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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Secrets of Blackmoor Kickstarter

Blackmoor tribute painting by Kevin Mayle.
There is a very important piece of gaming history being finalized that y'all should back in the Kickstarter, The Secrets of Blackmoor. (Fudge, I had a bad link...) Basically detailing how Dave Arneson invented the role-playing structure of what came to be Dungeons & Dragons, the actual mechanic of a player being responsible for a single fantasy hero with the idea of a referee providing the scene and the essential question "What do you do?"

It is funny, because even back in the day (from 1979 or a little later) there was this discussion our group had about Gygax versus Arneson style. This was probably provoked by the common knowledge that AD&D first edition's effect was to pretty much shut out Dave Arneson as an author of D&D (Dave was listed on the OD&D books and the Blackmoor supplement, but excluded from AD&D).

Our group was firmly in the Judges Guild Wilderlands camp of settings even though we also had Greyhawk campaigns, and bought into the bizarre mix of the fantasy and discrete sci-fi influences from City State of the Invincible Overlord and Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign about Blackmoor and published by Judges Guild.

Also, for better or worse, Gygax was often affiliated with the "DM vs Player Character" mode with dungeons designed to kill and ferret out the truly "best" players, rather than cooperative exploration and breathless team combat.

The stripped-down nature of Judges Guild and Dave Arneson's Lands of Blackmoor left open the areas for modification and exploration not only by player characters, but also for the Game Judges who ran the game. Everything was messier which is the way we roll...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Arctic Cat & Pin-Cushions

(White elf cleric in snow*)
Midnight hour approaches and adventurers' dreams spersed of huge spider grinding sexually against wizardly human - pincers dripping ichor against his head.

As party awakens from troubled visions, Druid at guard indicates a quint of holy warriors moving forward in the snow, accompanied, Lizard-cleric recognizes, with his allies the Half-orc barbarian and elf mage-thief. Lizard-cleric wonders strange what brings together across the multiverse.

Group approaches and board druid's earthen platform, when Lizard-cleric's expansive infravision spies a lone being standing off several yards behind the interplanar arrivals. Apparently a white-haired elf woman, attired in ivory-beaded jewelry and bearing a largish white cat in her arms.

Haughty paladins charge at female through snow, who sets aside feline and unleashes a column of ice upon the devout cavaliers. As a paladin reaches elfin enchantress at her position, she has vanished. Instead, bearing across the snow plain is a ship of elves unleashing volleys of damaging arrows.
(White Elves' snow runner*)
The craft circles at long arrow-distance to avoid direct combat (Lizard-cleric does knock-off crow's nest inhabitant), and our heroes regroup when druid is attacked by the white cat! The lynx-sized creature slashes at druid's throat simultaneously unleashing a spell of debilitating noxious clouds.

While the adventurer's gather themselves against the missile weapons, Lizard-cleric and human Paladin are able to defeat cat from slaying druid. But suddenly the white elves' snow-ship is bearing down again from the opposite side. Running full speed, apparently aware of the region's topography but yet unaware of druid's earthen platform, the snow-runner crashes it's starboard side against the druid's elemental-piled earth and careens off in a spin.

Even disabled the white elves quickly regroup to arrow-attack, when druid confuses having shape-changed into lynxish white cat whom white elves do revere as commander.

White elves are defeated being unable to withstand mage-thief's fireballs, although a half-dozen escape, and the party examines their bone-crafted weapons and accouterments. The craft itself seems to bear some directional indicators - a bone-spur of cut sundial surrounded by cardinal points with interlineated markings and a rotating pointer under glass.

Perhaps indicators to the elves' base, or some other adventures...

(*White Elf slightly mod from Luka Rejek's art. Larry Elmore drew snow runner without elves.)

Friday, October 12, 2018

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me: http://ixians.blogspot.com/2010/12/humanspace-empires.html
2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark: "Thayt Chevski, hye is ane rottah. I liketh him notte ande blayme hyme gretely. Lette hym bee beyten withe stikkes." -- Chaucer
3. Best OSR module/supplement: “Carcosa” by Geoffrey McKinney
4. My favorite house rule (by someone else): Zak S. 5th Ed. OSR Hack “Death & Dismemberment”
5. How I found out about the OSR: Gestalt over time since 2008, I suppose starting with http://grognardia.blogspot.com/
6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy: http://www.thewingless.com/forge/forge.htm
7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers: Google+
8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games: Google Blogspot comments
9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough: https://www.dropbox.com/s/244p1pe4qmkw6nw/ChasmoftheDrow.pdf?dl=0
10. My favorite non-OSR RPG: I do not presently have one, Call of Cthulhu 7th ed maybe?
11. Why I like OSR stuff: Because there is a tendency to go beyond the rated PG-13.
12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet: “Weird Adventures” by Trey Causey and “Narcosa” by a bunch of folks.
13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be: http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/
14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/175958/Underport-Abyssal-Descent?src=slider_view
15. I'm currently running/playing: Gently modified 5th ed in future dystopian Wilderlands (loosely… “Frosbitten & Mutilated” for Wild North; ‘Vornheim” for Veridistan, “Narcosa” for Elphand Lands, “World of the Lost” for Valley of the Ancients & Glow Worm Steppes; “Yoon-Suin” for CSIO; “Cinderheim” for The Desert Lands; and “Monolith Beyond Time and Space” for Blackmoor.)
16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because: Ascend and Descend convert seamlessly.
17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Caliban at DunDraCon!

DunDraCon #43 is on it's way, President's Day Weekend in February 2019, and I have my submission in for a mostly-annual Friday evening "official" game. I am updating the high-level Arduin dungeon, "Caliban," by David Hargrave (1979) for use with 5th ed. characters of the World's Most Popular Role-Playing Game.

I am roughly a third of the way through the process, being that the lion's share is going through the original version and annotate it with the stats (all in OD&D-mechanics) from the Arduin Grimoires, then next updating the material into a useable format for 5th ed.

I've just about completed transcribing and annotating the Ground and 1st levels, then need to finish the 2nd and 3rd levels before I start making 5th ed. adjustments.

Mark Schynert, DunDraCon games scheduler and editor of Compleat Arduin, provided these words of encouragement: "Go, Cali, GO... Eat them all!"

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Henderson Monster Creation Table

Steve Henderson, (1944-2006) of Gloriantha, RuneQuest, Chaosium, DunDraCon, and Society for Creative Anachronism fame, crafted a nice little random monster generator for Jeff Pimper's and Steve Perrin's first All the World's Monsters (1977) tome. (You can still purchase a PDF of the book here from Chaosium. 256 critters only $5!)

The tables by themselves will produce some tough nasties. Ha, there is no procedure for mitigating a creature based on the party's capabilities. That's some old school, you gots to know when to beat the expeditious retreat.

There are also percentile chance for "special" movement, attack, and other abilities. Also it seems each beastie gets at least one special detection and immunity.

Interesting bonus, you make up the creature's appearance however you wish. The only visual cue is whether the monster is "Indescribable," "Hideous," "Average," or "Beautiful."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Demon City

(That's 455 pages, printed double-side with no art)
Go figure. The same day I decide to print and start reading the backer's draft to Zak Smith's "Demon City" my copy of collected stories, Tales of Zothique, by Clark Ashton Smith arrives. (Such tales set in Zothique Dave Hargrave writes for his bibliography to The Arduin Adventure are, "... the true progenitor of ARDUIN.")

This is why I have unfinished books all over my house...

(Yes, the wall behind my desk is a stack of boxes. A relative moved occasionally semi-permanently into my home office and I have been relegated to the garage.)

Friday, August 17, 2018


(Original 1st level of "Metropolis of Chaos")
    Hot damn, I have too many irons in the fires, so's to speak, and while our adventuring group is chugging along I haven't contributed much of anything to the Greater OSR Community since reformatting my auld adventure from the 70-80s, Underport: Abyssal Descent.

    So here are the original vestigial notes that I used to run what is going to be assembled as "Metropolis of Chaos" (in their original AD&D format).

    Much of the original adventure's story was run impromptu around probably 1984-85 (?) addled with a variety of alcohol and drugs including a conclusion on good old Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.

    I just need to focus, focus, focus. Ha the story of my life...

Monday, August 6, 2018


Yes, back in a mid-80s game run by J.A.S. my brownie techno-thief, BjeeBjop, built this thing out of some wreckage... I think drow were chasing us with jet planes or similar. We shot one down.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Of Techno Demons and Zippo Knights

Sick Rick and Dinglebrandsongulbunsonburner (Dingle for short) were always a trippy pair of co-DMs. Their first quest for our party (back in 1990) was across the Great Glass Sea on land-ships battling thri-kreen, then flying up mountain ranges to ruined cities and vampires.

This is their second go round occurred 'round 1994. Although my records say me and Sick Rick were DMing at the time, I am sure Sick Rick and Dingle ran this campaign. (Fixed the record.)

Now, I don't really know what the city of Lankhmar had to do with anything. I remember the weird, fiery City, Chicilube, and fighting techno demons - and that was the easy part! Our troubles really started once we were chased by the drow Zippo Knights riding their light spheres wielding horrendous artifact weapons and ended up in a forest to encounter mutant wood elves.

It seems we ended up finding some artifact of our own that saved the day.

Anyhow, Sick Rick passed his game binder on to me and I scanned what notes they had from that scenario. The link above is Sick Rick and Dingle notes to run those games, although I returned Sick Rick's binder and am not sure if the page order is exactly correct.

Ha, use them if you dare...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

So Metal City

How can I have forgotten that somehow a year and a half or so ago I downloaded an overland adventure to the City of Brass, first part of an historic tournament adventure written by Rob Kuntz?

I am a City of Brass aficionado ever since the 1st ed. AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. The city, full of efreeti and surrounded by hot sands and lava, was time and again a useful place for the higher and highest level adventurers to visit.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

I have this sense that some in the RPG developer community are still (in the year 2018) twisted up about this...

Friday, October 17, 2008 (Ha, 18 days before I made a decision to attend law school no less - ML)

(by James Edward Raggi IV)

"The good record review describes what the record means, not what the record is." - METAL Diamonds and Rust (1999)

"Summon the Amphibious Ones: This eleven-hour ritual can be completed only on a fog-shrouded night. The sorcerer must obtain the root of potency found only in ruined apothecaries of the Snake-Men. The sacrifice is a virgin White girl eleven years old with long hair. The sorcerer, after partaking of the root, must engage in sexual congress with the sacrifice eleven times, afterwards strangling her with her own hair. As her life leaves her body, 10-100 of the Amphibious Ones will coalesce out of the mists." - Carcosa, page 31

Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, audaciously labeled as Supplement V (and thus belonging directly to the 1974 version of D&D), has created a firestorm of controversy and moral grandstanding that has unfortunately overshadowed the content itself. This being the case, a thorough look at both the product, and the outrage, is warranted.

Carcosa exposes the failure of at least part of the "old school" community and why it is no different than the mainstream of gaming. Instead of being seen as a toolkit to use for ideas, as is the OD&D way, the book is being largely decried as morally bankrupt by people who, for the most part, have not seen it, and of those that have, are concentrating on minute details, or one bit out of many presented. Is the traditional (or "old school," or "grognard," or whatever) movement based on willful ignorance? Is it based on the inability to think through the unspoken meaning in source material? Is it based on the whitewashing of what existing game mechanics mean in game-world terms? Is it based on the rejection of verisimilitude in favor of mindless escapism and "adventure"? This sounds more like 4e than 0e to me.

Can it be that the traditional revival is not built on quality games, but rather the wish of its aging players to retain their childhoods? In addition to preserving the games they played, are they also wanting to preserve their juvenile sense of innocence and refuse to let their gaming tastes broaden with them? This whole thing really isn't about nostalgia after all... is it?

And the outrage... I expected it from the RPGsite, but I was rather disappointed to see if from Dragonsfoot. The amount of "this is sick!" "oh my god, awful!" "No right-thinking person would ever even conceive of something like this!" sentiments expressed is just... perplexing. As if real people were being victimized, or real people were being influenced to do anything untoward besides sit around and imagine very wild sci-fi/fantasy.

Worse than the morality police that take offense at fictional atrocities (which don't really happen) against people (that don't really exist) are those who seek to "protect" our hobby by trying to kill anything that might be noticed by outsiders. "The accusations will start again! It will be the Bad Times again!"


Those who seek to imprison our minds and define "good thoughts" and "bad thoughts" should be ignored in our daily lives, defied in our imaginations, and fiercely fought, in real life by real means, whenever they seek to limit us.

This fear of attention and censure and the horror at the idea that maybe, just maybe, we really are different because we pretend to be elves on the weekend, it needs to die. At once. Completely. Let your imagination go and damned be those that say no. We should welcome fights against imagination killers simply because it is the right thing to do. Those that stand up and dare to be targeted should be praised, not vilified.

But we, as a community, obviously haven't learned a thing from the controversies of the 1980s. Gamers of the 70s and 80s survived the persecution and ignorance and harassment only to grow up and become exactly what they once fought. Like the definition of becoming mature is being willing to embrace your parents' mistakes or something.

The problem with the 1980s attacks on D&D wasn't that they were wrong about the content - although the fact that they often were made it easy to totally dismiss them - it was the fact that the content of the game and the fictional environment of the game has absolutely no influence concerning the real-life mentality, ethics, or health of the person playing the game. People influence the game being played, not the other way around.

To be very clear: Nothing in Carcosa even suggests that anything within its pages is anything but pure fiction. The setting is an alien world, with aliens, and Cthulhu, and ray guns and tanks and people with transparent skin. It's all fiction.

And nothing in fiction can ever be as immoral or harmful as the real life censorship of ideas.
So then. Sword and sorcery, as a genre... what does it mean? Dungeons and Dragons and its mechanics and process of play... what do they mean? Are Carcosa's methods and details in line with either, both, or neither?

"A note about Sword & Sorcery gaming: The Swords & Sorcery genre of writing presented characters who were morally ambiguous, not fighting for the greater good, but scrabbling for power and money with only a few scruples. True, they usually had more scruples than the villains, but not by all that much... Swords & Wizardry is designed for the Swords & Sorcery genre, where the characters begin as a seedy band of tomb robbers and mercenaries. Along the way, these characters might become more respectable and morally conscientious as they gain wealth and lands . . . but they might not." - Swords & Wizardry introduction, by Matt Finch.

"The slaughter will continue until play improves." - Stuart "OSRIC" Marshall.

Then there are the jokes about not naming characters until third level since they often don't survive that long anyway. The comments about how D&D characters really aren't "heroes" as a default.

Really, what does that say about D&D?

What moral, civilized characters and plots do we get from Anderson (fornicating paladins, incestuous lovers, baby-napping, genocide, war brides, opposition to the White Christ), Howard ("Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is the wim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph."), Vance (Cugel and the virgins, for just one example, the fate of Liane the Wayfarer for another, and many more charming tales), Lieber (Fafhrd is introduced by cheating on and abandoning his pregnant woman), Lovecraft (uncaring universe where mankind is but a speck and to have true knowledge of reality means to be a raving, violent lunatic)? These are core D&D sources.

And... for crying out loud. Carcosa. Robert W. Chambers. Hello? What were you expecting? 

Adventures in Fluffy Bunny Land?

In the D&D game itself, if we're going to ignore the precedent set by Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker's Book of Ebon Bindings (which Carcosa's author claims as his guidepost for what was or wasn't acceptable in his own work... how many are calling for the head of Barker, or at least demanding that gamers shun him?), let's see what wonderful things we can find there. Violence, death, and murder are a given. Stealing and thievery are right there in the rules as an activity of a core class. Mental domination and slavery are detailed as well (what exactly do you think is involved with a Charm Person spell?). Summoning extra-planar creatures is A-OK. Where do half-orcs come from? The assassin is right there as a playable class, and with that comes thorough discussions on the use of poison. Necromancy (every spell caster gets the ability to animate the dead!) is there. Evil exists as an objective, living force in D&D.

To those offended by Carcosa, how do you justify your involvement in a hobby that includes all of this, and draws from such depraved sources in the first place? Orc children are in the monster manual, but just because you abort them (sorry... "house ruling them out") so your players can more guiltlessly slaughter their entire race doesn't mean you're doing anything to eliminate moral issues from the game.

All Carcosa did was, in "modern cinematic" terms (gore hounds can go back to the 60s and 70s for prime splatter, so none of this blaming Hostel and Saw...), was show you what had previously been referred to but not revealed. What do you think was happening all the time in Melniboné? In Stygia? Hell, in the Temple of Elemental Evil? In Erelhei-Cinlu? Just because you try not to think about it doesn't mean somebody is mentally ill if they have.

Dungeons and Dragons, and everything done within the game, no matter how Lawful or Good the characters are, is ugly and brutish and repugnant when looked at through real-world morality. Deal with it or go do something else.

I like this. Carcosa presses contemporary buttons (without even intending to) involving violence, racism, rape, and children, and raises issues of "media responsibility." This is not a retro product. This is very modern and 100% confirmation that OD&D can be vital vibrant, and relevant here and now.

I think the real problem is not the descriptions of the rituals or any content whatsoever. The problem is an issue of character action in relation to player complicitness. And meaningful, intense play comes from engaging players. They must be taken out of their comfort zones and removed from autopilot D&D expectations. "Challenge the player" doesn't just mean logic puzzles and tactical difficulties. Morally uncomfortable situations excite the emotions, and for the quandary to be meaningful, the "wrong" (in real-word, or romantic, or heroic terms) choice must be a viable option. It must convey benefits equal to, or greater than, doing the obvious "right" thing. Heroism's first requirement is sacrifice, after all.

"Challenge the player" can confuse a player's involvement in who their character is both narratively and persona-wise. There should be no confusion - what players do in RPGs should never be confused with who they are or what they do in real life. Fiction. FICTION. FICTION.

And those modern hot-button issues... first is the fetishization of children. I'm not talking about the people who make sex objects out of children, but those who worry about it incessantly. Those who seek to protect children from every danger, real or imagined. Children are people, no more, no less. Short, ignorant people. They are not special. They are not different. In game terms, the helpless and victimized are villagers just as well as children. No difference.

And sexual violence? Reactions are completely out of whack. That recent South Park episode, showing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping Indiana Jones in scenes taken from Hollywood rape scenes (The Accused, Deliverance, etc), caused a stir. Yes, sexual violence is serious. I've been in relationships with people who have been raped. But it is not a sacrosanct subject beyond comment, examination, and fictionalization. Especially from a game and genre that often features mass slaughter. And that video I posted last week... rape happens in-game... and... it's a laugh! (you did watch the video, right?)

(the perception of sexual violence - against women and children, anyway - as being worse than other violence, and often being seen as worse than death - says something interesting about our society, doesn't it?)

And it's just the magic-users (or "sorcerers") that have to deal with such unpleasantness. Players have come to feel entitled to play a magic-using class in D&D that is completely divorced from the conditions or consequence that have traditionally afflicted such characters in literature (Faust!) or history (witch hunts!) or in source fiction (Lovecraft, Howard, etc etc etc). Magic, by definition, is transgressive. That players have traditionally gotten to present themselves in D&D as Gandalfy or Merliny is irrelevant. Many things can be done with D&D, and aping the way it's always been done completely defeats the purpose of doing anything new. We do want new, right? Not just more of what's already there?

It's a minefield, but the truth is, the controversy comes from snippets of text taken out of their home environment. The people raging haven't read it. They've read a review.

So what is Carcosa?

It is a 96 page booklet for use with Dungeons and Dragons (the 1974 edition), formatted and published to appear as one of the original books. However, it dismantles and reconfigures the D&D rules for its own purposes. The "OD&D is a toolkit" philosophy has been used to great effect here. Only the core rules are necessary, as Supplements I - IV are not used here.

There are but two classes in Carcosa. Fighting Men (standard from D&D), and Sorcerers. Sorcerers are a new class which cast no spells (so the entire traditional D&D magic system does not exist in Carcosa), but rather perform rituals, which all involve summoning, controlling, or dispelling Great Powers, which are taken from the Cthulhu mold.

Immediately, on the page the sorcerers are introduced, the downsides to their magic is described. The rituals are quite unreliable, and performing the rituals ages the caster a random number of years. Doing these things harms the sorcerer.

Then described are the races of Carcosa, which are pretty much all men, but color coded 13 different ways, including with colors that don't exist in real life.

A two-page new psionics system is then described.

Then it really gets wild. New ways to throw and read dice are introduced. Hit points are rolled at the beginning of every combat, and it is randomly determined what die type is used every time! That's right, if you have six hit dice, you never know if you'll be using 4-sided, 12-sided, or whatever sided dice to determine your hit points. And the monsters use this same method as well. It looks to be close to impossible to determine who might win a combat... there are so many variables that won't be determined until that combat starts.

Damage in combat is similarly random. For every die of damage done, you roll every die type, with the 20-sided determining which of the other dice is to be actually used. The fundamentals of the game are being completely redone in Carcosa.

"The above system of rolling hit dice and damage dice gives an overall average of 4.5 hit points per die. The system allows for greater uncertainty in the game. Cthulhu has 57 hit dice. Perhaps the players will be lucky and Cthulhu will get mere 4-sided hit dice when they attack. Or perhaps the lowly peasants will get lucky and have 12-sided hit dice when the greedy player characters attempt to rob them of their few copper pieces. In short, many hit dice do not necessarily mean many hit points, and few hit dice do not necessarily mean few hit points. Characters can be hopeful even against monsters with high numbers of hit dice, and at the same time cautious about attacking even those with only 1 hit die. Only after combat ensues will anyone (either players or referee) know what sort of hit die everyone involved gets to roll for that combat.

The same idea holds for doing damage. From round to round one’s weapon will be doing different ranges of damage. On some rounds, he will be reading the 4-sided die. On other rounds, he will be reading the 8-sided die. Etc. The pitchfork held by that lowly peasant could do as little as 1 point of damage in a given round, or as much as 12 points of damage."

Then on page 14 begins the descriptions of the rituals. There are 96 of them, all formatted identically to the example at the head of this review, and it takes up about 19 pages. Here is another example:

Obstruction of the Suckered Abomination: In an exposed outcropping of rock in hex 1103 is a layer of white crystal. A handful of it must be powdered fine for use in this one-minute ritual which can succeed only when the sun is visible in the sky. The sorcerer must get close enough to the Suckered Abomination to throw the powdered crystal upon it, which will drive it back to its unknown lair.
As you can see, not all of the rituals involve human sacrifice, but most of them do. It is important to note that every single ritual, no exceptions, involves dealing with these Lovecraftian powers. You aren't slitting throats to cast Magic Missile and you're not being an evil bad guy for the purpose of Cure Light Wounds. It's all Deal-With-The-Devil stuff. Sorcerers are Bad News. Just like in the source fiction.

You can also note here that the components for the spells are very Carcosa-specific (we'll get to the hexes and the map in a moment). This system can't simply be lifted out of Carcosa into your own campaign without some work.

Page 34 brings us the monster list. This, too, is Carcosa specific... the standard D&D monsters do not appear (save for oozes and purple worms). Heading up this list are Cthulhu, Hastur, Azathoth, and Nyarlathotep, just to let you know what you're getting. The pantheon of Lovecraft and friends is here. The most numerous creatures in the world of Carcosa are the Spawn of Sub-Niggurat, with every stat randomly determined. I would have much preferred to see bell-curve tables here than straight rolls (2d10 instead of d20, for example) so some results would be rarer than others, but it creates quick stats and can be used for any OD&D game.

(my Creature Generator is better for this purpose though, so nyah!)

Then the magic items of Carcosa are described. Guess what? Throw out your existing magic item tables, because none of them exist. And in fact... no magic items exist at all. All of the "magic items" are technology left behind by space aliens! Seriously... the section is labeled "SPACE ALIEN TECHNOLOGY," and cannons and tanks and Microwave Radiation weapons are possibilities. There's also various types of lotus powder. And a list of 94 elements which each has a different effect (half damage, two times damage, etc) on one of the 13 different races available for play. There are Black Pudding projectile weapons!

Miscellaneous items fill out the "magic" items table, including battle armor, projector shields, and... the Random Robot Generator! Some weird "artifacts" fill out the section.

Next up is a page of possible mutations, and then... it goes to the hex map. "400 encounters on an outdoor hex map with an area of 34,880 square miles" is what's advertised, and that's what is here. I haven't seen the map myself (I have an electronic copy that was sent to me for review purposes; my physical copy is on its way across the ocean to me) but the encounters are quick and succinct. A few examples:

0113 On moonless nights a sourceless sound like the rattling of bones can be heard.

0210 Village of 180 Blue Men ruled by “the Omnipotent Blue Emperor”, a neutral 12th-level Lord

0507 A cliff runs for several hundred feet along the seashore. Twenty feet below the level of the water a large door has been built into the side of the cliff. Within is a chamber holding a submarine built by the Space Aliens, which can hold up to twelve men. It is relatively simple to operate

0915 Amongst the forest is a stand of several dozen trees that are warm and supple to the touch. They moan from small mouths and ooze deep purple ichor. A sorcerer who kisses these small mouths and drinks of the ichor will be thrown into an ecstasy lasting for 8-12 hours. He will come to himself with the knowledge of The Oozing Column ritual.

Yeah, that's how sorcerers learn their rituals... but yeah, 400 of those, detailed in the book, and we're done.

That's one wild ride. Cthulhu! Space aliens! Ancient Serpent Men! Sandbox Hex Map Encounters! Drugs! Robots! Color-Coded Human Races! Mutants! Dinosaurs! Species 23750! Psychic powers! Mummy brains!

And yeah... evil sorcery rituals. Kind of seems... mundane now, knowing what it's piled together with, doesn't it?

Carcosa is an amazing book in every way. It stays true to its source material, embodies the creative and daring spirit that makes this hobby possible at all, eschews artificial limits of commercialism and public opinion and expands what it can mean to play Dungeons and Dragons. No OGL or other license used.

"Imagine the hell out of it." A little slice of hell has been imagined. Happy now? But this imagination is both the entire value of the book and the obstacle for use. It parallels ideas found in Empire of the Petal Throne and the Arduin Grimoires, is a cross-genre mash of fantastically vibrant and completely crazy ideas, and it completely blows the doors off of the contemporary understanding of what D&D is. If this book does not excite your imagination, nothing will.

But... it's all quite campaign-specific. Each of the previous supplements was more modular, with each of the components able to be used or not as the referee wished. Didn't like (the original) psionics? Or hit locations? Or a class? Use it or don't. But Carcosa makes that difficult... the entire new magic system is tied into the monsters and the setting, and the monsters and items and such are of such a specific flavor that importing them into your game could be difficult. The psionic system here should be easily portable, in addition to the rather revolutionary handling of the dice, and various other matters... but there is a large amount of material that you simply will not be using (or using only with a lot of work) if you are not using the Carcosa setting. That, more than any "objectionable" content, may be what holds this back from reaching a lot of people.

So that's Carcosa.

Don't like it? Think it's in bad taste? Not useful?

Then do it better yourself. McKinney showed us his vision of D&D. Now show us your Supplement VI.

(and with that... LotFP: RPG blog will officially accept product for reviews. If you have a product of interest, and just reading this blog will tell you the scope of what "of interest" would mean, I'm interested. Everything submitted will be reviewed. As long as it's a print product. Email me for contact information.)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Arduin Intro to Caliban

Ok, hopefully my good intentions will not get me into trouble! Here (**** Sorry, I removed this link for now. I am hoping to run this scenario at DunDraCon 43 and NO PEEKING) is an introduction to David Hargrave's dungeon, Caliban, which includes the setting outside the dungeon and the ground level encounters and traps within. 

Unfortunately the entire dungeon, with three more levels, is not presently available (commercially at least, other than $50-$75 used copies), however, posting the entire dungeon will certainly be too much if the copyright holders complain.

What I have done is annotated this portion of the scenario with all the particular monster, spells, and magik items descriptions that one would otherwise need to have the Arduin rulebooks to supply.

My hope is that folks can gain a bit of appreciation for the type of extreme dangers and rewards inherent to an Arduin game. If one focuses on the magic items first, it is like "Holy Toledo!" but I counted about half of the monsters with life level draining abilities. Ouch!

This is a HIGH LEVEL scenario. Dave wrote others such as "Howling Tower" and "Citadel of Thunder" that were appropriate for lower-level characters.

Also, historically in Dave Hargrave's own campaigns, he ran a high-power Arduin campaign with these extreme magic items, and also a low-power Arduin campaign where magic items are incredibly rare.

If you see some attributes of this scenario you enjoy, at least in terms of monsters, items, and spells, you can check out the Emperors Choice page on DriveThruRPG for additional Arduin products. Note that The Compleat Arduin from 1992 and Arduin Eternal from 2009, as well as the system neutral World of Khaas book about Arduin, were all written by others after Dave Hargrave had passed away (Dave died back in 1988). Compleat Arduin and Arduin Eternal are also new game systems that moved away from old editions of D&D rules.

For my money, I cannot recommend enough the Arduin Grimoire Trilogy book. It contains Arduin history, monsters, spells, items, classes, and a plethora of random tables for encounters, weather, etc. plus the infamous critical hit and fumbles! This book organizes the first three classic Arduin Grimoires in a single tome, combining the categories from each into single references, while keeping everything in the original writings of Dave Hargrave - whose singular voice and contributions to the RPG hobby are often overlooked.

Also, these early works were written in mind of and are completely compatible with OD&D and current OSR retro-clone rules. (I have even run his scenarios using 5th ed. with only minor adjustments.)

Ok then, please enjoy and accept this in the spirit of encountering one of the true greats!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Caliban Annotated

Caliban, Arduin Dungeon Number 1 written in 1979, has long held a mythical spot in my D&D ethos. The dungeon was the highest level in Hargrave's repertoire published for Arduin by Grimoire Games and went out of print in 1986 (other than in a short-lived Arduin compilation, Vaults of the Weaver, from 2006).

Caliban is described by Hargrave as "... an area that appears at random intervals and inside random dungeons, caverns, and the like. It is also known as the Chalice of Chance or Random Heart. It has appeared in Arduin only twice in all of the knowledge of Elf or Human."

Spacin-Jason from our old gaming group probably ran us through Caliban, but I do not have a distinct memory of it, ha, which actually is not surprising one way or another.

In 2008 published in The Arduin Trilogy (which I believe is the absolute best Arduin product available: content of the original 3 Arduin Grimoires, as written by Dave Hargrave, compiled by Becky Osiecki into single resources for monsters, spells, items, classes, history, etc, plus the complete Arduin Adventure basic set.) is Caliban's Seat, a supplement describing the 18,000-ft. high mountain of Caliban's last appearance as well as the gardens and gates entering the dungeon.

Given that I possess both The Arduin Trilogy and Vaults of the Weaver in addition to many, many other Arduin resources, my current project is to produce a work of Caliban that is annotated with the monsters, treasures, and spells from the greater Arduin encyclopedia, i.e. ready to run as-is without referencing other Arduin gaming resources.

I am in the early stages and the dungeon seems like it will fit right into 5th edition rules for The World's Most Popular Role Playing Game. Arduin in the 70s was proto-D&D and monster stats include the ubiquitous hit die, hit points, and armor class, and also helpfully include a creature's Dexterity attribute score.

Spells, magic items, and monsters are almost always unique to Arduin.

This should be fun to run which I will do for my home group and also probably Friday night (2/15/2019) at DunDraCon XLIII.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


The Man-With-No-Name awakes alone, opulent golden hatch open to the entryway hall exit door. Fully healed and stocked Man proceeds into hall, hatch sealing behind him with a hiss of pressurized air. The exit door opens with breezy chill to snowy white expanse. Once outside the Buddha Temple, as Man-With-No-Name surmised it would, vanished - lost to time or space. But Man was not alone in the frozen snow.

Reptile Cleric and McQueef the half-orc stood by, as also the dark-skinned half-elven ranger. One half-elf druidic personage of unknown character bemusedly surveyed the scene.

The distance hard to discern as horizon melded snow and cloudy sky, but to west are interspersed hillocks beneath the snow. To north the snowy plain extends to vision's limits. East on what appears as the horizon extends a beginning of grey backwoods, bereft of any greenery. And to the south perhaps a few hours march the snow-covered ground undulates as if a slow, wind-tossed ocean.

The party decides to venture southward where upon reaching the undulationous plain discovers acres upon acres of vast webbing over opposing armies frozen in battle. McQueef investigates closer and each soldier appears to have been dipped in fast-drying resin and permanently cohesed in their place of combat. The webbing fluttering over and among the soldiers is unbreakable and nonflammable. Reptile-cleric's ritual of detection reveals... powerful abjuration magic.

Half-Elf druid (Nimglin) calls forth earth elemental that begins to construct a 10' high, 20' by 20' earthen mound from on top of to pitch a tent. During construction half-elf ranger sends her white owl to survey the surrounding territory, communicating back to ranger that a small pack of wolves approach from south east.

As adventurers prepare defensively, loud howls and panicky growls are heard... until silence.

In the twilight before nightfall some things approach, appearing at first to be yak-faced mammals by Reptile cleric's and McQueef's 360-foot infravision, then to closer 90' darkvision the creatures are seen to be many-horned and float slightly above the snow, and finally, to within 60', the druid and ranger half-elves' colorized darkvision and closest proximity reveal half-dozen spiderlegged and many-eyed floating, drooling terrors. "Shoot, shoot now!" yells the ranger.

The terrors attack with telekinetic bolts, and become invisible as heroes return fire. In mind of druid terrors apologize and promise glorification "forever" as druid and ranger escape grappling druid's flying giant owl from figurine. When battle subsides, one creature ran off. However, its companions died, their corpses hissing and melting into the snow leaving mere scraps of colored cloth...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

How to Play in a Sandbox

Northern Wilderlands circa 5434 BCCC (approx.)
Good grief, the things I do for my players... Someone presumably ignited the great planetary bomb device our heroes were originally sent to retrieve from the City of the Gods located in the Valley of the Ancients. Now, one thousand years later, civilizations of the Wilderlands have collapsed into barbarism from the unnatural geologic upheaval and global climatic cooling disrupting food production and other essential supplies.  Local warlords, of course, have exulted in the misfortune of their enemies and seized everything within their power.

Our group is updating our rules to 5th ed. version of The World's Most Popular Role-Playing Game. In conjunction with this I really hoped to use some of the indie resources Vornheim and Frostbitten & Mutilated by Zak Smith and also Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. I needed a cold and barren wasteland pocked with destroyed civilizations cracking through the crust.

Given that I had run the party through the Judges Guild Blackmoor (First Fantasy Campaign version) blending in the TSR DA series and Wilderlands map 19 by Rob Conley from Fight On! issue #3, I already had most of the geographic framework. And I also had a big old sheet of overland hex paper from The Armory with which to draw upon the new cataclysmic environs.

What was not completely conceptualized (by me anyway) is that Judges Guild Blackmoor is 10 miles per hex which is double the Wilderlands standard 5 miles, resulting in an area 4 times larger than a standard Wilderlands overland map. So piecing map 19 with First Fantasy Campaign Blackmoor and the standard area Wilderlands overland maps left large gaps to the northwest and southeast.

Fortunately, there are two creations for Wilderlands expansion. One being the aforementioned Rob Conley's, the second is the much more vast (vaster?) Wilderlands of High Adventure by James Mishler's Adventures Games Publishing for Castles and Crusades system. James published maps including a continent-wide map containing the Wilderlands, Rhadamanthia, and a larger scale map of Western Karak on the western edge of traditional Wilderlands.

Thus I scaled and mushed everything for a complete campaign map.

And the amazing thing is that the portions of Mishler's maps actually aligned realy well with Conley's and the First Fantasy Campaign. Hurray!

P.S. I overlaid the rough map with 20-mile hexes courtesy of the published hex GIF file here. Doing the math was a pain in the ass, but the larger hexes in the image are scales at 20-miles based on the smaller 10-mile First Fantasy Campaign hexes. Ha, now I just need to draw the real map...

P.S.S. There are TWO large round features in Mishler's map showing deep into the Valley of the Ancients just about where I had deposited the City of the Gods that PCs never visited. Could there have been a pair of explosions?! Ha, and can you say radiation? I think you can...

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tex Ar-friggin-Cana...

(Tex Arcana #1, page 1)
Back in the days of yester-yore There was this artsy sci-fi & fantasy magazine called Heavy Metal that during the summer of 1981 (gawd, the summer between my junior & senior years of high school. Pretty much a blur, kinda fuzzy at least due to better living through chemicals... and beer) became mass-popularized by this artsy sci-fi fantasy movie called Heavy Metal.

Well, somewhere thereabouts 1980 I got me a subscription to the magazine, which was awesome (Mobius) and in March 1981 began following this here serial, Tex-Arcana, written and drawn by this dude, John Findley. The serial became intermittent at times, and had a break, and I let my subscription lapse and lost track.

Anyhow, I don't know what got me to thinking about ol' Tex Arcana, but I learned John has a Tex Arcana website that used to have all the comic episodes. Now it only has Book 4, "The Ballod of the Witch's Daughter."

However, through the magic of the Wayback Machine, you can read all the books, Tex Arcana from the beginning, here (a might teeny bit slower than normal). And you really should...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Metropolis of the Doomed...

Our heroes accost Juan at the entrance to "Toad Lounge" when up arrives a young twenty-something lad in a black leather jacket and beanie who instructs Juan to let them inside the lounge. This new rascally-looking fellow explains to the party that strange events have been happening since a strange artifact was unearthed at a large construction site in wetlands near the bay, a large maybe 3' length bookish thing wrapped in what appeared to be some sort of black reptile hide.

He says for Juan to open the storeroom, and there the party sees "The Librarian" recently left for dead who is very much alive. "Greetings," says the wormy creature, "I was wondering how long it would take you all to show up."

"Unfortunately an insanely powerful... thing... has be acquired by an insanely ambitious person in this time. This person has allied themselves with an academic who knows a very tiny bit of what you might call magic which is how I ended up here. Also unfortunately, forces from beyond time, essentially two alternative futures, have appeared to obtain this... thing... which appears to have relevance to some ultimate fates of the Multiverse."

The windows of the Toad Lounge are smashed with shouts of "Police!" "Down on the ground!"

"Run now," says the Librarian.

Juan shows the adventurers a private entrance which appears to lead off into a metallic hallway harshly lit by intermittent florescent light set depressed in the ceiling. Departing the party briefly hears a barrage of gunfire before the door closes.

The party moves forward for a time, realizing this is not some city walkway or building, rather a long, long passageway of rust, uncertain lighting, and foul smells. They immediately retrace their steps intending a return to Toad Lounge, but the doorway has vanished - only more passageway heading in the opposite direction.

Walking back in their original direction for a number of minutes, the party spies a soldier moving along in front of them. The mage-thief silently creeps up on the person from behind, only to discover the creature is an armed zombie!

A battle ensues attracting several other of these armed walking dead - dangerously lethal with high tech blaster weapons - however, the adventurers dispatch the zombies while suffering only moderate wounds. So they press on eventually discovering what appears to be a transit station for some type of railway operation.

Within this terminal there are windows indicating a stormy atmosphere outside, so the mage-thief endeavors climbing up to the ceiling to create an exit for he heroes. This is almost disaster as the new egress exposes interior to powerful winds bearing rains of damaging acid before mage-thief can re-seal the opening. Thus the party decides to follow the rail path tunnels to find what purpose they were made to come to such a harsh display. 

Encountering toothy, bulbous demons along the way the party eventually arrives at a gargantuan, domed chamber where an enormous cyber-enhanced demon is waiting...

Although terrific damages are sustained, the adventurers triumph against the cyber-demon, but are no closer to resolving their dilemma of how to escape this demonic metropolis. Looking out through the domed skylights, off in the darkened distance on a small range of hills on the periphery of the metropolis, Man-With-No-Name sees a fat, golden Buddha temple. "That is where we must go," says he...

Man-With-No-Name and half-orc barbarian, being the fastest and the strongest of the group, wrap the others against the acid raining down and run toward the temple, and once arrived Man-With-No-Name achieves entry through the temple's, seemingly gold, only door.

Inside, a disembodied voice speaks - "A pleasure to finally see you again, lo these many, many centuries passed." It is the voice of Matsuhara Yotsuya from the timeship. "Yes there are forces at work that in this branch of time were overcome by demons and chaos. Still there are other branches yes, and you all have unfinished business in Blackmoor. There was something of the Baron's daughter, yes. Wouldn't be helpful she was not saved, yes." The voice bids them to rest and replenish supplies. When ready, off the adventurers will go through time again as they are beginning to seem something of the epic forces to influence power and control of the Multiverse...

Friday, February 2, 2018

Channeling the D&D...

(c. April 15, 1977)
This is a piece of my "art" I found from age 12, just 9 months or so before I began gaming Dungeons and Dragons. Mostly my other doodles were rocket ships and race cars. I would say I was primed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

DunDraCon Night of the Walking Wet...

DunDraCon Game #106 Night of the Walking Wet
Friday 6 PM in 163 for 8 hours
Room Map
GM: Matt Morrison
Type: RPG
System: Dungeons & Dragons (hybrid)
Edition: see web desc.
Players: 6
Provided: Characters may be provided by GM
Power Level: 5th
Variations: d6 'party' initiative, various homebrew rolls
Rules Knowledge: Useful
Game Content: Mainstream
One night, not more than a century past, a bright light streaked across the heavens, rocking the earth as it impacted Scum Swamp. Days later, a wandering priest was heard from no more. Strange things were happening in the swamp. Rumors of hobgoblins massing in their fens, villagers disappearing in the swamp at night, and strange robed men asking for direction to Castle Krake. Tales of huge monsters in the rivers and the appearance of large ogreish slime zombies soon helped to empty out what little population was left in Krake Borough. The True Gods want to see this foul blasphemy destroyed once and for all, but are not really interested in doing it themselves. Thus they seek others to quest it for them... An OD&D adventure written by Jennell Jaquays, Randy Cox, & Tamara Wieland and originally published by Chuck Anshell and Judges Guild in two parts of "The Dungeoneer," issues 5 & 6, in 1977.
Adopted for DunDraCon to modernish versions of the World's Most Popular Role-Playing Game.Hybrid D20 (3.0, 3.5, 5 all will work; AD&D/OD&D ok if you already have a character)