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Saturday, March 3, 2012

200+ Tavern Followers Contest - Name Your Favorite Non-OSR RPG

Yep, we've been sitting at 200+ at the Tavern for about a week, so it's time to get the contest started.  Besides, I want to get the most of the GM Sale discounts that I can use towards it ;)

First, the contest:  Tell me about your favorite Non-OSR RPG System.  As I'll be running a series of posts detailing the Original 7 RPGs, I want to know about games that aren't one of the 7 I'll be posting about.  Tell us why your choice rocks!

Now, here's the gifts that will be given out to random commenters:

1 - $10 Gift Certificate to OneBookShelf

1 - Dead Tree (Print) copy of Castle of the Dead - A Tunnels & Trolls solo for 7.5e by Andy Holmes (this gift is only for U.S. postal addresses - I gotta fork over the postage - I'll find a substitute if you are from outside the States ;)

1 - Red Tide: Campaign Sourcebook and Sandbox Toolkit - PDF copy - For LL but useful in any OSR campaign.

10 Random Folks that add a comment to this post will get their choice of One (1) Toys For the Sandbox Adventure (you can look them up here).

Contest runs from now through 830 PM NYC Time on Monday, March 5th, 2012.  Yep, the time is only 48 hours, so don't wait.  Recipients of gifts will need to look on this blog Monday night to see if they won.  PDFs must be claimed by the end of the GM Sale at RPGNow on March 7, 2012.  You'll need to provide me with the email address you use at RPGNow to get your gift.  Recipients of a Toys For the Sandbox Adventure will also need to email me their choice, or I'll choose a random one for ya'!

I'll make a separate post announcing the winners on Monday Night.

There ya go!

Start commenting!

(edit: also accepting entries at the corresponding Google+ thread)

The Original 7 - Quick Peek at The Arduin Grimoire




Not longer than 10 minutes ago, my doorbell rang and my postman handed me a package containing the following valuables:

The Arduin Grimoire Volume 1, Welcome to Skull Tower (Volume II) and The Runes of Doom (Volume III).

I now have something I had heard about but never owned.

I was supposed to be reading the OD&D boxed set today, but I have a feeling these little treasures will be stealing some of my attention today ;)



Apocalypse World - It Ain't My Bag

I've spent some time trying to slog my way through the Apocalypse World rulebook in dead tree format, hoping beyond hope that I may find it more appealing that the PDF...

That shit ain't happening.

It's not that it's poorly laid out.  The layout is fine.  I just feel the writing sucks ass.

When I complained about Vornheim, it was about the layout and how the horribly small font made it a struggle to extract the goodness that others were finding in it.  For the sake of forcing art on the product, the meatiness of it was pretty much obscured from me.  I just don't have the patience to dig through annoying crap to find my reward.  I tried that with HoL back in the day (but I knew going into HoL it lacked redeeming rewards besides humor)

With Apocalypse World, Baker hides what many call an excellent RPG behind an attempt to be an "Artistically Shocking Author", or at least that's what I'm going to call it.  It's disjointed.  It's confusing.  It's fucking annoying.  This is probably why almost everyone I've seen talk / post / whatever about Apocalypse World and how great an RPG it is, usually follows it up with: "But I never read the rules, I just play in the game.  The GM read the game".  Well, God bless your fucking GM, because he's a stronger man than I am.  He's also probably half way to insanity, but who isn't?

Why all the "fuck" in my language in this post?  Because it's the most used word in Apocalypse World.  Sex may be a close second, but fuck has it by a mile.  I'm a cop and Baker uses "fuck" more than I do.  For him, it's gone from seasoning enhancement to main course.

K, I'm going back to my baby - my Original Dungeons & Dragons Boxed Set.  I need some grounding after this experience.

Friday, March 2, 2012

RPGNow / DriveThruRPG GM Sale Thru March 7th - Friday Highlights

As long as the GM sale is going on, I'll be mentioning some of my favorites that are on sale.  Today I'm looking at the following:

Red Tide: Campaign Sourcebook and Sandbox Toolkit - A Labyrinth Lord sourcebook with an asiatic theme, my favorite part is the random tables, from Room Dressing to NPC generation.  There's a lot of meat here for 5.99









Lesserton & Mor - another sandbox campaign setting for Labyrinth Lord (but as we all know, easily convertible to other OSR systems), this one gives you both the town for your party's base and the nearby ruins of Mor.  12 bucks.









The Grinding Gear - probably the best adventure that James Raggi has written to date.  The Grinding Gear back in December of '09, and I summed it up as a (barely) survivable Tomb of Horrors.  It still hold up as one of Raggi's best.  Heck, one of the OSR's best adventures.  4.50

The Original 7 - Quick Peek at My OD&D Collection

As I'll be reading the core three from the OD&D Boxed Set from cover to cover over the weekend, I figured I'd take a quick pic to show off my collection.

I still need to pick up Eldritch Wizardry, Gods Demi-Gods & Heroes and Swords & Spells to finish off the collection.

Oh, and I picked up the dragons at A.C. Moore last fall at dirt cheap prices.  I figured that they deserved a shot at the limelight ;)

Me, Myself and I - Playing With the AD&D DMG Random Dungeon Generator

Remember the Random Dungeon Generator in the AD&D 1E DMG? Not only did it offer the enterprising DM a quick (if not always easy) way of rolling up a dungeon, you also were able to determine the dungeon's inhabitants.

I remember sitting on the floor with graph paper, dice, the DMG and the PH on a Thanksgiving Evening at my aunt's house, rolling out a dungeon and that putting a small party thru it.

That shit was more lethal than anything any of my fellow teenage DMs ever put me through. EGG certainly set things at near killer DM level with the included charts.

Strangely enough, I never seemed to have any issues with 2d6 orcs in a 10' x 10' room behind a locked door.

Come to think of it, I rarely left unoccupied rooms in the dungeons I designed back than. An empty room was wasted space for player expo ;)

Bits and Pieces - End of the Week Roundup

As I mentioned last night, I'm about to start a retrospective of the first 7 RPGs to hit the hobby, at least from a fantasy perspective (although I may roam further after I finish the initial 7). This will consume some time, but it should be a blast.

We also have a hair over 200 followers of this blog, so it's time for a contest. I'll announce it either tonight or tomorrow. The timing is perfect, as RPGNow's GM Sale will allow my dollars to go further in regards to offering prizes. At least one piece is going to be a dead tree product, and that prize will be limited to entries from the U.S., as I'm paying shipping. The rest will either be credit at RPGNow,or PDFs I'll purchase for your account at RPGNow. I always have fun with contests :)

Totally unrelated, but kitchen renovations should be wrapping up this weekend. We actually have a working kitchen sink for the first time since late December. A happy wife makes for a happy gamer ;)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Original 7 - An Old School Retrospective - Preliminary Look

I'm a sucker for challenges, so when Castelian from the Chivalry & Sorcery Blog challenged me to an Old School RPG review - thing-a-ma-wop, I couldn't say no.  See, this is why Google+ is evil - it makes you do things you never expected to do.

The retrospective list is as follows:

Original Dungeons & Dragons Boxed Set (1974)- I have the Collector's Edition, so it is original, even if it is like the 6th printing of the boxed set.

Tunnels & Trolls (1975)- I have a reprint of the 1st edition, and I have the Trollgod's personal copy of the 2nd edition rules.  Being that less that 100 copies of the 1st edition D&D rules were ever produced, I think I'm pretty well set between the two editions.

Empire of the Petal Throne (1975)- In this case I'm working off of a PDF of the 1st edition that predates the TSR edition.  Yeah, I don't own an original.

Bunnies & Burrows (1976) - I found the first edition of this FGU game for 5 bucks on RPGNow.  Now that's cheap for a piece of history, even if it is in PDF.

Chivalry & Sorcery (1977) - I picked up a beat up copy of the 2nd ed of C&S last winter on Ebay (this was my first experience with C&S).  Castelian was nice enough to provide me with a PDF copy of the C&S 1st edition rules for the purpose of this endeavor.

Arduin (1977) - Yes, I'm guy who just dropped 90 bucks on Ebay for the Arduin trilogy of books.  It just shipped today.  I take these challenges way too seriously ;)

RuneQuest (1978) - No, I don't have a copy of RQ1e, either in PDF or hard copy.  I do, however, have a hardcover of the 2nd edition of RQ, although the dust jacket is long gone.  So, with this, I'm kinda cheating.  It's either that or leave it off the list.

I'll be looking at such wonderful things as production values, innovativeness, how much it derives from other (think OD&D) RPGs, ease of use, complexity, completeness, fun factor - and whatever else occurs to me at the time.

I may even add some other's before I wrap up, such as Traveller, Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, Gamma World - we'll see how much gas is in my tank.

I'm guessing I'll be looking at a game a week.  It may need more than one post per game.  I really need to map this out a bit in advance, or I find myself of the rails and going in too many directions ;)

I should have the first post up next week.

RPGNow / DriveThruRPG GM Sale Thru March 7th

OneBookShelf / RPGNow / DriveThruRPG is running a GM sale thru March 7th, giving you a 25% discount on literally thousands of PDFs.

So, do you plan on looking at thousands of pages of websites to find your bargains?  I do, but you might not want to, so I'm going to point out my favorites over the next few days.  Here's my picks for today:

Toys For the Sandbox line of of short adventures - they were a bargain at 99 cents a piece, they are now a low 52 cents each!  You can't beat that price.







Legend - Mongoose RuneQuest 2 with the serial numbers scratched off, this was a steal at a buck.  It's now 75 cents.  The rest of the line is on sale too.










Designers & Dragons - an awesome write up of the history of the role playing industry.  This is where you splurge if you are going to.  The regular price is 29.99 - it's on sale for 22.75.  It still isn't cheap, but I've been enjoying catching up on industry history.

Thoughts on One Shots

Having played mostly one shot adventures over the last month+ at Games That Can Not Be Named, I have a few thoughts on the matter.

One Shots are an excellent way to highlight a new system or a new adventure. It's also a great way to play test material that is not yet released and possibly work out the kinks.

They work great at Cons, as no one really expects to be playing in a campaign at a Con.

Most one shots work better with pre-gen characters in my opinion, which was not the case at most GTCNBN sessions. When you have a 4 hour block of playing time, getting a table worth of characters generated and answering a table worth of player questions can easily eat up that first hour.

Constantly playing one shots can lead to player attrition. Campaigns lead to a bonding: between characters, between players and between a player and their character. That bond assists in bringing the players back.

Of course, the whole purpose of GTCNBN was to play test new games, so the weekly one shots are understandable. I just think they lack long term sustainability.

Like I said, just a bunch of thoughts on one shots ;)

All Good Things Must Come to an End - Games That Can Not Be Named (SoHo)

Last night was the last gathering of Games That Can Not Be Named at the Digital Arts Gallery in SoHo. It's a shame, as it's been a fun couple of weeks, but gaming will go on ;)

Alex, Tavis, David (my GM if the game involved Trolls) and all the rest were a fun bunch of folks. If this was intended to get folks out of their homes and gaming in person again after years, it was certainly a success.

I did a heck of a lot of play-testing, since my share of NDAs and had fun doing so. It's a shame the attendance numbers dwindled as the weeks go on, but even yesterday we had a new gamer at the table (new to the gathering, not gaming, as she had a green d20 tattoo on the inside of her forearm ;)

Both Alex (Bad Wrong Fun) and Tavis (Autarch / ACKS) have other things in the wings and at least one player in the gathering expressed interest in running an ongoing campaign. With limited time to game, I will need to make some tough choices. Which, of course, is always better than no choices at all ;)

More play-doh minis were in use last night. I'll try and post a pic or two when I get home later.

In any case, I made some friends and met a good share of gamers. Time well spent.

Game on!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Last Night For Games That Can Not Be Named

Yep, tonight is the last night of Games That Can Not Be Named over at 138 Sullivan Street (a block south of Houston). It kicks off at 7PM.

Be there or... don't. But if you are in the area, I'm sure you'll have a good time if you show up ;)

I've made every session but the first one. Tavis and Alex have done a great job with it. Looking forward to what they put set up next.

Playing With At Will Powers - Can it be Throttled?

Personally, I think the whole challenge and enjoyment of playing a spell caster in older editions of D&D is the management of limited spell resources. I also think it's fairly obvious Monte Haul - er, I mean Monte Cook is paying lip service to the whole Vancian Magic schtick.

So, here's my thought - what if At Will Powers were "throttled" down? What if they weren't able to be consistently used round after round? What if At Will was actually Limited?

Say your at will power is Horrible Gamer's Breath (stay with me). Your first use in an encounter is automatically successful. The next attempt requires an ability check (INT if a wizzie). Pass the check, it goes off and you can try again next round at -1 penalty to your check. Fail, and you can't try again until the next encounter. Penalties reset at the end of the encounter.

At Will with limits. I could actually live with this I think ;)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Picking Nits From Monte's Latest - Putting the Vance in Advanced


(originally posted at the WotC website here)

Gary Gygax loved fantasy fiction. One of my favorite stories from the early days of TSR involves Gary at a Lake Geneva bookstore, browsing through the science fiction and fantasy section. He has a stack of new purchases with him. Along comes another fellow with a similar stack. The two begin chatting about the books they have in common as well as those they do not. By the end of the conversation, Gary offers the man a job at his new company. That man, James Ward (who single handedly destroyed Crusader Magazine for the Trolls, but I digress), not only takes the job but stays with the company for decades and produces, directly or indirectly, hundreds of wonderful products that still shape the game today.

So yes, fiction was important to Gary. (Okayyyy... weird segue)

He loved the works of Jack Vance. Vance wrote all sorts of fiction, but the ones most important to D&D are the books in the Dying Earth (I actually have the RPG in dead tree format - can anyone tell me if it's any good) series. In these books, wizards prepare spells with names like “The Excellent Prismatic Spray.” These spells are so complex that a skilled wizard can keep the components—the words, the gestures, and the mystical aspects—of only a few of these spells in his head at once. And once used, at least as Gary interpreted it (well, as Gary twisted it into game form), the spell was gone until prepared again.

And that's where D&D got the “Vancian” magic system. Wizards (and most other casters) prepare their spells ahead of time and once used, the spell is gone.

As great of a writer as Jack Vance is, D&D is not The Dying Earth role-playing game (as I said earlier, Dying Earth has it's own RPG.  I don't recall anyone ever calling D&D the Dying Earth RPG). For several reasons, other than just nostalgia, we are exploring putting Vancian spellcasting back into the game. It's good for gameplay. It requires casters to think about what spells they want to cast ahead of time. It requires them to use their abilities judiciously. In other words, smart play is rewarded (holy crap!  D&D 5e is being designed to reward smart play?  say it isn't so!  heh). You need to have an idea of what kind of adventure you are about to undertake to optimize your character, which often takes planning and perhaps research. But some players don't like that kind of play. Some Dungeon Masters don't reward it. And some players just don’t want to use their spells judiciously. (Makes sense.  So that means we'll have different classes that cast magic differently assume.)

As a result, we'd like to include Vancian spellcasting as only one type of magic in the game. And according to a recent poll here, a majority of you seem to agree—that we should incude both Vancian and non-Vancian spellcasting systems as part of the core. (You do know these surveys are bullshit, right?  It isn't drawing from a random pool)

For example, inspired by 4th Edition design (wait?  part of 5e is inspired by 4e?  yes, I'm being facetious), we want to give casters something interesting to do when they're not using their limited spells (wait... we are giving at will powers to all casters?). Something cool and magical, but not spells. This concept is particularly intriguing, because it opens a door to the idea that expressions of magic other than spells exist in the world and are available to characters (wait a fucking second... all characters get magic powers?  WTF?). It’s a fun notion to play around with both from a mechanical and a story perspective.

One idea we’re considering is a magical feat. These feats represent magical abilities that a character can use all the time. For example, we might have a basic feat called Wizard Mark. This feat could indicate that a character is an arcane spellcaster, and it might grant him or her a minor, at-will ability. Maybe a minor blast of force (my issue with this is no other character has a free ranged attack when unarmed that they can use at will, forever... or wait, maybe they all do.  Magic Spittle Attack for the Fighters in the Party.  Saweet!  Not!). Maybe a telekinetic ability like mage hand. More potent feats could then be accessed later. Imagine a Disciple of Mordenkainen feat that grants a spellcaster a magical hound companion (a la Mordenkainen's faithful hound) (wouldn't that be a Familiar?) or a Disciple of Tenser feat that grants him or her a floating disk to use.

This concept accomplishes two things: First, it allows us to give new life to some spell effects that get lost in a traditional Vancian system compared to fireballs and magic missiles. (and sleep, burning hands, read magic, detect magic, color spray, rope trick, knock, wizard lock - the list goes on and on.  certainly more than just two spells) Second, it provides a way for casters to be magical even when they're not using their limited resources.

One of the most interesting aspects of this system is that it allows us to design a class that relies entirely on these magical feats instead of spells. Such a class would be far easier to play than the wizard (wait a second.  I thought Monte said folks played earlier editions of D&D because they had limited options and were in effect easier to play.  Now he's saying the Vancian caster requires more skill and thought.  See what happens when you let the marketing guys write your first few posts on 5e Monte?), with no spells to prepare, but would still have a number of interesting magical offensive, defensive, and utilitarian options to call upon. In effect, a non-Vancian caster with 4th-Edition-style arcane powers.

We see other possibilities that can live alongside casters that use the Vancian D&D approach. Casters that have other controls on their resources, such as the 3rd-Edition style sorcerer or a point-based caster like the old psion class, could easily exist in the same D&D world as a traditional wizard.

Monte's has posted far worse than this, but he still leaves me confused?  Are we getting pure Vancian casters in 5e, or is he putting peanut butter in my chocolate?

Vancian Magic - Light?

I read Monte's latest article on D&D 5e Its about Vancian Magic and how 5e is going to mix Vancian Magic with at will powers and what not.

From what I gather, it's not just adding a 4e type class to the caster's mix, but adding at will powers to the basic Wizard class - mixing at will and Vancian magic.

My "Old School" issue with at will powers is that the character with at will powers is never disarmed. Sure, a fighter without weapons can use his fists or improvise a weapon, but a caster that can always cast is never without an effective attack.

It goes against the whole "Vancian Magic" idea in the first place. Go with one or the other, but not both in the same caster. This isn't putting your peanut butter in my chocolate. Somethings just shouldn't be mixed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mini Review - Microscope (World History Building RPG)


While killing time last night waiting for gamers that didn't appear, Alex from Bad Wrong Fun and Games That Can Not Be Named showed me his copy of Microscope.  Now, I had heard about Microscope from the emails and such from Bad Wrong Fun.  I noticed that it was being used to help design the history of the RuneQuest campaign that Alex would be running.  I was intrigued, but had no idea what it was.  Now, I'm a bit closer to understanding.
In a nutshell, Microscope allows players to role play events in the history of the shared world, history that they are making up as they go along.  Well, that might be a bit too simple of a description, so I'll try and see if I can do better.
Here's a bit from the book itself:
Microscope works differently than some other role-playing games you might have played, so let’s abandon some preconceptions: 
You won’t have your own character. 
You won’t play the game in chronological order. You may know all about the future, but be surprised by the past.
You’ll build the story from the outside in. You’ll decide the big picture, the grand scheme of history, and then burrow down and carve out the details.
It’s fractal gaming.
So think big: you have a massive chunk of history to play around in.
Well, that probably still doesn't explain it too well either, but it's closer.
Let's see, the is no GM.  You need two to five players.  You also need a hell of a lot of imagination.
After deciding on the beginning and an end, you start working on the middle - the history that takes you from start to finish.  In a way, it really is that simple.
This is collaborative history building, with the twist that each player has a huge impact on the collaborative history that is defined throughout gameplay.
Heck, the overview of play takes up just a page.  The concept is simple, but the result is a complex history that makes a world seem alive - or at least, one hopes you end with that result.
To paraphrase Alex:  "If during the world building, the players decide that The God King was slain with the Sword of the Sun and later, during the playing of the actual campaign set in the collaborative world players come across hints about the existence of the Sword of the Sun - they know it's history, they know the events surrounding it.  It's a real piece of history".
Hmmm... I may need to add this to my resources used for QUERP although I'm not sure how well this would work via G+ Hangout.  I think some of the intimacy of literally being around the table might not be essential, but I suspect it helps in the process.  
From the blurb:
What is Microscope?

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization...

Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire...

An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm...
These are all examples of Microscope games. Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That's Microscope.
You won't play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope.
You have vast power to create... and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.
Mock chronological order.

Defy time and space.

Build worlds and destroy them.
A role-playing game for two to four players. No GM. No prep. Microscope was playtested for two years by over 150 awesome gamers.

Question - Should I Bring Minis To Entice the Youngsters?

God, that really could be taken the wrong way. What I mean is this: the younger players in yesterday afternoon's game (the one I wasn't there for) apparently really enjoyed looking and playing with the miniatures that that game's DM brought with him.

I have a bunch of HeroClix and such that I bought off Ebay a while back, to use as miniatures if needed. Should I drag a few along for the next attempt, whenever that might be?

I generally don't use them for anything more than marching order when I DM - I have a battle mat somewhere, but I've never used it. Still, if visuals help the players immerse themselves, I'll add it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

If You Run a Game and No One Shows Up, Do You Roll Dice?

Lonely Dice
Well, apparently the afternoon session at the Brooklyn Strategist was a success, as they had 10 year olds playing Labyrinth Lord with their parents.  Ten year old kids, kicking open doors, killing things (and gutting them looking rubies) and learning the secret of fire.  A good time and I'm sorry I missed it.

For the evening session, potential DMs outnumbered potential players by 3 to 0.  It wasn't that the location wasn't doing business - we just weren't getting players.

For the next attempt, I think I'll go with Swords & Wizardry - less books to lug around.  Besides, the wife has given me her blessing for me to try again, even if it means on a weekend.  Sacrificing our quality time so I can get some time in behind the screen.  God bless her.  No, I'm not trying to butter her up, but if I was, do you think it would work? ;)

My Improvised DM Screen For Tonight

 Paper-Clip Work Wonders



Because 3 Sides is Always Better Than 2

Back Behind the Screen Today - Wish Me Luck

It's been 15 years (almost to the day) since I've been behind the screen.  Like many things, I've heard the experience is much like riding a bike - within minutes you have your balance and are back to comfortable ground.

The things is, the first time I rode a bike in nearly 15 years, no one told me it had no brakes until I was already picking up speed and going downhill.  I wiped out in a junkyard at the end of the hill (and walked away to ride again nearly 10 years later).  I hope today goes a bit smoother ;)

Amazingly, An OSR Session Without Torture or Fire!

Yep, we just wrapped up a session of some OSR gaming that didn't involve torture OR fire.  I think we need some bonus expo for the occurrence ;)

Lets see if the AD&D group tomorrow night can get through the session without torture or fire...