Thursday, January 3, 2019

A few more thoughts on retainers

Some random additional thoughts on the subject of the previous post (using retainers to help cement the different play style of Classic/AD&D compared to newer editions).

  • Make alignment matter. Retainers with the same alignment may have a morale boost. Chaotic retainers should be more likely to stab you in the back (figuratively or literally). Neutral aligned retainers may be the most in-demand.
  • Not all retainers need to be NPCs with class and level. Some may be monsters. Monster retainers should definitely have the same alignment as the boss PC.
  • Non-classed humans with interesting powers or abilities could come in handy. Gretta the Bag-Lady has a 20% chance to have any piece of normal gear in her bags (once per Turn), and a 5% chance once per day to have a potion or scroll useful for solving the current problem. But she's AC 9, HP 3, fights/saves as a Normal Man. Evelensk the Elf is merely level 1, but has learned EVERY language in his long life...but can only remember languages beyond what normal elves speak when he's drunk.
  • Could an intelligent weapon be a retainer?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Thoughts on Retainers

I'm mulling over switching my 5E West Marches game to Classic D&D (or Labyrinth Lord...nearly the same thing). JB of BX Blackrazor had some good ideas about introducing BX (or your classic/retro-clone game of choice) to new gamers, including vets of newer editions who may be hesitant to switch to an old school edition.

Plus I've been leafing through my new print copy of Labyrinth Lord (the original rules, should get the new Advanced LL book that combines the basic rules and AEC content into one tome next).

I was looking at the chart of Charisma effects, and the number of retainers they have. I was thinking about JB's advice to start off players like mine at higher levels for a test run. I may do this. And if I do, each character will start with their maximum number of retainers based on their Charisma score.

WotC really doesn't seem to get the idea of retainers. Or they just don't like it. And lots of younger gamers don't seem to grasp the idea, or reject it for some reason. But retainers are a great addition to the game! Players control not just their character, but share control of some NPC helpers with the DM. Meat shields for magic-users, additional attacks and targets in combat, additional chances to pick the lock or cast that utility spell...

Due to my busy schedule in January and a trip back home in February, my West Marches game is on hold. When I get back to Busan at the end of February, I may just run a short campaign using Isle of Dread or another module I know I won't be borrowing from for the WM campaign for the group and see how it goes.

As JB suggests (and I've done before when starting with higher level PCs for short campaigns), I'll have a semi-randomized selection of magic items to choose from. I'll also come up with a bunch of retainers of various types (some with character classes, some without - but with useful skills/knowledge). Once the players roll their stats and select their classes, I'll let them select/distribute magic items, and then assign them their retainers (or let them negotiate over who gets which NPCs?).

The big challenge for me will be remembering to use the retainers' morale scores. Except for my son, whose 2nd character was the "knight" background and got three retainers, no one in the WM campaign has bothered trying to bring NPCs along, even when they see how useful it is for my son. One of the other kids tamed a giant badger who followed her PC for a long time, but then she got worried that it would die so now she leaves it in town. No one else has thought to go to the local inn and try to hire a few sellswords or sellspells. Maybe this would relieve them of that.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Birthday Self Present

My birthday's coming up in a little over a week. To celebrate, I used my earnings from Chanbara from last month to order the fancy hardcover edition of Labyrinth Lord. I've been using the pdf for many years. I think I've still got the old purple cover version with art even somewhere on my hard drive. About time to get it in print.

And does that signal that I'm one step closer to converting my West Marches game to old school D&D instead of 5E? Maybe. Having the LL book will make it easier, since I won't have to risk getting drinks/snacks spilled on my original Mentzer books, original Rules Cyclopedia, or the Moldvay/Cook books I bought several years ago (we play with several kids, it's always a possibility).

I do enjoy 5E in many ways. But there are some things about it that bother me, and I can't really think of anything in Labyrinth Lord that bothers me that much. About the only thing is Clerics getting a spell at 1st level, and sometimes I'm even OK with that.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

So it comes to this...

A week or so ago, Stuart Robertson, who I consider one of the cooler heads in the OSR scene and who I respect quite a bit, posted that he didn't want this OSR logo, which he designed, being used on products, blogs, or other places that supported and contained hate speech.

He politely asked that if you want to post content or publish content which might be considered hate speech under Canadian law (where he lives), to not use this particular logo.

And of course the shit hit the fan immediately. A small number of very vocal people started bitching that somehow this was gatekeeping the OSR, and that their free speech rights were being abridged unilaterally. Another small but vocal group were complaining that they now felt compelled to use this logo or else be perceived as a hateful chud.

And so Stuart dropped off of G+ (it's dying anyway) and possibly the OSR scene in general.

Well, I feel bad because I didn't speak up right away about the issue. Life is hectic, and there are a lot of bigger concerns in my life right now than the latest round of "what is the OSR?" navel-gazing and arguments about what should or shouldn't be allowed in the OSR, and who should or shouldn't be allowed in the OSR. But now that Stuart is gone, all I can do is write this post as a better-late-than-never move to show my support for him.

First of all, let's look at the various claims. Is what Stuart posted gatekeeping? Is it abridging the free speech rights of other OSR publishers and bloggers?

I say a resounding NO. He never said you can't publish hateful content, or questionable content, or risque content, or anything of the like. He said if you do that and it might possibly be considered hate speech under Canadian law, don't use the above logo. You can publish a book on OSR Nazi baby rape if you like. Just don't use THIS logo on it. Your right to free speech is in no way affected by this, just your ability to use this symbol.

Second, is every member of the OSR who's not a hate-filled low life now required to use this logo to show that they're not a hate-filled low life? Of course not. Before this logo appeared, and after this logo appeared, there were plenty of other OSR logos to choose from. Check Google for examples. Yes, Stuart's one is at the top of the list, but there are plenty more.

Now, using the logo created by I think Benoist Poire immediately in the fallout of the above might seem to send a message like that. Hopefully not, as I don't think that was the intention of Benoist (but he'll have to speak for himself on that). But it does kinda look bad when one member of the OSR says he doesn't want his logo associated with hate speech and another member makes a new logo in response. It implies the new logo was created specifically for use by people who want to create hateful OSR products/blogs. Again, I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intention, but it does seem to send that message.

So what should you, the OSR blogger/publisher do? Well, if you're sure you're not creating hate speech products, use whatever the fuck OSR logo you like. If you think your products might contain hate speech under Canadian law, use whatever the fuck OSR logo you like EXCEPT for Stuart's one.

How is this a controversy again?

Monday, November 26, 2018

I may be on to something

Warning -- Spoilers for module DL1 Dragons of Despair (and probably some minor spoilers for the novel Dragonlance Chronicles 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight).

So today, in my West Marches 5E game, after getting screwed over by the Deck of Many Things last session, the small party (Denis, whose Rogue Ferret Jax got imprisoned by the Donjon card last time, playing a new Gnome Rogue Mervin; Renee, Denis' daughter, playing her Fairy Princess Goldie [reskinned Tiefling Warlock]; Flynn, my son, playing both Calvin the Half-Orc Paladin [current character] and Titan the Dragonborn Cleric [retired character]) entered the 'lost city' for which I'm using the map and key of the ruins of Xak Tsaroth from the first Dragonlance module.

Now, we all know, Dragonlance is a railroad ride of a series of modules. But a long time ago, before I started the West Marches campaign, I had briefly considered making a more sandbox-y game in Krynn using the dungeons from the DL modules. That way I could have all the cool Krynn flavor (which as a teen was my favorite flavor of D&D) without the constraints of having to follow the plot.

But I wasn't sure it would work, and I wasn't sure if the players would dig the Krynn setting (or if I would 25+ years later to be honest) so I dropped the idea. But I've been peppering the West Marches with classic module dungeons, and decided the 'swamp dungeon' would use this one.

So anyway, after last session's debacle before the party had even made it into the ruins really, this time they headed in and things did not go as Tracy Hickman had envisioned.

Just inside the ruins is an ambush of six Bozak (spell-casting) draconians. The new rogue, Mervin, has Expertise in Perception so it's really high, and he easily spotted the ambush. Titan the Dragonborn notices that these "dragonborn" are different, but can't quite figure out what it is that's different. Goldie the Fairy Princess decides to invite them to play. Rolls really well for diplomacy (she's a Charisma caster after all). They come out friendly-like, and invite the party to pray.

The party goes along with this, and is taken to the false wicker dragon plaza, where other draconians are praying. The baaz draconians, at the behest of the bozak priest, give donations of bags of coin. The priest motions for the party to do likewise. Mervin, using his fast hands ability, adds poison to three pouches of gold and hands them over as an offering. The draconian priest takes the coins and gets poisoned (minor damage), and all the draconians rush to his aid.

Not sure if these guys are really friendly or not, the party decides to offer a healing potion to the priest...and notice as they get close that the dragon is a fake. They try to announce this, but the priest shuts them up in time and whispers to them to follow him to meet the real dragon. He leads them to the well where in the book Khisanth appears and blasts Riverwind with acid breath. The priest starts singing a song to call the dragon (Calvin understands, since he speaks Draconic). The party decides to avoid a dragon at this point and heads into the Temple of Mishakal.

After debating whether they could get the massive gold doors out through the swamp or not (I hope they don't forget this part, each door weighs more than a ton! The logistical nightmare of dragging them through a swamp and then through 30+ miles of wilderness to get them to town would make a fun session!), they press on. In the temple, they head down the steps and after poking around a little and recovering a box of gems from a ledge in a room with no floor (using Goldie's mage hand), they meet the gully dwarves standing in line to go down the iron pot lift. Ignoring the dwarves for now, they head down the corridor to the pully room, just as the draconians in it snap their whips to summon the dwarves.

In the confusion, the party decides to attack the draconians, but every single attack in the surprise round misses! The draconians, per the module instructions, flee and jump in the pot to head down below. Calvin and Titan, both very strong characters, jump in and stop the wheel from spinning, then crank it back up. After apologies for the sudden attack, the draconians suggest the party leave and let them get back to work ferrying gully dwarves up and down between the upper level and the mines.

Short on session time, the party retreated out of the ruins, was lucky to avoid further encounters (and being invited back by the original ambush guards, who had no idea the party nearly attacked the priest and did attack the draconians at the pulley).

So, things did not go as planned by Hickman, and that was a good thing. The only combat was a surprise round long, and nothing died. Lots of talking, negotiating, and trying to con (by both sides). And as they venture further into the ruins, they can end up playing the draconians, gully dwarves, and spectral minions off each other as they scheme to get the dragon's treasure and hopefully a golden temple door or two.

And I see that indeed, by ignoring the 'quest' to retrieve the Disks of Mishakal, the dungeon works well for general D&D monkeyshines.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Arena Battle Map Test

Playing around with GIMP, I created templates for square grid and hex grid maps that I can use for my Chainmail Arena game.

They're large size images. If I use this on Roll20, for example, I can post them there. If I use, I'd need to host them somewhere else and include image links in the threads. Google Docs will probably be my host of choice if I do that.

Here's the first test map, a simple circular arena with a 'thunder well' that randomly shoots out bolts of lightning around the arena.

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.