Monday, July 19, 2021

New Project?

 Right before bed last night, I had an idea. It may be a dumb one. We'll see. 

I've spent the past year or so tinkering with my Treasures, Serpents and Ruins house rules to get them to where I pretty much like them (a few tweaks still needed, as we play with them). And after a lot of effort to combine traditional Western and my preferred Eastern fantasy tropes into one simple set of classes/races, I was struck with the idea that I should make a second edition of Flying Swordsmen that is completely compatible with Chanbara. That way I'll have samurai/ninja action as well as Hong Kong style kung fu/wuxia action in one integrated rule set. 

Of course, would it be worth my time to make a completely new game, or just the player facing rules as a supplement to Chanbara? The latter is much easier and more likely to be completed. I added a lot of monsters and spells from FS already into Chanbara, so just adding some rules for martial arts classes Chanbara style might be enough.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Movie Review: Black Widow

 Last Saturday, the family and I braved covid19 (South Korea's only at around 11% fully vaccinated, we should be getting our first shots next month) to go see Black Widow on the big screen. We took in a matinee, and about a third of the seats were blocked off for social distancing, and there were maybe only 50 or 60 guests total in the theater which seats around 200. So it was a good gamble on our part. 

Mandatory swear word notice*: There's a lot more swearing in this movie than the typical Marvel movie so far. Especially from Yelena. My 6-year-old was giggling every time she said shit, and she said it a lot! No F-bombs that I remember, though.

So, about the movie. Well, I'll try to keep this spoiler free, since it hasn't been out for a week yet. 

The movie was pretty good. I was entertained. So was my wife and older son. The 6-year old was bored by a lot of the talking parts, but was focused on screen during all the action sequences. That said, it wasn't the strongest effort Marvel Studios has put out. And that's sad, since Scarlet Johanssen deserved a strong solo movie as her Marvel swan song, IMO. I mean, it's Marvel Studios, so everything is technically well done. Solid story. Good casting. Excellent CGI and action choreography. Good acting. I felt for these characters. 

But despite that, something was lacking. I think it all stems from the fact that most movies in the MCU, and now the TV shows, all seem to be building towards something. This movie seemed like it was just looking back. Now, it IS building toward things. The post credits scene definitely shows what they are building towards. But it wasn't obvious until the post-credits scene. 

Another thing may have been that this was both a spy thriller type superhero movie, and also a family building type movie. That meant the tension in the spy segments wasn't as tight as it could have been. The family building theme got more attention. The family dynamic between Natasha, Yelena, Melina and Alexei was a lot of fun. But because of that, we didn't get really well done spy drama like in Captain America: Winter Soldier. 

It's definitely worth a watch, especially if you've enjoyed previous MCU films. But is it a must see to follow the MCU metaplot? Probably not. It is interesting that this is the first film to come out since Marvel Studios started making Disney+ shows. When the credits started to roll, I asked my 13-year old if he thought the post credit would plug Eternals or Shang Chi? Neither one seems very thematically appropriate. And ... sorry, small spoiler here ... it didn't plug either. It was a plug for an upcoming Disney+ show.

*Having a blog with the word "curse" in the title gets a lot of Google searches for "curse words in movie X" directed here.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Not Mother-May-I: How to use rulings in RPGs

This post is related to several recent posts by Alexis over at Tao of D&D. Like him or not, he's a smart guy and I think he's been posting some quality content recently (not ONLY recently, but I've really liked his stuff of late). 

In old school D&D circles (including but not limited to the OSR), you often hear one of the things that sets old school play apart from new school play is the fact that the old school game doesn't try to anticipate every eventuality, which requires DMs to improvise and make rulings. New school games try to be comprehensive in their coverage, often by providing a universal mechanic for actions. To be fair, though, there are quite a few older games that have universal mechanics. I've been playing WEG d6 Star Wars, definitely an old school game, and it has a universal die pool mechanic. But even then, reading through the 1st edition reprint I bought a while back, there are a LOT of holes in the rules that aren't covered. The referee has leeway to make calls. 

Anyway, that argument about what is old school or new school is beside the point. We're here to talk about rulings in the game, not what makes something old school or new school (today at least). 

Why the emphasis on rulings in old school play? Well, as far as I can figure it, it comes from Matt Finch's Old School Primer. It's the title of the first of his four Zen moments. He may have gotten the phrase from somewhere else, but it's likely the Primer that made it famous. 

In the Primer, the section talks about how description should trump die rolls and common sense should trump dedicated game mechanics. I don't have a problem with that. It's advice I would generally follow, except for the fact that where the rules stipulate die rolls for game purposes, that should trump "common sense." What do I mean by that? Well, there are examples in the Primer of things like having players ask questions, get detailed descriptions, and use those descriptions to disarm traps or find secret doors or things like that. I think that's great. But if we're playing old school D&D, we DO have definite mechanics defined by the rules for these things. If players can, through smart use of description and questions/answers about the state of the game world, discover a secret door or trap or hidden treasure, or can sweet talk the guard to let them talk to the prisoner or get into the Duke's Ball without an invitation, that's fine. But if their description falls short, we have the die roll prescribed by the rules to see if they stumble upon the right answer despite the players' descriptions falling short. 

I don't think that's a controversial position, but I have seen many times people on blogs, on Google+ back when that was a thing, on message boards (which I rarely frequent these past 10 years or so), or other online places talking about "rulings not rules" in a different way. These people seem to think that rulings should trump the rules. There's "the rule of cool" and the various improv theater derived "say yes" rules: "say yes, and", "say yes, but" or "say yes or roll the dice" that all seem to be coming from a desire to improve the game, but in my opinion, may ruin it. 

The rule of cool says that if players want to do something cool and awesome like in a movie or video game, let them. The various say yes rules tell the referee to never deny players anything, unless the dice determine it so. You can't deny them, only give limitations through "and" or "but" statements.

Newer versions of D&D (since 3E) try to cover as many situations as possible, in as much detail as possible. And players of those games have been, in my experience, the ones decrying a game based on rulings not rules as mother-may-I. I think they're not quite accurate in their claims, but they do have a valid point. If there's a rule in the book that covers something, why is there a need for an arbitrary ruling?

Honestly, there have been some times in a game where players have such an interesting (or funny, or ridiculous) plan that I just go ahead and say sure, you can do that (rule of cool). But not every time. Maybe I'm inconsistent. Maybe that is me playing mother-may-I with them. I'm trying to be better. More consistent.

Here are how I think rulings should be used during a game, and how "rulings not rules" should really be interpreted to avoid mother-may-I situations.

First of all, the DM needs to know the rules well enough. They don't need to have everything memorized (although that's the ideal), but they need to know the basics and be familiar with the less often used rules. Once that condition is satisfied, there are four situations that may come up which require a ruling:

1. When a situation arises in game in which clever play by the players would circumvent the need for a roll, then the DM can make a call that that action succeeds without a roll. That's the first kind of ruling, and the thing Finch was talking about in the Primer. 

2. When a situation arises in game and the DM has forgotten the rule, and they know it will take time to look up the actual rule, then they should make a ruling in that instance to keep the game moving. If the rule is something they can easily find in the rules (a spell description for example) then they should NOT make a ruling, they should look up the proper rule. It only takes a short time and shouldn't interrupt the flow of the game. After the game, the DM should look up the rule and get to know it better.

3. When a situation arises in game that is definitely not covered by the game's rules, the DM in this instance must make a ruling. In this case, it is a good idea to record the ruling, and pending consideration by the DM, and possibly consultation with the players, it should then become the new rule for that situation in the future.

4. When there is a dispute among players (including the DM) about the interpretation or implementation of a rule in the game, then the DM needs to make a ruling as to how it will be interpreted in their game. Again, the DM may wish to consult with the players for their opinions, but as with any ruling, the DM gets the final say. Again, this should be recorded and kept for reference in the future. 

In any other situation, the onus is on the DM to know the rules and implement them fairly. Arbitrary judgments that aren't recorded to set precedents for future games are exactly the sort of thing those players were afraid of when they said "rulings not rules" is just mother-may-I.

Monday, June 14, 2021


 Several weeks back, in April or early May, an acquaintance from the local English radio station* started liking my posts on Facebook about my twice-monthly West Marches games. I reached out to her, and yes, it turns out that she was interested in trying out D&D. She'd never played any RPGs before, and when I asked a few questions to see how much I'd need to explain, it seems like she hasn't really had much experience with computer RPG games either. 

We chatted via text, and I explained in fairly simple terms how RPGs play, and made a few suggestions, tried to find out what sort of character she wanted to play. 

Then when the next game session came up, she was too busy. Didn't hear from her for a while. I thought maybe she had lost interest. I did give her quite an info dump, even if I was simplifying things. 

But this past week, she contacted me again. She'd seen some 5E character sheets and a YouTube video about how to roll up a character. I assured her that the system I run is simpler than that.

She still wasn't sure about what sort of character to play, so I ended up rolling four pregens, a Human Cleric, Dwarf Fighter, Elf Magic-User, and Halfling Thief. Yep, hitting the four iconic (stereotypical) characters. Might as well start her with something easy. 

She quickly emails me back, asking if she can play a Half-Elf Ranger. And I'm like, of course! I made a few modifications to the pregens to make that PC for her, and sent it to her. 

At game time, several players were late, and she was also late. So we started the game. She finally contacted me, asking if it was too late to join. I said no, and resent the game links. She had some trouble logging into both Roll20 and Meet at the same time, but we finally got her in the game. 

And she did brilliantly. Granted, she does have some amateur acting chops. She's been in some local plays and short films in addition to her radio work. She got into character, asked good questions, had some good teamwork with the existing players, etc. And of course my usual crew is used to new people popping into our games, so that was no big deal for them. 

She sent me a message yesterday, thanking me for the game and asking if I was running again that night! I mentioned another game that I play in that is next Saturday, but she's already got plans (we'll get her in it eventually, I think). But she's on the hook for the following week when I run West Marches again. 

*Yes, I do a 1-hour radio weekly show. Yes, it's on the internet, but trust me, unless you listen to the other programs on the station, my show won't be interesting at all. Even if you do listen to the other shows, it's still not THAT interesting.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Gamma Goodness

 A few weeks ago, Tim Brannon gave a review of 1E Gamma World, or to be more specific, the PDF/POD combo from DriveThru/WotC. I got my start with a bit of GW2E that my cousin had borrowed from a friend. But since he had to return it, we never really got to play it. Oh, and I was in love with the setting from the Endless Quest book Light on Quest's Mountain (one of the better entries in the EQ series, at least as far as I've read). Later, in the early 90's, I picked up the 4e, which I've blogged about plenty before. It's my go-to version of Gamma World. 

But I'd always been curious about the first edition, so after reading Tim's post (link above), I ordered it. I got the PDF right away, of course, but only gave it a cursory skimming. The POD book arrived today. I'm always happy with DriveThru's international shipping rates. It wasn't that much. Also, thanks to everyone who purchased Chanbara. I got this with Chanbara profits. 

The book is slim, only 60 pages, and that's counting the "pull out" reference sheets and map at the back. The quality of the print is good, easy to read. It's perfect bound, so probably won't stand up to too much wear and tear at the table, if I were to run a long term dedicated GW game with it. But I'll probably mostly use it for sprinkling some GW oddness into my West Marches game (I've already got a zone of GW in there, using my 4E rules).

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Where's that Monster?

 So I'm going through my Treasures, Serpents & Ruins monster file this evening. For my own personal use, I'm free to use beholders, carrion crawlers, mind flayers, etc. But if I want to release this thing into the wild, especially if I'm hoping to make a bit of beer money from it (and no, I don't expect to make much if anything from it), I'd need to rename the WotC "product identity" monsters. 

Plenty of other games have these monsters in them, they just need to rename them. But I'm wondering how close I could get to the actual names and not get a cease and desist letter. 

For example, let's look at the beholder. Beholder is forbidden, but as far as I can tell, eye tyrant is not restricted. Observer is fine. I could easily go with either of those.

But one thing I noticed when looking through the OSE SRD the other day was that the renamed displacer beast, the warp beast, is nowhere near where I'd be looking for it. In the beholder's case, eye tyrant isn't too far away (although on the other side of the demons, devils, and dragons). If I wanted to keep the beholder in the B section, could I call it a "behold-orb"? 

Similarly, the displacer beast was based on the coeurl, so I could use that, or warp beast or something like that, but could I get away with displacer cat? Or if that's too close, disruptor beast? Could I get away with a carrion creeper? Illithid isn't mentioned as IP, but I'm betting I couldn't use that, but how about Mind Slayer?

Yuan-ti can just be serpent men, that one doesn't bother me. Never been a huge fan of that monster anyway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Some Selective Play-Testing and Reflection

My new rules modifications for Classic D&D seem to be going well enough. Most players converted over to the new system, finding a way to more or less keep their PC the same (Don's still playing a dragonborn, a race which got axed, but did update his class from Fighter/Magic-User to Lark, and Jeff is still running the old Ranger class that gets Druid spells). Of the new Fighter (and Assassin/Paladin/Lark) combat options that have been tried out, both my younger son and Jeremy opted to go with Defense (+2 AC, +4 if attacker is giant sized) for their Fighter Combat Style (a 4th level ability), while my older son went with Cleave (like the 3E feat) and Don went with, I think, Iaijutsu (like a backstab: +4 to hit, x2 damage; but only on the first round of combat if you get initiative). 

Cleave and Iaijutsu haven't come up yet (pretty sure my son could have used Cleave last game, but we forgot about it). Defense is obviously overpowered. Not sure what I was thinking there. Obviously I was thinking of the Halfling bonus to AC vs large creatures, but +2 base was ridiculous. Even 5E's Defense ability for Fighters is only +1. I will change it. At 5th level, Jeremy's Fighter has AC 23 (I use ascending, obviously), and my younger son has AC 22 at 4th level. I'll be toning that one down a bit, and re-evaluating all of the Fighter Combat Options (a bonus ability at 4th level). 

Yesterday, Delta posted this discussion of the Fighter's ability to attack multiple low level enemies across editions.

It's interesting on its own, but since I've given my Fighter class the Sweep ability (from 2nd level) to make one attack per level vs 1HD or lower opponents in Classic (which if you haven't read Delta's thread, Frank Mentzer is commented as thinking is totally unnecessary in Classic D&D). But they also get an option to Cleave (drop an opponent to 0hp, gain a bonus attack on a nearby enemy) AND at higher levels gain multiple attacks against more powerful opponents with 1+1HD or more (2 attacks at 8th level, 3 attacks at 12th level, level cap 15th), I feel like I'm just handing out extra attacks like candy! 

Still, I've got to say the Sweep ability has been pretty useful in games so far, as it helps speed up fights with the weaklings. 

This past weekend, I ran my procedural dungeon crawl game with the boys. Their encounters skewed humanoid, so they made good use of Sweeps. First encounter with 16 bandits, and after negotiations failed, the bandits were wiped out quickly. Fire beetles and giant black widow spiders were spotted, but left alone. A group of warriors appeared, but were evaded. A Red Knight appeared (as a "special") and tried to arm wrestle the PCs (the boys' PCs legit won with good rolls)! Then they tricked a pair of white apes into opening a portcullis to allow access to a ruined castle. In the next room were (as determined by random roll) 40 orcs. They tricked the orcs and apes into fighting, leaving 29 orcs alive when the apes were finally defeated. Then they went to town, using Sweep, and the Sweep ability evened the odds, although both characters took some fairly heavy damage, even with my younger son's PC's amazing AC. In the end, all the orcs were cut down and the pair returned to town with the loot.

In my West Marches game that same evening, they finished off Quasqueton. Well, not completely finished, there were secret doors they missed, despite having a wand of secret door detection which helped. They didn't always think to use it, though. Most of the 1st level was already explored, and they had about half of the second level explored when the session started. So they put in the effort to finish it off. They encountered troglodytes (which proved to be the toughest fight of the evening!), a pair of ettins (spells rendered them ineffective), wraiths (only one level drain, Justin's PC - and just as he was about to reach the level cap for a half-elf Warlock, before the dragonborn blasted them and himself with a fireball), some ghouls, and gnolls. They avoided stirring up the bats in the giant cavern. And they finally found Zelligar's wand (Roghan's spear and armor had already been recovered). 

As for the character abilities under the new rule set, Nate has been searching for a way to make use of the Shaman (cleric subclass) ability to perform rituals, but they haven't really come up yet. The three rituals they can perform 1) allow detection of astral/ethereal creatures, 2) sanctify a small area for 24 hours, 3) allow up to four creatures suffering from poison, disease, etc. to make a new saving throw. 

The other area that's come to my attention through the game is the Paladin's Aura ability. Denis has been confused the past few sessions about it. The effects are fine, but the wording is poor. I need to rewrite the section to make it more clear.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Maybe this will work

I'm trying out an interesting arrangement for my wilderness encounter tables (mentioned in my previous post). I have a table for each terrain type: clear/grassland, forest, hills/badlands, mountains, desert/barren, swamp/marsh, jungle, river/lake, ocean, arctic, settled, city. For each table, there are five columns (six with numbering) and twelve rows. 

The columns are Animal, Human, Common Monster, Unusual Monster, Rare Monster. These are determined by a d12 roll: Animal 1-3, Human 4-5, Common 6-9, Unusual 10-11, Rare 12. A few terrain types get some adjustment to the number spread, but that's the basic. 

I haven't filled out the monsters in any of the tables yet, but I have 12 slots for each. If there aren't enough suitable creatures, I can double some up or adjust the rarity. It doesn't give quite as much variety as Mentzer's charts, but 60 creatures per terrain type should be enough for a general table. 

Oh, and these twelve tables only took up three columns of my 2-column layout, so I had room for tables for the Planes: Elemental, Ethereal/Astral, Upper, and Lower. These are arranged a bit differently, but I think it will be handy to have some random charts for planar adventures if I don't have anything worked up for a specific plane.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Wilderness Encounter Table arrangements

I'm revising wilderness encounter tables. I've recently consolidated my "regular" and "Eastern" monster lists for TSR. Treasure tables, too. And now I'm working on new wilderness encounter tables.

In the past, for Chanbara, I pretty much copied what Cook/Marsh and then Mentzer did, with a table by terrain type for monster classification, then tables for each classification broken down by terrain type. In Chanbara, I also included seasonal variation for some of them. I'm not planning to go down the seasonal variation route again, but I am considering different ways to lay this out. 

AD&D and the Creature Catalogue go the route of the big master list (d%) by terrain type. There's an advantage to this in that it allows wiggle room to set monsters as common or rare. But every monster is jammed onto one table, and they take up a lot of space. I'd like to be able to lay this out on two facing pages if possible, for convenience. 

I have a couple of other ideas for how I could do this. 

First would be to do something similar to BX/BECMI, except instead of the initial table, just break down each terrain type by monster type. So the Forest Table would have columns for Animal, Fey/Yokai, Humanoid/Giant/Oni, etc. But I'd either need to give everything equal probability of appearing, or have numbering for each column. This would probably be the most space efficient way to do it. Although I've got more categories than Cook/Marsh/Mentzer, so I'd probably want to consolidate classifications a bit more.

Second would be to divide terrain types by proximity to civilization. So each terrain type would get columns for Settled, Borderland, and Wilderness (to borrow from the Companion Set's domain management classifications). This would end up with a grab-bag of monsters on each list, but they would be more sorted into challenge levels for low, middle, and high level PCs. This one seems interesting, different, and useful, but would probably take up more space than I'm hoping for, unless each list is fairly short. 

I've got over 400 monsters in this thing. Nearly everything from BECM/RC (a few I NEVER use or just don't like removed), plus monsters and NPC types from Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara, and some extra monsters from modules, 1E, 2E, 3E, and homebrew monsters from my Beast of the Week series way back when (many of the sillier monsters -- but by no means all silly monsters -- removed, so no more Saurons running around in packs :D). Of course, many of these are "dungeon only" or planar creatures, but it still leaves me with a lot to work with, and not every monster will make the cut. 

I guess I should spend some time building prototypes of each system and see which one I like most.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


 I mentioned this in my post the other day, and figured I'd write a dedicated post about it. 

A few weeks ago, I was checking out the NES Classic console - a mini emulation box shaped like the good old 8-bit NES. And of course that led me to similar machines for SEGA Genesis, SNES, PSX, etc. If you don't know, these come with an emulator program and pre-loaded with a selection of the "most popular" games for that system. 

Well, I've been playing emulated games for decades now, so that's nothing new to me. But the idea of having an emulation box like this with proper controllers (the touch screen emulator on my phone is less than ideal for games where that tactile sensation helps game play). 

And I came across ads for the Super Console X. It's an emulation box -- actually a smart TV box preloaded with EmuElec and lots of ROMS for a wide variety of systems, including arcade and old PC games, in addition to most home consoles. This thing even has a few systems I'd never even heard of, or had only heard of in passing and forgotten, at least. 

Yeah, of course I bought it. It was around $100, and takes up a lot less space than five or six of the officially licensed ones would. Is it legal? I'm sure it's not. I doubt the company is paying anything to any of the companies that made all these old games. And while I'm not opposed to giving these companies some more of my money, like I said, this is just a lot cheaper and more practical. And my wife was on board with it, so that's a plus. I'm pretty sure she would have said "No" to me shelling out close to $500 for all of the individual licensed devices...and they wouldn't have had all the games I'd want to play, as well.

Is it nice? Well, it's not perfect. But so far, we've been having a lot of fun with it.

Here are the boys playing some Mario Cart.

One of my old favorites was Tenchu for the PSX, which did NOT come pre-loaded, but thanks to the internet, I got Tenchu and Tenchu 2 and loaded them on. There was a third PSX Tenchu game in Japan called Shinobi Hyaku Gaisen which was made of 100 fan-created levels which I had back in the day, but I couldn't find an ISO of that one. 

I did have one or two issues with it so far. Gauntlet and Gauntlet II for MAME don't work. I need to replace the ROMs, I think. A YouTube tutorial mentioned changing the video resolution for different systems to get a better picture, but when I tried adjusting that, it messed up the screen. I managed to fix that. There may be an issue with game saves, which would make replaying RPGs like the old Gold Box D&D games (yes, they're on it) impossible. But for more casual games, like most old arcade, Atari or NES era games, or things like Mario Cart or Street Fighter II, we're good to go!

Monday, April 26, 2021

An interesting weekend

 So, things didn't go as planned this weekend. 

Well, Saturday did. I had my West Marches game, and the party decided to track down a stone giant whose castle they'd heard rumor of, after a new rumor came that he had hired a small army of goblins and was harassing the Eternal Tournament, an Arthurian-style group of renegade knights who just joust and feast at their own camp in the Marches. 

The giant and his goblinoid foes (and grizzly bears) were defeated, and much loot was acquired. Both my older son's PC and one other are inching towards 7th level. So, yesterday morning my son said he wanted to play more procedural generation D&D with his brother to put him over the top (he seriously only needs 600xp or so). But one thing led to another, and in the afternoon both boys  were clamoring for Star Wars d6 instead. 

Well, I had a general idea for an adventure but nothing written up, so I spent an hour or so writing down some notes and organizing things. My younger kept coming to check on me, wanting me to hurry up. I got done just before my wife had an early dinner ready to eat, so we didn't start right away. I did tell the boys that I'd give them an extra 7 points to spend on skills (including Force skills) since the original 7 left them pretty weak and not so well rounded. But we ate before I could get them to divvy up the skill points. 

After dinner, the boys disappeared into my older son's room to play Minecraft or Roblox. I edited their character sheets to make it easier to level up (so we could write dice codes in pencil instead of having them pre-printed on the sheets like I'd done earlier). 

Then, since the boys didn't come out to play when I called them, I turned on our new emulation box (been meaning to write a post about that) and played some Street Fighter II. Man, I used to be so good at that game as Chun Li and E. Honda, and competent with the other characters (yeah, 25 years or so ago, I know!). Gotta get back into fighting shape! I did take 2nd place in a local classic video game challenge at my buddy's bar a few years back by beating one guy at a Super Mario Brothers (NES) speed run challenge, then another guy in a round of Street Fighter II (SNES), but losing to my bar-owning buddy at TETRIS. E. Honda and Guile kept beating my ass (as Chun Li). Gotta get more practice in!

Anyway, the boys finally emerged, and I got them to divvy up the skill points. They each have 2 dice in all Force powers now, and a more rounded selection of general skills. So hopefully that will make the next session a lot easier. But by that time it was time to get them ready for bed. My younger boy cried, but I promised we'd play again soon. And I'm ready to roll this time, with an adventure prepped.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Gaming with the Boys in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

 Instead of more procedural D&D, the boys wanted to play some WEG d6 Star Wars today. Even though it's not the sort of game you even want to try procedural play with, I agreed despite not having anything planned. I had a fairly simple scenario cooked up in my head (a simple rescue mission). 

But then they threw the curve ball. Despite my older son really being into this Mandalorian bounty hunter game on ROBLOX these days, neither wanted to play their Mandalorian characters. They wanted to play jedi. Of course. And since I'd set my game in the Rebellion era, there are already to many jedi running around in the game. And I should have been prepared for this, since they did ask back in December if they could have jedi PCs.

But after a bit of discussion, we decided to roll up the new characters and play in an unconnected game, with an "anything goes" Star Wars universe. Completely cutting the strings from canon. If we want to have to outwit Dooku and battle droids one session, then tangle with Kylo Ren the next, sure, why not? The Empire, Rebellion, Galactic Republic, etc can all just coexist. Sorta like the RTS Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds (which we've played a bit). 

So my younger boy asked if he could play a "bulldog man" (yes, he's got a thing for bulldogs these days) jedi, and I said sure. We used the Minor Jedi template and made a few skill picks and some equipment purchases, and found a picture he liked online. 

My older boy decided he wanted a zabrak jedi, one with yellow markings and a yellow lightsaber. We used the Young Jedi template for him, and he's on a quest to get a kyber crystal for the yellow lightsaber he wants. 

That took quite a while, actually, because the boys decided to see what was on TV at the time (Men in Black III) and spent more time watching that than making decisions about their PCs. 

After dinner we played a little. I had Yoda send them on a quest to some ruins to look for kyber crystals. I meant to have them encounter some RP challenges along the way, but my 1st son asked for a combat, so I through some battle droids at them. Too many battle droids. Their game stats are much tougher than the way they fight in the movies! I dropped eight, but had them in two ranks and only the first rank was firing. 

Son #2 did try to be clever, trying to use telekinesis to attack them with his lightsaber from far away, but at beginning level, there just aren't enough dice in the pool for easy lightsaber combat. Son #1 had some success shooting with his blaster, damaging two droids, but then he took an unlucky hit and was incapacitated in one shot. Son #2's PC grabbed him and ran. 

I looked up the natural healing rules (neither had bought medpacs despite my recommendation), and noted that the zabrak would die if he rolled 8 or less. He rolled a 7. My son was pretty upset, but held it in pretty well. It was bedtime by then anyway, so we wrapped things up, I said it was just a training game, gave them some character points, and said we'd try again another time once I'd had some time to plan a proper adventure for them. 

d6 System is definitely NOT the sort of system where you just want to throw random monsters at characters, especially when they're just starting out!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Procedural Dungeon Crawl Results

Last night's game with the boys went pretty well. They both had a good time, and some good traits came out in my older boy that have been lacking in our online games. 

I didn't have the BECMI dungeon random encounter charts handy in printed form and didn't want to get my original books out, but I did have the AD&D Monster & Treasure Assortment handy (I've got it in pdf, and had printed it out). So I used that for creatures and treasures in the game. 

We dug out my Dragon Strike game, and when we got the game boards out, I also got out the trap cards to use for random traps. They didn't always make sense, and neither did the random monster rolls, but my 6-year-old didn't care, and my 13-year-old was happy to accept semi-plausible explanations to keep the game going. 

My method was to roll 1d6 in an area to determine if it was empty (1-2), had a trap (3), a monster (4-5) or something unusual/special (6), then roll a second d6 for possible treasure. Just like BX and BECMI dungeon stocking. If there was a monster or treasure, I rolled for it on the M&TA charts. If there was a trap, I drew a Dragon Strike trap card. If there was a special, I improvised.

My boys chose the "Town" board and I said it was a town that had been overrun with monsters (getting the idea from the old Gold Box Pool of Radiance game, something for another post soon). The PCs were asked to help clear the monsters out, and told they could keep any loot they recovered. 

My 13yo has a Half-Orc L6 Cavalier* named Calvin who rides a tamed tiger named Hobbes. Oh, and he got lucky and rolled a legit 18 Strength. 

My 6yo has a "Bulldog-Man" L3 Lark* named BulldogTV who rides a dragon horse (just like a regular horse only a wingless, breath weapon-less dragon) and has a henchman named Bulldog Bro, who is an alien.

*Cavaliers used to be my name for the paladin class in TSR, now it's a subclass of Fighter with no clerical ability. Larks are basically the Elf class from BX, except open to a few more races. And yes, the name is from Ultima Exodus.

When the game started, they went in by the drawbridge (bottom of the picture above), and checked out the two gatehouse guard rooms. The first, random die rolls indicated 12 giant centipedes. When they opened the door, Calvin tried to shut it, but I rolled randomly to determine that 9 escaped before he could do so. But with the sweep ability (1 attack per level vs 1HD or lower creatures) they didn't last long enough to do any damage. They checked out the other side, and random die rolls indicated a Hero, who of course I made an Evil Hero. But a reaction roll was Helpful (12!) so when they talked to him, something they initiated, I had him offer to go along and help (with a mind to steal some treasure along the way). Oh, and he had a +1 shield. 

Well, the boys said if he wanted to join he had to finish off the centipedes, which he offered to do. But due to the quirks of the dice, he got bitten and failed his save vs poison. So the boys took his magic shield and also (random roll) 1500cp. 

They went on to the fountain, which was an empty area (actually a trap with treasure, a cursed -1 sword). The trap card was an entangling magic rope, which Bulldog triggered, but avoided with a saving throw. He took the sword and gave it to his henchman (he already has a sword +1, +3 vs goblins). 

From the fountain plaza, they entered the house on the southwest side, which was trapped with a "jaws of death" bear trap, but again a saving throw by Bulldog avoided it. They decided to look inside for secret doors, and while looking, had a random encounter with four giant crab spiders. Bulldog's sleep spell took out three, while Calvin killed the unaffected one. 

The next building was on the southeast side of the plaza, and die rolls indicated six Warriors. They knocked on the door, and the warriors readied tables as cover and cocked their crossbows, but when the boys' PCs kicked the door in, they negotiated. The PCs offered the warriors the copper coins if they'd just leave town, and the warriors agreed. 

The building on the northeast of the plaza had another trap - a pit trap, this time Calvin sprang it, but again a saving throw avoided it. There was a pair of bags with 1250ep in them in this house. So they had some treasure again, and more valuable. 

On the building on the northwest side of the plaza, I rolled a special. I decided it was a magical hologram from a wizard asking whoever saw it to help free the town of monsters. A bit more interesting than a magic mouth, but basically the same effect. 

They headed west and had a random encounter with 6 dwarves. Neutral reaction roll. The players tried to recruit them, but a reaction roll suggested they'd rather not. So after swapping a bit of intel, the dwarves left. 

Finally they went to the central west house, cracked open the door, and peeked inside. Random rolls told me there were fire beetles in there, so I described the eerie red glow. A bit freaked out (and realizing it was getting close to bed time), my 13yo suggested they leave town with what little treasure they'd collected. My 6yo, also realizing it was close to bed time, demanded that they keep going. As Dad, I had to agree with my older boy, and we wrapped up the game. They each earned around 300xp. Bulldog TV also paid 900gp to have the curse removed from his henchman's sword after rejecting Calvin's suggestion to try and con someone into buying a "magic" sword.

This morning, taking my 6yo to school, he asked if we could continue the game every night. My older boy also told me last night that he had a lot of fun with it and wants to do it again. So I'd consider that a success. 

I've got some more maps and things we can use for visuals (they're important to my 6yo). He was a lot more engaged than when he tries to join my West Marches games. 

When I used to run West Marches face to face, my 13yo (10-11yo then) always had lots of creative ideas for encounters. Lately, online only, he's just not that into things and not very creative at all. Last night, he was all about non-combat solutions to problems when possible. I'm glad to see that back in his gaming again. 

The procedurally generated content wasn't the most coherent (as you would expect), but it definitely got the job done, and will allow me to run for the boys with very little prep. I may also try digging out a few of my old dungeons from the 80s/90s, making some battle mat size versions for them, and having a go with them as well.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dungeon Crawl Procedural

Last night I ran my West Marches game, and my second son, 6yo, had a lot of fun before he had to go to bed. This morning, he asked to play D&D again today. Well, we had some other plans (we did get in a game of the Dungeon! board game this morning, but that didn't fully scratch the itch), but now dinner has been ordered and is on its way. 

 After dinner, I'm going to pull out the old Dragon Strike game boards and use those for maps (6 year olds do better with solid visuals), and have them explore it with their WM characters. My older's PC is level 6, my younger is level 3, so I plan to use the 3rd level wandering monster tables and the BX/BECMI random stocking method when they enter any rooms/areas, and randomly generate treasure on the fly. 

I'll use Google searches to provide visuals for monsters encountered, too.

We'll see how it goes. Should be fun!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Ability Score Adjustments at Character Creation

 OD&D through BECMI uses a system of ability score adjustment where you can drop a score by 2 points to raise the Prime Requisite of your class by 1. I don't remember if AD&D does this as well. 

It's something we did from time to time back in the day, but a lot of the time we just played what we rolled. Or we did a swap of the highest rolled score for the PR of the class the player hoped to play, with no adjustments beyond that.

I didn't include it as an option in TSR, partly because of the rules I'm using for rolling scores. Players can choose to roll 3d6 six times and arrange the scores as they like. Or they can roll 4d6-L down the line. I feel like allowing players to monkey with the scores on top of that ruins the whole point of forcing players to make this choice. 

Anyway, one of my players was asking if he could do that the other day, and it got me thinking about the practice. 

I'm wondering how often players took advantage of this back in the old days. Or how often players take advantage of it today. Since there aren't a lot of mechanical effects tied to scores, it would make sense to try and bump the PR up for a character. This gets a bonus to XP and bonuses to hit/damage for Strength, bonus languages for Intelligence, bonuses to saving throws for Wisdom, and bonuses to AC and ranged combat for Dexterity. And since the rules state a score can't be dropped below 9 (average), you can't give yourself a penalty in these areas. 

I think it makes sense when rolling straight 3d6 down the line. You've probably got some scores that make you want to be a certain class, and then you can trade down scores your class doesn't benefit so much from to increase the one they do benefit from. 

I'm guessing it was intended to be used by most players, to get "more viable" PCs, but I don't have any evidence, hard or anecdotal, to back that up. Just a gut feeling. If anyone has some insight or just wants to share how you & your group(s) do it, feel free to comment.

Anyway, time to reconsider how I do ability score rolls, and see if I want to bring this back in my games. Or not.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Everybody was kung fu fighting

 Last Saturday evening, I went ahead and took the plunge. I modified my TSR class set up to include more martial arts action. Using Flying Swordsmen as a bit of a guide (plus some stuff I had done in TSR-East, and maybe a little bit of Chanbara that hadn't made it in yet), I came up with martial arts subclasses for the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User. The Thief already had one. 

Because of that, I got rid of the Monk as its own class. And the traditional "monk" abilities got divided up between the various subclasses. There isn't a direct analog to the typical Monk class now, but there are options to better emulate wuxia in the rules. To replace the Monk, I made a more standard Cleric/Thief hybrid which got the Darkstalker name I had previously as a subclass of Cleric. It's the Van Helsing/Simon Belmont/Vampire Hunter D class. 

For the Cleric, the subclass gets the Monk name. In addition to unarmed fighting and unarmored defense (using Dex score+BAB), the Monk gets resistance to ESP, charm, poison, disease, and so on as they gain levels. The Monk gets full clerical casting, but don't get to turn undead and don't get bonus spells for high Wisdom scores (something I'd imported from AD&D). They also use the Shaman spell list (AKA TSR-East spells, drawn from OA, FSRPG and Chanbara) instead of the normal Clerical list.

For the Fighter, the Martial Artist subclass focuses on combat, obviously. They get better unarmed damage than the other subclasses, and since their BAB goes up faster, will have better unarmored AC. They get healing (basically like Paladin lay on hands), and as they gain levels their unarmed strikes can damage creatures as if they were magical. 

The Magic-User's subclass draws on Flying Swordsmen and my old TSR-East Xia class (which was modeled on the BECMI Elf class). And it's still called the Xia. Of course they get unarmed damage and unarmored defense. The Xia has a lower Dex requirement than the other classes (11 compared to the 13 the others need), so while they get unarmored defense like the others, the possibly lower Dex and very slow BAB increases will mean they're not as well protected as the others. They gain the ability to reduce damage to the minimum value once per day per two levels. They get MU spells from the Geomancer list (again from TSR-East and its predecessors), but don't get 6th level spells. Instead, they get the Death Touch ability (for Fist of the North Star/Kill Bill fun!). Of course, the target of Death Touch can't have more than double the Xia's hit points or 15HD. And Xia use the standard d4 for HP. So I don't think it will be overpowered. One thing I may change is having it take the place of those 6th level spells, so they could use it once per day at 11th level, twice a day from 12th to 14th level, and three times a day at 15th level. Right now the rules just say once per day but I may modify this in the future. 

Oh, and if you're wondering, the Thief's Acrobat subclass has always had the unarmed damage and unarmored defense. Instead of Pick Pockets, they use those chances for Tumbling and leaping. Instead of Find/Remove Traps, they get Escape Artist at the same chances. They can also use Climb Sheer Surfaces as intended and for feats of balance. At higher level, they get to damage creatures with unarmed strikes as if magical, and at 10th level can make supernatural leaps. They don't get to read languages or cast spells from scrolls like a standard Thief, though.

Also for the Cleric, since the Darkstalker subclass was removed, I reinserted an idea I'd toyed with of a Necromancer subclass. They get the "control undead" feature instead of turn undead feature that the Master Set described for undead clerics. Otherwise they're just like normal. And yes, you can still be a normal Cleric and Chaotic. 

Also for the Fighter, I renamed the Knight subclass into the Cavalier subclass. No need to have a Knight and a Kensei (two Ks) when there's an established name in D&D lore already (and my previous TSR rules used Cavalier for the "paladin" class anyway). 

Finally, to balance out the Thief, which already had the Acrobat subclass, I reinserted the Yakuza from TSR-East. They're a standard Thief in most respects, but get magical tattoos at certain levels. They don't get to read languages or cast from scrolls, though. The tattoos give things like bonuses to Thief Skills or saving throws, resistance to energy damage, and a few other special abilities. 

So now the class structure of TSR (2021 revision) looks like this:  

Basic Classes [Subclasses]

Cleric [Druid (Yamabushi), Monk, Necromancer, Shaman]

Fighter [Cavalier (Samurai), Kensei, Martial Artist, Ranger]

Magic-User [Geomancer (Wu Jen), Illusionist, Wild Mage, Xia]

Thief [Acrobat, Ninja, Outlaw, Yakuza]

Advanced Classes

Assassin (Fighter/Thief hybrid)

Bard (Cleric/MU hybrid)

Darkstalker (Cleric/Thief hybrid)

Lark (Fighter/MU hybrid)

Paladin (Cleric/Fighter hybrid)

Warlock (MU/Thief hybrid)

I did almost all of that on Saturday. On Sunday and Monday I did a bit of tinkering and editing. Part of that included switching around which races can be which classes, and the max levels they can attain. That may be something for another post, however.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Monk-y business

 Just when I feel like I've got my TSR house rules for players finished, I get these thoughts. Looking at the 1E DMG (and the Mystic in the RC) got me to thinking...should the Monk be a basic class? Should I have five instead of only four? AD&D technically does that. The RC does as well, although it's always presented as optional there. 

One benefit would be that the Monk class doesn't really fulfill the role of a Cleric/Thief multiclass, so I could remake my Darkstalker idea (the Van Helsing/Belmont style undead/lycanthrope/demon hunting class) as the Cleric/Thief mashup class. Then the Monk could be its own thing. 

Another benefit would be that some cool subclasses for the Monk, to expand them beyond the whole Shaolin thing. Flying Swordsmen provides some ideas for that.

The drawback would be having to make another class out of whole cloth (well, not really, with 1E, RC, 3E and 5E as resources I can easily draw on, plus the 2E Complete Ninja's Handbook) to make it work. Not an impossible task by any means. But it will take some time and effort, and I'm not sure about the payoff. 

As I mentioned a while back, the Cleric/Thief is not a strong archetype in D&D. So do I really want to do all this work to make the Monk a 5th basic class, when it works fine in the niche it holds as an advanced class?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What does the Game Master need?

 The question placed as the title of my post is what's on my mind right now. My Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules for players are pretty much set, and ready for play testing to make sure I didn't include anything bone headed. So I'm working now on revising what I've got listed for the GM. 

In the past, I didn't really bother to codify things, since I was able to just use the BX/BECMI/RC rules on the DM side of things. But if I want to release this thing to the wild, it would be good to write up my own version of how to run the game. Besides, there are some things I do differently, and the rules for the players are assuming those differences. 

When I first started codifying things, they were basically just the bare bones essentials that you need at the table to run the game. Dungeon exploration routines, wilderness exploration routines, combat rules, and that was about it. But that's not enough. If I expect people to purchase the game, I need to provide more than that. I need to assume there might be some people for whom this is their first RPG, or at least their first old school D&D-based game. 

So, I came up with this breakdown for the Table of Contents. This is still subject to change, but right now these are the main sections that I'm thinking a GM would need to run the game. Oh, and if you're looking for the treasure tables and magic item descriptions, they're in the Bestiary and Treasury, not the GM's Guidebook. 

Table of Contents

The Basics


What You Need to Play

Game Terms

Dice Codes

Experience and Rewards

Example of Play

Running the Game

Dungeon Exploration

Wilderness Exploration

Social Exploration


High Level Games

Adjudicating Rules

Preparing for the Game

Adjusting Game Complexity and Tone

Character Creation

Player Character Abilities

Dungeon Creation

Home Town Creation

Wilderness Creation

NPCs and Factions

The Campaign World

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Baboons of Ravenloft

 Had an awesome session of my West Marches campaign last night. The players had gone to the edge of what I'd keyed already on the map in the previous session, but were on a mission to rescue the Rainbow Unicorn for Goldie the Fairy Princess (played by the daughter of a regular). So I'd spent some time turning a few simple notes on the location and creatures guarding the unicorn into a small dungeon. But I had a nagging suspicion that I should fill in some more hexes, so I spent part of the morning and part of the evening filling in some more regions just in case. 

When the game started, Goldie's player decided not to join us, so they left the unicorn in duress until another session. Goldie is hoping to rescue it, befriend it, and have it as a mount, and I'm all for that, as collecting pets is what keeps her interested in the game. 

Anyway, without Goldie, the players decided just to explore some more hexes and fill in some of the white space on the map. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I'd keyed more. But then they ended up exploring south-ish instead of north or further west, areas I'd keyed long ago. 

They finally entered a hex of the Whitebeard Mountains, a region they knew was there, but weren't exactly sure where they started or ended. They found the northernmost point, and in it a giant animated face on the side of the mountain -- The Living Stone Sage. After much debate about what to ask (like the location of PCs zapped away by the Deck of Many Things), they settled on asking it how to best defeat the guardians of the Rainbow Unicorn, and received a cryptic but useful answer. 

THEN they had a random encounter with some Stygian baboons. This is a creature that I think I got from the White Dwarf Creature Crucible book. Sort of an REH inspired souped up simian of a bygone age. They put them to sleep, slew three and tied up the fourth, hoping to use a recently acquired ring of animal control to have it do their bidding. I was waiting for them to try it, since the creature is more monster than animal (magic weapons needed to hit them) but when they did, I decided to allow it. 

In another hex, they discovered gothic iron gates in the Brooding Forest. The gates were inscribed with the words "Von Zarovich" and passing through would transport them to Castle Ravenloft. They decided to control the baboon and send it in. And various comments like "Oh, it will probably return as a vampire baboon" and "Ah, the children of the night. What beautiful music they Ah! Crikey! Monkey!" make me think, well of COURSE! The baboon will be back some day.

Another highlight of the evening was a random encounter with a treant. Since this is the moody Brooding Forest, it was a very emo/goth treant. Queeg, the party's half-elf magic-user/thief, is also very emo and they got along splendidly, although lots of comments from other PCs like "Hey, keep your chin up, champ!" annoyed it to no end. They later encountered the treant again, and it pointed them in the direction of an area they'd been searching for for several months (real time and game time), a dragon burial ground. After defeating the skeletal dragon guardians (one of them one-shotted by Queeg with a crossbow bolt +1 undead slaying), they scooped up their treasure and moved on to find a desecrated chapel guarded by a demon, which they destroyed.

Finally, they holed up in a cozy little alpine bungalo they'd found to rest up. 

Not much combat, but lots of exploring, lots of RP, a moderate amount of treasure recovered, and a ton of laughs during this session. 

Also, after the session (this morning, actually, not right away) I shared my revised TSR house rules with the group. Waiting to see what people think of them.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Star Wars Rebels

 I finished up Clone Wars a week or so ago. I enjoyed it, although the series overall had its ups and downs. That ending, though, that was very well done. 

Today, I started in on Rebels. And since I had plenty of free time (well, I made time, I have other things I could be doing...), I'm already halfway through the first season. As you can probably tell from that, I'm liking it more than Clone Wars. Maybe it's the lack of "recaps" that aren't always recaps. Maybe it's the single through-line of a story instead of the anthology but heavily invested in a few characters style of Clone Wars. Whatever the reason, I'm wondering why I didn't watch this years ago when it was on Disney Channel. I saw the ads for it. My son was into Disney Channel, and Star Wars. But we just didn't find the time to watch. Anyway, fingers crossed the rest of the series keeps up the fun storytelling. 

It may just be the kick I need to get my Star Wars RPG game going again.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins (TSR) 2021

 Other than a few edits and tweaks here and there, I think I've got my 2021 version of TSR, or at least the players' rules, done. 

I made a few more changes since my last post on it. 

Races got switched around. Instead of the Asian mythology inspired races being variants of the Tolkien inspired races, I made them all their own thing. Only I got rid of Spirit Born, collapsing the best of their special abilities with the Changeling special abilities to have one race. Really, their fluff and most of the mechanics were identical for them. Might as well get rid of one. I also made a bit more variety among the other Asian races as far as what classes they can take, and the max level for each. 

So there are now 12 races. I listed Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling as the basic options, and all the rest (Changeling, Dokkaebi, Gnome, Half-Orc, Koropokuru, Kumiho, Tengu, Vanara) as optional demi-human races. 

Classes have been set. No big changes, just a few small tweaks to make things interesting or different. 

Basic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief. 

Optional Subclasses: 

Cleric -- Darkstalker, Druid, Shaman

Fighter -- Kensei, Knight, Ranger

Magic-User -- Geomancer, Illusionist, Wild Mage

Thief -- Acrobat, Ninja, Outlaw

Advanced Classes: Assassin (F-Th), Bard (Cl-MU), Lark (F-MU), Monk (Cl-Th), Paladin (Cl-F), Warlock (MU-Th). I don't have rules for allowing subclass substitutions for the advanced classes. That might be something to put in the GM's book. 

In addition, I combined the equipment lists for both versions. The only thing I left out were the special ninja gear (basically copy-pasted from Chanbara). I may put them in the GM book, and let each GM decide which items to make available to players.

I also combined the spell descriptions, adding all the Shaman (Mudang) and Geomancer (Wu Jen/Wushi) spells that weren't already Cleric or Magic-User spells. Previously, I had Druids limited to 5th level spells, but now they get up to 6th, so I rearranged their spell list a little bit, too. 

Finally, I had rules for high level characters building castles and getting followers and whatnot at the end of my original document, but I don't think my players ever read it. So I put all that in with each class description instead, and modified versions for the advanced classes. In addition, I had a few notes about magic item creation. I've expanded them a bit, and still may edit them a bit more before I finalize this and show it to my players. 

I plan to let my players switch up their PCs to the new rules if they want, or just continue to play the rules they made them under if they find that a hassle, and when they make a new character use the new rules.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Magic Item Distribution in BX/BECMI and expected progression of power

 I was musing on the fact that when we were young, playing D&D, some of the iconic magic items of the game seemed a lot more common than they do these days. Maybe it's because we were pre-teens/teens, fudging the treasure results to skew for more items. Maybe we were selecting the "cool" stuff instead of relying on random rolls when magic treasure popped up. But maybe it was an artifact of the way the game is structured in Basic-Expert-(Companion-Masters) play that is different from AD&D, RC, or any WotC edition. 

What am I talking about? Pull out your Basic Set book (Basic DM book if Mentzer) and open it to the magic item tables. What do you see? For each category of item, there are six to ten items that can result. And some, especially the Miscellaneous Items, are some nice finds: elven cloak and boots, bag of holding, gauntlets of ogre power, crystal ball, rope of climbing, helm of telepathy and medallion of ESP. Sure, there's also the bag of devouring. But a lot of those items are pretty nice finds, especially at low level. 

Similarly with rings, we get animal control, invisibility, protection +1, water walking, fire resistance, and the cursed ring of weakness. 

For Wands/Staves/Rods, we get wands of enemy detection (meh), magic detection (nice!), paralyzation (pretty good), staff of healing (YES!), snake staff (cool, but not so great in play), and rod of cancellation (really powerful). 

Potions and scrolls are consumables, but still, with only eight types of potion available, healing potions are a lot more common, in particular.

And then there are the magic weapons and armor, but that's not so different as you go up in power. Just the attendant special abilities can expand, and the plusses can go up. 

Anyway, rings, wand/staff/rod, and miscellaneous items are what got me thinking about this. When we were young, starting with only the Basic Set, this made these types of items much more common. There were multiple bags of holding, staves of healing, gauntlets of ogre power, rings of fire resistance and invisibility, etc. Going from 0 to 8000xp (more or less) with only these options meant lots of chances to find these particular magic items. And so these items were more common in the campaign. 

If you start with the expansive lists of AD&D or the RC, your chances of finding those gauntlets of ogre power to boost your Fighter's meager Strength, or the Elven Cloak to make your Thief sneak better, or the staff of healing to help the Cleric maintain everyone's hit points are a LOT lower. Even just the modest expansion of items from the Expert Set makes these items much less common. 

Of course, there's lots of other good stuff that can be found. Some better than the items here. But some not better (and I'm not talking about the cursed items even). 

You're not likely to roll up a Fighter with 18 Strength. If you're rolling down the line, no switches or point adjustments, you've got a 1 in 216 chance to get that +3 to hit/damage. Placing or switching scores, or dropping a score by 2 to increase PR by 1 obviously betters the odds. 

And the chance of rolling gauntlets of ogre power is 1 in 400. But, that's a 1 in 400 chance checked EVERY time there's a magic item in a treasure hoard. How many treasure hoards with magic items are there likely to be by the time a PC accumulates 8000xp? Quite a few. So maybe the odds aren't better than getting an 18 Str at char gen, but it seemed like good enough odds when we were young that you'd find a pair somewhere along the way. Again, my perception of this could be skewed because we were kids and didn't always follow the rules or stick to what was rolled. 

But I'd be interested to run a new campaign some time in the future, starting at 1st level, and only using the Basic tables for magic items until the party had at least two 4th level characters and see how it shakes out. I have a feeling at least one fighter will have the gauntlets, the thief will have elven boots or cloak or rope of climbing, the cleric will have a staff of healing, and the magic-user a wand of detect magic. The party will probably have a few nice rings as well. And that will make a difference in how encounters play out.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Tiers of Complexity

 I'm almost done with my new versions of character classes for TSR. I just have the Warlock (Magic-User/Thief hybrid class) left to go. And then a few tweaks to keep certain options viable and prevent one from being the "go to" option. At least as I see it. How they end up in play will remain to be seen, as I don't know if my West Marches folks will go for another rules switch. [Plus I was just bitching about Jeremy changing the rules all the time in the weird body-horror fantasy game he's running.]

Anyway, the thing I'm kind of proud about with these rules is the modular nature I'm building into it. 

A really basic game might have only humans, who can be Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief. 

A slightly more complex game might still be human-only, but add in subclasses.

Or human-only, but adding in the advanced classes.

Or adding one set of demi-humans (Euro-Tolkien, or Asian fantasy), but keeping the basic four classes.

Dial up the complexity a bit more, you get humans & demi-humans, with the four basic classes with subclasses allowed, or four basic plus the advanced classes. 

[A few more tiers exist, adding in certain combinations but not others, like limited demi-humans but all classes/subclasses, or allowing some subclasses/advanced classes but not others, etc.]

Most advanced would be to allow all demi-humans, all classes and subclasses, and letting the advanced classes choose subclasses of their basic class counterparts. The big kitchen sink approach. This would be 13 races and if we count each subclass as a class of its own, we get 112 potential class combinations. Some of the advanced class options won't work too well together. The Monk (Cleric/Thief) would lose much of its monkishness if it were a Darkstalker/Outlaw instead of a unique Cleric/Acrobat, but that still might be a cool option for some people. Likewise, a Bard that's Druid/Geomancer (Wu Jen) might feel off stylistically. 

I think the ideal would be to allow a select set of demi-humans (and feel free to mix Tolkein with Asian, why not have Elves and Dokkaebi but no Halflings or Kumiho?), each base class with its subclasses, and the advanced classes without subclass substitutions. But if someone came to me with a concept that called for an advanced class with variation, I'd consider it. Also, I'd encourage DMs to tweak the advanced classes to fit their campaign. If they want more Asian influence, Bards and Paladins should use the Shaman spells instead of normal Cleric spells, and Bards, Larks and Warlocks should use the Geomancer spells instead of the normal Magic-User spells. 

Anyway, it's customizable and easily dialed down or dialed up in complexity/options. If I ever get this in a publishable state, I'd likely give away a "Bare Bones" PDF for free, and then charge for the more detailed version.

Friday, March 5, 2021

You got kung fu chocolate in my sword & sorcery peanut butter!

 Yeah, age (and nationality) test in the post title. Plenty of my readers are old enough (and American enough) to get the reference, but maybe not all. 

So I continue to tool around with my TSR compilation rules. After chatting with JB in the previous post's comments, I took a look at the 1E Monk class, and Gary's description, which basically said it's a non-spellcasting cleric with thief skills. And in typical AD&D fashion, it's way more complicated than it needs to be. 5 attacks every 4 rounds? Seriously? Fighters getting 2 every 3 rounds with weapon specialization (or being 7th level without it) is ridiculous enough. And of course there is the mixed bag of special abilities. 

I hadn't read through that version of the Monk in a long time. I played one in my cousin's campaign back in our high school days, and when I ran an OA game after college, one of my players was a Monk. But it had been a while. And my ideas about Monks were really colored by what they are in 3E/Pathfinder and 5E. In those editions, they're basically variant Fighters with some skills that let them be a little like a thief. Of course, the Rogue in WotC editions is also really just a variant Fighter with more out of combat utility, so there's that. 

Anyway, to get to the point, today I decided to return the Monk to the Cleric/Thief slot in my symmetrical class construction system. Instead of the really odd archetype of the Half-Orc who can pick your pocket after he heals you, and unlock a trap after turning some undead (I mean, I love this, it's so random that half-orcs can do this in AD&D), the Monk is maybe the better fit, and more organic (by that I mean what the players will expect a version of D&D to have). 

I even wrote up a very simplified version of the class that I'm pretty happy with. Acrobat is already one of the Thief subclasses I've written up, so it uses the Thief-Acrobat skill tables (each Thief subclass gets slightly different skills and slightly different % numbers). I'd also already given the Acrobat unarmed fighting ability and AC bonuses despite not wearing armor (my previous version of TSR had combined the UA Thief-Acrobat and the 3E/5E Monk concepts), so it was a more natural fit than a standard Thief. None of my Cleric subclasses really fit, though, so following 1E and the RC (and later editions to an extent), I made a Monk class that is a lot simpler. It doesn't cast Vancian spells, and most of its magical/mystical abilities are self only (I did give them "lay on hands" healing instead of self healing, but that may change). 

They are the only non-Fighter class to get multiple attacks, but that can only be done with unarmed fighting, not with weapons. And they only get 2 per round, while high level Fighters get 3. Hopefully they will do alright in a fight, but not overpower the Fighter. 

Oh, and my Darkstalker concept (Van Helsing/Belmont family style vampire/monster hunter) will become a Cleric subclass, the way it probably should have from the beginning.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Symmetry and Organic Elegance

 Now that I've got the revised races for my update of TSR done (if these things are ever truly done), I'm working on the classes. 

My love of symmetry and structural elegance had me thinking that I would have the four basic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief. Then I'd have six "advanced" classes that serve multiclass functions the way the BX/BECMI Elf class does. I think I mentioned this before. 

So, I've got a Cleric-Fighter (Paladin), Cleric-Magic-user (Bard), Cleric-Thief (see below), a Fighter-Magic-User (Lark - taking the name from Ultima 2 but it's basically the Elf), Fighter-Thief (also see below), and Magic-User-Thief (Warlock). 

 Base classes go to level 15. Advanced only to level 10, but cost more XP so end up maxing out around the same place in the end game.

Some of the advanced classes obviously have easy concepts to map to existing D&D classes. Some have no easy analog or else several fit the bill.

The cleric-thief is sort of this odd fish. In AD&D Half-Orcs and Half-Elves (I misremembered) can have that multiclass combo, and it has some interesting abilities, but it's not really a strong archetype on its own. I've got an idea for a Van Helsing/Belmont style vampire hunter, or a monk (but without martial arts and mystical special abilities it's far from the standard monk archetype). 

The Fighter-Thief is the opposite. It could be a Ranger. An Assassin. A Monk. Which should it be? 

Making exactly 10 classes, 4 basic and 6 advanced that evenly combine the base 4 isn't quite working out. Should I abandon the symmetrical elegance for organic elegance of typical D&D editions?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gnomes make the cut!

 Following up on my post from yesterday, I dropped the Half-Elf and Dragonborn. But I realized I can keep Gnomes. 

I decided that for each standard demi-human race, I can map one TSR-East race: 

Dwarf = Koropokkuru

Elf = Tengu

Halfling = Vanara

Half-Orc = Dokkaebi

Gnome = Kumiho

Changeling = Spirit Born

 There is still some fiddling to do, especially since some of the alternate races may have slightly different class selections than the standard, and definitely different abilities (halflings hide, vanara climb, for example), but in general, they more or less match up with the types of classes or themes I'd like for each race.

Also, I'll be able to break the rules down into layered options. 4 basic classes. Each will have optional (at the DM's discretion) subclasses presented. 6 advanced classes, which are basically the 2 class multiclass options of the basic 4 classes.   Each advanced class will have a subclass that toggles them between "Western" and "Eastern" versions. Still working on names for some of these. I have names, but I'm not certain I've got them all down right yet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Done with the Half-Elf

 The title says it all. Do we really need half-elves as a playable race in D&D? Actually, what I mean is, do we need a mechanically distinct half-elf race in D&D? This is something I had in my house rules several years ago -- just play an elf or a human and style it as such, but then revised to make half-elves their own thing again. This was part of the fallout of switching a campaign mid-stride from 5E back to Classic. Some players had Half Elf characters, so I figured I'd better write up a version of them to suit my BECMI style house rules. 

At the same time, I added Dragonborn (mostly because at the time my son was enamored of them, he's since moved on to Half Orcs, a race I'm good with keeping around actually) and Changelings which are sort of like 5E's Tieflings but less explicitly goth, and a bit more Grimm/Andersen. 

Since I seem to be gearing up to revise the TSR rules yet again, and collapse both the "regular" and "East" rules into one set, I'm considering the benefits of each typical D&D race. 

Half-Elves don't make the cut. Players can easily style their PC as one if they like. But mechanically, I'll just make them play either a Human with elfy role play, or an Elf with humany role play. That's much more in line with the Tolkienian original idea anyway, where the half-elven could choose to have the fate of the Eldar (elves) or the Edain (humans), and once chosen, that was it. 

As for the other races, I'll probably keep Changelings, especially since they fit well with the Spirit Born in TSR-East. I'll collapse them into one race. Dwarves, Gnomes, and Koropokkuru will also likely just be one race as well. Or more realistically, Gnomes will just be gone. There have been some gnomes in the game, and early on some illusionists, but not much interest in either recently.

Nate is having fun running a Dokkaebi (Korean version of the Japanese oni) Shaman in my West Marches game, but I'll likely drop that race, too. I put it in for the Korean influence to balance a bit of the Japanese and Chinese influence of the game, but I'm not happy with the mechanics I gave them. Or maybe I'll just make them a pallet swap of the Half-Orc? Right now they're a bit more magical. 

So the line-up will probably be something like this (TSR-East races in parentheses): 


Changeling (Spirit Born)

Dwarf (Koropokkuru)

Elf (Kumiho) 


Half-Orc (Dokkaebi)



Or who knows, maybe I'll follow through on my threat to go back to race-as-class, and like in BX and BECMI, demi-humans will basically be Fighters or else a unique multiclass combination. Probably not, but it's still a possibility. 

More likely, I'll keep race and class separate, but make "multiclass" classes like the BX/BECMI Elf instead of allowing AD&D style multiclassing. Multiclassing can be a headache anyway.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A small paradigm shift

 This isn't an original idea of mine, I'm sure I read it on someone else's blog years ago. I have no idea whose blog I read it on, so I can't give credit, but I'll at least admit up front it's not something original. 

I've been reading Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. Over the weekend I read the chapter on game balance. It got me thinking of several things, but this was one that especially stuck in my head. 

In OD&D, the only real reward for high ability scores was a bonus to XP, that represented the aptness of a high ability score towards the chosen class. Then supplements and later editions started adding other bonuses for high ability scores. Yet, even though there were now other bonuses of high ability scores, the XP bonuses have remained, at least through 1E and BECMI. I don't have the books handy to check if they were still in 2E and don't remember off hand. They were definitely absent from 3E forward. 

Strength gives bonuses to hit and damage in melee, and to feats of strength like opening doors, bend bars/lift gates. The specifics and numbers vary, but Fighters get a bonus to their main function in added effectiveness, AND faster progression. 

Intelligence gives bonus languages, and in some editions additional spell power (more spells learnable, greater chance to learn a spell, etc.). And for Magic-Users, also faster progression.

Wisdom gives a bonus to saves vs spells, and in certain editions bonus spells to Clerics. And Clerics also then benefit from faster progression. 

Dexterity gives bonuses to ranged combat, AC, sometimes initiative, and in some editions bonuses to Thief skills. And Thieves of course get the bonus to progression.

But then, if we're playing in an edition that rewards high ability scores in this way, especially in editions like AD&D 1E that give more benefits for high scores, playing a character with average ability scores is a double whammy. You're less effective at your class's niche, and you progress more slowly. 

What if that was changed? What if the 10% bonus to XP was for playing a character with AVERAGE prime requisite? 

This small change would shake up a lot. It would add a new type of choice to character creation, especially when rolling for ability scores down the line. If you really want to play a certain class but don't roll high stats in that Prime Requisite, instead of point shifting, you would have some incentive to still play that class. 

By the way, I did consider the effects of giving a 5% bonus for an average PR, and 10% bonus for a below average score, but I think that would be taking it a bit too far. I still think character classes should play to type somewhat. A weak fighter or a dumb MU should not be seen as a good choice. But a choice between an average Strength high Intelligence Fighter who isn't quite as optimal in combat but levels a little faster or a typical Magic User with plenty of languages and spells in the spellbook but with standard progression is much more interesting. 

I haven't decided to try and implement this into my games yet. Since I run Classic D&D, there aren't as many bonuses for high scores, so this might only be a balancing option for Fighters (and demi human classes), with it giving too much advantage to the other classes to play a character with an average score over a high one. But it's an interesting idea to toy around with.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

What to Include

 It's been a while since I've posted. Partly because I'm working on my next academic paper. Partly because there just hasn't been much gaming related stuff to write about. West Marches continues (with another casualty last session, and nearly a few more -- 5th level is still not invulnerable!). Star Wars is still on the back burner. I'm still futzing around with East Marches when I have some spare time. 

And that's where I get my topic today. For East Marches, I have a hex map with 120 keyed locations. The map is 22 by 34 hexes, so there are a total of 748 hexes. That means only 16% of the map will have something detailed in it. I hadn't planned it that way. When I was creating the map, I just started plopping down icons for caves, settlements, ruins, strongholds, holy sites, and special locations fairly randomly. That ended up being about one keyed location for every six hexes. And that leaves plenty of empty space for DMs who would want to add their own locations to the mix. 

Anyway, I've given a title to all 120 locations, and have some ideas and notes for a quarter of them so far, but the notes are still pretty general. And I'm thinking now is the time to map and stock these locations. Most will probably be of the "one page" or "5-room dungeon" type write-ups, with a few bigger locations here and there.

So, that brings me to the title of this blog post. What to include in each keyed location?

Obviously, some will be fairly traditional dungeons. They'll need a map, encounter area entries, monster stats, treasures, traps, hazards. 

Others are places that could be dungeons, or could be resources, like settlements. They need NPCs, lists of resources that PCs can access there, and of course stats for the residents and treasures, in case the PCs go murder-hobo on them. 

Finally, some are just odd locations. They may or may not need maps. They may or may not contain monsters, traps, or treasures. They're the grab bag of encounter areas. 

A few things I need to remember to include in each keyed area's description are: 

  • environmental features to make the area distinct
  • motivations for monsters and NPCs
  • interesting cartography for dungeons
  • contingency plans for the inhabitants
  • connections to other locations on the map

The last one is, I think, the most important. For a wilderness crawl, there should be plenty of clues leading from one interesting area to another. This is something I've often failed at in my current West Marches game. My players have been really good about pushing the borders, wanting to fill in the white spaces on the map. To up my game, though, I should prepare more links and clues between locations. It will give the area more of a lived in feeling, and will provide hooks for future adventures.

Yes, this post is mainly just me getting this written down so I can refer back to it later. But it's also a benchmark I can use to judge if the adventure is good enough or not, once I get it written.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

New (old) Projects

 I'm sitting here at my desk at work, taking a break from research, and fiddling around with game stuff. Thinking about what I could do to add some new content to my Hidden Treasure Books store.

I'm still making slow progress on my East Marches megamodule. I have ideas for most of the 120 keyed locations on the map, and the ones I have left to decide on are in the farthest region, which will be for Name Level PCs. I plan to recycle a few small locations from earlier games I'd run of Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara, plus some new ones. The first region (for 1st to 3rd level PCs) has 14 encounter areas keyed on the map. Once I get those areas done and flesh out the home base a bit more, I'll release it as the first installment. That should give me more motivation to keep working on the other four regions (for levels 3-5; 5-7; 7-9; 9+ respectively) and get each installment out sooner rather than later. Once all the installments are done, I'll also be putting it together in a comprehensive package. 

So while I'm doing that, I'm also fiddling around with my TSR and TSR-East homebrew rules. Jeff is rolling up another PC, and was asking if he could have a multiclass with one class from the regular TSR and the other from TSR-East. I hadn't really given that much thought. In fact, TSR-E doesn't even have multiclassing rules yet. So that's something else to work on. And if I'm going to better integrate the rules, I should finally figure out how I want to do the "thiefy" skills. Thieves, Assassins and Acrobats get % based skills, while the Ninja and Yakuza have x in 6 or x in 10 skills. 

I've also still got the idea in my head that instead of selecting class and race, there should only be classes, and each class has sub-classes/kits/archetypes to choose from, and demi-human versions are subclasses. For example, if you're a Fighter, you can be a normal (human) Fighter, or you could choose to be a Ranger or Dwarf Fighter, for example. Then TSR-E would just be adding new sub-class options like Ronin and Tengu Warrior to the base classes. That's a lot of work for very little real gain, though, so I'll probably just keep it as it is now with lots of classes, and races separate. 

I am also working on my DM side rules for TSR-East, and realized that I should give them an edit to make them generic to TSR. Anything traditionally European or Asian can be in separate TSR-East and TSR-West players books and monster/treasure books, if I ever publish this thing. [I was getting some pressure from players to run a kickstarter or something to get this out.

Oh, and I looked through my old Caverns & Cowboys game from a few years back. The play testing on it seemed to work well enough, although we didn't really put the magic system through its paces. I think I might try to find some time to go through it once more (there were a few things players pointed out I could add) and get it up as a cheap PDF/POD game. 

So I'm looking at plenty of gaming-related stuff to work on this year. We'll see how much time I end up with to do these things. C&C is probably easiest, I just need to make a few tweaks, then format it and add in art (which I've got some PD images saved, and Jeremy Hart has done some mock-ups of potential pieces I could commission from him). But at the moment it's the project I'm least enthused about. 

Ghost Castle Hasegawa, the first adventure I made to play test Chanbara, also is in need of a small edit, then formatting, and art insertion. I should get that done, soon, too. Should, I say, but will I? I've been sitting on it for several years now.

Monday, January 4, 2021


 I started work on East Marches again over the weekend. I did a bit of editing to the map (fixing a few errors in numbering, recoloring to make it easier on the eyes on screen but still looking good printed). I also went through and organized the type and terrain of each encounter area on the map. I had used symbols for each type of encounter, and colors for terrain -- but I also have a classic B&W map with the symbols used by BX/BECMI maps too. In my notes, I jotted down each along with the number for the encounter. 

Now, I remembered having gone through and brainstormed ideas for what to put in the encounters for the first difficulty band (up to 6 hexes from the home base). They included a name, ideas for monsters, types of treasures, and connections. But I couldn't find it anywhere. I figured it must have been thrown out. So last night, I jotted down some ideas for the first two zones, very basic ones. 

Today at work I found a pocket notebook in my office, and looking inside, there it was. I'd actually made notes for the same areas in the first two zones many months ago. 

So, now I've got two sets of ideas for each encounter in these first two zones. One set is more detailed, but looking over them, I will probably save some for later zones. Also, there are some similarities among the two lists, although not always at the same locations. 

So, now I get to go through both and evaluate which ones to keep, which to move to further areas out, and which I can drop. I think this is going to be sort of fun. 

I'm also going to try and keep the module as system agnostic as possible, so that I can run it with TSR-East, Chanbara, Flying Swordsmen (maybe)
, AD&D OA, Ruins & Ronin, or what have you.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Star Wars! Give me those Star Wars!

In the last three weeks or so, the boys and I have watched Episodes 4, 7, 8, and 9. [Plus Ender's Game -- which while watching, my six year old, upon seeing Col. Graff, commented, "He looks like Han Solo!" and he was right!]

Also, the boys have been heavily into Star Wars themed games on ROBLOX. Yesterday, asking me about various SW games on computer, I mentioned that I used to play Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds a lot. And I still have the disks. So at their urging we loaded it up and I showed it to them. 

Needless to say, they loved it and wanted to play it, too. In fact, they wanted to play it together. So I found it for sale on for $2 per copy, and got us each one. And this morning we played together. 

I set it up for all three of us to be allied against three Easy mode NPCs. My 6-year-old really enjoyed it at first, just tooling around and experimenting with building stuff and controlling his workers. My 12-year-old was busy building up his forces, but not advancing his Tech level, and when the NPCs got up to Level 3 and attacked, he was at a loss. 6yo got frustrated and rage quit (but came back a little later after he'd calmed down, and I'd sent all my forces to rescue his base). 

In the end, we won thanks to my superior hovertank/droideka/bounty hunter with some air support strategy. 

12yo spend some time this afternoon with the tutorial mode and was full of questions about strategy and tactics all evening. 6yo watched the tutorial play, and should probably do it too, with some adult supervision and guidance. 

We still need to watch Episode 1, and then Rogue 1 and Solo. 

I'm nearly through Season 2 of the Clone Wars on my lunch break viewing. In fact, I'll probably wrap it tomorrow (Monday) and go on to Season 3. Will rewatch select portions of it with the boys later. Not because there's anything in it I think they shouldn't see, just because it's the kind of show where you don't have to watch the whole thing. 

Anyway, as can be seen, Star Wars fever is strong in this household. [And my boys have a healthy critical eye to J.J.'s work as it compares to that of Favreau/Filoni.]