Monday, November 23, 2015

Coup de Grâce

I get irritated by how people routinely mispronounce the phrase "coup de grâce". Most Americans, and most gamers to my knowledge pronounce it incorrectly. In short: the final "e" is silent, but not the "c" before it. In fact, here's the (incorrect) listing printed in the 3E D&D Player's Handbook (p. 276, © 2000):

Again, check out that supposed pronunciation:

I don't know how this could have ever gotten started, because it doesn't match any dictionary, either English or French. Some references, in each case pronouncing the final "s" sound:
  •, including entries from the Random House Dictionary and others -- including an audio link at the top.
  • "Some English speakers, aware that some final consonants are dropped in French, overcompensate by dropping the final /s/ sound in grâce, making this sound like French coup de gras ('strike of grease'). This mispronunciation is quickly becoming ubiquitous and is being popularized by the media (e.g., it occurs twice in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2)." Also includes an audio link.
  • Cambridge English Dictionary, with audio link.
  • Oxford Dictionary, with audio link.
  • Collins English Dictionary.
  • Merriam-Webster.
  • Google Translate, with audio link.
Let's get literate, people!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Geomorphs and Giants

Ever notice how the dungeon designs for Gygax's Against the Giants adventure series (modules G1-3) respectively match the same styles as in his Dungeon Geomorphs products?

Geomorphs and giants dungeon styles

Friday, November 13, 2015

Blade of Vengeance, Part 5

A few posts ago, a commenter asked for a character sheet of Erestylle of Dorneryll, the solo character in Jim Bambra's D&D Module O2, Blade of Vengeance. So this week we take a break and look at our protagonist as shown in the module:


Of course, this was published to support the Moldvay/Cook B/X - Mentzer Basic line, in which race & class were collapsed to a single state for non-humans, the character is listed as simply a 7th-level Elf (3 less than the maximum allowed for elves in those rules). Since we picked up this module and started play extemporaneously, with no preparation on my part at all, I've been using the stats as presented -- except under Original D&D rules to declare that Erystelle counts as a 4th-level fighter (maximum else in OD&D), and 7th-level magic-user (one less than maximum). Also we've retroactively defined Erystelle's two wardogs to be bobcats instead (with the same 2 hit dice, single 1d6 attack, and +2 to surprise if alone or with Erystelle in wooded terrain; see Lynx, Giant). Spells and equipment were all kept the same.

Now, in retrospect Erystelle's listed 40 hit points don't make sense for that level as an OD&D character (as I interpret the rules for multiclassing; see OED House Rules). Even in the Moldvay/Mentzer rules, Erystelle's hit points are clearly inflated; maximum possible would be 7d6 + 7 for Constitution = 7×6 + 7 = 49, so the hit points shown are well above average, 40/49 = 82% the possible maximum. In OD&D, assuming that hit points for multiclassing do not sum, the maximum for a 4th-level fighter is 4d8 + 4 = 36 or a 7th-level wizard 7d4 + 7 = 35. Taking a similar 82% of either of those numbers gives a likely hit point total of just 30 for proper OD&D play. But I'm not going to reduce that in the middle of play, so Erystelle for the moment retains the full 40 hit points as shown here (minus various scrapes, burns, collisions, falls, crushing impacts, and blood-sucking that has occurred along the way so far).

Note that as usual all of my OD&D monster hit dice and attacks are simply rolled with d6's, which proportionally reduces the threat from those monsters, so Erystelle has a bit of an extra edge in this particular run-through of the Blade of Vengeance.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Theater Thesis

I say the following all the time, but to my amazement a search fails to find it in any previous post on this blog, so here it is:

D&D is to video games as live theater is to movies.

In both pairs, the former is technologically simpler, and has the historical precedent. The latter is more technically demanding, and allows a mass-produced and mass-replicated experience, and in so doing creates a far more lucrative business model. But the former provides a live activity, and interaction between people in the performance space, and thus the potential for a more intimate, visceral, intense, one-of-a-kind experience.

In each case, professionals will work regularly in the latter activity for a livelihood; but generally engage in the former when given the opportunity for greater personal expression and reward. Great actors work in movies but take off to live Broadway when they get a chance. Likewise, in my experience, most professional video game developers work on the digital form during the day job, but in off-hours they play live D&D (or other RPGs) as the more fulfilling "true essence" of the form.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Blade of Vengeance, Part 4

Days 10-13:
  • Erystelle and companion creatures return to the ruined human village of Scrubton, then take the track southwest. Fight a pair of giant ferrets along the way; at this point E. fixes on the strategy of casting sleep on these lesser creatures and putting them to the sword as soon as possible.
  • Reaches a high, open hillside in the forest which allows survey of the forest and river for leagues distance. Spots titanic twin pillars to the north; and also a huge dragon flying about a league away. Hastens back into the woods for cover and makes camp. Overnight fends off 3 wild boars.
  • Travels some 3 leagues north through the trackless forest and reaches the river, where an attack by 5 giant flies occurs. Camps out and rests before assaulting the pillars, which glow with a supernatural light through the trees at night.
  • In the morning, crosses the river by swimming and assisted by a magic web cast between trees from back to bank. Travels a league northwest to the area of the pillars; finds it entirely circled by thorny brambles which twist and thrash out when a torch is brought near them. Wizard eye scans the inner area but finds no secret paths. E. begins hacking against the brambles by sword, and manages to cut through, but not without the brambles striking back and drawing blood. E. correctly guesses that the brambles might grow back quickly, and calls the animal companions through the cut passage.
  • The existing pillars are only part of what once stood here; the upper halves have been shattered and lie in rubble. The surface are covered in ivory with engravings of celestial bodies; stars and moons and comets. A small dirty pool lies between them with weeds and bugs. E. casts read magic on the glyphs and determines that they are symbols of magical navigation, but to where one cannot say. Invokes the magic rhyme from the shargugh (“Before me lies the silver moon...”, etc.) but nothing happens. Rests for the day by the pillars and fends off an attack by stirges. Falls asleep in the afternoon.
  • Awaken at night and the place is transformed: although the prior night was a quarter waxing, the moon shines full overhead. The pillars pulse with magical power. The pool is a bright crystal pond, reflecting the moon. The bramble barrier is gone. The weeds are now bright shining flowers, ever petal casting a glittering, twinkling light. E. says the magic words; nothing happens. Inspects the burned page from the hermit. Stands in the pond and says the rhyme; nothing happens. Kneels and speaks; nothing. Lies prostrate and speaks; nothing. Holds a shining flower in the hand and speaks; nothing. Touches the pillars and speaks; nothing. Frustrating all possibilities, takes the opportunity to avoid the brambles and retreats to the riverside and weeps and curses.
  • Decides to follow the river south; travels 4 leagues and gets attacked by more giant flies. Makes camp.
  • Travels further south, fending off a pack of 5 wolves with the usual sleep spell. A league later finds a bridge over the river with a rustic nearby domicile. Hails the woman with a wolf on the porch. A man joins her and casts detect evil on Erystelle for safety. E. shows the tale of woe, and oncoming monsters and destruction while the couple listens silently.
  • As E. speak, the wolf growls and turns; the place is under attack by a huge troll and a score of gnolls! As they rush through the couple's orchard, E. casts web and manages to catch the troll and a pair of gnolls (fails save; and fails attack check to break out). The man and woman cast hold person spells, paralyzing a half-dozen gnolls in place. As the gnolls approack to within melee distance, the woman casts animal growth on the wolf, horse, and bobcats, and they each swell to giant-sized (double hits and damage). E. casts magic missile and strikes 4 of the gnolls. The animals dive among them, tearing limbs and bodies in pieces. A few run but get cut down before they can escape. E. turns to the struggling troll and blasts it with a lightning bolt, then hacks at it by sword. The man appears with a lit torch and sets the web and troll pieces on fire, and they also throw the paralyzed gnolls into the flame like cordwood.
  • Ragnal and Rhonda Redleaf are immensely grateful, cast healing spells on Erystelle and the injured bobcat, and turn over their entire supply of healing herbs to E. in gratitude. Asking for advice or information, the pair suggest that E. visit an old ent that lives nearby and ask him. For now however, E. stays the night and sleeps in a bed for the first time in many days, with the animals all sleeping peacefully nearby. However, all are aware that the monster depradations seem to be getting worse.
  • (DM's note: I decide that the module-indicated 3 wandering monster checks per day is likely excessive. Will be switching back to core OD&D rule of 1 check per day at 2-in-6 in the woods.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tolkien's Maps

Hopefully you've seen these graph-paper maps and other illustrations used by J.R.R. Tolkien to plan out Middle Earth, at Wired:

Friday, October 30, 2015

Blade of Vengeance, Part 3

Days 4-9:
  • Erystelle has an enormous breakfast in the hobbit village of Oakendale, and then leaves on the trail north. 
  • Late in the afternoon, E. comes to a bridge crossing a river; buzzing around the bridge are 4 giant flies that wing to the attack with clashing mandibles. E. cuts them down with swordplay and the help of the horse and bobcat companions. After the bridge the is a 4-way intersection; remembering great uncle Druider's directions, E. turns northeast and then makes camp.
  • Overnight E. is woken by a wail from the bobcats; a group of 5 giant ferrets have infiltrated te camp, about to attack the sleeping Erystelle, while other try to make off with food and saddlebags. E. jumps up and fends them off with more expert swordplay. However, with the night's sleep interrupted, E. cannot regain spells in the morning.
  • A league further up the trail, E. finds the hermit's cave, but it has been invaded, its contents burned and smoking. Looking through the remnants, E. finds a half-charred book with the legend of Galannor Nightflame (familiar from great uncle's story), and a final, half-burned page (see below). E. notices that the last part aligns with the shargugh's rhyme; likely the first part is an accompanying place or ceremony? E. reflects on any memory of "celestial pillars" but cannot recall any. Spends an hour searching and calling around the cave for the hermit but finds no trace -- other than obvious booted tracks of armed humanoids traveling northeast.
  • Travels another league northeast and hears shouting in goblinoid. Casting wizard eye, spies on the camp ahead; an ogre roar at a score of cowering hobgoblins. E. casts invisibility and creeps to where they can be heard. A captive has escaped and the hobgoblins are receiving due punishment. E. returns to the hermit's cave and spends another hour searching but finds nothing. Nearing the end of the day, E. rides south a league and makes camp.
  • Overnight, another pack of the many giant ferrets in the area attacks. E. wins again, but again cannot recover any spells in the morning.
  • Returning to the 4-way intersection north of the river bridge; an armed centaur blocks the path and declares that none may pass without accepting the challenge of a joust (without magic, of course). E. asks: "Have you seen the hermit?" The centaur: "I no nothing of any hermit." E.: "Then you are no use to me!" and lets loose with a lightning bolt. The centaur dodges aside, only partly scorched, and makes a ferocious charge, which E. barely turns by dint of magic armor. E. attacks with sword but fumbles (natural 1 & failed save) -- slips off out of the saddle and is stunned! Cursing at the evils of magic, the centaur jumps repeatedly on E.'s head seeking to stave it in -- one blow is critical for triple damage. But E.'s animal companions fend it off, and when Erystelle rises again, the bobcats pull down the centaur's hind section and E. finishes it by sword.
  • Amazed and bearing many injuries, E. returns to the hermit's cave seeking shelter to rest and recover for a few days if need be; horribly finds the field and the nearby gardens entirely scorched down to the smoking soil, trees surrounding the clearing burned to cinders. Retreats a league into the trackless woods and finds fallen trees for shelter, as the group tries to lick its wounds. Attacked by stirges. Overnight a grizzly bear stumbles into the camp and the group attack and kill it (no spells again). Try to rest the next day and the bear's mate now stumbles into the camp; this time E. stays dozing while the animals chase it off. Finally recovers spells and hit points by resting another night.
  • Departing, E. returns to the 4-way path and turns north. A league north the path forks again, north and northwest; takes the northwest branch. Two leagues northwest, then 2 leagues north, and they find the human village of Scrubton, entirely burned to ash cinders. The people nothing but charred skeletons. How long? At least a few weeks gone. E. tries to search the ashes for clues or books, but finds nothing.
  • Near the end of the day, they travel a league north of the burned village. Here the trees begin to thin out and the land rises into hills northward; thick coils of mist spill out of the hills and the group camps near the edge of the trees. In the morning the foggy mist does not rise; vision is limited and enemies could be near without knowing. E. returns south and takes a northeast trail out of the village; but again the tries thin out and the misty hills present themselves. A league further into the hills and 5 hobgoblins appear and attack. One slips, but another scores a critical hit; the roll 89%, indicating a serious abdominal injury that will reduce carrying capacity and movement and would not heal naturally. E. casts sleep on the hobgoblins and then pulls out the last potion of healing and drinks it so as to cure the ailment. 
  • Inferring that the misty hills are teeming and blocked by armed hobgoblins, Erystelle retreats back west and south, finally making camp some three leagues south of the ruined village of Scrubton. Frustrated and feeling alone, E. hopes to reflect and meditate on some solution by morning. 
Burned page
The burned page.