Saturday, July 14, 2018

Beyond B2 The Keep On The Borderlands - OSR Adventure Commentary & More Free OSR Resources

I'm always interested in different takes on classic TSR era modules especially B2 Keep On The Borderlands By Gary Gygax. There's something about its design & writing that echoes post warfare era of the module where the tides of war are coming back to the shores  of the keep itself. Its my belief that the keep location is the source of the ripple in the pond of war with T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil.

Combing through some of the OSR  resources for B2 I came across a review that James Raggi IV did called
Against The Giants The Keep On The Borderlands. In the review he's got a very interesting break down of magic items found within the keep & outside of it;
"There are 69 magical items found in Keep on the Borderlands.

(probably a few more, I likely missed a couple... bundles of magic arrows count as 1 item, as do scrolls no matter how many spells are on a particular scroll... and not counting all those amulets of turning resistance and protection from good medallions which would add dozens more to the number)

Even for a near half-dozen sessions of play, that's a fucking lot for what is assumed to be the start of a long term campaign, isn't it?

But that number doesn't begin to describe the situation.

The majority of the permanent (non-scroll/potion) magic items are in the Keep itself! Sure, that cuts down significantly on the amount of items the PCs are expected to gain for themselves, but what the hell? "

Why should there be so many magic items & why the incredible number of humanoid forces in the Caves of Chaos? Because B2 was a sandbox of the highest order & Mr.Gygax wasn't into hand holding but there could be more to it then that. The keep & its environs have seen countless battles, skirmishes, & flat out pieces of warfare.
If you don't believe me check out this commentary piece by the B/X Blackrazor blog; "

B2’s title is NOT “The Caves of Chaos.” It is THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. Obviously, the Keep IS the target. 
This explains the detailed key of the Keep, front and center to the module. The main “dungeon” is the Keep, a well-detailed, site-based adventure. Everything else is an afterthought. What’s the next section to the module after the Keep? "
The Keep On The Borderland map kit over on Dragon's  only strengthens my own resolve on this old school issue. A sandbox & warfare adventure location with a complete feel for the keep & its surroundings. There's a sense of isolation & dread about B2 that friends have made a comparison to the isolated lone frontier location in a 50's Western film when the natives are closing in.

"He was concerned only with the naked fundamentals of life. The warm intimacies of small, kindly things, the sentiments and delicious trivialities that make up so much of civilized men's lives were meaningless to him. A wolf was no less a wolf because a whim of chance caused him to run with the watch-dogs. Bloodshed and violence and savagery were the natural elements of the life Conan knew; he could not, and would never, understand the little things that are so dear to civilized men and women."
Robert Howard Beyond the Black River (1935)

B2 Keep of The Borderland has always reminded me of Robert Howard's Beyond the Black River written in 1935. It reminds me of the novella because I kept expecting to find other ruined keeps scattered along the borders of a wide wilderness. A wilderness whose time has come & swallowed up whole the remains of civilization long past its prime but whose evil cults & influence continues to rise again. The
B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" index has a ton of free resources & OSR commentary that can really help to customize & flesh out B2 for your own home table.

The Zenopus Archives site has some excellent free OSR resources on it for fleshing out & using B2 Keep on the Borderlands for a home game.
I've gotten spoiled using many of the OSR resources on the internet for B2. I'm going to be employing the module background fairly soon in my own home game & wanted to share these same resources with you my readers. Yes this is going to be warfare & take over game with the temple of elemental evil marshaling its forces from the depths of the wilderness!  Chaos is on the move and about to take over everything if they can get away with this!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review & Commentary On The Free OSR Adventure Resource - ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos by Joseph Moar For Your Old School Campaigns

I'm eternally on the look out for ways of getting the maximum utility out of classic old school modules. Is it because I'm a cheap or shabby gamer? Well in fact no I'm not a gamer at all but an OSR  hobbyist. What's the difference? The hobbyist is always looking to expand the hobby & the gamer is always in the middle of the infinite sea of play & product that washes around the shoals of the whole affair. Which brings me to today's free download, it was only just yesterday that I mentioned Night's Dark Terror, T1 The Village of Hommlet, B2 Keep of the Borderlands & T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil.

While doing some research on Dragon's I happened across an adventure for PC's levels two through four. The set up is simple, after clearing out the dungeons of B2 Keep Of The Borderlands the action isn't done. The priests of Chaos are in full effect in the free adventure continuation of Keep, ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos by Joseph Moar.  Clocking in at forty three pages this module is a perfect adventure extension for B2.  There's a lot of Sword & Sorcery action with Gnolls, lizardmen, zombies & worse out to rip the faces off of your PC's.

So what's the story with the cover having the classic demon idol from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook on the adventure cover? Well its more then simply an old school  homage in this adventure;
"In this module the “priests of chaos” have returned. Now they have their own temple. I
am also ripping off the lovely demon idol  temple from the cover of the PHB. This idol I have determined is of a god of chaos named Simaru. Simaru is a chaotic evil deity devoted to murder and mayhem. Many
creatures have been converted to worship this new demigod and some of them are neutral in the Monster Manual. Naturally the priests are out to convert new members to this new demigod and are conducting ritual
sacrifices and other atrocities in order to satisfy their new god, gain power, spells, and
otherwise cause chaos in the land."
The interesting part is that while this is an extension of the original adventure module  principal plot its got its own vibe that runs the entire OSR course of the adventure.  There's a good chance that working their way through ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos one or more player's PC's are going to die.

There are several reasons why
ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos works hard at charting its own OSR path;
  1. The adventure itself isn't merely an extension of B2 Keep of The Borderlands. This is a wholly separate adventure with its own adventure path squeezed into forty three pages. 
  2. The maps & cartography are not at all bad for a free adventure. There's more then enough dungeon in here to act as a campaign stepping stone for a retroclone game system. 
  3. The monsters & NPC's are very dangerous although in keeping with the vibe of B2 they are still very dangerous & shouldn't at all be underestimated. 
  4. The treasure level is right in keeping with the solid construction of its source material. 
  5. I can see using this module with both classic AD&D systems & OSR foundation retroclones such as the Advanced Edition Companion (Labyrinth Lord), Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition, even the Basic Fantasy rpg 
  6. I can also see  ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos  being the jump off point for an OSR campaign unto itself. 
I can even see ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos  being a perfect insert into a mixed David A. Hargrave Arduin Grimoire. All of the heavy lifting has already been done with the other adventures in the Arduin line of products. There's just enough material in ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos to suggest that this adventure could be used as an unorthodox introduction for another OSR setting such as Dark Albion. Hear me out here folks. The fact is that with a quick fitting of B2 Keep On the Borderlands into the world of Albion on the edges of civilized Europe.

ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos makes the plight of the priests of chaos all the more desperate & dangerous. The adventure has lot to offer to advance along the state of degeneration happening throughout the political system of Albion & Europe. The temple is at the very edge of Albion's reality & the chaotic horror of a pagan laden Fairyland. Make no mistake
ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos is going to be a very dangerous adventure to drop Lion & Dragon or Dark Albion adventurers into the mix of play.  The fact is that the conversion charts in the back of Dark Albion should make using ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos
with Dark Albion's setting a snap. The dungeon master is going to have to adapt overcome the placement of the adventure within the bounds of Europe. For myself, I'd place ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos right on the borders of Bohemia & the rest of the Eastern European countries. The bastardized version of the 'Old Faith' of the  priests of chaos is a welcome weird twist on the usual dungeons & dragons fare.  I do hearlity recommend
ZA1: The Temple Of Chaos  for down load by the OSR dungeon masters looking for an adventure that is simple of use, easy to drop into existing adventure campaigns, & very well put together for a free adventure package.

ZA1: The Temple Of ChaosFrom Here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Some OSR Thoughts On Using B10 Night's Dark Terror, B2 Keep On The Borderland, & T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil As The Basis For A Campaign In Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition

Barely one day's march from Kelven, the uncharted tracts of the Dymrak forest conceal horrors enough to freeze the blood of civilized folk. Those who have ventured there tell how death comes quick to the unwary - for the woods at night are far worse than any dungeon.

But you are adventurers, veterans of many battles, and the call of the will is strong. Will you answer the call, or are you afraid of the dark terrors of the night?

I've had one of those days where I speak to a friend & then we have a go around about a favorite module or two. In this case going over the merits of using Night's Dark Terror as a warm up to the T1The Village of Hommlet & Temple of Elemental Evil.
There are a variety of reasons for this for this but it really gives the PC's a chance to get a first hand nip in the hand with some of the humanoids infesting the wilderness around the Temple. This whole affair will take the PC's from first & beyond the ladder. B10 Night's Dark Terror has a weird sort of Slavic/Russian feel to it & with a bit of flavor tweaking it can be made into a killer Clark Ashton  background piece for the low land forests of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Harry the PC's trail & give the PC's no time to think about things too closely just outside of the forests near the ruins of the ruined Hyperborean capital.

The tension between the Old Faith & the new in the village takes on a whole new aspect especially given the position of Druids on Hyperborea. This links up with the humanoid raids happening in the surrounding countryside. Then the adventure events  could shift over to B2 Keep On The Borderlands with the monster generators going full blast.

The country folk having only a bit of an insight as to how far events have gone in the past few months & with the ruins of B10 having come back on line the pulpy weirdness cranks up to eleven. Duality of  the Old Faith (druidical) and the New Faith (St Cuthbert) dialing in on the village & the surroundings speak volumes of the corruption bubbling just over in the Moathouse & the tunnels leading into the  temple itself.

This AS&SH's Hyperborea where the remains & ruins of the old world are always two steps away & the quasi IndoEuropean flavor is going to more then a little implied. This is the far end of the spectrum of Earth's former future here & the flavor is dark, gritty, & pulpy. The implications of the fixed locales & adventure events with a multi-episodic structure of B10 Night's Dark Terror suggests the almost dream like fairy tale quality of the adventure.

This basically means that the PC's are going to be dragged through the back end of the wilderness via the various humanoid menaces of the adventure. They're going to need the base of the Keep of the Borderland or village of Hommlet.
Let's quickly talk about the moat house location outpost of the Temple of Elemental Evil which is only two miles from the temple proper. This is a very dangerous & pulpy dungeon location extension & its purely Gary Gygax dungeon design in & out. The place reeks of the seedy, decayed nature of the temple's base evil & purely pagan religion.
This also gives the PC's an opportunity to be murdered by two of my favorite B/X & AS&SH monsters that seldom get mentioned let alone for players to expect. Vampires & werewolves fit the back bone Russian/Eastern European vibe of the B2/B10/ T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil campaign vibe.

Werewolf artwork from the AS&SH rule book & here.

What about B2 The Keep On The Borderlands? Suddenly everything about the place becomes key to maintaining the security of the backwater kingdoms of Hommlet & the surrounding countryside. Does the temple of Elemental Evil hook into the underworld of Underborea? Sure it does because its very nature demands it. The ancient Hutaakans and the Iron Ring slavers are simply an extension of the factions introduced in the Keep & Village. All together forming a union of Chaos & dark forces decisiveness that could bring the whole capital of Hyperborea to its very knees!

Lareth the Beautiful is serving far more then one demonic spider mistress & he has deeper connections to the various spider gods of Underborea. His mythos connections might be far more deep & abiding then the PC's realize especially if he's recast in AS&SH. Could this NPC be an envoy for the faith of the upstart spider demoness Lolth on the distant shores of Hyperborea?

There are some guidelines to help take the dungeon master along the Hyperborea flavor of this weird Sword & Sorcery combination;
  • Let the fighters have a bit of a wider range of weaponry especially from AS&SH to give it that Hyperborean flavor
  • Give wizards & magic users the widest possible range of minor magics from AD&D 1st edition including cantrips and the like at least till they get to third level then let the patrons begin from AS&SH.
  • Clerics should have their gods at their shoulders because of the evils of the temple. They're going to be reactive, proactive, and frankly on edge because of the stakes of the temple's evil
  • Hirelings & mercenaries should be a mix of  AS&SH  &  Greyhawk types to show the dimensional instabilities and gate effects of the temples 
  • Don't be afraid to use Greyhawk deities as patrons in the classic DCC & ASSH style with lots of weird wrinkles on them. Use DCC magic rules here. Imagine Luz as a patron!? Why would he do that well because he's a dirty double dealing floor flusher of the highest order and he'll turn on his fellow gods in a black cold heart beat.
  • AS&SH witches can come in very handy under certain circumstances and a party should have one. They make excellent additions to an adventuring party. 
  • Feel free to incorporate the various AS&SH second edition  PC types with all of the bells and whistles intact. The adventure of Temple of  Elemental Evil 's elements will indeed set the tone and background as needed. From traps to major NPC's its all their waiting to take PC's up the long ladder from first through their ending levels.
Why would the T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil be involved with the far shores of Hyperborea? In a word, the high stakes occult powers dwelling under the dungeons of the temple & its ley lines of power in Hyperborea. The fact is that many of the factions of Hyperborea both alive & dead are interested in clawing their way back up the long ladder of royal power including the royal dead of the various Hyperborean lines. While their gone they have not forgotten the taste of power or glory.

Something no one ever talks about is the ambitions of the gods of Greyhawk. These are not static deities & powers here & they desire more worshipers & power always. Theses include the dark gods of Greyhawk & I can easily see the various cults taking a hold of & rooting their rotten way into Hyperborea. This can easily be all of the motivation for the PC's to kick them out of the setting once again.

Common Sense Convention Event Preparation 101 & OSR Sword & Sorcery Weirdness

I've got a wall of clients today & any minute I'm going to have my first one descending up on my work bench as of this blog entry with another four or five to hand me their repairs. But I've got something on the back burner which is prepping an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition  event for ShireCon in Falls village Ct.
So how does a dungeon master with little time, lots of energy, & a hankering for Sword & Sorcery action go about getting down a Con event quickly & painlessly? Does he sell his soul to the Outer Gods in return for wisdom from the depths of the Outer Darkness? Read on faithful one.

AS&SH 2nd edition Artwork from here

Well, no instead he begins to work up a con event based on the time slots available first of all. Then you grab your Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition hand book & prepare out an outline for an adventure based around an idea or other highlight event that fits in with what you as player might like to play. Be prepared that you might get anyone as a player in your event or events.

Anyone folks means that you might get the designer or writer themselves at your table. This has happened to me in the past so keep the adventure simple, the preparation down to a dull roar, & amp up the encounters. Deal with all the encounters, treasure,etc as if this was a first game adventure with a beginning, middle, & solid end point.
Con events are all about common sense game preparation & if the game is Sword & Sorcery then this means that its doubly true. Have all your maps drawn way, way, ahead of time & reread the game your playing to run rule book again. Factor in all of the treasure, monster placement, quick encounters all around the spokes of the adventure idea.

AS&SH 2nd edition Artwork from here

The biggest factor is to keep the adventure simple, easy to pick up, & fast to run with all of the pre generated PC's ready to go out of the gate. Make sure all of the player hand outs are on hand & simple to deal with. Your going to get a wide spectrum of players from across your area & all of the factors of play as the dungeon master are on your side. Be especially friendly, open, listen, & be observant to the players especially at a convention. You as the dungeon master are not OSR messiah so don't try to be & relax. The convention is there for folks to have fun & play games. This includes you as well. So where does that leave me??
Well at the moment I'm on the outline stage of things but I've got time to get the material down to the brass fittings of the adventure. With encounters, monsters, treasures, etc. & I may throw this my players way's to quick test it as well.

Some of my suggestions for this sort of last minute convention event preparation are as follows:

  1. Do quick & broad outlines for the adventure event. Don't panic and use common sense. Think about the level of the adventure that you want to do. 
  2. Pull out the rule book for the game you want to run & think about what drew you as a player & consumer to it. Grab that thread & then create an adventure around it. 
  3. If you feel strongly about a game adventure then others will as well. 
  4. Pre generated PC's have to be equipped straight out of the gate but make them as a player not simply as a DM. 
  5. Go for the whole thing as an action movie & keep the adventure's plot light we're not writing Shakespeare here.
  6. Breath & walk away for an hour or so to get some distance & then reread your adventure material. If you scrap it then great but look at it again & there might be something to salvage. Don't get discouraged.
  7. Use common sense when writing a convention event & ask yourself if this is something that you'd want to play. 
  8. Throw your home game players under the bus & ask them if they want to help you play test this event. Ask their opinions about the event and then do what's necessary to it. 
  9. Rinse & repeat by rereading the event again or walk away for a day or so. 
  10. Go over everything to see if you've missed anything for the event. Then reread it again & blow through the adventure one more time to be prepared. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More Kilodungeon Ecology, Design, & More In The Old School & Beyond

"For three thousand years, the secrets of the Nethercity have been hidden. Now the delving of man has breached the ruins, and the lore and treasures of the ancients wait in the darkness below for those bold enough to seize them. But an inhuman evil slumbers in that darkness, and the time of the Awakening is at hand...."

Wall Graves By
Michael Syrigos

So over the last couple of weeks I've been watching the Secrets of The Nethercity kicstarter by the Adventurer,Conqueror, King folks. 
The dungeon ecology of  Secrets of The Nethercity was well established right from the get go but today's update really put's the criminal  faction spin on this OSR product. The latest stretch goal unlocks the 'King Pins of Crime' & again the layers of the thieves guild material crosses direction;
"The Mink is owned by Liber Faunus, a merchant (10th level Venturer) who became wealthy in the trade of fine elven artwork and trinkets. Elven craft finds much favor among the nobility, who appreciate the aesthetic sensibility of the region’s former inhabitants, and Faunus has buyers as faraway as Aura itself. 
In secret, however, Liber Faunus is the leader of the ArgollĂ«an Family, the notorious thieves’ guild of the Borderlands. Currently the leading crime syndicate in the region, the Family trades in blackmail information, stolen goods, and looted antiquities. It also receives payments in the form of goods, services, and coin from favored merchants in return for protection – venturers that don’t pay run the risk having their goods donated for the good of the city’s less fortunate, or having an accident while going to meet with the city guard. Similarly, the Family helps its preferred merchants dodge the tax collectors by smuggling taxable goods into and out of the city via the tunnel system - all for a small service fee that is less than the tax that’s due.  
What makes the Family unique is its illegal trade in unearthed elven relics. Under Auran law, if treasure - ancient deposits of wealth, of which no memory exists, so that it has no present owner - is found on a person's own land or on unowned land, then the finder is entitled to keep it. However, if the treasure is found on another person's land, then the finder is only entitled to keep half of the find, with the other half going to the owner of the land, who might be the emperor, the public treasury, the city, or some other proprietor or private property owner. Most adventurers who try to find their fortunes in the Borderlands, however, loath the idea of turning over 50% of their hauls and look for cost-saving solutions anytime there is even the hint that the treasures were found on or near public lands or the property of others.  
Sharp-eyed tax collectors with great skill at appraising the value of a wide array of trade goods regularly patrol the market and the city auction house. In normal times this is onerous enough for merchants and adventurers, but in these times, with the recent wars on the Empire’s western frontiers and other calamities still fresh in people’s memories, the public purse is stretched thin and the collectors are incentivized to extract lawful revenue wherever they can. Any adventurers wishing to dispose of their newly found luxury goods in favor of coin run the risk of being approached by such officials and quizzed about where they acquired such antiques, 50% of the assessed value hanging in the balance. 
However, adventurers that visit the Mink have the opportunity to sell off items looted from forgotten ruins for more - 65% to 80% of their full value. The Family then sells these antiquities to agents of wealthy clients and Auran nobles at a premium.
Although currently the most powerful thieves’ guild in the Borderlands, the ArgollĂ«an Family is quickly losing its edge to the new upstart criminal syndicate, Sand & Bones. Whereas the Family treats gambling and prostitution as vehicles to engage their clients for other forms of illegal trade, Sand & Bones has distilled the games of chance and human flesh into raw commodities that can be traded at a great frequency. Sand & Bones' close connections to the gladiatorial community also make it far more bloody-minded than the relatively genteel merchant-thieves of the Family. On top of this competition, the Family is also facing declining revenue in its antiquities smuggling. Over the years, waves of adventurers have picked much of the region's elven ruins clean of any wealth. New finds are increasingly rare, reducing the Family’s revenue and influence. 
The Mink is not far from the entrance to the Nethercity, and smuggling hundreds of stones of treasure out of the dungeon past the Family without detection will be nearly impossible. If and when Liber discovers the existence of the Nethercity, he will see it as the salvation of his criminal syndicate. Adventurers who cooperate with the Family can find them valuable, though expensive allies. Adventurers who oppose the Family will certainly face assassins, thieves, and rival adventuring parties (such as the Imperial Vanguard) hired by Liber to plumb the depths."
The whole product's kickstarter reminds me of one of the greatest rpg products to come out.

Citybook I: Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker (1982)by Larry DiTillio (Editor), Steven Crompton (Illustrator), Liz Danforth (Illustrator)   was/is one of the first products that really concentrated on the dungeon ecology of a campaign setting. This meta ecology ran through the entire line product of City Book's.

"A game master's aid for all gaming systems.
25 detailed businesses, many colorful NPCs, and over 70 supplemental adventures for city-based scenarios.
After you have created a city map, use these businesses to fill in the spots where you have "a building".
Citybook I received the HG Wells Award for Best Role Playing Supplement at Origins in 1983.
Note on all Citybooks: Each Citybook contains individual buildings/establishments that you can insert into your own fantasy role playing campaign. Again: there are no game-specific statistics. The idea here is to flesh-out that city you have been creating for your campaign. Use these books to fill the nooks and crannies of your own individual city."

Secrets of the Nethercity pays very close attention to this style of meta dungeon ecology which is more then  different from the supposedly 'Gygaxian ecology' (sorry Mr.Kuntz) of  The Temple of Elemental Evil. The Nethercity dungeons are based on more on ACK's Lairs & Encounters. This makes Secrets of the Nethercity much more OSR cross compatible & friendly.

One thing I've always loved about the Catalyst system material  was its  highly system  seamless & they're a low cost collectable old school gaming products. Flying Buffalo were always underrated in my humble opinion. I also think Adventurer, Conqueror, King is also highly underrated with a very undeserved reputation in certain quarters of the OSR.

Secrets of The Nethercity supports the idea of the kilo dungeon instead of the massive sprawling 'mega dungeons' of the old school. The Eighties had other kilo dungeons scattered across the old school lines. The difference here is that the entire product is concentrated on the economic impact of the dungeon itself on the urban setting entirely. Basically, Secrets of the Nethercity takes the gaming approach from ACK's Lairs & Encounters & its expands it across the board!
I'm hoping that we'll see more of this style of dungeon ecology & design in the future! Some of the reasons for this:

  1. Smaller dungeons mean a tighter & meaner campaign giving the PC's far more exploration time in the campaign world. 
  2. Kilo dungeons have a longer campaign shelf life because of the fact of players not getting bored with the setting. 
  3. The dungeon master has far more control over the world setting with lesser adventure elements & can concentrate on the gears & wheels of the campaign. 
  4. Sword & Sorcery literature are rife with these sorts of dungeons. 
  5. The adventuring party's fortunes are more likely to be made or broken in a smaller dungeon rather then a sprawling mega dungeon that could take real world years to play through. 
  6. PC's could end up actually ruling & controlling the setting of the kilo dungeon. 
  7. Dungeon ecologies brought to a smaller scale are more playable & hold the player's interest more. 
  8. Smaller scale dungeons means the monsters will have to meaner & the stakes of play higher for campaign experience resulting in a better overall campaign quality. 
  9. The kilo dungeon can & should be known to wilderness or urban rulers making NPC interaction easier for the dungeon master to handle. 
  10. Every adventure element all hinges backward into the kilodungeon making the adventure campaign spin around it.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Deeper Readings Into T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil By Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer

I've been offline a good part of the day because of work & I've been playing catch up with any number of OSR events going on around my area. Including a friend's T1 Village of Hommlet By Gary Gygax  part I of the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure campaign going on right now.
The party has ventured deep into the heart of the mini dungeon in the moat house, found about the rumors of the advancing forces of the Temple, & gotten themselves deep into the brigands being recruited in Nulb. And the party is in deep way over their heads!

As a dungeon master its easy to forget the deadliness & old school weirdness that makes up Gary Gygax's magnum opus The Temple of Elemental Evil. The sheer  epic old school nastiness that went into the design of this mega adventure is inspiring. In my humble opinion T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil is perhaps the finest RPG adventure module ever.
Today I was quietly going over The Black Gate magazine article
Modular: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About The Temple of Elemental Evil. 
A really fantastic overview & commentary on the history of my favorite module. The thing I love about Temple of Elemental Evil is the flow of the old great old school adventure. How easily this beloved module can actually be adapted to OSR games & retroclone systems.
'It was written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer, and is an expansion of an earlier Gygax module, The Village of Hommlet (TSR, 1979)" You can really get a sense of the grand scope of the adventure as it takes PC's right up the ladder of level advancement if they survive the experience.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I've run T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil numerous times with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd edition & Dark Albion.   

T1-4 is not for the faint of heart & takes the 'dangerous lower levels of the dungeon' old hat trick & turns it on its ear & then ups the volume to eleven. The real dangers of the glue of the temple is the humanoid & humanoid forces that infest the areas around the temple's location.  This isn't a light weight dungeon so much so that I've located the place in the forests of Bohemia in Dark Albion's setting.  Given the early history & mythology of the lands it fits nicely.

Painting by Julian Russel. Story of the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy. At his feet lies the body of the dead King John of Bohemia.

"T2, the adventurers move on to the nearby village of Nulb to confront several nefarious opponents, including agents from the Temple." This is really the heart of the module where the PC's ascend up the long ladder of PC advancement & then take over the back bone military of the area. The whole area of Nulb & its ilk are really backwaters of evil & the PC's are going to be testing their mettle against the worst of the worst in the form of the demoness Zuggtmoy.

Time & again I've seen players take on T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil as a light weight & old fashioned adventure. As soon as the players are creating new PC's the insidious nature of the adventure location becomes evident. Even experienced players fear & loath the forces of darkness of this venerable adventure location.
Why does the place seem to have such a hold on players? Because its one of the mega dungeons with a flesh out history set against the backdrop of Greyhawk. What could be better?
"The temple referenced in the module's title is an unholy structure located in the central Flanaess not far from the city-state of Verbobonc. In 566 CY, forces of evil from Dyvers or the Wild Coast constructed a small chapel outside the nearby village of Nulb. The chapel was quickly built into a stone temple from which bandits and evil humanoids began to operate with increasing frequency. "

Once again their are those pesky & dangerous humanoid forces spawned deep within the unholy depths of the Temple. The whole place is a dungeon cancer on the face of the
the central Flanaess.

'Orcs on the march' By David Sutherland from the AD&D Monster Manual, TSR, 1977.

The whole point of T1-4 is to break the back of the central Flanaess or the central points of civilization wherever the temple is centered. This is a legendary evil & a hate from old Hell bent on taking out your home campaign world. 

Tactics & Tricks for using T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil

  1. The Temple of Elemental Evil is not one cult but a series of interlocking cults of evil spread throughout the Underworld, bottom end of world's criminal elements, destroying the temple isn't going to obliterate the religion that spawned it. It will slink back into the shadows to destroy the PC's another day. 
  2. Dungeon masters should speak with players about the serious nature of PC death involved when undertaking T1-4 before simply throwing them into the deep end. 
  3. The Sword & Sorcery aspect of T1-4 is evident & should be taken fully advantage of by dungeon masters. This is an adventure that is a mini campaign unto itself. 
  4. Unorthodox tactics with The Temple of Elemental Evil will get PC's killed or worse. 
  5. The temple's treasures are many & DM's should take full advantage of the dangling adventure plots that they create on their own. 
  6. This is an active dungeon & rival parties of NPC adventurers should be used to the DM's advantage. Treasures taken, routes screwed with, PC's attacked,etc. The whole nine yards of dirty DM tricks should be on display here. 
  7. The temple is a law unto itself & the factions within it will be playing PC's off each other and other NPC groups. 
  8. The forces outside of the temple are just as dangerous as the monsters within it. 
  9. Tips & tricks of the temple can be laid in ambush for player's PC's. This is one of the ways that one of my PC's died on his way to the temple. Brigands are the DM's NPC friends. 
  10. The magick of the temple reaches deep into several of the mini dungeons that DM's can create for themselves outside of the temple.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Tao of The Clash of The Titans 1981 & The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook By Gary Gygax

I've talked about not burning out or giving in to the apathy that comes with real life & all of the responsibilities that go with it. Sometimes its about going back to the sweet spots of life & grabbing a memory path to tap into. For me its the Summer of Eight One right around June when the original Clash of the Titans film dropped into theaters. It was an exciting time to be in Dungeons & Dragons as a dungeon master & player.

Everything turned pseudo Greek for a bit in campaigns locally or so it seemed to me. Medusa became en vogue as the agents of Chaos in our home campaigns (something that still happens to this day). NPC hirelings were Greek or pseudo Roman warriors a long way from home. Titans were the giant evils that were trapped across the planes & the gods were helpless to stop a mad man or priestess from releasing them.

This was also the Summer when I learned to cherish the ability to take on the smaller joys of running the grand game without giving into the latest in table top rpg fashion. We had a bit of a mouth breather in one of our groups who insisted that the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook couldn't be used for Greco Roman mythological adventures. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings was the only true way! Now bare in mind that we were using a mix of both sorts of fantasy related material. So ancient
Greco Roman mythological warriors rubbed shoulders with Elves, Dwarves, etc.
Arguments ensued game events broke up, food was thrown, & the usual in fighting happened. Then the parents got involved & it all turned to crap. None of that happened!
  It didn't because we got rid of said 'mouth breather' & the game continued. The lesson here was to make the game your own & don't let the influence of events or problems outside of it enter the table top. Its just a game & it can be put down or picked up as needed.

One of the things I've picked up from the AD&D Players Handbook is letting the players find the equilibrium for the campaign world setting themselves. Give the players a general outline & everyone is on the same page & the players will give you reams of material to spin adventures off of. I'm not talking about back story here but world setting details.One of the things I talked about yesterday was to create short convention set style adventures & strung them together in weekly style episodes similar to Nineteen Sixties classic television programs. Gary Gygax talked about listening to the player's voice in the Player's Handbook. Listening to the players wants, needs, & play desires is key to being a good dungeon master.

Dying is a part of the hero's path as much as fighting against monsters & life has its consequences. The Summer & Winter of '81 our characters suffered two complete & utter TPK's. There was one very good reason & that was the dark forces of Hades & the Underworld. It was a dire game between the gods & the Underworld, our party were the chess pieces. Deities & Demi gods really got a work out that season.

There were other forces brewing that Winter that would tear our world apart in Eighty Two but that's another story for another day.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook gave our group the second set of tools to make the PC's that the players wanted & needed. The DM's were all in agreement on the overall goals of the pseudo Greco Roman world that we were working on. There is always going to be descent in every group of players but in the end its only a game. Just don't let the mouth breather's get you down.
Keep em rolling!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Tips & Tricks With Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide By Gary Gygax & Mike Carr

Work has had me on the ropes now for weeks with the amount of sewing machine repair overflow. The fact is that steady stream of repair work is a great thing for business. The bad part is trying to meet real world obligations. For many dungeon masters this means facing down our dreaded enemy, dungeon master burnout. One of the ways I've overcome this is to create short convention set style adventures & strung them together in weekly style episodes similar to Nineteen Sixties classic television programs. This was a trick I picked up from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide By Gary Gygax & Mike Carr

Now back in March of this past year I covered why my love of the Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax & Mike Carr has been a favorite of mine over the decades of my time in this hobby.

Let me cover a different part of the overall AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide package for the OSR. The fact is that the book is packed with stats for every monster in the game except the Monster Manual II & the Fiend Folio. For OSR dungeon masters it covers lots of the old favorites. There's also the random Demon Generator that has come in handy more times then I can count. I'm not a dungeon master who doesn't use demons because of the dreaded Satanic Panic. I'm the dungeon master who uses demons because of it! Fire & brimstone can come across the table at the most innocuous places.

For the OSR dungeon master the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide is a haunted tool box of awesomeness. It enables the dungeon master to build the worlds that he or she wants with a few dice rolls  Need an artifact for that weird alien world? The Dungeon Master's Guide has you covered in spades. Everything from marshal military systems to dungeon placement is covered & then advice is given on world building 101.
Want to avoid DM burnout? Spend a quiet evening getting back to the point of magic when you entered the table top hobby. For me it was back in '77 in a small cramped kitchen with a bunch of teens & adults exploring the wonders of a dungeon. The place stank of cigarette smoke & the half drained sodas of players trying to get the wonder out of some very odd chits. Dice came later on kids & the skeletons were armed with short swords. My first level magic user died repeatedly that night. We played a combination of original Dungeons & Dragons, The Monster Manual, & other classic resources.

Everything changed in 1979 with the release of the Dungeon Master's Guide for our gaming group. Connecticut had its own gaming stores including a cigar store/hobby shop called

Laraia's. This was where my Dungeon Master's Guide came from earned with mowing the lawns of thirty people. The Summer of '79 was hell on Earth for me and that lawn mower from the Abyss. This book was a rite of passage. It was the same Summer that  I'd met Kathy K. (not her real name) the young lady who gave me my first kiss & was the first female dungeon master I'd ever met. She was a young girl interested in monsters, horses, & Dungeons & Dragons. She was gifted TAG program student  with her own group of players! It was a huge revelation for nine year old me.
David A. Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire would come later that same Summer but that kids is another blog entry.

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition Dungeon Master's Guide has been my Swiss Army Knife of old school role playing books. Why? Well there are a wide variety of reasons:
  1. It was one of the first codified books that rang with Gary Gygax's voice & vocabulary. The AD&D  DM's Guide was/is a common sense & no nonsense guide for creating your own worlds & everything is at the DM's finger tips. 
  2. There's an implied sense of the military & empire building within the book something I wouldn't encounter until years later in Adventurer, Conqueror, King.
  3. The Dungeon Master's Guide has numerous useful bits & appendixes to make adventures & play better from the random dungeon generator to the harlot table. This is pretty much an NPC one stop shopping guide for generating hordes of characters for player's PC's to interact with. 
  4. Common sense advice that I still turn to even today. On the table top advice for dungeon master's writing their own adventures. 
  5.   Solid resources & random tables that are actually useful during adventure generation.
  6. Iconic artifacts & treasures to really give campaigns goals & substance for your world's campaign backgrounds.
  7. Sweet spot trap placement advice & guidelines, sure this sounds passe  now but its still works. Sometimes the old advice is the best. Because it works each & every time on players.  
  8. School of hard knocks, the dungeon master's guide is original teaching guide for DM's guiding their players through adventures. I've known father's passing on their Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guides to their sons & daughters. 
  9. Urban adventure guide lines are fully outlined in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guide. Adventuring in urban environments &  cities is a big challenge & every little bit helps. 
  10. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guide is still one of the greatest role playing books ever created. It resonates with Gary Gygax's voice & advice that will live on long after I'm gone.