Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Running 4e with Smaller Parties

Just a short post today about the joys of small party play with 4th edition. When I run classic editions, I prefer a fairly sizable party. Running with 6 to 8 players is my sweet spot. Combat is easy to adjudicate, as I tend to use side-based initiative, with the party declaring actions prior to rolling initiative. This reduces a party's ability to react and adjust to every little thing that happens in combat. Classic editions are also more deadly, so larger parties help with inevitable attrition. With 4e, things are quite different. PCs are more resilient and combat is more complicated. 4e PCs also have a wide variety of handy-dandy skills that add to their resiliency and self-reliance. This all combines to allow for quality 4e games with as few as 3 players.

When I first started running 4e, I had a party of 5. A couple of players dropped out after the first few weeks and from there I ran a 3 player campaign for about a year. It was excellent. Combat was fast and I could really focus on stories specific to the PCs. 

In my estimation, the ideal three player party in 4e is a Leader, Striker, and "something else". The "something else" can be any role; in my game it was a Defender. The key is the first two classes. None are required by any stretch; you could run a three-Witch party and have great success. Still, I think ideally you have the Leader for healing, the Striker to give that extra oomph in combat, and one other role to compliment the two. 

There are other benefits from running with small parties in 4e, besides the obvious one (i.e. much quicker combat). A lot of people have a hard time putting a large group together. It is a lot easier to find 3 players than 5 or 6. 4e is very easy to balance around different numbers of players; you just adjust XP and there you go. Finally, it allows you to focus more on each individual PC's goals, personality, and backstory; you might find that this improves the roleplay at your table.

If I ran another 4e campaign, I would be looking at going with 3 players, 4 players max. The game doesn't suffer from fewer players, it actually improves.

Do you have any experience running 4e games with smaller parties?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hey...Wait a Second....Do I Hate 4th Edition?

The other day I got to play 4e for the first time in a while. I am currently DMing a 2e/1e hybrid game. The last 4e I played was running a playtest of material from my zine 4e Forever and wrapping up my long-running 4e campaign. Many of the ideas that I present here on my blog came out of that campaign. I did my best to keep the players focused on the story, and while combat was frequent, I was careful to end it before it became a slog. We had sessions where no combat occurred. We had short one round skirmishes. We had lots of exploration and encounters that never led to combat. So, I had become used to my own way of playing 4e...a way that is closer to OSR games, and one that rejects the usual structure of many 4e adventures. Nestled in my own private universe of houserules, I had completely forgotten how bad 4e can really be.

Now let me say that I don't fault the DM that ran the game. He is a fun person to game with, engaging and intelligent, and I have played with him a number of times. I also don't fault the players, as they were really just playing 4e as designed, with cherry-picked magic items and optimized characters that are honestly encouraged by the rules as written. I can't really blame someone for playing the game the way it was designed to be played. 

The adventure was typical LFR fare: a bit of roleplay at the beginning, then a three encounter combat slog, like something from the "Dungeon Delve" book. The first encounter was basically a joke; the monsters stood no chance against us. Almost immediately, the flow of combat degenerated into a string of soulless reactions and interrupts, moving at a snail's pace. An hour in and we were just going through the motions, as any monster with even a modicum of intelligence would have fled or surrendered by now. I was groaning to myself, hurrying through my turns, disengaged, checking to see what the wife was watching on TV. 

The second encounter was another big set-piece deal, with some creatures that would basically rise again after you killed them. After the first round of combat (another 40 minute-plus slog of reactions and interrupts and synergistic charop approved item powers) we realized this. The party began to make its way to a door on the other side of the room to escape. This took another hour or so. As my character stood there in the center of the room, soaking up damage, I had a breakthrough. I was in trouble, no doubt, but I could have escaped by using a combo of my second wind, a heal spell, and another round of *shudder* combat. Yet I knew this would take at least another 30 minutes, likely much longer. We were already hours into this grueling thing. I couldn't take it anymore. I told them to just go ahead and run and let my PC die. I gave a half-hearted attempt at roleplaying it. "I'll hold them off! Get out of here!" I thanked the DM and wished everyone well and dropped out. You know a game is bad when you really WANT to die...when character death is a blessing, like cool water to a dry mouth. 

I had to reflect a little bit after the game. I mean, I run a site that is mostly dedicated to 4e. I own every book. I have defended it hundreds and hundreds of times. Hell, I put out a 4e zine! Was it possible that I had been kidding myself all of this time? After all, I have houseruled every part of the game, from items, to combat and monsters, to traps, to diseases, to skill challenges, to rituals, and on and on. Is it possible that I actually hate 4e?

The answer is yes. I loathe it. I despise it. But, that isn't the only question. The other question is, "Is 4e worth saving?" And I think it is. Underneath the garbage, 4e has a lot of wonderful potential. Lots of creative and fun character options. A simple skill system that can get out of the way if you let it. Easily hackable design. Clear, understandable rules. There is good in the game, enough good that, perhaps against all logic and reason, I press on trying to perfect it. 

Now, I want to say that if you like things about the game that I don't, that is fine and dandy. I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is best. I just wanted to share what I had gone through recently as a way of getting it off of my chest. I don't want this post to end on a negative note; rather, I encourage everyone out there to make the games you play your own. Be honest with yourself about what you like and dislike, and adjust accordingly. I realize now that playing in casual, traditional 4e games is really not something I enjoy. On the other hand, I love tinkering with the game and running it as something wholly different from what was apparently originally intended.
So, enlightenment came through suffering. Isn't that like a Zen koan or something?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Curse of the Crab Spider!

The Crab Spider is a cruel monster. Appearing in Moldvay's Basic D&D rule set, this spider is both stealthy (surprises on a 4 in 6) and poisonous. It has a twist though: the poison does not kill instantly; rather, it is lethal after 1d4 turns. I assume that this delay is to somewhat "soften" the creature and allow for at least the possibility of magic items or spells offsetting the poison. I imagine that many DMs might say something like, "You can feel the poison coursing through your bloodstream, and you know that if you aren't treated soon that you will die." However, as I was pondering this creature, I found myself inspired to look at it another way. The delayed effect of the poison doesn't have to play out in such a straightforward manner. The DM could in fact just continue the game without saying anything, then about 20 or 30 minutes down the line, after the encounter is pretty much forgotten, get a grave look on his face and say something like, "Uh, Doug. You are noticing that your leg is swollen AS ALL HELL where that spider bit you. You are also feeling a little vs poison." It is much more terrifying for the PC to be unprepared, thinking that everything is ok, and then have the bite come back to haunt them. That got me thinking...

Delayed effects. That is what I want to talk about today. Delayed effects are a great way to add twists to your game and to horrify your players. There are all kinds of ways you can use them. Here are a few ideas I came up with.

Poison: Well, the aforementioned Crab Spider gives us a good example of delayed poison use. Lets think of another. What if the party are guests at some banquet? Everything goes swimmingly and it is a lovely evening. A few hours later, back at the inn, they all start projectile vomiting, developing visibly dark, swollen lymph nodes. They were poisoned at dinner and didn't realize it. What do they do now?

Diseases: In my experience, both as a player and DM, diseases make for great, memorable roleplay opportunities. Maybe they get into a fight in a tropical clime, and their open wounds allow for some kind of parasitical infection that doesn't manifest itself for a week. Maybe they pick up something passing through a town, developing a fever weeks later. Confuse them as to where they contracted the disease. Diseases also need not be lethal. They could just make for fun scenarios. Maybe they catch a severe cold and every time they interact with NPCs, you cue them to sneeze. With no handkerchief.

Curses: You could have some old woman in a marketplace curse the party, a la Drag Me to Hell. Weeks later, strange things start happening. Only through the help of a sage do they even recall the curse. Savor the look on their face when it dawns on them.

Bodily Transformation: A scratch from an undead creature could set off a metamorphosis, like something from The Fly. Again, let weeks of game time go by, then maybe an affected PC starts losing his or her hair, or has a fingernail come off really easily. Trying to figure out the cause of the symptoms becomes an adventure in itself.

Hauntings: I like this idea a lot. The PCs kill someone or something, perhaps accidentally. Days later they maybe dream about it, then start seeing it while they are awake. Others cannot see it. This would be fun with like spooky, freaky little Goblin children or something.

These are just a few random ideas, but I hope they get your wheels turning. Delayed effects such as these can really add another dimension of horror to a game, serve as adventure seeds, and/or simply encourage some fun, often hilarious roleplay. I am curious to hear if any of you out there have used similar delayed effects in your games. If so, leave a post!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dungeons and Cthulhu, Part 2

So a while back I put up a post (HERE) about bringing elements of the Call of Cthulhu RPG into D&D. After playing some CoC over Halloween, I have been meditating on the game frequently, and while it is undoubtedly a masterpiece, there are some ideas I have been thinking about borrowing from D&D in the future. I thought I would share my thoughts (note that I am still "playtesting" these).

So my first idea has to do with what I have always felt were "wonky" Investigator (I) skills: Idea, Know, and Luck. These just always felt a little strange and unnatural. Anyway, I was thinking about how classic D&D handled certain Thief skills. While the Thief would roll to see if he could do things like Climb Walls, where there was no mystery in the outcome, other skills such as Move Silently would be rolled for by the DM. The Thief would always assume he was least at first. I also thought about DMs rolling to check if PCs notice hidden doors. So this all gave me the idea of having the Keeper (K) roll the aforementioned skills as "hidden" checks for the party. In other words, as passive checks. The flavor of these skills seems to back this up really well, and it feels much more natural to me. The K can just roll once for the entire party, using the party's highest score for each skill. So, if nobody finds that clue at the library, the K might roll a Know check. If they are stuck with no leads, an Idea check. If they are completely screwed, a Luck check. The K can of course choose not to roll any of these at all if the Is haven't "earned" it. These skills are, after, all, CoC's version of get-out-of-jail-free cards.

My other ideas have to do with combat and initiative. Now, CoC is a dangerous game with a lot of attrition. Your Is are not going to want to find themselves rolling initiative all the time like in a dungeon crawl. Still, my table has seen enough combat to make me notice how much I dislike how CoC handles the initiative order and flow of a combat round.

For starters, basic CoC rounds always go in order of DEX. You don't roll. Its always just by DEX. I like a little bit more variety than that. I don't want it to be as swingy as say 4e, where you roll a d20 plus mods, but I would like it to be possible for there to be a little variety. So, the idea I came up with is to roll a d6 and add a modifier based off of the DEX score. Here is the table:

Dex Score / Mod
0-7 / 0
8-10 / 1
11-13 / 2
14-16 / 4
17-20 / 6
*Anything with over a 20 DEX is placed in initiative as per the usual rules

What this does is make for a little variety, while very low DEX creatures and characters still cannot mathematically overcome very high DEX creatures and characters.

Now, before I talk about the rest of my ideas, let me just say that I usually play 1910s-30s. These rules may not work very well with modern guns, etc, without a little tweaking regarding rates of fire. For brand new players I usually just let the party choose between a revolver, rifle, or shotgun and roll from there, rather than make it too complicated, as you can really go crazy with gear in CoC. Anyways, these rules assume rates of fire of up to 3 shots with pistols, and 1 or 2 from rifles and shotguns.

So CoC rounds of combat are kind of messy and not very intuitive. A pistol might shoot once in DEX before the regular combat round, and depending on the rate of fire again later at half-DEX. You can tell that they were maybe trying to spread out the gunfire for a little balance, but it ends up just feeling kind of weird. I propose one single round of combat, influenced partly by 2e D&D. Basically, on your turn, you can fire at your max rate of fire without moving OR move your speed and attack at half of your rate of fire (minimum 1 shot, rounded down). So a pistol that can fire 3 shots per round can fire 3 shots if you remain still, or you might move and get one shot off. This way you don't have to hassle with multiple rounds, but there is the built-in penalty of movement restriction to balance the possible increase in firepower. Combat is already deadly enough, so this doesn't strike me as increasing the lethality very significantly at all. It just makes the game run more smoothly.

Other combat skills are somewhat unclear, especially for new players. These are the Dodge, Parry, and Grapple skills. By using some rules similar to those of 4th edition D&D, you can more easily explain these to players, as well as actually improve how they work in the game. First of all, if someone or something attempts to Grapple another creature on its turn, the target can immediately make a STR vs STR roll as "free action". In other words, the roll does not count against their following turn's actions in any way. It just happens right then and there as a response to the Grapple attempt. If it fails, the Grappler immediately moves on to whatever he can do based on the Grapple (i.e. hold them in place, whatever). Dodge and Parry are somewhat akin to 4e's "immediate interrupts", only they can both happen within the same round. However, you cannot attack and use either of them in the same round. This requires you too look at rounds refreshing in a manner somewhat akin to how 4e handles immediate actions. You no longer need to declare any intent to Parry. If you are attacked, and the attack can be parried, you can attempt to Parry it then and there. However, now you cannot attack on your following turn. You can still move on your turn, but you cannot attack or cast a spell. If you have parried and then, prior to your next turn, have a chance to Dodge an attack, you can do so, but this forfeits your movement on your turn. So, if you have both parried and dodged prior to your next turn, you can't really do much but speak or get something out of a bag, whatever.

This might all sound more complicated than it is. I will try to give an example of a combat round to tie everything together. We have two characters, the Doctor (DEX 11) and the Cop (DEX 15), squaring off against a sentient fungus (DEX 5) and vomitous snake-thing (DEX 22). The Doctor has a double-barreled shotgun, while the Cop has a revolver with a rate of fire of 3 shots per round. They roll initiative. The Doctor rolls a 1 and ends up at 3. The fungus rolls a 4, so even with a lower DEX, outpaces the Doc at 4. The Cop rolls a 5 for a total of 9, and the snake-thing doesn't bother rolling; it just goes at 22. The snake-thing immediately tries to eat the Doc. The Doc tells the K he wants to try and Parry the thing's bite by holding his shotgun sideways up into his mouth. Miraculously the roll is successful, although now the Doc cannot attack on his following turn. Next up is the Cop, who stands still and starts just emptying his revolver at the snake-thing, firing three shots all on his same turn. The fungus is now up, and spits some kind of gross spore-goo at the Doc. Even though the Doc has already parried this round, he can still attempt to Dodge, so he rolls to try and Dodge the spew. Again he succeeds, against all odds. The only trouble is, now he cannot move or attack on his next turn. Which is unfortunate, as it is now his turn. He just stands still, whimpering softly. We are now back to the top of the order. The snake-thing attempts to Grapple the Doc in order to suck his brains out of his eyes. The Doc gets to make a STR vs STR roll as a "free action" in response to this. Sadly, his luck has run out, and his brains are sucked out of his eyes. It is now the Cop's turn. He wisely decides to flee, still managing to get one shot off as he dives out of the window.

I am very interested in input about these ideas and/or houserules you use in your CoC games, so feel free to share!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trimming the Fat Part 4: Killing Off Revenants Once and for All

Just a short post today because not much needs to be said on the topic. My "Trimming the Fat" series basically deals with bits of 4e that I find so offensive and contrary to my tastes that they cannot be house-ruled away. They must be completely excised from the game and buried under rocks. Previously we threw sunrods, skill challenges, and backgrounds on the trash heap (although I did end up using a background variant in my zine). Anyway, today we say goodbye to the Revenant as a playable race.

The reasoning is simple: 4e already requires that DMs inch up the difficulty. The last thing it needs is an unkillable munchkin race. Sure, the flavor is fine, but I have yet to see one played for any other reason than to be a get-out-of-death-free card. At higher levels, with tips and tricks like those found here, they become unkillable. Unkillable builds are not welcome in my D&D, regardless of edition. There is no reason to over-think it; just ban them and be done with it. If someone wants to use some sort of Revenant-ish storyline for their PC, they can work with the DM to do so in a way that isn't disruptive to the game.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Your RPG Person Profile!

Hey, this is a cool idea started by Zak S. from the Playing D&D with Porn Stars blog. Basically, your "RPG Person Profile" is a brief resume or snapshot of what games you play, blog about, and/or design, along with info on how to find any material you have released. Kind of like a blogger/designer character sheet. It is pretty handy-dandy, and I encourage other bloggers out there to put one up! Check out his original post about it HERE.

Anyway, here is my profile:

I'm currently running (at home): An occasional Call of Cthulhu or B/X one-shot.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: None, sadly, but I might get into some PF Society stuff after the holidays.

I'm currently running (online): A 1e/2e hybrid Greyhawk campaign, and the occasional 4e one-shot.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: The last games I have gotten to play were Pathfinder and some OD&D.

I would especially like to play/run: Much, much more Call of Cthulhu.

...but would also try: Numenera, Night's Black Agents, Shadows of Esteren, and too many more to name.

I live in: Athens, GA, USA

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: The last two things I bought were Isle of the Unknown and Hammer of the God (LotFP), both of which are awesome.

2 or 3 novels I like: The first two that come to mind are The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and the Illuminatus trilogy.

2 or 3 movies I like: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Gummo, Young Frankenstein

Best place to find me on-line: G+

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Fantasy and/or Horror related and contains random tables.

I really do not want to hear about: How terrible you think 4e D&D is.

Free RPG Content I made for D&D is available HERE.

4e Forever Issue #2 Updates, DDI News, and Shameless Solicitations

So I know that my blog updates have been few and far between recently, and there is a pretty good reason for it: I have been busy with other stuff. I also haven't had a lot of new ideas. To be honest, I pretty much have 4e where I want it. I have done a lot of work with monsters, from simplified creation techniques, to old-school stat blocks, to increased lethality. I have tweaked PC options, not just to help prevent analysis paralysis, but also to reign in some of the broken min/max crapola and magic item entitlement that so permeates the game. I have said my peace regarding 4e adventure design. I have pretty much said all that needs to be said on some subjects, at least from my perspective, and I even wrapped it up with a nice bow and put it into a free zine. While I am still working on the elusive final installment of my Stronghold series, I do not have the artwork in hand, without which not a lot of it will make sense. Which kind of brings me to this blog post.

The good news regarding issue #2 is that I have gotten a lot of high quality submissions. Next issue will feature articles on Warforged in Serd (complete with a new Epic Destiny), an article presenting Orcs as a playable race, one on Ophidians as a playable race (this one has some exciting fluff tying them to the 4e Forever world), a piece on creating your own powers, one on multiple outside-the-box uses for items in an adventurer's kit (no sunrods of course), a new character class for 4e (the Soulknife), and of course, my long overdue Stronghold rules, as well as part 2 of the megadungeon serial adventure "Tales of the Lost City". It is going to be quite awesome. I am just moving pretty slowly with it. Part of it is that I am waiting on some revisions to come back, and part of it is that I have been so covered up that when I get a five minute break I do not feel like writing. I am pushing through it though, as best as I can.

One thing that I desperately need is artwork. I have gotten by on public domain artwork in the past, and will continue to use it, but as we get into more specialized subject matter, I really need original artwork. Specifically, I need images of Warforged, Orcs, castle and/or manor house construction, items from an adventurer's kit (save sunrods), and "generic" battle scenes. If you or anyone you know likes to draw or paint, etc, please let them know that I am looking. This is a free zine, so there is no pay, but I can link to your sites and help promote your work. Despite being a very niche product, I still got an amazing amount of traffic and response to the first issue, and it could be a good way to feature your work. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at for more info.

As far as 4e news goes, one positive is that it was announced this week that DDI would remain up indefinitely. They will be done with updates in March of 2014, but after that time the tools and zines will still be accessible. This is great news for folks that have come to rely on the ease of use that the tools offer. No word yet on pricing changes, if any.

 So that is all I have for you today. I wanted to at least let readers know that issue #2 is very much alive and that it will be very cool when it is completed. I am going to work as hard as I can over the upcoming holidays to get through a lot of it, as I won't have so much work-related stuff to take care of. I have a few little ideas for things that you may see over the next couple of weeks; a new "Trimming the Fat" post, and maybe a little something for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Download THRESHOLD, the Mystara Magazine, FOR FREE!!!

Mystara aka "The Known World" remains one of the most unsung of all D&D settings. What began with just a scant few pages in the old 81' D&D Expert Set eventually blossomed into a full-fledged fantasy world through products like the Gazetteers and one of my personal faves, the Hollow World setting...basically the "innards" of Mystara.

Fans of Mystara have reason to be excited; the first issue of Threshold magazine, a free supplement, has been released! This thing is over 180 pages of awesome stuff, including a wonderful interview with Bruce Heard, who was instrumental in the development of the setting and is still going strong. Congrats and thank you's to all of those involved!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mischief, Inc. Drops a Free Adventure

Some of ya'll might know the name "Kalex the Omen" from around the internet. Recently he put together an OSR publishing label called "Mischief, Inc." It seems they have focused on adventures as their first products, and what is cool is that the adventures are compatible with most, if not all, original editions and OSR game engines.

As an act of good faith they have put their first adventure out basically for free. "The Tomb of Rakoss the Undying" is available as a "pay-what-you-want" product on RPGNOW; check it out HERE.

I have only skimmed it so far but its clearly got a high production value, and everyone likes seeing quality free products. You can find out more about Mishief, Inc. at their website HERE.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vice Versa

I spend most of my time on here talking about bringing OSR elements into 4e, but today I thought I would flip things and show some ways to bring 4e into classic editions, especially in regards to combat. Why would you do such a thing? Well for one thing, variety is fun. Playing a familiar game in a whole new way can be invigorating. And a lot of folks really enjoy 4e combat, as the rules simplify movement and loosen some of the restrictions of older editions. I personally prefer to kick it old-school, but there is nothing wrong with mixing it up a little bit. I ran a mini-campaign of B/X using some of these rules for fun and everyone enjoyed playing with a different "twist", if only for a little while. So here are a few simple tips you can use to bring a more "modern" 4e feel into older editions:

1. Action Economy: All characters get a Minor, Move, and Standard action as per 4e. A Minor will be something like loading a weapon or pulling out a potion. 

2. Movement and Encumbrance: Throw out the classic editions' movement rules completely. Assign base speeds based on race as per 4e. Apply the 4e encumbrance/armor rules. Use the 4e rules for movement in combat (shifting, double moving, charging, etc).

3. Spellcasting: Spellcasters can move and cast spells on the same turn. Casting times are not used unless they take longer than a round. Spells cannot be interrupted (see below). Low-level healing and/or buff spells such as Cure Light Wounds and Bless become Minor actions. Estimate area bursts and blasts to the best of your ability using the 4e grid rules.

4. Individual Initiative: Using individual initiative rather than "side-based" initiative will have the single biggest effect on your game. While the DM might still want to play monsters on the same initiative (as is common in 4e), have the players each roll d20, adding any sort of applicable Dex bonus (could be a reaction bonus for example). Do not roll every round; just stick with what you rolled just as in 4e. Players (including spellcasters) do not have to declare actions at the beginning of a round. Spells cannot be interrupted, as the casting begins and ends on the spellcaster's own turn. Players can ready and delay as per 4e.

5. Multiple Attacks: Do not stagger multiple attacks as per older editions; multiple attacks all go off on an individual player's turn. 

6. Surprise: Throw out the old surprise rules and wing it. You could try to apply a "passive perception" feel to the game by allowing Elves and Half-Elves a saving throw or something.

7. Opportunity Attacks: Use the 4e rules for OAs; adjacent creatures provoke OAs from making ranged attacks or casting non-"touch" spells.

8. Ranged Attacks: Allow for firing into melee as per 4e. 

9. Death and Dying: Do not use negative hit points. At zero hit points, unless the body has been destroyed or is unrecoverable, allow for three death saves as per 4e. Allow for another player to administer a potion as a Standard action as per 4e. A DM might allow a Cleric or Druid the ability to stabilize the dying as a Standard action.

10. Durability: A 1st level 4e PC is a hell of a lot more durable than its AD&D counterpart. There are many reasons for this, but we are going to ignore all of them except one: hit points. Keep the hit dice the same but allow for max hp per level. Thus a level 6 MU will typically have 24 hit points.

11. Use Ascending AC: I personally love THACO, but even many OSR games use ascending AC. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The End of the 4e Mags

Well maybe you haven't heard it yet, but in the latest Dragon mag, Perkins drops the bomb that the mags will be on hiatus starting in January 2014. We all knew the day was coming when "official" 4e support would end, but I still can't help but be a little sad to see it.

I thought today I would look back on the 4e Dragon/Dungeon mags. The mags had some great content over the years. Here are a few of my fave moments:

-Character Themes (Dragon #399 and multiple other issues). Richard "Birthright" Baker wrote the initial articles presenting Themes as character options, and they were an immediate success. Just when it seemed like there was no "design space" left, Themes found nooks and crannies to occupy.

-Baelard's Legacy (Dungeon #188). Joshua Kerbou only has one article that appears in the mags, and it is apparently his only article appearing anywhere. How lucky we are then to have this, the finest official 4e adventure. This is the adventure that shows how great 4e adventures could have been. The layout is non-linear, there is more exploration than combat, and the storyline is fantastic. If you haven't yet, you owe it to yourself to check out the forgotten Library of Highforest.

-Demonomicon: Yeenoghu (Dragon #364).  Robert Schwalb's ode to the demon gnoll. This was in the first 4e issue of Dragon and remains pretty much untouchable at the end of the run. This is just marvelously gory, and it pushes the boundaries of 4e's "PG-13" fluff. Here is a sample:

"The cultists scour the lands for fresh victims, dragging them back to hidden altars where they are strapped down and mutilated with sharp knives. The blood is collected and distributed among Yeenoghu’s high priests, which they then mix with hallucinogenic herbs and consume with relish."

-The Last Breaths of Ashenport (Dungeon #156). Ari Marmell's Lovecraft-inspired tale of a seaside cult is one of the most praised of all 4e adventures. I had a lot of fun with this one from the DMs side; playing cultists and fish-like creatures from the depths of the ocean is always fun. Which brings me to my next pick-

  -Pearl of the Sea Mother (Dungeon #204). I am a sucker for kuo-toa, and this high-Paragon tier adventure delivers. John "Ross" Rossomangno's fitting tribute to one of the game's iconic creatures.

 -Vor Kragal (Dragon #364). Another article from the first issue of 4e Dragon makes the list. This is an example of the mags at their best. Nicolas Logue's article has a great mix of fluff, adventuring locations, magic items, and new monsters. It is honestly an adventure in itself, and is somewhat akin to the underrated Hammerfast, Shadowfell, and Vor Rukoth supplements. Its funny, but the best 4e "adventures" are ones that aren't really adventures.

I have to say that I am thankful to have so many great issues of 4e magazine content. Hell, some of it I still haven't read, and much of it I am sure I have forgotten.

Although I am no Dragon magazine, I still intend to publish new 4e content in my zine. I have received several strong submissions already and I am trying to get the second issue together. I have asked before for folks to send me rejected submissions from Dragon/Dungeon. If you have any interest in getting some of your 4e stuff out there (albeit for free and for a small audience), check out my zine for contact info or leave me a post.

Anybody else want to share a fave 4e Dragon/Dungeon article? Leave a post!

Friday, September 13, 2013


Oh man. Sometimes you see something so awesome that all of the worries and cares of the world just wash away. Such was my response to the news of Goblinoid Games' Friday the 13th release, CRYPTWORLD.

Many have no doubt heard of Goblinoid Games already. Their free retroclone of the B/X rules, Labyrinth Lord, is one of the most beloved and well-supported of all OSR systems, and their titles such as Mutant Future and Starships and Spacemen show these folks have a real knack not only for humor, but for game design. They are skilled at applying familiar, straightforward rules to multiple genres.

I don't know the legal bits behind it, but they also appear to have the rights to Pacesetter, a long defunct game company that was active during the mid 80s. They have re-released some old titles, such as Timemaster (which looks totally awesome by the way).

Anyways when I saw the image for CRYPTWORLD, I immediately Googled it, incensed that I must have missed this amazing artifact in gaming history. Turns out the facts are much, much cooler than that.

You see Pacesetter also made an awesome horror rpg game called Chill. Chill isn't really about gory horror (although recently I had a gaming fantasy of mixing Chill with Kult into an unholy homebrew). It felt more like spooky, classic-movie-monster horror, with a touch of Scooby-Doo. Anyway, it had a lot of cool mechanics like the "Action Table".

So here is the awesome part: while CRYPTWORLD is a new game, it is apparently heavily influenced by Chill. In Chill, PCs are basically investigators for a secret organization called S.A.V.E.. CRYPTWORLD will expand this idea to include several other groups. I am assuming that since they are using the Pacesetter logo on the cover that other Chill fluff and mechanics will be in the game. Will we see the Action Table? God I hope so.

Check out the full details HERE!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sign up for Virtuacon!

Check out this virtual gaming convention being held in October! Lots of great games are being run, everything from old-school faves to brand new stuff. There are lots of opportunities to play. More info is at the link below; you will want to be registered on RPG Geek to sign up for events.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Search of Strongholds, Part 6: Get to the Good Stuff

Welcome to the penultimate installment of my blog series on developing a stronghold system for 4e. It has taken a lot longer to get this all written down than it took to put it together in my head, but that is the way things go sometimes. Check out the previous installments if you need to catch up: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Today's post largely shies away from mechanics and instead focuses on the philosophy and reasoning behind my design decisions.

Here at Frothsof 4e, I try to keep my DM advice practical and specific. I personally do not enjoy reading DM advice posts. You can learn more by DMing one session of a game then you will ever learn by reading someone's blog, or even worse, a DM "self-help book". Specific advice on game elements is fine, but I believe everyone should make their own path as far as pacing, adventure styles, preparation, and all of the the rest goes. When it comes down to it, there is really only ONE bit of advice that I consider crucial enough to stress to a new DM, and that is to get to the "good stuff".

This is a lesson I think many of us have learned. We have a great idea, be it for an adventure, a foe, a location, or whatever, but instead of immediately getting to the good stuff, we take a roundabout way of getting there. We then run the risk of never actually arriving. Gaming groups break down, things happen. If you do not get to the good stuff, you sometimes never get there at all. If you have a great idea, use it as fast as you can. Get to the good stuff.

I have applied this mantra to my stronghold rules. I asked myself, "What is the "good stuff" when it comes to stronghold systems?" This also begs the question, "What is the bad stuff?" Well, everyone is different, but for me the "bad stuff" regarding strongholds and domains would be too much focus on the minutiae. Too much accounting. Too much resource tracking sucks the fun out of it for me, and makes it feel like school work. On the flip side, there is a lot of "good stuff" about stronghold systems that appeals to me greatly. I love the idea of carving your own place in the world, clearing hexes old-school style, designing what your stronghold will look like, roleplaying the construction and hiring of retainers and armies, attracting townsfolk to the area, and of course, eventually making a profit.

The question now becomes, "How do you get to the good stuff with only a modicum of soul-killing accounting?" Well, we start where every stronghold system starts: finding a suitable location to build. This should always be a joint exercise with the DM, and should always fit into your campaign world. My own completed, edited rules ("Baronies and Barbicans") will appear in issue #2 of 4e Forever, and as such, they will reflect the 4e Forever world. So the seemingly simple act of selecting a locale will vary widely depending on the campaign.

The DM should draw a map on hex paper. Use large hexes. It doesn't have to be very detailed, but it can be if you want. As for scale, I suggest using 1 to 3 mile hexes. The DM should note any special geographical features. Select a hex to be the building site. The PC(s) must then clear the area of monsters in a 3 to 6 mile radius around the site. This can take as long as you like and can constitute one or many adventures in and of itself. You can use random tables or design detailed adventures. The party can do all the work themselves or hire soldiers and mercenaries. Whatever the case, building should not start until the area is cleared.

So far this should sound pretty standard. Here is where it gets a little different. Traditionally, here is where you will start having to itemize everything. Every individual salary of everyone hired from potboys to engineers. Every single door, bastion, and tower. Formulae for construction time based on the number of workers. Wall footage. Armies. It starts to get tedious fast and the fun quickly gets sucked out.

That is why I came up with an idea for simplifying the building and staffing process. Now, I have talked before about how I could care less if my numbers are "historically" accurate. Its a fantasy game. I want them to make sense, but I do not care if they accurately portray medieval life or economies. If you disagree with this style, this system will likely drive you bonkers.

Anyway, you will still want to roleplay the hiring, building, and so forth, but I have "bundled" the necessary expenses for building and maintaining the property into two "packages". A DM could extrapolate further based on these packages if he or she wanted to make it more complex. The idea is that you spend a set amount of money. I have used round numbers for ease of use. The numbers are based on the stronghold construction taking a year (in the game world) to complete. All of the materials and labor costs are rolled in together. This includes a Sage whose magic presumably helps with the speed of construction, as well as the cost of fielding a smallish "army", whose size varies based on the amount spent.

I present two options, one priced at 50k and one for 100k. That is the total cost for the first year (i.e. construction, salaries, army, etc), payable all at once or by the game "month". After the first year, there is a set amount you pay in perpetuity for upkeep of the property, patrols of the previously cleared area, and maintaining your armed forces. After the stronghold is built, settlers automatically move into the area and begin paying taxes. After a couple of years you break even, and from there you start to make a modest profit. The hard numbers for this will appear in the next installment of the series.

Here is an idea that I am really proud of. I have always loved looking at the little drawings of castle components in OD&D and the Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets. Designing the look of your keep or manor is definitely part of the "good stuff" in my book. What sucks is trying to tally it all up piece by piece. I mean, how many doors do I need? 60? 43? How long does this wall need to be...and if I make it such and such length, what about the moat? Argggh. Fun=gone. Well, my idea is that instead of itemizing and accounting for each little piece of the stronghold, the cost of construction instead provides you a certain area of space. You can then use whatever architecture you want so long as it fits in the area. This area should be depicted on graph paper, and involves a combination of length, width, and height. So you don't have to worry about counting doors or towers or any of that. You are just restricted by the size of the stronghold, not by the "look". Make sense? Like I said this isn't "accurate", but it works. It is a way to embrace the fun parts of traditional stronghold systems, while doing away with the nitpicking.

So to review, the idea is pretty simple: less accounting, more roleplaying and stronghold designing. The system maintains the traditional "feel" of various domain systems, while alleviating a lot of the math and inventory tracking. The costs for building and maintaining the property and employees are all built in. You have a lot of freedom to give your construction the look that you desire without having to be needlessly anal about it. What is also cool is that it also will tie into the Scalemail mass combat system for 4e Forever (see issue #1).

So that is it for now. I will provide some numbers and breakdowns next time and summarize the blog series. You will have to wait until issue #2 for everything to be edited into a final presentation. My wife is going to be drawing the stronghold components, and I will be aiming for it to feel as close to the OD&D and Judges Guild's drawings as possible!

I would love to hear some feedback. Let me know what you think about these ideas!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best Gaming?

So I thought I would make this post as the GenCon excitement has reached a fever pitch. People have arrived and lines are forming. Not I. For millions of gamers, it just isn't feasible. The biggest reasons for me are family related, but you could point to a myriad of reasons one might not attend, from cost, to work-related issues, to living outside of the US, to just not wanting to brave a crowd of tens of thousands of people.
Hope you brought your deodorant...

I have always been the type that would rather watch a football game or other event on the boob tube rather than pack up the fam, deal with traffic, and ultimately not have the greatest view in the world. Of course, there are exceptions (like that Pink Floyd concert back in the day), but by and large, as long as I can see/hear what happened, being there in person is not crucial to me. In the case of gaming conventions, I can always catch up on seminars through social media. Important news gets around quickly, and the twenty minute delay in hearing the news is not such a big deal to me. Likewise, while I do collect a lot of old RPG materials, I cannot see myself waiting in line for things like free commemorative dice sets. There is nothing wrong with that at all, and I do not mean to sound judgmental; I am just speaking for myself. If I want an item badly enough, I can bid on it or find another way to get it. Anyway, I say all of this just to set up my point. There is ONE thing about conventions that has always made me jealous of those that regularly attend. The gaming. The near-constant gaming.

In my home games, I am always the referee. Always. I actually don't have a lot of folks nearby that would have ever even have played RPGs if I hadn't have invited them. This is fine and good, but I like to play too. I like to play old games. Obscure games. Brand-new games. All kinds of games. Conventions give you the ability to immerse yourself in a variety of games with other like-minded folks. That has always been the "draw" for me.

For years now, I have supplemented my in-person gaming with on-line gaming. I have always used the VT that WOTC tried to develop. It is a pretty simple program to use, and it works very well with 4e D&D, and other editions to some extent. It is limited though. It is not terribly well-known. In fact, when VTs get mentioned, it is rarely listed. It is also very much centered on 4e, which is fine, but it limits its appeal. There were other games I wanted to play, and for a long time it seemed like the only way I would get to play them would be to run them myself, likely with a group that wouldn't even be all that into it. Then I started exploring Google+.

About 4 weeks ago, I started to explore G+ more thoroughly. I had ignored it before; it just seemed like another pseudo-Facebook type deal. Come to find out, it is a gamer's paradise. Dozens of obscure, forgotten games have found a home there. New RPGs are playtested. Free materials are shared. And lots and lots of games get played.

Within the first 20 minutes, I was approached about playing a game of Boot Hill. I nearly swooned. Boot Hill? I literally do not know anyone but the local game shop owner that has even heard of it. I have had a player-in-waiting, The Albuquerque Kid, for years. Powers and Perils? Yes sir! Oriental Adventures? You don't say? Numenera? Why not? Mutant Future? Let me at it. Night's Black Agents? Holy moly! Pathfinder as far as the eye can see. D6 Star Wars. Shadows of Esteren. Dungeon Crawl Classics. Cthulhu. The opportunity to play games of all varieties is staggering.

I got to play in an OD&D game for the first time in years. I got to playtest the latest 5e packet. And the games just keep coming and coming. I don't have time to play half the games I would like to. If I had this while I was in college, I may have never graduated.

There is no real cost of entry. Most games are played on free tables, usually Roll20 being run through a Google "Hangout". You will likely need a mic, but that's about it.

Now, I am sure I sound a bit noobish to many. I am certainly late to the party, as there are already thousands and thousands of gamers taking advantage of it. All I can say is, better late than never. Anytime I want to find a game, I can pretty much just hop on, click around a bit, and find something going on. There hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't seen a game posted that I would love to play in.

Another bonus is that there seems to be a dearth of assholes. I am not saying they don't exist, it just seems like there is a lot less cynicism and edition-warring on G+ as opposed to the typical forum. I hope it stays that way. Everybody I have met has been cool.

Anyway, while you might be down in the dumps about not making it to GenCon for whatever reason, if what you feel like you are missing is the sheer GAMING, all I can tell you is that everyday is a convention on G+. Freelance designers share ideas, gaming companies preview materials, freebies flow like water, gaming news abounds, and most importantly, ACTUAL GAMES are going on near-constantly. So, don't just sit there feeling sorry for yourself! Get on G+ and find some games!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Return of Arduin???!!??!?!

I want to thank James Mishler for first mentioning this on Google+ or I may have never seen it. Emperor's Choice, who I must admit I had never heard from until today, is doing a retro-clone or re-creation of Arduin.

The first "Arduin Grimoires" were kind of a weird mix of an original fantasy game and a supplement to D&D. The creator of the material, David Hargrave, had a lot of creativity and personality. He was an early advocate for "hacking" other systems, and took the attitude that in some ways the game belonged to everyone. Consider this excerpt from The Arduin Grimoire #1:

 "About three years ago fantasy role playing games began to become extremely popular among gamers of all types. At first it was something new and wonderful, and ideas and information flowed freely among the players.

About a year or so ago things began to change: the joyous game was becoming big business. And those non-amateur game designers took on all of the trappings of things that have profit as their main motivational force: greed, secretiveness, hunger to "control the market" and all of that other garbage.

Amateurs who tried to publish their ideas were being told to cease publication if their ideas even remotely resembled any those big business types had published. Yet those same people ripped the amateurs' ideas off quite freely, and with dismaying frequency.

This supplement is offered in the hopes that it will infuse new life into the amateur side of fantasy role playing garnes, and stimulate the free idea exchanges so sorely needed to keep this type of gaming alive and viable. This supplement does not seek to replace or denigrate any other fantasy role playing supplement or game, either professional or amateur. It could have been three times the size you see before you, but personal problems, finances ,and lack of time required otherwise."

If their goals weren't so diametrically opposed to each other, he and Gygax could have almost been friends, what with the slightly paranoid and arrogant tones.

So how is the material? Its hit or miss, but when it hits, its great. Lots of off the wall classes, such as "Technos", rationally-minded scientist types who despise magic and can build robots. The early stuff had a charm that I don't think was ever fully recaptured with later iterations and releases. His piece de resistance, in my opinion, is The Howling Tower, a massive, gonzo funhouse dungeon featuring rooms made of jagged glass, mechanical tigers, and the dreaded, feared Skorpoon.

Anyway, Arduin certainly deserves a second look, and I am hopeful that this new project will focus on the earliest Arduin materials. It will be interesting to see what happens!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Megadungeon? For 4e? (Part 2!)

Wow, time flies. Hard to believe it has been over a year since I did this original post on megadungeons in 4e. Now that my zine 4e Forever has come out with the first level of a megadungeon "serial" adventure, I feel like I learned more about using these behemoth settings with the 4e game, so I thought I would post a part 2.

I noted how 4e combat speed can effect the pace of a megadungeon. You cannot populate every room with a 4e set-piece encounter and ever expect to finish such a thing, let alone enjoy it. But here is the dirty little secret: 4e's skill system works GREAT for exploration. Sure, you sometimes have that annoying player that rolls perception every 5 seconds, or the guy that detects magic on everything including a dead squirrel (adventure idea?), but overall its pretty no-frills and gets out of the way of the actual game. Exploration is one of the great joys of dungeons in general, and megadungeons in particular. A megadungeon gradually reveals itself. Each room is a thread of the tapestry. The story is in the exploration, how different areas of the place relate to each other, and the relationship of the creatures inhabiting the place. Even something completely "funhouse" like Tegel Manor has a sort of hidden rationale that only becomes apparent when you can finally step back from it and look at it all at once. Kind of like those 3D posters where you blur your eyes?

I am convinced that pacing is the key of running a 4e megadungeon. If you check out the first level of the pyramid in "Tales of the Lost City" from my zine, you will notice that out of 49 rooms, there are only 9 or so encounters, some of which might not even happen. I am not saying there is some pat and easy formula, but you want your design to really lean towards exploration. Having run I6 Ravenloft for 4e, Tegel Manor, and playtesting "Lost City", I really feel comfortable in saying that.

In the Temple of Elemental Evil (perhaps not a megadungeon, but a damn big one), there are a lot of good lessons regarding how different factions might work together or against one another. On the first dungeon level, you have a large group of gnolls. All of the gnolls rooms are connected, and if you encounter one group, odds are that the others will be alerted in kind of a domino effect, until all have joined the fight. 4e is GREAT at handling these kind of gradually-building encounters. 4e PCs have a lot of resources, and if you introduce creatures from nearby areas gradually during an encounter, you can really give it a "real" feel, as well as challenge your players. In "Lost City", a lot of the rooms of the pyramid are locked; the broken and open doors are towards the entrances of the pyramid, so rooms there are the most heavily populated. This is deliberate design; different creatures can hear a commotion if it happens.

I am reminded today on Gygax's birthday of what I consider the greatest set-piece encounter in the history of D&D: entering (or attempting to enter) The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Gygax gives detailed instructions for adding reinforcements to the initial group of monsters encountered. They cover 25 ROUNDS and must include at least 100 creatures. The feel of a constantly growing combat encounter can give even jaded players a rush of adrenaline. If you are considering a 4e megadungeon, consider laying out some of the encounters in such as a way that they can 'blend'. I hesitate saying this adds 'realism', as realism isn't the point of a fantasy megadungeons; it does add a kind of logic to it though, a natural feel if you will, and the great thing about that is that it fits the 4e system like a glove.

By primarily emphasizing exploration, and by carefully considering encounter placement, you can create 4e megadungeons that work to the game system's strengths.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In Search of Strongholds, Part 5: Hirelings, Soldiers, and Wages

I know it has been forever since I posted anything in this series, and I apologize. I was compelled to finish the first issue of my zine 4e Forever, and it of course took waaaaay longer than I would have guessed. That said, a day has not really gone by that I haven't thought about stronghold rules. You can check out the earlier installments at these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

I had contemplated doing an entirely new list of mundane gear in order to fit the new "economy" I am working with. I say new economy, but what it really amounts to is throwing 4e's "expected wealth per level" in the trashcan. I added random treasure tables, with lair treasures being the mother lode, the source of fabulous wealth. As I researched different prices of mundane gear over multiple editions, I started to realize that every edition is pretty much in line with the prices. There is a little variance, but overall they are pretty close. The biggest difference is with things like armor; old editions priced plate armor out of reach of low level PCs as a balancing factor, whereas with 4e, characters can afford plate at level 1, but they cannot all benefit from it. I was going to have to use the 4e prices for weapons and armor anyway, so the fact that the rest of the prices were in the same ballpark meant that I really didn't need to make new gear lists after all. It would have been a lot of work for nothing.

All of that aside, I still needed to nail down wage rates for hirelings. You cannot run a stronghold without them. You need staff to maintain the property, not to mention to support and supervise your armed forces. Your soldiers, of course, are also hirelings in and of themselves. If you have not already, you can read the current hireling rules in 4e Forever #1 in the Grimoire. I provided the basic "formula" for hireling wages: 2gp x hireling level = their daily wage. That said, to go any further we must talk a little bit about how hirelings and levels are defined.

First of all, none of the numbers you are going to see represent real history or medieval demographics. I try to maintain an internal logic and consistency, but I am not a scholar and do not purport to be. I do not personally care if stuff in my fantasy game matches up exactly with real life. I am trying to use simple formulas and concepts (such as "hireling level") to make rules that are easy to use. So, every number or gp total you see may not feel "realistic" to you. If that is a crucial factor, these may not be the stronghold rules you are looking for.

Second, hirelings and soldiers need to be differentiated. Soldier wages (but not their leadership's) are much lower than typical hirelings. This is for several reasons. The main ones are that their supplies, armor, weapons, food, and lodging are all provided to them. There are also many of them, so in the same way that buying in bulk might save you or me some money at a grocery store, the costs for your soldiers are also lowered as the costs are spread amongst many. There are also many "one-time" costs; you don't need to repeatedly buy a barracks, for example. Low-level "grunt" soldiers may also be less skilled, illiterate, be former criminals and/or mercenaries, or any other balancing factor that you need to justify it.

Wages per day are provided below, with wages per month extrapolated from them. You might have a campaign world that does not use months, or has a weird calendar, or what have you. I am assuming 30-day months with 12-month years. You can use the daily wage to set your own wages or use an optional rule that smooths everything over, albeit at the risk of losing a bit of "realism": most hirelings require a "monthly" wage for any services that take two "weeks" or more. So if you are hiring someone for 15 days or 30 days, it is the same wage. If you have 40 day months, you could still use the "monthly" pay rate. This will allow most DMs to use the same prices/rules even if their calendars are different.

Ok, so we talked before a little bit about how hireling levels work. They are based on the rarity of their skills as well as whether they are in a supervisory role. Thus, an Alchemist is of higher level than a Fletcher, and a Sergeant would make less than his Captain. The levels may feel arbitrary in and of themselves; they only have meaning when they are compared against each other.

So here is a breakdown of hireling wages. These do not apply to your standard soldiers (i.e. artillery, cavalry, etc) but they do apply to military leaders. As noted in the Grimoire, hirelings have a level cap of 10. They do not typically accompany PCs on adventures; that is the purview of henchmen. Soldiers do engage in mass combat, and they will be integrated into the Scalemail mass combat system for 4e Forever (see issue #1) eventually. A sage's wages should be set based on how rare their purview of knowledge is within the setting. For example, in Serd (see 4e Forever issue #1), any sage with information about the location of ancient ruins would be very well paid (Level 10).  Typical hireling occupations are listed; if you utilize a hireling with an occupation or skill that is not listed, use whatever level makes the most sense to you based on the wages of those that are. Also remember that common laborers are not hirelings, and they are not paid according to these tables.

Hireling Wage in GP by Day/Month
Level 1-2/60
Level 2-4/120
Level 3-6/180
Level 4-8/240
Level 5-10/300
Level 6-12/360
Level 7-14/420
Level 8-16/480
Level 9-18/540
Level 10-20/600

Hirelings by Level
Level 1-Scribe, Pack Handler, Chef/Baker, Minstrel
Level 2-Blacksmith, Tailor/Weaver, Tanner, Potter, Furrier, Vintner
Level 3-Armorer, Fletcher/Bowyer, Weaponer, Sergeant
Level 4-Gemcutter, Lieutenant, Animal Trainer
Level 5-Captain
Level 6-Engineer (Architect), Barrister
Level 7-Spy/Assassin (hired by the month only)
Level 8-Sage (varies)
Level 9-Sage (varies), Astrologer
Level 10-Sage (varies), Alchemist, Apothecary

Soldiers are all paid 5gp each per game month, or 60gp per year. Soldiers are never hired by the day. For simplicity's sake, I do not differentiate between different types of soldier in order to determine their wage.

In the next installment of this series, I will lay out the costs of constructing a stronghold and the minimum staff needed to maintain it. This will include the military leadership needed to supervise varying totals of soldiers, and notes on building your own army within the Scalemail system.

***I am still looking for submissions for 4e Forever #2!!! If you want to contribute artwork, cartography, or an article, PLEASE feel free to contact me at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Googling for Floorplans

Hey. I bought this old book about world architecture for inspiration. It has all of these awesome floor plans of actual temples and pyramids and stuff, and is really killer. I also have a lot of travel guides; this morning my daughter had pulled some out and I looked in one of them and was reminded that they usually have a lot of floor plans in them as well.

Anyway, it got me thinking about just searching online for floor plans. Its amazing the kind of stuff you can find. I searched "travel guide floor plans Venice" and found this completely random gem; if you are running Call of Cthulhu this would do nicely as a visual aid of a hotel.

Searching for "old cathedral floor plans" likewise yielded awesome results.

Searching for "Egyptian temple floor plans" yielded too many awesome results to post.

The thing that I really like about this (besides how easy it is) is that I find I get inspired quite easily just by looking at different floor plans. I already feel the inkling of an idea forming for a Cthulhu adventure using that hotel...something really, really 70s. The Egyptian granary above would make a killer jail for D&D. The image could be a player handout, a blueprint; maybe the PCs have to spring a falsely-imprisoned dignitary out of one of the central cells in order to stop an assassination. 

Try it! It is almost like a Rorschach test or something; your mind will make a story out of the floor plan.

***I am still looking for submissions for 4e Forever #2!!! If you want to contribute artwork, cartography, or an article, PLEASE feel free to contact me at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday Grab-Bag: A New Setting from Birthright's Rich Baker, New OSR Zines, and More!

A quick post to point out some things you may have missed:

1. Rich Baker of Birthright fame has combined forces w some other industry vets to launch a Kickstarter for a new campaign setting, Primeval Thule. Check it out here. Cool thing about it is you can order it for 4e, 13th Age, or Pathfinder, so it should appeal to a lot of gamers.

2. I mentioned before that the legendary OSR zine "Footprints" has returned from a lengthy hiatus. Well, they seem to really be back on track, bc there is already another issue out! Check it out here

3. The unrivaled star of the show at Free RPG day was Lamentation of  the Flame Princesses' Better Than Any Man. I was happy to have backed the Kickstarter for it; it is a great accomplishment. It is now available for "pay what you want" at RPGNow. Check it out.

4. Speaking of great accomplishments, Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.of New Big Dragon Games has launched an excellent OSR zine that is also priced at "pay what you want". More info can be found here.

Lots of great stuff going on!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

4e Forever Issue #1 Wrap-Up: Submissions, Q&A, and a THANK YOU!!!

Well, issue one of my fanzine 4e Forever has come and gone, and all I can say is that the response blew my expectations out of the water. This is obviously a niche product: a zine focused on a recently "cancelled" edition, and one that centers on high-level play, traditionally the least played "tier" of all editions. It also incorporates a lot of old-school elements, which, if you believe everything you read, is diametrically opposed to 4th edition. Well, the response proves that was a lot of bunk. I have had die-hard OSR guys congratulate me, and people that have only played 4e tell me I peaked their curiosity for classic editions. It seems a lot of the loud voices on the internet do not represent gamers as a whole.

I want to give a special thanks to those that shared this with others. Several people blogged about it, shared it on websites that I had never heard of, and some generous soul even took the time to index the issue on RPG Geek. Thank you. If anyone liked it or knows others that might, please continue to share it.

I thought I would give a short Q&A regarding some questions that arose from readers.

How often will 4e Forever be published?

There is no set schedule. A lot of it depends on real life and how many submissions I get (see below). It will be irregular, that's for sure.

Can classes other than Arcanists use spell research?

Yes. I left it as Arcane classes only in the mag for old-school flavor, but in retrospect, I should have clarified that.

You mentioned the rate of pay for hirelings based on level, but there was no list of hirelings.

A list of hirelings will appear with the stronghold rules, whenever I get them completed. In the meantime, a DM can just improvise based on common sense. For example, a blacksmith is a very common occupation, and even small villages like Hommlet will have one, so assign them a low level. In contrast, a sage that specializes in ancient astrology might be incredibly rare and command a higher wage. The less common the occupation, the higher the level. This also applies to supervisory roles, like in the mag example.

Does a Savage's extra attack on its initiative +10 work like some of the more recent 4e dragon designs? Do they get one action or a full set?

Yes, it is basically the same thing. How many actions is up to the DM. Note that a Savage is not required to use all of the features listed, but it will typically have many of them.

Who controls henchmen? Hirelings?

A DM should control hirelings, while the players control their henchmen.

What happens if the PCs level up and they are in an area with no henchmen to be attracted?

If the PCs are unable to be approached, then no henchmen are attracted, but if the PCs are in any location where populations of Humans or Demi-Humans are nearby, henchmen should find them.

I am THRILLED that I have already received a few submissions. I want to talk a little bit more about them. I am COMMITTED to making it smooth and easy as possible for you to submit material. Therefore, if you need help converting monsters to the new stat block, I will do it for you. I you have questions about the world or need guidance on any of the rules, I have an open line of communication. If you have "system neutral" material, such as random tables, by all means, send them in; not everything has to scream 4e. You might have something you submitted to Dragon or Dungeon that didn't get printed. Consider reflavoring it and sending it in! If you want to contribute to the zine, I promise I will do everything in my power to make it happen. So please, consider sending something in, or tell a friend that you think might be interested about it. Again, you can email submissions to .

Well, I just want to once again thank everyone for checking out the zine, even if it wasn't your thing. It is now my most popular blog post by a million miles. If anyone runs any of the adventures, let me know how it goes! I know that at 150+ pages, many of those who downloaded it may not have had a chance to finish reading it, so please keep sending me feedback. Thanks again!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


So the wait is finally over. It has been a loooong road, but I am happy to say that I followed through and finally got it done. I hope you have enjoyed the "spotlights" on contributors yesterday and over the weekend. I again want to thank the Crypt Thing Robert Waluchow, Timothy "Morpho" Reynolds, and Will "Beholder Pie" Doyle for all of their help.

When the end of 4e was announced, I felt it had a lot further to go. I was cynical for a minute, thinking about all of the stuff that I felt was still needed or that was never accomplished. I decided that instead of bitching, I would do my own thing. After all, there are tons of awesome 'zines out there for out of print games...why not start one for 4e?

So I can finally spoil the contents for you now! What is in the first issue of 4e Forever?

-The framework of a new shared world that 4e fans can build together
-The best alternate and additional rules from my blog, re-organized, edited, and compiled into one easy to use document, the 4e Forever Grimoire
-Revamped trap rules for 4e with 15 new tricks and traps
-Over 30 new high level creatures
-Two full-length adventures, including part one of a massive megadungeon adventure path
-Exciting rules for a 4e mass combat system designed by WOTC published author Will Doyle
-All the info you need to submit your own writing, artwork, and/or cartography

This magazine is and always will be free, but I will ask one thing of you, Gentle Reader. Please pass this link along to any and all 4e fans that you know. I need help to keep this going, and I will be relying on submissions. So please, send to your gamer friends, forward to your friend lists on forums, tweet it, email it...anything you can do to help spread the word would be greatly appreciated.

And so, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the mag!


Monday, June 10, 2013


Wow, it is just one more day til I drop my 4e fanzine! Over the weekend we took a look at some of the awesome talent that contributed to the first issue. Saturday we checked out the Crypt Thing, Robert Waluchow. Yesterday, we spoke with the multi-talented Timothy "Morpho" Reynolds. Today we shine the spotlight on Will Doyle of Beholder Pie.

Will and his girlfriend Stacey operate the blog, a truly amazing mix of great 4e design and world-class artwork. Someone on a forum somewhere mentioned it to me a few years ago, and when I checked it out, I was pretty overwhelmed. "How has nobody heard of this guy?", I wondered, as his blog is really heads and tails above a lot of what you see. Well, it seems WOTC took notice as well, because in the year since I first asked Will about contributing to my zine, he has had not one, not two, but three adventures appear in Dungeon, with another possibly on the way. All of his adventures have gotten rave reviews for their creativity. I am not surprised in the least.

When I approached Will about printing one of his articles in the mag, he was total class. He let me make edits, answered questions, and he is really a super-nice guy who deserves all of the success he is getting. You will be seeing a lot more of this guy, I promise you that.

Will was nice enough to answer some questions for me:

1. How did you get into gaming?

I was first introduced to roleplaying games in 1984, when a relative gave me and my brother a boxed copy of Call of Cthulhu. I was nine, so it was way above my head, but I remember liking the pictures! Eventually one of my brother's friends ran a short campaign of Dragon Warriors, and we finally understood how it all worked - and were pretty much hooked. That led to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Paranoia, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, D&D and dozens more. Nowadays I mostly play D&D and Call of Cthulhu, with occasional forays into other systems. My girlfriend is a keen player, and we both work in video games, so there are plenty of opportunities to game!

2. Can you talk a bit about Beholder Pie? How did you get started with it?

Beholder Pie was born when my 4th Edition campaign began developing lots of housebrew content: a mass combat system, unique monsters, magic items, and artifacts. Most blogs seemed to focus on GM-advice, so I thought a "crunch-heavy" site could stand out from the crowd. I also played with a group of video game artists, who were always drawing pictures of their characters, so I had lots of original artwork available. Over the months the blog has become less crunch-based, but I still try to provide something mechanical every once in a while.

3. I know you have had some stuff published by WOTC recently. Anything else on the horizon you want to share with us?

Over the last year I've written four Dungeon adventures for Wizards of the Coast. The first two - "Tears of the Crocodile God" and "Glitterdust" have already been published, and there are two more in the pipes. I can't talk much about them until they're been announced, except to say they were a real blast to write and playtest! Two of the adventures I've written have been based on concepts they've asked me to develop (rather than ideas I pitched to them), which in some ways I prefer - it's more of a challenge, as it puts you out of your adventure-writing comfort zones!
I am not going to spoil what Will contributed to my zine. All I will say is that it is a game changer, plain and simple. You do NOT want to miss it. Thank you SO MUCH for your help Will!
You can pretty much click at random on Will's blog and find something awesome, but I think I will leave you with a link to some of his recent ultra-creative stuff, "The Drowned Kingdoms". This is a killer new campaign setting, a world completely flooded...kind of like Waterworld without the urine drinking and cigarettes. Here are the posts about it, scroll down to start at the beginning.
One of the awesome locales of the Drowned Kingdoms, Fathomdeep