Keep Your Players Initiative Orders Sorted

Initiative Tags in Action

On Twitter today I saw a great post from Ron Smith aka @pollyroller on twitter about initiative tracking hanging tags for D&D 5e that you can put on your DM screen. For years I had used small pieces of an index card with PC names on both sides. These are much cooler looking and give you space on the backside for Passive Perception, Armor Class, and Hit Points. The Bond, ideals, flaws, spaces I will probably use for some other kind of notes. Just cut them out – they print 4 to a page, fold them over, hang over your screen, and move your players around the initiative order so everyone knows when their turn is.

With his permission I have uploaded the file here for you to download and use in your own games. initiative tags

Encounters in the Savage Frontier

 

I am always looking for something to add to my campaign to keep my players on their toes. One of the ways that I try to break up the predictability of my style of encounters with my players is to use other peoples. One of my favorite resources has always been Dungeon Magazine. I have a pretty extensive collection of the early ones and they have some good scenarios in there, but it can be a challenge finding one I haven’t used and then converting it for use in the 5th Edition.

I recently saw someone posting on Twitter about Encounters In The Savage Frontier and thought that I would check it out. This is a PDF download located on the Dungeon Masters Guild. Those of you who follow me here or on Twitter probably know that I am not a big fan of the digital goods, but when a resource isn’t available in the media that I prefer I am not going to shun it.

This is a 72 page PDF and has 24 short encounters. The table of contents is well organized showing the name of the adventure, the challenge rating, and a link to get you to that right page. This book has many contributors, but the editor who compiled this did a good job of giving them consistency in the layout. This is part of the reason why I find Dungeon so useful is that I can quickly review a bunch of different material without having to pour over every word to figure out if it was going to work for me or not. I found the stat block at end of each encounter to be very useful for first figuring out if it was going to be a good fit for what I was looking for as well as when running the encounters the reference to the monster manual page and short details of it’s attacks and abilities.

Trap Door Spider

 

The book has original artwork like this of the Trap Door Spider from the “Spider and the Bear” encounter which is one of several new monsters that are included. Some of the encounters introduce new magic items that are detailed with them as well.  I always like new magic items, but it has been my experience that some of the unofficial magic items can be overpowered or ripe for abuse. The color maps in the book are not a style that work for me as I find them distracting, but I suppose they are typical of what was done in a lot of the 3rd edition stuff.

I have had the PDF for a couple of weeks and incorporated an encounter from it in each of my last two sessions. It would be nice if they had a greater range of challenge ratings and at least one that was higher CR than 7, but with just a few adjustments these can be more of less difficult. Definitely worth my $3.95.

Empire of Imagination

Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons

I recently got a chance to read Empire of Imagination which is the Gary Gygax Biography – which I would be surprised if you were here AND had not yet heard of this book. I had not paid that much attention to the turmoil at TSR at the time as there really wasn’t that much news readily available to your average high school nerd in AZ about it anyway. I did know that Gary Gygax was no longer involved in creating 2nd Edition D&D when it came out which made me shy away from the system. Not to mention that it felt like I just had saved up enough money to buy used copies of both the Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures books. There was plenty of new material for my friends and I to explore without having to buy these new rule books!

The book is a quick read and finished up the last half of it this weekend. It recounts his life and important events using a fictional narrative based on facts and research. It was surprisingly informative and gave me a lot of history some that I suppose that I should know by now and other that I would have never found out without reading this book. I can’t help shake the feeling that this knowledge has left me a disillusioned with the early days of TSR and Gary Gygax. Knowing how things turned out for Gary made it difficult to root for him as the underdog in the story as you already know their isn’t a chance that he is going to win. This is a must read for anyone who is a serious D&D geek or needs to have something special up their sleeve for the next Nerds That Drink Trivia Night, but for many others I think they will find it tragic.

Call of Cthulhu 1920s

Fatal Experiments Cthulhu 1920s

It was the summer after high school and my friends wanted to play Call of Cthulhu. I had read of few H.P. Lovecraft’s books which seemed to make me the Cthulhu expert of the group and thus I was elected to be the GM. I picked up the box set used at the local comic book shop and Fatal Experiments which was a bundle of adventures. The last sentence of the Lovecraft quote on the back of the book from the short story Herbert West: Re-animator (a favorite movie of ours!) set the tone for what kind of game we were getting ourselves into.

“The wonder and diabolism of the his experiments fascinated me utterly…. His views hinged on the the essential mechanistic nature of life and concerned mean for operating the organic machinery of mankind by calculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes…. My friend believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life…. He usually finished his experiments with a revolver.

I haven’t played much Cthulhu since that summer, but I still have my box set and hope someday that I get another chance to play. In the meantime I have 5 “new” Call of the Cthulhu 1920s books that I recently picked up from a comic book store that was getting rid of their role playing game stock. These books are new, but they have been sitting on dusty shelves for close to 30 years so they do have some wear, dings, and even stains. Regardless 4 of the 5 are in excellent condition for soft cover books of that age and one unfortunately the glue of binding gave out and it has a split. All of the are up on my eBay store. Mansion of Madness, Terror Australis, Cthulhu Casebook, The Great Old Ones, and the one that I used to terrify my friends with Fatal Experiments.

Exhumed Obscura

As I had said in my previous post that I had recently gotten back into Dungeons & Dragons after a long hiatus. The DM (Paul) and one of the player’s (Grant) were working on an expansion of rules for first edition AD&D. So I was one of the play testers / guinea pigs for what they had cooked up. I played a 1/2 Elf Ranger and was considered one of the base characters as to which help judge how some of the new classes stacked up to the classic roles. I am most likely NOT an impartial reviewer of this volume.

The name Exhumed Obscura is obviously a play on the Unearthed Arcana expansion. I think this is probably a good book to measure against. There have been many reviews, complaints, and arguments about the UA over the years and I will not rehash those here, but if you are one of those that think that the UA unbalances the game a lot of the new content especially in regards to character classes are probably not for you.

The book is 154 Page Soft Cover book and introduces 4 new stats, 9 new races, 11 new character classes, new spells, a few new weapons and armor, more magic items than can fit in your bag of holding, and critical hit and fumble tables. The artwork in the book is not professional, but is funny, charming, and decidedly old school. It reminds me of the box that used to be old character sheets so you could draw the portrait. This has only been released for physical purchase which is my preference for books as I prefer my table to be technology free.

Most of the new stats like Comeliness, Luck, and Perception have been used to some degree in other editions and other systems. Perception favors some classes to be more perceptive than others. Luck can tilt the odd’s in the players favor and I think a DM would be wise to remember for balance before implementing that monsters and NPC’s have luck as well. The most innovative stat is Bardic Voice and is used extensively for one of the new character classes called the Orator. For most others it doesn’t have much use, but I think it has fun role playing potential.

I am a little traditional and boring in regards to new races in my games as I play a pretty Tolkien populated world. The nine new races presented in Exhumed Obscura are interesting, vary widely, and some are more usable than others. What I like most is that the description of each race is proceeded with a short story that gives you some idea of the flavor of the race and their place in the world. The Tinelian Cat-People are a race of seafaring cats, Mendelinkorian are long lived, asexual, underground dwelling, magic users, Ghoule are a special kind of undead that have broken free from their necromancer masters, and Jorakeen (Wolf Men) that are tall humanoids that have the heightened senses of wolves.

The new character classes will be what most players of the game will be interested in and there is something for everyone. There are a couple like the anti-paladin and the necromancer that if I recall correctly had been done in different ways before in old The Dragon magazines. Some of the others are more unique and come with their own disciplines, spells, or as in the case or Orator entirely new ways of thinking in how to effect the world around them. Again as with the races they have used short stories to give you insight and flavor in how the class is supposed work. In the group I played with we had a Blood Guard and an Orator as well a reoccurring antagonist that was a Ghoule Targeteer. The Blood Guard is a mix of a fighter and cleric that serves to protect. They are front line fighters, but use their actions more to protect their compatriots from attacks than to take down foes. They gain the use of Cleric spells at 5th level.  The Targeteer reminds me of another Dragon Magazine class the Archer except they are not as limited. Specializing in the crossbow with some Thief abilities (at 2 levels lower) they could be a good addition to party where no one wanted to play a traditional Thief.  The Savage is similar to the Barbarian class, but has learned control in their fighting. A unique table of skills for unarmed combat is provided so as the class progresses in levels they get fighting moves that no one else has. The Orator is a singer of great talent that uses their voice to control harmonic vibrations and create a sort of magic. While this in many ways the most thought out of the new classes it also the one that I think has the potential to cause problems in a game. Much of the mechanics and effects are left to the DM to decide and some of what can be done with this new magic a creative player could bend to their advantage. It would certainly take an experienced player and Dungeon Master working together to make this a player character that harmonizes with their world. The other classes brought to life in the this book are a Dark Druid (would be a great NPC nemesis), Pit Fighter, Fighter Magic User, The Hand (Assassin / Spies), Knight of the Brotherhood of Elemental Orders (Fighters with some control over the elements), and Spirit Hunters (Ranger / Druid).

Always a favorite for DMs and players alike are the 36 pages of magic weapons, armors, potions, rings, wands, and the like. At the end of the book there are some rules for mass combat, some new weapons and armor, a few critical hit tables for crushing, slashing, and impaling weapons, and new character sheets that have spaces for the new stats included in this book.

I am always looking for new material and flavor to add to my campaigns so I think this will be a good resource when what is presented is judiciously added. I have a number of them available up on my ebay store, but not sure for how long as the last smaller batch sold out in a week.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Exhumed-Obscura-OSR-Expansion-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-AD-amp-D-OSRIC-/262827792848

 

 

 

 

How this Dungeons & Dragons Player got his groove back

It had been close to 20 years since I had played Dungeons & Dragons. Well at least in any meaningful way. I had moved to Los Angeles and there were plenty of other things and interests that had grabbed my attention. Not to mention that I couldn’t find anyone who actually played the game or wanted to. The people I was hanging out with were not the D&D types and although they found my nerdy ways endearing they weren’t ready to jump in and embrace them as their own… plus this is LA and even with the least image conscious person image does matter.

I was in a very good place in my life, married, a toddler, and running a successful business. Regardless I would think back fondly on the times with friends gathered around dining tables, living rooms, libraries, lunch tables, and classrooms playing Dungeons & Dragons. I was not getting the same fulfillment in the things that I was doing socially; video games, dinners, clubbing, and especially not ‘social’ medial. I learned about Roll 20 and playing over Skype, but I have enough technology in my life. I wanted to sit around a table with a group of people and immerse ourselves together in a story, fantasy, and these shared experiences. It was time to find a D&D group!

That is how I found myself on the internet, browsing Craigslist, and looking at a gamer wanted ad. They were playing 1st Edition AD&D and meeting every other week…. in the Valley. This is Craigslist so there was some thought running through my mind of how unappealing it was going to be to get murdered in Reseda, but I threw caution to the wind and sent them a message telling them about my experience, lack of recent experience, and that I was committed (or should be committed) to make the hour plus drive to the Valley on Friday nights.

It was a chilly fall night and the traffic on the 101 going through the Cahuenga pass was the usual crawl made only worse by my own excitement and nervousness of jumping into an existing campaign with a bunch of strangers. I picked up the usual snacks and drinks at 7-11 and made my way to the address to find a small nondescript house. The sound of boisterous voices and laughter could be heard from the walk and that alone made it easier to knock on the door and introduce myself. A group of four guys were already there and they were waiting on two more. The group was play testing some new character classes for an “old school” supplement they were working on (This has since been released as the Exhumed Obscura – here on ebay – I will write a review of it soon) and I had decided to play as a ‘baseline’ character a half-elf Ranger to help them see how things balanced out. The group of guys had been playing together for many years and the course of the adventure got derailed by inside jokes and the like, but by the end of the night I had meshed with the group and gotten myself beguiled by their quest item.

Driving home while listening to KPFK I relived the nights adventure in my mind and knew that I had found a home among my fellow role players. It was going to be a long two weeks before I got a chance to play again!