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

THAC0: The Movie - How Did I Miss Thee?

Somehow, someway, I never saw THAC0: The Movie until now.  Sure, it's a fan made movie, but some things are spot on!

Negotiate with Kobolds!?!  They are there for you to kill them and take their stuff!  heh

Heck, Neil Gaiman made a 5 second cameo - it's gotta be cool ;)

Random Tables for Interrogation / Prisoner Debriefing (Torture By the Numbers)

Tell us what we want to know and:

1 - We'll make you a valued henchman, and love you and squeeze you and call you "George"

2 - I've got two tickets to Paradise, and one can be yours if your answers are right.

3 - I'll give you what's in my pocket.

4 - Safe passage for you and all your kin!

5 - We'll pay double what your chieftain, leader, BBEG is paying you.

6 - You can live. Ain't that enough?

'Cause if you don't give us what we need:

1 - We'll kill you, your wife, your kids and your dog. Well, maybe not your dog. I like dogs.

2 - I know how to cut-n-heal. Beware the Clerical Interrogator.

3 - I'll pull your entrails out through your neck and make you eat them. If you're lucky, I'll fry them first.

4 - Remember the 4 guys we talked to before you? Neither do I. They had nothing worthwhile to say.

5 - Our elf isn't a vegetarian - she's a goblintarian. She likes her meat fresh.

6 - We'll be stuck in this scene forever. Shit man! Give us a break!

Why Are PCs So Hooked on Torture?

I'll assume most players do not have repressed sadist tendencies, so why is it that nearly every RPG encounter that ends with one or more prisoners in the custody of the PCs invariably leads to threats or acts of torture in an attempt to gain information useful to the party?

Heck, I don't even see Good Cop, Bad Cop play out. It's usually Bad Cop, Homicidal Cop.

I know PCs are built for combat, and maybe that builds in the presupposition that violence solves all the problems in RPGs.

I've seen this tendency in all types of groups, all genres of rpgs, and I've been guilty of it myself.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crypts & Things Now Available - Time For Some Old School Swords & Sorcery

I need to review this over the weekend.  I have the PDF and the hardcover, and it is an excellent RPG in the Swords & Sorcery style.

Anyhow, it's 12 bucks for the PDF at RPGNow.

23.50 for the soft cover, 40 for the HC at Lulu.

Doesn't my Hardcover look great?

Dungeons & Play-Doh

Last night at Games That Can Not Be Named, we did some classic dungeon crawling.  In and of itself, dungeon crawling is most awesome.  In the hands of a DM that not only understands dungeon crawling, but understands that there is more to a game session than dungeon crawling, is beyond awesome.  All that and improvised dungeon props raises the level to a classic RPG session that just happens to also be awesome.

I'm the Wizzie in the Purple Hat
I'm not much on using battle maps, but Alex of Bad Wrong Fun did a great job of using the battle maps and improvised Play-Doh figures (we had some multi talented players at our table) to enhance gameplay without making it seem like a tactical reenactment.  Everything was eyeballed at it worked well.

Then Alex added the coup de grace:

Why the Big Guy is Humping the Green Blob is Anyone's Guess
Yep, we had rubber dungeon walls.  These were friggin' neat!  All we needed was some miniature tables to represent the ones we flipped for cover earlier and it would have been prefect ;)

I had a blast.  I think everyone at the table did too.  Alex runs his games in the Old School style of "slow answers equals quick death".  You need to think quickly on your feet.  There is no Time Stop spell to allow the players a chance to make plans when the enemy is bearing down on you.  It adds tension and makes for a great gaming experience.

I do want to make a small apology to Alex, Dave and all the rest.  I had no idea my shirt has ridden up, exposing my off-duty firearm on my waist until I walked over to the rest room.  Ah well, it's no secret on this blog that I'm a cop (and fairly long in the tooth, as I carry a revolver off-duty), but I don't think we ever discussed it at any of the game sessions.  Hope no one was too shocked ;)

There is another Games That Can Not Be Named at the SoHo Digital Arts Gallery next week on Sullivan Street, a block south of Houston.  Wednesdays at 7.  Miss it at your own loss.  It's been a great time all 4 weeks I've been there

Delayed Dice Arrived Last Night - Nearly Two Weeks Late

Thanks Alex!
Well, it appears the 2 sets of dice I assumed were stolen from my front porch were part of some UPS Quality Check.

Even though it was indicated "Left on Porch" on my delivery confirmation online on 2/4, they arrived yesterday - shipped 2 day shipping with a ship date of 2/2.

No wonder Amazon's sole response was something to the effect "they would investigate".

So, 2 sets I no longer thought I was going to get, and I won a set of Gamescience Dice last night at Games That Can Not Be Named. Dice Dice Baby! (or something to that effect).

Splitting the Bonus - What if You Had to Choose Between To Hit and Damage Bonus?

I was thinking (something I've been known to do on occasions) about the strength bonus in the different OSR systems. It usually has a range from +1 to +3, and the bonus is applied to both To Hit and Damage rolls.

My thought is this - stretch the range to go from +1 to +5, but make the player decide where and how much of the bonus he is applying to each roll.

Hard to hit opponent? Apply the full bonus to the D20 to hit roll, nothing gets applied to the damage roll. Or maybe you split the bonus relatively evenly. Maybe you feel lucky with your hit rolls and want all the points applied to damage. The choice is in the player's hands.

The chart should be easy enough to do (but not on my iPad, which hates any kind of formatting).

I think it adds some options to combat (especially for fighters) without changing the balance of combat too much (I didn't do the math to prove this statement - just trusting my gut on this)

Thoughts? Suggestions? Maybe I'm insane for even thinking of such wickedness?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mini Review - Trollszine #4 (Tunnels & Trolls)

Trollszine is a Tunnels & Trolls e-zine.  It's produced for free by the trolls- er, fans of T&T.  It's been a decent sized gap between issues 3 and 4 (I know, because at one point I was editing an article or two for issue 4, but I don't think either made the cut - or it's been so long I know longer remember well).

Anyhow,  just what can you expect for your unearned, not going to need to spend a single dollar?

A decently sized solo adventure.  Written for T&T 7.5, it will probably work with any edition from 5 on without too much work.  It doesn't have an ADDs or level requirement or restriction.

A GM adventure.  These are rare.  Cherish it.

Fiction by Christina Lea.  No, I haven't read it yet.  Too busy with the gaming stuff.

Mass Combat in T&T - Bet you didn't think you needed rules for that.  Now that you have them, I'm sure you'll find a use for them.

Horsemanship in T&T - a very deep, intricate article.  Even the author knows it might be detail heavy for T&T.  Might be convertible to D20 without too much work.

Survival Kit / Quick Reference Guide for T&T 7x.  With the price of admission on it's own.  Might even be enough to run a 7x game using 5.5 with this as a guide.  Amazing.  Let me repeat that:  EAmazing.

Some other assorted odd & ends.

Very nicely done.  If all you do is print out the 2 page 7x Survival Kit, you've struck gold.  The fact that there is value in just about every other article is icing on the cake troll.

Games That Can Now Be Named - Erol Otus's "Island Town" (Old School Adventure / Setting)

Last Wednesday at "Games That Can Not Be Named" I had a chance to play in Erol Otus's Island Town. (Yes! I can name it now). Although written for on of the older D&D rules / clones (I'm not sure which, as I was a player, not the DM) we actually played it using Tunnels & Trolls 5.5e.

As I mentioned in last week's post, we had a blast. We broke up into two team of two players (who each ran two characters). I'm not sure if that's how it would work in the adventure using the D&D clone of your choice, but for T&T it worked well.

It most certainly WAS NOT a normal adventure / setting. Failure to perform the initial rituals of coming of age properly (you worked as a team, so it was all pass or all fail) pretty much meant your characters weren't going to remain in the island's breeding pool.

Yes, the Island was just as much off center as Otis's art usually is. Beautifully off center.

What I saw looked like Otis's art, but I wasn't able to leaf through the booklet to be sure. What I did see looked really nice.

Alright, another evening of Games That Can Not Be Named. I'm interested in seeing what's up next...

One Name, Two Games

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it's come up more then once with my fellow players in our Saturday Night game sessions. Why doesn't WotC keep D&D 4e, rebrand it D&D Tactics or some such, and then put out D&D Renaissance - or whatever they want to call D&D Next when it releases.

D&D 4e is still a young game. Heck, the Essentials reboot is even more recent. While it's not the game for me, it is most certainly the game for many, and it has a very loyal following. Many of them feel they are being betrayed but WotC's decision to kill off their game so soon after it's birth. There are also enough major differences between 4e and prior editions of D&D that making one game that covers all is sure disappoint most.

Build into D&D Next a way to integrate some of it's modules into D&D Tactics, and I think you'll cover most of the bases in a way that should satisfy most of the players.

More importantly, your 4e players won't need to feel the same betrayal the 3e and prior players suffered when their rules of choice were canceled permaturely.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mini Review - Toys For the Sandbox #6 - The Cursed Catacombs (Generic / OSR)

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm hooked on the Toys For the Sandbox series, but in case you've missed it - I am hooked, line and sinker too.  It's an extremely affordable and flexible toolbox to have available when you need something to drop into a campaign.

Each Toys For the Sandbox entry is generic , as in "stat free" (but the OSR "feel" is very much there).  It also means level free, so you can adjust these for the level you need at the moment.  You get a short back story, a map for the encounter area, 6 hooks to choose from and each hook has 3 twists, giving 18 variations on how you can decide to have the encounter pan out.  You also get a handful of PCs (usually 4) and some appropriate random tables (in the Cursed Catacombs we get a Rumor Table and an Encounter table)

The Cursed Catacombs is a follow up, an essentially a second part, to #4, Hermit's Island.  Yes, you could run them independently, but run together it becomes a really nice micro setting.

With The Cursed Catacombs, page count goes from 4 to 7 pages.  The format itself doesn't change, but the extra pages allow Occult Moon to be a bit more verbose with their descriptions.  It also makes the pages less cluttered dense.  The extra space is definitely put to good use.

From the blurb:

In a special supersized issue of Toys from the Sandbox we return to the Hermit’s Island. Below the ruins of the old monastery are the old catacombs that once served as a reliquary and burial chamber for the monks who made their home on the island. Now filled and consumed with a dark energy these caverns have many secrets, some of which may soon reach the mainland.

Come along with us and explore them in Toys for the Sandbox #6: The Cursed Catacombs 

Stuff On My Desk(Top)

I'm currently giving Cosmic Patrol a read through and It's leaving this old timer
fairly confused at the moment, as it took about 50 pages before I actually got to anything that resembled actual rules.  The background was an awesome read, but I like to have something to ground it in.  Then I found out the default rules have a rotating Narrator within the game session itself, so I watched my world of roleplaying dissolve around me as my brains turned to jello.  But I've heard so much good stuff about these rules, so I will persevere! Besides, it use all of the standard dice, so it can't be bad.

To regain a grip on my sanity, I decided to check out Toys in the Sandbox #6 - The Cursed Catacombs.  Ah, back on solid ground.  This I can handle.  Just need time to review it.  Well, I need to find the to fully read and review Cosmic Patrol.  One thing I can tell for sure. it isn't hooked on the tactical end of things ;)

Crap, and Trollzine #4.  I need to find time to read and review Trollzine#4.

A Game That Can Now Be Named - Everything is Dolphins

Yep, we're now allowed to talk about some of the games we've played at the weekly Games That Can Not Be Named (next session is Wed, 2/15/12 from 7 to 11 at night, 138 Sullivan Street NY NY at the SoHo Digital Arts Gallery - tell them Tenkar sent you, maybe they'll stamp my card or something).

So, what game am I talking about today?  I'm talking about Everything is Dolphins (which just started a Kickstarter funding drive).  Yep, I'm here and I'm talking Dolphins Yo!

Alright, so, here's the skinny.  I was quite crestfallen when I heard there was a game of OD&D, being run by one of Gygax's early players in EGG's home campaign, and I was being shuffled off to play some Dolphin Game.  That was three weeks ago.

So it was quite surprising that within 15 minutes of playing Everything is Dolphins, not only did I forget there was an OD&D game going on, but I was also quickly getting the hang of playing a dolphin in a game vaguely reminiscent of the Sega Classic: Echo, The Dolphin.  Especially since I had had a harpoon gun as my sole artifact, and I wasn't afraid to use it.

I had a blast playing this game.  It reminded me a bit of Toon, in that it worked best once I accepted that silly was fun.  Lethal silly, almost on the levels of Oh Shit! Run!, but as character generation takes like 5 minutes (2 if you aren't fighting over access to the rule book), dying ain't no big deal.

Oh, and if you do fun the Kickstarter for Everything is Dolphins, I can tell you that you won't be getting Pre Release Test Copy 6 of 10.  That one is mine ;)

Defining the Nebulous OSR

OSR is a fairly nebulous term, as it may cover different RPGs or years depending on who is using it.

For me, it covers D&D (and all the derivative clones) from 2E and before. It also covers Tunnels & Trolls, Avalon Hill and earlier Runequest, GDW Traveller, Chivalry & Sorcery, DragonQuest, Rolemaster / Spacemaster & MERP, Palladium Fantasy, Toon, 1st Edition Paranoia, WFRP 1e - the list goes on.

Were any of these games "tactical" in nature? I don't think so. Some where definitely rules heavy.

See, I know which games I consider to be covered under the umbrella of the nebulous "OSR", but I'm not sure what actually defines a game as being an "OSR game.

What defines an OSR style game to you?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mini Review - Zogorion, Lord of the Hippogriffs (Swords & Wizardry)

Ashley Can't Help But Be In The Picture ;)
Zogorion is a mini-adventure for Swords & Wizardry.  It is published by Jason Sholtis (with help from John Larrey) of The Dungeon Dozen blog.  And it is good. ;)

It is a heavy roleplaying adventure on the front end, which comes with a twist (and huge hammer) for the party near the end.  My new meaning of OSR certainly applies to this adventure, as it will quite possibly be lethal for the unprepared or foolish.

It lists a level range of 3-7, but I'd weigh that heavily towards the high end of that range if you want a party that has a decent chance to survive.

It's available in print only for the low price of 2 bucks (including shipping).  16 pages (zine sized) with a wrap around cover (and a map on the inside of said cover) that is not part of the page count.

This will be sharing shelf space with my Loviatar Collection ;)

Picking Apart Monte's Latest Column - Uniting the Editions: Part 3

Alright, before I even get to Monte's latest missive, let me remind folks where I am coming from:  I'm commenting on what Monte is saying now, possibly compared to what was said earlier.  I'm commenting on the "Marketing Speak" that is in his posts when I find it, and calling "bullshit" where I feel it's appropriate.

In short, I'm trying to find the nuggets of corn in the stinky pile of poo.  Not because I have a desire to see 5E fail, but because I want it to succeed.  For it to succeed, it has to rise past the bullshit catch phrases of the numbers crunchers and the marketing gurus.  It can't be held down by the albatross of being the Great Unifier of Editions, The Rosetta Stone of D20 Gaming, The One RPG to Rule Them All.  It can't be all things to all players, for attempting such will give it a lot of shit many players don't like.

Yes, I have the games I truly love in the OSR.  I could never play 5E and still be immensely happy with my gaming.  I could also see the release of a truly innovative and enjoyable 5e and play, maybe even love that too.  Gamers are allowed to be polygamists.  It's in our nature.  We can love more then one RPG.  But we don't want pale imitations of the ones we love.

On to Monte's latest:

Over the last couple of weeks, I've written about why we want to try to unify the editions, and how we're going to pull it off. Here are some more miscellaneous thoughts about the process that are worth discussing as well.

Stuff to Leave Behind

Although we don't currently see universal consensus on this, it seems likely that there are a handful of things from prior editions that we don't want to bring forward into a new iteration of D&D. Not everything about every version of the game was absolutely golden.

For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback (not needed, agreed). Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better (math is easier the new way, and our schools are worse these days.  best to keep it simple). System shock rolls (eh). Racial level limits (could return as setting based). Gender-based ability score maximums (again, no argument). Lots of bonus types (I'm not exactly sure what Monte is referring to here). And so on. But here's the thing: if I'm wrong about that, get involved in the open playtest when it starts (it started - we know that - you mean the NEXT stage of play testing) and let us know. If you would like to see things like that be a part of the core rules set, or if you would use rules like that as optional modules, that's the kind of information we are looking for in order to make this a game you want to play.

Further, there's stuff that is kind of on the fence in this regard. What about a system that resembled the weapons versus armor table in 1st Edition? Could we make that work as a part of a simulationist rules module? Maybe. Racial class restrictions? Sure (but why?)(maybe because it kept multi classing and racial extra in balance?  Again, might be best if it were setting based). Are these good ideas? Bad ideas?

New Material

We don't want a new iteration of the game to be only a "best of" of the prior editions. If we did, there would be no reason to play it. It needs to achieve the goal of not only giving you the play experience that you want, but also giving you that play experience in a way that's better than what you've had in the past (again, stepping away from the initial idea of "play any edition with the 5E rules" - but this is promising). Faster, better, smarter.

But how much new material is too much? That's the question. How can we capture the feel and tone of your favorite edition if we add in mechanics or material that's never been in a prior edition (I've been pondering this myself)? And yet, how can we convince anyone to play a game that is just a rehash of what's come before? (Alright, this is NOT a marketing statement - this is a real, honest to God game designer question)

One way is simply through the customization of the rules modules that I wrote about last week. That is to say, although you can recreate the feel of 2nd Edition using them, you can also recreate the feel of 2nd Edition with a few options from 3rd or 4th as well. You wouldn't have to choose a past edition. You'd customize the game to make it yours. Imagine a game with Basic D&D's simplicity but with the powers of 4th Edition (that doesn't seem like it would work, but I'll withhold final judgement). Or a game that has the character customization abilities of 3rd Edition without all the tactical rules. Or any other combination you desire. We believe it's perfectly possible.  (But is it PLAYABLE?)

We are experimenting, however, with some material that is truly and entirely new. Class abilities that capture the core feel of a class, for example, even though they've never been presented in any version of the class. For example, we might take the idea of a ranger's favored enemy but express that idea in a completely different way. (Or you might have different ways to express that, one in keeping with prior editions, and one for the new edition)

We are also experimenting with variations on task resolution. What if, for example, something that used to give you a bonus or a penalty instead modified the (number of or size of the) dice you roll? A bonus to your attack roll might be the ability to roll 2d20 and take the best roll, for example. Or maybe instead of having a flat bonus, you got a bonus die to roll and add (or, in the case of a penalty, subtract)? Would these brand-new mechanics be fun and add something new to the game? And most importantly, would they feel like D&D? (Alright, now he's trying to be innovative as opposed to just rehashing the game systems we already have.  Monte, build a great game and don't worry about the prior editions)

That's what lots of playtesting and player feedback will let us discover.

(Holy shit!  Nothing for me to tear into.  Little if any marketing bullshit.  Actual game designer thoughts and questions.  Color me surprised.  No ranting from me either.  ;)

Why WotC Will Never Understand the OSR

I've been reading a crap load of Monte Cook's articles leading up to and after the announcement of D&D 5E. It's given me some decent insight into what Monte (and by extension Wizards) sees as the essence of Old School D&D.

Before I even get to that, and before anyone starts pointing fingers at me saying I'm bashing Monte, let me just state that I think he's an excellent game designer and tinkerer of rules. The Books of Experimental Might, Phtolus, Arcana Unearthed, Dungeon a Day (well, maybe not DaD, as I found that lack luster and soon forgot to even go to the site as a subscriber) - the man knows his rules.

That being said, he has no idea what Old School gaming is about. It is not about simple stats. Okay, it is to some extent, but that just made things easier to house rule.

Greg Gillespie, author of the megadungeon Barrowmaze, put it best when he referred to the OSR as "Oh Shit! Run!" That IS the essence of Old School play. Knowing when you are outmatched and have to leave shields and valuables behind in the hopes out outrunning the nasties that will kill you and your companions otherwise. It's the thrill of outsmarting your adversaries (not necessarily outsmarting your DM, but surprising him doesnt hurt). It's thinking out of the box.

I'm kinda hooked on "Oh Shit! Run!" at the moment. Maybe if Monte looked past the rules and mechanics and actually looked at what makes Old School play different than New School, he may have a better chance at succeeding with Dungeons & Dragons 5E. If nothing else, I'll give him a +2 situational bonus to his skill roll to determine his success. DM Fiat for the win ;)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where's My Weekend Rant Gawd Damnit!?! (A Look at Monte's Postings Prior to 5E's Announcement)

I'm getting kinda used to finding some of Monte's latest 5e market speak and breaking it down as the angry gamer.  Problem is, I think I covered much of it already.  Still, I have a lot of confidence in Monte's ability to give me a shit load of corporate feel good bull shit that he'll be shoveling our way tomorrow to more then make up for it.

So, what did I do to kill the non-ranting time?  I read Monte's columns from the start of his second tour of duty at WotC (the company well known for it's Christmas purges).  This man was dropping 5e Easter Eggs like they were going out of style (I always hated that saying).

From his first column in September:  Imagine, then, if the rules of the game allowed each character to have a ""rank" " that indicated how perceptive they were, and if all the hidden things had a rank as well. You could quickly and easily compare the ranks. If the character's rank was equal to or higher than the rank of the secret door or other hidden thing, he could find it if he took the time, because it was easy for him. No die roll needed. He can just do it because he's very perceptive. If the rank of the hidden thing was higher, though, he could still try to succeed at a die roll. It's challenging, but not impossible (the sweet spot, if you will). And if the difficulty rank was a lot higher, it would just be impossible, and again there's no need for the die roll. (you can't tell me he's not talking 5e)

Then in October: it might be worth taking a look at giving everyone more opportunities to aid their comrades. Not just with healing, but with actions and abilities that help others to do well. You could, for example, institute more generous "aid another" or cooperative action rules. Heroic characters might be able to step in and take damage for their endangered allies. You could, in fact, tailor a special option toward every class that gives them some unique way of helping their friends.  (if this isn't part of 5e I'll eat those perforated pages from the back of my 1st ed AD&D DMG)

It's important, I think, to acknowledge and preserve the game's roots. Even as we create new material for the latest product, we should be looking backward to see if there are lessons to be remembered or bits of the past to bring forward, because just about any monster is someone's favorite creature or figured into someone's favorite adventure, and that player or DM is going to want to keep using that thing he or she loved... this isn't true of just monsters, of course. Spells and magic items, for example, are important legacies of the past. This is perhaps also true of something like feats, but I believe it's more relevant to monsters, races, spells, and items, because these things all carry story weight as well as mechanical weight. A DM who creates a 1st or 2nd edition world with modrons in it shouldn't be left out in the cold just because he converts to 3rd edition. We don't want the story aspects of that guy's campaign wrecked any more than we want to hurt the mechanical aspects of it with new rules. (herein lies the true ring, the ring - RPG to bind together all other RPGs between one binder)

From November:  rather than just choose a spot on the spectrum, then, which will please some but not all, what if we left it up to each individual group? What if D&D gave you the tools and you chose whether or not to use them?This would mean that some, or perhaps even all, of the various subsystems that exist (and have existed for a long time) in character development would be optional. This would include all the skills and feats and various pieces that go into customizing a character. A radical approach, really. One that would greatly affect game play, but I want to just focus on character development and creation right now. If you strip these things away—from a character creation point of view—you're essentially left with ability scores, race, class, hit points, armor class/defenses, and gear. Interestingly, something that looks a lot like a 1st edition character or even an OD&D character. The other things could be layered on as desired. Again, as an interesting thought experiment, you could layer on a couple options (kits and proficiencies) and have something that looks a lot like a 2nd edition character. Layer on a couple different ones (skills and feats) and you've got a 3rd edition character. A different combination (skills, feats, and powers) gets you a 4th edition character, and so on. (this is the shit we are arguing about, ranting about and I see as 5e's albatross - here its let EACH GROUP decide which rules to play by, but now that 5e is announced it 's let EACH PLAYER decide which rules to play by.  The Group option was workable, the current marketing speak is a recipe for unmitigated disaster)
Alright, I got a small rant in ;)

I'll dig deeper into Monte's mind later.  Tomorrow I hope to have good fodder to pick through.  He could save me time and send it to me the day before it gets published.  I promise not to post my commented copy before Monte ;)

Review - Barrowmaze - (Labyrinth Lord MegaDungeon)

Greg Gillespie, writer and designer of the MegaDungeon called Barrowmaze, was kind enough to offer me a copy of said uber-dungeon to review.  How the hell could I say no, especially after having see the amazingly Old School cover by Poag.  The cover, as I've discovered by reading the adventure, fits it perfectly.

Let me start by saying this is definitely written with an Old School experience in mind.  It is most certainly lethal in it potential, as it's author has no problem letting the prospective DM know.  Strangely enough, I had never heard the acronym OSR stand for "Oh Shit! Run!" before reading Barrowmaze, but it certainly fits.  A successful party in an OSR styled game needs to know when to pull back, resupply, heal wounds and re-memorize spells.  Old School is not as forgiving as that new fangled stuff.

Another sign of it's strong rooting in Old School Play, is the strong (since the module underlines it, so will I) suggestion that PCs hire hireling and henchmen right from the start.  Because when death comes a callin', you may need some cannon fodder to buy you some useful time ;)

Although set up as a dungeon crawl for new players (and the next couple levels that they gain), this isn't just a straight forward dungeon crawl.  They start with the immediate outdoor area of the Barrows and will have to avoid / kill / run away from random encounters.   When "sandbox style play" is referred to as Old School, folks forget that even within a set area, Old School often assumes a sort of smaller sandbox is  also in play.  Random encounters can often be random killers.

Of course, once the PCs enter the dungeon proper, they won't only be dealing with set encounters, multiple factions and random monsters -  there are also traps.  10' poles and iron spikes - don't leave home without them.

The PCs are more tomb raiders then heroic explorers, but that's okay.  Old School rewards you experience by the GP - don't forget that :)

Hmmm - I could run this using the ACKS rules without nearly any conversion.  PCs might be a tad stronger than LL characters, but that's easy enough to adapt to on the fly.

We get two new spells (one cleric, one magic-user) and 31 monsters in the monster section at the end (a handful seem to be from the old Fiend Folio).  Random tables (Random Dungeon Dressing is certainly going to be reused by me multiple times) are always useful.  There are even pre-gens for Men-at-Arms, Torch-Bearers and Porters and Henchmen, not to mention some PC pre-gens and a blank character sheet. Greg has pretty much covered all of the bases.

The maps are in classic TSR Blue, which always gets points for nostalgia.

You could run this straight from the PDF, but I'd recommend printing out the pages that deal with the rooms your party probably )or even improbably) will get to during the session in question and the maps.  Nothing sucks like having to find maps in a PDF.  There are no bookmarks or hyperlinks, but those are less needed and useful in an adventure that you will probably print out.  I'd never say no to them, but I'm not going to miss them much either.

Greg wrote Barrowmaze to be a megadungeon the DM could sit down with and be ready to GM within minutes.  No block text to be read to the PCs with every room, just a short description.  I could probably be comfortably ready to run this within an hour after starting to read it.  I won't know everything, but I'll be a step a head of the players.  Isn't that the secret to effective DM'ing anyway?

From the blurb:

Local villagers whisper of a mysterious place deep in the marsh - a place shrouded in mist and dotted with barrow mounds, ruined columns, and standing stones. The tomb-robbers who explore beneath the mounds - or rather the few who return - tell tales of labyrinthine passages, magnificent grave goods, and terrifying creatures waiting in the dark. Are you brave (or foolish) enough to enter the Barrowmaze?
Barrowmaze is a classic old school megadungeon for use with Labyrinth LordTM and other fantasy role-playing games.
The Barrowmaze megadungeon setting includes:
1. An 84 page book describing Barrowmaze and The Barrow Mounds.
2. 300 encounter areas, traps, and puzzles to test the mettle of your players.
3. New magic items, spells, monsters, and classic blue maps.
4. Pregenerated characters and character sheets.
5. Over 25 new classic-style illustrations featuring artist Stefan Poag, as well as Toren Atkinson, Zhu Bajie, Trevor Hammond, John Larrey, and Jason Sholtis.
Barrowmaze will keep your players on their toes and your campaign going strong.
The .PDF can be yours for just $6.66 - that's right THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST!
Buy the print copy and the .PDF is just $2.00!
Barrowmaze is brought to you by the Old School Renaissance (so don’t forget your 10’ pole).

Fiery Dragon is Raising Money For Jeff Freels (Artist in Need of a Kidney Transplant)

If you are a follower of all things Tunnels & Trolls, none of this will be news for you, so treat it as a reminder.  Jeff Freels (T&T artist and designer of the Bean! RPG) is in need of a kidney transplant.  In truth, his wife needs one too, but Jeff's health is more dire at the moment.

This part is news:  Fiery Dragon is going to donate a portion of all T&T proceeds from sales at their website for the year of 2012.  That's 12 months to buy some great T&T stuff and help out a member of our hobby.

I'm going to copy the posting from ENWorld (I'm sure the guys at Fiery Dragon won't mind):

Hi, I'm James from Fiery Dragon, and I just wanna drop in a little post about an artist named Jeff Freels.

When the Fiery Dragon crew gets together to play a fantasy or sci-fi or post-apocalyptic rpg, we pretend we’re amazing individuals with crazy histories and mystical abilities. We use our imagination and pretend the impossible is possible.

And then you deal with someone like Jeff Freels, the blind artist, and you quickly redefine what amazing abilities are. Jeff is a guy who came to us through the Tunnels & Trolls community, and his art captures the feel and magic of that game perfectly.

Now, whatever challenges our characters may face in our fantasy roleplaying games, Jeff is certainly dealing with issues that are just as difficult and facing them as bravely as any warrior. Jeff needs a kidney transplant.

He’s created a page on his website that gives the details of his situation and his plan:http://www.jeffwerx.com/tf.html. Inspired by Jeff’s courage, we’d like to help him raise money for this worthy cause.

Fiery Dragon will be donating a portion of the proceeds from every digital and direct sale (from our website) of all Tunnels & Trolls products sold in 2012. We’ve just released CASTLE OF THE DEAD, a T&T Solo Adventure that features Jeff’s artwork, and we’ll be re-releasing the latest version of the Tunnels & Trolls Roleplaying Game rules and additional adventures throughout the year.

You don't have to be a T&T player or Fiery Dragon support to help out, though. Jeff has a donate button on his website that can be used to send funds to him directly.

Together we can enjoy a great game and help a great cause. Thanks for your support

I've already ordered a 2-pack of Castle of the Dead (free shipping for the win) and the site takes Paypal.

I'm excited to see a re-release of Tunnels & Trolls 7.5 and additional adventures being released throughout the year.  Hopefully we can make it a good year for Fiery dragon, Tunnels & Trolls and most importantly the Freels Family.

Overlooked Blogs Collection - Beyond the Pale Gate

It's been a long time since I highlighted an overlooked blog, and Beyond the Pale Gate is an excellent yet overlooked blog.  I'm sure part of that is the age - it's fairly new.  Despite it's young age, it goes fairly deep in it's view of RPGs.  Heck, it even recently look at Alternity.  A nice trip down an otherwise rarely look at part of Memory Lane.  I've literally spent the last hour digging through it's archives.  His  thoughts on 5e mirror my own.

David has good taste in blogs, too.  Heck, he highlighted my talk on critical hits, for which I thank him.

Give Beyond the Pale Gate a peek.  You won't regret it.

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