Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Add-Vance or Sub-Vance?

Allow me to preface this by saying that I have not read any of the D&DNext development releases in detail.

Having said that, I am abreast of the development trends, thanks mostly to Tavernmaster Tenkar and his regular updates. The latest brouhaha is swirling around the inclusion of At-Will Powers for Magic Users Wizards. This is but one of many Bones of Contention the designers will be faced with. They are trying to merge disparate systems. Some of the subsystems are going to be mutually exclusive. What 4E player is going to want to have his At-Will Blaster Ray watered down so his Wizard will be balanced next to the old geezer's Vancian Magic User? What old geezer will be content to blow his wad on memorizing nothing but Magic Missiles, when the 4E rock star wizard can toss them out like Mardi Gras beads?

I'm developing a certain detached cynicism with this whole "Next" development. I may end up eating those words if they do succeed in rolling out the best thing since . . . well, since D&D. Until then I view this entire episode with a certain smug detachment.

Something about this particular point struck me, though. Ever since the words "house rules" were first uttered, Vancian magic has been under the gun. I have no scientific proof to back this up, but I would bet the farm that making combat more realistic and Vancian magic are the top two house rule categories. Spell points, casting rolls, lumping all the caster's available spell levels into one enormous pool, fatigue, it goes on and on. In the callous inexperience of my youth, I, too, railed against it. I still like alternatives, although I can now appreciate the intricacies of it. For years I preferred point-based casting. Now I like something a little more unpredictable, but I digress.

Now that Monte has forwarded the notion of some sort of 4E-style At-Will powers for Wizards, there is no shortage of champions for Vancian magic. All of a sudden it is one of the gilded chestnuts, a virtual cornerstone of the foundation, of what is D&D. I'm not accusing anyone of vacillating, just observing how polarizing events brings out the masses. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of those rallying behind Vancian casters have house ruled that system out to some degree. Maybe they even play with a different magic system even now. I fall into that camp, since I am currently mostly working with the M74 Swords & Sorcery Edition. Yet, even those in that camp recognize the value of Vancian magic to D&D. My snide comments aside (made only in fun, btw), Vancian magic is one of the underpinnings that makes D&D D&D. In any sort of "Edition to Rule Them All" it has to take center stage, and it has to be the standard against which any other included magic methods, no matter how "modular", are balanced.

M74 Swords and Sorcery

I like most of what I see from Randall, especially the M74 stuff. One thing I'm not thrilled about, though, is the layout. Sorry to be nitpicky, that's just the truth. To that end, I've taken his beta swords and sorcery rules and reformatted them. I've used different fonts, and used different layers of headers. It is all black and white. I've even added some Frazetta b&w drawings. They are very evocative, and I just love his work. I also slightly modified his Tactical Expertise ability. That's the only house ruling in the document.

I have it here in .odt format, used by LibreOffice and OpenOffice, so if you want to hack it up and add your own house rules, change my fonts/layout, or whatever. Being an odt file, no preview will be generated, but you should be able to click File -> Download.

It is also available here as a pdf, if you prefer.

Oh, one more thing, the fonts are sized so that it can be printed in booklet format, for those that prefer that sort of thing. Nothing says old school to me quite like little folded and stapled booklets.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Is It Just Me?

Many, many moons ago, my best friend Dan and I regularly attended midnight movies. For the most part we saw Mad Max, Dawn of the Dead (original), Life of Brian, and a healthy dose of:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The volume at these events was shattering, but we didn't care. You see, Dan and I have  . . . let's just say, odd senses of humor.

(We laughed until we almost threw up at the "Bigus Dickus" scene in Life of Bryan.)

Anyway, even though I can quote that movie front to back, I was missing something: Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a rousing good D&D adventure. Think about it. We have:

The Adventuring Party
     See above photo. That was a straight up PARTY. It had a leader. It had the talented, but brash warrior. The wise companion. Comic relief. Not exactly your D&D mix, but still all were filling a particular niche and never stepped on each others' toes.

Set-Piece Fight
     Establishes the leader's prowess. The encounter with the Black Knight shows that while Arthur is open-minded, he is not to be fucked with. Like any good D&D player, when the NPC reaction roll doesn't pass muster, he calls for Initiative.

A Crazy Hermit Gives Enigmatic Advice
   How many times have we seen and/or used this old guy, cackling and dispensing enigmatic advice?

(of course this is the bridge keeper, but they are one and the same character)

Sex-starved Virgins
     More of a staple of games played by adolescent males, they did make an appearance.

Divine Intervention
     Break out Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, the party is about to get hit with a divine Quest. What page was Yahweh on?

Ancient Artifacts

And the number of the counting shall be three.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  It's all there.

A Rant (You've Been Warned)

For several days now I've tried to avoid thinking about this. It was to no avail, as I can't seem to stop. When I think about blogging, it is uppermost. Now, when I even think about gaming, it is there. I know I am allowing it to take up far too much of my thinking, so, I've decided to get it off my chest. Maybe then I can move on. If you don't want to read any further, it won't hurt my feelings.

I'm a Linux guy (Mint, if you're interested), and by extension, open source. I don't have Windows anywhere, except whatever embedded version my son's Xbox360 runs. As it relates to Linux, one of the things open source means is that I can take a piece of software you wrote and tweak it, modify it, and call it something else. I can even sell it. But one thing I must do is make it freely available. Not necessarily on DVDs with full documentation, but at least a download version must be freely available. Not crippleware, either, but fully functional.

I believe the retroclones should operate on the same principle, since they are made possible only by the auspices of the OGL (which I know differs in details, but the "open" spirit is what's important here).

It offends me that there are those who will take the work of others, work made freely available in good faith, and use it to profit. I am specifically speaking of Crypts & Things. Maybe there are others, I don't know. Before we go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear:

I do not own this game in any form. All of these comments are based on the ad write-ups and reviews I've seen. If I am misinformed, it is due to my sources.

Something else I want to be clear about: I know that C&T includes a background and that there are mechanical ties woven into the rules. In all sincerity, I congratulate the folks behind the design and development of that background. Taking your raw creativity and turning it into a living is a wonderful thing.

My issue lies not with the original background material or house rules to support it. It isn't with making that background a commercial product. My problem is with using someone else's work to help sell it. Swords & Wizardry is freely available. Akrasia's house rules are freely available. Those two documents are the engine that drives the setting in C&T. Without them, and the OGL S&W was written under, C&T would not exist as it does.

As far as I know, all the other games that are directly derived from clones, or the original rules, have a freely available option. Some are full versions, such as S&W Core, and some are missing the art, like Labyrinth Lord. But they all make a full, free version available. That is within the spirit of the "open" movement. I'm not campaigning for a free version of C&T for myself. I don't need it. I have S&W and Akrasia's house rules. I can house rule out races and add rules making magic dangerous (in fact, I have posted about it already). As good as I am sure the background is, I don't need it, either.

I'm arguing for a principle here. If you're going to take advantage of the work and imagination of others, work that is made freely available, you should give back. Otherwise, taking advantage is all you're doing. The open community, whether open gaming, or open source, is symbiotic. Don't be a parasite.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A New OSR Blog

One of my followers has recently entered the OSR blogging arena. Dienekes has opened The Gygaxian Bag of Holding for business. If his first posts are any indication, it should be one to watch. He plans on featuring Dave Trampier's art on Thursdays, which is nice. He also has a very detailed and well-thought out examination of a certain old-school module posted. Go on by and see which one . . .

Microlite Free Goodness

Randall has released a beta of his Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery hack. It looks like a lot of fun, and he has incorporated some changes to Microlite 74 that highlight the swords-and-sorcery style of play.

The first thing that caught my attention is the rolling method for character creation. It is the same as Microlite 74, it just didn't catch my attention in that. The player rolls 3d6, and assigns the roll to the desired stat. Then, he rolls again, assigns that roll, and so on. I find this very intriguing. It gives the player a hint of the "arrange to taste" method, but not without a dose of choice-and-consequence. It impresses me as having a subtle, yet important, impact on rolling characters.

There is only one race, human, and two classes. We have the catch-all Adventurer, and the dark and mysterious Sorcerer. The Sorcerer is able to use any armor/shield and any weapon. However, the use of shields or heavy weapons can interfere with spellcasting.

Each class has an advancement table, listing two new things: Physical Combat Bonus (PCB)/Magical Combat Bonus (MCB), and experience points. There is no "experience multiple". The PCB is added to a d20 roll + STR bonus in combat. It can also be used for other overtly physical activities, such as bashing down doors. I would hazard to say it would make a nice addition to things like intimidation, as well, since a character with a high PCB would have an air of menace about him. I didn't see any reference to the use of the MCB, however. This is the first beta release, though, so I am sure it will turn up.

There is a listing of class-specific special abilities to choose from. Players select one at 1st level, then additional abilities at levels 2, 4, and 6.

Magic is a blend of the standard Microlite take on magic (casting costs HP) with the Colours of Magic house rule from Akrasia (man, that dude's house rules are getting some press lately, and deservedly so). In true S&S form, it is also noted that "Sorcery takes a toll on the caster's body". At 2nd and 5th levels the sorcerer suffers a handicap. It is either selected, by referee or player, or determined randomly. Interestingly, there is no chance to avoid said handicap, but there is also no chance of "extra ones", such as from botched casting rolls or whatever. I don't see that as a problem, it's merely an observation.

Magic Users Sorcerers are only able to cast 1st level spells until 4th level, when they gain access to 2nd level spells. This is the highest level they may cast from memory. Spells of 3rd level or higher are only cast through Ritual. Generally speaking, any sorcerer can ritually cast spells of any level, provided he has access to the ritual. Rituals take longer, and in some cases, require more HPs to cast. There is an optional section covering sacrifices, which if allowed, will help mitigate ritual casting costs.

The idea of Talents is introduced. It is essentially the "good at" house rule. I've seen it before and thought it looked good, but now for the life of me I can not find it again. So, I can't properly attribute it to its author. I apologize for this. My google-fu has deserted me this morning. Anyway, having a particular Talent means that your character is "good at" something. There is no set list of Talents. It is understood that the player will devise whatever seems appropriate to the character's concept. They are narrowly defined, however, basically representing an area of singular knowledge and/or ability. The player selects one at each level, beginning with 2nd level. It is possible to select the same Talent more than once, representing further mastery in the talent at hand.

There are rules for Spirits, and the summoning and binding thereof. Definitely cool, and definitely S&S.

The last thing I want to say about this S&S edition concerns character levels. They are capped at level 6. Hallelujah! This puppy is E6 right from the box. I love it. Low, gentle power curve, superheroes need not apply. This should keep things nice and gritty. Once characters hit 6th, they can still advance, through the acquisition of "Epic Points". These can be accumulated or used immediately. They have a variety of uses, from a measure of narrative control (surviving an otherwise fatal situation) to adding more talents or special abilities.

All in all, this is a very well thought out selection of changes that brings Microlite in line with gritty S&S play, especially considering it is the first beta. There's a couple of rough spots that need sanded down, such as a use for the MCB, and a somewhat convoluted system for tactics points. But, to borrow a phrase, those are minor quibbles. This is a great first beta, and it's free, so give it a look.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More Swords & Shield Goodness

Whew! This guy works fast! Follow the link previously provided to find an updated Pocketmod, and the sample adventure brought up to speed with the updated rules. Also therein you will find the aptly named Longsword & Shield. L&S is the full version of the rules from the Pocketmod. Weighing in at a svelt 6 pages, it is still light. Pound for pound, though, this little gem packs a punch. All that's missing is a more developed spell list, monster "book", and magic items. But, hey, we're OSR folks around here. We live to make that shit up ourselves, right?

My original assessment of this being a good beer-and-pretzels game hold true in Longsword, but it is definitely suited to more campaign play. A little setting-specific fleshing out and this game will do swords-and-sorcery with a bloody vengeance.

More Free Goodness

Sword & Shield RPG

Do not let my interest in PFBB mislead you, my friends. I remain fully devoted to light-weight, old school rules. It is with that feeling that I direct your attention to Sword & Shield. This one hits me with a real one-two punch. It's rules-light old-school AND it's a Pocketmod. Take little folded pad of gaming goodness and a few dice along with you and a game can break out anywhere, anytime. Give it a look, it is a pretty neat little system for quick pick-ups, beer-and-pretzel, or intro to rpgs duty.

THACO The Movie

The older you are in the hobby, the funnier this is. Grab some popcorn, Mt Dew, and a spare hour, and watch this video.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yet Another Open Question

     I'm somewhat polar by nature. If I love chocolate, I can't be caught liking vanilla. I'm a Led Zeppelin man, fuck the Beatles. That sort of thing. It's not a conscious choice, but to rise above it is. It is in that spirit that this question is asked.

Was d20 the Great Evil of its age? Since I've become enamored of the OSR, and freely available clones and other rpgs, my polarity has led me to fear and despise the d20 system. Reflex/Constitution/Will Saves? Horror! Ascending Armor Class? Blasphemy! Multi-class Druid/Thief?? Heresy! (Well, that part is pretty heretical.) Seriously, though, before the bloat and the power creep, right down at its core, is it that bad?

I know this query may cost me some serious OSR cred, and just when the blog is starting to pick up steam. But the question isn't over yet.

One thing that intrigues me about d20, and more specifically 3.x (gasp!), is E6 play. In a nutshell, characters top out at 6th level. The only gains after that are Feats, every 5,000 XP. It intrigues me because one of the features I want most in a game is a reasonable power curve. I detest the idea that the ogre you pissed yourself over at 3rd level is not even a joke anymore at 12th level. I'm all with characters becoming more capable and all, but some things should always be dangerous. The combination of capping hit points, while at the same time allowing characters to advance in specialty areas through Feats, seems like a good mix. Dare I say it, very swords and sorcery.

Ok, if any of you have made it this far without deleting your membership in the blog, let me ask one more question. The real question all of this has been building toward.

One of my more pragmatic issues with E6 is cost effectiveness. Whether it is gathering OOP 3.x stuff, or getting into Pathfinder, you're buying a whole game and using less than half. Sooo . . . what about using that new Pathfinder Starter Box? It supports levels 1-5. There would be zero issues with grabbing what's needed for 6th level from the SRD. Being aimed at beginners, it isn't choked with all the minutiae of the 500+ page brick that is Pathfinder Core. And, it includes everything needed to play, including monsters.

So, what do you think: Is the new PF Starter a viable choice for low-level, gritty swords and sorcery?

A Question About Crypts & Things

I have an open question, so anyone who knows, or even has an opinion, feel free to answer.

I am very intrigued by this game. I have been ever since I first heard about it and learned it was built in the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox engine. Lately, since its release, I've learned that it includes many things found in Akrasia's house rules. In fact, apart from the setting, everything I've seen bulleted as a "new feature" is from those house rules.

So, here's the question: Aside from the setting, is there anything in C&T that I couldn't get by applying Akrasia's house rules to WhiteBox myself? I know it is layed out and formatted and all that, and has a cool cover. I'm strictly speaking of the system here. Who can help me with this?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hildebrandt Art

I don't have much to say about this. I love it, it is awesome, and I wanted to share. I originally saw it as some sort of centerfold in my copy of Sword of Shannara. I hope you get as much enjoyment and inspiration from it as I still do, about 35 years after seeing it for the first time.

Minotaur Quarterly

I mentioned this in the previous post, but on further reflection, I wanted to give it a post of its own. This is a very well done e-zine, made even better by the fact that it is free. The writing is easy to digest and enjoyable. A great deal of it is by the game's author, Olivier Legrand.

One of the things that strikes me about Minotaur is the type of articles it contains. In my youth I eagerly snapped up every issue of Dragon at first sight. More often than not, I ended up wishing they would have had some more of some certain article. Like there would be a piece about some aspect of Greyhawk, maybe 12 pages and then on to Giants in the Earth or some crap I cared nothing for (sorry if you did, no offense intended).

I haven't read every issue of Minotaur, but from scanning the ToC I believe they maintain a certain focus on a featured idea, then add a few other bits for variety. Many of the issues have include adventures (something Dragon avoided like grim death, for some reason), and every issue (I think) includes part of a gazetteer series, fleshing out the game world, Mythika. These gazetteer pieces are meaty, too, and delve quite deep into the highlighted area.

Like everything else related to M&M, Minotaur Quarterly is a free pdf download. Speaking of everything else, I may just have to post about a couple of more M&M things that deserve individual mention: Vikings and Valkyries, and Tomb of the Bull King. So, stay tuned . . .

Monday, February 20, 2012

Paratime Design Maps

This post is just a quick pointer to Paratime Designs. There are literally hundreds of maps there, many of them available under Creative Commons. The map at left is one example. There are buildings, castles, outdoor locations, caverns, and of course, dungeons. B&W dungeons, as well as the classic blue dungeons. There are even some sci-fi themed maps, with installations and starships. All the rooms and areas are numbered and ready to be keyed. Next time you need a map in a hurry, check this out. Hell, check it out now, 'cause you never know when you might need a map in a hurry.

Mazes & Minotaurs

Messenger Boy: The Thesselonian you're fighting... he's the biggest man i've ever seen. I wouldn't want to fight him. 
Achilles: That's why no-one will remember your name. 

That exchange occurs early in the movie Troy. It very accurately sums up a hero's desire for glory. Mazes & Minotaurs gives role players a chance to reach for the laurel leaves, along with a jug of ambrosia.

This isn't intended as a review. It is more like an introduction. In a movement where a lot of clones and simulacrum are touting their (sometimes dubious) pedigrees, some claiming a direct line of descent, Mazes & Minotaurs creates its own pedigree. Yes, that's correct. The author rolls the clock back to 1972 and imagines a world where the very first RPG was rooted firmly in Greek mythology rather than western European.

It's a cool idea, and the author never strays from it. He even imagines an "advanced" edition coming out in 1985! Some reviews and comments I've seen speak of the pseudo-history that underpins the game as being too pervasive. I disagree because immersion is just that, immersion. It is not immersion up to a point. That is wading, not immersing. The fabricated history isn't strictly necessary for enjoyment of the game, so maybe that's where those comments come from. 

Like I said, this is an introduction to something you may have overlooked, so I won't be discussing the various systems in the game. I'll just say it looks really good. It is very well-supported, with an active mailing list, forum, and sporadic, but definitely available e-zine, Minotaur. Issue #10 dropped just the other day. There are free adventures on the website, as well.

One last thing: I've printed the Player's, GM's, and Companion pdfs in booklet, for that old school vibe, and they look great. Haven't gotten around to the monster book, but I'm sure it will be lovely, too. All this goodness is free for the taking, link is in my Free Swag area to the lower right. Grab your bronze sword and crested helm, your destiny beckons.

4000 XP

Just a quick note to say thanks to everyone reading my blog. I noticed this morning I was at 4,001 hits. That is almost doubled in about 2 1/2 months. Thanks to everyone for checking it out, especially my regulars and followers. Also, a big thank you to my fellow bloggers that have mentioned me in their blogs, especially Dreams of Mythic Fantasy and Tenkar's Tavern. I wouldn't have nearly the readers without you guys. It means a lot.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

3d6 Qualities and Flaws

Some of the descriptions may be a little vague because the mechanics for them aren't ironed out. Overall, what do you think?

Qualities are aspects of the character that are intrinsic to the character. They represent inborn characteristics, such as being resistant to illness or keen vision. They may also represent the effects of life on the character, being such things as wisdom or the ability to withstand hardship.
At generation the player randomly determines the character's starting Quality. This is rolled on the Quality Table, and is the only time the character may gain the Qualities on that table. If the player is willing to risk a roll on the Flaw table, he may either: Select his character's Quality –OR– Roll twice on the Quality Table. The decision to risk the Flaw Table must be made before rolling on the Quality Table. Thereafter, at every 3rd level, the player selects a new Quality. There is no table or list. The player is free to devise any Quality he desires, with referee approval. The only restriction is that the new Quality can not mimic one of the Qualities on the Quality Table. The Qualities on that table represent inborn aspects of the character and are not things that the character will naturally develop as the campaign progresses.

Description of Qualities and Flaws

If the character is a magician this Quality will provide some sort of benefit to casting. If the character is an adventurer, he is able to learn magic, albeit at great difficulty.

Born Leader
This character is able to inspire followers and hirelings. If given time to analyze a tactical situation and formulate a plan, he is able to provide other benefits to his “side”.

This character enjoys a close relationship with a higher power. The player may choose to either: Be able to heal 1 wound per level per day –OR– have a –1 bonus to all saving throws.

Steady Hands
The character enjoys a –2 benefit to all rolls involving manual dexterity, such as picking locks or pockets, gem cutting, or playing a musical instrument.

Icy Veins
This character is virtually fearless in the face of things that would break lesser men. –2 to saving throws vs fear effects. He also never suffers any penalties for having to perform any activities under stress.

Iron Will
This character receives a –2 bonus to saving throws vs any and all mind altering effects.

Keen Hearing
–2 bonus to any rolls to hear things, actively or passively.

Keen Vision
The character's range of vision and visual acuity is increased by 50%.

Lightning Reflexes
The character receives a +2 bonus on initiative rolls. Additionally, any initiative ties automatically go to this character.

Silky Voice
The nature of this character's voice grants a –2 bonus to any roll involving the voice, singing, oratory, bargaining, lying, bluffing, seduction, etc.

This character receives a –2 bonus to saving throws vs poisons or other physical depridations. He also increases his wounds total by 3.

Unnatural Grace
On any roll involving balance or grace this character receives a –2 bonus.

This character is unable to simply take prisoners or be content with besting a foe. Only blood will do.

Poor Vision/Hearing
Randomly determine which. Character suffers a +2 penalty to rolls associated with the Poor sense.

The character suffers a +2 penalty to any roll associated with intelligence, memory, or reasoning. Character may not cast magic.

The character suffers a +2 penalty to any roll associated with balance or manual dexterity.

The character suffers a +2 penalty to any roll associated with physical conditions such as disease or poison.

The character suffers a +2 penalty to any roll associated with mind altering effects.

The character suffers a –1 penalty to Initiative, as well as a +2 to saving throws vs fear effects.

This character is unable to cast spells and may not use any magic item that operates on the wielder's person (potions, for example) or spells that require command.

This character is bereft of the gods. Healing magics are less effective on this character.

Troubling Countenance
This character has an unseemly aura. Any rolls involving personal interaction suffer a +2 penalty.

Character's MV is -1, and Initiative rolls are -1.

Slight Frame
Character suffers a +2 penalty to any rolls related to physical strength.

3d6 Games Mission Statement

Some of you may have noticed this in the "Current Fancy" area to the left. It is the cover I've worked up for the 3d6 rules I'm working on. It started as a personal spin on Searchers of the Unknown, and those rules have influenced me. However, 3d6 will also incorporate some of my ideas from Crucible. It has grown beyond what I can convey in a single page, or even four.

My design goals are two-fold, at the highest level. I want quick character design, that also engenders a real desire to actually play the completed character. Secondly, I want the actual system mechanics to be simple, quick, and effective. They should be there when needed, stay out of the way when not needed, and be transparent at all times.

The combat system I've already posted is a very strong indication of what you can expect from the systems. I am currently working on the character creation section, which will blend the simplicity of SotU with my ideas for stat-less characters and Qualities from Crucible. Actually, those are the only things I'm keeping from Crucible.

I'm very excited about this project. It's like a lot of different things I've been reading, and ideas I've had off and on over the years have been pieces of a puzzle that I am now bringing together. I'm very happy with the 3d6 roll-under, but I know roll-unders aren't very popular. It's going to manage saving throws and task resolution quite well, I think.

Characters will be class and level, but classes will be very broad in application and level will be more of a method of determining relative capabilities. I would like to get away from the idea that a level is a big homogeneous improvement. I want to make it more individualized based on the player's desire for the character. Character development is a little way off, though. I want to have a rough roadmap for it so I don't end up with beginning characters that won't fit the advancement paradigm, but that's as far as I'm thinking about that right now.

So, if anyone has any thoughts on this "mission statement", I'm dying for some feedback.

Friday, February 17, 2012

3d6 Combat System

Here it is, my first draft (at least the first one I've wanted to present) of a 3d6 combat system. While Searchers of the Unknown inspired me to do this, it has become more of its own thing. It is still my hope to condense everything down to one page, but once I started this and the ideas started flowing, the one-page thing became less of a priority. I'll worry about page count when I get it hammered out. Without further ado . . .

Basically, I want to have the to-hit roll target be the opponent's AC (per SotU), roll under on 3d6. Modifiers (please remember that this is roll under so a negative modifier is a Good Thing):
Character Type Bonus
Burly -1/2 Levels
Cunning -1/3 Levels

Magician -1/5 Levels

Damage will be determined by the degree of success of the to-hit roll:
Simple Success (RollAC) deals 1D
Great Success (RollAC-2) deals 2D
Stunning Success (RollAC-4) deals 3D

In all cases, the damage die is d6. In the case of multiple dice, only like numbers are considered, with the highest being totalled. Light weapons are -1 to all dice counted, Medium weapons are unmodified, and Heavy weapons are +1 to all dice counted.

So, how about some percentages?

A 1st level Burly Adventurer vs Opponent in Chain (AC6)
Level +1
Opp. AC +6
Roll Needed 13
Chance to-hit 40%
Level -1
Target 6
Roll Needed 7
Chance to-hit 16%

So, obviously something needs to be done here. Bearing in mind that the roll “to-hit” is more accurately described as a roll “to-damage”, we can explore the following. Historically maces were brought to bear against opponents in metal armors. They didn't damage the opponent by penetrating the armor, they wore the opponent down by knocking him around inside the armor. Sooooo . . . what if we apply the following:
Metal armors (Chain and Plate) are +2 vs bludgeoning weapons. Then we get the following chance to-hit:
Level -1
Target 8 (AC6 +2vs Mace)
Roll Needed 9
Chance to-hit 37.5%

That is much more in line with the other numbers. It has the added option of providing a layer of tactical choice at a small complexity premium. To offset the beneficial to-hit, as well as maintaining a degree of accuracy, damage degrees are calculated without the modifier. Thus, the damage degrees for the above scenario would be:
Original unmodified AC 6
Roll needed for Simple Damage (1D) ≥9 (37.5%)
Roll needed for Great Damage (2D) 4 (1.9%)
Roll needed for Stunning Damage (3D) 2 (0%)

Ok, that's all done considering a 1st level adventurer. I believe the numbers will hold up because after you reach a target number of 10 on 3d6, the bonuses hit a law of diminishing returns. Also, there is the fact that, in all truth, I was forced to device this so that low level characters can have any hope against heavily armored foes. Still and all, though, it seems reasonable to me, and at least gives a nod to accurately modeling the effects of bludgeoning weapons against metal armors, insofar as the system I am presenting.

Thoughts, comments, criticisms?

PS> The percentages above were arrived at using the Dice Probability Calculator link at the bottom of my Hall of the Sages column at left.

Uncommon Commoners

I started my reading of Dark Dungeons and something in the text struck me. It was casually stated that common soldiers or town guards may have levels as fighters. That started me thinking.

Something that has bothered me for a long time is the assumption that common folks in the game should have class levels. I do not believe that a soldier has to have levels as a Fighter (capital F). Sure, he has weapon and armor training, and discipline that the common shopkeep doesn't have, but that doesn't make him a Fighter. Likewise the village priest isn't an undead-turning pillar of virtue and the cutpurse hanging in the stocks isn't a Thief.

I'll tell you this: IF I were a soldier in a fantasy setting, and I was a 2nd level fighter, I wouldn't be a soldier. Think about it: Soldiers face most of the same dangers and deprivations as adventurers. If I'm on garrison duty when a 1st level fighter comes into town dragging a sack of loot, I'm going to say "To hell with a couple of gold a month. I'm twice the fighter that guy is. I'm heading for the nearest dungeon."

(Obviously I wouldn't speak of myself in such terms, but that's not the point.)

That is something that makes a shallower, smoother power curve more preferable for me. When "mid-level" equates to somewhere between 8-14th level, commoners have to rise to compensate. What good are 1HD commoners acting as gate guards for the city-state when a party of 4 or 5 11th level PCs come knocking? Especially if one happens to be a magic user.

Now, I'm not getting a predisposition against Dark Dungeons here. I knew what it was going in. I knew it covered 36 levels, plus 36 Immortal levels. So, this isn't an early knock against it. This is simply my thoughts that were sparked by something I read in there. And thinking about it made me realize another reason I do prefer a "gentler" power curve.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dark Dungeons

So, I know I'm late to the party, but my print copy of Dark Dungeons arrived today. I haven't time to do more than flip through it, but I will be reviewing it over the next few days. It is my plan to break my review up into sections, followed by a wrap-up. I don't have any schedule or time-table in mind, but it won't take too long. I have some other stuff to read for review, as well, so I've got to keep a steady pace.

Anyway, I'm very excited and grateful to have received this tome. I'm really looking forward to digging into it and sharing my thoughts.

Searchers of the Bell Curve

I see I've had some reads of my posts about Searchers of the Unknown, but no comments. So, I'm wondering, does this intrigue any of you who've checked it out? The reason I ask is that I'm in mind of doing a hack for it and would be very desirous of feedback. I love that the nature of SotU makes it so portable and quick-and-easy to pick up and play. I want to convert it to using all d6 to maximize that portability. I've already got some foundational work done, and I'm sure I'll post it no matter what. I'm just letting anyone interested know it's coming, and also try to get a read on who might really be interested.

Abraxas, A New Blog

Ethan, of In Places Deep fame, noted this new blog on his page, and I wanted to pass it along here, as well. It seems the only post so far is . . . well, I don't want to spoil the surprise. I'll just say that the idea as presented is well thought out and presented. It is also one of the more radical and interesting ideas I've seen in a long minute. Stop on by and check it out. If that first post is any indication of what's to come, I can't wait to see where it goes next.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Searchers of the Unknown, Impressions

Ok, how many of you have checked this out? I think I'm in love. I pulled out pages 5, 8, 9, and 13, and combined them into a new pdf. That is my basic fantasy SotU, and it fits on both sides of a single sheet (printed in booklet).

See, I often jump the fence that separates rules-lite from rules-medium (I rarely dabble in anything heavier than medium anymore). They each scratch a particular itch for me. Lite demands more system work, things like monsters, spells, etc. Medium leaves me more free to do campaign work, settings, etc. But, Lite doesn't place its own demands on setting work. And so it goes.

For now, though, I'm really digging this little game. It's not simply a distillation. The author seems to have said "If a stat line is good enough for monsters and NPCs, why can't it work for PCs, too?" This required some changes to mechanics and subsystems. These changes are simple, and dare I say it, elegant. That is a word that is currently much overused, but in this case deserved.

I love what I've seen here. It makes me want to extract the stat line from every OD&D monster I can get my hands on. It makes me want to create books of spells, waiting to be found. It makes me want to create rare and mysterious NPC classes to tease players with. It makes me want to create. It makes me want to imagine the hell out of things. And that, my friends, that inspiration, is a rare and marvelous gift.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Searchers of the Unknown

From the Introduction
Searchers of the Unknown is a one-page roleplaying game where player characters are entirely defined by a minimalist old school Dungeons & Dragons one line stat block (e.g. "AC 7, MV 9, HD 2, hp 9, #AT 1, D 1d8 mace") something like monster stat blocks in early editions of D&D. All actions are based on those stats. Armor class is the old school “lower is better,” but the way armor class is used in  SotU it makes sense with armor class generally helping against attacks but  hindering initiative and attempts to be stealthy. The basic SotU generally uses a level plus AC roll under mechanic, using an opponent's AC when attacking or the character's own AC when trying to be stealthy. Saves require a roll under level plus 4. Variants versions of SotU use D20 or Target20 rolls. In the basic game, all characters are human adventurers. Supplements add demi-humans and spell-casting classes.
Like Microlite20, the original Searchers of the Unknown rules inspired a large number of similar games based on the same principles, ranging from simple variants like SotU Refired to modern day games, science fiction games, after the holocaust games, etc. Most of these games are complete in one or two pages. A few have additional supplements of their own.

This is a 56 page compilation of SotU based games. It is well worth the time it takes to download. It actually looks playable, as well as fun. The basic rules take up the front of one page. (This would be an excellent candidate for a pocketmod . . . ) The stat line format for characters makes it instantly compatible with virtually everything pre-AD&D right out of the box, including clones thereof. AD&D wouldn't be a hassle, either, just not quite as automatic. 

So, download it and give the basic rules a read. It will be 10 minutes well spent. Many thanks to Randall over at RetroRoleplaying: the Blog for putting it all together. Be sure and go by his blog, he has a ton of great stuff on offer, not to mention insightful commentary on gaming and the OSR.

Searchers of the Unknown

The DCC Funnel

I think the funnel looks like fun. Once. I wouldn't try to force it on a group more than once, and really, it shouldn't come up too much anyway. Characters replacing slain characters later in the campaign certainly won't go through it. It does look like it could make for a comedic/stressful first session.

Still, there is a nagging part of me that says it has "Screw Job" writ all over it. On the surface it's pretty cool. Make up 2-4 0-level characters, by rolling 3d6 in order, roll 1d4 HP, roll an occupation (which grants some rudimentary, crappy equipment), and seek glory. It is expected that only 1 or 2 will survive. From the survivor(s) one is chosen to be your player character. At this point you select a class, and complete all the other details.

The Screw Job whispers start when I realized there is nothing mechanically to guide this process. Say one of your characters has kick-ass stats, and they're arranged how you want. So you can just use your other three 0-levels as meat shields. You come out the other side with the character you want. Done. Why not just roll up four characters and keep the one you like best? Isn't that what it comes down to anyway?

The other thing that sort of obviates this process is that nothing in the 0-level adventure actually steers the characters toward a class. When it is over, the player still selects whatever class he wants, with nothing in the adventure informing the decision. It is largely based, as this decision has been from the beginning, on stats. Of course, role play can enter into it, but when you're rolling straight 3d6 do you really want to call your guy with a 16 STR and 11 INT a magic-user? Probably not.

None of this is meant to imply that the choice of 0-level character to "elevate" to PC is as cut-and-dried as my examples. However, any nail-biting is largely not due to the funnel. Unless your early favorite becomes goblin food. The point is, whether it is an easy decision or not, the decision will be based on stats and the class you want to be playing anyway. The funnel will have very little influence on your decisions, and any influence it does have will be of the restricting-your-choices-through-attrition variety.

Something else about the whole process that seems disingenuous: The rules are very explicit (bordering on demanding) that character be made with the funnel at least once. We are told in a very stern voice that we must roll 3d6 in order, must randomly determine starting occupation, etc. There is an air of superiority in the tone, a hint of "This is how REAL role players roll up characters". Yet, if you strip away all the superfluous baggage of the funnel, you're rolling up four characters and keeping the one you want. Not as strict or random as the Dire Rules Voice leads you to believe.

I'm not bashing it, much as it may sound so. Like I said, it sounds like fun. Let's just keep it in perspective. It should not be viewed as an integral part of character generation. A fun pre-game when the group desires it, sure. Some great and lasting stories can arise from such misadventures. That alone can be worth the time, especially on the eve of a campaign that is intended to be long-term. Those "Remember when we first went into that burned out chapel and I saved your ass?" stories make a fine foundation for a life-long adventuring relationship.

Books of Genesis

When I started playing D&D in the Autumn of '76, you could always identify the D&Ders by the books they carried. It was almost exclusively The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, one of the John Carter series, or The Sword of Shannara. I'm not sure why I didn't see Conan, Elric, or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Maybe the small town I was in didn't carry them, or the high school library didn't have them. Maybe my memory is becoming more porous.

In any event, this book, The Sword of Shannara, had as much, if not more, impact on my development as a gamer than anything I would read after. The cover is so striking to me still. The opening scene with Flick travelling that wooded path at dusk is still one of the very best atmospheric pieces ever. The brooding ominousness of Allanon. Panamon Creel was the proto-Han Solo. Something about the dwarves living in the hills as opposed to inside the mountains was very compelling to me, as well. Oh, and thanks to Mr. Brooks I've never been able to get my mind around gnomes as a charming little PC race.

I adore this book, at least partly due to the lack of memories that burdened my reading of it. When I read this the only of the Professor's work I had read was The Hobbit. So, I wasn't aware of how much Sword mimics LotR. Even now, 35 yeas later, and with full knowledge of that, I can still enjoy this book solely on its own merits.

I eventually made most of the rounds of the "classic" D&D inspiration, but this one will always have a special place in my memories. I carried a battered copy with me for weeks, even though I had finished it almost as soon as I got home with it. It was like a badge that proclaimed "I play this magical new game called D&D", but its proclamation was only received by those that already knew its meaning. It was like some sort of secret handshake.

So, what books influenced your genesis into the hobby?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics: Initial Impressions

I just downloaded the Beta Rules (available here). I haven't had time to do more than skim through it, but I did want to post my early impressions.

I sincerely hope this game is as much fun as it looks. This is possibly the most evocative art I have ever seen. Almost every single piece makes me want to grab a sword, staff, holy symbol, lockpick set, or bag of dice. Or maybe all of the above. Reading this I feel almost like I'm in high school again and can't wait to get together with John, my gamer buddy, and play all night long.

The interior art is provided by no less than the  luminaries from the glory days, such as:

Jeff Easley,  Jim Holloway, Diesel Laforce, Erol
Otus, and Jim Roslof. Even the "whippersnappers" possess the old school aesthetic.

Finally (for this initial impression), I want to mention pg 4. In the ToC it is listed as "Proclamations". It is a really cool manifesto, which opens with the following:

So, I deeply hope this game lives up to the initial impression it has made on me. If so, it could be my holy grail, the Way-back Machine that will take me back to the halcyon days of the beginning of this hobby for me. A time of wonder and mystery, discovery and exploration unequalled in the many years since.

Microlite20 RPG Collection

For the Microlite20 fans, this little piece of magnificence dropped today. It is almost 1400 pages of M20 goodness, including the excellent M74 Extended and M20 Purest Essence. This is the first update of the massive M20 Tome in 2 years. Do yourself a favor and give it a look.

The Microlite20 Rpg Collection - 2012 Edition

D&D #5

I'm burning out on this. Already. How much longer til the projected release date?

I'll admit to being very hopeful and optimistic when I first read the news. Now I'm basically indifferent. There is something about this whole circus that rubs me the wrong way. This may be confusing, and if it is, I apologize. I'll also go ahead and apologize for any coarse language. I'm frustrated.

So, first WotC buys TSR, saving it from becoming a distant memory. Their first play is to roll out a new edition, something designed to make the game relevant in the then-modern market. That was the first degree of separation. Then, Hasbro buys WotC, and wrought their changes upon the system. A lot can be speculated about their design philosophy, but it's all speculation.

Whatever they were thinking, or why, doesn't matter at this point. What they produced only barely resembled D&D. Now, we have three disparate systems all claiming to be the same game, all claiming the same heritage and pedigree. Now, we have another edition on the horizon that is destined to unite the bloodlines, as it were.

Here is my main problem (at least for today). It seems like there are those in the OSR camp that can't wait to return to the fold. They think it's going to be a glorious day when they can play a shiny new and fully supported D&D again. They seem to think WotC is doing us all a huge favor by making all versions of D&D coexist peacefully. It is my impression that there are many who will completely abandon their dog-eared copies of 1st Edition, or their Lulu copies of Dark Dungeons for this new D&D.

I say that before we line up to sing WotC's praises for a new D&D to rule them all, that we pause to remember that it was WotC that fucked it up in the first place. There really wasn't that much wrong with AD&D when they took over. Sure it needed some clarification and reorganizing. A new edition was in order, but not a wholesale redesign. I'm no MBA, but it is my sense, especially when you look at all the people still playing the older editions, that TSR's problems were not related to an outdated game. Their problems were with their business model, not their product. There's that old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". WotC fixed the wrong thing.

I may chime in from time to time on 5E, but I am no longer going to be following the development of it very closely. I have my older editions and my clones to keep me happy. I don't need a new edition from WotC/Hasbro to legitimize the way I learned to play and have been playing for over 35 years. I'm not worried about DMing a game with classes from x number of different editions. I'm not worried about paying top dollar for a laundry list of options that I can switch on and off at will, and will only end up switching on about seven. It's silly when you think about it: Why pay out the ass for a new set of books that will "allow" me to play the way I always have when I can do that with the books I already have?

This is the song from the end of last night's Walking Dead episode. This is a great gaming song to me. I can picture a group of inexperienced (1st level) people that have decided to band together and go face some menace to their peaceful village. I can picture them steeling their resolve, gripping weapons, and walking into a creepy, mist-shrouded forest, toward whatever destiny Fate has laid.

Anyway, give it a listen, I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Walking Dead

Who watched it tonight? Show of hands . . .

I really dig this show, so I hope you won't mind if I post about it from time to time. Tonight's was a good return from their extended holiday hiatus. I'm very curious with how all this farm business will shake out. The group can't stay this big. Sooner or later they'll have to bug out and when they do, who gets left? Or will there be a big killing? Tonight's episode set up a potentially rival group moving toward the farm. That could end badly.

Spoiler Alert!

Turn Back If You Haven't Seen Ep 208! Highlight below to read.

What about that ending? Damn. I love those moments when all of a sudden a guy shows unequivocally how big a bad ass he really is. Tonight was Rick's time to shine. Shane has run around like the only bad ass while Rick's been torn by guilt and the weight of leadership. Rick is the leader for a reason. Tonight he slipped into full cop-mode, read those two clowns, and when the time came did not hesitate to use deadly force.
They did cross a line, though. Only Rick, Glenn, and Herschel know it right now. They have crossed the line into having to kill other survivors. I saw it said somewhere that the zombies aren't the bad guys, they're just obstacles, like a blizzard or raging river. The real bad guys are other survivors with more questionable morals. Tonight we saw how true that will be.

Just When I wasn't Looking

Wow! I started this blog mostly for myself. I hoped I would find some "regulars" to talk gaming with, but if not, then ok. I just wanted to put my ideas, thoughts, and experiences into some form other than a "journal". It helps me to realize how stupid and narrow my thinking can be if I can expel it and come back for later review.

I don't think I checked the blog at all yesterday, then I get on tonight and look at my stats. Lo! and Behold! 132 page views yesterday! I can't believe it! And a bunch of new folks following the blog! Welcome to all of you, it is great to have you here.

I've been a little quiet this month because, frankly, my ADD got the better of me. I'm hoping that I am about to move into a more focused cycle, though. I'm currently fostering interest in Dark Dungeons and the Forgotten Realms Old Grey Box. If I can fan these into flames they'll keep me busy (and blogging) for a little while at least.

So, I just want to thank everyone that has taken an interest in my ramblings, especially Lee, who's commented regularly and given me someone to talk to and get feedback from.

It Doesn't Get Much More Old School

If ever there was a one-sentence phrase to sum up old school play, this is it:
"My very first D&D character was a fighter. He was paralysed by a ghoul. The party looted me while I was still alive and used my body to wedge the door while they ran away."

This is the sig of one Bochi over on Dragonsfoot. He may use it elsewhere, as well. I just wanted to share it because it cracks me up and it really does have that old school ambiance.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Critical Hits in D&D

This post over at Tenkar's Tavern (excellent and highly recommended, by the way) got me to thinking about critical hits in D&D, any flavor, including clones thereof. As a player, and as a DM who likes to see smiling player faces, I love critical hits. Nothing is quite so exciting as getting your ass handed to you and all of a sudden rolling that beautiful 20 (we always yelled "NATCH!"). You may still get your ass handed to you, but that crit insured that the other guy knew he had been in a fight.

Of course, we handled it differently over the years. There were hit location tables, confirming crits, secondary tables with more abstract things than direct hit locations (Bleeder!), and the ubiquitous double damage. It was the double damage we generally used most often. It was faster, less fiddly, and quite a visceral experience to slap some jackass with 28 points of damage.

The enemy could score crits on the players, too, and there was always the dreaded fumble. This usually was simply fall or drop your weapon. Either way, you basically missed your next turn.

I'm not such a fan of critical hits these days, and I'll tell you why.

  • D&D combat models results. It's roots are in a wargame, and a wargame is concerned with who wins, not how. Any sort of critical hit system intrudes on the model.
  • Combat is conducted with a d20. It is based on linear probability, which means the stable boy and the war hero will crit 5% of the time. Now, I know that confirming your crit mitigates this, but who wants to fiddle with another roll? And have you ever seen a player in a desperate situation that failed to confirm? It isn't pretty.
  • The roll to-hit is simply that, a roll to-hit. The only possible rationale for basing a critical hit from that would be to assume that a high roll (a 20) could indicate a hit to a more vital spot.
  • To me, it really should be the damage roll that indicates a crit. I have no system for this because I do not desire one. I am merely speaking hypothetically. Exploding damage dice or something. I just think that it is silly to roll a 20, double the damage, roll like a 2, and end up with a "critical hit" doing maybe 6 points. A damage roll that indicates max damage is more critical than that.

I am an old-schooler when it comes to weapon damage. I love the idea of all weapons doing d6. So, and this is completely off-the-cuff as I type this, I think if  was going to introduce crits, I would just allow an additional d6. Maybe. I don't know. I just know we are trying to model outcomes and introducing subsystems like critical hits into the model engine are doomed to either fail or disrupt the engine.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alternity Artifacts

Having rekindled my old flame for Alternity, I have been scouring the net for talk of it over the last few days. There isn't very much current, but I have been perusing quite a few forum archives. There was a great deal of polarity over Alternity. People seem to have loved it or hated it. There was one thing that proved a polarizing point above all others, though: the die mechanic.

For those of you who don't know, it is a fairly straight-forward thing. The target number for any task is invariably the character's stat + skill (where applicable). The goal was to roll under this total on a d20. Circumstance modifiers were handled by adding or subtracting a modifier die. The particular die would be based on the degree of the bonus/penalty. Thus, for your character to negotiate a narrow plank crossing a deep chasm, add Dexterity and Acrobatics. Roll d20 under and you're good. But wait, it is quite windy and there is a driving rain. This results in a 3-step penalty, so you would roll a d8 with your d20 and add them together.

Pretty clear, I think. There are a lot of comments out there about how counter intuitive this is. The variable bonus/penalty isn't the main villain, though. It seems like it would be, since most of us are accustomed to fixed bonuses/penalties. But no, it is the roll under that causes the most wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. Rolling under is counter-intuitive? Are you kidding me? These Alternity haters revile the roll-under like it sprang from the mind of La Vey.

Remember, I said that these forum archives are not new. In fact, a lot of them smack of edition wars, with d20 Modern/Future in one corner and Alternity in the other. D20M wasn't even that old when a lot of these shots were being fired. Why is this relevant? Glad you asked. Most of the people championing d20 and flaming Alternity for it's counter-intuitive roll under mechanic had been playing AD&D only a few short years prior. I love D&D, but let's be real. There are a number of totally unrelated die mechanics for different activities in D&D. Including roll unders, most notably Thief Skills and Non Weapon Proficiency checks.

So, I just don't understand how those haters could blast Alternity for being so counter-intuitive, baroque, and unfathomable, when just a few years prior they were up to the eyebrows in dueling die mechanics. Jim Morrison said it best:

"People are strange . . ."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Look at Alternity

This is one of those games I adore, but have never been able to play. I'll buy just about any gaming book that interests me, money willing. I've always loved to read, so to me there's never been a difference between paying for a hardback of some novel or historical book, and paying for a gaming book. As long as I am entertained/educated/enlightened, I got my money's worth. As a result of that I've run into a lot of games over the years that I read but never played. Most of the time I could live with that. I knew going in that my group (when I had such a thing) wasn't going to be swayed from D&D. Still, every once in a while, I did read a game I tried to pitch to them, and when I failed to sway, became sad and a little bitter. This was such.

This is not intended as a review, an overview, or any other view. It is simply me lamenting missed opportunities with what I thought was a great game. In fact, it is the rediscovery of this line that has seen me so absent from the blog this week. Between getting reacquainted and wondering if I should even post something about this game (it is not "old school" except under the most esoteric definition), I discovered that there are quite a few diehards still feeling the Alternity love.

If you've never checked it out, you really should give it a look. There are quick starts and a metric ton of support and resources at Most of the line is available from Amazon. You can get used copies of the two core books, plus one of the campaign settings for less than what one of the books cost at release. If any of you do end up checking it out, I'd be interested in hearing your impressions.