Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

…to boldly go…

And there I was, two weeks ago, arguing that a D&D power scale would not transfer well over to something like Star Trek. I just had gotten my wife to watch TNG with me as a preparation for Picard, and Star Trek was on my mind.
And then the next day in the shower a thought came to me: why exactly not? Why wouldn’t it work as D&D? There’s already a power scale in the setting, after all, they even have level titles like Ensign, Lieutenant, Captain…

One could, conceiveably, make a Star Trek game based on old school D&D.

And on I went: yes, you could have a certain amount of bridge personnel as the main characters, but you would have to change the classes, but that’s easy enough.

And we need different races, but that’s also simple, just make up Vulcans and Klingons and a few others.

And we don’t do money, because the Federation doesn’t do that, so we have to figure out who gets what stuff, and experience is gonna be mission based, and and and…

I already sat down and started changing my Labyrinth Lord based house rules into something I briefly called “to boldly go”, when I realized something: I am not that creative. Someone was bound to have come up with something like that before.

And yes, there were multiple Star Trek RPGs beforehand, but those were not really D&D, so they weren’t what I wanted.

But Taxidermic Owlbear pointed my to X-Plorers, Colonial Troopers, and Hulks and Horrors. The closest to Star Trek of those was X-Plorers. Still, it didn’t feel quiet like it. It felt more like some 50s pulp SF setting. Which is good as well, but not what I wanted.

And then I was thinking… wasn’t there something with a cover of nearly Star Trek uniforms on a bridge? Yes there was.

463px-Starships_&_Spacemen

Back in 2012 Dan Proctor published Starships and Spacemen 2nd edition. It’s the second edition of a game from 1977(!) and the reason I wasn’t thinking about it at first was because I had it mentally filed as a different game system than D&D.

Which is not really the case. It’s based on Labyrinth Lord, so copious amounts of files were employed to create a B/X D&D clone in a Star Trek setting, with all the serial numbers lightly filed off.

It is amazing. It was exactly what I was looking for. I think I might have to create a few scenarios for it.

It’s a bit of a pity that it is not more widely used though. It has the benefit of being compatible with a lot of old school type systems, so one could conceivably use monsters from all over the place in it. But it also is quite limited: it’s really a system that focuses on your usual Star Trek episode shenanigans, so even playing in the wider world of the quasi-Federation in the game becomes a bit of an issue. Well, in a similar way to normal D&D I guess.

The normal classes are replaced by some that evoke the usual classes of a starship. We got your command officers, science officers, engineers… and we have enlisted men who have a shorter experience track.

There are 8 races in there, most of which are broadly analogous to races in Star Trek (Taurans are clearly Vulcans).

Equipment is handled differently than usual. We don’t have money in the utopia of the Federation.sorry, CONfederation. But we can get equipment to use on our missions according to our rank. Cool, cool.

Starships and starship battles are rather simplistic, but one element that I love is the energy management mini-game that makes it necessary for players to plan out when to use transporters teleporters and when to use shields. Yes, you can beam yourself anywhere. But if you do that too often and there’s an attack you won’t be able to run your shields. Or run, period.

Monsters are like in Labyrinth Lord, with the exception of the hoard class, sentient aliens are treated differently and given random tables to allow to make unique humanoid aliens in the vein of the shows. The highlight being, of course, the 1d100 graphical table of various rubber foreheads. An idea so stupid and brilliant it shines.

The book only gives the scarcest outline of the setting. We are members of the space fleet of the Galactic Confederation and boldly go into the unknown. Sometimes we meet other races from rival star empires, like the slightly oriental looking Zangids and the fanatically religious Videni.

All of this is made to be adapted to the DM’s own table. One could make the Confederation smaller, with only the playable races as members, standing against the Zangids next door, or one could make a Confederation of hundreds of races and planets standing against a gigantic Zangid empire.

Or one could just replace the names of the races and use the background information from Star Trek, or maybe the Orville, instead. It would still work.

One also can use monsters from Labyrinth Lord in there. Rust monsters might be a fearsome threat to a starship. and why not have a small polity of mind flayers hidden in the darkness of space.

 

Overheard in the Dungeon 3

Ranger: I don’t like that Castellan. He sounds like a prick. Doesn’t even let us in to meet him. You know who I liked? That hermit in the forest. He was welcoming us into his house. That’s my kind of people…

Druid: He tried to stab you.

Ranger: It was just a wooden spoon.

Druid: He still tried to stab you.

Ranger: MY KIND OF PEOPLE, EXACTLY!

[Labyrinth Lord] Campaign on the Borderlands – Session 5

caves-of-chaos-b-c-orc-lairs-patreon

map of orc caves by Dyson Logos

Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Notes

And with this I am current. Session 6 is planned for tonight.

 

Session 5 – 25th of January 2020

Campaign Date: 27th of Goodmonth, 576 C.Y.

The story so far

In the last session our heroes ventured forth from Kendall Keep to subjugate the king of the Yellow Claw Orcs together with his son, Blood. Unfortunately that failed, so instead they decided to do something about the bandits that allied with the orcs.  

 

Adventure 7

The PCs went back to the forest to take care of the rest of the bandits. Unfortunately those birds had left their nest, and they only found the bodies and remains of the previous occupants. Mort managed to track the ones that fled outside the forest though, and soon enough found the tracks lead back to the caves. 

Here the remaining bandits had seemingly taken occupance of the former Ogre/Bear/Troll cave, and the horses were visible in front of the cave. 

 

The heroes, well aware about the connection between the former goblin cave and the Bandits’ cave decided to enter from the back, through the secret entrance. 

Unfortunately after waiting until nightfall (and the dwarf cutting a few wooden spears to train some weapon-making in what turned out to be the most randomly appropriate roleplaying choice of the session) they sneaked into the former goblin area. They soon enough encountered another problem in a strange, large, and bug-like creature with long tendrils munching away in the entrance area of the Goblin cave. 

The ensuing encounter basically stripped Rickhord from all armor besides his helmet and his wooden shield. Yes, it was  a rust monster, a being that was completely new to the characters. 

Luckily the wooden pikes created by Rickhord came in use, and the being was slowly but surely poked to death. 

The being was fast to attack and was found to disintegrate metal during the fight. The fight was rather tough, but was solved by the crude wooden spears Rickhord had carved during the time they waited  for nightfall. 

A discussion broke out on the use of this monster’s skin for armor, which was ultimately not resolved, but the group hid the rest of the monster’s body in a corridor in case they’d need it again.

The group sneaked into the ogre cave via the secret door. They first were greeted by horse backsides, but managed to pass those without causing undue noise. Then Mort killed the guard at the cave entrance with a skilled shot, and Sharn slit the throats of 3 of the 4 remaining bandits that were sleeping in the place.

They woke up a confused and panicking bandit who tried to ask for mercy. Asking about the location of his leader they found out they already had killed him. 

In the end the poor sap was killed even before they could ask the location of the bandit’s loot. 

They left with the head of the bandit king, and as it was still nightfall, they decided to use the early morning hours to check the bandit camp again for further tracks leading to their stash.

Thanks to some good tracking by Mort this was successful. A short distance to the south they found a small cave with a chest inside.

Inside they found two bags, one of which attacked them. 

After they dispatched the mimic, because that was what it was, they looted the chest and went back to the Keep.

They collected the loot for the bandit chief, and told him about the cultists.

Their further investigation into the matter also lead them to the chapel of St. Cuthbert, where they got introduced to the local priest, Father Ruediger the Calm.

They facilitated a meeting with the advisor of Castellan Rufus, an elf called  Illurian Stardust, talking about a magic ring they found, the rust monster, and the cult in question. They also mentioned the elven ruins close to the Caves.

Further investigations also found Fenrigar and Sharn make contact with Brother Barthomelew, a jovial cleric who healed them, but something seemed off with him. Questioning him brought no immediate answers. 

Then they set out again. 

 

Adventure 8

 

Afterwards they started investigating the elven ruins, and there found themselves to be stalked by a strange raggedy person. 

A bit of a chase and some friendly demeanor later they were talking to someone who claimed to be called Rufus, and told them over tea about all those bad things going on in the woods and his head. Unfortunately it was hard to seperate the two and in the end he started to stab the heroes. Fortunately at this point he only had a wooden spoon so this didn’t get far. 

Some more investigation of the ruins brought some orcs that were slaughtered. This spurred them to go back to the caves and see what could be done about the orc caves. 

They went and killed the two orc guards standing in front of the first orc cave, then found a remnant of orcs in the former common room, mostly women and children. The situation became quite tense as the group discussed what to do with them, but in the end they were let go, with the exception of one orc who was killed as a warning measure to the others. This horrified some of the other players.

The next orc cave also was was quick work off. The dwarf fell into a net trap as he charged into the caves, but the orcs that came afterwards were not really much of a fight while Fenrigar freed the dwarf. The six dwarves were killed almost instantly. 

They found another group of orc non-combatants and proceeded to chase them out of the cave. 

In the end they chased down the orc chieftain and killed him and his bodyguard. Then they went back to the keep, slashing their way through another group of recently arrived orcs. 

[Labyrinth Lord] Campaign on the Borderlands – Credit where credit is due

keep-on-the-borderlands

map of the Castellan’s Keep by Dyson Logos

So, I have been gamemastering a Keep on the Borderlands campaign. As you might have gathered from a few posts lately.

You might also have noticed that I adapted module B2 (Keep on the Borderlands) for my own use, with the aid of some additional materials and maps from all over the place. Which is of course how this module should be used.

B2 was written by Gygax in a week or so, but it shows that he knew what he was doing at this point. The module is both simple and expandable, a single keep and a complex of caves nearby, and if you want you can drop it anywhere you want.

In fact I have the sneaking suspicion that Seattle in the 1st edition of Shadowrun was just a reinterpretation of this all, it being a remote outpost surrounded by hostile lands and all that.

The setting

The setting is the land of Eor, south of the Dreadwood, in the Southern Flanaess.

The Flanaess is of course the name of the campaign area of the Greyhawk campaign setting. The land of Eor here is a rather forgotten part of the Kingdom of Keoland and originates in I2 Tomb of the Lizard King. I am unsure if it will really move towards this particular module in the end, but at least it gives some nice background for the surrounding lands.

Eor, in my view, is a basically forgotten part of Keoland. It’s south of the Dreadwood, and therefore even less accessible than the rest of the rather empty Keoland (I am subscribing to the interpretation of the empty Flanaess). The Keep is a fortress intended to keep the trade lines through the Dreadwood, and to Saltmarsh open, and to keep the monsters of the wilderness out. The placement of Eor in this area seems to originate in the old RPGA Living Greyhawk campaign, but I have drawn it from Anna B. Meyer’s fantastic maps of Oerth.

By the way, if you look at them and investigate closely you might notice that the placement of the locales of I2 is completely whack. You could not run the module with this map as the places are basically randomized over the area. According to Anna this was the doing of the people from the RPGA campaign and she only took the information from their material.

I added a few other things:

The name Kendall Keep, Sir Robin and the vanishing tower both come from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, that 90s revival module published in the waning days of TSR. Unfortunately that module is otherwise less than stellar. It has a few ideas that can be used to supplement the original B2, but is pretty much a mess otherwise. This begins from the introduction where it states that in the Flanaess Kendall Keep should be located in the Yeomanry, in a spot where many of the described features would never appear in the first place. Some people have noticed that the whole module was written in a way that might place it on Mystara rather than Oerth, but at the point it was published Mystara was dead as an official setting, and all overt references were scrubbed.

There’s a few ideas I got from three threads over at rpg.net. I don’t even remember most of it, but the orc Blood comes from there, as does the secret manual they found in Session 5, and the fact that the bandits all wear paper crowns. Other ideas might have informed some of the game as well.

The friendly lizard man was inspired by some ideas on the Fear of a Black Dragon podcast about exactly this encounter. It helped that the reaction roll was very similar.

I am using a slightly adapted wilderness encounter chart from Semper Iniativus Unum who made one specifically for this module.

I have also been using the faction development ideas from the Alexandrian. The article itself is technically a meditation on how to do this for whatever dungeon, but as he is using B2 as an example I still can just use it like that.

I don’t use the maps from the module, but rather those from Dyson Logos. They just look better. And are easier to use.

[Labyrinth Lord] Wheelies

The footsteps that you heard – which really ought to be called ‘handsteps’ – belong to three WHEELIES which now roll down the passageway towards you, forcing you back to the door. These creatures are peculiar beasts, having, instead of legs, an extra set of hands. They move by cartwheeling along at quite a rapid pace. Their heads – or at least their faces – are set in the centre of their chests. Whilst they are not well-practiced at swordsmanship given their awkward means of movement, they are excellent knife-throwers. Grasping knives from their belts as they spin along, they can launch them at a rapid-fire pace, like large catherine wheels. At the moment, three such knives are speeding their way towards you..

from Citadel of Chaos

One particular picture from the Fighting Fantasy books always staid in my mind: The Wheelies.

They are just so… bonkers. The more you think about them the less sense they make, but they also look so charming with their vicious grins and flat trousers. You just know that in real life they would

I love them. Even if they don’t make any bloody sense. No, I love them because they don’t make any bloody sense.

I think they come up in The Citadel of Chaos, and later in The Ridding Reaver.

Wheelies
No. Enc.: 1d6 (6d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 80’ (40’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1 +1
Attacks: 1 (weapon)
Damage: 1d6 or throwing dagger
Save: 0 level human
Morale: 4
Hoard Class: III (XX)

These beings might be one of the oddest things dungeon explorers have ever come across. These creatures do not seem to have any reason for existence. Nobody even knows how they eat or procreate. Larger groups often are found circling each other in rooms that allow it, smaller ones roam the levels of dungeons looking for trouble.

In many cases they will first throw daggers at any enemies they encounter, then try to bump into them if that does not work. If it doesn’t they are more likely than not to flee and try to restock on daggers

They often find employment as guards for wizards and other Lord.

 

Edit: I have been meaning to publish this post since… uhm… 2013? Wow. That was in my drafts for a long time. In the meantime someone else already published an article for, I think 3rd edition.

FB_FFL_Wheelies_largeAnd also neat, someone made them into miniatures. Because of course they were made into miniatures.

 

[Labyrinth Lord] Campaign on the Borderlands – Session 4

Japanese Magpie and Waterfall illustration from Pictorial Monogr

Japanese Magpie and Waterfall illustration from Pictorial Monograph of Birds (1885) by Numata Kashu (1838-1901) provided by awpixel.com

Session 1 Session 2 Session 3

This session was the last one before Christmas, and we were down two people again. As one of them was our usual host we met in a different location this time. Something of an adventure in itself as parking spaces were hard to come by.

The story so far

In the last session our brave heroes found themselves yet again in Kendall Keep in the lands of Eor, a half-forgotten province of the Kingdom of Keoland wedged between the Dreadwood Forest and the Hool Marshes.  They descended into the Caves of Chaos nearby and generally maimed, killed, burned and massacred the denizens thereof. They also found a few captives, rescued a few of them, killed one, and made friends with an orc. 

Adventure 5

The adventurers found themselves in Keep Kendall again. Previously, on the day before, bandits and orcs had attacked here and caused some loss of life.

Burmark and Jules were found to be alright, as both of them had been away from the Keep on their own business. They were rather surprised at the additional man-at-arms in the party, and the friends the party made in the meantime.

Burmark: I am gone for two days and you are now best friends with an orc prince?

After waiting for the next day and shopping at the market, they (minus Rickhord) headed towards the caves again, where they met with Blood during the evening hours.

The owlbear from one of the upper caves was rather active at this time, and was shrieking audibly up ahead.

The team decided to infiltrate the orc cave they had been in earlier. During a quick assault they took care of the lookout in the wall of heads with a quick arrow to the head, then made short work of the remaining guards in  both rooms. 

They did not encounter resistance in the cave itself and under Blood’s guidance made their way to his father’s room.

There the fight quickly spiraled out of control and the king managed to kill Blood, which made all the promises he made to them beforehand kind of useless. 

After looting the place they quickly went out of the cave again, but encountered the owlbear prowling the night. A fight ensued which led to both the owlbear and them scampering away into the darkness.

This all was hampered by the two NPCs carrying a large trunk they got from the orc cave. They decided to go back to the keep to open the trunk, only to realize that the ranger had had a crowbar in his backpack that he had forgotten during the adventure. 

Mort: I don’t think about my crowbar all the time.

Adventure 5 

High on these “successes” they decided to instead look for the bandit camps, as the bounty for the bandits had just been increased on account of, well, them raiding and attacking Kendall Keep. 

During the search they first caught sight of a tower at the bend of the road northwards, but when they checked the place in person it had disappeared. This mystified them a bit. They previously had been made aware of a disappearing tower in this area, but they still don’t know what to think about it all. 

They decided to go south into the fens to check for the bandits, but found not much they could use. They came upon the idea of using a druid spell to talk to some animals, and found a magpie to try this on. 

Jeckle, as he called himself, was very helpful, and gave them hints towards a nearby mound where beings like them lived. All big and without wings and with arms and legs.

Mort decided to investigate and did come across an entrance or at least a hole there, where he met a rather friendly lizard man (the roll on the reaction table was outstanding). The lizard man pointed out that yes, they had seen bandits, but that those had come from the direction of the south-west.

They investigated the woods in the south-west further and did find a few bandit sentinels standing guard. A use of some canny investigation by a combination of Jeckle and Sharn’s skills showed even more detail. Most of the bandits were drunk. A less proficient use of Mort’s abilities led to the camp and surrounding woods catching fire. Hard fighting ensued, with the drunk bandits trying to make their way out of this death trap while being slaughtered by the PCs.

 

Art and Inspiration: Floating World

Digital Capture

Hiroshige II – The Ferry at Yoroi, 1862

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Overheard in the Dungeon 2

The PCs just murdered nearly all members of a group of bandits in their sleep. Now the last survivor tells them their leader was also among those dead ones on the floor.

Druid: “Ok, lets look for any identifying marks so we can show the authorities his body.”

Dwarf: “Wouldn’t the head do?” holds up the severed head

Druid: “You cut off the head ALREADY?!”

Dwarf player to me: “I did mention that I was cutting off the head, didn’t I?”

I nod. 

Dwarf: “Well, obviously!”

[Labyrinth Lord] Campaign on the Borderlands – Session 3

B2ModuleCoverThis session was a bit more tight- story wise at least. Part of the reason I guess was that we were two people down.

Session 3 – 29th of November 2019

Campaign Date: 17th of Goodmonth, 576 C.Y.

The story so far

In the last session our brave heroes found themselves in Kendall Keep in the lands of Eor, a half-forgotten province of the Kingdom of Keoland wedged between the Dreadwood Forest and the Hool Marshes.  They descended into the Caves of Chaos nearby and generally maimed, killed, burned and massacred the denizens thereof. 

Adventure 4

At the beginning of the adventure Trevor is still missing [edit: and would never reappear again], and Burmark is laid up in his room fighting a dungeon disease contracted in the caves. Jules is there with him. [edit: retconned later to them being away outside the keep]

The rest of the group goes drinking and makes the acquaintances of John, a human warrior with a fondness of alcohol, and Sir Robin, a bard of renown looking for new stories to entertain his audience with. After some discussions and drinking they both get dragged along.

[John was played by a visiting player friend of our host, Sir Robin is an NPC]

Two highwaymen with paper crowns tried to waylay them but ended up dead in short order. 

The caves have changed from the days before. The impaled goblins have disappeared, so did the orcish guards on the other side, and so did most, but not all, bodies in the goblin cave. John decides to use one of the remaining goblin bodies as a hand puppet [sic!], but soon comes into conflict with the troll from the former ogre cave. The others recognize that troll by its burn marks as the one that attacked them last time, but which was not completely dispatched (meaning, burned to unregenerating ash). The troll is quite furious, and manages to basically rip apart the foolhardy John. [RIP John]

A quick search of the cave he was dwelling in finds a lot of butchered goblin and hobgoblin meat, and some treasures overlooked when last checked (specifically the arrows Burmark left in place last time, they soon were recognized to be of rather exquisite Elvish make Mort, who actually cared about arrows).

The group moved through the now empty goblin cave towards the secret door they discovered last time, and entered the hobgoblin area. They surprised a few workers and a guard that were busy stocking the storage room close by, forced some information from a hobgoblin, then moved upwards. 

Above they made short work of the guards stationed in front of the Hobgoblin King’s place, then tried the same with the guard room next door. This was less successful and alerted the king and his companions to also attack them, which they defeated with a few close calls [shields were splintered]. After looting the King’s room (finding a magic staff wand in the fire wood)  they moved forward through some secret doors that were supposed to keep the king’s quarters safe, and into an armory. The guards here were rather surprised to find them attacking from behind. 

The further investigation of the lair found a torture chamber where two largish guards were putting the works on a few prisoners. A few of them were a merchant, his wife, and an armed guard that promised reward back in the keep, another men-at-arms (Diego from the Hold of the Sea Princes)that promised service for a year, a gnoll, and an orc (Blood). 

The gnoll attacked as soon as freed, the orc asked for assistance against his father, the chieftain of one of the orc tribes. It seems Blood (that was his name) was sold to the hobgoblins to keep him from challenging the chieftain. They agreed that he would keep in the woods for a few days while they were going back to the Keep, and see what could be done afterwards.

On the way back to the Keep they noticed the Keep burning. It turns out during their absence the Keep was raided by a group made up of human bandits and orcs, attacking from two sides. This was helped by the drawbridge having been tampered with. [Plot intensifies]

 

Notes:

We had some nice roleplaying in this session. After the previous session where the last goblin was slaughtered due to religious differences, this time they struck a deal with the orc prince Blood. One might have to wonder how that will go next week.

It also sets up the fact that the Keep is not a static place. And that they have to start working on actually solving those problems I gave them or be left with no Keep to turn to anymore.

Dice Folklore

person about to catch four dices

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Last session I got into a talk with one of my players about Dice superstitions, or as I like to call it, Dice Folklore. He didn’t know what I even was talking about. But this is one of those delightful parts of the role-playing hobby that never really gets talked about, but I love the fact that these were actual things people were doing at the table. I think stuff like this makes the hobby seem more real, and more substantial, than just treating dice as the random number generators that they ostensibly are.

Now to be fair, this is not actually anything I have seen in person. Most of the stuff I have encountered were people doing some basic ablative gestures and maybe some chanting. Still, I love hearing about all those.

Here’s a few I came across

Don’t roll the die before you need it because you’ll use up your good rolls.

Always roll out the bad rolls before you need the die.

Once you have a good roll, don’t let the die sit idle for too long lest it “get cold.”

Your first set of dice is sacred. Don’t ever discard or mix them with other dice.

Always lay your dice with the lowest number facing up so the good energy can trickle downward.

Always lay your dice with the highest possible number facing up so the good energy can rise upwards.

Never allow ANYONE else to touch your dice. They will spoil them!

Specific dice are used for specific situations. You need different D20s for attacks, saving rolls, and what have you.

Before rolling a die, chant. Chanting will ease unlucky spirits.

If the status of a die’s luck is in question, keep it separated from the rest of the dice, lest it bring down the luck of the other

On the other hand, some believe mixing a single unlucky die with several lucky ones will make it roll better.

Some believe keeping them with good-luck talismans (e.g. a rabbit’s paw, a four-leaf clover) will let some of that good luck transfer over.

When not in use you should set a guardian to watch over them, e.g. a miniature or a small totem.

There are various rituals to prime or “cleanse” dice before use. They range from leaving them in a special place for a day to rubbing them on the tombstone of a deceased game developer.

Before rolling a die, the longer you shake it the more random the result.

Teach a particularly bad die a lesson by “punishing” it. This can be putting it in “the shame bag” or even the freezer

If a bad die is clearly cursed for all eternity, it must be destroyed while the other dice bear witness.

When not in use, keep the dice in the freezer to keep them cool. Cool dice give cool rolls.

When not in use, place a die in a pyramid. A pyramid focuses positive energy.

If you find that one particular die is lucky, you should name it, keep it in a special place, and sometimes talk to it so it knows it’s appreciated.