Thursday, May 9, 2019

Mail Call: Bloat Games

Quick one today.  Yesterday I got a nice package in the mail.






Vigilante City is here! 
These books are much larger than I expected and I rather like them.
The print versions look fantastic and I can't wait to play around with them some more.

As soon as I can I'll need to devote a week or so to this game. Reviews, characters, and some ideas.
Printing a bunch of sheets now.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

OMG: Greek (and maybe Roman) Mythos, Part 1

Ah. Now this feels like a homecoming of sorts.  All year I have been talking about how this is my 40th year of playing D&D.  In a very real sense, my early D&D experiences were originated and shaped by the Classic Greek myths.  By 1979 I was 9 years old and had already read all the books in my local library on myths and legends.  Since it was a small town it was the late 70s there were not a lot of choices; I had "American Tall Tales" and Greek and some Norse myths. But mostly Greek.  One of my favorites was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  I read it many times as a child and even revisited it back in college and even as an adult. It was one time while reading this that a friend of mine let me borrow his AD&D Monster Manual to read.  I was hooked.
The rest is history or mythology!

I am not going to recount my tale of getting into D&D from that point. I have done it before and will be doing it again this year.  Today I want to talk about the Greek Myths and how they are portrayed in AD&D 1st ed and in particular focusing on what got me involved in the first place, the monsters.

Quick reminder. The stated goal of my One Man's God (OMG) posts are to try and relate the monsters of various myths as presented in the 1st Edition Deities & Demigods (and sometimes Gods, Demigods & Heroes) to the demons as presented in the AD&D Monster Manual.

I am also in the debt of my former Classics Professor, Joan V. O'Brien who would have been 92 this year.  Ten years after discovering the Greek Myths she lit a new fire under me and got me to read even more myths of our world.

This one will have multiple parts I can tell already.

Greek Myths and AD&D Monsters
While AD&D owes a sizable debt to "Lord of the Rings" and the tales of Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith, there is also a great portion of the "D&D Mythos" that comes from the tales of Greek Mythology.  Even before I crack open my D&DG there are monsters from the Greek Myths filling my Monster Manual.  There are the basilisk, catoblepas, centaur, chimera, cockatrice, dragons, dryad, elementals, erinyes, Geryon (monster or devil), giants, giant animals, Golems (at least the iron kind), gorgons, hags, harpy, hell hounds, hippocampus, hippogriff, invisible stalker, lamia, larva, lemure, lycanthropes, manticore, medusa, mermen, minotaur, nightmare, nixie, nymph, pegasus, salamander, satyr, giant scorpion, shadow, skeleton, sphinx, sylph, titan, and triton.

There are also a number of monsters in the Deities and Demigods book that could have been easily moved over to the Monster Manual. Not as demons, but as monsters.  In particular, the Lesser Cyclops comes to mind. Another giant (the Greeks loved giants), the Hecatoncheire or the Hundred-Handed one would be another good choice.  Titans are listed in the MM and you could build one of the "named" Titans in the DDG with the stats, though many are much, much larger.  This seems like a good time to bring up Titans.

Looks Greek to me!

Titans, Primordials and D&D Mythbuilding
Current versions of D&D go with a time before the gods when the Primordial ruled.  In D&D 4e the Primordials were explicitly tied to the various elemental titans still running around.

4e Giants and Titans
This should sound very familiar.  In fact, if we go back to the D&D 3.0 days Sword and Sorcery Studios released their "Scarred Lands" books for the d20 license. In the preface of their Relics and Rituals book, Gary Gygax had this to say:
Allow me to add just a few more words here. The Scarred Lands, of which I know insufficient details at this time, seems a most intriguing setting. Perhaps you will find it likewise. If so, consider how very adaptable its premise is, the war between gods and titans, and the resulting "world" thereafter. Does it not lend itself to adaptation into many different settings? From the mythological Greco-Roman and Norse (substitute "giant" for "titan" and there you are) to any authored world environment in which two or even several groups of deities contended and one triumphed.
Is this coded into our collective sub-consciousness because of the Greeks? Or is it a classic tale? Maybe it's both. Likely it is one because of the other.  Who knows.  The tales of the Greek Myths are so deeply woven into our collective history and storytelling it would be impossible to tease out the individual effects.

James Ward has this to say at the beginning of the Greek Mythos section of the D&DG.
The Greek assembly of gods is probably more familiar to most readers than others of the groups in this work, because they were woven into a literature that has lasted down through the ages. Many of our civil concepts can be traced from the assumed actions of the gods and their mates.
A lot of our concepts of...well most things come from the Greeks.

It then is no surprise that Titans/Primordial vs. Gods is universal and it also appears in our games.
Interestingly enough, almost every evil titan mentioned in the book is Chaotic Evil, although I am not sure they meet the "requirements" to actually be demons.
Let's look at some examples.

Geryon
Geryon is our first one to really stand out.  There is the devil Geryon and the Greek Giant Geryon have a link, but it would be really difficult to claim they are the same.  The Giant Geryon was the 10th Labor of Heracles.  He was described as a triple-bodied monster with human faces.  The Devil Geryon comes from Dante Alighieri's Inferno.   While my norm has been to try to fit things together, I think in this case there are far too many differences between these two creatures to try to reconcile.

The Primordials
The "gods" that came before the Titans are known as the Primordials.  Well. That works well. They represent larger concepts or even elemental properties in the universe.
There are no Primordials in the D&DG, but there are titans.  The Titans are Atlas, Coeus, Crius, Epimetheus, Kronos (Cronos), Oceanus, and Prometheus.

Among the Primordials, two are of interest here; Chaos and Tartarus.  Both of these creatures represent a "person" and a "thing".  Interestingly enough they also have a relationship to the word "Abyss".

In AD&D Tarterus is sandwiched nicely between the Abyss (Chaos) and Hades (the Underworld).


WHICH gets me to a point.  Hades should not really be Neutral Evil. Sure there is that whole "Rape of Persephone" thing but often Hades, the God, was shown as somber, ill-tempered and somewhat hateful of his role in the underworld, but not exactly evil.
Hades the underworld was the destination of ALL souls, not just the evil ones.  The REALLY evil ones and the Titans went to Tarterus/Tartarus.

The changing of the plane name "Hades" to the "Grey Wastes" was one of the few I approved of in the "Demonic Diaspora" of the 2nd Ed era.


That still gives us Tarterus/Tartarus for the monsters the gods have cast down.  Sounds like demons to me.

We know that Cronos imprisoned the cyclopes there along with other monsters.  When Zeus and the Olympians came to power Cronos and the Titans were thrown into Tartarus.  Though later Cronos won Zeus' favor and became the ruler of Elysium.

Looking through the D&DG there are not many creatures that qualify as an AD&D Demon. Lots of monsters yes, demons...not so much. There are few that might qualify.

There is Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld. But he has always been portrayed as unique.  The Death Dogs of the Fiend Folio are considered to be his offspring.

Enceladus is described as a giant in the D&DG.  A giant with snake bodies and tails for legs and so horrifying that any who view him must save vs. spells or run in fear.  He can also grab spells out of the air.  So myths describe Enceladus as a giant and others as a giantess.   If we change Enceladus into a demon I would be tempted to make them a demon living in Tarterus.  The stats as listed are fine.

The Furies also were known as the Erinyes and are a special case.
They are included in the Monster Manual as the devil Erinyes which are based on the classical Furies. In a way they do exactly what I am doing here.  They are the case study to show that this can work.

Next time let's talk about Typhon, Echidna, the Hyperboreans, and "the dreaded name of Demogorgon".

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Review: B/X Essentials

To celebrate 40 years of playing D&D I am doing a year-long celebration I am calling Back to Basic.  While I got my start on Holmes Basic, it is the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert that really lit my fires.

It should be no surprise then that I am a big fan of Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials (soon to become Old School Essentials) line. 


Gavin has been producing some great content for a while now via his Necrotic Gnome label. His Theorems & Thaumaturgy and Complete Vivimancer are among my favorite Old-School books.

His Kickstarter for Old School Essentials is funded and going into its last days now.  While this is going on you can still get copies of B/X Essentials.

For these reviews, I am using both the PDF and Print versions of these books.

B/X Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources.  The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format.  All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green.
A moment about these covers.  They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement.
All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off.  Everything is easy to find.  Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

B/X Essentials: Core Rules
The Core Rules weighs in at 34 pages and gets to the very heart of the B/X Essentials line.  The essential Essentials as it were. It covers Ability scores in general, sequences of play and all the basic rules needed.  Combat is covered separately. Magic also gets a bit of coverage here in general terms and including how spells can be researched and magic items made. 
The rules have been "cleaned up" from their obvious predecessors.   Focus is on readability and playability here.  In fact all the entries under the basic rules are alphabetical, so finding something say like Movement, is easy.  In the original rules it took a bit of digging to actually figure out how much a character moves.  This was vastly improved in later editions of the game, but here it is very succinctly spelled out. Other rules are equally made clear.
Since the "Basic" and "Expert" rules are combined here there is an economy of word usage here.  As much as I love my Basic and Expert games, sometimes you need to consult both books when a situation comes up.

B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
The Classes and Equipment book comes in at 44 pages.  It begins naturally enough with character creation.  Some details, such as Ability scores, are detailed here, but also give a call back to the Core Rules book.  Still, though everything is here to make a character.  For practice, I made a 7th level Cleric just using this book. It went extremely fast and very little need to flip pages back and forth.  I just needed to use the Spells book to pick out spells.
The modular design of the B/XE system extends to this book as well. Each class begins on an even-numbered page and extends to the next odd-numbered page.  You can then hold the book flat, put it up two-pages at a time on your screen,  and read everything you need in a glance.   I really appreciate this level of attention paid.  Many books do not do this and in fact, look like they were just run off on Word's PDF converter.  There is more attention put into the layout here than in most products and to me, that is what sets this above the others.
The classes represented here are the 7 classics; Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief and the three demi-humans, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.  True to B/X these are "race as class" classes.
Equipment, money and of course weapons are covered in the next half of the book.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
Cleric and Magic-User Spells would have been my favorite book if B/XE had come out in the 80s.  Right now it also has my favorite cover from the entire series. Seriously, I love it.
The book itself has 34 pages and covers all the Cleric and Magic-User/Elf spells in the game.
All the usual suspects are here.  Again when making my recent Cleric I used this book. 
The modularity again is a huge boon for this book and game.  Adding a new class, like the proposed Druid and Illusionists? Add a new book easy! 

B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures
At 48 pages this is one of the two larger books in the series. This book deals with adventuring and what sort of things you can find on those adventures. So there are traps, monster tables, and all the treasure types and magical treasure.
Again we see where combining the Basic and Expert rules gives you a much better idea of what is going on in these "dungeons".
This is also my second favorite cover of the line. 

B/X Essentials: Monsters
Ah, now this is a book I would have loved back in 81.  Also coming in at 48 pages this book is about monsters and nothing else.
Stat blocks are concise and there is none of the bloat in the descriptions that appear in later editions (ok to be fair that bloat was demanded by players).   The book is fantastic with my only reservation in I wish it had been illustrated more.  But even that is fine.
I can easily see a "Monsters 2" and "Monsters 3" sometime in the future for this line.

In truth, I can't say enough good about this.   Is it 100% brand new material?  No, but that was also never the design goal.  The books do exactly what they say they are going to do.  If I were starting with a new group using B/X-flavor D&D I would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason NOT to use these books.

B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
This free product is only 8 pages long and is only in PDF. It is the only genre and world-specific book in the line covering the Dolmenwood, the shared setting used by Necrotic Gnome.   This book includes two new races, the Fairy Elf and the Woodgrue, both fairy races of the Dolmenwood.  There is also a listing of some Fae lords and ladies.



A Bit about OSE
Old School Essentials expands on these rules and reorganizes them some more.  There is a Basic Rules that takes place of the Core book and then a Genre book that covers classes and other "D&D" like topics.  I imagine that different genre books will have other rules and classes.

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line.  Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE.  Also this book covers just about everything you need to play right now.  It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure.  Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like.
It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play.
There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.

I am really looking forward to seeing OSE out.  But until then I am going to enjoy playing with B/XE!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Review Monsters of Mayhem #1

This has been sitting on my desk forever begging me to review.  Today seems like a good day for it.

Review: Monsters of Mayhem #1
Monsters of Mayhem #1 is the latest monster tome from the Mad Wizard himself, Mark Taormino.  Mark has made a good name for himself in the Old School D&D scene producing some top rated gonzo adventures.  So it should only seem natural that he would turn his attention to making an equally gonzo and fun monster book.  Which is exactly what he did.
Monsters of Mayhem is 36 pages of monsters for old school games using OSRIC, coughAD&Dcough.
I am reviewing both the physical book and the PDF.
The book is black & white with color covers and "blue map" inside covers.  There are 48 monsters here, most illustrated.
The monsters themselves are all fun and all of them are very deadly, or at least they could be in the hands of a sadist DM.
Many have appeared in his adventures, but there are some new faces here as well.  Also many will invoke a feeling of nostalgia for anyone that played AD&D back int he 80s.  Some are fun, like "The Little Green Bastards" (aliens), some are nostalgic like the "Astral Drifter" and "Star Spawn", and others are just plain disgusting (in a great way) like the "Block of Hungry Flesh".  Others still are very deadly like the infamous "Vampire Lich".
Our cover girl is a Demonia Gigantica which was one of the very first monsters I used from this book.



The style reminds you of the old school, early 80s, style of books.  Save for how over the top everything is it could pass for an 80s book. Well, that and the production values are top-notch.

I high recommend this book.

There is a lot packed into 36 pages here.
For $10.00 you get a lot and will really spice up your game a little.

If you want to pick up a dead-tree version then check out Mark's newest Kickstarter, Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Kickstart Your Weekend: Afterlife: Wandering Souls

Elizabeth Chaipraditkul makes some great games. When I heard she was working on a new one and the Kickstarter was coming up I knew I had to find out more.  Let me say I am not disappointed.

Afterlife: Wandering Souls


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1568822309/afterlife-wandering-souls?ref=theotherside

I love the premise. You are dead, but something went wrong, now you wander the endless wastes of Tenebris. You have no memories of your previous life so now you recover them and explore this strange new world you find yourself in.

From the Kickstarter page,

Afterlife: Wandering Souls is a macabre fantasy game set in surreal plane known as the Tenebris. You take on the role of a Wanderer—someone who died, but didn’t end up in Heaven, Hell, or any other traditional afterlife. Devoid of any memories of your life on earth, you find yourself in an endless desert filled with gateways. Search different planes of existence for clues of your former life - or a semblance of one. Along the way you'll encounter strange inhabitants, alien cultures, and other humans who’ve lost all hope and are bent on destroying you.

Afterlife is Alice in Wonderland meets What Dreams May Come set in a world inspired by the works of Guillermo del Torro, Hayao Miyazaki, and surrealist artists.

Find lost memories, come to terms with how you died, and discover who you truly are.
Sounds interesting as hell, pardon the pun.

It is by Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, who gave us WITCH: Fated Souls, so you know it will be good and look great.  A quick peek at the KS page tells me this will be one gorgeous game with a LOT of playability.

There is a Quickstart guide out now for your testing.  It is free and gives a solid feel for the game, Afterlife: Wandering Souls Quickstart.  I will try to get a review of it up next week if I can.
I can't wait to try this out. 

I have often wanted to run a Multi-life game where if characters die in one game they travel through the afterlife to the next game.  Say die in D&D but resurrect in WitchCraft or Buffy.
This game looks like it would be the PERFECT centerpiece to this campaign idea.

I can't wait to see more of this!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Featured Artist: Ben Honeycutt

Ben Honeycutt is an illustrator I found on Facebook.  I love his style and his characters always look like a lot of fun.

Here is Ben in his own words:
Ben Honeycutt is a freelance comic artist and character illustrator from the US. His primary project is working on Dead Gentlemen's Demon Hunters comic and roleplaying games. He also dabbles in pewter miniature casting and private character commissions.
Here is some of his art.

Up first a couple of commissions he did for me.




And more!










Love this vampire!




You can find Ben on the web at:

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Melisandre. Priestess or Witch?

"The Night is dark and full of terrors."
- Melisandre

Melisandre of Asshai - by John Picacio
Game of Thrones is in its final season and so far it has not disappointed me.  Well...there was that "whole new world" scene with Dany, Jon, and the dragons.
This past week we got to see the Red Woman, Melisandre again during the battle at Winterfell against the Night King and his army of the dead.  It was so fantastic, to be honest.   Loved the battle, loved how the episode ended.  Everything.

But I am not here today to talk about the battle.

I want to talk about Melisandre.
In particular is she a Priestess, read Cleric, or is she as many will claim, a Witch?

I thought a firey red priestess/witch would be good for Beltane today.

Let's look at what we know.  I am going to focus nearly exclusively on the TV show on HBO.  I'll grab from the books when needed to smooth out some details or get answers to questions.

In many ways, I am going to follow the spirit of my other series, One Man's God and Class Struggles.

What is Known
Or Me nem nesa as the Dothraki say.

We know that Melisandre calls herself a priestess of the god R'hllor, known as the Red God, The Lord of Light or the One True God.  In Westeros this sets her apart from most people as they tend to worship the Seven, or the New Gods. The ones that don't worship the "Old Gods".
Melisandre claims that all the other gods are false gods.  Most people have no issues with the Old or New Gods, so this also sets her apart.

She has seen to have powers of divination, cursing, breeding shadow spawn, summoning fire and the greatest, bringing people back from the dead.  She able to cast glamours and her red-gold choker seems to keep her young or at least appear young.
We know she is very, very old. She was a slave named "Melony" who was sold to the Red Temple in Asshai.

Looking at her through the lens of classes in D&D, and in particular B/X version, has many limitations.  It is still a fruitful exercise though.  For starters, it shows the flexibility of the B/X flavor of classes. It also helps me see how well my own witch classes can emulate various media representations of witches.  My philosophy in game and class design has always been "if a player wants to do to something my rules should tell them how they CAN do it, not how they CAN'T." (I hear grognards, OSR purists and other screaming in rage now. That's fine, let them scream.)

So let's pull out my D&D Expert book and give Melisandre a go.

Melisandre is a Priestess
This is the easiest of course. She refers to herself as a priestess as do others.  Her religion is widely accepted in Essos and treated as such.  The biggest clue, of course, is her ability to raise the dead, a power she claims is not hers, but that of the Lord of Light.  Her spells and powers seem closest to a cleric.
If we take "Raise Dead" as the peak of her powers then that puts her level at a minimum of 7th level for B/X D&D. I would not say she is much past 9th level, but I am willing to accept 9th.

Melisandre, Priestess of R'hllor


7th level female Cleric

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 33

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

Spells
First: Cure Light Wounds, Light, Remove Fear
Second: Hold Person, Resist Fire, Silence 15' radius
Third: Continual Light, Remove Curse, Striking
Fourth: Cure Serious Wounds, Protection/Evil 10' radius
Fifth: Commune, Raise Dead

Close...but missing some of her abilities she is really known for, starting fires and giving birth to shadow monsters.  Plus by the rules Melisandre the Cleric can Turn Undead.  That skill would have been helpful in the Battle of Winterfell.

Taking a peek at my 5th Edition D&D books it looks like a Cleric and not a Warlock or Druid would be the best choice.

Let's see how she works as a witch.

Melisandre is a Witch
Of course, for that, I would also need to decide on a tradition for her.  Something like Lord of Light Tradition.  Witches, in general, do not get the spell Raise Dead.  So I am thinking that should be an occult power.  Something they gain at 7th level.
Also, there is her lesser explored power of alchemy/herbalism.  Something all witches get.

Melisandre, Witch of R'hllor


9th level female Witch, Lord of Light Tradition

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 26

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

Occult Powers
Familiar: Spirit of fire
Herb Use
Raise Dead

Spells
First: Bewitch I, Burning Hands, Glamour
Second: Augury, Dark Whispers, Hypnotize
Third: Bestow Curse, Brave the Flames
Fourth: Divination, Intangible Cloak of Shadows
Fifth: Summon Shadow

So I had to raise her level to 9th to get the Summon Shadow spell.  In general, I like her spell choices as a witch better.  BUT that could be my biases since I have written so many (900+ so far!) and I have many to fit an exact situation.

She doesn't really have a familiar, so I am saying her "familiar" is her ability to look into flames.
I also did not give her any "bonus" spells since I wanted a pure B/X experience here.

I should point out that Green Ronin produces a very fine game based, not on the TV show, but the books in A Song of Ice and Fire.


It's Beltane! A time for witches to celebrate.  Start your own celebrations with my new witch book: Daughters of Darkness, The Mara Witch Tradition

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