Direbane is an abode to share artifacts, simulacra, histories, and other items of note related to ongoing years adventuring.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Goodness Gracious, I've Gone to the Dark Side

What with the new 2024 revisions due to start being released this coming September, I am converting my online game to D&D 5th edition.

I still have to end the multiverse in an upcoming session in my ongoing chain of campaigns (the hybrid in-person/online using Advanced Labyrinth Lord), where the Illithids will be heading back in time and who with it's anybody's guess. Codex of the Infinite Planes is involved which in my book gives the game ref pretty much carte blanche to do whatever.

So I have this blend for the online game where I removed cleric-types and wanted to run sort of this post Multiverse annihilation religious-agnostic setting where the outer planes are gone, obliterated. The culture still references religious icons and rituals, but there is is nothing out there or perhaps something that the culture doesn't expect.

Then my little hamster-wheel of a brain starts turning and what if this is a wraparound setting: BOTH post annihilation of the multiverse and pre-formulation. Interesting ideas there. While religion isn't my bag, I thought well maybe this particular little campaign can play around with religion/spirituality/what lies beyond or inside or outside the scope of what's on a particular PC's character sheet.

I had been toying a lot with planes of existence for oh the past decade maybe, picking up little tomes I thought might be helpful. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything that has dealt with planes in a fresh or different way that resonated with me. However...

During my old perusals I did pick up a copy of the first book published by Wizards of the Coast from back in their pre D&D days, The Primal Order about creating pantheons. Not having read that book much, but getting hip with the concepts, I also found a copy of Chessboards: The Planes of Possibility which deals with planar construction. The copies I have are the early versions with conversion charts for AD&D and other RPGs before the inevitable cease-and-desist letters arrived.

All the while I was intending to continue using Advanced Labyrinth Lord rules hoping that I could entice a few more of a large hybrid group to join the online game. After a couple sessions it was clear I had my core group of players and there weren't more coming at present, then I learned about the new 2024 revisions to 5th edition and my interest was piqued.

Now we did run our regular group with a hybrid 5th edition rules set "Advanced Knights of the All Mind" for about 2 years pre-Covid, so we are familiar with it. And of the core group one was super adept at 5e, and 2 others were reasonably proficient (better than me) getting me to think of building up my chops on the latest version of D&D. Ha, the players will also have some new bells and whistles while I mess with them.

We are sticking with just the core 5e rules until the revisions are released in September. And for running this campaign fondly being referred to as the "Psychedelic Deadlands" campaign, I put together a 5e gig bag which is not all 5e:
  • All 3 of the core 5e books: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual
  • The "Wilderness Kit" screen which for my purposes is better suited than the DM screen "Reincarnated"
  • The aforementioned Primal Order and Chessboard books
  • Toolbox by Alderac Entertainment Group, a bunch of useful ref's random tables which I have owned for nearly 2 decades without using it much
  • Vornheim: The Complete City Kit by Zak Smith still the best for random city construction/adventures and lots more
  • Finally, my copy of The Critonomicon, a long out of print 3rd edition splatbook by Technomancer Press of very specific and fun crits and fumbles (Cripes, someone crafted a 5e version!)
One thing I have to remember is that WotC/Hasbro is a book publishing company, and not to fall in the trap I did during the decade of the Aughts with 3rd edition lore books. DIY is where it's at.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Perrin Conventions and Cinematic Death at DunDraCon #47

(George the Gnome Barbarian.)

Mere weeks after D&D turned 50 years old, DunDraCon 47 was held (should have been #49, exception years were DunDraClone in 1981 and the Covid shutdown year 2021), showing the gaming convention's roots with the world's most popular role playing game.

Friday night has been Arduin night for me at the con. Four of the past five conventions I've run a variety of places in Dave Hargrave's world (Caliban, Green Hell, Talismonde, Dead Watch Mountain). Hargrave eventually had his own rules system published, however, the first three volumes of the Arduin Grimoires from 1977 track very closely to the original D&D's first 3 booklets + supplements I-IV

My own gaming group from the beginning used Arduin's races, classes, tables, etc. as supplements to our 1st edition AD&D game which in the earliest couple years did not have the benefit of the Dungeon Masters Guide (and this tweaked our version of D&D for decades!). As a particular conceit of my convention games I have been attempting to run the Arduin DunDraCom scenarios from the original Arduin Trilogy rules-as-written (using the Arduin Trilogy compendium book by Emperor's Choice Games).

Now, Dave Hargrave in the original trilogy does have a simple no-roll initiative system where combatants basically count down in Dexterity order, with the twist that if a person's dex is twice (or even 3x) their opponent they receive 2 (or 3) extra attacks against them.

Historically our gaming group used AD&D's 1-minute rounds and their internal 6-second segments, reducing actions to discrete numbers of segments to get a more cinematic feel for the action i.e. the dragon will breath in 2 segments, what do you do? Now that we are gaming Advanced Labyrinth Lord's B/X-style 10-second melee rounds, it seemed a natural fit segments = seconds, but I hadn't stumbled upon a satisfactory method for assigning what tasks could be done in what time... until now.

I had heard about The Perrin Conventions by Steve Perrin of Chaosium and distributed at DunDraCon #1 back in 1976. All I really knew was that they were an early attempt to make D&D combat more in the moment rather than the wargaming-style abstractions where hits and damage were not individual swings, rather they were the abstract results from a period of time (often a minute) of melee.

Steve Perrin and just about all of the early west coast D&Ders were members of the faux-medieval Society for Creative Anachronism formed out of UC Berkeley in 1966. Their experience with combat within society events didn't sit right with the OD&D rules, so Perrin endeavored to create more realistic rules in his conventions. Perrin finally published The Perrin Conventions in All the World's Monsters, Volume 2.

Low and behold, I happened to be looking through a copy of All the World's Monsters, Volume 2 for the Pirates of Hagrost game I am running, and right in the first sentence" "SEQUENCE OF PLAY - Melee Round, In a melee round, (which takes up 10 seconds)" (emphasis added) These conventions are for 10 seconds rounds, same as we are using in Labyrinth Lord.

I worked up a version for our campaign that uses still the d6 initiative roll and also my interpretation of speed factor and incorporated the conventions into our supplement for Advanced Labyrinth Lord, New Knights of the All Mind, and play tested the rules at my Friday night Arduin game at DunDraCon.

I had for the first time had a light turnout for the Arduin game, we had only 4 players when previously I had to turn a couple folks away each time. I had each player run 2 characters a piece and we had a blast.

Down at the final battle against the Hell Dragon when he was due to breath napalm breath all across the party, George the Gnome leapt on the dragon's back plunging in a 2-handed sword to divert the dragon's attention. As the dragon flew back down to dive into the magma lake and prepare another attack, our Star Powered metamorphized puma mage managed to read a scroll of part water (5 seconds) to expose only barren rock for the dragon to face-plant upon.

Alas, with 4 seconds to try and save George, there was nothing available to be done and, along with the dragon, George was smashed. (The dragon however had 6 hit points left and did return for a final blow...)

The cinematics of the scene were terrific, and with everyone running 2 characters each that they weren't too attached with, losing a character didn't mean you were out of the game. Great fun.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Happy 50th Birthday Dungeons and Dragons!


Per D&D Historian Jon Peterson, D&D was first released in late January 1974, so Jon picked Sunday, January 26, 1974 as Sunday was the day each week Gary Gygax invited folks out to his home in Lake Geneva to demonstrate the new game.

(I began playing about 4 years later, the last week of December 1977, after Dr. John PhD received the Holmes Basic Set as a Birthmas gift.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Iconic RPG Author and Artist Jennell Jaquays Passed On Today

 Jennell Jaquays left us today. She wrote many Judges Guild scenarios for D&D that were used several times over during my early gaming,  most notably Dark Tower. Ha, I played a lot of paladins and always braved the tower for its Mitraic artifacts.

Later on I ran The Lost Tower for my ver. 3.5 Wilderlands campaign back in the ought's, converted Borshak's Lair for Empire of the Petal Throne, and used The Crypts of Arcadia as the underlying framework for a dungeon set in Arduin beneath the capital city of Talismonde.

In 2017 I was adapting Night of the Walking Wet to 5th edition rules when I read a post by Zak Smith that D&D was too male dominated, and a good exercise was to take that idea for a dungeon module you created and reverse all the genders, so kings become queens, dukes duchesses, lords ladies, and so on. Which is really interesting when for example an evil butchering baron who runs a keep is the evil baroness butcher.

I was working on that and having a great deal of fun, when I realized "woh" this could be seen as something mocking Jennell. I hold Jennell in such high esteem that, although probably she would never hear of my Walking Wet conversion, I wouldn't want to even throw that out in the world that this was some sort of personal satire about Jennell. So I searched for her contact information, discovering a contact form at one of her production companies, and wrote Jennell about my predicament. Offering just to scrap the whole project if she thought it was bad form.

Jennell wrote back:

Hi Matt.

Thank you for the letter. No worries about cheap stunts, etc. I jumped across the stream six years ago already. I'm surprised these days if someone HASN'T heard about it. And to answer the question that many ask, "Yes, I'm a LOT happier now."

I'll try to give your version of The Walking Wet a look over sometime soon. I ran a Swords & Wizardry version of it (with many modifications) two years ago in Texas and am currently doing a complete overhaul and expansion of it for one of my own projects. I set the events of my original adventure in the past of the one I'm working on. Lots of map expansions and revisions, new world content, some new monsters, and more. My current working draft is about 80 pages, typeset. I'm doing the same with another adventure Morkendaine Manor, that I wrote for issue 9 of the Dungeoneer as well. Unsurprisingly, a lot of my characters are female and unashamedly LGBT as well. 

 I currently have four different RPG adventure projects in the work and really need to finish one of them (I did, earlier this year, something called The Dragon's Secret for a fund raiser).

 Anyway, I hope the convention run goes well.

Folks that work in this niche hobby of ours are gracious as all get-out. I can think of only 1 single author of adventures I've enjoyed over the years who did not respond to a question or comment about their work. (Ha, and that query was really about obtaining something super rare that had been taken out of production.)

This particular response, however simple to Jennell, was poignant to me and stretched me back 3 1/2 decades to my 16-year-old self.

Thank you Jennell, you are missed. 

If folks want to help out Jennell's wife, there is a Go-Fund-Me page that was to help with refitting Jennell's home to help with her disability. This will now go to pay down medical bills and cover funeral expenses. 😢

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Dragon's Throat Submitted for DunDraCon


I submitted my entry for this year's DunDraCon, those of you out here on the left-coast should check this con out. Located at the Santa Clara, CA Marriott Hotel the Friday through Monday of Presidents Day weekend February 16-19, 2024.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Fundraiser for Jennell Jaquays

Sad news about the health of Jennell Jaquays. Jennell's is a well known name to most old school gamers, a highly influential game designer and artist of the industry since the early days. 

Rebecca Heineman on GoFundMe wrote:

Jennell Jaquays has a long road back

I’m fundraising to help offset what is going to be heavy medical costs for Jennell’s treatment and recuperation from Guillain-Barré syndrome. On Sunday evening on October 15th, she fell ill and with 36 hours she was barely alive and hooked up to a respirator. After numerous X-rays, cat scans and blood work finding nothing, they determined she is suffering from a neurological disease.

She is responding to the blood treatments and has started regaining motion in her hands and feet, she is looking at a minimum of 2 weeks (more like 4) in the hospital and six to twelve months of rehabilitation.

We are still reeling from the suddenness of this and the mountain of bills that will be forthcoming.

If you’re a fan of her work, a friend, or just someone who wishes to help us out in our hour of need, please help us

At the minimum, keep Jennell in your thoughts and send good vibes for a speedy recovery.

Thank you
Rebecca Heineman and Jennell Jaquays

Jennell, creator of The Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Engine Consummate

So I am hacking the dénouement in Dawn of the Overmind, from the illithid Monstrous Arcana adventure trilogy. When the PCs in my game reach the Overmind the Multiverse will have collapsed and the stars winked out of existence.

The Tharzadu'unian Markabs - elder abyssal creatures who now gnaw their way through Empire starclusters - are only messengers of the great doom. What goads them onward at this time, 20,000 years from when our earliest adventuring parties explored the Wilderlands, is the fear of impending annihilation. Looming behind the Markabs is an expanding, starless rift in the Space/Time fabric grown so large that it consumes Past, Present, and Future. Time has run out.

Ha, I have options for the PCs (once hopefully at least some of them survive the Gyth invasion of Penumbra where Mind Flayers gather to board the Overmind). An old character last heard walking Narcosa remains attuned with the Codex of the Infinite Planes although presently he's stuck inside the Monolith Beyond Space and Time.

My D&D campaign (har because really they are all just one campaign in the Multiverse, thanks Arduin!) in earth-time probably got going in late 1978 or early 1979, when D&D was still marketed as an "Adult Fantasy Role-Playing Game," and there was something for me like a here I am on the left coast conceit that everything should fit together, Everything...!

And that's what I've endeavored to do over 40-some-odd years of running games, with characters spanning 50,000 years of existence from the earliest time a PC appeared in the time-line up to the current adventurers. (NO, ha I did not ref 50,000 years. We bounce around a lot.)

Presently in our real-life meatspace the Beforetimes are bumping up against the new weird and it has seriously fucked with our gaming group. 

When we began these current iterations we played semi-regular in-person games pretty much centered around San Francisco Bay as everyone had pretty much dispersed anywhere from 40 to a couple hundred miles around there. With the pandemic all of a sudden we are 100% online and what was once a gathering of the tribe became sort of like a D&D Zoom meeting. It hadn't helped because we were rotating refs on a regular schedule, so getting vested in an ongoing thematic arc was nigh impossible. 

With Covid restrictions having lifted, we have basically three camps: Only D&D in-person, Only D&D online (due to convenience, travel costs), and the hybrid D&Ders like myself (we enjoy the convenience of an online game but still prefer that roll of dice in the presence of friends).

Thus I'm postponing my session until DunDraCon 47 (Saturday February 17, 2024 7pm probably in the Open Gaming Room) to blow up the whole campaign setting to smithereens. Ha, THESE tentacle-faces are NOT going to make it back to re-enslave the Giths (really, the Giths are actually going to screw that up, or fix things from their perspective).

I've weighed running a PC versus refereeing a game and for now I just want a new campaign to run, a separate online (or primarily online) campaign to run as a straight DM i.e. not rotating and start with new characters. I think I can get most of our group to attend regular monthly online sessions. Basically I use 99% Discord voice and images with maybe a smidgen here and there of Roll20 where folks really desire a map (I am totally fine doing Theatre of the Mind crap so really the Roll20 is because players don't map much any more).

On the other in-person campaign we might remain to some sort of referee rotation, perhaps even continuing the same characters if somehow they survive, but we'll have nail down who wants to ref and who doesn't. Probably 5 out of our 8 regulars ref our games now. But this campaign would be less frequent, perhaps 4 times a year. Though even with the reduced number a couple of our really fun players won't (Sick Rick) or can't (Ikbard) travel. That kind of takes the vintage punch out of gathering in-person, but we'll lose 2 players who only will in-person (Sumerled and Random Addison).

My best idea, and it really depends if others still want to ref or run PCs, would be to run the online game monthly for 11 months of the year and meet in person at DunDraCon every February.

The gnarly reality is that I probably only have 1-3 decade long campaigns left (our average party runs about 12 years and in 36 years I'll be 95!). And there's several settings I'm vested in (although of course they'll be hacked into the ever-existing campaign). I just have to face the bloody reality of an aging group, dispersed to the winds, and utilize the modern tools to make a game fun and intense online.

Ha, at least we aren't still using speaker phones or Online Gametable chat games. (And maybe, just maybe I'll run a discrete original Wilderlands campaign for Sumerled and Addison, just because they're both local...)