Sunday, December 30, 2012

DCC Critical hits for S&W

I want to use DCC critical hits and fumbles for my Swords & Wizardry game. Fumble table maps directly. The classes map as follows:

Fighter --> Warrior
Cleric --> Cleric
Thief, Assassin, Monk --> Thief
Magic-user --> Wizard
Paladin, Ranger --> Dwarf
Druid --> Elf

The only thing I haven't decided is whether to keep the levels the same. DCC is only a 10 level game, S&W is theoretically 20. I think it might work fine to just keep the levels the same though. This fits with the flattening of the power curve after level 10. That being said it would be something to strive for at high levels.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

More on paint

Since my last post I've been working more with the paints I have bought and changed my mind on a few things.

While I do love the stickiness of the Vallejo paints they are not well suited for blending. They lay down an excellent base coat (and I have read they are likewise great for layering - I don't have enough colors to try it). They look a bit "out of the tube" though, very bright and flat. The Reaper paints in contrast mix and blend beautifully. I mixed the red I have with the flesh tone and wound up with a wonderful leathery pink that I used to paint a grimoire (Malifaux Student of Battle if you care).

I have also continued to research (I am planning to buy a paint set) and apparently the Vallejo paints have a very bad separation problem. I haven't seen it yet but I don't do tons of painting so paint needs to last for me. The more I use the Reaper paints the more I like them, so I think I will probably buy a set of Reaper paint and only possibly buy Vallejo for colors that are tricky to basecoat - like yellow for example. Also, Reaper I can buy directly from them instead of going through unknown ebay dealers which to me is a plus. I have had great experiences with Reaper's customer service and they ship like lightning.

Lastly, the more I work with either of these paints the less I like my Citadel paints. Some people swear by them, and some people claim there is no difference but if I could go back I would never have bought them. They are more expensive and I find them much more difficult to work with than either of Reaper of Vallejo. My recommendation for a new painter would be: skip Citadel completely, buy a few of Vallejo and a few from Reaper and try them out, see what works for you. I have heard mixed things about P3, but I've never tried them.

Edit: One good thing for a beginner about Citadel paints for beginners is that they have pretty good coverage. I think it is hard to get a precise edge with them though due to the consistency of the paint. So a beginner might be able to lay down only a coat or two (which is satisfying) you will have a hard time not obscuring details and getting paint all over the model. I think a beginner might be more satisfied with Vallejo if coverage is an issue. Reaper is thin, which is nice for details.

These are both good paints with strengths and weaknesses. If I were rich I'd buy both. In reality I think I am going to buy heavily into Reaper and supplement here and there with Vallejo.

Friday, November 23, 2012

On paint

I don't have enough colors so I want to buy a huge paint-set thingy. I knew it was time for an upgrade from Citadel paints, but I wasn't sure what brand to go to. So I bought a few Reaper paints and a few Vallejo paints to give them a try. Both of these come in droppers instead of paint pots and have a good reputation (and cost a little more than Citadel paints). I tested them alongside the Citadel paints on a Reaper Bones model. I liked the Reaper paints, they went on a bit more cleanly than the Citadel paints and the droppers are nice. The Vallejo paints are awesome. They go on in a smooth, even coating layer and practically cling to the model.

Provisional list of skills

Basically the list of skills I might include, cobbled together from various sources and my imagination along with a few notes. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Trade and appraisal
Combat (melee - maybe heavy and light separate?, missile, thrown, unarmed) – not sure if I want to include this aspect from SWN. But I thought I'd at least consider it.
Armor (heavy, light, unarmored) these wouldd probably give some sort of bonus for skill (not necessarily AC)
Culture adventurer/criminal/region/race, culture adventurer might include: how to get along in a variety of cultures, and basic adventuring skills: lighting fires, riding a horse (out of combat), appraising common goods, recognizing common monsters.
History (probably not available to most PCs)
Profession (whatever trade you can think of!)
Religion (probably not available to most PCs)
Science & mathematics
Tech (primitive, arcane) – contemporary technology would be covered under other skills or the relevant profession
Sailing and boating
Animal handling
Poison use
Sleight of hand

Friday, November 16, 2012

I'm not dead yet!

But you might think my blog is.

But no! It returns from the grave! Skip to the bottom if you don't want to read personal ramblings and just want some cold hard analysis on PoD providers.

September and October are crazy months in my profession under normal circumstances (guess what I do). I started a new job this year. So yeah. No blogging happened.

What did happen though was Swords & Wizardry. I formed a new group and we have been playing Swords & Wizardry biweekly with fair consistency. The players have nearly completed The Tomb of the Iron God and some of them are level 2. We have had only a few PC deaths but many hireling deaths. It's been a blast and I will be posting some thoughts based on honest to goodness play sometime soon.

Other projects (magic realm and fantasy SWN skills) are not dead or forgotten just on hiatus.


It's been just over a year since I first became aware of the OSR movement and realized I was not the only one who felt that modern D&D was an abomination. It is also just over a year since I bought my first PoD books from Lulu - Labyrinth Lord and Stonehell. I have bought many (too many probably) OSR products since and have developed some clear preferences.

The two main providers of print on demand for OSR products are RPGnow and Lulu. RPGnow usually includes free pdfs which is nice. But the Lulu books are much better. If you compare for example the softcover I have of Barrowmaze I with my Stonehell softcover, the Stonehell is easily the superior book. (better paper, better binding, cover is better material). Likewise, compare my Labyrinth Lord hardcovers with my Barrowmaze II hardcover (sorry Barrowmaze), again the Lulu books are made with better materials and are better constructed. While I am generally pleased with the content of books I have bought from RPGnow, the books themselves are inevitably a little disappointing.

Upshot: my recommendation would be buy from Lulu unless you really care about PDFs. I have also heard that Lulu has ridiculous shipping fees for outside of the US. That would also be a good reason (provided that RPGnow is better, I have no idea).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SWN-like skills for fantasy settings.

As much as I dislike d20 skills, I actually have enjoyed using the skill system from Stars Without Number. I've been contemplating for some time adapting that system for use with fantasy games. Even though the OSR community has a general share and share-alike policy, I went ahead and asked Kevin Crawford if it was okay to borrow from his systems and he gave an emphatic yes.

Here are my initial thoughts on what this should like:

Skills should never remove exploration or discovery from the game.

Skills should not be skill taxes or remove game play.

Skills should not be useless.

Since I will be using SWN as my baseline I will avoid the linear-skill roll problem and some of the difficulty with modifiers, character creation, and the like. I intend to rewrite the list of skills and packages pretty much from scratch for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Magic Realm - Acquired!

I've been hoping to acquire a copy of Magic Realm for quite some time and a friend brought me back a copy from GenCon. Beat up box, heavily marked up rulebook, but it appears to be complete and all of the components are in good condition. In fact, many of the counters were unpunched. So tonight I did the unthinkable and punched them all out. The finicky collector in me is appalled, but I don't collect games to look at them. Expect a series of posts about me trying to figure this out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reaper Bones review part 3

So as I posted originally, I've been curious about the Reaper Bones line for some time now. I decided to go ahead and buy one because of the Reaper Bones Kickstarter. I wanted to at least check one out before dropping $100+ on a big bag o' minis. To be very conservative I only bought one, and did not go for the free shipping (perhaps my only regret as I ended up really liking the model).

Because of other reviews I read here and here I did not bother trying to remove mold lines and I did not use a guide coat (a light paint wash on the white model). The mold lines weren't bad - a bit on the helmet and on the legs, might be more of an issue on a different model.

As mentioned before the model was a bit bent, but very hot water allowed me to reshape it.

Now for painting and some pictures! I've never photographed my miniatures before so it was a bit of an experiment, I think the pictures turned out okay though.

Here is the unpainted model:

I painted on three base colors  and then added a brown wash. I found that if the paint was thinned at all that it slid around a lot on the plastic so I had to keep my brushes and paints quite dry. The only issue was that it meant I had to be extra careful not to fill in details - on the finished model there are a few places where the paint on the chainmail is a little too thick.

Because of the paint slipping on the plastic I had to do some evening out of the base layer, mostly accomplished with dry-brushing. I followed that with detailing and dry brushing, along with some additional washing, brown or black depending on the area. I think it turned out looking pretty decent, and the model is definitely a value at $2.

These models are definitely intended for play. They are cheap and durable (I did a lot of bending of it trying to straighten out the sword before I was successful). If you want perfect control, go for more expensive metal models. I don't know about other people, but I don't like other people handling my metal models, whereas this I will not be fussy about.

It looks like many of the bones line also come in prepainted versions, but frankly mine looks a lot better than the prepainted version and I'm by no means an expert painter. Also, the unpainted models are a good bit cheaper (even counting the paint).

So the upshot is that I am totally satisfied and I will by buying more of these and I can't wait to use them.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reaper Bones review part 2

Read the final review here.

Quick update:

Over the last few days I've corresponded with someone at Reaper who gave me a number of suggestions for fixing the bentness of the warrior's sword. Finally hit upon one that worked very well: soak briefly in hot water then reform, hold until cool. I tried first with just using water hot from the tap, didn't work, but then microwaved the water until nearly boiling and just dipped in the sword arm - the sword basically straightened itself. It is not totally perfect looking but weapons on metal miniatures rarely end up being perfectly straight either so I'm not going to fuss. As I said, I don't think being terribly finicky is worth it for a $2 miniature. That being said, now that I know I can fix bent weapons I am much more likely to buy more of the line and will likely wind up contributing to the kickstarter campaign.

Once I put some paint on it I'll update again.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reaper Bones review part 1

Read the final review here.

I like miniatures.

I've been curious about the Reaper Bones line since it was launched and with the associated Kickstarter campaign going on I thought it was a good chance to check them out. At this point the deal at the $100 level especially is really very good.  So I resisted the temptation to go for free shipping and I ordered just one miniature: the "male human warrior" or as the box tells me "Garrick the Bold."

First off, the detail is really excellent. Much better than any other soft plastic miniatures I have seen before. There are a few mold lines but they are pretty minimal. I have read in other reviews that the mold lines are difficult to remove cleanly so I might just live with them. I think a few mold lines may be better than spending a ton of effort on a $2 mini with the chance of making it look messier.

The plastic is pretty soft however and my figure is suffering from a modest case of bent-sword. My guess is that is something that may be inevitable with this type of plastic. I'd like to fix that if possible. If anyone has any tips they'd be appreciated.

They claim it is paintable right out of the box without priming - which I might test for a part 2 of this review. However, I have read in other reviews that washes don't stick well to the bare plastic, so I am tempted to at least dull-coat it first. Also, I usually prime my models black so I might end up priming it anyways for the look I am accustomed to (the model is white).

I'll post more if I am able to fix the bent sword and when I have painted it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

DCC thoughts - Now that I have played a bit

Alright, last time I wrote about my love of DCC I had not actually played yet. Now I have. Not a ton mind you, but played I have. To be specific I have run DCC three times (once in person, twice online), and played once online.

And now, some random blatherings:

Ability Checks

Well, this is a d20 game with no skills, so I find myself calling for a lot of ability checks. This is partly a practice thing but I'm not especially consistent yet about which scores and what DCs. If you don't know, "skill checks" in DCC are made with a d20 if you are reasonably trained (by occupation or class) or d10 if you are not. I like ability checks over skill checks because it is less rulesy but I'm not positive that I prefer it over the flat die rolls for things like listening in pre-d20 D&D. I do very much like it for thieving abilities though. DCC offers an excellent thief system if you ask me (thieves have a list of skills that they get bonuses in by level).

Saving Throws

DCC uses the modern three save system. This has pluses and minuses. I like it because, well, there is something a little funny for having people save against breath weapons or whatever every time they are dodging something. So, selecting which save is easy and non-arbitrary, the DM needs to determine if the character is able to dodge, and whether it is a physical or mental effect. Easily covers any scenario. It gets finicky with DCs though and rapidly leads to DC escalation. Someone out there in the OSR blogosphere (I don't remember who, sorry) wrote about how save or die is not such a big deal in OSR games because in the traditional saving throw system your odds always get better over time, whereas there is a DC arms race in modern games. This is potentially problematic.


Mighty deeds of arms are fantastic. Fighters (and dwarves) get to do cool things but there is not a lot of looking in the book needed (remember that the mighty deeds in the books are intended as examples, not as rules). Having the critical and fumble tables right in front of you is a MUST.


Awesome, but very table heavy. Like the criticals and fumbles, having your spell tables at hand is necessary.  The rules themselves work well and are relatively non-complicated. There is a fair amount of up-front work require of wizards.

And as a final note, I have been collecting the Goodman Games adventures as they come out. So far they are excellent. Some people don't like published adventures ("I can do better myself!") - I was of that camp as a kid - but as an adult, I love collecting modules, and these are first rate!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Eridanus, the Dreaming City

Along the banks of Akash Ganga sits the Dreaming City, Eridanus. Ancient, dark, hive-like, its inhabitants live in the semi-twilight of its serpentine walls. The city has been built up over eons, packed on top of itself. It is said that there are places in the city that have been walled off completely, the inhabitants living in total isolation over generations. It is also said that the city is not always the same, that it changes and grows of its own accord.

Outside the walls is a massive nameless slum home to the city's wretched. A horrible noise and shaking wracked the slum, and a hole opened in the ground in the middle of a marketplace. Smoked billowed from it for five days and nights, and then something came out. The various eye-witness accounts are confused and nonsensical, but there is no question that it dragged many down into the darkness. There was one survivor, a wild-eyed old dwarf who somehow dragged himself back to the surface. He died hours later, ranting about gold and gems in the deeps. In his hand he clutched a brilliant red gem.

A few brave and desperate now journey into the darkness seeking their fortune.


Still have at least one slot for Thursday, 8:00pm EST.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Urban Swords & Sorcery

Kotor Circa 1600

I have been thinking about the setting for my upcoming G+ DCC game. The main requirements are that there needs to be lots of opportunity for weird adventure in a small space.  The more I think about it, an a city fits all of my needs. I don't like bookkeeping in the ACKS sandbox rules sense, but I do want things to make a certain amount of sense. If the setting is too small, it is implausible to have access to things like armorsmiths, apothecaries, and sages. In a small town, it may even be difficult to find basic supplies for sale. A city solves this problem.

Krakow circa 1500
A city is also a plausible location for a megadungeon. Mines, caves, catacombs, sewers,  buried ruins.

Map of the Odessa Catacombs
In fact, in ancient city is wouldn't be implausible for their to be many layers of such things built upon one another.

For low-fantasy DCC it is important that the city be more like Vornheim, and less like Waterdeep. That means that the place is strange and magical, but the economy is mundane. There are no magic item shops, or wizard schools. Magic is strange and shocking, but yes, you can buy a horse or a suit of plate-mail.

I think if I am going to go for a city, it needs to be dense. Going halfway will make things too ordinary.

Cross-section of Kowloon

A city also explains professions like elven falconers. It's hard to imagine the more esoteric professions showing up in a tiny hamlet all at once.

Istanbul, 1638

A city gives plenty of options for adventure if it is large enough. Ancient ruins, dark under-cities, strange temples and laboratories; and there can always be outlying areas for wilderness adventure and other locations. Small towns will tend to cluster around the city providing a wealth of options.
There are more options still if it is a weird city. Portals to distant lands and other planes. Monstrous inhabitants. Shifting roads.
Istanbul, 1730

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Options in Dungeon Crawl Classics

I talked last about how there seems to be a desire in the DCC community for more character options. I'm going to talk a bit about why I think there are already plenty and about some of the options that may not be so obvious.

First of all, one can always have options through roleplaying. What is a ranger anyways other than an outdoorsy warrior? You don't need permission from the rules to be outdoorsy. Likewise, isn't a bard just a rogue standing in the back with a lute? You don't need permission for doing that either? Oh, I see, you want a mechanical advantage. Well, I think there are lots of options out there already:


Backgrounds determine your initial skill set? Want to play something specific? Well, ask the DM if you can choose your background! If its because you have a character concept I think I would say yes for one. There are lots of backgrounds, and if you don't see what your looking for, here is an easy place to make up your own (although again, I think there are plenty).


Clerics are very different from each other! Different powers and weapons based on alignment (and deity) and different spells! Each cleric will be unique based on their spell selection and the more you flesh out the religions the more variety you can have. I see no reason to have paladins when clerics are as awesome as they are in this game (I know you want the warrior hit die and mighty deeds of arms, but well, no, because I like niche protection).


Different ability sets by alignment mean like the cleric you have three subclasses. Join a guild or other roguish organization to flesh your character out more. If you want to buy a lute, buy a lute. A thief could also decide to be outdoorsy.

Warrior & Dwarf:

Every warrior should be different! They have lots of options just looking at mighty deeds, weapons, and armor. Be creative and there is no need for other warrior classes. Maybe a ranger specializes in bows, a barbarian wears light armor and carries two-handed weapons, a paladin (if they are not a cleric) is heavily armored with sword and shield.

Wizard & Elf:

The limited access to spells will inevitably make every spellcaster unique. Spells are rare, and a wizard or elf will only be able to master a few of them over the course of a career. The master of the elemental magics will be quite different than the wizard who traffics chiefly with otherworldy beings, who will be very different than the roguish enchanter.


I admit that halflings stump me a little. The only class that does not just seem to be obviously teeming with options to my eye. But, roleplaying, roleplaying, roleplaying! Just because halflings are sneaky and good with two-weapon fighting does not limit you to playing them that way!

I don't feel like I explained my thinking well but I wanted to give at least a glimpse of the options I see in the core classes. True, there may not be that many differences in the way a Pathfinder player would view them (the characters "powers" will be the same) but there are plenty of viable ways to play any character class. I think this is a game that gives a lot of options to players based on creativity and roleplaying, I don't think new rules are necessary.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Desire for Options

It has been fascinating to watch the birth of Dungeon Crawl Classics. The game has been enthusiastically received by its fan base, and well, the game is fantastic. Goodman Games has a series of modules lined up (a few are out already) as do a few other publishers. There is a fanzine, and at least one setting kickstarter. Goodman Games has a decent listing of these projects here. Not to mention the blogs and forum posts.

The thing that has been really interesting for me was the desire for among the fans of the game for character options. From what I have been seeing, many of the projects (other than the modules) are providing options, and people got straight to work the forums creating alternate classes, skill systems, new spells, etc.

I think I have gone on the record as loathing too many options. DCC has 7 very distinct classes, and that seems like plenty to me. In fact characters within the same class have lots of opportunity to be very different from each other (more on this later). I think the skill system is fine (it is basically the AD&D secondary skill system). There are lots of spells already (they take up at least half the book). I certainly don't begrudge anyone the right to play DCC however they like, to tinker, to add, to subtract, to completely change. In fact the game is somewhat unusual in that tinkering and house-ruling is given official blessing in the rulebook.

The seemingly massive desire to add options to what is theoretically an OSR game has made me stop and think. That desire for options that creates the rules-bloat of 3e and Pathfinder, the baroque eclecticism of 2e, is present in the OSR as well.

Where does it come from?

Upcoming I will have my thoughts on the hidden character options of DCC.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pathfinder Character Creation

Well, not many of my group were interested in playing an OSR game.

However, one of the players has been secretly planning a Pathfinder campaign world for lord knows how long (there were lots of player handouts) and offered to run it! I've never been a player in a Pathfinder game (although I have in 3.5) so I joined.

Last night we made characters. Hours of reading and choosing and I'm still not done I'm afraid. The DM had us roll 3d6, one swap, so the options were limited slightly by our stats, but still just way too many options. I had never read much of the player stuff in detail so a lot of it was new. I think I really like the character I wound up, but I'm not sure all of that agonizing was worth it.

The short version:

  1. On the way over to the game, I thought to myself, gee, I haven't played a cleric or a rogue in a long time.
  2. I roll up stats, cleric or rogue are very possible.
  3. I start really looking at the rogue and remember I don't find rogues very appealing in Pathfinder.
  4. So I look at the gunslinger. Guns are cool right? Wow that's a lot of rules. Workable, (I did read them all) but kind of fiddly. Not sure if I have a character concept here or if I just like guns.
  5. So I look at the cleric a bit, but then I remember how lame channeling feels compared to turning, and I also don't want to be the heal-monkey especially - and that seems to be the expectation of clerics as their melee has been downpowered compared to fighters, monks, etc.
  6. Shoot, I still haven't even chosen a  race. Well, I'm thinking sort of an outsider-wanderer (even though we are all going to be nobles in this game, but maybe I'm a bastard, heretic, or whatever). Sounds like a good opportunity for a half-elf! I don't think I have ever been a half-elf.
  7. Back to class. I look at the inquisitor. Here we go! Strong melee abilities, cool divine powers, cool powers for roleplaying with. Lots and lots of powers. Sigh. Also having some difficulty with my character concept. Hmmmm, the other players are an evil monk and an evil rogue. Better be something with a bit more flexibility.
  8. I like wizards, but wizards are kind of weird in this game. Hey! This is cool, Elves have an archetype called spellbinder. That just sounds cool. What does it do? Wait, I can swap out memorize spells for a favored spell? And it gets rid of arcane bond (familiar)? Familiars are very fiddly. I think we have a race and a class! I had become very dissatisfied with elves but DCC has renewed my enthusiasm for them.
  9. So I want to be a elven wizard searching for arcane secrets, ooh, there is a perfect subrace! I will be a dusk elf. Some of the other players scoff because I am trading off racial abilities in a non-optimal way ("you know you can just take the traits you want") but I like the description of the race, it fits for my concept, so fuck that.
  10. Now I need to choose a school . . . there are so many . . . shadow-illusionist! Love it.
  11. Okay, so I've chosen a race and a class. Crap. I still have to do skills, traits, languages, favored class bonuses, feats (as an aside, of all the feats that I hate, I hate metamagic the most), record everything, buy equipment, roll for hit points, figure out starting spells. And did I mention we are starting at level 3?
  12. Needless to say, I did not accomplish all of that last night.
Pathfinder character creation is way too complex. As I said, I like my character. I think it will be fun to play. I would rather have just rolled up an elf for a simpler game though and roleplayed the rest in.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recruiting for UA-LC DCC game

Under the auspices of UA-LC I am going to run a 2 session arc of Dungeon Crawl Classics. It will start with a home-brew funnel and then probably a level 1 adventure. To simplify things people should use to generate their 4 0's (feel free to discard and try again if you don't like your results) and we will go from there.

I am looking at two Thursday nights, 7/12 and 7/19, from 8:00pm-11:00pm EDT on G+ (we will probably use twiddla for mapping).

There are four or five slots available (one slot is reserved if that person is available and still wants it). Comment here or at the post on UA-LC and if there are not enough slots I will determine who gets them randomly (hopefully tomorrow).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gamer ADD

The email I just sent off to my players:

Hi guys,

My interest in prepping/running SWN is waning already. This is a really bad sign. I feel guilty for dropping the game(s) we have been playing so quickly after starting them but if I'm not feeling it I know that it will not take long before it reflects in the quality of what I have prepared, etc.

I think the problem I've been facing this past year is that in an effort to please the most people I am not DMing the games that I actually feel excited about playing. Because I would actually like to run a sustained campaign I need to stop that.

So . . . I am going to drop SWN.

I am going to try to run an old school fantasy game: I'd be interested in running Labyrinth Lord (B/X - AD&D retroclone), Swords & Wizardry (0ed retroclone), or Dungeon Crawl Classics (rules light d20 with old school flavor)). If you are not interested in playing I 100% understand and I will take no offense whatsoever.

That being said, after starting a new game, I will commit (to myself - and to you) to run at least 10 sessions before switching to a new system.

Please let me know if you are interested and if you have a system preference.

Again sorry for the ADD.

I hate switching things around all the time and I feel enormously guilty about doing it to players. But if I am going to put in the many hours of work to run a game, I really ought to be having fun.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sector

Final (GMs) sector map:

As full descriptions are written for each world (they are just outlines right now) I will post them.

Decision! (And Time-Keeping in Space)

I have decided! After much flip-flopping I've decided that I will run a fantasy game online to scratch that itch and keep Stars Without Number to the table-top. That also saves me from having to deal with meticulous, AD&D DMG style time keeping in my table-top game and frees me up to post more here.

I realized that time-keeping in an AD&D style SWN game is really problematic when the party traveled to a planet 2 hexes away. They were traveling in a spike drive-1 ship so it took 16 days (2 to reach the edge of the solar system, 6 for each hex, 2 to get back in to the next planet). Traveling from one edge of the sector to the other in a slow ship would suddenly add many weeks to one party's timeline. Now, strict time-keeping does not matter for most purposes, but part of the point of running a multi-party SWN campaign was to allow them all to influence the world equally, which is hard to do without time-keeping.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sand in the Stars

So to cure my burnout on Pathfinder and to reinvigorate both myself and the group we will be playing Stars Without Number. I had been hoping to run a game of it over the summer and so it will be. Hopefully by the fall the game will still be going and all of the groundwork will be done. I have decided that as a build our sandbox I will post the goods here.

The first thing is the sector map:

I used the cosmic tool-set of hexographer. We have a few good star clusters and a couple of isolated star systems.

As this is a far-future game, my chosen constraint is that everything must be digital. Also, I will try to post as much as possible of the material I create in the hopes of turning this blog from random blathering to actual useful content.


I am leaning towards running a SWN for UA-LC  so I don't want to spoil things online. So I have replaced the sector map with the players version. I guess that also means if it ends up happening I won't post secret information. Still if you are reading this you can look forward to plenty of SWN stuff.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


It seems that my regular game has fizzled. Does anyone else have a hard time as an adult trying to keep a regular game sustained? Once upon a time campaigns lasted 6 months, a year, now it seems like we struggle to keep anything going for more than a few sessions. I've experimented with larger groups to try to ameliorate attendance problems, but it is difficult to find enough high-quality players in my area.  I'm hoping that with summer around the corner I will be able to start up my planned Stars Without Number game soon. One possible advantage of SWN is that we may not be quite so dependent on having people show up regularly - there is no reason it cannot be played with just two (or even one!) player.

I'm also thinking about running something online - and definitely something as part of UA-LC. The question is now . . . what? The advantage of UA-LC is that I could play around with short term arcs of this and that. Currently considering DCC, SWN, LL, or S&W.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Complete healing after eight hours rest . . . okay . . . .

I think the rationale must go like this:
  • Hit points are an abstraction.
  • Therefore hit points lost don't represent physical harm.
  • Therefore all you need to do is sleep it off.
It is certainly one approach. Combined with hit dice = spontaneous healing it means that non-lethal damage is  pretty irrelevant.


Lost in the hexes

I have started working on things for my DCC campaign using some constraints. This is helping. I love running games but I often find myself breaking down into analysis paralysis during planning. I often find myself worrying obsessively about distances, hex sizes, and other things are not really that important. My constraints are helping enormously.

I have decided to make use of:

1 wide-ruled composition notebook
The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG core book
The Tome of Adventure Design
The Swords & Wizardry Monster book

And maybe some modules if the mood suits me.

After about an hour's work I have a reasonably fleshed out area map. Normally I would never reach this stage because I would be too worried about hex sizes. The lack of scale is liberating. I could always take it, scan it, and apply a hex grid after the fact if I want some more precise distances.

I am also focusing on the small world notions of DCC RPG (the book suggests 100 miles square - 10,000 sq. miles -  as being plenty for a lifetime of adventure). What I have in my tiny map so far: one tiny farming village, one small town, a haunted* forest, a weird monastery, a few ruins, and plenty of woods, hills, and marsh to put more goodies into.

I think from now on, I will stick with drawing first, worrying about distances and the like after, this is working so much better for me.

*or at least that's what people say.

Of course now that I am finally getting smart about how to plan for a game, my group appears to be on the verge of disintegration.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics - First Session

Got to play DCC last night!

I ran Portal Under the Stars for four players: one person very experienced with both OSR games and modern games (he had read the beta rules but not the final rules), one with some experience with both but no knowledge of DCC, one really only a modern D&D player, and one who had never played an RPG before. Each created four characters and 8 out of the 7 survived.

Things I noticed:

  • Portal Under the Stars is a very solid adventure in play, nice to have something so high quality in the rule book. It is full of great opportunities for creative play and problem solving.
  • For sustained play it would be really good to have multiple copies of the rulebook, with all of the table referencing that is required. If we keep playing in a sustained way I am sure it will wind up full of tabs like my old MERP book was.
  • I would really like to see spells handbook, maybe spiral bound!
  • It seemed like people rolled a lot of demihumans in character creation (1 elf, 2 dwarves, and 3 halflings).
  • Modern RPG players are very concerned with distances and movement rates. I tend to be imprecise about these things when I am not forced to be accurate. This caused the only consternation over description, theater of the mind, what have you.
  • Zero level play is excellent for new players. Having few rules and no abilities let our rookie player focus right in on what is important in the game - asking questions, exploring, experimenting, and problem solving. For example . . . [[SPOILERS!]] when the statue started shooting fireballs, she had her characters run and leap on to the statue instead of simply fleeing, from there the statue had no shot at them. Also, after collecting the demon horn, she searched around for places to put it.
  • Except for my most dedicated modern-games-only player everyone loved it. Still two in my group who were out of town to test it out on.
  • Luck is an awesome way to select targets.
  • I don't foresee any problems mixing 0 and 1st level characters (although this is yet to be tested) making it a good game for inconsistent groups.
  • Random occupation and equipment is awesome and brought out the best in my players. Most of the time they entered rooms pushing the wainwright's pushcart ahead of them for cover. Saved at least one life.
 Looking forward to playing more.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I love you DCC RPG

The DCC RPG arrived this week. I fell instantly in love. I waited to write this post until I had read the whole book (minus spell and monster descriptions) and had a chance to reread some sections. I wanted to make sure I had read thoroughly and the fires of lust had cooled a bit before commenting.

This is a game for a specific audience, and being part of that audience I am very happy. I love that this is not a game for beginners. Assuming that the readers are experienced is a great place to start. There is no attempt to make the game bad-DM proof.

They have taken the good of modern D&D - the d20 system and the save system - and combined it with many things I find excellent about traditional D&D: simple combat, skills based on profession, race as class, single axis alignment, and high-risk adventuring. Something that I in particular find appealing but others may not: institutionalized low-magic. Throughout the book it talks about the rarity of magic, the specialness of magical items, the unusual nature of adventurers.This is something I have tried to bring into D&D but the systems often seemed geared towards high-fantasy play.  I also love the focus on low-level play. I suspect that DCC will become my fantasy RPG of choice.

With the possible exception of halflings as two-weapon fighters I love the treatment of every class. Clerics are awesome holy crusaders, thieves are cool and useful, warriors are mighty, wizards are probably about as much as fun as I can imagine (although if you don't like randomness they won't be for you), and the demihumans are special. I also like how alignment plays into actual game mechanics.

The elimination of wisdom and charisma is an excellent choice. Personality is a much more useful statistic and I like the way luck plays into the game in a variety of ways.

The experience framework is brilliant. Getting experience granted for surviving encounters and based on the difficulty of the encounter can help solve some of the fairness issues I have been talking about. An example of a 4xp encounter is one in which you expend all of your resources and have to retreat. So even if you run, you can still potentially learn something and advance.

That being said there are some annoying vague areas and contradictions. The book explicitly states that it is not intended to be comprehensive (that it is a framework not a straightjacket) and that one should feel free to fill in the blanks but there are areas where clearer intent would be appreciated. For example, as one spends luck (which for most classes is a permanent expenditure) does your luck bonus degrade? Basically, is luck spent like a regular statistic or like hit points? The fact that it is a statistic (and that there are areas where luck uses the initial bonus) says the former is probably accurate but it would be nice if that was a little more spelled out. Likewise, it is not entirely clear that deeds of arms do not need to succeed for the attack to succeed (I am almost certain this is the correct interpretation, but again, not entirely spelled out).

The one major contradiction I have found is with wizard spells known. Most parts of the book seem to imply that the wizard's "spells known" is the maximum spells that they can know. So a 10th level wizard can know up to 16-18 spells depending on intelligence. However, the book also says (on p. 126) that if a wizard "should ever know more than this many spells [referring to the master spell list] he will be a great mage." Since a 10th level character is a semi-divine, a few times in history power level character, he would certainly seem to be a great mage. So what exactly is the spells known? Is it supposed to be a minimum? There is other evidence in a few places in the book for each interpretation.

I realized that I spent more space talking about what I didn't like than what I did, but that does not reflect how much I love this game. There is just more to talk about with the confusions.


Probably should have posted this a while ago . . . . Got some clarification on this apparent contradiction from the man himself here.

I also wanted to add that there has been some people confused and or unhappy with the treatment of alignment in DCC. I will definitely go on the record saying I love it. First of all, it is single axis which is good. Second, at least under my interpretation, law is not at all a proxy for good, and chaos is not a proxy for evil. Elves are chaotic, goblins are lawful. This bothers a lot of people on the forum. I like the nuance of it. Elves, while being generally non-destructive, traffic with outsiders, exchanging favors, souls, whatever, for personal power.  While goblins might generally be in opposition to humans, live in communities and pursue their own communal goals. Law and chaos is not the same thing as good guys and bad guys.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Project: One World to Rule Them All

When I played a lot as a kid/teen I spent a lot of time thinking about campaign worlds. I drew up new ones habitually, devoured many of the 2ed campaign worlds and I even bought the first version of Campaign Cartographer and spent a lot of time learning how to use it. Now I mostly play in vaguely defined worlds with maybe a small region mapped - or maybe not. This works fine for the most part.

I have been thinking though that their might be advantage in spending some time creating a more detailed campaign world. A world that I could reuse across campaigns. I wouldn't start at a high level of detail, but at least I could put all of my campaign design efforts in one direction. As I add things for different games they could all just go on the map somewhere.

Now let's see if I really start or if this stays in the realm of imagination.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On unknowable threats

Discussion with Brendan has started me thinking more about fairness issues. -C has covered the issue brilliantly with regard to traps. To put it simply: clues to traps should be given in description, players who listen carefully will be rewarded by not dying. But what about monsters? The threat level of a monster can be difficult to gauge - particularly if the DM uses a lot of unknown monsters. Also, I want to reward players who think - not necessarily those who know the game best. I think particularly in systems that heavily incentivize combat (e.g. Pathfinder) this is a serious problem. We want players to be wary of combat - but they have no other way to advance their characters (unless you dabble in the modern D&D devilry of a magic item commerce - a topic for another day). Therefore the players are inevitably going to take risks and fight unknown monsters. If we just let them die willy-nilly we will end up damaging fun. It may be fun at first to hurl characters at unknowable enemies, but its frustrating after many sessions of either starting new characters or not gaining experience.

Possible solutions:

CR: Ick. The WotC way is crappy and is not the game we wish to play.

Knowledge skills: the Pathfinder sort of fix. Roll and learn the monster's capabilities! Not only is this  a horrendous example of a skill tax ("let's see, I'd better take knowledge-planes because no one has that yet") but it destroys the sense of exploring the unknown.

"So what if they are frustrated? They should learn to play better.": Not exactly swimming in grognards here. Plus, shouldn't the game be fun?

Scouting: My awesome solution. We need to provide clues and opportunities for the players to learn the capabilities of nasty monsters before they decide whether or not to fight them. The rust monster does not leave much intact metal around, ghouls leave a lot of gnawed on body parts around, you might be able to sneak up on the ogre encampment to determine their numbers, etc. As great as surprise is, players making intelligent decisions is better. If we can start them thinking in a scouting mode, then we can include real baddies, and start littering the dungeon floor with corpses of the foolish.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Experience for Monsters Slain is badwrongfun

There. I said it. I'm an edition warrior. Getting experience for killing monsters is intrinsically bad.

Hyperbole? Sure. Right? Absolutely.

Here is what I have been noticing: as player's increase in skill (which in 3+ D&D largely means character optimization and ability on the battle mat, although my players are starting to pick up on my traditional D&D tricks a bit too) it becomes increasingly difficult to pose appropriate challenges to them. It seems that most fights wind up being one said pummeling the other.

Okay, you say, but why does that matter? I thought we OSR folks hate the idea of the "appropriate challenge?"

True! But therein lies the problem. In 3+ killing monsters is the only way to gain experience. That means that to progress players must figure out ways to kill the baddies. If I am doing my job as a DM they have to use their brains to kill them, but kill them they must. This means that player's have a big incentive to try to make their characters as combat worthy as possible. So if I place a monster that is truly too difficult for them I am basically cheating them. It would be like placing a dungeon with zero treasure inside in traditional D&D. In fact it is slightly worse, because I am not only wasting their time but I am going to retard their progress. An unkillable monster is much worse than a normal red herring because it slaughters the PCs as well.

Actually after writing that I a have come up with a better analogy for traditional D&D: imagine a huge chest brimming with gold and jewels. The chest is surrounded by horrific traps that you, the DM, know the PCs have basically zero chance to pass through alive, no matter what they do. We also know that the players will spend enormous amounts of time trying to get that gold. They will spend hours of real time and more than a few characters trying to get it. This is an unfair situation. Figuring out how to get that gold is exactly what we have told them they should be doing, and in fact it is heavily incentivized. They will be frustrated and confused if there is truly no way for them to get it.

Likewise, in 3+ they see a big fat monster, dripping with CR. We have told them that the purpose of this game is to kill as many monsters as they can, so of course they try to kill it. They can try to kill in a smart way or a dumb way. It might be a tough fight, it might consume many of their irreplaceable resources. It might even kill a few characters. However, if the fight is fundamentally unwinnable for some reason (monster is simply too tough/has too big damage output, damage resistance, nasty magical abilities, etc.) then we have cheated the players.

When x is the objective of the game, we should not create situations where going for x makes you lose. Sure it can be hard, there can be tricks, traps, and pitfalls. But the goal of the DM should be to create fun for everyone. Frustrating the very objective of the game for players is not fun.

That being said CR sucks. I am not going to spend a lot of time beating that dead horse, but suffice it to say that the idea of adventurers going out and encountering a series of fights carefully tailored to their ability levels is just dumb. Also Conan runs away a lot.

So awarding experience for monsters slain makes CR matter.

CR is badwrongfun because it is stupid. 

Therefore, experience for killing monsters is badwrongfun.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When ghouls attack! (and players do nothing?)

Something very interesting happened in our last Pathfinder session. Only 3 players showed up and carefully finished clearing out pretty much the rest of the first dungeon level that they had been working on. The only thing left was the earth elemental that had previously wiped out most of the party. So this time they approached with a plan and were prepared to fight it carefully. They went back to town to rest and make final preparations.

On their way back to fight the elemental they encountered 3 ghouls in the graveyard above the dungeon. They saw them a long way off and were not surprised. They did . . . nothing? To be fair the ranger attacked them with arrows, but the two spellcasters basically passed. These are 3rd and 4th level Pathfinder characters so the ghouls really should not have been a serious threat.

But here is basically what happened:

[I am leaving out the fiddly 3e maneuvering around crap, this is the essence of the fight]
Ranger shoots and kills a ghoul.
Remaining ghouls charge and paralyze the ranger.
Witch and summoner frantically begin casting summoning spells.
Ghouls kill the ranger.
Summoned monsters kill the ghouls.


If the spellcasters had taken their second round actions in the first round of combat the Ranger would have lived. Is this sort of thing common in other people's experience?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - sort of a review

So as I mentioned previously at long last I recently acquired a range of AD&D books. I have at this point read a great deal of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. I cannot claim to have read them in their entirety.

I'm not sure it is possible to read these books straight through. I am also not sure it would be possible to learn the game from scratch from them. While they are chock full of fascinating play tips, design notes, and other commentary, they lack the coherent explanatory framework that say, second edition or the Rules Cyclopedia have (they are my counter examples because they are the books I own). Both books seem to have been assembled at random. That being said, if you already know how to play D&D it is quite straightforward to look up rules on specific topics and to find a deep and thoughtful explanation of why the rule is what it is.

I also find it interesting how clear the wargaming roots show in these books. As a sometime Warhammer player things like random resolution of targets in mass melee and the one minute combat round stand out to me as perfectly sensible rules if you want D&D to accommodate or at least be compatible with unit scale wargames. Not to mention a choice between measuring in inches, hex, or grid combat. Or of course abstract combat, but there are an awful lot of rules for modeled combat. I would wager that Gygax had in mind something like what I've settled on for Pathfinder - abstract combat when it is simple, modeled combat when it is complex.

Now that I am thinking about it, I am not sure why D&D has moved to a grid, it seems like it would be more sensible to measure or to use hexes. Maybe it is to simplify things in the dungeon.

Back to the topic at hand: It may be a good thing I started playing with second edition. I had no older gamer friends to teach me the game. I did not know what the game was supposed to look like before I started DMing. The second edition rules did a very good job explaining what exactly all of this was about. The AD&D core books are inscrutable. Until the Player's Options and revised core books were published, none of the enormous bloat of second edition changed the fundamental character of the game (whereas by all reports - I do not own it yet - Unearthed Arcana destroyed the nature of AD&D). The second edition supplements were just useless (I should know, I have a decent sized collection of them). As a young player it is very hard to be discerning about what is good and what is bad - anything official is seen as good and required.

That being said, if I were to play AD&D now I think I'd be more inclined to play first edition (actually in reality I would probably use OSRIC, I don't want to pass my ancient books around the table). Why is that? Grognard group-think? Social shaming about my nostalgia for second edition?

I actually think it is the greater detail of first edition. Second edition is largely a streamlined version of first edition. There are some superficial changes but in terms of core rules the only differences seem to be areas where second edition reduced or removed rules - a good example being henchmen. There are extensive rules on how to acquire henchmen in first, second basically says roleplay it. Other than those sorts of things (and the slightly different list of races and classes, oh and the whole demons and devils thing) THEY ARE THE SAME GAME. This makes me wonder why the generally "rules light" OSR people have such loathing of second edition. In the core rules (excepting nonweapon proficiencies, which is one of three skill options) second edition is a substantially simpler game than first.

Can anyone explain that?

(side note: does anyone else find it weird when they see 3E adherents referred to as Grognards on the internet? 3E drove me away from the game for a decade, and I'm only 30).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Flight rules are terrible

In all three editions of AD&D there is a reliance of flying maneuverability classes to govern flying. From a game designer perspective this seems reasonable. Some creatures are more maneuverable flyers than others. However, the worst flyers are horribly bad at flying. For example, in AD&D a dragon can only turn 30° per round. That is 30° per minute. That means it takes a dragon after making one pass at a point 12 minutes to return to that point on the wing. Third edition appears to use similar rules with more paperwork involved, I haven't used them thoug. The problem is mitigated by a shorter round time, but dragons are still lousy flyers.

Let's take the dragon as our example in think in terms of Gygaxian naturalism for a minute. Here we have the ultimate predator. Intelligent, winged, breath weapons, claws and fangs. They are enormous and are going to need to hunt large quantities of prey. However, since they are too clumsy in the air to hunt on the wing like a raptor, they are going to have to do one of two things: blast everything with their breath weapon and then scavenge whatever remains; or fly somewhere, land, hunt on foot. The latter makes no sense really - whatever are the wings for then? The former is sensible but makes dragons kind of sad. Dragon attacks will involve a quick blast of death from above and then everyone hiding while it makes its turn, and then staying hidden while the dragon roots around in the ashes. Sucks to be a dragon, they are going to need to resort to stealth. I do see an opportunity for dragons ambushing and sneak attacking shepherds, adventurers, and other unfortunates, but that would be a complete reimagining of the dragon as the iconic enemy.

These rules appear to have been by people who have never seen raptors hunt. On my way to work I pass through a wide stretch of flood plain where I sometimes see hawks hunting. They really don't seem to have any trouble with these rapid banking maneuvers and dives that are deemed impossible. For what its worth, I am no ornithologist, nor even a serious bird watcher. I just have seen birds around, you know? I think the authors (of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions) have confused raptors and airplanes. Birds are good at flying. Shouldn't flying monsters be good at flying? If we take Gygaxian naturalism seriously at all, flying predatory monsters should fly like predatory birds. Why does being big mean they have to be clumsy? A dragon probably should have hollow bones and the wings will be governed by enormously powerful muscles. They should fly like an eagle. Wyvern's should fly like hawks.

I think a little imagination can replace all of the flight rules completely. Watch some Wild America (is that still on?) or something. Think about what kind of flyer this creature is. Rule appropriately.

Note: Pathfinder eliminates this sort of absolute thinking and replaces it (like everything else) with a skill check. Not a bad idea, since it encourages flexibility, but it has all of the difficulties that all Pathfinder skill checks have. Endless tallying of modifiers.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How I actually played second edition AD&D

Teazia's comment on my last post got me thinking about how I actually played second edition AD&D. When I started playing as a child I devoured source books, splat books, campaign settings, and optional rules with the reckless abandon of a young person. Knowing nothing else I drunk deeply from the well of second edition folly. As I grew older I began to realize that my game had lost something important. So in my late teens (the last time I played a lot of D&D until my late twenties) I began to pare down the monster of second edition until I was left with the things that had originally enthralled me.

My selected optional rules and house rules (as best as I can remember) looked something like this:

  • 3d6 in order for stats.
  • Secondary skills - no non-weapon proficiencies.
  • No kits.
  • No sub-races.
  • Actually, pretty much nothing from the Complete books series.
  • No specialty priests.
  • No weapon proficiencies - I at first experimented with weapon groups from The Complete Fighter's Handbook (which sees final fruition in third edition) but ended up abandoning proficiencies entirely.
  • A 10 second combat round.
  • Nothing at all from the Player's Options books.
I might be missing something, but that gives you the gist of it. What I find fascinating is how close it is to Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition Companion (no half-orcs or assassins, but . . . bards?). Obviously, not everyone likes this sort of paring down. I had players who really didn't think much of it. Those players went on to become avid third edition players and I (largely) stopped playing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - First Impressions

I have finally purchased for myself the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. Basically, the upcoming (and also delayed) reprint got me excited. Except that WoTC ruined my favorite game (in my ever so humble opinion). The thought of their abominable logo on my precious RPG books just irked me. So I got online and picked up the books I wanted.

Of course I have played AD&D before - 2nd Edition. I played a LOT of 2nd edition. A function of when I was born. I looked at those older guys who held on to the first edition as bizarre and unfathomable. "Why would you keep playing with your ancient books when you could have nice shiny new ones? It's the same game (just better!) dummies. This is IMPROVED."

My descent into the OSR was fueled by a desire to go back to 2ed. Of course when I started looking around I found out that nobody plays 2ed. So I bought a copy of the Rules Cyclopedia - which I fell in love with. Then some retroclones, which I also adore (and feel less worried about using during play - I refuse to treat my collected books as collectables, I bought them to play with and I'll be damned if I don't, but it is another thing to pass them around the table while everyone is drinking soda and eating salsa).

So now here I am, about to turn 30, and I am holding the AD&D books for the first time, reading the tiny font and inscrutable tables (all set in bizarrely huge margins) for the first time. Now, after a too-lengthy introduction, my first impressions:

Layout: while I find the look and feel appealing in some masochistic, DIY sort of way, I have to think that the corporate hivemind of TSR had to feel that the layout and presentation alone merited a 2nd edition. Not only is the font tiny and are the margins huge but there are tables in Players Handbook that make zero sense without reference to the Dungeon Masters Guide. This of course is explained by Gary Gygax because these books are intended to be a compilation of the D&D rules. The assumed audience in terms of layout is people who are already playing. That being said, there is tons and tons of play advice. There is much more about what the game should look like than in any of the 2ed materials. This is very much in line with the gradual shift from swords & sorcery to heroic fantasy. 1ed explains that adventurers spend much of the term in underground mazes because they are much safer than adventuring in the wilderness. Before beginning my career as a 2ed DM at age 10, I had played exactly once as a player. So I basically learned the craft from the 2ed DMG as well as Dragon, and Dungeon. I ran a lot of outdoor adventures. 2ed takes a "adventure everywhere" kind of tone. My early perception of the game would have been very different if I had started with these books.

At this point I really have only read the Players Handbook and it has only be a quick read so I will have to continue my comments in another post. However my first impression can really be boiled down to this:

While 2ed was a much more polished and well thought out game, it is obvious in retrospect that it also had a very different about idea what the game was about. While mechanically it is largely compatible with the first edition of AD&D than it is third, it is more spiritually aligned with the latter's vision of heroic fantasy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parallels in video game RPGs

Haven't posted in a while due to some unfortunate events on the home front but we are back!

It seems that video games are sometimes a taboo subject among RPG players - that tabletop games are "serious" and video games are not. I am at peace with saying I enjoy both. I just started playing the latest Wizardry game available in the US - The Labyrinth of Lost Souls which was largely panned in the professional video game review world as being antiquated, boring, and unplayable. Basically, why play this when you can play the infinitely more awesome Skyrim? Or if you insist on playing something challenge, at least go with Dark Souls (I realize that I am playing a little fast and loose with release dates here, but you get my drift). You know, something modern.

Upon actually starting to play Wizardry: TLoLS you find that if you happen to have grown up in the era of games like Ultima, Dragon Warrior, or the old Wizardry games, this game is both familiar and fun. Like with pen and paper games, video game RPGs seem to have added a lot of modern features - see the entire genre of action RPGs - but leave you with basically the same game with a lot of window dressing. The game may be "real time" instead of turn based, and it may rely more on muscle memory, but good video game RPGs rely on a lot of the same things as traditional D&D: game knowledge, good planning, good spot decision making. This is true of high quality games of both the old and the new school. Games like Skyrim just dress it up a whole lot and give beginning players who aren't interested in learning the nuances a lot more assistance. Dark Souls is all the window dressing with none of the help.

This is basically the same as how I feel about modern D&D. Feats, skills, grid based combat - all of this is just a distraction from the core game you are actually playing. Modern combat and skill resolution (the most important mechanical distinctions from traditional D&D) don't actually change anything if you ask me. You roll to hit, you roll for damage, you cast a spell, you roll to jump the pit. The core things all work in pretty much the same way when you boil it down. The calculations have just gotten more complex. Some people think those calculations are the game. I happen to think the game is what happens in between the calculations.

The similarities don't end there though. In Skyrim, you wade through endless bits of tedious dialogue interesting only to the writers to get to the actual game (Paizo modules?) and then go out and play what is basically a pretty traditional RPG game with a lot of help for new players, robust auto-mapping, way-point markers, quest logs, autosaving. Not to mention the assumption that the characters are singled out for a special destiny and quickly rise to levels of tremendous power. That whole thing.

Wizardry isn't like that. You are plopped into a town with no guidance as to how anything works and with a minimal bit of explanation about the dungeon. If you head into the dungeon without hiring a robust complement of retainers you will die to the first kobold run into. Even if you hire 5 retainers you will probably die to the first group of goblins you run into. Through trial and error you learn things. You die a lot. You figure out how to make a map of the dungeon. You realize that you really need both a bishop and a cleric in your party but after that it is up to you. The game makes you think about the game instead of just loading every time you die (I guess that is technically possible, but it is not how the game is intended to be played, death is pretty forgiving). Seems an awful lot like traditional D&D.

For the record, I think Skyrim is fun, I think Pathfinder is fun. There is just a lot about them that is included in them that I think adds nothing, and often detracts from the core things that are fun about them.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The True Nature of the Planes

What you have been told about the planes is wrong. Folktales, mysticism.

The truth is that the planes are like a tower. At the peak is the realm of absolute law and in the deepest dungeon absolute chaos. Good and evil are human projections of their own base desires. The pole of law radiates positive energy and the pole of chaos radiates negative energy and there is an endless current between the two poles. Picture a magnet. The human world sits roughly equidistant between the two poles. I say roughly because its exact position shifts and fluctuates with the energy currents. Sometimes it drifts "up" towards the pole of law and empires are built, great works done, and the people are oppressed. Sometimes it shifts "down" and empires crumble, wars are fought, and the people starve. The orientation of law as up and chaos as down is literal. While one cannot travel between the planes by merely traveling up or down the plane is shaped by its poles. Down, into the earth you find that the world is rotten, eaten by the forces of chaos. Up you find the ancient and terrible powers of law.

The planes are like a tower, but they are also like an ocean. Each level of the tower is distinct and drifting and on each level there are many islands, many realms, separate from each other. These places are what are often thought of as the varied material planes, and the outer planes. One can travel between these realms only by crossing through the emptiness between them. Unspeakable dangers await those that would step out into the currents. This place is what is commonly called the astral plane or the dreaming but its true conception is beyond imagining. The varied elemental planes are also mere aspects of this hinterland, with no true reality of their own.

Magic is done in the world by harnessing the energy of the poles. "Divine" magic is accomplished by direct tapping of one of the pole's energy (often with the assistance of an entity), "arcane" magic is the manipulation of the currents themselves. Both are dangerous and risk attracting the attention of the entities and old powers that dwell in other realms.

I started thinking about the planes because of the reimagining of Planescape that Scrap Princess is doing and because I am reading The Wizard by Gene Wolfe.

Dwimmermount Session

I had the opportunity to playtest Dwimmermount with James M. last night. Needless to say I was excited. I neither like reading nor writing play reports as they usually are seen: careful blow by blows of what the characters did. These for me never capture the spirit of the game and are often tedious (to write and to read). Instead I will do what I usually do and ramble on aimlessly talking about this and that until I feel done.

Leaving Dwimmermount itself aside for a minute, last night's session was excellent - everything I want out of D&D. I got to play with an excellent DM and two wonderful players and we had a great time. This was the second time I have played over G+ (the first was with Il Male) and it has been a positive experience both times. While we do have to wrestle with technology a bit and it is not quite equivalent to the over-the-table experience there is no replacement for playing D&D with like-minded people. For those of us who do not live in big cities or are otherwise lucky, finding OSR players can be a real challenge.

On to the game itself. We were exploring the second level of Dwimmermount with second level characters rolled up on the spot. Character creation took maybe 10 minutes, I played a magic-user with a pretty miserable stat line, but I rolled pretty well for hit points and James let us take maximum for first level. James rolled random spells for me - something I always used to do, so that was nice. I ended up with read magic, light, charm person, and magic missile. I memorize charm person (because it is awesome) and magic missile just in case. The other players decided to play a dwarf and a fighter, and in we went.

Cool stuff that we found:
  •  A circular room with unexplained hooks in the walls.
  • Weird mosaics.
  • A large table that we spent some time examining.
  • Some sort of phosphorescent moss.
  • A whole lot of orcs - some of which had suspiciously good equipment (that we relieved them of) and finely crafted amulets (which we also took).
Cool stuff that we did:
  • Killed a bunch of orcs.
  • Ambushed more orcs.
  • Cast charm person on the orc chieftain and then killed him.
  • Listened at a lot of doors.
  • Examined stuff.
  • Watched our backs.
  • Explored and mapped.
  • Proved that yes, the magic-user with a penalty in both dexterity and constitution should pull out his dagger and wade into melee because he is awesome like that.
Basically it was D&D at its best.

Final thought: it is hard to separate the experience of the dungeon from the DM, but Dwimmermount managed to feel both organic and mysterious - exactly what a good dungeon should be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In defense of halflings

I have read a fair amount of deprecation of the halfling here and there in the D&D world (some games even pretend that halflings do not exist!) and it is time to put the myths to rest. The image of the halfling as soft and bumbling is a poisonous lie spread by the nefarious J.R.R. Tolkien and it has been taken up in the fantasy roleplaying community. The truth of halflings is much darker, mysterious, and interesting.

Halflings, like their taller and weaker cousins the humans, are highly adaptable and live in a wide variety of terrains. Halflings, being slightly smaller, can survive in more extreme climes than humans can. Halflings can be found in deep jungles (the ferocious pygmy warriors and lizard-riders of legend), deep mountain retreats (the infamous spelunker assassins often hired by dwarves to assail their enemies), and in wild-wood fastnesses (wolfriders and tree-crawlers feared by orc and elf alike). Sometimes, they can even be found in towns or among adventurers working as heavily armored sellswords or living on the margins of human society.

Most halflings do not dwell in holes or live lives of quiet gluttony.

Halflings are in league with all manner of fae creatures and ally with them in times of need. While they rarely traffic in "arcane" or "divine" human magic, halflings will often be encountered armed with mysterious faerie witchcraft and charms.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pathfinder Frustration

We had a frustrating game session. Some of my group seems to be stuck in the "if we see it, we must be able to kill it" mentality of later D&D. This led to disaster. After trouncing everything they had seen so far they ran into a large earth elemental. I tried to give as much warning as possible and had constructed things such that fleeing was very possible. They didn't. While it is possible they could have killed it with some sustained luck they were pretty out matched. Only one survived.

Now a near-TPK in old-school D&D is normal, expected, and easily remedied it comes as a bit of a shock to 3e players who expect to win every fight. Also it takes forever to make characters. SO half the session was spent making new characters. One player failed to even come up with a character concept.

Solution: I am suggesting to players to make at least one backup character. Additionally, I am going to make a pool of backup characters to draw upon. I do not want to have to sit and watch four out of five people agonizing over character options again any time soon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Horrid Corpse

Horrid Corpse

Wandering dungeons mindlessly, these putrescent undead are the result of the hideous magic of the Polluted Jailer.  Swarming flies and a nauseating stench mark their presence. While their bodies are rotten and easily broken, those who encounter them often contract their horrific disease.

HD 3, AC 9 [10], Attack, slam for 1d4 + disease (see below), Move 15', Save 14, undead, xp 240
Anyone within 20 feet is subject to the effects of a stinking cloud.

After being struck save vs. disease or lose 1 constitution and charisma per day until cured. Can only be cured by magical means.

Note about xp:

I calculated experience (and saves) using Swords & Wizardry. Interestingly, using Labyrinth Lord the same creature is worth 80xp.

I then went to calculate xp value for Pathfinder, since that is what I am going to use it in first. Pathfinder gives me no guidance. Their monster creation rules start with you determining CR, and then deriving other things from that. Ugh. So . . . I'm not sure what killing one of these bad boys should give you in Pathfinder. Any thoughts?

The Special Problem of Knowledge Skills

As I alluded to in my last post, knowledge skills present special challenges. It seems like a perfectly reasonable way to allocate skill points ("my character knows stuff!") particularly when you think about the academic wizardly types. However, knowledge skills present a problem for D&D. For me, D&D is at its best when it is the players up against the unknown and the game is about discovery and exploration. Knowledge skills inevitably undermine this. If a player has invested a lot of points in say, knowledge dungeoneering or knowledge nature, it is pretty unfair of me to say they know nothing at all about a new monster. Likewise, knowledge geography or knowledge history can be a real bugaboo in terms of hex crawling and exploration. 

Obviously a good DM can work with these to skills to create interesting bits of knowledge, but I find that they tend to be a mystery killer. Instead of investigating in character, the player simply asks, "what do I know about the [monster, mountain range, ancient city]?"

Possible solutions:

Take them out of the game completely.

Water them down in some way.

Replace them with more general knowledge sets: for example, world, culture, and academic.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why am I playing Pathfinder? (Part 2)

More thoughts on 3e and then an explanation of why I actually am running  a Pathfinder game.

Combat - Takes forever. In some ways I love playing on a battlemat, in some ways I don't. I like the visual representation (although a white board works just fine if you need something to track things on) - especially for complex combats, but this is where all the rules monkeying tends to crop up.

I had a player (in a different game than the one I am running now) once try to leap through the air and punch a flying griffin that was about 10 feet up and 20 feet away. I said "no way" and this devolved into a big discussion of the jumping rules and the player saying my favorite line: "but this is what my character does."

I thought that all of this rules minutiae was defended on the grounds of realism?

The same goes for movement and attacks of opportunity, so yes, it is realistic that someone will try to strike you if you try to pass by or cast a spell, but they won't take one step to do so? Not realistic, (not that I care), but let's not try to pretend that these rules are based on anything closer to reality than AD&D was.

Rule completeness - Its a myth. No rule set is entirely complete or coherent. Example from last session:

Group of 3rd level characters (we picked up where a campaign I ran last summer left off) has been exploring the dungeon and generally kicking ass in true 3e manner. There is no rogue so the barbarian is hacking through doors. Each time he does this I take the opportunity to roll for a random encounter). Finally one hits and . . . swarm of bats! Well this a melee heavy group so they all say "uh oh, swarm". They have exactly one AoE spell among the five of them. Burning hands goes off . . . and doesn't kill them. So the witch cleverly pulls out a vial of acid and throws it amidst the swarming bats. Well, apparently grenade-like weapons use the touch AC of the opponent. Bats have a very high touch AC. It is very tough to touch a bat. Of course that isn't what he is doing. He is not trying to touch one and cast shocking grasp. He is merely trying to throw a glass vial onto the floor and have it splash on them. So he misses. This is a ridiculous result to the action he is attempting to take. So . . . house rule, he hits automatically! Unfortunately this doesn't kill the bats either and they have to flee . . . but at least things are making sense now.

So don't claim that the rules cover everything or always coherent. Just as much a need for adjudication as ever, just now we have to look a lot of things up first.

So why DO I play Pathfinder?

Because I have found a good group of players who like to play it and I like DMing. They know the rules well and are good sports so I don't need to memorize things. Generally they tell me the rules, we look it up if it is very important or there is disagreement, and I adjudicate. I don't mind DMing (sorry WotC, GMing) Pathfinder because I like designing adventures, dungeons, and monsters. The rules system is pretty irrelevant to all of that.

Would I rather play a different rules system? Sure. Would I be a better DM if we played something I was more familiar with? Probably. But I think that with a good group rules adjudication is the smallest part of the DM's job. Will they start seeing monsters from the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book that arrived last night? Absolutely.

Basically, rule systems are pretty irrelevant to the kind of stories we tell. That's just the details. That's why I think simple rules are good, but if my players would rather get all bogged down in that stuff I'm okay with that. They just need to understand that I think CR is a laughable concept, and that yes I am going to kill them with the cave giant waiting by the stairs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why am I playing Pathfinder?

Because my game group likes 3e and its children (I'm going to refer to them all as 3e because that is easier).

That's basically the only reason. Other than that I would rather play any version of D&D - possibly excepting 4e, which I have never played but does not seem particularly appealing by all accounts. In fact I don't even own any 3e books, all my Pathfinder books are borrowed from one of my players. I own the rules of course to four other editions, and I find lots of uses for them nonetheless.

I don't like 3e. From the first time I saw it when it came out, to actually playing in a few campaigns (of 3.5) to running now my third Pathfinder game I think it is less fun than old-school D&D.


Skills - for all the reasons brilliantly explained by -C here, I think skills basically reduce fun.

Example from my last game session: unknown monster appears in the dungeon (fungal crawler), player rolls knowledge dungeoneering and rolls well. I am faced with a choice: deny them information to preserve the mystery of the dungeon, and punish them for taking "soft skills", or give them information. Well I approve of developing characters with aims other than maximum damage output, so I tell them some tidbits about the fungal crawler, I try to couch it in terms of "you can tell by its grasshopper legs that it is probably quite a jumper" but wouldn't it be more fun to find out first hand?

In theory skills seem great, but in my last days of playing 2e (the rule set I cut my teeth on and played the most of) I dropped nonweapon proficiencies (yes, they are an optional rule!) in favor of secondary skills (which I think are dandy).

Where I like skills is Stars Without Number, but that is a different game and a topic for a different day.

Feats - Unlike almost everyone I know, I hated feats from the moment I saw them. Feats are the reason I never adopted 3e in its heyday.

My feelings towards them have soften somewhat since, but I looked at them at the time and thought: wow, this is terrible. What do feats give us theoretically? Control, character customization, options. But the raise a couple of big problems: first of all, people no longer feel that they need to distinguish their character through roleplaying, now they are distinguished largely by their class powers and feats. ("What are you playing?" [class and list of feats]).

Second, they heavily reward power gamers. In pre-3e D&D power gaming was only marginally rewarded, now player skill at character building leads to great discrepancies in power. The characters of players played by more experienced (or more power game focused) players are mechanically more powerful than those of other players. This is very different than a difference in player skill as thought of in the OSR. In old school D&D you don't know what you are doing, so you kill your character, roll up a new one and learn. In new school D&D you don't know what you are doing so your character sucks and does not get to participate at the same level as other player's characters. This of course can only be remedied by making a new more powerful character. So if you want to have the same amount of fun as the rest of the group, you need to make sure you are carefully optimized as well. One could easily say this is a metagame problem with particular groups, but the root problem is that 3e rewards powergaming so heavily. You tend to get what the game rewards.

More to come.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Pathfinder Campaign

Getting prepped for our new Pathfinder campaign I find it remarkable how useful the Rules Cyclopedia and Swords & Wizardry core rules are to me. So much solid advice and useful tables - like the random dungeon stocking tables. I have yet to actually reference any of the Pathfinder books (not that they are bad, but like all later D&D they are just lacking in actual utility). I wish we were playing a different system . . . but we have to keep the players happy I suppose.

Friday, March 2, 2012

20 Strange and Wondrous Events

I have resurrected my long-defunct blogger account to post some D&D miscellany. I might even post a thought here or there. My first post is the first 20 entries of a table of weird events I'm working on.
Table of Strange and Wondrous Events (1d20)
  1. A strange figure is seen walking away, pursue and be lost in a mysterious plane.
  2. A kindly face appears, attempts to communicate will lead to madness.
  3. Water turns to wine, drinking it will lead to madness.
  4. Water turns to blood, drinking it will provide healing.
  5. A fog of an unnameable color envelopes the adventurers - only those of steely will can pass through and remain in their own world.
  6. A vision of horror and disaster is granted, then a chance encounter with a troupe of players.
  7. Picnickers - a fae power.
  8. The sky is green and the earth purple, a horrific insect is encountered.
  9. Come across a scene of massacre.
  10. An ancient altar. Sacrifice will provide blessing.
  11. Strange flowers upon the ground, consuming the petals will grant power.
  12. A stranger walks up and presses a single golden coin into your palm.
  13. A voice calls out to you – following it leads to riches.
  14. Butterflies stream from the eyes.
  15. A blind tinker selling sand, thrown on the ground it has wondrous effects.
  16. A new spring where none should be.
  17. Ash falls from the sky. It is not easily cleaned from the skin.
  18. The weather becomes unseasonable and day becomes night, or night day.
  19. A sword hilt protruding from the earth. Pull it free and discover a secret realm beneath.
  20. An obelisk is found covered in unknown writing. Once lost from view it can never be found again.