Saturday, December 28, 2019

3.5 Review - Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook

Title: Player's Handbook (3.5)
Code: N/A PHB 3.5, unofficially
Design Team: Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams
Rule Set: Dungeons and Dragons 3.5
Year: 2003
Pages: 320
Levels: Any
Rating: ★★★★

D&D 3.5 came out in June of 2003. It wasn't until 2007 that I even looked at it. I wasn't mentally prepared to make the huge jump from AD&D and Basic D&D to 3.5, but it turns out I was. This is "These Old Games", I'm not going to review a new game...

The difference between AD&D and 3.5 is huge. Where AD&D hosted all of your character's powers and abilities under the class description, D&D 3.5 gives a cursory example of powers under class then allows you to pick from a menu of abilities.

The system is a standardized d20 system. Standardization from the ground up is very good. One of the great advantages of 3.5 is it breaks every character down into a couple of stat blocks, which makes building a quality, unique character ease. Each character is made of 8 different categories of descriptions, all of which is uniform between classes. As per any type of D&D, you start with ability scores, then everything changes. You select a race, a class, skills, feats, character descriptors like alignment and religion, equipment and finally spells, if any. All characters have the first 7 items, while only spell casters have spells, obviously.

Races stayed basically the name, but the variety of non-human sub-races were put away, presumably so DM could style their own. Gone were most racial limitations, welcoming in an age of official Elven Paladins. Races have a preferred class rather than classes they cannot perform in.

The number of classes and their relationships have changed greatly. AD&D has 11, 12, or 15 character classes, 3.5 streamlined that down to 11. Magic user and thief were renamed to Wizard and Rogue. Bard are a real class which is welcome change. Assassin, Illusionist, Cavalier and Thief-acrobat were all gone, but not really. Also, multi-classing is normal and with few restrictions, while duo-classing is utterly gone. Few very class abilities appear in under character class, they are regulated to feats.

Every character has a set of skills based on their intelligence and class. Each skill is linked to an ability, so no more nerfed Charisma.

Feats are an incredible departure from AD&D. They are special abilities that are so varied that each class can be used to create a completely unique feel. They are wholly based on class and level, so you continue to grow after creation. You can use feats to bring back those lost classes: Assassin, Illusionist, Cavalier and Thief-acrobat.

One downside to the feats system is that it is unbalanced. Magic using players are going to want the ability to make magic items, so they will lose combative feats. Rogues will want observational powers, which in no way equates to magical or combat abilities. While some of the feats are chained together with prerequisite feats, sometimes you can get two things that pair in a very unbalanced way. Usually this comes into play when you get a bonus to initiative plus some other combat effective ability, so that character always goes first with a big hit.

Your character descriptors are pretty self-explanatory, what is your outlook, demeanor, etc. But 3.5 cranks up the effect of religion on your character. You are no longer a psuedo-Catholic priest, but a follower of something out of our world. Spontaneous casting should also falls under this category, but it is described with the classes. Basically, your character can cast whatever they feel like if they have this ability. Additionally, clerics can always cast healing spells if the need arises.

Equipment has been regulated to an abstract system, almost like a tool kit for the class. It reminds of Star Frontiers' Standard Equipment Pack. I find it odd and basically ignore it. Equipment lives in the half-world of wonderfully standardized rules vs. massively extensible character variety. The designers probably realized this and went with it to allow players to access equipment that is otherwise too expensive by the charts at first level. It's not that much of a problem, really because back in the days of AD&D, I, the DM, was forking out cool equipment on character generation day.

Spells have been completely revamped and tied back to the mechanical systems of the game. Additionally, they have been realigned with the various schools and those schools are often dedicated to specific classes. A 3rd level Wizard spell might be a 7th level Sorcerer spell. Also, being in tune with the mechanics of play, there are no oddball spells that work like nothing else in the game.

Back to the standardized rules. ALL information combat information appears in the Player's Handbook. Back in the 70s and 80s, you'd make a character then wonder what you were getting into. With this book, you know. There are a few things relegated to the DM Guide, but they aren't enough to slow you down. THAC0 and decending AC are gone. Your opponent's AC is your attack roll target number, which is reduced by your attack bonus. Combat is speedier, attacks come more often than AD&D. The rounds seem to take longer, but a heck of a lot can happen in a given round without reducing combat to "high roll wins all".

Saves have also been revamped to fortitude, reflex and willpower. It's a nice, easy system. I think it's far better than charts, even though I lament the loss of the marketing statement: "Includes 31 illustrations, maps and charts".

While I still prefer to play my mashup of Basic, Expert and Advance D&D, the benefits of 3.5 outweigh any negatives. If I were doing a one shot or something and didn't have anything in specific in mind, this would be my rule set.

4 of 5 stars.

You can grab a digital copy from DriveThruRPG for less than 10 bucks.

Friday, December 27, 2019

"You're the scum of the Sector!" Star Smuggler Review

Title: Star Smuggler
   Designer: Dennis Sustare
   Graphics Design: David Helber
   Map Art: Tom Maxwell
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
   Edited by Arnold Hendrick
   File prep for online publication: Eric Hanuise
   Digital Character Record Sheets: Ron Shirtz
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1982
Pages: 24 Page Rules Booklet, 20 Page Events Booklet
Number of characters: Solo adventure, many characters.
Rating: ★★★★

This game has a story to start the story. I came by my physical set back in the late 80s and loved it ever since.

But for the publishers, designer and author, the story was a bit more rocky. I don't know all of the details, but the Publishers, Heritage and the imprint Dwarfstar had a run of popular and cool games such as Barbarian Prince, Demonlord, Outpost Gamma, and Star Viking starting in 1981. These were all in house games created by Heritage/Dwarfstar. Two games were designed and created by outside designers, Dragon Rage and Star Smuggler. Hard times hit and the company and their imprint were down but not entirely out.

In 2003, Reaper Miniatures obtained the rights to many of these games allowed them to be reproduced online. (Click the link for all the games) In 2006, Dennis Sustare granted permission for limited online distribution by of Star Smuggler.

I snagged a photo of the game for this review. You can check out all of the art and the full game on Dwarfstar's website. I only mention this due to the Distribution Agreement at the end of this post, while the photo is probably fair use, I agree with the agreement below. Although I have a physical copy, I would like to thank Eric Hanuise for all the work in digitizing this game for online distribution.

So how does this game play? Very well for something probably designed, typeset and edited entirely by hand. You are playing "Duke" Springer, a business man turned criminal... maybe. Depends on how you roll, literally sometimes. After a quick read through the rules, you are ready to go. The rules spell out what you can do, but often not what you cannot do. That is to be expected in such a light weight game. Your character has 4 stats, hand to hand, ranged combat rating, endurance and cunning. All characters have the first 3, while only Duke has cunning. Cunning allows Duke to outsmart other characters and enemies.

To play, you write out your character stats, money and inventory on a sheet of paper. Recently, I don't know when, Ron Shirtz published a character record sheet and time tracker to make this task easier. You flip to e001 in the events book and you are off to adventure.
The future of the 80s was pink and green.
In the course of play, you can hire a crew, get in combat, buy and sell or run down many of the special events, some of which are relatively simply side quests. The goal is to pay off your debt on your starship, a total of 120,000 secs. or Sector Exchange Units. Every week you have 300 secs. interest payment and paying on principle doesn't reduce this amount. Back in the 80s, front-ending loans was thing, I guess.

The game has many locations where events occur and these locations are divided up in the System by planet and then planetary regions, like cities, starports, space stations, ruins, etc. It is a rather ingenious system which precludes oddities such a car dealer on a spacestation or military presence in a ruins, except for when those things would make sense in context. Travel from one area or planet to another eats a lot of game time, which is important for making those interest payments. You are totally on the clock, all the time, in this game.

Have you heard the phrase, "You need to spend money to make money"? That is totally true in this game. While it is a solo game, you need to hire a crew to be effective. And the crew gets paid, so you need to be sharp with your money.

How do you win? Pay off the ship. How do you lose? Die or lose the ship. Simple.

However, within the events booklet, there are seemingly dozens of different endings. I've never troubled to count the actual number but there are more than a few. The first time through, these auto-win, auto-lose events add flavor and spice, but on replay, they are an annoyance. Depending on your mood, you probably don't want to win or lose by a single die roll in a game that requires so many die rolls.

One of things that stands out in this game is the ever-changable scenery, the planets, tend to not so much scale as warp so you can have a very different experience on each one with the exact same mechanics. There are very few things in the game that change the mechanics, which is nice. The rules are dense, but once you have them down, they're easy to remember.

Some of the downsides to this game are many, but none of them are a deal breaker. The system has a simple but effective combat system, which is obviously lethal to participants. You can die in a shootout that leaves your crew alive, but purposeless. Game over. There are a number of cheap shot endings, which are annoying if you play frequently enough.

This game is actually complex enough to have a number of things in the middle ground as far as gameplay goes. First and foremost, there are some rather obvious things left out. You can pilot a ship, fight well and use a variety of weapons from ship guns to hand weapons. But you can't drive a skimmer, the 1980s' future version of a car. Skills can't increase, except Cunning. Combat is deadly in a vacuum, but can you depressurize your ship? Not covered, at least not as a purposeful action. Can you have two ships?

One of the stranger bits is the concept of "losing". There are a few events which specifically cause a lose condition, like death or imprisonment, but there are a number of ways to lose everything except your character. Is that a loss? Don't know. Without a ship, you can't do much, but you also have less of a chance of dying. So you can have series of lingering "not winning" scenarios.

There is a difference between the physical books and the digital files. Eric Hanuise remastered many of the confusing typos right out of the books, and incorporated all of the errata into the text. Thank you, Mr. Hanuise. The physical boxed set also had counters printed on the box cover edge. That did nothing for the box, which was sturdy before I cut it. Again, the counters have been reproduced and even improved. The ability to print as many counters as you like is wonderful, but I find myself using random counters.

The main upside of a programmed solo adventure is that it is always there for you. The big downside is, if you are a creature of habit, you can get yourself stuck in the game, repeating the same routes and sequences again and again. This isn't a limitation inherent to only Star Smuggler, it is inherent to all solo adventures.

All and all, I'd give this 4 of 5 stars even though it is one of my most prized games. It has a lot of bugs and flaws, but still worth a play or 100. Download it today.

DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT -- PLEASE NOTE Dennis Sustare has granted permission for digitized copies of this copyrighted game to be posted for public download. The game and files are NOT released into the public domain. You MAY NOT not sell these files or charge a fee for access to them. You MAY NOT distribute these files except as authorized by Dennis Sustare. PLEASE RESPECT THE TERMS OF THIS DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT so that these files can remain available for free download.
By downloading any files from this page you are certifying that you will abide by the terms of this distribution agreement. All of these conditions must be posted prominently and openly on any page or site providing access to these files.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

OSRIC Module Review - M06 The Warren

Title: SM06 The Warren
Code: SM-06
Author: Simon Miles
Rule Set: OSRIC
Year: 2019
Pages: 79
Number of characters: 6-10 characters
Levels: 5-8
Rating: ★★★★★

Today, I downloaded Simon Miles' SM06 The Warren. He publishes under the name Dunromin University Press, which has it's own website. I found it to be an excellent read even though I play a fused version of Basic D&D and AD&D, the OSRIC information seemed completely transparent in purpose. I don't think this particular module fits with my current campaign, it is clearly an homage to Keep on the Borderlands. I could totally use this as a high level one shot.

Oh, and the artwork is amazing.

The production values are just as high in this book as SM00, this module is loaded with artwork and maps. The maps seem to be a fusion of old school and modern styles, where I actually can't tell if they are wholly digital or a mixed media. One addition that this module has is little vignettes of the dungeon map by the text descriptions. These are obvious digital, but a very nice feature. Again, I really like his maps.

This module takes the party through the Burning Woods to the goblin heaven or haven of The Warren. The adventures start off with mere rumors and weapons to start their adventures. The maps cover miles and miles of terrain and the multi-leveled Warren. The module is 79 pages with zero filler.

Mr Miles describes this module as "challenging". After a read through it, that is an accurate assessment, but we're talking normal challenging, not Tomb of Horrors total party kill-fest. Additionally, Mr. Miles adds in tactics and weapons for the Goblin pack, which is a great bonus.

I am not sure what to make of the World of Barnaynia as yet, I feel that these modules under that banner are easily modified to plug and play anywhere, which is why a ranked these modules as high as I did. I would like to see and understand more of the World of Barnaynia, so I await more materials.

ORSIC Module Review - SM12 The Trials of a Young Wizard

Title: SM12 The Trials of a Young Wizard
Code: SM-12
Author: Simon Miles
Rule Set: OSRIC
Year: 2019
Pages: 48
Number of characters: 4-8 Characters, one must be a magic user.
Levels: 1-2
Rating: ★★★★★

A little while ago, I downloaded Simon Miles' SM00 A Traveller's Atlas of Dunromin and the Land of the Young. He publishes under the name Dunromin University Press, which has it's own website. I found it to be an excellent read even though I play a fused version of Basic D&D and AD&D, the OSRIC information seemed completely transparent in form and function. I feel like I could run this campaign setting with a couple of rule sets with little modification. Oh, and the artwork was spectacular.

I wanted to see how the rest of the series holds up so I downloaded SM 12, The Trials of a Young Wizard. The production values are just as high in this book as SM00, however, being a module, it doesn't show off Mr. Miles' artwork as much. The maps seem to be a fusion of old school and modern styles, where I actually can't tell if they are wholly digital or a mixed media.

One of the surprises in this book is the fact that it's a single module, it's actually 3 books in one. The titles are The Lost Son, The Return of the Cauldron of Millent and Murder at the Red Barn. Nice! Key information for the DM is bolded and the text boxes are infrequent and spare so that a seasoned DM has space to add flavor while giving a new DM important info to grow from.

The stories are linear from one adventure to the other, but the wording leaves wiggle room so that players can have their PCs recover between them. The second adventure begins with the line, "It's not a big deal really". So, feel free to recharge those PCs with a little R&R.

The mechanics of each story or module in this three part set take into account the character's limitations. The first is not particularly dangerous, figuring the PCs are low hit point starters. I would think that seating 8 players at the table would work better, and I am glad to see the module assumes this from the get go. One of the biggest changes from Basic D&D to modern rules is the assumption that there will only be a DM and 4 players vs. a DM and any number of players plus their NPC retainers. This is one of the reasons I prefer OSR and the older original stuff to the otherwise fine rules of later editions.

2019. That ship has sailed...

Ah, the campaign will continue in 2020. I've briefly spoken with all of the players and their primary concern was not getting killed by the Coven of Ash.

Well, that isn't a big concern on my part, but I can see how it bothers the players. They will be meeting with a Senator, either under hostile or friendly terms very shortly. He is a target of the Coven of Ash, he knows a fair bit about them, so he can explain them to the players. I have interjected the Coven as a means of making the town seem alive with the obvious benefit of having the characters interact with something very nasty early on. I don't want to surprise them later with something out of the blue.

I had hoped the characters would hop on ship at the next town, but they haven't taken the bait. In fact, they have refused the bait. Fine.

The ship has sailed on my main antagonists, the raiders. The players are clearly planning to head inland to avoid and frustrate them. The players are seriously pissing these guys off by showing up in the coastal cities and settlements, which makes the raiders believe they have a play at them, but then the party drifts inland. At some point, I am going to make the players aware that their behavior is saving many cities and towns from a good sacking.

Anyway, back to planning. I need to firm up my map of the city of Nace by the second week of January.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 44 - The Bountiful Pot of Perseverance

In this final post of the series, I have used the most recent
map of the peninsula to show how much things have evolved
over this series of posts. 
We are at the end of 52 Weeks of Magic. Due to the holiday, the posting of these items has been intermittent and out of order. I intended these two posts to occur on Christmas, which I managed to do, but they are not properly numbered because I believed that it would take me until December 31st to finish catching up with the series.

These last two items, The Bountiful Pot of Perseverance and The Spot of the Teapot are linked by a story from my campaign on the Peninsula of Plenty and real life events capturing the spirit of Magic and the Holidays.

Without further ado, here is the description of The Bountiful Pot of Perseverance. This magical pot, when placed on a fire will activate. Any scraps of food placed into the pot with water will be transformed into a hardy stew. Even the most meager scraps will magically be enough to feed a dozen people three meals a day.

How this device came to the Peninsula of Plenty is an elven legend. The first Elven colonies found the Peninsula to be very warm and snow to be a rarity even in winter, except for the mountains to the north. At that time, heating did not seem to be an issue and the elves naturally used magical lighting around their colony thus had little need for fuel.

In the third year after the establishment of the small port town, a blizzard swept down from the mountains and forced their ships to flee before the storm. All of the ships escaped home, but it was months before relief for the colony could be sent. As the Winter Solstice came and went, the food was nearly gone and the elves were trapped inside, with hardly any fuel for life sustaining fire. Exhausted and hopeless, the elves realized that survival was impossible. Cold and starvation is not fast and the elves could only wait for the end.

Three or four days after the solstice, the cold became unearthly. It was even too cold for snow. And as the dawn glinted off the Diamond Dust that hung in the air, the elves heard bells. And with the bells came a man. Or a dwarf or a woman. The only thing that the elves could agree on was this person was dressed in red, wore a fake beard and nose and carried several packages.

Their saintly benefactor gave to them many things, loaves of bread and teas and pots and earthen vessels and blankets. The survivors tried to thank their benefactor, but with a wink and a finger on the tip of his nose, he or she vanished into thin air.

The colony was saved and persevered through the harsh winter. To this day, the Colony is vigilant for foul weather, yet celebrates a great feast during the week of the Winter Solstice.

We are at the end of this series of wonder and magic.

I would like to dedicate this series to a friend, Gary, who was Santa for a great number years to many, many people. After his passing, his wife Katie took up his Santa hat and continued the tradition for many years until she awarded the mantle to their son, who continues the tradition for another generation. This series is dedicated to all people who place wonder and joy of others before their own needs, to create magic for others.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 43 - The Spot of the Teapot

I have used the oldest map I have of the Peninsula as a nod
to all the hours spent on creating this campaign. 
We are at the end of 52 Weeks of Magic. Due to the holiday, the posting of these items has been intermittent and out of order. I intended these two posts to occur on Christmas, which I managed to do, but they are not properly numbered because I believed that it would take me until December 31st to finish catching up with the series.

These two items are linked by a story from my campaign on the Peninsula of Plenty and real life events capturing the spirit of Magic and the Holidays. These stories will be a part of The Bountiful Pot of Perseverance post, which will be out later this morning.

The Spot of the Teapot is an unusual magic item. It has multiple parts that do many things. The Teapot has a basket, which when filled with bark, leaves or grasses will produce 8 gallons of savory and warming tea per day. Drinking the tea will fortify the drinker against cold for 8 hours.

The second half of this magic item is the fire ring which protects the teapot from the coals of the fire. This ring will cause any sized fire to warm the teapot and the area around it for 24 hours, after which more fuel must be added. This area is variable, but large enough to hold about 10-12 people.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 51 - Amulet of Fortuna

The Amulet of Fortuna is a simple device that provides special luck to the wearer. If the wearer fails a saving, they are immediately entitled to a second saving throw.

The magic of this devices is peculiar. It will only allow a single successful reroll per day. However, if the reroll fails to bring luck to the wearer, it will afford another save to a completely different event later in that same day. This can happen over and over until the wearer gains a bit of luck.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 49 - Oakheart's Staff

Oakheart's Staff is a clerical weapon which confers a bonus of +1 to hit and to damage. The staff can also cast Shield and Protection from Evil, once per day, each.

The true power of the Staff is it's ability to remove status effects over a radius of 30 feet. Raising the Staff in this way will have the following effects:

1) Unconscious and sleeping characters will be awoken immediately.
2) All people in the area of effect will recover 1 hit point.
3) All manner of bonds, such as ropes and shackles, will fall off.
4) If someone is under the effects of poison, a spell like charm, or a curse, they will be allowed another saving throw.

All four of these effects happen simultaneously and affect friend and foe alike. This power may be used once a day and costs one charge. The staff has 50 charges.

This staff effects the casting of Create Food and Water. It will double the strength of these spells when used in the process of casting. This effect is unlimited and costs no charges.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 52 - Cloak of the Magi

The Cloak of the Magi is a dangerous defense for a character to wear. This is a leather cloak imbued with the essence of a demon. The demonic power contain within requires that the owner not wear other magical defenses such as rings, bracers or any other device that confers a bonus to AC.

In exchange for this sacrifice, the Cloak acts as AC 4 armor. Second, the demon will ask the wearer to cast a spell at it. The effect casting a spell into the cloak is to create a magic barrier between the wearer and damage. The barrier will have hit points equal to twice the level of the spell cast at the cloak.

Once empowered in this way, the demon can defend the wearer against critical damage. If struck by a natural 20 or maximum damage, the cloak will strike out at the attacker. The victim is entitled to a saving throw vs. magic spell. The attack does 1d6 hp per round and the cloak will attack until the target is killed or makes a saving throw.

If the victim passes the save, the Cloak will turn against it's wearer attacking for 1d6 points of damage unless they make a saving throw. The Cloak will only make one attempt on it's owner's life. Passed or failed, the wearer's saving throw or the death of either the wearer or his or her attacker will depower the cloak until another spell is cast into it.

Note, if the character is struck by an item for damage which has no obvious source, the cloak will trigger it's attack sequence on the wearer unless a saving throw is made. Examples of damage which will trigger an attack are: magic spells cast from beyond visual range, a dart trap, falling debris, etc. Damage that are natural consequences will not trigger an attack. For example, poison ingested, fire, and falling.

Empowering the cloak "charges" the cloak for 24 hours. The barrier against attacks is not an increase in the user's hit points, it is a distinct thing separate from the wearer and the cloak. Casting a new spell into the cloak to recharge it will cause the barrier's hit points to reset to the last spell level used. The cloak always has a AC of 4, whether it is charged or not. If the wearer refuses to remove other protective devices, the AC bonus of the Cloak is nullified.

While magic using characters benefit the most from this cloak, any class can wear it. The cloak will only accept a spell from the wearer, someone else cannot charge the cloak up for the wearer.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 50 - Flask of Dīs Pater

The Flask of Dīs Pater is an unusual curiosity. It appears to be empty under normal circumstances, but when shaken, it sounds like it is mostly full of a liquid.

The purpose of this item is preservation and rescue. If a character is reduced to one or less hit points, drinking from, or pouring the flask into the beleaguered character cause them to fall into a deep coma. The coma stops all reoccurring damage, such as poison. In the event that the person has less than 1 hit point, it will preserve the body at the edge of death. This property allows a cleric to cast a heal or cure spell on the person, even beyond the point where such a spell would be effective.

In the case of a character having a single hit point, they will recover from the coma in one hour, with one addition hit point.

There are limits to the flask's power. First, the coma only lasts 24 hours per sip or pour. Second, if the magical healing is not enough, the person will die immediately as the spell is cast. Magical healing is the only thing that will restore a character. Two or more clerics working together could cast two or more healing spells simultaneously in increase the odds of keeping the person alive.

The only way to see the liquid is to accidentally dribble it while drinking or pouring into a person with an actual need. It is crystal clear and smells strongly of honey and mint.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 48 - Bullet of Impedance

Bullets of Impedance are magical sling ammunition. They are usually found in groups of 5 or 6. They are +1 weapon weapon to hit, but impose a magical effect instead of damage.

When a target is struck by the Bullets of Impedance, a maelstrom of wind afflicts them for 1d4+1 rounds unless they save vs. magic. There are 3 effects to this magical force. All attack rolls are at a - 1. Second, any spell current being prepared is lost and any attempts to cast a spell are hampered by the blast of wind. The third effect is actually beneficial to the target, their AC is improved by one against melee attacks and by 2 for missile attacks.

If a spell caster attempts to prepare a spell under these conditions, they will find the task impossible. They will not "lose" the spell as they can't even start the process.

While described as a wind, it is more like ghostly hands pulling and pushing the victim around unpredictably. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 42 - The Law of Verbena

The herb named Verbena is a cultivated leafy herb from the city of Nace. In nature, Verbena is extremely hard to find and can only be harvested at night. The leaf can be dried for use later or used immediately to staunch bleeding and heal 1d4 points of damage per use. Applying or ingesting the leaf will purify the wound and sanctify the user. Each leaf is sufficient to heal 3 times or three different people.

When used dry, it is typical stored within an earthen vessel and each leaf is handled with a hilt-like device, which acts as both tweeters and handle.

The Law of Verbena comes from one of the side effects of the leaf's use. Typically, the leaf cannot be handled without healing the healer, even with the handle like tool. When healed by the herb, the user is marked with The Law of Verbena. They will glow with a soft light, they will radiate an aura of good and will repel evil 10' for three days after healing. These are the minor effects of Verbena.

The Law of Verbena will curse anyone who injuries the healed during the effects of healing. For this reason, all healing must occur in a temple and the healed and healer must remain within it's confines until the minor effects fade. Should that person be deliberately injured while sanctified, the attacker will suffer a powerful curse. They will lose 1d3 hit points and half of their constitution for 7 days.

This curse was anecdotal know from it's discovery, but not always believed. Under the cruel rule of the Emperor Asinusistic, an elven prisoner was tortured for information. Asinusistic healed the elf to keep the process going. He was immediately struck down the curse.

Over the next seven days, the Capital of 75,000 was stricken with the curse. Many people died outright and the city was thrown into chaos. Asinusistic survived the initial curse, but subsequently died when he was thrown from the palace rooftop. News of his death stopped the Elven incursion and it was another generation before hostilities started anew.

Monday, December 23, 2019

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 47 - The Scryer's Beads

Hermin, the King's sister holds a crystal ball
and is scrying a human court house.
The Scryer's Beads are a magical item used in conjuncture with a crystal ball. The device is rather simple in nature, if a bead is touched to crystal ball, the crystal ball will be able to "lock on" to that bead and allow for scrying by anyone using that particular ball. The beads confer the ability to use the crystal ball to anyone, regardless of magical ability. Typically the beads are found in groups of 12 on a chain. Each bead appears as an attractive trinket to be worn.

Anyone holding the crystal ball can switch from bead to be bead on command.

This item first appeared in The Kobold's Folly, which is a series of maps available on DriveThruRPG.

In that book, the Scryer's Beads were separated from the crystal ball and the kobolds do not have the ability to use the crystal ball effectively. The beads were taken from a horse thief in a small provincial town and are sitting on the bench of the local judge.

The Kobold King's sister, Hermin, is in possession of the crystal ball and frequently scries the court room. Hermin believes she is seeing the high court of a human king. Observations of the rural court house have caused the kobold tribe to believe a great number of strange things about human royalty and legal proceedings, which they seek to emulate. While this may be amusing, the tribe has developed a hatred of horse thieves, and perhaps a taste for them.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 46 - The King's Cold

One of Minwan's subjects holds the King's Cold.
The King's Cold is a magical item owned by the House of Minwan, a tribe of kobolds. It is one of two magical items found by the tribe in the Folly that they now live in. They do not understand the nature or purpose of this torc-like device and it serves as a crown to the kobold king.

King Minwan has observed that the torc will make him unnaturally cold, even on the hottest days on the savanna. This is one power of the device, but isn't it's true purpose. Minwan does not like to wear the torc as a crown due to this property, he is often seen fidgeting with it. On particularly hot days he uses it as a reward, passing it from kobold to kobold so they may gain relief from the heat. This closer to the device's true purpose.

Before the Empire came with it's roads and supply lines, the indigenous half-elves created many of these devices to support their construction efforts. Each crew was 11 workers under a supervisor. The supervisor was identified by his torc, a mark of office. As he gave out assignments, the workers would tap the torc on his arm. This conveyed 4 hours of immunity to the sunburn and proofed them against the heat. When the work was fully completed, the supervisor would often bury his torc as an offering. The kobold's digging in the Folly uncovered the device that is now known as The King's Cold.

There are variants which protect against cold as well as heat.

This item first appeared in The Kobold's Folly, which is a series of maps available on DriveThruRPG.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 45 - The Rings of the One

Today, we have a jump in numbering. Items 43 and 44 will be a part of a story and will be posted when that story is complete.

The Rings of the One are a set of rings normally found in a ornate, locked box. They should be considered an artifact level magic item, however, they can be destroyed by mundane means, unlike other artifacts. Roll on the following table to determine the number of rings contained therein:

01 - One Ring
01-30 - 3 Rings
31-75 - 5 Rings
96-97 - 7 Rings
98 - 9 Rings
99 - 11 Rings
100 - 99 Rings

In order for the rings to work, the complete set must be used, one ring per person.

Each ring allows the wearer to add their Dexterity bonus to initiative rolls at the cost of their Dexterity bonus in combat. They are unlikely to loose initiative, but their reflexes are muted for the duration of the combat. Removing the ring does not remove this penalty for the duration of that combat. This is the cost of Rings.

If multiple rings are found and all are worn by different people, the extreme power of the rings becomes evident. If there are not enough willing people to don all of the rings in the box, then only the first power is in effect. In addition to the cost above, all wears gain many other powers at the cost of their will. This is not subject to a saving throw initially, each wearer must be a willing subject of the Ring's powers. Later, they may change their mind.

First, all hit points of all wears are combined into a single total. No individual will fall in combat so long as one hit point remains in the pool. If the pool is reduced to zero, all of the wearers fall down dead or unconscious. If a wearer has the ability to regenerate or heal, those points are added to the total hit point pool at the same rate they would normally be returned to the wearer. If the hit point pool was 11 and a wizard regenerated two points per round, the pool would be increased by 2 every round. The same goes for a healing spell, all points go to the pool. If one wearer of the ring is incapacitated somehow, they will continue to stand and fight even if they should be asleep or unconscious. Wearers are immune to powers of the mind and cannot be charmed, slept, paralyzed, etc. They can be poisoned, knocked down, tricked by an illusion, teleported away, etc. If one ring is completely destroyed or removed from a wearer, all abilities are lost for that person immediately and everyone else in the next round. In the case of destruction of any one ring, the whole set loses all powers, forever.

Second, one person is selected as the leader by vote. That character's abilities and skills are paramount. If the leader was a thief and the rest were fighters, everyone regardless of class would make all rolls as thieves. These rolls are made at the individual's level, not that of the leader. None of the abilities of fighters could be used because their personalities and knowledge are suppressed. Once this leader is selected, it cannot be changed except when the whole group removes all of the rings to restart the voting process.

The voting process is silent. Once the rings are on, no debate can occur. Players simply point at the person they wish was in charge. If no leader is selected, none of the rings powers are activated. A vote can be carried out every round before initiative is rolled.

Third, special abilities possessed by the lead character may be used by anyone in the group, but only to the extent of normal usage and limited by the level of the individual rather than the leader. In the above example of theft and fighters, one fighter could backstab as a thief while another could pick a lock. But two players could not backstab in the same round nor could every player pick a lock. One thief, one specific use of one ability per round. No player would be permitted more attacks per round as a fighter because the thief is in control. If a fighter was in charge and of high enough level, multiple attacks per round from each character would be permitted.

Fourth, magic works differently for this hive mind. A caster in the role of leader is still able to use spells, but the spells may originate from any person wearing a ring. This allows the use of spells from a more beneficial location. Only the magical abilities of the leader are available and are limited by the caster's ability. If a magic user was the leader, he could permit his magic missile spell to originate from a cleric who was also wearing a ring, but no one could use a clerical spell or ability because the magic user is in control. The ring wearers may not cast multiple spells per round, but could utilize spell like abilities of magic items, if the leader was also able to use that magic item.

Fifth, the weapon proficiency of the leader are extended to the rest of the group, while the lack of proficiency by the leader does not reduce other characters abilities. For example, a fighter under the control of a mage still remembers how to use a sword. A magic user under the control of a fighter can also use a sword.

However, moral limitations DO affect all in the group. A cleric in control of a fighter would not want the fighter to use a sword. If there was no blunt weapon available for the fighter, the fighter would use the flat of the blade or the hilt as a weapon. In the reverse situation, a cleric would be forced to remove the ring to avoid using a sword.

Sixth, there is a bonus to strike if more than one ring wearer attempts to strike a single target in the same round. Each subsequent attack in a round gains a plus one to hit. This is because the Rings allow coordinated attacks, so a miss might set up a later strike. This bonus resets to zero every round.

If one character, other than the leader, wished to cancel the effects of The Rings of the One, they must make a saving throw vs. magic to remove the ring. When this occurs, the powers of the Rings are canceled immediately for that one person and in the very next round for all others. The hive mind effect is canceled completely until that ring is put back on by a willing person. This save causes a noticeable but slight blanch or hesitation in all of the characters but doesn't effect them otherwise. The same happens if someone is disintegrated, turned astral, dispelled, etc.

Removing one ring could place specific characters in hazardous situations, such as a magic user leading an assault on a castle gate might lose some combat abilities at a critical moment.

Groups wearing the ring cause a special morale check in the second round of combat. There is a significant creep factor in seeing a group move as one entity which will cause fear.

The leader is not able to read the minds of others, only issue commands which must be followed. The other CAN read the mind of the leader.

When the powers of the rings are canceled, every character is healed for one hit point before the pool of hit points is divided evenly. All hit points divide are rounded down and must be awarded equally, meaning that all characters could end up with a single hit point and nothing more. Basically, taking the rings off cannot kill the wearer, but could leave them in dire straits.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 41 - The Empty Bouquet

The Empty Bouquet comes in a variety of shapes and forms. It most commonly appears as a mask that covers the eyes, nose and mouth, but sometimes only two of the three. Occasionally, the mask is merely a container that is held against the face. The Empty Bouquet is filled with a collection of spices, flowers and herbs to defend against disease. When the eyes, nose and mouth are completely covered, the device provides total immunity. When only two of the three are covered, the wearer receives a plus +4 to save.

Each packet of spices, herbs and flowers will function for 8 hours before being consumed by the device.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 40 - The Baker's Vessel

The Baker's Vessel is another magical product found in the homes of the very rich. It is a large earthen jar which when filled with dough, will produce bread on it's own, without leavening agents or external heat source. Each Vessel will produce one loaf of bread per hour, typically enough per day to feed 10 or 12 people.

To function, the Vessel must be placed in a designated space. This is usually a counter top, but could be anywhere chosen by the owner. Multiple Vessels will not function in the same building or property, which is why this product is a household item and not a commercial or industrial product. For example, if one owned a house with a garden shed, placing a Vessel in each building would not work. Only the first placed and filled vessel would work. If somehow one contrived to place and fill two of them simultaneously in two different buildings on the same property, which one worked would be random. One exception is in apartment buildings. Each apartment's Vessel would function normally, so long as the renters are of different families and are separated by a door.  Many people have tried to make this work on an industrial level and these quirks prevent it. The Vessel somehow knows if someone is "gaming the system".

When in operation, the Baker's Vessel will turn red hot. This can be used to warm a room, but is not a fire hazard. Touching the vessel conveys the power of heat resistance, but curiously, people will find the vessel impossible to lift when in operation. It cannot be tipped, opened, or otherwise moved while working. When the bread is done, the vessel will cool to room temperature instantly, while the bread inside will remain hot until removed. This magic prevents decay and molding.

Some cultures have special Baker's Vessels which produce stacks of flat breads instead of loaves.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 39 - The Miller's Device

The Miller's Device is small hand held box. It is used to grind grains to flour. It is typically found in the homes of the very rich. It will grind enough flour for one day's baking needs of the house. These items are usually proportional to the size of the household, but as households change, sometimes the device will be to small or large for the house it supports.

The device is self-driven and can be left unattended, except in the case where it is too small for the house and needs to be refilled with grain. The functioning of the device creates a loud grinding sound and moves on it's own. It can mill enough flour for the house in 4 hours, even if it needs to be reloaded several times.

The device merely grinds grains, it does not create anything.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 38 - Ponderous Crampons

Just like the name implies, the Ponderous Crampons fit over boots and secure a climber to a surface. The Ponderous Crampons allow someone to walk on not only ice, but also on walls and ceilings. Movement is limited to a prosperous walk. This device causes each footstep to resound like a giant metal shod foot. The user will behave as if gravity is pointing at their feet, but any item released will fall in the correct direction for normal gravity.

The user is slowed incredibly and cannot sneak up on anyone. However, if they are motionless and on a wall or ceiling, they will receive a +1 to surprise. In combat, the wearer loses their Dex adjustment if standing on the ground. However, the bonus returns if they are standing on walls or ceilings. This is due to the novelty of the situation, not a return of speed. Likewise, thieves attempting to hide in shadows receive a +10% bonus if they abandon the floor for another unusual surface.

The Ponderous Crampons lock firmly on the feet with a sort of crank like contraption. It takes two rounds to don them, but only 6 seconds (a segment) to remove them with the release switch.

52 Weeks of Magic - Item 37 - Splayer's Clothe

The Splayer's Clothe is a magic item used for many purposes. It has a tacky surface that holds things in place on a table. Many people use this item to hold complex parts in place while working on them. It is usually the same size of the table it is used on, perhaps a 48" by 60" oval.The magic of this item allows the user to fold the Clothe up while items are in place. Items resting on the clothe are not disturbed by this folding. The items end up in an extra dimensional space when folded.

While it is meant for taxidermists, tailors, cobblers, and other working people, adventurers can find strange uses for the Splayer's Clothe.

Items in the extra dimensional space are frozen in time. They will not rot, mold, cool, or warm while in the space. Hot or cold food can be wrapped up like this for preservation, as can a body. The only rule for placement is that the shadow of the item to be folded needs to fall entirely on the clothe. A standing person at noon can be folded up, as can someone in a darken room. The user can manipulate the environment to cause shadows to fall entirely on the clothe.

If a person is folded up, they maintain their original orientation when unfolded. People could be standing up, lying down or anything in between when folded, so long as their shadow is entirely on the clothe.

In the case of living creatures, they will be frozen in time, and will require no food, water or air. They cannot unwrap themselves as they can't move or think in this state. It is virtually impossible to wrap one's self up, as this would likely violate the requirement of keeping your shadow on the clothe.

The duration is unlimited. Unfolding a found Splayer's Clothe could be fun or perilous.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Character Sketch - Senator Vitus

I'm not sure if we will get a chance to play over Christmas break, but I want to sketch out a couple of characters for our next session. 

First, the players have asked for a few more NPC followers. With the exception of a new cook, I am going to make the party act out the hiring process. Right now the party has 9 low level characters, four of which are NPCs. I don't mind the endless parade of hired help, the players aren't asking that these NPCs engage in combat. Cooks and horse handlers are fine, but I'll push back if they start looking for gladiators or other combat orientated NPCs. 

On my side of the equation, I need a few more NPC to flesh out the city of Nace. In our last session, the party chased the elven warband around and the elves managed to slip away. Where did they go in a xenophobic, human-centric city?  

They are hiding in the house of Vitus. 

Senator Vitus has a couple of connections to the story so far. He is the third son of Senator class citizen. He lives in Nace, but travels to the Capital for his duties to the Empire. As the third son, he wasn't expected to amount to much and was a miller before the deaths of his two older brothers. The oldest brother was assassinated for pushing for manumission of all slaves in the Capital. The other brother was killed in a skirmish with the elves out on the frontier. These two events shaped Vitus. 

He is a self-made man, having worked his way up in the family business of milling before establishing his own milling company. He specializes in milling the magical herbs and plants from Nace and is extremely rich as a result. Vitus only employs slaves in his own household on a routine basis, most of his workers are freedmen and women with only a handful of slaves in administrative positions in his business. 

After the death of his brothers, he became a stoic, seeking to mitigate the ills of the world in his life. Vitus is a 3rd level monk. He believes that slavery is wrong and a fruitful peace with the elves and dwarves is necessary. This is why he is harboring the elves. He has ingratiated himself with several temples and cults in the north of the Empire and is friendly with several powerful mages in Nace proper. 

He is a thorn in the side of the Coven of Ash. They would kill him in a heartbeat, if given the chance. The massive resources of Vitus and his family are the only thing keeping him safe. He has his own unit of assassins for counter intelligence and personal safety. 

He does have one vice, alcohol. It isn't much of a vice as he selects a couple of bottles and partakes in them only on holidays until he is roaring drunk. This results a private party where he frees one or two of his slaves. The members of his household know about this and are aware that this continuous stream of freedmen annoys the conservative in the Senate and many people in Nace, such as The Coven of Ash. For this reason, his household will prevent him from freeing more than one or two slaves each holiday. When he is in this gregarious mood, the slaves of the house draw lots. The losers absent themselves from Vitus's presence on these days so they cannot be picked for freedom. 

Several years ago, Vitus freed his whole household at once, and the Coven of Ash killed them all. Vitus's response was to target the assassins and personally executed one of the witches himself. Since then, the household has been careful to make sure this isn't repeated as they don't want their freedom to be a death sentence.  

My to-do list is to make some peasant type characters for the household and for the players to hire. I need a character sheet for Vitus and his assassin bodyguards. A handful of magic users and clerics should also be generated. The characters will probably ask to meet some of these people, too, given that Nace is a magical place.  

I hope to be done with all of these by Monday. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Going Off The Rails - Part 5. The death of Bloodless Jack

Back in Part 3, I posted about how the characters confused their nickname for their opponent with his actual name. "Bloodless Jack" was a character nickname for a deadly pair of brothers, Marcus and Alex. Marcus was the warrior while Alex was the assassin. When cornered, the warrior answered with bluster and the characters killed him off.

Of course this enraged his brother Alexander, the actual assassin. Alex retreated to his brother's mountain top Keep and sent wave upon wave of assassins to kill the player characters.

That obvious didn't work, anything less than Bloodless Jack himself was not going to be strong enough to take the whole party. Eventually, the hunt was turned on it's head and the players located Alexander's mountain top abode. Then they did something weird.

They could have stormed the fortress themselves, or raise an army to do so, but they did neither. They hired a sage to give them instructions to recharge the Staff of Wizardry. I messed up that plan with a rather obvious counter. The Staff needed to be recharged under the full moon within a mountaintop keep. You know, Alexander's Keep.

Why not?

The players had exactly 8 charges in the Staff. They went to Plan B. They hired a horde of dwarves and hobbits to scout the land around the keep. They were smart about it, one assassin, one ranger and one hobbit per dwarven party to handle any natural or unnatural threat. They had several dozen parties. It was easy work, because they weren't being asked to fight, only scout and run.

I wasn't going to let the players assassinate Bloodless Jack, so a couple of the parties were captured and killed.

But raiding and sneaking wasn't their game. The dwarves found a weak point on the side of the mountain, a cliff face that couldn't be hit by weapons fire from the Keep. They used a Dig spell to remove the soil from the area. The dwarves dug an entrance 10 feet deep into the rock and near this opening the party and their minions assembled.

From their base, they attempted to storm the walls while the dwarves dug in another 20 feet. Then the plan changed. The characters retreated to their hidey hole and the wizard went to work. He used the remaining charges of Passwall to carve a hole deep into the mountain. The dwarves shored this cave open with their stonecraft and everyone else jammed all manner of debris in the unnatural cave. Within the hour, they had dozens of barrels of water, oil, bits of trees, rocks, mud, and dirt lining the Passwall cave.

When the mage concluded that enough junk blocked up the passageway, he released the outer Passwall spell inwards, sealing everything in place like a cork. From there, it was simply a matter of running away from the Keep, but being mindful not to run straight down the mountain.

As each Passwall spell expired, all kinds of flammable or incompressible material was crushed inwards. The pressure was incredible. The mountain cracked and the Keep came off it's foundations. The whole thing plunged to the base of the mountain. Bloodless Jack suffered a Disney-like death, but the players were thorough. They made sure they found a body.

It was a fascinating exercise in the physics of magic. One that I will never allow to be repeated. This was too much work to get rid of one bloody, +1 Staff.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Going Off The Rails - Part Four

Back in 2015, I started this series about having stuff go haywire at the game table and never finished it. The first post was about playing for far too long and having wacky $hit happen because the players were too tired to think straight. Post two was about making a bad DMing choice and having the players run with it. Post three was about the players jumping to bad conclusions because the DM believed they understood. Post four should tell you about how the players defeated the evil Assassin, Bloodless Jack, but it won't!

Since this is the fourth post, let me tell why I can't tell you about Bloodless Jack's end. I need to set up the scenario as it played out, so I need to back up a bit.

This post is about a different type of mistake leading to player high-jinx. My campaigns have always been a blend of Basic, Expert and Advanced D&D. One quirk from the Moldvay-Cook expert set is the Staff of Wizardry. One of the functions of this item is the spell Passwall, which doesn't appear in either the Basic or Expert set. As far as I know, this spell is only in Advanced D&D. We used that book right along side the Moldvay-Cook set, so everything was fine.

So... anyway, I let one of players have this Staff of Wizardry. The character in question was about 5 or 6th level, so he had access to powers that I never anticipated. I saw "+1 staff" and thought it would be fine.

Once I realized my mistake, I decided to take it from the player in epic fashion. I would simply present him with so many opportunities to use it, he would run out of charges. He would keep the +1 weapon, but loose all of the crazy powers in an incredible display of force. He'd get a great story and I would "unwind" a stupid DM mistake.

No, no, it is never that simple.

As the characters hunted Marcus and Alexander, I needed to crank up the power level of the minions. The characters were now battling mounted knights with lances. I expected with the powers of the Staff of Wizardry, they'd get cooked and the charges would be burned up.

Oh, and did they get cooked. The mage got cornered by some knights. It sort of looked like this:

He let the knights get within 10 feet of him. I figured he'd do something cool to fry them or die trying, either one of which would solve my problem.

You know, it didn't play out like that. He decided to offensively cast passwall to create an opening in the ground right in front of the charging Knights. The hole would be at a 45 degree angle down, it would start in front of the mage and go backwards under him like a ramp.  


He drew me a picture, which was probably better than this: 

That was creative. And super fatal.

Exactly what could I say to this scenario? Horse one plunged down the ramp and slammed into a wall of dirt at top speed. Horse two plunged into a hole and into horse one at top speed. Horse three plus the fact that each rider was wearing plate with a lance set before them was worse than a train wreck.

But the player wasn't done. As soon as the last horse plunged down the hole he wanted to close it. Violently.

Holy crap.

The other characters stopped him. Their plan was to close the hole slowly, so they could rescue the horses. Sure they would need healing, but they were fine mounts.

My ruling on that was "Yes, you can close the hole slowly. But those horses are going to hate you, forever even if you heal them. You can buy your own horses in the next town. Deal?"

It was deal. But the seeds were planted.

We debated on how passwall was a great offensive spell, but also debated its various functions. Yes, the hole can be orientated any way you wish, including straight down. No, you can't cast passwall into the air above you to enter other dimensions. Nor does it cause movement against gravity.

But what about the closing of the hole? How does that happen? The PHB is not really specific, so we came up with some guidelines.

You could close the hole in a controlled fashion, where the bottom closed first, gently pushing anything in the hole out. The hole can be closed violently, where the entire length of the tunnel collapses in trash compactor style. Anyone inside can escape so long as they are able to move. They take minor (1d6) damage from being scraped and battered geting out. Option three, the hole closes from the open side in, anyone in the hole must make a save vs. death to escape before total obliteration occurs. Failure results in horrific screams from the very earth with a ketchup laser effect.

The last option was one of the better mistakes I've ever made.

Next post, I can tell you how Marcus and his brother, Alex, a.k.a Bloodless Jack were finished.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Update on Dad's Crusader Era Castle

I have second video of Dad's Crusader Castle. He wanted to demonstrate how easy the thing is to move.

The entire thing is modular, not in the sense of you can put it together in random ways, but in the way that you can take it down for transport and storage. It's actually 5 different parts which slide together. He's ingenious like that.

I'm still working on a basic Keep, but it's weeks away from being done.

Anyway, I am trying to get Dad to make a Youtube channel of this stuff.

Second Image Batch - British Cav and Support Units

This is the second in a series of posts. This time, we are looking at a series of 15mm British figures and associated support units. These figures must be from several different manufacturers as some seem "fatter" than others. The first image demonstrates this difference well. 

Tomorrow, I will update with the infantry.

Go, Dad, Go - Completed Crusader Era Castle

A few weeks ago, I posted an image series of my Dad's work on a Crusader era castle. It's all done. Check out the video the view below. 

You can follow him over on Facebook.