Sunday, May 30, 2010

Still No Freaking ISBNs

I've been waiting for weeks and still no ISBNs...damn it, don't they just email 'em to you? Crap almighty!

M. and I stayed up till 3AM last night watching nearly the entire first season of True Blood "On Demand." It did not make me want to play Vampire in any way, shape, or form but its damn addictive television. And here I finally finished with Lost. Ugh...

I'm a little grumpy this morning. I spent yesterday digging through all my dozen or so superhero games to see if there was one that would meet my needs (I do this every time I read a good comic or see a decent superhero film). No dice, figuratively speaking. Even spent more than an hour at Gary's poring through Mutants & Masterminds 2 (the shame!) and Wild Talents (awesome...but $50 and gigante!). Of the two, M&M had the more comic book inspired artwork/concepts, while Wild Talents had the better bang for one's buck (awesome essays and the One Roll System). I purchased neither however. If M&M had been available used I might have been tempted to get it and see if there was a way to kit-bash a B/X version...

All right, I've gotta' hop across the street to the grocer. I was planning on hitting the Seattle Folklife Festival today (as I do every year; we need to support these amazing anachronistic art RPGs!) but it just started raining and three days of mud being slogged by thousands of people doesn't sound like a whole heaping amount of fun.

Still, I'll probably go elephant ear and some fiddle music will take my mind off the damn ISBNs. Shit.
: (

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Revised Variant Combat System

Apologies to the seventy folks that already down-loaded this once, I have now REVISED my variant combat system (the "no attack roll" system) based on the continued voiced concerns regarding ranged combat.

Those concerns have now been addressed: here's the download.

To sum up: Subtract 1 point of damage (NOT a "shift" of dice type) from damage for every range increment at which missile fire occurs. So at short range you subtract 1 from the dice roll, 2 points at medium, and 3 points at long. This range penalty can be off-set by the "missile adjustment bonus" for a high dexterity. For example, a character with a Dexterity 13 receives a +1 to missile fire. At short range he will always do at least 1 point of damage (no penalty)...the opponent better be expending energy to dodge (fatigue) or he'll be getting drilled. At medium and long range, the character still has a penalty (-1 and -2 respectively) meaning there's still a chance he might miss from those ranges.

Yes, a dexterity 18 character will always do damage (+3)...they are just too dangerous with a ranged weapon. Take evasive action or you'll be getting at least a decent scratch from a marksman of that caliber.

This bonus ONLY applies to off-setting range penalties; it adds no further bonus to damage. Some DMs may wish to use the halfling's bonus to missile fire to off-set range as well; others may see this bonus as a positive damage "shift" instead. I leave that choice up to the judgment of individual DMs.

All right, try it out folks!
: )

Jon Favreau is Brilliant

So, in part to take a break from all the Auto-Hit Combat Variance of the last couple days (I've been following up with folks to see if anyone's been play-testing), I took some time off from Ye Olde Blog to hit the movie theater and bask in the glory of Iron Man 2.

Yeah. I liked it a lot.

And I had kind of been expecting it to suck after reading the reviews. I mean, kind of X-Men 3 or Spiderman 3.

Now, please, please allow me to clarify. I liked these latter films somewhat...on a certain level (especially with the Spidey film) I understood what the film-makers were going for, and they delivered a certain amount of "good stuff" I was looking for. But the reviewers were right...they just didn't cut it as sequels. And after watching both, I wasn't interested in watching more.

IM2 got some mixed reviews as well...saying it wasn't as good as the first, saying it was a re-hashing of the first film, saying it was just a big ad for the Avengers, saying the "stealing-Stark-Tech-&-using-it-against-Tony" was a tired theme already explored in the first film, etc. And in general, I'm on the same page with the movie critics I follow...if they are disappointed by a film than, by-and-large, I end up being similarly disappointed even when I really, REALLY want to like a film.

Such is not the case with Iron Man 2.

I thought it was great, I thought the pacing was excellent, I thought the story was great, if this type of film could be rolled out of the studio every summer, my ass would be in the seat and my money in their hands every summer.

And here's the kicker: I'm not even an Iron Man fan or anything. I read him in a handful of Avengers comics during the early 80s, had an origin re-cap issue (detailing how he and Rhodey met in the jungles of Vietnam), and had perhaps a second IM issue with a fight against the Living Laser or something...but that's really it. I never followed Stark or his exploits and wasn't all that crazy about his character until I checked out The Ultimates series a couple years back. But even then, Cap America steals the show. I don't know...maybe it's 'cause Stark is a Republican? Nah. But the point is: when reading Aberrant (a supers RPG from White Wolf that I loved) and they said, "No, for better or worse, in Aberrant your character is NOT Iron Man" ('cause basically everyone's a mutant)...well, it wasn't disappointing to me.

The Iron Man films have turned me into a huge fan of the guy.

And it's not Robert Downey Jr. performance that's done it. RDJ is a brilliant actor, has been for years, and one whose work I admire immensely. But just look at the caliber of actors in these films! Jeff Bridges? Gwyneth Paltrow? Mickey Roarke? Sam Jackson? Terrence Howard? Don Cheadle? ALL of these folks have been nominated or have outright won Academy Awards! What the hell are they doing playing bit parts in a blue-screen superhero movie?!

And when I watch the film, I can't help but see these artists (for that's what professional actors who've been around the block really are) pouring their craft into these handful of lines, these slim moments of screen time they get...all of 'em doing their best to do their best for the breaks my heart that there isn't more for 'em. That the movie's not four hours or that an Iron Man 3 isn't being released next week in some sort of throw-back to the days of serial cinema. All of this in aid of an action film centered around...let's face it...a handful of CGI characters and action scenes. And it's still great.

That's on the director, folks. That's Jon Favreau making an excellent movie.

Classic Marvel comics are a mess. Worlds and characters - hero, villain, and bit-part - have been blown up and recycled and re-imaged and re-tread more times than anyONE can probably keep track of...whether you're Stan Lee or some comic buff with a photographic memory that's collected every issue of every series for the last 50 years. Favreau has enough fan-boy (or smarts) in him to keep the story pretty true to its roots, while updating it for today AND making a movie that can be equally enjoyed by kids and adults. And it IS a good's not a totally commercial piece of garbage. It's not a schill for a particular political agenda (not in my opinion, anyway). It's not (I don't think) an action film trying to win any Oscars as I'm pretty sure Scott and Crowe are attempting with Robin Hood.

It's just a damn good translation of comic to film. And while I wince at the prospect of a Thor or Captain America movie...because these characters are soooo non-real life/non-21st century that I can't possibly think how they can be translated to screen...maybe, just maybe there's hope if Favreau can be involved in the Avengers film. Just make sure you get the same writers.

I actually checked the ol' wikipedia on Favreau, as I figured "this guy must be pretty close to my age." Turns out he's actually about 7 years (that's a whole generation removed in RPG terms). However, the article led me to this interesting article in the L.A. Times (from May 2008):

Some filmmakers get their start making shaky home movies, others catch the bug in a high school drama class or maybe through an art institute where they put paint to canvas. Favreau has more of an eight-sided education.

"It was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wouldn't have owned up so quickly a few years ago," Favreau said sheepishly.

"It's rough. It's one of the few groups that even comic-book fans look down on. But it gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance. You're creating this modular, mythic environment where people can play in it."

Nice. See? Role-playing need NOT be simple escapism only for itself. Sometimes it's a gateway to other creative endeavors and "arenas of adventure;" like film-making.

All right, that's enough gushing. I was going to say something about how, once again, Palladium's Heroes Unlimited is a near-perfect vehicle for my taste in superheroes, as everything in that film can be fairly well-mimicked by HU. But perhaps that's a post for another time.

Adios, amigos!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Double Saving Throws

Saving Throws have already come up several times in my new No Attack Roll Combat System. Please everyone check out this link. It is SHORT (compared to my other 3-5 page diatribes), and explains my understanding of what saving throws actually represent.

And IF you buy my ideas, you can see that it's not necessary to have "double saving throws."

What do I mean by a double save? Well, if a monster needs to get a successful attack to cause a "special effect" (like a cockatrice bite, poison spider/snake, whatever), AND the character can still avoid it with a saving throw, you essentially give the character TWO saves...the first not determined by class or level, but rather by AC.

Which is probably why fighters turn out to be biggest tanks in the game...but I digress.

I don't think we need to give everyone a double save, personally. Now, there might need to be some adjustments to the saving throw matrices if you think things should be EASIER for the PCs. But in general, I think they're pretty good. Maybe we need to make poison a little more "slow-acting" (as in real life) to give characters a chance to suck wounds, or induce vomiting, or cast neutralize poison (i.e. "the less gross method of treating poison").

All right, hope that helps!
; )

[By the way, I realize I have a ton of post on this blog (did I mention I just broke 500? Oh, yeah...already bragged about that), but there's a lot of juicy ideas buried in there along with my rants against killing people in the Middle East. Skim 'em when you can...some of 'em are fun!]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Variant Combat Matrices

+++EDIT: This link has been removed. The revised .pdf download can be found on this post. Check it out!+++

Here's the's a simple .pdf (color coded) that's available for download. I'm going to do a non-colorized version for the folks that are having printer issues (that's you, Kris), but everyone should be able to view this.

[if you didn't read my earlier post, please check it out]

I am actually very please with how this turned out...the more I look at it, the more I like it.

A few notes that didn't make it on the .pdf:

- Regarding: Two-Fisted Fighting -- For B/X, when characters use two weapons at once, I have (in the past) allowed them to make one attack roll, roll damage for both weapons, and take the better result. This works just fine with the new "attack-less variant" except there's no attack roll!

- Regarding: Special Attacks (no save) -- For all special attacks that would normally NOT allow a save (for example, a bear's bearhug, or a wight's energy drain), the only normal "save" allowed is a high armor class. Since monsters auto-hit in this variant system, I think it's appropriate to allow saves for attacks I normally would not (for example, energy drain). Unless a special attack would out-right kill someone, paralysis would be the general save I'd make folks roll against (unless something else seems particularly relevant).

All right...other questions will be entertained and discussed. I need to grab a bite to eat, then I'll read over the comments from the earlier post. Thanks for the feedback, folks!

Radically Faster Combat: Auto-Hits

Ever get tired of misses in combat?

I mean, it’s bad enough when a player FINALLY gets that solid 19 or 20 needed, but rolls a 1 or 2 for damage. What about the out-right “whiffs?” Especially low-level characters against medium to good armor class foes, the swing-and-miss, swing-and-miss can be quite tedious.

Does combat need to be drawn out and tiresome?

Now I’m not talking about post-WotC D&D…we all know that combat is what D20 and its successors are all about (at least rules/mechanics-wise). I’m talking about the antiquated versions of D&D that old geezers like myself play. You know: those editions where combat is fairly abstract, and where DMs are trying to challenge the player not the stat block?

Okay…just so long as we’re on the same page.
; )

SO, let’s talk about combat.

1) What the hell is combat anyway? Welp, it is one method of overcoming obstacles, specifically opponent NPCs or “monsters.” It’s a way to get adrenaline pumping. It’s a way for the fighter class to shine and show off their talents (hitting and taking hits). It’s a time for wizards to use some of their flashier spells (at least once or twice). It is ONE arena that showcases the danger inherent in adventuring, i.e. “mortal combat.” It’s a method by which the DM can test player characters and deplete their resources. It’s also a place for DMs to show-case cool monster bad-assery. It is a way of boosting characters’ XP totals.

Am I leaving anything out here? Probably…but for right now, let’s call this a good enough analysis for my purposes. This is what I use combat for.

2) Can any of these things stated purposes be accomplished without combat? Some of ‘em. DMs can still throw obstacles at players in the form of tricks, traps, sticky situations and moral dilemmas. These can make characters sweat (adrenaline), give wizards a chance to show-case spells, and even provide “mortal danger.” Treasure rewards give more XP than combat and there are other ways for DMs to deplete resources, time and harrying traps being the Big Two. However, monster combat DOES add variety (even the fable Tomb of Horrors had a couple-three monster encounters), and nothing else gives the fighter class their turn in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the MORE combat you throw into your games, the more the game DOES become about fighters…to the point that thieves are considered “leather-clad swashbucklers” and magic-users nothing more than artillery pieces. So while combat is necessary, I think it may need to be DE-emphasized…by whatever means necessary!

3) Combat: The System. In its most basic form, combat consists of checking initiative, rolling to hit, rolling to damage, and depleting hit points…until one party dies or morale breaks. And yet it still takes a looooong, long time. Add in special attacks requiring saving throws (including spells), and it extends even longer. Sucking more time away from “adventuring.”

4) Combat: The End Result. By the time combat gets resolved, we should have one or more of a few possible results:

- The player characters are all dead or fled.
- The monsters are all dead or fled.
- The surviving PCs have some wounds.
- The surviving monsters (if any) have some wounds.
- XP is gained.
- Players have their hearts pumping due to the highs and lows of combat (oh! I rolled high! No! I rolled low! Yowza! He/she/it missed a saving throw! Etc.).


Cut out "to hit" rolls.

I suppose we can cut out rolling for initiative as well (at least between rounds), but I suspect some folks already do that and really, losing one six-sided dice roll per round doesn't speed things up nearly as much as removing a bunch of D20 rolls AND the extending length of combat due to “whiffing.”

Check this out:

What are hit points? An abstract resources that determines whether a character (PC or monster/NPC) can continue to function. In character classes, it is assumed this resource includes luck, stamina, fitness, and agility, as well as resistance to pain, bone and muscle strength, and overall health. In MONSTERS (including the Normal Human of basic play), hit points represent absolute health/damage that can be sustained prior to collapse. A 4th level hero has 20 hit points because you have to tire him out before you run him through. A black bear has 20 hit points ‘cause you stab him A LOT, before he takes the hint and dies.

What is a damage roll? A random depletion of the hit point resource. A high roll indicates a stronger or more precise hit, bringing an enemy closer to death; a lower roll indicates the opposite.

Now let me ask two questions:

Does a bear dodge?

Does a hero NOT expend energy ducking a blow or taking it on his shield?

To both of these questions, I call the answer a resounding NO.

Oh, maybe in your game world an ogre will take the time to block a sword with a tree branch. Not in mine, baby. Sentient creatures that have the same luck, agility, fitness, etc. of a Player Character already have that factored into their hit points…either with a greater hit dice (say a hobgoblin versus an orc), or with a great hit point roll (physically one stone giant may be shrimpier than another, but if he has more hit points then HE IS A BETTER FIGHTER).

So why do we need to roll to hit at all? Why not just roll damage for every attack?

[we’ll get to armor and armor class in a moment]

If I roll a 1 for my damage roll, it means I got a glancing blow (bear) or simply forced my opponent to duck (hero). If I roll a 3 I get a solid laceration (bear) or a deep scratch (hero). If I roll a 6, I score a telling blow against my opponent, a deep thrust to the grizzly or a knock-down blow to the hero…possibly setting up a kill shot with my next attack.

When you remove to hit rolls from combat you remove a HELLUVA’ LOT of frustration. Players don’t miss. They get highs and lows based on good and bad damage rolls (both for and against ‘em). DMs get to describe combat based on damage rolled, rather than based on some weird interpretation of “to hit” roll plus damage roll. Combats go faster as monsters are whittled down every single round. Combat becomes de-emphasized because less encounters will be needed to deplete PC resources, and players will have an even healthier respect for the dangers of mortal combat.

“But wizards will die faster!”

No, wizards will die just about as fast. An AC of 8 or 9 and D4 hit dice for hit points means wizards are kindling for the fire anyway, should they get involved in combat. An ogre throws a spear at a wizard that exposes himself? The wizard’s LEVEL (which equals hit points…from luck, agility, awareness, etc.) will be more of a determining factor of whether or not he gets taken down by the attack, as even high level magic-user’s generally have a poor armor class. Well, level AND the randomness of the damage roll (does the spear scratch by his check or impale him through his skinny chest?).

And speaking of wizards…their spells do damage without attack rolls, why should warriors' weapons be any different?


Here’s the “what” about armor: You know all those little attack matrices you have in the various Old School D&D rule books (OD&D, B/X, AD&D, BECMI)? Well, you’re still going to have them. However, instead of showing your “chance to hit,” they show the type of dice you roll for damage.

Because after all, in MY game world, all weapons do the same amount of damage.

Now actually, I’m only suggesting this for B/X and possibly OD&D not AD&D with its different damage dice by weapon and different damage dice depending on monster size. But for B/X it’s fairly simple…I already have some mock-up tables that I want to tweak ever-so-slightly to make sure there’s actual value in the different armor types. Once that’s finished, I’ll upload a .pdf for interested folks to download.

+++EDIT: Here it is.+++

Right now, the color coded chart sets up damage in the following increments: D4, D6, or D8 depending on the character’s class/level versus AC. I am considering also adding D10 or D2 at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum. The damage dice rolled will also SHIFT based on a variety of factors:

- Daggers shift the dice type down one (so D6 will do D4, for example)
- Two-handed weapons wielded by characters with 13+ strength shift the dice type up one (so D6 becomes D8)
- Crossbows shift damage +1 shift up (so D4 becomes D6, and D6 becomes D8, for example)
- Strength shifts Dice type instead of adding bonus damage. Right now, I am considering: 8 or less -1 shift; 13-15 +1 shift; 16-18 +2 shift
- Dexterity bonuses adjust an opponent’s effective AC, possibly shifting damage dice but not always.
- A magic weapon will shift damage dice based on its “+s” (a +2 weapon would shift D6 to D10, for example)
- No damage dice can be adjusted above D12 without magic. Even with magic, no damage dice can be adjusted above D20.
- A girdle of giant strength or thief backstab still doubles the result of the damage dice.

So far, I like how this is looking. The biggest challenge is getting it to work with normal monster combat. Disposing of character attack rolls is easy enough, but many monsters have multiple attacks making them capable of doing terrific damage should they all auto-hit. Likewise, monsters with special attacks are a bit of a mixed bag. Some monsters – say, the pit viper, for example – offers what amounts to TWO saving throws:

- Does the pit viper hit? (save based on character AC)
- Does the poison kill? (save based on character class/level)

Other monsters only offer ONE save versus their special attack:

- Does the vampire hit? (save based on AC or auto-level drain)
- Does the medusa petrify? (no attack, save based on class/level)

I’m a pretty lazy person, so I don’t want to completely re-write every monster in the B/X books, If I can’t figure out a quick and expedited way to do the monsters I’ll either chuck the whole idea, or make the “auto-hit” tables for PCs and NPC weapon-users only.

So whadya’ think? Am I totally crazy?

[for those that are curious, the current PC attack table looks like this: I converted all attack rolls into their % chance to hit based on class/level versus armor class. All % chances of 25% or less convert to D4 for their damage dice. All % chances of 30-70% convert to D6, and all in the 75-95% convert to D8, though I’m strongly considering converting 95s (hit rolls of “2”) to D10. These %s are based on the % chance of acquiring a particular Strength score, and its attendant shift in damage dice. For example, a character has a 26% chance (56 in 214) of rolling 8 or less on 3D6, 48% chance of 9-12, 21% of 13-15, and 5% of 16-18. If all weapons do D6 damage standard than 26% of normal folks would only roll D4, folks in the 27-74 percentile would roll D6, and folks in the 76-100 percentile would roll D8 (or better). Okay, maybe I’m not THAT lazy...]

Post 500

When I first started this blog, I sketched out 100 possible post topics, just to make sure I had plenty to write about (I didn’t want the damn thing to peter out from personal disinterest like my last blog). So far, I’m sure I've hit at least half of the ideas on the list but my love of the topic is what has really kept me going. Well, that and the generally positive feedback from my readers. Thanks, folks.

I wish I had something more for you for The Big #500…unfortunately, a peculiar form of writer’s block/performance anxiety has affected me and I absolutely could NOT think of anything super-special to give y’all. Sorry.

To make up for it, I’ll try to make my post-500 posts this week stand out a bit.

My B/X conversion of N1: Against the Reptile God should be done sometime before Saturday…probably tonight if I’m lucky (turns out, I was NOT able to “spread out” on the plane as I’d like, making the project a real bitch to work on). It’s nearly completely compatible with B/X as is (low level AD&D generally is), though I had to dip into my B/X Companion monsters to stat up the Big Bad. Which makes the adventure pretty insanely hard for a group of low level characters. But what can I do? The original “reptile god” of the module was insanely hard for low level characters…so much so that Niles had to include a 7th level NPC magic-user (or a fudged spell scroll) to get the characters through the end. Having play-tested the thing now, I’m inclined to think Niles was a big fudger in his own games, or he was just a straight ignorant ass…OR he had an exceptionally skilled and cunning group of players. I’ve had the latter myself, but when they encountered an adventure this tough, they generally would “get going” (as in, move on to easier pickings). So it goes…I suppose I could make it a YOUNG naga (like I did with White Plume Mountain’s “young sphinx”). Hmmm…

I’d really like to do a post on Terminal Space and space RPGs in general…actually a whole series of posts on the topic. My B/X Star Wars RPG may have to wait until someone with the cash to pick up the license commissions me to do it…although I might make a free, short .pdf one of these days. But regarding Off-World RPGs in general (from Dune to Cowboy Beebop) I think there is a LOT to explore on the subject…and many ideas that I’ve been “saving” for my own RPG should probably be brought out for discussion.

I would also like to try my hand at least a couple conversions of the The Compleat Spellcaster, most likely the witch and the necromancer. Witches have been a subject of this blog more than once, and I’m hopeful I can deal with the subject in a way that ain’t too offensive to our Wiccan friends (I’m not too concerned about offending the Christians). Necromancers, though, are probably better as a monster than a character class. Though it pains me to admit it, my imagination fails at the idea of a non-Evil necromancer, and one thing I’ve come to see (and like) about all the B/X classes are their versatility when it comes to alignment. Yes, clerics might play differently depending on alignment, but they are not limited to a single alignment or pair of alignments in B/X (unlike every other edition).

Actually, come to think of it B/X already has a Necromancer class…it’s called being a Chaotic Cleric. TCSC’s necromancer is based on the cleric template anyway…everything else is just animating the dead and having long conversations with the deceased, something already available (at least in my Companion spell list). Everything else dead-related is just the Chaotic cleric doing magical research as per the Expert set rules. Guess I don’t need to convert that one after all!

Of course, I also want to do a little bit more design brainstorm, riff off a couple recent posts over at Save Vs. Poison (specifically Rifts and Vampire: the Cash Cow), and throw down a list of my soon-to-be-in-the-works-design-projects. Oh, yeah…and give you all some updates on the B/X Companion project (still waiting on ISBNs, but the cover art is looking FANTASTIC, and my “branding expert” and I talked about the symbol for my company).

All right…more on all this stuff later. Thanks again for reading, people.
: )

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Warhammers Are Totally "BOSS!"

Welp, I’m back in cold, gray, pouring rain Seattle, WA again.

It’s good to be home.

Even if it does mean I’m back to the daily grind (hey, at least I’ve still got a job!). Tonight is Fiddler on the Roof at the 5th Avenue Theater which has got to be my first taste of culture and the arts in many moons…despite breaking her foot in D.C. my wife is excited to get out to the show (rain or not). I’m sure looking forward to it.

Just wanted to throw up some quick notes on Ye Old B/X Games of the weekend:

#1 D6 Damage Convert: This weekend for the first time EVER (as far as I can remember) I had all weapons do 1D6 damage with the exception of daggers, which only did 1D4 (‘cause they were smaller). Playing B/X with non-experienced gamers, they had ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM with this…in fact, they said it “made sense” that two-handed weapons were harder to use (I DID use my “two-handed weapon gets to add double strength bonus” rule, which everyone also agreed was both cool and sensible). End result: combat (and equipment selection, see below) was a lot simpler with newbies that didn’t have to ask, “how much does weapon x, y, or z do.” And since I’m one of those DMs that rolls all damage myself, the D6 only rule made combat much cleaner and faster. Loved it…I am fully converted to this type of play.

#2 Warhammers Are Boss!: So anyone remember my little ramblings about axes getting short-changed? Well, apparently, I am not the only one interested in non-sword weapons. Everyone wanted to wield a damn warhammer, and none o these kids are medieval history majors or any way versed on the finer application of hamer-to-armor ratios. “War hammers are just cool.” I did not disagree (and anyway, I’d already decided all weapons would do D6 damage, so who cares?). Party #1 had Gimly [sic] the dwarf and “Elfy” the elf wielding warhammers. Party #2 had Carl the cleric, “Elfy Jr.” and Burl the Burley all wielding warhammers. Party #3 (7th and 8th level characters) would have used normal warhammers, but I offered the elf a flaming sword for variety and he jumped on that. He DID ask if it could be a flaming warhammer. No. But I allowed the cleric to have a warhammer +1. Jeez. Oh…and while the elf had a “back-up dagger” hidden on his person, the cleric wanted a “little hammer” for the same purpose (wanted to use the “small hammer” that comes with iron spikes as a hidden weapon…no).

#3 Never Read That Before: Spencer pointed out the following paragraph at the bottom of the Basic set equipment list:

Sometimes the characters may wish to buy an item not on this list. In this case, the DM must carefully consider if such an item could be found for sale and, if so, how much it would cost. The item should then be added to this list.

Ok, Spence, what is it you want to buy? “A two-handed warhammer!” Like a big maul or war sledge? “Yeah!” Ok…um, we’ll call it 10gp for rarity and sturdiness of manufacture. They purchased one for Burl the Burley.

#4 No "Dump Stats" in B/X: Heard around the table (while rolling for ability scores): “Come on, come on Charisma!” While the kids had to be reminded of the difference between Dexterity and Constitution (they got these confused…hey, it’s not my fault kids these days don’t read much), EVERYONE wanted a high Charisma. “That’s how you get to hire people to fight for you!” Presumably armed with warhammers.

ALSO: the biggest crowing rights came over the character with the 18 Intelligence and the biggest egg-on-face from the guy with the 7 Intelligence. “Ah, lame, my guy can’t read!” Hahaha. This despite the fact that Intelligence offers no mechanical bonuses other than languages, and we didn’t even use THAT as I (in the mood to expedite play) skipped over the language selection part of character creation. So the 18 intelligence had 0 mechanical bonus except for bragging rights.

That being said, there were MULTIPLE times when I called for ability score checks, and Intelligence and Dexterity were the two most often used, so the high Int DID have an impact. Reaction checks (with regard to monsters, NPC enemies, and townsfolk) were also extremely frequent, and the 13 Charisma elf with a +1 reaction bonus was extremely handy.

#5 Race as Class: “Can I be an elven cleric?” No. Since these kids have never played anything but B/X and Labyrinth Lord (sans AEC), there is only one place they would have ever heard of such a thing: World of Warcraft. How many reasons are there to curse this foul tool of Satan? Ugh.

Elves don’t have clerics, I explain…they’re immortal unless they get killed so why do they need to believe in an afterlife or have priests? Spencer (who has not been raised with ANY religion at all) says: “that’s too bad…you elves could have gone to heaven.” No one wanted the dwarf to be anything other than a dwarf.

#6 And Speaking of Clerics: Asked what alignment the cleric wants to be, Spence says, “Chaotic…like a Death Knight!” (damn you World of Warcraft…) Upon explaining the spell restrictions clerics have regarding reversed spells, Spencer decides to be Lawful after all, so he can use the healing spells as his default. Elfy Jr. on the other hand? Chaotic (apparently because elves don’t believe in God…where’s Father Dave? We need to do something about these heathen children!).

#7 You Can Tell A LOT About A PC By His Spell Book: When embarking upon our 3rd B/X adventure (Total Party Kills did NOT deter these guys in the slightest…reminds me of MY younger days), it was decided players would be allowed to create higher level characters due to the difficulty of the adventure. Man, were they stoked to pick out more spells! Here is how the spell casters rolled in our group:

Elfy (1st level Elf): Charm Person

Elfy Jr. (2nd level Elf): Charm Person, Magic Missile (both were used to great effect before the adventure concluded).

Elfy III (7th level Elf): 1st – Charm Person, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism; 2nd – ESP, Phantasmal Force; 3rd – Invisibility 10’ Radius, Fly; 4th – Polymorph Self

What? No fireball? No lightning bolt? No sleep?! Nope, but charm person was cast in every single session and both 3rd level spells were used (and to great effect) before the end of the Black Rock Island adventure.

I was surprised he knew what “polymorph” was…but then, he’s a big Harry Potter fan.

#8 Old War Stories Alive and Well: Z. continued to talk about how “boss” his old Thief character had been (this being a D4 hit dice thief of 1st or 2nd level). He had school or I’m sure we could have enticed him to the table.

#9 High Level Play is Cool: The kids were fairly impressed with the draft copy of my B/X Companion and thought the idea of characters going up to level 36 was totally badass. They also liked the illustrations a lot. “I want to be that guy” (regarding the black orc bruiser). “Is that plate mail? Cool!” and “Why does the death knight have horns?” I’ll have to get ‘em a copy once it’s completed.

#10 Always Be Prepared: I had not really anticipated playing D&D when I packed for my trip, but I had my books along in order to do some “work” on the computer. And, yes, I DID have an extra set of dice with me…I guess there’s still a bit of that Boy Scout training stowed away in the ‘ol noggin. It was a spanking good time for everyone with a lot of laughter and wa-hoo moments as well as grim and hideous death for nearly all the PCs. Thank goodness B/X character gen was so short and sweet…down-time for character loss was extremely minimal.


B/X is definitely a good “gateway RPG” into the role-playing hobby. Simple enough that anyone can learn, but structured enough that no one has a problem playing, and “rules light” enough that you can do most anything you want with the engine…at least in small scale.

Compared to AD&D (or later editions), B/X spell use is fairly limited. A 7th level magic-user only has eight spells for example. However, the simplicity of the game allows the DM to handle larger parties, with NPCs and multi-PC players, and with enough bodies you have PLENTY of “magical power.”

Kids whose main/only intro to fantasy RPGs is an MMORPG like World of Warcraft have difficulty with non-video game type challenges, pure and simple. They do NOT lack imagination…they’ve just been programmed (no pun intended) to play a certain, simplified way. And NPCs in D&D don’t have those big “quest” ?s or !s floating over their heads, you know?

At one point, the PCs discovered a magic statue that asked a riddle. Answering the riddle correctly opened a door, missing it sprayed everyone with a damaging acid/poison. While I consider the riddle fairly simple, (“I am so fragile, say my name and I am broken…what am I?”) they were absolutely stumped for 20-30 minutes. Fortunately, they could also break the statue to open the door…however, I had to suggest this idea as well.

I think solving these kinds of puzzles is an acquired skill…like the ability to do a crossword you have to practice and train your brain a bit. This is the kind of thing I want to see MORE of within adventure modules, not less.

Finally, the D6 damage for all weapons, D4 for daggers, and double strength bonus for two-handers was a great, great system. I plan on using it in all my games from now on. ALSO, the N1 “house rule” that characters reduced to 0 could be knocked out (and captured) rather than killed was also neat, so long as ample opportunities were given for clever characters to escape/overcome their captors (knocked out characters awaken with 1D4 hit points). It turns back-stabbing thieves from assassins into black-jack packing sucker-punchers.

Due to the excellence of the universal (D6) damage system, I’m considering installing a rather radical house-rule with respect to magic weapons. Instead of giving a bonus to both attack and damage, the “+” of a weapon will modify the attack roll (as normal) and increase the dice used for damage. It works like this:

Normal Sword (or warhammer, or whatever) – 1D6 damage
Sword +1 – 1D8 damage, +1 to attack roll
Sword +2 – 1D10 damage, +2 to attack roll
Sword +3 – 1D12 damage, +3 to attack roll

This allows players to use all their differently shaped dice (which is fun), gives magic weapons a real whopping potential for damage (possibly doubling what would be the normal damage roll), while also leaving the possibility of a minimal roll (after all, not every successful attack is with the enchanted edge of one’s magic blade…sometimes you’re just thumping someone with a fist full of steel). I don’t feel particularly bad about increasing the damage output of magic weapons as A) it will shorten fights between high level characters and tough monsters, B) B/X damage bonuses from high strength is already slim compared to AD&D counterparts, C) the AVERAGE damage inflicted is no greater than that of a universal D6 weapon with the appropriate bonus (for example: a D6 sword averages 3.5 damage; D6+1 averages 4.5 which is the same as D8, etc.).

When using this rule, I would not allow weapons beyond the +3 range, though “slayer” type weapons (+1, +4 versus dragons or whatever), might bump the damage category up one additional step to 1D20 against the specific enemy type ONLY.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

N1, B/X Style - 2nd Run

So we ran N1 a 2nd time today with a new group of adventurers...this time, in anticipation of more "action" there were a total of four 2nd level PCs, rather than two 1st level PCs.

It was still a bit of a comedy of errors.

Knowing what to expect ("I had a dream of all of this before!") the PCs decided to exactly re-trace their steps but deciding to take different choices at critical moments. This time, they would make sure to A) NOT drink the suspicious, probably poisoned wine, and B) keep a dagger secreted on the elf's person (for cutting any bonds should they end up bound hand-and-foot.

Good thing about the latter, too because although they didn't get knocked out by the grog, they still stayed the night at the Cultist's inn and after a brief battle found themselves once again tied-up in the cellar.

(there is no "assassin class" in B/X so the Snigrot and Desleigh are both thieves...even so Desleigh is a handful when characters can be blind-sided by other cultists)

Cutting themselves free, they managed to charm Snigrot and had him lead them deeper into the cellar in search of their purloined gear...and then the giant constrictor fell on the henchman, devouring him. The party decided to run for it rather than fight or sneak past the snake in the midst of its meal.

Climbing through the kitchen window they (interestingly?) decided to run back to the temple of Merrika to complain to Mishi who had twice now (in two separate runs) suggested the adventurers stay at the inn. Apparently they wanted to complain to her.

(I had the players dice to see if they remembered/recognized her armored form from the night-time attack but the elf was unable to roll under his 18 intelligence on a D20, and the players themselves weren't suspicious)

So she asked them to wait there while she went to "get help." Which they did. And she came back with Abramo the high priest a bunch of skeletons and the monks. Oh, what? You mean she's evil, too?!


The magic-user used a sleep spell to knock out the wolves and servants clearing a way to the (now closed) gate. While the cleric turned the entire troop of skeletons and the elf daggered the single surly gardner that had not succumbed to the magic-user's spell, Burl the Burley opened the gates and the characters once again ran for it.

Straight to the (cultist-turned) constable.

It was like one nightmare after another. "Help us! Help us!" they cried, "Everyone's tried to kill us! Will you help us get our stuff back from the Inn?" Oh, sure, come on inside. "No way, we're just going to stay out here, we don't trust anyone." Okay, boys, maybe we oughta' just finish this out here (they were in the back lot).

The party decided to run (again). Donovan threw his spear +1 and Burl the Burley died, impaled. Then came a running hunt through the town as the bloodied characters would knock on doors, fail reaction rolls, and get said doors slammed in their faces.

Eventually Radagast the wizard went down with a crossbow bolt, and the elf ("Elfy Jr.") and cleric (Carl) found their way to Ramne's cottage, a small sanctuary in the eye of the storm.

Ramne wizard locked 'em in while he went to town to shop for gear. Elfy decided to brave the inn again, alone, using the old sorcerer's cloak of elvenkind...but after too many turns spent searching for secret doors in the python room, the snake finally smelled him out and he met the same fate as Snigrot.

Carl decided the town of Orlane could go to hell for all he cared.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Playtesting N1...B/X Style

Did I mention I'm a hack and a slacker?

Now I know that it's not cool to get too down on myself...after all, I'm providing SOME small measure of entertainment to the folks that read my posts. But I did say I would get a conversion of N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God out sometime soon, and I have not delivered.

Ah, well...what can you expect when it's all free?

Today, I've been playing ultimate frisbee (two intense games that both required showers), cabbed all the hell over Virginia, invented two new ways to play ping-pong (using a wall), chased (and bathed) a dog that had rolled in deer droppings, photo'd a deer, and consoled my wife who, it turns out, broke her foot while walking all over D.C. a couple days ago. Quite a full day really (besides eating...which I did a lot of...and explaining to a 16 year old the origin of Vlad Tepes and his relationship to the Twilight saga).

And yet I still managed to play a little B/X. Ahhh...dedication to the cause.

Ran a pair of 1st level characters through N1 (B/X style) today and the result wasn't pretty. Call it yet another TPK for yours truly, though our intrepid heroes didn't actually die. Rather, they suffered the proverbial "fate worse than death," which in this case consisted of being the living slave of a half reptile entity.

O the Humanity! Or (actually) the lack thereof!

I believe I mentioned this before...if not I should have...that N1 is an excellent module for experienced gamers that want to start a passel of new characters. Note the emphasis. Today's players consisted of rank novices and it showed.

I did my best to freak them out in the process...give 'em their money's worth, so to speak.

The thing with N1 is, it requires a plan of attack...unlike, say, T1 there's no major direction to go in. Characters need to explore the town and try to construct (or rather, "deduce") what exactly the hell is going on. The PCs in my game were more like, "where's the dungeon?" And in being led by the nose they were steered into a bad situation by cultists that drugged 'em, jailed 'em, then led them off to be "converted" into worshippers of the reptile god. Not a single saving throw was made successfully all game, and the end result was...well, about what one would expect from not making a single save all game.

MY mistake, as a DM, was thinking the PCs could handle an adventure like N1, simply because it's designed for "4-7 players of 1st through 3rd level." Had there been more PCs it would have simply been more lambs to the slaughter. Kids grown up on World of Warcraft (as these ones were) just don't have the necessary skills...or rather, they don't think the same as RPG players (which is a slightly nicer way of saying the same thing).

Where's the quest? What do I have to fetch and carry? What do I have to kill? Jesus H. Christ.

So they all ended up as slaves, which is fine by me, and they wanted to make new characters and try again, but instead we ate dinner and played more ultimate frisbee and then watched TV and talked...all of which was ALSO fine by me. I'm on vacation, after all.

But I do hope the rest of y'all have a bit more fun with this N1 conversion (hopefully finished by tomorrow). Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite.

[P.S. saw my first fire fly(s) today...don't know if anyone else noticed or not, but I thought it was pretty cool]

Just for Posterity

The top three poll results were:

#1 N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God
#2 Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits
#3 C1: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

I almost didn't even add C1 to the mix because *blea-ach!* I am so sick of it, having run it so many times. I even converted it to 3rd edition (D20) back in the day, if you can believe it! It says something that I have memorized the spelling of "Tamoachan" that I can type it without having to check the damn wikipedia (or the module cover).

Anyhoo, the poll is coming down now...thanks for playing folks!
; )

Somewhere In Virginia...

Thanks to everyone that got back to me on yesterday's Animate Dead questions. I'm one of those fanatical researcher types that (if I were home and not on the road) would be pawing through my various stale tomes, looking for my own answers prior to posting. It's a bit frustrating to be out of my "library."

On the other hand, I do have a gorgeous view from the new resort/hotel window. Lot o green on that golf course!
: )

Anyway, I've got maybe an hour before I need to find a cab to my next "port of call" (another hour on the road...what is it with all these places being so spread out. Isolated communities? Reminds me of a Post-Apocalyptic novel...but with more strip malls), SO I figured I'd take a few minutes to explain exactly what's going on.

Last minute changes to the B/X Companion, that's what.

Fortunately all complete at this point. I explained much, much earlier that in writing the final expansion rules to the Basic and Expert sets I wanted to extrapolate on all the "hints" and "promises" scattered throughout the first two sets. However, at the same time, I didn't want to limit things to simply "how Gygax did it" as I find many of the goodies of AD&D to be very setting specific to Greyhawk and Gary's personal campaign.

Let's look at the spell section, for example. As with the original Moldvay/Cook/Marsh paradigm (and unlike Labyrinth Lord), I retained the standard count of 12 and 8 spells per level (for magic-users and clerics, respectively). However, these spells do NOT include Leomund this or Mordenkainen that, but were more generic. Also, while some of these may be generic versions of well-known spells (similar to what Mentzer did with his high level spells), others are completely outside of the known lists and/or function very different from similar (already published) spells.

ALL are designed to work in the prototypical Vancian style characteristic of B/X spell use...that is, even the most powerful spells require no more time to cast (or special material components) than any simple 1st level spell. You won't find any cacodaemon spell that requires hours of casting time...if a spell summons a monster, the monster simply appears with the wizard's phrase of power! Summon efreeti (a spell suggested by the text on page X31 of the Cook/Marsh rules) is one such spell.

Furthermore, with the exception of dispel magic, I originally had NO over-lap in spells between the magic-user and cleric list. The lists are so short (108 magic-user spells, 56 clerical spells) that I really didn't want to waste slots duplicating effects...besides, I see clerical and wizardly magic to be two very distinct and separate types.

This is all preamble to explaining that originally I left animate dead off the clerical list completely.

That's been rectified due to the following passages:

From page B42:

Animated skeletons are undead creatures often found near graveyards, dungeons, or other deserted places. They are used as guards by the high level magic-user or cleric who animated them.

From page B44:

Zombies are undead humans or demi-humans animated by some evil cleric or magic-user.

Leaving animate dead off the clerical spell list was thus a gross oversight on my part.

Fortunately, I had a spell on the clerical list that was dying to be cut anyway, and adding animate dead wasn't a problem space/editing-wise. The MAIN challenge for me though, is one of CONCEPT. Specifically clerical concept.

Fact o the matter is, the cleric at base is kind of a combo-templar/witch-hunter/paladin/undead slayer kind of archetype. Yes, yes...everyone uses the cleric as our favorite pagan priest also (whether they are high priests of Thor or spear carriers of Athena), but that's not how the class originated. Regardless of what they are thought of NOW, originally the cleric concept was simply a priest/champion of Light or (if Chaotic) of Darkness. THAT is the basic archetype of the class.

Which is great...until you start looking at "Animate Dead" as a basic spell of the class.

From page B11:

Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "good." ...Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "evil."

From page X11:

Reversed Clerical Spells. Clerics can reverse a spell simply by reversing the required words and hand gestures. However, using reversed spells is looked upon with disfavor by the powers the cleric serves, and may result in penalties (or even an alignment change) if overused. Lawful clerics use the normal form of the spell and should use the reversed forms only in life-or-death situations. Chaotic clerics normally use the reversed forms and will only use the normal forms to benefit those of the same alignment or those directly serving the same power. Neutral clerics will have either the normal or the reversed form available, depending on the nature of the power they serve. No cleric should have both forms available.

What this suggests to me is that lawful clerics (and some neutral clerics) are basically "good," while chaotic clerics (and some neutral clerics) are basically "evil." In general, all the reversible spells are EVIL or malevolent in their reversed aspect: causing wounds instead of curing, instilling fear & disease instead of removing, slaying the living instead of resurrecting. Clerical spells that are non-reversible are generally neutral in application, detect evil being an arguable exception (arguable because I've always interpreted it as "detect danger" i.e. detecting evil intentions towards the caster, not just "evil alignment" which doesn't really exist in B/X).

However, I see the act of animating the dead to be an inherently evil act. Not a "neutral" or non-aligned one.

Animating a dead body, whether as a soldier or servant, is an act of desecration pure and simple. It does not honor the memory of the deceased to turn it into a robotic slave. It objectifies the human (and demi-human form) which, from the viewpoint of most world religions, is a sacred creation and gift from God. What lawful cleric would ever animate the dead instead of giving it a holy burial/cremation? Answer: only a truly desperate one.

Again, see the emphasized sentence in that last quote.

Some of you might already see what I'm driving at here...why the hell would I add animate dead as a spell to the clerical spell list? Just so Lawful clerics would have a "hole" in their spell list? Just so they could skip around it and be limited to seven choices of spell at 3rd level, while Chaotic clerics got a full eight from which to choose? How the heck does that make sense?

It doesn't.

SO, since I had to include animate dead as a clerical spell, and since animate dead is inherently evil (sorry voodoo proponents), and since evil clerical spells only exist as reversible spells in B/X there was only one thing to do.

I had to make "animate dead" the reverse of a 3rd level clerical spell. Here's the description:

Smite Unliving*
Range: 60'
Duration: Instantaneous

By calling on the power of his deity, the cleric destroys a number of lesser undead (skeletons and zombies) within range with total hit dice equal to or less than his level.

The reverse of this spell, animate dead, is exactly the same as the fifth level magic-user spell of the same name. NOTE: the magic-user spell has no reverse version of this spell.

Thanks for your indulgence. The N1 conversion will be released shortly.
; )

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Animate Dead Quandary

Greetings and salutations from the Not-Always-Sunny-But-Still-Sweltering Washington D.C., my nation's capitol and certainly my second favorite city after Seattle. Mmm...second favorite American city, that is (quite a few cities in Europe that beat the pants off it...also Vancouver B.C. is very nice and Mexico has both ancient sites and excellent cuisine side-by-side...a heady combination, that). But I'm a history fan and Washington certainly has a lot of well as several nice monuments dedicated to inspiring individuals.

But enough gushing...sorry, I've been off-line but it's been busy and I've been trying to get used to the East Coast time (we had to get up at 7am yesterday which, since my bio-rhythm never truly adjusts to stupid Daylight Savings Time, feels like 3am...ugh!). Today, I'm feeling fairly fully recuperated, but I'm a bit pressed for time at the moment, as we make ready to move to our next set of accommodations. So I'll get right to the point.

I am NOT finished with my B/X conversion of N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and while all my notes are in place and it should NOT take me more than a couple solid hours to complete, I have hit a snag that is actually having some repercussions for my B/X in, I am tempted to re-write a very small (if important) section.

Here's the issue: ANIMATE DEAD. The spell. In AD&D, it is both a clerical and magic-user spell; cleric at level 3, magic-user at or around level 5.

In B/X, it is NOT a clerical spell, though it is a magic-user spell (at level 5). In its current incarnation, my B/X Companion does NOT have animate dead as a clerical spell (for a variety of reasons that I don't have time to blog about right now, but which I'll get to in a follow-up post, okay?). Now I DON'T have all my various books here, so hopefully some of my readers can answer the following questions for me (I'll explain later). Thanks in advance:

1. Is animate dead a clerical spell in the Little Brown Books? In other words, is it limited to magic-users in OD&D as it is in B/X? (I am NOT talking about the supplement books, just the original Men & Magic). I suspect it IS limited to MUs, but I can't confirm that.

1b. If animate dead appears as a clerical spell in a later supplement, which one? When is the first appearance of "undead raising clerics," in other words?

2. Is animate dead a clerical spell in BECMI (Mentzer's re-do of B/X)? And if so, what level spell is it? Again, I believe I already know the answer, but I'm trying to confirm it.

3. The "zombie masters" in the module X1: The Isle of Dread...were they statted out as magic-users of 9+ level? Because this is the only type of character that has the ability to create zombies (and X1 was originally developed for B/X, not BECMI). If not, what was the justification (if any) within the module for the zombies. Were they created by the village matriarchs?

All right...thank you all in advance for any answers you can provide. Gotta' go make my check-out now!
: )

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poll Closed - And We Have A Winner!

And wow! What a showdown! When I got up this morning, Queen of the Demonweb Pits was leading the pack, but Against the Cult of the Reptile God made up the difference and pulled ahead in the last couple hours. Wow...where were you guys all week?

So, in anticipation that either might win, I brought both modules with me on my trip. I am currently sitting at SeaTac Airport waiting for my flight to start boarding (in about 14 minutes). It's a six hour direct flight to DC, and I'm coffee'd up and ready to go. Who knows...maybe I'll get to both?
: )

Actually, I'm slightly relieved that N1 ended up winning...being a low-level game it will be an easier B/X conversion than Q1. After all, I haven't yet released my B/X Companion set, so you guys don't know what a level 16 character would look like, right?
; )


Anyhoo...I'll try to get everything written up and ready for upload to Media Fire sometime this evening (assuming the Sheraton has should). Now the caveat: there will be no maps or text other than conversion notes printed as I don't want to infringe on WotC's copyright, so you'll need a copy of the original TSR module to make use of it. Unfortunately, it's out-o-print (though the bastards would be well-advised to re-release's a damn dope adventure!), and a little tricky to find. It took me 20+ years to find a copy!

For the folks who didn't see their choice selected...sorry, maybe another time. I see only two people voted for me to chuck the B/X all together (thanks, Kris...I know you were one of them! Don't worry...I DO still want to throw the AD&D sticks with you! Later...).

All right, five minutes till boarding, and I've got to check a couple other things. Blog with y'all later! Prost!

Polls Closing in Under 4 Hours

...and I may be closing them even earlier.

I believe I neglected to mention this: the reason for the short voting time on the poll, is I am going out of town. I'm flying to DC (the other Washington) today and won't be back till Tuesday night. I will be taking my laptop, but mainly I'm hoping to do some writing in my spare time...especially on the plane.

So whichever module wins the poll, is going in the backpack for conversion in-flight. Right now, that looks like Q1, but really it's still anyone's game.

Also coming with me on the plane is Dies the Fire (which I intend to finally finish), copies of B and X, some map paper, and my latest draft of the B/X Companion (going to make sure the table of contents and index all line up good)...and that's about it for entertainment. Hope y'all have a great weekend!

[hmmm...maybe I should bring some dice, too...ya' never know...]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

All My Single Ladies, All My Single Ladies…

So I ran into Cyclopeatron’s niece’s new blog Dragon Mistress (although it was actually Dungeonmum that pointed me to the site). I’m giving her a “shout out” not just because she bothered to answer my request for more information on her group, but because of what she represents: a different perspective from the usual cranky Grog-Blog.

She’s a 17 year old student running a (large) all-girl, face-to-face group with her friends using an eclectic mix of various editions, apparently based around a D20 core.

Not to put too much pressure on her (I hope blogging doesn’t interfere with her studies!), I find her potential insights more fascinating than a lot of the other video blogs around the ‘sphere. Here’s why:

- A group of 17 year olds? This would seem to indicate high school (a trying time for kids anyway) or 1st year college (perhaps a tougher adjustment…after all, upper classmen have it easier than 1st years). Either way, it means she was born circa 1993…POST-2nd edition, POST-White Wolf, POST-WW knock offs. They completely bypassed the whole “classic” era…what are they using to interpret game play? Their parents’ campaigns?

- 17 year olds are young enough to know what’s up with the latest youth craze (whether we’re talking "tweeting" or the Twilight Saga)…while being more articulate than younger teens (and generally more precocious, i.e. willing to talk, as well).

- An all girl gamer group, directed by a female DM is going to be different from a group organized by a dude, no matter how “gender neutral” he may be. The fact that she’s running one game, while PLAYING in another (run by a male DM), gives her the opportunity to compare and contrast the differences.

- From a design perspective, I am extremely interested in what works and what doesn’t work for these (let’s face it) 3rd Generation gamers.

- ...ESPECIALLY considering they’re mix-matching their editions. Whoa! What brought THAT about? What works for ‘em in one edition versus another? Is this just a passing fad for ‘em or a hobby they intend to participate in for the next ten years?

Anyhoo, she’s a Sagittarius so (stereotyping) one could expect she’d have a lot to say and would be pretty direct about it.

[hmmm…as I read over this post prior to throwing it up on Ye Old Blog, it occurs to me that I am totally putting more into this basket than necessary: one person (or half a dozen) does NOT a “demographic” make…for all I know, the kid’s “just weird.” Still, it should be interesting reading!]

Neon Knights

Neon Knights*

Armor Class: -2............No. Appearing: 0 (1-4)
Hit Dice: 9+10**............Save As: Fighter 14
Move: 90' (30') on foot............Morale: 12
Attacks: 2............Treasure Type: Nil
Damage: By weapon............Alignment: Lawful

In ages long since forgotten, seven kings of power and wisdom came together to craft a cadre of undying champions that would protect their realms from the perils of the night. These neon knights, chosen for their strength of arms and unwavering loyalty, were granted certain gifts to aid them in fulfilling their duties, including agelessness. To this day, they continue to act as loyal defenders, though their patrons have long since been lost to the passing of time.

Neon knights always appear mounted on huge war horses of surpassing might (double maximum hit points). These steeds strike fire with their hooves, and can ride across both sky and water. Knights are armed with several hand weapons (50% chance of any given weapon being magical) and possess great strength (double all damage done in melee).

Each neon knight wears prismatic shadow armor, giving them the armor class listed, and making them immune to dragon fire, non-magical weapons, and spells below 4th level. The armor gives off a scintillating glow of colors, clearly visible from a distance, even in the darkest night; however the armor loses all magical effects in daylight becoming simple, dull plate mail (AC 3).

Of the 13 original knights, only four remain, the others having been slain through treachery, battle, or misadventure, though always in defense of their ancient land. They reside in a Mountain of Power, from whence they ride forth when summoned by the descendants of their original liege lords, or when mortal danger trembles the very foundation of the realm.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Compleat [sic] Spell Caster (#2)

That last bit was getting a little long so I decided to break it up. Here’s Part 2:

SO…as I was writing earlier…IDEAS are the thing that The Compleat Spell Caster (or TCSC) is chock full of. NEW ideas. Like that familiars are not “little bonded animals” but rather DEMONIC SLAVES (just like we thought of ‘em back during the Inquisition!).

Demons are a mix of the historical and the weird. No there are no “cambions” in the game, but the description of the Incubus/Succubus (dammit! I thought I would be the first one to publish the incubus with my B/X Companion!) clearly states that they are the product of a union between “a spell caster and an arch demon.” Oh, I love it!

MAJOR ARCANA: the concept that there are some spells that are “mythical” in nature…that may exist or may not and if so may be unknown to the normal practitioners of a particular spell caster class…is downright awesome. I’m tempted to lump all or most max level spells into this category and require spell research or adventuring to discover them.

Such a neat idea: it gives the DM the ability to actually limit the spell selection in his or her campaign (“oh, the Spell of Forlorn Encystment? That one really IS just a fairy tale made to scare children…”) or dangles a nice plump carrot/treasure for the characters to quest after (“the arch-mystic Waluu is the only caster known to have perfected the Negative Illusions spell”). The spells themselves are nothing way spectacular in my opinion…it’s the CONCEPT that I will completely rip off!

Less impressive are the “runes” and symbols section. The magic of writing just doesn’t feel very occult in a game world where any character with a 9 intelligence or greater can read. Runes (and magical writing in general) had much more power in a world where literacy was uncommon. Not so much in D&D…really.

I mean, can’t anyone scratch a copy of a symbol on a door? And if not why not? And if it’s necessary to focus one’s magical power (as opposed to just blasting someone with a spell effect), well that’s kind of a weak spell caster.

Regarding the specific, new classes (the mystic, witch/warlock, necromancer, sorcerer, and sage): I like the basic direction taken with each, and all would be worthy of some sort of conversion. Sorcerers are much more “old timey” (think Ron Edwards and his demon summoners, NOT Wizards of the Coast's Charisma-based weenies), which I approve, of course. Sages are akin to hedge wizards (being eclectic wise-man types ) while Mystics seem like the basis for the Rifts O.C.C. of the same name.

Witch and Warlock are listed as two included classes on the back cover, but they’re actually only one class (warlocks being male witches). Regardless, they are portrayed much more like the witches of the Wiccan religion, though still magical in nature. Much like druids, they derive their powers from the natural world…yet they have plenty of Wizard of Oz (good and evil sides both) in the class description. I really like this write-up actually and see them as an excellent foil to any campaign that includes Witch Hunters.

Finally, of course, we have the Necromancer. What can I say? Disappointing as almost always every version of this maligned mage has been (from WFRP, to Rifts, to various video games, to Necromantic specialists in 2nd edition AD&D) I have always been drawn to the concept of the necromancer. Even my long run NPC magic-user (Alejandro’s companion “Arioch”) was based on a “necromancer” design. And my best Ars Magica characters were always “death mage” types.

Now this, of course, can be chalked up to my Scorpio sun. Yes, yes I make fun of everyone else’s sign…might as well spill some dirt on the Scorpio drama queens. Everything’s “O So Life & Death” for us; every Scorpio can stand to “loosen up” no matter how loose you may already be (assuming, that is, that you’re not the self-destructive, self-stinging scorp type…they need to grow a pair and clean up their act).

Anyways, yes, Sex and Death are the two great stereotypical fascinations for the Scorpio person…and being a triple Scorp (Sun, Mercury, and Ascendant) as well as having the ruler of both my MidHeaven and South Node (though these are lesser influences) makes me no exception.

‘Course, every person has all 12 signs of the Zodiac in their natal chart, so we all have SOME degree of Scorp in us.
; )

So back to our deadly fascination with the necromutant…er, necromancer. How is it?

Pretty badass in some regards. These guys also make a good foil for the witch hunter (or paladins or lawful clerics). They have some interesting abilities one might expect (controlling undead, seeing in the dark, immunity to fear) and some you might not (attracting undead to their stronghold like a cleric attracts “faithful” followers, automatically rising from the grave as an undead when their mortal body is slain, fashioning golems from flesh, bone, and “graveyard clay”).

The necromancer’s spells are a mixed bag: Undead Shapechange (like the 9th level magic-user spell but only applicable to undead) seems a bit of a waste to me as a 7th (max) level spell. On the other hand, necromancers can Summon Arch-Demon (TCSC’s equivalent of a Demon Prince or Lord of Hell!) at only 6th level! Of course, such summoning generally cost the conjurer one-third of his soul or ten years servitude (in life)…unless the necromancer wants to attempt to coerce the demon (!!) into submission.

Anyway, adjustments are certainly necessary for any B/X conversions. Not in terms of “game balance” (who cares about that?) so much as consistency and cohesion. In other words, I’ll need to edit these guys down a bit if they’re going to fit into a B/X paradigm. As AD&D character classes they’re probably pretty close to “good as is.” Take that as you wish.

[Um, by the way…the Necromancer is probably not suitable for young children or 2nd edition AD&D player characters. But he/she sure makes a good villain in ANY game system. Dig it!]

The Compleat [sic] Spell Caster (#1)

[okay, deleting EVERYTHING and starting “from the top”]

I want to play a magic-user.

I’ve never had a player character magic-user in an old school game, and it’s time I tried one out. I’ve heard/read that the magic-user is the preferred class of the “power gamer,” but even at my most munchkin-y, I never got around to playing one. Personally I found them to be rather BORING.

I mean, no armor, no weapons, no balls…um…I mean, you know, “skulking around in the back.” Just not my style. Now, if I’d been introduced to the example of Gygax’s own Mordenkainen, or Ian McKellan’s portrayal of Gandalf…well, I might have seen some different possibilities for the class.

Unfortunately, I didn’t (the players who ran MUs in our games…especially ones that started with 1st level characters…learned the “skulking habit” from an early age).

[SIDE NOTE: probably an interesting avenue of gamer anthropology/psychology there to explore]

Besides…who wants to play some elderly scarecrow with a Father Time beard?

And anyway… a “magic-user?” How generic a term is that? Well, “fighter” is pretty generic, too…but I didn’t play them back in the day, either. D20 and its Feats helped open the joys of fighters to me (and even after Feats helped drive me away, I still have a great appreciation for the fighter and its malleable nature), but not the magic-user. Shit, ever character in the game has the ability to “use magic,” including barbarians!

But I understand that the original character classes were just that: CLASSES of adventurer. Not “careers” or “professions.” Not “skill sets.” They were CLASSIFICATIONS. What does this guy look like Bob? “He’s a fighter.” OR “he’s a magic-user.” OR (in B/X) “he’s a dwarf. What you don’t know what a dwarf is? Short, bearded Viking-types with axes and hammers! Sheesh!”

Now, of course I have the wisdom and maturity to see the magic-user ARCHETYPE like the fighter, can be configured to a wide variety of personalities and appearances, especially in B/X play (man, I LOVE you, B/X!). There’s no minimum Intelligence for the B/X magic-user (all INT influences is rate of XP gain!) so your magic-user can literally look like any other character…well, without the armor and weapons, of course.

Still, I’ve got to say that one needs a little imagination and creativity to roll with a “non-traditional” magic-user. And some folks could sure use a little inspiration or “jumpstart” to go that path.

The Compleat Spell Caster IS that jumpstart.

Published in 1983 (yes, an actual copyright this time!) by Stephan Michael Sechi and Vernie Taylor of Bard Games (a non-TSR publisher), this little supplement carries the promise of injecting a little magic into your fantasy adventure game (my phrasing, not theirs). It includes several new classes, new spells, magic items, and a ton of interesting demons (uh-oh!) all for the bargain basement price of $3.

Well, it was $3 used anyway.

Here’s the thing: At first glance, The Compleat Adventurer (the other Bard Games supplement I possess) has more immediately useful and useable information. The classes are cool, thought provoking, and have interesting effects (when adapted) without breaking any of the existing rules of the game. That’s cool.

By contrast, The Compleat Spell Caster has a bunch more stuff that I would leave on the sideline. Demons? Meh…AD&D has ‘em (and they’re fairly easy to adapt to B/X). Familiars? The same. Magic items? Meh. New classes? Well, there’s only five (though they list six). Even the spell lists seem to contain (at first glance) a LOT of “dross.”

However, after checking it once, and checking it twice, and giving it one more skim I see something of really excellent value here.

Ideas. New ideas.

New directions to go. Magic-users may be generic and archetypal, as are clerics (men of the cloth, “faith users,” “miracle workers,” whatever you want to call ‘em).

The Complete Spell Caster says: “Hey, what if classes were professions?”

Which of course is what AD&D did, too (a druid is specific type of cleric, an assassin is a specific type of rogue…these aren’t “CLASSES” of adventurer). But TCSC goes one better; it re-classifies all spell-casting adventurers as, well, “spell casters.”

Check this out – Forget the following table:

- Druid
- Illusionist

We’ll rename magic-user to “Wizard” (just go with me on this) and clarify a cleric to be a specific type of spell-caster (NOT a “divine caster”), and instead check THIS paradigm:

- Dwarf
- Elf
- Halfling

SPELL-CASTER (“magic users”)
- Cleric
- Druid
- Illusionist
- Mystic
- Necromancer
- Sage
- Sorcerer
- Witch/Warlock
- Wizard


[now, of course I could add in the new classes from The Compleat Adventurer, as well as any existing fighter and thief “sub-professions,” but we’re just checking out Spell Casters in this post]

How cool is that? Personally, I think it’s pretty darn cool. No longer is Magic-User the top dog and other spell casters simple knock-offs. They’re all just spell-casters, of which the Wizard is but one type.

I’ve always liked games that had different types of magi. It appeals to me…it seems more “real world.” After all, there ARE various traditions of magic in real life (Hermetic mages, Wiccans, Kabalists, voodoo doctors, Christian mystics, Taoist sorcerers, whatever). They all work magic in their own style, with their own specialties, based on their own traditions and rituals. That’s cool. That’s strange and arcane. That’s something I WANT in my fantasy game.

Warhammer Fantasy RPG (the original) has a TERRIBLE magic system based on the Warhammer war game. But it has a super-cool list of magical professions, including the Necromancer and the Demonologist. Come on…who DOESN’T want to be a demonologist?

Heck, even the old ECA video game Bard’s Tale, HEAVILY based on D&D, didn’t have simple “magic-users.” Instead you had Magicians, Conjurers, Sorcerers, Wizards, and (in later sequels) Chronomancers and Geomancers. Each had their own spell list. Each had their own (cool) specialty.

Why can’t D&D be the same?

2nd edition AD&D tried doing specialist wizards, but personally, I always found these SUCKED. That’s because they tried to categorize specialists by simple spell categorization type (“abjuration, evocation, conjuration, divination, etc.”). All 2nd edition did was take the MU class, and tried to break it into component parts…how frigging unimaginative is that?

God, 2nd edition is a soul-less bitch of a game sometimes.

What would have been COOLER (albeit harder, poor over-worked game designers of 1987) would have been to make multiple specialist spell-casters and give each their own coherent, distinct spell lists. Like what Sechi and Taylor have done with TCSC.

Personally, I’m not sure they (Sechi, Taylor, and Bard Games) go far enough. I know I’ve blogged about doing an updated, complete conversion and compilation of The Compleat Adventurer for B/X. THAT might have to be put on-hold for a truly updated conversion of TCSC, first.

In fact, I’m slightly annoyed with myself now. My B/X Companion…while still super-cool, don’t get me wrong…goes the “traditional” way of detailing Magic-User spells up to 9th level and Clerics up to 7th level. Why? Why would I do this? Why not make both go up to 7th…or both go up to 9th? Why make magic-users the spell-casting power houses of the game.

Well, actually, because they are. I mean, in B/X that’s ALL they’ve got…whereas clerics have a lot of other goodies.

Um…so why give ‘em (MUs) such a leg up over Illusionists in AD&D? That I can’t answer. I wonder if Gygax could have justified it.

Kids and their Mashed Potatoes

So I was checking out this post over at The Mule Abides this morning, and it really caused a bit of a stir in my sleep-addled brain. To paraphrase, the author was writing about how his 12 year old plays D&D using a conglomeration of books from various editions, ranging from 3.5 to 4E eerily paralleling the days when us Groggy-types used to mish-mash B/X and AD&D and OD&D and Dragon mags, etc.

Okay, first a point of clarification: I’m a purist. Pretty much always have been.

As a kid, I integrated AD&D books into my B/X game only because I didn't know any better. And I can very vividly recall being frustrated by the results. I knew something was “wrong with the picture,” but couldn’t figure out what it was…until I got my first Players Handbook.

Once I had the PHB, then the Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manuals (with their psionics and magic resistance and “druid attack matrices” and nine-fold alignment path) all FINALLY made sense. And my friends and I absolutely dropped EVERYTHING B/X in favor of the Advanced system. Nothing was ‘ported over to our AD&D campaign, with the exception of two surviving player characters (Bladehawk the fighter and Sneakshadow the thief). And much as I wanted to use the Moldvay encumbrance rule “all miscellaneous equipment weighs a flat 80 coins,” in those years 1984-1987 we tallied up every last scroll case and tinder box to figure our movement rates (even though we didn’t use miniatures or battle maps!).

It was only those first couple years (1982-83) that we did a hodge-podge of rules, and speaking for myself, it was pretty damn irritating. Especially when a visiting player brought his hammer of thunderbolts or blade barrier spell and I (as the DM) was left scratching my head saying, “huh?”

These days of course…well, I’m still a purist. I play B/X D&D instead of AD&D or D20, but I play it straight for the most part. All these “shields will be splintered” or “bind wounds” type house rules that are designed to increase PC survivability? Don’t want ‘em, don’t need ‘em, don’t use ‘em. Personally, I feel the game is survivable enough. Plenty of hirelings (i.e. “cannon fodder” or “meat shields”) to help at the low levels and if your character fails an unlucky save versus poison or petrification early in her career, well…character creation is a piece of cake.

And yes I post all sorts of goodies to my blog like “variable damage by class” or new magic items and character classes; but for the most part I don’t use these. Oh, I’m sure I would incorporate some of ‘em if I was running a long term campaign, but since all the games I’ve run in the last year have been “one off” types, I’ve left the house rules at home (except when a different DM includes ‘em, of course).

And as much as anything, playing with one set of rules cuts out most disagreement and allows the DM to run the game as a true ref (making rulings when something’s NOT covered by the rules).

So yeah, I’m a stickler. And often, I’m a gamist/competitor (and knowing a single set of rules allows me to take best advantage of ‘em). And it bugs me to no end when people don’t know what the fuck they are doing with regard to “rules as written.”

FOR EXAMPLE: One of my last D20 “games” wasn’t even an adventure but an on-line arena face-off between my character and another dude. He was actually involved in a game with my buddy, who was trying to get me into their on-line game. I had a 7th level character from a different D20 campaign that I was hoping to bring and this guy was like “your character sucks, I can whip him with my 4th level character.” So we had it out in this arena and then I found that this guy was sporting at least one or two pieces of Epic level magic gear. After barely managing to beat his character I was like “well that’s hardly fair, your character possessing a couple million gold worth of gear.” And he was like “hey, man, I found this stuff in the game.” And I was like “well, your DM doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing then.” And the guy was like “you’re an asshole.”

And he was probably right…I AM an asshole about certain things…or a purist, I guess. If I know up front we’re playing by a different set of rules, than I can make a choice of whether I want to play like that or not. Otherwise, I make the assumption that the rules are as written and I tend to be a stickler.

So now onto the original post from The Mule Abides (yes, I realize I appear to have wandered far afield of the topic):

Here’s how I look at RPGs in general: they provide a structure of rules to play out fantasy lives in an imaginary setting. We can imagine we are cowboys withOUT the structure of rules, but when it comes to a shoot-out to see who’s got the steadiest hand and faster reflexes, we need some set of rules to make that determination. Now the rules can be as “rules light” as CONSENSUS (“we agree that whoever says ‘bang’ first is quicker and the other guy is toast”) or can be as specific/crunchy as Boot Hill. But without rules you’re just daydreaming, not playing…or not playing anything more than “dress-up” (and even that might have rules to it).

OD&D provided a loose structure to explore a fantasy, ancient/medieval world. AD&D and B/X tightened up these rules to varying degrees, and subsequent editions (BECMI, D20, 4th Edition) added MORE rules. Without the D&D rules, we could STILL have a game of dungeon exploration (DM: You see a troll. Player: I fight it! DM: Roll 1D6; on a 5 or 6 you kill it, on a 1 or 2 it wounds you, maybe mortally.). The rules facilitate play in a certain way.

These days, I like my rules on the lighter side (one of the reasons I prefer B/X play) because I believe it provides more leeway for imagination. The more rules you pile onto a game, the more constrictive that imaginary space becomes. Huge tomes of rules, additional supplements/splatbooks full of new classes/spells/equipment…this is more work than I personally want to do. I understand game companies need to make money (don’t we all!), but I ENJOY using my own imagination, creating my own new stuff (as needed, if needed)…it’s kind of like exercise for the brain.

So THAT being said, and leaving aside the whole question of how a person combines 2nd edition and 3.5 and 4th edition (if there was any justification for “mish-mashing B/X and AD&D” back in the day, the systems were INCREDIBLY similar, unlike recent editions that bear little mechanical resemblance to each other)…leaving aside the weirdness, what does that say that kids are mish-mashing editions with happy abandon and having a great old time?

Well, it suggests a couple-three different things that blow holes in MY previous assumptions.

- Maybe kids are a LOT more open-minded about these things than cranky geezers like myself. After all, irritating as it was I WAS still mish-mashing editions at the age of 9 and 10 myself and the irritation wasn’t enough to make me stop playing…indeed it drove me to play more, looking for a way to rectify the discrepancies.

- Maybe kids have a LOT more imagination than adults (duh!) and NEED more rules than adults (double duh!). Kids thrive on discipline and routine; they’re still “learning the ropes” of society. Having MORE rules, not less, may help to keep conflict down (“I shot you!” “No, I shot you first!”) at a time when they are still working out issues of social contract and how to interact politely with each other.

- Maybe kids have LESS experience with fantastic, imaginary worlds than those of us that have been around for 30-40 years, and they need MORE inspiration to “jump start” their imagination. Personally, I can draw from decades of television, stage, film, comics, novels, history, and even the local news (not to mention past gaming experiences!) for the needs of my games…whether that’s character creation (as a player) or world creation (as a DM). Kids, especially younger kids, need a larger diet of inspiration and WotC editions, for all their other failings, have plenty of bold, beautiful, glossy illustrations to fire kids up…not to mention wonderful spells and magic items and monsters that are probably pretty new to ‘em.

Anyway it’s interesting to think about. I know that I’ve mentioned here (more than once) that I have an interest in “growing the hobby” but in the end, my stuff tends to be written for adults, not children. And while I don’t think a thousand page, three-volume rule set is appropriate for a kid (or anyone!) to learn a new game, I may have been underestimating the appetite for rules that kids have, as well as the adaptability of their young minds.

: )