Friday, February 27, 2009

Stonehell: Hobgoblin Redoubt

The next and final quadrant of Level Two is now available. You can download it here.

It was time to introduce an organized foe to challenge the explorers of Stonehell. Up until now, the adventurers have had to face the standard collection of humanoid threats and undead menaces, mixed with the ubiquitous vermin, that tend to collect in the upper levels of most megadungeon complexes. While they’ve no doubt run into some humanoids and human-like creatures that employ rudimentary tactics to defend their holdings, they’ve yet to encounter a threat that’s organized, disciplined, and takes utmost advantage of the dungeon terrain.

Enter the hobgoblins.

Despite their portrayal in the Monster Manual as having an Asian motif to their weapons and armor, hobgoblins to me have always been more Roman than anything else. They take territory and hold it. They fight in organized groups led by competent military minds and they use the best tactics available to them to overcome less disciplined opponents. My hobgoblins form shield walls, launch volleys of missile fire, and utilize weapons like pole-arms to present the greatest threat to those who challenge them. A party that doesn’t respond with equal acumen is due for a sound defeat on the field of battle.

The hobgoblins of Stonehell are recent arrivals. Having discovered a back door into the second level, they’ve quickly seized a defendable section of the dungeon and added improvements to ensure they have a fortified position from which to launch military excursions. They seek to eventually take control of the entire second level – already scouting out and preparing to engage the lizard men – and move upwards to control as much as level one as possible. If their plan succeeds, they’ll turn Stonehell into a fortress from which to launch attacks on the neighboring towns and villages in an effort to bring the frontier under the iron rule of their race. If the adventurers can’t dislodge them now, while the hobgoblins await further reinforcements, they’re going to have an ongoing challenge in their efforts to explore the dungeon.

Removing this threat isn’t going to be easy. In addition to being well organized, the hobgoblins maintain a number of mountain lions to assist them in battle, as well as having discovered a cunning way to employ a decanter of endless water as a defense weapon. A direct assault on their redoubt is via a very nasty killing field; a place where the party will most likely be cut to pieces as they run through an extremely tight gauntlet to attack.

This section is one that will reward stealth, reconnaissance, and good planning, while punishing those foolish enough to believe they can achieve victory solely on the merits of being the “heroes” of the story. I hope it doesn’t take too many PC deaths for this lesson to sink in.

Viva la Old School!

As an aside, I realize that I’ve had a much busier posting week than I originally predicted. Depending on how much of Level Three I get in the can, and if I finally manage to put one of my submissions to bed over the course of the weekend, I might be taking it easy next week. I’ll have a better idea by Sunday night as to how drained my creative batteries are.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Other Ten

Now that I’ve laid out my least liked monsters in the D&D cosmos, I figured I’d play along and follow it up with my favorite ten. Some have been mentioned on other people’s lists; others are unique to my own favorite flavor of the game. Here they are:

10 – Wyverns: While I never went through the “dinosaurs are cool” phase that a lot of kids do, wyverns have always struck me as being more like poisonous pterodactyls than half-assed dragons. The idea of a poisonous flying lizard is pretty peachy keen in my mind. Plus there’s something dashing about the word itself. It conjures up images of Zorro-like characters and flamboyant scoundrels to me and makes the perfect sobriquet for a swashbuckling swordsman.

9 – Bookworms: An often overlooked beastie, yet rightfully feared by magic-users. While bookworms are not the easiest creatures to use effectively, if you can slip them in to an adventure, the sound of them eating your spellbook is more fear-inducing than the roar of a thousand dragons.

8 – Gibbering Mouthers: Another oft-overlooked monster, this Lovecraftian horror is wrong on so many different levels. Putting one of these in a dungeon is about as close as you can get to simulating a session of Call of Cthulhu in a straight D&D campaign without introducing new house rules. “Gibbering” is a great adjective to boot.

7 – Yuan Ti: Dwellers of the Forbidden City is my favorite module. Not only is it a big playground to customize to your own style but it introduced the official D&D race of snakemen, the Yuan Ti. I’ve mentioned before that snake men are one of the great clichés of sword & sorcery literature as far as I’m concerned, and the Yuan Ti with their variable bloodlines make them versatile enough to use in so many different ways.

6 – Iron Cobra: I’m rather ambivalent when it comes to constructed monsters in the game but the Iron Cobra is the absolute perfect accessory for evil sorcerers everywhere. There’s nothing quite like a clockwork snake slithering out of the darkness to ruin your day, especially when its evil master is not far behind. It has the added bonus of sounding like a style of kung-fu.

5 –Icky Things: I need to cheat here. I could easily have filled this list with all the various vermin, bugs, oozes, slimes, and other icky creatures that are often found in the dungeon because I love almost all of them. Give me a slimy ooze or a giant bug and I’m a happy referee.

4 – Wererats: Leiber is my personal favorite fantasy author of the old school. Combine that with a love for streetwise scoundrels, shifty characters, and other black-collar hoodlum types and it’s little wonder why wererats make my list. Some consider them the weakest of the lycanthropes. I consider them the craftiest and put them to good use in my games.

3 – The Ravenous Room: Another cheat but a beauty. Trapper on the floor; stunjelly on the walls; mimic disguised as a chest in the center of the room, and a lurker above on the ceiling. Throw in a chicken and watch the room eat itself! Last monster left standing gets killed by the party.

2 – Otyugh: I’ll be first in line to admit these things are pretty goofy, being big trash monsters that live in a sympathetic relationship with other subterranean creatures in order to obtain offal, dung and other refuse. Just when that seems silly enough, throw in the fact that they’re semi-telepathic. If that doesn’t break your ridiculous scale, let me introduce you to their relative, the neo-otyugh, who’s smarter, bigger, and even more telepathic. I love them because they are so completely out there.

1 – Goblins: You can have your kobolds, orcs, hobgoblins, bugbears, ogres, and gnolls. I’m quite content with my vicious little goblins. Playable as nasty, psychopathic thugs and bumbling comic relief alike, the lowly goblin tops my list and intends to stick a knife in the back of anyone trying to knock him off the apex of the heap. They’ve got to deal with the otyugh first to get him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Return of the Castle of the Mad Archmage

Joseph Bloch has posted the next installment of his homebrew version of Castle Greyhawk. As he did in the first, Joseph is still channeling the Dungeon Master himself in his quest to provide an “alternate history” version of that famous delve.

I’m really enjoying the fact that he’s releasing each new installment piggybacked with the previous. His notes included in the module allow the reader to watch as a spectator of his design process, letting one see what he has changed and why. As a student of megadungeon design myself, I’m always interested in how other people go about building their own creations and Joseph lets us into his head as he goes.

Fans of Greyhawk will see a few of the rumored features of the dungeon this time around, along with a familiar face or two. Keep up the good work, Joseph. I’ll be waiting patiently here until next month for the third section.

Ten Monsters I Loathe

There has been a bit of meme floating about as of late where various bloggers chime in on their personal Top Ten favorite monsters in D&D. Coming from a background steeped in iconoclasm and punkrockery, I’ve decided to buck the trend and present the ten monsters from D&D that I hate. Amongst these you will not find the usual punching bags mentioned whenever this topic comes up: No Drow or flumphs here. Instead this list is comprised of monsters that might have seemed like a decent foe for adventurers to confront, but for one reason or another, have just fallen short of the mark as far as I’m concerned.

10 – Leucrotta: Any monster based on the writings of Pliny the Elder might normally get some respect if only on sheer pedigree. And an animal with a stag’s body, badger’s head, and lion’s tail is not the weirdest collection of parts ever seen on a D&D monster. The problem with the leucrotta is that it dwells in “deserted and desolate places” and uses its ability to mimic the voice of a man or woman to lure prey within striking distance. I don’t know about you folks but every group of players I’ve ever had is not going to go wandering off the safe trail and into the haunted wastes to investigate the cries of a damsel in distress. That just screams ambush. At least a Wolf-In-Sheep’s-Clothing has a bunny that the party can see and not just a cry in the night. I’ve actually had a player respond to a leucrotta’s gambit with the words, “Help me, Spock!” Scream all you want, badger face. The smart party’s going to roll on by.

9 – Slug, Giant: I’ll admit that a lot of this dislike is based on my real-life bigotry when it comes to homeless snails. I’ve stepped on a plain old garden slug barefoot and never quite recovered from that event. That trauma notwithstanding, it’s really hard to get behind any creature whose special attack misses 90% of the time it first lobs a glob of acidic spittle at you. Add that to fact it can be defeated by luring into a narrow hallway or with a gratuitous amount of table salt and I’m just not impressed.

8 – Doppleganger: In theory, the doppleganger should have every party of adventurers shaking in their high, hard boots. A creature that can usurp your entire identity and replace you so well that even your boon companions will only suspect something is amiss 10% of the time? That’s pretty freaky and Lifelock isn’t going to save your ass on this one. In practice, however, things tend to be a little different. If your character goes wandering off unaccompanied and comes back acting even the smallest bit off, your fellow veteran players are going to stick a knife in your ribs just on general principle. A referee can of course arrange matters so as to avoid suspicion, but this usually requires a lot of asides with the soon-to-be-replaced character and a certain amount of pretending not to notice all this conspiring by the rest of the players. Quite frankly, a helm of opposite alignment works just as well without all the fuss.

7 – Peryton: This one always pissed me off for one simple reason: the illustration. I had no problem with the by this time common theme of monsters that are animals with different animals glued on to it, but the picture clearly shows an eagle-deer casting the shadow of a man. It’d be many years before I discovered that the peryton is a creature of at least medieval origin that was known to cast the shadow of a man. Somehow, despite learning such useful trivia as the peryton requires human hearts to procreate from their description in the Monster Manual, the little fact about the funky shadow isn’t mentioned anywhere! Stupid, freakin’ flying deer…

6 – Ixitxachitl: I refuse to enable any monster whose name I don’t even have the slightest chance of pronouncing correctly.

5 – Eye of the Deep: “Hey Dave! What if a beholder got drunk and fucked a lobster?” “Sure. They didn’t seem to mind the armadillo with a propeller.” Not even an ecology by Ed Greenwood could save this mess. Let’s face it: Most of the aquatic D&D monsters just plain suck. Morkoth, I’m looking at you…

4 – Shriekers: Shriekers are the car alarms of the dungeon. They worked great when first introduced, but by now, nobody’s going to pay any attention to them. Anything that starts screaming whenever something moves within 10’ of it is going to be quickly disarmed by its neighbors taking a pole-axe to it. Need I remind you that these things are mindless, ambulatory AND come in groups? What happens when one of these things gets the hankering to go off on a stroll and sets off the other 1-7 shriekers growing nearby? Pole-axe city, baby. Their codependency on other monsters for their mere survival doesn't make them any more likeable either.

3 – Shambling Mound: You know it’s “Man-Thing,” I know it’s “Man-Thing,” and we both know “Man-Thing” sucked. Stripping it of the power to burn anyone who felt fear just makes it suckier. You should have gone with “Swamp Thing,” guys.

2 – Sahuagin: SA-who-Again? Sa-wow-jin? SO-Hog-in? A pronunciation guide could have been shoe-horned into that doctorial dissertation you call a “description,” you know? Need to trim up some space? Here’s my creature description: “Evil Sea-Monkeys.”

1 – Piercers: If there’s any creature that even the most liberal application of Gygaxian Naturalism couldn't save, it’s the piercer. This mollusk spends its whole life clinging to the roof of a cave just waiting for some dumb schmuck to come wandering by before dropping on him. Once it does, it inevitably misses and then must slowly crawl across the floor, up the wall, and back onto the roof at the hair-raising speed of 10’ per minute before it can strike again. My next dungeon is going to have a cave filled with nothing but smashed piercers on the floor and ones that died of starvation still attached to the ceiling.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ten lbs. of Weird in a Five lbs. Bag

Some time back, inspired by the philosophy of “Imagine the Hell out of it,” I sat down to come up with a campaign world that worked within the guidelines provided by the original LBBs of D&D, yet didn’t kowtow to the traditional fantasy themes and clichés. As purely a mental exercise, rather than one intended for actual use, I gave myself a one hour window to come up with as much as I could that adhered to the rules suggested in the books, but required no new house rules or modifications. I took off all creativity governors and started brainstorming. What follows is a slightly cleaned up version of the setting that I came up with in those sixty minutes. Certain things like names and places were neglected for the sake of cramming as much as I could in that time frame.

Many, many centuries ago, the race of humanity (or a human analog) stared up at the stars from their dying world. Their home stood on the brink of extinction and their sole hope for survival was the colonization of a new world amongst the stars. As this branch of humanity was more enlightened when it came to arcane and occult forces than those of technology, they lacked the ability to travel amongst the stars in the safe bosom of starships and space vessels.

Sending their senses outwards into the galaxy, they discovered a small world many light years away, which, with some terraforming, could be modified to support human life. While this branch of humanity lacked technology, they did possess certain strange arts that would allow them to cross the void of space and set about making this world their own. This art, now long lost, was akin to the method John Carter used to arrive on Mars in the tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs; a form of astral projection and re-embodiment on arrival. In order to survive the harsh conditions the planet posed to these new settlers, the first wave of pioneers were modified by occult means to make them more resilient to initial conditions; being reduced in size and gaining heightened resistance to hazardous compounds and energies. This first wave of settlers was known as dwarves, so named because of their resemblance to mythical creatures from humanity’s past.

The dwarves arrived on this new world and began carving out subterranean holdings in which to construct the necessary equipment and conduct the needed experiments to tame this harsh world. In the course of their excavations, they unearthed something very large and very old. This creature was more akin to a god than an animal, and while it slinked away into the deeper depths of the world, the dwarves held it in awe and a religious faith was founded on the veneration of this creature.

As the dwarves continued to modify their new home world and the atmosphere became more suitable for life outside the caves, they had first contact with some of the bizarre indigenous creatures of this world. Some were mindless animals, while others possessed an unexpected intellect. As the climate of the world changed, many of these original inhabitants would die off, while other underwent mutations and adaptations that allowed their continued survival.

Once the atmosphere allowed humanity in its unaltered form to survive extended exposure on this new world, the second wave of settlers arrived. These humans first dwelled in the underground complexes built by the dwarves, but soon spread out to build settlements on the planet’s surface. Amongst this second wave were the followers of a new metaphysical path of enlightenment. Seeking to avoid the events which caused their initial flight from their former home, these enlightened individuals sought to achieve mastery over their own minds and bodies, as well as conduct lives that were more in tune with the natural world around them. Through study and practice, this sect of humanity learned to align their chakras and focus their chi in order to prolong their natural lifespan and achieve mastery in both the martial and mystical arts. Because this mastery was dependent upon the arrangement of their metaphysical energies, they must focus and properly align their chakras each day in a pattern most suitable to whether they sought to perform actions of physical might or mental acumen, never allowing both to exist simultaneously. These aesthetics would go one to become the elves.

As the centuries past, humanity and its descendent races settled the majority of the planet and their accomplishments in both the arts arcane and technological soared to undreamed of heights. Humanity even scraped the stars in a more physical means, sending the first orbital satellites and vessels aloft. But humanity is a foolish species, and soon the old arguments and animosities they thought they left behind on their dead world began to arise again. This time, there would be no escape from conflict and that conflict would almost exterminate humanity and its brethren from the cosmos.

Millennia have now past and humanity seeks to rebuild itself and reclaim its former greatness from the ashes of the history. Much of the great arts have been lost and the wilderness has overgrown the once mighty empires of Men. New races lurk in the outlands; some being the offspring of the indigenous inhabitants of the world, while others are mutated experiments spawned during the height of Man’s scientific inquiries. Superstition is rife and the old ways of technology are no longer understood as they once were. Churches have sprung up that venerate the gods above, not knowing that these “gods” are merely the artificially sentient orbital satellites and weapon platforms that still pass overhead. Some still seek to recover Man’s technological heritage; in the north, the Lightning Lords conduct ineffable experiments in their high mountain redoubts. Others delve into forgotten underground places in search of humanity’s lost treasures.

The races of this harsh world are divided; some serving the forces of Law and attempting to carve out a new civilization amongst the ashes; others serving the cause of Chaos so as to ensure the world remains a place where only the strong and malicious survive. This world is yours if you are brave enough to take up arms and fight for your place in it.

That’s what I had after an hour of brainstorming. There were a few other ideas that didn’t quite make it to the general overview, such as having the solitary surviving dome from Valley Forge, complete with a much decayed Dewey as its custodian (see the movie, Silent Running), crash landed in a radioactive desert, but you get the general idea.

I don’t know if I’d ever use this setting in actual play, having invested a lot in my more standard fantasy setting of R’Nis, but it was an interesting experiment to see what I could come up with when I wasn’t so concerned about taking a visit out to Bat Country to look for ideas.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Work, Work, Work

Let me preface this by stating that this is not, by any means, me complaining. If I ever start harping on the fact that I’ve got too much to do in regards this hobby of ours, you have the right to shove me into the black mouth of a big green devil’s face and be done with me. This is more of a heads up for the coming week.

When I got back into this hobby in general and, more specifically, the movement to keep older forms of these games alive, I did so with the hopes that I might be able to contribute a bit back to the larger community. At that time, I never so much as dreamed that I’d be doing so in the capacity that I have been. While my efforts pale in comparison with those of many others, my own drops in the communal bucket have become larger than originally intended.

As it stands at the moment, I’m trying to finish up a submission that I hope might be accepted for an upcoming issue of Fight On! and I’ve agreed to provide another piece for Knockspell. I’ve got the rest of Level Two of Stonehell completed, but I need to start working on the first two quadrants of Level Three for March. In addition to this, I’ve got two other projects that I’ve been chipping away at for later on in the year and I’m still sitting in on my thrice-monthly gaming group. In down moments, I’m polishing up three blog posts for later. All this is taking up my evening hours, as I spend most of the daytime hunting down a new contract for archival work (note to Dave Arneson – if you ever feel you need someone to organize, preserve and arrange your life’s works for posterity, I’m available).

This weekend saw me on the road for another trip upstate and I’m still recovering for road burn and from spending time with my newborn nephew so Mom and Dad could catch a few much-needed hours of sleep. Now I’m the one in need of a nap.

Posts will still be happening as scheduled this week, but they will be short pieces and perhaps uninspired (more so than usual), as I try to clear off my stovetop before everything on the backburner boils over. I apologize in advance for this and normal long-winded posts of meandering nature will resume once I’ve herded a project or two across the finish line.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stonehell: Without Doors

For the foreseeable future, Fridays will feature a new quadrant of Stonehell. The latest quadrant, Level 2C: Without Doors is available here.

When I sit down to work on each new section of Stonehell, sometimes I begin with a kernel of an idea and start drawing the map based on that rough nugget. Other times, I just start drawing away and hope that the map will end up suggesting something. This quadrant was one of the latter times.

As I penciled in the hallways and chambers on my sheet of graph paper, I begin to notice that there was a certain flow to those hallways; one that I didn’t really want to impede by adding too many doors or other barriers. From that observation came the decision to see what would happen if I neglected to place a single door in the entire section.

The obvious effect is that it would alter the normal dungeon exploration process. No Listen or Open Door checks. No secure place to hide or recuperate or retreat. No gaining the advantage of surprise by kicking in the door and taking the inhabitants unaware. Interesting.

As to inhabitants, such a dungeon layout would most likely not be settled on a permanent basis, stemming from a lack of easily secured and defended locales within that section. Any creatures encountered here would be of a transient or unintelligent nature. This would make for a very broad Wandering Monster table. Again, the idea intrigued me.

When all was said and done, I walked away from this section very happy with the end result. It’s not 100% door free, but the ones that are there might not be so easy to find and I wonder if any adventurers exploring the area will give up on searching for secret doors long before they come upon the areas in which they’re actually located.

There is a new monster featured in this section that requires a quick note. During their exploration, the party might encounter the Small Men. Standing 4’ tall or less, the Small Men are bald, pale humanlike creatures. They dress in loose smocks and trousers and are often adorned with tattoos and other body modifications. Each possesses some minor arcane ability that they can employ fairly often. The Small Men never speak and are often found engaged in strange labors with no obvious meaning. Such activities include painting ineffable designs on the walls, ceiling, and floor of the dungeon, constructing cairns of fallen stones and accumulated junk, hanging bizarre mobiles from the ceilings of chambers, building life-sized dioramas with dead bodies, and other weird and macabre activities. The origins and purpose of the Small Men are left undeveloped at this time, leaving the referee free to assign such details on their own or to wait for further development of these odd inhabitants in a future Stonehell installment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Put the Dungeon Over There, Charlie.”

I’ve been known to make simple things difficult. Mostly unintentionally, I’ll grant you, but I will admit to sometimes taking the rocky, thorn-ridden trail when the turnpike is headed straight to my destination. Ask me to chop down a tree and I’m likely to ask for a hammer to accomplish this task rather than an axe. I don’t know where I get this trait from, but I am aware of it and I’m trying my best to jettison it along with other less endearing peculiarities.

Consider this yet another one of my gaming bad habits that I’ve acquired over the years. As I discussed in a past post, I have the bad tendency to take on more work than is actually needed to get a campaign ready for play. This quirk is so ingrained in my nature that, even when a more elegant solution is looking me directly in the face, I’m wont to brush it to the wayside in search of a hard way to do things.

Last week, I mentioned that I was searching for a home for Stonehell in my campaign world. This search led to me drawing a rough draft of a potential outdoors map of a suitable area, as well as considering the pros and cons of using either a colder climate vs. a more arid one. I was stuck on the fence and unable to come to a decision in this matter despite some helpful comments and suggestions. And then, just a few days ago, the penny finally dropped. Why not use something that that already exists and incorporates all the terrain elements and setting possibilities I had considered? After all, the solution was sitting not more than three feet away from me.

I had mentioned that I got my hands on a copy of Outdoor Survival. Now it was time to put it to use.

First of all, just take a look at that map. Absolutely realistic? Absolutely not, but I’m not shooting for a 100% realistic simulation in my role-playing game. I’ve long since dropped that requirement. What I want is a nice blend of terrain types and an overall map that lends itself to exploration. The Outdoor Survival map does meet both those criteria.

Secondly, it gets the official D&D seal of approval. Not only is it mentioned in the Original Dungeon & Dragons game as recommended equipment, but Dave Arneson has said that he used the map when his Blackmoor players wandered off into uncharted areas.

Lastly, I’ll be in good company. James Maliszewski is using the map as the basis for his Dwimmermount campaign and Rob Conley of Bat in the Attic has turned the same map into a very cool Judges Guild Wilderlands-style map.

I’m sure that there are people out there who would consider such a decision to be the sign of a lazy or incompetent referee. After all, if I’m playing this game I should be talented enough to use my own material rather than something that’s been pre-published. At one time, I’d be in complete agreement with them. But as time progresses, I’ve become more interested in what my efforts achieve in the end instead of where they begin. By this I mean that I rather apply all my creative energies into developing the setting through play rather than frontloading the process.

I’ve stated that I believe that one of the most important skills of a referee is the ability to creatively interpret unforeseen results. One of the aspects of this skill is the ability to game by the seat of one’s pants. To work with what comes up at the table rather than at the design desk. By using the Outdoor Survival map, rather than one of my own creation, I can start without much in the way of preconceived ideas and let things develop in game, yet still have an idea of what lies” just over that ridge” or “far in the west.”

My other defense in using the OS map in lieu of one of my own creations is that I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you give ten referees the same map; you’re going to get ten different settings when they’re done. Just looking at it now, I’m already beginning to get a few ideas on what might be lurking where and I’m confident those ideas are completely different from what you might be thinking.

Unlike the various published settings that TSR and WotC put out over the years, the OS map is a mostly blank slate. The original D&D rules suggests placing strongholds in catch basin locations and towns in hexes with buildings, but this is not required and the individual referee is left to his own devices. Like most of the original rules, one can pick and choose what to follow as he desires.

The more I play around with Stonehell, the more I realize that I’ve been building an inadvertent campaign. I’ll be starting on Level Three this week, thus fulfilling the “Three Levels Detailed” criteria before starting a D&D campaign as suggested in the original rules, and I’ve now got a general outdoor area map which can be explored and eventually settled by the characters. All I’m missing is a home town fleshed out and I’m set. How on earth did I get here?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Skip Williams Has Job Security

Last week I received an email from someone who had plans to run his gaming group through the first section of Stonehell. In that email, he had a question about how Stonehell was intended to be run. What follows is an excerpt from the reply that I sent. I think that it not only demonstrates what I had in mind when I was putting the dungeon together, but also serves as simple advice to anyone planning on running a classic style dungeon for the first time. The advice given directly quotes certain rules from Labyrinth Lord but the general thrust of the letter applies to any old-school ruled dungeon adventure.
…Stonehell was designed to be a classic, old-school dungeon crawl, so the difficulty of exploring and surviving it is going to be very much dependent on the way the party approaches it.

I don't know your personal history of gaming (when you got started, what edition you're used to playing etc.) so if any of the following is stuff you already know, please excuse this advice. Stonehell is set up so that it's probably going to be a tough challenge for 1st level characters if they go in swords and spells a' flying and hope to kill everything they come across. In order to best meet the challenges of the dungeon, the party should be open to using their heads as much as their brawn.

One thing to remember is that many of the intelligent monsters down in Stonehell are not going to automatically attack the party on sight. I recommend highly that you use the Monster Reaction Table on p. 52 of the Labyrinth Lord rulebook when the party first meets the monsters, provided that the party doesn't attack them first. On a result of Neutral or Indifferent, the monsters might just warn the party off rather than attack. A result of Friendly might even indicate that the monsters are willing to reveal some information about the dungeon that may help the party in their explorations. Remember that characters with a high Charisma get a bonus to roles on the Reaction Table, so if the party has a character that’s particularly charming do the talking, they stand an even better chance of avoiding a conflict. If that character also speaks the monster's native language, I'd award another small bonus as well.

The kobolds, since you mentioned them, are an even more special case. I talked about them here so it's worth a re-read before running the dungeon, but to sum it up; the kobolds in Stonehell are used to being bossed around by others and adopt a servile attitude when encountering threatening parties of strange adventurers. I'd play them as very fawning and whimpering to the party, rather than attacking at first sight. Using the Monster Reaction Table I'd probably apply a -3 to any roll on that table even if there's no other modifiers for Charisma or what have you.

In the event that things go bad while talking, or the party attacks on sight, I'd also like to remind you about the rules for Morale on p. 56 of Labyrinth Lord. They're optional, but I strongly suggest them. A band of minor threats, like the kobolds, have a even chance of running away or surrendering as they do fighting the first time one of them dies and when they're down to 1/2 strength.

That being said, there are a few monsters lurking on the first level that have a good chance of eating the whole party should they stand and fight. The Giant Gecko Lizard and the random ghoul could easily tear through a party of 1st level adventurers, so they need to know that running away isn't always a bad thing.

With all this in mind, remember that, while I wrote the thing, Stonehell is really yours to do with as you wish. Feel free to trim down some of the monsters' numbers or add a few potions of healing or a magic-user's scroll with a couple of additional spells to the dungeon to help out the party if you feel they need it.

If this is your first time trying an "old school" dungeon, I recommend you (and your players if possible) take a look at Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. It lays out things to keep in mind while playing in an old school style game and is quite helpful.

Sorry to be so long-winded in this response, but I hope it gives you a better idea about how Stonehell was designed and what to expect of it in actual play… I hope you and your group have a great time! Always remember that that is the primary goal.
The title of this post of course refers to the long-suffering author of Dragon Magazine and Kobold Quarterly’s rule advice columns “Sage Advice,” and “Ask The Kobold,” Ralph “Skip” Williams. It’s become a bit of a tradition to in my gaming group to come up with hypothetical questions to submit to those columns that would most likely drive Skip mad. The last such question I remember was “If a druid shape changes into the form of a horse, would he produce horse urine or human urine? We need a ruling on this to determine if this affects a test for steroid use before entering the druid in an annual fighting festival.”

Remember folks, “Rulings, not Rules!”

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Being a collection of items not worthy of a full day’s posting:
  • Knockspell Magazine #1 is now available in print format via Lulu. If you’re like me and prefer to have a hardcopy which to rumple and fetish, you can get the saddle-stitch version or the perfect-bound version. Each of these costs $10.73. The .pdf version is also available for $3.00.

  • Stonehell continues to grow in a most pleasing manner. I’ve finished Level 2C except for a final proofread and Level 2D just needs a few minor tweaks and to have the map scanned and imported into the document. Since Fridays tend to be rather slow days here in the blogosphere, I’m thinking that new sections of the dungeon will appear here as a regular Friday feature for the foreseeable future. It is my hope to turn Stonehell into a complete ten level megadungeon over the course of the year and to make it a regular feature here for those of you running it or thinking of adding it to your home games.

  • Speaking of Stonehell, I’ve been hearing that several people have already run groups through its halls or plan to do so in the near future. If you are one of those people or have played in a party that has explored those halls, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the dungeon. You can send me write-ups of actual play sessions, compliments, criticisms, etc. to poleandrope [at] gmail [dot] com. I reserve the right to post here anything you might write – good or bad – from time to time to let other readers see what’s been going on in those funky depths. Any such letter may be slightly edited for spelling and the like, but not for content.

  • In association with the above, I have a slight vanity project in which I could use the help of those who’ve ventured into Stonehell. One of features that I originally planned on having in Gloomrisk was a magical chamber whose walls would list a roster of all the adventurers who had entered its hall in search of glory and fortune. Their names would appear inscribed on the walls for any who came across the room to see. I’d like to keep that idea alive for Stonehell. If you’ve experienced the dungeon and don’t want to submit a detailed email about your experiences in the dungeon, feel free to drop me a short email at the above address with just a roster of who was in your group and I’ll make sure that those names are preserved for posterity in association with the dungeon. I might add a “Rogues Gallery” to the right sidebar or make it a semi-regular post here, but I’ll end up doing something with it. Feel free to include class, sex, race, level, etc information as well as the names of any henchmen, hirelings, pack animals, and the like. I’ll see that you get on the list of “Hell’s Delvers” or perhaps “Hellvers” for short.

  • There’s one last thing on my mind and I’m not certain if it’s going to actually happen or not for a few reasons, but I thought I’d touch on it just to see if there was any reaction to it for better or for worse. As you’re all probably aware, GenCon season has officially started. Registration has begun and people are beginning to make arrangements to attend. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend GenCon myself, but my gut is telling me that this might be the year to correct that. As we all know, this is not the best of times for a lot of people financially. It is the nature of my own career that I sometimes find myself in between contract jobs and have to tighten my belt to make it through the downtimes. As it stands right now, I’ve just finished a project that took up two years of my life and I’m currently searching for another contract position. Money’s going to be tight until I land a new project. Despite this, I’d still like to make the trip out to Indianapolis to hobnob with my fellow gamers. It occurred to me that I might be able to help defray the costs of that trip by using this blog as a way to help generate some of the needed cash. Right now, I’m considering the possibility of adding a Paypal donation option to this site. Any money generated through donations would be applied solely to help pay for the GenCon trip. In the event that, even with donated money, I was unable to make the trip, any funds raised in that manner would either be applied to some project that would add to the old school gaming community or would be donated in full to a charity organization. Any donation would be strictly voluntary and in no way do I intend to limit the available materials or content of this site in order to generate money. In short, if you like what you read here on a regular basis or find Stonehell entertaining and useful, you could drop something into the kitty if you wished to. As I said before, I’m not certain I actually want to do this, but I thought it might bear mentioning now in case I swallow my pride and go this route. The only reason that I've even considered asking for donations is because I do make things such as Stonehell, the New Classes and Racial Variants for Basic Dungeons & Dragons and the Blank Mega Hex-Crawl Map available free here and wouldn't be asking for something in return for just my mad postings on the blog itself. My other options are to produce a game supplement of some manner and sell it online, play the waiting game and hope that I land a new contract sooner than later or just accept that this is not going to be the year. I’m going to put off making any firm decision for the moment until I get a better view of things.
Monday morning will be business as usual here. Hope you all had a great weekend and I’ll see you folks tomorrow morning.

Pied Piper To Show More of Castle Greyhawk

Sometimes insomnia has its benefits. I’m currently awake, plotting and planning some projects for the upcoming few months. As I do so, I stumbled across an announcement from Pied Piper Publishing. It seems that Rob Kuntz has something very special planned us old D&D aficionados. I’ll let Mr. Kuntz explain:

“One of these items announces a dear project of mine which involves publishing all of my ancient Lake Geneva Campaign Castle, Outdoor, City and Special levels and Original Campaign information, circa 1972-1985. Note our online product information as well as covers for two of the products due out this year at this link that will be live on February 15th, 2009. Also note information in our newsletter about this.”
From the Pied Piper newsletter:

Six Original Castle Levels from the original Castle Greyhawk, 1973, by Rob Kuntz. In two sets of 3 levels each. Price: TBA per set or by price per individual level; color reproductions of maps plus original map scans; fully detailed with historical references and extra on-line content available to purchasers.
LE, Signed and Numbered 1-500/set.
Robert J. Kuntz, Author; Ed Kann, Cartographer; Andy Taylor & Ed Kann, Illustrators. Available: August/September
(Greyhawk is TM Wizards of the Coast).

The Annex, Original Lake Geneva Special City/Outdoor level: 1975 Original Campaign Reproduction, by Rob Kuntz (see on-line preview and author sample introduction).
Price: TBA; full color scan of the original, as in Bottle City; LE, Signed and Numbered 1-500. Rob Kuntz, author and original map; Andy Taylor, Illustrator. Available: May/June

Dream Land, Original Campaign alternate setting and DM wonder tool, 1985 Original Campaign Reproduction, by Rob Kuntz.
Price: TBA; full color scanned reproduction of the original 11 x17 map hand drawn by Rob Kuntz. Setting guides and over 300 encounters and their variants for use in sculpting unique fantasy dream lands in any game system.
LE, Signed and Numbered 1-300. Available:TBA/2009
From the product descriptions on the website:

Six Levels from the Original Castle, Lake Geneva Campaign, 1973

LV3-split East. A special level with the prototype "Garden" of the Plantmaster in it, a Giants "Pool Hall", and the resting place of my creation, the first "ring of shooting stars".

LV8 East. The Original "Machine Level," playtested by EGG and adventured on by dozens, including James Ward's Bombadil PC. Repair robots, washing tubs, insane machinery, and floors with conveyer belts moving one to these areas.

LV11-Core. Whole elevator rooms/complex which actually moves up a whole 1/8 of the map to the levels above, with ending point covering pit (never found by adventurers) with a great magic item in it. Entrance to land of OZ.

LV12-Core (Boreal Level). Ice/Snow level (Arctic Level). Frost King, Ice Worms Trap area with many holes, boreal clime.

LV13-Core. Original Lord of Light with my "Orb of Brightness" (later renamed by EGG as "Gem of Brightness"), Hidden Tomb with staff of wizards, Corridors of Distance, access points to Asgard, Melnibonae, Dying Earth, sinking/rising rough hewn room to levels below and above.

LV14-Core. Access to deeper regions of the castle, bridge over void with Flame guardian, 3 Kings throne room (massive)--MU, F, Cl--where one of the artifacts for clerics was located.


As a DM you are always searching through your repertoire of tricks and strategies to challenge your players, right?

Back in 1985 I envisioned a land where the players would actually "adventure" in without actually doing so. A place where reality and dream merged. A place where many players to this day swear it was as real an adventure to them as any other that they had chosen to participate in!

That place was "Dream Land."

It is the OZ, it is the Realm of Fairy, but more importantly, it is anything that YOU as a DM want it to be and perhaps even what your players THINK that it is. It is Now, Then and Everything bordering on dream, and in this case, it is also your players' worst nightmare.

Dream Land© offers a wide range of DM applications in one package and is suitable for any game system.

*A beautiful 11" x 17" colored map faithfully reproduced from the original drawn by Robert J. Kuntz in 1985.

* Over 300 detailed areas including, mountains, hills, woods, rivers, seas, cities, counties, kingdoms, marshes, swamps, and special encounters, all of which list occupants and other information integral to the ongoing adventure(s).

*Basic rules and easily learned guides to quickly and seamlessly structure the adventures through notation and simplified story-telling techniques.

*An endless setting with myriad possibilities that can be used as an ongoing part of your world or adventured in under certain conditions, as the DM prescribes.

*Easily sculptable for ANY player level, from 1st on up!*Useable in ANY game system!*A detailed section on how to craft your own unique Dream Land(s)!

I was unable to find more information on The Annex at the time of this posting.

Very exciting news indeed!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Dungeon In Search of a Home

I’ve been sketching again. I’m trying to figure out where exactly Stonehell might be located on my campaign map, so I’ve taken to looking over the various potions of the main continent to see what out of the way location might be best suited for me to drop a potential Labyrinth Lord game into and not muck with the AD&D games I’ve run in the past.

As it stands, I’m waffling between two geographic areas that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. I can’t make up my mind if I want to develop an area that would be more akin to northwestern Canada or Scandinavia in climate and geography, thus being more of a traditional pseudo-European setting, or if I want to indulge in a drier climate someplace to the south, which would a mixed southwestern U.S. region crossed with the Middle East. Such a setting always put me in the mind of Howard’s Conan tales and spaghetti westerns, which always prove to be rich veins to mine for inspiration.

I’ve gone as far as sketching out a rough draft of the northern, colder region to get a vague idea of what might lie outside of the dungeon. I’m picturing vast pine forests, rugged mountain peaks, mosquito-infested bogs during high summer, and ports choked with ice in the winter. The primary livelihood in such an area would be mining and fur-trapping, with trade limited to the warmer seasons and exchanges with the indigenous barbarian tribes. This region would be located directly to the west of the map I’ve posted here in the past.

The southern region would be a richer area, both in trade and history. A drier climate always hints to me of quasi-Egyptian fallen civilizations and a climate prone to the preservation of ancient texts and codices written by authors of questionable sanity. A place where lost cities and ancient ruins await to be revealed by the shifting of the desert sands.

Both areas have their own attractions and difficulties, but are similar in that they are on the fringes of the settled lands and invite more exploration. Such locations cry out for order to be carved out in the wilderness.

Quite frankly, I’m stumped at the moment. More pondering is in order.

Just to give you an idea as to what I’m looking at, the above is a scan of one of my oldest rough sketches of the main continent of R’Nis. The light blue section would be the colder, northern region I’m considering, while the light green area would be the more arid area. And just for the sake of completion, the red area on the map is where I’ve placed Gloomrisk and its outlying areas.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stonehell is Hungry! Send More Adventurers!

Jeff Rients recently ran his bi-weekly Labyrinth Lord pick-up game through the first installment of Stonehell. It seems that good times were had by all. While I'd like to say that this was obviously because I can write up a good, old fashion dungeon, Jeff strikes me as the type of DM who could run a party through the maze on a child's placemat and have the players enthralled.

You can read his post report here. You can grab a copy of that section of the dungeon here and play along at home.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stonehell: The Reptile House

The second of the four quadrants comprising Level 2 of that strange subterranean realm known as Stonehell is now available for your perusal here.

“Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult” – Black Lotus Street Peddler, Conan the Barbarian (1982)

The snake cult has deep roots in the origins of D&D. From Howard’s Serpent Men of Velusia; to the Greek Lamia and the Indian Naga; to the Yuan-Ti of the Forbidden City, it’s just not sword & sorcery unless there’s some scaly monster and crazed cultists to confront. The climax of more than one adventure has been the party confronting and thwarting the nefarious plans of these individuals.

When I started playing around with this section of Stonehell, it coincided with my re-reading “The Curse of Yig” by H.P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, so snake men were very much on the forefront of my mind. I thought that they’d make nice trappings for the dungeon, but I wanted to do something a little different with them. After a bit of thought, I decided that rather than having a snake cult as the antagonists for this portion of the dungeon, I’d merely use them as former occupants of this quadrant. At some point in the not-so-distant past, they’d been challenged and defeated by some nameless band of adventurers and all that remains now, like the shed skin of some titanic serpent, are the decorations and hints of their former presence here.

Since my mind was already on things scaly and upright, it wasn’t much of a stretch to decide to use Lizard Men (that’s Lizard Men, not Lizardfolk – curse you 3.0 political correctness!!!) as the main antagonists here. They’re a comfortably 2 HD monster and, outside of a run-through of U2 – Danger at Dunwater, I don’t get a chance to use them much. They also have the advantage of being Neutral creatures, so an encounter with them could easily go either way depending on how the party decides to react to them. This works well with my belief that a classic dungeon shouldn’t always be about killing everything one comes across.

Using Lizard Men as the main attraction also allowed me to work in something that I had so far neglected to include in Stonehell – another way in to the place. With Gloomrisk, I had set up several methods by which a party might gain access to the dungeon other than just the front door. In keeping with the tradition established by Castle Greyhawk, these entrances don’t always lead to the first level, allowing more experienced parties to by-pass the yard trash and head straight for levels more equal to their skill. I had forgotten to include such alternate means of entrance and exit for Stonehell, so it was time to correct that.

Speaking of forgotten dungeon features, I also made sure that I included two other old standbys in this section of the dungeon. The first was the elevator room. As I indicated above, sometimes you need a way for the party to skip a few less challenging levels to get straight to the fighting & looting portion of the dungeon itinerary. The elevator room also has the advantage of serving as a trap for lower level adventurers, dropping them right in over their heads before they know what’s happening. The second classic dungeon feature was the rubble-choked passageway that leads to an undetermined location that could be used by the referee to expand the dungeon if necessary. I figured that might come in handy sometime, rather than have to get a price quote from the Greyhawk Construction Company.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Apocalyptic Preparations

About a month ago, I mentioned here that one of my resolutions for this coming gaming year would be to put together a Gamma World sandbox style game. I haven’t mentioned it since, largely because not much progress has yet been achieved in that endeavor. I’ve got some work done on a draft of the campaign world map, but most of my efforts have been in the mental arena, rather than in a physical one. This doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in the project. I just prefer to let things cook on the backburner awhile before I get down to business.

One of the things I have been doing to keep the project alive in my head was to go and start looking at inspirational sources to guide me through the design process. I sat down and watched Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards again, as well as picking up a copy of A Canticle for Lebowitz to re-read. Throw in a dash of everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic gun-porn series, “Deathlands,” and I’ve got the pot pretty much spiced to taste for the moment.

But when it comes to things Gamma World, there is one source of inspiration that I’ve always drawn heavily from, but seldom see it mentioned by others. I’d like to take a moment to call some attention to this perhaps unknown resource.

Back in 1968, the underground cartoonist Vaughn Bodé introduced to the world a ten-page comic detailing the exploits of a white-clothed, post-apocalyptic warrior and guerilla fighter by the name of Cobalt 60. That eponymously-titled comic appeared in the alternative comic book witzend. Despite the fact that Vaughn would win a Hugo in 1969 based strongly on Cobalt 60, he never did anything else with the comic or character again, saying that the world of Cobalt 60 depressed him. He did do some further character conceptions and sketches, but never returned to that cinder of an Earth during his lifetime.
After Vaughn’s death in 1975, his son, Mark Bodé, would return to the world that his father created. In 1984, Mark and writer Larry Todd created a new storyline featuring Cobalt 60, as well as some of the characters that Vaughn had conceived during his life. That new storyline was done as a full-color comic that saw print in serialized form in the pages of Epic Illustrated. It was in that publication that I first laid on eyes on Cobalt 60 and the funky, violent post-apocalyptic wasteland that was his home. I was completely captivated.

I’m not much of an artist, but I got so caught up in Cobalt 60 that I started trying to draw my own post-apocalyptic adventures of that character. Vaughn’s original artwork was simple enough for me to try and duplicate, although recreating his talent was something else entirely. Thankfully, none of my own efforts survived to this day. Nonetheless, when it comes to primary sources of inspiration for Gamma World, Cobalt 60 is at the top of the list.
A brief synopsis of the Mark Bodé/Larry Todd storyline is that Cobalt 60, a warrior with a mysterious past, fights a guerilla war against the Radio Empire and its pipsqueak ruler, Strontium 90. Strontium had seized the throne from the Empire’s former ruler, FE 56, and now carries out a cleansing war against mutantkind, both within the empire and without. Cobalt 60, assisted by his companions Franklin Gothic Green, a mutant bird who possesses an array of sentient swords, and General Hisstory, a mutant crocodile who leads an army of constantly hungry reptile soldiers, seeks to overthrow Strontium 90 and end the Radio Empire’s threat to all mutants. Along the way, Cobalt 60 runs into a band of no-legged, floating alien scavengers, who are in the employ of a wormlike alien who possesses a “doom marble” and seeks to salvage fissionable material from Earth’s wasteland. A few double-crosses, a coup d’état, and a three-sided battle later, Cobalt 60’s secret is revealed.
From that synopsis, you can see why Cobalt 60 remains one of my primary sources of inspiration when it comes to Gamma World. Mutant animals, mutant genocide, and wasteland warriors are all present and accounted for. The aliens are maybe not so much a Gamma World staple, but I already have some suspicions that my Gamma World sandbox may end up a little closer to “sword & planet” than straight post-apocalyptic. That seems to be too rich a genre to mine to leave untapped.

Cobalt 60
is also one of those titles that actually become a richer source of inspiration as it ages, simply because it grows outdated in some ways. The whole concept of a “Radio Empire,” which was originally established in Vaughn’s piece from the 1960s, is already a bit dated in 1984 – although there are references to the “Hadatchi Throne” and the heiress to the throne is named “BBC”, which does place it a bit more in the TV Age – but works pretty well as a symbol for mankind attempting to rebuild from the ashes using primitive, yet complex, technologies. It’s easier to picture a “Radio Empire” in Gamma World than a “Fiber-optic Kingdom” or “Cellular Satrapy” in my head solely for this reason. I’m sure to get a few creative miles out of it.

There is one puzzling thing about Cobalt 60 that I need to touch upon before heading back to the fallout shelter for further contemplation. The Cobalt 60 collection that I own ends with the words “End of the First Half,” indicating that a second part of the story remained to be told. As far as I can be certain, this is also where it ended in the Epic Illustrated serialization. However, for some reason I have extremely faint, faint memories of the story continuing after the events depicted in this “first half”. I’m not certain if there ever was a second part published in Epic Illustrated, which would have been the only place I would have encountered it in my youth, or if these memories resulted from my own attempts to draw a Cobalt 60 tale of my own. A look at Wikipedia tells me that the Epic Illustrated series were gathered into four magazine-sized comics published by Tundra Press in 1992, but I’ve never seen these so I’m uncertain if these four issues contain the second half as well as the first. It seems that Heavy Metal published a few more Cobalt 60 stories in the 1990s, but I know I didn’t see them in that publication. If anyone can confirm the existence of a second half to the Epic Illustrated serialization, you’d help me lay this nagging question to rest.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

K is for Knockspell

It has been a long time coming, but Mythmere Games has finally released the premier issue of Knockspell Magazine. Knockspell Magazine is the magazine of fantasy retro-clone gaming, and the content is all compatible with OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, 0e, 1e, and Swords & Wizardry. The magazine's content includes:

Cover artwork by Pete Mullen

Who Sucked the Fun Out of RPGing?, by Tim Kask
Death Magic & Dark Dealings, a Necromancer NPC for OSRIC by Scot "Kellri" Hoover
Three Principles of Adventuring Success by James C. "Semaj" Boney
Isles on an Emerald Sea, an adventure by Gabor Lux
Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent, an adventure by Jeff Talanian --and much more--

The pdf is currently available at for $3, HERE

Amongst that "much more" are articles from such luminaries as Allan Grohe, James Maliszewski, Mike Davidson, Akrasia, Robert Lionheart, David Bowman, Salvatore Macri, Matt Finch, and Part One of something called The Dungeon Alphabet by some hack named Mike Curtis.

I heartily congratulate the whole Knockspell crew on the release of their first issue and look forward to what they have in store for the coming year. You guys finally got that baby out the door!

The print version will be available in the near future through Lulu and a complete review of the first issue will be posted here once my contributor's copy makes its way into my hands.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Stonehell: The Asylum

With the first level complete, it’s time to move deeper down into the dungeon to see what awaits us as the monsters gets tougher and the underworld gets weirder. The first quadrant of Level Two is available here.

This section is a little different from the previous four. The first level was a pretty straight classic dungeon level, but as Stonehell starts getting deeper, I wanted to start working with ideas and themes that aren't quite as vanilla. For the first time, I found that the two-page method of dungeon notation failed me in what I wanted to do with it. The level is fully fleshed out in regards to monsters, treasures, and assorted dungeon weirdness, but I found I wasn’t quite able to convey what I had in mind for this section on paper. I think this is one of those times when the dungeon doesn’t read as well as it plays.

In short, what I wanted to do was instill a feeling of madness and dementia throughout this section. My intention was to start playing up the idea that Stonehell is something more than a collection of halls and chambers that house things to be killed and their possessions to be looted. There’s something greater, if not quite tangible, in those dungeon halls and I wanted this section to be the adventurers' first hint that it’s not just stone and mortar that comprise the building blocks of the place. There’s something bad here – really, really bad – and it starts to creep in around the edges when you’re not looking.

The Asylum is inhabited by the mad. Whether they originate from the original prisoners or if they’re later additions from a time after the prison was liberated, I’ve left vague. Having been left to their own devices down in the dungeon, the madness of these inhabitants has flourished and bloomed into many different varieties. It’d be all too easy to run every one of these denizens as a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic. Instead, I prefer to spice up the mix with strains of less visible psychoses. But that’s difficult to convey in the space allotted. I’ll just have to run with what I have in my head and let others interpret it as they will.

Two notes about this level: One, I’ve taken the liberty to include a few anachronism into the mix. There are rooms and items that would seem out of place in a fantasy setting, but I feel that they not only help convey the overall sense of “wrongness” about this place, but also reflect my cardinal rule of dungeon building, which is “Stop worrying and love the dungeon.” Secondly, the inmates of the asylum are all referred to in the notes as Neanderthals. The reason for this is that I wanted to continue laying the dungeon out with an eye towards ease of reference to Moldvay/Labyrinth Lord. Rather that writing them up as Inmates (See Neanderthal for stats), I noted it directly. This is just a case of me filing off the serial numbers of another monster to use in a different manner.

The next update to Stonehell should be following close on the heels of this one. Look for it early next week. Until then, stay crazy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The d100 Post

Has it really been so long?

Today’s post is the 100th such piece that has seen the light of day here at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. Just about six months ago, I decided that I might have a little something to add to this thing often referred to as the Old School Renaissance. Having been away from the hobby for a while, I thought that it might be interesting to chronicle my own attempt to return to this hobby that had given me so much enjoyment over the years, as well as provide me with a forum to discuss my plan to build my own megadungeon complex in the classical style. Since that time, I’ve managed to stay somewhat close to that goal; spouting bits of spurious wisdom along the way and throwing out a few creations of my own to help add a little more tinder to that growing old school fire.

Way back in August, I could never have foreseen the events and opportunities that have occurred over the past six months, and I’m a little humbled and awe-struck that these post of varying quality and seriousness have generated the response that they have. To all of you who drop by to read these regular posts: I thank you. I hope that I continue to keep your interest over the following six months as well.

The 100th of anything is often an important milestone. It is traditionally a time to reflect upon what has been and what shall be forthcoming. It is a time for deep thoughts and cultivated wisdom. A time to gather with old friends and reminisce.

But we won’t have any of that around here. Instead, let’s indulge ourselves with another long-standing role-playing tradition: the d% table!

In exactly one month, it will be the first anniversary of Gary’s passing. With this in mind, I’d like to present for your consideration the One Hundred Random Ridiculous Magical Items Table. Knowing Gary’s love of puns and plays-on-words, I hope that, wherever the Dungeon Master is, he gets a good laugh out of it. For the rest of you, I can only offer my sincere apologies. There’s absolutely no excuse for what is about to follow.

One Hundred Random Ridiculous Magical Items Table


Item Found


Scroll of Protection from Misanthropes


Bucknard’s Everclear Purse


Wand of Magic Bristles


Amulet of the Biplanes


Cheech & Chong’s Eversmoking Bottle


Staff of Curing Meat


Q*bert of Force


Daern’s Instant Coffee


Chimp of Opening


Ring of Water Waking


Manuel of Golems


Potion of Howard Hughes


Rug of Mothering


Staff of the Maggie


Spear, Cursed Anklebiter


Ring of Regurgitation


Portable Mole


Necklace of Adoption


Moose of Disruption


Bag of Turning Tricks


Dust of Disappointment


Mule of Life Protection


Baba Yaga’s Hutt


Crystal Bull


Matlock of the Titans


Fax of the Dwarvish Lords


Tangerine of Wondrous Power


Potion of Red Wagon Control


Raistlin’s Inhaler


Decanter of Endless Wafers


Sling of Leaking +2


Heward’s Handy Hasselhoff


Grocers of Defense


Ioun Stains


Trident of Missile Command


Wand of Enema Detection


Medallion of EST


Cloak of Misplacement


Ring of Fire Persistence


Sword +5, Offender


The Deck of Feet


Ring of Gin Summoning


Mace of Engelbert Humperdinck


Robe of Blenders


Brassiere of Commanding Fire Elementals


Iron Bands of Bolero


Boots of Elevenkind


Hammer of Thundercats


Mall of the Titans


Cup and Talisman of Admiral Akbar


Ring of Orange Stars (and Green Clovers)


Smooch of Shielding


Wigs of Flying


Potion of Ground Control


Deer of Annihilation


Robe of Converse All Stars


Thumbs of Panic


Scab of Protection


Quaal’s Subway Token


Wand of Greased Lightning


Bag of Caught Holding


Popes of the Sewers


Tome of Misunderstanding


Liar of Building


Beau +1


Ring of Three Fishes


Potion of Extra Pickles


Nolzur’s Marvelous Pigs


Robe of Noses


Stone of Weight Watchers


Poodle of Giant Strength


Talisman of Ultimate Elvis


Alchemy Jug Band


Scroll of Protection from Possessions


Murlynd’s Spork


Helm of Telegraphy


Mirror of David Prowse


Lawn Darts of Speed


Potion of Heeling


Rod of Bugling


Well of Many Words


Staff of Smitten


Pretense of Meditation


Prophylactic of Monstrous Attention


Book of Finite Spells


Ring of Mammary Control


Net of Snoring


Staff of Wuthering


Horn of Valhalla, New York


Rod of Stewart


Gauntlets of Ogre Powder


Bag of Mr. Bean


Cloak of the Martha Raye


Gem of Seething


Horn of Foghat


Sword of Square-dancing


Periapt of Foreclosure


Wand of Negotiation


Heward’s Enormous Organ


The Crotch of Vecna