The Cosmonomicon: Spelljammer + Dragonstar + 5th Edition D&D

Another post on some cool Spelljammer stuff I found the web a while ago. Jordan Short over at The Mox Boarding House has written up a cool mashup of Spelljammer with Dragonstar, and given advice on how to run it in 5th edition. It strips down a lot of the stuff blogging down both Spelljammer and Dragonstar, mostly edition-specific rules that neither are really enhanced by, and makes a pretty cool setting out of it, known as The Cosmonomicon.

For those that don’t know:

Spelljammer was a 1st and 2nd edition AD&D setting that took D&D into space, and let you fly ships from one campaign setting to the next using magically enchanted boats. It never really caught on, due to how strange it was, and, likely, due to a lot of rules and bookkeeping related to the flying ships and spellcasting in space. Mostly though, I think it was how strange it was, an odd mashup of swashbuckling, D&D and planar travel. There was also a Shadows of the Spider Moon article in Polyhedron magazine that attempted to update things to 3rd edition with a new setting.

Dragonstar was one of the setting that came out in the rush of 3rd party products after the OGL came out and was mostly lost in the rush (The company killing Living Dragonstar didn’t help.) It added a lot of Science Fiction elements to D&D, and made the players trying to exist on the edges of the Draconic Empire, right after a red dragon took the throne and has begun sending out his orc legions and drow secret police. This gives a very Star Wars + D&D type vibe that I find really cool.

The Cosmonomicon takes the Dragon Empire from Dragonstar, some setting bits from Shadows of the Spider Moon, removes the technology from Dragonstar and replaces it with Spelljammer’s flying ships. It doesn’t have all the details from Spelljammer (no crystal spheres or such), but I think that enhances things and removes a lot of the unnecessary complications. He also gives some useful details for playing in the setting in 5th edition.

I encourage you to check this setting out and enjoy: I think I’ll be borrowing some of this if I ever run a Spelljammer game. As a note to my readers: these posts on Spelljammer material are being shared to Wildspace: The Spelljammer Fanzine, which is something you should check out.

Until next time, stay geeky
–Canageek

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Retrosmack!

A black Magic Card for Star Wars (1977). Caption: Luck Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the EMpire's world0-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Trickster started Retrosmack off with one of my favourite movies: Star Wars

For a long time I’ve been a fan of The Adventure Gamer, a blog in which Trickster played through each and every graphical adventure game ever made, in chronological order, and blogged about them. It was a solid successor to The CRPG Addict (Where someone going by the name Chet did the same with Computer RPGs.) As a result of my enjoying both of them quite a lot I’ve had links to them in my sidebar for some time.

Well, a few months ago Trickster tired of playing every adventure game; he wanted to play other genres, enjoy other types of entertainment. So he turned the blog over to the community and moved on. Well, I got busy shortly after that and fell behind in my blog reading, so it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Trickster had started a new blog: Retrosmack. Starting in 1977, the year of his birth, he is blogging through what seems to be the most culturally important things to come out that year in several genres. Comics, games, TV, movies, books, the whole shebang. Each year he is picking items equal to the year – 1900, so in 1977 he will blog about 77 things. So far topics have included Dr. Who (Which I’ve become a much larger fan of since I met my girlfriend via it), Ogre (Which I recently bought at my FLGS and need to sit down and play), Shannara and the Atari 2600.

Now, that is cool enough, but Trickster thought up a cool idea on The Adventure Gamer: CAPS or Companion Assist Points. He wanted a way to reward people who helped him out, and punish those who gave him spoilers, so he created an imaginary currency. That worked REALLY well, with even those of us who don’t know adventure games being able to earn a considerable amount. However, it was a fair bit of work adding up all the rewards, managing trades, and so on. This time Trickster has automated most of the process using a bunch of wordpress plugins. Also, this time instead of spending them on forcing him to play more games, we can buy trading cards with them. They don’t do anything, but he figures the collector mentality runs strong in geeks, and he is probably right; I’d bought the Star Wars trading card before I’d even figured out what they were, what Smacks were and how to get more.

Anyway, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Trickster did a great job with The Adventure Gamer, and he is using every bit of writing experience he got last time here. He brought some of his very welcoming community with him, and is looking to grow it, so I thought I’d help him out. Once again, give Retrosmack a look: You won’t regret it.

Why I donated to Desert Bus For Hope and Child’s Play

This entry is a bit different from my usual blog entry. For one thing, I’m not usually fighting back tears. My brother has cancer. He is 21. At the end of his first year of university he started to get really sick; losing a lot of weight, and some psychiatric problems that he’d never had before. It turned out he had what they thought was a non-cancerous brain tumour. After half a year of radiation therapy it had shrunk enough to be operable, and they removed the parts pressing on his brain, and we thought it was over.

When I found that out it was the best day of my life.

This fall he started having those problems again, and they found the tumour is back, and cancerous. He is now undergoing chemotherapy. The outlook is, he tells us, really positive, and hopefully he will only have to do 3-4 months of twice a week chemo. I’m still more scared then I’ve ever been in my life. Last time I was optimistic, everything seemed good, he could beat this. This time…I’m terrified out of my mind. I can’t do much to help him, aside from chat with him about movies and such, stay up with him when he comes home on the weekends as he is a night owl.

One thing I can do is give a bit of my money to charity, to hopefully help others.

I just finished giving some money to Child’s Play, via Desert Bus For Hope.

Desert Bus is the creating of a Canadian comedy group called Loading Ready Run. They play the worlds worst game for about 5 days, the exact amount of time determined by how much money for Child’s Play they raise. Child’s Play is a charity started by the webcomic Penny Arcade (Often NSFW) that gets video games for kids in hospital.

I am not sure exactly when I started watching Desert Bus; I *think* it was Desert Bus 1, as I remember it being a new thing, it was in a basement of some sort, and recall something about the camera and an elastic band. I didn’t watch much, as I had exams, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, I enjoyed watching, but never donated money as I preferred to give to places that funded research, like the Canadian Cancer Society. This made sense to my scientific Asperger’s brain; you could save more people that way. That has changed now, as I’ve seen what a comfort having a game can be.

Last year my brother was sick enough that he had to drop out of classes on medical leave. He tried to develop some hobbies to fill his time, but he didn’t have much energy, and as the radiation sickness got work, enough focus. He started out reading a lot of books, but rapidly found he couldn’t concentrate enough to read for long periods. He became a movie buff, something he has kept up; He made a list of every movie he wanted to see, and as of early last summer he’d watched something like 130 of them. However, you can only watch so many movies, or so he tells me. He spent a lot of time playing games. During the summer while I was in BC he became a huge fan of Mass Effect and beat the first two several times, to get all the options; he was really looking forward to the ending, and once told me that he really wanted to finish the radiation by the time it came out, so he’d be healthy enough to play it. (He did, beat it 3 times, and was pissed at the ending). The first game I remember talking to him a lot about was Skyrim. He was playing that about the time he moved back home, playing a Wood Elf sniper. I made a Breton mage and we spent a fair bit of time talking about the game, but he got sicker, and didn’t have the energy to focus on it. Then he moved to other games, I don’t remember them as well, as I didn’t play them. Racing games I think? Some sports games? I recall some XBLA arcade football game that he played a lot of back on the N64, and a golf game. A lot of League of Legends (he plays support).

Anyway, games were one of the things he could do a lot, except when he was at his most sick. He could lie on the couch and play on the xbox, even when he couldn’t walk very well, though his left hand shaking restricted the type of games as I recall. It was one of the few things I could talk to him about, since I understand games, even if we don’t normally like the same genres. I…I want to give other kids some of that comfort, now that I’ve seen how much that helped him. That is why I gave to Child’s Play. I’m not saying you should, but you know, if you have some extra money, instead of buying a game for yourself why not send the Desert Bus guys some cash? If you want to give to some place to help treat other people with cancer, that is also cool.

Thank you to anyone who does give money.

Sorry this was so long, I’m not thinking very clearly, and don’t have the strength to reread and edit it.

Oh, I also wanted to say thank you to the Loading Ready Run people. There have been some really dark days recently, and on some of them your videos helped me smile again, thank you.

–Canageek

Update on my online summer game

So as you may have guessed from my review of Dungeonslayers, I will not be running a game of it this summer. I’ve gotten into a GURPS game on Wednesdays, but well, I have weekends free. However, I forgot how much 1.5 hours in transit and 8 hours of work a day took out of you, even if you have free time, so I’m going to have to limit what and when I’m capable of running.

1) I have been looking at what system to use. So far I’ve looked at FUDGE, ‘Warrior, Rogue & Mage’ and both Red Box Hack and Old School Hack. None of them have seemed to be quite what I am looking for, though I would like to place some FATE & FUDGE. The current front runner for my summer game is GORE. GORE was designed to be an eldrich horror game, in the sprite of another game I play a lot. However, it uses a more D&D like magic system and is freely available, so I think with some house rules it could make a good, if high danger, dungeon crawling game. Additionally, it is simple enough that I think I could convert old D&D monsters to it- Since it is % based I could just make a D&D character of the appropriate level and see what that monsters chance to hit would be, then use that.

2) I’m still interested in the following ideas from my planning post– I’m having less energy after work then I thought, so some of them are not as feasible. Basically I don’t know if I have the energy to run the Dimensional Hopper game and Tangents is definitely out- I don’t have the energy for the planning either of these would take. I’m also less sure of the Megandungeon based ones until I get my feet under me- I’m thinking I could start a standard game with smaller dungeons, and if it goes well move it into a megadungeon. On the plus side, if we use GORE then we could include guns in the X-Crawl based settings if we wanted.

I know what times I can do this at now: Friday night post 7pm, any time Saturday, or Sunday night, ending no later then 9pm, all Pacific Time. I don’t get hope from work until 6 most days, later on many, and that leaves me just enough time to shop, eat and relax a bit before I have to go to bed.  This allows me to move things along a bit, as I have narrowed down the times to the point I feel fine taking applications to join in and suggestions on what to run.

3) I think Google Wave, Maptools, IRC or similar is more my speed right now. I don’t have a webcam or a decent mic, so yeah, voice seems like a bad choice.

So yeah, there are my current plans for an online game. I’m willing to look at other free gaming systems, and if I do use GORE it will be with some houserules (Probably more skills, might use pointbuy. It has rules for gaining HP already, but I will have to look at the system more. I also might tack on a simple XP system, as ‘when you finish the adventure’ doesn’t work in megadungeons.

So, is anyone interested in playing? Leave a comment! Ask questions! Please!

–Canageek

Dungeonslayers: A Review

I have now run 3 games of Dungeonslayers and thought I would write up a review. The first two games went quite well, however some problems were uncovered in the third game.

All of the games I ran started with the sample adventure included with the core Dungeonslayers rules, the third went on to a second adventure. Minor spoilers of these adventures will be included in the review, as I feel I need to describe the situations the players were in to accurately describe the problems encountered.

The first game was run via IRC, with 2 players: A fighter and a black mage. The players quickly understood the rules and went through the first two encounters without issue, and had some trouble with the fight with the spider. After this session I was highly enthusiastic about DS and spent a great deal of time trying to find others to play with. I ran this one as a X-Crawl like game I’ve dubbed X-Slayers, adding in commentary and whatnot on the fly. This worked quite well.

I then ran a second, in person, session of DS. The party consisted of two black mages and a fighter. The party handled the first two encounters without issue, and again liked the quickness of combat. I ran this game straight out of the rulebooks. The only problems came from the poor ordering & layout of the DS rulebook, which made things hard to find on the fly. On the otherhand, I was pretty new to the system & this will hopefully be fixed in 4e.

My third game ran over the course of an afternoon and we got my further. One player arrived significantly before the others, and after rolling up a fighter we started the dungeon at my request, as I knew the first fight was very easy and I thought teaching the players the system one at a time would be simpler. He easily handled the rats in the beer cellar and levelled to level 2. Then the second player arrived. We quickly made up a gnome race for him (Dwarven racial
traits + elven stat choices) and he made a black mage. The players then entered the wine cellar and easily took out the rats, though the black mage took some damage. The players took easily to the system, and things seemed to be going well. Both players increased in level at around this point. The third player arrived and rolled up a white mage, healed the black mage and joined the adventure. The party explored the dungeon in a roughly clockwise direction, clearing out the weak rats before attacking the final battle, which I think is a good choice and probably a result of a good map. However during this time they levelled up to 3rd and 4th levels. The fighter put the vast majority of his stat points into defence, quickly getting into the 15-16 range. Given the rats low attack I could basically do no damage to him, so most fights involved him standing in the door of the rooms and the rats attacking him en mass 2 or 3 at a time, which the black and white mages casting spells past/at him. Even the final fight, were the small rats bypassed him and attacked the spellcasters did not offer much of a challenge, though this was in part due to poor dice luck on my part. There was a final fight with the spider, which I did a tiny bit of damage to the black mage, but at this point they were 4th & 5th level, the white mage having caught up to the black mage, and it offered little challenge. There was also a fair bit of confusion with the web attack of the spider: Does it stop the player from moving from location to location? Or does it paralyses them? Can spellcasters use magic while paralyzed? The game does not say they can or can’t. I would lean towards can’t, but a web makes me think of
trapped in place at the feet, not unable to move at all.
We then started a second adventure, Dungeon2Go #2: Tomb of the Witchking. The combats in this adventure have seemed much more challenging, so I think the ease at which the part went through the first adventure had to do with how quickly they levelled up on the rats. The players got through most of the adventure, which was primarily trap and puzzle based.

Based on this I’ve found a few points about the system I would like to mention:

-I very much like the combat mechanics: They are fast and simple, though critical hits took my players a bit to understand.

-Attack magic works just like an attack, so this also works pretty well.

-Most rounds the white mage had very little to do, having only 1 spell (Healing Hands) and the fighter not taking much damage. This is partly the players fault in my opinion for not taking a ranged weapon, even when offered one. This would hopefully improve with time as the characters get more spells.

-However the unlimited amount of healing makes damaging traps outside of combat pointless. This was very clear in the 2nd adventure as there were many of these present. These are a genre convention of the dungeon crawling genre and Gygaxian dungeons, so I would like to include them. I could go to deathtraps, but those have always felt unfair and cheap to me.
To put this another way, combat in Dungeonslayers is entirely tactical: Almost all consequence of the combat are negated at the end of it, therefore each and every combat is either a challenge in and of itself, or simply a source of experience for the characters. I prefer there to be at least some strategic elements: In D&D that is how much damage you take and how many spells you burn. Dungeonslayers does have some spells with long refresh times, however it remained a very tatical game, which appears to be a trend in RPGs.

-The identify spell, which gives all of the information about magic was used heavily by my players to bypass traps, as they would use it on statues and whatnot to find triggers, command words and whatnot. I’ve started compartmentalizing magic, like computer code, but I’m thinking of making it only work on magic items. When I write my own adventures I’ll also make more touch triggered traps to discourage this tactic, or magic traps that are protected by physical traps designed to hit those that try and read the instructions.

At this point I will include some comments from the player of the black mage,as he is quite well spoken and has phrased certain things better then I am able to:

“Well, ultimately any game comes down to two things. What you INTEND for the game to be like… And what the rules make the game like. The ethos of the game seems pretty straightforward. Going for a relatively high-fantasy setting, something akin to a rules-lite D&D but with their own added twist. Rules lite OLD D&D, make that.”

I agree with this: The game feels like fantasy, and it presents what it wants you to do with it very well.

“Solid ethos established. Definitely a strong high-fantasy setting, as established by the kind of spellcasters that they’ve made a pinnacle part of the game. For a system that goes for non-Vancian magic, this is actually one of the ones I’ve liked the best. Instead of relying on things like magical energy or whatnot, the spellcasters just have a limited capacity to hold the shape of a spell within them. They can then use it as often as they like. It’s novel, it’s refreshing, and it feels fairly good. There are problems with it in the system and with the magic system in general, but those can wait for a moment.”

I agree with this as well, and originally the magic system was one of the things that drew me to the game. I liked that spell casters would have something to do every round, and the spell delay times and system of switching from spell to spell seemed like a great idea. I found it a touch boring in my first couple of playthroughs, but figured this would improve as the players levelled up and got more spells.

“It’s nice to be able to roll a 1 and be happy about it.”

I can take this or leave it, I find the critical system a touch annoying, but that is a minor gripe. I do find the fact that since a 20 is always a failure, and you only add a second die when you need to roll 21 or higher makes there no practical difference between defence 19 and defence 20. Again a minor gripe.

“While classes specialize in particular leading roles, you can kind of think your way through most problems that you don’t have the skills for. It definitely encourages planning over rushing in.”

I did notice this a bit, though I think any well-run game can do this, regardless of system.

“Combat is relatively fast-paced and a comfortable fit.”
I have said this several times, though it is nice that the players agree with me.

However:

The Bad:
“The magic system, for all that it felt novel and fresh, needs some work. If you only get to learn so many spells, early decisions will be painful later in. This can be countered by spending ‘feats’ (edit to be whatever they’re actually called), but this punishes the wizard in a way that the fighter doesn’t get.”

I agree with this. I also noticed that it would be virtually impossible to have a decently versatile spellcaster who also knows a high level spell: A 20th level wizard who knows a 15 level spell can only know one or two other spells, and you have to delay taking big spells for levels and levels after you get then if you want to avoid ‘unlearning’ other spells. One of my favourite parts about classic D&D is the wizards constantly looking for more spells, and one of the
things I was looking forward two was a system that doesn’t punish you for memorizing ‘mount’ instead of ‘fireball’ or ‘haste’.

“Although this is more a complaint with the mods we played than the game itself, it does seem as if the game favours people who are familiar with fantasy RPG tropes. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, As it rewards genre familiarity, It does tend to punish newcomers, which is not inherently a good thing in such a game.”

I think this is the sort of thing that the sample adventure should be for, and to some extent it does. It has a really hard to find bit of treasure, some easier to find treasure and similar things. Smart adventures should then notice that treasure can be hidden and look for more. I don’t really see a way around this, other then having players well, play more.

-Players level *very* quickly. In one day of play we were at 5th level or so. While I don’t think this is a bad thing, it meant that my players burned through the first adventure at way higher level then it expected. I think that rat XP needs to be reduced to 5-10 XP and Giant Rat XP needs to drop to 10-20. I think that 5XP for the rat and 10 for a giant rat would be much better. I think I might also add a house rule that each successive fight with a monster grant 1 less XP as you learn less from it. However that would require players to track how many of each monster they have killed, or at least how many battles, so it is not an ideal solution. Due to the XP system I found that fights with a lot of weak monsters were far less challenging then one large monster that could hurt the fighter, while at the same time granted far more experience. Reducing the XP for each additional creature in a group after the one that gives the most experience might be a good idea.

There we go, my first review. Sorry this post is so late, I got caught up in work and the associated 3000 km move.
Until next time, stay geeky!

–Cangeek

Blog Recommendation: From the Sorcerer’s Skull

I planned to write this post months and months ago, however universities came along and tackled me, held me down and beat me with knowledge and group projects. On the plus side I now have a totally awesome summer job (nuclear chemistry, including monitoring radiation levels reaching the west coast from Japan), an undergraduate thesis position for next year (NMR studies on protein-small molecule interactions), a working knowledge of polymer chemistry, some useful tidbits about analytical chemistry and some interesting tidbits about physical chemistry and some really useful lab experience.

However, I did not set pen to paper (or bits to memory) to bore you about my academic studies! I came to recommend unto you a most awesome blog: From The Sorcerer’s Skull.

The single best thing about this blog is the amazing setting known as The City and its Strange New
World
. It is really hard to describe what the city is, and no one post really describes it very well as it has mutated and evolved since the first post on it. I think I shall describe it as thus: Take a large amount of well aged noir, the good stuff with lots of hard shadows and harder men and blend that into a homogeneous mixture with a slight excess of pulp action. Add just a touch of steampunk, the origional politically motivated stuff, not the off-brand ‘aesthetics only’  lite dreck. Now mix this all heavily with traditional D&D tropes as a binder to give it structure, and ice with mythology and nonfiction as desired. Add nuggets of horror and sprinkle liberally with weird fiction. Enjoy. Here are some early example posts: Weird Weapons, Weird War; This post shows the much more modern technological level of The City and a lot of the weird adventure. Dungeon, American Style: City Lost, Canyon Grand has an interesting take on the Grand Canyon, which in the world of the City is filled with monsters. Oh, did I forget to mention that The City’s geography mirrors our own in many ways? Except sprinkled with the fantastic, and often is closer to how people several hundred years ago thought the world was like, not how it actually is. For this reason I strongly suspect that the world of The City is hollow, though I don’t think this has been stated yet.

There are also other sections of the blog: An old setting from before The City, Warlord Wednesdays which talk about an old comic (I will admit to skipping those ones), and a number of other posts on various and interesting topics. Which brings us to the next most impressive part after Trey’s creativity: The sheer number of posts he churns out. I mean, often over 25 posts per month! Almost one a day! It is nuts. I can sometimes manage one a week, but Trey? Trey is a machine! A creative, good post writing machine!

My final point is less tangible: Trey seems like a nice guy. When I posted about my friend who was having some trouble, he and a couple of other readers went and offered her best wishes, and I know he posted at least once after that. From what I can tell she is doing a fair bit better now, though things are still very rocky, and I really appreciate him doing that. Anyway, why are you still here? From The Sorcerer’s Skull is about a thosand times better then my blog! Go read that!

And until next time, Stay Geeky!

–Canageek