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...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Game Plan in Action - Prepping My Campaign Stewpot

Alright, I think I know what I plan on running in 4 to 6 weeks time via Google+ Hangout (possibly a VTT will be attached to that for whiteboard and dice rolling - I should have that all covered so players won't need to purchase a VTT license if I go that route).  QUERP seems to hit all the right spots of what I am looking for.  Level-less game design with a simple resolution system yet deep enough for campaign play (especially with the GM's Companion adding depth - I assume the Player's Companion and the Bestiary will only add more).  Going to aim for a fairly standard fantasy setting - with possible tweaks.

I plan on using the following source material:

QUERP (obviously) and the Companion books - the rules the players need can be explained in 10 minutes or less.  If they wanted to pick the core rules up they could, but I doubt it would be necessary.

The excellent Tome of Adventure Design from Frog God Games to assist in designing the adventures.  Gotta love the flavor.

The Toys For the Sandbox Series - But I'll need to twist these a bit, as the writer may be one of the players ;)

Christian's Loviatar Zine - in particular the Hex 000 series, which will be hitting 004 with the latest issue.

Barrowmaze - either in whole or in part.  The conversion should be easy as pie.

Always open for suggestions :)

Picking a System For Online Play

I've been playing online table top gaming for a few years now.  I started with Warhammer 40k: Dark Heresy, moved on to Castles & Crusades, did a single Savage Worlds session (all via Fantasy Grounds 2) and I'm currently playing in a slightly stripped down D20 game using Google+ Hangout.  All the previous, I was a player.

The was my only gaming for years until recently, as I've been going to the Games That Can Not Be Named sessions on Wednesday nites as time permits, and time has permitted.  I've played numerous different systems over the last few weeks.  It's all gotten me thinking.  Dangerous, I know.

Level based systems are easy to get a session up and running.  As are very simple, relatively abstract systems.  Skill based, such as Dark Heresy, Savage Worlds, BRP and the like can take a full session to get characters up and running.  They also can require the GM to do some heavy lifting do to the sometimes overly comprehensive rules during game sessions, and generating NPCs can be a major PITA.

The thing is, skill based doesn't have the same inherent breakdown at higher levels as level based games (your mileage may vary).  Maybe skill based is too specific a term.  Non-level based RPGs - that works.

For a pick up game, whether in person or via a VTT or hangout, you want easy character generation.  Even D20 based games can chew up time, and in your 40s, time is a precious commodity.  Additionally, game play itself eats up time.  What I mean by that is that combat, or any kind of rolled resolution, can take up much of the gameplay time at the table depending on the amount of charts and tables that need to be referenced.  4e may be an extreme example of this, but it is a feature / fault of many systems.

Which is why I'm looking for something that's easy yet with some depth.  Something that a group can pick up easily, run with fairly instinctively, with no fear of the leveling tree moving the game to more tedious realms of play while still allowing for character advancement.  The closest thing I've found so far is QUERP.  That wouldn't have been my choice going into this search, and it may not be the final answer I find, but at the moment it seems like a good option.

Online play in general slows things down, and you generally want to keep a faster pace to keep your players engages.  That is what I'm looking for.  The search continues, but I have definitely found a possible answer already.

Taking a Peek at QUERP - Quick Easy Role Playing

I picked up QUERP years ago on a whim about the same time I was grabbing all the PDQ system driven games I could find.  The price was right (5 bucks) but I think it got lost in all that PDQ noise at the time.  Now, as I look for a game system to run on a fairly regular basis,i find myself expanding my world view past the OSR.  I jokingly brought up QUERP in last night's blog post, but after giving it a read through (straight through on the Player's section, haphazard on the GM section and poking about on the adventure - skipped the included solo) it's actually a pretty tight and rules light game (Quick Easy Role Playing)

The player's section is about a dozen pages in length.  It includes six character classes, a small amount of spells, a weapon list, item list, armor, rules for melee, casting spells, character advancement - it's all here.  In twelve pages.  About the only thing missing is a skill list, which I think could be grafted on fairly easily.  Heck, it might be in one of the other books for this system.  I'll have to do some research.

The default character generation method isn't really a generation method - starting stats for all members of a certain class is the same for everyone.  So, all Priests start with the following Characteristics: Fighting 1, Magic 5, Strength 3, Charisma 6, Stealth 2 and Knowledge 4.  If you notice the spread, it's 1-6 inclusive.  There are rules in the GM section to allow players to play around with this.

Pretty much everything is resolved with a "characteristic roll".  Roll 2d6 and add your stat.  Equal or exceed your  target number and you succeed.  Lower and you fail.  It's actually a pretty elegant system.

Interestingly, the rules cover "bribery" situations.  Too bad "interrogation" and / or "torture" aren't ;)

Only humans are covered in the core rule book.  Other races are added in later books it seems.

The monster section covers many of the usual fantasy tropes, including the missing demihumans (but without enough info to run them as PCs).  I do like the minimalistic stats for adversaries.  Just what you need and little more.  Descriptions are a paragraph or two, perfect for flavor without going overboard.

Overall, I'm very impressed.  Impressed enough that I ordered the core rule book, the players expansion and the monster book in dead tree format.  You can find them at Lulu and surprisingly at Amazon.  At Amazon they ship free with Prime and are discounted.  With Lulu, you can snag a 25% off coupon (RETAILMENOT25) but shipping ain't free.  You might want to do the math to see what works out better for you.  Oh, and of course you can find them at RPGNow. (maybe they should add this to the list of dead tree books available at RPGNow)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Level Based vs Skill Based Systems - Looking at the Tradeoffs

Consider this me thinking out loud.

I like level based systems (OSR in particular) in part due to the limited options presented, at least at character generation.  Most level based systems use a class type breakdown or archetypes.  It keeps the players focused and everyone knows their niche.  The problem is as I mentioned earlier today.  Level based systems tend to break down at higher levels.  Pile on the Hit Points and the armor and watch combat become an act of attrition (insert catholic confession joke here).  Still, rolling up a 1st level character can be done in half an hour or less.  The closer you get to OD&D or T&T, the less time you need to get that first session started.

Skill based or point based systems tend to be on the more complicated side of things due to the umber of options presented, for both players and the GM.  Character generation can be a game session unto itself.  You need a GM that is stronger with rules knowledge and mechanics than you do in most level based games (or at least that is how I perceive it).

I'm looking at GURPS, Savage Worlds, Basic Roleplaying and EABA.  Although I have some knowledge of the first three systems, it's far from strong enough to run a game.  EABA looks interesting, and I ordered the print on demand (PDF was just 2 bucks more) but even that looks like it will require some fairly intense effort to gain some basic fluency with the system.  Still, I strongly suspect that those skill based systems don't suffer the same brake down that the level based systems tend to fall prey to as characters level.

Maybe I need to check out TWERPS or QUERP;)

Answering Brendan's 20 Questions

Brenden from the Untimately blog posted a list of 20 questions / rules clarifications a DM should decide (and probably inform the group of) fairly early in play.

I'll take my stab at answering:

Ability scores generation method?
- roll 4d6.  keep the best 3 dice.  do this 6 times.  arrange as you wish.  any score less than 7 you may discard and roll again.

How are death and dying handled?  Zero is unconscious.  
- 10 minus (plus?) con bonus for death.  bleed out 1 HP per round unconscious until wounds are tended to.

What about raising the dead?
- if available no caster wants cash in return.  they will want a major quest

How are replacement PCs handled?
- two level less than the lowest character level in the party for the replacement character

Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
- individual for the players.  npcs will be grouped by type

Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
- no

Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
- probably not, because I always forget about their presence or lack there of.

Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
-damn straight skippy!

Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
not everything will be balanced and fair.  it is not 4e ;)

Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
- no, but they will drain something else (permanent HP or stat drain, pending high level spell for recovery)

Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
- yes, but rarely

How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
- not very, but if you start carrying chests and rugs and statues, I'll be looking at your stats.

What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
- i've run games with both extremes.  I prefer the happy medium of leave the dungeon, rest and increase to hit, saves, HP and spell slots.  new spells or abilities must be taught by a teacher or training time.

What do I get experience for?
- killing or outsmarting your foes, GP (but not at 1 to 1 ratio), amazing role-play may kick in a small bonus, completing quest may kick in small bonus, making DM laugh so hard he fall out of chair may result in a small bonus, etc.

How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
- combo.  observant actions may result in a bonus to find traps

Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
- if the party is small, probably encouraged.  treat them well, pay them fairly and they will only need to roll when odds are greatly against party or things are going south fast.

How do I identify magic items?
- spells, bards, sages and the like.  exact bonuses are not revealed, and will only be learned through active use.

Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
- potions and scrolls

Can I create magic items? When and how?
- potions and scrolls during downtime.What about splitting the party?
- are you fuckin' crazy!?!

At What Level Do Your Campaigns Break Down?

It's been my gaming experience that (A)D&D starts to break down around name level. I suspect EGG knew that, and put in game reasons into character advancement to encourage the (semi)retirement of characters at that point.

What do I mean?

Once a character hits name level, they no longer roll a new Hit Die upon advancement. Depending on class, they get 1 to 3 Hit Points instead. That same handicap doesn't happen on the monster side (druids and monks are an exception, but their name levels are higher than other classes).

Upon reaching name level, characters are encouraged to settle down and build a stronghold, church lands, thieves guild, magic tower and the like. It's the only way most classes will get the followers indicated for attaining name level. The fact that there were little if any rules for PC owned lands and the running of such is a good indicator that it didn't happen much. (By the way, thank you to ACKS for giving us such rules).

So, figure most of the D&D rule sets and their clones work best to around level 10 before they start breaking down.

I suspect that LotFP Weird Fantasy breaks down earlier, possibly as early as level 5 or 6, in part due to the gradual removal of combat effectiveness of all classes but the fighter as level increases but also due to a dearth of magic.

Most D&D games and their clones assume PCs will gradually be accumulating magic items. Magic weapons and the like add to weapon damage (and increase the chance to hit) and wands and the like add to the spell casters combat effectiveness. These are pretty much absent in WF. Admittedly, WF also lacks most monstrous adversaries. Still, I suspect that Weird Fantasy encounters start turning into endless slugfests a few levels earlier than other OSR clones.

What is your experience? When does combat start to break down for you or do your campaigns even last that long? (I know many of mine never made it to name level)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Old AD&D Books - Getting Ready For Sunday

I finally found my AD&D 1E Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide.  I also found my Monster Manual, but it suffered damage during Hurricane Irene's visit and subsequent basement flooding.  I may need to give it a proper burial.

No problem.  I have my copy of OSRIC.  :)

The survivors are beat up, but it's all from heavy play as a teenager... heh

I did realize something - I have WAY too much gaming shit ;)

Observation - All Editions of D&D Sessions Lead to Torture and / or Fire

This wasn't just my observation. It was made at both tables at last nite's Games That Can Not Be Named.

Torture comes up repeatedly, because there is no system in game for PCs to extract information from captured adversaries. Most DMs don't want their now prisoner NPCs to divulge too much info. PCs want all info. Frustrations leads to torture.

Fire. Either the PCs are using burning oil, or their adversaries learned from the previous session and are using it on them. At low levels, effective use of burning oil can be a game changer. Either that, or we have a lot of suppressed pyromaniacs playing D&D ;)

As for torture, that might be a good RPG supplement for someone to write. Kinda like a flow chart / resolution table, so we can get away from the descriptions of failed torture for info in our gaming sessions.

Just some thoughts.

Taking a Trip With Trollbabe (Narrative RPG)

I bet no one expected to see the phrase "Narrative RPG" on this blog, but I played one yesterday, and it was an interesting experience. Definitely not the usual type of RPG session I partake in, but it was being run by David at Games That Can Not Be Named last nite. He ran an excellent Tunnels & Trolls session a few weeks back, so I was willing to take the chance on Trollbabe. I'm glad I did.

It was an educational experience, as you powers and abilities are largely undefined, combat and challenges require narrative input by the player in addition to the GM and over the top play is pretty much encouraged. I'm not all that good at over the top playing, but as the other two players were, that was okay. I kinda kept the balance (and got really lucky with some skill rolls to save the party's bacon).

Narrative RPG gameplay requires a different mindset than I'm used to in my gaming. Although I had a great time, I suspect that was more due to the excellent work of the GM and my fellow players than the underlying game system.

Would I play it again? Definitely - so long as David was running it ;) I don't thing I'd find myself ever running a session.

Talking about running a session... This Sunday at the Brooklyn Strategist I will be running Palace of the Silver Princess (I mistyped when I earlier stated The Keep on the Borderlands - but I've played that classic adventure so often recently - including last night with Trollbabe - I hope you can understand my confusion) using AD&D / OSRIC during the second session .

Should be fun to watch me shake off my DM rust ;)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Heading Out To Games That Can Not Be Named...

in an hour.

I was hoping to have a game in my possession so I could broach the topic of running a session or two for play testing purposes, but it hasn't arrived yet.

Since I haven't yet seen the rules myself, it would be hard for me to talk about running it. Ah well, there's always next week ;)

Looking For a Lighter Than GURPS Universal System

I have GURPS 1e, 2e and 3e revised. The FAQ for 4e has 24 pages of changes. I'm tapping out before I even think of moving up to 4e.

I like Savage Worlds, but I'm not thrilled with how it handles fantasy. Dare I say I want something a bit realistic? Silly, I know, when we are talking games ;)

Basic Role Playing is a possibility, but I'm not sold on it. Between BRP, MRQ 1+2, Legend and the upcoming RQ6, I figured I'll steer clear and wait to see how it all shakes out.

Any thoughts on other universal sytems?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Castle of the Dead for Tunnels & Trolls - Upcoming Giveaway

Yep, I have two dead tree copies of the new Castle of the Dead Solo adventure for Tunnels & Trolls.  It's written by Andy Holmes for T&T 7.5e.  I only need one copy for myself (but ordered 2 as the package deal was too good to pass up at Fiery Dragon), so in the next few days, I'll be giving one away.  I already have my excuse - currently at 197 Friends via Google Connect, when we hit 200 I'll decide on a contest for this and a few other prizes (probably a few copies of Toys For the Sandbox, a copy of Christian's excellent zone Loviatar and whatever else I can think of.

What the contest will be, I have no idea...

I'm sure I'll think of something ;)

The First Games of the Hobby - OD&D, T&T and EPT

As I look through the PDF of Empire of the Petal Throne, it strikes me how far we've come since the beginning of the hobby.

Original Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy of them all, required the use of a separate product (Chainmail) to resolve combat (the optional combat system became the default of the non-Chainmail possessing masses) and an Avalon Hill boardgame (Outdoor Survival) for outdoor adventuring.  If you didn't have a background in wargaming (and a copy of Chainmail), you probably wouldn't get too far teaching yourself OD&D.

Tunnels & Trolls 1e is a simple game, but it has a horrible presentation that is just as confusing, if not more so, then that of OD&D.  Heck, I'd argue that T&T, right through 5e/5.5e is nearly just as horrible, with class descriptions and information on combat adds to be found only after diligent searching.  This was the anti-wargameer RPG of the time.

Empire of the Petal Throne does away with the Chainmail combat system, going right to the optional D&D combat system as it's default.  It is laid out like a war-game at the time, numbering each section in groups of 100, then by the 10's digit and finally by the single digits.  It actually reminds me of DragonQuest in this way.  (and it might be why they were able to do the very thorough bookmarking of the PDF).  Where it fails is the use of setting and new Tsolyani words right in with the system.  EPT has tighter links to it's setting than early RuneQuest had to Glorantha

If I'm not mistaken, these were the first three RPGs, with publishing dates of 1974, 1975 and 1975 respectively.

None of them would pass muster these days.  This is probably why the OSR clones are as successful as they are.  They clean up and present the rules of the early D&D editions in a way that's easily approachable by new and experienced gamers.

T&T 7.5E is not my favorite version of the T&T rules (I'd go with 5.5e myself) but they are certainly the most approachable and best organized of the bunch, and they are where I would steer a new T&T player.

As for EPT, there have been many versions since the version I've had a chance to look at, starting with the elusive (and generally overpriced TSR edition) and three later editions, the last in 2005.  It's safe to assume that they are without exception, better produced and clearing in rules presentation (though I suspect the have use of Tsolyani terms continue in later editions).

All three are priceless for their historical value if you are a fan of the hobby.  I consider myself lucky enough to own a copy of the OD&D "Original Classic Box", a reprint of T&T 1e (and an original copy of T&T 2e, previously owned and signed by the Trollgod himself) and the PDF copy of EPT's pre-TSR edition.

Can you tell I'm a history buff?  heh

Does Margaret Weis Games Produce an RPG That Isn't Licensed?

The Marvel Super Heroes RPG launched today from Margaret Weis Games and it got me thinking - does this company put anything that isn't licensed? And how did they get a Marvel Supers when they also have Smallville?

Supernatural is based off the TV series if I'm not wrong, Leverage is based on a movie and they used to have Serenity (Firefly).

Is the Cortex system any good? I really don't hear much, if anything, about it.

As a side note, aren't licensed properties an expensive investment in the RPG field? I thought we were in a shrinking market

A Little Paranoia Goes a Long Way - Intra-Party Antagonism

At Games That Can Not Be Named two weeks ago, we played a session of Tunnels & Trolls. I wrote a bit about this last week. I'm not sure if I mentioned that almost right from the start of the session, we had some inter-party antagonism going on. A failed casting of Oh Go Away on another player led to one hell of a beat down of the wizzie in question. Did I mention the players are a couple in real life? heh

I've noticed recently that pick-up games don't instill the same party loyalty that a ongoing campaign does, but that's not a surprise. What is a bit surprising is the players' desire (in some cases) to do something that is totally out of place in the game because they can - there are no long term consequences.

My idea? I wan't to break out my 1st Edition Paranoia rules for one of these game days, give everyone a pre-gen with lots of treasonous secrets and let everything take it's course.

Doesn't matter to me if folks say the system is broken - the players won't have the proper security clearance to see the rules.

The character write up will ensure that each player has many reasons to be paranoid of their fellow players. If chaos doesn't ensue within the first 15 minutes of gameplay, I'll be doing something wrong.

My idea is to channel this intra-party aggressiveness with a game that thrives on intra-party aggressiveness. Personally, I think Paranoia was written with pick-up games in mind. (I know we were never able to run more then two sessions with the same characters, as clones got swapped out faster then a newborn babies diapers).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting My Feet Wet - Returning to My Proper Place Behind the Screen

As I alluded to in the previous post, it looks like I may be DMing before I expected to be, and with a system I know very well, but have been away from for at least 20 years.  Yes, I'm talking AD&D 1e.

I expected my return to be GMing a play test document for an unreleased fantasy RPG (no, not 5E), so really, if I screwed up, I could have blamed the system...heh.  Not that I would, but at least my lack of knowledge could be explained.  If I screw up AD&D, I'll have no one to blame but myself...

At the very least, I'm going to have to go to storage tomorrow night, and grab my Player's Handbook and my two copies of OSRIC.  That should give me a couple of days to bring me back to fighting ability.

I'm going to assume that it is very much like riding a bike, and 15 years away from the chart side of the DM screen will fade away fast, but I am open to any advice one wishes to offer.

Shit, I'm almost begging for some advice.  Help a brotha' out! ;)

What Do You Consider Yourself - A DM or a Player?

I wish I had a cool looking screen like this
I do have the cool looking booklets tho' ;)
I ask, because even though I was out of active gaming for a number of years AND when I did return it was as a player, I still consider myself a DM first and foremost.

In my old groups, I was the main DM.  In the college gaming club, I was the only DM.  I was comfortable in that role.  Not everyone is.

I suspect that amongst gamers that blog, more associate themselves as sitting behind the DM screen then across from it.  The urge to create, to share, even to control your own little universe - blogging allows one to fill those needs.

So, where do you sit?  DM?  Player?  Both?  Neither?

As an aside, I may be back behind the DM screen this sunday.  Damn.  Exciting and scary ;)

M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript) on Sale at DriveThuRPG-

If you are like me, you've heard of M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne but have never actually come across it.  As far as I can tell, this was the first setting / house rule publication based of the grand daddy of all RPG - The Original Boxed Set of Dungeons & Dragons.

This is a copy (included is both a scan of the original pages and a newly produced and cleaned up via computer pages) of the original 1974 manuscript, of which only 50 copies are known to have been produced.  TSR's version was published in 1975.  To tell the truth, I always thought the TSR edition was the first edition, so this is very interesting news to me (and a nice piece of history.)

Both the scan of the original pages, and the cleaned up computer versions are shown side by side.  They have even included a sweet option to only print out he cleaned up pages if you were to print this out.

This PDF is nicely bookmarked, and a breeze to navigate.

As I poke through this, I see that there are Original Skills tables.  I wonder if this is where AD&D got the idea for secondary professions.  Stats aren't 3d6 but d100.  Wow.

Lots for me to dig through.  It's like being given a piece of gaming history.  Doubt I'd ever run this, but I'm pretty impressed at the depth of a game written and produced in 1974.

More when I get further into it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Sphincter Says What? Delving Into Apocalypse World

Alright.  I was told that Apocalypse World was the greatest thing since sliced bread - except that it is apparent to me that some asshole grabbed that loaf of sliced bread and squeezed the living shit out of it while it was still in it's Wonder Bread bag with twisty, put it back on the shelf and I bought it.

The best I can figure is I'm going to have to work real hard at getting to the meat in this nut of an RPG.  Want proof?  I'll give you proof (which, BTW, was read to me last night by the same guy that convinced me to buy it last week.  I literally pulled the trigger an hour before game time last night):

The rules for moves is to do it, do it.  In order for it to be a move and for the player to roll dice, the character has to do something that counts as that move; and whenever the character does something that counts as a move, it's the move and the player rolls dice.

Oh my fucking God!  Who the hell thinks that a run on sentence that would make even a German cringe is a great way to introduce a game rule?  Even worse, a run on sentence that makes NO FUCKING SENSE!

I know EGG used to right some confusing shit back in the day, but this seems to be written to be confusing.  It's almost like the author feels that isn't being cool unless he's writing like a fucktard.

There, I feel better.  I needed to vent.  I'm sure the rest of this PDF isn't going to be as annoying to read, 'cause if it is, Feltothraxis is going to be treating this a whole lot worse then he did Vornheim.  And yes, I ordered the dead tree / PDF combo.  I expect to find some redeeming qualities soon in this purchase, even if it means having a dragon puppet do bodily functions that puppets just aren't meant to do ;)

Mini Review - Beasts & Bararians Golden Edition (Savage Worlds)

Beasts & Barbarians is a Swords & Sorcery sourcebook / setting for Savage Worlds.  It's kinda cool to be reading it so soon after Crypts & Things, as it gives a different POV (as well as ruleset) for the Swords & Sorcery genre.

So, what do we get in Beasts & Barbarians which we aren't getting elsewhere?  Well, for one thing we don't get into any of the rules / numbers until around page 60.  Yep, those first pages, almost a third of the book, is all setting information.  Pretty snazzy, and it does a great job of drawing you in before hitting you with actual game info.  Strangely, Cosmic Patrol does something similar, but it didn't work for me in that case.

Next up is the Characters section.  It doesn't only deal with character generation but also new and changed skills and edges.  Surprisingly, it also covers some asian tropes, such as fighting monks and the like.  I truthfully didn't expect to find them here, but I'm glad they are, as they seem to fit well.

Arcane backgrounds are modified in this setting.  I don't have a full grasp of them in the standard Savage Worlds rules, so I'm going to need to spend some time on these before I can fully comment.  It should be noted that the party is limited to one member with the arcane background.

Gear is gear.  When it comes up, you look it up.

Around page 110 we get to the GM section of the book.  It does a great job of showing the GM how to set the tone.  It's a gritty, evil world full of larger than life nasties.  Sounds like fun.

Chapter 7 is the Adventurer Generator.  It uses a deck of cards help determine potential plots for your story lines / adventures.  It looks to be a handy tool.  I may just print out this one section for handy use whenever I'm in need of something to prod me when I need a quick adventure regardless of system.

Next up is the obligatory monster section.  Nice nice selection of demons and devil, along with a recognizable selection of less supernatural (yet still lethal) adversaries.  When you include the templates for NPCs, this is a pretty complete (and long) section.

Vengeance of the Branded Devils is the introductory adventure included with Beasts & Barbarians.  It has a pretty strong introduction and it reads well.  As for lethality - one will only know for sure when it is run ;)

Beast & Barbarians is a very complete setting / sourcebook for Savage Worlds.  The artwork, from the flu color cover to the black and white drawings inside are excellent.  My one complaint is that for a PDF of 210 pages in length, there are no bookmarks, which makes navigation more difficult than it should be.

From the blurb:

Beasts and Barbarians Golden Edition is a bigger and more savage version of the B&B; Player`s Guide. Packed with a lot of Game Master stuff, it has 208 pages full of Savage Goodness. New things we have put into it: 51 non player characters, 10 new monsters, new rules, adventure generator and an adventure! 
And of course, with a new art from Tomek Tworek! We have also included the errata and a few new informations!
IMPORTANT NOTICE - we have a special discount for people who bought the former version of the Beasts and Barbarians. If you didn`t get it from rpgnow.com, feel free to contact me at pkorys(at)gmail.com
 Welcome to the dangerous Dread Sea Dominions, a place where mighty barbarians do combat with hideous monsters, dark warlocks whisper terrible sorceries in forgotten temples and noble amazons duel in the sun scorched arenas of Faberterra, capital of a decadent empire!
In this book, you will find:
  • Thirty new Edges.
  • Three arcane backgrounds, Lotusmastery, Sorcery, and the Path of Enlightenment
  • Dozens of new weapons, armors, and mounts
  • A simple but elegant system to develop your character between adventures and to manage the enormous riches you’ll find!
  • Rules for Heroic Incapacitation
  • Henchemen and Right Hands to support your villains
  • Twenty dreadful monsters
  • Fifty-one Non Player Characters
  • An adventure generator explicitly tailored for Sword and Sorcery to create a great plot in no tim
  • A fully fledged adventure in the Dominions  
And much, much more!

  Gird your loins, get your broadsword ready and prepare to face the threats of Beasts and Barbarians, the new sword and sorcery open setting from GRAmel.

    GURPS or Savage Worlds For Your Skill Based Gaming?

    I have some experience running GURPS 20 years ago, and I'm looking closely at Savage Worlds (and plan on rereading the rules to both as time permits).  Yes, I'm leaving Basic Roleplaying / RuneQuest / Legend off the list as I wait to see what the latest edition of RQ will offer.

    The game plan (such as it is) is to run a OSR (D&D clone) and a non-OSR game, and alternate the system on a weekly basis.  It would keep the systems from getting old, and always give me two weeks to get things ready for the next game of the same type.

    I know GURPS is the heavier system (and looking at Conan: Beyond Thunder Dome, I'm reminded how crunchy the system is).  Both GURPS and Savage Worlds have a huge amount of setting books.  I'm actually reading Beasts & Barbarians for Savage Worlds this weekend, and it look like a fun Swords & Sorcery setting for S&W.

    I'm open to input.  I'll even look at other systems if the argument is solid ;)

    Retrospective - GURPS - Conan: Beyond the Thunder River

    I remember picking up Conan:  Beyond Thunder River at the Complete Strategist in NYC, probably back in the early 90s.  I loved the cover art, and I was intrigued by the idea of a solo adventure, especially for Conan.  The fact that it was for GURPS didn't deter me, as my group at that point dabbled in many systems, and although we don't get too far in any of the GURPS campaigns we started, I was fairly conversant with the rules.  Ah, to be young again, with a brain like a sponge as opposed to the sieve I currently am armed with, but I digress.

    I don't think I ever played it.  I certainly didn't play it all of the way through.  It was fucking intimidating!  Characters we had created and used were all in the 100-125 point range - this solo module required a 400 point character.  Heck, even the pre-written Conan sheet in the back was more than I was comfortable with, although I still find it amazing that even a 400 point character in GURPS is still vulnerable.

    Although I am very tempted to give this a shot, I'm not sure I want to relearn GURPS in order to do so.  I might give it a read through like a solo quest type book, and just assume I survive all of the encounters.  ;)

    GURPS always had some of the best sourcebooks on the market, and I suspect this solo is probably on the high end too.

    Anyone actually give it a play through?  How was it?

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Campaign Worlds - Homebrew or Off the Shelf?

    Do you design your own campaign worlds or buy one of the shelf (virtual or brick n mortar)?

    I ask, because although I've had ideas for campaign worlds (or areas of worlds) the amount of time needed to build a world for play seems time prohibitive in my 40's - wife, kid, job, gaming in general - heck, even blogging - keeps me from having the time needed to homebrew a world.

    It was different in high school and college, when I mapped out and designed three campaign worlds, but looking back - they're crap.  I'd do things a lot differently these days if I were to do so, but I no longer have the time to do so.

    So, do you home brew or use a pre written / designed campaign world, and if you use a pre written / designed campaign world, which do you use and why?

    What is Your Favorite Non-OSR Game?

    Obviously, if you are not a big fan of the OSR, this is probably an easier question to answer.  For the purpose of this question, I'm going to define OSR and OD&D, it's immediate offspring, their derivatives and clones.

    What is your favorite Non-OSR type RPG and why?

    For me, the answer would be probably have to be Savage Worlds.  It's a pretty flexible system that can cover most any genre.  It played much better than I expected (when I playtested for the guys at White Haired Man) and I'd gladly play it again.  Might even consider running it down the line.

    For a less flexible system, I'd say Warhammer 40k: Dark Heresy, but I'm not sure if it's because of the system itself or if it's because it's the first game I played when I returned to gaming.

    So, give me your answers if you would.  I'd like to learn about (and maybe learn to play) some of the other RPGs out there.

    More on the Monster Stock Art Kickstarter Project.

    I find myself checking into Kickstarter on a daily basis, to see how the projects I'm supporting are doing.  The latest Adventurer Conqueror King System expansion has already hit it's first stretch goal and is closing in on it's second.  Way cool.

    Just as cool, but maybe in some ways even cooler, is the Monster Stock Art (& Minis).  With this project, you get new stock art from the core OGL monster list.  Depending on the amount you decide to pledge, you can choose the number of at pieces, web or printing quality images and of course, the laminated minis.

    I'm in for the complete collection of whatever they produce at print quality.  Now, I'm not publishing anything these days and I don't even have anything on the burner.  I might have something on the countertop waiting to be put on the burner.  I figure it's best to be ready, and when the time comes, art will be one less thing I'll need to hassle about.  Besides, I can also use the art on my blog.  It will most certainly get used ;)

    Some new stuff from the Kickstarter:


    The images of each monster have transparent backgrounds.  Included with the project we'll create at least eight background images. A couple of these may be basic (just a swirl of colors) but some will be a dungeon or a wilderness area.  These backgrounds will come as layered PSDs (photoshop images, openable by GIMP as well) so you can place a monster or a few in the image with some foreground items in front and the main background behind the creature.  This gives you more variety.  Combine that with the fact that you may modify the images (as long as you don't purposely make the artwork look bad--something called the artist's "moral rights") and you can easily get a much different look than someone else using this same art collection.
    Here's a sample/example with just a basic background. As mentioned above, we'll have several more varied/interesting backgrounds as part of the project.
    The lower left dragon is the original.  Some color shifting and a background made the green dragon version in the upper left.  The lower right simply lowered the saturation of the dragon and darkened it.  The upper right was back to the original with a different background and a slight darkening of the dragon.  By the way, this isn't the green or black dragon for the project.  They will each be new art.  But it is helpful to see you may be able to change some to fit other colors in case you don't like the one of the others in the set.

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Mini Review - Crypts & Things (Swords & Sorcery OSR)

    If you're looking for some deep, in depth review of Crypts & Things, this ain't is turning into it.  If you want some highlights and general thoughts, you're in the right place.  I may get to do a deeper review later, (edit:  this is already turning into a mult-parter - it may get deep) but my plate is fairly full at the moment (I know some are waiting on the next part of the ACKS review, for instance).

    So, what do you get for your hard earned cash?  A pretty neat little system Swords & Sorcery styled system built upon the Swords & Wizardry game.  Default character generation is 3D6 in order, so yes, very Old School in nature (I'd opt for the 4d6, take highest 3 and arrange as you like, but I am a kind and benevolent DM).  There is one concession, and that's the recommendation to allow the players to start level 1 with maximum HP.

    There are four classes.  Barbarians are decent warriors with a dangerous first attack ability.  They also have some other skills, such as tracking, stealth and danger sense.  Thieves get their classic assortment of skills.  Fighter have the best to hit roll in the game, and can choose from fighting styles such as Berserker and Weapon Master.  Magicians are the spell casters, who draw upon White, Grey and Black magic to accomplish their goals.  This means that their spell list is a combination of cleric and wizard spells in a usual OSR style game.

    There is also a "Generate Life Events" random table that's part of character generation.  Events such as "I was chained to the Pillar of Judgment, and had to avoid the Pendulum of Evil" grants the character a bonus to AC of 2 pts.  There are 20 of these, and starting characters will roll 3.

    Something else I forgot to mention.  When it comes to skill rolls, all characters can try, but a character with the skill has a +3 bonus.  So anyone can try to pick a lock, but it's the thief that will have the easiest time of it.

    Hit Points represent "Superficial Damage" in Crypts & Things.  Damage is taken first to Hit Points, then to Constitution.  Damage to Con requires a save or the character falls unconscious.  Healing spells and potions do not heal HP, just Con.  Some booze may restore some HP, but a full nite's rest restores all HP. This applies only to the PCs.  Everything else dies at zero HP.

    Crap, this might actually wind up being a multi-parter.  More later ;)

    From the blurb:

    What is this game about?

    It’s about exploring the ruins of the dying world of Zarth. Fighting off the Others, 
    alien monstrosities from outside of your reality. Making your mark on the world 
    before it dives into the sun Nemesis.  In short its a Swords and Sorcery role 
    playing game using the original edition of the world’s favorite role playing game. 
    Based upon the Swords and Wizardy rules.
    Chapter list

    Scrolls of Wonderous Revelation (The Players’ Handbook)

    Creating a character
    How to play
    Spell lists

    The Book of Doom (A Crypt Keeper’s Guide)
    The Continent of Terror  – Gazeeter of the setting.
    Ill Gotten gains of Dark Desire – Treasure and magic items.
    A compendium of Fiends – Monsters
    The Hall of Nizun Thun – A mini-crypt (adventure)
    Appendices a to M: Notes from the Abyss
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