Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Emulation

 I mentioned this in my post the other day, and figured I'd write a dedicated post about it. 

A few weeks ago, I was checking out the NES Classic console - a mini emulation box shaped like the good old 8-bit NES. And of course that led me to similar machines for SEGA Genesis, SNES, PSX, etc. If you don't know, these come with an emulator program and pre-loaded with a selection of the "most popular" games for that system. 

Well, I've been playing emulated games for decades now, so that's nothing new to me. But the idea of having an emulation box like this with proper controllers (the touch screen emulator on my phone is less than ideal for games where that tactile sensation helps game play). 

And I came across ads for the Super Console X. It's an emulation box -- actually a smart TV box preloaded with EmuElec and lots of ROMS for a wide variety of systems, including arcade and old PC games, in addition to most home consoles. This thing even has a few systems I'd never even heard of, or had only heard of in passing and forgotten, at least. 

Yeah, of course I bought it. It was around $100, and takes up a lot less space than five or six of the officially licensed ones would. Is it legal? I'm sure it's not. I doubt the company is paying anything to any of the companies that made all these old games. And while I'm not opposed to giving these companies some more of my money, like I said, this is just a lot cheaper and more practical. And my wife was on board with it, so that's a plus. I'm pretty sure she would have said "No" to me shelling out close to $500 for all of the individual licensed devices...and they wouldn't have had all the games I'd want to play, as well.

Is it nice? Well, it's not perfect. But so far, we've been having a lot of fun with it.

Here are the boys playing some Mario Cart.

One of my old favorites was Tenchu for the PSX, which did NOT come pre-loaded, but thanks to the internet, I got Tenchu and Tenchu 2 and loaded them on. There was a third PSX Tenchu game in Japan called Shinobi Hyaku Gaisen which was made of 100 fan-created levels which I had back in the day, but I couldn't find an ISO of that one. 

I did have one or two issues with it so far. Gauntlet and Gauntlet II for MAME don't work. I need to replace the ROMs, I think. A YouTube tutorial mentioned changing the video resolution for different systems to get a better picture, but when I tried adjusting that, it messed up the screen. I managed to fix that. There may be an issue with game saves, which would make replaying RPGs like the old Gold Box D&D games (yes, they're on it) impossible. But for more casual games, like most old arcade, Atari or NES era games, or things like Mario Cart or Street Fighter II, we're good to go!


Monday, April 26, 2021

An interesting weekend

 So, things didn't go as planned this weekend. 

Well, Saturday did. I had my West Marches game, and the party decided to track down a stone giant whose castle they'd heard rumor of, after a new rumor came that he had hired a small army of goblins and was harassing the Eternal Tournament, an Arthurian-style group of renegade knights who just joust and feast at their own camp in the Marches. 

The giant and his goblinoid foes (and grizzly bears) were defeated, and much loot was acquired. Both my older son's PC and one other are inching towards 7th level. So, yesterday morning my son said he wanted to play more procedural generation D&D with his brother to put him over the top (he seriously only needs 600xp or so). But one thing led to another, and in the afternoon both boys  were clamoring for Star Wars d6 instead. 

Well, I had a general idea for an adventure but nothing written up, so I spent an hour or so writing down some notes and organizing things. My younger kept coming to check on me, wanting me to hurry up. I got done just before my wife had an early dinner ready to eat, so we didn't start right away. I did tell the boys that I'd give them an extra 7 points to spend on skills (including Force skills) since the original 7 left them pretty weak and not so well rounded. But we ate before I could get them to divvy up the skill points. 

After dinner, the boys disappeared into my older son's room to play Minecraft or Roblox. I edited their character sheets to make it easier to level up (so we could write dice codes in pencil instead of having them pre-printed on the sheets like I'd done earlier). 

Then, since the boys didn't come out to play when I called them, I turned on our new emulation box (been meaning to write a post about that) and played some Street Fighter II. Man, I used to be so good at that game as Chun Li and E. Honda, and competent with the other characters (yeah, 25 years or so ago, I know!). Gotta get back into fighting shape! I did take 2nd place in a local classic video game challenge at my buddy's bar a few years back by beating one guy at a Super Mario Brothers (NES) speed run challenge, then another guy in a round of Street Fighter II (SNES), but losing to my bar-owning buddy at TETRIS. E. Honda and Guile kept beating my ass (as Chun Li). Gotta get more practice in!

Anyway, the boys finally emerged, and I got them to divvy up the skill points. They each have 2 dice in all Force powers now, and a more rounded selection of general skills. So hopefully that will make the next session a lot easier. But by that time it was time to get them ready for bed. My younger boy cried, but I promised we'd play again soon. And I'm ready to roll this time, with an adventure prepped.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Gaming with the Boys in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

 Instead of more procedural D&D, the boys wanted to play some WEG d6 Star Wars today. Even though it's not the sort of game you even want to try procedural play with, I agreed despite not having anything planned. I had a fairly simple scenario cooked up in my head (a simple rescue mission). 

But then they threw the curve ball. Despite my older son really being into this Mandalorian bounty hunter game on ROBLOX these days, neither wanted to play their Mandalorian characters. They wanted to play jedi. Of course. And since I'd set my game in the Rebellion era, there are already to many jedi running around in the game. And I should have been prepared for this, since they did ask back in December if they could have jedi PCs.

But after a bit of discussion, we decided to roll up the new characters and play in an unconnected game, with an "anything goes" Star Wars universe. Completely cutting the strings from canon. If we want to have to outwit Dooku and battle droids one session, then tangle with Kylo Ren the next, sure, why not? The Empire, Rebellion, Galactic Republic, etc can all just coexist. Sorta like the RTS Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds (which we've played a bit). 

So my younger boy asked if he could play a "bulldog man" (yes, he's got a thing for bulldogs these days) jedi, and I said sure. We used the Minor Jedi template and made a few skill picks and some equipment purchases, and found a picture he liked online. 

My older boy decided he wanted a zabrak jedi, one with yellow markings and a yellow lightsaber. We used the Young Jedi template for him, and he's on a quest to get a kyber crystal for the yellow lightsaber he wants. 

That took quite a while, actually, because the boys decided to see what was on TV at the time (Men in Black III) and spent more time watching that than making decisions about their PCs. 

After dinner we played a little. I had Yoda send them on a quest to some ruins to look for kyber crystals. I meant to have them encounter some RP challenges along the way, but my 1st son asked for a combat, so I through some battle droids at them. Too many battle droids. Their game stats are much tougher than the way they fight in the movies! I dropped eight, but had them in two ranks and only the first rank was firing. 

Son #2 did try to be clever, trying to use telekinesis to attack them with his lightsaber from far away, but at beginning level, there just aren't enough dice in the pool for easy lightsaber combat. Son #1 had some success shooting with his blaster, damaging two droids, but then he took an unlucky hit and was incapacitated in one shot. Son #2's PC grabbed him and ran. 

I looked up the natural healing rules (neither had bought medpacs despite my recommendation), and noted that the zabrak would die if he rolled 8 or less. He rolled a 7. My son was pretty upset, but held it in pretty well. It was bedtime by then anyway, so we wrapped things up, I said it was just a training game, gave them some character points, and said we'd try again another time once I'd had some time to plan a proper adventure for them. 

d6 System is definitely NOT the sort of system where you just want to throw random monsters at characters, especially when they're just starting out!


Monday, April 12, 2021

Procedural Dungeon Crawl Results

Last night's game with the boys went pretty well. They both had a good time, and some good traits came out in my older boy that have been lacking in our online games. 

I didn't have the BECMI dungeon random encounter charts handy in printed form and didn't want to get my original books out, but I did have the AD&D Monster & Treasure Assortment handy (I've got it in pdf, and had printed it out). So I used that for creatures and treasures in the game. 

We dug out my Dragon Strike game, and when we got the game boards out, I also got out the trap cards to use for random traps. They didn't always make sense, and neither did the random monster rolls, but my 6-year-old didn't care, and my 13-year-old was happy to accept semi-plausible explanations to keep the game going. 

My method was to roll 1d6 in an area to determine if it was empty (1-2), had a trap (3), a monster (4-5) or something unusual/special (6), then roll a second d6 for possible treasure. Just like BX and BECMI dungeon stocking. If there was a monster or treasure, I rolled for it on the M&TA charts. If there was a trap, I drew a Dragon Strike trap card. If there was a special, I improvised.

My boys chose the "Town" board and I said it was a town that had been overrun with monsters (getting the idea from the old Gold Box Pool of Radiance game, something for another post soon). The PCs were asked to help clear the monsters out, and told they could keep any loot they recovered. 

My 13yo has a Half-Orc L6 Cavalier* named Calvin who rides a tamed tiger named Hobbes. Oh, and he got lucky and rolled a legit 18 Strength. 

My 6yo has a "Bulldog-Man" L3 Lark* named BulldogTV who rides a dragon horse (just like a regular horse only a wingless, breath weapon-less dragon) and has a henchman named Bulldog Bro, who is an alien.

*Cavaliers used to be my name for the paladin class in TSR, now it's a subclass of Fighter with no clerical ability. Larks are basically the Elf class from BX, except open to a few more races. And yes, the name is from Ultima Exodus.

When the game started, they went in by the drawbridge (bottom of the picture above), and checked out the two gatehouse guard rooms. The first, random die rolls indicated 12 giant centipedes. When they opened the door, Calvin tried to shut it, but I rolled randomly to determine that 9 escaped before he could do so. But with the sweep ability (1 attack per level vs 1HD or lower creatures) they didn't last long enough to do any damage. They checked out the other side, and random die rolls indicated a Hero, who of course I made an Evil Hero. But a reaction roll was Helpful (12!) so when they talked to him, something they initiated, I had him offer to go along and help (with a mind to steal some treasure along the way). Oh, and he had a +1 shield. 

Well, the boys said if he wanted to join he had to finish off the centipedes, which he offered to do. But due to the quirks of the dice, he got bitten and failed his save vs poison. So the boys took his magic shield and also (random roll) 1500cp. 

They went on to the fountain, which was an empty area (actually a trap with treasure, a cursed -1 sword). The trap card was an entangling magic rope, which Bulldog triggered, but avoided with a saving throw. He took the sword and gave it to his henchman (he already has a sword +1, +3 vs goblins). 

From the fountain plaza, they entered the house on the southwest side, which was trapped with a "jaws of death" bear trap, but again a saving throw by Bulldog avoided it. They decided to look inside for secret doors, and while looking, had a random encounter with four giant crab spiders. Bulldog's sleep spell took out three, while Calvin killed the unaffected one. 

The next building was on the southeast side of the plaza, and die rolls indicated six Warriors. They knocked on the door, and the warriors readied tables as cover and cocked their crossbows, but when the boys' PCs kicked the door in, they negotiated. The PCs offered the warriors the copper coins if they'd just leave town, and the warriors agreed. 

The building on the northeast of the plaza had another trap - a pit trap, this time Calvin sprang it, but again a saving throw avoided it. There was a pair of bags with 1250ep in them in this house. So they had some treasure again, and more valuable. 

On the building on the northwest side of the plaza, I rolled a special. I decided it was a magical hologram from a wizard asking whoever saw it to help free the town of monsters. A bit more interesting than a magic mouth, but basically the same effect. 

They headed west and had a random encounter with 6 dwarves. Neutral reaction roll. The players tried to recruit them, but a reaction roll suggested they'd rather not. So after swapping a bit of intel, the dwarves left. 

Finally they went to the central west house, cracked open the door, and peeked inside. Random rolls told me there were fire beetles in there, so I described the eerie red glow. A bit freaked out (and realizing it was getting close to bed time), my 13yo suggested they leave town with what little treasure they'd collected. My 6yo, also realizing it was close to bed time, demanded that they keep going. As Dad, I had to agree with my older boy, and we wrapped up the game. They each earned around 300xp. Bulldog TV also paid 900gp to have the curse removed from his henchman's sword after rejecting Calvin's suggestion to try and con someone into buying a "magic" sword.

This morning, taking my 6yo to school, he asked if we could continue the game every night. My older boy also told me last night that he had a lot of fun with it and wants to do it again. So I'd consider that a success. 

I've got some more maps and things we can use for visuals (they're important to my 6yo). He was a lot more engaged than when he tries to join my West Marches games. 

When I used to run West Marches face to face, my 13yo (10-11yo then) always had lots of creative ideas for encounters. Lately, online only, he's just not that into things and not very creative at all. Last night, he was all about non-combat solutions to problems when possible. I'm glad to see that back in his gaming again. 

The procedurally generated content wasn't the most coherent (as you would expect), but it definitely got the job done, and will allow me to run for the boys with very little prep. I may also try digging out a few of my old dungeons from the 80s/90s, making some battle mat size versions for them, and having a go with them as well.



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dungeon Crawl Procedural

Last night I ran my West Marches game, and my second son, 6yo, had a lot of fun before he had to go to bed. This morning, he asked to play D&D again today. Well, we had some other plans (we did get in a game of the Dungeon! board game this morning, but that didn't fully scratch the itch), but now dinner has been ordered and is on its way. 

 After dinner, I'm going to pull out the old Dragon Strike game boards and use those for maps (6 year olds do better with solid visuals), and have them explore it with their WM characters. My older's PC is level 6, my younger is level 3, so I plan to use the 3rd level wandering monster tables and the BX/BECMI random stocking method when they enter any rooms/areas, and randomly generate treasure on the fly. 

I'll use Google searches to provide visuals for monsters encountered, too.

We'll see how it goes. Should be fun!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Ability Score Adjustments at Character Creation

 OD&D through BECMI uses a system of ability score adjustment where you can drop a score by 2 points to raise the Prime Requisite of your class by 1. I don't remember if AD&D does this as well. 

It's something we did from time to time back in the day, but a lot of the time we just played what we rolled. Or we did a swap of the highest rolled score for the PR of the class the player hoped to play, with no adjustments beyond that.

I didn't include it as an option in TSR, partly because of the rules I'm using for rolling scores. Players can choose to roll 3d6 six times and arrange the scores as they like. Or they can roll 4d6-L down the line. I feel like allowing players to monkey with the scores on top of that ruins the whole point of forcing players to make this choice. 

Anyway, one of my players was asking if he could do that the other day, and it got me thinking about the practice. 

I'm wondering how often players took advantage of this back in the old days. Or how often players take advantage of it today. Since there aren't a lot of mechanical effects tied to scores, it would make sense to try and bump the PR up for a character. This gets a bonus to XP and bonuses to hit/damage for Strength, bonus languages for Intelligence, bonuses to saving throws for Wisdom, and bonuses to AC and ranged combat for Dexterity. And since the rules state a score can't be dropped below 9 (average), you can't give yourself a penalty in these areas. 

I think it makes sense when rolling straight 3d6 down the line. You've probably got some scores that make you want to be a certain class, and then you can trade down scores your class doesn't benefit so much from to increase the one they do benefit from. 

I'm guessing it was intended to be used by most players, to get "more viable" PCs, but I don't have any evidence, hard or anecdotal, to back that up. Just a gut feeling. If anyone has some insight or just wants to share how you & your group(s) do it, feel free to comment.

Anyway, time to reconsider how I do ability score rolls, and see if I want to bring this back in my games. Or not.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Everybody was kung fu fighting

 Last Saturday evening, I went ahead and took the plunge. I modified my TSR class set up to include more martial arts action. Using Flying Swordsmen as a bit of a guide (plus some stuff I had done in TSR-East, and maybe a little bit of Chanbara that hadn't made it in yet), I came up with martial arts subclasses for the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User. The Thief already had one. 

Because of that, I got rid of the Monk as its own class. And the traditional "monk" abilities got divided up between the various subclasses. There isn't a direct analog to the typical Monk class now, but there are options to better emulate wuxia in the rules. To replace the Monk, I made a more standard Cleric/Thief hybrid which got the Darkstalker name I had previously as a subclass of Cleric. It's the Van Helsing/Simon Belmont/Vampire Hunter D class. 

For the Cleric, the subclass gets the Monk name. In addition to unarmed fighting and unarmored defense (using Dex score+BAB), the Monk gets resistance to ESP, charm, poison, disease, and so on as they gain levels. The Monk gets full clerical casting, but don't get to turn undead and don't get bonus spells for high Wisdom scores (something I'd imported from AD&D). They also use the Shaman spell list (AKA TSR-East spells, drawn from OA, FSRPG and Chanbara) instead of the normal Clerical list.

For the Fighter, the Martial Artist subclass focuses on combat, obviously. They get better unarmed damage than the other subclasses, and since their BAB goes up faster, will have better unarmored AC. They get healing (basically like Paladin lay on hands), and as they gain levels their unarmed strikes can damage creatures as if they were magical. 

The Magic-User's subclass draws on Flying Swordsmen and my old TSR-East Xia class (which was modeled on the BECMI Elf class). And it's still called the Xia. Of course they get unarmed damage and unarmored defense. The Xia has a lower Dex requirement than the other classes (11 compared to the 13 the others need), so while they get unarmored defense like the others, the possibly lower Dex and very slow BAB increases will mean they're not as well protected as the others. They gain the ability to reduce damage to the minimum value once per day per two levels. They get MU spells from the Geomancer list (again from TSR-East and its predecessors), but don't get 6th level spells. Instead, they get the Death Touch ability (for Fist of the North Star/Kill Bill fun!). Of course, the target of Death Touch can't have more than double the Xia's hit points or 15HD. And Xia use the standard d4 for HP. So I don't think it will be overpowered. One thing I may change is having it take the place of those 6th level spells, so they could use it once per day at 11th level, twice a day from 12th to 14th level, and three times a day at 15th level. Right now the rules just say once per day but I may modify this in the future. 

Oh, and if you're wondering, the Thief's Acrobat subclass has always had the unarmed damage and unarmored defense. Instead of Pick Pockets, they use those chances for Tumbling and leaping. Instead of Find/Remove Traps, they get Escape Artist at the same chances. They can also use Climb Sheer Surfaces as intended and for feats of balance. At higher level, they get to damage creatures with unarmed strikes as if magical, and at 10th level can make supernatural leaps. They don't get to read languages or cast spells from scrolls like a standard Thief, though.

Also for the Cleric, since the Darkstalker subclass was removed, I reinserted an idea I'd toyed with of a Necromancer subclass. They get the "control undead" feature instead of turn undead feature that the Master Set described for undead clerics. Otherwise they're just like normal. And yes, you can still be a normal Cleric and Chaotic. 

Also for the Fighter, I renamed the Knight subclass into the Cavalier subclass. No need to have a Knight and a Kensei (two Ks) when there's an established name in D&D lore already (and my previous TSR rules used Cavalier for the "paladin" class anyway). 

Finally, to balance out the Thief, which already had the Acrobat subclass, I reinserted the Yakuza from TSR-East. They're a standard Thief in most respects, but get magical tattoos at certain levels. They don't get to read languages or cast from scrolls, though. The tattoos give things like bonuses to Thief Skills or saving throws, resistance to energy damage, and a few other special abilities. 

So now the class structure of TSR (2021 revision) looks like this:  

Basic Classes [Subclasses]

Cleric [Druid (Yamabushi), Monk, Necromancer, Shaman]

Fighter [Cavalier (Samurai), Kensei, Martial Artist, Ranger]

Magic-User [Geomancer (Wu Jen), Illusionist, Wild Mage, Xia]

Thief [Acrobat, Ninja, Outlaw, Yakuza]

Advanced Classes

Assassin (Fighter/Thief hybrid)

Bard (Cleric/MU hybrid)

Darkstalker (Cleric/Thief hybrid)

Lark (Fighter/MU hybrid)

Paladin (Cleric/Fighter hybrid)

Warlock (MU/Thief hybrid)

I did almost all of that on Saturday. On Sunday and Monday I did a bit of tinkering and editing. Part of that included switching around which races can be which classes, and the max levels they can attain. That may be something for another post, however.