Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Strange Locations Needed!

So I just read this post by -C of Hack & Slash on John Carter and fantasy locations being fantastic and just not worrying about it.

And it seemed familiar to me.  Lo and behold, I'd blogged about just that nearly 4 years ago. 

And I'm still erring on the side of pseudo-historical when I world build.  I think that may be one of the things slowing me down on the world building section of Chanbara.  There are hints of odd, magical realms and locations, but they aren't the focus.  Or rather, I have been focusing on trying to file the numbers off of historical Japan, mixing events and political situations from the Genpei War, Onin War, Kenmu Restoration, Warring States period, and the Azuchi/Momoyama unification wars, along with some Edo-jidai style wandering ronin/ninja fiction.

And even if you have no idea what all those periods of Japanese history entail, I'm sure you can imagine how much of a pain it is. 

Time to let my imagination loose, read some Japanese ghost stories, and work up some Island of Oni/Tengu-yama/Dragon King's Palace style weird locations and focus the setting on those.  Small scale weird locations, like Sadako's well or a haunted latrine work, too.  Not to mention fantastic landscape features - there aren't enough of them (yet).  That's where the cool adventuring will be.  If some DM wants to focus on the wars between the daimyo or political machinations in the capital, let them do their own research. 

Chanbara needs to be focused on the weird/mystical. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Players are not characters!

The next section is a half page or so section titled "Players are not characters!"

Looking at the title, and considering the "Satanic Panic" and BADD and steam tunnels and what not, you'd think it would be yet another place where the game tries to allay the fears of any parents who might be looking over their children's books.  Got to keep your head straight about the game.  Right, Marcie?

What we actually get is a brief reminder that you are not your character, and that while you know all about the game mechanics and other stuff going on, you shouldn't use that player knowledge to metagame advantages for your PC.

Try to get into your character's head, and think like your character would, rather than making all your decisions based on game factors that your character might not know about.  You may even want to make a bad decision if you have a mentally weak character or are playing a Chaotic.  And the other players should remember to be cool with that as players, although it's perfectly fine for them to have their characters be upset with the stupid or untrustworthy character.

Dungeon Masters should also keep an eye on things, and remind players from time to time that their character wouldn't know certain things that the player does, to help keep them from taking advantage of metagame knowledge.

So, not what you'd think when you read the title.

Of course, I actually have some concerns about a game in which no metagaming takes place at all.  Part of the fun is meeting the challenges in the game and outwitting them through your own keen thinking as a player.  Or at least it is for me.  To an extent, metagaming is necessary for an RPG to be a game.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is it time for the Third Wave of the OSR?

The OSR started about eight years ago, with the sudden interest in publishing the first round of retro-clones, OSRIC, BFRPG, and hot on their heels Labyrinth Lord, followed soon after by Swords & Wizardry.

Cue the slew of other retro clones, both of various versions of D&D and of other old school games. 

The second wave included new imaginings of what might have been, and new/old systems that merged more modern design elements with classic game play.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Mazes & Minotaurs, with its "what if Bullfinch, Hamilton and Graves had inspired Gygax and Arneson more than Howard, Tolkien and Lieber?" motif, was the first of the second wave games. 

I just downloaded yet another free old school game on pdf.  It's over 400 pages, and really, most of the stuff I'd probably use from it will be any new monsters, maybe a class or race, possibly some magic items. 

I really don't need the "rules" anymore. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  There will always be room for complete rulebooks.  New gamers need them.  Old gamers sometimes appreciate only needing one book.  Game writers want to feel that their game is complete and "all you need."  I get that.

But if I were to download a document with just the basic information for players: race, class, spells, equipment, and any special rules necessary, maybe a bestiary if it's sci-fi or non-European/D&D-goulash, plus some setting/milieu/genre information, I could run the game.

Will this be the next phase of the OSR?  Supplemental rulebooks that bolt onto your favorite rule set to change the flavor/setting a bit, but otherwise follow the rules of the parent game?  Some publishers would actually create both a full version and a cut down "stage three" version.  Maybe give away the Stage Three supplement for free, and sell the whole rulebook for those who like to consult a single volume when they play?

Long story short, I'm thinking a1) I don't need to download any more 400+ page rulebooks of what is basically the same game, even if they're free.  I've already got my Franken-D&D rules the way I like them.  b2) Chanbara is likely going to end up like this.  I don't have time to rewrite all the rules for the whole game, at least not if I'm going to release it any time soon.  I'll give you enough info to make your character and to create a weird mytho-Japan setting.  You'll need to use your favorite version of Ye Olde Game for the rest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rise of a Machine

In the Terminator movies, they like to say there's no fate but what we make. 

Well, what sort of fate are we making?  Over the weekend, in a new park at what used to be the U.S. army base here in Busan, we saw some guys testing a remote control drone craft with all sorts of cameras.  Blogger's not letting me upload the video.  Think the machines are worried of what I might spread?

Oh, wait, it's letting me upload the second video, of the thing landing.  

Yes, that's my son and I saying "Wow!" at the end.

It was pretty cool to watch.  I think it's the same or similar model to what is being considered for home deliveries by (if you saw those videos a few months back). 

It's a shame I can't get the first one to load.  I guess Skynet doesn't want me to show you a machine rising...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Making Up a New Character

Now that we've looked at all seven character classes, the rules go into detail about how to create a character.  Of course, during the introductory adventure, and after it in the section going over the character sheet, we got a lot of this information already.  But, as a teacher, let me tell you, repetition is necessary for education.  Sure, kids could have just read the book over and over again, as they obviously did with RPG books before and since.  But this section builds on prior knowledge already established by the tutorial section, so as we say in educational academia, the information is more salient to the reader.  And, as I re-read it, I'm finding again a lot of good advice.

Readers are advised that rolling a character may take up to an hour the first time, but with practice and experience, it may be as short as 10 minutes.  Players are advised to roll up a character before game time, preferably with the DM present to monitor die rolling, and the suggestion of getting everyone together to roll up PCs at the start is not a bad idea.  That sure can take time, though, even with such a simple rule-set, if everyone or almost everyone is new to the particular system, even one as simple as Classic D&D.
When it comes to rolling dice, Frank obviously takes the hard core old school method or rolling 3d6 down the line as the best method.  Play what you roll!  There are methods to ameliorate poor scores, such as PR adjustment and the optional score switch of the highest roll into the PR (which I always used) if someone wants to play a particular class.  We are advised that characters with no score of 9 or greater, or with two scores below 6, are probably not viable and can be rerolled. 

However, you could always try it!  It might be fun to play a character with poor scores, even in the class's prime requisite.  And, as Frank notes, you can always roll up another character later.  In this age of coming to the table with a concept already formed, character builds, point buy, planning for prestige classes you will take at level 8 from way back at level 1, etc., that's maybe not something people want to hear.  But if I hadn't just rolled the dice and accepted it, Farley the Halfling would have never been played.  Nor quite a few of my other interesting old characters, or those of my friends and family members.  We took the lumps of poor rolls and worked them into memorable characters, rather than discarding them because we don't get to play Muscles McStrongman or whatever we were hoping for.

Demi-humans, again, are not given adjustments as in AD&D and onward, but instead have ability score minimums that they must meet, along with one or two prime requisite scores.  Dwarves get it easy, needing a 9 or better in Con and having Strength as the PR.  Elves slightly more so, needing a 9 or better in Int and having Str and Int as PRs.  Halflings need a 9 or better in both Con and Dex, with Str and Dex as PRs, but as mentioned last time, they do get the benefit of not needing a 16 in a PR to get a 10% XP bonus.
We're given the ability score adjustment rules in detail here.  You can raise your PR (only) by one point by lowering another score 2 points, but it can't be lowered below 9.  Con and Cha can never be changed.  Dex can be raised if you're a Thief, but never lowered.  This is obviously based on the rules in the LBB, including the restrictions that were in place when there were only Fighter, Cleric and Magic-User as classes.  They seem a bit arbitrary now.  Of course, in this age of the 4d6-L, arrange to taste method (or point buy, which anymore I dislike), it seems likely to not be used much. 

Another area we always ignored was rolling for starting hit points.  From the beginning, we played that you got your maximum amount at level 1, and started rolling from level 2.  I've played in games where I had to roll, and really it doesn't make that much difference, but maybe it's just psychological.  You feel tougher with that maximum amount, even if you can still easily drop from one attack from a polearm.

When it comes to buying equipment, we get some good advice for new players.  Shop according to your class, don't buy things your class can't use, but be sure to get those things you MUST have (like Thieves' Tools or a holy symbol).  Magic-User characters are advised to buy extra dungeoneering equipment, since they don't need to spend money on weapons and armor.  See, right there, that's something you can do when you've cast that one spell for the day.  You're the guy with rope, 10' pole, spikes and hammer, mirror, lantern, etc.  You're playing the smart guy, go out there and play smart with the gear you buy!

We now get a lot of explanation of game mechanics, figuring out ability score adjustments, chances to hit, saving throws, armor class, another explanation of the hit roll process, stuff like that.  Not much interesting here, nothing really to comment on, as it's fairly technical. 

It gets interesting again when we get down to the Intelligence and Charisma modifiers.  For Int, obviously a high score grants extra languages.  I've always liked the Mentzer take on low Int, as well.  Your literacy is affected.  Basically, if you have a low Int, you can't use scrolls (even Protection scrolls which everyone can use -- if you can read). 

Charisma is again listed as important for interacting with monsters and for hiring retainers, but as pointed out, mostly the DM will need to know your scores/adjustments.  Back in the day, though, we rarely used retainers, and rarely tried to interact with monsters.  NPCs, sure, or the rare encounter with Lawful or friendly Neutral monsters.  But we would just act those out, not make rolls, usually.  Despite all our hack-and-slash tendencies (we were pre-teens to teens, after all...), we dispensed with the die mechanics and just got into character.  And I'm still partial to that, but rely on the dice from time to time if I'm not sure exactly what to have the NPCs/monsters do.

Naming your character: You can pick any name you like, but be careful of those silly names!  They may come back to haunt you! 

Alignment: the way you want to play the character, not the way you think you should behave (emphasis in original). 

Getting ready to play: Make sure you know the rules.  Have some idea what the other players' characters are like, and what you might be doing.  If you're a spell-caster, select your prepared spells. 

Wow, that was a long section.  Four and a third pages.  And we're getting close to the end of the Players' Manual.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A horrible night to have a curse, indeed!

So, after last month's non-D&D whoop-dee-do, I've been messing around with the free 8-bit/16-bit crpg inspired Retro Phaze.

I started out, as I blogged a while back, with the intention of making some small adventures and pre-made PCs for pick-up games.  And I'm working on that, maybe going a bit overboard even with a Wizardry inspired dungeon.  Retro Phaze makes it dirt simple, since like in a video game, most encounters are random and pretty much exist only as a means to level up your characters and give you gold to spend on better weapons/equipment.

One of the things I dislike about 3E and 4E style gaming is just that, but in Retro Phaze it's so darn simple that I think it will work.  Character stats are simple.  Monster stats are simpler.  Dungeons and wilderness can be as simple or complex as you like.  Pretty much all you need are some maps, random tables for monster encounters, and a few "boss" monsters and special treasures or quest items that serve as goals of play.

Well, it didn't take me long to turn from converting Wizardry, Faxanadu, Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior for the Americans) monsters into RePh stats before I started thinking of Castlevania.

I once upon a time foolishly started working on a CV setting for 3E.  But 3E stat bloat killed it quick.  With Retro Phaze, though, I may just be able to pull it off.  Spell-casters get either White or Black magic, and there are only 4 spells per level of each type, mostly combat oriented.  The game is designed for throwing bad guys at the players and letting them beat them to a pulp (or run screaming from the big ones), and they level quickly.

All I really need is a map of Transylvania with a few towns, crypts, haunted mansions and such, plus Castlevania itself mapped out (and I could probably just use some maps from the actual games for that) with appropriate random encounter lists for each, and a few key quest items and quest givers.

I'll probably try out my Wizardry inspired dungeon first just to get a taste of how the game actually plays before diving full steam into a game which I don't have the time to really run anyway.  But if I start working on it now, little by little, I will have it ready to run when I finally have time to run games again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: The Halfling

How terrible I am, making you all wait over a month to hear my thoughts on the Halfling class as presented in Frank Mentzer's red box Basic Set!  Hopefully you found at least some of my posts about non-D&D RPGs interesting.  I know a few were duds since I didn't have much to post about for a couple of questions, but c'est la vie.  Anyway, on with the show, this is it!

What do we learn about Halflings?  First of all, we're given a very Hobbit-y description of the little guys.  Outgoing but not especially brave, love creature comforts, friendly with Elves.  Interesting how Dragonlance Kender, being immune to fear, have influenced Halflings in more recent editions to be less prone to fear effects than other races.

As for advice on how to play the class, we're told to act like a Fighter (so read up on that class for advice), and remember to use the special abilities as often as possible.  We're also explicitly told here that Halflings get good saving throws so they're more likely to survive spells, poison, etc.  Actually, looking back to check, Dwarves are explicitly listed as being "resistant" to special effects as reflected in their saving throws.  I think I missed that in my Dwarf post. 

Touchberry.  Name ring a bell?  It's the sample character name in the little description of using your level title.  "I'm Touchberry the Warrior."  Sounds scary, huh?  Maybe if you're playing "Perverts and Penthouses."  Ever since I first saw that name as an 11-year old, I've always giggled at it.  New challenge for myself - play a Halfling named Touchberry while keeping a straight face about the name at all times.

Something that's been hidden in the rules that I never really noticed before.  Halflings are more likely to advance faster than Fighters.  If you roll 3d6 in order or roll and place, either way, you are more likely to get a Prime Requisite bonus as a Halfling, and they advance on the same numbers.  Fighters must have a 13 Strength for a 5% bonus, 16 Str for a 10% bonus.  Not so hard to get if you roll and place as desired, at least for the 5% bonus, but especially if you roll down the line that 16 Str can be elusive.  For Halflings, they need EITHER 13 Str or 13 Dex to get a 5% bonus, and if both are 13+ they get a 10% bonus.  Much easier to roll a pair of 13s or higher than to roll a single 16 on a 3d6 roll or a 4d6-L roll.  Halflings are the only class in Basic that doesn't need a 16 to get a 10% PR bonus.

For weapon restrictions, we get a fairly vague set of limits.  We're told of a few weapons they definitely can use (dagger, short sword, short bow) and a few they definitely can't (two-handed swords, battle axes, pole arms, longbows) and just a vague "and other large weapons."  What about the normal sword?  Is it in or out?  How about a spear?  If 6' humans can wield 14' long pikes, surely a 3' Halfling could use a 5' spear?  It's up to DM judgment, but at this stage, we're assuming the DM doesn't have much experience on which to make that judgment.  As we played it back in the day, Halflings were fairly limited in weaponry.

Halfling special abilities are pretty cool.  They get some nice combat bonuses (AC bonus vs. large creatures, bonus with missile weapons of all sorts, individual initiative bonus).  The AC bonus is very nice considering Halflings can wear plate & shield for armor.  The slightly lower hit die compared to Fighters and Dwarves, however, makes them slightly less optimal as giant-killers, though. 

Hiding is an awesome ability.  In the wilds, you are basically always wearing an elven cloak.  Even in dungeons, Halflings can Hide in Shadows better than a low level Thief, although Halflings suffer the restriction of not being able to move, and having magical light sources spoil the chance.

Basically, Halflings are the Ranger class of Basic D&D.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Back to Basics!

The Mao-Ze-Tigers (the Busan/Pohang/Scotland gamers) are back in business in a few minutes.  We're going to start a sword & planet style game using Jack Shear's MURDER HOBO classes

Also, now that the month of non-D&D posts are finished, I'll be getting back to work on the Mentzer Basic Cover-to-Cover series.  Soon.  I promise.

I'm also prepping some stuff to run off-the-cuff, using Retro Phaze.  I'm building a Wizardry/Rogue style dungeon.  Also culling monsters from lists on since Retro Phaze just basically uses the SRD list of stuff and I want a slightly different feel to this dungeon.  Also, preliminary work for a Castlevania game using Retro Phaze is also in the works.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Captain America: Winter Soldier movie review

No April Fools jokes this year.  I'm too busy with grad school stuff to worry about silliness like that.  What you get is a review of the latest Marvel cinematic offering in the Avengers family of films, Captain America: Winter Soldier.  It was released early in South Korea, so we went to see it last Saturday.

First of all, parents arriving here by searching for the movie title plus "curse," there was one instance of an "s" word that I noticed.  Otherwise, free of foul language.

The first Cap movie scratched an itch for me, being IMO a good blend of comic book super hero action and a traditional war movie.  This time, the action takes place in modern times (a few flashbacks to the WWII era aside), and is all in super-heroics mode.  There are internal divisions within S.H.I.E.L.D. (haven't been watching Agents of Shield yet, so not sure how that ties in), the return of Hydra, and the mysterious new villain Winter Soldier (not much of a mystery who this is if you pay attention to casting, but if you wish to avoid spoilers, don't check IMDB for who's playing who until after you watch it).

Winter Soldier, with his bionic arm and super-soldier strength/speed, makes a good foil for Cap.  Nick Fury has a lot more action in this movie, as well.  We see a bit more of the true face of the Black Widow (or is it?).  Falcon was a nice addition, although I would have liked to see a bit more of him in the movie.  He's a really minor player until Act 3.  During- and post-credits clips add in a familiar villain to the movie universe and of course hint at what's to come in Captain America 3.

I can't say it was my favorite of the Avengers family movies, but it wasn't bad, either.  The plot was more or less sound (it's Marvel, after all, so you have to expect some larger than life silliness in the plot/conflicts).  There were some intense action scenes, humor, and some nice tie-ins to the first Cap movie without over-doing it.

If you're a fan of what Marvel Studios have done so far, you're not likely to be disappointed in this movie.  You probably won't be blown away by it, but hey, they can't all be as pitch perfect as Iron Man 1 or Avengers were.