Monday, June 25, 2012

Saddle-Stitch? Not this time.

Met with my printer today to talk about the new book and get an estimate. The new book turned out to be more pages than I'd initially anticipated (60 instead of 40) due in large part to the inclusion of spell lists for several new spell-casting classes, but at least it was able to come in at under 64 pages, and managed to include everything I wanted in it.

Unlike the B/X Companion book (still needing to get that uploaded somewhere as a PDF...soon! soon!), the new book will be perfect-bound instead of saddle-stitched. For those new to the "printing lingo," that means no staples down the middle...instead, it will look like your usual RPG supplement or splat book. Doing the book perfect-bound means the cost for book will increase, but I'm doing a larger print-run this time to off-set the costs (we'll see how many extra books I end up having left over...). It also means less chance of getting defective copies (something that happened all too often with the last book).

Right now, I'm just waiting to hear back from my cover artist regarding some last minute additions to the cover format, and then the order will be off to the printer and I can go about figuring how to put a new PayPal button on the blog. I told Brian today, there were times when I started to think this particular project was never going to get finished. After finishing the B/X Companion, this one was a helluva' lot easier to write...but finding the time to put it all together was just sooooo irksome. It sure is tough trying to work a hobby/2nd job on the side when you've got a new baby needing love and attention...everything just seems to move at quarter speed.

Ah, well, it's pretty hard to complain when A) the kid is my favorite thing in the world, and B) the book got done anyway. I know my artists are all excited to see the end result in print form. I'm hopeful it will meet their expectations.

More news on this coming as it gets wrapped up.
: )

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Home Stretch on the New Book

The new book is nearing total completion. The art is there, the formatting is done, and the page numbers are loaded. I've got two more charts to stuff, a table of contents to write, and some credits to give, but I hope to have all that done by tomorrow.

Which would be a very good thing, since I have an appointment with my printer on Monday.

I won't bore you with another movie review (saw Rock of Ages today...for a film set in 1987, they sure had a lot of stuff from 1988-90. As usual, the biggest surprise was Tom Cruise, whose pipes on Wanted Dead or Alive were pretty was a better rendition than your usual karaoke and his tenor felt metal enough I wondered if it was actually a "stunt voice" coming out of his mouth. Unfortunately, his other songs weren't as good, though he was entertaining enough as rock god Stacie Jaxx).

Instead, I'm going to get back to finishing up those charts. Later, Gators.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Free RPG Day - The Haul

Happy Father's Day to all the dads, step-dads, grandfathers, etc. out there! Without our, pretty much none of us would be here. We should all feel grateful for that.

On the other hand, being as this is my second Father's Day as a father, I feel most grateful for my own son, who allows me to celebrate the day as a "dude of honor." He's just such a joy!

Taking a break from my magical musings for the nonce...yesterday was Free RPG Day and I was down at Gary's Games bright and early (9am) to pick up the latest-greatest. Skipped the Pathfinder and 4E offerings as I'm totally uninterested in those games (to put it mildly). Here's what I DID get:

ConspiracyX Introductory Game Kit (think of a mash-up between Men In Black and the X-Files): if you're into alien conspiracies as entertainment, this might be an RPG to check out. If you're not whole hog on the idea, the pedestrian plot and fairly boring mechanics might not be enough to juice you on it. I found the ESP mechanics/concept to be the most noteworthy think in the kit; definitely an interesting and cool design choice.

Battletech: A Time of War Quick-Start Rules: This appears to be Catalyst Games' attempt at remaking Mechwarrior (the original outside-the-mech RPG of the BT universe. As far as I'm aware, this would be the first official remake of MW since FASA's original went out-of-print. The mechanics are a little jazzed up (i.e. "more complex") as might be expected as they are based on the latest version of BT: Total War, and yet some things (like the damage monitor) seems stream-lined (no hit locations) even as they add a separate "fatigue track" (something I've always found problematic in practice with multiple RPGs). I don't know...I liked MW but could never get around to playing it because, well, if you're playing BattleTech then you generally want to be stomping around in giant robots. However, I will say A) the mechanics are fairly close to the original (which is a plus), B) the "Edge" mechanic (an additional attribute that acts as a drainable "luck" resource pool) is cool, and C) all the sample characters are neat and look like fun to play, i.e. role-play. The adventure's kind of neat, too, as a one-off.

Shadowrun Quick-Start Rules (on the reverse side of the Battletech QSR): Since I've heard nothing about Shadowrun coming out with yet another edition, all I can figure is this a promotion for the current (4th Edition) game from Catalyst...something to get the word out, and get people to come on board. So it's pretty much the same-old-same-old with the addition of "complex actions" versus "simple actions" and yadda-yadda with a lot of recycled art (all stuff from the basic book or prior adventure supplements). For me, the most interesting thing about the QSR is its length: 19 pages (not counting a 6-page adventure and 8 pages of pre-gen archetypes). I wrote whole game dealing with a lot of the same subject matter with little more than 3x that many pages.

Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol (also, surprisingly, from Catalyst): Cosmic Patrol actually has all the look and flavor of an indie-game, in that it is whimsical (1930-60s pulp know, bubble helmets, rocketships, Martian axe-women, etc.) and story oriented. Traditional GM duties are shared between all players in a rotating "Lead Narrator" role, the game works in rounds (my term) where everyone contributes to the story at hand while attempting to hit plot points and accomplish mission objectives to create a coherent narrative. At the same time, the game can't get away from "standard" RPG tropes: each player has a character, with standard attributes (brawn, brains, fighting, luck), health points, weapons, armor points, and equipment (though that last one is actually more of a metagame mechanic than actual "gear").

The funny thing about Cosmic Patrol is it is extremely similar to my first attempts at a "story now" game, even down to the subject matter (spaceship crew), when I was first introduced to the concept a few years back. As with so many of my projects, this one never quite achieved "lift-off" and part of the reason was difficulty finding a way to reconcile a narratavist agenda with typical RPG systems. I'm not sure Cosmic Patrol pulls this off (in many ways, it reminds me more of a story-telling game say, like Once Upon A Time, than an actual RPG), but it's pretty ambitious that they'd put this together, and I wouldn't mind giving it a whirl and seeing how it works.

Only War: Eleventh Hour (an intro to Fantasy Flight's latest WH40K-themed RPG): This appears to be the game I thought Deathwatch was supposed to be...basically, the 40K version of WHFRP but with non-space marines. I don't know...maybe that's what it is. The pre-gens are Catachan Jungle Fighters and Ogryn (i.e. Imperial Guard troop types for those who know WH40K) with all the usual ability scores (including Fellowship) plus skills. Yay, skills. In all seriousness, I know I have a hard time being impartial with games like this because I love the idea of playing military sci-fi RPGs...but I could only wish the character profiles looked a little simpler to put together, as I would hope that any 40K RPG makes it exceptionally easy for PCs to meet horrifying, messy, and/or grimly amusing death. Look, the armies of the 40K universe are terrifying individuals, they're even less "heroic" than an old school D&D adventurer. That doesn't mean they can't attempt...or even missions of "heroic" proportion. But let there be no tears shed for the fallen members of the Imperial Guard...and certainly no tears shed by players forced to go through a drawn-out chargen process to create a new Guardsman.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (that's the title of the Free RPG Day offering, but it's not the RPG itself): This is a pair of single-session adventures for use with the DCC system, plus an adventure design competition (and a chance to win some money). The adventures are titled The Undulating Corruption and The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust and I've yet to read either (my playtesting of the DCC Beta convinced me that DCC isn't a game I'm interested in playing). So why bother picking up a copy? Actually, I picked up TWO - first because, though I don't like the DCC system, I love the game's style and themes (very pulp sword & sorcery) and want to see if anything here could or should be translated into my D&D Mine system (which I hope to run in a very S&S fashion myself...once it's at the point of running anything). Secondly, a buddy who was in Eastern Washington over the weekend asked me to pick him up a copy since he wasn't able to make it to the shop.

Aaaaand that's about it. Gary's took the opportunity of Free RPG Day to clear some shelf space and so I was able to pick up a copies of Agent X (free) and Coyote Trail (half price), but those are full RPGs that I haven't had the chance to read; if I have anything useful to say about 'em later I will, though I believe both are out-of-print as of this date. It was quite a pile of goodies I brought back from the store Saturday...a good way to kick off the weekend and Solstice.

Have a good week, folks!
; )

Friday, June 15, 2012

Breaking with Tradition (Part 2)

All right, a little more time on my hands…let’s continue.

In order to figure out what a magic system looks like, one has to consider how magic works in one’s particular game world…the WHYS of magic, if you will. For most players (including DMs/GMs), I realize, the whys don’t matter a whole hell of a lot: the important thing is the mechanics of an RPG. How many spells does my magic-user get to cast during the game session? What are the ramifications of using spells? This has a direct impact on how the game is played.

For example, in D&D my 1st level magic-user is able to cast ONE spell. After that spell is gone I am left with an unarmored, dagger-wielding adventure possessed of D4 hit points. What does that say to me as a player? Make that one spell count. And so the spell players tend to choose is the one that can have the most lasting impact (i.e. Charm Person or Sleep)…even though a different spell might end up being the exact perfect the party requires to overcome a particular challenge or encounter.

If I’m playing a street shaman in Shadowrun, I know my spells cause me fatigue (and serious injury if I reduce my magic attribute with cybernetic enhancement) depending on the power and type of spell used. The number and variety of spells available to me differs depending on which edition one plays, which can make your character more prone to relying on guns then your Power Ball spell.

As said, PLAYERS don’t usually care WHY magic works in a game, just HOW it does. And many games don’t really give a good reason as to why magic works anyway (see recent discussions on disassociated mechanics, especially regarding 4th Edition)…at least from an “in-game” perspective.

But for traditional RPG designers, the “whys” ARE important. The designer needs to know the “logic” of the game world, so they can create game mechanics that are connected to that game logic. Knowing and working with one’s “fantasy physics” helps create a rich imaginary environment into which participants can better lose themselves, the desired end of non-narrative agenda role-playing.

[if you don’t buy that last statement I’m not sure why you’re still playing table top role-playing games]

“Applied game logic” isn’t anything new to designers with a specific setting attached to their RPG, it’s something considered (at least, haphazardly) with regard to monster cosmologies (what monsters/opponents make sense and are available) and chargen (what classes/skills should be available for player characters). Lesser designers (i.e. “poor” or “inadequate” for my tastes) will think less about these things and simply take a “kitchen sink” approach to what goes into a game (leading to all sorts on inanity like bestiaries with conflicting cultural mythologies and skill lists containing unused skills like “cooking” and “small power boat” just for the sake of “completeness”). Greater designers will hone every aspect of a game to razor sharp pertinence, right down to setting specific ability scores (instead of generic “Strength, Intelligence, Personality,” etc.).

But applied game logic doesn’t always make the cut with more generic RPGs. Now, of course, there’s generic and then there’s GENERIC…some games are simply engines to which one attaches a setting splat book that provides those extra game tweaks and adjustments based on “applied logic.” But then you also have pseudo-generic RPGs, whose ranks include both Dungeons & Dragons and a myriad of other fantasy imitators (knock-offs, heartbreakers, whatever you want to call them). Although D&D purports to be a “generic” fantasy RPG, much can be inferred about its setting simply based on what’s included (and not included) in its hallowed pages.

I’ve discussed this before over many posts (some illustrative examples: plate armor with no firearms, existence of paladins, multi-planar cosmology, Drow and other “civilizations,” named artifacts, etc.) but for this post the only thing I want to spend time on is the cosmology of spell-casting, i.e. magic use.

D&D offers the following cosmology of magic:

- Spells are learned, with more spells being learned by those with more experience (true even of clerics, whose broad spell lists are opened by increasing in level).
- To be a spell-caster one must have “what it takes” to comprehend the power (INT for magi, WIS for clerics).
- Each spell is a bit of finite power (ammunition) to be expended.
- Spells must be memorized by an individual or else stored in a magical device to use.
- More experienced casters can mentally store more spells (ammo) and (conversely) LESS experienced casters are limited in what can be stored.
- Spell-casting requires concentration, often words and gestures, sometimes materials.
- Spells are formulae that need to be performed exactly, and as such they can be interrupted.
- Spells are not always effective depending on the personal strength of a target to resist (saving throws).
- Non-casters have the ability to resist magical spells.
- And finally: Casters must be well-rested to implant spells in their brain, but implanted spells are held indefinitely until used regardless of the caster’s physical or mental state (!!!).

That last bit is the really weird one. To my mind there’s a real implication of spells being living entities, enslaved in a spell book and bound for service through the reading/memorization process (or slaved to deities and bound to service via prayers of supplication). Each spell is thus a mini-demon, being conjured with a specific purpose in mind. In Vance’s Dying Earth stories (the inspiration for D&D magic) this seems more than just an “implication” but it’s not a subject broached in the D&D books (unless, perhaps, the 2nd Edition adventure Return to White Plume Mountain).

Gygax himself simply stated he used Vance’s magic cosmology as it “well articulated” the power of mnemonic incantation (I recall reading somewhere else that he found it a bit different from other systems being floated at the time, and liked that). I would also guess that the main motivation in creating the D&D magic system was an attempt at game balance and playability. While the system IS playable with much more minimal fuss compared to other systems (I find Palladium’s PPE tracking to be a pain in the ass, for example), many folks have decried the game balance issues of D&D magic-users: too weak at low levels, too powerful at high levels. And while I’m not a huge advocate for “game balance,” this particular balance issue has a direct impact on playability.

Look, I know there are folks who are just thinking, dude, shut up, it works okay? Fine, yeah, it WORKS well enough you can play the game. But I for one get tired of it…and tired as well of players either A) complaining about it (especially at low levels), or B) simply ignoring it (i.e. not playing magic-users) because of it. The stupidest thing I’ve ever seen as a DM is players abandoning dungeons as soon as the wizard’s sleep spell is expended. “We’ll be back tomorrow!” Yeah, um, did Gandalf tell the Fellowship to retreat after he ran out of spells in Moria?

And that’s not to say the players are stupid/dumb…they’re playing smart based on the circumstance of the game, right? Tactically dealing with the hand that’s been dealt by the game designer. But I doubt that’s how the designer(s) originally envisioned the game being played (exiting the dungeon mid-session to “refresh?”)…unless they were reading a much different version of the literature in the appendix than what I’ve seen.

I just have to look at Gygax’s own house rules (thanks to Cyclopeatron and others): new player characters start at 3rd level, and magic-users with a high INT (not unusual based on Gary’s method of rolling abilities) gain a bonus spell. For a MU this gives a starting PC magical firepower equivalent to a 4th level magician (if one was using Rules As Written): right square at that “mid-level sweet spot” where wizards are neither too weak nor (yet) too powerful.

I’d be curious to see Arneson’s own house rules on the subject.

But for me, the plan is not how best to house rule playability. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I’m more interested FIRST in the why of magic and spell-casting: the in-game justification for how it works and why it works for my particular game. This is no big thing to do (even though conspicuously absent from D&D): Siembieda defined it through his psychokinetic energy (PPE) in Rifts, and the Shadowrun guys have their “channeling mana from the astral plane” deal-i-o. Once I’ve got the definition down, THEN it’s a matter of modeling it in game terms AND (lastly) iron out the playability/balance issues.

However, in working on those whys, in defining what magic is and how it works, I can see already that this system is probably NOT going to resemble Vance…which means it ain’t going to look all that much like D&D. Oh, it’ll have some of the trappings: there will be spell lists and levels of power and probably spell books, for example. But that might be the extent of the resemblance.

Let’s talk a little bit about magic in literature (and no, I don’t mean Harry Potter): in books and stories, based on folklore or not, what does magic-use LOOK like? And here I’m only talking about stories and collections that include MULTIPLE magi, not individual plot points like Prospero in The Tempest. I’ll also only be including human magic-users, not angelic “Istari” like Gandalf and his ilk.

Here are my bullet points:
  • Magic requires study and training; it is generally taught, master to student.
  • Not all magicians are equal; some are more powerful (and feared/respected) than others.
  • “Power” is generally defined by one’s repertoire of spells (more is better) and the potency of those spells.
  • Becoming a magician requires a certain ambitious temperament; it’s generally described as hard work.
  • Becoming a magician requires a certain level of intelligence (“native talent”).
  • Magical knowledge is generally stored in writings: books and grimoires, scrolls and tablets. This holds true for priestly magic as well (priests and magicians are often interchangeable where magic is concerned).
So far none of that really disagrees with the “D&D version” of spell-casting. But let’s continue, shall we?
  • Being a spell-caster does not preclude one from wearing armor or wielding weapons.
Whoa! Right out of the gate, right? But there it is: what besides game mechanics (or a post-D&D book of fantasy fiction) ever said a wizard was prohibited from wearing armor or wielding a decent weapon? I prefer my wizards to have the option (like the sorcerers in the original Conan film). Okay, now to the nitty-gritty:
  • Spells effect supernatural change through the use of magical formula, generally spoken.
  • Spells require mental discipline in addition to their formula; only a person with the proper mental state can use a formula even by reading it.
  • Conversely, any magician (presuming the proper training) can use a formula by reading it.
  • Spell formula are spoken and recorded in ancient, obscure, and/or mystical languages, uncommon to those without training.
  • More potent spells are longer and more complex (harder to record, memorize, and/or recite).
  • A spell known (i.e. memorized) can be cast.
  • Knowledge of a spell formula is only lost through the usual method of losing knowledge: time and age, replacement (learning something new, forgetting something old, etc.) head injury.
  • Spell formula, especially those newly discovered/created, are jealously guarded secrets.
  • Magic is best performed sparingly and privately as a spell witnessed can be learned and duplicated.
  • Because of this, and the aforementioned temperament, magicians tend to be secretive, mysterious, and stand-offish; it is the rare wizard that is jovial or gregarious (antisocial tendencies), let alone reckless and flamboyant/demonstrative.
  • This behavior, coupled with general ignorance on magic, adds to their allure as well as their intimidation of non-magi.
  • As academics, magicians tend to be less robust (also more cultured and refined) than other adventurers.
There, see? Now I have some idea of what I want magicians in my game to look like. And having that, I can stat out how exactly magic works in my game…and I can see already that there’s little about it that’s “resource based.” Certainly, magic-users are limited by the spells they know or possess (and per the literature, creating a new spell appears to be the work of years or decades, not weeks as per normal D&D research time), but there aren’t any spell slots, or magic points, or fatigue boxes, or mana burn to worry about. No, it’s not going to look much like D&D at all, I guess.

Of course, I could never make D&D look like I wanted to when it came to favorite S&S characters like Lythande and Elric, etc. so I guess that’s a bit of payback.

; )

Breaking with Tradition (Part 1)

Not a lot of time so this will be a quick post, perhaps with a longer follow-up...

Remember how I was talking about making stuff B/X compatible the other day, and how making combat "non-B/Xian" would possible make the thing look a lot different from "D&D" (and thus be a bit of a turn-off for folks)? Well, I decided I like my new idea too much to just junk it, and am re-working all the combat stuff (and thus re-visiting chargen as well) in my little manuscript called D&D Mine.

[that's not it's actual working title, mind you, that's just how I refer to it because, um, that's what it is]

It's a bit of a break with tradition but not really an extreme one...I think one could still use the old clunky initiative-D20-damage roll system of combat found in B/X. I mean, my game still uses hit dice and hit points (kind of). Of course, dropping a D20 in favor of a D6 makes me wand to chuck ALL the odd shaped dice in favor of sixers, which makes the whole issue of saving throws a thorny challenge to tackle.

[probably have to go back to Chainmail for ideas there, too]

But breaking those "traditions" isn't what I'm referring to in the title of this post. I am really, REALLY looking hard at the magic system of D&D. Well, magic systems in RPGs in general. I'm wondering if it's time for a f'ing sea change on the subject.

Does magic really need to be a resource mechanic?

That's how it's pretty much always been treated. Whether you're talking "spells per day," or magic points, or PPE, or fatigue, or endurance tracks or whatever, it seems like everyone's best idea of limiting magic use has been to make it a finite resource that gets used up over the course of a game session (or sessions). Why?

There have been some recent attempts to do away with this, none of which have been successful (in my opinion) of making a system I can live with. I don't think there's any finite limite to sorcery in The Riddle of Steel, but you have to be up on your chemistry if I recall (I might have to dig that book out later). I believe DCC allows a magic-user to continue to cast spells so long as he makes his skill roll (or whatever), but I don't want magic to be so random/humorous. The 5th Edition play-test allows MUs to cast an unlimited number of cantrips (including some once-1st level spells, like magic missile) but that just turns wizards into some sort of comic book dude that shoots lasers out of his hand...why is WotC so fucking retarded, for goodness sake?

A few years back (before returning to Old School gaming) I was struggling with the rules for my own fantasy RPG and trying to figure out a way to do magic in a fashion similar to literature and legend, rather than RPG or film. I was discussing with my (non-gamer) wife what her conceptions of magic and wizards (in the fantasy sense) were, what such a being would look like?

Would they have to be old or aged? No, there could be young wizards.
Would they be limited in wearing armor or using weapons? No, why should they be?
Is magic a "gift" only a few could learn? No, it should be something anyone could learn with the proper training. It might requires some brains.
Would casting spells age a person or cause them fatigue or pain or wear them out? No, why would it, unless they were otherwise neglecting themselves (like any other activity) would just be a tool one could learn to use.
Finally I asked (a little exasperated as I was looking for "game balance" issues) would there be ANY downside to being a wizard?

Well, replied my wife, wizards are a little weird, and they'd probably have a hard time interacting with people and getting girl friends...especially as they became more involved with "magical studies" and less in touch with the real world.

I didn't finish that particular game.

Okay, got to go...I'll get back to this topic in a bit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

B/X Compatible?

Looking over The Complete B/X Adventurer (as I put the new book together), I am of course struck by the awesomeness that sometimes spews forth from my brain (duh) and the creativity that spews from the pens of my artists (double-duh). It’s a nice little bit (or bunch) of “extra stuff” to throw into anyone’s B/X or Labyrinth Lord campaign…heck, it would probably work with BECMI or the RC or even the LBBs with minimal fuss and muss...and it’s neat enough to make me want to break out the ‘ol B/X books again and stop messing around with all these play-testing shenanigans.

But, but, but (isn’t there always a “but?”)…BUT then I went and opened up my old D&D Mine documents to look through my own “5E Variation” rules I’d been working on a couple months back. And the reason I was doing that was because I had a fantastic brainstorm of how to make the combat system into a simple, yet cinematic, D6 base system that still utilized levels and Hit Dice while cutting out all the extra dice rolling that goes into combat. And I wanted to see what I’d done with the combat system before so that I had something with which to compare the new idea…and, well, I couldn’t well remember what I’d thrown in the ol’ D&D Mine book previously.

[yes, yes, I’ll explain how this relates to the new book soon]

Let me take one more step off into a blue tangent before pulling this back and tying it all together.

I’m kind of tired of D&D combat. I know I’ve written about this before (to varying degrees) and certainly planned several blog posts (that I haven’t had a chance to write) on the subject, but I’ve been finding the base mechanics of D&D’s combat system unsatisfying of late. And I’m talking about the base system, found in pretty much all editions:

- Roll Initiative
- Roll D20 to attack
- Roll damage
- Subtract damage from hit points
- Rinse and repeat ad nauseum

Without active narrative, the system is pretty gutless. Against larger (or large numbers of) opponents, it can become tedious in the extreme…just a long series of dice rolling to see who wins the war of attrition. In the old days, fights could be sped up with judicious use of morale rules; later editions rely instead on critical strikes to help finish fights quicker. But those are just patches on a system issue.

Why should it take me 10 or 20 minutes to fight an orc? As we strive to get initiative from each other and then roll-roll-roll until we finally hit and then subtract a couple points and then roll-roll-roll, over and over hoping our luck (with rolling) will overcome our opponent’s armor class…just for the sake of a few coins in the creature’s belt pouch.

Recently, I’ve been participating in a play-by-post game using (slightly modified) Labyrinth Lord. As people who’ve tried PBP know, it can be sloooow going, even with the DM making the dice rolls. Our characters are 1st level, we’re in the middle of a dungeon delve…the usual fare, in other words. And I have found the only thing that makes the combats short enough to be bearable is A) the hefty attack/damage bonuses we receive (using the standard B/X ability adjustments) coupled with B) the very low (3-5) hit points (and AC) of our opposition. My character has a 16 strength and gains a +2 to attack and damage bonuses, meaning he hits AC 6 (average goblin) 50% of the time, often killing the suckers. But if I miss, then Ope! Got to wait till next round. And my character has one of the higher strength scores. Via PBP, a combat with half-a-dozen sprogs takes a couple-three days to play out.

And that’s just too long. I mean, heroes in stories (or movies) mow through runtlings like they’re reaping wheat, even when they’re not using “magic swords.” Even at mid-levels this kind of scene isn’t really possible in D&D, unless your character is ‘roided out (huge strength bonus) and/or armed with magic gear. Even then, if your opposition is “scaled up” (say, a handful of ogres) you get bogged down in the same tedium of attrition, unless your party contains spell-casters sporting beefy area-effect spells.

[which aren't very Sword & Sorcery might I add? Just as an aside...]

Look, I’m sounding harsher than I probably mean to sound…but when my imaginary character FINALLY hits someone in the game, I want the opponent to go down with a crushed skull, not hang around taunting me to hit it again. Assuming we're not talking about some sort of giant troll or dragon or something.

Which is why I started thinking up a whole new method of combat.

But then (as I wrote earlier) I started reading through my beautifully scripted Book 1 of my "new edition" of D&D and the very nicely written combat rules and I realized, gosh, not only would I have to over-haul everything to include this new “D6 system” in the book, but:

1) The already written, close-to-B/X-rules are pretty well done as is, and
2) If this really IS supposed to be “D&D,” shouldn’t it resemble D&D?

In other words, shouldn’t it include an Initiative roll, a D20 attack roll, and a damage roll (with said damage being subtracted from a hit point pool)? Isn’t that what D&D combat is all about?

And THEN I was thinking: wow, even though I do NOT plan on publishing my D&D Mine for any type of monetary gain, wouldn’t it be appropriate to make it at least moderately B/X compatible? Not just so other people will use it, but so that it can be used in conjunction with my other B/X books like the B/X Companion and The Complete B/X Adventurer?

[see, I told you this all tied together]

And now I come to the point of this post, in the form of a question: How compatible do you want your D&D “stuff” (i.e. books, supplements, retro-knock-offs) to be with your preferred version of the Original Fantasy Role-Playing Game?

I mean, you don’t need to use “kits” when playing 2nd Edition AD&D…you don’t need to add non-weapon proficiencies to early editions. Monsters in earlier editions are nearly all covered in 3rd and 3.5 edition books (with the possible exception of that three-headed monstrosity from module B3)…it’s not hard to convert back-and-forth between most editions. Plate mail and shield comes up AC 3 in all editions with descending armor class and a +3 dwarven thrower is always a +3 dwarven thrower.

Do you need your D20 roll to hit? For that matter do you need dice of unusual sidedness? Certainly it’s fun (and novel) to play a game requiring dice of different sides, but is it NECESSARY for the game to “feel” like D&D and not, say, GURPS Fantasy?

Those are not rhetorical questions: I'm looking for feedback.
; )

Hmmm…for a moment there, I thought I was going to end this post with my queries, but I decided I wanted to bring up one more bit of thought to consider:

When D&D was first published (in the format we now call OD&D, consisting of three Little Brown Books or LBBs), the rules presumed its participants would be using the Chainmail rules to resolve combat, though it presented an “alternate system” of combat. Over the years, the alternate has become the standard, all the way down to the 21st century (with a lot of add-ons and doo-dads). It wasn’t always the form of “roll D20 to hit, roll for damage” and who’s to say that is (or ever was) the best method of resolving small-scale skirmishes? At the time, it allowed players to use those neat new dice (Chainmail only rolled D6s) and the level of simplicity in OD&D allowed it to move pretty swiftly (roll, check table, subtract D6 damage from characters/monsters whose hit points had not yet been terribly inflated). But since then, those two (small!) pages of combat rules have suffered the most amazing amount of “rules bloat” I can find in any RPG published in multiple editions. How many pages are needed in 4E to provide a primer on combat in comparison to the game's original form? That’s kind of disgusting.

Okay, end last, back to the compatibility question (and thanks for your indulgence).

Monday, June 11, 2012

News from the Summerlands

I started writing a post yesterday, but instead was over-taken by the wonderful weather and spent much of the day outside walking or working; it was an absolutely gorgeous day in of the days where people finally say, O Yeah, now I see why we tolerate the rain for nine months out of the year. I just couldn't sit in front of a computer under those kind of conditions.

However, it wasn't just the weather that made the day so glorious. First, my family returned to Seattle (in late afternoon) safe and sound, which made MY day. Very glad to have them back with me, even though my infant son broke my fast by shoving a piece of garlic bread down my throat at dinner (I'm still fasting today, but I may have blown the whole detox least I'm laying off the donuts at work).

The OTHER bit of news that will be of more interest to my readers is this: I've finally got all the artwork in for my new book The Complete B/X Adventurer! And it is some swell stuff, let me tell you! Hopefully, I'll be able to get the formatting and proofing done by this weekend, and then it will be off to the printer.

Stay tuned for more info! This one's been a loooong time coming!
: )

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"A Hot Mess"

That's how I'd describe Ridley Scott's new film Prometheus.

I'm not sure if I'd call it altogether disappointing, though. Steve-O and I caught a midnight (or rather 12:30) showing on the IMAX 3-D screen and the main thing I was looking for was some hard core science fiction, complete with cool visuals and logical world/setting. Story and plot? Well, I already figured out it wasn't going to be any great shakes as the commercials/previews have pretty much given the whole thing away (and no it didn't "intrigue" me in the slightest).

Here's the best thing I can say about it: it was never boring.

That might not seem like high praise to you, but let me put it in this light: I didn't fall asleep. And I went into the film plenty exhausted, having worked a full work week (well, except for the all day traveling earlier which was its own brand of stress and exhaustion), plus I was feeling pretty out of it from being at the end of my second day of a detoxing fast (don't ask), and I have become somewhat notorious in recent years for falling asleep during movies that are boring or dumb (in my opinion) in the least when I'm watching 'em late at night.

Prometheus is a hot just doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it horror? Is it sci-fi? Is it action? Is it an homage to Alien? Is it trying to say something about faith? Is it trying to say something about the origin of the species? Is it trying to say something about the perils of investigating Life's Deepest Mysteries? Is it trying to put a boot to Graham Hancock?

I don't know...I mean, I really don't get what the director (and writer(s)) were trying to do. I guess make money, judging by the amount of advertising/marketing the film got leading up to its release. However, if there was a point other than, it was lost on me. It tried to hit all these notes at once, and kind of pooched it from what I can tell.

And yet, it was NOT boring. It provided enough eye candy and suspense and balls-to-the-wall crazy that I didn't nod off even once. And the visuals were fantastic and there was some neat sci-fi stuff in it. Hell, I even thought the aliens were pretty cool, despite looking like a 'roided out version of Billy Corgan having an emo moment.

Would I recommend the film to someone else? Um...

Speaking of "hot messes," I am a wreck at the moment. Went to yoga this evening for the first time in God knows how long and it completely kicked my ass. Turns out I'm not as stretchy as I used to be. I could barely walk out of the studio afterwards; thank goodness I decided to drive instead of biking, like I'd originally considered. Right now, I think I'll throw on a Star Wars DVD and chill for a couple hours...followed by an Epson salt bath. The physical discomfort has (temporarily) displaced the melancholy of missing my family (still in Mexico)...but it's no freaking picnic.

In gaming news (just before I sign off), I decided NOT to re-do Pendragon, Game of Thrones-style. It's just too much work for too little pay-off at this point. I did do a serious read-through of the A Song of Fire and Ice RPG from Green Ronin today and I have to say: just not very impressed. Sorry, I'm not. It's a beautiful book, with a simple base system and thoughtful design...and then a bunch of extra stuff that seems totally unnecessary. Why-why-why to game designers START HUGE and tell people ix-nay what you don't want? Why don't they START SIMPLE and let players add on any extra stuff they feel is necessary? Just to pad the page count? I really, really don't get it.

But that's another post. Maybe a little later tonight. After my bath.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Duty, Family, Honor

So I’ve been Jonesin’ to play Pendragon lately.

I’ve never actually played Pendragon. I’ve owned a copy for awhile (the 3rd edition, which, I suppose is technically a 2nd edition, seeing as how there was never a 2nd edition printed). I’ve owned it for awhile…picked it up used a couple years back…but just haven’t had the opportunity to set up a Pendragon campaign. These days it’s difficult enough to set-up a game where everyone can commit (and show up) to a regular weekly game. A generation-spanning game like Pendragon (even with 1 year per session) seems more than a little ambitious…it sounds like an f’ing pipe dream. And that’s assuming I can find some folks who are as big of King Arthur nerds as myself.

We’ll get back that in a second…perhaps a better question is: why the hell am I so weird? I mean, I AM willing to make the time to play and show up every week, despite family and friends and work and age and injury. I mean, 4 hours of sleep (which is what I get on game nights since my dogs wake me up before dawn every morning) is a small price to pay for a night of role-playing. At least for ME it’s a small price to pay. Is it so strange? I still have dinner with my fam, go on trips, walk the dogs, watch ballgames, pay taxes…but one night a week I set aside for my burning desire to escape reality. I guess I’m just a freak.

Okay, enough o that…Pendragon. Truth be told, I’d actually prefer the chance to PLAY Pendragon, but I’d settle for running the game. It really is too bad that we didn’t have this game as kids (i.e. pre-1986). I guess the first edition was published in 1985, but I certainly don’t remember it. Still it would have been a great game to have as the play appears to describe the type of campaigns we were interested in running back in the day (generational conflicts, issues of heredity and heirs and power, rather than just dungeon-delving). Instead we were left floundering with AD&D at a time when TSR was more concerned with patching together a skill system in the form of “non-weapon proficiencies” (see Oriental Adventures, the Dungeoneering Survival Guide, etc.) to fatten one character sheet.

Is it much wonder we switched to Marvel? At least we could use THAT to emulate the soap opera stories found in X-Men comics.

Why Pendragon; why now? I think I can lay the blame squarely on my new interest in Game of Thrones. Just finished watching Disc 2 last night of the first season last night. Unfortunately, I’ve reached a point where I no longer enjoy the show. See, I made the mistake of borrowing the Martin book for my recent trip to Washington D.C. and spent most of the plane ride home reading the first 400 pages or so. Although I’m (roughly) at the same point in the TV series as I am in the novel, I find I vastly prefer the book…and I find myself frustrated with the “abridged” version so necessary to make a visual weekly program. Cool as it is to see The Wall in all its HD/CGI glory, I love reading all the extra “stuff” that goes into making Martin’s world a living, breathing world.

[understand that they’re two different mediums. The TV show IS admirable, which is what brought me to the book in the first place. It’s not my fault I just prefer the book…]

And it’s that “extra stuff” in Game of Thrones that suggests Pendragon to me. There’s something very much Arthurian Saga-like about Game of Thrones. Sure, sure…there are shades of Moorcock’s Elric books (with those all-conquering dragon lords of yesteryear), but knights in their twilight, the lords and their intrigues, the One King trying to unite a nation at war with itself against a pending invasion of Dothraki/Saxons…and the impending tragedies one can see on the horizon… Yeah, it feels very Arthurian to me.

Oh…that and I totally dig on how every kingdom has its own animal sigil. I am a big fan of (simplified) heraldry.

Now, if I could REALLY have my druthers, I wouldn’t simply be playing Pendragon…I would instead be playing Pendragon in the Game of Thrones SETTING. Because THAT’s what I really want. Keep the same system, but nix all the Great Britain stuff and ‘port over all the Great Houses and personalities from Martin’s books. Instead of starting as Knights of Salisbury, players could start as sons of Bannermen to one of the Great Houses (perhaps the Starks of Winterfell since so much adventure seems to lie in the North, otherwise one out of the East). The random annual tables would have to be adjusted a bit to take into account the years-spanning seasons, but pretty much everything else, system-wise, could be uses as is. And that would be cool.

It makes me wonder…knowing that Mr. Martin at one time played Superworld (the Chaosium “superhero game”) that was used as the inspiration for the Wild Card books, is it possible that the Game of Thrones arose from a modified Pendragon game (also published by Chaosium) with a similar system?

Of course, there already IS a Game of Thrones RPG – or rather, A Song of Fire and Ice based on the series as a whole. I did have the chance to page through that book a few weeks ago but wasn’t very impressed/thrilled with the system mechanics perused. Of course, that was before I had the chance to get into the book. Now that I’ve had my interest piqued, I’m considering picking it up, or at least giving it a second glance. NOT because I think my impression of the game would change, but because of the background material it might be able to provide for a game set in Martin’s fictional world.

My family’s out-of-town for the next few days…I’m not really interested in talking about that at the moment…so I have some free time on my hands. Maybe a little Pendragon-Game of Thrones conversion could be ironed out over the course of the weekend, seeing as I have nothing else on my plate. And if I DID get something set-up perhaps I could entice some players to play a weekly, saga-style game. King Arthur might be “old hat” to these young(ish) players…but GoT is a totally hip and happening bunch o hotness.

Just something I’m thinking ‘bout.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Full-On Awesome

Back in rainy Seattle, sans family, and while I have a couple thoughtful, gaming posts planned, I just turned on the TV in time to see a preview for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

As a lover of both American History and satire (not to mention a bit of a vampire aficionado), is it terrible of me to hope this film is done well, and makes huge heaping gobs of ca$h at the box office?

Actually. come to think of it, I hope it doesn't do too well. As a one-off novelty, I'd hate to see it spoiled by becoming a multi-sequel franchise.

Oh, well...thoughtful posts later.

Monday, June 4, 2012


I am currently hanging in Our Nation's Capital, just in case y'all were wondering. The whys and wherefores don't really matter. I shall be back in Seattle tomorrow night (not in time for the weekly play-test unfortunately, but hopefully I'll be able to get some guys together later in the week). When I DO come back, it will be sans wife and baby for about six days, so expect me to be grumpy this week.

Later, gators.