Friday, December 7, 2018

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue 8

Check out previous posts in this series HERE.

Well, if you can't tell by the cover, Gangbusters has been released, and this issue promotes it with a cover image and a couple of articles. This issue is also a much more professional looking affair, with more artwork throughout and a more consistent layout. It is no coincidence that it is the first issue under new editor Mary Kirchoff.

The Letters section is pretty standard fare. There is some reference to late issues being sent out, and you can tell that they have gone through the natural, expected sorts of struggles getting this off of the ground. The White Rabbit column suggests that the logistics of doing this sort of thing back in the 80s were nightmarish, with its talk of bounced checks and Canadian exchange rate fiascos.

The main section is part two of the Mike Carr interview. After some discussion of Fight in the Skies, the conversation moves to Top Secret. The most intriguing tidbit is what Mike mentions regarding the early draft. He says it was not so much a roleplaying game and was more "pre-programmed...with more of a flow chart type of arrangement". It would be interesting to see what that looked like.

Encounters is a new column that basically makes a little mini-scenario out of the cover image. So here Jim Ward does this Gangbusters shootout with Big Bernie, Lefty Fingers, and gun moll Maria Kirchinetti.

Someone must have pissed in Mentzer's cornflakes before he wrote this installment of Notes for the Dungeon Master, as it is solely devoted to screwing players over in sadistic ways. He gleefully suggests rear surprise attacks with carrion crawlers ("Ever see what the player...looks like when he's got to make 40 saving throws...before doing anything?") and casting time stop to steal spell components just for kicks. Sheesh.

Figure Painting is what it sounds like. Nerd's Quest is a forgettable fiction blurb. Rune Scry is a cryptogram puzzle.

Mentzer's Spelling Bee encourages strict record keeping of spell components as a way to control spell use in your game. It is really up to you if you consider this good advice. The main issue for me is the game could just paradoxically become a quest for spell components if you follow the 1e rules to the letter. However...there is a certain romantic quality in forcing your MU to carry around a live carp. So I am torn.

Mark Acres, one of the designers of Gangbusters, presents an article on starting a GB campaign. It is short but provides sound advice on different types of characters, NPCs, and motivations.

Dispel Confusion mentions that it is the only official source for rules answers and that Sage Advice in Dragon is more or less opinion. I found this interesting. We learn you can't haste a hasted creature. A bard returning from a long journey in which he gained 20k xp is out of luck, he can't train past 2nd level and really only gets credit for 4k. Sorry bud.

There is a little comic. Kim Eastland is now taking over as RPGA coordinator from Mentzer, as Mentzer will be devoting his time to what will become BECMI. The issue ends with a catalog page and membership drive info. I don't know if this means the Nor comic is cancelled or coming back.

Well, there is the sense reading through these that they are slowly getting better. I can't recommend tracking down print copies unless you are a really obsessed collector; there just isn't a lot of useful gaming material. At least not yet. If you are hardcore into Gangbusters though, you might try and find it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue 7

You can check out other entries in this series HERE.

We have a serviceable, generic cover from Scott Roberts. In the editorial piece at the beginning, Mentzer mentions he is stepping away a bit from the newsletter saying "Essentially I'm to be #2, right after Gary....I hope to...reorganize the books a bit", alluding to the upcoming BECMI D&D products. This is all at some point in '82.

Nothing too intriguing in the Letters section. Dispel Confusion, which is kind of the Q&A section, explains that rangers cast druid spells at their level-7, magic user spells at their level-8. Also, ranged cure spells are called too powerful and "would need lots of playtesting before addition to a campaign".

The big interview piece is part 1 of 2 with Mike Carr, designer of Fight in the Skies and author and editor of various D&D and Top Secret products, including In Search of the Unknown, one of the most famous adventures of all time. He talks about how he got into gaming, how he worked at the Dungeon Hobby Shop, editing AD&D, that sort of thing. He waxes nostalgic about Wednesday game nights, playtesting early material with Gygax and Ward, and attending early conventions, then indulges in a little bit of a pissing contest between Gen Con and Origins, which you see a lot of in other mags around this time.

After this, Gygax steps in to address a question in a previous issue about actions per round. He basically says that D&D combat isn't meant to be a true, detailed representation of actual combat, that things are happening each round that aren't checked for ("parrying, fencing, circling for general position"), and that "combat is glossed over". This feels sort of like when he explains hit points. It is an interesting reminder of how new some of these concepts were at the time, and how some folks had a hard time balancing fantasy abstractions with reality.

Spelling Bee is surprisingly good this time, it goes through a number of Cleric spells with tips for each. It reminds me why I allow spontaneous casting as a houserule though, as many of these spells see so little play compared to Cure Light Wounds.

Campaign Clues provides some tips for Top Secret admins regarding time, scale, and how organizations might work in a campaign. I would really like to play some Top Secret sometime; guess I will have to run it myself to make it happen.

Ranch Encounters is for Boot Hill and provides, well, encounters on a ranch. There are also tables for job openings and pay. I could see this being useful for any western game. Notes for the Dungeon Master discusses replacing higher level PCs after they die, along with a few "trick" sorts of dungeon elements, including a magical corridor that shrinks the PCs without them realizing it. Actually could be pretty cool when I think about it.

There is a page on a membership drive for the RPGA, followed by a mouthwatering gift catalog.

This is followed by quick wrap-up of recent conventions. The issue ends with another Nor comic, which is actually getting pretty good.

All in all another fascinating little peek into the gaming of yesteryear.


Monday, November 19, 2018

The Fourthcore Crew Have a New Kickstarter Up: 5e Team Deatchmatch

I was a big fan of 4thcore. Some of those folks have moved on and now do some cool stuff for 5e. It is weird, I just recently heard about some kind of upcoming 5e competition series that is going to be live-streamed, then a few days later I was made aware of this. My money is on this being waaaay cooler than whatever the other thing is.


It has already funded and the thing is apparently already written. These guys are endlessly creative and really know how to kill...errr challenge a PC. For more on what they do, check out their home base, DEFY DANGER.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hundreds of OSR Blogs in an Easy-to-Read Format!

The inestimable Ramanan S of Save vs Total Party Kill fame and originator of the Rammies, the only RPG award that has ever truly mattered, has given anyone that enjoys reading about old school gaming a great gift.


Friday, October 12, 2018

OSR Guide for the Perplexed Questionnaire

You might see this questionnaire popping up a lot. I have enjoyed reading what other people had to say and thought I would add my two cents.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
Hard to point to one but stuff like THIS gives me warm fuzzies.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

3. Best OSR module/supplement: Wow these questions are tough. I'll cheat a tad and go with Richard LeBlanc's d30 books .

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else): MUs being able to spontaneously cast from their spellbooks rather than prepare specific spells. Forget who mentioned it, but it allows for much more variety and creativity in play. 

5. How I found out about the OSR: When I got back into gaming I was looking at buying old 1st edition AD&D books and discovered that not only were people still playing it, they were making clones of it, adventures for it, blogging about it, etc 

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy: Hmmm THIS is about as awesome as it gets. Also the Greyhawk weather generator

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers: Well that is kind of the question right now. I immediately fell in love with G+, but it is going away. 

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games: Here, G+ til it dies, my podcast, TwitterMeWe, rarely on various forums. 

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough: You cannot have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept. I wrote that. 

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG: If you don't think pre-7th Call of Cthulhu is OSR, then CoC. If you do, then...maybe Savage Worlds.

11. Why I like OSR stuff: Nostalgia, creativity, DIY spirit, amazing talent, cool people, fun games.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yetTHIS spreadsheet, THIS Patreon. 

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be: Old Grognardia posts. 

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is: I think I did a pretty good job with this adventure.

15. I'm currently running/playing: Running a weekly 1e/BX mashup game, playing in a bi-weekly Castles and Crusades game. Occasionally run a BX Stonehell game for my daughter. Jump into online games here and there when I can. 

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because: Oh, but I DO care.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice

Friday, September 21, 2018

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue 6

You can check out previous posts in this series HERE.

Ok, let's see if Polyhedron can bounce back from a weak issue 5.

So I dig the Boot Hill sort of cover.

In the letters section someone writes in about a religious group trying to ban D&D from their school. Ah, memories of the satanic panic. What is interesting is TSR replies here that if you need help with "these sorts of problems" to write to them with "Attention: Duke" on the envelope. Maybe I don't know my TSR lore as well as others, so if you know anything about "Duke" and if their job was just dealing with crazy moms 24/7, let me know.

Where I'm Coming From references TSR's acquisition of SPI. Notes from HQ mentions how to become a Top Secret game admin for the RPGA, and again plugs the RPGA belt buckles (I want one).

Part 3 of the Jake Jaquet interview is terminally boring. They talk about calling the mag Dragon instead of The Dragon. Jake likes basic D&D over AD&D. There is a little talk about how computers could eventually influence the hobby but nothing is particularly prescient or worth mentioning.

Notes for the Dungeon Master basically talks about complaints about "realism" in D&D, something that has always seemed kind of silly to me. It is game about, like, elves and dwarves and stuff. This issue is a bummer so far.

Mercifully, Jim Ward manages to give us something worth reading with some Gamma World items. The Weapons of the Ancients include things like a Crystal of Seeing (glorified telescope) and a Holarator (used to project holograms). The flavor here is good and at least it is gameable material.

Spelling Bee spends a lot of time talking about adjudicating illusion spells. Dispel Confusion covers thief armor (no studded leather allowed), monks wearing bracers of defense (they can, but wouldn't want to according to the author...yeah right), and then a question/answer that really struck me as odd.

Someone asks about to-hit rolls for monsters with just hp listed. With AD&D, I always just used the max level on the HD chart as the base (16+ for AD&D), but here they say to divide the total hp by 4.5 for the HD and extrapolate from there. This would make many monsters/gods even more the point where there would never be a point in rolling anything. Did anyone play that way? Like a Tarrasque would be a 66+ HD creature. I'm no mathematician, but using this system with the AD&D charts, the THACO would be 0 around 23 yeah, 66 HD would be what, THACO -21? I know its a tough monster, but sheesh. Weird answer imo. I looked at BECMI, knowing it deals with very high levels, and a 35+ HD monster has a THACO of 1, which is much more sensible. In fact, from 25-35 HD, all monsters stay at THACO 2. Maybe they didn't think this one through before answering, but they probably killed a LOT of PCs in the wake of this answer. Hey wait, now it is growing on me.

There is a solitaire scenario for Fight in the Skies. A list of some RPGA charter members. Tips on how to run your own D&D tournaments. The issue ends with another "Nor" comic.

Another not-so-good issue. Maybe #7 will be better.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Classic-Era Waterdeep Products to Use (and Avoid) with Dragon Heist

The D&D community is abuzz with excitement about the new Waterdeep module, Dragon Heist. Aside from maybe Curse of Strahd, there seems to be more chatter and anticipation surrounding this release than any other so far. There is already a steady stream of fan content coming out on the DM Guild site, but as Waterdeep is probably the most famous D&D city of all time (other than maybe the City of Greyhawk), DMs can also benefit from the classic-era products that came before. Here are a few to check out (and some to avoid).


Known for its massive map collection of the city, the real strength of this set comes from its booklet. Filled with random tables and useful info to expand your campaign, this is in my opinion the #1 classic-era product for Dragon Heist DMs.


The creative travel-guide presentation of this book serves it well, effectively humanizing (demihumanizing?) the city with flavorful entries. Compatibility with the City System map keys is a huge plus. Part of what makes this and the City System box so useful is that most of the material doesn't rely on then-current events.


This was the Waterdeep bible for a while, and it is a good book. Much of it could find some use in your game, but a good portion is focused on then-current events. I am no Realms expert but I am pretty sure they have been like exploded and put back together a lot of times since this came out, and a lot of the NPCs have been dead and buried for years.


As I expect most Dragon Heist DMs will segue into the upcoming Dungeon of the Mad Mage, you can skip the original Undermountain. There is scant Waterdeep or Yawning Portal info to be found here.


Don't be fooled by the title. This is one of the worst modules TSR ever released. This is a novel tie-in that makes the Dragonlance adventures look like sandboxes. The party doesn't even get railroaded to Waterdeep until towards the end. A couple of generic floor plans are all you might find useful in this turd.

Note: I don't own the City of Splendors box set, so I didn't feel comfortable recommending it. From what I understand, it reprints a lot of FR1 and the City System, so I never felt the need to seek a copy out. That said, it could be another good option, just keep in mind it might overlap a lot with other products.

Monday, September 10, 2018

With Friends Like These...

Gygax's The Village of Hommlet is widely regarded as one of the greatest intro adventures for D&D and for good reason. It is the template for thousands of adventures that followed, with its manageable "home base", down-the-road dungeon, and campaign-starter plot. One of the great things that doesn't get mentioned a lot is how it introduces several NPCs that are there just to befriend, then betray the players. This kind of diabolical double-crossing is highly effective when not overused, and can give campaigns a real cinematic quality, with a-ha moments and unexpected reveals. Here are a couple of other ways I have used friends and former allies against the PCs.


It is not surprising that the 1e DMG spends so much time discussing the morale and treatment of henchmen and hirelings. After all, the term "meatshield" isn't exactly loving, and it reveals a long history of shoddy treatment.  How much abuse are they supposed to take? How many of their friends do they need to see die before they have mutiny on their minds? A well timed revolt can prove a disastrous reminder to the PCs that their actions have consequences. Henchmen can hold grudges just as easy as the villains of a campaign. This won't be appropriate for some tables, but if you have a group of players that flippantly churn through henchmen like butter, it could be a fun twist. They know the patterns and weaknesses of the PCs, and as the song says they "work hard for the money so you better treat [them] right". Their family members may also have revenge on their minds for lost loved ones; this can even allow for long-term plotting against PCs over years of game time.


Undead are the gift that keeps on giving, especially when they kill PCs. PCs killed by undead will often rise again as undead themselves. Some very memorable encounters have happened in my games over the years when the party encounters a fallen comrade. This doesn't have to be driven solely as a combat challenge; you can play up the drama of seeing an old friend literally falling apart, or depending on the tone of your campaign, it could even be milked for comedy. Never let a dead PC go to waste.

Have you ever done anything similar in your games?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: The Blasphemous Roster

So today I am reviewing The Blasphemous Roster by Michael Raston with Ben L and Trent B. The layout is by Luke Gearing.

So, Raston's home game is set in and around a sprawling, aged, and corrupt city called Infinigrad. The city is filled with competing Guilds that hire "Guild Dogs" to do their bidding. What this book does is give you tons of random tables to create the Guilds and generate missions for PCs to attempt for them.

The first thing that jumps out when looking at this is the layout. The layout feels like the DIY punk and skate zines of my previous life, with tons of public domain images presented collage-style throughout. It feels very much at home within the current OSR zine scene.

The table content is varied and interesting. The tone itself is on the weird and dark side, with a hint of gonzo. The adventure generator is particularly strong, offering tables for the target of the job, what the Guilds want done with it, the location of said target, the danger to be found there, and finally the reward. Let's try one.

Let's see what that Guild of maniacs wants this time. Hmmm...they want us to find this mad scientist sort of dude. Apparently he needs to be "revived or resuscitated", so who knows what the hell happened to him. We are given a lead about some sleazy flooded bathhouse. Ah, perhaps he drowned? This all sounds dangerous, even for us, but the Guild is promising us a tamed monster for our troubles. We're in!

Man, I sure do enjoy rolling on random tables.

I would recommend this to folks that are into OSR zines and random tables. You know who you are. There is enough content here to generate a lot of gaming material. I think I will enjoy this most in the printed format, as that will allow for easy flipping from table to table, and seems to me more suitable given the zine feel of the product. I can't say as to whether the layout will be for everyone, but I like it. Another thing that was cool about reading through this was getting to peek into someone else's campaign. The setting is very gameable, and the Guild device, while not wholly original, provides an endless stream of adventures for PCs. I would be interested in seeing other Infinigrad supplements that reveal more about the setting.

Check The Blasphemous Roster out in pdf HERE and in print HERE!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Let's Read Polyhedron: Issue #5

If you would like to read other entries in this series, click HERE.

Issue #5 follows the pattern of the other early Polyhedrons, with the main feature being an interview. In this issue we have part 2 with then-Dragon editor/publisher Jake Jaquet. Unfortunately, the substance is not all that compelling, mainly dealing with RPGA membership info and Dragon mag not being a "house organ". No really interesting tidbits. He badmouths the Fiend Folio a little bit.

The art throughout is hit or miss, with a recycled Tramp image and a cover with some super shiny helmets going on.

There is a plug for a TSR belt buckle I wish I owned. Talk of the R series modules being late.

Notes for the DM has tips on balancing encounters vs the number encountered roll. Some readers offer sadistic ways to kill PCs, such as ten foot pole mimics.

The Round Table recaps some tournament play from GenCon XIV. Dispel Confusion clarifies some rules. Dragon breath does damage equal to starting hp in AD&D, current hp in Basic. Saddlebag carrying capacity. Enlarge spell info. Bag of Tricks offers a few tips from readers, none of which are really worth noting. Crappy issue so far.

Spelling Bee reprints a couple of spells from Against the Giants, "Crystalbrittle" and "Energy Drain". Crystalbrittle turns metal into fragile crystal, which is ok, but for a 9th level spell it is awful, especially since it is 9 segments and you need to touch the item.

We get some tips on mini painting, some cryptogram puzzles, and a list of RPGA charter members. A Top Secret gadget contest and Gamma World art contest are mentioned.

The issue mercifully ends with a Nor comic in which nothing happens.

Probably the worst issue yet, they can only get better from here!