Monday 28 March 2011

This Is Not A Place Of Honour

Most fantasy worlds are post-apocalyptic, at least distantly so. How else would there be lost civilizations and powerful, world shaking artifacts? The D&D Known World/Mystara is the product of the destruction of Blackmoor, and suffers a second apocalyptic event if you play the world canon and subject it to the Wrath of the Immortals (I wouldn't - I have all these lovely Gazetteers to explore). The Warhammer World is also the product of a world changing accident stemming from technological hubris. In that case the Old Ones and the Slaan managed to tear a hole in fabric of reality and spill Chaos into the world.

But have a look at this - a warning to be left at sites of nuclear waste storage - and tell me this isn't the entrance to a super-dungeon:

p.s. I probably owe a hat tip to someone for pointing me to this ages ago.

Friday 25 March 2011

Death By One Hundred Foots

I lived abroad, in the Tropics, during my youth. I remember being told that we shouldn't really worry about the tarantulas, and that the scorpions looked far more frightening than they were. What were really nasty, we were told, were the big, fat, orange centipedes.

From Malaysia, not Allansia, but nasty all the same.

So was it that surprising that my latest Fighting Fantasy adventurer met his doom at the multitudinous feet of a GIANT CENTIPEDE in the sewers of Port Blacksand? And SKILL 10?! My adventurer would almost certainly have been able to whittle off the beast's 5 STAMINA points, had he not, trying out every strange object he could get his hands on, suffered a -2 SKILL curse.

City of Thieves is a great collection of random encounters, with the emphasis on random. Not just in the contemporary sense - each one being just the kind of oddness that characterises Titan - but in the Gygaxian sense - there is no way of planning a path through Port Blacksand; the adventurer is limited to taking the opportunity to experience the encounters that Ian Livingstone has rolled up on his Urban Encounters - Evil City d20 table. Great fun, all flaws considered, and my adventurer even had a couple of the special McGuffins that I would need to kill Zanbar Bone.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Saturday 19 March 2011

I Got 76 Patrons, But Elminster Ain't One (#1)

You meet a strange man in a bar and he gives you a job.

I spend a lot of time in bars and I've never once been propositioned in this way.

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Having never been a Traveller player, I hadn't seen 76 Patrons until it was the subject of a Grognardia retrospective. That post and discussion prompted me to share some of the patrons built into my version of the D&D Known World.

In D&D, patrons are especially important at low levels, as the early actions of the party/character shape their place in the world. And, sure enough, plenty of these patrons do hang about in bars. But the D&D Known World is a world where 'Adventurer' is an occupation, if not necessarily a respectable one. You don't find a patron in the local Weatherspoons', but you might at the Threshold version of the Mos Eisley Cantina.

The Giant’s Head

The Giant’s Head is the foremost adventurers’ tavern in Threshold. Not popular with the locals – nor the town guard – the Giant’s Head is the temporary home to a range of human, demi-human, and in very rare cases humanoid and monster ‘fortune seekers’. Members of the Iron Ring (their affiliation secret even through their disreputable character is not), wide-eyed farm boys run-away with the family sword, Halflings on yallara, and bands of monster hunters eat, drink and sleep under the same roof. Not surprisingly, arguments and fights are common, but it also the place to come for the best stories, rumours and, thanks to the easy gold of adventurers, high-quality, if expensive food and drink from across the Known World. The Giant’s Head is run by Harold Bigtoes, a renowned (and mostly retired) Halfling explorer, and Bailey, a Clurachaun who looks after the well-stocked wine and beer cellar and the vast collection of whiskies.

Harold ‘Giant-Killer’ Bigtoes

(H 8 Str 12 Int 14 Wis 16 Dex 16 Con 10 Chr 15 Al N AC XZ HP 34, Attack Rank D)

Magic Items: Leather Armour +2 (not usually worn), Short Sword (‘Quick Jack’) +2 (+4 vs. Giants), Ring of Cold Resistance, Ring of Survival (20 charges remaining),

Special Abilities: Half-damage from spell or spell-like effects. Fighter combat options. Two attacks per round. Denial (see GAZ8: 3): deny a single spell or magical item effect each day. Hide in woodlands (90%), in shadows or in cover (33%).

Harold is a retired adventurer, a renowned giant-killer in his day (his sword Quick Jack and his Halfling AC bonus when fighting large creatures helped save his life in several battles against the creatures of the Black Peak Mountains). Originally from the Five Shires, he spent most of the past fifty years – he is in his seventies now – exploring the northern and eastern parts of Karameikos. Of course, when he began adventuring there was no such place; the land was a Thyatan-occupied Traladara. He benefitted greatly from the arrival of Duke Stefan, first making a small fortune mapping the wilderness in the service of the new state – and finding a fair few treasure hauls along the way – and more recently profiting from the increased business that the opening up of the northern frontier has brought through the Giant’s Head (est. 989). He knows most of the adventurers that pass through Threshold, even the most notorious, by name. This includes the agents of Baron von Hendriks, such as Pharrus, a secret member of the Iron Ring. With no taste for their business, and aware of the threat the Black Eagle Barony poses to the Shires, Harold keeps men like Pharrus drinking in his inn so as to better keep an eye on them. Plus, they have to spend their ill-gotten gold somewhere.

Harold looks older than the average seventy year old Halfling. With curly grey hair, a black mustache, and a browned, lined and weather-worn face, he looks like a grizzled mountain man. And, indeed, that is what he is, having spent years, including several perilously difficult winters, high in the Black Peak Mountains, mapping and exploring Duke Stefan’s new country. However, as different as he is from the stereotypical Halfling in appearance, the environment has not worn away his good humour and hospitality. Despite maintaining the affectations of the explorer – he is often seen in the leathers and hides, the same that he would have worn in the wilderness except that these are new and unsoiled – the past fifty years were just an exceptionally long period of yallara (see GAZ 8). He toys with the idea of returning to the Shires and learning the ways of the Masters, but until now has not been able to quit frontier life.

Harold is often in a position to give PCs mapping missions, which might necessitate entering sinister woodlands, delving into un-charted cave systems, or accurately recording the locations of ancient barrows.


(LP 1 Str 7 Int 12 Wis 10 Dex 15 Con 12 Chr 14 Al L Save E1 AC 5 HP 4)

Spell(s) usually carried: Sleep or Charm Person.

Special Abilities: Invisible to Mortals – can turn invisible if a person turns away, even for a moment.

Bailey is a Clurachaun, a sub-race of Leprechaun that has turned their affinity for craft skills away from shoes and towards alcohol. He is the cellar-master of the Giant’s Head. He takes care to maintain the stocks of beers, wines and spirits – drawn from across the Known World, and beyond – that fill the cellars of the inn. This involves much tasting, and while Bailey is often drunk – he is just under a foot tall, after all – he also has an exceptionally cultured palate.

He usually dresses in exceptionally vulgar and garish version of the outfit of a gentleman of Darokin; pantaloons, short jacket and ruffed shirt. His dark hair is rarely combed or untangled, though when it is it appears so ill-suited that he looks less presentable for the effort. While of Fair Folk stock, like many Leprechauns, and most Clurachauns, his features and physique are far less fine, being of stocky, pot-belled build, with facial features just that little bit too large for his face.

His tasting skills, and hardened stomach – he is never incapacitated or left with a hangover – have left him with the ability to usually (80% of the time) identify potions and poisons from a single sip, with no ill effect. On rare occasions (on a roll of 95% or over), he has been known to misidentify potions and poisons (roll on the table on page 229 of the RC). He does not identify potions for free – a Leprechaun, Bailey loves gold, and anyway potions and poisons, not brewed for their taste, offend his tongue – charging 25gp per potion. He will tell the PCs amusing stories of past mistakes as he identifies their latest haul of bottles and flasks.

As a 1st level Leprechaun NPC, Bailey can memorize one spell per day. Choosing Sleep or Charm Person makes Bailey quite an effective bouncer. On the rare occasions that he finds himself using his spell, the Guard turn a blind eye. They figure that disorder contained within the Giant’s Head at the cost of a broken law is better than having to break up brawling adventurers themselves.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Munch Bunch

So, Starship Traveller. The least satisfying book so far, largely because the illusion of control is absolutely stripped away with so many decisions the sci-fi equivalent of the bare left or right found in some of the fantasy books. Funny, I remember really liking this book 20-odd years ago. It did get me thinking about tabletop roleplaying; Star Trek (and Firefly, which I'm halfway through watching at the moment) would make a very good model for episodic, fantasy set, sandbox play. More on that idea in a later post.

Anyway, after rolling up my crew, and plunging through the Seltsian Void, we aimlessly explored new space. Landing an a planet notable for its anarchy, we ran into a bunch of GUARDS. Their description was the highlight of this read-through. I asked 'why, if there are no laws, they have the need for guards'? Our host explains, 'Guards do not guard things, we do not need to protect things. It's just that some members of our community get pleasure out of attacking others and, of course, they are free to do as they wish. But in fairness to the rest of the population, they dress up in uniforms and call themselves guards so as to warn others they must be on guard when a guard passes.' Brilliant.

From there we proceeded, again, without any kind of plan, to a planet with a hallucinogenic atmosphere, changed course because I suspected that we heading into deep space in the pursuit of a hallucinatory scanner reading, and then my CATERING OFFICER tells me that all the food has been spoiled. Why wasn't I given the option of rolling for his SKILL, as I was all the rest of the key members of the crew?

In pursuit of food we were presented with another left-right choice; a blue planet or a green planet. Opting for the blue planet, we were told that the entire planet was an ocean. Nevertheless, we were given the option of beaming down. I made the choice to leave orbit and head towards the green planet, but broke one of my rules and skipped to the section for beaming down to the blue planet. Your transporter chief doesn't really beam you down to death by drowning does he? Yes! Yes he does! Morale must be low on Traveller.

Down on the green planet one of the crew gets crushed a gigantic beasts do battle, but by keeping calm and quiet we avoid drawing the attention of the winner. Then, in true death planet style, the plants themselves attack! Thinking perhaps that the tangling vines are a self-defence mechanism, I try the same technique as saved us from the beasts. I opt to attempt to remain still, presenting no threat, no stimuli that might prompt the vines to entangle me further. Of course, the vines strangled and crushed the life from my acquiescent body. My adventure ended here.

Nom! Nom! Nom!

Saturday 12 March 2011

The Task Ahead

I picked up my daughter, showed her this array, and said, 'One day, all this will be yours.'

Labours of Joy / Livres des Jeux

I'll be using eBay to sell off some of my multiple copies - I don't think I need six versions of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain or The Forest of Doom, even if they do have different covers.

On the subject of covers, the iconic covers for me are the jagged green stripe 'Adventure Gamebook' covers. I don't think that the coloured star was enough to create an identity, and I never took to the dragon logo. I think this was because I moved abroad - to a non-English speaking country - during the mid-eighties for a good few years, left with only the gamebooks I had carried with me. And by the time I came back... things had changed!

The jagged stripe was used, as you can see, on the Sorcery! series (naturally enough), as well as the Cretan Chronicles and Maelstrom both of which I remember borrowing from the library in the 1980s. What I didn't know until this week was that the jagged stripe was also used on a series of gamebooks for girls - Starlight Adventures!

Do you think that the statue comes to life and that you have to fight it to find a numbered key?

Sunday 6 March 2011

Your adventure ends here

I have a lot of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. I have had some of them since the early 1980s. I have had some for a few days. And I am now married, have a PhD, and am a father. So, I decided that I finally have the maturity to obey all the rolls of the dice and to hold myself to the decisions that I have made.

However, playing one book over and over until it has been completed is boring. If you are not going to cheat the books become a mechanical problem. Who wants to read the same passages over and over again, or worse, to not read passages at all, simply making a series of paragraph number choices? I want to enjoy a fantasy adventure.

I have decided to play each book in my collection in turn. When that adventure ends, I will move on to the next book in the series, with nary a backward glance at the dice rolls that I should have fudged or the places where I should have changed my mind. Well, apart from a brief recap, listing the doom of my adventurer.

#1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – A very good start, but a little bit of a cheat before I have properly begun. My adventurer killed his way through the mountain to reach the Warlock, defeated him, and had the keys needed to open his treasure chest. The cheat I relied on was the help of the internet to get through the Maze of Zagor, but otherwise everything else was by the book. Putting the cheat in context, I completed this book before I had settled on this programme of gamebook adventuring. Firetop Mountain has a new master.

#2 The Citadel of Chaos – My adventurer, avoiding combat more or less entirely – only fighting a GOLEM that had been weakened by a fight with a CREATURE COPY – very quickly got to the room with the GANJEES in it. Though my adventure ended here in the majority of my previous plays of this book, and I will not resort to an internet walkthrough. It is not quite the same scale of frustration as the Maze of Zagor. Death by falling.

#3 The Forest of Doom – my adventurer survived a series of nasty combats with high SKILL opponents, didn’t find either of the parts of the warhammer, and then died in a fight against a fire-breathing WYVERN. He had equal SKILL, and nearly twice as much STAMINA, but rolled badly, and even a last ditch TEST OF LUCK didn’t come off. The first time so far that the dice have failed me, but it will not be the last. Rare, or well done?

Turn to 400 has a much funnier take on working through the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in order. All I'm doing is listing the fate of my characters - death, more often than not - and waiting for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e.