Saturday, August 31, 2013

An OSR Styled Game That Fits on a Single Sheet? Dungeon Delvers (PWYW)

I've often thought about stripping down an OSR styled ruleset to it's very essence, in an attempt to get it to as few pages as possible.

+Brent Newhall has gotten it down to a single sheet of paper with Dungeon Delvers, and I'm impressed. A few d6 and a single sheet of paper and you can experience some old school gaming. Will it be as complete as S&W, LL or one of the others? No, of course not. It would make for an excellent game to run at a convention tho' - print out a half dozen copies of the rules, provide some d6s and you are ready to go.

It's priced as Pay What You Want - so you can grab it for free and then throw a few coppers in the virtual RPGNow tip jar if you find it valuable.

At some point I'll need to run a playtest session to see how this works in actual play, not just in quick read, but it looks playable and the price is certainly right.

From the blurb:

Dungeon Delvers is an ultra-portable one-page D&D variant.

Dungeon Delvers packs a lot into one page: rules for attacks and saves, 4 classes, 3 races, spells, healing, conditions, and monsters. The system uses only a d6. There'll even be a rock-paper-scissors system for rolling a d6!

Here's what you'll get:

A two-page PDF containing the rules on one page, and an expanded spell list on the second page. The spell list includes spells for wizards and clerics levels 1 through 3 (that's a lot of play time).

A one-page PocketMod PDF of the rules that can be printed and folded into a booklet that will fit in your pocket.
An .azw3 file containing the rules and expanded spell list, for use on newer Kindles.
A .mobi file containing the rules and expanded spell list, for use on older Kindles.
An .epub file containing the rules and expanded spell list, for use on iPads and other eReaders.
The System

All rolls are 1d6. Roll 1d6 each for the 6 classic abilities. Attack rolls succeed on 5-6. All other rolls are ability rolls, which succeed if they roll less than or equal to the relevant ability. Ability rolls are used both as skill checks and as saves.

Fighters deal extra hits per level, rogues get a bonus on ability rolls, wizards get one spell per level to use at-will, and clerics can cast any one spell of their choice once per day (more at higher levels).

Quotes From Gary Gygax's Role-playing Mastery - Designing Games, 'Cause Everyone is Doing It

What follows is a short quote:
"Before a single rule is written or even thought about, the designer must make three important decisions concerning his game-to-be - its genre, its period and its scope." p138, Role=playing Mastery, Gary Gygax
First, I'm surprised there is even a chapter on Designing Your Own Game in Role-playing Mastery. Not that it surprises me that folks would want to do so - I had a tile type dungeon game I designed 20+ years ago (long gone) that was part board game / party RPG. Many players are frustrated game designers to some extend. It just seems like the waste of a chapter, as it doesn't go nearly deep enough into the topic to be of much worth.

That being said, the above quote could be easily used with the idea of "campaign design". Rappan Athuk vs Barrow Maze vs Razor Coast vs Blood Island vs Greyhawk vs  Wampus Country vs Forgotten Realms vs etc... each plays out very differently using the same or similar rules.

"Know your players" and the rest should fall into place.

Friday, August 30, 2013

First Look - Whitehack - Old School With Some New School

I must admit, for a person who suddenly has much less free time on his hands I have a
plethora of excellent RPG systems to read. I'm not just talking the big guys of Numenera and 13th Age, but Five Ancient Kingdoms and now Whitehack.

Whitehack does have one huge advantage over the rest - it's a mere 32 pages (less the OGL).

I'm dead tired after the 7 hr install session that was Fios (all hail Fios), but after visiting my mother in law tomorrow afternoon, I plan to give this a solid read.

Much thanks to +Christian Mehrstam for putting a copy in my hands. My cat appreciates it too ;)

Indiegogo Fundraiser for Chris Pramas - Cadaver Bone, A Dark Fantasy Anthology

I don't read hardly as much fiction these days as I used to, but I'll gladly read some to support a good cause.

I do wonder what +Chris Pramas will do if he blows past his 10K goal to support his surgery. Maybe a fund to support game creators in similar circumstances?

Here's a brief summary from the Cadaver Bone Indiegogo page:

Short Summary
Would you like 17 short stories from award-winning writers of novels, games, comics, TV shows, and movies? And would you like to help me pay for spinal surgery? Read on! 
My name is Chris Pramas and I've been working as a game designer, writer, and publisher for the past 20 years. I am the founder and president of Green Ronin Publishing, and you may have enjoyed games of ours like Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age, A Song of Ice and Fire, and DC Adventures. I need an operation and my insurance is not going to cover all the expenses.

I have a pinched nerve in my neck and I’m going to get a double spine fusion operation in September to fix it. My insurance will not cover the whole thing so I have turned to author friends to put together a dark fantasy fiction anthology called Cadaver Bone. Each author is donating a brand new story and the proceeds will go to paying my medical bills. I’m going to have cadaver bone in my neck; you should get Cadaver Bone for your favorite e-reader! 
Confirmed authors for the Cadaver Bone anthology are: Cecil Castellucci, Christopher Robert Cargill, Richard Dansky, Ed Greenwood, Matt Forbeck, David Gaider, Steve Kenson, John Kovalic, Robin D. Laws, Jess Lebow, Colin McComb, Chris Pramas, John Rogers, Lucien Soulban, Melinda Thielbar, John Scott Tynes, and James Wallis. See below for bios of all the authors. They are a talented bunch and I am so grateful for their help. 

Home Today Having Fios Installed - Which Will Mean at Some Point - No Internet - Scary!

Even the idea of having no internet for just a few hours is strangely unnerving. Until I remember I have my Clear Wireless Internet Hub - lol ;)

Seriously, how do these D&D adventuring party's go anywhere without Google Maps, GPS, google search for the monsters' weaknesses, finding the location of a good inn and all of the other goodies ;)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

When is a "Kickstarter" NOT a Kickstarter? When it's The Unspeakable Oath Subscription Drive (CoC)

The RPG that I plan to get some serious mileage out of next year (and maybe this year in late October) is Call of Cthulhu. I supported the Orient Express Kickstarter for it and I'm dying to get some play out of it.

So when I saw The Unspeakable Oath (a CoC mostly quarterly magazine) was having a subscription drive, I had to jump in and jump start my CoC gaming.

Four issues in print and PDF for 30 bucks plus shipping is a steal. Bonuses added in for subscribers as certain subscriber totals are met? It's like having stretch goals for an already complete project ;)

Do you need a better reason to get one of the higher quality gaming magazines on the market?

A Look Back at the Diverse Selection of RPGs I Ran "Back in the Day"

I played just about ever RPG back in my high school and college days, and when I say I played just everything, I mean I ran just about anything - I was the main DM / GM in the group.

Regretfully, I no longer seem to have the affinity to quickly pick up and understand diverse rulesets these days. In my younger days, I ranged far and wide:

MERP - I still remember some crazy NPC chasing the party yelling "Bola?!? Bola? You want bola? I give you bola!" as they ran in terror. This morphed into Rolemaster, which then killed the campaign under too many rules

Swordbearer - we never got further than character generation regretfully, but I did use the Dwarven Halls adventure in AD&D.

Star Ace / Timemaster / Chill / Sandman - I ran them all, but I do vividly remember a player's space fighter being destroyed around him, and he was left floating alive in space during the battle.

Traveller - more character generation than anything else, but I did run a few one or two shots - the planned campaign never seemed to materialize.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - we had a campaign that lasted for months, before the party's spell caster inadvertently cast a fireball with himself as ground zero. Did I mention he carried like a dozen glass flasks of oil?

Paranoia - OMFG, but this was a blast to run. Killing players without remorse - Here come the clones! Amazing in small doses.

Top Secret - fun for one shots, there was little interest in playing this more than a handful of times.

Gamma World 1e - I think we played a 2nd session, but I'm not sure. There just wasnt much love for it in my group. First game I bought with my own money as a teenager (during my first trip to the Complete Strategist in Manhattan).

Star Trek (FASA) - tried to use it in conjunction with the Command Deck game for it - we never got to a second session.

Mechanoids - a single session

Palladium Fantasy - we played the digest sized published adventure with the red cover - and always talked about going back to it but never did.

Call of Cthulhu - a handful of one-shots, usually in October

Runequest - I got the 3rd edition of the rules for Christmas one year and never understood the sorcery rules. Grabbed the 2e rules, Pavis and Big Rubble at a con at Columbia University, and ran 2e for a summer and then some as a sandbox type setting. Fun times.

Conan (TSR) - ran a few sessions before we all decided we preferred D&D by far. Wasn't even fun as a change of pace.

GURPS - always wanted to run it more then I ever got the chance to, two campaigns ended in the first session with TPKs. Ah well.

Elric - one session. It deserved more, but I dont think any of us had a handle on the setting and expectation at that time.

Champions - this was the boxed set. Balancing the powers got way too confusing. I've never enjoyed supers games much anyway.

Spacemaster - I ran this for a two player group for the better part of a year. Still don't think I knew half the rules, but it didn't keep us from playing and having fun.

Cyborg Commando - The Complete Guide to RPGs gives this 3 1/2 * - I give it 4 shits. My God, but this was awful. I can't believe I made my group even try to play it, but we did. I'm still trying to live it down.

The Morrow Project - one of my players really wanted to play this, so he gave me his rules. We got as far as character generation. Ah well.

Pendragon - we tried, really we did. Not enough stuff to kill for my old group ;)

Toon - I ran a few sessions when the group was short a player or two. It was a fun change of pace.

Boot Hill - we ran a session that seemed more like a single unit miniatures war game. No one wanted a second bite of the apple.

The above is a fairly complete list - I suspect there are a few I've inadvertently missed. Still amazes me that I had a decent handle on such a diverse selection of rules.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Quotes From Gary Gygax's Role-playing Mastery - The Creator - The... Kirk ;)

Another quote from Role-playing Mastery:
"The game master is the creator, organizer, and arbiter of all. His most important functions during play, though, are more mundane. He is nature. He provides sensory data, and finally he fills the roles of the living things the PCs interact with during the course of the session." Role-Playing Mastery, page 48, Gary Gygax
What sticks out to me is the "sensory data" part of the quote. This doesn't mean just sights and sounds, but even touch and smell.

Back in '93, at my one and only GenCon, one of the GMs we had for the tournament we went through was in a wheel chair. I never asked if it was a permanent or temporary situation for her, as the question would have been damn awkward, but I suspected it was the former.

In any case, she had a sense that she was hooked on describing - the sense of smell. Cooking, burning, blooming, rotting - she nailed them all with verbal descriptions that brought the actual smells to mind. Which was scary in a way, as they didn't seem to be integral to the plot (and I suspected she was filling these parts in on her own) but that sense of smell made the session she ran seem more real than any of the others I played in over those four days. Maybe the most real of any session I've ever played in.

Strange, we speak of "gamer funk" at cons and how it assails out nostrils, but we often forget to use that same sense of smell when describing events and such in our game sessions.

Haven't thought of that in a while. Interesting what a single quote from a book can dig up in one's memories.

Mini Review - The Dungeon Alphabet - Expanded Third Printing

+Vincent Florio another post with Ashley, just for you ;)

I have the original printing of The Dungeon Alphabet packed away somewhere, but I saw the expanded third printing last Friday when I was at The Complete Strategist here in NYC. I had to grab the new copy.

The shit rocks even more than before.

Like tables? It's got you covered.

Michael Curtis captures a piece of the soul of the OSR and smacks it down on a page and then does it again and again, consistently.  Did I mention the Erol Otis art?

The PDF version on RPGNow says it has 48 pages, but it's actually updated to the 3rd edition - so it's 64 pages or so. If you bought it in PDF back in the day like I did, you can download the updated version for free. That's damn cool!

If you don't have a copy, you probably should.

From the blurb:

An A-to-Z Reference for Classic Dungeon Design

Now updated to the same text as the third printing! This newly expanded version includes 16 additional pages of content, new endsheets, and new interior illustrations!

Designing dungeons is as easy as A, B, C! The Dungeon Alphabet compiles twenty-six classic dungeon design elements in one place to assist the game master in creating subterranean challenges. A is for Altar, B is for Books, and C is for Caves: the Dungeon Alphabet has advice, hints, and randomized tables that bring new life to your adventures. Suitable for any rules system, the entries are accompanied by outstanding art from classic fantasy illustrators, with a foreword by noted game designer Zeb Cook

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Last Week Was My Lowest Post Count Since 2011 - I'm Failing My Initiative Rolls ;)

Work has been busy this summer, and it's been keeping me rather busy, as you can tell from my slowly decreasing post count here on the blog. Maybe I just need better time management skills ;)

In any case, I was going to try and organize a Virtual Con type of thing for mid to late September for Swords & Wizardry, but with VirtuaCon 13 the weekend of October 18-20 it seems kinda redundant. I've noticed a fair share of Old School and OSR games recruiting on VirtuaCon 13, so maybe a nice cold weekend in the winter, when no one wants to leave the comfort of their home anyway for the S&W Online Weekend. Work has to calm down by then, right?

The Unofficial OSR Zine's release is getting pushed back to late September / Early October at this point. We have some excellent submissions that I need to organize and well as an article or two to write myself before moving this over to the layout god. If you know of an easy way to grow my own fully mature clone to speed this up, let me know.

A DCC RPG Appreciation Day / Week was penciled in to mid October, but maybe moving that to November to avoid overlapping with VirtuaCon 13. I do have vacation the week of Thanksgiving.

Yep, I need a clone. Simulacrum would want to kill me the moment it knew I exist if I recall correctly, so science over magic in this case ;)

Rediscovered Book - The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games by Rick Swan (published 1990)

It's amazing what a little emergency cleaning before the installation of Fios can dig up ;)

The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games by Rick Swan was apparently an 88 cent pick up at Odd-Job (pretty sure that discount chain is defunct now).

Sweet cover art by Phil Foglio too.

Looking at some random reviews:

GURPS 4 stars (4 seems to be max)

Rolemaster 2 1/2 stars

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes 3 1/2 stars

Role Aids 3 stars (wasn't this a line of supplements and modules for use with (A)D&D?

Tunnels & Trolls 3 stars

AD&D 4 stars

High Colonies 2 1/2 stars (never heard of it)

High Fantasy 1 1/2 stars (ouch - and never heard of it)

Supervillains 1 star (Bamn! Pow!)

Alright, I may have to alternate some pulls from this book with EGG's Role-playing Mastery for future postings...

Anyone Know Where This Amazing Dwarf Came From?

I was just sent this in my email by a friend who stumbled across it on the net.

Anyone know the artist? Source (book, game, etc)

This is SO much my vision of Tenkar Calishun it just isn't funny :)

You Hit it on the Head! Helmets in 1e

I was listening to the Roll for Initiative podcast on the commute to work this morning, and they brought up one of the obscure rules for helmets in AD&D 1e - intelligent adversaries attacking an unarmored head 50% of the time.

As such, I remember we always bought helmets for our PCs and then had no use for the rule.

The thing is, I always thought of the AD&D combat system as abstract - it wasn't blow by blow and it didn't have hit locations, so this rule is a rule that kind of breaks the rules that were already in place by default.

Did you / do you use the unarmored head gets the shit beat out of it rule when running you AD&D / OSR games? Why / why not?

(damn, I should ask about "weapon speed" in a later post ;)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Character Class as a Role - or - Niche Protection Before MMORPGs

Tallifer made a comment in regards to my previous post that became a bit "thought provoking" for me. Here's the relevant bit:
"It is interesting that you recognize the existence of roles even in old school games."
Here's the deal Tal - we recognized the roles the different classes played in the game, even if we didn't label them Tank, DPS, Controller, Healer and the like. The roles changes for the classes as the game and character levels progressed.

Fighters (and their subclasses) were the front line fighters and the main damage bringers for at least the first few levels, before liberal use of fireballs and lightning bolts changed that balance. They had both the hit points and armor class to hang with the big baddies.

Clerics were always the premier healers. Druids made a poor substitute and Paladins served as little more than a bandade in that role. Hold Person as a 2nd level spell made Clerics decent Controllers at 3rd level and beyond. They could also on occasion fill in for a front line fighter when needed

Thieves were rarely the big damage dealers, but their skills with traps and locks kept the party alive in other ways.

Magic-users were weak as shit for the first few levels (but Sleep was always one hell of a game changer). At 5th level, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Hold Person and the like change much of the DPS and control focus to the simple and fragile Magic-User.

And of course I'm leaving out the multi-classing, UA classes and different race adjustments that sneak into the picture.

This all being said, I don't recall us ever saying "we need X to fill the Y role". Still, you knew a balanced party included one each of the core four classes. While fighter subclasses did a decent job in filling the same niche as a fighter, the druid, assassin and illusionist generally made poor substitutes for their more popular siblings, but in the hands of the right player, even this could be overcome.

So yes, even 30+ years ago, we recognized there were niches or roles that a successful party needed to consider. It just hadn't occurred to us to limit ourselves by labeling the roles like MMOs do, which then carried over in many ways to table top role-playing.

The problem with MMORPGs is that if you aren't the best at what your "role is", then you are wasting the time of everyone else in the party. Limited to 4 slots or 6 or x in the party, you need to make every character count. Which makes MMOs seem more like an exercise in math and statistics than an actual game to me these days.

All of which might have little to nothing to do with Tallifer's excellent quote, but it got me thinking along my own set of ideas on the topic ;)

Do You, As a Player, Have a Preferred Class Type?

I've noticed in my gaming group that some players gravitate towards certain classes or roles.

Arcane caster, any kind of caster, fighter, thief - it seems most players have character types that they feel most comfortable with.

As for myself, I tend to GM more much more often then I play. When I do play, I'm willing to fill any unfilled role the party needs - and if the needs are filled, I'm looking to play a bard or some other class / class combo that can fill multiple roles as they come up. I don't THINK I have a preferred class, but if I did, it would be the "jack of all trades" type of character.

Do you have a favorite class or role to play in a party?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Quotes From Gary Gygax's Role-playing Mastery - About Understanding the Rules

And now a word from the author of Role-Playing Mastery:
"Knowing the rules of the game is not nearly as simple as committing the relevant passages to memory, because memorization does not bring understanding. It is not only important to know what is written in the rules but to also perceive how the parts of the rules fit together and work in harmony with each other. This later task is certainly achievable, but it is not always easy." Gary Gygax, Role-Playing Mastery page 24
It's kinda funny to read the above, as I always thought I had mastered AD&D, but I did so by eliminating weapon speed and not always enforcing spell segments and the like. So long as the changes applied across the board, PCs and adversaries alike, it worked.

When I ran a few DCC RPG story arcs last summer and fall, I didn't realize how little I knew until I ran the first session with characters that actually reached 1st level. I ran a hodgepodge of AD&D and DCC, and it worked, but mostly because I kept the action moving so the players wouldn't readily notice the discrepancies.

This time around, I think my knowledge of the DCC RPG is stronger, but it still has a way to go. I'm one of those that learns better not so much by reading but doing.

I'm also learning how the various twists within the DCC game truly makes it unique, which weren't so obvious to me from reading alone.

In any case, as I (re)read Role-playing Mastery over the next week or so, I'm going to pull out quotes that I find interesting. Hopefully, you will too.

Rediscovered Book - Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax - Multiple GMs / Same Session

I have no idea when I first picked this book up, but judging from the shape of the spine I strongly suspect I never read it. I certainly have no recollection of any of it's contents.

So, I randomly opened it to pages 86 and 87, where Gary talks about "group size" and using GM assistants or even co-GMing. Interesting stuff.

The he says the appropriate ratio is 3 to 4 players per GM / assistant.

Was this really the case back in the early days of OD&D? I remember stories of a dozen players or more being run by one GM.

Heck, last night I safely juggled 7 in my DCC campaign and figure 8 is my safe max. Most groups I've been a part of have had 5 or 6 players plus the GM.

Was running games with multiple GM's actually feasible back in the day? I haven't heard of any games being run in that manner these days.

Damn, I suspect there are a lot of blog topic seeds inside this small book...

Is the Default D&D Next Stat Bonus a +1 Average?

So, I've been looking through Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (not the best name - maybe they should have used +Matt Finch 's Tome of Adventure Design for some other naming ideas). I've just been flipping through thus far, enjoying some of the art (I suspect it's all recycled from different editions, which is cool but a bit jarring at the same time).

Then I came to the supplied pre-gens. Humans have a total stat bonus of + 7, demihumans have a total stat bonus of + 6.

Which means you could simply change all of the DCs and other rolls by one and return the average stat bonus to zero - but then they wouldn't look so heroic I guess.

I dunno, it just kinda stood out and hit me. If the totals were around + 3 or 4, I doubt I would have noticed.

In any case, I am able to read the stat blocks and have a pretty good idea what is going on, so this is still much closer to the D&D I know than 4e ever was.

Highlights From the 2nd Session of "Doom of the Savage Kings" (DCC RPG)

Last week, some amazing die rolls by the party's arcane casters changed the direction and tempo of Doom of the Savage Kings a bit. Gone were the Jarl and his men. Added this session was +Erik Jensen 's gaggle of 4 peasants, handily recruited from the village's lynch mob ;)

Highlights from the session (vague spoilers but spoilers none the less - you have been warned)

- Dealing with the crone and trying to decide which party member would marry her for the help she offered (they decided on one of the "gaggle" of zeros)

- reminding the "lawful" character that killing in innocent so that you can use the now deceased body in a manner benefiting the party is NOT a lawful act ;)

- Looting the Jarl's Hall and finding little of true value

- Dealing with the Jarl's seer, and getting nothing but frustration

- Finding the "box within a box"

- The party Wizard has now cast TWO consecutive spells with a "natural 20". He so badly wanted to leech off of the halfling. I had to point out that even the roll he had would have destroyed half the village with his Scorching Ray, and he would be better ofhf notching it down one result. Sad Wizard. Happy, not burning village and dying villagers.

- Watching one of the "gaggle" get killed from a fellow party member's fumbled attack roll. The funnel finds itself some times.

- The funnel strikes a second time, as a snake-like thing swallowed another member of the "gaggle". And then there were two.

Third session of Doom of the Savage Kings is set for next saturday night.

I'm impressed with how well Google Hangouts / Roll20 handled 7 players (10 characters to start - 8 by the end of the session). Of course, somehow I had forgotten to upload the 2nd and 3rd maps for the adventure - brain fart - but seamlessly did so mid session. Huzzah!
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