Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Potpourri: Updates, 5e Musings, and Purple Islands

Long time, no blog! It blows me away how time flies. I didn’t really mean to neglect my blog for so long but a lot of things kind of came together at the same time to sap my motivation and take me out of the mindset. The main thing has been my father’s failing health. For a while, I didn’t have any idea what would happen or how immediate things could be, so I didn’t take on any really large projects (like the zine) and kind of just felt unmotivated. 

When I blog, I like to have something substantial to say or offer. I’m not really a prolific designer or writer. From time to time I have shared gaming news, but honestly, between Tenkar’s Tavern, OSRToday, and OSRNews, you will always stay informed of what is going on without any help from me. I used to do a lot of 4e hacking, but I've really said everything I want to say about it and already came up with all of the alternate rules that I wanted. I use G+ as my main means of posting these days because it allows you to share little bits of info without having to do full-blown blogs. I am +JeremyfrothsofSmith on there btw, if you want to link up. 

At any rate, I am going to attempt to be more productive this year. I will probably do more reviews, as that is something I think can be helpful. I tend to shy away from a lot of DMing advice, as the best advice I can give anyone is to just run a ton of games and learn from your own mistakes. I probably won’t do a lot of 5e hacking, as I like it quite a bit the way it is, especially given the alternative rules in the DMG.

I haven’t said a lot about 5e but I do think it is interesting that almost every single bone I had to pick with 4e has been addressed with it. I'm not suggesting WOTC reads my blog or anything, its just that a lot of my issues with 4e must have been nearly universal. Lets take a quick look at 4e issues I have addressed here and what 5e did about them.

-Sunrods-no longer exist in 5e
-Skill Challenges-wiped clean by the wrath of God
-Bloated skill numbers-gone
-Magic Item treadmill-gone
-Monsters-simplified, strengthened, recall my updated stat block in all the right ways
-Immediate Actions-severely curtailed
-Slow combat/Options bloat-bitch slapped

I can go on and on, but every single thing I have ever had an issue with with 4e was revisited and tweaked. What is left is a modern feeling D&D with obvious old-school influence and spirit. They did a great job.

So whats up with 4e Forever #2? Well I have a ton of good articles and now that 5e has sort of blown over and gotten fully released, you can expect it finished sometime…”soon”. It will be the final issue as I move onto a different zine project that I hope will support multiple editions (including 4e and 5e). More on that later. Here is a review for you!


I owe Mr. Venger Satanis a review. At one time I hoped to be able to run his module, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence (henceforth “PI” for Purple Islands) in return for him giving me a PDF copy. Once real life happened, things changed. I sheepishly let him know I wasn’t going to be able to run it any time soon and he was cool about it and just asked if I might review it sometime. So here we are.

If you have been around OSR circles for the last few years you have likely heard of Venger. He is extremely prolific and has a ton of energy. He posts blogs or G+ community updates near-daily, has had several products come out over the last couple of years, some funded by successful Kickstarters, and is someone that constantly looks to interact with the community and start conversations about gaming. He isn’t afraid to detail his failures or learning experiences along with his successes, and he has a very strong point of view. 

The first thing that grabs me about PI, as well as his other work, is the art. It often evokes the glory days of 70's fantasy art. Lands of barbarians in loincloths and chainmail bikini-clad women in bondage. Its very nostalgic and eye-catching. The art throughout PI is world class and gives the best artwork of the OSR (Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dungeon Crawl Classics) a run for the money. Wonderful cartography (including some standout pieces from Dyson Logos), weird drawings, evocative monsters; the artwork alone is reason to flip through the module. 

There’s that word again, “module”. This thing is not a typical adventure module. It is more like a mini-campaign setting, with a new class (his twist on the Monk), all sorts of alternative rules and random tables, new monsters and items, and a well-designed hex crawl set in a bizarre land. To call it a module doesn’t quite do it justice. There are a LOT of ideas here. The production quality and layout is excellent.

I am a sucker for hex crawls and this one really delivers. The hexes have really nice, original adventure seeds that DMs can easily expand on. I saw a criticism in another review about the wildly varied power level of the monsters, but that is something I EXPECT in my games. Sometimes running like hell is the wisest decision. Venger does a good job with creative monsters (some pulled from Lovecraft and the like), developing multiple island “factions”, and coming up with an original history for the place that evokes the weird pulp fantasy novels and serials of the early 20th century.

This is the kind of product that you could take and develop a whole campaign around. The extra rules help reinforce the flavor and make for a unique feel. I also enjoy his writing style; its conversational and you quickly get the feeling that this is a guy who loves gaming. Its no surprise that people have taken notice of him and that he already has released another successfully funded Kickstarter project, Revelry in Torth.

If you are going to run this for your players, I would probably start them in the 4th to 7th level range. One thing that is a little different is that some of the dungeons and underground areas the characters can encounter have maps but are not stocked. This works for me; it allows DMs to inject their own ideas into the setting. Personally I would just grab some random tables and jump in. To others, this might seem a little strange though, a little unfinished. 

I don’t recommend this to anyone that insists on anything approaching “realistic” medieval fantasy. I wouldn’t quite call it gonzo, though a few bits fit that term. It is probably best enjoyed by a lighthearted group that enjoys sci-fi and horror crossing over into their swords and sorcery. You can play this pretty much straight from the page with any fantasy OSR system. Conversion to 5e will take a little bit more time, especially with the monsters. If you decide to run this I would splurge for the print version so that you and your players can more easily enjoy the art and cartography.

Venger is definitely an original voice with seemingly endless ideas. It will be interesting to follow along with his design career to see what he comes up with next.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Golden Age of the RPG Zine

My first exposure to the term “zine” came back in my skateboarding days of the mid 80s. Growing up in a suburb of Atlanta, there was no coverage of our local scene in any of the major publications at the time. If you weren’t from California or perhaps NY, you just were not represented. Local skaters took it upon themselves to take photographs, create artwork, and scrawl handwritten articles, then go to the library (if you could get a ride) and make near-illegible copies of the things for friends.

My skating led to me being exposed to many forms of music, including punk rock. Zines played a crucial role in the spread of punk. DIY labels could advertise their mail-order catalogs, and the zines provided crucial networking for touring bands. Without zines, the music would not have spread like it did, and a lot of great music would never have been heard in a lot of areas of the country.

I was oblivious during those days to the role of zines in RPGs. I mean, I knew about Dragon, but I was so young at the time I started playing RPGs that the history was not as interesting as simply playing. Fast forward to today, and I am now more aware of the role of DIY publications in the early days. After all, the gaming club newsletters of the late 60s and early 70s were, in essence, zines. They enabled gamers to connect to each other, featured alternative rules to existing games, and helped organize the first conventions. Dragon itself morphed from the Strategic Review, and early copies of White Dwarf almost feel closer to homemade zines than any slick, professional magazine. 

The thing I respect the most about the OSR movement is the DIY aspect. Don’t like where more modern games are taking the hobby? Not finding a flavor that fits your tastes? Instead of waiting for products that would never come, pioneers of new gaming frontiers fashioned their own takes on classic games, designed their own adventures, and breathed new life into the hobby. And while the golden age of RPGs is undoubtedly behind us, there has never been a time in the history of the hobby where self-published zines have flourished and thrived as much as they do today.

I won’t try to provide a comprehensive list of zines; Rended Press has done a better job then I ever could compiling info on zines both new and old. You can easily spend hours just clicking away at all of the juicy stuff. I do want to point out the wonderful diversity. You have very polished works, and those that are best described as crude. Every genre from horror to sci-fi to fantasy is represented. Some, like one of my faves, AFS, are mail-order only (“Um…did you say a new Stormbringer adventure? Here’s my wallet.”), some are PDF only, some both. Some are pay-what-you-want, some are only for sale, and many are free. Some may surprise you with their longevity, while wonderful new zines pop up seemingly every day, with more always on the horizon.

The zine community is tight, welcoming, and friendly. If you are looking for info on how to start your own zine, most folks will happily answer your questions on everything from shipping logistics to cpu programs. Hell, Tim Shorts will show you his monthly revenue. Google + groups like RPG Zines are a great place to start networking. Perhaps you aren’t ready to tackle a whole zine but want to contribute artwork or an article idea; many zines, including my own, take submissions. All it takes is a little effort. There has never been an easier time to self-publish your own work, connect with other enthusiasts, and get your stuff out there in front of your target audience. 

We are living in the golden age of RPG zines so don’t let it pass you by! Support DIY publishers and get involved!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Download a FREE 5e Adventure!!!

Hi everyone. To celebrate and support the release of 5e, I have converted one of my 4e adventures to the new system and made it available as a free download. In the spirit of the multi-edition support I want to cultivate here, I have also included some simple OSR conversion notes. I hope you enjoy it!

*File last updated 7/11/14


Friday, July 4, 2014


Today I am announcing a few changes to my blog and zine. As you may know, I have supported classic editions of D&D on my blog alongside 4e for quite a while. Well, I was so completely blown away by the 5e rules that came out yesterday that I will be DMing organized play at the FLGS and inevitably supporting it on my blog. So, I have decided to change the name of my blog to reflect the multiple edition support that I want to cultivate. The new link is www.frothsofdnd.blogspot.com. Those out there that link to my site or have me bookmarked will want to update this.

I absolutely intend on still supporting 4e. I actually DMed a great session the other night. With a four player party and a morale system, we enjoyed a nice three encounter delve with roleplay in about two and a half hours. 4e is worth working on because the combat and PC customization options are not like that of any other edition of D&D. I think that over the years many players will return to it for a fun change of pace.

What does this mean for my zine 4e Forever? Well, the second issue is almost done. Unfortunately, several articles I expected to come in never made it, but there is more than enough material for a great mag. After this issue, and once the licensing for 5e becomes more clear, I intend to let the zine represent all editions. The name will change, although I haven't thought of the name yet. I imagine B/X monsters sitting alongside alternate 4e classes, 5e adventures next to AD&D magic items. I love all editions, so why not try and support them all? Expect more info/shameless solicitations on this down the line.

Anyhoo, I am very excited about where 5e can go. I love the simple, clean rules, and I see a LOT of 4e influence in the game. I think its a great thing that 4e happened, because they learned a lot of lessons from it, both good and bad. I hope to continue to bring fans of different editions together and foster a mutual respect for one another, even if you have your own favorite ruleset.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Even MORE Quick Fixes to Old Crappy Monsters

I prefer practical, specific DMing advice to philosophical advice. This is because I feel strongly that experience is the best teacher for a DM as far as pacing, storytelling, handling and involving players, adventure design, etc. However, with 4e D&D there is a wealth of very specific advice that you can pass along to others, especially new DMs. I saw a DM (new to 4e but not RPGs) ask for advice the other day, and my mind went immediately to the monsters.

One of my favorite posts dealt with updating pre-MM3/Dark Sun monsters. Its like nails on chalkboard when I hear someone saying that the old monster books are worthless. Sure, the Monster Vault is the peak of 4e monster design, but part of that is that you get tokens and an adventure. Its not very helpful to just tell someone to go and buy another book or box set. Updating the old monsters does not need to be akin to filing your taxes. You can add adjustments completely on the fly, without ever putting pen to paper, and revive all of your old books.

The main problems with old monsters come down to low damage, low accuracy, and (for Elites and Solos) susceptibility to debilitating conditions. Part of this can be handled by limiting the power creep at your table. I advise using some form of inherent bonuses a la DMG 2 or Dark Sun as a start. Even then, the monsters will still need help. If you do nothing else, follow my instructions on increasing damage.

Lets update and edit the old post's tips with some new notes added. Keep in mind that these tips do not apply to Minions; post-errata Minions should do 4+1/2 their level damage (minimum 1) and you should adjust them separately. Anyhoo:

1. DAMAGE: Add full level damage to Solo and Brute damage expressions. Add 1/2 level to the rest. For example, a 7th level pre-MM3 Brute would add 7 points to all of its damage rolls. A 22nd level Skirmisher would add 11. If a monster has a power that requires an attack roll but does no damage, add its level in damage to the power. So if say a 13th level monster has an Area 1 attack that slows on a hit (and does nothing else), that power now does 13 damage as well.

2. ATTACK BONUSES: Adjust monster attack bonuses up to at least Level +5 vs AC and Level +3 vs NADs. If any attack bonuses are already higher than this, such as an Artillery's RBA, leave them be. Brutes will be the main ones you will need to look out for.

3. MULTIPLE ATTACKS: If they do not have one already, give the monsters a "double attack", a single Standard Action that allows them to make two RBAs and/or MBAs.

4. RECHARGING: Lower any recharge numbers by 1. Encounter powers become "recharge 6".

5. CONDITIONS: Solos and Elites are always immune to the stunned and dominated conditions. To be honest, I would just remove stuns from your game altogether.

6. LAST DITCH EFFORTS: If they still look too weak or don't feel tough enough, let them Free Action attack when they are bloodied and/or when they die.

If you commit these simple tips to memory, you can pick up any old copy of Dungeon, any dated adventure, any old Game Day relic, or any early splat book and instantly breathe life into it. Its actually fun to pick one up, dust it off, and practice in your mind. Its very empowering because you can do it in-game, just eyeballing it. It becomes very natural and automatic if you try it a few times, to where you can look at any stat block and immediately adjust it without much thought.

Anyways, as I said above, I like advice that is practical, easy to use, and very specific. Try this in your 4e games and I think you will find that your old books are still awesome, and you didn't even have to write in the margins.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Will Doyle is on FIRE!

If you aren't already familiar with Will Doyle's work, you soon will be. The freelance designer is enjoying a streak of great successes. Will's amazing work at his blog Beholder Pie led to him getting several adventures published in Dungeon towards the end of 4e's run. These were among the best adventures that appeared during 4e. A few weeks ago, he got 1st place in the 2014 One Page Dungeon Contest. And just TODAY it was announced that he won EN World's 5e adventure design contest.

I love seeing good things happen to good people. Will's talent is obvious, but he is also a class guy, easy to work with, humble and enthusiastic. I was so blown away by his Scalemail mass combat rules for 4e that I approached him about letting me reprint them in 4e Forever #1. He was totally cool and helpful about it. When you combine talent with that kind of friendly attitude, good things happen to you. I would bet the farm that he will be one of the most well-known 5e adventure designers within a few years.

Check out a short interview I did with Will HERE.

If you want to check out his Scalemail rules, download 4e Forever #1 HERE. Even if you were not a big 4e fan, they are well worth a look.

Congrats Will, you deserve it!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Trimming the Fat, Part 5: The Stunned Condition

Hi everybody. If you didn't know, my "Trimming the Fat" series is all about stuff that I omit from 4e in my personal games. I've mentioned sunrods, skill challenges, backgrounds, and revenants in the past. Today I found myself motivated to write about the ultimate suckage condition: stunned.

I haven't run a lot of 4e lately to be honest, I have been going back to the well of 1e and 2e AD&D. That said, I have still been filling holes in my 4e collection via Amazon and Ebay. Books that I completely ignored before, I find myself wanting now for completion's sake. The chromatic and metallic dragon books are among these.

Its another conversation entirely as to why I shunned these books before, but a lot of it is because they are filled with weak solo monsters that every DM worth their salt already houseruled prior to their improvement in post-MM3 publications. Still, I think they have worth. Some of the delves, items, rituals, and the like are interesting, and much of Richard Baker and Bob Schwalb's lore succeeds. But I digress.

What really triggered today's entry was the common dragon power "Frightful Presence". In most cases this is basically a stun. The flavor isn't bad: the dragon scares you so bad a little trickle of urine empties in your boot. In practice though, its horrible for gameplay. How I wish I had seen that sooner.

When you start off with a new game or version of a game, its natural to trust the designers, at least at first. That is, I typically make an effort to at least play a game by the rules before deciding something sucks, or taking it into my own direction. I realize I was wrong about that now. I should have known that the stunned condition sucked at first glance, but at least now I am learning.

The stunned condition has long been the bane of 4e DMs. Solos being stunned is the subject of many a blog post from many a blogger. Even elites being stunned has always been a bridge too far in my book. That's why on my blog and zine you see rules about elites and solos always being immune to the effect. So what if the fluff can be sloppy? It simply breaks the game for the most powerful creatures to have to sit out the fight.

And here is where I must apologize. I recalled an epic tier game I once ran, still learning the system, in which I allowed a demon to stun one of the party. The poor bastard had to wait like 20 minutes to even do anything. I could feel his seething as he took his next turn. It was my bad.

Here's the deal. In classic editions, spells like Hold Person, Sleep, and the like are familiar and expected. Magic behaves differently. In 4e, magic is usually balanced against the other classes. Some love this, some hate this. I personally look at 4e as one of many different flavors of D&D ice cream. I don't make fun of others and berate them for liking rum raisin. But I digress again.

Being stunned in 4e sucks for everyone. Its also a condition that inherently slows down combat, adding to another of 4e's woes. "Why then", I asked myself, "did I ever allow stuns in the first place?"

That's the solution. Stuns don't exist. Not any more. Not for PCs, not for monsters.

You could just announce well before your game or campaign starts they don't exist, or if you want to delve deeper, come up with an alternate condition to substitute. After all, some paragon paths or epic destinies could incorporate the stunned condition as a partial element, or a player could love most elements of a single power only to have it completely nerfed by taking the condition out. I personally think dazed + immobilized is a solid substitute, but I am certainly open to ideas. One thing I am sure of, the standard 4e stun will never appear in my 4e games again. It just sucks too bad.

Heartfelt apologies to all I have stunned out there.