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: