Monday, June 18, 2018

Oh, Boy

Hope everyone had a good (or passable) Father's Day yesterday. Condolences if not. My own was quite nice, and any complaints I might have were overshadowed by the rest of the weekend.

Hell, I even forgot about Free RPG Day on Saturday, being busy with World Cup action, Mariners games, movies, old friends visiting, etc. However, I was kindly reminded about it by the neighborhood bicycle dealer, and managed to make my way down to the Mox in Ballard to grab a handful of swag prior to it all being gone. Some good stuff this year, especially the DCC and T&T quick starts.

Anyway...it is officially summer now, as my kids are out of school, and because I'm the only child care they have, I'm expecting to be pretty busy over the next couple weeks. Lot of soccer going on...not just World Cup, but premier league stuff for my boy and "Lil Kickers" practice for my daughter. Then there's the jamborees and the family travel plans (including a possible trip back to Paraguay). All in all, it's shaping up to be an extremely full schedule.

I will try to keep up with blog, but...well, we'll have to see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Advantage-Disadvantage

Hey, people...I have a very, very serious question for y'all.

I'd like some feedback on 5E's advantage-disadvantage game mechanic. Do people like it? Do people hate it? It's easily adaptable to earlier editions of D&D (and the usual bunch of retro-clones). How many folks are using it and loving it? And how many people have tried it and kicked it to the curb?

Here's why I ask: I'm putting the finishing touches on a little B/X supplement of mine, and originally I had included a section that added a straight adaptation of advantage-disadvantage to the rules (though I feel my write-up of the mechanic is a bit more succinct...*ahem*). I did this for a couple reasons:

  1. I think it's a neat little system/shortcut.
  2. It allowed me to add a bunch of bits and pieces that rely on the mechanic. Examples include: new maneuvers/options in combat, cleaned up B/X mechanics, and certain treasure items and magical/spell effects.

HOWEVER, as said this is going to be a supplement designed for use with B/X...and I have heard from a person or two that they are not fans of advantage/disadvantage. Right now, I'm looking for some feedback, in order to make a product that's more palatable to my readers (i.e. the folks most likely to buy the thing). SO...assuming the supplement ends up sounding like a product you're interested in:

Do you want to see advantage-disadvantage?

Or would you prefer 5E mechanics were left on the cutting room floor?

I realize that, for many folks, it's not a big deal...that people can modify these books as they see fit and that some are more than happy to edit things out that doesn't work for them. I get that. I'm trying to find out what y'all would LIKE to see in the book, AND what you feel about the mechanic in general. Because the fact is, I haven't had much experience with 5E or advantage/disadvantage and maybe I'm throwing a Big Fat Flaw into an otherwise sharp little product.

So PLEASE: any feedback folks can provide is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Cleaned Out

Well, it appears I just sold my last print copy of my B/X Companion over the weekend (I might have another one squirreled away somewhere, but it's a long shot). Rest assured, I'm in the process of ordering a new print run...a bigger one that should (hopefully) last a couple years.

I'm a little surprised that the book continues to sell as well as it does, both in print and electronic form; I'd have figured I'd already reached the point of saturation in our niche-niche market a while back. Apparently not.

What's even more surprising is sales of Five Ancient Kingdoms has picked up recently...I've sold as many copies of it in the last six months as in the twelve months prior. Weird. No idea who's playing it (perhaps folks are just mining it for ideas?)...one of these days I'll have the "Running Beagle Games" web site up-and-working and maybe I'll get some forum discussion going on the game.

Anyway, still recovering a bit from a weekend-long soccer jamboree and finishing up the last week of school. I hope to keep the blog posting going through the summer...we'll see how that goes.
; )

Saturday, June 9, 2018

JB Holding Forth

Last month I mentioned Alexis (over at Tao of D&D) is doing a series of podcasts called "Authentic Roleplaying" in which he interviews various Dungeon Masters about their experiences and perspectives on the job. Welp,  my interview is up now for anyone interested in hearing what JB sounds like when given the chance to blather on in the (internet) flesh.

Hint: I tend to be as long-winded in person as I am when it comes to writing Ye Old Blog.

Still, figured I'd mention it. The series as a whole is quite good, and I'm sorry it's only going to be eight episodes (originally, Alexis intended it to be a dozen or so). If you haven't checked it out, there's a lot of insight to take a way from ALL the folks that got interviewed...ideas you can add to your game and/or apply to your campaigns. I recommend it.

Anyway, here's me (podcast #7).

Oh...and here's Fuzzy Skinner (#6) writer of the blog Fuzzy's Dicecapades (just in case you missed that one); Fuzzy's episode hadn't yet been released when I wrote my original blog post.

Have a great weekend, people!
: )


Friday, June 8, 2018

Pendragon Armor in B/X

So I was watching Vikings again last night (and, again, staying up waaaay too late), because of its fascinating portrayal of European cultures in the 8th century. As a product of the History Channel, I expect it to be at least somewhat historically accurate, even if the drama is created for...um...dramatic purposes. But things like the clothes, armor, artwork, village life, religion, politics, law...these are the things I'm interested in and the reason the show draws me.

Well, that and Norsemen hitting people with axes. I love that.

Anyway, the episodes I streamed last night (from the second season) raised some interesting thoughts about the medieval economy...not just monetary economy, but the economy of raiding (ships and men and armies). But in thinking about it, it brought me back to some recent thoughts I'd had...specifically an interest in having a B/X campaign set in the EARLY "middle ages," circa 6th century or 7th century.

[there's a bit more fantasy in this time period (think the film Dragonslayer or the Northern and Southern dynasties of China...the period of the historic Mulan hero), while still having recognizable fighters of the traditional D&D stamp. Hell, even some cities large enough to support thieves of the adventuring type, and characters that would pass for D&D clerics are performing miraculous deeds as well. Even if the setting isn't historic Earth, it's not a bad time period to emulate]

And as those little wheels started turning in my head, including the sticky wicket of economy that I've discussed before (and before that...jeez, another recurring topic), it hit me that I have at least some (again, presumably somewhat researched) economic information from that time period (at least with regard costs): Chaosium's Pendragon, and it's tasty supplement Knights Adventurous.

So it was that between 1ish and 3am last night (well, 2:45, really) I found myself with a bee-in-the-proverbial-bonnet, doing my usual song-and-dance crazy trying to reconcile internet-researched records of historic price lists with game product written by History majors in their spare time.

No need to remind me of the futility in such an exercise; I know the drill. Here's the part that MIGHT interest you: once I eventually circled around to giving up, I spent a good chunk of time converting the 6th century armor types of Pendragon to the B/X system. For your enjoyment (and for future posterity; i.e. so I don't have to do it again), I'll go ahead and post it here. Synchs up pretty well, actually.

[prices will be given as per Pendragon, where one pound (L) = 20 shillings (s) = 240 pennies (d). A campaign set in 6th century Camelot would probably want to change the "gold standard" of B/X to the silver shilling, and so prices will be listed using a shilling base]

Suit of Armor (without padding or helmet)
Leather: 1s, 3d
Cuir bouilli (boiled leather): 5s
"Norman" mail: 15s
Reinforced mail: 80s
Plate and mail: 200s

Helmets
Open helm: 3s, 4d
Great helm: 8s, 4d
Visored helm: 12s, 6d

Padding ("dublet")
Normal: 7d
Fancy: 2s, 1d
Silk, 3 colors: 20s

Armor value (AV) is subtracted from base AC 9 to arrive at the character's armor class.

AV 1: leather, padding, open helm
AV 2: cuir bouilli, closed helm (great or visored)
AV 3: mail with padding
AV 4: plate-and-mail with padding
AV 6: full plate with padding

Typical "Norman" Mail
Norman mail without padding has an AV of 1; both reinforced mail and plate-and-mail have an AV of 2 without padding. Padding is not worn with leather or cuir bouilli. All armors are generally worn with an open helm except reinforced mail and plate-and-mail which are usually worn with a closed (great or visored) helm. Full plate is always worn with a closed helm and padding.

ACStandard Armor Worn
9None
8Leather, dublet, or open helm (only)
7Leather + helm, cuir bouilli
6Cuir boilli + helm, mail
5Mail + helm (Norman style), plate-and-mail
4Mail + closed helm
3Plate-and-mail + closed helm
2
1Full plate armor


Plate-and-Mail; AC 3
These would be typical AC values (based on usual type of padding/helmet worn). A shield would, of course, subtract 1 from the listed AC, providing a range of 9 to 0. Please note that no cost is given for "full plate armor" (the typical Milanese variety and similar) because it's not widely available prior to the 15th century; however, in a fantasy world it might be something created by some genius wizard or mad dwarf inventor. As with the author of Pendragon, I provide it here for the sake of "completeness."
: )

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Well, What Do Ya' Know?

Yesterday, I got this comment from porphyre77 on my latest clerical post:
Before 3rd edition came with spell domains, AD&D2 had spheres; pretty good to tighten the overprolific clerical list of AD&D (especially post-UA).
Reminding me of something I'd managed to forget (yes, when I was "spending a lot of time going through editions" I completely neglected a review of 2E. My bad).

Thing is, I haven't had all that much experience with 2E, and (so far as I can recall) just about ZERO experience using clerics in 2E. I did run a 2E game for some friends once or twice, but none of them were of the cleric class (paladin, thief, and some sort of elven multi class, if I recall), and the time or two I played I was working the fighter or weak-sauce bard. The clerical "spheres" were something I just kind of glazed over. Much like wizard specializations, I always figured (when I was interested in 2E) that it was something that I'd need when and if it ever came up.

Reading through my 2E PHB (yes, I currently own a copy...I've only bought the thing 3 or 4 times, and this time I am really, really going to keep it for research/archival purposes) *ahem* ...reading through my PHB, I find I really like what I'm seeing. The system is simple, easy to customize, and does quite a nice job of "tightening" the cleric into specific "themes" as one might require for their setting (as well as cutting down the "over prolific" list of 1E, as Porph points out). Very, very nice.

Of course, I also see why I never used it. There's really no guidelines or examples of the sphere system provided (neither in the PHB nor the DMG)...at least as far as I can find. Folks can correct me if I'm mistaken. Neither does there appear to be any 2E version of Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore that might have multi-faith pantheons already worked out and ready for play (I'm guessing any DDG concepts were dropped as "too offensive" around the same time as half-orcs, assassins, and demons were cut). Maybe there are spheres in specific 2E setting products (was Greyhawk released for 2nd edition?), or perhaps there are examples in The Complete Cleric handbook (which I don't own). But there's nothing just "out-o-the-box" ready for play in the core books. For old 1st ed dudes like my friends and I, I can see why we simply chose to ignore the spheres and "default" to our usual, all inclusive style. I imagine plenty o others did the same.

As such, it's a little less useful to me (at least, as is). I have some quibbles with the sphere selections (do you really need an "astral" sphere containing two spells? What god is going to give "major access" to such an area? Why not just include them in the "general" category?) and would probably want to devise my own, especially if I was using it for B/X. Then, of course, since there're no example war gods, sky gods, sea gods, etc. I'd have to devise my own for my campaign setting in order to see which spheres were granted. And then by then, I might as well be coming up with my own spell lists for each patron deity of my campaign...which is...um...what I suggested doing in my last post.

*sigh*

So, okay, kind of neat, but less than helpful. I suppose the sphere thing gives me some ideas for categories. And I like the list of possible weapon permissions based on deity (THERE they have some examples...yay). Not sure about the "granted powers" (didn't much like them in BECMI's Wrath of the Immortals set, either), but maybe they are something to take a second look at (perhaps as a replacement for "turning ability?").

Hmm...why is "cleric" listed AFTER "warrior" and "wizard?" Even 1E had its list in alphabetical order by class (if not subclass). Jeez, 2nd edition...I try to like you, and you keep stomping on yourself.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Holy Rolling (B/X Cleric Spells)

Ugh. Clerics? Again? This is literally my 40th post that will have the tagline "cleric" in it...and I'll probably have 50+ before I'm done with this blog.

Sorry, I don't why the subject keeps coming up, I've just been thinking about them since last night (probably has something to do with going to evening Mass yesterday...hey, at least I'm not regaling y'all with "the many layers of the Eucharist," even though I think that's pretty interesting...).

[of course, I'm sure that some of my readers would prefer that to reading about how Post Malone makes ol' JB feel like a middle age grump...*ahem*]

And WHAT I've been thinking about is this: I've written about the cleric class a lot over the years, most of it, pretty positive. Especially for B/X, I dig the class and how it scales over time (save for the XP needed to advance...that's too low and should have been increased to 150K after "name" level in much the same was as thieves had theirs increased to 120K). Heck, I can even get by with the slight idiosyncratic spell acquisition (carried over from what I'm pretty sure was a typographic error in the OD&D volume Men & Magic). About the only change I've ever made to the class, in actual play, is to allow the character to choose their spells at the moment of casting, rather than forcing them to "memorize spells" during their morning meditations...after all, what is a clerical spell but a prayer, a fervent supplication for divine aid?

But that's all old ground, culled from various old posts (39 of them...and a lot of the writing is, frankly, quite awful). No, what I haven't written about, and what I want to discuss is the actual B/X spell list available to clerics.

I kind of hate it.

Really. There's a lot of dross in there...certainly a lack of unified theme. Yes, the various "Get-Out-O-Jail-Free" cards, but then stuff like snake charm, growth of animal, and...well, we'll go through it all in a moment. Point is, I don't dig the way it's set up. It's no wonder that, played RAW, B/X clerics tend to sport cure light wounds x3 and hold person x2.

Mind you, it's not just B/X. I spent a lot o time last night (too much, really...past midnight with the rest of my family snoozing) going through various editions and checking out the clerical spell lists. 3E, bless its heart, actually does a bit of a nice job with domains, though it's still too clunky and prone to "gaming the system" for my taste. AD&D has a giant selection (natch), greatly in need of editing, but par for the course with its "kitchen sink" approach to advanced gaming. OD&D is decent, being somewhat unified as a Christian-Jewish (Old and New Testament) thing...but far, far too limited with only 26 spells total. Considering I like the scaling of B/X spell acquisition (up to 25 spells per day at level 14), that's just too few.

[oh, and FYI: we're not even going to talk about MY additional cleric spells in the B/X Companion. We've got enough to worry about with just fourteen levels]

In all honesty, my favorite edition for clerical spells isn't even D&D at all, but rather my own Five Ancient Kingdoms. Reading over it, I was struck by my own elegance (yes, yes...feel free to take me to task for my ginormous ego) and design work in crafting a tightly unified, slickly executed system of divine supplication. It is unfortunate that 5AK is not a system I'm terribly interested in running...I want something a bit more gonzo S&S (like Elric, Lankhmar, etc.) and less "fantasy monotheism with shamans on the side." Plus, I'm terribly UN-satisfied with a lot of the magic rules in 5AK; it's functional for it's specific setting and system, but not terribly portable.

Here's what I like (in B/X): clerics receiving a spell a single spell upon reaching 2nd level and a scale that goes to 25 at level fourteen. I even like the 6-5-5-5-4 breakdown, and I like that clerical spells don't top a magnitude of 5th level. I like that raise dead is a spell. that it's 5th level, and still fairly accessible (also that it has some side effects...I actually feel it should have more, like reducing constitution and/or a random ability or prime requisite).

[Ha! That would be a kicker! The magic-user that comes back from the dead a little forgetful (a la Gandalf in LotR), or the fighter who's a little weaker...and thus advance at a lesser rate with lower XP bonuses from their PR. Something to think about...]

Here's what I don't like (in B/X): classic Judeo-Christian miracles outside a monotheistic world setting. Some of the spells that have been added since OD&D (snake charm and growth of animals specifically). Spells that duplicate magic-user spells (detect magic, light/darkness, protection from evil, hold person, continual light/darkness, locate object, remove curse/curse, protection from evil 10' radius). Reversible spells. "Snake" spells absent some sort of snake cult campaign setting. Overall lack of variety/options...even without my house rules, B/X magic-users have 3-4 times as many spell options as they have available spell slots! I'd like to see clerics have at least 10 or so (different) spells per spell level.

When I've played a cleric using the B/X system, when I've had players who were clerics, these complaints never came up. That's because the clerics who were high enough level to cast spells simply stuffed their quiver with cure light wounds and hold persons, knowing they could always pray for a remove curse or continual light (great for lighting lanterns), during their "down time" between expeditions. There should be more utility here...more reasons to take (or use or pray for) different spells while out on safari. The high (5th level) spells are all good and useful but most of the mid-range are close to worthless. Striking? Clerics of 6th level (and higher) are usually carrying some sort of magic weapon, making this a non-starter. Know alignment? I suppose it might be more useful in an OD&D world where ALL magic swords had alignment (quick! what alignment is the bugbear? how about the troll?) and fighters were in danger of being wounded every time they tried to wield one. Protection from evil 10' radius? Come on...that just gets in the way of a cure serious wounds!

Ideally, a fantasy setting that featured a polytheistic cosmology (of the type found in ancient societies and sword & sorcery books) would have separate spell lists for each pantheon...either because each cult possesses its own lore and mystery teachings OR because each deity has its own suite of miracles to bestow on its followers. That's not a terrible amount of work for a DM (i.e. "me") to do, assuming I'm "world building" a campaign anyway. But I think it's a necessary step to take to have the right type of...I don't know, call it "depth"...in one's setting.

Plus I'm just tired of seeing silence 15' radius on spell lists. That spell was only invented so that "evil high priests" could fuck with PC magic-users.

Anyhoo, that's what's been on my mind. Perhaps I'll write up some specific examples concepts in a future post. Later, gators.