I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

DCC #70 Jewels of the Carnifex (OSR adventure review)

Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex*, as the name indicates, is part of a long line of DCC adventures. As most OSR adventures it is roughly compatible with other OSR games (and, to some extent, other versions of D&D). Here is the blurb:

A Level 3 Adventure for DCC RPG

At the end of a forgotten back alley, in the weird and otherworldly marketplace of faiths known as the Bazaar of the Gods, stands the ruins of a forgotten chapel. Once the cult of the Carnifex was celebrated throughout the City of a Thousand Gates. But a band of holy warriors rose against the cult of executioners and torturers, casting down her signs and scattering her devotees to the winds. The fate of the cthonic goddess, and – more importantly – her fabled jewels remains a mystery…until this night.

Set amid the sprawling decadence of Punjar, Jewels of the Carnifex offers low-level adventurers a chance to plumb the mysteries beneath the city’s soiled streets, explore forgotten crypts lavished with weird artifacts, and – for the quick and daring – claim the lost Jewels of the Carnifex!

Lost In The Briars: 

BONUS ADVENTURE! This module also includes the bonus adventure Lost in the Briars, by Brendan LaSalle! It's an exciting romp through the woods — woods controlled by an evil treant intent on completing a diabolic ritual!

Why did I buy/read this? I've read a lot of good DCC RPG adventures, and then I've bought a lot more on sale, and then I've decided to read some of them on a whim. If you enjoy this review, I will review more adventures in the future.

This is a well written adventure. The flavor is top notch; it packs lots of awesome ideas in a small space.

The art is good as you would expect from DCC  modules (including art by OSR luminaires like Peter Mullen, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, Russ Nicholson, and Stefan Poag). It maintains consistent themes throughout the books, although it does include some "random" elements to keep things fresh.

Structurally, is is well designed; it has two competing factions (plus some "free agents"), neither being "the good guys" (even in a "Law vs. Chaos" environment), but both willing to parlay. Reminds me of REH's classic "Red Nails".

As a dungeon, it has multiple entries and enough paths to keep interesting, although it becomes a bit linear in the end. Both the traps and the enemies can be dealt with in multiple ways, which is obviously a plus.

It is worth mentioning that this is a "killer" dungeon, in the vein of Tomb of Horrors, full of deadly traps and powerful foes. I did not run it, but, by reading it, it seems incredibly difficult. I have a hard time seeing how even 6-10 3rd level characters can survive this; in fact, some will fall to their deaths before entering the dungeon itself if they roll badly. 

The dungeon's denizens are often ready to fight (although they've been there for decades) and, when parlaying, always planning to betray the PCs (which I don't particularly like, but makes sense within the adventure). Defeating them might be possible by playing the factions against each other, but even then it will be a challenge. Well, if you want a "hard" adventure, this is it. 

However, this is not exactly unfair; there are lots of treasures inside the dungeon (although find buyers will prove difficult). It is basically a "high stakes " expeditions - the PCs will probably die but the ones who survive will become rich.

Overall, I'd recommend this adventure for experienced players looking for a challenge. I'd say it might take a couple of sessions to complete (maybe 5-6 hour total?), since the PCs should be extremely careful in order to survive.

In addition, there is a "bonus adventure", unrelated to the first one. "Lost In The Briars" is a small but very cool adventure about fighting a corrupted treant in dangerous woods. It has some incredibly fun ideas (I love treants throwing snakes and bears against the PCs!), and I could see running this one in two or three hours.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Useful? Yes. I'd run both adventures.

Inspiring? Yes. Lots of awesome ideas and flavor; never pedestrian. The NPCs and story are really cool.

Bloated? The book is wordy. I'd prefer if the writing was a bit more focused and terse in the first part, but it is worth it for the flavor.

Tiresome? Not at all.

Clear? Yes. The writing is clear, the maps are good (and good looking).

In short: A couple of good DCC adventures if you're looking for them!

* By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Christmas in July - all my books on sale!

The Christmas in July Saleis DTRPG's biggest event in the year. Thousands of titles are included; most are 25% off.

This includes all of my titles. If you like this blog you'll certainly enjoy something from the list. 

I have a couple of 5e books, a neoclone (Dark Fantasy Basic), an OSR adventure (The Wretched Hive) and lots of (mostly systemless) "Dark Fantasy" mini-books.

The most impressive of the bunch is probably Teratogenicon, because of Rick Troula's art. As I've mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm planning a POD version soon. As soon it is available, I'll send a discount coupon for anyone who bought the digital version (make sure you're receiving e-mails form DTRPG!).

On the same subject... The Displaced comics, by Rick Troula, are also on sale. First one is PWYW!

Other than that, most of the site is on sale

Fifth edition stuff like Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts is also included (I own both in print; they are awesome).

Take a look and let me know what you find!

*These are all affiliate links - by purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Chainmail Print-on-Demand; Teratogenicon coming soon

The original Chainmail rules - the wargame that preceded Dungeons & Dragons - are now available in Print-on-Demand on DTRPG*. You can get them in physical format for $6.99.

Chainmail is not exactly a complete game IIRC, and I'd only buy it for curiosity (and study; there are a lot of "missing links" to be found in there). The gaps in the game, however, have been filled by clones, some available for free. Delving Deeper is really cool, although not 100% faithful to the original IIRC.

I wish they had OD&D (or my favorite, Moldvay's Basic), but this probably indicates that others are coming soon (both OD&D and Basic are included in the sale - see below!)

Well, I shouldn't complain. I'm having a hard time turning my own Teratogenicon into a POD version. Layout, formatting, and print choices are a lot to handle.

(BTW, Teratogenicon is currently part of the Christmas in July Sale - thousands of titles, up to 25% off, including all of my titles!)

The good news is: it's coming soon. We've decided to start with a softcover, standard color book. B&W probably wouldn't do it justice (although I do have some good-looking B&W POD books). If there is enough interest we might try other versions too... and hopefully other books in the future (I hope you like monsters ;) ).

*These are all affiliate links - by purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Monday, July 19, 2021

My champion (5e)

Since 5th edition is about eight years old, I'm guessing everyone has its own version of the Champion by now. Here's mine.

The idea is not doing a complete overhaul; just the minimum changes necessary to make it closer to the Battlemaster in damage output (and give it some out of combat utility), without adding much complexity, so the the Champion remains the "simple fighter". 

I think a couple of small changes at levels 3 and 7 might be enough. This is because Improved Critical and Remarkable Athlete are especially weak; if we fix them early on, we fix the entire subclass.

Of course if you already like the champion as written, you can use the original version. As always, I advise making all house rules optional.

If you like this, I might do the barbarian (berserker) and ranger (hunter) next. Currently, I'm only interested in the SRD... The beastmaster ranger would take more rewriting. I'm not sure the other SRD classes need additional boosts; maybe the assassin. The warlock an the sorcerer I find a bit lackluster and redundant with wizard, but, well, they are good enough I guess. Paladin, wizard, cleric, druid, rogue, are all more or less balanced IMO (if anything, maybe fighters and barbariasn need a bigger boost to compete with them).


Improved Critical

Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, your weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20. In addition, whenever you score a critical hit with a weapon attack, you add your proficiency bonus to your damage.

Skilled Athlete

At 3rd level, you can choose Acrobatics or Athletics as a new skill. If you're already proficient in the skill you choose, your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make using this skill.

Remarkable Athlete

Starting at 7th level, you can add half your proficiency bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check you make that doesn’t already use your proficiency bonus, and also to the damage you deal with an weapon attack

In addition, when you make a running long jump, the distance you can cover increases by a number of feet equal to your Strength modifier.


So, now the Champion can be awesome at grappling (or at least escaping from a grapple) and deal decent damage throughout his career.

The boost is STILL not enough to outshine the Battlemaster, but it makes both Improved Critical and Remarkable Athlete good features. 

Giving the entire proficiency bonus to damage at level 3 would work too, although I'm a bit concerned that in this case everyone would take three levels in fighter just for that (and action surge, etc.). There might be some other balance issue here (maybe with multi-classing), but I don't see it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Wrath of the Immortals is FREE!

I don't know how this one slipped under my radar, but as I write this, you can get Wrath of the Immortals* for free on DTRPG!

This is the "Immortal" part of BECMI; the piece missing from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, one of my favorite D&D books ever. From Wikipedia:

The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia was first published in 1991, compiling and revising the major rules from the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, Expert Rules, Companion Rules, and Master Rules boxed sets.[1] Instead of also adding the major rules from the Immortals Rules box set to the Rules Cyclopedia, TSR published a separate product in 1992: Wrath of the Immortals.[2]

Here is the blurb:

Immortals. Warriors of the outer planes…

Wrath of the Immortals unveils untold secrets of how to create and role-play Immortals in the World of Mystara and other dimensions. The frightening power of the Immortals, their strange worlds, and their secret alliances are revealed at last, but is it in time?

And then, the final confrontation! In the name of the Immortals, the two greatest empires of the Known World clash in a brutal war. The world has gone mad… will both disappear from the face of the earth? Wrath of the Immortals' amazing saga takes heroes on a six-year quest, with adventures from the apprentice to the highest level of the game.

  • Create new worlds, wondrous artifacts, and entire new races!
  • Complete rules to create and role-play PC and NPC immortals.
  • Details a host of awe-inspiring Immortals in the Known World, the HOLLOW WORLD, and the outer planes.
  • Reveals all on the mysterious Pandius, City of the Immortals.
  • Contains a 128-page referee's guide with Immortal-level spells, abilities, character classes, and monsters.
  • a 96-page campaign saga covering the entire war.
  • two new, updated poster-sized maps of the Known World and the empires.

The supra-natural beings march, and the world trembles before their colossal power. The world will never be the same!

*By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

A (minimalist) d20 hexcrawl... and dungeoncrawl

I ran a couple of D&D 5e campaigns (Curse of Strahd, Tomb of Annihilation) which were basically hexcrawls (although neither were particularly good as hexcrawls).

One thing that bothered me was the amount of dice rolling I had to do whenever the players moved around. Scouting, getting lost, encounters, weather. etc. Also, there were no particular rules on how the encounter happens - what's the distance? Can one party hide from the other? etc.

I wanted to reduce the thing to one single roll (or, at least, fewer rolls).

Anyway, here is the minimalist d20 hexcrawl. Written for 5e D&D, Dark Fantasy Basic, or any other version if you adjust the numbers.


First, the chance of encounters is baked in the d20. So, if the chance is one in 5, an encounter happens if you roll 5, 10, 15 or 20. One in six, and it happens on 6, 12, 18. One is three, and it happens on a 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18. And so on. Not perfect, but really close.

(Notice that, in some cases, you could add another layer here; for example, you could have 1-in-4 chances of encounters and 1-in-3 chances of bad weather; if you roll 12, you get both; but that will occasionally create strange results if you don't change the numbers a bit).

Now, roll you also use this d20 to make a Survival (or Perception etc.) check for whoever is leading the party. The DC is 15, or more for a place that is hard to navigate (desert, fog, thick woods, etc.).

Fail, and something bad happens (you get lost, surprised, delayed, trapped, exhausted, distracted, tracked, etc.). You can add some critical failures on margins of 5+ (or a natural 1; see below).

Succeed, and you're in the right path. If you get 20 or more, you also get a perk. 25+, two perks, and so on. Some examples:

- Perceive a foe before it can see you.
- Find food.
- Find valuables.
- Find a secret passage or shortcut.
- Move 50% faster.
- Etc.

If more than one perk would be appropriate, the PCs get to choose.

Let's take Curse of Strahd as an example. Start with a roll every couple of hours (test Perception the roads, Survival in the woods, Insight in the castle or temple). You have a 1-in-5 chance of encounters (1-in-4 at night or in the woods, 1-in-3 if both). Fail in the woods, you get lost or surprised. Fail in the roads an you get ambushed (if there is an encounter) or... nothing. Walking through a road should be easy if there is no encounter.

I'd probably make something nasty/awesome for natural 1 or 20. No matter how skilled you are, exploration will often be dangerous... or rewarding.

You could get lost inside Castle Ravenloft, for example ("Was this room here before"?), giving the whole thing a nightmarish twist. Or let Strahd appear on the road for some hit and run on a Natural 1, if appropriate. Or a giant goat, Roc, etc. (see Curse of Strahd).

Notice you can use the same reasoning for dungeons, mazes (use Insight), caves, etc. You can replace rolling for encounters, treasure, and surprise with a single roll.

Of course, if you want everybody to roll, they can roll with disadvantage, etc. Say, the party gets ambushed, but with a good roll some PCs can avoid surprise.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Minimalist D&D XII - twelve classes; what are your favorite features?

Here is the previous post.

And here are the twelve classes of the SRD and what features I'd keep. I find almost everything else a bit uninspiring or too detailed.

Consider that: everyone has access to all weapons and armor and all saving throws.


Fighter: Second wind, action surge; I'd add simplified battlemaster maneuvers.
Barbarian: Rage, reckless attack, maybe unarmored defense and brutal critical.
Paladin: Divine smite, aura of protection.
Ranger: Probably just favored enemy (with foe slayer). Terrain stuff should be folded into skills (or druid).
Monk: Probably some ki, martial arts, stunning strike, quivering palm, deflect missiles, movement... lot's of cool stuff here. I'm is not my favorite class at all. Just a class with many good bits that I can't seem to turn into a simple thing.


Wizard: just spells. Some signature spells.
Warlock: mostly Eldritch blast. Dark One’s Blessing is cool, I'll admit. Patrons should be NPCs instead and you can change allegiances if necessary!
Sorcerer: Metamagic.
Cleric: turn undead, divine intervention.
Druid: wild shape is a bit complex, but I guess I need to keep this one. Or it could be a spell.
Bard: bardic inspiration.


Rogue: sneak attack and some skill stuff.

Things to remove:
- Spells, or features that allow you to cast spells, or that empower spells, etc.
- I'm sorely tempted to cut spell lists entirely, but choosing a spell would become a nightmare. Not sure.
- Advantage and bonuses to skill or saves.
- I'm half convinced that rangers and druids are just specialized fighters and clerics. Clerics are wisdom casters (so maybe druids should go here?); wizards/warlocks/sorcerers are incredibly redundant.

And here is my question: did I miss anything?

Is there a feature in any of the classes that you find awesome/iconic and that I haven't added here?

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

A Groats-worth of Grotesques - a baroque OSR bestiary

I've got a review copy of A Groats-worth of Grotesques* from G. Edward Patterson III, one of the alpha readers for my Teratogenicon book. He gave me valuable advice on my book, and I'm not sure I am completely unbiased (so this is not exactly a review), but this book looks very interesting.

In short, this is an OSR bestiary, or a "baroque bestiary" as the author call it. 

Here is the blurb:

Being a SYSTEM-AGNOSTIC Role Playing supplemental treatise ON MONSTERS; which is to say a BESTIARY for your Tabletop Games of Fantasy. Styled in the manner of the Baroque Period; a Curiosity Cabinet of Creatures for enlivening the table!

The over 100 entries were gathered out of sundy authors, philosophers, physicians, and poets; sacred and profane. The illustrations are collages of diverse prints and emblems. From the lowly ant to the earth shattering Behemoth, the mundane dog to the alien Ch M G, this collection is a rollicking gambol through history and myth. 
This style of language in used throughout the book. It reads like an "in universe" (or diegetic) bestiary, with no separation between "ordinary" and magical beasts; it has ants (who makes friends and enemies out of other insects), crocodiles (that impale people on their thorny backs), dragons, golems, aliens, and even a haunted umbrella (pictured in the cover) listed by alphabetical order. 

I really like this idea; there is no reason why ants in Elfland should be identical to earthly ones, and "in universe" writing is always good for inspiration.

It also has entries for fighters, magi, clerics, etc., with various orders, philosophies and so on.

It doesn't include many "typical" D&D creatures like elves and ogres. Instead, it focuses on the bizarre.

Here is a typical page:

The art is old public domain stuff of the same quality you see above. Every monster is illustrated. The sidebars are full of small details and ideas about the monsters. The book contains a fully hyperlinked Table of Contents. It also contain a rules appendix with many ideas on large monsters, swarms, grappling, etc.

I think this would make a good bestiary for "genuine" medieval campaigns, inspired by Arthurian legend and medieval myth rather than Tolkien and Vance (it reminds me of Ars Magica*, for example) or to add some new, strange creatures to your D&D/OSR games. 

Check the previews on DTRPG* to see for yourself!

*By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

The Crawling Titans (of Stone or Flesh?)

Are the Crawling Titans the sons of deities or demons? Are they immensely powerful, or tragically cursed? Are they made of stone or flesh? About that last one, we can speculate.

The two main theories are the Postulate of Flesh and The Postulate of Stone, although many sages believe in some intermediate version. 

The Postulate of Stone, seeing that the Titans are big as mountains, and that their skin is gray and rough, believes that Titans are some kind of earth elementals made of stone.
The Postulate of Flesh, however, noticing that stone doesn't move, defends the idea that they must be some kind of animal, like the great megalephants of old. 

The Postulate of Stone counters by saying their movements are slow - more like sluggish turtles (or even glaciers) than elephants. Surely their immense weight is not caused by mere flesh. 

But the Postulate of Flesh notices that the smallest animals are the most resistant against the pull of the ground. Cats can fall from great heights unscathed; insects are impervious to falls one thousand times their size. But push a cow on its size, and it is likely to die. Extrapolate this to Titans, and you'll easily see their legs couldn't handle their own weight in flesh, which is why they have to crawl around in glacial pace.

Of course, there are also those who say Titans are sick, cursed, or mortally wounded after a battle with the Empyreans. But rumors and stories are meant for peasants and fools. We, Men of knowledge, should only use reason and evidence to see the world for what it is.

The Postulate of Stone notices that the Titans skin seems to erode, like rock. If they are made of flesh, their fallen noses and fingers should spurt rivers of blood. But the Postulate of Flesh suggests that maybe Titans have and outer layer of rough, dry skin, with flesh underneath - which explains why they sometimes stop to drink lakes and eat cows. The Postulate of Stone notices that the lack of excrement proves they have no internal organs, but them again they eat so little for their size that their innards might have stop working (like it sometimes happen with starved people), which is why they seem to be dying, but them they turn to mountains (which benefits the advocates of Stone), and so on, "ad infinitum". 

Maybe the discussion will never end until we see the Titans up close. But who would dare such feat? An unexpected move would surely kill a man instantly. The riders of the great steppes of the East are said to climb and ride titans like they were immense boats, sometimes using hundreds of slain animals to attract them, sometimes trying to predict their movements, and sometimes just hoping that the Titan's hunger will lead the sailors to greener pastures.

We, men of science, however, value our life more than those reckless barbarians, so we have nothing but scrolls and stories to guide us, until one them comes crawling blindly over our cities, and reduce all our libraries and towers to rubble.