Saturday, May 25, 2024

Red Tree Hollow

Bryce Canyon Hoodos USA Tree; Anemone123
Click HERE for a PDF version of this adventure!

Suitable for 1st Level

C - Traders & Tree

A winding, narrow trail ascends a sheer mountainside: leveling off and proceeding into what at first appears to be a nook in the wall, carved out by eons and eons of runoff. However: after a short distance, the walled valley opens up into almost a caldera: with several caves visible descending into the rock.

Scale: 10 ft

In the center of the clearing is a scraggly but large tree - its gnarled boughs wreathed by crimson plumage - red leaves budding like so many flowers from the rough, knotted wood. Beneath the tree rest three Traders (B43), sheltering for a while alongside their mule: presently unladen.

W - West

The ceilings are vaulted, supported by arched stone throughout. Roots and other intrusions have made their way through, leaving debris haphazardly strewn across the floor: to be kicked into piles by repetitious passage of feet.

W1 - Atrium

Columns rise to support a vaulted ceiling, the bases thereof resting atop carvings of figures in archaic armor. They are shorter than men, but taller than dwarves - their features, otherwise, have been obscured: as roots and cracks have taken a toll.

W2 - Crushing Corridor

Arches continue to line this corridor - however, concealed halfway through is a tripwire which - if activated - will cause the upward part of one of the central supports to fall: striking anyone in the same marching rank as the character triggering the trap.

An attack is made against any eligible target - THAC0 18 - for 1d10 damage. The falling block is supported by a chain which, a few moments after falling, will retract itself: re-tightening the tripwire and resetting the trap.

W3 - Treasury

In the south wall, three recessed spaces house two aged wooden boxes. One box contains specie amounting to 10 gold and 500 silver pieces. Four Giant Shrew (B42) are nosing about in the northern half of the space.

W4 - Refuse Chute

The walls of this chamber are lined with six stone cubes - 3 by 3 feet each. They will open - either up or down - along the top: which may surprise a character sitting or standing on one. If the character is surprised and falls through, they will fall a short distance, slide along a scree mound, and find themselves deposited near the base of the path leading to section C.

W5 - Beetle Chamber

Plate 43, Animalia Rationalia et Insecta; Joris Hoefnagel
Blank walls face inward - remnants of thread can be found by the discerning eye about the floor. The room is ringed by a narrow ridge - just barely too small to be seating, but of appropriate height from the floor - above which, near where the arches vault into the ceiling, a wooden rod rings all walls except south: broken in places, but still hanging.

The room is occupied by 8 Fire Beetles (B31).

N - North

The walls are cut stone and the ceiling is arched: supported at interval by columns, appearing to likewise be decoratively cut from the rock. Cracks are forming with age - and in places, roots can be seen dangling through them.

N1 - Dry Fountain

Semi-circular fonts - long dry, but bowled and with a thin pipe leading into the walls above each of them - adorn the corners of this space. A mosaic is inlaid in the floor - but it has been scratched and damaged: the image has been lost.

N2 - Idol's Barracks

Wooden bunks line the north and south sides of the room. They are fragile with age. In the center of the west wall is a female statue, hands held in opposition: one up, one out and down. The is carved to be wearing a diadem, an amulet, and a ring on both fingers. Inlaid in the diadem is an opal worth 50 gold pieces; inlaid in the amulet is a single pearl - 10 gold piece value - and what appear to be sockets where others might have been. On each of the ring fingers is a diamond: small, but flawlessly cut - each worth 500 gold pieces.

Beneath one of the bunks on the north side is a foot locker containing 200 silver pieces. It is locked, but it is also decrepit and can be opened somewhat easily with a bladed weapon or sufficient force.

Skeleton of a Man with a Bow; Teodoro Filippo di Liagno

N3 - Skeleton Guard Room

Arrayed against the walls in silent vigil are 10 Skeletons (B42). They will attack on sight - and if a party opens the door to N2, they will, after 1d4 turns, walk down to investigate. One of the skeletons wears a medallion and helmet. The medallion is of electrum, worth 10 gold pieces.

In the room, itself, slumped against the south-west corner is a knapsack in which 40 gold pieces, 30 feet of rope, and 4 unspent torches can be found.

N4 - Dry Pool

An ellipsoid space, shallow and concave with a drain clogged by dust and rock at the bottom occupies the northern portion of this space. An elaborate face is carved into the wall with pouting lips: almost as though it was designed to spout water into the basin.

N5 - Illusionary Stairs

In the center of the room is a spiral stair leading upwards. It seems to continue up and up - but doesn't truly ascend anywhere. In general, 1d4 turns will pass expiring before a party will suspect foul play: but no matter how long they spent on the stair, only one turn is required to return to the chamber.

Four thin, tall structures hold four silver figurines in the non-cardinal corners of the central square: an owl, a frog, a fox, and a bison. These are worth 5 gold pieces each.

N6 - Treasure Hive

Broken wooden furniture is piled in parallel lines, north to south, in the center of the room. On the south-west side, there is a hive of Killer Bees (B37). In addition to the queen, 9 bees float around the space.

In addition to the healing honey, 20 gold pieces, 6 platinum pieces, and a ring with a mood stone worth 20 gold pieces can be found if a party disassembles the hive.

E - East

These caves are square - no vaulting - and the carvings are more utilitarian: square lintels holding up the ceilings, very little adornment on the walls. However the walls are in good shape - with very little debris and no obvious cracking.

E1 - Den

Five Wolves (B44) are resting in the space. Beneath their mess, the floor is tiled, with a mosaic resemblant of the tree outside - albeit in a much larger, fuller state. Among the folderol in the space is a pouch containing 100 silver pieces.

E2 - Dwarfish Watcher

In the two south corners sit two braziers - unlit, but not dirty either. In the center of the north wall, a carving in the likeness of a dwarf guards the way. If a party passes, it will address them, speaking slowly and in a low tone. The statue is lonely - but cannot be removed: its purpose being to guard this place and its magic bound to it. For Lawful parties, or for parties with Dwarves in them, a +2 bonus to the Reaction Roll should be applied. For positive results, the statue will be friendly and helpful; for negative ones, it may be flippant or sarcastic with them - perhaps to their detriment.

It is not aware of the secret doors - but has seen the gnomes in room E3 moving out from behind the south-east brazier inexplicably. It and they do not see eye to eye.

Gnome Petting Cat; Robert Anning Bell

E3 - Gnome Zone

Relatively new wooden chairs and a small table have been set in this space. Sitting at these tables are 4 Gnomes (B35) of stout character. They have 100 silver pieces between them and are of gruff, unfriendly - albeit not expressly combative - demeanor.

E4 - Inner Foyer

This chamber is nondescript - however the north door, when opened, has a 2-in-6 chance to jam: preventing any from passing east-west along the narrow corridor.

E5 - North Gem Chamber

The floor of the room is obscured entirely and the view into the room is milky as a strange, acrid-smelling fog cloaks the space. It is clammy, with a brief thrill to the touch - but is otherwise harmless.

Along both walls are what appear to be stone sarcophagus - six in total, arranged north to south - with the westernmost two being smaller than the others. If the north-west sarcophagus is pried open, inside can be found 200 silver pieces, two cat's eyes worth 20 gp each, and three small emeralds with 60 gp total.

E6 - South Gem Chamber

Like E5, a faux fog mysteriously hangs in this room. Also like E5, the fog is largely harmless.

In the nook to the south-west are three amphora - in one, ashes; in one, 30 gold pieces; in one, a pouch of several small aquamarine: worth 200 gp together.

Gold Crystal Jewelry Jewler; multanka


Public domain and open licensed artwork retrieved from Pixabay, OldBookIllustrations.com, and from the National Gallery of Art and adapted for thematic use. Attribution in alt text.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Pirates of Dark Water

Thirteen treasures of ancient time,
        thirteen lessons of rule in rhyme.

To find the jewels in secret places,
        follow where the compass faces.


If returned from the shore beyond,
        a new day dawns for Octopon.

But if they should fall into evil hands,
        darkness descends on all the lands.
For these riches two shall vie,
        in the realm of Dark Water where the treasures lie...

N-Spiration:
The Pirates of Dark Water

The Pirates of Dark Water, television series logo

About the Show

Painting of a pirate, N. C. Wyeth: unknown title
N. C. Wyeth

The brain child of David Kirschner and the byproduct of collaboration with Hanna-Barbera, The Pirates of Dark Water is an animated series best considered in three parts: first, a miniseries - Dark Water - aired in 1991 on the Fox Kids programming block; second, a first season with eight new episodes from the Dark Water miniseries, aired on ABC also in 1991; and finally, a second season - again, eight new episodes - airing between 1992 and 1993 on syndication.  Inspired in Kirschner's mind by the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson and the artwork of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, The Pirates of Dark Water is a unique fusion of pseudo medieval fantasy and the romantic swashbuckling adventure inherent to the Age of Sail.

At the time of its creation - the Dark Water miniseries was the most expensive animation ever attempted at Hanna Barbera: with double the cels of a standard production aimed at the same audience - each episode coming with a production price-tag of half a million dollars - unheard of for a pilot, but adjusted for inflation, putting it into the cost realm of established, prime-time media akin to Family Guy or Adventure Time. Starring a frankly stunning cast of voice talent - Jodi Benson (Ariel of The Little Mermaid), Brock Peters (beyond his Tony Award nomination and recurring role in the Star Trek motion picture franchise, perhaps known best for his portrayal of Tom Robinson in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird), Tim Curry... - Hanna-Barbera truly gave it their all to launch and succeed at this surreal and genre-defying yarn.

The Pirates of Dark Water - especially in the first season - is characterized by amazing visuals and a completely alien world. The viewer experiences the sensation of exploration even by watching as the characters navigate through the world of Mer: which is simultaneously familiar yet dramatically different from our own historical reality. 

This is especially powerful in the first five episodes - where the high production values lend themselves, in addition to the all-star cast, to a stunning visual experience: fluid motions of both characters and objects, dynamic and natural interaction between elements in the frame, and lighting and contrast enviable by live-action television firmly grips the eye. 

Hours pass - dragon riders, alien beings, mystic encounters, open battle across the high seas or through lush jungles brimming with vibrant, unknown flora - the only cue as to that reality being the buffering of a new episode loading on stream.

The technology level is approximately medieval - and the world is filled with magic: enough that the citizenry will be aware of it (perhaps fueling the superstition of piratical characters), but not so much that magic is the answer to every problem. The thrust of the show is that thirteen mystic gemstones - the Treasures of Rule - use to keep a substance called Dark Water (a malevolent, semi-sentient liquid that drowns ships and men and causes lands it poisons to wither) at bay: and having been lost, the Dark Water is spreading unchecked. But in the meantime, the workaday adventurer leverages a series of tools - clockwork rigging, gliders, and other DaVinci-emulative technology - to accomplish their ends: and in addition to this plethora of almost Waterworld styled equipment, a wild and diverse assortment of animals and plants fill in the gaps. Tough octopus being used for grappling; leeches with acidic wash being thrown into the sails of enemy vessels to cripple their mobility, or cephalopods with air bladders being worn about the head to facilitate breathing beneath the waves.

(same actor)

They substitute technology for purpose-use animals? Kind of like the Flintstones. Quiet, you!

Whats to Like

First and foremost - the characters in the series, including the majority of the protagonists, are all pirates. They are cut-throat thieves who carry their own motivations and their own interests at heart: something that is perfectly in line with the OSR adventurer. The common attack against the Thief class in 0e communities is that "Everyone is a Thief" - this is absolutely true of The Pirates of Dark Water

Spoiler to follow (and conclude with this paragraph) - Niddler, the monkey-bird (a hybrid, sentient creature which is composed of precisely the chimeric mix the species name might suggest), upon rescuing the main protagonist, Ren, threatens to drop him into the sea if he doesn't want to stop for refreshments along their path. More deviously, in the fourth episode, Tula - the bar wench turned stowaway and unlikely ally - reveals her long-con: having gained the trust of the others, she poisons them and uses the treasure as barter to try to retrieve a kidnapped magician from her home island, sacrificing her allies in the process!

This mercenary nature - for both villains and heroes, alike - lends itself towards the treasure focus of the series. Most seamen are always looking for treasure, for gold - and on several occasions, the attempt to acquire it leads to problems. Enemies frequently outgun or outnumber the treasure-seekers: so force is rarely the answer. Instead, the party has to think on its feet and rely on cunning, rely on their environment, and push their luck to make it through and to win their objective. This parallels the OSR tabletop experience - where a party is going to be frequently outgunned, out-leveled, and is going to have to likewise embrace tactics outside the obvious to walk out of the adventure both enriched and alive. The energetic nature of an age-of-sail romance likewise serves to energize the process: getting the players into the mood for the adventure.

Further - the series combines two key elements of OSR play: the overland and the underground adventure. Seeking the Treasures of Rule, at a minimum - the primary objective of the main character's quest - entails in each episode where one is sought out from its hiding place an over-sea voyage to arrive where it was hidden or lost, an overland trek through unknown territory to find where its hidden, and usually a crawl through a complex, dungeon, or adventure site where puzzles, traps, and monsters make it more difficult to obtain! Even in episodes where a Treasure of Rule is not the main focus - other treasures usually are: for example, a flock of monkey-birds to be sold as pets or slaves; or a treasure map which (spoiler to follow) leads to an island of spiders and a cave with a chest... which was a trick! The treasure having moved to a silk-wrapped chrysalis and the chest having been left empty to draw in unwary pirates as prey!

Melnibonéans?

We see this pattern emerge and repeat: in beautiful parallel to the gold-for-experience feedback loop tacitly endemic to OSR campaigns.

Lastly - in regards to villains and other "NPC' characters - there is usually a faction involved. Very few, if any, characters outside the main group operate on their own. The primary antagonist - Bloth - commands a ship with dozens of crew; the Dark Dweller commands a cult of followers. Alternatively - allies are never just allies: Zoolie, a pirate making several appearances, commands a tavern / game-house and several employees. And among these characters - the only "solo" character springing to mind is Teron - the mystic "ecomancer" (a magician with nature powers) whom the party rescues and befriends: which likewise falls into Appendix N: the lonely wizard in his tower; the secretive druid in his grove.

The Pirates of Dark Water is permeated with OSR themes and tones - sure to inspire characters or home-brewed supplements to your personal campaign. 

Concerns and Considerations

Re-watching The Pirates of Dark Water on Amazon Video streaming service, one sees a rating which varies for each episode - some of which recommend an age of as high as 13 as the appropriate minimum: requiring a code to unlock if watching on a child-profile. This is - however - utter hogwash: as the show is - undeniably - a program aimed at children.

  • The plot of multiple episodes proceeds only because of obvious, easily solved miscommunications or uncharacteristically stupid players about the stage. Falling into Dark Water? Danger! Nevermind that I am holding a Treasure of Rule, which I should remember will force the Dark Water back and save my skin like it did last episode!

  • Plots become formulaic: local stranger seems helpful, but betrays the party to Bloth! - strange phenomenon occurs; Tula activates ecomancer powers - problem solved! It becomes predictable in the latter episodes to older eyes.

  • There is a notable cessation of violence: with being knocked over, being thrown in the water, or being subjected to sleeping gas/powder replacing sword fighting, ship ramming actions, and heaving victims into the lair of carnivorous creatures.

  • Character development after the miniseries seems capricious - season two, in particular, being weighed down with episodes hinging on character traits or inter-party conflicts with either no precedent or in active opposition to events in prior episodes: as though the offenders were written in isolation.
Villain, Early Series

Even in the miniseries, it is evident that the target audience was young: the hero, Ren, is naive; the quest, to save the world. All true violence is implied, off camera, and a vernacular for curses and insults (noy jitat, you kreld-cruising sea-hog!) is invented for Mer, itself, in evasion of profanity without compromising in tone.

Villain, Late Series

More disappointingly, however, in the latter episodes of the first season (and truly noticeable in the second) budget concerns severely impact the magic of the visual and audio presentation. Where once, an entire scene is painted together - later on, the hallmark difference in saturation occurring when one element of an animated scene is moving or interactive against a background which is static rears its ugly head. 

Sea Monster, Early Series

Where once, a character listening to the tale or plan might shift eagerly, moving weight from one side to the other, their hair shifting in time a moment later as they do - later on, listeners are as still as stone: a cheaper pose without that annoying requirement of animation due to being animate.

Sea "Monster," Late Series

But the disappointment of what could have been - were the series allowed to complete rather than cancel as costs mounted and reduced production quality and thematic faithfulness restricted distribution or audiences: this still stings a bit harder.

Lastly... for some reason, the production decided to make Tula into a magician where she was a perfectly acceptable rogue and scrapper before - and along with the class shift comes a sexier costume. Simpler - at at a minimum: perhaps easier (cheaper...) to color and animate. In so doing, an element of fantasy is added, but at the same time, an element of character is taken away. While a child might like new Tula (Newla?) - the "ecomancy" she learns is not akin to Vancian magic. It instead serves as a crutch: providing exactly what she needs at the exact time. And truthfully, this is my only gaming-specific complaint against the series: that the magic does not match the spirit of TSR D&D - which makes it deviate a bit from what an OSR party might experience.

Where to Watch

In terms of streaming, while I am not aware of a streaming option that is free to use, the complete series, The Pirates of Dark Water, is available for purchase on Further Media 
For readers who find themselves intrigued and pursue The Pirates of Dark Water, but are left unsatisfied by the two dozen odd episodes they find, a companion comic book was released by Marvel around the time the show was still running. Physical copies can be found, or digital copies exist that can be read online.
YouTube from Warner Brothers media, on Vudu, and also available to buy or to rent on Amazon Video. While it is possible there are more avenues - I personally watched on Amazon out of convenience - it will be the responsibility of you, the reader, to seek them out.

For physical media - DVDs of the series (season 1, season 2, or the both together) can be found used or new in various outlets - Amazon, Ebay, Walmart, or - again - likely other resellers.

In another interesting note - there were two Pirates of Dark Water themed video games also released - one, for Super Nintendo; the other for Sega Genesis. The former is a side-scrolling brawl style game: the latter bears more role-play elements. It has been long enough since I have seen them - perhaps longer than some of my readers have been alive - that I cannot remember to vouch how well they suit the genre or how faithful they are to the source material.

In Conclusion

The Pirates of Dark Water is a solid, largely well-written fantasy adventure romp: leaning deeply into pseudo-medieval mystic fantasy and sea-soaked swashbuckling. The crew survives sometimes by strength, but more frequently by wits and by coin - and in the case of the villains: that coin is purposed to flesh out bands, armies, or factions which then compete with one another for control of the treasures and also for control of the waves. The only element holding it back is the later syndication: where quality suffered due to cost and marketing concerns.

For this reason, I rank The Pirates of Dark Water in two parts - first, the miniseries (and by extension season one) as 1: Tré OSR; and second, season two and the scraps in season one which foreshadow it, 3: OSR by Association. An over-all rating of 2 is probably fair for the whole of the pot.

This show is a relic of a better time - when adventure, exploration, and a deep yearning for what was beyond the horizon permeated Saturday mornings, filling the heads of those young enough, cereal in hand, to invest those precious hours into ingested imagination: fueling a similar yearning to roam - in local lands or beyond. It's something I remember fondly from my childhood, and something I have had the pleasure of sharing with my own children - gladly thereafter witnessing their conversion of existing toys and playthings into piratical accouterments. 

A table which sets its campaign in the world of Mer is a table at which I would happily sit. 

Delve on!



The Pirates of Dark Water, originally produced by Hanna-Barbara, is property of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All imagery related thereto is likewise property of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. The Rocky Horror Picture Show produced by 20th Century Fox is wholly owned by The Walt Disney Company via The Walt Disney Studios division. Art piece of a pirate and a snake by N. C. Wyeth, name unknown to Clerics Wear Ringmail, retrieved from IllustrationHistory.orgAdvanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons, and D&D and all imagery or references thereto related are property of Wizards of the Coast.

Clerics Wear Ringmail makes no claim of ownership of any sort to any of the aforementioned media, texts, or images and includes references to them for review purposes under Fair Use: US Code Title 17, Chapter 107. 

The slide-in of Gary... I got from a meme.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Solo Adventures with Scutifer Mike

Play-Cast Name:
OSE Solo Play,
Scutifer_Mike
System:
Where I Watched: YouTube
Chainmail with Shield

Thoughts and Review

What I Liked

First and foremost - lands-a-livin', RULEBOOK!

Among the foremost purposes of the original inclination in writing reviews of actual play presentations like this one was expressly to provide insight on the pedagogic merits of the myriad of actual plays that line video and audio networks alike: and the first thing that stood out to me, even in the first video or two, was the adherence that Mike keeps to the book. 

Is adherence to the book the most important thing about an actual play? About a game? No - however, when you are learning the game (as he was in this video series and as the potential viewer, interested in Old School Essentials or Advanced Old School Essentials coming into the OSR for the first time would be, learning the rules is key to experiencing the genre and experiencing the game in a manner consistent with its design. Further, someone who has never played AOSE or an OSR game (or someone who has played other OSR games and is curious about AOSE) will benefit from a by-the-book presentation of the game in that it will present to them the kind of adventure the game is going to produce as well as illustrate how the mechanics work and feel at the table: informing their decision to pursue or not to pursue the game system based on that illustration. 

For that reason - it is a selling point for actual play productions to adhere to the rules: and on that selling point, Mike deserves triple kudos. Not only does he present the rules, play the rules, present the experience, illustrate the experience, but all the while - he has the book in front of him and cites the actual text by which he is playing. Scutifier Mike has produced a brilliant learning tool - and in so doing, does an immense service to the hobby.

But wouldn't it get boring, if it's just a dude walking through the solo play rules? Not hardly. Mike deserves credit for keeping it interesting - allowing the dice to tell the story - and using the results of the rolls to help inform the emerging narrative. For example, the party meets a group of not-Bullywugs: the reaction rolls are initially positive, but turn against the party in subsequent negotiations. From these rolls, Mike infers that the not-Bullywugs are friends or kin to another group of not-Bullywugs encountered earlier: whom the party had massacred. As some other dice-driven solo-players have done, Mike rolls the dice... then interprets the results: producing a story that is new even to him as he films it. This serves a dual purpose from the perspective of the audience: first, in keeping things interesting; and second, in illustrating for the viewer a perfect example of emergent narrative.

This is not - of course - to state that your planning as the DM is meaningless as the dice make the connections for you in play: but instead an example of something that does come up; that you can do in the referee hot-seat. And moreover, it illustrates for audience members who might have been more familiar with "narrative gaming" meaning that the DM had a plot in mind before for you to follow - that's not how OSR games work: and that it's something to be treasured!

And the game evolves. 

At the beginning (and truly throughout) there is a focus on dungeons and underground exploration: but also, as the party gains more resources, they hire mercenaries: and there is overland combat, mass combat, with faction politics within the hex map driving the interaction. Mike showcases - solo - most elements of the game: including several of those elements which do not make a show in more modern-focused actual plays: the overland adventure and wargame roots.

Lastly - I like that Mike, over these videos, was learning the game.

He makes mistakes, he rolls with the corrections, and he makes fewer mistakes as the game rolls on. This attitude is essential for the learner - and I respect him for putting it out on the air and for the effort he put in to trying to get better at simultaneously playing and running the game. From experience, solo gaming (especially trying to record solo gaming) isn't as easy as it may seem.

Aspects to Note

For folks who are interested - after partaking in this playlist, finding some other videos, maybe checking him on X (formerly Twitter) - you will find he is fallen in with the BrOSR. This is not an endorsement nor condemnation - but if you have a thing against points of debate and rule interpretations that arise in context of BrOSR, you may find deeper diving to be against your taste. Alternatively, the exposition of certain BrOSR-flavored concepts, most immediately 1:1 time, may serve as an anodyne way to get a peak at what the fuss is all about. Admittedly, I almost titled this article "BrOSE" - but didn't want to appear like I was farming clicks.

More personally, Mike can be very ... enthusiastic. It appears to be working - as between when I started writing this review and when I released it, his channel had gained 200 followers - but as an early Millenial / arguably last-second Gen X - the gleeful exuberance can make me occasionally cringe a bit on his behalf. That in mind, I know that I get excited about things and have my own way of expressing them - surely, proverbial "young people" see my presentation, my mode of expressing excitement, and think to themselves, "Damn, Grandpa, who taught you there was a wider internet than Facebook and Nextdoor?" So I won't judge. And honestly, after the first dozen or so episodes, I'd gotten use to it.

More relevantly - however - and more fair to the material - one last thing to note, if you are coming in and learning the game: he uses some supplemental material which many will argue with you is not OSR. In particular, the 5e DMG comes to mind: why use the 5e version when the perfect version is so easily available? However - he does clearly identify what he uses when he uses it - and by whom it is written. So - while some of it may open your eyes to potential utility in additional product - it likewise, on occasion, may expose you to more wide a range than some more purist avenues of the OSR may be.

In Conclusion

Scutifer Mike's solo Advanced Old School Essentials playlist is a great expose on the rules, on the experience, and a testament to the enjoyment you can have playing with yourself. It's not perfect - but that's OK: as it is consistent. You only need to watch a handful of episodes - where there are dozens available - to benefit: making it easy to be off to the races. For that reason, and because I lost the platemail .GIF file for the ratings uploads, I personally rate this playlist Chainmail with Shield. (Does anyone actually pay attention to the rating AC? The actual review may be long - but just seeing the title is how far I figure most folks get into these things.)

But all that aside - Scutifer Mike has done the hobby a service by producing this playlist. I truly believe it is worth the time to invest - and even if you don't have much time to invest in it, the value, the quality of the playlist is consistent: and it will continue to earn returns for your gaming edification the longer you invest in it.

Delve on, readers - and delve on, Mike!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Maze of Moaning

Scale: 10 ft.
For a PDF version of this adventure, click HERE.

Regarding doors:

A door marked with the letter S is Secret.
A door marked with the letter L is Locked.
A door marked with the letter J is Jammed (stuck) and must be forced open.
Swing direction is indicated for some doors. Doors without swing direction slide upward, as a portcullis, but are still solid - blocking line of sight and missile fire when closed - unless expressly indicated.

Suitable for 2nd level characters.

Head of Minos; John Trivett Nettleship

1. Entry

A stairway terminates in an open space - the statue of a faceless man, arms crossed across his chest, stands in the center of the room. If the characters pass it by, a groaning can be heard - a mourning - almost as though the statue is lonely and enjoys their company. It is otherwise non-sentient.

2. Embalmer's Room

On the north wall are two wooden shelves sparsely populated by funerary tools - including picks for the removal of organs and preservative chemicals: bottled and caustic to smell. Some metal tools, rusted, lie on the floor.

3. Guardian Dead

Torn paper and cloth litter the floor. Seven Zombies (B44) stand aimlessly in the room. On the south wall, past the Zombies, a preserved corpse hangs chained to the wall, its feet off the ground, with a heavy chest affixed to it via the same chains. The chest has a padlock on it, but contains 1,000 silver pieces if opened.

4. Equality in the Grave 

Two concrete slabs interrupt the stonework in the floor - parallel to one another, running north to south, like grave-covers. A torn purple banner hangs half-way on the north wall. The room is otherwise empty.

5. Four Pillars

Four columns - ionic in style - hold up the ceiling: equidistant from one another and from the outer walls of the room. Torch sconces - empty - are mounted to the east and west walls. The room is otherwise empty.

6. Tilting Coffin

The east and west walls of the space have a slow-rising ring about them: about one foot in depth, it starts at ground level at the door to the north and terminates at the secret door in the south, having reached the ceiling. Two braziers stand with ashes at this culmination.

In the center of the room is a metal coffin, upright and open - propped up by a stone pyramid, on a dark red-brown octagonal dais. If a character approaches, there is a chance the trap will trigger: the dais tilts aggressively backwards, prompting a Save vs Paralysis: on failure, the character falls into the coffin - which snaps shut and crushes the character for 2d8 damage.

If the character dies, the trap resets, spilling the pulp onto the floor. If the character survives, the trap does not reset, trapping the character inside until the others can find a way to retrieve their comrade.

7. Oratory

Stone benches - three to the west and three to the east, face northward towards a similar stone platform, 8 feet wide and elevated by 8 inches from the floor. A decorative chain rings the platform - valued at 90 gold pieces, if retrieved, but weighing 450 coin weight.

8. Robber's Corridor

Brass lamp stands line this hall - three each to the east and west - and aging evening blue valance slowly molders along the ceiling line. A Robber Fly (B41) is hidden among its drapings.

Treasure Chest Chain Castle Brown; Pixabay User HOerwin56
9. Lost Treasure

Two skeletons sprawl on the floor. 

Against the south wall are several amphora - inside which can be found coins - 1,200 silver and 100 gold - in addition to some residues, implying liquids that once might have been valuable as well.

10. A Ladder Down

A dim blue light illuminates this room. In the center of the space, a circular platform slowly rotates - oddly, however, its foundations show no seam on the floor. Looking down into the platform, there are lines criss-crossing: the source of the illumination - and a ladder leading down. Room 16 is visible through the orifice - and that is where the ladder will lead if climbed.

The moaning of the statue in room 1 is still audible in this space.

11. Honorarium

Six plaster statues stand - supported at a slight angle by wooden sheets stuck into grooves in the floor - in formation, facing each other, east and west. On the south wall, an oval embossing decorates and frames a center image which has faded to time. The plaster figures appear unpainted - but if chipped away - actually house the bodies of forgotten, embalmed humanoids.

12. Junction

The moaning of the statue in room 1 is still audible in this space. Beyond it, however, it becomes too faint.

13. Snake & Saint

Two altars, north and south, funnel the eye to the far side of the room - where, in the west nook, a statue of a kneeling man rests. A Pit Viper (B42) is curled around the statue; at its feet and along the altars can be found 600 silver pieces, strewn about.


14. Zombie Pass-Way

A metal lattice runs across the ceiling - from which chains dangle, affixed beneath the lattice to allow movement, but not to exit the space. Eight Zombies (B44) are collared to the chains, having freedom of movement within room 14, but not outside of it. In the north-east and south-west corners of the room are stone constructs almost akin to hearths. In the north-east, ashes cover a box - in which 300 silver coins can be found; in the south-west, five gold-lined porcelain figurines: value 100 gold pieces each.

15. Tribute Room

The north and south walls house man-sized cubbies in which the skeletons of long dead and desiccated men at arms still stand. On the west wall is a mosaic depicting a kneeling figure in midnight blue armor; although the details and some of the color have worn off.

16. A Ladder Up

An oblong, hexagonal structure is divided asymmetrically in the center of the room - parts filled with water, parts dry. The water emits a thin blue light, illuminating the space. 

A ladder extends - slowly rotating - upwards. If climbed, this ladder leads to room 10.

If placed in a jar, the water will continue to emit light for 2d4 turns before becoming mundane (albeit pure) water. Mundane water poured into the hexagonal retainer does not, itself, illuminate: instead visibly sinking to the bottom, where it forms a bubble - distinct in itself.

Design for a Beetle Shaped Pendant; Jean Toutin
17. Beetle Sanctuary

A dead adventurer has been skeletonized by eight Oil Beetles (B31) who linger in the room. On the dead adventurer's person - among some largely useless mundane gear, can be found 200 silver pieces and a pearl worth 100 gold.

18. Undead Storage

Scraps of material - small and broken, largely unidentifiable - litter the floor. Eight Zombies (B44) occupy the room among the folderol.

19. A Gray Trick

A door in the south wall appears identical to other portcullis style doors in the complex - however hides a small sloped compartment behind it rather than a true room. Confined to the compartment is a Gray Ooze (B36), sliding out of the compartment as soon as the door is opened. The Gray Ooze will be entitled to a surprise round, if thus liberated.


Public domain or open license artwork retrieved from the National Gallery of Art, Pixabay, and OldBookIllustrations.com. All artwork has been adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Old Maps: Ehrn

In January, I found and posted some old, analog maps from a campaign I ran many, many years ago. A handful of folks expressed interest in seeing the notes - so I figured I'd type them up for you. The article here to follow is a set of things I for which I have concrete memory about the game meshed with what's written down on the discovered notes. A proper scan, itself, you can find here - as well - for anyone interested.

Ehrn - Dominion of Horse and Stone

Its population, concentrated along a rich central plane - mountains to the north and allies in trade to the west, the relative scarcity of wood long encouraged a pastoral culture. With the coming of the lizard warlocks to the south in the marshes, new enemies necessitate prudence, new bonds by necessity forged with the Dwarves of the mountains and relationships deepened with the wealthy Amanians to the east. Architecture is driven by necessity: turf roofing with brick or masonry supporting the walls. Many long houses are stables with a family or clan living in the upper chamber alongside the hayloft. Children are trained from a young age to ride and to shoot, but foremost: an allegiance is impressed upon them to kith and kin.

  • To the north - the mountain Dwarves; to the south - the lizard warlocks (and residual Elves) of Marsh Haven.
  • To the west and south, Azrah: a desert nation of traders - from whom wonders from far off lands are drawn.
  • To the west and north, Hurshan: a fellow equestrian people, but one less settled - with hawk-like features, few permanent structures, and indiscernible demeanor.
  • To the east, Amana: the center of civilization... according to the Amanians.

Mount Olympus; Thomas Allom

Cities and Towns

  • Lordholme (33,056)
  • Northway (26,445)
  • Riverbend (18,512)
  • Easthelm (15,736)
  • Oln (11,802)
  • Ghard (8,262)
  • Benthel (5,784)
  • Hune (4,628)
  • Varhorn (3,009)
  • Gelphenhaus (2,558)
  • Thorn (1,919)
  • Vane (1,248)

Points of Defense or Interest

  • Net Area: 89,797 square miles
  • Population: 6,465,384
  • Standing Guard: 21,552
  • Callable Population: 1,293,077
     
  • 130 castles and fortifications
    • 97 interior or manor
    • 33 border guard

Ruins, Dungeons, and Points of Adventurea

  • Break Island Two large rivers come together at this junction: and at the conjoining, a silt island has formed, on which a pack of beast men have built a stronghold.
     
  • Aquifer Cavern A large underground complex: completely filled with water in most places. Bandits conspire with mer-folk, to use it to hide their treasures.
     
  • Gray Orc City A tribe of desert orcs has isolated themselves here after being pushed back by Ehrnish expansion. Now, they raid the lands they once called home for sustenance.
     
  • The Henge This ruined complex is thought to be of human origin, but it's architecture is not known to any who have seen it. Magic in this place is amplified.
     
  • Swear To Me; Arthur Rackham Einherjar Rubbish Heap Some of the fortresses of the Einherjar landed intact, disgorging the betrayer warriors unto the plain. This one did not. Large chunks of a celestial city are strewn about this site: each a labyrinth in its own right
     
  • Look Out Rock A ruined, limestone fortress peeking above the spring and source of the long river. now watched by one of the border fortresses, the rock, and the semi natural caverns beneath it, draw adventure from across the plane.
     
  • North Tribe Another group of gray orcs live here. They are bitter enemies of the first, but still despise the Ehrnish.
     
  • Hanging Rocks This cave formation impossibly leans over a ledge into a shallow gorge. It appears to have been hollowed out by a forgotten people – but it's purpose and that people are long gone
     
  • Goblin Camp A tribe of goblins man a wooden fortress built atop a stone complex of Dwarfish origin. The goblins have made it their own
     
  • The Windy Crag This half cave / half valley houses carnivorous dire bats. It is said that the wind proceeding, singing from the crag is unnatural - the result of the beat of many thousands of wings.
     
  • Insane Dwarves A citadel of Dwarves driven mad - incoherent, violent cannibals. Those which have been extracted from the citadel are oddly marred - organs out of place, features mutated - though the source of this contagion is unknown: presumably buried deep, deep in the ground.
     
  • Sundered Mountain A mountain cleft in twain – with an abandoned Ddwarf citadel half-revealed by the break. Unnatural dangers lurk close to the surface, their home - normally deep underground - rudely exposed to the bright of the outside.
     
  • Deep Drink Well A natural cistern so deep that, despite the crystal clear water, one cannot see the bottom. Stories say it connects to a deep crag in Amana - providing a conduit of hazards and wild things into its depths - but whenever one looks into it, one only sees the clear, cool water.
     

Campaign on, readers!


Public domain artwork retrieved from OldBookIllustrations.com and adapted for thematic use. Attribution in alt text.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Guerrilla (Miniature) Warfare

Play-Cast Name:

Play-List Name:

System:
Gambeson
Glorious Rainbow Gambeson

Thoughts and Review

Guerrilla Miniature Games is a gaming entertainment conglomerate devoted to the play and exposition of miniature war and skirmish games. Operated by Canadian game designer Ash Barker, the channel is awash with miniature wargaming: including playlists and scheduled content around reviews, actual plays, and hobby - painting, collecting, and related media: games, books, films, and so on - updated on what seems to be a daily cadence. 

I found out about Guerrilla Miniature Games when searching on a whim for actual play videos of Games Workshop's Mordheim: a discontinued skirmish campaign game wherein you take on the role of adventurers hiring a crew of mercenaries and delving into the heart of a ruined city for fame, glory, and most importantly - treasure! This theme should resonate with any classic OSR/TSR gamer - and may likewise with many others - though there is a shortage of actual play content for these old systems. Reviews abound, but play remains elusive.

So, in authoring this review, I wanted to bring to light Guerrilla Miniature Games' Mordheim series - a great playlist with over 70 videos as of this writing to vicariously experience a classic game.


What I Like

When watching wargame replays - the first thing that I don't notice is the terrain. Or, I don't want to notice. I want to think of the terrain as a compliment to the game - an element contributing to individual strategies employed by the participants. You want terrain on the table - but you don't want the artisanship of the terrain to overshadow the game, itself. 

Guerrilla Miniature Games finds the perfect balance.

The terrain used on the channel is appropriate and pretty - but likewise, not so elaborate or over-done such that I could expect the terrain I see at their table to appear at a given hobby shop. It works for the game, it works for the table, and it makes me think back to the days when I was playing the same game, four other tables around me working through their own league confrontations, and answering the occasional question from a young kid who may or may not have mistakenly moved one of my rat-men. And those are good memories to remember.

So, you have... rocks and ruins. Now try me a reason to actually care. Glad you asked! When watching these kind of programs - I look for two things: one, entertainment value (which, to be fair, is subjective); and two, educational value (which largely is not). While I cannot vouch for other playlists - as my interests led me to Mordheim - in the Mordheim playlist, Guerrilla Miniature Games does a phenomenal job in teaching the game. They follow a format - in the first episode of the series, they talk a bit about the rules: and before each match, they talk a bit about the different army lists in use. Further, they expose the rules - highlighting which one they are doing and how it works, if there is any nuance to it, during play. 

Parry - for example - comes to mind: where a character armed with a sword may attempt to thwart an inbound hit.

Orkish animosity comes to mind likewise: where a specific condition applied to and otherwise overpowered (in my humblest of opinions) army list and impacts play, introducing an element of spice to the list.

So if you are aiming to learn the game while still keeping a fast pace at the table, seeing the armies move, how they interact, and how the game operates - this channel is for you.

What Are the Hold-Ups

The strength, however, of the playlist ties in to the weakness of the same playlist for my usual audience. This blog - and its corresponding YouTube and Podcast and other social media - focuses on the OSR: games and gaming which emulate or recreate the experience of the first ten years of D&D: the Gary Epoch - where fantasy adventure meets tabletop wargaming and crashes into personal role-play. In order to truly be OSR, a product must conform to TSR Dungeons & Dragons - and while Games Workshop, the company behind Mordheim, did build wide acclaim as the importer and distributor for Dungeons & Dragons during the Gary Epoch in the United Kingdom, the Mordheim and Warhammer systems are not built to be compatible with the D&D game - representing instead the company's own foray into fantasy: initially in the form of rank-and-flank battles.

With that in mind - Mordheim (and thus the Guerilla Miniatures Games playlist on Mordheim) is not OSR: but I would argue that it carries some elements that translate over. Mordheim brings several elements to the table which will resonate with an OSR RPG campaign:

  1. A core of heroes who represent the main protagonist.
  2. A squad of henchmen which must be managed.
  3. A focus on gold at the end of the adventure.

For the third point - Mordheim does, by memory, award experience for Wyrdstone (a precious resource sold for gold and the primary reason for warbands to be in the city) acquired: whether that is scenario specific or core, I would have to look up - but at the core of it, gold is how you keep your warband moving. The logistics aspect is abstracted - that is, when playing a campaign, you don't need to feed your troops (where in an OSR game, you would) - but you will need to equip them, replace casualties, upgrade equipment, and perform other administrative concerns tantamount to resource management. What Mordheim can teach you in this regard is a skirmish game mindset - which is how TSR D&D operates.

  • The core of heroes - your stable and your player characters - represent the main protagonist.
  • Your hirelings and henchmen - bought, paid for, and managed - represent the warband.
  • Gold-provisioned XP focuses on treasure at the end of the adventure.

So - in that sense - Mordheim can get you into the right mindset: where the battlefield on the screen might be a ruined city, the battlefield in your campaign may be a cramped tunnel in a dungeon. But - if you enjoy (or are curious about) the domain aspect, this game might be a good spark for your interest. 

Lastly - speaking to my own experience of Mordheim - the story is what you make of it. Some players would simply do the upkeep/advancement aspect and keep playing, others would keep campaign journals where they detailed the intents and opinions of the warband chieftains. In this sense - the Guerilla Miniatures Games channel, while it does follow the campaign rules - players come back, warbands make repeat appearances, grow, shrink, win, and lose: some coming back for rematches against one another - it does not weave a story with it. With essentially all OSR actual play channels, there is a central story - either forced by a mediocre DM or emerging from the experiences of an active player base - with this playlist: you need to be here for the game, expressly. 

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like I mentioned, some players are there for the game. And if that is the case - if you're looking for a story - you will want to look elsewhere. It's right there in the name: Guerilla Miniatures Gaming is about... guerilla miniatures gaming.

Further Consideration

In terms of the game, itself, Mordheim has sadly been discontinued (though GW appears to have kept Blood Bowl, which is nice) - however, miniatures from any fantasy range can be used (including Age of Sigmar or upcoming Old World miniatures from Games Workshop / Citadel) and a quick internet search can easily uncover PDF versions of the old rules.

In terms of Guerilla Miniatures Gaming - if you enjoy his style and content, there is a plethora of other, similar content available on the over-arching YouTube channel. In addition, they can be found on social media - including a WordPress blog, on Facebook, and on Instragram - as well as operating a Patreon, which - while I am not a member - does have a free tier and does put out content regularly.

Lastly, for folks curious about Mordheim but who do not want to shell out for a dozen miniatures and a hobby shop at which to play, a video game version - Mordheim: City of the Damned - has been released for Windows and console, available on multiple platforms. I have not played the video game version, so I cannot speak to its quality or fidelity, but it did look neat when I watched the preview.

In Conclusion

To conclude, does Mordheim really belong on an OSR review column? Probably not. But as mentioned above - the game has some OSR-compatible elements and brings to the table a real mindset that can get you into the mood for the domain tier of the game. For that reason, I've rated it Gambeson: Glorious Rainbow Gambeson - for the wonderful paint schemes that I remember classic Empire armies having back in the day when I first learned about tabletop wargaming... and for the widely utilized armor that somehow didn't make it into (or, at least not by name in) TSR D&D.

I enjoy Guerilla Miniatures Gaming - and if you enjoy tabletop battles - I think you will too.

Delve on, readers!


Mordheim cover art sourced from BoardGameGeek.com but is property of Games Workshop. Still of Orks vs Reikland taken from Guerilla Miniatures Gaming YouTube, Throwback Thursday: Mordheim playlist, episode 12 (link) and is property of Guerilla Miniatures Gaming. Cover art for Mordheim: City of the Damned - Complete Edition retrieved from the Microsoft Store and is property of Microsoft, Focus Home Interactive, and Games Workshop. All images included and all trademarks referenced are included as under Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107 as non-commercial review and remain property of their respective owners - Clerics Wear Ringmail makes no claim of ownership nor to rights over them.

Red Tree Hollow

Click HERE for a PDF version of this adventure! ...