Friday, December 31, 2010

Some Old Friends (NPC Party)

My 2nd Level NPC party was an easy one to come up with, because Frank Mentzer did all the work.

If you've got the Mentzer Basic Players Book, you've got these guys.  I just took the nameless Fighter from the tutorial and the pre-rolled characters from the center of the book (p. 34), and the names provided in the section on level titles for each class.  Because they're all using the 2nd level titles, I bumped the pre-gen stats up to level 2.  Voila.

Other than giving everyone an extra hit die, and spells for Clarion the Adept, Felonious the Seer, and Belrain the Warrior-Seer, it's all the same as what's in the book.  Also, unlike with the Level 1 roster, where I plan to just pick 4-6 of the guys on the list at any time, these seven would always be encountered together.

Clarion the Adept, Lawful Cleric 2
Str 9, Int 11, Wis 17, Dex 8, Con 14, Cha 16; AC 5/15, HP 13
Spells: Cure Light Wounds
Mace, Chainmail, Shield, Sling, 30 bullets, Holy Symbol
Personality: Steadfast and compassionate

Fleetwood the Warrior, Neutral Fighter 2
Str 17, Int 9, Wis 8, Dex 11, Con 16, Cha 14; AC 2/18, HP 18
Sword, Dagger, Platemail, Shield, 1 vial Holy Water, 1 Potion of Healing
Personality: Brave but naive

Felonious the Seer, Lawful Magic-User 2
Str 8, Int 17, Wis 11, Dex 16, Con 14, Cha 9; AC 7/13, HP 9
Spells: Shield, Sleep
Silver Dagger, Wand of Trap Detection (10 charges), Spellbook, 1 vial Holy Water
Personality: Instructive and humorous

Greegan the Footpad, Chaotic Thief 2
Str 16, Int 14, Wis 9, Dex 17, Con 11, Cha 8; AC 5/15, HP 8
Sword, Dagger, Leather Armor, Thieves Tools, Wolvesbane
Personality: Greedy but fair

Rolf the Dwarven Warrior, Lawful Dwarf 2
Str 16, Int 7, Wis 11, Dex 14, Con 9, Cha 9; AC 1/19, HP 14
Sword, Dagger, Platemail, Shield, Hammer, Spikes, Wolvesbane
Personality: Honest but foolish

Belrain the Warrior-Seer, Neutral Elf 2
Str 16, Int 9, Wis 7, Dex 14, Con 9, Cha 11; AC 3/17, HP 11
Spells: Charm Person, Hold Portal
Sword, Longbow, 20 arrows, Chainmail, Shield, Spellbook, Wolvesbane
Personality: Flamboyant but absent-minded

Touchberry the Halfling Warrior, Lawful Halfling 2
Str 16, Int 11, Wis 14, Dex 9, Con 9, Cha 7; AC 4/16 (2/18), HP 11
Short Sword, Short Bow, 20 arrows, 5 Silver Arrows
Personality: Cautious and moody

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Have we met before? (NPC Party)

For my megadungeon project, I've already made a few rosters of NPC adventuring parties that could be encountered within.  This is the lowest level roster, made up of the 3E Iconic characters converted to Classic D&D (with my homebrew classes for a few of them*).  I kept the ability scores at the 'default array' for 3E D&D, 15-14-13-12-10-8 which means that in Classic D&D terms, none of them have any ability bonuses above a +1, but I like that.

Anyway, here they are:

Jozan, Lawful Cleric 1
Str 12, Int 10, Wis 15, Dex 8, Con 14, Cha 13; AC 4/16, HP 7
Mace, Banded Mail, Shield, Holy Symbol, 2 vials of Holy Water
Personality: Sanctimonious but kind

Tordek, Lawful Dwarf 1
Str 14, Int 10, Wis 13, Dex 12, Con 15, Cha 8; AC 3/17, HP9
Battle Axe, Plate Mail
Personality: Impatient and covetous

Mialee, Neutral Magic-User 1
Str 8, Int 15, Wis 12, Dex 13, Con 14, Cha 10; AC 8/12, HP 5
Spells: Sleep
Dagger, Scrolls (Charm Person, Ventriloquism)
Personality: Haughty and distant

Kerwyn, Neutral Thief 1
Str 14, Int 12, Wis 8, Dex 15, Con 13, Cha 10; AC 6/14, HP 5
Short Sword, Leather Armor, Thieves Tools
Personality: Outgoing and reckless

Regdar, Neutral Fighter 1
Str 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Dex 13, Con 14, Cha 8; AC 3/17, HP 9
Two-handed Sword, Banded Mail, Light Crossbow, 30 bolts
Personality: Brooding and quiet

Lidda, Chaotic Halfling 1
Str 12, Int 14, Wis 10, Dex 15, Con 13, Cha 8; AC 3/17, HP 7
Short Sword, Chainmail, Shield
Personality: Brash yet soft-hearted

Krusk, Chaotic Ranger 1
Str 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Dex 14, Con 13, Cha 8; AC 6/14, HP 9
Polearm, Leather Armor, Long Bow, 20 arrows
Personality: Rude and slovenly

Devis, Neutral Bard 1
Str 10, Int 14, Wis 8, Dex 13, Con 12, Cha 15; AC 5/15, HP6
Spells: Charm Person
Spear, Leather Armor, Shield, 3 Javelins
Personality: Friendly and trustworthy

Vadania, Neutral Druid 1
Str 10, Int 12, Wis 15, Dex 14, Con 13, Cha 8; AC 5/15, HP 7
Spells: Cure Light Wounds
Staff, Leather Armor, Shield, Sling, 30 stones
Personality: Aloof and suspicious

Soveliss, Lawful Elf 1
Str 14, Int 13, Wis 8, Dex 15, Con 12, Cha 10; AC 3/17, HP 6
Spells: Light
Sword, Chainmail, Shield, Short Bow, 20 arrows
Personality: Jocular but unforgiving

Alhandra, Lawful Cavalier 1
Str 14, Int 10, Wis 13, Dex 8, Con 12, Cha 15; AC 4/16, HP 8
Sword, Banded Mail, Shield, Holy Symbol
Personality: Uptight yet generous

Hennet, Chaotic Magic-User 1
Str 10, Int 15, Wis 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Cha 12; AC 8/12, HP 5
Spells: Magic Missile
Staff, Silver Dagger, Scroll (Protection from Evil)
Personality: Egotistical and lustful

*for those not using similar home brewed classes, Druid=Cleric, Ranger and Cavalier=Fighter, Bard=Elf

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not quite a New Years Resolution

More ninja on the blog! 

Of course, you won't see them.  You won't hear them.  You won't know they're here until they totally freak out and cut off your head for dropping your spoon, then wail on their guitars.

But 2011 will likely see an increase in shinobi here on "What a horrible night to have a curse..."  Google's been sending ninja fans my way, I might as well make some sort of attempt to please them. 

Don't worry, though, it should have no impact on my normal RPG posts.

By the way, does it seem like some people are taking their gaming a bit too seriously?  People claiming the 'best dungeon ever published is really only mediocre to good' or how the OD&D equipment lists are fucking up the game for over 30 years, or the 'social mechanics' discussion even I participated in still kicking around.

Meanwhile, I plan to give you plenty more Bumbles and silly videos and tales of WWF wrestlers battling the undead in the new year.  Oh, and Presidents of the Apocalypse will be coming soon, as well.

And if I start taking either my gaming or my blogging too seriously, I've ordered the ninja to step in and take control.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too much treasure?

I was thinking yesterday about the spread of treasure in my megadungeon.

What I've been doing is just rolling on the Moldvay/Mentzer random dungeon room contents (roll d6 twice, first is room contents 1-2 empty, 3 trap, 4-5 monster, 6 special; the second is treasure in the room or not).  I'd then switch some things around for certain rooms or areas I know I want to have a monster, trap, or special, or occasionally adjusting for density (if, for example, there are too many specials in a cluster).

Anyway, what I've been doing, if the room has a monster and treasure, is to roll on the creature's lair treasure type.  This results in an awful lot of treasure.  Just on the upper works (level 0, as it were), a lucky and clever party of 4-5 1st level characters could reach 3rd level before they even venture down into the dungeon proper.

I like that, as it allows for PC attrition.  Some characters will die early, and get not treasure.  Others will survive a session or two, gain some XP, then die.  The high amount of treasure allows for this.  It also allows for a party to not feel the need to "clear" the dungeon level like you would in a video game like Diablo.  You can leave some white space on the map if you choose.

But one house rule I've taken to using recently is that XP totals are earned by the PLAYER, and carry over to their next PC.  With my very infrequent gaming schedule, it would take forever to have characters level up otherwise.

So I was wondering if I've been doing the tables wrong.

Obviously, the empty and trap rooms just get treasure from the 'Unguarded Treasure' table.  But should rooms with monsters and treasure listed from the random roll also use this (usually) lower value treasure?  Should the 'Lair' Treasure Types only be for purposely placed monster lairs within the dungeon?

It would really lower the amount of gold there is available on each level.

I'm not going to change the way I've been doing it, but it's food for thought.  Just wondering though, how do the rest of you use the second roll on that table for treasure in a room?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Board Game Review: Pandemic

Yesterday afternoon, Josh, Pat and Steve came over and we played some Pandemic.  It's a cooperative board game, and this is the first time I'd had to try one of them out.  Pat had played it once or twice at Gen-Con, but the rest of us hadn't played it before.

For those that don't know, cooperative games are set up in a way that the game is out to beat you, and players need to work together to 'beat the game.'  In the case of Pandemic, there are four global virulent diseases spreading around the map (the game board).  2-4 players each pick a role (there are five roles, so one will always be left out), and set out from Atlanta's CDC to try to contain the spread and find cures to the diseases.

If any disease spreads out of control (all the disease cubes of one color are on the board), or if there are 8 outbreaks (where one city has so much disease that all neighboring cities get infected), or players run out of player cards to draw, the players lose.  If the players can find cures to all four diseases (cure 1 disease if one player collects 5 cards of the same color, gets to a research station, and spends an action), they win.

We played three games of it.  We lost the first two games, but realized each time we'd been playing it slightly wrong.  The third time, we think we got all the rules right, and we actually managed to win. 

It's definitely a fun and challenging game.  It plays fairly fast, too (unlike Arkham Horror, another cooperative game we'd like to try, that from what Pat says, takes about 1 hour per player before Cthulhu and Co. eat your minds).


Sunday, December 26, 2010

One More Christmas Monster!

It's Boxing Day morning here in Busan.  We had a crazy busy Christmas, but it was good.  It's a very Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas at the Laffey home this year.  Our son got 3 new Thomas trains, and one James.  He's pleased as can be.

Anyway, I promised some RPG posting, but still being in the Christmas mood, here's another monster for the season:

AC 4
HD 8
Move: 120 (40) [in stop motion!]
Attacks: 1 claw
Damage: 2d8
No. Appearing: 1d4 (2d4)
Save As: Fighter 8
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: E
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 650

Bumbles are 12-15' tall hairy white monsters that live in Arctic climes.  They have strong claws and wicked looking teeth, but because of their poor dental hygiene, their teeth often rot so they rarely bite (a Bumble bite does 1d6 damage).  While they are not overly aggressive in normal times, when they have a toothache they are touchy and may attack any creatures that disturb them.  Bumbles are immune to all falling damage--they bounce!
Bumbles are believed to be cousins to the feared Wampa.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Not my actual tree

Merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog!  [Belated Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers, and Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, and Festive Festivus for the rest of us.]

It's less than 30 minutes to midnight here in Busan, so I might as well post this before going to bed!  (Santa's on his way!)
Not my Festivus Pole either
RPG related posts will appear tomorrow!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rethinking My Stance

Last year, when I was trying to get the Board Game Group to play D&D a bit more, there were more than a few grumbles about my 'old school' approach.

Not everyone minded rolling 3d6 down the line for ability scores, but some did.

Not everyone minded the lower power level of starting Classic characters, but some did.

Not everyone minded the less heroic style of play, but some did.

Well, yesterday I was re-reading this old post over at Cyclopeatron.  In it, he posted some house rules Gary Gygax used in an OD&D game in 2005 (originally chronicled by folks at K&K Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, and collated by Robert Fisher on his old Infogami site).  I'll repost them here:
  • Not using the supplements. Only the three little books.
  • Ability scores rolled as best 3 out of 4d6. Arrange scores to taste.
  • All PCs get 1d6 hp/level. HP rolls are rerolled on a 1.
  • Fighters get +1 HP/die. All PCs get +1 HP/die if Con > 14.
  • Fighters do +1 damage if Str > 14.
  • Dex doesn't affect AC. (It does affect missile attack "to hit" rolls.)
  • PCs started at 3rd level.
  • PCs are unconscious at 0 hp. They can go as low as level +1 before death. (A 4th level fighter can be brought as low as -5 hp & just be unconscious.) A healing potion or cure spell restores them immediately.
  • 1d6 for surprise. 1=1 round. 2=2 rounds. 3 or more=no surprise.
  • PCs must declare actions before initiative. Casters must declare the specific spell being cast.
  • 1d6 for initiative. A tie means simultaneous.
  • A casting caster who loses initiative will lose his spell if hit.
  • No training necessary to gain a level.
  • To acquire new spells: Casters must find scrolls, spellbooks, or a friendly higher-level caster.
  • Clerics don't need spellbooks. (The original books can be read to imply that they do.)
  • Gary IDs most magic items immediately (charging large sums of money when they return to town to rest & recuperate for this service). (This is because the players are anxious to get back into the dungeon & don't want to bother with in-town adventures.) Potions must still be tasted to ID, though. Unusual items require a trip to the striped mage.
Reading this again made me rethink some of my current ideas.  While I think it's fun playing in a more 'hard core old school' way, the guys I've got to play with don't all agree.  And since we're playing to have fun, and I'll have fun DMing no matter which forms of character generation we use, what level we start at, and whether or not there's a high mortality rate among PCs.

I can always try to find some players like me in the future.  For now, I know I'd be playing more D&D if I instituted some (possibly all) of the following rules:

  1. Ability Scores: Roll 4d6 drop the lowest (re-roll 1s), or possibly 2d6+6 (no re-rolling of 1s).  Arrange to taste.  I'd keep the normal Classic D&D ability bonus/penalty spread, though.
  2. Hit Dice/Hit Points: I already allow Max HP at level 1 and re-rolling 1s, but I might consider upping the die types to match AD&D (something I've considered in the past).
  3. Level: Not sure if I'd want to up the starting level to 3rd or not.  I kinda like the low levels of play.  I'd likely just try to make them go quicker by being generous with rumors of where the phat lootz are hidden.
  4. Spells: Use Labyrinth Lord Cleric spell progression (spell at 1st level).  Allow a bonus spell for Wis 13+ for Clerics/Druids, 13+ Int for M-Us/Illusionists, 13+ Cha for Bards.  Magic Users and Illusionists bonus spells would not need to be prepared, it could be anything from the spell book, cast as needed.
  5. Death's Door: No negative hit point crap, but 0 HP is knocked out/incapacitated from wounds.  Any attack on such a character would then be an instant kill (like with a sleeping victim).  [not sure about this one, that might be going too soft...]
  6. Magic Items: Back in the old days, I usually just told the players what magic items they'd found.  It was simple, and didn't ever detract from the game.  I'd likely go back to that (of course, cursed items like potions of delusion or swords -1 would not be revealed until used).
  7. Encumbrance, Schmencumbrance: Yes, the logistics of hauling half a ton of gold up out of a maze may be fun for some, but it can also be a pain in the butt for others.  You find the gold, you've earned the gold if you can get out alive.  Realistic, no.  Fun, yes.
With these rules, I think my friends would be happier at my table.  Too bad I'm not gonna have time to DM much in the next few years.  I'm going to start taking grad school courses at night in March, so DMing will definitely be out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle that dungeon!

Last night I finished up my map for the 4th level of the Megadungeon.  I recycled a few other dungeon maps that I could fit together easily with a bit of slight modification only, and drew one page of natural caverns for a quick and easy 4 sheets of graph paper level (plus a small sub-level tacked on to one side).

I'm thinking this will take me forever to get it all stocked, and it's only 4 levels.  Don't worry, though, Old School fans, I'll just take my time, persevere, and eventually get this thing worked out.  Most likely as soon as I've got players going through what I've already worked out, keeping just ahead of them.

Thinking about the overall layout of the place, though, I think after level 5 I'll start shrinking the levels down again, so the overall shape is like a diamond.  I was originally of the opinion that each level should have about 3-4 times the amount of XP that an average party (5-6 characters of various classes) would need to level up.  That way, they could still have things to explore after that level up (when they could venture deeper).  Also, when characters die, there would still be plenty of loot left for leveling up replacements.

At the higher levels, though, characters don't stay dead as much, and also they're likely to be doing some explorations in the wilderness (I don't think I could run a standard campaign without throwing in a trip or two to the Isle of Dread, for example).  So they won't need to get all of their XP from the Megadungeon.

So the lowest levels likely don't need to be so big, they just need to be fairly epic.  It might not make much sense to have a small level packed to the gills with dragons, balrogs, vampires, and giants, but well, we'll see when we get there.  Besides, if it can work in games like Ultima and Wizardry, I'm sure I can get it to work in D&D.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My biggest day yet

Had the most people ever visiting my site on Sunday.  155 people visited my site.


There is one thing I've been pretty curious about, though.

My Ninja Week article has always been getting a few hits nearly every day.  I guess it's Google search results leading people my way.  But over the weekend, it had a BIG surge.  Is there something going on back in the States about ninja?  Or is it just that Christmas tends to bring out the ninja fan in all of us?  Or is it just the chick in the bikini with katana in hand?

Anyway, according to Google Analytics, that inaugural Ninja Week article is the most viewed page here on "What a horrible night to have a curse..."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Your brain is full of spiders, you've got garlic in your soul

It's that time of year.

AC: 9
HD: 5
Move: 120 (40)
Attacks: 1
Damage: By weapon
No. Appearing: 1 (1)
Save As: T5
Morale: 6
Treasure Type: B
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 175
A Grinch (possibly the Grinch) is a tall, green furred humanoid monster with a foul disposition and a desire to spoil others' fun as often as possible.  It detests noise, especially that of merry-making, and will try to disrupt such celebrations in what ever way it can.  It is a cunning and deceptive creature.  It has the abilities of a 5th level Thief, and can also disguise itself convincingly (80% chance) if it has time to prepare.  A Grinch prefers to live in remote mountain caves, as far from civilization as it can.  It will avoid direct combat, fleeing instead.

Movie Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Yesterday afternoon, the wife and I went to watch the latest Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  As I'm sure most of you know, it was with a different production team than the first two, although most of the characters from the previous movies returned to play the same roles. 

I'd been dreading a loss of production quality in this movie, but things looked really good on the whole.  It's yet another 3D movie, though, when it would have been fine in 2D.  They never really used the 3D to great effect (Avatar's 0-g stuff at the beginning, or Shrek 4's broom dogfight used it well, IMO).  Still, on the up side, it still looked 'Narnian' and there weren't any areas where I thought things looked overly CGI fake.

As far as the story goes, they did change the order up quite a bit.  That didn't detract from the story, though, as in the book each island is more or less an unrelated adventure.  Of course, for the movie things needed to be linked up (Hollywood execs are stupid that way).  Another annoying thing was the insertion of 'green smoke' ever time the evil force that's controlling things tried to temp them.  Now, maybe I'm smarter than your average American movie-goer, but really, I don't think the audience needed that visual cue to know that the characters are being tempted by evil.  I sure didn't.

It was a decent film.  Not great, but if you enjoyed the previous Narnia movies, you'll likely enjoy this one as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Funny how close we got things...

Just checked Wikipedia's entry for Wrestlemania.  1985 was the original event, but Mr. T was in attendance.  So was Cindi Lauper.  The venue was indeed Madison Square Garden.  Cool!

All Outta Bubblegum

Josh is back in Busan for a month, and last night we (me, Josh, Pat, Steve and Alex) gathered at a local beer mart (a sort of bar that's run like a convenience store--it saves money somehow, but that's beside the point) for a few games and catch up with Josh.

While we were waiting for Pat to come, we played two quick games of Coloretto, then when Pat got there we got out All Outta Bubblegum RPG

I'd printed up a few copies of the rules, and a few One Page Dungeons and 5 Room Dungeons in case I was stuck for ideas while we played, but it turned out I didn't need the help.  I figured they'd want to play something either modern or sci fi with the game, rather than bog standard fantasy, and I was right. 

At first they thought sci fi, then zombies (Josh suggested Evil Dead as a setting).  Of course, They Live was mentioned, and Steve said he wanted to play Rowdy Roddy Piper.  That clinched it for me.  We would play 80's WWF wrestlers in the zombie apocalypse.

Pat quickly chose The Ultimate Warrior and Alex was Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  Steve decided to switch to Macho Man Randy Savage.  Josh had never really watched wrestling as a kid, so he wasn't sure who to be.  He was about to default to Hulk Hogan when I suggested Mr. T

I decided it was Wrestlemania 10, in 1985 (not sure if that's when it actually happened, didn't really care).  Vince McMahon is just going out to open the event when zombies (the bush-league wrestlers who are there just to get beaten by the big name guys in the early matches) climb into the ring and rip him appart.

The guys swing into action, trying to take down the zombies.  But since they've all got full supplies of bubblegum, they're not kicking much ass.  They quickly figure out how to start losing gum and the chaos commenced.

In short order, all four of them have been turned into zombies.  Then the game switches to "let's turn NYC into their zombie kingdom."  Except the Ultimate Warrior, who was trying to pump himself up on zombie 'roids, but failed a roll.  I decided he injected himself with hemorrhoid cream.  His next roll ended up converting himself back to normal.  Preparation H was the cure.

In the meantime, zombie Mr. T had escaped the city, Hacksaw Jim Duggan was leading zombified wrestling fans, hookers & junkies from Times Square, and the zombified cast of Cats into New Jersey, and Macho Man was having existential crises as he had pissed off Miss Elisabeth by grabbing Cindi Lauper's ass.

Somehow Zombie T goes and crashes a plane into the Pentagon and hits the big red button.  Then he makes it back to New Jersey after failing to escape Earth on the space shuttle Challenger, and all four of them engage (with zombie Hulk Hogan who had gotten pulled into the mix) in a cage match in the Pine Barrens just before the bombs dropped.

Tons of fun.  Even Steve, who dislikes RPGs, had fun because it was just a lark, rather than some over-serious attempt at simulationism or narrativism or even gamism.  Just goofing around with some beers, some gum, and some dice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Progress on my Megadungeon

I have the 3rd level of the new megadungeon mapped out as far as rooms and corridors go.  I plan to recycle some of the old maps, using parts of them for the 4th level (I'll be redrawing them so they can interconnect better), so the next step will be matching up areas for stairways connecting the 3rd and 4th level, then adding in a bit of detail (I'm thinking that some brick-lined open sewer type waterways in certain corridors/rooms could make it a bit more interesting than the typical flagstone floors that cover most of the first two levels, for example).

I still need to do a lot of stocking on the 1st proper dungeon level, too.  I think I need to start up the game with my wife in the Megadungeon after all, just so it will give me the impetus to stock that level while she's exploring around the upper works.  (No, we haven't started yet.  On the nights I come home early, our son's going to bed late, and on the nights I come home late, both wife and son are already asleep).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lembas, it's what's for dinner

Just in case some of you reading my blog don't read Jason Vey's (aka The Grey Elf), he's got a recipe up for his homemade version of Tolkien's lembas on his blog.

It looks pretty good.  I think I'm going to need to give this a try over the holidays (or more realistically, since I'll be working the week between Christmas & New Years, during the first week of Jan. when I've got the week off from the kindergarten).

I'll of course be sure to post the results, both here and on his blog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What does it feel like to level up?

As promised, a little less serious topic this time, and fully about gaming rather than the politics of who's gaming and who isn't.

I was reading my new copy of The Hobbit this morning, and a paragraph of the good Professor really jumped out at me and said, "Hey, Bilbo just gained a level."

It's p. 144 of my edition, Chapter VIII Flies and Spiders:

There was the usual dim grey light of the forest-day about him when he came to his senses.  The spider lay dead beside him, his sword-blade was stained black.  Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves  or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins.  He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.

You never really see that in Conan stories, or the tales of Fafhrd and the Mouser.  Sure, you see the pulp characters at various stages of their careers, having gained skill, confidence, and prowess from their previous exploits.  But you rarely see that moment of epiphany or feeling of growth with them.  It happens off stage.

Anyway, I wonder if I'd be able to reverse engineer how much XP the various challenges Bilbo and the Dwarves faced up to that point so that Bilbo's share of XP topped 2000 at that point (when a Halfling reaches level 2 in BX or BECMI).  Maybe some day when I've got more time than I do now!

Cultural Differences vs. Exclusionism

Pardon my getting a bit more serious than usual on the blog today.  But it's my blog to write what I like.  If you just want stats for giant platypi or ruminations on how to best implement ninja in your games, come back tomorrow.  I'll likely be back to that sort of thing.

Satyre posted about exclusion and inclusion of non-whites on his blog.  He makes some really good points.  Game settings (and as Trey points out in the comments, the source fiction) tends to focus on European styled fantasy and everyone's white these days sci fi.  Cross-cultural or multicolored protagonists, and societies in RPGs would seem to be the smart business move.  Try to tap into more audiences to earn more revenue.

5stonegames continues the conversation.  He points out, rightly I believe, that tabletop gaming tends to be an activity enjoyed primarily by middle-class white folks (at least in the U.S.).  People in gaming aren't exclusive toward others, but blacks, Hispanics, Middle-Easterners, etc. just don't tend to be drawn to the hobby in numbers.

My take on all this?  I think it would be great if gaming crossed cultural boundaries and resulted in both an increase in revenue for the game companies and a larger player pool for us gamers.  But really, I don't know any gamers personally who exclude others.  Game companies and fiction writers could do a better job trying to diversify the settings and characters.  But I wonder how effective that would be in the end.

Sure, it would have SOME effect.  In the 90's, lots of game companies started using 'she' instead of 'he' as the generic neuter pronoun, and there was some increase in female gamers because of that, according to the anecdotal evidence I've read (don't quote me on that, in other words).  But gaming is still not the sort of thing women take to as easily as men for some reason.

Likewise, an increase in non-white (or East Asian) protagonists in fantasy and sci fi fiction might make a difference, but because it's already a genre few non-whites are reading already.

I think some things just don't cross cultural lines easily.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  You don't see many Hispanics at a bluegrass concert.  There aren't many non-South Asians into Bollywood films.  Sure, there are exceptions.  There always are.  But it's not something inherently wrong with the hobby nor the fan-base if this is so.

White males tend to dig on fantasy/sci fi, and tabletop games.  Non-whites and females to a lesser extent.  It might be nice if it were otherwise, but since it's more a case of the non-whites and females being less interested rather than the white males being exclusive, at least in the case of gaming groups, it's not really something we can change easily.  And maybe it doesn't really need to change.  I don't think bluegrass singers are worried that their audience is mostly white.

Yes, I'm playing Devil's Advocate a bit here.  I'd love to see game companies making bigger profits.  I'd love to have an easier time forming a game group.  If gaming, and fantasy/SF appealed to more people, that would be great.  But maybe we just need to face the fact that it could be a cultural thing that appeals to us but not others, and isn't likely to change much in the future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adventure Idea that would never work

Years ago, I had the not so brilliant idea to make a D&D adventure where the PCs are sent to rescue a group of elves, held in a far northern bastion of an evil Red Cleric, who was forcing them to craft magic items which he then distributed to the forces of Chaos.

Every now and then, at this time of year, I briefly revisit the idea in my head.  Despite all of the cheesy ideas I managed to pull off as RPG adventures over the years--all the bad puns, all the lame references to pop culture--I don't know if I could actually do this one with a straight face, and without my players wanting to strangle me when it's over (if they make it that far).

Monday, December 13, 2010

What to get...

My parents sent me a gift card from for my birthday.  Now I've gotta decide what to buy.

In my Wish List, I've got a few books I'd like to pick up, but which one to get?

Northern Hero Legends by Otto Jiriczek, apparently a POD facimile of an out of print, now public domain book that I can't find anywhere for a free download (the original German might be available, but I don't speak or read German).

Tros of Samothrace by Talbot Mundy, some Appendix N goodness.

The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. Van Vogt, some Star Frontiers recommended reading goodness (and apparently the inspiration for displacer beasts and the Alien).

There are a few other things I also wouldn't mind getting, but those are the top three.

Character Creation vs. Game Play: Where's the Fun?

Just a couple quick thoughts and questions for the peanut gallery.

In a role playing game, should the character generation process be fun in and of itself?  If so, is it a sign of bad game design or good game design if the process is as fun, or even more fun, than the game play itself?

Just some thoughts rolling around in my head regarding PotA, the upcoming Gamma World 4ED&D game we're gonna play, and Utilitarianism's wacky idea of 'units of pleasure.'

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No EQ book this week

Sorry for anyone actually waiting with baited breath for my next Endless Quest book review (who knows, there may be someone out there...).  I've been re-reading the Hobbit in my spare time this week (which has been a lot less than usual, due to me covering for another teacher who took the week off).

As usual, when I've got nothing else to post about on a Sunday morning, here's some funny video.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the trailer for the lost classic of Spaghetti Cinema, Italian Spiderman!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Virtual Tabletops? I could be interested...

I don't play any MMORPGs.  The only online (addictive) games I've played were all free (Utopia and its more open cousin Dystopia, and Kingdom of Loathing to be exact).

I don't have the time or patience for the 'grinding' anymore.  I tried playing Final Fantasy 6/3 on my NES emulator about two years ago, and gave up shortly.  Spending all that time beating slimes with sticks for a few coppers just to buy a dull knife (one step up from the stick!  Then I can save up for the padded vest instead of my tattered dirty jerkin faster!) isn't what I want out of a video game anymore.

The monthly subscription thing isn't too appealing, either.  I'd rather buy a game once, and then have it to play at my leisure. 

The virtual table top, if properly constructed, could possibly interest me.  Being in Korea, there aren't that many gamers I can find.  And I think I've documented thoroughly enough with my current group why RPGs don't seem to work well with us.  I've tried PbP games such as those on RPOL.  They usually don't work.

I did have good experiences years ago using OpenRPG combined with Yahoo Voice Chat (back around 2001/2002) to run some games with friends in other parts of Japan.

I think in my case, having something like a good, stable, VTT with plenty of people checking in and playing all sorts of games would be great for me.  I could play with people I know that live far away, or with strangers, or a mix of both, despite being on a different continent.  And I could find a group of players who want to play the same style of game as myself much more easily, I'd imagine. 

In the end, though, monthly subscription costs will likely keep me away from WotC's offerings, but if someone else came up with something similar and free, or pay as a one-time fee to download the software, I'd be on it.

Nothing beats a good face-to-face game with your friends, but this VTT idea might not be a bad one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Games I've Played the Most

Not a list of the best games I've ever played, the most influential or important games I've ever played, or my favorite games.  Just the ones I've sunk the most time in over the years.  (Sticking with RPGs only).  Feel free to leave your own top 5 in the comments.

1. Mentzer/BECM D&D
2. Star Frontiers
3. 3E (3.0/3.5) D&D
4. AD&D (1E/2E)
5. d20 Modern

Yeah, mostly D&D in one form or another.  I've tried plenty of other games over the years, but these are the only ones I've played to any great extent.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Surprise Purchase

When I came home yesterday, my wife had a surprise for me. 

She had purchased a large table and 8 chairs from a used furniture dealer.  The reason is that we're teaching some small group lessons in our apartment in the evenings, and one of the students is partially disabled--bad legs.  Sitting on the floor Asian style isn't good for his legs.  And my wife also thought having a table looked more professional (I agree).

So anyway, I'm happy about that and all, but what went through my head when I saw the table set up in the spare room was not, "Hey, that'll be great for class." 

It was "Hey, that's perfect to play D&D around!"

And it is. 

This is turning into a very good week for me!

Oh, and the first draft of the new version of PotA is finished.  Gonna give it an edit, with some advice from Paul, then do a bit more formatting and font selection. 

DIY Level Titles

This is an idea I had last night as I went to bed, inspired by Tim Brannan's quick post about the level titles.

Have various social groups in the campaign world.  They can be military/knightly orders (Templars, Teutonic Knights, Knights of Malta, etc.), religious orders (Benedictines, Tendai Monks, etc.), adventurers guilds, thieves guilds, magician's guilds, that sort of thing.  I think some of the flavor text from early Magic: the Gathering sets might actually be good fodder for this.  There were groups like the Order of the Ebon Hand, Benalish Lancers, The School of the Unseen.  Lots of good flavor.

Each organization has its own titles that they award to members as they rise in power.  How do the people within the game world determine that?  Who cares?  It's a game. 

But if PCs belong to one of those organizations, they get a new title from the group every time they go up a level.

DMs would need to come up with lots of cool titles, but it could be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's my birthday, and I wants it...

Well, it's not actually my birthday until Saturday, but my birthday present arrived in the mail yesterday.

The 70th Anniversary illustrated hardback edition.  It's not the annotated version, which would interest me, but rather the plain text edition that I can read to my son as bedtime stories, the way it was intended. 

(and I can't believe I'm up to almost 300 posts on this blog, and this is the first time I've used a "Tolkien" tag!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Endless Quest #6: Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons

"Forced into a duel of wizards at the mysterious Rainbow Castle, you are magically separated from your teacher and grandfather, Pentegarn, who battles for his life against three evil wizards.  You must get back to him!"  --from the back cover

Revenge of the Rainbow Dragons, by Rose Estes, is unique in that it's the only non-licensed Endless Quest book that is a sequel to an earlier book (to my knowledge, anyway--I never read most of the later 'first series' nor any of the 'second series' EQ books).  The characters of Jamie, Fox, Owl, and Pentegarn return from Pillars of Pentegarn in this book.  Baltek the Fighter and Lydia the Thief do not return (maybe the official ending was one in which they died?  It doesn't say...)

Jamie, the protagonist, is now a teenager, and an apprentice wizard.  You've got only a few spells, but Pentegarn's blood gives you an innate ability with magic, so you've got a lot of potential (in other words, don't expect Ms. Estes to stick to the Vancian rules of D&D...although there was at least one place where she mentioned having to 'refresh' spells).  However, before your training is complete, word that Pentegarn is back in the Pillars reaches three evil wizards, Malus, Pothos and (I keep wanting to say Aramis) Rubus.  These three have claimed magical rulership over the district, and challenge Pentegarn to come to Rainbow Castle and duel with them.

The book starts out in a way that made me leery, despite remembering that as a kid I enjoyed this book.  The first choice is a non-choice.  Pick the wrong one and it sends you to the other choice anyway.  The second choice is the same.  Again, I get the feeling they were thrown in as a way to break up the overlong introduction.  But the third choice is where the real adventure begins, and it gives you three options that lead to three different adventure locations.

Basically, the three wizards want you out of the way while they duel so you don't cheat for Pentegarn (and they can cheat against him, of course).  So they offer to send you to Limbo, the Game Room, or the Tower.  The Tower course is the most limited, as it has a few options that send you to Limbo or the Game Room, but can lead to its own good ending.  The Game Room option again has a way to lead to Limbo, and has two good endings that you can find.  The Limbo option also has two good endings.  Bad endings in this book pretty much mean death (or permanent magical transformation).  There's only one neutral ending I remember where you escape with Owl, leaving Pentegarn and Fox to their fates.

There are some fairly interesting things to encounter in the book, and some nice, unusual locations.  It doesn't read like a typical D&D adventure, but it doesn't feel 'wrong' either.  One oddity is that there is a place where you can meet a guardian who has some magical colored stones that you need to arrange to escape.  The book actually has a half page illustration, and suggests cutting them out or tracing them to actually do the puzzle yourself.  The opposite page is an illustration, so you wouldn't lose any text if you did cut them out, but I wouldn't want to.  When I was a kid, I'd checked this book out from the library so of course I couldn't (I remember I did trace them, though, and did the puzzle).

The rainbow dragons are a bit weak, actually.  There aren't that many ways you can encounter them, and they breathe rainbows as a breath weapon.  That may be the reason the three bumbling evil wizards were able to oust the dragons from Rainbow Castle.  But despite that, the book is entertaining.  It's not quite as good as Pillars of Pentegarn, but then I think that's one of the top books in the series.

The art is pretty good in this book.  The cover is a rare Easley painting rather than an Elmore.  The interiors are by Harry J. Quinn, who did Pillars of Pentegarn, so there's a feeling of continuity with the art. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  It has a few flaws, but it's got a lot of good ideas, and some non-standard situations that break some D&D tropes in a good way.  It has a variety of paths that lead to good endings despite the linear beginning. 

Protagonist:  Apprentice Wizard, much improved over his first appearance
Sidekicks:  The bickering Fox and Owl return for more of the same
Adventure:  Interesting.  Not quite D&D, but varied and strange.
Endings:  Quite a few good endings, mostly deadly bad endings.
Art:  Nice cover (Easley), cool interiors (Quinn)
Overall:  Good

Monday, December 6, 2010

Game Group Mini Resurgence

Yesterday I didn't post anything (or get any more of the next EQ book read) because we had a nice little development with the Board Game Group.  We (my wife, son and I, not the group) have been going to a new church with English services just because it's in English and it's a good chance for our son to play with other English speaking kids.  Shallow reasons to attend a church, but the Catholic church here in Korea is just too weird for me. 

Anyway, one of the guys who's heavily involved in the new church's affairs came up to me after the service.  He knows Dave, and told me that he learned through Dave that I'm into board games and RPGs.  I hadn't been advertising myself as a gamer, but I wasn't trying to hide it either.  I'm not too concerned about religious types having negative views of D&D or anything.  Honestly, no one had really asked me about my hobbies until yesterday.  Anyway, it turns out that Joe is a big board gamer.  He said he spends most of his free time at work reading stuff on Board Game Geek, and even though he's had no one to play with, is always telling his wife how he wants to buy this or that new game.

Luckily for Joe, we were already planning to meet yesterday, so I invited him along.  He's really keen to play games, so I'm happy to have him join the group.  Also, that may hopefully get Dave out again.  He's been fairly busy with other stuff, but maybe with Joe coming he'll find some time again. 

Hong, my adult institute student, brought along a couple of friends again, so with me and Pat, we had six.  And if we can get everyone out, we'll have about a dozen people! 

Joe said he's never played D&D, but he's willing to give it a try, too.  So maybe I can get a game going again sometime in the future...  But I really don't have much time so maybe I'd better just let someone else run a game and play in it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Movie Review: Predators

Predators was one of the big summer movies this year that I was really looking forward to, but it's the one I didn't get to see in the theaters.  Our baby-sitter, my mother-in-law, was in Australia at the time the movie hit Korea, so we missed it.

Finally saw it last night thanks to VoD.  My wife and I watched it after our son was in bed.

All in all, I really liked it.  It took the Predator concept in a new, if not exactly novel, direction.  The story was well-paced, had some interesting characters, and some cool deaths (which is why we go see this kind of movie, really).

The only thing that really bugged me was that one tired old Hollywood cliche reared its ugly head.

Who's the first guy to die?  The Mexican.  Second?  The black guy.  Third, the other black guy.  At least the Japanese guy survived until after the Russian and convict bit the dust.  Yeah, it was noticeable. 

I mean, come on!  Even the original Predator had Jesse Ventura biting it first, and the two black guys later on.  Predator 2 had the black guy survive!

Other than that quibble, it sure beats "Alien vs. Predator" (haven't seen AvP2...not sure I want to...). 

Kinda late to the party on this one, so I'll keep it short.  I think the above is about all I need to say about this movie.

Social Interaction Rules and the Dick DM

Trollsmyth wrote a post about something Ryan Dancey said about trying to add Dogs in the Vinyard style social interaction rules to D&D. Someone named Erin replied to Trollsmyth's post with her own post, and Trollsmyth then responded to her criticism. Then Greg of Errant RPG threw in his two cents, and that's what actually prompted me to make this reply to the whole shebang.

My take?  Well, number one I disagree with Mr. Dancey that RPGs are designed to TELL stories.  At least the more traditional ones I like to play aren't.  The Forge/Indy games I've played that were designed with the express purpose of telling a story aren't very fun for me. I think this is because the stories that get told in them aren't usually very good stories.

It's not easy to come up with a good story.  Especially when you're only giving it one shot, like in an RPG session.  My buddy Paul and I have been developing our movie script for over three years now.  It took us over two years just to get the story right.  Now we're working on getting the script right (yes, there's a difference).

RPGs can be used to create stories, but they're really poor at telling a story.  The whole Edwardsian concept of 'story now' seems silly to me.  I've said it before, but I think the best stories that come from RPGs are created AFTER the game, when you recount what happened and leave out all the boring bits, or make connections after the fact that you didn't in the heat of the moment, or add a bit of gilding to the lily of what happened in the game.

Why do you think most recordings of actual game sessions are boring to listen to?  They're great fun to play, but like golf they're really not as fun as a spectator sport.  Now a properly edited video or audio recording of a game session might be interesting, because like that 'war story' told later at the pub, it cuts out all the rulebook look-ups, Monty Python quotes, and the ten minutes of real time spent carefully examining an empty room for traps and secret doors that didn't exist (or just weren't found).  They cut to the chase of the interesting NPC interactions, important combats, and PC interaction that is interesting.

That's how you can create a decent story with an RPG session.  Editing.

Now, as for the need to add social mechanics to an RPG like D&D, I've heard the arguments before many times.  Erin's post is just rehashing all the tired arguments I've heard over and over again on the internet.  Greg makes some good points in his post about his experiences dominating others in a game where diplomacy happens but it's not in the rules.  But I don't think it will typically apply to most RPG sessions.

First off, I usually only play RPGs with friends.  I think the majority of RPG groups are friends (or at least on good terms with each other even if they don't hang out besides at game time).  Con games, pick-up games at the FLGS (if you even have one anymore), tournaments--they're the exception.  Most people play with folks they know.  Because you know these people, you know who's extroverted and who's introverted.  You know who enjoys getting into character and who just enjoys the game aspect of play.  And you, as GM, can form responses to player input based on that knowledge. 

The arguments made by Erin and plenty of other people on RPG message boards and blogs--that shy players get screwed by a lack of social mechanics--maybe holds true in a game with strangers, or a Dick DM.  But with most groups, I'd assume [spare me the "assume makes an ass out of 'u' and me" quotes, please] the DM knows the players and is not a dick.  And the DM who knows the players and isn't a dick is likely to take player interactions and input relative to their knowledge of each player.

As an example, I teach English to Koreans and Japanese.  If I'm having a class, and the good students are speaking a lot, and doing well, I'm happy.  But if the poor students, or the shy students show a little bit of effort, I'm a lot happier.  When a kid who's barely said more than two or three sentences all month finally gets up and reads a paragraph from the book in front of the class, that's much more rewarding to me than if the kid who lived in Australia for 2 years gets up and reads three pages he wrote himself.

In an RPG, if there's a player who is introverted, or just cares more for the 'roll play' than the role play, or whatever, says to me, "I want to sweet talk the Duchess.  I've got a 15 Charisma."  I'll weight that statement according to what I know.  I'd likely make a Reaction Check with a bonus for the Charisma for the player's benefit, or even just decide to allow it.  Just like I'd do if the smooth talking player said, "I want to lift the treasure chest.  I've got a 15 Strength." 

And when it came time to assign rewards (XP or whatever), I would hopefully not give out less XP to the shy player for asking for that social reaction to be done through game mechanics than I would for the smooth talker to do it through role play.

The second point I'd like to make is that D&D and most traditional RPGs are NOT competitive games.  The players are not playing against each other.  They're not competing for a limited pool of XP awards.  They're cooperating to achieve goals both in game and out of game.  This is the flaw with Greg's tale of the war game with diplomacy uncoded by the rules.

Both the shy player and the smooth talker will benefit by sweet talking the Duchess.  It doesn't matter if shy just points out that his character has a high Cha and he'd like his character to do it, or if the smooth talker actually spends time chatting up the Duchess with in-character knowledge.  Either way, the PARTY will benefit from gaining the Duchess as an ally/benefactor. 

So long story short, I don't think adding more intricate social interaction rules to D&D will make it more 'fair,' nor do I think it would make D&D into a 'story telling' game.  It's already a story creating game (better in my opinion), and with a typical group of friends playing together, it will already be 'fair.'

Friday, December 3, 2010

The lighter side of the end of the world

Not much to post today (or at least this morning). I spent most of my free time yesterday working on PotA. It's not easy. I'm at the stage where I'm being forced to look through all the silly powers we've created, and decide "what exactly is the function of having a 'cybernetic ass' and if so, is it necessary to the game?"

In the original game, we left it up to players to decide what and how certain powers functioned. Some were of course obvious. A shotgun is a shotgun. A radiation blunderbuss is similar, but a clever player would also be using it to cause radiation poisoning, or to slowly mutate her pet dog into a ferocious three headed slavering hulk of fury. Crustacean Control? "Release the lobsters, Smithers!" McKinley's Mullet? Hmm, not sure on that one.

The real trick is to make sure all the powers have some sort of use in the game, but also keep the goofy feel of the game. Hopefully I'll get it right this time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Presidents of the Apocalypse is coming!!

I got a fair amount of revision done on my latest version of Presidents of the Apocalypse.

For those who missed it, this is a silly little game that my Yamanashi crew put together.  The premise is that after the Apocalypse, various Founding Fathers or other famous folks rise from the ashes to battle evil.  Our original version was a modified version of the PDQ system (which I'd seen in a game called Questers of the Middle Realm).  Instead of the normal PDQ system of players deciding on their 'descriptive qualities' we made three random d100 charts: Mutations, Mental Powers, and Technology.  Players got to roll a bunch of times on the charts they wanted, then battle robots, mutants, and redcoats in the blasted wastelands.

It didn't work out quite how we expected.  Character creation was a ton of fun.  Game play was really incoherent.  We've revised it a time or two, and play tested.  Still haven't gotten it right.

Well, I'm giving it another shot.  Hopefully, this time I've got a system that is more intuitive for players to figure out what they're supposed to do.  It's still got lots of crazy random powers, but players get a bit more choice about how they create their characters and more of an idea of what sort of roles they're supposed to play in the game.

Anyway, here are some scans of the original play test.  This was Mark's last night gaming with us.  I only have 4 of the character sheets, but this will give all of you an idea what you can expect from the final product.

Andy Jackson, played by Jacob Paul
Lady Bird Johnson, played by Atley

Thomas Jefferson, played by Mark

William Henry Harrison, played by Josh

Edit: Paul just informed me that cybernetic ass Andy Jackson was his character. There's no player name on the sheet, and I thought the art work looked like Jacob's.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Solo Game with the Wife

My wife, back before we were married, was of course interested in my hobby.  RPGs aren't at all common here in Korea, and in Japan they're known but it's a really small minority that play them.  Most Koreans and Japanese stick to the computer RPGs.

Well, back then, I was still enamored of 3E, but that was just way too much for my wife.  Even buying the 3.5 PHB in Japanese (only 3E era book still own) didn't really help.  Too much math, too many options, too complicated rules.

A few years later, after I'd rediscovered the joys of Classic D&D, we tried that for a while, and it worked much better.  She had an Elf, and some NPC retainers, exploring the Ruins under Zenopus' Tower from the Holmes book.  The Elf died (as did lots of the retainers) and was replaced with a Halfling who I think made it to 3rd level.  But we played during my wife's pregnancy, and the birth of our son ended that game.

Well, our son's nearly 3 now.  And my wife is wondering how to improve her English faster than it has been going.  I suggested we restart that D&D campaign, and she agreed.  This time, to refresh her with the rules, I think I'll have her read through/play the solo adventure in the Mentzer Basic, then run her through the Ruins of Castle Mistamere, also from the Basic Set (with my new completion of it, available for download over on the right side of the screen). 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Endless Quest #5: Revolt of the Dwarves

"You are Galen, whose family is captured by dwarven warriors revolting against human rule.  Can you put a stop to the Revolt of the Dwarves?"  --from the back cover

Revolt of the Dwarves is by Rose Estes, and is a fairly creative story.  First of all, it takes one of the main player races of D&D and turns them into the bad guys.  It gives them a serious grievance, and reasons for their revolt (although you may never learn them, depending on which paths you take).  There are quite a few other encounters that don't play out the way you'd think they should just by looking at the listed alignments of the creatures in the rulebooks.  For these reasons, I like the book.

It does have some serious flaws, though.  First of all, your protagonist Galen is an 8-year old kid with a puppy (thankfully, Woofy never talks to you, only to pixies and his voice his never heard).  There are a lot of places where you're given the sorts of choices an 8-year old might actually choose (like giving up, or attacking recklessly against overwhelming odds), and these invariably lead to a bad ending.  The writing at times also reads a bit like it is begin written for an 8-year old reader, but not consistently.  I'm not sure what the target age for the EQ series was, but I was reading them when I was 10 to 15 or so.  I never read this one as a kid, but I think those places would have bothered me as being 'too kiddie' than I was used to from the series.

Next, and the biggest flaw, is the linearity of the story.  Revolt of the Dwarves has three main branches you can take, which is a good thing.  The problem is that once you start down one, you don't have much real choice. 

The first place you can make a choice comes 3 pages in to the story.  I thought that was a good sign, until I found out that the choices were an easily telegraphed bad ending, a choice that does nothing and sends you back to make another choice, and the correct choice that leads to another 6 pages (1 illustration) of text before you get to choose one of the three branches.

Those three branches are going to the dwarves' caves, going down the river, or going to the pixie forest.  While each of these branches has some interesting stuff, it's pretty clear that the dwarf cave branch is supposed to be the correct one.  On both the river and pixie branches, the first choice or two gives you the option to give up and go to the caves.

And an awful lot of choices aren't really choices at all.  Lots of them involve choosing A or B, reading a page, and then both A and B lead to the same page to continue the story.  Sometimes that gets changed into an A, B, or C choice, where A and B both work and take you to the same continuation, and C leads to an ending.  Or as the very first choice in the book, A works, B tells you to choose again, C is an ending.  Other choices tend to be simple A works, B is a quick ending types.

When you finally get to the 'good' endings, there can be a bit of variation.  But for the main part, this book doesn't offer a lot of meaningful choice.  Despite the flaws, though, it's got some interesting encounters, and despite the 8-year old protagonist, it still feels very "D&D" to me.  You can enlist some interesting allies along the way--an old blind deposed dwarf king, a 'Huck Finn' type kid only not as cool as Huck), or a vain prankster pixie chick.  And as I mentioned, quite a few monster encounters don't play out as expected.

The art is good.  It's got the required Elmore cover--although the raiders look a bit more like humans than dwarves in their proportions--and Holloway interiors.  I like Holloway.  I've said it before.  But I think he's great at getting lots of expression into his characters and details into his pictures without overloading them.  And he does another good job here.

Overall, I find the book a bit disappointing.  There's some good stuff in it that can make for some interesting situations in your home game.  But as a game book itself, it's limited choices make it not so fun to read.

Protagonist: another helpless child
Sidekick: a puppy (with old dwarf, another kid, and pixie as possible help)
Adventure:  lots of good ideas
Endings: quite a few where you lose but don't die and 'live the rest of your life regretting not making another choice.'
Art: Good.  Decent Elmore cover, nice Holloway interiors.
Overall: Average (good ideas, poor execution)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Free RPGs!

I'm sure many of you already know about this site, but some of you may be new to the RPG blogosphere, or have just never come across it. 

There are a ton of free games you can download at 1KM1KT (1000 monkeys, 1000 typewriters).  They haven't churned out any Shakespeare yet, but give them another 995 years or so...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A productive Sunday

Today we had an American style Thanksgiving lunch at church.

Did NOT spend all afternoon surfing the web.

I read a lot more of "Revolt of the Dwarves" but still not finished with it.  EQ fans, be patient.

Drew in about half a sheet of graph paper worth of dungeon.  (My new megadungeon layout, level 3.)  I think I had some clever ideas for making the level feel different.

Also, I'll be filling in about a quarter to a third of the remaining open space on that level with a 'dungeon town.'  Some place relatively safe, maybe a dwarf lair of sorts, where the PCs can rest up and resupply, perform transactions, hire new help, etc.

Talked to the folks on Skype for the first time in over a month.

Ordered that gold dragon (the Oriental one) I was talking about the other day, along with a few Papo figures that will work nicely as giants (a caveman, viking and barbarian).  That's my Christmas present.

My wife will be ordering me the illustrated, hardback, 70th Anniversary edition of The Hobbit for my birthday present.

Didn't get to take a nap, but I'm feeling refreshed and recharged.  Bring it on, Monday!

North Korea? Game on!

ze bulette asked, in the comments to my last post, "Incidentally, I hope things cool off over there. What's the vibe on the street where you live?"

To tell the truth, here in Busan there's little to no worry about war heating up between North and South Korea (and thanks, Sarah Palin, for putting me on the wrong side in the conflict!).  Koreans aren't worried about it (angry about it, but not worried).  Ignore CNN.  They're just milking the exchange for ratings.

I do think the situation is a great way to add some conflict to a setting, however.  Two nations with a similar culture but opposing philosophy, and bad blood because of an old conflict between them where they were both pawns of greater powers?  Lots of campaign hooks there.

Throw in a despotic ruler on one side, who's anxious to make sure his son is accepted by the nobility/military elite as his successor so he's acting more belligerent than normal--sending his killbots/zombie hordes/orcs in raids across the border.

But neither side wants all out war.  The despotic ruler's side would likely collapse from the over-expenditure a war would necessitate.  The more open and free side would lose what little edge it's gained recently against the bigger powers in the world (or galaxy...).

That right there is a pretty good campaign background.  Lots of simmering tensions that the GM can exploit as adventure hooks, and as consequences of PC actions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Noir Frontiers: Murder on the Dramune Express

Had yet another idea for an adventure module I'd like to write, but the way things are going these days, I'll never get around to it.  I'm up to my eyeballs in private lessons.  Trying to save up for grad school.  But anyway, you're interested in gaming stuff, not my work.

Use Star Frontiers to run a murder mystery.  Set on a starship (with Star Frontiers' FTL rules, that would mean the characters have X days to find the killer before the ship reaches its destination, similar to the Orient Express).  Of course, it won't be simple.  With robots being reprogrammed, holobelts being used (including a few illegal doubles of real people), and several passengers with secrets to hide and possible motives for murder.

I think it could be fun, if written and played right.  And it would offer lots of chances to use not only the Bio-Social skills a lot, but also those Intuition/Logic scores and Personality/Leadership scores. 

And it would be fun to throw in some Noir type characters with a Frontiers twist.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Luddites vs. Amish

A simple question:

Do you feel that the OSR types are more like the Luddites or the Amish?

Luddites, smashing looms
Are we raging against some machine of modernization that we believe will ruin things?

Amish, growing beards
Or are we just opting out of the race for the newest, brightest, and flashiest because we believe life is better without all that?

I have no answers, only the question.

Pork Chop Sandwiches!

I'm only a short way into "Revolt of the Dwarves" the next Endless Quest book.  Haven't read this one before, so I can't skim if I want to do a good review.  And don't have much time.  May have even less time next week. 

Work sucks, but what can you do?

Sorry for the non-post here.  Have some funny video (warning, harsh language!):

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Not the Gamma Terra I know, but

It does look pretty fun.

Josh sent us a message today.  He's got the box set, is reading it over, and will be back in Korea in a couple of weeks.  He even said he got a few good ideas on how to make it work well from my blog.

I know I'm usually down on 4E D&D, from what little I've tried of it.  But this looks different.  It looks like it's not pretending that it isn't a tactical war game first and an RPG second.  And it's got plenty of 'random.'  Gamma World just isn't Gamma World in my book without lots of randomness in character generation.

So I'm definitely looking forward to playing this.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Level 6 Maven

Yesterday, I reached that magic number of 80 followers, and sooner than I expected.  Now, I'm (according to Trey's great OSR blogger level titles), a "maven" which of course means an 'expert.'  I don't know how much expertise I show off on this blog--it's serious stream of conscious first drafts 90% of the time--but I'm glad all of you enjoy reading it.

And not that I really care much about such things (OK, I kinda do...) but all the followers I've gained this month will likely give me a pretty good ranking when Cyclopeatron gives us our 'followers gained' rankings for November.

And I owe it all to you guys.  But enough gushing.  Here's something entertaining that helps express how I feel better than me spouting off any more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

$240 Worth of Pudding

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random Campaign Idea: Space Vikings

Thinking about Star Frontiers, Icelandic Sagas, and Space Cowboys recently congealed into an idea--

A SF campaign set (at first) on an outpost colony which is settled in a pattern roughly similar to that of Medieval Iceland in the Sagas.  Lots of scattered settlements in inhospitable but not uninhabitable terrain.  Semi-democratic government, in which each settlement has a leader who is pretty much king on his land, but with regional judge/priests who settle local disputes, and all landholders gather periodically (or conference by computer, since this is the future) to settle important matters.

Contact with the Frontier proper would be irregular and infrequent, and what few ships there are on the planet would be mostly engaged in some piracy in addition to commerce. 

I kinda like the feel of the setting idea, but players may balk.  Especially if they learn that certain items of equipment/weaponry/ammunition may not always be available due to the lack of regular contact with the more civilized worlds.  But it would give lots of opportunity for adventures.  Disputes and feuds between landholders, raiders from other worlds, raiding other worlds, exploring the hostile planet, etc.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A new take on the Gold Dragon

I've had my eye on Papo's fairly new "Dragon of the Rising Sun" figure for a while now.  I've never really been a fan of AD&D's styling the Gold Dragon after the oriental 龍*.  I'd always imagined them as winged dragons, just like the other dragons in the Basic Set.  But it would scratch my itch to have a Gold Dragon figure to plop on the table, and would serve double duty for when I run OA campaigns.

But today I noticed that Papo has also now released their two headed dragon model (which I was considering to fill the Black Dragon niche) in gold.

Now, according to the Basic Set, Golds have a 100% chance to speak and cast spells, and a mere 5% chance to be caught napping. 

A dragon with two heads would be much less likely to be caught fully asleep.  One could rest while the other kept watch.

A dragon with two brains would be more intelligent, one would assume.  More likely to speak and be able to use magic.

A Gold dragon has two forms of breath weapon--fire and chlorine gas.  One type from each head!

A Gold dragon is lawful, and a two-headed intelligent dragon would need to have both heads operating in harmony to function.  Seems like a fairly lawful mindset to me.

The only thing that doesn't fit by the book would be that a Gold only has one bite attack.  But then at 6d6 damage, that's fairly nasty just for one bite.

I don't know that I'd actually re-envision Gold Dragons in my campaign to all be two-headed just because I may buy the figure.  If I do get the black two-header, I definitely won't be applying this logic to Black Dragons.  But it was fun to think about.

[Pimping Michigan Toy Soldier Company in my links, because I've always got great service from these guys.]

*"long" in Pinyin, "lung" in Wade-Giles for those of you who don't read Chinese.

Lasergunfight at the OK Corral

Last week, at Grognardia there were a couple of posts about how Knight Hawks, the Star Frontiers additional rules that allowed for space flight/combat, were a little too late.

I never had the Knight Hawks rules until they were 'digitally remastered' by the star frontiersman folks, but I never really missed them.  We played quite a bit of SF when we weren't playing D&D, and most of our games were basically either "Westerns with laser guns" or "Vietnam with Aliens" when they weren't blatant ripoffs of whatever sci-fi movie we'd recently seen (Aliens, Predator, Critters, various events on Star Trek TOS or early TNG, even Ghostbusters).

We sometimes commented on the fact that there weren't rules for being Luke Skywalker or Starbuck, piloting that fighter ship against the enemy fleet, but since we knew of the existence of Knight Hawks (I think I got SF in 1986), we didn't worry too much about it.  And we didn't really miss it.

Basically, we just took either the 'creature of the week' attitude, the explore the strange planet adventure (typically resulting in the Vietnam with Aliens vibe), or taking the law into our own hands to stop Sathar agents in Port Loren (Westerns with laser guns).  And it was a lot of fun.

Basically, just saying, to counterpoint Jamie Mal, that some of us didn't care about the lack of starship rules in Star Frontiers.  We just assumed that it wasn't what the game was supposed to be 'about.'

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Endless Quest #4: Return to Brookmere

"You are Brion, an elven fighter on a scouting mission for your father, the king.  Can you destroy the monsters that invaded Brookmere, your family castle?" --from the back cover

Return to Brookmere is by Rose Estes, like all the earliest EQ books.  It's quite a good one, not just in my opinion, but among many who read the EQ series as kids.  It's not a perfect book, but it is an entertaining read.

As the back cover blurb says, you've got to enter your family's castle, destroyed by monsters when you were an infant, and try to learn the strength of the monsters, and whether any of the treasures still exist.  You're sent along with some other elf warriors, who quickly die, leaving you alone with only your talking amulet Mimulus (or Mim) to aid you.

Brookmere has been overrun by a mixed horde of humanoid monsters: kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, and a few bugbears and hill giants.  Their leader is a wererat named Frang.  All is not well for the monsters, though, as something has been attacking them from inside the ruins.

The story is an excellent setup for the adventure, and the book is well designed as a game book.  You start out quickly (the first choice, with three options, is on page 8, including page 1 as standard intro, 1 full page illustration, and three half-pages of text to get to it, and page 8 is only those choices).  You've got several paths to take at the beginning, although most paths where you survive you end up going to the same two or three 'story' sections--the gnoll meeting, the wererat meeting, and the encounter with the mysterious 'attacker within.'  Early on, if you take the right path, there's also an interesting encounter with a rather bizarre invisible stalker (who isn't invisible at the moment) and the illusionist who held off the invasion long enough for the elves to escape.

There are also a lot of fun little encounters with monsters, such as a gnoll who just wants to collect pretty things instead of ripping elves limb from limb, a kobold with a cold, some bowling hill giants, and an under appreciated orc guard.  Throw in a gelatinous cube, some green slime, and a few traps, and you've got a pretty decent little dungeon crawl book.

The only big fault I find with the book now is the lack of a clear 'best' ending.  Granted, your mission is not to destroy the monsters of Brookmere, merely to scout them out, but the best endings you can get are 'escape and bring the information home so dad can send in the army.'  A smaller fault is that it's rather inconsistent on what you can and can't do.  There are times when one kobold makes you pause to wonder if you can take it on in combat, another section where you dispatch six kobolds without even much description of how you do it.  And that's not even necessarily looking at the story from a D&D perspective.  A final small fault is that because most of the early branches converge on the exposition scenes if you don't die or run away, you sometimes miss out on some important details.  Case in point, Mim can cast sleep, but this is only revealed in one branch, but there are several ways to get to the encounter where he can use it.  These faults don't detract from the fun of the story, though.

The cover of Return to Brookmere is of course by Elmore, and it's decent.  The interior illustrations by Timothy Truman, however, are really good.  Although a few times it looks like the art director got his/her monsters mixed up (the effeminate gnoll I mentioned above gets a pic, but looks more like an orc, for example), Brion looks like a real badass, and the monsters are well depicted. 

Overall, this is an entertaining book, with lots of good game play.  There are also plenty of interesting ideas you could snag for your RPGs, and quite a few areas where monsters are defeated by cunning rather than just by the sword.

Finally, I'd like to thank Jaquelyn Michelle Gatt, whose imprint is on the first page.  She kept this book in much better condition than any of my old EQ books that were worth reading (the sucky ones are in really good condition).

Protagonist: an elven fighter who can usually handle himself well in a fight
Sidekick: a talking amulet, who annoys the protagonist more than it annoyed me
Adventure: well done, with lots of interesting encounters and paths
Endings: a fair variety, but a little disappointing in not having a clear 'win' ending
Art: Nice Elmore cover, excellent interiors by Truman
Overall: Excellent

Friday, November 19, 2010

Connection, or coincidence?

I used to listen to White Zombie quite a bit in my college days.  Don't listen to them, or Rob Zombie's solo stuff, much anymore.

But I was wondering this morning (it was one of those shower thoughts that stuck with me)--was Erol Otis one of the influences on his art work?

I present for you to compare:



Presidents of the Apocalypse and other fun stuff

I've been piecing together some ideas I've had for the silly Presidents of the Apocalypse RPG Paul and I put together back when I was still in Japan.

I sent him the first bit of it, and he sent me some major revisions he'd done last year but never sent me.  I think it'll be a lot of work to fit them together, but we'll see.  Mine's a bit more 'loose' than Paul's version.

Got lots of great ideas for the video game bad guy book.  Some suggestions were things I was thinking of anyway, but some others were games I've never played, or had forgotten about.  This will definitely be worth doing.

That means Flying Swordsmen RPG will get pushed off the back-burner even.  Oh well.

I've started re-reading "Return to Brookmere" but I'm not sure if I'll get a review of it up tomorrow morning.  Might have to wait until Saturday, as I'll be playing board games tomorrow night.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting close to leveling up!

I'm up to 75 followers.  Welcome to everyone who's just joined up recently.  I've had a real surge in the past week or so.

According to Trey, that means I'm 5 away from leveling up!  If I'm lucky, and I remember to start following some of the newer or overlooked blogs, I may make it by the end of the year!

Thanks to all of you reading WaHNtHaC!

I'm a firm believer that what goes around comes around, so I'm off to find some new (to me) blogs on others' blog lists.

Random Thought

Why don't we see more about the influences and inspiration of the classic fairy tales in fantasy RPGs?

The basics are there: common folk (often young) end up meeting with supernatural monsters, and often defeat them through cleverness or persistence.  Treasure sometimes is picked up along the way.

I know there have been some attempts at 'fairy tale' RPGs, and some people have had success running fairy tale themed games with D&D or other fantasy RPGs.  But why don't we hear more about it?  Is it some childish desire to make the game seem more 'mature'?

These fairy tales, along with mythology and the Medieval romance, are what informed the Pulps AND the literature that informed D&D.  Both Frodo and Fafhrd owe a debt to Jack the Giant Killer and Hansel and Gretel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Have your cake and eat it too?

Just a quick thought.  Lots of old school folks (and maybe some new schoolers too?) like the idea of GP=XP, as it spurs exploration and treasure hunting.  Lots of old school folks dislike the idea that adventurers end up with literally tons and tons of gold by the time they hit name level (in my experience, the new schoolers have long since converted all that cash to magic items as they go).

So why not keep the standard XP for treasure brought successfully out of the dungeon, AND use the Arneson carousing rules, where you get XP for any monies wasted in drinking and wenching, or donated to a worthy cause, etc.? 

It provides the players a bit more control over how fast they level up, gets rid of excess gold from the game, and speeds up advancement for groups that only meet every so often, as many of us on adult schedules do.

Tackling the Megadungeon: Conquest!

Continued from here.

The final round of mead was poured out.  Lord Gusorio was looking fairly tipsy, and his small audience were feeling the mead spinning in their heads as well.  But when the baron launched into one more bit of advice rolled into a tale of his adventuring days, they came to attention and made sure to remember what he said.  The stories he told could save their lives.
The baron said, "After we'd been scouting the fourth level for some time, we realized it would take too much effort to haul all of that treasure up to the surface, at least until we'd found the secret exit we'd heard rumor of.  So we ended up clearing out a small section with only one entrance.  Shalea magicked the door.  We posted a few of our men-at-arms as additional guards.  Then we had ourselves a nice little fall-back point on that level.  We went back to town, gathered as many supplies as we could, and stocked it well. 
"Whenever we found a bit of treasure on that level, or on the fifth as well--it took us some time to find that secret exit from the fourth--we would bring it to our strong point.  Of course, having that strong point meant we needed to keep it supplied, and we had to pay quite a bit extra to all the men-at-arms who guarded it.  But it saved us the trouble of having to lug all those coins all the way up every time we secured a treasure chest..."

Sometimes, you want to make the dungeon, or at least a small part of it, your own.  In Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign, several of the prominent characters cleared out and took over the 1st level of that dungeon.  They stocked it with their followers, and then charged a tax on other adventurers venturing through.

Maybe you don't need to take over an entire level, but taking and holding territory within the dungeon can be beneficial.  As Zanazaz pointed out in the comments to my original post in this series, a dungeon can make a great bolt hole for PCs who've gotten in trouble back in the hometown.  It's hard enough to find men-at-arms willing to venture forth with a group of adventurers.  The local law enforcement officials will have a hell of a time trying to get a posse of Normal Men to go track them down.

As I posted in my example, strong points within the dungeon, held by a combination of magic and steel, make for the ideal place for treasure to be stored, healing and spell rememorization to be done, and so on.

And sometimes you might just want to clear out a hazardous area of monsters, then seal it shut to keep them from coming back, and to keep anything new from moving in in the future.  Most Megadungeons are so big that clearing them completely would be near impossible, but small sections can be managed in times of need.

Of course, the group venturing forth to conquer some part of the dungeon is going to need to be ready for quite a bit of combat to get rid of all the monsters in their chosen section.  Spells that can bar access, like Wizard Lock or Wall of Stone are good choices, too.  And a bunch of Elves, or a wand of secret door detection might also be a good idea.  It won't do much good to secure all the obvious entrances to your new mini-lair only to have a secret passage you don't know about inside it.

Of course, making that lair behind an already known secret door is also a great idea.  Especially if you can find an area with several small rooms behind it, and no other secret entrances, you'll have plenty of space for bunking down, storing gear and treasure, and setting up a small kitchen area.  Watch out for ventilation problems, though, especially if you have one of those types of DMs who wants you to worry about that sort of thing...