Sunday, August 18, 2013

Free Goodness from Lamentations of the Flame Princess

There are a couple of new things available for LotFP. The first is a pay-what-you-want pdf of the Free RPG Day adventure, Better Than Any Man. I haven't printed/read it yet. It looks completely awesome. There isn't a FLGS near me, so I'm not familiar with actual Free RPG Day offerings. I rarely even try to get in on them post-Day. My general feeling is that they are mostly introductory in nature, intended for either completely new players, or trying to get established players to try a certain rules set. Maybe I'm wrong about that and doing myself a disservice. I'm certainly glad I stumbled across this one. It is 180 pages(!) with a slew of advanced features in the pdf, including color maps that are printer-friendly. My impression of it is that is almost a mini-campaign, an impression which may, or may not, bear out. It is set against real-world history and seems to be intended to showcase LotFP's particular gaming proclivities.

The second link is to a new, no-art version of the Rules & Magic book. I'm not sure what has changed, content-wise, and of course I can't comment on the art in the for-pay version, but overall I think it looks much better. There is a new font that doesn't do that weird curlicue thing with the "s".

Better Than Any Man

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Delving Deeper Reliquary

Delving Deeper Reliquary, the all-in-one version of Delving Deeper is available for download. It is in plain-text only. I dig the name, btw.

Thoughts on the Rules Cyclopedia

First a little background. Sometime or another in the late '80's I discovered Frank Mentzer's BECMI. I love collecting games and reading them, even if there is little chance I'll ever play a given title. The Larry Elmore covers, especially on the BEC boxes, were awesome to me (they still are).

The group I played with was very anachronistic. You couldn't turn a page without finding something that had been house ruled. This was done on a foundation of 1E AD&D, and later a mash-up of 1E and 2E. Pretty much anything went when it came to characters. No level limits for demi-humans, humans could multi-class, anybody could use weapon specialization, etc, etc, etc.

At some point in time, I decided I wanted a simpler game. Originally, I wanted to play AD&D as written and just see how it would work if played as intended. I didn't get any traction with that idea. So, since my exploration into a simpler method had officially become my personal mental exercise, I figured I may as well go all the way. Immortals didn't really interest me, but I loved BECM. I did not hesitate when the Cyclopedia came out. The idea of such a complete version of D&D for (then) $25 was attractive enough. The fact that it was the collected BECM was the cherry on top.

Late in 1992 I gave my copy of the Cyclopedia to the son of a friend.

 I don't remember exactly when I learned of Dark Dungeons. I received a print copy via Lulu about a year and a half ago. I haven't read it as thoroughly as 18 months allows, but I do like what I've seen. There is an extensive list of changes between the RC and DD, but they are almost exclusively limited to clarity issues.

Anyway, this isn't intended to be a review of either title, or a compare/contrast piece. It is just some thought on some things I have read on the web concerning them. Pretty much anything that applies to the RC applies to DD by extension, so it seemed logical to discuss them together.

One of the biggest knocks I see against the RC/DD is that it is too complete. The perception is out there that it includes rules for everything, thus removing the game from the DM and putting it in the rule book, a la 3.x or Pathfinder. After spending some time with my RC pdf, and DD, I don't see that. Yes, there are more rules for things that commonly come up in play. I think, though, that the extra heft in the books comes from subsystems that are very specific. For example, pages 169-194 of DD are chapters covering mass battles and immortals, topics that will be a long time coming in campaigns beginning at 1st level.

There is also a lot made about the rules covering character levels up to 36th. Many players prefer a shallower power curve. I myself have discussed that very thought. Upon further reflection, I can definitely see where a longer power curve can bring something to the game. With a 36-level spread, I find it much less troubling to assign levels to special, yet non-pivotal, NPCs. A captain of the guard could be 6th level, which allows him to be accurately represented relative to those under his command. With a 14-level curve, the same captain would probably be no more than 4th level, probably 3rd. That doesn't leave much room to represent the lieutenants and sergeants in his unit.

So, that just a couple of thoughts on these two rules sets.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Spellbooks and Research in B/X

Ode to Black Dougal has a post about how spellbooks are handled in B/X. In a nutshell, a magic-user or elf may only have a number of spells in their spellbook equal to the number spells they may cast. Thus, a 3rd level magic-user may only have three spells in his spellbook, two 1st level and one 2nd. Further, the only way to add new spells is by researching them yourself and being taught by another caster. No copying from looted spellbooks or copying scrolls.

Being relatively new to the B/X experience, I found this rather jarring. In fact, I mostly glossed over it as a poorly worded passage when I read it. I didn't give it too much thought until I read the blog post. I reread it then and realized that it was worded exactly as intended. In my mind, I immediately houseruled it. I couldn't stop thinking about it, though, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I like what it says about magic-users. I would still houserule two aspects, though.

  1. Allow magic-users and elves to modify their spellbook limit by their INT modifier. Allow a total number of additional spells equal to the INT modifier, not to exceed caster level. So, a 1st level caster with an INT of 16 could have one additional 1st level spell. When he reached 2nd level, he could add another 1st level spell, or have two 2nd level spells. These additional spell must still be acquired, they are not freely granted. This does not grant any additional casting ability, either.
  2. Looted spellbooks may be used to aid spell research. Per X51, spell research requires 1000 gp and 2 weeks per spell level. It further specifies that this time must be "spent out of campaign". If a looted spellbook is available to reference, this time may be concurrent with adventuring. The other research rules still apply. The spell-caster player must notify the referee when the character is performing his research, such as while other characters are seeking rumors, negotiating with potential hirelings, etc.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A B/X Blog

This isn't a new blog, in fact most of you probably know about it. Just in case you didn't, though, check it out. Just be sure and set aside a block of time, there's a lot there and it is difficult to stop once you start.

Ode to Black Dougal

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Couple of Thoughts on Magic-Users

Just a couple of random things that fit together better than into their own posts.

When it comes to agonizing over the concept of "which spell to memorize", I tend to forget one simple concept: the magic-user has his spell book with him. When slots are limited, memorize the spell(s) that are most likely to be needed in the thick of things. If a situation arises that requires a more utilitarian spell, such as Knock, or Comprehend Languages, the magic-user can simply "swap out" by studying his spell book. Of course, this does absolutely no good if he has used his available slot(s). Likewise, once the utility spell is memorized and cast, that slot is used for the day. So, the dilemma of when to cast that precious spell remains. . .

I haven't read any of Jack Vance's work. I have certain impressions from quotes and excerpts, though. I'm not sure how "accurate" these impressions are, and I'm not claiming any of this is particularly original or mine, but they are just my thoughts based on the impressions:

 Each spell is almost like some alien life form that the magic-user must literally force into his mind. When someone sees a spell without the benefit of Read Magic it can look like anything from mad gibberish, to poetry, to doodles, to a blank page. When read with the benefit of Read Magic, however, it is seen as literally writhing on the page, pulsing and squirming with arcane intent. It is entirely alien to the mind of the caster and his brain must be forced to contain it, forced by sheer effort of will. That is what memorizing a spell is all about.

It isn't easy or pleasant to watch, either. The effects vary with caster level and spell level. The more advanced the caster, and more basic the spell, the less dramatic the process. A 10th level magic-user studying Sleep is hardly noticed. The closer the caster gets to the limit of his abilities, the more dramatic. The process can be downright frightening to behold. "Study" could appear as any of the following:

  • Weeping blood as their eyes are forced to take in the eldritch horror;
  • Sweating profusely, literally pouring from the magic-user;
  • Laughing maniacally and/or speaking gibberish;
  • Hair falling out;
  • Eyes blackening, as if charred;
  • Hair standing on end;
  • Grasping his spell book for dear life, eyes opened unnaturally wide, bulging and bloodshot, hair flying back as if a hurricane was issuing from the spell book.
That is just a few ideas off the top of my head as I write this. None of this should have a direct mechanical effect, it is more for dressing. Some of these could have in-play consequences, but they shouldn't become the center point of a session. 

All of these realizations have shown me that Vancian magic isn't nearly as limiting or vanilla as I had thought.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Damage by Class

This will be another pre-work rush job.

I am on a less-is-more kick again. My B/X reading led me back to Delving Deeper and I have been having some minimalist house rule ideas (a seeming oxymoron).

Here's the skinny: attacks come in one of three "modes"

  • Weapon/Shield -1 AC
  • Two Weapons  Roll 2 damage dice, keep the one you want
  • Two-handed/Heavy Weapon  +1 to-hit
Furthermore, Fighters use a d6+1 for damage, regardless of weapon. Clerics and thieves use a d6, and magic-users use a d6-1. Anyone can use any weapon, but only Fighters can employ magic weapons to their fullest.

That's it for now. More to follow.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rambling On About House Rules

I've recently began a complete reading of Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X. I'm not sure if it was DCC's relationship to that set of rules, or maybe just the fact that I never played or refereed them. It is quite difficult to do any sort of OSR-related reading and not run headlong into a B/X lovefest. So, I am working with just that, thinking about how a dungeon, wilderness, and/or entire campaign would have been in 1981, with those rules. I may post about that this weekend, as well, since I have been so remiss this past month.

Anyway, an inevitable aspect of any sort of webispheric study of original rules is that subject of house rules. There is a school of thought that if one is going to actually game with original rules, whether LBB, B/X, BECMI, or even Traveller, the rules should be used as-written. Even if only briefly, simply for the sake of the experience. I've seen a lot of words spent on the notion that if a person changes some certain aspect of B/X then they aren't playing B/X anymore. The logic then goes "so what's the point of calling yourself playing B/X in the first place? Use the rules as written, as intended."

This really started me thinking about the very nature of house rules. Here is my conclusion: I submit to you that ALL forms/version/editions of OD&D/AD&D/D&D, including the retroclones (free and pay) are nothing more than house rules. The early versions admitted such outright by calling themselves guidelines. It was only later that they began calling themselves "rules". Here is how I arrived at this conclusion:

The LBBs sprang from Chainmail. That, as we know, was a set of rules for medieval miniature battles. It was based on real-world, historical, actions. It is quite easy to determine, even if anecdotally, how far a medieval soldier could expect to travel in a given amount of time. Their morale was also simply a matter of assigning an algorithm to historical evidence. Things were abstracted, but the abstractions were based on actual, historical, evidence.

Then came the desire to include fantastic elements in the Chainmail games. Mr. Gygax and Arneson had to decide how a fireball worked, how a unit of orcs or dwarves compared to a unit of human soldiers. There is nothing historical to go by, so they tinkered until they found what worked best for them. Isn't that the very essence of a house rule? So, by my reckoning, since every single edition or version is built on the LBBs, at least philosophically, they are all house rules.

This isn't particularly important, since most of us play our games our way, and aren't subject to internet-based fanatical puritanism. I just found it an interesting thought to ponder on, and wanted to share it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Combat Prowess for Fighters

This will be quick, before I head out to work. It is intended for any sort of OD&D fighter, whether it is LBB, B/X, or any of the retroclones.

Fighter receive points, which I am calling Combat Prowess. They gain one point at each odd-numbered level, including 1st. Each round they may allocate these points to any of the following, in any combination:

  • +1 to-hit, to a single attack
  • +1 damage, to a single attack
  • +1 initiative
  • -1 AC
That's it. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you've surely noted my near manic desire to keep the "lowly" fighter relevant into higher levels. I still like some of my earlier ideas, while my fondness for others has waned. I like this approach because it is simple, it doesn't give away the farm, and it allows (forces?) the player to make tactical decisions each round.

As an aside, I would suggest having the player work out a "standard" use of his CP points, to help keep things moving during quick combat encounters.