Friday, July 31, 2009

Always Give 'Em An Out

Mmm…it’s so easy to talk about what not to do…whether in a D&D game or in real life. “Hindsight is 20x20,” they say. I also like the idea, “Wisdom is not ‘learning from experience.’ That’s experience. WISDOM is learning from others’ experience.”

Call it all a justification for analysis or “mulling over” or “re-living” these old game experiences. Hopefully I can impart some wisdom to other gamers, so that they won’t make the same mistakes I have.

As I’ve written, more than once, I was a self-taught DM. This sometimes led to crazy interpretations of rules. It also led to some less than great DM’ing at times.

I was never much of a ‘railroader’ seeing as how part of the fun of gaming to me was seeing where the players were going to take a game. Plus I didn’t get too involved in “plot arcs” anyway until the 1990s (with the advent of White Wolf games). If a top villain was killed (or not killed) made no nevermind to me…I didn’t create adventures upon which hinged “the fate of the world” or anything…not even in Marvel Superhero games!

However, at times I WAS “too clever for my own good.” This is a problem. As I’ve learned (only recently, and from hard-core analysis of RPG theory), PLAYERS CAN’T READ THE DM’S MIND. Nor should they be expected to do so. Game play expectations should be up front, and CHALLENGES to the players (one of the wonderful perks inherent in OS D&D play) should have more than one solution. In fact, for situations and challenges outside the normal rules and/or scope of the game, a DM should allow ANY REASONABLE SOLUTION PLAYERS SUGGEST TO HAVE A REASONABLE CHANCE OF SUCCESS.

This is important! Ugh! I can’t stress HOW important. Especially with regard to most all tricks and traps (which get invented from whole cloth by DMs or adventure module designers) this needs to be the case. If not, you are forcing the players (not their characters) to read your mind…which just going to lead to a lot of frustration. I’ve had plenty of very intuitive players, ones that had known me and known my tendencies and gaming style for years, and STILL they couldn’t read my mind. If I only present one “out” to them, how crazy am I?

Pretty crazy. Let me give you an example (of course):

One of my earliest D&D memories involved my DMing several friends at the home of my good friend, Jocelyn. Players included, J, Jason, maybe my brother (I don’t remember him being there, though), and a new guy named Brian; the latter was a school chum of Jocelyn. This was in the days of our “Original” Campaign (when we played B/X with a Monster Manual) and the characters involved were high level and much beloved: Bladehawk the fighter and Sneakshadow the thief. Brian had a different, regular gaming group, and he had brought along HIS best character from that campaign: a high level AD&D cleric. At the time I still didn’t know what “AD&D” was, and since he had failed to bring along a copy of the player’s handbook, there were some disputes on the subject.

[at one point, B wanted to use his blade barrier spell. When I told him I’d never heard of it, he searched in vain through my Moldvay and Cook rules looking for it…I’m not sure he knew there was a difference either. In the end, I believe we houseruled something…as I believe we also did with his hammer of thunderbolts!]

Not that it mattered. They never accomplished anything in several hours of play.

The night before, I had caught at least part of, perhaps all of, the Rankin/Bass animated film The Return of the King. This was many years before I ever got around to actually READING Tolkien (I had seen the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, but that was the full extent of my Middle Earth knowledge). For those who haven’t seen the film, well…it’s good, but it picks up mid-story, so if you’re a 9 or 10 year old kid watching it for the first time with no context you might drop most of the content.

However, the imagery was most evocative and being the Great Imitator in those days, I directly stole parts of the plot/film to create my adventure for the next day’s game. Specifically, the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

Some of you see where this is going already, I’m sure…

So our RPG heroes start the game in media res at what might otherwise be known as Minas Tirith, but since that name hadn’t stuck with me, I’m sure I made something up. They’ve been hired (as great heroes) to help repel the invading forces of some ancient evil. What I thought that evil was is lost to me now, though I’m certain it was pretty demonic or diabolic at the time. The bad guys were of course led by the Witch-King of Angmar (again, at the time I never remembered who or what this guy was so he was certainly re-named something else), an invisible figure with flaming eyes and a crown suspended over a suit of spiky armor. Oh and a big sword of course.

And he’s big, and he’s boastful, and of course he has Grond (whose name I probably DID remember) smiting the gates of the fortress, and I myself was very descriptive and evocative as a DM (years later I ran into Brian who ended up going to the same high school as me, though he was two or three grades ahead…he remembered me as “The DM” from this one game session).

Oh, anyway, so the Dark Knight (or whatever he was) is of course shouting about how invulnerable he is, how NO MAN can slay him, how it has been foretold that NO WEAPON OF MAN can even harm him…

…and of course I’m hoping for a kind of Eowyn show-down with the Baddie, right?

Because: The most prominent player in our campaign was my (female) friend Jocelyn with her (female) fighter Bladehawk…a consummate badass of at least 14th level or so (she’d eventually end up around level 24, if I remember correctly) with her magic plate mail and her enchanted talking sword (more on that guy later). I was trying to goad her into a fight, you know?

And of course she wasn’t having any of it.

One of the reasons WHY she was 14th level and why she was so prominent was she always played smart and cagey. Jocelyn knew I was already a bit of a “killer DM” and had watched other PCs get trampled by cyclopses and such. So she wasn’t about to plunge headlong into a fight.

Not that she wasn’t brave, either…she was willing to fight, but was afraid the dude was invulnerable. At some point they used a flying potion or spell so that she could buzz the guy from above and try hitting him with holy water and such…to no effect. She and Brian reviewed the cleric’s spell list to see if there was anything that might defeat the guy…dispel evil, blade barrier, even bless at one point.

But I, the DM, was resolved that the guy could only be defeated in melee combat, and only by a woman. I was too attached to my set-piece combat.

And yet, I wasn’t a railroad-type DM…meaning, it wouldn’t be fair to give away the solution to the puzzle. The players would either figure it out, or they wouldn’t. My way or the highway, so to speak.

Turns out it was the highway…as in, time expired and we all got driven home by Jocelyn’s mom. RIGHT BEFORE we had to pack up our things, J had figured she might as well TRY attacking the thing and was strapping on her sword. But she was doing it fairly reluctantly, figuring I was just going to kill her character (Brian did point out he could raise her from the dead, which might have been the impetus she needed for this measure of last resort). But she still wasn’t very hopeful. Three (four if you count my brother) players had been sitting around a table for hours, with a break for lunch(!), trying to figure out ways to defeat this wraith lord, while the whole time I was going on and on about how “no MAN can defeat me.” Call it a sign of our patriarchal times, but they figured “NO MAN” referred to both male AND female humans. I now remember my brother WAS there, because he had a dwarf character that they tried against the guy…to which the creature proved invulnerable, of course.

On the way home I explained my dastardly plan to my friends who all thought it was fiendishly clever (they’d never seen the film or read LotR themselves, and my 8 year old brother for whatever reason never connected the movie with the adventure despite my hints) but also plainly stated they had ABSOLUTLEY NO IDEA what the hell they were supposed to do. While they had fun (planning and strategizing and repelling orcs) they were slightly disappointed not to have defeated the main bad guy.

And this is MY fault as a DM. My made up “wraith lord” is not a standard monster they may have read about or known. Its vulnerability was not obvious and not revealed. AND I disallowed reasonable attempts by the players to damage it or hinder it in any way, shape or form. Totally lame on my part.

Ugh…I realize this was more than a quarter-century ago, but it still bugs me to this day. Despite the good time had by all, it could have been better, if I had been a bit more flexible…hell, maybe if I’d had some training in how to be a DM. Ah, well.

Let it be a lesson to others!

Friday Morning: Blog Musings

Let’s face it: D&D is a damn fine and interesting game. I’ve been asked by readers a couple times how I have so much to post on this blog, and it’s just amazingly easy for me. There’s so much to talk about!

Since I’d kinda’ like people to read what I write I try to hold off on more than 1 post every few hours…but as it is I’m keeping a running list of topics by the computer that I hope to someday get to. But they just keeping coming up.

For instance, I’d like to blog a whole week about the Normal Man, praising this monster class, and how to use it in a game. How adventurers were perhaps NMs once themselves, and should start with an extra D4 hit points. How, when designing monsters, a 1D20 to damage means a NM has a chance to survive a blow, while 3D6 damage means the creature will destroy a NM with every single blow…that colors how a monster is perceived by the populace.

I’ve got a Top 10 list for adventure Modules (already composed), a Top 10 list for monsters (still being ruminated on…difficult to choose who makes the top 10, let alone their order of appearance), an In Praise of the Purple Worm, as well as some Delightfully Whimsical monsters that are definitely appearing in the B/X Companion.

There’s an extremely easy to use Alternate XP System that will allow for high level play without (hopefully) crazy Monty Haulish-ness. And of course, several more planned posts on Blackrazor, White Plume Mountain, RETURN to White Plume Mountain, Alejandro & Co., and other ramblings from childhood.

I’ve got magic-user stuff falling out of my ears! I’ve finally got some ideas for magic items in the B/X Companion! I’ve got more stuff to say about thieves (crap!)!

Oh…and the post that really excites me is this one: How Bilbo Baggins Ruined Everything. But I said Halflings are being reserved for next week. And that includes Hobbits and Kender as well.

Makes my little fingers excited to type!

Anyhoo that’s all the stuff from the post-it list…I still have stuff from my original list of 100+ blog item as well as the ability to cannibalize from around the blog-o-sphere. Ugh…and this is only D&D-related! I might not start examining my (several years long) Vampire saga till 2010! Plus all the Old School goodies: Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Top Secret, more Boot Hill. And dozens more…Shadow Run, Battle Tech, Rifts…hoo-boy, them’s just the “pop” ones, too, not even the indies.

MMmm…I realize that blogging about my blog isn’t exactly “fair play.” I’ll be writing a more substantive post later this morning.
; )


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Going Commando: Last Thief Post (I Hope!)

Bucky Barnes was a fighter you jackass.

Let’s back-the-heck-up a quick second. I am a strong proponent of playing different game systems for different types of games. If I want a military game set in WW2, I’m going to use something like Godlike (with or without the powers thrown in), NOT D20 Modern. If I want to play a wizard-focused story in a semi-historical Dark Age setting (think the film Dragonslayer), I’m going to play Ars Magica, not D&D. If I want to play street level vigilantes as opposed to Wild Cards with powers, I’m going to play Heroes Unlimited, not Aberrant.

So, the discussion of Bucky Barnes (the Marvel Comics character) in D&D terms is a bit disingenuous because I would never try to model him in such terms (no, I do not play Mutants and Masterminds).

Nevertheless, when I think “stealthy commando” I think of Bucky Barnes, due to the whole Marvel re-imagining of Bucky/Winter Soldier. And the reason I’m thinking stealthy commando is, of course, because it’s still Thief Week, and people have been moving more and more towards this idea of the thief as a “stealthy commando” even before AD&D2 (check out the Castle Greyhawk adventure module, in which Mordenkainen the film producer casts a heroic thief that uses his “stealthy backstabbing abilities to solve problems instead of his brain”).

And to proponents of the thief as “stealthy commando” character, I say:

Bucky Barnes was a fighter you jackass.

I realize this is like trying to shout down a brick wall (and my kiai just ain’t what it once was), but I’ll state my points just the same. Once upon a time there were only fighting men, magic users, and clerics. We already know the cleric was designed to fill a niche that wanted filling (the holy warrior that receives some divine blessings due to their faith and zeal in pursuing an anti-undead agenda). Then the thief was created to fill yet another niche.

Was it a stealthy commando niche? It was not.

Just because Bucky (or Rambo or Benicio Del Toro in The Hunted), use knives and stealth and don’t wear heavy armor does NOT make them thieves. These are the epitome of “fighting men,” trained in hand-to-hand combat. If they use hunting knives and aren’t wearing plate armor, it’s because they live in the 20th and 21st century, and era in which guns have rendered many old forms of armor less than useful (they also have the ability to use guns). If they are able to kill with a single blow, it’s not because they are “backstabbing” someone (do these heroes do a lot of “backstabbing?”) it’s because they’re taking out the equivalent of 1st level mooks or Normal Men. When engaged with real competition (say the fight between Tommy Lee Jones and Del Toro, or Winter Soldier versus Cap America), they have to struggle in melee just like any other fighting man, using up abstract “hit points” while wearing down their opponent’s same.

But again comparing modern commandos with fantasy characters is comparing apples to oranges. How about some archetypal characters:

Bilbo Baggins (the archetype for the “Halfling thief,” personally I find very little thief-like about him…but the discussion on Halflings is next week)…definitely not commando material.

Gray Mouser (archetype for the thief class)…when he fights, he does so with honor and relish, not from the shadows like some sort of assassin. No commando there.

Looking at fantasy film and literature that has been published AFTER the emergence of D&D I still find little “commando-esque” thieves (hell, look at that little gem-eating guy from Conan the Destroyer. How about Phillipe the Mouse from Ladyhawke?) with one strange exception. Gord the Rogue by Gary Gygax is one hell of a fighter considering he’s a thief-acrobat. Making frequent use of backstabbing and stealth attacks (at least in the first two books…the only ones I’ve read), he’s damn sight closer to a fighting man than Tasselhoff Burrfoot (Tas = commando? No), even operating in a “special forces” role in the siege of the Scarlet Brotherhood’s citadel.

But Gygaxian weirdness aside, I see little support for the idea of the thief as anything more than…well, a thief. That is, until 2nd edition AD&D and the renaming of the character class as the “Rogue.”

The term “rogue” carries some connotations that “thief” does not. The AH dictionary gives a sample of these: an unprincipled person…a scoundrel…a wild, solitary, and savage beast, apart from the herd (as in a “rogue elephant”). The last, I think, is an important part of the class’s new coloration.

A thief is a person that steals.
Period. Those “thief skills” that get folks so worked up are all crafts necessary for a thief to steal. Picking pockets (basic). Climbing walls (burglary). Opening locks, disarming traps (for those who break and enter). Hiding in shadows and moving silently (for sneaking in and out or avoiding the town watch). Hearing noise (are the guards coming?). Backstabbing (whoops, someone’s there…better sap ‘em). Reading languages (I can’t find the treasure on this map!).

But once you call someone a Rogue, they become more than just “a person that steals.” They are an outsider…outside of “polite society.” A rake. A rebel. A swashbuckler. A rogue, in other words.

Here’s my beef: all D&D characters are “rogues,” NOT just thieves. Just as Fafhrd and Mouser are BOTH described as “those loveable rogues” on their jacket covers. All adventurers are rogues, outside of polite society. If they weren’t rogues, they’d be settling down with regular jobs, as opposed to searching for lost cities and raiding ancient shrines and tombs. Check out the cover of the original PHB…every dude on there is a rogue of one stripe or another. They all have grit, they all have attitude. They all are doing something their mothers warned them not to do.

AD&D2E is a heaping pile of shit, I’ve said it before, but this shifting of the thief paradigm makes it especially steaming. Fighters are fighters, thieves are thieves, and adventurers are ALL rogues…though all have the potential to grow up and gain some “respectability” (as landholders and dominion rulers).

When you turn thieves into rogues you give them permission to start re-defining why they have those thief skills. The backstabbing is used for the stealthy kill, same with the moving silently and hiding in shadows (the perfect assassin). Finding traps is for disarming those pesky tripwires, and opening locks is needed because “no man holds me!” Picking pockets, reading scrolls…these abilities generally get short shrift from the commando rogue, being interesting perks, but not much use in "special forces" tradecraft.

As I said, I realizing I am trying to shout down brick walls, here. It might be a different matter, if there was already some lightly armored, swashbuckling fighter class to play in D&D…to which I say, there IS. It’s called “the fighter.” But fighters need armor! No, they CAN wear it but they don’t have to. But then they’ll get hit more often in combat! Um, yeah.

Remember how I said I am a great believer in trying different game systems if you want to play different games? If you want to play lightly armored, swashbuckler fighters with good survivability, you should probably be playing something Chaosium-like with its parry and dodge skills (but withOUT the “naked dwarf” syndrome inherent in games like WFRP and TROS).

D&D is what it is. AC measures how often your character is going to take damage from an attack roll. Hit points are a measure of your heroic staying power. Neither a thief, nor a lightly-armored fighter, will avoid taking damage as well as a warrior in plate and shield, but the fighter has more heroic staying power (in the form of higher hit points) than the thief.

If you really want to play a stealthy commando, play a fighting man. Ask your DM to house-rule some sneaking rules…anyone can pin brush to their body and crawl on their belly, knife clenched in the teeth. Just reviewing the Halfling special abilities, how about this:

A character in the outdoors, unencumbered and not wearing metal armor, may attempt to sneak up on an unaware foe. The chance of surprising the foe increases to 4 in 6…Elves 5 in 6, Halflings 7 in 8.

This assumes of course that your fighter is aware of the foe he wants to creep up on. Remember that all attacks from behind give a +2 bonus and discount shields (even for non-thieves). He (or she) should have no problem gutting mooks and Normal Men they surprise, even without a “backstabbing” ability, and will have more prolonged combats against more worthy opponents…just like real commandos would.
; )

Thursday Thief Musings

Ugh…when I got up this morning after an incredibly restless evening (it’s lie Albuquerque here, except you can’t buy Tanqueray (gin) at the 7-11), determined to NOT spend time blogging, so as to catch up on some work. Problem is, the moment I step into the office, a couple-three-or-four ideas pop into my head and I feel the need to get ‘em down and out onto the blog-o-sphere prior to losing them.

Part of this is I enjoy writing at work. This is a BAD thing, because my work is not one that allows for a lot of writing, especially not the creative kind. But at work, I have all those tools I don’t have at home…a rattle-proof internet connection, a full desktop computer (and a desk!), double screens, a quiet cubicle, and a comfy (for me at least) chair…plus hours of time uninterrupted by the call of the beagles, my wife, or the day-to-day chores of maintaining a household. I sit down and the mind opens as in a waking meditation.

Ah, well…I’ll try to keep it short.

I said earlier that this week was Thief Week, here at Ye Olde Blackrazor, and while I’ve only got three or so posts going on here, I’ve been reading and commenting other folks’ thief posts around the ‘Net. Thieves, I suppose, are in the air.

So talking about thieves and what it is they do, I can see why they’re percentages to accomplish things are so low. I mean, I’d have to check my Moldvay, but I’m pretty sure that ANY PC has a 1 in 6 (17%) chance of finding a trap, and thieves don’t even get above THAT until 3rd level…10% at 1st, 15% at 2nd, 20% (finally) at 3rd.

I can already hear folks saying: What’s up with that? This is supposed to be the thief character’s forte, and yet a fumble fingered 1st level Veteran, fresh from the war, has a better chance of finding a trap?!

I used to think this was kind of silly. Those folks over at D20 apparently do to, as they just gave everyone the same skills (search, for example) but made thieves the experts at it. Of course, a lot of “good ideas” from D20 have turned out to be retarded, missing the point by a fairly wide mark, and this is yet another example.

Thieves ARE the designated trap finder of an adventuring party. If there’s a thief in the party, no one is going to, say, tap the fighter or (gods no!) the cleric to look for that poisoned needle. The thief was brought along to perform a job, and by gum, if they want their share of the treasure, they better get to it. Call it the Bilbo Baggins Clause (in fine print, bottom of the contract).

That’s an awful lot of pressure for a guy. Unlike myself, cheerfully plugging along in relative comfort and seclusion, the thief is in the dark, in a grimy hole of a dungeon, working by torchlight, knowing full well the danger he’s putting himself in (the blissfully unaware fighter just sticks his hand into the hole, “duh, should I be careful?”), plus he’s got a half dozen armed mercenary types staring at his back while he’s doing it, getting ready to dock his pay should he slip up. Assuming he doesn’t get killed by the trap himself.

Most people would have a difficult time working under these kinds of conditions. A person needs a lot of presence of mind (and coolness of hand) to ignore both their own fear and the stench of it being generated by others. At 1st level, a thief is still getting used to this whole adventuring idea in the first place. At 2nd level, he’s wondering if he’s just been lucky, and he’s still sweating. By 3rd level he is confident and competent (and perhaps starting to get cocky…20% just ain’t that great!).

Oh, before I forget: has everyone read the Thieves description in Moldvay (page B10) regarding how thieves “can disarm small traps (such as poison needles)?” The emphasis is mine. Some people miss this and believe a thief can disarm ANY trap. Such is not the case. A thief can FIND traps, and then he and the party can devise a method of avoiding or counteracting them, but only SMALL traps can be disarmed…NOT spiked pits, rock falls, scything blades, rolling boulders, etc. How is a thief going to disarm that lava slide trap in the Tomb of Horrors, I ask you!

Let’s talk about the thieves tools of the trade; I believe they’re 25 gold pieces to purchase no matter which version of D&D you’re playing (though I admit I may be completely mis-remembering). What exactly are thieves tools?

“A set of lockpicks!” says the eager beaver down in front. Ok…and a shop keeper is going to sell these, why? What merchant sells a thief tools that can be used to burgle his establishment? Ridiculous!

When I think of a 1st level thief’s “lock picks” I’m thinking iron spike + mallet. At 2nd level it includes a crowbar. Maybe by 3rd level he’s put together a set of thin metal tools to manipulate locks, but chances are the thief has had to manufacture these himself to his own specification. It’s not like there’s an Acme lock pick factory churning out nice little packages at 25 gps a pop, like those ratchet sets you buy at Home Depot. Even the village (what, machinist? Who makes lanterns?) is probably NOT crafting lock picks for local thieves…not if the constabulary has anything to say about it.

Now it’s quite possible in a fantasy world filled with “thieves guilds” that the master thief has bequeathed a set to the young apprentice, possibly as part of his training (perhaps the 25 gps is the cost of “tuition” in thief school). Of course, this can make things problematic for thieves that somehow lose their tools. First they need to find a guild (not an easy task outside a large town), then they need to convince the guild to sell them a new set of tools…probably after making sure their guild dues are paid up. Which is fine for the wealthy thief of Greyhawk or Specularum…what about the kid whose home base is the Keep on the Borderlands? No guild there!

I prefer to think the thief acquires his tools of the trade in the “old fashioned way:” he crafts them himself. The 25 gold pieces is the initial outlay for materials (clay for molds, soft metal for the forging, fuel for a small furnace or the “rental fee” of a local blacksmith). As a thief increases in level, not only does his skill increase, but the craftsmanship of his tools increase. In between adventures (during that time when the “leveling up” occurs) the thief is re-smelting and re-crafting his tools, or perhaps creating all new ones. The lock pick set of a 14th+ level thief are going to be marvelous works of craftsmanship, light and dexterous, while still strong and flexible as opposed to the clunky hammer and railroad spike of the 1st level thief. This DIY version of the thieves tools leaves out any question as to why a merchant sells lock pick sets, and makes the guild unnecessary for the plying of one’s trade.

Just some things to think about. Ok…now back to work!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hotter Than H-E-Double Hockey Stick

It is 102 degrees in Seattle...the record highest temperature in recorded history, and us temperate natives are melting while Californian transplants prance about with happy smiles (actually, that's not true...everyone is bitching and who can blame us?).

I have some free time to write, and should be working on my B/X Companion, but instead find myself listlessly surfing other peoples' blogs.  O the humanity!  I did get three pages written up at lunch (the classes from Part 2...all complete), but there are only three or four spells left, and I need to start writing blurbs...not to mention figuring out the magic item lists (have a couple ideas...a new category of books, I think, either separate or part of the scrolls...and of course, plenty o weapons for those high level fighters to be on par with their spell-slinging buddies), AND the new mass combat rules.

I always enjoyed the simplicity of Mentzer's battle system (never did warm up to the AD&D2 version), but I kind of want something distinct. I find myself completely intrigued by two things I've never owned: Chainmail and Swords & Spells. Truly, I'd like to get my hands on BOTH for perusal, but if I HAD to make a choice, I think I'd really want to read the later work.

My understanding of Chainmail is that it is a rules set for a medieval wargame...with some magic and monsters thrown in. OD&D is based off it, and B/X is extremely close to OD&D, so it would seem the Chainmail rules would be the easiest to adapt to a mass combat system.

However, Swords & Spells was published AFTER the advent of OD&D...about 4 years by my reckoning (Gygax's campaign starting in 1972, right?). As an old wargamer who thence adapted his play style to OD&D, I would think that the 1976 Swords & Spells would have been the culmination of 4+ years of thought on how best to work OD&D in a mass combat fashion. And since B/X is extremely close to OD&D...well, you can see why I'm intrigued.

Of course, the reviews all pan it. Don't even like to consider it part of the OD&D canon. This also intrigues me, and not just because I am a contrarian at heart (thieves roll D4 damn it, not D6!). I just can't help but think there are some ideas to mine in the book...things that folks haven't looked at too hard because it interfered with their preferred style of play.

Dammit!  I want a copy! 

Since it doesn't look like I'm going to be very productive in the near future (too damn hot, plus I've got a plethora of projects around the house in preparation for the in-laws arrival), maybe I should just surf around and look for a copy...either on eBay or for download. Normally, I am NOT a proponent of illegal downloading, but if WotC has "locked the vault" well...what's a guy to do?

[By the way...finishing up the classes gave me a lot of ideas for how to run dominions which is going to be much of the Part 4: Adventure chapter (I think); I hope to make it both simpler, and more interesting than Mentzer's offense, Frank...wish me luck!]

Roses Are Red; Violets Are Purple...

...Sugar is Sweet…and so is Maple Syrple

So recited my brother and I with much laughter in our early attempts at rhyming couplets. Turns out we were a pair of burgeoning literary geniuses. One might not think it, but the use of “syrple” as a combination of “purple” and “syrup” could be construed as a (very poor) portmanteau.

Very poor, says I, because I am nowhere near the king of the portmanteau, nor even the nonsense poem. That distinction belongs to Lewis Carroll for his much esteemed Jabberwocky with its “frumious” (fuming + furious), “slithy” (lithe + slimy), and “chortle” (snort + chuckle)…the last of which has become a fairly common word of the English language, first introduced in Carroll’s work.

Of course, D&D freakazoids remember Jabberwocky for the introduction of the “vorpal sword” to the fantasy lexicon. In the poem it is used to kill the Jabberwock. Somehow, this has been translated into a “magic weapon that beheads its opponent.” However, the reasoning behind this is quite thin. Certainly the hero of the poem slays the beast with his blade, the weapon going “through and through” the beast, after which he “leaves it dead and with its head” goes “galumphing” (triumphant + galloping) home to see his father.

But does that mean the sword itself beheads the thing? From my read, it seems more that the kid collected himself a trophy…much as did the young David with his slain foe, Goliath…or the Predator alien with any number of Arnold’s buddies.

I don’t know where or when the vorpal sword first appeared in the D&D game system (my first encounter was in my 1st edition DMG, but perhaps it was in one of the OD&D supplements??), but the term “vorpal” has since become eponymous with “auto-kill;” and not infrequently with decapitation. In fact it is so ubiquitous in D&D that I feel myself pressed to include it in my B/X Companion (right now, I find myself dreading and completely intimidated at the thought of creating a new magic items section…ugh! And I thought spells would be tough!).

But dammit! Isn’t “vorpal” probably just another portmanteau? Even though Carroll himself states he wasn’t sure what vorpal meant, I’m guessing it was more a descriptive…as in “color:”

- Violet + orange + purple
- Violent + purple
- Very + orange + purple

Something like that. The hero uses a “very orange and purple” (i.e. “vorpal”) sword to kill the beast of the poem. Long time gamers may turn up their nose at such a suggestion (because the vorpal sword is so “wicked-awesome”) but I find it much more succinct a definition in light of the whimsical nature of the original poem.

But, hey…just my thoughts.

[oh…and if anyone who reads this DOES know the first appearance of the vorpal weapon, please give me a shout on the comments string. Where it first appears WILL affect my inclusion of said weapon. Thanks!]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

B/X Companion: The Master Thief

(here's hoping I won't be burned at the stake)

From the B/X Companion, Part 2: Player Character Information:


Many Master Thieves retire from adventuring, content to run their hideout and live off the wages earned by young apprentice thieves. Others continue to hone their skills past the normal level of mastery until their abilities seem almost super-human.

Most of a thief’s normal abilities (open locks, find/remove traps, climb walls, move silently, hide in shadows, hear noise) cease to improve past 14th level though they continue to function as per the Basic rules. Neither does the thief improve at reading languages or magic-user and elf scrolls. A thief’s backstab damage DOES improve: at 16th level damage is triple normal, at 24th level it is quadruple, and at 32nd it is quintuple (5 times normal). The “to hit” bonus when attacking from behind does not improve at higher levels.

Maximum level for a human thief is 36th level; thieves continue to gain 2 hit points per level after reaching Name (9th) level.

The following new skills are available to thieves above 14th level that have mastered all earlier skills:

Craft Device: this is the thief’s ability to construct elaborate traps of mechanical nature. Cost and time to construct will need to be decided by the DM (similar to the construction of magical devices). Thieves use these devices to protect their hideouts, though they may build them for others at a price. Failing the craft roll by more than 10% means the device was not constructed correctly, and all time, money, and components are wasted. Failing the roll by 10% or less indicated the thief successfully created the device, but is himself the first victim of the device as he sets off the trap!

Physical Prowess: the master thief’s continuous training and physical conditioning allows him or her to perform amazing feats of agility. A successful roll will allow the thief to climb an inverted overhang, balance on a tightrope without apparatus, somersault over an opponent in melee (to get behind him), or perform a safety roll to avoid half damage from a fall. The DM is final arbiter of what is possible (for example, “rolling with a fall” may not save damage from a spiked pit), but most physical stunts should be possible with a successful prowess roll.

Deception: the master’s disciplined ear and study of languages, as well as control over his own body movement, allows the thief to disguise himself, mimic speech and mannerisms, and even throw his voice (as the 1st level spell ventriloquism). The DM should roll whenever the thief attempts to deceive someone; the thief will always believe his deception has succeeded. If the roll fails, the thief’s opponent will know that the thief is not what he appears to be (or will know where the voice really came from, in the case of failed ventriloquism). The DM will determine the reaction of the presumptive victim.

[Design Notes: the tables for the thief are not included here due to my inability to scribe tables with any degree of accuracy in html. However, all new abilities begin at 36% for level 15 and increase 3% per level up to 99% at level 36. Pick pockets continues to increase 5% per level after 14. All other skills, save backstabbing damage, are the same at level 15 or 36 as they were at level 14. I wanted to build on the original B/X rules, not revise what's been written (as Mentzer did with BECMI).

36% may seem high for the starting level of a new skill, but I want PCs to have incentive to try the new abilities right away. Also there may be rules in the DM Section regarding using these skills at lower level (basically, adding together multiple "normal" thief abilites, and dividing the average by 3. For example, crafting a fiendish device at 14th level would mean dividing the average of Open Locks + Find/Remove Traps by 3% = 33%. All new abilities are thus built firmly upon the foundation of the old.

Personally, I think this returns thieves to their "adventurer" roots rather than making them swashbuckling fighters. I also wanted to give them abilities that really distinguish them from what other classes well as make them interesting enough that I would want to play one at high level.]

B/X Thieves: Epitome of Heroic Adventurer

AKA “The Farm Boy Made Good.”

I’ve seen some disgruntlement over the Thief class’s D4 hit dice (we’re talking B/X and Mentzer here), and frankly I don’t get it. Well, I guess I’m not too surprised, actually…people want the Thief to have a higher survivability than the magic-user class. In AD&D, after all, thieves get D6 for hit points and magic-users get D4…and aren’t they more of a fighting class than the MU?

[Actually, I think the real question is how can one justify giving an AD&D magic-user D4 hit dice when a normal human gets D6!]

Okay, let’s forget all that and just talk B/X: A normal human (in B/X) has 1-4 hit points. That’s it. The village leper or a frail child might have 1 hit point, while the burly town blacksmith or candidate for the new season of The Bachelor might have 4 hit points. Regardless of what weapon system you’re using, a lucky shot from the weakest weapon (or opponent) has the potential to slay a Normal Man. These are the average chumps on the street with little awareness of danger beyond the mundane, and no real fighting experience or training. People of military and law enforcement careers call these folk “civilians” or “sheep.”

Now a first level human adventurer, of ANY class, is him or herself only recently elevated from the ranks of the sheep. As per the B/X monster section, once a normal human starts gaining experience points, the person needs to pick an adventuring class. [Maybe all PCs should start out with 1+ XP, huh?]

Magic-users, like normal sheep, have 0 combat training…they’ve been spending their time learning to pronounce un-pronounceable words, and studying the theory behind the secrets of the cosmos. It makes perfect sense for them to start with 1D4 hit points. Likewise, the fighter whose training is a bit more physically rigorous (to say the least) should have 1D8 hit points; a trained fighter is twice as able in combat, but until he (or she) gets a bit more experience, two peasants with pitch forks can probably take him down if they get the drop on him when he’s out of armor.

Clerics, depending on how you view them, may have some fighting training, or may be bolstered by the Holy Spirit (or the Chaotic power of Cthulhu), or perhaps simply benefit from cleaner living than the average normal man (they are Wise after all…they’re probably getting good sleep, abstaining from poor food and toxic chemicals, and get that daily, moderate exercise one’s doctor is always harping about). Thus they get D6s for hit points.

The thief, however, is about the closest thing to a "normal man adventurer" there is. If he fights better than a Normal Man (or un-trained magic-user), it’s more likely due to cleverness of tactics and willingness to cheat than any formal sword training. In fact, when using abstract, narrative combat here’s what you might hear:

Thief: “I kick the hobgoblin in the groin and club him with the pommel of my sword when he doubles over.” DM: “Roll to hit.” Rolls. “Got him!” DM: “Blood is flowing from the back of his skull; roll damage.”


Thief: “I reach down and flip some sand up into the ogre’s eyes and then try to hamstring him with my blade.” DM: “Roll to hit.” Rolls. “Missed!” DM: “The ogre sneezes at the dust, but is still able to block your blow with one meaty paw.”

Notice that there are no bonuses given in these narratives. These kinds of actions should be assumed to be part and parcel to the combat action…they are considered in the thief’s chances to hit. Higher level thieves get better attack rolls because A) their tactics are more clever, and/or B) they are better at executing the tactics they use. The thief is NOT necessarily Errol Flynn with a sword. Captain Blood was a military man…as was Robin Hood depending on the version of the legend you’re reading.

But back to hit points. Shouldn’t thieves, by dint of their “wiliness” get more hit points than a Normal Man?

Well, they already do…after they reach 2nd level. At first level, the thief is still an APPRENTICE (as their level title makes clear); they are still learning the ropes, those skills that make them an asset (or a detriment) to the adventuring party. Like the studious magic-user, they have their own studies to pursue, and combat is NOT the priority. Yes, they fight better than a Normal Man (ALL adventurers do, including MUs). Yes, they are more aware of danger than the sheep (all adventurers have better saving throws than a Normal Man). But unlike the crusading cleric or the war-trained fighter, the thief has no mandate to take the fight to the enemy. Theirs is the way of stealthy pilfering, NOT sword-play.

And so, they get D4 hit points per level (up to 9th). Remember that hit points for PCs (as opposed to monsters, including Normal Men) are NOT simply stamina or damage that can be absorbed before death. PC hit points are luck, skill at dodging and parrying, endurance/fatigue, and craftiness, as well as fitness and body strength.

So one might think that thieves, with their overall craftiness, their roguish luck, their physical fitness (have you ever seen a person that could climb sheer walls and contort into crawl spaces?) would qualify for MORE hit points than some of these other adventurers. I mean, if anyone should have “heroic survivability” it should be the thief, right? Well, guess what. The designers of B/X thought so, too.

Even though the thief only rolls D4 for hit points, they have MORE hit points on average THAN ANY OTHER CHARACTER CLASS EXCEPT THE FIGHTER.

No matter how your DM does 1st level hit points (straight roll, max HPs at level 1, or re-roll 1’s and 2’s as per the Moldvay rules), the thief will eventually “out-hit-point” all classes except the dedicated fighting man. They pass magic-users at level 10, Halflings at 12, elves at 15, clerics around 18-19, and dwarves around 23. By 24th level, all other things (Constitution, average dice rolls) being equal, the Master Thief will have better combat survivability than any class except the fighter, whom they’ll trail by an average of 18 hit points only.

Of course, this makes perfect sense. After all, the B/X thief has mastered all tradecraft by level 14…what more is there after that then to practice one’s sword play?

Those lucky bastards!, Heroes!

The thief IS a heroic adventurer, but just like all the PCs, he has to start small and prove himself. If the thief has any mandate at all, it is to play smart...don't try to dazzle in combat with a frontal assault, don't get suckered into a disarming a trap when avoiding it works just as well...and definitely don't steal and backstab your team mates (unless they really, REALLY deserve it). Eventually, smart play will be rewarded by increased survivability...and even without flashy magic armor the thief will be able to hold his (or her) own.

Monday, July 27, 2009

B/X Thieves: The Party Malcontent

I realize that many Old Schoolers give the thief class short shrift as they fail to make an appearance in the LBBs; I, however, grew up playing B/X and AD&D and so the thief class was always present.  Well, in theory anyway.

See, no one in my old games ever played thieves.

Not really. Well, okay, one guy (Jason) played a thief for awhile but he was the first one to drop out of our regular gaming group. Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users...even Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings (until the party reached higher levels) made frequent appearances. But not thieves.

Even in AD&D where the thief class had unlimited lever restriction for demi-humans, there were no thief players in my campaign world. Once the Unearthed Arcana arrived, there were a couple (my brother had a halfling thief named "Feazil Partiman") but these were just stepping stones to the much cooler (adventuring-wise) Thief-Acrobat character.

I mean, why the heck play a thief anyway?

Now, I'm not arguing there should be no thief class (as I said, I did not start with the LBBs).  I am asking, 'what is the incentive to play a thief?' Really, why do it? 

At low levels you've got lame armor, and (in B/X especially) lame hit points. Your "thief abilities" are negligible at best.  And yet, because you are the party thief, you will be expected to attempt to disarm traps or "scout ahead" with that ten foot pole. I just don't see thieves having a very high survival rate at all.

And yet, unlike magic-users...whose high mortality rate at low levels is off-set by their great powers and mid-high levels...thieves have little to look forward to in the long run. Oh, sure...they're thieving abilities improve to near infallibility in time. But magic-users can learn the knock spell at level 3, and clerics will pick up find traps (again level 3 in AD&D).  What the hell use if a thief? Magic-users can get spider climb or fly at 5th level...and anyway there are few instance when a party will encounter a "sheer surface" obstacle anyway.

No...there are really only two things a thief can do that no other class can: pick pockets and backstab. Now, would YOU trust a guy whose main unique power is "backstabbing?"

I suppose it depends on how you use this semi-assassination ability. In D20, of course, they rename it "sneak attack" and allow the rogue to use it whenever they catch a foe "flat-footed" making it much more utilitarian and party-friendly. In Old School D&D? Hey, I play by the rules:

From AD&D: "Backstabbing is a blow from behind, be it with club, dagger, or sword."

From B/X: "When striking unnoticed from behind, a thief gains a bonus..."

Emphasis added by moi.

Here's the real reason the thief gets sent to scout ahead. It's not that anyone thinks he's going to make that 20% roll to hear noise and then a 31% roll to move silently and somehow flank an opponent by hiding in shadows (40%...all percentages as for a 5th level AD&D thief). The REAL reason, is because the party doesn't want the thief behind 'em...where he can BACKSTAB.

I don't know about other DMs, but it's been a rare instance (and admittedly, this may be because there have been so few thieves in my games) where a thief somehow managed to get behind an enemy in combat. The only time I can think of was a beholder floating in the middle of a large chamber, and the thief used the monster's hordes of treasure to flank the think, while the rest of the party distracted it by frontal assault. 

Hmm...okay there HAVE been times when a thief was fortunate enough to find a ring of invisibility and thus used their backstab abilities more readily (these were mainly multi-class, assassin, or acrobat characters).  But really, the most use PCs got out of backstabbing was probably against fellow party members.

Let's talk about picking pockets.  How many monsters in the dungeon have pockets to pick. How often is this skill being used. WHO is the usual target for this skill? Why does it have a % reduction for higher level characters, when most NPC monsters are Normal Men or monsters with hit dice not levels?

This is an F your fellow party member skill. My friend Kris, who has played more thieves than any other character type, once told me that the great thing about a thief is that "you don't need to risk yourself finding treasure when you can steal it from someone else."

[side note: I decided to call Kris just to see if he remembered saying this. He did and still agrees with the sentiment; however, he states he tries NOT to steal from fellow party members and could only ever remember doing so one time...though he says he did NOT get caught]

Now again, D&D3+ with its tactical battle maps and such, make the thief class more of a WoW rogue that gets behind big bads and cuts 'em up. I'm talking about Old School thieves and they're place in the party.  What the hell is it, besides fostering malcontent and paranoia in its companions?

Anyway, as I work on my B/X Companion and try to make every character class interesting and viable at high level, these are things I have to consider, including how a Master Thief might evolve after level 14. I have some pretty good ideas (I think), I just have to write 'em up in a way that is clear and concise.

Ode to the Toad (B/X Weekend Part 3)

So Saturday morning I got to bed around 3:30, woke up around 7:30ish to let the dogs out (they are early risers), went back to sleep, woke up my wife at 8:30 to ask who wanted to take the car in, went back to sleep when she agreed to do so and slept till after noon.  I then got up and ran errands (dropping off blankets, picking up the Watchmen from Best Buy, etc.), before picking up an iced Americano and sitting down to a Skype connected game of B/X D&D with Patrick, Meepo, and MikeD at 7:01pm PST.

It was a rockin' good time.

You can read a narrative account of the session here, or Pat's DM observations here. MikeD posted copies of our map as well as some positive comments at Sword+1. Timeshadows was supposed to join us, but an itinerant lightning strike put her out of commission for the evening, unfortunately.  Hopefully next time (we had such a good time, we're trying to turn it into a regular game).

This was my first time playing (as opposed to running or "DM'ing") an Old School D&D game in more than 21 years. I was 14 the last time I was a player, in other words.  And I don't know how long since I've been in a dungeon setting.

Wow...that's a hard thing to actually write and read. Wow.

Truth be told, I've never played B/X as a player; when I used to play OS D&D, it was always AD&D. I was extremely pleased with how well and easy the game system worked. Of course, I am familiar with the game (comes from DMing it every chance I get) but it's still nice to actually apply knowledge to practical experience.

Observations About the Game (some personal, some general B/X):

1. Despite all our confessed "rustiness," the game went smooth as silk for the most part. Sure there was a bit of ham-handedness (no one brought rope?! what the hell?), and some computer glitches (I accidentally programmed my D6 macro to only roll 6s...I did not discover this until probably an hour+ into the game!). But I'm pretty sure the four of us all have more DM than player experience, and that allowed us to play without a ton of explanation/answers being needed.

This led to a very smooth game...we could focus on the challenge at hand (surviving the exploration of a dangerous mine with only three 2nd level characters and no hirelings), and had the presence and knowledge to not get bogged down. Even Pat would ask the occasional question of us players and knew we'd give him a straight answer. Plus, we were all committed to having a good time, and not being the irritants I'm sure most of us have experienced in other games.  : )

2. Role-playing is harder than it looks. I created this rather detailed sleezy, Toad-worshiper, and yet my preferred style of play led me to take a lot of "hard-to-justify-in-character" actions. I was giving commands (suggestions), kicking in doors, plunging bravely ahead, and generally making a horse's ass of myself. Now, perhaps if I'd gone with my original Joan of Arc idea, this would have been more in-character. But I was trying to make a traditional, sluggish, back-skulker priest-type, not the heroic paladin-type I've blogged about.

Now, in my defense, my character was probably the closest thing to a point guard we had. The wizard (poor Mike! I guess he normally plays fighters himself!) wasn't about to jump out there. The halfling (Meeps AKA Sancho) was doing his best tactically by using his bow (Dex + halfling bonuses) from mid-rank.  Someone had to act as the meat shield.  

But you know, it's exactly this kind of play that led my last DM to say, "You treat all your characters like fighters, so I'm not going to let you play a bard." I wonder how I would have acted if I'd rolled up a magic-user....

3. D&D combat is only as exciting as the DM and player makes it. I forgot this, or never realized it. When I'm a DM I use the abstract combat system to as justification for flowery and descriptive combat narratives. And Patrick does the same. It was just weird to hear someone else adjudicating the results of a poor or good roll.  Jarring even. I guess I'm a bit of a control-freak (ya' think?), and while I have no qualms with how he narrated (good work, sir!), I was surprised all the same.

Maybe this is yet another thing D20 has tried to do with its detailed combat system...not simply provide options other than swing-hit, swing-miss BUT give the player more narrative control over his combat actions.  If I can say, "I take a 5' step, make a whirlwind-power attack, and then switch to my elaborate parry Expertise,"...well, you're pretty much defining the action. The DM simply says, "okay you do it" or "no you don't," based on your attack roll. In this case, I have to give some props to D20 (*shudder*) for putting some power back in the hands of players...even though it DOES limit the over-all options available in combat.  This may be something to blog about or add into my B/X Companion..."negotiation of combat narrative between player and DM."

4. While this format worked well for a dungeon delve, I have no idea how well it will "scale." Higher level play is much more open-ended than low-level dungeon crawls...people splitting up using teleportation, enchanted airships, or pet pegasi; characters pursuing their own agendas of dominions, questing, or spell research and reputation-making. For being self-contained the game table was great, but after Name level, D&D (in my experience) becomes a lot less table-top-tactical and much more narrative-driven. 

Not that we have to worry about that just yet.  All our players are (or appear to be) in their 30s with jobs, families, lives. It is doubtful that we'll be able to sustain a long-term campaign, so it may never become an issue.  Still...for a great group of folks, who are already familiar with the rules, it's not too big a stretch to think they may be willing to try a high level campaign (starting with Name Level characters) some time in the future. Of course, I'll need to convince 'em that D&D's optimum levels are higher than 4-8. 
; )

5. 2nd level characters + house rules = serious ass-kicking. Other than a run-in with a giant spider that forced a save or die poison save, our three characters were never in any great danger during the adventure. Part of this was the implementation of several life-saving house rules including binding wounds after battle and splintering shields. Personally, I'm a little too proud to allow my shield to be splintered, but between wound binding, cure light wounds, and the occasional timely sleep spell we were able to rock throughout the low-level romp. Plate and shield is definitely the way to go, when one can get it!

The spider was a bit of bad news. After taking 9+ tries to bash down a door, our party was surprised and the cleric jumped by the spider that rolled a natural 20 to hit. Fortunately, my cleric made his poison save and Pat ruled I had avoided those venomous fangs, just being knocked down. Still and all, if the magic-user had memorized sleep twice, the dungeon would have been even easier to scour.  As it was, in under three hours of "real time" play, we managed to get through pretty much every encounter. I'm not saying it was too easy...I'm saying it was about perfect for our available time and resources (three PCs).  

And that's about it for my observations.  Bottom line is I had a great time, and I don't think I got on peoples' nerves too much with my grandstanding. I would like to play again, and hope we do. It was a very satisfying gaming experience. All thanks to the Internet for allowing us to come together!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The 2nd (and 3rd!) Expeditions to the Caves (B/X Weekend Part 2)

B/X is just a great game.  

Take two teenage kids who've never played a pen-and-paper RPG with multiple polyhedral dice (they'd never seen or held a D20 or D12 before), give 'em paper and pencil, give 'em the barest challenge of a plot, and even after getting their asses kicked, they're raring for more.

And it's so easy to get the hang of the game!

Figuring to preserve their cash for hirelings, they decided to sleep in the common room after their less-than-triumphant return to the keep (I'm half surprised they didn't pitch a tent by the village well). The next day they propositioned the three men-at-arms in the Tavern. Rolling a 12 for the mercs reaction, the PCs were pleasantly surprised by the vehemence with which the fighters hired on.

[totally off-topic note: Mexico has just scored its third unanswered goal (in ten minutes!) against the USA in the Gold Cup final...the f'ing route appears to be on]

Turns out "Tim, Bill, and Biff" were buddies of Bud, and they wanted some "pay-back" for his death at the goblins' hands.  So they gave 'em the same deal (3 gold down, 10% of the take) and off they went.  

This time they went in the same cave, down the same corridor and came upon a guard room filled with goblins. Mutually surprised everyone had a chance to arm up for the big brawl, and then it turned into a slugfest.  Losing initiative again, the party leaders (in plate mail) managed to withstand the initial onslaught, and then a terrific set of rolls allowed the party to wipe out the goblins in two rounds.  Because of the speed and suddenness of the fight, the gobs never had a chance to entice their nearby ogre buddy to join the fight. They died to a man.

Meanwhile, the party, not realizing how close they'd come to meeting a "big bad" was giving high fives all around.

They were even more stoked when they searched the entire room, including the goblins water barrel, and found a sack of 250 gold pieces in the bottom!  Along with that and a barrel of spears they figured they could sell (how do people think to do this? when I ran this module as a kid, PCs never looted equipment for cash).

Realizing they had picked up quite a haul (along with the silver from the gobbos corpses), they head back to the keep to divide the booty. With their 10% and the "bonus" the PCs bestow, Tim, Biff, and Bill all purchase chainmail. Z and S are super excited that their hirelings are getting "buffed up."

[meanwhile, my Mexican wife is ecstatic with Mexico's 5th goal. 5-0...crap. dammit USA, play for some PRIDE at least!]

And so now, well equipped, the players made their way back to the Caves for their third expedition.  Through the empty guard room, down the hall, and into the goblin common room

['s over finally. 5-0 Mexico over the USA with a new record being set for most goals scored in a Gold Cup final...and the first shut-out in its history...and playing in New Jersery, too!]

...where they encounter men, women, and children (goblins, that is).

And, here, the kids come face-to-face for the first time with the "questionable morality" of D&D. After all, you don't usually kill "young" monsters in WoW, do you? Neither are you assassinating non-fighting civilians in Splinter Cell (at least I don't think you do, I've never played it).

Both PCs had chosen to be of Lawful alignment, and they really didn't want to attack the goblin families.  Fortunately, they had an out...with their Sleep spell!  The Elf "sleeped" all the attacking male goblins and the women and children (who do not fight, per the module) surrendered. Then...check this out...the PCs used their only length of 50' rope (which they always made sure to pull up from the cave entrance) to TIE their prisoners!  No slit throats!

Ha!  I loved it. I don't judge sentimentality...these kids want to be heroes and good guys, and I salute that.  They are also the kind of kids that the US military likes to recruit and who come back from over-seas with PTSD after massacring civilians and blowing up houses (even if only "collateral damage").

MMm...ANYway, right now they're still learning to play D&D and they serious qualms with slaying unarmed and helpless foes; good role-playing from some folks' point of view, TO ME it says they chose good alignments that actually reflect their personalities and play-style. 

However, it did leave them with the dilemma of what to do with their prisoners.  Rather than come to a definitive decision (at one point they considered selling the goblins as slaves to the Keep) they decided to leave them tied and explore the rest of the cave complex.  They took one prisoner with them:

"Take us to your chief!"

The elf was doing the translating of course. So, at sword point, the goblin led them to an oak door. "Open it."  The goblin bangs his fist against the door several times. "Hey chief! There's a bunch of armed intruders here to see you they've taken the other goblins prisoner!"  No answer. Knock-knock-knock! "CHIEF! There are these humans with weapons! Open the door!"
No answer. "Maybe he's not home?" suggests the goblin prisoner.

Realizing they may have made a slight tactical error, they take the goblin back to the other prisoners and tie him up before returning to the door of the goblin chief.  They ready their weapons; they kick in the door.

Behind it, the goblin chief and his bodyguards have drawn bows and they let fly.

One of the PCs takes a slight wound. Bill takes an arrow through the eye and dies. "Retreat!" Yells the PCs.  They flee, pursued by goblin archers. As they run through the common room, another arrow hits Biff in the throat and he falls. 

The PCs pass through the guard room and then out the cave entrance, scrambling down the side of the cliff. They make it back to the Keep (with Tim) and breathe a sigh of relief.

And then I stopped the game 'cause it was after 3am and I had stuff to do the next day (including another B/X game as a player!).

All in all, it was quite fun and as I said, the kids had a blast. They really wanted to play more or, barring that, come back next weekend to play.  It does my heart good to see them so excited about a game that I hold in such high esteem.  It IS fun, and it didn't need any cool computer graphics to make their imaginations work, or any skill rules to show them "what was possible" to do with their characters.  Combats were quick, I provided them with some vivid descriptions, they got to roll dice.  That's what D&D is all about.

At least, at this level of play.

(this is just a play report. I have some new observations about B/X and specifically the Keep on the Borderland, but I'll save them for later posts)

The Keep Yet Again! (B/X Weekend Part 1)

So my wife and I hosted our nephews for "movie and pizza night" on Friday, while their parents celebrated a romantic anniversary in a night on the town. After watching a truly terrible movie that they brought over (I won't even go into it, as I could write pages about it and frankly, I'd prefer not to promote it in any way, shape, or form), we went and got milkshakes, rented Coraline (which turned out to be excellent by the way). And then sat down for some gaming.

Now I should give you a little background here; these kids have been hanging out with us for years, we're like a second set of parents to them. They think we are great fun, and they especially think they're Uncle's games are fun. However, while we've played many hours of Blood Bowl and Warhammer 40K, and even some InSpectres, Capes, and Pantheon, we've never actually played a "traditional" RPG like D&D. They're knowledge of an RPG is Fable or Fable 2 for the XBox.

So that night, after my wife had gone to bed, and after a couple rounds of "Once Upon A Time..." (the Atlas Games card game), they asked if they could play D&D and so we did.

The kids are aged 15 and 12 (at that age where they can barely stand being in the same room together), fairly bright, athletically gifted, healthy and happy, with no religious upbringing. They have played WoW before (though the older kid said he stopped playing a few months ago because "it just gets boring after awhile") have their own cell phones and computers, and three or four game consoles, so they are totally electronically saavy. They've also read the Hairy Bottom books and the LotR movies. They like tactical war games like Call of Duty 4 and Splinter Cell. They are probably the target demographic for 4E D&D.

So of course, I broke out the B/X and Keep on the Borderlands.

What a blast. We played from around around 12:50am to a little after 3am and they "couldn't believe we played for two hours!" The time for them flew by, they were having so much fun. Total converts.

I had 'em roll 3D6 straight across for all their attributes, and we didn't get into the adjusting thing. S (the younger) rolled Str 10, Int 17, Wis 9, Dex 8, Con 13, Cha 4. I ran down the list of characters and he asked what would benefit most from the high intelligence. Magic-user, of course. Then when he found out the magic-user could wear no armor and wield nothing but a dagger, he said "tell me about that elf again." He ended up making an Elf. I read all the spells available offering little description and no judgment. Sleep was the no-brainer spell (though he was frankly intrigued with Charm Person..."so I can charm one person every day? and they'll be in my power for a week or more? I can put together an army!").

Z, the older, rolled Str 8, Int 15, Wis 8, Dex 12, Con 10, Cha 7. He used to play a paladin on WoW, and I explained the cleric class, but he wanted to play a straight fighter ("just to make it easier while learning the game"). Not liking his scores wizard-leaning scores, I allowed him to roll over ONCE more: Str 18(!), Int 7, Wis 6, Dex 13, Con 8, Cha 13. "I'm 7' tall and 300#!" Looking at the Con 8, I pointed out he was probably more like 350, and not all of it muscle. He reluctantly agreed.

Once again we returned to B1: the Keep on the Borderlands. Once again the guards asked everyone's name. Z, whose character HAD been the "Mysterious No Named Guy" decided he had better Christen himself and announced himself as "Master Chief." What? Oh, right, the Halo guy.

"S the Wise" (he named his PC after himself but with the added honorific) ended up with more money than Chief and so got stuck footing the bill for private rooms at the Inn and stew and beer at the Tavern. I love how new players (these kids, my wife) agonize over what to buy to eat. Z is a little quicker to say, "does it really make any difference whether we buy the soup or stew?" To which I reply, "well, the soup IS pretty watery...and the stew smells really good and looks hearty." S: "I want the stew!" Z: "Dammit, it doesn't make any difference don't blow the money!" JB: "Well the stew looks like it might be more satisfying..."

In the end, they went with soup and free water on the side. Turns out they only took the private rooms 'cause they were afraid they might be robbed in the "common" room. Later (after they found some ca$h), they happily said "I want my private room again!"

This is what I love about table-top RPGs. This kind of stuff is a non-issue in most computer games; heck it's a non-issue here, too (except how much money you end up blowing)...but it's these choices that end up defining your character as well as putting yourself into the MIND of your character. The only type of computer game that (IMO) that gives you this type of immersion is FPS games...and yet they are so bloody limited (pun intended).

Anyway, S allowed Z do do the negotiations for hirelings as it was agreed his Charisma 4 would have a detrimental affect on getting folks on board. Two failed attempts and they finally hit pay-dirt with "Bud," a man-at-arms who would go along for 3gps, 8sps, and 10% of all treasure found.

Fast forward to the Caves of Chaos. The PCs decided to enter the first cave and made their way up after slinging a loop of rope over a tree by the cave mouth. Lighting torches and heading down the corridor, they were jumped by half a dozen wandering goblins. The battle commenced! The plate mailed fighter with the two-handed sword attacked last after the goblins struck him. One hit with a 20 (I forgot to not use my lucky dice) and did a full 6 points dropping him to 1 (did I mention lucky dice? I rolled 8 or 9 6s for initiative in a row, and my nephews made me start rolling another D6...I still continued to roll 5s however).

Poor bud took two sword blows killing him, but the elf and fighter managed to down one or two goblins, and the suckers broke and fled. Looking at the sorry state of themselves, they decided to return to the keep for a bigger party. First, though, they looted Bud of the money they had given him, as well as his own purse!

Arriving back at the Keep they obtained healing from the Curate (did I mention he had loaned a backpack to the fighter, as he did for my wife's Elf?), and apparently felt emboldened enough to try it again.

Adventurers are nothing, if not a foolhardy lot.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

B/X Madness!

No, we may not be able to game like in the "good ol' days," but we can still game.   Got to play TWO B/X games this weekend (so far!) and have had a blast!  Full reports to follow.

Happy Saturday Night!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ancient Chinese Secrets

AKA “D&D’s Secret Endgame”

Wow, I’m not sure where I gave the impression that my B/X Companion was going to reveal some great secret (or even that there were secrets to be revealed about D&D after all these years). But I suppose to some folks this kind of information is new; when you start researching Lost Atlantis you dig up all sorts of things that past researchers (Ignatius Donnelly, Graham Hancock) may already consider elementary. But to the newbie, the info seems fresh and exciting.

How could there be so many newbies among so many…um, “oldbies?”

Welp, I don’t think there IS a “secret endgame.” (ooo…maybe I should create one! We’ll be our own little endgame secret society!) Let me draw your attention to this old post on Grognardia. The comments by folks are fairly interesting, if you don’t mind reading ALL 94 OF THEM (and counting!).

Check this quote from Rob Kuntz:

Building and experiencing new varieties of campaign/world settings is consistent
with the game in its norm; and indeed experiencing many types and varieties of
experiences within these enriches the playing and DMing experience overall and
at different, and often, more exalted levels of comprehension and expanded
creativity for both. This is consistent with the "Front-Game," which I believe
is being exhorted by a few here, which in sum is a large part of this "end game,
that of immersing oneself in as many of the game's open-ended attributes as
possible. This expands creative dimensions exponentially and moves experiences
to different levels of creative immersion for both players and DMs. I personally
have found this more refreshing than not attempting same, at least, and prefer
it for said reasons, though YMMV.--RJK

(in another comment, RJK makes a reference to “the Original Campaign” which I think is funny, since that’s exactly how I used to refer to MY original game world)

The “secret” (if you want to call it that) is that extended play in a continuous “campaign world” with regular players can, over time, evolve into something greater than its original humble beginnings.

That’s it, really (I think). And it may be something difficult to experience without a dedicated group of gamers.

In the past, there wasn’t much BESIDES dedicated gamer groups…I am NOT just talking about insular groups that happen to be friends (or not), coming to rely on a “particular style of play” or particular house rules. THAT’s been going on for a long time, and still continues.

But for this whole “high level” thing to succeed, for my B/X Companion to mean anything, a group must be dedicated to ‘world building,’ not ‘character building.’

This is kind of the antithesis of the current editions of D&D (I’m talking Paizo as well as 4E). In these games, players are still “building a world” but one centered squarely from the ego-centric perception of their character’s eyes. Should their characters perish (an unlikely event in today’s gaming world), the campaign world may well cease to exist. Hell, the play group may cease to exist (mean old DM!).

Old D&D campaigns built up a world that was living and breathing independent of the current batch of PCs. Greyhawk is a valid example, I believe: Robilar, Mordenkainen, the Circle of Eight…these are all old retired PCs. Now they are legendary (NPC) pillars of the game world. Robilar lets out a bunch of minor demigods, and they become new patron deities of the campaign. Iuz or the Horned Society go to war with some PC kingdom, and the history of the game world is enriched by the outcome…win or lose.

But of course, to do this you must have the players (and as usual I include “DM” as a player) that are willing to commit to this vision long-term. And that’s pretty tricky in this day and age. Difficult, though not impossible.

I mean, in my own ancient campaign, the majority of the regulars were friends that went to the same elementary school as myself. I went to Catholic school (of course) that had grades for 1st through 8th. We saw each other, in class and out, weekdays and weekends for years…we played D&D beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade up past graduation. Certainly the last couple years were not ONLY D&D (as I’ve written elsewhere, we had a smorgasbord of games to choose from), but whenever we played D&D we were in our little game world. “D&D Land,” I guess you could call it.

(my friend and co-DM Jocelyn did NOT go to the same school as most of us, but because she was my best friend, and our parents were best friends we found time to get together a ton also…even when one of us were out of town we kept a pretty serious written correspondence…this is back before email and cell phones, kiddies!)

Gygax’s original campaign consisted of friends, relatives (children), friends of relatives…that’s a pretty tight connection for on-going campaign gaming. And the guy played for DECADES. Blows my friggin’ mind. But you see, you can’t get rid of your relatives…note that even when my game group broke up (when we all went to different high schools), I still had my brother and HIS friends to game with.

But today’s gamers…especially you nouveau-grognards like myself…don’t get this opportunity to game like this anymore. At least not unless we’re lucky enough to have older children, or spouses, or neighbors, that are gamers. Unless your co-worker is also your best friend…and gaming is your main hobby!...chances are you won’t have the core group to run a long-term, consistent campaign world. We’re stuck playing one-off pick-up games on-line with fellow grogs.

And that’s too bad, because it's in the long-term play that the abstractness of old edition D&D really begins to shine.

Sometimes I wonder if games like Pendragon and Ars Magica were specifically designed to communicate this “long-term campaign game” feeling. If so, it hasn’t worked out for ME in the past except maybe as a solo exercise. The “secret” of playing in and through the D&D “endgame” is that there is a natural evolution process that occurs when people start building an imaginary world. But don’t just look at Greyhawk or Blackmoore, or Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms. Check out the series of Wild Card novels based on the Chaosium Super World game. That’s world building folks.

I will say that although folks “don’t (generally) game like this anymore” there may be room for the use of technology to facilitate it. If I was a kid again, at the same school, with the same friends, but living in 2009 we would probably have a facebook page dedicated to our campaign world, we’d probably be “twittering” what one set of PCs was doing at any given time, and when our parents took us on vacation to Montana or Kansas, we’d probably be emailing every day of the summer. I might even run a (private) blog chronicling the latest exploits “heard ‘round the game world;” kind of like a town crier.

Perhaps some of these suggestions should be Chapter 9 of my B/X Companion?
: )

Clive Burton Died And All I Got Was 2nd Edition AD&D

Let me just apologize in advance if I offend anyone.

As I look over last-night’s beer-soaked rambling (and gave up trying to edit it into coherence) I recall a conversation I had with a buddy at the brewery (it was an outdoor screening of National Lampoon’s Vacation/kielbasa feed/beer fest in case anyone was wondering). Part of the pre-film activities included the raffling of several sets of tickets to the upcoming “Motley Crue Fest.” I told my buddy, “damn, I wish I’d got here earlier to get in the contest.” He said, “I was never much of a Crue fan.”

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause YOU are a baby,” says I. Hey, at least he liked Pantera and Sepultura (which I do NOT, but at least I can appreciate their musicianship).

I, like a lot of people, identify different musical albums…even different songs and musicians…with different periods of my life, and ESPECIALLY with gaming. For me, they’re fairly inseparable, although I have never subscribed to the practice of playing music to enhance gaming (I think White Wolf were the first ones to promote this, but it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the Vampire Storyteller’s Guide). For me, I listened to music while reading game rules, designing adventures, or rolling up characters. And it’s why say, I equate Faith No More with Vampire and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti with Rifts. That’s what I was listening to at the time, over-and-over again.

I am a rock guy mostly, though I enjoy a lot of other music (especially Prince, mariachi music, and several classical German composers). But mostly rock and heavy metal. Now I realize that I’m a "niche market" these days, because Metal music pretty much died in 1988, but back in its day it was THE music to listen to. People like Michael Jackson were not called “pop stars” they were called “rock stars.” Elvis and the Beetles played “Rock and Roll” music. Rock has such a bad name these days that in the 90’s they had to brand rock bands as “alternative” music…I guess as an alternative to listening to something that sucked shit.

(as I said, I know peoples’ music is precious to them…I apologize if my personal opinions get the goat of anyone)

For a kid growing up playing D&D in the early 80s, rock music was what we listened to. Oh, there was “Waver” (New Wave) music on the radio, but especially circa 1985-87 we were into rock. You know, like balls to the wall Def Lepard and Scorpions. Guns N Roses released Appetite For Destruction in 1987, and I am convinced it was the last great, commercially released rock album of the 1980s.

[Well, wait a second, I forgot Queensryche’s Operation MindCrime, when was that…1988? Well, it was a “concept album” after all, and not the same kind of music…ha! It had a PLOT just like Dragon Lance! Yes, I intend to tie this post into gaming]

1985-1987…those were big years. Metallica was peaking in their creativity (with Master of Puppets), Megadeth was out there (wasn’t a big fan at the time, though people tell me their music was better before Mustaine “found Jesus”). The Scorpions were still making great music. Def Lepard released Hysteria and showed a one-armed drummer could still kick ass.

Of course, there was already some decline there. Iron Maiden’s 7th Son of a 7th Son and Somewhere in Time weren’t nearly as good as earlier albums. Judas Priest hit the skids after 1985 (though I didn’t start listening to them myself till the late 1990s). Ozzy was good, but not great. Sammy Hagar replaced Diamond Dave (which has been debated as both a good and bad thing, I know). And Motley Crue Girls, Girls, Girls was such a step down from Shout At The Devil that it was going to set a terrible, terrible precedent of things to come.

(for non-metal fans there was also good rock music at this time from the likes of Springsteen, Mellancamp, Bon Jovi, etc.)

The point is, though, that “rock” music was still considered pop. And D&D (and gaming) was still a pretty popular hobby…so much so that most folks you talk to today that were born in the 1970s will know what “D&D” is, even though they may never have played. Not like today, when “RPG” means “video game” and the table-top hobby is considered a niche market…kind of like rock. So what the hell happened?

I don’t know. Halley’s Comet reappeared? Bush Sr. got elected? Kiss took off their make-up?

Honestly, I don’t really know, but pop music becomes Milli Vanilli and New Kids On The Block in 1988 and ’89, and AD&D 2nd edition gets released.

Talk about “the day the music died!”

Glam rock killed metal as “popular music.” Or maybe popularity and money killed metal music and glam bands (like Poison, like Warrant, like Winger, like Babylon A.D., like Whitesnake (sell-outs!), like post-’87 Bon Jovi and Crue, etc. as nauseum) were the symptom. The good stuff, the hard stuff, the ROCK stuff, became niche or nostalgia or simply went away.

Yes, Metallica puts out “…And Justice For All” in 1988. Yes, Skid Row (whose vocal chops are excellent) tried to metal up glam in 1989. But the former isn’t nearly as concise as Metallica’s earlier work and SR lacks the content and, frankly, the balls of its predecessors.

Again, this is NOT to say there wasn’t good music or good bands, but I’m talking COMMERCIAL albums…lots of air play and “buzz.” I’m talking about what was “pop” and in the public eye.

When good rock (excuse me…”alternative”) music starts making its way back into the mainstream, it’s the 90’s…around the same time that White Wolf is taking off and TSR is going down in flames. But neither the hobby, nor rock music, has ever regained the popularity it once held.

And maybe it never will. But fads and musical tastes are supposed to move in cycles of 20 years (or so I read somewhere). Maybe RPGs will follow suit.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"In MY Old Campaign.."

Wow.  And THAT's why we (or at least, I) bother to read other folks' blogs.  Checking out a post over at Grognardia got me looking at this old post from 2008, and I've got to say it was a real eye-opener.  I mean, I KNOW that I don't get to play D&D the way I used to, but I didn't realize it was because folks don't know how to do it!

(and this is why I should NOT be reading other peoples' blogs...once again I feel compelled to compose a blarg post of my own when I should be working on the B/X Companion)

Allow me to explain.

I guess I AM a "grognard" even though I was only a kid (8 years old!) back in 1981.  But the way my friends and I (all about the same age) played was definitely old school Campaign-style.  We had a game world that was independent. We had multiple parties (in truth, we had multiple CHARACTERS, but not all "characters" got along with each other so not all of 'em would adventure together). There were over-arching themes and/or plots that came out because of events that happened in play...sometimes on other sides of a continent or in a different dimension/plane.

We referred to our game world...the "Milieu," to borrow Gygax's "the campaign." Later, we "blew it up" and recreated it (with some of the original characters remaining, though re-set to 1st level) and did it all over again. We ever after referred to our first game world as "the Original Campaign." For us it was akin to calling it "the Age of Legend" (and rightly so, as our characters had all had hundreds and hundreds of hit points).

In total we would blow up our campaign world a couple more times. Each time, it was recreated in a hazy reflection of its own image...similar to Tolkien tracking Middle Earth through the "Second Age," the "Third Age," etc.  All shared similarities...for example, they were mostly set in a muddled version of Oerth or the Greyhawk campaign, although we paid little attention to the machinations and intrigues of Gary's world.  Hell...we didn't know anything about Oerth, except for the names of a few cities (we never bothered with kingdom borders, preferring to carve out our own). 

After the release of BECMI (I believe that was our "3rd Age"), Threshold was a definite part. However, this was Mystarra creeping back into the game world.  Originally the characters had been from Specularum or thereabouts (definitely they had set off from there on their historic, if tragic, journey to the Isle of Dread).  Modules (being modular, I guess) were slotted in wherever they might fit...after all, in our fantasy milieu, ancient crypts and forbidden tombs were a semi-regular occurrence.

What I'm saying is there was consistency...or the game world.  This is the reason why, although we read the Krynn books, we never played any of the Dragon Lance modules (even though we owned a couple). "Krynn" did not fit into our campaign. Even when we started over again...multiple times!...we never said, "okay, this time we're playing in Krynn." Or Greyhawk. Or Mystarra. Or anything...we created our own legends and NPC powers and politics through play.  I guess that's the most important thing I want to get at.  You don't need to have a "Forgotten Realms" game setting, and a DM does not need to script a giant fantasy world of his or her own on the scale of FR or Greyhawk or whatever.  All you need to do is PLAY...and play for a loooong time.  The characters may change, but if the world stays the same, then those characters will have an impact on it...even if their own destiny was, um, short.

Here to me is the most interesting thing about JM;s campaign post (and I would have simply commented on that post if it wasn't from 2008).  I can see why MY experience of play mimics the old Gygax and Arneson days, even though I was only born in 1973 and didn't pick up a copy od D&D till 1981.

OD&D facilitates real campaign play. As in campaign world, not "one-group-of-adventurers-campaign-to-become-heroes" (ha! sounds like a political campaign!).  OD&D is not especially lucid (or implicit or both) on the subject, but LONG TERM, that's what it facilitates.

AD&D facilitates tournament codifies and defines the rules so that everyone can play on its strangely even playing field. It is complex and specific. It can be used to play "campaign style" but mainly if one already has a background in this style of play.

Now look at B/X and the system its closer is pretty much the same as OD&D, save for better written rules and the addition of a thief class.  I remember when I first picked up the LBBs and thought...this is the fuss?  It's poorly written B/X?

I grew up playing B/X...and playing B/X long term (through the dungeon, out of the box, and into the wilderness). THEN I moved to AD&D.

Tournament style made no sense to my group. The slavers (A1-4) series was my least favorite TSR modules, and even C2 needed to have the rules bent here and there to facilitate play. 

AD&D2 and BECMI were post-Dragon Lance, of course, so their campaign style became the type we see today.

One last thing before I sign off.  Gygax and Arneson may have run their campaign worlds with 20+ players, and this became a reason for separate adventuring groups, all running in the same world and having an impact on each other without interaction.  I did not have 20+ players.  The highest number of different players in our games were 9, total.  And a couple of those guys only appeared in one-off adventures.

However, we were KIDS...and kids at an age when sometimes one or two are "on the outs" with the others.  And so these falling outs led to starting different characters in different parts of the game world.  Then when everyone made amends (and perhaps someone DIFFERENT got ousted  as often happened), well we'd go back to playing the original characters, or we'd start some new ones.

We gamed a lot...we went to school together, we were too young to have jobs, and we were pretty smart.  Of the bunch, I actually had probably the most extracurricular activities (though that could be debated).  We had time to eat, drink, and sleep our campaign world for several years through several incarnations...enough to write at least one, maybe two decent novels (if you take out the juvenile whimsy that was occasionally thrown in).  But that's how you did it, back in the day.  At least that's how I did it.

And by the way, when you start gaming a high level game, you pretty much forget about Turns as a unit of time altogether. No one cares how long a torch lasts once you can cast continual light.  You worry about Rounds in combat, and days, weeks, or months the rest of the time. I have to remember to discuss that in the B/X Companion.

[my apologies for the lateness of this post...I'm sure it's no longer relevant.  But I had to catch an outdoor movie screening at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, tonight.!]