Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anniversary and Crowdfunding Analysis

I apparently missed my one-year anniversary, but the blog's been slow recently. A lot has happened in the last half-year: I've graduated, I've moved (Boston to Buffalo), I've found employment. Unfortunately, I may not be gaming as much any more, but we'll see how that plays out long term.

Just because I wasn't blogging doesn't mean I haven't been busy, and one of the things I worked on was an analysis of Kickstarter data. Because it was for a class, it assumes a certain vocabulary, has some weird stylistic artifacts, and has some persistent errors that weren't severe enough to merit fixing at the time. Eventually I would like to revisit this more completely, but until then I may as well "publish" it:
The Paper
The Handout
The Presentation
I would like to dedicate this to Erik Tenkar, whose sharp coverage of Kickstarter campaigns made me to think that this might be a worthwhile project.

Looking back at this post, it's very much about myself. I can't be sure that I'll keep the blog up, but I do know that I've got at least a few more posts in me and that they'll be more gaming-related than this one.
Update: The dropbox links are all broken now, use this link instead.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cladogram and Notes

I embark upon a new project and shortly thereafter abandon it to the winds, and collect up some random notes I've taken.

An RPG Cladogram

Someone on G+ made the comparison between the proliferation of retroclones and the many distributions of Linux. Inspired by the GNU/Linux Distribution Timeline, I started one for gaming:
It has a couple of problems: one, it's horribly incomplete, and two, it doesn't handle child nodes born after the parent's death very well at all. I think it's a solid idea, and if anyone wants the sources I can send those along (it's just a csv file), but I think I'll let it go until I can work out the child nodes thing.
There is some precedent for this:


  • An impromptu mechanic I was proud of: you have a keyring. Each round, you try a key. Roll 1d12 on a 1, it fits. Next round, on a 1-2 it fits. The round after on a 1-3, and so on.
  • A pop-o-matic should be a very fair way of rolling dice. If it isn't though, it might be modelled best as a Markov process.
  • I've been playing Bang! with some people. Our group tends to be small though, so that any weapon will do just as good as another. To fix this, I propose that people can only fire in one direction, like an M. C. Escher staircase.
  • Mr. Sivaranjan comments that it's about a 50% probability to roll under a random ability score. I had thought it would be exactly 50% to roll under an ability score (inclusive), but AnyDice says 52.5%. I'll have to figure that one out when I've got more time. Unsurprisingly, the distribution of wild talents follows an inverse normal curve, shown below.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Crooked Baths

My entry to the Great Khan's Roman themed contest was The Crooked Baths, and it came in third, which I'm pretty proud of. I present it here, with some notes.


The upstairs (ground level).

The downstairs (basement).

Ground Level

The crooked baths are located deep in the heart of a city, where space is tight. They are built around the ruins of an old city wall and fed by an underground stream.

1. Palaestra

Decimus Domitius Ahenobarbus, retired soldier and balneator, can usually be found here wrestling or taking money. Even when he is not, there is usually wrestling throughout the day, and a bit of gambling among the spectators is not uncommon.

2. Latrina

There could be something down there, but honestly, nobody wants to know.

3. Oecus

If a character is meeting someone at the baths, they will be waiting here.

4. Oil Shop

Domitius’ wife, Servia Flavia Poplicola, sells oils and unctions from here through a hole in the wall facing area 1.

5. Apodyterium

Domitius’ two daughters, Felia and Mus, work in this room as capsaria. Individually, neither is trustworthy, but will tattle on the other given the opportunity. This keeps them honest as a pair.

6. Frigidarium

The water here comes directly from an underground river through a hole slightly above the water level (the room is significantly below grade). A metal grate separates the water in this room from the water under area 7.

7. Machine Room

A sluice gate in here, controlled by a winch, regulates the water levels in areas 6. and 9.

8. Tepidarium

Two comely young foreign siblings, Lupus and Vulpa, work in this room as aliptae. They have been known to eavesdrop on conversations and probably know more than they should about many things. They have a creepy sibling-lover dynamic.
The brazier in the middle of the room usually burns a mildly addictive soporific substance that grows locally as a weed.

9. Caldarium

The hot baths are fed by an aqueduct running through the hypocaust. The labrum is emptied and refilled at the start of every day.

10. Praefurnium

This hallway runs along the old city wall, and is mostly only used by the servants.

11. Domus

Domitius and his family and slaves live in this set of rooms.


The foundations of the wall extend well below the surface (to prevent tunneling), and so are completely filled on this level.

1. Supply Tunnels

Wood is brought in from outside the city through these tunnels. The water draining along the edge of the wall eventually joins with the cloaca.

2. Furnace Room

Two furnacatores, twin dwarves Phillotus and Spinther, tend the fire in this room. Because the baths are so small, the caldarium is heated directly by the fire. Phillotus and Spinther run a smuggling operation through the extensive supply and sewer tunnel networks beneath the city, and have a cache in area 3.

3. Hypocaust

When the furnace is burning full-blast, it can be very difficult to breathe in the hypocaust, and at all times one can only move at one-quarter speed and only by crawling. However, from a good position in the hypocaust, conversations in areas 5., 6., 8., and 9. above, as well as area 2. in the basement can all be listened in on. Phillotus and Spinther cache smuggled goods and their personal savings in this room.
The channel running along the edge transports water from the machine room to the caldarium.

4. Frigidarium

The pool of cold water here is divided by a grate separating the machine room and the frigidarium proper. It is impossible to surface on the machine room side.

5. Underground Caves

The river feeding the baths comes from a larger underground cave system that continues a while back, eventually emerging somewhere in the mountains.


Aliptae – Slaves who anoint patrons with oils.
Alveus – A gutter around the edge of the schola labri.
Apodyterium – An (un)dressing room, where a capsarius may be hired to watch your things if you have no personal slave.
Aqueduct – An elevated channel for conveying water over long distances.
Atrium – An open court in the entrance, part of the vestibule. Serves as exercise grounds for young men.
Balneae – A bathing vessel, usually a household appliance. Also refers to the room containing such a vessel.
Balneator – Keeper of the baths, responsible for extracting admittance (usually one quadrans).
Caldarium – The hot baths, heated from below by thehypocaust. May contain a labrum.
Capsarius – A servant hired to watch possessions in the apodyterium. Notoriously untrustworthy.
Clerestory Windows – High windows used throughout the baths.
Fornacatores – Servants who tend the fire and the milliarium.
Frigidarium – The cold baths. Sometimes large enough to be a natatio.
Hypocaust – Heated space beneath the caldarium and tepidarium. Filled with pilae.
Labrum – A round vessel containting cold water in the caldarium.
Laconicum – A hot chamber with no bath, used as a sweating room.
Latrina – A toilet, sometimes found in the vestibule.
Miliarium – a three-tiered water boiler above the furnace, so called for its resemblance to a milestone.
Natatio – The pool in a larger frigidarium, used for swimming.
Oecus – A salon where patrons can wait for others to enter and exit the baths.
Pilae – Short stacks of brick in the hypocaust, holding the caldarium floor up.
Praefurnium – A chamber leading into the furnace room. Sometimes underground.
Propigneum – See praefurnium.
Quadrans – A bronze quarter. Standard admission to the baths.
Schola Labri – The space in the caldarium about the labrum.
Strigil – A cuved metal tool for scraping dirt and sweat from the body.
Sudatorium – See laconicum.
Tepidarium – An ornamented, waterless room heated by both the hypocaust and a large brazier. In baths without an unctuarium, one is anointed here. Much time is spent sweating in preparation to enter the caldarium.
Thermae – The bathouse as a whole.
Unctores – See aliptae.
Unctuarium – A room in which one is anointed, not common to all baths.
Vestibule – An area containing the atrium, balneator, latrina, and oecus. A place where servants can await their masters, patrons can await their friends, and announcements can be posted


This is not an academic work, but here's some references:


  • I regret not more strictly enforcing a scale on myself for the maps.
  • I spent far too much time concerned with the grade of the water and how it flows. In the end I just added the "Machine Room" and left it nebulous enough to fudge.
  • The Glossary and References are available in a pdf.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Inactivity, Hobos, & Celts

It's been a while since I've done anything with this space. I missed BFRPG day (but I did find that BFRPG exists, and is cool), I submitted an entry to the Great Khan's contest (that will get its own post later), I found the Planescape appendix to the Monstrous Manual (which is pretty much everything I wanted from a monster book), and I've had classes (blah).

Hobo Treasures

Gus at Dungeon of Signs has made a table of hobo treasures. A while ago, I was part of an effort to clean up the shores of the Merrimack river, and here is a list of less exciting treasures inspired by that expedition (roll 1d20).
  1. Flat piece of slate. 1 in 6: cannot be erased by standard means.
  2. Evacuated turtle shell—some hobo's dinner.
  3. Explicit letter in a bottle. The contents are nonsensical and offensive, and the next 1d6 found will all be exactly the same.
  4. Strange seed pods. Roll 1d200: number of seeds found.
  5. Melted children's toy. Ours was a headless plastic dinosaur.
  6. Monkey wrench, rusted solid.
  7. Small cache of lighters. Roll 2d12: the higher is the number of lighters, the lower is the number that still have a bit left.
  8. Large stack of moldy pornographic magazines.
  9. Newspapers. Roll 2d20: the higher is the age of the oldest paper found.
  10. Blankets, cardboard boxes. 1 in 20: has a hobo in it (daytime), does not (nighttime).
  11. Beer cans and wine bottles. There is never any left.
  12. Tiny circular filters, ~0.5" diameter. Roll 1d200: number of filters washed up on shore.
  13. Planks or other lumber. Roll 1d6 for number.
  14. The remains of a fire (daytime). A hobo campfire with 1d4 hobos (nighttime).
  15. Metal cable strung between two trees, 1d6*10' in length.
  16. A refrigerator (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute an icebox).
  17. A Little Tykes Cozy Coupe (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute a little red wagon).
  18. An old streetcar rail (if this doesn't work for the setting, substitute a low stone wall).
  19. Miscellaneous drug paraphernalia (spoons, needles, etc.).
  20. Skewered rodent skeletons.
The seed pods, it turns out, were Eurasian water chestnuts, which not only look sinister, but are an invasive species.
Eurasian water chestnut seed pods (image source: here).


The Great Khan is having another contest in March (skipping this month), and the theme will be the celts. Everything I know about the celts I learned from "Horrible Histories: The Cut-Throat Celts", so I'm looking forward to this. The contest itself has not actually started yet, but here are some thoughts I've had:
  • There is already an implicit Celtic influence in most versions of D&D: the druid and bard classes are historically found only in Celtic cultures.
  • The Celts made brain-balls by mixing the brains of their fallen enemies with lime. These were carried around as trophies but it was believed that they could still take vengeance on their owner.
  • Celts were big into curses. I like Zak's rules for curses (item 73).
  • Celtic saints were not necessarily nice people, which is convenient for the D&D cleric archetype. They also tended to do things after their death.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bestiaries and The Ubiquitous Sages


The Ashmole Bestiary (Source: Wikipedia)
Monster books are great. Let's look at some more obscure ones than the Monster Manual that everyone knows.

Bonus Bestiary

by Jason Bulmahn and F. Wesley Schneider

Paizo released this pamphlet as a preview of the Pathfinder Bestiary on Free RPG Day 2009.
  • It's marked "3.5 OGL Compatible" on the back, even though it uses the Pathfinder rules. I guess they're close enough that Paizo was hoping not to scare people.
  • At the time of printing, the Bonus Bestiary was monsters that didn't fit in the main book, and so this was the only place for them. Some of them I can imagine were missed (the Allip), and some of them less so (the Ascomid).
  • As of the Bestiary 3, I think all of the monsters in this book have appeared in other Pathfinder supplements.

Monster Manual II

by Ed Bonny, Jeff Grub, Rich Redman, et al.

A follow-up to the 3.0 Monster Manual. Hereafter referred to as MMII.
  • Pages 4-21 explain how to read a monster's write-up, but the information is complete enough that it could probably be used for making monsters too (a laborious task in 3.X).
  • The last two monsters (Scorpion Folk and Razor Boar) are designated open game content, which I think makes MMII unique among non-core WotC publications (Technically even including core: IIRC the books themselves are not OGC, only the SRD). I wonder what might have been.
  • The MMII is unique among the monster manuals for never getting a 3.5 printing.
  • I think the skull on the cover is meant to be that of an ethereal marauder, but I don't know that there's a "canon" solution.
  • This book is often remembered for its stupidly high-level monsters, but in fact, they do not comprise the majority of the monsters (see Figure 1). I remember it more for introducing me to many of the more off-beat monsters from older editions, such as myconids and thri-kreen. A lot of the new monsters are pretty uninspired though; it's very hit-or-miss.
Figure 1: Challenge rating distribution in MMII.

Legions of Hell

by Chris Pramas

I think I got this free with a subscription to Dungeon magazine a while back. It's pretty good though.
  • The stat blocks are irrelevant, as are the templates and prestige classes. What really makes the book worthwhile is the dozens of detailed devils with their schemes and manoeuvrings through the political structure of hell. Each of them has goals and activities outlined both in hell and in the material plane.
  • I appreciate that entries frequently play off of each other. For example there are rival dukes of rhetoric and eloquence (appealing to logic and the psyche, respectively). It gives the book a very complete feeling.
  • The book has occasional tie-ins with Hell in Freeport, which I do not own. But I would be interested to see if any of it also appears in the associated "world of Freeport" settings; I seem to recall that Green Ronin had all of their settings in a shared world.

The Ubiquitous Sages

As it was noted in "Let's Read the Monstrous Manual", many monster write-ups refer to "sages" with strangely specific knowledge and theories, implying some sort of twisted academic discourse in the D&D universe. When writing, it's an easy trap to fall into: when I do it it's because sometimes I just don't want to decide how something works, or I think something is a good idea but struggle to make it interesting, or I have multiple conflicting ideas. Basically, it's because I'm lazy (although I do try to catch myself doing it).
This fall-back device has some strange implications though. Take, for example, this passage from the AD&D Monstrous Manual:
Naturally vicious and almost evil at times, displacer beasts harbor an undying hatred of blink dogs. Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. Some sages believe it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. Others argue that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions. Encounters between the two breeds are rare however, since they do not share the same territory.


The judgements implicit in "almost evil" and "undying hatred" contrast sharply with the pseudo-scientific prose in the rest of the text. On the other hand, the back-and-forth of competing theories suggests a reliable communication infrastructure, the use of "sages" and "others" plural suggests a community of academics, and the note that natural encounters are rare introduces the possibility of a controlled laboratory environment, complete with technology that can contain an ethereal blink dog.
The contrast of these prose styles might be explained by the method of writing of a real medieval bestiary: Greeks and Romans would hear stories from all over and write them down. Then monks would copy, translate, and illuminate, these manuscripts, and add a layer of Christian allegory. In some cases, these were then later translated again with annotations, like this one, leaving many competing authorial voices. I think this (possibly unintentionally) makes for a somewhat more "realistic" bestiary.

Naming the Sages

If there is an academic community however, these books do a pretty poor job of citing things. Proper citations and references might be a bit much, but let's at least name the sages. Take the above blink-dog passage:
Many theories attempt to account for this enmity. [Nymphitylus believes] it springs from antipathy in temperaments -- the lawful good blink dog would naturally be the enemy of a creature as savage and destructive as the displacer beast. [Marixtus the Optimist argues] that it is the displacement and blink abilities which cause this antipathy -- the two abilities, when in close proximity, somehow stimulate the nervous system and produce hostile reactions.
I think the addition of names is a minor change that adds a more academic tone. I can easily imagine several names reappearing throughout a text, alluding to the nature and reliability of different sources.
Of course, names for ancient sages should be Greek. So here is a table to name them:

Sage Names

A half-dozen samples:
  • Hegetius of Stratonicia
  • Hierocrates the Epicurean
  • Porphygias the Cynic
  • Phaeneas
  • Alexagnote Mallotes
  • Carneacydes of Athens
Epithets can be generated with a d100, or a d30 to exclude place names, or a d20 to exclude Greek epithets. On 1-2 in 6, I exclude the epithet all together.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Recollections of 3.0 and Roman Names

Recollections of 3rd Edition

The type of thing I did just recently, may be one of the better things I have chanced upon: I feel much better about getting rid of things after I've enumerated reasons I should, and I feel better about keeping things if I'm more familiar with them. For now, I'm looking at my 3.0 books, since they've been mostly superseded by 3.5 and Pathfinder.

Player's Handbook

by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams

This wasn't my first exposure to D&D (I got started from a 3.0 boxed-set), but it was close to it. It's well-used and held together with masking tape these days.
  • The first printings of the core rules (2000) were priced at $20 ea. I don't know if WotC planned to take a hit on the core rules and get it back in the extras (like consoles), or if they were genuinely cheaper, but I've ever since felt slightly betrayed by $40+ rulebooks.
  • The PHB was the first of the three core books to be printed. As such, my printing has a "2000 Survival Kit" in the back, containing basic monsters and magic items, and rules for DMing and designing a dungeon, as well as a sort of quick-start dungeon. I always felt that the other two core books were somewhat extraneous after these 16 pages.
  • It came with a CD. I don't know what was on the CD, but I think it was a version of Character Gen, which is now a nifty open-source program.

Dungeon Master's Guide

by Monte Cook, Skip Williams and Jonathan Tweet

So far as I know this book is largely unchanged in 3.5 anyway. The only thing I've found is that the NPC generation section is a bit better than in 3.5.

Monster Manual

by Skip Williams, Jonathan Tweet, and Monte Cook

The most important part of this book is the pictures, and those didn't change in the move to 3.5. Also, I think 3.5 has a few extras.

Psionics Handbook

by Bruce R. Cordell

This was the book that introduced me to psionics.
  • The system it uses is notoriously a mess. Some of these things were fixed in 3.5, and some of them were fixed by Dreamscarred Press, and some of them are fundamental, but the concepts are still awesome.
  • Soulknife is only a prestige class in this edition, although in 3.5 it becomes a base class.
  • This is the book where the Gith* d├ębut in 3.0.

Tome and Blood

by Bruce R. Cordell and Skip Williams

  • A paperback rulebook at the same price as my PHB, it's was a bit flimsy, but still feels quality.
  • Has a lot of good information on how to play an arcane spellcaster (e.g. "Fun with Prestidigitation" and "Researching a New Spell").
  • Has a lot of good fluff that I don't think made it to Complete Arcane: setting-neutral arcane organizations, wizard's hideouts, that type of thing.
  • I have a memory of an article detailing the design process of the Candle Caster prestige class, but it isn't here and I can't find it for the life of me.

Living Greyhawk Gazetteer

by Gary Holian, Erik Mona, et al.

I have nothing against Greyhawk, but this is far too in-depth for me. It details the political positioning and affiliations of every little piece of the continent. I've got a little ~16-page pamphlet with a quick summary, some maps, and some adventures and dungeons, and that's enough for me.

Treasure Quests

by James M. Ward

A lot of third-party products from this time are hit-and-miss. This is one of those "misses", generally speaking. It would appear the authors were well-meaning but sloppy, and it frequently refers to WotC's product identity.
  • The binding is wire-ring, which is nice. It lays flat on the table.
  • Each two-page spread has a map with a few rooms, some npcs and some treasure. Despite the blurb's claims, there isn't really much to link each map, or even each room, but they're not entirely unrealistic either.
  • There are recurring references to a wizard NPC named "Ren". Unfortunately these are never explained anywhere.

Green Races

by Timothy Brown

A campaign setting made entirely of monstrous races seemed like a neat idea, but suffers from similar problems to Treasure Quests.
  • Each region details the predominant inhabitants, the structure and tactics of their military, usually some sort of ruin in each territory, and a prestige class.
  • The only crunch in the book are those prestige classes.
  • The picture quality is low, and the backgrounds grey, giving the whole book a sort of photocopied feel.
  • There are further sections for "Non-Aligned Combatants" and "Dungeons, Ruins, Caverns, and Lairs". These are actually not bad; they've got some good original content.

The Book of Eldritch Might

by Monte Cook

I think this was the first third-party supplement I bought, and I don't regret it.
  • Really nice feats, spells, prestige classes, and items, although I don't much care for magic constructs.
  • Appendix I is "Random Rune Description Tables", which I had forgotten about. I'll have to remember these in the future.

If Thoughts Could Kill

by Bruce R. Cordell

A pretty mediocre adventure with some good ideas and some mediocre extras to show off a system with serious flaws (See above: Psionics Handbook).
  • One of the endings is pretty cool: letting one of the players re-architect the psionics system.
  • I feel like any non-psionic PCs would start to feel left out. Sure it has the option of letting an NPC be the psionic one, but I don't feel like that would be any better.
  • Interestingly, the psionic lich appears in this book, and also in 3.5 psionics. I wonder how the stats compare.

AEG "Adventure Boosters"

These include "Servants of the Blood Moon" by Ree Soesbee, "The Last Gods" by Kevin Wilson, and "Princes, Thieves, & Goblins" by Marcelo & Kat Figueroa.
  • These are a good form-factor and price: $2.50 for a 16-page "hot-dog folded" adventure. The last two pages of each are new material (monsters and items mostly)
  • The adventures themselves are somewhat bland and uninspiring. "Princes Thieves & Goblins" makes the mistake of devoting the whole first page to a history lesson, and "The Last Gods" is full of creatures that "cannot be harmed and are completely immune to magic" and the like.
  • Oddly the 3.5 series of similar adventures was very well-written IIRC, and much more sandbox-y.

Penumbra Adventures

These include "Lean & Hungry" by Chad Brouillard, "The Tide of Years" by Michelle A. Brown Nephew, "Three Days to Kill" by John Tynes, and "Maiden Voyage" by Chad Brouillard. These are all good; even the ones with boring premises manage to be exciting.

Roman Names

Just as the Great Khan has seen fit to extend the contest deadline, so have I seen fit to procrastinate further. I have taken a list of Roman names found here, and truncated and padded it until it makes a neat table:

Roman Names

A half-dozen samples:
  • Publia Hortensia Rulla (F)
  • Quinta Claudia Planca (F)
  • Publia Sicinia Longa (F)
  • Gnaea Acilia Dento (F)
  • Titus Horatius Stolo (M)
  • Marca Livia Barba (F)
In general the name has three parts:
Praenomen - This is like the first name. There's not so many of them, and I have the table set up to (very) roughly weigh them by frequency.
Nomen - This is a sort of family name. The female form can be made by replacing the "-us" ending with "-a". To roll a d120, roll a d10 for the ones place and a d12 for the tens and hundreds places. Treat a "12" as leading zeros unless the d10 rolls a "0".
Cognomen - This specifies which branch of the family one comes from. A d200 is rolled like a d120 except using a d20 in place of a d12.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Nitpicking and Reviews

I've accumulated a fair bit of gaming material that I'm only just now getting the chance to more closely examine and sort through. Here are some of my thoughts, opinions, impressions, and notes.
I'll do my best not to pick at every typo and mess-up, though it goes against my nature.

Left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (with tiny dice), The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, Thrilling Locations, Monstercology: Orcs, DM Campaign Record

The Bloodmoon Goblins

by John Grana

One of the first Kickstarter projects I backed, it was finally released (a little more than a year late) last month. Despite my annoyance at its delay, it seems like a solid product to me. Some of my players have expressed interest in playing goblins, so I may give it a try.
  • The lack of "splat" is surprisingly pleasing. I suppose I've just gotten used to ignoring lists of feats and spells.
  • The book keeps an informal tone, but restricts actual joking to frequent sidebars. This distinction pleases me.
  • It takes a decidedly old-school approach to the campaign, in that it starts off more controlled ("The king says to do this") but the end-game is ultimately player-driven ("We want to overthrow the king","We want to establish trade relations with . . .", etc.).
The Bloodmoon Goblins can be purchased at DriveThru RPG for (free sample at same).

Monstercology: Orcs

by Rick Maffei

Of all the 4E stuff I got, this book looked the most approachable (I know very little about 4E). It's basically what it says on the tin: a book about orcs. Unfortunately, most of the fluff (not all) falls flat and the crunch is too system-specific for me.
  • Physiology and Habits is the best of the fluff to me. I may make some notes on this section before inevitably passing it on.
  • Relationships with Other Races is something I hadn't considered before. Most of this I don't care for, but I like the Orc-Drow dynamic.
  • I don't think it was necessary to make four subspecies of orc and three new  cross-breeds. I just can't justify it.
  • The table Pocket Items (p. 43) was almost reason enough to keep the book, except that it's been done before (and non-specific pickpocket tables would also work). Upon further investigation the Flask Subtable does not actually have anything alcoholic, which is a grave oversight.
  • The names orcish deities are occasionally confused: I'm tempted to let it slide, but I take it as an indication that they were becoming bland and indistinguishable even to the authors.
Monstercology: Orcs can be purchased at the Goodman Games Store.

DM Campaign Record

Another pull from the grab-bag, and also technically a 4E supplement, but it seems pretty system-neutral to me.
  • Pretty good coverage of what I'd want to keep track of: calendars, major NPCs, character stats, deaths, custom encounter tables, house rules, etc. and also what books are allowed.
  • Does not have any pre-compiled content, which is something I've taken a liking to.
  • Has one of those aforementioned pickpocket tables, with a target social-class subsystem. Handily, this system is also used in the quick NPC features section.
  • Has one of those tavern name tables. Probably not the most useful of things.
  • Is missing credits for Interior Art, Graphic Design, and tellingly, Proofreader.
  • Although its a 4E product, it still has the OGL in the back, and the text of it refers to "Character Codex".
Then again, this was from a grab bag, so it's possibly a reject of some sort.
The DM Campaign Record can be purchased at the Goodman Games Store.

Thrilling Locations

A Supplement for the James Bond 007 Game

Contains rules for playing in casinos, hotels, restaurants, trains, boats, planes, and airports, as well as floor-plans for major locations in the movies. I will confess to not only having no familiarity with the system, but also to not having really watched very much James Bond.
  • Information overload. Some of these things really could have been left out:
    • Population of Monaco, pros and cons of citizenship (p.14-15).
    • Rules for roulette, baccarat, blackjack, etc. (p. 19-22).
    • Great Hotels of the World (p. 44-45)
    • Great Restaurants of the World (p. 65).
    • I could go on . . .
  • It's unclear to me if this is intended for the players or the GM. Most of it is clearly GM-only, such as who is secretly spying for who, and whether or not the wine is poisoned. But, for example "The Bed's Too Small" (a sub-section of "Notes for the Gamemaster" (p. 47-48)) contains two pages of tricks that players may wish to employ in securing their rooms. Many of them are not at all obvious to the player, so I don't see what use a GM would have for them.
  • It's unclear to me what this is: sometimes it reads like a set of pre-written unlinked encounters, sometimes like vicarious fiction about the life of luxury, sometimes like a leaflet from the board of tourism, sometimes like the CIA World Factbook, and sometimes like the toolbox I'd kind of expected.
  • The system has some wonky separation of character and role, which makes it difficult for me to follow what's meant to be happening sometimes.
Now that I've written all that, it occurs to me that this was probably not a great purchase. But if you're interested, or know something I don't know, I bought my copy of Thrilling Locations from Paizo.

Let's Read the AD&D 2E Monstrous Manual

While we're on the subject of really awesome things, here is one of the best things I have paid no money for. I can't possibly begin to communicate the number of ideas I've gotten from it, or the amount of time I've spent reading it (I'm still only in "G"). Whoever linked it to me, I hate you forever and thank you so much.
  • My only regret is the occasional dead link, usually to a picture. I suppose I'll have to go actually acquire a copy of the Monstrous Manual, but then I'm not sure I could call this a free product anymore, because this is the only reason I would buy it for money.
  • When I eventually finish, it might be amusing to go back through and tabulate the creatures with usable corpses or valuable eggs or some other recurring theme.
The threads are consolidated here, and formatted and indexed in a PDF here. The author, noisms, has an excellent blog, and this guy informs us that one of the contributors also publishes stuff on Paizo's website.


This post initially reviewed Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Grindhouse Edition), and The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, all published by Lamentations of the Flame princess. For a variety of reasons, I no longer support Lamentations, and I especially do not want to support Zak S or encourage others to do so. For more information, see my post here. It's also been seven years since I wrote these reviews, and I find the books are not so impressive to me now. In the interest of transparency, I have moved my reviews of these products below this disclaimer.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Grindhouse Edition)

Overall this is a really nice set of rules, and I'm glad I finally picked up a hard copy. In particular, the spells are awesome. I know there are a lot of reviews of this already, but I haven't read most of them, so I may re-iterate tired points.
  • The tiny dice are awesome.
  • The "Adventuring" section is ordered alphabetically, which means that things like skills aren't grouped under one heading. This is weird, because they're all essentially the same mechanic, but appear interspersed with unrelated things.
  • The color pages in the middle are unreferenced and unlabelled. This probably wouldn't irk me so much if they didn't remind me of photo plates from old technical books.
  • In two places I feel like I missing something: the spell "Strange Waters II" and the example item "Purple Lotus Powder Type II", which are both missing their "Version I"s. In particular I feel like Strange Waters II is an artifact from some editing pass.
  • The Referee's booklet (p. 76) has a table for converting AC between several systems. It is unreferenced and uncaptioned, which is a shame because it's a useful thing that could use more attention.
I knew this going in, but it irks me that there is no separation of game and setting. There exists no non-grindhouse edition, and many of the rules are specific to a certain tone of campaign. For example, the summoning spell is all I'd heard it was, but several of the special forms are too dark (or meta) for my tastes. I think I may use some of Scrap Princess's stuff should the need for substitutes arise.

The Magnificent Joop van Ooms

by James Edward Raggi IV

The stuff about Joop van Ooms himself I may or may not use (it's good, but doesn't grab me), but the first half of the booklet is excellent for any city with a wharf or a black market.
  • The convenient (half-A4?) size fits well in the box for LotFP, which is convenient because I feel like it might get damaged on its own.
  • "Down on the Wharf" - a giant encounter table:
    • 8 - "[everyone dies, Amsterdam is gone, start over]" annoys me. It might be passable, but it's not very fun and the tone offends me. I'll re-roll the event if I want to, or interpret it as I will. "Seriously." or not.
    • 28 - missed opportunity for a stealth table, by ending the list with "wherever". A trivial decision could have been avoided by padding the list of cities just a bit.
    • 48 - people die in random and unexpected ways, and I guess that could be interesting. But I'll probably make this into an assassin-mage's Lightning Bolt. This also takes care of the awkward moment when nobody at the table has a d30.
  • As an adventure hook, "rocks fall, everyone dies" is even more out of place than in a table because there are no circumstances under which someone might be forced to "run with it". Ironically, this one gives better chances of survival and more details than the other one.

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

by Zak S.

Let's not end on that note, shall we? Here's a truly awesome product that is maybe the best thing I have ever paid money for. And the competition is all more expensive.
(Bear with me, my notes are rough and I don't have my copy with me.)
  • The covers being used as "drop-tables" to generate random values is immensely cool. But it makes me want to model the probability distributions of the dice, how different dice bounce and roll, how it changes if the edges are bounded, what biases are introduced by a right or left-handed player . . .
  • Something somewhere in the book triggered a ramble in my notebook about the common tongue that I can't figure out at the moment.
  • When re-rolling on the table of book subjects (p.49) to determine the actual subject of the book you have just determined the language of, there is no need to discard rolls of other languages:
What I believe to be a Swedish textbook about the French language.

Which takes care of that particular ugliness (I dislike discarding and rerolling). A lot of the mechanics in the book are particularly elegant, to say nothing of the actual gaming material, which I can't wait to use.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Grab Bag and Ancient Rome

I got my Goodman Games Holiday Grab Bag today (the sale is ended now). It contained:

The top row is things I'm definitely keeping (most of the 4e stuff is alien to me).
Which I think is a pretty good pull, especially considering The Esoteric Random Creature Generator was not only on my wish list, but enormously discounted:

So About Ancient Rome . . .

I'm thinking of doing something for the Great Khan's latest contest. Initially, I was thinking of making some sort of itinerarium, but I don't think I'll be doing that anymore. But for the use of others, The Orbis Project is an amazing resource.
For the entry I'm considering now, here are two translations of Vitruvius' On Architecture:
While I may or may not finish in time for the contest (13th January), I'm having a lot of fun with it, and I wish everyone else the same.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Plane of Shadow

I think my favorite non-material plane is the plane of Shadow. Conveniently, everything I think about how Shadow behaves and acts was almost perfectly mimicked by Apple Maps, inspiring this post.

Properties of The Plane of Shadow


The most obviously useful feature of Shadow is that not only is it relatively easy to reach (via shadows in our world), but that it does not map exactly in a one-to-one manner. Thus an experienced mage can travel long distances in the material plane very quickly via Shadow. However, the most direct route is not always the quickest.


Although travellers to the plane of Shadow feel perfectly three-dimensional, their two-dimensionality becomes apparent through their interactions with surroundings. Among other things, height becomes unimportant.

Time Indifference

Not only does our world's space not play nice with the plane of Shadow, neither does its time. In Shadow it's possible to spend years in a moment or to revisit the shades of last year. Pockets of time run across the plane, making a quilt of seasons and eras.


Just as height is an illusion in Shadow, so too is color, and the illusion comes and goes.

Strange Waters

Water does not take well to the plane of Shadow; constantly churning but without direction. Due to the flatness of the plane, it is often possible to travel across most bodies of water without fear of drowning.

Phenomena of the Plane of Shadow


Due to the flatness of the plane, clouds exist at a universal eye-level and create impenetrable fog wherever they go.


Sometimes, whatever substrate holds together the plane of Shadow, fails to exist for a while. These places are impassable until they return.


Blurs are not as dense as clouds, but do cause more alarming distortions. Finding anything specific in a blur is nigh-impossible, and seeing once-familiar things can be upsettling.


The most immediately dangerous hazards of Shadow, a burn is a roving point of blinding white light with no discernible source. Survivors describe the experience of entering a burn as that of catching fire, although it does not spread and no heat is felt outside of it. To gaze upon one is to invite blindness.

The Nature of the Plane of Shadow

Shadow is poorly understood. The classical explanation is that it is literally a shadow of the material plane, projected across the ether onto some substrate. Scholars theorize that this substrate may be the foundation of our world, or maybe the remains of a previous creation.
While travelling across shadow, one may encounter lost empires, alien structures, echoes of future calamity, or warnings from presents that will never be. Due to the vast and ever-changing nature of Shadow, we may never know all its secrets.

Pictures in this post are all from The Amazing iOS6 Maps.