Buried Treasures: Hellpits of Nightfang

If I was going to give a new Dungeon Master of any edition of D&D, yes even 4th edition, a module to say “hey, here’s how it is done” I have to admit it wouldn’t be from TSR. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a D&D module but a Runequest one. I’d hand him Hellpits of Nightfang by Paul Jaquays and published by The Judges Guild. Fortunately it is available as a PDF for under $3.


Hellpits of Nightfang details a three limestone sinkholes as well as the caves and tombs attached to them. The pits are the home of a pair of vampires, a pack of wolves and other assorted creatures. It has fifteen numbered locations. They are all named as well for added character. While the entire module is thirty-six pages long much of that is white spaced with lines for notes. Major characters (the two vampires and one wolf) each take about a page for stat blocks with note space while minor creatures run as many as five to a page. A very brief history of the two vampires as well as a hero’s tomb in the sinkholes is provided.

What makes Hellpits of Nightfang an ideal model for a new Dungeon Master? First, it is a quintessential location adventure. It has absolutely no plot. In fact, I can summarize the entire background in four sentences. Nightfang is a vampire so old his real name is forgotten even by local villagers. In life he was a priest of a death cult and sacrifices his victims to his god meaning he rarely creates vampires. The one exception was the ugly daughter of a local farmer he has turned and who is now his companion. The sinkholes also include the tomb of a local hero that floods now that the climate is wetter. That’s it. The only mention of anything beyond the pits is a local populace including at one farmer now short an ugly daughter. It is a prime example of creating something and let the player’s action define the story.

Second, Jaquays uses a standard format used previously in Snakepipe Hollow. It creates a much more open feeling than many TSR modules from the same time period. It demonstrates the difference between designed set pieces and more dynamic locations. While some might object to the amount of detail of this key format for a beginner I think adopting this format would be a huge help. It is a prime example of expert created rules that might stifle experts forced to use them but that provide a marked advantage for beginners.

Finally, the adventure has some interesting set pieces. Without giving too much away Nightfang has some interesting items and ways of using them you might not consider. The flooded tomb has a very interesting pool. There are also some interesting traps of a type I’ve yet to see in many OSR discussions.

All in all, this is an excellent adventure. While a classic location adventure it provides a lot of contrast to many modules. It is small enough to wrap your head around the whole thing and see how it is put together. I think it is an excellent first adventures for a new dungeon master, especially of the old school.

Robert Dubois of Dream Pod 9 Follows Up

First, before we get to the content of his reply let me publicly thank Mr. Dubois for taking the time to respond.

Second, let me appologize to him for letting this post sit for weeks.

Now, his response:

We talked it over at the office and will be correcting the price of a few of the titles next week (after the GM’s Day Sale ends) mainly a few of the older books that are priced at 70% off the printed book price they will be reduced to 50% off, for Tribe 8 its only the 2nd edition players handbook that will see the price decease. Our newer books for Heavy Gear Blitz will maintain their current pricing. I read the post you linked below and can understand peoples point of view, we have to live with piracy and we still have to pay all the writers, artists, sculptors, and production staff that work on the products, be they printed books or eBooks. One thing we came up with at the office was the idea of making bundles the eBooks for each gameline and selling them for a special additional 25% off discounted price for people that want to pickup the entire gameline at once. We’ll be putting those bundles up next week after the sale ends. Let me know your comments about our plans.

I’m glad to see they are looking at it. I’m disappointed that are doing so little. As I said in my original post I understand the issues with PDFs of books currently in print. However for PDFs of out of print books different rules apply.

As for having to pay his staff: if five plus years out of print books aren’t amortized off they never will be. If he is depending on PDFs above reasonable price points to fund future projects he also has problems.

The simple fact is, as is proved by a post over at RPG Blog 2 about The Cortex System PDF being over priced, there is a ceiling to PDF prices. If you can’t get under it I would say don’t bother being in the market.

Dream Pod 9 has ceded my business to the used market as has White Wolf. Perhaps I’m unique but I doubt I am. In a business with razor think margins pushing customers to the used market or piracy is not a smart long term strategy.

Monday Pointers: March 23, 2010 Edition

D4:Customizing 4E – “Old School”
MJ Hanish at Gaming Brouhahah has some notes on optional rules from the Fourth Edition’s Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 and some campaign restrictions to get a more old school feel out of the current WotC game sold under the D&D banner. He includes core ideas and then some specific recommendations for a Moldavy/Cook or AD&D game. With a lot of people who have never played the older editions and the upcoming new red box knowing how to adapt fourth to our style is worth investigating. If you disagree, try MJ’s last paragraph.

D6:Raggi gives the perfect standard for OSR membership
Playing one of these games is pretty much the only requirement to be “one of us.” No matter where you came from, what you did before, doesn’t even matter if it’s your favorite sort of game. You play the game in good faith, you’re one of us, and fuck anyone who tries to impose greater “membership requirements” than that.

D8:Feeling Old School
A interesting thread on RPG.net requesting descriptions of old school games other than D&D. With some specific requests. Head on over and share your knowledge.

D10:Musings on Sandbox Campaigns
Bat in the Attic has some interesting points about running a sandbox campaign. I think the second is the most missed point about sandboxes. They exist without the player characters and the GM should have an idea of what is happening outside of what the PCs do. Then, if the PCs run into those plans by NPCs you get plot.

D12:Realms and Remembrance
Having gotten a great response to his Secret Origins post of inside facts about the original Marvel Superheroes RPG Jeff Grubb decided to follow with one about the early publishing history of the Forgotten Realms.

D13:Red Box Bryan College Station
Bringing out the D13 to toot my own horn again, I’m working to start a monthly BECMI game inspired by Red Box New York, Red Box Vancouver, and Red Box Calgary. I’ll also be using Meetup to promote. Expect a longer post on my Red Box Network idea later this week (or not…we all know me).

D20:How the Red Moon Came to Glorantha
I found Greg Stafford’s personal site recently and it has some interesting articles. This one, on the genesis of White Bear, Red Moon was a revalation. As someone who learned of Glorantha from gaming it was odd to find out the part of the world that has dominated, almost to the exclusions of all others, wasn’t originally conceived as part of that world. This only reinforces the drive to create “My Glorantha”.

D100:Speaking of the Mythmaker
Allen Varney, in his rotating spot in the High Adventure column at The Escapist profiled Greg Stafford. In light of my mission statement/subtitle here I have to share this quote:
Roleplaying is one way for us to stimulate that mystery sense. Furthermore, its tropes activate all kinds of deeper curiosity and let us exercise both beneficial and gruesome fantasies that lie dormant in us. Choose anything from great heroics to serial murders – what greater opportunities do geeks like us have than to seek these while sitting at a table of friends? Are we heroes as a result? Nah, course not. But we are friends with shared thoughts, and that is good for the soul. And when we romp through those tropes, something deep inside is exercised – the mystery stirs.

So, we start another week. Last week was my best ever in terms of numbers. While I think the fact that I posted five days running might have something to do with it I have to bow to the reality that my TARGA posts got the numbers. Still, to new readers welcome aboard. I hope you find my material interesting to enough to stay. And that Miss Manners post is still getting hits.

Runequest Appendix N

I just noticed something last night. I was thinking about posting the Runequest reading list from the appendices. As soon as I sat down I noticed that it is N. Bibliography. That’s right, RQ maintained the tradition of putting reading material in Appendix N. For general interest and comparison here it is.

[Appendix] N. Bibliography

Bibby, George. 4000 Years Ago – check your library for other titles as well; anything by Bibby is recommended.

Byfield, Barbarbara N. The Book of Weird (formerly The Glass Harmonica) – a delightfully-written and illustrated encyclopedia of things fantastical.

Coles, John. Archeology by Experiment – excellent description of the practical side of archeology, easily relatable to FRP games.

Conally, Peter. The Greek Armies, The Roman Army, and Enemies of Rome – three educational picture books of incredible detail and content.

Draeger, Donn F. and Smith, Robert W. Asian Fighting Arts – an excellent survey of what it really takes to master a weapon.

Foote, Peter(ed.) The Saga of Grettir the Strong – on version of the making of a hero, direct from the Age of Heroes of Iceland.

Funcken, Lillane and Fred. Arms and Uniforms: Ancient Egypt to the 18th Century – first-class illustrated book of historical costumes and weapons.

Howard, Robert E. Conan (and others) – the archetypical noble and savage barbarian written with muscle and guts; his notes have been finished with less gusto by other writers as well.

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle – the descriptions in this book are a must for anyone wanting to know some truth in grisly detail about ancient and medieval warfare.

Leiber, Fritz. Swords in the Mist (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy; the stories about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are classics.

Magnusson, Magnus (ed.). Njal’s Saga – an excellent look at a Dark Ages culture, and some rousing fighting besides.

Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur – more information on heroic actions, though of a limited cult. Useful too for inspiration on possible event for FRP.

Moorcock, Michael. Elric (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy.

Smith, Clark Ashton. Hyperborea (and others) – more standards of fantasy fiction, which everyone should at least taste.

Stone, George Cameron. A Glossary of the Constuction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor – heavy emphasis on Japanese fighting gear, but worth it anyway.

Sturlasson, Snorri. King Harald’s Saga – a superb epic tale by Iceland’s most famous saga writer, proving you do not need fantasy to create a legend.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Lord of the Rings – a modern fantasy classic. Tolkien is rightfully accorded as the Master of fantasy, and if you have not yet read LotR, please do yourself a favor. Of his other works, see also The Silmarilion – notes of the Master compiled posthumously by his son, Christopher. These are a chronicle of the earlier ages of Middle Earth.

Chivalry & Sorcery; Bunnies & Burrows; Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo; Starships & Spacemen – all from Fantasy Games Unlimited, PO Box 182, Roslyn NY 11576.

Empire of the Petal Throne; Knights of the Round Table; Space Patrol; Superhero 2044 – all from Gamescience (Lou Zocchi & Associates), 1956 Pass Rd., Gulfport MS 39501.

Advanced D&D; Dungeons & Dragons; Gamma World; Metamorphosis Alpha; Star Probe; Star Empires – all from TSR Hobbies, Inc., PO Box 756, Lake Geneva WI 53147.

Bushido; Space Quest – Tyr Gamemakers Ltd., PO Box 414, Arlington VA 22210.

The Fantasy Trip (included Wizard and Melee) – Metagaming, PO Box 15346, Austin TX 78761.

Tunnels & Trolls; Monsters! Monsters!; Starfaring – all from Flying Buffal, Inc., PO Box 1467, Scottsdale AZ 85252.

Traveller; En Garde! – Game Designers’ Workshop, 203 North St., Normal IL 61761.

Legacy – Legacy Press, 217 Harmon Rd., Camden MI 49232.

Arduin Grimoire; Welcome to Skull Tower; Runes of Doom – all from James E. Mathis, 2428 Ellsworth (102), Berkeley CA 94704.

Star Trek – Heritage Models, Inc., 9840 Monroe Dr. (Bldg. 106), Dallas TX 75220.

The Society for Creative Anachronism. Write to Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc., Office of the Registry, PO Box 594, Concord, Calif. 94522

Write for prices to Lou Zocchi & Associates, 1956 Pass Rd. Gulfport MS 39501,or see you local hobby or game store.


When contrasting it to the DMG the following stand out:

  • The presence of a lot of non-fiction.
  • The fiction on this list is present on the DMG.
  • The addition of commentary
  • That this list is specific works for all authors
  • The pointers to other games (more about this below)
  • The presence of DIY history in two places
  • The presence of non-modern texts in the form of sagas.

The presence of other games I think is very telling for two reasons. One, it indicates this work is a product of a period when the hobby was one of associates and friends not rival businesses becoming an industry. Second, it provides a context not only for the stories the designers wanted to tell but the games they knew. It is an interesting addition to the context of the game looking back 30 years later.

Names on a Map

One of the more interesting things in looking back at Runequest 2 (RQ) (the Chaosium version, not the new Mongoose one) is how much difference 30 years have made in what is considered a setting. When it was published RQ was considered unique in that it was specific to a setting. While Empire of the Petal Throne predates it for some reason the fact that it had a setting hadn’t registered. I suspect that as TSR’s other RPG it wasn’t considered a major player. Another might be the tight relationship between the system, especially the magic system, and the world. Regardless of why, RQ was seen as a breakthrough game in this respect, as well as others.

From the time I got my first copy of RQ I have been enamored of that world, Glorantha. For someone whose fantasy exposure was Tolkien, Narina, Earthsea, and D&D up until that time it was a revelation. I had always been interested in the ancient world, especially Sumer, and here was an RPG that embraced the Bronze age over the Iron age. Here was a world where gods and myths were an integral part of playing instead of at best a nudge to behave good to get your cure spells. Finally, here was a game that was about going places and doing things instead of looting dungeons.

When I fast forward twenty-five years from that first copy of RQ it’s amazing how different it is. At that point I found a used copy of RQ2 at my FLGS and I bought it. I had the Avalon Hill edition by that point as well as all the Avalon Hill supplements. I’d never had the originals from Chaosium due to lack of money and lack of interest among people I played with. In fact, the only RQ I got to play more than one shots was a Harn game. Getting that copy of RQ2 blew my mind. Maybe three pages of strictly setting material are in the book. There are about another 10 or 15 integrated in the rules in the form of cults, the prior experience appendix, and two maps.

As I prepare for my Big Rubble centered game starting Monday it is those maps that are interesting. On facing pages in the appendices the left/west one covers Dragon Pass and parts of Tarsh, Estrola, and The Holy Country. The right/east one covers Prax and the southern Shadow Dance mountains. Pavis is at the east side of Prax along the River of Cradles which marks its eastern boundary (or not). There are some great place names on the map. Beyond Pavis are five other cities: Laca, Adari, Castle of Lead, Barbarian Town, and Corflu. There are five marked ruins beyond The Big Rubble: Hender’s Ruins, Monkey Ruins, Old, and Winter Ruins. Five named oasises are on the map. Ten named regions are listed. The length of the gazetter for this map is zero. There isn’t one. These maps were included without any explanation.

If you go through the text you have some hints. Pavis Outside the Walls is settled in 1575 according to the one page timeline in the introduction. The map merely lists Pavis so what that means the entry means is open to interpretation. The timeline also mentions the fall of Pavis (just Pavis) to the Lunar Empire. The City of Lead and its surrounding region Dagori Inkarth are mentioned in a paragrah of the Kyger Litor cult write-up. The same write-up also notes cult Rune Lords must ritually consume large amounts of vegetable matter then paranthetically remarks “Elves are considered vegetable matter”. The Rune Lord note is as long as the geographic note.

If you had the contemporary board game Nomand Gods some of these items might be detailed. I played it once a couple of years before I got a copy of RQ. Later products would explain the various Pavis locations (Pavis and The Big Rubble from Chaosium and River of Cradles from Avalon Hill), Sun Dome Temple (Pavis and Avalon Hill’s Sun Country), parts of the Long Dry (Borderlands and AH’s Shadows on the Borderlands), Corflu (Pavis), and Dagori Inkath (Trollpak). As an adult I’ve collected these (except Nomand Gods but they cover the eastern and northern edges at most. They also disagree with that first map, as well. For example, New Pavis on the original map is east of the river aand southeast of the old city. In the boxed sets it is along the north west wall across the river.

For me this is liberating. One of the knocks against Glorantha as a world that it shares with Tekumel and Jorune among others, is it is so detailed that you can’t play it. While there is some truth to this the fact remains that I have very little to go on for a Prax game. I don’t have places described to any degree. Even the supplements leave dangling ends such as where does the Pavis road terminate in the west. If you just take RQ2 you are roughly in the same place, in terms of setting, as someone who has a white box, the four supplements, and a copy of the Outdoor Survival map. The setting is less generic but still almost completely implied. The only part more detailed is the mythology and some cults, but the latter are tied to the rules and the three offered cults provide about the same amount of usuable material as the sample dungeon in the white box.

I’ve taken some notes from the published products I have and I’ll be using Pavis and The Big Rubble quite extensively. The later is mostly empty space for the gamemaster to fill. The rubble of Old Pavis is the largest enclosed space in the world at its time, has nearly twice the populace of the new city and is represented by seven adventures. I will certainly take advantage of other materials, especially the extensive cult write-ups.

The fact remains, however, that in the end I have a bare outline. I have something that is arguably the best of both worlds for a sandbox. I have the openness of an DIY outline without the “white space panic” that a full DIY would create. I’m looking forward to finally being able to say one of the most common sayings of the old Runequest and Glorantha mailing lists “in my Glorantha”.

Because all Glorantha is, for now, is names on a map.

Take that William Shatner

There is a thread over at RPG.net Star Trek crossed with something… where a GM wants to run a crossover in his Star Trek campaign. Before I even read the first entry I had my idea, but he’s doing a TNG era game not on the Enterprise.

So, I’ll subject my dear readers to it.

Uhura the Vampire Slayer…where Scotty turns out to have been her watcher all these years waiting just in case the line passed to her.

And the stupidity continues…

With Scottsz killing “The Old School Rant”.

Geeze people, this wasn’t even a quality flamewar by Netgoth standards. You’re all a bunch of pathetic at fighting on the Internet. That’s probably a good thing but if you’re going to do something do it well.

I’d like to sentence Scottsz and Michael to a year on Usenet.

What I’d like more is for “Old School Rant” to still be here Saturday and “Chgowiz’s Old Guy Blog” to be back here on Saturday.

No, Scottsz, that doesn’t mean I retract Monday’s opinion. You acted like a child. Big deal, what makes you different from most is you did it on the Internet. Opps…been there done that, still went dancing with them on Friday.

Michael, your stuff rocked. So some people are being asses in TARGA and about TARGA. Fine, dump TARGA but don’t dump writing.

Adding a Luck Stat to Classic D&D

This is inspired by Jeff Reint’s notes on playing Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The idea is luck should be a fluid stat whose effects vary over time.

When you create a character roll a seventh stat, Luck, on 3d6. Even if you use alternate methods for the main six leave Luck at 3d6 because it will change quite a bit. Luck provides an adjustment according to the following table:

Luck stat Adjustment
4-5 -2
6-8 -1
9-12 0
13-15 +1
16-17 +2
18 +3

Before each session each player rolls on the luck effect table. This determines what his luck adjustments affects for that session. I recommend making little fold down cards or clips for your DM screen so you don’t forget when luck goes wrong.

Percentile Roll This session’s luck effect
01-10 Add luck adjustment to all rolls to hit you
11-20 Add luck adjustment to all damage done to you
21-30 Add luck adjustment to all damage rolls
31-40 Add luck adjustment to all to reaction rolls
41-50 Add luck adjustment to all to hit rolls
51-60 Add luck adjustment to saves against poison/death ray
61-70 Add luck adjustment to monster moral
71-80 Add luck adjustment to saves against magic wand, magic spell, or magic staff
81-90 Add luck adjustment to saves against turn to stone, paralysis, or dragon breath
91-00 Add luck adjustment to hireling moral

If you roll doubles on the luck adjustment roll to see if your fortune has changed:

D10 Roll Change in fortune
1 Reversal of fortune: New luck is equal to 21 minus your old luck
2 Falling fortune: New luck is equal to the average of you old luck and 3 rounded down
3-4 Waning fortune: New luck is equal to the average of you old luck and 10 rounded down
5-6 No change in fortune
7-8 Waxing fortune: New luck is equal to the average of you old luck and 12 rounded up
9 Fortune’s favor: New luck is equal to the average of you old luck and 1 rounded up
10 Reversal of fortune: New luck is equal to 21 minus your old luck