Friday, December 31, 2021

Analyzing Prince Pt 1

Today, I'm wrapping up 2021 by starting my series of posts discussing the points Prince of Nothing brought up on his blog regarding the value/benefit of old school D&D play compared to both newer forms of play and the artpunk movement. And of course, we need to start with his initial statement of why all this even matters:

0. The resurgence and longevity of the oldschool playstyle is no mere happenstance but an indication that there is something fundamental to its merits which modern TTRPGs largely fail to capture.

On its surface, there seems nothing to argue or quibble over. It's an opinion. But, it's worded as a fact, so let's take a deeper look at it and what it means. Or at least my interpretation of it. Feel free to disagree!

Have people continued to play older versions of D&D all the past nearly 50 years? Yes. That's a fact. It can't be denied. And I'm talking about people who started with the old woodgrain box sets of OD&D and still prefer that edition. Sure, they have probably tried other editions of D&D. Probably other RPGs. But they keep returning to OD&D. The same with 1E AD&D and the various box sets of Classic D&D. 

I'm one of the people who tried lots of stuff, still plays other games/versions, but prefers older D&D to newer. And IMO, yes, there's just something to the older editions that resonates with me more than the newer ones. The first question is, what is it?

Personally, I think it's something I've actually seen quite a few people mentioning lately. Old school D&D is focused on treasure. Gold = XP. It's not classes and levels. Not Vancian magi. Not the tropes. For sure not alignment. Gold = XP. That's it.

Gold = XP provides the impetus for GAME PLAY. I was just talking to my son last night about various RPGs. One member of our group wants to run another Black Hack family game this weekend. But in those games, we get leveled up after every X game sessions. Doesn't matter if we're sitting around town chatting with NPCs for 3 hours, or risking our lives in some gods-forsaken hellhole fighting monsters. We'll level up after X number of sessions. So why are we mucking around risking death? We should be sitting around playing cards with Dieter the Town Gambler all session, or hitting on the barmaids/stable boys, or wandering around town just seeing what's there. Do that for enough sessions to level up. THEN maybe go fight some monsters. And just why are we fighting the monsters anyway? Because like Mt. Everest, they're there? There isn't even XP for killing them like there is in 5E! 

XP for treasure gives us a reason to go adventuring. It's a goal everyone shares. And it drives play. THAT is the "something fundamental to its merits" that Prince of Nothing is talking about. Game play always has a default motive for when nothing else is motivating play.

But there's a second question we need to ask. If that quality is so fundamental to old school play, and other games/editions fail to include it, why have the vast majority of gamers moved on to newer editions of D&D and/or other RPGs entirely? 

Well, the answer to that is quite simple. Gold = XP is definitely a merit of old school play. Having a default motive to fall back on is nice. But it's not the only motive of play, and isn't a universal motivator. And for some people, the motive to play is to EXPERIENCE. They want to get into the head of their PC (especially if that PC is very different from themselves). They want to explore strange landscapes and social situations. They want to be taken out of the everyday. That is what the artpunk movement is targeting. I think it's also a big draw of a lot of the indie/storygames crowd. And also a big appeal of games like 5E and Pathfinder, where the number of fantasy races allowed keeps growing and growing and human PCs become the oddity rather than the norm. 

And I'm not saying these are the only two motives of play. I'm sure there are many more. But since Prince posted his list of axioms as a response to the popularity (or at least high sales volume and critical acclaim) of artpunk products in the OSR, that's the only other one I think we need to discuss right now. 

So on this statement of intent, I agree with the opinion being shared, but don't think it is quite as concrete as Prince's wording makes it seem. At least as I read it, there is an unstated "And this is why old school D&D is better."

I'm happier with my boiled down version: 

0. Older D&D has merit as a game.

It's stating the opinion in a way that people can, and will, still disagree with, but it's not implying something lesser about other games or newer editions that don't share the same merits. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

It's been a week since I saw the movie. I wanted some time to think about it, but also figured it would be hard to talk about it without spoilers. So I delayed writing this. 

Is there cursing in the movie? Yes. Similar to previous Matrix movies. Aside from that, the end battle scene has some disturbing elements to it, so I'm glad I went to see it with only my teenage son, not my 1st grader. Parents, you might want to see this before taking young kids to see it, and decide for yourself.

OK, on to the review. Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? Not quite. It was definitely entertaining. It wasn't as philosophical/preachy/talky as the previous Matrix sequels, and the plot was much more direct and easy to follow. That was both good, and bad in some ways. Overall, I was entertained. It was a fitting sequel, and either serves as a fun post-script to the original trilogy, or as a potentially interesting jumping off point for non-Neo-centric Matrix productions in the future. 

The acting was good overall. Keanu and Carrie-Anne were great. They really slipped back into the roles well. Most of the rest of the cast were also well done, especially as some of the actors were constrained by how previous actors had portrayed certain characters in the original trilogy. The action was exciting and usually easy to follow along with. Some cool bullet-time special effects and what not. It's the Matrix. It was what you expect in that regard. CGI and special effects also were well done. The plot was clever in some areas, a bit lame in others, and there are a few plot holes. 

Worth seeing? If you're a fan of the original trilogy, or even just of the first movie? Yes. Fan of cyberpunk or PKD style psychological sci-fi? Yes. Tired of media properties that are just relying on nostalgia to get you to spend money on their new movies? Go ahead and skip this one until it's on a streaming service. They are clever at winking and nodding to the audience about this, but that's not worth the ticket price just for that.

----------------SPOILERS BELOW------------------------

OK, gonna give everyone some space to avoid spoilers on the screen, then discuss some specifics of the film that I liked and disliked. 


Alright then. Here we go. 

The Setup: I kinda liked how they had us return to The Matrix. The new Matrix contains all the events from the trilogy as an in-universe video game designed by Thomas Anderson. Neat idea, and it allowed the cheeky scenes where they make fun of the fact that they're making another sequel that doesn't need to be made just because they know it will make money (and WB will eventually do it without them anyway if they don't do it). Also, the "history" of the Machine Civil War was a great take to move the plot forward. If The Architect's faction had remained in control of the machines, this wouldn't have happened.

Characters: Like I said above, Neo and Trinity felt right. Not exactly the same, but that should be expected. Niobe's heel turn shouldn't have been unexpected, really, but I was surprised by it. Of course she comes around in the end, much like her arc in the trilogy. New Morpheus was OK, but kinda got lost in the second half of the film. Once Neo was made aware of the new Matrix that he was in, New Morpheus's role was pretty tangential. Bugs was cool, but I wish I'd gotten to know her crew a bit better. I can't even remember the name of her Operator. Business Partner/Agent Smith worked well, especially his face turn. The Analyst made for a very good opponent. Much more interesting and clever than the Architect. Not as interesting as Smith was in the trilogy, though. The Merovingian and his renegade programs being a bunch of homeless drifters made me smile. Nice reversal.

Plot: It was a rehash, but they made the rehash make sense (more or less) within the bounds of the end of the trilogy. Still not sure how they could have resurrected Neo and Trinity 60 years previous but yet they're still only 20 years older both in the new Matrix and in the real world (of the film). How was Smith's code recycled when it seemed the point of Neo connecting with the Source was to destroy/delete Smith's code? There were a few other things that also didn't quite make sense, but the overall plot arc and character arcs made sense. Having Trinity and Neo be two halves of The One in this new Matrix was a great touch. I loved that. Overall, though, the plot seemed a bit rushed and some subplot elements seem to have been lost to the cutting room floor.

Themes: I think they made a good attempt to reexamine themes from the original trilogy (Can we trust our senses? Is there free will?) but also worked in new themes (How do we deal with feelings of being trapped in the wrong body? How do we rebuild our lives after disaster? How do we cope with media addiction? Are we drugging ourselves into oblivion?) fairly well. 

The Matrix Resurrections is a solid movie. It's definitely not a must-see, but similar to Bill & Ted Face the Music, we get to see Keanu take up an old role that we loved and it's fun. But honestly, the film likely wouldn't work if it weren't for the nostalgia factor. While it does cover some old ground and break some new ground thematically, it's just not as tight or as gripping as the original Matrix.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Well, this is interesting

 Prince of Nothing apparently wrote a scathing post trying to destroy the Art-Punk movement, which has been deleted and I missed it. In its place, he sets out 10 (plus a few more) axioms that define non-Art-Punk OSR to him. It's worth taking a look at them and seeing how they can be deconstructed, criticized, modified, or accepted. 

0. The resurgence and longevity of the oldschool playstyle is no mere happenstance but an indication that there is something fundamental to its merits which modern TTRPGs largely fail to capture.
1. The greatest DnD is neither a slavish imitation of the past nor a wholesale rejection thereof (conscious or unconscious), but a continuation of that old craft, with syncretic improvements from other areas.
2. DnD is at its core about the emulation of fantastical adventures and expeditions in the spirit of the Appendix N. Deviation from that spirit is possible but if one strays too far something essential is lost.
3. DnD is, at its core, an Activity. This does not preclude a host of other things (e.g. subject of theoretical discussion, vehicle for creative endaevour, personal hellscape, lucrative side-hustle) but as in all things, Actually Playing the game is its purest expression.
4. Playing good (that is to say, entertaining, challenging, rewarding, fascinating) DnD and making good adventures is primarily a craft, which relies on knowledge and experience, and secondarily a factor of innate ability.
5. DnD is primarily a game to challenge the players. However, great DnD is also about exploration, and so incorporates elements of wonder, horror or whimsy against a versimilitudinous (?) backdrop. It is rooted in the real but contains the fantastic.
6. A good adventure is neither about pure system mastery nor abstract challenge resolution, but incorporates a variety of challenges (lateral, tactical, logistical, social, strategic) which tend to allow a variety of approaches. The answer is not always on your character sheet.
7. DnD play-skill grows as characters gain in levels and good adventure takes that growth into consideration. A level 20 wizard played by a new player is not the same as one that has incorporated every spell and magic item into his routine and knows how to use them.
8. DnD is at its finest when it is open-ended and allows for player decision-making; Maps, Sandboxes, Strategic options, side-quests, factions to ally with etc. etc.
9. DnD is more about mastering your environment then character building. You take what is given and put it to use. This does not preclude logistical challenges.
10. Standard practice is standard for a reason. It is possible to break with procedure, but consider the change in terms of trade-offs, not as the fruits of your brilliant auteur imparting his wisdom on DnD.
11. Art, Layout and Aesthethic Shall Be in Service to the craft of adventure writing, not an end unto itself.
12. DnD is a pasttime and place of solace from the evils of the world. Woe unto him who brings politics unto the gaming table, or by gaming seeks to further his political end.

If I were to try to boil these down to their essences (as I interpret them, of course, YMMV), I'd restate them thusly: 

0. Older D&D has merit as a game.

1. Some parts of D&D can (and sometimes should) be changed, but a core essence of "D&D" must remain.

2.  D&D works best for pulpy style adventure. It can do other genres but it is at its best pulpy.

3. Talk all you want about the game, but it's only relevant when we PLAY.

4. Good play requires players and DMs to develop skill over time.

5. Without challenge, there is no game.

6. A well-run game has a variety of challenges, some within the game system, others independent of it.

7. The game's challenges needs to to evolve with increasing player skill.

8. Without freedom of choice and consequences for those choices, there is no game.

9. Your character is a tool for interaction with the game world.

10. With great power to change the game comes great responsibility to keep to Axiom #1.

11. Providing good content is more important than surface presentation of that content.

12. Keep your politics out of my game.

Hmm, lots to think about. I definitely agree with some of these points, disagree with others, and have caveats about some as well. Looks like good fodder for a series of posts!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Flying Fists & Funhouse Dungeons

Sometimes, we get hung up on a certain paradigm or method, and it can be hard to break out of that way of thinking. For me, it's having D&D with classes and then subclasses or kits (2E style) for customization. Why have a Fighter, a Barbarian, Paladin and a Ranger all be pretty much the same class, but separate classes, when you could just have a Fighter with subclasses? 

Flying Swordsmen is this way, because I was cloning Dragon Fist. Dragon Fist was based on 2E, so went this route. If Chris Pramas were designing the game today, he might still go this route, since that's also what 5E does. 

When I made Chanbara, I did the same thing again. 

Working on Treasures, Serpents & Ruins, I've gone back and forth in my design. Completely separate classes. Core classes with subclasses. 

When I created my new Martial Artist class earlier this year, I made it with four subclasses, one that corresponds to each of the four basic D&D classes: the cleric-martial artist, the fighter-martial artist, the magic user-martial artist, and the thief-martial artist. This was to allow emulation of the basic classes of Flying Swordsmen within TSR. 

Two days ago, I started reworking that. Instead of one class with four subclasses, I rewrote it as two classes with martial arts. One, the Martial Artist, has more mundane powers, the other, the Xia, has more mystical powers and spellcasting. (Xia had been a spellcasting martial artist class in a previous version). This seems a bit better to balance, I think, because the Xia class should obviously take more XP to level up. It's a monk/magic-user hybrid (or monk/cleric hybrid?). I think I like this better than the previous four subclasses version. Also better than a previous version where I had martial arts subclasses for each of the four core classes, with very dissimilar powers/abilities to the core classes but very similar ones to each other.

Now I've got to decide if the Xia should use standard spell lists, or use a custom one from my previous version of the game. The custom list was small, and focused on spells that would more closely simulate powers you might find in a wuxia movie. 

Anyway, with this class setup, I can have weird martial artists wandering around in megadungeons and the wilderness looking for loot. 

As it stands right now, TSR-East Marches will have the following classes:

Cleric (Exorcist/Onmyoji, Shaman/Mudang, Warrior-Monk/Sohei)

Fighter (Knight/Hwarang, Vagabond/Ronin, Weapon Master/Kensei)

Magic-User (Geomancer/Shugenja, Scholar/Wushi, Soothsayer/SuanMin)

Thief (Gangster/Yakuza, Infiltrator/Ninja, Outlaw/Pantu)

Martial Artist


Dokkaebi (demi-human)

Koropokuru (demi-human)

Shenseng (demi-human, 4 varieties/subclasses)

Vanara (demi-human)

I think this setup will work OK. 10 classes (21 types of characters with subclasses). But now that I've broken out of the need to have subclasses for each base class, I've got a desire to simplify even more. 

For example, the Knight and Vagabond have fairly cosmetic differences. Maybe I just need a Fighter and a Kensei as 2 separate classes. The same could be said about the Onmyoji and Mudang, or the Geomancer and Wushi. For the Thief subclasses, they all have some distinctions, but the Ninja and Outlaw are more similar. Maybe I should get rid of those distinctions and let players just make the distinction by role play, as players have been doing for decades? 

And maybe I'm just way to fixated on creating cool classes for my games to tailor-make certain archetypes of the source material with game mechanics. I could go way overboard on individual classes, but I don't want to turn my house rules into something that looks like it was made by Siembieda (seriously, how does anyone choose a class in Ninjas & Superspies? So many of them have such small, fiddly differences!)

Well, enough navel gazing for this Christmas Eve. I'll likely move to simplify things even more over the next month or two. And then sometime next year, start tinkering to expand again. Maybe I should change the name of my houserules to Sisyphus. I keep rolling this rock up the hill over and over, and it probably doesn't matter in the end.

PS - My son and I saw the new Matrix movie yesterday. Expect a review of it soon.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Movie Reflection: Spider-Man: No Way Home (spoiler free)

Titling this post a reflection rather than a review, because I think I need to see the film one more time before I can give it a proper review. Because it's a movie packed full of stuff, and it keeps flipping the situation around in ways such that I think I need to watch it once more, with all the surprises and reveals known ahead of time, before I can properly review it. 

Is there cursing in this movie? A little. Very little. I can recall only 3 or 4 instances, and none are f-bombs or relate to reproductive anatomy. 

So, a reflection. It was definitely a roller coaster ride. There were some things I expected, some things I didn't. Things didn't happen exactly the way I assumed they would from the trailers, which is good. It was nice to see some of the actors from previous Spider-Man movies reprise their roles, and you wouldn't think 10 or 20 years had passed since they played those parts previously. 

I was entertained, but I've got a few qualms. A couple of characters from previous films in THIS series/MCU films seemed a bit off. Maybe it was just the different writers/director. Maybe it was the actors moving in new directions with the characters. Maybe it was foreshadowing for something to come later (Secret Invasion is coming, after all, so some characters we know will surely have been replaced with Skrulls by now). 

Part of my unsure reaction to the film might also be that in comparison to the Tobey McGuire (which I loved) and Andrew Garfield (not so much) takes on the character, Tom Holland has such a different take on Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the MCU connections especially to Iron Man really make this Spidey different. 

Anyway, I came away entertained, but as I said wanting to watch it once more to really get my thoughts straight. My older boy loved it (but he'd looked up all the spoilers online before we saw it). My younger was entertained, but the long run time got to him (he got hungry around the start of the third act and wanted it to be over). My wife wasn't so impressed by it. And I think that may be what got me thinking that there was something a little off about it. 

Anyway, there are some nice surprises that will entertain fans. Is the movie more than just 2.5 hours of fan service though? I'll watch it again when I have a chance and decide then. [Matrix 4 is out next week, though, so might not get to rewatch this until some time in January.]

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Playing Black Hack? Need monsters?

Jeremy (been talking about him a lot lately) has been regularly putting out monster books for 5E, OSE, and Black Hack type games. He's currently running a kickstarter for Black Hack conversions of some of his previous monsters. If you're running a BH powered game, and want monster stats, printable paper minis, and VTT tokens, give it a look.

Check it out here.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Kensei Compromise

A couple days ago, I presented my modified Fighter class and the Kensei subclass. Neither I nor Jeremy, who is playtesting the class in my West Marches game, were 100% satisfied with the class, but for different reasons. 

Well, we may have come to a mutually agreeable compromise, thanks to a bit of input from JB. 

Aside, I would have just replied to JB's comment, instead of making a new post, but for some reason Blogger isn't letting me comment on my own blog. Whacha gonna do? Google, am I right? :/ 

So, the proposal I made involves two things Jeremy asked for (but not exactly as he asked for them), one thing I suggested, and something JB suggested. 

All Fighters, regardless of subclass, get a Parry ability (sorta like Shields Shall Be Splintered, but without the loss of gear, 1/day). AD&D style multiple attacks per level vs low HD opponents. At 4th level, a Combat Style (like a feat in 3E+ editions). At 8th and 12th levels, one additional attack per round against higher HD opponents. At 9th level, the Smash attack (-5 to hit, add Str score to damage). 

Kensei now get proficiency with all weapons, but +1 to hit and +2 damage with their signature weapon, and -2 to hit with any other weapons they might use. They can select unarmed strikes for the signature weapon if they want. Finally, the signature weapon does a minimum 1d6 damage (so daggers, shuriken, clubs, etc get a small boost if you go that route).

They don't get any armor or shields, but get a set AC score by level, plus Dex bonus if any. It starts at 14 (6 descending) and goes up +1 every odd level. 

I got rid of whirlwind attack, and instead at 9th level they get Smash as all other Fighters do, plus their signature weapon bonuses go to +3/+3, as with AD&D double specialization. They also get to select a second Fighting Style (something none of the other subclasses get). 

I think that's good enough. Jeremy seems to approve as well. We'll try it and see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Kensei Conundrum

In my West Marches game, I've currently got a rule set (BECMI based, but with bits and pieces from other editions that I like) that includes both "western" and "eastern" character class options. One of those is the Fighter subclass Kensei. 

Now, anyone who has downloaded Flying Swordsmen or purchased Chanbara will know that this is an archetype in both. It's a warrior dedicated to the mastery of a single weapon (most often the sword, but not necessarily). The class first appeared in Oriental Adventures 1E, and I'm pretty sure it was a kit in 2E (don't have the Complete Fighter Handbook handy at the moment), was in the 3E OA, and even has had versions in 4E and 5E (where it's a Monk subclass instead of an alternate Fighter). 

I like the kensei concept a lot. A dedicated warrior trying to master just one form of combat. A duelist. A student of that one weapon. But the version (called Kensai) in 1E OA is full of fiddly mechanics and restrictions so it's hard to play. I know, I'm playing one in one of the AD&D PbP games I participate in. 

Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyuzo in Seven Samurai, Kensei

Jeremy has been playing my version of the Kensei in my West Marches game, and we've been discussing it. I want the mechanics to be simple and streamlined. Not too many bonuses, and also not too many restrictions. The problem Jeremy has is that this means it's not all that distinct from a regular Fighter. 

My Fighter looks like this: 

Level 1: Parry (1/day, any one attack that hits does 0 damage; taken from Stars Without Number)

Level 2: Sweep (Against creatures with 1HD or less, get 1 attack per level; taken from OD&D/AD&D)

Level 4: Combat Style (choose from a list of 7 feats, some subclasses have limited selections; various inspirations)

Level 8: 2 Attacks (Against creatures with 2HD or more; from BECMI Companion but simplified)

Level 9: Smash (-5 to hit but add Strength score to damage, but this is the only attack for the round; from BECMI Companion)

Level 12: 3 Attacks (Against creatures with 2HD or more; from BECMI Companion but simplified)

My optional subclasses are Cavalier, Kensei, Martial Artist, Ranger. 

The Kensei, in this version, has a limit on weapons and armor. They are only proficient with 3 weapons of their choice, at least 1 melee and 1 ranged. They are not proficient with armor, but may give up a weapon choice to take shields. I don't want to punish a kensei who ends up in a situation where they must use a weapon besides their specialized weapon (such as a battle of ranged weapons across a ravine) with either sitting it out or getting 1/2 XP the way AD&D does. 

Instead of armor, the Kensei uses their Dex score as base AC, and adds their BAB (I use ascending AC) to that. Since they have a prerequisite of Dex 13 to take the subclass, they start with at least AC 14 (6 descending), AC 19 (1 descending) if they get lucky and roll an 18 Dex. I'm working on an alternate version for TSR-East that can't pick shields, and instead of Dex as base, gets a flat AC by level plus Dex adjustment based on the Martial Artist class I created.

One of the three weapons the kensei chooses gains weapon specialization (+1 to hit, +2 damage) from 1E Unearthed Arcana. No other Fighter type in my game gets this. This is what makes them "the best" with their chosen weapon in my version.

At 4th level, they can choose from Archery (Dex bonus to ranged damage), Cleave (free attack if an opponent drops, not during a sweep), Iaijutsu (+4 to hit, double damage on the first round of combat), or Pole Arm Master (if you have initiative for the round and hit, the opponent cannot attack you this round). Jeremy has chosen Iaijutsu, as has Don for his Lark (Fighter/Magic-User), and it hasn't seemed overpowered. There have been lots of fights where they can't use it because things start out ranged, and even with +4 to hit they don't always. Also, my TSR-East Marches is shifting things around again, so Cleave may be going away, but Dual Wield may be joining the list, after my discussions with Jeremy.

Finally, at 9th level, instead of Smash, the kensei gets Whirlwind Attack (from 1E OA). In melee, they can make one attack against each opponent within range. Jeremy and I have been discussing this, too. As I wrote it this way, it is probably too powerful in melee, but screws over ranged kensei. I suggested a few alternate ways to reword this, and a -5 penalty to hit as with smash attacks, on a single roll compared to the AC of each opponent. Also a variant of sweep for ranged attacks, up to 1 shot per level. But I may just scrap it and let them smash like other fighters, because as written it seems like something to use all the time which is not good game balance. 

In addition to suggesting allowing dual wielders (Miyamoto Musashi is of course the real world archetype most often associated with kensei and he used katana & wakizashi simultaneously), Jeremy has also suggested things like increased damage die, or a version of AD&D's Assassination Table instead of iaijutsu, or a 3E+ Monk style Flurry of Blows ability. 

I'm not too fond of any of these options. 

Increased damage die may sound good for his concept (Jeremy's PC specialized in hand axe, and he has an idea for a dagger kensei as well). But a pole arm guy getting a die bump on a 1d10 or 1d12 weapon (yes, I have one)? That might be a bit much for Classic D&D. I don't want to start down the hit point inflation path of WotC. 

Assassination in AD&D, at least the way I read it, is intended for solo play, and requires time and patience to set up that % chance of an instant kill. It isn't the sort of thing you do in the dungeon 5 seconds after finding out that there's a minotaur in the next chamber. Jeremy countered that it would be less powerful than a sleep spell, and a saving throw would make it harder to use on high HD monsters. True, but I don't necessarily equate the weapon master concept with a "one hit, one kill" Rokugan Crane Samurai vibe. Plus, that table is big and clunky. I'd rather have an easy mechanic that we can just remember without a chart lookup.

I'm not fond of Flurry of Blows, because I'm actually trying to limit the number of extra attacks floating around in my rules (one reason the Cleave special ability is going away). The more times a PC gets to attack normally, the less special the Sweep ability becomes. And again, without hit point inflation to worry about, characters don't NEED lots of extra attacks, except when facing lots of low level monsters. 

Maybe I just need to give them a small bonus to damage with their specialized weapon every few levels the way 1E OA does. Get rid of Whirlwind Attack. Maybe at high level they can Sweep against higher HD monsters (2HD, maybe 3HD?) instead of the scaling bonus? Maybe UA style double specialization (+3 to hit, +3 damage) at higher level? I'm not sure what would be the best way to balance them here.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

DM Comfort Level

 I ran a session of my Star Wars d6 campaign a few hours ago. And while I'm still not 100% up on all the rules (especially the effects of all the Force powers), and should probably make a better cheat sheet for myself...I mean GM reference!...I feel like I'm a lot more comfortable with the system. I went through more than half the game before I needed to look something up in the rulebook, only to realize I'd left the actual books on the bookshelf in the other room. Since my PDF reader was acting strangely, I took a break to go get it, and carried on with the game. But for the most part, I had enough information in my adventure notes to run the game. 

That's a good feeling. In fact, after the game was over, I briefly considered if I wanted to make this game my main game, and wind up West Marches. I'm still enjoying WM, but some of the players seem a little less engaged these days. But then, several WM players don't care to play Star Wars, while one player has decided he would rather play Star Wars and has opted out of future WM games. My boys still enjoy both, so I'll probably keep things the way they are now. But it is something worth considering as I get more and more comfortable with the d6 system. 

Tonight's game almost didn't happen. Jeff had planned to run his weird GURPS/Palladium mashup game this evening, but since I don't play in it, I had no idea. This was my normally scheduled weekend to run West Marches, but I was in a Star Wars mood, and so were my boys. It wasn't until I'd scheduled the game that Jeremy told me about Jeff's game. But since my game started at 8, and Jeff's was scheduled to start at 9:30, he offered to start at 10pm instead. And he showed up to play in my game, too. 

We only had 2 hours, so I tried to start things off as soon as possible. Table talk was at a minimum tonight, which helped things go smoothly.

The heroes were contacted by Bumpomo the Hutt, whose daughter they had rescued in my first d6 Star Wars game (roughly based on the plot of Shaft [1971]). Bumpomo owed a favor to the local rebels, and one of their captains had been captured by the Imperials and was being transferred to the Citadel (Clone Wars fans might remember that place). The mission was to intercept the transport ship, extract the captain, and then rendezvous with a rebel ship in the Concord Dawn system. 

The party used some funds from Bumpomo to improve their stock YT-1300 freighter, adding better shields and a heavy ion cannon. When they got to the Lola Sayu system, they jammed the imperial communications and surprised the transport. Shots from the party's Mandalorian (son #1) on the laser cannon and Bulldogman Jedi (son #2) on the ion cannon took out the transport's two TIE fighter escort. Another blast from the ion cannon incapacitated the transport. 

The party docked, and as they were trying to find a computer terminal port to have one of their droids access the computer, a pair of KX enforcer droids attacked. The KX have strong armor, but lucky shots managed to stun the first one, then it was taken out with an ion grenade from the party's smuggler. Laser shots from several characters managed to stun and then destroy the other one. 

And that was all the time we had. The shopping for ship upgrades actually took the longest part of the session. The starship combat (our first time using the rules) worked really well. I used the simple Close/Medium/Long range zones of ship proximity from the 1st edition rules, rather than playing things out on a grid, and it worked really well. Of course, the party is lucky that they got the drop on the imperials, because the TIE fighters might have done some serious damage to their ship if they'd had a chance to react.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A Novel form of Exploration

Usually when we think of exploration in RPGs, we're talking about one of three things: exploration of the imagined game world (dungeons, wilderness, settled lands); exploration of character (role play); exploration of the rule systems (optimization/min-maxing, rules lawyering). 

My friend Jeremy, over the past few years, has been embarked on a novel form of RPG exploration. He's exploring varieties of rule sets. Now I know he's not the first person to ever do something like this, but I call it novel mostly because it's a form of game exploration that we don't often discuss.

I remember when he first pitched the idea to me. He wanted to run lots of impromptu pick up games, each time using a different rule set in a different setting (or sometimes the same setting, with characters transferred over to the new system). I remember giving him some pointers on what I thought he would need to do to make the idea work. I don't remember exactly what I said to him, but things like having pregen PCs to pick up and play was definitely one of them. 

Over the past few years, he's run all sorts of rule sets. His preference for games runs towards the grimdark, so sometimes the games feel pretty much the same regardless of the rules we're using. But we have been able to try out lots of those games that we've looked at but figured we might never play. 

I haven't really been into it much lately though, but to be honest I was not super fond of the idea when Jeremy pitched it. While getting to try all these games sounds good, my gaming time is limited. And it kinda sucks to always have to make (or select) new characters, figure out how things work in an unfamiliar game (both rules mechanics wise and setting wise), and to always be starting at level 1 over and over again (something I'm pretty sure I warned him against doing that he didn't heed). 

I'm not posting this to criticize Jeremy or his methods. I do think what he's doing is interesting. But it is also a bit frustrating that we never get to play a rule set long enough to really get a feel for it. We also don't get to run characters long enough to get a feel for them, either. And sometimes the games just feel a bit pointless. Especially in systems that are more story-game influenced and advancement is arbitrary or keyed to number of sessions played. 

Without a solid game-driving objective (like XP for GP, or even XP for combat), and without enough game sessions to figure out who our characters are or what in-universe goals we might want to be accomplishing, the sessions sometimes feel either rudderless or railroady. To be clear, Jeremy isn't railroading us, but it can feel like it when we know so little about the settings. 

And now I'm being negative again. Honestly, I didn't start this post with the intent to criticize what Jeremy's doing or how he's doing it. Jeremy if you're reading, sorry!

So, getting back to the idea at hand: Lots of one shots or mini campaigns, each with a different rule set and different characters. 

It's kinda fun for a side campaign. I've always got more character ideas that I can come up with. We do get to try lots of systems. It's interesting to see different ideas for RPGs put into practice. And it can help identify interesting game mechanics or stylistic choices that I might want to borrow (or to avoid at all costs!). 

But the down side, as I've mentioned, is that these Baskin Robbins sample spoon games don't satisfy the way a Thanksgiving Feast ongoing campaign does.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Marching On in the West Marches

 I'm preparing to run my West Marches game this weekend. It's been a little while, what with the funeral and my sons being sick and general business. I just updated the player map with the hexes that were explored in the previous session and thought why not stick it up here as well? I think the last time I did that was 2 years ago in this post. You can see that in two years of mostly twice a month sessions, they've explored a fair amount, but are still relatively close to the home town (middle right). Lots of white space left to explore.

As you can see, I started adding old school terrain markers on the map to help the players distinguish the terrain types. The key to interesting numbered areas is here: 

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)

28. Dragon Hill (Hellhorse Plains)

29. Cyclopskin Trading Post (Hellhorse Plains)

30. Aboleth Ford, Dragontail River (Far Downs)

31. Boiling Lake (Folded Lands)

32. Petrified Forest (Cloud Lands)

33. Pavillion (Whispering Forest)

34. Hobgoblin Castle (Whispering Forest)

35. Cloud Lake Monastery (Cloud Lands)

36. Non-Euclidean Fortress (Cloud Lands)

37. Haunted Lodge (Brooding Forest)

38. Forgotten Chapel (South Prairie)

39. Halfling Village (South Prairie)

40. Red Feather Elf Tribe (Elfin Vale)

41. The Gates of Barovia (Brooding Forest)

42. Cozy Cottage (Brooding Forest)

43. Ancient Amphitheatre (Hellhorse Plains)

44. CCCP Obelisk (Voodoo Bayou)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Movie Review: Eternals (spoiler free)

Yesterday, I took the family to see Marvel's Eternals. It's a different sort of MCU movie, for sure. I can see why there are a lot of people trashing it (some of them before they had even watched it). And I can't say I was super excited for it. I don't know much about the characters from the comics. They didn't play a big part in most of the comics I read back in the day. But I knew it would have ramifications in future MCU projects, and we hadn't been to a movie for a little while, so we went. 

Does Eternals have cursing in it? [Mandatory question because parents searching for this get sent here.] A little. Not as much as Black Widow. It's not really that sort of movie that needs a lot of bad language.

My quick capsule review? A well made movie. The story was very much character driven, with no obvious deus ex machina moments. It had the high level of special effects we expect from Marvel/Disney (they have the money for it). The action scenes were good. There were some good comic relief moments, although a lot less than in other more recent MCU titles. The actors were cast well for their roles, and the movie did a good job introducing a whole bunch of brand new characters. Some great cinematography in a globe spanning and millennium spanning narrative. 

But was it good? It was very talky. There were action scenes, but a whole lot of talk in between. And not the snappy patter of an early Kevin Smith film or a Tarantino film that is just fun to listen to even if nothing much is happening in the scene. That, I think, is the weak point of the movie. 

I liked it, but the more serious tone (even more serious in tone than Thor or Winter Soldier), the 'more talk less rock' pacing, made it a bit less enjoyable than Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy. I think, though, this movie will hold up better than some of the other MCU films because of that, and because of the technical skill from the script to the production value to the way the film was shot and edited. 

Eternals is a good (well made) movie, but not so much a fun (exciting, engaging) movie. I liked it, but it's probably not in my top 10 MCU film list.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Director's Cut

Last night, obviously, I was not in the best of moods. I'm in a much better mood today. Friday night, the kids and wife are in bed, I made some progress on my work this afternoon. Feeling relaxed.

Thanks to JB for his comment, though, it did help put things in perspective. I like what Alexis has been posting about his Other D&D. I like it a lot. But as JB said, to reach that level of detail and setting knowledge to allow the sort of off the cuff gaming that Alexis is encouraging takes quite a bit of effort and keeping things always running in the background of your mind. And for me, right now, this year at least, that's the problem. These days, the back of my mind is taken up with work and family stuff. We've got a lot to juggle right now. So gaming has to take a hit. And that's fine. When things slow down, I can pick up the gaming steam again. 

And also, JB's comment made me think about the fact that even the cheapest, cheesiest Roger Corman flick must have had a script bible of some sort to help keep characters, settings, and situations sorted out. Every movie and especially TV shows need these. They provide all the background details that allow for meaningful drama to happen. If an actor or director is unsure what the character's motivation in a scene is or should be, they can turn to this and should be able to work out an answer. 

Basically, Alexis's method of Other D&D is telling us to make a script bible for our game world. And then to know it. Or at least the parts that are immediately relevant right now. We don't need to know the name of every villager. But if we know the village, and we know the types of people (culture, socio-economic status, professions) we can invent realistic villagers on the spot when needed. Alexis is telling us to prepare just enough info, and KNOW that info, so we can not only invent NPCs or monster encounters or whatever as needed, we can run them in a way that is both verisimilitudinous with our real world expectations and also in a way that suits the game world and challenges the PCs. 

Yes, it's a lot of work. But as JB pointed out, it can start small. Alexis has been running his game world for 40 years. I've been running my West Marches for only 3 1/2. No need to feel overwhelmed by the scope of Alexis's world building compared to my own. Just keep working at it so I know my setting (I do), and the types of peoples that inhabit it (again, I do), and the sorts of places that could be visited (I do). I know all this stuff. And I run the game as best I can in a way that requires the players to be active participants in the world, rather than reactive ones. In time, I'll get better at it. As I mentioned last post, some things Alexis is encouraging are things I used to do, but stopped doing because like many I was fooled by the people telling us we could get by with just the facade. The cardboard Western town in Blazing Saddles that the bad guys rampage through. 

My campaign is more than that now. Not quite as real as the real world yet. And I may never develop it as highly as Alexis has developed his game. But that's OK. I'll make it as well as I can for now, and just keep plugging away at it. 

It doesn't matter whether it's a Scorsese, Peckinpaw, Brooks, Tarantino, Spielberg, Corman, Lee, the other Lee, Kubrick, Wachowski, Miller, or any other director's movie. Serious or silly, profound or profane, convoluted or laid bare. They all involve script bibles to try and keep things sorted, and in their own ways they're trying to make something real and meaningful.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Malaise and Movie Directors

Not much posting here the past month or so. I've been busy. My father-in-law lost his 6+ year battle with lung cancer two weeks ago (the doctors had given him 6 months when diagnosed almost 7 years ago, so it's not like it was unexpected). My older son has three separate health issues (orthodontic work being the most expensive, but the others pretty time consuming with hospital stays and doctor visits...thank God for Korean universal national health insurance, and low cost no-fuss supplemental private insurance for what the national system doesn't cover!). I have two academic papers under review at the moment, both submitted mid-October -- so revisions from peer review coming up later in the month most likely. And planning/researching background info for the next paper. Oh, and teaching classes and doing a weekly radio show and general husband/father duties.

Despite all that, I've been tinkering away at both East Marches and my Star Wars d6 game when I've got some time. The newest SW adventure, based on feedback from the end of the previous session, is more or less ready to go. I could run it as it is now, but adding some detailed stats for a few NPCs that could be encountered will save me from having to wing it in the game. But I could easily wing it. Smuggler? Sure, he's got...5D in Space Transports. But having some of that stuff already on paper before the game will make me more consistent. This weekend, though, most likely I won't have time to run it. Or rather, I have some time Sunday afternoon, but my older son will be at his Python coding class all afternoon so he'd miss the game, and he's into his Mando character just like my younger son is into his Jedi character (who did a lot of shopping between sessions, including a new C1 series astromech droid companion/sidekick -- yes, we've been watching Rebels). 

I skipped the previous scheduled session of my West Marches game because of the funeral. I could schedule a make-up session this Saturday night, but I'm not really in the mood. I feel like re-tooling some parts of it, especially the areas where I dropped classic D&D/AD&D modules into it. They've found  or had solid rumors of a few of them (Caves of Chaos, Quasqueton, Xak Tsaroth all explored, The Moathouse partially explored, and rumors of White Plume Mountain & the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief have been heard). I've actually placed a couple other modules that they haven't heard about or found clues to yet, and I had plans for even more even farther out. Now, though, after the long slog in Xak Tsaroth that in the end wasn't super fun for me (although the players seemed to enjoy it a lot), I'm thinking of stripping out these modules they haven't encountered yet. Maybe replace them with similar themed but smaller dungeons of my own. I've found that for West Marches style play, small dungeons of a dozen or fewer rooms work best. But again, not much will to get cranking on modifying that stuff at the moment. Real life has drained me. 

Anyway, enough personal blather. What about the movie directors? 

I've mentioned before that when I was gaming in Tokyo, Steve and Pete dubbed me the Mel Brooks DM (to Steve's Quentin Tarantino and Pete's Terry Gilliam). I think it's an interesting shorthand to let players know what sort of games to expect. NOT that I think RPG play should try to tell stories the way a movie does, just that in my games, expect plenty of humor and tropes stood on their heads. In Steve's games, things could go from conventional to very bloody on the turn of a dime. Pete had lots of whimsy but also a dark undercurrent to his games. 

I've been reading and enjoying Alexis's recent series of posts on how to create a more compelling, deeper campaign world and use that in play to make D&D play more meaningful. Some of the advice he gives matches things I do now. Some match things I used to do but stopped somewhere along the way. Some are things I've never tried. Part of me wants to really up my game (I think my Chanbara campaign burned out quickly because I wasn't doing enough of these things, and it made the game feel cheap to me). 

But another part of me, the part with malaise from all the real life stuff I'm dealing with mentioned above, is just like, fuck it. There's room for deep, epic Oscar contender films, small, personal Oscar contender films, big damn roller coaster blockbusters, scrappy independent films, avant-garde art house films, cheap comedies, and endless remakes and reboots and continuations of old IP in cinema. 

Sure, a game by Alexis is going to be pretty awesome, the way watching a finely made film is deeply satisfying. But you know, I still enjoy the MCU movies despite them being fairly formulaic. I could watch Dazed and Confused or Aliens or Austin Powers for the 100th time and still enjoy it. Nothing wrong with some sometimes campy special effects in a John Carpenter movie. Kevin Smith is working on Clerks 3 and I'm actually looking forward to it despite most of his recent films not being so great. 

I hope Alexis, if he's reading this (and he probably will get around to it eventually), understands what I'm trying to say. I'm not trying to knock what he's been doing. I admire it a lot. And I don't doubt him when he says his method has elevated his games and could elevate mine as well. I want to give something like that a go. But honestly, right now I just don't have the mental energy to commit to that sort of game. I'm doing fine with my Mel Brooks West Marches and my Star Wars game that is a bit more Spielberg to be honest. Maybe after they've run their course, and life has settled down a bit more, I'll be ready to take on a Kurosawa epic of a campaign. I think my players could really dig into it.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gnomish Tarot

Dean, who has been a good friend and fellow gamer for many years now, has always produced some gorgeous art derived from our games, dating back to Justin's Vaults of Ur campaign (see the labels to this post). Through Ur, Chanbara play tests, various games run by Jeremy, and into West Marches, he's consistently drawn a lot of amazingly detailed pieces that illustrate our games. I've posted some of it here before. He also ran a pretty amazing campaign himself, that started as 4E and migrated to 5E along the way. The campaign was a bizarre mix of Oz, Spencer's Faerie Queene, Narnia, Pellucidar, Dr. Who... and tons of fun. 

He's back in Canada now, and producing a webtoon based on his campaign. You can check it out here: 

Tales from the Gnomish Tarot

Dean actually gifted me a lot of his original work that he produced while he lived here in Busan. Here's a couple of illos I have on my hard drive (the originals are in my office, I'm at home right now):

From my Megadungeon games

From Vaults of Ur

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Good Press

I was curious about why my Chanbara sales have suddenly been much stronger than before, and I think it may have something to do with Ynas Midgard's post here (and John Higgins' comment). Thanks guys!

Before I stumbled on Ynas's post (I somehow missed it back in July when he posted it) this evening, I found this Reddit thread from a year or so ago. I'm not on Reddit, but occasionally follow a link to info there. Maybe I should sign up as a Redditor so I could comment when things like this pop up in the future. 

First of all, the OP used my cover right under the question, which sorta implies that this is in fact the answer to that question. Nice! 

In the actual post, I'm only third of four options, but still, I'll take it as the OP seems positive towards my little game.

This poster, derkrieger, gives a very nice review of Chanbara. Thanks, derkrieger, if you ever read this. They give L5R a good review as well, but that didn't fit on one screenshot. Also why I had to call them out by handle here. wouldn't be the internet without someone trying to drop a turd in the punch bowl. Granted, I am just some "Western dude" and my game of Japanese fantasy is filtered through my Western cultural perceptions. That criticism is spot on.

But Airk here has obviously not actually perused Chanbara, because I would love to challenge him to show me what in Chanbara is Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Nepalese, etc. Sure, there are some monsters that are pan-East Asian (fox fairies, dragons, and so on), but the version in Chanbara is the Japanese form and name. Also, how it would not be good for the OP's desired "samurai vs yokai" version of something like The Witcher, when one of the three campaign modes I even suggest is "ghostbusting" (page 39).

I don't mean to get my hackles up, especially for something someone posted in the past and will likely never see my response to. But it's hard when the original OA gets panned for claiming to be pan-Asian when it was very highly based on Japanese historical and fantasy tropes, and something like L5R is commonly considered to be Japanese when actually quite a bit of the Rokugan setting (as far as I've looked into it) pulls from other Asian cultures. And then there's my little OSR game which is 100% based on Japanese period and fantasy films/TV, some games & comics influence, my study of Japanese history (casual as it may be), and my experience of living in the country for some time. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Good Sales

September was the best month for Chanbara sales that I've had since 2018 (the year it was released). I guess talking about my East Marches project a lot has been good for that. Which is a good reminder to me that I should promote my stuff more. 

If you're one of the people who has purchased Chanbara recently, thank you very much. It is appreciated.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Death of "The Big Model" (GNS)

The Forge, Ron Edwards' rpg game theory website, is no longer the powerhouse it once was. Early in the days of the internet, so much indie game design was influenced by this website. Probably still is, even though it shut down its forums nearly a decade ago. I know I still use lingo derived from The Forge when discussing game theory stuff simply because the one really good thing they did was set down a list of definitions that were clear and concise to discuss various aspects of role playing games. 

GNS, and later the Big Model, though, was supposedly Edwards' crowning achievement. A theory of game design that posited the idea that all RPGs are composed of a combination of three modes of play: gamism, narrativism, and simulationism. Or, people make games to game the system, or to create a story, or to run an imaginary world. 

But that never sat right with me. Partly, I think, because Edwards believed (still believes? I'm not in contact with him anymore after the destruction of Alderaan...I mean G+) that good game design focused on only one of these three modalities and sought to deliver a game focused only on that modality. 

Enter Alexis Smolensk and his elephant. The linked post didn't receive any feedback directly in the form of comments, but Alexis makes the same argument in this post that I have made against GNS. A good RPG doesn't seek to cater exclusively to gamists or narrativists or simulationists. It needs all of them to be a good game. Hell, I didn't need Alexis to figure that out. But what Alexis does in the post is set out what some of the real modalities of play (creative agendas in Edwardsian/Forge lingo) are. 

Escapism (distraction in Alexis' post)


Exploration and Discovery

Problem Solving

I can add a few more, things like Immersion (related to escapism, but not the same), Wish Fulfillment, Camaraderie, and again I'm sure there are more. These are things players are looking for in a game.

Edwards wanted a tight little 3-part model. He also erroneously linked players' creative agendas with designers' agendas. They are not and should not be the same. Edwards' three agendas may or may not be pertinent creative agendas for game designers, but they really fall short when trying to classify reasons people play RPGs. 

 A well designed game should be an elephant. Different parts of the game should cater to different agendas, but all should be part of the whole. And as a designer, myopically focusing on only one modality of play really limits the design.

Oh, and Alexis at the end turns his post to his kickstarter menu project, which again I'd urge you to support. I'd like to see it succeed. He only needs about $700 (US) to fund it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

On Artpunk and 5E

 First off, let me say that I do appreciate the aesthetics of the OSR "artpunk" movement. Make the game more weird. Move it away from the bastardized Tolkienisms that have become the "D&D genre" and make your products look visually interesting. I get it. There's definitely appeal there. 

And when I look at things like the artwork from people like Jason Sholtis (Operation Unfathomable) as just one example, I dig the visual style and the oddity of his art. But as you might have guessed from my previous post, I would want stuff like that in my game only in small doses. I wouldn't want the entire campaign to be about making deals with eldritch slug-beings while battling off the hordes of mutant bug folk in a topsy-turvy underworld. The occasional foray to that underworld is fine, but not the whole damn campaign. 

And things like Mork Borg just don't interest me in the slightest. It could be the most revolutionary slimming down of the D&D chassis ever but the idea of using intentionally discordant layout/font choices keeps me away. I'm pushing 50, I can't really wear contacts anymore because I can't read with them in, and I need to take the glasses off to read. Yeah, bifocals are in my near future. Make your damn book easy to read, and I'll take a look at it. 

So yeah, consider me an old fuddy duddy, at least when it comes to my games. The big announcement yesterday of more splat books for 5E -- more races, more subclasses, more monsters, whatever. 5E games - at least the big one I still play on, is already this weird menagerie of kenku and genasi and kobolds and lizard folk and yuan ti and warforged and... I don't want my D&D to be like a shot of the Mos Eisley Cantina. I've got d6 Star Wars for that. The older I get, the more human-centric I think I want my D&D games to be. 

That way, when the players encounter the slug-traders or the birdman empire, it might still seem somewhat whimsical or interesting. Not pedestrian, like in 5E.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Vanilla vs Artpunk?

It is a paradox at the very heart of fantasy fiction that, unless there is a consistent and convincing (read "realistic") setting for the characters and their actions, the story may well drift apart in flights of unbridled fancy. In order for the elements of fantasy to succeed, they must be grounded in a recognizable world inhabited by characters and creatures whose attributes and abilities are carefully delineated. For example, when Conan confronts an unnatural monster, the only valid way you're going to have hackles raised  on the audience's collective neck is if your  hero is vulnerable, his situation believably desperate, and the monster so real you can smell him coming! It's not just a willing suspension of disbelief we're talking about but an actual embrace of the fantastic images as true for the span of the tale.

[emphasis in original]

--Alan Zelentz, forward to Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian Vol. 1 No. 1 (Marvel, Thomas/Windsor-Smith)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Signal Boost: The Jousting Piglet

 Alexis of the Tao of D&D blog is running a kickstarter. If you haven't been keeping up with his blog, I would encourage you to do so. We often disagree, but lately we've been agreeing more than disagreeing, and if you followed his blog early on and quit due to the tone, know that while he still brooks no bullshit, he is much to others than he used to be. Hard to describe how he's changed over the years. He'll still call you out on your stupidity, but he's a lot more respectful if you show you're engaging sincerely with his ideas. 

And really, he's been throwing out some posts over the past month or so that have been great food for thought (a dialogue with JB of BX Blackrazor, who is also throwing up a lot of good posts these days). 

Meanwhile, I'm just chugging along making lame Star Wars jokes and what not as I struggle to find time to put together a decent thoughtful post about D&D. Real life is like that sometimes. 

But anyway, the point of today's post is that Alexis has a kickstarter, as I mentioned already. He has designed a menu for a fantasy pub or inn. It's an actual artifact that you could throw down on your gaming table and have the players poor over. And as he mentioned in a post recently, can provide plenty of plot hooks to deepen your game world beyond just "Hey, there are goblins in them thar hills!" But he isn't getting enough backers yet.

Honestly, I don't need the menu for my games right now. I'm looking to maybe try some face-to-face gaming in the near future, but it's still iffy. And my West Marches game doesn't really need something like that. It is something I might want in the future. Anyway, I didn't back it for the menu itself, but I backed it because I'd like to see Alexis succeed in this. I don't need this menu, but whatever he produces next, if the menu succeeds, MAY be something I need for my games. And Alexis producing more things in this vein hinges on the menu succeeding.

So I backed him as much as I could afford right now, and I'd encourage you to do the same. If you don't think you need this menu -- and it is a gorgeous thing, go check out the kickstarter link (first link above) -- then do what I did and back him for as much as you can afford. It's just a small way for me to thank him for giving me lots of good ideas to ponder.

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Gaming to Capstone the Holiday Weekend

 We're at the end of a 5-day weekend in Korea, with the Chuseok (Fall Harvest Moon) festival being this past Mon-Wed. It was really 6 days for me, since I don't have any classes on Friday. It was an interesting week, too. I got my second Pfizer vaccine on Friday, which left me feeling exhausted and with a sore shoulder for two days, but luckily nothing more than that. 

So I ran a session of my d6 Star Wars game on Sunday, and finished up the hex-crawl planet survey adventure I'd created and then regretted creating when I ran it. But the players, two of them at least, said they really enjoyed it. Well, it will be back to more situational adventures in the future. The players said they'd prefer some anti-Imperial hi-jinks. 

My younger son was asking me for the past few days to run some D&D, but we just never seemed to have the time. In the previous West Marches game, his character was left about 250xp shy of 5th level. So tonight, I ran another game of the procedural dungeon crawling thing. 

I pulled out a battlemap from the old 2E AD&D Intro box set, with a castle and small cave system. They went to the gates, which were barred by a portcullis. While trying to open it, they were attacked by giant black widows, and my younger boy's henchman got bitten and failed a save. They quickly killed the spiders and asked if they could retreat back to town to save him. Technically black widows' poison takes effect 1 turn later, but I fudged the rules and allowed it. Hey, I made sure the boys played the dice straight, but I didn't need my 7-year-old bawling shortly before bedtime (he'd already scraped up his knee on the playground this afternoon). So I fudged that NON DIE ROLL bit. Sue me. 

[Lots of talk on the blogs I'm reading recently about fudging or not.]

Anyway, armed with an extra potion of antidote (and a potion of growth for my older boy) purchased in town, they returned to the castle. I won't go over all the details, but they managed to negotiate with ghouls! (lucky die rolls on the reaction rolls), battled some elves, and tricked some dwarves into leaving a silver chalice unguarded so they could swipe it and flee back to town. My 7yo wanted to taunt the dwarves as they fled, but my 13yo talked him out of it. 

Bulldog, my 7yo's character, is now a 5th level Lark (like the BX Elf class, but not an elf), and chose Haste/Slow as his first 3rd level spell. While brushing his teeth, we talked about ways he could use it to help the party, and he seems excited by the possibilities. He complained that his older brother was trying to talk to everyone instead of fight, but I explained to him that it's often better that way, especially if you can still get the treasure without the fighting. He seemed to get it, but we'll see if he remembers the next time we play. 

My 13yo was in good form tonight (despite too much teasing of his little brother), trying to think his way through the encounters (all monsters, no traps or specials this time). He rarely does that when we play online. The voice chat we use doesn't hold his interest, especially when chatting with his friends on Discord is just a new browser tab away. 

 I know at least one local player is also fully vaccinated, and another has had at least one shot. I should ask everyone's status and see if they'd like to risk some in-person gaming.

Monday, September 13, 2021

12 Years of Blogging

Another blog anniversary passed. Why I decided to start this blog on 9/11 I still don't know. I know it wasn't a conscious decision to do so. And obviously, I'm a couple days late posting this this year. 

Well, real life is a big downer. And it's really not covid life. Or not much. I've pretty much gotten used to teaching via Zoom, gaming via Roll20 and Google Meet (formerly Hangouts), mask wearing, occasional upticks in cases that make us hesitate to visit restaurants, all that. I've gotten my first shot of Pfizer, and will get the second soon. Korea's vaccination rates are chugging along, with about 1,000,000 shots given (first and second doses) on a good day. About 2/3 of the population have had at least one shot. 

The downer is pretty personal. My father-in-law's lung cancer has finally caught up with him. He went six years from diagnosis to today, but his condition is deteriorating. And my wife is pretty busy helping her mother take care of him (he doesn't want hospice care, long story). So our family is under extra pressure right now. But we're managing. 

I'm still gaming, and tinkering with my rules. I'm also starting to develop the locations for East Marches, something that a year ago I thought I'd never get around to doing. But here we are. I'm firmly on the way back to race-as-class for my house rules, with the TSR-East Marches rules (better name than simple TSR-East) using that paradigm. I bet I'll be modifying my more "standard" TSR rules to suit that as well. I've pretty much decided I don't like the plethora of dual-class classes that I made, and most aren't getting any play anyway. I still want to give TSR-East Marches another simplification pass, but pretty much I think it's good to go. And with the PC options, spells, monsters, and treasure stuff done, I'm able to work on East Marches the (mega)module. 

My West Marches campaign and Star Wars campaign are still ongoing. We just had a pretty good session of West Marches this past weekend. The party managed to take out Onyx/Khisanth, the dragon of Xak Tsaroth, with a potion of luck and an arrow of teleportation (and a failed save on the arrow). The treasure was looted, and the dragon, if they ever encounter it again, is gonna be pissed! 

I made an adventure for Star Wars that I thought would be cool and different (and fast) but it's taken two sessions and at least one more. But I'm going to try and get that done this upcoming holiday week (Chuseok, lunar thanksgiving) so we can move back to more traditional bounty hunter/criminal underworld shenanigans with occasional Imperial incursions. The one good thing I did with this kinda boring adventure is set the PCs up to potentially be in conflict with the Pyke species. And that's most likely to be the case at the end of this thing. So that's something fun to work with. 

As for blogging, I've actually got quite a few topics I'd like to discuss, but honestly it's hard to find the time. Several are reactions or reflections based on other bloggers' recent(ish) works, but the more I put them off, the longer it's been since the original posts, the more I think I should just forget them. Still, I expect at least one or two of them to eventually find their way into pixels. 

Anyway, hoping the end of the year picks up. I've got Dune, The Eternals, and Spider-Man to look forward to in the theater, The Book of Boba Fett on TV, and plenty of gaming.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings -- Movie Review

My family went to see Shang Chi this afternoon. I'm definitely going to have a second viewing (or more) of this, both because of the things I loved about it, but also because there were a few things I missed (the trouble with taking a 7 year old to a movie like this is he can't focus when things aren't action packed or funny, so I can't focus). There may also be a few plot holes. Pretty much, though, it's a solid movie. 

Also, mandatory warning on language (since my blog has "curse" in the title and Google directs parents here): There are quite a few minor curse words. My 7 year old loves that. Mostly from Awkwafina's character Katy. No F-bombs, but similar levels to those in Black Widow and The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. 

My initial, and spoiler free, impression of the movie is that I liked it. A LOT! If you know my RPG work, you won't be surprised. I was looking forward to a super-powered kung fu movie. I figured, since it's involving a villain mostly from Iron Man comics (although with alien tech "magic" rings), that it would be relatively grounded in the "real world" of the MCU. Nope! Don't want to spoil things, but it's more akin to Thor or Dr. Strange than Iron Man or Captain America

Also, the second half of the movie was very much like a game of Flying Swordsmen! So yeah, you can guess I'd dig it from that. 

It's Marvel Studios, so of course the production values were great, the action scenes well done (most of them were easy to follow, but one was a bit confusing for me -- but again that may have been because I had to constantly stop my younger son from kicking the seat in front of him or climbing on the back of his own seat). The casting was good. Nice to see Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh. Makes me want to rewatch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jet Li's Hero. I haven't seen either of them in a while. 

Also, there are two helpings of shawarma. I was expecting one to tie in to The Eternals due to (spoiler) and because it's the next MCU movie to come out, but it didn't directly. The mid-credit scene was pretty funny, while the after-credit scene was just a short set-up for a future film. 

Are you an MCU fan like me? This one will wet your whistle. Are you a martial arts/wuxia fan like me? This one will deliver. Are you an Asian-themed fantasy buff like me? You'll be happily surprised at a few little things here and there. If you don't really like any of these things, why are you bothering to read this review?

Friday, August 27, 2021


 Yesterday, Nathan Irving posted that he'd done a bit of simple research on dokkaebi because of my post, and made some interesting suggestions on how to modify the class. 

This morning, I randomly found one of my son's books of Korean folklore about a dokkaebi on the floor (along with a few other books). So, even though my Korean isn't great, I read it to him and he translated a couple of points I didn't understand (Korean is very easy to read, even if you don't know what you're reading). 

The story is about two brothers. The older is lazy, the younger one hard working. The older brother sends the younger to the mountain to collect sticks and bring back some food. Younger brother (no names given) finds some sesame nuts and collects them along with the sticks. But he gets lost, it gets dark, he finds a run-down old house to spend the night. But he hears a ruckus outside, and hides in a cupboard just before a group of dokkaebi enter. They smash their spiked clubs (bangmangi) on the ground and both food and treasure appear. They begin to feast. The brother is hungry, so cracks a sesame nut. The cracking sound is so loud, the dokkaebi think it's the roof cracking and about to fall in, so they run away. Brother takes the treasure and one of the bangmangi that was dropped, and heads home in the morning. 

The dokkaebi feast
Older brother hears this and decides to get off his lazy butt and copy his little brother's good luck. He doesn't collect wood, just sesame nuts, then hides in the shack. The dokkaebi come back, looking for the missing bangmangi. Older brother starts cracking sesame nuts to scare them away, but they realize it's just a human hiding, pull him out, and beat him up for stealing the club. He comes home, having learned his lesson, and the brothers use the treasure to buy a new, bigger home. And older brother becomes hard working. 

It's a fairly typical instructive folktale for children. And the dokkaebi in it are rowdy party dudes, but also perform the function of teaching the lazy older brother his lesson. 

One of the most famous Korean folk tales is that of brothers Heungbu and Nolbu (I mentioned this in my reply to Nathan). Heungbu is kind and hard working, but poor. Nolbu is fat and lazy, but rich. Nolbu is so stingy he won't even share any rice with his younger brother's family. 

Heungbu sees a swallow with a broken leg and nurses it back to health. The swallow may or may not be a spirit creature, but anyway it returns and blesses his house by laying magical eggs. When Heungbu opens the eggs, treasure spills out. 

Nolbu hears about this and decides he wants some free money, too. He dresses like a snake to scare a swallow into falling and breaking its leg. Then throwing off the disguise, he nurses the swallow just like Heungbu did. But the bird is not fooled. It does return and lays eggs. But when Nolbu opens them, dokkaebi appear and start trashing his house. Then another egg breaks and floods the house with shit. Nolbu learns his lesson when Heungbu gives up some of his treasure to help Nolbu rebuild. 

The flood of poop, and dokkaebi

Again, a folk tale meant as instructive for children. And who doesn't love the idea of the rich, greedy, lazy guy getting his stuff ruined by a flood of diarrhea? Anyway, this is where my conception of dokkaebi as dispensers of divine justice comes from. 

I just found a third book (my wife, like many Korean women, buys these sets of books from publishers, and most kids never really read all of them) with another dokkaebi story. I should read it a bit more closely (or with my son so he can fill in the gaps), but it seems like a spirit of a mountain is bothered by a bunch of rowdy dokkaebi, and chases them off. Then at the end of the book he gets taught a lesson by a witch (or group of witches? She seems to duplicate in the pictures). Here's a picture from the beginning of the story. 

I've made a quick revision of my dokkaebi class. Now they're a bit more trickster-ish, although still primarily a Fighter-type class. And they have some small ability to create items (but not treasure, obviously) when needed, a few times per day. Also some stealth (Halfling hide ability transfers nicely to them to mimic the invisibility caps of folklore). And I kept two "clerical" abilities from before. One is the ability to detect evil at will (which they had before), but only on a 1-2/d6 roll. The other is the ability to summon a spirit companion (Nate makes good use of the Channel Spirit spell to have Finn, his Dokkaebi Mudang (shaman) PC, summon Fang, his "brother" to help fight).