Cross Tree Isometric

This weekend I jumped in on the early release of Symbol Set 6: Isometric Cities for Campaign Cartographer, with artwork by Mike Schley. I didn’t have much time to play around but managed at whip up first draft of an isometric version of my starting town of Cross Tree.

By design, Cross Tree is just a tiny outpost. I think this symbol set would really shine with producing larger city maps (I’ve already seen some from the community and they look fantastic). That said, it was fun to play around a bit and perhaps I’ll have more time to explore more over the holiday weekend. I hope you all have a great week. Cheers!

Odd Loot Items

Whether you run a heroic fantasy campaign or prefer something gritty and dark, it’s likely that your players will look forward to the moment when their foes finally drop. Early in the career of any adventuring party, PCs start rummaging through the belongs of fallen opponents in search of loot.

As a GM, it’s fun to watch your players get excited to discover what treasures they have found. However, it can be a bit of a slippery slope. Gold and gems can feel too mundane to be satisfying, while too many magical goodies can throw your game into an unpredictable state.

I like to keep my players on their toes with unusual items that they are not expecting. By sprinkling in occasional pieces of unique loot I’m often able to spark the imaginations of my players, while also creating a reason for them to buy into the story at large.

This week I have compiled a list of 25 different items that your party might discover while looking for loot. Hopefully you can drop some of these into your game. You may roll a d100 and let fate take its course or peruse through and see if something strikes your fancy.

A looted diary might contain all sorts of useful information. Art by © Sławek Mietła

01-04 Treasure Map: This is straightforward. The map can be for something you already have planned or you can wait to see if they ever pursue it. Either way, their foe was carrying a map that marked the way to some great treasure. Will they become treasure hunters?

05-08 Mag of Marbles: A simple bag of marbles. The question here becomes “what will the party do with them?” Enterprising adventurers might use them as simple baubles to trade with creatures they meat, or perhaps they throw them to the ground while making a desperate escape. It’s fun to see what they will come up with.

9-12 Love Letter: Somehow the villain your party just dispatched came into possession of a rather steamy love letter. Who was it from? Has the author or the intended recipient met their final fate or are they simply locked away somewhere? Will the party try to find out or will they simply move on?

Finding a wanted poster can lead a party off in another direction altogether. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

13-16 Wanted Poster: Rifling through the belongings of the fallen foe, the party discovers a wanted poster. The posted might feature a notorious villain, a “harmless” NPC that the party encountered a couple sessions ago, or even one of the PCs themselves.

17-20 Spyglass: If the system you’re using doesn’t happen to have specific rules for such an item, it’s easy enough to come up with something. Make it a worthwhile little trinket for your party.

21-24 Invitation: The party discovers an invitation for x number of people to a masquerade ball. There’s a lot you can do with this one. Perhaps the fallen opponent had been the invitee or perhaps they had simply come into possession of the invitation. Who is throwing the party? It could be the BBEG, an influential NPC, or perhaps the person who owns some MacGuffin that the party needs to acquire.

25-28 Key: An ornate key is found. There may be documentation included as to what the key unlocks, or not. The key might be useful in an upcoming adventure or perhaps it would give them access to unexplored areas that they had to pass by during a previous engagement. Alternatively, it may be a fragile skeleton key that would give them a percentage change to open any lock but likely break once used.

How did this lightly scented love letter end up in the hands of a villain? Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

29-32 Bag of Toys: The party discovers a bag of finely made handmade toys. While they might fetch a decent price on their own, the party might gift them to the child of a landed lord, to gain favor. Perhaps they give them to the local street urchins who will then thankfully be their eyes and ears in the city.

33-36 Diary: A carefully wrapped diary is found. Who did it belong to and what secrets does it hold? Does the party use it for blackmail, sell it to the highest bidder, or return it quietly to the rightful owner?

37-40 Bag of Bones: Is this just a grisly discovery or does it give the party some valuable insight into something? What type of creature are the bones from? Do they carry any value with local alchemists?

41-44 Peculiar Coins: The party has never seen coins like these. Possibly they are oddly shaped or forged from strange new metal. Perhaps they are stamped with the visage of some horrible abomination.

45-48 Mislabeled Potion: This is the only item on the list that is magical. It has magical properties; it just doesn’t do what it says it does.

49-52 Bag of Caltrops: It’s fun to watch what the party comes up with for these. If your system doesn’t happen to have specific rules for these, it’s easy to whip something up. Something like: “Covers a 5’ square area. Creatures not moving carefully through must save or take 1-2 damage and be immobilized for a turn.”

53-56 Troop Movements: The party finds documents detailing the upcoming troop movements in a local conflict. What will they do with this information? They might use it to sneak behind enemy lines, win the favor of a local lord, or sell to the highest bidder.

Intercepting these orders from a local conflict could allow the party to turn the tide. Art by © Sławek Mietła

57-60 Exotic Creature: The party discovers a small cage containing an exotic creature. Will it become a pet? Will the party sell it to a local noble? Does it simply become dinner?

61-64: Piece of Chalk: While perfectly mundane, I love seeing what my players will do with chalk. Are they marking subterranean passages with it, sharing with peasant children, or grinding it up into a fine powder?

65-68 Flamboyant Hat: Unbeknownst to the party, this foppish headpiece was recently stolen from a wealthy noble. Describe it as you wish. However, it will instantly be recognized in town if the party tries to sell it or wear it.

69-72 Fireworks: Party finds a bag of fireworks. This is another one where it’s just fun to sit back and see what the party finds to do with them.

73-76 Jar of Ink: This is a 1-quart jar of black ink, capable of making quite a mess. Let’s see what the party does with it.

77-80 Secret Map: This is a map of a local cave complex or building. However, all the secret entrances are labeled.

81-84 Important Missive: This piece of parchment details the most recent orders from someone. Perhaps it’s from your BBEG to one of his lieutenants. Alternately it could be from a guild leader taking action on one of their rivals.

85-88 Body: The party finds the remains of a somewhat famous person who was not known to be deceased. Will they go to the authorities, or would that risk them being blamed?

A looted tome containing lost knowledge. Art by © Sławek Mietła

89-92 Tome: This musty old tome contains lore about something specific within your world. It could pertain to history, geography, or politics. There’s no need to flesh out the whole book. Just allow your players a % chance to find a relevant bit of information if they spend time reading through the pages.

93-96 Mystery Box: This appears to be a simple wooden box with the dimensions being up to the GM. While a mundane item, characters taking time to really investigate it will discover a finely crafted hidden compartment.

97-100 Inheritance: This final one is a bit of an homage to the classic The Enemy Within campaign for WHFRP. The party finds a notarized document claiming that the bearer is entitled to a large inheritance. No need to take the Warhammer route here but it obviously creates some fun moral questions for the party.

That’s all for now. Do you have any bits of mundane loot that you’ve handed out to your players to spur their creativity or help develop your story? If so, please comment below. I would love to hear what has worked for you. Have a great weekend and good gaming!

Dwarven Outpost at Dhag Ladur

The dwarves of Khared Draz hold the Iron Mountains from Nur Badur in the south, all the way to the frosty Borean border in the north. This simple outpost found at the pass of Dhag Ladur is typical of watch posts found throughout the region.

  1. Entrance: Built into the side of the mountain, double doors reinforced with iron bands mark the entrance to the outpost. 2 sentries are always stationed at the entrance, while 2 others roam further afield.
Dwarven sentry at Dhag Ladur. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

  • Dormitory: 10 soldiers are stationed at the outpost during any given time. During each 2-week stint, this room is where they store their belongings and get their sleep. The furnishings are modest but sufficient.
  • Armory: Weapons are stored and cared for in this small room. A small forge is located on the southern wall and is vented to the outside.
  • Mess Hall: This spacious room is where you can find most of the dwarves when they are not on duty or asleep. Long benches run the length of the room and a fire is kept burning around the clock.
  • Kitchen: This isthe command center for the cook. Meals are prepared and ale is provided throughout the day for soldiers who are not on duty.
Smith making repairs. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

  • Tunnels: The tunnels can be accessed through a secret door located in the kitchen. The small cavern to the east house spare supplies and a well. In the event of an attack, the dwarves have the option of barring the entrance and retreating into the tunnels. The tunnel to the north twists around and leads to an alternate exit from the mountain.

Thanks for stopping by. This week’s map was made with Campaign Cartographer, using the “Annual Inked Dungeons” style. Hope you have a great week and manage to fit in some time to roll some dice. Good Gaming!

Lost Worlds Fantasy Combat Book Game

Earlier this week I wrote a post about vintage ads from the pages of Dragon Magazine. While taking that stroll down memory lane I came across one game in particular that had held a special place in my heart for a brief moment of time.

My original two game books

Designed by Alfred Leonardi and released by Nova Game Designs, Lost Worlds was a fantasy combat book game that debuted in 1983. Leonardi had already had a considerable hit with Ace of Aces, a WWI dogfighting game from 1980. Lost Worlds capitalized on the explosion of interest in fantasy games at the time and delivered a fun little diversion.

The game itself revolved around individual game books, with each game book representing a particular character. The characters themselves ranged from the fairly mundane “Man in Chainmail with Sword and Shield” or “Woman in Scale with Sword and Shield” to the more fantastical like “Skeleton with Scimitar and Shield” or “Giant Goblin with Mace and Shield.”.

Character Sheet

Each book contained a removable character sheet (listing various maneuvers that the character was capable of) depicted the character in various poses. Essentially a dueling game, the idea was that both players would come to the table with their own book and then fight it out until one was victorious.

At the start of play, you would remove your character sheet and then pass the booklet itself to your opponent. As the game commenced, you would turn to a pre-determined page in the book. The picture on the starting page would essentially give you a first-person view of your opponent’s character squaring off and ready to fight.

Looking at your character sheet, you would select the maneuver you wanted to carry out and them flip to the page with the corresponding number. Once both players were ready, they would exchange the number of their maneuvers, consult the matrix at the bottom of the page, and then proceed to the page that they were directed to.

Dragon magazine print ad ~1983.

Every time that you would turn to the results page you would be treated to a view of your opponent. If your attacks happened to land, you might see a damage amount and depending on the circumstances, you might be given specific text to read to your opponent (often limiting his/her actions for the next turn). The game would continue in this manner until one of the combatants lost all their body points and was knocked out of commission. Most fights would resolve in just a few minutes.

Skeleton takes a leg wound.

Early on, most of the game books were based on humanoid combatants of similar power levels. However, as years went on their ranks were joined by more monstrous characters like a unicorn, a drake, and even a manticore.

I played it in my teens, so I can’t provide a great deal of commentary on how balanced the system was. Certainly each book wasn’t of equal strength (but I don’t think you would want them to be). A skeleton fighting a hill troll would be in for a bad time. However, for the most part I seem to recall any two like-sized combatants having a decent chance of winning against the other.

Certainly other bits about the mechanics largely made sense. If I happened to do a wild swing maneuver at the same time that my opponent jumped back, there was a good chance that I would be spun around, leaving my back exposed to my opponent. Things like that were a nice touch and really made it feel like your choices were impacting the outcome of the game.

Here you can see the matrix at the bottom of the page.

I first encountered Lost Worlds at Gen Con in 1983. This was back when it was still being held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. Nova Game Designs ran a tournament that year for anyone purchasing a game book. Along with your game book you were given a badge depicting the character from the book that you had purchased. You were asked to wear your badge, allowing other convention goers to see you as you wandered the halls. Then, when you saw someone else with a badge, you could challenge them on the spot and fight it out.

Due to the brief play time, Lost Worlds wasn’t really something that a group would sit down and play for hours. However, I remember it fondly as something we would often break out on our regular game day, while we were waiting for the rest of our RPG group to arrive.

I lost track of the development of the game in the late 1980s, as real life started to pull me further away from the hobby. It appears that the game has ha many publishers and occasional resurgences over the years, though it has been ages since I’ve come across any mention of it.

That’s all for now. Did you ever experience these Lost Worlds game books, either back in the day or in a more recent incarnation? Hope you have a good weekend!

Vintage Ads From Dragon Magazine #55

Earlier in the week I was flipping through the pages of some old copies of Dragon magazine. I found that I really enjoyed reminiscing and perusing all of the old advertisements. At any rate, I thought some of you might enjoy taking a peek at these as well.

This batch is from Dragon #55 (November 1981). Perhaps these were before your time or perhaps you remember them better than I do. Either way, I hope you enjoy.

St. Regis Dungeons & Dragons Notebooks & Binders

These were entirely lost from my memory until I saw the ad. St. Regis must have acquired the D&D license from TSR (probably not terribly costly in 1981) and produced a line of notebooks, binders, and folders. I’m getting old but it feels like notebooks, binders, & folders were a bigger deal in the 1980s than they currently are.

I’m not sure how wide of a release these had but I suspect it was fairly minimal. I remember finding them at the bookstore in my Jr. High School and wishing I could buy the lot. As I recall, I ended up buying a folder and calling it a day. You do what you can when you’re 11.

I remember the artwork on all of these as being quite striking and I do not believe I ever saw the artist work on any official TSR products. Apparently these were done by a fellow named Alex Nuckols. If you’re curious to see more, a quick Google search will yield some results. In particular, I’d suggest checking out this post from Scrum in Miniature.

One final note on this one is to notice the mention of “Free 28 sheet pack of gamers graph paper!” Graph paper wasn’t that easy to find in 1981. I’m sure adults managed to track it down. However, to kids my age it was a prized commodity.

Full Page Iron Crown Enterprises Ad

Most products from Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) were out of my reach as a kid. Nobody stocked their line close to me and my meager allowance wouldn’t have been sufficient to delve into their products even if they did.

Since I’d love to hear from someone who knows better than I do, I’m not going to go into a great deal of research here. Instead I’ll stick with my recollection.

Spell Law is the main product advertised here. It was a generic magic system, built to plug into the RPG of your choice. The was preceded by Arms Law (Martial combat) and followed by Claw Law, which I believe dealt with beasts and such.

As I recall, much of this line was eventually rolled together to become Rolemaster, a percentile based fantasy ttrpg. Rolemaster was one of those games that was always around but never end up directly crossing my path. Looks like later iterations of the game are still available on DriveThruRPG.

Their product that I did spend some time with was Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP). At least loosely built on the Rolemaster system, I believe this was the first officially licensed ttrpg based on Tolkien’s works.

Dragonbone

Another item in the “blink and you would miss it” category was Dragonbone. This electronic dice roller was a plastic wand that allowed you to select your desired range (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, or d%). Once you made your selection you would be provided a randomized “roll” via a little red LED.

I will say that when I was 11, I may very well have had some Dragonbone envy. That said, I think they missed the fact that people really dig rolling dice.

I believe I saw them in real life at the Gen Con exhibitor hall, back when the convention was held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. However, I never saw one at the gaming table.

Closing

That’s all for now. Drop me a comment if I’ve left anything out of if you have a favorite product that’s largely lost to time.

A Classical Xanti Tomb Complex

In ancient Xanti, there is a common belief in reincarnation. Among the worshippers of the cult of Kaa, tradition dictates that wealthy nobles be buried along with their belongings, in elaborate tombs.

The tenets of their faith claims they will be reunited with their possessions in their next life. Whether this be truth or folly, only the gods know. However, woe to the dessert thief who tries to claim these riches for herself.

-Bhagiro Hatti, Gowandian Scholar

A Kosantian adventurer faces off with reanimated tomb guardians. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

1.    Entrance

The entrances to Xanti tombs are often built into the side of canyon walls. Purposely left open, as a welcome to the gods, they are occasionally sealed off with sand from blowing desert winds. It is believed that when a tomb is sealed off in such a manner that the inhabitants will be forsaken by their deities and lose their opportunity for everlasting life.

While not sealed, Xanti tombs are not without their protections. Necromancers place tomb guardians in the form of skeletal warriors at the entrance of the complex. This particular tomb holds 6 such guardians in niches to the left and right of the entrance.

Each armed with a khopesh, these skeletal figures will remain lifeless unless someone intrudes on the tomb. Once disturbed they will animate and seek to eliminate the threat.

2.    Dead End / Pit

This corridor halts at a dead end, with a 10’ deep pit. To the inexperienced, this may at first seem to be a very obvious trap. However, this is actually a very purposeful key to the tomb, placed by the architect.

Any who have studied ancient Xanti burial rights will know what this portends. This signals to any future caretakers that the safe pace through the tomb is to take the leftmost choice at any intersection.

3.    Offering Room

This room contains 4 ceremonial offering niches, where well-wishers could visit, prior to the tomb being sanctified. They would fill these niches with all manner of offerings for the departed, in a belief that this would curry favor for them in the next life.

In the center of the room a pool of water gives off an eldritch blue glow. The pool with radiate as magical if any with the ability to check for such things happens to do so. Exactly what its properties are is a secret lost to time. However, legends tell that supplicants leaving offerings would drink from the well to receive a boon from the gods.

The pictured tomb is that of a mid-level noblewoman. Of the present offerings, most are fairly mundane sundry items. There are sacks of old grain, olive oil, bottles of wine that have long since turned to vinegar, and bolts of linen. A close search will turn up a gold scarab pendant and a garnet ring that are both finely crafted.

4.    Shrine

This room is the shrine where priests of Kaa would give their final prayers for the departed. During these ceremonies, 4 earthen-ware vessels bearing cobras would be placed within the room as part of the invocation ritual. The reptiles are long since dead and likely nothing remains of them.

5.    Beetle Pit

Tomb beetle. Art by: gary@gdupuis.com
http://www.gdupuis.com/

This floor of this room is littered with a number of old bones. The opposite end of the room is dominated by a well that is 10’ in diameter. After crossing the threshold to this room, PCs will hear a skittering noise coming from the well. Within 2 rounds of this, 4 giant beetles will emerge from the hole and attack until slain.

If explored, the pit will be found to descend 30’, though there are numerous tunnels branching off in other directions. These other tunnels have been created by the beetles. They are not large enough to stand up in, susceptible to collapse, and parties unwise enough to venture into them should meet more beetles promptly.

6.    The Burial Chamber

This ornately decorated room is the burial chamber itself. The noblewoman’s sarcophagus dominates the center of this pillared room, while those of her 8 attendants line the northern, western, and southern walls.

These three walls are adorned with detailed paintings depicting scenes from the life of the departed. The eastern wall is reserved for images of what she hopes for in her new life.

7.    Fire Trap

Those foolish enough to cross the threshold from the burial chamber into this L-shaped hall will immediately hear an audible click. However, nothing else will happen at this time.

If anyone walks forward to the right-angle and then follows until the dead end, they will be in for a surprise. As soon more than 5 lbs. of weight is placed on the 5’ section of tile at the dead end, 7 gouts of flame with shoot out from holes on the right side of the wall.

The flames will persist until there is less than 5 lbs. of weight being applied to any of the 3 east-west floor tiles marked with flames on the map. However, after 4 rounds the mechanism will run out of fuel.

If specifically searching, perceptive characters may notice the small holes in the wall.

8.    Treasure Room

This room would contain the worldly treasures of the departed. While there would certainly be some coins and gemstones, other items dear to the individual would be here as well. Bolts of fine silk, oils, and incense would be common among such items. In addition, books of arcane knowledge might be stored here for safekeeping until the afterlife.

Final Notes

That wraps up another week. Again, this isn’t intended to be a full-on adventure but I thought perhaps that this might get the creative juices flowing for some of you. Please let me know if any of this sets your mind to wandering. Hopefully, instead of dreading the new work week that is quickly approaching, you’ll be able to let your thoughts drift a bit to future sessions around the gaming table. Good gaming and have a great week!