Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Setting Map Experiment

Here's a rough of the map for my cliche setting.  I haven't put down political boundries or the towns that act as the closest thing to capitals in the barbarian kingdoms to the North of the empire.  But it is the basic shape I was shooting for.  I may change it some.  For example, I may want to try making a political map showing the kingdoms and such.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My New Basic D&D Setting

Have any of you read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones?  I did years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is an encyclopedic list of fantasy tropes (read as cliches) written in a mock serious style that actually cuts the genre to the bone in a good way.  Here is an example:

Why do I bring this up?  Because my oldest son doesn't like playing in adventures I didn't create.  So I created a setting for Basic D&D for him to play in.  I can drop my own adventures into it (borrowing heavily from published adventures when my creativity fails.)  There is a problem though.  It is one giant cliche.  Did I say giant?  Pardon me for my imprecision.  It is one GINORMOUS cliche.  Seriously.  It hits many of the cliches mentioned in Tough Guide.

So, we have:

  • Fallen empire based on Ancient Rome.
  • Ruined cities, temples and forts.
  • Barbarian kingdoms founded by Northern (and Western) barbarians.
  • Rump empire consisting of the last remaining imperial city.
  • Invading Orcs (coming from the East.)  The humans call the area that the orcs have conquered "Orkland."  Original, huh?
  • Southern desert.
  • Elves, dwarves, halflings and other demi-humans.  (Actually, I do deviate from the cliches a bit here.  The playable races don't mingle much.  The halflings live in a secluded valley and are suspicious of outsiders.  The elves live in a deep forest and are suspicious of outsiders, etc. This is a concession to the boys.  I like human-centric settings but the boys want demi-humans.  In fact my youngest chose a halfling as his character.)

So, you get the idea.  Thing is I'm happy with this setting.  It's comfortable for me and the boys like the idea.  Now we just need to find time to actually play.

I'm working up a map for the campaign but I'm still trying to find the best way to get it out of my head.  When I do, I'll post it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Swords and Sorcery and Women and One of My Favorite Battles

How's that for a cumbersome title?

There have been many discussions about the role of women in sword & sorcery.  See here and here for examples.  It is not my intention to rehash the discussion here.  I want to relate the story of one of my favorite medieval battles and an example of a woman I think would fit perfectly into a sword and sorcery world.

The Battle of Dyrrhachium 1081

The Robert Guiscard, a Norman, had carved himself off a portion of land for himself in Italy including the last Byzantine foothold in Italy.  Looking for more, he turned his eyes East and using a rather lame pretext, invaded the Byzantine Empire.  He laid siege to Dyrrhachium, an important city on the est coast of Greece.  Alexius Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, marched forth to break the siege.  With him, amongst the other troops, was the Varangian Guard, an elite force of 1000 men made up of Rus and Scandinavians.

The two forces met outside of the city and a fierce battle ensued.  So, the two things that make this battle interesting to me are the Varangian Guard and Robert Guiscard's wife, Sikelgaita (or Gaita).

First, the Varangians.  These men were, essentially, Vikings.  They were mercenaries who served as the guard for the emperor.  They carried large axes, wore chain mail and had a ferocious reputation.  They were placed at the forefront of the battle and fought valiantly.  They stood their ground in the face of a mounted attack and repulsed it.  However, when the Norman right wing broke as a result, the Varangians joined the pursuit instead of holding their position.  By 1081, the composition of the Varangian Guard had changed.  It was now predominantly made up of Anglo-Saxon's displaced by the Norman conquest.  There were so many in the Guard that it was called the English Guard at times.  So it is understandable why they pursued and wanted to kill as many Normans as possible.

Robert's wife, Sikelgaita, was the the daughter of a Lombard noble.  She accompanied Robert on many of his campaigns.  She was fully armed and armored at Dyrrhachium and met the fleeing men on the beach and, through force of personality, rallied them.  The Normans counter attacked the now separated Varangians and caused them heavy casualties.  The remaining men of the guard took refuge in a church, which the Normans promptly burned down, killing all inside.  The Byzantines eventually broke, leaving the field in Norman hands and the siege unbroken.

I am fascinated by this battle because of the rematch of Norman and Anglo-Saxon and the fact that the battle turned out much as Hastings had, hard fought with an eventual Norman triumph.  I am also fascinated by Sikelgaita.  At the time of the battle she was in her early 40's and had borne 8 children for Robert.  She participated in the battle fully armored and armed as she probably did at other battles.  She definitely had strong leadership skills and a force of personality.  A capable hero in fact and would be for fiction.  And she is one of the first things that come to my mind when I think of women in sword & sorcery.

You can read Anna Comnena's account of the battle here.


Oh, I should've created stats for Sikelgaita.  So, here they are:


Attributes:  Strength 0, Agility 1, Mind 2, Appeal 1
Combat Abilities:  Brawl 0, Melee 1, Ranged 1, Defense 2
Careers:  Noble 2, Soldier 0, Poet 1
Boons:  Etiquette

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lothar Liro

Lothar Liro was born in Satarla to an prominent aristocratic family.  He was a mischievous child, always looking for adventure, often in trouble.  He grew up learning the way of honor and the sword.  As an adult, he tested his courage and skill in duels, several of them to the death.  This wasn't enough.  Also trained as a soldier he wanted the glory of battle.  The problem, though, was that he was living in a time of relative peace.

Thus, when a noble of Tyrus raised a private army to invade Valgard, he joined the expedition eagerly.  Lothar's connections and birth secured him a position as an officer.  Outfitted with the best equipment and several servants and slaves, he marched proudly forth.

The expedition was a fiasco from the start.  Though the aristocratic officers had brought plenty of supplies for themselves, not enough stores were laid in for the common soldiers.  The General prepared for neither the trip up the river through the steaming jungle nor the icy conditions of the pass through the Axos Mountains.  By the time they faced the Valgardians, the force was in a shambles.  The ragtag army was caught by surprise at the foot of a ridge.  The Valgardians poured down the slope like a wild tsunami.  The General tried to deploy his soldiers but was too slow.

Lothar watched the approaching horde with growing fear.  He had faced death before but this was something completely different.  His bowels turned to ice, his legs became weak and something snapped inside him.  He ran towards the rear.  Lothar knocked one of the few cavalrymen off of his mount and raced South.  He rode until the poor beast died of exhaustion and then walked until he collapsed.  When he awoke he was being cared for by some kindly villagers who lived far south of the battle.  He knew in his heart he had done the right thing but felt an overwhelming shame.  Even when he he heard that the expedition had been almost completely massacred, except those who survived to become sacrifices to the fierce Northern gods, he felt ashamed and worthless.  He began drinking heavily in an attempt to kill his pain.  It is not working.  He now wanders Lemuria under a nom de guerre working as a mercenary, his only friend a flask of strong wine.

Lothar Liro

Attributes:  Strength 1, Agility 1, Mind 1, Appeal 1
Combat Abilities:  Brawl 0, Melee 2, Ranged 0, Defense 2
Careers:  Noble 1, Hunter 1, Soldier 1, Mercenary 1
Boons:  Etiquette, Keen Eyesight
Flaws:  Drunkard
Languages:  Lemurian
Weapons:  Sword (d6+1), Dagger (d3+1)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hatin' on the Halflings

Hatin' on the Halflings
Dissin the Dwarfs
Effin the Elves

However you want to put it, I am getting more and more annoyed with demi-humans.  That's right, you heard me, Hobbits!

As the few of you who read this blog know, I am big into the Sword & Sorcery mode of RPG playing.  I love me some Barbarians of Lemuria both for the simplicity of the game itself and the S&S atmosphere it achieves.  Sword & Sorcery to me is human-centric.  Magic is unpredictable and powerful, drawn from sources 'man is not meant to know' and wielded by sorcerers corrupted by those powers.  Whatever nonhuman races there are are secluded, inbred and dying out if not extinct except for the specimen the hero is facing.  The world is fragmented and probably scavenging the bones of a fallen civilization.  You get the idea.  It can be pretty dark.

There have been several discussions about this subject scattered about the Internet.  (Here's one.  Here's another.)  One common response is to cite Elric as a counter-example.  He's an elf!  He uses powerful magic!  Which is true, but then again, he was specifically designed that way.  He was created as the antithesis Conan.

Which brings me back to demi-humans.  I guess it is me bringing my view of reality into fantasy.  It boils down to this:  Humans have never been capable of living in peace.  There are always disputes, fighting, wars and slaughter.  Sometimes over the smallest things.  If you add in things like scarce resources, cultural differences, appearance, religion and the plain desire for power you have a mound of bodies that stretch back into prehistory.  Now add in groups of humanoids that are utterly alien in appearance and outlook and you are asking for trouble.

I am sure there are novels and stories in which the various groups are at each other's throats.  You even see some of it in Tolkien with the antipathy that elves and dwarfs have for each other.  But often the relations are, at worst, uncomfortable.

So I prefer my fantasy to have demi-humans be rare or nonexistent.  Mysterious and probably antagonistic NPCs.

Down with the Demi-Humans!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Heroes of Hellas

Heroes of Hellas is out!  I've been waiting for this one.  The Barbarians of Lemuria rules set combined with Heroic Age Greece.  I can't wait to get this!

You can get it here.

You can see some of the art on the artist's blog here.  I really like the illustrations I've seen and am looking forward to seeing more.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Barbarians of Lemuria News

Barbarians of Lemuria: Mythic Edition news direct from Simon Washbourne.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


So, it's been a bit slow around here role playing-wise.  I think I mentioned that my son was really liking the rules for Hollow Earth Expedition and wanted to play.  I liked the idea but with our limited time and my even more limited prep time I didn't feel I could run it successfully.  There are only two games I feel comfortable running with little-to-no preparation.  The first is Basis D&D and its not suitable for what we wanted to play.  The second is Barbarians of Lemuria.  And that is much more appropriate when you use the Dicey Tales #1 for pulp goodness.  So I finally convinced him to make create a character.  I did this by promising a campaign based on not only HEX but also on the television program Primeval all of which will be infused with a certain amount of Cthulhu influence. 

He took to this right away.  When he created his character he made him a former soldier who had lied about his age in order to join the army when the U.S.A entered WWI.  My son has a tendency to choose the insanity flaw when creating BoL characters.  This time he came of with what I thought was a really cool explanation.  During a German trench raid the character saw his best friend enveloped in darkness and disappear.  Everyone else assumed the friend had been captured but the character knows differently.  His insanity is an intense paranoia based around the idea that monsters are real.

However, I am going to start the campaign in a very HEX way.  The character's last career is hobo.  This is due to the instability caused by the incident during the Great War.  Needing money, he accepts
a position with an eccentric professor as a guard/porter on an airship bound for a secret location near the North Pole.  Something goes horribly wrong and he awakens in a jungle with no memory of the accident.  Welcome to the Hollow Earth!

I think we're going to have fun!

Friday, June 7, 2013


I was rereading this post at Strange Stones blog (why rereading?  Because there is damn good stuff on the blog) and realized that the Venomous Pao had named the spaceship Archilochus.  I went into history mode and assumed he had named it after the 7th century B.C Greek poet/warrior.

I was wrong.  He had named it after the hummingbird.

However, that got me thinking it would be cool to stat him up.

Archilochus / Lifeblood 11 / Hero Points 5
Attributes: Strength 1 Agility 1 Mind 1 Appeal 1
Combat Abilities: Brawl 1 Melee 2 Ranged 0 Defense 1
Careers: Noble 0, Warrior 0, Poet* 2, Colonist 0
Boons: Artistic: Poetry, 
Languages: Ionic Greek
Equipment: Spear, dagger, shield, medium armor, writing equipment
*Poets weren't just writers and reciters of poetry.  They were also musicians.  Lyric poetry was performed accompanied by a lyre.

You can find more information about Archilochus here and here.

Monday, May 27, 2013


"Hello, my name is Mark and I'm an addict."

Seriously.  It's not pretty.

If you look over to the right you will see four items from my library.  I use LibraryThing for that display.  I enter mostly RPG items with some science fiction and fantasy books that have influenced my gaming or that I just plain love.  Yesterday I was adding new games that I have acquired over the last year or so or that I hadn't entered yet.  Then I looked at the total number I games that I have.  I have 92 games.


92!  And I actually haven't entered them all yet.  92!  How did that happen!  Yes, about half are in PDF form.  Yes some of them are supplements or modules and one or two are repeats but most are core rules.  But wow.

Sigh.  I'm told the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  So:

"Hello, my name is Mark and I'm an RPG addict."

Friday, May 24, 2013

More Sword and Sorcery Images

More S&S images that I have gleaned the web for your entertainment and amusement.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Og: Unearthed Edition

"You bang hairy food thing!" said Ug.
Uk shook his head.  "Hairy thing bang me!  Me food!"
Ug frowned.  "Go food!  Me bang you!"*

It's tough being a caveman.  Particularly when there are only 18 words in your entire language and you probably don't know all of them.  Welcome to the world of Og, a simple comedic caveman roleplaying game.  My son was perusing my game shelf, saw it, read it and we played a very brief session with it.

It uses a simple system that only requires one d6.  You choose your type of caveman:  Banging, Fast, Tough, etc.  There are four stats:  Attack, Ungggghh Points (hit points), Damage (done to others) and Dodge/Evade.  In addition to stats you have your Words.  You choose between four and eight words from the list of 18.  You get more if you are an Eloquent caveman.  Choose a few skills and you are off.

I played with just my son and it was fun and funny.  I think it would work better with more people though because the players can only communicate with each other using only the words their caveman knows.

Check it out if you want a fun game that probably work best as a filler.

"I'm hungry.  Go kill that elk!" said Ug
Uk shook his head.  "No way dude, that sabertooth will kill me and eat me!"
Ug frowned.  "Go kill the elk or I'll kick your ass from here til tomorrow!"

Ok.  Roughly translated.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gamer ADD

Like father like son.  My son has inherited my gamer ADD.  I didn't even know it was genetic.  He bounces from one system to another more quickly than I do.  Although I purchase a lot of game rules I still prefer a select few.  He looks at the mass on the bookshelf (I print out a lot of games and put them into binders) and wants to play them all.  He's actually stated that out loud.  Right now it's Hollow Earth Expedition (which I'm a little torqued at.  It's one of the few games I've have in hardback.  Had it for years.  It chooses now to cough up pages from both front and back).  We are watching the television show Primeval and I mentioned that HEX has dinosaurs in it and he was off to the bookshelf.

Yep, gamer ADD.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Urge to Travell

Pao at Strange Stones posted a group of characters he created for Traveller.  Our subsequent
conversation in the comments has made me want to break out my LLBs and roll up a few characters and play a few sessions.  Wonder if my son would be interested?

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Check out this post over at Heroes and Other Worlds.  Mr. Brandon discusses a Hercules comic series I had never heard of.  And it sounds very cool.  A grim sword & sorcery version of the hero.  I'll have to find this series and read it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Savage Worlds and Redshirts

Wow, I can't believe it's been a month since I posted anything.  Not much going on so not much to write.

I bought the Savage World Deluxe Explorer's Edition.  My son saw it and started reading it and liked it.  We had some practice combats and just last night I started running him through a programed adventure that I picked up for free from Dark City Games.  It's called the Sorcerer's Manor and so far we're having fun.  Dark City even has a conversion guide for their Legends of the Ancient World system (a Fantasy Trip clone) to Savage Worlds.  So if you like their other programed adventures but prefer Savage Worlds you can switch them over.

I am currently reading the novel Redshirts by John Scalzi.  For those of you who don't know, the novel is set in a pseudo-Star Trek universe.  It's about the titular redshirts, those poor, unfortunate, nearly anonymous crew members dressed in red who seem to die with disturbing frequency in the original series.  In the book, they start noticing the high mortality rate and try to figure out what the hell is going on while avoiding death.  I am finding it amusing and entertaining.  I also, as a result, want to play a Trek game.  I'm thinking of picking up Starships & Spacemen 2e or trying out Fenway5's Far Trek.  Not only do I like Mr. Brandon's other games but Far Trek has the added advantage that it is free.  I'd be open to other suggestions though as long as the cost was minimal.

Monday, February 25, 2013

InSpectres Movie

I've thought about getting the rpg InSpectres.  I've read reviews and such and it sounds interesting.  But what really surprised me is that they are apparently making or have made a movie based on the game.  The IMDb entry is here.  Maybe I'd better get it soon before it becomes a fad!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Barbarians of Lemuria Preferences

I'm curious, which version of BoL do you prefer?  The Legendary Edition, the Revised Edition, Legends of Steel version or even the free version?  And why?

I actually prefer a mixture of the versions.  I like the Lemuria setting that Mr. Washbourne presents but prefer the somewhat less exotic Legends of Steel setting.  Despite reading some of the original Thongor stories, I still have trouble imagining the heroes of the story riding lizards or birds.  My mind still steers me in the direction of the hero riding a snorting, rearing horse.  It might be fun to have an isolated culture be bird riders but not everyone!

I prefer the static armor values from the Revised Edition.  Although the variable armor values from the Legendary Edition may be more "realistic" I think the extra roll slows down the game just a bit.

On the other hand, I prefer the priest rules from the Legendary Edition.  In my mind, the mystical powers that the evil priests weilded in the stories were from studying sorcery or from pacts with the terrible creatures from the beyond.  So the evil priests need levels in the Sorcerer career to perform such magics.

How about you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

0e Reprints

So, Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the 0e White Box.  Unlike others, I am in no way excited about this.  I am young enough (hah!) to have started with Holmes Basic and then went on to AD&D.  I am now enamored with Moldvay Basic and, in a way, wish I had stuck with the Basic editions back in the olden days and never touched AD&D.  Loved it then, not so much now.

So, I never had, played or even heard of the three little books and supplements until years later.  (When I hear of three books I always think of Traveller's LBBs.)  Thus, no excitement here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

Heroes & Other Worlds: The Arrival

I was soooo excited!  I got a package from LULU!  I opened it with eager anticipation.  My wait was over.  Finally, my copy of Heroes & Other Worlds was here.  But wait.  What's this?  It's in Russian?  What the hell?  Not my copy of....  A book of Russian poetry?  In Russian?!?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

D&D Expert somewhere listened to me!  DrivethruRpg now has Cook Expert!

And for an excellent justification as to why a person should buy Basic and Expert, please see this post at the RetroRoleplaying blog.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kalgren Great Axe

Kalgren was born into the Axe clan of Valgard.  The clan eschews the famed Valgardian sword in favor of the single bit great axe.  Kalgren gained fame at the Battle of the Ice Flats where the Axe clan faced the combined warriors of four other clans.  After hours of battle the Axe clan's shield-wall broke.  The clansmen began to fall back in disorder but Kalgren stood.  He let loose with a mighty war cry and fought, weaving a wall of blood-flecked steel with his battle-axe.  He piled the bodies of his enemies around him.  His defense was so fierce that the enemies' advance halted as they pressed around him, striving to strike him down.  This respite allowed the men of the Axe clan to rally and counterattack.  The Axe clan carried the day.  They found 19 slain foe-men around Kalgren as well as the parts of many more.  As a battle prize, he took a gilt helm from the body of a dead chieftain.  Kalgren's name will live forever in sagas of the Valgard.

However bright his renown burned in the North, it was not enough for Kalgren.  He soon contracted a serious case of wanderlust.  The only cure was to set his feet on the paths leading to the southlands.  He went, determined to carve his name in the annals of the Southern kingdoms as he had the North.

Kalgren Greataxe

Attributes:  Strength 2, Agility 1, Mind 0, Appeal 1
Combat Abilities:  Brawl 1, Melee 2, Ranged 0, Defense 1
Careers:  Barbarian 2,  Hunter 0, Warrior 2, Healer 0
Boons: Quick Recovery, Axe Fighter
Flaws: Distrust of Sorcery
Lifeblood 12 Hero Points 5
Languages:  Valgardian
Protection:  Helm (1)
Weapons: Great Axe (d6+4), Dagger (d3+2)

Red Sonja Stats

Tim Brannan, the author of The Other Side blog, wrote a review of Barbarians of Lemuria and created some stats for Red Sonja.  You can find the review and stats here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Basic is Back! yesterday I commented on a post at Tim Brannon's The Other Side Blog that it would be nice if Wizards of the Coast would come out with a nice boxed reprint of the Moldvay Basic D&D.  Well, WotC hasn't done that yet but they DID re-release the Moldvay Basic and a whole bunch of other stuff in PDF.  It looks like they have stuff through 3.5 and a few 4e items.  How cool is that!?!  I don't see the Expert set yet but what is there is a start.  Oh, they have B1 "In Search of the Unknown" free for awhile.  You can find the stuff over at DTRPG.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I Must Be Doing Something Wrong...

So, two years ago I got my son the D&D Essentials Starter box for Christmas because he asked for it.  For some reason it took him about six months to mess with it at all.  I ran him though the player's pamphlet to create a character and he seemed to enjoy it.  Then nothing.  I heaved a sigh of relief because I didn't (and still don't) have any interest in D&D 4th Edition.  I had looked at the player's handbook for the regular edition several years ago and thought it was too damn complicated.

We went to Half-Price Books about three weeks ago and what does he see?  A copy of Heroes of the Fallen Lands, one of the player's handbooks for the Essentials line.  And he wants it and Mom says "Yes".  He devours the thing and starts creating characters left and right.

"Can we play?" he asks.

"Why don't we have a few practice fights to get a feeling for the combat system," I say.

He agrees and we pick out two characters.  He chooses a rogue and I pick a fighter.  He then proceeds to kick my butt.  Not once but three times!  I must be doing something wrong for a thief to beat a fighter three times in a row.  So I try to learn what the feats, powers and other things do.  Then we play again.

He still beats me but I do better this time.

I take the book one evening after he's gone to bed and try to make a character of my own.  I tried.  I really did.  I couldn't figure it out.  "I must be doing something wrong," I thought.  The next day I have him walk me through the character creation process.  Yes, my 12 year old son is teaching ME how to create a character.  I'm just a touch ashamed.  (And though there's no dice involved in creating the character, I still have an urge to say "roll up a character".)

When did role playing games become so complicated?  I've preferred rules-lite games since I got back into role playing as an adult.  A large portion of that is because I am a parent with a full time job.  I simply don't have the time or energy to delve into the arcane, minutia filled world of the rules-heavy games.  At least that's what I told myself.  Perhaps I've lost the ability to memorize these things the way I did when I was a kid.  The way my son can.  I told him half jokingly that my brain is more filled up than his is and that is why I can't keep the details of Essentials straight the way he can.

Then he asked for the other player's book Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms for Christmas.  And his Mom, being his Mom, has me pick it up.  I snagged the Rules Compendium at half off the cover price because I know he'll need/want that too.  I think D&D essentials is here to stay in my household.  At least for a while.  He mentioned 5th edition the other day and said that he had no interest in it because he's happy the Essentials.


And I didn't get a single role playing item for Christmas.  And I had some on my list.