Friday, February 27, 2015

Coming Out?

No more Lord Gwydion handle anymore.  I'm starting another blog for work related purposes, so I'm going to have to use my real name around here.  Not that I've been hiding it, since I used my real name on Flying Swordsmen and plan to do the same with Chanbara.

I still use the LG handle when I visit message boards (infrequently anymore), so if you see me on Dragonsfoot or wherever, that's still me.

Anyway, Hi, I'm Dennis.  Nice to meet you all again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One of those odds and ends posts

Last Saturday, I ran the first session of GamMarvel World.  It went fairly well, although I felt a bit rusty as DM (ran a single session of 5E Isle of Dread just before son #2 was born nigh seven months ago, had only played sporadically since then).  Justin, Dean and Jeremy rolled up some mutants and battled some creatures and found some junk to take back to their village.  And they picked up on some mysteries and hints that should keep them satisfied next adventure, too.

I've got some ideas for revising Chanbara magic.  I'm considering switching from Vancian to a spell point system.  We'll see.  I'll work out the system then post about it here.

One reason I'm considering the spell point system is the feedback I got from JB of BX Blackrazor about Flying Swordsmen.  I need to do a post that answers his follow-up questions about just what I was intending to do with FS, and why I think it failed.  As he said (and many other people said before him), there's a lot of cool stuff in the game, but when I try to run it something feels off.  And I don't know of anyone else trying to run it.  But that's a post for another day.

And I need to get another Mentzer Cover to Cover post done.

So why am I procrastinating and writing this instead of one of those topical posts?  Well, I'm just too damn busy.  I start a new job next week, teaching at a university instead of a kindergarten/elementary.  It requires some adjustment and attention from me.  Fingers crossed, I'll get to all of the above post topics (plus maybe a 5E post based on some recent G+ discussion, and maybe a post about the d20 Darwin's World game Josh is trying to get going).

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Host for Flying Swordsmen...third time's a charm?

Thanks to Fabio for pointing out that the link to Flying Swordsmen has gone dead. 

I'd been hosting my files on blogger Brad Ncube's website, but that's apparently down.  And I haven't heard anything from Brad in a long time.  I hope everything's alright with him.  He's a good guy.

To get my game back up on the web, I'm now hosting it at Google Drive.  The sidebar link has been updated and I'll update the links on the Flying Swordsmen page directly.  I'll get my other file links migrated to Google Drive and links fixed in the near future (if anyone's clamoring for the Unique Magic Items series or one of my adventures, which I doubt, shoot me a message here with an email addy and I'll get it off to you pronto).

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Introduction and DM's Job

The introduction to the Mentzer Basic DMR gives us the three elements of a (basic) D&D game: monsters, treasure and dungeons.  After providing some examples from the Players Manual tutorial, it tells us that there are more of all of these things in this book, plus ways to put them all together to create your own games and have a lot of fun.

Terms and Abbreviations:
The preface to this section actually gives us a good bit of advice to remember when playing RPGs like this, and one that is easily overlooked or forgotten:
The D&D games you will run are actually stories about the PCs in a fantasy world, and you and your players will make up these stories together. [p. 2, emphasis added]
The stories are not the sole province of the DM, or the module writer, or the game designer.  They are developed cooperatively by everyone at the table (implying also that you don't get a "story now," you get a story later when all's said and done).

Next is a list of common terms defined for us: player, character, class, dungeon, DM, NPC, etc.  This is followed by a long list of abbreviations for common terms, including the above defined terms, ability scores, monster stats, character classes, and treasure.  The only real interesting definition I find is the definition of alignment:
A term generally describing the behavior of any creature -- Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic [p. 2]

The word "generally" is important here.  Alignment in BECMI is not a straight jacket, and should not prevent one from role-playing their PC as they like.  No one is 100% consistent in their behavior in all situations and every day.

The Most Important Rule:
 This section gives us the golden rule of the Game Master: be fair in how you adjudicate the rules, don't play adversarially against the players, and make sure your rulings and house rules are applied consistently to the players AND the monsters. 

The Dungeon Master's Job:
This section tells us that the game consists of encounters, connected by other activities such as movement and problem solving.  The dice rolls (mechanics) are used to find results of choices.  Players get to make most of their own rolls, while the DM rolls for NPCs and monsters.  Simple enough.

The DM's Roles:
This section gives the fledgling DM advice on how to run monsters (and NPCs) in the game, and while basic, it is still good advice.  First off, while a DM has many more creatures to play than the players do, the creatures are usually simpler to play and die rolls can help determine their actions.  Think of how the creature feels, and what it wants.  This may alter what the dice tell you.  Mentzer advises the DM to not be slavish to the dice with reaction rolls, modify them based on the creature's intelligence, alignment, and feelings (or in my terms, Wants and Needs).

Finally, the DM should remember that the monsters exist not to give the DM tools to defeat the players, but to entertain everyone.  Once they've served their purpose, forget about them.  Good advice for the new DM.

The reaction roll is briefly explained, as well as ways monsters might react to adventurers (and adventurers to monsters).  And it's fairly explicit that while some monsters (like ghouls) will attack anything living on sight, most monsters will not, and the DM should roll reactions (unless the PCs just charge in and attack).  I'm not sure where my friends and I picked up the bad habit, shared by many gaming groups I've encountered or read about, of the DM saying, "You enter the room.  There are seven orcs.  Roll for initiative."  Mentzer is pretty straightforward in stating that this should be rare, and dependent on the monster encountered.  Maybe it came from modules (not that we were playing any in our early games), and maybe it came from video games, where the monsters always attack.

Running the Game:
It's the DM's job to set the stage for the players, then sit back and let them act.  Reading this again, I find it interesting just how proactive the players are assumed to be by Mentzer.  He even quips that as the players explore and problem solve, the DM can sit back and relax!  It's only when monsters are encountered, and during combat, that the DM needs to be in careful control of the situation.

Mentzer notes that running multiple monsters and characters is hard, and so is playing monsters fairly so that the DM doesn't favor either the monsters or the PCs.  And it takes a bit of experience to do so (implication, don't worry too much if you have trouble with this at first, it will come with practice).  In order to help the DM concentrate on running the monsters fairly, three guideline charts are given.  The first is "Order of Events in an Encounter" followed by "Order of Events in a Game Turn" and finally "Order of Events in Combat."  Obviously those first two should have been switched around, but for some reason they're not.

One interesting thing is that "Number Appearing" is listed as the first step of running an encounter, and this doesn't specify it's only for random encounters.  I suppose in a dungeon setting that is run as a "living dungeon" that makes sense.  There are normally wolves or orcs or whatever in this area.  How many of them are here now?  Most modules, and the sample adventure later in the book already have the number listed though.


The next section begins the DM Tutorial sample adventure.  Tune in next time for that!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

You're just like school in the summertime... [Chanbara post]

...No class!
So yesterday, after posting about my ruminations on simplifying Chanbara, I used Google+'s survey feature to run a quick, non-scientific poll.  Out of exactly 100 at the time of writing self-identified OSR gamers (or gamers who at least like to keep abreast of what the OSR is doing by joining the G+ OSR group) who use G+ and respond to surveys there, half of them (51%) favor having a small number of character classes, but having options to customize them.  So my idea to strip down Chanbara to three classes and have Profiles (like 2E kits or 5E backgrounds) for customization, along with special abilities, may indeed be the most popular way to go.  I was probably going to do that anyway, so there's a bit of a morale boost for me.

Interestingly, 10% clicked on the "classless" option, which I had added as a bit of an afterthought.  I was sort of curious how popular such an idea might be with the D&D-centric OSR crowd. 

Before I decided to make Flying Swordsmen as a retro-clone of Dragon Fist, I toyed with the idea of a classless wuxia game, partially inspired by the classless skill system of Star Frontiers. 

For those not familiar, Star Frontiers (Alpha Dawn, Zebulon's Guide does it a bit differently, I think) has you pick your alien race, then select a "Primary Skill Area" of Military, Technoloical, or Bio-Social skills.  You then select two skill sets, one of which must be in your PSA.  Having a skill grants access to all related subskills.  As you adventure, you gain XP which can be spent to raise your skill levels or gain new skill sets.  It's cheaper to purchase skills in your PSA.  You can also use XP to improve your ability scores or racial special abilities. 

Had Flying Swordsmen gone the classless route, it would have been something like this.  Different martial arts schools, adventuring skills (wilderness, thief skills, etc.) and types of magic would have been skill sets, and characters would have gotten a PSA and two skill sets at character creation.  It would have been quite customizable, expandable, and fairly easy to manage. 

Some people dislike the Star Frontiers skill system as being fairly limited, but I find that the constraints of the skill system are what inform me of just what the game is "about."  The designers imply that these things are what your characters should be doing: exploring worlds, communicating with aliens and helping explorers deal with the rigors of space travel, dealing with alien technology and robots and vastly complex computer systems, and of course fighting the Sathar and their terrorist agents with a variety of future weapons and some primitive ones as well.

I'm not planning to go this route with Chanbara at the moment, but maybe in the future I'll go back to this idea and create a new fantasy RPG (possibly Asian-inspired, or maybe not) using this kind of system.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Simplifying Chanbara

A year or so ago, I started revising my Chanbara draft from the ground up.  The first iteration was way too complicated, and had strayed too far from its roots in Flying Swordsmen. 

Then, the project got put on hold due to grad school and family duties. 

Now that GamMarvel World is pretty much ready to run (I still need to make custom wilderness encounter charts, but at the start of the game, the ones in Mutant Future will work).  And two days ago, my mind turned back to Chanbara.  Yes, I do eventually plan to finish and release this game.

Anyway, I was looking at the 2014 revisions, and there's a lot of good stuff in it.  But a year later, I look at it and think, "How can I make it simpler in ways that will make it better?"  There are many ways to simplify the game, but then I risk losing that feeling I want the game to have.

Yesterday, my thoughts were on the 'a la carte' special abilities.  Having to choose them is nice, but also slows down character generation, takes time to level up your character, and could lead to more min-maxing than I like in games.  Basically, Flying Swordsmen and 2014 draft Chanbara suffer from some of the problems I have with 3E D&D.  I was thinking yesterday that I should just pick some abilities for the classes, more like AD&D, so that a samurai is a samurai is a samurai.

This morning, though, I was thinking to go the opposite direction.  I currently have nine classes.  The classes fit three basic molds, Warrior, Spy or Magician.  Why not do like I did with Flying Swordsmen, and have three basic classes with 'kits' that can be used to customize them?  Borrowing from 5E D&D's Backgrounds, I could even allow 'cross-class' kits, which would make it easier to customize certain archetypes.  A Sohei could be a Warrior class with a Monk kit/background.  What I've been calling the Kagemusha (a mystical ninja type, there isn't a specific name for it in Japanese that I'm aware of) would be a Shinobi class with an Illusionist kit/background. 

The next thing I'm thinking of changing is the Skill Dice system.  Flying Swordsmen's Stunt Dice are based on ability scores, making many high scores desireable.  The previous drafts of Chanbara have continued this, except for one iteration where I just had a generic Skill Die for your class with variations on its use depending on class type.  That variation didn't work well, but I think divorcing the Skill Die from ability scores is the right thing to do.

My current idea then would be to have ability scores give constant bonuses as they do in Classic D&D/Labyrinth Lord.  Skill Dice can then be more specific, and class and kit can determine which types of Skill Dice your character will get.  I may allow a point-distribution system to determine die size [eg. 0 points for a 1d2, 1 point for a 1d3, 2 points for a 1d4, 3 points for a 1d6], or else give a set array to each class but let the player pick where they go.  So if a Bushi (Fighter) gets a 1d6, a 1d4 and two 1d3s, they can place each die on four of the six categories: Melee, Range, Defense, Tactics, Health, or Psyche.  If the character takes a Ronin kit/background, they may get an extra 1d3 Skill Die in Thievery, for example.

Special abilities will also likely be limited based on class and kit/background, or maybe just set (or with very limited choices).  We'll see. 

Anyway, hopefully simplification will help get me motivated to finish this game.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Dungeon Masters Rulebook

Phase II of the Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover series commences!  Today, I start by looking at the companion volume of the Red Box, the Dungeon Masters Guide.  While the cover has the same trade dress and art as the box and the Players Manual, from the start the style and tone of the book is a bit different.  Rather than a tutorial to get you started playing, this book has more of a reference book feel to it.  Of course, there is a "DM's Tutorial" at the beginning of the book, but it reads as if Frank understood that DMs would need to refer back to useful bits, so it's organized and written a bit differently.  That being said, let's start in on the front matter.

The inside front cover provides this handy index of mapping symbols.  I loved this, and still use most of these symbols myself on my maps.  The symbols here also gave me inspiration about the sorts of things I could add to my dungeons to spice them up (compared to the sample dungeon in the DM tutorial).  Of course, I still have trouble "Jacquaying" my dungeons, but at least some of the ideas here make them a little less dull than just endless 10' wide corridors connecting to square or rectangular rooms.  This Key serves as a subtle learning tool, conserves space by utilizing the inside cover, and is in a convenient location for repeated reference.

The Preface to this book is short and to the point.  If you just want to be a player, don't read this book.  If you're interested in being the DM, and you've read the Players Manual already, then "WELCOME!" [all caps in original]  Luckily, Frank does give us a bit of explanation why players shouldn't read this book, at least not yet.
"You will have less fun playing if you learn the information ahead of time!  A big part of the game is the mystery and excitement that comes from not knowing all the answers." [emphasis in original]
Next to that, we have the Table of Contents.  Again, I'll add hyperlinks to these sections as I cover them in various articles so this post can serve as a hub for the series.

 That looks really long, and it is long all typed out, but don't worry, faithful readers.  Most of the sections are really short, so I'll cover multiple entries on the TOC in one post.  Of course, a few single entries might get multiple posts, like the monster listings and magic item descriptions.  Hopefully I'll be a bit more dedicated to the series of posts this year.  If I don't lollygag, I may even get to start the Mentzer Expert Cover to Cover this year!