Saturday, July 31, 2010

So Apparently...

...I've decided it's time I bite the bullet and start running a game down at the local game shop.

That would be Gary's Games in Greenwood (Seattle). I mean, it must be happening right? They put a blurb on their facebook page (with a "more info forthcoming" note).

Since I'm seriously, deeply considering hitting the Dragonflight XXXI convention in Bellevue this August, I figure I should get some practice running games for complete strangers. Gary's has the open table and I've got to knock the rust off my DMing's been a loooong time since I ran a game for more than 2-3 people (like, um...15 years? and that wasn't even D&D). This will be MY game of choice (B/X D&D) with a mid-level range (6-8). I've even got the adventure lined up (and, no, it's NOT the Isle of Dread).

So, yeah...need to get up the notice, need to get the pre-gens generated, need to get the dungeon stocked & modified...and we'll see who we get to show up on a Sunday afternoon (not week).

Jesus...the thought of it actually scares me.

Wish me luck, folks.
; )

[by the other news, I may have found me a printer who can under-cut the folks I WAS going to go they're a local company, thank goodness. I should hear back by Wednesday or so, but the book might be ready within the next couple weeks...hope, hope!]

The Rogues Gallery

I'm looking for a copy of the 1980 TSR book, The Rogues Gallery. When I was a kid, my buddy Matt had this and I remember thinking I was unimpressed, or that it wouldn't work for our campaign, or that I didn't understand it or something (I honestly don't remember why I was put off by it, to tell the truth, but I was).

Now, I want a copy. Any idea where I might find one, used or otherwise?


Friday, July 30, 2010

Poison - One More Time

I got an email from Grey over at Pen & Sword regarding my recent poison posts. He had some interesting ideas himself on how to handle poison in the D&D game, but once again stated for the record how much he hates the "instant death" aspect of poison.

Okay...let's talk about this for a second.

If a person is killed by poison, it takes only a cleric with the 4th level spell Neutralize Poison and the 5th level spell Raise Dead to bring the poor sap back to life. If you're playing B/X and your cleric can get to the victim within 10 rounds, all you need is the 4th level spell. All clerics have access to all spells, so long as they have the ability to cast a particular level of spell.

So, what about petrification?

It may not be an auto "kill" but it takes your character out of the game just the same if you fail your saving throw. Does this mean you folks that prefer D20 don't use medusae, and gorgons, and basilisks, and cockatrices, etc.?

And the only way to recover someone from being turned to stone? A 6th level spell that your magic-user might or might not have in his/her spell book.

Is petrification somehow more "fair" than poison? It seems like a more dangerous proposition to me, seeing as how it makes a player sit out 'cause their character is stoned (and not in a good way). And as far as I can remember, most characters' saving throws are better against poison than against petrification.

So give me a break. Instant kill from poison is NOT what people are complaining about, really. It's using poison to excess.

Like alcohol, poison should be used in moderation...not "oh no, make a poison save against the locked chest AGAIN." Not every lock has contact poison spread on it. What? You think some castle lord or wizard has time to re-apply that stuff (oh-so-carefully) after every time he opens his chest to admire his loot? Think again.

A few monsters are poisonous...snakes and spiders mostly with a couple others (the aforementioned medusa and the dastardly purple worm) having much larger worries than their poisonous attack. And those snakes and spiders have to hit you first before forcing the effect giving you a double save against poison, where the first save is made using your armor class.

So please folks: leave the poison in. At least don't hold it up on such a pedestal of doom when there are so many other dangers (like a vorpal sword wielding fighter) to cry about.

; )

Badass Mapmakers Wanted

I've been listening to a lot of new music lately.

I know, I know...what the hell does that have to do with ANYthing, JB? Is this going to devolve into another anti-war, anti-4th edition, let's all study astrology and become socialists -type rant?

Bear with me, folks.

I've been listening to a lot of new music lately. Well, new to my IPod anyway. A little Black Sabbath (Mob Rules and Master of Reality...I love you, Sweet Leaf!), a little Merciful Fate (Melissa), a little Metal Church (actually, haven't really found my groove with this one), Ratt (Out of the Cellar), some Def Lepard (Pyromania...that cassette I still have), and a LOT of Wolfmother. Plus an assortment of others including Dio, Zeppelin, and old Crue.

Let me just wax a bit on Wolfmother for the moment. My buddy sent me this CD three or four years back and I promptly lost it (I do that sometimes) before I'd even listened to it. He re-burned it for me after I begged him, having heard good things about the album from a co-worker about the 1st album (prior to the band's line-up change). I have NOT been disappointed...this is the kind of psychedelic weird-ass rock music I need MORE of in my life.

It may be that I'm more of a "hard rock" guy than a metal head...the guitar isn't nearly as important to me as good vocals and a strong drum line. But what the hell do you call a band that includes a jazz flute solo in one of its tracks? And still somehow manages to rock? I don't even know.

This morning I was reading grumpy Ryan talk about what he wants in an RPG. I feel his pain. Sometimes I feel this way about music...I try listening to the local rock station for NEW music that's good, and everything not written by a band that's been around since the 70s or 80s sounds like crap more often than not. Personally, I was starting to worry that I was getting too old. I can remember my father complaining in the 80s how they didn't make good music anymore (regarding the pop music of the time, he probably had a good point...they made "Oldies stations" for guys like my Dad), and thinking he was stuck in the past; maybe I was undergoing this same transformation? That I am just so STUCK, that I am unable to recognize good music when I hear it?

But then I hear an album like Wolfmother that totally kicks ass, and I feel frigging redeemed. It's not ME...there are exceptions playing Grammy-worthy rock music. There just isn't enough of it out there (hmm...come to think of it, I really dug that Avenged Sevenfold track, too, but then I always liked Mike Patton and the singer reminded me of him).

Today, I was down at the local game shop, hawking my wares and is my want, I made a quick perusal of everything on the shelf, new and used. And after looking around I had the realization: I do not want to play ANYthing here. Nothing. At all.

What I WANT to play is my own damn game. But even if my game was available for purchase, it's got no support. I looked through Gary's small retro-clone section, and while there's plenty of adventures for OSRIC and Pathfinder, there was nothing adventure-wise for Labyrinth Lord. Or B/X.

And that's the thing about listening to new music. Good music. Psychedelic music. Inspiring music. It makes me want to write adventures. Not just adventures...adventure modules. I've had three or four new ideas just listening to Wolfmother alone. I've been jotting down notes here and there as they've come up, but what I really want to do is get to writing.

'Cause if WotC/Hasbro is intent on selling the Arneson & Gygax & Moldvay legacy down the river, turning a game of imagination and exploration into a combat board game, a table-top CRPG...well, we've got to fight back. And we've got to have weapons with which to fight back.

I'm not saying I want to have a "living campaign" or return to tournament scoring or anything like that. I don't want to force ANYONE to follow MY campaign world. When I was a kid, my best friend and co-DM Jocelyn owned the Mentzer's BECI (for whatever reason, we never picked up the M) AND the World of Greyhawk. Our (AD&D1E) campaign started in Threshold...even though our characters had relations in Willip or grew up on the streets of the Free City. It was a friggin' mish-mash that would mix in a bunch of our own adventures with classic TSR modules.

That's the thing about modules: they are modular. Or they should be: you should be able to drop them into any campaign with only minor adjustment needed. They should be useful in any person's campaign, whether you prefer Krynn, the Forgotten Realms, or some homebrew-type.

Regardless of the campaign, though, we (we meaning "players of Old School fantasy RPGs") can have a shared experience, despite the fact we are separated by state lines or oceans, without the need to be part of a "living campaign." People who played in the original Tomb of Horrors, can swap war stories with each other based on the shared experience...likewise with those who tried to beard Lolth in her lair or discover the mystery behind the monsters infesting the Barrier Peaks.

Here's my dream: organization is required. Coordination is required. Adventure modules ARE required. But we can start a new wave of gaming, REAL RPG gaming with a little effort.

Right now, though, I don't have the weapons...I don't have the adventure(s). I've got some ideas. I've even got some stuff written up. But this self-publishing thing can be a bitch...trying to put out a quality product all on your lonesome can take a long-ass time. If I'd had to do my own art for the B/X Companion, it would have sat on my computer hard drive for a long, loooooong-ass time.

Visual illustration is NOT my forte. Map-drawing is not my strength. I know there are some folks out there who are great at this...I'm looking for collaborators. I'd like to invite anyone interested in working with me on an adventure module or two to drop me an email of interest.

Once we've got the product, then we can organize the revolution. Let's rock this thing.
; )

Busy Morning

And I guess I'm not the only one as even Grognardia's weekly Friday query failed to go up this AM.

Me, well, had a doctor appointment, a dentist appointment, got locked out of my house (I thought...found my keys later), took the wife to work, and ended up down at Gary's explaining the differences between all the various editions of The Game (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons) to a gentleman interested in returning to the hobby after a 20-30 year hiatus, but not interested in taking the time to learn 4th edition.

Yeah, don't the time I was done with him he was ready to go back to AD&D 1e or possibly even B/X (don't know if totally I sold him on the race-as-class deal, but he certainly agreed with me that there are no such things as Hobbit thieves in Tolkien).

Of course, his main gripe was that the older editions just aren't available, even in digital form. Man he was steamed about that! But what could I do? I handed him a print copy of Labyrinth Lord and told him about OSRIC and completely killed the sale of the used 2nd edition books on the shelf (sorry, Tim!). Hopefully, he still bought some dice.

Now I'm FINALLY sitting down to my first cup of coffee (hash n' eggs at the Baranof) and I completely forgot to tell you the reason I was IN Gary's: showing off my first printed copy of the B/X Companion! Yes, they will totally buy a couple copies.

Yep, I spent two hours last night down at a certain late night printer whose name starts with "F;" apparently because they "F" you up the ass on their prices. I'm in email negotiation with a different printer who can hopefully do me a small print run for half the price, but I'm still probably looking at a couple weeks before I can start taking orders. Enough time to figure out to add a PayPal button to my blog (I hope!).

Yep, I am absolutely low budget right now (although I am NOT doing "pre-sales;" I've read a few nightmare scenarios on that and I sure don't want to over-promise what I can't deliver). Folks in the greater Seattle area and don't want to wait on mail order will be able to stop into Gary's...though, who knows...maybe I'll peddle it to a couple of other local game shops (I still have Fridays off, after all).

I don't think it'll be printed in time for Dragonflight XXXI in Bellevue, but maybe I'll put in an appearance with my own copy and show it off.
: )

Hope everyone else is having a good Friday. I'll throw up something more in a little while.


(that was to myself)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Astrology of Gary Gygax (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Anyway, the following might be wildly off (I never knew Mr. Gygax after all, and he’s not around for me to question the accuracy of my interpretation) so take it with a grain of salt:

PLUTO (still a planet for an astrologer’s purpose) is a transcendental planet that represents one’s karmic evolution…it’s placement by HOUSE shows where we have deep emotional attachments…and where we need to evolve. For me, it’s one of the best methods of narrowing down a person’s birth time, based on the Dharma of their life. Gandhi, for example had a fairly obvious Pluto in the 11th House (traditional House of Aquarius, iconoclasm, and fighting for equality, and the individuation of humans). Based on Gary’s life and that last quote, I would place his Pluto in the 5th House.

While Mr. Gygax was a writer, and a publisher, and a business man…as well as a husband, father, grandfather, Christian, and probably a lot of other things…what he wanted to be remembered for was as guy who “really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and fun pastimes with others.” The 5th House, which resonates to the sign of Leo, is the House that represents game playing (sports, cards, gambling) as well as sharing creativity (it also represents children, the spawning of one’s creativity). It would appear Gary had a pretty deep attachment to his creative process…the worlds he created, the words he wrote, the legacy he made, and the children he sired…and this would all point to a Pluto in the 5th House. 5th House Pluto individuals are sometimes seen as being immature or refusing to “grow up,” and often they tend to relate better to children than adults. This “young at heart” interpretation could certainly be applied to Gary Gygax…I don’t think he went to all those conventions just to sell product or power-trip over lesser individuals.

Not that he didn’t want to make money. By placing Pluto in the 5th House, we end up throwing Saturn into the 2nd House. Like Pluto, Saturn is a trans-personal planet…one that takes so long to travel through signs (it is “generational”) that the placement by House is more useful to an astrologer. SATURN represents our “duty” in life. It’s the thing we’d rather not do…it’s the item on our plate that we least want to eat, even though it’s “good for us.” It’s the thing we feel COMPELLED to do…it’s the big burden (like the world on Atlas’s shoulders) that we’re always carrying around. Pluto is also something that we need to carry around with us, but our job is to evolve with it (and we will, one way or another!). Saturn doesn’t evolve…it’s just something we eventually master.

A 2nd House Saturn would traditionally indicate that the realm of finances, or “personal resources,” was Gary’s Saturn to carry. This doesn’t just mean he was “worried about making money” (though that might have been part of it). It meant that his karmic burden was managing What He Had: his talents, his health, and yes, his income or revenue stream. I recall reading some on-line interview of his where he decried the fact that he’d prefer to just write and play for fun, but that his writing was money and his time needed to be spent doing that. Practical? Sure…we all have areas of our life in which we are practical and diligent (and those of us with more Capricorn influence have more). But Saturn is a Bitch, man…and I’m not surprised to see it in the 2nd house for Gary.

I, too, have a prominent 5th house (though not like Mr. Gygax…mine is something I have to do or I get angry/upset (Mars), while his is ALSO his way of being (Sun)). But people with prominent 5th houses have another general pitfall/weakness I didn’t mention earlier: gambling. Speculation. Squandering resources on games of chance (remember that idea, “oh I am the Sun?” It’s a bit of this over-confidence). Fortunately, I have a Capricorn 2nd house…I don’t like to lose money which keeps my gambling pretty low scale. Gary’s 2nd house Saturn would have a similar mitigating effect (though having the 2nd house ruled by fiery Aries, he might still make an impetuous decision or two regarding his resources that his 2nd house Saturn would deeply regret later).

Let’s see; what else can we say about this placement:

Well, we have some non-planet, significant points we could talk about. The pars fortuna (Part of Fortune) is where one could traditionally be expected to “hit the jackpot.” Gary’s is in the Aquarius in the 12th house, meaning a field that’s cutting edge and eclectic while being imaginary and escapist. Or prisons…I suppose he could have made a killing installing televisions in jail cells instead of chaining kids to kitchen tables rolling strange dice, but I prefer the road he took. The dispositor (“ruler”) of the pars fortuna is Uranus in the 3rd House…indicating he’s probably going to make money in the “fantasy realm” through communication (i.e. writing, doing stand-up presentations).

With this particular placement we have a North Node/South Node axis along the 9th/3rd House. The South Node has been linked to Karma and the North Node to Dharma and they work like this: the South Node is the area that you are already talented/good at but that gives you little-no lasting fulfillment…the North Node is the area that you (at first) can’t imagine yourself doing but, once you learn it, is oh-so-much-more satisfying. Gary’s South in 3rd indicates he’s already good at reading/writing and speaking…the North in 9th indicates a need to disperse and distribute those ideas to the world (publishing). It can also mean a need to not just collate and collect, but to codify and intuit…create paradigms. Having the asteroid Vesta up there (the only asteroid I look at), means that being A Law Giver is not just what he must learn…it is a capital-S Sacred Duty.

The 9th House is the House of Law and judges…a good placement of both Vesta and the North Node for one of the first Dungeon Masters (at least if DM = judge/referee; world builder or power trippers would want to look at 5th, 8th, and 10th House locations).

Gary’s Ascendant (what is called “the Rising Sign”) is also based on time of birth, and in this case not having known the man makes it harder to pin down, as just a few minutes means the difference between being a Pisces-Rising or an Aquarius-Rising…even after nailing down Pluto, Saturn, and the Nodes. Our Rising Sign is how we appear to the world…it is the first impression we make. To borrow a term from Vampire the Masquerade (sorry), if the Sun sign is our Nature, the Ascendant sign is our Demeanor. Just judging by the Hawaiian shirt in that photo, I would say Gary was an Aquarius rising (the crazed professor look)…but Pisces-risings tend to “blend in” with their surroundings (actually, “melt-in” would be the better term) and maybe this is just typical “convention-wear. “

In some ways, though, the actual Rising Sign is less important with this particular time-placement as the planet Jupiter sits directly on Gary’s Ascending horizon…either just before or just after. A planet that is conjunct a person’s Rising sign kind of takes over and colors it…as if the sign the planet represents was the Rising sign. Jupiter is the ruler of Sagittarius, and it tends to be expansive, confident, and magnanimous, as well as an expressive, often intuitive communicator (though one that can be honest to a fault as well). The Sun-Mars conjunction might not keep the individual from looking bad (despite still being “likeable”) for particular foot-in-mouth moments. And I’d expect a tongue-lashing to be fairly loud and long from an individual with this placement.

Interestingly, Jupiter is the traditional ruler of Pisces (prior to the discovery of Neptune). And if Pisces is the ruler of role-playing games, it’s only fitting that Gary Gygax shows up as “Mr. Imagination” (and if his Ascendant IS Pisces, with that conjunct Jupiter he’d be Mr. Double-Imagination).

I should note also that the placement of Jupiter is where we feel most expansive, confident, and lucky. It’s our “right-brain/artistic” side as well, and its placement shows where we receive intuitive flashes. Gary’s Jupiter is in the sign of Pisces…that is one super-imaginative guy! If it is also in the 12th House (traditional House of Pisces) based on time of birth, that’s kind of like saying the guy feels at his best when doing imaginative things in an imaginary world. It would appear Mr. Gygax found a good niche for his brain, as he might have spent a lot of time day-dreaming in a more staid profession.

Of course, with a lot of this placement planet-sign-house placement could easily have indicated a person with a spiritual/religious calling. Though with the North Node in the 9th (instead of the South) he’d probably have to make up his own denomination. And that Mars conjunct the Sun in Leo? That’s a guy with a warrior’s spirit and a Big Fat Ego.

[again, no disrespect intended…these are base tendencies…we all have Free Will to behave as we choose]

Let’s see…talked about the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Nodes, Rising…hmm, Mercury in Virgo, possibly in the 6th (the House of Virgo). A Virgo Mercury would indicate an intelligent mind and a critical thinker/writer (in every sense of the term “critical”), as well as a clinical one. The 6th House tends to be how we work best…the 2nd House tends to be how we make money. Any planets in the former indicate that work, doing work is an important part of our psyche. Any planets in the latter tend to indicate we WILL make money, somehow at some point. The 10th House though (the 3rd and final “Earth House”) indicates what our reputation is and what our legacy will be.

If my timing is accurate, Gary’s Mid-Heaven (the sign on the cusp of his 10th House) would be Sagittarius: Gary will be remembered as a publisher, as a judge, as a Law Giver (or “rule giver”)…as the Pope or “head cleric” of his own role-playing religion. No planets in the 10th House though…those titles weren’t important to him. He’s got the legacy, but the thing he wanted remembered was that he “really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge.” Well, that latter does feed into the Vesta/North Node 9th house, so I guess his legacy was at least complimentary with what he found important.

Last couple things: Mars and Venus.

Mars is our ego drive. It is what gives us energy. When we “do” our Mars, we gain energy. When we are prevented from doing our Mars, we lose energy. We also get frustrated and angry. Mars in Leo in the 5th House (House of Leo) with the dispositor Sun in Leo (also possibly in the 5th House) conjunct the Sun in Leo? This is a guy that needed to shine. The more he found ways to shine, to show his creativity (through gaming through publishing his ideas) the more “juice” he got. This guy was practically a Zero-Point energy battery…once he got started. Of course, stifling that energy (cutting off his publishing legs for example) could possibly cause a terrible break-down or a lot of depressed, low energy, self-pity. If Gary had ever come to me for astrological advice regarding depression it would have been the simplest of simple to counsel him: Go out and game. Write something cool and share it with someone. That’s all you’d have to do to jumpstart the battery.

Venus is our feelings and our essential needs. Not our emotions (the story we tell ourselves about our feelings)…that’s the Moon. “Essential needs” are just that: essential. Where our Venus is indicates the things we absolutely will do…even if doing so is self-destructive. We WILL find a way to meet our essential needs, one way or another.

Gary’s Venus is in Virgo, perhaps in the 7th House (Libra) disposited by Mercury in Virgo, perhaps in the 6th House (the House of Virgo). Gary’s essential need is to be a craftsman, one who deals in the minutia of things, hopefully in service of his fellow humans. His need involved communicating, quite possibly writing, and yes critiquing and criticizing. Of course, there’s always the possibility of being hyper-critical…especially of others, and quite possibly of significant others and partners. The important advice here (were he to ask it) would be to find a balance, making sure his analysis contains constructive points…and that there is such a thing as too much minutia. At some point one has to come to the realization that the journey is one of constant refinement, not “perfecting.” This could apply to many, many issues.

Of course, with Uranus trine that Venus, his analysis and critique is going to receive epiphany “bolts from the blue;” just hope those thunderbolts he throws don’t cause too much upset! At least the Neptune conjunct the Venus softens it…I hope, hope, hope…

Okay, okay...I realize Mr. Gygax is no longer with us (we miss you, sir!), so offering advice is a fruitless endeavor. This was a fun exercise (if a little long), and something I’ve been meaning to do since last July. In the end, though, much of what I’ve written here has to be taken with a large helping of salt as it is mostly dependent on a hypothetical time of birth. Hell, maybe his Pluto was in the 10th House and he REALLY did want to be master of all he surveyed! Boy, would THAT change my interpretation!

Till later folks…
; )

The Astrology of Gary Gygax (Part 1)

What does it say about me that I have no problem at all launching into a conversation on astrology with just about anyone, but have a damnable time working up the gumption to talk about my gaming…even in a game shop with other gamers? I haven’t even told my mother I’ve written a FRICKIN’ BOOK, and I see her on a weekly basis (literally…we work in the same building) AND she knows about my gaming hobby.

Pretty weird, huh? I don’t really know what it says…except that I guess there’s some trauma there. I’ll have to poke at that one later.

[I will say the blogging has definitely been therapeutic in this regard, helping me to open up and embrace my gamer geekiness…hard as it’s been, I HAVE been talking more about gaming, and to more people…people I know and respect and love. I’ll probably show my mom the book after I’ve sold a copy or two…]

I’m not sure what sign or planet “rules” role-playing games…it’s not a traditional area of interpretation for astrology (most things that are “traditional” have been around for thousands of years). Both war and sport are associated with Mars (and Aries by correlation), but sporting events and gambling are associated with the 5th House (Leo), whereas books and writing are associated with the 3rd House and Mercury and publishing and codified laws (i.e. “rules”) are 9th House and Sagittarius. On the other hand, a good case could be made for Uranus which is associated with a lot of modern and innovative arts and sciences (including television, electricity, and astrology) and gamer “alienation” would definitely throw it in the realm of Uranian Aquarius.

Mainly though, I’d consider Pisces and the planet Neptune to be the significator of role-playing games. Neptune (and Pisces) rule dreams and imagination…and hasn’t RPGs (REAL RPGs, not some medieval fantasy simulation on a computer) long been associated with imagination? Well…long associated till recently (it doesn’t take much imagination to move pieces around a board WotC). Neptune and Pisces are also associated with escapism, addiction, fantasy, and delusion. And with the “cosmic” concept of God (as opposed to the “organized religion” aspect which is 9th House). Jesus was a Pisces (no, he was not born on December 25th).

Pisces, Neptune, and the 12th House (the traditional House of Pisces) are all fairly significant in my own chart…and their placement would actually explain quite a bit of the weirdness about my gaming habits.

This is the usefulness of astrology. It helps one to “know thyself.” Sure, you can use it (I suppose) to pick stock market trends, but you could use tarot cards and stock brokers to do THAT. Astrology is a tool, wonderfully designed (over many, many centuries), for self-discovery and self-knowledge…and I’ve found it can provide a lot of useful insight.

Why does it work? Short answer: no one knows. There are a few theories, and I ascribe to one or two of them, but most astrologers don’t worry too much about the why. I can drive my car without knowing what magic makes the ignition start and the clutch change gears. Astrology as a tool is similar…I know the theories, but the focus is on getting the vehicle moving so as to reach your destination.

So let’s talk about the astrology of Gary Gygax.

To understand a person through astrology, one needs to take a look at a person’s natal (birth) chart. This is a symbolic “map” of the sky at the moment you were born. I say symbolic because chart interpretation uses traditional placement of planets in constellations, rather than actual placement (the galactic wheel continues to spin a little off track every year).

Even the astrologically ignorant out there have probably heard a few pieces of the lingo. Most people living in the U.S. for example could answer the question, “what’s your sign?” The “sign” people are referring to is their Sun sign…the astrological constellation the Sun was in at the time of your birth. There are 12 signs. The Sun travels through each one once per year (one of the reasons we have 12 months in a year). If I say, “I’m a Scorpio,” it means that’s the sign the Sun was in when I was born. Gary Gygax was a Leo (or as I like to say, a Big Fat Leo). Here is my best guesstimate of his birth chart:

I say, “best guess,” because my data is incomplete for the man. You need three pieces of information to calculate a birth chart (well, if you don’t have a computer program you also need a lot of almanacs…). Those three things are: birth date, birth place, and time of birth. Wikipedia gives me Mr. Gygax’s birth date as July 27th, 1938 (yes, I forgot to give him a shout out on his birthday…that’s why I’m doing this post, folks) and his birth place of Chicago, IL (so was he a Bears fan or a Packers fan?). But I don’t have his time of birth.

It is possible to rectify charts based on either a) actual life events, or b) perceived life purpose. As I’m more interested in soul evolution, I use the latter. It is, of course, much easier to do with public (celebrity) figures, especially ones who are deceased, as their life work is generally known…I was able to rectify Gandhi’s time of birth to within 10-15 minutes of absolute accuracy, for example. But unless you have the actual birth time, you’ll never know for sure. And the older the date of birth, the harder to locate any such records.

So I’ve put Gary’s time of birth around the time of 9:20pm. I’m basing this on the placement of Pluto in the 5th House, and this quote:

“I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.”

We’ll get to that in a second.

As with EVERYONE’S astrological birth chart, Gary’s chart has all twelve signs of the Zodiac present. We all do. The signs are representative of archetypes of human personality, and we all have every archetype present in our “personality matrix.” However, while everyone has every sign, different signs are emphasized for different people.

We can tell where this emphasis is based on the placement of several planets. The ancients recognized only 7 planets in Astrology (they couldn’t see Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto) including the two luminaries: the Sun and the Moon. Of these, the Sun was the most important (just as it was the most important of the celestial bodies for the people) and it colored everything about a person. Some people have planetary placement that bolsters this; for example, Gary has his Sun, Moon, and Mars all in Leo…he would appear to be a VERY Leo-type Leo. Other people have many planets in signs that don’t mesh well with their Sun sign: my brother for example is a Virgo but has no other Earth-sign planets…he comes off as very fiery and radical compared to your normal, composed Virgo (though he is still intensely analytical and has his periods of withdrawal from the world).

However, Gary doesn’t have any “identity issues” regarding HIS Sun sign…he’s got a whole lot o’ Leo going on. I refer to Leos as “Big Fat Leos” (or perhaps Big Phat Leo would be more appropriate) because when it comes to astrology, Leos are The Big Show. They consider themselves royalty (Leo rules kingship after all) in the sense of having Divine Right. It’s hard to say who’s the bigger Drama Queens between Leos and Scorpios (why are Scorpios drama queens? ‘Cause they make everything “life or death.” Let’s face it, most things are NOT “life or death,” especially for a Scorpio living in 21st century America. And yet they go all crazy about stupid shit…like, say, 4th edition D&D or something. Who cares?).
; )

However, in the Drama department it’s hard not to give the trophy to the Leo (and they do SO love trophies and accolades). After all, Scorpios make everything into a drama…but Leos make the drama about themselves.

Yes, center of attention. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s one of the reasons you’ll find so many Leos in the performing arts…and why they always have a need to be in the limelight.

Now, now, now…I understand this all sounds pretty negative (as a Scorpio, I tend to go straight to the dark side first - sorry), Let’s talk about WHY the Leos are the way they are…why do they feel so privileged? Well, mainly it's 'cause they are the natural channels of creativity, what might be called Divine Inspiration.

The sign of Leo is ruled by the Sun. The Sun is the creative life force…in astrology it is our ego and our conscious identity (as opposed to the Moon, which is our subconscious identity and our emotions). Having one’s Sun in the sign of the Sun (Leo) makes for a very creative person…one that everyone likes being around. Like planets revolving around the Sun, the Leo person inspires us to gravitate to them…we stand up straighter in their presence we pay them deference, and we bask in the light of their warmth and charm. The pitfall for Leos is that sometimes they think the light they shine is actually coming from them…that they themselves are the source of the light that everyone wants.

That ain’t the case. They are the CHANNEL through which the light flows. The source of the light is God or the Divine or that Universal Thing That Underlies Everything Else.

Gary has his Sun, Moon, and Mars in Leo…he is a channel for creative force in his very identity, his energy and ego, and his emotional matrix/subconscious. That’s a powerful natural combination for any artist. Of course, you can’t rest on talent alone…you’ve got to train it, apply discipline, nurture it. Then it can serve as inspiration for others.

I think most would agree Gary was able to do this.

Now while I could say this or that about other planets in their signs (knowing his date of birth I know that those are correct), I’m going to instead go into the theoretical interpretation based on my guesstimate of his birth time. Here’s the issue with not knowing the time of birth: it throws off the calculation of the Houses. A House in astrology is kind of like a man-made sign…there’s no actual division of the heavens except what humans choose to impose over their “map of the sky.” The 12 Houses, being man-made divisions, provide human arenas in which signs and planets may manifest…they are of vital importance to understanding how we DO what it is our tendencies are pushing us to do.

For example, a person with Sun sign Leo in the 3rd House (traditionally representing communication and writing) may inspire people through their own communication…they might be a fantastic blogger or best-selling novelist or (in a small town perhaps) the local gossip that everyone knows and comes to for information on the doings of the village. This is different from a person with a Sun sign Leo in the 6th House (traditionally work, service, and medicine) who might find some way to manifest their creativity working as a Florence Nightingale or some type of Butler’s Butler.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Doesn't Everyone Have A "Robilar?"

I know that at least in one long-running campaign, I was Robilar.

I’ve been reading up on Gygax and Kuntz today…not too unusual for me, but perhaps that seems strange to some readers. Personally, I enjoy reading accounts of other people’s game-play (what one might call “actual play”) though rather than a blow-by-blow I prefer to hear “war stories.” You know, like “we went here and THIS happened and while that was going on here’s a funny anecdote or two.”

Some people don’t like hearing about someone else’s camping trip or vacation (or, God Knows, their D&D adventure), but this is the kind of fun conversation I like…so long as it doesn’t go with a three hour photo slide-show (a picture may be “worth a thousand words” but a good short story told with the humor of hindsight is worth a thousand pictures).

Anyway…reading interviews or stories or articles about the players of the early days are just as fun (for me) as reading about someone’s exploits in the Tomb of Horrors (and how their character died an agonizing and possibly humorous death). Not only does it give me insight into those “early days of the hobby,” it helps me feel connected to those primogenitors as a fellow role-player…and I like that.

So today I was reading about Gygax and Kuntz and how Gary liked to play 7+ sessions per week “back in the day,” and how Kuntz, perhaps frustrated by other players’ “lack of interest” did a lot of “solo adventuring” – and likewise, how the two would trade-off as Dungeon Master running each other’s favorite character through fiendish adventures.

The end result? Robilar and Mordenkainen had many adventures, amassed a great deal of power and treasure, rose to high levels, and became living legends in their campaign world…a campaign world (Greyhawk) that has been shared with the gaming world for many years now.

Doesn’t everyone’s long-running campaign have a Kuntz/Robilar player in it?

For whatever reason, some of us are more “into” this silly role-playing thing than others. Why do I have so many thoughts and stories on the game even though I stopped playing more than one-off games close to 20 years ago? Because when I was running long-term campaigns I was INTO IT, man.

I read somewhere on the internet (that old thing) how people these days have just too busy of schedules to put time into role-playing. Well, maybe that’s true (I guess it depends on one’s priority…certainly adults with kids and jobs have less time), but I sure had A LOT of time back then. Every day I would devote several hours to the role-playing hobby. Of course that was back before there was Facebook to update, or blogs/news reels to check, or blogs to post, or digital On Demand TV to watch…I think people just piss away their free time a lot these days. I know I do.

Dig: back in the day, I didn’t have all these “distractions.” Oh, I had a TV but I didn’t watch much of it. After school work, sports, Scouts, Church, and family dinners, most of my free time was divided between reading books and playing role-playing games…and I generally only read when no one was available to play. Even if we couldn’t meet face-to-face, we would talk on the phone for HOURS, tying up the land line (no cells in those days). Our parents eventually got “call waiting” – and then we’d do three-way calls! When one of us was out of “local call” range (generally because we were on family vacations somewhere…everyone took a couple on an annual basis) we would correspond by LETTER WRITING.

Talk about oldest school. You know how I blog? Well, that’s how I used to write letters: wordy and ranty and often. I’d fire off three to five page missives a day or every other day…and boy would my hand get cramped from writing. I did have fairly good handwriting, though.

The point is, this is how we gamed. D&D (and other RPGs to a lesser extent) was the King of entertainment. And those of us who were into it, were REALLY into it. And there were some of us…like my co-DM Jocelyn and myself…who were the “impatient types,” like Gygax and Kuntz. Who had to have it 7+ times per week.

That’s what I mean by “I was Robilar.” Maybe I should say I was Mordenkainen since, like Gary, I started as the DM and only got to play after Jocelyn (my Kuntz analogue) started acting as co-DM.

Whatever…either way, our personal characters (which, like Robilar and Mordenkainen, shared the same campaign world) grew to be rich and powerful (mainly through the extra attention rather than extraordinary play) and eventually became the legends of the campaign world.

Kind of ugly.

Not to hurt anyone’s feelings (certainly not those of Mr. Kuntz!), but in hindsight this appears (to me) to be, well, kind of a “DM’s Pet” thing. Though honestly, it’s only really bad when the DM plays favorites with their “diva player” while other players are present. Hopefully, that’s not the case. I know from personal experience that the DM tends to be HARDER on these “star” PCs when other players are at the table, for several reasons:

- The DM wants to avoid any claims of partiality
- The DM over-compensates for any perceived inequities (real or not)
- The other players’ resentment of the diva gets emphasized by the DM
- The diva player isn’t used to competing for attention from the DM

I don’t know if that’s how things rolled for Gary and Rob…certainly some of the Robilar “war stories” (like being chased over half the world) sounds like the kind of thing I experienced as a Robilar-type badass.

By the way, I’ve seen this kind of thing inside other gaming groups, too (the reason for the title of this post). With my buddies Ben, Mike, and Michael, it seemed obvious that Michael and Ben echoed this dynamic (I always felt somewhat of a “2nd fiddle” when I was in their Palladium games, and Mike may have felt the same). Likewise, when I played Stormbringer with those guys, it was Michael and I that spent more time “bonding,” though this may have simply been due to our shared interest/love in the material.

These days, I haven’t played or run a campaign (of ANY game) long enough to see who rises to the rank of “DM’s Pet” (to use a derogatory term…sorry), but I assume the DM-Diva relationship still shows up now and again in long-term play. I don’t think it’s necessarily a “bad thing” and it can be mitigated somewhat by the DM running solo adventures with other interested players…both I and my friend Jocelyn used to do this, we just didn’t do it AS MUCH with the other players as with each other. And, anyway, shouldn’t players who devote more time and energy to a game be rewarded for it?

Maybe. In the past, I wouldn’t say D&D was a game that rewarded “just showing up at the table” (now…who knows!). It was supposed to reward good play. Playing more often meant an increased risk of dying (more saving throws versus poison to take…)…but still, there’s playing hard and playing soft, and favoring one player over another will generally lead to resentment and rifts in the game group.

I just wanted to point out it wasn’t a unique phenomenon. And in MY old campaign, I was “that guy.” In the past, I always felt my actions were “good for the war stories.” After all, it gave the other players someone to hate and conspire against. Now, well…I hope that I didn’t completely ruin shit for folks. We always seemed to have had a good time, but how would I know…when I cared less about other players’ fun than my own?

Well, whatever (I can’t beat myself up about the past all day)…for me, at least, I can chalk up part of this to my personality. It’s the same thing that drives me prefer (playing) individual sports to team sports…or that makes me forgo networked computer games in favor of solo play…or that makes me beat my own head against a wall for twelve months to put out a book that might have been done in half the time if I’d allowed a few people to collaborate. The astrology tells the tale for me: I’ve got my Mars in Aries in the House of Leo…I’m a guy that wants the freedom to charge ahead, whenever the F he feels like it (and hopefully look good doing it). Having Mars in direct opposition to a certain “U” planet, just means I have the propensity for alienating others in my quest for personal freedom.

Any other “Robilars” out there? What’s YOUR excuse, douche bag?

; )

(and yes, if you are a Lone Wolf Aries or a Big Phat Leo, you may use astrology as your excuse…we forgive you!)

Would Someone Please Tell Me...

...what the hell is D&D Encounters?

Is it just a weekly, two hour combat? That somehow resolves a "story" over the course of several weeks? Is that what Hasbro passes off as D&D and role-playing these days?

I saw some review on google by a dude praising D&D Encounters but noting not to worry about taking non-combat abilities, and to make sure you min-max your abilities for optimal combat effectiveness.

That's got to be the most retarded thing I've ever read.

This is the kind of bullshit (if it's true) that needs to be punched in the mouth. If this is the state of the hobby, Old Schoolers need to organize some sort of weekly counter-point (or rather, counter-punch) in their local game shops. Does this garbage go down at a particular date and time? I'll set up a table and run a competing game.

Please let me know what this is all about. I hope I am just way off or something and this is just some collectible card game thing. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Dragons Should Never Be Just Another Encounter"

So commented Blueskreem on my last post. Right after he said, "screw balance."


I've got three or five blog posts on the tip of my fingertips that I've been trying to decide how to order (which to type first: the begging, the gushing, or the ranting?), and one dude comments and completely throws me into a tizzy.

Dragons should never be just another encounter.

Those words just keep ringing in my head, even as I need to get some sleep before the morrow. Ugh.

How often do YOU throw dragons into your game as an off-hand encounter? Me, I never did. Hell, I hardly ever saw a dragon in one of my games. Ever. Generally, if there was a dragon, then it WAS the adventure, i.e. the whole enchilada.

I can clearly recall getting together with my buddy, Matt, shortly after acquiring the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. Anxious to try out the high level characters. Finally, players could have PCs able to take on the dragons in Moldvay's basic! We rolled up a 9th level (or higher, I don't recall) cleric for Matt, outfitted him with a bunch of mercenary soldiers (those were new with the Expert set also), and sent him out into the desert to find...and fight...a blue dragon.

As far as I can recall, that was the first time I used a dragon in a game of D&D. I don't recall if Matt survived or not (though I almost certainly recall letting his cleric use a lance...those rules were new with the Expert set as well). Ha...even then I treated clerics like paladins.

The next time I recall putting a dragon into a game...hmmm...I think there may have been a green dragon in X1:Isle of Dread, but I'm not sure it was ever encountered. Later...much later (as in, AD&D later) I got ambitious after reading The Hobbit and made a knock-off of Smaug and Lonely Mountain. Again, the red dragon WAS the adventure...get to the mountain, kill the dragon, get the treasure.

I don't remember anyone ever making it that far.

Back when I was younger (before my "creative metabolism" started slowing down), I drew a LOT of maps, nearly all "dungeons" of one type or another. And almost none had a dragon. Frankly, there was always the odd question of how did a dragon get IN to the dungeon in the first place...especially a deep, nether level. Not to mention what did the thing do for food.

[good morning! I fell asleep in the middle of posting!]

But mainly I had a problem thinking up any dungeon where a dragon would be another cheap-o encounter. I mean, they have such incredible killing power. And their treasure hordes are so big. And, and...

I get a little intimidated at the prospect.

I know I've mentioned before, at least in passing, how few old TSR modules had dragons in them. The giant series (white in G2, red in G3). Old I2 had a great black dragon. Um...there was a gold dragon polymorphed into a goody-good humanoid in a couple (X2 and UK1)...but really, not all that many. I mean, considering the game is called Dungeons & Dragons.

But this was fine by me. I always wanted dragons to stay "special" and rare and powerful (and rich!). The idea that you could "scale down" (starting in 3rd edition and I'm sure continuing into 4th) was always...well, at first it seemed nice that low level characters could actually have a chance at confronting a dragon. Now it seems...well, a cop out. Like giving kids trophies for everything just so they feel like they accomplished something. I know, I know...that's a "generational thang." But it feels the same.

In my opinion, you SHOULD have to work hard (at playing a game...sheesh, is that really work?) to have the stuff you need to take on a legendary creature with any chance of survival. You know, back in the "old days" an ancient red dragon was right at the top of the food chain. 88 points of damage with a breath attack? That's instant barbecue to most 4th level "heroes" (or 8th level "superheroes" that fail their save). Non-fighter classes might as well toss their character sheets if they accidentally wake the wyrm.

But now, dragons seem like "just another monster." Oh, a big monster...a "boss" monster (or whatever the term is). But just a monster. Maybe one that talks.

I did throw some Ancient Wyrms into my B/X Companion...what I like to call "Smaug-class" critters...though I didn't devote nearly as much space to it as Mentzer's Companion with his "large" and "huge" dragons (would you like that super-sized, sir?)...just enough to keep 'em interesting up to the highest levels of play. Personally, I think they're fine and dandy as "big bads" and they definitely deserve to have whole adventure scenarios built around themselves alone.

Just wanted to say I agreed with Mr. Blue's sentiment. How could you dare to call a dragon "just another encounter?"

Badass Holmes

This post goes out to all those sexy players of “Original Basic.”

Holmes D&D, or “Homes Basic,” or “Blue Book Basic,” whatever you want to call it…is the sole edition of Dungeons & Dragons I haven’t played. Well, except for “4E,” but as I’ve written before, I don’t really consider this an edition of D&D.

Holmes, despite its idiosyncrasies (five point alignment scheme) definitely qualifies as D&D in my book, and not just because it has “fantasy characters fighting fantasy monsters in a fantasy world” (which I don’t think is a proper definition of D&D anyway). And with all respect to those fighters out there, I think most Holmes edition adventurers will be doing what they can to AVOID combat if at all possible.

But we’ll get to that in a second. As I said, this is the one edition of “true” D&D I’ve never played. Heck, I’d never even seen a copy of it till I was able to buy TWO boxed sets from my local game shop last year (and cool beans I did, as I got first printing of B2: Keep on the Borderlands and a sepia cover copy of B1: In Search of the Unknown along with the books). I’ve read the rules a couple times, but as my gaming time is limited these days anyway, I prefer to stick to my beloved B/X when I game D&D. Still, I would LOVE to play (or run) a games of Holmes. Every time I skim the rules, it brings up a particular itch that I just keep wanting to scratch:

The need to be a badass.

That’s right…BAD ASS. Right on the cover of Homes it states, “the original ADULT fantasy RPG.” It might as well have the sub-caption, “Only Badasses Need Apply.” Because I am utterly convinced it takes Big, Brass Balls to play Holmes D&D.

Unless you’re some sort of masochist.

Let’s break it down with the basics:

Presumed Assumption #1: RPG designers know what they’re doing and designers do things for a reason.

Presumed Assumption #2: A game is a game, regardless of how it looks. There is no preconceived notion of how an RPG should appear.

Presumed Assumption#3: While there may be multiple editions of a game system, there are certain recognizable facets of a game that mark it as part of a family, even if it is its own edition.

[just go with me here for a couple minutes]

OKAY…so if you take these three presumptions to be facts, we can define Holmes as a pretty interesting animal.

Exhibit A: Holmes is D&D. Just having the name slapped on the front of the book doesn’t mean it’s D&D, but having those “recognizable facets” does. See my earlier nerd post: Holmes meets the criteria in every regard, and under presumption #3 we can say, “this IS D&D.”

Exhibit B: Holmes is its “own” edition. Holmes has rules that are different from every other edition of D&D. 5-tier alignment, certain combat systems (like initiative), functioning of particular magic effects, etc. If we see a game that doesn’t synchronize with any other game, and we agree with presumption #1, than we must acknowledge Holmes as its own edition…it is neither a precursor to AD&D, nor to the Cook/Marsh Expert set, though it states it is the former and is semi-adopted in the introduction to the latter. Holmes exists outside of the general space-time continuum of D&D, even though it is readily recognizable as D&D (see Exhibit A).

Exhibit C: Holmes the Badass Edition. If we operate under presumption #2 (practice non-attachment to how the game is “supposed” to look); Holmes is a self-contained game. After all, it is designed how it’s designed. It doesn’t go “with” anything (see Exhibit B). It is what it is.

And what is it? A world where your characters go from 1st level to 3rd…and yet the monsters range from goblins and kobolds up to purple worms and vampires. This is a brutal, brutal world…one where poison means instant death for an adventurer and one in which there is no cure for that poison. Fighters never reach “hero” status (per other editions, that would be a 4th level fighter, and Holmes fighters never get there), and magic-users never gain more than a (small) handful of spells. The only wizards with any power are NPCs…and they are probably of the ancient, stooped and wizened variety to have gained so much power.

Now I’m not the first blogger to suggest Holmes be treated as its own game…one crazy, gritty, nose-to-the-ground game that only goes to 3rd level. I’ve read other Holmes enthusiasts who suggested discarding any pre-conceived notions that Holmes players MUST graduate to AD&D or an Expert set or one of those home-made-internet-downloads-that-continue-Holmes. This is an Old Subject in the realm of Old School blogging.

But instead of looking at THAT particular glass as half-empty (“imagine a D&D campaign where your characters are always eating dirt”), I prefer to remember that adventurers in a D&D game are already a cut-above the Normal Man. Holmes adventurers ARE heroes, even if they aren’t capital-H “Heroes” or even superheroes…but they are heroes. The best kind of heroes. The badass kind.

What is a hero? Well, if I skip the historical definition (of the mythological, half-divine individual), the American Heritage Dictionary defines a hero as “any man noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose.”

In general, adventurers in D&D are not marked for their “nobility of purpose” (they are adventuring for money after all; i.e. trying to make a buck). So what exactly is a feat of courage? Well, the AHD defines “courage” as:

“the state of mind or spirit that allows one to face danger with self-possession, confidence, and resolution.”

If I’m an adventurer…whether 1st level or 3rd level…and I’m going up against a 6+ Hit Dice troll, you better believe it takes courage to even step in the room. Sure there’s trepidation and a jack-hammer heart beat, but that’s the game. At least, it’s the Holmes game.

Adventurers in D&D are a cut above the non-adventuring “normal” folk. But Holmes adventurers are certifiable. They had better be smart, tough, and have a large dose of good luck on their side…especially considering “ability bonus inflation” is non-present and magic items found aren’t going to give you much bonus. You better be both resourceful AND on top of your game if you’re going to face down a gorgon or basilisk with your Homes character!

Adventurers in Holmes are a cut above normal folk, NOT just by their class, but by their HEROIC SPIRIT: the confidence and resolve to face immanent, mortal danger every time they step into the cave entrance. No matter how great they grow in power (um…3rd level?) a strong blow from a giant will crush the stoutest fighter like…well like a giant crushing a mortal man. And you’re going to seek out THAT guy’s treasure horde? You better be prepared in every way possible…you’re going to need a healthy helping of brains to go with your Big Balls. If you survive to 3rd level, you should be expecting some pretty epic songs to be sung by the local bards…and even in your old age, you’ll probably be called upon (like Beowulf) to fight some massive (and certain-death-dealing foe).

How creative do you think PLAYERS have to be to survive Holmes Basic? Talk about serious mental boot camp: if you’re tired of getting your characters gaffled by bugbears and ogres (not to mention black puddings and purple worms), don’t you think you’re going to have to learn how to use every possible advantage? Unlike other editions of D&D, Holmes does NOT have raise dead as a readily available spell. Oh, so sorry…you only live once. Just like, say, Stormbringer?

[at least in Holmes you don’t have to worry about getting critted and killed in your first fight. Instead, you just have to worry about getting hit twice and killed!]

This IS gritty fantasy. This is fantasy with balls. This is an RPG that, if the players are COMMITTED to it, will force you to step up your game. And it’s one where retirement should be viewed as a welcome reward from an extremely dangerous lifestyle. Holmes dungeon delvers are coal miners. They should be coming out of those caves covered in dust and blood and cobwebs…and definitely ready to fire up a smoke and pour a drink on the ground for dead companions. Now THAT’s D&D without artificial sweeteners. I love it.

Welcome to Holmes Basic. Only the Truly Badass need apply. For those about to die: we salute you!
; )

Poison (Final Thoughts)

Had a chance to review both the Little Brown Books and Holmes regarding their take on poison.

Holmes doesn’t include neutralize poison in his spell list…no surprise, really when you consider no one makes it past 3rd level. Meanwhile all monsters with poison attacks seem to be of the instant variety…snakes or spiders or medusa, if you blow a poison save in Holmes you’re dead. This certainly fits with the high mortality rate of this particular edition.

[I’m going to say a word or two about Holmes elsewhere…it deserves its own post]

The LBBs poison is all of the “instant variety” as well. However, the LBB DOES have neutralize poison in the clerical spell list. However, similar to AD&D neutralize poison will NOT save you if you’re already poisoned (i.e. DEAD)…as with AD&D there is no ten round “grace period” of writhing in one’s death throes during which time an antidote might be administered.

However, there’s no “Slow Poison” either…which means that poison is much more deadly in OD&D than even AD&D.

When viewed through this lens, I can't help but hypothesize that Slow Poison was a “fix” instituted for AD&D. This appears to be the case if we review the chronology:

#1 OD&D: Poison kills instantly. Neutralize poison can only detoxify objects, not “cure” poisoned individuals.

[interestingly, OD&D’s neutralize poison is the only version with a duration: 1 turn. This means that after ten minutes the item becomes toxic again? So even if you “de-poisoned” a corpse and raised it from the dead, it would need to make an additional save ten minutes later? Poison isn’t just deadly, it’s continuous and permanent with no means of curing AT ALL!]

#2 Holmes D&D: Poison kills instantly. No neutralize poison because clerics only go to 3rd level.

#3 AD&D:
Poison kills instantly. Neutralize poison only detoxifies. Slow poison (a lesser spell) keeps individuals from dying until that poison can be neutralized.

#4 B/X: Poison kills ten rounds after taking effect; i.e. a person blows their save and poison “goes off” instantly (giant snakes, purple worms) or after a delayed period (medusa bite, giant spider). “Going off” means the 10 round timer starts running. Neutralize poison cast within that 10 round span saves the victim, otherwise they’re dead. There is no “slow poison.”

#5 BECMI: Continues B/X.

#6 AD&D 2E: ???

#7 DND3+: Poison is nerfed of its “instant kill” effects.

Now, since I started playing D&D with B/X where “neutralize poison” actually cured individuals, I just carried that “cure” assumption over to my AD&D playing (I was 11 years old…give me a break!). In fact, the ONLY time I can recall using Slow Poison at all was when running the 1980 tournament module C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, in which Slow Poison figures prominently to the plot (interestingly, a plot that might seem to break with the use of NP…or not. I don’t remember…I know that more tournament points were awarded for casting Slow Poison).

Okay, I think I’ve written all I can on this particular subject. I know some people consider “instant death” effects to be a bit “un-fair.” The way I look at it? Getting chomped by a T-Rex or swatted by a fire giant and ending up with 0 hit points makes you just as dead. D&D is a game about people risking their lives (and often finding death) in pursuit of “fantastic treasure.” Dead is dead is dead…and D&D at least gives you some creative options for escaping death, INCLUDING spells like raise dead and neutralize poison. This is why I never sweated offing my players (we always found a way to “bring back” the ones we liked)…”killer DM” though I may have been, I was a always a softie when it came to cheap resurrection.

After all, I see death in the game as a penalty (for both bad luck and poor play) but it shouldn’t be a penalty that stops game-play completely, right? ‘Cause if play stops, well…so does the fun!

So anyway I always liked poison…and truth be told it rarely killed anyone in my games. Hell, people get saving throws after all, right?

[case in point: when I was playing the cleric in our B/X on-line game last year, I went toe-to-toe with a giant spider while the other party members…um, were they cowering? No…I think I was just off exploring a cistern by myself or something. Anyway, the creature only hit me once or twice before I was able to squash it…and I made all my saves. Sure I was sweating the prospect of death a little bit…but at 2nd level you’re nearly as likely to be “instantly killed” by a good damage roll from an orc or ogre. Poison? Eh – no big deal]

Still, of all the versions of poison across editions, I do prefer the B/X. It makes more sense, it’s simpler, it’s fun…and there’s no confusion between slowing and neutralizing poison.

‘Course, when you think of poor Black Dougal writhing on the floor, foam coming from his mouth as his nervous system shuts down…perhaps still able to watch Fredrik the dwarf clean out his pack as his eyes glaze over…you can’t help but think his buddies were even bigger shmucks than you ever imagined. Couldn’t Sister Rebecca at least cover the poor guy with a blanket to ease his last few moments of suffering? Sheesh!

; )

Monday, July 26, 2010

Poison (Redux)

Only AFTER I posted this morning's post did I figure out exactly WHY I had been so bold as to say poison doesn't instantly kill you.

It's in the rules.

That's right, but you have to actually get to it in a roundabout way. Neutralize Poison, the clerical spell found in the Expert rules can save a person who's been poisoned, REVIVING them (Cook's words) so long as it is used within 10 rounds of the failed poison save.

So let's break this down:

- Clearly Neutralize Poison, a 4th level spell, does NOT raise someone from the dead; raise dead is a 5th level clerical spell, after all. Ergo, we can infer that the character is NOT deceased.

- And yet it's pretty clear that a person that gets pumped full of giant rattler venom or stuck with a purple worm sting is instantly out of action (unlike a bite from a medusa or a giant spider, both of which take many minutes to take effect). "Dead" is actually the term used in the monster description, but since we've established Neutralize Poison doesn't raise the dead and yet revives a poisoned character within ten rounds, well...I guess it's safe to say the poisoned victim is "dead to the world," at least.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. First off it justified my earlier poison clarification in the B/X Companion. But second off (and so much more fun!) it means any character that fails a poison save is writhing on the floor, shaking and shivering in agony as poison courses through their veins! cool is that?

All you whiners out there who don't like instant death? You've been given a reprieve! Play B/X or BECMI and at least your character has a chance of survival even after failing that D20 roll. Maybe your DM will take mercy on you and allow a fellow player to "suck the poison out" even if your party isn't carrying that O-So-Useful neutralize poison spell.

Oh, and just by the more reason why B/X is the coolest. This little rule? Doesn't apply to AD&D. Neutralize poison can only be used to "de-fang" (so to speak) toxic critters. Hell, being poisoned by a medusa or spider spells instant death as well, per the AD&D Monster Manual, none of this (more realistic in my opinion) waiting on the poison to take effect. You are DEAD, pal.

Of course, what's the use of something like Slow Poison, then? Well, interestingly, this particular spell, a trifle ungracefully I'm afraid, somewhat mimics the B/X version of neutralize poison, basically extending the life of a character that's just been poisoned, possibly in the hopes of neutralizing the venom. Here's the dumb-dumb part (in addition to requiring a double-spell combo to heal a single poisoned wound): instead of giving a person 10 rounds to cast it, slow poison can be case within 1 turn per level of the caster.

How does this even make sense? The toxicity level of the poison is determined by the caster rather than the creature? If I'm a 7th level caster (spell must be cast within 7 turns) it takes 70 minutes for spider bite to finish someone; if I'm 12th level it takes two hours? Ridiculous!

Well, anyway, I'm still happy I'm playing B/X (and triply happy I don't have to keep track of lost attribute points for poisons, thank you very much). As with many things, I think the B/X crew got the poison rules nice and tidy.

[I'll have to check my LBBs later to see if this was 'ported directly from OD&D or not]


So Has Anyone Else Noticed (Poison)

So in the monster section of my Companion, I was doing a little editing 'cause I realized I had made a note about POISON that the effects of a blown save did not generally equate to instant death...that a failed save could result in shaking and shivering for a few rounds (and thus perhaps allowing an opportunity for a cleric to cast neutralize poison, or for some form of anti-toxin to be administered).

I edited this because it didn't jibe with my overall idea that the Companion doesn't change the Basic and Expert set rules, but only supplements (i.e. adds to them). I'm not, for example, changing the cleric's low-level spell list or giving energy drain a saving throw. If DMs want to house rule such things, they're totally allowed to do so under the letter of Moldvay's Basic Set. It's not my place to do anything but compliment these rules (and add some extra OPTIONAL rules).

But then, as I read through the monsters in Moldvay's Basic set last night, I noticed (apparently for the first time since I didn't remember this AT ALL!) that many of the monsters with poison attacks...including the medusa and giant have a certain period of time before poison takes effect; sometimes several ten minute turns even! the heck did I miss that?! I always found it bizarre in play that there was this cleric with the neutralize poison spell, and this attack form (poison) that instantly killed players...I mean, when is the spell supposed to be administered? Does it perform a kind of "raise dead" on poisoned characters? By default I usually allowed it to be case within one round of poisoning to actually neutralize the venom (I think that's what I do,'s been awhile since I can recall such a circumstance occurring in game).

Apparently, I should read my monster descriptions a little more carefully; obviously, Moldvay was a sharp guy (I don't think the Monster Manual provided "delayed" poison, but I'll have to check that later) and I, personally, do not know B/X quite as well as the back of my hand like I thought.

More on this later (perhaps).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So Close and Yet So Far...

In case people are wondering what the hell I've been up to lately...


Working on the B/X Companion.

Yeah, I thought it was done. Written. Completed. After all, I finished writing the entire text December 31st, 2009. I had all the art, sans cover by, mmm...February? March? I had the cover complete and finished (thanks, Brian!) by the 2nd week of July or so. So what gives?

Welp, first I went back and proofread the whole thing. Went over it line-by-line. Corrected a whole passel of issues, generally odd mis-spellings not caught by the spell check and spacing issues for paragraphs.

This is, of course, in addition to sussing out printers and costs and PayPal and such. But editing was most of the last week.

Today, the proofing and editing was done (well, it was by 2am this morning...). Went to a commercial printer that was open on Sunday just to get ONE friggin' copy. Got the PDFs lined up and some pages printed...and the formatting was off. Not the fonts or the text, just the gosh-damn headers...again.

So I went through the headers (again), page by f'ing page. The wife, bless her heart (and her knowledge of layout and ad copy) gave me a couple invaluable tips that allowed me to get everything squared away, finally.

And what do ya' know. I ended up with blank space.

Not anywhere useful, of course. Not in Chapter 4, for example, where I could have really used the extra space to compile the Specialist tables of all three books. No, in the "goodies" sections: Monsters and Treasure. Great.

So, I'm having to add some more goodies. A couple more magic items were no sweat, but the monsters are giving me a bitch of a time. How to add monsters that are "common domain" (from myth and legend and fiction), that are suitable for high level campaigns? I mean, I already added all the ones I could think of! Sheesh!

Fortunately, while brainstorming with Steve-O and my wife, with the Doc on the phone (and while barbecuing...yes, I am one multi-tasker extraordinaire), I think I may have come up with a couple-three critters to throw into the Companion. No, not the Harry Potter "dementors" my wife suggested (might as well call those wraiths or specters), and probably not the crazy-ass psi guys Steve-O wanted to use, but something.

I'll be working on statting 'em out tomorrow. Right now, it's bedtime for Bonzo. Adios.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Computer Issues

I've been having some computer issues the last couple days, so please forgive the lightness of posting. Right now, I'm at a local coffee shop, but my time is limited.

Along with the last LAST push for publication/printing/assembly of my B/X Companion this has led to a little crankiness on my part of late...which might explain some of my ridiculous, armchair-philosophizing/ranting posts the last few days. Trust me...I really DO intend to get back to normal stuff rather than trying to "score points" by beating up on WotC (and everyone else).

Your patience is appreciated.
: )

Friday, July 23, 2010

Damn...I Hate It When I Do That

To anyone that downloaded my B/X conversion of N1:Against the Cult of the Reptile God, please be advised that the original module was authored by Douglas Niles (as I've blogged before), NOT by Lawrence Schick (who did write the excellent S1:White Plume Mountain). I was so anxious to upload it this morning that I didn't bother to review it very closely. My bad.
: (

Thursday, July 22, 2010

B/X Against the Cult of the Reptile God

You all have been real swell about this week's rambling nerdiness regarding what's D&D, what isn't and how I can't even really hate 4E because I think it may be a fine (if limited) game, just not Dungeons & Dragons.

Thanks. And for being such good sports, here's that B/X conversion of N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile Gods I was promising, oh, way back in May, I think.

Sorry...I've been busy. And it's a LOT damn longer than my prior White Plume Mountain conversion. You can download it right here.

Now a few notes: you WILL need a copy of the original text/maps to make use of the copyrighted material is presented, and unfortunately this is NOT a module that the WotC folks have seen fit to publish on their web site. Sorry, but the blog readers voted it in, so this is the conversion I did.

You will probably want to read this blog post about the clerical version of Animate Dead for B/X. If you don't want to read my "design notes," skip to the end where the spell is. Or you can just buy my soon-to-be-released B/X Companion, as the spell is in there, too.

The Reptile God is one, tough mother...tougher perhaps in B/X than in AD&D, though that's debatable. Personally, I think the end monster of the original N1 is a TPK waiting to happen, which is why (I think) the author added certain magical aids for the party. The modifications for B/X (there's no "globe of minor invulnerability" in B/X...but none needed in this module), should still allow a smart, determined party a fighting chance, but I can't honestly two test runs ended in TPKs long before the players ever faced the final foe!

Good luck, have fun, hope you enjoy! And thanks again for reading!
: )

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Honestly...Can I be a Bigger Nerd?

When I was a kid, it used to really irk me the way non-gamers (especially parents) would refer to all role-playing games as D&D. “What are you kids doing? Playing D&D?” No, we’re playing Marvel Superheroes. “Whatever. You know what I mean.”

Hmm, I’d think (as a know-it-all kid who would one day grow into a know-it-all adult), I may know what you mean, but do YOU know what you mean? YOU mean “role-playing game.” Dungeons & Dragons is just one of many.

In the 21st century, it’s equally irksome to hear people refer to RPGs as table-top RPGs with computer RPGs being the “default RPG.” From where I stand, nearly all computer games marketed as RPGs bear little resemblance to the term. WoW and similar MMORPGs ironically come closest to the original term as players choose different roles and work together in teams. Most console and PC games have only a single player in a single role (if Fable is an RPG, then so is Halo…your “role” is Master Chief!), and games where you control “parties of adventurers” (from Bards Tale up to the latest Final Ultima or whatever) bear a superficial resemblance to a particular type of true RPG (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons), but there’s no actual “role-playing” that occurs. It’s more of a resource management coupled with action/exploration. Whatever. As Stephen King says in his Gunslinger series, “the world has moved on.”

Well, somewhat anyway. There are those of us still playing, buying, and creating traditional RPGs (i.e. for the “table-top”) so not everyone is quite as eager to throw their imaginations out the window and jump into one giant pot of computer zoning…at least not as their only form of recreation.

And yet, there are problems in paradise. Bad blood. Disagreements that rear their heads and cause in-fighting and back-biting in something that (one would think) would be a strong brother-/sister-hood community. I refer of course to Dungeons & Dragons and the Eternal Edition Wars.

Why does D&D matter? Who cares? They’re all just games…can’t people leave well enough alone? Can’t we all just get along and agree to disagree?

The answer to the latter question is: of course. The answer to the former…well…

D&D is the granddaddy of RPGs. It is a touchstone and common piece of many gamers’ history. Even those that don’t play D&D anymore can relate (somewhat) to those that do based on a shared past. It is many, many gamers’ introduction to this hobby/industry called “role-playing.” Role-playing, to me, is much more than a simple game. It is a tool that can act to open one’s creative mind, in much the same as any of the traditional arts can. Which is why I consider it an “art.” Even D&D, a silly little game based on a ridiculous premise that there are dungeons to explore and treasures to win (i.e. “a buck to be made”) by defeating dragons and other fantasy opponents.

As a common touchstone to this hobby/art gamers share it would be nice to have some agreement on what it IS. Unfortunately, this is extremely difficult as the game has gone through many, many iterations over its nearly 40 year history. This of itself wouldn’t be so difficult if players were to study the history of the game, but generally players are more concerned with PLAYING (that is the point of the game, of course!) and are content to work with the game “as is,” in whatever its current incarnation.

Fortunately or not, art has value to us and those players that do more than dabble in the hobby generally begin to attach meaning and sentiment to the game. And if that meaning and sentiment is concentrated in or attached to a single game (or a single edition!)…well, this is what leads to fierce battles of ideology, not to mention hurt feelings.

[kind of like the silliness of religious Holy Wars…oh, boy, we have all these different Holy Writings that tell people to “be good” in order to “find Heaven” but then we kill each other for taking our own distinct path. “No, no, you can only be saved through JESUS; can that Mohammed crap!” Silly, silly, silly.]

Rather than fighting blindly, it may be helpful for us to really consider what we actually think about Dungeons & Dragons. Over at the Mad Tower, Dave posted what defines D&D for him. I think this is a great exercise…certainly something to be considered by any player with a dog in the Edition Wars fight. I mean, it doesn’t help to just yell at someone for “being stupid” (even if it is cathartic) if you can’t even put into words why you think they’re crazy.

Take me, for example (you’ve read this far anyway). I have talked shit about pretty much every edition of D&D, and even though I prefer B/X today, in past years I had plenty of derogatory things to say about it (including and especially regarding the issue of “race as class”). Looking back, I can see that I was both young and stupid at the time (or rather, ignorant and “not thinking clearly”)…but even in those days I would still have considered B/X to be “Dungeons & Dragons.”

So what is D&D to me? Welp, I’ve been thinking of that since this morning (really!) trying to define it in my head. It’s not easy.

[and by the way, it’s no good to say “I know what it is NOT.” That’s a cop-out. If you’re going to do this exercise, let’s be positive and constructive, huh?]

First off, for my part I feel it’s necessary to be a bit more specific than Dave’s definition, which boiled down to “playing fantasy characters in a fantasy world kicking fantasy monster ass while rolling a D20.” That would certainly translate across every edition (to date) of Dungeons & Dragons, but would also include an awful lot of other fantasy RPGs. Unlike my parents, I don’t consider all role-playing games to be “D&D,” so I’ll need a more narrow definition.

The problem is, it’s damn hard to do so…especially considering the murky origins of the created in a primordial stew of various hobby groups prior to being codified in textual form. In the end, since we’re discussing Dungeons & Dragons specifically, not just role-playing (or Midwest War Gaming) in general, I am forced to rely somewhat on the authority of its main creator: Saint Gygax.

[all apologies to Dave Arneson… for better or worse, once Gygax took the reins he defined what “Dungeons & Dragons” was all about]

Now, I agree with Ron Edwards that there is no “archetypal” Dungeons & Dragons game…but there ARE recognizable trends in the game across multiple editions that I find mark the game as its own particular entity (albeit one that’s had a few nips and tucks). I look at these trends, rather than Gary’s specific “stamp of approval” because I find some later editions sans Gygax (like 2nd and 3rd edition) to still be fairly true to the game he shaped until the 1980s.

Plus, I don’t want to piss off even more people by saying “2nd edition isn’t D&D.”
; )

In my opinion, here are the elements that make any edition of Dungeons & Dragons specifically recognizable as a true member of the D&D family:

1. Theme/Premise: all games involve a team of adventurers exploring a fantasy world, overcoming a variety of challenges, and “improving” thereby. Adventurers face real and mortal danger in the form of monsters and traps, and mental challenges in the form of “tricks” or puzzles, and are rewarded with treasure. Often, the areas of exploration are underground (i.e. in a “dungeon”). Exploration of the unknown (and surviving what is found) is the key occupation of the players. Reward for good play allows increased effectiveness which increases range of exploration.

2. Character generation: includes a standard set of base attributes, randomly rolled. Characters may be a cut above your average “fantasy world citizen,” but in general they are very mortal peons that will need wit, skill, and luck to survive to higher levels of play (this is part of the “reward” system). Characters are classified by (duh) “class.” Class determines role in the party. Adventuring parties are expected to include members of several different classes, so as to fill several different roles. By necessity, the number of classes (and thus roles) are limited…fighter types, wizard types, skill monkey types, and clerical types (which provide certain special abilities). Basic playable species always included the allied peoples of Tolkien’s Middle Earth: Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits (“Halflings”), and Humans. Monster races are never a default player species, except when mixed with “human” blood (half-orcs, half-ogres).

3. Each character class has its own sphere of authority, areas in which they excel. Fighters fight, magic-users cast spells, thieves have “special skills,” and clerics have “special magic” (of the healing and undead fighting nature) unavailable to magic-users. Each class is of value in its role, though not necessarily able to stand toe-to-toe with other classes if not in its “sphere of authority.” For example, a fighter cannot waltz in and out of areas stealthily like a thief, even though she might bash open a lock/door rather than picking it.

4. Spell magic is based on the Jack Vance Dying Earth books…spells are memorized and then “lost” upon casting. This has been the basis of magic since the game’s origins. Other fantasy RPGs use different types of game mechanics for “magic systems;” D&D uses Vance. A character with more levels can cast more spells and more powerful spells.

5. Combat... is resolved through an initiative-attack roll-damage roll-hit point reduction system. Characters have an armor class, based on defenses, that determines the chance to hit. All damage is subtracted from hit points, an abstract measure of a character’s health, vitality, luck, and fatigue. There is no penalty to a character’s effectiveness for damage taken. Once hit points are reduced (a character’s luck has “run out”) characters are dead. Hit points are slow to recover except with the use of magic (potions, clerical spells). More experienced characters take a longer time to recover naturally than less experienced characters (perhaps due to an experienced player taking a blow that would sprain or break a limb while the novice has his limb severed, i.e. killing him). Armor class impacts whether or not hit points will be expended (i.e. whether or not a character will be hit and damage taken). In general, there are no defensive actions a character can take (for example, parries or dodges); this is factored based on armor worn and (usually) dexterity bonus. Combat is a necessary system, but left abstract, so as not to become the center-point of the game.

6. Also... Effects that may harm a character outside of physical combat offer characters the opportunity to make a “saving throw:” a throw of a 20-sided dice that may mitigate or eliminate the effect completely. Only rare and powerful effects force a character to forgo a saving throw. Saving throws include magical effects, poison, paralysis, petrification, and being caught within a blast of dragon fire. All of these effects use non-combat resolution methods (for example, spells and dragon breath do not require attack rolls), or are a last ditch chance to save someone from instant death (poison), or both (death magic, petrification). The amount needed to make a saving throw is based on character level with more experienced characters having easier chances to avoid effects, perhaps based on luck or heightened awareness. Different classes have differing effectiveness for specific types of saving throw.

7. “Game time” in the form of 10 minute “turns,” melee rounds and imaginary hours, days, and years are all formalized and their counting is a strict resource to be measured. IN-game time has impact on duration of spells and effects, light, food, the healing of hit points, and the recovery of spells and (in some editions) decreased effectiveness due to aging. Rate of movement is needed for characters, in part to help measure time within the confines of a “dungeon” environment. Time matters.

8. Improvement of character is measured in “Levels” like a Freemason or something. A low-level character is a shlub, a grunt, a peon. As a character gains experience points, level increases. Level is tied to in-game effectiveness. A higher level character is more effective and more difficult to kill (more hit points, better saves) thus opening up more game content for exploration (a low level character is confined to the easiest levels; high level character can go anywhere they damn well please).

9. Levels refer to “levels of explorative content” as well…the 3rd level of a dungeon is deeper and more menacing, providing new and interesting monsters and treasure than the 1st and 2nd level. Players’ reward for good or long play is improvement of one’s character level so as to open these new areas for exploration and find the more powerful monsters and treasure items. Good play = increased effectiveness = greater range of exploration. This is the basic reward pattern in D&D.

10. DM has final authority as referee over the game and is expected to play “the environment” and any imaginary individuals other than the player characters. The DM is expected to challenge players but to “be fair,” though enforcement of these ideals is left to individual gamers rather than codified in rules. Players are presumed to have full authority over the actions of their characters (presuming said characters are un-fettered by in-game effects).

11. Monsters operate under different principles from player characters. Monster hit points are generally considered to be a creature’s over-all toughness/vitality, though again measured abstractly. Monster attributes are fewer and simpler than those of player characters, generally allowing for ease and speed of handling by a DM that needs to “play everything except the PCs.” Certain monsters (e.g. goblins) have a tradition of being fodder, while others (e.g. dragons) are known for being formidable. Increased character effectiveness (i.e. “leveling up”) opens up new challenges to players as their characters are able to face these greater foes.

12. Skills are unnecessary or, at most, an optional component of game play. Character’s have the appropriate abilities for their class: good hit rolls for fighters, spells for magic-users, thieving abilities (whether percentage or circumstance based…backstabbing being an example of the latter) for thieves. Game systems are measured by utility, making use of all dice, rather than one particular type of dice roll.

13. Wealth accumulated is a measure of a character’s power, reputation, and ability. Magical items acquired provide the means to expand their power and influence beyond normal means. Character leveling increases effectiveness rapidly over the first few levels, gradually plateau-ing at the higher levels…acquisition of magic items allows effectiveness to continue to climb even at the higher levels. More powerful items are found in more dangerous areas providing greater rewards to characters with the increased effectiveness (and courage!) to seek them out.

14. No equipment needed to play except: paper, pencil, dice (of multiple shapes and utility), and the game text. Miniatures are useful but NEVER required. Imagination IS.

Now that’s about all I can think of right now…and let me tell you, I’ve been thinking about it a LOT today. Certain editions may stray a bit off track (2nd edition AD&D’s revised experience system, for example, makes the game fairly incoherent) especially with the addition of certain supplements. However, even "core" 3rd edition D&D adheres mostly to these “14 D&D Presumptions” (the inherent skill system being the one transgression, and the multi-classing madness pushing the boundaries of “class as role”).

For me, when you start knocking any of these off the list, the game ceases to be Dungeons & Dragons. For example, Palladium Fantasy screws the pooch on #3, #5, #12 and usually’s not even close. GURPS fantasy, even if used to create a similarly themed game, misses on #2, #4, #5, #8, #9, #11, #12, and generally #3. Yes, you can play an elvish warrior kicking dragon ass in a dungeon and making off with loot, but you’re playing a different game.

Of course, these games designers are NOT trying to pass themselves off as "D&D."

Since I don’t own 4E and can’t go over it line-by-line, I'll leave it to more knowledgeable folks than myself to decide if and when it fails to follow any of these “traditions.” Just from what I’ve read, it seems to miss on at least a couple, but maybe I’m mistaken.

You tell me.
; )