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.