Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue 4

If you would like to read the other posts in this series, click here.

Wow, it is has been forever since I blogged. It is what it is. Today we look at Polyhedron #4. This issue is not dated, but must have come out sometime in early 82'. This issue is notable as it is the first issue to reveal the title "Polyhedron", still one of the great RPG mag names. A gent named Bill Huber won the contest to name it, and received a 2 year RPGA membership and a choice of RPGA module. Other possible names mentioned included "Quasit" and "Readings Gathered for Personality Assimilation". Wow.

So there is a cool Top Secret sort of Larry Elmore cover. Very 70s/early 80s, and I can picture the dude with a suitcase full of cocaine.

The letters section contains one from Gygax, who would often write letters to various TSR mags. Here he references the prior Jim Ward interviews and mentions the somewhat familiar story of how they met. Gygax basically noticed some of Ward's Appendix N-era books and invited him to play some games.

Mentzer's editorial mentions possibly producing AD&D posters of the core books, some notes on the AD&D tourney at Gen Con, and Gygax's yet-to-be-published cantrips for AD&D.

The majority of the issue is part one of an interview with Dragon editor/publisher Jake Jaquet. Just like previous issues, the interview is the highlight. It is great to read old interviews as they aren't really colored by the passage of time, and the answers, while undoubtedly tinged with a bit of marketing-speak, generally feel more accurate that interviews 30 to 40 years after the fact. Anyway, Jaquet talks about how he got the job and his philosophy for the mag.

Jaquet and moustache

The most interesting stuff comes as they start talking about Gamma World. Jaquet states that Gamma World came about from a series of anonymous notes, then simply titled "Mutant", given to him by Tim Kask to edit into something comprehensible. He and Jim Ward then worked on them, adding a bunch of ideas from Metamorphosis Alpha. The interview goes into some depth about the development of the game, what he would change if he was doing it all over again, and the ideas they had to expand it (that were never realized). I wonder how much truth there is to the anonymous piece; I always just assumed Jim Ward came up with it, although I admit I have never bothered researching it in any depth. Anyway, very interesting. The Jaquet interview will be continued over the next couple of issues.

There is a short piece by Don Turnbull extolling his love for illusionists.

Spelling Bee goes into detail about the fireball spell and lightning bolt, and the dangers of using them in dungeons.

Notes for the Dungeon Master offers a few trick and trap ideas, none of which are particularly intriguing, although the author does recommend using "THAC0", which I know was around long before 2e but here is implied to have been in wide use since at least 82'.

Dispel Confusion tackles the Wall of Force spell, holy water uses, and ways to learn spells if you blew your "chance to know" check.

Basically Speaking is a short article that aims to help new players. Very basic info such as dice notations, etc, and key pages of the Moldvay rulebook.

There are a few notes on upcoming RPGA events, then the mag ends with the first installment of the comic "Nor", in which a spaceship crash lands on a typical faux Middle Ages fantasy world.

That's it for this issue! I will try to do these more often.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Classic Fourthcore Adventures Now Available On DriveThru!

I posted a while back about how the Fourthcore crew had written the best 3rd party 5e adventure in existence. This is still the case. They now have all of the classic Fourthcore products up for free or pay-what-you-want. These were the height of 4e design; deadly, old-school, challenging modules that broke the rigid 4e mold and killed an awful lot of characters. Even if you never got into 4e, you owe it to yourself to check them out.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Secret Santicore 2015

So the entries from last year's Secret Santicore are trickling out. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there will be a compilation pdf this year. I can understand why; it is a ton of work. Honestly I am just thankful to be able to start seeing what folks did. I will probably compile my own personal pdf at some point. EDIT: I just heard that a compilation for last year's submissions is underway and that they just wanted to get it out via blog for the time being. That is GREAT NEWS!

Anyway, I thought I would post a pdf of my entry. It is pretty silly, but overall I am pleased with the spirit of the thing. My request was:

"I request a selection of very British magic items from various layers of the social strata. Artifacts of dubious merit with downsides to balance out upsides preferred."


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A 5e Must-Buy: Fortress of the Ur-Mage

"The Ur-Mage opens the doors of his Fortress once each decade, allowing the heroes and demigods of the realm to enter."

With the advent of the 5e SRD and DMs Guild, the 3rd party floodgates have been opened. There was already a ton of stuff coming out anyway, but in the scant few months that DMs Guild has been up, there are over 1000 3rd party offerings on that site alone already, with more being added every day. It is probably impossible to read it all, and keeping track of even the adventures seems like a full-time job (but thank you Merric!).

Anyway, how does one sift through all of this to find worthwhile products? For every interesting idea, safe bet, and no-brainer, there are one hundred or more complete and total mysteries, abject failures, and gross money-grabs. 

Well, I can at least point you to one product that I consider the first true 5e 3rd party "must-buy" that I have encountered. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of good stuff out there, but there is only one offering so far that I really think DMs should rush and buy immediately. And that would be Fortress of the Ur-Mage

From some of the minds that brought you 4thcore, this "tournament deathtrap dungeon" carries on their rich tradition of turning system assumptions upside down, shaking them, throttling them, then curb-stomping them into oblivion.

This is not an adventure made to gently insert into a campaign. This is a one-shot meant to test the mettle of even the most experienced players. This can be run in a tournament setting, with multiple tables attempting the dungeon at once, or with a single group. The party or parties score points based on how much they accomplish. You know that annoying thing where it is hard to gauge how long a one-shot might take? You won't experience that here. After five hours of play, finished or not, "a horde of summoned Spectral Death Knight Cavaliers atop fleshless horses" gallop through and slaughter the party. Kinky. Determined parties will want to try again and again to reach the final chamber.

This adventure is filled with all of the trappings we have come to expect from the 4thcore crew: fantastically grim set-piece encounters, a myriad of cruel and creative monsters, powerful and interesting magic items, and killer cartography and artwork. I was so pleased to see that the legendary Crypt Thing, Robert Waluchow, had done the maps and art for this. He is a great talent.

This thing comes with everything you need to get right to it: pregens, handouts, magic item cards, everything. Priced at a mere $6.66 (!), the value of what you get here puts a lot of 5e pricing to absolute shame.

If you are looking to run an event at a convention or if you have a group of seasoned players that think they have seen it all, you owe it to them to grind their bones into powder with this module.
Published by "DDE Adventures", it is unclear what future 5e plans these demented souls have in store for us, but follow them HERE to find out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: Tales From The Game Tavern #2

A while back I posted about how we are living in the golden age of the RPG zine, and the passing of time has only reinforced this view. It seems a week doesn't go by without some awesome new zine coming out.

I have been a fan of Grand DM's excellent Ultanya blog for quite some time, and it is great to see that he has thrown his hat into the zine ring. Today I thought I would take a look at issue #2 of Tales From The Game Tavern.

This is a holiday themed issue, but what with all the blizzards and snow going on, it still seems timely. There is a good bit of content for the price, with 28 pages of material (not including the cover). I enjoyed the variety, as you get class material, items, monster stuff, an adventure, as well as a recipe (!) in one issue.

Some of the material focuses around Krampus, which is nice and gameable. Highlights of the issue for me are a very nice hex crawl adventure, and "Krampusnacht Curios", some flavorful items that tykes might find in their shoes. These are minor enchanted items that eventually lose their powers; I like introducing things like that into my games, as they encourage use and do not affect long-term game balance.

An example of the high quality of the layout 

There is a "roast beast" soup recipe, the term taken from The Grinch that Stole Christmas, which I found a nice touch. It calls for a "turkey carcass". Yum...carcass!

This is a very creative and welcome addition to the burgeoning OSR zine scene. The stats provided are loose and generic, and thus fitting for any OSR game. Pick up one yourself and check back frequently at Ultanya to grab past and future issues.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue 3, Winter 1981-1982

If you would like to read previous installments of this series, just click the "Polyhedron" topic link down the right side of the blog.

So issue 3 is a double issue, coming in at 32 pages. It features an awesome Erol Otus cover. The ray gun hints at things to come in the issue.

The front end material consists of notes on the RPG Scholarship Fund, "White Rabbit", which basically apologizes for delays associated with the newsletter and modules, and a little forgettable Xmas fiction piece. Mentzer pens a short column that announces the newsletter will be going bi-monthly instead of quarterly. The Letters section is dominated by reader suggestions for future content.

Dispel Confusion has a couple of interesting bits. One, a question about clarifying the use of caltrops, which I certainly would have found helpful at a young age. Two, a question about surprise segments in 1e. Poor guy's party got surprised by a group of gargoyles, and using the 1e rules to the letter, it ended up being something like 40 attacks. Needless to say, it is a rule I am happy to see gone, one that I have never used anyway, and probably an unexpected rule interaction on Gygax's part (I hope).

The main article (foreshadowed by the cover) is a long interview with Jim Ward. It is worth tracking a copy down just to read this, especially if you are a fan of Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World, both of which are covered in detail. He tells the story of meeting Gygax, how MA came to be, and touches on his personal introduction to science fiction and gaming. One cool thing about reading these old newsletters is seeing products referenced that either never came to be, or came out years later in different forms. In the letters section, a "forthcoming" work on fantasy weapons is mentioned; here, Ward talks about a Gamma World box set, "Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega", which ended up as the title to the 2nd edition of MA in 1994.

There is a recap of a Fight in the Skies tournament, followed by a preview of the 7th edition (Dawn Patrol). 

Turnbull has a short opinion piece talking about the nature of hit points; you see many of these sorts of questions and debates even today, and I find them just as tedious. 

There is a piece on miniature painting, even though I have been told numerous times on the internet that nobody really used minis prior to 4e. Whoopsy daisy.

There is a convention recap with tourney winners listed.

There is a call for submissions to a Top Secret gadget contest, a bit on cryptograms and codes (frustrating, as you have to mail off for the keys to the coded messages provided), and some more miscellaneous info on RPGA memberships and product orders.

We get another readable collection of mutants from Jim Ward. I dig Fluter the Mutated Sun Fish. This is followed by another contest, this one for Gamma World artwork.

Notes for the Dungeon Master offers traps and tricks sent in by readers. They are mainly of the goofy variety, such as polymorphing the party into fat orcs while they are squeezing through a tight space. 

Spelling Bee spends a page and a half sucking the fun out of the invisibility spell. Worth reading just to feel good about your own campaign.

Saga of Marnie is a guest article by a contest winner and her GenCon experience. After a few upcoming convention dates, the issue is over.

The Ward interview more than makes up for the rest of this issue, and if you are interested in the early days of the hobby and how the first sci-fi games came to be, try to find a way to read it. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: The Secret of Cykranosh by Wayne Rossi

I first encountered Wayne Rossi on Google+ and immediately began following him based on a mutual adoration for the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. I eventually got to game with him once (a fun OD&D dungeon crawl with Tekumel beasties), and I have enjoyed his Dungeon Crawl zines. When I noticed he had recently released an adventure in pay-what-you want format, I immediately downloaded it to check it out.

This is a short (6 pages) location-based adventure, ostensibly set in Hyperborea, although with minor tweaking it could be set in pretty much any fantasy setting. It is compatible with classic D&D editions and OSR games.

I am always in need of short, easy-to-prep adventures that I can drop into hexcrawls and sandbox environments, and this fits the bill perfectly. The referee can read and absorb this in less than an hour, and it should provide a good session's worth of gaming.

The first thing to catch your eye will likely be a great map by Dyson Logos, who never ceases to amaze. The adventure itself is interesting. There are a lot of cool encounters packed into this thing. There are idiosyncratic flourishes that I found pleasing. For example, found among a bandit treasure is the coffin of an orangutan corpse stolen from a carnie caravan.

Perhaps the module's greatest strength is that Rossi managed to develop two rival factions in such a short adventure. This raises the value, as different groups can have wildly different experiences with it. A group could simply hack-and-slash their way through, work to pit the groups against each other, or perhaps find themselves the ones unknowingly manipulated. That sort of depth of possible experience is not typical for most short adventures I read.

It is tough to find anything to be too critical about. My only suggestion would be to have had the map take up its own page, as when I run PDF adventures I typically print the map or make it its own file in order to read the key simultaneously. A minor quibble.

Though I am sure things could change, Rossi has mentioned perhaps doing a number of these short adventures, then later combining them into a larger print product. If they are all in this vein I will definitely be purchasing it. In the meantime I would encourage referees to check it out for themselves.

You can find The Secret of Cykranosh HERE. Check out Rossi's blog HERE.