Thursday, October 1, 2015

Judge's Guild Thoughts & Dave Arneson Appreciation Day Homage

So it's Dave Arneson appreciation day and to tell you the truth I've been pretty conflicted about putting fingers to keypad. Blackmoor means a lot to me and Mr.Arneson still to this day doesn't get the amount of recognition that he deserves. So here are some of my thoughts & opinions about this gentleman game designer and wargamer.


I'm trying to first think about when I heard about Dave Arneson. It was through Judge's Guild's Guide to the City State (1976), this was the real deal perhaps one of the greatest fantasy cities that came out or at least that's how it appeared to me when my father's friend from the RAF told me about it. Blackmoor came into my life in upstate New York from the Judge's Guild. I was six at the time and it was all about Kiss, Radio Shack, the Spiderman television show, etc.,etc. It wasn't until a year later that I played or watched my first game of original Dungeons & Dragons. I have very mixed emotions about this because its sort of like writing about something that has always been a part of my life. Arneson, Bledsaw, Gygax, were names that were as familiar to me as my uncles or cousins. Gary Gygax gave us Greyhawk but my hat has always hung in Blackmoor. I lost at least a dozen characters in Tegal Manor, two hundred and forty rooms of haunted house horror as a dungeon crawl. Areson gave my dungeon master the perfect setting to put this haunted hall of horror and gonzoness.

Its only recently that I've acquired a fine scan of this book and come to appreciate its brilliance at what it does. A tight, tense, and well put together urban setting with lots of potential and its been beloved by fans for years. Dave Arneson was very, very, good at what he did and was a damn good game designer way, way, ahead of his time in lots of ways. We lost Dave at sixty one back in 2009 & by God I wish I had taken the time to get to know the man more. I've written extensively about my debt to Judge's Guild but not Mr.Arneson. For me these games are not simply about wargaming or another game of D&D, these games instantly forge friendships between people that last twenty years or more. There's very little that can replace the feeling of getting together with friends and family slinging some dice and breaking the hold of an evil overlord, vile villain or slaying a monster. There are three things that come to mind when the name Dave Arneson is spoken ; one that's its alright to mix in science fantasy & fantasy elements together, two that play is key to the interaction of PC's and cooperation rules the day in parties of adventurers and the three the world of Blackmoor. A setting of free wheeling almost any can happen and probably will. I love the Blackmoor setting with its science fantasy roots and inclusion. The Temple of the Frog was and is a great adventure; it remains a favorite.

Personally I think that sixty one was way too soon of an age to be taken from us but we have little to say in such matters. I wish Dave Areson could have seen the rise of games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess as well as other clones that not only use but reveal in the gonzoness of play that he used so frequently. But alas all we have now are the memories, stories, and debt that we owe to Mr. Arneson. So I raise a glass to your memory sir and a life well played. May you find your place at the table of those who have passed and sling some dice with other greats. Thanks for all of the wonderful games and adventures, the halls of Blackmoor resound with your greatness and echo with your creation. Salute to you sir.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review and Commentary On the Free OSR Horror Rpg Adventure - Come to Daddy For Your Old School Campaigns

I spent part of my day reading through one of the most brutal and well done free adventure I've seen in a while. Come to Daddy is written & mapped Anders Hedenbjörk Lager aka dawnrazor) and superbly illustrated by David Lewis Johnson and Jim Magnusson.If you are looking for an adventure that crosses over the bounds of Lamentations Of The Flame Princess rpg system turf and then backs up to finish the job then this is it. For those of you who don't think that an OD&D style game adventure can cross the same bleak and weird turf as the original Hills Have Eyes film. Think again. You haven't met the Rodbrok family, a more twisted group of mutant cannibals you are not likely to meet and they're very hungry. But there's more going on here.
Grab It Right Over HERE
Come to Daddy_B&T_pic
The basic plot goes something like this:
In Come To Daddy, the characters end up in the clutches of a most evil family of crazy viking mutant cannibal killers and their weird monster creations in the middle of a frosty nowhere
The place is also haunted by the souls of some of their unfortunate victims and full of lethal traps for the unwary. And this is just the tip of the ice berg. There's some very dark and lethal stuff going on here at the home of these people. We're given a thumb nail view of every member of this twisted family and this adventure taps into the dark and lethal vein of the OSR with some surprisingly entertaining events.
This adventure has a wholly deeply disturbing Lovecraftian vibe echoing throughout it, we get a ton of new material in the form of monsters, spells, items, and more. But its the way that the adventure sets up the party and then proceeds to take apart piece by piece the flesh and marrow of the whole of any expectations. This adventure is perfectly aimed like an arrow at the heart of the OD&D or LoFP crew of players and it does an exceptional job of showcasing its old school horror ghastliness in the middle of the winter woodlands of your campaign. This material could be placed anywhere across the board in an ice choked part of your setting and world. This adventure is a mini campaign into itself that echoes such films from the 80's as 'The People Under The Stairs', the original Hills Have Eyes film, some of the dark slasher and jungle cannibal  films of the 70's, and 80's. And there's a ton of back material that's been included in this adventure to pad out, create squeals, and add a ton of Lovecraftian depth to the entire adventure combo pack. There's everything here to keep the horror of the place going for weeks. There's lots of fiddly bits and pieces to have at least three or four weeks worth of material to keep the party going. There are some notes on conversion between editions but given the depth and the way this is written this adventure makes a solid hit to take the PC's straight into Texas Chain Saw territory via the writing of HP Lovecraft in a pseudo historic setting of the DM's choice.
This is not an adventure for the faint of heart or the easily offended, there's blood, guts, and body horror galore. Not to spoil the surprises but this one is like the Manson Family Christmas special via a faux Viking picnic with death metal blaring in the background. The type of material that Ravenloft could hint about but couldn't show because the Satanic Panic button people would have been on the phones of the local television stations yesterday.
Now with all of that hype there's a few things to go over, the adventure is free but there is also a map pack and the free pdf. The map pack is not only necessary but perfectly well made to be able to support this horror laden mutant horror  ride from Hel. And believe you me its worth the download.
But is it playable? Yes with the right group of players this thing should be a blast and it could easily be used for a wide variety of retroclones. The top choice I would have to use this sucker with would be Lamentations of the Flame Princess given the wide array of blood,guts, & gore and then possibly Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. There are several reasons for the latter choice as well. Given the demented feel of the the Rodbrok family and some of the dark forces at work in this adventure. AS&SH is a good choice because of the bleak feel, weird atmosphere and over all horror of the adventure. There's lots of perspective for a very brutal adventure TPK for this adventure.
Believe it or not the module also has a very weird vibe that could be used with Fantastic Heroes and Witchery rpg system. The dark and robust nature lends itself to that game as well. But all of these retroclone systems would require a bit of effort to easily convert it over to your favorite retroclone of your choice. But is it worth the download? Hell yes it is, if your a horror rpg fan whose delicate sensibilities deviate to the dark side of the spectrum in a balls to the walls solidly done and decent horror adventure in the old school tradition then grab this adventure and get to playing! Five out of five with a solidly unnerving and darkly creepy adventure. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Review & Commentary On Vacant Ritual Assembly Issue #3 From Red Moon Medicine Show For The Lamentations Of The Flame Princess Rpg System or Any Old School Campaign

Sometimes you can crawl into a game designer's head and get a glimpse at what's going on at their table with clues as to what direction their taking their campaigns. Vacant Ritual Assembly #3 is now available and its one of my favorite Lamentations Of The Flame Princess Rpg fanzines out there. This is the zine that help me to loosen up with the  LoFP system  and take the game as it comes. The Red Moon Medicine show group of authors and designers headed by Clint Krause continues to impress me. There is an echoing them of down and dirty homegrown Lamentations horror in this issue and issue three echoes with it throughout.
Take one part Robert Howard's Beyond The Black River, mix in the fevered imagination of an obsessive LoFP fan, stir generously with 80's and 90's cinema swords and sorcery fantasy, mix in some dark material of the darkest magick , and perhaps you might get this issue of VRA. But I doubt it.
This issue reads like a temperate mix of Deliverance, Cannibal Ferox (1981), 
and Conan with a healthy dose of its own brand of insanity presented as a personal campaign setting.
Here's what you get for four dollars!
The Legend of Dragon Trench: Is the big adventure location for this issue and covers a wide gap of material including  Hex map, encounter table, rumors, NPC stats, site descriptions, and more. This is perhaps one of the best thought out bits of adventure campaign material and its a very dangerous area at that which will challenge and test adventurers to their limits.

Knights of the Dragon Clan - This knightly order are the guardians of the Dragon Trench and its environs. These are not the squeky clean paladins of OD&D but an order of adventurers,warriors, knights and survivors who are dealing with frontier life in a very dangerous world. Think Conan and company dealing with the Picts in Beyond The Black River with a LoFP twist, the Romans in ancient Britannia or the forces during the French and Indian wars in upstate New York. Life on the edge of a knife blade for your adventurers with death a hair's breath away.
The Thundercloud Druids - This is another faction with deep ties to the Dragon Trench rife with possibilities for adventurers. The Thunder Cloud Druids are the guardians of the Crystal Crater and masters of a twisted type of flute magick.
At night in the wilderness of this setting the head hunting witches of the  Tales of the Timberwives are detailed and these ladies are devious, dangerous, and wholly without mercy.
 The Grand Vespiary - This is one of the more unexpected adventures I've seen in an issue of VRA, it details a wasp cult that will leave adventurers changed forever or dead in equal measure. Its well done and very fiendish in what it does. And this is one of my favorite bits of the whole issue.
The final bit of this issue is Rick's Moving Castle an interview with the creator of the cult classic video game  Castle of the Winds  Rick Saada. A nice interview with one of video game classics masterminds and authors.
So far this is perhaps one of the most personal issues of the fanzine Clint Krause and we really get to see inside his head and his own personal campaign. This isn't a bad thing at all, we really get a sense of what's ticking off the boxes of the home game of the author and his crew at Red Moon Medicine Show.
And its an interesting glimpse into the creative process for one of LoFP's more dynamic fanzines in a community of gamers that continues to bring some of the best OSR material to the table.  This issue isn't for those looking for a simple set of hack and slash locations, these are adventure locations that could be used for many years to come in an LoFP or OD&D campaign.
But is all of this useful? Well, that really depends upon your personal taste in gaming. Personally I would say yes and buy this issue based solely on the strengths of the author's writing on his subject matter. Vacant Ritual Assembly each issue has threaded some very deep waters and this issue goes even further into a region that is rife for potential adventures. Personally I would break out my copy of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad . 
This is exactly the sort of vibe that echoes through the Dragon Trench, a wilderness adventure location that is at once weird and dynamically different to take adventurers on a journey into the weird, pulptastic, and strangely different. That being said the locations that are detailed are easily used with other retroclone systems and that's part of the beauty of  Vacant Ritual Assembly issue three. There are so many things that can be done with this material and issue three is rife with old school gaming goodness potential. Do yourselves a favor, go and pick this issue up ASAP, its well done and well worth the money for the Lamentations of The Flame Princess rpg system or any old school system for that matter!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Death Frost Doom Adventure For The Lamentations of The Flame Princess rpg Writing by Zak Smith and James Edward Raggi IV Part II Death By Frost Review

Death Frost Doom is an adventure that literally draws you into the center of its world like a black hole of wintry death. This is a place that has gone beyond the pale of mere myth and legend into a world of all its own. And the adventurers are drawn up into the module's magick and malevolence. This is a horror movie starring your PC's and the situations described are ones with an internal world all their own. You've just stumbled into the world of Death Frost Doom. 
                                                          Grab It Right Over 

So what the hell is it about DFD that is so intriguing? The writing, the plot, or construction of the adventure or perhaps Zak Smith's writing? Maybe the artwork? None of the above really. There's an internal mechanism of menace to the adventure that makes it part investigation, part dungeon crawl, and part monster menace all rolled into one package.

There's a nice quality of high weirdness and depravity to the events of DFD that give the DM plenty to work with. And if played correctly with a solid group of players will have them experiencing something akin to Evil Dead part two and some dark twisted European fairy tale on steroids. Adding to mix is the cover art (in color) was done by Yannick Bouchard and the black and white interior illustrations, cartography and design were done by Jez Gordon.  All of those seem to add to the total feel of the adventure and it can be added straight into a pre existing LoFP campaign with little issue.  Heck this could be added straight into any horror themed campaign. There are reminders and echoes of old Gothic European, Romanian, and Russian  legends in DFD. This is adventure that Ravenloft wouldn't have the balls to pull off, and yet the horror elements bring some new stuff to the LoFP. There is a totally new take on the undead in this adventure that has some very cool implications for your LoFP adventures if you decide to take this option on board your campaigns. Lots of miliage of this adventure if you decide to adopt some of the ideas, mythology, and high weirdness that lurks between the pages of DFD. As a frame work to me at least this adventure has a ton of potential to take your adventures in some dark and dangerous directions!
This is an adventure that pulls heavily from the legendary roots of its own mythology and deals with its encounters as a series of events set in motion with balance and terror all in one. Something that really well done horror movies try to do. But be warned this is a horrific module that can and will wreck PC's if dumb decisions are made.

So is Death Frost Doom worth the price of admission? Yes I not only think so but I actually one of the essential LoFP books because of the way that it handles the game's material. This is a solidly dark and disturbing read,run, and rabble through the underbelly of the Lamentations universe for characters. I'd put this adventure high on the list of runs for a mid level group of LoFP adventurers. Five out of five for a reinvention of a fantastic adventure. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Death Frost Doom Adventure For The Lamentations of The Flame Princess rpg Writing by Zak Smith and James Edward Raggi IV Initial Impressions

I own and ran the first Death Frost Doom years ago and was both shocked and surprised to see a completely revised and expanded version of Death Frost Doom. But I spend a good part of the early morning going over this adventure.  These are my initial impressions of Death Frost Doom.

I approached James Raggi IV for a copy of this pdf about two days ago and downloaded it prepared for something of a total party kill adventure. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a stone cold horror adventure done in the round robin way of isolated Heavy Metal album covers and European myth & legend. Where as the first Death Frost Doom was a scattered tapestry of horrific elements, Zak Smith has rewritten the entire adventure from the ground up to weave every morbid facet of this adventure as a whole. And its done very well. The cover art (in color) was done by Yannick Bouchard and the black and white interior illustrations, cartography and design were done by Jez Gordon. These elements are all done very, very, well. From just a look over of the material we're plunged into a peusdo European world of horror and twisted dark mythology with an entirely new take on the undead. 
Grab It Right Over 

Everything in this module echoes so far the charm of a romp through the darkest corners of imagination with bits of Lovecraftian adventure throughout out the first couple of pages. To get into the ins and outs of this module is like looking at a horror film with a subplot that runs through it in a smart and very well way. There is the feel of European legend here mixed in with horror films then set on high and poured into a setting waiting to spring on the PC's. And I'm not talking about a total kill straight out of the gate. Instead what we're looking at is an adventure that takes full advantage of the horror tropes in well done but different way. Ways that actually fit into a wide variety of old school quasi- historical backgrounds and setting for which Lamentations of the Flame Princess is well known. This adventure can not only seamlessly fit into the back space of existing campaigns but can be used to generate entire local sub spaces for such. The adventure elements add an entire sub mythology and myth to the adventure. This is something that Zak Smith has done before as an author and designer. I see this all of the time on his blog but to see it done in an adventure using the old Death Frost Doom material is something else entirely.
Straight up this is a very well done adventure and I'll get more into it in the second part. My intial impress is that not only can this adventure work for Lamentations of the Flame Princess but I would use this adventure for other old school rpg's as well. I'm thinking here of OD&D with a dark horror theme or even Cthulhu Dark Ages. The conversion would be quite painless and easy to accomplish. Death Frost Doom is an adventure of supernatural horror and intrigue with a veneer of OD&D. This is not a light weight adventure but one that needs far more attention then it has been getting.  Please remember these are only my initial impressions of the adventure.  But for those DM's already running a LoFP campaign who bought the original adventure, go back and grab this one. This is a completely different animal then the first adventure and be prepared for that. More coming up in part II. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review and Commentary On The Gnomes of Levnec Adventure From Zzarchov Kowolski For Your Old School Campaigns

If your looking for an adventure with gnomes, high weirdness, a great sense of humor, and plenty of room for customization. The Gnomes of Levnec might just be for your party of warriors, wizards, and adventurers. 
Grab It Right 

I went to Zzarchov Kowolski with one thing on my mind, gnomes. This adventure incorporates gnomes but not in the traditional sense but in the weird humor of old school gaming. The Gnomes of Levnec is one part outdoor adventure, two part dungeon crawl, and a whole little mini sand box of gaming adventuring with a twisted humor slant to it. I don't mean that this is a jokey unplayable adventure, rather its a twisted romp with a wry and twistedly strange sense of humor about itself. Levnec is actually a very interesting little setting, with the slightly familiar and the oddly twisted existing side by side. Your adventurers are thrust right into the deep end of the adventure. And the adventure is well worth the money, this adventure would make an excellent and more then slightly twisted adventure to run with OD&D, Swords & Wizardry, or Lamentations of The Flame Princess. In point of fact I love to run this adventure as a low level introduction to the world of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. In only sixteen pages the author establishes the setting, adds in a number of interesting NPC's within the adventure locations, adds a real plot with some minor hooks for adventure continuation, and ties it together with a witty yet interesting device or two.
There are some nifty random tables in this adventure that add to weirdness factor of piece without taking your PC's out of what's going on. This adventure knocks the traditional out door adventure on its ass and does it with style. A style that has a unique view point on gnomes, spells, magick, and a ton of weirdness at its heart. And uses these elements with a sense of the morbid and strange. But it does it in a completely awesome way. Repeatedly!
If your expecting hack and slash dungeon crawl fest, this adventure isn't for you. If you want an adventure with plenty of DYI old school OD&D adventure with plenty of Twin Peaks style high weirdness this might be the adventure for you.
This adventure has some nice maps, great diagrams, and I love, love, the art in the adventure piece because it suits the adventure rather nicely and set's the tone for this darkly whimsical adventure.
 The Gnomes of Levnec provides the DM with a handful of locations in the village, and there's plenty of room to add more in except for the gnomes are waiting to screw with adventurers. And yet they're still more going on then is hinted in the general outlay of this adventure. In fact the plot will have your adventurers crawling around the woods in no time flat and getting lost. In fact their's a rather nifty random table for that. The adventure is going to take PC's into the woods, twist their perceptions around, and then leave them feeling more then slightly disturbed. This is a perfect adventure for a short set campaign adventure that can be dropped right into the background of an existing campaign and yet leave the PC's feeling rather particular about the gnomes that are featured. Which in my book is a good thing. Five out of five because this adventure ticks so many boxes. Dark and more then slightly twisted, great maps, easy set up, deployment ,and a great weekend adventure to keep the PC's weirded out and more then slightly disturbed.  This adventure is a five out of five in my book.

Using The Gnomes Of Levnec 
With Your Old School Campaigns 

This isn't my first romp with Zzarchov Kowolski and I've read through his Pale Lady adventure which is a killer effort for the Lamentations of The Flame Princess rpg system. The Gnomes of Levnec isn't even in the same ball park as the latter adventure but the element of the mythological weird is none the less right there in this adventure. A sense that the 'unreal' of the fairy tales of old is right in your face screaming at you. 

Levenec might be used with the Pale Lady in a neighboring valley or other isolated spot along some of the trails. The idea that the truth behind the myths and legends is even weirder then we're expecting or want to know about. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Convent Of Saint Leona - Tonight's Lamentations Of The Flame Princess Actual Play Event

File:Ruined Convent (Coptic) near Philæ (1890) - TIMEA.jpg
So tonight I had an entire adventure worked up for the Lamentations Of The Flame Princess rpg to go run over a friend's house to take a break from writing up stuff for the Fantastic Heroes and Witchery game campaign of mine. My buddy picks me up tonight but I got in the car without the majority of my books except my LoFP rule book. While I was panicking I resigned myself to my fate an thought about seeing a video that James Raggi did at a some point last year. F#$k You episode number #3 on You tube earlier in the day. One of the things in the video is Jame's opinion on the book 'Stealing Cthulhu' and how there isn't a single mention of Lovecraftian ghouls. So that was my rift and I went with it. 
  The PC's in tonight's game were veterans of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt,and this adventure concerns the French army being pushed out of Egypt by the British .The PC's were a mix of Fighters of fourth level and better with a wizard in their as well. The adventure consists of a hostel owned and operated by a group of nuns and the PC's figuring out that all is not well with the nuns. There is a plague sweeping the city and the PC's are caught within city limits and the nuns are offering kindness and a bed but not all is as it seems. People are going missing in the night. And the PC's are down and out veterans who have very little in the world. The adventure was humancentric as well. So there was very little set up time.
During the night one  of the PC's awakens in the inn/hostel to see a pair of yellow dangerous eyes flashing in the darkness. The PC followed the trail left in the dust by two strong and very dangerous creatures who dragged a man into a pit in the ground in the courtyard of the place.
There was very little light and the moon rolled over head as the clouds broke once in a while illuminated the courtyard.

File:Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart.jpg

The PC a fighter named Henry L'Court spotted a group of strange half starved beings and failing a wisdom  he assumed were beggars speaking with one of the nuns. There was something very inhuman about the nun. Something about her in the moonlight that made Henry pause shutter with horror. And then he saw the faces of the beggars. They passed the nun a bloody haunch of a package and he saw the tell tail signs of a person's arm and shoulder. He backed away very slowly and kept to the darkness going back to his room and to awaken the others. At this point the players faced a  dilemma of not having any weapons or equipment. The came up with a plan to check the room of the missing man having traced down the poor victim's whereabouts. The abode was well paid for and appointed. They found some spoils of war hidden within. Shot and pistol, a few swords, and a knife or two. They took the weapons and something more. The British officer had taken some other spoils as well. A preserved human head in a jar and the thing was 'alive'. This stopped the game in its tracks for a moment. ( The head was the preserved head of a wizard and had they taken to long things would have gone from bad to worse). The party put the thing back in its hidden panel within the trunk where they found it. They also found a pile of  strange coppery gold coins which they took.  And they left almost running into a trio of weird half ghoul bandits!

Then they heard voices in the hallway of the hostel. And they got their first glimpse of the inhuman things stalking through the hallways going from room to room. As they were checking on room the party bolted and hidden in the shadows. While hiding behind a tapestry the party discovered a hidden door. And a hidden stairwell leading down into the depths of the ancient stone pile. 

We had to end the game there because it is a work and school night for the players as well. To be continued this weekend!