A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Review: Towers Two

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 01, 2017

Tagged: osr lotfp kickstarter

Towers Two is the work of David Brokie, completed posthumously by Jobe Bitman (writing) & Jeremy Duncan (art). Brokie is perhaps most famous for being a member of Gwar, the death metal band from outer space. (That the guitarist from Gwar was also a big D&D fan should come as no surprise.) Like Broodmother Skyfortress, this project was also started back in 2012 as part of James Raggi’s (crazy) crowdfunding project of that summer. As someone who helped fund the few adventures that made the cut, this arrived at my doorstep a few months ago. So, about 4 years late. James isn’t good at getting his Kickstarter projects done on time. He is good at getting them done well, though. This module was slated to be a 32 page softcover booklet. I ended up with a 120 page full colour hardcover book. That’s crazy, but seemingly everyone involved in this project was a little bit crazy too.

The first thing you’ll notice as you flip through the book is all the amazing art. Jeremy Duncan’s work in this module is really quite inspired. (I recommend you grab the physical book because I don’t think the PDF does the art justice.) Jeremy’s art is bright, colourful, messy, detailed, crude, psychedelic, cartoonish, gory and intense. It’s in the same vein as the few pieces of art from Brokie that made it into the book, but ratcheted up. (I do love Brokie’s cover: it’s a shame we didn’t get more of his art in colour as well. Don’t do heroin. That’s probably the bigger tragedy here.)

I didn’t think I’d like Towers Two: it sounded kind of cheesy and juvenile. It is in fact both of those things, but it’s also a very well done sandbox adventure. There is no real overarching plot to push the players through, but instead plenty of factions to interact with and a couple obvious villains to harass. Wandering the region around the eponymous Towers Two will likely provide enough excitement for several gaming sessions.

The adventure is aggressively “R” rated. The super villain is an alien creature who controls people by sticking tentacle probes up their butts. Two magic items described in the module are the Death Phallus and the Cunt Whip. There is a “rape table +4”. It’s pretty easy to drop or tweak all of this stuff from the adventure and still have it be coherent, but you should probably know this stuff is there if it’s the sort of thing that will bother you.

I liked the overall structure of the adventure. It opens with a great overview of the whole adventure, describing some background information and detailing all the factions and characters the players may encounter. The information is all presented up front so when you encounter these things later in more detail you already have a sense of what’s up. The adventure is ‘wordier’ than I generally like. Some descriptions of dungeon rooms or wilderness areas are quite long, and at times repetitive. Nothing here is boring, though. It’s all pretty bonkers. I don’t think this module would be quite so easy to run as Broodmother Skyfortress, but it’s far larger in it’s scope. The book concludes with Brokie’s original draft, which is interesting to read as a gaming artifact. Jobe Bitman stayed true to Brokie’s original vision, but a lot of the truly gross or out there ideas came from Jobe not Brokie. I’m not sure if Brokie felt he had to reign his crazy in, while Jobe felt he had to let his out to live up to his idol.

Alex Mayo, who did the layout for Broodmother Skyfortress, also did the layout for Towers Two. This book also does a great job of showcasing the art within. There is art on almost every page, and everything is quite visually interesting. In this book the text is set in a smaller font and split over two columns. In an A5 book I find this sort of layout can feel a bit tight. (It was easy enough to read casually while I wasn’t playing, but perhaps would be trickier to quickly scan in the middle of a game.) I have complaints about room descriptions being split over pages, but on the whole this is a very pretty book. This book is far denser than Broodmother Skyfortress. It feels like there is far more text to read.

Towers Two is a fun book. It’s worth grabbing just for the art. The fact the adventure itself is also really well done is a nice bonus. There is lots of gaming material here, and it’s all really quite unique. It’s interesting how all over the place LotFP can be with their modules. This adventure is nothing like Broodmother Skyfortress, and nothing like Blood in the Chocolate or the Cursed Chateau, which I will write about soon.

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Review: Broodmother Skyfortress

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on December 30, 2016

Tagged: osr lotfp kickstarter jeffrients

Broodmother Skyfortress has been in the making for the last four years. I discussed my plans to back it—indirectly—as part of James Raggi’s crazy “Summer of Adventure” back in 2012. This is the final book that was funded as part of that campaign, the others being Forgive Us, Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, and Towers Two. This module was perhaps the most hotly anticipated of the lot. Now that it’s here what did we get? Broodmother Skyfortress is a dungeon master’s guide in the form of an adventure.

The actual adventure takes up the first half or so of the book. It’s about giant shark elephants and their giant shark elephant broodmother that live in a floating skyfortress—hence the name. These monsters are riding through your campaign world fucking shit up. The players will presumably want to stop them: because they are invested in that world, because you’ve hidden some McGuffin in the Skyfortress, or for some other nonsense reason. The actual “adventure” portion of this book is a pretty small subset of the whole book. The Skyfortress is 20 rooms (12 above ground, 8 in tunnels underneath). It’s not a particularly complex dungeon, but there are lots of things for the players to interact with and perhaps use to stop the giants. Stopping the giants will be tricky: the giants are giants. Players will need to get creative to defeat these monsters and save the day.1

The book is written in a conversational tone. As you read the adventure Jeff interjects with words of encouragement, advice, and humour:

There are times in the course of a good role-playing campaign when it is important as a Referee to have one’s crap together. Like, if you spring a riddling sphinx on the players then you need to have some riddles and some solutions ready. But sometimes it is important that a Referee propose a problem to the players with no preconceived idea of the solution. Your players want to get to the Skyfortress. How the heck are they going to do that? Hell if I know. Don’t worry, the players will figure something out.

There’s lots of great advice about running games throughout the whole book. The second half of Broodmother Skyfortress is full of some of the best posts from Jeff’s Game Blog. Taken together the book is probably one of the best getting started guides to running games. (Certainly for running games in an “old-school” style.) Jeff said he took inspiration here from the old basic modules In Search of the Unknown (B1) and Keep on the Borderlands (B2). This module does a far better job than both at teaching a DM how to run a game. It’s advice is far more clear and direct. (We have chapters like, “Yo Jeff! What if I don’t have a campaign?” and a whole section about what you as the DM need to work out before you play, because this adventure should be tailored to your campaign.)

This is one of the bigger LotFP books, clocking in at 160 pages. James published this softcover adventure as a big colour hardcover book—as he is known to do. The layout was done by Alex Mayo. This book feels like a high point for his work.2 Outside of the room descriptions, most of the sections of the book occur in one or two page spreads with matching art. The layout does a great job of showcasing all the excellent Ian Maclean art. There is so much art in this book. In addition to being great to look at, it also helps you orient yourself in the book and find particular sections of the text. The borders are done in this Kirby-esque style that looks great. They are coloured differently between the two portions of the book, making it easy to jump to the advice section. There is lots of love here.

Broodmother Skyfortress is fantastic. It’d make a great gift for any dungeon master, certainly someone just getting started. Everyone involved has done a really great job. This book can hold you over till we get a real LotFP Dungeon Master’s Guide.

  1. Patrick wrote a great review of this module so i’ll just point you there and move on.

  2. There is so little to complain about I will take the time to nitpick. The description for Room 2 requires you to flip a page to read it all, which isn’t the end of the world because it’s clear the description is incomplete: the text on page 67 ends mid-sentence. The description for Room 3 similarly spans multiple pages, but in this case it’s easy to miss the extra information found on the next page: the text on page 68 doesn’t suggest there is anything else to read. Trying to manage stuff like this is one thing that makes laying out a whole book tricky. But, like I was saying, there is very little to complain about here: on the whole this is top shelf work.

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A Carcosan Western

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on November 18, 2016

Tagged: carcosa osr motu western

Trey wrote about Westerns, and it reminded me of this half finished blog post I had written about my (now on hiatus) Carcosa game.

I had pitched the D&D campaign as Masters of the Universe crossed with Carcosa. Looking back at it now, i’m not sure that’s what I was ever really running. It was often goofy and light hearted, which I like, but without all the Masters of the Universe overtones I was hoping to inject. What I had been running, in hindsight, was a Western. Perhaps this is coloured by my reading a Blood Meridian, but it feels like the line between post apocalypse science fiction and the Wild West is quite fine. You have lawlessness, violence, and a collapse of societal norms and obligations in both. My players spend their time wandering a dangerous wilderness, visiting towns with their own rules of law. They go on missions escorting caravans, and hunt slavers for bounty.

Because I am so chronically underprepared, I went with XP for gold as the means of gaining levels. Rather than simply giving people XP for killing slavers directly, I gave my players gold in the form of a bounty in their home base. The end result is they travel the wastes cutting off heads to prove they have killed a vile Jale slaver. Gruesome, no doubt, but it’s all sort of abstract in the game. No one really dwells on the fact they are carting around a big bag of heads. After reading McCarthy’s book it feels far more dark and grizzly. It’s easy to project one story on top of the other.

Westerns are one of my favourite genres of film, but they aren’t what I had intended to run. When I pick up my Carcosa game again I need to think harder about what themes and tropes made Masters of the Universe the show it was. Also, I need to run a D&D game again.

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Into the Feywild

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on September 26, 2016

Tagged: kiel 5e

Kiel was all, “did you read my adventure about the Feywild?”—more or less—and in my head I was all, “man, I’m not reading an adventure about the Feywild”—more or less. And then I totally read it: when has Kiel let me down?

The Feywild is called many things by its inhabitants: the Bright, the Truelands, the Everwood, and so on. Only mortal outsiders, and fey who have spent an great deal of time in the mortal world, call it the Feywild. Most fey look at folk who use the word like backwards country bumpkins (imagine calling the ocean the “really big puddle” or a castle the “big stone house”).

For the 100th issue of EN5ider Kiel wrote an adventure set in the Feywild, the fairy kingdom of the Forgotten Realms. Now, that’s not really my bag, but I was curious to see what Kiel could do in a few pages: a fair amount. The adventure opens with a brief background of the Fedwild and the adventure. Thankfully Kiel doesn’t waste page count explaining what a magical fairy kingdom is. (You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.) Instead Kiel answers a series of useful questions that most GMs would probably ask when picking up any adventure: “How does this adventure begin?”, “How did we get here?”, “Who is this important NPC”, etc. This is a solid way to open any adventure, really.

The adventure takes place in Hedgegrove, the topiary hedge maze town ruled by Princess Dandelion. Kiel’s drawn a cool looking map of the site, though I’m not sure how easy it would be to use in play. (If I wrote better reviews I’d have played this adventure and told you how it worked out.) The most interesting part of the adventure comes next, the random tables: Random Fey Trade Requests, Random Shops, Fey Oddity (Mutations), and a Random Encounters table. All of these could be plucked up and placed in any campaign that contained a fairy themed site. The remainder of the adventure is spent describing some quests a party can undertake on behalf of Princess Dandelion in order to escape the Feywild.

Though the PCs’ excuses can sway Dandelion’s temperament, she invariable decides to be lenient with them—provided they can complete a grand collection of quests on her behalf.

Now this is the sort of sentence I don’t think you need to write. With most any adventure, any time you find yourself writing out that what the PC’s do doesn’t particularly matter you should just cross that right out. It’ll probably make the adventure better. That’s some free gaming advice for you! It’s also my only real complaint with this adventure.

It was interesting to see what is clearly a very Kiel adventure in a different context. This adventure is light hearted and whimsical. Kiel’s been writing a lot for EN5ider recently, so if you are playing 5E you might want to check it out. I’m surprised WotC isn’t doing something similar.

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The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming 2016

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 26, 2016

Tagged: osr dnd

Ennies voting has come and gone. What are these books even? As is often the case I find their picks lacking—in other words I don’t recognize them. The Ennies are the Teen Choice awards of the RPG scene.

It feels strange writing about books from a year ago in the summer of 2016, but here we are. The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming need to follow some rules, otherwise what’s the point?

What follows are my favourite books of 2015. To qualify for contention your book must have been purchased by myself in 2015 (and ideally published in that year as well, but I honestly don’t give that many fucks about that). Winners were chosen all by myself, based on my feelings about gaming at this moment in time.1 As you read on you might say to yourself, “Ram: these categories are totally different than last years!” Yeah, they are. If you want consistent award categories the Ennies have you covered.

Best Setting Book: David McGrogan for Yoon-Suin: The Purple Lands

yoon-suin

Yoon-Suin: The Purple Lands takes Vornheim’s approach to world building—copious random tables—to an extreme. Rather than describe Yoon-Suin David McGrogan shows the reader how to create their own version of his world. The setting itself is comprised of several regions, each interesting and unique in their own right. Yoon-Suin could have been 4 or 5 books, but instead it is a single epic tome. The scope and vision of the book is incredible, and is as unique as the world it describes.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t call out Matthew Adams and the wonderful art he has provided for the book. One of the few complaints I have with the work is that there isn’t more art from Adams.)

Best Not D&D: Jason Lutes for The Perilous Wilds

Perilous Wilds

The Perilous Wilds is Dungeon World crossed with all sorts of OSR inspiration. I love hex crawls and wilderness exploration in my D&D. This book is a nice focused look at the subject, coming at the topic from a completely different direction than i’m used to.

There is a fair bit of Basic / Expert D&D in the tone and feel of the book, and also in how the book has been laid out. B/X was very smart when it comes to presenting information, and was seemingly ignored as a design to copy. Well, people copy the trade dress while missing what actually makes it compelling. Perilous Journey’s isn’t so foolish. Almost everything in the book is a tidy spread. It’s a pleasure to flip through and use. A lot of thought has clearly gone into making it useful in a fast improvisational game.

The Ramanan Sivaranjan Excellence in Gaming Best God Damn Book of 2015: Scrap Princess and Patrick Stuart for Fire on the Velvet Horizon

Scrap tells you to shut up about stats.

Fire on the Velvet Horizon is unlike any other D&D book I’ve read or seen. It is a monster book without stats, a coffee table book you can use in your D&D game, some sort of new-wave fiction. Stuart’s writing is captivating and thoroughly weird. Each of the pages in the book, produced by hand by Scrap, is a piece of art. There are some stand out examples of her “she’s just scribbling god damn it!” style. Seeing so much of her art in one place, and stuff in colour, it really nice. As I’ve said before, there is nothing else like her artwork.

This book is such a great example of two people following their own artistic vision without letting anyone else get in their way. Fire on the Velvet Horizon has the airs of something art-house, but once you dig in it is clear it was written with an eye to towards the gaming table. The book is thoroughly uncompromising in every way.2

Honourable Mentions

The Chthonic Codex, In the Woods, The Hell House Beckons, The Warren, and Ryuutama are excellent books I enjoyed. A Pernicious Pamphlet is particularly excellent, and had a ‘best zine’ award in several drafts of this blog post.3

Till next year. Booyaka! Booyaka!

  1. This blog post has been a draft for months now. I knew fairly early on what books I wanted to call out, but it has been agonizing trying to pick one book over another for the big award. That said, in my heart I probably knew who the winners were the moment I read their book. One of the biggest reasons this was a hard choice was that Patrick won an award last year and I was worried these awards were just going to be “Ramanan’s annual blog post where he tells Patrick he’s awesome.” And now the mother fucker wrote Maze of the Blue Medusa so I am already stressed for 2017—pressure is on everyone else. Still, you should win if you are doing good work. Every scene needs their Daniel Day-Lewis.

  2. Including how small they were willing to typeset the text.

  3. I want to limit myself to calling out three books a year. Maybe that’s dumb, but I think focus is good. I hope people don’t think my Honourable Mentions are also rans. These are all really stand out books in my mind.

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The Cthonic Codex

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on February 15, 2016

Tagged: odnd afg osr

Paolo sent me a copy of The Cthonic Codex, which I had been meaning to buy a physical copy of for sometime. (I am a fan of pretty handmade books—who isn’t?) I had thought this set described a game in the vein of OD&D, but it is in fact a setting supplement for that iteration of D&D you like the best, describing the strange world of the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire. In The Cthonic Codex world building is done through the descriptions of monsters and spells rather than tedious histories and ethnographic studies. This approach to splat books is of course objectively better.

The first codex is a bestiary full of monsters one may encounter in the Hypogea. The monster descriptions hint at notable figures, events, places, etc, in addition to describing the monster in question. Stats for creatures are given for Paolo’s AFG game, in addition to generic D&D. Creatures are for the most part weird, chimeric, magical sorts of beasts. This booklet hints at things revealed in the subsequent two books. Starting with the bestiary seems backwards, but I think it helps make the initial read through of all the booklets fun.

The second codex is about magic. There is a lot of good stuff in this booklet: new rules for spell casting, making potions, new spells & associated schools of magic, etc. These rules are a nice addition to the game: they give the players reasons to wander the wilderness in search of adventure. (Carcosa’s rituals are similar in that they require players go to this or that hex, or find this or that component, but who wants to cast any of those spells?) There are brief histories about the schools and the world scattered throughout this book. You can picture the sorts of magic users that belong to each of the schools. Like Wonder & Wickedness, I found the spells in this book to be an improvement to those spells presented in traditional D&D. They feel magical rather than “gamey”. You could use this booklet by itself to replace the magic in your D&D game with something a bit more exciting, even if you ignored all the bits and pieces about the game world.

The final codex is my favourite. I suspect it would have the broadest appeal. It’s a hodgepodge of all sorts of stuff, primarily collections of random tables. One of the larger sections is the CHTHONOTRON, which are a collection of tables and rules for generating a large cavernous underworld. This underworld is where adventures in the Hypogea will take place. (I learned while reading this book that hypogea is in fact another way of saying underworld: the more you know!) This Codex is the one that presents the world of the Valley of Fire the clearest, though it is still mostly described via magic items and entries in random adventure tables and the like. The final book shines because it gives the referee and players obvious ways of generating adventure. There are random tables for encounters and events. There’s a table which is subtitled “Exceptional Events and Reasons to Roam.” These are the sorts of things I’d love to see in Carcosa. I think The Cthonic Codex does a better job of being terse, while remaining useful. Carcosa is a bit of a mixed bag in this regard.

There is lots left unsaid in these booklets. As the DM you can decide how you want to use the information within: what’s rumour and gossip, what will be a true fact in your game world. In this way it is similar to Carcosa and other such setting books, with its hands off approach to what is the “official” version of the setting. I like books short and to the point. There is a lot of flavour to The Cthonic Codex, all done without an excessive word count. Commendable.

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OD&D is available as PDFs

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 26, 2016

Tagged: odnd

The day has finally arrived: Original Dungeons and Dragons is available for sale as PDFs. These are PDFs of the booklets that were re-created for the collectors boxed set that came out last year. (There were older scanned versions of these booklets available for sale several years ago, and those PDFs were pretty terrible.)

My biggest gripe with OD&D was not with its rules, writing, or art, but with its cost. The game is now a collectable, and has been for some time. The collectors edition Wizards of the Coast made last year is around $100-$200 depending on where you look.. That’s about $15-$30 per staple bound booklet. (Well, you get a nice box too.) If you want to try and track down the originals you likely can’t find them for that “cheap” unless the books themselves are in a state no collector would want. Original boxed sets are usually several hundred dollars—if you can find one that has survived this long. Forget all that: now you can just print your own!

As I have no doubt mentioned on my blog several times now, OD&D is my favourite edition of D&D. At the time it came out I really can’t imagine using these books to figure out how to play D&D. Lucky for you it’s 2016! It’s easy to back-fill any holes in the rules with rules from the Basic D&D rules produced by Holmes or Moldvay. OD&D is a fun starting point for your own variation of D&D.

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That Four Letter Word: Prep

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 20, 2016

Tagged: carcosa osr advice prep

As I mentioned in my last post, I ran Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer, the sample adventure in Carcosa, over the weekend. Because I was nervous about running a game at a convention, for strangers, I was perhaps more prepared than usual for this game. Going through the process of prepping for the game has caused me to rethink (some) of the opinions I had on what I want from an adventure, and what I should really be doing when I run a game.

I ran Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer more or less directly from the book. I think this remains one of the key things I want from any adventure. I have some modules where room descriptions are so long I could never hope to find pertinent information in their walls of poorly organized text. In contrast the Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer is neatly laid out, well organized, and terse. I had no trouble quickly parsing out what each room was about while my players were exploring. I’m never going to run anything that requires me to re-write it to use it.

To help speed things up during the game I made a little monster tracker for the dungeon: for each room with a monster I had the monsters stats, and the HP of each monster encountered. I rolled up the number of monsters encountered and the HP ahead of time, for any room where these numbers were random. This is the sort of handout that seems like it should be more common than it is. I can’t imagine when it wouldn’t be useful to a GM.

I also pre-rolled all the random encounters that would happen during the game, and made a similar monster tracker for those. During the game I let players roll a d12 to see which of the pre-generated encounters they hit. (I could have just had them encounter them in sequence, but I also like some surprise at the game table.) This was actually more handy than I thought it would be. Random encounters felt as seamless as expected ones.

The Sorcerer has two apprentices (1st-level Ulfire Sorcerers) who wear chain mail and are armed with swords (and one has a short bow and a quiver of 20 arrows). Neither knows any rituals.

The above is one of the room descriptions from the dungeon. I can read this to myself quickly and not stutter when players walk into the room. Well, until they ask me what else is in here. I don’t think I realized how useful some amount of (interesting) dungeon dressing is till I came across rooms like this while running the adventure. I’m not good at coming up with this sort of thing on the spot. (Or not on the spot, for that matter.) What I ended up describing when I ran the module wasn’t particularly interesting. I think a few extra words about what some of the rooms are like would go a long way to improving this module.

Do these two apprentices like each other? Do they like their master? Are they vain? Are they insane? McKinnon leaves this all up in the air. Like the rest of Carcosa it’s up to you to decide some of the finer details of the adventure. The relationships between everyone in the dungeon isn’t fleshed out. There is a Bone Sorcerer, his two apprentices, and an alchemist all operating within this dungeon, along with a tribe of Deep Ones: what is their deal? Again, a few more words here would again go a long way at the game table.

That said, I do think the approach McKinnon took here is reasonable. There has to be a trade off made when your goal is tweet-sized room descriptions. From reading what’s he has written online, I think he is more interested in providing GMs with skeletons and frameworks for adventure rather than something more richly detailed.

I shudder to think of rules lawyers or canon lawyers playing their tricks with my books. The books are meant for the opposite use, the use of creative and imaginative referees who basically say when reading my books, “Ah, I see what you’re trying to do here. Let me finish all your sentences for you.” I never want to effectively tell a referee to sit down and shut up. — Geoffery McKinnon on ODD74

Still, it does introduce more work for the DM. I made a sheet that listed each NPC and a couple words about them, just so I wouldn’t be ad-libbing when the players encountered someone. This wasn’t much work, and helped flesh out the dungeon a little bit more.

Running a convention game was a good experience, much better than I thought it would be. I had 4 small A5 sheets of paper with some sparse notes, but that was more than enough to help me feel like I was ready for most anything. In my regular game I prep the bare minimum I can get away with and still feel like i’m ready for a game. After running this convention game I can see that just a tiny bit more effort would probably improve my games immensely, and take away a lot of the stress I feel when I run a game.

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OSCon 5.5

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 17, 2016

Tagged: osr toronto oscon55 osrcon convention

OSCon 5.5 was a lot of fun. I played in a game in the morning and then ran a game—what!?—in the afternoon. I ended up skipping the evening session, because I was pretty beat after 9-10 hours of gaming. If I was willing to power through into the night I could have play tested Daniel Bishop’s upcoming adventure, which I am quite sure would have been a fun session. There are so many old-school gamers in the city and I often forget they aren’t all on G+ gossiping about games: it’s nice to meet new faces; it’s always nice to play in person.

My first game was with Galen F, who ran The Idea from Space, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure. Galen began our game by informing us we were off on a quest to save a duke, likely located on an island off the Southern tip of South America. We arrived on the island to find the wreckage of his ship. My fellow adventurer suggested we torch the boat, just in case it was filled with monsters, and then fish out any melted gold from the debris. That really set the tone for everything that would follow. We did eventually find the duke—who we killed before we realized he was the duke. We managed to save two of his entourage, who we returned to Spain—where they probably spread the terrible scourge that had afflicted them on the island. The chaotic Elf in our party called it a win, and who am I to disagree. It was fun to play.

I had skimmed through this module when it first came out, but it arrived in a box containing A Red and Pleasant Land, Death Frost Doom, and Tower of the Star Gazer, so it was kind of easy to ignore. I remember at the time thinking it was goofy. I’m sure if I had read and reviewed the adventure at that time I would have said it was dumb and you should skip it. Now having played it I can see my impressions of the module were off: it is kind of goofy, but it in a good way. The adventure features two neat factions for the players to interact with and takes place on a small island that was fun to explore. I really should make more of an effort to review things I’ve actually played or ran myself: otherwise what are you really saying?

My session after lunch went well, I think. I always feel a sense of dread and panic when I run a game, so I prepared far more for this game then I do for my regular bi-weekly game—something I should probably rectify. I had notes for all the creatures, I pre-rolled their HP, I wrote out a couple words for each NPC of note, I pre-rolled all the wandering monster encounters. In hindsight I should have printed out the map and cut it up, because it was a pain in the ass to both describe and draw. Otherwise I felt the work I did beforehand helped things run smoothly.

I ran Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer using OD&D. The hook for the session was as follows:

Your lords are all dead: a strange people from a strange land. Dirt? Or was it Earth? Whatever the name, their home sounded wonderful. Your natural Carcosan xenophobia has been cast aside for a greater purpose: to escape this wretched world.

In a rocky defile, a cool steady breeze issues from a wide crack in the earth. Within lie the Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer. Why would your former leaders ever want to come here?

The players each had a rumours as to why were they were supposed to be here. Two ended up with rumours about how to find a portal back to Earth (within the Fungoid Garden), while the third received a rumour saying everything about portals is nonsense as the reason they were here was to kill the sorcerer once and for all. After the session one of the players remarked he could imagine the game like an 80s cartoon or procedural: each episode featuring the party finding another possible way back home, but always failing.

My regular Carcosa group played a test run of the adventure, which felt like it lacked some oomph. For a variety of reasons this second play through at the convention felt like it went much better. Because of the route the party took through the dungeon they ended up meeting NPCs and creatures in a useful order. Because I usually play that Bone men are indistinguishable from one another to people outside of their race, Michael Prescot’s character was able to impersonate the eponymous Bone Sorcerer twice—once before they killed him and once after. And yeah, the fact they killed him also seemed like a good way to get closure in an adventure titled Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer.

The space the convention took place in was quite nice. In previous years it was sometimes hard to play because of all the noise from the other tables. That wasn’t a problem this year thanks to the ample space. Like an idiot I only took a photo when half the tables had packed up for lunch, though.

Like an idiot I only took a photo at lunch time.

OSCon is a great successor to OSRCon. Stephen and Boris managed to get a bunch of people out again, numbers back in line with the earlier OSRCons. With the space they had rented i’m sure they were hoping for more, but for their first go at things I thought they did an amazing job. I’m hoping they run the convention again next year. It’s probably far too much work for such a small convention, but i’m glad someone’s taking the time to do it.

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2015 in Books

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 02, 2016

Tagged: osr

At the start of the year I had a goal to buy no more than one RGP book a month. This is less about money and more about actually making sure I have the time to really sit and enjoy the books I buy: it’s easy to collect RPG books for the sake of collecting. Anyway, I didn’t really come close to my goal. (I actually did worse than the previous year I tried this experiment.)

The bulk of what I buy continues to be books from the OSR for use with D&D, but there were a few exceptions. I grabbed Ryuutama’s PDF when it was put up for sale, and then quickly upgraded to a hardcover. The game looks like an SNES manual, and doesn’t remind me of any other RPG I’ve played. I backed The Warren on Kickstarter because I thought Bully Pulpit’s previous game Night Witches was well done. That book arrived at the end of the year and looks to be the game about rabbits I didn’t know I wanted to play. I finally bought Dungeon World, after enjoying Perilous Wilds so much.

There are lots of cool zines and small modules being put out by individuals in the OSR now. A Pernicious Pamphlet and In the Woods are stand out examples of this sort of work. I am hoping to make a zine from bits and pieces of my Carcosa game this coming year.

I only bought one book from Wizards of the Coast. The stuff they put out isn’t really of interest to me. I wish they had an indie-imprint doing more interesting work. Out of the Abyss is an enjoyable read, but it’s also large and cumbersome, and I can’t imagine actually using the book to run a game.

If you were curious what books are in the running for The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming for 2015, here you go:

  RPG Date Category Format
1 Beyond the Wall January OSR PDF
2 Sol February ??? Print
3 The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem February LotFP PDF
4 Yoon-Suin: The Purple Lands February OSR PDF
5 Infernal Realms‡ February P&P PDF
6 The Pale Lady¥ February LotFP PDF
7 Kingdom March Indie PDF
8 Microscope March Indie PDF
9 Fire on the Velvet Horizon April OSR Print
10 Perilous Journeys April DW Print
11 Ryuutama June Japan Print
12 A Thousand Dead Babies† June OSR PDF
13 Hark! A Wizard!† June OSR PDF
14 Neoclassical Geek Revival† June OSR PDF
15 Rampaging Monster† June OSR PDF
16 Scourge of the Tikbalang† June OSR PDF
17 Trail of Stone and Sorrow† June OSR PDF
18 Gem Prison of Zardax† June OSR Print
19 Beyond the Wall - Further Afield July OSR PDF
20 The Warren August SG Print
21 A Pernicious Pamphlet September OSR PDF
22 Out of the Abyss September WotC Print
23 The Hell House Beckons October OSR PDF
24 In the Woods October OSR PDF
25 The Price of Evil October OSR PDF
26 False Readings November OSR PDF
27 Cthonic Codex‡ November OSR PDF
28 Obscene Serpent Religion December OSR PDF
29 Dungeon World December DW PDF

‡ Gifts from authors
¥ Bonus Kickstarter reward
† I won all of Zzarchov’s modules, including the then unreleased Gem Prison of Zardax, which I own as a giant pile of paper

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