Monday, December 29, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: The World of D&D Gaming

This is the final installment of the series for the Players' Manual.  I'm just squeaking by on my promise to myself to finish this part of the Cover to Cover project this year.  Two days left.  Well, this final semester was a bear with the strength of ten bears.  Glad it's over and I've got a break before the dissertation process commences.  It'll give me time to get well into the Dungeon Master's Rulebook.  And not to get too ambitious, but maybe I can finish that up faster than the Players' Manual and move on to the Expert Set in 2015.  We'll see.

On with the review!

The World of D&D Gaming!

Catchy title for the section, isn't it?  What do we have here?  Basically Mentzer marketing just about everything from TSR related to D&D, but be careful not to get the more complex and detailed AD&D stuff for this original D&D game...except for the miniatures and official D&D paints! 

Yes folks, you heard it here.  TSR had their own official paints for painting their own official miniatures for the official original D&D game.  No wonder my generation and later gamers are often stuck on the idea of "official" products handed down from the almighty game company!  "Why should we do any more of your imagining for you?" became "The other game systems do not use the same characters and monsters." 

Alright, it's not all negative.  The first section provides some useful information to new players on how to find groups to play with.  Of course, there's the mandatory plug for the RPGA.  But there's also advice to ask around at school, the local library, or the local hobby shop.

Also, the next section talks about the Expert, Companion and Master sets.  Boy, did that get my imagination pumping for the stuff contained in these sets!  It's been 30 years (and I should have done a "30 years of gaming" post on my birthday two and a half weeks ago...maybe I'll get around to it tomorrow) but I can still remember how the game opened my mind to the possibilities, and the hints of things to come made me hungry for more. 

In addition to the sets, the modules for the various sets and AD&D are explained in brief.  We also get sections explaining about other (official!) play aids such as character sheets, more dice, the above mentioned miniatures and paints, and of course the big-boy-pants AD&D game, which this is NOT.

Of these other things, I really wanted miniatures.  I sometimes got TSR's "Mail Order Hobby Shop" catalog, and loved looking at the pictures and reading the descriptions of the figures, making wish lists of which ones might be good for my characters.  It wasn't until I was in Japan in the early 2000's, with 3E fresh and new, that I finally started my minis collection.


From Alignment to Turn (undead), we get two full columns of basic game terminology explained.  There are exactly 50 headwords in the glossary, and cover game mechanics and concepts.  While none of the definitions appear especially noteworthy on their own, I may keep this section in mind in the future when debating minutia with others.  There are some simple breakdowns of some game concepts that get over-analyzed (like alignment: The behavior of monsters and characters).

End Papers

The final page of the book is a full-page ad for the B series modules B1 through B5 plus M1 (solo adventure), Geomorphs, Character sheets, and the Monster and Treasure Assortment.  The page gives some brief descriptions of the modules.  B1 and B2 are just marketed as helpful for beginning DMs, while the other modules give a taste of the adventure contained within.  I find the latter to be better marketing, personally.

On the inside back cover, there are more ads for TSR stuff: 

And of course, on the back cover there is a photocopy-able character sheet.

That sheet is responsible for one of the biggest mistakes we made as novice players.  Because the "to hit" numbers are printed on the page, even after we got the Expert set, we still continued to use those numbers to hit opponents.  Of course, it was only fair that we also used those numbers for monsters.  This made our Fighters, Clerics and Demi-Humans quite durable as most had plate and shield.  But even our Thieves were fairly sturdy in combat due to leather and Dex bonus.  We had plenty of PCs die in those games, but many many more surely would have if we'd used the attack matrices properly. 

And there it is, folks.  The end of Part One of this series, on the Mentzer edited Red Box Basic Set's Players' Manual, cover to cover.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Prepping for GamMarvel World

Now that my grad school papers are finished, I've got a short break before I need to revise one of them for publication.  That means I've got some time to work on GamMarvel World.  Yesterday I went to snag some nifty maps from Dyson's Dodecahedron blog (go check it out if for some odd reason you haven't).  I like that many of these maps are small, less than a dozen rooms.  Just about right for an evening's entertainment and simple enough to stock as a DM.

I've just about got the character creation document hammered out (some house-rules needed to be worked in/revised a bit) so players can start making characters soon.  With that done, I need to get cracking at fleshing out some of the locations on my map.  The above mentioned maps will help with that.  I've also got a pocket notebook full of ideas for factions, settlements, and ruins.  Just need to add some descriptions, monsters and treasure to the maps and decide where on the world map each location is.

I've also got some ideas on some religions of GamMarvel World.  With the Marvel Age of Heroes as the pre-Fall civilization, and possibly an Age of Apocalypse or Days of Future Past type setting as the Fall itself (mutant vs. non-mutant conflict will play heavily into it either way), there's plenty of ideas for who might be worshipped as a god/goddess or heroic demi-god in this future world.  I doubt there will be a Pope or anything, the world's a semi-Bronze Age world so most religions will be local and not so heavily organized.  But who worships Whom (or What) will play a part and could help the PCs make friends or enemies.

I've also decided how to handle magic.  One of my houserules is that instead of a class, each character can pick a specialty which grants a few minor abilities (like BX/LL demi-human abilities).  One of them allows 1st level spellcasting ability.  I'll allow the player to pick any spell from the MU or Cleric list.  When they gain levels, instead of rolling on the "what improves" table, they will just move up a new level of spellcasting ability following the MU advancement tables.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies

Yesterday, my son and I went to watch the final Hobbit movie on the big screen.  We'd recently watched all of the LotR trilogy on DVD, and although he hadn't seen parts 1 and 2 of the Hobbit, he really wanted to go, so off we went.

Now, I enjoyed the first two installments while watching them, but on reflection found them tedious, drawn out, and full of sound and fury signifying nothing for a large part of them.  But then it's Peter Jackson's (and Weta Workshop's) vision of New Zealand-turned-Middle Earth, which is worth sitting through just for the amazing cinematography, IMO.  Anyway, I wasn't exactly anticipating the final chapter, but I knew I couldn't miss it either.  I'm that sort of completionist nerd.

And before we get to the interview proper, as always the title of the blog brings people wondering about swear (curse) words in films any time I do a review.  Here it is: Dain, Lord of the Iron Hills (Billy Connoly) has a few mild swears.  My son's favorite swear being "bastard," when Dain uttered it, he turns to me and laughs, "Did he just say 'bastard'?  Ahahaha!"  That's it.  And if you know Billy Connoly, you'll know that's pretty mild for him.

Now, what did I think of The Hobbit Pt. 3?  Well, as usual it was visually stunning in some parts, but the vast majority of the film happens on Erebor (The Lonely Mountain) which to be honest, looks really cool from far away but isn't that interesting up close. 

The story was more focused (mostly the eponymous battle, plus a short bit where the White Council confronts the Necromancer at Dol Guldur which was surprisingly brief considering the bloat in the first two films).  But that doens't mean it was necessarily better.  For some reason, the movie felt a bit underwhelming.  Where the first two were going out of their way to diverge from the book to "pump up the action" this one felt subdued in a sense.  There's some over-the-top action in it, but it wasn't quite as heart-stopping as some of the action scenes in the first two installments. 

Maybe I need to sleep on it a bit more to pin it down (thanks to the baby, I didnt' get much sleep last night).  Something seemed off about the movie, though.  It still had the PJ touches you'd expect (crazy decapitations - watch for Thranduil on his elk for a good example; modern cliches being mouthed by Middle Earth residents: "think of the children!" in this case; gratuitous fights with a video game feel to them).

Anyway, it was thankfully only a bit over two hours long, rather than three.  And it was Middle Earth on film.  If you enjoyed the other Hobbit movies, don't let this disuade you.  It's alright.  It just lacks the emotional oomph that The Return of the King had.  It's a weak climax to an overdone film series, but it's not completely terrible, either.  If you're on the fence about seeing it, though, I'd say you may want to wait for a cheaper option than a full ticket price.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I am NOT an ANIMAL!!!

I've been working bit by bit on my Mutant Future house rules for char-gen in GamMarvel World.  At first, for mutant plants and animals I figured I'd use what's in GW4.  But I had second thoughts. 

GW4 has about fifty animal types which can be used as is or as models for other types.  Well, the ability score cap is lower in MF (a good thing IMO) so I adjusted all the scores.  I was already not so fond of the fact that there are so many feline types in perticular on that list.  So I started making up a more general one.

My new list has forty or so animal types, mostly pretty broad, with some sample specific species.  So instead of having fox and wolf separate, there's one entry for Canine.

I still need to add specific animal abilities (senses, movement, etc).  When I do that, some types will get a choice of special.  So if you choose Snake, you might choose a poison bite or constriction attack.  If you choose Marsupial you get a pouch, and can choose from jumping, climbing or prehensile tail (kangaroo, koala, possum).  Something like that.

It may be more work than strictly necessary, but it is helping me consider just exactly what it means to be a mutant animal in the post-apoc future of the Marvel Universe.  Some may be uplifted animals (Rocket Raccoon types) while others may have originally been descended from humans with animal-like mutations (The Beast, Wolvesbane, Squirrel Girl, etc.).

Mutant plants will be closer to the GW4 rules.  "I am Groot!"

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tyrant DM!

Talking about myself, here.  Or at least my plans for when I finally get some time to run my Gamma World/Marvel Comics mashup campaign.

Usually, I'm sort of easy-going when it comes to players rolling their ability scores.  I let them make PCs at home, so they essentially get unlimited mulligans when rolling stats.  What the DM doesn't know won't hurt him, right?

But in this new campaign, I'm thinking of taking a hard line.  Why?  Well, because I actually want to give players a choice of how they roll their stats, and need to be able to enforce it.  I'm going to give my players a choice of rolling 3d6 six times and arranging to taste, or rolling 4d6-L (or with slight differences depending on character type) but in order down the line.  This choice becomes meaningless if they just ignore the first set rolled and do it again, or roll both methods and take the better set.

Anyway, I'm thinking of possibly going so far as to suggest they tell me what PC type they want to play and which method of rolling they prefer and rolling the numbers myself.


Will the players revolt against this power trip of mine?  Possibly.  And I'll be the big softy I am and let them do it how they want in the end, because playing it their way is better than not playing at all.  Besides, who cares if you've got an 18 Strength when you're facing off against a cyborg tyrannosaurus? 

Monday, December 1, 2014


I've been reading a lot today about people...well, not just normal people really, Star Wars fanboys...offended by the idea of a black stormtrooper.

Seriously, even if all the stormtroopers in Episodes 4 to 6 were still clones of Jango Fett twenty years or so after he died, this new movie takes place another 30 YEARS after the fall of Palpatine and supposedly the Empire at the end of "Jedi."  Why do they still have to be using clones of Jango Fett fifty years or so later?

If you've got problems with a black stormtrooper (to misquote Jeff Foxworthy), you may be a racist.

If somehow you've actually got quibbles about the actor's performance in the five to ten seconds we see him, rather than the color of his skin, then maybe you're not a racist.  You may want to withhold judgment until you see more of his acting, though.

On the other hand, the soccer ball droid looks ridiculous.  Feel free to bash on that.

Sailing the Seas of Weird

Got to play!  Yes, that's right, after a four month break for fatherhood duties, I finally managed to work in a session of D&D last Saturday!  It felt a bit rocky at first, partly because Jeremy (who was the DM) was starting us in a new game world and partly because I'm feeling a bit rusty and was sometimes distracted by my family duties (they didn't stop just because I was gaming, you know). 

Anyway, Jeremy's pitched this idea a few times in the past, so I know he's got this idea fairly well developed (or at least he appears to).  I played Uwynn Glynddwr, a Psychic (sort of a Cleric with combination MU and Cleric spells), while Dean played Friar Little Sparrow (a Specialist, sort of LotFP style, devoted to scholarship, music and herbalism) and Justin played Storm (also a Specialist, devoted to scouting and ranged combat).

We are agents working for Jarl Knute in a post-apocalyptic fantasy realm where the various islands have been separated by a sea that is now part Astral, and haunted by weird psychic threats and mutation-inducing agents.  We piloted a bathysphere to an allied island that we'd lost contact with, and commenced an investigation/salvage operation. [Hey, they may be allied, but if they've been wiped out, Jarl Knute could use whatever's left over!]

The beginning of the session involved me making a lot of piloting rolls of which the purpose/consequences were murky [constructive criticism to Jeremy, as I'm pretty sure you'll read this: too many rolls.  Encounter/mishap rolls may be best done behind the screen rather than forcing them on the players.  I didn't feel "empowered" by all that rolling, nor did I get a sense that the outcomes of my roll had much to do with my character's ability to pilot the craft]. 

OK, complaint finished.  When we reached the island, things went more smoothly.  The place was deserted, and plants were dead and brittle to the touch.  A purplish tint colored everything in the place.  Not a purplish light, everything's color had shifted towards purple.  And there were moving objects watching us from the orchards that surrounded the 'castle.'

The castle itself was a reclaimed apartment complex, and the Jarl of this place had a penthouse suite as his throne room.  We had to penetrate the orchard, make our way into the complex by defeating a raised drawbridge/moat.  Luckily, Dean's character, the Friar Little Sparrow, had an artifact digging hand that gave him burrowing speed.  He used it to dig our way past the barely seen entities in the orchard.  Then, either Justin or Dean (Justin I think) had the idea that I could try to reverse my Hold Portal spell to open the drawbridge (yes, on the fly conversion of a L1 spell to a related L2 spell).  Jeremy had me roll an Int check, which I passed, and the drawbridge came down.

Now, Justin was worried that we'd be trapped inside.  I was worried that the things outside would try to come in.  So our next order of business was to deal with the drawbridge.  Justin wanted to jam the works so no one could close it behind us.  I suggested we raise it to about a 20 degree angle first, then jam it.  That would give us about a 30' drop, roughly 5' away from the normal far end of the drawbridge when we wanted to leave.  Enough to keep baddies out, but allow us to climb down easily enough.

Getting there was the tough part.  There were two towers flanking the drawbridge (apartment towers, not medieval style castle towers, remember).  As we went up the first, the way was blocked by a large fleshy thing.  It turned out to be some sort of six-limbed mutant bear, which was too tough for us to fight.  After engaging it and getting sorta beat up, we retreated and tried the other tower.  In the second, we ran into a mutant wolf thing (beat it), and some undead children (the things that had been lurking in the orchard).  Luckily, my starting "artifact" was a mace with advantage vs. undead.  Little Sparrow and Uwynn both took a fair amount of damage, but we managed to defeat them.  Also, I forgot that the wolf thing had some sort of funky biomechanical bracelet, which Uwynn took and is hoping will give him an corrosive breath attack like the wolf mutant had.

We were pretty beat up, and hadn't fond the drawbridge mechanism, but needed to rest.  We found an apartment inhabited by an old withered woman, a survivor, and after Justin managed to successfully negotiate with her, we were able to use her apartment to rest and recouperate. 

It was a fun session, and Jeremy definitely has a gift for creating interesting weird-punk settings.  I'm looking forward to playing more of this, and hopefully getting my GamMarvel World game going soon as well.