Monday, February 28, 2011

In praise of plain old vanilla

Once upon a time, a group of women went shopping for ice cream. 

The first bought super-fifteen berry banzai suprise.
The second bought extra-dark bitter mocha chocolate with almonds and hazelnuts
The third bought super funky cookie dough monkey delight.
The fourth bought plain old vanilla.

They took their purchases home and tried them out in a variety of ways.

The first woman's ice cream made a great milkshake, was okay with pie, but made a terrible banana split.
The second woman's ice cream was great to eat by itself, but made a terrible shake, was disgusting with pie, but was not bad with a banana split.
The third woman's ice cream was decent in a shake, not bad with pie, but horrible for a banana split.
The fourth woman's ice cream went well with everything.

Ever tried to create some 'concept campaign' with a group of players, only they all show up with a variety of character concepts they want to play but don't fit your mold?

Or alternately, as a player, have you ever had a great idea for a character, but it just didn't work with the campaign the DM had devised?

There's something to be said for plain vanilla fantasy worlds.  They leave room for lots of different character types and backgrounds, as well as multiple play styles.

Vanilla doesn't mean flavorless.  Ever tried some home made ice cream WITHOUT any flavoring?  Makes vanilla taste amazing after that.  It's just a flavor that's well known and comfortable for a lot of people.

For a DM, that means less work you have to spend on exposition.  For players, it's less work trying to figure out how to fit into your DM's world.  That means you have more time to play, and that's where the real fun is, isn't it?

There's nothing wrong with a 'plain vanilla,' pseudo-western Europe with pseudo-whatevers on the fringes, because that means more time to play and less work/homework for everyone.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shinobi Sunday: Cannon Fodder!

For today's 忍者日曜日 we present evidence that ninja are not the 'real ultimate power' in the universe--the disposable low level ninja thug:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

They should have called it the "Dwarven Cloak"

I've been reading Otto Jiricek's Northern Hero Legends and found something interesting.

Tolkien took the idea of the Eldar's cloaks making the wearer invisible (or nearly so) from Germanic legends.  But in the original German legends, it's only Dwarves who wear them. 

Of course, for the Norse and Germans, there was not much distinction between a dwarf and an elf, but anyway, originally those magical invisibility cloaks belonged to dwarves.

Friday, February 25, 2011

WWJCD? (Not what you think)

Everything I need to know about 9-point Alignment systems I learned from Johnny Cash.

What do you mean, I lose my Paladin abilities?

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Lawful Good
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

Neutral Good
And he said: "Son, this world is rough
And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I know I wouldn't be there to help you along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's the name that helped to make you strong."

Chaotic Good
A crazy screaming lynch mob waited in the streets of Austin
But he put me in the jail house and he threw the key away

Lawful Neutral
Well, I ain't never done nothin' to nobody
I ain't never got nothin' from nobody, no time
And until I get something from somebody, sometime
I don't intend to do nothin' for nobody, no time

I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota
And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl, Southern drawl
Then I heard my dream was back downstream Cavortin' in Davenport
And I followed you, Big River, when you called

Chaotic Neutral
Now, I never considered myself a thief
GM wouldn't miss just one little piece
Especially if I strung it out over several years.

Lawful Evil
First time I shot her I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

Neutral Evil
Well I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

Chaotic Evil

Alright, I'm thinking about photoshopping up one of those 'motivational poster' deals with pics of the Man in Black and the quotes above.  But if anyone's got any better lyrics from Mr. Cash to highlight an alignment, I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Playstyle and Mechanics--there's the rub

Yesterday there were a series of very interesting posts by Carl at Backstage Pass: A DM's Secrets.  The basic gist is that Carl and Carter of The Lands of Ara played a 4E game.  Carter didn't enjoy the experience, but Carl contends that the fault is not so much in the way his game was run, but in Carter's lack of interest in digesting 4E rules.

Carl contends that with sufficient 'mastery' of a game system, then any group can play any game "old school" or "new school" style.  System matters, but only so much that everyone playing should know that system.

Now I agree that any group can play just about any RPG in just about any style.  But I'm not sure that I agree that this is as easy as Carl thinks it is.  Sometimes, I feel, the system encourages one playstyle over another.  And it's not simply linked to a rules heavy/rules light dichotomy.  Or a detailed/simple character generation system.

I feel that the system's reward system is also a big factor. A system that rewards teamwork and creative thinking when tackling puzzles will naturally play differently than a system that rewards success in combat by any means, fair or foul.  A system that rewards repeated skill use regardless of context will play differently than a system that rewards you for completing story goals.

Now, any DM and group of players can play against type, and do it successfully, if, as Carl contends, everyone knows the system well enough.  But in my eyes, getting that level of system mastery is a lot easier with something like BX/BECMI D&D than it is with 3E/4E D&D.  (AD&D is somewhere in the middle.)

Anyway, I think this is an important discussion, so I wanted to let others know it's going on.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raw Data

Presented without comment.

Chronicles of Narnia, total 767 pages

Conan stories by Robert E. Howard only, total 1222 (Del Ray editions, including poems, essays, unfinished and alternate drafts, etc.)

Three Hearts and Three Lions, 167 pages

Tales of the Dying Earth, total 741 pages

Lankhmar stories, total 1654 pages (Dark Horse editions, not counting teaser chapters)

The Great Book of Amber, total 1258 pages (Corwyn series and Merlin series in one volume)

Three Kingdoms, total 1698 pages (Moss Roberts translation)

Harry Potter series, total 3407 (U.K.), 4100 (U.S.)

Wheel of Time series, total 11,308 and counting (including "New Spring")

Sword of Truth series, 7148 pages (possibly and counting)

Shannarra Series, total 9136 pages and counting (including "Word and Void" prequels)

Belgariad/Malloreon books, total 5537 pages (including related standalone books)

Dragonlance Chronicles, total 1231 pages; Dragonlance Legends, total 1162 pages

Chronicles of Prydain, total 1311 pages

Monday, February 21, 2011

What exactly does it mean to explore a character?

Once I started up a PbP 3.5 game on RPOL (is it .net or .org?  Don't remember.)  Most of the players were friends, but I left it open to others.

One guy, one of the others, wanted to play.  He was enthusiastic.  I said OK.

He wanted to play a Druid.  Fine.  We were starting at 1st level.  He came back to me with a whole huge back story. 

His PC was the son of a High Druid Priest, who was also a merchant in a caravan, and he had wandered all over the world and seen all sorts of sights in his wanderings.  Now he was coming home to take his place as a druid initiate, and loot tombs for gold, as druid initiates are wont to do.

I could see what he was doing.  It was blatant.  He didn't want to get called out if he tried to wild shape into a python, or an emu, or an unladen African swallow, or whatever.  He wanted to be able to say, "sure, I saw one when I was traveling in the caravan."  No way was I, as DM, gonna screw him over on that!  So he thought.

Then he gives me his goals for the character, vaguely disguised as his 'take' on who this guy was.  He was a natural shapeshifter, more than a spellcaster.  He was in tune with nature, and animals and stuff.  And because of this, he naturally wanted to take the 'natural spell' feat, which was one of the few I'd said at the start I didn't like and wasn't going to allow. 

For those of you not well versed in 3E, Druids don't get Wild Shape (ability to change into animal forms) until 5th level. 

And I repeat, this was a PbP game (S......L.......O......W......!), and we were starting at 1st level.

More recently, in my long prepared but short lived Maritime Campaign, Alex, at character creation, wouldn't be satisfied with the starting options I'd given him.  He wanted more.  And more, and more.  He wasn't satisfied with a +2 sword for his 5th level Fighter.  He thought it was lame.  Maybe I should have given him a max. Int, max. Ego intelligent sword with a bevy of awesome powers (detect minerals!), and just had it control his PC at the first opportunity.  But I'm not that much of a dick.  Anyway, then he wasn't satisfied with the small sailing ship they were getting for free.  He wanted a large sailing ship, or a warship, or preferably a large warship. 

Getting that sort of stuff from the beginning, I wondered, what's left to adventure for?

Now, I've had my share of characters who I came up with the concept first, rolled later.  Or even a few where I've been asked for, and provided, a few pages of back story. 

But I don't have many interesting stories about those characters.  Not the way I do about Belrain, the Chaotic Elf with a penchant for fireballs (especially from wands, or his Staff of Power), or Skarp-Hedin, the Dwarf Fighter-Thief who ended up on the wrong end of too many monster beatings but always managed to pull through.

Long story short, I find that exploring characters is more fun, and more memorable, if it happens in the game.  Doing all that work before hand, then having to hog the limelight during the game to get all that exposition across to the players?  Not so much.  Not being satisfied with the starting conditions of the game, because it doesn't match the idea I've got in my head of who I want this PC to become?  Definitely not. 

I find it similar to the way I don't enjoy 'tournament Magic: The Gathering.'  I always found the game the most fun when waiting to see what I'd pull out this round, what my opponent would do, and the randomness of it.  Having a carefully constructed precision deck where I've got a plan of how I can beat anyone in 8 turns or less?  Boring! 

I enjoy the action and response, the way my character interacts with the other players' PCs, with the DM's world, and with the results of the dice.  In other words, not knowing exactly who this character is--maybe I've got a few ideas, but nothing is certain--does it for me.  Besides, the whole point of 'character exploration' is seeing how that character will change and grow. 

If you've already 'grown' that character before play starts, what is there left to explore?

Your mileage may vary. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shinobi Sunday: Kunoichi

Kunoichi is the Japanese term for a ninja of the fairer sex.  As most Japanophile geeks know, it comes from the stroke order of the Chinese character for woman, .

It's written with three strokes:
く looks like the phonetic hiragana character pronounced 'ku'
ノ looks like the phonetic katakana character pronounced 'no'
一 looks like the Chinese character for the number 1, pronounced 'ichi'

Matsushima Kaede as a kunoichi in what I'm sure must be an Oscar worthy performance in a film of superior quality and refined taste.
Of course, the picture above is one of the tamer ones I found doing a Google search for kunoichi.  If I didn't know better, I'd get the impression 'kunoichi' was Japanese for bondage porn.

Time to work on my stroke order...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I went ahead and did it.

So, I'm about to start keying some locations on the second level of the Megadungeon.  As with the first level, I'll mostly be starting with some special locations, and the locations of the 'keystone treasures.'  Then I'll fill out the rest of the rooms with a short bit of room description, plus any monsters, traps, other specials, or treasure.

Anyway, you know how there are those who put down the whole idea of the Megadungeon as 'orc and pie' silliness?

Well, I had to do it.  There's a 10'x10' room on the first level, which contains an orc.  And it's got a pie.* 

I had a disagreement with a fellow about a gooseberry pie.
Why?  Well, as old Jack Burton always says, "What the Hell."

Now, for a JOESKY:

Magical Pie
These pies are always hot and delicious when first discovered.  Each pie mimics the effects of a certain type of potion if eaten while still hot (pies cool within 2d4 Turns of being discovered).  One pie may be sliced into at most 8 pieces.  Eating multiple pieces of pie will not have extra effects, except in the case of a healing pie.

Different pies should have their effects keyed to their flavor (for example, if a lemon meringue pie is a Pie of Strength, all future lemon meringue pies should also be Pies of Strength).

*My Megadungeon orc's pie is a gooseberry pie, but it's non-magical.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chinese Monsters

Here's a list of some Chinese monsters I'm considering for inclusion in the Flying Swordsmen RPG.  These are just preliminary notes, taken from some of my books (E.T.C Werner's Myths and Legends of China, Strange Tales of Liao Zhai, Journey to the West), and some websites, like Monstropedia.

These are just notes right now, and not all of them may make the cut into the final project. Feel free to chime in with any ideas about ones that don't seem 'kung fu' enough, or that I would be foolish to leave out of the game.

Jiao-long (alligator/crocodile, hornless dragon, female dragon)
Bai Gu Jing (white bone demon)
Bai Ze (white lion with 1 or 2 horns, beneficent, similar to foo lion)
Chimei (mountain or hill demon, similar to wang-liang)
Zhi Ren (paper ghost, like in Tenchu?)
sky dragon tian long, guardians of Heaven, red or yellow color
spirit dragon shen long, clouds & wind, blue color
water dragon shui long, rivers and seas, green color
hidden dragon fucang long, underworld guardians of treasure, purple or black color
Huli Jing (fox fairy)
Pi Xiu (winged lion with antlers), eats gold but can't pass it.
Pi Hsi (dragon turtle)
Yeren (wildman, monkey-man, bear man, bigfoot?)
Xing Tian (headless giant, nipple-eyes, navel-mouth)
Sun Ravens Sanzuniao (fiery three-legged golden crows)
Zhenniao (poisonous birds)
Tiangou (comet dog, thunders at enemies)
Longma (dragon horse, scaly pegasus)
Ye-cha (yaksha, night demon, 1' tall pointy-toothed goblin)
Flower Fairy (spirit of flowering tree, or aromatic oil tree, dryad)
Fish Warriors (spirits of fish, turtles, shellfish, serve as soldiers to sea dragon kings)

PSA: Is it time to talk to your kids?

...about Star Wars?

(sorry for just the link, embedding seems to be wonky today)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Celebration! And a few random thoughts

Woke up this morning,
Smiled at the rising sun.
Three little birds
Perched on my doorstep
Singing sweet songs
The melody pure and true
Saying, "This is my message to yo-o-ou."

OK, enough Bob Marley.  I'm not that great a singer anyway, especially in print.

I actually woke up this morning to see that WaHNtHaC was up to 100 Followers!  Thanks, everyone!

Now, random thoughts inspired by blogs I've read the past week:

RPGs should be about choices.  More or less, Mr. Alexander, in the post just linked to, is saying (in a much better organized fashion) what I was trying to say in my posts on keystone treasures, character want and need, and of course the How to Tackle a Megadungeon series.  If any RPG is only a combat simulator, it can get boring easily.  Mixing in strategies besides just 'kill all the monsters' even if the goal is still 'take their stuff' adds a lot to any game. 

I've never been a fan of ancient astronaut theories (I've got a bit more faith in humanity than they presuppose), but I agree that they are rich areas to gold mine for ideas.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Blogger Hivemind Activate!! Dead Character Names Needed

It's a snowy Valentine's Day here in Busan.  Afternoon classes have been canceled, but it's undetermined yet if we have to stay at work as normal or not.  For me personally, I've got a private tutoring lesson just across the street from my school after normal work hours, so I may just stick around anyway even if they tell us we can go home.

Anyway, that's all beside the point.  I've got a crypt area in my Megadungeon that I'm working on right now.  There are lots of sarcophagi and such.  I need some names for inscriptions and memorial plaques.

I could do what I usually do when I need names.  I pull some books off the shelf--Squire's "Celtic Myths and Legends," "Beowulf," "Geoffrey of Monmouth," "The Iliad," etc. open it to the indexes, and pick some names.  But I thought I'd give you guys a chance to contribute to my dungeon.  Got a name of a favorite character or two who died a glorious death?  Or an inglorious one even?  Well, submit their name in the comments, and your character will be honored with a spot in my dungeon.

If for some reason I get more than I can use in this crypt area, don't worry, I'll find somewhere else to work in your character in the dungeon.  It's a big place, and I'm only on the cusp of finishing the key to Level 1.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shinobi Sunday: Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll (1993) is one of those rare anime that I really enjoyed.  Yeah, I was a gaming/comic book geek who studied Japanese, but I never really got into anime.  I'd watch them from time to time, but I didn't really go nuts over the format.  I tended to view each movie or TV show as I did any movie or TV show, rather than just accepting it as good because it was Japanese and likely had tits.

A funny story is that my sister got me this film on VHS for a Christmas present, but it was the English dub.  A buddy of mine who couldn't speak any Japanese besides 「どうもありがとう、ミスター‐ロボット」had the, annoying to him, subtitled version, also as a present.  Why we never switched I don't know.

Anyway, Ninja Scroll is a pretty good movie.  It's got a compelling story, interesting characters, and of course the ninja all have over the top powers.  This makes it very D&D.

The only problem is that everyone and his sister, especially in the 3E days when I was heavily involved in the WotC Oriental Adventures message boards, wants these cool ninja powers as part of a ninja class.

No!  The Devils of Kimon should be monsters with some ninja skills, folks.  Those are racial powers.  No D&D ninja class needs 'control bees from a beehive that grows on your back' as a reward for reaching level 6.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The bandwagon still has room for one more hireling

So today's topic around the OSR-type blogs is hirelings/retainers/henchmen.

I'm pretty sure I've blogged in the past about my own early experiences with them, but I'm too lazy to look up a link to that old post right now.  So I'll briefly recap.

Starting with Mentzer, his Basic set tried to discourage retainers.  I'll need to double check the actual books, but the way I read them was very similar to the excerpts of Moldvay Basic that James M., Lord Kilgore, and others are talking about.  PCs can hire help, but they're discouraged from doing so at early stages of the game.

My idea of the 'retainer' that I got from Mentzer, though, was that they were free-lance classed NPCs who would hire on with your group for a share of the treasure.  Sorta like henchmen in AD&D, only contracted on an adventure by adventure basis.  We never got the idea from Frank's set that hiring Normal Man type soldiers/men-at-arms, or other porter/linkboy types was even an option.  Frank's Expert set reinforced this, with the admonition that mercenaries would guard your castle or clear the land of monsters, but wouldn't go down in a dungeon.

Since Frank had stated that it was preferable to have players each play multiple characters rather than resort to hiring retainers, and since we would often just roll up new characters when we were bored (to put off doing homework for another few minutes), we all had a dozen or so characters at any one time, and our adventuring parties usually consisted of each of our 1-3 players playing 3-5 of their characters, plus the DM 'NPCing' some of their own as well.  So we didn't need to hire extra help most of the time.

But that's what comes of playing D&D in a tiny farm community with a very limited player pool.

More recently, I've been encouraging the hiring of NPC help.  Some of my players take to it, some don't.  That's up to them.  I find that having a few hired spearmen along on a dungeon delve, or some extra sacks and backpacks for hauling out loot (or hauling in more oil, holy water, rations, etc.) can help a lot.  But if a group wants to go without them, OK by me.

So what have I got to add to the discussion?  Not much really.  But it was easier posting this than writing up the post that's on my mind, which is all about literary critique theory and how that may possibly be messing up some people's ideas of what RPGs should be about.  I'll save that one until I get over the headache I've got today.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The City and the Sandbox

My buddy Dave just put up a post on his blog about a Conan game he ran when he was in grad school.  It was using the Mongoose d20 Conan game, but he's got some good pointers on things he did for that campaign that would be good advice for anyone running a city-based campaign, or any sandbox game where the DM wants to get a noir feel to the game.

It's a good read, and he's got some good advice.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yes, the Wilderness is dangerous, but not everywhere is wilderness

Alexis has got me thinking.  Probably not as deeply or as meaningfully as he'd like (he's got rather high standards, and I'm too busy with earning both incomes in my two income family to hold myself to such high standards in my leisure activities), but he did get me thinking.

So D&D (OD&D, Classic D&D, AD&D), as you all know, comes with both Dungeon and Wilderness Random Encounter tables.

Now, those Wilderness Encounter tables include chances to meet everything from a few wild deer to ancient red dragons as you wander from place to place.  And as Alexis points out, by using them as written, how could a merchant caravan ever get from one city to another without being pillaged by 6-60 orcs, a small troupe of frost giants, or a wing of griffons?

But let's take a look at what the charts really are.  They're tables for things you might meet in the wilderness, not just while taking a stroll through Farmer Maggot's cornfield.

In the Dominion system in Frank Mentzer's Companion Set, he divides up areas into Civilized, Borderland, and Wilderness.  I get a feeling (just a feeling, I've got nothing to back this up quote-wise) that he may have gotten this from Gary (Keep on the Borderland being the artifact that makes me think this).

If this was the intention of the game's creators, we can assume that any game setting should have areas on the world map that are 'wilderness' and areas that are not.

If we divide up any map into Civilized, Borderland, and Wilderness areas [mapping to the alignments of Law--Neutrality--Chaos, interestingly] we'd have Civilized areas where you're likely not going to run into anything besides human-types and normal animals.  Merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, wandering minstrels, peasants, etc.  Very similar to town/city encounter charts.

In Borderlands, things are getting a bit more wild.  There will be more monsters, demi-humans, and giant animals encountered, but still plenty of human-types.  And most likely there won't be many overpoweringly difficult monsters.

In the Wilderness--the true wilderness--anything goes.  Human-types will become scarce, and those that do appear will most likely be other adventuring types or 'monster' humans like bandits, brigands, pirates, etc.

But what about those merchants that need to travel through the Wilds to get from Port Gunthar to Oxcross?  Well, that's what roads are for.  Or charted rivers.  Or established sea lanes.  A well-patrolled and maintained road would count as at worst Borderland, and may be considered Civilized all along its length.

The benefits?  Well, first, you've got a bit of verisimilitude in that unlike early CRPGs, your characters aren't the only non-monsters outside of towns.  There's also both in-game and meta-game reasons why monsters aren't eating every commoner who tries to go on a little trip.

Second, it provides players with a way to judge their risk/reward, similar to dungeon levels.

Third, it makes decision points on the map.  Do we take the long King's Road to Oxcross, or try to save two day's travel by cutting through the Haunted Woods?

Fourth, it reinforces the feeling of Law vs. Chaos as trying to tame the wilderness/wreck civilization, rather than just pseudonyms for good and evil.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why RPGs DON'T Suck

No matter how good or bad any individual game's rules, supplements, modules, published settings or the like may be, if you think RPGs suck you're probably part of the problem (no, I'm not providing a link to Mr. Sheppard's blog, you've likely seen it already, and if you haven't you aren't missing much).

What's right about RPGs?

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibits D-O (pictorial)

With all the potential AWESOME out there, who cares if something is not 'creative' to some douche on the internet with a few RPG publishing credits?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shinobi Sunday: Kuji


[Rin, Pyo, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, Zen]

Kuji, or the Nine Syllables, are a part of a lot of ninja pop-culture.  Anime, live action movies, video games, they all tend to use this a lot.  The syllables themselves are usually recited together with hand motions, called the kuji-in, or nine syllables seal, or with alternating horizontal and vertical slashing motions, the kuji-kiri or nine syllables cut.  Ninja use them as a way to prepare themselves for some difficult task, both as a way to focus/calm, and a way to increase power/luck.

Well, luckily, Wikipedia has a good rundown of them.  Also, if you want to try to make the kuji-in yourself and impress your friends with your mad ninja skillz, check this out (read from top right down).

Friday, February 4, 2011

This is totally going in the Megadungeon

So I'm reading this awesome compilation of extracts on Megadungeons at The Lands of Ara while behind me my son is watching Pee Wee's Big Adventure again.

Just as I get done reading, the movie is at the part where Pee Wee has a nightmare of clown doctors trying to fix his bike, failing, and then Francis, dressed as the devil, lowers the bike into a big flaming cauldron while other devils dance around it in delight.

A room where devils dance around a giant flaming cauldron, dunking in things they likely shouldn't is now going in my Megadungeon.

Classic D&D characters are stronger than d20 D&D characters

Sure, Classic D&D tops all ability scores at 18 (no silly percentile strength systems, or allowing demi-humans to get a 19).  d20 is theoretically limitless in how high a score can go, but usually can't start higher than 20.

But look what those scores do for you, in relation to the most common NON-COMBAT resolution systems for the systems in question.

In Classic D&D, the default is to roll 1d20 and roll lower than your score. 
In d20, you roll 1d20, plus your ability bonus, compared to a Challenge Rating set by the DM, but with guidelines given in the books.

So a character with Str 10 in Classic D&D will succeed at most Strength based checks 50% of the time.  With an 18 Str, you succeed 90% of the time.

In d20, the default CR is 15.  In order to get a 50% chance on that d20 roll at level 1, you need that maximum starting Str of 20 (+5 bonus).

Of course I'm using Strength as an example, because it's the first ability listed in both editions, making it a convenient point of reference, but this applies to all of the ability scores.

Of course, there are some sub-systems in Classic that don't follow the above pattern (2d6 Reaction rolls, with at best a +2 modifier for Charisma, for example, work on a bell-curve, but the math on that one still, I believe, favors Classic characters' chances.)

Funny.  Some people, like my friend Alex, think that a Classic character with an average score of 9-12 is worthless.  They've been deluded by AD&D, where you need a 15+ to get a bonus, and from d20 where you have no limit on your potential.  The lower scores of Classic are actually more heroic.

And on the flip side, seen from this perspective, d20 adventures now seem a lot more challenging. 


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Recommendations

Well, the 3-day Chinese New Year holiday starts today.  My wife and I had wanted to go see the Nick Cage movie Season of the Witch, but it looks like the theaters are closed.  At least the ones she checked yesterday are.  So we'll probably just spend the day at home.

If our son takes a nap this afternoon, I'll likely use the opportunity to re-arrange the HeroClix teams I've got put together to integrate the new figures.  I may also do a little stocking in the Megadungeon.  We'll see.

Anyway, I was on Project Gutenberg last night, and found, in their 'Bookshelf' section, a list of "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" by British newspaper The Guardian.  Here's a cut and paste of the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the list.

Bold are ones I've read.  Only 25.  Hmmm.  Need more time for reading.  But then, of course, this being subjective, there's plenty of Sci-fi/Fantasy I've read that I think should be on a list like this but isn't.  So take this for what it's worth.

Science fiction and fantasy

  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Non-Stop by Brian W Aldiss
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
  • The Drowned World by JG Ballard
  • Crash by JG Ballard
  • Millennium People by JG Ballard
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks
  • Weaveworld by Clive Barker
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
  • Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
  • Vathek by William Beckford
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite
  • Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown
  • Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Coming Race by EGEL Bulwer-Lytton
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess
  • A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Erewhon by Samuel Butler
  • The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
  • The Influence by Ramsey Campbell
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
  • Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
  • The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  • Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Hello Summer, Goodbye by Michael G Coney
  • Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
  • House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
  • Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq
  • The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R Delaney
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
  • Camp Concentration by Thomas M Disch
  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber
  • The Magus by John Fowles
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Red Shift by Alan Garner
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • Light by M John Harrison
  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
  • Dune by Frank L Herbert
  • The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
  • Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
  • Atomised by Michel Houellebecq
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Children of Men by PD James
  • After London; or, Wild England by Richard Jefferies
  • Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski
  • Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  • The Earthsea Series by Ursula Le Guin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  • Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
  • The Monk by Matthew Lewis
  • A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
  • The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod
  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
  • Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  • Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
  • The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Ascent by Jed Mercurio
  • The Scar by China Mieville
  • Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Mother London by Michael Moorcock
  • News from Nowhere by William Morris
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • Vurt by Jeff Noon
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock
  • Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  • The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth
  • A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys
  • The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
  • The Prestige by Christopher Priest
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling
  • Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ
  • Air by Geoff Ryman
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
  • How the Dead Live by Will Self
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Insult by Rupert Thomson
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
  • Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  • Institute Benjamenta by Robert Walser
  • Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • Affinity by Sarah Waters
  • The Time Machine by HG Wells
  • The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
  • The Sword in the Stone by TH White
  • The Old Men at the Zoo by Angus Wilson
  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  • The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chinese Zodiac

From tomorrow, I get a 3 day vacation for the Chinese New Year.  Yea!

I'm sure most of you reading this blog (at least those of you in/from/having lived in North America) have been to a Chinese restaurant and seen the paper place mat with the Chinese Zodiac animals on them. 


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Rat are quick-witted, clever, charming, sharp and funny. They have excellent taste, are a good friend and are generous and loyal to others considered part of its pack. Motivated by money, can be greedy, is ever curious, seeks knowledge and welcomes challenges. Compatible with Dragon or Monkey.


Another of the powerful Chinese Zodiac signs, the Ox is steadfast, solid, a goal-oriented leader, detail-oriented, hard-working, stubborn, serious and introverted but can feel lonely and insecure. Takes comfort in friends and family and is a reliable, protective and strong companion. Compatible with Snake or Rooster.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Tiger are authoritative, self-possessed, have strong leadership qualities, are charming, ambitious, courageous, warm-hearted, highly seductive, moody, intense, and they’re ready to pounce at any time. Compatible with Horse or Dog.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Rabbit enjoy being surrounded by family and friends. They’re popular, compassionate, sincere, and they like to avoid conflict and are sometimes seen as pushovers. Rabbits enjoy home and entertaining at home. Compatible with Goat or Pig.


A powerful sign, those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Dragon are energetic and warm-hearted, charismatic, lucky at love and egotistic. They’re natural born leaders, good at giving orders and doing what’s necessary to remain on top. Compatible with Monkey and Rat.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Snake are seductive, gregarious, introverted, generous, charming, good with money, analytical, insecure, jealous, slightly dangerous, smart, they rely on gut feelings, are hard-working and intelligent. Compatible with Rooster or Ox.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Horse love to roam free. They’re energetic, self-reliant, money-wise, and they enjoy traveling, love and intimacy. They’re great at seducing, sharp-witted, impatient and sometimes seen as a drifter. Compatible with Dog or Tiger.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Goat enjoy being alone in their thoughts. They’re creative, thinkers, wanderers, unorganized, high-strung and insecure, and can be anxiety-ridden. They need lots of love, support and reassurance. Appearance is important too. Compatible with Pig or Rabbit.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Monkey thrive on having fun. They’re energetic, upbeat, and good at listening but lack self-control. They like being active and stimulated and enjoy pleasing self before pleasing others. They’re heart-breakers, not good at long-term relationships, morals are weak. Compatible with Rat or Dragon.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Rooster are practical, resourceful, observant, analytical, straightforward, trusting, honest, perfectionists, neat and conservative. Compatible with Ox or Snake.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Dog are loyal, faithful, honest, distrustful, often guilty of telling white lies, temperamental, prone to mood swings, dogmatic, and sensitive. Dogs excel in business but have trouble finding mates. Compatible with Tiger or Horse.


Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Pig are extremely nice, good-mannered and tasteful. They’re perfectionists who enjoy finer things but are not perceived as snobs. They enjoy helping others and are good companions until someone close crosses them, then look out! They’re intelligent, always seeking more knowledge, and exclusive. Compatible with Rabbit or Goat.
Taken from this website.

Of course, one thing many don't know is that the 5 Chinese Elements also affect your animal sign (wood, water, fire, earth, metal), as well as Yin and Yang, the month, and double-hour of your birth.

Another interesting (and slightly annoying for me) thing that's still in use here in Korea [don't know if it's still being used in China or not] is that back in the mostly illiterate, agrarian times, lower class people usually didn't record their birthdays.

To calculate how old you are, you are born 1 year old, and every New Year you get one year older.  Instead of counting years completed on your birth day like in the West, Chinese count the number of calendar years in in which you've been alive. 

So for me, being born in December, the two months or so before Chinese New Year count as 1 year, so Koreans always try to tell me I'm two years older than I really am. 

And to tie this into RPGs, using systems like this (as is or modified) can be a good way to make your fantasy world's calendar a little different.  Also, the animals could be totem animals of barbarians or humanoids, immortals/deities, 'noble animals' (like in LotR or Narnia) or Animal Lords, etc.

You can also switch things around.  For example, in Vietnam, the Rabbit is replaced by the Cat (so this year will be the Year of the Cat in Vietnam, the Year of the Rabbit in China/Korea/Japan).