Dungeon Grappling – Book Review

I was right in yesterday’s post when I said I squeaked my review of the PDF of Dungeon Grappling in under the wire before the arrival of the book today!

It is an 8.5 x 11 inch AKA U.S. letter sized volume in softcover. It has a wraparound cover image that Doug sprang for when the Kickstarter was only $180 short of the goal.

The art is more gorgeous on the printed page. I mentioned in my review of the PDF that the background image did not obscure the text. The same is true of the physical book. There is a bit of a shine at some angles, but that does not stop it from being legible like some slick-paper books with a background image I have, like the 5e rulebooks.

I’m old and remember rule books with perforated sheets in the back. While this book has 3 reference sheets in the back, they are not perforated. That’s OK with me, since I wouldn’t mar a book anyway. Also the PDF has the same sheets and it is trivial to print those three sheets if you need them.

If you prefer physical books for your rules, or you just like cool art, this book is for you. The PDF, two formats of eBook, and this volume were at the $18 level, plus shipping. I sprang for the bundle of the 8 issues of The Manor. Plus, the physical book with an initial goal of shipping in April has arrived in January!

Doug Cole has taken to heart the advice of +Erik Tenkar over at Tenkar’s Tavern and many others. Doug is planning another Kickstarter, and from this experience, if he does anything else that I find useful at the table, I will back that Kickstarter!

This part is worth repeating:

Doug took one reviewer to heart about the art and has published a book of just the art. The cut is for the artists to get a bonus, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and towards a bit of the overhead. You can buy Dungeon Grappling On DriveThruRPG and on Doug’s website, Gaming Ballistic.


Dungeon Grappling Final PDF Reviewed.

I was honored to get an advance copy of the PDF based on my review of Grappling Old School, in +Tim Short’s The Manor #8. Check out Tim’s blog, Gothridge Manor. Based on comments in my review of the advanced copy, Doug made changes. He did this based on feedback from all the reviewers. He went above and beyond and even though the Kickstarter was just shy of the final stretch goal for a custom cover, he did it anyway.

The PDF comes in at 53 pages, it has awesome art, and the table of contents is hyperlinked. The index also contains hyperlinks to the page numbers. Color coding of the section headers is continued in the table of contents and the index. There is a background image, but unlike most of them I have seen, here it is faded out so I can actually read the text. Attention to the details of both usability and legibility in the text is awesome!

There is an in-depth overview of the core concepts for a cleaner, simpler, and easier to run grappling system. It covers generic concepts that will accommodate any older rule set, as well as many clones. There is also special focus for both D&D 5e and Pathfinder. Monstrous grappling is also discussed. Finally, there is a reference section with three reference sheets, one of my suggestions, to reduce the need to refer back to the rules.

One can take all of this system, or just the parts they need. I play AD&D, and its grappling system is so cumbersome that few dare try it. I plan to implement this in the games I run and an upcoming special project game on Roll20.

Along with the release of the PDF, there is an eBook format in both mobi and ePub formats. I’ll also fire up my Kindle and review the eBook as soon as I can.

This was Doug’s first Kickstarter and he is delivering way ahead of schedule. The PDF was slated for February, and delivered in January. The printed book was planned for April delivery, but has shipped in January. His constant updates were to the point of wishing it would ease up a bit. But unlike some notoriously failed Kickstarters, that is the kind of problem a back wants. the books have shipped and I’ll be getting mine any day now. Look for a review of the physical book soon!

Doug took one reviewer to heart about the art and has published a book of just the art. The cut is for the artists to get a bonus, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and towards a bit of the overhead. You can buy Dungeon Grappling On DriveThruRPG and on Doug’s website, Gaming Ballistic.

Trap Idea – Take One Thing and Expand on It

Take something simple, and think of all the ways this could be used, it could all be in the same dungeon, or series of dungeons/tombs. Perhaps all the tomb builders of a certain epoch used them.

I’m just now dipping my toes into Reddit and decided to build on a comment I made to a thread asking for trap ideas for a kobold infested dragon cave. [It’ll be at least 30 days before I can make my own subreddit. You can find me here.]

Have a giant rock or cube the shape of the corridor fill up the space.
It doesn’t have to kill. Use it to stop entrance or exit and otherwise direct the adventurers along the path most favorable to the kobolds.
Think of all the ways you can use a giant block of stone to impede and frustrate their efforts. Be sure to think in 3 dimensions.

Examples with a 10X10X10 dungeon corridor.

  • The block that falls can’t be pushed or pulled as it is a tight fit and there is a slight lip in the floor around its base.
  • The block falls just in front to make them turn back or aside at an intersection.
  • The block falls after they enter a room and exit on opposite wall has one that will fall before they can leave the room.
    • There can be no exit and the party waits for rescue or attack, or figures a way out.
    • There can appear to be no exit, but there is a secret door or trap door in the flor/ceiling.
    • The room is water tight or mostly water tight. Maybe there is a secret drain that opens up when the room is full and the occupants are passed out.
    • The room is airtight and the party passes out 1d6 rounds after the torches go out.
      • If no fire-based light and they have magic light, perhaps it lasts several hours or days before they pass out. It all depends on the size of the room.
    • The cliche walls/floors/ceilings of spikes close in.
      • Have it stop a few feet from the players independent of their efforts to stop it and the floor drops out from under them.
      • How can you make that fun & different?
        • Hallucinogenic poison makes them think they can see through or walk through walls….
        • Instead of filling with water or sewage, fill it with snow, ice cubes, or gold (molten if you’re mean.).
  • Have a giant stone fall so fast that the party doesn’t see the person in the lead simultaneously fall through a trap door. The person appears to have been squished into paste. If it’s an NPC, you can have them show up in a totally unexpected place. If a player, they will have to play along, depending on how strongly you want a big reveal that they aren’t dead.
    • Related to this have a cloud of dust roil as the person who sprung a trap falls through a trap door so fast it looks like they disappeared. All that is left is a pile of dust on the floor. You know, like they were disintegrated.
  • Spring a trap door and a stone block falls:
    • It can crush those below it, or have enough of a lip to seal the pit.
    • The pit could be a container that is replaced by a block, i.e. slid aside, before the stone falls. Those looking down will see those in the pit slide away. think fast and step back….
  • Have ways the kobolds can easily move blocks out of the way, and players will come back around and the stones are gone….
    • Sliding walls can receive the block that is pushed across the hallway and an elevator contraption reloads the trap.
    • Other creative mechanisms. They don’t all have to be automated.
      • They could require kobolds or their prisoners to use a “hamster wheel” like used for ancient & medieval cranes.
      • It could require ropes and pullies and work gangs of kobolds to reset.
  • A stone block actually is a secret room but the players have to find it in the portion facing them.
    • The secret door could lead to the passage on the other side.
    • The secret door could lead to the room to the side of the block. The block could be two blocks wide with a portion of the wall part of the enormous Tetris-like block.
      • If not an extra big block in a Tetris-like shape, don’t the person who finds and opens the secret door…
  • Add in trap doors in the ceiling and floor for kobolds to drop down on the part or come up behind them, or to have cover/concealment for firing at the party.
  • Add in sliding walls to open firing platforms or direct players trough a maze. They can be automated when they step on a trigger or require the kobolds to have enough of them to keep up with the party’s advance.
  • You can even throw in a gelatinous cube being dropped from the ceiling…. They’re 10′ cubes, at least in the versions I play.
    • There could be a nesting ground of them above the dungeon level and when ceilings open up under their weight, they fall.
      • Or the dungeon designers seeded them and have triggers to let them drop at the right time and place.
    • Use sliding floors to reveal a 10′ cube pit with a gelatinous cube in it. Remember its pseudopods can draw in food.
    • Have a couple that are particularly full of treasure  and well back-lit to help overcome the party’s reluctance to fight it.
    • Drop cubes at opposite ends of corridors when the party is at halfway, and stone block drop behind the gelatinous cubes.
    • Swap out any other kind of slime, mold, or jelly.
  • In addition to all of the above, the blocks and such can be used to direct wandering monsters, whether intelligent or not, into the party. Why should the kobold fight when the big nasties they found in here can do it for them?
  • Swap stone for ice, have a wall of ice spell go off in the right shape. Remember in AD&D a falling wall of ice is like an ice storm….
    • Swap stone for anything else you can think of.
  • Use round stones, a la Indiana Jones.
    • Pick other fun shapes to make the trap stand out and either be a time waster for the party to puzzle over, or really be a puzzle.

In the above examples, determine if the kobolds (or other intelligent monster) found these existing traps and embraced them, or if they are of their own construction. Or are the kobolds maintaining what they found, but “not up to code?”

For comic relief, roll for a chance for the kobolds to pull the wrong lever at the wrong time revealing their rope-powered winches and pullies. Roll for surprise to see if the Kobolds can recover before they are noticed. Except for the noise behind the party….

I started with a stone block and added in pits, moving walls, floors, and ceilings, and so forth. In the same way, start with something simple and look at it just a bit differently.

  • What can you do with it that you or a player wouldn’t expect?
  • What can you do with it with and without magic? (Technology for other genres.)
  • Find one of your child’s or grandchild’s toys or other household item.  What can you do with that?
  • Pay attention to the things you see at the big box stores or hardware store.
  • What overheard conversation from public places sparks an idea?

Don’t limit yourself to traps. You can do this with secret doors, hidden compartments, etc.

If you grab onto one of these ideas of taking one thing and going with it, you can end up with ideas coming so fast that you can’t keep up with them. Embrace those moments. Make notes, organize them, make tables and charts to help generate more ideas. (There’s another series of articles for the blog in all this too!)



AD&D Core Books Print On Demand!

This week WotC released the core books of AD&D as print on demand (POD). That is, the Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters Guide. [Affiliate links, a portion goes to help me buy more stuff to use & review.]

My Stack Of AD&D Manuals Less One PH And one DDG
My Stack Of AD&D Manuals Less One PHB And one DDG

They clock in at $24.99 each, plus shipping. At that price, they are a bit more than some table copies you can occasionally find. However, a LOT cheaper than the nicer copies from a few years ago.

The text is based on the reprints from a few years back. the layout is close to the original, but there is at least one new errata introduced in the PHB. It is interesting that the original PHB was never fixed for its errata. I don’t know if the re-prints fixed that errata or not.

We found a typo during play the other day on the cleric spell progression chart on p. 20 of the PHB. It is OK in the original PHB. The asterisk indicating max 6th level spells is on 5th level spells in the re-print.
The wisdom table on p. 11 is correct.

I don’t see a way to report such things to One Bookshelf or WotC. I’m not sure if they even care. It is minor, but could add to arguments if not known.

I’ve expanded to 5 table copies for players, plus my original PHB my Mom got me for Christmas way back when. I also have the OSRIC Player’s Guide, and the OSRIC full lay flat.

So if $75 plus shipping is too much for physical books, look for older original copies. Or, you can go with the OSRIC lay flat which is the rough equivalent of all three volumes on Lulu for $15.50 plus shipping.

I think this is a smart move on the part of WotC. For a bit of a time investment in converting older titles to nicer PDFs, they get a PDF sale, and for those who want it in physical form, they get get the sale, instead of those who take their PDFs to Lulu or other sources to get a hard copy. I mentioned this a while back here, here, and here.

They’ve added the original D&D books and in the last few weeks Chainmail to the list of PDFs available.

I would like to see Holmes Basic, so I can have a table copy instead of the copy I bought to replace my original that I gave to my little brother when I went off to college.

I have a page just for the AD&D PDFs that I will update as POD is added.

Where Can I Find a Game Convention?

There is a lot of talk online about what game conventions are happening, or those that many plan to attend.

I recently had a friend inquire about cons in his general area. I thought I had written about

Google is my first tool of choice to find things with an online presence.

There are several site that share lists of cons. My favorite is Game Convention Central.  I last wrote about them in 2014. It has groupings by country, and then region within the country. Like most lists I found, since my primary language is English, and I live in the USA, the lists focus on the U.S.

Game Convention Central has a page to submit cons that aren’t on their list. They also have a game/gamer search for those looking for players in their area.

BoardGameGeek also has a list of conventions. It is also grouped by country.

Similarly, Wikipedia has a list of gaming conventions grouped by country and region.

Upcoming Cons is a site that has a long list of cons in date order on the front page. It goes to November, 2017 and has one at the bottom already for 2018. It is mostly US. I spied one in the UK. They have a page to submit cons not already on their list. They also have a rating system, and have categories to divide up the cons. This seems to be cons of all sorts, with a specific gaming con list.

Local cons in your area may be organized by the local college or university and not much advertised beyond campus and local game stores. If you don’t already know about cons in your area, and they are not on the above lists, if and when you do find them, please add them above to help others find them.

When the local con in my area, Marmalade Dog, isn’t the same weekend as Gary Con, I will be at it running and playing games. Support your local cons, not just the ones with all the big names. Local cons have more opportunity to find local players of like mindset. They are also a lot cheaper and can be from one to 3 days. Best of all, you don’t need a hotel since you live nearby.

No WOTC at GenCon 50

WOW! Not the year i’d pick to skip Gen Con, the 50th is a big deal. Personally, Gen Con is too big for me, and also a time of year I can’t easily get off work. I first saw mention of this over on Tenkar’s Tavern.

I hope their attendance at Gary Con and not Gen Con doesn’t force rapid growth at Gary Con. It’s cool to keep it in Lake Geneva. I’d hate to see them cap attendance or move, but I also don’t want it too big.

Same with GameHole, good size.

I’m curious what no official D&D presence at GenCon will mean? I assume no WOTC means no “official” D&D games/tournaments. I’m sure they will still have DMs running their adventures that count for their adventure league or whatever it is called. It probably won’t hurt as people will still play.


New Art For the Blog by Satine Phoenix

I’m super exited to share my new blog banners and icon/avatar by the talented +Satine Phoenix.

She gave me two versions of each, so I’ll have to put them on rotation, since I can’t decide which I like better. I really like how the image of the avatar is like an arrow pointing to the right. This fits right in with the left to right reading of the blog title.

You can see other examples of Satine’s work here. Her plate is very full, so allow plenty of lead time if you have a target date for art.

Be sure and watch Satine on her live play D&D (Eberron Campaign) show at Maze Arcana on Sundays 12-4 PST.

The new banners:

By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix


The figure in the avatar is from my favorite AD&D character, Griswald, and half-elf Cleric/Fighter/Magic-User, I have written about elsewhere on the blog. The shield design is based on one my brother, the DM drew. This gave rise, in game, to his nickname, “The Wolf”. My brother also taunted me with what I settled on for the title of this blog. Read more here, and here, and hear it here, where I attempt to emulate the way my brother says it.

Satine was also kind enough to record an introduction for my inactive YouTube channel at GaryCon 8 last year. Here’s the Blooper reel.

The new avatars:

By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix
By Satine Phoenix

Satine suggested the black background for a T-shirt. I’ll order and see how they look. Might be something I offer for sale in the future. Suggestions for online services that don’t require outrageous prices to make money on T-shirt sales are welcome.

I also engaged another busy artist for an art upgrade to the blog, and his preliminary sketch is so on target to what we discussed. I’m pumped to see his final work. I’ll announce who it is with the big reveal.

Mixing It Up

The whole concept of making a dungeon, adventure, town, or wilderness interesting requires that the DM know the audience, i.e. the players.

Players who have never played D&D don’t know what to expect from the standard monsters from the Monster Manual. I DM AD&D and my sons and oldest son’s girlfriend were entertaining to me to see their reactions to standard creatures. First their were zombies, they were freaking out because their experience was that if you get bit by zombies you become one. Next they encountered a troll and it wouldn’t drop. Those and so many other things tell me that standard monsters are OK for new players.

However, if they are seasoned players or get tired of all the standard monsters change them. For example, instead of a room full of orc guarding piles of copper pieces, you have multiple options.

  • Keep it as is. Potentially boring unless you add some other twist to the room, such as an illusion or them being under a spell to compel them to stay in that room.
  • Swap the monster and the treasure for something totally different. Simple. Just pick any other creature and swap out. Or pick two other creatures and have them in the middle of a battle over a pile of gold, or whatever they both value.
  • Give them the appearance of orcs, but they are really something else, like a shape shifter, or polymorphed dwarves. The piles of copper are really gold coins that have a spell on them that makes them look like copper.
  • Be bold and randomize it all. Use Appendix D for Random Creatures From the Lower Planes for the appearance of a creature with the same stats as the original creatures.
  • Or pick a tough monster with a puny treasure, or a massive treasure with a puny monster.
  • Re-skin the monster. It might be a puny goblin, but change it’s appearance and abilities to make a new monster. Your world may not have goblins, but they have whozeewhatsis.

Treasure can be varied based on the few mentions above, or as follows:

  • Treasure is easy to roll up something else. Throw in something from a different genre’s treasure table.
  • Have a mundane looking item actually be magical. Perhaps it appears as a broken pitcher to hide its true nature.
  • Have the monsters be the treasure and the treasure be the monsters. The 5 orcs are actually fine art statues of orcs or any other creature. They are guarded by an army of copper disk automatons.
  • Hide the treasure in interesting ways. Make it invisible, or hidden in a secret room and it is invisible. Hide it by an illusion that reacts to the party. Hide it under a statue or in a hollow pedestal.
  • Have a lever that when pulled releases the treasure:
    • Into a viper filled pit, or better a mound of vipers on top of the treasure.
    • Into a sewer guarded by an otyugh or other refuse loving creature.
    • Onto the party requiring saves to avoid it or take damage.
    • After multiple rooms of treasure being released by the lever, have a room that actually delivers it into fresh large sacks and ties them off.
      • Decide how easy it will be for the characters to get homewith it.
        • Antigravity on the tied off sacks
        • Roll bend bars lift gates check to lift the sacks. If they set them down, roll again.
        • Cursed sacks that polymorphs those who touch the sacks.

Ask some questions. What is the motivation of the monsters? What about the motivation of the treasure? Is their an intelligent sword the orcs have managed to avoid picking up? Or has the sword waited for the right moment to get out of this dungeon to fulfill its purpose?

One can do any number of things to mix up a published module, or to make one’s own adventures more interesting.

Be creative not just in the treasure, but in the rooms/locations and their appearance and furnishings. There are tables in the appendix of the AD&D DMG that can give ideas, but put a twist on them. Various retroclones have similar tables to assist.

A dungeon can be a simple as a one room tomb to a complex megadungeon. Every room doesn’t need an elaborate description. Every dungeon need not have such a specialized list of descriptions. A “vanilla” dungeon with “vanilla” monsters is OK too. Maybe throw in a jalapeño, totally unexpected in the context. Such a thing would cause the players to wonder why the odd twist, so be prepared with a backstory to explain it.

This is why reading a lot gives good ideas. It doesn’t have to be fantasy. It can be non-fiction or even technical. Put on your DM’s RPG frame of mind hat and mine those things for ideas. Take notes on any off the wall ideas that come to mind.

If you feel your well run dry, read RPG related blogs, G+ pages and communities, FB pages, Reddit, or RPG related forums. Some blogs put out regular tables of ideas for encounters, treasure, new monsters, etc.  Take a break if you need it, whether you need to play for a while, or just need a session off.

Re-frame the pressure of game prep. It is supposed to be fun. If you have young children or grandchildren, take the funny things they say and work it into your game. There is a product called yogurt bites that when my granddaughter says it, sound like “ogre bites”. I decided that is a good name for a dish served at inns and taverns.

It doesn’t take much to add an interesting twist, however small that will engage your players. Given enough variety your players will be on their toes and not know what to expect at every turn.

40 Years of Playing D&D!

For some reason, for the past many years, I had it in my head that my brother and I started with Holmes Blue Box in 8th grade. [To me the cover of the box and manual is what I see in my mind’s eye when I think of D&D.]

However, a couple weeks ago, someone mentioned that the AD&D Monster Manual came out in 1978, and I know that we had to wait for all of the AD&D books to come out.

I called my brother tonight and confirmed that it was actually 7th grade that we started.

So in March/April of this year, I will have played D&D for 40 years!

I’ve changed the header to indicate this here on the blog, and on my G+, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I’m working on a reorganization of the blog. I wish I had this on my radar then. When I thought I had another year to go, I was not in a hurry. At this point it will just be a note on the header art like I did with the existing header. Thankfully, most of what I am doing is cosmetic and doesn’t require too much technical fiddling.

Now I have to think about some meaningful articles to use throughout this milestone year….

My youngest son turns 20 on Wednesday, so now it will be easy to remember – just add 20 to his age and I’ll have the right count. I’m usually really good with dates. But not keeping a diary from back in the day, or recalling the right starting point made it impossible.

What is an Adventure?

Yesterday, I wrote about the term campaign. While I was writing that article, it occurred to me that the term adventure has some shading to its meaning.

For example, some use the term adventure to indicate a single session. Others mean it to indicate a set of a contained story, plot, or location. Sometimes the adventure can be played in a single game session, other times, it might drag on for weeks, if it is the looting of a large replenishing dungeon.

I think commercial modules had a big impact on the use of the word adventure. The module is a self-contained whole, and the DM does not have to do anything beyond become familiar with it. Of course, customization is always an option. A series of adventures, like the Drow series could each be considered a single adventure, or the completion of the entire story arch within could be classed as an adventure.

A series of adventures, whether interrelated or not serve to make up a campaign, whatever one means by campaign.

Like so much of language, a lot of it is dictated by convention, experience, and preference. All of the above uses are correct. I supposed there are those that like to argue the fine points of any use of a word. However, that is an academic exercise that does not interest everyone. The point is to get together and play!

All terms with multiple meanings can confuse new players, so one should work to minimize the jargon, or define it on the go. The key to growing the hobby is helping new players want to play again.

How else have you used or encountered other uses in the RPG context of the term adventure?

Of course, no matter how you use the term adventure, an adventurer is one who has or goes on adventures.