Saturday, March 30, 2013

Would this be Fun?

What if we made a free pdf or a Knockspell article from the bloggers who want their material from Swords & Wizardry appreciation day included in such a thing? I have to think through it a bit more, especially if it were to mean that I get going on another issue of Knockspell, but please comment with your thoughts. Even if you're not one of the bloggers who will be participating in the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, would such a thing be fun? Or would it be redundant because you already would have read the blogs?

If you're a blogger, would you be interested in putting your material into a free pdf like that?

I invoke the powers of Crowdthinking!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day

Erik Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern fame has gotten together with Christopher Helton of Dorkland to set up a Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day on April 17th (that's in 2013, for all you time-travelers needing a reference point).

The idea is for lots of bloggers to all have something related to Swords & Wizardry on that day, whether it's a new spell, monster, a play report, etc. Erik is going to be giving away a gift certificate to a random blogger, and I'm pretty sure I can scare up something from Frog God Games as well.

In any event, it's something to look forward to! As of today, 24 bloggers are already signed up, and that's only after 24 hours since the announcement. In the meantime, of course, there is a ton of activity at the Swords & Wizardry Google+ community, so if you need a quicker fix for your OD&D, come on over.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sinful Whisper

I am finishing up the last pieces of the Swords & Wizardry adaptations of Razor Coast adventures. The one for today is Sinful Whisper, and if I'm fast I will probably also have a chance to move on to Frank Mentzer's adventure, Deep Waters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Passover!

For the last couple of days I've been buying and cooking food, since Passover operates kind of like a Thanksgiving dinner, for those who aren't familiar with it. And a happy Passover to the legion of three or four other Jewish gamers that I know!

Now that the only remaining requirement of the holiday is just to stay away from the bread, I can get back to some blogging and other gaming stuff. I now have a microphone and web cam, so at some point I will try to get those working so I can play Hangout games or roll20.

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Have 3 Winners!

Over at the Swords & Wizardry Google+ page, Frog God Games said that they'd give out some pdfs to random people when the page reached 500 members. We hit that mark yesterday, and Blonde Frog announced the winners. My only dissatisfaction is that we didn't try to obtain a 500-sided die for the event. Rachel went the boring route, and just used a computer.

Anyway, the winners are:
Roberto Micheri: your choice of either Tome of Horrors SW PDF or Rappan Athuk SW PDF.
Matthew Kane: PDF of Monstrosities.
Eric Gillespie: PDF of Grimmsgate.

You guys need to contact Blonde Frog (through Google+) to give her your email addresses. Congratulations!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Swords & Wizardry as Non Retro-clone

Tim Brannan posted some comments about Swords & Wizardry today (here is his post), and I think they're worth mentioning. He engages in the thought experiment of seeing Swords & Wizardry as a non-clone, and comes up with some very positive conclusions.

It's often said that S&W isn't a "true clone," but rather a "neo-clone," as Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games terms it -- I think that this is a meme that got started with the early versions of S&W (which were not as close to the source material as the current printing). Conventional wisdom seldom revises itself, and I'm fine with that; it's just the way things are. Nevertheless, Swords & Wizardry as it currently stands is -- in my opinion, which may be biased -- as close a clone to OD&D as you can get, given the protean nature of the beast.

But here, Tim turns that conventional wisdom on its head. If S&W were a non-clone, is it good? Tim's answer is, "yes." So, even though I disagree with the initial premise, I have to conclude that Tim is a genius of the first water, and probably sings well, to boot.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Fabio of the Wood Elves

One of my kids made a character for Oblivion, and just commented on the way the character looked:

"He's the Fabio of the wood elves."

 Talk about a thought virus. Now I can see all kinds of covers for elf bodice-ripper romance novels. And the titles: "Love in the Autumn Wood" just doesn't even begin to cover the territory.

The Fabio of the wood elves. Much better than the Fabio of the dwarves, though, I must say.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comments of Bryce

I generally agree with Bryce Lynch's comments about what makes a good module, although -- oddly -- I don't always agree with his reviews that use these benchmarks. Nevertheless, since I was perusing some of the reviews at his website,, I thought I'd jot down a few of the general comments about adventures that appealed to me.

NOT the dry old B2 implementation that we’ve all seen before but rather something with a much more Holmes/OD&D feel to it. Transformation pools and weird edible mushrooms, strange machinery and the like. This is a kind of feel that I strongly associate with OD&D and try very hard to incorporate in to my own Magenta games.

Themed areas are great in a dungeon and I shouldn’t have to repeat myself again on why multiple entrances/exits are a good thing. 
I agree. I'm big on defined dungeon areas whether they're defined by theme, appearance, geography, or whatever. A dungeon has to be broken up into definable parts so the players feel that they're making headway.
I know that the mundane has to be there for the fantastic to have an impact but it feels like a bit much to me, although that could be personal taste. 
There's a  lot of personal taste involved in this ratio, I think. It's an area where an excellent module can succeed or fail based on the individual reader/DM.
...some sections that I would probably give a hint or two about running … like the mushrooms or some of the wall carvings. The wall carvings are a great example. Some are worth looking at to get hints. Some are just flavor text. Some will do bad things to do. There’s generally no way to tell beforehand. I’m pretty sure the goal should be to reward interaction and examination. So while the goodies are present they could use a little more in the way of extra information to help run them. After all, the back and forth between a DM and player is what this kind of style is about.
Emphasis added by me, on the parts I thought were key, here.

The group is supposed to fighting the intelligent guards of a fortress but they don’t really act in a coordinated manner.
A very hard type of module to write, these are. Bryce suggests an order of battle. Not sure what he means, but against-the-fortress adventures can definitely use what I call a monster roster, and I think that's also what Bryce means.

The ONLY way you can approach it is through a straight hack. Sneaking, disguising, etc, are not going to help because it’s just a straight up linear design. That’s quite disappointing. 
For a paid module, this is a pretty good triad for a checklist: can you hack, sneak, AND disguise as possible ways through. I'm interested to see if there might be anything to add to that checklist. I think that "creative navigating" (through alternate paths) and "discovering concealed alternate paths" might be worth adding to the list. HOWEVER, for a free or a home-designed module, though, I think it's fair to say that a one-approach dungeon is perfectly good, especially if you already know how your group is going to approach it. Your gang of 6 barbarians just doesn't need a carefully designed multiplicity of ways to use disguises through a dungeon. So I disagree with Bryce's take on the module he was reviewing here, although I agree with the metric he used.

There’s a decent attempt at mixing things up a bit: exits through chimneys, waterfalls to the second level, a blocked off section and so forth. That good; far too many dungeons are just two-dimensional affairs, but I want more More MORE! More complexity!
Yes, definitely use the third dimension! However, I think it's also worth remembering that they players themselves have to be able to assimilate what the various things are. I think there is such a thing as too much complexity. Where the line lies is probably not exactly a matter of personal taste so much as it is a matter of how a particular gaming group visualizes and assimilates a complex topography. Not all groups are head-down concentrators. Paul Jaquays said something on a dungeon-design panel at NTRPGCon, basically like this: "When designing a computer/video game, you have to work the player slowly into using the third dimension bit by bit."

Players like to recognize things. They like to feel like they have figured something out.
One of the most important design objectives there is, in my opinion. This, and making sure that they have lots of meaningful choices (and the two objectives are clearly linked).

For all the asshattery that the Internet brings it also exposes us to new ideas and things that we would not otherwise ever see. Gabor Lux/Melan is one of those things.
Very true.

Ouch! Nothing wrong with that, some of my favorite modules have a shit-ton of enemies in them. I like it! 
Large numbers of enemies = awesome battle. Always good. Don't over-use.

That's it for this post, I'm guessing it's already too long...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday's Adventure

The dilapidated port town has yet another problem. Along the only channel that isn't infested with sea serpents, someone has begun dropping boulders onto passing ships from the cliffs above. The sunken ships are then looted, and any surviving crew members are being sold into slavery.

Enter the brave adventurers!

After defeating the goblins at the guardpost, they had a rousing battle on a wide stone ledge outside the goblin cave, killing the goblins and their ogre with tactics involving invisibility, a flying carpet, and lots of arrows fired into melee combat.

For only a 2-hour session, it was great fun.

PS, yes, I think Warhammer goblins are the best.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Updated Giant List of Swords & Wizardry Resources

I think I've accurately updated the Giant List of Swords & Wizardry resources, after negligently allowing it to get a whopping year out of date. Check it out here:

That's all I have for today, and there will no doubt be many omissions that will need to be fixed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

...and I'm all out of bananas

Girallons are a pretty cool monster, even though they originated in third edition D&D. Like the grick, I think Wizards of the Coast managed to dig out a bit of folkloric ore here that somehow didn't make it into the tomes and grimoires of Advanced and Second edition D&D. (Basic players: hush. It didn't have 4 arms, so it doesn't count).

Way back in 2009, the somewhat-and-possibly-unjustly-reputationally-tarnished James

Number Appearing: 1d4+4
% in Lair: 10%
Alignment: Neutral
Armor Class: 6
Move: 12
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: 4 claws (1d4+2), 1 bite (1d8+1)
Save: F7
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XX
XP: 1000

The girallon is a fifteen-foot-tall albino ape-like creature, lacking hair on its body, except for its head, which also possesses a large, fanged mouth. A girallon has six limbs, the middle set of which can be used either as arms or as legs, depending on the circumstances. These creatures are strong and dexterous and possess remarkable intelligence, with some of them even able to craft crude weapons and other implements. Girallons typically live in small family groups led by a dominant male. Fortunately, girallons are rarely encountered, as they prefer to dwell in out of the way places, particularly the subterranean ruins of past civilizations. Girallons possess infravision of up to 60 feet. 

I think it's too powerful, because I see girallons as being -- basically -- smaller than this. They are specifically only 8 feet tall and are described as being cousins of the gorilla. In other words, I think what James did is very cool, but that he should have named it a "White Ape-Thing of Mars" instead of tacking on the name of an existing, less powerful, creature.

I stumbled across girallons recently because they figure into one of the adventures in the Razor Coast books that are being produced for Frog God Games. I had to prepare a converted Swords & Wizardry version of the girallon. How to go about it? Well, the first thing was to take a look at James's version, and I rejected it for the foregoing reasons, and the fact that the author in the Razor Coast adventure had definitely not treated it as a 15ft tall creature. The numbers were just too large for that to work. Basically we're seeing the conversion being pushed in a particular direction by the relative power levels of 3e/PFRPG creatures to one another. If you diverge too far from the web-like network of relative strength in the SRD, you end up creating problems for yourself later on, if you do lots of retro-conversions to old school. I like to think of this kind of backwards conversion as a SWitchback, since it's a neat little use of SW, when I use Swords & Wizardry ... yeah, I know, it's totally cheesy, but DO I NEED TO REFER YOU TO SIMON PEGG'S DEFENCE OF NERDS? Do I? I didn't think so, because if you've read this far you are a nerd like me. Just sayin',

That was a digression. Mea culpa.

Let's get back to the topic of four-armed apes, and ignore how that's a sentence you wouldn't really expect yourself to be writing or reading in a "normal" life. Four-armed apes. This is what I decided to use for my girallons:


Hit Dice: 5
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Attacks: 4 hands (1d4), bite (1d8)
Saving Throw: 12
Special: hug and rend
Move: 12
Alignment: Neutrality
Number Encountered: One, 1d4, or 1d10+5
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240
Girallons are savage, magical cousins of the gorilla, with four arms rather than two. When moving on the ground rather than through the trees, a girallon walks on its legs and lower arms. An adult girallon is about 8 feet tall, broad-chested, and covered in thick, pure white fur. It weighs about 800 pounds.

 Girallons live in troops led by a dominant male. Solitary girallons are usually young males looking to start their own troop. Girallons are very territorial and tend to attack intruders without warning, including strangers of their own kind. Groups of girallons may attack in a line to drive prey toward a cliff or other hazard, or quietly form a ring around their target and suddenly close in.

Stat block for Swords & Wizardry:

Girallon:  HD 5; AC 6[13];  Atk 4 hands(1d4), bite (1d8); Move 12; Save 12; AL N; CL/XP 5/240; Special: hug& rend.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Silence, varlet!

Interesting post over at Dragonsfoot from Frank Mentzer:

Here is the text of the particular post, but once you're done here, I recommend taking a look at the entirely different take on the discussion in that group.

What's interesting is that there are three types of silence:
1) Silencing yourself for stealth but you can hear
2) Silencing an area (if yourself, you can't hear)
3) Silencing another person but not the area they are in.

Food for thought when designing spells or magic items.

Frank Mentzer wrote:
Yup, that's one of the notable differences between the two systems.

As you note, the OD&D/Moldvay/BECM/RC (ie Classic) version only suppresses your own sounds, while the AD&D 1e/2e version protects vs sound-based effects from monsters.

The AD&D versions reflect the progress of the game. Silence is really inconvenient for spellcasters, so it should be balanced by protection (vs harpy song etc).

From what I've seen, everybody playing Classic uses the AD&D version.
imo the Classic is version broken; you can't cast and you're vulnerable.
My bad. :/

Recommended fix: Best of both worlds

Silence 15'r: Use the 1e version; full sonic lockdown.

Add New:

Quiet 20'r
(level, range, DR, etc same as Silence)

(Why 20'? Why not? Avoids confusion with Silence 15'...)

Apply Classic interpretation BUT permit spellcasting & command word use. Does not affect incoming sounds. Commonly used to render party noise inaudible. The effect moves with the recipient/target; save to avoid, making it stationary (as with Silence). This may be used offensively, preventing a target creature from using a sound-based attack as long as it remains within the effect.


Monday, March 11, 2013

A bit from Razor Coast

This isn't designed as a sneak peek at Razor Coast, because there is much cooler stuff in Razor Coast, but this happens to be something that I needed to create for it, and, you know, I needed a blog entry, so here it is.

Bale sharks were apparently some sort of Pathfinder template, either an official one or one that was created for the Pathfinder version of Razor Coast. When the manuscript got to me for conversion, Skeeter Green had already turned the template special-sharks into regular big (7HD) sharks. However, he'd left the "bale shark" name in there, since we've been keeping some of the Pathfinder names as good flavoring for the slumgullion.

Anyway, I decided that if we've got a good name like "bale shark," we should do something with it. So without really making any major alterations or giant leaps in the monster department, I used my conception of worgs (evil spirit-things in wolf shape) to create a similar type of spirit-in-shark creature, a worg of the seas. Could have called it a warg-shark, I guess, but I think "bale shark" just sounds better.

Bale Shark

Hit Dice: 7
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Attacks: 1 bite (1d8+4)
Saving Throw: 9
Special: Feeding frenzy
Move: 0 (swim 24)
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1 or 1d4+1
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800
In the deeps of the oceans, bale sharks are to normal sharks as wargs are to wolves. They have a malign intelligence that might almost be the presence of a possessing spirit. They kill more than they devour, they ally themselves with powerful leaders of Chaos in the undersea realms, and they will serve as mounts to aquatic raiders and reavers.

Other than their evident intelligence and strangely mottled markings, bale sharks are not physically different from an unusually large, but normal, shark. Since other sharks tend to roam in the same area, however, a bale shark attack may trigger the approach of other sharks, and a feeding frenzy. The feeding frenzy operates as per normal, although the bale sharks are able to control themselves.

A feeding frenzy will cause 2d6 sharks of any size to appear from surrounding waters. All the shark will attack madly, and each time a shark attacks there is actually a 1 in 6 chance that it will target another shark instead of a human.

*the art I used for this is the awesome work of Dan Mumford. I had to track down that link, by the way, because the original image linked to a dead myspace page. Plus, I claim dibs on finding him as an artist; he's awesome.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Just a Couple of Grins and Notes

My son this morning, playing Skyrim: "This blade just isn't cutting it." <pause> "See what I did there?"

Erik Tenkar's group is kicking loose on a Swords & Wizardry campaign: See here, as if Tenkar's Tavern isn't already on your list of blogs, since he is taking on the mantle of the majordomo of the Old School's go-to blog.

In a not-quite-so-intriguing note about Swords & Wizardry, I have finally been updating the Giant List of all Swords & Wizardry Stuff. It might be current now, although there are probably several things I have missed. Indeed, one has just sprung to mind, so I will add it when I'm done posting here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


"There are an estimated 1,100-1,200 killer frogs here."
Nominated for the best 9-word sentence in an RPG book. (Fiction is another category).

"This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone"
Nominated for best 7-word sentence in an RPG book.

Especially when talking to players, brevity is the soul of adventure. Players have shorter attention spans than you would think. Don't waste time prattling: get the dice rattling.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Travelers and Thieves

You can't see all the detail, and this definitely isn't the best album by Blues Traveler ... but I love this cover picture from the Travelers and Thieves album. It screams old school D&D to me, not just the image but the title of the album, too.

This view of adventurers is sometimes derided with the term "murder hobo," but in many cases that term is wrongly applied -- particularly in fantasy games. There is a whole type of fantasy game in which the attraction is the idea of crossing the border of civilization into an area that's entirely wild ... and fighting that wildness. (And, yes, taking its stuff). It's not murder in this idiom, it is defense of the helpless civilians that are back behind the lines.

In the zombie apocalypse, when a beat-up VW van skids into the parking lot with some guys leaning out the door blazing away with all kinds of weaponry, and you dash into the safety of the van just ahead of the zombies that the guys are blowing away ... that's these guys. They aren't murder hobos, they are force-recon hobos.

The whole concept of this sort of fantasy is that everything outside the hedges and fields is basically "Here be Dragons." It's zombie apocalypse from one horizon to the next, with the exception of the few enclaves where the endangered species of humanity depends upon the tough sons-of-bitches that are better at killing than the worgs and the ogres.

It's not the only kind of fantasy, but if the camera were to be following Aragorn in the year prior to his arrival at the Prancing Pony in Bree, I think you'd be seeing Middle Earth through an entirely different, and considerably grittier, lens.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter Packages Arriving Across USA

Boxes across the country are being opened, as the second wave of Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter packages arrive. Not all of them will actually be on your doorsteps, yet, but they are all in the mail (except for a couple that have an address issue).

So far the reaction is very good; we've had very few notifications of damage in shipping, and only two actual quality issues, one of which looks like it happened at the printer, and one that apparently, inexplicably, looks like someone took a bite out of the book.

There are a few unboxed-pictures out there:
Tenkar's order

And Nate's Order

We're pretty happy with it. :)

*Edited to embed Nate's picture since I couldn't link directly to in on G+.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

DIY Enablers

 The internet is the greatest development for the DIY approach to any hobby, and gaming is no different. At the touch of a button you can discover places like (Dyson Logos maps), or use free fonts to turn a player handout into something way cooler than a ball point pen jotted on an index card. There are billions of images to download (just search “images [whatever you want]” and you’ll find mountains of pictures), and information on interesting topics is no more than a click away.  Hint: if you’re not writing an academic article, and you just want ideas, go fishing in Wikipedia. After you follow 3 links you will be somewhere you didn’t expect, probably getting neat ideas.

Of course, there’s a difference between the people who are putting up the DIY material, and the people who are creating tools for the DIY approach. I want to take a second to point out some of these guys. First is Dave’s Dungeon Mapper, which many of you will already have seen. This piece of awesomeness creates a map out of geomorphs that have been contributed by DIY artists. In addition to pointing out the resource, I’m going to point directly to the page that lists the people who made it happen.
Although the geomorphs themselves are quite magical, what really makes my eyes pop here is the computer program that combines them. It is TOO cool. And David Millar has got to be the most modest, self-effacing guy in the history of putting neat stuff on the web. I had to really delve to find his other site: This one has puzzles. Also note that he takes donations.

Another one is the SRD site that’s run by John Reyst. You might have skipped over John’s sites because (a) the Pathfinder-related site is what everyone sees first, and/or (b) there are some advertisements. Basically what John does is create a System Reference document for open games, and then fill it with hyperlinks so you can navigate around in it. It’s a bit like a wiki, but easier to see all of it. John has an SRD for Pathfinder, but he ALSO has an SRD for Swords & Wizardry ( and one for Mutants and Masterminds too, incidentally (

So what John does is basically to aggregate open game content for the games he covers. One new-school fantasy game, one old-school fantasy game, and a superhero game. Probably we watch to find the sci-fi game that goes up at some point. John does his DIY in the website-creating realm; he doesn’t create the DIY material himself: he’s a DIY enabler, like Dave Millar. Dave apparently didn’t even play RPGs until he tackled the project of making a computer put together geomorphs. John Reyst’s talent also lies in making tools for the DIY community.

Also check out for a wealth of online generated tables that are put into a functioning program.

Let's hear it for the computer guys who are working to let the rest of with do-it-yourself projects!