Archive for January, 2013

River’s Bend Poets Inn

Here’s my second entry for The Grand Original Map Contest, this time for the “Best Trap, Treasure or Puzzle” category. I’m using Small Map B – Rose River for this one. I also have a feeling I’m stretching the intent of the contest a bit here, but that’s okay. I mean, worst-case scenario, I don’t win, which means I end up with what I started with.

River’s Bend Poets Inn

Everyone knows the quickest route through the Iseash Foothills is down the Orouns, that deep, fast-moving river that provides the Inundr Lowlands with so much of its water for irrigation. From the highland Alir Fortress to the sprawling rivertown Cadel, the trip downriver runs two or three days even for experienced river guides.

Meyr Alail, prophetess of Aelincar, the God of Poetry, received a vision in which she saw peoples from many faiths and nations gathered on a sandy river bank, peacefully enjoying wine and food and sharing poems. A single rose grew from the sand and blossomed. Within its petals rested a diamond shining with an inner light. Meyr set out on a pilgrimage down the Orouns and found that sandy bank halfway between the fortress and the town, just east of a wide, wooded valley. Following her vision, Meyr established the River’s Bend Poets Inn.

Over the subsequent years, the inn has grown into quite the regional attraction. Let’s take a tour!

As you wind down the Orouns nearing the inn, the first things you see are the wide, sandy East Bank and the sturdy stone arches supporting the high, stout bridge that spans the river from East Bank into the Sunrise Caves. Passing through these splendid natural chambers with their iridescent crystals, we enter the Hall. Meyr and her followers have carved pastoral bas reliefs into the walls. A short hall to the southwest leads to the soft grass banks at the entrance to the wide, wooded valley. The solid door at the end of this hallway is seldom locked. In the Hall, one also sees an L-shaped corridor leading away to the northwest. This is the Poet’s Passage, and it ends in another solid door, but this one is always locked. Indeed, it is held fast by magic, but it can be opened four times a year by the possessor of the Poet’s Key.

But What About the Trap, Treasure, or Puzzle?

Patience! I’m getting to it.

Remember Meyr’s vision? The part about the rose with the diamond? It turns out the vision was a tad more literal than most prophetic dreams. Four times a year — at each solistice and equinox — the East Bank is crowded with competitors, and spectators throng the bridge as well as the river in anchored boats. From dusk until the dawn, competitors compose original songs and poems in various styles and on numerous topics, doing so under the pious guidance of Meyr and her followers. When the sun starts to rise, a winner is declared, and if that winner’s efforts please Aelincar, then a single rose sprouts and blossoms. Within its petals rests the Poet’s Key. The winner may take the key, process across the bridge, through the Sunrise Caves and the Hall to the door at the end of the Poet’s Passage.

In the stunning caverns on the other side of the locked door awaits a reward chosen and provided by Aelincar himself. The nature of this treasure varies from contest to contest, but it always seems to be somehow related to the winner’s poems. Because of Aelincar’s interpretive whims, the treasure may be something of value, such as gold or gems, or it may instead be something personal, such as long-lost childhood toy restored by the God of Poetry.

That’s It? What Kind of Treasure Is That?

Well, it’s one earned by poetic prowess, so what were you expecting? Fabled riches? And, yes, this might be the sort of thing that hardened adventurers aren’t ever going to participate in.

Of course, there’s more going on each solstice and equinox than just the contest. The inn is crowded with visitors, and not all of them are there for the verse. In past years, the contest has served as a backdrop for intrigue, romance, and crime as well as the sort of hard partying that can lead to memory loss.

January 23rd, 2013  in RPG 2 Comments »

The Mountain Fastness of the Vermillion Coenobites

Over at Tenkar’s Tavern, some excellent people, including map guru Dyson Logos, are running a too-cool contest. Check out the details here. Of course, I have to throw my hat into the ring, so here’s my entry for the Best Creature. This entry uses Small Map C – Troll Chasm.

The Mountain Fastness of the Vermillion Coenobites

Last century, the Vermillion Coenobites labored to create a mountain retreat where they could sing their escatic psalms to bring about the end of one age and birth of the next. For a time, the community thrived, but eventually it collapsed from within, torn apart by internal jealousies and conflicts over obscure doctrinal points. Shortly after the last abbot died, poisoned by the hands of a rival monk according to persistent rumor, the order disintegrated. Many questions about the last days of the Vermillion Coenobites remain unanswered. Chief among these questions is this one: What happened to the order’s wealth? During the cult’s heyday, several wealthy donors gave generously to the monks to secure positions of importance in the next age that the order would supposedly bring about.

Unfortunately for treasure seekers, the order’s crumbling mountain fastness is abandoned no more. A band of earthwrights now live in the ancient monastery, and these creatures do not tolerate trespassers. To warn and frighten away the curious, the earthwrights have left would-be interlopers trapped in tombs of twisted stone in which the imprisoned have starved to death.

Earthwright (for Swords & Wizardry)

Hit Dice: 3+3
Armor Class: 2 [18]
Attacks: By weapon (1d8)
Saving Throw: 14
Special: rock jump, shape earth and stone
Move: 6
Alignment: Chaos (sometimes Neutrality)
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

Earthwrights appear much like dwarves, but stand noticeably taller and wider. They shun armor, relying on their stony flesh for protection. If forced into melee, earthwrights fight with weapons, preferring cold steel that can hack muscle and bone. More formidable than axes and broad swords, however, is these creatures’ power over earth and stone. Once per day each, an earthwright can “cast” animate object (stone objects only), passwall, and transmute rock to mud. Earthwrights move slowly, but they can rock jump once per round. This ability enables an earthwright to teleport between any two points touching earth or rock that are within 60 feet. The destination must be within the earthwright’s line of sight. Once per round instead of making a normal attack or “casting” one of its spells, an earthwright can shape earth and stone out to a range of 60 feet. The target must make a saving throw to avoid being partially entombed as the earth and stone beneath him snake upward to grab and hold. A trapped target cannot move or attack unless he first succeeds on an open doors check. Earthwrights often layer earth and stone on a victim. Each successive saving throw an already trapped creature fails imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to his open doors checks to break free.

January 19th, 2013  in RPG 1 Comment »

Rory’s Story Cubes

I seldom need much encouragement to do two things: spend money on myself and be geeky. This explains how I ended up with a set each of Rory’s Story Cubes and Rory’s Story Cubes Actions.

It happened like this:

Christmas vacation had arrived. I had two weeks off, and I’d deliberately decided to not do any of my teacher work during the holiday. Instead, I would eat, drink, and be merry. Being merry involved living vicariously through people I follow on Google+, including Matt Jackson of Chubby Monster Games. Matt Google-plussed about using Story Cubes to flesh out an NPC for a game he was going to run.

I’d never heard of Story Cubes, so I surfed the Interwaves, and ended up watching several reviews and demos on YouTube. After this, I found myself one-click shopping at Amazon dot com. A few days later, the boxes of Story Cubes arrived, and they were mine. All mine!

Since then, I’ve played with them a bit. I demonstrated them to my family. I demonstrated them to my 5th graders. The demos weren’t hard. You (1) roll all nine dice, (2) look at the pictures, and then (3) make up a story that starts “Once upon a time…” using the pictures. That’s it. There aren’t any wrong answers. For added complexity and/or more options, toss the action dice as well. These have pictures of stick figures engaged in various activities. When you’re done making up your story, pass the dice to another player and enjoy them getting to be spontaneously creative.

The game components per set consist of nine sturdy six-sided dice with rounded corners. Each face of each die has a different picture for a total of 54 different pics per set. The dice come in a sturdy box a bit larger than a pack of playing cards. The box holds itself shut via a magnet. Both sets fit easily in the outer pocket of my laptop’s carrying case. I could fit either one in the front pocket of my jeans.

This game is a great idea for some silliness with your kids, as a teaching tool for students, as an ice-breaker at a party or meeting, or as inspiration for your own writing/gaming. In the latter mode, taking my cue from Matt Jackson, here’s a quick NPC to go along the dice results shown in the picture above and to the right:

NPC’s Name: Marlena

Occupation: Marlena is a dealer for high-stakes card games (hand) held in the private residences of the wealthy (building). She’s not above skewing the odds in favor of the house (scales).

Details: Marlena questions the morality of her occupation (question mark) and fears she’s living on borrowed time (clock). She is an avid reader (book).

Personality: Marlena hates to lose (the L). She loves fine and beautiful things, especially those that are fleeting (flower). Marlena has trouble managing her personal finances (credit card).

January 19th, 2013  in RPG 2 Comments »

The Mngurumo

One of the advantages of being a one-man show of a game company is that I get to set all of my deadlines without having to worry about committees or what not. When I started writing Tiamat’s Throne, I had set a deadline of the end of February 2013 to have the playtest documents ready. I’m not too sure that’s going to happen, but I’m plodding along regardless. While the possibility of missing my deadline is a bit annoying, at least I haven’t taken anyone’s money in exchange for nothing. I guess that’s something.

Regarding Tiamat’s Throne, I’m most behind on my planet write-ups (see an example of a rough-drafted planet here). I’m trying to have a variety of planets to make it easier for GMs to mix and match various science fiction and fantasy tropes. So, for example, Castor is a undead apocalypse planet. Deneb is an arctic world. I know I want to have a dinosaur planet because dinosaurs are cool. This also means I get to make up new dinosaurs, such as:


Stars Without Number Stats

Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 8
Attack Bonus: +6
Damage: 3d4 tail
No. Appearing: 4-16
Saving Throw: 11+
Movement: 20 ft.
Morale: 7

Swords & Wizardry Stats

Hit Dice: 8
Armor Class: 4 [15]
Attacks: Tail (3d4)
Saving Throw: 8
Special: Blind, breath weapon, immune to sonic effects, sonar
Move: 9
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1,400

The mngurumo (ming-uru-mo) is a sauropod that travels savannahs in family herds. Adult bulls average 10 feet in length, excluding the tail, which adds about another 10 feet, and weigh around one ton. Cows are somewhat smaller. Mngurumos possess some unusual abilities. They are sightless, completely lacking any visual organs. What appear to be ocular cavities in the creature’s skull contain highly sensitive sonar organs. As a result, mngurumos function nearly as well as sighted creatures in most respects. When threatened, mngurumos prefer to flee, but if hard-pressed, they will fight. A mngurumo’s tail lash strikes with devastating force. Adult mngurumos also possesses a powerful breath weapon that inflicts 8d4 points of sonic damage in a cone with a length of 70 feet and a base of 30 feet. A mngurumo can use its breath weapon once per hour.

January 19th, 2013  in Product Development, RPG No Comments »

Matthias the Sorcerer

One of the things I bought myself for Christmas was Microscope by Ben Robbins. It’s my first foray into the realm of story-based RPGs. My son Christopher and I sat down and played for about an hour and a half, trying to get a handle on the rules and concepts behind the game. It was interesting and entertaining, albeit a bit confusing here and there. Still, I don’t regret the purchase. With more play time, I’m sure it’ll click, which is good since I want to use Microscope to establish character backstories before I start my next Man Day Adventures campaign.

Here’s what Christopher and I came up with:

Matthias lived in a small town with his mother Yandella. The young man loved Julia, the daughter of a money-seeking patriarch. He was also troubled by strange things happening in his vicinity whenever he was emotional. Objects would move. Fires would start. Things like that.

Matthias walked into the kitchen where Yandella was chopping vegetables near the fire for the evening stew. Matthias was upset, teeth clenched, agitated. He had asked Julia’s father for her hand in marriage, and he had been rejected. Not only rejected, but he discovered Barlow had beat him to the punch. Barlow, the son and heir of the town’s wealthiest landowner. Matthias tried to change the father’s mind, but to no avail. Rage overwhelmed Matthias, and arcane power burst forth uncontrolled. Barlow was injured by bolts of lightning.

Yandella could see her son’s agitation, and she noticed the inexplicable movements of several small household items. What she didn’t know was that Julia’s father had summoned the town guard.

“What’s the matter, son?” she asked.

Matthias sat down, trying to calm himself. He told his mother about what had happened, sparing no details. “It’s not fair! She doesn’t love Barlow. She loves me.”

“Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe, when people have calmed down….” Her voice trailed off. Did Matthias see the fear in her eyes? Did he see how hard she was trying to keep her hands from shaking?

A shadow moving past the kitchen window caught Yandella’s attention. Another shadow, and this time she could see the livery of the town guard. Her grip tightened on the handle of the knife. They’d not take her son. He was all she had left!

The guards burst in through front and back, yelling, barking orders. One of them knocked over a table. Yandella started to move, to protect her son. Matthias leapt from his chair. It flew across the room to smash against the wall.

“No!” he screamed.

White hot flames exploded from the fireplace, enveloping Yandella. Her hair burnt. Her flesh bubbled, curling back from her bones.

“Mother! Gods! Mother!”

All fight left Matthias. He collapsed to his knees, sobbing, horrified eyes locked on Yandella’s smouldering corpse.

There was a trial a few days later. Matthias stood on the platform of the accused before the judges and the jury. Witnesses were called. Barlow’s family used its wealth and influence, demanding the severest punishments possible. Only one person stood to defend Matthias: the young man’s best friend. The confrontation grew heated. Matthias watched, helpless, increasingly angry. Barlow’s family threatened Matthias’s best friend.

“Enough!” Matthias yelled. Arcane power crackled across his body.

“Matthias, don’t!”

But it was too late. The energy had started to flow, and Matthias could not control it. In a flash, lightning raged and thunder crashed. People screamed. Many fled, but one could not flee. Could no longer do anything, for he had caught the brunt of the arcane fury. Matthias’s best friend was dead.

“Seize him! Kill him!”

Matthias recoiled from the second loved one he had killed. And then, the young man vanished. Under cover of invisibility, Matthias fled into self-imposed exile.

Time passed. Matthias had learned to control his arcane powers, and he had even made some friends, several young adventurers eager to use their talents to make the world a less safe place for the forces of evil. Matthias viewed his association with these new friends as a way to atone for the deaths of his mother and his best friend.

When word reached Matthias and company that his town was in the path of a rampaging orc army, the adventurers threw caution to the wind and journeyed there. Julia learned that Matthias was back in town. She snuck out of the house and went to the inn where Matthias was staying. She threw several pebbles at his window. Alerted by the tapping, Matthias opened the shutters and peered outside. There, in the moonlight, was his love.

“Julia,” he said, “you shouldn’t be here.”

“I had to come. I had to. Come with me. Quickly.”

Minutes later, Julia and Matthias stood in shadows by the river’s edge. Julia confessed her love for Matthias. He reciprocated.

“Julia, after my friends and I have defeated the orcs, come with me. Be my wife.”

Julia’s eyes brimmed with tears. Seeing the tears, icy fear touched Matthias’s heart, but then the cold melted into joy.

“Yes, my love!” Julia said. “By the gods, yes!”

What neither of the young lovers knew was that further in the future, their dreams would turn to nightmares, and Matthias would eventually turn his back on life and light to become a lich.

(The picture below is what the “game board” looked like when we quit to watch Iron Chef America.)

January 13th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »