Maze of Nuromen, Breaking the Speed of Light, and 2020 Advertisements

Maze of Nuromen at Arkansas RPG Con

Over the weekend, I ran the Blueholme introductory module, Maze of Nuromen. It’s called The Necropolis of Nuromen now, but I’m Old SchoolTM.

Michael Thomas of Dreamscape Design was kind enough to not only send us some player guides, he also sent a copy of the updated module [which turned out to be a lot of help]. I made sure to let everyone there know that DD had sponsored the game and gave out the Prentice rulebooks as gifts to my players.

We ran the module DCC style, with each player having 3 characters. I gave everyone a Fighting Man and let them pick two other classes; these two other classes were where their “goals” came from:

  • Elves and Dwarves looking to retrieve the Elven Crown
  • Magic Users looking to find the Book of Power
  • Thieves looking to find the chest of the Master Thief
  • Halflings looking for the body of a long-ago halfling adventurer [which I made Yolo Swaggins from my B/X B4 game]
  • Clerics looking to find and destroy an unholy bible of the ape god

Fighters were hired muscles to act as the “front row”.

This is the first time I haven’t used minis for a Basic game, but this setup made it easy to do things Final Fantasy style–unless there was a “boss” or unique circumstances, fighters get hit, then folks in back as characters go down. Worked out nicely, actually.

My players made surprisingly good progress on it for a con module that lasted roughly 3 and a half hours. If I didn’t have to go run some errands and could’ve stuck around another hour, they might have even finished it.

So quick rundown:

They got into the Maze without any real problems; for some reason, I always forget about the goblins in the first room, so I just handwaived that they’d hidden behind rocks when they heard nearly two-dozen adventurers gathering around the tower entrance. The party crossed the stream and wisely ignored the bottomless pit. Surprisingly, the character they sent to secure the rope across the stream only had dex 7 but he made the check.

Some elves in the main hall told them that they’d seen a boatload of goblins in the dungeon, so they’d been hiding and waiting for a moment to make a run for it.

The party got hit pretty hard with the Harpies’ charm person in the dining hall–the PCs that made their saves managed to pull everyone out, but at least one MU got nabbed and torn to shreds.

They explored the prison corner to little avail [it’s a trolly dead-end with almost no loot and just some encounter bait].

The barracks proved a bit more of a challenge, but some lucky rolls and good choices helped them survive it. A shrieker attracted a gelatinous cube, but they wisely didn’t mess with it–unless you’re determined to get yourself killed by a jelly cube, they’re pretty easy to avoid. The skelies didn’t prove much of a problem, either.

While the party was pretty uninterested in the pantry and kitchen, they smartly guessed that they could use the wax for the candles to plug their ears so they wouldn’t be affected by the harpies’ song. Sated on mageflesh and fairly outnumbered, the harpies were content to leave them be as they skulked out of the dining hall.

A fighter got green slimed near the savage garden, but since he was wearing plate and helmet and it was a VERY SMALL green slime [ended up like 1hp], the fighter took more damage from having it burned off his armor than from the slime itself. The party didn’t poke around the vegetation, and the dwarf kept everyone from tripping up the water features, so fire beetles kept to themselves.

The party raided Nuromen’s apartment, found the keyword to open the door to his lab and made their way there. They messed with EVERYTHING.

At least two characters got blown up by the alchemy lab trap, someone got hurt by the frog, they found Yolo’s stuff, and the trap doors.

With all the magic users dead, no one achieved a “goal” from the Tome of Power, but an elf got permanently infused with Detect Magic. One of the clerics thought the Tome of Power was the evil book they were trying to destroy. It wasn’t, but it unleashed a chain reaction that permanently enchanted their mace with light. If any MUs had been alive, they would’ve lost their mind over it, but elf didn’t really care.

Party dropped down the trapdoor to the temple of the ape god and found the back-way into Nuromen’s ancestral tomb. While the party made pretty short work of the three zombies, Nuromen himself killed 3 party members with Magic Missile and level drains. They managed to drive him off by, of all things, hitting him repeatedly by throwing the silver puppet at him and then dousing him with holy water.

That’s where we called things.

Funny thing, for how many goblins were crawling around the Maze, they never actually encountered any because they never found the room where they were camping out and goblins never came up on the Random Encounter table.

Great part was DMing for old school guys [including Shane Stacks from Shane Plays] who were demanding more blood and more PC death, even saying that it would be great for things to end in a TPK [because Con Game]. It was a blast.

Wild Stars: Breaking the Speed of Light 

This comes via Wild Stars author, Michael Tierney:

When I wrote my first Wild Stars novels back in the 1970s, three of concepts that drive the mechanics the Wild Stars universe challenged the accepted views of our reality. One was that mankind made our first migration into space and colonized planets circling the brightest stars in the night sky some 75,000 years ago. Then, around the year 2000, geneticists cracked the human genome and discovered that the human population crashed to only a few thousand people alive on Earth around 75,000 years ago (the Wild Stars explains where the rest went). The other two were the often mocked concepts of time travel and starships that can travel faster than the speed of light. A couple of weeks ago, this story was released:

https://www.thescienceandspace.com/2019/10/breaking-researchers-at-cern-break.html?fbclid=IwAR1kOX72AAKnHrp_U6wdY86MNRGAOkpMMFSSrRlEjnA9KLKz_sYQcwYT_aQ

Also, Michael’s shared the following tidbit about author sales rankings:

For anyone who ever wondered how the rankings work on Amazon, here is today’s snapshot of my sales in Science Fiction, superimposed with new works released at the time. Amazon recalculates hourly, who what might be an upwards spike in the morning could end up as a rankings dip by the end of the day.

michael's sales rank

2020 Advertising

We’re opening up advertising for 2020 a little bit early so we’ll have enough money to buy stories for next year. John E. Boyle has already claimed the back cover slot for the Spring Issue [#3], but there is plenty of interior space.

Details on ads are here: https://cirsova.wordpress.com/cirsova-magazine/advertising/

Why are we trying to get our hands on as much capital as quickly as possible?

I need at least another $3k monies to buy all of the stuff that we’re wanting buy for 2020 and still be able to replace the ductwork in my house. I’d rather not have to take out a loan; I mean, I’m probably going to have to take out a loan anyway, but I’d rather it only be for a few thou than

ductwork quote.png

 

More AD&D Gaming Thoughts from Daniel J. Davis

The episode of Geek Gab that Jeffro Johnson and I were on talking about the implied setting of AD&D has sparked some incredibly thought-provoking posts from author Daniel J. Davis on his Brain Leakage blog.

http://www.brainleakage.com/home/between-appendix-n-and-pink-slime

http://www.brainleakage.com/home/the-implied-apocalypse-of-dungeons-dragons

This is seriously good stuff, and you ought to start paying attention to this guy.

Also, don’t forget, there’s only 5 days left to back Wild Stars, which is also being adapted into a setting for Amazing Adventures 5e!

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.

 

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…

Critical Role, Character Death, and Inclusivity — Further Oncological Discourses in Dungeons & Dragons

I originally wasn’t going to weigh in on the whole Critical Role thing in a blog post, because it was easier to just make fun of it on Twitter, but some conversations yesterday have me thinking this is worth a post.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Critical Role, it is essentially people LARPing as tabletop gamers.

Don’t watch too long, it’ll make you want to tear your hair out.

What they’re doing is basically Soap Opera with D&D trappings, and they have a following of both gamers and people who are just tuning in for their stories. The questions of whether or not people who don’t actually play D&D but listen to shows like Critical Role are “part of the community” ruffled a lot of feathers recently.

The current debacle stems from a “beloved” Critical Role PC dying in the game. The DM/Showrunner claimed he had been getting tons of hate from fans about how awful it was that this character died. While I didn’t see any of these threats on twitter, where there was mostly an outpouring of “we lurve u”, someone did link me to a now deleted Tumblr post [gone before I could even archive it], so I suspect that a lot of it coming from the D&D Tumblr crowd.

Black Leaf died

D&D is a game. It is a game where characters CAN and DO die. People who are unable to accept that fact, or worse, blurf about “muh favorite LGBT fictional character was murdered by a cis het DM!” are garbage.

But there’s more at play than just Critical Role having a character die.

There are two major reasons why character death has become taboo in D&D.

The first is something that’s always an issue for new DMs and people that are new to the game: people are scared of letting characters die because they worry how it will reflect on them as a person and as a friend because they can’t gauge the seriousness of the emotional reaction it may elicit.

The second stems from mechanics that make character creation a tedious and laborious process; if it takes over an hour to create a new character, any PC death means that the game either stops for the group or for the player for an extended period of time while they create a new character. It becomes easier to go along to get along, fudging to keep characters alive, especially since D&D has shifted away from “game” and towards “story”. Characters dying derails or delays the “story”, and many people have a hard time accepting that (and expectations set by D&D-grotesque online soap operas don’t help).

Black Leaf

These are both things that can be fixed, however.

The first PC death for a DM and a group is the hardest, but once it’s out of the way, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief after realizing that life, and the game, goes on. It’s cathartic. While I don’t advocate going out of your way to kill a PC as soon as possible, I do advocate letting the dice do their job. The sooner a new DM and their players realize “we’re playing a game, we’re not making a soap opera, and Marcie isn’t really going to hang herself because Black Leaf died”, and the sooner the new DM is no longer worrying about what their friends will think when the inevitable happens, the sooner the group can actually start enjoying D&D for what it is—a game of daring adventure.

Unfortunately, this is apparently a VERY controversial piece of advice.

It even got me attacked on grounds of “inclusivity”.

twitter spergout

Popularity and Inclusivity are two things, and I’ll address both. Popularity quickly, because I think it’s less important.

In the 80s, D&D:

  • Was selling over 750k copies a year [cached link]
  • Was publishing multiple NYT Best Selling books
  • Had a cartoon show
  • Had two official magazines and countless fanzines creating community content around the globe
  • Was culturally relevant enough to scare reactionaries absolutely shitless
  • Was sold in toy stores

D&D today is still popular, and the internet allows for fan content to be created and shared more easily, but it’s hardly the culturally significant phenomenon that it was. Cameos in TV shows written by and for Gen-Xers may inflate the significance a bit, but the number of people playing D&D is harder to figure. Sales for the 5e PHB only reached 800K in total in 2017, according to what sources I could find. And that’s not a complete game the way that TSR’s Basic line (which sold better than AD&D because it was in the toy sections at retailers) was, so it’s kind of an apples to oranges comparison.

Inclusivity is the more serious issue that I think needs to be addressed. (The notion that B/X is racist, however, is so ludicrous that it merits no response.)

I believe that inclusivity is more than just “muh representation”. It’s about accessibility. A game that is inclusive is a game that almost anyone can pick up and learn to play and can teach to others.

why bx

Is 5e accessible? To run a game of 5e, you need to buy about $90 worth of books. If you want to just be a player, you could get away with the Player handbook, which costs $30ish (apparently you can “rent” a copy for $20?!?), though everyone who knows the game knows that the best way to play and find people to play with is to be able to run the game yourself. But three thick-ass books that you’ve sunk nearly $100 into is a lot to digest. The size and cost alone may be daunting enough to discourage new players from entering the hobby.

Compare that to Holmes or Moldvay or Mentzer. You went to a toy store and for ~$5 you could get a box that had a short booklet with an easy to learn and well-presented set of rules for both players and DMs, an adventure that was written to teach players how to run a game and ultimately create their own campaign, and even the dice you needed to play.

So, which is more “inclusive”? The game that any kid could pick up with his allowance, that only cost a bit more than a couple of comic books, that he could read cover to cover in an hour and teach to his friends, or the game that costs as much as your utility bill with books so thick you could kill a man with them?

 

Holmes D&D: An Interesting Conundrum

Next month at a local RPG con, I plan on running the Holmes Basic sample dungeon, Tower of Zenopus, and I intend to run it using Holmes Basic/Blueholme rules. I’ve run it in the past before using B/X, and one of the reasons why I want to run this at the con is that I’ve run it before for a library program and know I can run it in a 6 hour timeslot.

Now, because I am a very busy person with a day job, a weekly column, a gig moonlighting as a retro-game reviewer, and will be shipping out a book I’ve published this month, I was hoping to find some reliable char-gen out of the OSR community so I wouldn’t need to roll up 20 characters by hand. I mean, it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of hours, but still, I wouldn’t mind saving the time.

What I found in the character generators I came across was interesting… While they had some really good features, particularly equipment generation, they either made the mistake of assuming Holmes used B/X’s magic system or they paid lipservice to the INT % modifier but did not calculate a list of known spells. Typically, they would just list one random level one spell that the MU/Elf knew.

I think part of it boils down to early D&D weirdness; the early games don’t actually work the way that most of us assume they work. Whether it’s giving all Magic Users “Read Magic” “because you need it to learn spells” or having B/X characters learn new spells from scrolls and having a spellbook containing more spells than the character has levels, DMs do a lot of stuff that’s not in the book. I’ve done it, too, sometimes from ignorance, sometimes for convenience. But we tend to make a lot of assumptions on how things works and cobble something together from memory and experience of multiple different systems rather than go by the rules.

I’ve never run pure Holmes before. In fact, this summer’s Ultralich mini-campaign is the first time I’ve tried running pure B/X [usually I’ve done weird alternate magic rules that are slightly more AD&D-esque, because those have a more Vancian feel].

I want to get that weird “this is not like D&D you’ve ever played” experience from the game I’ll be running, so I’ll be adhering to the following:

-No STR bonuses. Yes, that’s right, OD&D and Holmes did not have Strength bonuses. STR was purely a “roll under” stat.

-Magic Users will have their spellbooks with all 1st level spells, some of which they’ll know, others they will not.

-Dex-based paired initiatives.

-No Variable Weapon Damage

-Variable Weapon Speed

We’ll see how it goes! I’ll be brushing up on Holmes the next few weeks and see just how little I actually know about this edition!

DMing is Not the Same Thing as Writing Prose Fiction: This Should Not Be Controversial

The other day, some folks were discussing 5e’s Appendix E (the PHB’s “new” Appendix N) and how most of the new additions were not very good. I pointed out that while App E is bad, it is nothing compared to the DMG’s Appendix D whose “Dungeon Master Inspiration” list is actually detrimental to DMs, particularly inexperienced ones trying to learn the game, because they will see all of those books on fiction writing and assume that a DM must be a fiction writer.

appendix d list

That’s right, guy I stole your spreadsheet you tweeted at me.

Someone tried to point out that books on writing fiction only make up 25% of the list, but that means that 25% of a list of books meant to provide inspiration for DMs are actively sabotaging their understanding of what makes for good D&D, because it implies that DMing is writing fantasy fiction and storytelling. It’s not.

The DM’s job is NOT to write their fantasy story and have their friends live it out for them around the table. The DM’s job is to create game content within reactive environments for their players to interact with. The story that happens in D&D is not the story that the DM tells, it’s the emergent story that comes from the players’ interaction with the content that the DM provides.

As both a fiction writer and a DM, I understand that the storytelling skills involved in writing and structuring fiction are not the same skills that bring a story to life at the table.  It’s apples and oranges, and trying to use the approach of one for the other can be detrimental.

Though it’s a different medium, an excellent example of emergent story is the history of Boatmurdered. Boatmurdered was a succession game of Dwarf Fortress, where each player played for an in-game year before passing off the save file to someone else. Each player chronicled the history of the fortress of Boatmurdered as it played out. What resulted was an absolutely legendary story of murder, madness and rampaging elephants.

Take a bit and read it.

You don’t get that sort of story from using the tools that a writer uses to write fiction; you get that from the game-content components and the emergent events surrounding them. It’s the way you get “truth stranger than fiction” from a purely fictional setting.

So what IS the approach DMs should take? What IS “inspirational reading” for DMs? Honestly, one question does not answer the other.

A DM needs to first gain a good grasp of the system and mechanics. Once that’s achieved, it becomes easier to pull in outside ideas and inspirations. The question is not “what weird thing do I want to put in my game?” but rather “how do I put a weird thing in my game?” A DM’s ideas must be translated into game content that players can interact with.

The answer to the second question is “anything, really”. Sure, Appendix N has great stuff and helps answer “what were the literary antecedents of the mechanics used in D&D”, but a DM can get inspiration from just about anything. And with a grasp of system and mechanics, it’s easy to drag and drop content to your game.

Want combat robot maids?

4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round)

They’re almost tough as ogres (4HD), hard to hit (AC3), quicker than encumbered humans (40′), and high output with flip-kicks and one-two punches (1d6/1d6).

Need a reason for them to be somewhere?

A mad scientist somewhere in part of the dungeon built them because he was lonely.

Do you need to have a grasp of the finer points of fiction writing to include weird stuff in your D&D game?

No.