Saturday, May 29, 2021

Let's Run That Railroad Through the Sandbox...

I had an interesting conversation with my kids about DMing games. 

Here was the scenario: The party gets in a fight. The winner of that fight gets jumped and their cash and prizes are stolen. Then the party chases down the second group of people and gets their stuff back. 

"You planned all of that in advance. You were railroading us!" they whined. 

"No. I wasn't." I pulled out my notes and showed them. 

The Party and Group A get in a fight. Only 4 things can happen, the either the Party or Group A can win. Or they reach a stalemate and no one wins, either by flight or not starting or finishing the fight. 

Next. The first group out of the area gets jumped. Those 4 options happen again. 

And finally, when the loser or second people out of the first situation one catch up, you basically have the same 4 options. Win, lose or two different draws. 

That's not a railroad. The players have a choice at each event they are present for and the dice can change that outcome. When the party isn't present, I pick the most viable option because I'm not stopping play to fight a combat against two NPC groups against each. When the party comes back, they get another set of choices and outcomes. 

A railroad would be if I decided what was going to happen TO THE PARTY before they were granted a choice. I know where the branches are and what should happen next, but I have 4-5 different possible choices to account for in every scenario. If the party has an obvious choice of 4 items, and they come up with fifth, sixth and seventh option, I have no plan and need to fly by the seat of my pants. 

I gave the kids a good example. 

I had a party meet at a tavern. They were supposed to stop the evil lord's men from shaking down the peasants for money. The party chose not to do that. So, the peasants got shaken down. Then the party gave the peasants money to replace what was stolen. I didn't expect that outcome. 

The next session, I decided to just re-run the whole thing. Again the party didn't bite. This went on for a bit with the peasants getting shaken down and the party replacing their lost funds. 

Now the party was responsive to everything else I did in each session, but I was baffled by their lack of activity on this one point of defending the peasants. It almost rose to the level of a joke. After a few months of play, the checked back in on the peasants in the tavern. 

Since they asked, I provided. This time the lord was there to get in on the fun. And the party sat there as the peasants got beatdown and robbed again. It wasn't until the lord threaten everyone and turned to exit that the whole party opened fire with crossbows. In the dark. In the back. 

The explanation for this behavior was, everyone in the party and a few of the players were lawful evil. It was just their natural to use the peasants for bait to draw the evil lord out. 

So when planning an adventure, you should plan for the obvious. What if the party wins? What if they lose? What if they run? What if they won't or don't fight? If you have those few things down, then the adventure probably won't go off the track, but if it does, the DM is only scrambling for a few seconds and not moment to moment. Which reduces the possibility of railroading the players. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Simutronics Gemstone IV F2P Review Part 1

Gemstone IV by Simutronics is an ancient MMO. I've tried to review it a couple of times, but each time out, I failed to capture the essence or appeal of the game. At age 23, the game has changed both a lot and very little in its life. 

This time, I'm taking a different tact. I will be reviewing this from the perspective of a new player in 2021 as a Free to Play player. It it a value investment in time? We'll see shortly. 

I have also decided to break this review up into many pieces, between 3-5. This is part one for character creation and first experiences. 

Title: Gemstone IV (GSIV)
Publisher: Simutonics
Platform: Windows, Mac, Others
Year: 1988

Gemstone IV is a text based open sandbox high fantasy gamed based in the world of Elanthia. It is heavy on the role play as much as the rolling of dice. In fact, there is a criterial that you not break character in game. In recent years, this standard has slacked off a bit but it is there. 

At first glance, it appears to be a clone of D&D, but that's not a fair assessment. It was based off of Rolemaster by Iron Crown Enterprises, the Shadow World campaign setting in particular. Although the contract lapsed decades ago, if you've played Rolemaster, you'll feel it's impact in the current game. 

Step one of the Mangler

Characters are generated in a system called "the Character Manager" or "The Mangler" by players. It's a points buy system. First you select a gender and move on to a class. There are 10 classes. 

Ten is a lot, so let's break them down to function. Melee based characters are the Monk, the Rogue and the Warrior. Spellslingers are Clerics, Empaths, Sorcerers and Wizards. Then there is a hybrid of the two in the form of Bards, Paladins and Rangers. Whole books have probably been written on these 10 types, so I am going to skip it until the next post. 

Once you have a class, you pick a culture and race. Just like D&D, you have elves, humans and dwarves plus 10 others. There is a mechanical advantage to picking a race as giantkin are strong, dwarves hardy, elves dexterous and so on. Other races are a little more complicated.  

Virtually all characters races have a selection of cultures to choose from. Unfortunately, a new player does not know any of this background, therefore can't sanely pick a culture.

Mechanically speaking, culture doesn't really matter at all. But it does matter when you interact with others. 

Up until recently, there was an imposed system of racial tolerances build right in. That, for the most part has been kick to the dust bin post 2020. 

Next up is a textual description of you character. You looks, for a text based game. Mechanically, this does nothing, but remember anyone who types "LOOK at" you will see this text. 

Next up are attributes. Again, there are 10 attributes ranked 1-100. You can't have an attribute under 20 and only one over 90. Race adds or subtracts from these limits. Note that two of the stats below are in red. That is your class's prime requisites, which general receive a bonus of 5-10. As you progress through the game, your stats go up. 

You could do a lot of research on what your scores should be, or you can hit the Auto button to have the game assign them for you. New characters get 5 chances to reset their skills in the first 30 days or 20th level. Yes, some people get hooked and can get a fifth of a way through the game in 30 days. 

Next are your skills. There are dozens of them. 

And like your attributes, there is an auto-generate button. The autogenerate button does build a playable character but after level 20, you'll see problems with these builds. 

Finally. It's time to name your character. Remember what I mentioned about staying in character, this is your first chance to blow it. They won't let you in with a name like "Ford Prefect" or "Yo Mamma" or "Dethsl4y3r". Deathslayer might have gotten a pass in the 1990s, so you've missed your chance. Don't do it now. 

And we're in! 

GSIV has many towns and nations. As a F2P account, you can random land in one of 3: Icemule Trace, Ta'Vaalor and Wehnimer's Landing. As a historical note, Wehnimer's Landing was the first city in the game and is the most populous in terms of players running around. Icemule Trace has an arctic theme, Ta'Vaalor is elven and the Landing is a human centric colonial boomtown.  

As you can see from the image above, you start of in a place. Each location in the game has a description and is generally called "a room" by players even though they might represent open spaces like a courtyard or a path by a stream. 

Also, each new character has a chance to experience an automated quest based on their class. These are called Sprite Quests and there are 5 of them. You can only do one and it will raise you from level 0 to 1 or 2 by the end. 

Loot and Prizes! In your first moments in the game, you will realize that you have some equipment. Clothes, weapons or a runestaff, armor, backpack, etc. You will also owe about 1000 silver to the town you are in. Typically, by the end of the Sprite Quest, this will be paid off. 

During your adventures with the Sprite, you will notice there are lot of key places in your town to explore and make use of. As a F2P character, you can keep a modest bank account in one town and one town only. Consider this choice carefully because if you move towns, you won't have the bank at your disposal. 

Next time we'll look at the various character choices and different play areas available. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Fleshing out the Lilac Queen

For my new campaign, I need to flesh out one of the antagonists. This is the first iteration of what I have planned for the party. I expect to give her more details as I get ready for the game. 

The Lilac Queen

Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 0
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 11 (88 hp)
% in Lair: 100
Treasure Type: nil
No. of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 1d6/1d6
Special Attacks: See Below
Special Defenses: See Below
Magic Resistance: Special
Intelligence: Supra-genius
Alignment: Neutral Good
Size: M
Psionic Ability: none, immune

The Lilac Queen exists because of her desire to dominate her surroundings with positive order using technology, long lost. The Lilac Queen passed from a human state to a non-human, undying existence through intervention of her ship's repair functions. She retains these abilities via the spacecraft's ability to produce more nanites and repair droids. The Lilac Queen can be found in the command chair of the vault like control space of her ruined spacecraft when holding court. 

The hull of the ship is entirely fused with the local rock, which is now silver and purple colored. This material has been harvested by the ship's repair features to encase it's queen in armor equivalent to +2 plate. She can only be struck by magical or silvered weapons or creatures with more than 11 HD. Silvered weapons do not need to be otherwise magical. It is a limitation of the technology. The Lilac Queen has the maximum hit points due to the ship's abilities to rejuvenate and repair her. 

She was the pilot of the spacecraft. She is lightning fast and can strike twice per round for 1d6 points of damage. Each swing is equivalent to a +3 weapon. She also has the ability to heal two targets per round for 1d6 hit points instead of striking. The sight of her causes all creatures under 5 HD to be calmed and blessed. Calmed creatures will not attack her. She is able to use her technological talents to replicate some spells with the ability equal to an 18th level caster.  

She is immune to heal, sleep, charm, polymorph, cold, heat, and death magic. The Lilac Queen will regenerate 2 hp per round inside her spacecraft. 

She has a devastating polymorphic attack, which is only useable inside her craft. She can polymorph the bones of a creature into a trellis-like structure then the soft tissues are transformed into a lilac. This terrifying state prevents the victim from being raised or reincarnated as they aren't dead. 

She derives her name from the name of the ship. The true name of the woman who is called Lilac Queen is unknown and there is a legend that if it is spoken to her, she will grant one wish before dying. 


As mentioned before, The Lilac Queen has the ability to heal and deal damage, while regenerating at 2 hp per round. She also has the ability to "cast" a magic spell per round. The Queen is a gestalt being, fused with her ship which possesses vast predictive abilities and is as intelligent as the undying woman. 

Her "magical effects" originates from a cloud of nanites surrounding her. The cloud has a radius of 300 feet and spells can strike anyone within this field from any direction. Although she cannot sense magic or read minds, if someone is inside this radius she can see and feel what they are doing at all times. She cannot be ambushed, surprised or backstabbed. She is unaware of the ability to turn invisible as she can see the invisible by their displacement of the cloud of nanites. Without a gem of trueseeing, the cloud is invisible.  

Inside the ship, the Lilac Queen can replace two physical attacks with two spells per round. The source of one spell is the woman and the source of the second is the ship. Outside of the ship, The Queen can only replace one melee attack with a spell. 

The Lilac Queen's ability to heal has been used to heal a great number of creatures she has encountered. When in combat outside the ship, there is a chance that one or more of these creatures will come to her aid. Roll on the following table: 

1. Cheetahs, 1d3 
2. Elephants, 2d4
3. Hyenas, 8d8 
4. Lions, male 1d2
5. Hippos, 2d4
6. Lions, female 2d6 

Spell Use: 

The Lilac Queen does not use traditional magic, the source of these powers are the ship's systems. The nanites can follow her for up to 100 miles to provide "magical" support. They can recreate the following spells: 

1st level: Affect Normal Fires, Dancing Lights, Identify, Mending, Message, Shield, Shocking Grasp and Sleep. 

2nd level: Audible Glamer, Scare, Shatter, Stinking Cloud. 

3rd Level: Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Gust of Wind, Hold Person, Suggestion. 

4th Level: Confusion, Dig, Fear, Fire Shield, Fumble, Polymorph Other, Wizard Eye. 

5th Level: Airy Water, Cloudkill, Feeblemind, Hold Monster, Passwall, Shape Stone, Telekinesis, Transmute Rock to Mud. 

6th Level: Control Weather, Death Spell, Disintegrate, Guards and Wards, Legend Lore, Lower Water, Move Earth, Part Water. 

7th Level: Mordenkainen's Sword, Power Word Stun

8th Level: Sympathy, Incendiary Cloud. 

9th Level: Power Word - Kill, Temporal Stasis

She can "cast" Light, Detect Invisible and Locate Object at will with no restrictions on the number of times per day. This is a function the nanite cloud. 

Additionally, with study of the symptoms of a victim, she can recreate the effects any cure or heal spell useable by a cleric. She can cure disease and blindness. This study takes one hour. She possesses the ability to do the reverse of each of these spells but chooses not to do so. She can raise dead, but rarely sees the need to do so. These are natural abilities and have no limitation on the number of uses per day.  


When encountered, The Lilac Queen will appear distant and aloof. She has a tendency of not looking at people because of the data provided by the ship's systems and the cloud of nanites surrounding her. 

When she holds court, she will make eye contact. It is disquieting as it obvious. The typical purpose for holding court is to give or receive information. Many creatures come to her for healing, which is the third purpose for her to hold court. If someone has a request to make of her, she collects information via her cloud. This uses her clairaudience and clairvoyance spells. As a result, she gives the impression that she is all knowing, but she is not. 

The Queen is a fearsome woman. She never displays emotions not does she give the impression that she might attack. She does not issue threats, only promises. She may indicate that an attack is imminent before resorting to it. She is very logical. 


If struck with a weapon that cannot harm her, she will ignore it until she tires of the assault. If the attacks continue for three rounds or more, she will attempt to remove the aggressor via non-violent means. If attacked by magic or something that can hurt her, she will use non-violent means to remove them immediately. For example, Suggestion or Sleep. 

If she is drawn into combat, she will only attack people who attempted to attack her or the ship. Being logical, she will attempt to combine "magical" attacks to end the combat as quickly as possible. For example, she may bury people with Move Earth or use Stone to Mud to immobilize and drown targets. The ship's robots will be used to herd targets into one area so a single spell can be used on all aggressors.

If she or the ship kills a character, there will be no effort made to remove or otherwise dispose of the body. She and her robots will ignore it. They will also ignore anyone attempting to remove the body as it is an illogical disruption to the natural decay process and a waste of energy. 

It should be noted that she can use her ability to raise dead to restore friendly dead creatures in her defence. Some of these creatures have been dead for centuries. Many of these people and creatures have few combat skills and will immediately flee in horror, but some will aid her in combat. Over the centuries, she has considered raising each and every one of these beings, but until she has a need, she will not. Point being, every creature killed in the ship will be studied as per the restrictions on her healing and raise dead powers so there will be zero hesitation or delay in bring them "back online". 

Non-player characters who are aware of her abilities will not be willing to attack unless otherwise specified. No character can command a hireling or follower to attack her without attacking her first. They will be unwilling without encouragement by example. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Hex Pack Update

Today, I added some more files to my Hex Pack. This update adds color and centers the hexes so that there are 19 complete hexes and 12 partial hexes. There are 9 colors, the 7 of the rainbow plus white and grey. 

If you have already purchased The Hex Pack, the update is waiting for you in your DriveThruRPG library. 

If you haven't purchased it, take a look. It's pay what you want. Or check out my other products. 

Swashbuckler Character
Class for D&D and AD&D

Swashbucklers for D&D and AD&D
Zero to Hero:
Uncommon Heroes

Zero to Hero
Zero to Hero
Character Sheet
for AD&D

Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D

Kobold’s Folly
Mini Setting

Kobold’s Folly
Kobold’s Folly
Compass Rose
Inn Mini Setting

Compass Rose Inn
Compass Rose Inn
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack

Monday, May 17, 2021

Tinkering Again With Artwork

I am getting ready to revamp my Kobold's Folly book. I plan to recreate it as a full scale module. The image at the right is how I originally envisioned the Folly. 

The Kobolds accessed the Folly from a cave system below. I find that the style of Worldographer is not up to the task and I am looking for an alternative style. It's wonderful for producing battle mats and large scale maps, but not so hot with cave systems. 

I'd like the base the system of caves on Carlsbad Caverns. I've been reviewing maps and brochures of the place for weeks. The cavern under the Folly is much smaller than Carlsbad Caverns. 

I've also been looking at the art in DMGR1 Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide. This book is one of my favorite's even though it's technically e2 D&D. At the time of e2's launch, I didn't realize that it was a revamped system and was using willy nilly in my AD&D campaigns. I love the isometic projections in this book and would probably want to copy that style. 

My inclination is to go hand drawn, but not really hand drawn. The above was an experiment with my Wacom Bamboo using Gimp. 

Next up is just penwork. 

This style isn't bad, but I'm not so sure about color. 

I'd like to match this style if I could. It's close to the style in the Sourcebook above, while not an exact match.  

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Building a Gaming Tool Kit, Rules Agnostic

To be truthful, this is an excuse to go shopping on Amazon. I thought I would share all of the stuff I accumulate for RPG gaming nights. This is the portion of the post where if you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

First things first, I have an addiction to notebooks. I always have one on me to write down new ideas for gaming and one at the table to take notes. 

The first item is tiny notebooks. These are 3.5" x 5.5" and have a loop for a pen or pencil. They look like miniature hardcover books.  

Next up, grid paper. I have stacks of these A5 Size 30 sheets journals. They are 8 1/4" by 5 1/2". Perfect for tiny maps. 

This next item was an accidental purchase, but still very helpful. Paper folders, 50 of them in multiple colors.
To top off the list of paper goods, I have reams of paper. This is perfect for printing character sheets and background information.

With all this paper, you'll need some writing implements. Let's start "basic" with pencils. Presharpened is the way to go. 

For a splash of color, I like these Prismacolor markers. They are duo-nibbed for fine and wide details. 

For outlining and other detail work, Faber-Castel's pens are perfect.