A Quick Look at the Top Tiers of 2015’s One Page Dungeon Contest

1st place

Furthest Farthing’s Frog Pond – it’s an interesting concept, but it’s more an interesting location with an encounter than a dungeon. Also, if you need trigger warnings, you probably shouldn’t be playing D&D. Still, the idea of a cursed town where everyone is on the verge of suicide and the players have to do something to stop it is neat enough to steal. I did something similar once with Towers of Dream, but that focused more on the Towers than the town. If I ever get around to playtesting Towers, I’ll almost certainly use the driven-to-suicide mechanic.

Lantern of Wyv – Really impressive amount of content and real-estate crammed into this one. Pick out some stat-blocks and some wandering monsters, and you’re good to go.

A Stolen Song – This a really workable B/X dungeon with a cool puzzle; all you have to do is look up the stats for the listed monster. Recommended for mid level parties with magic weapons.  Best of the 1st place OPDs, imo.

2nd place

The Panopticon – An interesting piece of art that is not easy on the eyes, but I can’t imagine actually trying to run this. It’s more of an abstract for a “clear out the 666 layers of the abyss” type campaign than a playable module.

The Heist – The isometric art for this is pretty cute, and it’s hard not to like a one page dungeon whose (obliquely) stated goal is to knock a 1st level party up to level 2 if they survive, all in one page.

Sepulchre of the Abyss – At first glance, there’s not a lot going on here except for being an incredibly easy to pick up and play micro-dungeon. Which is really what you should be looking for in a OPD. But the fact that it’s an underwater dungeon with random flood/terrain effects for each room make this hella evocative of Leiber’s The Sunken Land.

Into the Awaroth Woods – Beautiful art hampered by a rather cramped choice of font, but it’s cramped in the same way that the old scans of Keep on the Borderland are, so nostalgia? Anyway, a lot of great set pieces in this one, which could easily be fleshed out into a full campaign, reminiscent of the expanded “Terror in the Gloaming” scenario.

Escape the Oubliette – This is a cool “death trap” scenario that your players, unless they like that sort of thing, are guaranteed to hate. They start in naked and afraid in a cave deep underground and have to escape from a deep pit before the river floods the well.

Shambling Throne – This is one of those comic OPDs that’s more to be enjoyed as a work of art than seriously attempted to run. I mean, I suppose you could try to run Ravenloft off of those comics that WotC put up a few years back, but isn’t it better to just try to enjoy this sort of thing for what it is?

These and countless more OPDs can be found over at Random Wizard’s OPD site!

Misfit Super Teams: Runaways and Batman and the Outsiders

I’m mostly a DC fan, but I’ve got to admit, I have a soft spot for Runaways. It’s one of the Marvel titles I enjoy enough to consider trying to follow, or at least catch up on the various gaps in what I’ve read.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Runaways is the kids of a group of Supervillains discover that their parents are evil and (TITLE!) run away. They (I think, I missed that volume) kill their parents and take over their secret base, trying to cope with the power vacuum of villainy that the removal of their parents created.

I particularly like the older run, as it presents an ongoing relatively non-episodic story that more adheres to the narrative structure that got me into comics in the first place (graphic novels & manga).  I still have a hard time with strictly episodic superhero stories, though I’ve warmed up to mainstream comics in general a bit in the form of short arcs within a continuity. I’ll admit that one thing that kept me away from Runaways for some time despite loving the first volume was the assumption on my part that, like all other ongoing western comics, there would be no satisfying resolution and eventually the story would go off in radically divergent directions away from the establishing narrative, the characters would get replaced or Flanderized, and it would turn into a hugely disappointing unending mess. Well, I’m starting to try to just enjoy the ride, and once the road gets too bumpy, I’ll get off.

But back on topic, I think the reason why Runaways is the only Marvel title I really enjoy is that the characters perceive the rest of the Marvel Universe kind of in the way that I perceive it. Wolverine thinks he’s bad but he’s really just kind of a jerkass, Spiderman thinks he’s cool and hip and funny but actually he’s a giant tool, the X-Men are lame-os trying to be edgy, the Avengers are cool until you meet them. I actually relate to these Marvel characters because of their utter disdain for their fellow (and far more iconic) Marvel heroes, and it’s a strange feeling. They’re kind of a bizarro Teen Titans; without the guidance of A-tier heroes, they make a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but because of their interactions with the rest of the Marvel heroes, you still get the gooey angst similar to that which the Titans have for being in the shadow of their “parent” figure heroes, but since none of them are the children or side-kicks of Marvel staples, there’s not the understanding that they’ll patch things up with and eventually take up the mantle of a Jerkass Justice Leaguer Avenger or X-man. And as much as I love Raven, Nico is, if not a better character, a more interesting take on the dark magic girl insofar as how her powers work.

What I read of Volume 3 (in magazine terms, not collection terms) confirmed some of my fears about the devolution into villain of the weekisms, but the other collections I read have convinced me that I definitely need to go back and finish the stuff from Volumes 1 & 2.

And speaking of Superhero teams, in my quest to find the optimal insertion point into Batman nearly 80 year history, I grabbed a DC Showcase collection of Batman and the Outsiders from the library.

Why do I say I’m looking for an optimal insertion point? I know this probably makes me a terrible Batman fan, but my favorite Batman is early to mid-90s; I read the Dark Knight Archives that had the first 4 issues of Batman, and found it painfully dull; I read the DC Showcase Brave and the Bold Team Ups collection because I loved the Brave & the Bold cartoon show and wasn’t sure what was worse, the awful D-list villains, the overly long and boring stories, or the bad silver age 1-liners; for my money, Azbats aside, the Knightfall era is some of the best Batman I’ve read outside of some one-offs.

Why did I pick Batman and the Outsiders? Well, I liked the (wildly reimagined) Outsiders’ cameos in the Brave and the Bold cartoon and the publication dates of the Batman and the Outsiders are far closer to the era of Batman I know that like than the era of Batman I know that I don’t like.

It’s getting there. There are still some traces of bad 4th-wall breaking Silver Age cheese, though it’s generally only the occasional panel and it never goes into the full on “blah blah blah, good readers!” hyperbolic nonsense which made the Silver Age team-ups unreadable to me. The setup and introduction is a bit awkward (‘I’m quitting the JLA because you won’t invest cosmic conflict level resources into intervening in a civil war in a country smaller than Luxembourg to help me save Lucius Fox!’ ‘You guys who showed up out of nowhere and almost botched this for me: let me set you up in Bruce Wayne’s assorted safe houses. You’re my new team, because that little shit Robin is with the Teen Titans now!’), but the book finds its rhythm quickly. The interplay between the characters, particularly Halo/Katana and Halo/Geo-Force, is the strongest aspect of the title and helps to compensate for where the title lacks in good episodic stories. I’m generally not interested in whatever bottom tier villain they’re fighting, but I’m interested enough in finding out how the team members’ relationships evolve that I’m more than willing to keep reading.

I think the Outsiders hit their stride with the Teen Titans crossover; revealing Terra as Geo-Force’s missing sister suddenly makes the Outsiders relevant (in my reader’s mind, at least) to the DC Universe and its overall story. Geo-Force is a good, if troubled dude, and knowing that his sister is evil, Batman knows his sister is evil, and that his sister is going die in the not too distant continuity future… there’s gonna be some Pathos, man!  Plus, getting to see some vintage Robin Resentment and a cameo of a pre-Robin Jason Todd provides some nice fuel for my continuity-nerd furnace.

As for actual continuity, though, it’s kind of a problem since Batman and the Outsiders is, comparatively speaking, immediately before Crisis, meaning that it could’ve been wiped out partially, completely, or not at all. The Real Batman Chronology Project indicates that post-Crisis flashbacks indicate that Batman did leave the JLA, did form the Outsiders, and the lineup of Teen Titans who show up in that early crossover does hold up in post-Crisis continuity, but just how much can be ascribed to the life Batman from Year One actually lived in the second decade of his career is up in the air, and since it was so close to Crisis, there was not a wholesale post-crisis reintroduction of Batman’s formation of the Outsiders.

Regardless of its standing within Modern Age continuity, my conclusions are:
Batman and the Outsiders is worth checking out.
While the writing is still a bit dodgy, Pre-Crisis Batman is back on my Radar.
If they aren’t stupid expensive, I might someday pick up some original issues of B&tO to get a better appreciation of them; the Showcases might be a “bargain” but coloring can be the difference between an okay and a great comic.
Geo-Force fighting Superman at Christmas because Superman & Batman wouldn’t let him murder a professor who had been sexually abusing the girl he was in love with and drove her to a suicide attempt was one hell of a crazy story!

Yes, Diversity Is About Getting Rid Of White People (And That’s A Good Thing)

I’m still not convinced that Progressivism isn’t just a giant troll to make sane people snap and start smashing heads with baseball bats so that Progressives can point and say “See, we told you so!”

(because links to Thought Catalog get broken on reshares because of some coding issue on their end, the complete article is here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/emily-goldstein/2015/05/get-rid-of-white-people/)

Apology Accepted

Ian Miles Chong has recently had what appears to be a fairly genuine change of heart in regards to things he and others have said as to the generalization of gamers, largely within context of #gamergate and recent social justice oriented cultural criticisms.  He has expounded upon his twitter apologies on his blog here, and it is a genuinely moving read.  Does this make Chong some kind of enlightened saint who is right on all things from now on out, on some kind of “good list”?  Of course not, but it shows that anyone is capable of change for the better given some self-reflection.  And I hope that others are willing to embrace his change and accept that he has looked within himself and wanted to do better and be better.  Good luck on your journey, IMC.

Bar-Lev Take 2 Continued

Did not get to make much progress last week; we only got 1 turn knocked out. While my air strategy may be paying off slightly, the ground war is going poorly on the Syrian front.

I’ve managed to leave a few thorns in the Egyptian’s side in the north, and a solid pocket of troops are still holding up around El Shatt which can screen for my artillery. The problem I’m facing now is that the Arab artillery is going to be shelling all of those guys from the west bank of the Suez while the armored units start to bring the hammer down from the North. There’s a chance that they can force me to spread thin to cover the supply roads east into the Sinai. They’re still open, but I’ve surrendered my northern and central reinforcement routes to try to keep a consolidated force.

Things are much worse in the Golan Heights. My small armored contingent that came up from the south was beaten up pretty badly and the Syrians have locked up both that southern and my northern routes. I’ve created a little pocket in the center, but I don’t know how it’ll hold up against all of those Syrian tanks. Again, I’m critical of the lack of tactical depth in the Syrian theatre; being pressed up against the western edge of the map from the very beginning of the scenario makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the Israelis to take advantage of the fact that they had a sizable force just off map that came in and turned things around.

Here’s a great video that helps explain why I’m probably going to lose!

Short Reviews – Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov

Friday the Thirteenth by Isaac Asimov appears in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Will this review make more SF fans mad at me than getting linked on File 770?  Stay tuned and find out if my reviews of the January ’76 issue (with one or two exceptions, it was really bad) turns me into Requires Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Asimov is frustrating; he is revered as one of the greatest authors of science fiction, but the man just can’t tell an interesting story! Or maybe it’s me. It’s probably me. But I’ve found that while he can write non-fiction that stirs the imagination, his fiction bores me to tears. Friday the Thirteenth promises us an Umberto Eco style historical mystery and instead delivers a high school mathbook word-problem masquerading as speculative fiction.

The Hellfire Club Black Widowers, Asimov’s puzzle solving supper club, have been presented a challenge by one of their members: a (fictional) socialist would-be assassin of Calvin Coolidge is obsessed with Friday the 13th, a letter discovered posthumously is used to justify his execution, though his relative who is a member of the club argues that the letter might actually clear him. “God’s mercy for the 40 year miracle that will give us no Friday the 13th next month”.

Members of the club offer up various tricks to determine when Friday the 13ths fall and solve the Friday the 13th mystery. Whoopee.

While there’s some neat puzzle solving going on and a few things with which to impress your friends, there’s just no pay-off unless you are the sort of person who feels like coming up with the answer to a word problem somehow resolves the character arc of the guy trying to figure out how many apples and oranges he has.

And yet, for as much crap as I give Asimov’s fiction, I’ve found that some of the most enjoyable stuff in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction have been Asimov’s science columns. His wonderful and concise explanation of the chemistry behind the origins of life on earth and the 3 stages of earth’s atmosphere in this issue more than makes up for a dud like Friday the Thirteenth.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: The Circle Curse, Jewels in the Forest, and Thieves House, Fritz Leiber

I may not do full Short Reviews of the Leiber stories, and if I do, I’ll get to them after I finish off the M of F&SF stuff. But I needed to get my thoughts on this down right away!

Fritz Leiber is one of those writers who once you’ve read him you have to ask yourself “Why they hell haven’t I read this earlier?” So, if you haven’t already read some Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, go out and read it now!

Over the holiday weekend, among various other things, I read the first three stories in Swords Against Death. Chronologically, Swords Against Death is the second book of the adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, though with the exception of a few newer stories Swords Against Death collects the earliest Lankhmar tales.

I can’t think of any stories which better embody the sort of adventures that games like Dungeons & Dragons try to capture and recreate. In fact, I think it’s probably a problem that there are DMs out there who have read stuff like Lord of the Rings or (worse) the Dragonlance books and try to create an adventure based in a fantasy world grounded in that type of fiction. Lots of high cultural woes, thousands of years of history, countless major players in the epic scheme of your would-be fantasy tale that the folks around your table don’t have the same investment in that the DM does… No, the adventures people enjoy are distillations of stories like “Two Sought Adventure” and “Thieves House”.

The Circle Curse – This is one of the “later” stories, which was added to original Two Sought Adventure collection to expand it and set the chronological table, so to speak. While it does not fully recap the events of Ill Met in Lankhmar, it shows the aftermath, with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser leaving the wicked city to try to forget their loss, criss-crossing the earth having adventures to try to leave their manpain behind, but ultimately realize that they have suffered everywhere, there is no better place to put their ghosts to rest than the city that spawned them.

It is difficult to convey the style and feeling of the Circle Curse; epic is a word that has been so distilled by ironic usage that it no longer captures the intent for which I would use it, but there is no better word to describe this story. The Circle Curse feels as though one could be reading a late 19th century translation of some recently discovered tale from middle-eastern antiquity; some until-now unknown Gilgamesh and Enkidu seeking to escape the isolation and alienation that is the doom of all heroes and great men has been lovingly related to us by a diligent scribe who wishes to bring this ancient story to the modern reader.

The Jewels in the Forest/Two Sought Adventure – This is, to my knowledge, one of the earliest Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, and it is D&D 101; anyone who wants to construct and run an adventure needs to read this. It hits all of the beats and illustrates perfectly the structure of a quick dungeon run.

Adventure Hook – The story starts in media res with the first outdoor encounter, but when we get a minute, we learn that the adventure hook came in the form of a bit of manuscript detailing the location and contents of a mad wizarchitect’s treasure. Getting some backstory on the place and the location required some footwork which is briefly described.
Overland Encounter – The dynamic duo are pursued by bandits/ruffians/someone, who could be after them for any number of reasons, not the least of which being the treasure hunt they’re on that started with a manuscript stolen from a nobleman (see Adventure Hook).
Arrival Near Dungeon – Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stay the night with a nearby farmer and his family. After scouting the area around the dungeon, they entertain with their Bard and Thief skills respectively and get a bit of local lore. The farmer’s daughter speaks of magic and a great stone monster and begs them not to go into the dungeon.
Encounter Outside the Dungeon – The noble’s henchmen are waiting in ambush and want the treasure themselves. The parties fight it out, but Fafhrd’s strength and Mouser’s cunning make up the difference and they’re able to run off the noble’s superior numbers.
Encounter Inside the Dungeon – The noble has fled into the dungeon and been driven mad by what’s he’s seen there. F&M have to kill him, or more accurately, the noble commits suicide by Grey Mouser.
Encounter with NPC Party – Well, not exactly a party, but F&M run into a guy who claims to be a cleric of good who is going to destroy the evil of the place that was created by his ancestor. The cleric fails his saving throw and gets squished by a falling rock trap.
Treasure and Boss Fight – Not deterred by a dungeon full of crushed corpses, including the cleric they just met, F&M set about opening the secret cache filled with treasure. Mouser fails his saving throw against gross smells, and has to run outside and puke while Fafhrd finishes up with the treasure. Unfortunately, the Wizarchitect’s dungeon is actually a giant stone golem and the gemstones are its brains. F&M both manage to escape with their lives if not the treasure.

You could ‘run’ this for a group using a single stat bloc. Here: AC6, HD1+1, HP7, MV 30′, AT 1 1d6, ML 8, SV F1, AL N.

Thieves House – In a double cross gone wrong, the Thieves Guild enlisted F&M to help liberate the bones of an ancient master thief from a temple’s catacomb, but when the current guild master is found murdered and relic stolen by the guild master’s mistress, F&M are once again in the crosshairs of Lankhmar’s thieves. While trying to make their escape, F&M get separated; while Mouser ends up in the tavern, waiting for his partner, Fafhrd has accidentally stumbled into a forgotten crypt of Thief Masters Past, and the ancient masters want one thing: their brother’s skull returned safely to them. Needless to say, a bloodbath ensues, F&M narrowly escape and a big chunk of the thieves guild gets torn apart by undead when the skull gets smashed.

Thieves House captures that feeling that no matter how much planning goes into something, no matter how well things are going, there’s always going to be that one thing, that one place, where either you mess up or something beyond your control happens and everything just goes to hell, and the best you can do is save your skin. Also, it reminds you that undead should be scary. Really scary. One of the problems in D&D, I think, is that the undead make for really good low-level cannon-fodder, which is a terrible missuse. Cleric’s turning ability throws a wrench into a well-setup sword & sorcery set-piece, because they’ll just be all “LOL, NOPE!” and bam, half a dozen hit dice of undead are either cowering in the corner or burnt to ash. Thieves House really reminds me of just how scary being alone in a dark room and suddenly having skeletons start talking to you and making fairly arduous demands of you can be. Anything that has Fafhrd the Barbarian of the North scared should have any normal person terrified out of their minds.
Anyway, you should check out what Jeffro has to say about Ill Met in Lankhmar.

The Evil Package

I’m trying to get into the Hugo nomination packet, but I’m having trouble mostly because I have a hard time reading lengthy stuff on a screen. It wears me out and I lose my concentration after a few pages. But at least I can open pdfs.

I’ve only started to poke around in the packet, and I want to try to tackle the categories that I have the physical patience for reading on a computer (short fiction, and I might take a look at the Graphic arts stuff). I’m liking A Single Samurai better than I thought I would, and when I finish it, I might do a brief reassessment of the Short fic finalists.

Depending on how long the novelettes and novellas are, I might print off copies. If the packet is digital only, I’m probably not going to have time to get to the Novels, and though it’s implicitly acceptable to judge the Novels from just a portion of them, I don’t really think it gives one a fair assessment.


Coming soon, another Bar-Lev post!