Friday, July 14, 2017

Strange Things Afoot in Skull Mountain

As recent posts have indicated, the crew have been busy cleaning out level three of Skull Mountain, thoroughly searching level two, and scouting around the entrance to the Deep.
My oldest had the day off, I had the afternoon off, and we did a marathon session.
Also, I'm beat, so - bullet synopsis!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Notes on Cleaning Skull Mountain

As mentioned when discussing the aftermath of the big throwdown, the party decided to clean the main hallway to prevent disease and the spread of russet mold.
People have asked 'how?'.
Good question!

Interestingly enough way back at the beginnings of the Briar Mapping Expedition Seeker passed on instructions to the hirelings at the Skull Mountain base camp to begin making lye soap and vinegar.
Yes, really. If anything can be said of the style of play of the party 'paranoid', 'prepared', and 'OCD' should be included.

After the battle a team of speakmen, porters, cooks, and the healer trouped down to level three and cleared away the bodies, taking them to the fire pit in the center of the Plateau. The goblin dead were burned, taking a day. While that went on the team returned to the site of the battle and (using water from the goblins' cistern heated in their kitchen)  sluiced the hall, then scrubbed with lye soap, sluiced again, then rinsed with strong vinegar, then sluiced again. In each case the slope of the floors tends toward the Deep and the hirelings helped it along with mops.
Of course the party had supplied brooms and mops a few real-world months ago!
This took another day, during which the party thoroughly explored level three and part of level two, eventually deducing that one wall near the Study is covered with a permanent illusion.

The party gave me fetailed notes on the cleaning process, BTW.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

GM Report: Even More Level 3

Wow! Busy night! Quick synopsis follows:

Campaign Notes: Goblintown

Recently in my main campaign the party captured almost 200 goblins (mainly non-combatants) and people are asking, 'where are they going?"

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DM Report: Skull Mountain, Level Three Continued

Part one here, part two here.

The party rested, rememorized, and returned, pausing in The Study on level two where they found - a cookie jar with a note that said 'take one'.
Many did. Ginger snaps. Delicious and fresh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Other Blogs: A Reply to Gitabushi on A Princess of Mars

Edit-Darn it! The link didn't stick!
Link added.
Over at another blog Gitabushi is talking about A Princess of Mars and, well.
I'm replying.
Let's just dive in, shall we?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Block Review: Iron Fist episodes 4 and 5

First block here. Please read it first

Review: Finn Jones continues to be terribly miscast, which is a shame. Rosario Dawson shows up and, just like I said about Carrie Ann Moss - when a competent actress is on screen is shows how bad the two female leads are. The show is doing the origin story of Colleen Wing as a superhero (and not doing a bad job of showing how she is able to do things only a superhero can do!)  and the actress is so wooden I care less than before.
The real problem, though, is the writing. There are a few moments that are good, even really good. But based on the overall tenor, I suspect those are from the showrunner - i.e., the stuff that is being forced on this particular writing team so that Iron Fist matches Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc. is pretty good because someone else wrote it while Iron Fist wallows because the dedicated writers aren't very good.
The interactions between Danny and Colleen in particular are really... odd. My theory is that the writers know that Danny has a vow of chastity (i.e., 'no sex outside of marriage') and simply have no idea how chaste people act. Jennifer (The Wife) disagrees because she thinks Colleen's dialog and such are worse - her theory is the writers just suck in general.
So we are in a weird position of liking the comics, thinking the villains are solid, and recognizing that a lot of the incidental characters are great AND being interested in the overall plot while disliking the female leads, the secondary male lead, and thinking the protagonist is terribly miscast.

More to come

Monday, June 26, 2017

DM Report: Skull Mountain, back to Level Three

The party and initial foray can be found here.

The party spent 3 days healing and recovering spells. It took so long because the spear they found had a curse on it (it is a kinslayer - on a natural 20 it hits and does maximum damage to an ally). They were able to free Ingrid from the spear since she had not yet dealt a killing blow with it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Frothing Rant: Wonder Woman in the early '70's

Maybe I am an old grognard in comics, too.

Maybe I devoted too much of my life to reading comics and learning about them.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quick Review: Doctor Strange

Watched the MCU film Doctor Strange with the family last night. This will not be a full review.
Spoilers follow:

Monday, June 12, 2017

DM Report - Skull Mountain: Level Three

The crew started a foray into Skull Mountain on Saturday. only a short session this weekend due to Life, but a good one.
The party was:
Jen: Ingrid (5th level fighter)
Jack: Seamus (4th level druid)
Alex: Starfalcon (6th level ranger, half-elf)
Sam: "Clint" (6th level paladin)
Nick: Owen (5th level magic-user)
Various henchmen, including Octavius the 4th level half-ogre fighter and Bertold the 6th level religious brother. And Mortimer the brownie, of course.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Night in Skull Mountain: Level Zero

A big gaming night!
As my regular readers (all 4 of them - hi, kids!) know the party is doing a big, big hex crawl mapping expedition and have found - weirdness. Jack, my oldest boy, had been working second shift at a job 40 minutes away. This week he started is new first shift job 1/2 a mile away so we celebrated with Thursday night D&D.
Through a series of events, accidents, and such the party found a hidden door to what they call 'level zero' behind the eyes of Skull Mountain. While Team Thief (all the PC thieves in the campaign) are mapping Team Paladin (led by Clint) decided to examine Level Zero.

It freaked them out!

The night started with Team Paladin bringing 4 months of food and candles to the mountain for the holding force (Team Henchmen), along with a huge amount of tea (to keep morale up). The cartographer had been mapping the North Area and the surrounding mountains. He had gone to the scree slope on the 'back of the skull' (the players have seen it several times but never explored) and saw a crevice going intot he mountain, but approach was too dangerous. They then used a Helm of Languages and a book of lore to temporarily disarm the Glyphs on the door and went in.

Long story short, it was a corporate office block. Bedrooms, sure, but also a large bathroom with modern stalls; a break room with a 'box that heats food' and a 'magic kettle that heats water'; posters of rock stars on the walls. But the images, the mugs, etc. were for people with five fingers, like the Man in Purple....
They also found remote monitoring stations for Remote Stations #1 and #2 and a room called Tactical Control. Almost everything was depowered and shut down, but the main tactical control was on maintenance power, letting them realize that 'tertiary target acquisition' means 'whatever the binoculars on the mountaintop can see'. The system indicated that Remote Station #1 has a "containment breach" in the 'magma power chamber' but is otherwise online.
They also deduced where a secret door should be, found it, opened it, and - 'animated armor' attacked. It was looking grim until Clint showed the access card he found on level two, when the 'animated armor' announced 'clearance level recognized'.
They found out that the armor, Security Unit 9, would only allow people with Black clearance to go further. Since it was close to tactical it could answer questions by 'querying the database', although it warned the database had not been updated in 175 years and was partially corrupted. With patience and time they learned that many years before the "Elder" (who all have black clearance) had been hired to come to Skull Mountain and protect it from attacks from space. The "Elder" had created the dock on the peak and level zero and had gained power for their base from 'the Contraption' deeper inside the mountain and built local power systems near the montanic lances.

The party realized that some of the things they were learning seemed connected with old folk tales from the Kesh in the area. They also learned that kobolds have 'white clearance' - they had been used as cleaning staff by the Elder.
Security Unit 9 seemed to get agitated when questions veered into security topics and the more often he accessed a corrupt part of the database the more aggressive he became. The party left him guarding the lone door deeper into level zero and struck out for Remote Station #2, AKA Ol' One Fang's cave. Using a copy of the partial map they got there quickly with only a minor skirmish with wild pigs. Going into the hidden chamber Clint inserted his access card and uttered the phrase Security Unit 9 had mentioned and - the turbine engaged. Soon the panel reported that Montanic Lance #2 was powered! They looked carefully, but the crystal horn was not extended. They used the card and phrase to deactivate the turbine and returned to Skull Mountain, passing Team Thief on the road.

Once there they decided to look at the crevice. Seamus used his Boots of Levitation while 3 party members used ropes to position him while avoiding the loose shale that could dump them into the crevice or over a cliff.
Looking down, Seamus saw that the opening, about10' x 20', opened up to be about 60' - 70' across and went down, down, down.... And there was a metal ladder going down at least part of the way! He began to descend to get a better look. He noticed a metal door virtually identical to the one to level zero along one wall when metal shutters snapped open to reveal three turrets that began to point towards him. Calling to be pulled up he ascended as fast as he could and was narrowly missed by the bolts of lightning spitting from the turrets.
Once he was certain he was safe he hovered over the crevice again and dropped a metal rod with Continual Light cast upon it and counted as it fell.
He saw a door about 50' below and a bridge perhaps 300' feet down. And at about 1,200' the rod hit water and sank. Then something swam over the rod. Then the something burst out of the water to fly up the shaft, roaring as it came!
Seamus was pulled aside and in just a few rounds the turrets could be heard firing, driving the creature back down the shaft. Later Seamus again hovered over the opening, watching the creature (which resembled a jellyfish and a beetle) swimming far below before it vanished pop! like a soap bubble, revealing it was Conjured.
The next day the light rod was gone.


The party is catching on that Skull Mountain is vast and Skull Mountain is old. They now believe that the Temple was added by cultists after the fall of the Lord of All Evil who moved in after something else, etc., back to a time before any of the races that live in Seaward now lived even close to these mountains.

Jack admitted that the science fiction stuff is terrifying him. He said,
"Orcs? Dragons? Demons? We know them, we understand them, we can make a good threat assessment. Aliens? Robots? Cyborgs? We can't even figure out if they are dangerous! For all we know, we all have radiation poisoning right now and we will think it is a curse!"
Good times.

Early in the session, when talking about how they plan on going deeper soon they joked that 'Skull Mountain needs an elevator'....

They will continue to map the Briars, but exploring Level Three is suddenly WAY up in their priorities!

I will edit tomorrow

Monday, June 5, 2017

Magic Item of the Week: Kojo's Diary

Originally developed by Kojo Dreamwood, henchman to Lehru the Many, the Diary has been copied by others over the years.

The name is also a bit of a misnomer; the Diary is actually a small ivory strip with a piece of vellum attached obviously designed to be used as a bookmark. If a person writes their own name (including mage names, call names, etc. - it doesn't have to be a true name) and then places the bookmark into a blank book (codex) the book will become their Diary.

The Diary will record the major events of the person's day with a date stamp. A sample entry might appear akin to this;

'Threeday, first week of Blossoms, in the Briars. Woke at dawn and travelled South along the Old Road until lunch at Noon. Encountered a brush cat at about the 3rd hour after Noon. There was smoke from Skull Mountain at sunset."

  The Diary does not know what the person being recorded does not; for example, the diary will not record directions for someone who is lost or time of day for someone underground who has lost track of the time. In those cases, the best guess of the diarist will be used ('late Blossoms', 'about one league',  'about the third day underground', etc.). The diary will record time of waking, sleeping, naps, meals, journeys, encounters, battles, and other such things as an average person would consider 'memorable' at the end of the day.

  At any time the diarist can say 'dear diary' and what he speaks will be written, verbatim, in the Diary until he says 'your truly' or ceases speaking for a full round. If the diarist remains still and focuses on an image or vista for a full turn a black and white sketch of the image will be recorded on a page of the diary. If the diarist focuses for an entire hour it will be in color. This image will be of the quality of a skilled woodcut, etching, or limner, but is not a modern photograph.

The only limitation on the Diary is the number of blank pages in the codex. The bookmark will magically move through the book as pages are used until it reaches the end. It can then be placed into a new blank book.

The Diary will only record as long as it is on the same plane as the diarist, but otherwise distance is no factor. Other people may move the bookmark to new, blank, books as needed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

DM Report: Phase I of the Briars Mapping Expedition

Over Memorial Day weekend we got in about 16 hours of table time. Earlier breakdowns are here, here, and here and my guesses are here.

More Adventure: After recovering from the near-fatal for several members fight with Ol' One Fang and using the Broom to ferry the freed slaves to Skull Mountain the party mapped for 3 more days then headed to Skull Mountain where they met - their other characters. Because the mapping will take so long other adventures are going on at the same time. All of them were at Skull Mountain for Midsummer and, as per tradition, they used the pre-sets on the mountaintop oculars and saw:
-Pyrotechnics over High Morath
-A flying swanship land in Timberlake
-An 80' tall humanoid climb to the rim of the Demon's Eye and wave at them
-A space battle between a dozen dragonfly ships and what appeared to be a massive snail ship. Clint thought that the oculars briefly put a red circle around the snail ship

Team Thief returned to complete mapping the western Upper Briars. The grind of mapping continued. As a group we discussed how mentally exhausting the mission would be: Constantly climbing through rocky, hilly terrain covered in briars; your clothing wearing out rapidly because of the constant wear and tear; limited sight lines meaning you are under constant threat of ambush so you can never relax; meals a constant cycle of one type of magical paste to another. Rough living.

While travelling they correctly guessed the command word tot he Ring of Raven Control they found and before too long Seeker was giving shiny coins to the various ravens of the Briars and contemplating becoming their new king.
Three or four times they witnessed a bright light from the Low Briars, always from the same spot.
One night they saw the Red Maiden on her owl chase a griffon, then transform it into a chimera and order it to follow her before she returned over the mountains.
They saw Ol' One Fang;s daughter, armed with a massive great sword but she ran off. The ravens told Seeker she gave Manbreaker to Ol' Knobby and that her name is Erena the Gorgeous.
And near the end they met the man in Purple with his travelling fortune telling tent. Just like the legend says, he answered 6 questions for them.
Total in-game time to map the western High Briars? 112 days. The eastern portion is larger. The Low Briars is much larger but the terrain isn't as bad.

Notes: It took about 50% longer than they expected because of bad weather, Ol' One Fang, and wanting to be at Skull Mountain for Midsummer. They hope the eastern portion will go faster. and they really hope they can get out of the mountains and hills to the Low Briars before Winter!
With the thorough map they are able to travel through the Briars they have explored much faster and, most importantly, without a real chance of getting lost!

What I Got Wrong: Almost everything! When bad weather hit the party just hunkered down so they avoided the flash floods and the tornado and the worst of the rest. The immediately fled from Ol' One Fang and then carefully counter-attacked and ambushed him. Although the party does admit - if O' One Fang's first blow had not been a miss at least 2 party members would have died - it was that close.

Next Steps: The 'other team' will try to get to the portion behind the eyes of Skull Mountain and then try to get to Remote Station #2 - the paladin has a weird metal plate that might fit the slot in the side panel.... Team Thief will continue their mission to the east while looking for Ol' Knobby, the new owner of Manbreaker. They will continue to hide from the Red Maiden whenever they see her.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Mid-Session Report: Briars Expedition - Ol' One Fang Is No More!

After the last session we woke up to a hearty breakfast and 4 pots of coffee, talked a bit, and sat down for the early session.

The party learned that Ol' One Fang (OOF) had put a stone over his lair's entrance. Seeker cast Audible Glamar to mimic the sound of the party falling into the pit trap nearest cavern and OOF charged out, boulder ready and the fight began.
Brigid pulled out her rarest of weapons, a Wand of Lightning Bolts, and blasted OOF for - very little damage after he saved. Godfrey, Nigel, and Thorin used the last of their enchanted arrows, pouring on fire, and Seeker engaged in hand-to-hand. OOF missed Seeker!
Then first thing in the second round, OOF tagged Seeker for minimum damage vs. a non-human - 15 points. Seeker fled. Godfrey and Nigel used their last enchanted arrows and Sparrow - engaged the female hill giant that had been this close to ambushing the party. Sparrow is a thief, but was using a great sword one-handed (magic items!) - he was overmatched. Brigid confronted OOF as OOF chased Seeker, who was running for his life. She struck with Mor Altach and hurt OOF. Then OOF hit Brigid with Manbreaker for 36 points, below average, and put Brigid well inside 'minimum damage kills you' range. She held firm.
The third round was the same with the party pouring everything into OOF while Sparrow held off the female hill giant by himself. Brigid got in a mighty blow with Mor Altach as Nigel, Godfrey, and Thorin all had excellent, top notch rolls with mundane arrows and Seeker fired his bow, also hitting and...
...OOF went down.
  Brigid began a coup de grace  as the female hill giant broke into a dead sprint for OOF. The archers shifted fire to her, Sparrow hit her (finally), and even Thorin tried to block her, but she kept racing for OOF, crying out 'Father!' in giantish then - snatched up Manbreaker and kept running! The archers got off another salvo before she slid down a steep slope and vanished into the thick briars. Godfrey pursued her (as the party called him back) and hit a pit trap on the prepared escape route that damn near killed him! He hobbled back to camp with 3 h.p.
  The party found 3 slaves in the lair and spent 3 days healing, clearing traps, etc. The cash loot was tremendous and they got a few nice magic items. They also found a Skull Mountain style door. A door that had been forced, then hidden. They found more of OOF's loot in the vestibule, and a narrow corridor went further back.
In the back room was a metal wall covered in 144 small hemispherical piece of crystal that flashed various colors, each one with a rune by it. The ceiling was a sort of smoked glass that lit up as they entered. On a side wall was a panel of metal that had weird glass plates on it with writing. The writing was in the ancient tongue used by wizards and looked like this:

There was no key hole, although there was a narrow slot off to the side.

At this point the players threatened to murder me over the female hill giant getting away and the fact they now feared blanketing the Briars with fallout if they messed with the panel too much.

The players rested and healed then resumed mapping after sending the slaves to Skull Mountain via broom. After a few more days they encountered a band of brigands and kobolds hired by the kobold king to find the exile by searching Skull Mountain. The party rushed back and prepared, but the brigands came, inspected the eyes, and left.

The party now suspects the g6 key opens the door in the back of the eyes.

They decided to have the party rest at Skull Mountain for a week and we took a real-world break, too.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Post-Session Report: Mapping the Briars

Play today was about 7 hours. The team had already placed their team in Skull Mountain and they headed to the High Briars on the first of Plantings ((mid-April). 8 o'clock, day one - giant spiders. A dozen of them. The party dealt with them then burst into laughter - if there had been surprise the party might have died as they left the road!
The party began their methodical mapping doing 'super-hexes' as possible, as I mentioned in the pre-game post. Pretty soon they settled into a routine and the map started coming together. The 'minor highlights' were:
-Skull Mountain reported a lone kobold, ragged and scrawny, tried to enter. They killed it and hid the body.
-The party spotted hippogriffs from the mountains more than once.
-The  famous ravens of the Briars seemed to be curious about humans so deep in the wilderness.
-Lots of encounters with things like brush wolves, briar cats, wild cows, feral goats, etc.
-Patches of large spiders here and there meant they had to stay sharp.
The more major encounters were:
-A troll - the party got 2 counts of surprise at 30 yards. The scouts and the fighters put it down while it was surprised and then Bridget put it down for good with Mor Altach
-A quickwood hurt the party, but was slain.
-A hangman tree was so tough they got away from it, marked the location, and went around.
-A warband of 20 kobolds ambushed them spreading injuries around, but Bridget got into melee and killed them a a prodigious rate. Seeker was able to Hold three of them (the only survivors). Details below.
-A beautiful human girl who said her name is Vasilissa of about 14 with blonde hair in a braid and a peasant's dress. She was looking for someone to help her with two bags. One was full of dirt and poppy seeds, the other full of good wheat and rotten wheat. Someone she would only call 'Grandmother' had given her a limited amount of time to separate the poppy seeds and the good grains, respectively. Seeker used his Gather cantrips to do the tasks for her. In gratitude she told the party,
"If you meet grandmother, always be polite and don't be snoopy about her affairs and she won't eat you. Probably."
Then she hurried off.
-They met a 10' tall raven that called itself the Raven King. It told them of the 'shiny cave' where they could get many shinies. Days later the Raven King started warning them to go to the cave for the shinies or they'd be sorry.
-A clearing deep in the briars. At the center? A shrine to St. Christopher and a sacred pool that seemed to hold back the thorn bushes 1/2 mile in all directions.
-Ol' One Fang (details below).

The kobolds: one of the prisoners was a boastful 'thug' (sergeant) who told them the folktales of his clan, the Ice Dagger Tribe. The prisoners were ferried to Skull Mountain by broom, causing a pursuit by a griffon that tried to pluck off the kobolds as they hung beneath the broom like Christmas stockings. They also said that they were following an 'exile' from the kobolds who has stolen a key. After dropping off the kobolds Seeker searched the body of the one killed by the hirelings at skull mountain. He found a silver key etched 'g6' that was of the same design as the key to the Apartment in Skull Mountain.

Ol' One Fang: The party were fairly certain they that Ol' One Fang's lair was near the source of the Rill (the river in the Briars) in the mountains overlooking the Briars. The Raven King seemed to confirm this. As they got close they noted that the brambles were often trodden down, the barbarian spotted massive bootprints, etc.
As they came into a ravine near the slope up into the mountains O' One Fang (OOF from now one) rose up and began hurling boulders from a position atop a hill with no briars.
The party immediately ran back the way they came at a dead sprint. Being the Thief Crew they assumed they were in a heavily-trapped killzone and retraced their route at maximum possible speed. Seeker got hit with a boulder before they could get around the shoulder of a hill.
About 20 yards further down Godfrey (the scout) and Nigel (Godfrey's scout henchman) turned Invisible (the other magic the party negotiated for) and set an Ambush using the scout rules as the rest of the party kept running.
The rest of the party then got hit by the Raven King and about 12 huge ravens. Raven King was screaming how OOF rewarded him with shinies for luring humans into the traps and he would eat their corpses after OOF crushed them. OOF was running behind, obviously coordinating with the ravens.
Then OOF ran into the ambush zone and rolled 2 segments of surprise just as Bridget engaged Raven King. While Raven King's beak and claws hurt Bridget badly, it wasn't enough. Bridget, Thorin (the fighter/thief) and Seeker put Raven King down.
In the ambush Godfrey and Nigel hit with 6 out of 8 arrows and did an incredible 34 points of damage (and using up all but one of their magical arrows) before they ran away. Nigel got hit with a boulder, but kept going. OOF actually turned back!
The party checked out Raven King and found a ring on its leg - this was eventually revealed to be a Ring of Raven Command.

The party began tracking OOF and were able to use his movements to avoid the various traps leading to the 'stairs' (a rocky slope) leading up to his cave. Seeker went Invisible and used the broom to scout - he found a path for non-giants, disabled the trap on it he found, then flew to the cavern. There he observed OOF healing himself with shamanic spells and ordering a bedraggled female elf in chains to heal him more. As she protested she could not, Seeker flew off to brief everyone else.

End of the session.

Overall Feedback from the Players:
-Because of the 3 times a day check in with the cartographers on Skull Mountain with the magical oculars, if the party gets lost they can correct course within a few hours. In the confusing maze of the Briars they get lost about 1 in 3 days. They very quickly realized that with their check ins within a week they would be lost and without magical provisions might very well starve to death before they could find their bearings again, another reason the Briars are so dangerous.
-They realized the large spiders and briar asps (a cobra-like snake) are the routine threats to normal groups and are quickly coming to hate the vile vermin.
-Sam recognized the tasks of Vasilissa, but can't remember what fairy tale they come from....
-Realizing that Raven King was OOF's spymaster and that the ravens of the Briars were reporting their movements to OOF, they realize that OOF has been the effective ruler of the western Briars for 2-3 human generations.
_The weather slowed them down to about 2/3rd - 3/4th of their hoped-for speed, but they are making progress, But after 52 games days they have barely dented the vastness of the Briars.
-After thinking about the holy pool and the shrine they had the cleric try Turning Undead on the briars - the closest briar bush burst into bloom with briar roses. They are puzzled by this....

My Comments:
-They reacted to Vasilissa in a very proper manner, if you know your fairy tales.
-This was 2 firsts for an initial OOF encounter - they ran immediately (almost every other party has charged right into the avalanche)  and no PC died in the first encounter. In every other encounter OOF killed at least 1 PC on first contact.
-Watching them realize how very little they know about the Briars after travelling the Old Road back and forth for 4 real-life years is a lot of fun.

Next Time: They are going to go after OOF in his lair!!

DM Data Dump: Fruit of the Briars mapping expedition

Fruits of the interrogation of a kobold officer:
 “Long ago, when the Lord of Evil ruled Skull Mountain, he ruled the entire realm. Kobolds were rich and fat and the elves lived far, far away. The Lord of Evil built the Old Road and the Old Bridge so he could conquer the wicked elves. The elves came to fight the Lord of Evil, but he drove them away. Then bad people came from the sky and attacked him with fire and acid from floating things. The Lord of Evil made the nearby mountain grow crystal horns so he could shoot lighting at the moon. The bad sky people called for help and an army of men and elves came and destroyed the Lord of Evil, his friends the Red, Blue, Black, and White cultists, and robbed kobolds of all their wealth and food. Now kobolds dream of when a new Lord will rule the mountain, make the mountains grow crystal horns, and drive out the elves and humans again.”

 “Freetown is far to the west, past the King of Kobolds. Anyone can live there, even stupid kobolds who do not worship the goat god and don't sacrifice humans. Some of them even worship the Human god! We go to Freetown 2 times a year to buy tribute for Ol' One Fang.”

 “When we travel east we navigate by the Shining Hut, the hut where the Human that Glows lives. When have never been there and no kobold will bother the Shining Man because he can crush our skulls with his hands.”

 “We also navigate by the wizard's tower. We never go there, but we see him, sometimes. He's scary.”

Losing Track: Rangers, Thieves, Monks, and What They Really Do

Many years ago my pal Joe Urban ran me, Lew, and a crew of players through some of the Slavers modules. Joe was relatively new to GMing, but we had a ton of fun. I had never read any of the Slavers stuff, so I borrowed Stockade to read through afterwards.
Reading it upset me. A lot.
Some of it was thematic (surgical alterations? Sure, sure, Island of Dr, Moreau, but - really) but the one that really torqued my cookies were the entries that read like this,
"This trap is a rope in the middle of the door on greased rail and cannot be detected by thieves"
First off, this is more of the railroad nature of the module in question. Second, it means the writers (yes, I know who they were) didn't understand what thief abilities really are.

Sure, sure, it seems easy to do. I have run into this situation myself,
DM: "The force of 150 brigands, all on horseback, seem to have dragged the 20 heavily-laden merchants' wagons across the open prairie towards the frontier."
Me: "We follow the tracks."
DM: "There is no ranger in the party, you can't follow."

The DM in this case didn't realize that rangers don't follow tracks like these

but rather tracks like these

Yes, anyone can follow the trail left by 150 horsemen and 20 wagons across the unspoiled grasslands - the grasslands are now spoiled, after all. But when an elven thief wearing Boots of Elvenkind sneaks across bare rock swept free of dust by a constant wind? A ranger can track her.

Monks can be seen as similar. Sure, your fighter can punch this guy until he goes down

but a monk can punch this guy until he goes down.

Anyone can hide in these bushes so only a careful search may find you

but a thief can hide in this room so only a thorough, careful search can find him.

This looks a lot like this internet meme, actually

Likewise, anyone can spot this trap

but a thief can spot this trap

What I am saying is, the various special abilities of thieves, bards, monks, rangers, etc. are not 'stuff that anyone can do' but rather damn near superhuman abilities.

I have had people who are OD&D ultramontanists - I mean purists - tell me things like,
"Thieves? Hell! I just have my fighting man probe ahead with a pole and then tap chests and stuff! Same thing!"
Sure, my fighters on point use poles, too. But it isn't meant to be the same thing!
The writeup in Slavers Stockade that a thief 'can't find' a particular trap gets it backward. It should read 'only 'only a thief has a chance to find...' because the Find Traps ability of thieves is supposed to be like what the Grey Mouser or Nift the Lean can do - an almost mystical ability to find hidden traps no one else can.

"But Rick," you say say, "That isn't what I think."

The DMG says that thieves can climb a sheer wall that is slippery with water. Slowly, but they can climb it. I agree - anyone can climb this for 80'

but I think climbing this for 80'

 is almost a supernatural ability. And that is the difference between someone without the ability to Climb Walls and someone with it.

Like my post about people who want to do away with the cleric (and there are many!) I often think they don't understand what these classes really do, what they are really for, or the impact on play in some combination. That, or they are OGs ('Original Gamers') who want to play with just the 3 brown books and nothing else. Kask strikes me as one of these. Some of these types just like that basic feel, some think anyone who plays d6 thieves is a counter-revolutionary kulak whose badwrong fun proves they are mentally disabled and of poor character and they really should have been on the Taggart Comet.
I like AD&D 1e and 2e. They're fun.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pre-Game Report: The Mapping of the Briars

My wife, Jennifer, suggested I do a pre-game show, uh, report before the huge marathon this weekend so I can compare what I think will happen versus what does happen.

The Coming Adventure:  The thieves and such of the campaign, accompanied by the barbarian (custom class) Bridget (arguable the toughest fighter PC) will hexcrawl the entirety of the Briars (map here).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Weighty Problems

Prompted by a question from James Eck that boiled down to 'why do your players keep going back to Skull Mountain rather than setting up camp and staying there?'.

Here is the player-facing map of the Briars:
1 hex = 1 mile

\It is about 30 miles from the nearest town, Esber. The light yellow is the Lower Briars, the gray the High Briars, then badlands, then the plateau, then Skull Mountain. The line is the Old Road, a paved Roman-style road from the Old Times. On horseback with good weather a party can push from Esber to Skull Mountain in four and a half days.. The road is old, unmaintained, and in some placed washed out and turned to tracks (the biggest breaks are marked with yellow). The first break is called the Patrol Camp because it is the furthest any patrol will go. A wagon could potentially make it to the Patrol Camp in 3-4 days but past that nothing larger than a 2 wheel cart can go. In good weather a two-wheel cart could make it to Skull Mountain in 9 days.
BTW, in typical weather it takes six days and 20 days, respectively. In bad weather (snow on the ground and storms in Winter, say) it can take a month+.
Off the Old Road? No one has ever tried....

When parties set out to adventure in Skull Mountain they have to have enough supplies with them for the trip to and from plus 'loiter time', i.e., time in the dungeon. Sure, you could hunt along the way, but game animals shy away from the road and Skull Mountain and its massive flock of stirges has very few game animals within a 4 hour trip. This means 2 weeks of food per person and mount, minimum. For a real dungeon crawl you'll need a month of food per. With a person needing about a pound of preserved food a day, that is 30 lbs of provisions per person. Since forage along the route is effectively zero horses will need grain and some hay - about 5 lbs a day (minimum) or 150 lbs so a horse and rider really should carry 200 lbs of just food to Skull Mountain. This means the horses are moving slowly, so that gives you about 10 days in the mountain.
If you take a cart or two you can bring more, but extra travel time! Again, this leaves you 10, maybe 12, days of dungeon crawling. You can bring pack mules, for example, but they need their own food and if you have more than 1 or 2 you need teamsters and such.
In short, getting to Skull Mountain to adventure requires a supply chain.

The party has done this in the past. Almost every adventure to Skull Mountain has taken a few in-game days. Especially when they went to the Second Level they spent 10 days inside the mountain and left enough hidden provisions that the mapping expedition only needed to bring half of their estimated provisions, so it can be done. But until some way of providing food locally is found you will need to maintain routine pack trains along the Old Road at least 4 times a year at great expense just to have enough food.
As a result parties tend to plan ahead, arrive for a particular reason, spend 3-10 days inside the dungeon, and then retreat to civilization.

Guess what else is needed?
Light sources. The mapping expedition took an entire cart of just candles and lamp oil. That horse needed provisions, by the way.

This is why Skull Mountain has to be cleared out from time to time.
But that could be changing; the mapping expedition's base camp will stay at the mountain for at least 6 months and could remain as long as 2 years. The cost of the provisions is so high that any stay of more than a year means the expedition will be forced to rely upon treasure found while exploring to break even!

The players are wondering how Skull Mountain was ever permanently inhabited to begin with!

DM Report - Back to Skull Mountain. Again.

  I have been running the Seaward campaign since I was a pre-teen and Skull Mountain has been part of it since Funkytown was on the Billboard Top 40, but the players always surprise me.

The current crew is still traumatized by level two of Skull Mountain and want to wait a bit before going to level 3. But the need to return because of their self-imposed mission to map the Briars.
I had never thought anyone would map the area, but they are determined to do so. The Briars range from rolling hills to almost badlands and are generally covered in briars, brambles, thorns, pincushion bushes, needle trees, and more. The party is planning to thoroughly hexcrawl all 500+ square miles of the Briars, carefully map it, and then sell the results to the King.

The Briars are home to Ol' Knobby (said to be a massive ogre), Ol' One Fang (a mighty hill giant), the Red Maiden (what appears to be a beautiful woman who rides a giant owl and bestows curses on wanderers), and at least one tribe of goblins. These are just the 'big names'; it is also home to kobolds, lions, giant spiders, and a lot more.
The party decided to do a ton of preparation over the weekend in preparation for a marathon session over Memorial Day weekend.

First was a three way swap of money and potions so Clarence, the not-quite-evil assassin could take Starfalcon's wand of fireballs to Skull Mountain alone. Taking the secret stairs he dumped Fireballs into the caverns containing the huge flocks of stirges, quickly killing them all. It also burned away the wooden screens (painted to resemble stone) at the back of the stirge caverns. Clarence reported to the main party, returned the wand, and then left.
The main group had hired some mercenaries, a cook, and two cartographers. They had also purchased supplies and hired a cart (to go with the carts they own) and transported their NPCs to Skull Mountain where they set up a base camp. The hirelings would remain there under command of some henchmen, while one cartographer observed the party from the various viewing points in the mountain and checked their location with the spyglasses on the peak at regular intervals. The PCs would take their other henchmen and the cartographer with them as they methodically sweep through the Briars dealing with what they find and mapping.

The players have been preparing for this for years. They have sought out and even traded magic items for other items with NPCs to make sure they have what they think they need. The expedition's magic gear:
- a pair of Elven Helms (allow communication with line of sight) - one in Skull Mountain, one with the party so reports can be sent back and forth.
- Boots of Levitation to make sure the wearer of the helm is above the Briars to communicate.
-  A Murlynd's Spoon to reduce the need to carry rations.
- an Everful Flask to provide water.
- A Broom of Flying for emergencies.

The party made their way to Skull Mountain, got the base camp setup and the cartographers to work using the spy glass to make a rough map then - climbed into the left eye cavern. Inside they found 14' tunnel sloping up that ended in an iron door with at least 4 Glyphs on it along with a rune they recognize that indicates that it was sealed by a priest to keep danger in. They left it alone.
Next they strike out West to begin the mapping!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Block Review: Iron Fist episodes 1, 2, and 3

After the slog of reviewing Stranger Things an episode at a time (which I eventually just abandoned) I want to look at Iron Fist, which I have hopes for.
Daredevil season 1 was very good (I will eventually review that since I think people missed a lot) and the first half of season 2 is good so far. Jessica Jones was a snoozefest. I am watching Iron Fist before Luke Cage mainly because I am terrified Luke will be as boring as Jessica.
My Background: I was never a huge fan of Heroes for Hire. Sure, it had its moments, but it was one of those early '70's comics a lot of comics nerds don't like to talk about in public - pop-culture comics.
Enter the Dragon was released in 1973 started a massive pop-culture focus on martial arts. Marvel made Master of Kung-fu by the end of '73 and Iron Fist within a few months. While Shang-Chi was associated with a license to make Fu Manchu comics, Iron Fist was off to the side, being all topical and relevant, so they teamed him up with Power Man who was...
...another pop-culture comic character. In this case, blaxploitation. Luke Cage's dialog was peppered with 'jive turkey', 'sweet Christmas', etc. for the first few years. By combining the two characters they survived the short shelf lives of their pop-culture origins until '86 when their combined comic was cancelled with a real shocker of an ending.
Crew: Scott Buck is showrunner and head writer. he has experience and has been on some fairly successful shows. He's joined by Dwain Worrell (who hadn't done much prior) and Quenton Peoples (more experience than Worrell). The directors for these were John Dahl, who has a fair amount of TV experience, and Tom Shankland (also a decent TV resume). In all three the cinematographer was Manuel Billeter, who was solid if not exemplary. Good use of lighting, his day scenes were as interesting as his night, and he captures fights well for a Western cinematographer. I'd like to see more camera motion, though. Editors were (in no real order) Jonathan Chibnall, Miklos Wright, and Michael Knue. Editing was decent, although Chibnall was a little 'heavy-handed' without detracting from the quality.
Main Cast: Finn Jones is the male lead. He is obviously a skilled actor with range. Jessica Henwick is the (so-far) lead female protagonist. So far she is pretty one-note with 'irritated and dismissive' her only mood. Tom Pelphrey is the primary male antagonist and he is doing very well with little and is slipping a little pathos into his character (and is the only one that seems to notice how ridiculous some things are). Jessica Stroup is the (sofar) female antagonist. As an actor, she's pretty enough, I guess. David Wenham is the hidden male antagonist. A talented actor, he's virtually wasted here so far. I hope he gets a chance to do more later. So far the best scenes are Ward and Harold in the penthouse because Wenham and Pelphrey together are wonderful.
Acting: I am breaking up the flow I usually do to get this out of the way. The real problem in the first three episodes is the actors and the acting. I separate them for one reason - Finn Jones. He's a competent actor: you can see it on the screen. He is just horribly miscast. For being 6' tall in real life, Jones comes across as a loveable hobbit onscreen - all I want to do is tousle his hair and give him a cookie. Again, he is obviously competent, he just isn't the guy to play one of the deadliest kung-fu masters on the entire planet filled with smoldering anger over his past losses. Wenham and Pelphrey are good and are great together, but they don't get to do enough in the first few. But the real problem are the female leads. Henwick is giving a master class on how to play every scene as 'mildly irritated' and Stroup might as well be the boom mic for all the emotion she projects. When Carrie-Ann Moss shows up in a minor role and actually, you know, acts, it is a painful reminder of how the female 'leads' aren't.
Plot and Writing: The origin story is a solid one and the writing is better than I expected. It is certainly better than it appears. The lousy acting from Stroup and Wenham is effectively erasing the emotional content from 2/3rds of the story. The miscasting of Jones is watering down almost all the rest until Iron Fist is almost just people on-screen talking and who cares?
That is a shame because there are some really interesting bits in the story. For example;
-Danny Rand does his best to always tell the truth which virtually always lands him in trouble. This is rather pointed commentary in the contemporary world!
-A couple of characters believe that anyone can be bought and are surprised when this isn't true. Another interesting critique of contemporary outlooks.
-Plenty of people know, for a fact, that Danny really is Danny, but they need specific physical evidence for this to be official. Nice examination of objective truth versus official truth that could be really interesting.
There is more, of course, but plenty to be done.
I do see some weaknesses, however. My main one is how Danny's emotional instability. Yes, I get it - he's back. But wouldn't a kung-fu master with 15 years experience in deep meditation be able to get a grip?
When Colleen Wing defeated a much larger man in the ring there should have been more discussion along the lines of 'that's impossible!', etc. After all - she's a superhero! That was her origin story. It should stand out that she was only able to do it because she is Special.
But it is early, so I hope these concerns will be addressed.
So far the action is pretty good, even though we need a lot more.
Bottom Line: I enjoy it enough to keep watching. If you aren't a huge fan of Marvel, don't seek it out. But don't avoid it on a rainy Saturday afternoon, either.

Monday, May 15, 2017

DM Report and DM Tips: Lighthouses, Swords, and Derailing Campaigns

Ran a quick session on Saturday, just 3 hours of gaming (we only expected 90 minutes but Son #5 fell asleep on the couch!). WE played in my AD&D 2e campaign, called Blackstone, and the lower level guys went to stop some bad guys from getting intelligence from a ruined abbey.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Magic Item of the Week: The Hoary Head of Hogarth

Found in the treasure hoard of a Jann alchemist, this creepy item has been seen in the town of Oldbridge. According to rumor Hogarth was an evil man who repented late in life and answering questions after death is part of the expiation of his sins.

 Appearance: The head of a bog mummy. A human head with the skin tanned from long immersion in bog water. The eyes are closed and the neck still has the strangling cord knotted around it. The dark brown skin is smooth and the eyes are closed. The hair is still intact and dyed a dark auburn from the tannins in the water. Because of the process of preservation it weighs only a few pounds. When its powers activate the eyelids open, revealing bright blue eyes that move about as if the head were dreaming. The mouth moves and the head gives the answers in a whisper. The Head will always speak the language of the person holding it.
 Powers: Only magic-users can use the Head’s powers. All powers are at 12th level of ability.
 Augury once per day
 Comprehend Languages once per week
 Identify once a month (a 100 g.p. pearl must be placed in the Head’s mouth. The pearl is destroyed) 
Speak with Dead once per month
Legend Lore once per year

 When first found the Head can whisper one spell to its new owner (level and particular spell randomly determined as if a scroll, but of a level the owner can cast). The mage can automatically learn this spell, even if it would normally exceed the maximum spells knowable by level. If in the possession of a magic-user who gains a level the Head will whisper a spell of the highest level the mage can cast. The magic-user has a +15% chance to learn these spells.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Earth as Space Australia, Part III

"John, I hope you will forgive the intrusion."
"Gar-tu-B~luk! Come in!"
"Thank you. I wanted to discuss something with you. The ship log indicates that you did a manual override of the air-quality and fire alarms for your cabin and then that the air quality here, in your room, was at dangerously poor levels last night. Is everything acceptable?"
"Oh, sure! I just had the other 5 Earthers over for poker night?"
"Is this a holiday of some sort?"
"No, Gar, it is just when Earthers gather together to play a game of chance. It is more of an informal social bonding ritual, you would say."
"Does this game of chance involve burning furniture?"
"What?! Oh! The air quality. No, gar. Poker night was special because my father was able to send me some gifts from Earth. Here."
"What is this?"
"Hold on, John, I have added an Earth Information Module to mt personal device sine we spoke of dogs and cats. Yes, let me see. Ah. 'Brandy is where earthers use distillation to concentrate the ethanol byproducts of fruit contaminated with yeast.' That makes sense; you used ethanol as a sterilizing agent to ritually clean your room and the toxic fumes must have..."
 "No, Gar. Brandy is a special treat. We drank it."
"You drank it. It does contain ethanol, yes?"
"And ethanol is a sterilizing agent and solvent on Earth?"
"Among other things."
"Is this 'brandy' what allows you to consume 'hot sauce' without dying?"
"No. Enjoy the taste of brandy. I overdid it a little, though."
"What do you mean?"
"Our bodies produce toxins as a by product of consuming ethanol. If we consume enough ethanol in one setting the toxins, plus the depletion of essential nutrients, cause us to feel discomfort, even pain, the next day. We call this a 'hangover'."
'Then why in the universe would you drink it?"
"Ethanol has a psychoactive effect on our nervous system which produces a feeling of mild euphoria. It unfortunately also inhibits judgement in larger doses so..."
"The more you have the more likely you are to have too much? That seems risky, John."
"We learn to manage our intake. Well, most of us. Some humans become alcoholics."
"One moment. Let me read this.... So you are saying that this solvent that you drink is also addictive to your species?"
"If you aren't careful, sure. It takes a lot to create a dependency, though. Well, for some people it doesn't. Anyway - we like drinking it from time to time."
"So as you drank the brandy you and the other earthers emitted toxic fumes that set off the... Why are you laughing? Doesn't that mean you are amused?"
"Gar, the air issue was from the other gift. I have a few left. They are called cigars."
"My database beckons. 'Cigar - a tightly rolled tube made of the fermented and dried leaves of the tobacco plant'. You ate these and then the...."
"Gar, please. We don't eat cigars. We smoke them."
"Ahhhhh! Now I see! Like the incense at the religious festivals!"
"No. We light one end and then draw the smoke into our mouths through the tube."
"The smoke? Into your mouths? For how long?"
"Oh, a few seconds at a time, and we repeat that until the cigar is consumed."
"John, I ask you to forgive me, but - why?"
"Remember how we use capsaicin, a natural pesticide, to enhance the flavor of foods?"
"Certain plants developed an anti-herbivore defense called 'nicotine'. It is an alkaloid and powerful toxin that has a strong stimulant effect on most earth creatures, especially mammals."
"Please continue."
"Tobacco contains a fair amount of nicotine so we dry the leaves, form them, and then burn them and inhale the smoke so we may absorb nicotine through our mucous membranes."
"To what end?"
"To enjoy the sensation given by the nicotine on our metabolism."
"Do all earthers enjoy this?"
"No. Some dislike the effects, others dislike the taste of the smoke. Some are concerned about addiction."
"Let me hazard a guess - nicotine is mildly addictive?"
"Goodness, no! It is highly addictive. I prefer cigars to other forms of smoking because it has a lower incidence of addiction."
"But not zero?"
"So 'poker night' involves you and other earth people gathering together to drink an addictive solvent while inhaling the highly addictive smoke of a plant so you may metabolise a powerful toxin. And this is an informal ritual that builds strong social bonds?"
"Yes! Lifelong friendships can form from regular poker nights."
"John, your species terrifies me. What do you do to convicted criminals to make them regret their crimes?"
"Oddly enough? We don't allow them to have ethanol. Access to nicotine is a right, however."
"I am NEVER going to earth!"

Monday, May 1, 2017

I Love the 'Earth as Space Australia' Trope Part II

Part I is here:
"The wife and I got a dog for our son this weekend."
"A... 'dog'?"
"Member of the canine family. Pack oriented chase predators."
"Wait. You got a chase predator for your son? Why?"
"So our son can learn responsibility from feeding and training it."
"How would you train an animal in a cage?"
"Huh? No! Rover is going to be part of the family! He'll sleep with our son in his bed, play with him outside, and our son will train rover so they can cooperatively hunt for wild game."
"So you want your immature son to be subordinate to a chase predator?"
"Goodness, no! Our son will teach rover to be subordinate to him! Rover will keep our son safe while they are off together, hunting alone."
"So your plan is to bring an apex chase predator into your home and make your immature son responsible for its care, grooming, and training as it runs free inside your domicile so that your son can not only make it a subordinate hunting assistant but so that the canine will protect your son?"
"Absolutely, This is a human tradition older than writing. I'm just glad rover gets along with our daughter's cat."
"I know I am going to regret this, but - a 'cat'?"
"A small feline, a pounce predator."
"Is your daughter to subordinate this pounce predator for assistance in hunting?"
"Oh, T'l'k'K'geb, you are so funny! No, our daughter just thinks cats are cute."
"Adorable? Aesthetically appealing in a manner reminiscent of helpless things?"
"Your daughter thinks a pounce predator is aesthetically pleasing?"
"All humans tend to, yes. And we find the cat useful, as well. It predates any rodents or large arthropods that enter the home that we do not like."
"Really? I had assumed that these 'cats' would have to be completely harmless in order to be viewed as 'cute'"
"Far from it! Cats have caused dozens of earth species to go extinct and the version of felines humans prefer most slaughter over 100 billion avians and mammals a year on earth."
"What is the name of the rings! You mean you not only accept one of the most lethal predators on earth as 'cute' you purposefully put them into your homes?!"
"Well, they are useful in making sure that mice don't scare the wife. I'm just glad rover likes kitty."
"Because 'kitty' would add rover to the list of dead mammals?"
"Nooooo! Don't be ridiculous. Dogs kill cats all the time; you have to train them to get along, usually."
"So these 'cats' with their massive amount of dead creatures are NOT earth's apex predator?"
"No even close! They're adorable little furballs that humans love to stroke, pet, and play with because they are so harmless."
"I am never going to Earth!"

DM Report - Oriental Adventures and the Trip to the Perfume Islands

I have been doing a little bit of OA as part of the Seaward campaign. Initially based in Yashima (Japanland) the party consists of:
Jen: a Sohei
Jack: a Wu-jen
Alex: A Yakuza/Ninja
Sam: A Bushi
Nick: A Kensai (bamboo spirit folk)

After a series of adventures where they foiled the humiliation of daimyo, stopped the theft of a lightning fan, toppled a group of yakuza who were not protecting the peasants, prevented a ninja clan from assassinating an imperial functionary, and more they were up in level a bit and had earned a reputation as being trustworthy.

I Love the 'Earth as Space Australia' Trope

You've heard the idea before - earthlings get into space and other intelligent life FREAKS OUT at how much we love danger.

"What is that - smell?"
"Authentic earth food!"
"No, that harsh chemical smell?  From that bottle?"
"Oh, that is hot sauce."
"'Hot sauce'?"
"Yup. On earth certain plants developed natural toxins to deter predation. One of the most powerful of these is something called capsaicin. It is a potent pesticide and is toxic to many earth creatures."
"Fascinating. But what does that have to do with 'hot sauce'?"
"Oh, right. See, take the plants with high concentrations of capsaicin and heat them to concentrate the toxins then mix the toxins with salts and acids to make hot sauce."
"Goodness! What is it used for, assassinations?"
"Nah. We put it on our food. We enjoy the way our body reacts to the toxins as we eat them and it enhances the flavors of the other foods."
"This stuff is so powerful you have to sign a medical waiver to purchase it. I put it on everything!"
"Humans are terrifying."

Friday, April 28, 2017

DM Tips - Campaign Building: Of Cabbages, Kings, Languages, Trade Routes, Orcs, Pies, and More

In 1979 I started my own campaign world, called Seaward. It had a village (5 houses, an inn, and a trading post), a coastline, and where the pirates were. For 5 months that was it.
Thirty eight years later it is a 124 page book of rules, 5 active notebooks (1,000 pages), 14 GB of digital documents, and 4 GB of maps. Stuff out of rotation is about 20,000 more pages and 20 more GB.
But how much do you need to play a TRPG?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Misunderstood and Improperly Played: Save or Die Mechanics.

Not too long ago I ran into episode 43,912 in the unending series of posts that can be summed up as 'Save or die is teh stoopid'.

As much as I want to reply,
 "No! You're stupid! you're stupid and you play wrong!"
I didn't.

Well, until now.

Your Party Had Better Have More Than Four People In It - Hints for Players and GMs

When I was just starting out as a wee DM of 11 years old I had to make due with the players I could find. Before too long I was good at recruiting and training players. I typically had 3-7 people at the table with me.
But I always had 6+ characters in the party. Sure, sometimes they were henchmen, but always 6 or more.
When I joined Lew Pulsipher's group he had a pretty firm rule - at least 6 'tough guys' (meaning PCs or close-to-PC-level henchmen) in the party. Eight full PCs and their henchmen is best.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Movie Game I Play With My Kids

I love movies. I studied film in college and teach film classes. I watch movies all the time, talk about them all the time, and so on.
About 5 years ago I started playing a game with my kids called 'as this movie is to you...' where I would look at a relatively recent film and compare it to a film from my own lifetime, or vice versa.
Unclear? here is a broad example.

1939 is called Hollywood's Golden Year, widely considered the year when the best crop of movies to be released in a single year was issued. Son of Frankenstein, Ninotchka, At The Circus, The Man They Could Not Hang, Destry Rides Again, The Women, Gunga Din, Tarzan Finds a Son, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Only Angels Have Wings, and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man were the c-list movies that year! Dark Victory, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, and Gone With The Wind were some of the movies nominated for Best Picture in 1939.
So here is how the first half of the game is played. I am 49 years old so 1939 was 28 years before I was born. What were the biggest movies made 28 years before you were born if you were-

39?- All the King's Men, 12 O'Clock High, and A Letter to Three Wives
29?- Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Ben Hur
19?- Hello Dolly!, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Midnight Cowboy

Here is how you do the second half of the game.
I remember seeing Big Trouble in Little China in the theater the week it came out and really loving the experience (what can I say - I'm a cult movie kinda' guy). I have seen the film a ton since it was released the year I turned 19. So - what cult/fringe movie came out the year you turned 19 if your current age is-

39?- Fargo, The Cable Guy
29?- Beerfest, Lady in the Water
24? (it takes a few years to ID a cult hit)- Hobo with a Shotgun, I Am Number 4

We play this game for fun, but there is a fair amount of information about trends in film if you pay attention.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Adventure Design Philosophy, Random Encounters, and Notebooks

Early in the week I started an adventure for the family. We hope to finish it tomorrow before the Easter Vigil. But the adventure made me think about my design philosophy.

So let me share a bit.

Bullet Reviews: The End is Nigh

I just finished a collection of short stories about the beginning of the end of the world. The End is Nigh is edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. It is the first in a set of three set just before, during, and after various apocalyptic events. I will be doing bullet reviews of each story.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Refutation of Rebuttal to a Response to a Defense of a Review; or, Let's Get Meta!

  Earlier I wrote a little something about an article by Mr. Genesson where he attempted to 'defend' Dune against a review one of my sons wrote.
  He has responded.
  His response is, well - more of the same.

Your Response is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

  My second oldest son, Alex, had his short review of Dune published at the Castalia House blog the other day. He wrote it in about an hour a few days after finishing the book and I shared it with the editor of CH who was kind enough to put it up.
   Alex wrote a largely neutral review ('some parts were great, some parts were terrible, overall average so I don't understand the hype' is a solid summary, IMO) and the overall comments largely boil down to 'yeah, that sounds accurate'.

  Reviews are tricky things to begin with because they are subjective opinions. Reviews of older, well-regarded things are even trickier because there are a lot of other subjective opinions already formed. You expect some pushback, especially from the True Fans, and Alex frankly expected a lot more than he has (so far) received.
  While still a minor, Alex is a big boy and I usually let him fight his own battles; he has so far declined to even read any of the comments since "...the sorts of people [he] cares about know it is just [his] opinion...".

  But there is a review I was made aware of I would like to point out as an example of terrible defense. Alfred Genesson's reply titled 'The Sleeper Must Awaken: A Defense of Dune'.
  Let me begin by saying - Mr. Genesson is entitled to whatever opinion of the book Dune he wishes to hold. If he wants to call it the pinnacle of human arts and letters - fine! he can. I am talking about the fact that his post is objectively bad and he should feel bad for writing it.
  Let's begin!

  Mr. Genesson writes,
  " Alex Stump has gone and made some rhetorical opponents with a tirade against Dune. Sure, he claims he's "meh" towards it, but who on Earth gets that passionate over something you're ambivalent towards? Sorry, the word count alone belies not apathy or ambivalence, but rather, antipathy."
  I must ask - if the essay was only 1,000 words would this be under the 'antipathy limit'? If the final rating had been 7/10 rather than 6/10 would this raise the 'antipathy limit' word count threshold? Is there a PDF Mr. Genesson could share showing how many words indicate approval, admiration, and pure animosity?
  All kidding aside, what Mr. Genesson has done is impart motive with no actual proof. He is saying, essentially, 'no matter what he wrote, I know what he really felt' and trying to justify it with something totally unrelated to the actual point. This is terrible writing, especially when he could have just asked.

  He goes on to show a picture of a 1st edition of Dune, which is cool. He continues,
" I'm a going to have to say, his summary and "good stuff" section is well, overly simplistic..."
  It is a less than 2,000 word review, so simplistic is the key. This seems like a cheap dismissal of the fact that the review does speak positively of the book and Alex admits it 'sucked him in'. Of course, that would mean his 'antipathy' theory is wrong, so....
  He then writes,
  "...he gets bits wrong here. Melange does indeed grant longer lifespans, but prescience? Only to the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah figure of the story."
  Let me be very blunt - the instant I read this I came very close to dismissing the rest of Mr. Genesson's reply and almost didn't finish reading it.
  It is very badly wrong. As in, 'sell off that first edition because you don't deserve it and go actually read the book' wrong.
  A central plot point of Dune is that melange is essential to FTL travel because the astrogators use it to see the future. The book Dune explicitly states that melange gives prescience to Bene Gesserits that have access to it, to astrogators, to Fremen during their communal events, etc. It is strongly implied in Dune that anyone who consumes enough spice gains at least limited prescience. The Kwisatz Haderach is different in his level of clarity, etc. but it is a matter of degree.
  This is a critical misunderstanding of what is arguably the central plot point of the book and means that I personally find Mr. Genesson to have very little credibility as he continues to discuss Dune.

  Mr. Genesson then writes,
  "Alex calls the "man vs. machine" story cliched, but how many times have those in the Pulp Revolution crowd pointed out that the so called cliched stories of the old Pulps are in fact, better, and more compelling stories?At any rate, this is centuries after the Butlerian Jihad, and I fail to see the point of complaining about a background piece that the book isn't even about. His immediate comparison here is to The Matrix, and honestly, that's only a mediocre film addressing VR, AI, and philosophy. It looks pretty, but if that's compelling to you, I'm guessing you don't or watch much SFF."
  Whether a story is good or bad does not change whether or not it is cliched. Also, Alex wasn't complaining, he was discussing the background. And Alex never mentioned whether or not he found the Matrix compelling, he was mentioning that Dune was written well before the man v. machine concept was recently popular. Just as with the 'antipathy' bit at the beginning Mr. Genesson is inventing emotions and motivations out of thin air. This strawman he is erecting seems to be so he can try some character attacks.

  Mr. Genesson starts to really go off the rails,
  "Mr. Stump believes this book to be painfully long. I suggest he avoid Mr. John C. Wright's Somewhither at all costs, then, if he can't handle that. I find this argument specious and indicates a lack of attention span and possibly discipline. Please, try getting though Pierre Bayle's Commentary, I did. Get back to me."
  In addition to the strawmanning for character attacks, Mr. Genesson is now bragging about his own 'abilities' [he seems to be obsessed with the length of his... reading materials]. This was rather cringeworthy as I read it, but I soldiered on.
 It also reveals he misunderstands the point. War and Peace is a long book, but a pleasant read. A Jack Chick tract is only a few pages, but still 'painfully long'.

  Mr. Genesson joins a list of other people who miss a plot point,
  "As to Dr. Yueh's betrayal, everyone has a breaking point, and the fact is that nobody is immune to such, and even hardening and conditioning only go so far. Since it's the Harkonnen that have her, he was likely shown the horrors they have or will visit upon her if he doesn't cooperate. Where does loyalty and honor dictate one protect first? Yueh has an impossible decision to make, and acts with as much honor as he can given the situation."
  Yup. Totally misses the point.
  The book explicitly states that Suk School conditioning is so intense that it is assumed that anyone who has gone through it would die before telling a lie or betraying an employer. It is so incredibly powerful if the Emperor knew they had broken it House Harkonnen would be wiped out. Herbert has Yueh break over what an illiterate street tough would try first. It isn't the fact that Yueh broke that is a plot hole, it is that it was so damned easy it was laughable that is a plot hole.
  I have my own take on it here.

  Mr. Genesson again misses the point,
  "Further argument against this [argument that Dune is pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli] is the fact that the Arabs have not reclaimed any of the desert, yet the Jews in Israel have indeed done so."
  Alex didn't say 'Arabs', he said 'Palestinians'. You know, the landless, wandering, looking for a home Palestinians? The ones that OPEC nations marginalized and largely refused to shelter, a stance Palestinians in the '60's thought was because they were focused on protecting their profits from spi..., I mean, oil? The ones that fought the Israeli army that was largely considered unbeatable and that lived in its own harsh desert "world"?
  Yeah. Them.

  Mr. Genesson just keeps digging,
  "Not to mention that Mohommadans do not search for a Messiah..."
  Wow. Just... Wow.
  Yes, Islam has a Messiah figure. In Islamic eschatology the "Guided One" (or the Twelfth Imam, etc.) will come to earth just before the Last Days and the yam al-quayammah, the Day of Judgment, to fight the Masih al-Dajjal ('anti-Messiah') to rid the world of evil for Allah.
  This is Comparative Religion 105 level stuff. This is 'I watch PBS sometimes' type knowledge. This is an 'I am too lazy to spend the time to google 'Islam messiah' and read the top hit' error of fact.
  In Dune Paul takes the name Muad'dib
 The Arabic word for "Guided One" is Mahdi.
  Yes - Paul is meant to be a messiah figure!

  Mr. Genesson also keeps building that strawman,
  "Addressing his criticism of the Bene Geserrit..."
  What criticism?
  No, seriously. Alex never criticised the Bene Gesserit. He simply mentioned they are obviously patterned on the Jesuits. Period. The end. Nothing positive or negative, just  - 'look at this parallel'.
  Mr. Genesson is trying to refute something that never happened.

  Mr. Genesson goes on to state that he has a different opinion of Dune's characters and dialog. Sure!

  Mr. Genesson continues his wave of assumptions with this gem,
  "I get the impression that Mr. Stump doesn't understand stoicism..."
  I'd like that turned into an essay so I can figure out why, personally.

    Mr. Genesson signs off with a non-sequitur,
  "When you play Social Justice, the world loses."
  Which seems apropos of nothing. Perhaps he ends every blog post that way.

  Now that I have gone through Mr. Genesson's "defense" let me be blunt;

  Mr. Genesson, the title of this blog post is for you.
  I don't know you and I refuse to speculate as to your motivations, but here is why your response is objectively bad and you should feel bad.
  You made errors of fact about the essay you are responding to.
  You made errors of fact about Islam.
  Most damning, you made at least one critical error of fact about the book Dune.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Revisiting Aftermath! Part II

Part I

This time I am looking at the combat rules. Just - reading them and making nots of my impressions as I go.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Revisiting: Aftermath! Part I

  My oldest sister and her husband are cool, like jazz musicians and rock stars. They got me the Buck Rogers collections when they were first printed; they introduced me to King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Dave Brubeck; they got me a subscription to Dungeon magazine for Christmas. 
  And they bought me Aftermath! in the Summer of 1982.
  I was already running 2 AD&D campaigns, a Champions campaign, and was pretty active socially so I never ran it, but I remember the first rules read-through was great fun.
  A classmate of mine, Derek, ran an Aftermath! campaign called Broken Sky in '84-'85. I have described it elsewhere in this blog, but imagine if The Road Warrior was crossed with the Dark Crystal, then re-written by Monty Python and directed by Mel Brooks. Everything was lethal, everyone was insane, and it was hilarious. He was using Spell Law for the various magical/super-sciency stuff but everything else was Aftermath! mechanics, including the rolling to hit with Firebolts and the gaining of spell lists. I played 4-5 sessions as one of the 'Shinermen of the Apple-Atcha' Mountains.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting Girls To Play

  I was reading an article about how to get girls and women to play TRPGs [no, I will not link it] and I came away from it annoyed. I always find it annoying when female authors pull the hat trick of
  1) talking down to men
  2) by giving their personal preferences as universal advice
  3) while also talking down to women

  The author said some stuff I find wrong-headed, so let me give my advice on how to get more girls and women into the hobby.

  Be courteous to everyone.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FORTY. YEARS. and a sale. And a prize

40 years ago today I sat down with a small group of college freshmen and rolled up an Elf. I was only 9 years old. The DM's girlfriend *insisted* that he let me play [thanks, Kim!].
We went into a dungeon - I went first. 90 feet in, I fell into a pit trap and I died.
Another player helped me roll up a replacement, and I rolled a paladin!

The Elf is long gone, but I still have and sometimes play that paladin.

I mentioned to the guy at the bookstore that I was playing. He ordered the books for me and pointed out Traveller, that had just arrived.
  I got the monster manual for Christmas.

  In the years since I have played and sometimes run:
2300 AD, Aberrant, Indiana Jones, Aftermath!, Alternity, Amber, Ars Magica, Beyond the Supernatural, BESM, Boot Hill, B&B, Bureau 13, CoC , Castles and Crusades, Champions , oWoD, Chivalry and Sorcery, Conan, CORPS, Cyberpunk and FNFF, DC, Elric!, EotPT, Fading Suns, FUDGe and Fuzion, Gangbusters, Ghostbusters, Space Opera, Godlike, HackMaster (both versions, early memebr of the HMGMA and early pre-orderer of books), HARP, Heros Unlimited, In Nomine, Jorune, Marvel, Mechwarrior, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Metamorphosis Alpha, MERP, Morrow Project, Ninjas and Stupid Guys, Over the Edge, Palladium, Paranoia, Pendragon, Prime Directive, Psiworld, Rifts, Robotech, RuneQuest, Sailor Moon, Shadowrun, Space 1889, Spacemaster, Star Frontiers, Star*Drive, Star Trek (most versions), Superworld, Bushido,Talislanta, TMNTAOS, TFOS, Timelords, TOON, Top Secret, TORG, Traveller (all versions, although the LBBs are best), Trinity, Twilight 2000, and, of course, D20, D6, and GURPS. And my favorite non-D&D game, Rolemaster.
  I am certain I missed a few.

  My wife and I spent our second date playing WEG's Star Wars. Half of all the Christmas presents I have ever received are RPG related. I have met amazing people at gaming tables and many a friendship has been forged over badly-photocopied character sheets.

  On the 16th and 17th (Thursday and Friday this week) I will be having a 50% off sale at RGNow.

  Today, though, is a special giveaway to celebrate!

  I will be posting this on Google+ under 'public' and my collection for 'tabletop roleplaying games' and in a few communities. Tomorrow morning the Fun Lads Four will make a list of everyone who makes a comment on one of these entries and my dear wife will randomly draw two names.
  Those two people will get a prize! The can choose from
1) A free copy of The Book of Seaward - my complete add-on rules for AD&D 1e that are never sold.
2) Free copies of all of my stuff on RPGNow.
3) A write up of the top four levels of Skull Mountain, including the sublevels
4) I create a new, custom adventure for them in one of the following game systems: D&D 1e, 2e, 3e; Rolemaster; HERO; Classic Traveller.

  Good luck and good gaming!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Play Report: Old-School Take on 3e, First Session & Second Session

  As I had mentioned a short time ago, the Fun Lads Four and I decided to try to make 3e as OSRish as possible and try it out.

The Setup:
Classes- PHB classes only. Some are limited (Druids must pick the one combat-worthy wildshape form they can take, for example).
Skills- PHB only
Feats- PHB only and not all are available (Natural Spell, for example, isn't to be found)
Prestige Classes- Some from the DMG
  In general, splatbooks don't exist (although we are told 'there might be psionics. Or not. If there are, they were always there. If not,t hey were never there'.)

Players and Characters:
I played Janusz- 1st level human Cleric
Jen played Mary- 1st level elven ranger (bow path)
Sam played Frederick- 1st level human paladin
Nick played Kedrick- 1st level human rogue
Jack was DM

Friday, March 10, 2017

RPGs, Deceit, the OSR, Publishing, FUD, and you! - A Rant

  Warning - rant follows.
  My blog's tagline mentions something I don't do enough of - talk about the industry of RPGs. There are reasons for that, the biggest being I am a hobbyist publisher. Not a 'small press'; not an 'indie'. A hobbyist. I strive to generate high-quality work, yes, but I will never, and do not wish to ever, generate a wage off of my RPG publishing.
  But there are people I talk to and interact with on G+ who either do make a wage off of gaming and related activities or wish to. Semi-series to serious authors, artists, etc., too. I enjoy reading of their interactions with and participation in what I will call 'more serious RPG publishing' for lack of a better term in much the same way I enjoy reading about baseball trades; it impacts my hobby, so I am interested.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How We "Fix" 3e - a Short Post

From years and years of not having access to anything else, I have a few cubic meters of AD&D 3e books. Working for Fast Forward as a freelancer added to that, as did freelance copyediting for, oh, half of the d20 explosion guys. They are all neatly stored in my (finished) basement. About once a year my wife has to convince me not to sell them.

Son #1 pulled a few out last week.

For the last three days he and I have been discussing them and there was a lot of,
  "Why do people say 3e wizards are overpowered?"
  "Huh. Why do people think this feat works a way it doesn't?"

So over the last two days he's decided to run a short 3e campaign in a unique setting.  But it led us to talk about What's Wrong with 3e and how to fix it.

Our takeaways:

1) The GM must keep tight control over what prestige classes exist. The creep and bloat of splatbooks can make a campaign collapse.

2) The GM must carefully control the magic items in the campaign. This ranges from 'no, you can't buy potions from a street vendor' up to using items that grow. While this may sound too obvious, the implied/assumed setting of 3e appears to be awash in magic items!

3) The GM must throttle access to spells for wizards and sorcerers and make sure cleric spell selections make sense in the context of the domains, deity, and alignment of divine spellcasters.

4) The GM must control access to feats, especially advanced ones.

5) Challenge ratings must be based on the level of play not the level of PCs.

This is from an old 3e campaign of mine- 6) Consider making the Barbarian and the Druid NPC classes

7) Play the rules as written.

  We'll be trying this out over the next few weeks. We think with GM oversight and cooperative players we can have a 3e game with a real 2e feel and play!

Play Report: First Game in the Dosmend Campaign for HERO System

  I love Champions and the HERO system. I've been playing Champions since it came out and it is my default superhero system. HERO is my default system for damn near everything that isn't fantasy or horror.
  Recently Son #4 told us that phrase that all people who play superhero games both love and dread.
 "Play anything you want".

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DM Report - Adventure in the East: new 1st level AD&D 1r party in Seaward

  Since I prefer jazz band adventuring and the PCs are leveling, we all agreed to launch a new low-level party.After a bit of die rolling we ended up with:

The Wife - Trixie Redspark, 1st/1st Cleric/Thief gnome
Son #1 - Lennart von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman (custom class from my Far Realms book) human
Son #2 - Ga'Ree Byu-Zee, 1st Magic-user elf
Son #3 - Ludwig von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman human
Son #4 - Anarawd, 1st Bard (another of my customs) human

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Classic Traveller: Reactionless Drives and Repulsor Tech

  Let's get nerdy and jump into the deep end of the scifi RPG pool - reactionless drives.
  In short, the reactionless drive 'issue' boils down to this:
  1) So far, in Real Life, it appears that in a vacuum and microgravity (or close enough) you need to expel reaction mass to generate thrust. Burn a rocket and shoot out the exhaust; use magnetic bottles to eject ionized gas; have hydrogen bombs detonated by a shock plate; whatever. In short, to move mass X through space you somehow hurl mass Y in the other direction and the reaction generates thrust.
The RF Resonant Cavity Thruster which is being tested in space about now might change the 'in Real Life' part of this post. We live in interesting times
The issue is this - with this as true travel through space is hard, expensive, short-range, and slow because you have to use mass to move mass.

  2) In fiction lots and lots of people use reactionless drives - ships move, but they don't have to throw mass 'that way'. 
  3) So some people say 'Yay, reactionless drives are fun! They let my book/game/whatever be Horatio Hornblower in space!'
  Other people say, 'Boo, reactionless drives are no fun! They break my ability to accept the book/game/whatever and mean that everyone should just be hurling planets at one another at 99.9999% C!'

  As much as some would like to label the latter group 'pearl-clutching ninnies' in the what was perhaps the very first fictional portrayal of reactionless drives (Doc Smith's Lensman books) the characters did, indeed, escalate until they were destroying planets by hitting them who two other planets. 
  From opposite directions.
  Both doing 99.9999999% C.
  And both were made of antimatter.
The father of Space Opera wrote BIG stories.
  So there is a risk there.

  You'd think that such a rather nerdy, niche, obscure issue wouldn't be that big a deal, right? I mean, it isn't as if people obsess over things like food or fuel sources in fantasy rpgs, right?
  But reactionless drives are a Big Deal in SF TRPGs, so much so that one side of the debate has the slogan 'friends don't let friends use reactionless drives'.
  Part of the problem is classic Traveller.
  If you are among the few guys who might read this blog who don't know what Traveller is, hoo-boy: you are missing out.
  As I remember, Traveller hit the FLGS in Spring of 1977. Dad owed me a huge favor involving a situation straight out of a 1980's sitcom
...but that is a story for another time...
  so I got it that week and started reading it.
  Two weeks after I got it, I saw Star Wars for the first time.
  Great timing.
  Traveller is a pretty crunchy game. The original books are full of mathematical formulae you need for play, including an intro to the use of vectors. The ship building rules, planet generation rules, sub-sector generation rules, etc. are essentially minigames. The game is developed enough that you can run a full game that is all about being explorers based on a remote, agrarian frontier world: you slip out into barely-explored space and come back with valuable knowledge and rare items. Or you can run a full game that is all about being mercenaries based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are guns-for-hire for the brush wars that erupt far from centralized power. Heck, you can run a full game that is all about being merchants based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are trying to corner the market on farm machinery!
  Oh, yeah - the trade system is another mini-game.
  Anyway, Traveller supports SF RPG play from asteroid prospectors trying to earn enough for more oxygen to intrigue among galactic nobles at imperial court where entire solar systems are used as currency and everything in between. A seminal game in the early days of tabletop RPGs.

  And it uses reactionless drives.

  I can remember the debates about this from Back in the Day, and they were pretty serious on the old Traveller Mailing List from time to time. I remember particularly when T4 was coming out with new ship construction rules.

  Personally, I have never had an issue with reactionless drives for one simple reason - we are surrounded by 'reactionless acceleration' all the time.

  "But, Rick!," I hear you say, "Gravity involves mass! The mass of the attractors!"

  Yeah. I know.

  As a little aside, I have fond memories of my Physics 360 prof telling us a humorous aside as we discussed gravity. He was quoting someone else (whose name I don't think he mentioned) and I am paraphrasing,
"The Medieval world used the concept of Crystal Spheres to predict the movement of the sun, moon, planets, and stars and were very, very accurate about it. If you pushed a Scholastic to tell you what it was that made the celestial objects move he couldn't tell you exactly what it was - he could measure its effects, he could make very accurate predictions about the future, etc. but what it was? He only had measurements and formulae. So he said it was the angels."
"Today people laugh about that, and say 'it is gravity!' But all we have done is give the angels a new name. We can measure its effects; we can make very accurate predictions; but as to what it really is? Could be angels."
  Anyway, the idea of a gravity-based drive being 'reactionless' is actually kinda' goofy. The reaction mass is just other places.
  Here is an analogy - beam powered propulsion. This is the 'planet based laser pushing a vessel with a light sail' idea. In this case the reaction mass is the planet that holds the laser - the vessel doesn't carry reaction mass for the main trip.
  With sub-light thrust using gravity fields the 'reaction mass' is, well, the rest of the universe, really. Even some of the biggest proponents of 'reactionless drives are broken' admit this (not all - just some).

  We know Traveller uses artificial gravity (it is explicitly mentioned in the books) and even use a form of defensive gravity generator, the repulsor. So I assume that the drive systems in spaceships are gravity-based in any spacefaring civilization in Traveller unless otherwise noted.

  One of the things I like about classic traveller in particular is a lot of things are implied, giving a GM plenty of room to move around. Look at gravity technology in books 1 through 8 of Classic Traveller and you see a lot of discussion about artificial gravity in use. Indirectly, usually. It really lets you go off on your own and has some interesting little quirks. G-carriers, air/rafts, repulsors, grav belts - artificial gravity tools are all over the background clutter of the CT game.

  Looking at the development of ships by tech level I decided to add something to a campaign I wrote up in 1986, re-wrote in 1988, and eventually never got to run. I have ported it over to my about to be launched campaign. That is....

Repulsor Shields
High Guard stats:

Repulsor Shield Tech Level Table
Tech Level-            11    12    13    14    15
Shield Rank-           2      3      4      5      6
  this is the maximum shield rating available at each tech level

 Repulsor Shield Displacement Table
Rank                 1    2    3    4    5    6
Displacement-  2    5    8    11  14  17
  this is the percentage of the ship required for the shield generator

Repulsor Shield Cost Table
Rating-    1       2    3     4     5     6
Cost-       1.5  0.7  0.5  0.5  0.5  0.5
  in millions of credits

Repulsor Shield Power Requirement
is calculated by: R 0.01M
Where R equals the rating of the repulsor screen and M is the total displacement of the ship.

  Feel free to point out any errors I am making as I am recreating these really experimental devices from memories about 30 years old!

  If you do more than glance at this, you'll realize that repulsor shields are just another maneuver drive! Rather than provide thrust for the ship, though, they push away any inbound missiles. In combat a ship with active repulsor shields applies its shield rating against all  incoming missiles! This is, naturally, in addition to any counter-fire, dedicated repulsor bays, and nuclear dampers.
  The downside is that a ship with active repulsor shields cannot launch or recover any sub-craft, regardless of size, and also cannot fire any missiles or even use deadfall ordnance.