Saturday, April 22, 2017

[D&D] Losing the Caverns of Tsojcanth

AD&D module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth from 1982 has always been one of my very favorites. It's loaded with peak-era Gary Gygax flavor, and it's also really fun to play through. Doing so was one of the uncontested highlights of my first D&D campaign in the 80s, and I've revisited it (and the earlier tournament version from 1977, The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth) several times since. Having recently learned, via the El Raja Key Archive, that the Greater Caverns dungeon level has an even earlier pedigree, originally conceived as level 10 of Rob Kuntz's Castle El Raja Key c. 1973, and later incorporated as Core Level 7 of the legendary Greyhawk Castle itself, only strengthens my conviction that this adventure has the strongest claim of anything published of being The Quintessential D&D Adventure - the single product that best demonstrates and exemplifies the scope, feel, and intent of D&D as imagined by Gary Gygax.

That said, a close reading reveals some issues, especially with the first, outdoor section of the adventure (i.e. the material that was added in 1982). The scale of the map is too small, the caverns are insufficiently "lost" and don't show any real evidence of having been Iggwilv's former home, and the notion of a race to uncover them is played up in the introduction but not followed up in the adventure itself. Here's how I chose to resolve each of those in turn:

1.  Comparing the outdoor map in the module to the World of Greyhawk poster-map, it seems pretty clear that the former is supposed to represent the entire southern section of the Yatil Mountains, from the hills of Perrenland in the northwest corner to the Velverdyva River gorge along the eastern edge - roughly columns C5 to I5. And yet, using the stated scale of 3.5 miles per hex, it isn't nearly big enough. One possible interpretation is to say that the map doesn't cover that entire area, but that's not aesthetically satisfying to me. I prefer instead to modify the scale to 7.5 miles per hex. This not only makes the maps match, it also makes the travel rates in the module (in hexes per day) more closely match those listed in the World of Greyhawk Glossography, so it's a win-win. While you're at it, go ahead and also change the scale on the outdoor map in WG4 from 3 hexes per mile to 1 mile per hex.

2. The adventure doesn't mention it, but the side-trail leading from the main trail to the caverns must be hidden in some way so that it's not obvious to everyone who passes that intersection, and con only be discovered if a party specifically states that they're searching the area for a hidden trail. Otherwise the supposedly "lost" caverns aren't actually lost at all - not least because, assuming the party is coming from the south, the trail leading to them is the very first intersection they'll pass. The outdoor portion of the adventure makes a LOT more sense if we assume the party initially passes by that trail and has all manner of red-herring outdoor adventures before eventually gathering enough clues and other info from the hermit, the gnomes, etc. to lead them back there, at which point they will probably feel a little dumb and annoyed for having walked right past it the first time.

A couple of sub-points to consider in this context:

a)  The trail between the Caverns and Perrenland presumably saw heavy traffic while Iggwilv was in power there ("when Iggwilv ruled there was much coming and going to and from the caverns"); the trail south to Ket/Bissel and the trail east to the Encounter Area 1 and the Craggy Dells presumably saw much less traffic. Therefore at the first trail intersection someone with tracking skill (ranger, barbarian) may be able to discern that the trail north has seen considerably more traffic than the west and east trails combined, raising a question of where the additional traffic went. It strains credulity that this difference would actually be detectable, even to an expert tracker, ~80 years later, but it doesn't feel totally outside the realm of reasonable dramatic license to me, and makes for a nice demonstration of how superhumanly awesome such characters are at tracking.

b) Let's assume the Horn of Iggwilv is the tallest peak in this part of the Yatils. Based on a quick Google search it seems reasonable that such a peak might be visible from 50+ miles away. With the increased (7.5 miles/hex) map-scale that means it should be visible from the main trail starting at about the first "encounter dot." With the original (3.5 miles/hex) scale it should be visible anywhere south of the trail-intersection leading to Encounter Area 4. Some players (those attuned to the Chekhov's gun principle) will become immediately intrigued by this mountain once the DM mentions it; others will presumably make the connection after encountering the hermit. They may then attempt to strike out across the mountains towards it, or may decide to search for a hidden trail leading to it, possibly aided by aerial surveillance if they've managed to liberate the hippogriffs from the Craggy Dells...

3. It's sort of implicit in the published adventure that the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (i.e. the Lesser and Greater Caverns detailed in the adventure) weren't actually Iggwilv's headquarters per se, but rather were a location near her headquarters where she i) gained power by looting the more-ancient wizard Tsojcanth's trove of knowledge (presumably the spells that she inscribed into her Demonomicon), and ii) hid her treasure once she realized her reign was collapsing. So, accordingly, there must be another dungeon in the area that was Iggwilv's actual lair, but that isn't detailed in the module because it's already been thoroughly explored and looted. Per the intro to the module: "Cartloads of tapestries and rugs, statues and rare art objects have been recovered over the years as well as chests of precious metals, sacks of coin, and coffers filled with gems and jewelry. It was believed that all her treasure had been looted, and that no magic or wealth remained."

Furthermore, once the party finds the caverns, there's an empty/looted upper area that's dealt with in an extremely perfunctory manner in a passage of read-aloud text (and not even mapped): "The track into this area leads to a cavern with an entrance that seems like a fanged maw. The top is jagged and there are rising, cones of stone below. The cavern is 40' wide, 70' long, and over 20' high in the central area. It has obviously been used much in the past. The walls and ceiling are blackened by soot, and there are bits of broken furniture and discarded gear scattered around. At the back of the place is a smaller cave 20' wide, 30' long, and 15' high. At the northernmost end of the cave is a 10' wide passage slanting steeply down."

So, if one feels the adventure needs more of Iggwilv's Lair, the key to including it is just to expand that area to be not just one cave but one or more full levels, and instead of having the players automatically discover the back cave with the passage leading down to the Lesser Caverns as soon as they arrive, make them work for it. There shouldn't be much treasure on these levels, since they've already been looted, but it's reasonable that some monsters may have wandered back in (or never left). Perhaps if the players have had a rough time in the outdoor adventure and the DM thinks they need some more seasoning before taking on the Caverns proper, this area can be used as a training ground, to help them pick up some XP, gain some confidence, and improve their dungeoneering skills.

4.  The last bit of cognitive dissonance raised by the adventure is how the canned introduction insists that the PCs must make haste and find the caverns as quickly as possible because agents from several other kingdoms are also searching and it's just a matter of time before someone finds them, but in the adventure itself there's no sign of any such groups - there are some patrols, but they're just guarding their own borders, not treasure-seeking. That, to me, feels like a lost opportunity, and that the adventure becomes much more exciting and memorable if there are several rival parties in the area and the PCs are in a race against them. I haven't fully statted these groups out yet, but I came up with the basic ideas for them, as follows:

Ket: This group is incompetent; a large (20+ member) party led by haughty, bigoted clerics. They'll spend the entire time wandering aimlessly in the wilderness, causing trouble for themselves and others. They'll have negative interactions with every other group of intelligent monsters or NPCs whom them encounter (except for the Kettite patrol, and maybe the hobgoblins), which may create issues if they get there before the PCs do (since the monsters/NPCs will have learned to be less friendly and trusting). Eventually they'll probably get wiped out by one of the tougher encounters, or starve to death.

Perrenland: This group has more knowledge (presumably there's more information about Iggwilv on the Perrenland side than there is in the south) and left to their own devices will eventually find the caverns, but they're too weak (max. 4th-5th level - say a magic-user (or perhaps savant) as the leader, with some fighters and a couple elves) to effectively explore them. If the dungeons are expanded to include "red herring" upper levels, that's where they'll stick to. Otherwise they might venture into the actual caverns, but if so will almost certainly be wiped out in short order.

Iuz: This is a smaller group of more powerful individuals - perhaps a high-ish level MU with a quasit familiar and some half-orc muscle (since in my campaign Falrinth is deleted from T1-4 [more on that later, most likely], this is a good opportunity to recycle him). These guys' strategy is to stalk the other groups and then swoop in after they've done the hard work. If they're able to follow the PCs to the caverns they're likely to wait at the entrance and set an ambush rather than venturing in themselves. If they come into contact, Drelnza will likely ally with this group (since they're in service to her half-brother), though not to the point of giving up her mother's treasures to them.

Veluna: This group (a couple of clerics, a cavalier or two, and some elf or half-elf scouts) arrives late. They could be a source of reinforcements for the PCs, if needed, but are also going to apply heavy pressure for the PCs to hand over the big treasure for the cause of Good rather than keeping it for themselves. As followers of St. Cuthbert they will certainly fight against the Iuz group if the opportunity arises, perhaps allowing the PCs to slip past them both with the treasure and avoid a confrontation...

Admittedly, the idea of using rival parties of NPCs to put pressure on the players is one of the same additions I suggested for WG6, but the fault for being repetitive lies more with Gary Gygax than me. And besides, I already said that I think the idea of a Great Race between the forces of good and evil to recover as many artifacts as possible makes a pretty cool basis for an entire campaign, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that I'm especially drawn to the two published adventures that already incorporate the concept (even if it's just window-dressing and neither one fully exploits it as-published).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Flint Dille and Pimm's Cups

Flint Dille is an interesting character in 80s pop-culture. He's part of the family that owns the IP rights to Buck Rodgers, he's been involved in a ton of shows and games and media ventures over the years including, most famously, the Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons from the 80s, and he was a good friend and writing partner of Gary Gygax when Gary was living in Hollywood (c. 1983-85). They co-wrote a series of "choose your own adventure" books (that I haven't read) and a screenplay (or possibly just a treatment) for a Dungeons & Dragons movie, presumably intended to replace the really dreadful screenplay TSR had commissioned from Oscar-winner James Goldman (excerpts from which can be read here (trigger warning: it's total garbage)).

Last year, Flint posted a bunch of excerpts from his in-progress memoirs to his Facebook page. One in particular (that I'd like to link to directly, but can't find, so I'm going with a cust & paste version that was re-posted here) stands out in my memory:
PIMMS CUPS
Somewhere in 1985, I threw a bunch of G.I. Joes and Transformers into a box and took the winding drive to the D&D Mansion. The idea was to see if it would be possible to make a miniatures game with Joe and the Autobots fighting Cobra and the Decepticons. The sand table was made for inch-tall (25mm) miniatures, so the scale was all wrong. We’d have to play this game outside.
Sometimes life all comes together in a perfect harmony. Disparate elements come together to a larger whole. Try as I might, I can’t pinpoint exactly what month or season it was. Say what you want to about Los Angeles, the weather is constant -- any day is ‘impromptu adventure day.’ There’s a reason the Movie Business moved here from New Jersey. But more to the point, weather won’t help me remember when this happened. 
I do remember the lawn, the tape measures and Gary and I. There were other people around, I just can’t remember who. I have to think that John Beebe, Joey Thompson, Donna and Penny, maybe Ernie and Peggy and possibly some Sunbow types (I can’t remember). That might have been the day Frank showed up. I can see him looking on the game stuff with amused distant fascination. And I can’t quite remember what triggered it, other than that it was the most natural thing in the world and it felt like that day when you were a kid and you decided it was time to build a fort.
There was a gigantic oval stretch of grass and some foliage created by the drive around the DDEC Mansion. I would have liked more terrain, but it was a good enough battleground. I don’t remember how long we discussed exactly how far a Joe gun could shoot or what the destruction power of Megatron in Gun Mode would have, or how long, in game terms, it would take for a Transformer to transform, but it was a matter of minutes. Usually, with this stuff it's best to jump in and figure it out as you go. Planning has a funny habit of making things not happen -- especially things like this which are done for the pure fun of it with no practical outcome in mind. It's important to note that nobody thought this should be a product or if somebody did suggest we make a massive miniatures game together with Hasbro, the talk disappeared like the smoke from our Camels. That wasn't the point. In fact, the point was that there was no point. I’m not going to declare that the best stuff happens for no purpose, but I’m tempted to. I will say that breakthroughs and ‘Perfect Moments’ often happen when there’s no practical purpose for them and nobody is trying to engineer them.
What I do remember was that at some point there were people holding trays of Gin and Tonics or Pimms Cups or some other British Imperial Drink and we were moving figures around fighting each other. We had to use tape measures, because the distances were far too long for yardsticks or rulers and I’m quite sure nobody was all that concerned about millimeters or even feet. The battle had begun.
It was a quintessential ‘80’s moment, but it felt like something out of a Merchant Ivory film of the day. Mansion. Exotic Environment. Civilized people. We were like bored ExPats or British colonials wiling away the remains of a day. I’d give a lot for a picture of it, but maybe the image in my memory is probably better. It hard for my mind not to insert people in period uniforms and fan chairs (I think there actually was one) and silver trays (I think there were) and probably Wellington’s Victory playing on a hybrid boom box cassette player of the day. Don’t think I had a portable DVD player yet. Napoleon and Wellington had nothing to do with Optimus and Megatron, but it somehow fit. The ‘80’s were a time when things fit together that weren’t supposed to.
It's not important exactly what scenario we created or who won or whether we even finished a game (It’s unlikely, there’s something disturbing about actually finishing a game), but that there was this moment when Transformers, G.I Joe, Chainmail and D&D all came together in glorious harmony. There are few things I like more than when things all harmonize, when irreproducible moments occur. They happen in small windows... Small windows of opportunity. This had to be 1985. There were clouds on the horizon for DDEC. TSR was bleeding money and sharks were circling. But that day, there was no trouble. The world was a symphony. 
I won’t say that it was all downhill from there. It wasn’t. But we’d reached the top of some mountain and for just a moment, I could see whole possibilities in the world that I’d still like to see realized.
There's a few different things I like about this story. One is that it's just a fun bit of reminiscence, well-told; a nice little scene. Another is that this is totally the kind of stuff my friends and I used to do as kids - set up large-scale battles in my basement or out in the yard using our G.I. Joe and Transformers toys and then play them out, including improvised dialogue. In those days we just called it "playing with toys", but looking back if we'd been trying to sound impressive we could have credibly called it "free kriegspiel" or "quasi-Braunstein" or whatever. So it's kind of funny to me to read about a bunch of adults doing pretty much exactly the same on the lawn of a Beverly Hills mansion. Third is the way this story intersects with the legend of Gary Gygax's Hollywood tenure, which is all coke-fueled hot tub shenanigans and fiddling away on the company dime while unsecured debt was piling up and people were getting laid off back in snowy Wisconsin. Yes, Gary's lifestyle in those days was pretty extreme, and that generated a lot of resentment among the fans and other employees at TSR that is still festering over 30 years later, but for all that he was still, deep down, a kid-at-heart who loved playing games with his friends, and I like knowing that. And, last but not least, is the "what if" thought about how, in some alternate timeline where Gary and Flint's sister (Lorraine Williams) were able to get along and work together, that maybe TSR and Hasbro might have struck some sort of deal to actually produce a set of G.I. Joe/Transformers wargame rules, and how awesome 11-year-old me would've thought that was.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

[D&D] Intro for New Players

Here's something I came up with recently - a written version of the more-or-less standard verbal intro I give to people interested in playing D&D with me. This spiel takes about 2-3 minutes and I think it's a pretty good encapsulation of the core concepts and activities of the game as I like to play it:

The game is set in a fantasy world that's pretty much like Middle Earth plus a lot of elements from mythology and fairy tales - so there are vampires and medusas and genies and unicorns and stuff running around with the orcs and elves and dragons. Magic works and some types of characters can cast spells - magic-user characters learn them from studying books; clerics have them granted by the gods. Fighters and thieves don't cast spells but even they can use magical items like potions and rings and flying carpets and invisibility cloaks and such if they find them. 

You're going to start out as a beginning adventurer, so at first your goal is going to be to try to gather treasure - gold and jewels and magic items - because that's how you'll become more powerful and able to face bigger challenges (and eventually pursue other goals). Most treasure is guarded either by monsters, which you can fight or try to trick, or by traps, which you can avoid or try to disarm. There will also be puzzles and riddles and such that you'll need to solve, and things and people that you can talk to - some of which might be able to help you, but others will try to trick you. 

It's a dangerous world, so especially as a beginning adventurer there's a good chance you're going to end up dead, but if you do survive and manage to get some treasure, the longer you live the more powerful you'll become and the better your odds of survival will be. But if you don't, that's okay too, you just start over with another character, and hopefully that one will have better luck and you'll learn from any mistakes you made. It's no big deal if you lose a character or two, especially at the beginning. 

The way the game works is that you imagine yourself with the capabilities of your character (fighting skill, spells, gear, and so on) in the situations I describe, and then tell me what you want to do. I tell you what happens, and a lot of times I'll have you roll dice to see if you succeed. It'll probably seem a little overwhelming at first but eventually you'll get the hang of it. Don't get hung up on all of the rules and numbers - I'll take care of all that stuff behind the scenes. Just try to picture yourself in the scene and then do whatever it is that you would do if you were there. And don't be afraid to ask questions if you're confused about anything I've described or want more details about anything. The game moves fast so you'll need to make decisions and say what you're doing quickly when I call on you, but you'll usually have time to ask some quick questions, and I'll go a little easy on you at first while you're getting used to it. 


It's important to pay attention to the descriptions I give, because a lot of the time there will be details that are important - clues that will help you survive or find hidden treasures. And sometimes there will be things that I didn't think of that you can use to your advantage, which is why it's important to try to imagine the scenes as vividly as you can. That's one of the best parts of the game - that it's open-ended and grows, so the more you imagine the more real it becomes. I've set up some challenges and environments, but there's no script or single correct path. As you play, the game becomes what you make it, and eventually you'll end up setting your own goals and directing way more of what happens than I do.

The game's going to start with you arriving in a town, where the first things you're going to want to do are talk to people to find out where the adventures are - where you can go to look for treasure - and buy all the gear you're going to need (and you should probably find a place where you can sleep between adventures while you're at it). Doing all of that will help you get an idea of what the world's like, and will also ease you into the idea of thinking and acting and speaking like your character, so that hopefully by the time the actual adventure starts and your character's life is on the line you'll already be pretty comfortable with how it all works.


So what do you say we get started rolling up your character?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

[C-64] The Realm of Impossibility

Around the same time I got into D&D (1984) our family bought a Commodore 64, an upgrade from the Atari 2600 we'd had for a couple-three years prior. While some kids presumably used their C-64s to learn how to write code and set themselves off on a life as techies, I just used it to play games. Over the years we owned this computer I played lots of D&D-like games, including Temple of Apshai and Wizard's Crown and and a bunch of others whose names I've forgotten (but not any of the Zork series - I needed visual stimulation!), culminating in the actual D&D-branded Pool of Radiance, but my favorite game by far was always the first and simplest - Realm of Impossibility, by Electronic Arts (the same company that later took over the world with sports games).

This game was clearly D&D-inspired, but I don't think I actually recognized the connection at the time because my exposure to fantasy was so narrow that I think I just assumed all of it was "standard fantasy stuff." The premise was very simple - either one or two players ventured into 13 different maze-like "dungeons" with names like Tarterus, Gehenna, the Ethereal Plane, and The Abyss (see?) seeking to gather treasure and get back out without being killed by monsters - zombies, spiders, snakes, and blob-things. You couldn't attack them, you could only run, drop crosses to temporarily block them (the crosses evaporated after a few seconds), or gather scrolls that had a few different effects - freezing all the monsters in place or confusing the monsters or making you impervious to their attacks for a few seconds. The main gimmick and most memorable feature of the game was that the levels were all drawn in such a way that they looked 3-D - the walls were at angles, and you'd occasionally have to go up or down "ladders" or cross over "ledges" to get from one section to another. It was all fake (they were just angled 2-D walls) but looked really cool to my 9-year-old eyes and fired my imagination and made the world feel much bigger than what was shown on the screens.

It's a really simple game, but I played it for countless hours - in part, I'm sure, because I wasn't very good at it so I was constantly dying and having to start over.

Even though I don't think I consciously make the connection between this game and D&D I'm sure it subconsciously influenced my approach to the game nonetheless, both my attraction towards complex, maze-like and three-dimensional dungeons, and my preference for running away from and/or tricking monsters instead of hack & slash melee. Thinking about it now, it might be fun to convert this game's monster-blocking crosses into a D&D magic item. Something, perhaps, like this:
Boccob's Blocking Bases: These items are discs of green soapstone, each about 4" in diameter, engraved with the symbol of Boccob (an eye within a pentagram) on one side and the symbol of Zagyg (two parallel zigzagging lines) on the other. They are always found as a set of six, inside a small sack or pouch. They radiate strong Abjuration and faint Alteration magic if detected.
When one of these discs is placed flat with the Boccob side up, it creates a 5' radius spherical force field that is a completely impassible barrier to all enchanted creatures (cf. protection from evil), all summoned animals or monsters, and all undead creatures (due to the latter's connection with the Negative Material Plane). Each disc will function for 3-18 rounds after being placed, and will then disappear. So long as their possessor has retained at least one disc from the set the others will reappear in the storage device where they are kept 1-3 rounds after disappearing, and may then be re-used. However, if all of the discs have been placed then they do not reappear to that character (presumably they are sent off into the multiverse by Boccob to be discovered by a new user). Anyone not affected by the discs may move them, or may attempt to destroy them, in which case they are AC -2, have 25% magic resistance, and can take 25 points of damage apiece before shattering.
If a beverage container such as a mug or flagon is placed atop one of these discs while the Zagyg side is facing up it will not spill, and its contents will retain their temperature (hot or cold) for up to four hours. Any identification-type magic used upon these items will always reveal the Zagyg-side's functions first.
XP Value: 2,000
GP Value: 15,000 

I never hear anything about this game, and even a Google search didn't turn up much about it. I don't think any of my friends had it but they all loved playing it at my house. That's a little sad to me, because it really was a lot of fun and was a big part of my childhood.

I found a YouTube video of somebody playing (not very well) through the first two levels, which brought back a flood of vivid memories. In particular, I suspect I'm now going to have the theme-song stuck in my head for the next several weeks...


Monday, April 10, 2017

[D&D] Activity Tables for The Village of Hommlet

The Village of Hommlet (as described in the AD&D module T1: The Village of Hommlet, later included as part of T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil) is probably the single most well-known location in all of AD&D-dom (with only The Keep of the Borderlands supplanting it if we include the non-Advanced versions). As everybody knows, it supposedly sees a significant volume of traffic passing through due to its location at a crossroads connecting Verbobonc, Dyvers, the Kron Hills, and the Wild Coast, which is how it supports a large inn, and why agents of the various Good and Evil organizations are able to pass unnoticed. Other than saying that, though, the module doesn't really give much detail about that traffic, leaving it to the individual DM to determine what types of traffic pass through, and how often. So, in order to aid in that effort and help me to visualize Hommlet as an active, "living" locale, I pulled together this table:

1 in 3 chance per day of a new arrival in town:

01-25 - Farmers from the local area (1-4 carts; 1-6 individuals per cart)
26-60 - Merchants (a)
61-75 - Patrol (b)
76-85 - Pilgrims (c)
86-90 - Rhennee/Attloi (d)
91-95 - Supplies & replacement workers for castle construction (1-3 wagons; 3-9 new workers)
96-00 - Other (e)

(a) Merchants:

Size of caravan:
1-2 - individual peddler (1 cart)
3-6 - small caravan (1-3 wagons)
7-9 - medium caravan (4-6 wagons)
0 - large caravan (7-10 wagons)

Origin and destination:
1-5 - arriving from north (Verbobonc); headed: east (1-5), south (6-9), or west (0)
6-7 - arriving from east (Dyvers); headed north (1-7), west (8-9), or south (0)
8-9 - arriving from south (Wild Coast); headed north (1-7); west (8-9), or east (0)
0 - arriving from west (Kron Hills)*; headed north (1-4); east (5-7), or south (8-0)
*30% of merchants arriving from the west are gnomes

(b) Patrols:

1-3 - light patrol (representing the Viscount of Verbobonc)
4-7 - levied patrol (representing the Waldgraf of Ostverk)
8 - woodsmen (from the Gnarley Forest)
9-0 - mercenary company (determine number and type per DMG)

(c) Pilgrims:

1-2 - followers of Obad-hai (druidical)
3-6 - followers of St. Cuthbert
7-8 - followers of Fharlanghn
9 - followers of Olidammara
0 - followers of Ulaa (30% chance clerics are gnomes (1-3) or dwarfs (4-6))

Each group consists of 1 cleric/druid of level 3-6, 0-2 clerics/druids of level 1-3, 1-6 guards (men-at-arms led by a fighter level 2-4) and 5-30 pilgrims

(d) Rhennee (Attloi):

1 chief (Fighter (20%), Thief (30%) or Mountebank (50%) of level 4-7)
1 wisewoman (Thief (20%), Mountebank (50%), or Mystic (30%) of level 2-5)
1-6 wagons, each containing 1-2 guards, 2-8 folk, and 0-3 children

(e) Other travelers:

1-2 - Adventurers
3 - Traveling noble & retinue
4 - Elves
5-7 - Outlaws
8-10 - Beggars (3-18)
11-12 - Refugees (5-30)

This table determines "legitimate" traffic - at the DM's option almost any of the above may actually be disguised agents or cultists of the Temple of Elemental Evil

In addition to new arrivals there might be other events or activities going on in town, which can be determined via a second table:

Roll (d%) daily:

01-80 - No event of note
81-83 - Good news: Someone is announcing a birth (1-2), wedding (3-5), or other similarly fortuitous event (6). Free round of drinks for everyone at the Inn!
84-86 - Celebration time: There's a party going on in honor of a birth, wedding, birthday, barn-raising, religious event, or just about anything else
87-89 - Unexpected arrival: either rolled on the Traffic Table (which may result in two arrivals on the same day) or some other miscellaneous visitor (e.g. relatives visiting someone in town, a messenger with news, a mysterious loner, etc.)
90-91 - Accident: A fire (1-2) or other significant injury (3-6) is suffered by someone in town (1-2) or on an outlying farm (3-6)
92-93 - Outbreak: contagious illness has affected 1-3 households in town (1-4) or among the outlying farms (5-6)
94 - Brawl at the Inn: self-explanatory
95-97 - Sudden change in the weather: sudden increase (1-2) or decrease (3-4) in temperature, or sudden heavy precipitation (5-6) 
98 - Creature on the loose: a pack of feral dogs (1-6), an escaped horse (7-9), something from the marshes (snake, lizard, etc.) (10-11), or a monster rolled from the Wilderness Encounters table (12) is loose in town
99 - Attack: an outlying farm (1-2) or group of travelers (3-6) has been attacked by bandits (1-3), humanoids (4-5), or a monster (6)
00 - Strange, portentous occurrence: meteor shower, blood moon, solar eclipse, birth of two-headed calf, swarm of locusts, earthquake, etc. (each such event should only occur a single time)

These are the probabilities as of the start of the adventure. If the PCs make slow progress and the Temple of Elemental Evil gains power, some events (95-00) will become more likely, and others (81-86) less likely, and the table will need to be modified to reflect the changed circumstances.

Between these two tables, this classic locale starts to feel more like an active, "living" place where things happen whether or not the players instigate them, and everybody isn't a Quantum Ogre sitting around waiting for some PC to come along to talk to (or rob, or attack) them.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

[Movies] Fantasy Movies of the 80s

It's crazy looking back how much the 1980s (especially the first part of the decade) were an incredibly rich goldmine of fantasy-oriented movies, to an extent that I don't believe has been matched before or since. Sure, many of them were low budget and/or aimed at kids (and many of them were pretty awful), but there were some high-budget movies and things aimed at older audiences as well. It's no wonder kids in this era all took so naturally to D&D - we had already been totally inundated with and acculturated to fantasy, whether we realized it or not. This is just a partial list, going by memory of things I saw, and doesn't even include all of the fantasy-oriented TV shows of the era like Thundarr the Barbarian, The Smurfs, Fraggle Rock, ThunderCatsHe-Man, and (of course) Dungeons & Dragons, or non-English-language and anime stuff that I didn't become aware of until the 90s or later:

1981
Clash of the Titans
Excalibur
Time Bandits
Dragonslayer
Heavy Metal

1982
Conan the Barbarian
The Dark Crystal
The Last Unicorn
The Secret of NIMH
The Beastmaster
The Sword and the Sorcerer

1983
Fire and Ice
Krull
Deathstalker

1984
Gremlins
Ghostbusters
The Neverending Story
Conan the Destroyer

1985
Legend
Return to Oz
Ladyhawke
The Black Cauldron
Red Sonja
The Barbarian Queen

1986
Big Trouble in Little China
Labyrinth
Highlander

1987
The Princess Bride
Masters of the Universe
The Barbarians

1988
Beetlejuice
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Willow

1989
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
Erik the Viking
Ghostbusters II

Thursday, April 6, 2017

[TV] [D&D] The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon

The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon (that aired Saturday mornings on CBS from 1983-86) has always drawn a lot of hate from fans of the D&D game. Part of that is understandable - it really wasn't very good, even by 80s Saturday morning cartoon standards - but as much or more of it I think comes from the notion that the show was so "kiddified" compared to the game - the main characters were all modern-day kids transported to "D&D Land," nobody ever died or even got hurt, there was the annoyingly cutesy baby unicorn, etc. - which adult fans (and, probably more pointedly, "adult" teenage fans) resented. I know that's how I felt about it at the ripe age of 10.

Looking back with a few decades of perspective, though, the intent of the show is clearer. The idea wasn't to depict the typical activity of the game - basically group of amoral mercenary adventurers killing things and taking their stuff - which would never have been considered acceptable in the context of a Saturday morning cartoon (and also wouldn't have been very interesting to watch) but rather to introduce kids who were still a bit too young for the actual game (even the kid-oriented "Basic Set" version) to the brand, and some of its key concepts and IP. And it actually does a pretty good job at that - a testament, presumably, to Gary Gygax's oversight as executive producer. The main characters are a group of six, each of whom plays the role of an AD&D character class (cavalier, ranger, barbarian, thief, acrobat, and magic-user), just like in the game. The monsters they encounter are almost all drawn from the AD&D rule books, and they look and behave pretty much just like they do in the books. Kids who watched the show and then picked up a copy of the game a year or two later would hit the ground running, with much more familiarity with the game's setting and genre than kids my age or older, who had to be taught it all from scratch, unless we happened to have seen Ralph Bakshi's 1979 Lord of the Rings movie.

Even the kids' widely-derided magic items were actually pretty close to items that could be found in the game, and presumably helped the kids in the audience understand that in D&D magic items are important and finding them is one of the most reliable keys to success in the game. Some of the items (the invisibility cloak and the shield) could come straight out of the game. Others are close enough to items in the books - Bobby's club is sort of a human-usable Mattock of the Titans and Presto's hat is pretty much a combined Bag of Tricks and Wand of Wonder in hat form). And even the last two items are easy enough to render in game-terms, and probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows if they showed up in a treasure hoard alongside such canonical AD&D items as the wand of force, rod of lordly might, staff-mace, Zagyg's Spear, etc. Provided, of course, that the players who found them weren't familiar with the show!

Energy Bow: This item appears as an unstrung composite short bow. It radiates strong evocation magic if detected. When gripped as if to fire, an arrow-shaped bolt of magical energy appears. This energy arrow can be commanded to perform any of the following functions, one at a time:
  • Light (as per spell): effect persists while energy arrow is held "nocked"; uses 1 charge per turn
  • Fireworks burst (as per first function of Pyrotechnics spell; range: 18"): energy arrow fired overhead; uses 1 charge per shot
  • Energy blast (3-18 electrical damage on successful hit; range: as per Composite Short Bow): energy arrow fired at target; uses 3 charges per shot
  • Beam of Entanglement (as per Rope of Entanglement upon successful hit; max. range 6"): beam persists while bow is held and user maintains concentration after shot fired; uses 2 charges per round
  • Beam of Climbing (as per Rope of Climbing; max. range 6"): beam persists for 2-8 rounds after shot fired; uses 1 charge per round
When found, the bow will contain 81-100 [100-(1d20-1)] charges. It may be recharged with lightning bolt spells, each of which restores one charge.

XP value: 4,500
GP value: 35,000

Javelin-staff: This item appears as a regular quarterstaff. It radiates moderate alteration magic if detected. Upon command, it can take any of the following three forms:
  • Javelin: 4' length, functions as an unlimited-use Javelin of Piercing; returns to its user when thrown
  • Staff: 6' length, functions as a +3 quarterstaff; allows extra 1/2 attack per round (i.e. 3/2 if the user normally receives 1/1; 2/1 for 3/2, etc.); can attempt to Trip (successful hit causes opponent to save vs. paralyzation or be knocked prone); can be spun in lieu of all attacks for round which grants the user +3 AC bonus vs melee attacks and +4 AC bonus to deflect missile attacks
  • Pole: 10-20' length; grants tightrope-walking and pole-vaulting abilities as an 8th level thief-acrobat (or +3 levels in those abilities if used by a thief-acrobat) as well as various other uses appropriate for a 10-20' long sturdy wooden pole
XP value: 3,000
GP value: 15,000