December 22, 2009

"Major Award"

As noted at Under Siege, yours truly has won a "major award." The Castles & Crusades Society held a contest quite some time ago at their, now defunct, forums. The contest required participants to post a short description of just about anything that could be useful in a campaign world. For example, you could post a write-up of a character, a magic artifact, etc. After you made your post, you provided the title for the next poster. In my case, the previous poster had provided the name "Manistus the Scrivener." After I posted my description, I suggested "The Dark Horse of Winter."

I thought the guy's write up of "The Dark Horse of Winter" was pretty badass, actually. It was a a great description about how this constellation called "The Dark Horse of Winter" would appear in the winter sky every few years and was seen as an incredibly bad omen.

Anyhow, my "Manistus the Scrivener" was good enough for sixth place, so that earned me a copy of The Ruins of Ramat, an adventure module that I've heard good things about. Unfortunately, I didn't save a copy of that write up anywhere and I have to wait until the next The DomesdayBook web-zine publishes to read it. I'll be damned if I can remember what I wrote.

December 5, 2009

Semi-Drunk Rant and Post

So, as the title states, I have a bit of a buzz going on. Not so strong that I can't insert a pic or a link or two, but, well, yeah. We consumed a good bit of alcohol at tonight's game. Good ol' Sam brought some Crown Royal (the bag naturally already being used as his dice bag) and Dave White brought some high-octane Belgium beer.

So another great session tonight. The group headed back to Rappan Athuk after a bit of restocking and spell scribing in Bard's Gate. They described to restart from square one (i.e., dungeon level 1) and that allowed me to bring back some of the RA classics, including the Dung Monster and the Green Gargoyles. They also headed to the Red Jester (from Tome of Horrors II), which I use as a substitute for Sacarcek on level 2. That allowed for some great role-playing and lots of laughs.

Anyhow, no real point to this post other than I have a blast gaming. It bothers me that other folks look down on it. They don't realize what they're missing. It's not the game so much as the fun you get from sharing laughs and dice over a table week after week. It's like a poker night, but unlike the poker night, the group is working together. There is camaraderie (thank you spell check for that one).

Any way, damn I like me some D&D.

November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Many years ago, back in the heyday of the OGL and d20, Necromancer Games put out a free Thanksgiving Day-themed module. Yes, you read that correctly, a Turkey Day adventure! To add whip cream to this pumpkin pie, it's written by Casey Christofferson, one of my favorite gaming writers. He has had a hand in some of NG's best work, such as Bard's Gate and the City of Brass. These days he writes great stuff for Troll Lord Games, namely supplements for his piece-meal campaign setting, the Haunted Highlands.

Anyhow, I thought it was worth resurrecting this beast for the holiday. Behold! The Feast of the Gobbler!

November 20, 2009

Nothing quite like game night

It's been kind of hectic around the ol' home front, so I'm eagerly awaiting tonight's game to blow off some steam. Nothing better than throwing down some beer and letting the dice roll as a way to end the week.

The last two sessions have been kind of lack-luster due to my DMing, but I feel back on my game, as it were, so I anticipate tonight to be a blast. The party plans on staking out an ancient necropolis near Bard's Gate, so I worked up a pretty interesting encounter for that one. Then it's back to Rappan Athuk!

November 9, 2009

My Campaign

As I’ve alluded to earlier, nearly all of my D&D 3.5 experience has revolved around Necromancer Games (NG) products. I have played in a few campaigns that didn’t involve NG products, but I typically DM rather than play. The only campaign I manage to play in currently makes use of NG’s Grey Citadel adventure.

I did run the first Freeport module, Death in Freeport (by Green Ronin), and that was great fun. However, while I was going through a rough spot in my life, my good buddy (and roommate at the time), gave me a fantastic pick me up gift: Rappan Athuk I and Rappan Athuk II . Why did he pick these ones out? Because of the NG slogan, proudly displayed on their products: “Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel.” My friend’s only stipulation with these gifts was that I must DM him through them. Oh, the poor fool… little did he know what he was getting into.

Rappan Athuk (RA) is known as a real meat grinder of a dungeon. Neither I nor my buddy knew that at the time though. The concepts of “level-appropriate” and “balanced” encounters hold no sway in RA. It is a dungeon for players with the testicular fortitude to watch their favorite PCs die a horrible, horrible death. Although, it was created in the vein of Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors, I think RA surpasses that hoary module not necessarily due to lethality, but rather due to its scope.

Why the hell would anyone want to play in such a campaign? Challenge and curiosity are the main motivations, I think. Every gamer worth his salt thinks he can beat the unbeatable. Plus, when a gamer hears about a dungeon with such a reputation, there is that morbid curiosity to see how tough it really is.

On a side note, I’ve seen a lot of benefits in playing a campaign as tough as this one. My players’ gaming skills have increased exponentially. It was a damn blood bath for a while, and they still have their set-backs, but damn if they don’t kick some serious tail these days. I like to think it’s because they’ve honed themselves in the fire of RA. I also believe running RA has made me a much better GM. It’s put me through the paces and I’ve had to run some very tough encounters and make some very tough calls. I’ve learned a lot.

My current campaign is my second attempt at running RA. I ran my first RA campaign in 2003-2004, shortly after getting the modules. This campaign was fun, but I lost focus. I’ll explain that campaign another time, but suffice it to say, it became more than an RA campaign. That campaign ended when I moved out of state for a job.

The start of the current RA campaign coincided with two things: 1.) my moving back to the Pittsburgh area and 2.) the release of Rappan Athuk Reloaded (RARE). This boxed set contains all the original materials, updated to D&D 3.5, plus additional material (some of it brand-spanking new, some of it having been formerly available as Web support downloads).

Once back in da Burgh, I rallied up the gaming troops and sent out this introduction:

“Certainty of death, small chance of success…. What are we waiting for?”

Let me take you back to ancient times. I was but a boy of 8 or so and my brother brought home this strange book with monsters on the cover… a red dragon in the air, a troll lurking underground, and something called a “roper“ flailing about its tentacles. Thereafter, every once and in a while, my brother would come home from the local drugstore with a new module. He’d “make some guys” for me and we dive into this new world of adventure, full of underground perils, new monsters, and magical loot. There was something almost magical about it.

Well, folks, I had that feeling again today: my order of "Rappan Athuk - Reloaded" arrived.

I invite you all to roll some dice, slay some monsters, lose some hit points, and have some fun.

Ok, enough of the holding hands and far away looks… cue the music…

<“Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor…”>

Let the blood bath begin. This is going to be as straight forward as they come. A straight up, beer and pretzels dungeon crawl. Over-arching plot line? Not here. Quest to save the world? Not here. What’s the plan? No, not nuke ‘em from orbit (you wish), the plan is: Enter the dungeon, kill and loot as much as you can, retreat to the city to heal (i.e., raise the dead), count your money, repeat. That is it. It’s you versus the dungeon.

There will be no house rules and no big campaign setting. There will be a city of some kind where the party will be able to restock and rest. All resources (within reason) will be available. For example, there will be a priest high enough level to raise your PCs (for a price), healing potions can be readily bought, supplies for crafting magic items will be available, henchmen to hire, etc. Rappan Athuk is hard enough without added difficulties, so we will be playing this stuff by the book.

Folks, this is Rappan Athuk. You know what you’re getting into. I think the dungeon is freakin’ great, but, as you know from experience, it’s tough as hell. If you sign up to play, please go in knowing that the body count on this is going to be high. On the other hand, when you kick arse, you know you *really* kicked arse.

The party will consist of 6th level PCs created by the point buy system (the highest allowed by the DMG) with equipment (including magic items) bought as per the DMG guidelines. In all seriousness, I’d advise you create a few characters (if one dies mid-session, I will work in your backup ASAP). Does anyone know of a good PC generator that allows for point-buy?

If you’d like to play, please let me know what time and days are good for you. Then we’ll figure out a schedule. If you can’t play regularly, you are still welcome to attend whenever you want. Your PC will be there only when you are there to play him.

Let me know if you have any questions.

November 5, 2009

Castles & Crusades: The SIEGE Engine Mechanic

At his blog, Under Siege, Pat Bellavance (a.k.a. Moriarty777) posted this great explanation of the Castles & Crusades SIEGE Engine mechanic. This is a great explanation, so I decided to share: "What is this 'SIEGE Engine' anyway?"

October 28, 2009

Happy Halloween - The Steampunk Pumpkin

My buddy, Hans Scharler, created a kick-arse Steampunk Pumpkin. It uses the ioBridge, this neat gadget that he helped create. It lets folks easily control just about anything via the Web. Ha, he even had his toaster tweeting via the ioBridge.

Behold, the Pumpkin!

October 17, 2009

Warriors of Time

My musical tastes are pretty much stuck in the nineth grade.  I can't stop listening to "Warriors of Time" by Black Tide.  It's not surprising that a D&D fan like myself would dig a song about warriors fighting throughout time.

Here is the great video which features their mascot, "The Bastard" (YouTube won't let me embed this one):

Unfortunately, they cut the excellent intro for that video, so here is the song in its entirety:

October 9, 2009

Favorite Trap

Inspired by a recent Penny Arcade strip here, I thought I'd post my favorite D&D trap.

It's from "A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords."

Cunning Gelatinous Cubes
"As soon as the first rank of the party walks onto the 10 foot x 20 foot area (marked by the dotted lines) a 1-foot-thick slab of stone tilts, spilling them into a pit on top of a gelatinous cube. Characters in the second rank must save vs. Paralyzation to avoid falling into the pit. [Frost - Note: only the *second* rank gets to make a save.] Every round, a character who is in contact with the cube will take 2-8 points of damage and must save vs. Paralyzation or become paralyzed for 5-20 rounds. In addition, once per round the cube will extend a pseudopod and strike an opponent up to 15 feet away. The pit is 10 feet wide, 20 feet long, and 5 feet deep. The cube has altered its shape to fits this area."

To make matters worse, there is a second cube in the room that sneaks up on the party while they deal with the first. Glorious.

When I DMed that module back in high school, I do recall it messed up the party's monk pretty badly, but I don't think anyone died. I think it's the evil simplicity of it that appeals to me. Well, that and it involves gelatinous cubes (and cunning ones at that).

October 7, 2009

My Internet Hang Outs

I have been frequenting online message boards for years.

These are the ones I haunt the most in order of frequency:

Troll Lord Games
Since the onset of 4e and the resulting dry up of 3.5 support, I grew more interested in Castles & Crusades and, as such, found a new home at the TLG forums. A real nice group of people posts here regularly. It's a small community, but a loyal one. C&C is obviously the focus, but they talk about gaming in general.

Necromancer Games
Most of my 3rd edition D&D experience has revolved around Necromancer Games products, particularly Rappan Athuk which was been my main source of campaign material for years. The forums aren't very active these days and most of the original crowd has moved on. However, with the recent release of a few back-logged 3.5 products, there has been more activity there as of late. It's nice to see Bill Webb posting again. He is the main author on most of my favorite NG products.
ENWorld is a great place to get general RPG news. The forums are extensive and, by and large, civil. I don't post there too much as the majority of the subjects never grab me. Perhaps it's because I'm more interested in discussing particular gaming products rather than gaming in general.

My Gaming Background

To say I have not been very prolific with this blog is the understatement of the year. Well, like the blog title states, I’m a dad and a busy one with two little girls, not to mention work, etc. I have resolved to get this thing up and running, though, so here it goes.

Let me explain a bit about myself. I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since I was eight. My older brother taught me the rules back in the day and I’ve been in love with the game ever since. I cut my teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons because it’s the rule set my brother was using at the time. I later found his basic set rules (with the Erol Otus covers) and I recall a friend having the red box, but I never made much use of those rules. To me, AD&D was D&D. I stuck with AD&D 1st edition for quite some time, stubbornly refusing to move to AD&D 2nd edition when it came out. I did later switch to AD&D 2e when I realized that the rules weren’t a hell of a lot different than 1e. Hell, THACO seemed like a damn revolution (although, funny enough, it actually first appeared in the 1st edition Dungeon Master Guide). My gaming group regularly used 1e and 2e materials interchangeably and I DMed tons of 1e modules. Ha, it was an interesting surprise to me, and my players I’m sure, when I started DMing “Against the Giants” without realizing giants had received some steroids between 1e and 2e.

I jumped into 3rd edition as soon as it came out. That version of D&D really got me excited about D&D again. I felt that it brought back much of the great flavor that had been ripped out of 2e in TSR’s rush for political correctness. We had our half-orcs and assassins back! One could even use the words “demon” and “devil” again! Gasp! I was a bit miffed when 3.5 came out because I felt deceived. The gaming community was told it was simply a patch to the old system, sort of like a cleaned up printing of the 3e rules. Well, that wasn’t the case. Yes, one could use 3e materials in a 3.5 game without much difficulty, but the same could be said of 1e materials in a 2e game. I just wish Wizards of the Coast had been upfront and called 3.5 what it really is: the 4th edition of the game.

As for the official 4th edition of D&D (which I see as the 5th edition, really), I have no interest in it. I could go on and on about it, but the simple fact is that it’s not the game for me. I actually wouldn’t mind trying it as a player, but I don’t have the time or desire to learn new rules, especially those that were declared incompatible with my older materials.

While I play D&D 3.5, my favorite system is Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games. It is a version of D&D best seen as a simple, rules-light version of D&D 3.5. I’ll explain why I love C&C in another post.

For whatever reason, I never have much interest in systems other than D&D (I see C&C as a version of D&D). I did play in a great Shadowrun campaign back in the day and I ran Gamma World from time to time, but D&D is my home system and I can’t really push myself to move beyond it. I’ll gladly play other RPGs (and would do so if I had more time), but I have no interest in GMing them (although I do have an itch to GM Gamma World again).

Well, that is enough for now. As you can see from the margins, I’m currently DMing a Rappan Athuk Reloaded campaign. I think I’ll detail that in my next post.

May 28, 2009

Gaming Setup 101: A cheap, kick-arse dry erase battle map.

Upgraded Battle Map 1, originally uploaded by -Frost-.
There are plenty of options for battle maps these days. There are the classic vinyl mats, but those are wet-erase and I find them a pain in the ass to clean. I don't like having water or soggy paper towels around my pretty game books. I know a lot of folks, such as the folks who designed the Avenger (aka the Ultimate) Game Table use plexi-glass. However, that can be a bit expensive. For example, this site has a 18 inch x 24 piece for $9.00. You have to pony up some considerable coin if you want a good-sized map. The only bonus is that you can place any kind of grid you want underneath it (e.g., a hexmap, pre-printed maps, etc.).

I created my battle map from tileboard from Home Depot. It costs about $11.00 for a 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheet. It is a heck of a deal, although toting it home might be a problem. I crammed mine into the back of my Jeep Cherokee and that was an adventure to say the least. I had to cruise down the interstate hunched over like Grandma Betty so that the tileboard could fit in the car. In hindsight, I should have just asked an employee to cut the board into a couple manageable pieces.

To grid the map, I used a dry-wall T-square and an exacto knife. I have found no other way to ensure a permanent grid. Even industrial strength marker has come off. A dry-wall T-square is marked just like a ruler, so that greatly simplifies the process of scoring the 1 inch squares. Go slow, though. Since you are cutting into the board, any mistakes you make are going to be permanent.
Upgraded Battle Map 2

May 20, 2009

Gaming Setup 101: Not-So Famous Gaming Table - Option 2

Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method

If you’re like me and have a tight budget, I suggest you check out the wonders of Craig’s List ( for your gaming table needs. (Not to mention, you might want to search for used Dungeons & Dragons goodies as well.) Craig’s List is basically one big online rummage sale. Log on, select your city (on the right side of the page), and start searching. Steer clear of the “services” section unless you’re looking for another kind of role-playing. If you don’t find any ads, place your own wanted ad. Craig’s List is entirely free, so you have nothing to lose. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I found my chairs and both of my tables via wanted ads. Most of the folks selling these large folding tables previously used them for flea markets or garage sales, so don’t expect much in the way of looks. However, for the price, you can’t beat it.

Craig's List:
Homemade folding table with lovely faux wood paneling surface (86” x 33“) & 8 wooden folding chairs: $25.00

Homemade folding table with red Formica surface (96” x 30“): $10.00

Craig’s List Total: $35.00

As you can see, I bought two tables and eight chairs for less then the cost of one table at Sam‘s Club or Costco. Are they pretty? Hell, no! But they serve their purpose beautifully. On top of that, they are much larger than the tables I quoted above. Granted, Sam’s Club or Costco sell larger tables than the ones I quoted, but expect to pay a good bit more (for example, one comparable-sized table at Sam’s Club goes for about $70.00).

Again, these tables aren’t pretty at all. I had the odd luck of finding two people selling large, homemade tables. The faux wood paneling table is hideous and not terribly sturdy, but it works. More importantly, the wooden chairs that came with it are much better than the plastic or metal ones you can get, so those were a tremendous deal. The red Formica table isn’t pretty either, but is well-made.

I could care less that they are ugly. My battle map covers them almost completely anyway. However, if you end up with some ugly tables, and are bothered by it, just throw a table cloth or sheet over them.

I think I’ve made my point. Craig’s List can be your best friend when it comes to finding a great gaming table. Even if you want tables that look better than my beauties, you still have a good chance of finding tables and chairs for a much better price than what you’ll pay at the store. And, what the hell, right? It’s a free service, so why not try?

Once you have your tables, the next step is to get yourself a great gaming surface. I’ll discuss that in my next article

Gaming Setup 101: Not-So Famous Gaming Table - Option 1

How to Create a Not-So Famous Gaming Table

Buy yourself two, large folding tables. You don’t need a nice table for gaming but you do need a big table. Yes, boys, size matters (even in Dungeons & Dragons). Even if you have a small gaming group, you’ll likely need a large gaming surface. In addition to needing room for the battle map or game board, you’ll need room for polyhedral dice rolling, players’ books, drinks and snacks, and, of course, your broad sword. Assuming you have the space, I recommend picking up two tables. This will provide you with ample playing area. Even if you have a small group, one table probably won’t be enough to accommodate everything and everyone. Also, gaming groups have a tendency to grow, so think about the future. Buy the largest tables you can afford (and, obviously, that you can accommodate). I recommend your tables be at least 72” x 30” (6’ x 2.5’).

In addition to large tables, I recommend folding ones. Why folding? This allows you to use your gaming area for other things than, well, gaming. For example, although I game in my unfinished basement, it’s nice to be able to fold up the tables and put them against the wall so my kids can run around down there on a rainy day. Also, if you ever move, it’s much easier to fit a folding table through the door than some mammoth one-piece table.

There are two ways you can go about getting your folding tables:
Option 1: The Fancy Pants Method
Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method.

Option 1: The Fancy Pants Method

If you have the cash, you can get nice folding tables from places like Office Depot, Costco, or Sam’s Club. I’d recommend going to Sam’s Club or Costco. If you don’t have a membership, ask a friend who belongs to take you. By and large, you’ll get more for your money. For example:

These tables run from around $40.00 to $80.00. Obviously, the bigger the tables, the higher the price. Again, I recommend you get the biggest ones you can afford.

Naturally, you’ll need chairs to go with your tables. Like the tables, I suggest getting folding ones that can be stowed. The price of chairs varies a lot. For example, you can opt for the Steel Cage Match 4-Pack at Office Depot for about $30.00:

However, since you’ll be sitting for hours at a time, you’ll likely want something at least a tad more comfortable. Sam’s Club has a four pack of plastic chairs for about $80.00.

Assuming you don’t opt for the Steel Chairs of Torture, here is the price breakdown for the cheapest stuff from both Sam‘s Club and Costco:

Two folding tables (72” x 30”): $50.80 x 2: $101.60
Two 4-packs of folding chairs: $104.99 x 2: $209.98
Costco Total: $311.58

Sam’s Club
Two folding tables (72” x 30”): $39.88 x 2: $79.76
Two 4-packs of folding chairs: $81.37 x 2: $162.74
Sam’s Club Total: $242.50

Sam’s Club is about $70.00 cheaper and appears to be the winner here. However, keep in mind that the Sam’s Club prices I used were based on my location (I had to enter my ZIP code), so your results may be vary. Also, obviously, your price will be cheaper if you don’t need as many chairs.

Personally, both of these totals are a bit rich for my blood. If you’re married like me, you might have a hard time convincing your wife that such an investment is worth it. (Although, I should point out, these tables and chairs are handy for parties and that kind of thing in addition to gaming, so you might be able to work that angle).

However, if you’re like me and have a tight budget, I suggest you try Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method.

Gaming Setup 101: Famous Tables

One often overlooked aspect to D&D gaming is the physical area in which you play. Understandably, most folks focus on buying game materials, prepping the adventure, buying snacks, etc. However, in order to have a truly satisfying experience, you need a good place to play. This article is a first in a series about the crucial elements for a great gaming setup. My tips are for the gamer on a budget. If you’re like me, most of your money goes for bills, diapers, and other necessities (e.g., beer). More often than not, gaming supplies are the last on the list.

The Table

The table is the cornerstone of the gaming setup. If your table is crap, your game will suffer. However, having a great table can be simpler, and cheaper, than one might think.

Famous Gaming Tables

A few gaming tables have made the rounds on the web. By and large, these tables aren’t for a guy on a budget. Here are my thoughts on them.

The Avenger Table
This one is my personal favorite. It is highly utilitarian and that is the real key to a great table in my book. You can even buy instructions for $11.00 from the website. The table itself is not cheap though. The website states that the entire setup cost the creator about $2000.00 to assemble (that price is for the whole room, but I’d bet the bulk of the money went to the table). If I ever had the time and resources, I would seriously consider making such a table. The only thing I have against it is its wet erase gaming surface. Personally, I think dry erase works the best for gaming, and I think one could easily substitute a dry erase surface for the one they use. I’ll deal with options for a cheap and practical gaming surface in a subsequent article.

The Agyris Game Table
This table is probably the coolest looking table around, but I’m not a fan. It has some neat features, like a clever way to pass messages to players, but other than that, it doesn’t seem that practical to me. It’s too cool for its own good. One aspect I do like is its elevated gaming surface.

Pen, Paper, & Pixel Table
I have seen quite a few setups online that make use of an projector to display the battle map on the table, such as the Pen, Paper, & Pixell one. The main innovation here is about the gaming surface rather than the table itself, so I’ll save most of my review of this setup for that discussion. For the actual table, while I think the size is perfect, I’m don’t care for the rest. The table is designed to be low so as to be used with the surrounding futons. While it might be very comfortable while relaxing or waiting your turn, this setup requires players to lean forward all the time to roll, move miniatures, etc. That seems a bit annoying to me. It looks perfect for hanging out, drinking a beer, and BSing with friends, but not so great for playing a game.
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