Wednesday, January 26, 2022


All's quiet on the blogging front. Or it has been anyway. 

It's got nothing to do with the fact that Prince of Nothing took issue with my previous post critiquing his anti-artpunk manifesto. More of that series will be coming sooner or later. 

I've been working on work stuff, plus I gave my TSR-East Marches rules a thorough simplification. I had everything all sorted the way I wanted it. The four big classes with three subclasses each, two martial arts classes (with and without spellcasting) for wuxia types, plus four demi-human race-as-class classes. I had even called the draft "TSR East Marches Character Rules - Final" with art and everything in place so I could distribute it (which means I still could...)

But something about it was bugging me. It was just too bulky, and I knew without playtesting that one of the demi-human classes and the with spells martial arts class were wonky. 

So, I thought about the essential archetypes of Asian fantasy and fiction. And I thought about the classes of D&D. If an archetype could be done just through styling a Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User or Thief that way (many can!) I don't need a class for that. And the ones that didn't quite fit (or didn't fit at all) needed their own class.

I also went back to separate race and class. Funny, but that's actually simpler than trying to balance the demi-human classes since only ONE of them was a Fighter analogue. Also, the races have more broad archetypes that they could easily fulfill. 

Oh, and I found out about a type of Korean monster I'd not heard of before, the Yeongno. It comes from local (Gyeongsang-Namdo, Busan and surrounding areas) traditional masked dance/ceremonies. Depending on region, they can be a goblin-like humanoid similar to dokkaebi (but less djinni-like), a lion-creature, or a dragon-like creature. Obviously, I am using the humanoid depiction, and replaced the dokkaebi race with the yeongno (pronounced like the English words 'young no').

Humanoid-type Yeongno. Punish corrupt rich people.

My rules now look like this: 

Races: Human, Koropokuru (dwarves), Shenmin (spirit folk), Vanara (monkey-folk), Yeongno (oni/goblinoids)

Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Kensei, Magic-User, Sohei, Thief, Xia, Yakuza

As I mentioned, most of the classes can cover quite a few archeytpes, and some overlap. Any of them could be a wandering hero of Wulin type (Dragon Gate Inn, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, etc.), for example. That's basically just an adventurer. Each class description includes a short list of possible takes on the class. For example, a Fighter could be a samurai/ronin, hwarang, wandering do-gooder, military official, mercenary, and so on. 

Kensei, as you would guess, are weapon masters. They share Fighter and Xia abilities. This version actually came out closer to the 1E AD&D version than I had originally designed them.

Sohei are warrior-monks, and share Fighter and Cleric abilities. Also fairly similar to 1E OA, but I give them spells from level 2 (old school Cleric style).

Xia are martial artists, and are pretty much just a different version of the AD&D Monk/BECMI Mystic. Unarmed fighting, mystical self-improvement, snatching pebbles from palms, etc.

Yakuza are a bit different from in 1E OA. They are more social, and get a "call in a favor" ability, plus a limited selection of thief skills and magical tattoos.

All classes go to 15th level. Demi-humans get a small number of classes (all can be a Fighter), and level limits between 6 and 10. 

After I had the new class & race setup done, I edited the spell lists a bit, and slapped it all together. I still need to add art, but the whole thing is now 40 pages including cover (useful charts and tables on back of cover page) and 2-page character sheet at the end. It had been 48 pages in the previous version. 

I'm happy with this. Simple, slim, fewer choices to confound new players. 

Now I need to make a few revisions to the TSR-East Marches Bestiary & Treasury to match the new class/race setup. Once that's done, I'll finally be ready to start designing the adventure locations of the East Marches module I'd like to produce.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Have you heard about the contest?

 So, you've been DMing for decades. You know how to create a dungeon, wilderness, city, or whatever sort of adventure. But are you able to organize that process you have in a way that would make a good teaching tool for new DMs? Can you film a video tutorial of your process? I bet you can.

Check out the first (hopefully annual) AUTHENTIC ADVENTURES TEACHING CONTEST

I'm one of the judges. Impress me!

First Prize $800 US

Second Prize $200 US

Third Prize $50 US

Plus one Honorable Mention to be awarded


If I hadn't been asked to judge, I really would have joined this contest. One of my players is thinking of branching out into GMing for the first time ever (at 55!). My older son is every now and then considering if he'd like to DM a game or not. Having my thoughts organized in this way would be helpful for them. But since I'm judging, I'm relying on all of you!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Analyzing Prince Part 2

Today, I want to take a look at the first numbered axiom laid down by Prince of Nothing, in which he enumerates what, to him, makes old school D&D superior to a lot of the stuff being put out under an OSR label but is really more avant-garde than old school (again, according to Prince). 

1. The greatest DnD is neither a slavish imitation of the past nor a wholesale rejection thereof (conscious or unconscious), but a continuation of that old craft, with syncretic improvements from other areas.

I simplified this statement to: 

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

I can't disagree with the sentiment in general. My own frankenstein-edition, titled Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins, is very much a Classic D&D base with elements of AD&D, 3E, and even some 5E inspiration in it. And a few things from other OSR games or blogs that I like. 

So yes, I've taken D&D to a place that I think is a continuation of the old craft while incorporating syncretic improvements from other games. 

But MUST it be this way? I mean, it works for me and my players. And every table back in the original days was tinkering with the rules, adding, subtracting or modifying things to suit their own tastes. That's about as "old school" as you can get. 

But the statement as written would actually invalidate some old school play styles. There are people who run things as by-the-book as possible. Sometimes, because of gaps in the rules or because of incoherent explanation or because of different sections of the rules providing different mechanics for the same subsystem, there's no way to be 100% by the book. But there are games that seek to do that. 

Is it wrong to try to run OD&D (or any edition) in a way that follows as closely as possible what is in the books? I don't think so. There's definitely value in that. I've read plenty of blog posts and forum threads over the years where people do just that, and come out of it with a deeper or changed perspective on the rules as they have been presented. Sometimes, it's exactly that which helps people to understand why the rule was that way to begin with. 

Other times, it helps show people why the rules have been changed. In order to understand what we're modifying and changing, I think it's a good thing to have a solid understanding of the rules before they get changed. 

And of course, there is no accounting for taste. Some people like the quick and easy recovery of 4E and 5E. Some people hate Vancian casting. Do I even need to bring up demi-human level limits? 

That's why I modified my version to read "can (and sometimes should)" because I don't necessarily agree that a Frankenstein edition is necessarily the "greatest" form of D&D. I'm constantly tinkering with mine, and never satisfied. How can that be the greatest? 

Obviously, that is simply Prince stating his opinion, one in which I more or less agree with, at least for the first half. 

The second half is of course where things get tricky, and untold gigabytes of blog and forum and G+ posts and YouTube commentary and whatnot have been spent debating just what exactly is the line that demarcates "continuing" the old craft and where have you moved on to "wholesale rejection" of the old ways? 

I don't have the answer to that. Except as it applies to me and my table. 

In my previous post about Prince's 0 Statement, people got into this discussion in the comments. I put forth the proposition that GP = XP is the key tenet of that "old school continuation", and plenty of people whom I respect disagreed. And reading their arguments, I can concede that perhaps it's only one of the tenets of old school play, not the key one. 

So we have here a statement I'm happy to agree with on a surface reading, but the more I think of it, the harder it becomes to give full-fledged support to the idea. I definitely agree that you can "go too far" and make a game not feel like D&D (for example, I feel the Black Hack line of games lose the essence). But what exactly does it? It's like the Supreme Court definition of porn - I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it. Or play it, as the case may be. 

And here's the thing -- while I haven't perused all of the ArtPunk scene's offerings, a lot of the things I have seen, like say Ultraviolet Grasslands, still feel very D&D to me. I'd say UVG feels more D&D to me (on a reading, I haven't played it) than Black Hack does. But again, your mileage may vary. And I may be a bit predisposed to like UVG since Luka is a friend and played in my West Marches game back when he lived in Busan a few years ago. Personal biases shape a lot of how we will determine these things. 

So, final thought on this axiom: An idea I can completely understand and sympathize with, but don't fully embrace.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2E: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

James M. has a new post up where he re-evaluates 2E AD&D. I read it, and the comments section (up to time of writing anyway) and it certainly seems to have got people thinking. And instead of write a big long comment there, I figured I would put some thoughts here on my own blog. And yes, I will be continuing with my ideas about Prince of Nothing's axioms on what makes old school D&D old school D&D, but not tonight. 

I've mentioned many times here that I started with the Mentzer BECM books (minus Immortals), but my cousin had a lot of the 1E AD&D books. We messed around with it a bit, but other than the occasional monster or magic item, we tended to keep D&D and AD&D separate back then (mid to late 80s), and when 2E came out, he picked up the PHB but it was mostly just a curiosity for us -- hey, it has arquebuses! Bards are a class instead of some crazy hard to qualify for dual classing monstrosity with unclear rules! I don't think he got much more of the 2E stuff, since it was more or less compatible with 1E, which he already had and hardly played. BECMI was our jam.

In the mid to late 90s, before I moved to Japan, I was working at Waldenbooks (remember those?) and was able to purchase books at a substantial discount (but not making enough to really afford lots of books, not that that stopped me!). I got into a group that ran AD&D, but it was a weird hodge-podge of 1E and 2E because the games were something like 90% compatible. And so when I could, I picked up the black cover core 2E book revisions. The plus side? The Monstrous Compendium was an actual book instead of a bunch of loose leaf binder pages. Down side? Not sure there is one (other than it being 2E, if you're a 2E hater!). 

I was never a huge fan of the 2E rules, but I'd never read through the entirety of the 1E books, so I never really knew what I was missing (at the time). I enjoyed 2E well enough, but like I said, the game I played in was not pure 2E. Half-Orcs & Assassins, UA Barbarians and Cavaliers, 1E OA, Illusionists as either their own dedicated class or as a mage specialization (not that anyone played an Illusionist that I recall). And it worked. My original group had pretty much used the BECMI engine with 1E classes/spells/monsters/magic items bolted on when we played 1E. And with the Evansville group, we just used whatever worked from 1E and/or 2E. And when I ran an OA campaign for them, we used 1E OA, the 2E Complete Ninja's Handbook, and my DMing was still basically BECMI procedures. And again, it worked just fine.

I've cracked open the 2E books from time to time over the years. I've pulled a few things from it into my TSR house rules. Would I play it straight? Probably not. But there are some good things in it. Here is my VERY SUBJECTIVE and incomplete (because it's late and I want to get this done and go to bed) evaluation. 

The Good: 

The rules are a lot easier to read and understand than 1E, and the books make good references. Like BX, in that regard, and like BECMI in that they serve as a good tool for learning the game without a group to teach you (to an extent). 

I like the way they keep classes fairly simple, but with lots of options for customization. Obviously anyone who has downloaded Flying Swordsmen or purchased Chanbara knows that I like kits/subclasses! Did they go overboard with splat books? Of course they did. But the concept of the kit to offer a small customization to the main class is still a good one. 

Illustrations for every monster! 

Consolidation of a lot of spells, magic-items, and monsters that were scattered around different books in 1E. Again, makes for a good reference.

Some general cleaning up and streamlining of rules for combat (closer to Classic D&D, but not quite).

I really like the single class Bard in 2E. It's far from a powerhouse, but it has style (although yes, the picture is kinda cringe). Also I liked, at the time, the customization of Thief skills by point allocation. Makes leveling up take a bit longer, but being able to specialize your Thief as the lock-picker or sneak or pickpocket was nice, and not overly complicated.

The Bad: 

Too much emphasis on creating a story for the players, and enforcing it with railroads and XP awards for compliance. Now, I know a lot of people were big fans of all the settings TSR put out back then. There's definitely some cool stuff out there. But the focus on story awards and RP awards really made 2E the mother-may-I edition of D&D, if played by the book. 

The endless stream of splat books. Some were good. Some had good things in them. There was just too much, junking up what was otherwise a nice, streamlined version of the game. 

The non-weapon proficiency skill system became the default. It has some problems, but I don't have time to go into them now. In brief, too limiting and created too much focus on ability scores, that has lasted through three WotC editions.

The Ugly:

The art, as James M mentioned in his post linked above, was much more technically well executed, but not always as evocative as in previous editions. Some of it was, but not a lot. I do appreciate that they put in full page, full-color art plates. And, as I mentioned above, every monster had a picture. But a lot of those pictures are pretty blah. And they're just the monster in a white field, no context. 

The "cleaning up" of the rules. BECMI gets some shade thrown its way for sanitizing the game for kids, but 2E turned that up to 11. Now, Half-Orcs and Assassins aren't 100% necessary for a D&D game. Neither are devils/demons (not in BX or BECMI, after all). But the emphasis on having to play heroes, and avoiding things that might make parents upset -- that is really what makes this game so different from other TSR editions. But as with my experiences with the game, if you run it like Classic or 1E, it still has all the old school charm. 

The technical manual tone, while good as a teaching tool and reference, is just not that evocative. BECMI taught me how to not just run a game, but to create dungeons and wildernesses. 1E has all sorts of random stuff that adds to world building and immersion. With 2E, you need supplements and splat books for that.


In the end, I think the too strong story emphasis is what keeps me from returning to 2E for more than just inspiration for a few things to grab for my own Frankenstein-edition. That's the biggest flaw. Splat books and bland art can be ignored (and again, the Rules Cyclopedia for BECMI is much like 2E in that it's a great rules reference, but bland appearance -- no surprise, as they came out in the same era).