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Saturday, February 1, 2014

An OSR Kickstarter - Ryubix Manor--Madness, Betrayal, Murder, Vengeance... Family

I'll be the first to say it. "Ryubix Manor--Madness, Betrayal, Murder, Vengeance... Family" has anawkward title. It does not flow off the tongue like Rappan Athuk and the like.  That being said, it IS different than the rest.

It's a manor - an above ground dungeon, if you will, which means it has different assumptions than the usual dungeon. It is certainly atmospheric and well done in that respect (I was allowed a peek at an early edit version).

This is not Stonehell, which you can pretty much grab and run without much preparation. With Ryubix Manor, being well prepared will be necessary to effectively run the adventure. All the tools, plots and personalities are given to you, but you will need to spend some time to be conversant with all of them. Your players will thank you (and you will find that things go much more smoothly that way).

Ryubix Manor is OSR generic, not really keyed to a specific "old school" ruleset but useable with any you choose with little work.

If there is one thing that might hold folks back is that it is written for high level play - 16-20 is the default level range for the adventure. Could you tone it down for lower level parties? Definitely, and there are some thoughts on how to do so in the FAQ section on the Kickstarter. Would it be helpful to have more substantial advice for those DMs that might need a little hand holding in the conversion? Probably. High level adventures are often aiming at a smaller market, as the number or parties that reach such levels are much fewer than the parties that are constantly starting out. It's not just the PCs that have to reach the higher levels - the campaign has to survive to those levels too.

It is a nice "haunted house" styled adventure, with lots of keyed rooms (over 300) to explore. It's also less "hack and slash" than many of the current larger dungeons I've looked at. Both are huge selling points to me.

It really does make for a nice change of pace, it's just a shame it defaults to levels my PCs have reached only once since the early 80s ;)

A Look at the Hack & Slash Patreon Project



In case you've missed the trend, Patreon is now the way to support the creators you know and like. It's really simple in concept - you pretty much set up an automatic tip amount based on criteria set by the project creator, and each time they "create" according to the criteria, your tip gets added to the pool.

+Dyson Logos was the first I saw using the Patreon system to support his mapping, and in the weeks that have passed, I've also seen +matt jackson (maps) and +Mark Gedak (PFRPG Monsters, but I'm sure I can convert to S&W without much effort). Well, not just have seen the above, I'm a supporter of all of the above, even if I have had to tweak tip amounts to cover the spread ;)

I've now added Hack & Slash as the 4th Patreon Project that I'm supporting.

+Courtney Campbell is a prolific blogger. Well, maybe not as prolific as I normally am, but his is pretty much all "game ready" content. Just like the folks above, he gives it away for free on his blog. The point of the Patreon funding is to work as a virtual tip jar. It rewards him for the work he does, and if the funding is highly successful he'll be able to devote even more time to it.

The same goes to all of the folks I've mentioned above. They provide their creations for free to all. It's the select few that tip them for their hard work that may get some additional perks, or just a feeling of goodwill for supporting some really cool people.

In Courtney's case, I'm in for 50 cents a post. He averages 15 posts of content a month. So, we are looking at about $7.50 a month and I capped my contribution at $10 a month. You can set the amount wherever you want, and even a nickel a post would add up with enough supporters.

Unlike Kickstarter, you can change or withdraw your support at any time, and you are only paying as content is created, not in advance.

I need to sit down and figure out a Patreon budget that I can comfortably use to support the creators that create content that I can use and whose work keeps me entertained.

Things Have Slowed Down, But The Tavern is Still Open for Business

This will be the 9th blog post for the week at The Tavern - 8 from me and 1 from a guest poster. That put this week's current post total below any week in 2014, 2013 or 2012.

Yeah, it's been that kind of a month and that kind of a week.

It does mean I've fallen vastly behind on the things I've intended to get to, both in real life and here on the blog.

On the blog side, I've got 2 new Kickstarters to shine a light on. Both OSR. See, that's the exception to my cutting back on Kickstarters ;)

Then there's the recent megadungeon release to take a look at.

Not to mention the shitload of random thoughts kicking around in my head for the last week or so, just lacking the time and focus to putting them down as a blog post.

I am working on finding the time and focus now ;)

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Look at LotFP Free RPG Day 2014 Indiegogo Campaign


I was all set NOT to back the LotFP Free RPG 2014 campaign, as I'm still waiting on LotFP's Summer Folly of 2012 to ship. +James Raggi 's stuff is always high quality in production values, even if some of his recent releases are so far from the beaten path as to be unusable for all but one-shots in my opinion. I'm sure James would argue otherwise (and has argued otherwise in the past).

James is also slow as shit rolling uphill in getting his projects out the door. This I know he won't argue (as he pretty much stated it himself on the Indiegogo page):
LotFP is kinda slow on these crowdfunding things, and that's a fair cop, so here's the skinny: 
The Doom-Cave adventure is already completely written and has been played once. Needs editing and layout, and will get another play and might need some minor text revisions before final editing. The cover art shown above is obviously done. Interior art and the alternate cover are still to be done. The dungeon map for publication is already done and delivered. Worst-case scenario is a cut-rate layout going to press, but last year's 3-times-as-big adventure didn't have writing done until mid-March and still got to press on time with the quality art and layout for Free RPG Day. 
Shirts and tote bags, as mentioned, will go to press just after the campaign finishes and I learn what sizes we need for everything and ship separate from any books. The design is, as you can see, already done. Previous crowdfunding knickknacks like shirts have shipped ahead of other perks on those campaigns. Track record here is good I think. 
Chandler's stuff is more of a crapshoot because I don't have the direct control over his life and pen. But Chandler has been a MACHINE - his 2013 RPG output (nevermind his day job and fiction writing) was 1017 pages and 291,000 words, with Pandemonio, Viewscream, The Starship from Hell, Teratic Tome, Slaughtergrid, Roll XX, and Bad Myrmidon to his credit. He'll get his stuff done in a timelier manner than anything LotFP does on its own. Dude's workrate puts LotFP to shame. Bastard. But we're glad he's helping us out for our fundraiser here! I mention his track record because he is reliable and works fast. Lacerations' status is "90% of the art is done, and most of the text is written by hand, or in my playtest-notebook." If the Lacerations game is late, it'll be late. Not much I can say to that, that's a Chandler self-produced thing. If the Lost World sandbox he's doing for this campaign is late (and it is in the outline stage, it is not yet written), I will ship the Doom-Cave backer copies on July 1 anyway and ship the Lost World adventures separately when they're done. If Chandler drops dead or gets hired by someone that wants FULLTIMEALLTHETIME for too-big money to say no, I'll get someone else on it, another established writer with a rep for getting things out in a timely manner.
Here's why I am going to back this, and it has little to do with The Doom-Cave of the Crystal Headed Children (which very well may be useable - at least the premise sounds useable) and little to nothing to do with totes and shirts and everything to do with +Rafael Chandler 's contributions to this project.

Rafael has a taste for the strange and bizarre yet his stuff is still pretty much plug and play when it comes to integrating it to the average fantasy campaign. Rafael "gets it". He also "gets" the OSR community.

So yeah, I'm in. Just need to figure out that euro conversion shit ;)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Counting Goblins Over the Editions - A Look at James Wyatt's Latest D&D Article

Let me start out by saying that James missed a HUGE part of AD&D expo in his article - loot. Expo for loot recovered is more than what players can expect in by the book AD&D, which kind of throws off his numbers - and hit point.

Read the article without my insightful observations at the WotC website.

Level Advancement

By James Wyatt

I talked last week about the rate at which characters acquire magic items as they gain levels. So let's back up and talk about the rate at which characters gain levels! (lets back up even more - in AD&D 1e, characters gained expo from gaining magic items)

How Many Goblins . . .

I'm curious: How many goblins does a 1st-level fighter have to defeat to reach 2nd level?

In 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D, a goblin was worth around 15 XP. A fighter needed 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level. That's a lot of goblins—134 goblins would make the fighter 2nd level if you assume the fighter killed them all alone. (and completely discounting any loot that might have been recovered from said Goblins - the math is wrong right out of the gate)

In 3rd Edition D&D, a goblin was a CR ⅓ monster, so 3 of them were an appropriate challenge for four 1st-level characters. That means a 1st-level fighter would get 100 XP for defeating 1 goblin. All characters needed 1,000 XP to reach 2nd level, so 10 goblins would bring the fighter up a level. (alright, even taking into account loot in 1e, this really does show a change in the dynamics of leveling)

In 4th Edition, that goblin might be a level 1 minion or a level 1 lurker or skirmisher. If they're minions, each is worth 25 XP, so the fighter (who needed 1,000 XP to reach 2nd level) would need to defeat 40 goblins. If they're not minions, each is worth 100 XP, so the answer is the same as in 3rd Edition: 10 goblins to reach 2nd level. (is there really that much of a difference between 1st level minions and non-minions in 4e? they all die with one hit more or less)

That's a pretty random measure, but it certainly speaks to different expectations of level advancement in the different editions of the game, as well as some variable understandings of the threat presented by a single goblin.

How Many Encounters . . .

It's hard to judge what the pace of level advancement actually looked like in AD&D, for a couple of reasons. First, different characters advanced at different rates—the fighter needed 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level, but the thief needed only 1,250 XP and the magic-user needed 2,500. (it all balanced out as time went on) Second, there weren't any clear guidelines for what an appropriate encounter was. But a roll on the random monster tables for a 1st-level dungeon would yield an encounter worth, on average, about 90 XP. For a party of four characters, that's 23 XP each. So 87 of those encounters would bring the fighter to 2nd level! Any treasure found in those encounters would also contribute XP to that total, so the actual number of encounters could have been much less—possibly more like 40. (and don't forget treasure found outside of those encounters - and who rolled random encounters for ALL of the rooms in a 1e dungeon?)

Oy. I've said it before: I think one of the great advances brought to the game by 3rd Edition was a clear guideline for how to build an encounter to challenge a party. (I'm going to say it and I'm SURE there will be a large number that disagree, but that led to 3e's cookie cutter encounters for those that bothered with CL) And that guideline undergirded the math of character advancement. The charts were built so that a character would advance a level after 13⅓encounters of the same level. 4th Edition stayed on the same trajectory, but adjusted the expectation to about ten encounters—or eight encounters, one major quest, and one minor quest per character in the party. (I'm not much on formalistic adventure design - YMMV) 

How Many Sessions . . .

There's psychology behind the question of level advancement. Games reward you for playing: An opponent lands Park Place where you have a hotel, and you collect a fat wad of cash. You play a 7-letter word on a triple word score and write down 180 points on the score sheet while gloating over your opponents. You beat your previous high score, end up on a leaderboard, or earn an achievement. You get a power-up, finish a level, or send your opponent flying off the screen. (these are games where you are playing against others, not with others. No so sure how the examples hold up)

The rewards in D&D include experience points (earned after every encounter), treasure (earned after some encounters), new class features (earned each level), and new feats, spell levels, ability score increases, and the like (earned at some new levels). You might earn treasure or XP as a reward for completing an adventure. Many DMs award XP after every game session rather than every encounter. 4th Edition gave action points at every milestone (every two encounters). (too many carrots - holy shit)

But you see what I'm getting at: rewards of different magnitude come at different intervals. That's good—our brains respond well to both small, frequent rewards and large, infrequent rewards, and a good game design offers both. Without frequent small rewards, players begin to feel like their efforts aren't paying off. They're doing a lot of work with nothing to show for it. Without occasional large rewards, encounters feel like pushing a button to get a morsel of food—a repetitive grind with no meaningful variation. (gotta love the imagery - if pushing a button to get a morsels of food is what game design comes down to these days, I'm glad I play games built on older rules systems)

So the trick to figuring out level advancement is figuring out how often players need that very significant reward. (here's the real trick - in a good campaign with a skilled DM and players looking to have fun, the fun is the carrot more than any other trick) A number of factors go into answering that question: How long does it take to get used to playing your character at a new level? How long do you want to play the character at that level once you're used to it? How big is the reward of going up a level? How do you ensure that players have a feeling of progress without feeling like they're getting rewarded for nothing? (overthinking... or maybe not. sometimes we don't want to know how the wizard behind the curtain does what he does, we just want the end results. when magic can be broken down by science, it is no longer magic. A good campaign is magical)

In 3rd Edition, 14 encounters would get you up a level, but how long did it take to complete those encounters? Of course, that depends: How long are your sessions and how often do you play? If you play four-hour sessions, how much do you get done in one session?

The 4th Edition DMG reveals some of the expectations that went into building the XP math for that game (an edition over done with the math behind the game to the point the magic was lost):

If you were to start a campaign with 1st-level characters on January 1st, play faithfully for four or five hours every week, and finish four encounters every session, your characters would enter the paragon tier during or after your session on June 24th, reach epic levels in December, and hit 30th level the next summer. Most campaigns don't move at this pace, however; you'll probably find that the natural rhythms of your campaign produce a slower rate of advancement that's easier to sustain.

At four encounters every weekly session, characters would reach a new level every other week, and we thought that felt about right. We also adjusted the scale so that you'd hit 2nd level pretty quickly—the first hit is free, so to speak. (nice! just like the crack dealers in the mid to late 90's in the South Bronx that I used to collar up. As if I didn't have enough reasons to dislike 4e already)

Where We're Heading

Our current design is going in a similar direction: advancing pretty quickly at low levels. It's a little tricky to nail it down, because our expectation of what an appropriate encounter is has changed somewhat. We expect every adventure to include a mix of easy, moderate, challenging, and really hard encounters (I so detest formulas). That said, a 1st-level character should hit 2nd level after about 6 moderately difficult encounters. (I'm not sure yet, but that might be 15 goblins' worth of XP.)

Compared to the previous two editions, an encounter can go much more quickly, so (again, depending on the length of your sessions) it's not unreasonable to think that you'll hit 2nd level after a single session. Another session might bring you to 3rd level, two more to 4th, and three more to 5th level. You might hit 20th level within a year of play, assuming a relatively steady rate of play. (i'm not going to say this is excessive or now, as I tend to enhance the expo the longer the time is between sessions - the more infrequent the sessions, the large the invisible expo bonus. Again, I don't like the formula, but that is my opinion. I have a successful blog, so my opinion must count more ;)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cutting Back on Backing Kickstarters

I knew it was going to come to this at some point. As much as I'm a Kickstarter addict, something had to give, and it just did. I was already easing up on the pedal what with the new car purchase in December, but with recent emergency vet bills, helping our son buy his first (used) car and restarting of renovations at the house, cash is going to be tight. Besides, I have enough pending Kickstarters to fuel my gaming habits for a lifetime - at least, that's what my wife recently told me, and she certainly isnt wrong.

So, I'm limiting myself to Old School / OSR styled projects. So, Barrowmaze Complete is in - Ares Magazine is out. I'm looking over a draft copy of a forthcoming OSR Kickstarter, so that will probably be in, while Storyscape will probably be out (actually, probably won't fund).

Ah well, less new projects to piss me off ;)

As an aside, if any know of reputable breeders of Miniature Dachshunds in the NYC Metro Area, let me know. My wife has a broken heart with the passing of our dauchshund Chloe, and I'm looking to help mend it :)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thoughts on Why Old School Is So Good

I've mentioned in the past that I'm open to posting articles from guest authors. The following article was written by +David Przybyla , one of the regular players in my Saturday Night Swords & Wizardry game.

Thoughts on Why Old School Is So Good

By Dave Przybyla

For many years I have been part of a regular Thursday evening roleplaying game. The group’s current
incarnation has been together about 3 years and has mostly played Savage Worlds. Then last summer I convinced them to try DCC. We played almost twenty sessions of DCC over the next five months. While I enjoyed DCC, I wanted something with less volatility of results. I decided to really go Old School and suggested we try an old TSR adventure with the Swords and Wizardry rules. Most of the group had never played RPGs during the 80's heyday of TSR; some weren't even alive in the 80’s.

I chose Swords and Wizardry for a number of reasons. First, I am familiar with it. Second, it is a well done set of rules that I can distribute in PDF for free. Third, the rulebook is not long, and prospective players can quickly learn what they need to know.

I pored over my collection of old TSR modules and picked N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God. The premise is simple. A naga is expanding her cult by charming the people of an isolated farming village and the characters arrive to defeat her.

The module describes a number of adventure areas, including the Village of Orlane, a temple, and the swamp lair of the naga. There is some information on how the villagers, cultists and innocent alike, might react to the characters, but little guidance on how the characters should proceed. That was the first thing that struck me about the module and set it apart from most adventures I have purchased over the past 20 years. Even though there was a goal, the situation was set up more like a sandbox where the characters were expected to find their own way.

The players bought into this and enjoyed meeting the villagers and trying to figure out what was going on. But then they ran into the second Old School feature: there are no Challenge Ratings! Even though the adventure is designed for Levels 2-4, that does not mean the characters can go head-to-head with everything and expect to win. This was driven home in the first session, when they picked a fight with the constable and his deputies, and then promptly had their asses kicked. A dead PC is a tonic that cures so many ills.

This led us to a third Old School feature: characters can’t fall back on skills or other rules that will hand them information via game mechanics. They had to plan, conserve their resources, and carefully seek allies. Half of the second game session was spent planning how to get one of the constable’s men alone and ambush him. And the plan worked! It was like watching a light turn on as I saw the players find an amazing new way to enjoy the game. At that moment, I knew they were sold. They saw their efforts bear spectacular fruit and were excited as Hell.

Here is a corollary of planning: the players stretched their minds and what they conceived as possible within the game. They did not look for rules to bail them out. Sometimes, defining more possibilities through more rules actually creates a noose that strangles creativity.

As of this writing, we've played 5 sessions and I expect 2 more before we're through. TSR packed a lot of adventure into those 32 pages. The players love it and expect to take these characters through other adventures. These don’t have to be old adventures. But they will be Old School.

Monday, January 27, 2014

So Much Time, So Little Time


I'm sitting here at my computer, anxiously waiting for and dreading the phone call from the vet. I'm pretty sure what the call is going to suggest. 12 years is a lifetime for many dogs, and it will probably be a lifetime for our Chloe.

And then my mind wanders. It's starts comparing the lifetime of a D&D Elf to that of a Human or any of the shorter lived fantasy races and it occurs to me that the elves long lifespan is both a gift and a curse. Live the lifespan that is many times that of your fiends - and watch them grow old, sick and die - many times, many generations.

Then I ask myself - "why would elves EVER adventure with and form bonds with the shorter lived races, knowing that even in the best of circumstances their friends and comrades, if they were to reach old age and not perish while adventuring, would die while the elf were still young. As would the heirs of those adventurers, and their heirs' heirs."

I'm reminded that the heart chooses as it will, and it chooses our short lived companions because of the bonds we share. The value is not in the length of the life, but how it is ultimately lived.

Our Chloe has lived well, loved well and been loved.

Time waits for no man. Nor dog nor cat. It catches our furry friends more often than it catches us, but in the end, it catches us all.

And still we wait for the call. Anxious and dreading, both in turn.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lifetime Ban on ENWorld for Blogging? Say it ain't so, Joe!



I am in a mood most foul right now, and the bullshit I've just seen regarding ENWorld and it's defensive pettiness is just fuel to the fire.

+Joe D goes on a rant about ENWorld on his blog and he gets banned from ENWorld. He didn't post it on ENWorld. Heck, it was on his own blog.

So, lets talk about my history with ENWorld. I used to be a paid supporter, even though I never actually played 3e and certainly never played 4e. I thought the community was decent.

Things changed.

I got into a pissing match with Morrus over Twitter when ENWorld got hacked. It was over the relevance of G+ over Facebook in regards to RPG Communities. In the end, we agreed to ignore each other.

I was amazed when Kickstarter violated it's own rules and allowed ENWord to fund it's revamping. I guess the Kickstarter folks were fans, and we all know rules don't apply to those that write them.

I was surprised when I saw a corner of ENWorld being put aside for the OSR.

I was confused when Morrus referred to ENWorld as "his blog". It is not a blog. It is a ad funded site run for profit. I've already pointed out some of the ads in the rotation over there are selling anything but gaming. Not that I mind tits and ass, but not when I'm reading a gaming site.

Now, I'm just pissed.

I'm pissed because there is nothing that +Joe D said that wasn't true. ENWorld's relevancy in the OSR is about on par with the influence +James Raggi is going to have with the art direction in D&D Next.

I do know ENWorld has to toe the WotC company line. It's how they get press releases early and the like. You don't bite the hand that feeds you. It also means that you are less likely to let bad publicity hurt the hand that feeds you. So I suspect +Joe D 's ban was to prevent some anti-WotC / D&D Next post popping up on ENWorld before one of the moderators could shut it down.

Preemptive Strike if you will.

So, here's my deal. Anyone that gets a lifetime ban from ENWorld for "off site posting" can submit guest posts over here at The Tavern. I will vet the posts - I'm not going to allow personal attacks. That being said, I don't need to agree with the poster. As folks that read this blog regularly know, my moderation of the comments section is about as light as it can be.

I might not have the traffic of ENWorld, but your post won't be lost in ENWorld's endless forums either.

Nothing personal. I just don't like bullshit.

40 Years of D&D - What Rules Did You Misinterpret?


My first (A)D&D session was run by my friend Kenny. He ran my fighter through a dungeon with skeletons and other stuff (which I don't recall, but the skeletons made me think of Jason and the Argonauts famous Skeleton Fight). At the end of the session, he had to call a friend to see if I leveled. You see, Kenny only owned the DMG ;)

This was back in late 1980. That summer, I received the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide (as well as a nice set of dice, perhaps Koplow). I dived right into my job as a DM and declared I didn't need a Monster Manual, as all the monster stats were in the back of the DMG anyhow.

I didn't quite understand the notation of 4+1 for HPs (such as an Ogre). Why write it as 4+1 when 5 would be so much simpler. I didn't realize my mistake (Hit Dice vs Hit Points)until I found other kids that were playing AD&D. It suddenly made sense why all my dragons were pushovers. I still picked up the Fiend Folio before I had a copy of the Monster Manual.

Never really understood weapon speed in AD&D, nor did anyone in any of the groups I played in - it was one of the first rules we ignore, but there were others. Adjustments vs armor by weapon type? Too much to look up. Casting of spells and counting segments lasted maybe the better part of a year, but when the group size went from 3-4 players to 8-12, it was just one less thing to track if it was ignored.

Then came Unearthed Arcana, and I was forced to house rule on the spot when new rules conflicted with old. The good old days ;)

So, what rules (if any) did you misinterpret when you started playing D&D?


Where Are the Sales Hyping the 40th Anniversary of D&D?

Where are the sales hyping the 40th anniversary of D&D?

I don't see anything over at RPGNow.

Paizo seems to be silent.

Heck, even the WotC site seems to be quiet about it.

Is it just the OSR, thanks to +Jon Peterson 's research, that recognizes this weekend, more or less, as the birthdate of D&D?

The only sale I have seen linking itself this event is Pelgrane Press' sale on the 13th Age PDF:
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of The RPG That Started It All, we’re offering 40% off 13th Age—a love letter to the classic game from two of its lead designers. 
13th Age is the game Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet run at their own tables: a fast, fun, accessible fantasy RPG that combines the best of the d20-rolling legacy with new indie-game inspired story mechanics. From its flexible skill system to the greatest combat dice mechanic since critical hits, this PDF contains everything you need to play one of 2014’s must-have titles. 
Save 40% on the 13th Age core rules PDF! But this special price is for one day only!
That "one day" is today.

Any other sales folks can point at?