Thursday, August 22, 2019

"Sinking Temple of Gorth"

Hi all! Back from a fun weekend at Dragonflight 40, killing monsters and taking their stuff. Played with some familiar faces, met a few new folks, and didn't realize I was rolling with another local blogger until after the fact - good to meet you, JB - your "Random B/X Headgear Generator" is required for all my char-gen.

So, another quick statting of a Daniel Walthall map, this time his "Sinking Temple of Gorth"


So, a couple of design notes- I renumbered the rooms, as the original sequence is out of order (to me). While I populated it with only one set monster and one puzzle/trap, the time pressure of the flooding chambers should provide some good tension (along with whatever wandering stuff tunnels in at an inappropriate moment). And you never know if/when the water flow into the temple will increase...

So take a look, feel free to play/comment/tweak.  Statted out using Swords & Wizardry, but playable/adjustable for any old-ish system.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lost Tomes 7 - Oddball Spellbooks

1d12 crap spellbooks:

Some of these could be most awesome for your mage to find, but most are simply white elephants.  Have fun...
  1. Mica-leafed, heavy and fragile, requires a special polarized lens to read the inscribed spells. Typically used for uncommon spells of illusionist or evocation nature.
  2. Written on the hide of a living wild steer. Common to the plains herbimancers. The spells are only viable as long as the bovine remains alive. The spellbook is generally docile, but large and awkward, not suited for subterranean travels.
  3. Shells strung on thongs, the spells glowing iridescent within the mother of pearl. Rattley.
  4. A bag of prisms. Spells may only be read by projection through a specialized lamp. Typically houses illusions. 
  5. A puzzle-cylinder, requiring proper alignment of the rings to make spells legible.
  6. Quiver of animated quills - the selected quill will dance and write out the spell for memorization. Using these quills to create scrolls will require half effort/resources.
  7. Mimic! The critter impersonated a mage's spellbook and was inadvertently dictated upon. Requires food/cajoling to convince it to manifest the desired spell pages.
  8. Spell-infused tobaccos, requires smoking to memorize/absorb the desired spell knowledge. Probably need to get hooked up with a halfling dealer to replenish the particular blends. 
  9. Jug of skittering, metallic beetles. Spells are scribed upon their jeweled wings. A pain to sort and grab. Possibly bitey.
  10. Bones of a deceased mage, the spells that were held in their mind at time of death are now permanently etched upon the surface of the bones. 
  11. Scroll that magically lengthens to allow inscription of any new spell. Never runs out of parchment.
  12. Multidimensional hypercube requiring specific twistings and manipulations to "pull" the desired spell page into user's dimension.
Have at it, and remember to feed the spellboook....

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Come on in, the spores are fine!

Matt released his "Lair of the Mushroom Baron" out into the wild.
Wild mushroom hunting... hmm.

So there are rumors or discoveries of oddly-synthesized or rare potions associated with a local forest. Who is this mysterious alchemist that is cooking up these oddball concoctions contained in gourd containers?

Maybe we'd better take a look, and see if they are the amicable type... click below...
Welcome to the Lair
(statted out generally using Swords & Wizardry and/or a few things ganked from 1e).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Beware the Goblin Peehole!

Well, Bryce reviewed/savaged a few of my released adventures... Within his usual snark was some serviceable criticism - I do need to tighten up my writing on some aspects of descriptions and such, and make sure the important details are up front for the GM. (I do appreciate feedback, after all - pro or con).

One criticism was redundancy and superfluous room description, using a statted 'guardpost' room as an egregious example... yeah - I over-wrote it.  But then there's the detail of the peephole in the post's door, where intruders may be spotted - per Bryce:

"The guardroom has a peerhole and a couple of monsters poking around in the rubble, with a small chance of them using the peehole. " (italics mine)

My own snark here, but if you're reviewing and criticizing someone's work and quality, proofread your own blog. Typos set me off. I may not be the best writer, but I proofread/spellcheck my stuff.

But peehole...  And the associated goblin guards... 

"There is a 2-in-6 chance that one of the goblins will hear someone outside the door, leap onto the door, and urinate through the peephole.  Any PC attempting to spy through the peephole will be drenched..."

Save vs disease or contract a virulent goblin malady:
  1. Screaming Buboes  - The buboes scream, not the patient. No chance of silent movement. No one gets any sleep.
  2. Crawling Pox - Oh gawd where am I gonna itch today?
  3. Spitting Sores - Any uncovered sore spatters ichor up to six feet. Anyone struck with the fluid must save vs disease or become infected in turn.
  4. Glowing Rash - Infected glows as per candlelight - possibly useful, probably a liability.
  5. Honking Cough - Infected sounds like a flock of arguing geese. Don't even think of trying to sneak up on anything.
  6. Walking Lockjaw - Seizes up a different random joint each day.
  7. Steaming Boils - Infected is surrounded by a vaporous mist. Some boils may intermittently whistle. The boils put off a putrid miasma (troglodyte equivalent).
  8. Hopping Tremors - The infected is consumed by involuntary hopping and jittering. No sleep-based recovery allowed.
The effects typically last 1d6 days, although there is a 20% chance that the PC has acquired a particularly virulent strain, lasting 1d6 weeks, and a 10% chance that the affliction is chronic... Cure disease should do the trick. Maybe... Hopefully...

Beware of GTDs - Goblin Transmitted Diseases

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A quick visit to The Weary Wench

That Jackson fellow drafted up a cozy tavern while on vacation.

“This is a little place in Scaldwater called The Weary Wench. Skavos, a large burly lumberjack, serves awesome clam chowder (just like I had yesterday at The Warren Tavern!) and can tell you a tale or two. So pull up a stool, drop a couple silver on the bar, and enjoy a good bowl or two.”

So - a one-hour (more or less) writing exercise to fill it with backstory and local color.  Here ya go:

Skavos bought the place after losing three fingers of his right hand in a felling accident. Not much use for a 'jack who could no longer swing an axe. But one thing he still had was his maw-maw's recipe for chowder. So he slicked his hair back, put on an apron, and fired up the stove.

The establishment is unassuming, but cozy. Rough-hewn tables and bar are slowly getting smoothed and polished from the constant rubbing of elbows, thumping of tankards, and spilling of food. Skavos trundles between the bar and kitchen like an affable bear, shouting greetings and winked admonishments to both guest and employee in equal turn. In addition to his prized chowder, guests may partake of bread, roast root vegetables, and boiled eggs. Behind the bar are a few casks of passable ale, although Skavos keeps a keg of decent perry under the bar for those who know to ask.

He's helped around the tavern by any or all of three employees, depending on the night and the crowd: Ellowyn, his daughter, who inherited both her father's build and joyful presence. “Mad Mary,” an orphan dropped at the dock two years back, who converses both with the customers, and the voices in her head. And young Peter van Kuik, who divides his time between splitting wood and tending fire at the tavern, and riding as a courier out past the town gates.

Skavos' ears are as sharp as his wit, and one hears much coming though a little port like Skaldwater. Peter occasionally whispers of the packets he carries out to the redoubts and hamlets along the trade road, as well, in spite of being sworn to strict confidence... Given a good night and a discreet tip, or some good information in return, Skavos is well known as a clearinghouse of information and tales. Once the evening rush has settled a bit, he wipes his hands and starts in on a tale imparted from some sailor or caravaneer...

Personae Dramatis:
  1. 'Zigzag' Nottley lolls at a table next to the fire. Late-arrivals will have the misfortune to sit next to him as he slobbers and stinks. The old wet-brain lost his ship and staggers between the tavern and a shack under the dock.
  2. Josep and Kitto Kestle stop in to check on their old colleague from the trees. The brothers are both built like oak stumps.
  3. Balla Ramóna plies her trade, seeking to provide companionship to a lonely sailor or caravan drover. Ellowyn stares daggers at her.
  4. Jan Hofste and his crewman Tijl Oldeman supply a share of their catch to Skavos for his chowder. Tijl has been saving his pay to buy a farm in the hopes of asking for Ellowyn's hand.
  5. Father Vincze arrives when he knows “Mad Mary” to be on duty. He surreptitiously keeps notes of her ramblings.
  6. Sheriff Demetrios Anagnas hovers at the end of the bar, twirling his spoon in an empty bowl. A teetotaler, he steeps an herbal concoction in a mug of boiling water provided by Skavos.
Rumors and seeds:
  1. The mage Iviar the Black has put up a bounty for an immature owlbear, if someone is foolhardy enough to wrest one from its mother.
  2. The halfling Williver Root was found outside the town gate, hallucinating and ranting of mushroom-men and their fabulous potions deep within the Horston Woods. He had several gourds containing unknown substances on his person.
  3. The bandit band led by Grinning Dudly hit another caravan last week.
  4. The cargo galley Pegase is in need of extra marines for safeguarding a cargo of value.
  5. A pair of desert elves arrived last week, seeking ship passage. These arid wanderers are well-known to fear open water.
  6. Arcano-mechanical walkers were spotted out past the trade road. Probably just gnomes up to no good, but best be cautious.
  7. A representative of the Prince Regent passed through recently, discreetly inquiring on the loyalty of the Sheriff.
  8. A Priest of the Divine Will has posted a flier seeking compatriots for a pilgrimage out into the Tomblands.
  9. The caravan of Udolf 'One Legged' Drakkar went missing last week. They were rumored to carry odd ingots purchased by an elementalist.
  10. The Broadrose River ran red for three days, and fish were killed out beyond the delta.



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Exploring "The Abandoned Mine of Delko"

Hi all -

Thanks to MeWe, I discovered a new mapper this week, Daniel F. Walthall. Daniel crafts up generally compact maps of 10 encounter areas or less, suitable for a one-shots, side-quests, or destination adventures, as well as small hamlets, and other locations. A nice feature is that the map layouts include numbered spaces to outline the room contents, as well as a table with suggested challenges at varying party levels, random treasures, NPC names, or adventure seeds.

So go peruse his tumblr of released maps, and support his Patreon if you are so inclined.

I grabbed his "Abandoned Mine of Delko" (one thing I like is that his mines look like mines...) and ripped the map into my own format.


A crew of contract miners has failed to report in from their mountain prospecting, and their employer is eager to discover their fate, and even more eager to recover the ore they were sent to mine.

So grab some mooks, and go check out the goings-on in Delko...

Statted up using Swords & Wizardry critters, and perhaps a Richard J. Leblanc, Jr. spider...

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Mini Review: Ocean at the End of the Lane (and a critter)

"I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else."

https://www.amazon.com/Ocean-End-Lane-Novel-ebook/dp/B009NFHF0Q

How to describe this without a hugely number of spoilers...

A young boy meets an odd girl, her mother, and grandmother down the lane. The boy and girl have a few misadventures, and send a naughty housekeeper away.  The boy grows up.

That's pretty much what I can spoil. I think.

A short novel or long novella (about 180 pages), the book is a reasonably quick first read.  Some people mentioned reading it in a sitting, I took two short evenings for a re-read, after not reading the book since we purchased it when new. The book draws you along, with short, evocative chapters.  That said, this is Gaiman, and there is a density of subtle detail, easy to gloss over, and worth a reread.
How old are you really?" I asked.
Eleven."
I thought for a bit. Then I asked, "How long have you been eleven for?" 
She smiled at me.
Gaiman, as often, weaves together a a world of intersecting reality and unreality - I wouldn't call the forces and players in the book 'magic' because they are appear to be much older and more subtle than such a simplistic label...
"We don't do spells," she said. She sounded a little disappointed to admit it. "We'll do recipes sometimes. But no spells or cantrips. Gran doesn't hold with none of that. She says it common." 
In the course of the book, the narrator and his mysterious friend interact with forces out of of time, including a manipulative, malign intelligence that manifests itself and ingratiates its way into the narrator's family.

Powerless, the narrator makes a desperate flee to the mysterious womens' home for their assistance in dispelling the being.  After consultation and failed negotiation with the being, the girl calls ethereal predators to their aid in dispatching the being.
"High in the sky they were, and black, jet-black, so black it seemed as if they were specks on my eyes, not real things at all.  The had wings, but were not birds. They were older than birds,and they flew in circles and in loops and whorls, dozens of them, hundreds perhaps, and each flapping unbird ever so slowly, descended."
And then things go sideways....

No more spoilers, and you'll need to read to find out why an ocean is as large as it needs to be....

***

And - inspired by the quote above - a bunch of angry birds:
https://www.deviantart.com/madsketcher

Hunger Birds/Vultures of the Void

Called by powerful witches to banish demons and to rend apart the wormholes and doors in time and space that allow the infernal into our world, these incorporeal "birds" are ravenous and never truly under the command of their summoner. Once called to complete their task, they may not be sated, and can choose to have a mind(s) of their own... Summoning these critters is dangerous, and only performed under desperate situations...

Their numbers are ambiguous, and ephemeral, as they do not exist fully within this plane - there may be appear to be twenty, or one thousand. They attack and speak as one - a hive-minded swarm of malevolent hunger.

Number summoned: 1d4 birds per summoner's level.
HD: 1 per bird
AC: 2/17, semi-incorporeal, damaged only by spells or magic weapons.
Atk: The birds attack as a swarm, with a single engulfing roll for damage - 1 hp per bird/round vs a summoned/demon/extra planar creature. If attacking a mortal creature, the birds drain one point of  CON per successful attack, with death occurring at 0 CON. This CON loss can not be recovered by non-magical means.
Move: 2 (Fly 20)

Once the birds have attacked/consumed the summoner's intended target, there is a chance that they will not return quietly to their home realm. The greater their number, the hungrier (and less cooperative) they are. % chance of rebellion = 5% per number summoned > than summoner level. Negotiating with the birds is a dicey affair, as they may choose to turn on the summoner or allies to feed, or escape to ravage an area of prey - living or incorporeal - until they are sated and return to whatever plane that they infest.

https://www.deviantart.com/canis-infernalis

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Wanger's Spit: Stealing real estate...

So there I was, going through Jackson's trash. Like one does. I'd bribed his dog with stale chicken nuggets, so I knew he wouldn't rat me out, plus I sent a couple of halflings to distract Matt by cavorting in his front yard.  We all know that he can't resist that... 

Anyway, he really should secure his trash better, who knows who will sneak in and swipe his pixels.

Here's a discarded draft of some bit of waterfront real estate - a gated community, if you like. While it may be interpreted as a yacht club for gnomes by some, this author identified it as an old customs post along a coastal boundary.  The government legislating the trade and passage has since dissolved, but the post is still occupied by a rogue's gallery of residents. 

So meet the locals, and roll a d20 to see what's happening in the neighborhood...


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Village of Prolge


I sketched up a small motte-and-bailey concept to fill with a small Norse-inspired population.  But, of course - there are others who draw better maps than me, so that sketch stays in the notebook...

But the population, that I can do....

Welcome to Prolge, a village out on the cold grasslands.

Original Map

The motte and bailey settlement of Prolge sits as a small redoubt out on the plains of the Southern Steppe. The settlement is a close-knit community, as is necessary for success and sustenance out in these unpredictable climes. While the village is not equipped for visitors, neither are they inhospitable, for the plains can be a harsh place, and those who travel with good intent are sheltered.

Ringed by a stout wooden palisade and dug moat, Prolge is surrounded by the croplands of the thegns to the local headman.  Local crops include barley, squash, and potatoes.

Within and without the walls are longhouses occupied by extended families (4-12 individuals), many with their livestock and larders. Craftsfolk have set up their shops to support the citizens and those few travelers who come this way to the end of the road.

The headsman's longhouse (1) is the core of the village, and is butted up against a large stone granary (2), which acts as a communal food store.

The local temple, the Church of the Harvest God (3) is the only other predominantly stone building in town.  The rectangular, flat-roofed building is topped by an iron lightning rod and the building's facade bears the carven image of a "wicker man."

There is no formal inn - travelers may hope to find their way into the community's good graces and seek shelter at the temple or with hospitable families for some coin or trade goods. If local supplies are sufficient, and the village is not enduring a famine or 'hungry gap,' individual villagers may have bread, potatoes, pork, small beer ('childrens' drink') and ale for barter.

For physical threats and self-policing, the town is protected by its rotating home-militia of able-bodied men (and some women).  They are typically arrayed in leather/shield, and armed with spear, axe and/or bow. The palisade walls are protected with a few scorpions facing the four cardinal directions.

Dramatis personae:

  1. Milka Huttunen ("Headman") - The village leader receives this title regardless of sex and she is well respected by her charges. Milka wears the blessed bear cloak of her office (+1 protection, resist cold), and wields a silvered spear in addition to the community's symbolic relic sword. This sword (The Sword of the Fathers) is useless as weapon, with a rusted, brittle blade, and is wielded simply as a symbol of the headman. However, through its long heritage it has absorbed protective magics for the clans (Protection from Lightning, Cure Disease (plants and animals only), once per day each), and is used to protect the village and its food production.
  2. Arvo Kaup ("Keeper of Grain") manages the weights and measures of the communal granary.  He is charged with tracking individual households' contributions and debits, as well as the thankless task of rationing grain during famine times. His position is sacrosanct and he will not betray village trust or accept bribes on pain of death.  Kaup also raises locally renowned, fierce rat terriers to keep vermin at bay.
  3. Lumi Haapala ("Touched by the Storm") ministers at the Church of the Harvest God. She is a local seer/shaman who was struck by lightning as a child. She suffers partial paralysis from the event, but was gifted with a number of spell abilities (Locate Animals, Predict Weather, Purify Water, Locate Plants, Speak with Animals, Plant Growth) as a result of the incident. She may cast up to three spells a day. Haapala is aided by an assistant who supports her if she is required outside of the chapel.
  4. Hann Häkkin, the smith/farrier, maintains his forge for local needs, fabricating arrowheads, axe heads, and other tools for the village.  He is practical, and not amicable to wanderers demanding goods and repairs.
  5. Matteus Oll, the town carpenter, directs construction and maintenance of the walls and longhouses.  He carved the six "story-poles" lining the entrance inside of the village gate that document local genealogy and lore.
  6. Hilla Kemppain, the apothecary, keeps a cluttered, stinking shop in the eastern part of the palisade. She is eager to trade for components that she may not be able to procure locally.  Among her stocks, she may have: 1) lesser potion of healing (1d4+1 hp), 2) unguent when spread on body act as resist cold for one day, 3) potion of +2 saves vs disease (effect lasts 1d3+CON bonus days), 4) a solution that acts as purify food or drink (1d6 'servings').

Reasons to be there:

  1. Old barrows of interest are in the area (these likely include village ancestors, potentially leading to serious animosity)
  2. Scouting a threat to the lands to the north, chaos, hairy horsemen, beasts...
  3. Investigate why the village and surrounding area avoids lightning strikes, and seems to have avoided a recent famine
  4. Heretics! Root them out, follow a rumor, or be fleeing for your own damn lives...
  5. Weird flying things have been spotted on the horizon, never a good sign.
  6. Migration of rare beasts (stony-skinned tripod beasts on their centenary journey across the south latitudes)
  7. The annual burning straw-man/effigy/wicker man festival is lit!
  8. Purchase ratters bred in the village for dungeon vermin patrol.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mini-Review: The Year 1000

A couple months back, Colin Green mentioned picking up some new reading material of history for adding flavor and verisimilitude to one of his campaigns.

I recommended The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World.

It had been several years since I read the book, so I took a quick burn through to remember its high points.

So here we go ...

As I've groused about before - history is taught poorly, so finding a well-written, entertaining history book is of value. The Year 1000 definitely meets this criteria.

Like many histories, the challenge of the time period is the general lack of surviving documents - either from lack of initial documentation, preservation, or destruction by later regimes.  As the book denotes, the surviving direct documentation for the time period in England may fill a bankers' box.

The book itself is themed around the Julius Works Calendar, one of the few surviving written works of that time period, and describes passage of a year at the approximate turn of the millennia, near the end of the period of Anglo-Saxon rule in England.

Each chapter is inspired by the month's calendar page, and describes both common life and activities for the month, as well as a larger theme for overall English culture or leadership. And, as the book looks at the turn of the millennium, it also uses the calendar as a tool to illustrate the transitions that England underwent during that era, such as unifying from four kingdoms into one under a centralized monarchy, progressions of strong and weak leadership (Alfred the Great vs Aethelred the Unready), the conflict and partial rule by the Danes, and the impending succession conflict between Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada, and William of Normandy...

For instance, the July chapter begins with a description of the 'hungry gap,' the annual period between spring and the harvest of the first crops where food stores were exceedingly low, before segueing into a discussion of the evolution and spread of monastic worship and life in the latter part of the first millennia. The chapter then expands on the monarchy (under King Edgar) using the church to legitimize the rule, and the church's role as a repository and distributor of the written word.

Overall, the format make for a fun, easy read, with informative chapters that don't drag.  By combining common life and greater culture, the book builds a whole world, not simply a collection of dates and events.

And for the aforementioned gaming verisimilitude, the book provides much color for background as the players encounter or interact with both commoners and notables in their travels. The monthly format can provide fun "what's going on in the background" descriptions depending on local seasons and activities.  And, of course, the "real history" of invasions, bickering fiefdoms, successions, and growing and waning cultural influences may provide much grist for adventue or campaign seeds. 

Enjoy!


(I discovered thru Anchor/MeWe that at least three other people also bought or were considering the book, so I hope that they are enjoying it as well...)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Mad March Map - "Town"

Mad March Map the 27th - "Town"

Another tiny scene...
SOURCE

Explorers find the neighborhood ruined by cataclysm. Disconcerting energies cause their normally stalwart wardog to whimper. A metallic smell of dust and bones permeates everything.

For when wizards duel, the collateral damage lingers, even after these long years passed..

The district is characterized by blast craters, shattered, tottering walls, the remains of buildings barely standing...  The streets and shattered buildings echo with traces of majical fallout, and the place reeks of necromantic energies

Shuffling golems and zombies animate, the remnants and remains of the town's inhabitants, they still operate in a grotesque pantomime of their former lives, play-acting as shopkeepers, a smith at a cold forge, a skeletal maid sweeping before an empty, blasted inn.

No one in their right mind goes there anymore...

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Voices in the Chapel - revising an old map

Hi all - here's a brief setting built from an old Dungeon magazine map that popped up.  Set in a rural chapel, the locals are frightened by their local priests increasingly chaotic messages and behavior.


The map was found in Issue 2 of the magazine, as part of the 'Caermor' adventure published within.  The map itself is a simple, clean design, easily re-interpreted for a campaign location, such as this one.

So what is going on in Father Aldo's church?


Edit: quick revision to the thing in the cellar...

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Torches and pitchforks

Blame Jackson for posting a quick map of a small tomb on Easter. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.


A heretic was recently executed, their body placed within a tomb outside of town. As insurance against their meddlesome followers, the tomb entrance was barricaded and manned with guards to warn the curious away. This morning, the guards' replacements found the barricades dropped and the guards missing.

1. Tomb Entrance - Barricades placed across the opening have been removed/displaced. A smell of death, greater than what would be expected, permeates the area.

2. Signs of Death - Scattered bones are strewn on the floor. Remnants of armor and weaponry indicate that these were once the tomb guards, left to keep watch over the barrow. Secreted away under a boulder emerging from the north wall is an urn containing 190 gp and a few ambers (9, 10, and 20 gp).

3. Ghoul! - A ghoul has found its way into the tomb, and has been picking clean the bones of the dead guards. It will attack anyone investigating the tomb.

4. Pool! - A seep has created a pool in the center of the room.The water has absorbed some divine characteristics, and is the equivalent of holy water. It will cause damage (1d8) to the undead in Area 5. Drowning the being will prevent its regeneration. Remains of another unfortunate tomb guard are in the corridor to the tomb (+1 hammer, purse with 41 gp).

5. Heretic’s Tomb - The tomb houses a stone sarcophagus containing the restless remains of the martyred prophet - an undead still containing a ‘spark’ of life - unfamiliar necromantic energies have imbued the corpse with regenerative abilities, and it becomes "less dead" with each passing day.

Revenant: 5 HD; AC 4/15; Atk touch (1d6+ level drain); Effects: Undead resistances, may cast charm and fear once per day, level drain. Holy water, magic or magic weapons are required to hit and damage. Regenerates 1HP/round during combat. The 'Revenant' becomes more resistant to turning each day by 25%. Roll 1d3 for days "dead." After 4 or more days, the being is immune to cleric turning abilities.

The alter at the north side of the room is that of a protective god, placed as a ward against potential reanimations. The alter grants resistance against the Revenant's spell and level drain attacks to anyone within 5 feet.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Random Monster: Hippolyta's Hounds

Just attended A Midsummer's Night Dream ballet with the kidlet, had been a few years since I'd seen the performance.  As always, a visual and dance spectacle...

I had forgotten details of some of the scenes and set, and was quietly amused at some surprised audience gasps as a set piece representing a dew-covered spiderweb descended on-stage - complete with a spider that dwarfed the dancers (4HD, I estimated....).

And so gamable. Fey, drugs, love triangles...

Midway through the first act is a solo dance by Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  In this production, she is accompanied by six 'hounds', who circle the stage around her, as if flushing prey.

There is a mere glimpse of the hounds at about 1:40:


Again, noticing details - the dancers ran with their arms stretched before them, the nearly-white dog-heads (below) contrasting with form-fitted reddish 'coats'...

Source
And all I could think was Undead....

www.deviantart.com/seriocomic

Hippolyta's Hounds

Undead hunting dogs bearing the souls of poachers, those who wasted their kills, and those who trespassed in the sacred groves. Captured and cursed by a goddess of the hunt, they live their afterlife in the bodies of decayed hunting hounds...

Bony skulls and bodies flayed of skin, baying in pain and anger, they pursue their own ghostly hunts or trespassers into the groves, as well as seek those next accursed souls.

HD 4; AC 6/13; Atk 1 bite (1d8)1d8 - save or the wound becomes necrotic and can only be healed by magic; Move 14; Save 12; AL N; CL/XP 5/240; No. appearing: 3-6; Special: The hounds' baying has the effect of a 'Scare' spell, -1 to saves for each additional dog in pack greater than three.

www.deviantart.com/nikkiburr



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Mad March Map: Spire

Back to a couple of quick scenes/bits of adventure for some purpose...

Mad March Map 28 - "Spire"

Lazlo Nabitovy lives on top of a truncated Methuselah-tree deep within the Liviy Woods. The tree, sheared off by some cataclysmic storm a generation gone, forms the foundation for his dwelling above the treetops. A sage, he has stylized himself as a tower hermit/stylite. Or at least that's what the rumors say.

Nabitovy does generally live a hermit's lifestyle.  From his aerie, he barters with the bird-folk for supplies and news.

But anyone who makes the arduous climb to the top of the tree will find not a hermit's shanty, but a well-appointed manor. Filled with empty rooms, Lazlo mostly knocks around on his own with but a simpering birdfolk servant named Kiawk.

He will gladly entertain visitors and supplicant's for his knowledge and interpretation of signs.  Better yet, if they have brought spices or other rare ingredients, he is quite the epicurean...

Friday, April 12, 2019

OPD Entry 2019

It's the season for the 11th edition of the One Page Dungeon contest (https://www.dungeoncontest.com/) where brevity is the soul of wit - and adventure.

And it's time for Max and I to drop one more annual entry...

Dude, get out of my dice box.
A bit of timey-wimey funny business, this go-around....
Before?


After?
Much thanks to Matt Jackson for lending me his "two" towers.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Loading up MJ's Barrowmound 9 with ... THOULS!

So I guess I'd never noticed the 'thoul' listing in the B/X monsters. Chalk that up to incomplete reading comprehension, or something. And, I don't think I've seen them employed in the adventures I've perused.  So, time to drop them as backup dancers in another B/X song and dance, this one taking place in caverns accessed via a tidal marsh, where someone is up to nefarious deeds.

Again, thanks to Matt Jackson for his mapping, and to Gavin Norman for the B/X Essentials booklets, where I finally took the time to read the monsters from A to Z....


Click it, you know you want to...

And another guest appearance by my wife's artistry)

EDIT: Download link updated to PWYW on DrivethruRPG

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Vobleavira Complex, a B1-Inspired Crawl...

So, when Matt Jackson posted up 'Barrowmound #11'  on his Patreon, I commented, "Cool, looks like a mini Quesquaton. Now, where to put the room of pools...."

And that's how I committed myself (at least in my mind) to statting up this maze... The occupants of Quesquaton were Rogahn and Zelligar, a fighter and mage, respectively.  Considering this, the occupants of this maze must be the other two base B/X human classes - a cleric and thief...

With that meager concept, I was off...

So we have a cleric and thief who found themselves allied in adventures, found their own subterranean outpost, and created a space that reflects their two characters' personalities. While it isn't as extensive as B1, I hope that it has a similar flavor. The challenges and exploration, like B1, are put together with low-level mooks in mind. I even included a handful of B1-styled pregens in the back, complete with appropriately wacky names.

No room of pools though. Sorry about that...
GET IT HERE
Many thanks to Matt for the original map, converting me to the zine format, and several days of editing back and forth in Google Docs. And to my wife for drawing up a few creepy goblins :) Thanks also to Gavin Norman, for his B/X Essentials and general blessing of this crapshoot.

More to come...

EDIT: Download link updated to DrivethruRPG as PWYW

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Inspiration: Snow


Tonight's scene, art provided by: Mad Map March 15 - Snow, inspired by "The Little Ice Age"
There has been another hard freeze, with the river gone solid. The residents look at the ice and quietly discuss the likelihood of having to replace one or both of the town's bridges after the spring thaw. Again.

It is far into the winter, the third rough winter in four years. It is to the point in the season where concerned eyes look at the near-empty larders, and the wives are counting out the remaining potatoes and roots.

There is nothing to spare for rough adventurers traveling through. They had better have their own meager rations, as few will take up an offer to share their stores. After all, one can not eat gold.  Unless they can perhaps take care of some nuisance or raider: the frozen walking dead, a werewolf stalking the woods, or equally desperate bandits raiding the stores.

People stay in but for necessary forage for thin livestock, breaking the ice for the well, occasionally carrying out an individual not hearty enough to last the winter...

The snow hasn't fallen for weeks, it is too cold, with a bone-breaking ache.

"Are you going somewhere warmer, guv'ner?" As the party leaves from their hard lodgings, they find themselves tailed by a sallow youth, with rag-wrapped feet, and a few precious potatoes and crusts of acorn-flour bread in a sack.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Inspiration: Castle

Mad March Map the 14th - Castle



The ruins of Quent Keep reside among the slowly encroaching forest. Abandoned a generation gone by its human inhabitants, they had cleared the forest attempting to expand their influence into the sylvan lands.  But the greenlands had their own methods for resisting this insolent incursion. It was a siege, but one not of armies. Weeds grew riotously in the kitchen gardens, lightning struck the walls with regularity, the well went dry, and domesticated animals fled or became unproductive.  There is no more need for such fortifications now the caretakers reached an agreement with the fey, retreating back to their own territory and allowing the wilds to regain the area...

The only occupants now are elven children with their centuries-old eyes, who play among the towers and scramble the ivy-covered walls...

Friday, March 29, 2019

Inspiration: "Ruins"


I'll put up a few random free-write entries for various "Mad March Maps" - themed creations.  Perhaps a bit of game fodder - nothing really statted up - just some description/setting/environment...

First up, the March 4th entry for Mad March Maps - "Ruins"   

The Berthou family homesteaded next to the old temple, building their corral against the structure's stout walls.  They would not think of defiling the interior space, but the cleared land of the abandoned place was too much a temptation for a freedman trying to get his start.

All was well until the screams started.

Of course, the cow ran off.  The ox didn't but he is half-deaf anyhow.

Now the Berthous are in desperate straits. Any pitiful seed money they had is gone, and the crops have not yet grown. The screams come and go from the temple. They swear that they did not disturb any artifacts of the place, nor did they turn up a grave in their building and tilling...

Would someone brave and perhaps even pious seek the cause of the screams?

The interior of the temple is razed from some past raid, its interior walls burned and collapsed. Light streams through multiple holes in the roof. Nothing stirs here but a nest of roof spiders in the rafters, preying on pigeons...

Then the ghost swoops in - screaming and raging.  It does not attack - and a perceptive character will note that it is ignoring the explorers, and appears to be casting about aimlessly, ghostly hands pulling at incorporeal hair.

For buried in the floor of the southwest 'room' is an urn of ashes, those of the departed bishop who now haunts this place. A bit of disturbed soil may hint at this item. Anyone who finds and exposes the urn will suddenly be engulfed by the ghost, much to their horror.

After the initial shock, the ghost will be seen to calm itself and a faint voice will introduce itself as Padre Domerigo. He is grateful for the recovery of his urn, and asks to be returned to his birthplace some weeks' journey away. Even in his form, the characters will find the ghost an agreeable, even jovial, travelling companion, knowledgeable of the local area.

Although there is always the risk of a negative reaction from those sensitive to the incorporeal.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mini-Review: The Little Ice Age

I've often groused about how history seems to be taught so poorly - at least my exposure to it in middle and high school. I didn't have a well-taught history class until college - where I was actually taught by a history prof (Hist 103: "Nomads of Inner Asia") - rather than a coach who needed class assignments.

I learned history on family vacations - where we stopped at every historical marker and plenty of museums, other travel opportunities, and picking and choosing books that piqued my interest at a given time... The single biggest flaw/challenge with teaching history is putting it in context - the 'why' of history, i suppose.  I'ts easier to place context when you are standing on the roadside, reading a historical marker overlooking a valley tracked by immigrant trails of the US Western Expansion, or perhaps trying to understand the setting of a semi-historical movie, or attempting to better understand the relationships between cultures and religions that extend into modern times....

Enough bitching...

Onto context - here we are gaming on our typically faux-medieval milleu.  Not having been in an ongoing campaign - how much does weather and climate really enter into most games?  There are certainly plenty of tables for randomizing weather, but how often do DM's crack them, and the associated benefits and challenges of travel and adventure during different seasons?

Enter The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 purchased used at the local Goodwill for the princely sum of $2.99. 

Briefly, the book outlines and discusses the period of climatic variation/instability between the earlier Medieval Warm Period and the beginning of the Industrial Age. A number of factors lead to generally colder and wetter conditions in the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, with associated stress on culture and populations (there is limited information from other portions of the world, so the book focuses on Europe) . 

Different regions and leaderships took differing strategies (if at all) in the face of the unknown -

The English and Dutch became more flexible and innovative in their land use and food production, while the French maintained more traditional feudal-era practices and management. This led to certain resiliency on the formers' part (although not completely effective) and contributed to increased famine and the eventual French Revolution for the latter. 

The economically and nutritionally important cod fisheries of the North Sea collapsed due to decreasing sea temperatures and pack ice - the fishermen followed the cod east, into more distant and dangerous fisheries (there is somewhat credible evidence that Breton and Irish fishermen fished cod off the North American coasts in the 1400's and were perfectly aware of a continent there, but like any good fishermen, were bane to give up the location of a good fishing hole....)

Glaciers advanced from the Alps, blocking passes and destroying or putting towns at risk.

Landholders experimented with new crop rotation and breed adaptation. New crops were adopted, including the potato from the New World.  Followed by the risks of monocropping in the case of Ireland...

Of course, during this time, Europe also began its surge of exploration and colonization, the Renaissance and Enlightenment took place, and Continent-wide political upheavals and wars mapped out modern political boundaries. So there's that....  Instability can breed innovation and action...

Gaming content and context:
As discussed above, the weather and longer term climate is a local/regional stress-driver.  Do the characters experience restricted travel and movement, or effects on their health?
Can a bad winter (or series of bad seasons) spur an invasion or conquest for resources - land, food, etc. Or perhaps take advantage of a weakened populace and military? 
Are the characters moving among other displaced populations,  and becoming caught up in political instability or intrigue?
What about prices and availability of food, other consumables, and equipment.  Does a small, impoverished are even want a few extra mouths wandering through, or are they firmly asked to keep moving? 

Just some thoughts...  You'll come up with more creative and appropriate elements to your world than I can.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Plague Doctor Class for Old-School RPG Shenanigans

Time for another goofy character class, because I've been reading history, and why not?

The Plague Doctor!


Plague doctors 'treated' victims of the bubonic plague in medieval Europe. Well, treat may be a strong word - more like attempt ineffective cures, and mostly keep an accurate account of the dying.... They were hired by the cities and municipal authorities, and were charged to treat everyone, regardless of their station in life.


But there's that whole mask thing... The raven-like close-fitter mask with aromatic herbs filling the "beak." Believed to protect the wearer from bad humours, and airborne "miasma," the iconic mask did little more than subdue the smell of disease and death, and give its wearer their intimidating appearance.  Exposed to disease, famine, and other maladies, plague doctors succumbed to the disease at similar rates as their "patients."

So why would you want to play one of these medical quacks? Maybe you need to shill some snake oil, move with impunity through quarantines, or even effect a real cure now and then.  Whatever the case, strap on that mask, don your coat and hat, and go cure some plague!

DOWNLOAD

And, because I've been playing The Black Hack with Matt Jackson and few other miscreants - have a custom class for that grotty system (review upcoming!).

DOWNLOAD
And here, have some Mono, Inc. to get you in the mood for rocking your bad Plague Doc self.




Edit: Per a couple of comments, this class could be folded into a low fantasy or 'no cleric' environment.  Using the OSR variant, perhaps lend them the healing kit from the BH version.  Or even play up the charlatan aspect, and let the player choose one thief skill. Have fun!

Edit 2: Black Hack version re-uploaded with latest version, consistent with thumbnail image.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gothridge Manor's Macceum Sewer re-filled!

March, it's zine-tastic!

Just received Tim Short's most recent mini adventure, "Macceum Sewer," in pdf and dead tree versions. Tim, in his version, specifically laid out an area with no real history or objectives, created from a number of random table resources Tim had at hand.  The adventure is populated with a fine selection of sewer denizens, and what treasure or items that may be found in the halls and rooms acts more as seeds for further adventures than goals within themselves...  All and all a good little side-trek.

Support Tim's Patreon if you want to find some cool hand-drawn mini-adventures and eccentric NPCs in your mailbox...


So yeah, random.  While I rarely go for the full-random mode, I've often used the random dungeon room stocking table out of B/X (original below) to at least get a first-cut at what's each room's theme before I start writing.


I'll shift things around and fudge as needed if I feel a space really needs a monster or something interesting to move whatever theme or narrative I might be scratching together.

And, any individual map of space can have multiple interpretations, so, sorry, Tim, I stole your map.

I took the sewer theme and intended to fill it with some typical inhabitants, albeit some not on Tim's adventure.  Were-rats, it is.  My random rolling put monsters in only two rooms, and only one with treasure (actually, the only treasure in the whole place). And really, were-rats?  Gotta do better than that. So they serve something a bit more nasty. And there's a bit of a complication with serving this particular big-bad, but our rats have found a way around it. And I trickled a bit more treasure in, because we have to keep those mooks interested...

So have a look, this is also my first attempt at a zine format - so comments are welcome.

Mmm, sewer.

Friday, March 1, 2019

30-minute dungeon

Happy Friday, all. 

A brief posting inspired by the Bogeyman's Cave - creating a dungeon of approximately 10 features in a 30-minute time limit.  Elements were to include:

A Hook
General Background
3 Combat Encounters
3 "Empty" Rooms
2 Traps
1 NPC
1 Weird Thing To Experiment With
Some Treasure
A Magic Item

So here we go - a list of areas/features created in 30 minutes, scrawled in a notebook, followed by a very rough line-and-arrow conceptual map of the listed spaces and critter locations:


Hook/background: A temple and tome is rumored to contain a piece of a star.  Worshipers used to attend to it, but the place has an accursed aura since a necromancer was interred there.  Guardians magical and undead occupy the space.

Pool (NPC) – Is occupied by a bored nereid (save vs charm, etc. or be stuck telling her stories until you starve).  She may be cajoled and bribed to provide what info she knows about the tomb.  Her knowledge is limited, other than that a magic trap guards the temple, and that the wight has hidden himself.  With a high reaction roll/success, she will provide a water-smoothed stone from the pond, assuring that it will protect the party.

Trap 1 – A pair of columns flank the entrance.  Crossing between them will break a magic ‘beam’ causing them to crash together (2d8 damage).  Unless one is carrying the nereid’s pretty rock.

Trap 2- Spikey pit trap protects the false tomb

Combat 1 – Caryatid columns (2) guard the temple space

Combat 2 – Behind a secret door is a chamber of the true tomb: Undead guardians commanded by the big-bad protect the true tomb (6 skeletal champions or equivalent (2HD, disadvantage on turning)

Combat 3 – 5HD Wight ex-necromancer lurks in his tomb.

Weird – A levitating, spinning stone occupies the center of the temple space.  The stone can not be disturbed or interfered with.  A dispel magic or equivalent will remove its levitation.  The stone is a meteor (50lbs), and of value to those who craft meteoric iron.

Empty 1 – An entry foyer past the columns is capped by a transparent dome, bathing the area in fabulous, golden light, even at night.

Empty 2 – A vault of grave goods – long since despoiled and raided.

Empty 3 – A false tomb, meant to lure and distract those from the real tomb.  “treasure” consists of empty chests and cheaply gilded items.

Magic Item - The wight wields a scepter (as +1 mace).  The scepter may be used to command undead once per day, and contains 1d3 necromancer spells (3d4 total charges).  Each spell cast from the scepter requires a save vs spells or lose one point of CHA from the “stench of death”

Treasure
On the body of the Wight: 18 pp, 700 gp black pearl, other grave goods 1000gp, gems worth 7,9,30,70,90 gp
Deceased adventurer (caryatid columns) – 105 gp, gems worth 12, 12, 60, 140 gp, scroll of Summon Monster I, Explosive runes



Monday, February 4, 2019

Uthur's Tomb, an Interpretation of Jackson's Barrowmound 10

Having a creative burst here, or more likely, finally transcribing a few ideas into a somewhat publishable format.  Really, you don't want to try to read my notes.

Back to Mr. Matt Jackson's contributions to the map ecosystem, his "Barrowmound 10." Per his notes, the tomb side resulted in a case of mummy rot in his home game...  My victims, er, adventures, will be sent to make sure that the tomb is undisturbed, but find something else disturbing in a pair of recently-dug caverns...
https://www.patreon.com/posts/barrowmound-10-23759664

Have a look. and find out what lurks in Uthur's Tomb.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sneaking into Dyson's Sapphire Vault....

Two posts in a day?  What sorcery is this?

Well I have a few things in the pipeline, and its time to translate my scribbled notes to legible text, followed by making that text somewhat coherent.

So today we visit the lovely Sapphire Vault of Mr. Logos, as he described it, "... the Sapphire Vault appears to have been part of some larger structure at one point – the construction of which is significantly beyond the skills of the current inhabitants. Access to the vault is via one of two small caves on the cliff-face – the smaller cave being about 12 feet above the larger and used primarily as a look-out for invaders, looters, and adventurers."  I upgraded his foul goblinoids to degraded lizardfolk and went from there...

https://dysonlogos.blog/2018/10/29/the-sapphire-vault/

Download it here, y'all. 

No Clerics!?!

So here's the thing.  Cleric is my favorite old school class to play.  I like the combination of support spells/miracles, plus being able to thwack things now and then. And occasionally hamming it up like some travelling preacher. 

But then Dan Collins goes and talks about how and why he's eliminated clerics from his house rules.

 

HERETIC! (goes looking for firewood and an appropriate burning stake...)

Ok, with that out of the way...  I'm actually treading into game design theory here...  careful now....

So yeah.  No clerics.  Per Dan, if the original inspirational literature - Leiber, Tolkien, Vance, etc. - is devoid of the miraculous healer or armored priest. Using our bog-standard faux European medieval trope, that role is shoehorned in from the Christian clergy and mythology, with a bit of Crusader thrown in.  So the cleric is anachronistic with respect to the source material. Depending on the campaign/world-building environment that a group's game explores, there may not be a place for a cleric in a classic fighter/thief/mage trope.

Soooo... reflecting on that and Tim Kask's commentary  - Hit points were not designed or intended as  strictly physical damage, but an ambiguous combination of physical damage, skill, luck, and fatigue that can compound prior to receiving a potentially fatal blow. 

The sparring match referenced by Tim:


Other good examples:  Gotta have some classic Flynn and Rathbone - chewing scenery, taking falls, dodging, wearing one another down...


Or Rob Roy, with superficial damage and exhaustion stacking up prior to Rob Roy getting that critical with only a few HP left?


Therefore, it seems that the cleric's cure light wounds, etc. is inconsistent with the original concept of hit points, since HP aren't directly coupled to physical damage.  Also, if hit points are a combination of the above listed conditions, does it make sense that a PC would only recover, at most, a few hit points with a night's rest?

So then, what do we do without a 'healer' in the party?  How do we figuratively catch our breaths and regain some of those nebulous hit points?

Treading into potentially heretical OSR territory, let's look at 5e for another pair of mechanics, the short and long rests:
Short Rest
A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.
A character can spend one or more Hit Dice at the end of a short rest, up to the character’s maximum number of Hit Dice, which is equal to the character’s level. For each Hit Die spent in this way, the player rolls the die and adds the character’s Constitution modifier to it. The character regains Hit Points equal to the total. The player can decide to spend an additional Hit Die after each roll. A character regains some spent Hit Dice upon finishing a long rest, as explained below.
Long Rest
A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity—at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting Spells, or similar Adventuring activity—the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.
At the end of a long rest, a character regains all lost Hit Points. The character also regains spent Hit Dice, up to a number of dice equal to half of the character’s total number of them (minimum of one die). For example, if a character has eight Hit Dice, he or she can regain four spent Hit Dice upon finishing a long rest.
A character can’t benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period, and a character must have at least 1 hit point at the start of the rest to gain its benefits.
So here goes something totally untested and unproven.  No warranty stated or implied:

OSR Short Rest: Regain one hit point per level (+CON bonus) up to max HP. Mages may attempt to regain spent spells (only ones previously memorized that day) using a successful saving throw vs spells per attempted spell recovered (shoehorning in a bit of an opportunity to help the mages, particularly low level, to be less of a one-hit wonder). 

OSR Long Rest Idea 1: Roll one HD per level (+CON bonus) (up to max HP). Spell selection/memorization as per normal.

OSR Long Rest Idea 2: Roll 1HD plus 1 HP/level (+CON bonus). Spell selection/memorization as per normal.

Even with a long rest, and excepting the use of healing potions or some other mechanic, there should still be the potential for hit point attrition as the adventure continues - fatigue, healing wounds, poor food, etc. add up.

After all, an adventure is analogous to an expedition, and these guys are shedding hit points like nobody's business...



Pardon this ramble - written up Saturday morning after one cup of coffee and a night of ruminating on the above commentaries.  Let me know what you think - is this a workable option for a world without clerics?

P.S.

Well, maybe there is one classic literature (er, film) 'Cleric' - but he wasn't much of a healer....


And the classic One Hit Point left:



Sunday, January 27, 2019

Book Review: Noblesse Oblige


I originally found Uri Kurlianchik through his DND Kids blog, where I enjoyed his observations and tales of running games/herding adolescents.  So when his announcement of a new book came across my MeWe feed, I couldn't pass it up.  Besides, I had a long plane ride coming up, and paper-based reading fare is my favored travel entertainment.

So here's a synopsis and review:


There's no one to rescue the Princess.

Our adventure takes place in a decadent outpost at the edge of the solar system near the border with the insanity-laced Oort cloud and its threatening, alien occupants (the appropriately-termed horror vacui). The unnamed Princess arrives at the asteroid outpost-mansion of an eccentric outlaw and immediately finds herself to be the center of attention, but not in a way that she is used to, or even remotely comfortable with.... For she is to be auctioned off to the highest bidder among a group of equally eccentric and murderous characters.

So marooned with this rogues gallery, with only a ferret (that turns out to be much more than an emotional support animal) and a rapidly-depleting personal micro-armory, she seeks resources and unreliable allies in her attempts to equal the manipulations and machinations of her 'suitors.'

As her 'suitors' get eliminated, leaving increasingly dangerous and deceitful foes, our Princess resorts to greater subterfuge and methodologies as the stakes rise. Will she triumph?
The book is a fun romp in a dystopian future ruled by capitalist-monarchies. Each chapter is headed by an appropriate Dune-like quote with responses/commentary by the characters. Interspersed flashback chapters have vignettes of the various protagonists, linking them, and creating backstory. The Princess is no Mary Sue, the situation remains tenuous throughout.  But she rises to the occasion from a sheltered young woman to a formidable opponent through her own keen observations, recollections of near-forgotten lessons from family and advisors, and resourcefulness. For those of us who enjoy our futures slightly dark and cynical, with a haughty heroine who can't even believe that she's having to put up with these indignities, grab a copy.