Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot!

Are there any magic items that are unique to one version of D&D (only appeared in one of the following: OD&D, Holmes, AD&D 1E, BX, BECMI/RC, AD&D 2E, D&D 3E, D&D 4E, or a clone like C&C, LL, S&W, OSRIC, LotFP: WFRPOHMYGODHOWLONGCANTHISACRONYMGET*, etc.) that you feel like you couldn't run the game without?

Holmes' weird scrolls?  Something from UA that didn't ever appear again?  One of Frank's from the Companion Set?  Something from a module or supplement?  Something someone added to a clone that you now wish the game had had all along?

Basically, is there any item that you feel is so iconic that D&D wouldn't be the same without it, but it only appears in one set (as far as you know, anyway). 

Or if there's a monster or spell, or something similar, go ahead and share that, too.

And shoot the hostage.

From orbit.

With a nuke.

It's the only way to be sure.

*Just kidding, Raggi!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Killer Modules are a GOOD THING!

There's yet another thread over on Dragonsfoot about killer low level modules.  Actually, there are two, one specifically about B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and another about low level modules in general

These modules being 'killer' teach players a valuable lesson.  You don't need to kill everything that moves in the dungeon. 

Now, I realize that there are benefits to throwing a few softballs toward new players to keep them interested in the game.  You don't want to be a dick DM and just slaughter their 2 hit point Fighter with a kobold in the first encounter and laugh about it.  Instead, you should encourage them to roll with the punches and get back on the horse when that happens.  If you're playing Super Mario Brothers and get killed by that first Goomba, you don't give up, throw the controller across the room, and never play the game again. 

With an RPG, especially one that has potentially deadly combats like low level Classic or AD&D, don't encourage the 'precious snowflake' mentality of PCs until after the players have some experience.  If you are an experienced gamer, then sure, go ahead and start fleshing out your character before the dice hit the table.  You're likely smart and experienced enough to know not to charge the owlbear with that 2 hit point Fighter.

But for people just starting out, get them used to the game, including its deadliness, before you encourage them to really develop those fragile low level characters.

And definitely quash any ideas that D&D should play like Diablo or something, where the goal is to 'clear the level.'  The goal is to get the loot, not to fight every monster down there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

4E Rules Compendium First Impressions

First of all, apologies to those of you who read this blog for Old School D&D stuff.  I've been busy, and what energy I have for that has been going into my Megadungeon project.  Don't worry, though, I'll get back in the swing of things one of these days.

Now, about the 4E RC.  It's nice and compact.  It's somewhere between A5 and B5 size paper, standard trade paperback size, rather than the big A4/Letter size of the standard RPG book.  I was a bit surprised that none of the art was by Wayne Reynolds, since a lot of it seems to copy the style 3E established, only with different feel.  I was never a WAR fan, though, so I don't miss his art. 

I've read through the first chapter, all the intro stuff, how to use the dice, what's an RPG, a brief history of the game, an overview of the expected style of play, some advice on winging it and making the game your own, the world and Planes, and then a product placement section. 

I found some of the advice it gave pretty good, actually.  For people just starting in on RPGs with this product, there's some good advice there.  Unfortunately, from what little I've played of 4E or read of play reports by others, the modules seem to go against the advice given here, and are more or less just combat railroads.  But the writers at least tried to get a more varied, vibrant game style going.

My first impression of it isn't that it's terrible or anything, though.  It could be a pretty fun game, and it does actually challenge the player, not the character (which was supposed to be the Old School thing).  Unfortunately it challenges the players not so much within play, but with learning the system.  Yes, just like 3E it appears the 'player challenge' is the meta-game, rather than the game.

Maybe further reading will prove me wrong.  I'm only 60 pages in at the moment.  And it hasn't covered any of the real rules yet.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

There's not a lot of money in revenge.

In my post last week about character motivations for dungeon or hex crawling type games, Dangerous Brian commented about adding revenge to the list. 

I could have replied in the comments, but I thought it might actually deserve its own post. 

I did actually consider it for the list, but dropped it.  Why?

I have two reasons.

First, as Inigo points out to Westley just before their duel, there's not a lot of money in revenge.  If your main motivation to become a better warrior or wizard is to slaughter the NPC who did whatever nasty things to you, you've got less motivation to be down in the dungeon or out in the wilderness, searching for the continuum transfunctioner or the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (unless they are the only way you can get to your target).

Second, it's a short term motivation.  Once you've satisfied your thirst for revenge (and you as a player will be working to make it happen sooner rather than later, while the DM will be hoping to stretch it out as long as possible) you're left like Inigo at the end of the movie.  And you may not have the option of becoming the next Dread Pirate Roberts right there waiting for you.

When I made my list, I rejected revenge because it's not really a permanent part of your psyche.  The other things I put on the list were, for the most part anyway, neuroses or personality quirks or whatever you want to call them that make up who your character is at a fundamental level.  You were just born curious, or proud, or envious of others.

Revenge is a great hook to use to spur on some types of adventure, but it's not the kind that would be a permanent part of your character makeup, unless you wanted revenge against some entity that is nigh-indestructible (a god or The Tick, for example), or else an organization or nation that would take pretty much the whole campaign to destroy. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Raw Playtest Data

Paul and the Yamanashi Crew playtested my latest revision of the Presidents of the Apocalypse.  It looks like the system may be serviceable but the presentation needs to be cleaned up.  I'm not so surprised by that, because I've been chipping away at writing/re-writing/editing it piecemeal.  Even though it's only a 16 page document, if I don't work on it for a few weeks then go back to it, it's easy to lose track of things.

Giving myself a hard deadline to get it into shape might help with that, but then this is just something I'm doing for fun.  I've got enough stress in my life without giving myself more.

Anyway, here's the email Paul sent after the game, and then follow up are some comments from players on a teacher's message board we use.

Paul wrote:

OK, we test-played PotA last night.  I will encourage folks to post any feedback they may have on the forum so you can see it as well, but the overall consensus was that it was more structured ---JD was also pleased compared to his initial foray with his 2-headed Clinton.  Of course there are still a few bugs that need sorting out.

More-or-less, I used the module I sent you, only changing up a few of the characters and tweaking a few stats.  We got started rolling up characters a bit late (7pm) so I kinda rushed through the adventure in places.  We managed to finish it at around 10pm ---so, after character creation, that left us just about 2 hours of actual play time I would guess. 

Here are some observations:
1---The big one being how to deal with combat ---what can defend against what. 
For example, if Obama's only defense is a Mind Field (Mental), can he even defend against an Eisenhowitzer (Tech)?  The answer was a little hazy, but I remember you mentioning something about defending at a level lower if the type doesn't match.  Anyhow, I basically assigned each Defense a power level for each of the 3 types in a notation similar to your Sample Opponents (I mentioned something about doing this in an earlier email).  It worked for the most part, but it made having multiple defenses a little less important ---so I've now gone and altered the numbers to more extreme levels so that one item might have a good defense in one area and a rather lousy one in another.  Of course players with more than one can switch out defenses on their turns once they realize one is offering less protection vs. a certain type of attack.

2---Next is the Offensive powers: Each President got at least one, and some two, depending on the type of character they made.  But generally, they ended up using and re-using the same power again and again.  Maybe we need to grant more variety in the initial powers and lessen the points to power things up (EP) at character creation.  Hopefully this will give more options and encourage more diverse play.

3---The election.  I was worried that it might bring things to a grinding halt, but it didn't.  Players were actually thinking about who to vote for, and they did it quickly enough.  Next time I might try to get them to do a little campaigning ---have each player briefly state why they believe they deserve to be voted for (reminiscent of White Wolf, remember?).  If the speeches were delivered in order of descending EP or something, then everyone would know where each player stood in potential votes, if that's a good thing…  

4---Anyhow, the players liked the voting thing, and I let them spend any gained points during this election time to kind of level up.  Most only tried to enhance the power(s) they already had though rather than gain new ones.
Only at the end did they realize that it's not always advantageous to vote for the best candidate as you'd be making it harder for yourself to win.  We ended with a tie between Clinton (Jacob) and Teddy Rosevelt (Ryan), but Ryan had more overall EP, and thus was elected Pres. because of the bonus 2 votes granted.  I assume Clinton then became the Vice-Pres of the Apocalypse…?
Unfortunately, we can't force people to spend their EP on new powers in order to help them diversify, so I propose that we either eliminate the EP buying thing and think of a new system, or we reduce the number of EP PC's start with and give them a free roll on any chart during an election period.
Spending EP can be a double-edged sword.

5---It could have been just the type of game I ran, but I noticed that some Utility tasks were trumped by Offense tasks. Ex: Hoover (Michelle) was faced with either trying to hack the computer or simply tack her Chainsaw to it… she opted for the latter as she had no real computer skills.  Fair enough, I found that in many situations the PC's were tempted to blast stuff, but in the spirit of the game they tried to do other stuff when possible ---Michelle talked down a rabid Barney and scared him off, for example.
Overall it was rather well balanced, though I did tweak a few things beforehand out of fear the Presidents would become too powerful---starting EP=20; cost to improve star levels also increased: 1, 3, 6, 12, 25.  This balance prevented anyone from starting with a 4-star Power.
During the adventure I "killed" various presidents about 4 times, but it was cool that they could auto-rez following each encounter.

6---Another more specific point is in the rule about character generation that says to roll once more for your Role, but not for your Class.  Following, there is an example that shows two new Powers being chosen.  Which is it?
I personally think the more powers, the better ---to diversify a character.  Also I'm a fan of the random roll over the choosing of a specific thing.
I still think we should assign a bonus of some sort to a president using a power that bears his name ---maybe an automatic star level.  Of course this can only be done if powers aren't chosen.

7---For Initiative we used a simple system: the person to the immediate left of the GM went first during the first encounter.  The next encounter we started with the person to his left, and so on...  Like how the button (dealer) moves around the table in Texas Hold'em.  It worked rather well, and kept things flowing quite nicely.  Of course the GM also eventually gets a turn to go first.

8---Some of the powers that people ended up with seemed a little broken, but since they mostly just had the one Offense Power, limitations on use were not really enforced.  Ex: Clinton had the Eisenhowitzer (which Jacob played as unzipping his pants to bring it into play).  Anyhow, it can only be used in a Medium range or further situation, so all he had to say was, everybody step back before he "fired."  And Ryan had the Fillibuster of Doom which has AOE as well as the ability to stun for d turns (he had ☆☆☆=d8) ---which means it could stun up to 4 opponents for 1d8 turns each ---too powerful if it hits, especially since there are usually only a few opponents to begin with.
I know these are small details that test playing will bring out, but just thought I'd mention them.

9---AOE worked well enough though we wondered if the attacker should roll to hit each opponent as well as roll for each damage (I recommend using the D&D system: roll to hit each individually, but damage is rolled once, makes sense for AOE where it is essentially one attack).  The only change I'd make to simplify it would be to limit it to 1 plus the star level, and not allow it to target any more beyond that.
Stun and Weaken also worked out fairly well and were easy enough to follow---one of the problems with 4E is that there can be so many effects in play that it is such a pain to keep track of.  Often when a character was stunned in this game, I just said you miss your turn, and if I forgot they reminded me.
Healing on the sliding scale was pretty cool too (again, Clinton unzipped his pants in order to bring forth his healing wand and touch the afflicted).  But a few other special abilities that some of the powers have might need further explanation.  We had to look a few things up and were curious about others like how Frighten works for Ulysses Undeath when it is a Defense power… 

10---What makes up a round.  This wasn't as much of a problem as I thought it might be (even for the power gamer).  Basically, a PC could move and do an action, be it an attack or a utility action like heal or a whatever.  It was simple and easy.  Nobody questioned it.

11---I assigned EP for doing all sorts of things, but particularly for killing bad guys.  One potential problem is that if someone is using an AOE attack, he's going to end up killing more enemies and thus earning more EP than the rest.  What can we do about this?  I guess, not assign EP per enemy killed as it should be a group effort.  I put some stipulations on how much EP an encounter would grant each PC depending on whether they "died" or not, but beyond that EP wouldn't matter in the election if it was shared equally.  Hmm, something to think about…

12---I'm not sure about Amendments to Constitution because they never came into play at all during our game.  I kind of think they are redundant.  I understand that they are meant to serve a few purposes, but we should just cut them and eliminate a system that the EP could easily handle.  I mean, you can spend EP to buy AC's, right?  And at the end of the game AC's count for votes (well points, but it's the same thing).  Why not just have EP handle all this? 
At the end of our game some people had as many as 30EP left---meaning, under this new idea, they could have spent EP to re-roll up to 30 times.  That seems a lot if we think Action Points, but we could set some limit (like once a turn), or make it cost 2EP per re-roll, or make a player pay a cumulative double EP for each roll throughout the adventure.
In the end, the EP spent hurt the players chance of being elected.
The Max Double rule could just be for growth then.

Anyhow, sorry, I know that's a lot to digest ---I wanted to get it all down before I forgot.  Hopefully you can understand where I'm coming from with these points.
One player suggested that it would be fun to have the presidents battle it out in the end to decide who the real President of the Apocalypse was.

On the message board, JD wrote:
Good things include originality of abilities and enemies, a very large comedy aspect and ease of play.  Taking movement out of the equasion saves a lot of time.  The instructions need to be rewritten though, as there are several parts that are really vague and other parts that just don't add up, for example you're supposed to have 4 abilities at the start, not 5 right?  I'm also not 100% clear on the body/mind/tech attack system.  According to how we were playing, A body attack can only be blocked by a body defense, right?  But if that is the case, why is there that 0/+2/-2 section?  That makes it seem like you can block any of the three attack types with any defense.  I'm not sure.... anyway that really needs to be clarified. 
And Michelle wrote:
The same thing as JD, I wasn't sure how defense worked. Can tech only block tech? Can tech block mind and body but at a penalty? Then why do some defense powers have B/M/T modifiers? My defense power was tech, but had a +2/0/+2 modifier, making me think I could use it against all attacks. The easiest way to fix this, is to give all defense powers a B/M/T modifier.

Here's my suggestion for a normal defense-power modifier. It's like rock, paper, scissors. Body attacks are strong against Tech defense, but Body defense is weak against Mind attacks, etc.

Defense Type       Vs.          Body / Mind / Tech Attack
Body                                   0   /  -2   /  -1
Mind                                   -1   /   0   /  -2
Tech                                  -2   /  -1   /   0

Some defense powers could be stronger or weaker, like -3/0/+4 or -1/+1/0.

Also, some of the attack powers were labeled Weak or Strong vs. X. I wasn't sure how that affects rolls or damage. Adding a B/M/T modifier would help.

This may not make a lot of sense to anyone who has never read the game, but I thought putting it all here would make it easier for me to find it later.

Paul's off to India for a week, but when he gets back I'll try to get him to write up a session report.  I saw the adventure he was going to run them through, but I'm curious about what sorts of characters everyone made, and how they handled the various challenges in a bit more detail than Paul sent me in that email.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It came in the mail

Today was my son's 3rd birthday.  I say was because even though it's only 10pm here, he's already asleep.  So for all intents and purposes, it's over.  I think he enjoyed it.  He'll enjoy it more tomorrow, because the kindergarten has a big monthly 'birthday party' for all the kids with a birthday that month at once, so he'll get to celebrate again tomorrow.

Anyway, along with the two books we ordered for his present--a couple of early reader books about Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman--the 4E Essentials Rules Compendium came as well. 

Kinda surprised at how small it is (15.5 x 23 cm, roughly B5 paper size, I believe).  It also looks fairly concise and thorough, from what little I've already seen of 4E.  I think I made a good choice if I want to really get a handle on the system of 4E (rather than on the catalog of powers and magic items and such that is the PHB).  This looks like all the nuts and bolts stuff in one book.

I'll give it a read in my spare time, and eventually post a review of it here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's my motivation?

In an attempt to do a bit of bridge-building between the gap in play styles between myself and my friend Dave, I gave a bit of thought to reasons why someone might want to become an 'adventurer.'  For people that enjoy figuring out who their PC is as much or more so than exploring the world within the game (the personal imagined space as opposed to the shared imagined space, in pseudo-Forge faux intellectual terms, or something equally pompous).

If you're going to focus on exploring a character THROUGH exploring the dungeon, or if you're going to explore the dungeon WHILE exploring your character, either way you really ought to give a bit of thought to the mentality that would cause someone to want to battle Beholders and Sathar and Cyborg Mutant Hitmen for a few grubby gold coins or credits or a piece of junk that might be a blaster or a hair dryer.

Here are the reasons I came up with while on the subway the other day:

Greed:  You want to be rich, and adventuring is a lucrative career.  You weigh the dangers against the potential gain, and only act if the balance swings in your favor.

Power:  You want to become one of the movers and shakers of the world, and gaining both money and a reputation are the means to that end.  You aren't concerned so much with what form of power you acquire, as long as you end up the boss in some way.

Excitement:  You relish the danger most of all.  You're probably a little crazier than your companions (who're all a bit crazy as it is!), and you'll happily poke that hole with your blade, push the red button, or charge the orc patrol just because it will give you that adrenaline rush.

Curiosity:  You're a born explorer.  You aren't in it for the money, or the danger, or the power, but simply to see what's out there.  You boldly go where no man has before simply because no one has been there before (that you know of).

Study:  You want to document your explorations.  Maybe you want to benefit the world, maybe just yourself.  But you want to uncover secrets or find new things in order to increase knowledge.

Ambition:  You have some strong personal goal that you work towards.  And to achieve that goal, you'll need money, power, reputation, and connections.  If you ever achieve that goal, you'll likely set a new, higher one and keep pushing yourself ever onwards.

Pride:  They told you you couldn't.  They told you you'd be crazy to try.  They told you you'd be dead within a week.  You're going to prove them all wrong, or die trying.

Envy:  There are others who are better gunslingers, better magicians, better star-pilots.  There are others with more money, or a bigger magic sword, or cooler gadgets, or the bevy of hot men/women surrounding them.  But one day, it will be yours.  Oh yes, it will be yours.

Heroism:  You venture into the wilds because someone needs to.  Someone needs to slay the dragon, or blow up the space station, or bring down the megacorp.  You may not want to be the one who has to do it, but the situation has thrust that responsibility upon you.  Or maybe you did seek it out willingly.  Either way, you're 'that guy.'

Restlessness:  You just can't be satisfied with the boring life you were born to.  Instead of sitting behind a desk or milking the cows, you've got a need to head out and see what's out there.  The thought of being eaten by grues or blasted to molecules by deathbots is less frightening than the idea of staying put.

Protection:  You head out to face the dangers of the world so that the good folks back home don't have to.  You'd rather not have to deal with the horrors of the encroaching outer dark, or the rampaging orcs, or the rise of the galactic emperor, but better you than Aunt May and your good old Gaffer.

Rivalry:  You enjoy wealth, or having bards sing your praises across the land, but your real driving motivation is that you do what you do before the other guys do it first.  Whether it's a race to find a sacred relic before the Nazis do, a need to prove yourself the most powerful mage in the land, or mapping out the third level of the huge ruined pile before the king's privateers, your sense of competition drives you on.

Alright, this is in no way an exhaustive list (and a few of the distinctions above are rather fine), just what I came up with between sitting down on the subway and getting off again.  If anyone's got any other ideas, feel free to chime in with a comment. 

These ideas do provide fodder for players who like to immerse themselves in their character, while at the same time providing impetus for the characters to participate in the adventures that are what really provide the thrill for less immersive gamers like myself. 

They also fit nicely in a little random chart, for those who like a more 'nearly blank slate' for their characters at the kick-off of a campaign:

Adventuring Motivation Chart (d12) "My character is..."
1. Greedy
2. Power-Hungry
3. Thrill-Seeking
4. Curious
5. Inquisitive
6. Ambitious
7. Proud
8. Covetous
9. Heroic
10. Wanderlustful
11. Protective
12. Competitive

Post Script:  Odd, the words deathbots and wanderlustful didn't set off Firefox's spell check...until I typed them in this post-script.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Got some gaming in yesterday

As often happens with our Board Game Group, we had invited plenty of people, and lots of them had said they'd come out.  But only a few of us managed it.  Some of the guys had gotten together on Saturday to play Axis and Allies though, then were out drinking till the wee hours, so only Pat made it from that group.  Steve, Hong and I were the other players early on.  Joe showed up late, just after Hong left and shortly before Pat and Steve had to go.

Despite the low turnout, we had some good games.  We had a couple of false starts, as well.  We played a round of Medici which I almost won (getting better at that one), We tried Torres (for the first time for everyone but Steve, and he'd only played it once or twice), but something seemed wrong.  We only had the Korean instructions provided by the board game cafe, so we stopped the game after the first Phase and decided to look up the rules and make sure we were doing it right.  Definitely plan to give it a try later.  We played Pueblo next, which I lost spectacularly.

When Hong left, we started a new game of Steve's, Red Dragon Inn.  We didn't get a full game in because Joe showed up and we had limited time before Pat had to go and Joe wanted to give Dominion another whirl.  But Red Dragon Inn was a nice little game.  This is also the sort of game that I'm sure most of my readers would enjoy, as the premise is each player is an adventurer back from the dungeon with gold, and are drinking and gambling it away in the inn.  There are a couple different versions out there.  Steve's copy has a half-ogre, bard, dwarf and um, forgot the other one instead of the ones listed in the link above.

We got our game of Dominion in, then Joe and I played a game of Blokus (the only game I won all afternoon).

We all want to get back to gaming regularly.  One problem though is that everyone's hoping they can pick a time where I'll be able to attend all the time.  Unfortunately, with my schedule that isn't gonna happen.  Hopefully they'll just pick a time, stick to it, and I'll show up as often as I can.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shinobi Sunday: Yinja!

On Friday, in the last class of the day, on of my students asked me if I knew what 음 (eum) meant.  I did.  It's the 'yin' of 'yin and yang.'  I told him that, but he didn't think I understood, so I drew the yin/yang symbol on the board.  He immediately ran up and drew a stick man body under it. 

Hence, Yinja was created.

Enjoy!  I'm taking today to relax.  We've got a big group getting together to play some board games all afternoon.  I need it.  I've spent a lot of time this week trying to organize my old college friends and acquaintances to donate money for one of our old friends who lives in Sendai and needs our help. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Summer's Movies

It's about a month and a half until Thor starts off this year's Summer Blockbuster Season.  And I'm a sucker for the big summer blockbuster action movies.  Here's a list of some of the movies I'm looking forward to.  I'll be lucky if I get to see even half of them, with my schedule, but had I world enough and time I'd be at every one of them.  Some probably twice.

Thor--the next Avengers lead-in movie from Marvel.  Looks to be up there with Iron Man in quality.  And a black Heimdall doesn't bother me at all.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides--At World's End was a somewhat disappointing 'end' to the trilogy, but trading Orlando Bloom for Ian McShane seems like an awesome idea.

X-Men: First Class--again, despite the disappointing X-Men Last Stand and epic piece of shit that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I'm looking forward to this.  I've always been an X-Men fan, so I'm hoping this one is cool.  Trailers look hopeful, at least.

Green Lantern--the third big comic book movie.  I'm hoping it does well so that DC starts cranking out more movies--and quality ones--the way Marvel has been.  

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2--We skipped Pt. 1, because the first half of the novel was a bore.  We'll likely try to see it on VoD before we go see this, but if we don't have time we may just go see the ending.  It's got all the cool parts of the book anyway.

Captain America: The First Avenger--how could I not go see this?  It's Cap, and it looks awesome!  (Unlike the weird surfer dude with shaggin' wagon 70's Cap...which is kinda cool in its own way).

Cowboys and Aliens--another awesome looking film.  Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell as cowboys blasting space invaders?  Yes, please!

Fright Night--a remake of the 80's horror flick.  This one may be worth seeing, but it's not a 100% must see.  Could be fun, though.

Conan the Barbarian--I'm not sure if it'll be any good, but I'll go see it anyway.  Fingers crossed on this one.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Magic Items in Flying Sworsmen RPG

So I've had Flying Swordsmen RPG on the mind again lately.  Something in my subconscious is dreading going through my screenplay to tighten up the descriptions and dialogue one more time, I think.  I'm looking for other things to keep my mind occupied.

Anyway, what I considered is that magic basically breaks down into two main groups in a D&D type game: consumables and permanents.  D&D divides things by function and form more than by use, but since I won't be including massive random tables or long lists of items, I'll focus more on the big division.

Consumables will be broken into two sub-groups.  True consumables (things that must be ingested to activate) will include the standard potions/elixirs, but also magical fruits (lots of these in Chinese mythology), wines, and powders and pills based on traditional Oriental medicine.

Second are use activated one-shot items, often in some written form.  Scrolls, sutras, clay tablets, joss sticks, incense, drawings/paintings, oils.  When used, they become non-magical or disappear.

The permanent group again gets two sub-groups.  Weapons/Armor will be pretty much what we know and love from D&D.  Basic magic arms get a +# to hit/damage or AC (up to +3).  Some special ones get extra abilities x times per day.  No intelligent weapons.  This part would have the only random chart in the section, so a GM could randomly roll how powerful one of these items is on a d12:
1-4: +1
5-7: +1, ability
8-10: +2
11: +2, ability
12: +3

And then there's everything else.  These could be magical jewelry/gems, household/craftsman/student/artist tools, music instruments, clothing, containers, furniture, animal parts, game pieces, vehicles, flags/banners, etc.  These items may work all the time, once per Turn (encounter powers to use the new-fangled term), or x times per day, but they're never exhausted.

What's been left out?  Well, I'm basically not including wands/staves/rods as they primarily exist in D&D.  If a GM were to create them, they'd follow the 'miscellaneous' magic item group's rules, and instead of having expendable charges, would be x per day or once per Turn items. 

I'll follow the original Dragon Fist's lead in just giving an overview of the types listed above, some examples and suggestions for creating new ones, and done.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St Patrick's Day

It's less than an hour to St. Patrick's Day here in Busan, so I thought I'd post something about it.  It's much more positive than the post I had been thinking of posting, and more game related as well.*

There are a few Irish beasties in D&D, but mostly in AD&D, not so much in Classic D&D.  Being half-Irish descended, I feel like I should stat up a few more of them.

Well, I don't have time to do it tonight, but maybe in the near future.  In the meantime, here are a couple of links to some Irish/Celtic legends that hopefully might inspire one or two of you to DIY something for your games.

Good old Encyclopedia Mythica, a great website for brief rundowns on lots of mytholgies.  Here's their page of Celtic Mythology articles.

Here's another site that looks nice that I found with a quick Google search. (link goes to their monsters page, there's more than just monsters on the site)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

*I was thinking of doing a post complaining about the idiots on Facebook/Twitter who think the earthquake/tsunami were God and/or Fate's revenge on Japan for Pearl Harbor.  But really, I only need to respond to those idiots with two words: Hiroshima, Nagasaki.  Plus, that's got nothing to do with gaming.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HeroClix RPG?

A month or so ago, I played a game of HeroClix with Dave and Joe.  We had a lot of fun, and while playing I had a stray thought that you could actually develop a primitive RPG using the HeroClix rules (or MageKnight or HorrorClix, or whatever).

Character generation would be dead simple.  Assign a maximum point value that players can spend, and let them purchase a character with that.  Role play your superhero/villain.  When combat breaks out, use the Clix rules to resolve it.  For other tasks, role play/negotiation ("I've got super strength, of course I can lift the bus"), or a 2d6 roll against a target number set by the GM would work (TN 10 to lift the bus normally, TN 5 with super strength).

For character advancement, I could see two systems that could be easily used.  Both have advantages and disadvantages, though.

First, using the Rookie/Experienced/Veteran versions of the figures.  This would likely require getting some figures from the secondary market, unless someone in your group was a die hard serious Clix collector.  The GM could set a certain number of XP required to advance, and award XP for goals achieved and villains defeated.  Alternately, a set number of 'plot points' or simply games played might be enough to level up.  [alternate models of the same character from different sets could also be worked in, judging relative strength by point cost of the figure]

Benefits: Players start and continue to play the same character through the campaign.  Possibly less bookwork to keep track of as well (if a simple X games at Rookie allows promotion to Experienced).

Drawbacks: Players might not be able to play as the character of their choice (Rookie Batman is more powerful than Veteran Gambit) due to the starting point ceiling.  Limited growth arc (3-steps). 

Second would be a system similar to the point-keeping used in a normal game to determine a winner (points awarded for point-value of villains defeated, or team-members still standing, plus throw in some goal/plot based awards for non-combat stuff).  In this system, though, it's not the characters gaining experience, it's the PLAYERS.  So it would be less XP, and more Player Privilege Points (P3 for short?).  Players keep a total of the points they've earned, and the points divided by 10 determine the maximum they can spend on a hero to play each session.

Benefits:  Much greater growth potential, characters could start out as Shield Agents or other 'grunt' figures, then work their way up eventually to the Superman/Hulk/Thor level.  Players can try out lots of different characters along the way.  Hero/sidekick combos could also be allowed if the points are there for both.

Drawbacks:  Long term story lines could be hard to do, as the cast of heroes would likely be changing from session to session, especially when players don't earn enough to purchase the same figure they played last session at the next higher level.  More bookwork tracking P3.

Finally, GMs would need to include 'break points' or morale or something to keep fights from going to the bitter end every time.  Sometimes it's fine to run those long combats until one side or the other is done, but most of the time that might take too long.  Then again, if 4E people are willing to play through hour+ long combats in their D&D, some people might also in their Supers RPG.

Of course, the big downside of all of this thought experiment is that there's no way (without some plastic molding skills and equipment, anyway) to really make your own heroes.  You're stuck playing ones from the HeroClix game (and apparently, only from the earlier sets if you use Advancement Method 1 above, as it looks like the more recent sets have done away with the R/E/V levels.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Strange thoughts

Over the weekend, I got some gaming in.  I didn't think I would at first.  Steve had tried to rally the troops for Sunday games, but then Pat and Alex had a big all-night drinking double birthday party Saturday night, so as I suspected, Steve's games were canceled.

Luckily, Joe and Tim invited me over to Tim's house for some Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan on Saturday night, along with a woman named Ina.  I've been a bit under the weather lately, so I had planned on skipping the late-night drinking fest.  I had wanted to stop by for a bit earlier in the evening just to congratulate the guys, but with a chance to play some games, I took it. 

I didn't do very well at Puerto Rico.  I started with a build strategy, then the nature of the game made me try to switch to a shipping strategy.  I did alright (tied for second with Tim).  In Settlers, I was shut out from wheat for most of the game, so I came in last.  Oh well, it was fun.

Anyway, for some reason or other, yesterday I started looking online to see what D&D resources are available here in Korea.  Turns out most of the 4E core books and Essentials stuff is available.  I'm now considering getting the Essentials Rules Compendium just so I can finally really give the rules a good read-through.  I've played the game a bit, but never read the rule book. 

I quickly passed over the new Red Box, though.  It might be nice to get the accessories (more dice, the PC and monster tokens, battlemaps), but I don't need them.  And the ERC would give me the basic 4E rules all in one book.

Who knows?  I thought WotC wouldn't get any more money out of me, but I may just give them another $20.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Relief Efforts

Sorry folks, no Shinobi Sunday today.  I'm just not in the mood.

Instead, here are some ways you can donate any money you can afford to help the victims. 

Here's a general roundup of relief organizations from Yahoo news.

Here's the Global Giving page for this disaster.

And of course, for us gamers, you might want to consider picking up a cheap gaming pdf or two with proceeds going to the Red Cross from RPG Now.

For me personally, so far so good.  I haven't heard from most of my friends in Japan yet, but most of them don't live in the heavily effected areas.  I haven't heard any BAD news yet, and that is something.

Anyway, I hope those of you who can donate do.  And I'd appreciate spreading the word on any other blogs.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Japanese Earthquake

Got home from class and work and finally heard the news.  A massive earthquake hit northern Japan this afternoon, about 2:50 local time.  Around 3:30 a tsunami hit the eastern coast.  The tsunami was between 7 and 10 meters high at its worst.

According to NHK, which I've got on TV at the moment as I type this, over 90 people are confirmed dead, unknown numbers of people are still missing, and the area around one of the nuclear power plants has been evacuated due to the fear that coolant water may be leaking (they were unsure...

Scratch that, they just reported the finding of 200-300 bodies in Sendai.

This one's bad.  I'm just praying that all of my friends and acquaintances are all safe.

When I hear about relief efforts, I'll post something about where to donate here on the blog.

Hot Elf Chick Ninjas!

Jumping on the bandwagon!

For those of you not familiar with Old School Role Playing Games (what we like to call the OSR), welcome!  We're a bunch of cantankerous, friendly, constantly bitching, mostly welcoming, and highly imaginative people who like to play old RPGs (the pen, paper and dice kind, although a lot of us enjoy the computer/video game versions, too), and modern RPGs made with similar design ethos to those older games.

Take a look around, check out the blog roll, and hopefully you'll find some stuff that makes you smile, some stuff that makes you angry, and most of all, some stuff that makes you want to join a game.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Dead Systems"

Reading an interesting post over at the Alexandrian today, and in the comments they mentioned (more or less as an aside) the 'dead system' phenomenon.

Now, myself and most of the folks following this blog play old, out of print versions of D&D, so we're not, for the most part, that sort of person.

But don't you ever wonder about the whole idea of only playing an RPG if it's being actively 'supported' by the company that originally published it?

Even the whole retro-clone movement plays on that mentality.*  I've got enough actual TSR produced D&D stuff on my bookshelf (not to mention the other stuff on my hard drive) to play D&D for years.  But there are some people who wouldn't bother playing it because TSR is out of business and WotC aren't producing anything for the old game.  But since Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, and OSRIC are out there allowing new stuff to be published, they might consider it.

I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist, just a loud-mouthed braggart with a blog instead of a boom-stick.  But those sorts of people just seem sorta pitiful to me.  Not pitiful in the sense that they're worthless schlubs, but pitiful in the sense that I actually pity them for their lack of imagination or initiative to just make some stuff themselves. 

I pity them for their lack of courage to try something 'new' just because there isn't something physically new on the store shelves for them to buy. 

I pity them for falling into that marketing trap that makes them think they need some company out there to produce something for the game they love.  And falling for the company line that when a new edition comes around, they should follow suit and keep feeding the beast.

I may get a few hateful comments to this post.  I may bruise a few feelings.  Likely not many, as I know most people that read my blog aren't the sort of people I'm talking about.  So be it.  Maybe Dave's comment on my last post is making me feel like being a bit smug and superior sounding for a change, but I'm hoping this leads to some constructive/positive thought on the issue.

If any of you people who refuse to play 'dead systems' are reading this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why a 'living system' is important to you.  Give me a reason to stop pitying you, and respect your choice to only play a game that receives support from the company, and to drop it as soon as the company stops supporting it.

*Yes, the clones are meant to foster creativity, not serve as a crutch to keep those systems 'alive.'  But I've seen quite a few people hyping them by claiming that they keep the old games 'alive' to those who shun 'dead' games.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Exploring Characters via Dungeons

Limpey of Aldeboran has again posted to clarify his thoughts on the quote by Dragonsfoot posert Evreaux in his thread on Megadungeon Mapping over at DF.  "We explore dungeons, not characters."

The fact that you are a character does not mean that you have character.

The way Limpey describes his idea of 'exploring dungeons, not characters' matches my own.  It isn't one or the other.  It's that the exploration of the dungeon, or the bomb-blasted wilderness, or the vast reaches of space leads to character development. 

Exploring a character's distrust of the federal government, or belief in Mormonism, or an inability to choose between the boring but caring guy and the sexy but dangerous guy, DON'T necessarily lead to an exploration of ancient crypts, nuclear wastelands, or strange new worlds.  Don't get me wrong, it can.  But it doesn't necessarily.

A will lead to B, but B may or may not lead to A.

When A leads to B it may not be Nobel Prize/Oscar worthy characterization, but it will develop somewhat.

As Limpey succinctly says,
I explore dungeons, not characters, and through
the course of exploring the dungeon and having the adventures, the character is
formed. The character is not a collection of adjectives, he or she is the
product of events.
 Or, to quote the old proverb, adversity builds character.  That's at least what I mean when I say "I explore dungeons, not characters."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Well, what do you know?

According to the German 'Weland's Saga' (that would be Wayland Smith in England, Volundr in Scandinavia), swan mays are actually valkyries.  The saga begins with a trio of valkyries taking a break on their way to some battle, and getting caught by Weland and his brothers who, of course, steal their feathered cloaks to prevent them from returning to swan form.

These guys...

...are actually these guys.

Good to know.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Happy Shinobi Sunday!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Traps as a Greater Challenge

On the subway today, both to and from a private tutoring session, I was making notes for some traps to put in the Megadungeon.

Of course, I don't need to take notes about pit traps, pendulum blades, lock needles, and the like.  I was brainstorming ideas for more interesting or elaborate traps.

And I started writing quite a few ideas for traps that were intended to create interesting challenges for the players and their PCs, rather than just the typical damage or delay effects of most traps.

And I liked it.

It got me thinking in ways I hadn't before.  What about a trap that will hinder henchmen/hirelings but leave the PCs alone?  Traps that affect logistics, like ruining rations or disintegrating all torches and lanterns.

And some 'traps' that aren't traps per se, but are more fool's bargains that the players might be foolish or desperate enough to attempt, like a magical pool that will give a spell-caster back their daily spell allotment, but permanently lowers one ability score.  Or a magical funnel that if you pour treasure into it, half of the treasure will be teleported to your home (got that XP earned) but the other half will disappear, never to be seen again.

I really like how my ideas were developing.  They're creating interesting choices for players, rather than just knocking off a few more hit points, or forcing a saving throw against some nasty effect.

Of course, there are also a few ideas for easily escapable traps involving an overly elaborate death, Dr. Evil style.  The game wouldn't be as fun without them.

But I'm more jazzed about these traps that are designed to make "story points" rather than just having them be a hindrance or obstacle to be overcome in the standard sense.

On a separate note, my class work hasn't been too bad yet, so I've had a bit of free time to work on Flying Swordsmen RPG while I wait on Paul's feedback about my latest version of Presidents of the Apocalypse.  The FSRPG monster section is about half finished now.  PotA will likely be released as a playtest version soon if Paul gives it the thumbs up.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mythic Narrative Structure in Fantasy Literature

I've been thinking a bit about how a lot of myths and sagas are organized, and how that compares to a lot of modern fantasy fiction.  These ideas are still fairly undeveloped, but I'll get my early thoughts down here, and hopefully expand on them when I've got time.

There are several 'layers of the fantastic' in a lot of myths. 

Mythic: stories of the gods themselves, full of monsters, magic, and not necessarily happening in the physical universe as we know it.

Legendary: stories of demi-gods and heroes, also full of monsters, magic, and the unusual, but happening in the physical world for the most part.

Heroic: stories of heroes, with some lesser amounts of monsters and magic, happening in the physical world, and often semi-historical.

Mundane: stories of normal folks in semi-heroic situations, very little magic/few monsters, happening in a semi-historical or fully historical setting.

Classical Greek mythology, for example, tends to be organized (at least in modern collections we have to read) in the order above.  You get the tales of the beginning of the universe, the pantheons of gods, naming myths, etc.  Then you get the hero myths of Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, etc. which are full of adventures and monsters and magic.  Then you get stories like the Trojan War and Odyssey which have their fantastic bits, but take place in a more 'verisimilitudinous' world.  You don't get much 'mundane' in the mythology books, but there are things like the Battle of Thermopylae that while historical, get a more heroic gloss.

The Norse Volsungasaga (Saga of the Volsungs) follows a similar pattern all within its one text.  It starts with the story of how Andvari cursed the gold (all about Odin, Loki, Thor and a bunch of dwarves).  Then you get Sigmund's story, which while mortal is still heavily fantastic and somewhat surreal.  Next we get Sigurd's slaying of Fafnir (and Regin) which removes most of the fantastic from the story.  Then Sigurd gets thrown in with the (semi-)historical Burgundian kings Gunnar and Hogni, plus one valkyrie who doesn't act much like one once she's rescued from the flames.  Finally, we get the tale of Gudrun's revenge against Atli (Atilla the Hun), which is pretty much devoid of anything supernatural.

In the Bible, most of this progression happens just in Genesis.

Not every myth or saga follows this, though.  For example, Journey to the West begins heavily mythical, with the origin of Monkey and his revolt in Heaven, then suddenly switches to semi-historical to introduce Tang Sanzang and the journey to bring back the sutras (based on a historical event), but once Sanzang gets Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand and they head out into the wilderness, we return to a heavily mythological world.

What I find interesting, though, is that a lot of modern fantasy goes in the opposite direction.  There are so many stories of the 'man out of time' or as James M. calls it, the Stranger, where people from the Mundane world get thrown into a world of Heroics, Legends or even Myths.

The Pevensie kids go from England to Narnia.  John Carter goes from Arizona to Mars.  Richard Rahl (whatever his name was in the first book, before he learned he was the BBEG's son) goes from the Riverlands into the Midlands.  Dorothy goes from Kansas to Oz.  Holger Carlson from WWII Denmark to mythic Caroligian France. 

Obviously, from a literary standpoint this makes it easy on the reader.  The author has perfectly good reasons IN THE STORY to give the reader all the exposition they need to understand the fantasy realm.

Other fantasy works pretty much stick with the level of fantasy in which they start.  Hyboria is just as it is in "The God in the Bowl" and in "The Hour of the Dragon."  Middle Earth moves from a Legendary age to a mere Heroic age (we assume) at the end of Lord of the Rings, but almost all of the narrative in the Hobbit and LotR take place in that Legendary realm.  It's really only in the Appendices that we see much of that 'lesser' age after the elves depart.

Anyway, not completely sure where I'm going with this.  It's mostly just food for later thought.  Still, if this seems useful or useless to you, or if you've got any other levels I've missed, or whatever, feel free to chime in on the comments. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Johnny Cash Alignment Poster

Fixed the Lawful Evil quote, and remembered to add a little digital signature for when this gets out into the wider web.  :D

Enjoy, everyone!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Expect a slowdown

My graduate school course starts tomorrow night.  I'm also going back to full time work at the kindergarten where I teach tomorrow.  It's the beginning of the new school year in Korea, which means I'm going to be incredibly busy.

I'll keep posting here when I can, but I doubt it will be very often.  Who knows, limiting my posts to only one or two a week may actually increase the quality, as I'll have more time to consider what I post here.  I seriously do a lot of stream of consciousness writing here, with no real ideas other than a topic for many of my posts. 

If anyone's wondering, I'm getting a Masters of TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) from Pukyong National University here in Busan.  It's a 2 year course, so check back in 2 years or so for a steady stream of nonsense from me.  Until then, expect an occasional burst of nonsense in its stead. :D

Oh, and I should have time to finish up that Johnny Cash alignment poster tomorrow.  There won't be any kindergarten classes to teach, just prep work to do.