Friday, July 21, 2017

Christmas in July sale!

OneBookShelf is running its annual "Christmas in July" sale, and naturally BRW Games is participating. That means you can get everything in the BRW catalog at deep discounts:

Click here to see the whole kit and kaboodle.

What's that? You want specifics? Well, roll these around your brain and see if it doesn't scream BUY ME!!!

The original Castle of the Mad Archmage, in print, no less, for under $45. Yes, that includes both print and pdf! Seriously, you could literally spend years with your players in this dungeon. 13+ levels, thousands of encounter areas, new monsters, new magic, the thing is effing HUGE.

Not enough? How about this...

The Adventures Dark and Deep core rulebooks and DM's screen, for under $100. Yes, again, that's both print and pdf! What is it? Why, it's 1E meets Gygax's original plans for the next version of the game. Start with the 1E rules, streamline the stuff that needs streamlining, add new classes and spells and monsters and magic, and off we go! If you liked Unearthed Arcana, you'll love Adventures Dark and Deep.

Plus there's a whole bunch of other stuff also on sale; expansion modules, adventures, my take on a fantasy China expansion rulebook (all completely compatible with most Advanced RPGs... ahem).

So head on over and check out the sale! I wrote most of it, but honestly, it's a really good deal, and stuff you'll get a ton of use out of for years.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Cthulhu Wars: Reviews and How to Play Videos

Now that the Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3 Kickstarter is on its malevolent way (and met its goal within an hour or two of launching!), I thought it might be interesting to show off the game itself, with a few videos from various folks.

First, we have a short and sweet "how to play" video from the designer of the game himself, Sandy Peterson, sporting some very fetching suspenders:


Next up, Drive Thru Review has a nice review of the original game that doubles as a play-through video:


Here JBs Total Gaming asks the musical question, Should you buy Cthulhu Wars? (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.)



And last but not least, Blue Table Painting has taken some of the figures and given them some really awesome paint jobs, to give you a sense of what one can do with them. That's where I think this could really pay for itself, even if you don't ever end up playing the game (but I think you will; as the above videos show, it's pretty easy, quick, and fun).


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Disclosure: I was sent a bag of Cthulhu Wars figures to use in helping boost the Onslaught Three Kickstarter (you'll see them soon). I paid for the first Kickstarter and Onslaught Two myself, however, and will pay for Onslaught 3 when it launches Monday.

Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3 Kickstarter Now Live

Hey all! I'll have a bigger CW themed post coming up later today, but I wanted to give a quick notice that the Onslaught 3 Kickstarter just went live. Please head on over there and check it out (especially check out the awesome minis!).

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Disclosure: I was sent a bag of Cthulhu Wars figures to use in helping boost the Onslaught Three Kickstarter (you'll see them soon). I paid for the first Kickstarter and Onslaught Two myself, however, and will pay for Onslaught 3 when it launches Monday.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Game Industry Interview: Arthur Petersen

Following up on my interview with Ed Healy, I am pleased to present another behind-the-scenes interview with someone responsible for bringing Cthulhu Wars to life; Arthur Petersen, Project Director for Petersen Games.

As the previous interview, I wanted to get some behind-the-curtain sort of stuff, this time focusing on production itself.

Reminder that Onslaught 3 for Cthulhu Wars will go live on Monday morning; this weekend I'll be doing a series of posts to whet everyone's appetites for this wonderful game and it's unworldly terrific miniatures.

Q: Can you give a quick definition of what a Project Director does?

A: Sure. At Petersen Games it mostly means making sure Sandy’s ideas for a game become reality. Making a tabletop game includes so many parts – from design and playtesting, to art and miniature sculpting, game layout and marketing, all the way to manufacturing and shipping. I coordinate the diverse parts and oversee the teams who put it all together. Of course, because we are fairly small (only 6 total, including employees/owners), it also means for me being heavily involved in some of those parts. For example, I double as the entire “manufacturing” team at Petersen Games – directly working with our factories and handling everything that has to do with the physical creation of the game itself.

Q: What sort of logistical challenges do you think are unique to a large board game type KS campaign like Cthulhu Wars, as opposed to a smaller board game or RPG?

A: Logistical complication is mostly determined by the array of products and product combinations sold. For example, we sort of shot ourselves in the foot with our previous Cthulhu Wars campaign (Onslaught Two) by offering over 50 unique products, and then going further and allowing a full a la carte selection. Out of around 5,000 backers there were over 2,500 unique combinations of rewards! That meant the “pick and pack” job – the sorting of each reward in our fulfillment warehouses took longer than it would have if most backers got the same bundle of products. Another issue with logistics for the sorts of games we do is the weight – no one likes to pay a lot for shipping. But when you are sending rewards that way over 50 lbs., well, someone has to pay it!

Q: Other than the well-known issue of Chinese New Year (which I see you actually included in your project plan timeline), what sort of special considerations do you have to make when dealing with China-based manufacturing?

A: One of the biggest hurdles is communication. While most factories (and all factory brokers) employ someone who can speak English, it’s rarely perfect. Sometime I just have to ask our art director to make a quick image or diagram of what I need to communicate about some manufacturing issue. Their response for something will tell me they didn’t understand me, so I use pictures, basically. And sometimes they have to respond with pictures. Much of the time, however, with a detailed spec sheet it’s clear to both sides what’s going on. Other than communication, my main advice to anyone getting into Chinese manufacturing is to provide PERFECT specs when you want a quote for pricing.

Arthur Petersen (left)
Q: What's the biggest challenge when it comes to producing larger projects like Cthulhu Wars?

A: That’s hard to answer. If you ask Sandy, he’ll probably say the playtest time or getting the sculpts done faster. If you ask our business manager, he’ll say trying to get the cost down, since our big figures and products mean our margins can suck, even when we charge seemingly high prices. As for me, it’s changed over the years. What was most difficult for the first Cthulhu Wars KS was not the most challenging for O2, and I bet it will be different for this new one. Frankly, any answer I give will probably be a reflection of where I am as I learn to manage our teams, as opposed to something specific for Cthulhu Wars.

Q: How has the production process changed from the original game to today, where you're about to start the third Kickstarter campaign in the series?

A: Let me answer with a story. Cthulhu Wars has, as you may know, 6 Acolyte Cultists figures per faction, as well as 2 little markers (for Doom and Power respectively) per faction. Well, when you create steel molds for the plastic pieces (via a process called tooling), you can make several identical cavities to make more than one of the same piece at a time. Because we had never made a game before, we didn’t really micro-manage the tooling process like we do today. The factory unfortunately made a steel mold that contained 2 cavities for the cultists, and 2 cavities for the doom/power markers. This meant that with each pressing of the mold in a given color of plastic, 2 cultists AND 2 doom/power markers popped out. But, if you recall that you need 6 cultists and 2 markers, which is a ratio of 3 to 1, this meant that we had 3 times as many markers as we needed. They’re still in China somewhere, probably in a land fill at this point. It was a waste of plastic that WE had to pay for via the factory charging us 3x the cost to make the markers than we should have. We only learned this when I flew to China and then shortly switched factories (who modified the steel molds at great cost to us). Now, we make them all in appropriate quantities for better cost efficiency. That was a little longer than I meant to take, but the bottom line is that now we manage our production on all fronts much more carefully. Now I wish I had told a sculpting story – we’ve learned a lot in terms of sculpting too!

Q: In regards to Kickstarter, does using KS to launch a game or group of supplements change the production process? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure how to answer this – I’ve only ever worked on games that were funded by Kickstarter, but I’ll do my best. The main consideration I’d suspect, as compared to direct to market products, is that we are beholden to our backers. When dealing with a massive game product line like Cthulhu Wars, so many things can be delayed. And what usually happens is that a bunch of little delays (in playtesting, editing, art, sculpting, tooling, manufacturing, shipping), etc. all add up together to create what seems to the backers as one BIG delay. We experienced this with our Orcs Must Die! boardgame in which every part seemed to take longer than we hoped, but none of the segments of the development cycle, on its own, was really delayed. Yet, their sum total pushed us back nearly a year! Backers obviously hate waiting one day longer than when we promised the delivery would be!

Q: How does the figure sculpting process work? How far in advance do you need to begin before you have a finished figure in hand?

A: First, Sandy develops a style guide for the model, with descriptions, explanations and reference art (from the internet or wherever), and provides this guide to the concept artist. Second, the concept artist draws a front and back, black and white illustration to Sandy’s specification. This is often a back and forth process with Sandy and the artist to make sure it’s exactly as Sandy envisioned; it takes about a week or two to lock down per concept. Once we have the final concept, I provide it to the sculptor. We now use 3D sculpting, which means revisions and review can be done with a quicker turnaround  (although the full time to sculpt is about the same – roughly 4-5 weeks for most sculptors, unless the figure is REALLY big; Dire Cthulhu took 8 weeks, and the Bloated Woman took a full 9 weeks to make!). Our average sculpt on Cthulhu Wars O3 took 5.2 weeks to do, including feedback and revisions. Once we have the final sculpt, we need to confirm its size is correct, and then it’s done! Make some turntables and show it off on our Kickstarter and social media!

Q: To what extent does the game design itself influence the physical design and production aspects of bringing the game to life?

A: This isn’t a direct answer to your question, but we always like our sculpts to seem in motion – action poses for the most part. Not every time, but you’ll notice that our models seem to mostly be doing something, or about to do something, rather than just sitting there. The Dark Young’s tentacles are moving around with mouth agape, in a howl, for example. This, I think, is an extension of Sandy making dynamic games – he never would want the pieces to seem static when the game will be fast moving.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring game designers, from a production design perspective?

A: In a few words, I would say to understand that there are a great many ways to reproduce a similar game mechanic or experience with different physical pieces. Play around with what is possible physically – switch tokens for dice, and miniatures for cards. Be creative with what you want your components to be. It may seem counter intuitive, but if you look at Cthulhu Wars, one thing you’ll notice is a relative dearth of non-plastic pieces. Sure, the map is big, and you have Faction Cards and Spellbooks, but that’s about it. It’s almost the exact opposite of many games that just have oodles and oodles of little tokens to represent various gamestates. Cthulhu Wars, for example, achieves an amazing amount of depth and unique ability interaction without resorting to “poison” counters, or whatnot. Of course, game styles vary considerably, but my point is that you could imagine Cthulhu Wars done entirely different with a zillion other pieces. Instead, Sandy wanted the focus to be on the miniatures, so there’s PLENTY of those, with a minimum of other things. Fit YOUR game’s physical pieces to how you want the game experience to be!

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Disclosure: I was sent a bag of Cthulhu Wars figures to use in helping boost the Onslaught Three Kickstarter (you'll see them soon). I paid for the first Kickstarter and Onslaught Two myself, however, and will pay for Onslaught 3 when it launches Monday.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Game Industry Interview: Ed Healy

When Cthulhu Wars from Peterson Games first Kickstarted a few years ago, I was all over it. Not only is it a fun strategy board game in and of itself, but it's got a theme I really enjoy (Lovecraft), and the figures are absolutely amazing (and conveniently work with 25/28mm scale figures - more on that later). There was a subsequent Onslaught Two Kickstarter that just delivered a ton of new factions and add-ons for the original game (on which I was all over as well), and the latest, Onslaught Three, is about to go live on Monday morning.

So when the good folks behind Cthulhu Wars sent out a call for folks who might be interested in helping promote the latest Kickstarter, I threw my hat into the ring. So, following on the heels of my Lovecraft in Greyhawk post the other day, we're going to start off with an interview with Ed Healy of Gamerati, who is managing the Kickstarter. 

I thought it would be interesting to take the opportunity to drill into some of the mechanics of the game industry behind the curtain, and Mr. Healy was more than accommodating. This particular interview was heavy on the Kickstarter aspect of the project, but tomorrow we'll see another with some insights about the production side. Enjoy!

Ed Healy
Q: How many Kickstarters have you successfully managed so far?

A: I stopped counting about a year ago, so my numbers aren't going to be 100% accurate. That said, as of July 2016, we'd helped publishers raise over $51 million dollars across over 300 projects. This includes varying amounts of advertising, PR, content marketing, strategic planning and tactical management - some more than others. We run, soup to nuts, 29 campaigns.

Q: What was your first Kickstarter? What sorts of lessons did you learn in that experience that you have applied in later campaigns?

A: We helped Erik Bauer from Gaming Paper with the Gaming Paper Adventure project back in 2010, providing advertising, PR and content marketing:

In those days, crowdfunding was very different, so I'm not sure the lessons directly apply. It was more like the Open Design projects Wolfgang Baur ran in the 2000s, where the community was helping a creator get an idea off the ground. The first big lesson I learned was on the Lamentation of the Flame Princess Hardcover and Adventures IndieGoGo Project. Namely, that it helps when the people working on your product also have communities of their own to help increase your exposure. This is still true. I love it when an artist has 20,000 followers on Instagram or a game designer has fans on BGG. It shows they probably know how to self-promote, and you can never have too much help promoting a project.

Q: What sort of logistical challenges do you think are unique to a large board game type KS campaign like Cthulhu Wars?

A: Shipping. Hands down. It's the most complex and terrifying aspect of crowdfunding projects. If you are only serving the USA, there are still dozens of potential shipping solutions. Add in the rest of the world and you have Customs, import duties, VAT... Shipping was one of the main reasons I killed our Loot program a number of years ago. Now, of course, we have a warehouse and 5 more years of experience. I can't imagine launching a project that explodes without having someone on my team that understands shipping. You may recall, the original Cthulhu Wars project launched that way and Sandy Petersen mortgaged his home in order to pay all the costs they didn't plan for.

Q: Other than the well-known issue of Chinese New Year (which I see you actually included in your project plan timeline), what sort of special considerations do you have to make when dealing with China-based manufacturing?

A: Language. Most decent manufacturers have some English-language representation. However, just because someone speaks conversational English doesn't mean you are completely understanding each other. Americans, in particular, have different assumptions about accuracy and timelines. Don't accept "no problem" or "okay" as answers. Yes and No are really the only thing I bank on. In writing.

Accuracy. I know I mentioned it, above, but check your math. Check your math on costs, on box dimensions and on product weights. Then check again. I have yet to work on a campaign for a game manufactured in China where there wan't at last a half-dozen errors.

Customs. It's not always an issue, but Customs can hold up delivery of your project by weeks. When we fulfilled the Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 2 project, much of the product was stuck in American and German Customs for more than a month.

Q: Approximately how long is your planning phase when doing a KS campaign on the same scale of a Cthulhu Wars? What goes into that planning phase?

A: If I had my way, I would have a finished "China Ready" prototype 18 months before launching a project. Sadly, I rarely do. 

Most planning phases are short - days or weeks, long. For Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 3, the whole team flew to Texas and we hammered out all the main details in two days - product mix (SKUs), backer rewards and stretch goals.

After that, though, comes preparation - getting demo copies to press and maintaining media relationships, getting any additional art commissions in that are missing, working with the graphic designer to get the campaign graphics and marketing materials (ads, etc) ready.

That's really the hard part - because, no matter what you do, someone always wants to change something during the planning phase. Usually 3 minutes before the project goes live!

Q: How do you determine stretch goals and pledge levels?

A: There's a bit of art in there, but generally speaking:

(1) If it's part of the core experience for the game, it's not a Stretch Goal. It belongs in the initial offering.

(2) As much as possible, have goals that everyone can benefit from.

(3) Adding new game play content (RPG encounters or NPCs / new strategy game units or models) is always superior to 'bling' when it comes to Stretch Goals.

(4) Stretch Goal Pricing: Cost to product one unit of 'the thing' x 10 x number of expected backers = Minimum Stretch Goal ask.

(5) It's better to run out of Stretch Goals and drop the mic at the end than to have a dozen left over that people know you didn't make it to.

(6) Higher pledge levels should build off lower levels in some way. For instance, if they are at some premium $400 level, make sure they get everything the 'normal backers' get.

(7) Digital rewards, if possible, rock. They cost nothing to ship!

(8) If you have multiple similar products (RPG modules or faction expansions), have backers at one of your lower pledge levels get only one, so people can debate which one(s) the like best. Of course, use your Stretch Goals to encourage them to upgrade to those higher tiers where they get 'all the things'.

(9) Tshirts are a bad idea. Never do tshirts.

(10) Variants make great Stretch Goals - foil cards, promos with variant art, Glow in the Dark Cthulhu!

Q: Do you think having stretch goals actually encourages people to increase their pledges, or to pledge when they might not ordinarily do so? Or are stretch goals something that are almost expected in a KS campaign nowadays?

A: Stretch Goals give you something to talk about. You get the benefit of highlighting some aspect of the game in your update about the Stretch Goal, and you have something new to post to social media - something your community can reshare to boost your signal.

When Stretch Goals are done right, they absolutely put pressure on some backers to increase their pledges. Let's say, at the beginning of a campaign, you can get the SMECHS RPG Core Rules for $50 or you can pay $100 for everything - everything, at the start, being the core rules and the monster manual. Now lets say that you have 15 Stretch Goals that include new types of Smurfs and new types of Mechs - and every $100 backer gets those PDFs ($5.00 MSRP each) for free. For someone that really likes the idea of a Smurfs / Mechs mashup RPG, they'll quickly feel the pressure to upgrade from $50 to $100 to get all the extra content.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone just starting on their first KS campaign?

A: Rule #1: Nothing beats making a good product. You can sell crap in a nice package once, but then you're done. Do it right, from the start.

Rule #2: Be patient. Playtest. Edit. Then playtest 100 more times.Then edit a couple more times. You're making a samurai sword, not a billy club.

Rule #3: Start building your community _while_ you're making the game.

Rule #4: Advertising = Marketing ≠ Advertising (You can't just buy some ads and think you've done marketing.)

Rule #5: It's easier to sell a product when you're telling a story, instead of selling a product.

Rule #6: Everything will be twice as expensive and take three times longer than you think it will.

Rule #7: It's Good to be a Gamer

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Disclosure: I was sent a bag of Cthulhu Wars figures to use in helping boost the Onslaught Three Kickstarter (you'll see them soon). I paid for the first Kickstarter and Onslaught Two myself, however, and will pay for Onslaught 3 when it launches Monday.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lolth in "Vault of the Drow"

Over on the G+ Greyhawk group, William Tiller asked a great question. I was going to answer there, but it got a little long, so I figured I'd post it here. He asked:
Why are the PCs going after Lolth? I know why they go after Eclavdra- she is trying to take over the surface world. But as far I can tell from reading it there is no reason to attack the Fane of Lolth and go after Lolth herself on the Abyss. Or did I miss something?
And he's exactly right. I discussed this module many years ago (Hextor's Balls! Nine years ago - have I really been doing this blog that long?!), but I didn't stress this particular point enough, and I think it's worth calling attention to.

First off, Tiller is entirely right to say that the PCs' goal should be the destruction of Eclavdra and House Eilservs, who abandoned the worship of the spider-demon Lolth for the Elder Elemental God when their aspirations to rule all the drow were thwarted. They're the ones who have been behind the hill, frost, and fire giant raids, but it's interesting to see that the motive isn't really spelled out until this module, and even then it's just sort of buried on page 18 (emphasis added):
The Eilservs have long seen a need for an absolute monarch to rule the Vault, and as the noble house of first precedence, they have reasoned that their mistress should be Queen of All Drow. When this was proposed, the priestesses of Lolth supported the other noble families aligned against the Eilservs, fearing that such a change would abolish their position as the final authority over all disputes and actions of the Dark Elves. Thereafter, the Eilservs and their followers turned away from the demoness and proclaimed their deity to be an Elder Elemental God (see MODULE G1-2-3). Although there is no open warfare, there is much hatred, and both factions seek to destroy each other.  An attempt to move worship of their deity into the upper world, establish a puppet kingdom there, and grow so powerful from this success that their demands for absolute rulership no longer be thwarted, was ruined of late, and the family is now retrenching.
That's one thing about this whole series of modules (G1-Q1); the whole plot and setup is never spelled out for the DM, requiring an exceedingly close reading to suss out all the details and bring the whole to life.

Now here's where Tiller's question comes in. If the real enemy is the Eilservs house, and they worship the Elder Elemental God who is a rival to Lolth, why the heck are the PCs seemingly expected to attack the Fane of Lolth? Shouldn't they be on the side of the anti-Eilservs?

There are three possible answers.
  1. The PCs aren't aware of the split between the Lolth-worshiping drow and the EEG-worshiping drow, and just assume Lolth is behind everything. Honestly, this is probably the case for at least some parties playing through the adventure series.
  2. The PCs are aware of the split, and approach the Lolth-worshipers in an attempt to ally themselves with them to take out the Eilservs and the other EEG-worshiping factions that are causing trouble on the surface. That would definitely take some mithril balls on the part of the PCs, but I could definitely see it happening.
  3. The PCs somehow become aware that Lolth's egg has the keys to the prison of the EEG, and go out of their way to kill her material form in order to grab it and travel to the Abyss to shut the interdimensional crack that has allowed it to manifest on Oerth.
Truth to tell, I think the answer is "all of the above," and the details about Lolth and the Fane were included for the sake of completeness, but I think the most intriguing possibility lies in the Q1-that-never-was.

I've discussed the connection between the Elder Elemental God and the Temple of Elemental Evil at length in the past (particularly here and here), and it seems relevant here as well. In the original conception for Q1, according to Gygax:
Q: At the end of D3, the party can end up with the "egg". "In the egg are an iron pyramid, a silver sphere, a bronze star of eight points, and a cube of pale blue crystal." [Great Fane of Lolth, Dungeon Level, Room 5.] The pyramid, sphere, eight-pointed star, and cube evolved into the triangle, circle, eight-pointed star, and square from the ToEE correct [see p.108 of ToEE]? Did you intend the items in the egg to be associated with the elements as they turned out being in the ToEE?
A: When I wrote an adventure I always tried to put in a few disguised hooks for later exploitation, or not, as the creative muse moved me.
As you note, the shapes were repeated in the ToEE as I did intend to tie the latter into the series. Lolth was to be connected to the temple, she the key to activation of that which would remove the imprisoning bonds from the Elder Elemental God. Of course that would have been by unintended consequences of her actions when the PCs discovered her.
How it was all to operate was something I never did get fleshed out. This was to happen in the lower levels of the temple, the development of which I never got around to because of my work out on the West Coast. (EnWorld Q&A part III)
In the Queen of the Demonweb Pits module as it ended up being written, the weird objects in the egg ended up being nothing more than a means to teleport from one level of the web to another (and a superfluous one at that). Ah, but in the original concept, those items in the egg were going to be keys to the prison of the Elder Elemental God, which the PCs could either release by accident or close off the breach in its prison that allowed it to aid the Eilservs:
I had what I consider a much more interesting plan for the conclusion of the G-D series, one in which the PC party could loose the Elder Elemental god or send him into deeper isolation, thus assisting Lolth to become more powerful. By very astute play, they could have thwarted the designs of both evil entities. The Demonweb Pits were indeed envisioned as maze like, but there were to be no machines therein. (EnWorld Q&A part I)
I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect that's the reason for the inclusion of all the details about the Fane of Lolth and the Demon Queen of Spiders herself. If the PCs really wanted to take out the threat behind the giant uprisings forever, they could use the keys hidden in the egg to finally end the Elder Elemental God's influence once and for all. If these are the same PCs that went through the Temple of Elemental Evil (as I am convinced it was originally intended to be run, which includes a link to the EEG), and thus had previous experience with it, that would make all kinds of sense.

Just as we (including the DM!) don't learn the true motivation behind the giant uprising until Vault of the Drow, so too would we not learn the real means to end the threat until Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Unfortunately, that version of the module never got published, and so all those lovely hints that were scattered throughout Vault of the Drow were never realized in their fullest form.

But let's rewind just a second and consider the implications of what I wrote above:
The PCs somehow become aware that Lolth's egg has the keys to the prison of the EEG, and go out of their way to kill her material form in order to grab it and travel to the Abyss to shut the interdimensional crack that has allowed it to manifest on Oerth.
Just effing imagine the implications of that!

Not only would the PCs have to have some sort of way of learning all that backstory about the EEG, but they'd also have to learn that Lolth has the keys hidden in the egg that only manifests if she is slain. And then figure out a way to make it happen, before they ever make it to the Demonweb Pits themselves.

Ehlonna's tits! What an adventure that would make, just in and of itself! I can envision a whole new module, perhaps a D4, set up as an urban adventure in Erelhei-Cinlu, where the PCs need to navigate through the treacherous city to track down all the pieces to the puzzle. First they'd have to find and engage with the enemies of the EEG to find out what its weakness is, and then find and engage with the enemies of Lolth to figure out how to get to the egg. There's a balancing act that would require world-class play, right there, going through dives and dens of iniquity to find contacts, then maybe dealing with drow sages and renegades, all the while trying to evade the forces of both Lolth and Eclavdra and keep them both from figuring out what's going on. And then go on to the Abyss itself to bring the plan to fruition, having just alerted Lolth to the scheme by killing her!

Crap. I might just have to write this.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lovecraft in Greyhawk

The very early history of Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting had more than a few mentions of H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos." Michael Falconer put the problem neatly on the (now-defunct) Pied Piper Publishing message boards:
Surely some influences [of fantasy literature] are greater than others. Barsoom, for example, is not integrated into Greyhawk; one must actually leave Greyhawk and travel to Barsoom for a Barsoom-like experience. A 'Cthulhu', on the other hand, can (and does) easily exist in Greyhawk, quite comfortably using as his pawns Giants straight out of Pratt's The Roaring Trumpet, who use as their lackeys some of Tolkien's Orcs. And so on. An understanding of Greyhawk therefore depends on a familiarity with the most famous fantasy works of at least Poul Anderson, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Michael Moorcock, Fletcher Pratt, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jack Vance. Then, of course, there's Greek, Norse, Finnish, and Celtic mythology; The Bible and extra-biblical Christian legendry; and fairy tales... (emphasis added)
Robert J. Kuntz, who was to be Gygax's co-DM in the original Greyhawk campaign, confirms this and adds (again from the late lamented PPP message boards):
Greyhawk had specialty priests. The Elder Priests (for the Cthulhu gods) I designed; EGG worked on those for the pantheons, and we had Pholtus early on, with extra blinding light spells and their particular trappings. Again, as many, many facets of the game were advancing all at once, each component received "boosts" when we thought of these, but there was little time at that point to get too specialized with parts, as this was a broad approach and very time consuming. 
RJK even mentioned a specific locale associated with such things, although apparently it was only barely explored by the players in the original campaign:
The castle was but a few miles NE of the City as we pictured it, though we never then drew an environs map for it, but we knew where it was, as we knew where the Temple to the Latter Day Old Ones was, about half way to the Castle along the same path from the city, and beneath ground, also accessible by the sewers, which I later drew. ... Jim Ward's and my bro's PCs both entered the secret Temple, but by the stump, not the sewers. Eric Shook's PC entered the sewers but never made it to the Temple. 
Of course the first edition of the 1st Edition AD&D book Deities and Demigods famously included both the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythoi, but they were preemptively withdrawn in subsequent printings because of fears that Chaosium (which at the time had acquired the rights to both, and turned them into RPGs) might raise a legal fuss.

But there were, of course, more Lovecraftian Things scuttling about in the wilds of Greyhawk.

First, there is the obscure god Dalt, "The forgotten lesser god of portals and enclosures" who gave the archmage Mordenkainen the Silver Key of Portals, as Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure tells us. However, RJK gives us a bit of additional flavor that puts the lost god in a Lovecraftian perspective (from Dragonsfoot):
On Fomahault, an OD&D style Greyhawk addie I wrote back in 1975 for the campaign--and this is where the Lovecraftian Mythos stuff was mainly infiltrating from into the campaign-- the Priest of Leng held "The Silver Key". Dalt is a real god, but renamed and in disguise, and it is these two threads which I brought together to supply Mordenkainen with the Key. 
So, no, he never found it in the campaign, as it was already written into parts we were DMing, but it did exist, as did Dalt.
Once the Lovecraftian connection is made with the "god of portals", one thing immediately jumps to my mind; Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Outer Gods with a thousand forms. Acting as a sort of herald for the Outer Gods really seems to fit with what little we know about Dalt (excepting his later retconning as being Vatun's brother or something, which seems really to be plucked out of thin air to make connections for connections' sake).

Yog-Sothoth might work as an inspiration for Dalt, too. It is known as "the opener of the way" after all...

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the Lovecraftian nature of the Elder Elemental God, who has taken up a fair share of posts here on the blog over the years. Again, setting aside the retconning that tries to make the EEG just a part of Tharizdun, the fact that the Elder Elemental God was described by Gygax as "being imprisoned on a distant star" lays its Lovecraftian origin clear from the outset. The association with madness and tentacles (tentacle rods held by the priests, tentacle curtains in the temples, etc.) I think makes the Lovecraftian nature of the EEG plain.

Tharizdun himself does have some Lovecraftian elements, to be sure (big evil god sleeping/imprisoned) but it's fair to say that's a fairly common trope within Greyhawk, and we see it in several different places (Tharizdun, Zuggtmoy, Elder Elemental God, the pit fiend in the Drachensgrab mountains, etc.).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: Spider-Man Homecoming (spoiler free)

I just got back from seeing Spider-Man Homecoming. The theater was almost full, and I saw the regular digital version (no 3D, no IMAX). Short version; this is one of the best MCU films to date. It's perfect.

The new MCU version of Spider-Man was introduced in last year's Captain America Civil War, and this film takes place almost immediately thereafter, with Peter Parker (played perfectly by Tom Holland) trying to process the events that happened to him, a mere 15 year old, in Germany fighting against Captain America and crew.

To be suddenly brought back to Queens and have to deal with ordinary, "street level" criminals is an adjustment that's painful for him to make, and that forms the basis of the first third of the film, very effectively. The juxtaposition of the everyday trials and tribulations of being a high school sophomore against those of being a "friendly neighborhood spider-man" is very well done.

One of the things that stood out to me in this film was the villain. Michael Keaton's Vulture (aka Adrian Toomes) is a rarity in the MCU; he's a well-rounded villain with a real motivation, rather than just villainy for its own sake. You can relate to his motives, and it adds a layer of realism and pathos to the character that most MCU villains frankly lack. (Honestly, other than Loki and the Red Skull, can you even name three MCU villains? What was Doctor Strange villain Kaecilius' motive for doing what he did?) This alone makes Spider-Man Homecoming stand out.

The decision to cast a really young actor as Peter Parker is another wise choice, and Tom Holland is up to the task. It marks a distinct change from the last five Spider-Man movies, which showed first a college-age Peter, and then a high-school Peter who looked like he should have been in college. Or grad school.

The choice to give Spider-Man a mentor in Tony Stark, while seemingly odd on its face, really works here. The dichotomy between Tony Stark and Adrian Toomes is very well handled; they are in many ways complete mirror images of one another on more than one level (I won't go into details, but once you've seen the film, at least some of them will be readily apparent). But if you're one of those who is concerned that Iron Man overwhelms the film (a perfectly legitimate concern given some of the marketing) worry not; his presence is felt more in the breach than on the screen, and there's another character in the mix that honestly works better in the role than an equal amount of Tony Stark on-screen would have.

The call-outs to previous MCU films are many, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. There are also a number of call-backs to the comic-books, and they set up (or at least hint at) at least three traditional Spidey villains for future films. Although honestly I think this would be a terrific opportunity to finally make a solid tie-in between the Netflix MCU properties and the films, and put in Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin from the Daredevil series as the main villain. He could certainly pull off a movie, and it would be a perfect move. The contrast between his dark and violent Kingpin would play off beautifully against the light, breezy, wise-cracking Spider-Man, in much the way Keaton's Vulture did.

It's also quite hilarious, as befits Spider-Man. This is the joke-making Spidey from the comics, who annoys his enemies with his wit as much as he does with his webs, and the decision to focus a lot of the film on the real and ordinary annoyances of high school really bring that out.

All in all, this is a perfect MCU film. Not quite better than Avengers (but that's not saying much), and perhaps I might put Winter Soldier a notch above it, but that's about it. And #3 in such a crowd is still an achievement to crow about. See this film! Five out of five stars.

Oh, and there are two helpings of schawarma. Stay through the end of the credits.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Suel Migration into Zindia

I've long had an idea in the back of my mind that the Suel might just have played a role in Oerth similar to that which the Aryan tribes played in Indian history. Inspired by this article in The Hindu and this opposing one at Swarajaya, I thought it might be a good opportunity to flesh out the idea a little more.

For those who aren't aware, the Aryan Incursion Theory (aka Aryan Invasion Theory, Aryan Migration Theory, etc.) basically postulates that around 1,600 BCE the Indo-European peoples, originating from the area north of the Black and Caspian Seas, exploded in a migration in all directions, explaining the similarities in various Indo-European languages across Eurasia. Part of this migration moved southeastward into India, impacting language and possibly other things as well (some even go so far as to attribute the lighter skin of upper castes to Aryan genetic influence).

I'm most definitely not going to get into the merits of the theory here (or lack thereof), but suffice to say the question is one that is centuries old, and rife with controversy, inflamed passions, and political  / religious / social implications. I'm just using it as inspiration. (Note that this means discussion of the theory itself will not be permitted in the comments; keep it to Oerth, if you please.)

Now, based on the geography of where the Suel Imperium used to be (now the Sea of Dust), and where Zindia is, relative thereto, I thought it might be interesting to apply the same idea to Oerth. Look at Zindia on the map from Dragon Annual 1 (south of what is labeled as the Suel Empire):


Here's a detailed look at the area, taken from my Beyond the Flanaess maps from a few years ago. I basically cropped together the three different maps from that series that cover Zindia. All we know about the area in terms of canon and Gygaxian near-canon* are a few names, which I took and ran with, dividing the large area collectively known as "Zindia" into eight different realms:

It's not perfect -- there are some irregularities where the maps meet -- but you
get the idea. I'm pretty happy with it, all things considered.
(You can also see Behow in the upper-left corner, one of the breakaway kingdoms on the periphery of the Celestial Imperium of Suhfang.)

Now, my great idea is that at the time the Suloise Imperium was destroyed by the Rain of Colorless Fire, it scattered the Suel peoples much like the Indo-European peoples were scattered. They fled not just across the Hellfurnaces into the Flanaess, but also southward across the relatively narrow mountains into Zindia.

In practical terms this means we can expect to see Suel deities in Zindia in much the same capacity as we see them in the Flanaess; mixed in with other, indigenous deities and religions brought in by other invading or neighboring peoples. (I'm thinking there might be some influence from both the Celestial Imperium to the west and Wujio/Nippon to the south, and possibly vice versa with a Buddhism analogue, but that's beyond the scope of this article.)

So that gives us a caste system on a Zindia-wide scale somewhat similar to that seen in the Scarlet Brotherhood (for obvious reasons; they both originated with the Suel), some familiar deities for players to deal with, and a definitive link with the published work. Plus (in my mind, anyway) it rhymes with a prominent if controversial historical theory, but doesn't emulate it in any specific form, which I sort of like.

If my game ever makes it to the steamy climes of Zindia, this is definitely going to be a thing.

___________

* The Gord the Rogue books, specifically; there are a few Zindian lands named in Sea of Death, I believe.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Egg and I

Returning to one of my favorite subjects -- the Temple of Elemental Evil, Elder Elemental God, etc. -- I wanted to explore a bit of Greyhawkiana that is at once both obvious on the surface, but pregnant with possibilities once one delves just a little deeper.

I speak of the platinum egg that rewards adventurers who slay the mortal form of Lolth at the climax of D3 Vault of the Drow. Here is how it is described therein (on page 21):
If Lolth flees, or is slain in her current form, a silvery (platinum) egg will be revealed. A remove curse will enable it to be opened, and whomever does so is geased to enter the astral gate on Level #1 (14) and confront Lolth if he or she is able or die trying. In the egg are an iron pyramid, a silver  sphere, a bronze star of eight points, and a cube of pale blue crystal. (These items have value and use only if the party continues the adventure in the next Module (Q1, QUEEN OF THE DEMONWEB PITS).
Fair enough. This is expounded on slightly in the introduction to the aforementioned Q1 (on page 3):
The play begins with the council of nobles (those good rulers who started this series of adventures by enlisting the aid of the adventurers in fighting the raiding giants; see Dungeon Module G1,2,3-AGAINST THE GIANTS) in conversation with the adventurers via the amber pool. This pool apparently acts as a communication device, though none of the characters understands its operation. When the conversation begins, the players will have in hand a platinum EGG about the size of an ostrich egg (5" long and 3" wide). In a previous conversation, the adventurers will have explained about the appearance of the EGG (see Module D3) and will have shown it to the council. After much private discussion, the council has recontacted the players, offering three different opinions concerning the EGG. The majority believe it to be cursed, left by Lolth to wreak vengeance upon her attackers. Some of the older (and perhaps wiser) members believe it to be both a key and a trick to lead and lure intruders somewhere so that Lolth may destroy them. A small majority think that the EGG is a gift from a rival god as a reward for the destruction of Lolth's plans on this world. All agree that extreme care should be taken in dealing with the EGG. They also advise the party to investigate the EGG further, possibly casting one or more of the following spells: augury, commune, remove curse, dispel evil, identify, or dispel magic.
You can bet that when we see that the "perhaps wiser" members of the council of nobles thinks it's both a key and a trick, that's what it is, and we're not really disappointed in that. Once in the Demonweb itself, the four items within basically serve (without much rhyme or reason) to ferry the PCs around the place. The iron pyramid, silver sphere, and the bronze star will glow and hum when taken to specific rooms in the web, and teleport the party to another location. The blue crystal serves to open up the doors to the spider ship.

Yeah, I know, steampunk spider ship in a spiderweb design taken from a hand towel. The history of how the module came to be is well known and recounted in many places, often with a bit of wistful wishing what-could-have-been. Moving on...

The first three items from the egg serve to move the PCs from one level of the demonweb to the next. Pretty straightforward. The fourth one opens a door. Again, straightforward. But the problem is, the PCs can get from one level of the demonweb to another simply by stepping off an overpass; there is a permanent feather fall effect for their convenience. Similarly, a simple knock spell will open the doors to the spider ship. The contents of the platinum egg are thus something of a let-down, as they are not only relatively minor in effect, their lack can be easily circumvented.

It would seem the contents of the platinum egg are nothing more than the casualties of the hand-off of the module's design from Gygax to Sutherland. And there the question would have lain, were it not for an exchange in one of the Gygax Q&A's on EnWorld, wherein Gygax states the following:
Q: At the end of D3, the party can end up with the "egg". "In the egg are an iron pyramid, a silver sphere, a bronze star of eight points, and a cube of pale blue crystal." The pyramid, sphere, eight-pointed star, and cube evolved into the triangle, circle, eight-pointed star, and square from the ToEE correct? Did you intend the items in the egg to be associated with the elements as they turned out being in the ToEE?
A: When I wrote an adventure I always tried to put in a few disguised hooks for later exploitation, or not, as the creative muse moved me.
The symbols in question, from the
"Hall of Elemental Magic"
As you note, the shapes were repeated in the ToEE as I did intend to tie the latter into the series. Lolth was to be connected to the temple, she the key to activation of that which would remove the imprisoning bonds from the Elder Elemental God. Of course that would have been by unintended consequences of her actions when the PCs discovered her.
How it was all to operate was something I never did get fleshed out. This was to happen in the lower levels of the temple, the development of which I never got around to because of my work out on the West Coast. Spending time trying to get a D&D-based film and like projects going took precedence over paper game material creation until the very end when I came back to Wisconsin to bail TSR out of its near-bankruptcy position.
Okay, here we go. I've explored the relationship between Lolth and the Elder Elemental God previously in detail, so I won't recount all of that, but suffice to say that Lolth is involved with the EEG's imprisonment on a distant star, and the platinum egg was at some point somehow related to its release. Doing so in ToEE would have counterbalanced the release of Zuggtmoy (per an interview in Oerth Journal 12):
The EEG was indeed meant by me to have a place in the very nethermost recesses of the ToEE. An anomaly there allowed him to manifest a portion of himself, and by doing the wrong (right from the DM’s point of view) thing the adventurers could release him also! Of course that would counter somewhat the freeing of Zuggtmoy, had she been loosed, so on balance it could serve to redress that error.
The pieces are falling into place. But here's what I see as the clincher (from the room description on p. 90):
Zuggtmoy once used the symbols to visit the Elemental Nodes, and to send screaming sacrificial victims to their dooms in these places.
Here's where my speculation starts. What if the contents of the platinum egg are the keys to activate those symbols in the Hall of Elemental Magic, turning them into teleporters/gates to the elemental nodes? That would be consistent with their function in the as-published Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, where they are keys to activate teleporters to other levels of the Demonweb.

What if the contents of the platinum egg are the keys to release the Elder Elemental God? And what if that could be done via the Elemental Nodes beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil?

The sticky wicket is how to get the platinum egg from Lolth in the Vault of the Drow to someplace the PCs could discover and use it. How to work them into the existing adventure as written is the easy part; the iron pyramid, silver  sphere, bronze star, and cube of blue crystal take the place of the four Elemental Power Gems that, once fitted into the Orb of Golden Death, can be used to free Zuggtmoy from her prison.

Note: the four elemental objects double as keys, just like the gems do in the published adventure. I like the notion that they could be used to unlock more than one prison. Especially when that seems to be the original intention; that freeing the EEG would "somewhat counter the freeing of Zuggtmoy."

The tricky part, from the texts as published, is figuring out how the elemental keys are introduced into the Temple, since they were placed in the Fane of Lolth seven years before the Temple was published. There are a couple of ways around this conundrum:

  1. The PCs use the elemental keys in the Temple after they adventure through D3. I find this unsatisfactory, as it means they either need to come back years later, or they hit the Temple after the Vault of the Drow, which would not make a lot of sense game-wise, as PCs of sufficient level to kill or drive off Lolth would not find much challenge in the Temple as written.
  2. There are two sets of keys. Having a duplicate set of keys is sort of a cheat, but it does work. I think there's a better solution, however, and one which solves yet another problem with the published work. To wit...
  3. The elemental keys start off in the Temple, and if the PCs don't use them to good effect, could end up with Lolth. Indeed, perhaps that is what Falrinth (who is secretly in Lolth's service, just like Lareth the Beautiful) is actually there to do; find the gems/keys and send them to his mistress, the demon queen Lolth, to keep the EEG in prison for eternity. 
I really like the symmetry of that third option. In essence, it sets up the Elder Elemental God as the ultimate Big Bad for the campaign. As the PCs venture through the Temple, they could free it at the same time they free Zuggtmoy. If that doesn't happen and they move on to greener dungeons, the same keys  would show up in the possession of Lolth, giving them yet another shot at freeing the EEG or imprisoning it forever, this time in Lolth's lair. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Artist Needed

I find myself in need of an artist for a project that's coming up.

However, this is not like most of my art requests, which are b&w line art. For this, I need a full face (no background) that's full color, computer generated. I will need several minor iterations of a basic image, to reflect different emotive states (probably around six or seven, which will involve only minor variations to the main piece). I will retain all copyright.

Please email me at joseph@brwgames.com if interested, and do include some representative pieces.

Feel free to spread this far and wide.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What makes a megadungeon?

It's big, but is it mega?
There's been a lot of chatter in my own little corner of the OSR web lately about megadungeons, and this is a thing that I both enjoy and encourage. For obvious reasons, I've got quite a few opinions about the megadungeon concept and execution, and I'm not afraid to share.

But I think in order to properly frame the discussion, we need to get a bit of definition around what, exactly, a megadungeon is.

Quite a few people subscribe to the "mythic underworld" interpretation of the megadungeon, where it represents a place where the normal rules of the world no longer apply, and wherein fantastical and abnormal things can be encountered. Indeed, Philotomy's Musings (a well-traveled booklet in certain circles) gives a length discourse on the megadungeon as mythic underworld, and in addition provides the following criteria for the mythic underworld/megadungeon (which he significantly uses interchangeably):

  1. It's big, and has many levels; in fact, it may be endless
  2. It follows its own ecological and physical rules
  3. It is not static; the inhabitants and even the layout may grow or change over time
  4. It is not linear; there are many possible paths and interconnections
  5. There are many ways to move up and down through the levels.
  6. Its purpose is mysterious or shrouded in legend
  7. It's inimical to those exploring it
  8. Deeper or farther levels are more dangerous
  9. It's a (the?) central feature of the campaign 

Personally, I'm not a fan of the mythic underworld interpretation, if for no other reason that in what has become the default style of FRPG campaign, there really is no distinction between the laws of reality in the dungeon, as compared to the town or inn. In a Campbellian sense, there's no definitive transition between the normal world and the world of fairy tales wherein one can encounter orcs, and vampires, and find magic rings. You could very well be attacked by a vampire while staying in your (supposedly) safe space.

Now, certainly, this is not the only approach to setting up a FRPG campaign, and something like the Western Marches campaign (seriously, if you've not read that yet, go do so immediately; it's brilliant) does in fact make the distinction. The town is safe, the lands to the west of the town are not. But when compared to "most" FRPG campaigns, that's the exception.

But more to the point, it fails to distinguish between a "regular" dungeon (one that can be "finished" in one or more sessions and play) and a megadungeon. For instance, I would argue that Philotomy's criteria 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 could apply to all sorts of different adventures and not just a megadungeon. I would also argue that 2 doesn't even necessarily apply to a megadungeon, although it could (and I would argue could apply to certain sorts of adventures, such as extra-planar excursions, more than it does to a megadungeon).

For instance, let's take one of my favorite modules, B1: In Search of the Unknown.

Certainly, it's big, and has many levels. It's not linear (although Dyson Logos made an effort to make it moreso); has several interconnections between levels; is certainly shrouded in legend as a general thing, even though its purpose is pretty straightforward (to act as a base for Zelligar and Rohgan); and it's definitely inimical to explorers (what dungeon isn't?). While it doesn't necessarily get harder as one goes from the surface, the second level certainly seems to be more deadly than the first, and 9 is not relevant because it can be plugged into any campaign (by design) and could certainly serve as a campaign tentpole (I used it in just such a way once, and it was a great success).

But I don't think anyone would argue it is a megadungeon.

What does that leave us? Simple.
3. It is not static; the inhabitants and even the layout may grow or change over time
That, to me, is the key. That's what makes something a megadungeon, rather than a regular dungeon. Any tomb or fortress or magic vault can be deadly, or get harder as you go further from the entrance, or whatever else.

But what makes a megadungeon special is that it is literally impossible to "clear".

Part of this is because of its size. You might be able to clear out a level (indeed, some of the PCs in the original Greyhawk campaign did just that, for a while, and claimed it for their own), but you'll never clear the dungeon. It's just not possible. Because while you're off exploring level 8, the orcs on level 3 are tunneling into a side level, and the myconids in that cavern in level 7 are spawning new warriors, and the Mad Archmage at the bottom is busy forming gates to new demi-planes.

Speaking of which, Wayne at Initiative One is entirely right. A megadungeon doesn't have a "boss" that can be defeated. If that were the case, doing so would "clear" the dungeon, which is exactly what can't be done to megadungeon. Certainly, individual levels can have bosses. Absolutely! But even Zagyg at level 13 of Castle Greyhawk, and the Mad Archmage at the bottom of Castle of the Mad Archmage, aren't bosses in that sense. They're not there to be defeated. They're there to open up yet another aspect of play. Certainly, meeting them can be viewed as a victory of sorts, but when you take the slide to China, you haven't defeated the dungeon. You just have farther to walk to go back to exploring it. Because the Greyhawk Construction Company just opened up a new side level on level 4 that wasn't there the last time.

In fact, we can infer exactly this from the racial abilities built into 1E. Detecting new construction makes absolutely no sense in a game sense unless there's new construction to detect.

So where does this leave us? It's not size (although size is important from a practical standpoint). It's not deadliness, because any dungeon worth its salt is deadly. It's all about replayability. The state of being wherein the PCs could, if they wished, keep going back into the dungeon over and over and over and over, and never, ever, not have something new to explore. (They might not find it, but that doesn't mean it's not there.) And that isn't limited to physical construction, either; demi-planes and other extra-dimensional gates, time portals, cursed scrolls taking PCs to the Starship Warden; they all count as part of the megadungeon.

Without that element of infinite replayability, you don't have a megadungeon. You just have a large dungeon, which is a very different thing.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Now on Facebook!

A bit of administrivia, if I may. Greyhawk Grognard now has a FaceBook page! If you look to the right you'll see the button that will take you there. Or you can just click here.

Remember to "like" the page to get updates!

On there you'll find not just announcements of activity here on the blog, but also shorter pieces that don't warrant entire blog posts of their own, plus more ephemeral things like links to relevant news stories and things I find amusing/relevant. There also tends to be a lot more dialogue over at FaceBook, so more chances to get into fights with engage with your fellow readers!

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 10)

Picking up the pace as we near the end of this long, long journey, the next section up is the Geography of Oerth, and truth to tell this is one of my favorite sections.

Here we are treated to a dozen interesting / mysterious / adventure-worthy locations in the Flanaess. These aren't full-blown adventures (those come in the next section of the book), but they give enough high-level information and specific detail that a dungeon master could develop any of them into an adventure that could take his PCs weeks if not longer to work through.

And that, I think, is the strength of this section. It doesn't spoon-feed things to the DM, but rather sets up just enough detail to let the DM's own imagination take over for the details. A few game mechanic suggestions are given at the end of each entry.

The dozen locales detailed include the following.

The Pinnacles of Azor'alq, located in the middle of the Drawmij Ocean. These are a series of cliff-like islands that rise suddenly out of the sea, filled with lost interior caves, and home to all manner of fantastic flying creatures such as dragons and phoenixes.

The Sea of Dust. Already known in very truncated form from the World of Greyhawk gazetteer, we learn a lot more about its nature and its inhabitants in this section, including likely places where surviving ruins of the ancient Suloise Imperium might be found. The details don't mesh with Gary Gygax's novel set in the same place (for obvious reasons), but it is still great information to have at the DM's fingertips.

The Pits of Azak-Zil, located in the southeastern Abbor-Alz. Most of the description is left to the history of the site, which is a now-abandoned dwarven mine, at the site of a meteor impact. Some of that background doesn't quite ring true (the Principality of Ulek is going to send an expedition all the way to the Abbor-Alz?), and I wish there was more concrete information about the undead-infested mines themselves.

Skellingshald, a plateau-city located in the Griff Mountains. Originally a Flan stronghold, now abandoned to its magical and mundane guardians, its inaccessibility is as great an obstacle to overcome as the kobolds and other creatures, and what treasure remains is of course cursed.

The Sinking Isle, located near the Sea Barons. As the name suggests, this mysterious island emerges from the sea at intervals, inviting those who happen to be in the area at the time to investigate. There are treasures to be had, but the whole is dangerous in the extreme, as the island can sink beneath the waves at any time. In addition, it is guarded by both sahuagin and kraken.

The Twisted Forest, located in the Drachengrabs. Not an actual forest at all, but rather a region of stone pillars that could well be described as humanoid instead of tree-like in shape. They are, in fact, the trapped remains of a variety of evil inhabitants who wandered into the area over the years, including some ancient Suel refugees. There is treasure, but also danger from the possibility of the trapped ones taking over the bodies of explorers.

The Burning Cliffs, located along the Icy Sea. This patch of naturally hot and fiery bitumen and flammable rock is not only dangerous in and of itself because of the intense heat and smoke that it spews forth, but is actually growing each year. At the heart of this place is apparently a gate to the Elemental Plane of Fire, making the fabled City of Brass accessible to those foolish enough to make the attempt.

Csipros Erd - The Geysers of Death, located in the northern Barrier Peaks. This is pretty straightforward; a region of geysers, poisonous gasses, and hot springs that make travel hazardous in the extreme, but sweetened by the presence of a treasure hoard belonging to humanoids driven out of the Lortmils during the Hateful Wars.

Tovag Baragu - The Stone Circles, located in the Dry Steppes. This is one feature that was actually given a fuller treatment in a later module; Vecna Lives! The whole thing is an artifact that acts as a time/planar travel system. Vecna later uses it in his attempt to achieve godhood.

Rigodruok - The Rainbow Vale, located in the Land of Black Ice. Sort of a riff on the idea of the Hollow Oerth, this is a warm and fertile bowl-shaped vale in the midst of the black ice, inhabited by humanoids, spiders, and cavemen, with plentiful diamonds.

Esmerin, located in the Lortmils. This is a happy and hidden valley, rich in gems and metals, wherein tallfellow halflings and giants live in harmony.

Turucambi, located in the Oljatt Sea near Hepmonaland. A maze of limestone and coral reefs and shoals, with many small islands. The maze of reefs under the surface is home to sea-races of all types, and the whole produces weird and unpredictable tides, geysers, and the whole filled with poisonous plants and animals. The presence of many rare and valuable corals makes the whole thing worth visiting, despite the dangers.

Next up: Adventures in Greyhawk

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

RPGNow OSR Extravaganza Sale - 15% off!

I didn't know it was coming, but I'm glad to be a part of it.

Right now all of BRW Games products are 15% off as part of RPGNow's OSR Extravaganza Sale. That includes all our game titles, hard copy as well as pdf!

Enjoy!