Monday, August 25, 2014

Dungeon of Signs Reviews Dwimmermount


Russ Nicholson Ghasts - Best Art in Dwimmermount
Dwimmermount, long rumored, shrouded in mystery and rage, a controversy and the breaker of titans. I’m not talking about the mega-dungeon, I’m talking about the drama and frustration surrounding the late delivery of this Kickstarted project.  I don’t really care about any of the drama and rigmarole associated with the Dwimmermount, but I am interested in the product itself, a consciously ‘old school’ mega dungeon packaged by, expanded on and rewritten by Autarch press (Of Adventurer Conqueror King – which I don’t have much experience with) and originally conceived and written by Grognardia.

It suffices to say that the Kickstarter was frightfully delayed, the task overwhelming (more on that below) and what started out as a hobbyist’s personal expression of his affection for old system dungeon crawls collapsed into something very different and a bit ugly.  The somewhat tragic, convoluted and painful process of publishing Dwimmermount is alluded to in the introduction along with the project’s basic goals and intentions, but it should be fundamentally unimportant to anyone who is asking themselves “Can I use this mega-dungeon, and what for?”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HMS Apollyon - Necromancer Subclass


The history of Sterntown and fear of the Ash Plague has made necromancy a forbidden art in Sterntown, and its practice is punishable by the most severe and gruesome of sentences.  Still the power over the dead and the lure of immortality that the dark art offers draws adherents who must conceal their research and take great efforts to disguise their creations.  Because of the fear of discovery that hangs over every necromancer they tend to be reclusive, at first skulking and scurry about and as they grow more accomplished learning to hide in plain sight through disguising their powers and adopting mannerisms that deflect suspicion.  Necromancers are rare, but the last two powerful ones ferreted out by the Church of the Queen’s witch smellers have been sorcerer with social grace, the most vibrant dress, and foppish manners, as far from the black-clad and cadaverous stereotype as possible. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Trust The Random Encounter table

When one cracks open the hoary spine of the “Underworld and Wilderness Adventures” (well not spine, they are zine like pamphlets, stapled together) one almost immediately finds a set of dungeon encounter tables.  They look 'normal' at first, table 1 contains low hit dice dungeon vermin (giant rats, centipedes, spiders) and sniveling humanoids like kobolds.  Table 2 starts to get some real opposition on it: hobgoblins, gnolls, berserkers and ghouls.  By the time you’re on table three and four there are the sort of monsters that can really spell danger to a low level party, such as wights, wraiths and giant animals.  This might seem reasonable, even conservative if these tables were broken down by dungeon level, but they are explicitly not by dungeon level.  On the first level of the dungeon there is a 1 in 6 chance of encountering one of the horrors off of table four, and this includes ogres (which are reasonable enough) but also wraiths and gargoyles.  I focus here on gargoyles because they are utterly immune to normal weapon damage in most version of the rules, including silver weapons.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


I've gone and written up the spell lists for the three Ship Spirit patrons available to thier Clerics aboard the Apollyon.  The Lists themselves are in a fromat that doesn't transfer too well to Blogger, but the gist of the casting system is below along with descriptions of the three powers available to 1st level clerics.  The spells themselves are in the PDF.

PDF HERE - including actual Spell lists


The Ship Spirits represent the larger and more popular of Sterntown’s two ecstatic religions.  The Religion itself is loosely organized with various devotees banding together to share space in its shrine houses, which contain many shrines and crèches to individual spirits representing the various aspects of the Apollyon itself.  Each shrine is tended by one or two houngans or mambos who can invoke aspects of the spirit they specially revere and perform magic based on the spirit’s specific nature.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Search of the Unknown - B1 Review

How does one review an adventure that is designed to be different each time it’s played?   B1 – In Search of the Unknown, written in 1979 by Mike Carr for inclusion in the D&D basic set, is exactly such a module, with partially keyed areas on a large dungeon map meant to be completed by the GM from existing tables.  In not sure if this represents an authentic alternative to the method of adventure writing that has become standard, a template for a GM’s own design and imagination (perhaps a later version of this tradition might be the recently released Seclusium of the Orphone an LOTFP ‘module’ by Vincent Baker) rather than a complete  pregenerated ready to play location or scenario.  It might also be a messy gimmick that failed to catch on.  Without a consideration of its place in the history of table top games, In Search of the Unknown has some fun set pieces, and a far more evocative setting than one might expect from such an early effort. The module is an unabashed dungeon crawl and one that, in the manner of early D&D, is fairly empty of inhabitants and treasure, but not a bad one, thanks to some classic but well done setting elements and a real dungeon history that is both easy to grasp and helpful at defining areas.

The cover I remember promised Fungal Caverns

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Along the Road of Tombs - PDF Adventure Locale

Recently the Tenkar's Tavern wrapped up a competition called OSR Superstar.  Perhaps it's a silly name but I figured I'd enter and managed to keep going until the final round.  The final round was completing a map by Matt over at (who's Maps for Heroes campaign is wrapping up today and could use some support - it's got some cool maps in it and supports the Wounded Warrior project) and then keying it.  I finished a map but went a bit beyond my original intent.  Below is a 42 page adventure set in the Fallen Empire setting that I've mused about here before.  It's a fairly vanilla setting, and stated up for Sword's and Wizardy Complete.  Anyhow hope people like this adventure - it's a romp about bandits, cults and slumber ancient war machines.


This version is far better edited then the one submitted to the contest, and I've added some art - sadly no my own, but some of the plates by Piranesi that inspired this adventure.  Also special thanks to the folks who took a look at this a few days ago and let me know what else I might want to include.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Engineer - HMS Apollyon subclass

As the new campaign running the HMS Apollyon begins to happen regularly I've started trying to complete sections of my player guide as they are needed.  It's not an easy process.  Still below is the subclass/aptitude page for the Engineer.  Engineers have proven popular amongst players, I think as they fit with the aesthetic of the game, but they have proven to be interesting and useful in their own right.  The ability to catch a third target in the splash from an oil bomb is reasonably potent, and while the Engineering skill hasn't come up in play yet, I believe it will have as much or more benefit as the skills traditionally given to dwarfs in other games.  The Apollyon has two interlocking skill systems: skills, borrowed from LOTFP, are based on a X in D6 chance, while Aptitudes are a tiered system that grants specific bonuses (and often skills).  The Engineer is a fighter subclass that has more skills then general modifiers and doesn't become as effective in melee as other fighter types will - except under the specialized circumstances of wearing, heavy, unwieldy power armor or operating a piece of crew served heavy weaponry.  

As with my other Player's Guide items the Engineer is also available here as a PDF

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Deep Carbon Observatory - Maps


A few posts ago I lamented the fact that the excellent adventure Deep Carbon Observatory (link to purchase on RPGNOW) lacked classic top down maps, because it was hard for me to visualize running a couple of its areas using only the elevation or isometric maps provided.  Since I like the adventure, like drawing maps, like the author, like the artist and especially like the strange and evocative environment that the adventure manages to create without departing too far from a standard fantasy world, I have decided to draft maps for the Deep Carbon Observatory.

I chose the adventure’s ultimate destination and location because it seemed the most complex and most in need of reference.  This becomes especially true as there’s a good chance that the observatory will end up being run as a chase.  The map is nicely set up for this, with only a few dead ends and many loops.
I was not able to replicate the measurements described in the  adventure itself, as these would make some areas very very small and others oddly huge.  Instead I tried to keep my scale in line with that of the elevation map.  
DCO - Lvl 1
 Level 1 – AREAS 1,2 , 26 and 39 – 44

DCO - Lvl 2
Level 2 AREAS 3-12, 26 – 28

DCO - Lvl 3

DCO - Lvl 4

DCO lvl 5
 Level 5 AREAS 22 – 25, 29

DCO - Lvl 6

DCO - Lvl 6

DCO - Level 8


DCO - Lvl 9

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reputation and Factions Aboard the HMS APOLLYON

I've Long claimed that my HMS Apollyon game at least a good part about negotiating the characters' place amongst the factions in its "safe" area.  In the past I've done this primarily via roleplaying encounters and a vague sense of how each faction feels about the PCs.  I've tried to transform this into a more mechanical system that allows something more than simple GM whim to determine what a specific faction might provide and how a character may gain that faction's favor.

Below is an excerpt from the Players manual I am slowly piecing together that explains how the reputation system functions.  The link to the full PDF from the manual is also below and contains a great deal of additional information about the individual factions of Sterntown.  It's pretty much a gazetteer of Sterntown so it may be of some interest.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Strange and Wonderful Bleakness - Deep Carbon Observatory Review

deep caRbon observAtory

I have read Patrick of False Machine’s Deep Carbon Observatory, an adventure, or setting, or even campaign. The module compares favorably with other contemporary offerings, such as the better LOTFP modules, but has its own approach and unique feel.  The adventure focuses on a riverine expedition in a sort of point based sandbox, suddenly flooded by the collapse of an ancient dam.  Rumors of mountains of ancient gold beneath the recently collapsed dam’s (now drained) lake have presumably drawn the party, as they have other (horrible) NPC treasure hunters.  Beyond the dung-ages horror of a flooded and starving landscape is an upriver journey through a variety of creepy nautical monsters (crabs, cuttlefish, pike, frogs) all subtly warped and horrifically described.  The journey leads to the dam, its dying guardian golems and ultimately a lake bed of ancient and unnatural weirdness that hides the “Deep Carbon Observatory” itself.  The observatory is an entrance to the Underdark, and not Gygax’s glowing mushrooms and petulant Drow Underdark, but False Machine’s utterly alien, beautifully psychotic Underdark.

A Suitable Cover
Broken into four rough sections (A town, a point crawl, the dam/lake, and the observatory) Deep Carbon has plenty of room for adventure, and the only limit on this is the presumed success of a very nasty NPC party if the PCs don’t push onward at a furious pace.  I like the scale of the adventure, especially because so many of the individual vignettes presented are compelling enough that I think a group of players could enjoyably spend at least a session on many of them.  This makes me ambivalent about the NPC party, who while one of the best (ok one of many wonderful) elements in the adventure could act to force the players’ hands.  The NPC party and its place in Deep Carbon Observatory is also somewhat hard to pin down without some page flipping, but that's a minor concern, and their inclusion creates a powerful and compelling enemy for the party.

Ultimately Deep Carbon Observatory is a thought provoking and wonderful adventure, almost novelistic in its scope and strangeness.  The author drops magnificent ideas and imagery haphazardly on every page of a quality that many adventure designer would convert into an entire campaign. Additionally there are some novel approaches to town encounters in the first section of the adventure that are thought provoking as a means of creating tension, and cause and effect without minimizing player agency.  Sadly Deep Carbon Observatory suffers a bit from a slavishness to the DIY aesthetic and a lack of polish, but other than some aggravating page transitions this is easily ignored. Additionally, the module’s scope makes it feel fragmentary (perhaps unavoidable given its size) at times and it repeatedly includes the lamentable sin of confusing maps.