Saturday, September 24, 2022

Starting the campaign with a near TPK

Today was the second game of the new campaign. Last session, the PCs had discovered that the town constable was acting strangely, and were asked to investigate. They discovered that the constable's new lieutenant was an aswang - a shapeshifting creature. 

This session, they followed up a few leads and set out for the desecrated shrine on a map they found among the lieutenant's stuff. Despite hints from me that they could hire men-at-arms, the party just went in on their own. Despite setting off an alarm at the gates of the shrine, they proceeded anyway. Despite the kensei falling in a pit trap and losing half of her hit points (and no healing spells), they pressed on. 

When they found captives tied up in a locked room, there was a little bit of suspicion, but they came to the decision that these were in fact captured farmers from the neighborhood and set them loose. Then when they were about to go through the next door, the "farmers" revealed themselves to be aswang and attacked. [They'd been warned by alarms and set the ambush for the PCs.]

Now we had some unlucky dice rolls. The aswangs (bog standard doppelganger stats, revised description) got surprise on the party. With 4HD and 1d12 damage, and a couple of good rolls, they managed to kill the party wu jen and thief in the surprise round. One of the fighters was wounded. 

Instead of surrendering or retreating, the other party members fought on. They managed to kill one of the aswangs, but then the sohei and kensei and one fighter were killed. The other fighter, a cat hengeyokai, transformed and fled the combat. 

Most of the players have been playing in my West Marches game, so they know that old school play can be deadly, and that I'm not pulling punches. The kensei's player had played a bit of WM back when I was still using 5E rules, and she's mostly played 5E since then. She was a bit surprised that nearly everyone died, but took it in stride. She was at least satisfied that her character achieved a noble death in battle. A previous version of her PC in a 5E campaign run by a friend had a less than satisfying end, so this gave her character concept some closure at least! 

I did try to warn them by suggesting multiple times that they hire some men-at-arms. Also, bad luck that they were surprised by the aswang. If the wu jen had not been taken out in the surprise round, he likely would have put two or three of them to sleep, making the encounter manageable without the men-at-arms. Oh well, two of the PCs (wu jen and kensei) were still at 0xp since the players couldn't come last week. And the other three that died didn't have that much collected yet. They can roll up some new PCs and play will continue in two weeks.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Threat Assessment is an Important Part of the Game

Ever since 3E came out, the currently published editions of D&D have included rules for "leveling up" monsters to keep their power level in line with those of the PCs. So instead of graduating from battling kobolds and giant rats to battling bugbears and carrion crawlers, then moving on to trolls and chimeras, and then on to frost giants and purple worms, we instead get just an ever expanding roster of creatures to fight. But it's perfectly possible for a DM to have a war against ever increasingly powerful orcs from level 1 to level 20 of the game, if that's what's desired. 

And this is a problem for more than one reason. For one thing, aside from the ability to now face some creatures that were off limits before, as a player you still feel like you haven't really gained in power. Your character has gotten more bells and whistles. Managing all the special abilities, feats, spells, and magic items takes more time and focus during games. Things slow down because of it. But you still need to wipe out ONE MORE nest of goblins. 

Part of this problem is also that the DM is either too engrossed with their idea of the great goblin war or whatever, or else too limited in imagination to use other types of creatures effectively. They know how kobolds work. Just keep pumping up their hit dice as the players go up in level, and it will all work out fine! Or so they think.

But another problem that people might not consider at first is that this means, to experienced players, that they will never know just how tough an encounter with orcs is going to be. 

I don't hear much bemoaning of "metagaming" these days, say compared to 10 to 15 years ago. Maybe I'm just missing a lot of the community chatter since I'm not really in a lot of RPG discussion social media groups and don't frequent any forums regularly. I do remember people championing this exact phenomenon because it helped to "prevent metagaming." But what it really does is render an important part of player skill irrelevant. 

If players know, from having faced certain types of monsters before, whether earlier in the campaign or from previous campaigns, that helps them with risk-reward assessment. They can gauge the power level of their part, the type and numbers of a group of monsters, and be able to judge easily whether to engage or try to avoid the encounter. Just like the artificialness of "dungeon levels" helps a party decide on their level of risk vs potential reward, knowing the monsters is information that experienced players (and by extension their characters) can use to make decisions. And decisions are the heart of game play. 

Now, if a DM is going to go the 3E and forward path, and try to run level appropriate adventures where the PCs are assumed to a) take on every encounter they come across and b) have a near guaranteed chance to win these encounters until the big bad at the end...which they still have a pretty good chance unless they make some dumb decisions or the dice are just not there for them, well for that DM it probably doesn't matter if the orcs have 1 hit die or 6. The PCs won't encounter the 6HD orcs until they're 8th or 9th level. 

But in an open world game, or a megadungeon, or any other more old school player driven game, knowing the monsters is part of the player skill set that should not be ignored. 

Now, this doesn't mean that there can't be an especially big and tough version of a normal monster, or that DMs should never introduce new monsters to the mix. It's important to shake things up now and then. But really, this works best if the players KNOW most of the regularly encountered creatures. The creatures they don't know will make them act cautiously until they know what they're up against. And really, a good DM should be giving clues when they put in those tougher than normal creatures. 

So, my advice for DMs? Don't scale up weak goober monsters for mid to high level PCs unless there's a solid reason to do so. Telegraph that when you do it. There are plenty of creatures of all challenge levels that can be pulled from 50 years worth of the game. And no matter what system you're running, it's probably not that difficult to convert between rule sets. I've converted plenty of 3E creatures to BECMI stats. And back when I played 3E I converted old school monsters to 3E. It's not that hard. 

[Yes, this post was inspired by an event in one of the the 5E games I play in (via PbP). We ran into an encounter with orcs wearing black chitinous armor. They're a lot tougher than normal orcs, and we're (6th to 7th level) getting our asses handed to us. But the GM DID give us clues that these guys were tougher than normal. I'm not faulting him! He did it right. But the encounter got me thinking about this phenomenon.]

Friday, September 16, 2022

Feeling Confident

Tomorrow, I'm starting up my new TS&R Jade campaign. It's a mixed Asian-inspired fantasy realm. Not faux China like in Flying Swordsmen, not faux Japan like in Chanbara. Just a big old fantasy goulash of Asian history, legends and pop culture tropes. Just like most D&D campaigns mix up all the European (and sometimes Near/Middle-Eastern) historical and legendary tropes. 

Two of the players missed the session 0 two weeks ago. I've been working with them online to roll up their PCs. One of them, Lisa, got the rules document from our Discord channel and was looking over it while we text chatted. We had this exchange: 

Seeing Lisa's reaction, I'm feeling more confident about releasing this rule set (and the TS&R Ruby, which is standard Euro-centric D&D classes that no one really needs if you have any old rules or modern retroclones, but anyway...). 

The TS&R Jade Bestiary and Treasury book is more or less done. Some of the art is placeholder stuff. I cobbled some pictures together with my meager GIMP skills, and they look fairly crappy. Others were low res public domain images, that looked OK on the screen, but when I printed them out looked bad. 

I'd also pared down the monster descriptions in order to fit in art, but now there are plenty of gaps where things just didn't fit the way I expected, so I could go back and expand on some of them to have less white space on the pages. 

Oh, and I've got some space in the magic item description sections for some images, and need to find some good PD sources for items (or again try my GIMP skills to modify them). 

So the Player book is good. I'm happy with it, and at least one person has given me a glowing review. The monster/treasure book is nearly done. I just need to add a few "magic item" images, remove or replace the monster images that make it look amateurish and expand a few monster descriptions that were overly truncated. 

Then I need to totally rewrite the Game Master guidebook. I've got a lot of ideas for how to do it, many based off of recent posts at The Tao of D&D, and some ideas from other blogs or YouTubers (check out an old school YT channel called Bandit's Keep if you haven't yet). 

So for the dozen or so people actually waiting for this, Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins is coming. Soon. Hopefully by the end of the year!

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Session 0

Had Session 0 for the new Asian fantasy campaign today. 

It didn't go off exactly as planned. One player was out because she has a friend visiting this weekend. Another is recovering from covid. 

But we met up and made some PCs for those that could attend. My boys have each made one PC already, both fighters. Flynn's PC is human, Steven's is cat hengeyokai. I asked them to make a back-up PC, and Flynn rolled up a human wu jen. Steve is attached to the idea of his character and refused to roll another. Well, we'll see how things go. 

Justin rolled up a koropokuru yakuza and a human wu jen. 

Nate rolled up a yeongno sohei and a vanara thief. 

It looks like an interesting group already. I had planned to do a little mini adventure after the character creation, but it took a while for Flynn to decide on his wu jen taboos. And we were short two players. So Justin pulled out a card game and we played that. The boys had a lot of fun with it. 

This evening, I called Denis and we talked about the session (and his work on an upcoming Gamma World campaign). He's now thinking of a samurai or noble warlord type PC (probably fighter, but maybe kensei or xia), and a mudang (shaman) of some sort. 

I have no idea what sorts of PCs Lisa might roll up, but she always has a lot of fun and high energy when she plays, so I know they'll add to the campaign. 

I'm going to allow the players to use their PCs as a stable, if they wish, alternating between PCs from session to session if they want. Or they can keep the backup as a spare in case the main PC dies. 

In other news, I think I finally have my next Star Wars d6 adventure idea down. I have an idea for what will follow from the events of the previous session now, but I need some input from the players about what they'd like to do next. Once I have that, I can merge their plans with my plans for the enemies, set up a situation, and then let the players mess it all up!

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

How many spells do I get?

This is something I've known about for a while, but if I've blogged about it before, I've forgotten. And I didn't tag it with my MU tag if I did. 

So, Magic-Users. How many spells per day can they cast? Apparently, as you level up, there are quite a few discrepancies depending on what book you're using. 

My print version of the Mentzer Expert Set has this table:

However, the PDF version (the really old PDF, back before the Pathfinder schism) has this:

Up to 5th level, they're identical. But at 6th level, you get an extra 1st level spell in my print book than in the PDF version. 

7th and 8th level are the same. So far, slight advantage to the print book.

At 9th level, though, the PDF version gets an extra 3rd level spell compared to the print book. Now the tables have turned!

At 10th level, the print MU gets an extra 1st level spell, but the PDF MU gets an extra 4th level spell! 

But at 11th level, the PDF MU finally gets that fourth 1st level spell, and their first 6th level spell. But the print MU gets extra 2nd and 3rd level spells (fourth for each) and finally gets that third 4th level spell. 

12th level finally sees the two versions the same again. 

But at 13th level, the print MU again gets a 1st level spell that the PDF MU doesn't, which remains the case at 14th level, as well. 

I don't know if the PDF was edited to match the later RC progression, or if there were multiple versions of the Expert Set put out. Here's the RC: 

And for completeness, here's the BX version: 

This is almost the same as what's in the PDF and RC, until 12th level. Then the BX MU gets a boost in their higher level spells per day. Since the BECMI line was planned from the beginning for a level 1 to 36 spread, that's not surprising. 

AD&D, of course, also has a different spread of spells per level: 

Not gonna analyze all the differences between AD&D and Classic, as I'm mainly just interested in the two very different versions of BECMI Expert today. Oh, and just the BECMI MU. The Elf is also different, with a progression matching the MU in the PDF version 100%, but in the print version getting 10th level spells 5/4/3/2/1 in the print version!

Either way, the spell progression of both print and PDF Expert sets match up with the progression in the Companion Set (which matches the RC, at least at 15th level):

The PDF MU is gaining 1st and a 7th level spells at 15th level, while the print MU is only getting that 7th level spell.

The print version gets a bit more versatility over all, with more lower level spells sooner. But the PDF version gets better higher level spells, so more power.

Just for fun, I may go through my spell tables and see what it would look like to give the most generous spell progression for each spell level, mixing the two (three with BX) Expert Sets. Or maybe even bringing in the 1E progression, too! Just to see what it's like.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Equipping Henchmen and Men at Arms

I just rolled up 20 potential hirelings for my new campaign. If players try to recruit some men-at-arms or other hirelings, I can roll a d20 or three to see who shows up. 

My son helped me list some names, which means some have some joke names (Chae Du --> Chad, or the actual Korean name Yu Seok, pronounced like "you suck"). And to decide what, if any weapons and armor they came with, and if they had any interesting traits, I made some quick and dirty random tables. 

Each is on a 2dx spread to get bell curve results, except for the ranged weapon subtable. They're rare enough that a flat distribution is fine. Only one PC ended up with a ranged weapon anyway (and has a shield...go figure).

Armor roll 2d4

2: leather & shield

3: silk armor & shield

4: shield

5: no armor

6: silk armor

7: leather armor

8: brigandine or scale armor

[Silk Armor gives AC 8(12) vs melee, but AC 5(15) vs ranged attacks]

Weapons roll 2d6

2: ranged weapon

3: saber

4: dagger-axe

5: hand axe

6: dagger

7: no weapon

8: spear

9: nunchaku

10: staff

11: tiger fork

12: roll twice

Ranged Weapons Subtable roll 1d6

1: short bow

2: pellet crossbow

3: light crossbow

4: sling

5: 2d4 javelins

6: blowgun

Each NPC had a 1 in 6 chance to have a Special ability. Two have them.

Special Ability roll 2d4

2: 1st level mudang (cleric) spell

3: Keen Eyes: find traps/secret doors 1-2/d6

4: Educated: +2 languages

5: Adventuring Gear (backpack, rope, lantern, tinderbox, etc.)

6: 2HD instead of 1-1HD

7: High Strength (+1 to hit/damage)

8: 1st level wu jen (magic user) spell

It's interesting. Almost all have at least some kind of armor. Only one NPC doesn't have a weapon. All of the melee weapons were rolled, but the saber is the most common. Go figure. Rolled lots of 3s when rolling weapons.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Download some stuff!

Thanks to bhyeti for requesting my old Star Frontiers module The Derelict, a bunch of stuff I used to give away for free here on the blog is now back up and available for you to download. There's a new standalone page link at the top there for them. 

I had originally posted them to another blogger's hosting site (and it was so long ago, I forgot exactly who it was), but something happened and they let the site go down. And no one was clamoring for those files, so I just let them sit on my hard drive for years. 

Anyway, you can now get that SF module mentioned above, my Unique Magic Items series (weapons, armor/shields, wands/staves/rods), the compilation of my old Beast of the Week series, and some supplemental stuff for Flying Swordsmen or old school D&D games for free. Everything's hosted on my Google Drive now, so unless something happens to me and my family decides to scrub the web of my presence, they shouldn't be any more hiccups with hosting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


 So, not only did news of "One D&D" drop this week, we also got the announcement of the launch of 5E material translated into Japanese this week. 

It's a pretty decent commercial. And if you don't speak Japanese, don't worry, the video has English subtitles that are a good translation of what's spoken. 

But it is a bit funny that they're launching this right now.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Age of the Rolling Update

No doubt you've heard WotC's announcement earlier in the week of the playtest for "One D&D" which according to their slick YouTube video will be updating, consolidating, and tweaking 5E in order to keep selling you the same stuff you've already purchased provide you with the most up-to-date version of the rules on a regular basis. And it will most definitely NOT be a new edition. Oh no, wouldn't want that. That splits the fanbase.

Well, despite the desire on WotC's part, it looks to me like it will be at least as substantial a change in 5E as adding books from 1984+ to 1E (UA, OA, Dungeoneers/Wilderness Survival Guides), which many consider 1.5E, or the "skills & powers" stuff for 2E, which again many consider to be 2.5E. 

Of course, this is play test material, and the finished 5E was fairly different from the D&D Next play test material in certain ways. 

But there will be changes. And from what it sounds like, the new VTT (if they actually manage to make it work this time) will likely put players on either a subscription model or an in-app purchases model to make money each time something gets added or updated. Not to mention all the money the could make from the sale of virtual tabletop monster models or other assets for DMs without the time to model their own.

So WotC seems to have finally found a way to market D&D in the same way they've always done Magic: The Gathering. Keep releasing updates/expansions and every couple of years update/modify the base rules just enough to keep people purchasing them again. 

If that keeps the company profitable, and keeps D&D in particular and RPGs in general in the public consciousness, that's fine with me. I've been meeting more and more people these days who game, and talk about it openly, than I ever have in my life. I've actually got more players interested in my upcoming TS&R Jade campaign than I need. 

I probably will be finished with 5E/One D&D though. If the online play-by-post 5E games I'm in update to the new rules, I will drop out. If they keep with 5E I'll stick around at least one of them. It's a lot of fun, fairly old school in approach (tons of randomly generated content and a focus on exploration with no set story), and definitely not on any sort of rails. The other two are running published 5E modules, and I joined both games from curiosity. They're very boring to be honest. PbP games require good pacing, and the modules may work really well around a table (real or virtual), but they drag out a lot of boring crap in PbP. But since they're railroads, we've got to play out the encounters given in the module because they're given in the module. 

If you are still enjoying 5E, and looking forward to this "revision but not new edition" I wish you the best with it. 5E is a solid game, and does what it sets out to do pretty darn well. I've had fun playing it, if not so much fun when I tried to run it. I'll be sticking to my old school style games for D&D.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

New Campaign Prep Continues

Been busy teaching an elementary student English camp last week, and this week. They are both physically and mentally draining, but a lot of fun. And I get to inspire a bunch of Korean kids to take more interest in learning English. 

This year, instead of reading and creating choose-your-own-adventure type stories, I'm playing board games with the kids. They're really enjoying it. Some got into the interactive fiction thing, but for most it was just a thing to do. With the board games (Bang!, King of Tokyo, Dungeon!, Clue, The Keeyp) they really have fun. But explaining the games takes a lot of effort. 4th and 5th graders aren't the most patient bunch. :D 

Aside from the board games, quite a few of the new teachers I've met this time are gamers. One runs a Pathfinder game, and two others play in a 5E game together. Another guy isn't currently gaming, but both he and the PF guy were interested in maybe joining my new TS&R campaign. So I don't need to worry about one of the currently interested players dropping out. That's a nice feeling. 

I've got enough locations and NPCs in the home town described in enough detail to get started. I can add layers of detail as they develop in play. I've got half a dozen small dungeons ready. I've got the "main" dungeon maps drawn and keyed. I just need to fill in what's in the rooms. 

The dungeon is not a megadungeon, but it is fairly large. The first level has around 60 encounter areas. About 100 on the second level. And approximately 140 on the third level. Three hundred encounter areas seems like quite a bit, but there are several "special" locations in each level, most with multiple sub-areas (counted in the totals above). By the standard stocking numbers, that's around 100 empty rooms, 100 rooms with monster encounters, 50 traps/hazards, and 50 strange or unusual encounters. 

It will take a bit of time to get that all filled in, but with the adventure seeds included with the home town, the small dungeons nearby, and a local wilderness area with encounter tables complete, I think I'll be confident to start if I only have the 1st level keyed by the time the campaign starts. I'll get as much of the 2nd done as well, if I can. Best would be to get all three keyed, so I can start throwing in rumors and missions at the players.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Working on the New Campaign

Haven't been blogging much lately because I'm prepping for the new campaign. I'm slowly building up the personalities, factions, and services available in the home town. I finished the third level map for the local "micro mega" dungeon. Three sprawling levels, lots of access points between the levels, and several key locations on each level. Stocking might take a while, but with the map done, that's half the battle. 

I've got several micro dungeons and challenges/rivalries/factional moves (some recycled from previous games, some new). Have to flesh out a few more, but I've got enough done, or nearly done, that I will feel comfortable starting the campaign in September. 

Of course, I'll be working at an elementary school English camp the next two weeks, so not much time to prep during those. They're pretty intense, and I doubt I'll get much work done on this campaign during the camp period. But I think I have enough in place to start. 

Also, my younger son made his character, a cat hengeyokai fighter. My older son will probably roll up a PC this weekend. I've got four or five more players lined up. 

The only problem is that this week, I've been looking at Southeast Asian folklore/mythology a bit, and finding lots of cool ideas for monsters from Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines that I'd like to add. Since I've already got the monsters & treasure book done and mostly formatted, so maybe I'll have to make a supplement already to add more monsters! 

Update: My older boy made his PC this evening. Another fighter, but a human this time, named Shi Jinping (ha ha)*. He's got lamellar armor, a heavy crossbow, a straight sword, and a backpack. He says he wants to take the game more seriously this time, but then starts drawing a picture of Winnie the Pooh in lamellar on his sheet. :D 

Son #2 doesn't want to have the same sort of sword, so says he wants to switch to a katana. He's got the cash, so that's no problem. 

*I told him it's spelled Xi, but he decided to keep this spelling.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Hengeyokai for TS&R Jade

 My second son, Steven, just turned 8 yesterday. He loves playing RPGs (until his short attention span runs out), and while he is half Korean, he's not too interested in Asian historical or fantastic dramas/movies. There was a Jackie Chan/John Cusack movie on TV yesterday while we were visiting his grandma's house. I watched a bit of it. He had zero interest. 

But when I talk about running a new D&D campaign with Asian fantasy tropes, he's down to play a ninja. 

Of course, he wants to be a cat-man ninja. 

Well, I'm not gonna make a Basic D&D version of the Tabaxi (all the rage in 5E), or make Rakasta a playable race (I think some BECMI supplement did that), but I did take a look at the 1E OA for the Hengeyokai stats, since one of their types is "cat."

And to make my son happy [as I did a few years ago by converting Dragonborn to Classic D&D for my older son], I took a stab at a TS&R Hengeyokai race. 

Before I present what I came up with, a few thoughts. 

First, I don't need 12 different animal types. Six, one for each of the six ability scores, is enough. Also, I've already got Vanara converted from 3E OA, so don't need Monkey Hengeyokai. I also had cut the Gumiho/Kitsune (fox fairy) race from my previous version, but sort of get that back with Fox Hengeyokai. And I added a Turtle, because TMNT.

Looking at the 1E OA race, they can be Shukenja (8th level), Kensai (6th level), Bushi (unlimited), Wu Jen (9th level). For TS&R, I think I've mentioned that I decided on 8/10/12 level caps for demi-humans to match the Halfling/Elf/Dwarf caps of BX & BECMI. I decided Kensai shouldn't be a standard class for Hengeyokai, and allow them to be Thieves instead. 

So in my rules, they can be Fighter (12th), Mudang [shaman/cleric] (8th), Thief (8th), Wu Jen [magic-user] (10th). But each subtype gets either a higher level limit or access to a class the other types can't access. And a small set of abilities that match their animal type. 

I removed the ability to turn fully human in appearance. I also changed the transformation ability to match my Druid shape-change. So instead of 1 transformation per level per day, they can transform for up to 1 hour per day, minimum 1 turn per transformation. Quite different from the 1E version, but avoids being a carp hengeyokai who transforms into fish for to navigate that ONE section of the dungeon...only to be stuck in fish form until the next day.

Sticking to the 1E rules, they can only speak to normal animals of their type or other hengeyokai when in animal form, and can't cast spells. In humanoid form, they can understand animals of their type but can't speak to them. 

Anyway, without further ado (and remember this is just a first draft which will be tested for balance in play), here are my Hengeyokai for TS&R Jade: 


Hengeyokai are shapeshifters that can take on an animal or humanoid form. In animal form, they are indistinguishable from a normal animal of their subtype. In humanoid form, they are human-sized, stand upright, but have animal heads and features. There are six subtypes, each with their own special abilities. Each subtype also gets an exception to the normal class restrictions for hengeyokai.

Minimum Scores: Dog: Str 9; Fox: Int 9; Turtle: Wis 9; Cat: Dex 9; Raccoon Dog: Con 9; Crane: Cha 9

Class: Fighter 12, Mudang 8, Thief 8, Wu Jen 10

Shapechange: The hengeyokai can change into the form of a normal animal for up to 1 hour (6 turns) each day. The hengeyokai keeps their hit points and ability scores, but other stats are as the animal. They may not cast spells while in animal form. They may speak only to animals of their type or other hengeyokai while in animal form, but understand all known languages. In humanoid form, they may not speak to animals of their type, but understand them.

Restrictions: Hengeyokai are shapechangers, and are vulnerable to any magic specific to shapechangers.

Languages: Common, Yokai, animal type


Dog: Track by scent 1-4/d6. May add +4 to hit on a melee attack 1/day. Sohei 8.

Dog Form: AC 11, Bite 1d6, Move 120(40)

Fox: Detect secret doors 1-2/d6, Detect traps 1-2/d6. Wu Jen 12.

Fox Form: AC 12, Bite 1d3, Move 150(50)

Turtle: +2 AC. Hold breath for up to 1 hour. Xia 8.

Turtle Form: AC 16, Bite 1, Move 60(20), Swim 90(30)

Cat: Balance 1-5/d6, Move silently 1-2/d6, Jump 10’ high or long. Yakuza 8.

Cat Form: AC 12, Claw 1d2, Move 120(40)

Raccoon Dog: +4 to save vs poison or petrification. Mudang 10.

Raccoon Dog Form: AC 11, Bite 1d6, Move 90(30)

Crane: Half damage from falling. +1 bonus to Reaction rolls. Kensei 8.

Crane Form: AC 13, Bite 1d2, Move 60(20), Fly 120(40)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Recent Viewing and Reading

 I've taken a bit of a break from running and playing RPGs. While I sort out how I want to begin my new game, which will be face to face instead of online, and my friend Denis preps for his new online Gamma World game, I haven't had much urge to run my West Marches or Star Wars games. I may not run WM again anyway (as I think I mentioned), but I will get some more SW gaming going once things settle down a bit. Anyway, it's summer vacation time. People have been going on vacations or are just busy with other stuff recently anyway (including me!). 

 I have been doing a lot of reading and viewing the past several weeks. Here's a little run-down of what I've been consuming and how well I liked it. 

Thor: Love and Thunder

I was going to do a proper review post, but it's been almost 2 weeks since I saw it already. So I'll start with that here. T:L&T is much more of a Taika Waititi film than Thor: Ragnarok was, if that makes sense. It's a bit goofier, a bit more rambling, and definitely off-beat. It's not quite as good as Ragnarok was. It's got good action sequences. Funny jokes (although many are forced or silly throw-away gags). Some emotional scenes. I think it falls a bit flat in that it could gotten much more emotional by investing more in Jane's and Gorr's story arcs, which were more interesting than Thor's. Thor is his own comedy relief in this movie, instead of letting Banner/Hulk and Korg take care of that. It's still a fun adventure movie, but I think it sacrificed some of the emotional strength it could have had for interesting but ultimately silly situations. 

That said, I am enjoying the recent trend in the MCU movies to let the directors put their stamp on their films. Eternals felt different. Black Widow felt different. Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness felt different. Shang Chi felt pretty typical, but it was full of cool magical martial arts action. Thor: L&T also felt different. I think that's a good thing for the MCU, even if it doesn't always work out.

The Boys Season 3 (Amazon Prime Video)

I semi binged the season. It continues to entertain, but something about this season felt like going through the motions. Sure, they introduced Soldier Boy and dealt with that plot thread by the end of the season. But almost all of the other continuing plot points were just punted down the line. I'm not sure how many seasons they're planning for this show, but if season 4 continues this trend, I may be done watching it. Unlike a monthly comic book, I don't think it's a good idea to have this sort of TV show go on forever. 

Stranger Things Season 4 (Netflix)

Oh my God! This season rocked. More prominent D&D! Some cool new characters, like Eddie Munson (the DM) and Argyle (the stoner) and Jason (the dickhead jock). Homages to Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, other mid to late 80s horror franchises. Kate Bush and Metallica!!! The Russia side plot was a bit silly, much like the Russians in Indiana side plot of season 3, but other than that it was gold. Looking forward for the series finale in Season 5.

 Ms. Marvel (Disney+)

This should be the future of the MCU! This show was so good. It had heart. It had charm. It had everything you'd want from a bildungsroman hero show. The actors made you feel not just like you were watching real people deal with real situations, they made you really love their (extended to include friends) family. The plot had its "save the world" bit, but it wasn't the primary conflict and wasn't hyped as some sort of DC style "Crisis." Best MCU Disney+ show to date.

Dune (2021)

My older boy, out of nowhere (probably something he saw on YouTube or heard from a friend in one of his Discord groups) suddenly asked me the other day if we could watch this. I missed it when it was in theaters in Korea (because of covid-19 and a full schedule, and because Flynn said he didn't want to see it when I asked him then). Anyway, we watched it together. It was pretty good. It's been quite a few years since I read the novel or seen the Lynch film or the Sci Fi mini-series versions, but it was close enough to what I remembered that I could explain the strange bits to him. I enjoyed it. We're looking forward to part 2 next year (and will see it in the theaters!), but I can't say it blew me away. Flynn loved it, though, saying he enjoyed it more than anything Star Wars. 

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)

Speaking of Star Wars, this was a pretty cool little show. Yeah, it bent the established canon a bit, but it did its best to try and rectify things that happened in the prequels, the original trilogy, and in this show itself. And it was cool to see both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen together again. And more Darth Vader is never a bad thing. There were a few weird things that didn't quite make sense, but it was definitely a step up from The Book of Boba Fett (which I also enjoyed). Decent quality Star Wars fare, and I really don't see what all the incel/racist types were complaining about. But then they'll complain about just about everything on this list no matter what, so screw them anyway.

Stephen King's The Dark Tower series

I've read this series through several times, and I'm currently re-reading it (in the middle of the final volume). If you've read it all the way to the end, well, what Roland the Gunslinger finds at the top of the Dark Tower pretty much demands that you re-read the series. Ka is a wheel, and it keeps on spinning. The impetus for this re-reading was that I finally picked up a copy of volume I The Gunslinger in hardback. I'd been lucky enough to score a limited 1st Edition hardback of Wizard and Glass back when it came out, and then got first editions of the final three books when they came out as well. A few months back I treated myself to a hardback copy of The Gunslinger (unfortunately not a first edition, it's the revised version, and sans the Whelan illustrations). Then I figured I might as well get hardback copies of The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands. Once I had all these hard copies (including The Wind Through the Keyhole), I figured it was time to read them again. And I'm enjoying it a lot, although I've been dreading a certain scene which I'm approaching quickly. When I finished reading this morning to come to work, the ka-tet were about to assault Algul Siento. This dread of re-reading this coming section of the work has been with me since my re-read of The Waste Lands, and it really puts a new spin on my take on the thing. Anyway, long story short (and without spoilers), this series still has what it takes to move me. 

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 1 (formerly Netflix, now Disney+)

All the former Netflix MCU "Defenders" related shows finally went up on Korean Disney+. They'd been off Netflix (and available to US D+ subscribers) for a while. Anyway, I noticed that they were finally up, so re-watched the first episode the other day to see if I'd want to revisit them. I really enjoyed Charlie Cox's take on Daredevil, and I'm glad they're keeping him (and Vincent D'onofrio as Kingpin) in the MCU. Flynn is interested in finally watching these shows, but Steven is still a bit young.  Maybe. Fururama is also now available on Korean Disney+, and that's a bit more family friendly!

Monday, July 18, 2022


JB put up an excellent post recently asking the question: why aren't there any good guides for beginning DMs? It's a lot easier to be a novice player and get into RPGs. Alexis at Tao of D&D has taken the challenge and has made some excellent posts about the poor writing in the old TSR books, and how their need to market the game, as well as inexperience as writers, gets in the way of actually teaching. He has an ongoing series of posts, three and counting at the moment (start here). Check them out.

While I could give it my own try (I will eventually when I start releasing TS&R books), here I'm just going to reminisce a bit about my own experiences, as best I remember them, of trying to figure out the game from the books. 

I got the Mentzer Basic set for my 11th birthday, back in 1984. I'd seen the D&D cartoon, had a few Endless Quest books (plus Choose Your Own Adventure and similar 2nd person fiction game-books), and was into fantasy and mythology. I was a pretty avid reader. As the son of a librarian, I spent a lot of time at the local library as a kid. So I wasn't a complete newbie to some of the concepts around D&D. And of course I'd done plenty of make-believe play. But I was completely new to the rules and procedures of RPG play. I hadn't done any war gaming. I hadn't played any really complex board games. Video game options were limited to my friends' Atari 2600s and Colecos. I'd had one acquaintance who had the BX books sort of explain a bit about it, but he was a bit of a condescending jerk and thought I was too immature to get it (as a 10 year old when he was 12). 

Anyway, that birthday gift changed my life. 

I remember reading the Mentzer set's player introduction. There's the little tutorial where you meet Aleena the Cleric and Bargle. It gives you a bit of railroady interactive fiction and makes you roll some dice here and there. Explains some terms as they come up. 

Then there's the "choose your own adventure" tutorial. Numbered paragraphs or sections of text with CYOA type choices of section to go to lead you through a solo game. It's possible to fail. Since it's just you and the book, it's VERY easy to cheat. But again, it helps guide you through some of the game mechanics and introduces not just game terms and systems (in a watered down fashion), but also the sorts of situations you could expect as a player. 

And it worked pretty well. I got it. I think I cheated on the CYOA adventure the first time I did it, but I played it a few more times until I was able to beat it fair and square. 

So for a potential player, so far so good!

Now, after reading through the rest of the players' book, I had some better idea of the game. But I still hadn't played it, and some things didn't make sense yet. 

I moved on to the DM's book. At the beginning, there's another CYOA adventure, except this time you're supposed to lead the players through the castle dungeon as their DM. It holds your hand, and explains some of the concepts and helps get your feet wet. Again, I read through it, and the rest of the book. Not everything made sense. But I got the gyst of it. 

I ran the Castle Mistamere dungeon for my two best friends that Christmas break (2 weeks after I'd gotten the books -- I'm a December baby). I explained the basics. We rolled up characters. Todd was a fighter and Ben was an elf. We played. They should have been eaten by the first encounter, a carrion crawler. Both were paralyzed, but I misunderstood turns and rounds, so Ben's elf was only paralyzed for 3 rounds, and managed to finish off the crawler which Todd's fighter had wounded before he was also paralyzed. They loved it. 

They took on the kobolds at the ruined gate next, and as suggested, the sleep spell did the trick. I think they explored a bit more, getting to the magic beds and being stumped by the cursed one. I was inexperienced, and to be honest the tutorial didn't make it clear that I should give hints that the other bed will cure a cursed sleeping PC. 

So it wasn't perfect. But it was great fun! We kept playing. Todd and Ben both soon had their own Basic Sets. In fact, Ben also later started collecting the AD&D books (Todd and I stuck to BECMI). We ran a sort of shared campaign among the three of us...although I was most often the DM. It went on until sometime when I was in college. I ran a few games while back on break, but me going to college in a city a 6 hour drive away pretty much ended the campaign. 

So I managed to figure it out on my own (and then with help from my friends). But I didn't know many other people who played. One of my other cousins played, but other than one summer when I spent a month at my aunt & uncle's house, we didn't play together much. I don't remember if he was also self-taught, or if he'd been inducted by other more experienced gamers. I only learned recently that another cousin-once-removed (grandson of my mom's & the above uncle's second oldest brother) played. He was the age of my younger sister, but if I'd known he played I would have invited him to our games! 

My school was pretty small. I think there was only one other person I knew at our school who owned D&D besides myself and Todd, a guy named Greg. He was a few years older than us. This guy's younger brother Brian played with us a few times since Todd and Brian were good friends. But Brian never really got into it, and I never approached Greg about playing together. I had tried to get a few other classmates and friends to play. My brother played often and younger sister played sometimes. Ben's brothers (one older, two younger) also played from time to time. A few other kids would give it a try, but none stuck around. 

I hate to speculate too much about other kids. Most were just not into geeky stuff. There was a stigma. There was the Satanic Panic (which also slowed but couldn't stoop my getting into hard rock/metal music). But I'm the only person I know of from those days who I can 100% say was self-taught by the books. Maybe Greg was, too? I'm not even sure how often he played or who he played with. They were kids 3-4 years older than me, so not really in my circle. Maybe Charlie and Adam (my cousins), maybe not. I can ask Adam, but Charlie was killed in a car accident years ago. Maybe I could as his sibling Kay-Cee, but I don't know if they would remember. Kay-Cee was familiar with D&D when Charlie and I were playing it that one summer, but I don't remember if they joined in our games or not.

The old TSR books were definitely written in such a way that the game could be figured out on your own, if you stuck with it. But we did have a lot of misconceptions that took time to overcome which might not have happened if we'd been tutored by more experienced gamers. 

And even though I was in a pretty rural area, considering the popularity of the game and supposed huge volume of sales for the various Basic sets, I suspect there were other kids in my area who had the game but were never able to figure it out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Volcanic lava caves

Quite a few years back, I blogged about the Mark Twain Caves in Hannibal, MO. They're the cave system I'm most familiar with, having grown up in that region and visited several times. The cave system is full of twisty passages, narrow passages and wider chambers, rough terrain, elevation changes, and so on. Very much like the maze dungeon I was defending in that post seven years back.

My family spent the 4th of July weekend visiting Jeju Island. Obviously the 4th isn't a holiday in South Korea, but I'm on summer vacation and we took the boys out of school for a couple days to avoid the vacation rush. For some stupid reason, South Korea has decided that the final week of July/first week of August is when EVERYONE in the nation should take their summer vacation. We got lucky that a typhoon that had been headed our way veered off to Kyushu. Got a little rain, but not too bad. 

Anyway, one of the things I was most interested in seeing was a place called Manjanggul Cave. It's a lava tube cave, created by a series of volcanic eruptions. 

The cave entrance (and my boys' heads)

And it's pretty much just one long snaking tunnel. It was wide, around 30-40' for most of the length. There was a stretch where it narrowed to I'd guess 10-12' for a bit, and a few places where rocks blocked parts of the main floor. The ceiling was also high, usually around 40' or so, I'd guess. The floor was rough and pitted, with pools of standing water common, but it was generally fairly easy to walk. When we got to the end of the tour area (after about 1km walk), the boys sped back to the entrance while my wife and I took our time. They say they didn't fall while doing this, and Stevie, my younger, is pretty careless. If he could hustle through the caves, it's not so bad.

As you can see, there are lights every 15' or so, staggered left and right, so each light on a side is around 30' apart. And they used colored lights for effect.

Not as claustrophobia-inducing as the Mark Twain Caves. Well, I say that as someone without claustrophobia. So I could be wrong on that. But it's much roomier than MTC. 

Anyway, this cave is just one big long snaking tunnel, like what might be left behind by a purple worm.

The map
No defense of dungeon mapping in this post, but thought I'd share the cool caves I "explored" on the trip. Aside from the cave, we did some fun stuff for the boys, like go-kart riding, a maze experience zone (that was a workout!), and did some archery! 

The boys had shot my old recurve bow when they were in the U.S. a few years ago, but I'd never had any proper instruction in archery. The guy at the archery range spoke perfect English (he'd lived in Singapore and California), and was a really nice guy. Since he wasn't busy, he let us shoot a few extra rounds for free, and gifted Stevie with some 8-bit glasses as a prize for hitting a bullseye in one of the rounds. He taught us a hybrid of traditional Korean and Olympic style archery, and we all did fairly well with it. Flynn, my older boy, did the best, but that's not surprising as he's always taken to any sort of sport quickly (unlike his old man).

The archery range is the one thing both boys agreed they'd like to return to the next time we visit Jeju.

Also, in ALMOST game-related stuff, the view from our hotel room included this place.

Unfortunately, I was correct in assuming it actually had nothing to do with D&D.

Friday, July 1, 2022

From the Houses of the Holy

For Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins, I have five "holy" classes. Actually, there could be more, depending on the way you characterize them. This isn't counting Bards, Rangers, or Xia, who could all be played as adventuring religious figures if you so choose. But then, you could play any class that way, really. 

Today, I'm focusing on these classes. 

From TS&R Ruby: Cleric, Druid, Paladin

From TS&R Jade: Mudang, Sohei

Clerics are easy. Mine are more or less like the BX or BECMI class, except I use d8 hit dice and give them spells starting at 1st level, as in AD&D. They get blunt weapons, all armors, defensive/utility/healing magic, and can turn undead. Humans of course can be Clerics. I also allow Dwarves up to 8th level (an association from newer editions that I enjoy), and Half-Orcs can be Clerics up to 10th level. A bit higher than their AD&D level limit. What about Half-Elves, you say? Well, in my rules a "half-elf" is just a bit of roleplay you can add on to your Human or Elf character and has no mechanical effects. So "half-elf cleric" is just a Human Cleric with some angsty half-elf flavor.

Druids are a little more complicated, but not too much. I started with the template from the Companion Set, but allow them from 1st level. Also, taking a bit of inspiration from the AD&D class for them. They use a d6 for their hit die. They can only use organic or stone weapons, and wear only organic armor (although I have a few options besides leather, like silk/linothorax, or lacquered wooden lamellar), as in BECMI. They start with spells from level 1, and their spell list is similar but not identical to the Cleric list. I added a few spells from AD&D that aren't on the BECMI lists, and a couple of MU spells that are nature oriented, and replaced a few of the Cleric spells besides those "dealing with good or evil" as in BECMI. 

For special abilities, Druids get Nature Lore: identify plants/animals, detect if food/water are safe to consume, and detect if plants/animals are sick or enchanted, each with a 1-4/d6 chance of success. They can also, like the Ranger, double the amount of food foraged by a party. 

Next, they get their animal shape-change ability. I've been working to balance this for a few years now. Lately no one is playing a Druid in West Marches, but I hope this is the version of the power that works well: The Druid may take on the form of an animal for a total of 6 turns (1 hour) per day. In animal form, they keep their hit points, but all other stats are as the animal. At 1st level, they are limited to small harmless animals (sparrow, frog, mouse, beetle, etc.). Starting at 2nd level, they can transform into larger animals with hit dice equal to their level. So a riding horse, wolf, oil beetle or giant bat at 2nd level, a giant tarantula or black bear at 4th level, a triceratops at 11th level, and so on. 

I think this gets the balance right. They can transform once for an hour, or six times a day for 1 turn each. They can't cast spells while in animal form. They can get access to things like poison bites from 2nd level, which is pretty big, but they still have limited HP and most animals don't have great AC. No where near as powerful as the 5E druid's shapechange which provides extra HP on top of the druid's own, and combat effectiveness from level 1. 

Paladins are basically a Fighter/Cleric, as in AD&D, BECMI, and later editions. They get a d10 hit die, can use all weapons and armor, but have both STR and WIS as prime requisite scores. Their saving throw numbers are as a Cleric, but increasing every 3 levels along with their attack chances. 

Special abilities, are unsurprisingly Lay on Hands, spells, Sweep, Courage, Multiple Attacks, and Dispel. 

Lay on Hands, as in AD&D, grants them healing of 2hp/level each day, but only to other characters. I remember playing a Paladin in Pathfinder and only ever using LoH on myself. Not very knight-in-shinging-armor way of using the ability. At 2nd level, they can start casting Cleric spells, but they have a slower progression and cannot cast higher than 4th level spells. 

Sweep is (as the SSI Gold Box Games told us) the ability to attack 1 creature of 1HD or less per level each round, as a Fighter. 

At 4th level, Courage makes them immune to fear effects, and gives them a +2 bonus against charm effects. 

At 8th level, they get 2 attacks per round when not using Sweep. They never get a 3rd attack, though. 

Finally, at 9th level they can dispel magical effects on their own person 1/day.

Mudang, or shamans, are the TS&R Jade version of the Cleric. There are some important differences, though. They have a d8 HD like Clerics, and are limited to blunt weapons only (I may change this up a bit), but can only wear up to medium armors (chain mail, lamellar). They can use shields, too. They have spells from 1st level, and their spell list is similar but not identical to the Cleric spell list (spells from OA, Dragon Fist/Flying Swordsmen, and Chanbara add to the list). They do NOT turn undead. Instead, they get Resistance (+3 to a save 1/day/level) as in 1E OA (shukenja), but at 4th level I allow them to grant this bonus to an ally within 10' if they choose. 

Next, they get a ritual ability. They spend 1 turn (10 minutes) performing the ritual and get one of these three effects: 

* Trance: gain spirit vision (detect ethereal/astral creatures) for 1d6 hours

* Purify: sanctify an area (shrine, home, etc.) which wards out spirit creatures, undead, and demons.

* Soothe: allow up to 4 creatures affected by poison, disease, or other non-magical maladies to make a new saving throw against that effect. 

Mudang can only perform 1 ritual per day.

Finally, they get 1d6 damage when using martial arts, which again is like the 1E shukenja or 3E shaman.

Sohei are a lot like the Paladin, in that they combine the Fighter and Mudang. They get a d10 hit die, all weapons & armor, but progress in attacks and saves as the Mudang and Cleric (ever 4 levels). 

They get a combat Frenzy ability (bonus to hit, damage, AC, saves) for up to 1 turn.  They can use this 1/day at 1st level, 2/day at 5th level, and 3/day at 10th level, with the bonuses equal to the number of times it can be used per day. 

For spells, like the Paladin they start at 2nd level and can't gain higher than 4th level spells. They use the Mudang list. 

At 2nd level they can Sweep like a Fighter, and at 8th level they get 2 attacks per round when not using Sweep, as the Paladin does.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Not all that glitters is golden

So yesterday, I had a bit of free time between administering final tests so watched a few YouTube videos. First two were political/philosophical in nature. Then one of the suggested videos was about D&D, titled "The Problem with D&D Rangers" by someone called Pointy Hat. Obviously, it's 5E centric (that's what gets the views), but it did discuss how the class has evolved over the years and came up with an answer to the title question that I think is prescient for the 5E Ranger and why people say it sucks: 

Too many gamers have too many disparate ideas about what the ranger is and what its role in the game should be. 

Is the ranger a ranged combat specialist? 

Is the ranger a wilderness expert and guide? 

Is the ranger a guy who tames animals? 

Is the ranger a two-weapon fighting specialist?

Is the ranger some sort of half-fighter/half-druid?

Is the ranger a guy with a magic energy bow?

Is the ranger a specialist at combating one type of monster? 

Is the ranger an attempt to make one specific fictional character into a playable class?

Is the ranger some sort of elite guerilla fighter? 

Is the ranger something else?

OK, jokes aside, there are too many ideas about what a ranger is supposed to be, and the video rightly pointed out that the class sucks because it's trying to be all of them at once. 

In 1E, the class was heavily inspired by Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. 

In 2E, it got heavily influenced by Drizzt and that set the tone for many players in the 90s.

In 3E, it tried to be both Aragorn and Drizzt at the same time. It wasn't great. 

Not sure about 4E. Never got that into that edition, and never tried to play a ranger. I think they were all about sniper DPS though...

Anyway, 5E has tried to make a class that covers pretty much everything above (except the pickup...unless that's covered in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything or one of the other splat books?). As the video pointed out, there are several versions of the ranger for 5E, and multiple alternate abilities that can be taken to cover most of the archetypes above. But since the designers can't pick one lane, the class sorta sucks. And players coming to the class expecting one (or maybe two) of the above archetypes end up disappointed. 

Anyway, it's a long way around to pointing to MY latest update to my ranger class for TS&R Ruby [Classic (BX/BECMI style) D&D]. 

My revised version hews somewhat closely to the 1E class in inspiration, but may be a bit more like the 3E or 5E classes in mechanics. 

But what it has that other previous ranger classes lack are some bonuses to the actual game rules related to wilderness exploration. 

Classic D&D has wilderness rules for moving through different types of terrain (speed reductions), rules for getting lost, rules for hunting/foraging, and rules for evading encounters. These are actual rules systems, not just "roll a survival check" or some bullshit like that. 

My ranger starts out based on the Fighter (attacks increase every 3 levels, Fighter saving throws, d10 hit die). They start out with Dwarf class XP requirements (2200xp to level 2) but that diverges a bit at higher levels. They can use any weapon, and armor up to chain mail/lamellar, plus shields. 

Among their special abilities, they can Sweep (1 attack per HD against 1HD or lower opponents) and gain extra attacks at higher level like Fighters. At 8th level, it's 2 attacks per round when not using Sweep. At 12th level, they gain a 3rd attack but only if using ranged weapons (Fighters get a 3rd attack with any weapon at this level).

They can cast a limited number of Druid spells, starting at 2nd level, and getting up to 4th level spells. They can select from the entire Druid spell list. They just don't get as many spells and never get 5th or higher level spells.

Finally, the abilities that are unique to the ranger: 

Rangers are only surprised on a 1/d6. If the party is surprised on a higher roll, rangers get to act when everyone else is surprised. 

Rangers add +10% to the chance to evade encounters in the wilderness (max 90%). 

Parties with a Ranger become lost only on a 1/d6 regardless of terrain type. [A nice combat bonus available any time, and two abilities that interact with the wilderness exploration rules! Useful, but not overpowered.]

Rangers gain a +2 bonus to hit, and add their level to damage, when fighting goblinoids or giants [I considered 2E style "select your favored enemy" but really, that's one of the things that makes rangers suck if that type of monster rarely appears. Most games will have kobolds, orcs, goblins at low levels, more of these at mid levels plus ogres, bugbears, trolls, and at medium-high to high levels lots and lots of the below plus plenty of giants and giant-kin. So the ability is very likely to remain relevant in the typical campaign. DMs can switch this up if they have a special campaign world without lots of goblinoids or giants.]

Rangers gain animal companions at 4th level. They get a number of normal or giant animals equal to their level. So you could have one hefty animal like a bear or ape as your combat buddy, a growing pack of wolves, or a variety of creatures like those of Dar the Beastmaster, each with its own purpose (scout, mount, thief, guardian). If slain, they can be replaced after one game month.

Finally, at Name level, if they build a stronghold, they attract some mercenaries like a fighter, and some lower level ranger apprentices, and may also, at the DM's discretion, attract monster retainers of similar alignment. 

I've play-tested all of the features of the class except the animal companion rules (new) and the higher level monster retainer rules (no one's gotten that high level yet). Everything else seems to work. The ranger is different from the Fighter. They don't overshadow them. And since I no longer have a Barbarian/Berserker class, Rangers get to shine in the wilds. In dungeons, they still have enough useful features to make them valuable.  

Oh, and my recent TS&R revisions use BX/BECMI level caps for demi-humans of 8, 10, or 12 (I previously had limits more like 1E, with some as low as 5th or 6th level, but decided those are too low). Humans have no limit (although my rules only go to 15th). Elves and half-orcs can go to level 8 as Rangers. Halflings can go to level 10. Other races don't get to be rangers.  

So, my Ranger class is still a bit of a mixed bag. Fighter abilities. Druid spells. Wilderness bonuses. Favored enemy. Animal companions. But I think, at least, it's a bit more consistent than the 5E Ranger class. At the core, it's the wilderness survival guy. Everything else flows from that. No need for special dual-wielding rules, or spells for magic arrows, or selecting one favored terrain or favored enemy type that may be super useful occasionally and worthless the rest of the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Retiring the campaign

 I went back to the West Marches campaign last weekend. It was not very satisfying. The characters are in the mid-level range, and I'm starting to feel the down-side of the West Marches format. The conceit is that there's always more to explore beyond the edge of the explored map, with greater challenges and bigger rewards the further you push. It's basically a megadungeon transposed into the wilderness. 

But some of my players have dropped recently, and of those that remain a few are giving me some headaches. One is a power gamer, pushing for more powerful magic items (not quite demanding) for his already fairly powerful PC. The other is the disorganized guy who doesn't know the rules, doesn't keep a character sheet, and just tries to BS his way through things...and keeps asking for concessions and rules changes to give his PC more power. 

Normally I could deal with those two without much trouble, but this session they were 2/3 of the party. 

And it just felt like a drag. 

After 4 years, I'm ready to put a lid on this campaign, even though there's still lots to explore. Most of the players who were interested in actually exploring have left the game (a few say they'll be back after a break, but I'm not holding my breath). 

The Star Wars game is much more satisfying, and these two players don't cause too much hassle in that game. 

Both of the problematic players are in other countries, though, and with drops in covid-19 in Korea, I may be going back to a face-to-face game soon anyway. I'll keep the Star Wars online, but my new D&D campaign will be face to face.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Acronyms & Ampersands

So, a little update. I'm just about done with my two versions of the Players' Rules books: Ruby and Jade. 

Ruby is standard Euro-Tolkien D&D races and classes. Jade is my version of Oriental Adventures. 

For the overall game title, I'm going to stick with Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins. The ordering just flows better than reversed, at least to me. 


When I abbreviate it into an acronym from now on, it will be TS&R. 

Hopefully that's enough of a change to set my little house rules docs apart from the racist wannabes and their grifting. 

And who knows, maybe a better name will come to me before I release this thing to the wilds. 

Anyway, the game so far includes: 

TS&R Ruby Players Rules: PC races including humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, gnomes, and half-orcs (half-elves just use the human or elf rules, whichever side they favor). For classes, I have Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Magic-User, Paladin, Ranger, Thief. No subclasses. No multiclassing (I will have optional rules for that in the GM Guidebook). Levels 1-15, with demi-humans capped at 8, 10 or 12 (as in BX and BECMI, but class assortments similar if not identical to 1E AD&D). Spells levels 1-6 (1-4 for bards, paladins and rangers). Equipment lists and some rules for play including some higher level end-game stuff. Still need to add some art to this one but the text is done.

TS&R Jade Players Rules: PC races including humans, koropokuru (dwarves), shenmin (spirit folk), vanara (monkey-men) and yeongno (oni-folk). Classes are Cleric, Fighter, Kensei, Sohei, Thief, Wu Jen, Xia (monk/martial artist), Yakuza. Everything else pretty much the same as in Ruby. Completely done, including art.

TS&R Jade Bestiary and Treasury: Lots of monsters for Asian fantasy games, plus treasure tables and magic item lists, and wandering monster tables. Text is done, just need to add art.

TS&R Rules and Procedures: The small book with how to run a game, including rules for managing exploration and combat, creating adventures and campaigns (still working on writing this section), and to include rules for high level "end game" play (to be written). 

The things still to be created include: 

TS&R Ruby Bestiary and Treasury: I actually just need to edit out the stuff that's too Asian from my current working document that I use for my West Marches campaign. I've already done that for Jade, since I was planning to release the East Marches adventure and wanted something without the Greek/Norse/British/etc. monsters in it to work from. Although a few creatures were just re-skinned (like turning minotaurs into yakmen, or having chimeras with tiger heads instead of lions'). I'll do the same for Ruby fairly easily. 

TS&R GM Guidebook: This is where I plan to stick the (half-baked?) advice for GMs. Rules and Procedures is how to run a game. GM Guidebook will try to explain why things are the way they are, and suggest ways to change things up. Reading back over Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara lately, I think I've got some solid advice that I can include, but every time I get too wordy in my R&P, I end up deleting it as I want that to be just stuff that is needed at the table. So R&P will be the handy rules reference, GMG will be my attempt to out-Gygax old Gary. 

And especially once R&P and GMG are done, it should be pretty easy to make Players Rules and Bestiary and Treasury books for other genres of play. 

Oh, and despite being told it's a bad idea because people will just shit all over it, I've decided that these will all be released Pay What You Want. I make good enough money from work. Chanbara has been a nice little bonus each month, but I'm not gonna get rich from this game. It's just D&D in a different package, after all. Might as well just let people have them and they can throw me a few bucks if they appreciate what I've done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

More Disgusting than I Realized

I've been really siloed from the greater RPG community, and even the OSR the past few years. There are a handful of blogs I read regularly, and a bigger handful that I read occasionally. I'm not active on any forum sites, and don't watch a ton of RPG YouTube content. Actual gaming with my friends have been enough to scratch my gaming itch for the most part. Yeah, I blog here occasionally. I tinker with my house rules document for a potential public release. That's about it. 

I've been using Treasures, Serpents & Ruins (TSR) as the name for those house rules for several years now. I thought it was clever to have a game title that abbreviated to the same acronym as the original company. And the name is fitting, as well. Dungeons & Dragons is a great game name, but it leaves out the most important part of the game - finding treasure! My name has all three! So clever, right? [Yeah, I know, I know...]

Anyway, thanks to Pauli Kidd's post on Facebook, linking to this video (also Pauli) and also to screenshots of social media posts they posted, I learned about just how terrible the "new" "TSR" group (TSR3 some are calling it) really are. 

Tenkar's Tavern has been posting about them from mostly a legal-ish standpoint. Or at least what I've seen has been. Apologies to Erik, but since he appointed himself the Kickstarter Police many years ago, I don't follow his blog as closely. But I have read some of his posts exposing Justin LaNassa's attempts to steal the TSR trademark. So I knew they were sketchy grifters, but I didn't know anything else about them.

Thanks to Pauli, I know now just how disgusting some of the people LaNassa is working with really are. Seriously, the guy who wrote their version of Star Frontiers is a blatant white supremacist, often posting Nazi symbology and slogans on social media. 

I want nothing to do with that crowd, and as was suggested by Donjondo a while back, it's probably confusing enough having two companies trying to be TSR already. With one of those companies being blatantly white nationalist, I need to find a new name for my game if I plan to release it to the public. 

This is probably a dumb idea, but reordering it to Ruins, Serpents, & Treasures would abbreviate to RST (alphabetical order!) and would be in the order that these elements are usually encountered within the game. Or maybe I can just call it something else entirely and stop trying to be clever/cutesy with the name.

Sunday, May 22, 2022


Well, it took 10 years (over 20 if you count since the release of Dragon Fist), but I'm finally getting to be a player in a game of Flying Swordsmen! 

As luck would have it, I had a post on's GMs Wanted board asking if anyone would run a game of d6 Star Wars on there. I'm enjoying running the game for my group (our next session starts in about 40 minutes), but would like to experience it as a player. 

I went to bump that thread and saw someone else had posted asking for a GM to run Flying Swordsmen! I jumped in on the thread saying I'd like to play, too. And since my RPOL ID is Lord Gwydion, it took the OP all of about no time at all to realize I was the writer! Well, we found someone willing to run it (the Star Wars game, too!), so I've now rolled up my first Flying Swordsman player character:

Spitting Tiger Zhao, Outlaw Thief. 

The GM messaged me to sort out a few things, since he is new to the rules. I told him I'm happy to answer questions about my intent when I wrote the game, but it's his game so I'm happy to run with it the way he wants it to go.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Moving in a New Direction

My plans to run a play-by-post Gamma World game are on hold right now, as is my live D&D West Marches game. I've been running the West Marches for about 4 years now, and I have enjoyed it, but just need a bit of a break. Also, I'm seeing now, as the PCs inch closer to Name Level, some of the cracks in the system. 

The original West Marches was for 3E, an edition that supposed the adventure life cycle to be: explore dungeons, fight monsters, and collect treasures until you reach 20th level, then go on EPIC!!! adventures across the multiverse or something (never got the Epic Level Handbook, never even got close to those levels in my games). So the system had explore/fight/loot baked in to the design from level 1 through 20. 

BECMI, and AD&D, the two published editions I crib the most from for my home game, both have a different expectation. Explore dungeons, fight monsters, loot treasures at low levels. Mix dungeon exploration with wilderness exploration at medium levels. Become a ruler at high levels and get involved with political stuff. Go on planar adventures and epic quests at very high levels. 

I'm getting close to the point in the campaign where in a normal game, players would be planning on where to set up their baronies and whatnot, dealing with the local power structures to make alliances, stuff like that. But West Marches gaming is premised on just continuing to explore the wilderness, and the players in my campaign have only explored about half of my map, maybe a bit less than half. And the feeling that the deeper campaign (which Tao of D&D, and recently BX Blackrazor often post about) isn't really a West Marches thing. 

So I'm going to retool my ideas for an East Marches module to release to the public to go along with Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins: Jade (yeah, I'm renaming that as well, and given enough time, it might end up just as Jade). Instead, I'll keep the ideas for adventure sites but instead of scattering them around an unexplored wilderness, they'll be scattered around a map with various political factions and established towns and cities. 

Most of the Asian fantasy media that inspires me requires civilization. I think there is room for an Asian fantasy wilderness exploration game (Journey to the West/The Monkey King being one example), but not one that's expected to last from levels 1 through 12+. 

When I was in Japan, I would often watch a jidai-geki called Abarenbo Shogun. In it, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune would disguise himself as a low ranking samurai and wander around Edo (Tokyo) looking for trouble. 

Two other shows, Mito Komon and Sanbiki ga Kiru (Three for the Kill), were about the hero(s) wandering from town to town, solving problems of the week in each location. A lot like American shows of the 80s like Knight Rider or The A-Team. 

Chinese novels like Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh are all about political power struggles. 

I want competing feudal warlords. Scheming Civil and Military bureaucrats. Peasant rebellions and tongs/yakuza gangs and marital arts societies. And some strange unexplored lands as well. 

So, time to make a new map, pull ideas from previous campaigns and a few new ones I've had over the years, and also the ideas for dungeons and other points of interest I developed for East Marches, and work them into a new campaign that has potential not just for typical D&D murder-hoboing done Asian style, but also all that other good stuff mentioned above.

 I think the potential for richer gaming will be there. 

Until then, I've got another Star Wars d6 adventure to prep based on the events of the previous session.