December 30, 2020

Nod by Nod - June 2010 (#2)

Over at you can find posts by John Stater called Dragon by Dragon where he reads through an issue of Dragon Magazine and gives his thoughts about it. I recently bought a big pile of NOD Magazine and thought I would return the favor and go through each issue similarly.

We start off Nod #2 with Cloak and Dagger, an article giving us a Thief and Assassin class. They're fine classes but there's nothing that really stands out with them. 

Next, we get Urban Adventures which gives a lot of detail about urban areas. Mr. Stater recommends giving city-states alignments to use as a shorthand for the society. He then talks about population and how that corresponds to the number of manors, shires, burhs (markets), and abbeys in the area. He also recommends giving a theme (genre) and vista (sights, sounds, and smells) to each city-state. Then we get some pages about the citizens, the social classes, and notable citizens like alchemists, animal trainers, armorers, barbers, beggars, blacksmiths, bowyers, engineers, fences, guides, healers, herbalists, innkeepers, jewelers, lawyers, merchants, nobles, priests, prostitutes, rakes, sages, sailors, scribes, spies, students, tax collectors, torchbearers, and traders. Each get a paragraph and a 2-line statblock. Next, there is a bit about taxes, tolls, tithes, and money changing. Then there are civic organizations like colleges, companies, guilds, mercenary bands, thieves' dens, and universities. We also get a few paragraphs about manorial villages outside the city-state. Lastly, there are events and random urban encounters. It's a total of 12 pages long and quite useful.

Into The Wild follows and it is a 7 page article on travelling through the wilderness. It gives travel times, types of wilderness terrain one might encounter, natural dangers you might encounter, battle conditions, random encounters, and strongholds. Another article that is very useful.

After that is the article Barter & Trade, which gives tables of goods equivalent to 100gp, 1000gp, and 5000gp. Along with that is a merchant class, The Venturer, which can appraise, haggle, smuggle, lead, know languages, and sense danger. Good stuff!

The feature article of this issue is not a hexcrawl but detail on Ophir The Wicked, a city of corsairs located in the previous issue's hexcrawl. There's 23 pages on 61 buildings and their inhabitants. Since it is a city with black market and slave trade, Mr. Stater does state up front real slavery is real bad and this is but a pulp fiction version. Also, as a little joke, the slave auctioneer is a literal talking weasel.

Continuing to the next article, Sword Or Axe?, we get 4 pages on differentiating weapons from each other. Mr. Stater recommends giving axes more damage, bows more attacks (with a penalty to hit), crossbows more damage, daggers less damage but with a bonus to hit, flails with a bonus to disarm, javelins more damage, spears with a bonus to initiative and damage, and swords with a bonus to hit. In short, it gives a reason to choose one weapon over another. I think more could be done with this but it is a good start with slight touch.

Eureka! is an article about a scientist class who can make inventions. It's a very cool 3 pages that talks about research costs for formulas and inventions and gives a page of sample inventions. These inventions are costed by comparing them to a spell so are not strictly scientific. Sounds fun to me!

Next is Books & Scrolls which is 2 pages about the forms books came in (e.g. clay tablets, bamboo scrolls) and even what material the paper is made out of (parchment, vellum) and even the kinds of reading material. 

The next 14 pages are devoted to printing the first part of George Macdonald's Phantastes, a novel about a young man entering the world of faerie. Mr. Stater does add gaming notes to the story and talks about Fairy Sight, Fairy Blood, Flower Fairies, Goblin-Fairies, The Ash, and The Beech (the latter two are trees).

Ships & The Sea is next. It's 6 pages on different sizes of ships, stats for those ships, enhancements for ships, and ship to ship combat (including the effect of spells). Very useful if you campaign at sea.

The Elan is another class, psychic knights based on E. E. Smith's Lensmen series, which I have not yet read. You must first be a Psychic class (from issue #1) and then when reaching level 4, can become an Elan. Elan retain their psychic powers and also get mindblades that get stronger as they level up.

Then there is Candle Magic where we get 2 pages of many candles and the different magic they produce. These are made by those Wise Women and Cunning Men from issue #1. Good stuff!

Finally, we have Pars Fortuna. This is not the complete game that Mr. Stater wrote but a preview of it which generated three race-classes. They are alien and weird and fit perfectly into a fantasy world.

I enjoyed NOD Magazine #2 and can't wait to read issue #3. You can get the PDF of issue #2 at Lulu or in print at Lulu.

December 22, 2020

Nod by Nod - May 2010 (#1)

Over at you can find posts by John Stater called Dragon by Dragon where he reads through an issue of Dragon Magazine and gives his thoughts about it. I recently bought a big pile of NOD Magazine and thought I would return the favor and go through each issue similarly.

NOD #1 came out in May 2010 and is 85 pages long. Mr. Stater starts (after the Table of Contents) with Welcome to NOD! where he gives some of his campaign design philosophy: only make what matters in game and also make a wide world of many cultures to explore. NOD Magazine is going to show us what he means.

The first article is one page about coins, how much they weigh, how much a character can carry, and how much they're worth. It gives us a good baseline for the loot that will be shown later.

Next, we have Fighting-Men of Nod, which details six classes: the fighting-msn, the barbarian, the bard, the monk (or swashbuckler if a monk does not fit in your campaign), the paladin, and the ranger. Each of thee classes get some special abilities at 1st level, and a few more as they progress in levels. All look fun, well made, and the abilities are light touches suitable for an OSR game.

Speaking of abilities for OSR games, the ensuing article Boons & Benefactions is all about abilities that characters can choose at 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th level. There are 43 of them and and a great way to do feats in an OSR style.

Then we get the biggest article, The Wyvern Coast. It is a sandbox complete with a two-page hex map and hex descriptions. We get a description of the area: the grasslands, the sea, and the coast, along with encounter tables and creatures. This article is 60 pages long and is a sizable adventure area just by itself. I don't want to say too much about it so as not to give spoilers but it is very imaginative and looks very fun. The black & white map is hard to read, however, and I suggesting getting the color maps Mr. Stater provides at

The article after is Wise Women & Cunning Men which is about adepts, practical spellcasters of rural folk. They are magically less powerful than clerics or magic-users but they have another skill that serves their community. (Pick one of alchemist, animal trainer, armorer, berserker, guide, healer, or sage.)

Next are Gods of Nod: Ophir which details the gods of the Wyvern Coast, based on the gods of the ancient Phoenicians. I like these god descriptions as stats are not given but instead we get the god's name, other names it is known by, who worships the god, what weapons the god uses, what are the god's minions, symbols of the god, alignment of the god, and what the god grants its priests (which is a unique spell detailed in this article). It is a great way to do gods.

After that is Random Villages which is a couple pages of random tables to create a village. An example village rolled on these tables is given: 200 cowardly shellfish fishermen that live in brick huts protected by a thicket getting their water from a cistern ruled by a council of elders have a den of assassins or highwaymen, and are famous for their dark secrets.

Denizens of the Dark Continent gives stats for some legendary creatures of African folklore. I especially like the Abatwa.

Beastmen, Centaurs & Mechanical Men is next and it details 3 "races" to put in to differentiate your campaign from the "traditional" fantasy campaign.

The last article is Your Mind Will Bend, detailing a Psychic class. there are twenty psychic powers to choose from and a psychic gets one at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th levels. To use a psychic power, you must succeed at a saving throw and the target must fail at their saving throw. Looks very interesting yet still simple, which is a hallmark of Mr. Stater's.

I very much enjoyed NOD Magazine #1 and look forward to reading more! You can get the PDF for NOD #1 for free at or you can get it in print from Lulu at

August 27, 2020

Kung Fu Classics

Do you play the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? Are you interested in playing in or running a wuxia campaign? Please take a look at this and please let me know any comments or criticisms you may have or if you would you like to collaborate to expand on these ideas! 

Kung Fu Classics

July 31, 2020

The Sword of Shannara, in conclusion

In conclusion, yes, Sword of Shannara is highly derivative of The Lord of the Rings but that doesn't make it bad. There a lot of cool twists and turns in Sword of Shannara and the ending especially. In the end, Shea is rescued from the gnomes by Panamon Creel, a one-handed warrior, and Keltset, a mute troll. This unlikely trio find the sword but do not recognize it. It just looks like one of many pieces of junk found on the battlefield.

While the others spy on troops, rescue the king, and muster the human forces, these three slowly realize that this is THE sword and that Shea must face the Warlock lord with it. They are captured by trolls and Keltset eloquently (through bearing and sign language) pleads their case. And the trolls are persuaded and bring them to face the Warlock Lord.

And this is where I think it gets really interesting. The sword doesn't do anything sword-like. It might as well be a rock or a shoe. All it does is reveal truth. First Shea faces the truth about himself and then he forces the Warlock Lord to face the truth about himself. Unfortunately, the truth about the Warlock Lord, like any undead being, is that he should have been dead long ago. So he dies.

Have you done that sort of thing in your game? Give the evil forces information that turns them to your side? Use revealing truth in a devastating way? In what seems to be a story derivative of another, I like how this story changes things in interesting ways. Don't be afraid to let things change in your game!

May 24, 2020

The Sword of Shannara, part 2

In my last post, I talked about the first quarter of the book and how it compares and contrasts to the Lord of the Rings. Here I talk about the 2nd quarter of the book.

There is only one scene that shows that this is a post-nuclear world and it is here where a half-flesh and half-metal insect-like monster attacks the party. Both Shea, the only one who can wield the sword, and his adopted brother are wounded by this beasts and are brought unconscious and close to death. After driving it away, the party must then find a friendly place where they can heal the brothers. But first there is a great group of gnomes blocking the way! The interesting thing is that these gnomes are not a war party looking for the heroes but some kind of religious ceremony. The heroes devise a plan to get past them and here we see a decision showing the morality of the heroes. The one designated to shoot an arrow will not kill an unsuspecting enemy so he wounds him instead.

After getting past the gnomes, they find some gnomes who heal the brothers and they are on their way again. Through a very Moria-like Hall of Kings. The monsters are different, showing Brooks's creativity, and this time, Gandalf (Allanon) does not get separated from the party but Shea. Of course, this is very problematic since only Shea can wield the sword. But the rest of the party goes on anyway to try to find the sword.

It's here that the story finally diverges from Lord of the Rings definitively. Shea is captured by gnomes and the rest find that the sword has been captured too. How can they possibly succeed? We'll have to read the last half of the book to find out!

May 10, 2020

The Sword of Shannara

It was 1977. The Holmes Basic Set for D&D came out that year as well as the Monster Manual. The AD&D rules were still being worked on and would not come out until 1978 and 1979. The Sword of Shannara, a novel penned by a young Terry Brooks fresh out of college, released to great popularity, excepting many fantasy roleplayers. They said The Sword of Shannara was just a shallow copy of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and in some ways they were right. But in many other ways they were wrong.

This review covers only the first quarter of the novel and in its broad strokes, you will find it very similar to the Fellowship of the Ring. But although Sword of Shannara is very inspired by Lord of the Rings, it still goes its own way. It dispenses with Tolkien's poetry and gives us more action. You could even say that Sword of Shannara is the D&D version of Lord of the Rings.

Let's state the differences first. There are no hobbits in Shannara. Shannara is a world similar to ours after an apocalypse that made man evolve into gnomes, dwarves, and trolls. Elves were always around in our world but they now they no longer hide themselves. The Warlock Lord allies himself with gnomes and trolls and flying creatures called Skull Bearers. But the biggest difference is that there is no ring. There is a sword and, at the beginning of the story, the Warlock Lord has stolen it.

So while there is a fellowship of men, dwarves, elves, and a magic-user that forms after the two young men escape from Shady Vale, the quest is different. They have to find the sword. Then they have to figure out how to use the sword. And then defeat the Warlock Lord with the sword. Is that much of a difference? Yes. They are not hiding a ring as they travel to the land of Mordor, while the ring plays with everyone's hopes of power. They are on a mission of desperation. A mission that more resonates with D&D adventures than Tolkien.

I'll post more as I continue reading. What are your thoughts about The Sword of Shannara?

March 25, 2019

GMing off the rails

The last two sessions of my Mutant Crawl Classics campaign were improvised. I didn't have anything published I was running. The first time I had a plan. The PCs got a broadcast from up north that a military base was available to be looted and the PCs wanted part of that. They head up north, got in a fight with a road gang, and invaded the base. And they made a giant robot mad. Worked pretty well.

But the last one didn't work so well. The giant robot was chasing them so they headed off to find some robotics experts. That turned into a  herd of mutant elf trampling their car and cyborgs who took them off in a spaceship to the inside of a volcano where another giant robot was being built.

It got crazy and was less and less players making decisions about what cool things their characters were doing and more of me the GM making up crazy stuff. I went off the rails and it wasn't good.

So now I'm taking a published adventure and looking through it, seeing what I want to use, and preparing a solid structure for next session.

But the question I want to ask you all is: Do you ever go off the rails like that? How do you rein yourself in?