Monday, September 16, 2019

Ten (or six) second combat rounds

I started playing D&D with Classic D&D, so it's probably no surprise that I'm a fan of the six ten second combat round, rather than the 1 minute combat round of AD&D.

Sumo is on now (watching it as I type even). And I think sumo shows us a good example of why combat rounds should be short in man-to-man combat systems. OD&D and AD&D's one minute rounds came out of the game's wargame roots, where a minute of mass combat makes sense. But for smaller scale battles, it's too gross a measurement.

Here's a sumo match from last year between Kaisei (orange) and Ryuden (black). I picked this because I actually know the winner of the match, Ryuden. He was my student when he was a middle schooler. Yes, I'm name dropping a name hardly anyone who reads this blog has heard of before. But I enjoy watching him as he's risen through the ranks over the years.

Anyway, the match starts at the 0:48 mark, and finishes at the 0:58 mark. 10 seconds only.

I think I remember hearing somewhere that the average length of a sumo match is 6 seconds. That means many of them don't even go on this long!

In D&D terms, that means whoever gets initiative usually pulls off an attack that either knocks the opponent down or out of the ring in the first round. And in AD&D terms, that's in the first segment!

Granted, sumo isn't deadly combat. But I think it provides a good example of why a very short combat round is a good thing.

[And I'm surprised that after 10 years of blogging, and 21 years of watching sumo, I'm just creating my "sumo" post label today!]

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Pendulum Swings Back

I've been using my house rules to Classic D&D for many years now. Call it a Franken-game, call it D&D Mine, call it a heartbreaker. It works for me. But I'm constantly tweaking it. Sometimes based on how the rules play, sometimes just based on my feelings.

Ever since I started this blog 10 years ago, I've been using additions to Classic D&D based on AD&D and WotC editions. Ever since Gamma World 4th Edition came out in the early 90's, I've been a fan of ascending AC. Yes, the math is the same. But there's one less step involved compared to descending AC. And I've been using it so long that if I use a module with descending AC, I'm instantly converting the number in my head to the ascending value.

It really does save time, as sometimes you know just based on the die roll that it's a hit before the math gets applied. So I don't think I'll ever move my house rules back to descending AC, even though sometimes the nostalgia of having an AC 2 or AC -1 makes me reconsider.

Recently, for fun and as a bit of an experiment, I did start a (play-by-post) game using the RAW. OK, there are still a few house rules. But just the classes from BX/BECMI, descending AC, all that. And it's been pretty fun. Of course, being PbP it's slow at times. If I'm busy, or the players are busy, we end up waiting around a long time for things to move forward. But the main thing is, I'm playing it mostly by the book. And the house rules I'm using are as follows:

Spell Progression -- not technically a house rule, but my printed edition of Mentzer has different spell progression for Magic-Users, and Elves than the PDF version or the RC (print or PDF). So I'm using the version in the printed book I have, which give more low level spells earlier. And for Clerics, I'm using the BX spell progression. This gives more high level spells earlier, but limits them to 5th level spells.

Fighters (but not Dwarves, Elves or Halflings) get the AD&D ability of one attack per level against 1HD or weaker creatures.

Thieves use the BX advancement table for their abilities, which again is a bit more generous than BECMI.

And that's it. That's the extent of my house rules. Nothing is actually made up or cribbed from an outside source, it's just taking a few pieces of other old school TSR versions of the game. And as I said above, it's been fun.

So now I'm looking at the Gothic abbey that is my house rules document that I've been tinkering with for over a decade now. At the moment:

9 Races: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Dragonborn, Changeling

12 Classes, divided into the 4 main classes and 2 subclasses each: Cleric [Cavalier, Druid], Fighter [Berserker, Ranger], Magic-User [Bard, Illusionist], Thief [Acrobat, Assassin].

And yes, there's a chart with what races can be what class, and what level they can rise to in each class. And each race has a list of allowed multiclass options.

Humans can dual class as in AD&D. I also gave them a perk where each level above 1st they roll twice for hit points and take the better result.

I won't go into all the minutia of the other races and classes here. But Fighters  have a list of combat styles and they get one at 1st level and more as they level up, plus the BECMI high level combat options when they get to 9th level. So they're not the simplest class to play any more.

For spells, Bard spells are all pulled from the Cleric or Magic-User lists. Druid spells are mostly as in BECMI (most Cleric spells plus a few special unique spells), although I think I added in a few of the unique spells from AD&D as well. Illusionists have  simplified lists based on the AD&D spell lists. Cavaliers just use Cleric spells [didn't call them paladins because they're not forced to be lawful only].

For gear, I've slightly expanded the weapon list from BECMI. And I added some general equipment from other editions of the game. Nothing too noteworthy. Except for one thing. I added large shields that grant a +2 to AC instead of a +1. But since I'm using old school modules for a lot of my West Marches adventure locations (and my monsters & treasure house rule document was made before I added the large shields) all of the magic shields found so far or placed so far (2 found, a few more placed) in West Marches aren't tagged for size. So I'm defaulting to small. And players are wondering why they would give up a normal large shield for a magical small shield +1. Good question.

So even though I think large shields deserve to be in the game, and shields really deserve more than a +1 to AC, the way the game has been designed I'm seeing some small problems with this addition. I think I'll do away with it in my next revision.

And all that blather brings me to my point. I'm having fun with my heavily house-ruled game. I'm having fun with my barely house-ruled game. And I'm feeling like it's time to simplify. Go back to Race-As-Class. Get rid of the extra classes and races. Reduce the amount of pondering players do when they roll up a new character (having just come off a TPK, I realized how much faster it would have been to get everyone up and rolling again if it had just been the seven classes of BX/BECMI to choose from).

But if I pull another switch like that on the West Marches, I don't think it will go over so well. So I'll probably just save the simplification for the next campaign. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

And we're good

Today is Chuseok, the Korean "Thanksgiving" or harvest moon holiday. And it's Friday the 13th. What better way to break the party's luck after a TPK than to play more D&D?

As I predicted, and played off as information from Goldie the Fairy Princess (who escaped the TPK by only playing in the first half of the game last Sunday), the new adventurers went out and found the remains of the previous party -- and all their magical loot! Of course, the previous party had two halflings and a gnome, while this party is a human, half-elf, two half-orcs and a full elf. So some of the magical armor didn't fit. But for the most part they all got kitted out with magical weapons (a few from before, plus the five new ones discovered last session), some magical armor, and several potions, a staff, and a wand.

And they didn't die this time. Only "Boy," the 58 year old human servant of the noble Elf Fighter (NPC) got killed by a gargoyle. And the magic weapons came in handy with their first gargoyle run-in!

They also made friends with a trading post manned by cyclopskin, and are thinking of trying to set up a lucrative trade in psychedelic mushrooms from the Fungal Forest not far away. And ideas of building an alliance of neanderthals and cyclopskin, and possibly the myconids, against the mysterious and evil Horned Society.

I love this game so much. I don't need to set up plots. Just introduce groups and the players build the conflict into it.

Redone Barrier Peaks Map

So, yesterday and this morning I redid the first level of the map for S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks for my personal use. I used GIMP 2.10.10. It was a lot easier than I'd thought it would be. The biggest hassle was setting up the grid to the proper proportion. Once that was done, the "snap to grid" feature made it really simple to lay down all the lines. Hopefully I got all the doors correct. I probably missed one or two.

Instead of letters for coding the color cards for the door locks, I used colors. Of course, gray and black didn't look good with the already black lines and gray shading for the lighting effects. So I switched them go green and blue.
And with layers, I was easily able to make some alternate versions.





Thursday, September 12, 2019

Modifying S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Yet another classic TSR module that I want to stick in my West Marches campaign.

I've been going through the module the past few days. Here are a few observations (in no particular order):

  • I have no problem dropping "sci fi" or tech in my Medieval fantasy game, so I don't need to re-fluff everything as magic items. In fact, I might even do away with the Gamma World-style "roll lots of dice to see if you figure this thing out or shoot yourself in the chest" charts. It's always been one of those subsystems that seems like a good idea in theory but just isn't that fun at the table. 
  • Instead of the tech discovery chart, maybe just have a simple Intelligence check, and if failed, a saving throw to avoid mishaps? Easier and faster than trying to describe what's happening while a series of d10 rolls are made and I'm consulting the chart. And it still preserves the outcomes of: "you figured it out" "you have no idea" "it blows up in your face"
  • Classic D&D doesn't have a comprehend languages spell. Read languages is low level and easy to come across, so they can figure out any written information if they need to. Speak with monsters requires a level 11 caster. I might want to throw a few scrolls of that spell the party's way before they find the ship. Or communication with the androids and recorded voice messages will just be missed. Or just make it clear to them that while they may (probably will) stumble upon the ship at a lower level, they should wait until they're higher level to fully explore it.
  • The map in my PDF scan of the original module is fine on screen, but when I print it out it's really hard to read. I should redraw the map. 
  • This place is huge! I knew this, but considering how the players so far have not been as interested in dungeon crawling (with the exception of the Caves of Chaos), I think only the first level will be enough crashed spaceship for them. 
  • Since there are plenty of empty spaces on the first level map, I may throw some of the interesting encounters from lower levels into the first level so that it's not just vegepygmies and androids. 
  • I copy/pasted the text and have been editing out extraneous bits that I won't need at the table. I was complaining about Gygax being wordy a few weeks ago, and while this text has a lot of unnecessary verbiage, it's a lot more concise than some of the other modules I've been using. Gygax packed a lot of useful information into the descriptions of the areas. 
  • I love the rooms with a bunch of stuff to experiment with -- you know (as a player) that some will be helpful, some harmful, and some could be either depending on how you mess with it. There's a lot of that in this module.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

10th Blogversary: A Decade of WaHNtHaC...

Ten years ago today, I wrote my first post on this blog.

It's been a fun decade. The OSR has gone from a major force among blogs to the big draw of G+ to a diaspora of varying social media/blog outlets. We've gone from nearly 100% hobbyist to having a significant professional presence. We've had all kinds of wacky adventures, battles over minutiae, the "death of the OSR" more times than I can count, friends have been made, and all in all I'm glad to continue to be a part of it.

I've posted a lot of musings, created a lot of monsters, written two OSR games (and made a little money), written a popular series going through Mentzer Basic cover to cover, written a not-so-popular series about how to approach a Megadungeon as a player, and evolved my house rules for Classic D&D along the way. I've even got two or three posts on the Links to Wisdom page. So I guess I'm doing something right. :D

Thanks to all of you Constant Readers.* If no one was reading and commenting, I would have quit a long time ago. As it is, I'm starting to get back into blogging, and hope to have more regular posts going forward.





*Stephen King, please don't sue me for using that phrase!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

TPK

And in today's West Marches game, the players decided (based on my rumors) to go exploring.

They discovered four or five new hexes. They found five magical weapons. They negotiated and avoided combats with various monsters (neanderthals, hellhorses, giant goats, and myconids riding giant ants).

Then, when camping for the fourth night of the expedition, three carrion crawlers attacked.

TPK.

Luckily, we had enough time left for everyone to roll up a new PC.

YouTuber Commentary: Five Simple Houserules for Better Combat in 5E

I watched this video this morning as I was eating breakfast. I'm not running 5E, but I was curious about the houserules they were presenting, and wanted to consider if any of them would be useful additions to my Classic D&D game, since I'm more than happy to steal good ideas from newer editions for my Classic game.

This is the first video I've seen from The Dungeon Dudes, but I'm guessing I'll watch more. I enjoyed the simple, direct discussion of the rules without a lot of needless pontificating, and the way the hosts were cool with disagreeing about all of the rules they were presenting.

I'm not really going to comment on how their suggestions would affect 5E though. Instead I'll consider here how they might work in Classic, AD&D, or other OSR type games.

1. Better Criticals: Use 4E style criticals, where you roll normal damage plus add the maximum potential damage from your weapon to the roll as a bonus, rather than rolling twice (or doubling the number rolled).

I don't use critical hits in my game. Classic works just fine without them. Mostly because hit point totals just aren't that high. And a few bonuses to damage from high Strength scores and a magic bonus give a weapon really good damage in this edition. An ogre (4HD) in Classic has an average of 18 hit points. A Fighter with 16 Strength and a +1 sword would deal 1d8+3+8 on a crit with this rule, dealing 12 to 20 damage. A normal hit is 1d8+3, or 4 to 11 damage. Yes, the crit will make a big impact, but not as big as in 5E where an ogre has around 80 hit points on average while damage per hit (at low level) is fairly similar. This makes sense for crits in 5E, not so much for crits in Classic.

If I were to use critical hits in Classic, I'd probably just make the attack deal automatic maximum damage, with no bonuses or doubling. If you score a crit, don't bother rolling for damage, just do your maximum. Because like they say, it's pretty anti-climactic when you roll a natural 20 to hit, then roll a 1 (if doubled damage) or snake eyes (if rolling multiple dice). Dean has been using this type of critical house rule in his 5E Eberron game, and it's working well there.

On the other hand, though (and this will be mentioned in #2 as well), the swinginess of the random die results is, IMO, a feature of the game, not a bug. So something that removes randomness from that game like this may also take something away. In the normal house ruled Classic/AD&D critical rule, where you double the damage rolled on a natural 20, the natural 20 is a "potential critical" in effect, and the damage roll determines if it actually is a critical or not.

3E actually had a sort of double jeopardy of criticals, where you had to roll a natural 20, then roll another hit roll to confirm the critical, then roll double dice for damage. THAT can lead to some disappointment, as you need to get lucky once, then twice, and three times in a row to get that massive critical damage.

My Opinion: Classic works just fine without critical hits, but if you do want them, simply maximizing the normal damage works better than rolling extra dice or doubling the amount rolled.

2. Better Healing Potions: This one is simple. Don't roll for healing potions, they just automatically heal the maximum amount of hit points.

Their rationale is that players feel cheated if they roll low for the amount healed, and it might not be enough to protect them from dropping to 0 on the next hit.

In Classic, though, as noted above, hit point totals and damage amounts are generally lower. So a Classic potion of healing's 1d6+1 points (2 to 7) is enough in most cases. Yes, rolling a 1 or 2 sucks, but again, there's tension riding on that die roll. You drink your potion and pray for a 5 or 6 to come up on the dice. That's exciting! Having an automatic 7 points healed is boring.

Now, in the PbP AD&D game I'm in, the DM has two house rules about healing. For potions, instead of 1d8 points healed (the rule in AD&D), it's 1d4+4. So you're guaranteed at least 5 hit points back, but there's still some swinginess to the result. For cure wounds spells, the minimum amount healed is equal to the Cleric or Druid's level, up to the maximum allowed by the spell. So a 3rd level Cleric casting cure light wounds will always heal at least 3 points, even if they roll a 1 or 2. At 8th level, your cure light wounds spells automatically heal the maximum 8 points.

I've started using this house rule for spells in my game, but potions I'm keeping by the book.

My Opinion: With the low hit point totals of Classic compared to 5E, there's really not much need for this house rule in Classic, but it will sure make the players happy if it's implemented.

3. Flanking: Already an optional rule in 5E, they use it but with a tweak. Instead of flanking granting advantage on a hit roll, they give a +2 bonus to the attack, similar to how cover grants a +2 or +5 to AC.

Now this is a house rule that I would consider using for my Classic game. I'm not sure it's quite necessary, but it might be useful. I'll have to think about it.

Of course, in AD&D, there are facing rules, so the character the opponent is facing gets no bonus but the character attacking from behind or the side gets some bonuses to hit. If I were running AD&D, I'd just use what's in the book. In Classic, though, and since I use theater of the mind instead of minis/battle mats, a simple rule like this would be easier to remember and implement. Flanking an opponent grants a 10% increased likelihood of scoring a hit? Sounds about right. And of course, monsters can flank the characters, too...

My Opinion: This one is worth considering for Classic D&D. It's simple, and can add some excitement to the battle by trying to maneuver into flanking positions or maneuver to prevent enemies from getting into flanking positions. And yes, a flanking backstabbing Thief should get a total +6 to their backstab attempt.

4. Bloodied Condition: This is of course a 4E thing. And as they say, it's most useful as a means of signalling progress to the players. Once a creature has reached 1/2 or lower hit points, they are "bloodied."

Now, in and of itself, there's nothing special about this condition. There aren't any penalties attached to it. But 4E had lots of character and monster abilities keyed to the bloodied condition.

I wouldn't want to add in a lot of special abilities for monsters based on this. It's just more book-keeping for Classic, where there aren't lots of special "exploit" type abilities (bonus actions, lair actions, legendary actions, recharging actions) like in 5E.

And just as a description of how badly the monster is beat up? I do that anyway. So without any actual mechanics connected to it like 4E had, it's not really worth adding to a Classic game.

My Opinion: As a descriptive quality, I already signal to the players how badly the monsters are damaged. It doesn't need a specific codified rule to be useful in this sense.

5. The Minion Rule: Another 4E rule that they're importing. Minions are monsters with only 1 hit point and deal average damage on a hit. They accompany a "boss" monster in packs and are designed to be distractions from that boss. Or they're designed to be thrown at high level characters in large numbers so they can wade through the army of orcs cutting them down like they're harvesting grain.

Now, this can make the game much more cinematic. Think of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies where Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are slicing their way through Saruman's and Sauron's armies. Or a jidai-geki like Abarenbo Shogun where at the end of almost every episode, the shogun faces down a group of 30 to 40 samurai retainers of the villain of the week who rush at him one to three at a time and he dispatches easily.

I think, though, that in OSR games -- again, because of the lower hit point totals in general -- you already get this. Most of the humanoid opponents that make good minions, like bandits, orcs, kobolds, etc. already have low hit points. Sometimes they'll survive a hit if they got lucky for hit points and the player got unlucky for damage, but for the most part they're already mostly dropping from one hit anyway.

And again, making them do average damage may save a little bit of die rolling, but it again takes out the swinginess that I like.

And at high levels, do we really want minion ogres or minotaurs as goons for a lich or beholder, for example? Why not just keep using orcs? A high level Classic character will likely have good magical items that allow them to pretty much wipe out a goblin or orc in one hit anyway. While there's nothing wrong with it, the system default is fairly close to that idea anyway.

My Opinion: It won't hurt to use this in a Classic or AD&D game, but I'd still want to have the monsters roll for damage.

Overall Opinion: Taking some of these house rules into your Classic D&D or AD&D game probably won't hurt anything, but they will remove a lot of the randomness that I feel makes the game interesting. The Flanking rule is the only one that I'd consider adding to my game at this point. The others, in relation to the Classic game system, are either redundant or move the game away from its natural power curve.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Current State of the West Marches

1. Silverwood (the home town) on the Gallandus River
2. Scorpion Shrine (Goblin Hills)
3. Moon Temple (White Woods)
4. Sahuagin Lair (White Woods)
5. The Caves of Chaos (Goblin Hills)
6. Centaur/Green Flame Temple (Tiger Home)
7. Long Cliff (Whispering Forest)
8. Abandoned Elven Outpost (Black Woods)
9. Border of Dead Woods (Dead Woods)
10. Chimera Shrine (Dead Woods
11. Neanderthal Village (Hellhorse Plains)
12. Quasqueton (Cloud Lands)
13. Ruins where tribal dragonborn camp (North Moor)
14. Haunted House (Dead Woods)
15. Mimir’s Well (Dead Woods)
16. Knight’s Pavilion Encampment/Endless Tournament (Far Downs)
17. Blue Dragon (deceased)’s Lair (Far Downs)
18. The Hall of Power (The Folded Lands)
19. Gemstone Tree (Black Woods)
20. Elven Spire in Quicksand Mire (Goblin Hills)
21. Twin Isle Lake (Hellhorse Plains)
22. Dark Druid Circle (Haunted Woods)
23. The Moathouse (Haunted Woods)
24. Obsidian Ridges (The Folded Lands)
25. Fairy Kingdom of King Louhi (White Woods)
26. Ruins of Xak Tsaroth (Voodoo Bayou)
27. Centaur Ranch (Tiger Home)

Here's the current map from my West Marches game...well, the player map anyway. These are all the hexes they've been to. Most have been explored. Early on, I used a random die roll to determine if they found the interesting thing in a hex (if there was one, some hexes have no adventure potential except possible random encounters). Later, I decided that it was better for the game to ignore realism and have them encounter the hex contents if they entered the hex. So there are still a few hexes that were crossed early in the game that haven't been fully explored, but I think there aren't many of them left.

The thing that's interesting for me is that since last December, no new hexes have been explored.

Part of that is due to the shift from 5E to Classic. As I've blogged about a few times before, I lost some players and gained some new ones. And the new players started out with 1st level characters. So they wisely wanted to stay close to town. And they did find some of the locations that were undiscovered earlier.

The second reason is that there are a few dungeons that have been discovered, and they've been enjoying tackling these dungeons. Early on it was a home-brew dungeon of mine. Lately it's been the Caves of Chaos.

I think, unless they throw me a curve ball, tomorrow they intend to try and find the new boss of the Caves. If they manage that, I expect they'll move on to other areas. So I threw out some new rumors that, if they follow them up, will take them just a few hexes beyond the current limits in one direction or another.

And I shouldn't be complaining about them not covering lots of new hexes each session. It gives me more time to key encounters for new regions on the map that haven't been explored yet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

DCEU: Aquaman vs SHAZAM!

I spent the end of August back in the US. On the plane there, I watched Aquaman (finally). On the way back, I watched SHAZAM!. I'm going to discuss both briefly.

Aquaman had a lot of great visuals, some cool special effects/CGI, and some good action scenes. But the story was full of all the cliches we've been watching for years. In the end, I enjoyed the roller coaster ride the movie took me on, but I never really felt that sympathetic for any of the characters except for Arthur Curry's dad.

SHAZAM!, on the other hand, had some good effects/CGI, but some not so good ones as well. The action scenes were good and a lot of fun to watch, too. And while it had plenty of cliches, but goddamn if I didn't feel connected to Billy Batson and his foster family. Even though the movie has its flaws, I think it's the much stronger piece.

I think I've posted before about my feelings for the DCEU movies. If not, I'll give you a very brief opinion of each of the previous movies. Just my opinions. Feel free to disagree.

Man of Steel: boring, and Superman just didn't feel like Superman. Don't try to make him Batman. It just doesn't work.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: boring for the first half, thrilling to watch in the second half, but the character choices in that part of the movie were just all over the place.

Wonder Woman: finally one that wasn't boring! But despite all the praise it garnered as a "feminist" superhero film, I found it fell prey to too many of the traditional (masculine) tropes/cliches. It was good, but ultimately not such a satisfying film for me.

Justice League: started off well, but then sorta went off the deep end once Superman got resurrected. At least it added more humor than the other movies had.

So there's a steady progression of progress in the DCEU! Oh, is the Suicide Squad part of this? Still haven't seen it. Anyway, from Man of Steel to SHAZAM!, I see progress. So hopefully the movies they put out from now on (is The Flash film still a thing? Will they do a new Green Lantern?) will be at least as good, from a story standpoint, as SHAZAM! was.

I'll stick to the Arrowverse as my DC comics come to life fix, though.

Monday, September 2, 2019

What I think I'm doing right these days

My gaming situation is pretty good right now. I’m running my West Marches game face to face twice a month. Despite the small hiccup when I switched from 5E to Classic, the group has rebounded better than ever! Which is not to say it wasn’t great before, but something about the current game, whether the system or the group of players (maybe both!) is working for me. I’m having much more fun running the game than I was under 5E. 

In addition to the West Marches game, I’m occasionally play-testing my Caverns & Cowboys game [fantasy Western-themed hack of Star Frontiers] and that’s been a ton of fun to play! And then there’s Dean’s ongoing Eberron 5E game which is always crazy/silly/fun, and hopefully Jeremy’s Rad Hack game will continue, too (these day’s he’s wanting to play it and trying to get someone else to run it). All of these games are played via Hangouts and Roll20. 

And then there’s the play-by-post games. I’ve been a fan of gaming on RpoL.net and have been playing games there for over a decade. Right now, I’m running two games – one with my Megadungeon, the other Isle of Dread, both using Classic D&D. The Megadungeon game uses the same house rules I’m using in the West Marches game, while the Isle game is by the book BECMI/RC (without weapon mastery or skill proficiencies). 

And then there’s the games I play in. A long-running AD&D 1E game, where I have three characters. Two are in the standard fantasy setting the game’s been using for years, one more is in the newish Oriental Adventures setting the DM created. I’m also in a Star Frontiers game by the same DM. I’m in one other Classic D&D game, but it’s very slow and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stay interested in it. Then I’m in four 5E games. One is the West Marches game that inspired me to run a WM campaign in my face-to-face. I’ve got three characters there (used to have 5 but the DM had to reduce the number of characters to a manageable level so the other two are on standby for now). The same GM also runs a 5E arena game where I have two characters, although one is currently a single failed death save away from dying. Then there is another fairly standard fantasy game, and another that is 5E but in an OA setting. I’m running a Yakuza (Rogue/Arcane Trickster with tattoos for each spell he can cast). 

That’s an awful lot of gaming! Even if the play-by-post games are slow, it’s a lot of gaming.


So, what’s the secret of my success? For the most part, it’s just a combination of patience and luck. Getting into the right game, or waiting out the boring parts of a PbP game to get to the good stuff. But in the face-to-face West Marches game, I think there are a couple of things that are making the game run smoothly and why I and my players are having a lot of fun.

  • The System: Classic D&D is easy to run. 5E was also fairly easy to run, but I was still bringing in a lot of subsystems from Classic to pad out what 5E was lacking. I’m glad I didn’t let my reservations about losing players stop me from making the switch.
  • The Players: There are some players in the group who are very tactical, approaching each encounter as a problem to solve. Some are very immersive, trying to get into character as much as possible. Some are experimenting with the house rules as much as possible. One is just trying to cause as much chaos, confusion, whimsy and laughs as possible. And they’re all meshing together really well! The current group’s various play styles are complementing each other rather than getting in the way of each other.
  • The Dice: I’m letting the dice fall where they may. The only fudging I’ve done is with the occasional random encounter, if the same result keeps coming up all the time I’ll change it to get some variety. This means that PCs can and do die. A few players have had a bit of adjustment to how easily this can happen and how hard it is to reverse (at low levels) in Classic. But they’re rolling with it now. And the players are learning (if they didn’t know this already) that they should try to manage situations in ways that don’t require them to roll the dice!
  • My Attitude: I’ve been filling in this map little by little, region by region. And while the areas close to the Home Town are relatively low risk and fairly “normal,” the farther out I get in keying the West Marches, the wilder and crazier it’s getting. It’s got me excited for them to get to these places and explore them! But at the same time, this is a character-driven campaign, so other than providing rumors, it’s up to them what to do and where to explore. We didn’t game during August because of my busy schedule (plus that of some players, either also being busy or being away on vacation), but I did spend quite a bit of time filling in more of the map key. The way each session recently has left me energized rather than drained has helped with this. We’re in a positive feedback loop here.
  • Embracing the Craziness: Last October, I had a special one-shot game set in Castle Ravenloft. While exploring the dungeons beneath the castle, the party found the Deck of Many Things. They brought it back. It has caused all sorts of chaos (dead or missing characters, fabulous gains in levels/wealth, etc.) like it is intended to do. And I don’t shy away from it. I embrace it as part of the game. I’m letting the players hire henchmen and men-at-arms, which makes combats easier, but they also allow for more ground to be covered each session. And even with some players having two or three NPCs to control along with their PC, combat rounds are still faster than they were in 5E. The players are trying to pull off crazy stunts and schemes, and I’m sitting here enjoying all of it. Some of their ideas may “wreck” my world, but I don’t care. It’s their playground to wreck as they please. And it’s a blast to see them doing it.

That’s not to say it’s all perfect. My son had been playing (in the 5E days) but then my wife and kids went to live in America. And instead of coming back with me last week, they decided they liked it so much that they wanted to stay. And I agree, it’s been overall a very good experience for them. I’d originally started this game so my son and I could play D&D together, but now he’ll be away indefinitely. So there’s a bit of a negative there. He was really getting into the game before, and was consistently one of the most creative players. I think he’d love the way the new group plays, too. But this is just something a little disappointing for me personally, not something wrong with the game. The game itself is going really well.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

New Direction? (JOESKY Tax at the end)

I need to find some new blogging inspiration.

I've got a great face-to-face game going on (The West Marches).

I continue to play in Dean's 5E Eberron game, plus occasional games run by others via Hangouts.

I run two play-by-post games (my Megadungeon and a newer Isle of Dread game).

I'm playing in multiple play-by-post games on the same site that hosts the two games I run.

I've run some Caverns & Cowboys play-tests via Hangouts, and the system seems solid so far.

Chanbara continues to make a handful of sales every month, with occasional paper miniature sales as well. Definitely not going to get rich from DriveThru ever, but the little bit helps.

The only area of my gaming life right now that doesn't seem to be engaged is my desire to write stuff for the blog.

I could just continue to write posts about my actual play experiences, and posts to try and get more people to buy the stuff I'm selling. But that's not the most engaging, for me or the reader. At least for the play report stuff, Dean awards everyone bonus XP.

When the blog started up, I was writing all sorts of posts. Gaming nostalgia. Riffing on ideas in the OSR or other gaming circles. Creating content (Beast of the Week). Spitballing ideas and getting feedback on house-rule ideas. Discussing all sorts of gaming inspirations.

Then I started working on Flying Swordsmen, and promoting it. That led to working on Chanbara and promoting it.

And I had some serial posts, like my re-reads and reviews of TSR's Endless Quest books. And my Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover series.

I tried to get into game design theory discussion here, as it dovetailed with some academic research I was doing. But until I get back on that academic horse, I doubt I'll be doing much blogging about that stuff.

I need to figure out what to do with the blog relative to my current gaming situation and non-gaming interests, and time constraints. I'll keep you all posted. And when that inspiration hits me, I'm sure all my regular readers will know!

_________________________________________
And since you sat and read through that navel gazing, I'll pay my JOESKY tax (is that still a thing?) and give you some juicy tidbits of Caverns & Cowboys.

Based on the classless, d% resolution Star Frontiers system, C&C (yeah, Castles & Crusades already cornered that acronym, I know) divides skills into three Primary Skill Areas: Interaction, Combat, and Magic.

All characters choose one of the three PSAs for their character. They then start play with three skill-sets. One skill-set must be from the chosen PSA. One must be an Interaction skill (so Interaction PSA people must have two from that group of skill sets). The final skill-set can be anything.

Interaction skills are the most varied, as they cover pretty much anything outside of magic or combat. Each skill (really a skill-set) grants access to three or more subskills, each with a % chance of success that improves with more skill levels (from 1 to 6). Interaction skills are the cheapest skills to raise levels in.
Interaction Skills: 
Culture Lore
Dastard
Drover
Influence
Law & Justice
Mechanic
Medicine
Trailblazer

Combat skills are mostly for improving chances to hit with various sets of weapons. Only one, Fisticuffs, grants a few subskills (Rasslin' for wrestling, and Wallop for more frequent knock-outs) in addition to increasing chances to hit (and is the only one that increases damage).
Combat Skills: 
Archery
Artillery
Fisticuffs
Hurling
Long Arms
Melee
Pistols
Scatterguns

Magic skills are the odd-balls, not conforming to the standard Star Frontiers rules. Gaining a level in a magic skill grants access to four spells. Spell points are determined by an appropriate ability score, as is the chance of casting the spell -- which does not increase with level. Instead, gaining levels in the magic skill increases the potency of the spells. Magic skills are the most expensive skills to raise levels in.
Magic Skills:
Faith Healing
Mesmerism
Kabbalah
Shamanism
Voodoo

My play-testers really like the evocative nature of the magic skills, and say that they think the interaction skills cover most things they'd consider important in a Western themed RPG. Combat was also praised by them, since at low levels it's hard to hit your opponent (fairly realistic in that regard) so our shoot-outs in the games we've run have mostly been ended by clever use of Mesmerism from Dean rather than battles to the death.

It's coming along. I just wish my schedule made it easier to run more pick-up games (actually to plan for sessions so I can run the game) more often.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Man, Gygax could be wordy

I'm restocking parts of the Caves of Chaos that were previously cleared by a (slightly different) party in my West Marches game. Only one PC from that era of the campaign is still with them (although my son will be back in Busan in a little over a month and hopefully rejoining the campaign).

Anyway, I copy/pasted from the PDF of the module to a word processor, and I'm just deleting all these wonderful but extraneous details about the place. It's nice to have that detail there to help set the mood, or if the players start asking detailed questions. But in practice (at the table), I find it all just gets in the way of the important game elements.

So, stripping it all out. Saves paper anyway.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Taking of Nasty Canasta: Rustler, Bandit, Square Dance Caller

We played Caverns & Cowboys again last night and it was another fun session. Ken couldn't make it (which is too bad, he is up on the genre so he brings a lot to the game) but Jeremy and Dean were able to show up.

I threw out three hooks: protect a wagon train of settlers planning to go through hostile territory to a new settlement, try to eliminate a dragon for the local cattlemen's association, or track down the wanted criminal Nasty Canasta. They chose the third.

Savvy readers who had awesome childhoods or who are awesome parents may recognize that name. I stole the character from Looney Tunes (Drip-Along Daffy, where Daffy and Porky try to rid a "typical Western town" of said villain). And funnily enough, although I didn't plan it to go down this way, it actually did play out in a similar manner to the cartoon I stole the idea from!

I also got to try out a simple "stud poker" mini-game that can be played by rolling dice to determine how good your hand is and then betting on it. It's not perfect, but it's simple and worked well enough in practice. With a bit of tweaking it could be used to simulate other types of poker as well. And it fits in well with the Cheat subskill of the Dastard skill set (which both Jeremy's PC and the NPC Nasty Canasta had).

Another successful play test! Oh, and Jeremy has been making some art samples that I think look pretty awesome and will likely be licensing from him to help illustrate the book when I get it ready for publication.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

VR Battle Arena

After our end of semester faculty dinner, I went with three of my coworkers to play a VR FPS game called Battle Arena.

You get an Oculus Rift type headset, two pistols, and a circle to stand on. You teleport around the arena by aiming a gun at a platform and holding the trigger down for a second or two. You shoot by pointing the gun and shooting. Better weapons occasionally spawn in certain squares.

Other than the fact that teleporting from space to space is the only way to move (and options are limited), it's a lot like Quake or a similar FPS game (yes, I'm probably dating myself using Quake as my frame-of-reference game here...I don't play many video games anymore).

There were a few technical difficulties. My headset kept slipping, which made the screen blurry and I had to adjust with one hand (so stop shooting/moving). One of the other guys had trouble entering the game, so the second time the operator had to stop us and restart it so he could get in. Despite that, we played two games and had a lot of fun.

I ended up getting second place in the first match, third place in the second. Not bad for my first time playing, I think. The coworker whose idea it was to go there won both times, as he's played it quite a bit. When my son gets back to Korea, I want to take him there. I think he'll dig it.

There was another cooperative zombie killing game, but it was only a 2 player game and since there were 4 of us we didn't play it. Maybe next time.

And I can't wait for the fantasy adventure VR/AR games that are sure to come out in the near future! A cooperative dungeon crawl game with swords and wands of fireballs would be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A disputed saving throw

Recently in a PbP game I run (house ruled Classic D&D), this situation happened.

Context:
The player in question is no stranger to older editions of D&D. He's been playing longer than I have (says he started in '79), and he's played most editions of the game although he mostly plays 5E now.

The game is set in my megadungeon.

To speed up PbP gaming, and to get a bit of rivalry/competition like I read about in the old days, each player runs their own party through the dungeon.

I make no bones about it being deadly. Only one person who signed up to play the game has managed not to lose a character, and that's because he quit as soon as he had his first encounter.

The Situation:
The player in question has his party (all still level 1, with 2 hirelings) exploring the ruins above the dungeon. There's a tower in part of the wall that opens up on two different courtyards at different elevations (it's a hilltop castle ruin with a sprawling dungeon beneath it). The party was at the middle level but didn't know that.

The party thief examines the door for traps, listens and hears nothing.

The player then says that his two fighters "barge into the room" and that the NPC hireling "is on their heels." This is even though, as I said, they heard no sounds from inside and had no reason to expect a creature inside. But if there was one, I guess they were hoping to surprise it.

What was really inside was a 3' wide landing (with no railing...it's a 400 year old castle ruin!) and a 20' drop.

My Ruling: 
If this were real life, there would be a good chance that they would not be able to halt their movement and plunge over the side. But I'm usually generous about these kinds of things. The clincher was that the player said the NPC was "on their heels."

If three dudes are charging through a doorway and there's only about 1 or 2 steps they can take inside before they fall, it seems logical to me that the third guy in would crash into the first two who had just managed to stop short. So I gave them all saving throws with a +2 bonus. Seemed fair to me.

The Result:
One Fighter made his save. The other failed. The NPC hireling failed. The PC was uninjured (9hp), but when I rolled 2d6, of course I got a 9! 0 is dead in this game. The NPC had 4hp and I rolled a 6. Also dead!

The Controversy:
Now I'm OK with how I ruled this situation. It's comical and sad that the fates did this. And it's not the first time this player has lost a PC. It's the third time. But he was apparently surprised and a bit upset at how the situation had unfolded.

My Take:
But really, he could have phrased his PCs' entrance to the tower in so many different ways that wouldn't have required the PCs to make saves to avoid falling. If he'd just said "We open the door," then I would have described the landing inside. He was careless in his orders IMO. And since this is Play-by-Post gaming, he had all the time he could want to decide how to phrase his post.

He seems to feel that I was setting up a "gotcha" moment, and not treating his characters as if they had any common sense. Well, I do make a lot of assumptions for the players in this game. I assume that thieves will be checking for traps when time allows. I assume that everyone in the party is trying to be as quiet as possible unless the player says otherwise. I try to assume competence on the part of the PCs. But in this case, I think an assumption of competence doesn't come into the picture.

Or maybe it's just that I'm a "Mel Brooks" sort of DM. He called it a Three Stooges moment. Either way, it's slapstick. And I'm fine with that. I guess he isn't.

He's not too terribly upset, though. He's still in the game, and rolled up a new Dwarf Fighter to replace the Human Fighter he lost.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Mountain Awakens

The Mountain Awakens
Being a continuation of the journal of the stalwart Jack Summerisle, Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, and companions various and sundry, as they complete their quest in the subterranean world of Pellucidar. 

My companions: Thia Moonbrook, elven cleric of life; Jade, half-elven ranger archer; Cankles, ogre barbarian; Flagan d'Gallandha, halfling monk; Yuv, dragonborn cleric of radiance.

We moved on to the final altar, which was in a room containing massive piles of sand. By holding the wand of the giant priest, we kept the sand at bay long enough to hear the altar's demand -- that we forswear all dealings with undead creatures. This we all promptly swore, and we were granted passage further into the temple.

The next chamber contained three sets of giant priestly cassocks. These enchanted robes requested three of our number to take on the mantle of eternal protectors of the temple. We considered this for a time, and when we refused, the robes attacked. The garments bound those whom they could grab tightly, and we fought against them with much violence, eventually defeating the magical frocks. We suffered some wounds, but none of our number succumbed.

Beyond this was the goal of our long quest. The Heart of the Mountain stood before us, but its form was elfin and delicate, not at all as Yuv had seen in his dreams. We called out, beseeching the great Spirit of the Mountain to awaken, but it heard us not. We readied the stone holy texts which we had recovered from Lungbarrow, the living mansion, and holy incense and offerings of the giantish wine. This attracted the notice of several spirit guardians.

We negotiated with the spirits, eventually succeeding in awakening the Heart of the Mountain. We then plead our case, and when the Spirit of the Mountain learned of the Ghoul Kingdom, and the Ghoul King's desire to summon demons to aid his conquest of the realms within the mountain, it took action. We were whisked down a deep pit, eventually feeling the odd sensation of switching from orientation for the world below to the normal world above which we had not seen for so many long months.

We arrived in the kingdom of the Stone People, the only ones not to have fled from the Ghoul King, and witnessed the destruction rained upon the ghouls by the Spirit of the Mountain. We will rest here with our allies the Stone People, then finally venture above. It has been so long since I have witnessed the sun and its warmth. It will be odd to finally return to the green lands above, where my heart yearns. I shall be singing the Greensong in the fields and forests before long. We have achieved victory, and now must seek out a new quest.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation

I finished Stranger Things season 3, and got back to watching old episodes of Star Trek on Netflix. I'd watched the first 3 (the 2-part pilot and the one where they all get 'drunk' and Data & Yar get it on) a few months ago, and for the past few days I've been watching more. It's interesting to see how in the first few episodes, the planet scenery was very evocative of TOS planet sets, but even just 7 episodes in, they've already improved the sets and effects.

The scripts are so far hit or miss. I think it probably will remain so for this season. I'd forgotten that the Ferengi were introduce so early in the series. Quark and family were such a big part of DS9 and I hadn't seen these older TNG episodes for so long that it had completely slipped my mind that they were an early addition to this series.

Tasha Yar's death should be coming up soon. It was a real shocker when the season first aired. She was one of my favorites back then. Yes, teenage me thought she was hot. Now, I'm really finding her to be not such the compelling character. She had potential, with her background as coming from a colony that had devolved into barbarism with rape gangs, which she escaped from. But it's not delved into deeply enough, and the character gets killed off before they really can.

It's not like they've really fleshed out ANY of the characters yet, other than Picard. It's forming, I can see it, but the writers were obviously working things out as they went, trying things to see what worked, and probably the actors were interpreting the scripts in interesting ways that the writers later picked up on and rolled with.

Still, despite a few wonky scripts and some cheesy sets/effects, these early episodes are holding up fairly well in my estimation.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The iron is hot

So my West Marches game is going really well these days with the influx of some new players (especially Justin, who ran the old Vaults of Ur game I used to play in and post about a few years back). And that's been giving me the impetus to get more areas of the map keyed.

Just this week, I've keyed about 25 new hexes. Not all of them have encounters, of course, and some are fairly simple encounters. But those hexes are two different regions, and each has a small dungeon in it. One of the dungeons is finished and ready to go. The other is a bit bigger and more complex, and I drew the map myself rather than repurposing someone else's map (which I often do, including for the smaller dungeon I did this week).

I finished up drawing the map for the larger dungeon today, and I've got ideas for most of the rooms in which I plan to place encounters. There are 33 rooms, so by the old BX/BECMI stocking table, there should be around 11 monster encounters, 11 empty rooms, and the other rooms split between traps/hazards and specials (5 and 6, we'll see how it goes). I know at least one special will be a monster encounter with WAY overpowered opponents who are not hostile (at least at first...if the PCs press their buttons, it's another matter).

Anyway, it has been a while since I'd keyed new areas on the map. I'm up to about 1/3 of the 520 or so hexes keyed, with about 1/6 explored by the party. They've been sticking fairly close to town recently, so it's not like it's pressing to get more areas keyed at the moment, but since I've got the inspiration to do it now, might as well!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Square Circle Retainers

Yesterday in my West Marches game, the players managed to complete the Bugbear Cave in the Caves of Chaos. Those of you familiar with the module will remember that...

Spoiler Alert if you've never played it!


...the bugbears have two prison chambers. In one of them is a renegade bugbear and a captured 4th level Fighter (or Hero). In the previous session the players managed to free the other prisoners. Yesterday, they freed these guys (after slaughtering the captured gnolls, who to be honest had it coming).

Now, I've been having a bit of eye trouble (an eye infection I had a few weeks ago seems to be lingering but of minor annoyance level) and I was having a bit of trouble focusing on the printout (I have the module in PDF, so printed it out for use at the table). 30 year old module with cramped typesetting, then scanned however many years ago and converted to PDF, then printed out doesn't make it the most readable.

The description of the human prisoner is also spread over two pages.

Anyway, I read the beginning of the description: huge and muscular, with a shaggy beard and wild eyes. I kinda glanced over the back side of the description while the players were asking me about him, and saw that he's a berserker who has a chance to "accidentally" strike the players if they fight alongside him.  But I didn't keep reading to the part where it says he'll betray the party the first chance he gets and abscond with the treasure.

Anyway, they were asking for his name, and how big he was compared to the party's Berserker (my homebrew version of the 3E/5E Barbarian for Classic D&D) and the Muscle Wizard (just a Magic-User, but with a 16 Strength and good Constitution as well). He's more muscular than both, with a Str 18. And the wild eyes and beard description made me think of Macho Man Randy Savage.

So, Randy the Savage he became. Oooo yeah!!! And he didn't end up hitting an ally during the next fight with fire beetles. But since he had no armor, when they found the shield +1 in the store room, they gave it to him. So he did abscond with some of their treasure. :D

Anyway, he's now an NPC in town who might be persuaded to accompany the PCs on future adventures.

TL/DR: I made an impromptu characterization of an NPC as a classic era WWE wrestler.

Last night, I was looking for wrestler-themed fantasy art. I've got a picture of Hulk Hogan as a Conan-style barbarian from somewhere (had the picture for many years). I've seen luchador fantasy before. But no one seems to be producing art showing WWF/WCW/WWE wrestlers facing dragons and zombies and whatnot. Curious.
Anyway, I now have a plan to turn a bunch of 80's/90's wrestling characters into NPCs who could become retainers. And they won't all be warrior types. Some will definitely be spell-casters!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: Spider-Man Far From Home (spoiler free)

Saw Spider-Man Far From Home today. I liked it, overall. It was good, and had a lot of well-done humor in it, and some cool action scenes. If you're a Spidey fan or an MCU fan, definitely go see it.

And I promised to keep this spoiler free, but if you haven't seen Avengers: Endgame, though, DO NOT go see this movie until you've seen Endgame. Certain events (well, one in particular) casts a long shadow over this movie.

So as you've likely seen from the trailer, Peter Parker and his class (those who were blipped out by Thanos) are taking a trip to Europe during summer vacation. He thinks he can leave Spider-Man behind for a few months, but of course not. Nick Fury needs his help against elementals that are attacking. And Mysterio has come from another Earth to battle them.

Oh, and for the parents - is there cursing in the movie? Just a little. In fact, I can't really remember any swears in it. There probably were one or two, I just don't remember them.

_______
I've been sitting here for about 5 minutes after typing the previous sentence trying to think how to best phrase this. I liked Far from Home. It was fun, it was funny, it was exciting.

But...

You knew that 'but' was coming, right?

But there was something just a little bit off about the movie. Maybe it was that the big mid-movie twist was not at all a surprise (although the callbacks to previous MCU movies involved was fun). Maybe it was just that ANYTHING that followed Infinity War/Endgame was going to have some weirdness to it, and lack that emotional resonance of Endgame. Maybe that was it? It was just the MCU returning to normal after this very big abnormal event.

I did really like how they handled Mysterio, and the special effects of his powers was really cool. Spidey having a hard time accepting his position as a big-time super hero was good. Nick Fury and Maria Hill...what exactly are they doing? They aren't S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, so what's up with their new organization? It isn't explained (and a post-credit scene with them adds more questions than it answers).

Maybe what's bothering me was that the highlight of the film was J.K. Simmons' cameo/return to the role he was made to play, J. Jonah Jameson.

I did like it better than Spider-Man: Homecoming, but again (like Captain Marvel) it's not going to jump up to the top-tier of my ranking of favorite MCU movies.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Test Run

Played some Caverns  & Cowboys last night with the guys on Hangouts/Roll20. There were a few minor issues, but mostly Dean, Jeremy and Ken had a positive reaction to the game.

There was a little bit of confusion with the different ability scores from D&D standard. I've based the system on the Star Frontiers d% system, so the ability scores and their abbreviations can get confusing. For example, in SF there is an ability abbreviated INT but it stands for Intuition, not Intelligence. LOG (Logic) is closer to D&D Int. Also, PER is Personality, but they kept assuming it was Perception.

Char gen is fairly easy as far as ability scores and skill selection, but buying equipment was the thing that slowed it down. Dean missed having "ready pack" options like in 4E and 5E D&D, so I may come up with some suggestions for that. Jeremy just copy/pasted my sample character's gear then added a few things he wanted, so that was fairly fast for him. Ken is a bit of an Old West history buff, so he was pleased to see the wide selection of gear available.

Anyway, Dean's suggestion of some sample starting packs would be a good idea to help people get into the game faster. Also, Ken (who played a doctor) noticed that I forgot to put medical kits and laudanum and other period medicines on the list. To be added. I should make sure other skill sets that need tools/equipment have them available as well.

The big departure from Star Frontiers is the magic system I cobbled together. I did some research on period mystical/magical belief systems (Jeremy appreciated this level of setting detail) and came up with some appropriate magical traditions. Using the SF skill system of one skill with discrete subskills as a package, each magical tradition is a skill and each spell is a subskill. They improve in potency as you level up the magical skill. Dean took Mesmerism as one of his starting skills, and put it to good use with a seance to gather information and later hypnotism to pacify a villain. So far, it didn't seem broken. The other traditions, and magic skills at medium to high level play still need to be tested, though.

The combat system worked well (I knew from Star Frontiers that it should). Chances to hit for beginning characters are low and there are more negative modifiers to attacks than positives, so there was a lot of missing by both sides. Dean was a bit put off by this at first, but since Ken and Jeremy were commenting on how this was more like a real firefight, where lots of bullets do miss unless you're really close to your target, Dean got on board with it. I know from experience that once those combat skills get up to around 3 or 4, combat gets a lot easier.

The scenario I ran them through was a simple one. Sheriff Bart of the town of Justice asked them to go to the smaller town of Liberty nearby and run off some bandits who had taken over the town. After a bit of haggling over the reward, they set out and on the way were ambushed by blink coyotes (blink dogs from D&D of course). They had trouble hitting the blink dogs, and took a lot of small bites. Finally, they wounded enough of the blink coyotes that the creatures decided to find easier prey and vanished. The party decided to head back to town to hire some extra guns to take on the bandits.

In town, Dean's character Schmitt performed his seance to contact a victim of the bandits and get some intel. They each also hired a rifleman to accompany them. When they got to Liberty, there were four bandits guarding a bridge over a creek south of town. They spotted the bandits, the bandits spotted them. Both sides took cover, and one bandit ran into town to alert the others. The firefight was fairly long, as I mentioned above, lots of missed shots (mostly due to range and cover penalties to hit). After five or six rounds the bandit leader, an ogre, appeared and charged across the bridge to attack with its spiked club. They did a good amount of damage to the ogre, but it nearly killed one of their hired guns before Schmitt could hypnotize it to sleep. Then, Sam (the hired gun of Jeremy's character Hezekiah) managed to roll a 01 and 02 to hit, which are knock-out rolls in the system. So two of the three bandits went down the same round as the ogre boss. The final bandit surrendered, and the other bandits carousing in town fled to the wilderness when they got the news.

When the ogre woke up, they questioned him (with a bit more hypnosis to make him talkative) and found their lair was a cave outside town. After securing the ogre with chains in a root cellar, they set out and found the lair, getting just over $1000 in silver coins, a potion, and a magic wand. On Hezekiah's orders, Sam drank the potion (the order was drink, not sip! Jeremy had maybe a little too much whiskey as we played!) and so had clairvoyance for an hour with nothing to view. :D Back in town, the sheriff of Justice arrived with a Justice of the Peace and they gave the ogre his trial, found him guilty, and hung him by his neck until he was dead.

So the scenario I sorta whipped up out of next to nothing worked well, and since the players were into the idea of D&D with Western trappings, it seemed to work out well. I think this little game has some promise.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Had a good session today

In my West Marches game today, the players really took control and directed the game. And I had more laughs during the session that I've had in a while.

First, they debated following up an old rumor or just trying to explore some blank hexes. They decided to explore, but thought they should go back to town first (they had camped at an abandoned elven tree-fort which they reclaimed last session). Back in town, they got a new rumor which intrigued them. After more discussion, they decided to follow up the old rumor after all.

This brought them back to the Caves of Chaos. They cleared out the "Shunned Cave" (the gray oozes had already been destroyed by a previous party, so it was just the owlbear and some random giant rats to deal with). Because of some wounds, they decided to return to town AGAIN.

Then they returned to the Caves and explored the bugbear cave (which one of the players and his daughter, who didn't come today had partially explored before). They did a bit more exploration, managed to weaken the bugbear forces, and freed some prisoners. Thanks to a random comment from one of the players, the captured orcs in the bugbear prison turned out to be some of the orcs they had ransomed and released in the retaking of the elf stronghold in the last session.

They're hoping to sew division among the mysterious Horned Society. Warduke, first leader of the Caves of Chaos, was slain by a previous party, but a new leader is again trying to organize the caves. They also know there are two other Horned Society leaders, Kelek and Lareth. They're name dropping both to try and get the factions in-fighting.

I really like how this current group of players like to play. Makes running the game so much more entertaining for me.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Fantasy Wimmelbilderbucher

Way back in April, Noisms was talking about wimmelbilderbucher, or books with lots of little details that you can pour over to find interesting things, like most Richard Scarry Busytown books, or the Where's Waldo (Wally) series of books. And he was wondering why there aren't fantasy themed books like this for adults.

I don't know. But today I picked up one for kids. Here are some pictures from it (taken with my phone, so not the best quality).
The Cover. Monsterland

The first few spreads introduce and name all of the monsters.



The rest of the book are spreads like these, with certain monsters to find on each page.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Gateway by Frederik Pohl - Campaign Idea

I picked up Gateway, a short sci-fi novel by Frederik Pohl, at the local library. I'm almost finished with it, and I've been thinking of how well it would work as the framework of a sci-fi RPG campaign.

The 100% accurate but completely gives the wrong impression of the book synopsis is: An AI psychiatrist treats a patient's PTSD.

Doesn't sound like a fun campaign, does it? I'd rather not play some sort of PTSD story-game. Instead, I'd take the story framework for how the guy got his PTSD and use that.

So some time in the future, Earth is a wreck. Overpopulation and rampant capitalism have destroyed the environment. The ultra-rich live in domed cities and have "full medical" which includes all sorts of treatments, organ replacements, etc. The VAST majority of humans subsist. Our hero grows up in the Nebraska food mines. They mine the shale oil and use it as food to grow bio-film which is then processed into food. But luck strikes and he wins the lottery.

Some time ago (in the story), colonists on Venus found an alien spacecraft. The guy who finds it manages to fly it, and it takes him to an asteroid orbiting the sun perpendicular to the plane of the celestial equator, which has been hollowed out with tunnels half a million years ago by aliens called the Heechee. This asteroid also has a thousand or so of their ships docked there.

It's possible to get the Heechee craft to fly, and they go FTL. But it's impossible to know where you're going. It flies on auto-pilot, there and back. Prospectors roll the dice, select a random destination, and head out to the stars. If they get lucky, they find a Heechee ruin and can bring back artifacts. No one knows what they are or what they do, but the Corporation will pay thousands or even millions of dollars for discoveries. Our hero wins the lottery, becomes a prospector, things he witnesses warp his already warped brain (the hellish life in the food mines already sent him to a year of psychotherapy as a teen). And now, as a rich successful former prospector, he lives a luxurious life of wine, women, and psychotherapy in the dome of NYC.

Great concept for a campaign. Stars Without Number would be a great system for this. I've never played Traveller, but it might work well, too, from what I've read about it. Something heavy and crunchy like StarFinder or Palladium could work too, of course, but if the campaign went all out with destinations that could have been safe half a million years ago but now are inside a red giant star or whatever, PC replacements might often be necessary.

I'd also want to increase the chances of finding artifacts, but reduce the reward amounts for finding them. As a story, the rarity of the Heechee artifacts is needed for dramatic tension. The protagonist spends a lot of time on Gateway (the asteroid launching area) fretting over whether he should actually go out on a mission or not. For a game, having players make PCs, go on a mission or two and find nothing, then get a dangerous planet or hazardous system and they just die would not be very fun.

It's mainly the idea of setting out on an alien craft to a random unknown destination that I like. I can imagine a d% table of system types, and then let the players roll the dice to see where they end up. Once they get there, they'd need to examine the system, find any celestial bodies with ruins, then search them for artifacts. Or if there are planets with life, or systems with unusual stars (pulsars, black holes, former supernovas, etc.) they could go for "science bonus" money instead of or in addition to artifact bounties.

Could be fun! But I'm still working on Caverns & Cowboys, so this idea will have to sit on the back burner for a while.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Caverns & Cowboys

This is an idea for a game I've had for a long time now. And apparently I discussed it mostly on G+ instead of here on the blog. I did a search of the posts here, and only found a few mentions of it.

So what is Caverns & Cowboys? Not hard to guess. It's a Western themed game, but also a fantasy dungeon crawling game. Or that was the original idea. I'd thought maybe run it with a combination of Go Fer Yer Gun (or later Tall Tales RPG) mixed with Labyrinth Lord/Classic D&D.

I even made this map as a bit of a trial at a Wild West setting that isn't part of our real world. Did I share this map before? Maybe. I know I shared it on G+ a few years ago (the image file shows I made it in 2017).
Anyway, I let the idea go for along time. Now I'm back on it. Only not using a D&D style OSR game.

A few weeks ago, I started adapting the Star Frontiers rules for a fantasy Western.

Why Star Frontiers? Well, for one thing it's a skill/level based system rather than a class/level based one. The skill system allows more flexibility to create characters that cover lots of different archetypes.

In SF, and in C&C (this iteration of it anyway), you gain a handful of XP each game session, and a few more when you complete an adventure. Then you can spend them to improve your character's base ability scores and skill levels. You can add new skills easily just by spending a few XP if you want, or you can save up to level up your existing skills.

SF has Military, Technological, and Psycho-Social skill areas. I have Interaction, Combat, and Magic skill areas. Yes, instead of Vancian magic, I'm going with magic as a skill. The spells are your subskills, and you have a limited number of spell points to use to cast spells. Gaining levels in the magic skills increases the potency of the spells but not the cost. There aren't really many flashy spells like lightning bolt or fireball, though. I tried to go with 19th century thematic magic types.

Interaction skills run the gamut from cowboy to lawman to doctor to engineer to criminal. I've got the most skills here (although Combat skills have quite a few as well). And while SF makes Military skills the cheapest to learn/advance, I've made Interaction skills the cheapest.

I've also converted a lot of monsters. I took the list from Holmes Basic. I removed a few (for IP or thematic reasons), and added some more (for thematic reasons).

I just need to get the rules for awarding XP and for placing treasure/monetary rewards written up, and I'll be ready to start play testing it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Traps: Are We Thinking About Them Wrong?

Recent discussion on Alexis's Tao of D&D blog seemed to relate to my recent post defending the labyrinthine dungeon layout used in many RPGs and video games. Alexis was writing about the treasure. Why is the treasure guarded in the dungeon? In his experience, his players, when they acquire vast treasures themselves, don't start constructing a trap/monster filled labyrinth in order to keep their funds safe.

I'll quote my response to Alexis and his response to me in full:

Dennis Laffey said...
I'm not sure if you read my recent post on my blog where I criticize a YouTuber for saying dungeons are stupid or not, but this post seems similar to it. The YouTuber was of the opinion that most dungeons should be the place where the BBEG keeps all his stuff. I disagree. And with regards to your point here, so does history.

Most royal treasuries, from my limited historical knowledge of the subject, were not secreted away in underground vaults guarded by traps and soldiers day and night.

And most secreted underground treasure hoards were not "someone's stuff." At least, not the stuff of anyone still alive. The treasures were grave goods interred with some king or other dignitary. Or were lost or buried in some natural disaster.

For most dungeons, the monsters really shouldn't have been placed specifically as guardians. The treasure was there, and the monsters decided that was a good place to move in after the people who buried the treasure there (or lost it) moved on.

Of course, why all the traps? That's still only logical in tombs, as they would be installed to deter grave robbers. In a lost city that was buried by an earthquake or swallowed by the sea but later belched back out again, all the traps don't really make sense.
Alexis Smolensk said...
Yes, why all the traps?

I've had player characters set up lairs for themselves. They do not fill these lairs with traps. Why do the monsters?
Why do the monsters build so many traps in the dungeons?

My question is actually, do monsters build the traps?

In the real world, where are traps encountered? Tombs such as the Egyptian pyramids and other pharaonic tombs sometimes had them. The tomb of Chinese emperor Qin (where the terra cotta army is) is suspected to have more treasures in it protected by traps. These days, though, we don't usually bury people with grave goods, so there's not much need for traps.

We do have other sorts of traps, though. Modern security systems include alarms and cameras (which are trap adjacent) and things like auto-locking doors or gates that close upon an alarm being triggered (which I would consider as actual traps). But these sorts of traps aren't everywhere. You see them in banks, high end jewelry stores, wealthy peoples' houses, and other places where there are things of value. Cameras and alarms have become much more common, though. Electrified fencing could also be seen as a form of trap, I suppose, keeping people out of (or in) a certain area.

Also, in war, we use land mines, and sometimes guerilla forces use things like tiger traps (think Viet Cong) or the like. In general, we have decided that people don't deserve to be peppered with poison darts or threatened with decapitating sweeping blades for trying to knock off a jewelry store, so these sorts of traps that threaten death and injury seem to be limited to war zones.

According to the random dungeon placement algorithm in BX/BECMI D&D, one in six rooms not containing a planned encounter should be a trap. That's a lot of traps. I know, because I used that for my megadungeon.

I also have been using it for hexes in my West Marches game. But in a wilderness, a trap doesn't often make sense. Sure, there are a few locations that are basically a big trap. But for the most part, I interpret "trap" as a hazard. So pools of parasite infected water, lava flows, quicksand, rock fall hazards, and the like.

I think a lot of dungeons should be designed this way, too. We don't need to be limited in our imagination to pit traps and darts and the like (although that's fine, especially since these sorts of traps are pulpy fun). But "trap" can also mean just a hazard. The natural disaster that ruined the ancient city caused the walls, roof, or ceiling to be weak in this area, and may collapse. Crystals in the cave wall may reflect your lantern light back in your eyes and blind you. A room's acoustics may be such that monsters in another area will hear you and prepare an ambush.

Thinking outside the box, even a set of natural caves can easily have "traps" and yes, I'd allow a Thief or Dwarf to use their detect/disarm abilities to bypass the hazards, if they roll well.