15 October 2018

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 14: Starstone by Paul Vernon Lydiate

Day 14 - A Module I Would Run for First-Time Players:  Starstone by Paul Vernon Lydiate


Starstone by Paul vernon Lydiate (Northern Sages, 1982)





My first-impressions/gut-reactions in response to today's topic are that I would prefer to run "Castle Greyhawk" or the DMG Monastery dungeon for first-timer players, but since I've already covered the latter, and ruled out the former, I've dug around for some high-quality alternates, and Starstone landed on top.

Paul Vernon's Starstone was published by Northern Sages out of the UK in 1982.  If you're not already familiar with Starstone, Matthew Pook's retrospective review can get you up-to-speed.  Vernon also wrote several good articles in both White Dwarf---"Designing a Quasi-Medieval Society" (2 parts) and "Town Planner" (3 parts)---and Dragon Magazine---"First, Spread the Faith" and "Travel Works Both Ways"---that are worth looking up.    

Disclaimer:  I haven't played or run Starstone, so read my thoughts with a healthy critical eye.  Using Starstone, I'd like to build a small, local-focus campaign where Starstone's NPCs can shine, and where the players and their PCs know the names of the random citizen they're salvation for, and why they're worth saving. 

Why I Like Starstone


Starstone is a well-designed sandbox campaign setting that Vernon brings alive through:
  • The County of Starstone's Northern Region, a small and localized wilderness environment spanning 10 miles N-S by 11 miles E-W (in 1/2 mile hexes), containing a fair number of homesteads, monster lairs, and other features of note
  • Nine small settlements; for the larger ones, Vernon employs a series of tables similar to those in Midkemia Press' Cities supplement, but without as much detail
    • Branstead, a deserted hamlet
    • Cragley, a hamlet (37)
    • Dolgold Village and Castle, with nearby dwarven mines
    • Ganby, village (128)
    • Longbottom Down, village
    • Sardkirk, a gnomish village
    • Spoylesham, a hamlet (87) 
    • Starston Bridge
    • Verbury, village (206)
  • Two dungeons:
    • The Broch Caverns, a three-level dungeon with 133 keyed encounters, inhabited by ~500 goblins and their allies
    • Dolgar's Hold, a two-level dungeon with 45 keyed encounters, inhabited by trollings and morlocks
  • A broad tapestry of inter-related NPCs who are all-too-human in their ambitions, petty squabbles, and other relationships:  this is where Starstone really shines (and could, in fact, use a matrix of NPCs that would help make the interconnections more manageable)
Ristenby Town (population 2000) is the unpublished sequel to Startone, and details the small fishing port town.  Embertrees was lightly detailed in White Dwarf #34 (October 1982), along with a small temple dungeon (33 encounter areas).

Three Runners Up

I've also already written about L1 on Day 6, or it would appear in the list below, too:


My other posts in Kellri's 18 Day Module Challenge:

  1. Day 13:  "The Ruins of Andril" by Ian Melluish
  2. Day 12:  "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers
  3. Day 11:  S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax
  4. Day 10:  Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore
  5. Day 9:  Pavis and Big Rubble by Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Oliver Dickinson, & Diverse Hands
  6. Day 8:  Angmar, Land of the Witch King by Heike Kubasch
  7. Day 7:  X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay
  8. Day 6: DMG Monastery Dungeon by Gary Gygax
  9. Day 5: S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
  10. Day 4: "Deep Shit" by Jeff Barber
  11. Day 3: A Fabled City of Brass by Anthony Huso
  12. Day 2: Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio
  13. Day 1: Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur
  14. Day 0: These are a Few of My Favorite Things...

 

14 October 2018

OSR Guide for the Now-Less-Perplexed (or So We Hope...)

OSR Guide for the Now-Less-Perplexed (or So We Hope...)


 
OSR logo by Stuart Robertson
OSR logo by Stuart Robertson


I tweaked Zak's original questions a bit (see below if you want to reuse my wording):
  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:   This one's a toss-up for me, since I love both 1) timrod's excellent and inter-related series of blog posts on the maps and environs for B2 Keep on the Borderlands, T1 Village of Hommlet, and the Sample Dungeon from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, as well as 2) Zach "Zenopus Archives" Howard's page-by-page analysis of John Eric Holmes' original manuscript for the Holmes Basic set - Both of these exemplify close reading of texts in conjunction with creative approaches to leveraging that information in game play at the table!

  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice"Megadungeon Tactics: Mission-Based Adventuring" by Matt Finch, published in Knockspell #4 (Spring 2010) - This is an excellent resource for old-school dungeon-exploring players in general, and helps players to effectively deploy in play the concepts outlined in Matt's Old School Primer

  3. Best OSR module/supplement:  Scot "Kellri" Hoover's Classic Dungeon Designer's Netbook #4 - Old School Encounters Reference.pdf - Perhaps the best free OSR resource ever published!:  an essential guide to adventure/encounter design, and while written with 1e AD&D/OSRIC in mind, it's very useful for anyone running any fantasy campaign, regardless of RPG and/or D&D edition.

  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):  I have no recollection who came up with this concept anymore (and if you remember, please let me know!), but I love the idea that when PCs sell gems, jewelry, magic items, and other loot, that their payouts are influenced positively and negatively by the negotiating PC's Charisma reaction adjustments (to which I also add racial preferences modifiers, too).  This goes back to the old Amber Diceless RPG adage that each-and-every stat on your character sheet is the most-important stat (in some situation). 

  5. How I found out about the OSR:  The OSR coalesced, named, and formalized itself around the online mailing lists, web sites, boards/forums, and gaming conventions where I've hung out, discussed and shared AD&D- and Greyhawk content over the past 15-20 years.  I've met, gamed with, and become friends with many old-school gamers who I wouldn't otherwise have ever known except through the OSR communities where we've come together to talk shop around our favorite games.

  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toyJason Zavoda's Index Greyhawkiana, a compiled index of references within World of Greyhawk products published from the 1970s through August 2003 (the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer was its last update) - Jason's index is something I use practically every day, and is an indispensable tool for a fan of the World of Greyhawk setting.  Other key reference tools I use nearly-daily include the Dragondex index of Dragon Magazine articles, and the D&D publishing history web sites The Acaeum, Adrian Newman's TSR Archive, and the Tome of Treasures.

  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:  In-person at GaryCon (every year in March, in Lake Geneva, WI; ~2500 attendees) and the North Texas RPG Convention (every year in June in Dallas, TX; ~400 attendees) - These conventions have been a wonderful way to put-faces-to-names from discussion boards, to deepen friendships begun online, and to game with like-minded old-schoolers.  If you've never carved out the time and/or budget to attend one or the other, it's well-worth planning to do so.  If you dig around there's probably an old-school convention in your neighborhood, too.

  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking gamesThe Knights & Knaves Alehouse, Dragonsfoot, ODD74, Canonfire!, and various other Greyhawk and/or old-school, general RPG, etc. groups on Facebook, Google+, and most-recently, MeWe.  Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to chat---I'm "grodog" on all of these platforms.

  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:  Mapping as a player is fun, useful in-game, and makes the game easier to play!  I know, I know---you don't believe me, but I wrote an article in The Twisting Stair #3 that details three different ways to approach mapping as a player, and when to use one method vs. the other two.  It's worth checking out :D

  10. My favorite non-OSR RPGs:  Amber Diceless, Ars Magica, Blue Planet, Call of Cthulhu, Coriolis: the Third Horizon, Eclipse Phase, Kult, Upwind, Vampire the Masquerade, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.  Of those, Call of Cthulhu most-often ends up atop the list after AD&D. 

  11. Why I like OSR stuff:  I love the fun and creative collaboration when people come together to play games and to enjoy discussing, playing, designing, and publishing the adventures, settings, sourcebooks, and rules for the games and settings that I love to play. Hand-in-hand with that spirit of collaboration is the important idea of designing, sharing, and publishing tools that make games easier to play, in addition to sharing out cool ideas, adventures, and settings.  To paraphrase Trent Foster---designing good "creativity aids, not creativity replacements” is an important aspect that drives the DIY work-ethic and work-product of the OSR. 

  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:  1) David A. Hill's Eldritch Avremier, fifth of five old-school supplements from his Mothshade Concepts imprint, which publishes his OD&D-based Avremier campaign setting, and 2) Jeff Talanian's Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea old-school game - I'm a sucker for good settings, and both David's and Jeff's works offer richly-evocative campaign settings immersed in old-school play styles. 

  13. If I could read but one RPG blog on my desert island, it would be:  Gabor "Melan" Lux's Beyond Fomalhaut and associated Echoes from Fomalhaut zine - Gabor's work couples the essence of Wilderlands of High Fantasy gaming with excellent design, useful-at-the-table gameplay detail, and a wonderful imaginative vision that always inspires me to design better, to try harder!

  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot isTales of Peril: The Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes, published in June 2017 by Black Blade Publishing and I'm adding a second since this one's free---The Hyqueous Vaults written the Hyqueous Vaults Creation Team and published by Guy Fullerton (two different links there) in December 2017 (the adventure somewhat-belatedly celebrates the 10th anniversary of the publication of OSRIC, the original AD&D retro-clone)

  15. I'm currently running/playing:   running and/or playing in four AD&D 1e campaigns, playing an Ars Magica 5e saga, and planning to run a Delta Green and/or Call of Cthulhu 5th edition Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign

  16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because...:  ...I have DM Screen to look up the proper numbers, of course---and I use it because repeating 20s are difficult to memorize!

  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short noticeIan Baggley's "Battle with the Dagonites" which we used as Tales of Peril's back cover artwork:
    Ian Baggley's "Battle with the Dagonites"


And here's my tweaked list of the questions, for easy cut/pasting:
  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:  
  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice:  
  3. Best OSR module/supplement 
  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
  5. How I found out about the OSR:
  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:  
  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
  10. My favorite non-OSR RPGs:
  11. Why I like OSR stuff:
  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
  13. If I could read but one RPG blog on my desert island, it would be:  
  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
  15. I'm currently running/playing:
  16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because...:
  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 13: "The Ruins of Andril" by Ian Melluish

Day 13 - A Module I Like from the 1980s:  "The Ruins of Andril" by Ian Melluish 


I'm picking up Kellri's 18-Day Module Challenge again today, a few days after my last entry (Day 12 - A Module From My Youth:  "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers).  I got busy with work, and my need for sleep time outweighed my need to write ;)
 

Dragon Magazine #81 (January 1984) front cover"The Ruins of Andril" cover art by Roger Raupp


"The Ruins of Andril" was written and designed by Ian Melluish, and published in Dragon Magazine #81 (January 1984) as the winner of the Dungeon Design Content (category A-3, a dungeon adventure for 4-8 AD&D PCs of levels 8-11 ) announced in Dragon #65 (September 1982).  

The Egyptian-themed desert adventure is set in the ruined (and cursed!) desert city of Ruatha within the "Sea of Dust" (not Greyhawk's, though), followed by four small dungeon levels with 42 total encounter areas.  The curse was laid upon the city and its peoples by Thoth, Egyptian god of knowledge, and nerfs divination spells cast within the ruins.

Why I Love "The Ruins of Andril"


Despite the nerfing of divinations (a school of magic I'm quite fond of as a player and DM), "The Ruins of Andril" is probably tied with "The Garden of Nefaron" in Dragon #53 (September 1981) and "The Dancing Hut" in Dragon #83 (March 1984) as my favorite adventure published in Dragon during it's heyday.  

I enjoyed running it a few times back-in-the-day, and these aspects still stand out to me as cool today:

  • "The Ruins of Andril" is written for higher-level PCs (8th-11th), and could easily be expanded to include the desert wilderness surrounding the ruined city, as well as the ruins themselves (and the nearby town, for that matter)
  • I like desert settings, and this adventure would combine nicely with I9, X4-5-10, UK6, I3-5, and/or C2 (among others!), if desired
  • The dungeon site rises from the sands only once every two years, and if the PCs don't escape its confines before it sinks, then they're stuck for two more years (a bit of a Brigadoon-like environ...)
  • Three of the levels are connected by shafts rather than stairs
  • Well-illustrated by Roger Raupp---I've not always been a big fan of his artwork, but it fits the scenario, setting, and tone of the module fabulously
  • Gates to the four elemental planes and excellent monsters selections and tactics round out the scenario
The doesn't really sound like it adds up to much, I suppose, but "The Ruins of Andril" does play well!


Three Runners Up


While I enjoy and admire many TSR module designs, I'm going to highlight three non-TSR ones this time around, to help feature a trio of perhaps-less-well-known adventures:
  • Beastmaker Mountain by Bill Fawcett (Mayfair Games, 1982):  a classic delve into the lair of an experimenter wizard who married a demon-conjuring wife!; Fawcett's ]article "Orlow's Inventions Can Liven Up Your Life" from TD#30 (October 1979) is also included for use with the module, and he also wrote a sequel to Beastmaker in 1983, Tower of Magicks
  • CH-2 Seren Ironhand by Tom Moldvay (Challenges Inc., 1986):  the middle of a three part module series, but the only titled published (the other two are CH-1 The Morandir Company and CH-3 The Halls of the Mountain Kings), Seren Ironhand lures PCs into a raid on some river pirates, who live in the site of an ancient dwarven mountain kingdom
  • Garden of the Plantmaster by Rob Kuntz (Creations Unlimited, 1987):  a magical garden grown twisted through demonic influence, Kuntz originally created the Garden for Castle Greyhawk, and expanded it in conjunction with the Lost City of the Elders

My other posts in Kellri's 18 Day Module Challenge:

  1. Day 12:  "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers
  2. Day 11:  S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax
  3. Day 10:  Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore
  4. Day 9:  Pavis and Big Rubble by Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Oliver Dickinson, & Diverse Hands 
  5. Day 8:  Angmar, Land of the Witch King by Heike Kubasch 
  6. Day 7:  X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay
  7. Day 6:  DMG Monastery Dungeon by Gary Gygax
  8. Day 5:  S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
  9. Day 4:  "Deep Shit" by Jeff Barber
  10. Day 3:  A Fabled City of Brass by Anthony Huso
  11. Day 2:  Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio
  12. Day 1:  Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur
  13. Day 0:  These are a Few of My Favorite Things...

 

10 October 2018

Kellri's 18 Module Challenge - Day 12: "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers

Day 12 - A Module From My Youth:  "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" by Rutgers University Gamers



I'm kind of cheating again in today's entry, since "Treasure of the Dragon Queen" isn't a commonly-known or published module, but it's still near and dear to my heart, so I'm writing about it anyway!:


Origins IX 1985 convention program event listing for TotDQ
Origins IX 1985 convention program event listing for TotDQ

The actual event we played featured a slightly different description in the 1984 Northeaster 2 convention booklet:
Event - 19.  RUG Treasure of the Dragon Queen
A fortnight of silence is all that is left of your predecessors who set off across the river to find and secure the fabled treasure. Now you must complete the quest before the forces of darkness subjugating the region stumble across it. For God only knows what horrors would be unleashed on the world in their hands in this FRP event.

Why I Love "Treasure of the Dragon Queen"


"Treasure of the Dragon Queen" is my white whale:  my monomaniacal quest to find and recreate the perfect adventure from my youth!  

The original pre-registration event description appears at the top of the page, and the original background sheet (preserved with my brother Phil's pregen PC attached!) appears below:


If that adventure description doesn't get your blood roiling for adventure, then nothing will!  I have a lot more detail about "Treasures of the Dragon Queen" on my site, where I describe what I recall about the maps, the factions in the adventure, the environs where we adventured, etc.

The pregens PCs were higher-level characters, and were quite well-equipped!  I believe it was after attending this event that our players at home began to demand to purchase grappling hooks, and manufactured their own continual light gems (or coins, for the paupers in the parties ;) ).  

The pregen PC sheets themselves are also interesting:  they were blown-up photocopies of a filled-out 1978 DEL Enterprises Fantasy Role Playing Card, a generic PC sheet:


TotDQ - Turpin Masewelder, LG Human Male Cleric 9
Turpin Masewelder, LG Human Male Cleric 9
DEL Enterprises 1978 Fantasy Role Playing Card
DEL Enterprises 1978 Fantasy Role Playing Card


I will eventually get around to re-creating Treasure of the Dragon Queen based on my memories of it (but I'm still not giving up hope of finding a copy, either!).


Three Runners Up

  • A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity by Dave Cook (TSR, 1980):  the first module I bought on my own, and the launching point for the Slavers series; I remember running this for my brothers and friends more than once, and doing so in both tournament and campaign modes (we always liked campaign mode better, since there was more treasure to be looted! ;) ).
  • "Chagmat" by Larry DiTillio (TSR, July 1982 in Dragon Magazine #63):  this adventure was published in one of the first two issues of Dragon Magazine that I bought (the other was #58, and contained "In the Bag" by John Eric Holmes).  It featured the strange spidery title-creatures in a cavernous mountain dungeon spanning three levels (one of caverns, two of the upper and lower levels of the temple).  I remember playing the one-armed fighter NPC, and the forlorn inhabitants in the town of Byr, but I think that I changed the name of Little Boy Mountain to something more evilly-apt.  (Oddly, I also bought another spider-themed module at Northeaster #3 or #4, Mercury Games' Lair of the Spider Mother, and it seemed to me at the time that way too many adventures focused on spiders!)
  • D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth by Gary Gygax (TSR, 1981):  I remember my friend Mike Barber running these adventures, and the epic battles we had, including with Asberides and oodles of trolls and troglodytes while drow sniped at us from the sidelines, and us screwing around in the Kuo-Toan Shrine, setting off alarms, and battling monitors and hoards of gogglers!  I also recall trying to recruit with group of svirneblin to join our crusade against the drow (I don't think we were successful, or they wanted more money than we would pay, or something), and negotiating passage across the Svartjet with Thoopshib and him attacking our PCs, and being ambushed by a large group of jermlaine (who seemed like they should have been far less effective against the G-D pregens than they were at the time ;) ). 
 

My other posts in Kellri's 18 Day Module Challenge:

  1. Day 11: S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax
  2. Day 10:  Return of the Eight by Roger E. Moore
  3. Day 9: Pavis and Big Rubble by Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Oliver Dickinson, & Diverse Hands 
  4. Day 8: Angmar, Land of the Witch King by Heike Kubasch 
  5. Day 7: X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay
  6. Day 6: DMG Monastery Dungeon by Gary Gygax
  7. Day 5: S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
  8. Day 4: "Deep Shit" by Jeff Barber
  9. Day 3: A Fabled City of Brass by Anthony Huso
  10. Day 2: Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio
  11. Day 1: Empire of the Ghouls by Wolfgang Baur
  12. Day 0: These are a Few of My Favorite Things...