Friday, February 23, 2024

TS&R GM Guidebook Progress

In the past week or so, I've made some good progress on my TS&R Game Master Guidebook.

I finished up rules for naval mass combat (modified and simplified from those in the module M1 Immortal Storm), wrote some general guidelines for high level epic quests, and revised the section on artifacts. I still need to write up some more sample artifacts. I had an example of creating an artifact from an earlier draft, so that got a touch-up, and I have a list of legendary items from various myths and legends that I plan to give the 1E AD&D treatment, describing the item and its purpose, but leaving the specific powers and drawbacks to the individual GM. 

Oh, and now I'm working on describing the Planes of Existence. 

Once I get the artifacts and planar stuff done, all I have left to do is outline some optional or alternate rules (like suggestions for different ways to do energy drain attacks, or using X in d6 for Thief Skills instead of percentages, or optional rules for multiclassing, or using BX/BECMI style race-as-class). I do have 1st drafts for some parts of this last section done already, as the ideas come to me. 

Once that's done, I was planning to put in a section with quick reference charts from around the book, but I realized that I already intend to release a simple rules reference book for more experience GMs, so this might not be necessary. It would be roughly the same thing, and since the majority of people will own these as PDFs, it might be easier to have quick reference stuff in one document window and more detailed rules explanations in another. 

Once all that's done, I'll give everything an editing pass, and see if I can get someone else to read through it as well. Sometimes I get to rambling and over-explain things, or make an assumption that some point is obvious and don't explain it well enough. When I'm teaching in class, I can tell from student reactions that this is happening and correct myself. When I'm writing, I don't have that luxury. So a pair of fresh eyes or two will help me to improve and clarify things a bit. 

The book chapters are: 

The Basics: what is an RPG, how do you use these funny dice, what is the reward-feedback loop, player-centered play, etc.

Running the Game: How to manage character creation, how to manage a game session, procedures for dungeon/wilderness/town-social exploration, rules for combat, advice on adjudicating rules.

Preparing the Campaign: How to set up a campaign, create a home town, create dungeons, wilderness, NPCs and factions, and how to bring it all together into a campaign world.

High Level Games: Running domains, mass combat, magical research, epic quests, planar adventures, artifacts. 

Modifying the Game: Advice on limiting races/classes/spells to fit the campaign, optional rules, alternate rules systems. 

If I can keep up the pace over the next week (the final week of winter break for my university), I may be able to knock out the first drafts of the sections I still have to write. Then, if I can find a few people to give me some feedback, I will hopefully get this thing ready to release sometime over the summer or fall of this year, along with the Rules Reference book. And then I can consider compiling everything I've put out for TS&R into a print-on-demand volume, and also work on player and monster books for other genres besides Euro-fantasy and Asian fantasy.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Was rolling d20+Mod for skill checks the worst "innovation" of D&D in the past 25 years?

After a long, long break, today Steven asked to play d20 Modern. We got the book out, and I decided to quickly roll up a new PC. My Strong Hero/Martial Artist is cool, but the sorts of adventures we're running don't really play into the strong suits of my PC. So, I rolled up a new Dedicated Hero to join Steven's Fast Hero/Gunslinger. 

While playing, we talked a bit about the rules, especially the skill system. He's gotten used to my old school D&D game, where either you don't need to roll because you describe what you do, you roll x on d6, or roll d20 equal to your ability score or less for stuff like this. He's only 9, not the best at math, but even he can see that rolling d20 plus a modifier sucks for skill rolls. 

After the game, I remembered that there was a modern version of d20 Modern that came out recently. I went and looked it up. It's called Everyday Heroes, and it blends what was good about d20 Modern with 5E, according to its press and customer reviews. 

And from what I can tell (I'm not shucking out $30 for a PDF just to answer a question), it still uses d20+Mod for skill rolls. And instead of the ridiculous bonuses you could get for a few trained skills in d20 Modern (with everything else sucking), they went with 5E's bounded accuracy to keep modifiers low. Yeesh. 

I'm down for d20 Modern's take on classes. Basic heroic classes modeled on ability scores, with backgrounds, easy multi-classing, and later Advanced classes to customize your PC. Although it looks like Everyday Heroes may have ditched multi-classing. 

At least the Character sheet is a free download, and from that I can see that they have a much more reasonable, shorter skill list. And from customer reviews, they took the 5E feat style, so there aren't  dozens and dozens of feats that basically just give you small skill boosts, and ridiculously unnecessary feat chains to get your combat abilities halfway decent. 

So it may have some things going for it, but that skill mechanic just sucks. 

If I were to remake the game, I'd probably go with a 2d6 skill mechanic, like I did for Chanbara. Bell curve distributions make skills more reliable, at least if the target numbers for success aren't ridiculous. That flat d20 distribution is great for combat. You want combat to be swingy. That makes it exciting. Having swingy rolls when you're just trying to climb a rope or convince the security guard that you're supposed to be there, when you're the expert climber or fast talker, really sucks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Price Discrepancies

I'm continuing to work on the GM Guide for TS&R. I'm at the Dominion Management section now. I've never really come up against the prices for stronghold construction in the Expert Set/Rules Cyclopedia before, but while putting my version together (including some Asian style architecture and a few other things that I thought should be added), I checked out both the 1E DMG and the 2E Stronghold guide (one of the splatbooks...which I could only find in a fan-edited OCR version, not a scanned original PDF) and there are some big differences! 

The BX/BECMI prices are generally a lot higher for most buildings compared to 1E. 2E goes a bit overboard IMO with a whole formula to calculate the type of terrain, climate, vegetation, available materials and workforce. So instead of a simple price list, there's a (badly formatted in the version of the book I found) table with lots of numbers that seem all over the place. It may be a list of prices for the example castle they present. It doesn't seem very usable to me. Maybe if I had the original version with proper formatting, it would make more sense. 

Anyway, this leaves me with BECMI and 1E for my sources (and I suppose I could look at 3E+...but nah). 

For the construction costs, I stuck to the numbers I know. It's more expensive, but castles and other strongholds should NOT be cheap. addition to structure costs, the Companion Set (and RC) have a list of monthly wages for various retainers and officials for your stronghold and the domain at large. Some of these seem very overly priced to me these days, and others are comically underpriced. Really, the Seneschal of the castle, the most important person you can hire, only gets Mercenary pay rates? Assuming it's a human knight (heavy horse), you only need to pay 20gp per month for this official. Meanwhile, the guard captain gets 4000gp per month. Say what? 

1E doesn't actually provide listings for these sorts of officials, from what I've found so far. Maybe it's in a sourcebook I haven't looked at, or a Dragon Magazine article somewhere (I don't have the archive...maybe I should track that down). So I had to just adjust the numbers to something I thought was more fitting. Every official I list is given a price to hire them, and most have had significant reductions from the Companion Set numbers. 

When we were kids, first making our own strongholds, our PCs were already pretty wealthy for their levels (my cousin Ben was a bit of a Monty Haul DM when he ran games), so paying the prices in the book for the various retainers didn't seem so bad. Besides, as we got up into the high teens and low twenties in level, we had copious amounts of treasure even without Ben giving out generous amounts. 

But if, going by the rules, a PC were to start a domain in a Wilderness or Borderland territory, it would take them a long time to build up the funds just from the domain income to hire many of these positions, so the money would have to come from adventuring spoils (as we did as kids). And going by the rates of treasure going to my group these days, by the time they reach Name Level, they will be spending most of their money on the strongholds, not leaving much for staff. So I feel fairly justified in reducing the staff costs. I may want to reconsider the construction costs as well... We'll see.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Happy Lunar New Year!

It is the Lunar New Year, known as Chinese New Year in many foreign lands such as the USA. And to celebrate, we did what most Korean families do. Get up way too early, go to my mother-in-law's house, honor the departed family members, then eat a bunch of really good food! 

If you'd like to celebrate, why not pick up a copy of Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Jade Players Rules on DriveThruRPG? It's Pay What You Want, so pick it up for free and if you like it, come back and give me a tip. If you want to add Asian-style classes like Kensei (weapon masters), Wu Jen (Taoist sorcerers) or Xia (wandering martial artists) to your OSR game of choice, they'll fit right in. 

And if you're the DM, you can pick up TS&R Jade Bestiary & Treasury to get lots of Asian inspired monsters and magic items. Also PWYW so grab it for free or give me a little LNY gift if you like.

Monday, February 5, 2024

More Monsters and Wizards!

It's been a few years since I added to my 1/72 scale miniatures collection, despite getting many of them painted up. I actually need to re-paint quite a few of them, as the summer heat, and possibly the clear top coat I used, caused a lot of the paint to melt/blend, and the figures don't look anywhere near as good as they did when I finished painting them. Looking back through old blog posts, I don't think I posted pictures of the finished products, just a work in progress post and this one from two years ago when I finally painted the lizard men

Well, I had a set of Caesar Adventurers which covered a lot of LotR types, plus a few Conan style barbarian types. I had Caesar Elves, Dwarves, and Goblins as well. 

And I had Red Hat Dark Alliance Cimmerians, Amazons, Half-Orcs, regular Orcs...

One problem, and a reason why I still hesitate to switch to 1/72 scale minis instead of standard 28mm minis (not that I'm using minis at all for D&D these days...) is that there just aren't enough spell-caster types. 

I have a few from the Caesar Adventurers and Elves. I had a set of historical Vikings and one of Robin Hood characters (forget who made both of them) that had a few poses that could be a spell-caster. There's one Dark Alliance Cimmerian shaman. Definitely not enough cleric/druid/magic-user types. 

Well, I ordered some more Red Hat/Dark Alliance figures for my birthday. They arrived today. And I'm pleased to say that the Red Hat historical Russian War Monk Artillery make for good spell-caster types! They're all male, but at least I've now got a bunch of robed, bearded little dudes that could be PC or NPC spellcaster types. The tamping rods and fuse-sticks look like magic staves.

I also ordered the Dark Alliance Minotaur and Cyclops sets. I wanted to get their Southern Kingdoms Rangers set (based on Faramir's company in the LotR movies), which obviously are ranger/thief types, but my supplier was out (Michigan Toy Soldier Company -- I always get great customer service from these guys on my international orders!).

Here they are, with a few of the not so nice looking anymore Caesar Adventurers. The cyclopes are nice and big, and the minotaurs look fairly hefty next to them. 

Red Hat figures tend to come with a lot of flash that needs cleaning off, but the cyclops figures are really clean. The minotaurs and war monks not so much.

I compared these guys to a TSR (Dragonstrike board game) figure and a Reaper metal figure. The minotaurs look pretty wimpy next to them, but the cyclops set is still decently big by comparison.

With either scale, I think these will make good additions to the Gauntlet-inspired tactical board game rules I'm working on. 

Time to get these guys off their sprues!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Fortune and Glory? Nah, just play some Elfgames.

I had a discussion last night with my older boy about gaming, marketing, and all that. He's got some game ideas (card games, board games, computer games) and was wondering about how successful he might be. 

Interestingly, I'd just finished reading the recent (now pulled) article on how toxic the RPG online community is, and that definitely influenced the direction of our conversation. 

We talked about how easy it is to promote games on DriveThru, how easy it is to run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign, and so on. 

Want some numbers? Flynn did. In the past six years since I released Chanbara, I've sold just shy of 300 copies, and made $1600 from those sales. I've made less than that from the paper minis and TS&R. 

All told, since 2015 when I uploaded my first printable paper minis file, including pay-what-you-want downloads that didn't pay anything, I've sold 2413 products on DriveThru, and made $2338.11. Not exactly the big bucks. 

But then the bigger names in the TTRPG circles (many of them named in that article for being toxic presences in the community) regularly have crowdfunding campaigns that make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. A few have topped the million mark. 

Now, I'm not trying to cast any aspersions on the "big names." And this is not sour grapes. I was just being realistic to my son. Yes, it's possible to make good money by publishing games online, but to do so you really need to work on promotion, really need to get out there and get known, and need other big names to support and promote your work. But the bigger you get, the more of a target you can become. 

So I'm happy to stay a little fish in a small pond. I really do appreciate all of you who read this blog, review and promote my offerings, and everyone who's purchased something I've put out there. But I'm also never going to put in the effort needed to become one of the luminaries of the hobby, because I don't need to. That $2000+ I've made over the past nearly a decade has helped me to buy other gaming goods, and every now and then a birthday or Christmas present. I don't need gaming money to support my family. I'm happy to do this just for the joy of creating stuff, putting it out there, and seeing positive reactions to it. 

That's why TS&R is PWYW and I'll probably never get around to making the second edition of Flying Swordsmen, with actual new art from paid artists rather than public domain and donated art. 

I'm happy with my place in the hobby. 

But hey, if my son can create some board or card games that become a hit, I'll do my best to support him in his efforts. 

And also, if Zak S. is reading this, my apologies. I don't think I jumped on the anti-Zak bandwagon, but I wasn't a big fan of his and took the words of others at face value when I shouldn't have. Looking back at some of my old blog posts, I was pretty much just dismissive of him at the time Mandy was accusing him of some pretty horrible (and not completely believable) stuff. I hope that the word gets out and he gets a chance to make a come-back. 

I never had a negative interaction with him personally, and I should have been more critical of others claiming that they had had negative interactions with him rather than letting those claims color my opinion of him.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night...

 ...may become a grognard when the dice are rolled, and the gaming mood is right.

Oh, wait, that's not the way that rhyme is supposed to go. Anyway, I'm going to do something today that I haven't done in quite a while, but should get back to doing semi-regularly. I've got a newish blog that I want to promote. 

Savage Lair of the Weregrognard

It looks like Weregrognard started the blog last year for the Dungeon23 challenge, and now that that has wrapped up, he's been blogging about his take on old school gaming. So far, I've found his posts on the topic to be interesting and entertaining. 

I haven't read through all of his Dungeon23 posts, but of what he's written since then, I'm the only person who's left a comment. And I think he deserves more feedback on his Lessons from the OSR series. It's good.