Sunday, May 14, 2023

TS&R Ruby Bestiary & Treasury now available!

 It took me longer than I thought to finally proof and edit the TS&R Ruby Bestiary & Treasury, but I got it done last night. This morning (just now), I uploaded the file to DriveThru, so you can go grab it! 

The book has most of the Classic D&D monsters you know and love, plus some creatures from other editions converted to Classic style stats, and some originals as well. Those of you who remember my old Monster of the Week feature from many years ago may recognize some of the creatures (the Sauron didn't make the final cut, but some others did), but there are some completely new ones, as well. Not only that, I've got some different takes on some of the classic creatures as well. Oh, and a few name swaps to avoid WotC lawyers and Pinkertons bothering me. 

Oh, and there are also the treasure tables, magic item lists (some new things here, too!), and the reference tables, wandering monster tables, etc. 

As with the other TS&R titles, it's pay-what-you-want so go grab it. Feel free to take it for free, but if you like it and appreciate my work, I'll always be thankful to those who decide to pay me for it. 

Treasures, Serpents & Ruins Ruby Bestiary & Treasury

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

I've got a good feeling about this...

Last Thursday was May the 4th, "Star Wars Day" and on the 5th (Children's Day in Korea and Japan), we not only went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (as mentioned in my last post), we played another session of my Star Wars d6 campaign. 

We don't play often. I've been trying to make adventures that are fairly small and contained, because despite knowing more about SW lore than most (all?) of my players, it's a BIG galaxy, and I'm still not 100% comfortable just winging things with the d6 rule set the way I am with D&D. And that's to be expected. I've been playing Classic/AD&D for nearly 40 years. I've only been running this SW d6 game for four years or so, and it's my side campaign. So we get a session once every month or two. 

But this past session was a bit different. 

I started out with another fairly tight, not quite scripted but fairly limited adventure. But then I ran out of time to finish fleshing out every planned encounter, so I went into it with just some notes on locations, NPCs, enemy forces, and a general timeline of events that would happen if the PCs didn't intervene (knowing that they were likely to intervene). 

And I also had my notes from the previous couple of sessions handy, with encounters that I'd planned but they didn't run into, just in case I needed an idea or an interesting NPC or some impromptu stats. The PCs are on a world called the 4th Moon of Bogden, a lawless world of criminals (and maybe where Jango Fett was hired by Darth Tyranus to become a clone host). So having a few criminals and their schemes handy seemed a good idea, even though this adventure took them out of the spaceport and into the nerf herding territories.

I ended up winging the session. Not only that, very early on, as the players were information gathering, one of them got a 1 on the Wild Die. I gave them the information they were after, but had them suddenly accosted by a group of Nikto gangsters demanding to be paid off or dire consequences would result. The party bluffed and wheedled, and used their connection to Bumpomo the Hutt to gain an audience with the gang boss instead of paying off the shake-down artists. 

Well, they still had some information to gather, so while they were searching the meat markets for information on the various nerf herder farms (and the dewback ranchers), I was thinking of what sort of "boss" the Nikto would have. I ended up giving them a Wookiee for a boss, with a big fat Nikto sidekick/translator. When the party ended up at the gang HQ, they mistook the sidekick for the boss at first (He's fat, like a Hutt! Must be the boss!) but then were shown in to see the Wookiee. 

They managed to bargain their way out of paying dues (for now), and may actually try to form an alliance with the Hutts and the Nikto/Wookiee gang. 

Then they went to visit the nerf herders (making a deal to feed their Mandalorian refugee buddies), and while things didn't go as they planned, they ended up discovering that the dewback ranchers now have contracts with the Imperials, so have been expanding and taking over the nerf herders' water source. The party wants to help the nerf herders, but doesn't want to go directly against the Empire. And the Mandalorian allies just fled the Night of 1000 Tears/Great Purge of Mandalore by Moff Gideon, so THEY sure don't want any Imperial entanglements at the moment. 

Things are shaping up for a fun next session. But the thing I was happy about was that in this session, I finally just allowed myself to improvise and go with the flow. And it all worked out for a satisfying session. They didn't get into any fights, but I had stats to use if they had gotten into one. They have various NPCs to interact with, and they have multiple possible goals they could pursue, and I was ready for any of them. 

Next session, I do have a little set piece vignette that I want to throw at them to up the tension/force some action, but after that, I think I'll again just see what they do and react. I've got the stage set. I'm ready to ad lib the rest now. I'm finally feeling comfortable with opening up the game.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Yesterday (Friday) was Children's Day, so the boys had the day off from school. We celebrated by seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and having lunch at a pizza/salad bar buffet. Oh, and I ran a session of Star Wars d6, but I'll save that for another post. Let's talk about the movie! 

First off, since Google searches for movie title + curse word tend to direct people here, if you're worried about curse words in a movie, this one had a small amount, but as you may have heard, Star Lord drops the first F-bomb in the MCU. It wasn't where I would have expected it to be, and so it comes off as rather inconsequential. So anyway, be warned if you don't want your kids to hear that kind of language.

How was the movie? So good. There is an interesting plot line, not a ton of exposition at the beginning but you don't need it anyway, and the emotional stakes are clear through the movie. And they don't all resolve the way I expected them to resolve, which was a nice touch. 

I've got to say, like a lot of other people, I thought Phase 4 of the MCU was weak. And maybe it's just hard to follow something like Infinity War/End Game with lesser stakes, lesser intensity movies. And Phase 4 was also an expansion/set-up phase, which Marvel needs. They can't just keep milking the same characters forever if they want to keep audiences involved. I thought Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was a step back towards the sorts of movies we expect (although it has some flaws). This movie, though, was not just getting back, it was overdoing it. 

I don't want to give any spoilers this early after the movie's release, but as I said, the movie makes you care for these characters and their troubles, and forces them to confront a lot of issues, but it's also got that GotG humor throughout. The movie has lots of crazy locations and action set pieces, an interesting and differently motivated villain, interesting new characters, some old familiar supporting characters returning, and a lot of heart. James Gunn knows how to make a movie, and I'm actually looking forward to him setting the DC hero movies on the right track after the years of whatever they've been doing (which mostly hasn't worked for me). 

Go see this movie. Even if you're sick of Marvel, even if you're not a fan of comic book movies, go see this. It's a rare trilogy ender that is better than the previous two entries.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Choosing Your Ruleset as Difficulty Level

This is an idea that's been knocking around in my head for a while, but playing some emulated games with Steven (my 8 year old) this evening* reminded me about it. 

Video games used to have difficulty levels that you could choose before you started the game. I'm sure there are still a few games that use them, but one reason I don't play a lot of video games anymore is that they seem to be designed to either give you "an experience" or else they want you to subscribe/pay lots of microtransactions, so either they are too easy (experience or subscription) or too hard (microtransactions), with no choice. But back in the day, we had this.

So, here are my very subjective and probably wrong estimations of which version of D&D is at which difficulty level. This assumes a few things. One, it's difficulty for the players to play the game, not for the DM to run the game. Two, it assumes you're running things more or less by the book, at least as far as assumptions for things like encounters, healing, goals of play, and the like are concerned. If you play 4E in an "old school style" then that's outside of what I'm talking about here. I'm considering a group that plays 4E (or whatever edition) as the designers intended it to be played. Three, let's leave supplements out of the equation for now, they just complicate things. So no Skills & Powers, no Greyhawk/Blackmoor, no Unearthed Arcana, no Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Just the core rule books.

And I'll reiterate -- this is just my feeling about it. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am down in the comments. But the next time you start up a campaign, consider selecting the rule set that fits the challenge level you wish to give the players.

 I'm Too Young to Die (Very Easy Mode)

4th Edition D&D This is about as easy as it gets for the players. It's designed so that you would have to go out of your way to create a "suboptimal" character. The play assumptions are two to three easy fights then a tougher but still winnable "boss" fight as an adventure. Magic items are fairly easy to acquire, and you're not expected to have to do much more than ride the railroad from set piece battle to set piece battle, with a few "skill challenges" here and there to spice things up.

5th Edition D&D A bit more challenging than 4E, but still a lot easier than most other editions. It's possible to create a suboptimal character, but the rules tend to be a bit more forgiving with character creation. Advancement is very fast at low levels. Healing is ridiculously easy. And again, the adventures seem to be mostly an assumption of a few easy fights leading up to the boss battle. If players just go along and make sure to rest often, and the DM only places recommended encounter difficulties, it's not too hard at all.

Hey, Not Too Rough (Easy Mode)

2nd Edition AD&D The rules and systems for play, including character creation and character advancement, can lead to challenges for the players. You might get stuck with a suboptimal character through dice rolls as much as through character choice. But, the big mitigating factor of this edition is the design goal that players play "heroes" and go on epic narrative adventures. So while death is very much possible from the way the rules are written, the DM advice suggests that this be mulliganed or nerfed to serve the ends of the story. 

 Hurt Me Plenty (Normal Mode)

BX or BECMI D&D  I'm lumping these two together because while BECMI incorporates a lot more complexity of play at the high levels (not to mention Immortals level play being a completely different and more challenging game), at the earliest levels, play is pretty much the same in them. Character creation by the book can be a challenge (roll 3d6 down the line), but ability score bonuses are more generous than in the AD&D line. There aren't many choices to make at character creation, either. Adventure design assumptions are that encounters are not balanced, and it's up to the players to know when to push on for more and when to quit. But there are also rules that make treasure pretty generous, which speeds up advancement if the characters do survive.

3rd Edition D&D This edition has a lot of the design assumptions of the later editions. Character creation is generous with abilities and ways to optimize the character, but the complexity of the "exception-based rules" design, with all the skill points and feat choices and whatnot make it more of a burden to play than other editions. The adventure design assumptions are not quite so forgiving, but still, healing is fairly easy to get, magic items are easily purchased, and it's pretty easy to get around the "save or die" type effects. If the rules weren't so complex and fiddly, this would be in an easier tier.

Ultra-Violence (Hard Mode)

Original D&D It all started here, and it wasn't easy! Characters were randomly generated and didn't have a lot of "powers" to rely on. Monster encounters can easily be with overpowering odds. There's an assumption of thinking your way through encounters, rather than just hacking and slashing. You're dead at 0 hit points, and healing is not easy to come by. The incompleteness of the rules (remember, this is assuming the base rules only, not the supplements) may also up the difficulty a bit, as the DM will need to make a lot of guesses as to what's an appropriate challenge, and players will have to have their wits about them to survive.

1st Edition AD&D This edition has a good mix of difficulty in character optimization (it's got generous die rolling for ability scores but stingy bonuses for high scores, race/class combo restrictions, ability score restrictions, level caps for demi-humans, etc.) and difficulty in adventure assumptions. Monsters are challenging. Tricks, traps, and whatnot are expected, and can really mess you up. Sure, there are lots of opportunities to find powerful magic items, but the most powerful have serious drawbacks. And the level of detail in the rules give the DM all sorts of ways to make things difficult or more challenging for the players.

Nightmare (Extra Hard Mode)

Holmes D&D Rolling 3d6 down the line for stats and rolling your hit points randomly and you can only go up to 3rd level, but the book expects you might run into all sorts of dragons, vampires, purple worms, and the like? Yeah, this is the most challenging version if you play it straight.

*We have a Super Console X, an Android TV box with EmuElec, Retroarch, and about 30 systems emulated, with thousands of games. Tonight, we played some Twisted Metal on PS1 and Gauntlet 4 Quest Mode on Sega Genesis.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Brain Drain

There's been a lack of posts here recently because real life has been busier than usual. 

Midterm tests. My younger son's school giving him too much homework, so I need to support him. Working on the third paper for publication this year, in order to apply for promotion at the end of the year. Helping my wife and mother-in-law with various stuff around MIL's house. Board gaming. Running my TS&R game. Catching up on grading my students' homework. Lots of stuff, in other words. 

I've got some RPG related topics I'd like to blog about, but just don't have the spoons, as they say. 

Hopefully, I'll have some time to get some actual content up soon. Until then, I'm still here. I just don't have time to blog.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves review

Yesterday morning, the boys and I took in an early showing of the new D&D movie. We went to a morning show because after lunch, we met up with the group for my TS&R Jade game. The game went well. We had a new player, Philip who has been playing in my Star Wars campaign tried D&D for the first time. Nate & Denis, plus my boys, and Denis' daughter Renee (who played Goldie the Fairy Princess in my West Marches game) also showed up. Philip and Renee needed new characters, and Flynn (my older boy) forgot his character sheet, so we needed to roll up 3 new PCs for the game. But despite that, they still managed to make their first foray into The Pits of Lao, the micro-megadungeon near the home town (300 keyed areas over 3 levels, but no plans to expand it further, so micro-mega). They found one of the "special" special rooms, where they had chances to compete in various challenges to raise their ability the risk of dropping them if they lost. Some winners, some losers. Lots of fun. They also managed to talk or sneak their way past every other encounter, and steal a bit of treasure on the way, so all in all a good session! 

But you're probably here to read about the movie, not my game. And of course, since internet searches for "curse words in movie x" often end up here, there were some swearing in the movie, but not too much. Several instances of thematically appropriate or comically timed "shit" but no f-bombs. That's about it. 

So, how did we like it? Overall, it was entertaining. Compared to the bar set by the D&D movies of 20 years ago, it was amazing! But that's a pretty low bar. Compared to other classic or more modern fantasy films, it was decent, but not amazing. 

The casting and acting was pretty good. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez are charming and funny as the leads. Hugh Grant is having a blast hamming it up as the con-man turned nobleman. The other supporting actors all turned in good performances. 

The special effects were fine. Nothing amazing. The magical effects and monsters looked pretty good, but they weren't the best CGI I've ever seen. Sometimes it was just very apparent that it was an animated thing. While I think some early CGI movies (the original Jurassic Park, the Lord of the Rings trilogy) have effects that still look pretty good all these years later, I don't know if these effects will still look so good down the road. But for now, they're good enough. Better than a lot of the stuff in Quantumania (a film I enjoyed, but it's pretty much 2 hours of CGI soup to look at). 

The story was very appropriate to D&D, and all the fun little references and Easter eggs were fun to try and spot. There wasn't anything in the film that isn't established in D&D already as far as magic or monsters go, which is a plus for fans of the game. 

But while I've seen some people online praising this move, there's one thing I found it annoying and caused the first half of the movie to drag and be a bit boring. Every time a main character gets introduced, there's a big exposition scene. Now, that is kind of like what happens in some peoples' games when a new character joins the party. And so that does kind of fit in a D&D movie that's trying to play out like it could be a game of D&D without the 4th wall breaks of a movie like The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. But as a guy who has studied how to make a movie, it was a bit grating. My boys found it pretty boring at first, too, and they have not studied screenwriting. I've been thinking of all the ways they could have shown us the backstories without having to tell them to us. And in some instances, the whole "backstory" flashback was just to set up a joke later in the movie which was extra annoying.

The second half of the movie was much better. It focused on the characters having to overcome their personal issues while trying to overcome the external challenges of the film, which is what makes for good cinema. And the ending was suitably emotionally engaging (if predictable). There were a lot of jokes in the movie. Some hit, some missed. I'd say for me more hit than missed. The potatoes usually hit. ;)

We liked it, but none of us came out of the theater loving it. It was fun. It was alright. I'd watch it again when it comes up on streaming (if it's on one of the services we subscribe to). And if they made a sequel, I'd go see it. But I wouldn't go spend money to see it again in the theater.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Ruby Players Rules now available!

I've just uploaded my regular D&D house rules to DriveThruRPG, at my Hidden Treasure Books storefront. 

Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Jade Players Rules 

It's fully compatible with the TS&R Jade Asian-inspired rules (the Fighter and Thief class are identical in both, just with different suggested examples of each type listed). 

In it, you'll find rules for running a game somewhere between BX/BECMI style and AD&D style games, with mostly the simplicity of the box sets, but with separate race & class, and a few other complexities from AD&D (and a few more modern conventions I like such as ascending AC). 

Ruby has rules for the following races: Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Orcs. As with AD&D, demi-humans have class restrictions and level limits, although a bit more generous than old Gary originally suggested.

And the following classes: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Magic-User, Paladin, Ranger, Thief. Advancement goes to level 15.

Plus spells up to level 6, full equipment lists, and some handy rules for players to engage in exploration and combat, and some notes for higher level play. 

As with TS&R Jade, this is Pay-What-You-Want so feel free to download it for free, or tip me a few bucks if you enjoy it and can afford it!

Monday, March 20, 2023

The movie, huh? And TS&R Updates

So it's been 10 days since my last post. I figure I should put something up here on the old blog. But I don't have a lot to say about gaming at the moment. 

My last Star Wars session (on the 12th) went really well. They managed to avoid some of the complications and finish everything I'd prepped in just that one session. They did some pre-planning before the session started, and that allowed me to get some of the fiddly logistics out of the way (ship upgrades, droid purchases, trading the Inquisitor's shuttle for a Z-95 Headhunter to run escort for their YT-1300 freighter, etc.) before the session started. Then they managed to leverage their various skills to slip through an Imperial blockade, pick up a group of Mandalorians including an armorer who could forge the beskar steel they found in the previous game, and then run a con with the blockade just long enough to plot a course into hyperspace and jump out seconds before getting intercepted by TIE Fighters and engaged with by Star Destroyer long range guns. They got the Mandos to the 4th Moon of Bogden (where once upon a time Jango Fett was hired to be a clone donor), and after a run-in with a pair of pickpockets running a damsel in distress con, got their weapons/armor upgraded in thanks. Mandalore has been destroyed in the Night of 1000 Tears though, so that will have some ramifications going forward in the game. 

I've been watching The Mandalorian season 3, and liking it so far. It's a bit different feel than the previous two seasons, but so far I'm interested in what they'll do with the story now. Also, season 2 of the Bad Batch, which is not quite as interesting as season 1 was. Maybe it will pick up in the final few episodes? 

I had originally planned to wait and binge watch season 3 of Star Trek Picard. Season 2 was so-so, so I hadn't been too eager for it, despite knowing that most of the TNG cast would be appearing. But then I heard some good buzz from friends, so started in on it. It's definitely better than S1 or S2 so far, but the whole "dark and gritty" tone of modern Trek, and the emphasis on trying to tell cool stories rather than interesting (pseudo) scientific stories, just doesn't work as well for me. Maybe I should start in on Strange New Worlds. I haven't watched any of that yet, but I hear it's more like classic Trek. 

And on the movie side of things, Shazam 2 is out, but we haven't seen it yet. I really liked the first Shazam. It's the best DCEU film. But we were busy this past weekend with a lot of stuff, so it's still on the to-watch list. And the D&D movie seems to be out in the US, at least in some markets. I've seen people posting about it on Facebook. But it's not out in Korea yet. We'll definitely go see it. It looks fun, and from what I've been reading on social media, it's a decent adventure comedy film, although not so "D&D" other than a lot of fan service thrown in. 

Back to gaming, other than Star Wars, I'm still working on my TS&R Ruby books. The players book could be released as is, but I think I should read over it one more time. I always find a few small mistakes. Also, I don't have any equipment illustrations like the Jade book has, but then the Jade book's ones are my poorly hand-drawn efforts, so maybe it's just as well without it.

I'm almost done formatting the Ruby Bestiary & Treasury as well. It's got even more monsters than the Jade book (over 400, compared to 350+ in Jade), but more of them are familiar to D&D players. Still, I've managed, while formatting for space and illustrations, to find space to plug in a few more monsters, so there are some new things in there. Both of these books will also be pay-what-you-want titles when I get them ready. B&T just needs a reworking of the random encounter tables, as the ones I had before included a lot of monsters that are only in Jade, and I might want to put a few of the late entries in there as well. Once the random encounter tables are done, the book is ready. 

Editing/revising/formatting the Ruby books also helped me find a few mistakes in the Jade books, so I'll likely be updating those soon as well. I'll let everyone know here on the blog, and via DriveThru when the updated versions have been uploaded.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Virtual Tabletops

On my way to work this morning, I dropped the boys off down town where they could catch a bus to their school. And we were talking about our weekend plans, which include playing d6 WEG Star Wars on Sunday. Somehow, we got on the topic of WotC's planned new virtual tabletop. 

I told the boys that while the video that WotC released announcing One D&D and the new VTT looked really cool, it was probably just a money trap full of restricted content and premium dungeon terrain and in-app purchases for fairly standard monsters or character designs. It would also probably be a huge time sink for DMs who wanted to make homebrew dungeons, at least if they wanted their homebrew dungeons to look as cool as the ones WotC will be selling to them, that is. 

Both boys seem curious to check it out. The ability to zoom in and out of character view vs overhead view in a system running off of

They both play(ed) Minecraft, Roblox, and recently Garry's Mod, and the creative/edit it yourself nature of those game platforms are as appealing to them as the actual game play. It gives them aspirations of maybe designing their own games someday. So for them, the idea of spending hours working on a cool dungeon design doesn't sound so bad to them as it does to me. 

Neither of the boys seem too keen on paying for a lot of premium content, though. For Christmas a couple years ago we got them "Robux" (Roblox's meta-game currency), and they quickly realized how easy it was to waste good money on things that seemed cool one day (skins, game-passes, etc.) only to get quickly bored with it the next. 

So the idea of either paying a subscription or lots of in-app purchases in order to create cool dungeons in One D&D's virtual platform doesn't excite them. They could create the dungeons in one of the above mentioned games for free if they wanted to. Or they could copy their old man and do it the old fashioned way, with pencil and graph paper and imagination! 

This is just an anecdotal piece of evidence. I can't claim that my boys are typical of WotC's planned future audience. But if they are even somewhat typical, I don't see WotC's plans for a revenue churning behemoth coming to fruition. There are too many good enough virtual tabletops already, and I have a feeling that the novelty of using Unreal Engine 5 won't last long. Most people play video games instead of tabletop games because they want to game NOW, not spend hours creating the game space to game later. People who play table top RPGs will quickly realize that the video game nature of WotC's VTT makes it pale in comparison to their imaginations. 

Or at least, that's what I think. I could well be wrong. But this family, at least, probably won't do more than check it out for the novelty effect, then continue doing what we're doing now as far as gaming goes!

Saturday, March 4, 2023

TS&R Jade Bestiary & Treasury now available!

Hey hey, I've gone through the Bestiary & Treasury book I'm using for my current campaign, and fixed a lot of small errors, and added some additional explanations where I thought they might help others. Added more art, as well (all public domain). And now it's available on DriveThruRPG.

As with the TS&R Players Rules, this is available pay-what-you-want, so you can download it for free if you like, or throw me a few dollars if you can spare them and think it's worth it. 

The book has around 370 monsters, plus full treasure tables and magic item lists, and some handy reference material like sample dungeon, wilderness, and planar random encounter tables.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

This is the Way

Yes, we watched the first episode of season 3 of The Mandalorian a couple of hours ago. It was a good start for the season. Interpersonal conflicts, a giant monster, space pirates, a bit more of Mandalorian culture shown to us... The Bad Batch season 2 episode 11 came out, too, which also features a giant monster. Go figure! Anyway, I was already planning this, but all the Star Wars excitement has got me ready to run some WEG d6 Star Wars again after a fairly good sized break. 

In other news, I've been slowly making a final editing pass of my Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Jade Bestiary and Treasury. It's got all the monsters, treasures, and magic items you might want for an Asian fantasy themed Classic D&D style game. I'll probably get it up on DriveThru next week or the week after, depending on how busy I am with the start of the spring semester tomorrow. The final edit is almost done. 

Like the Players Rules, it will be Pay-What-You-Want. Already, in the two weeks the Players Rules have been out, over 120 people have downloaded it, and a handful have actually sent a few dollars my way. Much appreciated! Once it's out, I'll go through the Ruby (standard D&D tropes) Players Rules and Bestiary and Treasury books one more time, then get them up. 

Once that's done, I'll have to finally decide on how much detail to put into the GM book, finish writing it, and get it out. Or maybe a genre neutral "Rules Reference" book, and then GM books specific to running Jade or Ruby campaigns. 

Maybe, somewhere down the road, I'll put out other TS&R sets, with things like Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean/North and East African theme, Sub-Saharan Africa theme, pre-colonial Americas theme, pre-colonial Australia theme...who knows? Of course, I'll need to do lots of research and reading for those, as my knowledge of the history, myths and legends of those areas is not as deep as my knowledge of East Asian history, myths and legends. 

That would be nice, anyway. Probably won't happen. But you never know!

Monday, February 27, 2023

d20 Modern with my Son

I mentioned before that my younger boy has fun playing D&D, but he really would rather play a game with guns and cars and smart phones. So last year I got a POD copy of d20 Modern. 

He never had the attention span to actually sit through the rules (not that I expected him to at only 8 years old), but recently we made characters and have been playing very fast, very loose impromptu games when he has the interest (pretty much every day) and I have the time and energy to run it for him (not every day, unfortunately). 

Stevie made a Fast Hero with the Law Enforcement background, so a cop. But he spends as much time committing crimes as he does stopping them. So fairly realistic. 

I created a Strong Hero with the Adventurer background, a martial artist to be his buddy (not a cop). 

At first, when we got the book and I explained the Wealth mechanic, he was upset. He wanted to be able to total up lots of cash on his character sheet, and buy lots of stuff. Now that we've played it a bit, he really digs the Wealth mechanic. He can buy anything he wants of value under his score, so as it goes up, he's constantly adding more stuff to his sheet. And he keeps trying to buy big ticket items with wealth rolls, too, so his score fluctuates quite a bit. 

We're having fun. Ignoring a lot of the rules. Keeping it simple. He mostly wants to drive around and look for (or cause) trouble. He's had run-ins with bikers, drug dealers, mafia types, etc. No monsters, paranormal stuff, aliens, or any of that. Just "real" world situations. And lots of shopping. 

He's having a great time, and he's also been more attentive during D&D games, so I consider this a win-win! 

[JB -- I did look briefly at the sneak peak of CDF you sent me to consider as an alternative to d20M, but I've been too busy to give it a proper read through. I'll get to it, I promise!]

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins: Jade Players Handbook

I went ahead and put my TS&R Jade Players Handbook up as a pay-what-you-want title on DriveThru. 

It's got rules for character creation, with six races and nine classes. It has spells from level 1 to 6 (classes top out at 15). It has equipment. It has adventuring, exploration, combat, and spell/magic item research rules. It has a character sheet. 

Feel free to download it, and if you like it, think about maybe pitching a few bucks my way as a thank you!

I'll be putting the Jade Bestiary & Treasury up soon, and the Ruby Players Handbook and Bestiary & Treasury (standard Euro/D&D fantasy stuff, with my house rules) as well. Soon, of course, is a relative term. They might not be soon after all, but I'll try to get them up soon.  

Why pay-what-you-want? Because no one needs another fantasy heartbreaker, but I'd like to put this out anyway. And I don't need the money, but a bit of extra income never hurts. 

Thousands of copies of Flying Swordsmen have been downloaded for free, but I've only sold 250 copies of Chanbara. I'd rather that this gets out and people use it, or at least get some ideas from it that they might want to borrow or modify for their own games.

This is my gift to the RPG community.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Tactical Board Crawl

So thanks to some advice and prodding from cavalier973 and Dean (Tallifer), I took another look at 4E with an eye to run it just as a tactical board game. And they were right. 

Dean suggested that the stat blocks, while complex looking, are actually convenient and lay out all the rules you need to run the monster right there. Now that I've refreshed myself on some of the basics of 4E, and what the stuff in the stat blocks mean, he's right. It's not so bad. 

And cavalier973 suggested that I look at the sample adventure in the back of the DMG. I did so, but then I also pulled out the module Keep on the Shadowfell, which Pat had also given me. The module actually goes over the basics, and I think I could actually run the module without the other rulebooks if I wanted to. I'll probably run that DMG kobold dungeon first, though, then KotS after that. 

And I'll take the more complicated version of things by letting the players (whoever they end up being) make their own PCs. Of course, KotS has some pregen PCs, so if anyone wants to just grab one of them, I'd also allow it. 

Now, I'll probably run this for my boys one of these days. Spring vacation lasts for another week or so. I may also try this with some more adult gamers, if any are willing. I'll ask the crew and see what they think.

Movie Review - Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

The movie opened on Wednesday, 2/15 in South Korea, so we got to see it a bit before some other countries did. So if you're surprised that I'm already reviewing it, that's why. I don't have any inside connections. :D 

Mandatory Curse Words Warning: For parents googling "Are there curse words in Quantumania?" (Yes, I still get those!), there isn't very much. Hank Pym has the worst mouth in the movie, but all in all it's pretty family friendly. I think it was a bit less than in the previous Ant-Man movies, actually. 

On to the movie itself (no spoilers)! First of all, I really liked it. After Dr. Strange & the Multiverse of Madness (which I quite liked but was a different kind of superhero movie) and Thor Love & Thunder (which was OK, but I'm not itching to give it a second viewing), then Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (which was emotional but felt incomplete), this felt like a return to the Marvel formula in a way, but it wasn't 100% the typical MCU plotting. In fact, the plot draws heavily on pulpy/YA secondary world fantasy, where characters from our world get pulled into a fantasy land and have to learn to navigate its ways while fighting the evil wizard who rules over the place (as seen in The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Three Hearts & Three Lions, The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon show, etc.). 

It's also nice to see a Marvel movie where instead of the main character having daddy issues, he has issues with being a daddy. 

The characters are pretty well established by now, and the actors were able to work well as an ensemble. Kathryn Newton fit in well as the re-cast Cassie Lang. She seemed like she'd been part of this family since the beginning. And Jonathan Majors was legitimately menacing as Kang. 

There were a few plot holes here and there (one big glaring one that would have rendered the entire movie pointless, but oh well), but overall the story line was pretty easy to follow along, even for my 8 year old, and it was engaging and fun to watch.

So if you're one of those people complaining that Marvel has gotten too experimental recently, this should appease you. And if you're one of the people who was happy to see the MCU moving away from the formulaic plots and themes, this might not be your cup of tea, but I at least found it to be different enough from the archetypal MCU movie while still retaining the MCU feel. 

And it's got me even more excited for what's to come. There's also a slightly different type of post credit scene (the second one) which I found cool. But no spoilers. You're gonna have to go see it yourself (or look it up on YouTube I guess).

Saturday, February 11, 2023

A small, satifying session

Today, I ran my TS&R Jade game, but only one player besides my boys could come. Tomorrow is my wife's birthday, so before the game we went out and my mother-in-law treated us to Korean style sashimi and spicy fish stew, so we were stuffed and kinda tired. 

With only three players, and my younger son pretty tired when we stared, we only played for about 2 hours (well, 1.5 hours after all the initial chit chat and organizing). 

But, it was still a pretty fun and satisfying session. The characters did some shopping, including buying a variety of signal whistles and deciding what meaning each one had. Steven (my younger) bought five. They also bought war horses and/or barding for the horses.* 

We went over a few recent rumors, but they decided to follow the one new rumor, which was that the nearby yokai village had a smith who could make special weapons. They set out from town on their new horses. The first leg of the journey, on the main road, was uneventful. Then they turned off the main road, forded the river, and headed cross country to the village. 

Here they had a random encounter, with a pack of seven giant ferrets. They hadn't encountered them before, and weren't sure how tough they would be to fight, so they considered running away. But then Steven decided that his PC would blow his "cat" whistle. I rolled reactions on 2d6, got a 3, and so decided the ferrets were hostile and headed towards the party. After more discussion of what to do, Steven decided to blow his "eagle" whistle. One failed morale check (with penalty) later, the ferrets scattered from the "predator."

At the village, which was an abandoned human village, everything was quiet. Denis is playing a hengeyokai, so I told him that he knew most yokai are more active at night. They went to one house, in inhabited by kappa (frog/turtle/monkey river creatures) who gave them directions to the smith, but suggested they spend the day at the inn. They went to the inn, run by shun yao (Chinese dryads), and got rooms. They then went to the shrine and left offerings to hopefully build a good relationship with the yokai. 

In the evening, they briefly toured the yokai's bakemono (goblin) market. Then they went to the smith, who they found was a mujina (Companion Set version, faceless humanoid). After a scare, they returned and negotiated the silvering of some weapons, and insetting of jade in other weapons. 

The silver weapons are of course good for lycanthropes, some undead, etc. Jade weapons have the 3E weapon property of "ghost touch" so they can be used to fight incorporeal creatures without being magical. 

That's where we ended the session. Next time, I'll hit them with the yokai village's request...a powerful monster they need driven off or destroyed.

*And I realized I'd made a mistake with the barding ACs in the equipment lists, which I need to fix.

Friday, February 10, 2023

What was I thinking? Am I still thinking it? Really?

I mentioned previously that I inherited Pat's 4E books. I tried 4E when it came out, and it wasn't for me. But then Dean ran a pretty fun game using it (before he converted the campaign to 5E), and I had a pretty good time with it...the way Dean ran the game. But honestly, I showed up to more of his games once he converted to 5E, which I like a lot more. 

So we've been playing this campaign style dungeon crawl board game. I mentioned that as well. And I was looking at the 4E books the other day, having played some Heroclix with my younger son last weekend (heavily simplified, because I don't really remember the rules for all the powers that well anymore), and thought, "Why don't I try to use these rules to just run some miniatures skirmish games? That's what these rules really do best, after all."

Then I started looking at the Monster Manual. And I'm not so sure I want to do this after all. 

The monster stat blocks are so complex, with so many fiddly little powers. I understand letting the players have a selection of powers to choose from, but the monsters just seem so...over done. 

I do think a lot of the powers are fairly standardized, so after a bit of experience with it, it will probably get better. But do I really want to spend a bunch of time on this? I could set up some fantasy tactical battles with Chainmail, instead, and that would be a lot simpler. 

Anyway, that's a maybe. The idea is still appealing, but I've probably got better things to do with my time.


Oh, and if anyone's wondering, in the Heroclix game...I was playing with my figures from the 00's. Steven had his figures that he picked up in the US 3 years ago. I had Dr. Doom, Magneto, Kang, Hobgoblin, and Doc Oc. He had Captain America, Iron Man, Thor (Sakkar arena version with swords), Terror, and Hawkeye. I was way over points with my squad, but the newer versions are a lot cheaper for more power. Anyway, he smoked me. Magneto was my only figure to survive, and that's because I had him run away after everyone else went down. I was only able to damage Hawkeye. The game really doesn't work with mixed older and newer figures.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Adventure Prompts in ChatGPT

I was curious about ChatGPT. Lots of discussion about it in academic/education circles. As a second language teacher who does teach academic writing, this (and computer translation) are things I need to keep up on. 
But for my first foray with the AI text generator, of course I wanted to see how it could assist with adventure design. Here are two quick prompts I gave it (my prompts in bold, ChatGPT in blue):

Gamma World Adventure Module

Generate an adventure module for Gamma World 2nd Edition in the style of TSR modules.
Sorry, as a language model AI I do not have the ability to play games, but I can help you write an adventure module!

Here's an adventure module for Gamma World 2nd Edition in the style of TSR modules:

Title: "The Lost City of Nefara"

Introduction: In the post-apocalyptic world of Gamma World, rumors have circulated for years about a lost city of advanced technology and untold riches. Many have searched for the legendary city of Nefara, but none have returned. Now, the players have received a lead from a trusted source that could lead them to the lost city.

Objective: The players must navigate through the treacherous terrain of the wasteland and avoid danger from mutated creatures and hostile factions to find the lost city of Nefara and uncover its secrets.

Setting: The adventure takes place in a desolate wasteland, filled with mutated creatures, ruined buildings, and dangerous hazards. The lost city of Nefara is said to be located at the heart of the wasteland, protected by advanced technology and guarded by powerful mutants.


The players must navigate a treacherous sandstorm, avoiding sandwyrms and other dangerous creatures.

They will come across a band of raiders, who are searching for the lost city themselves. The raiders may offer to join forces with the players or attack them on sight.

The players will discover a hidden underground facility filled with robots and advanced technology. However, the facility is guarded by a powerful AI system that will not allow anyone to enter without proper clearance.

As they near the lost city, the players will face a horde of mutated beasts, including giant scorpions and fire-breathing lizards.

The lost city of Nefara is guarded by powerful mutants, who will challenge the players to prove their worth before allowing them to enter.

Conclusion: If the players are able to navigate the dangers and reach the lost city of Nefara, they will discover a city filled with advanced technology and untold riches. However, they will also uncover a dark secret about the city's past, which could have dire consequences for the world of Gamma World.

Note: This is just a basic outline of the adventure module, and it can be expanded upon as desired. The specific details and challenges can be adjusted to fit the players and their characters.

Generate a list of confidence schemes appropriate to the Star Wars universe.
Here's a list of confidence schemes that could be appropriate for the Star Wars universe:

Fake Holocron Scam: A con artist offers to sell a rare and valuable holocron to a wealthy collector, but the holocron is actually a fake.

Counterfeit Credits Scam: A criminal creates fake credits and tries to pass them off as legitimate currency, using the confusion of the war and the chaos of the galaxy to their advantage.

Bogus Military Contracts Scam: A fraudster claims to represent a powerful military organization and offers contracts to small businesses, promising a large payout in exchange for an up-front fee.

Illicit Arms Deal Scam: A confidence artist poses as a black market arms dealer and sells faulty or useless weapons to unsuspecting buyers.

Rogue Planet Scam: A swindler convinces investors to fund the development of a new colony on a "discovered" rogue planet, only to disappear with the funds once the investors have paid.

Artifact Smuggling Scam: A smuggler offers to sell valuable and rare artifacts, but instead delivers fake replicas to the buyer.

Fake Job Offer Scam: A con artist offers false employment opportunities to young and inexperienced individuals, only to steal their credits or use them for illegal activities.

Sabotaged Starship Scam: A scam artist offers to repair or upgrade a starship, but instead sabotages it, causing it to malfunction or crash.

Note: This list is not exhaustive, and these schemes can be adjusted to fit the specific story and setting of a Star Wars adventure.

That's not bad. The Gamma World "module" lacks concrete details, and it's presented as a railroad. But it has a good set-up, progression, and ending with hook for further play. 
I could work with a skeleton like that and flesh it out. I would probably try more specific prompts in the future.
For Star Wars, I gave it a more general prompt, and it gave some good ideas that could be developed further. 
Now, this is not revolutionary. I could easily have come up with these ideas (or similar) myself. But if I were to run an impromptu game, and needed ideas quickly, this could be helpful.
So what do you all think?

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Back! Gaming! Happy!

I've been avoiding blogging the past week or so, because of the OGL whoop-de-doo. I said my peace earlier about it, and didn't really have more to add. And now, I've got my TS&R campaign started up again, and am working on notes for the next Star Wars d6 adventure (nearly done). My older boy and I also, at the invitation of a friend, started playing a campaign dungeon crawler board game called Swords & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles. 

I mentioned this game over on BX Blackrazor's comment section, and it spawned a whole post by JB. I may have some thoughts to add to his post later. For now, though, I want to talk about the game itself.

Like many of these campaign style games, it's fairly rules heavy. The basic mechanics are pretty simple and straightforward. There are red and blue dice (d10s). Red are better offense, blue are better defense. For any task, you roll the number of red and/or blue dice indicated, and try to get the right symbols to come up. When to roll, what to roll for, and how the cards (items, abilities, etc.) interact make it complex. 

One really cool thing about the game is the way it runs monsters. After each player takes their turn, they turn over an Encounter card. This card will say to activate certain types of monsters. All monsters are colored by strength tier green - blue - red - purple, and given their primary attack method (Strength, Faith, Magic, Dexterity). The player characters also have these attack methods. So one card might say "Activate all red creatures -or- activate any two creatures." Any red creatures would then take an action, and if there are none, players decide which two creatures in play take actions instead. And each monster has a card with various if/then statements, combined with all their various attacks and defenses. So if a monster activates, we read its card to see which situation applies, and how they act. 

For example, the first two dungeons had a lot of giant spiders. The spider cards (didn't get a picture of that, so going from memory here) have actions for the spiders if there is a hero in the same area, 1 or 2 areas away, or farther than that. And within those, there are if/then conditionals. If a character is in the same area, and it is slowed (webbed up), the spider uses a special attack. If not, it bites then moves 1 area away. If a hero is 1-2 areas away, it shoots a web. If no heroes are within 2 spaces, it moves closer. 

The interaction between the Encounter cards and the various conditionals on the monster cards make the monster actions unpredictable, and emulate a DM running monsters in D&D fairly well. In fact, the monsters in this game are a lot more challenging and unpredictable than most monsters that I run in D&D... I do sometimes get into the bad habit of having monsters just rely on their main attacks once combat starts, unless I'd specifically prepared some interesting tactics for them beforehand. 

Another thing the game does that mimics D&D or other RPGs is that it has a story book. Certain markers get placed on the board, and when characters move onto them, story events happen. It's also a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure style, in that some of the events are different depending on if we're playing the Lawful or Chaotic versions of the heroes (my hero, the Thief or Alchemist, is always Neutral, so can play with either party). Also, some of the events include actual choices like a CYOA book that we can make. It's not quite the same as playing a proper RPG, but I can see why Adam (the host) prefers this sort of game to an RPG.

The premise of the game is that the gods have awakened these five heroes from their immortal slumber to stop an evil threat. Being already dead, death in the game is not the end. You become a ghost, and can rejuvenate at a shrine. The players fail the dungeon if all four are ghosts at the same time. And of course there are soul points that need to be earned during play, which need to be spent to rejuvenate...but they're also needed to level up your character. 

It's a bit of a learning curve, but we're getting better at it as we play. In the first session, we only managed to get through the introductory adventure and the first town phase (shopping, info gathering, gambling...we lost most of our cash there). The second dungeon took us two whole sessions (the picture above is where we stopped at the second session, halfway through the dungeon crawl. The third session, we managed to finish that dungeon. Each session has been 4 or 5 hours of play. It's a bit smoother, though, and probably our next session (next Monday) will go a bit faster than that. 

After we get through the winter break, we'll only be able to play on weekends, though, so that will probably have some conflicts with my D&D game.


In other news, Pat of the original Busan Board Game group is finally leaving Korea soon. As he prepares to leave, he's getting rid of a lot of stuff. He contacted me the other day and asked if I wanted his RPG books. Of course I said yes. So yesterday, I drove over to his apartment and got them. He had the 2E DMG and Monstrous Compendium (original versions, I only had the black reprint versions until now), a few modules and the Ravenloft Masque of the Red Death box set. 

Also, he gave my his 4E books. That collection includes the PHB, PHB2, DMG and MM, plus three modules and some modular dungeon tiles. 

I'd mentioned to Adam that he might dig 4E more than other editions of D&D, so the books may end up with him in the end. For now though, I'm wondering if I'd like to give them another try, running the game more like this S&S board game than a proper RPG campaign. I think that's what 4E was really designed to do, after all. But I've also got my TS&R campaign, my Star Wars campaign, and I think I'm about ready to take the plunge with a PbP Gamma World game that I've got set up but haven't recruited players for yet. So probably no time for an experiment with 4E.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Gaming in the Abstract

I was thinking about a more general, abstract way to describe play in RPGs the other day, and I'm still sort of working through these ideas, but wanted to get down here what I've been considering so far. Partly so that I don't forget, and partly to get feedback from the community. 

I'm thinking of how a DM/GM/Referee and players interact during a game, at the encounter level. Obviously, the "logistics" phase of the session, where players get set up, check character sheets, add/subtract equipment or various scores, update things, wrap things up, level up, and all that would have separate moves than these. This is a start at describing the "moves" of an RPG. Other than Initial Description, there is no set order for these, and they are of course recursive until the encounter is completed. Also, these should be able to apply from any sort of situation from entering a simple dungeon room to traveling through other planes of existence.

The Encounter

Initial Description: GM move. GM gives an initial description of the encounter.

Question: Player move. Players request more details about initial description or information gained from other moves.

Examine: Player move. Characters look for more specific detail about one element of the encounter.

Interact: Player move. Characters manipulate one element of the encounter (including talking to NPCs/monsters).

Search: Player move. Characters attempt to find possible hidden elements of encounter.

Travel: Player move. Characters move from current location to another.

Engage: Player move. Characters initiate some sort of conflict, or react to NPCs/monsters engagement.

Avoid: Player move. Characters refuse to interact with encounter.

Explain: GM move. GM provides more information in reply to player moves above.

Stipulate: GM move. GM explains pertinent rules or obvious consequences of proposed player moves so that players understand the stakes.

Adjudicate: GM move. GM engages in game mechanics (or calls on players to engage in game mechanics) to find the results of a player or NPC/monster move.

Resolve: GM move. GM explains results of moves taken by players and/or NPCs/monsters, or of game mechanics adjudicated.

Updated Description: GM move. GM provides pertinent details of changes to the encounter after relevant moves have been completed.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Chicken Littles

Much angst in the RPG online spaces these days. Much spleen being spilled about the new OGL 1.1 document leaks. Many predictions of the end of all but WotC product for D&D. 


While I'm not a lawyer, it has been clearly established that game mechanics cannot be copyrighted. Write your own presentation of a set of rules, and there's not much that a big giant corporation trying to squeeze every penny out of the player base can do. Sure, a few smaller companies and individual people may refrain from publishing for "OneD&D" after the release (assuming the text of the new OGL doesn't change between now and release), but if they really want to get their material out, they can find ways to do it. 

Besides, all these games already exist. They will continue to exist after the OGL 1.1 comes out. Some may become harder to find, but they'll still be out there. And you can still play them.

It may be scarier for small publishers to put out their stuff. And while little guys like me have no chance of battling WotC in court, I can see a class action suit from places like Drivethru and the smaller publishers, plus people like you and me, having a chance to defend the legality of OGL 1.0 and 1.0(a) products in court. If that never happens, or it fails, that will suck for a lot of small publishers. But we can still make our works and put them out for free, or try to make a bit of money under the radar.

Gygax's words from way back in the 70s (at the end of the Greyhawk supplement? I forget where he said it) still ring true. Once the game has been released, YOU do not need a game company. The game company needs you! Why should you let them do any more of your imagining for you?