Game Day: Session 4: Orc Shipping and slave camp

The game went well, we still have no wizard, which does worry me, but we'll see how it goes. The cleric also wasn't as engaged as I would had liked, but she did change the tide of battle more than once.  I didn't have to do any prep, as I had already done it. On game day I just had to re-read my notes.

The first scenario was a large one, so we played it with miniatures; I finally got to place the Lord of the Rings RISK minis on the board, they aren't to scale but they are more glamorous than paper! I will say that I held back, all of my monsters could had gotten a second attack, but I just took it with my commanders, I think next game I will unleash the orcs full potential.

Everyone remembered the rules for miniature battles pretty well, it has been a while since we used them! I like to keep things "Theatre of the Mind" but with 6 players it is hard to keep everybody on the same page. I would like to think of a system to remind me what segment we are in, as we used the 2 segment round method, and all it takes is for somebody to ask me a really good question and I forget where I am at.

As far as errors went, I made one, but I granted her a free re-roll as payment for ruining one of her ideas.


The characters had found a secure room in a section of the mine that was completely unknown to the enemy, they had left sign to tell their peers where they had gone and were found by the two adventurers who arrived to play today.

Delving deeper into the mine, they players found themselves in a passage to an underground source of the Immerflow River and discovered that the orcs were using this river to ship finished arms and armor down river; barrels and boxes where falling from a waterfall 200 feet above the river, and orcs were busy on a long bridge designed to help them push the products free of rocky outcrops with long poles. These orcs were quickly picked off.

An elevator system was found that allowed two people to make their way up 200' to the level above, but they were discovered. An orc was going to cut the lift rope but a player decided that it was better to just let the lift free fall back down, a drop of 100', both riders were injured and the lift was broken, but the rope system was still in place.

Exploring further up river, they found a slave camp, slaves were slowly and unproductively trying to mine Mithral out of the wall, guarded by a small orcish camp of 30 soldiers and a commander. The players were knocking out the light sources as they crept up the bridge, and this didn't go unnoticed, but wasn't taken seriously either as the torches are prone to go out. The commander ordered six soldiers to go investigate, and another group to go secure the slaves, that is when war happened!

The players were funneled on the bridge, and the cleric began casting spells, she caused a bonfire used to light the area up to magically flair, blinding half of the orcs, and slowing down their response to invaders. They fought their way through the ranks, with bow and sword while the slaves were corralled back up, but before a true counter attack could be made by the orcs, the cleric cast a spell which forced the orc commander to Surrender just long enough to kill the orc POWs, they had the commander gagged so that he couldn't recall the order, and these orcs are all religious nuts who aren't afraid of dying since they believe that they will return more powerful than before, which may be true as these orcs are incredibly powerful already! They tried to get the commander to talk, but just got belittled, and torturing him earned them nothing but his religious fervor, so they killed him.

The party rested, which was allowed as the orcs above didn't believe that they could come up and after if the slave camp down below failed to deal with them, then they would just go away as the broken lift was the only way up out of the river section. The products already dropped that day had been hung up, and a plan was developed by the players, two of them would dress in orcish mail, with a small chest to pretend that they were bringing their tiny load of mithral up top. One of the slaves had also been a carpenter, and he was able to fix the lift with boards and nails pilfered from some of the shipping crates. The plan worked and the guard was thrown 200 feet to his death.

The party had found themselves surrounded by racks, once in a while a barrel full of finished arms would roll out of a shaft in the wall and crash along the racks. Orcs could pull a rope and release the barrels down the hole in the floor, and a lot of water was running from the cave itself, which formed the waterfall. The speed of the water wasn't fast, but it was waist deep and putred. Walking three miles down this rough and twisted cave, they finally found a fork, they decided to head left.

From the darkness, they were attacked by a patrol that they couldn't see until the cleric cast a spell to light the section of dark corridor up. All of this patrol was slain in a long battle, except for on orc, who was allowed to escape back down the corridor. Once this battle was over, we stopped for the night. Our calander advanced 3 days during play.

The players had found some gems that have not yet been appraised, and were unable to identify a few potions which they discovered while searching the orc tents.

REF1 Dungeon Master Screen Review, & is it cheating?

In August of 89, TSR released REF1 the Dungeon Master Screen. Why in the world am I reviewing this, you ask? Well, there is relevance to it. As a DM, this thing is probably the most used item in my collection, and mine is very beat up! Unfortunately, this item is also a collector’s item; I guess people used them up and threw them away at a tremendous rate, which sucks for us. There is some guy trying to sell it for $135, I hope that he never makes his money. To me, that is ripping off the public, pure and simple. But enough about that; let’s talk about the product itself!

A good screen should have all of the tables that a DM uses regularly, as well as a few that are rarely used, but when you need them, then you need them quick. This scene satisfies those demands. I’ve used it for years, and was one of those products that I had bought new, and I wish that I would have bought a couple of them. I own others, including the reprint, but I’ve never even looked at them! This is the one that goes with my books of choice.

It also came with a module called Terrible Trouble in Tragador, which I’ve never ran, nor even read, but I’ve kept it. Hey, a free module is better than a kick to the face any day! It can be said that Terrible Trouble is the first “True” 2nd Edition module to be released, as all of the other modules released that year were listed as compatible with both 1st and 2nd editions of AD&D.


There are lots of people out there that claim that it is. That the only reason why one would use it is to hide their rolls; well these people must have a much better memory that me, as I have always needed the facts on the screen, and THAT is why it is always on the table.

Every DM has to lie about die rolls from time to time, there isn’t anything worse than the dice killing a character in the first few minutes of a game, the player needs a bit of time before he can fully wrap their head around a game. Other times, we DMs probably shouldn’t have been rolling the dice in the first place, which we don’t figure out until something really bad happens and we don’t want to deal with it. So, we fudge dice! Granted! If you are rolling too hot on one PC, we’ll claim to miss. If we haven’t hit anybody at all, we’ll claim we hit. A good DM uses common sense when fudging stuff; we don’t want to manufacture obvious events. If we get caught cheating, then we are cheating. I think that it is a much bigger sin to disrupt the flow of the game, especially if everybody is having a good time; We use the dice to maintain an unbiased game and to keep some elements random, if this isn’t desired we sometimes pick them up anyway.

I don’t intend to hide my rolls. I need the screen to cover up all the stuff that I don’t want the players to see, such as maps, notes, creature hit points, and that kind of stuff. I roll behind the screen as a convenience to me, not because I’m cheating; but, there are times when you can get better tension from a struggle without the screen. When a fight is so evenly matched that there is a good chance that the player’s character is going to bite it, you might be able to get more drama from a scene if the player is aware of the enemy’s hp, as well as their own. You also want your rolls to be out there and in the open so that everybody knows that this is the dice making the decisions, not the DM.  Actually, it is probably a good idea to always roll out in the open if a PC is in danger of dying because of events taking place on your side, but show all of your rolls? No! Keep the players guessing! If you’ve made your creatures saving-throw, and you want the player to think that you didn’t, rolling in the open is not something that you want to do, and you don’t want it to look weird by hiding just a couple of your rolls all night. The less a player knows what you are doing back there, the more fun he is going to have!

So, a DM Screen, in my opinion, makes the game better on multiple fronts. This one specifically is nice because it isn’t too large, and big screens can serve to alienate the DM from the rest of the table, which isn’t fun. I know that I don’t like to take up too much space. I’ve got a TV Tray with the books I need, and only what I’m using at that moment in front of me. A smaller screen also forces me to work clean and not have everything cluttered up, which I tend to do and I hate it.

So, rating the screens use. It didn’t push the industry into any new direction, but it did allow the user to. To me, this is an essential tool, and is just as important to the game as pencils and paper, but it is one of those things that is more of a convenience, it isn’t like we can’t make one ourselves, in times were I feel the that shield is just in the way, a piece of paper will do to cover my notes and stuff. As a new DM this thing was a life saver, and it still is, so, for that reason I’ll give it a B. I am not going to pay collectors prices to replace a product that originally cost so little, and is just there for convenience, so I’ll have to come up with an alternative.

One funny thing, before closing, is in regard to the PDF. Originally, I thought that it would be pointless to have this product as a PDF, but on rethinking, this would be a nice file to have open on the PC during prep, and it would also allow us to buy some supplies at the store and make our own copy, because even those like me, who takes extra good care of their books, this product still breaks down over time with just regular use. Perhaps it is the fact that I have sacrified this shield instead of having to look up the same tables in the books that has ultimately preserved my handbooks themselves? Why open a book, if you don’t have to?

Spelljammer Campaign Setting Review

Forgotten Realms was originally intended to provide a place for 2e adventures, however with the heavy editing and playtesting which took place during the writing process, nobody really knew what the final ruleset was going to be, and they didn’t want to have Forgotten Realms on the back burner for two years, so in 1987 they began the process of releasing it.

Besides the Realms, people who didn’t want to invent their own worlds could play in Greyhawk, or Dragonlance, but the first true setting of the 2e era was a strange one. SPELLJAMMER! The Manual of the Planes had talked about linking worlds together, but this product was the result of a long and productive brainstorming session which took place at a restaurant with the intention of linking the worlds through space travel. What it became was much bigger than that! Space travel kind of took a back seat as the ideas produced a true setting that was unique to itself.

At the time, SPELLJAMMER was a huge flop with consumers. I remember walking into a Kaybee Toy Store in the mid-90’s and seeing a shopping cart full of Spelljammer box sets going for $5, I’d like to say that I’d picked it up, but I can’t. Spelljammer was way ahead of its time, few players bought into it, but today it is a huge cult hit that is actually still supported by an Official Website at

Spelljammer is not Science Fiction in any way, the laws of physics and magic all hold true to high fantasy architypes; space ships are not designed to function realistically, they are powered by magic and the less one thinks about it, the healthier their mind will be.

Since the system contained lots of rules that were unique to it, and because Jeff Grubb was able to get enough solid information out of Dave Cook to sync it up with 2nd Edition rules, Spelljammer was able to get a release date in 1989 with product 1049: Adventures In Space Campaign Setting Boxset.

Buyers got two rulebooks, full color cards depicting a huge collection of fully mapped ships, a giant map of the Spelljammer craft itself, as well as a good collection of new monsters unique to the setting. It was one of those products that offered a bang for one’s buck, and with a cover price of only $15, you’d figure that Spelljammer would had sold like hotcakes! It of course didn’t. I think that the low price scared many people off, not to mention that many believed that it was a Science Fiction genre thing, but for this box specifically, you had people trying to learn the new 2e ruleset, and they just didn’t want to be distracted at this point by some weird space game.

My biggest problem with it was that it wasn’t labeled well. There were a total of 4 boxsets published, with no real labeling as to which one was the original, which would be this one, Adventures In Space. To me, that always sounded like it was a supplement, so I had no idea what to get. I’m the kind of DM who prefers to write my own supplemental material and adventures; when I buy into a setting, I want enough there to actually play with, without having to head right back to the store to get more information. Did SPELLJAMMER satisfy this requirement by giving us complete information? From looking over the material available on PDF format, I think that they did.

Buying into Spelljammer is expensive. Retailers shipped tons of unsold copies back to TSR and they were eventually destroyed, making them rare in today’s market and highly desired by collectors. Finding a complete copy of the setting on the used market is difficult, so prices are going to run higher. I rarely promote PDF play, but a DM’s got to do what a DM’s got to do, and in this case, it is cheaper to print off your own copy.

This is a neat and unique setting to have adventures in, it was one of those products that pushed the game forward (a bit too far forward at the time), but now that people are more willing to try new things, Spelljammer has finally found its market. At the time I would have graded this product as an F, I had no interest in it; this grade has improved, I now give the product a B+ I’m not sure how sturdy this one box is on its own, but as it pushed the game so hard, and it is so original with tons of adventure ideas and hooks at the DM’s disposal, I publicly take back all of the mean and unwarranted criticism that I had bestowed upon it in my early gaming days. Now I wish that I would have bought it, and I have a feeling that I’m not alone with this assessment.

Opinion Piece: Move along, there are no profits to be made here

Normally I don't do this, but hey. For what it is worth, this struck a nerve for me and I would like to partake in the party. A writer named Christopher Helton wrote an article here, which I'm sure that everybody has read by now, but there is the link if you haven't. In it he scolds us all for not buying more stuff, which, according to him, is the only thing that keeps the train moving.

I am old-school Internet, and if you didn't know, the Internet was a place to go to get information for free. Those of us who produced material didn't charge anything, we created content because we enjoyed doing it. Even today, I hold true to this philosophy. The content that we create isn't really all that marketable. People don't like to hear that, they enjoy believing that there is some magic cash cow out there and that they can quit their job and work full time online and live like a prince. That isn't the way this works. Sure, there are success stories, but that is all they are, stories. Just because I buy a pair of wrestling boots and a lucha mask, that doesn't make me a wrestler.

Gygax got mad when he first started, a few folks bought Chainmail and the rest photocopied it. He got beat up and pushed down and had to learn how to be a businessman the hard way, and he ultimately failed at it. Dungeons & Dragons was a booming success, TSR believed in the cash cow and it tanked. I love TSR! I miss TSR! There have been lots of theories about how TSR went under, but that is all they are is theories. They came close, and they lasted a long time! They got good at projecting sales and figuring out how much people would pay, and adjusting material and all of the other boring stuff that goes along with making a company successful. They took lots of risks, some successful and some failures, that is the way it goes!

The technology was there for TSR to make full color, glossy handbooks, but they didn't. They knew that people wouldn't buy them, they had to adjust the cost. Today they are going that route, as if all of the cheaper paper has all been used up. As a user, I don't give a crap about some background under the text, I am on record stating that the Black 2e handbooks wasted too much space with that pointless cover page before every chapter. I want function over form. As ugly and as hideous as the book is, the best RPG book ever written is still, and always will be the original Dungeon Master's Guide written by Gygax. It was functional.

This living wage crap is an illusion. When I was young I used to dream of working for TSR, but those days are long gone. TSR was a creative killer. I'll gladly stay here and work for free doing what I want to do, what inspires me. I know that I am riding an invisible Tightrope, and I do my best not to break any laws here. I know very well that at any moment WOTC could swoop in and demand that everything I've done here be taken down, they've got better lawyers than I've got. It isn't fair, but nothing is.


I am not a person who buys anything new. I play RPGs because it is cheap and creative, lots of people do. When money is tight, and we don't have the cash to go out, we stay in and play D&D. Everybody can join in and it costs nothing. I enjoy producing my own material, and getting better at the craft of DMing. To me, the less money you spend, the better! I don't collect books just to have them, everything that I have is functional. I'm going to draw my own maps. I'm going to write my own keys. I'm going to stat my own monsters, and tell the stories that I want to tell and that the players want to hear. That is how the game was designed to function. Yes I cheat when I can. I buy beat up and incomplete boxsets from the past, but just because I own a functional campaign setting doesn't mean anything. I have no interest in all of the bells and whistles. I like the old-school modules because they have teaching points, and they are interesting to me.

I have no desire to learn a new system, I only buy stuff if the price is right and I know that I need it. I am constantly shopping and looking at prices because as much as the industry likes to believe that they set the prices, they don't. The bottom line is that an item is only worth what the buyer is willing to pay. Let the collectors squabble over a sealed copy of Dark Sun, that has nothing to do with me.


You don't have to give back with your money, that is so stupid to me that people think that you do. Especially in a hobby that the point is exploring one's personal creativity. I give back by challenging the reader to get out the notebook, get out the pencils and get to creating! I provide interest in old books which are important to me. Many people cut their teeth on the 2e system, and want to go out and find their lost books and play! To them, I say WELCOME! Get what you need and do it. PLAY!

Teach your kids how to play, that is giving back too. Go on Reddit, and answer some questions that you know the answers to. If you want to show off some of your inventions, get that blog up and running, and post away! The heyday of tabletop gaming is over. Folks go back to it in times of strife, it isn't stable and it never really was. The less that the dollar is worth, the more people are going to go back to play these games. Heck, TSR found it surprising that people even bought modules! Gygax wouldn't, why should you?

Call me a communist, call me a terrorist, I've been called worse. There is no money to be made here, the money that is out there is being picked up by WOTC and a handful of other companies who know exactly what they are doing. The bottom line is that all you need to play the game is 3 books, and your imagination. You're giving back just by sharing your ideas, that keeps what we do alive.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons BATTLESYSTEM 2nd Edition Review

While wargaming is the grand-daddy of Dungeons & Dragons, the RPG has evolved separately and quickly became its own entity. By questioning many of the rules that may seem odd as to how they were formed, the answers can usually be traced back to our wargaming roots. Ranges, Movement, combat: All of it heavily borrowed from wargames and evolved to attract a much larger audience. Some rules are more pronounced than others, for instance the end-game, mass battles are eluded too in the form of attracting followers and constructing buildings. The worlds that we create are all hostile to the players, so the PC’s buildings will no doubt have to be defended from time to time.  War is a common event, however it was an event that was not officially supported until 1985 with the publication of BATTLESYSTEM!

In 1989, the year that saw the release of AD&D Second Edition; before many of the titles which expanded the 2e core system were released, or even worked on, one of the first 2e products to come out was, oddly enough, BATTLESYSTEM 2nd Edition. While the BATTLESYSTEM was always well received within the industry (the original earning the esteemed “H. G. Wells Award”, and the second edition winning the Origins Award for “Best Miniatures Rules for 1989”), among consumers it was a different story. Dungeons & Dragons had tapped into a new audience, and this one wasn’t too hip on wargames.

Written by Doug Niles, he really didn’t care if there was a market for this thing or not. All he wanted to do was use the Dungeons and Dragons magic system within a mass combat game, and when it comes to the 2nd Edition version, it is safe to say that BATTLESYSTEM 2e would had been published with or without 2e itself. The original 1985 boxed set contained a ton of goodies typical of that era; one can almost put it down as a play-testers box; as the 2e version of the game is polished, containing all of the changes to the system from feedback that he had gotten, as well as changes that he had made himself. Gone was the box, the scale of miniatures was changed, as well as a more streamlined combat system that was easier to manage.

While the booklet was stripped down, its production quality was improved, it featured glossy, full color pages, pages that were required to illustrate the fantastic photographs taken by Michael Weaver and Ral Partha Enterprises INC.  While the game wasn’t as demanding as WARHAMMER in regards to what figure you use, the Ral Partha brand has always been a well-loved and well-trusted company which players typically stick with to get their figures anyway.  

The booklet contains three stages of play: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.


The Basic rules was just that, a very simple version of the game that gets players used to moving and understanding what each figure represents. It is rules light, yet sturdy enough to handle conflicting armies meeting on an open battle field. When I mean Rules Light, this is kind of an exaggeration; this game is complicated and hard to learn on your own.

 It requires an investment into the materials needed to play the game, and as many 6 sided dice as you can afford. You don’t technically need the metal figures to play, that alone would cost you lots of money and time, and you don’t need to create the elaborate sets depicted in the book either; but, even going on the cheap is not an easy task. It is the lucky DM who has the space big enough to host regular D&D games, this game recommends playing on a Ping Pong table! The larger the space the better because once a unit leaves the field from failing their Moral Check, it is gone for good, thus, by using your typical dining room table, it makes it really hard to regroup your troops before they are off the board.


The Intermediate rules add our heroes into the mix, as well as generals and advanced formations. It doesn’t do a good job of adding the heroes. If you are thinking about putting your character on the table, you are putting them in danger beyond anyone’s control. While some will put this as war is dangerous, I consider placing your PC onto the field as the equivalent of high stakes gambling; a couple of bad rolls and you are dead, just like that. It had nothing to do with the decisions that you made, or how aggressive you are playing, you are dead. Roll up a new character.

Sure, you can be captured, but that kind of depends upon the enemy, doesn’t it. How many PC parties out there try to capture the biggest threat in a scenario? Thankfully, you can avoid this by not placing your PC in the first place, and just controlling the army itself. If you do place your figure, you can treat it as a King in chess, capture the king and this phase of the scenario ends and you go back to standard D&D to resolve the situation.


The Advanced rules are where all of your fun stuff is. Siege Engines, Magic, fires, flying troops. Once you’ve mastered the previous BATTLESYSTEM rule sets, now you are ready to add this stuff to your campaigns! But, as you can see, that is hard to do. Everyone has to really want this, and spend game time playing war games scenarios instead of D&D. That isn’t the only problem with the system either, this is a two player game and Dungeons & Dragons works best with 4 PCs. You can divide the troops among the party, or whatever, but it is still a two player game. It doesn’t even need a DM, though when you are dealing with the Advanced Rule Set, an impartial judge is “desired”.

The game itself is clunky, and more of a board game, and if you have a difficult time finding players to play standard D&D, you’ll really enjoy trying to find someone to play this game with you! I have lots of dedicated players, but only one who has an interest in exploring Mass Combat, but even then, we’d still rather spend game time playing D&D, not learning some new ruleset.


Thankfully, this system is not the only thing that you get when you buy this book. One can say that the Mass Combat system is just an added bonus to why you’d buy this thing. Remember the Ral Partha photos I was talking about? The book provides a wealth of knowledge and hints on not just how to paint miniatures, but how to modify them, and take care of them. It is a crash course on a part of the hobby that is very enjoyable to those who have been bitten by the painting bug. One doesn’t have to spend much money to partake in it; Ral Partha sells singles that are much cheaper than anti-psychotic medication and provides the same results (not a qualified medical opinion).


Don’t judge this book by its cover (especially this book as the cover is hideous), it is still a very inexpensive book to own, and something is better than nothing. There are times when something happens and it just can’t be resolved any other way! Yes, we can always write around war, or concoct some house system, which I think is still a viable option, but it is still nice to have this book as a backup! Those out there that have been able to use this system say that it is functional, and while it is far from perfect, it is still the best option to keep that Dungeons & Dragons feel to the game. What it lacks in the strategy department, it makes up in ease of use and integrating the magic system. At its root, it is a method of quickly determining the events which take place during a massive conflict involving many combatants; I just wish that it was easier to learn.

BTW the Appendix is brilliant, it contains a wealth of quick reference material, worksheets to create your own units, a method of creating said units, and The Art of Miniatures section, as I said, is the reason why you should pick up a copy if you don’t already own one. I give the product a D+.

It begs the question, what do you, the reader do? I suppose that the most common answer is to ignore it and write around the war, but let’s just say that it can’t be done. You’ve got to run it, how do you, as a DM resolve the issue?  


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