Sunday, May 14, 2023

TS&R Ruby Bestiary & Treasury now available!

 It took me longer than I thought to finally proof and edit the TS&R Ruby Bestiary & Treasury, but I got it done last night. This morning (just now), I uploaded the file to DriveThru, so you can go grab it! 

The book has most of the Classic D&D monsters you know and love, plus some creatures from other editions converted to Classic style stats, and some originals as well. Those of you who remember my old Monster of the Week feature from many years ago may recognize some of the creatures (the Sauron didn't make the final cut, but some others did), but there are some completely new ones, as well. Not only that, I've got some different takes on some of the classic creatures as well. Oh, and a few name swaps to avoid WotC lawyers and Pinkertons bothering me. 

Oh, and there are also the treasure tables, magic item lists (some new things here, too!), and the reference tables, wandering monster tables, etc. 

As with the other TS&R titles, it's pay-what-you-want so go grab it. Feel free to take it for free, but if you like it and appreciate my work, I'll always be thankful to those who decide to pay me for it. 

Treasures, Serpents & Ruins Ruby Bestiary & Treasury

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

I've got a good feeling about this...

Last Thursday was May the 4th, "Star Wars Day" and on the 5th (Children's Day in Korea and Japan), we not only went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (as mentioned in my last post), we played another session of my Star Wars d6 campaign. 

We don't play often. I've been trying to make adventures that are fairly small and contained, because despite knowing more about SW lore than most (all?) of my players, it's a BIG galaxy, and I'm still not 100% comfortable just winging things with the d6 rule set the way I am with D&D. And that's to be expected. I've been playing Classic/AD&D for nearly 40 years. I've only been running this SW d6 game for four years or so, and it's my side campaign. So we get a session once every month or two. 

But this past session was a bit different. 

I started out with another fairly tight, not quite scripted but fairly limited adventure. But then I ran out of time to finish fleshing out every planned encounter, so I went into it with just some notes on locations, NPCs, enemy forces, and a general timeline of events that would happen if the PCs didn't intervene (knowing that they were likely to intervene). 

And I also had my notes from the previous couple of sessions handy, with encounters that I'd planned but they didn't run into, just in case I needed an idea or an interesting NPC or some impromptu stats. The PCs are on a world called the 4th Moon of Bogden, a lawless world of criminals (and maybe where Jango Fett was hired by Darth Tyranus to become a clone host). So having a few criminals and their schemes handy seemed a good idea, even though this adventure took them out of the spaceport and into the nerf herding territories.

I ended up winging the session. Not only that, very early on, as the players were information gathering, one of them got a 1 on the Wild Die. I gave them the information they were after, but had them suddenly accosted by a group of Nikto gangsters demanding to be paid off or dire consequences would result. The party bluffed and wheedled, and used their connection to Bumpomo the Hutt to gain an audience with the gang boss instead of paying off the shake-down artists. 

Well, they still had some information to gather, so while they were searching the meat markets for information on the various nerf herder farms (and the dewback ranchers), I was thinking of what sort of "boss" the Nikto would have. I ended up giving them a Wookiee for a boss, with a big fat Nikto sidekick/translator. When the party ended up at the gang HQ, they mistook the sidekick for the boss at first (He's fat, like a Hutt! Must be the boss!) but then were shown in to see the Wookiee. 

They managed to bargain their way out of paying dues (for now), and may actually try to form an alliance with the Hutts and the Nikto/Wookiee gang. 

Then they went to visit the nerf herders (making a deal to feed their Mandalorian refugee buddies), and while things didn't go as they planned, they ended up discovering that the dewback ranchers now have contracts with the Imperials, so have been expanding and taking over the nerf herders' water source. The party wants to help the nerf herders, but doesn't want to go directly against the Empire. And the Mandalorian allies just fled the Night of 1000 Tears/Great Purge of Mandalore by Moff Gideon, so THEY sure don't want any Imperial entanglements at the moment. 

Things are shaping up for a fun next session. But the thing I was happy about was that in this session, I finally just allowed myself to improvise and go with the flow. And it all worked out for a satisfying session. They didn't get into any fights, but I had stats to use if they had gotten into one. They have various NPCs to interact with, and they have multiple possible goals they could pursue, and I was ready for any of them. 

Next session, I do have a little set piece vignette that I want to throw at them to up the tension/force some action, but after that, I think I'll again just see what they do and react. I've got the stage set. I'm ready to ad lib the rest now. I'm finally feeling comfortable with opening up the game.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Yesterday (Friday) was Children's Day, so the boys had the day off from school. We celebrated by seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and having lunch at a pizza/salad bar buffet. Oh, and I ran a session of Star Wars d6, but I'll save that for another post. Let's talk about the movie! 

First off, since Google searches for movie title + curse word tend to direct people here, if you're worried about curse words in a movie, this one had a small amount, but as you may have heard, Star Lord drops the first F-bomb in the MCU. It wasn't where I would have expected it to be, and so it comes off as rather inconsequential. So anyway, be warned if you don't want your kids to hear that kind of language.

How was the movie? So good. There is an interesting plot line, not a ton of exposition at the beginning but you don't need it anyway, and the emotional stakes are clear through the movie. And they don't all resolve the way I expected them to resolve, which was a nice touch. 

I've got to say, like a lot of other people, I thought Phase 4 of the MCU was weak. And maybe it's just hard to follow something like Infinity War/End Game with lesser stakes, lesser intensity movies. And Phase 4 was also an expansion/set-up phase, which Marvel needs. They can't just keep milking the same characters forever if they want to keep audiences involved. I thought Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was a step back towards the sorts of movies we expect (although it has some flaws). This movie, though, was not just getting back, it was overdoing it. 

I don't want to give any spoilers this early after the movie's release, but as I said, the movie makes you care for these characters and their troubles, and forces them to confront a lot of issues, but it's also got that GotG humor throughout. The movie has lots of crazy locations and action set pieces, an interesting and differently motivated villain, interesting new characters, some old familiar supporting characters returning, and a lot of heart. James Gunn knows how to make a movie, and I'm actually looking forward to him setting the DC hero movies on the right track after the years of whatever they've been doing (which mostly hasn't worked for me). 

Go see this movie. Even if you're sick of Marvel, even if you're not a fan of comic book movies, go see this. It's a rare trilogy ender that is better than the previous two entries.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Choosing Your Ruleset as Difficulty Level

This is an idea that's been knocking around in my head for a while, but playing some emulated games with Steven (my 8 year old) this evening* reminded me about it. 

Video games used to have difficulty levels that you could choose before you started the game. I'm sure there are still a few games that use them, but one reason I don't play a lot of video games anymore is that they seem to be designed to either give you "an experience" or else they want you to subscribe/pay lots of microtransactions, so either they are too easy (experience or subscription) or too hard (microtransactions), with no choice. But back in the day, we had this.

So, here are my very subjective and probably wrong estimations of which version of D&D is at which difficulty level. This assumes a few things. One, it's difficulty for the players to play the game, not for the DM to run the game. Two, it assumes you're running things more or less by the book, at least as far as assumptions for things like encounters, healing, goals of play, and the like are concerned. If you play 4E in an "old school style" then that's outside of what I'm talking about here. I'm considering a group that plays 4E (or whatever edition) as the designers intended it to be played. Three, let's leave supplements out of the equation for now, they just complicate things. So no Skills & Powers, no Greyhawk/Blackmoor, no Unearthed Arcana, no Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Just the core rule books.

And I'll reiterate -- this is just my feeling about it. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am down in the comments. But the next time you start up a campaign, consider selecting the rule set that fits the challenge level you wish to give the players.

 I'm Too Young to Die (Very Easy Mode)

4th Edition D&D This is about as easy as it gets for the players. It's designed so that you would have to go out of your way to create a "suboptimal" character. The play assumptions are two to three easy fights then a tougher but still winnable "boss" fight as an adventure. Magic items are fairly easy to acquire, and you're not expected to have to do much more than ride the railroad from set piece battle to set piece battle, with a few "skill challenges" here and there to spice things up.

5th Edition D&D A bit more challenging than 4E, but still a lot easier than most other editions. It's possible to create a suboptimal character, but the rules tend to be a bit more forgiving with character creation. Advancement is very fast at low levels. Healing is ridiculously easy. And again, the adventures seem to be mostly an assumption of a few easy fights leading up to the boss battle. If players just go along and make sure to rest often, and the DM only places recommended encounter difficulties, it's not too hard at all.

Hey, Not Too Rough (Easy Mode)

2nd Edition AD&D The rules and systems for play, including character creation and character advancement, can lead to challenges for the players. You might get stuck with a suboptimal character through dice rolls as much as through character choice. But, the big mitigating factor of this edition is the design goal that players play "heroes" and go on epic narrative adventures. So while death is very much possible from the way the rules are written, the DM advice suggests that this be mulliganed or nerfed to serve the ends of the story. 

 Hurt Me Plenty (Normal Mode)

BX or BECMI D&D  I'm lumping these two together because while BECMI incorporates a lot more complexity of play at the high levels (not to mention Immortals level play being a completely different and more challenging game), at the earliest levels, play is pretty much the same in them. Character creation by the book can be a challenge (roll 3d6 down the line), but ability score bonuses are more generous than in the AD&D line. There aren't many choices to make at character creation, either. Adventure design assumptions are that encounters are not balanced, and it's up to the players to know when to push on for more and when to quit. But there are also rules that make treasure pretty generous, which speeds up advancement if the characters do survive.

3rd Edition D&D This edition has a lot of the design assumptions of the later editions. Character creation is generous with abilities and ways to optimize the character, but the complexity of the "exception-based rules" design, with all the skill points and feat choices and whatnot make it more of a burden to play than other editions. The adventure design assumptions are not quite so forgiving, but still, healing is fairly easy to get, magic items are easily purchased, and it's pretty easy to get around the "save or die" type effects. If the rules weren't so complex and fiddly, this would be in an easier tier.

Ultra-Violence (Hard Mode)

Original D&D It all started here, and it wasn't easy! Characters were randomly generated and didn't have a lot of "powers" to rely on. Monster encounters can easily be with overpowering odds. There's an assumption of thinking your way through encounters, rather than just hacking and slashing. You're dead at 0 hit points, and healing is not easy to come by. The incompleteness of the rules (remember, this is assuming the base rules only, not the supplements) may also up the difficulty a bit, as the DM will need to make a lot of guesses as to what's an appropriate challenge, and players will have to have their wits about them to survive.

1st Edition AD&D This edition has a good mix of difficulty in character optimization (it's got generous die rolling for ability scores but stingy bonuses for high scores, race/class combo restrictions, ability score restrictions, level caps for demi-humans, etc.) and difficulty in adventure assumptions. Monsters are challenging. Tricks, traps, and whatnot are expected, and can really mess you up. Sure, there are lots of opportunities to find powerful magic items, but the most powerful have serious drawbacks. And the level of detail in the rules give the DM all sorts of ways to make things difficult or more challenging for the players.

Nightmare (Extra Hard Mode)

Holmes D&D Rolling 3d6 down the line for stats and rolling your hit points randomly and you can only go up to 3rd level, but the book expects you might run into all sorts of dragons, vampires, purple worms, and the like? Yeah, this is the most challenging version if you play it straight.

*We have a Super Console X, an Android TV box with EmuElec, Retroarch, and about 30 systems emulated, with thousands of games. Tonight, we played some Twisted Metal on PS1 and Gauntlet 4 Quest Mode on Sega Genesis.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Brain Drain

There's been a lack of posts here recently because real life has been busier than usual. 

Midterm tests. My younger son's school giving him too much homework, so I need to support him. Working on the third paper for publication this year, in order to apply for promotion at the end of the year. Helping my wife and mother-in-law with various stuff around MIL's house. Board gaming. Running my TS&R game. Catching up on grading my students' homework. Lots of stuff, in other words. 

I've got some RPG related topics I'd like to blog about, but just don't have the spoons, as they say. 

Hopefully, I'll have some time to get some actual content up soon. Until then, I'm still here. I just don't have time to blog.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves review

Yesterday morning, the boys and I took in an early showing of the new D&D movie. We went to a morning show because after lunch, we met up with the group for my TS&R Jade game. The game went well. We had a new player, Philip who has been playing in my Star Wars campaign tried D&D for the first time. Nate & Denis, plus my boys, and Denis' daughter Renee (who played Goldie the Fairy Princess in my West Marches game) also showed up. Philip and Renee needed new characters, and Flynn (my older boy) forgot his character sheet, so we needed to roll up 3 new PCs for the game. But despite that, they still managed to make their first foray into The Pits of Lao, the micro-megadungeon near the home town (300 keyed areas over 3 levels, but no plans to expand it further, so micro-mega). They found one of the "special" special rooms, where they had chances to compete in various challenges to raise their ability the risk of dropping them if they lost. Some winners, some losers. Lots of fun. They also managed to talk or sneak their way past every other encounter, and steal a bit of treasure on the way, so all in all a good session! 

But you're probably here to read about the movie, not my game. And of course, since internet searches for "curse words in movie x" often end up here, there were some swearing in the movie, but not too much. Several instances of thematically appropriate or comically timed "shit" but no f-bombs. That's about it. 

So, how did we like it? Overall, it was entertaining. Compared to the bar set by the D&D movies of 20 years ago, it was amazing! But that's a pretty low bar. Compared to other classic or more modern fantasy films, it was decent, but not amazing. 

The casting and acting was pretty good. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez are charming and funny as the leads. Hugh Grant is having a blast hamming it up as the con-man turned nobleman. The other supporting actors all turned in good performances. 

The special effects were fine. Nothing amazing. The magical effects and monsters looked pretty good, but they weren't the best CGI I've ever seen. Sometimes it was just very apparent that it was an animated thing. While I think some early CGI movies (the original Jurassic Park, the Lord of the Rings trilogy) have effects that still look pretty good all these years later, I don't know if these effects will still look so good down the road. But for now, they're good enough. Better than a lot of the stuff in Quantumania (a film I enjoyed, but it's pretty much 2 hours of CGI soup to look at). 

The story was very appropriate to D&D, and all the fun little references and Easter eggs were fun to try and spot. There wasn't anything in the film that isn't established in D&D already as far as magic or monsters go, which is a plus for fans of the game. 

But while I've seen some people online praising this move, there's one thing I found it annoying and caused the first half of the movie to drag and be a bit boring. Every time a main character gets introduced, there's a big exposition scene. Now, that is kind of like what happens in some peoples' games when a new character joins the party. And so that does kind of fit in a D&D movie that's trying to play out like it could be a game of D&D without the 4th wall breaks of a movie like The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. But as a guy who has studied how to make a movie, it was a bit grating. My boys found it pretty boring at first, too, and they have not studied screenwriting. I've been thinking of all the ways they could have shown us the backstories without having to tell them to us. And in some instances, the whole "backstory" flashback was just to set up a joke later in the movie which was extra annoying.

The second half of the movie was much better. It focused on the characters having to overcome their personal issues while trying to overcome the external challenges of the film, which is what makes for good cinema. And the ending was suitably emotionally engaging (if predictable). There were a lot of jokes in the movie. Some hit, some missed. I'd say for me more hit than missed. The potatoes usually hit. ;)

We liked it, but none of us came out of the theater loving it. It was fun. It was alright. I'd watch it again when it comes up on streaming (if it's on one of the services we subscribe to). And if they made a sequel, I'd go see it. But I wouldn't go spend money to see it again in the theater.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Ruby Players Rules now available!

I've just uploaded my regular D&D house rules to DriveThruRPG, at my Hidden Treasure Books storefront. 

Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Jade Players Rules 

It's fully compatible with the TS&R Jade Asian-inspired rules (the Fighter and Thief class are identical in both, just with different suggested examples of each type listed). 

In it, you'll find rules for running a game somewhere between BX/BECMI style and AD&D style games, with mostly the simplicity of the box sets, but with separate race & class, and a few other complexities from AD&D (and a few more modern conventions I like such as ascending AC). 

Ruby has rules for the following races: Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Orcs. As with AD&D, demi-humans have class restrictions and level limits, although a bit more generous than old Gary originally suggested.

And the following classes: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Magic-User, Paladin, Ranger, Thief. Advancement goes to level 15.

Plus spells up to level 6, full equipment lists, and some handy rules for players to engage in exploration and combat, and some notes for higher level play. 

As with TS&R Jade, this is Pay-What-You-Want so feel free to download it for free, or tip me a few bucks if you enjoy it and can afford it!