Thursday, July 31, 2014

Along the Road of Tombs

Recently the Tenkar's Tavern wrapped up a competition called OSR Superstar.  Perhaps it's a silly name but I figured I'd enter and managed to keep going until the final round.  The final round was completing a map by Matt over at (who's Maps for Heroes campaign is wrapping up today and could use some support - it's got some cool maps in it and supports the Wounded Warrior project) and then keying it.  I finished a map but went a bit beyond my original intent.  Below is a 42 page adventure set in the Fallen Empire setting that I've mused about here before.  It's a fairly vanilla setting, and stated up for Sword's and Wizardy Complete.  Anyhow hope people like this adventure - it's a romp about bandits, cults and slumber ancient war machines.


This version is far better edited then the one submitted to the contest, and I've added some art - sadly no my own, but some of the plates by Piranesi that inspired this adventure.  Also special thanks to the folks who took a look at this a few days ago and let me know what else I might want to include.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Engineer - HMS Apollyon subclass

As the new campaign running the HMS Apollyon begins to happen regularly I've started trying to complete sections of my player guide as they are needed.  It's not an easy process.  Still below is the subclass/aptitude page for the Engineer.  Engineers have proven popular amongst players, I think as they fit with the aesthetic of the game, but they have proven to be interesting and useful in their own right.  The ability to catch a third target in the splash from an oil bomb is reasonably potent, and while the Engineering skill hasn't come up in play yet, I believe it will have as much or more benefit as the skills traditionally given to dwarfs in other games.  The Apollyon has two interlocking skill systems: skills, borrowed from LOTFP, are based on a X in D6 chance, while Aptitudes are a tiered system that grants specific bonuses (and often skills).  The Engineer is a fighter subclass that has more skills then general modifiers and doesn't become as effective in melee as other fighter types will - except under the specialized circumstances of wearing, heavy, unwieldy power armor or operating a piece of crew served heavy weaponry.  

As with my other Player's Guide items the Engineer is also available here as a PDF

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Deep Carbon Observatory - Maps


A few posts ago I lamented the fact that the excellent adventure Deep Carbon Observatory (link to purchase on RPGNOW) lacked classic top down maps, because it was hard for me to visualize running a couple of its areas using only the elevation or isometric maps provided.  Since I like the adventure, like drawing maps, like the author, like the artist and especially like the strange and evocative environment that the adventure manages to create without departing too far from a standard fantasy world, I have decided to draft maps for the Deep Carbon Observatory.

I chose the adventure’s ultimate destination and location because it seemed the most complex and most in need of reference.  This becomes especially true as there’s a good chance that the observatory will end up being run as a chase.  The map is nicely set up for this, with only a few dead ends and many loops.
I was not able to replicate the measurements described in the  adventure itself, as these would make some areas very very small and others oddly huge.  Instead I tried to keep my scale in line with that of the elevation map.  
DCO - Lvl 1
 Level 1 – AREAS 1,2 , 26 and 39 – 44

DCO - Lvl 2
Level 2 AREAS 3-12, 26 – 28

DCO - Lvl 3

DCO - Lvl 4

DCO lvl 5
 Level 5 AREAS 22 – 25, 29

DCO - Lvl 6

DCO - Lvl 6

DCO - Level 8


DCO - Lvl 9

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reputation and Factions Aboard the HMS APOLLYON

I've Long claimed that my HMS Apollyon game at least a good part about negotiating the characters' place amongst the factions in its "safe" area.  In the past I've done this primarily via roleplaying encounters and a vague sense of how each faction feels about the PCs.  I've tried to transform this into a more mechanical system that allows something more than simple GM whim to determine what a specific faction might provide and how a character may gain that faction's favor.

Below is an excerpt from the Players manual I am slowly piecing together that explains how the reputation system functions.  The link to the full PDF from the manual is also below and contains a great deal of additional information about the individual factions of Sterntown.  It's pretty much a gazetteer of Sterntown so it may be of some interest.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Strange and Wonderful Bleakness - Deep Carbon Observatory Review

deep caRbon observAtory

I have read Patrick of False Machine’s Deep Carbon Observatory, an adventure, or setting, or even campaign. The module compares favorably with other contemporary offerings, such as the better LOTFP modules, but has its own approach and unique feel.  The adventure focuses on a riverine expedition in a sort of point based sandbox, suddenly flooded by the collapse of an ancient dam.  Rumors of mountains of ancient gold beneath the recently collapsed dam’s (now drained) lake have presumably drawn the party, as they have other (horrible) NPC treasure hunters.  Beyond the dung-ages horror of a flooded and starving landscape is an upriver journey through a variety of creepy nautical monsters (crabs, cuttlefish, pike, frogs) all subtly warped and horrifically described.  The journey leads to the dam, its dying guardian golems and ultimately a lake bed of ancient and unnatural weirdness that hides the “Deep Carbon Observatory” itself.  The observatory is an entrance to the Underdark, and not Gygax’s glowing mushrooms and petulant Drow Underdark, but False Machine’s utterly alien, beautifully psychotic Underdark.

A Suitable Cover
Broken into four rough sections (A town, a point crawl, the dam/lake, and the observatory) Deep Carbon has plenty of room for adventure, and the only limit on this is the presumed success of a very nasty NPC party if the PCs don’t push onward at a furious pace.  I like the scale of the adventure, especially because so many of the individual vignettes presented are compelling enough that I think a group of players could enjoyably spend at least a session on many of them.  This makes me ambivalent about the NPC party, who while one of the best (ok one of many wonderful) elements in the adventure could act to force the players’ hands.  The NPC party and its place in Deep Carbon Observatory is also somewhat hard to pin down without some page flipping, but that's a minor concern, and their inclusion creates a powerful and compelling enemy for the party.

Ultimately Deep Carbon Observatory is a thought provoking and wonderful adventure, almost novelistic in its scope and strangeness.  The author drops magnificent ideas and imagery haphazardly on every page of a quality that many adventure designer would convert into an entire campaign. Additionally there are some novel approaches to town encounters in the first section of the adventure that are thought provoking as a means of creating tension, and cause and effect without minimizing player agency.  Sadly Deep Carbon Observatory suffers a bit from a slavishness to the DIY aesthetic and a lack of polish, but other than some aggravating page transitions this is easily ignored. Additionally, the module’s scope makes it feel fragmentary (perhaps unavoidable given its size) at times and it repeatedly includes the lamentable sin of confusing maps. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

5E Character Sheet

So Dungeons & Dragons just released it's 5th edition. I've read the PDF and tried to figure out what people have to say about it.  I have heard some things, people playing it, people being excited.  Mostly though this is drowned out by obnoxious whining about some personalities involved in 5th edition's production.  Blah, seriously this hobby is far far to small for that sort of juvenile stupidity.

So rather then say anymore on the profound amount of stupid I see of late - here's a character sheet that should work for 5e.  It lacks equipment, and the two additional pages, the spell page and the genre fiction about you character page.  Equipment lists can be useful, and I wish I could have fit it, same with a spell list - maybe those should be on a next page, but I don't need a page of background to run a character - characters develop their stories through play.

I've gone with the most non-5th edition style I could, I've tried to make this look sort of Games Workshop mid-80's.

Friday, July 4, 2014

HMS APOLLYON - New Campaign - Play Report II

In which Briney the netfighter, Mr. Groob the incendiary, Nelson the Academic, Von Lumpwig’s Son the Reanimator and the disgraced passenger Anzio venture again into the Fetid Pit, lay waste to its denizens and face tragic consequences in a brutal melee.

Again into the Humid Jungles of the Fetid Pit

An expedition of scratch scavengers down the great airshaft marking Sterntown’s Port border gave up fine treasure on the last expedition and success draws imitators.   A smaller band of scavengers, most now proudly wearing the green arm band of The Scavenger’s Union (Groob, Von Lumpwig and Briney), and having recruited a stilt walking scholar by the name of Nelson, A fallen passenger caste elementalist called Anzio resolve to seek more treasure deeper in the pit.

Groob manages to talk a punch-drunk pit fighter the party decides to name “Punchy” into joining them as an equipment bearer, the addled fighter believing that the pit will be an excellent place to “Find flowers for a pretty lady”.  Before they disembark Von Lumpwig reveals his true nature as a dabbler in the cursed necromantic arts, though only up to raising an animate mass of chicken skin and soup bones cunningly wired into the form of one of the red worms the party battled in their first expedition.  Von Lumpwig names the creature “Kissy Face” much to the disgust of Mr. Groob who’s face is still bruised and scabbed from encountering the actual red worms.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

HMS APPOLYON - Living Costs and Basic Equipment

Rustgate Living

As Part of my new campaign of HMS Apollyon exploration I've decided to modify my price lists and downtime actions.  Below are housing options and a list of equipment.  It is worth noting that each of the Factions in Sterntown can provide their adherents with better equipment at a lesser price, as well as specialty items.

Life is cheap in the Rustgates, both in the sense that there is little protection for those without patrons or money to buy protection, and in that an individual can survive relatively cheaply eating from the various food vendors and gin shops while buying space in one of the many flophouses.   This sort of lifestyle, revolving around substance abuse, bad food and the constant threat of casual violence is not especially healthy, but its worst elements can be mitigated by spending gold.  

Each Expense Below has two categories Residence/Dining a character may spend money on each category, in addition to an actual carousing. The categories are cumulative, thus a session where the character runs out of money and lives like a hobo during the downtime means that next session they will have -2 HP per Hit Die.  Conversely a week of the high life might cost 1,000 GP but it allows the character to reroll twice  in the next session.
Many factions provide their members with at least the basic level of sustenance during downtime.  For example, any member of the Scavenger’s Union may sleep in its barracks (a flophouse) for free between sessions, but their food expenses are not covered, while Vory members are often asked to pay a vig of 10%  - 25% of their earnings for housing and food up to the Boarding House level.

Downtime Expense
Sleeping Rough/Dumpster Diving
- 1 HP/per HD (minimum 1 HP)
Bar Floor/ Booze and Snacks
5 GP
Flophouse/Noodle Shops
15 GP
+ 1 HP
Boarding House/ Hearty Food
50 GP
+ 1 to Saving Throws
Private Room /Fine Dining
100 GP
+1 HP/per HD
Sybaritic Luxury/Strange Drugs
500 GP
+1 Reroll

Sunday, June 29, 2014

B11 - King's Festival - Review

That's a Cool Cover with Solid 80's Beefcake
B11, Kings Festival is in many ways the opposite of B10-Night’s Dark Terror, rather than a sprawling journey with somewhat loosely connected parts and many side adventures, King’s Festival is narrowly focused and very tiny in scope. It is perhaps too tiny, and too simple to be remotely useful. This isn’t to say that King’s Festival is worthless, much of the adventure is a set of play aides and advice, and as these things go the advice and aides are both moderately useful. The module itself is nicely written and has a few good touches, with solid description and scene setting, unfortunately the descriptions and scene are also terribly boring in King’s Festival, and the module has this feeling of being risk adverse and washed out. This lack of setting and evocative detail (there is an excess of detail, it’s just not evocative) is so prevalent that B11 is a dull, clich├ęd fantasy adventure doomed to fail as a an introduction to table top roleplaying games because it manages drains every bit of the fantastical, weird and awesome out of the genre.

King’s Festival is firmly in the late period of TSR products, written in 1989 by Carl Sargent, and it is a far more polished product then any adventure preceding it in the ‘B’ Series. By 1989 it seems that TSR had abandoned the heroic story arc model of the Dragonlance Modules at least to a degree, as King’s Festival is not a merciless railroad. This may be because it is too small to be a railroad, consisting of a single location, but the GM advice in the first 10 pages doesn’t seem to encourage too much fidelity to a specific story. Instead B11 uses alignment and the call for a heroic struggle against chaos as it’s justification for expecting and encouraging specific player actions. There is something potentially interesting here, but again the blandness of the setting in Kings Festival remove any reason to contemplate or explore any potential here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

HMS APOLLYON PLAY REPORT - New Campaign, Session One


A new pack of scavengers, some still salt and sunburned from being pulled aboard the Apollyon and others with the hollow eyes of gaol habituates are escorted through the bustling central market of Sterntown, a neighborhood normally denied to them.  The destination of the armed and armored scavenger gang is the Steward ramparts above the “Fetid Pit”.  The revetments are sparsely manned, but bristle with flame sluices, spiked barricades, organ guns, arc lamps and volley darters all aimed down into the yawning air shaft that serves Sterntown as a sewer and chemical dump.
Never Trust a Slime Mold

Told that they must descend by climbing a great chain dangling above the pit to recover valuables the scavengers look down.  The ramparts are a tiny brightly lit and protected refuge in the wall of a vast shaft.  Gray light trickles from far above, cut by the slow progress of titanic fans and dappled by a veritable jungle of fungus, molds, lichens and plants reaching for the light.  Below the first hundred feet have been cleared to the oddly terrace hull metal, likely by the application of chemical and other industrial wastes, but beyond the vertical jungle begins again: pale spiny bromeliads the size of trees, dense tangles of black vines spouting tiny leaves, and a lurid variety of bright fungus.  The grey light fliters down only 200’ feet revealing some sort of installation near the descent chain, but beyond is only blackness and flashes of bioluminescence.