Sunday, January 29, 2023

Shields Still Being Splintered

It does this old troll’s heart good to hear that folks are still getting fun out of Shields Shall be Splintered.  I recently discovered that the Down In a Heap podcast discussed the rule, and that conversation was picked up by theConfessions of a Wee Tim’rous Bushi podcast, expanding the idea further in other types of armour.  (I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but it kinda-sorta sounds like a codification of Jeff's Everything Shall be Splintered idea.)


As for me, I’m still very much using it.  I do limit it by using LotFP’s encumbrance system, which makes tracking encumbrance as easy as just writing things on your equipment list.  I have no problem with hirelings carrying spare shields; shield bearer is an actual word from history.  (But so far, no one has really pushed this and I’ve not heard of it annoying anyone else at the table.) 


As for who else can use it, that really depends.  I swing back and forth on the players running their PCs’ hirelings, and if the players are doing so, I let them decide when the hireling might sacrifice a shield to protect themselves.  Monsters typically do not use it, unless they have names or the Rule of Cool suggests now is a good time for that to happen.

ADDENDUM: It appears the idea of the shield stopping some of the damage, but not all, is a popular one.  Here’s another variation on that theme.

Sunday, January 22, 2023



Contemplating doing ZineQuest this year.  Any advice from those of you who have done it before?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Tell Me a Story, Please, Mr. Robot?

First off, let me say that ChatGPT is a chat-bot, not story-writing software.  And I do not doubt that, in my lifetime, we’ll see story-bots that can do better than this.  But ChatGPT isn’t going to take Sanderson’s job anytime soon.


Tell me a Conan story in the style of Robert Howard.


It was a dark and stormy night in the land of Hyboria. The sky was filled with ominous clouds, and the wind howled through the trees. Conan, the Cimmerian, stood on a rocky outcropping, his keen eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of danger.

He had been wandering the wilds for weeks, seeking to put as much distance between himself and the civilized lands as possible. But even in the untamed wilderness, there were still dangers to be found. Bandits, wild beasts, and worse roamed the land, preying on the unwary.

Conan's hand instinctively went to the hilt of his sword, feeling its comforting weight. He had faced many dangers in his time, and he was not afraid. He was a warrior, born and bred, and he would not be bested by any man or beast.

As he stood there, the wind suddenly changed direction, and he caught the faint scent of smoke on the air. Cautiously, he began to make his way down the rocky slope, his eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger.

As he approached the source of the smoke, he heard the sound of men's voices, raised in anger and fear. Cautiously, he crept closer, his sword at the ready.

He soon came upon a clearing, where a band of bandits had set up camp. They had built a fire, and were feasting on the spoils of their recent raid. Conan counted at least a dozen men, all heavily armed and dangerous.

Without hesitation, Conan charged into the clearing, his sword flashing in the firelight. The bandits were caught off guard, and several fell before they could even draw their weapons.

Conan fought with a fury that was terrifying to behold, his sword flashing and slicing through flesh and bone. The bandits, realizing they were outmatched, turned and fled, leaving Conan standing victorious in the clearing.

He sheathed his sword and looked around at the carnage. The bandits lay dead or dying all around him, their blood staining the ground. He felt no remorse for what he had done. They were thieves and murderers, and they had gotten what they deserved.

With a sense of satisfaction, Conan turned and walked away from the clearing, into the dark and stormy night. He knew that his journey was far from over, and that there would be many more dangers to come. But he was Conan, the Cimmerian, and he feared no man or beast.


It was a dark and stormy night?  Really?  I give this one a D; it at least knows who Conan is, but I fear it’s read too many of the comics. 😉


Tell me a Kane story in the style of Karl Edward Wagner.


The night was dark and moonless, and a bitter wind howled through the deserted streets of the city. Kane, the immortal, stood at the edge of a rooftop, his cloak billowing in the wind. He was a dark figure, tall and imposing, with eyes that glinted like cold steel in the darkness.

For centuries, Kane had wandered the earth, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and power. He had seen empires rise and fall, and had known the touch of both pleasure and pain. He was a warrior, a sorcerer, and a scholar, all rolled into one.

But tonight, Kane had come to the city for a different purpose. He had received word of a powerful artifact, an ancient relic said to possess the power of the gods. Kane had spent centuries searching for such an object, and he would not rest until he had it in his grasp.

He made his way down the side of the building, his movements fluid and graceful, like a cat stalking its prey. He knew the city well, and he knew the ways to avoid detection. He had been to this city many times before, and he knew the secret passages and alleys that would lead him to his destination.

As he approached the entrance to the underground temple, Kane heard the sound of guards on patrol. Without hesitation, he unsheathed his sword, a weapon forged in the fires of the underworld. It was said to be unbreakable, and it had served Kane well in many battles.

The guards never knew what hit them. Kane moved with a speed and ferocity that was almost supernatural, his sword flashing in the darkness. In moments, the guards lay dead at his feet, and Kane stood alone in the entrance to the temple.

He descended into the depths of the temple, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He passed through chambers and corridors, his senses alert for any sign of danger. But the temple was deserted, and Kane soon found himself standing before a door of ancient stone, covered in inscriptions and runes.

With a sense of triumph, Kane opened the door and stepped inside. There, in the center of the chamber, stood the artifact he had sought for so long. It was a stone, black as midnight, and it pulsed with an otherworldly power.

Kane reached out and took the stone in his hand. He could feel its power coursing through his body, filling him with strength and knowledge. He knew that this was just the beginning, and that there were many more battles yet to come.

But for now, he was content. He had what he had come for, and he would use it to further his quest for power and knowledge. He turned and walked out of the temple, into the night, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for power.


First, I’m surprised it even knew who Kane was, and it does at least try to capture something of Wagner’s style.


But it doesn’t seem to understand what Zothique is.  Nor does it have anything like Clark Ashton Smith’s vocabulary.


Tell me a Zothique story in the style of Clark Ashton Smith, please.

The sun had set over the land of Zothique, and the sky was ablaze with the colors of the aurora borealis. The stars shone like diamonds in the sky, and the desert winds howled through the dunes. Zothique, the sorcerer, stood on the peak of a dune, his eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of his quarry.

For centuries, Zothique had wandered the earth, seeking out ancient and forbidden knowledge. He had delved into the dark arts, and had raised the dead to do his bidding. He had stood at the threshold of the abyss and looked into the eyes of the Old Ones. He was a master of the occult and the arcane, feared and respected by all who knew of him.

But tonight, Zothique had come to the desert for a different purpose. He had heard of a powerful artifact, a book of spells said to hold the secrets of eternal life. Zothique had spent centuries searching for such a book, and he would not rest until he had it in his grasp.

He descended from the peak of the dune, his steps sure and steady, despite the treacherous path. He knew the way well, for he had traveled it many times before. As he walked, he recited ancient incantations, calling forth the spirits of the dead to guide him on his journey.

As he approached the entrance to the tomb, Zothique felt the presence of powerful wards and protection spells. He smiled, for he knew that such spells would be no match for his own dark powers. He raised his hand, and spoke the words of a spell of dispelling. The wards and protections crumbled, and the tomb lay open before him.

He descended into the depths of the tomb, his eyes scanning the darkness for any sign of danger. He passed through chambers and corridors, his senses alert for any sign of traps or guardians. But the tomb was deserted, and Zothique soon found himself standing before a sarcophagus of ancient stone.

With a sense of triumph, he opened the sarcophagus and reached inside. There, lying within, was the book of spells. It was bound in human skin, and its pages were made of parchment made from the same material.

Zothique reached out and took the book in his hand. He could feel its power coursing through his body, filling him with dark energy. He knew that this was just the beginning, and that there were many more secrets yet to be discovered.

He turned and walked out of the tomb, into the night, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for forbidden knowledge. He knew that with the book of spells in his possession, nothing could stand in his way, and he would continue his quest for eternal life and ultimate power.


Still, it did include a number of tropes common to CAS’ writing.  So that’s something.  In another five years, maybe it could actually give us new Zothique stories that sound like Smith?

Monday, January 16, 2023

A Sorcerer Miscast List

As requested, here is a Sorcerer Miscast table used by one of my players.  The PC is a cambion, which is why there are so many references to demons in this.  (Since this was made, I’ve written up cambion as a playable PC race-as-class I’ve made for my mad-mashup game.  But that’s a tale for another day…)

When the Sorcerer rolls a miscast, roll a d20 and add the level of the spell to the roll.  If the Sorcerer has a spell cast on them (beneficial or otherwise), add an additional +1 to the roll.


  1. Tipsy-giddy until end of next long rest: disadvantage on Dex-based checks, advantage on Chr-based checks.  (Yes, I’ve totally stolen Advantage/Disadvantage for my mashup game.)
  2. Her tongue doubles in length and turns forked like a serpent’s for 1d4 days.  During this time, nobody believes her lies and 25% won’t believe her even when she speaks the truth.
  3. Tongue turns black, lips crack and bleed.  She can only speak in Abyssal but everyone can understand her.  Those she speaks two shift towards a negative reaction (though they also suffer a penalty on morale checks) and her spit is poisonous until the end of her next long rest.
  4. When she speaks, flower petals fall from her mouth until the end of her next long rest.  Disconcerting, but otherwise harmless.
  5. When she speaks, frogs appear in her mouth until the next sunrise.  Makes it impossible to carry on a conversation and she must pass save vs. Poison to successfully cast a spell with a verbal component.  1-in-6 chance the frogs secrete a hallucinogenic slime, giving her disadvantage on all rolls for up to an hour after the last frog has popped out of her mouth.
  6. A glowing crown of St. Elmo’s Fire surrounds her horns, hovering over her head until the end of her next long rest.  During this time, sneaking is impossible without the halo being hid by an illusion.
  7. She starts to exude powerful pheromones.  Increases the chance of random encounters, and increases the chance of a baddie targeting her.
  8. Her sense of smell becomes incredibly sensitive until the end of her next long rest.  At least a 10 minute warning before any random monster encounter, bonus on surprise checks, but disadvantage on all saves vs. gas attacks (like poison gas, stinking cloud, or troglodyte musk). 
  9. Until the next sunrise, Aezlyth’s STR drops to 6 unless her bare skin is touching the earth.
  10. Until the next sunrise, whenever Aezlyth takes physical damage, long spines or thorns erupt through the wounds in her skin.  Each such eruption does an additional 1 point of damage to Aezlyth’s target when she makes a successful attack in melee.  The damage counts as coming from a magical weapon.  The spines and thorns last until moonset.
  11. A dark miasma lightly veils her until sunrise.  Has a 75% to successfully hide in shadows.
  12. The spell fails to go off, but a random demon gates into this world inside the body of the spell’s target.  The demon rips through the target, killing it instantly.  The demon’s opinion of Aezlyth is determined by rolling 2d6.  2: immediate attack; 3-5: hostile; 6-8 Uncertain and confused; 9-11: doesn’t attack and may consider offers from Aezlyth to join her side in this fight; 12: friendly (for a demon). 
  13. Aezlyth acquires one of the mild insanities from page 83 of the DMG.  Every moonrise, she gets to roll a save vs. Poison to shake off the madness.
  14. Before (or just after) the party takes a rest to reacquire spells, Aezlyth encounters a tent of midnight blue silk stitched with golden stars.  At the peak of the tent is a golden crescent moon, horns pointed down.  Outside the tent is a suc/incubus wearing nothing but sheer silks.  They will welcome Aezlyth and her friends to “the Phantasmagorical Seraglio of Valentine the Sly.”  They will also be instructed to take off their shoes before entering.  (Anyone not barefoot when they enter the tent will feel off-balance and fuzzy-headed, and suffer disadvantage on all saving throws while in the tent.)  Inside are more incu-succubi serving a richly gowned arcanaloth smoking from a hookah.  Valentine is a fixer, information-broker, and advocate for the powers of the Lower Realms (specifically demons and devils).  Exactly what he’s up to and what he wants is up to the DM, but this is an opportunity for the PCs to purchase magic, information, or help at a very steep price.  It’s also an opportunity for Valentine to deliver any messages from a demon to the PCs.
  15. Hag-ridden!  As soon as Aezlyth settles down to sleep, she’ll vanish in a cloud of foul smoke and a wicked, cackling voice will promise to return her in eight hours.  She’ll be pony-girled up and hitched to a night hag’s chariot, forced to transport the hag through the Ethereal Plane on her foul errands.  She’ll be returned at the end of 8 hours still trussed up in pony gear.  She will not get the benefit of any rest and, if exhaustion is used, she probably acquired some.
  16. A stinging pain, like a shirt of nettles, descends on Aezlyth’s back.  Her back is now tattoed with a rainbow of scintillating script in Abyssal.  Roll a d6 to find out what the script says.  1: the truth about Aezlyth’s parentage (1-in-20 chance it includes her father’s name or other details about him); 2: a beautifully written description of Aezlyth’s last erotic experience; 3: a charm that, if read aloud, will force Aezlyth to obey any non-suicidal command the reader gives her until the end of the reader’s next long rest; 4: the true name of a randomly determined demon; 5: what claims to be the true name of a randomly determined demon, but it’s not accurate; 6: a randomly determined spell that can be cast like a scroll from her back.  The tattoo vanishes as soon as the magic is used or the night of a new moon ends. 
  17. After their next sleep, Aezlyth and her companions wake up in the Wandering Bazaar, a plane-hopping marketplace populated by demons, modrons, yugoloths, drow, etc.  When they leave the bazaar, they find themselves wherever it was they’d started that long rest.
  18. The next spell-casting creature Aezlyth kills turns into a green slaad. 
  19. Until the next sunrise, domesticated animals fear Aezlyth. 
  20. During her next sleep, Aezlyth is visited in her dreams by a powerful demon.  She is forced to play dragon chess with this being (some of the pieces look disturbingly like her friends).  She must out-roll the demon (who has a +3) to win the game, using her INT the first time, her CHR the second time, and either for every roll after until one of them has won a total of three rolls. If she loses, she owes the demon a service.  Her body will be marked with a tattoo or brand until she clears the debt.  If she wins, she acquires a new spell of her choice from the Magic-user list.  In either case, she wakes feeling fully refreshed.
  21. During her next sleep, Aezlyth is visited in her dreams by a quintet of succubi who claim to be her cousins.  She’s forced to play dragon poker with them.  When the game is over and she wakes, roll a d6 to see what happens.  1: she’s completely naked and covered in hickies, having lost her clothes in the game; 2: lost half her money (rounded down); 3: returns with a lovely collar of lace and velvet locked around her neck, owing one of her cousins a favor (even if she gets rid of the collar, she still owes the favor); 4: lost one magic item of her choice or, if she has none, all her gold pieces or, if she has no gold either, see 3; 5: doubled her gold pieces; 6: acquired one randomly determined magic item.  In any case, she wakes up feeling fully refreshed.
  22. Aezlyth spends the next round vomiting up a quasit.  She can take no other actions during this time.
  23. The target of her spell acquires a random mutation.
  24. The target of her spell spends the next 1d4 rounds vomiting up a red slaad each round.  While the target can do nothing else, the slaadi fight to the death to protect the target.
  25. Her spell-casting has been noticed!  The chance that the next random encounter the group has is with demons or those who serve demons is increased.
  26. A pride of lamia (1 male and 1d6 females) will begin to hunt Aezlyth and her crew.  Unless they do something to hide their tracks, the lamia will catch up to Aezlyth in 1d4 days.  If they defeat our heroes, the lamia will drink their blood (leaving each with a single hit point) and steal all their jewelry.   

Friday, January 13, 2023

The 2023-24 Fantasy RPG Mad Scrum is ON!

Anyone else feeling a bit of RPG industry déjà vu? 


At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much WotC can do to put the genie in the bottle.  The whole OGL fiasco has been a self-own of 4e proportions, and now everyone else in the biz is being pushed by a realization that the OGL is no longer a safe harbor AND scenting blood in the water of that no-longer-safe harbor. 


In short, we should see a flood of new fantasy RPGs out this year and into next.


Free League Press was already set to release the English version of Drakar och Demoner (which is being called Dragonbane).  Kobold Press has their Black Flag project (be patient; their web site is getting pounded), which I’m expecting will be as close to 5e as the lawyers will allow, but which I hope is more Sword & Sorcery than that.  There’s a new version of Sword & Wizardry coming, but that will simply be the game we know with any actionable trace of D&D language altered. 


The one I’m really curious about is Critical Roll.  If WotC hasn’t already locked the CR team into a contract to run 6e next year, they’re bigger fools than I thought.  So far CR has only released a fairly anodyne “we standby creators” statement.  That could mean WotC already has them roped in, or it might just mean that lots of their add space in their streams has already been purchased for D&D Beyond.  (I’m hearing that the episodes being released now were filmed last month, so they won’t have pivoted that quickly, nor do I know how far in advance they’ve sold advertising for.) 


If WotC doesn’t have CR locked into a contract already, Mercer & Co. have a huge opportunity ahead of them.  D&D might have the biggest name recognition, but their outreach is barely existent when compared to Critical Role.  Yes, a movie and a TV show will help if they are good, but that’s not really the way to bet based on other popular properties that have made it to streaming recently. 


If CR goes their own way and releases their own RPG (and it’s good), they’ll be a serious contender against D&D, the same way Pathfinder was for 4e.  If they sign on to play someone else’s game, that could be even more dangerous for D&D, wedding CR’s outreach with another company’s publishing experience and team of creatives. 


The big issue here is, which game would they pick?  It’s well known that CR started playing Pathfinder but moved to D&D because it worked better with the streaming format.  That means Pathfinder 2e is not a likely choice.  I think it also knocks the Cypher System and the AGE System out of contention for similar reasons.  Fate and the Forge games do odd things with storytelling that I don’t think would work for what CR does.  The dice mechanic for Savage Worlds might be a bit too difficult to follow on a show.


I’d love to see them play an OSR game like NeoclassicalGeek Revival or Old-School Essentials, but I suspect there are folks already bidding for CR’s attention with lucre that no OSR game could match.  If Kobold Press was willing to stray a bit from the 5e formula and tweak things to better serve a streaming show, they could have a shot. 


Whatever happens, WotC has shown weakness and memories of’08 are still fresh enough that everyone is slavering at the jaws for a chance in the ring with the king.  I fear most will try to play it safe and come out with something that’s as close to 5e as possible, but I’m hoping we’re about to see a deluge of creativity and variety that the RPG industry has never seen before.


It's going to be an exciting year.



Saturday, January 07, 2023

A Little FUDGE

A player in my weekly face-to-face game mentioned that they’d hardly played anything other than D&D, and 5e at that.  I couldn’t let that stand, so I promised to run something for them after the holidays.  That was this past Thursday, and the game I picked was FUDGE.

I chose FUDGE because it has three virtues.  First, its flexibility allowed me to create a setting that was space opera; a nice change of pace from the usual fantasy.  Second, it’s easy to pick up and play; the player in question already mentioned how much simpler the math is.  Finally, and most importantly, the core mechanic is about as not-D&D as you can get while still using dice and not going deep into Forge-esque territory.

For those not in the know, FUDGE is a descendent of GURPS, and like GURPS, eschews the randomness of a single d20 for a bell-curved core mechanic.  The result is a very not-swingy game, where your stats and skills are very important.  GURPS uses 3d6, but FUDGE uses proprietary dice that have six sides with two marked +, two marked -, and two left blank.  You roll 4 (or sometimes 3) dice, add any modifiers, and compare to a target number.  Each + adds 1 to your total while each - removes 1.  It’s extremely rare to get outside the range from -1 to +1, so if you can’t reach the target number with just your stats and modifiers, you’re probably not going to reach it at all.  

This actually makes FUDGE a decent intro to Old School play since you can’t rely on the dice very much; if you’re going to accomplish the difficult thing, you’ve got to find a way to really rack up the bonuses or (better yet) find a way to succeed without the dice entirely.

On the DM’s side of the screen, however, I discovered how much I’ve leaned on random tables and the dice for inspiration.  Letting the dice describe elements of setting or situation has been a great boon in introducing elements that are different from my own usual go-to stuff.  But when the usual range of a roll is only three possibilities, that doesn’t leave a lot to hang randomness on.  

Labradorite Fudge Dice from URWizards.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

DUNGEON23: Which Monsters?


I was flipping through the 2e monster manual, looking for inspiration as to what will be under the ziggurat, when I realized there’s no reason I need to use the monsters in there.  I didn’t use the usual stats for the bandits based around the ziggurat, I have in mind one area that will use completely unique monsters, and another area where I’m using a traditional monster but mutated (no promises on either of those; these are ideas only, and when I get there I may have thunked up better ones).  And I’m already using ascending ACs, so I may as well wallow in my blasphemy.


Therefore, you’ll recognize names, but the stat blocks won’t be the same.  I know that’s going to be an issue for some, but it’s one that’s easy to fix, so I don’t feeling a burning need to include the “official” stats. 


This also gives me the opportunity to contemplate new spins on traditional monsters, which can be a lot of fun, if much slower.  And while I truly intend this to be a megadungeon, I’m going to continue to err on the side of quality over quantity.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

DUNGEON23: The Dry River

The bandits have been using the edge nearest their tents as a latrine.  Anyone trying to sneak up to the camp through the dry river during daylight hours will almost certainly be seen by the bandits standing guard on the ziggurat.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Happy DuranDuran-mass

 Really looking forward to reading what the good Doc is doin'.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Dungeon23: the Bandits Corral

The Corral

The bandits improvised a corral here inside the ruins of a large building.  

  • Strong smell of horse and oats.

  • Repaired ruin walls.

  • Wooden fences to mark the edges of the corral.

  • An undyed canvas tarp stretched out over the corral to give the animals shade.

  • Inside the corral are:

    • 2 warhorses.

  • Outside the corral and in front of the ziggurat, hobbled, are:

    • 16 riding horses.

    • 21 mules.

    • The animals are well taken care of (peasants know a thing or two about caring for animals) but are also worked hard.  

  • The barrels hold oats and water.  The hay pile is on the other side of the wall from the barrels. 

  • There are always at least 2 bandits here during the day standing guard, and 3 at night with the campfire out front lit up, if the horses are here.  If the horses are out on a raid, there might be only 1 guard here if some horses or mules got left behind, or no guards at all if the beasts are all out.  

  • The tack for the horses is piled up near the wall and includes blankets, halters, and saddles for the horses, and halters, blankets, and pack saddles for the mules.  

  • Early in the morning, just after dawn, one of the youngest of the bandits will be in here mucking out the corral.  In the early afternoon, three or more bandits will be here caring for the tack.

  • The dung from the horses and mules is allowed to dry and then used in the bandits’ campfires.

Map made with Inkarnate and GIMP.  Each square is 5’ across.

Just in Case You Thought Everything was too Cordial and Polite Right Now

I, for one, look forward to Caroline Ellison's adventure based on machinations within the Chinese imperial harem.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Dungeon23: the Ziggurat of Potent Waters

The Barrow of the Egg is a megadungeon that someone built a ziggurat on top of.  That Ziggurat of Potent Waters was long known as a place of power, coveted by wizards and priests alike until an earthquake diverted the river that ran past it, leaving the land to dry up into a barren, rocky desert.  Over the centuries, the ziggurat was forgotten.

Until recently.

A priest has moved into the ziggurat and is attempting to uncover its forgotten secrets.  (I’m describing him as a castrated priest of Hekate, but any Chaotic/Neutral Evil deity willing to countenance human sacrifice will do).  To aid him in his work, he’s hired a few mercenaries who have themselves gathered a group of disaffected peasants they’ve armed and trained.  The mercenaries, backed up by the peasants, have been hitting desert caravans.  The primary goal has been collecting water and sacrificial victims, though the mercenaries have been happy to appropriate for themselves any portable loot.  The rest, including the bodies of men and beasts, has been buried in the desert.  They prefer to hit caravans leaving from a nearby fortified caravansary, as these will have the most water to steal and will take the longest to be missed. 

While the priest has taken up residence himself inside the Ziggurat of Potent Waters, the mercenaries and their newly-minted bandits live in tents in the ruins outside the ziggurat.  

There are 32 peasant bandits:

PEASANT BANDIT: AC 10; HD <1; HP 2; #ATT 1; DMG by dagger or heavy crossbow; ML 6; XP 5.

Art made with Stable Diffusion and GIMP.