Showing posts with label Campaign. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Campaign. Show all posts

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign - Supporting Cast

For my campaign next year, I will need a supporting cast for the players. The characters will have access to a Kon-Tiki shuttle smaller than an Assult Scout. Since the players will be using this new type of ship, it needs to have a bit of history, as if it were a character. 

In the closing of the Sathar War, the Federation ran down a couple of paths of ship design. One of them was a type of electronic warfare destroyer called the Puff Adder. This destroyer was fitted with 3 atomic and three ion engines, packed with electronic warfare gear while giving up many of its weapons. It was also given two Kon-Tiki shuttles that could dock with it. Like its namesake, the Puff Adder could ambush enemy ships with its electronic warfare gear and light weapons while the Kon-Kiki shuttles provided support. The inherent abilities of the two types of engines allow these ships to dance in and out of danger. 

It would have been a vastly more expensive ship than your typical Destroyer. 16 hulls of this type were laid down before the war ended. At the end of the war, Puff Adders were fitted with engines recovered from damaged ships as a cheap solution. However, only 8 were fully outfitted with their electronic warfare gear and weapons creating a second varient on the destroyer. 

The Puff Adders had assault rocket launchers, a laser battery, and ICMs with electronic warfare gear. Those not fitted with all of the projected weapons were labeled as the "Heracles" variant. The Heracles class was suitable for research, search and rescue plus surface support operations. The pairing of the destroyers with the Kon-Tiki shuttles creates a means for the characters to explore single systems easily while also providing very limited system-to-system travel with a bit of danger. 

The characters in their Kon-Tiki class shuttle will be supported by both types of destroyers, depending on what system they arrive in. This will give the players the exciting experience of being able to travel from system to system in a small ship. 

As time permits, I will be sketching out the deck plans of all three types of ships, the shuttle and the two destoryers. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Temple of Light - Maps

Update: May 3, 2023. These maps will go into a new product called POP-001, Revenants of the Lost Temple. 

This temple complex is the work of an ancient people. The first map is of a traditional family abode. In the past, the tribe dug horizontal homes, as a means of collecting flint. 

As the people transitioned to a bronze age culture, they began the construction of the Temple of Light. The structure is a gleaming white, the effect was achieved with a decorative coating of quartz and flint. 

The Temple was a beacon of solidarity for the people, but it also proved to be a beacon for raiders. The pirates devastated the village proper, taking valuables and prisoners. The raiders returned seasonally to plunder the people. For a time, the villagers disbursed to escape the onslaught.
One day, several young children entered the Temple and discovered a pair of holes in the central hall leading to a deep natural cavern. When the chief was informed, he ordered a return to the old ways of digging pit homes under the Temple.

In a few months, the tribe had relocated under the Temple. By concealing the upper openings with floor tiles, the villagers were able to exact revenge when the raiders breached the Temple. The surviving pirates completed the turnabout with tales of a diamond-encrusted temple protected by spirits of the earth.


The children discovered the leader of instability in the rock. Future generations will tell the story of a fortress of diamonds beneath the crystal blue waters of a cenote. The stone age villagers speak in hushed tones about the mighty Sea Mage sinking the fortress in anger for the king's refused tribute payments. Adventurers may find tablets of stone that tell of the powerful shaman who levitated the entirety of the Temple to allow her people time to escape the collapse into the waters below.

This series of maps are based on a mix of real-world places and cultures, Grime's Graves, Ancestral Puebloans and people of Teotihuacan in particular.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Divine Donative - Bartering for Lives

For some strange reason, in all of my years of playing D&D, not one of my players has expressed a wish for the reincarnation or resurrection of a dead character. Not even the player of the deceased character. In fact, on the few times, one character has wished another character back to life, the player of the risen character has expressed some remorse at returning to the land of the living. 

I think I know why. Very often player characters in my campaigns ascend to a beloved NPC state. In other words, they retire. The story hasn't ended for them, but the adventure has. 

One idea that I am trying with my next campaign is "Divine Donative", an offering to a church, temple, or another group that ensures resurrection or reincarnation should something befall the character. Many of the rules in D&D are geared toward such a transaction such as an oath of poverty which requires donations. There is even a list price for the casting of such spells, so why not pre-payment as insurance. 

Hit x amount and you get free services. It stands to reason that if the character or party is funneling huge sums of money into an organization, there should be an immediate benefit.  At low levels, it's a bed for the night or minor healing. Later, after pounds and pounds of silver have been diverted to the organization, another life. 

We don't know what happened.
We think he liked rabbits.
Now for the fun bit. Usually, characters die from player burnout. They get bored or goofy and do something stupid to get killed. This moment of death could be an opportunity for a side mission. Everyone rolls up new characters and campaigns to recover the body. It's a nice little break and offers a chance to be something different than normal.  

Then there is the possibility that they pre-paid for services they do not want. But it's a contract that must be fulfilled. 

Off the church leaders go to save one of their most beloved patrons, and upon their return to the land of the living, this guy doesn't want to leave the temple grounds. He wants to tend a garden rather than scalp orcs. 

And if push comes to shove, maybe he or she refuses to come back as a human. All of a sudden, the party picks up a wolf or dog or cat as some sort of guardian. While the players wouldn't control such a beast, having one makes them special. 

Over time, if the characters donate enough, a willing person could be given some sort of magical jar that could be opened in a time of great need for the ultimate healing right on the field of combat. Think, a Pheonix Down from Final Fantasy. 

While I wanted to try this idea for end-of-life situations, the concept really should appear more in my campaigns. If characters are in some sort of guild or association that they support, that support should be two ways. Especially if the character is on track to be an epic hero of many storied deeds. People should be jumping out of the woodwork to support them. Even lowly fighters may belong to some sort of veterans group which could prove a small benefit if support. 

My idea isn't to just fork stuff out to the players as much build continuity with the campaign world beyond what the players are directly experiencing. If the party has a Bard or a Magic User, they probably have associations that need answers, which the PC might have. This would create a series of barter situations that the characters could grant favors and call them in later. Rather than present the party with a list of spells and costs, I should have them intervene if they can so as to curry favor with some group or another... or they could pocket the cash. 

I really like the idea of swapping this for that instead of a list of prices and services. It may take a bit to flesh the whole idea out, so I'm sure I will revisit it as time goes on.  

PS: You can pick up a copy of Old School Essentials CharactersMagicMonsters, and Treasures on DriveThruRPG. You can also try Wordlographer before you buy.  

Monday, August 15, 2022

Tips to the New DM - Part 1, the Campaign

I saw the trailer for the new D&D movie, Honor Among Thieves. 

I love the idea that it's titled "Honor Among Thieves" and presents a series of characters who don't seem to be thieves. This is typically problem #1 at the game table, exactly what happens when a DM proposes a game and the players don't have the same idea in mind because they aren't mindreaders. 

It reminds me of the first D&D movie, you know the one where everything was ridiculous and over the top. It was like someone asked: "What if all of our fine actors rolled a 1 for each and every aspect of this production?" Since this actually happens at the table, I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the game. You can read my five-star review right here

This highlights the second thing that can go horribly wrong at the table, an overreliance on dice or chance for outcomes for things that don't really matter. If you let dice overrule sensible choices and the agency of your players, everyone gets screwed by chance. Things that shouldn't really matter suddenly are all important. Don't let it happen to you, only roll for the things that need to be resolved by chance. Let the kiddos have agency. 

Anyway, I have been talking to my kids about a new campaign I'm planning. They are all hung up on the basic concept of a "campaign". It's a big word that has never really been presented very well in the core books. The core books of any RPG series, not just D&D. I would define a campaign as both the world where the action takes place and a list of rules and assumptions about the world. This is the highest level meaning of the word "campaign". 

When starting out, the campaign should be vanilla flavored. Zero restrictions on character class and races, no modification to the rules, etc. The players, if you and they are lucky only have the core rules. Don't yank the carpet out from under them by making restrictions or changes on the basics that they do know.  

The second part of the "campaign" is the setting. What type of story is being told? It is a pirate tale, a ghost story, a land grab, an exploration, a quest.  Technically, these are limitations of scope. A pirate tale is very different than a good ghost story. You should not find paranormal events in a pirate story, you won't find vampires in an exploration campaign. It makes sense, so the players don't think it's all a free for all. They don't need stakes and garlic to get on a boat. 

But remember there is always the ability to fuse stories. Dracula starts on a ship, the Flying Dutchman is a tale of pirate ghosts, and so on. You can either have these ideas from the outset or morph things as needed. Just because you start in one place, it doesn't mean you can't land somewhere else. 

Where your first few games go bonkers is when the players hit the outline of what you have created. You'll get the weirdo things like a bard with an electric guitar in a fantasy world, the thief with a skateboard that goes by the name "Zoomer-boomer", and a kleptomaniac cleric in a hair-lined football jersey. Don't worry, just roll with your players, to the extent that you can. Let them have fun at first and after a while, they'll eventually come around to meet you halfway. Or better. 

One good thing to have in mind is a character swap. When starting out, you'll have problems like this where no one wants to play the character they have, and killing off characters is either unreasonable or impracticable. It's really not worth anyone's time to kill off a disliked character. My suggestion is to swap former player characters as NPCs and once you have these wild ones under your thumb, cool them out. Don't kill 'em. Don't make them disappear. Just place them in a more natural and sedate setting for your world and let them be. Maybe they'll grow into something else. This will depend on your player's outlook on their past silliness. To be honest, these wild and wacky characters probably will fade into the background of the setting. 

No harm, no foul. 

Now we are to the setting. What is happening in your world? 

I find the smoothest way to create a campaign is to write a story. Not a huge story or a polished story but one with a set of boundaries that has a clear beginning and a clear end. The DM isn't reading a book to a party of players, you are all working together on a set of tasks that will eventually tell the legends of heroes. 

Maybe, they are heroes. Maybe not. Anywho... 

The DM should prepare their campaign as a set of chapters or waypoints where the goal is to get the players and the characters from A to B to C. Keep to the basics. How do they meet, where do they go, when do things get exciting? 

Simple. Except it really isn't.  

Remember, at each step of the way many things can happen.  Most of which can't be controlled by anyone, players and DM alike. Don't expect sessions one, two, or 27 to end where you decided they would. 

The players should succeed at the end of each chapter, but they can also fail. Failure doesn't have to be death. In fact, if you plan it right, getting killed should be hard. In all likelihood, they won't fail and die. It could be something so simple as running out of health or something as annoying and show-stopping as losing the tools they needed to move forward. They could be captured, they could get drunk or homesick and take a break. Any number of things could and will happen to them and your story, which really isn't the story you wrote down. Don't sweat it. 

The moment the players don't have success, you need to change what you are doing with the players so they can continue. Usually, this results in a quick side story before continuing on to the main event. Hopefully, your players will enjoy this tangent while also wanting to continue on to the main event. Sometimes the tangent will become the main story. That's cool, too. 

There is a variant on party success. I call it the Uber-Win. You created a scenario and presented it to a dozen people. One of those players will figure out something very logical and sensible that you didn't think of and they hop right to the end of the material you created. Instant Win. It happens. Be ready for the strange wine the players serve up at your table. It's really good, albeit surprising. 

There are two other possibilities besides win and lose. A stalemate or a no-sell. A stalemate occurs when the players don't win or lose and is often a variant of failure. These events are easier to adapt to than an actual failure, there is merely a pause in the action while the party prepares to continue. The nice part a stalemate means the players are interested in your campaign, wish to continue, and are invested. They just can't do what you expected right now. Roll with it. 

Mastering picking up stuff after
a mistake. It is the first step to
mastering anything. 

A no-sell is the worst outcome. There is something happening that the players do not like, dig or understand. They simply want no part of your campaign as it exists. That totally sucks because give a table of 4 or more players, the odds are there will be something one or more people won't be interested in. This is more than a simple adaptation. It can mean a change in theme and style of presentation. Or even a total change of story or theme. 

In one of my campaigns, I had a dungeon entirely populated with insects and spiders. After one room of combat, I discovered that one of my players had a visceral reaction to bugs. I had props and everything. Rattles, scrapers for eerie sounds, a bag with something furry inside, plastic toys, and so on. And she would not be having any of it. 

How could I possibly ditch all of that fun for one player's enjoyment or lack thereof? 

Well, since that player was getting ready to pack up and leave, the choice was easy. The next room had rats. She seemed indifferent. Me too because The Dungeon of the Rat was really dumb. 

In the third room, I tried snakes. 

She asked, "Do they look friendly?"  

"Well. No," I answered. 

But it was a lifeline. It wasn't that the players disliked the idea of a dungeon crawl or playing D&D yet again on Saturday night. Just one feature, bugs were not for them. It turned out my props could be used in different ways. They were still effective. And everyone enjoyed The Temple of Serpents more than "the unnamed dungeon of spiders and ick" I planned. 

Sometimes, rephrasing or reskinning a setting is all that is required. 

Other times, you have to completely change course, mid-stride to engage the players. This is an absolute abandonment of everything for something else. It sucks, but it is preferable to the players being forced into certain scenarios against their will.  

This brings us to another concept DMs should avoid, railroading. The above example with the conversion from bugs to snakes is not railroading because the players wanted a dungeon crawl but didn't want to deal with spiders and centipedes. Everyone was on board, a tactic choice to play was actual buy-in, only without spiders. It's a reskinning of an acceptable idea. 

Railroading is a different beast to be avoided. 

Suppose I had created "The Dungeon Crawl to Save Not Just The Universe, but ALL of the Known Universes", and the players wanted and expected a game of courtly political intrigue? Forcing them into my dungeon is a railroad. Don't do it. 

Given that you created a specific scenario that absolutely must be resolved for the world to continue to exist, you, the DM created a massive problem. You are going to have to get very creative to get out of it. In a perfect world, you shouldn't have made the basic premise so all-consuming. If the players aren't going in that hole you made, the main question is who is going in that massive suck hole you made? 

Not the players. They don't want it. However, the players gave you your escape. The Royal Court that hired the players in the first place is your answer. Flesh it out. 

The King wants the Dungeon problem solved immediately before his kingdom is destroyed, but the Queen is looking ahead and wants her son to marry. The Prince wants to marry the Princess of the neighboring kingdom, who is the arch-enemy of his Kingdom. Queen Mom is not enthusiastic about this turn of events but will go along. In secret, of course. The Princess's half-brother happens to be an Uber-Mage that can resolve any issue down in the dungeon with a snap of his fingers if only he was predisposed to do such a thing. Too bad he is only interested in Matilda, the young and attractive spy sent by the Prince's father to neutralize the Uber-Mage before he can take to the field of battle. 

Gee, that has all of the courtly political intrigues the players could desire, and no one but the Uber-Mage has to go down into that trap of a dungeon that you created. Problem solved. 

Sort of. Except you lost all of the hours spent on creating that dungeon. This is the way of D&D campaigns. As mentioned before, there is even a movie about it.  

A railroad would be if the players met the Prince like they wanted to, but then the Prince forces them to go into the Dungeon of Death you created. Or the Queen was kidnapped and the party had to go into the dungeon to get her back. If the Uber-Mage couldn't actually solve the problem, forcing the players into the mucky dungeon. If the King appointed the party to be the Keepers of Honor, leading peasants on a tour of the now safe dungeon, recounting the Heroic Deeds of the Uber-Mage, every weekday morning and twice on Wednesdays... 

Personally, I'd totally use the last one if my players were jerks about the whole thing. But I use a lot of meta humor at the table. It just works for me. It probably wouldn't work all the time or for everyone, but I'm sure I could make it funny. 

Remember, your players aren't antagonists they are your co-conspirators. Read the room and use their ideas to drive the fun. 

So on your first good campaign, you need to know a couple things and master them: 
  • Start small, 
  • Know what you mean to do, 
  • Know where good, bad, and indifferent can happen. 
    • Hint: at every party choice. 
  • Don't let the dice make choices, 
    • only use dice to resolve choices made by the players,
    • and never force a choice by dice either for you the DM, or the party. 
  • Plan to adapt from there.
The first and the last are just as important as the middle two. Pick anyone to start and you will naturally expand your skills at DMing. You can't possibly sprint to success, so focus on one or two and grow from there. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ode-No! to the 10 Page Character Background

A picture shares 1000 words. 

Everyone has had that 10-page character background story show up at the table. I don’t mind, but there are limits. When I go into a campaign, I have less than a 10-page setting outline and there is an excellent chance that I can tag off of a player’s writings and interject some of those things into the game. 

So, I am looking at this whole process of ideation for a completely different reason. At the moment, I have limited access to rule sets and want to make sure I have everything I need to play a campaign. This is a solo venture, I have no players because I don’t know if I have items I need. 

Funny that I don’t know what items I need. 

One of my anonymous readers, whom I shall call “Blackrazor” because his mom did not name him that, gave me a boatload of stuff to get started. The Basic and Expert rule set and dice. Technically, that’s all I need. The links will take you to DriveThruRPG.

Last year, I backed Todd Leback’s Into the Wild. I really want to use that book, too. 

Just before this adventure began, I ordered a hard copy of Rules Cyclopedia, which strongly mirrors what I was trying to do with e1 back in 1980. Between the stuff from Blackrazor, my luck, and ordering habits, I think I have all I need. But I will test that by engaging in some solo play. 

I want 6 adventurers. That gives me an Elf, a Dwarf, a Magic User, a Fighter, and two Clerics. I feel pretty good with this creeping capitalization. Today is a new start, and I am not sure how I was blogging class titles before. So, caps for classes. 

Now, who is the “hero” of this story? The party, all 6 of them. So they need a reason to be together or character background. How many pages does that take? I don't know. Let us see. 

When I rolled these characters, I threw an additional 1d6 for level:

1-3 is first level, 

4-5 is second, and

6 is 3rd level. 

So I have a first-level Elf, Magic-User and Cleric. I have a 2nd level elf and fighter and a 3rd level cleric. I’ve decided that no one has magical equipment at this point, but they do have transportation, which is sometimes better than magical items. 

Why are they together and where?

Let’s start with the young Magic-User. He is really smart and very young, say 16 years old. He is the 9th child of a well-to-do stationer. 

What’s a stationer? It used to be that people came to town on market day and threw their wares out and had people buy off a blanket, wagon, cart, etc. A stationer was a person who sold goods that were not easily transportable or too fragile to handle the weather, therefore they needed an actual shop. Back in the day, the first of these were scribes, they provided goods and were “stationary” by definition. Think of them as the mall’s anchor stores. That definition solidified into the definition of their trade goods, “stationary”. 

As the 9th child of this stationer, I need to tell you a bit about this family. The Magic-User is named Charles, whom everyone calls “Chuckie”. Charles Sr. hates this and wants his son to leave home and name “Chuckie” behind to get a proper education. 

So, we have a bit of the story. Young Chuck is going places. Let’s circle back to Charles Sr. for a moment. He didn’t start out as a bookseller, he was conscripted into the army. After a single campaign, he lucked out and was granted a small but rich plot of land. He got married and had 2 boys with his first wife. His first wife died of the plague. 

When he remarried, he granted his oldest boys the farm while Dad started milling. One of the boys enjoyed farming, while the other was interested in seed stock and seedlings. They tagged off of each other’s skills to become successful. Dad was still doing good work of the land as a miller, which allows his boys to capitalize off of super cheap milling prices. 

Charles Senior’s second wife produced a trio of girls, plus one more son. The son got into cattle ranching, while 2 of the two of the girls married well and the third daughter became a priestess. 

Unfortunately, the second wife died giving birth and poor Charles senior had to remarry again. This time it worked out fine. Chuckie is the youngest of the children, he has two older sisters plus the brood of much older siblings.  

Charles Sr.'s current wife is an illuminator, an artist specializing in books. This was Charles Sr.'s final career change, to stationer. He buys skins and papyrus from his children’s farms or ranches and provides these materials to his daughter’s convent. It's a good deal for all.

Chuckie has a best friend in similar shoes. His name is Avfin, and he aspires to be a Bishop. His dad works for Charles Sr. The two young men will be traveling to a larger town for schooling. 

I am nowhere near 10 pages at this point, so let’s throw Alice into the mix. Alice is an elf who lives at the edge of town. She is friends with Avfin and Chuckie despite being wildly older than them. As if being an elf in a human town isn’t odd enough, she is a free spirit who runs wild all over the surrounding countryside, much to the consternation of her family. Think hippy-chick. 

Her parents have done backflips to make sure she gets in with Avfin and/or Chuckie in the hopes that she will learn to read and wear shoes. When they heard that Avfin and Chuckie were leaving, they encouraged Alice to tag along, as the boys will need someone with animal and wilderness knowledge with them. Hopefully, she’ll grow up on this adventure. Surprisingly, she threw herself into the adventure with gusto despite her parent’s blessing. Alice also stole her mother’s boots and sword, plus her dad’s chainmail suit. 

This is just one page, and I still have 3 more characters to describe: 

Nicholas, a 3rd level cleric,
his second-level fighter bodyguard, Gaelin, 

and a second-level dwarf named Wralin. 

Nicholas is one of Charles Sr.’s war buddies. Army life wasn’t for either of them, but Nick has made his way as a chaplain and researcher for the army. He is currently transporting religious relics and magical writings to a large monastery. Since he was passing through anyway, he agreed to keep an eye on Chuck and his friends on their journey. 

Gaelin, Nick’s bodyguard, doesn't like his job. It takes him away from the glorious, but also a non-existent battlefield. He is thankful to have Chuck, Alice, and Avfin along as the kiddos are happy to gather firewood, start fires and take care of the animals. 

Wralin the Dwarf is unusual. Like all dwarves, he has an eye for construction and mining. But he has a greater passion, horses. He can assess an equine just as well as other dwarves can spot a good diamond. Oddly, he rides a mule named Sneer instead of a horse. Sneer thinks she is a warhorse. She is very comfortable on the battlefield and when dealing with monsters.  

At this point, I have roughly covered more than a dozen different characters. Their backgrounds are pretty cool, and if I went 1 by 1, each character could have one handwritten index card of biographical information. 

So in getting these 6 characters ready, I have a lot of campaign information at my fingertips. 

The kingdom is at peace, but there was a war in the recent past. There are many villages and cities to see, some of which have schools and monasteries. A network of roads and probably caravans exists. The army is forced to do non-combat tasks because the Lord or Lady of the land is doing some sort of recon and resource exploitation. In peacetime, the leadership is getting ready to engage in warfare or negotiate a peace. Humans and demi-humans work together. We’ve mentioned that monsters roam and some characters have encountered them. 

Rather than a 10-page character background, I have a 2-page campaign primer, which includes much of the character backgrounds that I would need as a DM. The players could refine these starting points to make the characters their own. 

So much for the 10-page background. Two is more than sufficient. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pitching Ideas - Return to the Inside Out

I just got a call from my friend Doug. He wanted some help with a project for his classroom and I did what I could do help. Then went for the important business, getting players for a new campaign. 

I did my elevator pitch, "A Druid, a Unicorn, and a Space Marine are going to save the world from technology so high, it's indistinguishable from magic, Rule set, AD&D." 

He's in. 

If that sounds a bit familiar, it was a one shot I did last year for the wife and kids. It went over like a lead fart because the setting was post-apocalyptic in the middle of a pandemic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least I didn't pour tons of money in the TV show based on The Stand by Stephen King. 

Every DM has ideas kicking around their brains to build a world. Most DM's I've played with will tinker with a variety of setting. I am not built like that. Every D&D campaign I run is in a post-apocalyptic. The one thing I am good at is dropping in anachronistic ideas in ways that don't disturb the players. 

My campaign settings diverge from reality in the mid-eighties with the development of fusion power. There was the Outreach, where every country in the world dumped resources into a multi-nation space program. This idea was based on "The Great Awakening(s)" that happened between the 18th and 20th centuries. Except instead of being based on spiritualism, it was based on exploration. 

There was a period of upheavals as fusion tech was deployed. This was followed by the Outreach, a world wide space program using Space Fountains to deploy probes, then ships and colonists around the solar system. This went on for a couple hundred years. It pretty much distorted all nations so they no longer existed as we know them. The goal as DM in this step was to completely divorce the setting reality by making the question "What happened in/to country x" invalid or at least unimportant.  

The next goal in the Outreach was to get to other stars. Back in the 80's, we didn't know and didn't assume most stars would have planets, so the effort to find them in this setting to centuries by sending out probes. This created a situation where the Space Fountains used to reach the solar system needed a massive upgrade. And this is where everything went wrong. 

Obviously, such a system needed to massive infrastructure built. And this was done. However, the second step was a computer based solution. They wrote a massively complex program to handle the upgrade from the first generation of Space Fountains to the truly titanic interstellar Space Fountains. It was a very rough AI. 

That AI had a glitch. It did things too efficiently. It reprogramed the Space Fountains to launch a few tentative research ships. Then instead of creating many, many waves of ships to the stars, it sacrificed everything for just one giant wave. The effort destroyed or impacted every high tech item on Earth, leaving the planet's technological systems to collapse. 

Centuries of high technological items didn't disappear in an instant, they slowly brokedown. As people tried to hold on, they used the technology to change themselves and the world around them. They were morphed into different species, elves, dwarves, goblins and so on. Some people unlocked technology so high it replicated magic. Others messed with probabilities, opening up gates to different universes where our rules didn't apply. 

The Inside Out is a defense against the AI which has collapsed to a single underground location. The locals have banded together to construct a veritable castle around the entrance. 

The creatures coming out of the facility are interpreted as undead, demons and devils who's vast technology appears as magic.  

Monday, August 3, 2020

New! SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia

New Product from Dunromin University Press. This one is called The World Guide to Barnaynia. 

SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia
SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia
SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia

I'm not ready to do a review. In fact, I haven't bought it yet, owing to the fact that payday is Friday. Also, this book is over 200 pages of world details on Barnaybia, so it would take me a while to process it. I have many of the other titles in this series and enjoyed them all. I haven't played a session in this world, but I am looking forward to doing it. 

One of my favorite things about this whole series is the artwork. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is gloriously old school. Many of the images and maps look hand drawn, but are crisp and sharp like digital renderings. I suppose I could ask which it is, but that would ruin the mystique. 

One tangent. I hope you like these prepackage links which look like DriveThruRPG's product links. They aren't, I make them up on the fly. I do have instructions on how to make those for your website, at this link. When you do the code, you'll have to reference your copy of the image or link directly to DTRPG's .png file. Usually, it is 140 px and a .png. Also, don't forget to change the affiliate number so you get credit. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Pre-Generated Characters - 2nd Level Monks 002

This is my second group of monks. Decima, Seneca the Swift and Segria are fairly typical monks for my campaign. They have temporal tasks, which takes them away from their homes in the monastery. They have a lot of money for monks, which probably indicates they are either transferring funds from one location to another or have taken in a donation Segria has small diamonds flecks, which are important to her order.

Each of these characters has probably been on an adventure or three. I like to give my pregenerated characters some flavor with their equipment. Each character has something either secular like an instrument or spiritual like intense or a book. One of them has a wooden sword, which could be an interesting reveal, sort of like Book's ability to use a shotgun on Firefly. 

If there is a call for it in the comments, I will make DOCX and Google Doc file available as I have the PDFs. The reason I have not done this from the get go is that I created every character of a class in one document and print each page as a PDF.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pre-Generated Characters - 1st Level Assassins 002

This is my last batch of Assassin for a while. I meant to generate level 2 Assassins, but somehow reverted back to level 1. Oops. Anyway, Elvina, Arrius and Linus are more in line with classic AD&D assassins than the assassins in my campaign.

Each of these characters has probably been on an adventure or three. I like to give my pregenerated characters some flavor with their equipment. One of these assassins has a lute and two of them have books which touch on ethics which is an interesting spin on assassins.

If there is a call for it in the comments, I will make DOCX and Google Doc file available as I have the PDFs. The reason I have not done this from the get go is that I created every character of a class in one document and print each page as a PDF.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Pre-Generated Characters - 2 Monks and Terry

These 1st level characters are monks, Miles and Laelia. Terry is a joke character. Click the link to download the PDF file. These characters are almost ready to go. In generating ability scores, I made sure the range was acceptable in both D&D and AD&D. To convert these characters to straight AD&D, simply add or subtract the racial modifiers and class abilities.

Terry is comic relief. As you read through his character sheet, you'll realize that he is every person you've met in a costume at a renaissance fair. I normally don't do joke characters on my blog, but Terry is exactly the type of shenanigans I engage in at the table.

If there is a call for it in the comments, I will make DOCX and Google Doc file available as I have the PDFs. The reason I have not done this from the get go is that I created every character of a class in one document and print each page as a PDF.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Pre-Generated Characters - 3rd Level Assassins

These 3rd level characters are Assassins, Marcus, Mircea and Tulia. Click the link to download the PDF file. These characters are almost ready to go. In generating ability scores, I made sure the range was acceptable in both D&D and AD&D. To convert these characters to straight AD&D, simply add or subtract the racial modifiers and class abilities.

In my campaign, Assassins make up between 10-20% of the human Empire's Legionary. These characters have far more than a typical adventurer would have owing to the fact that they are professional soldiers. I will post again with a better explanation of their equipment.

If there is a call for it in the comments, I will make DOCX and Google Doc file available as I have the PDFs. The reason I have not done this from the get go is that I created every character of a class in one document and print each page as a PDF.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Encumbrance and Campaigning

I love my characters, but a lot of times they come up with some odd choices. Backpacks are one of my favorite sources of amusement.

I really don't mind overburdened players, but somethings are beyond the pale. The people walking around with stakes and hammers and a small fry pan aren't the problem.

I have a very ad hoc encumbrance rule, one which secretly hides one of those never named zeroth laws. My ad hoc encumbrance rule is armor OR a backpack plus two items in your hands means you are totally encumbered. It may or may not slow you down, but you certainly can't carry more. You can also be encumbered by having stuff (or an opponent) wrapped around your legs.

Romans would pack a lot of stuff on their soldiers. Gaius Marius demanded that the soldiers carry most of the load themselves. That earned them the nickname Marius' Mules. The Romans didn't wear backpacks, but carried a sacrina.

Not a link to Gander Outdoors

The sacrina held a cloak bag, a pot, a satchel, a Patera or mess tin, food, a waterskin and a net for loose items, all on a big forked stick. Notice the rectangular satchel on the back and the net on the front. When they dropped these, they landed on that satchel with the stick projecting upwards for easy recovery and unpacking. The bonus of the sacrina was that it made armor a benefit to carrying one as the armor distributed the weight of the stick on their shoulder. This is probably a better tool for carrying stuff than a backpack over armor or a backpack full of armor.

Here is where my zeroth law comes in. You drop your stuff and I will almost never have someone mess with it. If you leave it behind, that is one thing, but I really don't want to annoy my players with cheap shots like stealing all of their gear. Stealing money, sure. But not a backpack.

In my most recent campaign, my players have made an art of being unencumbered at all times. They have 2 wagons, oxen and a bunch of NPCs in tow. When they say they have a pack, it's pretty much a purse: a snack, some useful items and some water. I'm vaguely annoyed because they should have purchased a boat, but instead got the wagons because I left that word, "ship" out by accident.

Oh, well.

How do you handle encumbrance in your campaign? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Skin Wolf Golem

The Skin Golem or more commonly named, "The Skin Wolf" is a unique creation of the Coven of Ash.

The witches of the Coven of Ash wear these pelts as a stole or cape, which conveys the Skin Wolf's armor class to the wearer. The Coven of Ash tends to use the largest martens as Skin Wolves, which has 9 hit points. Wolves are not common in the area. Theoretically, any fur bearing mundane animal can be used to create a Skin Wolf, such as a weasel, a bear, dog or actual wolf. The witches of the Coven of Ash have tried to make gnoll, elf and human skin golems, but it doesn't work. It also does not work on giant variants of mundane animals like Worgs, Giant Weasels or Elk. The name "Skin Wolf" is colloquial, it isn't actually description of what they are made of. The humans of Empire are aware of these creatures and are terrified by them.

If a victim survives an attack by Skin Wolves, they will notice a particular smell about them which will alert them to future attacks and foils surprise one third of the time. Note: this also applies to the witches themselves if they are wearing one. The number of Skin Wolves appearing is always equal to the number of witches. These golems are only useful to the creator, they are powerless in other people's hands. 

Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 1-3
Armor Class: 7
Move: 18"
Hit Dice: Equal the living creature's hit dice.
% in lair: 100%
Treasure Type: Nil
Number of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1d4/1d4/1d4
Special Attacks: See Below
Special Defenses: See Below
Magical Resistance: See Below
Intelligence: Non Intelligent
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Various
Psionic Ability: Nil
 Attack/Defense: Nil/Nil

Skin Golems are relatively low level golems, which require a pelt and skull, special incense and the following spells: Friends, Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, and Fly. It requires a minimum of a 6th level caster and a piece of incense valued at ten times the number of hit points the golem will have. The pelt and skull must be pristine. It requires one day to create a skin golem with the materials on hand. Hit Points are determined by the size of the animal, but the living creature must have had at least one hit die.

The creation process requires gluing the pelt to the skull which looks far from natural. Sometimes the ears and eyes don't line up between the pelt and skull. Also, the witch may choose to dye the pelt to either be stylish or fearsome. The Coven of Ash has a tendency to consume the flesh of the animal, however this is an alarming life-style choice and is not a part of the ritual of creation.

The Skin Wolf is a weapon of terror. They fly up to 30 feet from the ground and sound like a bullroarer in motion. They can strike up to 3 different targets, once each along their 24" per round flight path. They target the people closest to the witch first and work outwards. They are very maneuverable, but cannot flip end for end and require momentum to do damage. Therefore they tend to strike 3 different targets in one round, not the same person over and over again. Since they are simply flying pelts, they cannot grab, bite or otherwise manipulate objects. They can knock things over which makes noise and a mess. On a natural 20, they hit so hard that they knock the victim down rather than doing double damage.

The witch can choose to directly order the skin wolf to attack a single target, however, this limits the Skin Wolf to one attack and only allows a strike on a target the witch can actually see. It also precludes the witch from casting spells or making their own attacks. If  a witch feels like they are in control of the combat, they will make gestures like they are direct control of the Skin Wolf to terrify victims. If a witch is invisible and wearing a Skin Wolf, issuing it commands counts as an attack and ends the invisibility for both. Skin Wolves cannot be silenced or turned invisible, it defeats their terrifying purpose.

If the Skin Wolf is not engaged in combat, the witch can see and hear (not smell) what the pelt can perceive. Usually, the witch will place the Skin Wolf someplace to watch an area not command it to fly around looking for targets, however that can be done, too.

They have a special defense, bolts and arrows do only 1 point of damage per hit. Also, grenade-like weapons have a -4 to hit and they can dodge splashes. This is not true of thrown daggers, darts and other hefty weapons. They do full damage.

Holy water does 1d3 points of damage. It is often more effective to pour the holy water on one's self than try to make a grenade like attack as this damages the Skin Wolf every time it successfully lands a hit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Pre-generated Characters - 1st Level Assassins

These 3 first level characters are Assassins, Felix, Laelia and Philo. Click the link to download the PDF file. These characters are almost ready to go. In generating ability scores, I made sure the range was acceptable in both D&D and AD&D. To convert these characters to straight AD&D, simply add or subtract the racial modifiers and class abilities.

In my campaign, Assassins make up between 10-20% of the human Empire's Legionary. These characters have far more than a typical adventurer would have owing to the fact that they are professional soldiers. I will post again with a better explanation of their equipment.

If there is a call for it in the comments, I will make DOCX and Google Doc file available as I have the PDFs. The reason I have not done this from the get go is that I created every character of a class in one document and print each page as a PDF.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Chutzpah over Charisma

Let's face it, charisma in AD&D is a dump stat for most players. I like using ordered rolls for stats, so whatever is rolled first will be strength and the last die roll is charisma. This invariable causes me to play characters with sub-prime attributes and sometimes a character with amazing stats in the complete wrong order. A wizard with 13 intelligence and an 18 strength or constitution.

For my campaign, I ignore prime requisite scores and let people run fighters with 5 strength, a cleric with 6 wisdom and so on. I don't require it, I merely allow it for the sake of speed and fun. With my group, I have always received reciprocity from the DM where they allowed me to play such flawed characters, even if they allow for some other method of ability generation that would prevent it. It's just the way we operate.

Since I do this as a normal operating condition, I tend to see characters as problem solvers. Weak fighters develop a means to fight other than brute force. Wizards make up for a lack of spells with magic items, and so on. That's cool.

Except for Charisma. I have this mental image of a high charisma character as stylish and charming. A low charisma character, in my mind, is operating off of what they have in other stats. A low charisma doesn't force foolishness or rudeness which are the purview of intelligence and wisdom, it's merely a lack of polish. Low charisma characters are more likely to use chutzpah over an excellently described plan. They just go for it and have very little understanding as to why this shocks others.

One of these days, I'm going to pull a prank on my players. I will write down the character's stats and then pick on the guy or gal with the lowest Charisma. It will probably come up in a high pressure situation. I will ask that person to roll the dice and no matter the outcome, I will hand them a note and ask them to read it.

It will go something like this:

Mr/Ms. Charisma: Ok, the dragon is probably a sleep, so we'll kick in the door and kill it with arrows.
Me as DM: Good. You have surprise. Make your attack rolls. 
Other players: Wait! What?
Mr/Ms. Charisma: The dragon probably thought of this and hired some orcs to guard the lair. And an ogre.
Me as DM: You're right! There are actually 12 orcs and 3 ogres rushing into the room.
The other players argue while being forced to roll attack dice. For some strange reason, they always have initiative and do lots of damage from covered locations. Everything seems to be slanted to the player's benefit.
Me as DM: You have defeated the orcs and orgres, here is your experience points.
Mr/Ms. Charisma, still reading from the note: Oh, but the dragon fled to the next room. I bet he is casting a spell to turn into a giant snake!
Other players: Why the hell would a dragon turn into a giant snake?
Me as DM: You hear the swoosh of scales on rock and a titanic hissing noise. Roll for surprise!
Mr/Ms. Charisma: Oh, this doesn't look good.
Me as DM: Right! The snake swallows the paladin whole!
Paladin's player: I don't want to be eaten by a snake!
Mr/Ms. Charisma: Oh, yeah. That's bad. We can't do that...
Me as DM: Ok, everyone argues against kicking in the dragon's door. So, what is the plan?

That is pretty much how someone with low charisma operates.

I wonder how long it would take my players to figure out I actually handed out experience and didn't ask them to delete it. I think I have 7 charisma myself, so group dynamic analysis is not my strong suit. But I think they'd try to keep the points and I would let them.

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, November 5, 2019

9% of a plan

I have this idea for a project. Its part of an idea. Like 9% of an idea for a project.

Anyway, this is the first 1%. I have been working on a map of a Roman city for my campaign.

The light gray streets outline an insula. By definition, there are 64 of these areas in the city. My idea is to make 64 maps, one per page. On the left hand pages, there will be a mini-map of the insula with a large diagram highlighting one structure from the insula.

So, that is like 4.5% of my idea. That would look something like this:

The right hand pages would be character studies for some of the more interesting people that live in that structure. There might me more than one character study. There would be a picture of said character(s). That is the other 4.5% of my idea of this project. Perhaps it would be ruleset agnostic or specific to AD&D or D&D.

Not sure.

Like I said, it's like 9% of a plan.

I still haven't decided if this is a book or a patreon thing or something else. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tales from the High-backed Booth

My wife and I were driving for the sake of getting out of the house. We were rolling through East Amherst, NY. My wife is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, so walking was out of the question but she had been in the house for far too long. So, a drive it was.

"Ow," she said for the hundredth time, for the hundredth pot hole on Transit Road.

"Sorry. Again," I said, "Also, for the hundredth time."

Kitty laughed a bit. "I wish it wasn't so dreary. And I wish I hadn't taken that hydrocodone."

"Well, if you hadn't taken that, I would have never gotten you out of the house," I said.

"True. But still, I wish it wasn't raining." She sighed.

"There's a Tim Hortons ahead." I've never been certain if "Tim Hortons" is grammatically correct, or if it needs an apostrophe or if it was the Buffalo "S" running amok. Verbally, you can't tell the difference, but in writing it gets flagged by the spell checker, every time.

As I pulled in for our usual Timmy run, Kitty began musing.

"I should've put something in my stomach before that pill," she said.

"A muffin? Maybe a breakfast sandwich?" I offered.

"Hey, that's weird." Her voice was dreamy, distracted. "They turned that old tavern in to a temple."


I didn't slam on the brakes, it was just the sound my brain made.

"What did you just say?" I demanded.

"That tavern, the one that looks like a barn. It's a temple, now." She pointed at a rough building across Transit Road.

The Peasant Dance by  Pieter Bruegel the Elder
It was an impressive structure, despite being so old. The roof was thatched and the second floor was made of reinforced wattle and daub, framed in dark thick timbers. The timbers were rough cut and stained, as was the central door. Around the door was more of that light colored wattle and daub and two matching holy symbols. A hex with an eye in the center and 7 lightning bolts radiating from the iris in every direction. 

What was especially odd was that the tavern's... er temple's other walls were made up of hay bales stacked up the rafters of the second floor. Someone had placed blue canvas under the bales to protect them from direct contact with the asphalt parking lot.

Kitty's eyes met mine and she sent one of those mental commands that only a spouse can do.

I swung the car around and crossed Transit Road. All six lanes, excitedly, but carefully. Equally carefully, I opened my wife's car door and helped her hobble to the entrance of the tav... temple. It was a trick getting her over the blue canvas, flapping in the wind and rain.

"Does it have a name?" Kitty asked.

"None, that I can see," I answered.

The door wasn't locked and we stumbled over the threshold; Kitty sucked air as her knee moved faster than the surgery would allow.

"Sorry," I said as I took her weight on my shoulder. Inside, by lantern light, I could see dark, rich colors and little else. There was a large rectangle, which I interpreted as a booth and table. We hobbled over and took a seat. We sat in the middle of seven high booths. For some reason, I moved to the seat across from Kitty, rather than next to her.

As I blinked in the relative darkness, I could see the booth backs were nearly six or seven feet high. We could only see a narrow slice of the room, like a hallway. Along the far wall was a high bar or a low wall. I couldn't tell which, but there was a lantern on that wooden bulk. The near wall was more interesting, it was made of hay. We both ran our hands across the prickly surface. A small tray of condiments was in the middle of the table, and inexplicably, there was a framed picture tacked to the hay bale wall. In the dark, I though perhaps the photo was of a couple or family standing around a table, but I couldn't be sure.

Kitty chuckled and said, "It's the Hydrocodone Tavern."

Unnerved by her chuckle I got up from my seat and moved next to her. A shadow loomed over us as a form blocked out the light of the lantern on the bar.

"Welcome to the Temple of the High-backed Booth." A zippo flared before my eyes. The friar lit a small candle next to the condiment tray. He was clean shaven, with ring of wild white hair around his head, but his scalp was bare, tonsured. He seemed to be wearing some sort of bearskin or perhaps a hair shirt. His boot steps were heavy thuds, even as he delicately shifted to the far side of the table to look at both of us. His look was full of judgement and appraisal.

He produced a pair of menus and two small black cups. Like the boots, they clunked solidly on the tabletop before us.

"I am Elder Bruegel, but you may know me as Peter." His voice was gravelly, like an old peasant's and his smile was slight like a wizened village elder.

"Diamonddraught from the Land, for the lady's knee. And Black Taquynian coffee imported from the Country of Torre, for the gentleman. Please consider your options carefully." He left the menus before us and faded back into the darkness.

"I'd say that was 'weird', but we're in an old bar turned Temple on Transit Road, ordering drinks," I said. "And there is a picture of the d'Amberville family standing around Stephen in a coffin."

"I don't want to know that. And I certainly don't want to drink this," Kitty indicated the cup before her.

"Yes, you do. Trust me."

She sniffed it. "It smells... powerful, clean."

I made a sound of assent.

"Trust me, it's better for you than what I have here. And this coffee is frickin' close to perfect." I fished around in the condiment tray for a half and half and raw sugar. A pair of percentile dice toppled out of the tray and there was a flare from my menu.

"What was that?" she asked.

"Something very good or very bad, I'm sure." I ignored the light from the menu and stirred up my coffee. I took a tiny sip. My whole face smiled as I remembered the last time I had this coffee.

"That good? You're face is going to stay like that if you keep smiling like that." Kitty tapped my nose and lips, smiling back at me.

"I haven't been to Elanith in forever," I said.

"Is that in Canada?" she asked.

"You need to drink, too," I said.

As I spoke she gently picked up the cup and sniffed it again.

"Trust me," I repeated.

She sipped the Diamonddraught and let out a deep, deep breath. Relief spread across her face. Although I had made her laugh and smile several times that morning, the creases of pain had let go of her forehead, dispelled by the giant's drink.

"Sir, the dice have been cast. Tell me your option." Elder Bruegel said. Funny, he had approached silently this time. It struck me as mysterious, the boots were gone, replaced by pointed shoes. A minor mystery I guess, because there was never any explanation.

I opened the menu and looked at it. It was blank but for one glowing line. I nodded at the option and it seemed fitting. Before I read it back to him, I asked a question.

"Elder Bruegel. Peter, sir. What is this place?"

"This is the Temple of The High-backed Booth. It is the place where one goes when one does not know what campaign they are on. It is the starting place of many adventures. But for people such as you, it is a resting place between adventures. As you know, at the level you two have attained, there is no magic and no miracles, but the ones you make. It is time for you to read me your selection," Elder Bruegel said.

Reassured, I read to him from the table in the menu.

"Number 67-68. Scout. The Son of the Miller," I read. I was pretty sure that if I had counted, there would be have been forty-nine blank spaces around it.

"So your adventure begins. Do you know what it means and what you must do?" Elder Bruegel asked.

I nodded.

"Do I get to roll?" Kitty asked.

"No. Any number of casts may be made in The Temple of the High-back Booth, but you are bound together in life and in this adventure," he said.

Kitty did not look happy at all. She was very disappointed not to be allow to play.

"My lady, it is very well, it more than suffices. Have faith. Take a chance today, like you did when he asked your leave, years ago," he said.

We only had a moment to hold hands and exchange nervous glances before Elder Bruegel returned with our food. He placed a covered platter before each of us and handed me a small bundle. It was made of parchment and wrapped with a wax sealed ribbon. Inside, I could feel cool metal.

"Do you know what to do?" Bruegel asked.

"Yes. I do." I answered. Before he could leave, I asked him for a blessing.

"Tireless guardian on our way,
"Thou has kept us well this day,
"While we thank thee, we request,
"Care continued, pardon, Rest."

"Thank you, Elder," I said. "That was beautiful."

Kitty smiled at him and he excused himself. That was the last we saw of him.

"Oh! It's perfect!" she exclaimed. It was a plate of strawberries, chocolate, tiny muffins and jams. "What did you get?"

"Bread. Want some?" I asked, but I already knew the answer.

She nodded and I broke it into pieces to share. She slather them with jam and we ate together, sipping our drinks. Just like we did on our honeymoon at Disney. The little jars of jam even had little Winnie the Poohs and Piglets, just like the jars in Disney did in 2001. I glanced around, half expecting a castle view out the window, but there wasn't even a window. A Disney Honeymoon is fantasy and this was real life.

"Is that the bill?" Kitty asked as she tapped the small package.

"Its... a form of payment. We paid in advance, I guess you could say." I answered as best I could. "We have to run the message to receive the reward."

As we drove home, the rain abated. Everything seems so much lighter and not just the sky. We felt lighter inside.

I gave the package to my son Paul, the scout.

Kitty asked, "What is it?"

"I don't know. Will see when it is done," answered Paul. He ran off to his bedroom with Elder Bruegel message.

Later that night, long after bedtime, Paul was done.

"I never would have gotten into models and games, if it wasn't for you dad."

I smiled. "I said the same thing to my dad. Probably more than once."

"It's a windmill," he said.

"What does it mean?" my wife asked.

"I think it is a sign. Millers used to be a place where people went to negotiate, with the actual miller-man acting as the moderator. It's a good thing to be, kind of the linchpin of society." I said.

"I don't care about that. I would like any thing you brought for me," Paul said.

"He's my boy, through and through," said Kitty as she gave him a hug.