Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 1

A friend of a few friends (she used to live in Busan and play board games, but I never met her) was asking on Facebook about RPG gaming in Korea. She's now in Cambodia and has a gaming group there, and was curious as she only ever played board games while here in Busan. One of my friends tagged me in the post, and since I'm the sort of guy who will ramble on about this sort of stuff, I did. And I figure I might as well re-post it here on the blog, because it might be interesting and also because I'm curious about your experiences, if you have any, as a gamer living outside of countries with big gaming communities.

Glaiza's question that set this off:
Out of curiosity, are any of my friends in Korea playing or have played in tabletop roleplaying games (like D&D or games like it) while living in Korea?
Like is their a dedicated group that you know of that meet on a regular basis? What was your experience in that? Did you DM or where you a dedicated player?

 I decided to break my responses into three parts:
1) my gaming experiences in the U.S. which also had some issues with gaming not so different from those I've experienced overseas
2) my experiences gaming in Japan (which actually I ended up writing two posts, because I forgot to write about how great living in Japan was for collecting gaming minis, but I'll combine them here on the blog)
3) my experiences gaming in Korea (which at the time of writing this blog post, I still need to write...)

Here's my gaming background in the U.S. I know I've covered a lot of this before on the blog, but it's been years since I did so, and I don't expect all of you to have kept notes, so I don't mind reposting.

Gaming in the U.S. in the 80's/90's
I'm from rural Illinois, so growing up, access to RPG stuff was sort of limited. Our local bookstores stocked mostly D&D and other TSR stuff, but I remember seeing Palladium and some other RPG stuff as a kid. Toy stores and big box stores like Sears or JC Penny (this was before Wal-Mart came to the area) also had the D&D box sets. For extra dice, minis, etc. we were out of luck. We had our rule books and the dice that came in the box sets, plus extra six-siders scrounged from old board games.

We mostly played Classic (box set) D&D. Some friends had AD&D, and we'd mix stuff in from there if the books were available. When we weren't playing D&D, we mostly played Star Frontiers (also a box set with its own dice). My best friend got the TMNT game (not sure where), so we played that a bit, too. And WEG Star Wars a few times. But mostly D&D.

When I got to college, I had access to a great comics shop that had plenty of RPG stuff (and Magic: The Gathering), and I ended up getting involved with a group of AD&D (mixed 1E and 2E) players through my part-time job. I picked up the 2E books at a discount because I worked at Waldenbooks. Also, back home, a hobby shop had opened up, and I could get dice cheap there. Cheaper than the comics shop in my uni town, anyway. I started playing Gamma World and tried a few other games in those years. At home or at school, though, my groups were limited to friends of members already in the group. Not a lot of cross-pollination of gamers going on then.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Land of Dinosaurs and Pastry

Dean continues to show us what Eberron looks like when meshed with Candy Land. In the past, we've met with turducken monsters, cookie gnomes, a pumpkin spice dragon, and other food/confectionery themed monsters in his game. We also had a fuller than full group last night, with eight players in addition to Dean as the DM. Here's my latest (in character) play report from our game last night:

The Giant's Tomb
Being a continuation of the journal of Jack Summerisle, Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, and companions various and sundry, in search of the City of the Titans within the hollow world of Pellucidar, far below the surface of our world of Eberron.

Having rested following our battle with the pair of fierce dinosaurs that dwell in this strange, hidden world, we set out towards the confluence of the great river and the forests, where our divinations had suggested the City of the Titans might be found. As we traversed the plains, we saw more of these giant reptiles, only these ones seemed different. Having prepared myself with an ancient druidic incantation that allows converse with nature's beasts, I approached, along with Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Radiance and Thia Moonbrook, Elven Tempest Cleric. While the beasts were able to converse like natural creatures, they were actually some sort of blend of prehistoric beast and dessert. They indicated that there were some ruins connected with the Giants in the hills before the Great River. They also, when asked about the "hats" which had been fused to the skulls of the two great saurian beasts that beset us previously, suggested that we look to the river, or possibly to the south. Also, they wanted the "hats" destroyed. I promised, on my honor as a Paladin, that the "hats" would be put to no evil use while in our possession. They seemed to sense the truth of my words, and were satisfied.

We traveled onward, and came to a series of burial mounds. Rhea the Witch detected faint magic in the largest of them and Yuv's augury suggested danger in opening the mound, so we set about examining the door, and found it trapped. Odraynne the Human Bard, Thia, Flagan the Halfling Pugilist, and Jade the Elf Ranger attempted several methods to disarm the trap mechanism, which resulted in blasts of rocks and dirt with each failed attempt. Finally, they succeeded, but a secondary trap was sprung when the door was opened. The ground fell away, and in an instant sand began to fill the pit, trapping several of our group completely engulfed. Not only that, but giant scarab beetles infested the sands, biting at us as those of us who were not trapped tried to free our companions. Eventually, Thia's gust of wind dispersed the sands and beetles.

Inside the mound, there were three passageways. We chose the one to the left, which descended into the darkness (or ascended, I should say, as we are in the upside down world of Pellucidar!). We came to a chamber with, as Thia and I noticed, had a soft, rubbery floor. We tested it in several ways, and finding it suspicious, found a way to bypass it. Flagan used his gymnastics ability to cross the room on the solid walls while holding a rope. We secured it, and the party was able to cross safely.

At the bottom of the tomb, we found a room long ago looted by treasure hunters or vandals. One of these long ago looters' skeletons lay beneath the ruins of a golem or similar guardian, and seemed to be a human, but with a tail. There were also tracks of some sort of serpentine creature. The sarcophagus had been cracked, and most of the grave-goods despoiled. It was then that we sensed a chill presence, and found the ghost of the Giant Priest that we assume was buried in this mound blocking our escape, and angry at our presence.

We set to attacking it, although some of our party, such as Makarak the Orc Barbarian, had mundane weaponry which seemed to be less than full effect on the undead horror. Additionally, it let out a fearsome moaning which caused Rhea and both of our Clerics to freeze in fear for some moments. It also had a chill aura, but by focusing my mind on the goodness of the Greensong, my own aura was able to partially mitigate this chill glammer. With a combination of Makarak's and my axes, Flagan's fists, Jade's arrows, and spells from Odraynne, Rhea, Thia and Yuv, we finally put paid to the haunt. And now, we know, thanks to the carvings on the walls, that the missing rod of this great priest of the ancient Giants may be necessary if we are to awaken the Mountain above, so that it may rid itself of the Ghoul Kingdom.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Curses from the Library!

My mother is a retired librarian so books have always been a big part of my life. And just this morning, I came across this article describing some actual Medieval curses used to protect books from theft or disfigurement.

Of course, in the game, there is all sorts of potential for fun with this, since the curses can actually have an effect.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Treasure

The section on treasure starts out with a bit of description of what treasure is, and its purpose in the game. That purpose, of course, is to help characters go up in level, as the value of the treasure determines how many experience points it is worth. There are a few interesting notes in this preamble:

It mentions what to do with treasure, including better gear, hiring retainers, and buying spellcasting or other services from NPCs. Interesting that it leaves out the end-game goal of eventually building a stronghold. Maybe Frank is including that in "better equipment" (p. 40)?

Magic items (contrary to AD&D), are explicitly stated as not being worth XP. The value of magic items is in what they can do for you.

Payment for services rendered, or rewards for service, are counted as treasure (and hence worth XP).

"The DM should always determine the contents of a large treasure hoard before play, to decide how best to hide and protect the treasure from theft" (p. 40, emphasis in original). I'm not sure how much time Gygax spent in the AD&D DMG discussing how to hide/conceal treasure, but Frank gives us just a few lines like this (and one or two more later). While these days I can appreciate the concise nature of the advice, it pretty much passed me by early on. Treasure was sometimes in a chest, but often just piled on the floor in dungeons in my early (and even many later) games. Again, I think this was some video game influence, where treasure just appears after defeating the enemy, and you can just pick it up. I think a bit more about concealing treasure would have benefited my games more when I was young.

And finally, we get another note that monsters that can use magic items probably should! This of course, means that potions and scrolls may become rarer finds, as monsters are more likely to use them on the PCs!

Random Treasures
This section gives us a four-step process to determine treasures randomly. First, find the monster's treasure type in the monster list. Second, roll percentage dice for each type listed on that line of the table. Third, find the amount of each type present. Finally, roll for any magic items on the magic item tables, if any are present.

Fairly simple, and easy to understand. The section has another note about how to convert the number ranges to dice notation, to see which dice to roll. I think this is a good place for that reminder, as fledgling DMs are more likely to need reminders right here, when rolling for treasure, than in other places, and who wants to flip way back to the front of the book, or consult the Players Guide for this info when rolling up treasure?

Placed Treasures
Of course, rolling dice is fun, so I like to roll randomly first and see what I get, but I do often revert to simply deciding on the treasure present for many encounters or lairs (or at least partially so, I'm more likely to overrule the percent chances of treasure being present or not, and accept the amounts I roll).

Frank warns us here that it's OK to adjust the values up or down as needed, and to keep in mind that 3/4 or more of all XP is from treasure, not monsters defeated.

Then he tells us that as DMs get more experienced, they may just decide how much XP they want to give out, and decide on the treasure in that way. Of course, this is assuming the players will discover all the treasure (but if it's just scattered across the floor rather than well hidden...). What's most interesting about this is that it's in a way predicting the "XP Budgets" and "treasure parcels" of 4E, two areas where old schoolers tend to reject in that edition. While it's just a suggestion here, it was the standard rule there, which may be why many rejected it. Anyway, Frank ends this section by reminding the DM to "force the characters to earn their treasure!" (p. 40).

Adjusting Treasure
Of course, treasure found should be matched by the size of the lair. A hand-full of orcs shouldn't have a massive treasure, while a village of several hundred (plus maybe an ogre or troll) should definitely have a good sized treasure.

Interestingly, there's a note that if the number appearing is specifically 1-4, don't adjust treasure even if there's only one creature in the lair. This is obviously a reference to dragons, who all have an NA of 1-4 for both dungeons and wilderness encounters. But that would also apply to some bears, great cats, carrion crawlers (if you remember my analysis of that monster, though, this makes sense), some giant lizards, some lycanthropes, medusa, owl bears, giant rattlesnakes (two attacks plus poison and low treasure justifies this one), and some of the slime/ooze types (if they have treasure). It might have been better to just say, hey, single dragons are tough, and worth their full lair treasure.

While it doesn't inform the DM to divide the treasure by the percentages of the maximum number appearing present, it does tell us that in general, smaller lair numbers means smaller treasures. Which makes sense.

Other Treasure Types
This is something that the introductory adventure at the beginning of the book did well - show the DM that treasure doesn't need to only be coins (or gems and jewelry). In it, there are hat pins, plates and silverware, and a few other non-standard treasures. I never paid much attention to this section, though, until I got the Companion Set years later. It had much more detailed lists for making interesting treasures. These days, I love to add in tapestries, books, kegs of spices, letters of credit or deeds, and other valuables besides just coins. It's more fun that way.

Average Treasure Values
This is really handy - a table with the average amount of money each treasure type can produce. As the book says, after random rolling, or if deciding to place treasure, it gives you a good idea of how much the treasure may need adjusting. I've tried replicating the math (for Chanbara), and maybe I'm doing the calculations wrong, but I get some odd numbers when I try to multiply the average amounts by the percentages of treasure being present and adding the values together. I suspect it's the gems that mess up my calculations, but it's not a big enough deal for me to have to worry about finding the discrepancies between my method and however Frank calculated them.

Treasure Type H (dragon treasure) is of course the largest, with an average value of 60k. Treasure Type M, however, is similar with an average of 50k. There aren't any creatures in Basic with TT M, however. I'll have to go through my books sometime (or the RC, it's got them all together) to see what creature has TT M (if any).

Anyway, the lowest average value for a lair treasure is TT J at a whopping 25 gp. And who gets that? Kobolds. Yeah, they're really not worth the effort. Orcs or goblins have similar numbers in their lairs, and aren't THAT much harder to beat than kobolds. Orcs get TT D, average 4k, while goblins get TT C, average 750gp. You know what, take on the orcs. The risk/reward is best.

OK, here's the thing lots of people get hung up on. Coins in D&D weigh 1/10 of a pound. No, it's not realistic, but then D&D isn't a simulation, it's a game of risk/reward, and managing your encumbrance to maximize rewards and minimize risks is part of the game. Making treasure hard to carry makes players more likely to take risks rather than just spend every adventure trying to clear out weak monsters for piddly (but safe) treasures.

Anyway, we get an explanation that electrum is an alloy of gold and silver, and the coin exchange rates.

We've got a chart to roll for gems, with a percentage roll to determine the value, with a few examples of gems of each value. If only giving the players the names of the gems, they should be able to get them appraised in town. Frank suggests a fee of between 1-5% of the value of the gem for the appraisal.

Next, we get an optional rule, about combining or splitting the value rolled into different types/values of gems. I'm not sure why this is listed as an optional rule, instead of just a suggestion, since doing so has no effect on the value of the gems, and really only affects players as they try to divvy up treasures found.

Unlike gems, which have a flat distribution of values, jewelry values are on a curve, found by rolling 3d6 and multiplying the value by 100gp. This gives us an average value of about 1000gp per piece of jewelry. There's a table with some examples of different types of jewelry for different value ranges (and again, the Companion Set has much more detailed tables, but for early games, this was definitely sufficient).

There's also the rule about damaging jewelry. Fire, lightning, crushing, etc. can damage jewelry, reducing its value by half. I rarely remember this rule. If the PCs get hit by a fireball, or fall 20' or whatever, I should have them check to see if any jewelry they are carrying is damaged, but usually forget. Since jewelry is one of the best values for the encumbrance, I should really track this more often.

And again, we've got a section (not listed as an optional rule) about combining types of jewelry, and even combining gems and jewelry if they're found together.

Group Treasure Types Table
Type A: Bandits and Troglodytes have this type (and I think most human groups in Expert, like pirates, dervishes, etc. also get A). It's a nice sized hoard, the fourth largest with an average 17k gold, and with chances for all coin types, plus 50% chance of both gems and jewelry (6d6 worth of either!), and a 30% chance for any three magic items.
Type B: A fairly common type, the value isn't so high because it doesn't have much gold, lacks platinum, and there's only a 25% chance of 1d6 gems or 1d6 jewelry to be present. There's a mere 10% chance of a magic item, but it will always be a sword, weapon, or armor. It's likely there will be copper coins in this treasure hoard (50%), but the average value of 2000gp isn't bad, if you can lug out all the small denomination coinage.
One thing I noticed when I was looking through these just now is that Halflings and Green Slimes (next to each other in the monster listings) have the exact same Morale, Treasure Type: (P+S) B, Alignment (yes, green slime is Lawful - take that, Flumpf!), and XP value (5, which is obviously wrong for the 2HD** slime). Yes, there was apparently a copy/paste error here.
Type C: Another fairly common type (Lycanthropes, Minotaurs, Ogres and Neanderthals, for example, have it), which is limited to copper, silver and electrum coins, and 25% chance of 1d4 gems and 1d4 jewelry, and a 10% chance of any 2 magic items. It averages only 750 gp value, most of which will come from silver coins.
Type D: This is the treasure type for tougher humanoids (orcs, gnolls, hobgoblins, lizard men). It averages 4000gp, much of it gold (60%), and never has electrum or platinum. There's a 30% chance each for 1d8 gems or 1d8 jewelry, which is not bad. And for magic, there's a 15% chance of any 2 plus one potion. Not bad, if you can defeat or outwit some of the stronger humanoid types.
Type E: Doppelgangers and elves get this type (maybe a few more). It averages 2500gp, slightly better than B, and is unlikely to have coppers (only 5%), although again no platinum. It has only a 10% chance for 1d10 gems or jewelry, but a 25% chance to get any 3 magic items, plus one scroll. Not too shabby.
Type F: The medusa and shadow are the only creatures that get this type. It's fairly sizable, with an average 7600gp. It never has copper, with low chances for silver and electrum, and decent (45%) for gold and (30%) platinum. It's likely to have more gems than jewelry, 20% chance for 2d12 gems but only 10% chance for 1d12 jewelry...this is the first type to give different percents/amounts for the two. It's also got a 30% chance of magic items, consisting of any 3 non-weapons, plus 1 potion and 1 scroll. Medusas and shadows can be tough opponents, but they provide pretty nice treasures.
Type G: Only dwarves get this type, and I've seen it noted recently that dwarves are maybe the best treasure haul for the risk involved based on their numbers and hit dice. The treasure averages 25k, with only gold and platinum coins (lots of gold), and 25% chances to have 3d6 gems and 1d10 jewelry. Plus, there's a 35% chance to get any 4 magic items plus one scroll.
Type H: Dragon treasure. Need I say more? This is the most valuable type with an average of 60k gp value. Copper and platinum coins are only 25% likely to appear, with 50% for the other coin types, and with large amounts for each type present. 50% chance of 1d100 gems and 10 to 40 jewelry. The only down side is there's only a 15% chance of magic items, but when they appear it will be any 4 plus a potion and scroll. I think probably more than 15% of the dragon lairs I've placed have had magic in them, though. It just seems to me that dragons should have magic items. But really, with such a high monetary value, maybe the magic items are overkill. Let the PCs battle dwarves or medusa if they want magic.
Type I: No creatures in Basic have this type. The only coins it might have are platinum (30% chance), and it's got a high percent chance to have gems and jewelry, 50% for 2d6 of either, but only a 15% chance to have one magic item. The average value is 7500gp, which is pretty good, but you're never gonna find it until the upper levels.
Type J: As I mentioned above, this is Kobold treasure, and the average value is only 25gp. It will only ever be copper or silver coins, but on the up side, it will never be more than 7000 coins total... Do you really want to face a bunch of kobolds just to have to lug out a few thousand copper coins?
Type K: Again, no monster in Basic has this type of treasure. It's made up of only silver and electrum coins, mostly silver (30% to electrum's 10%). The average value is 250gp. Again, not great.
Type L: This is the treasure type for normal rats, of all creatures. The average value is 225gp, and it consists of a 50% chance to get 1d4 gems. That's it. So while facing rat disease may not sound so good, you're likely going to come out ahead of taking on the kobolds...
Type M: Like I mentioned above, this is the second largest type, with an average value of 50k gp, but no creatures in Basic have it. For coins, only gold or platinum appear, with a better chance and more platinum (50% for 5~30k coins compared to 40% chance for 2~8k gold), plus high chances for gems (55% for 5d4) and jewelry (45% chance for 2d6), but sadly no magic at all. If there are creatures in the later sets with this type (I'm too lazy to pull up my RC pdf right now and check), they're likely worth the fight for the loot you're likely to get.
Type N: This type consists of a 40% chance to find 2d4 potions, and that's it. No listed creatures have this type.
Type O: This type consists of a 50% chance to find 1d4 scrolls, and that's it. Again, no creatures in Basic have this type of treasure.

Individual Treasure Tables
The first five have no percentages, so creatures (usually human, demi-human or humanoid) with these types always have some coins in their pockets. The last two seem to are often used for either wealthier individual types, or for lair treasure of animal/unintelligent monsters, and to me seem to represent stuff you might find on the carcasses of things they were eating.
Type P: You get 3d8 coppers. Kobolds, gnolls, gnomes and normal men are likely to have coppers in their pockets.
Type Q: You get 3d6 silvers. Bugbears will have P and Q, dwarves get Q and S. Hobgoblins have only type Q.
Type R: You get 2d6 electrums. Goblins carry electrum. I wonder why? Someone should do a Gygaxian Naturalism post about why goblins always carry electrum coins.
Type S: You get 2d4 golds. Demi-humans always have some gold on them (and green slimes, if you don't realize the error like I just did).
Type T: You get 1d6 platinums. Elves (who get S and T) are the only creatures in Basic to commonly carry platinum. So elf lair treasure isn't amazing, but picking off random groups of elves is more profitable than picking off random groups of other humanoid types. Interesting, no?
Type U: Now, we get a "proper" treasure type entry again, with percentage chances of various types of loot being present. As I mentioned, lots of creatures (bears, great cats, giant lizards, oil beetles, some snakes) get this as their lair treasure. Bandits get this as their individual forget elf hunting, go hunt bandits! There's a 10% chance of 1d100 coppers and similarly silvers, and a 5% chance of 1d100 golds. No electrum or platinum (the goblins and elves must have taken them all...). No gems, either, but a 5% chance for 1d4 jewelry, and a 2% chance for any 1 magic item. I rarely check each bandit I place for the 2% chance magic item, but I should from now on..."One of the bandits has a staff of wizardry in his breeches, another has a potion of invisibility."
Type V: The biggest normal animals (cave bears, sabertooth tigers, etc.) of groups that get type U for lair treasure instead get this. It doesn't have coppers, and instead has a 10% chance for 1d100 of both silver and gold coins, and a 5% chance for 1d100 of both electrum and platinum coins. Again no gems, but a 10% chance for 1d4 pieces of jewelry, and a 5% chance for any one magic item. Prehistoric animals seem to eat only the higher class sorts...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What a horrible night. Have a curse!

Again, multiple influences have congealed in my brain to inspire a blog post! Original content that isn't about Chanbara or Mentzer Basic or my latest game session. What a rarity!

Anyway, I've been reading some pseudo-science crap because it's interesting (but not believable), and reading about sprites and their curses, and not getting to do much for Halloween this year, and then I thought, curses are in the name of my blog. Why don't I blog more often about them? In fact, I don't think I've ever made a post dedicated to curses before. So this is the first of what may (or may not) become a series on interesting curses to inflict on your players.

Since I've been reading pseudo-science stuff, these two are of course based on those wacky, almost make sense ideas.

Curse of Spontaneous Combustion
The target of this curse has a percentage chance of bursting into flames each time they enter combat equal to the character's level (or hit dice, whichever is greater). Upon bursting into flames, the PC must Save vs. Spells or die instantly. If the save is made, the character burns for a number of rounds equal to the difference between the number rolled and the number needed (minimum one), suffering 1d6 fire damage per round, but being treated as an efreeti in its "pillar of fire" form while burning.

[Behind the scenes, I like this because the curse scales with level, becoming more likely to happen as you go up in levels, but less likely to kill you outright, and having some potential benefit, but with a risk of death still involved. Low level characters might feel the chances of it happening are low enough not to feel screwed over. High level characters might feel ballsy enough NOT to remove the curse, due to the potential for cool bonus fire damage, but at risk of draining more party resources to keep the PC alive. And really, the game could use more spontaneous combustion.]

Curse of Xavitna
The target of this curse suffers a loss of 1d6 points of Charisma any time they are the recipient of a cure disease spell, or similar magical effects, to a minimum of Charisma 3. As Charisma drops, the target becomes more withdrawn and easily annoyed, speaks in short, choppy bursts or rarely at all, does not react to others speaking to him or her, or shows other physical or verbal tics. The Charisma loss remains until the curse is removed, at which time lost Charisma returns at a rate of 1 point per day.

[Behind the scenes, your game may be different, but disease doesn't come into play often in games I've run or played in in the past. So, this curse is likely to be ignored as it's not such a common situation in which one gets diseased, unless you're commonly fighting rats and mummies, or the DM likes to keep things "real." And Cha is most players' favored dump stat, and draining it serves as a decent enough approximation of autism.]