Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Middle earth as an hexmap

I was surprised I couldn't find a Middle-Earth hexmap. I guess this is like a "sacred monster" and turning itto hexes would be a blasphemy. So I did it, not a very detailed map, but the kind of one you could use in a vanilla od&d campaign. .

Link to a bigger version :

Friday, November 11, 2011

House of the Hobgoblin Daimyo

For a very long time, I knew from B2 « Keep on the borderlands » only the French published version. Only a few years ago, I discovered there was several versions of the same and more recently even, I learned some illustrations did existed only in the French version, thanks probably to Bruce Heard double nationality. So, I wasn’t aware of the first “pink cover” version. Still examining what could be learned from this fabulous module, I had a closer look on this cover. No doubt the creatures fighting adventurers are hobgoblins, as they’re depicted in AD&D Monster Manual.

The samurai armour is a feature of AD&D hobgoblin which is unique. Nothing else in their description in MM or any other rulebook suggest they could link with eastern Asian cultures -and the fact they have 60% chances to have carnivorous apes as guards, and 20% of living in village defended by catapults, neither their listed weapons or depicted weapons is specifically tied to ancient Japan. But... why not, after all? I suggest to take it as such: Borderlands Hobgoblins have a ancient Japanese-style culture. Just replace the chief by a daimyo or a shogun and the picture suddenly make sense. It give them a special cultural flavour and a nice switch in the campaign.

So... if hobgoblins are Japanese, what are other humanoids in the caves of chaos? Even if Kotb wasn’t designed for AD&D, it seems we could follow MM pictures to give us a few clues about it. Kobolds (p. 57) scimitar, despite not being listed among their weapons, leads toward oriental culture, and the style of columns behind suggest it could be Moghul-era India. Both scimitar and dagger could also have a Moghul era counterpart, but the costume is still a mystery. Anyway, a kobold rajah is a nice idea enough.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Keep in the Borderlands inspirational painting

"The Fountain of Vaucluse", by the american painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848). The paintings is now in the Dallas Museum of Art. Even if some details don't match, I found it very inspirationnal for the famous Keep on the borderlands.

The Fountain of Vaucluse isa small village in the south of France, well known for the impressive source of the river Sorgue. The middle-age poet Petrarcus did lived there and composed some of his most famous writing in this place.

The castle istelf did belong to the Bishop of Cavaillon, in the place where an antique bishop, Saint Veranus, defeated a dragon.

More recently, archeolgist found thousands of Vth century golden pieces as a tresaure in the source. Definitively a D&D place...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some thougths about rpg world mapping

As I'm world-building, using material from all campaigns and modules I masterised from the last 27 years, I had a look on a few classical world maps to try to catch what's the spirit of a good world map. Here are 5 of them, but I could add more based on the same principles : Blackmoor, Wilderlands, Greyhawk, Known World and Forgotten realms. 

The first feature which strikes me is that none of them is a full world map. Borders are mostly lands, not sea, as an invitation to go further. Unfinished maps for unfinished tales. What's south of Blackmoor ? What's West of the Wilderlands ? The DM's imagination... 

I guess this feature comes from earlier fantasy litterature. Middle-earth, Hyboria, Newhon or Young Kingdoms map are  based on the same principles. 

I remember my first attempts of world buildings as a young DM. As far as I can rememebr, I nver played in tose big continental maps I drew, while I can distinctively remember I used smaller, unfinished ones, as seetings for my games. maybe i'll post some of them here soon or less.

Another striking feature, of which Blackmoor is the best - and earlier - example is the idea of the Great bay: sea goes faraway in the lands, like a Mediteranea. In these five maps, only Known World escape this feature. All have a big surface of seas. 

The 'Great bay' feature had a significant impact in my longer D&D campaign, with the CM1 'test of the warlords' Norwold's Great bay aera. This module's map share's clearly tehse two features: it's organised around a great bay, with land on two borders of the maps.

So... my current world-building work-in-progress has still no map, even if the picture is growing in my head. Now, I think I found two clues about how organize it for a mysterious, successful map. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lost Land of Mêm

Another archive file, I posted on on odd74 forum

Mêm is a land of grass hills, battled by warm winds coming from the southern jungles. It’s a wilderness, with a scarce human and orcish settlement. The wild hills and grasslands are the realms of many animal species: baboons, black bears, giant beetles, wild boars (and warthogs), bulls, wild camels, wild cattle, wild dogs, elephants, flightless birds, herd animals, hyenas, jackals, mammoths, mastodons, giant rats, rhinoceros (including its wooly cousin, in the colder north), common stags and wolves are common, as well as numerous dinosaurs species like anatosaurus, iguanodon, monoclonius, pentacerops, plateosaurus, stegosaurus (in the south, near the jungles), styracosaurus and triceratops. 

The chalky subsoil has been dig from millions of years by the rivers. Their large valleys have turned to swamp and marshes. Sudden changes in the river flow created islands and lakes. Theses swamps are a dangerous place, due to the abundance of crocodiles, giant toads and giant water spiders. But the main troubles are dinosaurs like apatasaurus, camaraurus, diplodocus and lambeosaurus. Some islands and rives are covered by small woods and forests, where bombardiers and boring giant beetles and strangle weed are another danger. 

All these rivers converge to a dead inner sea, curiously called the Sea of Horses. Giant sea horses, sharks, sting rays and whales are common undersea fauna, as well as dinosaurs like dinichtys, and plesiosaurus. Pteranodons living in the surrounding cliffs and islands predates from fishes. This makes boating hazardous on the inner sea. 

These valleys are surrounded by cliffs, pierced everywhere by caves in this karstic landscape. Due to the massive presence of dinosaurs, even if most of them are plant-eaters and other giant creatures, most thinking species settle rather in the subterranean caves than in the underground. Clans of dwarves, orcs and troglodytes, as well as band of ogres and hill giants, fight endlessly for the control of these subterranean networks of caves. Forests of giant mushrooms, including shriekers, provide food for underground inhabitants. 

As their physiology doesn’t fit to underground life, human live in cities surrounded by a small farmland, fighting hard to protect them from dinosaurs and other animals, among them the feared giant stag beetle. Out of the cities, only heavily armed merchant caravans, using draft horses and mules – as well as bands of bandits and brigands – travels in the wilderness from city to city. 

In these cities, people worship death and devils, as way to protect themselves from these surnatural beings. Temples are rumoured to be protected by ferasome things as lemures and larvaes.

All the creatures cited here are quoted as being “common” in the AD&D Monster Manual. All common creatures have been used, and no other frequency category. So this is the most common world… 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Searchers of the unknown, character sheet version

Another archive I found back in my computer. Searchers of the unknown has been widely spread in sth OSR and had a nice descendance - the most comle game being Tempora Mutantur, which I warmly suggest you get a look here. But I wonder if many people saw that version, updating the first version with all rules on the character sheet. The pdf can be found here

The basic idea of SotU is that you can describe a D&D character like you would do with a monster (AC5, DV4, Dg 1d8), so you don't need much more to play. It also emulates at best the descending AC by making it a way to deal with stealth & stunts in addition of combat. 

This version adds  8 classes, in the sense of stereotypes, deal differently with after-fight recovery, add a quick'n'easy equipement method and even suggest a skill system, still in one page. Enjoy! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Platypi-folks for Labyrinth Lord

I posted this once on the Goblinoid games forum, a very nice place I should visit more often, and found it in my archives. So, just for fun, here rae the Platypi-folks - open-content, for sure. 

Requirements: WIS 9, CON 9
Prime Requisite: WIS and CON
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 8

Platypi-folks are even smaller than dwarves, being about 60 pounds and only attaining a height of around 3 feet. They have a furry body, a duck beak, long furred-tail and palmed arms. Platypi-folks have a gentle nature, and value good swimming, fishing and boxing.They will engage in playful activities when not on an adventure. Because of their small size and palmed hands, Platypi-folks may not use large and two-handed weapons, but may use any other weapon and armor. They must have at least 13 in one or the other prime requisite in order to get the +5% to experience. They must also have a STR and DEX of 13 to get the +10% bonus.

Platypi-folks are very good swimmers and are able to stay up to three minutes underwater. They have an uncanny ability to disappear in the water when swimming. In rivers or other underwater cover, Platypi-folks can hide with 90% ability. They got a sixth sense called electrolocation: even in full darkness, they may feel any living being by the electricity product by its muscular moves. So they’re very difficult to surprise: each creature have 1 chance on 6 less than usual ton surprise a Platypi-folk.

Because they are so small, Platypi-folks have a lower armor class (-2) when attacked by creatures greater than human sized. When really threatened, they may use their venomous talons, which are located under their feet, with a -4 penalty to hit. Any people wounded (damage 1d4) must save against poison, or get a -4 penalty to hit for 1d6 days, due to partial paralysis.

Reaching 8th Level: When a Platypus-folk reaches level 8, he can build a riverside stronghold. These strongholds will be in serene, beautiful rivers and Platypi-folks will come from great distances to settle there. The character becomes the leader of the people and must rule them wisely and well.

Platypi-folk Level Progression
Hit Dice: 1d6 per level
Experience (Level)
0 (1)
2,035 (2)
4,065 (3)
8,125 (4)
16,251 (5)
32,501 (6)
65,001 (7)
130,001 (8)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why being an adventurer ?

To answer this classical question, I made a random table - randomness is the answer to any D&D-related question, anyway. It proved to be very practical at first, as it gives both a quick'n'easy background and a personnality trait, without wasting too much time for a potentially dead 1st level PC.

1 – Broken love. You want to forget her/him, or to prove your own value.

2 – Taste for adventure. You just like the thrill of coming death. 

3 – Family tradition. Dad was an adventurer. Mum was an adventurer. You got no choice.

4 – Drunkard. You joined adventurers while being drunk. Now you drink to forget you did.

5 – Faith. It’s your religious duty to smite the enemy.

6 – Uniform. These adventurers looks so nice, you wanted to be one.  

7 – Family problems. They threw you out and don’t give you money anymore.

8 – Justice. When they caught you, they give you choice: hand-cut, or go far away. 

9 – Travel. As a kid, you wanted to see others countries. Now, you do.

10 – Vengeance. Your family was murdered. You’re the arm of vengeance.

11- Poverty. Famine, disease, you need so much money.

12 – Credulity. You really thought it would be easier and you’ll get rich and famous.

13 – Discipline. You were fired off the military. Too much a troublemaker.

14 – Patriotism. Your country is your first love. You will fight for the Land and the Flag.

15 – Feudal obligation. Service of you Lord is a duty and you won’t fail.

16 Sense of duty. You feel you need to be there, to help people.

17 – Error. It was supposed to be another one. It should have been.

18 – Younger brother. Your older brother will inherit all, money and land. 

19 – Sheriff. He wants you, dead or alive. You’re better far away from him.

20 – Glory. You deserve it. Now, you just have to show them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Epées & Sorcellerie RPG English Translation Released!

Once again, Dave made a clear and enthusiast advertisement message for the realease of our firsrt Frightful Hobgoblin game. So, as i'm still lazy, I cut&copy. I ust add I'm very happy and proud of these news!

"It has been a long time coming, but the day is finally here. Frightful Hobgoblin is proud to announce the release of the English translation of Nicolas Dessaux's Epées & Sorcellerie roleplaying game, now available in both print and pdf versions from Lulu.

The pdf (7.4 megs) is a free download, while the print copy (8.5 x 11 paperback) has been released at cost and can be purchased for $9.57 US (€6.68).

Inspired by Original D&D and Chainmail, along with some modern additions, Epées & Sorcellerie is a complete game in just 68 pages. Players can be human, orc, elf, dwarf, or halfling, and become a warrior, priest or sorcerer up to level 12.
With some interesting variations on familiar themes, whether you play it in its own right, or mine it for ideas to use with your current game, the Epées & Sorcellerie RPG is well worth checking out. And you can do so for free! So what are you waiting for?"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eight variants on the Caves of Chaos

During my last ‘Newbies in Blackmoor’ game session, I used goblins and hobgoblins caves caves from KotB as a former gnome mine which has been conquered by these goblinoids, so as a separate dungeon. And, for my Borderlands group, I placed several classical outside of their ‘normal context’, including Lost city pyramid in a marsh, two days from the village of Orlane – even if, after a first attempt, the characters choose to delay visiting that intriguing place. That’s how I build my sandbox campaign using classical material. 

So, a I must play soon with another group of players, I was looking around what modules I could use, and it gave me the idea to suggest alternate versions of the Caves of Chaos:

1 – The mountain caves. No changes, except reverse the level lines, so goblins, kobolds and so on are on the upper side. Maybe have a skull entrance on 51 tunnel to the temple, in the lower part of the mountain. 

2 – The frozen caves. Same plan and creatures, but the caves are dig into Ice, not rock, in a polar setting. Probably the Keep is set on an island. Tunnels are slippery and orcs wear furs and use seal bones as tools. Easy to make others options like the desert caves, the jungle caves and so on…

3 – The undersea caves. Same plan, all creatures being replaced by their water cousin if any, or others filling the mood (a bloody killer whale instead of the owlbear ?). Sahuagins could fit the role for Temple of Chaos priests. A few traps should be changed, but not that’s much.

4 – The urban caves. Same plan, but the caves are set under a city, and their openings lead to some well known buildings. The keep could be the town’s keep as well. Maybe replace some creatures, like bugbears or gnolls, by a thieve’s guild or a smuggler’s gang. 

5 – Caves of the giants. Turn kobolds to ogres, goblins to hill giants, hobgoblins to stone giants, gnolls to frost giants, bugbears to fire giants, ogre to an athatch an minotaur to Ettin, add each of them a few pets. Fore sur, makes the Temple fo Chaos a drow fortress and the High priest a drow female priest, and link this to the G-D-Q modules. 

6 – The vertical caves. Same plan and creatures. Use the map as if it was a slice. The blank space in the middle is a very big cave. Then, add a lot, a lot of ladders, ropes, stairs and other means to go from a room to another. It turns to a nightmare to explore… A variant is the pit caves: Turn the map with east upward. 

7 – The alien caves. Same plans, some technological changes. Allow tech weapons to the creatures which use range attacks and give a sci-fi outlook to the overall. The caves are located on an asteroid. As options, combine with 5 (without gravitation) or changes creatures to Barsoom ones. Use the keep as a space ship, for sure.

8 – The caves of Law. Use Halflings for Kobolds, gnomes for Goblins, dwarves for Hobgoblins, elves for gnolls, hsiaos (from RC) as bugbears and a temple of Law protected by statues. Use as home base, or send avengers from the Keep of Chaos. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Tom Moldvay did influenced Vampire?

When “Vampire: The Masquerade” was released, my favorite players all wanted to play that brand new Vampire instead of D&D. There was already a French RPG about Vampires, but it vanished as soon as this one appeared in the game’s stores. At first, it looked as something entirely new, focusing on ”storytelling” rather dungeon crawling. I was caught into the vampire mood for the next ten years. Now, reading back Vampire and discovering the history of our hobby more deeply, I find very striking how oldschool is Vampire, and more, how Tom Moldvay influenced it!

So… imagine a game were you pick a class (fighter / brujah, ranger / gangrel, thief / nosferatu, wizard / tremere, bard / toreador, then assassin / assamite, illusionist / ravnos, and so on), an alignment (Law  / camarilla or Chaos / Sabbat) and explore old pyramids (Diablerie in Mexico!) to get experience points and raise levels (generations – vampire is the only game with a descending level system). Nothing really new since Dave Arneson… Just, Mark Rhein*Hagen was a genius to make old concepts to feel new, and a great game designer.

Anyway, my point is not about the Oldschool vs Newschool debate, but about Tom Moldvay’s influence on Vampire. Writing an extensive article on Moldvay for the French Wikipedia, I took the time to read as much as I can of his writings. “Trouble Brewing” was a blast!  With more than 170 NPCs described with a fair amount of details, it’s a perfect campaign setting. The city of Lakefront is, clearly, Chicago during the 20’s. What was the first campaign setting published for vampire, celebrated as one of the most complete one at that time? “Chicago by night”, which described a fair amount of NPCs. More, what town was described in the Vampire’s core book? Gary. Gary! Remember the Chicago area was already the base setting for the C&C society, where Blackmoor and Greyhawk were first located. I just can’t imagine all this to be a hazard.

A common characteristic of Tom Moldvay’s modules are opposing factions. The best sue of this feature is The Lost city, where the Cynidiceans are three opposing factions and characters can join one of them, or use their oppositions for their own goals. But this feature appears in Isle of dread, in Castle Amber, in the Volturnus series and so on… Even if this appears under the pen of others writers (Paul Jacquays, for example), this feature is more typical of Moldvay than any other oldschool module designer. And these factions lead to Vampire’s coteries, more than any Ravenloft’s lone castellan. Maybe I’m wrong, but I enjoy dreaming it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who and what are Frightful Hobgoblin?

As I'm a lazy guy, and Dave Macauley made a nice post on his blog (, go have a look!), I just copy and paste it. Anyway, this is wonderful news for me to announce Epées & Sorcellerie will soon be released in English, and the first book of Aventure Fantastiques is available in french now.

Who and what are Frightful Hobgoblin?

Frightful Hobgoblin is an Anglo-French RPG publishing company that will shortly be releasing a variety of products in both French and English. These products will be available both in PDF format and in print through print on demand publishing. Initial releases include:
The original version of Dungeons & Dragons provided a unique description of orcs, somewhat different to later editions. The supplement Orcs expands upon the original description with the addition of many cultural details about the daily life and customs of these humanoids. It includes guidelines for playing an Orc character in OD&D and compatible games.

Epées & Sorcellerie

Released in 2009, this French RPG will shortly be available in English. Mixing OD&D with Chainmail and using only a 2d6 mechanic, Epées & Sorcelerie is a complete role-playing game in 64 pages.

Aventures Fantastiques

A new French version of the classic role-playing game. This booklet will enable play with the four core classes and races, with rules for character generation, magic, combat and adventures. A second booklet of monsters and magic items will be released later, with an English translation to follow.


Nicolas Dessaux... It's me...

David Macauley is an Australian who started gaming at the age of 14 in 1981, with Holmes D&D, and has been hooked on the older versions of the game ever since. He has worked as a proofreader and occasional editor with various OSR authors and publishers, including Brave Halfling Publishing, Goblinoid Games, James Raggi, Moritz Mehlem, and others. A strong supporter of the OSR, he is also the Labyrinth Lord Society organizer.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Congregations of the Borderlands

« Groups sent on a mission will be blessed and given up to 100 g.p. each for any needed supplies. », states, once again, Keep in the Borderlands. I was a bit puzzled by that blessing, and searched a few more explanations. The first one was technical: even if we adopt the « small scale » on the map, the 6 turn duration of the Bless spell should last before they arrive in the caves. 

So, I read once again the spell description in OD&D (which was the rule set Gary had in mind when writing KOTB), Holmes (for which the module was officially released) and Moldvay (for which the module was adapted later). The text is almost the same, and makes sense: the spell should be cast before the battle, but will really be active once the fight begins. So, nothings prevent to cast a Bless spell long time before it could be useful. The only « technical » problem is any fight, even a minor one, will starts the spell effect and the six turn duration…

Anyway, the real question is not technical, but once again, anthropological. Why are the groups be sent on missions blessed? For sure, this provides a help in the first battle, which can’t be bad. But can this be the only reason? I suspect at least another one, which is embedded into the struggle between Law and Chaos. Law, as I already stated, seems obsessed by the idea of purity, and considers contact with Death and Chaos as impure. So, a Bless protects the groups from the impurity of Chaos.

Maybe I am wrong on that hypothesis, but searching for more clues, I was puzzled by another detail I didn’t noticed earlier about the Borderlands religion: « He [the curate] will only use the cure on a member of his congregation, such as an officer of the Guard or a shopkeeper. » So some spells could be reserved to congregation members and some are not. The reason should be discussed in detail, but the main fact is such: there is something called a congregation, and some people, including shopkeepers, could be members.

Congregation is a broad word, which could apply to an autonomous Church (in a protestant meaning), or a group of secular people practicing their faith in common, under the leadership of monks or priests (in a catholic meaning). Both meanings seems possible in the context, but it means the congregation is, apparently, more restrictive than alignment.

In the first sense, it would mean the Law itself is divided between several churches. Why not, after all? If there’s a dogmatic interpretation of the Law, it’s rather probable there are several dissents, or at least, coexisting interpretations… The fact the Priest tries to convert people to his (fake) faith by discussing theology provides a good base for this: it means several theological visions of the Law may coexist. I can easily imagine Borderlands people as highly religious dissenters, living faraway from the corruption of town and cities, and viewing their faith as a citadel of the Law protecting the world from Chaos.

In the second sense, Law church would have groups of secular people, praying altogether, organized around a curate or another religious figure. Catholic Church provides many examples of such “Third Orders”. The formulation Gary chose provides a good base for this: it seems that not every people in the Keep are a member of the congregation, even if all of them appear implicitly to be lawful.

Both explanations could apply altogether easily. The curate’s acolytes seem to consider the Priest “very highly”. They consider him as a member of the same faith, even if the curate himself is secretly defiant about him. I’m inclined to think the Law is not a so-much organized church. Many theological interpretations and congregations do exist, sharing the same basic pillars of the faith, but opposing on many other aspects. This diversity affects even an isolated and faraway place like the Keep, so just imagine how it could look in town and cities?