Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stairs Up and Stairs Down - WTF?!

I have always been confused by the standard AD&D dungeon mapping icons for "stairs up" and "stairs down," excerpted here from the Dungeon Master's Guide p. 94 (and presumably carried forward from OD&D's Underworld and Wilderness Adventures p. 4):

For my part, I see absolutely no need for the "stairs up" symbol to exist.  I find it perplexing.  How do I know which direction is up?  Why not simply use the "stairs down" symbol as the symbol for all stairways, and orient it in the proper direction to indicate up and down?  For example, if I want to depict a 30' eastbound hallway leading to a stairwell down which terminates in a door, it would look like this:

Conversely, if I want the same hallway to end in a stairwell leading up to the same door, it looks like this:

So simple!

Moldvay Basic agrees with me on this; the dungeon mapping icon list on p. B58 shows "stairs" looking like this:

I am not sure why Moldvay thinks we need the "U" and "D" symbols there, though I appreciate his thoroughness.

Interestingly, Holmes seems to swing the other direction, utilizing the "stairs up" symbol for a stairwell leading down into the sample dungeon on p. 42 of his rulebook -- his description on p. 41 says that "The stairway from the surface leads twenty five feet straight down [. . .]." To be fair, Holmes' sample dungeon does not provide a map symbol key; obviously Dr. Holmes simply drew what looked like a stairwell to him and then relied upon the dungeon's descriptive prose section to elucidate which type of stairwell it was. A reasonable approach, but perhaps not the most efficient or visually functional.

Does anyone want to defend Gygax's use of the separate "stairs up" symbol or explain to me why we need it? I am genuinely interested in the answer and willing to be persuaded.  But for my own part, I will likely keep using the single "stairs down" symbol to represent all stairwells until someone convinces me there is a reason to do otherwise.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 9

And now, the final installment of my "stock the sample dungeon level from the Dungeon Masters Guide p. 95" project. To catch the story so far, see James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.

Project guidelines:

(1) I am stocking this map as a Level 3 dungeon.

(2) I am using the Labyrinth Lord basic dungeon stocking tables on LL p. 124 to stock the map, with a few customized twists, i.e., I am deliberately placing a few monsters and treasures as I see fit.  I am also using Michael Curtis' Dungeon Alphabet and some of the random tables in the back of the Advanced Edition Companion to randomly generate "unique" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.

Now to stock rooms 35 through 39, thereby completing the level:

Room 35:  Rolled and got trap with treasure.  So I rolled on the "Random Traps" table on p. 32 of the Advanced Edition Companion and got "spiked pit that locks shut." Treasure = 1400 sp.

Room 36: Got monster, no treasure. I rolled "Throghrin" on the Level 3 Wandering Monsters table.

Room 37: Rolled monster, no treasure. Rolled "fly, giant carnivorous" (6) - incidentally, the same monster as in Room 29.

Room 38: Rolled empty, no treasure. Yet due to the placement of this room -- a lone chamber behind a secret door -- I feel compelled to put something interesting here, in spite of that roll. So I turn to Al Krombach's "Random Area Name Generator" tables and come up with "The Petrified Pool of Death."

Room 39: Rolled monster with treasure, and got "carcass scavenger" on the Level 3 Wandering Monster Table. The carcass scavenger's Hoard Class is XXI; I rolled 8000 cp, 3000 sp, and 2000 gp for its treasure.

Now the finished key to this last group of rooms:

35. Spiked Pit Trap Room 
The entire 20' x 20' floor of this room is a 20' deep spiked pit trap. A slight delay is built into the pit's triggering mechanism: the trap springs one round after the first being sets foot on the floor of the room. Anyone caught in the room when the trap springs falls into the pit, taking 2d6 falling damage plus 1d6 damage each from 1d4 spikes. The pit lid then instantly clamps shut and locks, trapping its victims within. The pit's lock can be picked by a thief or bypassed via knock; otherwise, it stays locked for 24 hours, at which time the trap resets and may be triggered from above once again. Note that those PCs bypassing the lock must also find a way to wedge the pit open to rescue their fellows, otherwise the lid slams shut and locks again in one round. Scattered amongst the spikes and decaying bodies on the pit floor is 1400 sp.

36. Throghrin Lair
A lone Throghrin dwells here. In addition to its usual abilities, it possesses a wraithblade, a +2 chaotic longsword which drains one life level or hit die (like a wraith's touch) per successful melee strike. The wraithblade's powers only work in the hands of a chaotic being; it is a mundane sword to all others. The Throghrin is aware of the concealed doors leading west into the Carnivorous Fly Lair in Room 37, and will retreat through those doors to seek the aid of the flies if seriously outnumbered or at combat disadvantage.

37. Carnivorous Flies
Six Carnivorous Flies dwell here, awaiting prey. They will not attack the Throghrin from Room 36 should it retreat here.

38. The Petrified Pool of Death
Even if the secret door to this room is found, it requires the key from the niche near Room 34 in order to be opened. The concave floor of this circular chamber makes clear that this place once contained a pool, long since dried up. A fine grey powder remains, coating the floor of this room. Anyone ingesting even the tiniest sample of this powder must save or die. The grey stuff kills by entering the bloodstream; if it is combined with oil or sap, it becomes adhesive and will stick to blades and arrowheads, forcing anyone whose skin is pierced by such edged weapons to save or die. There is enough powder on the floor to constitute six lethal doses; harvesting all of it takes three turns.

39. The Lurker in the Dark Stairwell
The stairwell here -- which leads down* to another dungeon level -- has a permanent darkness spell cast upon it, so the stairs themselves are difficult to navigate quickly and the ceiling crack (see below) is nigh impossible to see. In a small cavern behind a crack in the ceiling above the southernmost 10' section of stairs dwells a carcass scavenger (carrion crawler) which waits for parties to pass by underneath, then attacks the hindmost party member with its paralyzing tentacles. If successful, it devours its prey and retreats into the crack; if not, it fights but will retreat into the ceiling crack or flee northward if the melee turns against it. Hidden in the nook behind the ceiling crack is the carcass scavenger's treasure: 8000 cp, 3000 sp, and 2000 gp.

Stay tuned for a compilation pdf of the entire Level Key!

* Or up if you prefer -- see forthcoming post about my confusion over the "stairs up" / "stairs down" icons in AD&D mapping.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Probable Blogging Slowdown

Just an update to let everybody know that content may get a bit sparse around here for the next few weeks, or maybe even for a month or more.  Spawn is out of the country for the next few weeks, and I have a major non-RPG-related writing deadline on August 1, so many of my own creative energies will be focused on that other project for the next month or two.  There will still be Lands of Ara content -- the conclusion of my DMG Level Stocking Project and regular Session Reports at the very least -- posted, but likely not every day or even every other day, at least for awhile.

Rock on!

Monday, May 23, 2011

My New Flailceratops T-Shirt ...

 ... is a bit snug at the chest. Is that normal?

From Thoust Spawn of Endra.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gunger Beykr's Chime of Infallible Wayfaring [New Magic Item]

[From the midst of a haze, The Spawn submits for your consideration:]

Egads. Carter has been back in town for just over a week, which means that 1) we had a gaming session where he was in the same room as most of us instead of Skyping, and 2) his band Telepathic Dumpster reformed for a house concert Friday night and fun and madness prevailed!  

 Telepathic Dumpster! L-R: Josh Marks (Master of Rock),
Carter Soles, Carl Nash, Emily Afanador

At the end of the night, with a few (too many) adult beverages under my belt and pretty stoked from the music and friends, I found that I was in no condition to pilot a bike home. And Eugene is the kind of place where you can get a DUI on a bike, so it doesn't pay to be swerving all over the place even if you can more or less keep it together. So I walked all the way across town on an hours-long trek with a few wrong turns (Great, I'm at 24th and Charnelton, not too far now ... oh, wait, that's 24th and Chambers. Fuck.), a couple of disorientations (the avenue numbers get bigger going SOUTH, not north), and of course a light but steady rain. Luckily I made all my random encounter rolls and nothing untoward happened, and arrived home with the day dawning. (It's apparently less than 3 miles, but it seemed to take forever.)

I awoke much later with the classic Blind Faith tune Can't Find My Way Home in my head, of course. (Don't ask me why this clip has applause tacked on at the beginning and end, skip up to 0:15. And ignore some most of the pictures.)

The distinctive junk splash cymbal (at 0:41 for those unfortunate souls who don't know what I'm talking about) is the inspiration for:

Gunger Beykr's Chime of Infallible Wayfaring
The chime was created by the mad wizard Gunger Beykr during his aeons-long campaign to destroy his eternal enemy, the foul and corrupt Lich Litchell. At one point, the lich managed to cast a spell that disoriented Beykr so badly that he wandered the countryside for 6 years trying to find his way back to his castle, while never being more than 2 miles from it. On numerous occasions he walked right up to his castle, but didn't recognize it, and stumbled back out into the woods to wander more. Eventually his familiar, a sarcastic tabby that had been watching his master's vagrancy with some mirth, got bored with it and managed to bring him back to the castle and dispelled the curse. Beykr created the Chime of Infallible Wayfaring shortly afterward.

The chime looks like a fairly crappy 6" brass cymbal with several cracks in it. When struck it produces a flat rapidly decaying crash, and shows a lost PC the route back to a specific place known to the PC that is considered non-threatening. This might not be a "safe" place per se, like the area outside of a dungeon entrance that is guarded by hidden goblin snipers, but it's out of the mess they are in. PCs under spells that cause confusion, blindness, hallucinations, insanity, aimless quests, etc. can use the chime to get them back home or elsewhere, though the effects of spells generally remain in force. The PC must be able to recognize the need to use the chime -- if they don't know they are lost or impaired, they wouldn't use it. The chime may be used only once per month.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Fight On! #11

As previously promised, I here offer a review of Fight On! Issue #11. 

To begin with, Wow!  What a cover!  This is one of the better Fight On! covers I've seen, a really compelling depiction (by Mark Allen) of an exciting spider encounter in progress.

As for what is inside, here are some of my highlights:

+ Two new PC classes are noteworthy: Sylvan Elves by Scott Moberly and Vampires as PCs by Calithena.  The former is a succinct but compelling take on Wood Elves for Labyrinth Lord, and I plan to compare-and-contrast Moberly's approach to the "Fey Class" by Gavin at the City of Iron.  In my own campaign, Elves are NEVER PCs anyway, but I still like to have a template upon which to hang my NPC elves, and I like Moberly's idea to grant Wood Elves some spell-like abilities but no spells per se. Meanwhile, something must be in the air around vampires-as-PCs, since Calithena's writeup is the second one I've seen this month.  Hers is not quite as detailed as Peter Regan's, and despite my usual aversion to fine granularity, I may slightly favor Oubliette #5's piece on this subject, but I like that each mag has something original to offer on this somewhat overlooked topic.

+ "Draala" by Jason Vasche: If I'm not mistaken, this is a classic Star Frontiers race, here adapted for OD&D use.  I may or may not ever use this, but it is the kind of genre-crossing stuff I always like to see in Fight On!

+ Jeff Rients delivers a couple of highly creative and inspiring tables, including one for "Underworld Computers" and one for "NPC Party Situations."  Both of these are now horked for use in my personal DM folder!

+ "On Fantasy Chronography":  A superb article by Del Beaudry about an oft-overlooked aspect of FRPG setting design: timekeeping.  Not in the round-by-round sense, but in terms of how one's RPG world reckons time on a day-by-day basis.  Thought-provoking and well considered, this article is a must-read for all world-builders.

+ Artwork-wise, besides the superb Mark Allen cover, I would like to call attention to some of Fat Cotton's illos, especially the wonderful tableau scene on p. 3.  There is something vaguely Erol Otus-esque about that picture and its style, and I like it.  I also want to single out one of the issue's comics, "Sir Tendeth" by Sniderman: the second strip (about the werewolf) is the first gaming mag comic that has made me laugh out loud in quite some time.  Well done!

As I have said before, Fight On! is the flagship print publication of the OSR, and its standards -- for the quality of its content and the "glossiness" of its material publication -- are still unmatched.  It is a positively fine magazine that deserves the support of we old-school gamers.  Get your copy of Issue #11 ASAP!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Session 34: The Gate and its Guardians

"So this guy who's raising me from the dead -- can he do bionic arms or anything?" 
-- Hazel

This session (played 5/2/11) picked up immediately where the last one left off. The party -- consisting of Innominus (Clr 5), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 3), Dak (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 4) [Yor's player had to miss this sesh] -- headed back into Stonehell Level Two in order to continue the search for the hobgoblin General and his minions.

Hazel's player asked right away if Beastarr, Innominus' bobcat familiar, could sniff out where the missing General had gone by tracking him via the fecal matter left on his desk (see last session). The party thought this sounded promising and took the bobcat to the General's office right away. After smelling the feces, Beastarr led the party due south down the long passageway and began pacing back and forth in front of a southerly section of wall. The party searched the area and found a secret door leading to a westbound passage. They also heard a deep, low-frequency humming sound that oscillated in and out, louder then softer. As they proceeded down the westward hall and then turned north, the regular, oscillating sound grew louder.

The party's two front rankers -- Hazel and Dak -- fell into a 20' pit trap, then climbed out using Hazel's rope of climbing. The remainder of the group skirted the trap and then everyone proceeded north to a door, from behind which the oscillating humming sound emanated. The group readied its weapons and Dak threw open the door.

Inside was a 20' x 20' chamber whose northwest corner was completely dominated by an upright, 8' diameter circular gate -- just like a Stargate without any inscriptions on it. Bright white light shone out from inside the circular portal, illuminating the room, and the whole thing hummed quite loudly at its very low, bone-shaking frequency. This circular gate was flanked on either side by two 8' tall metal humanoid "statues" who advanced on the party as soon as the latter opened the door.

Dak entered the room at a charge, threw a dwarven steel handaxe at one of the metal beings (he hit), and ran through the glowing portal. On the other side, he found himself in a vast stone cellar, clearly constructed by intelligent beings but quite ancient and possibly deserted. The huge rectangular chamber was so vast that, even with the bright light of the portal illuminating the place, Dak could not see all four walls; the ceiling was at least sixty feet above him. A circular gate identical to the one he just jumped through appeared to be the only thing in the voluminous chamber, so Dak quickly reversed course and jumped back through the gate to assist his friends in the gate-guardian battle.

The party quickly discovered that only fairly powerful magical weapons and steel weapons could truly injure the metal gate guardians; even Hazel's flame tongue sword seemed not to hurt them! By the end of the fearsome and ferocious melee, the two statues were finally destroyed but four party members lay dead: Innominus, Hazel, and NPCs Gorgo (Dwf-4) and Kilgore (Ftr-2). Vivuli pissed in one fallen statue's face, and Dak removed the iron beings' heads and hands for future use. The main aim of the battle's survivors (Dak, Viv, and NPCs Gark and Fuzz) now became: how to get our fallen comrades out of this dungeon and back to town?

First an idea was hatched and attempted whereby the group retraced its steps north to the "crystal columns" room and Dak chucked Innominus' body out onto the tiles in the hope that some healing magic would be activated (as it had been in Session 18). And lo! one of the columns shot a ray of light at the freshly deceased cleric, and Innominus instantly revived and sprang back to life! The Follower of Endra was weak and would need to be assisted out of the dungeon, but he was alive! The PCs tried the same strategy with their other fallen dead, to no avail; nothing happened to Hazel, and Gorgo's body suffered the indignity of having all its body hair seared off by a column-based lightning bolt.

Having only worked with Kilgore for one adventure, the group decided to leave the fighter's body behind; but they carried Hazel, Gorgo, and the corpse of Sir Boren (see Session 33) out of Stonehell with little incident other than being ineffectively shot at by some crossbow-wielding orcs right at the dungeon's spiral-staircase exit.

The group reached their war wagon outside and saddled up for the return journey to Fortinbras. On the way, they were briefly hunted by a strange red-and-black dragon; they distracted the dragon by sending Kilgore's riderless horse ahead and themselves hiding in the brush. The dragon swooped down out of the skies and killed and ate the horse; Hazel's kestrel watched the feeding dragon for awhile and noted the direction in which it flew away afterward. Despite his present physical infirmity, Innominus recalled some recent rumors from Fortinbras about how dragon activity was increasing in Rogaland (Southern Minoch) since the eradication of the Skullface Occupational Army (i.e., the hobgoblins the party killed). The party moved on and reached Fortinbras late that same night (just before midnight) without incident.

Unfortunately, Father Ouzo, the only local priest powerful enough to raise dead, had already departed for Farn Junction the day before. So the party slept the night at their rental house and prepared to continue on to Farn Junction the next day. (Though not before Vivuli picked some pockets in town and Dak bought morning drinks for everybody in the King Hargon Inn, the local dwarf bar.)

The group -- including Zappo the Wondrous, who asked to accompany Gark northward with Sir Boren's body -- reached Farn Junction with their fallen comrades the next afternoon, Day 89 of their Arandish adventures. They spent the bulk of their remaining group funds to have Hazel and Gorgo raised by Father Ouzo of the Brothers of Carcoon, and then settled in for a two-week hiatus in Farn Junction while Hazel, Gorgo, and Innominus recovered and rested.

Gark, concerned about the state of decay of Sir Boren's body, informed the PCs that he wished to take said body north to the Free City of Kaladar to have it preserved for its longer journey north to Achelon. He told the party he and Zappo would be staying at the Green Dragon Shanty in Kaladar, and would wait for the PCs to meet them there before heading on to Northern Achelon to Sir Boren's homeland.

Vivuli, having entered Farn Junction in disguise, began his usual routine of relieving many locals of their valuables via pickpocketry. He managed to obtain over 200 gp, a silver ring, and a personal note "to Alvy" about the writer's need to leave bardic college and go on the road as a traveling minstrel. (After any given unsuccessful pickpocketing attempt, Viv would switch disguises before making more such attempts.)

Meanwhile Dak visited Farn Junction's main Dwarven pub, the Stone Mountain Inn, and found out that anti-human sentiment was on the rise there due to a recent incident: Ironblade the Noffellian (after overseeing the summary execution of Brian in Fortinbras) had passed through Farn Junction just yesterday but had refused to stop and investigate the reports of "hauntings" in the dwarven mines west of the city (see Session 32). The dwarves accused him of xenophobia and felt that Ironblade's brushoff constituted yet another reason to be upset with Minoch's human rulership, i.e., Price Arkus. Dak fueled these flames of dissent, talking up the idea of a new "Dwarven Kingdom in the West" with Yor as a strong candidate for regional leadership.

This is more or less where we left off.

DM Notes
A great session! The battle with the iron gate guardians was the deadliest melee yet, resulting in four party member deaths. I like high-stakes, death-dealing melee, so this was a very satisfying encounter for me. Then the PCs used that damn pillar chamber to bring Innominus back to life: well played! The chamber has a specific die-roll mechanic (provided by M. Curtis in Stonehell Dungeon) that allows for a result of "Target is healed of all damage, diseases, curses, poisons, or other afflictions." Sure, this doesn't explicitly state "raises target from dead," but the chances of obtaining this result are so low to begin with that when it came up in the attempt to bring Innominus back, I just knew in my heart that I had to rule in the dead cleric's favor: he was raised! One of the most clever and effective strategies yet deployed by the PCs.
Hazel goes bionic: As Spawn of Endra noted in this post, Hazel's player is quite good at immersing herself in the game-world and asking for whatever wacky magical items or offbeat actions, etc. that she can think of in the moment. One of the high points of this session -- and by far the biggest laugh -- came when she inquired as to whether Father Ouzo could provide Hazel with a bionic arm as long as he was raising her from the dead anyway (see epigraph at head of post). I sadly had to tell her no, but encouraged her to keep her eyes open for other beings who might be able to provide such a service in the future!
Lastly, note that as of this session, our new Arandish wilderness movement rates for horses and carts [link needed] are officially in place -- even though Blogger ate the post in which Spawn of Endra announced them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Old-School Adventure Guide Project Launched

The Old-School Adventure Guide

I wouldn't want anyone to miss this, so allow me to call your attention to the Old-School Adventure Guide Project just announced by the Jovial Priest. The project has been set up as a wiki (much like the OSR Links to Wisdom wiki) and will eventually be compiled as a for-free print / pdf publication. See details at the Priest's blog, and get your non-dungeon adventuring ideas ready!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 8

And now, Part 8 of my episodic attempt to randomly stock the sample dungeon level from the Dungeon Masters Guide p. 95. See also James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Project guidelines:

(1) I am stocking this map as a Level 3 dungeon.

(2) I am using the Labyrinth Lord basic dungeon stocking tables on LL p. 124 to stock the map, with a few customized twists, i.e., I am deliberately placing a few monsters and treasures as I see fit.  I am also using Michael Curtis' Dungeon Alphabet and some of the random tables in the back of the Advanced Edition Companion to randomly generate "unique" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.

Now to stock rooms 31 through 34:

Room 31:  Rolled and got empty, no treasure.  I also rolled on the "Random Atmospheric Details" and "Miscellaneous Room Contents" tables on pp. 147-148 of the Advanced Edition Companion and got "sea air," "breeze, cold," "foggy," and "excrement."

Room 32: Got monster, treasure. I rolled on the Level 3 Wandering Monster Table (LL p. 104) and got 1 Shadow.

Room 33: Rolled trap, no treasure. A roll on the random traps table on p. 147 of the AEC yielded "spear trap."

Room 34: Rolled empty, no treasure. This room connects Rooms 24 and 25, so I referred back to my Stocking Installment Part 6 to see what was in those rooms. I will link this intermediate locale to the general theme of those chambers if possible.

The finished key to Rooms 31-34:

31. Fog and Excrement Chamber 
This 20' x 20' room smells strongly of sea air, and a cold breeze laps at one's feet in here. The entire room is filled floor-to-ceiling with thick, swirling fog. The room is otherwise empty except for a large patch of sticky excrement in the center of the room. The sea-saltiness of the air prevents those who enter the room from smelling the dung patch until it is too late; anyone stepping in the dung will need a full hour to scrub the stuff off boots, shoes, clothes, and/or skin.

32. Shadow's Haunt
This 20' x 20' room is home to a solitary, lurking Shadow. It waits in the darkest corner of the room for its victim(s) to enter, then attacks (usually with surprise). It will chase its prey anywhere on the dungeon level until stopped or vanquished. Even if killed, the shadow will re-materialize here after 1d12 hours -- it is cursed to haunt this room forever.

33. Corridor Spear Trap
The 20' x 20' room at the western end of the corridor glows with golden light; the 30' long section of corridor just east of the room constitutes a deadly spear trap. Anyone stepping or flying into this corridor section will be fired upon by a deadly spear trap, which attacks as a Level 2 Fighter and inflicts 1d6 + 1 damage per hit. The spear trap fires once per round at each individual target in that passage, and the supply of spears cannot be exhausted. The glow in the room to the east is produced by illusory magic; there is no treasure here. Any wandering monster encountered here has a 2 in 6 chance of being the carcass scavenger from Room 39.

34. Abandoned Holy Room and Western Niche
A wooden holy symbol of an obscure cult (the same symbol as that found in Room 24) is all that remains in this otherwise empty chamber. However, if one turn is spent successfully searching the 10' x 10' nook down the passageway to the west, a key will be found in a secret wall compartment. The key is in the same general shape as the holy symbol and opens the secret door to Room 38.

Next time -- the conclusion: Rooms 35-39!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

OSRCon Mapping Update

I announced a couple weeks ago that I am running a Labyrinth Lord game at OSRCon in Toronto in August. The home-brewed adventure I will be running is called The Tower of Death. My initial thought was to base the adventure's first (ground) level off of a well-known published dungeon map (randomly re-stocked), and then to construct the other levels by using geomorphs designed by various OSR bloggers. This would both ensure a degree of randomness (which I'm quite fond of in my dungeon design these days) and would show off some of the great stuff the OSR community provides by way of adventuring aids. A foolproof plan!

But now I have printed out a few randomly assigned geomorph-based dungeon levels from Dave Millar's Online Mapper and I have to say that while I really like a couple of them, the regularity of any geomorph-based dungeon level -- despite the wonderful creativity of the individual geomorphs themselves -- is proving to be a bit of a turn-off for me. I want even more unpredictability and physical irregularity in my dungeon levels, at least for this convention game, so the necessary predictability by which the individual geomorphs fit together is spoiling my plans somewhat. Sure, I could modify them, but if I am going to commit to that degree of design work anyway. . . .

Thus I have decided to scrap all but one of my geomorph levels and to fill in the gaps in The Tower of Death with hand-drawn, self-designed dungeon maps. I am not claiming to be a particularly talented or inventive mapper by any means, but I do know what I like, so mapping the dungeon myself allows me to throw in the kind of unusual features and idiosyncratic touches that I most prefer. Furthermore, as Spawn of Endra pointed out to me when I told him of my change of heart, self-drawn maps will breed increased layout-familiarity for me on game day -- I will know the contours of my own dungeon better than if I used random geomorphs. And that alone would seem to be an advantage since one of my principal aims of the Con game is to keep the action and the play moving along quickly for the players. THEY can waste as much time in-game as they like (within reason), but I feel a duty to know the rules and the map pretty well so I can keep the pace up at the table.

I will still retain one geomorph-based level, and I also still plan to randomly stock the majority of the dungeon as a whole. I will "plant" a few key monsters that I know belong in the scenario, and will include a few custom thematic locales as well, but I estimate that roughly 75-80% of the dungeon will be stocked randomly. This is for two reasons:

1. Random stocking is FUN! I have been getting a huge kick out of randomly stocking that DMG Sample level lately. I feel that responding to the results of the dice and finding clever justifications and "back stories" for the monsters and traps and treasures I roll up has been some of the most fun I've had as a DM, period. It is quite similar to what I like most about game play itself: responding to the "random" (or at least unexpected) elements the players introduce, and weaving those (as much as possible) into the ongoing adventure world. Indeed, response to X-Factors is indeed a hallmark of Old-School play and an especial favorite activity of mine.

2. I want the game I run at OSRCon to consciously embody as many old-school techniques, materials, and values as I can. And random stocking is SO Old-School!

So that is my progress report. I will surely continue to post about my preparations leading up to OSRCon, and as always, I welcome comments and suggestions about how I might make this process easier on myself and more fun for the players at the Con!

Shameless Plug: I want to urge all my readers to take a look at the OSRCon website and blog, and to consider making the trip to Toronto to play some frikkin' GAMES this August 12-13! In addition to my Labyrinth Lord game, it looks like James M. will be there running Dwimmermount (!!) and there are sessions featuring Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu, and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks as well. OSRCon registration is only is $20 CDN until July 1.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Arandish Campaign Class Options 2011

The last time I did an Available Classes Update way back in December 2009 (!), the Advanced Edition Companion wasn't published yet, nor had I discovered Dyson Logos' brilliant 2d6 Thievery.  Furthermore, it had not crossed my mind at that early (pre-actual game play) stage that one of my players would want to be a Bard, so I then listed "Bard" as an unavailable class.  I also totally excluded halflings, which I now allow in the Arandish campaign, though I prefer to call them "hobbits."

So to bring things up to date, here is a rundown of Arandish Campaign Available Classes:

Human Class Options
Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief: as per Labyrinth Lord.  Note that Thieves use 2d6 Thievery rather than the d% skill table in LL.

Druid, Illusionist, Assassin: as per the Advanced Edition Companion.   Note that the druid is an extremely rare PC type in Ara, since Arandish Druids tend to live reclusively in the wilds, eschewing civilization and human company.

Bard:  Uses the Arandish Bard template (adapted from Brave Halfling's Delving Deeper: Bard) utilizing the 2d6 Bardery skill mechanic.  See Complete 2d6 Bardery (available as pdf here) for details.  Also note the Jongleur variant.

Ranger: The Arandish Ranger comes in two variants, both found in Brave Halfling’s Delving Deeper: Ranger.  (1) the Giant-fighter type ("With Damage Bonus"), presumed to be a northerner or from the eastern mountains, and (2) the Scout type ("With Additional Skills") from anywhere in Ara but especially prevalent in the wilderness areas of Achelon and the Western Lands, and around the Great Western Swamp.  [Coming soon: 2d6 Rangery!]

Noffellian Sword-Cleric: a special type of undead-fighting Noffellian cleric described here.

Barbarian: Barbarians are a permitted class, though are extremely rare in Ara except as Mizarians. Mizarian barbarian characters in the Lands of Ara follow the Ode To Black Dougal Barbarian guidelines, and don't forget that all Mizarian characters are "Klingons on horseback" who get a +1 bonus to any rolls having to do with riding or handling horses.

A Rodian PC may either be rolled up as a Race-as-Class "Rodian" (my preference) or in an "Advanced" variant with four possible class options: Duellist (fighter), Rogue (thief), Illusionist, or Invoker (magic-user).  See Rodians: The Reckoning for full details on Rodian PCs.

Dwarf or Halfling
"Dwarf" or "Halfling" Race-as-Class, as per Labyrinth Lord.

James Maliszewski’s use of Goblins as PCs has inspired me to allow goblins as PCs in Ara.  But not just anywhere; probably only in the northeastern mountains, in campaigns centering on (or at least originating in) Telengard or possibly Delzar.  Of course, if Goblins exist as PCs in Ara at all, then a few certainly dwell in the Free City of Kaladar and at least one must be a member of Hokka’s crew.

Arandish NPC classes players cannot play
Enchanter, Summoner, Necromancer, Shadrachai, and Elf (Fey).

What "typical" classes does this list exclude?
NO Paladins or Monks –- these do not exist in Ara.

NO Elves as PCs -- though elves exist as an NPC race in the Lands of Ara, using the Fey Class template presented by Gavin at The City of Iron.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Playing D&D IV With Teenagers

This past Saturday I visited my local public library in order to sit in on an ongoing D&D IV game. Of course, I am not super-thrilled with the established group's rule system of choice, but I am trying to build up my network as a public rpg'er so I felt it was important to make an initial connection with this particular gang. I am very glad I did.

The facilitator / DM, a really cool dude named Brandon, warned me ahead of time that he and I would be the two oldest people there -- I think Brandon may be in his 20's and I turn 40 this August. Indeed, the weekly event is listed on the library's website as "Dungeons & Dragons (Grades 6-12)," so its intended demographic primarily encompasses adolescents and teenagers.

The group's descriptive blurb on the Public Library "Programs" website says:

"Be a part of this amazing story-creating game. Join the group, build your character and set out on a fantastic quest or adventure. Play D&D with other teens instead of on your computer!"

Well put!

To be super-clear, my participation with Brandon's younger RPG'ing group is intended as a SEPARATE enterprise from the monthly public Labyrinth Lord game for which I am currently laying groundwork at my local bookshop. I will keep you updated on my progress with THAT project in separate future posts.

No, this group has already been playing together for a couple of years. In fact, I am in some ways being brought in as a ringer: Brandon wants me to take over the DM'ing reins at some point so that he can spend some time in the group as a player.

The group itself was a real kick in the pants. Funny and smart young people ranging from maybe 13 years old to 16 years old (that's a guess, though one guy actually told me he was 13). They know the 4e rules quite well, so I will (as usual) lag behind them a bit in rules mastery. But they won't care -- they are there to role-play and have fun.

Brandon is a very good DM -- he has invented a unique campaign scenario (involving all the reptilian and insectoid races uniting against all the mammalian ones) in which the players seem quite invested. They relished bringing me up to date about their campaign, telling me whose character hated whom, and which of the NPC villains were the party's worst enemies. It was great fun.

I did not even technically enter play at last Saturday's session. It took me an hour to generate a character -- a human cleric named Brother Zod -- and the current PCs never finished the encounter penultimate to their running into me and another new player. So I will join in "officially" next week. But I still had a blast watching these younger players get immersed in the game.

As for my future plans with the library group, I will play along in the 4e campaign for awhile, until we get to know each other, then when Brandon is ready for me to DM, we will actually switch rules systems. There is no way -- and I warned Brandon of this going in -- that I would be willing to run anything but an "old-school" rules system like Labyrinth Lord or Mutant Future. (Like ChicagoWiz says, I am allowed to say "no" and set limits on what I'll do.)

In fact, now that I have met the players, I am particularly tempted to expose this group to Mutant Future. I think MF's gonzo style and randomness will keep the library group's interest piqued. Plus it is the same basic mechanic as LL so if they want to swap over to straight fantasy, it will be a gentle transition to my preferred rule system.

We will see -- baby steps. But I am excited to have found a group of younger gamers to potentially introduce to the Old Ways.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sessions 32 and 33: Kill Hobgoblins! - Almost

This recap covers two consecutive sessions, Session 32 (4/11/2011) and Session 33 (4/25/2011).  There was some fluctuation of personnel across these two sessions, as follows:

1.  Uncle Junkal is still on extended hiatus until his player finishes his dissertation in June.

2.  Session 32 included Innominus (Clr 5), Yor (Dwf 5), Vivuli (Assassin 4) and Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 3), although Hazel had to leave the session one hour early -- ironically, just moments before the party joined battle with its foes in Stonehell.

3.  Session 33 involved Innominus (Clr 5), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 3), Yor (Dwf 5), Dak (Dwf 5) and Vivuli (Assassin 4) -- all the current (non-hiatus) players.

Session 32 began in the town of Fortinbras, as the party lurked around there waiting for Yor to recover from Raise Dead.*

Vivuli searched for and found a black marketeer willing to sell him some doses of Black Widow poison. However, the assassin found the poison to be outside his price range, so he pickpocketed the vendor instead.

Hazel ventured to the larger, neighboring city of Farn Junction in order to visit the Wizards' Council Spell Library there. At the library she bought transcriptions of Speak With Animals, Magic Missile, and Phantasmal Force. She also knocked around a few local bars (including a dwarf bar, The Stone Mountain Inn) and gathered some Farn Junction gossip, the main item being that some dwarven workers had recently disappeared from a mine, in an incident being referred to by locals as a "haunting."

Meanwhile, back in Fortinbras, Innominus looked further into the mystery and ongoing investigation of the death by exsanguination of Baron Kaminster. The cleric of Endra sought out Ironblade, the Noffellian Sword-Cleric brought in by the Sheriff of Rogaland as a special investigator on the case. The two caught up with each other at the late Baron's mansion east of town, where Innominus revealed to Ironblade what he'd found out via Tale of Death back in Session 31. Ironblade in turn informed Innominus that he and the Sheriff were planning to make an arrest in the case that very afternoon. Innominus asked to join them, and they all left the Kaminster Estate together.

They rode to a small hovel in southeastern Fortinbras which was already crawling with Sheriff's deputies. They descended through a previously concealed trapdoor into a hidden cellar containing shelves packed with human and animal skeletal remains. There were workbenches with jars of organs lying about, and skins adorned the walls. The hovel's sole inhabitant, Brian, was being held by two deputies as a few other lawmen searched the cellar. Innominus cast Detect Magic and saw, aside from the intensely bright glow of Ironblade's blessed sword, two other items emanating magical energy:

1. A ring worn by the Sheriff of Rogaland, and

2. Some object in the back corner of the cellar.

The Cleric of Endra made haste to the far cellar corner from whence the magic emanated, noting along the way that the stone walls were covered in weird symbols written in blood. One symbol that recurred in many places was a small inverted ankh-like cross:

Innominus reached the corner desk, upon which a small strongbox sat centered. The strongbox contained the object giving off the magical emanation: a key in the same general shape as the inverted-ankh sign depicted above.  Just about the same time Innominus found and pocketed the magical key, one of Sheriff Rogaland's deputies found a hidden cabinet containing 37 vials of blood, each marked with a unique symbol in wax.  Surmising that these blood samples linked Brian to a number of local exsanguination incidents over the past several years, the Sheriff hauled Brian into the Fortinbras Gaol to stand trial for murder, including the murder of Baron Kaminster.

That night, Hazel returned from Farn Junction, and she and Innominus were hanging out in the Drunken Yeti when Dalgoop the Ranger entered the bar, just returned from his southern sojourn.**

Dalgoop reported that he had seen alarming developments along the southern Mizarian frontier: organized-seeming bands of great grey trolls were attacking Mizarian settlements, and there were also rumors of huge colossus-like giants roaming those areas, attacking the more heavily fortified Mizarian forts. Dalgoop planned only to rest for the night in Fortinbras -- he planned to hasten onward to Kaladar at first light to get this disturbing news to his employers, The Society of the Cheetah Mask.

The next morning, after renegotiating Gark's retainer contract, and hiring Fuzz (Ftr 3) and Kilgore (Ftr 2) as additional NPC retainers, the PCs headed off for Stonehell one more time, hopefully to finally eradicate the Black Oil Hobgoblins once and for all.

However, only a few hours into their journey [and oddly, mere seconds after Hazel's player had to leave the session for the evening], the party was assaulted from above by a horrific, acrid, sewage stench, and next thing they knew, a Black Dragon was swooping around for a frontal aerial attack.

Both sides rolled initiative -- and both sides rolled a "1." So the action of the first round would be simultaneous.

Yor's player rolled a crossbow shot for NPC Gark, and when it hit, he declared that he would use his nightly d30 roll for the damage. I okayed this and he rolled 29 damage. That was the only shot that hit the dragon during the first round. The dragon, of course, used its breath attack, shooting a stream of deadly acid at Yor and Innominus. But both PCs saved, however, and only took minimal damage from the acid.

The party won initiative the second round, and Innominus told Yor to throw him (using his girdle of giant strength) straight at the onrushing dragon. Yor did just that, and once Innominus touched the dragon, he cast Cause Light Wounds and rolled his nightly d30 roll for the damage: 20. The dragon shriveled to a pulp.

Beastarr urinated on the dragon's corpse and the party moved up into the box canyon and entered Stonehell. . .

In short time and without incident the party reached the hobgoblin-held territory in the southeast quarter of level two of the dungeon. They found a few hobgoblins still working in the kitchen, and a patrol of six guarding a sentry post; the PCs made quick work of slaying a total of ten hobgoblins.

That is where the session left off. . . .

Session 33 began with the PCs exploring mostly vacant (or vacated?) areas of the presumed hobgoblin base. Highlights include:

At their furthest point southeast, the party discovered a rubble pile and a recently excavated passage leading 30' south to a natural tunnel leading off to the southwest. They deferred heading too far down that natural passage and instead proceeded up a northbound passageway that they thought (due to Gark's partial knowledge of the area) contained the Hobgoblin General's office.

One room along the north-south passage contained what appeared to be an Elven sleeping berth: a bunch of branches and green foliage woven together to create a comfortable sleeping nest for one fey. While her companions searched the room in general to no avail, Hazel unwove and stole some plant material from that sleeping berth.

The party did find the Hobgoblin General's Office, which was abandoned except for a large wooden desk. Written on the desk in feces in hobgoblin was the message: "Fuck You, surface dwellers"

Opening the one other remaining door in the main north-south hallway revealed a stone humanoid being which instantly attacked. Luckily, Dak beat the thing at initiative and slammed the door in its face, buying himself and his comrades the seconds they needed to ready weapons. The 8' tall stone thing burst out of the room and came at them in the corridor. Over the course of a harrowing melee, the golem splintered a shield or two and severely injured Hazel and one of the NPCs, but was ultimately brought down by the combined efforts of the party, including a daring scheme proposed by Hazel whereby Gorgo lassoed the thing's neck with rope and pulled it down to the floor with the help of Gorgo and Fuzz.

The group explored some areas to the west, finding only a deserted hobgoblin barracks now occupied by two morlocks having sex, and a strange cluster of small rooms with arcane inscriptions on the floor. Hazel copied down the inscriptions, deducing that they likely have something to do with teleportation.

The last room the party explored was a large squarish chamber with a rotating water spout and two huge 20' x 20' spiked pits, full of dead bodies in varying states of decay. The party, especially Vivuli, scoped out these corpses; Viv used a rope and grappling hook to lift a couple dead bodies out of the pits to search them for valuables [and found some loose gp and a treasure map depicting an island treasure spot]. Midway into the assassin's looting spree, Gark the dwarf cried out that he recognized one of the bodies in the western pit -- the party had at last found Sir Boren of Achelon.

After securing Boren's body, the party returned to the southeastern-most corner of the dungeon level, climbed over the excavated rubble pile, and headed down the natural tunnel a quarter of a mile to the southwest, at which point it opened out onto a cave mouth high up on the slope of Greystone Mountain.

There the session ended.

*In a recent post on Grognardia, it was noted that, according to strict OD&D rules, only humans are able to be raised from the dead -- demi-humans are exempt. However, here in Ara, Yor the dwarf is able to be raised. Why? Two reasons: (1) In Labyrinth Lord, Raise Dead works on a "dwarf, elf, human, or halfling" (LL p. 24) -- to which I would add other allowable demi-human races like rodians and half-orcs. And (2) Because unlike Dwimmermount, the Lands of Ara features dwarves and rodians (and even elves) which are derived from human stock. So in Ara, any PC race may be raised from the dead by a cleric.

**To recap: Dalgoop headed south into Mizarian territory on a mission for The Society of the Cheetah Mask. He seems to have vanished from our documented narrative in Session 9, but he may in actuality traveled with the PCs as far as Fortinbras, one session later.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DMG Sample Level Stocking Project Part 7

Here we go with Part 7 of my serialized attempt to stock the sample dungeon level from the Dungeon Masters Guide p. 95. The story thus far is contained in James C.'s original announcement of the project, his updated list of participants, and my stocking installments Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Project guidelines:

(1) I am stocking this map as a Level 3 dungeon.

(2) I am using the Labyrinth Lord basic dungeon stocking tables on LL p. 124 to stock the map, with a few customized twists, i.e., I am deliberately placing a few monsters and treasures as I see fit.  I am also using Michael Curtis' Dungeon Alphabet and some of the random tables in the back of the Advanced Edition Companion to randomly generate "unique" encounters and miscellaneous and/or atmospheric room features.

Now to stock rooms 28 through 30:

Room 28:  Rolled and got empty, no treasure.  Since I already know a little bit about the nearest adjoining room to the south (Location 27) from my prior stocking installment, I decide to theme this room similarly; see description below.

Room 29: Got monster with treasure. I rolled on the Labyrinth Lord Level 3 Wandering Monster Table (LL p. 104) and got "Fly, Giant Carnivorous." I rolled for number appearing and got 2, which seems a bit low (for this monster) for a third-level dungeon. I will either boost that number slightly or concoct some other advantage for these particular flies. The Giant Carnivorous Fly's Hoard Class is VI so I rolled that out (on LL Treasure Table p. 106) and came up with (merely) 34 copper pieces.

Room 30: Rolled a "unique." I had no particular ideas in mind for this location, so I entrusted myself once again to a roll of the dice: I rolled on the "Special Encounters" tables in the Advanced Edition Companion (pp. 148-149), and got "passage" and "flesh to stone." Whoa!

Thus my finished key to Rooms 28-30:

28. Shell Collector's Storage Chamber 
This is a ransacked storage room, full of broken crates and barrels and LOTS of broken sea shells, fish skeletons, shattered glass jars and vials, and some scattered rotten rope. A cold breeze smelling of salt water circulates in this room. Anyone who spends a total of two successful turns searching for the source of the cold breeze will discover that it emanates from a crack in the northeastern wall -- actually one edge of the secret door there. [The secret door can also be found by other, more typical means.] A successful turn spent searching the scattered rubble will yield 12' of usable rope, a rusty but usable iron coffee pot, and 6 silver pieces.

29. Fly Lair
This 20' x 20' room is home to a pair of very hungry and tough (max. hp) Giant Carnivorous Flies that instantly attack anyone coming down the passage from the west. The flies' extreme hunger gives them a +1 to all attack rolls against anyone edible. They will chase prey anywhere EXCEPT through the stretch of magically trapped passageway leading to the staircase at area 30. Buried amidst the offal that lines the floor of the flies' reeking chamber are 34 copper pieces.

30. Trapped Hallway and Staircase Down
The 20' stretch of north-south hallway connecting the secret door in room 28 to the staircase at area 30 is in fact a magical trap that effects all creatures EXCEPT dwarves. All non-dwarves passing through this section of hallway must save vs. petrify or be turned to stone, as per the flesh to stone spell.

The stairwell north of the trapped hallway is quite damp and smells strongly of sea air and brine. The stairs are wet and slippery; anyone descending (or climbing) them has a 1 in 6 chance of slipping and falling, taking 1d4+1 "fall down the stairs" damage.

Who knows what terrors await, lurking beyond the bottom of the stairs?

Next time: Rooms 31-34!

Monday, May 2, 2011

April A-Z Challenge in Review

The April A-Z Blogging Challenge is finally over, and I want to get a few thoughts down before I forget them:

1. It was fun. I did not mind being held to a stricter-than-usual "plan" for a month, and the continual post deadlines were a good influence on my writing discipline. No, not every post was spontaneously "inspired." I confess that near the end of the month I got a bit tired, and some of my posts in the final week and a half were a bit brief. But I brought the goods to the table every time, and furthermore, some of the shorter, less elaborate posts that were perhaps more mechanical than spontaneous were nevertheless the most content-rich, like the Eyepecker, the Undead Stirge, and the Undead Yeti. In sum, I liked participating in the challenge and felt that I was able to retain a high level of post quality across a wide array of gaming-related topics.

2. In terms of my method, I had already written a few of the posts (my Sea of O'SR Islet key, the two LotFP module reviews) when I accepted the Challenge, and I wrote almost all of the others in advance of their post dates. Only two -- "Sloth of Death," which was awaiting its artwork, and the last one, "Zappo the Wondrous" -- were completed the same day they posted.

3. I should note that illustrator Kelvin Green, who drew the Dimetrodons and the Tree Wilden, was a dream to work with -- a real pro. When I mentioned (in #2 above) that one of the posts was "awaiting artwork," I did not add that I asked Kelvin for that particular piece at the extreme last minute, and he delivered a stellar piece of work in record time! Look for more works by the esteemed Mr. Green in future Lands of Ara posts and releases.

4. My personal favorite Lands of Ara A-Z posts are the Wraithstone Island key, the d30 Encounter Tables, the Dimetrodons, the Eyepecker and Sloth, and the musings on the "x-factor." And while the first three of those posts would have been completed regardless of the existence of the Challenge, the last three might never have been written had it not been for the peculiar demands of the A-Z thing.  So kudos to the A-Z Challenge for motivating me to get those terrific CBoA monsters out there!

5. The Lands of Ara's most visited A-Z posts according to Blogger stats include G for The Grinding Gear, S for Sloth of Death, I for Islet, H for Hammers of the God, and F for Fight On!

6. I feel compelled to mention some of the anti-A-Z Challenge sentiment I have seen in the OSR Blogosphere (see examples here and here). I am interested in hearing from people who were actively annoyed by the Challenge -- what bothered you about it?  Why was it so unappealing / off-putting for you?

7. Fortunately, some folks have already responded to my #6 query: see the insights in these comments.

8. My participation in April A-Z came from wanting the literal challenge to write 26 posts in one month on pre-chosen themes -- that's it. I didn't really browse other participants' blogs except when those participants were OSR bloggers I normally read anyway. But I DID read other OSR people's A to Z posts, albeit selectively in most cases. [Along this line, I particularly recommend The Jovial Priest's A-Z series on the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide -- pretty damn great!] I didn't really change what I usually do except to predetermine what the month's posts would be -- note, however, that I did sneak a few other ones in there, like a couple of installments of the DMG Level Stocking Project and my OSRCon DM'ing Announcement.

9. In the end, I'm really glad I participated. It was my first really "sustained" writing project in the blogosphere. I am not completely sure if I would do it again -- I'd have to strike upon some really cool theme to make it spark for me -- but I had a good time challenging myself this year.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Holy Chant and Prayer with Your Hostess Ofra Haza (Cl-15)

Thine Spawn of Endra didst say:

Pardon the absence, but Carter was working away at the A-Z Challenge, and I'm trying to write a dissertation. Which is more painful? Who knows. (Actually Carter has done both, so he could tell you.)

In this process of being torn apart intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically -- popularly known as "writing a dissertation" -- I've been finding myself susceptible to being moved by certain pieces of music. Though I'm not a theist, sometimes I feel these are spiritual experiences ... as if the beauty of the music itself is evidence of the possibility that compassion and mercy do exist in the universe, whether its source is a sentient being or not. So it went a few weeks ago, when I was listening to the Secret Agent station of SOMA.FM while trying to write, and a tune came on called Im Nin'alu, a remix by DJ Cheb I Sabbah of what I soon learned was a classic Yemenite Jewish song popularized by Ofra Haza in the 80s. (She was known as the "Madonna of the East", according to Wikipedia).
Ofra Haza - Level 15 Cleric
Having heard a club remix of this song and not knowing Hebrew, I had no idea that it was a religious poem written by Rabbi Shalem Shabbazi in the 17th C. in Yemen and set to music. Here's a YouTube version of it from 1978 (pre-nose job) on an Israeli TV show:
The striking melody line at 0:29 comprises two words stretched out over 3 or 4 bars: El Chai, translated as "The Living God" or "God is Alive". This early version has a sort of kibbutz campfire-song feel to it, but for some reason I find that line inordinately beautiful. The rest of the lyrics talk about the mercy of God (translation found here):

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise

By His nearness, His life-giving breath
flows through them.
And they glory in His name
From the moment of genesis,
His creations grow,
Captivating and more beautiful.

The wheel in his circle thunders
Acclaiming His Holy name
Clothed in the glory of His radiance,
The six-winged cherubs surround Him,
Whirling in His honor
And with their free wings sweetly sing,
Together, in unison

This is the kind of thing I might expect a cleric to be invoking when s/he is casting spells like Holy Chant or Prayer. If Ofra Haza the Cleric was in there invoking the name (one of the names, actually) of her deity like that while the party engages the hobgoblin army, they are going to be inspired even if they don't know what's being said or who's being prayed to.

Well maybe she's a Bard, some of you are saying. No. She's a cleric. She went through compulsory military training in the Israeli Defense Force in 1979. So she'd be in there kicking ass, gouging eyes out with krav maga and all that stuff. And since she sings rather than playing a lute, she's got both hands free for a mace and holy symbol! Look out fools!

Plus, she's not a generic default Christian crusader-type cleric that many people envision (see comments to Matt Finch's post). Here we have a more dance-oriented arrangement from Yemenite Songs (1984) where she's got an awesome dungeoneering head-dress just perfect for scaring the shit out of undead and dishing out holy wrath. The iteration that has been sampled and remixed most heavily up until today is this one from 1988, which definitely has that late 80s VH1 'world music' studio production value to it:

But it shows three important things: 1) Ofra Haza can ride a horse, which is a good adventuring skill; 2) she's got a boss cleric's outfit with gold scale mail and nary a cross in sight; and 3) Holy Chant or Prayer are more powerful when you add reverb. I'd like to see a MU/Illusionist spell like Audible Glamer but that mimicked effects like reverb, echo, distortion, phaser, etc.

It's interesting that by this time the song was stripped down lyrically to the point where it's mostly a repetition of El Chai. Outside of all the production trappings, the thing that appeals to people (including DJs) about this song for the last 20 years is a woman holy-chanting "The Living God" over and over again. How many millions of people have danced while drunk or high to her invoking a name of the Hebrew God in clubs all over the world, while getting +1 on attacks, damage and saving throws, and their enemies also got -1 penalties? How would the Discotheque Wars have gone without her? We will never know.

So, here we end an Old School tribute to the late Ofra Haza (d. 2000). How Old School is she, REALLY?, I hear a few of you rotten bastards say. She covered Kashmir, okay? That's how Old School she is. You've covered LedZep in your campaign (your 'storied' Battle of Meverore, or whatever crappy anagram you came up with) so don't try to get coy. Show some respect.

Sincere thanks to the incomparable Ofra Haza for leaving something beautiful in this horrid world for me.