70th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Enchantress of Venus Out Today!

Dark Secrets of an Inhuman Race Lie Hidden Beneath the Seas of Venus!

Eric John Stark travels the shores of Venus’ gaseous red seas seeking the whereabouts of a missing comrade. Pursuing this mystery puts him in the hands of the Lhari, a cruel and power-hungry family that rules over the pirate enclave of Shuruun!

Beneath the waves, the Lhari’s doomed slaves live and toil among ancient ruins, seeking out the lost super-weapon of the precursors. And Stark must join them or die!

If Varra, a vain and petty Lhari princess, can control both Stark and this lost weapon, all of Venus may be within her grasp!

An all new edition of Leigh Brackett’s classic planetary romance, fully illustrated by StarTwo and with a foreword by Jeffro Johnson, author of Appendix N: A Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons!

Enchantress Cover for ebook

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How to Solve the Problem of Players Becoming Murder-Hobos

Marie Cham asks:

Dear , From one dm to another, how can you stop/prevent your players from always becoming murder-hobos and killing their way through your campaign? Sincerely yours, a desperate dm that has tried for 4 years.

Well, I may not be Matthew Mercer, and I may not play a DM on a Youtube show, but as someone who has DMed and been a part of groups that have cured players of their murderhoboing, I may be somewhat qualified to answer.

My recommendation is simple:

  • Play B/X
  • Do not use negative hitpoints
  • Let Characters die because Players make bad choices

The first point really is mostly a preference choice that facilitates the third point. But if you let the choices that players make have serious consequences, even power players will shift their play-style towards more creative solutions than “kill everything”.

Your players party WILL go through a “kill everything with fire” phase of abject terror, where they realize that the horrors out there will kill them, but they haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. Parties will learn quickly, however, that stone structures do not burn well…

Murder-hoboing is a behavior that CAN be trained away. Social contracts and pleading for your players to behave differently is ineffective because behavior is often facilitated by the game itself (not just the system, but “game”, meaning the sum of the system, the players, the DM, the adventure, etc.). B/X is an excellent training ground for changing this behavior because it shifts the equation in favor of that change. Characters are not overpowered and mistakes/bad decision making can be lethal. No, don’t kill characters to kill them, but allowing characters to suffer the consequences of their choices can put a kibosh on murderhoboing pretty quickly.

This approach is a great remedy for “always chaotic evil” guy, who will start coming up with characters who contribute positively and meaningfully to the group. And it helps murderhoboing parties because that situation usually comes from the whole group rather than a single player. It’s a mind-set that consequences can break.

“Oh, my asshole character died because I made bad choices” is going to bring about real change in a way that sitting everyone down and saying “Can you please not play an asshole this time?” simply will not.

As an addendum, I will say that I absolutely HATE people who say things like “Just tell everyone that you won’t tolerate a murder-hobo campaign! I mean, we’re all mature adults, right?!”

It treats people’s gaming groups as disposable and interchangeable. Sure, kick out intolerable players whose behavior can’t be changed, many people have a limited supply of friends with whom they can play D&D. And the behavior CAN be changed by teaching. Such an approach is needlessly reductive and an unhelpful suggestion, because even though players CAN be taught to play better, this is saying “it’s not worth it teach your players a new way of playing; get new friends.”

You don’t need new friends. You don’t necessarily need a new game–after you’ve done your road-work on B/X, you can switch back to other systems, the skills your players picked up will carry over. What you DO need to do is understand that behaviors at the table can change and are shaped by consequences–reward and punishment, carrot and stick.

 

Goblin Slayer and the PulpRev

With the first series of Goblin Slayer wrapping up, I wanted to touch on the show that’s been not only one of the number one animes in North America but has also been rather popular among the PulpRev crowd.

I enjoyed Goblin Slayer, but when all was said and done, it occurred to me that not only was it not a great anime, it was not even a particularly good anime—what gave it the illusion of greatness was that it met all of the meager expectations it set, delivering in heaping doses what little it promised. It set a low bar and clears it with ease. You want to watch a show where a guy kills goblins? This is it, chief. The utter lack of pretension is far more delicious than the “fake depth” many shows try to coast on before crashing in a mess at the end. Goblin Slayer needs no apologia, and there are no great divides in the fandom over thema, symbolism, and other minutia.

goblin slayer

Is Goblin Slayer pulpy? The only reason I ask is that it’s pretty well loved by the PulpRev crowd. And thinking about it, not only is it not particularly pulpy or Appendix N-style fantasy, it’s Pink Slime fantasy to a degree even worse than Record of Lodoss War; it’s pure, in a vacuum, D&D fan-fic.

What separates it Lodoss, however, and many other pink slime fantasies is that the D&D it draws from (if indeed it is drawing from D&D; evidence abounds) is of the older, classic variety, in which the purpose of “adventurers” is to kill monsters, because monsters represent an existential threat to mankind and because they have treasure. Goblin Slayer lacks the pretense of the game in which great and powerful forces are at work and the heroes must act because the fate of the world is at stake and the party represents the champions of all humanity and all that is good.* There are no destined saviors, chosen ones, lost princelings, who are going to stop the Dark Lord. That none of the characters in Goblin Slayer even have names beyond what they do or have accomplished or what their profession is almost serves to lampshade this lack of “special” and “important” fantasy heroes in its narrative. In D&D terms, these are characters who lasted a couple adventures and gained reputations around the table, rather than being wadded up and thrown in the trash because they died—this in contrast to the contemporary trend in D&D to craft intricate backstories for the very-special-snowflake characters who are destined for great things and will almost certainly having nothing too bad happen to them because the player might throw a hissy-fit.

The first episode of Goblin Slayer, which created quite a stir for its brutality and graphic nature**, mainly served to illustrate that the kind of game that inspired Goblin Slayer*** is the kind in which level one characters die in the dungeon and you have to roll up new ones. There’s no point in bringing your very special bisexual tiefling princess with daddy issues who is the most beloved of her tribe to the goblin cave, because the goblin and his spear that will kill her don’t give a shit about your character’s backstory.

I think that, even though Goblin Slayer is shallow and derivative fantasy to the extreme, this is the reason why it resonated so well with the PulpRev crowd, a group that grew largely from the OSR and which preferred the more brutal old school style of Dungeons & Dragons to the modern narrative-driven style of play that’s come to dominate tabletop gaming.

*: This is going on to some extent in the background; the setting is the aftermath of an earlier such conflict—but the climactic battle is not to save the world or even a town, but rather the farm where the girl who likes the Goblin Slayer lives.

**: Yo, the way everyone was talking about that first episode, I was expecting Mezzo Forte levels of gratuitous…

***:Look at all the goddamn dice rolling and talk of gods rolling dice and try to convince yourself it’s anything but TTRPG inspired.

Running Holmes at AR RPG Con

I only ended up with two players at the con, but one was one of my regulars, and the other was The Mixed GM, so we made it work. Players ran two characters and I ran a “hireling”.

This won’t be a full run-down, but some observations and remarks on highlights.

Both times I’ve run Xenopus, the parties have known that the sea cliff where Lemunda might be held was to the west, and both times the parties made a B-line west. Main difference, this time the party was insistent on dealing with the out-of-depth 31 HP spider instead of going around it. They didn’t kill it, but they eventually hurt it bad enough that it wasn’t going to mess with them.

The party wanted some extra muscle, so I pulled out a character sheet for a pirate I’d played in a couple other games. Following a bad ‘you had to be there’ joke, Crusty Jim became Trusty Jim. And any character named Trusty just HAD to betray the party at some point. It made for a pretty wild fight in the sea caves, as pirates kept pouring in and Jim tried to make off with both Lemunda and the contract for the reward for her return.

Crusty Jim was going to try to convince Lemunda that he was the only one there to rescue her and he was rescuing her from the party. She might have helped him row away and beat the party chasing him. This didn’t happen, because Crusty Jim has CHA 4 and is OBVIOUSLY A PIRATE.

Just for the hell of it, I ran Lemunda as a MU; she tried to Charm Person Crusty Jim when they were in the boat together, but he succeeded on his saving throw. Her class was never relevant from that point forward. The players were unaware this even happened. Oh well.

Using the Holmes wandering monsters chart can land you with some weird stuff, but I just went with it. There was no good reason for a bunch of Norse Berserkers to be hanging out, but they somehow joined the party. And one of them fought a character to the death for the right to have the +1 sword. He also guzzled a potion of growth that someone asked him to just taste, so for a few minutes, there was a 12′ Nord romping around with the party.

The climactic fight ended up being with a neutral party of mouthy elves who’d mostly rolled utility spells. A random encounter roll had placed the large elf party in the same room with the ghouls. Two sleeps would’ve been the end of everyone, but bad rolls and poor economy of action resulted in the players overcoming and looting some dead elves.

They never found the wizard or his tower. Therefore, I didn’t get to use the little monkey mini my GF loaned me.

They went through maybe half of the 18 pre-gens I rolled up for the con.

Even without playing it straight and throwing extra pre-gens at big problems, two characters would’ve reached level 2, a dwarf and a thief. If the adventure had been played straight and not like a con game one-off, it could’ve easily been more.

Mixed GM’s dwarf actually survived the adventure from start to finish.

With two players, Holmes’ wonky initiative ended up not being a problem at all.

Dammit, they went into the Rat Tunnels! I ended up having to sketch out additional rat tunnels…

Tower of Zenopus – Shorthand

Mixed GM, I know you’re going to be at my table Saturday, so don’t read this! Or, at least don’t download my key for the dungeon map!

I love Holmes’ sample dungeon, but it’s a bit tricky to run straight off the page for a couple reasons. First, he doesn’t use what would become the established convention for keying dungeons crossword-puzzle style. Second, he’ll include several paragraphs of information describing the room and the treasure in it to add at the very end “there’s a monster in here that will attack you”.

So, for my own benefit, I boiled the whole thing down into two pages of key-notes, everything I need to actually run the Tower as a one off. I tried to put dungeon info in the order that it would be relevant to inform the party about it. General room description and any obvious monsters, followed by more detailed descriptions, followed by loot. In the past, I took a highlighter to photocopied text, but I think this will help with the issue of relevant order or room objects.

You can download my PDF here.

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – Crypt (Level 3)

This is the final level of the no-prep dungeon for the mini-campaign I just finished running. The keyed notes below are what I had in front of me when I ran it.

Level 1: The Buried New Chapel
Level 2: The Original Abbey
Level 2 North: The North Library
Level 2 South: The Artificer’s Workshop

Dungeon Level 3 - Crypt

  1. Wall of Shrieking Bones. Attacks if close. Draws wandering monsters unless turned.
  2. 1d6 ghouls, 5k cp, 1k gp
  3. Same as 1
  4. 4 fonts (empty). If filled with water from the well, becomes holy water.
  5. 2d4 zombies w/maces. Each wears a gold necklace (100 gp)
  6. Several ossuaries. 4 turns searching will turn up skull with gold teeth (100 gp)
  7. True Tomb. Mummy: 19 HP, AC3 1d12+ disease. 2000 in jewelry. 2 Skeletons. 4 jars of gold (500). +1 sword inside the mummy.
  8. False Tomb. Corpse in Sarcophagus. Iron (gilded) jewelry, gorgerine, bracelets. 4 jars of oil. Coffer of 5000 copper (gilded) and 50 glass gems (50 cp total)
  9. 4 Zombies touching a glowing pink orb. Orb may be used to cast ESP. Orb links to Least Lich in 27. Worth 10k gp if removed.
  10. Body in hooded robes, pale face. 1d6 if punctured. b) zombie has ring worth 100 gp
  11. Shelves of bones
  12. 15 assorted skeleton parts. AC3 1 HP
  13. Shelves of bones; 4 silver torchiers (100 gp)
  14. Basin of water w/strange fish. Jump out to be a 3HD AC 6 skeleton fish monster 1d6 dmg; 20 pp in basin
  15. Shelves of bone
  16. 4 pillars that look like people writhing in agony, adorned with gems. HD3, AC4 1d6. 40 gems total, 30 gp each.
  17. 2d4 ghouls, will investigate if party is loud in 16. There is an ornate boat in this room. Stave-ceilinged: 10k gp [if it can be removed]. 4 canopic jars. Map to the tomb. +1 Short Spear.
  18. “You tread where no man dares. A powerful seal has been broken. Do not raise up what cannot be put down. He knows what you have done.” [hole under capstone on 2nd level leads here]
  19. Empty Room
  20. 10 inanimate skeletons. Skeleton Knight HD4 AC3 2-handed sword (1d10)
  21. Slanting floor with grates in wall, metal pressure plate on floor. Spear trap 1d6 Save vs. breath.
  22. 1 Thoul; 8 skeletons (may investigate 16)
  23. Basin. Body wearing plate armor, holding ax (both +1). Skeleton is bleached white. Basin is full of acid. 1d6 splash. Fall in, 3d6 damage + 1d6 per round until it is rinsed off.
  24. Two pedestals with silver gilded gazing balls (250 gp each). 1d4 electric damage, 1 charge each.
  25. 500 -1 spears, 1 +3 spear*
  26. 1280 skeletons wearing chain, standing in rank & file at attention. Inanimate unless attacked.**
  27. Throne room of the Least-Lich. E5 – 20 HP, AC 2 (Elfin Plate +1), 1d8+1 (+1 sword of control undead). Knows: Read Magic, Charm Person, Mirror Image, Phantasmal Force, Haste. Spellbook. All 1st level scrolls. Necromantic Standard. Goold Skull (500 gp), Endymion’s Plan-Book, Griffon Throne (2000 gp), 3 tapestries (350 gp each)
  28. Piles of bones. After 1 turn, whirlwind of bones, attacks as 6HD, 1d6. Protection from evil or turning both have effect.***
  29. 500 -1 swords, 1 +1 sword*
  30. 300 -1 short bows, 1 +1 bow*

 

* The -1 weapons aren’t cursed, just poor quality.

** The skeletons are the unnamed Least Lich’s “seed army”. He’s a lieutenant of Endymion the Ultralich, and if left alone after the seal has broken, he’ll eventually lead this army down into the valley and use his magic sword to amplify the curse and raise additional undead. Things dying on this dungeon level and returning as undead is part of the curse that the chapel/abbey was built to contain and not directly tied to the Least Lich himself.

***I handled this a bit differently in play. I came up with almost all dressings and secrets on the fly, so I had the handle to the secret door be a large key-crank hidden by one of the piles of bone. Also, after the initial whirlwind, touching the bones would activate the whirlwind again, and I had players roll dex to not touch bones.

Jack & Gary

“There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a
campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid
down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer
of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long
eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and
then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand,
the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign
environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot
fail but to rise to the occasion.” – Gary Gygax, Jack Vance & the D&D Game 

I’ve been saying for ages now, all you need to run a game is a good short story and some stat blocks.

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