Monday, March 19, 2012

Empire of the Petal Throne Solo Campaign

The 1974 manuscript/house rules for the Empire of the Petal Throne Campaign have been a delight to read and truly inspirational. Reading just the first half on a long train trip last week, I felt inspired by how many specific details there were for starting a campaign and decided to play a solo game on the spot (luckily I was traveling with dice!).

I could see that, if the dice rolls went against me, a campaign could end pretty quickly in debtor’s prison (or worse) if the characters do not find a sponsor before the high cost of living in Jakalla wipes out their savings. This also informed my character creation process, as it was much more important to have lots of gold leftover than to have the best armor I could afford.

I have not read part 2 yet, where I presume are the language notes that would help me understand how to name my Tekumel character, so for now my character will just be known as “he” or “him”. Tekumel purists will also have to forgive me for skipping accents on letters.

Align: Good
Gender: Male
Profession: Warrior
Race: Human
Level: 1
Title: Changdesha (soldier)
XP: 0
Strength: 79 (Strong, +1 to damage)
Intelligence: 46 (Average)
Constitution: 74 (Healthy, +1 to hp/HD, 60% revival chance, 100% heal chance)
Psychic Ability: 41 (Average)
Dexterity: 60 (Average)
Skills: (69) Fisherman, jeweler, interpreter (Salarvyani)
Professional Skills: (60) Spear, axe, sword, sling
Starting Money: 65 gold Kaitars
Current Money: 9 gold Kaitars
Items: Leather armor, sword, sling, 20 sling pellets, small sack, waterskin
Encumberance: app. 5,200 K.
Move: 12”

Day 1: Reached Port of Jakalla in father’s boat, found an inn, and made it known that he was seeking employment as an adventurer
Day 2: Spent 10 K. on lodgings. (rolls) Visited at inn by foreigner from Salarvyani looking for someone else who speaks the language. Offered a job as a spy on a ship leaving the next day that would be out on open waters for 2 days. For what purpose, the visitor wished to know.

As an aside, I could find no suggestions for how much adventurers should be paid for quests. I decided to go with 100 gp + adding INT score for haggling.

Day 3: Boarded the ship with fake papers given to him by the Salarvyani spy so he can pose as a merchant. On the first day out (rolls) a storm mysteriously rolled in and swept the ship off-course (rolls – NW instead of NE). While he was on deck, six Cholokh (giant flying beetles with tentacles) swooped down to attack the deck crew. He helped two crew members fight the nearest one. One crewman was crushed to death by rocks hurled by the Cholokh as it flew to the deck, but then the other crewman managed to stun it with a lucky shot from a belaying pin and then beat it to death while he was still deciding whether to attack with sword or sling. The rest of the Cholokh were killed or driven off with moderate losses to the crew. That lucky crewman became a hero for killing one single-handed. He tried to befriend the crewman, but the crewman (rolls) ignored him.
Day 4: (rolls) The ship was back on course, as the navigator’s charts showed an island to the northwest known for Cholokh, and the captain had perhaps wisely chosen not to pursue them to their island lair (I rolled 19 of them there). Later that day, the ship rendezvoused at its destination (rolls) – a position on the open water where a flotilla of six pirate galleys was anchored. (rolls) The ship captain was neutral towards the pirates and the pirates were neutral towards him – this was a business rendezvous. He learned that the captain was supposed to deliver something to the pirates and offered his services to the captain as a negotiator in the transaction. The captain (rolls – 92!) was very enthusiastic. The pirates had a neutral reaction to his presence as the captain traded a small chest for bags of gold Kaitars to the pirates, but the captain thought he was lucky and invited him to his quarters later to celebrate. There, the drunk captain confided that the chest contained a magic eye of great power.

Will he get home safely to report his findings to the spy? Will he get paid? Will he ever earn an XP? We’ll see if there’s a second installment of the solo campaign…

Friday, March 16, 2012

Welcome, Paizo Gamers!

Here temporarily, for the benefit of my H&H JSA campaign players:

(modified Google satelite map)

(modified from

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

L'il Fantastic Four

Inspired by a few joke pages in Sensational She-Hulk #50 back in '93, I did this sketch for a L'il Fantastic Four of grade school-aged versions of the classic heroes. I came across this recently and decided to share it. I remember writing up at least one story synopsis at the time, but I haven't found it yet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rpol Hideouts & Hoodlums Campaign - pt. 22

[Dice Morgan became the first hero to be rendered unconscious a second time, a record that would only climb in the sessions ahead. Alpha-Woman was still being played separately and solo. Our Sewer Rat player was on hiatus from us while his hero was captured. Oddly, the heroes never seemed to notice he was missing.]

"Here, both of you, take these." The Mountain Man handed both Gandor and Silver Scorpion one of the healing pills from the FBI. "Let's keep resting here unless they get within 500 yards of us, then we'll move further away."

The G-Man at the motel had not been kidding; those healing pills really worked. Not long after taking them, Gandor and Silver felt great, like they were ready to take on the world!

"Wow, what happened?” Silver Scorpion asked at last, the pill clearing her head as well. “Thanks for that pill. I feel great! So when are we going back to finish them off?" she asked enthusiastically.

“I’m not sure about that,” the Mountain Man said. He had already determined that the patrols had reached his 500-yard mark and were getting too close, so he got everyone up and convinced them to move further back into the woods. En route, Dice Morgan woke up over somebody's shoulder.

"Say, where's Alpha-Woman?" Silver Scorpion asked after a quick survey of her companions.

Meanwhile, Alpha-Woman was awake now as well. She seemed to be in a cell with no daylight in sight from her door’s window. Needing to rest anyway, she waited for someone to show up to question her.

“She went into the temple alone and we haven't seen her,” the Mountain Man was answering Silver Scorpion outside. “I am eager to return as well, but I think we should wait until things calm down before we try this again."

Silver-Scorpion's readiness to return to the temple was doubled on learning of Alpha-Woman being lost to the enemy, but the others counseled her to patience. Her and Gandor the Great, now fully healed, took over on watch while the others waited for time to heal naturally as chemistry had allowed Silver and Gandor to do quickly.

Morning came, but no one could rest another moment, so nauseous was everyone from hunger. The Mountain Man was forced to hunt down a squirrel with his hatchet, crudely skin it and cook it over the smallest fire he could make. Dice was tempted to make a crack about how he'd gladly trade squirrel meat for a hot dog, but was too weak and hungry to get it out.

Later, Captain Liberty had snagged his cape for the third time on a tree branch when the Daiost returned from scouting in animal form. He encountered no patrols within 200 yards of the camp. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning when the remaining heroes gathered around the extinguished fire to discuss their plans.

"So what do you all think? Another assault?" Silver Scorpion asked eagerly. "Even if they didn't know we were coming last time, they are sure to be ready for us now. But I cannot think of any more subtle plan. Who knows what atrocities Alpha-Woman is enduring even at this moment? We must go to her rescue!"

"I ‘agwee,” the Daoist said. “We must save her. Maybe we find a hidden door?"

"It might be easy to waylay a patrol and take their clothes and disguise ourselves until we are inside,” the Mountain Man said. “Then we don't have to wait until nightfall for another assault."

Everyone seemed to like the Mountain Man's suggestion, and they could always look for a hidden door once disguised. So the heroes broke camp and headed off to go find one of those patrols they kept seeing in the distance all night. Either the patrols had thinned out by daybreak, though, or they were concentrating on other sections of the forest, because after a half-hour they still had not spotted any in the forest.

Just then, Dice Morgan started to scream. Everyone looked and saw Dice had just stepped into a bear trap. After the screaming, he blacked out from the pain. Then everyone heard a twig snap. The Daiost was about to say it looked like a trap when bullets start flying. The bullets whizzed past Gandor the Great and Captain Liberty the closest. The bullets were coming from some bushes that their foes were using for cover, some 30 feet away. There were a few trees between the two parties that served as partial cover as well.

The Mountain Man's body again took on the craggy look of a cliff face as he charged toward the hidden attackers, hatchet held low for an upward swing at the first enemy he saw.

Silver Scorpion joined the Mountain Man as she unhesitatingly charged towards the bushes, moving at full speed and ready to lash out at the first visible foe.

The two gunmen in hiding fired at the charging Silver Scorpion, because she was moving fastest, and Captain Liberty, because his bright costume made a good target. A bullet sailed an inch away from Silver Scorpion's shoulder while Captain Liberty was scarred by a bullet that winged him and left another tear through costume and flesh.

Silver Scorpion reached the bushes, silver knife in hand, and slashed the arm of a gunman in a red and black plaid winter coat, with a red hunter’s cap on his head, seriously injuring him and making him drop his rifle. The Mountain Man was on them a moment later, swinging his hatchet in an upward swing at a gunman with a brown leather jacket and a yellow hunters cap on. The hatchet caught him in the chin right where the haft met the blade. Both cut and bruised, the man went down howling in pain.

The Daoist transformed himself into the guise of a wolf and began stalking his way through the brush toward the gunmen, hoping to use the cover of the forest to provide a measure of safety.

Captain Liberty, though slowed by the fresh injury, was shortly at Silver Scorpion's side, putting up his fists and chasing the remaining hunter around the bush. The hunter ran smack into the wolf that was the Daoist, who had just now crept onto the scene. The Daoist pounced on the hunter and savaged him with his teeth until the man lost consciousness.

There was no sign of other hunters, mobsters, or other cultists around.

Behind them, Gandor the Great pried the bear trap open with a stick and pulled it off of Dice Morgan's leg.

The Mountain Man took one of the men's hunting jackets and caps and stuffed them in his pack for the time being. He also grabbed the hunting rifles. "We can stash these somewhere so they can't be used if anybody finds these guys. We'll need more of these disguises, though." He continued searching the men for anything else useful, but turned up nothing.

Gesturing to himself and Silver Scorpion, the Daoist searched for a word for a moment, before saying, "Prisoners?”

The Mountain Man, inexpressive as always, just stared at the Daoist for a moment before simply nodding in agreement. He handed one of the rifles to Captain Liberty and put on his hunter disguise.

"Ha ha!” Silver Scorpion laughed. “Yes, I don't think I'd be able to pass myself off as a hunter! We should probably use some rope so that we'll look tied up, but can easily slip out when the time comes."

"What about Dice Morgan?" The Mountain Man added to the discussion.

"I can remain behind and watch our friend Morgan here,” Gandor the Great said. “Don't forget, we have one last healing pill left from the G-Men. I could hold it for Morgan when he wakes, or maybe you'll want to let Captain Liberty here have it. He looks to be in pretty bad shape."

"Yes, Gandor,” the Mountain Man said, “why don't you stay with Dice Morgan. Captain Liberty, do you want the pill?"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

20 Questions: OSR Dating Service

Not that I'm looking to date any Old School Gamers -- both seeing as how I'm taken and 99% of them are guys even older than me -- but this looked intriguing when I saw it here. My answers have varied dramatically over time, so I'll just answer according to my last D&D campaign, the Garham to Greyhawk Campaign I've posted about here earlier.

Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, re-rolls possible if no scores are above 12
How are death and dying handled? unconscious at 0 hp, dead at -1 or lower
What about raising the dead? could be acquired from temples in the cities, but always necessitated a quest more dangerous than the level of the party
How are replacement PCs handled? player input was encouraged, with most replacements chosen to be relatives
Initiative: individual, group, or something else? group, or groups if the PCs were not all on the same side
Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? I eliminated those two campaigns ago and don't miss them
Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? usually no, but in my last campaign I tried a house rule where wearing a helmet meant you were not dead until -2 hp -- it was very well-received
Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? 3E/Pathfinder players don't seem to get this, but yes -- shooting a missile weapon into a melee can and probably will hit one of your friends in the back
Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? they're always supposed to run, but they so often don't...
Level-draining monsters: yes or no? yes, though I allow a save vs. death magic to avoid the energy drain
Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? yes and, if I'm the player, the answer is almost every dang time
How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? resources yes, but I have never been a stickler on encumbrance
What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? I always required training and RP'ed spell acquisition, but this last time I allowed it all to be automatic and didn't regret it
What do I get experience for? monsters defeated, gp value of treasure, role-playing, being funny, and attendance
How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? dice rolls; we used thieves
Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? encouraged and surprisingly embraced this last time; morale was handled by 1st ed. AD&D rules
How do I identify magic items? have a high-level m-u take a quick look at them or a low-level m-u spend a week looking at them
Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? everything was for sale in Greyhawk City, but almost no availability elsewhere
Can I create magic items? When and how? m-u's could make scrolls at any time (but didn't) and potion-making would have been made available to mid-level m-u's
What about splitting the party? I never encouraged it, but they would choose to all the time

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New Castle Greyhawk: the Comic Strip blog!

Rather than continue to share the Castle Greyhawk comic strip here and see it buried in with the rest of my stuff, Mort and I have decided it best to feature it on its own blog, which you can now find here!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rpol Hideouts & Hoodlums Campaign - pt. 21

The room was 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, open to the second floor balcony above. The middle of the chapel looked much like a traditional one, lined with even rows of pews, but the dais at the far wall was festooned with statues of roosters and a large painting of a rooster on the back wall behind the podium.

Between the remaining heroes and the podium, behind their current last opponent, were ten more men, standing in a half-circle before them, sleeves rolled up and ready to brawl with fists and knives. Behind them, standing on the near end of the dais 40 feet away, was a man in a white suit with a rooster-like mask over his head. He took the mask off and held it under his arm. "Such an entrance is to be admired," the man said loudly, "but your cause is hopeless."

The Mountain Man looked at the Daoist ever so briefly - and though The Mountain Man was a vaguely human cliff face and the Daoist was a snake - something passed between them.

The Daoist was beginning to think this whole enterprise might have been a mistake. America was turning out to be a fantastically dangerous place. Perhaps he should have stayed in China and followed in the path of his fathers. No, he would not succumb to despair. After lashing out at the remaining mobster near them, he transformed back into his human guise and spoke to the Mountain Man. "It is time to go, I ‘sink, yes?"

The Mountain Man and the Daoist seemed to surprise everyone by backing up and then high tailing it for the exit.

"Stop them!" the man on the dais shouted a moment later.

The two heroes had a good five-pace lead on their foes behind them, but two of the mobsters by the front doors stepped over Sewer Rat and Captain Liberty and blocked the exit. One of them had a truncheon and the other had a pistol. The two sides plow into each other, with the Daoist doing a jump kick and taking down the truncheon-wielder who went down swinging.

The Mountain Man was less fortunate, having a better-armed mobster in front of him. He waved his hatchet viciously, succeeding only in keeping the mobster from being able to shoot him.

Still behind them, Captain Liberty felt the pressure off him with just one foe left attacking him and a second foe, who had just come down the ladder and tried to tell him something. His fist finally connected in a powerful haymaker against the attacking foe, knocked him off his feet, and laid him low. The new arrival backed away, not wanting to get in the fight.

Behind them, the mobsters from the nave of the chapel were coming fast and two by two.

The Daoist transformed himself into the visage of a rhinoceros that he had once seen at the zoo and stormed his way through the last mobster and out of the chapel. The Mountain Man lowered his shoulder and smashed past the mobster with the pistol as he moved past.

Captain Liberty, too, decided to retreat with the others. The remaining mobster lunged to tackle him as he ran past, but the mobster fell on his chin instead.

Unnoticed by all, one of the ‘mobsters’ slipped away through a side door. Alpha-Woman, in disguise, continued exploring the temple.

The Mountain Man, the Daoist, and Captain Liberty ran outside and found their companions still lying in the courtyard. A quick headcount reminded them that they left Sewer Rat behind, making two heroes lost, counting Alpha-Woman!

Other than heroes, the courtyard surrounding the temple seemed to be empty. The way back to the gardens was clear. Going over or through the 10-foot fence surrounding the courtyard was also an option.

The Mountain Man liked that last option. He grabbed Dice Morgan, tossed him over his shoulder, and charged toward the wooden fence. As he ran his rocky body shifted to a more solid mass. He hoped to go straight through that fence, but only succeeded in cracking the wood in his weakened state.

Captain Liberty grabbed Silver Scorpion and assisted the Mountain Man in breaking through the wall. "We must get away and regroup! Next time they will be ready for us, but we shall be even more ready!"

The Daoist was left with little choice but to follow. Transforming back into his human shape, he scooped up Silver Scorpion and waited to flee behind the others.

Working together, the two superheroes were able to crash a hole through the west side of the fence big enough for everyone to step through. They each did and made good their escape into the woods. The temple seemed unusually quiet behind them.

A short while later, they returned to the camp they had made – and left less than 30 minutes earlier – deep in the woods south of the pond. Their prisoner, Chuck, was still tied up there. He looked groggy, but awake. If only they could say that for Dice Morgan, Gandor the Great, and Silver Scorpion.

Watches were posted, as lights could be seen moving back and forth through Roostertown and closer to the temple, but none of them reached as far as their camp.

Time passed and, just after midnight, Gandor the Great woke up. Gandor blinked a lot and slowly lifted his head to look around. Recognizing his companions -- and relieved not to see captors -- he asked in a weak voice, "Did we win?"

No sooner had Gandor been filled in, but Silver Scorpion woke up.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My D&D 5E

D&D historians know, of course, that the real 5th edition of D&D (counting Advanced D&D) already happened back in 1983, but there's still a lot of excitement out there over the new "5th edition" of D&D. Will they scrap the sham that was 4E? Will they try to recapture the 3E market from Pathfinder? Or will they bring their Old School Gamers back into the fold by going back to basics?

From my perspective, the answer needs to be the last one. OD&D never needed an overhaul, just tweaking. If you want tons of options, skills, or superpowers -- oops, I mean feats -- then buy all the supplements Wizards could come out with for the new edition.

The basic rules should be two thin softcover books: a Players book of about 70 pages with character creation rules, spell lists, the basic rules of combat and campaign play -- everything a player will need for up to level 12 characters; and a Dungeon Master's book of maybe 110 pages with magic items, monster stats, a fuller explanation of the game mechanics needed for campaign play, a brief sample of a dungeon, summary of a starting town, and an overview of the World of Greyhawk campaign setting.

The new core rules in the Players book should look a lot like the 1977 Holmes edition of D&D, only expanded out to level 12.

I would tweak ability scores so all scores of 14-17 would give you a +1 in something and an 18 would give you +2. Strength would add to melee damage, Intelligence would add to the number of spells you know, Wisdom would add to the number of spells you could cast, Dexterity would modify both missile attacks and Armor Class, Charisma would add to your max. number of hirelings, their loyalty/morale checks, and encounter reaction rolls. Constitution would add an hp bonus, but also give you a percent revival chance that would determine if you were dead or just unconscious every time your character reached 0 hp.

I would add half-elves, but keep all other races and classes the same as Holmes. Just the four basic classes -- Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. Fighters would pick up the ability to make a second attack with a bow, dagger, dart, fist, or hand axe each combat round starting at 4th level. Thieves' Hit Dice would bump up to d6. Clerics would not normally start getting spells until 2nd level, but could cast their bonus spells for high Wisdom as soon as 1st level. Magic-Users would stay as-is.

I would tweak upwards little things like the xp value of monsters defeated and the cost of platemail. I would add a little weapon damage variation, similar to the 1981 D&D rules -- daggers, darts, and fists would do d4 damage; bows, crossbows, all pole arms, and two-handed swords would do d8 damage; all other weapons would do d6.

Natural healing would occur at the rate of 1 hp per 6 hours of bed rest.

I would keep the d6 rolls for initiative from OD&D instead of by Dexterity, as per Holmes.

The list of Magic-User spells would be the same as Holmes for levels 1-3 and as per OD&D Book I for levels 4-6 (adding Ice Storm, Fear, and Monster Summoning II to level 4 and Legend Lore to level 6). The list of Cleric spells would be the same as Holmes for levels 1-2 (with Command added to level 1), as per Greyhawk for levels 3-6 (with Animate Dead added to level 3). Some spells that were broken would be tweaked, like giving a saving throw vs. Sleep and making Continual Light last only days instead of permanently, but most spells would stay as-is.

The Dungeon Masters book would include all the monsters and magic items from OD&D Book II and the Greyhawk supplement. The monster stats would look much as per Holmes, with some tweaks to damage and maybe an extra descriptive paragraph per monster. The sample dungeon would be a 12-room dungeon for level 1 characters (and a mash-up of the samples from OD&D Book III and the Holmes book). The town would be 9 pages of Citystate of the Invincible Overlord-level descriptiveness, detailing the Town of Hommlet, expanded from the original Village of Hommlet module. The overview of the World of Greyhawk would describe the planet of Oerth, the continent of Oerik, the region called the Flanaess, and then the Viscounty of Verbobonc, up to the year 585 CY.