Saturday, September 19, 2020

REVIEW: Hot Springs Island

I'm cheating a little by reviewing two books at a time, but only a little, as A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island (AFG), and The Dark of Hot Springs Island (TD) are meant to be used together. AFG is the player's book, while TD is intended for use by the referee. Together, they detail a mysterious tropical island – the eponymous Hot Springs Island – as a system-neutral hexcrawl setting. Authors Jacob Hurst, Evan Peterson, and Donnie Garcia memorably call Hot Springs Island "a sandbox of black powder," by which he means that these two books provide a collection of locations, monsters, random encounters, NPCs, and factions awaiting a spark – the player characters – to create an "explosion of consequences." That's a very good way to describe Hot Springs Island, both as a setting and as a product.

Before getting into the content of the books themselves, I have to comment on their physical quality. Fond as I am of the do-it-yourself esthetic, I also really appreciate well-made books and the two Hot Springs Island books are seriously well-made. I'm especially pleased with the binding, which is equal to that of the best RPG books published over the last few years. The books are also sturdy hardcovers, and look like they could stand up to being carted around and used, a trait that is far too rare in game books these days. It's worth noting, too, that The Dark of Hot Springs Island, lays flat, which is especially useful, as you'll see .

AFG is a 240-page, digest-sized book. It's presented as an in-setting document, namely a guide provided by the Martel Company to individuals recruited to explore the island.  The guide consists of several distinct sections, each written as if it were the notes of someone who'd previously been to the place. The inside front cover, for example, presents a color hex map of the island, along with a partially filled-in key, representing those places explored by previous expeditions. There are also many pages of journal entries and recollections by earlier explorers. Naturally, this information is only partially complete (and occasionally misleading), but it does a good job of presenting the broad outlines of conditions on Hot Springs Island to the player characters.

The bulk of AFG is made up of descriptions of the living things that dwell on the island, including its flora. This is noteworthy in my opinion, not only because it's unusual – most RPG books don't spend many words on describing plants – but also because it's delightfully evocative. Reading through the entries on Ambermoss and Quickweed and Sleeping Ivy, I was reminded of naturalists' journals from the 19th century, which goes a long way toward setting the scene. Furthermore, these entries aren't just filled with local color; many of the island's plants possess useful (or dangerous) qualities that make them of interest not only to the PCs but also to their employers and other factions. 

Hot Springs Island is, of course, home to many unusual beasts – about three dozen, I think – and they are described in a similar way to the plants. Again, there's a naturalist's sensibility on display here, with details about not only habitat and diet, but useful parts that can be harvested and used. Several factions of intelligent beings receive attention, describing their activities and goals, in addition to typical members of the faction. Worth mentioning is a handy chart at the back of the book cross-referencing the useful parts harvested from local wildlife, their sources, and which factions would be interested in them. It's a small thing, but illustrative of the care the authors took to make these books easy to use at the table.

TD is 192-page, standard-size book. Unlike AFG, it's written for the referee and, as such, provides more specific details about the island, its locations, and inhabitants. All 25 hexes of the island, for example, have three points of interest within them, some of which have their own maps associated with them (like Glavrok Village above, home to the Night Axe ogres, and the Ashfire Mine). Scattered throughout are numerous random tables to aid the referee in further fleshing out hexes and the locales within them. Helpfully, the authors provide some examples of how to combine all of these elements. I found this quite useful, since there are a lot of moving parts in TD and it would be easy to lose track of them all. The layout of the book (and its ability to lay flat) also contributed to making it easier to use.

Factions get a similar level of detail, with expanded entries on them and their members. In each case, the referee is given lots of options and ideas to work with. The emphasis here, as elsewhere, is on utility, and flexibility. TD is clearly intended to make the referee's job as easy as possible, helping him to use Hot Springs Island in play. There is no plot or adventure path here, only lots of tools for the referee to use in constructing his own, whether in advance or by allowing events to unfold through play. These books are designed with the notion that the PCs will serve as the spark that ignites the entire island into that "explosion of consequences" mentioned earlier. 

Taken together, the two books are a remarkable achievement, both in terms of content and presentation. Because Hot Springs Island is a far-off tropical locale, it's easily dropped into almost any setting without much effort. My only real complaint is that its system neutrality means the referee will have to come up with his own stats for the denizens of the island (and the many unique treasures described in an appendix). That's not necessarily an issue, especially for old school referees used to winging it, but it is another bit of preparation, on top of everything else. 

All in all, A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island, and The Dark of Hot Springs Island, are a terrific pair of books, full of great ideas, attractively illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez. They're available in print or digital formats from the Swordfish Islands site. I highly recommend them. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Business Hours

Surf's Up!

For our next entry in the category of "weird licensed D&D products," I present you with an AD&D beach towel – which is helpfully labeled as such, just in case you're not sure of its purpose. Based on the information at this blog (which also has photos of other beach towel designs), this product was released in 1982. Until I stumbled across that blog, I don't think I'd ever seen one of these before. 

Perhaps surprisingly, I see nothing objectionable about this. Sure, it's kitschy, but that's par for the course when it comes to beach towels. The art looks very similar to that of the late David C. Sutherland III. Compare the blue dragon here with the illustration in the Monster Manual. The knight, with his historical armor, holds a lot of appeal to me, but I am a huge fan of what I've called "the extraordinary ordinary" style of fantasy art. As I say above, I never saw one of these when they were released, but, if I had, I might have considered buying it. Heck, I might buy one now.

Nagoya Subsector

Previously, I posted the complete sector map of my recent Traveller campaign. This post presents in greater detail subsector G, known locally as the Nagoya subsector, after the Empire of Nagoya, which is centered here. The descriptions below do not detail the entirety of the subsector. That's because, in general, I only fleshed out worlds that the player characters visited. Consequently, if you read the entries below, you can get some sense of where they went and what they did there.
The Nagoya subsector contains 36 worlds with a population of 7.7 billion. The highest population is 5 billion, at Nagoya. The highest tech level is D at Ginnungagap, Ausar and Ka’a.

Bajy (Riphaeus 1711)
Until thirty years ago, Bajy was a subject world of the Triarchy of Endu. However, during a revolt known locally as the Blue Phoenix Rebellion (named after its leader, Sankh Uru, whose name can be loosely translated as Blue Phoenix), Bajy achieved independence, which it has retained to the present day. Of course, its continued autonomy is largely the result of disinterest on the part of the King-Emperor of Endu, who could probably crush Bajy if he were determined to do so.

Presently, Bajy is renowned as an open port of call, where almost any good or service can be acquired for the right price. Despite this, the local law level is high, though, as with most things on the planet, money talks. Indeed, it is enshrined in local law, where “a better kind of justice” is readily available to those who can afford it. Given its status as a free port, Bajy is a hotbed of intrigue.

Ciméria (Riphaeus 1919)
A heavily populated world along the coreward edge of the Empire of Nagoya, Ciméria is notable for having been home to humans since before the foundation of the First Federation of Suns. A colony ship intended for a destination farther spinward crash landed on Ciméria, where life proved extremely difficult owing to the planet’s trace atmosphere and non-existent surface water.

Through a combination of luck, determination, and advanced technology, the Cimérians survived and even prospered until the arrival of the Federation, incorporation into which they resisted. When the Federation withdrew, Ciméria was independent for a few decades before the newly-established Empire of Nagoya appeared, offering protection and trade. Reluctantly, the Cimérians swore fealty to the Throne of Paulo, though a vocal minority remained restive and continues to be a source of unrest even today.

Ginnungagap (Riphaeus 1815)
Technically non-aligned, this water world is nevertheless closely associated with the Triarchy of Endu, one of whose corporations, Tiagi Atah, exploits its resources for the benefit of the ruling House of Anputelep. To that end, Tiagi Atah has expended considerable resources to establish three automated undersea settlements, as well as an orbital facility (where the system’s Class B starport is located, portions of which are leased to the Scouts).

Körmt (Riphaeus 1915)
An asteroid belt overseen and mined by the Endu crown corporation known as Tiagi Atah. Nevertheless, the system is open to exploitation by anyone, including foreigners who are not subjects of the Triarchy. Of course, Tiagi Atah has laid down some very strict rules and regulations governing the behavior of independents working in the belt, most notably a complete ban on any weapon outside one’s home. This ban does not extend to Tiagi Atah’s own security forces, but it does include non-corporate vessels, which are legally required take offline all weapons systems while visiting Körmt.

Nocki (Riphaeus 2017)
While listed as a Red Zone, Nocki is in fact quarantined; travel from the world is prohibited by Imperial Nagoyan law. This is due to a virulent airborne contaminant in the atmosphere, whose origins are uncertain. It is clear the contaminant is not natural in origin, but whether it was purposefully or accidentally released into the air remains a mystery. Within the Empire of Nagoya, the most common belief is that the First Federation released it during the same withdrawal (circa 715 New Calendar) that destroyed the planet’s starport.

Regardless of the truth, the contaminant has neurological effects on the human brain, ranging from permanent memory damage to loss of motor functions to death. The native population, divided into several dozen states, has developed an immunity to the contaminant but carry it within their own bodies. Standard filter masks are capable of protecting visitors from its immediate effects. However, strict decontamination afterward is required.

Shun (Riphaeus 2118)
This world was a rich, vital world during the rule of the First Federation of Suns. After the rapid withdrawal of the Federation military from the sector following the Skorth Incident (714 New Calendar), panic spread on Shun (or Arcadius as the natives call it), resulting in the collapse of the local government. Several factions contended to take its place, supported by elements of the native army. Within a few years, the planet was divided into five powerful states and a half-dozen lesser ones.

In the centuries since, Shun has prospered after a fashion, but its inhabitants are deeply xenophobic. The world’s former starport was deliberately destroyed and every attempt at re-contact or interstellar trade since have been rebuffed, sometimes violently. In the absence of such contact, the world has regressed to Tech Level 5.

Vimur (Riphaeus 1717)
The Vimur system includes two human-inhabited worlds. Vimur possesses a TL6 culture just recovering from a planet-wide war. The system’s innermost world, Élivágar, is a cold, tidal-locked planet with a scrap of habitable land in the twilight zone between glaciers. Its inhabitants possess a TL3-4 culture.

Vimur is within the sphere of influence of the Empire of Nagoya, but it is too technologically backward to be seen as a true client state.

Xi’an (Riphaeus 2016)
A lightly populated, non-aligned world that enjoys regular contact with the Empire of Nagoya – in large part because its approximately 700 permanent inhabitants are former Nagoyan military personnel (and their families) who have embraced Concordianism. Concordianism is a dualist religion that preaches complete pacifism. Xi’an’s inhabitants have renounced all violence and, as such, no longer feel they can live within the Empire’s borders. Due to the influence of Concordianism, the world has no formal government or laws, as neither as necessary.

Physically, Xi’an’s most notable feature is the high quantity of methane in its atmosphere. Oxygen tanks are thus required outside of the planet’s domed settlements, but further protection is not required. Methane and similar natural gases can also be found beneath Xi’an’s surface; extracting them forms a large part of the planetary economy.

Interview: Chris Holmes

Today's interview was a real treat for me. Chris Holmes, son of Dr J. Eric Holmes, kindly agreed to answer my questions about his own experiences with roleplaying, as well as the life and works of his father, whose Basic Set was the very first RPG I ever owned. 

1.  How did you first become involved in the hobby of roleplaying?

My favorite game as a kid was Clue; it was the only game I could beat my older brother at. It was also the closest thing to an RPG in America in the sixties.

Sometime in 1975 by brother Jeff told my Dad and I about a game his friends from the alternative high school were playing.  He thought we would like it even more than he did and he was right. He arranged for Dad and I to join a game run by two high schoolers. The rules they used were developed by Cal tech students and were called WarlockWarlock used a complicated combat system with percentile dice and a magic system with more spells than OD&D and spell points; it was all a bit overwhelming. We had enough fun that first confusing night that Dad wanted to buy his own set of the rules. The high schoolers directed him to Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica. There he bought the 3 brown books plus Greyhawk and Blackmoor, Chainmail and two copies of the Warlock rules and lots of dice and minis.  He was rather frustrated at his first attempts to learn the rules from the books, but eventually made his own hybrid of the two rule systems. He was well prepared to be a Dungeon Master because his bookshelves already contained most of “Appendix N” and he had already had his first success as a pulp writer. When, a couple of weeks later My friends and I entered his first dungeon we were about to have the most fun of my teenage years.

2.  Was your father an avid player of games generally or was it because of the fantasy component that he was interested in trying Warlock?

Dad was a good chess player; he had a beautiful set he bought in Japan on leave during the Korean War. He didn’t play many other games until he discovered D&D. After attending his first GenCon he got interested in wargames and other strategic, miniature, and even play by mail games. In the 70’s we played the Dungeon! board game and Cosmic Encounter. Later we played miniatures wargames with Romans vs. Picts and Vikings vs. Britons. He painted Aztec, Egyptian and Zulu Armies but I don’t think he ever played me with them. We also loved Snit’s Revenge and The Awful Green Things from Outer Space by Tom Wham.

3. On the matter of Appendix N, who were your father's favorite authors? He wrote a novel set in Pellucidar, so he was clearly a fan of Burroughs. Do you recall others whom he liked?

I believe his favorite was Lovecraft, but he didn’t talk about favorites very much. His collection was very similar to Gygax’s, I imagine. Dad had an almost complete set of Clark Ashton Smith stories published by Arkham House. He had a large collection of ghost stories and adventure stories as well as a lot of science fiction. He had a complete collection of Robert E Howard in paperback, most of Burroughs, Andre Norton, and many others. Another author he collected who didn’t make it on to Appendix N was William Hope Hodgson, a favorite of Lovecraft’s. He began collecting Weird Tales and other pulp magazines in high school. He also had a small collection of Big Little Books and a huge collection of mostly Marvel comic books.

4. What do you recall about that first dungeon adventure with your friends?

Dad had most of the visual aids he would use for dungeon mastering prepared for our first game. We all had minis and he had something to represent every monster we encountered. He drew the corridors around our figures in grease pencil on a clear sheet of acrylic. The dungeon was massive in scale; this was because it was home to a purple worm. We quickly learned to run away from some of our foes.  The adventure as I recall was very similar to the description in The Maze of Peril. The encounter with the weresharks was our second or third game; we could not have been more than second level. I still don’t know how we survived our encounter with those were creatures, but it was the most fun I have ever had playing a game.

5. Did any of the events or characters of Maze of Peril derive from your father's D&D campaign? Were Zereth or Boinger based on player characters?

Boinger and Zereth were my first characters. Boinger’s silly name came from his high Dexterity and Zereth’s dour personality grew out of his low Charisma. Both characters were refined by my father but I feel like I am their co-creator. Murry the mage was my friend Eric Frasier’s character.

6. You mentioned weresharks. You drew one of the early illustrations of this monster to accompany your father's description of them in Alarums & Excursions. What was the origin of this creature? 

Weresharks were Dad’s creation. They were based on Hawaiian folklore. The Polynesian shark man retains a shark mouth on his chest in the myth, which is not a detail my Dad kept. His monsters had arms and legs that allowed them to crawl upon the land and grab in addition to biting. He also gave them the immunity to conventional weapons.

7. At what point did your father decide to undertake the writing of a Basic Set for D&D? Was it on his own initiative or was he approached by TSR to do it?

It was fairly soon into his experience as a dungeon master that he mentioned his idea for a “Beginner’s Guide to Dungeon’s and Dragons." I’m not going to say what year, because I don’t trust myself with dates. I believe he wrote them a letter and I think Gygax called him back. They arranged over the phone that Dad would write the rules for free and he would receive TSR products for life as payment. I do remember talking with him about a Beginner’s Guide and agreeing it was a good idea, but I didn’t think there would be much market for it. As we know, I was wrong by over a million copies.

8. The Basic Set has a number of distinctive features, such as the ease with which magic-users can create scrolls and the use of the Dexterity score to determine initiative in combat. Were these rules your father used in his own games?

I don’t recall anyone using the scroll writing option, though I would certainly encourage it among first and second levelers playing Basic.

The Dexterity for initiative order was something  we used even before Dad wrote the Basic rules.  He may have adapted it from rules on spell casting initiative from either Original D&D or Warlock or thought it up on his own. I remember liking that rule as a teen because both Boinger and Zereth had the highest dexterities in our group. Nowadays, I have every one role a D6 for initiative and use Dexterity as a tie breaker. I do this to keep the players from feeling bitter about their low Dex. I don’t think it made it into the rules, but each round had magic, missiles, and melee in that order.

Speaking of Dad’s gaming style: he did use a 4-sided die for damage from daggers and missiles. I wish he had added that rule, but I think he was trying to be as faithful to the original rules as possible.  He also had a rule I liked where if your character was killed, they were given a dying blow.

9. After the Basic Set, did your father continue to write roleplaying game materials? Other than books like his 1981 Fantasy Role Playing Games or "Confessions of a Dungeon Master," he doesn't seem to have written anything more relating to the hobby. Is this correct or am I overlooking something?

I think “Confessions of a Dungeon Master,” the article he wrote for Psychology Today may have been as important as the Basic Set. It was not only a very early defense of the hobby at I time it was under attack, it also anticipated its acceptance as a beneficial activity.  

He did a chapter on the Cthulhu Mythos with Rob Kuntz for Deities & Demigods in 1980. He wrote four “Boinger and Zereth” stories for the Dragon magazine; three of which were published. He followed them with the novel, The Maze of Peril, which unfortunately did not find a major publisher. It came out in 1986 from Space and Time. He wrote a few more articles and letters all of which are chronicled in Tales of Peril in Zach Howard’s excellent bibliography. I think he approached Gary Gygax to write a forward to Maze of Peril and was ignored, though that may be a false memory. We were both bitter about the rejection of the story “Witch Doctor” by Dragon. He was also commissioned at this time to write a Conan novel by L. Sprague De Camp. That unpublished novel as well as a posthumous collaboration with John Coleman Burroughs were what occupied him till the end of his life. Since some of Dad's D&D fans are also fans of his pulp writing, I want to say it seems likely that Red Axe of Pellucidar and Danton Doring will be published. The fate of the Conan Story is less sunny.

10. Did your father continue to play D&D and other RPGs for the rest of his life? For that matter, do you still roleplay?

My father spent a few interesting years in the 80’s in Shiprock, New Mexico raising his daughter. He did not get a D&D group together again. Eventually, his son would be old enough to play Warhammer with him. I played a few games with Dad and my younger brother on my visits, like my superhero game and Call of Cthulhu. He continued to collect and paint miniatures for most of his life along with his other collecting hobbies.

I befriended a new group of players who played the Warlock rules for a while. We also invented a superhero game and a Road Warrior inspired game. When I lost touch with them, I briefly started a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Although I enjoy playing with my wife, I have yet to find a group of players, much less a DM that could replace my original group. I have come very close to my initial player joy at the North Texas RPG con. I love playing with both the new and the original members of the OSR and also talking to them on podcasts. Recently, I have been playing in a Zoom game with my childhood friend Eric Frasier. I run a Basic game currently with teens from the Boys and Girls Club.

NOTE: Tales of Peril: The Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes is available from Black Blade Publishing. Instructions for ordering a copy are available here.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

D&D is Everywhere II

My relationship with comics is pretty spotty. I collected a few when I was a kid – mostly Star Wars and Dr Strangeand would sometimes read my friends' superhero comics. For the most part, though, I didn't have a serious exposure to comics of any sort until I was in college. Consequently, I completely missed out on the arrival of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it appeared in 1984. I eventually became aware of it through the 1987 children's cartoon and immediately dismissed it, as I am prone to do. But some college friends, who had read the original Mirage Studios issues, informed me that the comics were little like the TV series and that I shouldn't be so quick to judge them. Later, another friend of mine, who was a Palladium RPG fan, showed me his copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, which was based on the comics and published in 1985. I wish I could say that it did anything to give me a better appreciation of the Ninja Turtles but it didn't.

That wouldn't happen until 2012, when my then-young children started watching a new computer-animated TMNT series. Initially, I was skeptical; my memories of the goofy '87 series made it almost impossible for me to have an open mind. Despite myself, I would catch little glimpses of the show from time to time and I liked what I saw. It wasn't anything deep or important but it was fun and filled with lots of little references and homages that I appreciated. 

The episode that really won me over, though, was in the second season. Entitled "Mazes & Mutants," it featured the Turtles playing a roleplaying game. Now, I'm usually very wary of mass media portrayals of RPGs; they're almost always reveal that the people writing them have no idea what playing an RPG is actually like. "Mazes & Mutants," though, was pretty good – not perfect, mind you, but much better than most. The moment when I fell in love with the episode was when I saw this:

The cover is quite clearly based on my beloved 1977 Holmes Basic Set rather than any of the letter versions. That's amazing unto itself, since the Holmes set has largely been forgotten by pop culture, which tends to fixate more on the 1983 Mentzer edition (and, for good reason, given how well it sold). Still, seeing that image warmed my heart. 

The episode also features a moment when we see the Turtles hunched over a large graph paper map.
I'm probably letting my delight at the box cover art to color my perceptions, but doesn't that map look a little like Zenopus dungeon from the Holmes Basic Set, at least stylistically?  

Power Creatures™

In the 1980s, LJN made a lot of money by making toys of licensed properties. One of these properties was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – and it's important to remember that all their toys were branded as Advanced D&D rather than simply Dungeons & Dragons. Over the course 1983–1984, LJN released a very large number of AD&D toys. Some of the toys, such as these figures, are quite well known, since at least a few of them appeared as characters on the D&D cartoon and in a few TSR-published RPG products.

I was a teenager during this time, so I never owned any of them myself, though I regularly saw them in shopping mall toy stores that also sold RPGs. Naturally, I turned my nose up at them, seeing them as another example of "kiddie D&D." Even so, I'd sometimes take a look at the monster figures, if only so that I could criticize how bad they looked (and they generally looked very bad).

One range of D&D toys I don't ever recall seeing were the Power Creatures, which were wind-up toys.
What's strange about these toys is not their appearance or construction – I actually think the cave fisher looks half-decent – but the choice of monsters. These are all pretty obscure monsters; certainly none of them could be called iconic Dungeons & Dragons adversaries. The cave fisher first appeared in the 1981 module, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, and was later included in Monster Manual II, along with the Tarrasque. The pernicon appeared in the Fiend Folio and, if anything, is even more obscure (and useless) than the cave fisher. 

I assume that these three were chosen almost entirely on the basis of the fact that their names could be trademarked. That makes sense form a business standpoint, I suppose, but I can only imagine what a kid, who was only vaguely familiar with D&D, would have thought of receiving one of these as a gift. By almost any measure, they're odd toys, particularly if one of their purposes was to popularize and promote Dungeons & Dragons outside its usual audience. 

The Future of TSR Hobbies, Inc.

Issue #8 of Polyhedron (October 1982) was the first issue I ever owned. In addition to a terrific cover illustration by the late, great James Holloway, the issue also featured the conclusion of a two-part interview with Mike Carr (the first part appeared in issue #7). At the time of the interview, Carr was at Executive Vice President of TSR's Manufacturing Division. Because of this, the unnamed interviewer asks him about "the future of TSR Hobbies."

Carr's answer is interesting on a number of levels, but what I noticed was his reference to TSR's having recently acquired a craft company. Carr explains that TSR did this "to promote our philosophy and hopefully our regard for quality products." He doesn't say anything else about the craft company or what it produced, but I wonder if it was Greenfield Needlewomen, as reported in this fascinating article by Jon Peterson. This company is notorious for having released products every bit as bizarre as the Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Woodburning Set. Take a look at one of them:
If you poke around online, you can find images of more D&D products made by Greenfield Needlewomen. There were at least three different designs, but, for some reason, I find "Dragon Power" the most amusing.

Wizard Funk

One of the happiest developments of the last decade of gaming is the resurgence of fanzines. Dungeon Crawl Classics played a huge role in this resurgence and Goodman Games deserves a lot of credit for encouraging and promoting 'zines of all sorts. Fanzines are a great way to actively participate in this shared hobby of ours. There are now 'zines for nearly every game and taste and I highly recommend looking into some of them. I have no doubt you'll like what you see.

Earlier this month, the second issue of the digital-only fanzine, Wizard Funk, was released. It's a lively black and white offering, an homage to the APAs of the 1970s, right down to the typewriter-style fonts. The content is a mix of amateur fantasy art and RPG material. There are adventures, monsters, magic items, dungeons, rants – the whole range you'd expect to find in a 'zine emulating the spirit of the early days of the hobby. Best of all, each issue costs only $1, which is a steal, particularly for issue #2, which is 48 pages long and features lots of fun gaming content, as well as an interview with Allen Hammack.

I'm so happy to see products like Wizard Funk. They evoke everything that's best in the hobby and I hope we'll see more issues in the future. If there are any fanzines you would recommend, please post them in the comments. I'd love to know about more!

Grognard's Grimoire: Beggar

Illustration by Luigi Castellani

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: CON
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Armor: Leather, no shields
Weapons: Any
Languages: Alignment, Common

Beggars are adventurers who survive by their wits and fortitude. Though similar to thieves, with whom they are often confused, beggars bring a number of unique skills to a party that make them worthy companions in many circumstances.

Combat
Beggars cannot wear armor heavier than leather and cannot use shields. They can use any weapon.

Back-stab
When attacking an unaware opponent from behind, a beggar receives a +4 bonus to hit and double any damage dealt.

Beggar Skills
Beggars can use the following skills, with the chance of success shown below:
  • Disguise (DS): A beggar can disguise himself as a human, humanoid, or demihuman of similar height and build. (same as hide in shadows chance of thief of equal level) 
  • Hide in shadows (HS): Requires the beggar to be motionless–attacking or moving while hiding is not possible. 
  • Pick pockets (PP): If the victim is above 5th level, the beggar’s roll is penalized by 5% for every level above 5th. There is always at least 1% chance of failure. A roll of more than twice the percentage required for success means that the attempted theft is unnoticed. The referee should determine the reaction of the victim (possibly using the reaction table under Encounters, in Core Rules). 
  • Scrounging (SC): Once a day, a beggar can locate useful mundane items equal in value to 10 gp × level, provided the beggar is in an urban environment.
Trust
A beggar is adept at playing on the sympathies of Lawful and Neutral aligned beings, gaining a +2 bonus to reaction rolls in dealing with them. This bonus is in addition to any bonus from Charisma. The beggar need not share a common language with the being but the being must be intelligent.

After Reaching 9th Level
A beggar can establish a beggar’s court, attracting 2d6 apprentices of 1st level. These beggars will serve the character with some reliability; however, should any be arrested or killed, the PC will not be able to attract apprentices to replace them. A beggar might use these followers to challenge the position of the current King/Queen of Beggars.

Beggar Level Progression

Level

XP


HD


THAC0

1

0


1d4


19[0]

2

1,200


2d4


19[0]

3

2,400


3d4


19[0]

4

4,800


4d4


19[0]

5

9,600


5d4


17[+2]

6

20,000


6d4


17[+2]

7

40,000


7d4


17[+2]

8

80,000


8d4


17[+2]

9

160,000


9d4


14[+5]

10

280,000


9d4+2*


14[+5]

11

400,000


9d4+4*


14[+5]

12

520,000


9d4+6*


14[+5]

13

640,000


9d4+8*


12[+7]

14

760,000


9d4+10*


12[+7]

*Modifiers from CON no longer apply

Saving Throws

Level

D

W

P

B

S

1

8

9

10

13

12

2

8

9

10

13

12

3

8

9

10

13

12

4

6

7

8

10

10

5

6

7

8

10

10

6

6

7

8

10

10

7

4

5

6

7

8

8

4

5

6

7

8

9

4

5

6

7

8

10

2

3

4

4

6

11

2

3

4

4

6

12

2

3

4

4

6

13

2

2

2

2

4

14

2

2

2

2

4

Beggar Skills Chance of Success

Level

DS

HS

PP

SC

1

10

10

20

50

2

15

15

25

55

3

20

20

25

60

4

25

25

30

65

5

30

30

35

70

6

35

35

45

75

7

45

45

55

80

8

55

55

65

85

9

65

65

75

90

10

75

75

85

95

11

85

85

95

96

12

90

90

105

97

13

95

95

115

98

14

99

99

125

99