Saturday, September 13, 2014

Most of Us Seem to Have a Default Class / Race When We Play - What is Yours?

Although I always offer to play whatever the party wants or needs, the truth is I have my comfort zone - I tend towards human or dwarf for the race (although I do enjoy playing the occasional halfling) and the class is usually cleric, fighter or a cleric / fighter multiclass (or just a cleric that considers himself a front line fighter - sometimes wisdom doesn't apply across the board.)

I always feel a little awkward playing a magic-user - too few choices at low levels, too many at higher ones. Thieves are okay, but I'd probably never play a straight up thief - multiclassed with magic-user or illusionist though, and that thief just became a stellar thief ;)

Which is strange, because in my early days of gaming, after I played my first fighter (and my first character Cyrus) I don't think I ever went back and played a straight up fighter. The gods themselves know I NEVER played a cleric back in those days. Paladin, ranger, magic-user and the occasional bard from Dragon #56. Sure, I DMed a lot more than I played, but when I did play, vanilla fighters or clerics were not on my list of what to play.

These days I have a 1st level DCC Warrior and a 1/1 Dwarven Fighter / Cleric in Swords & Wizardry Complete.

Maybe it's because my first character upon my return to gaming (and my embracing the OSR) was a Dwarven Cleric in Castles & Crusades in an online Fantasy Grounds 2 Campaign who happened to be the best combatant in the party.

Or maybe it's because I just happen to like dwarves...

Do you have a default class / race when you play?

Can there be "Too Much Tenkar?"

If all goes well, episode 2 of Tenkar & The Badger should get released on iTunes and such this weekend. Crossing fingers and other superstitious necessities. This is the +Harley Stroh episode that threw format and preplaned sections out the window. Yes, this is where +Jason Paul McCartan and I realized you could "sandbox" a podcast.  And there was great rejoicing.

Episode 3, the +Zach Glazar episode, should follow in about a week, assuming the stars align and no major shit happens. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that shit.

There should also be "something else" that may release on Monday. Similar yet different. I've said all I can say - I can say no more (unless someone gives me permission to say more.)

So, too much Tenkar?


As I side note I'm nearly 1,000 unread emails in the hole. So, if you emailed me and I haven't responded, it's probably because I haven't read it. Sorry. Working to catch up as work becomes slightly more manageable on the side of "real life."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kickstarter - Time of the Dying Stars: Book One (Small Niche Games)

+Pete Spahn is at it again. Yep, he's got another Kickstarter out, this time for fiction in the World of Amherth plus gaming material. Time of the Dying Stars: Book One stars a dwarf named Tenkar showcases a dwarf named Tenkar a dwarf named Tenkar makes an appearance in the story. Now, that in and of itself should sell this Kickstarter, but wait, there's more:

Yet another Spahn, +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games, will be contributing Labyrinth Lord classes to the project. Two Spahns, not related except for love of the game.
Time of the Dying Stars: Book One is the first of three books set in the City of Dolmvay. It is a collection of interlinked short stories that follow the events leading up to an ancient prophecy. This novella provides insights into the city's politics, religions, and the lives of everyday citizens. It also features cameos of favorite NPCs such as Tenkar the Tavernkeep, Dyson the Cartographer, and others. Time of the Dying Stars: Book One is a must-have for OSR Game Masters running adventures in the City of Dolmvay.
The Kickstarter went up today with a modest goal of $500. as I type this it sits at $479 in less than 24 hrs, with a full month to go.

+Pete Spahn 's work speaks for itself. Grab the PWYW City of Dolmvay and see what Pete's previous Kickstarter has wrought :)

Gaming Future - "Uncle, I Want to be a Dragon!"

My not quite 4 year old niece was over on Tuesday and she decided she wanted to "see trains" about 20 minutes before 7pm, which gave me 20 minutes to walk to the pedestrian overpass, catch a rush hour train or two and get back in time for my scheduled Skype call with +Vincent Florio .

We caught two trains (and just missed a diesel) before I told the young lady we had to head back home.


"I have a phone call with a friend in a few minutes, and we need to go now."

"Whose your friend?"


"Where does Vince live?"


"Mommy has a friend that lives in Texas. Only one friend in each state. Vince needs to live in... Tennessee!"

"Heh. I'll let him know."

"Whatcha gonna talk to Vince about Uncle?"

"Well, we are going to talk about Dungeons & Dragons."

"What's Dumgems & Dragons?"

"It's a game where you play heroes, and the heroes explore the wilderness or the underground and they beat up monsters (I left out the -and take their stuff - part)"

"I wanna be a monster! I wanna be a dragon! Or a troll! Or a dinosaur! Or a alligator! Can I be a dragon, uncle?"

"Sure Pinky, You can be a dragon."

"Uncle, can you teach me about Dumgems & Dragons when I get older. 'Cause I'm only 3 now."

"Heh. Yes Pinky. I'll teach you about Dungeons & Dragons whenever you want. Remember uncle's dice, and your own dice? You use those dice in Dungeons & Dragons."

"I'm going to breath fire!" and she proceeded to puff her cheeks four times, blowing out air before taking a needed breath for the next puff.

She's not yet four, and already she has the gaming bug and an amazing imagination.

Something tells me she will be gaming sooner than later...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Session Playtest - The Unmaking Campaign - Swords & Wizardry

I run Swords & Wizardry fairly regularly, but it is rare that I get to actually play in a session. Come to think of it, NTRPG Con was my first session of S&W as a player. Damn.

So, when +Jason Paul McCartan asked me to join the playtest of his forthcoming The Unmaking Campaign for S&W, I was all over it like a pig in mud.

The playtesters besides myself are +James Aulds , +Zach Glazar , +Nathaniel Hull and +joseph browning . Yep, you may recognize some of those names. Needless to say, Jason has his hands full ;)

I'm playing a Dwarven fighter / cleric. Actually, our party is well rounded with fighter and thief types and even a monk. No magic-user, which may be a problem down the line, or not.

I don't want to give too much away, as it is a playtest of an upcoming product, but there were some highlights - quotes even - that should be shared.

- "Religious Looting" - when the dwarven fighter / cleric entered the abandoned tavern and immediately started liberating the casks of ale BEFORE looking for signs of survivors (or the dead)

- "Man can live on ale, but feed a man just bread and he will die of thirst." - direct quote from above dwarven cleric when asked about his obsession with ale and his desire to feed town-folks with it before considering actual food.

- "Stay behind the halfling!" - when you think about it, that can never be a good situation

- "If you are going to die, die in front of a church." Yep. Been there and done did. Ouch!

I really need to sit down with Jason and decide how much of the story I can divulge. I don't want to give away any secrets but I do want to share some of the excellent scenario Jason has shown us thus far.

edit - I forgot the follow:  "He dropped like a Tenkar."

Idle Thoughts and Dulled Senses

Four pints and two shots. For some reason, this day get's harder, not easier, as time goes on. Good food and good company was had at the pub. My wife and son kept me good company, and my bartender John understood the meaning of the day.

I am behind in many things. OSR Superstar is awaiting the responses of the judges for the final round. I have not been hounding them, as work on my end has been hot and heavy. My daily posting has been cut in half from the usual numbers over the summer, and not just for lack of free time. I am mentally exhausted. I should prod them I think. PROD!

Emails have gone unread in some cases for weeks. Again, it's as much lack of time as it is lack of energy with what little time I have free. Retirement can not come soon enough.

As I told my wife over lunch, I don't drink on this day to forget what I saw, heard, and learned on 9-11-01. I drink to take the edge off the pain. To fuzz out some of the details. Forgetting even a moment of the day would be a crime, and I refuse to do so.

+Jason Paul McCartan is running a game tonight. I'm playing in it. Jason, you are so fucked ;)

Dedicated to Paul Benedetti - Lost 9-11-01 - Friend and Gamer

Today is 9-11.  13 years after 9-11-01.

If I had responded to the actual mobilization point I was supposed to arrive at, there might be nine more names to read of those that were lost that day. I was supposed to arrive at the foot of Tower 2, but never made it past the masses of folks near City Hall that were already fleeing the Towers.

I lost a good friend that day. I had 4 good friends that worked in and around the World Trade Center on 9-11-01. Three walked miles and miles to get home that day. One never made it home. All were from my core group of gaming buddies and best friends dating back to High School.

Paul, you are sorely missed. You were there when the towers were attacked in '93, and I remember hearing about the 70+ flights you had to walk down. The second time they were hit you never had that opportunity.

Roll those dice and roll them well. The rest of us will join you when our time comes, and we'll pick up where we left off.

Rest well.

Paul Benedetti, age 32 when taken too early.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bundle of Holding - Ptolus and More (Monte Cook)

There is a campaign worth of material in Ptolus for those that want to spend a campaign exploring a city. Over 800 pages of city based campaign material. Damn!

I have the hardcover version of Ptolus, and it is good. I'll probably never run it as it, but that doesn't make it any less good. I really do need to mine it for it's bit's and pieces.

You also get the Player's Guide to Ptolus, The Banewarrens, Chaositech, The Night of Dissolution and two Campaign Journals. All for $19.95 when you grab the Ptolus Bundle of Holding

Beat the average and you get:

Books of Experimental Might I (retail $9) and II ($7)
Complete Book of Eldritch Might (retail $13):
Books of Hallowed Might I (retail $6) and II ($7)

Not sure if beating the average is needed for the OSR crew interested in Ptolus, but what you get in the basic package is pretty damn good.

First WotC 5e "Cease & Desist?"

Thanks to +Tony T for the heads up.

Link to the post at 5e Spellbook Generator

Here's the text in full:
Dear Fellow RPG fans, 
Thank you guys for supporting my work and spreading it out through the multiverse. I am glad it has gotten enough attention to have finally garnered a cease order from Wizards of the Coast. 
Unfortunately, I would not like to make any real legal trouble to myself, so I have taken down the spellbook generator as it is. I will be providing (give me a week or so) the code as open source, not including any database with the spell information. If at any time, the Wizards decides to release an OGL for 5e, I will be more than happy to bring this back online. 
I am really touched by how many people have sent me inquiries already about the spellbook generator. If you guys would like to continue to support the right and need for players to have tools such as this, feel free to email Wizards of the Coast and voice your concerns! As a DM and a player I wanted a tool in which to help my group out and together, a ton of you guys came and made that dream come true. As much as I understand why I was served a cease order, I am also saddened at the need for it. This generator did not help you play the game at all, it just made it so that you as a player could easily go through the beautiful content Wizards has provided. You still needed a PHB to play, so you've already given Wizards your money. 
Good luck to all you gamers out there. This will not be the last you have heard of the spellbook generator! For other resources, feel free to check the about page. Use them until Wizards takes them down too!

Philip Vuong 
*UPDATE* - Open source code available here. 
NOTE TO WIZARDS - I am only open sourcing the code that I have written and own. I will not be distributing any underlying database or datasource containing the spell information to populate the application.

How Magical Should a Setting Be?

I'm not asking if there should be magic in a setting. This is fantasy roleplaying, and magic items are the default there. Instrad, what I'm asking is "how much magic should there be/"

Obviously, this is a personal taste type of question, and the answer may change depending on the type of campaign one wants to run.

For me, it's whether or not you are going to embrace the idea of a "golf bag of magic swords." As a DM, you need to have an answer for that question before you kick off the campaign. As I am currently running Castle of the Mas Archamage with one of my two groups, the answer is simple. I (and my party) are embracing it. I might need to drop in a "golf bag of holding" while I'm at it, as the swords are accumulating for my party (although little else is - it may just be the paths they've chosen throughout the mega dungeon).

So, is magic "rare and magical" or "abundantly marvelous" or something in between in your campaigns?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How Balanced Should Encounters Be?

4e had a fairly precise formula on how to properly balance and design encounters. 0e had none. I suspect 5e will have some, but we won't see exactly what it is before the new DMG releases.

With all that being said, how important are balanced encounters? Is it more important to have balanced encounters with new players that are just getting their sea legs than for experienced gamers?

Does edition have much to do with balanced encounters? Would 4e break if adventure writers strayed from the formula?

If you favor unbalanced encounters, is the overall adventure balanced? This would be my preferred method of play FYI.

Do you as a DM / GM give hints to your players that they might be in over their heads?

Just a few not so random Monday morning questions...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guest Poster - Review - Adventures in the East Mark (Pat G)

(the following is presented by a GUEST POSTER)

A great many years ago, an old Welshman, told me in lilting Celtic tones of a mysterious game unlike any other he had seen before. A game a young lad such as myself might be interested in.  There was only one place to find it in the city - a shop in a rough area frequented by purveyors of illegal substances and women, and no doubt men, of easy virtue. The shop had a turreted front entrance, with an iron grate for a door. The hairy, bearded proprietors were known to be surly but would part with goods if plied with money.

If this sounds like the beginning of a quest, it was. The trip to that store marked my introduction to D&D and role playing in general.  The "old" Welshman was probably only in his early 40's and was in the same amateur theatre group as my parents. The store was indeed as described, the legendary Fandom II in its first location on Rideau street in Ottawa. The proprietors were more slightly grumpy hippy than  surely dwarf though.  A school friend and I started with the original box set, made a quick detour through basic and Red Box and settled into AD&D for all of high school.

A lot of game free years had passed when a few years ago, we started a family game of  3.5 with my daughters and a couple of friends. This was great fun but how the system had changed, multi-class, prestige classes,  feats, races beyond count and rolls for everything.  It was great fun but as campaigns do, it died a natural death.  I am mostly a historical miniatures player but that campaign left a hankering for some rpg. Pathfinder was more of the same as 3.5 and 4th ed - frankly I never liked superhero games. Bouncing around the gaming related parts of the internet exposed me to something called OSR - Old School Rules. Since I am now old and I like rules it seemed worth looking into. OSR lead to me finding an odd chap named Tenkar on G+ who runs some sort of on line tavern and a hangout that lead to a shiny PDF of Adventures in the East Mark landing on my hard drive.

So as someone coming back into RPGs after a long absence, what can I say about Adventures in the East Mark? Adventures in the East Mark is an English translation of the original Spanish Aventuras en la Marca Del Este. Developed by Pedro Gil and others as an updated version of the Red Box, it achieved such success in Spain that a kickstarter was setup to translate it into English. Initial impressions  i.e. the cover art, were nice - Red Box all over again - but 143 pages? Red Box was never that big was it? And then I "cracked the cover" or  in reality scrolled to pages 2 and 3 and saw the map of East Mark. Definitely echoes of Tolkien but also all those other fantasy realm posters of my youth, not too technical not overdone,  just wonderful.  This required an immediate scroll through the whole thing. East Mark is filled with page after page of artwork. There is everything from marginalia to full page spreads.   It captures the classical fantasy feel without being as "old skool" as the original monster manual cover.  This is a very, very pretty book.

So while pretty is nice, what's inside?  If you are familiar with the OGL (Open Games License) project, you will find no real surprises in the mechanics. Six attributes, 3d6 each giving simple bonuses.  Nine Character classes including Elf, Halfling and Dwarf all nods to the "race as class roots" of D&D give you plenty of scope to customize your character without burying him or her in minutia.  Levels are limited to 20, lower for the race-classes, with higher to be added in later boxes - just like the original.  This is not an issue for me because, I always preferred the low level campaigns.

The equipment section hearkens back to first edition roots with the trident being the most exotic of the weapons. Non-combat related items are extensive including numerous transport options. As with all sections of the book, the illustrations are simple but of very high quality.

The battle sequence is nicely laid out 10 minute turns broken into 60 - 10 second assaults making spell durations easy to remember. Combat is IGOUGO based on a party initiative roll though individual initiative is offered as an optional rule. Attacks are carried out using a D20 roll on a level vs AC matrix chart with modifiers for strength and weapon bonuses. Damage is by weapon type again with modifiers. Monster have a slightly different chart based on hit dice. There are a few modifiers for light level and changing weapons and the much vaunted two weapon combat is dealt with in one simple sentence. Criticals are relegated to an optional rule. Miniatures and grids are mentioned but again are optional.  Missile combat is exactly the same as close combat but with a few appropriate extras like aimed shots.  Very straight forward. Oddly for such a simple system, mounted combat, aerial combat and underwater combat all get a few lines.

Healing is also very straight forward; 1d4 per day of full rest, no surges, no non-magical shortcuts. Saving throws for various attacks are by class and level which results in 9 separate if small tables. This is a little out of keeping with the simplicity of the rest of the rules but then the players need only consult the table for their character class. At the end of the combat rules is a section on maritime travel and combat which I suspect is due to the nature of the East Mark world.

Moving on to magic. As expected, Magic users spells have to be memorized and once they are cast they're gone until you can sit down for a bit with your grimoire. Clerics get to pick and choose, drawing on divine power as needed.  Elves get spells as magic users up to 10th level and Paladins act as mini-clerics. The spells list are extensive and are laid out by class and level for easy access. They cover the usual range of harming, healing and informational spells. There is enough variety in the lists to allow players to customize their character without the need for specific sub-classes like healer or elementalist.

The Adventures and Misadventures section gives some basic information on organizing your party and adventuring in the outdoors or under it. Strangely, how to deal with traps is found here rather than with the rest of the thief class information. There is a very useful section on hirelings, were to find them, what they come equipped with and how much their starting salary is (by race no less). A useful tidbit  for any system.

Moving onto loot, the Magical Objects and Treasures section  shows  how much loot to give out by hit die of foe defeated and duplicates the monetary exchange table found in the equipment section. Non-coin based treasure is covered in a useful level of detail. Magical items range from simple +1 and buff items through scrolls and potions and onto a few Wondrous Objects. Not a large section, it is geared toward giving the narrator the ideas and information to customize objects to a specific campaign.

Monsters - remember how I mentioned this is a very pretty book? The monsters are especially so. Most creatures in this section have an accompanying illustration with only the slimes, jellies and fungoids  left to the reader's imagination. The style varies from the cartoonish Gibbering Gobber to a Gnoll worthy of display in a gallery and that's all on one page.  What is never lacking in the art is the old school feel.  In terms of the monsters themselves, all the classics are here from Ankheg to Zombie with a few East Mark specific monsters for seasoning. There are also some guidelines for customizing and creating monsters.

With the foundations out of the way, the book moves onto describing The East Mark proper. Over a handful of pages the reader is given a little of the history and geography of the East Mark without giving so much away that the narrator is confined by it. If you will, the history is a frame to support the beautiful maps mentioned earlier rather than a box to confine the narrator.

Rounding out the book are two adventures suitable for starting characters. They can be played in order or as standalone adventures. They should give starting players a taste of what to expect and a chance to learn the rules and exercise their skills. Finally there is a list of the backers who supported the translation. They all deserve thanks for spreading East Mark to the English speaking world. Oh and more beautiful maps at the very end.

I would like to mention a comment I have seen in other reviews of East Mark, and that is concerns about the use of the metric system in this game.  Having grown up with proper British Imperial measurement and moved on to metres and litres, all I can say is a metre is close enough to a yard so get over it. Five foot step or 1 metre (3 foot)  shuffle, it really doesn't matter as long as you are consistent.

This is where I was going to write a bit about why an old timer or newcomer should pickup Adventures in the East Mark. Having gotten this far, I discovered that what is commonly called "1st ed" by some parts of the OSR community refers to first edition Advanced D&D and not the original D&D three book white box I started with. So I went off to take a look at that paragon of  "1st ed" rules reborn - Osric.  Osric is very much like the AD&D I remember and then some. It is a great set of rules in its own right.  But Adventures in the East Mark offers something else: intimacy. In East Mark, the rules cover the basics and little more. In AD&D and its descendants including Osric, there is a rule for almost everything and the GM is there to enforce the rules. If you want to do something different you have to talk to the narrator and work it out together. As a grey bearded grognard more concerned with playing than winning, this is what I like so much about East Mark. Rather than putting the GM and players on opposing sides of the table, Adventures in the East Mark lets the GM say "Hey, let's go explore this world I made".

Highly Recommended

Pat Gilliland http://irregularwarbandfast.blogspot.com/

(there is also a PWYW quickstart of The Adventures in the East Mark which you can get at the link)

An Indiegogo That Won't Liftoff - Traveller LIFTOFF RPG

I really enjoyed the heck out of Traveller back in it's early days. I started with the black box Starter Set and was soon anding booklets for all of the professions, adventures and more. My experience with Mongoose Traveller is limited, but it seems that for the most part, it stays true to the eraliest edition of Traveller.

When I stumbled across the Traveller LIFTOFF RPG site a few months ago, I was pretty excited that the German licensee of Traveller wanted to put out an accessible Starter Box for Mongoose Traveller. I figured if it ever came out, I'd be on it like a pig in mud.

Color me surprised when I saw there was an Traveller LIFTOFF Indiegogo project for said Starter Box. Fixed funding too, so if they don't reach their goal, they don't get your money. The way it should be.

Color me extremely disappointed when the mentioned goal was 100,000 euros (today that converts to $130,000 US). For Traveller. Seriously, it's a fine game but the following just isn't there. After a week they've raised less than 2,400 euros. With just over 3 weeks left to go, they'll be lucky to hit 10,000 euros. So yes, this project is not going to happen - at least not at this point in the game.

If this were to succeed, the boxed set would start at $65 US. Which seems like a lot for a game where you can get the digest sized rules for $20. There really doesn't seem to be enough added value in the box and certainly not enough to raise $130,000 to get this off the ground.
What happens if LIFTOFF doesn’t get funded? 
We do want to share our dream of introducing new and young players to Traveller, but at the same time we have to be realistic. So what happens, if we don’t reach our funding goal? Indiegogo will automatically return your investment. Of course it also means there won’t be a LIFTOFF box. 
However, we will keep the Players’ Handbook and the Referee’s Handbook as plain text documents available for download at 13Mann’s website. No further changes will be made to the documents though and there won’t be any illustrations or deckplans available.
If nothing else, the rules are free. Here's the link to the rules of the Traveller Boxed Set that will not happen.
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