Thursday, November 15, 2018

Chainmail Arena Update

Still puttering around with this idea, but I've been a bit busy with work (lots of student writing to grade this semester), Netflix (watched Daredevil Season 3 and watching Ken Burns' Vietnam documentary lately), being a dad...

Quick reminder for people who didn't read (or forgot) my previous post. I'm thinking of running an arena combat game using Chainmail's fantasy supplement. My son got me interested in the phone game Clash Royale again (I stopped playing it about a year ago, now I'm playing occasionally again), and that somewhat inspired this. Reading Jon Peterson's Playing At the World is also an inspiration.

The idea is to have players 'draft' teams of soldiers and creatures, I create several arenas (with appropriate fantasy themes - lava caverns, haunted forests, teleportation gates, floating castles, etc.) and let the players duke it out in turn-based combat. Winners will get prizes and XP, and when you level up you get a larger pool of points to draft your fantasy monster team.

The only hang-up I have is that to fit seamlessly with the 'fantastic combat' table, I should use the man-to-man rules, but they aren't by troop type but rather weapon vs armor. So for every type of human (valkyries, barbarians, knights, etc.), demi-human, or humanoid, I'd need to provide set values for armor/weapons. Or else rebuild the tables using the normal Chainmail combat values but converted to the closest result on a 2d6 roll.

I really don't want to have to play a split system where some units/creatures are rolling d6 die pool style, while others are rolling simple 2d6 rolls. I'd rather keep it at 2d6.

My recent foray into the Dungeon! board game for my West Marches game may also help me here, since that game (inspired by Arneson's use of Chainmail combat in his Blackmoor game) uses a 2d6 combat roll system.

So I'll probably have to come up with an expanded 'Fantasy Combat Results' table that includes the standard troop types. And all the humans, demi-humans and humanoids will mostly just be cosmetically different and operate as whatever troop type they are.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Chainmail Arena

My latest idea for a game that will likely not make it off the ground:

A turn-based arena combat game using the Chainmail Man-to-Man and Fantasy Supplement rules.

Players would make teams using the Chainmail point system, consisting mostly of creatures (but if they want to throw in a mess of human footmen or whatever, sure, why not?), and have their warbands duke it out in large arena spaces.

Arenas would have various types of terrain including things like traps and lava, and some would have goals like capture the flag (or magic sword), eliminate the enemy commander, etc. to spice things up a bit.

I would probably have some player vs player combat as well as player vs DM combat involved.

And I'd probably come up with a roster of heroes, super-heroes, anti-heroes, wizards and dragons that would be unique. Once recruited they're no longer available unless the team manager (player) lets them go. And if killed, they're gone, out of the game for good.

For victories, players would receive gold which they could use to hire new troops. Win or lose, players would gain XP, and levels would determine the maximum number of points they could spend on their warband.

I'd likely run this play-by-post so there would be ample time to review orders and results each round.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Low Level Characters with Nothing to Do

Over on MeWe (yes, I'm on it, not sure I like it though...), Steven Fowler in the OSR community posted about how older players see newer edition PCs as superheroic, while younger players look at older edition PCs and see them as powerless (aside from the Fighter).

Apparently the complaint is that the 1st to 3rd level PCs have only a few spells, poor skill chances, and next to no combat ability, so what should they do in a fight?

IMO (and judging by the types of comments I get, most of my readership is likely to agree) that's a feature of older editions, not a bug.

Of course, we older folks know exactly what you're supposed to do in a fight at low levels - find a way to stack the deck in your party's favor, stay back and support the front line, or just get out of the way. When combat's over, there's time for all characters to participate in exploration, NPC interaction, and problem/puzzle solving (or not if the player doesn't want to).

My son, and the other kids in my 5E game, have been pretty creative overall. They're learning from adults with a mix of experiences and preferences for games, and it's been pretty good for them. They don't instantly look to the character sheet to solve problems, and they try interesting things in combat. The two girls in the group especially enjoy turning dangerous animal encounters into a chance to collect more pets. My son is a creative problem solver, thinking about the creatures we fight and the environment, and trying to come up with interesting solutions (or just smiting things - he is playing a Half-Orc Paladin...).

If anything, it's the other adults in the group who focus a bit too much on what skills they have trained, what spells they have prepared, etc.

In combat, 5E allows every character to be competent, which is fine. But the game is not only about combat.

Every character isn't expected to contribute to a role-play encounter. Sometimes it's best to have the drunk, aggressive, crude Dwarf Barbarian just stay quiet in the back while the party negotiates safe passage across the Withered Wastelands with the Duke of Death. Why should everyone be expected to pull equal weight in combat?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Design an RPG (work in progress)

First attempt at putting some ideas in my head out for public consumption. Please feel free to give feedback, this is very much a work in progress.

Part 1: What I've done wrong in the past.

In the past, I've started working on RPG ideas from the ground up often by first thinking of the genre/setting, then moving to character creation rules, then moving to action resolution mechanics, then moving to advancement mechanics. Once all that's done, color/details can be filled in for areas where it's still lacking.

I now think this was a mistake. I had the first step right, of course. But most of the other steps I had out of order. I think I did this because many games are presented in more or less this order. To be a good game manual, it helps to inform you of the genre/setting, show how to create a character, discuss how to handle resolution of character actions, then show how by completing actions in the game the characters can advance and improve.

For game design, however, that's not the most efficient way to go about it. At worst, it ends up with a design that is incoherent (not in a Forge sense of incoherent, in the regular sense of the word). At best, it ends up with a game that is mechanically sound, but lacks something. It's one of those games that rests on the strength of the setting or genre, but the play itself is lackluster.

Part 2: How I think it should be done now. 

Step 1: Genre/Setting

Is this game going to be set in a certain genre (heroic fantasy, space opera, noir detective/crime, romance), a certain era (Ancients, WWII, the Age of Sail), a specific fictional world (made up by the author or borrowed from other media)? That will inform all other choices.

Realize that trying to design a generic or universal game system is a valid option here. The choice NOT to pick a genre/setting informs the other choices just as much as picking a specific genre or setting.

Step 2: Advancement Mechanics

Yes, you read that right. The second step in designing a game should be deciding what types of play will be rewarded and what types will not. This can be informed by genre/setting, or may be free from the constraints of the genre/setting.

To do this, you need to ask yourself what you think the players are likely to want to do, and what you would like them to do, depending on the setting/genre. In D&D, collecting treasure gains XP, as does fighting monsters. So the decision was made somewhere along the lines that this is what players are "supposed" to be doing. It doesn't mean you can't do other things, and doesn't mean you can't reward players for doing those other things. It's just the default assumption. If players have no other idea about what to do for a session, they can find a dungeon and try to bring back treasure from it.

Other games have other assumptions, so reward XP in different ways. White Wolf Storyteller System games reward XP by answering questions about the session when it's completed. And the questions inform players what they are expected to do and how they are expected to play the game. The more questions you can answer after a session, the more XP you gain.

Next, you need to consider how to apply the advancement. In class/level games, it's usually pretty simple (following the precedent of D&D). Just keep a running tally of XP, and when you hit certain milestone amounts, you gain a level. In skill/power based games, XP translates into points that can be spent to improve different aspects of the character. In a few games, advancement is randomized, making it its own little mini-game.

Step 3: Game Resolution Mechanics

Once you know what you want the players to do to get rewarded and advance, you can then design the resolution mechanics you will need for them to do so. Again, the setting/genre will affect these choices. If the game is set in a war setting, combat rules are a must. If it's set in a high school, social interaction rules and ways to track your popularity make sense.

I don't have advice on how to decide on what sort of mechanics are best for what sorts of settings/genres, or for achieving certain play goals for advancement. Whether you like the d20, or a % system, or a 2d6 system, or a playing card drawing mechanic, or a mixture of various mechanics is pretty much up to you.

Step 4: Character Creation Mechanics

Now that we have the general idea for the genre/setting, what we expect characters to do, and how we expect characters to do them, we can finally get down to the question of who are the characters and what defines them. If it's a class/level game, we need classes and levels for them to advance, and need to decide what abilities/powers they gain along the way. If it's a skill/ability based game, we need lists of skills and abilities to purchase, and point costs for them. If it's a randomized advancement game, we still need a system to determine starting abilities and a way to add more random abilities or determine what abilities improve when advancement occurs.

Step 5: Fill in all that Color

Surely some color or detail to match the setting/genre has worked its way into the game already, but there's still got to be more. This is the step where you can design the spell system, tech system, monsters, magic items or technological loot, etc. It's also where you can flesh out the default game world, if there is one. Or you can add in all those notes for adjusting things in your universal system to fit specific genres.


Like I said above, this is still just a rough idea. It's been rolling around in my head, and this is my first draft attempt to write it up. If I get some good feedback, and spend a bit more time thinking about it, I'll edit and clean it up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Back to Blogging? Plus Chanbara content!

The OSR blogosphere lost a lot of energy five years ago or so, when most people migrated to G+. To be honest, the G+ system, while better than Facebook, was something I found lacking. Yes, you could more easily have a discussion about your gaming ideas. But it was so hard to search through the hundreds of posts every day to find stuff. Blogs are convenient in that what you want to read will be there where you look for it.

Now, most people are moving to different social media platforms. I'm on MeWe now (and keep calling it WeMe because the name is lame) but not sure I like the setup. It's like a cross between a Facebook Group and a KakaoTalk (the must-have app for chatting in Korea) group chat.

And since there are so many people posting on it, and I'm getting notifications of how much I'm missing by not being on it 24 hours a day, I'm not sure if I'll stick around there much. It's good to keep in touch with people I've come to consider friends through blogs and G+, but I envision myself posting even less often to MeWe than I did to G+.

So, will I move back here and start posting more often? We'll see. I'd like to. It's just that I have a LOT less free time than I did back in 2010, the height of this blog's output. But hopefully I can get some more quality posts up.

This one is obviously a navel-gazing post, so I'll spice it up a bit. People don't seem to talk about the JOESKY TAX anymore, but here's some gaming content for you:

Three Chanbara Lieges

 Lord Isenoumi

Want: The family lineage scrolls of the Isenoumi and his six vassal families, which were stolen by a lone wolf ninja named Ichikawa Goemon.

Need: To prove he his honorable to the Miyasuzu Shrine after its protective bell was stolen by monsters.

Secret: Has secret inside knowledge about the curse of Ghost Castle Hasegawa.

Description: Isenoumi Hatsumi, Daimyo of Enzan Province. Medium-size clan with six vassal families [Hasegawa, Ito, Oikari, Tosanoumi, Tanikaze and Enokido]. Principles – honorable yet ambitious, willing to buck tradition if they see some advantage in it. Long Term Goal – to see their heir, Tatsusuke, married to a high-ranking member of the Tokitsukaze Clan. Short Term Goals – to thwart the rise of the Kasugano Clan, to stamp out a rebellion by ikko-ikki religious fanatics, to reopen the Tama silver mine which was overrun by monsters a generation ago. Opposition – the Kasugano Clan threatens their borders, several vassal family magical heirlooms have gone missing, incursions from the Spirit Realm are increasing in Enzan Province.

Rewards Table:
500 mon: Command of 2d6 footmen
2,000 mon: A sizable stipend (100 mon/month)
5,000 mon: A magic weapon or armor
10,000 mon: A minor position of authority
25,000 mon: Command of an outpost or garrison
50,000 mon: A large grant of land
100,000 mon: A major position of authority

Azuma Shinobi

Want: To serve honorable lords and prevent corruption and decadence by the powerful.

Need: Funds to defeat the villainous Lord Takanohana

Secret: Has been cursed by the Kappa Queen to live forever but continue aging physically.

Description: Led by Master Jin, who is now 230 years old and very decrepit, although still mentally sharp. Their organization is based in ??? Province, but they have operatives all throughout the Jade Islands. The local contact Chunin for the PCs is known only as Yuukichi.

Rewards Table:

50 mon: Access to special equipment
300 mon: 1d4 specialist retainers
Completion of a Mission: A job-enhancing magic item
8,000 mon and Completion of 3 missions: Promotion to Chunin
12,500 mon: Named an instructor
15,000 mon: Command of 3d8 Genin
50,000 mon and Completion of 6 missions: Promotion to Jonin

Kawabe Jinja, Head Priest Miyazaki Shingo

Want: To impress the other local shrine priests with the glory of this shrine.

Need: To gain influence over the Miyazaki clan elder, Sugako, who opposes plans to renovate the shrine (her plans involve setting up a monopoly over the dried seaweed merchants).

Secret: Has influence over Lord Isenoumi for several deeds done in the past to aid the lord and his mother.

Description: The largest shrine in Enzan province, dedicated to the Kami of the River. The shrine employs six priests in addition to Miyazaki Shingo, and over thirty shrine maidens to assist them. The populace always visit the shrine at year's end to get new good luck charms, and at to sacrifice offerings to the River Kami at planting and harvest time.

Rewards Chart:
100 mon: Free travel papers
1000 mon: Access to a spell book
2000 mon and one mission: A minor holy relic
Thwarting Sugako's plans: Assistance on a quest
5,000 mon: Appointed proctor of the inner sanctum
25,000 mon and 3 missions: A major holy relic
100,000 mon: Named Head Priest(ess) in waiting

Sunday, September 30, 2018

More Paper Minis!

I've just completed another set of paper minis, available from my Hidden Treasure Books storefront on DriveThruRPG.


This set is Expert Monsters Set 2, covering all the creatures from the Mentzer Expert Set that weren't covered in Set 1.

For a refresher, Set 1 contains all the creatures from Animal Herd to Griffon. Set 2 contains all the creatures from Hellhound to Wyvern. This is the bigger set, 24 pages plus cover, mostly because the "Men" entry in the book contains so many types of men, with varying armaments. And I've got figures to cover them, including leader types. Also, most leader types get a male/female version to be more inclusive.

$3 per set, so for $6 you can get all your Mentzer Expert monster love going!

As usual, each image on a page is on its own layer, so you can turn off images you don't need to print. And unlike my Basic Monsters sets (which I'm thinking of revising to match the Expert style), there are multiple copies of most of the creatures that would be encountered in groups. This will save paper if you need to print a bunch of one type of creature.

If you're a BX fan (or a fan of a retro-clone of BX), there are a few monsters in the Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert that aren't in BECMI. I've got the list, and will be starting in on those monsters soon. Plus, I'm going to cover the Isle of Dread creatures as well. Because more dinosaurs is always better!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Broom Closet, Wine Cellar, Baths

Broom Closet, Wine Cellar, Baths

Being a continuation of the journal of the stalwart Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, Sir Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, as they explore the hidden world of Pellucidar deep inside the world of Eberron and seek to awaken The Spirit of the Mountain Above so that it may rid itself of the infestation of the Ghoul Kingdom within it.

[Editor’s Note: Several pages of Summerisle’s Journal are mostly illegible. There seem to be references to urination on faces of petrified sleeping giants, battles with demonic apes on spiked cliffs, a hunt for a serpent of some sort, travel by polymorphed ‘something’, finding a lost city, and other hints of adventure. It seems as if portions of the adventure have been lost to posterity, unless another of Summerisle’s companions also kept a record of their quest.]

We huddled in the broom closet of the giant’s animated walking house as it marched its steady path to the Temple we sought were we could awaken the Spirit of the Mountain. As we tried to get some rest to recover our energies, we were discovered by one of the animated wooden caretakers of the mansion. It mistook us for kitchen pests, and sprayed us with some poisoned substance and swatted at us with a broom. We tumbled out of the closet and set to destroying the creature, as a few of our companions succumbed to the poison. Luckily, the caretaker was easy to defeat, and Yuv and I were able to revive our companions.

We relocated to the wine cellar, having found a set of keys on the caretaker. In the wine cellar, several of our companions sampled the ancient giants’ wine. I did not, and I am glad for it turned out to be a mistake. The companions who imbibed fell into a deep slumber and had strange dreams of the house. Later those dreams turned out to be of benefit. And luckily, this time our rest was undisturbed.

Now that we were in better shape, we discussed our options. Rhea the Witch had been turned to stone by a trap, and the prophetic dreams hinted at ways that she could be restored. While I dislike her interest in and meddling with the Far Realm (home of my sect’s greatest enemies of yore), she does have her uses and I still hope to one day convince her of the power of the Greensong which is greater than any twisted horror of the Far Realm. For that reason, I agreed to help with the plan to restore the witch to fleshly form.

It turns out, conversing with the walking mansion itself was the key to solving our mystery. The house told us of a “steam bath” that had magical rejuvenating properties. Using a locate objects spell, we then searched the house and eventually found the bath chamber. In it were two strange tapestries, the figures within them were following our movements with their eyes. I detected fiendish presences within the tapestries.

Just as we were attempting to remove the statue of the witch from the bag of holding (how they got it in the bag in the first place is a mystery to me), the figures in the tapestries came to life and attacked. One tapestry showed a noble’s hunting party, the other three men fishing. The noble on his horse emerged along with a demonic hunting hawk. Iggy, the stone elemental creature, tore that tapestry and prevented another hawk and one minion from emerging. The other two minions had spells and a crossbow, and sent them out of the tapestry at us. And the three fishermen sent out their hooks and lines at us, trying to drag us in.

Luck was on our side, though. The demon spell-caster’s fear spell only affected Iggy. The demons seemed to dislike Flagan the halfling pugilist, but he is quick on his feet and good at dodging blows. I had the foresight to chant a bit of the Greensong which wards one from harm just as the fight started, and Yuv was able to effect a banishment spell upon the leader, returning it to its home in the nether realms. When the next demon, with four arms and an equal number of slashing blades, emerged from the tapestry, it was unable to strike me due to the warding power of the Greensong. With help from my allies, we slew it. Also, Feldspar the Bard, a gnome if I haven’t mentioned him before, managed to remove the fear from Iggy, who returned to the battle. However, the fishermen managed to snare Flagan and were drawing him near the tapestry. The spellcaster demon also was tormenting us with fire and ice magic. A combination of spells, weapons, and my ability to Turn the Unfaithful, sent the demons running back to hell. We burnt the tapestries.

With no more challenges, we inserted the petrified remains of Rhea into the steam bath contraption and Feldspar was able to operate it with help from our more mystically inclined companions. And Rhea emerged looking not only alive but freshly cleaned. 


Been a long time since I did an actual play report like this. I've been playing Summerisle, and a few times my alternate PC the githzerai eldritch knight Ryuden Kenjumon, and missing quite a few sessions also for real world reasons. 

If I can dredge up the memories of the unrecounted sessions, I will fill in the missing pages of Summerisle's journal (and maybe a strange Ryuden journal or two!). Hey, they're good for XP in the game...