Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Making Up a New Character

Now that we've looked at all seven character classes, the rules go into detail about how to create a character.  Of course, during the introductory adventure, and after it in the section going over the character sheet, we got a lot of this information already.  But, as a teacher, let me tell you, repetition is necessary for education.  Sure, kids could have just read the book over and over again, as they obviously did with RPG books before and since.  But this section builds on prior knowledge already established by the tutorial section, so as we say in educational academia, the information is more salient to the reader.  And, as I re-read it, I'm finding again a lot of good advice.

Readers are advised that rolling a character may take up to an hour the first time, but with practice and experience, it may be as short as 10 minutes.  Players are advised to roll up a character before game time, preferably with the DM present to monitor die rolling, and the suggestion of getting everyone together to roll up PCs at the start is not a bad idea.  That sure can take time, though, even with such a simple rule-set, if everyone or almost everyone is new to the particular system, even one as simple as Classic D&D.
When it comes to rolling dice, Frank obviously takes the hard core old school method or rolling 3d6 down the line as the best method.  Play what you roll!  There are methods to ameliorate poor scores, such as PR adjustment and the optional score switch of the highest roll into the PR (which I always used) if someone wants to play a particular class.  We are advised that characters with no score of 9 or greater, or with two scores below 6, are probably not viable and can be rerolled. 

However, you could always try it!  It might be fun to play a character with poor scores, even in the class's prime requisite.  And, as Frank notes, you can always roll up another character later.  In this age of coming to the table with a concept already formed, character builds, point buy, planning for prestige classes you will take at level 8 from way back at level 1, etc., that's maybe not something people want to hear.  But if I hadn't just rolled the dice and accepted it, Farley the Halfling would have never been played.  Nor quite a few of my other interesting old characters, or those of my friends and family members.  We took the lumps of poor rolls and worked them into memorable characters, rather than discarding them because we don't get to play Muscles McStrongman or whatever we were hoping for.

Demi-humans, again, are not given adjustments as in AD&D and onward, but instead have ability score minimums that they must meet, along with one or two prime requisite scores.  Dwarves get it easy, needing a 9 or better in Con and having Strength as the PR.  Elves slightly more so, needing a 9 or better in Int and having Str and Int as PRs.  Halflings need a 9 or better in both Con and Dex, with Str and Dex as PRs, but as mentioned last time, they do get the benefit of not needing a 16 in a PR to get a 10% XP bonus.
We're given the ability score adjustment rules in detail here.  You can raise your PR (only) by one point by lowering another score 2 points, but it can't be lowered below 9.  Con and Cha can never be changed.  Dex can be raised if you're a Thief, but never lowered.  This is obviously based on the rules in the LBB, including the restrictions that were in place when there were only Fighter, Cleric and Magic-User as classes.  They seem a bit arbitrary now.  Of course, in this age of the 4d6-L, arrange to taste method (or point buy, which anymore I dislike), it seems likely to not be used much. 

Another area we always ignored was rolling for starting hit points.  From the beginning, we played that you got your maximum amount at level 1, and started rolling from level 2.  I've played in games where I had to roll, and really it doesn't make that much difference, but maybe it's just psychological.  You feel tougher with that maximum amount, even if you can still easily drop from one attack from a polearm.

When it comes to buying equipment, we get some good advice for new players.  Shop according to your class, don't buy things your class can't use, but be sure to get those things you MUST have (like Thieves' Tools or a holy symbol).  Magic-User characters are advised to buy extra dungeoneering equipment, since they don't need to spend money on weapons and armor.  See, right there, that's something you can do when you've cast that one spell for the day.  You're the guy with rope, 10' pole, spikes and hammer, mirror, lantern, etc.  You're playing the smart guy, go out there and play smart with the gear you buy!

We now get a lot of explanation of game mechanics, figuring out ability score adjustments, chances to hit, saving throws, armor class, another explanation of the hit roll process, stuff like that.  Not much interesting here, nothing really to comment on, as it's fairly technical. 

It gets interesting again when we get down to the Intelligence and Charisma modifiers.  For Int, obviously a high score grants extra languages.  I've always liked the Mentzer take on low Int, as well.  Your literacy is affected.  Basically, if you have a low Int, you can't use scrolls (even Protection scrolls which everyone can use -- if you can read). 

Charisma is again listed as important for interacting with monsters and for hiring retainers, but as pointed out, mostly the DM will need to know your scores/adjustments.  Back in the day, though, we rarely used retainers, and rarely tried to interact with monsters.  NPCs, sure, or the rare encounter with Lawful or friendly Neutral monsters.  But we would just act those out, not make rolls, usually.  Despite all our hack-and-slash tendencies (we were pre-teens to teens, after all...), we dispensed with the die mechanics and just got into character.  And I'm still partial to that, but rely on the dice from time to time if I'm not sure exactly what to have the NPCs/monsters do.

Naming your character: You can pick any name you like, but be careful of those silly names!  They may come back to haunt you! 

Alignment: the way you want to play the character, not the way you think you should behave (emphasis in original). 

Getting ready to play: Make sure you know the rules.  Have some idea what the other players' characters are like, and what you might be doing.  If you're a spell-caster, select your prepared spells. 

Wow, that was a long section.  Four and a third pages.  And we're getting close to the end of the Players' Manual.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A horrible night to have a curse, indeed!

So, after last month's non-D&D whoop-dee-do, I've been messing around with the free 8-bit/16-bit crpg inspired Retro Phaze.

I started out, as I blogged a while back, with the intention of making some small adventures and pre-made PCs for pick-up games.  And I'm working on that, maybe going a bit overboard even with a Wizardry inspired dungeon.  Retro Phaze makes it dirt simple, since like in a video game, most encounters are random and pretty much exist only as a means to level up your characters and give you gold to spend on better weapons/equipment.

One of the things I dislike about 3E and 4E style gaming is just that, but in Retro Phaze it's so darn simple that I think it will work.  Character stats are simple.  Monster stats are simpler.  Dungeons and wilderness can be as simple or complex as you like.  Pretty much all you need are some maps, random tables for monster encounters, and a few "boss" monsters and special treasures or quest items that serve as goals of play.

Well, it didn't take me long to turn from converting Wizardry, Faxanadu, Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior for the Americans) monsters into RePh stats before I started thinking of Castlevania.

I once upon a time foolishly started working on a CV setting for 3E.  But 3E stat bloat killed it quick.  With Retro Phaze, though, I may just be able to pull it off.  Spell-casters get either White or Black magic, and there are only 4 spells per level of each type, mostly combat oriented.  The game is designed for throwing bad guys at the players and letting them beat them to a pulp (or run screaming from the big ones), and they level quickly.

All I really need is a map of Transylvania with a few towns, crypts, haunted mansions and such, plus Castlevania itself mapped out (and I could probably just use some maps from the actual games for that) with appropriate random encounter lists for each, and a few key quest items and quest givers.

I'll probably try out my Wizardry inspired dungeon first just to get a taste of how the game actually plays before diving full steam into a game which I don't have the time to really run anyway.  But if I start working on it now, little by little, I will have it ready to run when I finally have time to run games again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: The Halfling

How terrible I am, making you all wait over a month to hear my thoughts on the Halfling class as presented in Frank Mentzer's red box Basic Set!  Hopefully you found at least some of my posts about non-D&D RPGs interesting.  I know a few were duds since I didn't have much to post about for a couple of questions, but c'est la vie.  Anyway, on with the show, this is it!

What do we learn about Halflings?  First of all, we're given a very Hobbit-y description of the little guys.  Outgoing but not especially brave, love creature comforts, friendly with Elves.  Interesting how Dragonlance Kender, being immune to fear, have influenced Halflings in more recent editions to be less prone to fear effects than other races.

As for advice on how to play the class, we're told to act like a Fighter (so read up on that class for advice), and remember to use the special abilities as often as possible.  We're also explicitly told here that Halflings get good saving throws so they're more likely to survive spells, poison, etc.  Actually, looking back to check, Dwarves are explicitly listed as being "resistant" to special effects as reflected in their saving throws.  I think I missed that in my Dwarf post. 

Touchberry.  Name ring a bell?  It's the sample character name in the little description of using your level title.  "I'm Touchberry the Warrior."  Sounds scary, huh?  Maybe if you're playing "Perverts and Penthouses."  Ever since I first saw that name as an 11-year old, I've always giggled at it.  New challenge for myself - play a Halfling named Touchberry while keeping a straight face about the name at all times.

Something that's been hidden in the rules that I never really noticed before.  Halflings are more likely to advance faster than Fighters.  If you roll 3d6 in order or roll and place, either way, you are more likely to get a Prime Requisite bonus as a Halfling, and they advance on the same numbers.  Fighters must have a 13 Strength for a 5% bonus, 16 Str for a 10% bonus.  Not so hard to get if you roll and place as desired, at least for the 5% bonus, but especially if you roll down the line that 16 Str can be elusive.  For Halflings, they need EITHER 13 Str or 13 Dex to get a 5% bonus, and if both are 13+ they get a 10% bonus.  Much easier to roll a pair of 13s or higher than to roll a single 16 on a 3d6 roll or a 4d6-L roll.  Halflings are the only class in Basic that doesn't need a 16 to get a 10% PR bonus.

For weapon restrictions, we get a fairly vague set of limits.  We're told of a few weapons they definitely can use (dagger, short sword, short bow) and a few they definitely can't (two-handed swords, battle axes, pole arms, longbows) and just a vague "and other large weapons."  What about the normal sword?  Is it in or out?  How about a spear?  If 6' humans can wield 14' long pikes, surely a 3' Halfling could use a 5' spear?  It's up to DM judgment, but at this stage, we're assuming the DM doesn't have much experience on which to make that judgment.  As we played it back in the day, Halflings were fairly limited in weaponry.

Halfling special abilities are pretty cool.  They get some nice combat bonuses (AC bonus vs. large creatures, bonus with missile weapons of all sorts, individual initiative bonus).  The AC bonus is very nice considering Halflings can wear plate & shield for armor.  The slightly lower hit die compared to Fighters and Dwarves, however, makes them slightly less optimal as giant-killers, though. 

Hiding is an awesome ability.  In the wilds, you are basically always wearing an elven cloak.  Even in dungeons, Halflings can Hide in Shadows better than a low level Thief, although Halflings suffer the restriction of not being able to move, and having magical light sources spoil the chance.

Basically, Halflings are the Ranger class of Basic D&D.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Back to Basics!

The Mao-Ze-Tigers (the Busan/Pohang/Scotland gamers) are back in business in a few minutes.  We're going to start a sword & planet style game using Jack Shear's MURDER HOBO classes

Also, now that the month of non-D&D posts are finished, I'll be getting back to work on the Mentzer Basic Cover-to-Cover series.  Soon.  I promise.

I'm also prepping some stuff to run off-the-cuff, using Retro Phaze.  I'm building a Wizardry/Rogue style dungeon.  Also culling monsters from lists on since Retro Phaze just basically uses the SRD list of stuff and I want a slightly different feel to this dungeon.  Also, preliminary work for a Castlevania game using Retro Phaze is also in the works.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Captain America: Winter Soldier movie review

No April Fools jokes this year.  I'm too busy with grad school stuff to worry about silliness like that.  What you get is a review of the latest Marvel cinematic offering in the Avengers family of films, Captain America: Winter Soldier.  It was released early in South Korea, so we went to see it last Saturday.

First of all, parents arriving here by searching for the movie title plus "curse," there was one instance of an "s" word that I noticed.  Otherwise, free of foul language.

The first Cap movie scratched an itch for me, being IMO a good blend of comic book super hero action and a traditional war movie.  This time, the action takes place in modern times (a few flashbacks to the WWII era aside), and is all in super-heroics mode.  There are internal divisions within S.H.I.E.L.D. (haven't been watching Agents of Shield yet, so not sure how that ties in), the return of Hydra, and the mysterious new villain Winter Soldier (not much of a mystery who this is if you pay attention to casting, but if you wish to avoid spoilers, don't check IMDB for who's playing who until after you watch it).

Winter Soldier, with his bionic arm and super-soldier strength/speed, makes a good foil for Cap.  Nick Fury has a lot more action in this movie, as well.  We see a bit more of the true face of the Black Widow (or is it?).  Falcon was a nice addition, although I would have liked to see a bit more of him in the movie.  He's a really minor player until Act 3.  During- and post-credits clips add in a familiar villain to the movie universe and of course hint at what's to come in Captain America 3.

I can't say it was my favorite of the Avengers family movies, but it wasn't bad, either.  The plot was more or less sound (it's Marvel, after all, so you have to expect some larger than life silliness in the plot/conflicts).  There were some intense action scenes, humor, and some nice tie-ins to the first Cap movie without over-doing it.

If you're a fan of what Marvel Studios have done so far, you're not likely to be disappointed in this movie.  You probably won't be blown away by it, but hey, they can't all be as pitch perfect as Iron Man 1 or Avengers were.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The circle is now complete. (March Madness Day 31!)

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

Well, I started this month long challenge out with Star Frontiers, it makes sense that I come back to it for the finale.

Yes, I know, the Starfrontiersman web site has their “digitally remastered” version for free on their website with WotC's blessing. And lots of additional content through the Star Frontiersman zine. But having the actual box set of Alpha Dawn back in print would be cool. The digital remaster version doesn't have the cool fold-out map or counters, for one thing (although I think they do have a scan of the counter sheet that you can use to make your own... or at least somewhere you can get it, as I did make a duplicate set when I was in Japan).

No, it's not the best sci fi game out there. It's “futuristic technology” is really dated. The options for character creation are limited by today's standards. But you know what? The game works. It's fun. It's well designed for game play that involves exploring of alien worlds and/or combat against bad guy aliens like the Sathar and their terrorist agents. It's not designed to be a generic sci fi game. It has its subgenre down fairly pat, and does a good job filling it.

If it were to come back in print, I'd definitely pick up an extra set or two (probably the Knight Hawks expansion that I never had as a kid as well). Heck, I'd probably even spring for a reprint of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space even though I don't like how they tried to revise the system to use the Marvel color-coded chart for resolution, or the even sillier cast of alien races it adds.

It would be great to have all that stuff in order to play with my son, since my own original books and poster map are really worn out.  It might also make it a bit easier to get new players into the game, especially kids who might dig the maps and counters more than they would a pdf of a 30+ year old game.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Move along, nothing to see here (March Madness Day 30)

30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

I've never been much of a supplement guy. As a relatively well-read and imaginative kid (and a poor one to boot), we just made up everything for our D&D and Star Frontiers games. We didn't have many modules. We had few supplements. So when I grew up and started making enough money to buy other games, I never went overboard with buying supplements (with the exception of the original run of 3.0 splat books – Sword & Fist, Song & Silence, Tome & Blood, etc. and yes, I feel like I got kinda burned by them).

So I don't know of any supplements that I consider a must have. I've used supplements for inspiration, but it's usually just cherry picking what I like and leaving the rest.

So, no recommendation from me here, I'm afraid.

But if I ever put out a supplement for Flying Swordsmen or Chanbara, let me just say that it will rock your world on toast or whatever the kids say these days and you should definitely pay me large amounts of money for said future supplement, if and when it ever does appear. ;)

I promise, though, even if that mythical supplement appears, it will NOT lead to a vast churning pile of splat.  Not that I don't have the ambition, I just really don't have the time!