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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Adventure Seeds: Eaten By Rats!

The Illustrated Police News#3, 1870


A most appalling discovery was made last week in the town of Haverball. The circumstances of the case are both remarkable and horrible to the last degree. The facts are as follows:

For some months past a man named William Laslett, his wife, and a daughter (a girl about thirteen years of age) have occupied two rooms on the basement story of a house in Princess Street. Laslett, it appears, is a traveling hawker in the hardware line; he keeps a horse and cart, with which he travels from town to town, and has been accustomed to be absent from home six or eight weeks at a time. Occasionally, he would take with him his daughter on his traveling expeditions, but more frequently his wife accompanied him.

He left Princess Street with the latter seven weeks ago, Jane Laslett the daughter remaining behind. The young girl was seen by her neighbors for a few days after her parents had departed, when all of a sudden she was missed. The doors of both rooms in the occupation of the Laslett's were locked, and the natural inference was that Jane had left to join her parents, and she had been known to do so before on more than one occasion. Weeks passed over; the suspicions of the other occupants of the house that something was amiss became stronger every day.

An unpleasant and sickening odour crept up the staircase and found its way into the several apartments. On Monday last, a carpenter who occupied one of the upper rooms was prevailed upon to break open the door, which led to those on the basement, whereupon he was horror struck at the sight presented to him.

Upon the door being burst open, a legion of rats scampered in all directions. The greater portion of the body of the poor girl had been devoured by the rats. The medical gentlemen who have since made a post mortem examination, concur in the opinion that Jane Laslett died suddenly from disease of the heart of long standing - that her death had in all probability taken place some weeks back, since which time the rats had been feeding on the body.

The father and mother have not yet returned, nor do the neighbours know where to communicate with them."

Building An Adventure

A simple story such as this can become an adventure in and of itself with but a few minutes of work. Just ask a few questions and fill in the answers as you need.

Q: Did the Lasletts know their daughter was ill and left her behind, thinking she would later rejoin them? Or were they somehow involved in her death and made a hasty exit?

Q: Did the daughter beg off ill in the hopes her parents would leave her behind so that she could have an illicit rendezvous? Did this rendezvous go terrible wrong and lead to her death? If so, Who did she meet with, and why did they kill her?

Q: If there was foul play, do any of the neighbors living in the building know anything? Or, perhaps, maybe one of them was involved themselves?

Q: Are the rats simply rodents that happened upon the body, or is there a more sinister significance to their presence? Are they, in fact, more than simple bit players in this macabre tale?

Q: What is the ultimate fate of Mr and Mrs Laslett? And what really took them from home for 6 to 8 weeks at a time? Hardware salesman, really? Why would his wife accompany him, and often leave their thirteen year old daughter behind?

Once you have answered these questions to your satisfaction, a quick write-up of your major and minor NPCs should be simple enough. Of course everything should be period appropriate for the type and style of campaign you're running, so as not to introduce any anachronisms.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What? Another Hyborian Campaign?

Conan the Barbarian 1982 - Artist: Ernie Chan

Anyone who has been gaming for awhile is probably aware of the many attempts by GMs to bring the world of Conan the Barbarian to tabletop. Some are successful, many are not. Commercial releases are a mixed bag, even when well done, because licensing considerations often limit what can and can not be included in the printed materials. Home made efforts often lack quality control and can be a jumble of gems hidden amidst a tangle of bad writing. Like others, I already pay too much money to bring new material to my games and I don't have the time to rummage through someone's personal notes to translate them into something I can use.

I'm glad to say, David Baymiller, has once again already done the dirty work and shared some ready to use, clear information on his Hyborian Campaign. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Shocking Headline - Lizard People's Catacomb City Hunted

True story, on January 29th, 1934, the LA Times ran a front page feature about a search for a 5,000 year old city said to be built under the very streets of Los Angeles, that had been inhabited by Lizard People. For the people of Los Angeles in the early 30's, this story seemed scientifically plausible. Of course today, we know that no such underground city, or even Lizard People for that matter, exist.. Or do we?

This news story by itself leads to possible adventures in modern-day campaigns, or even the far future. With suitable tweaks, it can be run in most any era of gaming, even in a high-fantasy setting. Here at Portcullis, my editor suggested that I present the details in a straight forward manner so that individual Game Masters can decide how to use the adventure plot in their own campaigns.

The Story As Reported

G. Warren Shufelt, a geological mining engineer, with the aid of a mysterious radio-directed apparatus, discovers and maps out what he believes to be a series of tunnels and chambers, located under the streets of Los Angeles. A man calling himself, Chief Little Green Leaf of the Hopi Indians, relates an ancient tale to Shufelt, about a lost civilization of Lizard People (or Snake Brothers) that dug shelters underground to escape a terrible cataclysm. Shufelt then theorizes that he has in fact discovered the lost catacomb city of this ancient race, and seeks to uncover the labyrinth of tunnels to discover what treasures they may contain.

Shufelt, with the backing of some "associates", Rex McCreary and Ray Martin, then petitions the County Board of Supervisors for permission to dig on 518 North Hill street “overlooking Sunset, Spring and North Broadway”, over what they believe to be the largest chamber discovered. He makes a deal with the County, to split 50/50 whatever treasures he finds below. Soon several shafts are dropped, one reaching as far down as 250 feet, but digging becomes hampered my mud below the water table, and heavy boulders.

Several months later, both money and interest for the digs dries up, and Shufelt's mysterious, "Radio X-Ray Device", disappears. The city shuts down the operation and fills in the holes. Nothing is ever reported found, or turned over to the County.

Story Elements

Much of the story hangs on both the mysterious directed-radio apparatus that Shufelt invents, and the native stories of a lost civilization. Shufelt never discloses the mechanisms within his apparatus, but gives a theatrical story of its operations. The stories surrounding the Lizard People (or Snake Brothers) appear to be a mixture of several myths and legends, from the Hopi Indians and possibly the Mayans.

G. Warren Shufelt, a "geophysical mining engineer" (or other campaign appropriate profession), builds and tests a mysterious radio-directed apparatus, in an effort to find oil, gold, and other precious materials, deep underground. It is unknown if Shufelt's device is genuine or not, or if he believes the claims he later makes concerning the discovery of a series of tunnels, with large open rooms, and gold deposits, under the city's streets.

A man by the name of, L. Macklin, calling himself Chief Little Green Leaf, and claiming to be a chieftain among the Hopi Indians, relates a tale of ancient Lizard People, that had dug underground shelters to escape a, "Tongue of Flame, coming from the South-West, that destroyed everything in its path which stretched for hundreds of miles." This tale leads some to believe this may have been a swarm of meteors in the distant past. It is unknown if, L. Macklin, is even a Native American or a conman with an elaborate backstory.

Eventually, Shufelt, publically theorizes that the current city is built atop the subterranean remains of a more ancient civilization. It is his belief that this civilization was far more advanced both intellectually and scientifically than the current human civilization. He also believes that these advanced Lizard People, dug the tunnels with the aid of powerful chemicals, and not physical digging equipment. He also claims that the gold deposits are actually "records" of the origin of mankind and the advanced knowledge of the lost Lizard People civilization.

No clear information is ever revealed as to who, Rex McCreary and Ray Martin, are or the details of their association with G.Warren Shufelt.

Several stories begin to circulate that the detected gold deposits may actually be Spanish treasure, buried beneath the streets during Colonial times. Where these rumors come from are unknown.

Several cold winter months later, the money and interest for the digs dries up, and Shufelt's mysterious Radio X-Ray Device disappears without a trace. The city shuts down the operation and fills in the holes.

Story Particulars

The Directed-Radio Apparatus (aka Radio X-Ray Device) - This device appeared to consist of a large pendulum suspended in a cylindrical glass case which was housed in a black box with compasses on it. This device is said to operate on a newly discovered principle involving electrical similarities of matter which have the same chemical, physical and vibrational characteristics.

Apparently, the pendulum would trace a line directly from a piece of ore broken from a vein to the vein it was originally taken from. Hair taken from a test subject would lead investigators to the person who had donated the hair sample. It was said to have worked even at a distance of many miles.

Although he would not tell exactly what was in the box, Shufelt claimed that by tuning into the individual frequency of a particular material, he could locate similar matter. He believed that the emanations and gravitational factors of matter influenced the pendulum and that, in principle, no two separate things were exactly alike.

The Lizard People (aka Snake Brothers) - This lost civilization was claimed to be highly advanced, with knowledge of the origins of Man, and incredible scientific knowledge. While they have been called Lizard People, or Snake Brothers, they do not appear to be anything more than a separate advanced human civilization.

The Golden Tablets - Shufelt claimed that the "gold deposits" he was detecting were actually golden tablets. These gold tablets were described as slabs of gold, 4 feet long and 14 inches wide, and believed to contain the records of the origins of the human race, the history of modern man in the Americas, and details regarding the history of the mysterious Mayan people.

Shufelt's Map - Shufelt, diagrammed and plotted a series of tunnels and chambers with the "aid" of his mysterious device.

Additional Links

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Fred's World: An Original Campaign From One of D&D's First Playtesters

Fred Funk, was one of Dave Arneson's original players in his legendary Blackmoor group. One of Fred's characters in Blackmoor was Funk I, King of all Orcs, and he is attributed with the creation of the Orcian Way. Sadly, Fred Funk, passed away back in 2011 at the age of 60, but fortunately his legacy remains.

Although Fred's campaign world started in the early 70's, around 1989, Fred had several of his players put together some of his materials to act as a sort of campaign guide. His campaign setting is brimming with old school gaming the way it used to be, and something many of his dedicated fans have been more than happy to share with the rest of us.

From the Campaign Guide's Introduction:

"And Now - The Campaign

You are standing on a hill overlooking the entrance to a large walled city. Off to your right you see a crystal blue lake, in the center of which stands a prominent castle flying a grey flag with white trim. On the flag you see two ruby red infinity symbols surrounding an equally red lightning bolt. You can sense a great deal of power emanating from this castle.

Your attention is drawn back to the city when the gates fly open. Through them you see a poor, wretched peasant racing down the street. He is glowing vibrant purple. “No!! No!! Not me!!” you hear him scream. “I didn’t do it!! I didn...” His cries are cut short, thanks to the archers on the wall. Not one inch of his body is penetrated with fewer than six arrows. But his falling body never hits the ground. Instead, it disappears with a thunderclap, leaving only a charred crater where it once had been. You now notice a figure standing on (or should I say, about a foot above) the wall. He is blowing a slight halo of smoke from his finger. As he places his hand back in the pocket of his robe, a voice booms “Ethelbert: 30,003, peasants: 0.”

You decide to proceed towards the city, though you feel quite apprehensive about it. When you begin to move, you notice a large shadow following you. Glancing skyward, you see a large golden dragon descending to meet you at the gates. When you reach the gates, he hands you a map and a single sheet of paper upon which is written:

And with that, you are set forth on your adventures into a campaign unlike many others. It is our hope that you enjoy this free offering for many game sessions to come.

You can join Fred's World on Facebook for up to date information and shared stories from other players and DM's.

We would like to give a special thanks to, Glenn Kurkosky, for contacting us here at Portcullis and sharing this fantastic campaign setting with us. Much appreciated, Glenn!

Updates Added For The Haunted Valley Campaign Setting

Additional material has been posted to David Baymiller's, The Haunted Valley Setting.

The Haunted Valley - Updated as of 3-1-17