Friday, July 21, 2017

Adventure Locations: Tower Castles

**This article is about Tower Castles in general, and their use in adventures. It is not meant to be a technical discussion about such structures.**

Image in the Public Domain¹ - Eugène Viollet le Duc, c.1856

"A tower castle is a small castle that mainly consists of a fortified tower, or a tower-like structure, that is built on natural ground. It is thus different from the motte-and-bailey castle, which it may resemble, but whose main defensive structure is built on a motte, or artificial hill. The tower castle is occasionally also described as a tower house castle or a tower house." ²

Technically there are several differences between a round tower and a square tower. A round tower offers more protection from siege engines, sappers, and projectiles. Square towers are easier to build, but their corners leave them vulnerable to mining. Unless your campaign uses advanced technical warfare rules, neither structure really matters for game purposes.

Many adventures seem to revolve around this type of structure in fantasy gaming. They are rather straightforward affairs, easily drawn up, and just as easily redressed to be used as a different location for later re-use. Often they are used in a gauntlet-style tier of encounters, with each successive level being more difficult than the last, until the Big Bad Guy (the BBG) is encountered at the top. This approach, however, has several drawbacks such as characters scaling the outside of the structure, or magic spells allowing characters to fly, thus skipping most of the encounters to confront the BBG. Often the whole party isn't present to help the characters that went on ahead.. leaving them without backup, so be prepared with a contingency plan for your adventure.

Tower castles are the most likely to have "dungeons" underneath them as they either sit on a natural rock foundation, or on solid ground. Motte-and-bailey castles have artificial mounds under them and underground construction would make them unstable, or at least limited in size. The legendary Tower of Zenopus, is an example of a tower castle.


Example Tower Castles:

Comlongon Castle


Image in the Public Domain - MacGibbon, D; Ross, T c.1887

Hedingham Castle

Image in the Public Domain - An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1, c.1916


Suggested Reading:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of British Castles, by Charles H. Ashdown, c.1911 - Has numerous drawings and sketches.

Sources:

¹ - Source - Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XIe siècle, c.1856
² - From Wikipedia - Tower Castle

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Caravanserai, Not Just Another Roadside Inn

Image in the Public Domain - Lionel Lindsay - A Caravanserai Kairouan,Tunisia, c.1929

For the purposes of this article, a Caravanserai  (car·a·van·sa·ry), is a defensible roadside inn, surrounded by a protective enclosure, with an open courtyard. They may be constructed of wood, but more often brick or stone. They are built as much to be defensible outposts as they are a place of rest and business. Depending upon a particular location's importance. they may be a small affair that can accommodate a modest caravan for a few nights, or be as grand as a spacious palace meant to house several large trade caravans for extensive stays.

In the real world, such buildings were found in deserts, and along lucrative trade routes into Central Asia, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe. In a gaming campaign, there is no reason these types of establishments can't be located elsewhere.

Image in the Public Domain - Artist Unknown

These locations not only served as temporary housing for travelers, but where one could also learn the latest commercial and political news, meet with merchants from other cities and countries, and to conclude trade deals. Travelers could also purchase much need supplies and equipment, and mounts from local and traveling merchants. It was also not uncommon for tax agents and their armed retinue to frequent such places.

Not every location will have the following features available on site, but access may be possible in the local area at the GM's discretion.

Typical features:

  • Defensive wall, either extending around courtyard, or entire compound
  • Sturdy gate, may feature gatehouse with draw bridge, or guard towers
  • Surrounded by cleared fields of vision/fire to reduce ability of attackers to conceal themselves
  • Communal well in courtyard, with watering troughs for livestock and mounts
  • Stalls and barns for livestock and mounts, access to a blacksmith and wagon repair
  • Storage buildings for higher value goods - lower value goods may be piled in courtyard
  • Accommodations for merchants and travelers - lower quality accommodations for guards and retainers
  • Typical tavern or banquet hall, with common room, and private rooms for business
  • Bathing facilities, area to worship
  • Goods, equipment, services, and possibly hirelings
  • Provisions for restocking food and water, and fodder for animals
Typical Encounters:
  • Tax Collector and guard retinue! Caravans passing in and out of territories must keep current on their tariffs, duties, and any other payments (bribes)
  • Local garrisoned troops
  • Other merchants, both local and from afar (either legitimate or illicit)
  • Important officials, nobles, maybe even traveling royalty
  • Assortment of travelers, pilgrims, tradesmen
  • Hirelings, skilled and unskilled, men-at-arms, and maybe a specialist (cleric, sage, etc)
  • Con-men, thieves, and mountebanks
  •  Local and distant news, rumors, and gossip (useful or not)
  • Civilized non-humans
  • Humanoid "monsters" (on non-aggressive business, of course)

Example Caravanserai:

The following is a caravanserai done by Dyson's Logos. You can download this free-to-use map, both with or without grid, HERE. 


Cartography by Dyson's Logos

Suggested Further Reading:


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Gatehouse - A Letter From the Editor

I always wanted to write that, "A Letter From the Editor". It sounds fancy, but the truth is.. this blog is pretty much just myself writing, editing, researching. I'm more chief cook and bottle washer than editor. But that's okay, I'm comfortable with that. This isn't a second job, I'm not getting paid or anything, I'm just scribbling for the joy of scribbling, and if someone finds something here that they like and can use, so much the better. I'll have shared my passion for gaming, and hopefully made a friend along the way.

PORTCULLIS, originated as an idea kicked around on my Facebook page, with several gaming and writer friends encouraging me and offering their help. I vacillated between doing it and not. Anyone who has ever worked shift work knows that life rotates around sporadic sleep schedules, walking around in a perpetual semi-state of somnambulism, and working to earn a buck. When you can, you juggle a family life, squeeze in some recreation time, and sometimes even have a few moments a day to relax. So why would any sane person attempt to wedge in one more iron in the fire? Because of passion. The desire to create, to express, and to share the thoughts in my brain before they make my head explode. Hmm... maybe not the exact imagery I was going for there, but I think you understand my meaning.

So in December of last year, 2016, I was sitting as I am now, working the night shift in my guard shack, while at my job as a security guard. The snow was swirling around as our maintenance crews worked overtime to clear the roads to our facility, and shoveling the walkways before shift change in the morning. Portcullis was envisioned as a fanzine, much like the dozens of others I had seen online, but I knew I'd never be able to wrangle even a small number of contributing writers, and do all the behind the scenes heavy lifting that go into such a project. Fortunately I didn't give into  feelings of despair. I knew there were viable alternatives. I've long followed blogs like Zenopus Archives, Swords & Stitchery, and Tenkar's Tavern. It would still be possible to release content online, even without a regularly produced fanzine. I'd just do it as a blog. But, I guess you already see where this was going, since you are in fact reading the results of my decision that cold winter's night, here.. on my blog.

Whether this project is a success or not has yet to be seen, but success isn't really my goal. My goal is to create fun content and get it out wherever I can for others to see, discuss, and use as they choose. I've made my decision to not sit back and twiddle my thumbs, letting yet another good idea slip away unrealized. Life is too short, so if I don't make time for what I love, then what am I really doing with my time if not wasting it.

My mailbox is always open for submissions, I encourage comments, and if you locate me on various social media please hit me up. I want to hear from you. Let's share ideas and create content together. I'm more than happy to give proper credit, or to promote a fellow gamer/writer/artist. This blog isn't just about my ideas, it's about people sharing their love of gaming and having fun

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Curious Creatures: The Squonk

Use Facebook long enough and you'll come across just about anything after awhile. Such was the case of a user asking about putting game stats to a creature called a Squonk. Curious, I ran a few Google searches and found several references to the odd little beasties. What follows is a bit of an amalgam of what I found.




Squonk - Artist Unknown




SQUONK (Lacrimacorpus Dissolvens)


Hit Dice: Basic (1-3)
Attack: Water Burst - Special Touch Attack (see below)
Defense: High
Skills/Special Abilities: Expert tracker, sneaking, hiding, camouflage
Intelligence: Normal
Morale: Low
Move: Normal (a bit faster than men running)
Gear/Treasure: None



The Squonk is rumored to be the ugliest creature ever. It's loose skin is ill-fitting and covered in warts and blemishes, causing the creature to be extremely self-conscious and morose. Aware of it's appearance, it hides itself from all other creatures deep in remote forests, spending much of it's time weeping.

These elusive creatures are very difficult to track, being experts at moving silently and hiding. They even have the ability to camouflage themselves, becoming nearly invisible at will as long as they stand still, but the soft sound of their weeping will often give them away if someone takes the time to listen intently.

When cornered and forced to fight, a Squonk will rush at a target and jump forward, changing it's body into a large quantity of water at the last moment. The target will be hit, as if by a giant water balloon, and must make a Dexterity Save, or be bowled off their feet and temporarily blinded, allowing the Squonk to reform and continue running away. Attackers attempting to hit a Squonk will find the creature to be incredibly quick and agile, avoiding all but the most expert blows.

If captured, or defeated in combat, the poor creatures will blubber and wail, immediately dissolving into a pool of bubbling  tears.

Should someone succeed in attempting to befriend one of the pitiful creatures, it will become a willing companion, though it will still avoid the company of other creatures whenever possible.

The tears of the Squonk are valued by Alchemists, as they are believed to possess magical properties.



References:

Squonks appear in, "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods.", by Cox, William T. with Latin Classifications by George B. Sudworth.  (Washington, D.C.: Judd & Detweiler Inc), c.1910

Friday, July 14, 2017

Adventure Seeds: The Court of Miracles - Part One

Often gamers have heard the term, Thieves Quarter, a dark and dangerous part of town that should be avoided by anyone with even a bit of common sense. Which as we all know, means that the players will make a bee line that way as fast as their little legs will carry them. But are there really such thing as a thieves quarter, and are they really all that common? The answers to these questions are, yes and yes.


Most every city, from ancient to modern times, has had bad parts of town. A section, or even sections, of town where the poor and the indigent live. Crime, filth, and hunger are constants in these quarters. Often the city watch will avoid these sections for fear of gang violence and other various threats, only venturing in under numbers, when local officials feel the need to make a show of force.


Many are the adventures and tales that take place within these slums, dens, and warrens of civilized cities. Often the refuge of the destitute and criminal alike, these "thieves quarters" have many names, one of the most famous being, "The Court of Miracles", in the city of Paris. So called, for during the day, many beggars would feign being blind or even crippled, but come nightfall they would miraculously regain their sight and the use of their legs.


Trips into these bad parts of town are not without peril, nor should they be attempted by the unprepared. These filthy streets and cramped alleyways are the domain of thieves, cut throats, and violent gangs. Only the very poor, the displaced, and the unwanted make their homes here. Those with valuable skills, personal connections, providing services, or those paying for "protection", are afforded any measure of safety within these precincts. they are a place of danger for the outsider, and intrigue for those with socially unacceptable interests. So be wary, keep your head on a swivel, and your hand not far from your blade.

The Court of Miracles
Illustration by Jacques, from Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), by Victor Hugo, Paris, 1844.

The city watch does not maintain a presence within these quarters, nor do tax collectors, or other public officials venture within.. unless on questionable business. Only those unfortunate enough to live there, those with unsavory business, and those seeking thrills both debouched and profane, make their way here.


The streets are not entirely without governance however. Strong gang leaders and faction heads maintain a balance of power, ensuring some semblance of peace. While territorial fights, and gang skirmishes are not uncommon, they are kept to a minimum to avoid stirring up official trouble that the city's rulers may feel the need to quell with an iron fist.

By Gustave Doré - illustration to Notre Dame de Paris


The residents of the poorer sections of town, often make their own entertainments and observances of the holidays. Street shows, bonfires, beggar's fairs, sometimes even with official support, are put on to help keep the population docile. Local churches and nobles making gifts of free bread, clothing, and other needed items, to fulfill religious and charitable obligations, though often of the poorest quality. Often such events are an excuse for drunken debauchery and lascivious behavior, which attract certain individuals from other parts of town to come "slumming" that they may engage in activities forbidden in better social circles
.


Part 2 of this article will give examples of NPCs, organizations, and other adventure seeds.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Adventure Seed: The Mid-Land Keep of Lord Horach

As the Player Characters' fame and fortunes have grown, so too have their reputations for dealing with troublesome matters. A recruiter, from out of the Mid-Lands, has heard of their exploits and approaches the characters about a job. It seems that a growing danger has reared its ugly head, the dead have returned from their graves to plague the lands of the living, and the players are needed to help end this menace.

Lord Benedikt Horach, a man known for his faith to the gods and a most hospitable host to tradesmen and travelers alike, has been dealing with the outbreak of minor undead for several months now. At first it was a few isolated incidents, but soon grew into a more serious problem of small clusters of undead wandering in packs across the countryside. His human troops have proven themselves in combating the outbreaks, but the threat still grows, with no relief in sight. To this end, Lord Horach has sent out recruiters to find men and women, possessing special skills and abilities, in order to seek out the source of this unholy scourge and put a stop to it.







The layout of Lord Benedikt Horach's keep has been provided to give the PCs a base from which to operate. The Mid-Land Keep is the nearest major stronghold for days in any direction, making it a center for trade and services. A small village, with a recently erected wooden palisade, lays at the foot of the hill upon which the keep sits. Details of the village and its NPCs are left up to the DM.


Suggested NPCs



Lord Benedikt Horach - Veteran of the Border Wars, he is a trained and experienced knight. Though not as physically powerful as he once was, he is as good once as he ever was. Lorded for his service to the Crown, Lord Horach has long been a benefactor and protector of the Mid-Lands.

Sir Ector, Captain of the Guard - The son of Lord Horach's squire, Justanine, from the wars, he has risen through the ranks to himself be knighted by his lord. It is his constant drive and vigilance that has seen his men survive in the struggle against the undead. He does not welcome the PCs, but sees them as rivals. Loyal to Lord Horach, and in love with Quin Anne, he hopes to prove himself to Benedikt and win her hand in marriage.

Quin Anne - Daughter of Benedikt Horach, and lady of the castle. Quin Anne, is of average beauty, but her quick wits, vivacious personality, and fair treatment of others, has won the hearts and loyalties of her father's people. Though not a trained warrior, Quin Anne is an accomplished rider, master of the bow, and very skilled huntsman. She loves Sir Ector, who frustrates her constantly with his need to "prove himself worthy and win her hand". If she didn't have the responsibilities of the castle, she'd have kidnapped him and eloped already.

Scrödd - Though seemingly the least of the defenders of the castle, he is small misshapen from a childhood incident. Scrödd is both clever and resourceful. Sir Ector will place Scrödd in charge of the "guests" (the PCs) as a gesture meant to insult, but the players will soon realize that they have been given a valuable resource and font of information. Quin Anne is very kind to Scrödd, and sees him for the bright young man he is, and suspects his injuries were sustained while saving her life from falling off the castle walls as a child.


Adventure Suggestions:

The recent undead consist of skeletons and zombies. They are animated by a powerful necromantic force that makes them a bit tougher than normal. All of them appear to have been partially feasted upon before their reanimation.

Skeletons - Arrows and other small projectiles are of no use against the skeletons, as are small hand weapons.

The zombies can be taken down, but do not stay down unless their heads are removed or damaged severely. Any player taking the precaution of using a half-action to crushing their skulls while they are temporarily down will succeed automatically, otherwise they regenerate health (not body parts) slowly (1 hit point per round) and rise again in the same combat.

Necrobites - Once a monastic order of monks (not the martial arts kind), living in a monestary several days ride from Horach's keep, they have been overtaken by the Necrophage. They now live in a system of caverns and mines, serving the will of their unholy master. They still retain their spell-casting abilities, but have since turned evil. Any spell using characters that are killed by the Necrobites, will quickly return as a Necrobite NPC themselves.

The Necrophage - An unholy plague, spread by creature calling itself Ordo. This plague has taken hold of most of the monks, turning them into Necrobites. Those that are not transformed are then consumed for food, or reanimated as skeletons and zombies.

Ordo - A creature from beyond the world of men, it came to earth as a comet, burying itself deep upon arrival. It has slept for millennia, until recently uncovered by dwarven miners, who all perished to the creature's ravenous appetite. Ordo can not walk under the sun, and remains in the caverns. The details of this horror are left to the DM. It is suggested that Ordo be played in the background for awhile, to provide a long reaching antagonist to the PCs. The Necrobites will draw the PCs away from Ordo, and appear to be the culprits.


Special Thanks:

I wish to give a special thanks to Hussein Horack, for allowing me to use his original drawing. I had to do a slight photo re-edit because the chapel was accidentally drawn backwards.. Something I hadn't noticed until the artist himself pointed it out.

You can view more of his work HERE, on his DeviantArt page.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Adventure Seeds: The Sea Serpents of Egg Rock

By the gods! Sea serpents have been sighted off the shores of the island, known as Egg Rock*. The keeper of the lighthouse there has also reported strange howls in the night, and black creatures close to the shore. Several local fishermen have also disappeared, along with their boats, leaving no trace behind!

Whatever is going on, the locals are terrified, and merchant ships are stearing clear of the local port for fear of the creatures. Will the player's characters be able to uncover the cause of these sightings, and defeat what dangers they are certain to face?


Public Domain Image - A wood engraving from the early 1800's

This adventure seed can be played one of two ways, the sea serpents are real and have returned to Egg Rock to mate and spawn, or these are fake stories surrounding an elaborate hoax made up by smuggler/pirates in the area to chase away the curious from their operations.OR.. you can have it start out being smugglers using a hoax based on an old legend, only to have the real sea serpents show up during the adventure!

If you do use actual sea serpents in your adventure, depending on what version of your favorite rules you play, you can use giant gar, giant aquatic snakes, or any other creature you feel works best. I suggest giving the creatures a limited ability to walk on land/climb rocks to avoid having the players feel "safe" standing on shore attacking the creatures in the water.

If you use smugglers/pirates, I suggest adding a spell-caster that can create the illusion (or summon even) sea serpents. The smugglers are using large floating baskets (filled with booty), covered in oiled leather, to give the impression of smaller monsters approaching the shore to scare off any witnesses. They use shell horns to make the frightening "serpent" noises to enhance the ruse.

The missing fishermen were victims that strayed too close and were either captured or killed, and their small fishing boats scuttled (sunk). You may have some of the captured men, held in the smugglers' caves until they can be shipped off to the slave market.

For added depth to the adventure, the smugglers can be using underwater caves, with entrances that are only visible during the low tide, and even then only to nearby observers. If you desire a more robust smuggler plot, I suggest Dead Kraken Anchorage, a free map and adventure seed of its own, from Dyson's Logos.


Cartography by Dyson Logos


* - Based upon tales of sea serpent sightings near Egg Rock on Frenchman Bay, Maine.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

d100 Creepy Rooms, Created by the FY DIY RPG! Group

Dysons Logos, created a DIY rpg group on Facebook in an effort to stimulate interest in community based creative brainstorming. One of the first efforts created by this group of rpg enthusiasts was, d100 Creep Rooms. This pdf is free to download, system/rules agnostic, and ready to use in your campaign tonight.




Get your free copy here.. d100 Creepy Rooms

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Random Beggars for Your Campaign

Beggars come in all sorts and types, with no two being alike. The following tables should help add color to your street encounters. Don’t be afraid to have fun, or mix results. Most beggar encounters should be of the everyday variety, but now and then the Player Characters will come across someone unusual that catches their eye, or that may be used for an adventure plot hook.

Illustration 362 - Samantha At The World's Fair - Baron C. De Grimm 1893



Table 1: Beggar Type (1d8)
1 Helpful beggar
2 Streetwise beggar
3 Aggressive beggar
4 Unusually filthy/smelly beggar
5 Sickly/diseased
6 Drunkard/drug addict
7 Roll twice on this table using 1d6
8 Unusual – Roll 1d6 once on this table, and 1d12 on Table 2

Table 2: Unusual Beggar (1d12)
1 Blind, deaf, mute – natural or injury
2 Deformed – hunchbacked, twisted
3 Amputee – missing arm(s) or leg(s)
4 Being robbed
5 Being chased/abused
6 Simple holy man
7 Veteran soldier
8 Runaway – slave, teen, other
9 Elderly
10 Dead – natural death or murdered
11 Roll twice on this table using 1d10
12 Exotic – Roll on Table 2

Table 3: Exotic Beggar (1d12)
1 One-handed thief/branded outlaw
2 Has performing pet – monkey, dog, etc
3 Informant – will sell information (DM’s choice as to veracity)
4 Humanoid monster – goblin, kobold, etc
5 Cursed and forsaken
6 Former friend/acquaintance of PC
7 Upper class, now fallen on hard times
8 Beggar master – has stable of 2d4 beggars under their direction
9 Thugee – will stalk and kill unsuspecting PC, attacks as a 4th level assassin
10 Failed human/polymorph experiment
11 Roll twice on this table using 1d10
12 Roll 1d6 on Table 1, Roll 1d10 on Tables 2 & 3

Ignore conflicting rolls, or interpret creatively.

These tables can be downloaded in PDF format from HERE.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Adventure Seeds: Cat Got Your Tongue


A beautiful cat appears and "randomly" brushes up against one of the PCs (preference given to obvious spellcasters). Upon doing so, that character immediately loses their voice (DM may allow a save if they wish). The feline then leads the character/party on a merry chase (treat as a Blink Dog) back to its master, who will extort a hefty ransom for the return of the character's voice. In any case, if the cat or master dies, or the ransom isn't paid, the character's voice returns the next day.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Elephant Tower of Hindrah

Hindrah the Magnificient, Hindrah the Everlasting, many were the titles of the ancient Valley of Hindrah, now all but lost to living memory. Once a prosperous city state, ruling over a mount-locked valley, ancient Hindrah was once a great military and economic force. The armies of Hindrah fielded thousands of elephants trained for war, fueled by the precious silver and opal mines of the city state. For hundreds of years, the rulers of the Opal Throne, governed unquestioned and undefeated in the Mountains of Hindara, until one day.. it simply ceased to exist.  Expeditions, sent by neighboring kingdoms, could find no trace of their cousins. The valley entrance, the magnificent bridge, everything, had simply vanished overnight. Adventurers, seeking after fabled riches, either returned empty handed, or not at all.

That was centuries ago...


The fabled Elephant Tower, rumored to stand guard over the bridge leading to the Valley of Hindrah.
The Valley of Hindrah, and the magnificent Opal Throne, are for you, the enterprising Game Master, to create. To get you started is the Elephant Tower, a quick little setup that should get players interested in exploring the legendary ruins of this mysterious vanished kingdom.

Cartography by Dyson Logos



Monday, June 26, 2017

Non-Player Fortunetellers

Over the years I have seen a few write-ups done for "fortuneteller" NPCs. This is my take, and yes it is based on the d20 magic 8-ball model.

First, the DM assigns an accuracy rating for the NPC. For this example I am using a d8 as my basis, which translates into 12.5% accuracy for each level of accuracy assigned to the fortuneteller.

Madam Dubrova has an accuracy of 3 in 8 (37.5%) for each question being answered correctly.

The following is a simple d20 table of typical answers to yes/no questions. 10 are positive, 5 are non-committal, and 5 are negative. The reasoning for this is simple.. people prefer positive answers to their questions and a fortuneteller is above all a business woman.

1    It is certain
2    It is decidedly so
3    Without a doubt
4    Yes definitely
5    You may rely on it
6    As I see it, yes
7    Most likely
8    Outlook good
9    Yes
10  Signs point to yes
11  Reply hazy try again
12  Ask again later
13  Better not tell you now
14  Cannot predict now
15  Concentrate and ask again
16  Don't count on it
17  My reply is no
18 My sources say no
19 Outlook not so good
20 Very doubtful

As a rule of thumb, a fortuneteller can expect to command a price of 50 coins per level of accuracy assigned to them. I say coins because it is up to the DM whether to charge copper, silver, or gold. Fortunetellers are a shrewd lot and charge each customer according to their ability to pay. This also gives players a reason to go out scrambling for money to pay the fortuneteller for her services.

For our example, Madam Dubrova can be expected to charge 150 gold coins for answering each question.. as players will often have access to gold.

To make things even more interesting, Madam Dubrova isn't just a psychic, she deals in real information. Using a network of informants, from her cat Familiar, to clients who owe her debts (and happen to work for important people), she has a wealth of knowledge at her command. She will often drop these tidbits into her sessions.

A few levels of spellcaster (usually cleric or druid) can also help round out a fortunetelling NPC.

The image for Madame Dubrova is derived from the Public Domain - "A Study, No. 1 / Rudolph Eickemeyer / 1901"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Redcap's Review of The Cozy Hearth Inn

Redcap was being his usual irascible self of late, and the editorial staff had to go on a proverbial snipe hunt to find the little murderous bastard. We had to drag him, kicking and cursing, from his hidey-hole and sober him up before he finally coughed up [literally.. ewww] a copy of his latest review. Dealing with these independent Dark Fey freelance writers can be such a pain in the arse.


Now this product weighs in light at 7 pages, 4 pages of actual content, plus covers, credits, standard OGL. Printed out as double sided pages, it comes in at 4 pages, including one blank page (good for writing notes, etc), but it packs a solid value into those pages. The artwork, by Maciej Zagórski, is incredible as always. The three maps detailing the various floors of the inn are precisely detailed. And the NPC's are interesting enough to draw players' attention and help make the setting of the inn a comfortable place to hang their hats for awhile.

This product isn't meant to be an adventure in itself, though it does offer a short side quest into the basement for low level adventurers. It's meant to be a reoccurring location, suitable for use in just about any campaign setting. Though it has a few statistics written for D20, the information can be translated easily into any desired game system the Game Master desires.

As a free offering, this little package carries itself very well. The Forge Studios didn't put this out as an edited preview, but as a professionally produced stand alone product. If it's an indication of their other products, then they can count on our future business. 


Click here for a copy of, The Cozy Hearth Inn, from DriveThruRPG

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Redcap's Review of The Broken Coin Inn

Today, Redcap dug into his bag of scrolls, books, and PDFs*, to bring us a review of, The Broken Coin Inn, from The Forge Studios. After our staff wizards checked the manuscript for the usual hidden Explosive Runes, and other spiteful tricks that Redcap is infamous for, we translated it into English for you, our readers.




This PDF weighs in at just 10 pages, 6 pages of actual content, plus covers, credits, and standard OGL. The layout allows for conveniently printing of all 10 pages, or simply printing out the 6 pages of meat and potatoes portion (3 pages of double sided print), for inclusion in your DM's adventure binder. It is available for free download from the excellent folks over at DriveThruRPG.

The setting of, The Broken Coin Inn, gives a complete layout and description of the inn itself, though the hidden Thieves' Guild beneath will require a little workup by the DM. Not everything is included in exhaustive detail, so as to allow the DM to include their own personalized touches, treasures, and secrets. It can be used as is with minimal work on the DM's part to drop it into their campaign, but contains enough interesting details that it can be expanded to provide a few evening's worth of adventures.. including a possible plot against the local potentate!

Only one major NPC, Enddom the Pouch, is given a stat block to go with his background, including his magical sword, Amrolth (Dragonfinger). Two more NPCs, Enddom's daughter, Bethel, and a local trainer of men at arms, Valon Maenyth, have short backstories provided, but stats are left up to the DM.

Although the product is plagued by a small number of grammatical errors, nothing stands out that can't be easily ignored. Overall the product is useful and has been included in our own personal campaign materials. Except for the one stat block, written in D20 format, this product is rules agnostic and can be converted into any preferred game system of your choosing.


* Hey, what can we say, he's hip to modern conveniences.. for a murderous, spiteful, Fey.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Off-Brand Use - Spells: Purify Food and Drink

Earlier this week, the staff here at Portcullis was throwing back a few beverages and bantering back and forth about unusual applications of 1st edition (AD&D) spells. One of these topics was the off-brand use of the spell, Purify Food and Drink. By off-brand use, we mean the use of a spell in a way that it may not have been originally designed, but for which a reasonable case could be made. In this case using, Purify Food and Drink, to drive out parasites from objects, though not living beings*.



An original use of Purify Water (Food and Drink) to destroy a monster can be found under the description of the Water Weird. This brought forth suggestion that applications of the spell might also be used to cleanse doors, and other non-living objects, of other such nasty creatures as Ear Seekers, or Rot Grubs.

Of course, it was then suggested that reversing the spell to Putrefy, could potentially be used to infest objects and doors with such creatures, but the general consensus agreed that was generally beyond the scope of a first-level spell.. Though one particularly evil DM decided that they'd allow it on a roll of 25% or less. 

* - Rules for removing these horrors once they have infested a host victim have already been specified, so they do not apply to this discussion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Take On Invisibility

Invisibility has been a topic of discussion (arguments) between players and DM's for years. I'm not going to get into the specifics of these various debates, but simply present my own ruling for my campaign.



Here is my take on Invisibility. The Invisibility Spell doesn't so much make a person or object invisible, so much as it make it unnoticeable by vision abilities. The observer can technically see the "invisible" character, but their mind doesn't register their presence. For instance a guard can look right at an "invisible" creature, but simply won't see it. The creature just doesn't register in the conscious mind of the observer.

This effect lasts only as long as nothing changes the circumstances of the observer's awareness, but is dispelled the moment the observer has reason to believe otherwise. For instance, the "invisible" creature attacks, or performs an action in sight of an observer that contradicts what they are observing, such as opening or moving an object in full sight. If an invisible character carries a light source into a darkened room, they will be revealed automatically because the presence of light out of nowhere would instantly uncloud the obersver's mind The moment this happens, the "invisible" character is revealed.

The spell also allows objects picked up by an invisible character to then also become invisible, as long as an observer is not looking at it when it disappears. This allows an invisible character to steal objects, or put them into place, as long as they do not tip off the observer.

Again, if the observer is tipped off to the presence of an "invisible" character, that character is no longer invisible. Failing a Pick Pocket roll, picking up or moving objects in direct line of sight by the observer, etc.

Invisibility doesn't work against mindless automatons, or the undead.

Greater Invisibility works as per normal because the observer's mind is overwhelmed by the influence upon their mind that the creature can not be seen, despite evidence to the contrary.

Of course, normal spell durations are still in effect.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Game Review: SCRAWL, a Solo Game Play Engine from Stuart Lloyd

Beowulf Kills Grendel's Mother - John Henry Frederick Bacon, 1910

I've been a role-player since late 1978. In the first few years I was in high school, so I was never at a loss for players, but after graduation available players dried up. It became a serious chore to find, teach, and game with new players. Often there were months, then years, without finding other players. Ask any player that hasn't been able to scratch their gaming itch in awhile, it sucks. And the few options there were for solo play weren't very appealing, so the idea of gaming alone was soon forgotten.

Recently I came across Stuart Lloyd's solo game playing engine, SCRAWL (short for Solo Crawl). The game mechanics were simple and straight forward, the tables and layout were clear and linear, and there was plenty of support material to help flesh things out so that you weren't left with a few pages of endless cramped charts and a handful dice to roll for each and every action. SCRAWL is a limitless sandbox for an adventurer to wander through. Not unlike the early computer ASCII based dungeon crawl game, Rogue, where the player followed a grid, and encountered random events and monsters, SCRAWL allows a player to wander through a classic hex-crawl, using dice and their own imagination to discover what's discovered next.

SCRAWL allows a player to make up their own adventures, and play them out through random events tied together by their pre-decided plot-line. It's not just endless rolls on random tables, wandering from room to room, mindlessly collecting treasure tallies on a sheet. The solo games follow the player's internal logic and story-line, offering uncertainty and surprises to keep it fun and exciting. And unlike many previous game offerings, SCRAWL, allows players to adventure in dungeons, wilderness, ruins, towns, and cities. Its options are only limited by your imagination.

I strongly suggest that when you buy the initial SCRAWL rulebook, which is basically only a simple stand-along game system, that you purchase one of the additional adventures or add-ons. By themselves, the basic SCRAWL game isn't solo friendly. The books are PWYW (Pay What You Want), so you can buy them rather affordably. Yes, you could download the entire game and supplements free, but Stuart really did a good amount of work putting this all together and supporting his efforts isn't too much to ask. 

You can purchase SCRAWL on sites like RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.