Monday, April 26, 2021

Five Inspirations, Issue 1

In no particular order, and with no cohesive fabric between them, here go five sources that have I have recently consumed, and provided great inspiration.

As my disclaimer usually goes, these are things that I personally like, paid with my own money, and nobody is pushing my way. Other than the sophisticated advertisement apparatus of the tech giants, of course.

1. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu

Just finished this book, and my mind has been blown.


This book contained, by a wide margin, the best writing I've had the privilege to read in all of 2021. And possibly including 2020 as well. My reading habit is certainly not what it once was, so take that statement as you will.

The collection of short stories is insightful, paced, and thought provoking. Evocative writing flows from the page. There is so much sentiment and soul embedded in every single sentence. Fantastical elements, science-fiction and alternate history are blended with gusto. Doesn't really matter.

The titular "Paper Menagerie" story had me literally crying, its themes of migration, culture, and heritage strongly resonating.

"Good Hunting" was adapted for the brilliant Netflix show "Love Death + Robots", and deserves high praise. Industrialization, and our land and culture losing its magic.

"The Perfect Match" could change its entity to Facebook, Alphabet or Amazon, appear on a newspaper, and I would strongly believe it true.

"The Literomancer" is a gorgeously saddening story on the magic of words and language.

"The Regular" tells in 50 pages a credible and engaging neo detective story.

I could go on and on. Stories range from great to brilliant. There are repeating themes, heritage, language, communication, history, industrialization fantasy and futurism.

This book is a must read. Broadened my view and mindset. Pick it up, and thank me later.

2. NOD magazine, by John Stater

Ran into this series of zines in the OSR space, where John Stater has consistently been throwing together very complete material. Mainly centered around his land of NOD, they include robust hexcrawls for OD&D, with interesting flavor, including bestiaries and interspersed articles. They are a tour of the world in terms of flavor and influences. You have your pseudo-european setting (issues #4-#7), but also one based on african mythology, another with east asian roots, and even a tour of Hell!

The PDF pricing is extremely fair for the amount and quality of the content. I would highlight issues #7 and #34 from the dozen or so I purchased thus far.

In all likelihood one of these will form the basis of what we do in The Calaveras campaign. I'm thinking of issues #19-#21. After we rebooted our game with 1 less player, we should be done with Magical Murder Mansion in a bit (it's taking us a while, but we're getting there...).

3. Watchmen, the 2019 TV mini-series

Swinging in quality from episode to episode, and very derivative from the graphic novel, I still enjoyed the first six episodes of this mini-series. The last third is a bit of a hot mess, losing its grounded reality, and going into realms that made my eyes roll... I would have dropped it if it wasn't for Jeremy Irons' performance. The original Watchmen graphic novel was a favorite of mine, so take that as you want.

The topics are ominous and worryingly prophetic, given its release was end of 2019. Before the mask reality. Before the BLM movement exploded.

Other than the great portrayal by Irons, I felt the secondary characters also had strong performances.

4. A series of Bloomberg Quicktakes

My failure to latch to the Expanse hype train has not prevented me from enjoying and consuming more quality science-fiction than in recent years. Books, serials and movies. I ran into this series of videos with interesting cutting edge technologies. Interesting topics.

5. James Bond Movies

Slowly making my way through the Bond movies of old, with Connery and Roger Moore on display. Man, pacing in these movies was completely different experience back then. Cheeky, campy, and a good deal of relaxed fun. Sometimes my pandemic brain can only take this amount of complexity, and I'm ok with that.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

OSR: Stonehell Rival Adventuring Parties

There are good guidelines on Old School Essentials regarding the generation of rival adventuring parties (SRD here). And even a handy online generator to quickly have a new party created!

But as useful as that is, I want to shake things up a bit...

Generate a rival adventuring party with a dice drop, taking each of a kind from the full array (d4, d6, d8, d10, d%10, d12, d20) and reading all results at once from tables below. Let's assume the following example is for your favorite flavor of B/X, OSE, and for the Stonehell megadungeon.

Mind that there are light spoilers for Stonehell in the entries below!


d4-1 Thiefs
Number of Thiefs

d6 Fighters
Number of Fighters

d8 Level
Party member level (HD).
Divide by 2 (rounding up) unless in the levels of Into the Heart of Hell.
Leader is one level higher.

d10 Goal
1. Treasure!
2. Archaeological and architectural discoveries
3. Document Stonhell's inhabitants and the most exotic creatures therein
4. Holy quest to desecrate unholy shrines
5. Extract a specific magic items or bizarre curio
6. Make contact with the Vrilya
7. Find an exit to the surface. Utterly lost
8. Kill unaware targets with absolute impunity
9. Capture a high level Magic-User (1-in-20 they know about the Plated Mage [3B,3C,8E])
10. Redistribute wealth plundered in a stroke of altruism

d%10 Additional Members*
1. Magic User
2. Magic User
3. Cleric
4. Cleric
5. Dwarf
6. 2 Magic Users
7. 2 Dwarfs
8. Magic User and Dwarf
9. Magic User and Cleric
10. Magic User, Dwarf, and Cleric

d12 Unique Members
1. Halfling
2. Halfling
3. Halfling
4. Elf*
5. Elf*
6. Elf*
7. Pack of trained wardogs (2d3, as normal wolf)
8. Pack of trained wardogs (2d3, as normal wolf)
9. d2 trained bears (can use basic equipment), smoking cigars
10. d2 trained gecko lizard
11. Ogre
12. Troll, in search of the Great Hall [5C]

d20 Oddity
1. One of them is a doppelgänger
2. d4 are lycanthropes, werewolves or wererats (they are aware of the inhabitants of [3A])
3. They have a hefty bounty on their heads
4. Religious zealots, blessed (consult the d6 rolled: 1/ St Ras [0A] 2/ Lady Chance [1A] 3/ Duke of Bones [1A, 1B] 4/ Father Yg [2B] 5-6/ The Emperor God)
5. Are high on drugs, severe addicts. Hope Vaedium is the new hot narcotic
6. Armed with imported muskets, pistols, and blunderbusses. Know enough to operate them
7. Carry a cursed, chained magical tome. Dripping ichor and excreting fumes
8. Hungry and out of food. See the PCs as a source of calories
9. Roll on the section's random encounter table. Adventuring party at half HP, running away from that threat
10. Members of obscenely wealthy & famed mercenary company. Sigil visible. Wearing expensive capes and hats. PCs' retainers check loyalty or refrain from attacking/flee
11. Scarred and maimed delvers. 1-4 to surprise and detect/disarm traps, given extensive experience
12. Carrying a monster carcass, to be sold to the gentlemen ghouls [4D]. Are the PCs a score too?
13. This isn't the world they were born in
14. Followed by a retinue. Consult results on d4+d8. Beggars, cooks, barber-surgeons, bards, prostitutes.
15. Covered in flamboyant jewelry. 50% it's fake
16. Have d6 tablet scrolls (each 100 coins heavy)
17. Mercenaries of the Hobgoblin Occupational Army [2D]. Have orders to capture surface-dwellers if possible
18. Tons of inter-party conflict. Betrayal at the slightest chance
19. Have a magical compass that points to The Casino [7E]. If they have 4+ HD, they know where compass leads
20. Corrupted, mutated (unaware to them, by the Nixthisis)


-Magic Users and Elfs have sleep, and 2-in-6 chance of having whatever spell they need for the situation.
-Clerics have cure light wounds and 3-in-6 chance of having the appropriate spell prepared.