Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Quick Review

In almost six hours it will be 2014 in my little corner of the world. So there’s still time for me to do a review of 2013!

The year didn’t start well for me, with me being ill and having trouble doing things I really enjoyed – like blogging. In July I came back to this blog and started writing Three Sad Wizards. Most of the posts I made in July and August were about this module. I really like how it turned out and, judging from reactions I got, other people do as well.

In September I completed the 30 Day Challenge. Not all questions on the list were interesting, but I tried to make something of every post, and most of the time I succeeded. And after a year of not being able to blog, this did feel as a real victory.

I also started a series inspired by the Planescape book Uncaged Faces of Sigil. I did six entries in the series Faces of Pretomournon. So far I’m pleased with how the series is turning out, but I think the entries may be a bit too long. Faces of Pretomournon will return in the new year.

In October I wrote my most popular post from this year: Orc Babies. It was a commentary on D&D Next’s “story elements”, that threaten to be completely uninspired and boring. To put money where my mouth is, I showed how I do orc babies in my campaign. Apparently, people liked that.

In November I participated in NaNoWriMo. I hoped I could continue blogging, but that proved to be unrealistic. However, I did write 50K words on my novel that is now almost finished.
So what will 2014 bring?

I’m writing a module called Lost Library of the Death Speakers, which is on hold until I figure out a way to make it less boring. I’m also outlining Valkyries vs. Amazons, an module which can be summed up as Female Fighters in Unreasonable Armor – the Module. However, I also have my Nanowrimo novel to finish, so it may take a while before I have time for it.

I’m also writing the DSA game, a clone of the first edition of Germany’s most popular roleplaying game. So far, I have most of character creation, about half of combat, and a lot of spells done. Still a lot to do though, so it will take time.

Happy new year to everyone, and see you next year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Wild Hunt

Every winter solstice, the Wild Hunt rides from Castle Woden. A group of riders with black faces, a large pack of huge black hounds, and numerous spirits or fairy beings, in pursuit of a single mortal being. The Hunt rides over ancient paths and roads, now long gone. If they encounter a farm, a village, or another building in their way , it’s burned to the ground.

Master of the Hunt is the Dark Huntsman, demon-like figure with antlers and a leather mask covering the entirety of his face. He rides either a black horse, or a white one, depending if the Hunt hunts a guilty soul, or an innocent.

Some years (40% chance) Frau Hulda, the snow maker, rides in front of the Hunt in her chariot. If she’s with the Hunt, a terrible storm rages over the land, felling trees, destroying blowing down wooden structures like fences and barns, and sometimes making casualties.

People encountering the Hunt should avert their eyes or risk being swept up by it. Characters who see it must save vs. spells or become part of the Hunt. The fate of such a person varies wildly. Some join the Hunt as hunters, following the Master’s orders, even if they go against their alignment. They will be released after the quarry has been caught and the Hunt is over.

Others are not so lucky. Characters with WIS 7 or lower will join the Hunt as one of its black hounds. The unlucky character will start running on all four and turn into a huge dog. A smaller white puppy will stay behind in his place. After the Hunt is over, the black hounds evaporate and the persons are lost in the spirit world for a year. If his family takes good care of the white pup, the character will be released next winter solstice.

Beautiful young girls and boys (CHA 15 or above) will be kidnapped by the riders and taken back to Castle Woden, never to be seen again.

The Wild Hunt often rides through its quarry’s home town, destroying the village in the process. To prevent the village from being burned down, villages often cast out girls into the forest, hoping the Hunt’s designated prey is among them. These girls are often taken into the homes of gnomes or witches in the forest. Some of them are lost for good or are found the next day frozen to death. Most of them return to the village safely, with no memory of what happened to them that night.

The Hunt’s quarry is usually a girl, often guilty but sometimes innocent. She can always hear the hounds coming closer, and is under the influence of a fear spell during the hunt. The Hunt is over when it captures its prey and shreds it to pieces.

However, deep in the woods is an unnamed stone circle, overgrown and hardly recognizable as such. The bones of the Master of the Hunt are buried there. If the prey manages to reach the circle she’s save. The Dark Huntsman cannot enter the circle, and will release the prey. She will never be hunted again by the Wild Hunt in her life.

The Hunt can be fought, but it can never be destroyed. When the Dark Huntsman and his hounds are killed in combat, their bodies will disappear, only to reappear the next night. If their prey is still alive, the Hunt continues.

The Dark Huntsman: AL N; MV 180’ (60’); AC 2; HD 15; hp 80; #AT 2; Dmg 1d6+6 (spear +3 ); Save F15; M 10; XP 1900. The Huntsman usually attacks with his spear +3. He may also steer his horse to trample an opponent, for 4d6 damage.

Frau Hulda: AL C; MV 120’ (40’); AC 3; HD 12; hp 72; #AT 3 (2 claws, 1 bite) ; Dmg 2d6 (claw) or 1d8 (bite); Save M12; Special: Spells; M 10; XP 2000. Frau Hulda specializes in spells concerning the weather. She can ride her chariot over victims, for 3d10 of damage.

Hounds (3d4): AL C; MV 120’ (40’); AC 4; HD 6; hp 25 each; #AT 1 (bite); Dmg 1d6; Save F6; M 9; XP 570. The Hounds of the Hunt can cause fear in any mortal being.

Call Forth the Wild Hunt

 Level: Druid 4
Duration: up to 10 days (see below)
Range:  0

This specialized ritual should be cast in the ten days between the winter solstice and the new year in the stone circle where the Dark Hunter was buried. The spell costs thirty minutes to cast, and requires an item belonging to the intended victim. Once the ritual is complete, the ghost of the Hunter will appear and listen to the caster’s reasons to call the Hunt on someone. No matter if the reasons for doing so are just or not, the spell compels the Hunt to obey and pursue the quarry designated by the spellcaster.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary

Adventures Dark and Deep is Joseph Bloch’s thought experiment made real: “What if Gary Gygax had been allowed to go through with his plans for a second edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game?’

The result is an AD&D variant vastly superior to the original: it’s better written, has better art, and has more options for players to try out. The game is a magnificent achievement, and raises the bar for OSR products. The game’s Players Manual and the Game Masters Toolkit are both great, but the best book, and also the one easiest usable with other OSR games, is the Bestiary.

It’s 457 pages hold over 900, monsters, animals, and other creatures. It includes all creatures from the SRD, a great number of monsters from other OGL sources like the Complete Tome of Horrors, and some original creatures as well. So we have seen most of these monsters before in other sources.  The original creatures are mostly new expressions of old ideas that don’t have an OGL version yet (for example, the Fairy Courts).

So what makes this book so good? It has everything. It’s got all the basics covered, and a lot of the extras as well. For the first time, everything’s in one book. If you’re like me, you don’t want to have to reference multiple monster books and magazine issues to stock a dungeon. As a result most of the monsters encountered in my campaigns were from the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual, formerly my go-to monster book.

Is there something I don’t like about the book?

Some of the art is great, but some of the art relies too much on tracing it’s reference, instead of referencing it. What’s worst, the design of the book is very basic. Some of the art doesn’t get the space it needs and falls a bit cramped, other pieces are printed too large and falls a bit flat. Tellingly, there’s no designer or art director credited. However, I acknowledge the achievement of having that much art in a small OSR publication.

The cover of my copy is a bit blurred, and some of the black-and-white art inside is a bit pixelated, making me think the printer worked from low resolution images. My copies of the Players Manual and the Game Masters Toolkit do not have these flaws.

All-in-all, the Bestiary is the best monster book currently available for any system. If you play any old school variant of D&D, you should check it out. If you play AD&D, you should take a look at the rest of the Adventures Dark and Deep rules as well.


Here’s a small issue I came upon when using the Bestiary for an B/X module. In the Bestiary, Morale is given as an adjustment on morale checks , which in Adventures Dark and Deep are rolled on 1d20. This is an improvement over AD&D’s percentile system, but it makes it harder to use with B/X, which uses 2d6, or 2nd Edition AD&D, which uses 2d10. So I made a conversion chart:
Morale Conversion
2nd Edition
Unreliable (2)
Unreliable (2-4)
Unsteady (5)
Unsteady (6)
Unsteady (7)
Average (8)
Average (8)
Average (9)
Average (9)
Average (10)
Steady (11)
Steady (11)
Steady (12)
Steady (12)
Elite (13)
Elite (13)
Elite (14)
Champion (15)
Champion  (16)
Fanatic (17-18)
Fearless (19-20)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Check Out This Awesome Blog List

+Charles Akins has compiled an impressive list of OSR related blogs. Each blog gets a short description what it's about and how frequently it's updated. For example, my blog is:

A fun, meandering blog that tends focus on most everything related to the hobby. Inventive and clever. A good place to start in the archives is Orc Babies and you'll know the tenor of this blog from the get go. Updates: Dark since October 30, 2013.

Inventive and clever. Yes, that made my day.

The list is already the most complete overview of the OSR blog-o-sphere, and Charles is updating it with blogs from the comments. It is a great resource to discover new blogs to read.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November: Nanowrimo & The DSA Game

This november, like every november for the past seven years, I'll be participating in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo for short). The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. So far, I've "won" 3 times and "lost" three times, so my chance of completing the challenge this year is about 50%. In years I didn't complete 50K of words, I still wrote 20K - 30K, so it's still a boost for my writing, and so far I've completed three-and-a-half novels this way.

This year, I'm also writing a game. To be precise, I'll be writing a clone of the 1st edition of Das Schwarze Auge. I'm including both the Basic Set and the Expansion Set, so it will be pretty complete, and despite the bad rep the game has in some circles, it will actually be pretty good. (And it will be nice to have a version of the rules without Ulrich Kiesow's childish writing voice).

For this blog, it means posting will be light next month. Hopefully, I can manage to post at least once a week.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Spells of the Identity Mage

Dr. Stirma Dijke is a research scientist working at the College for Psychology and Philosophy of Pretomournon University. Her specialty is identity,  especially it’s changeability and instability. She conducts horrible experiments in which she regularly wipes subjects’ memories, forces new identities upon them, and generally makes them ripe for the asylum. Here’s two of the spells she uses.

Change Identity

Level: Magic-user 5
Duration: Permanent
Range:  25 ft. +5 ft./2 levels

The change identity spell lets a mage change a single other person’s unique sense of self. It can fully change the mental make-up of a person: his mental abilities, his personality, his class, etc. Although it can change physical attributes like the character’s race and sex, it’s a mental change, For example, a male human who’s changed into a female dwarf sees and feels female and dwarf in all respects, but she still looks exactly the same as before.

For every level the caster has above 6th, he may change one of the following things. So a 9th-level mage may change three things, a 10th-level mage may change four things, etc.

-          The victim’s Intelligence score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s Wisdom score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s Charisma score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s class. The caster picks the new class. The victim stays the same level as before.
-          The victim’s race. The caster picks the new race. This is a mental change only.
-          The victim’s sex. The victim becomes a member of the opposite sex. This is a mental change only.
-          The victim’s sexual identity.


Level: Magic-user 6
Duration: Variable
Range: 0

This spell makes all people in the world forget who the caster is. For the duration of the spell, not even his best friends will recognize him. He will be a complete stranger, although some people may think he looks a bit familiar. When the caster tells a person who he really is (“It’s me… Argus.”), that person will suddenly see who he really is.

To determine the precise duration and effect of the incognito spell, the caster makes a Charisma check. Because characters with higher Charisma are more memorable, it’s better to fail this check than it is to succeed with it.

Normally, the magic of the spell keeps working after the spell duration has ended: people who meet the caster while the spell is in effect will keep on remembering the stranger. However, on a very successful Charisma check they will retroactively remember his true identity.

Cha check
1 week
Caster is completely forgotten
Succeeds within 5 points of Cha score
2 days
Caster is forgotten, but some may wonder why he looks familiar
Succeeds with more than 5 points lower than Cha score
1 day
Caster is forgotten, some may wonder why he looks familiar, and he will retroactively be remembered after the duration has passed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Amazon


The Knights of the Ark are champions of Neutrality, trying to keep the balance between Law and Chaos. It is the largest knighthood on the world of Seralin, and consists entirely of women. As often happens in such large organizations there are different movements within the order, that explain the ideologies of the order differently and want to implement its objectives in different ways.

One of the largest groups within the Knights are the Amazons. Amazons believe that the balance between Law and Chaos can be best accomplished by fighting against the natural course of things (which contains of both order and entropy). One of the ways they do that is bringing the dead back to life (with the raise dead spell). The revived dead become beimana, or cheaters, and are taken out of the wheel of reincarnation. They can never reincarnate again.

In Pretomournon’s Ruined Tower District stands "The Unaligned School for Young Women", led by its headmistress Demostratia, knight of the Ark and Amazon. The pupils at the school are all between twelve and sixteen years. They’re trained to be squires to knights of the Ark, and eventually after an internship will receive a full knighthood. All the girls are beimana, meaning they have been dead and were resurrected by an Ark knight, after which they were transferred to the girl school in Pretomournon.

Demostratia was born on the knights’ ark Utnapishtim. As a young girl she was one of the most promising squires, and she was fully knighted at the young age of fifteen. In the decade that followed Demostratia accomplished many successful missions, and she rose steadily through the ranks of the Guild. However, when she observed the knights’ "end justifies the means" philosophy in action on several of her missions, she grew more and more dissatisfied with the Guild's lessons. Her loss of faith successfully hiding, Demostratia was offered the position of headmistress of The Unaligned School. She took it eagerly, and she left for Pretomournon.

Her superiors do not know that in Pretomournon Demostratia joined La Révolution, the Guild that believes people should be able to choose their own leaders. The entire staff of the school consists of revolutionaries. In addition to classes about the knight’s code and philosophy about Order, Neutrality, and Chaos, students also get lessons in political science, guerrilla tactics, setting traps, assassination, and alchemical bomb making. When the students graduate they are not only knights, but also terrorists. Demostratia's goal is nothing less than to overthrow the leaders of the Knights of the Ark itself.

To arm her pupils, Demostratia purchased a chest of magic weapons the dwarf Ibbo. This chest was stolen by Ibbo from the warehouse of Vithimiris Reizensteijn. Reizensteijn is outraged by the theft and has offered a reward for "the dwarf with the eye-patch", but doesn’t know that the weapons are now in the hands of the revolutionary amazons.

Running the school does not go in its entirety without any problems. The gang of The Basher Brothers  visited the school a few times to suggest “in a friendly but firm way" to the headmistress to move. After some inquiries here and there Demostratia found out The Temple wants to draw a magical rune in streets, and that the school is in the way. Demostratia is not going to move the school, and so far she has managed to resist the pigs. The Bashers, not used to knights who aren’t intimidated, have yet to find a way to clear the school.

Another problem presents itself in the guise of the young scoundrel which is known as "The Romanticist". This romantic rogue visits the school regularly at night to “honor” some of the older girls with a visit. Naturally Demostratia and her staff do not want this, but they suffer the disadvantage of girls taught to turn against authority: time after time the girls help the Romanticist to hide or to get away. So far, Demostratia failed to catch the young man.

However, she did catch the thief Esbern. Demostratia caught the handsome thief when he tried to rob her office. He begged her not to hand him over to the authorities. Demostratia agreed, on condition Esbern did a number of jobs for her. Since then, an unusual relationship developed between the two, in which both are attracted to each other, but neither wants a love affair with the other.

Demostratia: AL N; MV 12; AC -1 (banded mail +1, shield +2, Dex); Human Female Fighter 6/Thief 4; hp 44; #AT 2; Dmg 1d8+5 (long sword +3, Str) or by weapon +2; S 17, D 15, C 14, I 13, W 10, Ch 14; M 8; items: helm of telepathy; XP 2400.

Thief Skills: PL 31, FRT 23, PP 37, MS 37, CW 90, HS 27, HN 1-3.

Location: The Unaligned School for Girls in the Ruined Tower District.

See also: The Basher Brothers, Esbern, Ibbo, The Romanticist, Vithimiris Reizensteijn, Sylgya.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Orc Babies

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about Mearls’ 5E articles and the rules-side of the game, but there’s been hardly any conversation about James Wyatt’s “Wandering Monsters” column. There should be, because it’s terrible. In the column, Wyatt discusses monsters, and their role in the D&D game and world. The results are often uninspired, or they come completely out of the blue.

Apparently, the goal is to create monster concepts that can include both the AD&D/3E version of a monster, and the 4E version. Sounds good, but the result is often a wishy-washy, watered down monster. I’m no fan of the changes 4E made to some of the monsters, but at least there were concepts behind them (even if they were weak concepts).  For example, the much-lamented Devil Succubus was a dumb idea, but at least it was a Devil. In 5E, the Succubus will be nothing. They’re watering down the concept even more. Furthermore, Wyatt’s articles make for dry reading, and that doesn’t bode well for the 5E Monster Manual.

Last week’s article, “You Got Science In My Fantasy” touches upon a topic I’ve been meaning to write about:

Orc Babies
Let’s get one thing straight: no orc is a “non-combatant”. The idea that encountering orc babies is an interesting “moral dilemma” or “philosophical discussion” is an often repeated adventurer legend that’s not true. It's up there with "Bree-yark means I surrender" and "Succubi are great kissers".
Orc babies are vicious, nasty little critters: balls of fur with razor-sharp teeth, an unrelenting hunger for fresh meat, and the ability to jump from the floor straight on a man’s face.

Orc Baby (2d8): AL C; MV 15; AC 10; HD 1d4 hp; #AT 1; Dmg 1d4 (bite); M 10; XP 6.

Jaws of Steel: An orc baby attacks the unarmored parts of their opponents (bare arms, face). If its bite attack succeeds, it stays attached to its opponent and does 1d4 damage automatically each round. To detach an orc baby the opponent must make a Str check.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Picture Post: The RPG Art of Bryan Talbot

In 1982, British comic book artist Bryan Talbot produced some very atmospheric illustrations for the German roleplaying game Das Schwarze Auge. It occurred to me that, since it was never translated into English, few people outside Germany, the Netherlands, Italy or France are familiar with them. So I made this post.

Talbot is best known for The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and has provided art for Judge Dredd, Batman the Dark Knight, and Sandman, among other things. In 1982 he produced 100 illustrations for German roleplaying game Das Schwarze Auge. (As I have written HERE, DSA was my first RPG.)

For a whole generation of German and Dutch gamers, his atmospheric black-and-white illustrations were the first introduction to what a fantasy world looked like.

It looked like this:
Clicking the pictures makes them bigger.

The city of Havena has seen better days.

This is from the 2nd, censored edition. Originally, the girl's dress was torn and the goblin was touching her in an inappropriate way. 

Surprising the goblin.

There are many illustrations of rooms in this book. This is one of the more interesting.

This demon from the mirror has the same stats as the hero.

DSA's kobolds were a big inspiration for my take on gnomes in the Weird Opera world.

A family of orcs.
Talbot drew this map of the game world before there even was a setting. It informed the shape the campaign setting would take.

There's a secret door hidden in this painting. See if you can deduce how to open it.






Vampire bats.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Pigs

The Basher Brothers

If you want to have someone killed, the best place to go to is the Secret Masters Guild. But sometimes you do not want someone dead immediately. Maybe you want him beat up? Threaten him? Collect money he owes you?  Break his legs? Then you can contact the Basher Brothers.

The pigs Ale, Vodka and Gin - their father named them - began their careers as bodyguards in service of the rich moneylender Garrelt Cristofoletto. Cristofoletto always used pigs as bodyguards - and still does - because he thinks that they look "tough". The brothers Ale and Vodka Basher guarded the moneylender for almost five years. During that time they often performed special "chores" for him. For example, when someone refused to pay, the brothers paid the debtor a visit to advise him to pay quickly (and when a large sum was involved, maybe break a leg or two). Ale and Wodka often took their teenage sister Gin with them on these jobs, in order to teach her “the ropes”.

When the new tax system was introduced, it paid Cristofoletto better to dismiss his bodyguards and take on freelancers. Of course he hired Ale and Vodka Basher right away, but the two pigs suddenly found themselves forced to start a company. However, Vodka saw an opportunity to expand their business. Gin began approaching new customers. There appeared to be a large market for Brute Force, and soon they got so many commissions that they had to hire personnel.

Now the Basher Brothers (and the Basher sister) are at the head of the largest mercenary guild in Pretomournon. All members of the gang are pigs, about as many bears as sows. Ale and Vodka no longer work as bodyguards - they leave that to the pigs in their service.

Ale, the oldest brother, is the largest, the strongest, and the dumbest of the siblings. Since he no longer does mercenary work, he behaves as if he's better than the staff - many of whom are former friends of his. Ale's an Executive Board Member of the mercenary guild, but actually he’s nothing more than a glorified guard of his younger brother and sister. He is especially protective of Gin, and he makes it very dangerous for would-be suitors to come near his sister.

Vodka, the middle sibling, is only slightly smarter than his older brother, but not by much. Vodka pictures himself as a real businessman. He dresses like a wealthy merchant, smokes big cigars, and travels through the city in his own rickshaw, pulled by one of his servants. But beneath that stylish exterior he remains the low-class gangster from the River District. He is vulgar, has terrible manners and a banal sense of humor.

Gin is the Basher sister. She's smarter than her brothers and therefore takes care of administration, human resources, and client contacts. But make no mistake, even though she’s smart, Gin is as vicious and violent as her brothers, and strong enough to beat almost every thug in the city in a one-on-one fight - except for Ale.

The Basher Brothers have many clients. In addition to providing Cristofoletto's protection, they work for Vithimiris ReizenSteyn, on whose behalf they threaten the art dealer Fern, for Carter Don, who hired them to clear the orphanage of the Amazon Demostratia, and for the magician Laumones of Rozeren, for whom they try to keep the rogue only known as "The Romanticist" away from his daughter Abigail. In all three of these jobs the Bashers aren’t very successful, and it looks like there’s room for competition in the thugging market. So far, however, no one has dared to compete with Ale, Vodka and Gin.

Ale Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 6 (studded leather +1); Pig Male Fighter7; hp 49; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+3 (mace +1, Str) or 1d4+2 (bite, Str) or by weapon +2; S 17, D 10, C 16, I 5, W 9, Ch 7; M 11; XP 790.

Vodka Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 6 (unarmored); Pig Male Thief 9; hp 43; #AT 1; Dmg 1d4+1 (silver dagger, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; S 15, D 11, C 15, I 7, W 10, Ch 8; M 9; special: backstab (2d4+2 dmg), thief abilities; items: gloves of swimming and climbing; XP 1700.

Gin Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 5 (unarmored, Dex); Pig Female Fighter 5; hp 40; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+1 (mace, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; S 15, D 13, C 13, I 12, W 10, Ch 11; M 9; XP 350.

Pig Thugs of the Basher Guild: AL N; MV 12; AC 8 (leather); Pig Fighter 2; hp 10; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+1 (mace, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; M 10; XP 29.

All have normal abilities of a pig, as described HERE.

Location: The Basher siblings can be found in their office in the Money District, or in the barracks of their mercenaries in the River District.

See also: Garrelt Cristofoletto, Demostratia, Carter Don, Fern, Vithimiris Reizensteijn, The Romanticist, Laumones Van Rozeren.