) had to be quite careful about how they handled it.

Wizard

Another old picture. A creepy bald wizard this time; you just know he means no good.

Sandman

I have shown this image before, but not here, so here it is.

This is a critter I drew for my AD&D campaign some considerable time ago. Apart from some camouflage ability, there was nothing particularly special about them; they were pretty much just generic orc-replacements for a desert adventure.

However, that's not to say they couldn't be made a lot more interesting if one were so inclined.

The image can be inflated merely by clicking on it. What a marvellous age this is in which we live!

NOTE: The image is skewed because that's how I drew it. I don't remember why I did that.

Siegfried Slays the Dragon Fafnir

I was looking through some old sketch books and found this — I drew it some time in 1985, when I was "working" at the Lyttelton Library on some student job scheme or other. I was hired to produce a history of Lyttelton for the Harbour Board, but when they found out how much it would cost to print they dumped that idea and shuffled me off into a back room at the library, out of sight and out of mind. I spent my time there reading through their science-fiction and fantasy collection, and scribbling in my sketchbooks.
Even older than that is this one, from 1983. It was drawn from a photograph of a Tibetan rhododendron forest, and I just added the little dude on the rock. It's drawn with a Rotring rapidograph, probably a 0.18mm nib since that's what I favoured at the time. I quite like it really.

I shall call him... Mini-Me

A couple of days ago, another purchase arrived in my mailbox. Observe, if you will, the beauty and glory that is the A5 size imprint of the OSRIC AD&D retroclone, from Usherwood Publishing. I show it here with the large-format hardcover and softcover versions of the same content.

It's a Lulu print-on-demand book, and costs $US 13.50 (plus postage to NZ of about $7). With the exchange rate as it is at the moment, it ended up costing me about $NZ 26-ish all-up, which is not too bad at all.

It's terrific, and I can see it being my default version in use. I'm a great fan of smaller book sizes than the traditional US Letter format; they take up less room on the table, they're easier to shelve, and they're much lighter and more convenient to carry around.

A tool in search of a task

Today was the official grand re-opening of Comics Compulsion, the pusher of all my comic-based junk, who had been forced to move owing to earthquakes knocking down most of our central business district. They also stock wargaming and roleplaying stuff, though naturally they go for the more commercially viable brands (Warhammer, Flames of War, D&D4e etc.) rather than the weirdo crap I prefer.

I wandered along there to take a look at the new premises and to pick up a stash of 2000AD and Judge Dredd comics, and while standing at the counter I saw THIS ⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒

A d30. A thirty-sided die. A die for generating random numbers from one to thirty.

Now, at present I have absolutely no use for a d30, except maybe to generate random days of the month (which I could do with a d3 and a d10 anyway). However, if there's one thing I've learned over the years it is that not having an immediate use for a Cool Thing is no reason not to own one, so without hesitation I laid down the princely sum of four bucks to get a d30 of my very own.

So, now I have one. All I need now is some reason to use it. Time to start hunting out all the d30-based random generation tables people with too much time on their hands have been obsessively compiling for just such an occasion.

Yet Another Hill

 I got a cheap 30-watt foam-cutting hot wand from China a few days ago, and tried it out by carving up a foam off-cut into another hill. ...