Monday, June 25, 2018

Monstrous Mondays: Scarecrow for Dark Places & Demogorgons

"Rain on the Scarecrow.  Blood on the plow.
Blood on the scarecrow. Blood on the plow" 

- John Mellencamp, Scarecrow



Is there anything more ubiquitous to the midwest than the cornfield?  How about that lone scarecrow in that field.  Standing silent vigil throughout the summer and into the fall.  Are you sure he is not watching you?

Scarecrow
Scarecrows are basic guardians similar to golems, but not nearly as powerful. Like typical scarecrows, their bodies are made of straw and cloth. The stumble about their assigned area poorly and attack most anything that wanders through it. Some Scarecrows are bound to a post. A Scarecrow can use their paralyzing gaze to imprison any trespassers (save vs. Courage, fail means victim remains rooted to the spot).
Scarecrows are assigned to protect a particular area. They never leave the area, even when chasing an intruder. They will attack anything, humanoid or animal-like in appearance that walks into its territory unless otherwise instructed by their creator.
A scarecrow is immune to mind-influencing effects, poison, disease, and similar effects. They are not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, energy drain or death from massive damage.
Fire Vulnerability: Because of their straw bodies, Scarecrows are extremely vulnerable to attacks from fire. They take triple damage from all fire attacks.

Armor Class: 10
Hit Dice: 3 + 1
Move: 12
Attacks: 1
Attack Damage: Slam 1d4+4 or Slap 1d4+1
Special:  Paralyzing Gaze.  Courage roll required if victim meets the gaze of a Scarecrow. They can't move for one moment.
Bonuses: +1 to hit, +4 to hide in corn or soy fields.
Terror: 8
HDE: 4

Review: Survive This! Dark Places & Demogorgons

I'll start off my week-long look at Survive This! Dark Places & Demogorgons with the core rulebook.   A little bit of background thought first.  I love the 80s in the way a true child of the 80s only can.  Everything about the decade still fascinates me, fills me nostalgia and is a creative well I keep going back to.  In truth, I had better decades.  The 90s were particularly good to me and the 2010s are also really nice, but the 80s hold my interest more, especially when it comes to gaming.

Dark Places & Demogorgons (DP&D) taps into all of this in such a deep and profound way that it pisses me off me to no end.  Pisses me off, because I wish I had come up it myself!

A few things upfront.  DP&D owes a great deal to Stranger Things (which in turns owes a lot to D&D), but as fantastic as that is, that is not enough to sustain a game.  DP&D draws on deep 80s culture as well.  And deep I do mean shallow!  Nothing here about the Cold War, or USA for Africa, or the 84 Olympics, or the home computer revolution.  This is about what was going on in YOUR small town USA and how it felt like it was the strangest place on the planet.  All that "important stuff" is just background noise to what is really important; what are we doing Friday night and who's going to drive around cruising?  That of course until your friends start to disappear.

Dark Places & Demogorgons (DP&D) is a 200 page 5"x9" book with color covers and black & white interiors.  The art is a mix of new art, some art purchased from collections and (my personal favorite) some photos of the authors and friends from some 80's high school yearbooks.  I am reviewing both the physical book and PDF.  Both of which were purchased by me so no books were contributed for review.

The book is divided into an 80 page Player's Section which includes the Classes and Basic rules, and a 120 Page Game Master Section.

The Players section introduces the concept of a Role-playing game and what you can do.  We also get a little background on the town this all takes place in, Jeffersontown KY.
We go right into building a character. Now while the book tells us that this is a version of the same game played in 1974, there are more 21st Century rules here.  The rules feel like a Swords & Wizardry variant with some Basic (Holmes in particular) thrown in.  There are multiple types of saving throws (ala OD&D, Basic, an on up) and ascending AC (S&W, 3e).   In short though if you have played any sort of OSR game in the last few years you will pick this up fast.  If you have never played before, well you will still pick this up fast.

Unlike its progenitors, this game has Seven Abilities.  The new one is Survival.  At first, I was not a fan of it, but now I see how it works in the game it makes more sense to me.  Much like how another seventh ability, "Luck", works in The Heroes' Journey.
I mentioned there are new saving throws too, Courage, Critical, Death, Mental, and Poison.  Courage works a lot like a Fear/San test and there is even a terror table.

Where DP&D takes off though are ways you use to describe your characters.  We start off with Backgrounds.  You can roll randomly here in true 80s style, or choose.  Rolling seems better.  These include things like "Parents are never home" or "Bratty Kid Sister" and they have in-game effects.  Not having your parents home makes for your house to become the natural HQ of your monster surviving endeavors, but having to watch your "Strawberry Shortcake" obsessed little sister is going to slow you down.

After that, you can decide on what your Class is going to be. Classes work here like everywhere else really.  They decide your skills, they let you know where you fit in the world and they provide a role-playing guide.  The classes in this book are largely based on 80s High School stereotypes.  There are five main classes with three subclasses each (similar to how 5e does it) You have The Brain (Kid Scientist, The Nerd, The Geek), The Athlete (The Jock, Extreme Athlete, The Karate Kid), The Outsider (Break Dancer, Goth, Metal Head), The Popular Kid (Preppy, The Princess, Teen Heart Throb), and The Rebel (Bully, The Hood, the Punk Rocker). That pretty much covers everyone in a small high school.
Each class gets 5 levels and new abilities and/or skills each level.  So the Karate kid gets new moves and martial arts, the Princess can affect others and so on.

Skills cover the things you can do.  You can get some via your class or be improved by your class.  Others you can pick.  Combat is a skill and if you want to be better at it then you need to take the skill otherwise you are just a kid with a +0 to hit.

Character creation then is largely rolling up Abilities, picking a Background, a Class, some skills, determining your saving throws and finding out how much cash you have in your pocket.  Then you are set!

I recommend a Session 0 for character creation and concept.  Sure it is not in the rules and certainly not old school, but it better than everyone showing up for the game playing all playing "The Bully" or "The Nerd".

Lastly, you come up with your age, Alignment and various combat-related stats (AC, attack bonus).  DP&D is not a combat focused game.  You are kids and the monsters are, well, monsters.  You might score a hit or two, but that is it.  Otherwise, run!
XP and Leveling are a little "easier" then and there are other ways to gain levels.

We end this section with some sample characters, examples of play and a quick breakdown of the 1980s vs. Today.

The Game Master Section is next and this is where the fun is!
Here the advice of not making this a combat heavy game is repeated.  This is a game of mystery, investigation, and deduction.   From the book:

This game draws inspiration from movies like The Goonies, ET and The Lost Boys and T.V. shows like Stranger Things, Eerie Indiana and Scooby Doo.
Talk about hitting me where I live!

The rules might say 1974 on the tin, but they are much easier than that.  Nearly every rule is simplified and straightforward in a way we never would have tried in the 80s.  Among the "new" rules are Difficulty Classes (circa 3e) and Advantage/Disadvantage rules (circa 5e).  It makes for a very fast-paced game and the rules will fall into the background.

We get some weapons and explosives, but not a lot.

There is a nice section on magic and the occult which include some really nice Psychic classes.  In case you want to dial your game up to 11 (see what I did there!).

The fun part of the book are the Adventure Seeds.  Some are familiar to anyone that watched movies or TV in the 80s.  But others...well I can only conclude that these must be local legends and myths from the author's own home.  Which reminds me how much all these little towns are really the same, just the details differ.


Replace the Pope Lick Monster with the Mobil Monster and they could have been talking about my old hometown of Jacksonville, IL.  We even had giant cats, giant birds and bigfoot.  But if you know what is good for you stay away from Magical Mystery Lane (if you could find it) or the glowing "things" out by Lake Jacksonville.

The book also has a bunch of monsters in Swords & Wizardry format (more or less).  You could add more, but be careful.   Just because I have the stats for a Manticore in a S&W book that would work with this there had better be a good reason to include it.

There are stats for animals and various types of NPCs.  There is even a table of random monster generation.  Delving into more game specific tables there is a table (1d100) of basic adventure hooks.

We also get a small guide to the setting, Jeffersontown, or J'Town (I grew up in J'ville. AND we used to call it a "Sinkhole of Evil" YEARS before anyone ever said the words "hell mouth").
The guide is great, not just for use in the game but for the sheer nostalgia.  It read like someone had taken a fictionalized version of my old hometown.  I think that it is also flexible enough that an lot of people reading it will feel the same way.

We end with a nice solid appendix (the PDF is not hyper-linked here) and their own "Appendix N" of movies, television, and music.  Music was too important in the 80s for there not to be a list like this.

We end with a copy of the character sheet.

Wow.  Where to begin.

Ok first of this game is very nearly perfect and I hate it so much.  That's not true. I hate that I didn't come up with it and publish it sooner.  But in truth, I am not sure if I would have done the same quality job as Eric Bloat and Josh Palmer.  Plus the inclusion of their yearbook pictures and own background made this book for me.  I LOVED reading J'Town because I could see and feel my own J'Ville in it.  I would not have been able to do that if I had written it myself, so much kudos to them.
This is a work of art and I love it.

Everything feels right about this game, to be honest.  I even have a potential "Series" in mind for it.

Can't wait to do more with it!  I would love to get some of my old gamer friends from the 80s and have them play versions of themeselves in a "Stranger Jacksonville" or more to the point the Jacksonville we all WISHED it was.

Next time I look at the supplements.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Survive This! Dark Places & Demogorgons Week

I am going to spend some quality time this week with Bloat GamesDark Places & Demogorgons.


The game is set in the 1980s and uses the same basic rules as 1970's era D&D. The game owes more than just a little to Stranger Things, but also to just the glorious weird times that was the 1980s.
The same cauldron that gave us the Satanic Panic would later set the groundwork for shows like The X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This alchemical brew would also fuel so many of my games from then til now.

This game hits all my nostalgia buttons in one nice tight little package. Spending the week with it is going to be a real treat. Weird little towns, vampires, werewolves, ghosts and maybe the best soundtrack ever.



So load up your favorite 80s mixtape, put on your Member's Only jacket and pull out your Trapper Keepers full of graph paper dungeons and let's explore some Dark Places!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday Night Videos: Happy Summer Solstice!

Right now, as of this posting, the sun is rising over Stonehenge to celebrate the longest day of the year.  The Summer Solstice.

For some reason, I always want to play this song.



I would be lying if I said I never wrote an AD&D adventure based solely on this song.


Of course, "Solstice" means "Sun stand still".



Plus Aimee Mann was so cute in this video.  I had the biggest crush on her back then.


Though the Solstice means we begin the slow, inevitable fall to Winter.




Enjoy the sun while you can!


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Plays Well With Others: Making 5e Bloodied

Yesterday I talked about how my Nentir Vale/Demon Slayers 5e game is a reboot of my 4e game and I will be adding more 4e elements to it.

Today I spent some time with D&D 4e Essentials to see what I could glean from that.



I know a lot of people had problems with 4e.  I was not one of those people.  I liked 4e and really wanted to give it more time.

5e is so flexible that there is so much you can do to it and it won't break the system.  4e was a very tight game, so tight that pulling out one piece had some serious impacts.

I am hoping that this will not break 5e; I doubt it will.

Bloodied in 5e
When a creature or character is reduced to half their HP or less (rounding down) they are bloodied.  This can trigger a number of actions.  I want to mix as much 4e and 5e as I can here.

Characters
These are taken from Dungeons & Dragons Player Essentials: Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.

Dragonborn
When you are bloodied you may invoke your Dragonborn Fury.  You gain a +1 racial bonus to attack rolls.

Half-Orc
When you are bloodied during an encounter you may invoke your Half-Orc Resilience.  The first time you are bloodied during an encounter you gain temporary hp equal to your Proficiency Bonus + your Constitution modifier.

Tieflings
Bloodhunt: You gain a +1 racial advantage on attack rolls against bloodied targets.

Monsters
All of these creatures (for the most part) come from Dungeons & Dragons Essentials: Monster Vault.

Aboleth Overseer
Psychic Slime (standard; recharges when first bloodied)

Angel
Angelic Presence: When not bloodied attacks against the angel are at Disadvantage.

Beholder
Death Ray (necrotic):  If the target is bloodied before or after the attack, it is also dazed (save ends).

Blood Fiend
The blood fiend gains combat advantage against any living bloodied enemy.

Bulette
When bloodied the creature burrows underground and uses it's Second Wind.

Demon, Babu
Bite: The target also takes ongoing 5 acid damage, or ongoing 10 acid damage if the babau is bloodied (save ends).

Demon, Hezrou
Noxious Stench: Any enemy that makes an attack while in the aura takes 10 poison damage, or 20 poison damage while the hezrou is bloodied.

Demon, Marilith
Weapon Dance (melee): Recharge when first bloodied. Can attack again.

Demon, Vrock
Spores of Madness: DC 20 Wisdom Save to enemies within 5'.  On a failed save 3d10+6 Poison damage and the target is dazed.  Successful save, half damage.

Demon, Balor
Flaming Body: Normally aura is 2 squares or 10 feet. When bloodied it expands to 3 squares/15 feet.  Any enemy that starts its turn in the aura takes 10 fire damage, or 20 fire damage while the balor is bloodied.

Devil, Kyton
Chains of Vengeance: The devil can attack with it's chains twice.

Dragon (all)
Bloodied Breath: When first bloodied the dragon can recharge and use it's breath weapon.
When Bloodied a Dragon can critical on 18-20.

Drake, Rage
When bloodied the rage drake has Advantage on attacks.

Eye of Flame
Fiery Burst (when first bloodied and again when the eye of flame is reduced to 0 hit points) Close burst 2; DC 20 Dexterity save; 2d8 + 6 fire damage.

Gnoll
Blood Frenzied: The gnoll adds their Proficiency bonus to damage to all melee attacks when bloodied.

Golem, Flesh
When bloodied the golem can make a slam attack at Advantage.

Hag
When bloodied make one additional claw attack.

Lizard Folk
Additional tail sweep attack (1d6) when first bloodied.

Lycanthrope, Werewolf
Attack advantage on bloodied targets.
Proficiency bonus added to damage when bloodied.

Ochre Jelly 
When bloodied the creature splits into two creatures, each with hit points equal to one-half its
current hit points. Effects on the original ochre jelly do not apply to the second one.
(this is in addition to the split described in the 5e MM).

Owlbear
Stunning Screech: When bloodied the owlbear will Screech (close blast, 15'). DC 15 Constitution save or be stunned.

Vampire
The vampire takes damage while bloodied they become insubstantial and gains fly speed 60'. The vampire cannot attack or use cloud of bats. This effect lasts for 1 hour or until the vampire ends it as a minor action.
The vampire has combat Advantage on bloodied targets.

I am not sure how all of these will work out.  In many cases, the monsters are now more deadly.  I might need to compensate with a bonus of 5 to 10 XP.

If it works well my son has offered to do more of these for me.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Father's Day Weekend Gaming

Had a fairly packed weekend game wise.

Friday was our local Public Library sale.  Sometimes we can find some gems, but this time all we found was this book on potions.


Saturday was Free RPG Day.  We all went and got some books.  Of course, we still ended up buying a bunch of stuff too.



Sunday, Father's Day, we went back to the Nentir Vale to finish off the Blood Reavers.  The Demon Slayers found some more clues and are headed to the Well of Demons now.



We want to add more 4e feel to this game.  Just like our Order of the Platinum Dragon 5e game is more "old school" in feel and the Second Campaign has more of a 3e feel.


I have some Encounter Cards I want to use and I'd love to work "Bloodied" into our combats.  I think that might be fun.  Using some 4e stats the monsters are much tougher and these characters are already having more issues than their other 5e counterparts.

For reasons too various to name, our gnome druid, Dimbel Timbers, has adopted this has his theme song:


Every character should have a theme song.
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