Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 day Challenge - Day 24

Favorite Energy Type?

This is another of those questions that feels rooted in WoTC versions of D&D. I don't remember talking about energy types in my first 20 years of D&D gaming.

Still, a challenge is a challenge so I will say my favorite energy type is raw sexual magnetism. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how to implement that at your gaming table (or if you should). Almost certainly involves Succubi.

30 Day Challenge - Day 23

Least Favorite Monster?

I should have included this question with the omnibus monster post. I personally feel like the hall of infamy of really stupid or silly (not in the fun way) monsters is entirely too large to point at one inhabitant and say, "that one is the worst of the worse." However, I will point out one monster book as earning my particular dislike in nearly its entirety, I loathe the original Fiend Folio. I still simmer at the thought of having actually spent money for that drech.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Playable Race - Varger

The Varger

During the Kin Wars, powerful casters among the giants created a number of living weapons and servant races. The Varger, bred from the great mountain wolves and giant stock were living weapons used to hunt down the creations of their masters enemies. Eventually the Kin Wars ended for lack of living Giantkin to continue the fighting. The Varger and their allies the Jotun migrated southward seeking friendlier climes.

The Varger are large demi-humans standing 6 1/2' to 7' tall on average. Their hair is thick and the color is typically silver, white or gray with streaks of tawny mixed in. Most Varger have icy blue eyes though some few individuals have amber or golden eyes. The Varger are uncomfortable with domesticated animals and will very rarely own any.

Varger Custom Classes

The varger were created by lawful giants to hunt the beastmen creations of chaos. Though the giants are nearly extinct the varger continue to hunt the forces of chaos wherever they find them. After the kin wars the varger settled in the lands of the northwestern shores of the Sea of Strife. There they have become an important bulwark protecting the rich cities of the Sea Kings from incursions of hostile races from the west. In return, the Sea Kings trade with the varger on generous terms, particularly the trade in arms and armour.

Varger character classes are created using the varger racial category and experience points. Requirements, class category values, hit points per level after 9th, and experience point progressions are modified as noted below.


All varger classes require a minimum Constitution of 9 or better.

Class Category Values

Fighting: Varger will never willingly restrict their run speed or encumber themselves with heavy armours. Regardless of points spent in the fighting category varger classes are restricted to the narrow armour selection, leather armour or lighter and shields. Varger classes that have a Fighting Value that would normally have the broad or unrestricted armour selections still receive the benefit from the Fighting Value Trade-Offs table (Player's Companion, page 79); one of the custom powers from this benefit must be Wolf's Quickness (see below)

Thievery: Any build points allocated to the Thievery Value stack with build points allocated to the Varger value for purposes of determining the classes choice of thievery skills. Varger can taking Tracking (same as the Tracking proficiency) as a thievery skill.

Varger Value

ValueVargerXP Cost
4Varger + 4 racial powers + 10 thievery skills1350
3Varger + 3 racial powers + 7 thievery skills950
2Varger + 2 racial powers + 3 thievery skills650
1Varger + 1 racial power + 2 thievery skills450
When building a varger custom class assign between 0 and 4 build points to the class's Varger Value. At Varger 0, all varger gain the following four varger custom powers:
  • Animal Reflexes: The character gains a +1 bonus on surprise rolls and initiative rolls. This does not provide a bonus to casting spells. While Animal Reflexes is similar to taking the Combat Reflexes proficiency selected as a custom power, for game balance purposes, consider Animal Reflexes a separate power at let it stack with Combat Reflexes.
  • Infravison: Varger have the superior night vision of their wolfish ancestry granting them Infravison to 60'.
  • Run with the Pack: Varger are swift and tireless runners. The character does not need to rest every 6 turns. He can force march for one day without penalty, plus one day for each point of Constitution bonus. The character's base movement speed is increased by 30' when wearing leather or lighter armour. The custom power can stack with the Running proficiency.
  • Varger Tongues: All varger speak four bonus languages: Giant, Gnoll, Goblin, and Wolf.

Additional points allocated to the Varger Value stack with points allocated to the Thievery Value for purposes of thievery skills, strongholds, and magic item usability. Use the combined values, up to a maximum of 4 points, to determine the number of thievery skills received, varger racial powers are treated as custom powers traded for from the thievery skills available. 

EXAMPLE: A varger custom class has Hit Dice 1, Fighting Value 2, Thievery Value 1, and Varger Value 2. Adding the effective Thievery Values together (1 + 2) yields 3. The class has an effective Thievery Value of 3. The class would have 8 thievery skills to choose; 10 skills from the Thievery Value of 3 less the 2 varger racial powers. The class will also get access to any magic items usable by either fighters or thieves since both have an effective value of 2 or better.

Varger 1: A Varger Value of 1 gives the class the Smoke on the Wind (see below) racial power. The class will have a number of thievery skills appropriate for their effective Thievery Value less 1 for the racial power.

Varger 2: In addition to the power above, a Varger Value of 2 grants the Alertness (Player's Companion, page 93) custom power. The class will have a number of thievery skills appropriate for their effective Thievery Value less 2 for the racial powers.

Varger 3: A Varger Value of 3 gives the benefits of Varger Value 2 plus the racial power I Can Smell Your Fear (see below). The class will have a number of thievery skills appropriate for their effective Thievery Value less 3 for the racial powers.

Varger 4: A Varger Value of 4 gives all of the abilities of Varger Value 3 plus the racial power Wolf Hide (see below). The class will have a number of thievery skills appropriate for their effective Thievery Value less 3 for the racial powers. The class will have 11 thievery skills to choose from in addition to the racial powers.

Experience Point Progression After 8th Level

Varger increase the amount of experience required to gain each level after 8th by 30,000XP.

Wolf's Quickness: Works as Blade Dancing (Player's Companion page 93). Given a different name for flavor.

Smoke on the Wind: Varger move with the natural grace and stealth of a wolf. Opponents suffer a -1 penalty on Surprise rolls when encountering the character.

I Can Smell Your Fear: The character always knows the exact reaction result (Hostile, Unfriendly, etc.) of creatures he interacts with, even if the creatures attempt to lie or conceal their reactions. Creatures with Charisma greater than the character's Wisdom are immune to this power; and the character will know it.

Wolf Hide: The character has a base AC of 1 instead of 0.

Monday, September 23, 2013

30 Day Challenge - The Monsters

I always intended to combine some of the favorite monster posts. They are kind of repetitive so putting them together made sense from the outset. It is, therefore, just happy coincidence that combining all of them into one post will, mostly, get me current with the 30 day challenge.

Favorite Undead?

The original ghoul, a perfect blend of scary as hell to face and always beatable by even a low level party. Love them.

Favorite Aberration?

This is a category I've always dipped into sparingly. A bit of weird and exotic spice to mix in with the humanoids and dungeon vermin. My favorite is the Aboleth and his minions but the lead is slight.

Favorite Animal/Vermin?

I'm going to answer this as a two-parter. I like bears because they are big, scary and random in their actions in real life and they have always made for interesting encounters in my experience. As serious threats but not automatically belligerent my players tend to be divided in their preferred approach making for some fun gaming sessions. 

My favorite vermin is the creepy and scary Carrion Crawler. Climbs walls, move quietly, paralyses you with nasty poison tentacles, whats not to love?

Favorite Immortal/Outsider?

First, I hate the term outsider but then I'm not really a fan of the great wheel cosmology from AD&D and I despise the iterations that came later for Planescape and the abortion that was the 3.x Manual of the Planes. 

Rant aside, give me the Balor/Balrog/Type VI demon. I like demons in general but the professor was right on with the being of shadow and flame. 

Favorite Elemental/Plant?

Another twofer, I'm going to call this a tie between the Salamander and the Treant (since I'm not publishing this I call fair use on Prof. Tolkien's copyright). Classics of myth and literature both and scary in battle.

Favorite Humanoid et al?

Excluding the playable races since they were covered in a previous challenge day, I will go with Ogres. Like the ghoul they have a good balance of scary through many levels of play and yet beatable by a low level party. They are a walking gut check and encourager of non-combat solutions.

Favorite Dragon?

I've used them all, but tip of the blog pen to the Red Dragon. Nothing says classic dragon like breathing fire.

Favorite Monster Overall?

Far and away with no real competition, Humans. Smart, unpredictable and capable of the most brutal acts imaginable. Nothing inspires fear like a high level human opponent.

If you lasted this far thanks for reading the omnibus monster post. Tomorrow I will start down the home stretch of the challenge. Ta for now.

Monday, September 16, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 13 & 14

I was doing so well at keeping current with this. Ah well.

Favorite Trap/Puzzle?

I'm going back to the original killer dungeon for this one. The Sphere of Annihilation in the demon's mouth from Tomb of Horrors. It should just be a dick-move trap except there all the clues in the world in the dungeon that its a really bad trap and even a modicum of careful play will keep the players from losing more than part of their 10' pole on this trap. Still, I've run it twice back in the day and played through it once on the receiving end and every single time someone talked themselves into putting a body part through the mouth, even acknowledging that all of the clues pointed to a bad result just before putting a body part through the mouth, classic.

Favorite NPC?

It probably says something about my skill as a DM that after 35 years of gaming, mostly behind the screen, that I really don't have an NPC that stands out in my mind as a favorite. I always try to keep the focus on the player characters and NPCs are largely a means to an end in my sessions, whether that end is information, equipment, McGuffins, or just some comic relief. 

I guess my favorite NPC archetype is the sympathetic villain. That villain who thwarts or works against the players at every turn but there is something about the villain that the players (at least some of them) can't help but respond positively too. There was the twin sister of one player character who embraced the dark prophecy that the siblings were born under and worked to bring about its fruition against her brother who was fighting against it, despite the fact that it would lead to her death. There was the leader of an order of Paladins who constantly worked against a player character paladin because doctrine demanded it and he just wouldn't accept the paladin's word that she had received a vision that was guiding her. I can't really call either of them favorites, I can't even remember their names anymore, but it's definitely an NPC type I go back to time and time again. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 12

Favorite dungeon type/location?

I am a big fan of the castle/small fortified village as a dungeon location. Probably dating back to the Moathouse from the Village of Hommlet. There is something about the combination of open area and small outbuildings and towers that appeals to me. 

Background - Jotun Tribelands

Far north of the Sea of Strife giants formed the earliest kingdoms. Giants don't make comfortable neighbors, even for other giants, and warfare among the various giant kindred was constant. During this long struggle sorcerors and shaman among the kindred began breeding new peoples by magically combining part of their own essence with that of various other creatures. Thus were born the beastmen, orcs, ogres, gnolls and the various goblin kin; servants of chaos all. These same breeding programs also gave rise to the Vargr, created to hunt the chaos beastmen, and the nearly human Jotun; both servants of law. 

All of the created people breed much faster than the giant-kin that created them and soon the skirmishes between chaotic giants and lawful giants were being almost entirely fought by their created servants. But the giants had made a mistake by including a portion of their own essence in the created people. As their numbers grew they began to chafe at the yoke of their giant masters. Their is no love to be found between the beastmen and the Jotun and Vargr; but a day came when their hatred of their masters burned hotter then their hatred for their longtime foes.

At the battle of Sigissmund's Fjord the servants people on both sides turned on the giant commanders. The subsequent rebellion was swift and bloody. Nearly all of the giant-kin were slain and of the various servant races perhaps one in five survived the destruction. The land was ravaged by the great magical forces unleashed by the giants in their desperate fight against their own creations. The remaining giant kin scattered to the mountains and remote places to hide and slowly regather their strength. 

The Jotun and Vargr moved south along the valley of the River Vol and eventually settled along the north east shores of the sea and along the Vol River, forming the Jotun Tribelands. The restrictive trade practices of the Sea Kings are hardly burdensome to a people long enslaved; and, so far, the various Jotun and Vargr Tribes live happily under the influence of the Sea Kings.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 11

Favorite Adventure you have run?

I'm going to limit myself to published adventures for today's challenge to spare you all my gaming fiction if I tried to describe one of my own adventures.

I am a big fan of Gary Gygax's giant series of modules (G1 - G3) and my favorite of the three is the middle one, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. The module I have used the most often and in some form or another for pretty much every group I've ever DM'd for is Mike Carr's B-1 In Search of the Unknown. 

B-1 was an invaluable teaching tool for a new DM and has a very well designed map for classic dungeon exploration play. I also had the chance to play Fight in the Skies with Mike Carr at GaryCon V last March and Mike is just one hell of a nice guy and a great game designer. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Background Cyrene Kingdoms

300 years ago in the far east beyond the headwaters of the Tiphrates River, the Dread Empress Cyrene forged a realm that reached the shores of the Sea of Strife. Her armies, inspired by equal measures of fear, love and lust for their Empress, held the lands in her name for 250 years. She was finally destroyed two generations ago by the greatest hero of his age, Rostam.

For some years following her death, the priests of her cult as Empress and Goddess were able to hold the empire together. Beset by dreams of power from the inside and the destabilizing influence of the Sea Kings, the once dread empire has dissolved into a patchwork of petty kingdoms and independent fiefdoms. The cult of Cyrene is still prevalent in the lands where she once ruled and the priests whisper into the ears of every kinglet and nobleman the dreams of reforging the empire and ruling it again in Cyrene's name.

Through trade, bribery and espionage the Sea Kings have been successful in keeping the various ambitious rulers at one another's throats. It is a risky game they play, the constant strife may create a ruler strong enough to subdue his neighbors and sweep across the region.

30 Day Challenge - Day 10

Craziest thing that happened that you saw?

So many funny, silly, over the top and awesome things have I seen. I think I will have to give this one to my friend Tom Kroupa. In a long running DragonQuest campaign Tom was playing Sarvik, a member of the College of Black Magics (Witch to you and me). Our party was on a mission to find an artifact, The Cloak of Command, that was believed to be capable of turning the tide of battle for our beleaguered home kingdom that was beset by a ruthless and stronger neighboring despot. We were beginning to get somewhat desperate in our quest has we had already been in search of the cloak for several months and were currently deep in the enemy kingdoms holdings.

We finally found our objective in a ruined temple deep in a swamp guarded by an insane, and insanely powerful, priest. The fight with the priest was long and difficult and nearly cost us several party members. While the party was catching its breath and healing our severely wounded comrades, Sarvik grabbed the cloak and put it on. The members of the party still on their feet reached for their weapons and ordered Sarvik to take of the cloak. That's when Sarvik showed us the power of the cloak. He ordered us to surrender. Compelled by the artifact level enchantment we threw our weapons at his feet and surrendered.

We quickly and loudly pointed out to him that our surrender wasn't getting him out of the swamp. 

Sarvik drew the cloak around himself and ordered us to "Serve me for the rest of your lives".  

Then Sarvik and the rest of us learned about the drawbacks of this particular artifact. A wearer of the cloak was allowed one and only one command. The party began to make gleeful plans for the horrible things we were going to do to Sarvik once we freed our selves from the magically induced surrender. 

That was when Tom played the card that turned the whole situation into crazy and awesome. He had learned a spell that had a very low chance of success, less than 10% cast chance in the current situation, and a better than 50/50 chance of backfiring and going horribly wrong for him. Knowing that he had nothing left to lose since he had squandered his one use of the cloak, Sarvik cast the spell. Tom rolled an 01 on percentile dice (a critical success in DragonQuest) and great shadowy bat wings unfurled from his back and he flew away from us at great speed never to be seen again.

Ordinarily, we would have taken Tom out back and hit him a few times for being a douchebag; but his exit was so awesome and the series of events were such an emotional rollercoaster that we had to congratulate him for his epic moment.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 8 and 9

These seem like related questions so I'm going to answer them in one post.

Favorite Character Played?

This is a tough one. I've played dozens of characters that I enjoyed but there are two that I just can't pick between. So you get not one but two descriptions of someone else's character. I'll try to be brief.

Jason of Dimart was a fighter that I played for nearly three years in an amazing campaign. In the course of his career he won many accolades and eagerly spent his loot on improving his social standing. When he was knighted for services to the crown he spent a fortune on new armor and regalia to fit his new station. When asked to help the crown against the actions of pirates, he bought and outfitted a war cruiser.

While on a diplomatic mission for his King he killed a man who impugned his wife's honor. He embraced the resulting outlawing and dual classed into Thief and eventually made the switch to Druid and became a 1ed. Bard. The only character I've ever played long enough to accomplish that feat.

Aemilie Medani d'Medani AKA Captain Bellamy was a 4ed Warlord modeled after the classic Pirate Queens of 18th century. For nearly a year of sessions everyone in her party was convinced that Bellamy was a male half-elf pirate who had lost his ship to a rival. The look on everyone's face when she was revealed as a female scion of the Eberron House Medani is a memory that still makes me smile to this day.

Favorite Character Not Played?

I'm going to have to depart from D&D for this one. The life-path based character generation system for classic Traveller was a really fun mini-game in own right. After having a couple of characters die during character generation, I finally had a character survive his career rolls and finish with a small free trader. Alas, the campaign itself was never played. I still regret not getting to actually play Traveller.

30 Day Challenge - Day 7

Favorite Edition?

This one seems to be an incitement to the kind of edition warring that led me to flee EnWorld. So let me preface my answer with a little background disclaimer. I have been playing D&D since 1978. In those 35 years I have played every edition ever printed and I have played all of them with pleasure for at least a couple of years each.

That said, my favorite edition is Gary's own Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In a lot of ways I consider all of the OSR games that take the LBBs or Holmes or Moldvay/Cook or Mentzer editions and add something of their own to them as siblings of 1e AD&D. I love to pick and choose and grab the good stuff from any of them and in a lot of ways I really consider them all the same version. Not unlike the way we use to pick and choose what we were going to include in our campaigns from Unearthed Arcana or Judges Guild material or Arduin or Dragon articles.

These days I run Adventurer Conqueror King with a few bits pulled from AD&D.

Background - The Sea Kings

The Tiphrates River is the large river that flows into the Sea of Strife in the northern part of the eastern shoreline.

In the dawn of time a thriving, agrarian civilization of humans arose along the fertile banks of the Tiphrates River. As their population swelled many extended family groups began to migrate along the river valley. Some followed the Tiphrates upstream and were lost to the people of the valley. Many more went downstream until they arrived on the shores of a large inland sea, the Sea of Strife.

These people began building boats, first for fishing, and then later for exploration and finally to trade along the other shores of the sea. As the first merchant venturers in the region, the wealth they were able to amass  was staggering. With this wealth they began to build war ships to "protect" the trade lanes. This was quickly followed by great forts constructed at important trading locations and the wealth of the great sea captains was poured into rich palaces and cities on every shore of the Sea of Strife. 

The reach and power of the great captains was such that they began to be called the Sea Kings by the other dwellers in the region. The captains themselves are rulers of the polities and are styled as Tyrant of their city. At times the Tyrants will issue some edict or proclamation jointly. When they do so they issue it from The Sea Kings to reinforce their combined power in the region.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 6

Favorite Deity?

This is kind of a difficult question for me. I play cleric and druid types with much enjoyment but rarely are my characters terribly concerned about their patron deity. In campaigns I've run over the years I created multiple pantheons and plenty of NPCs who were motivated in one way or another by the deities from those pantheons; but while I have an authors pride in most of them I would hesitate to claim one as a favorite.

I'm going to go back to stories from Bulfinch's Mythology that I read long before I started gaming (before D&D was released, I'm getting up there). The story of Tyr agreeing to put his hand in the mouth of the Fenris Wolf to give surety for the truthfulness of the Aesir, knowing that he would lose the hand as a result, has always resonated with me. 

Tyr, Lawgiver, you are my favorite deity. Lawful Stupid, arguably, but as an exemplar of sacrifice for a greater good that I consider an important component of lawful alignment, I salute you.


I have been working on the background info for the Sea of Strife and it is threatening to take on a life of its own and never be completed. So rather than post one overly long article I'm going to post a series of articles with a brief-ish background of the various regions on and around the Sea of Strife.

Friday, September 6, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Days 4 & 5

One interesting question and one silly one today and I will be caught up with the challenge. On to it.

Favorite Gameworld?

I started playing D&D in the late 70's and the World of Greyhawk dropped a torch on the flask of oil that was my gaming imagination. I still have a huge affection for the Flanaes and I believe it holds up for well.

I also enjoy the flavor of The Old World setting for Warhammer Fantasy and, apparently unlike a lot of the OSR fans, I quite like the magi-tech feel of Eberron.

Your Favorite set of Dice/Individual Die?

On to the silly, my favorite individual die is the one I just rolled a 20 on. The truth is I'm a bit of die whore and will constantly buy new shiny ones and constantly give old favorites away to friends and to my kids. For my birthday, I backed the Kickstarter from these folks and I think the set I chose will be my favorite for a long time to come.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Map, Actually

For the couple of folks following along at home, I still haven't scanned my sub-continent map. I did take a decentish picture of it that I can post as an image.

Thanks for your patience.

30 Day Challenge - Day 2 & 3

Depending on which version of D&D you're playing day 2 and day 3 of the challenge questions may be inseparable.  Since I am worldbuilding for an ACKS campaign which uses racial classes, I am going to answer both of these in one post (that and I'm late getting started).

Favorite playable race?

Over the years I have played more humans than any fantasy race; but I have a soft spot for Dwarves and I reserve my greatest affection for my Dwarven characters.

Favorite playable class?

Far and away my favorite class, in all its quirky glory, is the original AD&D Bard. I love the difficulty of achieving it. I love its tight association with druidic colleges and its use of druid spells. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

30 Day Challenge - Day 1

How you got started?

I purchased the Holmes blue book boxed set with birthday money. My set included the dice and the module B-1 In Search of the Unknown. If various internet sources are to be believed that would make it a 4th or 5th printing version from 1978. Sadly, it disappeared decades ago. I ran that module many times for many different friends through junior high and high school. The last time was my own re-working I called Return to Quasqueton. Using the same maps and location descriptions, I populated the dungeon with a returned Rogahn and Zelligar who came back as a Skeleton Lord and Lich, respectively; and accompanied by suitably higher level retainers and followers.