Monday, October 25, 2010

Why all the fascination with old modules?

Asked one of my co-workers when I was commenting on my recent acquisitions, including a copy of the original X1 - Isle of Dread.

Nostalgia is, admittedly, something challenging to get past. 15 years of something being only in one's memory does make the heart grow fonder.

Let's see what 4e is up to these days

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. If I'm living in the past, apparently I have company.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Curse these random thoughts!

My two-year D&D campaign wrapped up a couple weeks ago. Do I feel like talking about it? Yeah maybe, but not right now. Nothing really negative, I just feel ready to move on. Some analysis would be nice, when I can direct my thoughts to it.

I was thinking about Disney's Ducktales - you can probably find videos on youtube, articles on wikia. I figure you can find them because I am writing this from my phone.

Anyways, Ducktales has Scrooge McDuck, who has gone from being the principal character in some Dickens adaptation (I will leave it as an excercise to the audience to guess which one)

Scrooge has gone from being the subject of a morality play to being a heroic foil, somewhere between Daddy Warbucks and Howard Hughes, looking after his grand-nephews. Those boys don't apparently have parents or grandparents, just an uncle, and that uncle has an uncle who is also their uncle.. anyways..

These very new englander ducks live in Duckberg, a town populated by a lot of other ducks, and some dogs, notably the Beagle Boys (and their mother)..

Why are there dogs living in Duckberg.. are they immigrants? I don't remember a lot of other dogs in the show, but they were generally in a antagonistic role. Mean kids, or nasty rivals.. the poor folk who are always looking for chances to knock Scrooge and his ilk down a peg.

There were "badguy" duck-people in the show as well, but they were generally very high-class.. business rivals, or white-collar criminals.

Is the real message of this disney cartoon that disenfranchised immigrants are all untrustworthy criminals, always the bad guys? Am I overthinking this? These last two should also be left to the reader to decide.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Path Unexpected...

So, like many others, labor day included a gaming binge for me.

I had intended to play a particular game, the official sequel to an old favorite, a title with nearly universal brand recognition and which which leaves a large stamps on my memories of years gone by.

It was a game that I have not played much, and have had mixed feelings concerning, but am eager to give more time to win my affection.

For reasons I will discuss at another time, I couldn't play this one, and ended up on another game, which we will call Simmo. The first will be Gameo.

Simmo comes from much the same origins, and uses many of the same concepts and conventions as Gameo's predecessor. These two are in many ways close cousins, but in so many ways very different.

Both have a "campaign" format, a series of fights that are interconnected by a storyline, but the differences start from there.
In Gameo, there is a mostly linear progression, the storyline (from what I understand) is often considered unnecessary, more of flavor text than a real gameplay mechanic. The progression from one fight to another isn't immediate and forced, but instead simply waiting for the player to exhaust the pre-scripted content before allowing himself to be lead by the hand to the next fight.

In Simmo, however, the campaign has a great openness. Characters exist as potential enemies and allies, but with interesting and varied attitudes towards the player. The world moves around the player, shaping and reforming but also dependent on the player's input. Choices made by the player are meaningful and have consequences.

The fights are extremely important in both, but executed differently.

In Simmo, there is a very concrete feel to the battle. Ranged attacks feel different than close up attacks. Morale is a concern, and enemies can be routed (scared off) and don't always fight to the death. The difficulty of fights can vary greatly depending on what choices are made in the campaign, and sometimes a very easy fight might follow a very difficult one.

In Gameo, fights follow a very particular progression. There are things to do outside of the fight that improve one's options, but each fight will almost always be an escalation from the previous one. This is not to say they are uninteresting.. one fight could require a pitched battle, another a siege mentality, but the format of these is tightly scripted, and there are bonuses within the combat that simply happen due to game logic, disassociated from any real situation.

Do I like one more than the other? So far I have probably made my prejudices clear. I am still looking to give Gameo more of an opportunity to win my heart.

Friday, August 13, 2010

GNS thoughts...

Have been chatting with Mr. Warhammer40D6 about GNS theory.

Consider the following situation --
There are three adult ogres and one juvenile that fights half as well as the others.

Which would be your preferred reason for this to be so?
1) The juve is there because I didn't have enough XP budget left over for a fourth adult.

2) The juve is there because he is meant to pose a moral choice, whether to allow a youth to live to adulthood, knowing he will likely be a threat.

3) The juve is there because I determined that 24% of the ogre population are non-combatants, and they were randomly placed with other encounter zones and as wandering monsters (fulfilling various menial tasks).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

this post removed

due to excessive snarkiness. I'm depublishing it and hopefully no-one read it. excuse me while I go try to do something other than read arguments in blog comments.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The OSR Kool-Aid

is delicious, thank you! I'm not sure I qualify on either of Mr. Raggi's points yet, though.

I seem to be severely delinquent in my updating. Should try to correct this tonight. Maybe.

Played my first ever game of 4e last friday, playing my second one tomorrow. Still trying to form opinions which feel original. So far it seems to be confirming most of the positive and negative comments I have heard. Fun, gamish-over-simulationist, disassociated..

Trying to give it a fair shot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In theory it could work..

Ways to destroy your DM's sanity number 234: Start keeping detailed records of player character hits, misses, times knocked down, healing surges used, etc.
Start a "Fantasy D&D" league.

Erik : Yes! Thordek scored a critical hit!
James: Yes! Thordek is in my starting line!
DM Matt: Yes! I will have another vodka shot!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Critical thinking

I've never played rolemaster, but I understand it to be something like this..

One of the useful, but somewhat dull and mechanical features of 3.x is the critical hit system. Criticals deal double damage, or more depending on the weapon. Some feats improve this, and some feats improve how often the crits are done. My players are usually fairly excited to roll a crit, except for my crit-stacking munchkin Epik, but the issues which lead to my asking him to alter his character mid-session are for another time.

When I was in high school, I always did critical hits off the cuff -- if a twenty was rolled, then the die was rolled again, with escalating awesomeness depending on what was rolled from there. A second twenty would result in instant death, but I don't remember this ever happening. Triple or quadruple damage once or twice, however.

Now, as a grumpy thirty-two year old DM, I have been finding myself thinking about a return to older styles of play, including a more fluid system of critical hits, and critical fumbles.

In case anyone reading this is confused as to what I'm talking about, in the game of Dungeons and Dragons, attacking involves rolling a twenty-sided die, trying to roll at or above a target number. In most versions of the game, rolling a twenty would result in a more damaging hit, and rolling a one indicated some sort of failure.

I want to get away from the simple "this weapon does double, this one does triple" of 3.x, and have more solid, consistent results than if I tried to keep it in my head. This means a table. Something simple that operates on a d20, something with results from "oh cool" to "OMFG".

For critical success/critical hits, it seems the second roll for severity should be ascending, so 1 is minimal improvement, and 20 is maximum results. For critical failure/fumbles, it seems logical to have descending severity, but I am thinking that it should also be ascending. I have been thinking about the process of writing up some special abilities/special rules respecting the critical tables, and the rules will be simpler to write if both are ascending. So if you roll a 1, you roll on the critical fumble table, and hope you don't roll a 20. Somehow that seems inelegant to me, but anything that saves an extra 10-15 words I have to squeeze onto a notecard has to be a good thing.

So what kind of results do we want?

I would rather not have an "instant kill" option, but I can't take it completely out of consideration. A high result could cause a foe to be dazed for a round or two, possibly making a coup-de-grace an option.

Something that I'd like to have as a midrange option, in addition to a damage multiplier, would be nervous system shock -- being unable to see or hear for a round makes one an easier target, and lowers one's own attack roll. I don't like having perma-blindness as a possibility, or limb severing. Temporary limb disability would be fair to implement, I think.

I could fill out a table with those three, I think, combined with increasing damage multipliers.

So what about fumbles? Traditional results include weapon dropped, weapon broken, hit teammate, and lost turns. Hitting one's teammate, or "random selection of target within 10'", would probably be at the top of the list. Weapon drop would be at the bottom.

Weapon break is likely to be the most controversial at the gaming table. Players are, unsurprisingly, very attached to their magical equipment. Elendil might have broken Narsil, but that was in a cutscene. Bilbo or Frodo breaking sting on a bad roll would have just seemed unfair. I have a way to get around this, however.

I am planning on ruling that only one component of a magic weapon is enchanted. Everything else is conventional, and required to be of high quality and maintained to keep it in working order. With a sword, the grip could be non-magical, and could be compromised. The wooden stock of a crossbow or rifle, or the bowstave of a longbow would be magical. The magic part won't be broken, but the other components might be. Perhaps a magic sword without it's grip would cut viciously into the wielder's hand. The amount of repair work required to restore function is something that should probably be something that requires ten minutes to an hour of work for a person with appropriate weapon proficiency (as they are able to maintain their weapon)

"Lose a turn" sounds good from a gamist perspective, but should definitely be described creatively, something like the player slapping themselves with the flat of the blade, or stinging their fingers when losing grip on the bowstring. The players should be encouraged, as with much of the critical table, to declare the way in which their character failed. Pratfalls can be memorable, as much as gallant victories.

Dropped weapon would be move-equivalent to recover from, in general, but might not be possible if engaged in melee. Perhaps dropped weapon should be made more interesting, like the weapon is not just dropped, but flung d6*5 feet in some random direction. This kind of mechanic makes a backup weapon important to a well-prepared hero.

I have been considering, along with critical tables, including some luck mechanics -- maybe some special ability specific to thief-types, which allows a greater chance of getting a critical. Or the ability to occasionally add a d6 to the roll for severity of the critical success. I have been noodling over having a relative danger in adding the d6, where another d6 will be put on the table, waiting to be added to the next critical success or failure rolled by anyone.

That's it for now, just throwing out some thoughts.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Muskets vs Longbows (Part 3 of 4, maybe)

Things aren't looking good for my 2nd edition musketmen.

I'm going to leave aside the theoretical soldiers for now. In 2nd edition the strength and dex scores don't have an impact below 16. I didn't give that score to any of my 3rd edition/D20 modern characters, so I on't dwell on it too much. With a bit of a nod to the concept of masterwork, bows with a cost of 3-5 times the book rate are mentioned to be able to deal extra damage as normal for the character's strength bonus.

The composite longbow, costing 100 gp, is listed with a Rate-of-Fire of 2/1, which means two arrows loosed every round, even for a level one fighter. The 500 gp arquebus, on the other hand, has an RoF of 1/3, one shot every three rounds. This jibes pretty well with the later versions, except that in the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, a combat round lasts one minute. I'm told that a "player's option" book brought combat rounds down to 10-15 seconds with a "standard round" still taking one minute. No matter how long a round supposedly is, our bowman lets slip 6 arrows to one shot fired by an arquebusier. [As an aside, my spell-check doesn't like "arquebusier". I think it's correct, but it suggested a corrected spelling of Albuquerque.]

Damage is a complicated subject, with either weapon. The composite long bow, with a sheaf arrow, deals d8 damage with each strike. with range increments of 40, 80, and maximum bowshot of 170 yards. At medium range the attacker has a -2 penalty to their shot, and long range has a -5 penalty. With flight arrows, dealing only d6 damage, the numbers are 60, 120, and 210 yards maximum.

The arquebus has a comparable range, 50 yards medium, 150 yards long, and maximum range of 210. However, range penalties are doubled with that weapon, meaning that from 50 yards they will have a -4 penalty, and a difficult 150 yard shot carries a -10.

It's worth noting that the game of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, most combat takes place underground, or in buildings, and those range increments are in yards, not feet. So multiply that 50 yards by 3, and divide by five, that means medium range doesn't start until 30 five-foot squares. Combats are generally smaller than that on my gaming table. Perhaps I could remedy that, but it's difficult using a grid map and miniatures 3.5 style to have bigger fights. So for personal level, rather than mass-combat engagements, I don't believe range is a significant factor here. I suspect the more modest ranges of weapons in 3.5 is because of this issue.

Anyways, the arquebus damage is weird. It's a d10 with an footnote: When a arquebus scores a hit, it normally does 1 to 9 points of damage on 1d10. When a 10 is rolled, the die is rolled again and this amount is added to 10. Each time a 10 is rolled, the die is rolled again and added to the previous total. Thus, in a rare instance, a single shot could inflict 37 points, for example, if three consecutive 10s were rolled, followed by a 7. The damage caused by an arquebus is never modified for a high Strength score.

The game also seeks to punish you for choosing this weapon, with a 10% chance of failure on each shot: If the attack roll for the arquebus is a 1 or 2, the weapon backfires, causing 1d6 points
of damage to the firer. It is also fouled and cannot be used again until it has been cleaned,
which takes about 30 minutes.

So, the arquebus.... Drastically slower to fire, possibility of doing a lot of damage with one hit, but just as likely to blow up in your face. The longbow can attack twice per round, with a modest damage output and no chance of blowing up in the user's face. The longbow has a longer accurate range, but most players won't encounter more than medium range in combat. Both have the same ease of use per the rules, which are a simple pass/fail of weapon proficiency.

I don't think I have any more sources available, unless I start looking at actual historical resources, like wikipedia. Let's do that next time, shall we?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Muskets vs Longbows (Part 2 of several)

So last time I went into D&D, a game that is built specifically without guns (despite having many other examples of 16th century technology). The guns were too slow to fire (accurate), too expensive and required the same lengthy training as a bow, or even more so (inaccurate).

Well what about d20 modern, and it's d20 past splatbook? Surely in this version, longbows will be an inferior option.

As before, we'll examine four characters. Ephram and Faulkner are first level fast heroes, designed to be good at the use of their chosen weapons. Geoffrey and Harald are first level tough ordinaries, with no martial training at all.

Ephram, the musketman, can be built with a wheellock musket, or the more advanced brown bess musket. Both are muzzle loaders that require two full-round actions to reload, or one with the Rapid Reload feat (which Ephram has). His wheellock has a 40' range, and deals 2d8 (average of 9) damage. The brown bess has a range increment of only 20', but deals 2d10 (average 11) damage on a hit. It requires the Personal Firearms Proficiency feat, and Ephram used his last feat on Point-Blank Shot, for the usual +1 to hit and damage when firing at a target within 30'. Ephram only gets the benefit of his +2 dexterity bonus with the brown bess, the more primitive wheellock doesn't allow this for some reason.

Faulkner, the bowman, has the compound longbow from the d20 modern book. This is a bit of an anachronism, as this bow is made from modern materials and allows the character to use any amount of their strength bonus at no additional cost, which is different than D&D's composite bows, which are meant to represent the technology of the english longbow, a super-weapon of it's day. His compound bow can be fired every round, with no rapid-shot feat included in the D20 modern book as there would be in D&D. He can take advantage of his dexterity and strength bonuses, so his weapon is at a +2 to hit and deals 1d8+2 (average of 6.5/hit).

So this is an improvement over 3.5, for the musketman. 11 damage every other round is at least equivalent to 6.5 every round. However, the shots every round are going to hit more often than when they only get to fire every other round.

The shot every other round sounds slow, but remember that in either version, a combat round lasts 6 seconds. Here is a video of a competitive shooter putting out three shots in 46 seconds. That means this man would only have the personal firearms proficiency, and does not have the Rapid Reload feat. I don't think that seems correct.

The bowman firing once every six seconds, on the other hand, seems reasonable. This man is firing only a 20 lb bow, which is very easy to pull, but his 10 shots in 30 seconds means he's firing twice per round, which would jibe with the rapid shot feat in D&D, which isn't available to my D20 modern character. A D&D character at 10th level can be like the guy at the 2 minute mark of this video. 12 aimed shots in 17.5 seconds, call that 4 shots/round, which would be consistent with Manyshot and iterative attacks on a full-round action. (At 11th level he goes up to 5 shots per round). With primitive firearms there's no way to stack up that many shots because the reload time is too high.

The basic reason cited most often for why the gun supplanted the bow is training time. It takes a long time for a character to reach 3rd, or 6th, or 11th level, especially if this is through some sort of intensive training regimen, not the insanely rapid leveling that can take place with adventurers. Call it one year per level, and that means the bowman is getting steady increases in number of missiles he can fire, and a greatly cascading damage output. The musketman will only see a steady improvement in his chance to hit, every other round. If we treat the training time for a soldier as "time to reach first level", then a musketeer reaches his effective maximum in potential damage every round in one year, and from there only improves how often he succeeds. The bowman sees tangible improvements in damage output at almost every level, with the same increasing odds of hitting the target.

Let's pretend that last paragraph was in my previous post, ok? Rapid Shot and Manyshot aren't in d20 modern. So the bowman and musketman in this scenario, Ephram and Faulkner, both see similarly stagnant growth in damage output, with Ephram seeing an extra shot every five levels because of iterative attacks (second shot at -5, third shot at -10, etc), or would if this were a strong hero. Fast heroes have a slower BAB progression, but all the strong hero talents are completely worthless for a ranged character. I digress..

Geoffrey and Harald are tough ordinaries, farmers conscripted to fight. They have no stat bonuses or penalties, and no feats relevant to use of their weapons, a compound bow or musket, respectively. Geoffrey is able to fire once per round, at a -4 penalty to hit, and deals 4.5 damage per round if successful. Harald, lacking the Rapid Reload feat, fires once every three rounds, making his 9 or 11 average damage unimpressive to say the least. Conscripted bowman wins.

So in both of our examples, a trained soldier and a hapless conscript, the bow is superior in every respect to the muzzle-loading musket. The situation changes quite a bit if we bring breechloaders in, but this isn't about modern firearms, and the 18th century is definitely heading in that direction sharply from the muskets of the past.

Cost? Far from being a cheaply cast, mass-producable alternative to the bow, the wheellock musket is listed with a PDC of 23, which page 204 of my d20 modern book tells me is the equivalent of $5,000. The compound bow's PDC of 10 is only $120 dollars. The disparity is higher than is should be, as I'm taking the cost of the wheellock out of the d20 past book, which assumes it is a high-tech and somewhat exotic item for it's day, but the bow is in d20 modern, and it's a mass-produced sporting good. Modern firearms weigh in between $500 and $2,0000. I would personally adjust these numbers, but for now I'm only examining the rules-as-written. House rules will be coming later.

So in D&D and d20 modern/past, firearms are more expensive, require the same level of training for basic competency, and have an inferior damage output overall. How accurate are these? Next time I'll examine historical sources, like 2nd edition.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Muskets vs. Longbows (Part 1 of ??)

I've been thinking about firearms. And D&D. And firearms in D&D.

From the historical sources I've heard, early firearms were crap compared to the simple bow & arrow. Terrible rate of fire, poor (accurate) range, even lower muzzle velocity. The only thing that sets the gun apart from the bow in the beginning is cost and training time. high quality longbows were more expensive to make than early guns, which were cast cheaply from iron. Teaching a man to load and fire a gun took weeks. The longbow was a lifetime pursuit.

Anyways, let's look at a few example characters. Alfred, Bertram, Claude, and Derek.

Alfred and Bertram are first level fighters. built using the Elite array. This gives each of them a 15 dexterity, and 14 strength. They are both professional soldiers who have been trained for several years to reach this point.

Alfred has Point-Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, and Precise Shot as feats. He carries a composite longbow which cost 300 gp, which can take advantage of his +2 strength bonus.

Bertram has Exotic Weapons (Firearms), Point-blank Shot, and Precise Shot as feats. He carries a musket, described on page 145 of my 3.5 DMG as a cost of 500 gp.

Alfred's composite longbow has a range increment of 110 ft, Bertram's musket has a range of 150 ft, which is perhaps overly generous, but I am sticking to Rules-As-Written. In RAW, the musket deals a d12 in damage, for an average output of 6.5/shot. The composite longbow deals a d8+2, also dealing 6.5/shot. with a higher minimum of 3 damage, and a lower ceiling of 10. In general I think this is better against low-level enemies.

Alfred, using a longbow which is reloaded as a free action, can use rapid shot to fire twice in a round, with 10% less chance of hitting on either. I don't know how to crunch probabilities, but I assume that two shots at 40% is better than one shot at 50%.

Also, next round Bertram will spend his standard action reloading, while Alfred is able to fire twice more.

Clearly the longbow wins this engagement, despite a slight range disadvantage. The musket was also much more expensive. This seems to bear out the concept of an experienced bowman being more effective than a rifleman at low tech level. The musket was also 200 GP higher in cost than the composite long-bow.

Claude and Derek are first-level commoners. They are built using the standard array and lack a dexterity or strength bonus. Their interests include rutabaga harvesting, animal husbandry, and appearing in Monty Python sketches covered in filth. Both have the endurance and animal affinity feats. They were both conscripted three months ago, and are marching into battle with only the basic understanding of how to operate their weapons and follow commands.

Claude, as a commoner, is proficient with one simple weapon. He wields a sickle as a weapon of self-defense. He is not proficient with the longbow, and therefore has a -4 penalty when wielding it, and deals an average of 4.5 damage when he does hit. He can fire every round, as reloading the longbow is a free action for him. His longbow only cost 75 gp,

Derek is also a commoner, and is similarly not proficient with the musket. He takes a -4 penalty when attacking, and has to take his standard action every other round reloading. However, his weapon still deals an average of 6.5 damage when it hits. This isn't enough to make up for his low rate of fire compared to Claude, and his weapon still costs a staggering 500 gp.

In D&D 3.5, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to equip an army with muskets. It's more expensive and doesn't deal a decisive amount of extra damage compared to the longbow with a professional soldier, or a conscripted commoner.

Next time, I take aim (ha!) at early firearms in D20 Past.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Focus on the positive

So Saturday I ran this game, you know, and tied a module in for the adventure. A module that was very fond of monster manual 2.
It had the teratomorph, which some different thinking person reckoned to be CR16.

Anyways, I will say what I liked about the teratomorph encounter..

Transformation: Target is changed as though targeted by Polymorph Any Object, changed to an object of DM's choice.

The DM chose to ask his five-year-old son to name something, which ended up being a "spray bottle". To keep it in appropriate tech level this became one of those things with a bulb that is squeezed to spray perfume (someday I will research before I start typing my blog)

fortunately the change was temporary, per the spell descriptor.

You see, every time the teratomorph hits with it's nearly unavoidable melee slam, the DM rolls on what I call the "random cornhole table", with such lovely things as 2d4 constitution drain, d6 strength or dex drain, change into a cosmetic appliance, or DEATH. Not just quick-trip-to-the-druid's-office death, this is 18th-level-cleric-and-25000-gp-worth-of-diamond DEATH. I rolled high on th table and this happened to Epik in the first round. I decided that this was a bit extreme(as is everything about the teratomorph), so he came back the next time I rolled on that table, with his skin turned a randomly chosen blue.

I am not even mentioning half of the insanity of the teratomorph.

But as I said, I will focus on the positive. Changing a player character into a spray bottle was hilarious. Asking a small child to choose the punishment of a character is like asking Ray Zelinski to choose the form of Gozer the Destroyer - pure fun and deliciously ironic to have a half-orc suddenly be a cause of good smells.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Little heroes...

(I'm fairly sure it's waiting for me to throw a stick)
So tonight I was able to get my regular group together here at Chez Grag.

Sometime between character level-up and starting the game session, we gave The Heroes of Hesiod a try. My five-year-old son got his first taste of something approximating the old delta ampersand delta, and rolling a d20 in battle.

The party faced off against their foes, a fearsome bulette, a reptilian creature of some sort, the least threatening beholder I've ever seen, and a swarm of pixies.

The system of battle is pretty simple. Roll a d20 (or 3d6) plus your character's attack bonus, deal one point of damage. Each character had some special ability which was simple to use and understand (except spectral shackles), and on a critical hit you get to drop a glorious d6 of damage. The monsters had little candies for hit points, which I presented to each player when they dealt damage. The game took about twice the half-hour suggested by the front cover as we all got used to the system, but it never felt like a drag at any point.

While the character types and abilities had a very 4e feel to them, thankfully the designer shied away from concepts such as encounter powers. Aside from the youngest player, who didn't pay attention to his little pile of hit points, the players felt a great amount of concern as they were whittled down by the monsters. It wasn't until the final two monsters were on the board that a character was knocked out, and they were quite surprised by being healed soon after. I suspect a group of 5-7 year-olds might not have thought about it until someone was knocked down.

Playing this with adults, it is hard to avoid the creepiness in some of the descriptive language in the opening story. I don't know whether the writers intended this or not, but there was a lot of snickering around the table at my delivery of lines like "No one your age knows what exactly goes on at the cabin, and no adults are telling."

Would I use this system for further adventures? Probably not in it's unmodified form. The special abilities are rather more complicated than I would like, and what is written on the character sheet feels very limiting. I would probably give monsters a few more hit points, and have d6 damage on all hits, and double that on crits.

If I were going to run Hesiod again, I would print the character and monster sheets on cardstock for easier handling. Also, the light paper battle map needs to be anchored better. Maybe cut out a piece of cardboard and glue it down nicely before the game.

Should you run Hesiod? It's not bad, 4/5 for what it is trying to be, a light and fun introduction to D&D concepts, aimed at a younger audience. It falls flat as the basis of a campaign, but had no such ambitions in that regard.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm sure someone important said it

"Character backstory is what happens in levels 1-6".. Maybe I'll fix and attribute the quote when I get to a computer later, but I have some thoughts to share if you've got a moment.

Most osr systems seem to have about three or four character classes, plus races handled in one way or another.

Fighting-man and magic-user are usually offered, and cleric and thief might be there, depending on the mood of whatever writer is copying-and-pasting old saving throw charts while (nod, wink) attributing the material as "derived" from OGL material.

Enough of that. There are two to four character classes, plus races which might be races or might also be character classes.

There is no barbarian, no monk, no initiate of the seventh favored solstice of zartan, the classes are kept minimal and usually picked based on the results of tossing three cubes a total of eighteen times. Characters are written on a single sheet of paper and are not developed before play.

And I think that can be a good thing. To be honest I haven't really played that format yet, only read about it. My feelings on this matter will probably not survive contact with actual gameplay, will be changed in some way that I cannot hope to predict.

Anyways, much of my time in D&D has been spent in 3.x, so I tend to expect flavor expressed in the form of character class. But if I am going to embrace OSR/DIY values, I feel some pressure to abandon the idea. I wonder about a third option, with some capriciousness built in.

I am thinking about "concept cards", and I am sure my idea isn't that original. For one reason or another, a player recieves a card with the description of a variant on his character. The character isn't just a fighting-man, he is now a berserk, or a blue-lotus monk, or a duelist. A wizard might become a geomancer, or demon-touched. These kits would be permanent additions, or might not, perhaps there are rules that have to be followed to keep the path. They would have a specific mechanical effect, and would probably not change the xp cost of leveling. Something to flavor a character which looks in some ways like multi-classing or prestige class, witbout bulking up the rules more than necessary.

These might be made available at a certain level threshold, say level four or five. They might be chosen completely at random, or partially at random with the DM selecting out a group of them based on the character alignment, or the player's style.

I think it should be a moment of revelation.. the player touches a standing stone on a hill and is thunderstruck, or uncovers an ancient tome detailing a special path.

Characters would be limited to one kit only, and they should probably have ability score requirements, although that brushes with the old issue of limiting player options based on factors outside their control, a hallmark of OSR material which always rankled me, like XP bonuses based on high score in prime-requisite.

Just felt like throwing this out, to try to figure out what i think about it, and maybe get another opinion or two.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

a little bit of what is going on

Matt [7:34 AM]:
Weren't they sealed 'forever' before the story started?
Grag [7:34 AM]:
well, yeah. but then something bad happened.
Matt [7:34 AM]:
Yeah. That is BS. You D E S T R O Y the evil
Matt [7:34 AM]:
you don't put it in a little box for a kid to come open someday
Matt [7:34 AM]:
Kid = adventurer with too much curiosity
Grag [7:34 AM]:
christmas just isn't as interesting if you don't!

Friday, April 2, 2010

"What are you running next?"

Today one of my players asked about my next planned game. He was wondering if I was still planning on a low/no-magic game, as I had mentioned this in the past.

As mentioned before, I am trying not to think forward to the "next" game, as I have this one to finish.

Still, I can't help but put forward some thoughts. Clerics are a common thing to be annoyed at, and it's tempting to want them out of the game, but what if we just make healing potions available?

Spellcasters in general can be annoying when running the game, but they are part of the fantasy trope. One can't have spell-slingers in the game without allowing them as a PC option, right?

One thought that has been percolating is the idea of having a clear divide between "gifted" magic users, and rule-magic.. Rule-magic is traditional vancian d&d casting, and gifted people are those born with a particular magical gift. This might be as simple as being able to throw some magic missiles, and as powerful as having an innate ability to disintegrate or raise dead. Maybe spend hitpoints or temporary con damage to cast, vis-a-vis microlite20.

The gifted magic users are sometimes hated or feared, sometimes become central figures in a cult. They are targeted by rule-magic users that want to dissect them and try to reproduce their power.

Or not. It is just one idea, and doesn't jibe with the sandbox concept that I've been considering, or at least it doesn't feel right to me.

I think there are some hard decisions I will need to make about what sort of game I want to run, which should shape what sort of system/rules I use. Maybe I'll even explore concepts with a series of one-offs.

As I mentioned before, it is important that I not really try to make these decisions. This will only lead to spending game-prep time working on a campaign that is not the one I am currently running.

I must remain focused.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Gem and the Staff 1 -- Erik vs Tower

(img courtesy of Wikipedia)

Here is my after-action report on my first run-through of the Dungeons and Dragons adventure module O1 - The Gem and the Staff. My plan is to write one of these when each of my players runs through, and at the end I will post my parting thoughts. I will try to avoid any spoilers in these reports.

My opinions on the module may seem inconsistent through this, I am going to be posting these as I go. I will probably also post some (spoiler) thoughts on how I would change it, and maybe write up how to change it for d20.

I stumbled across reports of this module online, in some OSR blog or another's comments. Module O1- The Gem and The Staff seems to be commonly held as an example of a one-player module. I don't know if, or how many others might exist.

I picked it up used via amazon for nine dollars (including shipping), so it seems to be very commonly available, even though it was published in 1984.

The Module requires the "expert set", according to the included map/dm's shield, but I was able to run it using Mr. Mentzer's Basic Set and Labyrinth Lord (just the to-hit tables and saving throws). Labyrinth Lord would probably be enough.

I used the od&d saving throws and thief skills, but converted to ascending armor class.

The module is time-limited, and is designed for competitive play by including a scoring sheet, which allows 33 possible points, weighted towards intelligent and sneaky play. There are two adventures included, and I plan on running each of my players through both of them.

I am trying to avoid spoilers in describing this, so please forgive any vagueness. The Tower is designed to be a challenging, but not completely unforgiving adventure. There are a number of obstacles requiring percentile rolls, and in many cases failure means the player will need to try an alternative method of solving a problem. Dead-ending is a very real possibility if the dice are in a bad mood, especially if combat occurs.
In one case I deviated from the rules, allowing one reroll on picking lock. Under original rules a thief may not retry a lock or trap until they have gained a level of experience.

Erik vs. Tormaq's Tower

Today I ran this module for the first time for Erik, a team-mate at work and a player in my regular 3.5 game.

We set out to play over our lunch hour, and managed to finish just under that time. The module has a listed 30 minute (actual) time limit, but it took about 35 minutes for Erik to finish -- he completed the module, but did not do anything which had a point value after the limit had elapsed.

Setup went smoothly, and we had started playing within about ten minutes of being settled down with the material. I did not bother using minatures, and the map book provided worked extremely well. Covering the unused side of the page was suggested, but there was only one real spoiler on any of them that I noticed.

I am trying to avoid spoilers in describing this, so please forgive any vagueness. The Tower is designed to be a challenging, but not completely unforgiving adventure. There are a number of obstacles requiring percentile rolls, and in many cases failure means the player will need to try an alternative method of solving a problem. Dead-ending is a very real possibility if the dice are in a bad mood, especially if combat occurs.
In one case I deviated from the rules, allowing one reroll on picking lock. Under original rules a thief may not retry a lock or trap until they have gained a level of experience.

Erik played, in general, very well. He struggled with a word puzzle(which cost him time), and he missed a few opportunities to improve his odds of success. He scored 14 out of a possible 33 points. He blamed the dice we were using (not his regular ones) for much of his misfortune.


Having never played DND pre 3.0, aside from a brief 2nd edition stint in which i was unconscious the whole game. (who sends a level 1 good ranger into Zhentil keep I mean really?)

This was a nice look at "old school" DND. It certainly is a big deviation from today's version where there is a roll for everything. It was definately a different playing style. You had to really pay attention to all the details of the descriptions otherwise you would miss something important. I missed out on some things because I didn't hear the description right. Which brings me to a note, in 3.0 you can be reasonably sure you find everything there is to find if you roll a high number on your search or spot. However I quickly caught on in this module that I wasn't going to be getting any information unless I started asking questions about my surroundings. There was no, "I roll a 20 on search what do I find in the room", no sir.

Another thing of note is, don't make the GM ask you what you are doing. Describe exactly what your action is. Any time you give the GM lisence to determine what you character did is a time you can be thrown into an unforeseen consequence ie trap or some other catch. So if you think your character is moving silently say so, or if you imagine your character is checking for traps all along the way be sure to follow that up with a description, or your liable to be making a lot of noise and setting off traps.

Anyway, in summation this module is a proponent of Roleplaying and intelligent thinking over Roll playing and hoping you get above 13 on that d20.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't switch horses

I have been spending a fair amount of time on the various OSR/classic-gaming/DIY DnD sites lately.

If you want to see the ones I mean, OldSchoolJump is a veritable Decanter of Endless Linkage.
These have been giving me a lot of "grass is greener" feelings about my current 3.5 game.

I find the game I am running right now very frustrating. It means a lot to me and the players, but sometimes it feels like equal parts chore and challenge. I feel outmunchkinned by the party, thanks in no small part to the lazy-fair attitude I have taken towards the use of official supplements(spell compendium contains some gamebreakers).. and I have started to view a return to an old-school playstyle as the panacea to this. Manageable power levels, monsters that can effectively trample the players if not handled properly.
I find myself often looking forward to the next campaign, where I will run some mutated variety of OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord, or Microlite20.

It's not fair to my group, though. I get this. I know that devoting attention to the "next game" before finishing this one is a waste of energy.
When my current campaign is done with, I will take a nice holiday, slinging ten-siders to spend motes of essence, with someone else behind the shield.

I am looking forward to it, but it is important that I devote my energies to making the finale of my current game as good as I can.

One caveat, before I am called hypocrite-- I am going to run a one-off game using OSR with a module I recently purchased. Preptime is minimal and it is a very user-friendly module from what I have seen so far. So no rubbing my nose in this particular post when it is followed by after-action reports on a different game. Just don't.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Setting up shop

I decided to start a blog.. sometimes I have things to say that take more than four hundred and twenty characters. One hundred fourty is right out.

I suppose I should try to push that limit in this inaugural post, but no guarantee..

Did you know one of the first control panel options that blogger gives you after signing up is "monetize"? I expect that mean google ads. I don't recall ever getting any money from those in the past, but perhaps interesting content is required.

Don't hold your breath on that last part. Mostly I will probably post from my phone.