November 30, 2009
One of my top three favorite modules of all time is undoubtedly The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan by Harold Johnson & Jeff R. Leason.
It's one of the first, if not the first, tournament module ever published as such (although it's worth noting that many famous modules—among them The Tomb of Horrors—first saw life in convention tournaments).
Despite its age, the module somehow blends many diverse concepts into a united whole and it also eschews the wild unrealism of White Plume Mountain and The Ghost Tower of Inverness while still offering an intense array of unique challenges.
Theme rules here. The adventure takes place in a pyramid with a heavy Aztec/Mayan flavor. The encounter areas are very detailed, almost over-detailed, and all the treasures and most monsters are tailored to fit the setting. This leads to some unique critters, such as a mummy-centaur. The setting is utterly immersive.
I always loved settings that transport you—not always literally—to a new place. The PCs should never feel like they can simply lean out the cave door into the sunlight whenever they please, the way I see it. That's why I like the Tomb of Horrors ... once the PCs enter, they soon have the feeling that there's no turning back until the ultimate goal is reached. I love that. This module does you one better, if played one way (there are two, to be mentioned later) the PCs are forced to travel upward in their bid to escape the pyramid ruins before poison gas lays them low. Yes, it's a bit railroady, but the creativity employed in the encounters and the multiple paths to freedom give the ziggurat a surprisingly unconstrained feel.
Name has a great balance of traps, critters, and puzzles. My own creations are fairly puzzle-light, but when reading works like this I'm galvanized to enrich my own settings with more puzzles the players can solve. Here they are such a crucial part of this adventure that players failing to think on their feet might well kiss their PCs goodbye.
3. Background Detail
The author here has done his research, and it shows. This dungeon wasn't designed or written in a week or two, I'll wager. I reads like a labor or love (as the best adventures do).
4. Cool NPCs
The module provides three tourney-ready PCs that fit well with the overall theme. A pity there wasn't a few more!
The pyramid may be entered from the bottom—in the tournament-style start the PCs are running away from bounty hunters in the jungle and are dumped into the pyramid's basement by a cave-in—or it may be entered from the top down by more exploration-minded parties. Thus, some rooms are detailed to be run from varying directions.
This author ploy succeeds in part, but IMHO the dungeon works much better if the PCs climb upwards because some traps and secret doors simply are oriented that way, and the pyramid encounters also seem to get more difficult as one ascends.
6. Cool Encounters
The encounters, as mentioned, are varied and all show creativity. There is a chamber where something with molten feet has leapt about and melted huge, clawed footprints into the floor. But where is the creature? Another area requires the characters to traverse a pit via jungle-gym style bars while killer plants hurl thorns at them. Yet another area forces inquisitive PCs into a game of pelota (in this case, a sort of Mayan soccer) where they must knock an dangerous animated ball into a goal or risk setting off a deadly trap.
Let's see. A room that fills with sand—check. A room decorated with magical mirrors—check. Huge mill stones tumbling Indiana Jones-style down stairways—check. Creepy undead and entombed vampires—check. There's even a distinct nod to Metamorphosis Alpha in one room. This one has it all.
The module shows its age in some respects. I spent much of my flight to the last Gen Con reading this module in the hopes of running it for the Goodman Games crew (alas, this didn't come to pass) and I was struck by the huge blocks of detail-heavy text the DM must wade through at times. A DM grabbing this off the shelf isn't going to run it well on the fly. Indeed, any DM thinking about running this should set aside a decent chunk of time to read it properly and understand all the encounters and puzzles. That said, I think the DM will find the investment well spend indeed.
I highly recommend this module. It may not be classic as far as having orcs and the like, but it more than makes up for that by pushing its chosen setting to the limits.
November 19, 2009
November 18, 2009
I got a chance recently to do a podcast with Mark Kinney of All Games Considered about Madness in London Town and gaming in general. Mark struck me as a great fellow and the interview was a pleasure to do. Afterward, of course, I couldn't help but think about why I didn't mention this or that, but I think I at least conveyed some sense of the process behind our adventure playtesting and such. Moreover, I'm humbled to be interviewed, period. I've interviewed a number of music artists in the course of my radio work, but it's weird to be on the other side of the fence, so to speak.
The interview got my brain in Lovecraft mode once again, and I immediately pulled a story collection or two off the shelf and began reading. I haven't explored many of the non-Lovecraft Mythos stories, so that's where I'm focusing now. Specifically, I want to read Ramsey Campbell's Cold Print (about which I've heard good things) and some of the early Lovecraft-inspired Bloch and Howard work.
A link to the interview can be found here. You might also wish to listen to my Goodman Games comrades Mike Ferguson and Ken Hart in the interview before mine chatting about their experience producing the upcoming Shadows of Leningrad (they certainly sound more lucid in their interview than I did in mine)—the link to their interview is here.
Thanks for listening!
November 06, 2009
This was a busy Halloween, as the 31st marked the first birthday of my son Kai (how fast that went!), but I managed to squeeze in my annual Horrorthon. Ken Hart of Goodman games fame and my old friend James were on hand as I pulled out my box of horror DVDs and warmed up the DVR.
This year's selection:
The "Living Doll" episode of the Twilight Zone
"My name is Talky Tina..." I've always found dolls creepy as all get-out, and this episode was no exception, especially the chilling finish. Telly Savalas, sans lollipop, plays a great heel in Eric Strater, yet you almost feel sorry for the guy by the end, trapped as he is between a marriage on the edge of collapse and a sinister doll. June Foray provided the voice for Tina. I think the earliest occurrence of the dreaded doll-on-the-stairs trick I can recall was in an old Ray Bradbury story—I can't remember the name but it was during that period in the late 1940s when Bradbury wrote some fiendish stories about killer babies and such.
I recall many, many years ago crawling into the cubbyhole on the upper floor of my parents' home looking for something. It was our version of an attic. It was dark, dusty, and cramped. I was flat out on my stomach, pulling myself forward and ever-deeper with my hands in quest of that elusive item. I came across one of my sister's dolls, a heavy model with metal eyelids that opened and closed. Unbeknownst to me, the doll was made to work with a magnetic "wand"—if you waved the wand the metal eyelids flapped open, and if you touched the wand to the doll's chest the doll's arms would close and "hug" you.
As I neared the doll I stumbled across the wand and, not knowing what it was but curious, palmed it. Moments later I came face-to-face with the doll in the narrow cubby and as I tried to push it out of the way, my hand (still clutching the wand) touched its chest... The doll's eyes popped open and its arms closed around my hand in a tight embrace. To say I popped out of that cubby like a cork from a champagne bottle is about right. Only later did I figure out what had happened. Brrr.
The Simpsons TreeHouse of Horror III (which, by no coincidence, in part mocks the TZ episode above)
A great counterpoint to the evening's other chills!
"Eater" episode of Fear Itself
This episode concerned a policewoman who is part of a skeleton crew in a dingy precinct watching over a cannibalistic serial killer they are holding overnight. The environment was suitably frightening, but the episode quickly devolved into pretty standard fare. The stupid behavior of the protagonist didn't do much to generate sympathy.
As killer alligator movies go, this wasn't horrendous, but the character development was sorely lacking. Why should I care about these people again? Because two of them flirted a bit? That said, the alligator effects were pretty good! I also thought the scenic shots of Australia—clearly taken on location—were fabulous and added greatly to the feeling of puny humans in the great wilderness.
"New Year's Day" episode of Fear Itself
This was a rather tame version of the standard speed zombie / rage zombie theme wherein a woman awakens after a long New Years party to a very changed country. I liked the way the flashbacks revealed glimpses of the evening before and the ending helped save the episode for me. At the heart of this was a really good idea.
Many thanks to my fellow film watchers for an enjoyable evening. Here's to next year!
October 22, 2009
I recently purchased a house, and implicit in that development was an agreement with my better half that I move all my boardgames to one location. Instead of, say, the living room, living room closet, the mutual office shelf, and various boxes salted all around. I now have my own (albeit small) office, a "man cave" in the basement, so recently I unpacked most of my boardgames and stacked them in the closet in two rather ungainly heaps.
Eventually I'll put some real shelves in there—the current situation resembles a Jenga game (which would be cooler if Jenga was in there) and I'm no doubt flirting with gravity-induced disaster—but it's kinda nice to see that heap of games within easy reach.
In addition to my favorites, such as Puerto Rico, Arkham Horror, RISK 2210, and Carcassonne, there's a few weirdies in there. Can you spot the old Cosmic Encounter?The Buffy game (hangs head)? The Divine Right Anniversary Edition? The Civilization game I might play sometime in the next life when I actually have a week of playing time to kill? No matter; I love them all.
I hope you too have a game stash somewhere. It's good have have a stack of colorful boxes that help us forget life's worries, inspire our imagination, hark back fun memories from the past, and promise good times in the future.
September 11, 2009
I've always taken the good and the bad. Sometimes the bad still stings my pride, but it doesn't diminish the feeling I get when someone gets pleasure out of something I've written. Not even close. Attending this year's Gen Con was a good reminder just how many cool, intelligent people have taken the time to read my work, and for that I'm incredibly grateful.
That said, I humbly (but with a touch of sarcasm perhaps) offer up some dos and don'ts for prospective reviewers:
Don't ask a product to be more than it is. An adventure isn't a sourcebook or setting. Likewise, a sourcebook may contain only limited adventure material. We'd all like to get everything in every product (me too!), but such is life.
Don't assume the author has much input into the art, ad copy, product's title, or line design—they usually do not.
Don't assume intent of the author. Likewise, don't make the assertion the author did no research or rushed a product because you've discovered a mistake. Most all RPG authors do it for love of the craft, not the money, and every author I've met cares deeply about the product they put out. Remember also that most RPG authors are freelancers, writing on a hard deadline around a separate full-time career, family, and the other things that fill all our lives.
This brings to mind a true story. When my first adventure was published in Dungeon magazine back in 1997, one of the adventure handouts contained not one, not two, but three mistakes. (The handout in question was a short note to be found by the PCs.) I noticed this when my issue advances arrived. I hurriedly checked my original graphic, but it was fine—apparently the typesetter keyed in the text incorrectly. (A common error, which I have certainly done myself.) I contacted the editor and they decided to run errata in the next issue ... hooray! Dungeon rarely did this, so I counted my blessings ... until the correction graphic appeared in the next issue, containing yet another error. The moral: mistakes happen.
Don't allow your biases to get in the way. If you are biased against the game system, game edition, the company, the author or editor of a product, or the nationality of the author/editor, exclude yourself. You cannot write a objective review.
Likewise, do not allow your previous experiences with a company or product line to influence your review—judge the product on its own merits. (It's fair to refer to the overall quality of a line or company's releases in a review, but one should not show any bias toward the specific product being reviewed.)
Don't assume the play style of your readers matches yours. Not every D&D player prefers hack & slash -style play, not every Shadowrun player likes lots of net-hacking, and not every Call of Cthulhu player prefers a super-historic scenario over pulp-style play. Likewise, don't assume a GM purchasing a product is of your age or experience level; a customer can be a 14-year-old newbie or a 50-year-old veteran.
Don't say that an adventure could be better with a bit of tweaking. All adventures, even those written by Gygax, are very very rarely played exactly as written. Every GM has a unique style and will run things a bit different, so there's no need to state the obvious unless major changes are absolutely necessary to fill plot gaps and the like.
Do run an adventure for players before you review it. Writing a complete review based on a single read-through alone is rather like reviewing a film based on the screenplay, yet a huge number of reviewers still do this.
Do be fair. Acknowledge the good and the bad, and write to inform rather than as a mere exercise of sardonic wit.
Do know that authors very much appreciate you taking the time to write a review of their work! Reviews, fairly written, help the author hone his or her craft. I thank all those that take the time to write RPG reviews.
August 28, 2009
9. Raid your stepfather's library to learn new spells.
8. It's good to have a companion that growls and throws people around.
Fun trivia: Ookla got his name because the struggling writer passed by a UCLA sign.
7. Horses can safely land, with a rider, from any height.
6. Wounded old men you meet on the road can be counted on to impart information.
5. Bad guys tend to sneer the word "barbarian."
4. If you really need to get something done, a scream of "HaARRR-yee!" doesn't hurt.
3. Brute force beats out magic or technology!
2. Never trust a wizard ... they can be two-faced.
1. Barbarians kick ass!
August 21, 2009
My decision was made rather last minute, based on a whole lot going on in my private life, but I got out to Gen Con 2009—huzzah! This year's con was a good one.
My wow-this-looks-rather-small plane touched down Friday afternoon—shockingly on time—and soon I found myself walking down the Indy sidewalk and glancing over at the Ram as if I had never been gone. It felt good to be back. I scooped up my badge, stopped to say “hi” to some fellow editors/writers, and then headed off to the Rock Bottom for some beer, buffalo wings, and ribs.
Later that night I (gasp!) got in some gaming, playing Xcrawl with the gang. Brendan LaSalle, the game’s creator, was our GM and he runs an exciting, rousing game. You haven’t lived until you’ve swung a sword from the front seat of a bumper car in a spike-filled arena! Many thanks Brendan for an awesome time.
Saturday afternoon much of my time was spent in the dealer hall, working the Goodman Games booth and flitting around the show floor in my spare moments.
Paizo released their Pathfinder rulebook. Not alpha, not beta, but the real deal. It’s a hefty book, costs $50, and was up to their usual productions standards. If you hated 3.5e, you can pass that sucker right by, but if you prefer 3.5e “fixed up a bit” with house-rules (grappling, I’m looking at you!) this combo player/DM book might well be up your alley.
Business at the GG booth was brisk, and I got the chance to talk with a lot of our fans, which was awesome. Our real popular draws this year seemed to be the excellent hero's Handbook series (especially the brand new Hero's Handbook: Tieflings and Hero's Handbook: Eladrin), our 4e Dungeon Crawl Classics (especially our $2 module and, surprisingly, the Warbringer's Son tourney module), and Level Up magazine (the new issue was sold out Friday I believe). The new Age of Cthulhu line (which is close to my wicked little heart) also attracted a lot of interest, especially from many folks that hadn't pulled out their Cthulhu books in a while.
We had a steady flow of customers, and recession or no, even Sunday morning was shockingly busy. My favorite moment was when a very popular but not-to-be-named RPG author stopped by the booth to chat and rattled off details from an adventure I had published in Dungeon magazine some 12 years ago! It turns out he's run the adventure for friends in the past. I love stuff like that, it very much made my day.
Saturday night Goodman Games held our yearly “How to Write Adventures That Don’t Suck” seminar. The seminar saw a lot of really good questions this time around, and some of the attendees stayed afterward for more questions and discussion. After the seminar I retreated to the Embassy Suites for a competitive game of Carcassonne with the Goodman folks (tip: never play Carcassonne with Joe Goodman, he’s cut-throat!) after which Ken Hart twisted my arm (heh) into a second dinner (for me at least) in which I attempted to eat a pulled pork mega-sandwich (see photo) at the Ram.
Rick's purchases (man, I went light this year!):
- About $12 of figures I totally don't need. Well except the aboleth. And the owlbear.
- Mysteries of Mesoamerica (Pagan Publishing)
- Bastards of Erebus (Paizo)*
- Cthulhu dice (Q-Workshop)
- A plush Cthulhu for my son Kai
*Featuring some very cool monsters by the talented Mr. Ferguson.
Was that really it? Blimey, I should have run through the dealer hall one last time.
Before I knew it, it was Sunday. I did a last cruise of the dealer hall, did a quick final shift at the booth, and soon I was racing for the airport to catch my 2:30 flight home. It was wonderful to get some gaming in and to really talk with a lot of folks this year.
Here's hoping I can attend Gen Con 2010 (or else 2011)!
July 23, 2009
The line is a difficult one to author. I always try to write a great, fun-to-play adventure first and foremost, regardless of the game system or ruleset. The AoC line adds three more layers of complication: sticking to the Lovecraft Mythos and feel, getting a good feel for the time period (1920s), and writing an adventure set in a foreign country. This makes for a challenge, to be sure. This project also coincided with the birth of my son, a time that any parent knows is more than a bit crazy (and tiring). I am however a huge horror fan and longtime reader of Lovecraft, so I attacked this project with a singular glee.
*The curatorial staff are actually referred to as “keepers” but as the Call of Cthulhu game refers to its GMs as Keepers, I thought it best to avoid confusion.
I hope you enjoy the adventure. Better yet, I hope your investigator survives it.
June 19, 2009
I shop online as much s the next guy, RPG stuff included. But I sorely miss my vanished game stores. There's something special about visiting a brick & mortar store and actually flipping through that new game supplement or hefting that latest Fantasy Flight Games (free plug) board game monstrosity, not to mention the open gaming (which a surprising amount of stores still offer).
So visit your local store(s) and grab some free booty! Hey, maybe I'll see you there.
June 06, 2009
May 23, 2009
April 19, 2009
Continuing on, let’s take a look at some more monsters. Flipping through this book again, I was actually shocked just how many great creatures are on offer here. It really makes the 4e Monster Manuals looks rather sterile in comparison. Instead of a bunch of bloodied and shift powers, we get a whole range of special spell-like abilities and attacks. Call me a grognard, but this book has aged well.
That said, the MM II was a dumping ground (in the best sense) for the best creatures from various classic modules. Some modules—S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City in particular—brought a host of enduring creatures to the game (you can thank the named modules for the aboleth, behir, and yuan-ti, among others). This makes selected my top ten really difficult … it’s like picking the top 10 Beatles songs, there’s just too many. Anyway, let’s give it a go…
My selections in alphabetical order:
These critters scream H.P. Lovecraft to me. They are totally alien in nature and weird—exactly the non-humanoid sort of creature that are perfect for underground romps when you are tired of using the Drow.
I love these guys. Love ‘em. The Erol Otus illustration on the cover of the aforementioned S4 is probably one of his best, and it sold this creature for me. It was a happy day when I got a behir figure in a random figure pack; by weird coincidence I got an identical figure as a birthday present that same day, so woe to the party that explores my dungeon one day and runs into a mated pair of these dangerous, unique monsters!
Deadly, deadly, deadly. Forgive the dreadful MM II illustration. I love the simple background: “A bodak is a human who was changed to a monster after venturing somewhere upon the Abyssal Planes where mortals were not meant to be.” Stupid mortals!
4. Cave Fisher
Cave fishers make for great set pieces and scenes, allowing a DM to add a fear of heights or three-dimensional tactical element to combat as fishers on high underground ledges haul up hapless adventurers. Of such things are great stories made.
Again, here is an alien monstrosity with a cool set of attacks: envelop while holding off assistance with a swinging tail club.
These evil small folk are flip sides of the same coin, yet very different. Both serve as a nice balance to the Drow. The elaborate weapon tactics of the derro are the sort of thing you rarely see detailed today in RPGs, and they help to set the race apart. Later editions focused strongly on the derro’s inherent trait for madness, which was a fine addition.
I’m not huge fan of hybrids, as they usually strike me as unfair DM creation meant to kill adventurers. This and Gygax’s greater basilisk (in this same tome) were clearly designed as PC killers—the greater basilisk has a pertrifying gaze plus poison gas breath, for crying out loud!—but I always liked this particular hybrid for some reason.
8. Gibbering Mouther
Totally bizarre and Lovecraftian, with a cool set of special abilities. Always a challenge to fight.
9. Russet mold/Vegepygmies
Not only do vegepygmies represent a unique life form, but if you, as an adventurer, are careless you can become one. They were a great addition to S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and a monster that didn’t strike me as a humanoid you could reason with.
10. Yuan- Ti
To me, these snakemen evoke that primitive fear of reptiles—cold, unemotional creatures that will simply consume you if needed. The yuan ti, in my view, evoke the pulpy Conan stories of Robert E. Howard and they are a great villain for those out-of-way places, such as desert cities and similar locales.
So those are my personal favorites? What are yours?
March 25, 2009
In alphabetical order:
1. CatoblepasI always liked this monster, not sure why. I can see the warthog-like nature turning off some DMs, and it doesn’t fir in well with most enclosed (read: dungeon) environments, but I think the ultimate killer for this beast was its pure deadliness.
Among the Hisperies and Ethiopians is a well, that many men trow is the head of Nile, and there beside is a wild beast that hight Catoblefas, and hath a little body, and nice in all members, and a great head hanging always toward the earth, and else it were great noying to mankind. For all that see his eyen, should die anon, and the same kind hath the cockatrice...
—Bartholomaeus Anglicus,13th century CEDe proprietatibus rerum, book 18
Despite the limited chances of it raising its head, it basically amounts to a single DM roll spelling instant death for any character, regardless of level. (Novel thing that, in this 4e age!)
3. LeucrottaMy favorite on this list, hands down. These guys, to the best of my knowledge, appeared in just two adventures (Wandering Monster tables notwithstanding)—Temple of Elemental Evil and a side trek in Dungeon called “Their Master’s Voice.”
The combination of a jackal-like look, the weird mouth (which is based on the original myth), and their voice trickery is awesome. Mike Ferguson does a splendid update of these in Paizo’s Second Darkness adventure path (I adored the illustration Paizo used too); well done Mike!
4. PerytonThis monster looks a trifle wacky, it’s true. But a great many medieval mythical beasts are total patchwork affairs, some far worse than this. It always seems like a good wyvern substitute to me—a creature suitable for mountainous ledges and such. The cool idea of it craving hearts is a bonus. And am I the only one to notice that its shadow is shaped like a human?
5. Su-MonsterThese guys begged for a good jungle habitat and a suitable opponent. Savage? Check. Intelligent? Check. Psionics—what? Check! A very cool and unique critter, and I pity the fool that mistakes one of these for just another primate.
March 08, 2009
Okay, here we go (in alphabetical order):
1. BeholderWeird, alien, and badass, these D&D-original creatures could easy take on a whole party and yawn about it afterward. I also love the fact that they are very intelligent and could very well serve as evil masterminds in a campaign. Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms also seemed to give beholders credit for being movers and shakers. To this day I’ve never run one as a DM—never had a party that could survive one—but I really, really look forward to that day.
2. Carrion CrawlerThis monster works well for those times where the DM needs a mindless creature with which to threaten the party—it beats out giant ants by a long shot. I always thought giant insects were cool—too many viewing of THEM! on the late show growing up no doubt—and this one fits the bill nicely. (I was greatly disappointed to see they didn’t make the 3.5 SRD!) The Anhkheg makes a very close second place for fictional insect-type monster, but for me the carrion crawler is extremely iconic of D&D (and that’s probably what kept it out of the SRD).
3. Gelatinous CubeIconic and deadly. Despite a relatively low hit dice, these babies could sneak up on lone adventures, paralyze them, and consume them before anyone realized it happened. Also, the idea of a vaguely pinkish cube (containing a visible skull or to perhaps) gliding down a dungeon hall always reminded me of the Blob, and that’s pretty creepy. They’re relentless, and they won’t stop to bargain or parley … after all, they only want to consume you…
4. GhoulThese undead were all-around useful in a campaign. They are a good challenge for low-level parties, but dangerous enough to use with ghasts or as undead backup at later levels. The fact that elves were immune to their touch always gave the elves in a low-level party reason to shine too.
5. GnollMany of the D&D humanoids suffer from an identity complex—they’ve been draw many ways by many artists and players & DMs have defined them in their own terms, which often don’t agree. For instance, how do you picture kobolds? Little evil devil guys like in the original MM drawing? Little doglike or monkeylike guys? Or lizard-like humanoids a la 4e or Paizo’s products? You understand my point.
Gnolls however have always had a fairly consistent presentation. They seem different from the other humanoids, they prefer warmer climes and open plains, and they have the added bonus of demon worship (and Yeenoghu—which I tend to pronounce YEENY-goo instead of Yen-Oh-goo—has long been a favorite demon prince of mine).
6. Green SlimeSee Gelatinous Cube.
Very deadly! The Moathouse dungeon in T1 The Village of Hommlet had two of these … in case the first one missed. Charitable, E. Gary Gygax was not.
7. Mind FlayerAh, the dreaded illithids! They might well top the beholder in the alien-feeling role, but they serve many similar functions. What did they want? How do they interact with the Drow and other underground races? These questions were left wide-open for the enterprising DM.
The rare character that had psionics knew they wouldn’t graduate as a real power player without exchanging mind blasts with one of these underground weirdies.
8. TrollA troll could have been almost any concept initially, but the tall, green, regenerating monster of the MM was distinctive and primal. Gygax always descibed them as having nests of bones and trash, which immediately let the DM know exactly how "evolved" these brutes were. Beyond that, the picture of a troll head still trying to bite after decapitation was a vivid image indeed, crowning these guys the kings of regeneration for al time.
9. Rust MonsterI love these propeller-tailed guys. For a monster based on a plastic toy, rust monsters provide a unique threat: something that cannot hurt characters physical at all, yet they can be greatly feared.
10. StirgeAnother wonderfully variable monster. Fine for 1st-level encounters in small numbers, but fearsome indeed in large schools (or whatever a group of stirges is called— a school of ravens is actually called a murder of ravens, which might fit well here). It basically a monstrous mosquito, but this creature alwys seemed very real to me and I never had trouble imagining them.
It’s come to me that nearly all my favorites are creatures created almost whole-cloth for the game, though stirges originate from Italian myth and gnolls from Lord Dunsany and his gnoles. I’ve only listed my favorites here, not what I feel are the most practival in a campaign.
Next time: The Coolest Monsters You’ve Never Used!
February 27, 2009
January 29, 2009
I'm a big believer in FLGSs, or Friendly Local Game Stores. When I'm in the mood to buy a game product and have some cash to burn, I want to go heft that boardgame, flip through that module, or debate which pack of CCG cards feels luckiest. It about the environment—a 'we get it" atmosphere that can't be found anywhere else, save perhaps Gen Con.
Despite living about 30 minutes from New York City, game stores are in short supply for me. (On the flip side, maybe that's the problem: there's way too much to do out here.) When I find a new store, its a rare treat. Like many others, I'll also take what I can get, even if it's the really-a-comic-store-but-we-have-a-few-RPGs type of place.
I've seen a few FLGSs crumple in my time, usually a sad, slow death that is basically painful to watch. Two stores I frequent—neither I'll name—seem to be following this fate right now. Bummer. Yet some places seem to do it right. Some highly opinionated points I'd offer for FLGS success (bearing in mind I have zilch experience running said establishments):
1. Keep the stock fresh.
Get in regular new stock if it is available. Have a "New Arrivals" shelf. Don't make me hunt for the new stuff, it doesn't attract me to the old stock I push aside. Some days I only have time for a quick stop, and a quick discovery is a quick sale.
Don't swear off a line because a single book doesn't sell. I've seen it so many times—a store begins to carry a line, a book or two from that line doesn't fly off the shelf, and wham, no more new arrivals. Perhaps I've already got that book and I'm looking for the next. You never know.
2. Keep the "F" in Friendly-LGS.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but there it is. Be nice. Offer assistance, then back off. Don't follow me around the store, haunting me like a ghost, but don't ignore me either. I once walked into a FLGS, selected a $60 boardgame from the shelf, and then waited in vain for 15 minutes at the front counter to be acknowledged. I wasn't. I walked, and the $60 stayed in my jeans. Not good for your business, and not good for my attitude.
Think about mixing in non-RPG goods with your stock. I'm not talking totally left field here, but RPGers share a lot of similarly geeky interests. Show me 5 guys that play D&D, and I'll gamble one's a horror fan, one likes graphic novels, one plays the boardgame Descent, one owns a Playstation or X-Box, and at least one's an avid reader. Stock a bookshelf with fantasy novels and perhaps some thriller or horror fiction. Carry some graphic novels. Stock some toy figures (McFarland, etc). You get the idea. For geeks like me, it's one stop shopping. And hey, if the latest Pathfinder I'm seeking isn't there, I might buy the latest copy of Walking Dead or a boardgame instead.
4. Allow some "geek space" but keep your geeks in line.
Most stores are good about this. A FLGS is a safe haven for roleplayers, so allocate some space for them to throw down some dice.
5. Keep the place tidy.
Hence the title of this post. I used to find the smell of dust in game stores quaint. Now it makes me want to bolt. Hefting a game book from the shelf with a half inch of dust on it just makes me feel like I'm accepting someone else's leftovers. Even if you've had it in stock for 6 years, unless its an original Fiend Folio or Dragon #20, I don't need to know that.