Friday, December 1, 2023

[Review] The Shattered Circle by Bruce R. Cordell (1998, AD&D 2e)

I’m finally taking the time to finish this review, because Jenx told me it’s a good practice to review adventure’s you’ve run. And I agree.

The Shattered Circle is a Dungeon.

It is a pretty solid dungeon.

It is also often overlooked, despite having been written by a pretttty famous designer, Bruce R. Cordell. It came out towards the end-times of TSR D&D (for AD&D 2e), and, among that batch of adventures, it is overshadowed by his works for later editions, or the Sahuagin or the Illithid Trilogies.

When compared to those adventure cycles, The Shattered Circle is different in scope and aim. It’s supposed to be a true adventure MODULE, one that you can easily slot into your own world. So, while I was also drawn to the over-the-top beauty of, say, Cordell’s The Gates of Firestorm Peak, I picked this one when I needed a medium-sized dungeon complex to slot into the 5e campaign I ran back when (there is a Classic Modules Today supplement available). It’s almost setting-neutral. And the dungeon’s connections to the overworld are easy to tailor to your own liking. And you probably should, because the hooks offered in the book are, hmm, underwhelming/uninspiring. However, as this was an on-going campaign, with established conflicts and NPCs, I just modified a couple of things as needed.


--- From here on be spoilers ---


What did I change? Surprisingly little. I put the campaign-driving portal to the Feywild the party was seeking down in the deepest room of the dungeon. I got rid of two or three empty rooms, and the riddle-based tests in one of the areas – I don’t generally like riddles.

What did this leave me with? A lot of fun stuff.

This is a 75-room dungeon, spread out over three levels. The Upper and Lower levels are part of an ancient dungeon complex/arcane laboratory. To keep things varied, they are separated by a middle area, which is a large cave, with one of the best set pieces of this module. There is one main entrance into the complex, but after that there are many passages to follow, with alternative ways of access to deeper levels.

The main sentient creatures are the arachno-humanoid Chitines, split into two opposing factions. You get a lot of variety from the other monsters and wanderers: from the more common undead to freakin dinosaurs and gibbering mouthers. So there is definitely a cool weird tinge to this place. The presence of all of them is explained, and there is ample space in the dungeon between their main lairs, so there is no “monster hotel” effect.

Speaking of ample space: I love it when the cramped corridors of the upper zone give way to the caverns below. And in the central cave, there is the magnificent set piece of the Chitine city, a gigantic spherical mass of webbing suspended mid-air. Comes with a great illustration to boot!!

The dungeon also presents a variety of challenges: from combat through diplomacy to navigational challenges. There is even a flooded sub-zone. One of the challenges is a three-component “key search”, which might feel a bit computer-gamey, but my players actually enjoyed it (and it forced them to face their greatest fear, the aforementioned flooded area, for some cool underwater action).

I ran this from a PDF, and printed out the maps for ease of reference. The publication is overwritten by today’s OSR standards, but many important details are highlighted, and the room keys are structured in a uniform, predictable way, so there shouldn’t be much trouble running it after a read-through of the whole thing. Yes, there is boxed text, generally kept to a sensible length (3-4 sentences), and evocatively written, so I used some of the phrases and sentences as-is. They give a good description of the initial impression the party gets from the room.

Overall, I definitely recommend this adventure. It is a good fit for modern or old-school games, quite versatile, and evocative. The tone veers towards dark fantasy, with some Lovecraftian touches you can emphasize if needed.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Painting my first miniature (after a 16-year hiatus)

And it feels good to be back! Ah, the familiar smells...

I decided to pick up miniature painting again. It's something I'd enjoyed a lot in the past. Converting, painting, kitbashing. Playing I enjoyed too, especially skirmish stuff like Mordheim.

For now, I just plan to concentrate on returning to the artistic/creative side. I need a hobby that isn't connected to a computer screen :)

I picked up some supplies and a an assortment of figurines. I went with Wargaming Atlantic, because some of the models spoke to me --- especially the Classic Fantasy Lizardmen! You know it's the good kind of classic fantasy when the lizardmen come with assault rifles and gas masks...

For my first effort, I chose a lizard dude with an open pose and a blade. I dropped it once and broke the index finger... Here's the result! There are still some rough patches, but overall, it was a fun process, and I'm satisfied with the result! Beware the Newt-men of Carcosa!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

[Dungeon] The Red Bastion - old-school adventure

Last week, I wrote about my process of drawing dungeon maps. Now I stocked the "tutorial map" and turned it into a proper little adventure location!

The Red Bastion - the prison of a dwarf ghost princess... A 15-room dungeon for levels 2-3.

Grab the PDF here!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

How do I make dungeon maps? A tutorial...

People ask me from time to time about my digital dungeon drawing method. Here’s a write-up! I hope it’s useful.

The Process:
I use GIMP, which is an open-source graphic editor. Photoshop can do the same. Basically, you need any graphic software that can do layers and brushes.

I learned the basis of my approach from this video:
P3RPLEX3D explains very well how to do basic wall outlines and fill it with a grid pattern. Thanks!

I use custom brushes for dungeon symbols. I downloaded a set from a blog many years ago, and cannot find it :( The file was shared openly, so I feel mildly comfortable including it here.

Then I add everything else on top… Here’s my process:
  1. I put on some music (“Hejira” by Joni Mitchell today)
  2. I sketch out the map on paper. This is not the final version, but it’s good to have the general layout from the start
  3. I open GIMP
  4. I already have a blank map file, so that I don’t have to go through basic setup every time. This blank has several layers:
    a. Background
    b. Dungeon wall outline
    c. Dungeon grid
    d. Symbols
    e. A group of text labels
    f. Optional layers to contain stuff like water, overlays, or cover-ups for secrets and traps if I want to create a players’ map
  5. I set the editor’s grid to 70 x 70. This is the standard scale for Roll20 digital maps, but you can use any scale you want
  6. I draw all the walls
    a. Brush size for walls is 8 pixels
    b. For built architecture, I switch on “snap to grid”. Sometimes you have to adjust the grid to 35 x 35 etc., as needed. For natural cave areas, I switch “snap to grid” off
  7. I leave gaps for doors and similar features
  8. Fill up the dungeon with the grid pattern (see the video tutorial above)
  9. Draw the rest of the fckin owl Add in symbols for doors, secret doors, traps, main room features like statues and coffins
  10. Add “indoor” cliffs, bodies of water – these all go on extra layers. The slider for layer opacity helps a LOT!
  11. Add labels and room numbers on top. I always number the rooms on my paper sketch first, and only after that add the digital labels. I use Jost, font size 54 for room numbers, 40 for smaller notes

And so on. There’s a lot of trial-and-error, janky additions and overlays, mistakes happy coincidences. But overall, this is a relatively easy method of creating usable digital dungeon maps without resorting to specialized software. And I like the flexibility it offers.

Step-by-step illustrations:

1. Sketch:

2. Digital outlines:
3. Grid fill:

4. Symbols and extra layers:
5. Labels and finishing touches:


Sunday, October 15, 2023

[Dungeon] Delver's Delight - "lost world" level complete!

Another update to my dungeon, Delver's Delight! This time I added a large "lost world" style level, called Land of Dusk. It has a stronger overarching theme than the previous dungeony dungeon levels. Weird dino jungle & lake in a hollow earth cavity!

This is Level 3A.

Level 3B is also in the works, it's a dungeon/fortress area that connects up with the Land of Dusk.

Grab it here!

Sunday, October 8, 2023

[Dungeon] Delver's Delight, a very dungeony dungeon, now with a second level!

I added level 2 to Delver's Delight! 32 more rooms. The method and feel are similar: traps, monsters, weird rooms, it doesn't make too much sense, but it's fun... I use random generators to get going and fill up rooms, then refine them, add more ideas.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

[Dungeon] Delver's Delight, Level 1 - a very dungeony dungeon adventure!

I made a dungeon module. It's very "dungeony", it doesn't have much logic or reason behind it, but it has fun rooms, traps, treasure and monsterrrrs. Stocked with OSRIC/AD&D.

Update, Oct. 8, 2023: NOW WITH TWO LEVELS!


Have fun!

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

7 more carousing mishaps/events in the jungle

A follow-up to the first 1d6! Our Isle of Dread campaign is about to end soon, but we cannot end without a big reckless carousing session, so we need MOAR weird stuff. So I put on some tacky exotica music (courtesy of Soma FM), got some inspiration from TVTropes, and came up with seven more entries. Yeah, that's a d13... But we play online, so that doesn't really matter...

  1. A handsome young fellow/lass clad in a leopard-skin loincloth/bikini teaches you how to swing effectively on vines. You get a +2 on rolls of this type from now on. But deep down you are also hopelessly in love with the mysterious jungle boy/girl.
  2. You are bitten by something slithering and nasty. Save against Poison or suffer an effect until the end of the next session. Roll d4 – 1: double vision, -2 on ranged attacks, 2: muscle cramps, -2 on all attacks, 3: fatigue, encumbrance counts as one level worse, 4: you become immune to all poisons for the duration!
  3. A highly intelligent but hapless explorer/scientist falls into quicksand! If you rescue them, they follow you around for a session, providing helpful insight, according to their field of expertise. Which is a 5-in-6 in a random skill, roll d4 – 1: Architecture, 2: Bushcraft, 3: Languages, 4: Explosives.
  4. You step into a clever little snare. Take d6 damage, save against Paralysis for half. If you succeed on your save with a roll of 16 or more, you learn how to craft such snares! It takes 10 minutes, some rope and some sticks to set up one.
  5. Drums! Drums in the night! Check Languages to see if you can decipher and learn the rhythmic code.
  6. That cactus juice really packs a punch! Once during the session, you can question the very nature of reality and, like, walk through a solid wall or something. Afterwards, save against Poison or fall unconscious for an hour.
  7. You find a large gold nugget, reach for it, only to realize that it’s inside a giant Venus flytrap! Save against Paralyze: on success, you retrieve the nugget (worth d6 x 100 sp), on failure, you lose your arm.
To be continued?..

Sunday, September 24, 2023

1d10 pirate rumors and superstitions

For weird nautical and pirate campaigns!

  1. The blood of a sea serpent can be used to create an infallible compass.
  2. Commander Noland’s treasure is buried under the breeding ground of the man-eating crabs.
  3. In calm weather on midsummer day, the reflection of your ship is real and you can climb over there to find all the treasure that was stolen from you.
  4. Captain Kate “Ruthless” Hawk ascended to the night sky and became a patron saint. Pray to her every day, and she shall send down a mist to cover your escape route.
  5. Patch up your sails with captured flags and ride the winds twice as fast.
  6. The old pirate king is still alive, imprisoned in the Imperial fortress! The new pirate king is illegitimate!
  7. Some shanties are nasty enough to dislodge nails from wood.
  8. Every ghost ship has a heart. Steal it to claim command over the vessel!
  9. The pearl divers of Taboo Island can talk to fish.
  10. You can capture thunder in a brass bell. But beware, you can only keep it imprisoned for a week!

Monday, August 21, 2023

1d6 carousing mishaps/random happenings in the jungle

Wrote these for our Isle of Dread game.
  1. Stumbling through the jungle, you fall into a spike pit. Seriously, who digs all these? Some people are just mean. Take d8 damage, save against Paralysis for half.
  2. You are finally invited to the cool kids’ party. Turns out, the cool kids are necromancer cannibals. They are about to do a sick ritual. Peer pressure is strong. If you agree to cut off one of your fingers and eat somebody else’s, you gain the ability to cast a random spell (of levels 1, 2 or 3) once per day.
  3. You find a cannibal recipe book. Don’t ask what the parchment is made of. A day of studying the book teaches how to extract the double amount of rations from a human body.
  4. You find a valuable golden idol. However, a handsome fellow in a hat holds you at gunpoint and takes away the idol, saying that it “belongs in a museum”. At least you steal his whip from him.
  5. A giant ape takes fancy to you. The next time when an attack would kill you or knock you out, the ape swoops in and takes the damage instead. After this, it loses interest in you.
  6. A giant flying creature picks you up and takes you to its nest. After some struggles, you escape, with (d6): 1-3 a lot of scratches, d3 damage, 4 an unhatched egg, 5 a bunch of shiny colorful feathers, 6 a gem worth 100 sp.