Thursday, September 30, 2010

October! Castlevania!

It'll be October 1 hour from now.*  That means Halloween is coming, and I've got that itch to replay the classic trio of NES Castlevania games. 

When I was a kid, I always loved Halloween more than Christmas.  Not only were the decorations wicked cool (ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, vampires, etc. beat out reindeer, elves, and a fat bearded guy in red), but you got to wear costumes and go around scaring people, and the school Halloween party we had in elementary school always resulted in lots of cool (if cheap) swag.

Then I got into RPGs.  Sorry Santa, you may have beaten the Martians, but the Monsters win the title.

Every October I get that itch to play the Castlevania games.  Something about the original three on the NES just really hit that sweet spot for me.  The first one is uber-tough, the second is not that hard at all, but is just fun to run around the map searching for all the goodies, and the third has a bit of difficulty and also tactical choices about which way to go and which allies to take and when to use them.  Of course, I love Symphony of the Night too, but those 8-bit games are what I think of when I think of Castlevania.  There's a reason I named my blog this way.

I'm also reminded of my success three years ago running Ravenloft (the original module) for my friends in Yamanashi.  That was a fun mini-campaign.  It was meant to be a one (maybe two) shot, but took us 5 sessions, I think.  Strahd won in the end, but it was a lot of fun getting there.

Man, I'm glad it's October!

*yes, this post is basically pointless

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Endless Quest #3: Pillars of Pentegarn

"You are Jaimie, a young villager with a love for the enchanted forest that everyone else fears.  Will you find the secret power that now rules Castle Pentegarn?"  --from the back cover.

Endless Quest Book 3 is another Rose Estes authored tale, and it is a good, solid installment of the series, despite having both major flaws of the EQ series.  The 'you' in the book is an unseasoned kid, and you have not one but TWO talking animal sidekicks (and a treant, but it doesn't get to go on the adventure).

You, as Jaimie, are hanging out in the woods with the cleverly named Fox, Owl and Tree when some goblins happen to come along.  You hide from them, they throw a few spears into Tree and Owl, then go along their merry way chasing a group of adventurers you saw headed for the ruins of Castle Pentegarn.

Problem #1 with the book is that the first choice is not really a choice at all.  Do you wish to warn the adventurers or just go home?  I hate choices like this, as it's obvious that going home will lead to a quick ending.  It's a wasted page and a wasted choice.  I get the feeling Ms. Estes threw it in there just because there are so many pages of introduction before you get to the first real choice of the book.

Anyway, assuming you don't wuss out and run home like a baby, you go to the ruins and meet with kindly but weakling wizard and former king Pentegarn, his burly Fighter Baltek, and sexy Elven Thief Lydia.  You've got to get to the evil Master who rules the ruins (I don't think there's any relation to the Master of the Desert Nomads).  You're given your first real choice--follow Pentegarn's idea to get some powerful magic items, follow Baltek's idea to assault the keep, follow Lydia's idea to sneak up to the tower, or come up with your own idea.

One cool thing about the book is that several times you're given choices to fall back and pick another path if you think it's too dangerous to press on.  This gives the book a bit more of a 'sandbox' feel to it.

Also cool is that you have an actual adventuring party.  And there are several of different 'good' endings which allow for some of the companions to bite the dust along the way.  This contributes to the sandbox feel, and is just cool in general for a kids' book.  And it's very D&D.

The Master has a limited set of monsters at his disposal.  Goblins, Skeletons, Wolves and Bats.  It's on the cover so it's no surprise that there's also an animated dragon skeleton in the ruins as well.  With a limited palette of monsters, they can be a bit repetitive.  Especially as certain paths from different ways will converge, meaning you might end up reading the same encounter multiple times on what started as separate ways through.

Overall, despite its flaws, Pillars of Pentegarn is a good book, and a solid part of the series.  It's not quite as good as Dungeon of Dread, but it has an evocative and interesting setting, a good cast of mixed characters, a somewhat more free-form exploration feel, and some cool situations and ideas to plunder.  On the down side, you've got a child protagonist, two annoying talking animals (who thankfully seem to disappear in certain paths, at least until the ending), and a limited number of monster types to go up against.  I think the best way to use this book as a teaching tool for kids learning to play RPGs is in its value as a mini-sandbox, showing that it's okay to double back, retreat, and try other options.  It also shows some good strategies for tackling dungeons (attack, sneak, magic, or using wits).

Protagonist: A child who can talk to animals, develops some capability as the story progresses.
Sidekicks: A pair of bickering talking animals, one reckless the other dull.
Adventure: Moody and tense in many areas, but somewhat repetitive.
Artwork: Very good.  Elmore cover, and Harry J. Quinn interiors.
Endings: Varied, with multiple good endings.  Some are a little too easy to get to if you make the right choices, however.
Overall: Very Good

What to do when you're not in combat?

First off, I will say that I really like combats in D&D or other RPGs.  They're fun.  They're dangerous.  They're a big part of what many RPGs are about. 

Gunfights on dusty Old West frontier streets or in wretched hives of scum and villainy on your favorite planet.  Duels with rapiers in the Baron's chateau or crossing steel with plundering ogres.  Delivering a solid beat-down to a monstrosity from beyond time and space, or just from the local radioactive forbidden zone. 

They're all a lot of fun.

But that's not all I want from any RPG.  I doubt it is for most people.  So I'm gonna post this as an open question to those of you reading the blog:

As a player, what are your favorite NON-COMBAT aspects of RPGs?
As a DM/GM/Referee, how do you reward non-combat aspects of RPGs?

Please post whatever you feel here.  Any game system, any edition.  Hopefully this will serve as good idea fodder for everyone reading this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Here we go again?

In my A Team post yesterday, Dave commented, "OD&D was mechanically all about combat."

Sorry, Dave.  We've discussed this before, I discussed it here about a year ago, after Dave, Alex, Josh, Pat and I had a talk about it at the Board Game Group.

I emailed Dave a copy of OD&D, so he can have a look (in case he's never seen it).

Anyway, looking at it, I can see all kinds of non-combat mechanics.  First of all, there are social mechanics such as the henchmen/followers rules.  There are the Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma scores.  There are the general equipment items, the majority of which are non-combat related. 

Next, let's look at the spell lists.  Obviously Fighters fight, but what about the Magic-Users and Clerics?

M-U Combat Spells:
Level 1: Protection from Evil, Charm Person, Sleep
3 out of 8, all of them defensive, and with some non-combat applications as well.  Light and Continual Light have not yet been noted as able to blind opponents.

Level 2: Detect Invisible, Levitate, Phantasmal Forces, Invisibility
4 out of 10, with only one directly offensive, and two best used by weak M-Us to get the hell out of the combat!

Level 3: Fly, Hold Person, Dispell Magic, Fire Ball, Lightning Bolt, Pro. Evil 10' Radius, Invisibility 10' Radius, Slow Spell, Haste Spell, Protection from Normal Missiles
10 out of 14.  Well, 3rd level has always been the combat spell level.  Still, quite a few of these are defensive and/or have useful non-combat or avoid-combat applications.

Level 4: Polymorph Self, Polymorph Other, Confusion, Charm Monster
4 out of 12, although the Wall spells and Growth of Plants could be used in combat, possibly, but they're really escape spells IMO.

Level 5: Hold Monster, Conjure Elemental, Animate Dead, Magic Jar, Cloudkill, Feeblemind, Growth of Animals
7 out of 14, although again some wall spells, Transmute rock to mud, and a few others could serve get out of jail free purposes in combat, and some of the above could be used for non-combat purposes.

Level 6: Invisible Stalker, Anti-Magic Shell, Death Spell, Disintegrate
4 out of 12, again with Invisible Stalker and Disintegrate having some useful non-combat applications, and clever use of a few of the non-directly offensive/defensive spells being used in a combat.

That leaves an awful lot of spells that aren't intended for combat purposes, and there are mechanics for their resolution.  I'll do the Cleric spells and some other bits later, as I've got to get ready for work.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The A-Team and the B-Team

No, I'm not talking about Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and B.A.

This is an idea I had when I was planning the Maritime Campaign.  It comes from a lot of complaints of newer gamers, or those older gamers who've moved on in 'RPG game design' to the newer models.  There's that idea that if combat is a big part of RPGs, then every character should be good in combat.* 

4E of course tried to make everyone nearly identical in combat, to mixed (IMO) results. 

And of course there are skill challenges where again everyone is supposed to be able to contribute.

So nobody's ever supposed to be bored during the game.

The criticism leveled against older systems, both class & level games like D&D, and skill based systems is that some characters are good at combat, others are good at out-of-combat challenges.  And the players playing one type are supposedly bored during the encounter that isn't tailor made for their character.

Well, while I don't find this to actually be true in practice, there are plenty of players out there who do believe it.

So here's an idea:

Players each run 2 characters.  One is made to be a combatant.  The other is made to be useful in exploration, social situations, or other non-combat situations (as the genre allows).  They all go along in a party, but in combat the (assuming D&D) Fighters, battle-Clerics, stabbity Thieves, and blaster-Magic-Users step up and tackle the challenge.

The rest of the time, those characters take a back seat as the rest of the characters explore, look for traps, make deals with the gnoll tribe to attack the owlbear enclave together, and puzzle out the mystic runes to close the Gate to the Elemental Plane of Water.

So everyone's got two characters, which can hurt immersion for some players, and stretch credibility for those who want a logical story, but at least from a gamist perspective, everyone's got something to do all the time (if you can't figure out how to make your character useful when there's nothing written on your character sheet for you to riff off of...)

*I really don't think this is needed, but here it is as an idea for those who do need it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Random Weekend Stuff

It's Sunday night here, I'm a little bit sick, and fairly stressed out about some work stuff.  But I figured I should post a bit anyway.

Got a double-shot of Sigurd-esque dragonslaying today.  I finished reading The Children of Hurin, and finally got around to watching The Barbarians.

For those of you who maybe don't know, Sigurd is the hero of the Volsungasaga, the Icelandic version of the German Nibelungenlied (made famous by Wagner's opera).   It's about how Sigurd slays the dragon Fafnir, takes his cursed treasure, then gets involved with valkyries, a pair of brothers who covet the treasure and the valkyrie, and even Attila the Hun.  It's one of those stories I think should be on an Appendix N type reading list.  Good fodder for any gamer.

Anyway, watching the Barbarians, I'm reminded of how cool the character called Dirtmaster is.  Just look at this guy.

Dirtmaster will definitely have to appear as an NPC sometime soon in a game I run.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Experience Points: Random thought

Reading Paladin in Citadel this morning, and the piece from ChattyDM he links to, and I had a random thought.

Haven't fully thought through all the ramifications, but here it is.

To encourage old school dungeon exploration as the default play mode (in ANY edition, including 4E) of Dungeons & Dragons, drop XP for monsters completely.  Only give XP for gold.  Then use the Arneson idea that characters only get that XP for gold when they fritter it away on wine, women & song, or commissioning a giant statue of themselves in the town square, or otherwise getting rid of that gold in a non-productive way.

Instantly, you've taken away the desire to be uber-combat machines (sure, leveling makes you better at combat, but it also makes you better at surviving traps and hazards of a dungeon to get to that loot).  You've shown the players they need to be clever and cautious when exploring (to avoid combats and traps, and to discover all the secret hiding places where treasure lurks).  Use something like my Keystone Treasure idea, and you've given the characters concrete goals to work towards while exploring a dungeon or wilderness area.  Finally, using the Arneson rule for XP for gold wasted adds a level of interesting roleplay, as players get to define their characters by how they use that loot they've worked so hard to drag out of the dark places of the earth.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Game Snobs

Raggi's talking about how plenty of gamers can and do sit down and enjoy many types of games.  There's nothing inherent in 4E D&D or Exalted or Sorcerer that prevents you from also enjoying OD&D or Pendragon or Traveller (and vice versa, of course).  Just like people can enjoy both chess and checkers.  Or bridge and five card stud.  Or Twilight Imperium and Candyland.  (OK, that last one might be a stretch...)


I know a few, and I know of many gamers who are game snobs.  One guy here in my Board Game Group refuses to play RPGs, and hates any sort of board game like Risk, where almost everything hinges on the luck of the dice.  A friend in Japan couldn't stand older D&D, but loved 3E and 4E (and is into tournament Magic: The Gathering, something I can't stand, although a casual game now and then is fine).

I agree with Raggi that we shouldn't cater to players of other games/editions when we're introducing our favorite games/editions to them.  You wouldn't try to come up with some house rules for Clue to make it more like Settlers of Catan just because one person really likes Settlers and has never tried Clue.  The same should hold true for RPGs.

We just need to accept, though, that some people -- for whatever reasons -- will just flat out refuse to try certain games (or refuse to like them if they do grudgingly try them).  Accept it, find someone else to play with, and move on.

Endless Quest #1: Dungeon of Dread

"You are Caric!  A brave knight in a world where dragons roam!"  So says the back cover of what would become Endless Quest book #1.

Interestingly, before I get to the review, I've got a 1982 2nd printing, and the ad in the back for the EQ series lists this one third.  Pillars of Pentagarn is first, then Mountain of Mirrors, DoD, and finally Return to Brookmere.

As the "first" book in the series, I have to say that this book gets the series off to a good start.  Written by Rose Estes, one of the more prolific EQ authors, our hero Caric is a seasoned adventurer and a fairly clever one too.  He is of course joined by the cowardly Halfling Laurus, who serves as the annoying sidekick there to teach kids a lesson about bravery (maybe that guy in the X-Files read this book?).

The annoying sidekick does get better in some paths within the book, though, as Caric teaches Laurus how to be an adventurer.  Laurus stops whining and starts kicking some ass later in the book.  So all in all, that's not a huge hindrance in the story.  There are worse offenders in later books.

I think that DoD shines as an example of clever ways to outwit opponents without having to go toe to toe.  Our hero Caric enters the dungeon armed only with a sword, dagger (which he gives to Laurus), and a shield.  No armor, no equipment.  Well, he was just passing through and wasn't planning on raiding a dungeon.  So, as a seasoned D&D player might expect, quite often if you choose to go into battle in this book, you die.  Most of the time if you defeat a monster, it's done by wits. 

Of course, part of this is because these are a series of books for children.  They don't get too graphic in any of the violence they do show.  But it IS based on D&D, so of course fighting monsters is a big part of the book.

Another plus to DoD is that it showcases a LOT of monsters.  Gargoyle, a bugbear, lots of giant insects, a dragon, a minotaur, a basilisk, and of course the water weird.  There are also lots of encounters showing what a bastard Kalman the evil wizard is. 

Of course, the dungeon itself is fairly unmappable.  I tried it once as a kid, and there were so many crisscrossing lines the map was hard to read.  Part of this is because the book is really divided into two parts (simulating two dungeon levels, but as a kid I tried mapping it as one).  In the first section, all roads lead to death or the water weird room (with maybe one or two exits from the mountain).  In the second part, you get death, an early exit, or else make it to the big showdown with Kalman, which is fairly well written and exciting.

The final thing I really like about DoD is that, as I just mentioned above, there are some endings that aren't victories but mere survivals.  Caric and Laurus exit the mountain, often with some small bit of treasure, and a desire to use that wealth to fund a real expedition to clean out the mountain.

Overall, while the writing is for kids, and Laurus can be annoying as a sidekick (plus Ms. Estes seemed to be unsure whether he was a Classic D&D Halfling class, or an AD&D Halfling Thief but that's beside the point), the encounters are varied and the solutions to them are clever more often than violent.  As an intro to the series, and as a tool for teaching kids about clever dungeoneering, this book succeeds. 

Protagonist: Cool, competent adult
Sidekick: Mildly annoying
Adventure: Evocative
Artwork: Excellent (Elmore cover, Holloway interiors)
Endings: Varied
Overall: Excellent

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More on Beleriand as a setting

I posted about my desire to run a D&D game set in Middle Earth during the 1st Age, when the great kingdoms of the Noldor and Sindar, plus the allied Houses of the Edain and occasionally the Dwarves faced off against the monstrous hordes of Morgoth.

There are some changes to the rules necessary to better simulate the feel of Tolkien. As my buddy Dave mentioned, Elves especially are a LOT more powerful--or at least the ones that play any sort of part in the stories. Also, there are lots of monsters that don't fit the bill, and the big problem of the flashy spells like Fire Ball and the like.

Well, here are a few ideas (mostly things that have been said before by others on Dragonsfoot or other places like that, but they're worth repeating):

1. Stick to the 81 Moldvay/Cook/Marsh BX books. Humans top out at 14th level, Dwarves at 12th, Elves at 10th, and Halflings at 8th.
2. Magic-Users are a monster type--servants of Morgoth, not something PCs can use.
3. Elves use Cleric spells rather than M-U spells, but retain their normal spellcasting ability (1 spell at 1st level).
4. Clerics lose their weapon restriction, and are used as an 'Elf Friend' class--Humans with Elven upbringing (but are restricted, like Elves, to 5th level spells at best).
5. Restrict monsters to things that appear in Tolkien's writings, plus giant animals and insects.

I think these five rules could actually do the job nicely. Certainly most Elves are more powerful than most Humans, but this can be easily modeled using the Normal Man rules, whereas every Elf is at least a 1st level Character. Many Elves that will be encountered will be higher than 1st level (or a single high level Elf will have many lower level underlings, similar to the way an Evil High Priest gets some lower level flunkies). There are a few rare exceptions where Humans gain more power or ability than any Elf--Turin and Beren are the best examples.

Plus, without the Magic-User available as a PC option, that cuts down quite a bit on the power levels Humans can attain (without serving the Enemy).

So in other words, PCs start low level in a world with plenty of high level (mostly Elf) characters, and need to work their way up. If they do, the lucky and well-played Humans can potentially outclass the great and powerful Elves, but it will take a long time and a lot of work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Megadungeon Random Encounters

I've just finished (well, I'll likely tweak it from time to time, especially once play begins to keep things from getting stale) a personalized modification of the Mentzer dungeon wandering monster charts for my own game.

It all fits on a single (A4, watch out Americans) page, has encounters for my above ground ruins (Outer Works and Keep), as well as Dungeon levels 1-10, and separate sub-tables for human types (to get more monsters on the tables), dragons, and oddities (random magical effects, traps, etc.). It's also got a little sub-table for motivations for creatures (hunting, slaving, returning to lair, etc.) and NPC party strength (how beat up are they, how many spells and magic items have they exhausted)

Download it here or from my sidebar.

Implied Setting Details: Green Slime

Green Slime has been regarded by many as less of a monster and more of a hazard given hit points. But in Classic D&D it has a movement rate--extremely slow, but it does move. And more telling, it has a Morale score of 7 in Mentzer D&D*.

If it can break and run, or at least stop attacking, it's not a hazard like a pool of lava or a fountain of acid that looks like water.

*Morale is 12 in Moldvay Basic, but it can move. OD&D, Holmes and AD&D all list it as immobile, and don't list Morale scores. Is Mentzer a typo? Don't know, but I think I like the implications of Green Slime breaking morale.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Riddles and Puzzles

Thinking about the sorts of riddles and puzzles I'd like to include in my megadungeon. Gygax (and maybe Arneson as well?) was fond of math and logic puzzles, and of course puns. I'd likely use some of those.

But my background in English means I'll also use lots of language based (non-pun) riddles, and allusions to literary works. For example, kennings from Beowulf or the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlusson. References to Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets. Trivia from Geoffrey of Monmouth, Edith Hamilton or Sir Thomas Malory.

I'm envisioning 'puzzles' where, for example, there's a pit or shaft descending deep into the earth. Above it, carved in stone, is the phrase "Aegeus saw the black sails." If you just take a leap of faith and dive in (as Aegeus did when he saw Theseus's ship return with black sails), a featherfall effect will take you safely to the bottom, where there's some swank treasure or a secret passage past a nasty encounter or something like that.

Or maybe a map leads to a secret door, and has a kenning like "The warriors crossed the whale-road, carrying bright war brands." Draw your sword and splash some salt water on the door to get it to open.

Might be a bit more interesting than the typical "3 gallon and 5 gallon jugs, place 4 gallons of water on the scale to open the door/defuse the bomb" type puzzles.

Another game I'd like to run someday

Scott over at Huge Ruined Pile is going through a very cool thought experiment to create a campaign starting with only the Moldvay 81 Basic Set, B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and the inspirational reading in the back of the book at first, only adding Cook/Marsh Expert (and other resources) when a character reaches 4th level.

It reminded me of this idea my friend Steve came up with that we never got to play. Unfortunately, his company decided to move him back to the States before we got it off the ground, and there went the Ebisu Gaming Group.

Anyway, I don't think Steve will mind me posting this here. It's long, but it's got some good stuff in it.

November 28, 2006
Steven Stewart January Game Day Pitch –starting point
Inspired by Rich Forest/Ben Lehman’s post on the Forge ( under actual play. Loose setting that follows the Rules as Written for Moldvay ’81 Edition of Classic DnD Basic and Expert. The setting will be created in play by both the players and the GM. Primarily inspiration for the setting is based on teasing interesting setting details from the rules themselves. Here is the process that Rich told me from an email from him,
1) establish a core point of reference (D&D Moldvay ’81 or ’83 edition)
2) establish a setting detail (arcane magic = evil)
3) play
4) notice setting detail in play (hey, we've never seen X, or only seen X)
5) search for an explanation.
6) viola, new setting detail! (New point of reference)

Now here is where it starts to get a bit interesting. Based on this process when we start with level 1 characters, it instantly gives the goals of the characters, get lots of loot. However, a big point of difference between DnD and DnD 3.0/3.5 is that most of the rewards “XP’s” is from the actual gold itself, very little from the actual act of killing monsters. Gold = Victory Points.

But wait what if I don’t want to play a tomb raider? Well here is the kicker, like in the post we use the old Judges Guild Rules from First Fantasy Campaign, where you don’t get XP for gold until you spend it, and spend it on non-equipment (i.e. buying a magic sword no, spending money on beautifying your armor that you already have – yes). It will be your choice on how you spend it, and that of course is the context for “victory” in the game. It is also the point where you can start to develop the character in the classic lit sense of character development, what you choose to burn gold for tells the other players at the table a lot about how you see the character.

Following Rich’s example as well the players contribute directly to the setting details, so we will keep a setting log sheet as we play for what gets ratified. Also, what you choose not to play will become just as important as what you choose to play (e.g. in Rich’s game no one played an arcane spellcaster, therefore Arcane spell knowledge is evil).

Now the Creative Agenda can’t be realized except through play, but this is what I am pitching in regards to what our priorities are at the game table. I think the creative agenda for the play of this game could be threefold, but can be summed up by “explore the setting and characters through the system” or “discover who the character is through play rather than explore the situation by an established preordained character”. In case it is not already a given, since this pitch starts with basic DnD the first adventures will start outside the entrance of the Dungeon, all the traveling between towns and stuff is not “in game”. That comes later when we get to expert.

1) At its heart “gamist”, meaning that the fun comes from facing a challenge and overcoming it. The context for victory is of course your (XP = gold). How you measure that “step on up” is upto the players, one might like the creative ad hocing to avoid combats, while others enjoy the strategy challenge of overcoming a foe. The other context for victory in this edition is not just in maximizing character effectiveness (i.e. how you play your character’s skills/feats/powers), but also in how you as a player deal with the challenges through negotiation with the DM. There will be a lot of “ad hoc” negotiation at the table for overcoming obstacles, so the game really revolves around (A) trying to come up with a way to get the gold without putting yourself in danger (B) knowing when gamble on the dice when (A) lets you down.

2) All games are about exploring the shared creative space, but this one I see stressing two aspects – setting and more importantly setting in the context of the rules as written, as well as character development. Basically character creation in Basic DND is a cinch (more on this later) there are three decision points (what class am I playing, what alignment am I, what equipment do I choose to bring with me). So I don’t envision a lot of backstory, basically just one or two sentences for each character as to who they are, and why they are together. Then through the constraints of (A) the rules (B) the fact that you are a “party” (C) the situations they find themselves in and actual play – you create the character personality and development along the way.

3) WARNING: this requires a few things upfront, the most important is that neither the GM nor the players develop an elaborate backstory, or an unbreakable vision regarding who or what they will become. That is not to say that you can ‘t have ideas of what we as players want, but we should be prepared for actual play to alter that outcome. We should stop and discuss when we think this happening and get everyone on the same page before moving on.

So in summary the social reward is overcoming obstacles, and the story itself is formed from these events and give the basic context for victory. There will of course be a lot of “exploration” going on as well, in terms of the setting (asking questions about why is that this way?) and characters (I wonder why “character x likes to spend all his money on wine women and song” and “character B tithes all his money to the church” – what is the common bond between them that keeps them together?).

Personally, I don’t see the above as negative constraints, but rather positive constraints. So point four of the proposed creative agenda is:
4) The reward of coming up with interesting ways to rationalize x to y, and have that make good sense and an interesting story. i.e. don’t see this group working as a “party” as a negative story obstacle, but an opportunity to come up with something cool.

I would propose to use the ’81 Basic DND edition, provided it is available, failing that falling back to the boxed sets of ’83 (which I believe Dennis has). I propose the following for character creation:
(1) Use ad hoc negotiation between player and DM when possible for things outside the rules. If discussion goes on too long, then roll dice. Generally this will be an attribute check according to the rules as written. This part of the fun of the game, the game gives the freedom to do what makes sense. Mostly “roleplaying” rules will be handled by the actual players (i.e. bluff is not a roll of the dice but the player actually trying to come up a reasonable bluff that the NPC will buy). DM will make every attempt to reward creative roleplaying. Ad Hoc may take the form of
saving throws as well as attributes. Remember a saving throw is basic DND is “you should’ve been hosed but this gives a chance of a mulligan” not the “reactive stat” that it is DnD 3.5.
(2) Slight modification on the rules as written. Players can generate 4 sets of 3d6 as per the rules, meaning in order. They can off course use the attribute swap contained within the rules. They take whatever two they want to make a character. We will be using the rerolling 1-2 rules for 1st level hitpoints, so each character will start with a minimum of 3.
(3) Every two levels the character can raise an attribute by one to a maximum of 18. This would mean each player is playing two characters. That means you get an attribute point at 3rd level, 5th level, 7th level, 9th level. Once you reach name level you no longer get the attribute bonus. So over the course of your adventuring career you can get 4 more attribute points.
(4) Use the rules from First Fantasy Campaign, gold is only converted to XP when a character spends it. We will keep track of what (generally you spend it on). What you spend it on will impact some ad hoc interpretations according to the rules (e.g. if you spend it on wine women and fair weather friends, in many social situations you can bring that up, if you spend on it tithing to the church it can show your character is religiously devout). (Eventually in ADnD the training rules would appear, but I like this version a lot better, gives the player a lot more freedom for character development).
(5) Meld the weapon rules, so while we use the (optional) rule for different damage for different weapons (base DnD just used D6 for all weapons), no weapon will be below a D6. This is due to the leathal nature of Basic DnD.
(6) Players may be asked to justify how their actions are in accord with their alignment, but not constrained by that, in the spirit of the gamist agenda, alignment won’t restrict you, but is more an “indicator” of your character. The DM may ask you to change your alignment if they perceive your alignment is not in accord with your actions.
(7) (Note sure about this one) In terms of some NPC interactions, some groups will only speak with a leader, the person in the party with the highest charisma is the automatically the leader.
(8) (Note sure about this one) Intelligence bonus gives you a “secondary skill”. This is some profession that you know like “scholar”, “trapper”, “armorer” or whatever that helps in ad hoc discussions.
(9) When a character dies, (as will happen depending on how much risk you are willing to take), the next character will be based on however much XP already banked the previous character had. Additionally, the DM can choose to give that player an extra roll for hitpoints and take the highest one for that character. For each level, the player writes a sentence or two regarding that character (but no more than that – generally how did they get there and what did they spend their gold on).
(10) Fudge Points – I won’t fudge dice, instead what I will do is put a number of counters in the middle of the table equal to the number of characters. This is a pool for the “party”. Players can spend a fudge point to allow someone to reroll a die during the game (it can be a DM roll or a player roll, any roll whether that is initiative, surprise, morale, damage, to hit, etc.). This doesn’t take the gamble out of the game, but helps take out some of the sting.

(1) For the NPC’s I would suggest using the actual details from the character classes. For example, someone who fought in a war is a veteran,(this also means most lords are name level). I will look up what level a veteran fighter is, and so on. In practice, most dungeons will be “as per the rules for the party level”. That means I will try to pull stuff off the charts that correspond. But please remember that this stuff is all deadly in this game. It is not set up like DnD 3.5 which is based on attrition, in this game a single roll can (and will) kill your character. The nice thing is a character takes about 10-15 minutes to make.
(2) All rolls will be made in the open, this is I trust that everyone can separate themselves outside their character good enough that if you fail your find traps roll you can separate character knowledge from player knowledge. If you don’t think you like that, or it binds the gamist agenda too much into a sim agenda, then I will roll the dice in secret if you wish. But combat roles will be made in the open.
(3) Ratification of setting facts. As much as possible, I would encourage discussion about setting stuff between GM’s and players, and group ratification. I suggest we use the threshold of credibility rule, which basically says everyone has to buy into it. However, also we understand that there are some things the DM is going to have to do in the game to make up the challenges, some of these won’t require ratification (e.g. I’m not going to ask if it is ok to put skeletons in the dungeon, I will just put them there, what we can do is discuss in a group why you think they are there) but some of them will (such as the fact that there is a dungeon here, and the nature of the dungeon itself).
(4) History etc, will be given through NPCs and Books, therefore it is subject to some change as it is a perspective, not cold hard fact (e.g. a priest may have a world creation myth, but an ancient book contains a different one, which one is right? Who knows).
(5) We can take breaks and discuss, at least one break halfway through the day where we go around the table to discuss (A) setting facts (B) things that are bothering a person (C) how we can make things better.
(6) Based on what Pete is saying, I think we can make this a long term game. So we can work it towards expert pretty fast, but I do think we should start at first level. I will do everything I can to advance us quickly through the lower levels (probably by adding 200% treasure to the first dungeons.
I would propose to use following interesting tidbits to build the proto-setting.
(A) Common – everybody speaks it, why? This implies something about the political structure
(B) Strongholds and Namelevel – When a character reaches namelevel they can start to build a castle or stronghold or some type (thieves guild, temple, wizards tower, castle, or demi-human stronghold). This implies something about the social and political structure of the kingdom?
(C) Only humans have clerics, and elves and humans have arcane magic, but humans can’t wear armor and cast spells and use swords, but elves can. (implying at some level something about magic and differences between humans and elves)
(D) Clerics all have the same spell list and have to prove themselves to their god before they receive magic, and have the same taboos, but can be of any alignment. Turning undead is a big part of being a cleric. Clerics can’t use bladed weapons, but are clearly warriors. This implies something about religion, myth, and the church.
(E) There are a lot of unexplored places that have lots of treasure in them (and with the 200% rule for beginning treasure even more so). This implies something as to the history of the world, why are there so many dungeons and such around?.
I think these 5 points can easily build two to three paragraphs of setting material. Again I don’t think we want pages upon pages, just a few facts to start that we ratify as a group. I have some ideas of what these mean, but I want to hear what you guys think first.
Last thing, what kind of dungeon do you guys want? Or do you want that after we are making up the character? By dungeon type I am talking about color, it is an ancient elven tomb, is it an abandoned castle, is it a humanoid stronghold, it is abandoned dwarven mine (moria!), barrows of ancient dead kings, something alien and bizarre that just appeared overnight, a your call. Tell me what you want and that will be the first dungeon and the first bit of established fact that will allow us to riff off into more setting relationships.

Ok, so that is the pitch, I think I have hammered out what the game is about, but maybe not. Interested in (A) do you think this sounds like fun to play out as a group (B) if yes, any specific points that make you go “ugh…I don’t like that or any points that make you go “wow, way cool”

Finally before writing off the system please check out this post and this webpage: especially the bit about thief skills

I think this game pitch is a desire to try and hit everyone’s priorities (note some of these are at the technique level but seem important based on the emails so far) (A) context for victory and winning and an opportunity for winning to be acknowledged (B) opportunity to emphasize exploration of setting and character, more importantly pulling the story out of a single person’s hands and into the group (I think we all liked making up a setting together) (C) context onto which people make their decisions regarding what is most important to them (through how they spend gold for XP) (D) small social frintprint (E) potential for long-term campaign (F) removing the skill roll as a mechanism for determining every outcome (G) Fantasy setting.

Finally if for some reason this is not what the group wants, I would suggest that a similar type of pitch be made by other players with the same level of though into “what is this game”, including as a minimum the type of characters, the emphasis of the game and creative agenda, and the “system” not just the rules but the whole thing about roles of players at the table for the game. I have absolutely no problem if the group says, no I don’t want to play that, I know they aren’t banging on me, but rather saying that particular games doesn’t sound like fun.

I'm not sure if those links of Steve's are active. This was written nearly 4 years ago, and I know Robert Fisher isn't using that old infogami site anymore. The Forge stuff may be long gone as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Fun

After two long days working overtime at the radio station, plus the new netbook arriving and me needing to set it up (getting rid of Windows and going with Ubuntu), I don't even have much time to think about RPGs.

I need a break, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite Babycakes videos, all about RPGs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The man in black fled across the desert...

...and the gunslinger followed.

If you're like me, and you're a fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower books, you likely heard this news already. They're making it into a series of both films and TV series.

While they don't need me to tell them what to do, here's how I'd actually break it all down:

1st Feature Film: Cover events in The Gunslinger
1st Season TV: Cover The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands, plus the beginning of Wizard and Glass (up to the big palaver)
2nd Feature Film: Cover Roland's past from Wizard and Glass and the showdown with Flagg
2nd Season TV: Cover Wolves of the Calla, Song of Suzannah, and the first part of The Dark Tower (up to the raid on Algul Siento)
3rd Feature Film: Conclude The Dark Tower

That would cut and condense a lot of stuff, but it seems to me like a better way to break it up than what's suggested in the article I lined to above (which seems to say The Waste Lands would be the 2nd movie, and Wizard and Glass would be the 2nd TV season, with the final three books crammed into the final movie).

Anyway, if anyone working on this project happens to come across this blog, you're welcome to the idea.

Funny what a change to the definite article will do

You've likely seen my Unique Magic Weapons documents over on the right side of the screen. Some of you have even downloaded them and given me a small amount of praise for them. Thanks, by the way!

Using them, plus this awesome idea from Netherworks, the Old School Heretic, plus the definite article, and magic items become a whole lot cooler.

Using my documents, weapons armor and wands/staves/rods become unique items with a bit of personalized flair.

Using Netherworks' idea, scrolls and potions if you extend it to them, become a bit more mysterious and fun.

Then where does the definite article come in?

Simple. For Miscellaneous Magic Items (and Rings until I get around to making a Unique Magic Rings document), simply add the article "the" to the front of the name, and never drop more than one of each item in the campaign, and they get valued as well.

The Bag of Holding is much more important to have than 'a bag of holding.'

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Endless Quest books

I've got a small collection of TSR's old Endless Quest books. I'm thinking I'll do a little review series of them, both as books for kids and as fodder for RPG games.

Anyway, two things to note--first off, I was not too surprised to see on that WotC tried to bring them back a couple years ago. Also not surprised that despite hanging out in gaming circles, and having an elementary school librarian for a mother, I heard NOTHING of this until today. Good old WotC (It's a sport for your brain/Zee game eez steel zee same) marketing.

Secondly, I just ordered Dragon of Doom, Return to Brookmere, Revolt of the Dwarves, Raid on Nightmare Castle, The Endless Catacombs, Mountain of Mirrors, and Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons from a used vendor. $4 a pop, not too bad. That'll double my collection. (Thanks to libraries and borrowing from friends, I have read some of these before, but don't remember much.)

Endless Quest books, like the Choose Your Own Adventure books that inspired them, have some failings. Not that they're written for kids.
#1 was that the protagonists are almost always children. When I was a kid, I really loved the books, but I always liked the ones where "you" were a competent adult rather than some meddling kid.
#2 were all the moralizing Jimminy Cricket talking animal/worthless halfling/whatever sidekicks. Sure, these are for kids, but do we really need heavy handed morality plays? I think not. Again, when we were kids a common review of one of these books was "it was cool, except for the talking muskrat."

On the good side, usually threats are dealt with creatively, rather than through brute force. Sometimes the brute force carries the day, but other times it leads to one of those bad endings.

Another adventure to download

Getting pretty busy these days. Next week is the Korean harvest festival Chuseok, so we're doing lots of recording at the radio station, plus family matters to take care of. So posting may be light.

Anyway, I've put up another old adventure in the downloads section, "Under the Hillfort Ruins."

It's an Elven tomb complex, with quite a few tricks/traps, and not so many monsters.

It was written for 3.5 D&D, but it's really just a rough skeleton of an adventure. This was for a game on RPOL, so I never really fleshed out the rooms until the characters got to them because of the slow pace.

Anyway, it should be pretty easy for anyone to just ignore all the talk of skill DCs and Challenge Ratings if you need a nice little low-level site to explore and drop into your campaign. Some assembly required. I gave it a quick read-through, and I'm not sure if I put all my ideas for it on paper (well, electrons...) but hopefully there's enough that you can figure it out or just make up your own.

The map is not mine, I got it from some internet site with lots of maps to download. Sorry whoever it was that created it, I really can't remember where I got it. If you ever see this blog, let me know and I'll be happy to credit you. Enjoy my hastily photoshopped additions to mark certain areas for the adventure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Barbarians

Last night I downloaded* the 1987 campy fantasy movie The Barbarians. Haven't rewatched it yet, but as with the Allan Quatermain movies, I know it's crap but I sure had fun watching it when I was young.

Mostly what I remember are the weird gypsy circus freaks that the twins grew up with, gladiatorial combat with the helmeted oppressors, brooding & cackling villain, sexy thief chick along with the barbarian brothers, and borrowing Sigurd's dragonslaying technique (can't fault them there, Tolkien also borrowed it).

Yeah, I'm a fan of campy B cinema. There's a reason movies like Conan the Destroyer or Van Helsing end up in my DVD collection.

*the movie's never been released on DVD, if it were I'd have bought it. If it ever is released, I likely WILL buy it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Demons, Devils, and Infernal Nasties

For my Classic D&D games, I wanted to include the 'lower planar' baddies, but didn't want to just copy the AD&D mold. Sure, I can use the AD&D demons, devils and daemons if I want. But it's nice to have a generic option to fall back on.

Here's my write-ups for the Imp, Devil, Demon and Balrog. Yes, I use ascending AC and attack bonuses. You can easily switch it back to descending on your own, I'm sure. My XP awards also use the OD&D 100xp per HD, plus a bonus of 50 for each asterix or bonus hit points for normal monsters, but dragons, giants and fiends get a bonus of 100 for each of the above. Again, if you want Greyhawk inspired XP awards, you can do the math on your own.

Fiends are creatures from other planes that exist to plague, corrupt or destroy. They are sometimes summoned by Chaotic high level Magic-Users or Clerics. Fiends can only be damaged by spells or magical weapons.


Armor Class: 14

Hit Dice: 1*

Move: 60 (20)

Fly: 120 (40)

Att: 2 claws (+1) or spell

Damage: 1d4/1d4/by spell

No. Appearing: 1d8 (2d6)

Save As: M2

Morale: 6

Treasure Type: O

Alignment: C

XP Value: 300

Imps: Imps are 2' tall winged, clawed humanoid figures with ugly features, and gray or black skin. They delight in pulling pranks, and sometimes serve powerful wizards. Imps may use the following spells 3 times per day each: darkness, cause fear, magic missile.


AC: 16

HD: 4**

Move: 120 (40)

Fly: 180 (60)

Att: 1 wpn (+4) or spell

Dmg: by weapon/by spell

NA: 1d6 (1d6)

Save: M8

Morale: 8

Treasure Type: B

Al: C

XPV: 700

Devils: Devils are human-sized winged creatures with goat feet and barbed tails. They have small horns atop their heads, and their skin is typically red. They love to tempt and corrupt mortals into committing evil acts. They favor tridents and polearms in combat. Devils may use the following spells 3 times per day each: charm person, ESP, invisibility, phantasmal force, hold person, curse.


Armor Class: 18

Hit Dice: 6+1**

Move: 90 (30)

Flying: 180 (60)

Att: 2 claws, 1 bite, or breath (+7)

Damage: 2d4/2d4/2d8/3d6

No. Appearing: 1d4+1 (1d4)

Save As: M12

Morale: 10

Treasure Type: F

Alignment: C

XP Value: 1000

Demons: Demons are 8' tall winged humanoids with diseased goat, ram, or serpent heads, and goat feet. Their skin is green to brown. Demons love only destroying, rending, or killing. Demons can breathe a gout of flame 20' long by 5' wide (Save vs. Dragon Breath for ½) that they may use at will. Demons may use the following spells once per day: cause disease, magic jar, teleport.


AC: 20

HD: 10***

Move: 60 (20)

Flying: none

Att: 2 weapons (+10)

Dmg: 2d6/2d4+entangle

NA: 1 (1d6)

Save: M20

Morale: 10

Treasure Type: G

Alignment: C

XPV: 1400

Balrogs: Balrogs are 15' tall vaguely humanoid beings made of shadow and flame. They have wings of shadow, which do not allow them to fly. Balrogs attack with swords and whips made of flames. If the whip hits, it can entangle (Save vs. Death Ray at -2 avoids). The balrog can immolate its body once per day, causing 3d6 damage to all those within 5' of it. This lasts for 5 rounds. Those entangled in the whip can automatically be drawn into the flames. Balrogs can use the following spells once per day: continual darkness, dispel magic, death spell.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Experience Points

A little while back, my buddy Dave brought up a very good point that cuts across nearly all editions of D&D.

Why do we get experience points for defeating monsters and looting treasure? (Certain newer editions only for the defeating monsters part.)

If I'm a Cleric, how does lugging gold out of a hole in the ground make me better at turning undead?
If I'm a Fighter, how does finding a diamond make me better at sticking things with my sword?
If I'm a Magic-User, how does throwing flaming oil make me better at casting spells?
If I'm a Thief, how does beating up kobolds make me better at opening locks or finding traps?

It's pretty illogical.

2E (which, I believe, Dave started with), used a system where only warriors got XP for combat, spell-casters for spells, and only thieves for using thief skills or finding loot. It makes sense from the perspective of real life, where practice makes perfect.

It's also a pain in the ass to track.

And it's ALSO also illogical from a game perspective.

If I'm a Cleric, why should I waste time battling anything besides undead? And once I've got spells (assuming a Classic game where there are no Cleric spells at 1st level), why would I go off to dungeons when I can get XP just for going around town healing the sick or purifying the slum's water every day?

If I'm a Magic-User, again, why risk my weak ass down in some ruins when I can just set up shop selling my services, and gain XP for translating documents with Read Languages and hauling loads with Floating Disk?

If I'm a Thief, as above, why risk my fragile self battling dragons when I get XP for sneaking around town, breaking and entering, and fencing the goods?

At least with the Fighter, there's some incentive to actually adventure. It's less legally questionable and more lucrative to battle monsters than townsfolk (although if there's a war, an enemy soldier is less likey to be able to turn you to stone or fry you to a crisp with his breath).

So the 2E approach is realistic, in some ways, but it's really just as illogical. D&D is an ADVENTURE game. Sitting around getting XP for casting Plant Growth on Farmer John's squash patch isn't very adventurous. Also, if everyone's got all these various things they need to do each adventure to advance, you get what the Forge folks call incoherent play. The party doesn't want to work together, everyone's out to do their thing first and foremost.

The simple XP system of some XP for monsters, a lot of XP for loot works because it's something everyone in the party has a vested interest in (getting the loot is good no matter who you are), and it spurs creative, adventurous, cooperative play.

Getting a Netbook soon

I got a final tax refund from Japan last week. Yea! Part of the money we're gonna use to purchase a netbook. As of yesterday's shopping/web browsing, looks like we've settled on a Samsung NT N210. Nothing fancy, but from all reports and my own perusal, it's got a big enough keyboard, long battery life, and the matte screen cuts down on glare.

Anyway, how does this have anything to do with gaming? Well, it means I'll be able to take it just about anywhere, so I can finally get back to work on Flying Swordsmen during my down-time at the radio station and kindergarten, among other things.

Of course, with wireless access all over the place here in Korea, I'll need to be careful not to just spend all that extra time surfing the web!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Orbital Space Station

Here's a map of an orbital space station (crew 20) that I used in a Star Frontiers adventure. The adventure was about how the crew had gone missing planetside, so I don't know why I really needed a map of the station, but I drew one anyway.

Of course, this could easily be used for any SF RPG, post-apocalyptic RPG, or even a Barrier Peaks style fantasy RPG. Hope you can find a way to use it in your games.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Got ahold of both King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. The Richard Chaimberlain/Sharon Stone Indiana Jones craze cash-in films from the mid-80's.

Yes, they're B quality cinema. Yes, they retain quite a bit of H. Rider Haggard's racist views (although in both books upon which these movies were based, he's actually fairly progressive for his late Victorian times...). But they sure are a lot of fun, if memory serves.

Maybe the nostalgia bug will bite me in the ass after watching them, and I'll see them for how terrible they really are. Or maybe I'll sit back and enjoy a nice pair of evenings with the wife, after the little guy's gone to bed, basking in the campy fun.

Either way, I expect this to have an effect on my ideas for cool 'specials' to add to my megadungeon.

What a Horrible Anniversary to Have a Blog!

Yes, it's my blog's 1 year anniversary today. Last year, I probably wasn't even thinking of it as "9/11" when I decided to stop just reading others' blogs and start my own. To be honest, having lived overseas the entire time (I was watching a video in my apartment in Yamanashi by myself that night. Was rewinding the video and NHK news was broadcasting the attack coverage. That's how I found out about it) it affected me, but not as deeply as it likely would have if I'd been living at home.

Sorry to get political on a blog that isn't about my personal politics, but from the distance I was afforded, I found it easy to see just how badly the U.S. dropped the ball on trying to punish al Qaeda and going after Saddam instead. And that caused me even more distance between the pain and grief and anger I felt over the 9/11 attacks.

For me, anymore, it's just another day in September. And I'm really more concerned right now over how the sumo tournament, which starts tomorrow, is going to turn out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How I've been using and misusing rumors

For the original megadungeon that I started and gave a few test runs with the Yamanashi Group 2.5 years ago, I actually started with a list of rumors and built from there.

It was an interesting experience, because I was just bored at work one day, and started jotting down interesting sounding tidbits on a bit of scrap paper. I added to it over a couple of days, and had some ideas about some that I wanted to be true, a few I knew I wanted to be false. Most were left up in the air.

Then I drew maps, and started stocking.

When we played a few marathon sessions with the dungeon, I worked out rumors this way:

All the rumors were printed out, cut into individual strips, folded, and put in a box.
Every PC starts the game with 3+Cha bonus rumors, drawn randomly from the box.
Just going back to town allows PCs to make a Charisma check to get 1 rumor (more if they have a Cha bonus).
Any time the group goes specifically trolling for rumors, they get 1-3 from the box, depending on how they play it.
Interaction with non-hostile NPCs in the dungeon may net more rumors.

It worked fairly well. Some players shared their rumors quickly, others hoarded their knowledge. After a few PC deaths, they started sharing more openly. And they were using that information to inform their play in the setting.

With my Silverwood mini-dungeon sandbox at the Board Game Group, I tried the same thing. I think it didn't work for a couple of reasons. One, I never varied the rumors. Certain rumors kept coming up, and I should have taken those out between sessions. But I usually forgot to do so.
Secondly, I think too many of the rumors were warnings about powerful creatures, and not enough were about the locations of fabulous treasures or powerful magic items. Warning people that they shouldn't go to dangerous places is a good thing, but then where do they go? They needed more rumors that would actually lead them to adventure, not away from it.
Finally, I pretty much already knew which were true and which were false. So I didn't get forced into improvising interesting things on the fly in those games.

So what have I learned? If I ever get this new megadungeon off the block and take it for a spin, I'll need plenty of rumors (and decide later if they're true or not), I'll need to rotate new rumors in and old ones out every now and then (although I do like the idea of getting the same rumor more than once--it seems realistic for everyone to be talking about subject X, and makes the players pay a bit more attention to it), and I'll need to make sure that most rumors lead to proactive play, rather than hindering action.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A thought experiment

Regarding some of my recent posts and ability scores, here's an idea.

Let's take some fictional characters and assign their Strength scores by the Classic D&D scale.

Score 3 Mod -3
Score 4-5 Mod -2
Score 6-8 Mod -1
Score 9-12 Mod 0
Score 13-15 Mod +1
Score 16-17 Mod +2
Score 18 Mod +3

OK, so Hercules is an 18 on this scale. Stephen Hawking is a 3. 10 is your average Joe Schmoe. There are your goal posts.

Where would you put:
Conan (have to start with him)
Elric (when not charged up on souls thanks to Stormbringer)
Bilbo Baggins
Sindbad the Sailor
Kikuchiyo (that would be Mifune in 7 Samurai)
Abraham Van Helsing (NOT the cheesy movie with Hugh Jackman)

Curious to see how everyone rates them.

Special Encounters

Yesterday, Telecanter and Talysman had some posts about 'tricks' in a dungeon. Good reading.

I've been thinking up lots of 'special' encounters lately. They're not all tricks, but quite a few are.

Regarding 'specials' Mentzer's Basic Set gives a good set of ideas to go by:

A “special” is anything you place which is not normal, but is not a trap, monster, or treasure. Some typical specials are:
Alarm: Summons special monster, opens dungeon doors, or has no effect at all.
Illusion: A dungeon feature (stairs, room, door, monster, treasure, etc.) is not really there, but is merely a phantasm.
Map Change: A shifting wall moves after the party passes, cutting off their exit. They must find another way out of the dungeon. The wall shifts back after a time (1 turn, 1 hour, 1 day).
Movement: The room (or stairs, or door, or item) moves (turns, drops, closes, rises, etc.) unexpectedly. It might be stopped if a roll for surprise (often with - 1, - 2, or - 3 penalty) shows that the party reacts quickly enough to prevent it.
Pool: Magical water has a strange effect if touched (or drunk, or sprinkled on someone or something), such as healing, inflicting damage, changing an Ability Score, changing Alignment, making something magical for a time, invisible for a time, etc.
Sounds: The room (or item, or treasure) makes strange noises: moaning, screaming, talking, etc.
Statue: A large statue of a person, monster, or gadget (nearly anything you can imagine) is found. It may be valuable, magical, too heavy to move, alive, lonesome and willing to talk (maybe a liar), covering a trap door down, a treasure, etc.
Transportation: This could be a trap door leading up or down, secret stairs, elevator, magical portal to elsewhere (another room, another level, another dungeon), etc.
Trick Monster: This applies to any variation of a listed monster, such as: a skeleton who shoots its fingertips like a Magic Missile, a two-headed giant ogre, a “goop” dragon that spits green slime or grey ooze, a wild bore (a shaggy man who tells long,
dreary stories), a quarterling (half-sized halfling), a Mouth Harpy (who can’t sing but plays the harmonica), an Ogre Jelly (looks like an ogre, but . . .) Rock and Roll Baboon, and so forth.
Weird Things: You may let your imagination run, placing such things as: weapons which fly - attacking by themselves, talking skulls, a magic item or treasure firmly stuck to the floor (or wall, or ceiling), a magical area (zero gravity, reversed gravity, growth to double size, shrink to 1” tall; effect lasts until leaving the area), a huge creature recently slain (too big to fit through the corridors - “But how did it get here?”), and so forth.
The other day, thinking of the kinds of specials I'd like to include in the megadungeon. I wrote down my own list of types, which covers a bit of the ground above, but has a few other ideas as well.

Landmarks: large statuary, frescoes, altars, odd colors, etc.
"Key" Items: things that stand out and have some use elsewhere in the dungeon
Oddities: lingering spell effects, magic mouth, pools/fountains, weird zones, etc.
Puzzles: block passage until riddle, logic puzzle, etc. solved
Quest Giver: otherwise friendly creature will only help if PCs help it first
Transport: mundane or magical access to area normally not connected
Maps: maps, clues, hints about the dungeon, windows/scry points

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Belariand and the Lands to the North

Started reading The Children of Hurin, and so far I'm liking it.

Back when I read the Silmarillion for the second time (sometime in the late 90's), I thought that the 1st Age of Middle Earth would actually make for a better D&D setting than the 3rd Age (when Hobbit/LOTR, and MERP are set).

Giant elven kingdoms with some human regions, dwarves in great mountain fastnesses, and lurking to the north, Morgoth in Angband under Thangorodrim.

Everything just seems bigger and more heroic in the Silmarillion, and I think D&D's more flashy spells and magic items and high level characters would work better in this age. Plus, Morgoth has all the monsters Sauron had (orcs, trolls, spiders--although nothing like the Nazgul are mentioned), plus werewolves and vampires, dragons, balrogs...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

These sorts of characters ARE viable

I'm gonna post a few D&D (BECM/RC) characters. Lots of players might look at them and think they're worthless. But played right, in the right sort of game (in other words, the kind of game I'd like to run), they should actually do alright.

Cleric Level 5
S11 I9 W12 D10 C10 Ch11
Chain, Shield, Mace, Sling
Turn: SkD, ZD, GT, WiT, Wr7, M9, Sp11, V-
Spells: Detect Magic, Light, Find Traps, Speak with Animals

Fighter Level 4
S12 I10 W11 D9 C9 Ch11
Plate, Shield, Spear, Light Crossbow

Magic-User Level 4
S8 I12 W11 D9 C10 Ch10
Spells: Floating Disk, Ventriloquism, ESP, Locate Object

Thief Level 5
S9 I11 W9 D12 C10 Ch11
Leather, Hand Axe, Short Bow
Skills: F/RT30 OL35 CSS91 MS40 HS28 PP40 HN50

No magic items, just what's listed above, and the normal assortment of 10' poles, ropes, torches, oil, and all that jazz.

For a dungeon exploration game, these guys should actually do alright. If they try to avoid fighting as much as possible, avoid obvious traps that they can't easily disarm without relying on the Thief, and make sure each delve has some sort of purpose to it, and leave the dungeon when that purpose is fulfilled (like mapping a certain amount, or scouting the lair of a certain monster).

But most players would rather go with the best weapons, the most offensive spells, and characters with high stats in a multitude of areas.

Now, that pimped out party would likely do better than these guys at combat, but mix in one of these guys with the high octane group, and there shouldn't be a problem unless, to follow the 3E/4E philosophy, everyone's expected to share the load in a combat encounter.

4E D&D Essentials Box Set

Yes, I'm posting about it. It's a bit of a moot point for me, as I can't just pick it up as an impulse buy here in Korea, and I'm not going to order it online, but there are some good reviews of it out now.

Paladin in Citadel gives it a good, fair review here

Tim Brannan at The Other Side Blog also has a good review of it here.

Didn't think I'd buy it anyway, but they satisfied my curiousity. It does look like a good product to introduce completely new players to roleplaying, and for that purpose I hope it does sell well. Rising tides and all that. I can save that $20 plus international shipping for something else.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to Basics

I've spent quite a bit of time in the past couple years designing some versions of AD&D classes for use with Classic D&D that I'm happy with and think play well with the others. I've got a Barbarian, Bard, Cavalier (Paladin), Druid, Illusionist, Ranger, and Half-Orc in addition to the standard 7 (which have some house rules attached to them to a greater or lesser extent).

When I first started up this blog I was often blogging about them, but I lost steam somewhere around the time I'd gotten past the classic 4 character classes.

I think it's partially because in the back of my mind, I've realized that these extra classes are sort of pointless.

Sure, the Cavalier allows a Fighter type to cast some Cleric spells, Druid allows the Mentzer Druid spells to be availabe, Illusionist allows some AD&D illusion spells to be ported over, Half-Orc works as a Fighter/Thief or Assassin stand-in, etc.

But maybe I don't really need all that.

Give any character with a high Int and Cha a musical instrument and they can be a Bard. Give any character woodscraft and they can be a Ranger. A Barbarian is just a character from a more primitive area than the main campaign focus.

I'm sure you've heard it all argued before on Dragonsfoot, Knights and Knaves Alehouse, or some other FRPG website.

Anyway, I think I'm gonna scrap those extra classes as player options (at least at first) and only use them as NPCs from time to time.

Back when we were trying to get the Korean gals to play D&D, they really got in the way. Too many choices, and they had no real way to judge them. It also leads to the line of thinking among a lot of players a few years younger than me who think everything should have an effect on your character sheet.

Back in the day, we used to just roleplay out differences. My main character, Gwydion, was a Fighter who I modeled after a knight. Heavy armor, two handed sword, war horse (later griffon) and lance. My best friend, who goes by the internet alias KillingMachine, had two of his secondary characters named after the protagonists of the cheesy 80's swords & boobies B-movie "The Barbarians" but mechanically they were no different from Gwydion. They were just roleplayed as barbarians, and we rolled with it.

That's what I think I need to bring back to my games to make me happy. Players can be anything they want through roleplay, as long as they use one of the 7 basic classes for game mechanics.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Did a bit of shopping today.

We were at Shinsegae, the "world's largest department store" today. I'd heard they had a pretty good selection of English books at the bookstore there, so I wanted to check it out.

Of course, distributors of English books in Korea and Japan tend to stick to things they are pretty darn certain they're going to sell (NYT best-sellers, kids fiction like HP or Percy Jackson, movie tie in books, and whatever Oprah's talking about these days), plus some high profit margin stuff like Penguin/Oxford/wherever prints of public domain titles, or high end coffee table type books.

So while they do have a bigger number of titles than my local bookstore that carries some English books, they didn't really have that much better of a selection.

I did end up picking up a new copy of Beowulf in verse (the copy I've had since college is a prose translation), and The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Of course, I've read Beowulf I don't know how many times. I just wanted a nice verse translation, and the introductory essay and background material, glossary, and the two-page fragment of the Fight at Finnsburg are at least new to me.

I've also been meaning to pick up The Children of Hurin for a while now. Of course, having read the Silmarillion, I know the basics of the story. Silmarillion actually goes into Turin's story fairly in depth, but I've been looking forward to this anyway.


This is inspired by Sean Robson's treatment of Dwarves over at Tales from the Flaming Faggot (a cool blog without many followers, unfortunately--check it out if you haven't).

Goblins have also come a long way from the way they were originally depicted in folk tales.

Pointy hats, pointy boots, weird ugly little mischievous guys, but basically small ugly humans.

Then we had guys like this

Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King playing through your head now? Or maybe you're imagining Gandalf, Thorin, and company fighting the Great Goblin in the Misty Mountains.

This guy shows up and instills his iconic form in lots of young minds.

D&D, of course, drawing more on Tolkien in this instance than on fairy lore, made goblins non-magical ugly little humanoid threats.

And eventually we get the 'greenskin' goblins that seem to predominate these days.

Anyway, I think the next time I run a D&D campaign, I'm going to have two types of goblins. One will use the normal Tolkien-inspired stats we all know and love. The other will be a more traditional fairy tale type goblin, and will likely use the Elf stats, as they will be inherently magical beings.

The best of both worlds, these guys

AND these guys

All images copyright someone else, used without permission.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Busy busy

I probably won't be posting much this weekend. My producer wants me to write a pilot episode of an adult music oriented show that I'd like to host. We'll record it sometime next week, so I need to do it over the weekend.

Fingers crossed I'll get to transition from the kids show (fun, but not what I had hoped to do on the radio) to an adult show!

Oh, that and trying to get the last bit of tax money Japan owed me back from my wife's host family who don't want to sent it to us.

Maybe if I have time I'll scan another old dungeon and put it up, but don't count on it.

Heroes and Zeroes

You all know the two schools of thought on RPG characters.

One says random character generation is more realistic. You never know what you're gonna get--Superman, or Pee Wee Herman. Usually something in between. And those random die rolls can get your creative wheels turning, as you ponder just who such a character is, and why they'd be adventuring.

The other says semi-random (skewed high) or non-random character generation is more realistic. People with mental retardation or cerebral palsy don't get to join the Navy SEALs, so why would any sane group of adventurers take them along? It's unheroic to have low stats because people with low stats wouldn't go dungeon delving where it's near certain death for them.

But what if we turn that thinking around? What if, for whatever reason, Society at Large has rejected these poor slobs, and the ONLY way they've got a chance to be more than just a burden on their families and community is to go seek adventure or death? And the fit, strong, intelligent people know they can easily rise to the top without risking getting turned to stone or dissolved in a pit of green slime, so why would they even consider setting foot into a dungeon?

Probably not what most people would want to play long term, but might make for a fun one-shot. Gamma World is good at producing some random hopeless characters. Go into it with the right attitude (like competing to see who has the most interesting character death, or to see who can actually overcome their limitations and actually thrive), and that could be a real fun game.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Keystone Treasures

I've been constantly thinking about the best way to implement my new megadungeon (I'm on a kick with it, these days, and Flying Swordsmen is paying the price, not getting worked on, but oh well).

One thing that really worked in my first iteration (the maps I posted earlier) were the rumor box, especially rumors about specific treasures. It gave the players something to strive for within the unknown element that is the campaign dungeon.

Some of my rumors were about monsters they could find, some were about some of the 'specials,' some were folk superstition type rumors (sprinkle a ring of powdered silver to keep out demons), and some mentioned certain treasures within the dungeon.

Obviously warnings about what sorts of creatures are down there are useful, as it gives the party some ideas about equipment, spells, etc. they should take along. But the real inspiring rumors were the ones like, "The owlbear guards a huge pile of gold" or "The crown of King Jargo is hidden on the second level."

The 'Let's find that' impulse really leads to the desire to explore the dungeon, both for completeness (the emerald ring of Trogdor is supposed to be around here somewhere) and for advancement (if the bugbears have as much loot as we heard, we'll surely all level!). Of course, magic items often deserve their own rumors as well, but mundane treasures can really get the players raring to go as well.

So I'm gonna be making up a list of cool, named treasure items. Sure, there will be plenty of gems and jewelry, but I plan to throw in lots of other odd things as well. Stuffed heads, gilded chariots, matched sets of fine porcelain teacups, clay tablets with epic poetry in cuneiform, fancy hats, whatever. And rumors will hint about where they can be found, or who or what guards them.

Had a dream last night...

Woke up this morning, and smiled. I'd been dreaming that I was playing D&D with my brother and a couple other dream people. We were running 3E characters, I was playing a Monk. But my brother, who was DMing, was apparently using Classic D&D rules on his side. We were fighting some Rock Baboons. The male dream person disappeared, and the female dream person, who was playing a Dwarf Fighter was doing alright, but my poor Human Monk couldn't hit the broad side of a barn and I was slowly getting pounded to death by the baboons.

I looked at my character sheet for something to save me, and I had something called a scroll of cavarous (?), which I thought would somehow turn the baboons on each other, but I woke up before my initiative came up again.

I've read about some people doing that (mixing 3E characters with a Classic world, not inserting scrolls of cannibalism, although that's a good idea too) before to good effect. It keeps the DM from having to worry about all the fiddly crap of the d20 system, while players get to customize and twink their characters as they see fit.

Saving throws would be the only hard part, I'd think. If you just used the 1st level Save values for the players, and let them roll d20+whichever of the three bonuses is appropriate vs. the DC of whichever of the five classic categories is used might work for the players. But for the monsters, you'd need to calculate bonuses for saves against the DCs of the players' effects.

Otherwise, the combination could work really well.

Maybe I could try it with my group. Alex, who hates Classic would jump at the chance, and Pat has said he really prefers 3E/3.5E. But who am I kidding, I don't really have the time to DM right now. As I said before, if we get back to gaming, I should just really shut up and be a player.