Friday, September 25, 2009

Wizards of Marketing

So I "took possession" of my nephews yestereve (their parents are in Spain for the next ten days), which means I was up making breakfast before school this morning at 7am after being up till 1am or so organizing Magic Cards and watching Project Runway.

[yet another side note: I watch three reality shows with startling regularity: Top Chef, Project Runway, and The Amazing Race. The first two are simply an exercise in bottled creativity, and results are judged by experts of the field rather than BS call-in proletariat...something I love. The latter show is about a group of competing cooperative couples ("parties") traveling around the world ("adventuring") exploring crazy locales and overcoming obstacles ("tricks/traps" and sometimes "monsters") in order to win a million dollars ("acquire treasure")...YOU do the math]

Ten days of watching the (teenage) kids means ten days of entertainment for yours truly, though it also means a dearth of my own side projects I'm afraid. Sorry...I unfortunately continue to belong to the non-gaming rat race (unlike some lucky Old Schoolers) and consequently need to put in 50 hours or so (including commute/lunch time) per week doing things other than writing and gaming in order to maintain my wife, beagles, and mortgage in the manner to which they've become accustomed (my wife works even more, so I thank my lucky stars...of course, she gets to travel).

However, the little extra stress of caring for two kids with football practice and high school dances (not to mention fixing real meals and getting 'em to school/bed on time) is small potatoes compared to the fun factor. My wife is already telling them (the kids) that they should take the opportunity to start "a series" with me (her word for a D&D Campaign). They (the kids) are very fact, the 15.5 year old may forgo hanging out with his hoodlum friends after school in order to get home early and play with Uncle JB.

Of course, D&D won't be the only game we play. For one thing, the kids brought their Wii over to the house. Normally, I would work covertly to ensure the game system never got turned on (distraction and attention is an amazing way to keep kids off the vids, I've found) but this time it appears we'll be playing it as they brought over Rock Band which my wife loves and has been jonesing to play ever since our XBx 360 burned out.


Another thing is the kids' personal vices. For S, this is Warhammer 40K which he ALWAYS wants to play when he comes over (I've put that off for over a year, but the minis might be coming out this week). For Z., this is Magic: the Gathering and THAT's already out (as I said). He made sure to bring his shoebox of cards and is anxious to test his "kick-ass black & white" deck against me. Poor (6' tall) kid...I've got FOUR shoeboxes full of cards. I should probably just put together a deck of Swamp-walk and Plains-walk banding critters to shut him up.
>: )

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I'm from Seattle which is fairly near the birth place of Wizards of the Coast (I'm not sure exactly where it started, but their headquarters were located in Renton for a looong time and they had several flagship stores in the greater Seattle area for years). Strangely enough, I came pretty late the the Magic Card craze. I wouldn't buy my first deck until 1999 or so, more than six years after the initial release of the game.

I had been aware of Magic Cards, of course. The first time I saw them was my third year of college, which would have been...well, 1994 come to think of it. The guy who ran the Call o Cthulhu game at one of the dorms was the roommate of my (non-gamer) buddy, Matt. O, jeez...I can't remember that guy's name! Paul? Maybe...he was from Kelso, Washington which is pretty much saying "from the sticks." I had to ask Matt "what the hell are those?" To which he told me, "some sort of card game, I don't know, he plays ALL the time." I never saw Paul play. He did end up joining a very short-lived Vampire game (mmm...that one's a LONG story...), but he never "showed me the Magic."

Actually, come to think of it, my buddy Joel also had some Magic cards, but when I asked him about them he showed complete disdain for his own collection (Big Joel was always big on disdain regarding a LOT of things besides peace and justice and throwing down "the man"). Of course, most of the time I was with Joel was spent drinking and"other pastimes." He WAS rather passionate about Ars Magica, come to think of it, and he introduced me to that game back then....

So I managed to get through all of college with never buying or playing Magic at all.

It wasn't until I was unemployed and living in a house with two WSU non-alums circa 1999 that I picked up my first deck and laid land to laminate. Steve and Salter were non-gamers (though Steve had played some Rifts with me back in high school), but all of us were heavy drinkers and two of us were between jobs, so we had to find something to do.

Salt worked as a part-time caterer while going to cooking school, and he was the guy with Magic cards. He pulled them out one night after we'd been drinking a lot (I don't know what it is about Seattle-types being so nervous about being judged by others...maybe because we're so judgmental ourselves? Probably) and wanted something to do besides watching Strangers With Candy and smoking cigarettes. I think we probably ended up playing till dawn.

Of course, after that we were sold. Steve and I used Salt's spare cards to construct decks that we would play against each other and Salt, then we'd tweak 'em between games to better take on our opponent(s), then we'd rinse and repeat. My wife (at the time "girlfriend") got into it as well, and Steve, M. and I would show up at Baranoff's in Greenwood, eat a hearty (if greasy) breakfast and play Magic for two-three hours. We'd buy used cards from the local game shop (20 for a dollar? Something like that) and never actually gave WotC so much as a red cent all while enjoying the hell out of ourselves.

This went on for a couple months till we'd all found jobs. But it was definitely fun while it lasted!

It was also much MORE fun than playing computer games on-line, IMO. There's nothing like throwing down some big-ass monster with "trample" and seeing the crushed look on your opponent's face, or making bird "skraw" noises every time one of us summoned up a flying creature. We all had personal nicknames for our best cards. M. loved her blue deck specifically for this flying djinn card she somehow always managed to pull; she referred to him as "Superman" and still does (as she did last night...and she hasn't touched a Magic deck in close to ten years!). Good times.

Here's the interesting thing...the actual initial point of this post before I got a little side-tracked: Magic the Gathering has an incredibly low buy-in for its amount of fun/addiction. Kind of like Tom Moldvay's Basic set. Meanwhile, D&D in other formats also has a high fun/addiction factor but a terribly high buy-in. Most people just don't want to spend the money or the time necessary to learn the game themselves.

Case in point: my nephews. They LOVE D&D. If I had to ask, I think it would be one of their top two or three games of all time after only having played TWICE (by the way: they have BOTH cancelled their World o Warcraft subscriptions and sworn off the game). But even though I bought them their very own Labyrinth Lord (AND dice), they haven't yet read the rules or tried running games themselves.

Now, I haven't questioned 'em too closely about this (as I said, we just got 'em last night and they only had time for dinner, homework, and a some Must See TV before bedtime). But the impression I got is they simply don't have the patience to learn the game from a book. And this is Labyrinth Lord we're talking about...not even AD&D or Pathfinder! That's a pretty short book!

It reminds me of my brother and his console games...he enjoys video games but he never bothers to read the instructions. And these are SHORT instruction books. I read 'em and operate his console games better than him right out of the gate; he doesn't have the patience to learn the many intricacies until (maybe!) several hours of gameplay have elapsed. Are we just that impatient as a culture? That would probably explain my questions regarding WoW the other day (people just don't have the time and energy to play table-top RPGs or "create imaginary worlds"). Still and all, I find that pretty sad if it's the case.

Ah, well...enough whining. I'm heading for home to build some Magic decks.
: )

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Decline of Western Civ Part 2

Remember this post here?

Man, I was totally right on, if I do say so myself. I've been listening to my new music today, and I've gotta' say there is very little to recommend Motley Crue's Girls, Girls, Girls over their earlier albums, especially Shout At The Devil. Yeah, the title track is pretty kickin', as is a couple others but for the most part it is an exercise in decadence and squalor. Do I really need to hear about the guy's fantasy to get it on with a 15 year old?

On the other hand, they're still quite creative, both musically and lyrically...I doubt I've heard such un-restrained raunchiness anywhere else in the last 20 years (other than a rap album or two)...and all without resorting to profanity. These guys are cringe-worthy sleeze, but man they're still rock n roll without being "shock n roll" (or even "schlock n roll").

Of course, Girls, Girls, Girls was put out (no pun intended) circa 1987, and was still a step better (rock-wise) than the 1989 Dr. Feelgood, in my less-than-humble opinion.

But compare it to Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and PowerSlave.'s been awhile since I've heard these (the last time I had a working cassette player in my car was around 1997), but they still rock. And all of 'em were out before 1986.

In fact, Iron Maiden is just crazy prolific...they were putting out something like an album per year for like five years, and all with great, sometimes mind-blowing music.

Even so, listening to 'em back-to-back (or rather, back-to-front, since I started with PS and worked my way backwards) there is a noticeable decline in quality, at least to my ear. And that's withOUT factoring in Somewhere In Time and 7th Son. When I was younger (like 13 or 14) I was all over songs like The Evil That Men Do, but it just doesn't hold up compared to Die With Your Boots On, the Trooper, or even Gangland.

Of course it's not really fair to compare anything to the Number of the Beast. That has got to be one of my favorite albums of all time by any band. Hallowed Be Thy Name? Are you kidding me? This is one of the most rocking songs ever written, hands down. I just can't praise it enough. And it's from 1982.

Iron Maiden is not especially raunchy...aside from Charlotte the Harlot, they more regularly refer the listener to authors of raunchy books than (Heinlein) than provide any vicarious sleeziness. In fact, they are so concept oriented they'd probably be a good platform for "RPG Rock" (you know who you are, Three Inches of Blood)...IF they had any interest in RPGs, which I doubt they do.

Doesn't mean role-players don't have any interest in them. Anyone else ever notice the striking resemblance the protagonist of The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh bears to lead singer Bruce Dickinson circa the 1980s? No? I'm the only one that sees it? Come on!

Well,'s nice to have some new/old music on Ye Olde sure makes the work day go faster.

Up the Irons!
: )

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

" why don't he write?"

Somehow, I have a feeling I'm going to be posting that subject line a lot the next couple weeks.

My wife and I are going to be watching our nephews, Z and S, for 10 days while their parents are traveling in Spain. Great fun, to be sure. We'll be going to see the Seahawks Sunday (of course), and between 'lil guy football, school, and homework, I'm almost certain we'll be playing a little D&D, too (when we went to their house for dinner last week, S. was clamoring to play more...he is the Dr. Doolittle I wrote about last month, if you don't recall.

Play reports should soon follow, of course.

Meanwhile, what have I been up to? Not a lot, I'm afraid. Work the last couple days. Oh...and socializing...lots of that (just out with friends tonight actually...).

But writing-wise I'm mainly up to my new module...a little "B/X thang" for levels 7-10, I'm guessing. Problem is, I keep wanting to use monsters from me B/X fact, certain ones are figuring to feature prominent-like. Should I try to get the Companion out first? Or simply throw in a little appendix o new monsters (a la the old TSR modules)?

[side note: I would REALLY love...I cannot stress enough! release my B/X Companion with an accompanying module in the style of Moldvay/B2 or Cook/X1. But what should I use as the letter code? C1 is (obviously) Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and CM1 is some module for the Mentzer Companion set. I don't know, but whatever it is, I hope it will showcase my Companion stuff the same way X1 and B2 showcase their respective rule sets]

Anyhoo, I'm busy stocking my little adventure, while the good Doctor devises some (hopefully) fiendish maps for me. I should probably hit up Dyson for some of this action, though I'm not sure how ethical it is to contribute to his problem. Ah, well....

Speaking of Dr. Love...just got his package today containing a plethora of music to upload to my IPod, including:

- Number of the Beast
- PowerSlave
- Piece of Mind
- Shout at the Devil
- Girls, Girls, Girls
- Dr. Feelgood
- Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath featuring Dio!)
- Led Zeppelin III (completing the collection)
- Metal Health
- Tyranny of Souls (a B.D. solo album)
- War of Words (Halford's Fight album, inexplicably in a Rush CD case for some reason??)

[I should note I already own most of these albums on cassette tape...which, of course, can't be uploaded. Talk about "old school!"]

With this much Metal pouring out of my ears, how can I not have the gumption to complete my writing projects? Lord give me ROCK!

Catch you folks on the B-side...
: )

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why World of Warcraft?

Or any MMORPG for that matter?

Yeah, I was considering a follow-up Blood Bowl post to yesterday's devastating Seahawks' loss (is it devastating when a team goes 1-1 to start the season? Only when it sees another 4 starters go down with injury...especially your starting QB).

But forget that...I have a better thing to ask about.

Part of this is simply riffing off of Raggi's rather thoughtful post over at LotFP...fairly good food for thought, I don't mind saying, especially as I start a little module writing action of my own.

But what's really set me off is simply walking around my neighborhood and looking in windows.

Not that I'm in the habit of peeking through my neighbors' windows, please understand. But I do walk my neighborhood quite a bit (Greenwood's considered an "urban village" of Seattle, whatever that means), and when it's night time and the shades are up (and their lights are on), I can't help but notice things simply when walking to the store, polite as I try to be). 

Just WHAT I notice is folks playing on their computers late into the night.

Now my wife and I just moved into this house and this street so we didn't expect to hit it off especially with everyone, but we've had no problem. For one thing, everyone's quite friendly. For another, it seems to be mostly populated by people just like us: young couple's, professionals, all in their 20s-30s. Some have children, some have pets, some have both. 

Of course, maybe they're not playing MMORPGs...maybe they're working on their great American novel or their political blog for change or simply playing Mafia on Facebook. But I've known enough MMORPG players to know that they fit the profile...guys my age, my income level. Oh sure there are plenty o young kids that play WoW...newbs or rubes or whatever. But many of the hard core players are older chaps like myself.

Why the hell are they playing these games and not traditional RPGs?

I mean what's the problem? They don't have a gaming group to join? D&D doesn't have cool enough stuff? They need visual graphics to make their imaginations work? They're afraid of how table-top gamers smell? Your significant other won't let you go out and play?

Personally, I just don't get it. I can almost understand the interest in console shooter games like Halo (some people like to shoot people without really shooting people, ya' know?)...kind of like racing games or playing Rock Band.

But why play World of Warcraft...THE most popular MMORPG by a shit-ton of people...instead of finding real people to game with, they would rather "raid" the same dungeon week after week (or night after night) waiting hopefully for new "content" to be developed. I mean, what the hell? Are people really that anti-social?

I mean, I have a tendency to be anti-social, but gaming is need to game with people right? I mean, that's kind of the saving grace of gaming right? Instead of saving the world or feeding the hungry or something you're at least building community, being creative, using your imagination, story-telling. 

Or maybe you're not. Maybe it IS all about escapism and living out your fantasy of being a "hero" (or an 80th level night elf whatsis). In which case, why give an F about any of this?

You know what...that's a damn rhetorical question. Should people stop attempting to make thoughtful films (or, hell, writing for stage theater) just because plenty o people prefer scripted reality programs with train-wrecks of "real" people? Of course not.

Posting may be light for the near future...I have some Old School writing I need to finish up.
; )

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Am I The Only One Reading This..?

Look, I'm weird, okay? Probably because I grew up in a city that is rabid about our professional football (our pro team retired the #12 jersey in honor of the fans back in the 1980s!), I am just a HUGE NFL fan.  Am I the only one that thinks this game is so readily combine with a love of fantasy gaming?

Maybe.  I have read some of GW's Black Library Warhammer 40K books (orks in space, in case anyone is unfamiliar with the game line). But I just ran into this book last year. I picked it up , but my reading of it has been on-hold since last October when it got packed up with most of my library for our anticipated house sale (said sale not occurring till May, due to the sudden tanking of the market...ugh!).


It's NOT the greatest book, or the greatest writing (sorry Mr. Forbeck...just being honest here). But I still enjoy it...because it's Blood Bowl fiction! Blood Bowl is such an easily spoofable genre of can poke fun of football, you can poke fun of fantasy tropes (pansy elves, hungry hobbits, brutally stupid greenskins).  It's just a good time over all.

And it's light reading, what I call summer reading.  Of course, summer's over (football season has officially started), but it'll be good for NEXT off-season.

Mmm...ANYway, it's good for me to be a little lighter. My thoughts have been going to some darker places lately (don't ask me why). Yesterday I sat down to do some actual writing on my B/X Companion but I was interrupted by "friends" coming over. I probably shouldn't put friends in quotes because they ARE good friends, couples whom my wife and I have a great time with...but, as I'm said, I'm weird and they don't match my weirdness. Hell, they enjoy college football (why would someone pay to see THAT?)...ugh...I should have at least added 5 pages yesterday and instead I ended up watching hours of TV and talking about Bowl Games and local politics and whether one peach pie was better than another (when made with the same ingredients). Ugh...I guess I had been looking forward to an anti-social weekend, and I didn't get my wish.

Ah, well...I'll snap out of it once I've had some breakfast. It's hard to stay depressed on Football Sunday (especially when your favorite team is beating the hell out of its division rival), and I don't mind socializing during "the big game." Good thing, 'cause it looks like there may be even MORE people coming over today (including all four from yesterday and some friends from Orcas relation to Blood Bowl's Orcidas...that are in town).

[man, the Bengals are looking good again. I'm glad I decided to paint those wood elves in the Orange & Black...]

[ope...just got a phone call from our Orcas friend...who wanted us to meet her for sushi! Is she crazy? The Seahawks game starts in an hour! And who eats sushi for brunch? Sheesh...island people!]

I read Mr. Forbeck's book and I can't help but thing two things: A) thank you for taking the time to write this (pedestrian or not, I can always use more BB fiction), and B) why didn't I think of this first?  

According to his preface, Mr. Forbeck is from the USA originally, moved to England to beg a job from Games Workshop, ended up writing three novels for them (eventually) before moving back to the US...all straight out of college. Hell, I could have done that...if I'd had more balls (I guess). Ah, youth...

Mmm. So far my fantasy football players appear to be getting smoked this week. Oh,'s just a game, right?

: )

Friday, September 18, 2009

Well, Shoot...

...didn't get much writing done today at all I'm afraid.  Well, at least nothing too constructive (had to blog about last night's B/X game.

However, I DID catch up on my sleep, both this morning and this afternoon with a little three hour power nap. AND I mowed the lawn, got a hair cut, helped make tamales, cleaned some bathrooms, purchased and read Castle Falkenstein, got coffees, checked out a new restaurant/cafe (nice little omelet house)...I mean, it WAS productive.

Welp, I've got a dinner to attend to...perhaps I'll have time to write a bit later.

: )

Results of the S3 Poll

I've deleted the poll from the blog as it has run its course. The responses were overwhelmingly positive (77%!) for S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Of course only 22 people responded. I should probably post this kind of thing over at Dragonsfoot or at But then I'd have to sign up for an account with them and blah, blah, blah...

Of the 6 respondents who have only DM'd the module (including myself) 4 loved it and 2 were "so-so" (I was one of the latter). Of the 9 respondents who had only played the module, 7 loved it and 2 did not. Of the folks that had done both, 6 enjoyed it both ways while 1 found at least one aspect (DMing or playing) annoying or less than fun.

Thanks for the feedback...just goes to show that I really DON'T have a pulse on what folks like!
: )

Plate Mail Won't Save You

Man, I finally got a day off, which is great. That is to say, I have a day off, meaning a day to myself. I work 40 hours a week like most of the other American stiffs lucky enough to retain their jobs in this floundering economy, but I only work 4 days a week (10 hour days). Gives me a 3-day weekend, but because of traveling, entertaining, and shift changes (I used to get Mondays off, now its Friday)...well, it's been awhile since I've had a chance to catch up on my sleep.

Oh, I know, I know...I have SUCH a hard life, don't I? As I sit drinking a steaming cup of Diva Espresso's Perfection Blend (their special dark roast of the Virgoan season), I realize that I have many blessings, and must have done SOMEthing good in a past life to receive so many gifts in this one. After all, no one's invaded MY sovereign nation and bombed my house based on the evil acts of a handful of rogue individuals...

[all praise and thanks to God!]

Plus, both my wife and I still have our jobs (we've both seen lay-offs at work) which affords me the luxury of drinking coffee, and paying for my wireless internet so I can blog away at the kitchen counter...AND enjoy a decent B/X game in the evening with the help of Skype and Gametable on-line.

Last night was yet another foray into the Wilderlands care of Mr. Armstrong over at Ode to Black Dougal, my first time playing a thief. In fact, as far back as I can recall, I don't EVER remember playing an actual straight any edition of the game.

Even when I was playing 3rd edition, my dwarf fighter/rogue/duelist STARTED as a fighter, I'm almost positive (have to get the benefit of those starting hit points, right?)...though maybe not. Hell, maybe he didn't even start at first level...that really was a galaxy far-far away...

Anyway, a "rogue" isn't the same thing as a thief; thieves are thieves, and all PCs in B/X are roguish sorts. BECMI not so get paladins and druids who are all "holier-than-thou" about their respective forms of worship. B/X doesn't get so hoity-toity.

And speaking of rogues, I wasn't the ONLY one playing a thief last night. We'd actually scheduled THREE thieves to show up (hey, when you're rolling 3D6 in order, you get what you get!) but only two made our leather-clad fighter (more on him later) and yoyorob's new guy, a dwarf named Sully. 

Much fun, including one character death. I think Timeshadow's thief (who didn't make it to the party) is now the longest running character in Pat's "mini-campaign"...and she's only 1st level with 2 hit points!  See? It's all about SMART play can survive with a 6 Constitution.

Of course, it helps not to try to make friends with a wounded bear, right Jaxson?  ; )


All kidding aside,  it certainly appears that a character's survivability is inversely proportional to the amount of armor he wears. Case #1: Krome, Diomedes, and Biff (or whatever that henchman's name was). Case #2: Jaxson. Forgoing his familiar leather for the more familiar plate mail did NOT increase his ability to survive. 

Oh, I'm not talking about probabilities here...yes, I am fully aware that plate and shield decreases your percentage chance of being hit by 25% over leather armor alone. But how's THIS for a stat: 100%. That is the mortality rate so far of characters wearing plate mail in our B/X game. That's not probability, that is absolute certitude.

100%...compared to a 100% survivability rate for characters that do NOT wear plate mail. Now there are a couple caveats. The 100% mortality is over a span of two or more game sessions. All of the guys who have played (and died) so far participated in  at least two game sessions. Only Meepo's plate-sporting halfling (Sancho Peatfingers!) is excluded from the death poll, because Jim hasn't made it back to a game session since the first one. Based on the 100% mortality rate, I'm sure he'd be dead now if he had.
: )

Even the plate wearers fared better when OUT of their armor. Sully the dwarf also has a full kit of plate (once Rob figured out we were using the B/X equipment list and NOT the Labyrinth Lord one), but I don't think he even once had a chance to don it. The first encounter of the evening was aboard a river boat when the party was attacked by more than a dozen swarming river pirates (with archer support). Even though Sully (and Jaxson) were NOT wearing their armor (being less armored than the thieves!) they survived the encounter while fully engaging in combat and helping to drive off the brigands. Sure they took some wounds on their heroic bare-chests, but they both managed to survive the scrape.

Later when Jaxson was mauled by the bear, he was wearing full armor (I think K said later that he was unarmored, but Pat was making attack rolls as if Jax had his better AC and stated later that fighter's armor was ripped to shreds). Sully? He was reclining naked in the (locked) cabin where we could safely listen to "feeding time" without getting eaten ourselves.

[side note: bears are quickly moving up onto my top ten list of D&D monsters after their recent antics in-game. I am going to have post this list pretty soon!]

The reason why the damn stats lie regarding the wonderful ability of armor to save you has more to do with the underlying human nature of players than with any real failing in the math. Certainly, I recall the cleric Diomedes ability to leap into melee with a pack of kobolds, and practically route them himself (well, Sancho helped a bit with his bow, I guess...). Plate and shield IS effective in the right kind of encounter. Basically, any weapon-using dudes that are low in hit points (because the faster you can kill 'em the quicker they are to route). It's over-confidence in one's armor that leads to career-ending violent demise.

Against big means with claws and teeth, plate is going to get shredded nearly as fast as leather or cloth. The key here is the multiple in the "tyranid swarm syndrome" (TSS) to borrow a term from Warhammer 40K. Hell, even Khorne Berserkers (my 40K army of choice). The multiple attacks give you more chances to hit, thus more chances to damage. Even in an army on army, multiple attacks are generally going to carry the day in melee...but if you've got a multiple attacking swarm on a greatly outnumbered opponent (such as small party of PCs) chances are the smaller group's going to get gaffled.

Fighting a bear is like fighting three guys...except harder. First off, a single opponent doesn't break morale, generally. Second off, its high hit points mean there is no diminished effectiveness based on YOU doing damage. Third off, its high hit dice means the thing is going to hit you a LOT easier (and thus more often) than a 2 HD trog or a 1 HD orc/kobold/pirate. And of course, when it DOES hit it does tremendous damage compared to a hobgoblin with a sword. Given the bear's multiple attacks (AND the added "bear hug" damage) just ensures that you're toast. Even (or especially!) a wounded bear is nothing to scoff at...lower hit points does NOT equal diminished effectiveness, remember?

Jaxson never had a chance against the thing, plate mail or not.

Compare this to a 2nd level fighter attacking an ogre. On average an ogre has 19 hit points, AC 5, THAC0 15 and does 1-10 points of damage. Against a fighter with AC 2 (plate and shield) his damage output is (average) 2.2 per round (hits 40% of the time X 5.5 average damage). The 2nd level fighter with a sword and a 13 strength? He does the exact same damage output. Now if the fighter has a 16+ strength, a high constitution and/or dexterity, or a couple buddies helping him...well, then the odds of taking down the ogre radically shift in favor of the fighter. A 3rd level fighter with 17 hit points (we play with max hit points at first level) would have the same damage output as a 2nd level fighter but would have an even chance of killing the ogre before being killed.

Not so with the bear. Even a 4HD black bear average 3.73 damage per round (and with 18 hit points, clearly outweighs the 2HD fighter). The third level fighter will need more than 7 rounds to kill the bear, even taking into account the bear's worse AC than the ogre. The bear will kill the 3rd level fighter in less than 5. Against a grizzly (which I think is what we fought) it's even quicker.  A grizzly's damage output versus plate and shield is 7.24 damage per round! A 2nd level fighter with 13 hit points (I think that was Jaxson's total) can't expect to last more than 2 rounds against such a beast...and Jaxson, still wounded from the earlier encounter, did not even last one.

Rest In Pieces, guy...little, tiny, bear-digested pieces...

Anyway, as I mentioned, I am a blessed man. I have a job, a loving wife, a home, and two wonderful access to good coffee and the internet. And in addition to all that, I have a new B/X character that is still alive and well (un-scratched, actually).as well as more than 60gps richer then when he started the evening.

Being a thief is kind of fun! I sure run faster than the guy in plate mail!
: )

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou Assassins?

My knowledge of the assassin class goes back at least as far as my knowledge of Blackrazor…that is, back to the primordial beginnings of my gaming on the playground. I talked earlier about the “mad twins,” Todd and Trevor, who had been introduced to D&D by an older cousin (I think his name was Dennis, but I may be misremembering this), and who helped my own understanding of “real” D& fighting over who would get to cut the souls out of the other players/monsters using Blackrazor.

In those days of recess hijinks, Todd and Trevor would talk about what kind of character they played…generally fighters or magic-users but ALSO assassins. What’s an assassin? Well a hired killer of course. I’m 99% certain I already knew the real world term “assassin,” even at the tender age of 7 or 8 (don’t ask me why…Americans are brought up loving their violence)…perhaps due to “assassination attempts” on folks like Reagan and Lennon around about the same time (circa 1980).

But the idea that a person would kill other people for pay…now THAT was a mind-blowing concept. Not knowing what a hitman was, the idea that someone would actually give big sacks of gold for you to "off" someone…as a child I found the idea scary/intriguing and totally wicked-awesome.

Now, of course, not having any rule books our idea of character “class” was simply that…your class was how you were classified, i.e. your role and what you were supposed to do. Fighters would fight (duh!), magic-users would “use magic” (double-duh…though I specifically remember magic missile and fireball being the most popular spell names tossed around…maybe invisibility). Assassins were supposed to kill people…for money!

There was no discussion of thief skills or backstabbing or anything like that…hell, we didn’t even know what “hit points” were (we didn’t have dice after all…we were playing the equivalent of “cops & robbers” or “cowboys & Indians” except with D&D/fantasy tropes). Nope, you were either a dude that fought, a dude that cast spells, or a dude that killed people.

[just a side note before I forget: we also knew that magic-users didn’t get to use weapons like Blackrazor, so though the fabled weapon was generally in the possession of the fighter, sometimes the assassin would “use” it]

Anyhoo, I eventually got my actual set of the rules for my 8th birthday (c/o Tom Moldvay) and as with the conspicuous absence of Blackrazor from the Magic Item section, there was likewise NO ASSASSIN CLASS. As with Blackrazor, I jumped to the snap conclusion that the twins had been full of crap…they had no idea how to actually play REAL Dungeons & Dragons, and wouldn’t know a +1 sword from their own stunted genital. Assassins my ass.

It was a good 3-4 years before I got my first copy of the AD&D Player’s Handbook and found that lo and behold there WAS an actual assassin class. But even before that, I seem to remember getting confirmation of the class’s existence from someone else. Perhaps I cornered “Dennis” on the playground (he was an older kid that I never met more than once or twice). Perhaps it was Eric, one of the Boy Scout leaders in my troop (man, all those older Scouts played D&D. The local Eagle Scout…tall, handsome, incredibly competent…sported a super-cool dragon belt-buckle that I, for one, coveted fiercely!).

Regardless of where I got my info, this was AFTER I had already drank deeply from the well of Cook/Marsh’s Expert set. As it was explained to me, Assassins were not a class so much as a specialist henchman one would hire to slay rivals. Again, to me this was mind-blowing…that PLAYERS would actually hire a contract killer to assassinate a rival (another player?)!

Here I was living in this world of black and white, good and evil, and players are being given options to work out their differences in the basest way possible. I mean, to me “bad guys” were Chaotic, “goody-two-shoes” were Lawful, and most PC adventurers were hardcore Neutral. Orcs, being Chaotic, were a scourge upon the Earth, and wiping them out every man, woman, and child (as in B2: Keep on the Borderlands) was an act without moral ambiguity. They were EVIL, dammit!

[Yes, I am a kinder, gentler DM now…to both players AND monsters.]

So assassins…if there had been assassins in the B/X rules I am certain I would have used them and used them heavily. Thieves in my old campaigns were never treated as “assassins” (or “swashbuckling fighters” for that matter)…thieves were thieves! They stole things! They climbed into hard to reach places, picked locks, disarmed traps, etc. The backstab damage was pretty damn incidental compared to their other talents.

[side note: I think this is in part a result of B/X not increasing the damage multiplier of a thief’s backstabbing ability. It never increases above X2 damage in B/X of BECMI play. My B/X Companion had intended to include rules for increasing this, as was part of the OD&D and AD&D rules, but now I’m wondering…]

But by the time our game group actually got access to our first PHB, everyone was pretty well set in their “established role.” Jocelyn was a fighter, Matt was a cleric, Scott was a magic-user, Jason was a thief…and my little brother generally played dwarves or some type of demi-human. MY role was “the DM” exclusively in those days and since none of the players wanted to play (or hire!) assassins, they fell by the wayside a little bit.

‘Course later (when someone else had taken the helm) I had the chance to play an assassin myself, but by then I’d established my bard character, so go figure. There WERE a few assassins that got played; usually multi-classed, and often as side-characters run on solo adventures…there just didn’t seem to be any call for them as part of an adventuring party.

And why would there be? A party of adventurers is a team of people (mercenary or not, competent or not) that band together for a cooperative effort aimed at completing a mission (whether for gold, glory, or the greater good…doesn’t matter). What purpose could an assassin serve in such an outfit? Keeping the lesser party members in line? Sowing dissent in the ranks? One dungeon delve “adventure” provides scarcely enough time to scout a target, let alone “get to know it and formulate an optimal plan for assassination.”

I can see how one might play a non-traditional adventuring party consisting ONLY of assassins (perhaps with some magical support) that act as a scout-sniper/hit squad to take down enemies (King Snurre, Eclavdra, whomever). But since AD&D has the requirement that assassins be of EVIL alignment…well wouldn’t it make more sense for these characters to turn on the civilized nations that hired them, throwing in with the giants and the drow?

There’s a lot I like about BECMI’s take on the assassin (the “headsman/thug”). Their Neutral alignment. Their role as executioner, not just hired killers. Their hit dice as monsters rather than human characters (and make no mistake, people who assassinate other humans for either “the good of the nation,” or for money ARE monstrous individuals).

But I don't want assassins to simply be monsters. At least not in my B/X Companion. out the local assassins guild can be a fun type of dungeon crawl (I’ll have post my Assassins of Willip adventure sometime…THAT’s an interesting story). But it’s fairly limiting to the CONCEPT of assassins to make them simply a monster with an “auto-kill” attack. Hell, just give ‘em all poisoned daggers, you end up with the same thing (higher level assassins hit better, and higher level victims are more resistant to assassination due to better saves).

What I want for my game is a return to the assassin as a specialist hireling. Why does the PHB have an elaborate table of assassination prices? Is that how much the party has to chip in when “Shadowspawn” takes down Lareth the Beautiful? Come on!

Assassins are just people that kill for money…period. A knife against the throat of a helpless victim (paralyzed or sleeping) will auto-kill that victim. Poison…in a meal or on a blowgun needle…can also do the job. So can a noose or garrote around the neck. And an assassin that can cast a finger of death or use the kill power word is an operator that can command a high price for his (or her) service!

I do not think I’m going to include much in the way of “special rules” for assassins…just a general description and their cost to hire. But I’m still thinking about it, so it’s possible I’ll change my mind. Certainly an “automatic chance of assassination” is more fair and true to D&D than simple “DM fiat;” (and in true D&D form, the DM always has the option to cut random tables from their game), and for that reason alone I might include something akin to the assassination tables in the 1st edition DMG. But we’ll see. Assassins and assassinations ARE a part of high level play (especially with PCs that are ruling dominions) and they are something I want in my B/X Companion.

Any objections?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Slow Evening... other words, relaxing.

As I commented elsewhere, folks all over the internet are going through an angsty, self-analyzing period.  I ain't immune to it myself, though I'm doing my best to sit tight and "fogeddaboutit."

Tonight is TV night (what night isn't really?)...nothing like a little Top Chef, a couple beers, a (slightly large) lap dog or two.

However, PRIOR to the same-old same-old the wife and I were watching a Spanish telvision show (well, technically "HBO Ole," whatever the F that is) called Epitafios ("Epitaphs"). Quite interesting...a cop drama, with a connecting mystery/antagonist through several episodes. I'd never seen in before, but I was able to watch a couple/three episodes.

Here's the thing...I found it entertaining, which is NOT a word I associate with cop shows. Actually, I don't watch "police drama" of any type: no Law & Order, no The Shield, no Dark Blue, no CSI.  Hell, I never watched Miami Vice, T.J. Hooker, or Hill Street Blues either (though the last one was a little old for me at the time it was parents sure dug it). 

I don't know why people love law enforcement dramas...but this Epitafios show is pretty compelling. Perhaps because it's not episodic in nature (you know, one "situational scenario" every week). Come to think of it, I was a big fan of Twin Peaks which certainly had some law enforcement themes (I realize that one's actually kind of a stretch)...mmm, the first season or two of 24 was good, too.

I guess, similar to role-playing, people enjoy the vicarious escapism that comes from these get to put yourself in the shoes of a police officer (for most people, the closest thing to a hero in most folks' minds) and see the world through his/her eyes.

'Course I like the Epitafios show because the main characters aren't very my stereotyped mind, they look and act much more like what I might expect. They're dumpy and frumpy, but competent. They never shoot, strong arm, or beat up folks and mainly they're simply tracking down leads and investigating scenes.

Anyway, it REALLY makes me want to play a little RPG I picked up a few months back (see? I fully intended to tie this to an actual game): Mutant City Blues

Now I know that I just lost two-thirds+ of my readers, but I'll tell you this: I would never have got into the Old School gaming thing (i.e. I would still be hiding my own light) if wasn't for Pelgrane Press's GUMSHOE game system. I was researching Ken Hite on the 'Net when I ran into an interview between him and James Maliszewski, which led me to Grognardia, which led me to everything else (of course).

Mutant City Blues is the best "police drama" RPG I've ever seen. Hell, it's the only one I've ever found that I wanted to play (as I said...not much into cop drama). But for an investigative role-playing system it has a lot to recommend it (in my opinion).

- the rules are such that investigations never stagnate because of a failed die roll; all clues are provided, they simply need to be interpreted.

- the ability scores/skills set during character generation do more than simply determine in-game character effectiveness; they set-up to specifically share "spotlight" time between PCs (giving every player's character a chance to shine)

- it's actually makes police paperwork interesting (just what I RPG where I'm pushing MORE paper!)

- it has what I think is a very cool premise: cops (and criminals) with (minor) super powers. In the game world something like 1% or .1% of the population spontaneously developed super powers a few years before the start of the game. People got freaked out a little...and then everyone went back to their daily lives.  Most people don't talk about their mutant powers if they have 'em...there's a little discrimination against people with powers but not like Marvel's war on mutants (more like certain types of modern day bigotry; it varies by region). Some of the powered folks are, of course, malcontents/criminals...and your "special unit" of the police force is as much a PR move for the mutant public as is the minority police commissioner. 

- there's no specific setting...well, there is (kind of): your home town! Whatever the town wher you and your gaming group reside is supposed to be used as the default setting (the place everyone calls "Mutant City" because of its higher than normal prevalence of powered individuals). This is cool on a lot of levels, but for me, it makes me find out more about my the location of police stations, local city politicians, etc. You're encouraged to draw scenarios from local news items or set them around actual businesses and civic interests. Quite cool, in my opinion.

Anyway, I'd strongly recommend anyone check it out. I know I know...we all have tough schedules and it's tough enough to find a night to play B/X Dungeons and Dragons. But it IS's been sitting on my shelf long enough; it's time to take it for a test drive; perhaps with an Epitafios knock-off campaign?

Now if only my home-town was in Argentina....
: )


Frayed Ends

It’s often been said that high school is the best time of your life, to which of course I say, “bullshit.” Oh certainly there were some ups, but mostly it was a lot of downs (perhaps it would have been different had I been involved in team sports).

Now college…THAT was a great four years.

Besides all the usual wonderfulness that goes with a university (studying what you want, intelligent discourse and conversation, being able to (finally!) hold your liquor, and eating Big Macs for lunch and dinner while staying thin as a rail…and, of course, very nice members of the opposite gender), college was the re-birth (the Renaissance, if you will) of my role-playing experience. Well, for awhile at least…it also trailed off as I became more involved with the theater program (my major) and some fairly intense romance. But college was where I started meeting a lot of new people from wildly different backgrounds (including Canadians and Republicans!) that all gamed, just like me.

‘Course, none of us were playing D&D. There was some serious Call of Cthulhu happening in the basements of one dormitory. I sampled A LOT of White Wolf games (multiple Vampire sagas, some Mage, Ars Magica 3rd edition, a still-born Werewolf game). Plus I met folks whose “base” game (their particular “gateway drug”) was something other than D&D…Champions being the most notable (a game I still have never owned, nor played).

Anyhoo, that was a decade and a half ago. Now that I am experiencing yet another personal re-birth of role-playing, I find myself considering looking up old buddies from college and seeing if they want to throw down. ‘Course, being an adult, out-of-school, with years of Real World experience has a few drawbacks.

Like baggage. Case in point: two of my gamer companions from college were a couple. A fairly neat pair, they eventually got married…perhaps a year after I graduated (though I believe at least one of them was doing some Masters work). I was even the best man at their wedding!

Welp, they did not last (unfortunately or not…it’s certainly not fair for me to judge such things). The female of the pair is re-married (I think to husband #3). The male is/was still fairly bitter/resentful the last time I saw him (perhaps a year or two ago). And they are BOTH friends with me on my Facebook page!

[yes, my wife and brother forced me to get a Facebook about 8 months ago; I am not very good with remembering to update it…or even with using the built-in applications. Mainly it simply gathers internet dust…]

Anyhoo, should I tap either of these resources to potentially build a new group? I’m almost sure the ex-wife still games (she was always very heavy into gaming). I know the ex-husband MIGHT be willing to game (he still had a ton of gaming material stock-piled last time I saw him). Both have been contacting me lately via Facebook (the former has been messaging me, the latter has been “poking” me) which is the reason they spring to mind in the first place.

Of course, I doubt I could ever be in the same room with both of them at the same time…theirs was not what one would call an "amicable split."

I was responding to both of them while updating my Facebook this morning around 5:30am (the first time I’ve checked it in over a month). Generally, I just ignore people’s requests for info on how/what I’m doing. But am I passing up a good opportunity for game play here? Should I be having a more open mind regarding past relationships/friendships? Or should I simply move on, leave the past behind, and broaden my circle of friends and gaming experience?

These are the things I contemplate, as I drink my morning coffee….

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shambling Mound Haiku

Ken over at The Rusty Battleaxe, has an amazing string of haiku posted, most concerning individual monsters of AD&D (1st edition as far as I can tell).  I love haiku, I don't know why. I love it a lot more than the Japanese language, and I studied THAT for three years (and went to Japan! But don't tell Noisms, 'cause he might try to test me and that was nearly 20 years ago!).

ANYway, haiku. So wonderfully simplistic. So disciplined in forcing one to condense thought. So much easier to remember than iambic pentameter.  Ken is a brilliant man, as well as quite entertaining. In a total rip-off/homage (in Ken's style) I would like to formulate my own monstrous haiku to a monster that just doesn't get enough love (in my opinion): the Shambling Mound.  Without further ado:

One two fists hit
Smothered muffled screaming death
Don't use lightning bolt!

Doitashimashte!  I'll be here all week!
: )

B/X Barbarians

I spent a lot of time this morning trying to come up with how I wanted to handle assassins in my B/X Companion. Not as a character class, nor as a monster (a la the headsman of BECMI). No, but as a specialist hireling. I have some ideas (kind of a combination between AD&D and BECMI actually), but I’m just trying to figure out the minutia.

Of course, then I thought up this little number.

I don’t intend to add any new character classes to my B/X Companion (so no, don’t expect to see the paladin, druid, or monk). Part of this has to do with space considerations (the book is already filling up quick); part of it has to do with personal insecurities (who am I to suggest a new class when I’m simply trying to fill-in a companion supplement to an already excellent game system?).

Mainly, though, it is a conceit of principle on my part: most every character archetype of B/X play can already be created with the classes available. Let others house rule new character classes (monks, half-ogres, etc.) that will better fit into their game world concept. I just want to add some supplemental rules (levels to 36, monsters, treasures, spells, mass combat and dominion rules, etc.). Yes, I’ve got plenty of ideas that I COULD throw in, but a 64 page Companion is my aim. Maybe someday I’ll throw out MY own character guide.

However, I HAVE been reading a lot of Howard recently, and while I’m positive the character can be effectively modeled using the B/X Thief class, I figured I’d throw out a little something-something for those who cannot stand the idea (there IS a barbarian “fighter variation” over at Pandius Vault, but I don’t think it accurately models the classic pulp barbarians of Fafhrd and Conan).

There is no intention for this class to be included in the B/X Companion.


All barbarians are human but they are of a hardier stock than normal men, growing up in the savage wilderness, outside of civilization. Born warriors, they do not have the same martial training as true fighting men; however they have other skills that compensate for this.

To be a barbarian, a character must have a minimum Constitution of 9. The barbarian has two prime requisites: strength and dexterity. Barbarians with both a strength and dexterity of 13+ gain a +5% on earned experience; barbarians with a dexterity of 16+ in addition to a strength of 13+ gain a +10% on earned experience.

Barbarians may use any weapon and may wear either leather or chain mail armor; they may not wear plate mail. A barbarian can use a shield. They may use any magic item not restricted to another class. Because barbarians are new to society, 1st level characters only receive half the gold of a normal starting character (divide gold rolled by two).

Barbarians have a maximum level of 36. They roll 1D6 hit points per level up to level 9 (Name level). Barbarians receive +3 hit points per level after 9th level. They use the same attack and saving throw matrixes as Thieves (however, see special abilities below).

Level..........Title..........XP Needed

Barbarians require 130,000 XP for every level after 9th (Name level).

Barbarians have several additional abilities learned from their upbringing in the wilderness. As a thief of the same level, barbarians can climb sheer surfaces, move silently, hide in shadows, and hear noise. Wearing chain mail does not affect the use of these skills. Barbarians also have the same percentage change to track and find tracks that a thief of same level has to “find traps.” If a barbarian wishes to hide his or her own tracks from an adversary, he can do so with a successful “move silently” roll, though the barbarian cannot do this when moving faster than normal (i.e. when running). Literate barbarians (Intelligence 9+) also gain the thief ability to read languages due to their long wanderings, but the ability isn’t gained until 5th level. Barbarians never learn to read magic.

Barbarians are ferocious hand-to-hand combatants, gaining a bonus of +1 on their melee attack rolls. Missile attacks and damage rolls are unaffected by a barbarian's berserk frenzy.

A barbarian traveling on-foot, either alone or with other barbarians, moves faster through the wilderness than other characters. The barbarian treats woods and hills as clear terrain, and jungles and mountains as woods and hills, respectively. A barbarian travels no faster than any other character through desert or broken terrain.

Barbarians never build strongholds, though they may live in a castle or palace if they can take one by force. At Name (9th level), barbarians have the ability to call together a barbarian horde made up of many tribal clans banded together. It takes 1D8 weeks to gather the horde, and the total number of warriors gathered will be 10-100 per level of experience (though the DM may limit the number available). Use the berserker statistics in the Basic rules for individual horde members. This horde can be used to attack or defend a territory, but will only stay together a maximum of 1D4 months unless regularly plied with loot and treasure (2 gps per horde member per month; greater rewards may improve morale of the horde).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Red Wine, Chocolate Cupcakes, and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

I've been thinking a bit about what I wanted to say about S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks...truth be told, I couldn't think of a single profound thing (go figure...I told you folks I was a hack!).

Considering the fact that I've had it as long as any of my oldest modules, it is in fairly good condition...minimal creasing on the cover, no pencilled marks inside, the only rip being on the illustrated booklet. Part of the reason for the good condition is that this module was picked up new, along with several others in a four-pack set (I know that two of the other modules were S1: Tomb of Horrors and S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth), rather than from a used bookstore in Montana. I must have acquired it around 1985 or so.

However, a main part of the reason for its good condition is that I simply haven't used it much. I think I've run it all of twice, maybe three times (and that maybe is very iffy). Fact of the matter is, I never liked Expedition to the Barrier Peaks very much. Certainly not as a DM.

Now if my little spot poll means anything, that definitely puts me outside the norm...I'm the only one (so far) that's voted for "DM; eh, so-so." Considering 15 out of 19 who bothered to respond answered with the "loved it" answer, and the fact that it was named #5 on the greatest all-time list by Dungeon magazine (2004), I must be pretty silly. Even Stephen Colbert, whom I have immense respect for as a comedian, actor, and humanitarian considers it his favorite adventure module, at least according to wikipedia...high praise indeed!

So what's my beef?

Well, it's hard to say. I can list a number of things that bothered me as a kid. Never was it the problem with mixing players happily time-tripped to the 20th century, Boot Hill, even the Marvel Universe. Hell, we may have even had a stint in Gamma World but my memories of thos days are hazy. No it definitely was not the inclusion of space ships and lasers that bugged me. Let me see if I can put it into no particular order:

1) The front cover. I like Erol Otis art, though I appreciate it much more as an adult than I did as a kid. I liked the black cover (this was the only black covered module I owned...badass, in other words). But goddammit! You stick a picture of a dude shooting a laser pistol on the front and another guy wearing some sort of techno-helmet and you've given the whole game away! Any player with half a brain (and believe you me, my players had big ol' brains!) is going to know right away what they're in for when they see the cover.

[side note...I absolutely love the Roslov back cover, on the other hand....what is it about this guy? He totally "tickles my fantasy." I should research him some...]

2) The module is too easy/too hard. This is my memory from childhood, so may not stand up to the test of maturity, were I to run the module again as an adult. I ran this for characters of slightly higher level (if I remember correctly) and they breezed through pretty much every challenge...besides the froghemoth, of course. But for characters of slightly lesser level this (i.e. the recommended levels) it was too f'ing hard, especially considering that they would get trapped inside the dungeon upon entry. And certain encounters (especially one of my all-time favorite monsters: shambling mounds) proved especially deadly for any level party, seeing as how no group ever took a druid into an underground dungeon!

Now granted: in re-reading the module yesterday, I realized that adventure is meant to be played with a party of 15 characters. It is specifically designed for a large party, with the adjuration that players use two or even three PCs each! If I knew this as a kid, I'd since forgotten it, but I'm about 91% sure I missed this, and the parties that ran this module (admittedly not many) were fairly small (4-6 character parties).

3) The best stuff is hidden. I realize that part of the Old School dungeon design philosophy is to reward good play and thoroughness. Characters in my games tried hard and generally played pretty smart, but they were not always thorough...the chances of them finding a single grey security card and unlocking the locker with the power armor was pretty damn slim without DM fudging (I don't remember fudging by the way...I don't think anyone got the truly cool goodies).

Someone commented earlier that those locked doors drove him crazy as a kid/player. I think one party of youngsters (from when I was a youngster) couldn't figure out the doors at all until I gave them A LOT of hints (they just didn't get the whole door/security card concept, even with the illustrations and boxed descriptions). Jeez. I like the cool stuff to get found. That way players get to experience the cool stuff (though I realize it is the extreme of this attitude that leads to "story path" adventures and rail-roading).

4) It's too big. I understand that this is a persona preference, but as I've mentioned before, I was a self-taught Dungeon Master who cut his teeth on B/X. The "mega-dungeon" was not my experience or the norm. The Keep on the Borderlands would have been too big without the Keep to use as a sanctuary. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, the Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain...these were the size of dungeon I was used to. When I wrote my own dungeons, 95% of the time they were a single level (albeit a tough level, geared to high level PCs). Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is six full levels. For a young DM, as I was then (or a lazy DM as I am now) that is a ton of material with which you need to familiarize yourself.

This is, of course, not even taking into account the plethora of extra rules regarding new technological items, new monsters, new systems for determining how to figure out those techie items, and the numerous un-numbered encounters.

You know, over at the Revolution, Odyssey has been blogging about the role-playing that's been going on in-between the monster hunter...that is to say, the character development of PCs with NPCs when not busy with the normal "business" of adventuring. In my old campaigns, this kind of RPG action was par for the course, as we had long-running campaigns with long-established characters (with fairly strong personalities and detailed histories)...having to worry (as a DM) about a bunch of extra, module-specific material got in the way of "the juice" of the campaign. Trust me...if you HAVE high level characters (10-12 or high) that have been advanced over many months of play, there will be party dynamics greater than "okay the fighter's going to tank while the cleric heals him and the wizard lays down the heavy support fire." At least if you're bothering to play an Old School game where character gets developed outside of an intricate stat block. S3 as a tournament module with high-level pre-gens may be fun...S3 with developed characters can be a tedious nightmare.

5) Psionics. A bit of a delicate subject perhaps. Many of the most potent monsters in the various monster manuals (including all the high level challenges, like demon princes and arch-devils) have psionics to some degree or another. And yet few PCs (1% or better depending on stats) will have ANY psionic powers at all. In all of my old campaigns, there was a total of two, possibly 3 if I remember correctly...and only one of those characters had "traditional" psionics as per the Player's Handbook (the other that I remember for sure had a type of home-brewed pyrokinetics....remind me to blog about Dark Flame one of these days).

I never had a major problem with psionics (the one PC with "traditional" psionics? Mine), but I didn't like running a module with major antagonists being mind-fuckers and no one else having the stuff to go up against 'em...or having mind-killers that could not use their best abilities because of a lack of party psionicists.

6) No big finale. Tomb of Horrors has a showdown (albeit, one-sided) with Acerack. White Plume Mountain has several possible climactic scenes (my favorite? Being blown out the top of the volcano?). Even Lost Tomb of Tsojcanth (which I think suffered in several regards), had a final showdown with the baddest vampire ever (yes, Vlad is a pansy compared to Igwilvv's daughter). What's the end result of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks? get thrown out the cargo hatch by a couple robots. Oh...and then you fight a sleepy bulette. A bit anti-climactic after the froghemoth and shambling mounds, if you ask me. Certainly not what I'd call especially heroic or "Special" (isn't the S series the Special series of modules?). I said, I have some complaints, and they aren't in any particular order, but they include some pitfalls I'd like to avoid as I design my own, new module. I emailed my buddy some of my ideas this afternoon and I'm waiting to get his feedback, so the jury is still out as to whether or not we'll be collaborating (I'm keeping my fingers crossed). I wish I could have the balls to call my module "S5" or something (kind of like Carcosa's "new" OD&D "supplement") but I fully intend the module to be for B/X play, not A&D...and I'm a stickler for tradition.

Whoops! The beagles are up to no good in the other room; gotta' go folks! Prost!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Starting the Season Right

So the Seattle Seahawks got off to a tremendous start today by soundly crushing their division rivals, the St. Louis Rams. Now granted, the 'Hawks were playing at home where they generally have a consistent home field advantage, and the Rams did go 2-12 last year (ever worse than the Seahawks own decade worst 4-12 record). But the Seahawks showed the kind of play-off poise they need if they're going to go far in the season.

Yes, we SHOULD be destroying teams 28-0 when we play them at least if we want to climb back on top of the NFC West. 

What we DON'T want to be doing is playing close, hard fought matches against mediocre (or worse) teams. Save the hard, tooth-and-claw matches for road games against stiff competition, not patsies like St. Louis. Let's face it...the Rams are definitely in a "re-building phase."

The game heralded Jim Mora's first win as a head coach, and it showed a few things...creativity, versatility, the use of multiple weapons, a balanced offense, and a helluva' deep defense (with one pro-bowler out and two more being injured in the first quarter, we still shut out the Rams for the first time in recent team history). 

Even the referees came through for a change, reversing a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown (it's always a lot easier for teams to do that with 12 guys lining up instead of 11).

All-in-all, quite pleasing, especially as I had both Matthew Hasselbeck and tight end John Carlson on my fantasy team...they hooked up for two touchdowns (too bad I left Julius Jones and Nate Burleson on the bench...I would have won my fantasy match-up this week if I'd played them, too).

[sure, sure...I realize that Blood Bowl and fantasy football isn't what one might consider REAL role-playing...but pretending to be the coach of a fantasy team is "playing a role" after all. And you should hear my wife talk to her players on the pitch...I always find it entertaining]

Sorry for the poor quality of my photos, by the way...I'm even worse with the digital camera than I am with HTML...and that's saying something!  The minis themselves give off less glare than the play field, but it's too dark to get a decent picture without a flash right now (hmm...after midnight again. It's been a loooong day of football watching!).

And to any St. Louis fans out there that may be reading this can believe me when I say "no hard feelings." I'll be rooting for you to kick the ass of both Arizona and San Francisco (at least once each).

; )

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Poll: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

So...just winding down for the evening after a couple hours of hiking with the fam (the beagles are completely passed out), and my fantasy football team is all set for tomorrow, and the wife is watching Little Women on the HD...

AND...I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to post for the last hour or so...

[God, sometimes I really want to turn this thing into a political rant forum when I see how F'ing retarded some Americans are. UGH! I can't help being ethnocentric's human nature...but FUCK I just want to beat some sense into these people...with a cudgel! Anyway...this isn't the proper place...sorry for the tangential venting]

...anyway, I've been reading a LOT o blogs today (well, earlier today), and I couldn't help but take interest in several, throwing my two cents hither and yon (I'm like a goddamn rash all over the internet these days), AND I couldn't help but notice this little piece by Al over at Beyond the Black Gate. Here's the gist of my interest:

I think the OSR really needs a "showcase" adventure. It needs a Keep on the Borderlands or Temple of Elemental Evil of its very own, something shared from group to group regardless of whether they're using LL, S&W, OSRIC, or the systems that orignally inspired them. That's not to say there havn't been some great adventures released for the RCs, there certainly have been. But I think the emphasis of the last couple of years has been on honing the rule sets themselves, diligently recreating the spirit of the three big old-school games into three faithful and marvellous RCs. I'd love to see that level of commitment put into recreating something as epic and iconic as the G or A series of modules.

The other part of the blog is also food for thought, but mainly I think he may have something here...I mean, many OS publishers are putting out a slew of new material, but how many are putting out new modules? Certainly a few, and several of note (if you can believe the blog hype). My thought is: not enough.

But it's tough. Tough because there IS a lack of organization in the many independent knuckleheads firing on all cylinders for their own particular pet projects. Tons of creativity, energy, drive...but is there real direction?

No, of course not. We aren't a single company like TSR was or WotC is. There is no one setting project goals for the OSR, no one setting deadlines...hell, no quality control. We are self-policing, and as others have pointed out, we ain't always especially good at it.

However, while it's all well and good to sit around blogging about what we'd like to see happen (for example: writing the new classic adventure of the OSR), the real thing to do is to sit down and write it. Some are already attempting it (you know who you are, even if the rest of us don't), but this is a particular market in little danger of being saturated, unlike "new retro-clone" market. Not that quick-start rules, 2nd editions, advanced character editions, and new basic editions truly have worth and value and part of the OSR is a return to the idea that gaming groups are perfectly capable of establishing their own game worlds and adventures outside of pre-packaged game settings and story-pathed scenarios.

But shared Keep on the Borderlands, like Tomb of Horrors...create a shared mythology, a shared history, a shared camaraderie, a shared culture. Shared adventures can become the ties that bind between different gamers and otherwise insular groups.

Anyway, as I commented over at Al's, I'm as guilty of sitting on my hands in the adventure department as anyone else. Sure I'm working on my own OS project (my B/X Companion), but as said, there's already plenty of material ready-made to play with (original editions and retro-clones). Maybe we should ALL put off our little projects until we've put out at least one decent adventure with which we're satisfied/proud.

My personal challenge is that my map-making skills are a bit lacking (as far as I'm concerned). Sure, I have some good ideas and I can write and write and write (note the blog), but I prefer to collaborate with someone a bit more skilled in the drawing department.

Enter my buddy Kris, AKA "Dr. Love" AKA "the Doctor" or "Doc" (don't's a long story in and of itself). I've mentioned Kris before (he's plays the perennial thief) an excellent artist (and fine musician). I called him up today and asked him if he wanted to collaborate with me on an old school adventure module...and lo and behold, Doc agreed! Very cool, as he has rejected other requests for collaboration (despite being a fairly creative dude himself).

So now we finally get to the new poll I've posted to the blog. No, I am not recreating, rewriting, converting or retro-cloning S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. There are some similarities of structure being considered for my new adventure (no, there aren't robots nor spaceships) and I'd appreciate a little honest feedback. I know how I feel about the particular adventure...but I'd like to hear from others. Please post any comments you have about your experience with the Barrier Peaks her on this post. Thanks!
: )

Castle Falkenstein

I've been to Bavaria and toured Neuschvanstein, the magnificent castle built by King Ludvig "the Mad."  I've seen the sketches of his beautifully designed, never built opus Castle Falkenstein (is it just me or does that gate look like a gaping mouth?) my old house, I kept a postcard of the image on my fridge for awhile.

What I've NEVER done, though, is played R. Talsorian's Castle Falkenstein RPG. Long out-o-print, I missed it when it was first published (I was probably too busy playing Vampire the Masquerade at the time); years later I regret never getting it, as I've read many excellent things about it, both from a design perspective (cards instead of dice? cool!) and from a game/entertainment perspective (I LOVE "steam-punk"). 

Oh, wait...did I say "out-of-print" for years? Um...apparently not anymore!

I was in the local game store, "checking things out" (as I am wont to do), and was greeted by the prominently displayed Castle Falkenstein RPG on their front shelf.

"What's all this about?" I asked the shopkeep.

"They're printing it again."

Now this is what HE says...I found no news of this on the R. Talsorian web site, nor was I given the option to purchase it from their on-line store (not that I would anyway...I like my books pre-printed, thank you very much).  But the shop manager assures me the game is in distribution again, he has three copies and he has pledged to "stock it as long as they continue to publish." 

Wow, I don't know. I didn't pick it up yesterday, but I'm thinking maybe I should snatch it while it's still on the shelf, seeing as how I've been looking for this RPG for the last couple years in the used book shops. Ugh. Money's tight right now a little tight right now to be investing in theory-craft right when I'm in the middle of my own writing projects.

But FALKENSTEIN...I must possess it! Shoot.

Maybe I can get them to hold a copy till next Friday. Not only is there another household paycheck coming in on the 15th, I've had a couple games on the shelf in desperate need of being sold back for "store credit" (including another R. Talsorian game: Cybergenerations. Man, I have no idea how/where I acquired THAT turkey!).
: )