Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Magic Item Subtables

For the magic item subtables in the Basic Set, first you should roll a percentage die to determine the type of item, and then a d20 on the particular item type table. Since the magic item type table has everything in increments of 5%, I'm not sure why it's not also a d20 table. Maybe to keep it compatible with the d% tables for each type in the Expert Set later?

Anyway, one in four items will be a potion (25%), one in every five magic items is going to be a magic sword or a magic scroll (20% each), one in ten will be another sort of weapon or magical armor (10% each, although, as we shall see, armor is sometimes two magic items), and one in twenty will be a magic ring, wand/staff/rod, or miscellaneous item (5% each).

Swords are pretty much the most popular weapon from the get-go anyway, but if you want to be all cool and stylish and use another weapon as your go-to weapon at character creation, by the book at least, you're probably going to switch to using a sword later on, just because magical swords are so much more common than other types of magical weapons. Magical swords are twice as common as all other types of weapons put together. [Of course, what DM hasn't had a player with a stylish but (usually) suboptimal choice of preferred weapon, and not thrown them a bone and had them find a magical version by DM fiat rather than waiting for it to come up by random roll, if ever?]

Anyway, moving on to the specific subtables, the first of course is swords. There are eight types of swords, and there is a 40% chance to get a plain old sword +1 (although at these levels, it's not yet a 'plain old' magical weapon), a 55% chance to get a sword +1 with an ability of some kind, and a 5% chance to get a sword +2. The possible special abilities are a sword +1/+2 vs. lycanthropes, a sword +1/+2 vs. spell-users, a sword +1/+3 vs. undead, a sword +1/+3 vs .dragons, a sword +1 light spell 1/day, or a sword +1 cure light wounds spell 1/day.

Other weapons could be 10 arrows +1 (20%), an axe +1 (10%, either type I suppose), a dagger +1 (15%) or +2 (5%), a mace +1 (15%), 10 quarrels +1 (15%), a sling +1 (5%), or a war hammer +1 (15%). If you're a Basic level character who uses a spear, club, or pole arm, you're out of luck until level 4. It's also interesting that there are no magical bows or crossbows, only their ammunition, but there's a magical sling rather than ammunition.

For magical armor, there are six types of armor to be rolled: leather +1 (20%), chainmail +1 (25%), plate mail +1 (10%), shield +1 (30%) or +2 (10%), and the above mentioned set of chainmail and shield, both +1 (5%). So you've got a half a percent chance to get two items instead of only one when rolling for magical treasure. And really, most parties are going to split that magical armor and shield up if it gets discovered, unless the party unearths a fair amount of magical treasure in one go.

There are eight types of potions: diminution (20%), ESP (10%), gaseous form (15%), growth (15%), healing (20%), invisibility (5%), levitation (10%), and poison (5%). So, healing is the most common, and poison (thankfully) the least common type. And a nice spread of abilities. Growth and strength have the ability to double melee damage, and growth obviously has some other benefits and drawbacks. Gaseous form, diminution, growth, levitation, strength and invisibility are useful "getting around obstacles" abilities.

For scrolls, there can be scrolls with 1 spell (20%), 2 spells (15%) or 3 spells (5%), a curse (10%), protection from lycanthropes (15%), protection from undead (15%), a treasure map to 1~4k gold (10%), or a treasure map to a magic item (10%). I'm not personally fond of having treasure maps as "magic items." I'd much rather just leave maps laying around when I think it's appropriate, and give out actual magic items when I roll them. But that's just me.

There are six types of magic rings: animal control (15%), fire resistance (25%), invisibility (10%), protection +1 (25%), water walking (15%), and weakness (10%). Half of all rings at this level of play will be protective, three have utility powers, and one is cursed. Not too shabby a spread of powers.

There are three wands, two staves and one rod on the lists: wand of enemy detection (30%), wand of magic detection (25%), wand of paralyzation (15%), staff of healing (15%), snake staff (5%), and rod of cancellation (10%). Back in the day, I used to think the "detect X" wands (and later in the Expert and Companion Sets magic swords) were kinda lame. Now, being older and wiser, I like them a lot. They allow a clever group of players to scout out information about dungeons that can help them to level uneven playing fields (or tips scales in their favor) before entering combat, or to get the gold without a fight.

There are ten different miscellaneous magic items: bag of devouring (10%), bag of holding (15%), crystal ball (5%), elven cloak (10%), elven boots (10%), gauntlets of ogre power (5%), helm of alignment changing (10%), helm of telepathy (15%), medallion of ESP (10%), or a rope of climbing (10%). There are actually some powerful items here, for low level play. And since they become much more rare in an Expert level game, it's nice to be able to find them at low levels. Of course, unlike some of the other treasure types, there are two cursed items on the list, while each other type of item called. 

More on magic item descriptions tomorrow (at least I hope tomorrow, by the end of the month at least!).

Monday, December 19, 2016

How to Succeed in RPGs

Starting next week, I'll be doing winter workshop classes for my university. My morning workshop is the ever-popular "Screen English" where we watch movies and talk about them. My afternoon workshop is "Improving Conversation through Role Play" which, you guessed it, means I'm playing D&D with the students who sign up.

Last year it was a bit of a bust, so I'm taking steps to make it easier to grasp, more fun (I hope), and also helps my students improve their English more. One thing I did was simplify the character sheets. There's no combat information on them other than their hit points and what weapons/armor/spells they have. There is some physical/mental/social description of each PC, and general exploration chances (like finding traps, secret doors, foraging for food, etc.). Also, each class's special abilities are listed, including a set array of spells, once per day each, for the spell-casters.

Another is to make a list of Achievements (like in modern video games) which should help them both to get an idea about the sorts of things that happen in D&D, but also give them goals to achieve in the game.

Finally, I just wrote this short description of what role playing games are all about, and some questions that the students can ask when they are stuck for information about what to do. I'm copying it here:

How to Succeed at Role Playing Games

What is a role playing game (RPG)? It's a type of shared story-telling game. One player is the referee (usually given a specific name for each game, in D&D the referee is called the Dungeon Master or DM), who plays the part of the imaginary world, and also applies the rules of the game and judges success or failure of actions. Each other player plays a single character (player character, or PC) and had nearly complete control over that character. Together, the referee and players tell a story, using the rules of the game and dice to determine how the story plays out.

How do you play? The referee describes the scene, and the players describe their characters' actions. The referee plays the parts of non-player characters (NPCs), monsters, and the world itself (weather, environment hazards, etc.) and decides what actions they will take. For actions that are simple or easy, the action happens unless the referee decides there is some reason why it would not (starting a fire may be easy, unless it is in the middle of a storm). For actions which may succeed or fail, dice are rolled to determine success or failure.
Once the players are content with a scene (called an encounter), it finishes and they move on to the next one, usually because of their choices. A connected series of encounters is called an adventure and a connected series of adventures is called a campaign. Players play the same character in a campaign, and as they meet the goals of the game, they get experience points (XP) and level up, gaining more power, more abilities, or more options – until the character dies. Then the player makes a new character to continue playing.

What is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)? D&D is the oldest commercial RPG, first published in 1974. It is a fantasy game (other games are sci-fi, horror, mystery, pulp adventure, martial arts, post-apocalypse...) where the PCs live in a world with medieval technology, magic, and monsters.

What should my PC do in a D&D game? There are three main activities in D&D: exploring the game world, interacting with NPCs and monsters, and combat. The goal of the game is to defeat monsters and earn their treasure. Both defeating monsters and gathering treasure give XP, but usually more for treasure. Smart players try to get treasure with as little risk as possible.
When you have an encounter with an NPC or monster, you have several options, but usually players choose one of four: don't interact/run away, talk to the NPC or monster, attack the NPC or monster, or wait and see what the NPC or monster does first. Not every monster is going to try to kill or eat you, and likewise not every NPC is going to want to help you.

You said I could do anything in the game. I have too many options! What should I do? If you're ever not sure about what to do, you need to start asking questions to the referee and other players. The fun of RPGs comes from exploring unknown areas, having encounters, and surviving (although it can sometimes also be fun when your PC dies!).
Good gaming is about making choices. You need to be able to decide on the size of the risk involved in an action against the size of the reward you may gain. In D&D, staying in town can be fun, because you can interact with many interesting NPCs. But it is safe, and XP rewards are small. In the wilderness or a dungeon (dangerous places), there is more danger, but also greater XP rewards for success. Similarly, some monsters are less dangerous but have small treasures, while other monsters, like dragons, are powerful and very dangerous, but have very large treasures! Deciding on the amount of risk you wish to take for the amount of reward you think you will earn is part of the game. If you can't make a choice, try asking the DM some of the questions on the next page.
Using Your Senses
  • What can I see?
  • Can you describe what ____ looks like in detail?
  • How big/heavy/etc is _____?
  • Do I hear anything?
  • What does this place/thing smell like?
  • How does the air feel? (hot, cold, humid, dry, charged with energy, etc.)
  • I touch ______. How does it feel?
  • Can you describe _____ again?

Checking the Environment
  • What kind of area are we in?
  • How many ways in and out are there?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • What kind of things are there in this area?
  • Does anything seem strange or out of the ordinary here?
  • How far can I see?
  • How much light is there here?
  • I want to search for ______. What do I find? (secret doors, traps, clues, etc.)
  • How far is it to ______?

Checking Your Knowledge
  • What do I know about _____?
  • I want to know more about ______. Where can I go to learn more?
  • Who can I ask about ______?
  • Do I feel like I can I trust this information? (or trust this NPC, or book, etc.)
  • Did we learn anything about this before? [Taking notes can help with this!]
  • Would my PC know how to ______?

Taking Actions
  • I want to try to _____. Can I do that?
  • What are my chances to ______?
  • If I fail to _____, what will happen?
  • What can I do to stop the NPC/monster from ______?
  • Can I _____ before the NPC/monster does ______?
  • Can I _____ on my turn? (this may be more than one action!)
  • If I _____ [plan], could I _____ [action you want to succeed]?
  • Does my PC see or know of any way to _____?

Remember, the game is about making choices, and to do that, you need to know your environment and what is happening in it! Ask questions when you are stuck.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 3 (Final)

Here it is, the final post I made on Facebook, when asked by an acquaintance to describe how different it is trying to play/run games in Korea compared to back home. Yeah, I blathered on for a long time before actually answering her question. She dug it, though, and then wanted to take a look at Flying Swordsmen, so I consider that a win.

I arrived in Korea and in less than a month was a new father (my wife wanted to be close to her family when she gave birth, and she's a Busan native). So for that first year or so, I didn't get any gaming in. Soon, though, I met some guys named Josh, Alex, Pat and Steve who were interested in playing board games. We'd meet once a week or once every two weeks in Seomyeon to game. After a year or so, we started occasionally playing RPGs instead of board games. A few more people were interested, so we ended up with more players including a few Koreans, and running several short campaigns.

I ran Classic D&D. Josh ran 3E. Dave tried to get a d20 Conan game going, but it didn't gel. Alex tried the same with RIFTS. Eventually Pat got the 4E books, so we gave that a try. Josh picked up the 4E version of Gamma World, and we gave that a try.

During this time, I was working on my Dragon Fist retro-clone, which I titled Flying Swordsmen. Eventually I had it ready, so we played some Flying Swordsmen too. It's an odd feeling to run your own game at first. I felt this pressure to "get it right" since it was my own game. Presidents of the Apocalypse was just this little goofy game where everyone tried to be as silly as possible, but Flying Swordsmen tries to emulate Chinese wuxia fantasy martial arts using essentially D&D rules. I think I pulled it off well, but there were a few little things about it that bugged me (mostly because it was a retro-clone copying another game, so some design choices were out of my hands).

Then, as happens in ex-pat circles, people moved away. New people came in. I found myself next in a Pathfinder group run by a guy named Brian, along with one or two other people from the first group. Around the same time, Pat and Bill were putting together the Busan Bored Gamers group, so I feel like that group is a direct descendant of our Seomyeon group.

When the PF game finally finished, I ended up without a face-to-face group to play with, but through Google+ Hangouts (popular with gamers, especially the OSR), I ended up in a group run by Justin in Pohang. Thanks to the power of the internet, we've got members in other places besides Korea. A few Aussies played early on, and a Scottish guy has been a regular in our various G+ games ever since. Justin ran Labyrinth Lord (BX D&D clone) for a long time, then tried Stars Without Number (BX D&D rules for sci-fi gaming) for a while.

I ran a few Classic D&D games. Jeremy ran a wide variety of his home-brewed games he was trying out. Dean started a 4E game, which attracted a few different players, who aren't really into the OSR stuff. Now Dean's game is 5E, and still going strong. We've tried a few other things here and there over the years, too.

Because Flying Swordsmen got good reviews but I wasn't satisfied with it, I started working on my current project, Chanbara (fantasy feudal Japan set to basic D&D rules). I've been play-testing it now and then with this online group, and it seems to hold up pretty well. I'm hoping to release the game soon (real world concerns have delayed it, though).

As far as gaming supplies, I haven't really found much I need to buy anymore. I've got tons of dice and minis. Rulebooks can be downloaded in pdf form or ordered from Amazon (and sometimes Whatthebook). Since most of my gaming takes place online, there's not a lot of need for extra stuff. Also, I'm primarily a player instead of primarily a DM these days, which also reduces my need for stuff. All those minis I collected in Japan are locked in a cabinet where my baby can't get to them.

In a few years, though, I plan to be gaming with my boys, and putting all those gaming supplies I don't use now to good use!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 2 Addendum

I originally was going to post both this and the main "part 2" post together, then decided not to. Somehow, I just saw, Blogger posted the draft backdated. So if you've already read this, apologies.

Gaming in Japan Addendum: Miniatures

I forgot to mention this part, which was one of the cool things about living in Japan. I mentioned that in my first location, there weren't a lot of places to get gaming material. In the second place I lived, Yaman
ashi, I was able to amass a sizeable miniature collection in interesting ways.

As I mentioned, Yellow Submarine in Tokyo had Reaper Minis, so I did buy a small number of minis there. But Japan has so many other ways to get fantasy/sci-fi minis that work for gaming.

First of all, there are random collectible miniatures that you can buy in many stores, including most convenience stores. In the years I was there, they had several series of mythological creatures, both Western and Eastern. So I have rubberized plastic minis of dragons, griffons, chimera, unicorns, pegasi, and Greek/Norse gods that work well for giants from the Western mythology series, and bakemono, tengu, oni, and so on from the Eastern series.

There are also series of figures based on games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy and Pokemon, comics like Devilman, and things like that that I picked up over the years. You can find them here in Busan, in limited numbers, at places like Art Box.

Then, there are the cola promotion figures. Every now and then, there are promotions to sell Coke or Pepsi, where they have a randomized figure in an opaque cellophane package around the neck of 500ml bottles of soda. Back when the Star Wars prequels were coming out, I collected lots of Star Wars bottle toppers. The ones in the stores were from the Prequels, of course, but if you collected enough of the inserts and payed a small fee, you could send away for sets from the original trilogy (which I did, although I wasn't able to get all of those sets). In other years, there were Final Fantasy VII and VIII figures, Lupin the Third figures, Dragonball characters, and even Lego minifigs. I collected many.

If that weren't enough, in my town there was this resale shop. They'd buy just about anything for pennies and then sell it for dollars. Clothes, books, CDs, sports equipment, toys, games, and of course they had a section devoted to all of these sorts of little collectible minis I've been describing. I'd go there fairly often and add to my gaming collection.

I also got into HeroClix, and would buy lots when I was home on vacations, so if I ever want to run a Marvel or DC supers game, I've got the figures for it!

Oh, and one more thing! Daiso (those of you in Busan are familiar with the chain, it's from Japan) in Japan sells (or sold, at least) little green army men, and also similar sets of pirates, knights, cowboys & Indians, ninja, construction workers, police/fire/rescue figures. Have sets of all of them, as well. They work great as NPC figures.

So while I don't feel like minis are a necessity for RPGs, I do enjoy using them, and Japan was a great place for collecting a variety of minis for gaming.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gaming as an Ex-Pat Part 2

I lived in Japan from the summer of '98 to the spring of '08. I didn't get into gaming until 3E came out, though. That's when I found some other teachers were also gamers, and we picked up the new rules and gave them a go. This was in Toyama prefecture, pretty far from the big cities (about 4 hours by train to Osaka, 5 to Tokyo). I picked up the brand spanking new 3E PHB when I was in the States over the summer, and used my 2E books until I was able to order the other core books from Amazon. There wasn't anywhere to get stuff locally, although some boutique shops sold polyhedral dice. I'd occasionally check in second-hand bookstores for Japanese RPG books, but never found any.

Oh, and there was this little bric-a-brac shop that sold airsoft equipment and collectible figures and stuff. I found a pack of vintage Grenadier "Knights of the Round Table" minis there and snatched them up. Still have them. For the most part, we were limited in what we had to game with to what we ordered from overseas or could access via the internet. One of those internet goodies was a free pdf game WotC released called Dragon Fist (fantasy martial arts RPG using the 2E rules). We played that a few times in addition to 3E.

In 2001 I moved to Yamanashi prefecture, just an hour and a half outside of Tokyo. Again, it took me a little time to get into the local gaming scene, because I wasn't sure who gamed and who didn't, and people were still kinda reluctant to bring up gaming in casual conversation. But gamed online with some of the Toyama guys about once a month. We tried d20 Modern and the d20 Star Wars rules, along with D&D 3.5.

Then, I got invited to a group playing White Wolf's Trinity around 2003 or 2004. After the Trinity game ran its course, some of the same gamers ended up playing D&D with me. We played a 3E OA game that I ran for a while.

Through the WotC message boards, I came in contact with a couple of guys in Tokyo and we formed a group. One of the Toyama guys was now living in Chiba (also near Tokyo) so we invited him, too. A few other players came and went. We'd meet once a month for marathon 6-10 hour sessions, mostly of 3.5, although I ran a successful d20 Future game set in the Aliens/Predator universe.

Gaming in Tokyo was great, because there's a chain of hobby shops called Yellow Submarine. They had minis, dice, rule books, modules, Dragon and Dungeon magazine, plus board games and other related stuff. Whenever I had time before or after the sessions, I'd usually stop by because the bus or train from Yamanashi pulled into Shinjuku station, and a Yellow Submarine was just around the corner.

One of the Tokyo guys was trying to develop his own Story Game RPG, so we play-tested many versions of it. And from the Forge message boards (once the home of story gamers online), he got interested in playing Classic D&D again, which got me interested. And so I discovered the OSR (Old School Renaissance) just as it was kicking off.

Before Steve got transferred back to the States, we played a few games of old school D&D. And I got my Yamanashi group to play it, too. And it was pretty fun. I also tried a bit of Star Frontiers with them.

Oh, and my buddy Paul and I developed our own "story game" type rules light system, Presidents of the Apocalypse. This became our "someone in the group is leaving, let's go out with a fun game" game. We're still not 100% happy with the rules, but eventually we plan to publish it in some form or other.

The OSR back then was all about making "retro clones" that were rewritten versions of the classic games, released under the d20 OGL. So OSRIC is basically AD&D 1E, Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game are Classic D&D, and Swords & Wizardry is original D&D. I remembered having fun with Dragon Fist in Toyama, and started thinking about how I might make a retro-clone of it. But then my wife got pregnant, and we decided to move to Korea to be near her family...