Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 years and sorta limping along...

This blog hasn't been going full steam since 2012 or so, but I'm still not planning to call it quits.  Just get me through this Ph.D. program so I can get back to gaming! 

Looking back, I was really at my peak in 2010, when there was a sort of perfect storm of OSR blogging, along with me setting out most of my "big ideas" about role playing and D&D in particular.  2011 continued in that vein, but not quite as energetically.

Then in 2012, I released Flying Swordsmen.  Still very proud of that, and progress continues on its sequel Chanbara (more on that below).  It was also the year I did my "Beast of the Week" feature, releasing a new monster for the game every week. 

The last year and a half, though, have been pretty slow: mostly actual play reports, some general chit-chat about games or other stuff, and the like.  No surprise that that was when I moved from the Masters program to the Doctorate program.  The difficulty level went up a few notches, as did the amounts of required reading.  Anyway, I'm in the final semester of the course work, and am (like every Ph.D. student, I know, I know...) planning to knock the dissertation out ASAP after finishing those classes. 

So, other than hopefully getting Chanbara out sometime next year, expect more of the same from What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse... for the time being.

But don't let that get you down.  We can still celebrate WaHNtHaC's 5th anniversary.  If you're fairly new to the blog, and haven't downloaded my wuxia (fantasy martial arts) retro-clone Flying Swordsmen yet, the link is right over there on the sidebar!  -->  

Now, about Chanbara - I did a bit of work on it today, and had a few new ideas to consider this evening as I was trying to get the baby to go to sleep.  There are two things I need to do, and a couple I'm considering. 

One is to streamline the social status (noble, samurai, farmer, artisan, merchant, outcaste) with the background skills and allegiances.  Yes, I'll end up copying 5E to an extent with this (and d20 Modern before it, which is where I got the idea in the first place).  Allegiances are both a roleplaying hook and an advancement mechanic, as similar to carousing rules, you get XP for gold given to a liege.  At the moment, social status is mostly for RP purposes, but has a small effect on starting money/gear.  Background skills are for things you're good at besides fighting monsters and taking their stuff.  I'm going to try to roll all of these into one if I can.  Or at least connect them, as Background and social standing should have a big effect on Allegiances (your daimyo, sensei, oyabun, family patriarch/matriarch, trade guild, etc.).

Two is to sort out some treasure tables for the monsters.  I have an abstracted system similar to 3E, where it's just by monster hit dice how much treasure they have.  But that's sort of boring, and some monsters of a certain hit die size are more likely to have treasure than others.  Plus, I like the old school tables for individual/incidental treasures along with another set of higher value treasures for lairs.  So I'll be imitating that, but of course I'll have to come up with values myself.  And then I'll need to assign treasure types to all of the monsters.

Now, for things I'm considering: changing the way the Skill Dice work yet again.  Actually, the way they will work in play will not change.  I'm thinking of changing the way they are assigned and improved.  Right now, they depend on your ability scores, so power-gamers will want to have high stats across the board.  High scores net bigger die types for Skills.  I'm thinking of changing it up so that the stats have less of an effect, but leveling up does.  So maybe whatever your Primary ability score is will automatically start at 1d4 regardless of your ability score, while Secondary and Tertiary ability scores will start at lower levels.  And then I can work in standard ability score bonuses a la mainstream D&D in addition to the Skill Dice. 

This would allow for less optimal ability score PCs to still do well in their main area through Skill Die bonuses.  Players can count on a good die type in their area they wish to specialize in, and having a good ability score in one area means they may be less likely to always rely on one die type.  For example, as it is now if you have an 18 Str, you only get a bonus to hit/damage in melee when you use your Str-based Skill Die.  In the new system, that 18 will get you a +2 bonus to hit/damage every round, plus the Skill Die if you use it.  If you decide to roll a different Skill Die for the round, you still get at least that +1 or +2 from a high stat.  Hopefully it will work out better than my current system.  And it may make conversion/FLAILSNAILS games a bit easier.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

My son and I went to see the new TMNT movie the other day.  He's gotten into the Turtles, and really wanted to see it, so even though I could have easily skipped it, we went.  And per usual, those wondering if there are "curse words" in the movie, there are a few, but nothing too bad.

And I was not blown away by it, but it wasn't all that bad, either.  Capsule review - don't bother unless you have kids that want to see it, like me.  I want to add "or unless you're a massive TMNT fan" but then I wonder if actually that might be a reason to skip it...

Spoilerish commentary below.  Click away if you don't want to have the rather weak plot spoiled for you.




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Still with me?  I'll start with the good parts.

There were plenty of funny moments, lots of callbacks to the original comics (maybe more than I caught, as I've not read that many of the original issues yet) and to the 80's/90's Saturday morning cartoon.  And lots of general pop-culture references.  My son was really excited when he picked up on them. 

The action scenes were a mix, some fun to watch, others either too fast or too drawn out. 

The voice acting for the turtles and Splinter were all pretty good.  And the turtles definitely were written as, and performed as, teenagers!  Leo and Raph are at each other's throats most of the movie, Mikey has an annoying crush on April O'Neil, and Donatello is a big stereotypical nerd.

Big spoiler (I think, based off of the trailers/promo material I'd seen going into it) - The Shredder actually IS Japanese!  They made it look like the William Fichtner character was the Shredder, but he's actually Shredder's minion. 

Not so good stuff?  Well, I wasn't fond of the turtles being 6' plus tall, nor of their weird facial animation/rendering.  I think it's that the eyes were too human.  Splinter looked pretty cool, though.

The "Foot Clan" really only has two ninja, Shredder and Karai.  Everyone else is just a mercenary with guns and occasionally melee weapons. 

Maybe the cartoons have made Baxter Stockman seem too incompetent, but they could have used the original comics version of the character rather than Eric Sachs as the main villain (yeah, Shredder is really the secondary villain in this one, even though the climactic battle is against him, and plays out similarly to TMNT #1).

Was the cartoon that influential that April O'Neil needs to be a TV reporter?  And why was Whoopie Goldberg as her producer not given any funny lines?  And why didn't April show her cell phone video of the turtles to Whoopie to save her job/prove she's not crazy when in the very next scene with her she's showing it to Sachs?

Hmm, I could go on, but that' probably enough.  It wasn't a great movie, but it wasn't dreadful either.  My son really enjoyed it, so that's worth something.  We got to spend a quality afternoon doing something together that he enjoyed.  I won't recommend seeing it, but I won't judge you if you watch it and find you like it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Progress on the Halloween costume

Got some more work done on my son's Predator costume.  I think it will look really good once it's painted.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Additional Rules

This section begins with a short notice that these rules can be added to the game once two or three sessions have been played, as they increase the complexity of the game.  I've been playing the full game for so long, and playing many more complex games than Classic D&D, that it's easy to forget how much there was to digest as an 11-year old.  And as I've stated several times in the past, there were several systems we ignored or got wrong for a few years, and sometimes preferred the "wrong" way once we realized the error.  So while many of these things seem like integral parts of "Ye Olde Game," the real "basic" game is even simpler.

In other words, here come the optional rules.

Missile Weapons
If you want to attack hand to hand, it's pretty simple.  Ranged combat adds complexities like range, cover, and the (unstated here actually) tracking of ammunition.  Not overly complex, but I can see how it makes sense to have beginning players and DMs sticking to the simpler melee combat rules for a few games before adding all of this in.

We're given rules for missile devices (bows, crossbows, slings), as well as thrown weapons (spears, axes, daggers, plus holy water and oil).  Devices may not be used within 5', period (unless the target is helpless).  Thrown weapons may be thrown or used in melee, giving them versatility to compensate for poorer range. 

Both holy water and burning oil do 1d8 damage.  Holy water is expensive and only works on undead, but oil is cheap.  Also, while oil requires two hit rolls, it also burns for two rounds.  We never abused burning oil as kids, but in recent games I've found it is a life-saver for low level adventurers.

There's one small mistake in this section, the crossbow is stated to have the best range of any missile weapon, when actually it's the long bow (180' crossbow, 210' long bow).  Rather unimportant, really.

In the oil section, we get a version of what will be called "touch AC" in 3E.  Once a creature is covered in oil (which for some reason appears to requires a hit roll against normal AC), an attack with a torch or other flame only needs to hit AC 10.

Range penalties are different from other editions of the game.  AD&D and its descendants use normal odds for short range, and apply penalties for longer ranges.  Not so here.  Being within short range grants a +1 bonus to the roll, while medium range is at no modifier, and long range is at -1.  Nice and simple, and I prefer it to having to remember 0/-2/-5 like in AD&D or the progressive penalties of 3E/d20.  Not that those are hard, mind you.  It's likely just familiarity and years of use of the Classic system.

Variable Weapon Damage
For us, this went into effect from the get-go.  It's only in recent years that I tried "all weapons do 1d6" (not counting the starter adventures in this book).  We weren't always sticklers for the two-handed weapons automatically losing initiative thing, since we usually used group initiative. 

And despite this, as kids we still had a wide range of weaponry among characters.  We definitely played to type, rather than optimizing, when we were kids.  Often our characters were copies of, or at least inspired by, some character in the media (comics, books, TV, movies, video games).

Combat Maneuvers
This is a bit of a loaded term for me, now, since it's what I call all the crazy martial arts "feats" in Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara.  Here, it simply covers fighting withdrawals and retreats, and paired combat (individual initiative) rules.

Fighting withdrawals are at 1/2 speed, the opponent may move with you, and you both still get to attack/defend normally.

Retreats are at full speed, and the fleeing character may not attack, suffers a -2 penalty to AC, and may not use a shield bonus.  Simple and about as complex as attack of opportunity rules need to be, IMO.

Paired combat replaces the standard group initiative rolls with rolls for each PC and monster (or group of monsters).  This allows players to add/subtract Dex modifiers (and a +1 bonus for Halflings) to the rolls, and makes for a bit more dynamic combats.

I'm all for round-by-round initiative, if the rolls are simple as they are here.  Whether it's group init, or individual, a simple 1d6 (with a couple of modifiers) makes it easy to implement each round. 

Encumbrance
The "basic" Basic game ignores encumbrance, which as this section tells us can get silly.  But then most classic video games ignored it and no one seemed to care.

Here, we're given a functional but abstract system to use, with advice that a more detailed version will be given in the Expert set.  Basically if you're in no or leather armor plus normal gear, you can carry up to 100 cn and still be unencumbered (120' per turn).  Wearing chain or plate armor plus gear slows you down to 90' per turn, and again you can pocket up to 100 cn worth of treasure before being slowed further. 

10 coins to the pound is a bit ridiculous when considering real-world coinage, but it makes for simpler calculations.  I do like how special treasures, like jewelry and potions are simply listed as weighing 10 cn, with gems being 1 cn.  The gems and jewelry, we imagined, were like the types you see in movies.  Honking huge.  I imagine now the intent was that they're usually in a padded case of some sort like actual jewelers use, or will be wrapped in rags or something when carried to minimize damage.

We get capacities for bags and backpacks, and some brief rules for pack mules as well.


Retainers

Retainers get some detailed rules here.  Hiring them should be an adventure of sorts all its own, heavily role played.  There are no "men at arms" 0-level NPCs mentioned in this section, only classed characters.  They get what they are paid, rather than a share of treasure, although bonuses increase morale.  They do take a 1/2 share of all XP earned.

In play, we've always tended to have classed retainers ask for a 1/2 share of treasure (minus magic items) instead of a salary.  0-level hirelings get set amounts of pay and no XP.  Not by the book, but then we didn't use retainers or hirelings much anyway in the early days.

I do like how it suggests that retainers will leave after their contract is up or after gaining a level, but the sheet should be given to the DM so they can use them as recurring NPCs.  Shared world building on a small scale, but I like it.

Hirelings can be expensive, too.  As per the book, the PC should buy ALL equipment for the character.  That's one way to use up some of that treasure at low levels.  Especially if the retainers don't renew contracts.  And considering, why would they?  Many of them have just made a fair amount of money and somehow not been lucky enough not to have been wearing a red shirt. 

Retainers - the overlooked money-sink of low level play.

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And with that, I think I've got one more post to do to cover the final section plus all the end of the book stuff (glossary, ads, character sheet).  Then it's on to the Dungeon Master's Rulebook!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Encounter Rules

Apologies for everyone who's been following this series.  I've only got a couple more posts to do before the Player's Manual is done, but with the new baby, I've had little time or energy for blogging recently.  Until this week, anyway.  So I'll get this post in tonight before going to bed, and I'll try to get the next couple posts up soon.  However, my new semester of grad school starts on Monday.  Posting may then also depend on how much reading I have to do each week in addition to everything else.

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Encounter Rules

In this section, the new player is introduced to the finer aspects of an encounter: Surprise, Initiative, Pursuit and Evasion, and the Combat Sequence.  And all in just one page. 

Surprise - What it means to be surprised or to surprise monsters is explained, with examples referencing back to the starter adventure.  As we know, both sides roll a d6, with surprise happening on a 1 or 2.  If you're surprised, you get to do nothing while the other side may talk, attack, run away, etc.  If the other guys are surprised, you can do the same.  And if both sides are surprised, both sides stand gawking for a few seconds before anyone does anything.

There are two points of interest in this section. 
1. Confirmation of the idea that the surprise roll can cover as a 'stealth' roll for the party. 

There is more to an encounter than just walking into a room and seeing a monster. For example, you might have sneaked up on the creature - or it might have sneaked up on you!  (p. 58)
This idea is further supported later in many monster entries, where creatures with natural camouflage or sneakiness are given greater chances to surprise.  Anyway, yes, according to the rules, Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users and demi-humans CAN sneak up on someone.  They've got a 1 in 3 chance to do it, too. 

2. Did Frank intend for surprise to work like it does in AD&D?  He's admitted many times on Dragonsfoot that he has always preferred AD&D as a rule-set.  The fourth paragraph of the first column begins in this way:

In group adventures, you roll to see who is surprised, and by how much. (p. 58, emphasis added)
By the rest of the rules, surprise never lasts longer than one round.  Yet this appears to imply that it could last longer (as it can in AD&D).  Perhaps Frank intended to do it the AD&D way, then changed his mind (or Gary decided it was too complex for the simpler version?) but this sentence didn't get fixed. 

Initiative - Who goes first?  Both sides roll a d6 and the higher number wins, simultaneous action on ties!  Simple, right?

Again, while the rules explicitly state that you can do anything you want on your initiative, including talking to the monsters (and that monsters will usually either talk or fight), it also implies that by rolling for initiative you are entering combat.  At least that's the impression I got from the rules as a kid.  And I got into D&D before I was heavy into video games, so the "monsters just attack" trope of NES games wasn't yet clouding my judgment. 

Reading it now, I see how it says to roll initiative at the beginning of an encounter to see who gets to do something first, separate from the combat sequence.  In my experience, players usually get to do what they want first when encountering monsters.  Initiative on first contact is a good way to shake things up, and could keep players on their toes as a monster or group of them get to decide to talk, attack, run away or wait.

Pursuit and Evasion -  If one side runs and the other decides to follow, use these rules.  The faster side gets away if they know where they are going.  If you're running away and the other side is faster (or knows where it is going and you don't), then it's suggested to drop some food or treasure that the monsters might stop to pick up.  This gives a 50% chance of evading the pursuer.  Nice and simple.

One of my favorite pictures in the book.
Combat Sequence - In order to manage combat easily, follow the following procedures (listed in chart form for player reference):
Roll for initiative
Winning side acts
  • Morale Check (monsters/NPCs only)
  • Movement
  • Missile Fire
  • Magic
  • Melee Combat
Losing side acts (as above)
DM adjudicates any special cases (retreats, spell effects, etc.) as necessary
Rinse and Repeat as needed

In actual play I've tried to keep to this order before, but often it's easiest just to go around the table and have everyone say what they will do in any order. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deathstars and Droids

A gaming idea.  Probably not the first to suggest this, but...

How to run a Star Wars game with OD&D, BX, BECMI or Labyrinth Lord.

Jedi = Cleric
Sith = Elf
Droid = Thief
everyone else = Fighter

Species is more or less irrelevant.  A Star Wars human is roughly the same as a Rhodian or Zabrak or Mon Calamari.

However, for especially tough, strong or large aliens like Wookiees or Gamoreans, use the Dwarf class (unless a jedi or sith).  Likewise, for small species like Jawas or Ewoks, use the Halfling class.

Weapons
lightsaber = 1d10 dmg
blaster pistol = 1d6 dmg
blaster rifle = 1d8 dmg

Wing everything else.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Work in Progress for Halloween 2014

Last year for my kindergarten's Halloween party, I made myself a Ghostbuster costume, while my son went in a store-bought Black Spider-Man costume.

This year, he's got the DIY bug, and wants me to create a costume for him.  So for the past couple of weekends, we've been working with scrap cardboard, hot glue, and tape to build a basis.  Then, this evening I stopped by the "dollar" store and picked up a few things to add to the design.  For 2000 won each, I got a black plastic jump rope, an LED flashlight, and some novelty sunglasses.  Turns out the LED is too heavy, so I'll have to go back and get a smaller one.  But so far, the costume is shaping up well.

Here are some pics:
The basic helmet/mask and shoulder pads.

The dollar store purchases.

 Sunglass lenses in the eye sockets.

Cut up jump rope for dreadlocks.

Yep, my boy wants to be a Predator for Halloween.

While it may not look like much yet, I think it'll look pretty good when I get done with it.  And I've still got plenty of time to work on it.  Here are the pics from last year.