Monday, December 28, 2009

Another 3.5 D&D Session

Last Saturday, everyone full of Christmas cheer (or at least some beer), we had another session of Josh's 3.5 campaign.

It was fun, but there was a lot of tension in the room. Everyone at the table seems to have some different ideas about what we should be doing. I think I've mentioned it before. And Josh still really doesn't know the 3E system at all, so he's basically running a 2E game allowing us to use 3E characters within it. It makes for some oddities in play.

We had been leveled up to Level 3 by DM fiat. Our characters had been on the cusp of L2, but Josh wanted to throw a few harder encounters at us. And he did. Our shanty-town just outside of the totalitarian empire's capital was raised by soldiers because of the insurrection we had taken part in, and the sorceress we rescued led us into a wooded area with caves leading inside the town before she was arbitrarily killed for 'story' reasons (it would have been too easy for us if we'd had a high level sorceress with us, in other words).

So we kill her killers, then head into the dungeon. We faced some softball encounters first--a few hobgoblins, some shriekers and gibberlings, ran away from a giant slug, fought tough fights against some bugbears and osquips, and finally ended the night after slaying some cave fishers. We're apparently about 1/4 through the tunnels leading to town at this point. And we finally found some decent loot (Josh had been keeping us poor).

Some of the highlights of the evening came from some things that Josh just made up. We found, among the dead sorceress's things, a box with an imp who would identify magic items, but there's a chance he'll eat whatever he's identifying (hasn't happened yet, but Josh keeps hoping), and some scrolls to enchant either a weapon or armor. Without a spellcaster in the group--2 Fighters, a Paladin, and a Rogue--the Rogue had to Use Magic Device, and of course botched yours truly's attempt while succeeding on everyone else's. So I don't have a +1 elemental bastard sword. At least the party decided to give me some bracers +2 we found later, so my heavily armored guy (if chain shirt and a large shield is heavily armored?) is even harder to hit.

The problems basically came down to these points:
Rules consistency--I find 3E overly complex and whatnot, but if we're gonna play it, I wanna be playing it. Having the DM just decide in the middle of a combat that any weapon can threaten a crit on a 19-20, and do x3 damage if he rolls a 19-20 on the confirmation roll--or more, he'll keep rolling in such situations) bothers me. I'd rather stick with the base rules, or have him state up front that he'd like to do that. My big sticking point of the evening.

Story immersion vs. challenging game play--this came up in two different ways as a problem for both Alex and Dave. For Dave, he built a concept character. He intentionally didn't min-max his character in order to play a Solomon Kane-type Paladin. And he's finding himself to be somewhat ineffectual as a lightly armored, rapier wielding Paladin still trying to be a front-line warrior, and without a high enough Wis to cast spells. He's suffering from playing to concept when Josh is DMing for keeps.

For Alex, the problem is that Josh is DMing for keeps at all. Josh has flat out stated that he will kill us, and will actively try to kill us if we do something he thinks is stupid. This irks Alex, who seems to enjoy the kind of game where he can have a cool character do cool stuff and just ride the GM's railroad to a successful end. That's why he won't play in my Classic game at all. He wants his character to be special, not just another 3d6 down the line disposable guy until he can gain enough levels to be considered a hero. He wants to be a hero from the get-go.

Of course, Alex is also suffering from poor character design. He's trying to play a ranged Rogue focusing on the ranged sneak attack, but that's a pretty limited build. And he's getting shown up by Pat's Fighter archer.

Pat's problem seems to be that he's content with his character and the way Josh is running things, and is annoyed at all the stopping to argue rules or play style by the rest of us.

Well, maybe we'll get things ironed out soon. I'm trying to ignore my inner rules-lawyer. But it's hard. If Josh wanted to run 2E, I'd be happier. Why do I have to mess with all this fiddly 3E stuff, while he can do whatever behind the screen? Oh well, I guess as long as my fiddly 3E stuff is working, I shouldn't worry about the rest.

I'll just try to enjoy it for what it is, and bide my time until we play my Classic game again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Playing in the Sandbox II

Last night we played my Classic D&D game at the board game group again. It had been a month or so since the last game. Due to final tests this week, Lucy, Robin and Erika couldn't come. Josh is still in Canada, and Steve and Alex couldn't make it. Miyeong said she would come, but got out of work late so couldn't make it after all. That left Pat, Chloe, and Dave, besides myself.

I was a bit disorganized, since I'd had to rush out of the radio station (yeah, I'm on the radio here in Busan) and home to eat dinner, help my wife with a few Christmas cards, play with the baby a bit, then off to games all within an hour! I forgot to bring my 'monster book' but didn't need it, and forgot my 'box of rumors' as well. Dave had the only new character and Pat and Chloe were content to follow up rumors they'd already gathered, so we didn't need it after all either.

Dave finished rolling up his Elf, while Pat (playing his Cleric and Fighter, both level 2 now) and Chloe (playing her Illusionist level 1) did some stuff around town. They decided they'd follow up the rumor that a valuable pendant could be found in the Dread Mausoleum. They thought about following up on information about the sword Chrysaor, but decided to wait until Lucy was back to do anything with that.

They first went to the local Dwarven drinking establishment, and got a somewhat cool reaction. They were introduced to a pair of stupidly drunk Dwarves who it was said could help them, but they decided to not bring the boasting pair along because they were drunk, rude, and wanted shares of treasure (I would have let them get in for only 1/2 shares if offered, but the group decided they were strong enough).

Dave's Elf joined them, and they got some information about the Mausoleum--where it was, roughly, and that to the best knowledge of the local Sun priestess, it was very old and haunted by 'demons' or so the superstitous peasants told her. Undaunted, they bought rations and set out for the day's march to the Mausoleum. On the way, they encountered some giant tiger beetles, but evaded them successfully. They couldn't find the Mausoleum in the dead woods on that first night, so they retreated back across a stream and camped for the night.

The next morning they finally found the place. The actual mausoleum was a slate structure, with a large stagnant pool with a non-functioning fountain in front, and a smaller structure to the back (they couldn't make it out at first because of the trees). Going to the secondary structure first, they found an altar to the Serpent of Chaos, surrounded by a pair of devil statues, on a stone platform. They thought about desecrating the altar, but then thought they'd better not yet in case demons really were around!

Next, they checked out the pool, which was home to a Gray Ooze. They beat the ooze without any major losses (Pat's fighter lost his shield--a Save vs. Wands successfully kept it from disolving his chainmail!), and drained the pool, locating a small gem.

They went in the Mausoleum, and found it had seven plain stone sarcophogi, 3 on each side and one at the far end, flanked by statues. There was also a trap door in the floor. They avoided the sarcophogi and statues, other than a cursory examination to see if there was any writing on them (none), then opened up the trap door (after checking for traps--they checked every door for traps, I'll just skip writing that from now on). They dropped down a torch, and saw a corridor at the bottom, 40' below. They secured their rope to a statue, and dropped it down, then climbed down--Dave's Elf first, to use infravision.

The tunnel went north and south, and they went north first. They quickly came to a large crypt, with alcoves stuffed with bones to east and west, and noticed giant bats hanging from the ceiling and starting to stir because of the torch light. They quickly retreated, with the Elf sticking around quietly to see if they went back to sleep with infravision (they did).

Going south, the corridor split in a Y shape, and they went SE first, to a door. Opening it, they got the jump on a trio of living corpses. Thinking they were zombies, they attacked. Mistake! They were ghouls!

The Fighter, Elf and Cleric all charged, while the Illusionist threw a javelin. I made a mistake of my own, though. I didn't hear Pat say his Cleric and Fighter were attacking the same one, so I assumed they were going after different ones. The Fighter and Elf each took a ghoul down to 1 hit point, and the Cleric hit as well. If I'd heard Pat, one ghoul would have been down. As it was, in the first real round the Cleric got paralyzed, and the other two wounded. They managed to kill the two severely wounded ones, but the Fighter was also paralyzed, and the Illusionist and Elf killed. TPK.

But then when Pat pointed out my mistake, I asked if they wanted to replay the combat. They said sure. (Screw narrativism--besides, how many times does Simon Belmont die before he gets to Dracula?) In the second battle, with only two ghouls, they did better. The Fighter got paralyzed again, but the Cleric turned one, and they finished off the third. They debated what to do with the ghoul cringing in a corner, but when they saw that the two they killed had jewelry, and so did the one they turned, they decided to finish it off. They got the jewelry and headed back out to rest up.

They camped across the stream for a few nights to get everyone back on their feet, having an encounter with a band of sprites who were charmed by the Elf (rolled high on reactions) and gave the party some giant bee honey. Rested up, they went back to the Mausoleum and took the south-west tunnel.

Down that path, they found another room with sarcophogi, but these were all carved in effigy of the people entombed. The last one had the inscription "Heroes take what they may." Opening that sarcophogus, they found the remains of a magician (spellbook rotted and worthless), with a silver dagger and a potion bottle. They decided not to disturb the remains of the other dead, and opened a door in the room. Inside, they found a 10x10 room full of treasure.

Thinking that was suspicious, Chloe decided her Illusionist would try to see through any illusions--she gets a +2 bonus on saves, which she made. Everyone else tried a save when she told them it was an illusion and failed, but they listened to her and shut the door.

They didn't find the pendant they were looking for, but they had found some loot and were running low on rations so they headed back to town, got the jewelry appraised (and were surprised that the 3 torques the ghouls wore were each worth 1200gp!), and got their experience points.

Pat's guys both leveled up again, so they'll be level 3 while everyone else is level 2 (although next time we play Josh should be back, and his characters are both on the cusp of level 2).

All in all, except for the miscommunication leading to a TPK, it was a good night.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

25 year anniversary

It was 25 years ago yesterday that I got my Mentzer Basic red box and started role-playing. Wow, it's been a long time, but it's been a lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monster Alignments

I've been taking a closer look at monster alignments recently. I've finally come to some definitions of Law, Neutrality and Chaos that I like and completely avoid the whole Law=Good/Chaos=Evil problem while still keeping them very antagonistic.

Basically, Law supports order, civilization, and the advance of humanity. Chaos acts to undermine the above. Neutrality is a lack of concerted effort either for or against, and instead is focused on the best interest of the self or the small group (family, guild, etc.).

Now, Mentzer lists Elves, for example, as Neutral. I'm really digging on this. Of course, PC Elves will be whatever alignment the player wants, as it should be. But the elves of the wider campaign are mostly in it for themselves, their clan, etc. It allows elves to be both like Tolkien's elves (aloof but generally opposed to evil threatening them) and Anderson's elves (actively opposed to humanity, but also to evil), and maybe several other types as well.

BITD NPC Elves were always seen as potential allies, or at least non-opponents by me and my friends. But with a better defined sense of what that Neutral alignment can mean, I'm looking forward to having elves be opponents from time to time without resorting to gothy Drow or the watered down Dark Elves of the Hollow World.

Just a few other alignment related oddities--Living Crystal Statues are Lawful, yet the very Chaotic Bargle uses them as decoys in his dungeon. How would impersonating a rogue magician in order to keep him alive be in the best interests of advancing culture and humanity? It's something to think about and gives a nice bit of depth to those Bargle-decoys beyond the 'well, he created them so he commands them' line of thought. What if there's something about Bargle's plans that will prevent some doom, even though he's being a rat-bastard about his methods and his motives are far from pure?

Living Rock Statues, being Chaotic on the other hand, have some beef against civilization, and likely chafe at being commanded to protect or guard things that would lead to the betterment of man (similar to efreet chafing at just about any command).

Finally, Lizard Men are also Neutral. How often are they played as simply another violent humanoid race out to get the adventurers at all costs? Maybe it's because of the 12 morale. But Neutral aligned Lizard Men should be able to be allied with and bargained with as often as they just try to eat you. And a group of Lizard Men on your side can be a good thing, especially in low level adventures!

Nice food for thought.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Class act

Okay, it's finally time to give a rundown of my home-brewed classes. At least as they stand now. I'm always wondering if I should just strip things back to the basics again. But for now, I've got the following classes available to my players:

Barbarian--take the Dwarf, raise HD to d10, eliminate weapon restrictions and Dwarf racial abilities, and add in a foraging bonus and a small AC bonus if they wear light or no armor. Max Level 12, Minimum Wis & Con 9.

Bard--originally based on the Elf class, it's now more of a Cleric/Thief hybrid. Original spell list, casts as Elf for spells per level but as Cleric for availability, Read Languages and Listen, plus Lore skill and bardic counter-music ability. Max Level 10, Minimum Int & Wis 9.

Cavalier--the Mentzer Avenger/Paladin (Fighter with 1/3 Cleric ability), but without alignment restrictions, and a mounted combat bonus. Max level 15, Minimum Wis 9.

Cleric--already mentioned my house rules for them

Druid--Cleric/Magic-User cross, acts like a Cleric in most respects, but spells from level 1, little weapon or armor ability, a few nature abilities, and shape-changing at Name Level. Max Level 14.

Fighter--also been mentioned.

Illusionist--Magic-User/Thief cross, mostly as M-U, but with a different spell list (some new spells taken from AD&D, a few I made up myself), Pick Pockets, Hide in Shadows, Move Silently as a Thief, Thief weapons list. Max Level 12, Min Dex 9.

Magic-User--again, I talked about them before.

Ranger--based on the Halfling, but with d8 HD, bonus to hit & damage against goblinoids & giants, tracking at Halfling hiding chances. Max Level 10, Min Con 9.

Thief--talked about them, too.

Dwarf--only thing I changed was allowing them to create magic weapons, armors, rings or miscellaneous items at high levels.

Elf--didn't change a thing.

Halfling--again, nothing changed.

Half-Orc--the Fighter/Thief cross (or Assassin of sorts). d6 HD, any armor or weapons, a few Fighter combat options, Infravision, Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Climb Sheer Surfaces as Thief, plus Disguise skill, and a set x3 backstab damage bonus (my Thief gains multipliers as they level. Max Level 10, Minimum Int & Dex 9.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm 3' away from my actual position...

Just wondering out loud why, when WotC released the d20 SRD, they decided that the mighty Displacer Beast was iconic enough of the D&D experience to not include it?

Mind Flayers, Beholders, I can understand. They scream "This is D&D!!!" I suppose Carrion Crawlers do too, to a lesser extent.

But what about Gelatinous Cubes? Rust Monsters? Or the Displacer Beast's natural enemy, the Blink Dog? They're all in the SRD.

It's not even like the Displacer Beast was an original creation of either Gygax or Arneson anyway. It was ripped off from Voyage of the Space Beagle.

It's just one of those nutty things, I guess. Ryan Dancey or some unknown suit decided that it's fine for 3rd parties to use "The Cube," "Rusty" or disappearing dingos, but tentacled space cats can only be used by them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Great Dragon Debate

I started out playing Mentzer (BECM, never got I until recently on .pdf). In those rules, taking the text from Moldvay, dragon breath weapons (and storm giant lightning bolts) are keyed to the creature's current hit points.

OD&D apparently doesn't say one way or the other, but the way it, Holmes, and AD&D are worded, and the way they do dragon hit points (set points per HD per age category, rather than randomly rolled by HD like other monsters) seems to suggest their breath weapon does not get weaker as they get damaged. It's always the full amount.

2E of course has random damage ranges assigned for dragon breath, rather than keying it to hit points, current or maximum.

Frank Mentzer has commented on Dragonsfoot (here) that in his games, and in the games played in-house at TSR back in the day, dragons always do maximum damage with breath weapons, and that the text in his edition of the Basic Set was either that way because of Moldvay, or someone edited it after he finished with it. He doesn't remember the details. And really it doesn't matter.

What I think is funny is the reasoning lots of people, Frank included, give for not liking decreasing breath weapon damage. Players instantly know how many hit points the dragon has left.

But wait, if it's important to players to know how many hit points it has left, they can surely keep track of how much they've dealt it. Sure, the DM is not obliged to let them know if a dragon made or failed a save vs. a damage spell, but how hard is it, for any D&D player who likes numbers enough to care to track this sort of thing, to keep two or three or more potential totals?

If it's important to DMs that players not metagame the remaining hit points of a dragon, 2E would seem to have the best method, a damage range not keyed to hit points.

Besides, with the OD&D through AD&D method of giving dragons hit points, you can already metagame their potential hit points before they even breathe on you the first time. Small recently hatched red dragon? It's got 10HD, so it's got 10 or 20 hit points only. Really big, really old one? 70 or 80.

Now, the idea that dragons should be kick ass monsters, as Frank also mentions he is a proponent of, is a valid reason to keep the max hit point damage to breath weapons as the dragon gets injured. Then, even as it's down to single digits, its breath is still enough to fry most low to mid level characters.

I'm sticking with the decreasing breath weapon tied to current hit points, though. It's what I've always used, and I like the idea that to fight a dragon, you want to get the jump on it and hit it hard and fast to give yourself the best chance to survive. If you were really fighting a super tough monster like that, I'd think that would be the smart way to do it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Only the king and his lord marshall have the keys to these manicles.

I'm just about finished with my Nano novel. I should be able to write the last ten pages or so tomorrow. So I'm taking a break tonight and finally getting around to the final post about the classic 4 classes and my house rules for them.

Back in the day, Thieves were always my favorite class to play. I think it had something to do with the promise of cool stuff that could be done with the Thief's special abilities, even if they didn't work all the time, and a good set of Elven Cloak and Boots, a Rope of Climbing, and a bag of holding made some of them redundant or useless.

Although my main character, Gwydion, whom I derived my internet gaming alias from, was a Fighter, my main Thief, Achaz the Younger (Achaz the Older got liquidized by a black dragon on his first adventure) was always a lot of fun to play. Good old Achaz used daggers most of the time, especially after we got the Companion set with its nice, high power mix-and-match powers charts, and he found a dagger +4, returning.

He also ended up with the sword +2, charm person from the Isle of Dread, and occasionally used it to charm a lovely lady or three, but rarely used it in combat. I'd envisioned him as a dagger fighter, and that was how he played. Roleplaying over powergaming, folks!

In coming up with my "perfect" Thief class, I had a lot of options to choose from. Stick with the standard set skill percentages by level model, go customizable like in 2E AD&D, or some free-form system more like d20? Keep the levels about the same, or ramp them up at lower levels and bring them down at higher levels?

In the end, I decided that with a 20 level cap, I'd stick with the original design. Then the choice became which progression to use? Mentzer was too slow, and with a level 20 cap I would have had to revise them to account for 20 levels instead of 36. Moldvay/Cook stops at 14, so I'd have a lot of 99's for six levels or so. 1E AD&D went up to 17, I think, and also had modifiers by race and Dex. Didn't want that level of complexity.

In the end, I did what the good Zeb Cook hinted at in his Expert set, and went with the B/X numbers up until they maxed out, then created superior abilities that can be used at the higher levels. The exception is Pick Pockets, which just continues to grow so that high HD creatures and characters have a chance to be robbed by high level Thieves.

In the end, I went with these 'advanced skills':
Open Magical Locks (open locks), so Thieves have a chance to pick any sort of Wizard Locked or special DM magical portals (yeah, I'd probably allow it for closed planar gates...give them enough rope, and all that). (from 16th level)
Find/Remove Magical Traps (find/remove traps) As above, now the Thief can detect and safely remove Symbol spells, or other nastiness like that. (from 17th level)
Climb Overhangs/Ceilings (climb sheer surfaces) Cook mentioned it, and I felt it would work. The high level Thief becomes Spider-man. (from 14th level)
Remain Hidden (hide in shadows), so the Thief has a chance to make an attack while hiding and not give away his position (from 17th level)
Ventriloquism (move silently) a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but it allows the Thief to communicate with, or distract and confuse, others while moving silently. (from 16th level)
Read Lips (hear noise) so that Thieves can get an idea of what's being said when they're too far away or it's too noisy to hear, but they can see someone's face, obviously. (from 15th level)

Then Backstab, similar to AD&D, gets better as the Thief goes up in levels. 6th level x3, 11th level x4, 16th level x5 damage. Still only ever that +4 to hit, though.

Each of the Advanced Skills starts at a 50% chance at the level it's obtained, and improves from there. So high level Thieves have something to look forward to besides 2 hit points and some small increases to hits and saves after the original skills get maxed out.

Oh, and I went with weapon restrictions as per Mentzer, since that's what I grew up with and what I've always favored (rather than B/X's any weapon is okay, or the short list of AD&D). Any one handed melee weapon, and all ranged weapons.

That's my Thief. Using this class, and judging the use of skills similar to Robert Fisher's famous essay on the subject, I think they should be a decent class to play, and not take away from the dungeon exploration environment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game on!!!

Well, I didn't think I'd have time to post this month, but what do you know, my NaNoWriMo novel is already at 35k out of 50k needed to win and it's only the 12th. By the way, it's hopefully an entertaining mix of S&S and Gothic fantasy, about a knight vs. werewolves. More on that when I read it through upon completion and see how much I can salvage into a second draft.

Anyway, on Monday, I brought D&D to the Board Game Group meet-up. Josh was out, quarantined because of the flu (he didn't say if it was H1N1 or not, not that it really matters, I'd rather my son not get either form if possible...). Dave, who's really keen to get some Classic D&D in, and July (Mi Young) were busy. Steve and Alex were out as usual on Mondays, but they don't like Classic D&D anyway. Erica was too lazy to go out on a cool evening (she lives kinda far away anyway).

That left me, Lucy, Pat, and Pat's friend Chloe who was there for the first time. Chloe and I arrived first, which was good because it gave me a chance to show her the basics. She's played Diablo and some other CRPG/MMORPGs before, so she was familiar with the basic tropes. The only really funny newbie question she asked was, "So if I use my mirror, does it go away?"

She decided to try out my home brew Illusionist class. Yeah! Aside from a short-lived Half-Orc played by Alex before he decided he didn't want to play Classic, we hadn't had anyone playing any of my new classes. She took Change Self for her spell, but as the game played out, she didn't actually get to use it. She was kicking some ass with her thrown javelins, however! (My Illusionist, being a cross between M-U and Thief, can use thrown weapons and 1-handed melee weapons if they want to...).

Because Josh, who was sick, is really invested in exploring the Ruins of Castle Mistamere and rooting out the kobold menace there, everyone decided to strike out into the sandbox and see what else there was to see. I had my rumors handy, and let each PC (Pat was playing both his Fighter and Cleric, and Lucy has a Cleric, everyone still Level 1) get 3 rumors plus or minus their Cha adjustment.

There were a few repeat rumors found, and of the short list of potential ones (they wisely ignored the one they got twice about hill giants), they decided to check out the rumor that the castle north of town, that of the town's founder, was haunted.

This was an area I wasn't prepared for them to explore yet, I had thought the ghost would be scary to them--but they don't know how nasty BECM ghosts are, let alone spectres or wraiths. Luckily for me, though, this was a dungeon I'd semi-prepped for the original version of the Silverwood Campaign for 3E years ago, so I had the map from WotC's Map a Week feature, and the knowledge that I wanted lots of spider monsters.

I also wanted to use my new Caesar goblins so I threw in a goblin encounter, as well. And the ghost, who ended up having a quest for them--recover his sword, stolen by looters. Rolling on my Unique Magic Weapons tables (something I'm still working on but plan to release to the RPG internets in the future), I got Chrysaor, a short sword +3. Not sure if I want them running around with that for too long, if they manage to find it (still got to figure out where it might be hidden!), but they're now on the lookout for rumors about this sword.

The actual play went well. They solved problems by thinking about them logically (can't unlock the door? Try to bash it down. That doesn't work? Try to jimmy the lock with a weapon or tool), not just by resorting to game mechanics or things written on the character sheet. They took what rumors they had, researched a bit, and chose their own course for the evening. They defeated the monsters they encountered, found a bit of treasure, and everyone but the brand new Illusionist made 2nd level finally by the end of the night.

And I got to DM by the seat of my pants for the first time in over a decade. Man, it was fun! And I'm no longer sweating not having all the pieces filled in on my sandbox map yet.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I'll be doing the National Novel Writing Month contest this year, so I probably won't post anything to the blog for the next month.

So both of you reading this, see you in December when I'll have a cool new fantasy novel to talk about.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Building Sandcastles

I'm working on the next bit of expansion for my sandbox setting.

With the way my current group operates, I realized that a mega-dungeon type campaign just isn't going to cut it. We meet for 3-4 hours once a week, but that's to play board games. We play RPGs maybe once a month at that. Our new 3E game will be on Saturdays, not during board game time, so we can still play Classic once a month or so. But with the time limit involved, and the limited English skills of a few players, having one big site that is the campaign won't work.

I've been working on a bunch of mini-dungeons, all of them around a home town (converted to Classic from an attempted sandbox I tried with 3.5 on RPOL many years ago). I figure that we can start sessions in town, gathering some rumors. Then they can decide which rumor to track down, and then we maybe do a bit of wilderness travel to get there, then play through a mini-dungeon. Seems like it should usually be doable in 3-4 hours.

One of the locations from the original sandbox is called Whitebeard Mountain. I never drew maps or anything for it, but it's a goblin lair. Well, I decided instead of the big multilevel lair I'd originally planned, I'd go with interconnected mini-dungeons. I've got an overall layout of how they interconnect (the side-view map), and the first two of the mini-dungeons drawn. I've also decided on what, more or less, will be in each section (kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, thouls, bugbears, a mixed area, then the 'boss' M-U or Cleric and underlings).

I think I may eventually write it up as an old school module, probably for Labyrinth Lord, or maybe generic. I just wonder if people would be interested, since it may end up very similar to the Caves of Chaos.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

District 9 (movie)

My wife and I just got back from watching District 9, which opened here in Korea last week. Very cool! Makes me want to run a Star Frontiers or d20 Modern/Future game.

But I'm having enough trouble getting my Classic game going. Last night was my board game night, and with the RPG and Classic D&D haters gone, I thought that would be a perfect night to run my game for the rest. But Josh had prepped his 3.5 game, and really wanted to run that. So we ended up playing his 3.5 game.

Oh well, at least my sword & board fighter got lots of goblin and giant ant kills (Josh had way underestimated the power of the monsters, since he's never DMed before and didn't have any experience with on the fly he was nerfing them so we three fighter types wouldn't be slaughtered!)

Anyway, back to the movie. I really hadn't heard that much about it going into it, only that it was an SF movie set in South Africa about discrimination of aliens and a company out to steal their tech. Oh, and that Peter Jackson was involved with it. One of my coworkers saw it over the weekend, and said it was really good, so we decided to see it tonight.

There are some really cool weapons in the movie, but I suppose in an RPG a gun that shoots lightning that explodes the victim might not make the players too happy when it's used against them... :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Explorers Wanted

Relevant to my recent posts about my board game group is this post by James M. over at Grognardia. The OSRIC guys have it right. RPGs in general, and D&D specifically, are best when they're about the exploration.

I'm not attempting to come up with some sort of 3-fold model (there are better ones out there), but I get the feeling people in my current group like different aspects of 'exploration.'

For me, the OSRIC quote hits it right on the spot. D&D is about searching through dungeons and crypts, creepy forests and dismal swamps for the lost treasures left there by who knows who? Sure, you battle some monsters along the way. You cast spells, encounter traps, talk to NPCs, etc. But the real meat and potatoes of the game is that dungeon or wilderness exploration phase.

I think for some of the guys, though, the fun exploration comes from exploring not the 'shared imaginary space' to borrow a pretentious Ron Edwards-ism, but the meta-game level of the game system and mechanics. Alex, in particular, seems to really enjoy the crunchy, option filled character creation phase of games like 3E, 4E, and RIFTS, and the crunchy, tactical combat phase of the games as well. The more rules options and combinations on the table, the happier he is.

Myself and Josh, on the other hand, seem to enjoy the exploration of the world, and its dungeons and mystical places, and how the characters we bring into it interact with and change that world.

The third option for a 3-fold system I guess would be players who get their kicks exploring the psyche of the PC they've created above all. I don't think we have anyone like that in this group, although I've played with people like that in the past.

Are these just gussied up ways of looking at GNS stereotypes? I don't think they're quite the same. But then I've just been thinking about this as I ate dinner, then sat down at the computer to write it up. I'll give it some more thought and come back to it another day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's up with the gaming group?

Things are getting a little strange with my gaming group. We meet up once a week to play board and card games. We've been getting more people in the group, which makes it harder to coordinate everyone's schedules--and my schedule is one of the most demanding.

Currently, we're rotating which nights of the week we play on, Mon. through Thurs. This lets the most people attend the most number of games, but prevents us from ever having everyone there. Last night (Mon.) was our game night this week. We played Dominion (first time I've won it) then Risk (I won again thanks to some freakishly amazing dice rolls and the fact that we were playing with ever increasing card set values).

We've also been trying to get some sort of Saturday RPG thing going. Looks like we may finally be able to get it going next month. Unfortunately, everyone who will be there for RPGs wants to play different games. Everyone's more or less up for anything, but everyone's got a strong preference for something. And the system that we can all get behind isn't good old Classic D&D, it's 3E (3.5, technically).

On the up side (I don't mind playing 3E, but I've already done just about everything with it that I feel like I want to do, and I'd rather go for 4E...but that's beside the point), the guys who also like Old School D&D still want me to bring in Classic to our normal board game nights on the nights when Steve (who just hates RPGs and prefers mathematical/strategy games) and Alex (who likes RPGs, just not Classic) won't be there.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Obligatory Alignment Related Post

Probably not as incendiary as it should be...I'd likely get a few more readers if it were! Oh well, here goes anyway!

My reading over the last few years has been mainly focused on catching up on some of the Appendix N stuff that I'd never read before. I've been reading R.E. Howard (barbarism vs. civilization), Poul Anderson (Order vs. Chaos), some Lovecraft (way out there Chaos), and most recently some Moorcock (Law vs. Chaos) and Zelazny's Amber Chronicles (Pattern/Unicorn/Order vs. Logrus/Serpent/Chaos).

The reading has really been making me happy with my decision not to import the 9-point alignment system from AD&D into my Classic house rules. Law, Neutrality and Chaos are enough.

The way I'm seeing them now, Law is not so much being 'good' as it is being on the general side of progress, stability, and civilization. You stand up for what's good for humanity in general.

Chaos, then, is the opposite of that. They're on the general side of disorder, change, and anti-civilization (kinda hard to put into words--not necessarily anarchy or barbarism, although it could be--more like anti-intellectualism, lowest common denominator stuff). They want to drag humanity down to the level of most humanoids, or lower.

Neutrality isn't some BS "we must balance the forces" schtick (although I suppose it could be if you wanted your character to think that way). Neutrals are more concerned with themselves and their immediate family/community, not with the greater good or greater bad of society.

Your alignment has little to do with your personality, and more to do with what choices you make about who and what to fight against or support. Take the fight to the monsters to protect a village or town, you're being Lawful. Wait until the monsters come knocking, then kick their butts, you're being Neutral. Invite the monsters in to loot, as long as they give you a cut, you're being Chaotic.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways

[FYI: This post has been sitting on my hard drive for a week, thanks to a nasty cold my son has which spread to me.]

Magic-Users are up next in my run-down of classes. I've been putting it off a bit, because, well, I haven't really done much to change Magic-Users. The biggest change is a result of the 20th level cap. The spell progression chart looks much more like that of 3E, although with more low level spells when they get up there (but I guess any 3E Wizard will have an Int in the 20's by then, so they'll have bonus spells which likely makes it very similar...). I've also decided on the Holmes rule for crafting scrolls (you can write them at 1st level, if you've got 1 week and 100gp for each spell level you want to scribe).

But thinking about M-Us, and then reading this thread over at Grognardia got me thinking about the last two characters I've played. Both of them Magic-Users. First was Valentio the Pungent, in my friend Paul's BECM/RC game about two years back. Next was an unnamed 'Human Wizard' pregen in the brief 4E test scenario we ran with my board game group about a month or so ago.

Valentio's highest ability score was his Intelligence, a whopping 13! And I decided, on a lark, to take the second best spell, Charm Person, instead of Sleep. I also loaded up on a variety of dungeoneering equipment, since I had the starting gold and the carrying capacity. In the first adventure, I managed to charm the chieftain of the kobolds we were about to face off against, preventing what would have been a bloody battle. If I'd taken Sleep, then I would have likely used it on the first wave, and the second wave would have then caused lots of death and destruction.

So Valentio saved the day. I also soon came upon a wand of fear with a few charges left, and became the group's potion-keeper, doling out a supply of healing potions as needed. Paul was also generous in allowing potions and scrolls to be purchased at not so high a price, so I gained a bit of magical use after scoring a few treasure hoards. But for the most part, it was my experience as a player, especially in old-school dungeon crawling, that really made Valentio useful to the group. I always had that rope, 10' pole, mirror, or flask of oil that they needed.

I made it up to 3rd level before my son was born, for which event my wife and I to move to Korea (her home). His second 1st level spell was Protection from Evil, which saved me from some living statues. Then when I hit 3rd level I took Phantasmal Force which really allowed me to have fun as we stared in on the orange cover B3 Palace of the Silver Princess. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of that odd-ball module when I had to move away. So ended the brief but memorable career of Valentio the Pungent.

Now, I know it's not a fair comparison, since I played Valentio in about 5-6 sessions, and I only played the 4E pre-gen in one session, for about 2 ½ hours. But I'm gonna compare them anyway.

I didn't take the character sheet home, but this Wizard had some pretty good ability scores. I guess it was the 4E standard array, but of course I had 18 Int, and my lowest score was I think an 11 somewhere. Everything else was a bonus. As were the stats of everyone else's characters. Slight digression, but what's the point? It seems like you can choose which of 2 stats you want to use for just about anything in 4E, so does everyone really need every stat above average?

He had a slew of at will powers (3 or 4, mostly quite similar—roll to hit, do some damage), and an encounter power (roll to hit, do some damage and slow the target IIRC) and a choice of two daily powers (Sleep, and Acid Arrow—I guess I can remember these two since they've been around since before 2008). I chose Sleep. Seemed the no brainer, but afterwards I was thinking I might have been better off with yet another 'roll to hit, do damage' effects, since it had bigger damage. Sleep allows victims a save every round until they recover. File this one away with energy drain and rust monsters, I guess.

Anyway, back to my pre-gen Wizard. I'm supposedly the “Controller” who plies the battlefield, cutting off routes of attack to our foes, and cordoning them off into easily managed units for the tanks—I mean Defenders, and Strikers. But looking at my list of abilities (damage one target x3, damage a small group x1, slightly incapacitate and annoy x1), there really wasn't much I could do most of the time except try to hit things for damage, just like everyone else.

The battle played out like this. Waves of goblins attack, mostly minions, but a few with staying power, including a few hidden snipers. Most of us are just going through a select power, roll to hit, roll for damage routine. Not really different than a D&D combat in any edition, with the exception of everyone having to take a minute or two to ponder 'powers' like spellcasters often do in older editions.

Then we spot some more mook goblins up the path, and a goblin spellcaster with guards beyond them. Well, I'm supposed to be the controller, right? And I've got 15 hit points at 1st level, and a fairly decent AC (my Int being better than my Dex, that got added—so why do I need Dex? Oh yeah, already mentioned that above. Sorry!). I figure I can move up, Sleep the spellcaster and guards, then play defensive until I can get away from the mook goblins and back to the relative safety of the party.

I manage to put the caster to sleep, and one or two guards, but the other guards are unaffected (slowed, I guess, but it didn't matter). One of the warrior types, also realizing as I did that the spellcaster is the biggest threat, sets off across the battlefield to attack him. I get swarmed by mook goblins and taken down to negative hit points (but of course not dead...I got better!).

The goblin spellcaster stayed asleep for a round or two, and his guards all woke up the round after I cast the spell. So when the warrior got there, he got taken down to negatives, as well. Meanwhile, everyone else is finally mopping up the last of the beginning ambush forces, while the goblin spellcaster is hiding in a magical cloud of smoke and blasting magic missiles at us, and I'm barely recovered at 4 hit points and crawling away. That's when we ran out of time.

Now, all of us were new to 4E, and a few people in the group were new to RPGs all together. Sure, our tactics sucked. And 4E combat is apparently all about having the right tactics for your characters through their choice of powers (pleasantly different from 3E, where it's about having the right strategy for character building). If we get around to playing 4E again, hopefully we'll have a better sense of how to work effectively as a team, using our powers to aid each other, rather than mostly acting in a vacuum compared to the other players.

But what really got me was how different Valentio was to play compared to the pre-gen Wizard. With Valentio, I had to think all the time. Should I cast my Charm Person spell now, or save it for later? Should I risk another charge from the Wand of Fear, or will that be the last one? Should we spike this door shut, or will we need a quick escape? Should I go first to probe with my 10' pole, or stick behind the guys in metal clothing?

With the pre-gen, other than my choice of when and who to hit with my Sleep spell, there was only one other consideration. Can I hit multiple targets? (mini-fireball) Can I hit only one? (magic missile)

I definitely prefer the thinking man's Magic-User over the walking Arcane Kaster-47 Wizard. With one, I had only one 'power' (to begin with) but used my head to find stuff to do in the meantime. With the other, I had a slew of 'powers' that were more or less identical, and nothing to do except just keep blasting away.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All about combat, huh?

The other day at my board game group, we were discussing RPGs in general, and D&D in particular with a new guy, Dave. Someone mentioned that OD&D only had rules for combat. Of course that's pattently wrong.

Today I went through the LBBs (on .pdf, don't have the real thing, unfortunately). Here's what I found.

In Men & Magic, there are about 4 digest size pages worth of combat rules (counting the weapon lists). Monsters & Treasure has 0 rules of combat, although I suppose the monster listings count. Maybe I should go back through that for completeness. Maybe not. Anyway, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures has 10 digest size pages of combat rules, including mass battles, sea battles, and aerial battles. There are 22 digest size pages of exploration rules.

So that's 11 pages of exploration rules, 7 pages of combat rules.

Case closed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm the greatest swordsman that ever lived!

Fighters. Good old solid, dependable Fighters.

Some people think they're the most boring class, but if that's so, then why are 90% of all mythical, legendary, or modern fictional fantasy heroes warrior types?

Sure, in D&D the Fighter has the fewest special abilities. In a game where the non-spell casters are pretty cookie cutter in abilities and class bonus functions, and Fighters don't really get any, they look boring on paper.

But in play, most of the stars of the show tend to mirror fiction--they're the Fighters. At least in my experience. Even the high level spell casters, who can steal the show, usually do so in one or two encounters, then the Fighters take care of the rest.

Anyway, my houseruled Fighter pretty much looks like the Classic D&D Fighter we all know and love (or hate). As per Mentzer, at high levels they get Multiple Attacks, Parry, Disarm, and Smash maneuvers. I don't want to fiddle with "can I hit it on a 2?" questions (I'm using ascending AC and attack bonuses rather than matrices), so if they get multiple attacks, they just get multiple attacks. I doubt that will make the Nightwalkers or Elemental Rulers any less scary. Especially since I've capped the basic 4 classes at level 20.

The one AD&D rule I borrowed for Fighters is Weapon Specialization. At 4th level, a Hero can choose one weapon they prefer, and get a +1 to hit and +2 to damage. (No silly 3/2 attacks or anything like that though.) I'm considering dropping the level of WS to 3, for the single reason that the level is called Swordsmaster. It would seem thematically to fit, and would actually give the Fighter something besides that extra 1d8 hit points at that level. They already get a bonus to hit and better saving throws at level 4.

In a departure from Mentzer, the chance to become a Paladin/Avenger/Knight no longer exists. Paladin and Avenger became their own classes, then I combined them and brought back the Knight into my own Cavalier class (more on that in the future). Also, with the level cap lowered, I changed around the levels when multiple attacks are gained.

So my Fighter is a little more spiffy than the Classic standard, but not really that much different (and I avoid the need for Weapon Mastery cluttering up my game by giving Fighters only a flat bonus to one weapon they prefer).

Good old Fighters. When the chips are down, the M-U and Cleric are out of spells and the Thief's been cursed by some bit of treasure she was trying to steal, they're gonna pull the group's collective ass out of the fire.

Friday, September 18, 2009

We're on a mission from God

Thorkhammer started a thread over on Dragonsfoot that touched on something I had planned to post about here on the blog. He was wondering about how Clerics in Classic D&D manage to heal enough, when Cure Light Wounds only heals an average of 4.5 points per casting, and with Cure Serious being a whopping 4th level spell with an average of 9 points per casting. And that's also without being able to cast bonus spells for high Wisdom, or even any spells at all at 1st level.

Several of us answered to the effect that Clerics AREN'T supposed to be the bandaid. They help when it comes to healing, but consumables (potions and scrolls) as well as good old fashioned retreating to heal up are just as important as having that Cleric around.

Looking at the Cleric's spell list, I love the fact that there are no curative spells of any sort for Clerics in the 2nd spell level, with the possible exception of a reversed Hold Person, but by the book that only works to remove Hold Person spells, not any form of paralysis. Cure Light Wounds does that for ghoul, carrion crawler, or other forms of paralysis. So I really don't think of Free Person as a healing spell so much as a counter-spell. But that may just be me.

As a player of a Cleric, you should love those 2nd level spells. Everyone else may expect to go without Resist Cold, or let the M-U or Elf take Dispel Magic (but since they could sling another Fireball instead they usually don't...) in order to get as many cure wounds spells as possible. And 3rd level spells tend to be reserved for the 'condition' heals to borrow a CRPG term, although you can get away with Striking now and then. 2nd level, though, is where you get to take some spells that you can use during the exploration phase, or to benefit the group during a tough battle in a way besides healing up lost hit points, even if the group demands you perform a walking bandaid function.

I also like the way most of the Cleric spells are arranged in groups that make selections meaningful. Every level, besides the above mentioned 2nd, has some healing magic, some general purpose exploration magic, some protective magic, and now and then something offensive. Because Clerics have access to any spells on the list, the choices they make matter.

And this brings me back to the first point, about Clerics not being the walking bandaid--or at least not during a dungeon exploration. Back when I was a kid, our Clerics rarely maxed out healing spells. They'd maybe have one per level healing for emergencies, and other slots would be filled with other useful spells. When we'd retreat and rest, we'd often specify that we were doing so for 2 days' time. That way, the first day Clerics could max out healing spells, and the second day they could then regain the general mix of healing, protective, and exploratory spells that came in handy.

Clerics just have too many useful spells for exploring dungeons to waste all of them on bandaid spells.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One piece at a time...

...and it didn't cost me a dime. --Johnny Cash

Okay, it has cost a bit of money for the original rules, but thanks to being a teacher, hard copies can be produced at work when no one's looking. What am I talking about?

Well, I've realized lately that I'm slowly piecing together what will be, if I ever follow it to completeness, my own personal retro-clone. Of course, since I'm not intending to publish it for the world at large, it's full of copyrighted stuff (thanks to Frank Mentzer, mostly). But that's more or less what it's becoming.

I started out, when I quit 3.5 and got back to Classic D&D a few years back, just putting together a document of my 'homebrew' classes, which at that time were just retrofitted from level 1 versions of Mentzer's high level option classes--Druid, Paladin, Avenger.

I then toyed around with some options for upping demi-human level limits, but then scrapped it. When I was happy with the three classes above, I thought about adding in some of the AD&D favorites like Rangers and Bards. And I figured that in order to make it easy to see what classes were available in my games, I'd make a document which combined my new classes with the originals.

I couldn't help but tweak the originals, of course. I added in a few special abilities here and there, decided that the four basic human classes should be capped at 20 rather than 36 (21st or 22nd is about the highest I ever got any characters in the long campaign that ran from me getting the Red Box in 84 up through the last college summer break where we broke out the old characters around 94 or so). I doubt I'll get any more 10 year long groups together again, so 20 ought to be high enough.

I rearranged spell tables, added in and tweaked my homebrew classes, and ended up with mostly new classes that either were human but played more or less as a demi-human (dwarf--barbarian, elf--bard, halfling--ranger), or that bridged what would be a multiclass combination in AD&D (half-orc is a fighter/thief, druid is a cleric/magic-user, etc.). Then I tweaked some more.

Currently, because I've created an Illusionist (magic-user/thief) and had to write up a bunch of spells for it, I've been copy/pasting all of the spells from Mentzer, giving them a slight re-write most of the time, and adding it to my big houserule character document.

So if I keep this up, in a few years I may have monsters, treasure tables (more on that in another post, as that's another project I'm already working on which will be for release), and general rules for exploring dungeons and wildernesses, what to do at high levels, and general advice for running a game.

So I'll basically have my D&D. Who knows, if I get ambitious, I may replace Frank's text for OGL text some day, and try to release it. There seems to be some interest in a game that's basically Classic D&D rules, but with AD&D flavor, and that's sorta what I've got here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Gamer Manifesto (of sorts)

Here's why I roleplay, and why I now prefer the older, simpler kinds of D&D over the new, slickly produced versions (my ideas about why I prefer D&D over other RPGs will have to wait).

1. I like to have fun with my friends when I game. I'm not looking to create some amazing story, or some amazingly in depth character, or anything like that. Just have some fun.

2. Older versions of D&D, especially my edition of choice, BECM, are simple games to prepare. In an hour or less I can whip up a 12-15 room dungeon, with monsters, traps, and treasures. And it only takes me an hour because I'm a little rusty with the rules. With 3rd Edition, that one hour would likely have been spent on one or two rooms only (haven't tried DMing 4th, only gave it one play-test as a player so far).

3. In my experience, those older, rules light game systems tend to create more and better roleplaying. If every Fighter is mechanically the same except for Ability scores and magic loot gained, then it's up to the players to roleplay to make the two Fighters distinct. With more 'skillz & powerz' type systems, I've noticed that people tend to distinguish characters by what they do in game, mechanic-wise, rather than by personality.

4. I'm a father and husband, and am currently working 1 full time and 3 part time jobs. I don't have time to mess with rules heavy systems with a ton of splat books coming out all the time. Gimme some short, simple rules that I can tweak to my liking, and I'm good to go.

5. I've got nothing against newer games if I'm a player, but I almost always end up the DM, so I'll stick to the old TSR stuff, with my house rules.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Innaugural Post

Well, this is my first time blogging on my own. Being an old-school gamer, I intend to mainly discuss TSR's versions of D&D or other older games. But I've also got an active board game group that meets weekly, so expect to see me commenting on whatever games we're playing there, as well.

And occasionally, I'll talk about books, films, video games, or other things that I'm interested in, most likely in a way that relates to gaming.

Hopefully you'll enjoy what you read here.