Showing posts with label holmes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holmes. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Love Affair Ain't Over

Another quick Paraguayan fun fact: people have no idea what time it is (except when it's closing time...they'll kick you out of the shop ten minutes before the doors lock). Yesterday the electricians were supposed to show up at the 10:30am to check out our wiring, as we keep having power surges that, you know, burst light bulbs, burn out power strips, electrocute you for touching the coffee maker (me only), and shoot flame from the outlets. As I told my mother-in-law, that could mean they'll be here anytime between 11am and Thursday.

Well, they did show up yesterday, but not till 4 or so (right before "closing time!"), and made a determination that they would need to return today with some extra gear. They asked if it was okay to show up at 8:30am, even though they knew that would be "really early" for us. I called their bluff and said, yes, 8:30 will be perfect and I will be here. Welp, it's 9:20 so far, and I haven't seen 'em yet. I'm guessing they'll get here sometime between 11am and Friday.

In the meantime, I can blog a bit (I've got a full pot of coffee along with an insulated glove).

When we first decided to move the family down to South America, I knew I wasn't going to take my whole library of game books and references with me...we were already going to be packing super-heavy just with the essentials (and no, I'm not talking furniture). At the same time, I fully planned on doing at least some writing down here, and so wanted to bring a few books for reading and riffing. However, one of the many games that stayed home was every single edition of D&D that I own (the actual list of books I brought are listed here, for those interested). I was feeling kind of "done" with D& least at the moment I was packing.

Blah, blah, blah. Who really ever gets "done with D&D?"

This time around, I changed my gaming inventory a bit, and two of the things I packed were copies of D&D...specifically Holmes Basic and Moldvay's Basic (the "B" in "B/X"). True, I didn't really need them, especially Holmes (I've got PDFs of both the Blueholme Prentice Rules and Mazes & Perils firmly ensconced on my hard drive)...and yet, I've already read Holmes once through since getting here and am working on a second read. Likewise, Moldvay is an invaluable reference.

These "basic" games are so chockfull of promise, I can understand why people continue to create adventures and supplements and clones and blogs for them. There's just so much potential in them...reading through Tenkar's Tavern's last dozen or so blog posts, especially with regard to to his "free RPG day offerings" just got me positively inspired! Gosh, it makes me want to create another semi-clone game myself...maybe even a free one, God forbid!

*ahem* ANYway, I don't have time to do that NOW mind you (I need to feed the boy some oatmeal and get him off to school, and I'm sure the baby will be waking up the moment she's rocking in an auto-swing next to me while I type). But someday, perhaps, and perhaps someday soon. The point is, my love affair with these games hasn't ended, and more than reworking I think they simply need refining.

Or maybe not even that. Maybe they just need some loving.

Sorry, I'm feeling a little whimsical today. Ugh, and right now I really have to go...I'll try to get back to this subject in a bit.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wanting Better Fantasy

I started writing a big ol’, rambling post yesterday but forget all that noise. I’ve got something else on my mind.

People who have picked up Five Ancient Kingdoms and read its contents (or, God forbid, played the game) will have certainly noticed its departure from “traditional” D&D in many facets. No, I’m not talking about the inclusion of skills or “non-weapon proficiencies;” that kind of filler is something I can do without in my games.

No, here are some of the rule differences:
  • No dice other than D6s (no D20, D4, D8, D10, etc.)
  • Rule Zero (already discussed)
  • HPs limited to player characters
  • HPs rolled every game session (no carry-over)
  • Hit Dice repurposed as all-encompassing multi-use combat stats
  • Combat based (roughly) on Chainmail
  • Magic inspired (roughly) by Chainmail and non-Vancian
  • Unlimited magic for magicians
  • Treasure tables removed (treasure types for monsters remain)
  • Magic item creation combined into a single table-system
  • Different saving throws (and based on 2D6 roll)
  • XP earned for treasure/monsters scaled by level (less XP received as PCs advance)
  • Additional XP bonuses for “experiences” that don’t scale
  • Motivations that have (light!) mechanical impact
  • Romance rules
  • Warfare rules based on scaled up combat (simplified Chainmail in other words)

Those are the major rule departures; there are many more minor differences (like coinage, encumbrance, and movement rules). I’m also probably leaving out other major differences, but it’s not the point of this post to enumerate every deviance of design.

Now in case anyone’s wondering, most of these differences were created due to:

A) Repurposing to patch problems and inconsistencies
B) Removal of patches of the original designers for things not broken, and/or
C) Setting specific changes (especially regarding spells, equipment, monsters, costs, etc.)

I understand that for many people, the particular edition of D&D they’re currently playing (with or without additional house rules) is perfectly fine and dandy…it’s been working for ten or 20 or 30 or 40(!) years and they’re not interested in changing that now or anytime soon. The reasons I wrote 5AK was not an attempt to usurp the existing editions’ (nor clones’) place in the hearts and minds of role-players. Nope. My original motivation (as I’ve probably noted elsewhere on this blog) included a combination of 1) throwing my particular heartbreaker hat into the ring (i.e. my own ego), and 2) showing that such a thing could be done (and I mean, showing myself as well as others, BTW). AND I was truly irritated by the whole D&D Next thing and decided it would be a more constructive exercise to quit my bitching and just do my own version of D&D…D&D Mine, I called it.

[literally…that’s how the files are labeled on my computer]

But somewhere along the line, my original motivation morphed into something a bit different, due in no small part to the pride I’ve taken in this creation. It IS a complete game, after all…something I plan on supporting via a web site (currently under construction) and soliciting contributions for. There are FIVE ancient kingdoms after all…each could certainly use its own supplement book!

Five Ancient Kingdoms was written to be a standalone game; a cheap, packaged product (including dice) that people could pick up and use as an alternative to their standard fantasy fare. And for folks not interested in the specific setting of 5AK, I wanted the game to have a rule set that could be readily adapted to anyone’s normal D&D campaign, should they choose to roll with my deconstructed-reconstructed rules (hell, some of ‘em can simply be “dropped in” with no sweat expenditure necessary). But even more than that, my morphing motivation said: I want this to be a game for NEW PLAYERS...for people who haven’t played D&D or who don’t have preconceived notions about these things we call “table-top role-playing games.” THAT’s my main goal: distributing this game to non-players in an enticing package that says, “check this out; it’s interesting, fun, and easy to play.” That is the motivation that started percolating after I had looked upon this thing I wrought. In fact, at this point this might be the thing that matters most to me.

And dammit, that’s not what I’ve got!

You see, this is why it’s so ridiculous to try switching gears mid-stream (or even after the fact). I did not set out to create a game that was user-friendly to newbies; that wasn’t my intention, that wasn’t my initial motivation. My intention was to thumb my nose at WotC/Hasbro, and that’s what I did. I made a game that is exceptionally playable and much more affordable then the inevitable multi-volume 5th edition that Hasbro will eventually be rolling out. Easy to use? Check. Nice handling with small books. Check. Tastefully illustrated. Triple-check (all thanks to the Arabian Nights Entertainment being dumped into the public domain). If a person can get past the lack of skills, slick color plates, and the title “D&D” on the cover, I daresay a person would select my books over 5E…assuming, that is, that they’re looking to get into something new.

But would it appeal to a new player? I don’t think so. It operates under too many assumptions; it apes too many tropes of D&D (even its look is based on OD&D). It’s designed for players who are already familiar with D&D…hell, the target audience are the people who read this blog. Sure, other folks might pick it up and check it out…people who see it on the shelf of a game shop or hear about it on the internet or who are drawn to a fantasy adventure game with Middle Eastern flavor. But that’s not hitting the market that my shifting motivations want to target.

Kids. I want to target kids.

And not just kids. People who enjoy fantasy and fairy tales and fiction based on something other than D&D-derived fiction. And by “D&D-derived,” I am not simply referring to officially licensed books based on Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms and whatnot. I’m talking about stuff like Game of Thrones. I’m talking about The Ranger’s Apprentice (and similar) that stocks the shelf and the grocery store check-out counter.

I want Russian folklore. I want The Last Unicorn. I want The Hobbit (not The Lord of the Rings). I want Vainamoinen. I want a backwards-aging, half-demon Merlin. I want Robin McKinley. I want Halloween. Is that too much to ask?

And here’s the thing: the beauty of Dungeons & Dragons is that, despite the silliness of its premise (characters go into unexplored adventure site…over-and-over-and-over again) is two-fold. First, the adventure site (i.e. “the dungeon”) is still an excellent game convention, for all the reasons Arneson outlined in various published commentaries. Second, the concept of intrepid adventurers plunging into darkness is based off a literary stable of fantasy literature (often of the “swords & sorcery” or “weird fiction” variety) which is itself based off the older mythology and folklore I’m craving.

Which means (if you kind of reverse engineer my weird-ass logic) that there must be a way to build a fantasy-based D&D-style heartbreaker that doesn't cannibalize itself. That works under different assumptions than those that it has established for itself...over-and-over-and-over again.

Maybe that doesn't make sense. Let me try putting it a different way

I'm aware of the Beyond the Wall RPG. I don't own it. I haven't read it. I've read about it. And I've looked at the downloadable character sheet. It looks just like a B/X D&D character sheet. Regardless of how it gets there (with neat, Lloyd Alexander-like character generation) it appears to be the same game. It's just D&D. And I want something more.

I've got some ideas for getting there, but I've got to do some more thinking. I keep coming back to Holmes...Holmes Basic is about the scale of the thing I want. I've read and reread and reviewed Blue Holmes and Mazes & Perils and Holmes itself and I like all of it, but I don't think they do what I want. But they're my inspiration at the moment.

That and Faust. More on this in a bit.

What exactly am I saying here? Am I going to be dumping 5AK anytime soon? No, I said, I'm still damn proud of it and will continue to sell it for the foreseeable future (in print form that is...electronically, it's already available forever). But, stupid as the idea is (and I feel stupid just typing this) I'm considering writing another fantasy heartbreaker. As if one wasn't enough of a waste. I'm considering writing one with a completely different target audience...and different objective...firmly in mind.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On Role-Playing (Part 2 of 11)

I did a very lightweight, informal poll on my way home from work today (Monday). One guy I called; two I spoke with (briefly) at Gary’s Games in Greenwood. All were gamers; none of them read this blog. I asked all three the following questions:
  • How would you describe role-playing to a novice (the act of role-playing, not “what’s a role-playing game”)? How do you know when you’re role-playing? When can you say (to yourself about yourself), hey, that was a pretty good bit of role-playing?
  • How did you learn how to role-play?

All three folks had a pretty good handle on what it meant to role-play, though it took them a while to articulate (I did not give them my definition first). All were pretty much on the same page: they considered it something of taking on the personality of the character they were playing, considering the imaginary game world from their character’s point of view rather than their “real world” player perspective. In other words, modifying their own behavior to the tone of “what would my character do in this situation,” i.e. matching player objectives (wants/desires) to those of the imaginary character.

However, while the first question was easy to answer (if difficult to articulate succinctly), the second question (how did you learn to do this) gave them pause.

Kris thought he’d learned it from watching other gamers when he first started, and from reading the books. “There’s a section on ‘how to role-play’ in the Players Handbook that I think I read.”

[there is no such section]

Kayce said “trial and error…a lot of it” and also cited having read a lot of role-playing books over the years (she’s played everything from AD&D to Mouse Guard to 5AK)…but she couldn’t think of anything specifically. Her parents had been the first ones to introduce her to role-playing (through 1st edition AD&D).

The other dude I with whom I spoke (whose name I didn’t get and who’s played everything from 1st edition D&D and D6 Star Wars to Pathfinder) cited the “core D&D rule books,” but when I asked him which ones, he backtracked. Instead he cited play-by-mail role-playing of the fan fic variety: taking on a recognizable character from fiction (he used Star Trek as an example) and then writing “in character.”

It was an interesting (if completely unscientific and tiny) poll: all three had played many RPGs in their lives including multiple editions of D&D (their first experiences all being with D&D) All were older (Kayce, the youngest of the three, is 30), and “veteran gamers.” All had a good handle on “role-playing recognition,” but found it difficult to say exactly how they’d come to that recognition.

Which isn’t too surprising when you consider the “how to role-play” section is conspicuously missing in many RPGs, including pretty much all editions of D&D.

[yes, yes, I realize there are plenty of other RPGs out there, but for purposes of this discussion, I will be looking solely at D&D, a common touch-stone for most of my readers and the “gateway drug” to role-playing for a multitude of gamers]

Let’s start at the beginning.

Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames
Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil
and Miniature Figures

That’s the title on the cover of my Little Brown Books, three volumes of which comprise OD&D (“original D&D”). Nowhere is the term role-playing to be found within the (rather long) title, nor in the pages. In fact, the only use of the word “role” that I find is on page 6 of volume 1 (top of the page) where Gygax writes:

Before they begin, players must decide what ROLE they will PLAY in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user.

That’s it. No real use of the term “role-playing” in the modern gaming sense of the term only in the non-fiction, organizational usage: who’s going to be the quarterback? Who’s going to block? Who’s going to return kick-offs? Etc.

If OD&D had been marketed as a role-playing game (i.e. if it had been labeled as such on its cover/box…it wasn’t), then these words might have lent credence to the definition as used in, say, 4th edition D&D wherein one player takes the role of a tank (“fighter”), or of a support member (“cleric”), or of an artillery piece (“wizard”). But OD&D wasn’t billed as an RPG…it was a medieval wargame that would morph (over time) into an RPG.

[Ha! Note that even terms like “tank” and “support” are militaristic sounding. Never thought about that before…]

There are no examples of players investing personality in their characters, and despite the admission that the rules are less than complete (and thus need to be bolstered by the referee’s own addition) there’s still an assumption that the game is one of working within the rules to have an exciting (war) campaign, not delve into the inner psychology of one’s character. No notion of the fantasy escapism that comes to be a defining measure of the RPG as an activity. The example of play in Volume 3 seems to be a simple dialogue (as in two people) between the referee (DM) and the “caller” (lead player)…like two wargamers facing off across the table from each other. No kibitzing or synthesis of personality is on display.

That doesn’t mean role-playing didn’t occur…but right now, we’re just discussing the explicit rules of various D&D editions and their evolution.

Next up: Holmes Basic. Billed as “The Original Adult Fantasy Role-Playing Game” (at least on the cover). Created as a bridge between to AD&D (and thus, presumably, written before AD&D) it is clear from the title that “role-playing” and D&D were linked in the minds of the publishers. And yet, the only reference I can find to role-playing in the game (besides the front cover) is the first sentence of the introduction:

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up.

That’s it. Everything else in the introduction (and in the text of the book) seems as straight-rules-oriented as the “medieval wargame” we call OD&D.  Note that Holmes does not use the hyphenated term “role-play” in the body of his text, but rather (like in OD&D) seems to be talking about “playing” a “role” (like taking the role of a character in a film or book). He talks a bit about engaging the game, but only (from my reading) in the meaning of “to play again and again” rather than losing oneself in the fantasy escape that is role-playing.

[have I not yet returned to the definition? Don’t worry…I will]

In Holmes, there is no mention in the character creation section of imagining your character’s appearance, background, or personality, and even the idea of giving the character a name is practically thrown away…the only place one finds reference to the absurd notion of naming your character is in the middle of the paragraph on the player’s responsibility for recording character information (“Characters can be either male or female. The character’s name, class, ability scores and other information is recorded by the player on a separate sheet of paper or other record.“). At least the book contains some examples of character names (“Bruno the Battler” and “Malchor” the magic-user, in the combat section). However, the sample adventure (mostly featuring the same DM-Caller dialogue of the earlier book) has the participants simply referring to their characters by class, as opposed to name (“the fighter opens the door” or “elf and dwarf search for traps” or “dwarf will search the body” etc.).

It’s actually the alignment section (no longer used solely to determine “sides” of the battle) where we start to see an inkling of behavior-personality in imaginary characters:

If the DM feels that a character has begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment he may rule that he or she has changed alignment…an example of such behavior would be a “good” character who kills or tortures a prisoner.

We’ll talk about that more in a second (not done with Holmes yet!) but just consider for a moment the shift that had occurred within a few years…from “wargame” to “role-playing game.” Because…despite the lack of good hard information on WHAT role-playing is or HOW to do it…I think it’s clear that by the time of Holmes, this is exactly what had occurred: a shift in perception of what the game is.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Holmesian Brevity

[written around 3pm or so]

Wow…just having a tough time focusing today. Might as well do some writing.

I’m pretty darn excited about the new game…so much so, that I’d rather be working on getting the thing published than working at my job-type job. Spent my lunch break calling Chessex and seeing what they could do for me as far as custom dice (not a lot as it turns out, unless I want to pay $2 per die). What I REALLY want to do is head down to my printer and start getting price quotes, but they’re not open on weekends, and I don’t have a day off for eleven more days…and I need to go over the project with them in person. Dammit…I want proofs to try shrink-wrapping with Tim’s wonderful new apparatus, and it’ll be three-four weeks or something till they’re in hand!

UGH…patience is not one of the virtues I’ve got in spades. Sometimes I give the illusion of patience, but for the most part what I’ve got is sloth and stubbornness which makes me seem like a patient person. But I’m not. I am NOT a guy who’s into delayed gratification.


Depending on the current cost of paper, I think I’ll be able to get this thing down to $21-22 (including dice, but not shipping and handling). PDFs will be $5-$7 (each booklet), depending on how much I’m willing to allow for gouging by PayPal and on-line distributors. Ugh! But I want this thing in stores…I want to see it on a shelf! I want, I want….



In other news, I’ve spent other parts of my day downloading (and reading) Holmes retro-clones, not to mention refreshing my brain with Meepo’s Holmes Expansion (I tried, but couldn’t find, Professor Thorkhammer’s Holmes Companion)

[EDIT: the good professor was kind enough to email me a copy of his Expansion rules. Thanks!]

…none of which has been tremendously helpful, I’m sorry to say. I mean, they’re all well done, but…well, Holmes Basic itself is really just fine. I think I like the Blueholme Prentice Rules best just because they ARE so true to Holmes. Of course the author, Michael Thomas, is working on his Compleat BlueHolme Rules, which will probably be 200+ pages or something.

[not that I’m knocking the effort…Thomas is obviously laboring on his own D&D Mine project which I encourage EVERYONE to do at some point. I just get the impression form his BLOG that his opus is going to run a LOT longer than Holmes’s own sparse 48 pages…which pretty much takes the piss out of the thing for me]

48 frigging pages. That’s how many pages badass Holmes needed to create his own edition of D&D. I don’t think I actually noted this till I was doing my deconstruction for my own D&D Mine...previously, I’d just assumed Holmes’s volume was 64 pages like Moldvay. 48! And large parts of that are just reprints of Gygax’s prosy intro from OD&D or illustrations or white space. The guy does a lot with a lot less…I mean, he does manage to include most every B/X monster in his book.

5AK is a LOT longer than Holmes. True, it’s dwindled down to A5-size pages, but (not counting the covers) the number of letter-sized pages it uses is 36 (more even than my B/X Companion, which used the equivalent of 32 in its printing). Pull the covers off Holmes and the whole thing amounts to 24 pages…two-thirds the size of my game. Granted, it’s only a basic introduction to dungeon delving…but still, that’s pretty impressive considering there are still plenty of folks playing Holmes as their edition of choice and loving the hell out of it.

I actually don’t want to do a retro-clone of Holmes. What I want to do is something on the same scale as Holmes…both thematically and (more or less) page count-wise. Something that uses different-sided polyhedral dice (5AK only uses D6s, being based on CHAINMAIL). Something much more over-the-top, and yet gritty in a way 5AK is not.

[by the way…readers do realize I’m just typing my thoughts out loud, right?]

I do NOT want it to turn into a huge project of any kind…in fact, I might just cut-n-paste the monsters and spell descriptions from 5AK into it (maybe. 5AK doesn’t include DRUIDS and I have a sneaking suspicion that this new “thang” project will…more on that later). But I really don’t want to waste too much time on it. I mean, other than the writing/design itself (attempting to streamline the train wreck that is OD&D) the most impressive thing about Holmes is the cover artwork. And that’s pretty much how I’d like to keep my game...uber-simple. Hell, I might even do the interior illustrations myself (now that I found a free scanner in the library), just to insure I don’t take the thing too seriously.

Mmmm…okay, more on this later.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One More Beer

That is to say, one more beer for the night...not forever, jeez!

Still, if three seems a bit unusual for a Tuesday night, well, yeah, it is...though three bottles over the course of an evening isn't nearly the same as a couple pints with a dinner out (which was last night). *Ahem* It IS unusual that I'll down half a six-pack, but it's been a loooong last couple-few days. No, I still have to go to work tomorrow. No, this isn't about the Mariners (hey, we're not last in our division this year...or even second to last!). No, it isn't about the damn David Stern-Sacramento Kings-NBA-thing, either (yes, I'd like to take my boy to a Sonics game some day; no, I'm not a basketball fan by any stretch of the imagination).

No, it's not even about rough times on the homestead...the wife's been back in town for nearly a week, and she's not heading to South America anytime soon, her last project having (mercifully) ended. Ha! I'll bet you folks thought the reason my blogging had fallen off the face of the earth the last ten days had to do with the fam or something. Nope, not at all.

The reason I haven't posted anything to the blog the last ten days is that I've been focusing all my creative energies on finishing one single project...D&D Mine, aka 5AK, aka "my little D&D/Chainmail retread project."

Yep. It's finished.

And I mean, finished. Completed. With artwork and formatting and page numbers and tables of contents and all that jazz. Finished it today. You'll forgive me if I feel a touch entitled to an extra beer.

I even (God help me), drew an actual know, like a sample dungeon level?...and scanned it and stuck it in the book. After wrestling with my own blankety-blank scanner for hours last night (using both a PC and a Mac to no avail) I found one that would do the job at the library this afternoon and just cut the damn thing. And I don't care if it looks like crap compared to some of the brilliant artists posting their fine-tuned pieces of craftsmanship on their blogs. It's good enough. And the fact of the matter is, the game looks better than the original.

It really does. Not that that's a huge stretch or anything...the thing's one can do with a little MS Word and a few jpgs would make those poor bastards doing layout in the 1970s absolutely crap themselves. I am a hack...I have absolutely ZERO background in layout or composition or...well, in anything really useful to putting these books together. I didn't work on a school newspaper or yearbook or anything. But I can fiddle around with these little programs and voila! I look like an f'ing genius. Or at least a competent semi-professional.

Crazy world.

So here's the next couple steps I've got to go through before I unveil the thing (yes, I know people want to see it...I'm hoping some folks might even want to buy it). First, I need to have a couple trusted sets of eyes read it...we'll see how that goes. Then I need to get some price-points from the printer and see about getting a few mock-up/proofs. I might need to get better scans of the artwork (it's excellent stuff, but still public domain and the resolution leaves a little something to be desired)...but like I said, it already looks nicer than the original books, so I might leave it as is.

After that, it's all about packaging. For those who haven't been following all that closely, I've written my own "Little Brown Books:"three slim volumes that still pack a lot of info (in a legible font, yes). They are much more setting specific and much less potpourri than the original LBBs but that's by design and for my own amusement (you can still adapt it to play a "generic fantasy RPG" but why would you want to?). I have about 99% decided to distribute them in two different formats:

1. A printed version with all three-volumes shrink-wrapped together along with a set of custom dice that I intend to order from Chessex or someone. Ideally, they'd be wrapped with one of those adhesive paper bands like you find around notebooks at B&N or dress socks, but I don't even know where to purchase such a thing. This may be a "limited edition" type sale depending on price to produce and demand...however, I'm still going to keep it simple (no box, dammit).

2. Electronic PDFs that can be purchased individually from RPGNow or some such. You'll have to pay for and download each book separately, and you will receive the "special dice," but some people may prefer that anyway. I mean, we all have dice, right?

All right, that's enough of an update for the beer's almost finished, the Mariners have tanked for the evening, and tomorrow's "garbage day" so it's time to clean out the fridge. I'll provide more information (or at least will probably be blogging more) over the next couple weeks, and I'm sure there may yet be some (minor) tinkering as monkey wrenches arise in play-testing. But for now, I'm quite satisfied. It really does seem to be the type of fantasy role-playing game I can live with...for a good, long while.

NOW, having said all that, I will say there's still a part of me that likes the idea of something a little more gonzo and gung-ho. White Plume Mountain-ish, if you'll allow me the conceit. Something a little bit more like B/X...except with druids.

Really, just the B, not the X...a lighter game, capable of introducing younger players to the fun of role-playing with a lot smaller scale and a lot more focused objectives of play...maybe even something that uses "funny shaped dice," like everyone expects. My recent posts on "subclasses" is what got my brain percolating on this idea...which is why I decided I really needed to buckle down and get 5AK finished. Bad enough I'm trying to get Cry Dark Future out, too (I've got five artists on board so far, which is great!)...I didn't want to let my "gamer ADD" sidetrack me when I was so close to the end. But now I am at the end (except for the mechanics of getting the thing printed, etc.), so maybe there's room on my plate for another project: has anyone done a retroclone of Holmes Basic yet?

Oh, yeah...and a completely random note, I have some scribbled ideas for rewriting Vampire the Masquerade. That might actually end up being a one-page micro-game.
; )

Later, gators...cheers!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holmes and OLD School Initiative

You know, I thought I was done with the whole initiative discussion (or, at least ready to move on to other combat issues using it as a context)…but then I was reading through my copy of Holmes Basic and realized – holy moly! – Holmes completely drops initiative from his edition of D&D.

I mean, he has SOME order of combat…when opponents come into melee range (within 10’ of each other) melee attacks are resolved in descending order of dexterity (with monsters’ dexterity being randomly determined). A six-sided die is rolled for “first strike” (I don’t believe the term initiative is used at all) only when the two combatants have the same dexterity scores.

Otherwise, things would appear to occur in their order as determined by action…a character with a readied arrow can shoot it before the opponent can engage the archer (though would do archers attack each other simultaneously? So it would appear…).

Now looking through my copy of OD&D I find…nothing? No initiative rules at all?

Oh, boy.

[*read*read*scan*scan*] I went through my LBBs. And there's NO initiative. Greyhawk? Nothing. Blackmoor? Nothing.

Finally, we get to Eldritch Wizardry where there are notes very similar to Holmes basic (order of the round being determined by actions - missile, magic, melee - followed by DEX sequence)...but the dexterity determination is crazy complex, including modification for armor worn and...

Oh, boy.

I read through Chainmail, just to see what the "original" version of man-to-man combat was and wow, here's where the size of one's weapon really DOES matter, since Lo and Behold first strike is solely determined by length of one's pole (*ahem*) or strategic location (defending from cover or elevated). Oh, wow...once again we see the original concepts were far more realistic, even in the abstract, than the later evolutions of the game rules.


Wow...I'm going to have to digest my thoughts and reflections on the issue before I say anything more. Initiative. Apparently an ugly, bandaid add-on.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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, August 24, 2009

In Search of Module B1

In my earlier post about the Holmes Basic set, I mentioned that the adventure module B1: In Search of the Unknown had always intrigued me, mainly because 1) I was never able to locate a copy and 2) I couldn't figure out why my Basic set (the Moldvay version) came with B2 as the introductory module. Wouldn't it make more sense to include B1 as the introductory module to the Basic set? Of course, at the time I was unaware there had already been a Basic D&D set.

So now, I've had a chance to read and consider B1, taking into account prior experiences and adventures, as well as the differences between Holmes, Moldvay, etc. And having considered all that, despite not yet running/playing B1, I can safely say:

This is an excellent module.

Now, of course I can't bump it onto my top ten list (since one of the criteria is that I must have played it...either as a DM or grade it). But there's a distinct possibility it could land on the upper echelon if I ever DO have the chance to run it.

And here's the reason I give it such high marks. It's not because of its "re-play factor" with its semi-random monster/treasure coding; I've seen this kind of thing before with TSR introductory modules, specifically Top Secret's TS:0.

It's not because of its low gradient of challenge, excellent for 1st level characters (probably moreso than B2, even).

Rather, it's the adventure itself. The objective of B1 is not "unknown" at all; it is very specific: the mysterious stronghold of a pair high-level adventurers that have gone missing. The party finds a map to the adventurers' hidden lair and decide to ransack it while the "cat's away." Basically, the adventurers are in the business to do a bit of house-breaking and petty larceny. How punk rock is that?

Then the adventure itself: the stronghold "Q" that the PCs burgle is set up in all ways except the stocking of monsters and treasure. This is a dungeon that "makes sense;" the rooms are the bedrooms, labs, trophy chambers, and barracks of the high level adventurers, their henchmen, their mistresses. Store rooms and armories, as well as the occasional trap or magical experimentation room are all logically placed. I imagine that exploring Q is very much like going through the mansion of some rich, paranoid, eccentric. Each room is excellently detailed, including a few hard-to-move items of value that carry the consequence of allowing their owners to track any would-be thieves (should said owners ever return)...tons of actual role-playing consequences inherent in an introductory adventure!

The best part about something like this is that is eminently scalable. The owners of stronghold Q are never detailed. Since there are no set encounters, it is easy enough to add higher level challenges to the game (bugbears instead of orcs, purple worms instead of carrion crawlers, etc.). For mid-level adventurers, simply adding a "0" onto the end of treasures found would probably be enough to make the module worth their while. Maybe the owners of the stronghold are levels 9 and 10, maybe they're levels 20 and 21...the adventure background and room descriptions can be used "as is" and the monsters simply geared to match the PCs expectation. That's the real "re-play" value of B1.

Anyway, I dig it a lot. I may very well pull the adventurers in my B2 campaigns (my wife and nephews) to send them off "in search of the unknown." It would seem to be a fairly short delve, easily cleared out (assuming they don't get lost in one of the several magical traps that abound), and one that would give them a decent boost in XP and treasure prior to their return to the Caves of Chaos.

Very cool...I am glad I picked it up.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The ORIGINAL "Adult Fantasy" RPG

Note to Self: No posting after cocktails. Beer: okay. Wine: okay. Absinthe and champagne: big no.

However, that's fine...I may have written some fairly random comments on other folks' blogs (sorry!), but my own post, while silly, doesn't appear to embarrassing.  Now...onto the news of today.

Walked down to the local game store this morning (I LOVE Greenwood!), and picked up two copies of the Holmes Basic set ($8 a pop) on the way to the coffee shop. In 25+ years of buying games and game supplements, I have never owned or had the chance to purchase this edition. 

Now, I've got the original boxes, no less!

Normally, I'm not someone who "stocks up" or doubles up on games.  Yes, I collect 'em, but generally as long as I own one useable copy, I'm content.  Heck, there are several copies of the original cover PHB, some in better condition than my own...but mine works fine...and so I leave them on the shelf for some other curious soul or collector to find and purchase.

But here I acquired BOTH Holmes boxes, leaving nothing for anyone else.  Man, am I a jerk or what?

Okay it WAS a bit selfish of me, but I had good reason. Although neither came with dice, both included their "introductory module"...and each box contained a different adventure! One has a copy of B1: In Search of the Unknown, the other has B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

The B2 is in pristine condition, the pages stiff as if never thumbed through or played...the cover shows no sign of wear or tear and no markings of any type. Quite the contrast to my own.  Also, now that I have it, I see that it IS somewhat different from my own copy. The artwork is different! Certain images with which I've been familiar for decades have been replaced by similar but different images, Willingham drawings with Otis illustrations.

Fascinating...I'll have to compare the two side-by-side for writing and lay-out differences.

B1 is not in pristine condition having pen-marked notes on the maps and a definite used look about it. Still, I am thrilled to have it. Any pre-1985 module I can get my hands on is terrific (these I rarely the game shop). But B1 is one I've never owned, held, or even seen in the flesh. It always confused me in the past why the pre-packaged B module with my Basic set was B2 and not B1.  B1 would have come first, right?

Well, B1 DID come first...but with a different Basic set than the one with which I grew up. 

Anyway, I'll be anxious to read it. But first, of course, I've got to read Holmes himself. I've been doing that all morning (hey, what do you know: purple worm in this edition, too! And it's bite attack is more fearsome than any other edition).  I find this a fantastic piece of gaming history, and more...I see why so many people have kept this as their "true" version of the game.  From what I've read/skimmed so far I think it's well written and quite a complete/polished game.

Well, with the caveat that one needs to bring their own imagination to it...but that's written into the rules, too!

I will  "blarg" more later this weekend, but I just want to say this: I love the fact that it says "The original ADULT fantasy role-playing game" on the cover. This was NOT a game for children originally...well, not ones under the age of 12 (kids became "adults" a lot earlier in the 70s...).
: )

Oh...that and this passage:

"...Also a female with high charisma will not be eated by a dragon but kept captive. A charismatic male defeated by a witch will not be turned in a frog but kept enchanted as her lover, and so forth."

And so forth...

Who knew Charisma had such incredible practical benefits? These "rules" are totally going to be part of all my future D&D games (in fact, I should put them into my Companion set!)!

Absinthe Post...Sorry!

Gaah! You kids today!  With your "gold pieces" and your coke and your whores! What do you know about "tough times?"  Gah!

I've been drinking absinthe cocktails tonight while watching belly dancers and eating some (very paltry) Franch cuisine...then I had a little community theater improv for dessert. I tell you this: Greenwood (Seattle) is God's Country.

Just so you know.

Dammit beagles! "Donkey" (as I refer to the younger beag) continues to bay at a cat outside, and is definitely in need of a beating which I will probably NOT administer (knowing me). But he's interrupting my brain wave, dammit!

BEFORE the absinthe bar, the wife and I stopped by the local game store and I made a terrific find...not one, but TWO (2) copies of the Holmes' Basic set in the used game frigging BOXES!  Not only that, they each included a module, in addition to the game book.

[not that they included any dice, BUT...]

HERE's the kicker. One box had B1: In Search of the Unknown. The other box came with B2: The Keep On The Borderlands!  I was having this debate earlier (either on this blog or another) about what module came published with the game...apparently it was an EITHER/OR kind of thing.

As I've never owned a copy of the Holmes edition (!!) I've made plans to publish BOTH boxes (couldn't get 'em tonight as my hands were full, walking the dogs). The copy of B2 was in frigging PRISTINE condition...I've never seen a module look so clean, stiff and unused. I mean, f'ing MINT, like never opened...and it has to be AT LEAST 30 YEARS OLD.

I'm going back to the shop first thing in the morning. If someone picked 'em up after I left the shop (unlikely since I was in there 15 minutes before close) I will kick myself for a good, long while. 

Shoot. There was also a box of Mentzer's Companion set that I considered picking up (just to have a copy) but the booklets were in worse condition than my own 1.5 sets...and do I really need a box?

But the Holmes...shit, I'm gonna' buy both. F-- it.

'Night fellas...gotta go beat the beagles (they're BOTH howling now).