A blog about games, gamers, and various and sundry geek culture-related ephemera and paraphernalia.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I Got for Christmas - 28 Years Ago

Eight days ago was the first anniversary of A Rust Monster Ate My Sword. But I just realized that another anniversary passed or is soon to pass: the 28th anniversary of my first game of Dungeons & Dragons.

It was sometime during Christmas vacation, 1981, that I officially first set foot into "the hobby." With my nephew and my best friend, Brian, I took my first journey of the imagination into a keep on the edge of civilization a few days after Christmas. We didn't make it into the nearby Caves of Chaos that day (in fact, I didn't make into those caves as a player until earlier this year!) but it's an experience I will likely never forget, regardless.

Upon recalling this anniversary, I got to thinking about the presents I received that year. I imagine there were more than the three I recall clearly - most likely a variety of Star Wars toys, very few of which I can mentally track due to the sheer volume I've collected over the years. But these items were the big three that year, and two of them still see semi-regular use to this day:

The D&D Basic Set ("Moldvay" Basic)
This was my introduction to the rules of the game, and will forever be what first comes to mind when I think of D&D. Clean and concise, easy to understand, and oozing with character, the Moldvay Basic rulebook is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of D&D evolution. I'm sure that opinion is based upon a good amount of nostalgic bias, but you have to at least agree that the "red book" is a worthy entry into the game's pantheon of rulebooks. Every time I play another form of the game, no matter how much I'm enjoying it - be it AD&D, the Rules Cyclopedia, 3.x, or even one of the retro-clones - I find myself occasionally suppressing the urge to ditch what I'm doing and pull out the red book...

Grenadier's "Denizens of the Swamp" Set
Prior to Christmas that year, I'd discovered that a local store carried a small variety of Grenadier's AD&D miniatures. I'd never seen game miniatures before and - being in the early stages of D&D mania - found myself coveting each and every set in stock. I managed somehow - I've since forgotten how - to score a set called "Specialists" before Christmas. As the holiday approached, I recognized the need to provide opponents for the heroes in said set, and that's how "Denizens" ended up on my Christmas list. One of the lizard men refused to stand, the basilisk's horn was broken off, and I thought the troll was too goofy for words - but I loved the set, nonetheless; especially the gnoll with the cross-dagger! Alas, I parted with most of these minis several years ago, but I still recall them fondly.

Milton Bradley's Dark Tower
What can I say? Dark Tower rocked, plain and simple. I recall suffering near unbearable angst as my brothers attempted to repair the game Christmas morning; it didn't work out of the box. This was a recurring theme for my childhood Christmases and birthdays, so by 1981 I was more or less used to this scenario. Fortunately, they successfully repaired it. (Much more successfully than earlier Christmases, where such repair efforts often left toys scarred or barely functioning, and less than enjoyable to play with.) When our first attempt to play D&D resulted in a boring session of murdering and looting the bodies of residents of the aforementioned keep, this was the game that we turned to. It was - and still is, when I can get it to function - an immensely enjoyable way to pass the time with friends and family. (And the game's artwork still inspires me.)

I've had the good fortune to have enjoyed many good Christmases as a child, but none seem to stand out so clearly as this one - the "D&D Christmas" of 1981...
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Update

Just a quick note: The Rust Monster blog may be dormant for a while. My father's been in the hospital since the beginning of the week and it looks like he could pass away any day. The blog, therefore, is going to be on hold indefinitely, and if I'm remiss at responding to anybody's e-mails over the coming days or weeks, I hope you'll understand why, and trust that you'll forgive me.

I was planning a big one-year blogiversary post for the 22nd, but it looks like that won't be happening now. In lieu of that, let me just thank everyone for supporting the Rust Monster for the last (almost) 365 days. I especially want to thank Sham aka Dave, Jeff, and James, all of whose blogs inspired me to start this little project and continue to inspire me to enjoy my hobby to its fullest with every post I read.

I hope your holidays are fun and full of joy - I'll see you all again next year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Dungeon World Article on The Escapist

I've been sick as a dog all week (do dogs really get this sick?) so please forgive me if posting's been light (read as: non-existent). This is just a quick update to let everybody know that the latest installment of my "Dungeon World" series for The Escapist's "Days of High Adventure" column is live. It's a micro-dungeon crawl, perfect for a quick pick-up game or just as something to drop into an existing campaign as a side trip.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is It Secret? Is It Safe?

Here's something from the scanning project that every good spy needs: a well-supplied safe house. I don't know when I drew this map, but judging from the style and the contents of the armory, I'd guess we're looking at something from around late 1984/early 1985. (I had a small knife collection back in the day and owned one of the black Tekna knives mentioned in the armory contents.)

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to My Underground Lair

Here's another Top Secret map from my scanning project, this one drawn some time in the mid- to late-80's. It's yet another villain's subterranean lair, this one located under a seemingly innocuous river-side warehouse:

Here's the surface/exterior map:

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Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm Hiding in Honduras - I'm a Desperate Man

While we're on the topic of espionage RPG's, here's something I've had laying around that's not from the scanning project and not for an edition of Top Secret: a character sheet for Palladium's Ninjas & Superspies game.

The Palladium house system may not be the smoothest rules set ever, and later additions may have taken the munckin-y aspects of the system to new heights (Rifts, I'm looking at you), but my friends and I had a blast with Beyond the Supernatural and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the day. (And continue to do so, although much less often than we did back then.) We never played pure N&S more than a couple of times, but the martial arts rules were regularly incorporated into our other Palladium games. These three books are - aside from my Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic book - the most worn books in my collection, and for good reason.

So, in honor of some fun times, and keeping with the espionage theme (more or less) here's my N&S character sheet:

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Gotta Give the Other Fella Hell

Here's a map from the scanning project that I originally made for use with Top Secret/S.I.. I think I drew this back in the mid-90's after watching True Lies for the umteenth time. It's a subterranean operations center for your PC's clandestine organization. Of course, this could also be an enemy operations center the PC's need to infiltrate. (Good luck with that.)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I've Seen This Diamond Cut Through Harder Men

Here's another Top Secret memory courtesy of the scanning project: a villain's multi-level underground stronghold.

I distinctly recall drawing this up after a mid-80's viewing of Where Eagles Dare - those with a keen eye may even recognize a room or two on Level 5 inspired by those in Schloss Adler (and look for a nod to Remo Williams on Level 6). There aren't any sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads, but this should still be a fun romp for players who want to storm a bad guy's stronghold, a la Where Eagles Dare or Star Wars. Drop this location under the helipad on the Ville D'Arc island, and you've got one massive Big Bad's lair.

With its underground setting and multiple levels, this map really shows, IMHO, my dungeon crawling roots. I'll let you decide:

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Monday, November 9, 2009

How Was I to Know She Was with the Russians Too

Continuing my tribute to TSR's Top Secret, I thought I'd post something a little newer: a recent character sheet.

This one's not for original Top Secret, however; it's for that game's worthy descendant, Top Secret/S.I. Unlike most official character sheets for the games I play, I never felt the need to improve upon TSR's Top Secret agent dossier. It did what it needed to do, and did it well, IMHO. (I've got two sets of the original TSR dossiers, but if you're not so lucky, Mad Irishman has a faithful recreation available in PDF.)

Such was not the case with TSR's official Top Secret/S.I. sheet/folder. It was adequate, but it seemed to me that there was a lot of wasted space in the folder. So, here's a more compact character sheet for the game:

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Now on The Escapist: The Witch-Keep of Drakenmoor

Just a quick post to let everyone know that the latest installment of the "Dungeon World" setting, part of "The Days of High Adventure" column, is now live on The Escapist: "The Witch-Keep of Drakenmoor" is an 8-page location-based mini-adventure (in PDF). Enjoy!

Stay tuned to the Rust Monster, because next week I'll have a bunch more Top Secret goodies for you from my scanning project.
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Odds Are You Won't Live to See Tomorrow

After my introduction to the world of RPG's via Basic D&D (evolving soon thereafter into a mish-mash of Basic and AD&D) I quickly began exploring the ever-growing RPG landscape of the early 80's. My early exposure (pre-1984) was limited to whatever I could find in the local Kay-Bee toy stores. This basically meant TSR's boxed games: Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Dawn Patrol... and Top Secret.

I think Top Secret was my second post-D&D role-playing game. I'm not sure if it was the second one I encountered, but it was the second one that I actually purchased and immersed myself in.

It was natural for me to gravitate toward an espionage game as my second foray into the world of RPG's. After sci fi/horror, espionage was running a close second as my favorite genre. I'd grown up on the ubiquitous staple of James Bond (Connery, mostly), Matt Helm, and Derek Flint films, not mention a wide variety of Cold War and WWII-era espionage and action flicks, like Three Days of the Condor, Where Eagles Dare and Guns of Navarone. (All watched, of course, on one of our three local network stations on my tiny portable black-and-white TV set.)

A couple of my favorite childhood toys were the hand-me-down James Bond 007 Road Race Set and a piece of "Man From UNCLE" parephernalia I had found - the UNCLE badge and ID wallet from the Man From UNCLE Napoleon Solo Gun set. (Damn, that James Bond set was an awesome toy! There were no cars or controllers by the time I got my hands on it, but Hot Wheels and Matchbox vehicles worked even better, if you ask me. And I had never seen the "Man From UNCLE" series, but I knew cool spy stuff when I saw it.)

Yep, I really dug spies. (And still do.)

Of course, this would also have been late 1982/early 1983, the height of Reagan-era Cold War goodness. It seemed that not a day went by that there wasn't some form of international intrigue in the news. To say that the environment was ripe for espionage gaming would probably be a huge understatement.

Despite its multitude of quirks and subsystems (I still have trouble wrapping my brain around that hand-to-hand combat system!) I loved Top Secret from the very start. I made character after character, drew maps of villains' secret hideouts and underground lairs, and used the weapon creation subsystem to derive Top Secret stats for dozens of modern firearms. And I played the Hell out of the game with my nephew. Our characters, my Bryan Steele* and his Rick Savage, saved the world from evil villains more times than I can count. (*Did I mention that I was/am a huge fan of "Remington Steele?")

I've tried several times since that period (1982/3-1985) to recover or renew the experiences of my Halcyon days of espionage gaming - alas, to no avail. But I still have my nostalgic memories - and most of the materials I've created for Top Secret. I've shared the nostalgia - now how about the goodies?

Up first is "Ville D'Arc," a set of maps I drew up for a villain's island lair. This was made after seeing Octopussy (so, late summer 1983) so when you're painting your mental picture of the main house, try to envision it looking something like Kamal Khahn's house from that movie.

Here's the island map:

And here's the map of the main compound (followed by a key of the map's locations):

Last, but certainly not least, here's the map of the main house:

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Ghouls All Came from Their Humble Abodes

Here's another post in - ahem - the spirit of the season: a scenario I whipped up for a recent session of Call of Cthulhu: In the deep woods of northern Massachusetts, the PC's (or, since this is CoC, the "investigators") are about to become embroiled in a family's dark and deadly secret... will they survive the "Horror of Halloran House?"

(A few caveats: There are no stats given for the antagonists in this scenario, but you should be able to pull everything you need from the CoC rulebook - I did! Also, I had to pull the floorplans of Halloran House from the document, since they were modified versions of something I took from one of Chaosium's supplements.)

Click here to download the "Horror of Halloran House" in PDF.

Check out these links if you're in need of third-edition character sheets or minion master sheets.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Better Stay Away From Him - He'll Rip Your Lungs Out, Jim!

Since Halloween is fast approaching (a little too fast for my liking - it always seems to come and go far too quickly) I thought I'd share an outline for a scenario I subjected my players to - er, I mean ran my players through a while back.

The scenario's set in modern-day Arkham, MA, and includes an NPC long-known to the characters of my game group's 20+-year Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic campaign. But there's no reason it needs to be set in that witch-haunted city, nor does it need to even be for that game. It's generic enough to be lifted and dropped into just about any modern horror game setting you choose - all you need to do is file off the serial numbers...

(Warning: adult themes ahead.)

"And Death Shall Walk Among Us"
A Scenario for Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic

In 25 Words or Less
A cabal of semi-well-intentioned whoopee witches have summoned and bound Death into a human body to "do the Lord’s bidding."

What Went Before
Three weeks ago, Father Anthony diTomaso, a priest at Saint Ambrosius’ church in Arkham, discovered a hidden chamber under the floor of the church rectory’s basement. Therein he found a cache of documents hidden there by an unknown party, possibly as long ago as the mid-1700's. Among the items he found a leather-bound book with no title. Entirely hand written, the book’s author was unknown – only the initials “C.M.” on the book’s flyleaf served as a clue to its author’s identity.

Within the Nameless Book, diTomaso found a ritual to “Summon and Bind to Ye Service the Lord’s Angel of Death.” Having lost himself within the book’s treatises against the sins of man and the need for men of the Lord to take action to protect mankind from itself and from the evils lurking at the edges of sanity (many of which it describes fully) diTomaso took his first step onto a slippery slope.

diTomaso gathered up four other faithful, pious men to join his cause: Capt. Frank Garrick of the Arkham PD, Arkham businessman Luthor Burton, Dr. Ken Draiben, and MU professor Michael Flemming. Fueled by diTomaso’s fervent, charismatic fanaticism, the group pored over the book, reading many times from cover to cover. They met weekly in the hidden room, beginning and ending each meeting with a reading from the book and the singing of a hymn found on its first pages.

Having convinced themselves that mankind was in imminent danger of succumbing to the evil forces that constantly chip away at its foundation, the cabal determined that they would attempt the ritual to summon “The Angel of Death.” The ritual required a female virgin, whom Draiben was able to select for the group from patients at his private practice. The virgin wasn’t to be sacrificed, so the group didn’t have that moral hurdle to overcome. She was, however, to be “deflowered” – an issue that the fanatical group took about twelve seconds to come to terms with.

The girl, Tina Moreau, a 19-year-old MU student in one of Flemming’s classes, was lured to the professor’s office after hours (on academic pretexts). On the way there, she was stopped by Capt. Garrick, who “arrested” her “on suspicion.” He took her to the rectory, where the ritual was immediately performed.

Seven hours later, when the ritual was finally done and dawn approached, the cabal watched in abject horror as the girl’s belly swelled. In under an hour, she gave birth – to a dark-haired, black-eyed baby girl.

The cabal discussed what was to be done, and it was decided that Draiben would take the baby and her now-catatonic mother to his home to care for them. He put Tina in the guest bedroom (chained to the bed posts) and watched after the baby – whom the cabal had named “Angela.”

Angela never ate or drank, and grew phenomenally fast – at the apparent rate of five years per day that passed. (She’d sleep for five hours – exactly. Upon waking, she had “matured” another five years from the night before.) She was beautiful, a sight of almost alien perfection. Her hair and irises were jet black, and her skin white as porcelain. The only blemish on her body was a rose-colored birthmark on her left shoulder – and odd-shaped, five-lobed pattern that seemed too symmetrical to be a natural occurrence.

Around the time of Angela’s birth – unbeknownst to diTomaso’s cabal – another odd phenomenon began to occur: people the world over stopped dying. Even terminally ill patients in the hospitals and the nursing homes did not die. In case after case around the world, people who should have died did not. People in fatal accidents, shot, blown up – it didn’t matter. No matter how severe the wounds, nobody died.

In Arkham alone, a trio of teens who were in a “fatal” one-car crash should have been killed based on the severity of their injuries. The townsfolk called it a miracle, but as more such “miracles” occurred, even the most mundane people in Arkham began to get a sense that something was wrong.

By the third day, when Angela appeared to be about 15 years of age, only seven people had died: three registered sex offenders (all of the known sex offenders in the city), two members of the city’s most violent street gang, The Crimson Skulls, one city alderman (often accused of corruption and mob ties), and one local fortune teller (who was a local celebrity and reported to be able to speak with the dead and use “black magic”). The county coroner could not determine the causes of death, and none seemed to have been victims of foul play. They all had one thing in common, though: a small patch of blackened, necrotized flesh over their hearts – each in the shape of a small hand-print.

As it turns out, the “force” inhabiting the girl’s body is not an “angel of the Lord,” but the elemental force of Death itself. An archetypal personification of the entropic and destructive forces of the universe, Death’s role is to transform sentient beings, “ferrying” them from one life to another. However, the cabal has disrupted the natural order, and Death now takes “her” commands only from them. Thus, the only ones dying are those they choose. All others are trapped in their current forms – despite their conditions.

The Hook
Capt. Dave Dietrich of APD’s Special Investigations Division calls the PC’s. [Dietrich is the aforementioned well-known NPC - he's been involved in several of the PCs' adventures, and is well-aware of the weirdness and supernatural danger that plagues mankind.] He’s distressed and asks them to come to the station. He can’t say why over the phone – they need to see this for themselves.
Scene Snippet:
At the APD station, they’re shown to the new SID room. Dietrich has his own office here, as does a Lieutenant under him, and he has several harried-looking detectives working here with him in a “secretarial pool” layout.
At the station, Dietrich takes them from the SID room to the holding cells in the basement. In a “special holding” cell that is segregated from the others, he has a single Hispanic male. Covered in blood and suffering from what are obviously multiple gunshot wounds, the man is barely coherent. A quick examination will show anyone with even rudimentary medical skills that the man’s wounds are fatal. Two bullet wounds clearly enter his upper torso, pierce his heart, and exit through his back. His heart is no longer beating, and the congealing blood is slowly oozing from his wounds – but still he lives.
Scene Snippet:
An EMT is being led from the cell block by an officer as Dietrich leads the PC’s in; he is pale and obviously shaken. He’s saying something to the officer leading him out like: “You can’t get me to go back in there! Not me, man! No way!”
The man, whose name is unknown, was in the process of robbing a mini-mart when an APD patrol car pulled up. The officers going for their nightly coffee were just as surprised as the perp was, then the guns came out. When the shooting was done, the perp, the store’s cashier, and one of the two officers had been shot. Only the perp had been hit “fatally.”

Dietrich takes the PC’s back to the SID room where he shows them newspaper clippings and Web site pages he’s printed out. In the last three days, these sorts of “miracles” have been happening all around the world.
Scene Snippet:
As he’s showing them his “evidence,” Dietrich bemoans: “As if I don’t have enough to deal with, between bleeding statues, cult graffiti, missing persons, and dying scumbags… [sigh]” (The first two are red herrings, but the last two are clues directly related to the real cause of these problems. The missing person he mentions is Tina Moreau, and the "dying scumbags" are those Angela's "removed.")
On-going Events
“The List”
The binding ritual specifies that Angela’s victims must be selected by a majority of the summoners. The cabal have selected several victims already and put them on a list that is kept in the hidden room. The GM should populate this list at his discretion.

Other Events
In the wee hours of the morning of day five, Draiban – suffering a moral quandary – takes the catatonic Tina Moreau to the outskirts north of town and abandons her there. She will be found by a local delivery man at 11 AM, unless the PC’s happen to find her first. For his trouble, Draiben is added to the top of “The List” by the cabal that evening. If nothing interrupts the timeline, he will be dead by midnight.

Dramatis Personae
Angela, the physical embodiment of Death
Strikingly beautiful and simultaneously terrifying, Angela is unstoppable. Her body is immune to everything – the only way to stop her is to destroy or remove, with an enchanted item, the sigil on her left shoulder. Doing so releases her from her fleshy prison – but before she leaves it, she’ll “take care” of the cabal. (“I must be sure they receive the sweetest reward for their efforts.”) Removing the sigil frees her, but does not compel her to leave the body.

Angela matures at the rate of five years per day, but peaks at the apparent age of twenty-five on day five. She finds it amusing to dress in Goth fashion, a la Neil Gaiman’s characterization of her.

When Death leaves Angela’s body, if she has not been mortally wounded, Angela will be a beautiful, homeless amnesiac. Otherwise, she will immediately suffer the overdue effects of her injuries. Once freed from the binding, regardless of whether Death remains in Angela's body or not, anyone dead-but-not-dead still suffering from fatal injuries will immediately pass away.

Angela's only power is to take the life from her chosen victims. She usually does so by gently laying the palm of her hand over the victim's heart. Death is instantaneous, and the only evidence left is a patch of dead flesh where she laid her hand. (She need not take a life in this manner - any physical contact is enough for her to steal a living being's life force. She just like's to do it this way...) As previously mentioned, the binding ritual prevents her from taking the life of anyone other than those on the cabal's List.

Instead of "hooking" the PC's as suggested, this would be a perfect chance to pull a bait and switch on the players, making the "miracles" look like the start of a zombie apocalypse.

Instead of setting the game in Arkham, you could always use Winter Creek, VT.

If you need Bureau 13 character sheets, feel free to try my home-brew B13 character sheet.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

More Sci Fi Goodness

Here's the starship record sheet I made for my aforementioned never-to-see-the-light-of-day HardNova II campaign:

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Friday, October 23, 2009

My God - It's Full of Character Sheets

While we're on the topic of science fiction RPG's, I thought I'd share a character sheet I created for my favorite RPG that I've never actually played - Precis Intermedia's (formerly Poltically Incorrect Games) HardNova II.

HardNova II is a great little rules-lite game. In 52 pages, the game's core rules manage to pack in robust rules for characters, including seven PC races; rules for starships; a basic and advanced task resolution system; a basic setting outline, including simple world creation rules; an "enemy" alien race and rules for creating other alien races; and four senarios. It's a nifty game that I really can't help but fall in love with all over again every time I look at it.

I spent a lot of time compiling a "Galactic Guide" of technology and adapted races from my own imagination and a variety of sources, including Traveller, Star Frontiers, and two of PIG's other games, The Colonies and EarthAD. I'm still not sure why none of this work ever resulted in at least a game session or two. I think maybe it was just a matter of bad timing - as in my interests at the time were not in synch with those of my game group.

Regardless, it's a good game, and definitely worth a look. In fact, at $4.95 US, if you're a sci fi RPG fan you practically owe it to yourself to go buy a copy of the PDF right now. (And in case you were wondering: No, I'm not sock-puppeting for Precis Intermedia just because they happen to be the current publishers of my miniatures games! Plenty of other folks like this game, too - just check out the RPGNow reviews if you don't believe me.)

So here's the (slightly customized for house rules) character sheet that has never seen use:

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Different than what I'd planned on posting today, that is.

I was hoping to get some of my scanned horror resources (mostly hand-drawn maps and floor plans) posted this week. However, it seems that the image files of the pieces I'd scanned have been stolen by file-stealing Ninja Hacker Gnomes. (I suppose it's possible that I accidentally deleted them, but I find the Ninja Hacker Gnome theory far more compelling.)

Since that means I'll now have to find the time to re-scan all that stuff, I figured I'd post something useful in the interim.

To that end, here's a character sheet for the latest edition of a truly old-school game - and no, I'm not talking about 4E! I'm referring to Mongoose's version of the Traveller game system.

I didn't have the good fortune of encountering Traveller back in the day, aside from moderate exposure to it via Dragon magazine. Being a gamer in a vacuum, my RPG exposure prior to the late 80's was mostly limited to TSR's boxed games. (Thus my first sci fi RPG was Star Frontiers.) I did flirt with various later editions - MegaTraveller and Marc Miller's Traveller ("T4") specifically. But none of these really grew on me. MegaTraveller was too clunky (and infuriatingly broken in a few places), and T4 was just too lacking in luster. (Although it was also populated with cool Chris Foss artwork - alongside what are, IMHO, some of Larry Elmore's worst pieces ever. Elmore's cover for Star Frontiers is, to this day, my go-to piece for sci fi RPG inspiration, but to say that his work in T4 disappointed me is a gross understatement.)

Even later (as in a couple of years ago) I ran a "Classic" Traveller ("CT") game set in the universe of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda that quickly fizzled out. Honestly, I like the idea of the game - a lot. I just seem to have trouble finding an edition that really hits the sweet spot for me. Well, make that had trouble.

Thanks to Mongoose's newest edition, I think my Traveller woes may be over.

I picked up the core rulebook for a song on eBay (almost half of what I'd have paid for it at Amazon) and spent some quality time with it a few nights ago. Boy, was I impressed.

The newest edition seems to preserve much of the simplicity and charm that I so loved in the first three CT "LBB's," but added the depth and robustness I liked from the later editions. After a first read, it looks like this edition has included everything I liked about the previous editions and excluded everything I disliked.

So now I find myself ramping up for a campaign in the Third Imperium, and really looking forward to it. I've finally got an edition that hits all the right notes for me - let's just hope it goes over well with the players!

Anyway, enough talk - here's the character sheet (based on the look and feel of my earlier Star Frontiers sheet):

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Now on the Escapist: Dungeon World - A Closer Look

Some of you may have noticed my absence... As I emerge from my unexpected month-long hiatus like a sinking man clawing at a vine above a pit of quicksand (believe me, this analogy isn't as fanciful as you might think) I find myself wondering:

What am I going to post?

Well, the first and most obvious answer is the announcement that my second entry into The Escapist's "Days of High Adventure" column is live. If you'd like to know more about the (free) "Dungeon World" setting, head on over to the article and check it out.

I guess the second thing is to give you an idea of what I'm considering for upcoming posts. I've got a lot of pots on the stove, so to speak: the promised series of Top Secret resources from my scanning project; the continuation of the "A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts)" series; and a series of horror-themed scanning project and resource posts in honor of the imminence of my favorite holiday.

To be honest, I'm still struggling to recover from being blind-sided by a series of personal issues that laid me low and totally derailed my posting schedule. I can't promise that I'll be back to the regular, post-a-day schedule I was keeping prior to my going MIA, but I will do my best...
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Friday, September 11, 2009

Now on The Escapist: Welcome to the Dungeon

As of yesterday, I'm officially a contributor to The Escapist's new column, "Days of High Adventure." My first entry is an introduction to "Dungeon World," the game setting I'll be developing for future installments of the column.

For those of you not in the know, The Escapist is a popular online magazine and community primarily focused on video games and video gamer culture. "Days of High Adventure," however, is a column dedicated to old school tabletop role-playing. Fellow contributors include Allen Varney, Monte Cook, and our very own "diabolical leader," James Maliszewski. (How I had the good fortune to be called upon to write a column alongside names like these, I'll never understand.) It's an amazing opportunity for not just myself, but for the old school universe in general. To have some of the game industry's prominent writers (and me!) spreading the gospel of old school in such a forum must surely be a good thing.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rumors of My Death Have Been Slightly Exaggerated

I owe a huge apology to my readers: the blog's been dead in the water for a couple of weeks as I sorted out a variety of issues on the home front. I will make amends.

I probably won't be posting this week, but I plan on resuming the scanning project next week, with a deluge of material for TSR's original Top Secret.

Stay tuned!!!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seventies Flashback Saturday

I heard a radio interview with one of the members of Blue Oyster Cult yesterday (I guess they're doing a show nearby today) and it left me with a fever, the only cure for which is: more cowbell!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 4

Today we're casting a veteran gamer's eye on the fourth of TSR's mini-adventure comic book ads from the early 1980's. This particular ad marks the end of the party's exploration of the dungeon of Zenopus Castle. As we'll see when we examine the ad following this one, this is also the last of the dungeon crawl-themed ads.

So, join us as we take our 21st-century sensibilties on a stroll down memory lane once more, this time with "Ad 4," circa March, 1982:

Ad 4, Frame 1
Not much to look at here, as it's just a one-frame recap of the cliffhanger from the last issue, wherein the crafty, sadistic DM dropped danger-prone Indel straight into the lair of a red dragon. Indel's fellow party members - Grimslade, Valerius, and Saren - have been searching for the elf since he discovered a pit trap (the hard way) two issues ago. Honestly, though, I think they'd be much better off if the dragon made a snack of the troublesome elf, given how the party's forever pulling his fat from the fire.

Ad 4, Frame 2
Well, here it is: the frame all the neck-bearded basement dwellers out there have been waiting for. In search of their lost albatros- er, friend, the party stops while Saren examines a door - and Grimslade and Valerius stop to examine Saren's, um, "assets."

I wonder what "power" Saren, Cleric of St. Mixalot, is using to determine Indel's location. Is she using locate object to detect something familiar in the elf's possession? Not likely, since that spell only indicates direction, not proximity. Did she cast commune? That would mean she's at least 7th level. (Is the whole party 7th to 9th level? If so, what's with the green slime and goblins? And where are the magic items a party of that level should be loaded with? Methinks the DM is also stingy bugger.)

Then again, maybe she's just using her nose. After all, I'm sure Indel was not immune to the pants-soiling surprise of coming toe-to-toe with a red dragon - and elf urine must have a decidely distinctive aroma...

Ad 4, Frame 3
For the first time since entering Zenopus Castle, we see neutral-possibly-chaotic Valerius, the party's whining wallflower, spring into action. Having witnessed his utter disregard for the well-being of the missing elf on previous occasions, I find it difficult to believe that the fighter has suddenly developed an urgent sense of concern for his pointy-eared comrade. The more likely cause for his heroic action in this frame is that he got all hot and bothered slobbering over Saren's posterior, and his hormones got the better of him.

Whatever the reason for the fighter's action, the door is obviously stuck or locked (as the B/X rules tell us most dungeon doors are). Since the party is lacking a thief, their only recourse is to force the door. (Although I find it hard to believe Grimslade doesn't have knock in his spell inventory. Of course, if he is an NPC, maybe the DM's just being a dick.) So the fighter makes the roll to force the door...

Ad 4, Frame 4
...and the entire party - now reunited - is in danger of becoming PC flambé.

Oddly enough, Grimslade actually compliments Valerius in this frame. Obviously, one of two things has happened:

First, the DM is so happy that he has finally gotten the party where he wants them that he slips up and has his cranky old NPC utter a nicety to the fighter.

Second, the group had an "intervention" with the DM, and warned him about his overbearing, show-stealing magic-user. This is the option I'm leaning toward, simply because of what happens in the next two frames:

Ad 4, Frame 5
Again, Valerius shows an uncharacteristic level of heroism. "Now it's your turn, dragon!" What's with this? The dude busts down a door, and suddenly he thinks he's buff enough to take on a dragon? A red dragon no less?

Not likely. Not with the streak of self-absorption Valerius has exhibited prior to this encounter. No, I think the DM is giving the PC's an out. Notice how Valerius' magic sword's suddenly begun to glow? Obviously, the player-DM intervention worked, and Valerius' sword, previously a crappy sword +1, is now an intelligent sword with the special purpose of "Slay Dragon," and Valerius bombed the control check. (Probably due to eaither a DM fudge, or Valerius' abysmal Wisdom score.)

Ad 4, Frame 6
Yet more fodder for the player-DM intervention theory: At the mere sight of "the great sword Naril" the dragon backs down and lets the PC's walk. That crafty bastard of a DM goes through all that trouble to get the PC's in the area of effect of his red dragon's breath weapon - and then lets them go without a fight? Yeah, right. It looks to me like the players "broke" their unruly DM.

[Side note: I think this is the first time in these ads that we see an artist's name: Willingham. As in Bill Willingham, whose magnificent work graced many a D&D product in the early 80's.]

Ad 4, Frame 7
What the frak is this?! The party's just going to stroll back to the inn? What about the dragon's treasure hoard? Are they so happy to have survived the red dragon encounter that they just waltz away, leaving what is likely a massive pile of treasure without so much as a fight?

Now I think I owe the DM an apology. I think I see why the PC's are travelling light on magic items...

Be sure not to miss the next in this series of posts, wherein we'll look at Ad 5:

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 3

Please excuse the dearth of posts of late. As I mentioned last week, several personal issues arose that kept me from my intentions to continue taking a deeper look at TSR's Dungeons & Dragons mini-adventure ad campaign (as seen in comic books in the early 80's). I'm back, at least for now - it may be a while before I'm able to resume my daily posting schedule, however.

Picking up where we left off, here's the blow-by-blow, gamer's-eye view of the third D&D ad ("Ad 3") circa February, 1982:

Ad 3, Frame 1
Following the second unfortunate event to befall Indel, the party's elf (at the end of the last ish), we find Grimslade, Valerius, and Saren scouring the dungeon for their lost comrade. Well, at least Grimslade and Saren are. Valerius is not calling out for the missing elf, presumably because he's a neutral (if not chaotic) character - as such, he has little desire to risk his own life for the troublesome Indel. (He may even already be formulating his own solution to the Indel Threat* - I know he would be if I were playing the fighter.)

*I view Indel as a threat not just to himself, but to the entire party. There was some discussion in the comments here regarding Indel being an NPC, a tool used by the DM to lure the party into dangerous situations and/or force them to expend resources. I don't personally subscribe to this theory, for reasons I'll discuss below.

Ad 3, Frame 2
Once again, the party is jumped by a wandering monster - or monsters, in this case - as a group of goblins descend upon them, bent on stealing their loot. Although, I'd honestly expect the "Take their treasure!" line to be coming from Valerius' mouth. Apparently nobody's informed the goblins that their sole purpose for existing is to be slain and have their bodies looted by adventurers.

Ad 3, Frame 3
And once again, Grimslade takes charge of the situation. We've been seeing the character's bossiness grow since the first panel of Ad 2. Prior to that, he seemed to need a bit of direction. Either Grimslade's player has a lack of faith in the combat abilities of his comrades, he's got control issues, or he's one of those players (we all know at least one) who needs to hog the spotlight. Whatever the reason, if I were playing one of the other characters - especially Valerius, who has so far been ordered about and left out of combat - I'd being getting a little tired of that commanding old bast- er, coot.

This behavior seemed to start after Grimslade's hair fell out and his beard went white. What happened to him? Is the player just being pissy because the DM made him roll on a critical spell failure chart that caused the PC to age unnaturally? Was the character picked up by another player? Was he perhaps possessed? Hmmm...

If anyone in the party's an NPC, I'm leaning toward it being Grimslade. I'm thinking Grimslade's original player bailed on the game group, and the PC was taken over by the DM. He's already shown that he knows the 5th-level spell hold monster, which makes him - at the minimum - 9th level. What's he doing hanging around with these other mooks? They don't seem well-equipped or confident enough to be anywhere near that level. Grimslade smacks of an NPC, the type a bad DM uses to railroad the players, or to make himself look cool. (I've played with several DM's who liked to insert NPC's into the party for just this reason - the players were just along for the ride. The games usually went the way these mini-adventures have gone thus far.)

Ad 3, Frame 4
And here's the aftermath of the encounter with the goblins. Grimslade used a "simple" sleep spell to handle them, but before they can be sent to their makers, Valerius pulls him away - which I find simply bizarre. (I'm sure we've all played enough to know that a crew like this - despite protests from Saren - isn't going to leave a bunch of sleeping goblins alive and un-looted.) Obviously, Valerius is up to something. Or maybe he is chaotic, after all, and has some motive for sparing the monsters. Or maybe he's just trying to impress the cleric, whose - um, "endowments" seem to have increased since the last ad. (Is she smuggling a pair of crystal balls in her tunic?)

Ad 3, Frames 5 through 7
Cut to Indel, as he tumbles from whatever chute or spell the pit trap in the previous ad dumped him into. From the looks of it, the fall wasn't too far:

"Oh, my head!" is - of course - role-playing shorthand for:

"I only took 4 points of damage from the fall? That's nothing!"

The DM's obviously playing with him. I can just see the devious look of glee on the cruel DM's face as he makes Indel's player feel even better by leading him to believe that the elf may have found an exit...

...only to turn the corner to come face-to-face with a dragon! Not just any dragon, either - it's a red dragon, one of the nastiest of nasties in B/X D&D. And it's not even sleeping...

It's this little scene that leads me to believe that Indel is, indeed, a PC. This looks to me like a sadistic DM getting his kicks by torturing a player character. I could, of course, be wrong. But, being a bit of a sadistic DM myself, this seems like something I might pull. /wink

This brings us to another cliffhanger, and - once again - Indel's in a very bad way. (Given the choice of being dissolved by green slime or roasted by a red dragon, I'm not sure which I'd choose.)

Next time, we'll take a good, hard look (no, that's not a sly reference to frame 2!) at "Ad 4":

. . . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seventies Flashback Saturday

Hopefully, normal posting will resume Monday. In the meantime:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

[Continuing with the "flashback episodes," here's another bit of nostalgia from the scanning project, originally posted in January.]

Here's a bit of (personal) history...

I discovered this scan while poking through some old files: an illustration by my friend Terry (sorry, I guess that's "Theron" now) of our PC's and an NPC from a solo Moldvay/Cook B/X mini-campaign we played about 15 years ago.

The guy on the left is Terry's (sorry, I guess that's "Theron" now) PC, Subotai. The hairy hulk in the middle is an NPC, Olaf the Smith. (I don't recall Olaf being so hirsute...) And the guy on the right is my elf, Talisul.

I wish I was half this talented at figure drawing... /sigh
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh, Look: A Flashback Episode!

Due to a confluence of events (my fiancee losing someone very dear to her, myself being ill, and my good friend, Terry, and his wife - whom I've not seen in four years - visiting for a week) my intended posting schedule for this week has had a serious dent put in it.

So, I'm going to take a cue from 70's and 80's sitcoms: I'm going to do a "flashback episode." Well, at least the blog equivalent. I'm going to repost one of my older posts from the archives that newer visitors to A Rust Monster... may have missed.

I apologize for the interruption in normal posting, and hope I'll be able to resume it come next Monday.

Here's the first of this week's flashbacks - my personal take on the player's and DM's map for TSR's Keep on the Borderlands:

This isn't part of our current Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands campaign, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

A couple of years ago, I had every intention of running this module for my fiancee and my boys. I never got around to it (Whoa! There's a big suprise!) but I made this map as a player handout. I wanted something that was a little more vague and full of character, and a little less late-1970's-production-quality than the maps in the module. This is what I came up with.

So, for your gaming pleasure, here's my B2: Keep on the Borderlands players' map:

I also created a DM's version of the map, complete with encounter areas and a hex grid. You can download it here, if you like.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

When I undertook the task of examining each frame of TSR's 1980's-era comic ads, I originally intended to only do so with the pair I posted this past Monday. As I published the second dissected-ad post, it occurred to me that I might need to consider performing the same post-mortem procedure on the remaining ads.

Well, judging from the interest those posts generated, it looks like my posting schedule for next week has been decided: I'll be taking a look at the remaining ads.

I stole a little time yesterday to flip through my collection of 80's comics looking for all of the ads, just to make sure I have a complete set. As a result, I came up with eight mini-adventure ads, running from August, 1981, through September, 1982. I'm fairly certain that's the extent of TSR's mini-adventure ad campaign, since the next D&D ad I found after that was a boring, product-based ad, and no other mini-adventure ads appeared in any of my comics past that date.

I've covered the first two of these ads already, so starting Monday I'll take my scalpel to the "Ad 3":

. . . . .

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 2

[When I put up Monday's post featuring a pair of TSR's Dungeons & Dragons comic ads from the early 1980's it was merely as a means to share a little nostalgia from a personal perspective.

However, when I was writing the post, I started to notice details in the ads that made me think about how the ads exemplified certain aspects of the game. After reading some of the comments the post generated, I got to thinking that it might be amusing to dissect the ads frame by frame from a D&D player's point of view.

My last post looked at
"Ad 1," circa August, 1981. Up next, "Ad 2," circa November, 1981.]

Ad 2, Frame 1
A single-frame recap of the previous adventure's cliffhanger (and our introduction to one of my "Mount Rushmore" D&D monsters, green slime), there's not much to say about this frame. Although we've obviously witnessed a change of artist. Oh, and I especially like how the synopsis text is placed within the dripping green slime. Brilliant!

Ad 2, Frame 2
Here we get to witness Indel's first meeting with an unlucky event - in this case, having a Carrie moment with a bucket-full of green slime. We also are shown Valerius' alignment - although I think we could have guessed it by the end of the last ad: neutral. Although it could be argued that he's chaotic, I don't think he's exhibited any truly chaotic behavior. On the other hand, he has exhibited a strong concern for his own well-being. Case in point: poor Indel's being dissolved by slime, and Valerius' primary concern is his 10gp sword.

Ad 2, Frame 3
Grimslade is obviously the take-charge member of the group, exhibited here by his yellow-emphasized orders to Valerius. I can almost hear the fighter's deadpan delivery of: "I'll drag him from the room!" I'm sure it's delivered in the same tone my teenage sons use when they say, "I'll go clean up my room!" after being ordered to do so. In fact, Valerius is probably as concerned about Indel's fate versus that of his sword as my boys are over the cleanliness of their rooms versus their video games.

Ad 2, Frame 4
Oh, yeah - Grimslade is a badass! Here we see our second spell - presumably burning hands, since fire ball would likely roast them all at this range. Of course, that means that the DM is using not only the AD&D Monster Manual (see last post) but also the Player's Handbook, since burning hands doesn't exist in B/X. Obviously, Grimslade's a little tired of Valerius' tone, as we see that he barely gives the fighter time to get clear of the spell's area of effect before firing it off. (It never hurts to occasionally remind the meat-shields who's boss, either.)

Ad 2, Frame 5
And now we meet the fourth member of the party: Saren, the cleric. Maybe I've been rolling polyhedral dice far too long, but I can just see the back story here:

The adventure did not begin at the entrance to the dungeon, as I had earlier surmised. Instead, it began elsewhere - probably in a tavern or the like, or possibly at the entrance to "the ruins of Zenopus Castle" itself - and during subsequent adventuring, Saren's player's previous character met his/her ultimate fate. Of course, not being one to make the other players wait, the DM ruled that the remaining three players could continue the adventure while Saren's player rolled up a replacement character. Two encounters later (sounds about the right amount of play time to roll up a B/X cleric), Saren steps out of the shadows, spouting the hand-wavey "No questions now" line. How do the other characters know her? "You met her in the keep before heading out for Zenopus Castle," was probably the DM's equally hand-wavey answer. Yep, I bet that's just the way it went down...

Ad 2, Frame 6
This frame doesn't have a lot going on, aside from typically rigid player speech - oh, and our introduction to the powers of the cleric. Given the representation of Saren's powers versus that of Grimslade's powers, is it any wonder nobody ever wanted to play the party cleric back in the day? I don't know if the problem is a game problem that is perfectly rendered in this frame, or if it's a perception problem that was only exacerbated by it. Whatever the case, this frame pretty much says all you need to know about early D&D clerics. (Fortunately, Saren comes off as a somewhat-enigmatic, kinda-cool character, so it's not a total loss.)

Ad 2, Frame 7
Fast forward a few turns, and Indel's back up - and being ordered about by the increasingly commanding Grimslade. (Valerius' dwelling on the sword issue - which we see continuing here as the fighter lays claim to the magic sword - is probably grating on his nerves.) Of course, the real purpose of this frame is to introduce us to the post-encounter ritual of collecting cool loot and searching for secret doors...

Ad 2, Frame 8
...and discovering untriggered traps. This frame introduces us to the pit trap, but it also gives us the chance to see yet another unfortunate event befall the elf. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to wonder what's up with that character. Is he really that lacking in perceptive talent? Is his player a lousy die roller? Did his player piss off the DM? Whatever the reason for his misfortune, as I mentioned in comments elsewhere on this blog, I believe Indel to be a serious threat to the party. His continued need of being rescued means the party must endanger themselves and use valuable resources to do so. Were I playing Valerius, it'd be a safe bet that Indel would suffer from a fatal "accident" before too much longer.

Ad 2, Frame 9
And we conclude this ad with another cliffhanger, this one also involving - or perhaps caused by - Indel the unlucky elf. The DM's used the elf to lure the players into sending their characters ever deeper into his deathtrap - er, dungeon. Probably to a deeper level, where they will likely face challenges far beyond their abilities, and where - if they don't keep their wits focused to a razor-sharp edge - they will certainly perish.

Sounds like my kind of Dungeon Master!
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