Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 6, 19.

"A random limb is switched with the identical limb of a random animal or person."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Shamrock

Not truly a Flashback, more of a belated St. Patrick's Day collection. Yes, I'm still rockin' from Tuesday and here's your chance to join me. Disclaimer: No, not all Irish bands, but Irish in spirit. Enjoy! Have a great rockin' weekend.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Important Link

Jenn Zieser, wife of Steve Zieser, sent me an email earlier today. Included in the email was permission to share this information with others, so I'll direct readers to the Team Zieser blog which details the email contents.

Although I have never met Steve Zieser in person, we have both communicated via email and by all accounts he is a quite simply a great guy. Most of you know his artwork. Those who do not will surely recognize some once you look again. There's a collection of some it over at Steve's Curmudgeons & Dragons blog. Let's remind him that we are thinking of him during this trying period.

Hopefully Steve won't mind me borrowing one of his pieces of art for this post. Here's one of my favorite Steve Zieser illustrations.

It's called Well, well well. Steve, you'd better Get Well Soon yourself.


Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 9, 51.

"The Gods of Mar-Vexia (Davey the Red, Rickey of Roop and Larry of Roop) are personally insulted by this whimsey."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Leprechaun Shenanigans

A St. Patrick’s Day Monster and Magic Items for Swords & Wizardry:

Armor Class: -1 [20]
Hit Dice: 1 (attacks as HD 15)
Attacks: 1 (1d3)
Saving Throw: 3
Special: Luck, magical powers
Move: 12
Challenge Level/XP: 7/600XP
A Leprechaun’s very existence is dependant upon it’s stash of rare metals and gems, and they accordingly hoard gold and all manner of precious stones. Leprechauns encountered away from their homes are for the most part simply an annoyance, but woe to the rambler who dares enter a Leprechaun dwelling, be it in a tree, a cave, a hidey-hole, or even underground. Leprechauns do not take kindly to mortals who meddle in their frolicking and mayhem. All Leprechauns can use the spell like magic abilities Invisibility, Detect Magic, Sleep, Wizard Lock, and Plant Growth at will. Leprechauns can cast a special illusion called Fool’s Gold, which will turn pebbles, stones and even soil into Gold Pieces for 1 full day. These coins are masked and radiate no aura of magic whatsoever. Leprechauns, due to their incredible Luck, will never sustain more than a single point of damage from any one attack. This incredible Luck is further reflected in the excellent Armor Class, Saving Throw and attack scores of the Leprechaun. If a Leprechaun is slain its body will turn to ash, and its entire treasure trove will materialize on the spot leaving a large pile of gold and gems behind. The first person to touch this treasure will have to save or be cursed with the Endless Jig. If so cursed, the victim will dance in place for 3d6 turns before collapsing from exhaustion. The victim will then require a period of sound rest of no less than 1 full day before any other activity may be undertaken.


Dunce Cap: Cursed. This cap will appear to be a hat of some sort, be it a helmet or even a wizard cap. Once used, it’s true nature will become apparent as it transforms into a tall, conical felt cloth cap, and the user utters the word “Duh…” The wearer will now stand stupefied for 1d4 rounds, unable to act at all. Until the item is removed via a Remove Curse spell, the wearer will automatically become stupefied thusly for 1d4 rounds at any time he is required to ‘think’. If the player keeps quiet and follows his party members around, and remembers that he is cursed, it is possible to avoid the cap’s effect, but as soon as he does any act that the GM deems fitting, the curse will activate and stupefy him again.

Evil Shoes: These animated boots, slippers or clogs await the unwary. Placed throughout a Leprechaun dwelling, these Evil Shoes present a true threat to the unwary. Sometimes a Leprechaun might be carrying a pair of these to drop upon unsuspecting adversaries. Any living being, other than a Leprechaun, which comes within 10’ of these shoes will cause them to animate and attack. Once animated, they will only deactivate when no target is within 60’, or when the command word is spoken. While animated, the shoes will dance and prance about, kicking the closest living target in the rear, never missing, and causing one damage each round. The shoes will pursue, but only at a movement of 6. If attacked, the shoes are AC 0 [19] with 5 hit points, If reduced to 0 hit points, they are destroyed.

Faerie Mead: This magical libation is a favorite of Leprechauns. While an overindulgence of the alcohol will slightly impair a Leprechaun they are mostly immune to it’s disorienting effects. Each swig of Faerie Mead will heal two points of damage. Any non-Faerie drinking the sweet mead will be healed, but then disoriented for 5 rounds per swig. While so disoriented, a character will have a maximum move of 3, and attack and defend at minus 5 for the duration.

Hidey-Hole: These hollows in trees, stumps or other places are only about two feet around, but are perfect size for a Leprechaun to duck into. When a Leprechaun enters a Hidey-Hole, he can instantly teleport to any other Hidey-Hole within 100’, emerging from the target hole. When a Leprechaun uses a Hidey-Hole, he is instantly healed one point of damage.

Faerie Hourglass: These crystal, sand-filled hourglasses are 4” tall, and store a potent magic. They are sometimes, although rarely, carried by a Leprechaun. More often, they are placed in strategic locations within a Leprechaun dwelling for emergency use. When inverted, the magic is activated. The user is effectively Hasted, as all time around him is slowed down by the Hourglass. The duration of the effect is 10 rounds. Any non Faerie who uses the Hourglass is aged three years. Each Hourglass has a set number of charges (normally 3d10), and it’s magic may only be used once per hour. Once the charges are spent, it crumbles to useless dust.

Maze Garden: Grown and cultivated for years by Leprechauns, these mazes are found only within or just outside of their dwellings. The size of the maze is dependant upon how much time the Leprechaun has been able to enchant and care for the magical shrubs which comprise the walls. Leprechauns and most Faeries are immune to the effects of Maze Gardens, but all others find the winding passages to be confusing and disorienting. Travel through a Garden maze is at a move of no more than 1. While in such a maze, all attacks are at -3 to hit. If the shrubs are hacked with melee weapons, small sections of the maze can be destroyed at a rate of 20 hit points per 10’ section. The shrubs are resistant to both fire and acid.

Plant Prison: The Plant Prison is contained within an enchanted flower pot. It may only be used once, for to free it’s victim the pot must be smashed. To use the prison, the pot must be placed upon the head of a sleeping or unconscious victim, and the command word spoken. Instantly, the victim is turned into a small flower within the soil of the pot. This change is permanent until the pot is smashed. When the pot is broken the prisoner is freed from the magic, but is disoriented for 1d4 rounds. Leprechauns make use of these prisons to unleash foul creatures upon their enemies, or to imprison trespassers (and even possibly extort riches from the prisoner’s allies). If the plant is plucked from the soil without the pot being smashed, the imprisoned victim will likewise be freed, and the pot will become non magic.

Pot o’ Gold: This powerful magic creation is used by Leprechauns to lure or even waylay would be trespassers. This small kettle appears to be brimming with gold and gems, and glows with an inner light. Often, a faint shimmering rainbow appears to be descending down on top of the kettle. Any humanoid viewing the pot must save vs. spell to resist it’s allure. If the character seeing the pot is unsuspecting, he might willingly seek to grab the pot and not attempt to resist it’s magic (no save at this point). Those under it’s allure will seek to greedily grab the pot as fast as they can. As soon as this item is approached within 5’, it will scuttle away from those seeking to grab it. It may be grabbed by trapping it in a corner, or by approaching it at different angles by three or more characters. Once the pot is touched, it turns into a large round stone, non magic and worthless. Every round that the pot is in view, a save is required to resist it’s allure. Particularly vengeful Leprechauns have been known to drop lone trespassers into a circular chamber with a Pot o’ Gold, for once under it’s spell, the magic only ends when the cursed victim touches the pot, or is targeted with a Dispel Magic or Remove Curse.

Seamrogs: These small, rare leaves are collected with great care by Leprechauns, and enchanted to confer a powerful magic upon the user. There are two types, Lesser and Greater Seamrogs. Each is a small clover leaf, the Greater variety being slightly larger than the Lesser variety. Once enchanted, the item can be used by pinning or otherwise wearing the leaf until it’s magic is invoked. Each may be used but once. The Lesser Seamrog allows it’s user to ‘re-roll’ any single die roll during the course of the game, immediately after rolling and before resolution. This can include any game roll, even by the GM. The Greater Seamrog will act in a similar fashion, but the ‘re-roll’ will always be the maximum or most favorable roll. Said re-rolls are limited to combat, saving throws and the like, as judged by the GM (in other words, not for HP, or random events).

Shillelagh: These small Leprechaun canes are of gnarled wood, and but 1’ in length. Once per round, a Leprechaun may use the Shillelagh to smite an opponent for 1d6 damage, with no roll to hit required. Each use expends a charge, and the Shillelagh holds up to 24 (4d6) such charges. In the hands of a character, it acts as a wand and may only be wielded by Magic-Users or Elves.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Fight On! #4

In case you missed it, Fight On! Issue #4 is now available in both PRINT and PDF format from Lulu.

I received my print copy from Lulu in a timely fashion. I cannot stop appreciating the print quality and shipping/packaging of orders from Lulu. This is the fourth issue of Fight On! I have ordered from Lulu, and all have been received in perfect condition thanks to the foam sleeves and tight cardboard packing. I've had similar results with the S&W Core Rules, S&W White Box and Knockspell Issue #1 from Mythmere Games. These books look like the cream of the crop from the game store when you pick through the volumes on the shelf and grab the "best" one. I'm not the only one who does that, right?

Fight On! continues to expand in content, and overall quality. My many thanks to Iggy and Calithena for starting this project last year. I cannot believe that the upcoming fifth issue will be the 1st Anniversary of this great little fanzine. When I say "little" I use the term as one of affectation, because this latest offering boasts 122 pages of gaming goodness.

Issue #4 is dedicated to Dave Hargrave. I was so excited when I first learned of this that I half wrote an Arduin adventure called The Glittering Sands of Rozoae. Then I learned that Emperor's Choice wasn't going to simply give copywright freedom to every single author. So that alien-planet wilderness adventure featuring Trelves, Ta'vreen, Thaelastra and escaped slave player characters is sitting idle somewhere on my hard drive. One of these days...

Nonetheless, Issue #4 is packed with articles from many well-respected authors, including plenty of names you're all familiar with by now. Here's the Table of Contents:

Table of Contents
Delvers Delve (David Bowman)………………………3
Silver Knights of the Eld (Beaudry and Calithena)….…7
Knights & Knaves (Kesher)………….………………10
House of the Axe (Calithena)……………………...…12
Random Rooms (Michael Curtis)…………………......37
Dungeons and Librarians (Jason Vasché)…………….38
Dungeon Home Remedies (Jeff Rients)……...………41
The Spring Temple of Ai (Gabor Lux)………...……..42
Education of a Magic-User (Will Douglas)……...……45
The Tower and Spells of Duvan’Ku (J. Raggi IV)….....46
Creepies & Crawlies (Jeff Rients)…………………….52
Ghost Stories (Geoffrey O. Dale)…………………....54
Vault of the Magic Goddess (Matthew Riedel)……….57
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)……………………..65
Proclamations of the Fomalhaut Oracle (G. Lux)……66
Magical Weapon Drawbacks (Wayne Rossi)………….68
Carousing Mishaps (Jeff Rients)……………………...69
Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer (G.McKinney)70
These Mean Streets (Baz Blatt)……………………....79
Oceanian Legends (Del L. Beaudry)………………….91
The Airships of Mistworld (Steve Marsh)…………….95
The Kitsunemori Campaign (Alex Schroeder)………..96
Chrysolia (Monty St. John)……………………….…100
The Darkness Beneath (James Maliszewski)………...106
Merlin’s Mystical Mirror (Jeff Rients)……………….117
Guest Editorial (Calithena)………………………….118
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (J. Raggi IV)……...120

The artwork is inspiring with a great range of styles, and is credited in the issue as follows:

Front Cover by Steve Zieser. Back Cover by Kevin Mayle ( Fight On! and Erol Otus Logos by Jeff Rients. Dave Hargrave photo by Lance Mazmanian. Knights & Knaves and Creepies & Crawlies logos by Lee Barber. Interior artwork and cartography by Alex Schroeder(3,13,15,17,22,26,33,36,46,75, 96,97,98,99), Steve Zieser (4,43,69), Otherworld Miniatures (5,44), Lee Barber ( (7,21), Emperor’s Choice (Greg Espinoza 8, John Usiak 18,55, Brad “Morno” Schenk 19, Josephine St. John 100), Kesher (10,11,87,95), motorvinen (12,24,44), Tony Rosten (16), C. Thayer ( (22,111), Vincent Baker (29,34), Patrick Farley (31,36), Gabor Lux (42,66,67), Will Douglas (45), Laura Kristiina Jalo (50), Pat Wheeler (52,53), Livio Andreatta (57,59,60,62), Matthew Riedel (58), Age of Fable (65), Ben Monroe (68), Geoffrey McKinney (70,72), Kelvin Green ( (73,75, 76,115), FuFu Frauenwahl ( (77,78), Baz Blatt (84), Del Beaudry (91,93), Robert S. Conley (106), James Maliszewski (108). We also used public domain clipart from (11,39,41, 64,82,92,121).

While I have not had time to digest the ten dozen pages of old school gaming text, I am certainly looking forward to it.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

New Old Stuff

As promised, I have converted some of my original fanzine submissions to PDF form for your downloading pleasure. Rather than link each individually, I will simply point readers to the My PDFs at Orbitfiles link under the SHAM'S OD&D STUFF header over to the right.

Now that Fight On! #4 and Knockspell #1 are available in print, I'm happy to share two articles that were written many months ago and have finally seen the light of day.

Included in the original submission PDFs is:

The Entourage Approach (Fight On! #2)
Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men (Fight On! #3)
SGotC Map (Fight On! #3)
Delvers Delve 1 (Fight On! #4)
The Thrall Character Class (Knockspell #1)

I have included brief notes at the end of each submission.

When, and if, I have future submissions which become published, I will add the original documents to Orbitfiles and announce it here.


~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fistfuls of Dice

Who doesn’t enjoy grabbing a handful of dice and throwing them across the game table? In Dungeons & Dragons such pleasures are normally limited to Magic Users and their spells, wands or staves spewing forth raging balls of fire or crackling bolts of lightning. Whatever the case, lots of dice spilling across the table is just plain cool. I believe that I fell in love with the old Avalon Hill game Titan for this very reason. Lots and Lots of dice. Well, that and the awesome Trampier work throughout.

In a recent post, I pondered the idea of adding some of the
neglected dice to my original D&D games. More or less I was observing how one could replicate the average scores of magic weapons that normally use a d6 with these other dice. I’m still considering these dice for aspects of OD&D, but now I am looking at ways that allow players to throw a handful of six-siders and partake in that exercise normally limited to Magic Users and Elves.

All of this harkens back to the
What Price Glory series of posts from last Summer, wherein I detailed optional rules packets for adding more depth to D&D combat. In particular, the Multiple Dice portion of the Damage packet that was offered then.

Part of that option was the idea that magic weapons all allow the wielder to throw an extra d6 when rolling damage, and take the higher result. Thus far in my games, this has been a nice additional option. But I want MORE dice. I’ve slightly modified the What Price Glory Multiple Dice option, and added more dice for magic weapons, as follows.

Multiple Damage Dice: The amount of dice used to determine melee damage is a reflection of Class, Level and Weapon. In all cases, roll the number of six-siders indicated, and take the highest result.

Standard Melee Damage: 1d6.

Fighting-Man: Level 1-3: no bonus, 4-6: +1d6, 7-9: +2d6, 10+: +3d6.
Clerics: Level 1-5: no bonus, 6+: +1d6.
Magic Users: No bonus.

Magic weapon, +1: +1d6.
Magic weapon, +2: +2d6.
Magic weapon, +3: +3d6.

For example, a Fighting-Man (including Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits) of 4th Level (+1d6), wielding a Mace, +2 (1d6+2d6), would roll 4d6 each time a hit is scored. From those 4 dice, the highest result determines the damage dealt that round. The Mace, +2 only adds to the character’s to hit roll, not damage dealt.

Thus, the maximum damage with this option does not exceed 6, unless of course you couple this option with the second part of Multiple Dice, to quote:

When rolling Multiple Dice, while only a single die is used to calculate damage, any die that rolls a 6 and is not used as the highest result will add 1 damage to the attacker’s total. For example, if a Fighting-Man throws 3d6 to determine damage, and comes up with three sixes, his base damage would actually equal 8 (6+1+1) .

This bit of Multiple Dice should have been presented as an add-on option. This is now:

The Rule of 6: The highest result is used for damage, other dice are considered bonus dice. Any bonus die which rolls a 6 adds +1 to the total resultant damage.

So, that 4th Level Fighting-Man in the above example could, potentially, deal 6+3 or 9 damage if his 4d6 came up 6-6-6-6.

A 10th Level Fighting-Man with a +3 weapon would have the luxury of throwing 7d6 anytime a hit is scored. Is this as powerful as a weapon that deals 1d6+3 each round? Perhaps not, but it is certainly more entertaining from my point of view.

The Rule of 6 in action. Someone just dealt 10 damage!

With some tinkering, Multiple Dice could be used for Cleric Cure Spells as well. For example, something like a bonus d6, use the highest result(s), at Levels 3, 6 and 9. Currently I’m somewhat liberal with Cleric Cure bonuses, allowing a 1 hit per Level of the caster bonus. But, MORE dice is always better. Most everyone has a ton of six-siders anyway. Might as well use them for more than a hall full of Goblins.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 10, 11.

"All of target's items (magic only) combine into a great red and purple Grabblefootz."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dice Withdrawal

I didn't play any games or D&D at all this past weekend. Not Friday, Saturday nor Sunday. It was such nice weather I ended up spending the weekend outside doing family stuff. I'm definitely ready for Springtime. My 14 year old's team moves back outdoors soon, and I agreed with his coach at practice on Sunday that the boys are getting cabin fever and itching for some fresh air themselves.

It struck me sometime this past weekend that I could introduce the use of my old 1E dice that have become useless with my adoption of pre-Greyhawk Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically the d8, d10 and d12, and use them in some fashion rather than simply for referee tables like custom Wandering Monsters.

Consider that all weapons in OD&D deal 1d6 damage. Magic Swords do not deal any extra damage except to specific targets as detailed in their item descriptions. This is a trade-off, as OD&D Magic Swords are still potentially the most potent melee weapons due to mental powers and communicative abilities. Other miscellaneous magic weapons normally add their magical plus to damage as well as rolls to hit.

Recently I have house ruled that all magic weapons function like swords, with the additonal rule that any magic weapon allows the user to roll two dice for damage, using the higher result. In practice this has proven to be a fun method, as throwing more dice normally is. But what of the d8, d10 and d12?

The average roll from a d6 is 3.5, as everyone knows. Considering that average and the unused polyhedrons in my collection, I realized that increasing the 3.5 average by one in three steps of 4.5, 5.5 and 6.5 essentially replicates +1, +2 and +3 to damage that magic non-sword weapons of those types would normally deal in the original rules.

I can go two ways with this. All magic weapons roll two dice, using the higher result. A minor bonus for +1 weapons. I could tinker with this and allow three and four dice for +2 and +3 weapons, respectively, if I wanted to increase the average damage of those more powerful weapons. The maximum damage is still 6, but results of 6 would be much more frequent.

The other method which introduces those neglected dice works out as follows:

Normal weapons average 3.5, use 1d6.
+1 weapons average 4.5, use 1d8.
+2 weapons average 5.5, use 1d10.
+3 weapons average 6.5, use 1d12.

The average damage does not change with the new dice, they simply increase the numeric range. So simple I wonder why I never thought of this until now. Players might hate rolling a result of "1" with a +3 weapon that deals 1d12, but would cheer each time a "12" popped up.

I'll have to play test this somehow, but unfortunately the only magic weapons in my current game are +1. I still love a d6 dominated game, with d20 relegated to attacks and saving throws, but the idea of reintroducing those other three is tempting, if only on this somewhat limited basis.

The burning question is, of course, what to do with that damned d4. Perhaps reserve it for Cursed -1 Weapons? It does average -1 damage, or 2.5. I'm probably the only one who never realized before how this average for the dice moves along a straight line in single increments. This would be a bit of homebrew, of course, as the only cursed weapon in OD&D is the Sword, Cursed -2. As we know for Swords in OD&D that modifier only applies to the attack roll.

Don't ask about +4 weapons. As of right now there simply aren't any. Which is a good thing as I don't own any d14s. The end result is I don't see myself moving away from a heavy d6 game. I do enjoy playing with numbers, though. I think the more dice method for magic weapons is how I'll continue and move forward, and give a thought about adding an extra die for +2 and +3 weapons. Those other four dice types will probably continue to beg me to play some 1E while they languish on the sidelines.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, March 6, 2009


Did I ever mention that I like dungeons? No? Well, I do. I'd even say that I love dungeons. Just to put that into perspective, I don't really care one way or another about dragons. When I think of Dungeons & Dragons, it is images of the former and not the latter that spring to mind. I cannot rightly fathom playing the game without dungeons. I suppose admitting that might make me appear to be some awkward, old fashioned stick in the mud with a retarded sense of the game. But there it is. D&D, to me, means dungeons.

A game of D&D without dungeons is a truly sad state of affairs. I'm sure I could potentially enjoy a game without them. I like playing Traveller and Call of Cthulhu. It's just that they are different games, which bring other expectations. I could play Traveller without space travel, or Call of Cthulhu without Lovecraft's creations, but I don't want to. There's something about the feel of a dungeon crawl that just equates to D&D. Entering the dark confines beneath the surface, trying to avoid pits, listening at doors, making maps, tossing molotov cocktails, drinking from strange fountains, parleying with mysterious underworld denizens, wondering what that disturbing clanging sound down the hall was, delving deeper, farther and farther from the light of day, hopefully becoming so encumbered with sacks, bags, pouches, packs and chests full of gold that movement is reduced to 3".

There's a primal edginess to the entire undertaking. The claustrophobic setting, the stifling air, the enveloping darkness, the otherworldly monsters all mesh together to create the perfect combination of action, adventure, mystery, exploration, tension and challenge. It is the ultimate test of a player's abilities, in my opinion. An environment with little margin for error which places the greatest demand on the players. I'd surmise that anyone disagreeing with that sentiment is either illogical or has not played in enough dungeons.

"But Sham, I can replicate the dungeon experience in different settings, ones which include other types of challenges!" I'd counter by saying that the only way to replicate the dungeon experience is by creating a close physical facsimile which for all intents is simply a dungeon with another name. In regard to other types of challenges, who cares when you're dead. That's the punishment for failing in the underworld.

I know full well that there are enjoyable, viable alternatives to dungeon crawling. I am aware of this fact. I can even revel in wilderness or city adventuring as a dungeon alternative, as long as these escapades are leading to future dungeon sessions. They can make for nice breaks here and there, but in no way can the alternatives ever replace the real thing.

I know my opinion is extreme, even amongst fellow players from the early days. I'm a self-diagnosed utter dungeon geek. In no way am I advocating that dungeons are the only way to play. Nor am I telling anyone how to play their own games of D&D. It's simply that when I decide to play D&D, I am specifically pursuing my desire to do some dungeon crawling.

These days that seems downright archaic. Until recently, that is. It appears that there are many others that are trying to put the Dungeons back into Dungeons & Dragons. I'm probably the last blogger to point this out, and provide links, but it's time for me to do my part.

Start here at Grognardia, read the comments, and check out Trollsmyth's and Amityville Mike's follow-up posts as well. These three are able to talk about dungeons without getting all fired up like I do. MegaMarch might be upon us, the month when the gamers decided to return D&D to its rightful home. If there is ever an online community dungeon project as hinted at in the above links, I'll be signing up, and detailing the progress here at Ye Auld Grog & Blog.

~Sham, Utter Dungeon Geek

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Dismal Depths: Treasure Maps and Other Ideas

Work continues on The Dismal Depths One-Page Dungeon series. I've been adding information to the dungeon between room ideas and maps, to the point that Level 2 is still in the "done but needs to be mapped" stage. It's close, and I hope to make the make Levels 2A-2D available all at once, and do the same with Levels 3A-3D. Those will comprise The Upper Levels, and then I will get serious about finishing all four three-level sections. The Dark Domain, originally slated to be simply Levels 10A-10D has been extended down to Level 12 in my notes and sketches.

As you can see I work rather slowly and normally like to create in large chunks. Unfortunately with the many projects I have going at once, this means I often set things aside and they gather dust a little bit longer than expected. Well, good news, I dove back into The Dismal Depths yesterday.

In addition to the entirely homebrewed Bestiary, I am currently putting together an entirely homebrewed Dismal Depths Treasury. I am planning on dozens of new magic items. Rather than dispose of the OD&D magic item base, the Treasury will work as a supplement. I'll likely alter the standard OD&D Magic Items table to include a Dismal Magic result and accompanying table. While I plan to manually place one instance of each of the new items, and no more, referees might enjoy seeing them on such a table as well.

I am also including a handful of homebrewed Artifact type items in the Treasury. They will most certainly be in the clutches of the more nefarious denizens of The Dark Domain, and not found on any random tables. There will also be a dozen or so Tech Devices described in the Treasury, but seperate from the magic items. Laser Swords, Dart Guns, Acid Grenades, that sort of thing. Nothing that would upset the game balance, more or less simply magic items turned into an alternate form.

Along the way I am adding new rules for these magic items. For example, all magic Weapons, including Swords, throw two dice for damage, using the highest. All magic Armor ignores any damage roll of "1". All magic Shields have a deflect chance of Xin12. That sort of thing.

One of my ideas which greatly appeals to my design sensibilities embraces the observation of OD&D maps I made in one of the Cover to Cover posts, that is: It’s as if the deciphering of a treasure map generates the treasure listed, along with its guardian.

Over a year ago I had an idea to create a series of mini-dungeons called Ixmorin's Ill-fated. There are five such mini-dungeons. Each is a series of rooms designed to protect an Artifact, the five magical pieces that make up Ixmorin's Ill-fated Set. The idea is that each small collection of rooms could be placed anywhere in the campaign world. My original idea was that within each mini-dungeon was a clue to the location of the next.

I've also been kicking around ideas for special sublevels within The Dismal Depths, so far these are simply names of places such as Gavagan's Bar, The Glittering Sands, The Snow Globe, The Donjon, Franken Labs and The Dome of Perpetual Indulgence.

Here's where the ideas all collide. I'll be making a guide for how to utilize maps in the Treasury, and including special, specific Sublevel Maps on the table. When a map is determined to be in a treasure trove, there is a chance that it will be Ixmorin's Ill-fated Map #3, for example. This will allow the player characters to then cast Read Languages on the map, once discovered, and decipher the location. The referee would then decide where the as to until then secret entrance to Ixmorin's Dungeon #3 is located. Using the One-Page for that mini-dungeon and dropping it anywhere in The Dismal Depths for the characters to go to and enter that secret "bonus" sublevel.

Anyway, just taking a break from dungeon design to float a few ideas for the project here at the blog.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thanks Again, Gary

I began this blog on 2/29/08, just four days before Gary Gygax's passing. I feel then as I do now, that I cannot truly share my feelings in regard to Gary's impact on my life and do them justice at this blog. I need to DM, run a campaign, and let the D&D vibe go into full swing, and then observe "See, that's what Gary means to me."

I'll not blather on about why I get so damned pissed off today. I suppose it's part of getting older. As much as I am awash in D&D, I still woke up today and realized that proper pencil and paper (or tabletop, if you prefer) D&D is a fading hobby, and I am destined to be the Last Mohican; or last Do-do Bird, if you prefer.

Perhaps if the mood strikes me I can construct an updated version of one of my earlier posts which speaks to the impact of Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe that would be fitting. I just know if I tried that today I might end up spewing some vitriolic verbage best avoided.

Anyway, four days into the blog, and only my 8th post, came RIP Gary on March 4th, 2008. It was another week before I received my first comment here. This was before many of the old school blogs we all enjoy now had spread their wings, or even started. That said, I doubt too many have seen that post before, so I say it again, Rest In Peace, Gary.

I read someone earlier this morning commenting that time flies and wondering how the past year went by so quickly after Gary's death. In all other things I agree. Family, Work, Entertainment, Sports...the past year did indeed zip by. On the other hand, when I look back at D&D, and at 12 months of blogging and thinking about the hobby since Gary's passing, I feel as though it's been many years. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but it is worth noticing and appreciating. After all, I don't much like it when time flies. Anything that makes us slow down and appreciate the moment or be contemplative is worthy of notoriety, and Dungeons & Dragons certainly does for many of us Do-do Birds.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 7, 57.

"Target Ages backwards from here on."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 40

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
THE UNDERWORLD (continued)

Tricks and Traps: …The fear of “death”, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistant with a reasonable chance for survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival). For example, there is no question that a player’s character could easily be killed by falling into a pit thirty feet deep or into a shallow pit filled with poisonous spikes, and this is quite undesirable in most instances.”
The fear of death. Yes, characters will perish while they are attempting to plunder treasure from your carefully crafted dungeon. We are however reminded that a reasonable chance for survival should be maintained. After all, there are already monsters seeking to devour the intruders. The two pit trap examples are probably read in an entirely different manner than intended now, 35 years later. At the time of this writing, those two pits are examples of instant-death traps. What I think is being shared here is referee wisdom. Avoid instant-death traps, and while your dungeon should be deadly, don’t make it so lethal that the chance of survival, especially due to instant-death traps, is extremely slim. A saving throw, a chance to avoid damage, or methods to bypass potentially deadly situations should be considered.

Distribution of Monsters and Treasure:

As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise. …It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monstrous guardians, and then switch to a random determination for the balance of the level
A guide and tables then follow for undertaking this random distribution. As a younger man, I was unaware of these suggestions. There were no empty rooms in my dungeons back then. There were no random tables for placing monsters nor treasure. Everything was planned out and filled to the brim. I rarely even used Wandering Monsters except as plotted out “timed encounters” which gave the feel of Wandering Monsters. Again, I wish I had read and embraced these original design notions back then. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what a proper dungeon was until 2008. Sure what I made were certainly dungeons, but they were dungeons based on what I had seen TSR publish.

Also of note, the guide speaks to placing treasure, as opposed to placing monsters. The players are daring the depths in search of treasure, not monsters. Whether that treasure is guarded by some big nasty beasts or not is a decision reached after figuring out where to carefully place these player goals. Makes you think about the motivations and objectives of the early game. The ultimate goal is treasure.

Maintaining Freshness: …Using these suggestions, and whatever else you dream up, there is no reason why participants in the campaign should not continue to find mystification, enjoyment, excitement, and amusement in the challenge of the myriad passages of the dungeons.”
Suggestions that echo the previous sentiment of maintaining player interest within the adventure hub dungeon. Sure you can move the adventure to other locales, but the dungeon is capable of housing the entire campaign if you are willing to provide the creative effort required. It’s a labor of love.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, March 2, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 39

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
THE UNDERWORLD (continued)

In beginning a dungeon it is advisable to construct at least three levels at once, noting where stairs, trap doors (and chimneys) and slanting passages come out on lower levels, as well as the mouths of chutes and teleportation terminals.”
This echoes the notion that the dungeon is to be a mazey construction of meandering halls, tunnels and passages. The suggestion to design three levels at once is a sound one. I think it’s important to add that it is not always prudent to fill these three level chunks with great detail. The entire design process described here is more or less focusing on the map and layout itself. Methods for actually stocking the dungeon are shared later. At this point, the referee is drawing maps and possibly manually placing certain details such as traps and minor notes.

In doing the lowest level of such a set it is also necessary to leave space for the various methods of egress to still lower levels. A good dungeon will have no less than a dozen levels down, with offshoot levels in addition, and new levels under construction so that players will never grow tired of it.”
In other words, don’t plan to stop at Level 3 of your dungeon. Leave space, it tells us. It doesn’t say draw the steps and chutes yet, it says plan for them and add them later if you like. No less than a dozen levels down, not counting offshoot levels or levels that are under construction and may be added later. Yes, a growing, changing, evolving hub of adventure that should have future areas unveiled as the campaign progresses.

There is no real limit to the number of levels, nor is their any restriction on their size (other than the size of graph paper available). “Greyhawk Castle”, for example, has over a dozen levels in succession downwards, more than that number branching from these, and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time.
Even at the time of this writing, Gygax had an enormous dungeon going. Greyhawk Castle boasted in the neighborhood of 27 or more maps at a minimum, with two under construction “at any given time”. And that was in 1973-74.

These levels contain such things as a museum from another age, an underground lake, a series of caverns filled with giant fungi, a bowling alley for 20’ high Giants, an arena of evil, crypts, and so on.”
Anything goes. A museum from another age? A Giant bowling alley? Open your minds and let your creative juices flow. There’s no need to limit these fantastical places to the laws of the surface.

“A sample level is shown below in order to aid the prospective referee in designing his own game:”
Granted, this is probably not what many modern megadungeon designers think of when they envision a dungeon level. As a sample level it does convey the basics. There are only eight rooms. There’s a LOT of trickery and navigational hazards, though. Not much in the way of planned encounters or treasure. It’s fairly rudimentary, but effective given its very limited description. I’ll drop a version of this somewhere in one of my campaigns.

An entire dungeon level on a little over one and a half booklet sized pages.

“8. … Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or 2 were rolled. Otherwise, it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out…”
This 2in6 chance of taking damage from falling into a pit seems to be one of those lost ideas shared in original D&D. I’ve never found any other examples of employing this rule. I’ve added a similar layer of avoiding damage from traps, based on the likelihood inherent in the individual situation. For a shallow pit, I can see a character avoiding damage. I know falling 10’ isn’t likely to kill most adventurers. Take what you might from this example.

In laying out your dungeons keep in mind that downward (and upward) mobility is desirable, for players will not find a game enjoyable which confines them too much.”
Plenty of options is important. I wish I had read all of this back in the early 80’s when I really began to design a lot of my own adventures. Adventures which were unfortunately based more on the published AD&D modules, and less on these foundations of the game. My designs railroaded the characters to a climactic ending rather than envisioning a never-ending hub of adventure within the underworld.

“…successive levels, which, of course, should be progressively more dangerous and difficult.”
Rather obvious 35 years later, but this tidbit of dungeon design has become ingrained in the genre.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee