Saturday, December 31, 2022

End of the Year

So it's New Years Eve. We're watching the annual Japanese NYE performance show Kouhaku on NHK, as we usually do. We had sushi for lunch today with my mother-in-law. Did a bit of shopping (new shirts for me and Flynn, books & stationary for Hanna and Steven). Not a bad way to end the year. 

As for the new year, I will NOT be taking part in the Dungeon23 challenge. Not that I've got anything against it. I've just about completed a 300 encounter area 3 level dungeon for my TS&R Jade game. I have about 20 rooms left to key. I don't need another dungeon of similar size in that campaign. 

I will be striving to finalize the GM advice/running the game book for TS&R in the new year. It's the book I really don't need as a reference when running the game, and it's the closest to a rehash of BX/BECMI, or your favorite retroclone anyway, so it's been a struggle to keep interest in it. Also my waffling between making it a bare bones "here are the procedures for dungeons, wilderness, urban, and dominion adventures" and full on "hey, you're new to running RPGs, so here's how to do it" levels of detail. 

A couple of months back I read through what I'd written as GM advice in both Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara. I think there's some solid advice in there. And it seems like there has been some need for something to explain not just basic procedural play, but a bit of game design philosophy for people either new to RPGs or coming to the OSR after having started with newer editions or other games. So I'd like to write the more detailed, full on book, but that's obviously more of a challenge. 

And who am I? That's a big mental stumbling block for me. 

But when I did a test of a bare bones book, it seemed so incomplete. 

Obviously, it will end up somewhere in the middle. 

I just need more free time. Actually, I have the time. I just need more "spoons" to get this done. Seems like work and family duties sap most of my mental resources these days. Not sure if this is some sort of long covid funk, or just that I'm getting older and under a bit more pressure than before. Anyway, for the handful of people waiting for me to release TS&R, the system is working well in play. I just need to get that GM book together and I'll have a complete game. Well, sort of two, since I've got "Western" and "Eastern" books for player characters and for monsters. The GM book, however I write it, will be usable with both sets of player/monster books.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Motivating the Players

The assumption of traditional D&D play is that the PCs are after treasure. The assumption of more modern D&D is that the PCs are going on a heroic quest. Now, these two objectives can be merged, but it's not easy. The object of a quest can easily be a piece of treasure. Just look at any Indiana Jones movie for an example. The problem is that, if the treasure is the end goal, why collect all this incidental treasure along the way? Why give up searching for the MacGuffin to haul a load of coins back to town? Or if simply making that One Big Score is the goal, why keep adventuring once it's been achieved? 

In my current D&D game, the TS&R Jade campaign, I have a feeling that the players are waiting for me to drop a plot on their heads. That there will be a Big Bad Evil Guy to defeat, or a grand quest for the Great Googly Moogly MacGuffin, or some big Earth-Shattering Apocalypse to thwart. But I've just got a local area with towns, castles, caves, ruins, and factions waiting for them to explore it.

The game has been on hiatus due to various events and the holidays, but when we start it up again in January, I want to make a few small shifts in the game to hopefully bridge this gap. 

1. Give the players the DM map. No, not the dungeon maps and keys, but the overland map that has all the dungeons they could have found if they'd gone out to explore the wilderness. West Marches was all about going out to explore the unknown, and I started this new campaign still in that mindset. But the players aren't in a "go out and see what's over that hill" mindset. So best to pull back the curtain and show them the places near town where they can find adventure and treasure. 

2. Ask the players to provide their motivations. I got this idea from the Bandit's Keep YouTube channel. He suggests, after setting up an adventure, just asking the players directly what their motivations would be to actually engage with this, whether it's a dungeon, an event, a faction, or a quest. Get them involved. So when we start up again, I'm going to ask the players to answer these questions: 

  • Why does your character need to find treasure?
  • What would your character like to find?
  • What would your character like to achieve?
  • What is the party's current goal?

Hopefully, answering these questions will help get the players in the mood to treasure hunt, and also to feel more engaged with the world. When they can't answer a question, that's when I can provide them with some setting information to help them find an answer and get a better sense of the world. Or point them to a location on the map and let them know that they might get their answers there. Also, I can use their answers to tailor some of the locations that I haven't fleshed out yet to their desires.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Serendipitous Afternoon

I had my first free afternoon in quite a while. Classes are finished, grading is finished, papers are at the journals. Plus, this morning, we made food to take to my son's school for "international lunch" (we made Kraft mac-n-cheese, plus homemade taco salad). So I didn't go into the office. 

Instead, I decided to sit down and work on my TS&R Jade campaign notes, fleshing out a few more areas to explore. At the same time, my wife decided to watch a show she'd heard good reviews of on Netflix...and I ended up watching it, too! 

I did get some work done on the campaign. Fleshed out the locations and residents of a yokai village near the home town, complete with a threat that the PCs may choose to deal with if they visit that village. Also rolled up a few more random henchmen to replace the ones slain by the evil Coiled Serpent martial arts acolyte the party faced last session.

But mostly, I was watching the show. The English title is Alchemy of Souls (환혼 in Korean). It's a pure fantasy, set in a fictional kingdom of Daeho (Great Lake), where four families of mages run things, although there is also a king. 

In the prologue, the king is sick, and asks one of the mages if he could transfer his soul to a healthy, younger body. The mage is reluctant, but agrees. Somehow, the king ends up stealing the mage's body, and then when the mage's son is born soon after, puts a spell on him to keep him from using magic, and forbidding anyone to teach his son magic. 

20 years later, the son is grown up and on his 12th magic teacher, but still failing (because they won't actually teach him). At the same time, an assassin is trying to kill the (evil king) mage father. She fails, and escapes, but is wounded. She transfers her soul into a blind girl who is about to be sold to a brothel. The mage gets her body (and sword). 

Although she possessed a blind girl, the assassin can see in the new body. She escapes and runs into the son. Somehow, he helps her escape the brothel, by claiming she's his new servant. They go back to the fortress of the mage, but it is attacked by the people who hired Naksu (the assassin) and they steal her body and sword, which she needs as the blind girl's body (her name is Mu-deok) is too weak to perform magic. 

Anyway, that's a brief synopsis of episode 1. We watched part of the second episode as well. I haven't seen a lot of Korean fantasy works before, so this is pretty fun for me. The show uses CGI for the magical effects. Besides soul swapping, there are magical blasts from swords, ice arrows, swirling wind/water attacks, a summoned dog spirit that can sniff out evil spirits, petrification, and some other cool stuff. 

It's a Korean drama, so of course there's also the soap opera melodrama. The four mage houses each have a young heir, each representing one season. The "spring" heir is female, and formerly engaged to the "winter" heir, the son whose magic ability was blocked. The "summer" heir is the winter heir's best friend and seems like a bit of a goofball. The "fall" heir seems to have had some relationship with the assassin Naksu before she went bad...but since her soul is in a different body, he doesn't recognize her. 

And "winter" wants the assassin to unlock his magical abilities since no one else will. So there's the comedy aspect of her playing as his servant when others are around, but him being her underling when they're in private. Maybe a bit of romance brewing between them, as well. 

I have no idea if it's available on Netflix outside of Korea, but if it is, and you're looking for some Asian fantasy inspiration, I can recommend the first 1.5 episodes at least! Season 1 has 20 episodes, and season 2 is broadcasting now on Korean TV.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Swag

My younger son, Stevie, got me this set of 30-siders for Christmas. It's funny that it took this long for me to finally get some d30s, especially since the heyday of d30 tables was 10 years ago or so. But anyway, next time I come across a blog post with a neat little d30 table, I'll be able to roll on it with a single die, instead of the d10/d6 combo roll.

Other than the dice, I got a nice bottle of rum from my older son (Bacardi, purchased by my wife on his behalf) and a set of two bottles of tequila (Cuervo). 

I also used my birthday money (and a bit of my own) to order the 2023 Tolkien calendar and the official D&D miniatures sets with the old villains and heroes of the 80s D&D toys (Strongheart, Warduke, Elkhorn, Zarak, Kellek, etc.). They will be arriving in the next week or two. 

My older son told me he wanted to order me an RPG book. He'd found one, but it would have taken too long to get here, so he didn't. When I asked about it, it was Pathfinder. Not sure if it was the original or 2E. I'd have been happy if he'd gotten it for me, but honestly, I probably wouldn't play it. But maybe he'd want to try running a game with it? Might be something to think about for his birthday, coming up in March. 

I hope all my readers had/are having/will have a great holiday season, whatever holidays you celebrate!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

If I were redesigning Star Wars d6

JB's comments in my previous post, discussing differences between WEG's 1st and 2nd editions of d6 Star Wars were part of the impetus of this post, but the core idea is something I'd actually thought of before that and just had been letting tumble around in the old brain for a while. 

My SW game is, as I mentioned, a slight mishmash of the editions. We started out with the fan-edited REUP (Revised, Expanded, & Updated) rules, this massive poorly organized PDF that contains game elements from the original and prequel series movies, plus some stuff from novels or comics, I assume. It doesn't have anything from the sequel trilogy or more recent Disney+ shows, though. 

While it's a great resource if I need stats on a certain alien species or type of vehicle, as I mentioned it's a bit hard to find the rules you need when you need them, even with PDF search functionality. The rules are mashed together with background information, advice for running games, and sample adventures. 

So when I saw that the 1st edition reprints were available, I scooped it up. And found that I like some of the simpler systems in 1E better than 2E. But since we'd already been playing 2E, we have a sort of mash-up game now. At the moment, I'm pretty much only using the space combat system from 1E, and not allowing PCs to improve their ability scores, only their skills. Oh, and I took this house rule from someone running a PbP game: There are no melee parry, brawling parry, etc. skills. Just use melee combat or brawling for those. Oh, one more thing I I changed is that I went through the REUP list of Force Powers (compiled from various supplements) and eliminated some that were clunky, overpowered, weird, or extraneous (two different Force-assisted Astrogation powers? Why?).

If I were to start over, I'd probably hew closer to the 1E rules. Especially the Force rules. 

In 2E, Jedi (and other Force Users) have to select various Force Powers that they've mastered as they improve their Force Skills. In 1E, there are no "Force Powers" but there are examples of doing things that were done in the original trilogy movies to suggest which Force Skill(s) would be needed and provide them with target numbers for difficulty to help the GM adjudicate the Force. If you have skill dice in Sense, Alter or Control, though, you can attempt to do whatever with those skills that makes sense. 

Or in other words, in 1E if you have trained in Sense, you can try to sense someone's presence, heighten your own hearing, discover something hidden, feel how strong someone else is with the Force, etc. No need to learn those as separate "powers." 

So what would I do different if I were redesigning the game? 

I'd make The Force into a seventh Ability that governs the three Force Skills. 

In the movies, there's a lot of talk of Yoda's species, Skywalkers, and Palpatines being innately stronger in the Force than everyone else. I think it would make more sense to emulate this with this change. Characters who are not Force Sensitive would not get this ability. Those with Force Sensitivity would get 1D. Various Force-user templates would get 2D. Especially strong NPCs would get 3 to 4D. Skywalkers get 5D. 

Yeah, that would necessitate reshuffling some dice from other abilities for non-Force users depending on if they're Force Sensitive or not. But that's not so hard.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Star Wars Campaign

I was supposed to run my TS&R Jade game this afternoon, but it's the end of semester/holiday season, so plans fell apart. It happens. Next week, we have family plans, the weekend after that is Christmas, and New Years the week after that. So probably no more D&D play until January. Bummer. 

But I'm working on the next game for my Star Wars campaign. As usual, I'm having a hard time coming up with things for this game for two reasons.  

One, in order to keep the Star Wars feel of the game, the books recommend more railroad game play. Have a plot. Give the players their goal. Let them loose. And really, the players seem to enjoy that. They're not all up for self-directed, self-motivated play. But I try to add as much freedom into the scenarios as possible, dictating the set-up but not the resolution. But it doesn't feel right forcing them into these set-ups sometimes.

Two, if they were up for self-motivated play, I'd feed out of my depth. I've seen all the movies, read some comics/novels (most of the comics I've read have been fine, the novels I've tried were trash), watched the Disney+ shows and most of the animated stuff, played various Star Wars video games, etc. I've got pretty good knowledge of the Star Wars universe (and Wookieepedia is just a search away). But I still feel daunted by just letting the players loose in a galaxy with thousands of planets. That's an awful lot to keep track of, and that's even if they only ever visit the main planets from the movies (and I keep sending them to other planets partly to allow myself room to improvise when I need to). 

But despite the misgivings I have about the way I'm running the campaign (I want a more open, player-directed game, but feel hesitant to throw the gates wide open because of all the work that would give me), it's going well. We play maybe once a month or every other month, whenever I've got some interesting set-up prepared. 

A few sessions back, the party escorted the Hutt princess Marjon (daughter of their sorta patron, Bumpomo) to Coruscant for a fancy high society ball. When the ball got attacked by Zygerian slavers, one of the two Jedi in the party was using the Force. Right in Palpatine's back yard. So when they went back to doing smuggling/salvaging/whatever for the Hutt, a Sith Inquisitor started tracking them down. They had an encounter and forced the Inquisitor to flee. Later, the Imperials moved in on the Hutt planet called Dandoran, they helped Bumpomo the Hutt flee to Nal Hutta. 

On Nal Hutta, they racked up a lot of charges and fees (Hutts be Hutts, after all), and to square the debt, were sent to salvage an old Banking Clan ship that was lost in the Clone Wars. After some hijinx, they located the ship, and started exploring/looting it. But the Inquisitor, his Death Troopers, and some bounty hunters had followed them, and in the end, the party managed to defeat them all. And among the money and minerals and other resources on the ship, they found some beskar (Mandalorian steel). 

So now I'm working on the next adventure. How will the party's Mandalorian PC contact some other Mandos to get that beskar turned into better armor? I had an idea, but it would have required me to either run a short 30 minute session to get them to the big decision point, then I'd have to stop to prep based on their choice, or else prep two or three very different scenarios trying to anticipate their likely choices. 

I didn't want to run a short little session like that considering how infrequently we play, but thankfully, I figured out the idea for how to add more layers to the "30 minutes" that will stretch it out to a full session of 2-3 hours, thanks to a brief chat with my son (who plays the Mandalorian). So things are going well there. 

I probably won't get to run D&D until next month, but I'll likely have this Star Wars adventure ready pretty quickly.

Sunday, December 4, 2022


I know I said I was gonna try to blog about RPGs more and media less, but I gotta put something up on the blog here. Sorry to disappoint.

We watched the first episode of the new Disney+ Willow show. It was a disappointment as well. 

I gotta say, when the movie first came out, and the commercials and trailers said the name, I was not interested. It sounded too soft and silly, not like the badass fantasy I wanted to watch. But my best friend saw it, told me about it, and I checked it out (later, on home video). And loved it! 

Back in the 90s, Chris Claremont of X-Men comics fame wrote a trilogy of novels as sequels to the movie. But he basically blew up the world of the movies and changed everything, just keeping a couple of characters (Willow, Elora Danan, the brownies Franjean and Rool) and shoehorned them into what I assume was the fantasy novel trilogy he wanted to write that had nothing to do with Willow. 

I don't remember if I even finished the second novel or not. 

Despite knowing that the new Disney+ show is just the latest of the relentless 80s/90s nostalgia cash grabs, I had hoped it would be better than those Claremont novels. After the first episode, I'm not so sure. 

The episode, despite having Joanne Whaley as Queen Sorsha narrating the opening explaining what's happened since the movie, felt nothing like the movie. The tone was off. The dialogue from everyone but Sorsha (and later Willow & Meegosh) was too modern. It felt like watching one of those old Disney Channel programs my son would watch sometimes when he was little. Wizards of Waverly Place or something. Well, it had a more serious tone than that, but the whole "cool teens doing cool teen stuff" vibe was off-putting. There was nothing like the mythic, classic fantasy vibe of Lucas's movie. And that was before the crappy pop song end credits. 

Now, to make sure there are no misunderstandings...


-- spoilers ahead, be warned -- 


I wasn't bothered by the lesbian romance. The inversion of the prince of Galadorn being the educated, intelligent but worthless in a fight character was interesting. There were some cool monsters to fight in one sequence. But other than that, that's about it. It was even pretty obvious all along who was secretly Elora Danan. 

I'll probably check out next week's episode to give it a second chance, but if this episode is equally bad, I probably won't finish the series. What a let-down after the entertaining She Hulk and excellent Andor (yeah, probably more on this soon, since it really knocked it out of the park after the first two so-so episodes).

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The 5E to OSR Pipeline

It may just be that my perception is biased due to the algorithmic nature of YouTube recommendations, but it does appear as if a lot of 5E players have become more interested in the OSR as of late. 

Again, I know it may just be that having watched one video about turning from 5E to the OSR, the algorithm is recommending more similar content to me. But all of the videos that have been recommended are fairly recent. Most have been made within the past few months, and none more than a year old. 

So, why is this happening? 

Well, for one, it may just be a YouTuber fad. One streamer or vlogger tries out an OSR game, and others feel curious to try it as well. People see one person's idea, and they will copy it. Expect more of these videos to be produced if this is true, but don't expect a huge increase in new OSR converts.

Another possibility is that 5E fatigue has set in. There's a reason WotC recently announced their "One D&D" revision/new edition/whatever it will be. People have explored the possibilities of 5E, and one more splat book of new options is not gonna hold their attention much longer. Part of this is baked into the design of 5E, which like 3E and 4E, was designed as a game of system mechanics exploration more than imaginary exploration within the game world. That gives it a limited (intentionally so?) lifespan with the players. 

Final possibility? It's not a trend at all. There are a handful of people who have done this, and YT is just showing me all of the small number of videos like this. In a week, I won't be seeing any more because I'll have sampled all there is to sample.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that there is actually a trend.

Not every one of the videos I've watched has been positive towards the OSR games they've tried, but the majority have been. And these videos have spanned the gammut from playing the actual old editions from TSR to all the various retroclones (well, OSRIC, LL, OSE, S&W anyway), and OSR adjacent games like Black Hack and Dungeon World. 

Despite the bad reputation of THAC0, or Vancian casting, or high lethality, the fact that most of the older editions and their retro-clones encourage exploration of the game space more than exploration of the system mechanics is, I think, the reason why people are engaging with these rules again. That's what happened with me and a lot of other people 15 years or so ago. 

And then there are the folks that have been playing the old editions all along, and still are having fun with them. And new folks are joining these games, and finding out that you don't need a bunch of fiddly numbers on your character sheet, or kewl nu powrz! at ever level to have fun. 

I'm not gonna make a prediction that One D&D will flop. I'm sure there are vastly more people willing to take whatever WotC will give them. And it looks like WotC is gonna try for more of a subscription model rather than a purchase model of sales, at least for their online tools, this time. So they'll probably secure a decent revenue stream with their new version of the game. 

But I will say that the OSR is far from dead. I'd expect a lot of these 5E converts to be coming up with their own retro clones and modifications to the game and releasing them in the next few years! Even if it is just a handful of people splitting off from the 5E community (or straddling both), there's new blood in the OSR. And they will run (and create) games that attract even more people.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Content coming soon

Seems like I've only been posting about the TV shows and movies I've watched recently. Well, rest assured, I am still working on my campaigns (both TS&R Jade and d6 Star Wars), and I have stuff to say about games coming up soon. 

It's just that things like grading and paper publishing need to be the priority right now. Media reviews are generally easier than interesting posts about RPGs. So probably a few more of those coming up soon (second half of Andor season 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, been watching Futurama with my younger boy now and then, finally watched Netflix's Space Force with my older son...).

Monday, November 14, 2022

Movie Review - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Went and saw Wakanda Forever yesterday with the family. Here's a spoiler free review. 

For the parents searching Google: Are there curse words in this movie? A few. Nothing too salty. No F-bombs that I remember. Fewer swears than in, say, Black Widow. 

Again with this movie, Marvel is allowing the director to go their own way with a film. Phase 4 has been full of various attempts to shake up the formula. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This one is in some ways a cookie cutter super hero movie, but it does explore a consistent theme that makes the movie less of an exciting 2.5 hour roller coaster, and more of a thoughtful examination of the genre. Not too deep, mind you, but deeper than most MCU movies to date. 

Obviously, with the real world death of actor Chadwick Boseman, they had to make some pretty big changes in this movie, and I think that may have actually worked in the movie's favor. It's a tribute to a lost friend, and that allowed them to look into how the loss of T'Challa in-universe affects the various characters, and avoid the big messy CGI brouhaha at the end of most MCU films. 

So what is the movie about? Obviously, it's about loss, grief, and revenge. While Wakanda is trying to mourn T'Challa, a machine invented by Riri Williams allows people to search for vibranium underseas, and they accidentally discover Talokan, secret undersea home of Namor (which is, like Wakanda, a vibranium-based culture). The US blames Wakanda for the loss of the expedition. Namor blames Wakanda for exposing the world to vibranium. Three-way conflict ensues, but really, for the most part it's just Wakanda vs Talokan. 

While the plot is a fairly typical comic book conflict, and the resolution is a fairly typical comic book plot resolution, along the way we get to explore the pain suffered by the various characters. Queen Ramonda, Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia all have very different ways of dealing with their grief. Namor also has his demons that haunt him, and we get to explore those as well, although not as deeply as with the various Wakandan characters. And while Namorita and Attuma have speaking parts, they get no character development. Namor is the only Talokanian (?) to get an arc. 

There are some connections to upcoming projects from Marvel. Obviously Riri Williams is introduced, which will lead into her own Iron Heart show, and most likely the upcoming Armor Wars movie. And various goings on with CIA agent Everett Ross connect to the upcoming Thunderbolts. I was hoping there would be a tease for Ant-Man Quantumania in the post credits, but all we get is a bit of revelation for one character's motives in the film that were a bit unclear, plus some hints about future Black Panther projects. Which is fine, but part of the fun of the MCU has always for me been the interconnections, and the teases for the next project up on the roster. 

So, that's what the movie is like. How did I like it? I actually enjoyed it. It's not as exciting as a typical action movie, but I liked how it did try to explore character deeper than "I have daddy issues" or "I want to prove myself" like most MCU movies. And the grief leading to revenge theme just felt weightier than in previous MCU movies. I'd definitely say I enjoyed this more than Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or Thor: Love and Thunder. But no, it didn't knock Weird: The Al Yankovic Story off my top spot for the year. 

Also, my wife was really unhappy with the movie. She wanted some big exciting action movie stuff, and didn't get it. She said it was boring. My older son also wasn't so impressed with it. My younger son can't sit through a movie these days anyway (he has no attention span, so we're trying to detox him from gaming/YouTube, but it takes time). My wife even said she's done going to see these movies in the theater. She'll wait until they come out on Disney+. 

So, a movie that's not for everyone. It doesn't follow the MCU cookie-cutter formula. I think that's its strength, my family thought that was a weakness. I think it's a good movie, better than the other MCU movies of 2022, but my family didn't. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Movie Reviews - Weird: The Al Yankovic Story; Black Adam

My sons and I watched Weird: The Al Yankovic Story over the weekend. I've got to say, it was probably my favorite movie I've seen this year. It's a (relatively) low budget parody of the musician bio-pic (what else for Weird Al?), and it's really spot on with the satire and parody elements. It felt a lot like the screwball parody comedies of the 80s that don't seem to get made anymore. It's mocking the genre, and playing with the facts to conform to the tropes, but it does so with an earnestness and a feeling that not only is the subject matter of the musical artist being honored, it's also honoring the genre through mocking emulation. In other words, it's like This is Spinal Tap mixed with Airplane! in feel. Again, to me this seems completely appropriate to a "bio-pic" for Weird Al.

Obligatory Note: is there cursing in this movie? Not a whole lot. Similar to Al's music, it's family friendly. The "sex" scene with Al & Madonna is also nothing I didn't feel uncomfortable with my 8 year old watching. 

I grew up listening to Weird Al, and actually still have a fair amount of his songs on the USB thumb drive in my car. Well, on the rock USB. I've got two more with blues and classical/soundtracks respectively. I'm one of those people that when I hear the original version of a song Al parodied, I'm just as likely to be singing the Al version lyrics in my head as the original's, even if I really like the original as well. And my older boy especially really liked listening to Weird Al's songs when he was younger (he's just in general not really in to music these days). 

Being a fan, I did know a fair amount of biographical detail about Weird Al before the movie started, so I could tell from the beginning that they'd nearly completely ditched reality for the story they wanted to tell. Dr. Demento helps Al get known. Pretty much everything else in the story is made up to serve the comedy, and to mock the bio-pic genre. And it is on point! 

Then there are all the cameos, which are a double layer of fun. I didn't recognize every pop culture figure from the 80s, but I got most of them. And I didn't recognize all of the comedians and actors portraying them, but I got enough of them to get in on the joke. Conan O'Brien as Andy Warhol. Jack Black as Wolfman Jack. Even though they didn't know most of the 80s figures (they knew Pee Wee Herman, a few others), seeing Devo (in the red hats), Divine, and all these crazy characters was fun for them. And my sons even picked out David Dastmalchian (from the Ant-Man movies) before I did, but I instantly knew that he was portraying John Deacon of Queen when he stepped on screen! 

I mentioned that I think this is probably my favorite movie of the year so far (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens later this week, and it looks to be a bit better than some of the recent MCU fare. We'll see if it can top this film!). Part of it is the nostalgia, for sure. The movie definitely is made to play on that tension between 70s/80s parents an children, plus all of the pop culture that Weird Al was parodying in his music. Part of it is the performances of Daniel Radcliff, Rainn Wilson, and Evan Rachel Wood (among others) and the clever scripting that makes plot holes integral to the comedy. Part of it is just that feel, I mentioned above, that the movie loves the source material that it's making fun of, and that the movie does to other movies exactly what Weird Al songs do to other songs. It's just a lot of fun.


Okay, I saw this move over a week ago now, but was just too busy to write about it. On to Black Adam.

This will be a shorter review, and contains a few spoilers. 

Are There Curse Words? More than in Weird, but not excessive.

Black Adam is the latest of the DCEU movies. Overall, I've not been impressed by most of these. SHAZAM has been the best of the ones I've seen (I still haven't seen either of the Suicide Squad movies or the Harley Quinn movie, or Wonder Woman 1984, or The Batman...if that last one counts?). But of the DCEU movies that I have seen, SHAZAM has been the best of the bunch. 

Compared to other DCEU movies, this one wasn't bad. But compared to super hero movies in general, or action movies as a whole, it was just so-so. My older son really liked it, but I found it just a little bit lacking. 

There are plenty of cool action scenes, and it does tell a decent enough story, but there's something just a little too cookie cutter about it. Dwayne The Rock Johnson isn't an astounding actor, but he does have charisma. It was lacking in this movie, though. Teth Adam is just this scowling, brooding, force of nature. I wasn't invested in his story. The family that brings him back to life and wants him to protect their nation of Kandar were developed with all the beats that should elicit empathy and emotional response, but by the third act of the movie the story had nearly forgotten them. The Justice Society is there for murky reasons. I think Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge are great actors, and made me invested in the stories of Hawkman and Dr. Fate, despite the flimsy plot devices that get them into the story. On the other hand, the other two JSA members, Atom Smasher and Cyclone, were just kinda there for sometimes effective, sometimes not very effective comedy relief, plus an undeveloped romance subplot. 

Basically, this movie seems to want to be two things at once, and fails in the combination. Is Teth Adam the hero of Kandar? Is he the villain to the JSA? He's both at the same time, and things just get murky because of it. It's very similar to my critique of the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie from many years ago. This is better executed than Green Lantern, but it still feels like two incompatible movies smushed into one. It would have been better if they'd stuck to Kandar family awakens Teth Adam to help them fight Intergang to free their country and stop the demon guy, OR it was about Teth Adam awakening, running amok, and the JSA stepping in to battle him until they realize he's not evil and they team up to fight demon guy. 

It could have been better, but it's still better than Batman v. Superman, or either version of Justice League!

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Fetch Quests and Delivery Quests Suck

Why are fetch quests and delivery quests so popular in games? I understand to a degree why video games use them, since they primarily end up being side quests in that format. But in RPGs, they are pretty lame. I think I mentioned that I joined a PbP game of the 5E adventure Storm King's Thunder. And we're in the middle of a boring delivery quest right now. It's dragging on and on since it's PbP and takes weeks to get through an encounter. Someone spoiled the adventure for me, at least partially, and from what I heard, there are more dumb fetch/delivery quests waiting. I'm considering dropping out of that game.

And the 2E game I just joined that I mentioned in the previous post just got underway with all of our PCs meeting in a tavern with an NPC who wants us to be errand boys. Joy.

I figured that this was not a good way to manage a game session many years ago. In my first 3E campaign back in 2000, one of the adventures was based off of a story in Welsh mythology where the hero had to visit increasingly older and wiser creatures to learn the knowledge he sought. When I translated it into a D&D adventure, it ended up being a series of magical fetch quests for weirdo NPCs. And my players were fine with the first round, but when they found out there was a second, and then third round, they were not too happy. After the game, we discussed what I'd hoped for, and what they experienced in the game. I've not used the fetch quest or delivery quest since then in D&D thanks to their feedback. 

Players are gathering around to play D&D, or any other RPG, because they want to vicariously experience adventure through their character's experiences. Having an NPC just tell them, "Bring me back the MacGuffin and I will reward you." or "Take this MacGuffin to NPC B and they will reward you." is not very adventurous. Well, it can be adventurous if done well, but often it's just tedious. And if not done well, it can be very railroady.

So, what to do instead? 

First of all, it's perfectly fine for NPCs to want certain things, and even to offer rewards if the PCs can bring them those things. But that should just be one of many possible hooks or rumors that might drive PC actions. Whatever the MacGuffin is, it should not be something vital. It should not be something demanded of the PCs (an exception is when geas or quest spells get used, more on that below). Similarly, if an NPC wants something taken from here to there, why force the PCs to do it? Unless it's in some dangerous or difficult place to reach, why should a bunch of treasure seeking ne'er-do-wells or even glory seeking would-be-heroes waste their time playing Fedex?

The NPC makes it known that they would like to have X, or have X taken somewhere. Maybe they even say what the reward will be. That's a rumor you can introduce to the players when in the home town. If they follow up, they may contact the NPC for more information, and accept the job if they feel like it. If not, no big deal. There are other rumors or hooks for them to follow. And if they come across the item of a fetch quest, intentionally or by chance, and then offer it to the NPC, they can claim the reward. Of course, they should always have the option to just ignore the MacGuffin, or even keep it for themselves. Similarly, the PCs should be free to abscond with the MacGuffin of a delivery quest if they so choose, or just simply ignore the whole affair and find something more interesting or challenging to do.

Now, there will be times when PCs end up under [often magical] compulsion. This may be due to a geas or quest spell, as mentioned previously, or something they agree to as payment for a service (removal of a curse or to have a slain companion raised, for example). But this should happen as a consequence of the PCs' actions and choices. If they try to rob the Temple of Golden Pigs, and the High Hogg's men catch them, the High Hogg may slap a quest spell on them as punishment. That's fair. It's the consequence of their failure. 

Even then, the quest/geas spells allow you to ignore the compulsion, accept a penalty, and try to find a way to remove that magical compulsion somewhere else. And if it's not a magical compulsion, and the PCs are willing to accept the legal or social consequences of their actions (possible arrest or being labelled as outlaws, refusal of further services by the Temple of Golden Pigs, etc.), again there is nothing forcing them to finish the fetch quest. 

And in cases where the PCs willingly accept a fetch or delivery quest, it had better be worth the players' time. A trip from village A to village B, maybe with a planned encounter or two on the way, is not so exciting. Having to find an object in a remote, dangerous, or magical environment (dungeon, cursed mountain, other plane of existence, etc.), or deliver the object to a similarly hard to reach place, is a good step to making the quest more interesting. But even then, what's in it for the PCs? 

In my West Marches game, there were NPCs who wanted certain things. There were sometimes rumors about these things, and the players followed them up from time to time. But they were just rumors I threw out there, that could lead them to new areas of the Marches, or else suggested things they could do, but hadn't considered on their own, in areas they'd already explored. I had one NPC who would occasionally pop up in town seeking new monsters for his menagerie. A few times the PCs followed up on this, trying to hunt down that type of monster, capture one or more, and bring them back to town. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed, and sometimes they just gave up because they found something more interesting. And I was fine with all of that. I could always wait a few months then reintroduce Throckmorton P. Ruddygore, with a new request for the capture of a new type of monster in a different area of the Marches. 

Similarly, in my Star Wars game, the PCs wanted a faster hyperdrive for their ship. So I determined that there were three places to get one on the Outer Rim planet they were based on. Two NPCs would sell them outright, or would reduce the cost if the PCs would help in some way. A third wanted safe passage off the planet (he was wanted) and would exchange the hyperdrive for help escaping. In this case, the idea of improving the hyperdrive was 100% a player-driven goal. And if they'd pooled their money, or gone on some other adventure to make up what they lacked, they could have just purchased a hyperdrive without any hassle. They also had three different places to find one, and if they had tried to leverage one against the others, they could have possibly gotten the discount without the "quest." 

In the end, they ended up taking on the quest of the first merchant they talked to, who wanted them to salvage an AT-AT walker for spare parts. And of course, there were other interested parties that the PCs had to deal with while doing so. In the end, it was challenging and fun for the players, and they managed, through their own initiative and effort, to get the reward they wanted. 

So please, don't start an adventure -- and definitely don't start the entire campaign -- by forcing the players to go on some boring fetch quest or delivery quest for an NPC in order to "advance the story." Use NPC desires as potential motivators of action, but leave it up to the PCs to follow up on that or not, and make sure that if they do follow up, there is adventure and challenge along the path.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The 2E Transition

 I've been hearing a lot about 2E AD&D these days, which is weird that it's suddenly popped up again as a discussion topic just as I've joined a 2E game on 

The consensus of discussion seems to be: 

A. 2E is a good clarification of the AD&D rules, clearing up some of the confusing bits and explaining rules well.

B. 2E takes everything that was evocative and inspiring about 1E and makes it bland. 

C. The way 2E changes the way XP is dished out radically changes the game play.

D. 2E simply codifies changes that were already happening in 1E campaigns. 

E. 2E is simpler than core 1E, if you stick to the core books only.

F. 2E is more convoluted than expanded 1E, if you include all the splat books and supplements.

G. 2E is too focused on making PCs heros, and playing through heroic quests. 

H. 2E has the best assortment of interesting campaign settings. 

I. 2E is very old school, and is sort of a proto-OSR, with a ton of optional rules and various play styles/campaign styles. 

J. 2E is very new school, with its changed focus of game play and small rules tweaks to focus on character over setting.  

Overall, I find these contradictions and opposed takes on the edition interesting. As I've mentioned before, back in the day (late 90s) we simply mixed 1E and 2E, taking what options we liked from either edition and leaving the rest. It was never a problem. If someone wanted to play a Half-Orc Assassin, they could use the 1E books. If another player wanted to run a Specialist Mage they could use the 2E books. 

Each DM would have to make calls about the rules differences for their campaign (1E, UA or 2E level limits? Race/Class/Multiclass combinations allowed? A few other things). It was really never a problem. I think only one of our campaigns got close to the 1E level limits anyway. 

Getting back into the 2E game on RPOL, and looking through the PHB and a couple of the Complete books, I'd actually consider using the system again. Or at least a weird modified version. Not that I'm going to revised TS&R least not for a little while. But when that next revision eventually comes around, I may be taking a look at certain elements of 2E that I may have overlooked before. 

Anyway, my opinion about whether 2E is "old school" or not, I'd say it's definitely the transition edition. Stick to the core books (and maybe a couple of the Complete Class books) and, with a few optional rules like XP for treasure, you get a very old school game. Add in all the supplements to 1E, and play it with a DragonLance style story campaign theme, you get a more new school game. And yes, that is not a typo, 1st Edition AD&D can be (and apparently was) played as a new school style game with a focus on character builds and story progression. 

2E is the change-over point. So it both is and isn't "old school" at the same time.

Monday, October 24, 2022

An Old Friend Returns

My 8 year old has been quite a pain lately. I suspect he may be a bit neurodivergent, with some of his behaviors. In my D&D game last Saturday, he started the session by being a jerk when Denis tried to introduce his new character to the party. A little later, he was staring at his smartphone (my wife's old phone, which we gave to him to be in contact after school if needed, but he's definitely addicted to it). When I took the phone away, he had a meltdown, started annoying his brother, and eventually fell asleep. The sugary tea he drank probably didn't help with that. After the game, we discussed other drinks he could get at the cafe, and he's willing to try a non-sugary drink next time. So at least that part was a victory.

For a while now, he's been wanting to "run" a campaign, but a modern one. He loves the idea of guns (from movies, games, etc.) and wants to run a criminal campaign inspired by what little he knows of games like GTA. He has plans for an open world, do anything type game set in the real world. Oh, and maybe there are Pokemon, maybe superheroes too, and maybe or maybe not we'll be fighting monsters. 

A few months back (this campaign idea has been percolating in his head for a while), I mentioned that I'd always enjoyed d20 Modern for contemporary setting RPGs, but that it was a complicated game. Much more so than the modified D&D game I run, which sits somewhere between BECMI and AD&D, but closer to BECMI. But he was intrigued, so I pulled up the PDF of the game that I still have. And of course the Ultramodern Firearms supplement that I also have in PDF. 

I sold off my d20 Modern books before I left Japan. Gave them to a friend who ran a short campaign with them before he and his wife returned to the states. Even though I couldn't stand to play 3E/3.5E/Pathfinder 1E these days, and a quick look through the old d20 Star Wars book when I was considering joining a PbP game on RPOL has confirmed my pleasure with running the d6 WEG Star Wars system, I still have a soft spot for d20 Modern. 

As I've mentioned before, a few times, but not a whole lot, in my estimation a good modern setting game needs a more skill based approach rather than a class based approach, but the generic archetype classes of d20 Modern, mixed with the fiddly skill/feat system of the d20 family of games, works pretty well for that. It's not too hard to multiclass, the backgrounds round out a lot of concepts, and the system emulates the "laws of action movies" fairly well. 

So, at my son's urging, we went on DriveThru and ordered a POD copy of d20 Modern. I did check Amazon and a couple of used book sites for original copies, but they were pretty pricey. POD plus shipping to Korea came out to around $60 (of course the exchange rate isn't so good right now, so the price looks worse in Korean won...). Since it was on DriveThru, I was able to use profits from Chanbara and my paper minis to pay for it. 

After weeks of my son insisting the book was overdue, and me double checking the order date to tell him that no, it's not overdue yet, the book finally arrived today. 

The POD version is thicker than what I remember (and a dimension check on Amazon confirms this). The paper quality must be better. The pages do feel a bit thicker and they're not as smooth as the paper WotC uses. The binding seems pretty good, on first glance, too. 

This evening we went over the basics of character generation. Even though my son wants to run a game, he really just wants to free-form game. He kept telling me that he just wants everyone to start with X, Y, and Z guns, plus a grenade, and everyone should have 100 hit points, and he wants to use money because the abstract wealth score is too abstract for his 8-year old cognition. Which I can understand. He just wants to have fun. We really need a more loosey goosey story game type rule set for him. But we've got d20 Modern (again), so might as well let him use it as a framework for his imaginings!

Friday, October 21, 2022

Fiendish Gamma World Folio

As I mentioned a little while back, I went through the AD&D Fiend Folio for creatures that might work well in a Gamma World game. I was not disappointed. There are a lot of weirdos in there that I would probably never use in D&D but fit right in a GW game. 

The list of creatures that made the cut are: 





Bloodworm, Giant




Dire Corby



Eye Killer

Fire Newt

Fire Toad

Frost Man




















I also decided, since I was statting up GW creatures, to add Slow Mutants, lobstrosities, and taheen from Stephen King's Dark Tower books. 


There were a few FF creatures that almost made it. I originally put them on my list to convert, but on a closer reading (or just on a gut feeling) decided not to include after all. These were the: 


Death Dog (I used these too often in my D&D games)


Giant Strider





Throat Leech





Monday, October 17, 2022

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and Star Wars: Andor (and other shows)

Last week, we got the (series? season?) finale of She-Hulk, and also we're halfway through the first season of Andor. I have a few thoughts.

She-Hulk: [minor spoilers ahead]

First off, I was really happy that they tried to do something different with this show. Not only was it a half-hourish legal comedy that just happened to involve powered individuals, it broke away from the mold that not only Marvel movies, but the other Marvel Disney+ shows have given us so far. And that's saying something, since WandaVision, Falcon & Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye are all really different shows. She-Hulk is a completely different beast, and yet it still feels like part of the greater whole. 

Was the CGI great? No. Some episodes were worse than others. But was it good enough? I think so. It's a legal comedy, not a big summer blockbuster movie. Could Disney/Marvel have done better if they'd thrown more money into it? Apparently so. The CGI firms they contract with are apparently overworked and underpaid. But for what the show was, it didn't need top of the line CGI. It's a show about learning to live both as a productive member of society and a superhero, and also jokes. 

Not every joke landed, but I found things to laugh at in every episode. I'd say the Madisynn/Wong episode was the funniest. And it was fun seeing characters I remember from the comics (Manbull! The Wrecking Crew! Titania!), and characters I wasn't familiar with as well. And when they needed to do action, they did it well. The Daredevil episode in particular had some fun fight choreography in it. 

And the fourth wall breaks? Used really well. They provide exposition. They provide laughs. They help direct the series away from the Marvel Studios formula. Especially in the finale. It starts out giving you what you'd expect from a Marvel finale, then...everything changes. In a really silly but good way, that is true to the original comics. 

Andor: [more minor spoilers]

Star Wars always has been media aimed at kids (of all ages). It's got that Campbellian Hero's Journey, stark black and white morality, and plenty of swashbuckling derring do. Well, the best Star Wars does, anyway. And even when it's not at top form, it's always been aimed at a young/family audience. 

But then there was Rogue One. The prequel that was just a little bit more rough around the edges. It was still a B&W morality play at heart, but it was a little more grown up in certain ways. And Andor is a prequel to this prequel. 

Andor is not a show for kids. My 8 year old is continually frustrated and bored with it whenever we watch it. It's about complex characters, and complex situations. It takes a more serious look at what it would be like to live in an authoritarian space empire. It's not about derring-do or simple morality. It's finally Star Wars for grown ups. 

We're only halfway through the season, but we've already had a lot of decent drama out of the series. Andor's struggle to fit in while not wanting to fit in. Luthen and Mon Mothma's struggles to build a rebellion while living under constant state surveillance, and in Mothma's case also while living with a fascist sympathizer husband. Karn struggles with ambition and failure, and high hopes his family places on him that he fears he won't be able to achieve. The ISB agent (forgot the name) who knows something's up but whose superiors/coworkers refuse to help or allow her to succeed. It isn't always perfectly scripted, but they all seem like real people with real issues. 

The down side of the show is that the endings of the first couple of episodes are anticlimaxes. Anti-cliffhangers. If they hadn't released the first three all at once, for people to binge until they get a satisfying conclusion, I bet a lot of people would have not followed the show. 

In Other Viewing: 

My younger son and I continue to make our way slowly through both Futurama and Stranger Things. We're somewhere in the middle of season 4 of Futurama, and just watched the first episode of Stranger Things season 3 last weekend. 

And my older son is suddenly interested in military history again, after watching Black Hawk Down, so we've been watching Tour of Duty the past couple of evenings. He's really getting into it, and it was one of my favorite shows back in the day. We have some good discussions about the war, and the politics behind it, when we watch. 

I've also been occasionally watching Star Trek, original series and Next Gen, when I've got a free hour. It's been going on for a couple of years now. I'm somewhere in the 2nd season of TOS, and 3rd season of TNG. Seems like I'm watching all sorts of shows these days, but the Star Trek really gets strung out. I go in spurts where I'll watch two to four episodes fairly close together, then go weeks without watching any at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Gamma Folio

My friend Denis will soon be starting his Gamma World game. My sons and I, and Denis' daughter, all rolled up our characters for the game. A few more of the regulars still need to roll up theirs, but since Denis normally meets them online, I don't think they've done it yet. 

 Denis had the kids roll ability scores, then arrange them as they liked. Then he let them select mutations, but gave them defects depending on how many mutations they received. 

Anyway, so far, Renee (who played the Fairy Princess Goldie in West Marches) wanted to play a hippogriff (she's a Harry Potter fan*), so we discussed how to make that work. Horse with eagle/hawk mutations? Hawk or eagle with horse mutations? Anyway, somehow she has a hippogriff. I don't remember exactly what mutations she got.

Flynn, my older boy, rolled up another mutant raccoon. Atomic Raccoon (based on Marvel's Rocket of course) is shorter, has speed increase, mental blast, radar/sonar, and time suspension, plus bacterial susceptibility and periodic amnesia. 

Steven, my younger, rolled up a mutant cat (of course). And he named him "Iamashithole" and his mutations include regeneration, speed increase, weather control, and mental control. He has the fear impulse defect keyed to Fen (fish-men mutants). 

I rolled a Pure Strain Human. Since we were rolling and arranging to taste, and PSH are fairly weak, Denis let me roll 4d6 for each stat, not just for the three that normally get a boost. So Lothar has some pretty sweet ability scores (although PS is only 11, and MS is 12, everything else is 17+). With his bonuses to discovering artifact purposes and ability to command robots, I think he'll do alright. 

For fun, though, I later went on my Roll20 and rolled a random character, a mutant owl named Dr. Hoo. I got some decent ability score rolls, and then some mutations that pumped up a couple of them. In the end, he ended up with oversized brain (+4 Int and MS, +1 mental mutation), arterial weakness (defect), taller (3m tall! +2 PS), duality (nice!), teleportation, fear impulse (keyed to some sort of plant, Denis will decide), devolution, and heightened brain talent (+4 MS for defense only) as his oversized brain bonus mutation. Pretty strong. Denis took a look at it, and is wondering how balanced it will be. I have to admit, those random rolls probably gave me a stronger mutant than if I'd picked and chosen! Anyway, Dr. Hoo is my backup. I'll start the campaign with Lothar. 

In addition to Denis' game (2nd edition), I'm again working on ideas for a play by post 4th edition Gamma World game (I posted my barter table a while back). I've got an area map with settlements, ruins, and installations noted, and named, and found maps online or in my collection of old adventures that I can use for them. I've got the basic game set up on the site, but haven't started recruiting players yet. Real world was pretty busy the past few weeks. 

Last night, talking to Denis about Dr. Hoo, he mentioned maybe grabbing some creatures from D&D or other games to use. I told him it was a good idea. And today, I grabbed my Fiend Folio to do the same for my PbP game. There are a few FF creatures that I really like, and have converted to BX/BECMI stats for my games. There are a lot that are just too goofy for D&D. Some of those goofy ones (and some of the not so goofy ones) would make excellent mutants in GW, though. So I think I will spend some of my free time the next week or two converting Fiend Folio critters to Gamma World 4 stats. Should be fun! And will give experienced players a few surprises.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Werewolf by Night

We watched Marvel's new Halloween special, Werewolf by Night this evening. 

I'd never read the comics, and I'd only head about them fairly recently (two years ago, maybe?) when someone on Kevin Smith's Fatman Beyond podcast brought it up. 

Despite not knowing much of the source material, I found it to be a fun little show! 

It's only about an hour long. It's mostly in black-and-white to emulate the old Universal horror films, and the music, graphics, and a lot of the props also reflect this...but not all of them. There are definitely plenty of modern touches in it. 

The story is almost a Castlevania story! Monster hunters gather to compete for the inheritance of the most famed monster hunter, Ulysses Bloodstone. They have to hunt a fearsome monster, but are allowed to fight and even kill each other in the process. The winner gets Bloodstone's magical bloodstone which grants some magical powers. 

I won't spoil it, but I will say I really enjoyed the campy nature of it. It's got some fun action scenes, some campy scenery chewing by the actors, and plenty of Halloween mood. Not your typical Marvel superhero fare, by any means.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Going forward in my games...

 ...there will be a whole lot more Black mermaids

If this triggers any of my players, I will happily ask them to leave my games. 

That is all.

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)