Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Weather Generator, Part 3: Climate Templates

Illustration from "Weather in the World of Greyhawk" from The Dragon #68

Previous posts:

Part 1, here.

Part 2, here.

Download the Weather Generator, here.

Today, we'll look at the second tab or sheet from the left - Climate Templates.

For each climate zone you create, you'll start with one of the twelve pre-set climate templates contained in this tab. 

Three important things to note:

1. While there are only twelve templates (I haven't yet built in any slots for additional ones), each can be tweaked, modified or completely redesigned from scratch by the user.

2. The templates are templates, nothing more. You can still individually adjust most things within each particular climate zone. For example, you can use the same Desert template for two different climate zones in different latitudes. In one, you can lower the average temperature by 20 degrees. In another, you can increase the precipitation chances from 5% to 15%. And so on.

3. I tried to set up the templates to be "realistic" (working off initial numbers presented in The Dragon 137), so you don't need to change anything. Of course, your world may be quite different from Earth, or you may think I'm just wrong about the length of desert seasons (which is quite possible) or whatever. In that case, change it! 

Each template is actually quite simple, containing three sets of information:

1. The timing and duration of seasons. Does "Summer" in north temperate coastal areas last from June through September or merely July to August? And so on.

2. Each month's precipitation chances. This is roughly the chance per day that there will be a precipitation event. Again, you can change the numbers here, or you can wait to further tweak them in a general way for a particular climate zone. For example, if Tropics I (Coastal with Rainy Season) has 10% precipitation for seven months and 85% precipitation for the remaining five months, in your own "Super Monsoon" zone, you can change it to 20%/95%.

3. For each season, what is the range of temperatures? You read the numbers this way: If the range for Fall/Spring of Tropics I in the 96-00 category is 110 to 120, that means there's a 5% chance per day that the temperature will be within the upper range of 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here is an example of one climate template:

And here is the full list:

1. Tropics I (Coastal with Rainy Season)
2. Tropics II (Inland Swamp or Jungle)
3. Tropics III (Savanna, etc.)
4. Tropics IV (Desert)
5. South Temperate I (Coastal Warm and Rainy)
6. South Temperate II (Coastal Hot)
7. South Temperate III (Southern Steppes)
8. South Temperate IV (Forest, Hills or Mountains)
9. North Temperate I (Coastal)
10. North Temperate II (Inland)
11. Polar I (Coastal)
12. Polar II (Inland)

There are four Latitude zones - 0-25º, 25-50º, 50-70º and 70-90º. Each has at the least, a coastal climate zone and an inland climate zone. But the two southern most Latitude zones each have two additional zones.

Seasons vary less the closer one gets to the Equator. On the other hand, there are more geographic climate options.

The original templates (and my tweaks) are probably more European than American. I've lived in Boston, Chicago and London. Boston and Chicago are actually 10 degrees south of London. But Boston and Chicago get colder. Indeed, they also get warmer.

So, if you want "American" values as opposed to "European," make the winters colder and the summers hotter. In this regard, Asia (or at least the Asian Eastern coast), may be even more American than America. 

Cheers, weather nerds!

Tomorrow, the Climate Zones themselves.      

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Weather Generator, Part 2: Weather Parameters

Illustration from "Weathering the Storms" in The Dragon 137

I made some general comments in Part 1, yesterday.

If you haven't downloaded the Weather Generator Excel Workbook and would like to, you can find it here.

Okay, let's look at the first tab on the left, WEATHER PARAMETERS.

The red values can be changed. The black values aren't locked, but you don't want to change them. Or, rather, in most cases nothing would really happen if you did - they're just default reminders.

However, for the reds, in every case, you don't need to change anything, but may simply leave the red values untouched. I would actually recommend this.

I. Choose Game System

This is self-explanatory. For the moment it has no effect. It's in there for when I build movement rates for different game systems into the Calendar.

II. Choose Hex Size and Base Move (if applicable)


III. Choose Precipitation Event Name

I'm not sure why anyone would want to change these, but if you want to change "HEAVY BLIZZARD" into "STRONG BLIZZARD" or whatever, you can.

Now that I think of it, I suppose one reason might be to change the names into those of another language.

IV. Choose Relative Chance of Events

Two things to note:

1. These are the general defaults. You can (and almost certainly will want to) change them within particular climate climate zones. But if for some reason you think the default for DRIZZLE should always be twice as likely as LIGHT RAINSTORM, go ahead and increase the DRIZZLE % or decrease the LIGHT RAINSTORM %.  Again, they don't have to add up to 100%.

2. These apply only within possible temperature ranges. For example, if the temperature is -10 degrees, whatever value you have put in for DOWNPOUR, it's not going to happen.

V. Minimum and Maximum Temperatures for Events

You can't change these (if you do edit the black, nothing will happen). This section is there in part to illustrate how the algorithm works.

VI. Choose Duration of Events

These cannot be changed within the particular climate zones. So if you want to change them, you're only chance is now. The durations are intended to be "realistic," but I might have been wrong about them, and in the end it's your call. If you want sleet storms to last an average of two weeks in your world, go for it.

VII. Choose Chance of Events Continuing

This is similar to, but not quite the same as VI. Sleet storms last 1d6 hours but then have a 20% chance of continuing for another 1d6 hours (and then have a 20% chance of continuing for another 1d6 hours...). You can change that.

VIII. Choose Wind Speed of Events

Here also, this is your only chance, as these are not adjustable within the climate zones. If you think I've overestimated the power of Gales, change it.

IX. Choose Precipitation Amount (per hour)

You can change the average precipitation amounts and/or the average variance of them. The variance mechanic adds or subtracts a percentage up to 100%. So "+/-90%" means the inches of rain per hour could be anything from 10% to 190% of the average. 

X. Choose Chance of Lightning

The Dragon 68 article has a mechanic where whenever there is lightning, you have a small chance of being hit by it, and if you are, you take some ridiculous amount of damage. Though the chance is small, given enough chances, you will be hit.

In my view, that mechanic is insane. It implies that any low-level party that attempts a long-term wilderness trek will almost certainly be electrocuted.

I would dispense with that mechanic.

For me, the main purpose of lightning is to decide when spell casters can cast a Call Lightning spell. It's an extremely powerful spell, especially for its level, so you want lightning to be somewhat rare, but not so rare such that the spell will be meaningless.

Also, lightning adds atmosphere.

You can also change the lightning frequencies within particular climate zones. This only changes the recommended default. It actually makes perfect sense that some zones - those nearer to the equator, "evil" zones and so on - would have much more lightning than others.

Keep in mind that the chances are per 12 hour period. So, for example, if there's a 25% chance of lightning during each half-day of TORRENTIAL RAINS, it's highly likely you'll get a number of lightning episodes in, say, a two-week storm. 

XI. Choose Chance of Rainbow

Okay, it sounds silly, but rainbows can be fun (I know, I know). Single, or especially double or triple rainbows might be omens. In extreme cases, you can actually see storm gods in he sky. Each precipitation event has a separate chance of ending in some type of rainbow. Change these if you want. 

XII. Choose Chances for Type of Rainbow

If you want every rainbow to be a literal physical bridge to Valhalla (a Bifrost bridge), go for it.

XIII. Choose names and Chances for Cloud Cover

All the sources I've seen have percentages that track the given defaults. But if you think, say, that Very Cloudy days are too common, change it. You should know, however, that I have modified these chances in my algorithm for each climate template. For example, in areas of low precipitation, there's more than a 25% chance of it being Clear. But if you want to change the chances, generally, or if you want to change the name "Very Cloudy" to "Overcast" or whatever, go for it. 

XIV. Year begins on which Phase of the Moon?

Moon phases can be important. Or not. It's obviously up to you. But if you want to change the phase your year begins on, you can. Each phase will last 30.44 days, so the phases will gradually diverge from the months.

This assumes one "earth-type" moon with the same orbit period as our moon. Unfortunately, the workbook isn't set up to change that. I might try to do so in the future.

By the way, a friend reminded me that no version of Excel includes the "Moon Phases" font. But it's easy to download and add it. (It takes about a minute.) You can find the font here.  

XV. Choose Other Modifiers

Most of these you can also change within particular climate zones, and some will also be affected by terrain, but you can also change them generally here.

Base wind variance/maximum: If there is no precipitation event, the default wind speed will vary from 0 to 15 mph. You can change that. Increasing or decreasing it will also increase or decrease the variance for when there is a precipitation events.

Overall wind speed modifier: If you simply want your entire world to have a windier (or less windy) default, go for it.

Overall temperature modifier: Ditto for temperature.

Overall precipitation modifier: Ditto for precipitation.

Rainbow chance multiple: Change those general rainbow chances, you rainbow unicorn. Or not.

Precipitation duration multiple: Maybe you think every rainstorm, snowstorm and hailstorm should last longer.

Temperature consistency: This is an interesting one. The algorithm assumes that temperatures will vary within a range (given by the climate zone and season) from day to day, but the temperature consistency percentage represents the chance per day that it won't vary by that much (it will still vary by a little bit). Thus, you get longer lasting "heat waves" or "cold waves." You can adjust this.

Cloud cover consistency: same idea.

By the way, I'm not a weather nerd. I did a fair amount of research for this but some questions I still don't really know the answer to. For example, do clear days cluster?

Temperature drop variances: In almost every climate and in every season, the temperature drops in the evening. You can modify the possibilities here. It's probably more important to modify which possibility you get in a particular climate zone. But you can change the general parameters here if you like.


That's all for now. Tomorrow, Climate Templates!    

Friday, November 11, 2016

Weather Generator, Part 1: Introduction

Illustration from "Weather in the World of Greyhawk" from The Dragon #68

In writing Book of Fiends, I decided to add some "additional" spells - many of them originally Druid spells from Eldritch Wizardry. Since some of these spells involve weather and have little meaning without some sort of campaign weather system, I started to think about designing or at least adapting a weather generation system for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen/OD&D.

The systems I found fell into three basic categories:
  1. Simple. I would put, say, the Delving Deeper system into this category. Saying it's simple is not a criticism. Indeed, I think the Delving Deeper system is the best out there. For a system generated with dice, it must be simple in order to be playable. The problem, of course, is if you think simple is, well, too simple.
  2. Complex. The Dragon 68 and The Dragon 137 put forward realistic and satisfying weather generation systems. As I understand it, the scheme in issue 68 was later incorporated into the Greyhawk Boxed Set campaign setting. The problem here is that I just can't see how these systems are really playable. Just to calculate the weather for one day in one climate zone requires many die rolls. Doing so would either slow down play or require a huge amount of boring prep work for the referee. An the thing about weather is while it might be very relevant to play, it's more often not very relevant. You don't want to take ten die rolls to discover that it's partly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a gentle breeze.
  3. Computer generated. There are a number of sites where you can ask for one day's weather (or in one case a week's worth of weather). Sometimes you can change the climate parameters and sometimes you can't. But I find the computer dependent snapshot approach unsatisfying. It's usually only a snapshot, and frankly, I don't want a system where you have to keep visiting a website. It's not very 1974.   
In response to these alternatives, I decided to design an Excel workbook for instantly calculating 365 days worth of weather for as many different climate zones as you want.

I'm not computer programmer but I've always liked Excel and do a fair amount of work with it in my profession.  

The idea is, once you do a small amount of prep-work - basically deciding what your climate zones are going to be and whether there will be any variation from the basic templates - you can calculate all of your world's weather at the touch of a button. You can then save it a PDF or set of PDF's and either print them out or save them on your tablet or phone.

It's complex, but the complexity is already baked into the system for you.

The worksheet incorporates ideas from those two issues of The Dragon plus some ideas and tweaks of my own.

In the next few posts, I'll be explaining how to use the workbook. You can download the BETA here.

It's a BETA because I want to put more things into it. Among other things I want it to display movement rates. (You want to keep marching cross country through a blizzard? Fine, but you move at 3 instead of 12, or whatever) But before I do that, I need to finalize my thoughts on Zylarthen/OD&D wilderness movement.


CAMPAIGN CALENDAR is where you get your results. I've already set it up with 19 pre-set climate zones that track this Zylarthen/OD&D campaign map. So you literally can use it as is.

But if you want to tailor it to your world, you can pretty quickly do so by making adjustments in the first three sheets.

The workbook makes heavy use of random functions. If you're familiar with Excel, you know that by simply changing 1 cell (typing 1 into any blank cell or whatever), every random function will recalculate. This is how you generate weather for different zones. Or you can simply recalculate a year's worth of weather if you don't like what you got. Or you can sit there like a weather nerd and waste an hour seeing all the different sorts of weather patterns that are possible for an equatorial monsoon zone, or whatever.

You can also turn off the recalculation function or, of course, save one of the results to a separate workbook (saving values not formulas) or by saving to a PDF.

The cells in red are what you might want to change. You don't want to touch the cells in black unless you want to experiment with changing the entire workbook. Most of the red cells are framed by a black "default" cell, giving you a "recommended" setting or range of settings.

There are 3 worksheets in non-caps: Calendar Data, Random and Movement. You don't want to touch these, although you can.

It's all up to you. I haven't locked anything.  However, keep in mind that some of the formulas are extremely complex. If you alter something in black, especially in the Calendar Data sheet, you might screw everything up and not know how to get it back.

I suppose if you do want to fool around with the "guts," you want to save an original copy first.

See, you can play God but playing Meta-God is problematic.

Again, the worksheet may be downloaded here. I'll be explaining how to use it over the next few posts, but you're halfway familiar with Excel, you might be able to figure it out on your own.

For now, here's the map that I based the climate zones on. It's from a post I wrote two years ago:

And here are some sample months from four of the zones.

  • # means there's lightning.
  • "x in rain" means the entire storm, yields, yes, x inches of rain.
  • Stars and crosses are rainbows. You can get anything from a normal "single" rainbow to a bridge to Valhalla. But to get that rare bridge you might have sit there, generating new zones for a while.

1. A stormy August in the Great Coastal City:

2. It doesn't rain much in the desert, but sometimes lightning strikes from a clear sky. Also, the temperatures drop precipitously at night:

3. The rainy season in the Great Jungle:

4. Winter in the Tundra:

I hope you find the Weather Generator interesting and useful. And I look forward to improving it. As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Notes on Wilderness Movement

The wilderness is problematic 

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on Book of Fiends, a Seven Voyages of Zylarthen/OD&D reimagining of the Fiend Folio. Among other things, it's going to have some great art.

In the process of working on it, I've been diverted into also exploring some other paths. Book of Fiends will include a number of "additional" spells - OD&D spells not included in the original Zylarthen.

Many of these spells were originally "Druid" spells from Eldritch Wizardry. Since some of these concerned weather, I've been rethinking weather rules and designing an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the weather.

In turn, since weather can sometimes affect movement, this got me to think (or rethink) wilderness movement rules.

Here are some propositions/proposals:

1. In virtually all of the old school iterations of D&D as well as the clones, the value of horses for long-distance wilderness movement has been overestimated.
In all of these systems (including Zylarthen) horses move at up to double or even triple the speed of men. This is unrealistic. Over long distances, men move about as fast as horses. You can impel a horse to move faster for a day or two but then you'll have to rest it. So, if you're doing, say a week or a month long trek through the wilderness (where you can't switch horses at the next Pony Express stop), a horse isn't going to help you that much.

2. Extra encumbrance doesn't detract from long-distance movement as much as it does from short-distance movement. Soldiers have been marching with heavy packs since long before the middle ages. If they weren't wearing heavy packs they would be faster, but not that much faster. Marching with heavy packs is what soldiers do. And if they can do it, adventurers should also be able to do it. So, systems that base wilderness movement on short distance movement (based on encumbrance) are underestimating wilderness movement.

3. For the above two reasons, all wilderness movement through clear terrain should have the same base value - perhaps 15 to 20 miles a day. Various things could give bonuses or penalties. For example  if you have a certain type of horse, then you can double movement for one to three days as long as you rest it for one to three days. If you're unencumbered or lightly encumbered, you get a +1 or +2 on movement. Mules get a bonus over harsh terrain. And so on. But the base move stays the same, subject to terrain.

4. Having just one base move (with possible bonuses/penalties) is also preferable for reasons of simplicity.

5. If you're going to have weather events affect movement, keep in mind that weather might be already implicitly "baked in" to some terrain modifiers. So, for example, you move slower in mountains partially because of storms and the wind. You move slower in deserts because of the heat. Jungles are daunting, partially because of the frequent torrential rains, etc. If you want to have weather affect movement, then you might need to scale back on some movement penalties due to terrain itself.

6. You can make an interesting game out of fractional movement speeds. If you have a map with 30 mile hexes and the base move of the party is, say, 20, then instead of decreeing that the party moves 2/3 of a hex each day (and making little dots on your map), have them roll a 13 or better (2/3 of 20) each day on a twenty-sided die. Success means they leave the hex. Failure means they stay. This inserts a bit of chance and die-rolling drama into wilderness movement. And of course, for every day that they stay in the wilderness, they make one or two more wandering monster checks. Let the players roll them... They will want to get out of the wilderness as quickly as possible!

Criticism, comments or advice would be appreciated. Cheers!

Friday, July 29, 2016

16 Great Television Shows for Kids: Introduction

For the honor of love!

No, this won't be some ponderous list of Traditionalist Catholic approved, Very-Holy-and-Very-Good-for-You efforts.

Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Rather, the operative word here is fun.

And I certainly don't think any of them are objectionable.

Yes, you don't want to go to Mass dressed like She-Ra. You probably don't want to go anywhere dressed like She-Ra. But this is reality and She-Ra is fantasy. She's a beautiful princess who fights evil, and (in my opinion) it's okay to do that without being encumbered by too many loose clothes, especially if the context (for children, at least) involves zero sexuality. Also, it's an 80's thing. 

Like many parents, my wife and I believe that much of contemporary culture and entertainment is either too "adult" or in and of itself pernicious, especially for children. Naturally we want to protect our two 2-year-olds and two 5-year-olds from it.

At this point that's not very difficult. Our older children are being home schooled and our friends - who might be hosting our kids for a play date or whatever - generally have similar values or attitudes when it comes to these things. 

But we do watch a fair amount of television, both together as a family and as something the kids do on their own. Since we live in a quasi-open loft and the kids still haven't learned how to operate the four remotes that control our byzantine-like structure of connected devices, "on their own" does not mean "unsupervised."

I don't think television or television watching is in and of itself a bad thing. Of course it's bad if one is watching something bad, or it might be bad to the extent that it takes time away from doing other valuable things - such as reading or engaging in imaginative play. But I'm not anti-TV by any stretch, and the DVD and streaming revolutions make it a lot easier to expose kids to "quality" or at least non-brain-numbing fare. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that television is another way for kids to learn - and I'm not referring merely to "educational" programs.

On just what might be good or bad to watch, one way that I might differ a bit with some parents is that I don't think violence per se is something that must be censored or kept away from kids. I feel like I didn't put that last sentence quite right, so let me try again. Obviously gory violence is bad, as is anything that either implicitly glorifies violence as some sort of end in itself or continually portrays it in an amoral fashion. And of course you don't want your kids having nightmares, or at least you don't want to be causing them. But I actually think that kids seeing good guys fighting bad guys (or ghosts or monsters or whatever) can be positive moral reinforcement, though I don't want to put too much stress on that. Stimulating their imagination - whether it's contemplating cowboys (which my kids have never seemed to be that interested in), space pilots or girl detectives - is even more important.

And, as mentioned above, there's that other important element: Fun.

So I've put together a list of sixteen television shows that I like and that my children have liked. Obviously, some of them were initially "proposed" by me to my kids because I liked them as a child - Lost in Space and Star Trek. Others were shows that I missed for one reason or another but that I discovered as an adult (with my kids in mind) - She-Ra and Jonny Quest. And still others were basically discovered by my kids - Octonauts and Thomas the Train.

But whatever their provenance, all of them have been greatly enjoyed by Oliver, Lydia, Edmund and Crispin.

I'm going to divide the shows among four posts. I hope they resonate with some of you. And if you haven't seen some of them (or haven't had your kids see them), I hope I "turn you on" to a few. But that doesn't mean, obviously, that I'm some super authority. And of course, what you want or allow your kids to watch should and will be always up to you.

It will be in alphabetical order and the commentary will start with the next post. Not to be too much of a tease but the first four are:

Dungeons & Dragons
Jonny Quest
Lost in Space

As the song goes at the end of each She-Ra episode:

For the honor of love
We have the power
So can you!

It's not one of the Ten Commandments, exactly, and it doesn't mention God. But "for the honor of love" isn't a bad start. And in its way, I think it works.

Every young girl should have a sword. At least in her imagination.

Cross posted at Mahound's Paradise.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Giant Spreadsheet of OD&D, Holmes, AD&D and B/X Spells

In preparation for writing some new material for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, I made an Excel spreadsheet of most of the canonical old school spells.

Others have put together similar lists, but I haven't found any that did it in this format.

If you like, you may download it from my public Dropbox here. I hope you find it useful.

The spreadsheet has a distinct line for each spell (including an additional line for its reversed version, if applicable) and lists which publication(s) it appeared in, including how it was named and numbered within that publication.

I did this fairly quickly so undoubtedly I made some mistakes. If anyone finds any, I would be grateful if you would point them out.

I count 482 distinct spells with an additional 55 reversed versions. They were introduced in this sequence:  

Men & Magic (1974): 90
Greyhawk (1975): 65
Strategic Review - Illusionists (1975): 25
Eldritch Wizardry - Druids (1976): 36
Holmes Basic (1977): 9
Players Handbook (1978): 122
Moldvay Basic set (1981): 0
Cook Expert set (1981): 1
Unearthed Arcana (1985): 134

Total: 482
Additional Reversed: 55

General Notes:
  1. I included the Illusionist spells in Strategic Review #4 because they would later become part of the canon. I did not include any other spells from Strategic Review or Dragon Magazine, although some would of course turn up later in Players Handbook or Unearthed Arcana.
  2. The publication dates are rough and may be off by a month or two. Obviously some spells had their genesis before they were officially published.
  3. The Cook Expert set seemed to include one spell - Striking - which I could not find in any other source. That seems odd to me and it's possible I missed the fact that it has some other name in AD&D.
  4. I didn't include cantrips. I am not a masochist or insane.
  5. Each distinct spell also includes its lowest and highest level according to the different versions by class and publication. All but 17 spells varied by no more than one level. The three greatest variances were Maze - 9th level Magic-User spell in Greyhawk, 5th level Illusionist spell in Players Handbook - Confusion and Create Water - 1st level Cleric spell in Players Handbook, 4th level Cleric spell in Cook Expert. Obviously, the precise description of these spells varied accordingly.
  6. Each spell also points to its reversed version, if any.
Notes on Seven Voyages of Zylarthen Spells:
  1. The spreadsheet also lists its Zylarthen counterpart, if any. As many of you know, for Zylarthen I ditched the Cleric as a player character, but gave non-player character High Priests, Evil High Priests and Witches their own somewhat distinct lists.
  2. In keeping with my methodology of including material only through mid-1975, most 1st to 6th level Magic-User spells from Men & Magic and Greyhawk were included as Zylarthen Magic-User spells, but the list was rounded out with some Cleric spells.
  3. High Priests and Evil High Priests were given many of the Cleric spells I didn't use, plus some 7th to 9th level spells from GreyhawkWitches were given a mix of extra Cleric, high-level Greyhawk and Illusionist spells. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen/The Haunted Tower Play Report, Part 2: Towers in RPG Modules are Larger Than They Appear

A Candy Cane Golem

Clarification: Chris Gonnerman commented after Part 1 that much of the module was really the work of Stuart Marshall. I should have pointed this out, as there's a bit about the genesis of it in the PDF. Again, you may download The Haunted Tower here.

Before the play report, a quick digression:

Towers in RPG Modules are larger than they should be. I discovered this while designing my own module and comparing the size of the "tower" in it with famous real towers.

It swamped them.

The tower in "The Haunted Tower" is 90' x 90'. This is only slightly smaller than the famous "White Tower" (118' x 105') in the Tower of London. Even though the height (90') of the White Tower is less than its width, for many years it was the tallest building in London.

Judging from the cover, the Haunted Tower looks three or four times as high as its width. This would make it at least three times the height of the White Tower and, say, twice the height of the Tower of Pisa. So it would be quite a structure for an expat mid-level alchemist to construct on a hill outside of town.

It would be almost as large as five Highclere Castles (the real Downton Abbey) stacked on top of one another.

I think part of the problem is that "indoor" floorpans are often way out of proportion, probably due to the use of 10' squares as building blocks. While 10' may not seem large in the context of a cave or underground area, it's actually a sizable space within a room. For example, my relatively spacious-seeming loft apartment is (I think) no more than 20' wide, if that. Expressed in 10' square units, rooms in houses or even towers and castles are not really that large.

Not that it really matters. But there it is.

Back to the play report.

Ollie the Fighting-Man (my son Ollie's character), Zinda the Hobbit (my daughter Lydia's character) and Linda the Magic-User (my daughter's doll Betsy's character) were ready to proceed.

But first we had to pick figures. There was much rummaging around the thirty-year old unpainted Ral Parthas--many of which had their swords broken or curled.

My wife get's annoyed when I mention this, but there was a bit of transgenderism (which for some reason seems to be a staple of my games). Lydia picked the only painted figure--a tall Gandalf with a beard--as Linda's figure. And she said that she wanted her character--the Hobbit--to be disguised as a man. She rejected many of the thief types as looking too evil. "I'm not evil--I'm a thief. I steal things so I can get treasure," she earnestly explained.

Who said RPGs couldn't teach your kids ethics?

Ollie was adamantly against choosing a fighter with an axe. So we rummaged some more to find one with an unbroken sword.

We were ready.

The module has a hook where after you open the front door, you then walk a few steps down a hall and plunge down a chute to the basement level, where presumably the adventure usually starts. Remember that it's written with solo play in mind. But with three characters, one of whom was wielding a ten-foot pole, this was problematic.

Ollie fell into the chute (a foreshadowing of another fall he would have later) but was then pulled out by the others. There was no way they were all going down into that darkened basement.

They then walked into a sort of classroom where they found a Read Magic scroll and a sort of love letter in one of the desks. There was an "injured giant rat" hiding in the corner, but they didn't really stay long enough to discover it. And I ruled that the rat would be afraid to challenge a group of three characters. Perhaps they'll encounter it later.

Next was the "Candy Cane Golem Workshop" where they discovered an apparently lifeless Candy Cane Golem in two halves. On the table was a sort of cookbook that explained how a mixture of water and sugar could be used to glue the Golem back together. There was no debate as to whether or not this might be a good idea (it was obvious to them that the Candy Cane Golem was a "good" monster), and suddenly Ollie and Lydia were telling me how they had a lot of water (true) and sugar (false) in their backpacks.

Politely saying that they almost certainly didn't bring any sugar with them was their first introduction to resource management.

Then it was up the stairs to the next level (without checking the other rooms on the first floor). I don't know about the rest of you, but whenever I read a module I always make a conscious or unconscious assumption about the route the players will follow, which to some degree informs what things I pay the most attention to, or pay the most attention to before the first session. I always forget that this assumption will almost always turn out to be wrong--whether the players are forty...or four.

For those of you who have played D&D with young children, do you find that they are constantly playing with their figures--either moving them around or just playing with them? Or is it just my kids?  I'm probably  a wimpy referee but I hesitated to stop them since they seemed to be getting so much joy out of it. But the "marching order" was continually changing as giant hands swooped down to handle the figures.

The first room on the second floor contained a set of three shelves with a total of fifteen chests.

Now remember, my children have never played this sort of game before. Pretty much everything they know is from cartoons or stories or just four-year-old common sense. So the following reflected that mixture of ignorance and intuition.

My daughter announced that she wanted to open one of the chests by standing back and carefully lifting the lid with her sword. That floored me. I have absolutely no idea where she got that from.

Inside was a "small glass vial containing bubbly pale green liquid." Lydia said, "yuck" and put it back in the chest. It then hit me that after her initial surprising display of careful chest opening prowess, Lydia had no idea that Zylarthen/D&D features "potions" as treasures. I debated somehow telling her but then figured that discovering that herself would be part of the fun. I did have Linda the Magic-User suggest that she had nothing to lose by taking the vial with her.

Linda found another vial with a "slightly milky liquid"--eliciting another "yuck!" from the party, and then Ollie found a common lamp wrapped in straw, which elicited "oohs" and "ahs"--another example of the effect of having no preconceptions.

It was very important for them to each open a chest. But with twelve more to go, they didn't seem to have much interest in the others. So it was up the stairs to the next level, again busting my preconceptions--I had skimmed over that level, assuming it would be the last one they explored.

Here they would have their first fight. Notably, for an adventure that is pretty non-lethal--most of the monsters do only 1 point of damage, or you can easily run away from them, etc.--Ollie would almost die.

My wife and I briefly discussed this before the first session. Do Oliver and Lydia know that their characters can die? Should they know they can die? Should they die?

We'll have to leave Ollie's rude encounter with a planet for Part 3, but that's not what almost killed him. What did? One word: