Friday, 26 March 2010

Filling the Sandbox

So the first session of my new, “Borderlands” campaign (OK, so it’s not a impressively inspired title, but it does accurately express the feel I’m going for) took place last Saturday, two weeks ahead of schedule – a fact that I was actually rather glad about, as I was essentially ready to go by the time it became apparent that it would be starting earlier than I had planned. A report of the first session will hopefully soon follow (OD&DITIES 14 rather delayed things a little in this area…)

The plan was always to run an old-fashioned sandbox-style campaign, using the LL / B/X rule system (in the event, we had a huge variety of different books at the table – two ’81 Basic rules, a Cyclopedia, a Labyrinth Lord hardcopy and another printout, and even the rulebook from the ’91 black box set! (I ended up running using an ’81 Basic book and the ’83 Screen, largely because I finally got hold of a copy of the ’81 Basic and Expert boxed sets a couple of years ago and I’ve been desperate to use them in a game.) The Companion Expansion and Unknown Gods were the only two sourcebooks I brought, though in the event, only one of the ‘Unknown Gods’ was used.

Initially, when I began to work on the campaign, I started to draw maps – area, village, dungeon, but it rapidly became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to be able to provide a big enough sandbox to satisfy my players, so I moved to option 2 – which harkened back to one of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever run, back in ’03, which was where my current gaming group – the Kamikaze Dungeoneers – was formed. In that, I took a few modules and adventures from magazines, worked out what terrain features and locations were in each one, worked out which could do ‘double duty’ with a bit of adaptation, and then simply worked them all into a terrain map.

Well, I’ve got a lot more modules now, a lot of which I have been wanting to use for some time; specifically I have quite a few Judges Guild modules that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. So, I dusted them off and started to dump them on to the map. The Keep on the Borderlands was going to be a centrepiece of the campaign; I placed it at the top of the map, with the Caves of Chaos close by (guarded by a smaller, secondary keep designed to be a small base of operations for the PCs) and a small dungeon placed to fill the ‘Caves of the Unknown’ area. Quasqueton from B1 was placed south of the Keep, just beyond the swamps of the Lizardmen. I also dropped Badabaskor on the left of the map – and filled the top part of the map with an extensive mountain range, with the idea being that Badabaskor and ‘Castellan’ Keep were originally built to protect passes to the lands to the north from humanoid incursions. (Blizzard Pass also found its way in there, as well…that place has quite a reputation…) Castle Caldwell also got placed in there as a possible adventuring location.

For the southern portion of the map, I turned more exclusively to Judges Guild for my inspiration. A big portion of the middle – and the starting location for the PCs – came from ‘The Illheidrin Book’, a module that technically was for AD&D, but which I have run under B/X with success in the past. To add a more urban setting should I wish, I dropped Modron on the south side of the map, sketching in a sea. It was then a question of just filling in the landmasses, which I decided should start with a sea at the south, running through agricultural land to foothills and then mountains in the north. I didn’t give too much thought to what lay beyond the map, just that the area was on the northern borders of an ‘Empire’ I was modelling on the Late Roman Empire in style, consisting of a large collection of loose counties, duchies, and other such states – I rather envisioned more of a ‘loose confederacy’ than a strong Empire, but deliberately left the details vague so I could change them if necessary.

This map remains flexible, for the moment. The party ended up with two Clerics, both worshipping different gods (out of an 84-strong pantheon cribbed from Unknown Gods), so now two new locations – temples for each of these gods – have gone on the map as places for the party to visit. There are a few other bits and pieces I’m thinking about dropping on from various sources.

I’ve ended up after this with a hugely-stocked sandbox, and wherever the players choose to go, the area is already fleshed out with locations, adventures, and dungeons – and I can easily drop in any new modules that I pick up without too much work. All of it expands the sandbox. (For the ultimate expansion – the Isle of Dread is about 800 miles south of Modron. I wonder if the players will end up going that far south!)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

OD&DITIES Issue 14 is Out!

The second issue of the OD&DITIES relaunch, number 14, is now available through RPGNow, at featuring 25 pages of material to support the Labyrinth Lord game. Compatible with all Basic and Expert material. This issue of OD&DITIES focuses on that well-loved backstabber, the Thief!

This issue's contents include:
The Many Tentacled Beast – The Thief's Guild as a Campaign Nemesis
Magical Miscellany – The Keys of Dolfa
The Trial of Skill – Creating adventures to test the unique abilities of the Thief.
Expanded Grimoire – Fleshing out the humble 'Magic Missile'
Playing the Godfather – A guide to starting your own Thieves' Guild.
Unusual Enemies – Playing with some of the less-used monsters...
A Touch of Class: The Puppeteer – Taking the Charm spells to new heights.
Mr. B's Last Word – He crept back in, once again...

Issue 15, focusing on the Magic-User, will be launched on April 24th!


Saturday, 20 March 2010

OD&DITIES Seeks Submissions!

On the threshold of the launch of Issue 14 of OD&DITIES (scheduled for Wednesday 24th), I can announce that as of Issue 15, we'll be looking for article submissions once again. There were some amazing submissions in the first incarnation of OD&DITIES, and I'm hoping and expecting that there will be some great ones this time round as well.

As for the nitty-gritty, I'm looking for articles between 500 and 2,500 words at the moment, (one to five pages of the magazine, to put that into context), and I will generally want them to match the theme of the magazine, which I will announce three issues 'in advance' henceforth.

Issue 15 will cover 'Magic-Users'.
Issue 16 will cover 'Lost Worlds'.
Issue 17 will cover 'Immortals'.

If you have anything else in mind, well, I'm still interested, as I don't want every article in the magazine to automatically match the theme, and will be looking for a nice mix of pieces. In terms of content, the floodgates are open here. Rules pieces, discussion and debate, adventures, even short stories could be of interest.

To submit, send a general outline of your planned article to me at, and I'll give you the 'yay' or 'nay'. Payment for articles will be two cents a word, payable on publication; writers will also receive a contributors' copy of the PDF of the magazine on the day of general release.

I can't wait to see what we get!

Richard Tongue,

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Review: Unknown Gods

Well, I was going to only use three books in my next campaign, but that didn't take long to change once I remembered one of my old favourites - the Judges Guild supplement, Unknown Gods. This one goes back a bit, published in 1980, and is probably my favourite Judges Guild book. Forty-eight pages that I have used in almost every D&D campaign I have ever run.

What do you get for your money? Eighty-three gods, described in a similar manner as those in 'Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes', or 'Deities and Demigods'. There is one critical difference that for many might be a deal-breaker, but for me is the big selling point - they are not arranged in any particular pantheon. There are no real clashes in terms of what the gods themselves represent - each one has its own rather small field - but no pecking order is given, and no idea of how the different gods interact with each other. Just a brief outline of the god, its statistics, powers, and appearance.

Y'see, I don't really like simply dumping the Norse, Sumerian, or Greek pantheon in my campaigns and calling it 'done'. I also don't really like putting together a complicated cosmology that will probably have little or no use in the actual play of my campaign; Unknown Gods gives me exactly what I do want. A large mix of gods, that can all be used in a single setting. None of them are parody, and all of them are immediately usable. Some of my favourites:

Sinakad - the God of Mercy for the Trapped

Bachontoi - the God of Red Wisdom (No, it doesn't go into what 'Red Wisdom' is...)

Margonne - the God of Evil Plans!

Vivistat - the God of Doom Unexplained

Lord Skortch - God of Pillage, Rapine and Thoughtless Acts

This book is crying out to be used in a sandbox campaign. Pick twelve or so of the more mainstream ones, and put their temples on the map, and you still have seventy-one left for strange and twisted cults, long-dead civilisations, small out-of-the way village chapels, wandering missionaries, and anything you will ever need. A great book, and it's heart is in the right place. Recommended.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Campaign: Choosing the books...

Well, my group has agreed to the Labyrinth Lord campaign, which will now start on April 3rd, giving me three weeks to get all of my ducks in a row. My first choice is exactly which iteration of Labyrinth Lord to use, a decision that has recently become rather more difficult. As far as I can see, there are four different choices.

Labyrinth Lord
This one would just use the Labyrinth Lord corebook. Basic seven classes, and a set-up that all of my players are familar with.

Labyrinth Lord + Original Edition
Going back to the '74 set-up with the Original Edition Sourcebook. I actually rather like this idea, but I'm ruling it out as some of my players are concerned it might be a bit limiting.

Labyrinth Lord + Companion Expansion
Essentially Labyrinth Lord with some extras added on - seven new classes, some new spells, and so on. The advantage here is that the complexity is not increased at all, as all of the additions bolt on without making any fundamental changes.

Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition Companion
Taking it to essentially be 1st Edition AD&D. While I like the sourcebook, we've only recently come off an AD&D campaign, so I think I'm going to rule this one out.

It looks like I'm going to go with option three; more options, more classes, no additional rules complexity. One sourcebook I will definately use is the Creature Catalogue, but I'm going to keep it to just those three sourcebooks for the sake of portability. Another advantage, of course, is that free PDFs of the two book the players will need are available.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Review: Creature Catalog

Normally, when I do reviews, I'm going to review products that are in print, usually ones that have only just been released. Today I'm going to break that rule, and review a book that is long out-of-print (but easily available), and review the Creature Catalog, which I'm going to come out and say is the best B/X supplement that TSR ever put out, and still extremely good today.

What is the Creature Catalog? Well, it aimed to do for B/X what the Fiend Folio did for 1st edition - provide a new book full of monsters, in this case many of which were drawn from some of the early B/X adventures. The first edition of the two makes it clear that this was largely a TSR UK project (this crew gave us Imagine magazine, and a lot of them would end up working on the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, so two thums up there), and in the first edition, a lot of the artwork has that feel, similar to the artwork in the 'Fighting Fantasy' series (which got me into role-playing in the first place, but that's another story.) The second edition has different artwork, but is more logically laid out, so to be honest, of the two that's probably the one you want at the table, and is the one I have in front of me now.

You have a 128 page book, stuffed to the brim with new monsters, and a lot of them are really very good. The good-to-daft ratio in this book is a lot better than the Fiend Folio, but there are some dodgy ones. (Giant Amoeba standing out as an example...) Looking at some of the high points...

I love the Aranea; who doesn't want a race of intelligent giant spiders menacing the deep forest of their campaign world, and this brand can cast spells. Nasty. I love the idea of having a Ghostly Horde wandering round my next sandbox, guarding the treasures of an ancient battle - this is essentially the ghosts of a defeated band of soldiers, wanting revenge, with an interesting twist. The Gray Philosopher, a long-dead cleric contemplating eternity, is an excellent element for a dungeon. The Hutaakan, from Night's Dark Terror, make an appearance, as do the Lupin, an interesting possiblity for another demi-human race. A Nagpa, which is the embodiment of the phrase 'wise old bird' could be an excellent major NPC, and the Rakasta always make great villains.

I'm really only scratching the surface here. I wouldn't run a B/X game, or a Labyrinth Lord game, without this supplement. There is just too much good stuff here. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Two Years Ago Today...

"He's really not dead, as long as we remember him."
R.I.P. Gary Gygax, 1938 - 2008

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Happy GM's Day!

Today, on RPGNow, is GM's Day, a time of the year where we celebrate the GM, that lovable rogue who tortures and torments player characters. It is also a day when RPGNow holds a 25% sale off thousands of items, and this year, one of those items is OD&DITIES 13! If you've been wavering about getting it, then today is the day for you.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Review: Companion Expansion

I initially stumbled across this one on Lulu while I was buying my copy of the Advanced Edition Companion, and was intrigued by what I saw - intrigued enough to plonk down my money for a copy at the same time, though until yesterday it had remained on my shelf. Now, I think it highly likely that it's going to be a key part of my campaign.

Production wise, you get a 116-page book, pretty well illustrated, that is designed for 'Basic' and 'Expert' rules systems. (That has a familiar ring to it, somehow...) Although it is not associated with Labyrinth Lord or any other retro-clone, there should be no problems using it with any of the B/X-style rules-sets. I stress that point - the nature of this book will make it less useful with something like OSRIC.

I don't really consider this a 'Companion' in the B/X sense of the world. It isn't really a high-level supplement, though it does extend the level limits all the way up to 36. This to me is a good thing. I didn't actually think the original Companion book was that good, and I very rarely take campaigns above Expert level in any case; I find lower-level material a lot more use.

The best thing about this book comes right at the start. Seven new classes, presented in the OD&D style, that add more classes and races to the game - and each is distinctive. Although the new classes are drawn from AD&D, having them add something new to the game is taken as more important than apeing the class.

So you start with the Bard, almost all of whom's powers relate towards using his musical instrument. He has some of the Thief skills, some illusionist spells, starting at 2nd level, and abilities to inspire courage, alter reactions, and charm his enemies. The Druid is as you'd expect taking his spells from the Druidic spell list, but essentially a 'nature cleric'. (Yes - there are two new spell lists here. Another take on the Druid and Illusionist spells.)

Then it gets better - a varient Elf, the 'Wildwood' Elf. This again draws Druidic spells, but has a range of abilities designed for use in the outdoors. (The book recommends not using both types of Elf in the same campaign - I disagree. Great scope for conflict.) Then the Gnome, and this is a good one. Basically on the same power level as the Dwarf, but less good at fighitng and with illusionist spells. A much better fit to OD&D. Then Half-Orcs/Half-Elves. Interestingly, both of these classes have been treated in the same way in the game, with the same abilities; the take is that both are 'outsiders', and that the external differences are largely cosmetic. They are treated as outdoorsmen, again with some Thief abilities, some tracking abilities, and some to cure wounds. I like this idea in general, but I think in practice I might include some variation between the two.

My favourite race next - the Half-Ogre! We see far too little of this gem, and here he is for B/X. D10 hit points and damage bonuses form the bulk of his abilities, and make him a ferocious fighter, which is as it should be. Slow level advancement, though. The Illusionist - again - comes next. A fairly standard take on it. The final new class is the Scout, which is essentially a Ranger, but without clerical spells bolted on; I like this class, as it actually does add something new.

I've spent a lot of time on the classes, as for me they were what made the book distinctive. There is a nice comprehensive equipment list, but nothing particularly special. Then the spells, which take up about half the book - a few additional magic-user and cleric spells, and complete druidic and illusionist spells lists. Whilst these have been seen in other products before, I still like having lots of different spell lists to make the magical characters distinctive.

Most of the second half of the book consists of new monsters, and again we see a lot of familiar faces. A few that stand out are the Bookworm, which is death for a spellbook, the Rust Dragon (like a Red Dragon, but with a breath weapon that mimics the effect of a Rust Monster!) , and some nice varieties of skeletons to make those undead encounters interesting. This is one of those sections of the book that are more useful in the game than a great read; if you've been playing for a while you will have seen most of them before.

The book concludes with a selection of magical items, again drawn from AD&D, nicely sorted into tables. Again - we've seen these before, but they are all converted and are all here in one place. You can't really have too many magical items, I think. Plenty of reference tables finish the book.

Why did I like this? It is useful. I can use the whole book in my LL or B/X campaign without any modifications, or any changes to the basic nature of the game. It is still B/X, but now with a range of additional classes, spells, monsters and options. I can recommend this for that reason. It is available through Lulu, and there is also a free (non-art) PDF download available.

Getting Started on...Getting Started

It's been quite a busy week, I'm afraid, but a very good one. OD&DITIES seems to be flying off the electronic shelves, and I've been busy breathing a deep sigh of relief, while I continue work on OD&DITIES 14. I'm hoping to put it to bed by the end of the week; I'm giving all the articles another once-over right now. This time the layout is coming together a lot more smoothly, thank goodness.

WIth OD&DITIES brewing nicely, I'm getting ready to start work on my next project. One of the things I think is great about the OSR is that it gives an opportunity for the same games that were the introduction to role-playing for a lot of people to be in print and available once again. This hobby continually needs fresh blood, and fewer and fewer games seem really tailored towards the new player.

As part of that, I wrote a column in the first run of OD&DITIES, 'Getting Started', which I have in the past attempted to put in book form. Last time, it was a 40 page A4 PDF, which I first wrote for OD&D, then converted to 3.5E, then back to OD&D, until frankly it was something of a mess. Now it is long-lost to cyber-oblivion.

So I'm going to have another go at it. I'm thinking an 80 page A4 pdf, or a 128-148 page A5 paperback, which will try and cover all the basics of 'how to run a Labyrinth Lord campaign'. Where to get the books, run-downs on the available supplements and adventures, how to put a group together, writing campaign settings, dungeons, adventures, NPCs, the works. A full and complete write-up. I haven't actually written a single word of the MS yet, but I have a lot of notes and it's a book I've spent almost a decade on, in one form or another; I'm hoping for a release in August-September.

Coming this week on the blog: A review of Barrataria's Companion, and some 'writer's notes' from Issue 13 of OD&DITIES.