Monday, October 22, 2012

Anguish and Abandon

Disclaimer: What follows is not meant as a comparison of two fine games. I am merely using the two games to contrast two different play styles, since they are such iconic representations of their respective styles.

As you know, immediately preceding my current obsession with DCC I had a dalliance with LotFP. There is a fundamental difference in their implied styles of play that I felt like pointing out.

Lamentations is notable for its total lack of a bestiary. There are several reasons that the author chose to go this route, but there is one that matters most to this post. In the implied setting of LotFP there are no "evil races". There are no orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres, or giants. There are no dragons who wear their moral affiliation in their color. This means that every time a character kills it requires accepting that the character is killing. There are no free passes. There are no unrepentant races or groups. There are no creatures that it is OK to kill. In a way, this makes LotFP very story-driven. At least that is how I define such things. The more angst the game promotes, or the more focus a character's internal conflict (or downward moral spiral) is given, the more I tend to think of the game as story driven. For example, in such a game, the killing is often anti-climactic to the fact that the character made the willful decision to kill.

At the other end, we have DCC. With the exception of wizards needing to be ever vigilant of the dangers of their craft, killing is done with wild abandon. Spells can succeed spectacularly, raining death. Warriors can perform deeds of great daring in pursuit of their enemies. While DCC does encourage unique monsters, it also includes the old favorite "bad guys", ripe for the slaughter.

While there is a part of me that can really appreciate the style of LotFP, it's not really the way I want to play anymore. Maybe when I was in my "serious role playing" phase, sure. Now, if I can ever manage to get a game together, I just want to have a few laughs, some hair-raising chills, thrilling adventures, and ultimately kill some monsters and take their shit. And for all the angst-love I have for LotFP (and it is considerable), I want to do all that killing without having to anguish over it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Firstest with the Mostest

"I didn't really talk like a total hick"
Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest is credited with coining the phrase "Get there firstest with the mostest", when asked to describe his tactics. I suspect he said it a bit more intelligently than that, but since he was a hated Confederate general, and the victors write the history books, his words were written as if spoken by a genuine rube.

At any rate, I think his personal philosophy of battle holds up pretty well in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Allow me to explain.

I was reading a forum post over on the Goodman Games forum. It's about combining DCC and AD&D. The parts that I found of particular interest were concerned with using old 1E modules with DCC and the conversions necessary for such. Module T1: The Village of Hommlet was batted around quite a bit. As I read it, my very first thought was to use the fluff and descriptions, but for anything mechanical, just grab the Libram (my personal nickname for the DCC rulebook). It seems pretty straightforward to me. Hommlet is a shining example of Gygaxian naturalism, so subbing in one set of mechanical details for another shouldn't really be a problem. Plus, both games are founded on a core belief that encounters do not have to be fair or balanced. So, if a DCC version of a monster is too powerful, the characters should just beat feet and look for a way 'round.

So, all that sounds fine, up to now. But . . . Hommlet is a 1st level module. What about using more potent modules, like White Plume Mountain? DCC tops out at 10th level. So, Gods forbid the party should ever enter the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. Can you imagine a 10th level fighter with d8 hit dice strolling through the G series? Sure you can, but not very far through it, right?

Which really starts bringing this post full circle. I realized something wonderful about DCC combat. It is fast and deadly. Yes, the characters don't walk around with triple-digit hit points. Their damage potential though is off the charts compared to any other form of D&D, except maybe 4th with its semi-mystical "Powers".

A DCC Hill Giant has AC16 and an attack bonus of +15, doing 2d8+8.They average a crit about every 5 rounds, have 8d10 HP, and roll a d24 for attacks. Yikes! Oh, and their crit table is a thing of terror. So, what about our fighter? Well, he'll have 10d12 HP, not the d10 of AD&D, so that's a start. He can attack up to three times a round. One of those is with a d14, but that is mitigated by the attack die. His attack die will grant him a minimum of +5 to-hit and damage each round. It could be as high as +14, and remember: the single roll applies to all attacks and damage for the round. So, if he gets a +14, and assuming he hits all three times (a very safe assumption with a +14 to-hit also), he will do at least 45 points of damage. That is if none of the attacks crits and all his damage rolls come up 1's. Which brings us to crits. Our fighter's threat range is 17-20, which translates into a 20% chance for a crit each turn, or one every five turns, like his giant opponent. A 10th level fighters crits are the stuff of nightmares.

What does all this mean? It means lots and lots of blood and gore flying around from the start. It means that when the fight is joined the warriors need to wade in and handle business real quick. I haven't studied the monsters yet, but I suspect that each level is challenged similarly. So, the monsters are stone cold killers, more than capable of meting out enough damage to ruin a character in short order. But the characters are also capable of raining down death. A sound plan, when there's time to formulate one will be beneficial, and in some situations crucial. Along with an exit strategy. Always know which way to run. Survival is a matter of who hits hardest and fastest, or avoids getting hit at all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Look

If you're reading this, you already know. I completely revamped the look of the blog. Tim pointed out that it was difficult to read as I had it, what with the semi-transparent background. I made the background opaque, which made it easier to read, but didn't do anything for my aesthetic. I had been batting the idea around for a cleaner look, something more focused on the content. You know, more substance, less style. Of course, that puts the onus on me to provide the substance. Who's idea was this, anyway?

Anyway, if the new look moves you, please let me know. If it is easier or harder to read, which look you prefer (hopefully the new one, cause I really don't like changing it all that much). Please let me know, because even though I may have started this for me, it is more about us now, and we're all in this together.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Gushing About DCC

My reading continues. I finished the Combat chapter last night. Here are some more of my thoughts.

  • The equipment chapter is sparse, but I'm OK with it. It contains lists for weapons, ammo for missile weapons, armor, and mounts and related gear. Aside from that, there is a single table with precisely 24 items of a more general nature. They are all items that are useful, if not essential, to the successful dungeon crawler. There's a geek in me that likes extensive equipment lists, I have to be honest. But I can also appreciate the brevity of a list like this. After all, equipment lists are everywhere in this hobby, and with DCC's stated target audience, it is a certainty that anyone with this game has access to more than two or three extensive equipment lists. I know I do.
  • The writing style is direct without being terse. For example, in many games there is a multi-page section in the combat chapter dealing with odds and ends. Things like fire, falling, charging, shooting into a melee. These things are described in detail, either for those new to the hobby, or those with lawyerly aspirations. Not here.  All of these peripheral combat relations are given a grand total of a full column plus about half another. In that span you will find rules for: Ability Loss, Catching Fire, Charge, Dropping a Torch, Falling, Firing Into Melee, Grappling, Recovering Armor, Recovering Missile Weapons, Subdual Damage, and Unarmed Combat. All that in a column-and-a-half.
  • A lot has been said about the art and layout, so I won't rehash stuff you've probably already read. Both are superb. The thing I do want to say about it (two things, actually) is this: The fonts are outstanding. I'm a total font geek and the ones in this book are near perfect. Easy to read and definitely evocative of an old school experience. The layout is genius. Most of the time it is 2-column, but every now and then it slips out to single column to better wrap a particular art piece. Sometimes the text is part of the art,  as in the descriptions of the fighting orders under the Warrior class. So far, I haven't seen that effect used on anything "crunchy", it has been limited to parts that are implying the background.
  • Back to the writing style, for all it's brevity, it is not dull or lifeless. This is not a technical manual on fantasy gaming. It is a big ass set of guidelines for having a good time playing a gonzo fantasy game. The prose is loaded with dry, sarcastic humor (which is right up my alley). Several times I have laughed out loud while reading.

For my last item, I give you the paragraph on falling damage. I woke my wife up laughing last night as I read this.
Falling causes 1d6 for every 10' fallen. For every damage die that comes up a 6, the victim breaks a bone. For each broken bone, the victim permanently loses 1 point of Strength or Agility (player's choice). The affected limb, rib, or vertebrae never heals quite right and affects the character in some fashion from then on.
OK, we all know that one of the oft-lamented facts of D&D is that a character with enough hit points can jump from a known height without fear of the damage. If I have 83 HP, I can just step off that 50' cliff without a blink because the worst it will be is 30 points of damage. There have been all sorts of work-arounds and house rules for this problem. This particular solution is, to me, pure genius. There is no other rolls, no math, nothing else to consider. Roll the d6's and get on with it. Yet, it introduces a truly sobering random element. Go ahead Mr. 83HP, step off and let's see what happens. I just rolled 5d6 and came up with 19 points of damage, but guess what. One was a 6, so OUCH! That 50' jump was a little more serious than it first looked. In fact, I did that little experiment five times and had broken bones on all but the last time. One time had two breaks. That is a fairly elegant solution, I think.

There you have it. There is a lot more I am loving about this game, but that's all I am posting this time. I think the Mighty Deeds of Arms probably needs a post all to itself. Plus, I'll be digging into the magic chapter today. I am a little intimidated by it, but it is an exciting sort of intimidation, like a rock climber staring up at a formidable cliff face.

Speaking of which, there is one more thing I wanted to say. When I started playing D&D, when I wanted to try to introduce a friend to it, I always said something along the lines of "you can do whatever you want to". Somewhere along the way that sense of derring-do became lost in a mountain of rules designed to adjudicate "whatever you want to". Not just D&D, but pretty much every game out there. Games went from players saying "I want to try to . . ." to them saying "Can I . . .?" That's just no good. Nobody told Indiana Jones that a whip only does d3 damage and he shouldn't waste a proficiency slot on it. Nobody told him he couldn't snap his whip out and wrap it around a bunch of electrical wires and swing around to the room next door, in the pouring rain. He just did it. That's adventure. Trying the shit nobody else thinks of, or would dare even if they did think of it. Too many rules kills that spirit of adventure, that sense of "you can do whatever you want to". Simple rules, elegantly applied, will carry the day every time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DCC: 2nd Impressions

I've finished reading the classes, and I am really digging what they've done. In no particular order, here are some of the things that caught my eye:

  • Clerics seem like a unique class, rather than a sort of Fighter/Magic-user. They are mechanically tied to their deity (and not just with the lame ass areas of power or whatever it was called). There are real mechanical consequences for a cleric pissing off his deity, which I think is awesome. Equally awesome is that the clerics spells are fundamentally different from wizard spells because of the Disapproval mechanic. I have always thought that the cleric shouldn't memorize his prayers like a magic-user does his spells. It makes no sense for the cleric to wake up in the morning and think "Hmm, I think I might need to pray for some food later today. Better memorize the prayer for that. " I've always thought the cleric's spells should be more like very specific god-calls, and that's pretty much the way this game portrays them.
  • The warrior's Deeds die has been talked about a LOT, so I won't go into detail. I'll just say that I love the idea of the fighter being able to try anything. One of the things I detested about Feats was the notion that I had to give up ten things in order to do one. Not so with Deeds. Total flexibility and ease of use. Win-win.
  • Wizards and the magic system ROCK. I can totally see playing an Elric-type character under these rules. Wizards are tied to a patron, whether that patron is an evil god, an elemental force, or a demon from the Pit. They can also call directly on their patron for aid, but at a price. Blood and souls for my lord, Arioch!
  • The race-as-class demi-humans look interesting and, more importantly, fun. Too often they look like an exercise in tit-for-tat, and any real thought about them is an after-thought. These seem fun, but still balanced.
All in all, I am as excited by this game as I have been since I first played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. So far, this seems like a set of rules I could either play or run and never have to worry about being pumped up and ready for the next session. Everything I've read so far just screams FUN! I can't wait to read more.

Friday, October 12, 2012

DCC RPG Follow-up

So, I was going back through the beta, and was enjoying it more than I remember the first time. As I usually do, I started looking at reviews, forums, and general things related to the game. I love reviews, even if it is something I have owned and played for several years. A particular reviewer's insights may draw my attention to something I had missed altogether. But, I digress.

One of the forum topics I discovered described the differences between the beta and final release. Based on how much more I was enjoying the beta, and the changes reported in the final, I decided to go ahead and get the final release pdf. So, hopefully I'll have at least a couple of posts on my thoughts and impressions. It will probably be next week, but there is an off chance something will come out over the weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crumbs and Misconceptions

If you've read even a few of my posts, you'll be aware that I am a stream-of-consciousness writer. Well, it isn't just writing. Much of my life is spent following the whims of my free-wheeling right brain. The specific whim I am referring to in this post is downloading. Sometimes when I start reading reviews or forums, or pretty much anything game-related, I'll start following a winding path of references and comparisons. For example, if a review of ACKS happened to mention that there was a new printing of Swords & Wizardry Core, I would immediately go download it. That might, in turn, lead me to something else, and so on. I may not even pay any particular attention to those downloads at the time.

Sometimes, though, I will pay attention to one of these "tangent downloads". Many times when this happens I'll be a little more critical of it. I think it is because I'm skimming it in the midst of a serious lack of focus, and also because it may actually bear very little relation to whatever led me to it in the first place. If I'm on the trail of old school rules and download something that ends up looking more d20-ish, I'm likely to be unkind. Not necessarily because it is bad, but because it isn't what I thought it was going to be. Unfair, I know, but who said life was fair? Where is that written?

One such download was Dungeon Crawl Classics.I was motoring around the internet some 8 months ago and noticed that the free beta was only available for a short time longer. So, I zipped on over and downloaded that puppy. I was in no particular mood for it at the time, I just wanted it. I started skimming it, and initially like what I saw. Then, my mood started to sour. I made a couple of posts about it. My specific point of souring was with the "voice" in the section on the funnel.

Well, I'm not saying that my opinion has changed. What I am saying is that I recently rediscovered that download and I feel like I am ready to examine it in a more objective light. So, my opinion might change. At any rate, I'll be giving it another go, because it really does look like a fun system. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I'm a Copyleft Type of Guy

I identify with copyleft for a number of reasons. The main ones are monetary (I have several children and hobby money is painfully scarece), the challenge (it isn't nearly as easy as plopping down the money and having the thing), and philosophical.

My computers have run on Linux for at least 10 years, either in dual-boot, or for the last 3 years, 100% Linux. I use Openoffice for my office-type needs. I do my maps in GIMP. Any kind of vector drawing is either Inkscape or LibreCAD. I think you get the idea.

I'm sure you find all of this fascinating, but are still left wondering, "What does this have to do with a gaming blog?"

What it really comes down to is that I feel sort of guilty about working with a game that actually costs money. Guilty isn't precisely the right word, but I can't really pin down a better one. There is a graphic link in my right sidebar about supporting free and open gaming. I didn't put that there because I thought it looked cool, or I wanted to be some sort of "RPG Robin Hood" when it seemed like fun. I put it there because I believe in it.

Many years ago, when the hobby was booming (before CRPGs nearly killed it) I was like a lot of other geeks. I thought I could make a very comfortable living for myself if I could just get my ideas published. I "worked" feverishly on them, and guarded them very jealously. Well, I am almost 51 years old, and with the wisdom of age I now know that I will not get rich, or even financially secure, on the strength of my game ideas.

I have believed for a long time now that if I create something in my spare time, as my hobby, why not just share it? If I forego gainful employment in the pursuit of such things, of course I have the right to compensation, should I desire such. Bear in mind, this is my personal philosophy, not anything I would try to foist on someone else.

This is the reason that I prefer to work with games like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Dark Dungeons, and a variety of other clones that offer free downloads. I prefer the ones that offer everything, rather than hold back some, less essential, parts for the paid version. For example, the downloaded version of Dark Dungeons that I have is exactly the same as the print version I have from Lulu. I'm not busting on games that offer free versions with missing elements at all. The free download of LotFP is perfectly playable without the referee book or the tutorial, and the no-art Labyrinth Lord is complete and playable without the art. It is just the full, natural extension of my personal philosophy to be drawn to the ones that are completely, wholly free.

This is also the reason that games like Crypts & Things draw so much of my ire. I know it has an original setting and mechanical hooks into the setting. I have no issue with the publisher wishing to sell those aspects. What I don't like is that they took something free and charged for it. Specifically, Swords & Wizardry and Akrasia's house rules. Both are freely available. Maybe the publisher tweaked them in some ways, but the heavy lifting with already done. They should have at least made their rules available for free download.

Why do I bring this up? I really don't know, aside from the fact that this blog is about sharing my ideas and thoughts on our hobby. I know this is only tangentially related, so I hope you'll forgive me this indulgence.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Old World Careers in LotFP

I've had this simmering in the back of my head a couple of days now, and here is where I am with it. The Basic Career Classes represent broad-stroke background influences. They'll give a direct mechanical plug into the game. Specific basic careers will give benefits in more specific situations. Obviously, you'll need access to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for this to make sense. So, here we go . . .

Warrior         +1 to-hit regardless of class. This is a one-time bonus.
Ranger          +1 to Bushcraft
Rogue           +1 Additional skill point at 1st level
Academic     +1 to Language skill

I'll admit, these don't seem completely balanced to me. The Warrior is the most useful, especially for characters that aren't going to be fighters. The Rogue career would allow the specialist to place his bonus wherever desired, while the Ranger and Academic get very specific bonuses, which will only come into play in specific situations. Unfortunately, I couldn't really think of another way without getting into either stat bonuses, which would be too much for a background system, or adding skills just so the background system would have something to work on, which is rather self-serving. Ultimately, what that means to me is that the Basic Career Class should be randomly determined. Roll on the following table:

                      Human     Dwarf       Elf       Halfling
Warrior            1-3          1-4         1-3        1-3
Ranger             4-6          5-7         4-7        4-7
Rogue              7-9          8-10       8-9        8-10
Academic       10-12      11-12     10-12    11-12

The iconic Dwarf Trollslayer
When considering this table, bear in mind that this table does not limit or direct the player's choice of class in any way. This merely states the likelihood of the character having pursued a particular career prior to play. A player with a dwarf character who rolls Academic on this table could explain it by saying his character's family is a long line of craftsmen. for example.

As for the specific careers, they can be randomly determined, but I think the player should choose. The choice should be guided by common sense. The further removed from the character's class, the more the player should do to explain the choice. I would be very tempted to not attach any particular mechanics to them. Leave the player to find ways to use the specific career in play.

So, there it is. I tried to keep it mechanically simple. I just wanted a way to hook the characters into the setting. I'm interested in hearing any thoughts, but most especially from anyone that is into LotFP and the Old World.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Collected Thoughts on LotFP

I've read some more of the game (Grindhouse edition), and I have a few random thoughts I wanted to share, in no particular order.

  • I still love the way that fighters are the only class that ever get better at combat. Even though I posted about liking it, there was a snotty-nosed little whiner in me that was afraid to fully embrace the concept, just based on the fact that dwarves should be decent fighters. Then I read a little deeper and saw that there are such things as combat maneuvers. Some of them are pretty basic and anyone can do them. Some however, do require a certain combination of steely-eyed moxy and presumed combat experience from the character. In other words, they are restricted to classes that could be considered "decent fighters". Dwarves, for example. So, with a good Strength and judicious use of these maneuvers, certain classes can manage to fight fairly well.
  • Specialist (read: Thief) skills are known by all. That was pointed out in a comment to my previous post. Specialists, however, are the only ones that can actually get better at the quintessential skills. In a way it is like fighting and Fighters. Everybody can fight, but only Fighters can get better at it. What's more, the Specialist is useful at low levels, unlike the crippled Thief. While I'm not crazy about the name, this is a version of the Thief that I can get on-board with.
  • The power curve seems so delightfully low. I'm a huge fan of the notion that 10th level characters are near-legend, but that there are still things that they should fear. In LotFP all magic items are assumed to be rare and unique. With that base assumption, PCs aren't running around trying to decide which magic weapon they want to use today, and they aren't sporting an AC of -3 at 8th level. This in turn means that their foes don't have to possess a d8/d8/2d12 attack routine with an AC of -5 and a to-hit bonus of +11 in order to be a threat. All that self-serving power inflation is gone. Granted, the lower power curve is common to the older editions that LotFP is based on, but it is taken to another level in these rules.
  • Lastly, for this post, I love the way that the Old World from WFRP (1st edition) is such an awesome fit for this game. The implied setting is late Renaissance/early modern, and just dovetails perfectly into the Empire of the Old World. The game's take on alignments is a good fit with the Old World's views, as well. The careers even provide a ready-made framework for backgrounds. They also suggest possible bonuses, such as a Dwarven Trollslayer getting a combat bonus in certain, very specific, situations. Dwarves are decent fighters, after all. 
I'll leave you with one of my favorite color pieces from the Rules book. This one also happens to scream "Old World!" to me.

A Grim World of Weird Adventure

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Genuine "A Ha!" Moment

I have had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Lamentations of the Flame Princess since I first heard about it some years ago. I think it is bound up with my never-ending quest for S&S in my RPGs. Many of the elements I have blathered on about are present in LotFP. Magic is strange and a little scary, even for the practitioner. Any monster can be a terror, and most "monsters" are bad men. Real monsters are uncommon and unique. For some reason, though, the flirtation can never achieve critical mass, and after a brief reading session or two, I put LotFP back on the virtual shelf.

That changed yesterday when I learned something much more deep, meaningful, and immediate about the underlying design of the game. I don't even recall where I read about it now, but some article brought up LotFP classes. In the game, fighters are the only class that actually get better at hitting in combat. When I first discovered the game I thought that was an interesting idea, especially considering my fondness for the class.

It has always bothered me that every other class in any edition, iteration, or clone of D&D can do what the fighter does. They can all fight, and they all get better at it. Not as rapidly as the fighter, but they do improve. Now, before you start calling me a crybaby and pointing out how inconsequential the magic-user's combat advances are, let me flip this coin.

The flip side of it is that the fighter can't do anything the other classes can do. He can't cast spells at all, not even ineffectively or as a last resort. He can't pick locks, turn undead, or inspire his allies with a song. He can't do these things at all. It's not the same as other classes' ability to fight "but not as good at combat as the fighter". Nothing about the fighter says he can cast spells "but will never match a true magic user" or pick locks "but never be as accomplished as a real thief".

Ok, enough ranting, before I derail my own post. The point is, that was always something I loved about LotFP. Which brings us to the "A Ha!" moment. With the game's focus on bad men being the bread-and-butter type threat, even classes that don't get a lot of combat bonuses as they progress can hold their own. Common men, no matter how "bad" they are, are still common. The +1 attack bonus that non-fighters receive at 1st level should be enough of an advantage against these common foes.

The fighter really comes into his own when we start talking about the not-so-common foes. The creatures with high ACs and lots of HPs are where the fighter earns his reputation. When shit gets real, the fighter is the guy everybody wants to have on their side. He's the guy with the armor and the big ass weapon, along with the balls and skill to stand in and bring down the hurt. It actually smacks of Chainmail, wherein only Heroes and above could even enter into combat with Fantastical Creatures (ie anything not "man-type"). I don't need to tell anyone who reads my posts that I love this. In fact, I have sought (without success) to replicate this aspect many times.

Now that it has finally clicked with me just how much LotFP falls in line with what I want in a game, my relationship with the game may finally get to the next level.