02 February 2023

Recovery and planning in Hommlet (Greyhawk campaign)


5.1 Return to Hommlet (Flocktime 8th)


The weary adventurers — Erik (the mountain dwarf fighter from the Lortmils), Althaea (the high elf wizard from the city of Tringlee), and the brothers Godric (the human rogue from the Barony of Shiboleth) and Cedric (the human cleric of St. Cuthbert) — return to the village of Hommlet from their ill-fated expedition to the ruined Moathouse. They carry with them the body and head (sadly now separated from each other by a lice-ridden bugbear) of Elmo. Arriving around midnight, the party first takes Elmo’s body to the Church of St. Cuthbert. However, Brother Calmert informs the party that Elmo was a follower of the “Old Faith,” and instructs them to take the body to the village’s druidical grove. 


The village’s Old Faith leader, the elderly Jaroo Ashstaff, accepts Elmo’s body and thanks the party. Althaea praises Elmo’s valour and promises to donate an equal share of the loot recovered from the expedition to Elmo’s family. After learning about what has transpired at the Moathouse, Jaroo tells the party that he plans to call a meeting of the Hommlet Village Council.


The beleaguered party returns to the Inn of the Welcome Wench, wherein Erik orders six pints of Underdeep Ale for himself, and six pints for his colleagues to share. The group then retires to their room where they collapse in weariness.


5.2 Business in Hommlett (Flocktime 9th)


The following day Cedric returns to the Church of St. Cuthbert. There he meets with Canon Terjon. Cedric updates his senior on all that they’ve discovered at the Moathouse. Terjon tells Cedric that Jaroo Ashstaff has called for a Village Council meeting on the morrow, and that the party should attend.


Althaea and Godric go the Traders’ Establishment. There they meet with the two oleaginous Oeridian merchants, the rotund Rannos Davls and the spindly Gremag. After some negotiations, the party agrees to trade a number of their recovered items (the gold and silver necklaces, a chain shirt, some quartz stones, and the like) for store credit. The wizard and rogue negotiate 50 gold coins in credit and give 10 to Hroth (Elmo’s father). Also purchased: a mule, four pouches filled with flour (requested by Althaea to deal with potential invisible creatures), two bedsheets, and a waterskin filled with four pints of oil. Godric is somewhat annoyed by the amounts paid by Althaea to the traders.


Erik talks to Smyth the smith. The dwarf requests a number of “thin” shields to cover arrow slits and the like. Smyth agrees to make some tin shields to Erik’s specifications.


In the afternoon the party reconvenes in the Inn and divides up the remaining coins from their expedition to the moathouse and battle with the gnolls and bugbears. The innkeeper Ostler Gundigoot overhears Althaea and Godric complaining about their interactions with the merchants. Gundigoot advises the party that Nira Melubb, the moneychanger, will buy gems and jewelry on fairer terms than will Davls and Gremag.


As is his wont, Erik purchases several pints of Underdark Ale for the party and invites Zert the swordsman to join them. The scruffy, tough-looking mercenary happily partakes of some free ale. Althaea notices an odd pair in the common room: a robed Bakluni and a hulking hairy warrior. Despite their distinctiveness, little information about them is obtained from the other partrons, including Zert.


Althaea then purchases an exquisite seven-course meal for everyone, including Zert. Godric discerns that Zert is strangely evasive when the topic of the village of Nulb is raised; according to Zert, nobody ever goes to that “rotten hole.” Zert prefers to speak of his recent jobs as a mercenary, accompanying caravans to his hometown of Dyvers to the northeast, the gnomish hold of Gneissvale to the west, the elvish realm of Celene to the south, and the various free cities of the Wild Coast to the east. 


Seeing the party enjoying themselves over piles of food and pints of ale, the half-elf Furnok approaches the party but is rebuffed with great alacrity. Eventually Zert stumbles off to bed, and the party retires for the evening.


5.3 The Council of Hommlet (Flocktime 10th)


The town council meeting is attended by the leaders of Hommlet: Jaroo (Druid of the Grove); Terjon (Canon of the Church of St. Cuthbert); Ostler Gundigoot (the innkeeper); Mytch (the miller); Burne (the wizard, representative of the Vicount); and Rufus (associate of Burne and military leader of “Burne’s Badgers”). (Not present is Hroth, the leader of the militia, who is grieving over the death of his son Elmo.)


Cedric recalls his divinely inspired dream of an evil foe of St. Cuthbert arising again, his experience at the Shrine of Istus, his long journey from the Gran March, and so forth. Also mentioned is the party’s ambush by bandits during their trip from Verbobonc to Hommlet, the strange pebble carried by the bandit leader, their expedition to the Moathouse, their various battles, and the like.


Amazed and dismayed by all this news, the Council asks the party to “cleanse” the Moathouse of the evil that has re-infested it. The Council gives the party some healing potions, taken from the Church of St. Cuthbert, and a suit of splint mail from Rufus’s supply. Burne provides the spell “See Invisibility” to Althaea. Additional rewards are promised should be party succeed in its mission.

5.4 Preparing to return to the Moathouse


Following the Council meeting the party retires to The Welcome Wench and deliberates over whether to hire anyone to aid in their mission. Cedric goes to the Church to reflect and meditate, while Godric speaks with the fledgling mage Spugnoir. The latter agrees to join the party on the condition that he receives all arcane scrolls that are recovered; he has no interest in any other treasures. Later, Althaea meets with Spugnoir, and provides the squeaky young man with the spells “Mage Armour” and “Magic Missile.” After spending several hours inscribing these spells into his grimoire, Spugnoir joins the party for dinner.


Zert enters the inn and joins the party as they dine. Erik cheerily buys several pints of Umberdark Ale for the gruff swordsman and asks him to join the party on their upcoming mission. Godric and Althea make a more precise offer: an equal share of all non-magical treasure found in the Moathouse. Zert agrees. Cedric joins the discussion and asks Zert about his faith. The swordsman claims to be a follower of Kord, which delights Erik, as Kord is one of the few non-Dwarven deities that Erik respects (in contrast to the “kill-joy” St. Cuthbert). 


With two additional members of their company – Spugnoir and Zert – the party heads off to the Moathouse early the next day (the 11th of Flocktime). 



[Pictures from the original T1 module by David Trampier.]

[Campaign index -- including earlier log entries -- here.]

01 February 2023

Farewell (again) to "official" Dungeons and Dragons

I’m delighted that Wizards of the Coast backed off their avaricious plan to try to “de-authorize” the OGL and that the 5th edition SRD is now secure from future meddling. (For a helpful overview, check out this post at the Bat in the Attic blog.)

That said, even before the recent OGL brouhaha, I had been souring on the “official” (WotC-produced) D&D line. I haven’t been that impressed by WotC’s recent products at all. Consequently, I haven’t bought anything from them for a couple of years now. (However, I had been interested in the upcoming Planescape book. Perhaps I’ll look through it at my FLGS.) 
And I certainly do not like what I have read about WotC’s plans for 6e (or “One D&D” or 5.5e or whatever it’ll end up being called). 
It’s too bad, as I thought that WotC did a solid job with 5e. It was the first post-TSR version of the game that I found at all enjoyable and was happy to play. While I was never a fan of their big “adventure path” books, some of WotC’s earlier offerings were interesting and I’m glad to have them in my collection. (Secrets of Saltmarsh and Tales of the Yawning Portal are especially good, in my view, but of course they are largely collections of “5e-ized” adventures from earlier editions, including especially 1e AD&D. But I do think that there is a solid “quasi-sandbox” setting, with many tweakable short adventures, in the combined Starter and Essentials box sets.) 
Overall, WotC seems to have lost its way. The drive to “monetize” seems to be pushing them back to the 3e strategy of production, which is a pity. Well, I ignored WotC’s version of D&D during the dark days of 3e and 4e, so I can do so again now. 
As for Kobold Press’ “Project Black Flag,” I’m mildly interested to see how it turns out. I hope that it ends up being a cleaned-up version of 5e (i.e., streamlined and less fiddly) and that their aim is to keep in print a version of 5e for folks (like me) who dislike the direction in which WotC D&D is going. Yes, the 5e SRD is now “CC-ified” – but people like books, and there are parts of 5e that could use some fixing (by subtraction rather than addition, so to speak). No, the “Black Flag” game won’t be the next Pathfinder, but it nonetheless could do quite well (by non-WotC standards) for those who like 5e well enough and dislike what WotC is offering. We’ll see. 
In any case, I’ve cobbled together my own version of “5e” (using the Into the Unknown rules as a base but adding some house rules) to keep my Greyhawk campaign going. It’s actually been liberating to do this. My “AD&D” – Akratic Dungeons & Dragons – goes on with its light spell undiminished. 

27 January 2023

The Good Guys win! The OGL will remain

From Polygon

Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast will abandon attempts to alter the Open Gaming License (OGL). The announcement, made Friday, comes after weeks of virulent anger from fans and third-party publishers caused the story to make international headlines — and on the eve of a high-profile movie starring Chris Pine.

Full article here.

Sometimes good things do happen!

A perfect day for this news: tonight I'm going to see The Fellowship of the Ring on a 60-foot screen with a symphony Orchestra performing the score.

ETA: The official statement via Dungeons & Dragons Beyond is here.

20 January 2023

WaPo on WotC: the dragon must be slain

The ongoing storm within the role-playing games community over the plan by the Wizards of the Coast to "deauthorize" the OGL 1.0a and replace it with a new, far more restrictive one has caught the attention of the Washington Post: "The D&D Open Game License controversy, explained." 

It's not great PR for WotC when the article compares the company to a dragon and concludes: "as any group of D&D adventurers might tell you, in stories like this, the point of a dragon atop a treasure trove is for it to be slain."
[Image from the WaPo article.]

18 January 2023

Wizards’ second apology and the OGL

In response to the raging storm within the RPG community over the potential revocation of the OGL 1.0a, Wizards of the Coast issued a sorry-not-sorry “apology” on January 13th. It went over like the proverbial lead balloon.


So today we have a second apology – this time with a human name (“Kyle Brink – Executive Producer, Dungeons & Dragons”) attached to it.


My key takeaway from this statement concerns this:


Your OGL 1.0a content. Nothing will impact any content you have published under OGL 1.0a. That will always be licensed under OGL 1.0a.”


Note the past tense (“have published”). Nothing in the statement indicates a willingness to recognize the legality of products using OGL 1.0a in the future.

Until WotC acknowledges that OGL 1.0a cannot be revoked – or amends the OGL to include the "irrevocable" language that seems to be the source of the trouble – they haven't changed on the single most fundamental issue. 


Nothing else really matters.  

14 January 2023

Classic Fantasy (Mythras) on sale for 99 cents


I received this notification from the good people at the Design Mechanism yesterday:


Between now and the end of January 2023, we're offering the Classic Fantasy supplement in PDF for Mythras and Mythras Imperative at the amazing price of just $0.99. For less than a dollar you can access the whole rules-set designed to bring the Old School dungeoneering experience to d100 roleplaying, complete with classes, character ranks, monsters, treasure, and everything else needed to scratch that dungeon delving itch.


Classic Fantasy includes:


  • 11 Character Classes
  • 7 Character races
  • Full rules for Passions as Alignments
  • Battle-Board combat
  • Arcane and Divine spells for Ranks 1 to 3
  • 40+ monsters
  • 100+ magic items
  • Deities and Cults


Watch out also for Classic Fantasy Imperative - a free introductory rulebook that will be launched under an open license and accompanied by its own SRD.


You can take advantage of this deal either at DrivethruRPG or the Design Mechanism’s store.


As I’ve said many times here before, I’m a huge fan of Mythras. (Indeed, as a player, it's my main game these days.) Looking through Classic Fantasy, it’s remarkable how well it translates the main elements and overall ethos of old school AD&D into Mythras terms. I certainly would consider using CF for future “D&D-style” campaigns!


13 January 2023

Wizards of the Coast finally speak

It looks like the “Silence” spell finally has worn off and WotC has issued a statement about the storm that has raged over the past two weeks regarding their proposed changes to the OGL.


Overall, I think that the statement is a ridiculous bit of gaslighting and ego-soothing ("Second, you’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won—and so did we." WTF?!? How childish can you be?)


So long as OGL 1.0a isn't secure for future products, whatever WotC does to tinker or improve OGL 2.0 is going to be wholly inadequate. But I predict that they won't back down on trying to "de-authorize" 1.0a because it's part of their "master plan" to consolidate everything on Dungeons & Dragons Beyond in the future.


At least the statement confirms that existing products that used the OGL 1.0a will continue to be available. (I see no grounds for thinking that they would’ve had to stop being sold, but I worried that people might pull their products out of fear. That doesn’t look like it will happen now.)

12 January 2023

Into the Unknown! (Goodbye WotC)

Given the astonishing mixture of avarice and malevolence manifested by WotC’s recent actions (here’s yet another summary, this time from the New Republic), I’ve decided to switch my ongoing Greyhawk campaign over to the Into the Unknown system.


I purchased Into the Unknown a few months ago upon discovering it in a thread at the RPG Pub (pretty much the only RPG forum I visit these days). I’ve been fond of it ever since I looked it over, and even considered transitioning to it before the current brouhaha. While I like 5e D&D overall, elements of it are quite fiddly, and I have found myself consulting the rules during play more often than I would like. Something compatible with the 5e material that I have and want to run – but simpler and faster – certainly was attractive.


However, at the time I decided against moving my campaign over to Into the Unknown as it adhered to a number of elements from the “Basic” and “Expert” versions of old school D&D (B/X D&D) that did not mesh well with the Greyhawk setting: in particular, ItU uses only three alignments (Chaotic, Neutral, Lawful) and “race-as-class” for non-human characters (Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling classes). In addition, my players had been using certain 5e options – e.g., the Arcane Trickster and Battle Master class specializations – that are not available in Into the Unknown. They (understandably) would not appreciate losing those elements from their characters.


On reflection, these weren’t great reasons to resist the switch. The alignment issue is easily fixed. I’ll keep the race-classes as unique options for non-human characters, but tweak the rules so that non-humans can be any of the standard classes as well. (I’ll also add a slight bonus to humans in order to “balance” things out.) And given that Into the Unknown is designed to be compatible with the core 5e rules, I’ll just “grandfather” in the 5e options that the characters already have into the game.


Another benefit of switching to Into the Unknown is that the rules are simple enough that I won’t need to consult them regularly during play. I had grown a bit dependent on Dungeons & Dragons Beyond to check things. But I’ll be abandoning my free DnD Beyond account (I never subscribed) once I can download my stuff (character sheets, maps, and the like).


One worry: Into the Unknown uses the OGL (1.0a). Given the uncertainty concerning the OGL, I recommend that any readers interested in the system pick it up as soon as possible at DrivethruRPG in case it disappears in the near future.


Fight On!



11 January 2023

OGL Apocalypse: WotC goes full Chaotic Evil

By now I assume that most people who visit this blog are aware of the raging storm over the changes that the Wizards of the Coast (part of Hasbro) are seeking to make to the Open Game License (OGL).
The current OGL (v. 1.0a) has been around for over two decades now and has facilitated a number of important developments in the role-playing hobby. In addition to all the material produced for Dungeons & Dragons by third-party publishers (mainly for 3e, 3.5e, and 5e), it enabled the creation of a number of role-playing games that draw upon some of the core mechanics of D&D (e.g., Mutants and Masterminds). The Old School Renaissance (OSR) probably would not have happened (at least not in the way that it did) without the OGL. The original retro-clone, OSRIC, restated the 1e AD&D rules, using the OGL for cover. (It was a brilliant insight on the part of Matt Finch, aka “Mythmere,” that this was possible.) Likewise, the first edition of Pathfinder used the OGL to repackage (with some tweaks) the 3.5 edition D&D rules in order to cater to gamers dissatisfied with 4th edition. No doubt WotC was not happy about that! But ultimately it pressured WotC to rethink 4e D&D (as did, I think, the OSR to some extent) and produce a far superior product, 5e D&D.
Anyhow, it looks like WotC aims to try to revoke OGL 1.0a and replace it with a new one (v. 1.1) with rather draconian conditions. For a helpful (and brief) overview, see this Inverse article, or this Forbes (!) one, or this Ars Technica one.
As a side note, legally speaking (but keep in mind that I am not a lawyer) the OGL was never actually necessary and in fact imposes conditions stricter than those imposed by standard US copyright law (let alone the laws of other countries, which tend to be more generous with “fair use” than the US). The reason for this is that game rules cannot be copyrighted. So a product that dryly restated the rules of AD&D, for instance, would be perfectly legal. However, artistic and literary expression can be copyrighted. Given the literary nature of role-playing games, a lot of the specific descriptions of classes, spells, monsters, settings, and so forth can (arguably) be legitimately copyrighted (but not their underlying mechanics). So one would have to tread carefully in restating a set of rules. And of course, even if one has the legal right to do something (e.g., indicate compatibility with another company’s game), one nonetheless may be subject to legal harassment or bullying by a company with deep pockets. One thing that the OGL did was remove any uncertainty about potential legal harassment or worries about whether some element of the game was copyright-protected or not. (For an excellent overview of this matter, see this Electronic Frontier Foundation article.)
A lot of RPG publishers are now abandoning the OGL. Even if WotC backs down and allows OGL 1.0a to continue (or modifies 1.1 so that it is far less restrictive) many gaming companies are sensibly deciding that they do not want to be vulnerable to future Hasbro corporate whims. (And it very well may be the case that WotC does not back down and pushes on with OGL 1.1.)
As a player, most of my time has been spent using Mythras over the past twelve years, with occasional forays into other systems (e.g., The One Ring, Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, etc.), none of which have been dependent on the OGL. Among other things, I’ve been a sorcerer in a Young Kingdoms campaign (which used Mythras’s predecessor, Mongoose’s RuneQuest II), a Roman mystic in a Mythic Britain campaign, an aristocratic messenger in a Mythic Babylon campaign, and a paleontologist in a Return to the Mountains of Madness campaign.
But as a creator and gamemaster, I’ve been heavily involved with Dungeons & Dragons and related systems. Years ago, I got into the OSR in a big way and developed a set of house rules for modifying Swords and Wizardry (the 0e retro-clone) to give it more of a “swords and sorcery” flavour. Many of those rules appeared in articles in Knockspell and Fight On! All of those rules remain available at this blog (and were never offered here under the OGL). Many of those rules were incorporated into D101’s Crypts and Things game (which does use the OGL). (I hope that C&T rides out this storm and continues to be available. It’s a great system!)
Also, despite some problems here and there, overall, I like 5e D&D. It’s not perfect – it still has too many fiddly (“exception-based’) rules for my taste – but it’s the first “official” version of D&D since the TSR era that I’ve been happy to run. (Making feats optional was huge improvement over 3e.) I’ve been using it for my current Greyhawk campaign. And I thought that the 5e-derived Adventures in Middle-earth game was quite good. The Mirkwood campaign that I ran using AiME a few years ago remains one of my all-time favourites.
But this latest action by WotC has left a foul taste in my mouth. I already was put off by the movement toward “D&D One” (or is it “One D&D”?), which struck me as undermining some of the strengths of 5e D&D – among other things, by “hardwiring” certain elements that I prefer to keep optional, e.g., feats and inspiration, into the core game. Changing the OGL and wreaking havoc with 3rd party publishers is just plain malevolent.
So … I’ve had it with WotC. I won’t be buying anything from them for the foreseeable future. (Not that I was buying much anyway – it’s been almost two years since I last purchased a book from WotC. Most of my recent 5e purchases have been from 3rd party publishers like Goodman Games.) 
I’m not going to abandon my current Greyhawk campaign. It’s been too much fun – and the characters just made it to level 4! But I think I’ll be using Into the Unknown as the rules base going forward (supplemented with a few 5e options for the sake of continuity).
Aside from my current Greyhawk campaign, my focus (as a GM) lately has been on the Against the Darkmaster system. I hope to run a sporadic VsD campaign set in Eriador (Middle-earth) over the next few months. Aside from that, I plan to develop my own setting over the coming year. We’ll see how that goes. (Of course, VsD never used the OGL – and has a generous license for other publishers.)
Well that’s all for now. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once OGL 1.1 is unleashed on the world. 


01 January 2023

Best Wishes for 2023

I hope that all reading this old blog had a pleasant holiday time and that the year ahead brings them much happiness and peace.


My wife kindly got me these cookies. Obviously, she knows me well! I felt a bit guilty eating them but comforted myself in the knowledge that more could be obtained in the future.



I haven’t been too active here over the past couple of months. Hopefully my posting rate will pick up in the spring, as I thankfully will not have to travel so much for work.


In particular, I’d like to catch up on the following items:


§  Update the log for my regular “Greyhawk” (D&D 5e) campaign. A lot has happened since I last posted, some of it even a bit entertaining (I think).

o   The adventurers finally managed to defeat Lareth and clear out the Moathouse (more or less); soon they will be moving beyond Hommlet.


§  Update the status of my irregular “Against the Witch-King (Against the Darkmaster) campaign.

o    Most of the characters have been created – and they’re an interesting mix: a Dúnadan lady of Arthedain (a champion or “ranger”); two Lossoth brothers from Forochel (one a scout, the other a shape-shifting animist or “shaman”), and a Dwarven scholar from the Ered Luin (sage).


§  Post descriptions of my characters for the Mythic Babylon campaign I played in over the past few years (which wrapped up last summer) and the Return to the Mountains of Madness campaign I’m currently playing in (using the Mythras rules).

o   I’m not keeping logs for these campaigns (I generally only do that for the games I’m running) but I think that these characters may be of some interest to others, especially people interested in the Mythras system and its associated settings.


§  Return to my top-10 list of fantasy and science-fiction films. (I’ve only covered number 10 so far!)


§  Write up some final reflections on The Rings of Power series (which I found to be very much a mixed bag).


I’m watching Andor right now and finding it to be excellent. I had skipped the two most recent Star Wars series (the Boba Fett and Obi-Wan ones) but I quite liked both seasons of The Mandalorian. This series is even better, in my view. It doesn’t really feel like a “Star Wars” show to be honest – but that’s probably a good thing, given how badly the movies degenerated in quality after The Empire Strikes Back. The notable exception in recent years is Rogue One – the best Star Wars movie since Empire in my judgement – and so perhaps it’s no surprise that Andor is of such high quality, given that it’s a Rogue One prequel. Check it out if you haven’t already!

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).