Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Characters of Heroic Proportions

If you've been reading this blog lately you know that I have whole-heartedly re-embraced my OD&D roots. I was poring over the Chainmail combat system, thinking about using it for a game, when I discovered something rather significant. This discovery lead me along a thought process I'd like to share.

I was referring back and forth between the LBBs and Chainmail, when I saw this:

"(Magic) Armor subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer."
pg 31 Monsters and Treasure

Now, remember: the d20 combat system was given as an alternative in the LBBs. The default was assumed to be Chainmail, so much of the terminology and processes were taken from that game. In Chainmail, hit dice equated to combat capability, ie the number of attack rolls a combatant made in a given round. So, we see that in Chainmail terms, magic armor actually afforded an opponent fewer opportunities to damage its wearer. A very interesting concept.

As I pondered this, I started thinking about a Warrior (2nd level fighter, 2 HD, 2 attacks) engaged with a Swordsman (3rd level fighter, 3 HD, 3 attacks), carrying a +1 shield. If that rule is applied as written, the Warrior would suffer a -1 hit die penalty from the shield, leaving him with one attack. What if he were a common man, rather than a Warrior? Would the penalty negate his attack all together?

Obviously, the Fantasy Supplement for Chainmail was a rather fast-and-loose adjunct to what were essentially a set of wargame rules. As such, they can't be imported into D&D wholesale. It is clear from reading them, however, that the fantastic was supposed to be Fantastic, and that combating its perils was beyond the province of the common man. It was a job for other fantastic creatures (ie elves) or for men who had achieved a fantastic status: Heroes.

That spirit, that implied threshold between the mundane and the fantastic, and that  only men of heroic character have the mettle to cross it, is something I feel has gone missing from our games. The characters don't have to be heroes in the literary sense of the word, but they should be viewed by the campaign as those who are willing to grapple with the very myths, fairytales, and boogey men of the world, on their turf, in a quest for wealth, fame, and eternal glory.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Redefining the OSR

Anybody reading this, do yourself a favor: do not think the OSR is all about clones. That's what I did. I convinced myself that the only way to get in touch with my gaming roots was with a clone. The clones are awesome and they do an awesome service to our hobby. They get a lot of positive ink in reviews for their "restatement and clarification" of the old rules. That praise is well-earned, because they do collect, codify, and clarify many things that may have been spread across multiple sources. But never make the mistake of thinking that the clones ARE the OSR. They aren't. Technically, OSR stands for Old School Renaissance (or Rules, depending on whom you ask). For me, from now on, it stands for Original Source Rules.

If you can realize and accept that supplements, no matter how many "Official" labels there are attached to them, are just somebody's house rules, then you can really dig in and find your roots. It doesn't matter what your OSR of choice are, get back to the core, the kernel if you will, of them. Then, from there judge the absolute necessity of any additions or changes in a glaring light. If it meets your criteria, then install it, but do so on your terms. I'm all for the D&D at my table being my D&D, but it should always be D&D. Too many additions, changes, and house rules and it becomes a case of "I like a little D&D with my house rules" instead of the other way 'round.

Little Brown Books

As I said in the previous post, I own the LBB's and I have decided to skip the clones and go to the source. This is owed in large part to Philotomy's Musings. He re-opened my eyes to a lot of things, and even opened them to some I'd never seen. Thanks again for that.

Anyway, I want to start out with just the three: Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, and The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. If I use stuff from the supplements and/or periodicals, it will be judged on a case-by-case basis. Nothing comes in whole-cloth. Also, I will be keeping a close guard on my house ruling tendencies. I want house rules to exist to:

a.) Maintain consistency once a table ruling has been made.

b.) Fill in "gaps". I believe these gaps were left intentionally to "force" referees to house rule, thereby making each referee's D&D unique to him.

I do not want to add unnecessarily to the game, so no new player classes. I do not want to change drastically, or worse yet rewrite, systems or subsystems. So, my new magic system will be mothballed with my other house rules. The systems and their subsystems are what make D&D what it is. You see, it occurred to me after I actually named my house rules that it wasn't D&D anymore. I was calling it something else because it was something else. It was based on D&D (through Swords & Wizardry), but it couldn't be rightfully called D&D anymore.

So, I guess I have become a purist. The three LBB's are canon, everything else, whether mine or from another source, gets a long hard look before it gets in. From this post forward, any references I make to D&D are to be understand as referring to the LBBs only. No Greyhawk or other supplemental material.

My House Rules

My house rules are on hiatus. This is indefinite, I may get back to them (gamer ADD is still ADD, after all), or I may not. I have the LBBs, so I have decided to simply use them. I'll expound on this further in my next post. I'm splitting the two posts for clarity.

Misconception Monday: Combat

Combat in D&D was a thorn in my side for a long time. I have a confession: I starting gaming as a wargamer. That being the case, I craved a degree of realism in my gaming, or at least an attempt to make sense. Combat in D&D really and truly does neither, at least when you operate under the misconception that D&D combat models combat.

Let's look at it:

1.) All weapons do d6 damage
2.) Armor makes you harder to hit
3.) The notion of hit points
4.) Time
5.) Initiative

Not only are the points I listed rather ambiguously described (if at all), there are also many things missing from a realistic combat model. Things like variable weapon damage (added in Supplement I), armor should absorb damage rather than make it more difficult to hit the wearer, damage should carry penalties, a one-minute combat round is far too long, and initiative was vague.

Yet, consider this: D&D combat does not model combat. It actually models results. The dice rolls along the way are simply for dramatic tension, it is the result that truly matters. As long as the system arrives at the proper conclusion (ie delivers the proper result based upon the circumstances of the combat), the system did its job. D&D is a game and like any other game it exists to determine the winner of its particular contest. We play Monopoly to drive our loved ones into abject poverty, not to argue over whether the person with the shoe should have a -4 to their roll because they are "walking" around the board.

It is also useful to consider D&D's genesis: it was a miniatures wargame. Delivering a consistent, believable result was Chainmail's goal, as with any wargame. It naturally became D&D's goal as well. I believe this is why combat is one of the most difficult things to house rule in D&D. People are trying to house rule a lack of realism by adding realistic bits and pieces. There isn't a lack of realism, there is an absence of realism. You can't add house rules to something that doesn't exist. If you want more realistic combat in D&D you will have to write it from the ground up, not try to bolt it onto D&D results-modelling combat.

If you wanted to somehow house rule some X factor into the formula that delivers the results, that is more plausible. I'm not entirely sure how, or even why, someone would want to, though. The results delivered by D&D's combat system are consistent, fairly accurate, and above all, realistic. At least as realistic as a fantasy game can be, anyway.

Some Thoughts on Classes

I really dig the basic, three-class scheme of D&D. They are broadly defined, broadly capable, and free to develop in any direction the player should choose. I'm a little torn on the thief. I like the basic idea that there is a need for a stealthy and/or mechanically competent character. I like the idea that said character is shady, with amorphous morals. However, once you give a class the ability to do something, then, by implication, you've denied the ability of the other classes to do it. The most cursory of examinations bears this out.

I am not a fan of subclasses, nor of the plethora of classes that have appeared in supplements and periodicals. I feel that the foundation upon which they are built is too narrow to allow them to function in the adventuring party, without compromising what should be the core tenets of the class. To wit:

With the stricture of personal alignment, plus the limitations of associating with others of like mind, this alone is enough to make the paladin a questionable class to allow. Also, as Lawful beings, they should have serious problems with killing in the name of acquisition.  They have a vow of poverty hanging over their heads, so why would they go on a treasure hunt in the first place? Unless the campaign is designed to be some sort of holy quest, paladins simply do not fit with long-term play.

This one is fairly simple. Why would a wilderness warrior, sworn to defend a certain area, seek his fame and wealth in a dungeon? Pursuing or tracking fell creatures to an underground lair, sure. A serious career as a glory-and-riches dungeon delver, hell no.

See Ranger, multiply by 10.

Head east, Caine, there's no place for you here.

Killer-for-hire on an extended career branch as a dungeon delver? I don't see it. Purpose-hired by the party to take out a specific threat, absolutely, but nobody in the party should keep an assassin on retainer.

Obviously, there are plenty more, but I think you get the idea. I have no problem with these as NPCs. I think they are more than fine when they are in the game for a specific purpose related to their raison d'etre.

I also feel that, in most cases, the subclass actually outperforms the base class. Paladins and Rangers have all the benefits of the Fighting-Man, plus all their cool class abilities. The assassin fights much better than the thief, has thief skills (albeit at a delayed development), and trumps the Backstab with the auto-kill Assassination Table. Even if that fails, he still does Backstab damage.

No, for my money, the Big Three are the Only Three. The rest are too purpose-driven, but make fine additions as NPC henchmen or villains.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Philotomy's Exceptional Musings

I am greatly enamored of Swords & Wizardry, 'tis true. However, in all my zeal for that most excellent of clones, I completely overlooked the original. Thanks to stumbling across Philotomy's insightful dissertation, I have rediscovered the True Source. For anyone, anyone, with any level of interest in the OSR, this is a must-read. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Updated House Rules

I have uploaded an updated version of my house ruled Swords & Wizardry. I changed the name to Crucible Fantasy Roleplay. This update includes a full-color cover, changes to the art, additions to art, initiative section, basic "To-Hit" tables, weapon damage tables, and damage and healing. As always, comments are encouraged and welcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Alternate 1976

I read a blog post somewhere (sorry, I forget where) about a guy who was planning a campaign with a product cut-off of mid-'76. Nothing published after that was to be allowed. Anything prior was fair game, which included all of the Strategic Reviews and some other things I didn't recognize.

I love that idea. I've spent the better part of my 35 years gaming trying to recapture the first 3 years. I've tried it with different versions of D&D, different games altogether, and other methods too numerous to mention. There was a pure joy in the game then, and that is the kind of lightning that is hard to get in a bottle. I've tried to go back to the Little Brown Books, but with the stream-of-conscious writing compounded by being spread across six books, it is frustrating.

Enter Swords & Wizardry. As I have said before, I love S&W. So, I started thinking about simply turning back my gaming clock to 1976, like the other guy did. That started me to thinking. I could just get the Gray Book, which is a usable compilation and organizing of the six books, and really get back to my roots. Then, I realized, I would have to do a lot of house ruling to get the game to where I wanted it (see my personal S&W on my googledocs for some of my house rules). I was torn. You see, my house rules are extensive and when I'm done, they will almost amount to a new game. Definitely not the game I was playing in '76.

So, what to do? The purist route with Gray Book and minimal house rules? Or, my personal S&W, with extensive house rules based on 35 years in the hobby?

My decision is to use my rules (which I'm calling Crucible, btw, changed from The Book of Orange), with any supplements, such as magazines or non-TSR stuff, cut off at October 1976.

As you can see, I house ruled my options. . .

Misconceptions: Common Tongue

"LANGUAGES: The "common tongue" spoken throughout the "continent" is
known by most humans. All other creatures and monsters which can speak have
their own language, although some (20%) also know the common one."

That is the direct quote from Book I: Men and Magic. The "common tongue" has been much maligned, in print as well as my gaming circles. "It doesn't make sense", goes the common refrain, "for all humans to speak a common language. Real life isn't like that." So, a bazillion languages spring up, complete with language trees sporting proto-linguistics, dead languages, ancient forms, and all that. That is a totally acceptable way to breathe life into one's creation, and I'm not criticizing any referee for doing it. My point is that the original authors were not advocating a global language, as the critics would later assert.

Yet, look more closely. The key, over-looked, phrase is "throughout the "continent"". In other words, the basic, local area. That, taken with the fact "common tongue" is in quotes, should be enough to convey the intent. It should be remembered that the D&D of the Little Brown Books did not have a setting attached. It simply was not possible to name a language for humans to speak, so it was simply called "common tongue". It was in quotes, and lower case. If a globe-spanning human language would have been the intent, it would have been written as Common Tongue. If we did want to draw a modern analogy, we could say that English is the "common tongue" of the continent of North America.

It is also worth noting that only 20% of non-humans speak it. So, it is definitely a human "common tongue", which is stated in the rule quote above. It is also "known by most humans", further evidence that the term "common tongue" was used as a matter of convenience, in the absence of a setting-specific language. Continuing the above analogy, English is known by most people of North American descent, with 20% of non-North Americans speaking it (obviously I'm not quoting demographics, just putting the "common tongue" rule into a real-world context).

That's it for the first installment of Misconceptions. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it may give you a new perspective on certain aspects of Original D&D. Thanks for stopping by.


One of the problems with being the standard against which all else is judged, is that you are also judged. D&D, being the first RPG, naturally became that standard. So-and-so has more realistic combat. Such-and-such has better magic. Over the years, though, I think certain misconceptions have crept into the collective conscious. They come from a lot of places, mostly somebody taking something and twisting it around to shine a better light on their latest creation, or simply their favorite game. Advertising is a big source of these misconceptions, as game after game has touted its supposed superiority over D&D.

So, I'm starting this series about these misconceptions. The original D&D was a much tighter design than we have been lead to believe. The original D&D is actually quite an elegant little system. It isn't burdened with the level or depth of rules detail that many newer systems are.

Lastly, please note that in this series I am speaking strictly of Original D&D. That is, the Little Brown Books, the supplements Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

S&W Character Sheet

I have uploaded a Swords & Wizardry character sheet to my Google Docs (link at bottom of blog). It is in PocketMod format. It is based on one I found for Labyrinth Lord, and modified slightly. So, there it is, then . . .

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fondly Recalling: The Fantasy Trip

Let's take a quick trip in the Way-Back Machine, shall we? The year is 1980, the place is a row of shops in Pembroke Mall, Virginia Beach, VA. A gangly, bespectacled 17 year old picks up something called In the Labyrinth . . .

 As I've said before, D&D was my first RPG. I started gaming life as a wargamer, though, but that's a different story. I was introduced to D&D by a friend of mine, I didn't discover it on my own. He was the DM, always, and I was the only player in his games. We played as constantly as two teens could manage. We lived less than a mile apart, so we played a lot.

Being a wargamer, too, I loved learning and trying new games. Being a mid-level teen from a four-child family, money was tight, so when I saw a little ditty called Melee, I was in. Melee was great fun. It was much more tactical combat (with a board and counters!) than D&D, which definitely got my wargamer blood a'flowing. Then came Wizard. Dueling mages, what could be cooler than that!? Magic-users, uh, sorry, I mean Wizards, actually duking it out on the sands of the arena, something I'd never done, or seen, in D&D. A magic system with points, rather than fire-and-forget. Damn!

Anyway, I played those two as often as I could find an opponent.

Then, that fateful day in The Alley. In the Layrinth was, I think, $7 or $8, somewhere in there. It was rich for my budget, but I had to own it. Here was a book that turned Melee and Wizard into a full-blown RPG. But not just any RPG. It had a combat system I loved, and a magic system I thought was the coolest thing since sliced bread. More than that, though, it was mine. Nobody lead me to it. Nobody taught me to play it.

(I should mention here, that I'm not trying to imply that my friend ruled our gaming. I wasn't a victim of RPG oppression or anything.)

I devoured In the Labyrinth as well as the first two Micro-quests. It was the first skill-based game I'd ever played. It had it's sticking points, sure enough (You mean there's only three stats?! I only get to use d6's?!), but they didn't diminish my love for the game. But, two trans-Atlantic crossing and three years later, and it was gone, along with Melee and Wizard. I'll always love it though, because it was my first RPG discovery.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Book of Orange

I have uploaded the first installment of my personal Swords & Wizardry, which I am calling The Book of Orange, in honor of a friend. It is on my GoogleDocs page, link at the bottom of this blog. It is not intended for sale or distribution. It is made available for evaluation and comment only. The first installment consists of my take on classes, with pretty radical changes to the Cleric and Magic-User, plus other not so radical changes. My take on the dwarf and elf is there, along with alignment. Finally, there is a Magic chapter. It is an extensively re-imagined magic system, but still compatible with existing spell lists. I invite anyone interested to read over it and offer any constructive comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Irony can be such a subtle thing. This thought occurred to me whilest reading some forum posts about "What is S&W?". One of the staple answers to such a query always involves house ruling. Back in the days of 0e we house ruled. AD&D tried to do away with that. It was an attempt to cover all the bases. Not to stifle creativity, just to establish a common tongue, as it were. The idea was that if you sat down at 20 different AD&D tables at 20 different conventions, they would all be the same AD&D.

The real death knell for creative thinking in D&D was actually the internet. There have always been plenty of people willing to step up and create new classes, subclasses, systems for this or that, and so on and so forth. Back in the day, you had to wait for the next issue of Dragon to access these folks, and they never directly addressed your needs. You took what was on offer or you didn't. Then came the internet.

Consider this: In 1977 if you wanted a different magic system, you made it yourself. In 2007, you Google it. There are plenty of people who have already done the work. If you don't like one, there're plenty more. Their work is still considered house rules, but not your house. DMs (I prefer the original term, Referee) became lazy. Since the advent of AD&D they had been discouraged from deviating from the written word. Now of the intrepid few that did, many of them just used the work of the other intrepid few.

Then, as irony would have it, the internet came to the rescue. Games like S&W, Labyrinth Lord, and BFRPG sprang up. Not only do they encourage individual referee's to house rule and customize, they require it. And, thanks to the internet, they are in wide distribution among players who share their passion for such gaming on forums and across the blogosphere.

Long live the clones and the intellectual exploration they engender!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alignment and the Cosmology of Kalagris

     There are three alignments in the Kalagris campaign: Law, Chaos, and Unaligned. The great ideological conflict of the world isn't concerned with Good and Evil. Chaos is literally destroying the world piece by piece. While good vs evil is important at a personal level, at the cosmic level, it comes in second. Far more pressing is where your character stands in the Law vs Chaos struggle.

     No one in the world, not ancient elven scribes or the most erudit human philosophers, understands the true nature of what is happening to the world. As horrific as it may be, it is a natural part of the process of birth-death-rebirth. Ultimately, it is natural. To the people living through it, it is something else entirely.

     It is the ultimate confrontation between Law and Chaos. That is where the line is drawn: are you aligned with the powers of Law, and thus the continued, ordered existence of Kalagris, or are you aligned with Chaos, bent on the unravelling of the world and all within it? This polarity means that people may find themselves allied with strange bedfellows. There are plenty of people and organizations that resist Chaos. Some do so to protect their own evil existence, some do so out of a sense of duty. Yet, when it comes time to take arms, they stand shoulder to shoulder. They can sort out their “personal” problems another time.

The Alignments

     Essentially, those aligned with Law stand against the forces of Chaos. It is important to understand that they stand against Chaos. It is not merely a philosophical choice, it is a plan of action. In principle virtually everyone on Kalagris is Lawful in word, but the Law-aligned are Lawful in deed, taking the fight to the enemy, actively resisting the Chaos Gods and their agents.

     Like Law, this isn't a simple withdrawal from the struggle, it is a sincere belief that one has no place in that struggle. Merely declining to become involved isn't enough. Truly neutral characters are extremely rare.
     Druids are among the only true neutral people on Kalagris. They have a sense that the Chaos Encroachment (as they call it) is a part of some cosmic cycle. They believe (mistakenly) that the Maelstrom is a machination of the Chaos Gods. According to their conclusions, it is simply time for the Chaos Gods to be ascendant. Being a part of the natural cosmic cycle, it is beyond the reach of anyone on Kalagris to interfere. This includes agents of Chaos seeking to call down the Maelstrom (it should advance at its own pace), or seeking some personal gain in the name of the Encroachment.

     Those aligned with Chaos are believed to be mad by virtually everyone else on Kalagris. Some welcome and embrace the Maelstrom to varying degrees, believing in the powers of Chaos in a very literally sense. There are some that believe in it in a more philosophical sense, viewing the tenets of Chaos figuratively, believing it represents their freedom. Finally, there are those who follow the Chaos Gods, slaves to their whims. In spite of the varied nature of those aligned with Chaos, they are universally met with distrust, at best. In some provinces a known Chaotic alignment is grounds for a summary execution.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Magic Redux

Magic is defined as manipulating chaos energy, summoned from the Maelstrom, to achieve a desired end. It is through the use of arcane formulae that Magic-Users practice this dangerous art. The chaotic energy of the Maelstrom is the raw stuff of creation. As such, it is highly mutable, and may be shaped into anything the shaper desires. Providing, of course, that he is strong enough to survive the process.

Casting Points
Magic-Users possess a pool of points, known as Casting Points. This points are an abstract representation of both the caster's skill, and his durability, where chaos energy is concerned. Magic-Users act as a conduit for the energy. They channel it into themselves, hold it there, and cast a spell that gives the energy form and function.
Magic-User characters have Casting Points equal to:
(Level x INT bonus) + CON bonus

Using Casting Points
Casting Points may be used for the following:
  • To modify the Casting Roll
  • To modify rolls for Critical Failure
  • To enhance a spell
  • To counteract another Magic-User's casting
  • To modify a target's Saving Throw

They may be used for any, or all, of these actions in the same round, so long as the character has them remaining. The only stipulation is that their use, and amount used, must be declared before any rolls are made.

The Casting Roll
No spell is automatic, they all require the player to make a successful casting roll. The roll required to successfully cast any spell is 15 or better on a d20. This is true regardless of spell or caster level. The roll is modified by the following:
  • + Caster Level
  • – Spell Level
  • + Casting Points (number of Casting Points allocated by the caster)
  • – Counter-magic (number of Casting Points allocated by opposing caster)
  • – Spell Level per Enhancement

There are four possible outcomes of the Casting Roll:
Critical Success
Critical Success occurs when the Casting Roll is a natural 20, and the casting is successful. In this case, the spell is cast and the caster may either “take back” ½ of the Casting Points expended, or may add a “free” enhancement.
The spell is cast as intended.
Simple Failure
The Casting Roll is less than the number required. All Casting Points are lost, and the spell fails to take effect.
Critical Failure
The Casting Roll is less than half the number needed for success, round down. If this happens, the spell is forgotten, and must be studied before it may be used again. All Casting Points are also lost.
Disastrous Failure
The Casting Roll is a natural 1 (the only exception to this is if the required number is less than 2, in that case this is a Critical Failure). Disastrous failures roll on the following table. The roll is modified by the number of Casting Points spent on the failing scale, as a positive, and any Spell Points spent to mitigate this roll, as a negative.

Dazed, lose next d4 rounds
Stunned, lose next d4 turns
Lose 2x Casting Points and lose spell*
Lose 3x Casting Points and lose spell*
Lose d6 levels of spells, determine randomly
Lose 2d6 levels of spells, determine randomly
Lose 1 point of INT for 1d4 turns
Lose 1 point of INT for 1d4 days
Lose 1 point of INT for 2d4 days
Lose 2 points of INT for 1d4 turns
Lose 2 points of INT for 1d4 days
Lose 2 points of INT for 2d4 days
Lose all spells
Lose 2 points of INT permanently

* If the caster loses more points than he has, the remainder is taken from hit points. If this remainder should be equal to or greater than the Magic-User's INT, then in addition to the hit point lose, he loses one point of INT. Recovery from these loses follow the rules in the Damage Threshold section.

Note: This table may seem very vanilla, and it is to a point. Just remember the nature of magic and casting, and describe the result from there. If a spell fails this disastrously, it is because the caster lost control of the chaos energy he was channeling. When spells are lost, the Magic-Users memories are unravelling, being ripped from his mind. When INT is being lost, his very intellect is unravelling. Not a pleasant experience.

Saving Throws
Many spells allow Saving Throws to avoid or reduce their effect. The caster may expend additional Casting Points to modify the target's Saving Throw. Note, howeve, that this must be declared when casting the spell. If the spell is a Disastrous Failure, then the points used to modify the Saving Throw are included in the modifier for the Disastrous Failure roll.

Enhancing Spells
Magic-Users may choose to enhance any spell cast, by expending additional Casting Points. Spells may be enhanced by doubling any one aspect of the spell; Range, Duration, Area, Damage, beings affected, etc. Any discreet aspect of the spell may be enhanced. This enhancement results in a 100% increase to the aspect chosen. The cost is 50% of the spell level, round up. The caster may enhance as many aspects as desired, as long as he is willing, and able, to commit the Casting Points. An aspect may only be enhanced once, however.

Scrolls function as normal. All the risk is taken in the creation of the scroll.

Sometimes there is a sort of residue left when some solid substance unravels. Normally it takes the form of smooth, irregularly shaped blobs. They are approximately fist sized, normally, though smaller sizer are not uncommon. They are milky gray in color, but when looked at closely, coalescing colors can be seen deep within.
Maelstone can be used in spell casting. It will convey a bonus on the Disastrous Failure table. This bonus varies, but there is no way to determine quality by sight. The Magic-User must cast Detect Magic to ascertain the value of any given Maelstone.
Use in Play
Before casting, a player may declare that a Maelstone is being used. If the spell results in a Disastrous Failure, the value of the Maelstone is applied to the roll. The Maelstone is destroyed by this, no matter the outcome of the roll.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fantastic News!

It has only just come to my attention that there is a new version of the free Swords & Wizardry Core pdf. I knew that Complete had come out and I thought it may be some time before Core got anymore love. I am happy I was wrong. Here is the link, for those enlightened souls who frequent these pages and share my love for S&W:

Deadly Accuracy

I believe piercing weapons in general, and archery in particular, get short-changed in D&D (retro, clones, the whole smack). This is an off-the-cuff, thinking-out-loud idea to rectify that. Two ideas, actually.

#1) I Can Shoot a Gnat Out of the Air
       On a successful hit, the player adds his margin of success to the damage roll. For example, if you need a 14 to hit, and roll a 17, the damage roll will receive a +3 bonus.

#2) Through the Heart
       Damage rolls for piercing weapons explode. In other words, if the damage roll is a "6" roll again and add it to the "6". If that is a "6", roll and keep adding, until the roll is not a "6".

I wouldn't combine the two. If I were using the first one, I would strictly enforce range penalties. If I were using the second, I would employ the optional "Weapon vs AC" rule, at least with piercing weapons.


So, we played our first session of Savage Worlds. To be honest, it left me a little flat. Everything I've read says play it RAW for a few sessions and it will click. My issue is that my "group" consists of my teenage son, and a teenage friend. Not the most reliable group. Getting together for our second session has been problematic, so I hold very little hope for "a few sessions".

I've been ruminating on just what old school means to me. I have arrived at the conclusion that it is more about style and attitude than it is about system or pedigree. I love D&D and my memories of it. Inevitably, though, I find myself not really tinkering with it as much as changing systems within it whole-cloth. The long road my gaming ADD has lead me down has shown me a lot of different ways to do things, many of which I like. Such as . . .

Armor reducing damage. I fully understand how hit points work and what they represent. I can rationalize the concept of "A miss isn't necessarily a miss, it just wasn't a damaging hit". I just really like damage reduction from a mechanical standpoint and all the doors it opens up.

Combat has the potential to turn Ugly. While I do like the safety net that a high hit point total gives an advanced character, I also like the idea that combat can take a nasty turn. If your character has 60 hp and he is faced off with an opponent that can only deal 8 damage per successful hit (or a max of 16 with a crit), then you know for a fact you can last a minimum of 3 rounds, and that is if he crits all three. Combat should be dangerous and suspenseful. If an opponent is so overmatched that the melee isn't potentially hazardous, why slow the flow of the game with a meaningless combat? Just hand-wave it and move on. Even knowing your character can take two of a monster's best hits and basing his tactics, and the group's plan, on that fact takes all the suspense out of the danger. No sir, combat needs to be deadly and unpredictable.

Magic is unpredictable and failure has consequences. I have made my peace with many of D&D's subsystems that rub me the wrong way. One that I hate, always have and always will, is fire-and-forget Vancian magic. I'm not real fond of power points, either, because how many people know precisely when they will tire? Also, there is rarely any mechanism for pushing yourself beyond your limits. I should clarify. I don't have a problem with spell points, per se, but with a fixed and finite amount of them, and a fixed cost for each spell. I also do not like magic being either, a) automatic or b) subject to a saving throw to determine efficacy. I want a spell roll required for success. The results of that roll will indicate how fatigued the caster is in the attempt. In other words, an especially good or bad roll might result in casting at a reduced cost, or at a greater cost. Critical failure should have a range of potential effects, as well.

Two words: D 6. I want a system based on the venerable and ubiquitous d6. It can be 2d6 or even 3d6. I don't really want a fistful of them, a la MiniSix, though. Really, anything that relies on one die-type will do. I want this for the sake of logistical simplicity. I don't really want to deal with needing a bunch of dice and learning when to roll which one for every new game I pick up. Also, on the topic of logistical simplicity . . .

Booklet-sized, with a moderate page count. At this point, I am a seasoned RPG veteran. I do not need my hand held. I don't need the chapters on What is an RPG? and The Role of the GM. I don't want a bunch of crap about how dwarves look or the cultural history of the elves. That's setting stuff and I don't want it stretching my rules out. I want writing that is readable and evocative, but doesn't mince words. Mazes and Minotaurs is a fine example of this. I also don't really need an art book. I love RPG art, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to my rulebook, I want it to be handy. It should be the sort of thing I can take anywhere and break out when I find the odd free moment. Using a rulebook that is 5 1/2" by 8 1/2", no more than around 250 pages, and uses a few d6, pencils and some paper, I should be able to fit all that in a wooden cigar box and take it just about anywhere.