From the Shroud issue 2

Its been a while since issue 1, but issue 2 of the Crypts and Things fanzine, is nearly manifested in the world of flesh.

The contents are as follows:

  • My Dirty Little Secret – a quick table of dark secrets that player characters can have, and probably wish they hadn’t, at character generation.
  • The Pie Makers of Peoplolis – an adventure location in the Zarth’s City of Beggars (although they may have a franchise near you).
  • A Strange Thing Happened on the Way to the Ruins – an encounter table of weird and wonderful non-player characters to liven up otherwise dull and humdrum journeys.
  • The Place of Dark Hooks – a full Crypts and Things mini-module.
  • All Hail the Death Riders – they are death from above with these flying undead warriors, a new monster for the game.
  • Prince of Rona – a demonic Prince of an Otherworld, fit to become the character’s latest Nemesis.
  • Varna’s Travelling Caravan – Neil Shaw is back again with this group of travelling merchants who deal with the mysterious and harbour a dark secret.

Clocking in at about 48 pages in A5 format (which is ten pages longer than issue 1) I’m looking to get it out by by early November, when I’ll be at Grogmeet in Manchester running The Lost City of the God-Emperor, which is part of the Under Dark Spires mega-module I’m currently finishing off for release early next year.

If you want to get a print copy, there will be a pre-order that runs for a couple of weeks while it is passing muster with the printer, via D101 Games’ Web store, during which time you’ll have instant access to the pdf. PDF only will go on sale via DriveThruRPG.com after the print pre-order.

Here’s the cover for issue 2 by the talented Jonny Gray.

Tournaments of Madness and Death – Coming Soon

If this adventure book was an old school metal release from the 80s, on some creaky little independent label it would be one of those quirky split singles, were two bands would each have a side of the vinyl record.

On Side A is The Furnace. The first convention adventure that I ran when I decided to run an Old School D&D adventure, initially using Labyrinth Lord, and was named after the convention it was run at, namely, Furnace which is held every October in Sheffield UK. I ran it on Saturday night, which is now my annual slot for running OSR games, and despite the naysayers at the bar beforehand, who seemed threatened by my decision to run a game using a system they had left behind years ago, and the my own almost paralysing bout stage fright we had a fantastic time. It was at this point I decided that it was well worth my time returning to the games of my formative years in the hobby. The precise details of the scenario have changed with time, and it’s a more compact and polished-up Crypts and Things write up that is presented here.

Tearing up side B is The Tomb of the Evil Emperor. This was one of my final outings with Crypts and Things as a convention game in my first phase of running the game at conventions, just after the release of the game in 2012. A slightly boozy game at Continuum, a summer affair held bi-annually at Leicester University, which saw the bold adventurers race across the ruins of the Grand Debris, through the buried Imperial Complex, to a final confrontation with the shocking surprise of the true form of the Evil Emperor.

Two sides of the Crypts & Things convention experience. Madness both in the sense that the locations that make up the adventures aren’t your typical garden dungeon. The Furnace takes place on an artificial iron moon held up in the sky by magic, while Tomb is in a city crushed by a vengeful god using a meteor. Death because it was what faced the doomed world of Zarth if the adventurers failed in their mission to stop the Ultimate Evil that threatened the world, and because it was a genuine possibility given the cast of horrors they faced. All “good friendly violent fun in store for all” as the thrash metal band Exodus once sang on their song Toxic Waltz.

Finally Dark, Delicious and Deadly is an insert, cunningly placed between the two adventures, that explains the method behind the madness about how I run convention games of Crypts and Things.

For 3-6 characters levels 4th-5th, explicitly written for Crypts and Things but usable with a host of retro-clones based on the early editions of the Worlds Favourite Fantasy Game, and heck even the modern 3rd to 5th Editions if you can be bothered to put the work in adapting the monster blocks.

ETA Sometime in July, pre-order soon.

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Dark, Deadly and Delicious part 5: Pre-made characters

In this the last of a series of excerpts from an article about running and creating Crypts and Things convention games, I exhort you, nay implore you to use pre-made characters.

Use Pre-made Characters

Pre-made characters are a must for convention games. Two reasons why:

  1. They save time. No matter how quick you think, Crypts and Things character generation are, at the start of a convention game it will eat up valuable game time, while impatient players twiddle their thumbs and unexpected roadblocks in the process get thrown up.
  2. The adventure can be tailor-made to make the most of their abilities. You want happy, engaged players who are having fun. The primary way that you can pre-destine this is by having characters who have the potential to be fun in play. While Crypts and Things use Class/Level based characters, so every character is going to have its own niche, make sure that the composition of your adventuring party is made up of characters who will all have a role to play in the adventure. Fighters always have a place, and Barbarians are good all-rounders. Magicians need to thrive in environments rich in magic and mystery, where their magic detecting abilities make them useful for explaining what is going on and detecting magical threats. Thieves are good sneaking through the shadows, taking out enemies using stealth, but are much more useful in combat than their Swords and Wizardry counterparts. For a four-player game merely make one of the core character classes, and you’ll have enough variation amongst the characters. If you have six players, add another fighter and sorcerer, with different fighter specialities and spells in their books than the others.

It’s often joked that part of the style of old-school play is having a pile or replacement characters and it is worth having at least two additional characters in case of impending character death.

An Excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things book “Tournament of Madness and Death.”

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Dark, Deadly and Delicious part 4: Be the Monster Manager

In the penultimate part of this series of posts about Crypts and Things convention games, I look at an important role of the referee.

Be the Monster Manager

Don’t overwhelm the players with streams of monsters, unless that’s the point of the fight scene is that they can never overcome the flood of monsters and should run away!

Don’s mistake combat for automatic-fun. Make sure that you combat encounters are like scenes from a fun film, where the director has placed enemies and scenery in an exciting way, so the combat can play out with lots of unexpected turns and twists.

For example, don’t just throw 1d6+2 Men at Arms at the player characters who are strolling aimlessly through the palace. If you need a couple of men at arms to show up and challenge the characters about there right to be there, do so. It might lead into a fight (in which case they run away to the next courtyard where the rest of the palace guard is hanging out, with the court sorcerer and the King’s assassins who are practicing on various trampolines etc.), but it might also lead to an entertaining moment of role-playing as the players blag their way past the guards.

Next part 5: Pre-made characters.

An Excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things book “Tournament of Madness and Death.”

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Dark, Delicious and Deadly part 2: Pacing

Part 2 of 5 excerpts from Dark, Delicious and Deadly, an article about running Crypts and Things at conventions.

You can Never Have Enough Pace

(as my mate Evil Gaz says).

This is the primary principle to bear in mind when running a convention game. To keep your players entertained you should help to keep the game moving along at quite a speed. Characters should be jumping, running and occasionally fighting their way through the adventure, each location building on the excitement until the big thrilling finale.

If the action drags, something happens

Things that drag the action, which might be acceptable in a home game where you have all the time in the world, need to be quickly moved on from.

For example, there’s a Locked door that blocks the characters’ way. In a home game, you might let all the table of players try something to open the door. The Thief goes through all their abilities; checking for traps, picking the lock etc. Then the magician casts Detect Magic (“is the door magically locked?”), the Fighter uses their strength to force the door, then everybody else follows on because they can all try to bash the door down. Finally, the players extract as much information from the Crypt Keeper, small details such as moss around the door frame, become excruciatingly important (“I lick the moss, to see if it is poisonous or magical.”)

You’ve not got time for this is in a con game. Let one character have a go at unlocking the door. If they fail, a guard (or a passing patrol of guards if the door has nothing behind it) opens the door from the other side to see who is making that noise and play proceeds.

Don’t be afraid to slow the pace

With all this talk about speed, if you or your players are finding it too much, put the breaks on. Slow the pace. Gently put the player characters in a safe place, slow things down to talk to an NPC for example. Let everybody get their breath back and then get back into it.

There’s a time and a place for investigation

I’ll say it up front C&T is not an investigative game. There may be moments where the players have to find secret entrances, talk to an NPC and ask right questions to find out where they are going next, but these are usually quickly sorted out and moved on from. Characters in Crypts and Things, tend to be men and women of action, and the character classes empathise this.

Next part 3: Rewards

From the upcoming Tournaments of Madness and Death for Crypts and Things (and other old-school class/level based games).

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Dark, Delicious and Deadly part 1: Focus

For the next five Fiendish Fridays, I shall be posting excerpts from “Dark, Delicious and Deadly” an article I’ve written for the upcoming Tournaments of Madness and Death adventure book for Crypts and Things (eta May?).  This article deals with how I write and present one-shot adventures for conventions.

So without further ado here’s part 1.

Focus on what makes Crypts and Things what it is

This is a big one. If you don’t focus on what C&T does, you might as well be playing one of the other variants of the World’s Favourite Fantasy Roleplaying game. Don’t let the fact that it has many features and troupes of that great Dungeon Crawling Game; Classes and Levels, the six characteristics, experience points and hit points are all there merely to make players and Crypt Keepers feel comfortable and at ease. The familiarity of some aspects of the rules is there to ease the players and Crypt Keepers into the game, rather than dropping them in from a considerable height with a huge learning curve. There’s also a delightful simplicity of the old school rules that makes them easy to build upon.

A lot of what C&T does is through tone and emphasis. The text of the game imparts this, but the extra layer of rules (Sanity, Black/Grey/White Magic, Corruption, Skill use and the abilities of the classes) highlights it too.

The big four points of what makes C&T special are:

  1. Player characters are the Heroes and Heroines. Even if they are anti-heroes, the player characters are deliberately the overpowered main characters of Swords and Sorcery fiction. Never make them the sideline in the adventures. Always put them centre stage.
  2. Enemies are horrible to horrific. As a counterpoint to the above, and to put the player characters in perspective, their opponents are the stuff of nightmares. They murder, they steal (so their victims will starve to death), they even suck souls. Even the most anti-heroic villainous player character should feel virtuous when confronted by the cruel machinations of a Greater Other.
  3. Humans are misguided power seekers struggling to survive (even insane cultists). Also though the default setting, The Continent of Terror, is human-centric, those humans aren’t forming lovely well-ordered Kingdoms. They are scrabbling in the ashes of their dying world for anything to keep them alive or give them a thrill that takes them away from their bleak day to day reality. If the players are looking for inspiration from non-player characters, they will soon find that they have to create that inspiration from themselves for others.
  4. Weird, beautiful and occasionally humorous. Despite the grimdark aspect of the game, there is much wonder and laughter in the setting. Let the players explore that and emphasise the fantastic nature of the world from time to time. It’s a critical factor of why people keep on coming back to the swords of and sorcery genre, again and again. The sheer playful escapism it provides.

Next Fiendish Friday: Pacing.

An Excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things book “Tournament of Madness and Death”

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

The Death Mask of the Evil Emperor

It seems like its been an eternity, but its Fiendish Friday! Here’s a magic item from the end of the Tomb of the Evil Emperor which is one of two adventures that feature in the adventure book Tournaments of Madness and Death, which is currently in production (eta March/April).  Of course this being a Crypts and Things Magic Item, user caution is advised.

The Death Mask of the Evil Emperor

On the surface, this golden funeral mask has a street value of 500 GP.

The Mask has a more sinister purpose. It is the Death Mask of the Evil Emperor, which allows the Emperor to return to the world of the living. Should a person put on the mask the Evil Emperor will take possession of their body, over a period of five nights. At first, the Emperor will invade the character’s dreams and confront the character in psychic combat there. Each time the player character needs to test their luck (which does not regenerate during the period of the possession attempt). If they succeed they win against the Emperor and it is driven off. If they fail, the Emperor wins and turns their dream into a nightmare. At the end of five nights, whoever has won the most psychic battles takes control of the character’s body. The loser is banished to wander the Shroud as a disembodied spirit, who will only be summoned back to Zarth if someone foolishly puts on the Death Mask.

This item features in the upcoming adventure book…

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Green is the new Black!

Rejoice fellow OSRians, Glynn Seal’s (aka Monkey Blood Design) The Midderlands, as previously Kickstarted and supported by this here blog, has been released;

As a stretch goal for the Kickstarter I promised a Crypts & Things Conversion Guide, so you could use the Midderlands (which uses Swords and Wizardry as its base) without much fuss with C&T.

I’ve just finished the conversion guide, which is on its way for proofing/checking before a quick layout and release as a freebie via DriveThruRpg.com and the D101 Webstore, which I anticipate will be sometime next week.

In the meantime, he’s a quick excerpt from the C&T Conversion Guide.

Gloomium

Gloomium is everywhere in the Midderlands. It seeps up from the Middergloom, an ambiguous underworld below the Midderlands. It is toxic and corrupting. It is green in colour and is the source of much strangeness, corruption and twisted magic. This section explains how gloomium works in the context of Crypts & Things magic system.

As a Source of Khaos

Crypt Keepers should assume that the seepage of gloomium is the source of Khaos monsters and mutations, for games set in The Midderlands.

Corruption

Whilst in the Midderlands, use the Gloom-touched rules (Midderlands page 10 and 11), instead of the standard Crypts and Things Corruption table on page 64 of Crypts & Things.

Green is the Brightest Colour of Magic!

While in the Midderlands there is only two colours of magic; Green and Colourless.

Green is the magic of gloomium; it’s harmful, toxic and glows a malignant shade of luminous green when cast. It causes corruption when cast, using the rules on page 84 of Crypts & Things. All the spells on the Black Magic spell lists (see page 50 of Crypts & Things) are Green.

In addition, the following new spells from the Midderlands are Green Magic spells:

Curse of Old Hobb, Gloomium Shield, Middergloom Missiles, Morgontula’s Vomit.

Colourless magic is everything else (i.e. Spells from the Grey and White Lists). It does not have a colour when cast and its effects are usually boringly beneficial or utilitarian in nature.

What Did That Do? (see Midderlands page 74) is a colourless spell.

While in the Midderlands ignore The Summons of Evil rules for casting beneficial (white) magic.

Also, ignore the rules for Blood Magic (unless you are using The Others from Crypts and Things or a similar body of Demonic beings who provide magic for blood sacrifice).

Sorcerer’s Magic Sensitivity to Gloomium

Gloomium is green-hot, radioactive stuff as far as a Sorcerer’s magic sensitivity ability (see page 23 of Crypts & Things) is concerned. It drives many Sorcerers ‘up to the wall’, with the constant throbbing of the temples when their magic sense is triggered by a pool of the green stuff in some swamp, or from a creeping feeling of unease because the house they are lodging in is built over a large gloomium deposit. This does have the benefit of sorcerors being great at finding gloomium.

Using Gloomium to Regain Magic

Since gloomium is nasty raw magical stuff, sorcerer’s may regain magic by ingesting it. This is a particularly dangerous and insane practice which is not recommended by the Royal College.

The procedure is thus:

For each ‘gulp’ of gloomium, a sorcerer regains one level of cast spell and loses 1d6 hit points, from the toxic and corrosive nature of the substance, and upon a failed Sanity Roll loses 1d6 sanity points.  It takes one combat round to take a gulp. They also glow bright glowing green for the number of gulps you took in days. All these effects add to each other, so for example, if you take four gulps you take 4d6 hit points of damage and potentially lose 4d6 Sanity if you fail your Sanity Test and you can remember up to a fourth Level spell or any combination of spells whose levels.

For example, Ned the Anxious, a rather foolish apprentice of the Royal College, finds himself in a spot of bother in Cairn Chase Forest. About to be skinned alive by some rather Unmerry Men, and out of spells, he decides to take two gulps of gloomium, from a readily-prepared flask of the substance. This takes him two rounds, during which time the Unmerry Men close on him and fire off bows. In round three, the gloomium kicks off. He takes 2d6 Hit Points damage, rolling a four and a five for nine points of damage, and successfully makes his sanity roll – so keeps hold of his mind. With his innards burning from the liquid, he rememorizes the 2nd Level Spell Web and wastes no time in firing off a sticky web of green stuff at the Unmerry Men. If he had not been so worried, he could have taken his time firing off one Magic Missile this round, and another the round after (two first level spells equalling 2 levels of spells remembered as allowed by two glups). If he survives, he will glow bright luminous green for the next 1d10 days, making sneaking about and hiding very difficult and becoming a magnet for any nearby witch hunter.

Fiendish Friday: In the Street of the Dead

Here follows a short location from the adventure The Furnace, from the upcoming Tournaments of Madness and Death for Crypts and Things and other OSR rulesets.

The Street of the Dead

In an old merchant’s district, an odd mechanical man awaits the characters in his shop of curiosities.

A well-worn dusty road, 20′ wide, goes seemingly on and on through the city and into the countryside beyond. Alongside are a bewildering assortment of buildings, most of which are boarded up. For this is the custom here in the middle-class area of town. That upon their death, they are boarded up with all their worldly goods inside their old shops. Now the various hammerings and bangs from behind the boards that they are desperate to get out.  Amongst the ruin of this once magnificent street, there is one shop that appears to intact, with golden columns out front and a lovely colourful sign that gives its name “Oeldi’s Shop of Wonders”.

Oeldi’s Shop of Wonders

Run by the overweight Oeldi, who wears a brightly coloured jacket and a blue fez. This curio shop has a 23% chance go having any item a character needs.  Oeldi stays here rather than fleeing the city doomed by the Undead because he is a magical construct created by The Nine (or his Nine Dads as he called them). As he takes damage the fleshy covering falls off revealing a brass body underneath.  If questioned about the entrance to the Iron Moon, he can reveal that it is in the mausoleum.

Oeldi AC 2[18 ] HD 8 HP 34 Attacks 1 Dam 1D6 +1 (Short sword +1 hidden beneath counter) MV 12 Special: Mechanical Construct – unaffected by poison, disease, Breathes fire three times a day (3d6 damage, Successful Test vs. Luck halves damage). Sleep, Charm or any magical mind control methods. CR/XP 10/1400.

Fiendish Friday: Stink River Healers

Here’s another preview from the upcoming Under Dark Spires for Crypts and Things and other OSR rulesets. In this adventure book, there’s an area called the Stink River. It more than lives up to its name, being a broken, weird land full of puss ridden diseases and poisonous insects and plants. Its also inhabited by swamp dwelling tribesmen. Since there are none of the usual Temple of Healing franchise out in this remote part of the world, I thought it best that I detail what levels of healing the player characters can expect.

Getting help from the Local Healers

The Stink River People have an established class of Healers, with one or two in each village. They brew up cures, antidotes and preventative medicines in their healing hut, which also acts as a place to keep ill people, usually up to five patients, in quarantine. In the hut, you can also find the tools of the Stink River Healer’s craft.  Metal needles for lancing noxious boils, a small oven for heating needles, clay pots for storing medicines and creams.

The Healers primary role is to look after their people; all else is a distant second. Adventurers cannot come swanning up to healing Hut, suffering from some disease or poison, and expect immediate treatment from the Healer no matter how much gold they offer. The Healer will merely laugh at them and go back inside, as the village’s hunters notch arrows coated with poison (typically Imperial Folly) and aim in the character’s direction.  First, they must establish a relationship with the healer’s village, and only when they are accepted as an honorary member, after helping out by killing off dangerous monsters rescuing kidnapped members etc., will the Healer even consider healing them. The advantage is at this point there is no charge to the character, they have already paid in kind by helping the village

Stink River Healer AC 7[12] Leather equivalent HD 4 HP 20 Attacks 1 Knife (1d4) Mv 12 Special: Spellcasting CL/XP 5/240

Healers typically know the following spells:

Cure Disease, Cure Light Wounds, Neutralise Poison, Purify Food and Drink, Remove Curse, Sleep.

Note these spells are very heavily based on physical ingredients, such as specific herbs and prepared creams and powers. The Healer one in six times be out of the ingredients and require the characters to fetch them from the nearby wilderness before they can cast the spell to help their wounded colleague.