Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ecology of the Minotaur Maze City

For many years I often imagined a Minotaur City for my game world. It could be nestled among great mountain inner valleys, or deep underground in a giant cavern. What else did I imagine for this city? Nothing, really. I never gave it much deeper thought. I just thought the idea of a giant maze that made up a city for minotaurs was a great idea. The one constant I had in mind was that it would have tunnels that connected to smaller maze lairs inside various dungeons, where small bands of minotaurs could go from time to time to hunt or just relax on a nice pile of treasure.

Well, a couple of games ago in my campaign where the party is descending deeper and deeper into the night below, I hit on minotaurs as a wandering monster encounter. Several of the bull beasties came charging out of a side tunnel, great axes in hand, and dealt the party a decent little tussle. That was at the end of the game, and we finished things with the group recovering and doing a treasure search (nothing of real value), and imagined them a possible raiding party from somewhere else.

Between that and the next session, I pondered my mythical Minotaur cityscape, and wondered if the party might decide to check deep down that side passage for where the minotaurs had come from. So without actually committing much to the pre-game notebook, I decided that if the party should continue on a few miles down twisting smaller passages tracking the minotaurs, they might indeed encounter such a gigantic maze. In my megadungeon in the subsurface of the southlands above I have a minotaur level, so this would fall in with my dreams of connection to that. So I decided I would wing it as best I could in the next game.

So at the start of the last game, the party went forth into the smaller passage, and after a small amount of time of tracking (they have a ranger with them), they came across the rest of the minotaur raider camp, along with several more minotaur raiders and a shaman. After dispatching them, the party balked at traveling further into that passages, but Krysantha the druid decided she wanted to explore a bit more. Changing into a bat, she flew off to look deeper. So here is where I had to improvise a bit.

After some miles, Krysantha came upon large caves with underground streams that Minotaur fishermen spear-fished, and saw other signs of “civilian” population. Flying yet further, she came into the gigantic cavern. Several miles across and half a mile high, the area was mostly filled with walls of cyclopean ancient stone 100 feet high and 20 thick that created a massive maze. Kryantha spied armored guards at a gate entrance, and concluding that she had indeed found a large community of minotaurs, flew back to the party to inform them of the find. Like any good party of D&D adventurers they discussed the possibility of assaulting the place that was doubtless evil and savage, but in the end decided that they should, for now, stay on the previously chosen path and quest (The City of the Glass Pool far below, ‘natch).

But now that there is actual in-game evidence of my Minotaur Metropolis, my imagination is truly fired up by this. Perhaps the party will one day return to explore it deeper, or perhaps it can be used as part of a separate campaign down the road. But either way, I have to think more how I will handle it, and indeed what sort of nasties and goodies to have within the city. Are there just semi-permanent encampments of tribes within the might maze? Or are there actual buildings, maybe fairly tall ones (all of course with maze-like corridors) in town-like clumps within the various dead ends of the maze? Are there spaces within the maze walls, passage ways for the Minotaurs, a temple section, a palace, a marketplace, etc?

What cool ideas can you come up with for my city maze?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meanies of the Old School

Although I have been computer savvy since the early 90’s, I never spent any real time looking up the gaming community online. When I returned to gaming after several years off in 2008, I got in touch with most of my players on tha’ internets (before it had always been friends or friends of friends). That worked out well (in the long run), and around that time I started spending more time looking into D&D and other game communities. Damned if I was ever going to a con or hanging out at a store again, but the web seemed to be a great place to hear commentary and stories about gaming so I threw my hat in the ring.

My biggest surprise was the (heavy at the time) huge amount of debate over the various editions. Old School vs. new. I should have foreseen it really, but I was shocked that the community was huge enough to support an edition war. When I returned to gaming, I thought that Magic the Gathering and video games would have all but turned rpg tabletops into a thing of the past, played only in this tiny niche. Who would have thought it was still big enough to support all kinds of argle bargle.

So mostly younger people were arguing for the new editions, while mostly older folk reminisced (and even still played) with the golden days of 1st edition D&D and prior. After getting involved in some online threads and starting my own blog, I have come to realize that there is something even more insidious than edition wars. There are tiny little wars within editions, especially that regarding 1st edition. I think in the past I heard the quote “… bayoneting our own wounded…” in relation to the old school, and I realized better what that meant in the last few days.

I have long since left behind. You just could not make a comment or tell an anecdote about your gaming without many of the locals starting arguments about gaming and telling you that you are wrong. That is one of the things I hate to hear the most in gaming from or for anyone – “you are doing it wrong.” If everyone is having fun at the game table, then nobody is doing anything wrong.

I don’t want to mention the names of sites (other than that one already mentioned), because the particular one I am thinking of right now has a ton of great old school resources and I would not want to denigrate that. But I have had some fun posting to the threads of that “site that shall remain nameless,” but realized that it seems to have some of the asshole overflow of Especially in the 1st edition AD&D forum, where I thought I could actually connect with other olds school enthusiasts, there are always a handful of people waiting to poop in the punch bowl. There to tell you that you did this and that wrong, or that your players are taking advantage of you, or that you are cheating as a DM, or whatever. Most shocking to me was one of the creeps telling me I’m a cheater because I have some house rules. I found that to be totally jaw-dropping.

No matter what you did in a game, some arrogant prick drops by with a negative tone to kill your buzz. And unlike which seemed to be teeming with snarky younger dorks, the 1st edition forum is mostly older folk, my age or older. Unfortunately many of those older guys seemed to have had a lot of bad game experiences (I suspect due to their people skills), and they pass along their bitterness about it by crapping on other people. It’s maddening, because you go in to share and open up a bit about your gaming, but that is when the sharkes cruise in. Mostly because they have nothing better to do.

If I remember correctly, James at Grognardia used to spend much time at the site I have hinted at here, and stopped spending time in the forums just like I am going to do now. Just like me he talked about it with respect for its resources, but the threads are just full of bile. Let’s face it, the game blogging community is where it’s at, and we have actual presences with our blogs, which makes us at least a little bit more responsible for our words and attitudes. A fellow blogger will call you on the B.S. - and much better that than some 22 year old punk who thinks he plays the game better than you, or some bitter and lonely codger who gets his jollies by projecting his bad gaming past on you. Yep, bayoneting our own wounded.

Outside of the blogs, I am involved in the European folk music community, and in that scene you have these old musos and hippies with grand, happy tales of music past. Everything spoken of with respect and playful glee. I was hoping I’d encounter something like that in relation to the old school gaming community outside of the blogs, but I guess that, ironically, was a true fantasy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I want to mention up front that it was a gaming podcast that got me involved in the online blogging community. I don’t know the name of it (maybe it was an early episode of RFI), but James from Grognardia was a guest, and listening to his old school talk, then going on to look at his blog, inspired me to start my own blog about a year or so ago.

I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but on occasion I like to listen to some chatter on my Ipod while on the computer at work or working out, and my cast of choice is usually the popular Adam Carolla Podcast. But the blurb I saw at Dragonsfoot regarding "issue" 14 of the RFI podcast mentioned that they would be talking about Gnolls, creating adventures, and giving tips on running thieves, and that sounded interesting to me.

I’ve been gaming since I was a kid in the late 70’s. In those days, we loved talking gaming, because a lot of it was still so mysterious. Everybody had their own point of view on particularities of various game related things. Then in my early teens in the 80’s, I spent a lot of time at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica where lots of older gamers (some who probably should not have been hanging around young people) would philosophize and argue about games over issues of The Dragon and the Alarums and Excursions fanzine. But by the late 80’s and through the 90’s, I didn’t hang out at the store anymore (I actually found the owner and the crowd to be very negative as I grew older) or go to cons, and I culled most of my players from my groups of friends, mostly people with little to no D&D experience. So for the most part my efforts to actually sit and discuss gaming when we weren’t actually gaming usually fell flat. I had the occasional exception, somebody dorky enough to sit around and drink beer and talk about the merits of magic-users and clerics and all the deep stuff with me (one of these in the early 90’s was maybe a little too fond of a certain white, powdery substance), but that was a rarity for me. I would usually just run the game, and afterwards if we talked about anything, it was usually movies or TV shows.

So getting into the blogging community, specifically that involving the OSR, really got my juices flowing again as far as out of game talk goes. Long threads on every possible D&D subject can be looked up at, and the game blogs are just brimming with invigorating ideas and commentary on gaming. I guess gaming podcasts were kind of a no brainer, but it took me well over a year to have a listen to another one. So it was today with the Roll For Initiative cast, and I have to admit I am glad I gave a listen.

I am sure I will put the hosts names together as I get into further episodes (or go back to the archives to hear some older ones), but for now they seem like pretty good dudes. They don’t come off as any of those annoying, creepy gamer dudes who either smell like sour milk or cat piss. But they do know their 1st edition AD&D, and during the discussions they often actually reference their Monster Manual, Fiend Folios, etc. on the spot, which I found pretty endearing. Combined with the occasional mildly amateurish moment (bumping and fidgeting sounds, microphone thumps, awkward interruptions, etc.), it felt pretty comforting and homey, just as if me and my players were hanging around the game table looking things up as we talked gaming. The guys are fairly comfortable on the mike, so it comes off just like a pre/after game jive session, complete with the type of dopey jokes (they pronounce gnolls, “ga-nolls,” for example) all involved in gaming take part in. It seems like just the right attitude for 1st ed. Talk.

So the guys speak on adventure creation (helpful for new DM’s, but pretty standard stuff for the experienced), do a “creature feature” on the gnoll race (I found interesting because I used these beasts for the first time in decades recently), and give tips for successfully running thieves as characters. Most fun for me was the “Dragon’s Hoard” section, where they discuss a magic item out of the game. I wasn’t particularly interested in their discussion on the Beaker of Plentiful Potions, until to my surprise they dragged out some dice and made the random rolls for potions the beaker actually contained. This was a nice touch, and just the sound of dice hitting the table out of a regular game context was very cool.

All in all, I found this to be a great little podcast, and I’m going to listen to more of them. I’ll praise it more in the future when I know more about the gents on the microphone, and dig a little deeper into the background.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ecology of The Roper

No, I’m not talking about the landlord from Three’s Company who thought Jack was gay. I’m talking about that classic beastie who first graced the pages of the Monster Manual.

In my current 1st ed. Night Below campaign, I am getting a lot of use out of monsters I never used, or rarely used in the past. The Roper is one of those ones I probably have not used since the 80’s. Just wasn’t one of my favorite monsters. Well, the party explored an area of NB with ropers in it, so it was time to buck up and refresh myself on these weirdo underworld horrors.

As you probably know, ropers resemble stalagmites and stalactites, and are otherwise all mouth and ropey tentacles. In the MM, the ropers can reach out and grab a victim from 50 feet away, and drag them 10’ per turn towards the mouth, which does a nice 5D4 in damage (yeah, it’s a pain to roll all those D4’s, cause I only have around two of them). If you come in contact with a rope, you will lose half your strength inside 1-3 turns. That is pretty good, and the monster manual entry mentions no saving throw agaist this. I gave my players a break by allowing a save, but this was probably the closest the party has come to losing a member or two anyway. Even though I allowed the save vs. the tentacles, I did rule that anybody caught by a rope was helpless and could not attack or cast spells. All you could do was attempt your “open doors” roll to break free.

With a great magic resistance, and natural resistance to lightning (which the party MU found out about the hard way), they are pretty much only affected by blows and fire.

I used two of these monsters in the same room, and if you are going to use ropers I would suggest you go carefully with having more than one. The party averages around 8th level now, and two ropers were challenging for them. The rewards for the party a great though, as each roper is worth 10,000 experience points and usually has a belly full of gems or coins. The party for sure earned those treats!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

John Carter of Mars and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

There is quite a bit of John Carter of Mars fandom going on around the blogs, but I haven’t seen this little bit of a gem talked about.

I was rummaging through some of my comics last night, and came across volume 2 of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and was reminded that John Carter shows up in the opening pages of the story. It is way cool. As shown in the pages above, the Green Martians are present, but most interesting is the appearance of characters from other fiction about Mars. Edwin Lester Arnold’s Lieutenant Gulliver of Mars makes an appearance. First written in 1905, Arnold’s Gulliver had many things in common with John Carter (both were soldiers, and both were transported to Mars from Earth by magic/super-science), and began the Sword and Planet genre.

Both John Carter and Gulliver, aware of each other’s existence on the planet and obviously having met before, come together to face the Martians of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. Not truly Martian natives, but invaders from some other planet who came to attack mars after scrying info about the Humans on Mars with The Crystal egg from the book of that name by Wells, the Wells Martians are losing their war against Carter, Gulliver, and the natives (which even includes the Sorns from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet). With Carter and his armies closing in, the invaders are driven off of Mars, and off they go to Earth to struggle against the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

This has to be the most interesting John Carter appearance outside of his own books (He had some team-ups with Tarzan in a Marvel Comics mini-series in the 90’s that were pretty cool), and it places him firmly in the Wold Newton family tree as created by Phillip Jose Farmer. If you are unfamiliar with Wold Newton, it basically is a theory that all pulp heroes are related in some way, and at the very least exist in the same shared universe.

Carter’s appearance is fairly brief, but if you are a fan of Barsoom you should try and pick up this nifty little item (get the graphic novel compilation and save a few bucks).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ah, the contents of my game bag...

DM's guide, PHB, Monster Manual 1 and 2, Fiend Folio. Don't usually dig deep into FF or MM 2 in most games, only when I am running something with monsters specifically out of those (like doing The Night Below setting right now and it's chock full of kinds of Corbies and Hookies and Quaggies, etc.-ie), and more often than not those stay at home).

I use Unearthed Arcana mostly for extra spells, so that is usually in the book bag. I let a non-evil Drow character get created out of it the other year (and let her be raised by druids), and she is working out pretty good, if not a bit powerful. For the next campaign I am unlikely to let somebody get a character (or drow) out of it unless I know they don't have a powergamer molecule in their body.

I love the Old School Encounter Reference Guide, and try to always have that along in the bag as well. I'm trying to teach myself to love random charts and lists again, and it is easily the most handy non-rules item for 1st ed. or lower that I have ever had for any price.

Current game notebook (and as much previous notebooks as I can fit).

Wet erase pens for the hex mat? Check.
Dice? Check
Pens? Check (amazing how often I forget to have my own writing pens)
Trip Ticket/Character rosters? Check

Uh oh, don’t forget the minis (in a separate tackle box).

Quick "safety meeting" out back with the Strawberry Cough, crack open that 12 pack of beer or Ale, and GAME ON!