Tuesday, November 30, 2021

REVIEW - Dream House of the Nether Prince

Dream House of the Nether Prince
AD&D level 14+
by Anthony Huso
blog - thebluebard.com
art by Valin Mattheis - website
maps by Tim Hartin - website
buy hardcover and pdf here

Since I read Ben L's review of The Night Wolf Inn and had to get myself a copy, I have followed the exploits of Anthony Huso, one of 1st edition AD&D's most devoted exponents. He has a long series of posts on his blog about his BtB AD&D home game. He makes no apologies for his playstyle and is uninterested in compromising for the mainstream.

Also, he likes Blue Oyster Cult [1]. My kinda guy!

The final adventure in the author's six-year home game, Dream House of the Nether Prince is set inside the abyssal palace of the Demon Prince Orcus. Being a fan of the goat-headed one himself, obviously I had to get my hands on it.

A digression: 

Back in the bad old days of the '90s, we had Planescape. I could never quite get my head around it [2]. The idea of a fantasy-Dickensian London where you run into a demon at a bar, but he's just hanging out drinking a funny-coloured beer, looking for mortals to tempt or selling you Green Steel weapons... it never sat right with me. Just like Twilight did to vampires, Planescape took what should be the most profound manifestations of evil - beings that are truly inhuman in every sense - and watered them down into regular guys with horns & tails.

Huso keeps demons harsh. Dream House begins with The Enchiridion, an 11-page treatise on AD&D demons. This section really showcases his imaginative approach. He takes every hint & clue dropped by Gygax in the core books, extrapolating outwards from there while remaining faithful (as far as I can tell) to the source material. This section covers a huge range of topics ranging from special Abyssal effects to new treasure, demonic transmogrification and more.

Maybe you already have rules for some of these in your game, but The Enchiridion has something worthwhile for everyone. The sections on amulets and summoning are really interesting. The rules are a bit complex in terms of what happens when demons are killed with/without amulets, what happens to the amulets, etc. but they are absolutely Gygaxian: I can see how players interacting with these systems will produce lots of downstream effects that will drive ongoing campaign play. They can see what works and what doesn't, make demonic enemies, strike bargains (successfully or not) or struggle to destroy a demon permanently.

I love the treasure section, always a high point of Huso's work. Gold piece values are provided for an entire economy based on human corpses (the demons eat them) and abyssal larvae. Along with these are exotic trade goods, some new and some from his other adventures like Dam Marmara or ebonwood bars. This kind of variety in treasure keeps things interesting, especially in a high-level adventure that has literally tens of millions of gp for the taking!

A section on abyssal weather, special effects & other hazards adds icing on the Cake of Pain that adventuring in the lower planes is meant to be. Effects range from maddening winds to sulfuric rain, toxic snow, mutations and even earthquakes. All of this should make your players rue the day they ever delved into the Abyss before anyone rolls initiative. 

Planescape this ain't.



Dream House is written for the author's home campaign and no concessions are made to the rest of us. The only hook we get is the following:

"You have obtained the gobbet of mindless immortal flesh, known as the Starfire Neonate. To prevent [a hideous elder god] from ending your world, you must bring the Neonate's imbecile god-flesh into direct contact with [the elder god]. Much like the meeting of a Xag-ya and a Xeg-yi, the event will destroy or [more likely] banish both.

Because the [elder god] inhabits the trackless depths of the Prime Material's cosmic void, the only way to find and reach it, is to use a gate. The only known gate is in the Abyss, and it is located in Orcus' Iron Vauntmure--for the Prince of the Undead doth treat with the [elder god] time to time.

Ergo, the PC's motive is quite simple.

1. Arrive in Pazunia
2. Enter the Iron Fort
3. Find and Open the Gate
4. Force the Starfire Neonate to Touch the [elder god]"

It then goes on to explain that this whole adventure (and maybe your whole campaign!?) is part of an elaborate long-term plot by Orcus. The characters are going to be catspaws in his never-ending war with Demogorgon, whom Orcus hopes to draw out at an opportune moment and defeat for good.

This is totally awesome but rather specific and may not apply to my game or yours. Cool that we get a slice of Huso's totally fucking wild home game, but it would be nice to get a few more readily usable hooks or rumours. Honestly though, if your DMing chops are remotely up to the task of running this adventure you can come up with a reason for the PCs to go there.


The adventure section itself runs 89 pages, spanning 137 rooms over three castle levels and the caverns below. It is crammed with hordes of unflinchingly dangerous monsters and dickish traps. I want to see the character sheets of the party that survived this shitstorm. Did your group squash Acererak and piss in Vecna's eye-hole? Maybe you have a shot at this.

There aren't many rooms of the "let's mess with it and see what happens" type, usually staples in modern OSRland. There is no faction play based on reaction rolls and figuring out what the NPCs want. Dream House is a pounding, ceaseless battery of monsters and traps. Curiosity and fiddling with things is rarely the right move. Many rooms are simply a drain on resources best bypassed or avoided. This adventure demands that the players function at a high level of competence all the way through. Individually some of these encounters may not have too much going on, but the overall effect is powerful and highlights Huso's approach rooted in a deep reading of the DMG and the classic Gygax modules, especially the S series I think.

Notes are provided on monster behaviour in terms of investigating disturbances, guarding areas and chasing foes in the form of small icons next to the monster statblocks. This is a nice shorthand that you will definitely use.

The tunnels below the fortress are called The Warrens of the Prince and they're just a warm up: pit traps into frozen abysses, ghoulification curses, Vrock packs, 14,000 Manes demons and a few really harsh uniques (the 24 HD scarlet beast of revelation!!!). This level is mostly monsters and traps and I felt a lack of interactivity here, although the rooms that do have more going on are very cool. There are a few bangers like the Rag-Man, and the treasure room with possibly every cursed item in the book. 

As the players ascend things get progressively more strange and interesting. The first floor is the Court of Orcus. Here we get another dose of dangerous passive effects. These are generally under-used in modern adventures and it's a shame. Huso does these really well, adding another layer of tactical challenge for characters who are presumably loaded down with tons of game-breaking magic items & spells, without engaging in cheap gimping. The Braziers of Devotion act as gaze attacks that force victims to sacrifice valuable goods in them and Dimensional Ward Stones slay anyone Teleporting into their area of effect (there goes the scry-and-die, oops).

The rooms get more dickish here. Doors that Finger of Death you, illusory walls, 20HD zombie guardians, disintegration pits, mutations, suicide-inducing fear effects, squads of Yochlols and Type VIs. A few no-save screwjobs like the stairs that throw you out into the Deep Astral for 1d10 years. They are sometimes telegraphed, but Huso is also counting on players that are as seasoned as their characters being able to spot dangerous situations.

The rooms also get much cooler, with more weird things to look at and interact with: the Wand of Orcus is kept here, there are weird high-tech machines you can play with, a dangerous game of 'pill-roulette' administered by grotesque eyeless undead bitches, and even one of Tiamat's eggs! Orcus His Damned Self is here on his throne and will address the group if they get close, urging them to ascend further to reach their goal (all part of the plan).

The second floor is the High Temple Prisons, consisting mostly of unique foes that are dangerous in the extreme. There are a few imprisoned folks to be rescued like captured paladins, devas and a solar. The most involved room is a little extradimensional war between Orcus and Tiamat. The PCs can enter, travel around the small hexmap and team up with Orcus' forces to fight packs of ancient chromatic dragons! Yikes.

The top floor is called the Spires of Damnation. This floor is almost all unique enemies, specials and weird stuff including some really nasty combats. You know what you're getting into at this point. 6 Mariliths are killing the Incubus King. A masked demon orgy. A pack of 23 vampires and their mistress, the Duchess of Bats. Sut, the Walking Demon. The Dark Seer. Any one of these would be a battle to cap off someone else's campaign - in Dream House they are packed in cheek by jowl.

Finally, we come to the end. If the PCs can survive Witch Hall, avoid being crushed in the Thighs of the North and reach the Doors of Ultimate Sacrifice - the Prince's Duel begins! Demogorgon appears, and each Demon Prince will speak to the group during a time stop, offering them safe passage, absurd riches and other sweet stuff to side against the other. Once a bargain (if any) is made, battle is joined! The stat blocks for Orcus and Demogorgon run into multiple pages including special abilities, immunities, artifacts and minions. Satan help you trying to run this combat anyway, but I think miniatures would be a necessity. Rules for The Primal Order by Peter Adkison (some kind of supplement for divine & demonic powers I think) are also provided, if you have that book.

After the battle (if anyone survives), the Golden Doors can be approached. They require willing sacrifices to open, just in case you thought the struggle was over. At this point you're saving the world, so that paladin you spent half of a real-life decade building to 15th level? The one who was only a week from retirement? Who had plans of raising sheep on a little farm outside Midwall? He's not gonna make it home.

The Appendices consist of about 25 pages of supplemental material. Sci-fi weapons sit alongside powerful magical artifacts, some new illusion spells, demons & undead. Everything is cool and worth using. A d100 random undead table (references monsters from Dragon and even AD&D modules), gated demons table and some monster statblock summaries are useful references. Finally, the Epilogue offers some helpful advice on running Orcus & Demogorgon and how the fortress reacts to the PCs. 


There you have it. Dream House of the Nether Prince is not perfect, but it is pure. The work of a true disciple of Gygax. It asks for a great deal - few players are ready to face this challenge, perhaps even fewer DMs could run it. Everyone in your group should be seasoned AD&D veterans to even contemplate this. But what heights you'll climb together! The party will either be ground up by the numberless, ravening hordes of the Abyss - or win through after tremendous battle and sacrifice to see a Demon Prince destroyed and the world saved. This is what D&D is all about.

Good: Grand, ambitious, epic, unique. Beautiful artwork. Great supplemental sections. Insanely lethal. High-level AD&D the way God and Gary intended.

Bad: Big-ass stat blocks. Heavily combat-focused. Can be tough to scan due to the amount of information. Refers back to other material you may not own. A niche product in multiple ways. Insanely lethal. 

9/10 Demon Princes

The book has a credits section, playtesters aren't listed, although you can go read about the final session on Huso's blog.


[1] - I had owned the Night Wolf Inn for a year, and then listened to Secret Treaties again. Give it a try.

[2] - Even though Planescape: Torment is probably the best computer RPG ever made, Balance In All Things, Amen.

Now some Abyssal music to play us out:

Thursday, November 25, 2021

REVIEW - Trilemma Adventures Compendium: a friend in need...

Trilemma Adventures Compendium
by Michael Prescott & others
published by Trilemma Adventures
print & pdf here

One-page dungeons. We know them, we have mixed feelings on them. The contest has been around for over a decade, producing mostly unplayable garbage and a few nice-looking maps (which are also unplayable). Can the format be done well?

Since 2014, Michael Prescott has been creating one- and two-page dungeons, beautifully rendered with his own black & white drawings. All of these adventures are up on his blog in pdf format FOR FREE[1]. In 2019, he launched a kickstarter to release them in a hardcover collection. In my usual fashion I totally missed backing it, but managed to buy one of the surplus copies after the campaign finished. Now that I've had a chance to run a handful I can offer a decent review.

Firstly this is a lovely volume. Heavy-duty covers with a great texture like a nice old book (what is this material called?). I don't fear the consequences of stuffing this in my bag to bring it to game night. Silver foil text, one of those soft red fabric bookmarks, nice thick glossy paper. Every spread has beautiful isometric maps and illustrations by Prescott or occasionally a guest artist. All the artwork fits together remarkably well, the book has a consistent look throughout. Formatting and layout are simple and well done, using bolding and a bit of colour to highlight relevant details. The whole aesthetic is simple & clear, distinctive while focusing on readability.

"Okay so far" you ask, "but you did say system neutral one-page dungeons? Can these be any good?"
To be fair: six are actually a single page [2], most are two pages and a handful are three or four. 

What these adventures do very well is present interesting & imaginative situations. A disused healing shrine inhabited by giant spiders who are curious about humans. An evil wizard imprisoned by an aging, weakened order of knights, desperate to recruit new members. A ruined tower that grants wishes using a complicated ritual of numbered rooms. Almost every adventure has a weird & cool premise (sometimes excessively so - we will return to this idea later). They are poised on the edge, ready for the PCs to show up and knock things around. Prescott consistently creates these dynamic areas, packed with potential energy for adventure. They jump into the reader's mind, leaving him with that familiar but elusive "I can't wait to run this!" feeling.

There are no +1 swords or giant rats. Almost everything is new and strange. The adventures are written with a certain type of OSR mentality the reader will probably recognize - a B/Xian perspective familiar if you read blogs like Goblin Punch, Against the Wicked City & similar. I would say in terms of pure creativity, Trilemma is up there with the most interesting material I've seen from this corner of OSRdom.

The adventures are of course small, and this is a problem - the largest about 20ish keyed areas, and most hover around 6-10. This limits the scope of action. You can't have much of a dungeon-crawling experience here. This is one of the key complaints with one-page dungeons. Although Prescott's are some of the best in the format, they contain more potential adventure than they do adventure - the DM must still provide a fair bit of the latter. It might be better to view most as detailed hexcrawl locations, dungeon sublevels or even just adventure seeds.

Although they make for minimal dungeoncrawling or exploratory experiences in themselves, these adventures serve well - at least they have in my games. Because they are so dense with ideas, they colour the campaign world around them. I ran The Moon is a Mirror for my group over the course of two sessions, but it sent the campaign in a completely new direction - we are still dealing with the effects a year or so later. This is exactly the kind of thing I crave as a DM, don't you?

Fuck man, The Cleft of Five Worlds could be a two-page brief for an entire underdark campaign setting! Each paragraph is like a hex description of a dungeon I want to play in and it's tied together with a bit of history and overarching relationships. Of course if you wanted to run it, all your work is still in front of you. Ultimately, the Trilemma Compendium gives the lie to the idea that one-page dungeons are something you just 'pick up and play' - I have never been able to do that with these adventures.

The monsters are quite a highlight. There are five or six standard "by the book" monsters but everything else is new and almost all are great: the implacable Brass Soldiers, bloodthirsty Chitin Drakes, Cave Stitchers, Lantern Worms, Moon Babies and tons more. Some are a new spin on and old concept, like the Avatar of Suvuvena (basically a CIFAL from the Fiend Folio). Some new humanoid races are included like the Dradkin (kinda sorta like dark elves), the Heelan (reptilian desert-dwellers) and several more. All the monsters fit together remarkably well, combining into a whole bestiary with a unified tone and feel. You could pick and choose, but looking at them all gives the reader a clear impression of the Trilemma world.

This is expanded upon in the appendices, which develop a setting for all the adventures to live in. Sections for monster descriptions (no statistics, but more detail on ecology, special abilities & such), magic items, maps, history and a guide to the Trilemma world.

The world guide is hard to read. The relentless newness of everything, which works fantastically in a one-pager (since I'm looking for a density of ideas) actually works against the Compendium here. It is hard to grasp because there are so few familiar touchstones to latch onto. It washes over the reader in an undifferentiated stream. Or at least it did for me - maybe I just have trouble with all the names.

The Trilemma world would also require a great deal of DM work to use. For instance, I cannot find a scale on the world map! I wonder if it would have been better to leave it as something just implied by the adventures themselves? I have my suspicions, but would love to know for sure whether I'm seeing Prescott's home game world or something he created after the fact to tie his adventures together.

The section on hooks, rumours & lore is great. Every adventure gets a set of 9 rumours and it all goes in a huge d1000 table. The table format is probably unnecessary - I assume you are going to hand-pick which of these adventures you're using - but the rumours and lore themselves are good, and I like that Prescott considered this element.

The system-neutral thing might turn some people off, but Prescott has your back, kinda - after the Kickstarter, he published a bestiary book providing monster stats for B/X which covers most of the creatures you will encounter in the Compendium adventures. Of course if you're playing B/X, you can probably eyeball stats for most of these guys - but it never hurts to have another monster book, and most of them are really cool anyway. Get it in pdf if you want to save money.

How to use this?

I recommend picking out a handful of adventures you like. Use some as hexcrawl locations, dropping them into your campaign map exactly as-is. Use your favourites as more significant locations: put some work into expanding them, add some more rooms based on the existing themes or graft them on to an existing location. Connect them to other areas of your game world. Maybe the reason I like this book so much is that it fits quite well into how I create my own campaigns. I don't mind that these adventures are small, really - what I crave is density of ideas, and the Trilemma Compendium has that in spades.

There are 49 adventures in this book. I would use all but a handful based on merit alone. I have run three so far in my home games, and placed ten or twelve more around my campaign setting. I look forward to the players finding them!

You could use this as an entire Trilemma Campaign. It would have a very specific flavour - short dungeons, lots of hopping around. I think it would suit a certain type of player group. It would lack the depth and exploratory elements of classic play without extensive additional work.

The Good: Gorgeous production, lovely artwork, highly imaginative, a new & distinctive flavour of D&D. Sweet monsters and magic items. Plenty of interactivity. Huge ideas-to-page-count ratio. The best tiny adventures you're likely to find. It has provided me hours of fun and I anticipate more of the same.

The Bad: Familiar one-pager flaws: limited scope, require DM investment & energy to fully realize. The gazetteer section is of limited utility. Filthy system-neutrality. Too strange to use all the time.

6/10 Minions of Sorg

The book has an extensive credits section, including playtesters.


[1] - Rendering my review somewhat pointless. Just go look and see if you like them. 

[2] - I'm just going to say 'one-pagers' for the duration of this review, to save space.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

[Play Report] Land's End II, Session 1 - Jailbreak!

Unknown in-game date


Iron-In-Blood, Lizardfolk
Heka, Wildman
Floros, Human
Xenia, Planetouched
Pale-Heart, Lizardfolk
Duul, Wildman
Pallas, Human
Vorvou, Chthonic Elf
Agàta, Human
Kazik, Human
Dimemnu, Chthonic Elf
Gold-Foot, Lizardfolk
Hafza, Wildman


Life in the mountains digging obsidian for the lizardfolk is the same every day: Get up early. Dig up the glass. Get beat by the overseers. Go to sleep and do it all again. 

The slaves tell each other stories to pass the time, dreaming of escape to ZEMPHAS, the Lost City of Silver, where no being is made to serve another. One old warm-blood named Agàta said he heard of it from another who had actually been there - he described the argent towers, brass domes that blaze in the sunset and ethereal bells that ring through the city at dawn. He said it lies past mountains, jungle and desert on a vast blue ocean. It seems an impossible distance away.

One day, something changed:

Most obsidian mines are open-air trenches, but then a cave is found with veins of the black & green stuff running through it. The tunnels are deep cracks in the mountain, webbing out in every direction. The overseers sent groups down to extract more obsidian for the Black Wings’ war efforts and to enrich their warchief above all others in the Drowned Lands. 

The nightmares began soon after. Every time it was the same: 

…Horns ring out from the mountaintops. Strange constellations glitter, lighting an unknown earth. Floating in icy water, black and still. The taste of hot blood. The touch of fine-grained stone, cold and damp. Whistling music in the firelight. And voices echoing in a vast, timeless, frozen darkness… 

They persisted for weeks. One slave choked on his own tongue during the night and everyone else was terrified. The overseers & guards stopped going into the tunnels, since only those who work down there get nightmares. 

One day, Agàta made his rounds at mealtime. He was tired & sickly, the nightmares taking their toll on even his mighty frame. He spoke briefly, only to those who worked underground: 

“We’re getting out of here. Tomorrow. Tell only those you trust, ten or twelve at most. Spread the word tonight. They’ll never catch us. I’ve found a way out… down below!”


At the beginning of the workday the group followed Agàta down into the obsidian tunnels, trusting in his vague plan of an escape route. Each one knew they had until nightfall to get as far as they could before the overseers expected them back. Equipped only with stone picks, leather sacks & lumps of coal for light, they crept through dark tunnels deep within the earth, venturing farther and deeper into the mountains than they ever had before - until Agàta indicated a narrow crawlspace.

"Smell that? Bat guano. We've never seen bats fly through these caves, so there must be a way to the surface through there! And look what else I found!"

Agàta showed the group two strange relics: a chunk of yellow metal with writing on it, and an oddly-shaped... key?... with a glowing orange gemstone in the handle.

"Look at the lettering... this could be from Zemphas itself!"

Treasures? Clues? Relics?

Crawling through the narrow passageway, their backs scraped by the razor-sharp rock, the stench of guano got steadily stronger. The slaves emerged into a pool of the foul stuff, hearing the twittering and fidgeting of thousands of bats above their heads. Their faint coal braziers barely illuminated several narrow tunnels exiting the cavern.

"I've an idea," said Vorvou. "Let's disturb the bats, and see which way they fly!" 

The group assented to this plan, covering their lights while the two chthonic elves used their unnatural cave-adapted eyes to watch the bats. Throwing a few rocks caused the flock to exit to the left, but a few of the bats had a thirst - with a shriek, Vorvou was set upon by a few and his blood was drained in an instant! The rest of the group covered their heads with their leather sacks and hid at the bottom of the cavern, luckily avoiding the vampire bats' attention.

Following the flock of bats took the group to a narrow chimney they couldn't climb. Well, so much for that plan. Unwilling to backtrack towards servitude, the party continued their exploration of this hostile & bizarre cave. They came upon a vast underground lake that stretched into darkness, the only sound a distant drip of water. A narrow ledge stretched along the lake's edge, but nobody dared chance the crumbling stonework so they moved on.

Climbing upwards they found a glistening, iridescent trail of slime on the ground that led them to a room with a huge rainbow snail-shell. Assuming this was the territory of some bizarre invertebrate, they hurried onwards. They passed a room with a black handprint burned into the wall but decided not to investigate.

At the shores of a cold and swift river they disturbed a school of ravenous piranhas who leapt out of the water in hungry pursuit! The group made a terrible tactical mistake, which luckily didn't work out too badly - they fled forwards into unknown territory pursued by the hopping, gnashing school of fish. 

They ran down a narrow tunnel and broke into a round room of worked stone. A pattern of stars was carved on the ceiling, and an ancient stone bed lay to one side. A layer of scented dust covered every surface. 

Thinking quickly, the slaves jammed the old bed against the crack in the wall - the tiny land-piranhas couldn't jump over it and gave up pursuit, retreating to the river. Behind the bed was an old brass tablet with obscure markings, which the group took.

The slaves pressed on through this constructed area. They entered a rectangular room covered in carvings showing a robed humanoid figure floating or flying through a field of constellations. In a small alcove guarded by an ancient, collapsed pit-trap they found a purplish crystal skull (definitely not human) that looked valuable and three tiny metal cylinders with threaded ends, glowing with a faint reddish light.

In another domed room smelling of old incense and dust, they found a metallic skullcap with a cluster of silvery filaments extending outwards from it in intricate, twisting patterns. Nobody was willing to try it on, so they took it for later.

Then they entered the Room of Stars. Seeming to float in the void of space, the group could barely navigate the room without falling over it was so disorienting. As the approached the back alcove, the stars shifted along the walls, coalescing into a glowing doorway of light. Nervously, Agàta reached out to open it and the group entered.

The deep obsidian caverns

The group found themselves in a narrow hallway of worked stone, leading to a small room with four bronze statues of spearmen, ready to throw. Entering the room cautiously, the inevitable happened: the statutes animated, hurling their spears towards the group! Everyone tried to duck, but Hafza the wildman was too slow and was impaled.

The statues didn't seem to present further danger after this, and the group took up the finely-crafted spears for themselves. 

The next room was a large chamber with a huge statue in the center of a robed man holding a tablet in one hand, while his other pointed imperiously forward. Three other doors were visible. Gold-Foot and Agàta entered, noticing that the statue swiveled on its base, continuing to point at them wherever they roamed in the room. Nervous about this, they tried to leave when blasts of fire issued from the statue's finger! Gold-Foot was burned to a crisp while everyone else ducked for cover.

When the jets of flame ceased, they heard only triumphant crowing: "Hah! Stupid magic statue, you think you can get the best of me?" Proving himself a tough old man once more, Agàta had survived another scrape.

It seemed the statue had exhausted its magic and the rest of the slaves contemplated their next move: three doors presented themselves, but this area was obviously quite dangerous. What to do?


And so it begins! 

A brand new in-person Land's End game with a very small group! "Season 2" is set a little ways off from the original Land's End theatre of action. It maintains a handful of connections to the original (the Black Wings lizardfolk and their slaving ways, for example) but with a slightly different focus. 

Follow along with us as we uncover more mysteries, explore more snake-men tombs, and get trench foot in the jungle again! We begin on the right footing by killing a handful of PCs in this introductory funnel. I've always wanted to run a "no equipment, no abilities" adventure, a trope that's been floating around forever but fits Land's End quite well - a setting where even established adventurers struggle to find decent gear! 

Some readers may recognize the first few rooms of the Dungeon Crawl Classics 0-level funnel "The Door Beneath The Stars," which has been modified a little bit to fit the setting.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Land's End: Appendix N

Since I have started a "Land's End Season 2" campaign, I thought it would be a fun post to collect some of my favourite inspirations for the campaigns here.

Some of these informed the tone or atmosphere more generally, and others I stole from directly. See if you can guess which is which!

Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle. Desolate wastes, corrupt wizards, a terrified populace, and Mordiggian!

You already knew it.

Dark Souls, the best console game ever.

Robert E. Howard's El Borak stories. Adventuring amongst savage tribes in the desolate regions of the world, discovering lost cities and vast hidden treasures.

Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea cycle.

The old Dark Horse Indiana Jones comics, especially Fate of Atlantis. I was going to mention Raiders, but I already wrote a whole blog post about it a few years ago.

H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. The original 'hidden valley' adventure site!

Myth: The Fallen Lords, by Bungie. Dark fantasy wargame that rips off the Black Company extensively.

Daggerfall, the best Elder Scrolls game. Crude, buggy, dark, mysterious, with a charm all its own.

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness

Melan's Fomalhaut campaign and materials, like Isles on an Emerald Sea.

Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa. I wouldn't run it on its own, but picking bits & pieces from it works really well.

Oni Press' Wasteland comics. Post-apocalyptic desert adventures. 

The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall. Dense and difficult, sometimes woefully outdated, but worth a read.

Exile: Escape from the Pit by Spiderweb Software. Taking it back to the '90s!

Planet mother fucking Algol

Jason and the Argonauts film (1963). Man those outfits were boss.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne.

Also: the Wilderlands, everyone's gaming blogs, the SRD, and a giant stack of reference works!

I can't really believe it myself, but Lovecraft doesn't actually get a mention. Land's End is much more pulpy and action-packed, it doesn't really have any sense of horror. There are some gross Lovecraftian monsters but the Chthulhu mythos doesn't even really make sense in the setting, except for a few veiled references.

[LATE EDIT: I forgot one absolutely VITAL component!!!]

Sunday, September 19, 2021

10 Year Anniversary of Terrible Sorcery!

September 19, 2011 was my first post on blogspot. A big round number like that is cause for reflection, not that I have the spare time to be doing it right now.

Ten years of blogging! Where do I begin? It feels like this whole thing was started in another lifetime, by a different man. Let's look back and see how the blog developed over the years.


I had quit the band I was playing in (a really great one BTW), quit my job, and was on the outs with my girlfriend for a while. Perfect time to think about D&D again after a five-year break from gaming! I bought the Pathfinder core rules (little did I know...) and started playing with my roommates. This was the original Land's End game, which ended sometime in 2012 after a few arguments with one of the players. 

I was reading all kinds of OSR blogs at the time, starting with Grognardia. I decided to get in on the action. At this time, blog content was mostly me trying to figure out how to write and what to write about. A fair number of articles were rambling nonsense, or based on some dumb notion that crossed my mind. A few bits and pieces of actual gaming content, like the Secret Santicore contest which was great fun.


Of course, almost immediately I got a new job with more hours/week, patched things up with my girl and started a new band. Free time commensurately dwindled and you can see the posting frequency drop off until I actually go two and a half years without posting, between Feb. 2013 and Sept 2015! I was recording and producing my band's first record all by myself, and that was a lot of fucking work. 

Blog content - the beginning of my "Nameless Cults" series, some of which are fairly good. My favourite opinion piece I've written, which of course is about the best video game ever, Dark Souls.


At this point I think I was between jobs a lot and didn't have much money. These years were pretty lousy as I recall. I could have spent more time thinking about gaming, but I didn't have a group to play with around this time. I started dating a new girl who would ruin my life a few years later (referenced obliquely in The Saints Have Turned to Crime).

Blog content - In an effort to get my friend Manscorpion to publish more stuff (he writes a lot, but hardly ever releases anything) I gave him a spotlight on the blog to talk about the dungeon he was running at the time, The Crater of Termination. These posts were fun, I wish he did more of them but I can only whip a giant sized scorpion-abomination so much. I started working in earnest on one of my grandest & least workable ideas yet: a campaign of Arthur's Knights vs. Chthulhu Cults. Somehow it never gelled together, despite me spending years thinking about it. Failed experiments actually seem to comprise 75% of my gaming ideas!


While my personal life was still fucked up at this point, I was gaming lots more. I got to be a player for a while in a 2nd edition game, which was great until it wasn't (Why the OSR?). I restarted Land's End with most of the original players when my brother moved to town (The Return!). I ran some Labyrinth Lord games for some brand-new players, and we had great fun. I got on Google+ just in time for it to collapse, but managed to participate in one or two communal things (the Henry Justice Ford MM). Somewhere in there I discovered Judges Guild and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and they blew my fucking mind. I started playing in some online games with G+ people that have been tremendous fun and really mind-expanding. I think it was sometime in the winter of '18-'19 that I became obsessed with WFRP 1st edition, and managed to find a copy of Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness on eBay for a reasonable price. Still looking for the second book, though.

Blog Content - Finally after six or seven years, I was actually producing decent content. A good mixture of play reports, some gameable material and opinion pieces. My first reviews appeared around this time. This will never be a review-focused blog but I do like writing them and will continue to review things that I find fun, useful or annoying. The Random Monster Generator Shootout began here, and that's probably my favourite part of this blog. Fun on the Velvet Horizon was also a great series, if intermittent. I commissioned that bad-ass banner artwork up top from Mr. Penny Melgarejo, who you should contact if you want some metal-as-fuck artwork at a great price.


A mixed bag. My personal life has vastly improved. Work is steady. The newbie-friendly Wilderlands game I started in 2019 has moved online and now has players from across North America including a few of my old gaming pals from back home. That's a great feeling. I released my first sizeable project: a 20-page dungeon for Footprints magazine #25 which included my own hand-drawn maps & artwork, something I never thought I would ever do.

Blog Content - Still doing well. I put up a small dungeon used in my home game (The Black Pyramid). Many series continued. The Historical Weapon & Armour Lists were published with the help of my good pal (& player in my Wilderlands game) Steve. Now that you've been granted this platform, I don't want to hear any more comments about 'realism' during a game, OK??

Today and Tomorrow

I am so busy trying to prep for all the games I'm running, I don't have time to come up with ideas for the blog! I have three campaigns going right now that play at varying frequencies:

1 - The revived Land's End campaign is still going (three years later) although play is currently intermittent. Honestly that's fine, the next dungeon is proving extremely complex and difficult to write up. I don't want to spoil anything about it yet - but it's going to be a RAGER.

2 - The Labyrinth Lord game set in the Wilderlands in and around the City-State of the World Emperor. This is the newbie game mentioned above, began in 2019 in person and moved online in 2020. I have a rotating pool of 7 or 8 players who show up at various times.

3 - A brand new Land's End Part II campaign, set some distance away from the neighbourhood of the original. This is a small game (just my brother and his wife). I am using Melan's Sword & Magic ruleset, which is proving flexible and easy to use. I am planning on using several great modules in this one including Sision Tower, the JG classic Caverns of Thracia and more. More updates as this one develops...

My roommates bought me a drawing tablet for my computer. I am getting better at using it with photoshop to screen-share maps and drawings during online games. This is a lot of fun and is opening up new vistas in terms of skills to develop. My digital maps are getting much better after some mistakes and lots of practise. Now I just need a better computer!

This year I have been studying after work which has really cut into my free time. Juggling gaming, musical projects, education, exercise and (on occasion) a social call to one of a dwindling circle of friends has been tough to manage. I have always been one for hyper-focus on a single topic and multitasking is kind of a time-sink. Sometimes game sessions get missed or I have to learn to improvise (another thing I've never been good at). I am using modules more than I ever have before, but I'm getting better at using my limited prep time usefully, focusing on game-relevant detail. I feel like my DMing is better than it's ever been.

As for the State of the OSR...

Just kidding! I don't give a fuck! What kind of blog do you think this is? 

Things with me will continue in the same general vein. When my latest course is done, some updates will be forthcoming from Land's End II. Reviews for some new (or at least... vaguely recent) products that I really love. Maybe some play reports from the City-State game, a few Nameless Cults that I have in draft form, more Fun on the Velvet Horizon... you get the idea!


Now c'mon everyone, get out there and Fight On!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

New Release: Footprints Issue #25

 It's finally out!

Footprints Magazine from Dragonsfoot. Packed with almost 200 pages of Completely Free old school gaming scene goodness.

Get it HERE.

I bring this up because this issue has a 20-page adventure for Labyrinth Lord written and lovingly illustrated by ME. For characters of levels 3-6 with about 50 keyed areas.  

It's called Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen. Originally it was for a random dungeon design contest and then took on a life of its own after that. I wrote it so that it could be dropped in to anybody's campaign, and I hope you, gentle reader, give it a chance and try playing it in your own game.

Venture into a floating sanctum built to transcend mortality itself! Weigh your soul on the great scales before Zarmuun, Eater of Hearts! Battle the sadistic Witch-Queen, plunder her vast treasure hoard, sail her ocean-going barge, or climb the celestial staircase up to a mysterious fate...?

Friday, April 2, 2021

REVIEW - On Downtime & Demesnes: just what I needed

I bought quite a few LARGE gaming books in the last year or so, but they take some time to read thoroughly. When this landed on my desk, it immediately moved to the top of the list - but it took me a while since I've been so busy actually playing lately!


On Downtime & Demesnes (Basic D&D version)
by Courtney Campbell
Hack & Slash publishing
print and PDF here

Once in a rare while, an RPG supplement comes out that doesn't need doctoring around with, adaptation or fiddle-fucking - it just works. OD&D (hahaha I see what you did there) is one such product.

Courtney Campbell has proved his worth many times over, both on his blog Hack & Slash and his other products on DTRPG. Even if all he ever released was his classic treasure document (which I use constantly) he would still have made a huge contribution to my own gaming table. Before he gutted it, his blog was a tremendous resource for traps, tricks & DM techniques, along with controversial classics like the legendary "Quantum Ogre."

How many times has your player tried to do something and you thought "Huh... where are the rules for that?" What I often find I need in a gaming book are not more combat rules or magic items but guidelines, tables, sub-systems and procedures. The kind of things I usually have to write myself, ad-hoc when the situation calls for it. I have always had to range far and wide across blogs, published books, pdfs and my own customised rules to cover the situations dealt with in this book. Now Courtney gives us the total package at a single stroke! In a way, the book is like a best-of collection from one man's gaming blog all put together in a nice & usable package. It is accompanied by plenty of Courtney's hand-drawn black & white artwork, which brings a charming '80s 1st-edition feel to the whole thing.

With OD&D we get an extensive list of downtime activities, domain-management rules, options, tables, ideas and hooks. Want to build a castle? Clear a hex? Buy & sell trade goods? Learn a new skill? Find rumours? Whatever it is, Courtney has your back.

Carousing. Healing. Rumours. Bragging. Buying fancy clothes. Gambling. Buying influence! Building your own vehicles! Simple rules for magic item creation and spell research!! Even some good rules for ARENA FIGHTS by Jove, and a few sample arenas to have them in!!! In true B/X house-rule fashion, almost everything is handled with a 2d6 reaction-style roll. Usually on an 9+ something good happens, but this varies between sub-systems. 

I used this book in my home game the week I bought it. Vuk Thuul the oracle sacrificed an animal to his mysterious "divine patron" (a demon lord, hahaha). I had no idea what would happen, and then I cracked open OD&D and noticed there are rules for exactly that!

In addition to rules, guidelines and tables, great ready-to-use content is sprinkled throughout. Whenever Courtney gets specific, his imagination blasts off the page. Sections include "Example Mercenaries & Companies" (5 pages of juicy, weird NPCs I would run any day), "Strange Funeral Rites," "Dungeon Doors," "Strange Inheritances" (could easily kick off your next campaign), "Random Items for Sale at a Bazaar," "Strange Pet Stores" (OK, not sure when I'll use that) and several quirky, memorable sample villages.

I also like the lists of "100 obnoxious peasants" and "100 noble patrons," written by Chris Tamm of the legendary Elfmaids & Octopi blog. This section was cited in Melan's review and he didn't seem to like it much. They definitely bear the familiar feel of Tamm's work, but I don't mind that at all and will for sure use them. Just reading them sent me into fits of chuckling as I imagined the bizarre, dangerous and funny antics these NPCs might bring to my game. Would I use these tables every single time? No, but that ain't no crime.

Campbell draws from a wide range of wisdom here in developing these rules. Actually, I think he doesn't cite his sources enough. Would it be too much to ask for a mention of the 1st edition DMG(!!!), or maybe Jeff's Gameblog for the carousing rules[1]? Maybe a lot of this stuff is covered in ACKS, which he does list in the bibliography? (I haven't read it). Also, this book does duplicate some material you probably already have, especially in the AD&D dungeon master's guide - in fact, it could probably be thought of as a B/X DMG. I don't mind too much. Having almost every fucking thing I could want to run the "Greater D&D" in one book is more than worth it.

One other complaint I'd level at OD&D is that it covers such a tremendously wide range of material, sometimes it doesn't do so with the depth I'd like. The Influence rules could have been delved into more deeply, or maybe explained better. And the "carousing mishaps" table has 10 entries of familiar stuff - compare them to Ben's vivid table here. Ultimately this is a minor complaint, this book was clearly written so it can be used in anybody's game, and a DM who wants to expand these tables to suit his own setting obviously can.

I bought this in pdf and after paging through it once, I immediately ordered a hard copy. It's going right in between Realms of Crawling Chaos and Labyrinth Lord on my old-school gaming shelf, it is that good. If you want to run a sandbox game (and if you don't... what's the deal?) you will definitely make use of this. If you play just about any old-school game or retroclone, there is now one less reason to bring your 1st edition DMG along to game night anymore, just to reference the rules on sages for the twentieth time. Just as well, since mine is crumbling before my very eyes!

Don't waste your RPG lunch money. The marketplace is crammed with unimaginative dreck, impossible-to-run adventure path railroads, retro trade dress porn, kickstarter money grabs and pretentious glossy award-baiting. Buy something you can actually use at the table for once. Who the fuck says the OSR is dead? This is as OSR as it gets. 

9 eccentric henchmen out of 10. An almost flawless victory. 


[1] - Jeff's "Party like it's 999" post is not the first time carousing is mentioned (Dragon magazine covered this in the old days), but it is the benchmark for the rules that OSRmen play with today. 

Courtney's new book Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas is out now I think, so watch for a review of that one too. In the meantime, get fucking hyped with this:

Saturday, March 13, 2021

REVIEW - Knock! #1: miss me with that nonsense

Edited by Eric Nieudan
Layout by Oliver Revenu
Contributors: see below
Published by The Merry Mushmen
get the pdf here

Knock! is a new OSR zine I somehow discovered on Kickstarter last year. I hardly ever back anything, but the blurbs for this product were too compelling to resist:

"It has everything you’d want from an old school slash adventure gaming publication: articles about the history of Dungeons & Dragons, reflections about genre and gameplay, some clever rules, a bunch of maps, tons of random tables and lists, 7 new classes, 7 new monsters, and 3 complete adventures. If you’re reading this, some of the names below will ring a bell, or five: Emmy Allen, Benjamin Baugh, Joe Brogzin, Caleb Burks, Brooks Dailey, Nicolas Dessaux, Paolo Greco, James Holloway, Anthony Huso, Arnold K, Ethan Lefevre, Gabor Lux, Bryce Lynch, Fiona Maeve Geist, Chris McDowall, Ben Milton, Gavin Norman, Patrick Ollson, Graphite Prime, Stuart Robertson, Jack Shear, Jason Sholtis, Skullfungus, Sean Stone, Chris Tamm, Daniel Sell, and Vagabundork."

As is my wont, I sent KS the money and promptly forgot about it. A couple months ago it arrived in my mailbox and I excitedly packed it in my overnight bag for a work trip, not knowing what I was in for...

To start with, the book looks tremendous. Revenu needs to get some more work, right now. The print quality is high, the colours are so bold & vivid they fairly jump off the page. I don't think any of my other gaming books come close to being so brilliant. Even LotFP doesn't look this good. Each bloody article has individual fonts, colour schemes and a layout all its own. This must have been a huge undertaking, and I can't lavish enough praise on the zine's aesthetic. Even the damn dust jacket has a whole adventure on it (which Bryce reviewed here, saving me the time).

But how does it play? Well, I am no expert, but I cannot see how I would ever use 90% of this zine. In fact, Nieudan cops to this on the first page, where he writes

"This first issue is a bet: a bet on your interest in owning content you may have read before, collected in this dense volume for posterity and for prep sessions."

May have??
Dude, had I read half this zine before this Kickstarter was ever dreamed of.

All, and I do mean all of the content by the heavy-hitters, those who often singly but definitely combined made this an auto-buy for me (Arnold K, Gabor Lux, Daniel Sell, Anthony Huso, Graphite Prime, Chris Tamm, Jason Sholtis, Emmy Allen) turned out to be existing material from their blogs! I am not exaggerating. I don't need to pay some guy to give me a glossy, high-colour version of these articles. I had that shit bookmarked for years, my son.

Do you not already read these folks' blogs? Have you guys not heard of the OSR links to wisdom? You know that people have been updating that page for something like a decade now?

Furthermore, this book is simply not user-friendly - not during prep, nor at the table. This is where the Mushmen's obsession with cool layouts works against them (or would work against them, if I thought they had actually made this book to be used). The articles are more easily read on the blogs where they were originally posted, and the tables (except for a few very short ones) are fucking colossal, undifferentiated blocks of text! It comes across more as an art project than a tool or game document.

As I read through this zine recognizing article after article, a growing sense of indignation rose within me - I felt I'd been had. Like Don Draper trying to blend in with some hippies, Knock! throws out the "right" talking-points but none of them come together. Halfway through reading, it all I could think of was Geeks, MOPs and Sociopaths. It all comes across as if Nieudan woke up one day, read someone's "What is the OSR?" blog post, and decided to create a zine on that basis. The articles are all over the map, and while many of them are tremendous and useful CLASSICS individually, there is nothing connecting them together which might justify buying a bunch of shit I already have, no 'editorial voice,' no curation that might be considered a value-add.

I can't get over one question: who the fuck is this zine for

Where are the supply-demand curves for people who haven't read these articles already, but are willing to spend *checks notes* fifty Canadian dollars on a glossy OSR zine? What does that Venn diagram look like? Clearly, I am not the target audience. I suspect that most people who buy Knock! #1 will read through it, say "hey, nice" and put it on their gaming shelves where it shall rest, un-referenced, for many a year. Am I all alone in being displeased with that?

The answer of course was available from the beginning which, paradoxically, only adds to my feeling of being hoodwinked. As if the Mushmen were saying "hey man, you didn't read the fine print! Not our fault." 

Knock! is exactly what it says: a bric-a-brac of OSR material. 

According to dictionary.com, bric-a-brac is: "Miscellaneous small articles collected for their antiquarian, sentimental, decorative, or other interest." That description fits this zine precisely. An assortment of stuff, packaged in an attractive form and not especially useful. Meant to be put on the mantelpiece or sideboard, for kitschy display purposes.

4/10 well-read blog posts. Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining. 


(Having said all the above, if the Knock! fellows want to use one of my blog posts in an upcoming issue, I will delete this review.)

Now, a little palate-cleanser: