Monday, December 30, 2013

Seems I'm not alone

There are some other OSR-type bloggers out there working on Asian Themed RPGs this holiday season (like Dan and Joseph B.).  And here I am, once again starting from near scratch to build my Chanbara game.

Well, thanks to my buddy Ted (here, here and here), I've refocused what I actually want to do with the game.  It doesn't need to be just D&D in funny hats, as it was headed.  Busting monster heads in ruins can still be part of the game, but hopefully I'll be able to make it a bit more than that (like I did for Flying Swordsmen). 

I'm simplifying a few things (character classes), and re-complicating some others (Skill Dice) although not as complex as they originally were.  And hopefully I'll manage to cobble together a game that's fun to play and also evokes and rewards playing to the tropes of Japanese period action movies (the historical and semi-historical stuff like Kurosawa or a lot of ninja movies), but also the weird Japanese supernatural stories (ghosts and bakemono and oni and all that). 

It will also likely be closer to Flying Swordsmen than I originally intended it to be, but now I'm thinking that's not such a bad thing. 

I'm going back to basics.  Three classes: Bushi (Fighter), Ninja (Thief) and Mahotsukai (Wizard), each with two subclasses similar to the "profiles" in Flying Swordsmen to allow them to specialize in certain areas.

Skill Dice will again be linked to ability scores (well, only my play-test group knew that I'd unhooked them, but oh well), with bonuses (increased die type) for using it for your class's main thing (combat, exploration or magic). 

I'll be getting rid of the archetype merger classes, but (in a bit of a twist from how it's normally done), allow humans the ability to multiclass.  Or maybe no to multiclassing, this is still in the idea stage.  But instead of subclasses being a mix of two main classes, each will just focus on doing their thing a bit differently.  So, like I said, more like Flying Swordsmen, only without the magic-user/cleric distinction.

The big change will be in the reward mechanics, which I'm still working on.  More details later as I figure out exactly how I want to do it, but if you read Ted's three posts (especially the second one), you'll get an idea of what I'm after for "goals of play."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Cleric

We've already been introduced to Aleena the Cleric in the tutorial, but here we get the actual class description (for the first three levels, anyway).
Right off the bat, we can see the effects of the 80's "Satanic Panic."  2nd Paragraph explicitly tells us that while Clerics serve great causes and their beliefs, the game DOES NOT deal with these things.  PC religion is just assumed, like eating, sleeping, and farting.  No need to bring it up in the game.  Later, the spell-casting description is also explicit in mentioning that players don't need to speak any mumbo-jumbo, just tell the DM that you're casting a spell.

Now, my dad is and always has been strongly religious, but he never had a problem with me playing D&D.  I guess the concern was bigger for the Protestants than the Catholics.  If these notes had not been here, if I'd had an earlier Basic Set or the AD&D PHB, which are explicit about Clerics serving made up gods, he might not have had the same reaction.

The first page (of four) also gives us our first glimpse of the standard setup for explaining the character classes.  The advancement table, level titles, Prime Requisite, hit dice, allowed weapons and armor, and special abilities.  Saving Throw tables are also right there, and I always later found it annoying that in AD&D you needed to look in the DMG to find them.  I much prefer having them there for players to just roll it and announce if they made it or not.  I've rarely had problems with players cheating with that.

Oh, and if I haven't mentioned it before (or at least recently), yes, I'm a fan of level titles.  They just add that bit of flavor that makes them fun, even if they make no real logical sense.
 The following pages gives us Cleric special abilities and the first level spells.  Turn Undead is explained in detail.  One oddity I noted is that it says that when undead are Turned, they will return shortly, but it doesn't say how long it actually lasts.  Maybe it's in the DM's book.

We also get our first explanation of how spells work in D&D games.  The assumption is that "adventures" only last one day (see, they had the "15-minute work day" back then, too!), so the number of spells shown - once you reach 2nd level or higher - is the number of spells per adventure.  There is a note that sometimes adventures take more than one day, and can be changed out at will each morning after rest.

There's also an interesting note about reversible spells.  Because the reverse descriptions are detailed in the Expert book, it says that Clerics can't use reversed spells until at least 4th level.  Now, I don't have many players casting Cause Light Wounds ever, but sometimes Cause Fear does get used.  I may think about actually using this rule in my home games.  It would be interesting to try, anyway.

Some people in the OSR have experimented with alternate interpretations of rules.  Several bloggers I know have tried the "limit spell-casters to only one of any prepared spell."  However, here in Mentzer Basic, we get an explicit mention that casters can double up on the same spell, in the part where it describes how spells are forgotten when cast.  If you memorize the same spell twice, cast it once and one copy disappears but the other remains.  Despite it being "cannon" for me, I would like to try that variant.  Maybe allow duplicates at Name Level.  That way, the Clerics and Magic Users would get some "powers" as they level.  4th level lets you reverse spells.  9th lets you memorize duplicates.  Could be a fun way to run a game!

Notes on Cleric 1st level Spells:
Cure Light Wounds - heal 1d6+1 hit points or remove paralysis, take your pick.
Detect Evil - detects intent to harm the Cleric, not Chaotic alignment, nor evil intentions toward others besides the Cleric.
Detect Magic - as worded, seems like it detects invisibility, but the invisibility spell description may trump this.  I'll check it later.
Light - using it to cast on creatures' eyes to blind them is part of the description.
Protection from Evil - AC/save bonus, plus enchanted creatures can't touch the Cleric, but doesn't prevent ranged attacks or spells.  Lycanthropes are listed as not enchanted creatures, but I have usually considered them to be so.  Charmed or magically summoned creatures (like a vampire's swarm of bats) are considered enchanted.  also, something I've been doing wrong (and allowed Dean and Alexei to have an easy time in the last Chanbara playtest).  If the Cleric attacks ANYTHING while the spell is in effect, enchanted creatures can now touch the Cleric.  Still, one of the best spells to have when dealing with level draining undead!
Purify Food and Water - can be used to clear muddy/murky pools of water, an application that could be useful during adventures besides just keeping the rations from spoiling.
Remove Fear - I usually forget that when a frightened creature gets a new saving throw against the effect, there's a bonus equal to the Cleric's level (max. +6) to the roll.  Not that it comes up often...
Resist Cold - not sure why Resist Fire is caster-only, but I've always liked the fact that this spell affects the whole party (as long as they stay near the Cleric).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Yuletide!

It's just about Christmas Eve here in Busan.  I've got a busy day tomorrow, with my kindergarten's Christmas Party.  Since I'm too busy with Christmas related activities to post about gaming (and I ran a session in my megadungeon and also started on a ground-up reworking of Chanbara today, so I have some gaming related stuff to talk about, not to mention my Mentzer Cover to Cover series...), here's wishing all of you a Happy Yul! 

Or Yule, whichever.

Bonus image: Carol, the Ancient Yuletide Troll!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: What Comes Next/Character Classes

The next page in the Mentzer Basic Players Manual, p. 23 for those following along at home, is divided into two sections.  The top has a section transitioning from the solo stuff to the idea of group games.  The bottom section has a bit of general information on character classes.

What Comes Next?

Well, according to this, you could keep replaying the solo adventure, or you could go out and buy a couple of solo modules, M1 Blizzard Pass and M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur.  I personally have never played either of these, and I've heard that the invisible ink pen needed to play them makes them sort of unplayable after that first time.  And from what I hear, PDFs of them are sort of useless.  I wonder if a PDF with the invisible stuff unreadable would make a good skeleton for a DM to use to make it into their own adventure?  Maybe.  But that's sort of off topic.

We finally get an explanation of the Dungeon Master, with advice to the prospective DM to read at least the first section of the Dungeon Master's Rulebook to familiarize themselves with the sample step-by-step group game.

Players are encouraged to just keep playing the Nameless Fighter (as it says, it never hurts to have more Fighters) all with different names, or to take one of the other sample PCs from the middle of the book, read over that character class's description, and have everyone read through the solo adventure stuff or have one player who has read it explain everything.  It also gives some page references to some other info later in the book that might be useful to know (or at least be familiar with) in group games.

Good advice to new folks to the game, but unnecessary for more experienced gamers.  I guess it's sections like this that give the Mentzer Basic Set a bad reputation.  Moldvay Basic makes a much better reference book, to be sure.  The meaty information is spread around in the Mentzer book, but the format did allow a large number of new gamers to learn the game without any mentoring.  As players (I probably mentioned this before), back in the day, we mostly used the Expert Set for PC information once we had it, since except for low level spell descriptions, it had all the information we needed.

Character Classes

This section obviously gives an overview of character classes, but other than introducing the demi-humans, it doesn't explain what each class is about.  It would be repetitive, since the human classes are explained in the tutorial section.  Also, each class will be explained in detail on the following pages.  Most modern RPGs have devoted this space to a brief description of each class before providing all the details, so it seems a bit sparse to me, reading it now.

We are again advised that while we could create our own characters, it would be better to use the Fighter or one of the other sample PCs in our first group games.  There is definite value in having pre-gens so that new players can just jump in and start playing.  On the other hand, character creation is so simple in Classic D&D that it's not so hard to walk a new player through it.  For a starting DM, though, the pregens are likely very handy. 

I don't remember if we ever did use the pregens or not.  My old Elf character Belrain may have used the pregen Elf stats.  I definitely borrowed the name from the class description.

We get an explanation of the Prime Requisite concept next.  "Each character has a specialty."  It explains the XP bonus/penalty attached to the PR, and how to calculate it.
Finally, we get a short reminder of saving throws.  The text doesn't explicitly state that each class's saves are different, only that players should note their class's numbers on their sheet, and a reminder to just roll 1d20 and try to meet or beat the number listed when the DM tells you to make a saving throw.

As a kid, I think the most valuable thing on the page were the images of the seven classes.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, and these profile pictures (by Easley or Elmore?  I can't tell which, although I'd guess Easley) do actually show what to expect from each class rather well.

I'm thinking now, since I play in a few PbP games on, that I should send in these pictures for portraits.  I don't remember seeing any of them on there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Solo Adventure Part 3: Into the Caves

The next eight pages of the Mentzer Basic Players Manual are the actual solo adventure.  It's arranged into lots of short numbered sections, with choices at the end of each about what you'd like to do, and which section to read next for the results of that choice.

The same nameless Fighter from the tutorial is your character, and you're returning to the caves near town to explore them further, only without any help.  It's a lot more deadly than before, with a good chance that your Fighter will die in any of the combat encounters with the exception of the rust monster, which may set you back all your earnings if you let it turn your weapons and armor to rust.

Back in the mid-80's, I remember playing through this thing multiple times until I'd finally gotten it all explored and came out with a "win."  Of course, it's possible to cheat - especially with the riddle room.  Metagaming can arise even in this aid to play.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, well, there's a riddle that will double all of your treasure if you answer it correctly, and well, there's nothing but the honor system to prevent you from not abusing it if you already know the answer but die and start again - hit the riddle room last.

There are a few things I take away from this now that I didn't think about 30 years ago, but notice that I did pick up on subtly.

  • It's no use to talk to monsters, unless they're hot human women like Aleena.  Any time you try to talk, it stalls for time at best, and often leads to you getting auto-hit by the monster.  In this tutorial, kicking in the door and smashing heads is the optimal way to play it.
  • There are no choices to trick. evade (other than running away, usually again leading to an auto-hit by the monster), or bamboozle the monsters and get the treasure without a fight.  Endless Quest taught me to do that, this learning tool teaches me to just go in with swords swinging.  Yet Frank even earlier in the book stated that it's better to try to get the treasure without a fight.  
  • There's not much rhyme or reason to these caves.  Not that I've even been a big stickler for "dungeon ecology."  It's just a bunch of tunnels and rooms with monsters and treasure.  
Anyway, we're through the tutorial/learning to play section (well, there's a lot more learning to play advice scattered throughout the rest of the book, but from here on it it's actual game rules and stuff).

Are the first 22 pages of this 64 page rulebook well spent?  All in all, I'd say yes.  It sure worked for me when I was 11 years old with no one to teach me.  And the remaining 42 pages have plenty of room for the "meat" of the game from a player's perspective, not to mention the 64 page Dungeon Master's Book.  This last section did lead to my friends and I playing it a bit too hack and slash in the earliest years, but we soon got over that, although we never did shy away from a good combat!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

This is not a review, really, although it sort of could substitute for one.  And it could get spoilery, since I'm planning to discuss the movie vs. the novel.  Go ahead and click away if you don't want the movie spoiled.

So, I saw the movie on Thursday, when it opened here in Korea.  I've got a bad head cold, and called in sick to work.  After laying around for a bit, I remembered that the movie opened, and we checked the times and there was a showing my wife and I could make, so we went to see it.

Visually, we get the same beautifully rendered world of Middle Earth that we know and love from the LotR movies and An Unexpected Journey.  The special effects were well done, the locations, sets, CGI backgrounds, props and costumes, all of that really continue to bring Middle Earth alive. 

Martin Freeman really brought Bilbo to life, showing his growing courage, the beginnings of the pull of The One Ring, and cleverness in the face of adversity.  Ian McKellan was also great as Gandalf.  A few of the dwarves besides Thorin and Balin also began to stick out as actual characters, but it would be hard to do that with all of them.

As far as the story goes, though, there were (IMO, of course) way too many derivations from the novel.  In the LotR movies, there were abridgements, additions, and substitutions, but I always felt like they were done to help translate the novels to film.  Not so here.  Most of the stuff that actually came from the book was over in a flash, while stuff that PJ and company made up seemed to take up the lion's share of the film.  And I'm not just talking about the Necromancer/Dol Guldur stuff.

OK, here are the spoilers:

Beorn got less screen time than Radagast did in AUJ (and Radagast gets a fair amount here in DoS as well).  Bilbo does a little bit of spider fighting, but no taunting.  Then the dwarves all get their weapons and chop away until Legolas and Tauriel (the female elf character they added - who was fairly well done by the standards of action movie kickass babes/love interests) take out the rest.  Barrels out of Bond turns into, as someone I read on either G+ or Facebook put it, a video game platformer.  The fairly unnecessary Azog the Defiler gets pulled away from his chase of Thorin, only to be replaced by Bolg (who's in the book), but who looks almost the same and acts fairly similarly as well.  Laketown is a seeming cauldron of near revolution led by Bard against the Master (IIRC in the book they have no love for each other, but it's not like a daytime soap opera)  The dwarves try to fight Smaug, leading to a big set piece battle in the forges of Erebor. Oh, and worst of all was the unnecessary elf-dwarf-elf love triangle.  But then if you cast a young handsome dude as Kili, I guess as a filmmaker you feel the need to give him some romance in the movie.

When the Momoa Conan movie came out two years ago (or was it three?) lots of people said it was a good enough fantasy action movie, it just wasn't Conan.  I feel sorta the same way about Desolation of Smaug.  It's got "The Hobbit" in it, but there's so much other stuff bloating it and taking away from the style and feel of the book that it's not really the same story at all. 

Still, I will be there next December to see the Battle of Five Armies and the cleansing of Dol Goldur.  It's a fun movie, don't let my complaints give you the wrong idea.  I just wish there were more The Hobbit in The Hobbit.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Solo Adventure Part 2: Battles

I've been busy, but don't despair, I'm still continuing with this series.  Who knows, eventually it may even get me to finally read the Immortals Set (which I only have on .pdf, so I haven't given it a full reading before).

Our next section, before the CYOA style solo adventure itself, is a one page section detailing battles.  It's still not the full D&D combat system, but it's getting closer.  The tutorial already showed how to make attack rolls and saving throws.  In this section, we're introduced to the idea of rolling for damage, and how both your own attacks and the monster attacks are now more deadly.

One interesting note is that for the CYOA solo adventure, all weapons do 1d6 damage.  I'll find out later if variable weapon damage is listed as optional or not (yeah, I could just flip ahead...).  When we were kids, we latched onto that chart showing what dice to roll for what weapons, and stuck with it, if it was presented as optional.  In our most recent Vaults of Ur games, we were experimenting with an all weapons do d6 rule, but I think we'll go back to regular variable damage by weapon from the next session.  As a DM, though, I often default to any weapon-using enemy only using a d6 for damage for simplicity, rather than figure out how many orcs are packing swords, how many have hand axes, and how many have daggers.  I tend to discourage the low level "salvage all the weapons and armor from the goblins" style play, so it's usually not a big deal exactly what weapons they are carrying, at least for melee purposes.

Because this is a training module, it tells us that if we die, just start over again.  Having played enough Atari (the Nintendo hadn't made it out yet) and arcade games, that wasn't weird for me.  This was a game, after all.  And I do remember that it took me multiple tries before I'd explored all of the areas, as I did die fairly often.  I think this is a good thing.  In the initial tutorial, you almost can't fail (only against Bargle's goblin do you have a chance to drop to 0 hp).  Here, you can and likely WILL die often.  It's a good lesson to be learned by new folks.  It's also something video game designers might want to think about, as most in-game tutorials I've played through have had the kid gloves on.  And they feel like a waste of time to me.  I'd rather just jump in and learn while playing.  But maybe that's just me.

One issue I have with the style of these introductory adventures is the lack of RP or options to outwit the enemies.  This page gives you fairly standard advice about how D&D combat works mechanically, but it limits the perspective to the "roll to hit, roll damage, rinse and repeat" mindset that we often fall into.  In this respect, some of the Endless Quest books, like Dungeon of Dread and Light on Quest's Mountain did a better job of preparing me for D&D play, as they included talking/negotiating with monsters, tricking them, or coming up with clever plans to tip the combat odds in my favor. 

The page ends with the advice to keep notes of combat details, treasure earned, and monsters defeated on scrap paper, so there is a record after the adventure.  For a while as a kid, I did try keeping it all in my head, and sometimes it worked, other times we just gave out treasure and XP after each encounter.  These days, I do as advised and keep a page of scrap paper nearby when I play or DM.  The page also gives us some advice about mapping the dungeon, both to avoid getting lost, and to note where dangerous creatures are so you can return to them later when you feel confident about facing them - subtle advice on old school play that gets lost on many, I think.  Not only mapping, but the idea that you would scout out where monsters are, and only battle them when you're ready for them, rather than kicking in all the doors and rolling initiative regardless of what's there.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mid-World Adventures

My birthday present arrived a week early, so I've been reading Stephen King's addition to his Dark Tower series, The Wind Through the Keyhole the past few evenings.  The DT series is one of my favs, and really the only stuff by King I've read in the past decade has been those books and a few related works.

And since I'd always wanted to run a game set in the DT universe, my mental gears have been churning away at ideas. 

Many years ago, I thought of using d20Modern/Future/Past/Apocalypse to make it work.

Now, I think Labyrinth Lord as the base set, Go Fer Yer Gun for PC classes, and Mutant Future for additional monsters and artifacts.  It could work.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A lucky find

I was searching Google for public domain Western/cowboy pictures.

I found this:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts on Spells Inspired by my Son

My son actually asked to play Dungeons & Dragons with me today.  He's still 4 months shy of his 6th birthday, so of course I had to do a fair amount of simplifying for him, but I ran him through the CYOA dungeon from the Mentzer Basic Players Manual (killing two birds with one stone, as that helps me prepare for the Cover to Cover post).

At first, he wanted to play a "wizard" so we rolled him up a Magic-User.  I briefly explained spells, and gave him Read Magic plus let him choose three more (one more standard, plus one for each point of Int bonus he had).  He chose Hold Portal, Light/Darkness and Ventriloquism.

Rather than explain the intricacies of Vancian spellcasting to him, I figured I'd just let him cast each spell once during the adventure, and let him return to town and rest up if he wanted to refresh them.  Turns out he died before he had a chance to cast a single spell, although he did take out a rust monster with the help of my wife's old Halfling PC from our gaming attempts from before our son was born (her Halfling is level 4 with a displacer cloak, +1 short sword, and a few other nice things).  Anyway, goblins then made short work of our wizard, who had a 6 Constitution so only 2 hit points. 

My son rolled up a Fighter and, with the help of Blossom the Halfling for combats (my wife was reading a book at the time, taking breaks to roll some dice when necessary), went on to trounce the dungeon, getting all the loot, dividing it with Blossom, then getting it all doubled by the magic mouth. 

Back to the idea that hit me.  Since I was going to let him use each of the 4 spells in his spellbook once each, I got to thinking.  What if, instead of preparing spells, a Magic-User, Elf or Cleric (Clerics will need spellbooks or prayer books or something in this version to make it work rather than access to all their spells) can cast each spell in their spellbook a number of times per day equal to their Vancian spell limits?

So a 1st level M-U can cast each spell in his/her book once per day (as above).  At 3rd level, with two 1st level and one 2nd level spells per day, each 1st level spell in the book could be cast twice, while each 2nd level spell could only be cast once.

Of course, 3E style limits of up to 4 per level per day might be a good idea, and my Level 15 cap instead of the BECMI level 36 cap would be necessary to prevent abuse.

What are the benefits?  Well, first of all a lot of the utility spells that rarely see play would see play.  Spell-casters move away from the tactical nuke/heal-bot mentality they engender.  Yes, as they gain lots of levels they can do that, but they would still have lots of utility magic to go around as well.  Gets rid of the "I cast one spell and am then useless" complaints of low level play.  Makes caster characters' main motivation to seek out magical books, libraries, or other casters in order to expand their repertoire. 

Drawbacks?  All those arguments about casters replacing Thieves become more tenable.  If you can cast Knock or Locate Traps several times a day without having to give up other (attack/heal) spells, might as well magic your way through such things than rely on a Thief's percentage chances.  Maybe in an OD&D/S&W game without the Thief this variant would work better. 

This is not an idea I'd want to use all the time, but for certain campaigns (or maybe as a replacement of the caster roll mechanic I'm using in Chanbara?) it could be fun.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Solo Adventure Part 1 Town Business

Continuing our read-through of the Mentzer Basic red box books, we get the beginning of the "choose your own adventure" style second adventure for the nameless Fighter.  Thinking about it now, I can see how well Frank is transitioning readers new to D&D into actual game play.  First we get a few snippets of evocative text in the Preface.  The First Adventure is all canned text with everything more or less predetermined. (I forgot to mention that you can actually die fighting the goblin in the Bargle encounter before Bargle charms you...otherwise all the fights are predetermined and after you take a certain amount of damage the monsters never hit again.)

This section of town business is like a cut scene, you've got no interaction at all, just a page to read.  But the solo adventure to come, being more like a CYOA book, gives you some real choice in the adventure, although it's more limited than a real game.  The "group adventure" in the DM's book is again CYOA style to a point, but the players have a lot of freedom to move around the ruins.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Needless to say, while these introductory/tutorial pages have little "replay value" in them, they do build nicely upon each other to ease people into the concepts and expectations of the game.

So, getting back to the text itself, we have a little story where "you" use the treasure from the first adventure to buy better armor.  You banter with the armorer, try on some plate mail, bargain down the price, then pick it up a few days later.  After failing to find any companions for your next adventure, you set off to the caves again, once more on your own.

And what can the new player learn from this?  Well, first is that being well equipped for an adventure is part of the game, and that town business can involve role-playing, which can be fun.  Good armor is a trade-off of protection for speed/carrying capacity.  Your new plate armor is heavier than the chain, so you can carry less treasure, but you're more likely to survive with it. 

The usefulness of Charisma is shown again - but of course when we were kids, that lesson went somewhat over our heads and like many D&Ders we thought of Charisma as a "dump stat."  Of course, we used to roll ability scores in order like the book says, but we didn't worry too much about Charisma unless it was unusually high or unusually low. 

The idea of safety in numbers is again shown, as at the end of the vignette you try (unsuccessfully, of course) to find some other adventurers to accompany you. 

Yes, all of this is old hat to us veteran gamers.  It was new to me 30 years ago, and definitely helped me out in getting the tropes and expectations of the game [yes, I'm repeating myself]. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

We fail the quest

Last Saturday, we had yet another session of Justin's Vaults of Ur campaign.  Has this been going on for nearly two years now?  I'll have to check my records.

Anyway, last session we finished in the middle of Little Bear Carolly's trial by dream-quest in which we were all transformed into pole arm wielding bears.  This time, Jeremy couldn't make it so it was just Dean as Carolly, Alexei as Maya who was also accused, and me as Thomas the Visionary who was just along for moral support (which is interesting in that he lacks many morals with which to support them...).

We had to recover the MacGuffin...I mean the broken pieces of the Franklin Mint collectible plate with dogs playing poker.  We had one last session.  Three to go.  Then we could prove Elder Karl and Maya's innocence and expose the lies of the ogre partisans in Fort Low.

To get the remaining pieces, pixies who stole our weapons shrunk us down to 1' tall and sent us into a tree-stump dungeon.  We explored a bit, rescued the pixie they wanted us to rescue, found out that the mage who created the dogs-playing-poker plate was supposedly buried under the stump, and went back in to fight more spiders.

Just as we got into an inescapable situation, I (who had been drinking a fair amount that evening so I wasn't on top of my game) realized that when we took the pixie back out, we should have just had ourselves returned to normal size and then we could have dug up the mage's bones without having to battle spiders.  As Justin commented when I said this, it would have completely bypassed the dungeon.

As it was, we were trapped and poisoned by spiders and all of us died.
"Guilty!" "Guilty!"  "The vote must be unanimous, Jor-El."

Upon awakening, Karl and Maya were pronounced guilty, sentenced with exile.  Next session, all of our PCs, alternate PCs, and whatever NPC help we can scrounge up will be heading off through a portal into the wilderness on a continuing mission to find new life and new civilizations, kill them and take their stuff.  That's a Prime Directive that Thidrek can get behind.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Dice

There they are, those beautiful polyhedra we all know and love.  Notice that the non-Platonic solid d10 is not pictured.

Anyway, our next section in the Mentzer Basic Players' Book is a half page on dice.  It's written for a complete beginner.  It starts by explaining that dice is the plural of die.  That beginner.

Well, as I've mentioned before, it was written for, in modern parlance, complete noobs. 

Anyway, we get a description of each die, a bit of advice on how to roll and read the d4 in particular, how to get a d% by rolling the d10 twice, and how to get other dice combinations.

Dice notations are also explained.  This section also mentions how to calculate non-die ranges, such as d2, d3, and d5.

With the advent of the OSR, there's been a lot of discussion about this sort of "dice tutorial" appearing in game books.  Do we need it?  Can we leave it out?  What if someone picks up a retro-clone as their first RPG?  Do only experienced gamers tend to collect these modern, typically self-published offerings?  Are we somehow neglecting to grow the base with the next generation if we leave this sort of thing out?

Looking at my own offering, Flying Swordsmen, you can see that I split the difference.  I didn't include this sort of thing in the book itself, but there's a note directing readers to my blog, where I did write up my own little dice tutorial and "what is role playing?" bits for someone who happens to stumble across Flying Swordsmen without having ever played another RPG that uses polyhedral dice, and without someone more experienced to show them the ropes.  In the internet age, that seemed to be the best course for me and my publication.

But back in '83, when this set was being produced with the express purpose of getting it out onto mainstream retail outlets and into the hands of kids and adults who were not already part of the gaming scene, this sort of thing was absolutely necessary.

So I don't knock this section any points.  In fact, I give it full points for not leaving anything to chance - right down to the initial explanation of die/dice. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Your Character

The next three and a half pages of the Mentzer Basic Set's Players Book continue the tutorial, going over the character sheet and what everything on it means.  It repeats a bit of ground, going over your ability scores, hit points, and a few other things that the "Your First Adventure" section covered, and pretty much everything else that's on the character sheet.  A lot of the basics of play are covered here.

Again, it is written at a low reading level.  It was designed to introduce the concepts of RPGs in general and D&D in particular to kids who didn't have someone around to teach them.  It succeeded, but yet there were still areas in this section that I didn't get right for the first few years we played.  I guess I (like most 11 year old kids I suppose) didn't bother to go back and re-read sections I wasn't clear on, even though Frank explicitly told us to do so in bold print even. 

But then isn't that what the spirit of D&D is all about anyway?  Take what you don't understand and ignore it or make something up to fill the gap?  So we completely ignored the Constitution stat for a while (unhealthy adventurers?  Didn't make sense), rolled a straight d20 for abilities instead of 3d6 (rerolling 1s and 2s since we picked up on the minimum 3 score, but ignored the maximum 18 - and yes, my Fighter Gwydion did have a 20 Strength, thank you very much!  Our characters were the Spinal Tap amps of D&D.), and a few other things.

Getting back to the book, the section starts off talking about Alignment.  Before anything else, it gives us the info that Lawful equals friendly and helpful, Chaotic equals selfish and nasty (carefully avoiding using "good" and "evil" as the BADD/Jack Chick crowd were now paying attention), and Neutral is in the middle, sometimes selfish sometimes selfless.

We get a very important piece of advice next, always use a pencil.  Things on the sheet will change.  This has stuck with me, and I have belittled players before for using a pen.

Frank goes over each section of the character sheet, but because it's following the character sheet format, it can be a bit disjointed.  The information doesn't quite gel for me, reading it now.  Granted, this is just a primer, and more detailed information follows later.  We get explanations of basic game values (AC, hit points, level, the ability scores in a bit more detail, saving throws, etc.).

And on the back of the sheet we get info on magic items, normal gear, money, and experience points.  Frank points out in this last section that there is more XP to be gained from treasure than from killing monsters.  Even in the sample adventure, where Bargle charms and sleeps you and steals most of the loot you gather, you still come back with 200 xp from treasure and only 30 xp from monsters slain.  There's also advice that avoiding, treating with, and tricking monsters to avoid fights and get treasure without combat should be preferred.  I wish this advice had been repeated elsewhere in the rules, as I didn't go back and re-read this section often, unlike later parts of the book.  Our early games did tend to be hack-and-slash affairs.  Big monsters like dragons tended to inspire us to cleverness, but most creatures were just attacked on sight.

Overall, there are some gems of gaming advice here, and the basics are covered, but it didn't stick in my memory as well as the parts that were taught by doing (or at least done by proxy) in the previous section.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Two sohei walk into a haunted castle...

Last night we ran another play test of Chanbara.  Things are going well.  Dean and Alexei were the only two players available, and they are both playing sohei.  It made for an interesting experience, and helped us to find some fuzzy areas in the rules that need to be ironed out.
Little Sparrow the Sohei by Dean Flemming

Basically, I was going for OD&D levels of sparseness of spell and ability descriptions.  And we found out why the descriptions of such things have gotten longer and more legalistic over the decades first hand.  Now, I don't need to go to Pathfinder lengths to describe every little detail and proscribe every possible abusive case.  That last part is something individual GMs should be able to handle.  But I do need to be concise yet specific in the use of certain abilities.

I also need to think of some sort of caster limit.  Chainmail roll to cast mechanics are working well as a means of working spells in play, but while in a wargame there's a limit to the amount wizards will be casting determined by the length of the "battle," there's no such limit in RPG campaign play.

Some sort of limit needs to be in place.  Now to figure out what.  I don't want Vancian spells per day by level, nor a spell point system.  But possibly a hard limit on spells per day regardless of level?  Or fatigue such as the Stars Without Number system strain mechanic?  Something else?

One proto-idea floating around in my head would be a system of diminishing returns for casting the same spell more than once.  So a caster would be able to cast each spell they know once per day at no penalty, but each additional casting of each spell would be at a penalty, have a cost, or cause some sort of hindrance.  Having to track it for every spell, especially at high levels, would get tedious, I think.

At the moment, I'm leaning toward a modified SWN system strain mechanic.

Oh, and the two sohei, both designed for hunting undead, did really well in the castle versus skeletons and jikininki, but had a hard time in a random encounter against a group of kama-itachi (flying sickle weasels).  Probably as it should be.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Your First Adventure

Pages 2 through 8 of the Mentzer Players Book contain the tutorial "adventure" that walks the nameless Fighter through some caves to encounter a few monsters, Aleena the Cleric, and the evil Bargle the Magic-User.

It gets slagged on a lot these days.  It's written for idiots!  It's a baby version of the game!  Blah blah blah.

Let me tell you something.  I'd read some Choose Your Own Adventure type books, some fantasy stuff like Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, and of course watched plenty of Saturday morning Cartoons, including the D&D Cartoon before I got this set.  But even then, I still had no idea how to actually play the game.  And this section taught me, in an interesting way, quite a few tropes of D&D play that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

It teaches you how to make attack rolls and saving throws.  It explains the six ability scores.  It lets you know what the different classes are, what they are good at and why it's good to have a variety of classes in a party.  It teaches you a bit about a few monsters, and some basic dungeoneering advice, like lighting, listening at doors, what are the good treasures, etc.  And it'll break your heart when Bargle slaughters Aleena with his magic missile.

Yeah, looking at it today, as experienced gamers, it looks like 7 wasted pages in the book.  But it served its purpose well with me back in the day.  I didn't have anyone to teach me the game, I just had these books.  And despite making quite a few mistakes early on (which didn't really matter, we were having fun and it was the spirit of the rules more than the RAW that matters anyway), I got it and was able to teach my friends from this.

Now, more recent RPGs, like the Lamentations of the Flame Princess game, came with the learning to play tutorial in a separate booklet.  Actually, back in the day Star Frontiers also had a "basic play" 16 page booklet along with the 64 page main booklet.  It's a good idea.  But since they already had two booklets going in, I guess it made sense to have this in the Players' Book rather than have it and the CYOA-style adventure that comes next in a small booklet, the players' info in another small booklet, and the DM stuff in a bigger book.

Anyway, last word on this section is about the final section of the tutorial, "Winning."  Of course it tells you that there are no "win" conditions in an RPG, and that if you have fun, that's considered winning.  Even if you die.  You can always just roll up another character.  Still good advice, 30 years later.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ur-sine Adventures

After many many weeks (nearly many moons!), we finally got to play an adventure in Justin's Vaults of Ur campaign.

We'd left off in September with the arrest and confinement of Venerable Carolus (now leveled up and called Little Bear Carolly) and Maya the Elf, for the wanton slaughter of the Homesteaders.  Long story short, he was framed, man!

Well, the powers that be in Fort Low, being Lawful to a fault, don't allow humans to interfere with JUSTICE!  They use random chance to decide court cases.  And Carolly and Maya were sentenced to Trial by Anthropomorphic Spirit Journey.  We all got to come along!

Of course Dean was playing Carolly and Alexei was playing Maya.  Jeremy had Noctis the Orc, and since I'd said Thomas the Visionary (my backup 70's style pervy magic-user) was in Fort Low and willing to help out with Karl, I ran him instead of Thidrek.

After imbibing some potions, we entered the Dream Quest forest as Soldier Bears.  We had to readjust stats, using a variant of Pendragon stats where Strength became Gentle/Savage, with a 3 being a bonus for Gentle but penalty for Savage and 18 vice versa, and all the other 5 ability scores split into dual system as well.  As with the Hill Cantons monster stats, we each had 2d6+2 hit points (Swords and Wizardry).  [Justin is trying it out for a possible future Arthurian game using this setup.]

We actually started out in a home under the name of Sanders.  We grabbed pole arms (much discussion of Gygax's fascination with them, some posting of pictures followed), with Carolly taking a glaive-guisarme, Thomas taking a Bohemian ear spoon, Maya taking a bardiche, and Noctis taking IIRC a pole axe. 
Wandering in the forests, we were attacked by swine-men, trapped and escaped an ogre's clutches, and then confronted by My Little Pony unicorns and told that in addition to the ogre's pendant we'd need four more tokens to beat the accusers (our former henchmen), escape and prove Karl's innocence.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mentzer Basic: Cover to Cover

Do I have time to spend on a big long blogging project?  Not really, but if I keep it simple and my sections brief, I can try to get a post up every week or so without disrupting my academic readings and related writing.  Or at least I hope so.  We'll see.

My 40th birthday is coming up in about a month, so it was 29 years ago that I first received my Mentzer red box Basic D&D set for my 11th birthday.  Yeah, I'm one of the pup kids in the mid-80's who taught himself how to play with the "kiddie version" of the rules rather than the original set or AD&D.  And I'm still basically playing those rules today (liberally stealing what I like from other editions and games).  So, I'm going to go through those old booklets again, reading cover to cover and seeing how they look to my old eyes, and reminisce about how I first felt about them, or at least as much as I can recall.

Mentzer Basic: Cover to Cover
Front Matter: Preface, How to Use this Book, Acknowledgments, Dedication, Table of Contents

The preface is of course by Frank Mentzer.  Aside from the overuse of the exclamation mark (he was writing for kids like me, after all), this easy to overlook text does a good job of laying out the basics of the game.  I've seen people struggle (myself included) to explain just exactly what an RPG is, yet Frank does it succinctly and well here.  He starts with a bit of image invoking in-character text, mentions books and movies and how they're nice but wouldn't it be nice if it were your story?  Then he goes on to give the basics of D&D - there are no end conditions like in other games, it's cooperative, and all you really need are the rules in your hands, a few friends, and some time.

Note to self, use this text with newbies in the future instead of yet another of my long, rambling attempts to explain the game.

Frank ends the preface with yet more evocative text, and I do remember reading that as a kid, and being drawn in by it.  Hell yeah, I wanted to be that strong, golden-haired warrior about to go into a dragon's lair. 

How to Use this Book
This is more of a practical section.  If you're a player, you'll want to read the sample adventure in this book, and let your friends also read it before you play.  It's better to have someone who can teach you the rules, but if you don't have someone to do that, one of you should read the other book, for Dungeon Masters, so they can fulfill that role.  This set contains all of the basic rules of play, and will take characters up to 3rd level, with the Expert, Companion and Masters sets for higher level play up to 36th.

Once you know what you're doing, this is extraneous text, but of course for kids getting this box set of a game you'd heard about - from older kids, from the TV show, from ads in comic books and such - it was sure helpful.

A big long list of names, alphabetical, including of course Arneson and Gygax.  A brief thanks to Donald Patterson and Harold Johnson, who introduced Frank to D&D at the end.

Nothing really to say about this.  Some names I recognize, some I don't.

Frank mentions that the original rules were intended for die hard hobby gamers, and that this set keeps the same spirit but in a format that nearly anyone can understand.  Dedication of course to Frank's good friend, founder of TSR, and co-creator of the game, E. Gary Gygax.

Table of Contents
Edit: I'll add hyperlinks to sections as I review them.

The Player's Book is divided up into:
Center Pull-Out Sheets
There are some subdividsions I didn't list.  I'll likely divide future posts around these headings, maybe using some of the subdivisions if necessary to keep posts short.

So, not the most thrilling start to the series, but then this is cover to cover.  Gotta get these boring parts out of the way, I guess.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Catch Up

I'm way behind on my actual play updates.  I'm not even sure if I can remember everything.  Not sure how many people actually enjoy reading these, either, but I like keeping them here for posterity (and bonus XP).

In Justin's Stars Without Number game, Panoply Sector, we had a session quite a while ago now where we continued to explore the asteroid sky tomb where we had a TPK the first session.  This time, we managed to clear it out of the bug aliens that lived there, only one PC died (although my warrior Tommy "Six" Gunn just barely managed to hold onto life long enough for a lazarus patch to be applied), and we managed to make a bit of money from the alien relics and gear salvaged from there.  Looking forward to playing more in this game, and I've got a Psychic rolled up to join the fun and replace Gawain "Greasebox" Mifune, my Expert killed in the line of duty in the first session.

Also quite a while back, Jeremy ran a short playtest of one of his "kludge" systems, marrying Microlite20 with something called the Effect Engine.  It was a fairly standard fantasy game, but I was able to really exploit the system for my mage, making it ridiculously easy for him to cast and resist spells, although he was totally ineffectual in physical combat.  We explored a cave filled with bandits and their zombie slaves.  I think this was supposed to tie into Jeremy's "The Siege Perilous" trans-gender... oops, I did it again, trans-genre game, but that has been switched to TriStat dX, at the d8 level.  Dean and I are currently making characters, but I don't think anyone else has bothered.  Not much interest in that game, I'm afraid.

I was hoping one of the players would do a write-up of my Chanbara playtest game the other week, but so far no luck.  I just flat out granted a level up to the characters that participated, in order to better test the level spread/power curve of the system.  They still have a lot of Ghost Castle Hasegawa left to explore.  Maybe I'd better offer them minor magic items for pictures or write-ups.  I'd love to have some of both.

And finally, last weekend Alexei ran a 2E game (no bells and whistles, pretty much PHB only), using the module The Halls of Tizun Thane.  I dug out some old 2E PCs I'd made either in Evansville or in Toyama between games, just out of boredom.  I had a Dwarf Fighter/Cleric and a Human Bard in a folder on my bookshelf, so they finally got to see action after 15 or so years wait.  We explored a bit, got a pittance in loot, but hopefully we can convince Alexei to run it again, as I sure had fun with it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What motivates the players?

Two and a half years ago, I blogged about character motivation here and a follow up here.

Recently, in my grad school classes we've been talking about motivation with regards to teaching English as a second or foreign language.  And it got me thinking again about motivation in RPGs.  Two years ago, I was thinking about in-character motivations for your PC.  Now, I'm thinking about motivations for you, the player (or DM).

One convenient way to classify types of motivation is as either intrinsic (internal) motivation and extrinsic (external) motivation.  Long story short, intrinsic motivation means you're self motivated, while extrinsic motivation means something outside your own mind motivates you to do something.  In ESL circles, intrinsic motivation is preferred, as intrinsically motivated students tend to work harder, but extrinsic motivations are still necessary otherwise intrinsic motivation can evaporate. 

So what motivates us to play RPGs?  I've made a list.  Not an exhaustive one, by any means.  Not necessarily the most thought out list either.  But I'm gonna put this stuff up here on the blog for people to consider and comment on, and if someone can point out where and how I'm wrong, I'll improve my model.  The essence of peer review right there.

First off, all the stuff I talked about before, the in-character motivations, are really for the player extrinsic motivations, whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic to the fictional player character.  Yes, there is some wish fulfillment in gaming, but I don't think anyone's satisfying their actual craving for gold or power or lovers by playing a game.  Living vicariously can act as a stop-gap measure, but in the end won't satisfy.  Or maybe there are a few people who are, but I'd guess they're outliers rather than part of the normal distribution of players.

Some other extrinsic motivations for players might include:
System Mastery - contact with the rules, Min/Maxing, sussing out the exploits, rules lawyering, etc.  I'd almost consider this as intrinsic, as it's something you can do in your head, but it also relies on the rule system you're trying to master, plus the fact that mastery is pointless if you don't ever play.  Still, it may be a good example of the fact that the extrinsic/intrinsic split is more of a spectrum than an either/or decision.

Character Advancement - some game systems do this better than others, obviously, but in most games there is some way to advance and improve your character, and doing so is often a motivation to play.  It stimulates our reward centers in our brains.  We've got bigger numbers or a longer list of stuff on our character sheet.  We've got a feeling of achievement.  And again, while it's personal to a large extent, it's also something that you need others to pull off.  Even with a solo game system of some sort, you're really still interacting with the designers in order to advance.

Socialization - this one's probably obvious.  Sometimes, it's not so much the game itself, or the character you've created, or the exploration of the game world.  It's spending quality time with friends that motivates you to play.  Related to this are two more types of motive I thought of:

Bragging Rights - some people play in order to win.  Yeah, there are no win conditions in an RPG.  Or at least not in the typical sense of most games' win conditions.  But yet, there is competition at times.  Players can play games of oneupsmanship with each other, and at times that might be a strong motivation to participate for some gamers.

Schadenfreude - and the converse to bragging rights, the gamer who's not so interested in doing "better" than others, but who gets a kick out of all the bad things that can happen to PCs in the game.  I don't know if this would be someone's primary motivation to play, but there is definitely a sense of enjoyment to be had in watching another player do something stupid, or fail a saving throw, or whatever.

Narrative Crafting - one last one I'll mention for now is the desire to create a story.  It's the goal of the game for some games (you know, the Forge-derived "story now" stuff which doesn't really suit my preferences, but that's just me).  Some games don't make it a goal, but players may still have it as a goal or driving force.  They attend the game to create drama, and that's where they derive their fun.

So, now let's move on to what I consider some intrinsic motivations for gaming.  Again, not intended to be an exhaustive list, and also there can be some extrinsic elements or factors within some of these, just as there are some intrinsic factors in the extrinsic motivations I've detailed above.

Immersion - one of the big intrinsic factors, I think, is the desire to lose yourself in the character, the imaginary world, or both.  While it does require some interaction with others to play the game, how deeply you immerse yourself in the imagined fiction depends on you and you alone.  One player can be very immersed in the game, while another player in the same game may not be immersed at all.  Yes, that can cause some dissonance but that's not the point.  You control how immersed you are in the game, so I consider it an intrinsic motivation.

Escapism - I think we can all relate to this one, and yes, it's connected to immersion.  We game to escape work, study, family obligations, the quotidian reality of daily life.  There's a desire to be something more than we are, if only for a few hours a week.  Does it seem like I'm contradicting myself where above I talk about wish-fulfillment being an extrinsic motivation?  Maybe I am, but the way I'm looking at it now, escapism is more of a general wanting Calgon to take me away* feeling than a specific vicarious activity performed through play. Gaming to escape worrying about the mortgage payment for a few hours = intrinsic escapism.  Gaming to pretend to do something you can't in real life = extrinsic vicarious motivation because that thing you can't do in real life is by definition not part of you.

Completionism - this is one of the weaker ones on the intrinsic list, but similar motivations exist in other types of games.  Completionism could take many forms, from wanting to play every type of character or try every option, to wanting to fully explore (or create) a fictional world, to wanting to play out that ideal character type over and over again until you get it "right."  Yes, there are some aspects of extrinsic motivation in this one.  Exploring a prepublished game world, or your DM's masterpiece involves something outside of you.  Playing "one of everything" requires lots of game time, which requires other people (usually).  But the motivation to do so exists regardless of the feelings of other players to some extent. 

Emergent Story - in contrast to the extrinsic motivation to actively craft a story, the hope that an interesting story will emerge from play organically is more of an intrinsic motivation.  It's up to semi-random chance that an interesting and satisfying narrative will emerge from any session, as player choice and the whims of the dice may see fit to scupper any coherence or sense of rising and falling action in one session, and enhance it in another.  So I consider waiting around for it to happen and basking in it when it does is again something that mostly can happen just in your own head, although if others share this motivation it becomes more extrinsic.

Fun - should I include this?  I think so.  JB was writing a while back about how fun is not a goal of play, it's an expectation of play, and I agree.  We expect playing games to be fun, so we are motivated to play them.  And while it's best if everyone is having fun together, what makes something fun for me might not be the same thing that makes something fun for someone else.  There's a whole big list of motivations in this thread, none mutually exclusive, that will lead you to have fun at the table.  And my fun is not always contingent on your fun, and sometimes may even hamper your fun (a sign of incompatible players).  So, in my opinion, fun is an intrinsic motivation of play.

*dating myself, but then I figure much of my readership is of the same generation as me.  For all you whipper-snappers reading this, Google is your friend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Need some art?

Jeremy, who plays Noctis the Orc (and formerly Ripper the Orc) in Vaults of Ur, has been working on a trans-gender...
...I mean trans-GENRE campaign using TriStat dX.  He's been trying to get this campaign off the ground for a long time, and it's gone from D&D to Marvel Superheroes/4C to one of his homebrew kludge games to TriStat.  Hopefully it stays put in that system, as I'm working on a Gunslinger from Mid-World (Stephen King's Dark Tower series) to journey across the veil to his technomage assimilation empire Dyson Sphere.

He's also revamped his blog, Omegapointilist Studios, to show off his artwork. 

He's also started selling licenses to use his work as stock art in your RPG product.  I've posted a few of his pictures here before, and I'll post a few more as teasers.  But seriously, help a brother out and go visit his shop on DriveThru RPG.  If you're putting together your own fantasy RPG, he may well have some inexpensive art you can use.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chanbara Playtest 1

The first session of Chanbara went well.  Not perfectly - the magic system needs revision, and we found a few bugs here and there.  But mostly, it went smoothly.  A samurai and two sohei investigated a haunted castle, locating clues to the haunting that may help them end the curse.

Thanks Jeremy, Dean and Alexei!

I'll write more later, as it's 1am.  Time for bed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Playtest Begins

I'm gonna give my draft rules of Chanbara a spin this coming Saturday, using an adventure in a haunted samurai castle, "Ghost Castle Hasegawa."  (If I can find the map, it's MIA at the moment.)

Michael and Dean have made characters, but need to update them to a last minute rule change (unless they can convince me to keep the old version, which they actually liked).  Justin has a concept, but hasn't gotten further than just rolling it up as if it were a Labyrinth Lord character.  Not sure if anyone else will play.

Anyway, we'll have a Kitsune Onmyoji, Human Sohei and Human Ronin versus whatever I can throw at them.  :D

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Troll Questions, for D&D and Chanbara (since I'm working on it)

Random Wizard is at it again.  I didn't answer his first round of 10 questions, but these look like ones I can answer quickly and easily, so here goes.

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?
D&D - Yes, but my current house rule is that the XP go into a "bank" and can later be given to a replacement PC
Chanbara - I didn't include any level draining monsters or spells/magic items, so it's a non-issue.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?
Both Systems - sure, I like the rules of "movie world" rather than real world for my games.  I usually go with 1d6 damage each round for two rounds.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?
D&D - it can, but most poisons have a duration during which there's a chance to save the PC before death occurs (and some poisons don't kill, merely incapacitate).
Chanbara - I've got a whole big mess of a chart for poisons.  Part of me loves it, because the effects of any poison are random and could lead to death, vomiting, cramps, shakes, diarrhea, or other fun things.  Another part of me thinks the D&D way is easier.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?
D&D - Yes.
Chanbara - You make a Saving Throw, fail and you die.  Make it and you're dying and will die unless you get some attention/magic within a short time.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?
D&D - Yes, by the book.
Chanbara - No, spells use a variant of the Chainmail caster roll.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?
Both Systems - variety is the spice of life.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?
D&D - yes
Chanbara - still considering it

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?
D&D - BX/BECMI ability modifiers (18 +3, 16-17 +2, etc.)
Chanbara - the highest scores give at best a +2 modifier

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?
Both Systems - Five saves based on attack type, or in the case of Chanbara, the Wu Xing (Chinese 5 elements, same as Flying Swordsmen)

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?
D&D - No spells at level 1
Chanbara - there are no clerics, but all spellcasters get spells from 1st level

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chanbara - The Missing Piece

In my spare time, I've been thinking about how to make Chanbara (and Flying Swordsmen when I finally get around to revising it) into more playable games.

Flying Swordsmen was about creating a retroclone of Dragon Fist, but since I couldn't clone the setting, the whole "improve your kung fu until you are strong enough to take on the evil Emperor Jianmin" thing had to go.  That left it with a strong kung fu ruleset bolted onto a D&D frame, but murderhobo play doesn't really fit exactly with a wuxia setting.  There's room for treasure hunting and dungeon delving within the genre, but there's more to it than that.

With Chanbara, the samurai & ninja themed version of FS, I decided screw it, delving dungeons for treasure is what drives D&D, it should drive this game as well, since it's built on the frame of D&D.  But then that leaves a lot of genre tropes on the cutting room floor, although the subgenre of supernatural Japanese comics/period action movies exists that this game would serve.  War between humans and the bakemono/yokai is not a bad idea for a fantasy adventure game.

But tonight, thanks to musing on JB's latest multipart essay over on BX Blackrazor (well, the first two parts anyway), I was considering ways to tweak what I've got to get it right.  And I think I may have stumbled upon the answer.

I'll borrow "allegiances" from d20 Modern (sorta like alignment, but different), and a variant on "carousing for XP" which I'd originally come up with for a Beowulf style Germanic Iron Age campaign idea way back when.  It will tie in the thematic elements of chanbara film/fiction with game play, and provide a solid objective for play.

Each character in Chanbara will have up to three alegiances.  The first is to family/clan.  The second will be to lord (the Emperor, a noble house, the Shogun, a daimyo), and the third to some sort of professional organization (trade guild, monastery or religious sect, yakuza gang, military brother(sister)hood, etc.).  To get XP for treasure collected, it needs to be donated to one of your allegiances.

XP for combat and for achieving group or personal goals will still exist, so players that need to save up for some purpose aren't completely screwed out of XP while adventuring.

In one fell swoop, this gives a good solid objective to play (fight ghosts, oni and spirit creatures to protect humanity - and take their loot), while also playing up one of the big themes of samurai history and fiction: the interplay between duty and honor in a Confucian culture. 

Of course, each clan, daimyo, sect, or what have you will have conflicting goals and desires.  Each player will have a duty to each, and how they dole out the treasure they earn, and what missions they undertake on behalf of one of their "lieges" will provide fodder for the GM to create interesting stories that fit the genre.

If the GM and players want, that is.  The beauty of it is that if a group wants to play murderhobo in funny hats with the rules, the GM can just ignore the potential for conflict between clan, lord and profession and let the PCs adventure.

Now to find time to write all this up in a succinct way in the rules...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One day Challenge?

It's the end of the month, so if you're like me and like to read lots of OSR blogs, you've definitely seen this:
I didn't have the time to devote a post a day to these questions.  Hell, a lot of the questions really don't deserve a post all their own.  But hey, if you're curious...

1. How I got started.  I'd been watching the D&D cartoon, reading Endless Quest books, and had seen tempting glimpses of the actual game back in 1983/84.  So for my 11th birthday, my parents got me the Mentzer Basic Set.
2. Favorite playable race.  Humans.  I've played my share of Elves, Half-Elves and Halflings, and rarely Dwarves and Half-Orcs.  I've never played a Gnome.  In 3E, PF, and 4E I've tried a few other races.  But then until recently I've mostly been the DM so I don't get to play a lot.  My current main character is (as you'll know if you read my play reports) a Sleestak, and I'm enjoying that.  But most of my characters tend to be humans.
3. Favorite playable class.  Thieves or Rangers.  I like crafty, sneaky types, where I need to try and use my brain as much or more than my brawn.
4. Favorite game world.  We played a lot of Known World (later known as Mystara).  Lots of good memories of that game.  I don't know if would still interest me now, but I did enjoy it a lot when I was young.  I think all the expansions (Gazeteers, 2E products, etc.) kinda ruined it for me.  I enjoyed the wide open-ness of the setting from just the Expert Set and Isle of Dread.
5. Favorite set of dice/individual die.  The crayon-fillable dice from my Basic, Expert and Star Frontiers box sets.  I use them exclusively for DMing and use other dice when I'm a player.

6. Favorite Deity.  Can't really say I have one.

7. Favorite Edition.  See question 1 above.

8. Favorite character you have played.  Farley the Halfling.  Dex 17, Int 3.  Survived the old Known World campaign, and got up into Companion Set level "attack ranks."

9. Favorite character you haven't played.  Not sure if this means someone else's character, a fictional character I like, or a character I rolled up and love, but never got to run.  So I'll ignore it for being too vague.

10. Craziest thing that's happened to you (blah blah).  So many it's hard to choose only one.  Once, I ran an adventure where the PCs had to break into the castle of Dungeon Master (from the cartoon) and steal his underpants (it was a geas or quest spell I think that made them need to do it). There have been some pretty crazy adventures lately in Ur, but no panty raids yet.

11. Favorite Adventure you have Ran.  Ravenloft.  The original module.  With my old Yamanashi group.
12. Favorite dungeon type/location.  Megadungeon.  Especially the one I'm making.

13. Favorite trap/puzzle.  Can't say I'm partial to a specific one, or even a type.  But if it's clever or interesting, and makes the players think, I like it.  I don't mind gotcha traps, because gotcha traps are more realistic.  But the puzzlers that players (whether I'm one or not) are more gameable.

14. Favorite NPC.  Swarthy the Sailor.  Every time he appeared (in the old Known World game), he was missing another body part or had a change of pirate pet (parrots, monkeys, etc.).

15.  Favorite monster (undead).  I like wights a lot.  Not too tough, but their attack is one of the nastiest in the game.

16. Favorite monster (abberation).  I've always liked the Malfera in the Companion Set, although I suppose that's a planar creature actually.  What are the 3E monster classifications doing in what's supposedly an OSR thing?  Or was this broader than just the OSR?  I only noticed OSR blogs doing it. 

17. Favorite monster (Animal/Vermin).  Giant spiders.  Because spiders.

18.  Favorite monster (immortal/outsider).  Djinn/Efreet.  Lots of fun to use as a DM, because they can be a real help to the party or a big hindrance.  Especially if they're bound by a ring/bottle that summons them.

19. Favorite monster (elemental/plant).  Shriekers.  They don't do anything but summon other monsters or alert monsters that someone's trying to sneak by.  And yet they're worth a fair amount of XP for low level characters.

20. Favorite monster (humanoid/natural/fey).  They're sort of one-trick ponies so I'm not sure why I like them so much, but Red Cap Brownies.

21. Favorite Dragon color/type.  Green dragons.  Mostly because green is my favorite color and it's the traditional dragon color.  Their breath weapon is hard to resist, too.

22. Favorite monster overall.  Orcs.  There are so many interesting ways to use them, but even if you stick to the traditional way, they're still fun opponents to fight.

23. Least favorite monster overall.  Hard to say.  There are a lot of monsters I don't like and will likely never use.  Should I just say flumpf and move along?

24. Favorite energy type.  Well, we got through the silly lists of monster questions, and get this?  Moving on.

25. Favorite magic item.  Now this is a real question.  And a tough one.  The staff of wizardry is pretty sweet.  Until it's out of charges, you can use more spell slots for utility spells and still be able to help the party out in combat in many many ways.

26. Favorite nonmagic item.  Rope.  Samwise Gamgee said it best, it's always a good idea to have a bit of rope.

27. A character you want to play in the future.  A gnome illusionist/assassin.  Because I've never played any of those.

28. A character you will never play again.  Achaz the Elder (Achaz the Younger is still viable).  Achaz the Elder was killed by black dragon breath on his second or third adventure.  His son carried on the family business and had more success.

29. What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?  One between 1 and 20.  My blue d20 from the Basic Set used to seem to come up 17 quite often.  Could be a flaw in it.  One I'm happy to exploit to my advantage.  But it's probably just all in my head.

30. Best DM you've had.  Justin.  His Vaults of Ur game is tons of fun, and he and I seem to often see eye to eye on what's fun about D&D.

So there you have it, folks.  And while you didn't have to click on my blog 30 times this month to find out all this, I think this way's likely better anyway.  And I don't really care much about my blog traffic anymore.  People that like my stuff read it.  That's good enough for me.  So thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chanbara - possible change of plans

This one starts a bit longwinded, skip to the bolded text a few paragraphs down if you're just interested in the "what" not the "why" of my new plan for Chanbara.

Well, when I'm putting off doing my grad school readings (and not wasting time on Facebook/G+, playing smartphone games, or reading old comics), I've started tinkering with my Chanbara stuff again.

Only I'm considering revamping the whole thing.  Funny, since I think the rules are done.  I just need to finish fleshing out the campaign world section, edit/proofread, and then format it.  Well, play testing would be a good idea, too, but over the summer I just didn't have the will to get a game of it going.  Having to teach a pretty much entire new system to the players was daunting, along with trying to come up with an interesting scenario for them to play through that would allow me to test the important rules (combat, how magic works, and the skill/stunt system).

Anyway, that failure, along with my current gaming situation, has got me thinking.  I'm currently running a slightly house ruled version of BX/BECMI D&D in the Megadungeon.  Vaults of Ur is a house ruled Labyrinth Lord/Stars Without Number mashup.  And I'm happy with those games.  They're familiar; comfortable.

And I like that comfort.  I think, despite coming up with the rules myself and being happy with them, that the Chanbara stuff just isn't in my comfort zone for running games.  Odd, isn't it?

OK, so here's the meat of the post.

Redo the Chanbara and Flying Swordsmen classes for Labyrinth Lord.  Get rid of the fancy schmancy Chainmail inspired magic system.  Stick with good old fashioned Vancian.  Skip the smorgasbord of special abilities (Maneuvers/Tricks/Secrets) and just assign each class certain special abilities as they level up. 

Race and Class.  Human, Jing Ling (Spirit Folk), Airen (Dwarves/Korobokuru), Yokai (Hengeyokai from OA/my Kappa, Tengu and Kitsune from Chanbara).

12 Classes, each under the Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User or Thief heading (so basically variants of each main LL class). 

Cleric: Shaman (from FS), Sohei (from Chanbara), Yamabushi (from Chanbara)
Fighter: Xia (from FS), Samurai (from Chanbara), Kensei (from both)
Magic-User: Taoist (from FS), Onmyoji (from Chanbara), Elementalist (sorta new)
Thief: Ninja (from Chanbara), Vagabond (from FS), Ghost Hunter (from FS)

Combine monsters from both FS and Chanbara, simplified to LL standards. 

Add in some higher level spells.

Create some actual treasure tables for magical treasures.

Hopefully this would be something roughly compatible with baseline LL or LL/AEC, or playable on its own.  Meaning I'll probably borrow a lot of "running the game" stuff from LL, and make sure all the options like PC hit dice have toned down options for straight LL, or slightly souped up versions for stand-alone or AEC play.

So instead of its own game, it'll be my version of OA for LL.

Good idea? Bad?  Who knows.  But I'm thinking it will be something I can actually get motivated to run, and get players to try out.