Monday, August 27, 2012


While everyone in the miniatures worlds was talking about the Reaper Kickstarter and the impending release of the new 40k starter box, I' thought I'd take a moment to talk about a new game called Fanticide being produce by a company called Alien Dungeon.  There have been a slew of new miniature wargames and companies in recent years, but this one stands out for a number of reasons.

  1. The game is being produced by a local small business: Alien Dungeon, and its sister company Architects of War, are a small business located in Ellicott City Maryland.  That's less than an hour from where I live now, and very close to where many of my friends live.  I believe in supporting local businesses, as I know how tough it is to compete against large corporations.
  2. Rick Priestly, Alessio Cavatore and Andy Chambers wrote the game: With these blokes on the job, you know the rules are going to be solid.  From the previews of the rules, it looks like they are a bit different than some of the other games the guys  have worked on.
  3. A Fantasy setting that isn't a Tolkien clone:  Instead of producing another fantasy game with elves, dwarves, orc and dragons, Alien Dungeon is producing a setting that seems like a cross between L. Frank Baum and Clive Barker.  One eyed things with big nasty teeth?  check.  Killer trees?  check.  Flying monkeys?  You betcha.  The game world, cleverly titled "Nowhere" seems like a crossroad of the multiverse where anything could happen.  The most feared creature in Nowhere is the Unicorn.  Anyone who saw "The Cabin in the Woods"  knows what I'm talking about.
  4. Skirmish/Warband gameplay:  I'm not really interested in getting into another game that will require 100+ miniatures.  Fanticide appears to focus on warbands of 25 to 50 figures.
  5. Simple miniatures: Alien dungeon is partnering with Eureka Miniatures to create the miniatures for the first 4 factions in Fanticide.  They state that their goal is to create good quality miniatures that are quick to paint.  I could do a whole post on this point alone.  Think of what an original space marine models for 40k looked like, or even one of the plastic models from the last starter kit.  Simple miniatures, easy to paint, but cool looking.  Now look at some of the stuff that is going into the new "starter" boxes.  How is a beginning painter supposed to paint that stuff?  How is an experienced painter supposed to get that stuff painted in a timely manner? Finely detailed is great when you only need to paint a few of them, but for an army or even a few squads, simple minis that are easy to paint are probably preferable for most wargamers.
  6. Use what you have: If you don't like the miniature that are being offered by Alien Dungeon, you can use your own miniatures and create your own warbands!  This may be one of the best parts of the game.  I've seen other games that offer "generic" rules for whatever sort of army you want to put together (Hordes of the Things for example), but I think that this is the first one I've seen that has created its own unique factions and still allows for players to create their own.  Early versions of Warhammer and 40k Rogue Trader allowed for this sort of thing, but that was 25 years ago.  I'm really excited about using the minis I have purchased through the Reaper and Red Box games kickstarter.
Check out their kickstarter for yourself, and follow along on their blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


So I've been in the process of moving the last 2 weeks.  Yet another excuse to not write anything.  The good news is that my new living quarters will have much more space, including room for a full size gaming table and work area!  I'm also excited about finally being able to take all of my books out of storage and putting them on a proper bookshelf.  There's bound to be RPG and wargaming books that I haven't looked at in 15 years hiding in there.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Miniatures, Miniatures, Miniatures.

Recently I've haven't given much thought to RPGs:  I don't have a regular group that I'm playing with and with a busy schedule at home it is hard to set aside a regular time to commit to.  Mostly I've been focusing on miniatures.  I haven't done any gaming, for the same reasons I haven't been playing any RPGs.  But I have been reading, collecting, and painting.

The 6th edition of Warhammer 40K came out recently, so I've been going through that again and again.  I've also gone back and re-read the original Rogue Trader rules, just to put things in perspective.  The are some great things about the original rules, but the new rules really are much, much better.  The may not have the flexibility that the RT rules do, but I can look back and realize now that RT is really designed to create narratives, a sort of RPG/Wargame hybrid (the same sort of thing can be said for 1st and 2nd ed. WFB).  I've also taken a look at Warmachine and Hordes since that seems to be the new hot thing these days.  At first I didn't like the rules,  but they have grown on me, and I like the idea of a game with smaller armies.  I might pick up the Hordes 2 player starter box when it is released.

On the collecting front, I've been buying a lot of stuff on Ebay.  I like to paint (more on that later), but seeing as I had no miniatures 2 months ago, I wanted to get back into the swing of things without having to paint up an army from scratch before I could play.  While I may not always have the best painted miniatures, I refuse to game with unpainted minis, even for simple friendly games.  The painted minis I have purchased really vary in quality.  Some of them are barely passable, others are quite nice.  A lot of what I have purchased is older, OOP Citadels.  The great thing is, most of what I am buying is about 50% off of GW's current prices.  So I am saving money, and I don't have to paint them.  At this point I have close to 1500 pts of Imperial Guard, and over 2000 pts of Space Wolves.

I did buy a Space Wolf starter box unpainted, and I have been working on that over the last few months.  It's the first thing I have painted in over 10 years. The drop pod, 10 Grey Hunters, and 5 Scouts are nearing completion. They are table ready right now, but I'm going to add some more details to them before I call them finished. I have another 10 infantry that I am trying to decide how to configure.  I'll probably make them Wolfguard, as I don't need more Grey Hunters, and have no desire for Blood Claws.  I also have a couple of Rhinos to work on that currently assembled and basecoated.  I'll post some pics of these soon.

The other project that I just finished is a 15mm Viking army for DBA.  I haven't played DBA in years, but I had these minis sitting around and decided to finish them up.  I'm thinking about doing a Norman and an Anglo-Saxon army so that I can have all 3 factions for the 1066 invasion. They are small projects, between 30 and 50 figures, and pretty quick to paint, but I'm not sure when I'll ever get a chance to use them.

I've also been following some kickstarters from Reaper miniatures and Red-Box games.  Both companies are making some amazing looking miniatures at great prices, and their kickstarters have some great deals.  I'm not sure what I'd do with these minis, but they look like they'd be great fun to paint.  The thought even crossed my mind to use these as proxies for Hordes, or try my hand at designing some of my own lists.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A quick kickstarter plug

Whether you use miniatures for roleplaying for for wargaming, you should take the time to check out Red-Box Games.  Tre makes some of the most amazing sculpts I've ever seen.  Currently he has a kickstarter going to help him retool his production from metal and resin castings to a new hybrid plastic design.  It's already funded, but there are some great stretch goals, and it is a great opportunity to pick up some top notch minis at a great price.

If you are a fan of Chaos, you have to check these out!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts on 6th Edition Warhammer 40k

Again it has been far too long since I have posted anything.  Most of my gaming and hobby time has been focused on the new edition of Warhammer 40k, and it has taken me some timer to get my head around the the rules, and the over state of the game and hobby.  I haven't played 40 since 1st edition, probably 20 years, so my take on the rules is a bit different than those who have been playing the more recent editions.

The Book:  The 6th edition rulebook is rather nice, if a little pricey.  $75 for a 450 page hardbound book in full color is fairly expensive in my opinion.  I would have expected to pay between $50 and $60 for something this size, but overall the I still feel that you are getting your money's worth.  I'll be interested to see what sort of rulebook comes with the new starter set that will be released late summer/ early fall.  The book is divided into sections covering the rules, story, miniatures showcase, hobby information, battle examples, and appendices. Each section is pretty hefty and deserves a bit of an individual review.

Story: GW does a really good job with what they often refer to as "fluff".  For a wargamer that came from the Roleplaying community, the "fluff" is a lot more important to me than it might be to others.  I really enjoyed reading through this section.  It describes each of the main factions in the galaxy, spending most of the section on the human faction (aka the Imperium).  What really set this section of the book apart from other 40k books I had seen in the past was the timeline, and explanation of specific events.  The older books gave you a great sense of mood and what type of events could take place, while in contrast this book does a good job of detailing the major events of the last several millennia.

Miniatures:  This is pretty much what you'd expect from GW at this point.  Lots of pretty pictures of their miniatures, often engaged in gigantic battles.  While nice, this section is fairly redundant.  We see plenty of miniatures throughout the rest of the book, and these sorts of showcases are in even codex and in every issue of White Dwarf.

Hobby:  This section is nice for the new player that is just starting to learn how to paint their miniatures, as well as introduce other parts of the hobby such as the novels.  It doesn't go into too much detail, and is actually fairly short.  GW did the right thing here, and left the details to their "How to Paint Citadel Miniatures" book.  I really liked seeing the Golden Demons winners in here, but again, you can see these sorts of things in White Dwarf every month.

Battles: I haven't really had the chance to dig deep into this section, but it looks really nice.  Here GW gives some excellent examples of narrative battles with all sorts of custom rules and neat terrain ideas.  I'm glad that they included this in the book, and we'll probably see more of this in White Dwarf.  There is one problem with this section, which I'll mention in the rules section.

Rules:  The Rules are the first 130 pages of the book, but I saved it for last because there's much more to say about the them. I can't really compare them to 5th edition, as I didn't play 5th (or 4th, or 3rd for that matter).  The are fairly well written for the most part.  The are organized, clear, and there a a decent number of examples and illustrations.  However, there are times when certain concepts are not clearly explained, or examples are not given.  The "special rules" is of  special note, as this some of these rules refer to other special rules, which then requires a lot of page flipping.  The game is complicated, and lends itself to "Rules Lawyers", as they are fairly well written, but you have to know how to read the language precisely, and know where are the rules are in order to interpret them correctly.

Overall, to me, the rules are better than the old 1st edition rules I last used.  It is more complicated however, and there are certain areas of the rules that I don't.  I think that rules should be "Fun, Fast, and Fair"; Fun so we can all enjoy the game, Fast so that we don't get bogged down in the details, and can actually get the game moving and completed in a reasonable amount of time, and Fair so that we can have good, competitive games.  These rules are fun, but there are times when I question how fast they play, and how fair they will be.  The rules surrounding character models, picking targets, and wound allocations are particularly problematic.  Rules like "Look out sir" and "Precision Shots" can really slow down the game.  In addition, some of these rules are not explained clearly enough, and no examples if there use are given.  The Battles section of the book would have been a great place to do "An Example of Play" section.  Instead of describing what is going on in general terms, the details of the game, down to the dice rolls themselves could have been documented to show exactly how the game should play.  Almost every RPG book since 1st edition AD&D has done this, so it's about time that a wargame rulebook does so as well.

One of the major changes to the rules is the inclusion of Allies to the army lists.  As an old 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy player, I really like this.  I enjoy having small collections of various armies that I can mix and match together for particular uses.  The use of Allies will serve to bolster some of the weaker army lists, but some think that it will leader to broken combinations and "Uber" lists. We'll have to wait and see about that, but it is certainly a possibility.

I think GW has done a good job with this book, but they had a chance to do a great job and missed it.  The rules are clear but could have been clearer, and they don't play quickly enough once you factor in character models.  For a friendly game, I think they'll be fine, but these rules are not tournament ready right now.  Of course, that's not really GW's (or my) main concern with the rules, though I understand that tournament and competitive play are big part of the hobby.  GW does a really good job of representing their hobby, but they still could learn a thing or two about organizing and presenting their rules.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Basic D&D Next

My other hobby, music, has been keeping me really really busy. I recorded an album a couple weeks ago, and now I'm working on mixing it. I've also been practicing a lot with my second band, as we have a series of shows booked for June. While I haven't had the time to post recently, I've been keeping up with the blogs I'm following.  Seems like there's been some renewed discussion surrounding D&D next/5e now that they are doing the open playtests.  I read a lot of things pro and con, and some details about the rules, but I haven't read
them personally.  I think the success of this edition will have a lot less to do with the rules and more to do with how they package and market it.

The one thing I take away from OSR blogosphere is a renewed respect for the Moldvay D&D Basic set.  The Basic and Expert rules were a fairly complete game if you have a good DM. I wasn't really a fan of the other sets that comprise the BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, I instead moved to AD&D.  Of course as the 2 games weren't 100% compatible I felt a little confused. That's been a recurring problem with the D&D franchise; a basic game that isn't compatible with the Advanced or normal version.

While planning the release of D&D next/5e, WotC should plan to launch a boxed, basic version of the game that is 100% compatible with the full version.  For between $30 and $50, they could put together a box similar to the Pathfinder box set. Then they can leverage Hasbro's power to get these sets on the shelves at big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.  I'm seeing Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan there, so why not D&D.  My first basic set was a gift from my grandmother.  I'd like to see more people get into the hobby in a similar manner.  That won't happen unless you have a complete and easy to understand game in 1 package that can be easily purchased from normal retailers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Random Dungeon Generator!

I got my Random Dungeon Generator in the mail yesterday.  It looks gorgeous. I can't wait to frame the thing and put it on the wall at work.  This might become the basis of a lunchtime game with my SKLD house rules.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Army Painter

Another miniatures update.  When I pulled out all of my old painting supplies and miniatures out of storage, most of the old paints had dried up.  After looking at several different options for new paint, I decided to go with the Army Painter mega paint set, and a can of their Wolf Grey primer to use on my new Space Wolves.  Everything was fairly inexpensive so I figured that if I wasn't happy with the results it wouldn't be a big loss and I could check out the new Citadel range or the Vallejo paints.

So far I am very happy with my purchases.  The set has a good range of colors, and I really like the dropper bottles.  The paint itself seems to be very nice.  It's thinner than the old Ral Partha stuff I used, but has more pigment than the old Citadel.  Not sure how it compares to the new Citadel or Vallejo as I haven't tried those yet.  I'm really impressed with the primer though.  It went on very smoothly and evenly, and as Army Painter claims the spray cans do match the regular colors exactly.  I was able to prime/basecoat some marines with the spray can, then give them a fairly sloppy ink wash, and then touch up any areas where the ink was unwanted with the regular Wolf Grey paint.  I can't tell where the spray stops and the regular paint starts.  I'll post some pics when I get some stuff finished.

The one thing that Army Painter suggests that I will not be doing is dipping my miniatures in their Quickshade/varnish concoction.  Their results seem ok, but there is no way I am going to hold my miniatures with a pair of pliers and then violently shake them to get the excess varnish off of them.  I'm getting very good results with regular inks, thank you very much.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Out of Print? Really?

I haven;t been posting much recently because my other hobby, playing and recording music, has been taking up most of my free time in the past few weeks.  I've also been spending some time getting back into Warhammer 40k.  In the short time I've been getting reacquainted with Games Workshop and Warhammer, I've noted a problem that GW has in common with WotC; Out of print products that have no business being out of print.

Many other blogs have pointed out that old  out of print D&D products are selling for extremely high prices on ebay, and we aren't just talking about older products from the 70's and 80's.  Even 3.5 core books are selling for face value or above, which would seem to indicate that WotC could make a decent amount of money selling products from their back catalog.  Their reprints of the original AD&D core books should serve as good test case.

Games Workshop also has a problem with out of print products, but it isn't their books.  There are some people playing old editions of Warhammer, but it isn't as pronounced as the OSR.  GW did a reprint of the original Rogue Trader book for the 25th anniversary of the 40k game, but that seemed to be more out of nostalgia than actual demand for the rules. GW's problem is with their miniatures.  While perfectly usable in modern games (a 25 year old Space Marine or Ork is perfectly ok to use in GW sanctioned events), most miniatures from the 80's and 90's are no longer available.

Just 10 years ago, I was able to go to the store at the GW headquarters in Glen Burnie Maryland and place an order for any miniature that was in the catalogs that they had.  These catalogs contained minis dating back to the mid 80s when I first got into the hobby, and included the original metal Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar that appeared in the Rogue Trader book.

Word is you can't do this sort of thing anymore.  If it isn't listed on their website, it isn't available.  I've heard some stories from people in the UK getting some older stuff by calling the mail order department, but those are just rumors.  The fact is that older, out of print miniatures are going for extraordinary prices on ebay, and the current selection of minis from GW is fairly limited.  On the one hand it isn't such a big deal, as the newer miniatures are much nicer than the older ones, so in general you are getting a better quality product for your money.  The problem for me however is that some of the discontinued models have no replacement!  Take my Space Wolves army as an example.  I would love to have some Long Fangs and Wolf Scouts.  A quick look at the 95-96 catalog shows all sorts of Space Wolf characters and basic troops available in metal.  Some of these characters, like Ragnar Blackmane and Ulrik the Slayer are still available.  But the generic Runepriest? gone. Bloodclaw and Longfang Sergeants? gone.  Regular Longfangs and Wolf Scouts?  Gone! Their are no direct replacements for these miniatures, and GW admits it.  The manager at my local store suggested that I just use generic models and spruce them up with some bits.  I'd be all for that if it wasn't for the fact that the models actually existed at one time.

There are a few reasons that GW may be doing this.  I have heard from some people that the older molds from the 80's era may no longer be usable because they are so old.  Some of those older molds may now be the property of the original artists.  Sounds far fetched but you never know how GW was run back in the early days. This doesn't address the issues with the Space Wolves I noted as they are all from the same year, but some models are available and others are not.  Some models may not be available because they are slowly being replaced with "Citadel Finecast" or plastic kits, and GW is trying to create demand by taking the old models out of print well before they are replaced.  Seems like a possibility, but if a person wants a particular model for their army NOW, they are going to go to ebay and get it, not wait for years until GW gets around to replacing it.

In all, it's a sad state of affairs.  GW has every right to control the supply of their product however it would like.  I'm not really blaming them.  It may just be too costly for them to keep all of these miniatures available. As a collector and player it is just sad to think that GW spent all of these years building a large catalog of miniatures, and rules for using them, only to have so many of them go out of print for whatever reason, while players and collectors are still willing to pay good money for those minis.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More Moria please!

Last week I sat down and watched all 3 Lord of the Rings movies over again.  For the record I like them, but don't love them.  Good movies, but not good interpretations of the books, though they are probably the best anyone could ever do.  Nothing against Peter Jackson; his version of King Kong is one of my favorite movies ever.

The scenes in Moria reminded me how much I loved that chapter in the book.  It struck me as funny that with so much of the OSR's attention focused on megadungeons and literary influences there hasn't been more discussion on Moria.  From what I can gather, there have been a few RPG products focused on Moria, but the ones I have seen have done marginal jobs.  I.C.E. did an ok job with their Moria sourcebook for MERP and Rolemaster (I'll do a full review on it later). I haven't seen decipher's sourcebook for their LotR RPG, but from what I have heard it has received mixed reviews. GW's Kazad-dum sourcebook for the LotR miniatures game has a nice side-view map, which is much different from I.C.E.'s, but other than that it doesn't offer much other than lovely pictures.

I never thought of Middle Earth as a good RPG setting, mostly because I feel that there is no good way to simulate the way magic works that world.  I also felt that adventurers seemed out of place in Tolkien's world. But when I think of Moria as a megadundgeon, I think it serves as a great model for creating others.  First it provides a real, sensible reason for the existence of  the original structure.  In this case, we have a valuable mine and an attached underground city, all created by Dwarves. Secondly, we a good reason why the structure was abandoned, namely the release of the Balrog. This also serves to explain why the goblins and other creatures have come to live in Moria.  Third, there is built in treasure. The Mithril and other precious metals would be reason enough to venture into Moria, but there could also be many other valuable items left there by the Dwarves. Lastly Moria is Huge. Like the size of Manhattan huge.  According to I.C.E.'s sourcebook, it is almost 28 miles from east to west, and in places the mines are several hundred if not several thousand feet deep.  As far as any RPG campaign would be concerned, it's endless.

Beyond my reservations about the Middle-Earth setting, Moria has some other issues.  First, it is extremely dangerous.  The inhabitants are fairly well organized, and led by an extremely powerful demon that seems to like to make appearances at the front gate if someone so much as drops a pin in the foyer.  This is not the sort of place where characters would start their adventuring careers.  Also there does not seem to be good location nearby to establish a base camp.  Setting the adventure in the 4th age after the Balrog has been defeat solves part of the first problem, but Moria would still remain an intimidating dungeon.

I'd like to see some other people's takes on Moria.  For me it remains THE iconic fantasy dungeon, and one we can still learn from.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Miniatures update

I started working on some miniatures this week.  I got a starter box of Space Wolves, and I have them partially assembled. I opened up my box of painting supplies that has been in storage for the better part of a decade to discover that most of the paints have dried up.  That wasn't much of surprise since most of them are pushing 20 years old! The ones that had dried up were a mix of old Ral Partha paints from the late 80s early 90s era, and some screw top Citadels from the early 2000s.  The only ones to survive?  Flip top Citadels from the late 80s!

At any rate, this necessitates a lot new paints.  I've been looking around at the new Citadel stuff, the Vallejo range, and Army Painter.  I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'm leaning towards Army Painter because they offer a fairly low priced set, and their spray primers seem to be exactly what I need. I'm guessing that any of these will do nicely as I'm one of those cheap bastards that has used the cheap paints from the craft store in the past.

Update: I took the plunge and went for the Army Painter Mega Paint set, and a can of the Wolf Grey primer.  I'm not buying into their Quickshade process though.  I remember talking to old grognards in the 80's that swore by dipping their miniatures in minwax, and everyone one they showed me looked like crap. I'm going to stick to traditional inks and washes (most of my old ones have survived storage), and matte sealer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

New house rules!

The first draft for my house rules are finally done.  I've just been so busy with other stuff I haven't had a chance to focus on them.  I've also changed the name from "Delvers of the Deep" to "Search, Kill, Loot, Drink" or SKLD, which turned out to be a cool acronym. You can download a copy from google docs here or via mediafire here.

It's short, only 8 pages so far.  It isn't a full set of rules; it requires that you have some version of D&D to refer to.  I used Moldvay basic, but it should work with just about anything.  I'm going to start playtesting ASAP, and I'll make updates to the rules based on what happens in testing and feedback I might get elsewhere.  I don't want the rules to get much longer than they already are, but I'm sure that there needs to be some additional material and explanation in them.

Parts I like:  I like how magic items work.  I posted about that a few weeks ago, and I stuck with that system.  I think it allows for the use of magic in the game, but makes it more rare. I'm also fairly happy with the combat rules, though I really need the playtesting to see how the injury rules work out.

Parts I'm not happy with yet: I'm not satisfied with the races yet. I think the elf may be overpowered. I should probably include rules for some more races, but I'd rather leave that to other people.  I'm not so sure how I feel about skills.  The stealth and physical stunts are directly from Searchers of the Unknown, but I'd like to include something similar to encompass other sorts of actions.  Some sort of First-Aid rules are probably needed. I know how I will handle the deficiencies int he rules when I use them in my game; I'll just make a ruling and make a note of it.  My worry is that these rulings won't translate well into actual rules.  But maybe that's part of the magic of Old School gaming.  Certain characters in certain situations are going to be treated differently than other characters in similar situations because no 2 characters are exactly the same and neither are the situations.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How big is a potion?

I've always wondered how much liquid constitutes 1 dose of a potion. Are we talking a 12oz soda/beer? A 6-8oz cup of coffee/tea?  A 1-2oz shot, or something even smaller like the 1-2ml vials that perfume samples come in?  If they are the larger size, I know some characters that wander dungeons with the equivalent of a case of beer (very expensive beer at that).  From a practical standpoint, I think the 1-2oz size makes sense, but for some reason I've always envisioned potions as larger than that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Projects

I'm still trying to find time to work on my Searchers of the Unknown remix, but I've been slightly busy with work and taxes in recent weeks.  Now it looks like another hobby is creeping back in to my life.  I just won one of these at work last week:

In addition, I just got a good deal on a box of Space Wolves.  So 40k here I come.  Still going to finish those house rules, I promise.  Looking forward to using them with Paul Hughes's gigantic random dungeon generator

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

This post is not directly related to games of any particular sort.  However, I follow a lot gaming blogs that focus on the horror genre.  Every one of those bloggers and their readers should see this movie.  There was a lot of talk about John Carter when it came out. "The Cabin in the Woods" is a movie actually worth discussing.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

10' wide hallways aren't always 10 feet wide.

This has been bothering me recently.  Look at any old school map, like the example below:

You would think that each of the halls here are 10' wide if you assume each square=10'.  But unless those walls are extremely thin, the hallways are probably closer to 8' wide.  That's not to say that the 10' wide hallway doesn't exist; any situation where there isn't another hallway or room on the other side of the wall would allow for them.

Does this affect gameplay?  Should I use these new hallway sizes when calculating the volume taken up by my fireball spell?  No.  It's just a pet peeve of mine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sneak Peak: Magic Rules

So my house rules are taking longer than planned, mostly because I got free tickets for concert on Monday and went to see John Carter last night.  I still have to nail down the details of the combat system.  While I'm working on that, I'd thought I'd give a quick preview of how I am handling magic.  I still want to add some rules for divine magic, mostly focused around turning.  But here's what I have so far.

Magical Items
As the PCs are not spell casters, the use of magical items becomes of vital importance. These rules contain no information on spells or magical items, so the GM will have to reference a copy of some existing “old school” rules.

Class restricted items: The PCs able to freely use all magical items that are normally restricted to warrior and rogue type classes in other games, as well as those items that have no class restrictions, such as potions. This means that no checks are required to use these items. For items that are restricted to use by other classes (normally wizard and priestly classes) a magic item use check must be made.  The player must roll a 5 or better on a d6, modified by the following:
Magic Item Use Check Modifiers

Per level of the spell effect*
Per level of the PC
-3 to +3
Character is an Elf
Character is a Dwarf*
No armor worn
Light Armor
Medium Armor
Heavy Armor
Notes: The level of the spell effect is the level of the spell that is being cast.  This does not take into account any sort of “caster level”  A wand of magic missiles is thus a -2, as magic missile is a level 1 spell, no matter how many missiles are fired. For items with effects that do not have a direct correlation with a spell, the modifier is left up to the GM! Remember that Dwarves can ignore the -2 to their check if the item is Dwarven made.

Bad Mojo: If the result of a magic item use check is a 2 or less, and the player rolled a natural 1, then the spell has a negative effect!  This exact result is up to the GM.

Quick Magic item rules: If you want to speed things up and avoid dice rolls you can use the following rules. Humans in no armor can use Wizard items, and humans in up to light armor can use Priest items. Elves up to light armor can use Wizard items. Dwarves and Halflings can’t use class restricted items (unless they are specifically made for Dwarves or Halflings!)

John Carter: Quick thoughts.

I finally saw John Carter last night.  The good news is that it was only $2!  The bad news is that I was mildly disappointed.  I felt that the beginning of the movie was a bit confusing if you hadn't read the books, and that the major change in John Carter's personality was a negative.  It's still a worthwhile movie, and I wish they would do more.  I don't know where the budget went, but it certainly wasn't spent on the actors.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Delvers of the Deep?

I'm hard at work on my set of house rules.  It looks like they are going to be under 8 pages long, but it is taking a bit more time that I expected as certain aspects require a more thought and explanation than I had planed for.  The biggest obstacle so far has been creating a set of simple critical hit rules that won't slow down gameplay. Currently I'm leaning towards a basic and an advanced system that you can choose from.  The basic system does not require a lot of record keeping, but doesn't give any detail to the injuries sustained. This has more of a wargame feel.  The more advanced system gives detailed descriptions of the injuries, and creates the possibility for permanent effects (loss of a ability point, blindness, limited movement etc).  However this requires more record keeping, and slows down combat. This system feels a lot more like Rolemaster or WFRP. I'm going to have to playtest these to see what works best. Hopefully I'll have a rough draft of the rules finished tomorrow or Monday, and I'll post a link to them when that happens.

Tentatively I am calling the rules "Delvers of the Deep" or DotD.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Random encounters aren't that random.

Lots of post about random encounters in the OSR bloggosphere this week.  My 2 cents?  Random encounters shouldn't be that random.  Certainly in the outdoors it makes sense to have some tables for what sorts of creature might randomly be encountered outside of a lair, but in a dungeon great care should be taken in designing wandering encounters or patrols.  I know that the mysterious wandering, random monster fits into the idea of the "Mythic Underwold", but I like a certain level of verisimilitude in my dungeons.  If there is a wandering encounter, why is it roaming about?  Where did it come from and where is it going?  How will it react to the party, and how does it fit in with the rest of the factions in the dungeon?

Some of the best dungeons do an excellent job of providing a realistic wandering encounter table, such as Paul Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia.  Each encounter is either part of a faction within the dungeon, or an unintelligent creature that one might expect to find living in the caves.  On the other had you have The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, which has goblins on the wandering monster table for the haunted house.  Why?  There are no other goblins in the house, and no explanation as to why they are there.  Unless they are working with the smugglers they have no place in the adventure.

"Random" encounters should be carefully tailored to fit the environment.  This can take a bit of time if you have dungeon with a lot of history to it.  On the other hand, if you are doing an old fashioned hex crawl through the wilderness you can probably do just fine with the standard tables in the MM or other such book.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Project: Searchers of Skirmheim, or Mordsystem of the Unkown.

At some point in the very near future I'll be starting my aforementioned OSR campaign with brand new players.   I'm going to be using a heavily house ruled variant of LL or B/X for that, including a lot of the ideas I have seen in on OSR blogs.  At the same time I've been wanting to write a set of quickplay rules for a lunchtime game at work.  I've been quite interested in some of the extremely small retro-clone rulesets, Searchers of the Unknown in particular.  In the last week I've hit upon some ideas for my own variant of SotU, greatly inspired by Battlesystem Skirmishes, Mordheim, and various blog posts and retro clones.  So this week I'll focus on trying to get those into a set of written rules.  The highlights will include:

  • 1 character class, but multiple races.
  • No spellcasting, but less restrictions on magic item usage.
  • Damage tracked by hit dice, not hit points
  • Critical hit table when a character is reduced to 0 hits.
The goal is to make the combats quick and decisive, without making them more deadly. The rules should be no more than 4 pages.  Published adventures from pre 3e should convert easily to this system for the most part.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fresh meat

When I was first considering starting up a new game, I thought I was going to round up some old friends that have been active RPG players that hadn't played using any of the old rulesets recently.  The intention was to use OSRIC with some house rules and play some of the old TSR modules.  It now looks like my girlfriend and some of her friends are interested in playing, which changes everything.  From what I can tell they have never played D&D or any other tabletop RPG.

With all new players I've decided I'm going to have to use a more basic set of rules.  I'm probably going to use a heavily house ruled version of LL or B/X.  More importantly I'm going to have to decide upon a new adventure to run.  Originally I was going to run Caverns of Thracia.  For veteran players it seemed like a good challenge and a wonderful, classic dungeon that they probably were not familiar with.  However, after read several play reports online I realized just how deadly this module is, and I think I am going to need something a little easier for completely new players. Currently I'm leaning towards B2 or B1, with the possibility of T1 as I've been playing the computer version of that recently, so I'm more familiar with it.  I'm still going to stick to the OSR guns with this group, there will certainly be some deaths, but I don't want to totally steamroll them with a difficult 1st level adventure.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Descent into the Depths

Aaron over at A Paladin in the Citadel recently made this post about the classic AD&D module D1 - Descent into the Depths of the Earth. I had recently been skimming through the module recently, looking for more old school inspiration.  I often like to revisit modules that I never thought much of, and this was one of them.  I had the D1-2 version which combined the original with Shrine of the Kua Toa, and I also owned the Vault of the Drow, so I had the whole series.  They seemed cool, but as a kid they were difficult to use because they were high level adventures that required the GM to do a lot work, and for the players to use something other than brute force. Also, they lacked a defining story or goal  (remember my group attacked the keep in Keep on the Borderlands, so you really had to point them in particular direction).  I never used them in any of my games.

Today I find them much more interesting.  I think they would be better presented as a sourcebook than as adventure modules, but that's a small point.  Rereading all 3 modules as a whole gives me a much better overlook of the underworld.  Aaron sees D1 as a "megadungeon template", but I see it as even more.  The underworld of D1-3 combines dungeon and wilderness settings, and it forces the PCs to make difficult decisions if they try to resupply without returning to the surface.  The possibilities here really do seem endless.  The one change I would make is to lower the average power level of the inhabitants so that players could start adventuring in this environment starting around level 5 rather than 10+.

In a way these modules remind me of the feeling I had while reading Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth".  It's really too bad that those movies stink.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Howard Pyle

I started playing D&D before I was 10 years old.  At the time, I had very little exposure to the what we would consider the "fantasy" genre.  To me, fantasy was fairy tales and ghost stories.  I had seen the Rankin-Bass animated version of the Hobbit, and that had sparked my imagination.  I had yet to read the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings though.  At the time I was mostly reading Hardy Boys books.  Then I found a book in my school library called "The Story of King Arthur and his Knights".

 I knew a little bit about King Arthur from popular culture, but  Howard Pyle's book took the story to a whole new level for me.  I became totally engrossed in the Arthurian world.  For weeks I read the book and three others that followed it.  Despite Pyle's antiquarian writing style, I moved through the stories quickly, and even went back to reread my favorite parts.

Later I discovered Pyle's Robin Hood stories and book of Pirates.  While I enjoyed them, they never had the impact that King Arthur did. Years later I stumbled across Men of Iron, which was an original story rather than a retelling of existing legend.  Reading Men of Iron rekindled my appreciation of Pyle, though I didn't bother to track down any of his other works.  By then I was reading all sorts of fantasy, old and new, but Pyle still intrigued me.  He is generally considered a children's author, but I never found his stories childish.

Today, thanks to the internet, I've come to appreciate Pyle as an illustrator as well as a writer. While it is hard to consider him a fantasy author,  I have to imagine that both his writing and illustrations influenced the pulp artists and writers that followed him in the decades after his death in 1911. Gary didn't include him in Appendix N, and I don't know if he was familiar with Pyle's work, but as a young boy it was Pyle that lit the fire of my imagination and influenced me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The influence of Anime

I was sitting around watching TV the other night with my girlfriend.  She was browsing through Netflix, and start looking at the the Anime selection.  She put on a couple of difference shows I had never heard of, and I was quite surprised to see they were all fantasy related.  I've never been a huge anime fan, though I've seen my fair share of the stuff, mostly the classics like Macross and Akira.  I've never watched any fantasy related anime.  After watching a hour or so of these shows, I began to wonder how much fantasy themed anime has influenced younger generations of tabletop RPG fans.

Looking at Appendix N from the 1st DMG, I see a lot of material that is well before my time.  People my age were inspired by things like Clash of the Titans, the movie versions of Conan, Willow, Sword of Shanara, Thieves World, and yes, Dragonlance.  I expect that kids today are influenced by more current works of fantasy (such as Harry Potter) than the older stories, just as I was in my youth.  I'm certain that fantasy video games are a huge part of that influence.  Another big part of that may be anime.

The thing that I always note about anime, is that the characters tend to be over the top.  The main characters seem to have nothing normal about them at all.  The tend to be destined to greatness, demi-gods, or psychotic. This is quite contrary to the picaresque themes seen in the origins of the fantasy RPG movement.  It makes me wonder if there is a fundamental disconnect between different groups of gamers based on their influences, and if major changes in D&D rules over the years are just a reflection of these differing influences.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Snakemen > Lizardmen

Giant snakes with arms!  These are so badass.  Next time I use a published module that calls for Lizardmen I am sooo replacing them with these guys.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sandbox vs. Story

There's been a bit of a discussion going on the past few days that started with a post on the Mule Abides, and was picked up on Grognardia and Monsters & Manuals.  It seems that Tracy Hickman's penchant for story based games was something that he actually enumerated, as displayed in the original printing of his "Pharoah" scenario.

I work in the video games industry, at Bioware to be exact.  Bioware is known for story based RPGs.  These games are some of my favorites (Mass Effect 2 in particular).  The other big name in western RPGs is Bethesda.  They make the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3 (for the record, Skyrim was the best game I played in the past year).  These are generally considered "sandbox" games.  Both styles of game work extremely well, though they deliver a very different type of experience. If you have a preference, that's great, but neither one is better than the other, when done well.

On the tabletop, I think things are a little different though.  The computer RPGs I mentioned are all single player games. Try developing story in a multi-player computer game.  It's a much more difficult proposition.  If you are going to run a story based tabletop RPG, all of the players must be willing participants in the story.  The better option, in my opinion, is to let the story develop out the actions of the characters and the world around them.  If you create a rich world for the characters to exist in, the story will write itself. As a player, I'd much rather play a game in which the story cam about because of things that or my group wanted to accomplish, rather than a game where the DM had some grand vision of some "meaningful" plot.

As a side note, I loved the Dragonlance novels when I was in 7th and 8th grade.  I found the modules to be unplayable.  They ended up in the same pile as the Indiana Jones RPG.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A tidbit from the Player's Handbook

"Co-operation amongst party members is a major key to success,
particularly when the characters are relatively low-level. Later, when
players have characters of 9th. 10th. or even higher level it will be a
slightly different matter, for then some adventures will be with but 
one or two player characters participating, and the balance of the group will be
made up of henchmen whose general co-operation is relatively assured."

Gary Gygax, AD&D Player's Handbook, page 107, Successful Adventures

One or two players plus henchman? It's very interesting to see Gary's take on how high level games could, or should be run.  It makes sense though.  As the character progress in levels, they develop as characters.  Their history grows, as does their place in the world around them. The game becomes focused more and more on the characters as they become more important in the world around them.  I find this an interesting adjunct to the Story vs. Sandbox debate.  There's nothing wrong with story in my opinion, as long is it comes from the characters and the players.

As a side note, I wish that we had used henchman and hirelings more when I played D&D as a kid.  I think of all the times we wanted to play but never had more than 2 or 3 players, so we did something else.  This probably occurred because TSR published so many tournament modules during the early 80's and because no published module I recall every made reference to the possibility of the party having retainers. More on tournament modules in a future post.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Armor in the campaign.

This isn't a complaint about RPG rules themselves.  My concern is more with the settings presented in many sourcebooks, or the implied setting in certain games.  It may be nice to have rules for all sorts of armor, but characters shouldn't have free reign to purchase any type of armor that was ever invented if you want to have a more realistic campaign.  There should be a few option available, based on what is locally available and currently made.

Using 1e as an example, Gary lists the following type of armor:
Plate Mail
Plate armor (full plate)
Ring Mail
Scale Mail
Splint Mail
Studded Leather

There has been some debate as to what types of actual armor these categories represent.  What exactly is "Banded Mail"?  Is it the classic roman lorica segmentata?  What about "Splint Mail" and "Ring Mail"?  Regardless, after some thought it would seem to me that this list is composed of various types of historical armor that was used in Europe and the near east over 1500 year period.  To me, the idea of a character being able to pick his armor out of this entire list seems fairly absurd once I really thought about it.

I was going to go on to say something about how silly it is for a character in a D&D game to be able to pick between 15th century style platemail and 11th century chainmail.  If plate existed, everyone would be using some form of that.  But I always go back to same winning argument that was made in a comic book store long ago: "It's a FANTASY game!"  So really anything could happen in your campaign, but I just wanted to mention it if you felt you wanted to run something with a little more historical accuracy, and to point out how Gygax might have gone a little overboard with the armor listings, though not nearly as bad as he did with polearms.

In the long run, it doesn't really matter what the armor looks like.  The particular construction of the armor is only really important if you want to use things like hit locations and to hit adjustments based on weapon vs. armor matchups.  As far as I am concerned, AC 5 armor could be chainmail, or it could be poorly made plate or very well made and thickened leather.  If you don't use hit locations then AC 5 might be plate without the helmet and greaves (I think 3e already does this sort of thing with the breastplate and chain shirt armor type).

I also began thinking about different sorts of armor that might be made out of the various monsters that are found in the game.  To my mind, we don't see that sort of thing enough in D&D.  Sure, from time to time you see things about making armor out of dragon scales, but what about giant insect carapaces?  I think Dark Sun had some rules for things like that, and it certainly adds some flavor to the game, and really that's what I'm aiming for.  Simple rules, lots of flavor.  That's the difference between Old School and 3e-4e.  In the new systems all the flavor is in the rules.  In Old School the flavor is in the fluff, and that's always easier to work with.

Retrospective: Mordheim

I have a love/hate relationship with Games Workshop.  I could go on for hours about the hate side of it, but I think everyone is aware of the normal criticisms of GW by now.  I do love the Warhammer universe though, and from time to time they put out some really cool games.  It seems that their best games aren't always the most popular though, and they aren't given the long term support that they deserve. Necromunda, Epic 40k, GorkaMorka. Adeptus Titanicus all fall into this category, as does Mordheim.

If you aren't familiar with it, Mordheim is a skirmish level fantasy combat game, fitting somewhere in between an RPG and wargame.  Each player has a warband of about 5-20 models.  The game centers on the city of Mordheim which has been destroyed by a comet, and the bands of adventures that have come to plunder the remains of the city and gather the precious magical warpstone from the comet.  The warbands are themed units based on different troop types from around the Empire, and some more more monstrous units like beastmen and skaven.  Over the course of time, official and unofficial warband lists have been created for just about every sort of Warhammer army and troop type.

What I love about the game is that it doesn't require a lot of work or time, yet is very fun and has a lot of replay value.  Collecting an army of over 100 miniatures is a daunting task, not to mention expensive.  15-20 is great for a beginner or those that are short on cash, space and/or time.  There are also plenty of ideas for scenarios, and the campaign rules give the game depth and purpose.  The rules are fairly simple, being a slightly modified version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, the major difference being that units don't "form up" in blocks, thus removing the need for a lot of the movement rules.

In short, Mordheim is everything Battlesystem Skirmishes could have been.  With a focused and detailed setting, thematic army lists and campaign rules, Mordheim is a complete game, not just a set of rules.  Yet, if you wanted to, you could take he skeleton of those rules, and use it for a different purpose, say an RPG?

GW lists this as a Specialist game, which mean they aren't producing new material for it, and most of the rules and miniatures have to be ordered online.  It also means they aren't running games in the stores, which is a shame because I think it is a great way to introduce people to the hobby.  Fortunately there is still some good fan support for the game, and a revised set of rules named "Coreheim" is freely available.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bloggin ain't easy...

I've tried twice today to put together a post about armor types in the campaign.  While re-reading them I thought that they tended to ramble.  The I thought that the subject matter was dealt too much with a quest for "realism" in the campaign.  It's something that I am prone to get bogged down in.  So please forgive me if some of what I post is over the top.

In a related note, the more I write about making a game more "realistic", the more I realize that simple solutions can work much better than complicated ones.  I'm gaining a new respect for Warhammer.  Not WFRP, but regular old Warhammer the wargame, 1st and 2nd editions in particular.  The idea of categorizing armor into Heavy, Light or None, actually works very well.  So does cutting down the weapon list and having a category called "hand weapons" that includes most 1 handed weapons such as swords maces and axes.  It seems to me that those rules, along with the original "Rogue Trader" 40k rules were designed to be used with small battle scenarios with a handful to a couple of dozen miniatures, rather than the pitched battles and scores of miniatures that these games have used for the last 20 years.

Now that "John Carter" is officially a flop, this will never happen

"Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser - Ill met in Lankhmar" as a 'buddy' movie.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

But what would a Welsh Longbow REALLY do?

I just spent the last 2 days looking at videos on youtube of people hitting various types of armor with various types of weapons.  Why?  Call it my obsession with the "Weapon Types, General Data, and 'To Hit' adjustments" table from the PHB.  Say what you will about that beast, I think it is much more accurate than "table 52: Weapon type vs. armor modifiers" from the 2e PHB.    So what did all of this video viewing get me?  Some insights, but probably not the sort of things you'd think.

As it relates to D&D, after viewing all of these weapon videos I realized that it really isn't worth the time to simulate all of this.  In fact, simplicity is probably better.  The OD&D idea of everything does a d6 really isn't a bad idea.  As hit points are supposed to represent "immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck" in higher level characters, a bigger axe really shouldn't do a lot more damage. Instead the skill of the user and magical properties or the weapon would seem to be more important.  However, you do have to account for hit points representing the overall physical toughness of larger monsters and animals.  Rather than handling it the way 1e does , I'd rather use what's available in B/X.  Maybe use a d6 for all weapons vs. human and demi-humans etc, and the variable weapon table against larger monsters?  Could work.  Rather than have variable weapon damage against "human" targets, you might grant to hit bonuses against targets in heavy armor. That would probably need more details to work out, but it's the general impression I got from watching the videos.

So what did I learn? (not directly related to RPG rules)

  • Nobody used "butted" chainmail in combat.  Only reenactors and LARPers do.You have to rivet the links closed in order for the armor to offer decent protection and not fall apart when hit.
  • Good chainmail is really good.  To cut through it or pierce it take a really serious blow.  You're more likely to suffer broken bones and severe bruising that cuts or punctures.
  • 15th century style "full plate" is almost impervious to arrows.  Seems like you would need one of those wind-up style heavy crossbows to get through this stuff.  
  • Fantasy axes are kind of silly.
  • I'm surprised that the Estoc has never been more prominently featured in a game.
  • Some of the videos are very entertaining, and usually more accurate than the History Channel.  Not tough to do honestly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Conehead Casting

A whimsical idea for spellcasting.....

Matt over at The Land of Nod made this post concerning the possible unique qualities of a wizard's brain, both living and dead. I found this to amazingly inspiring. After reading the phrase "..demands chocolate at any price", it struck me.  The human brain burns a lot of calories when doing heavy thinking, problem solving and computation in particular.  Specifically it burns glucose.  What if casting spells burned an incredible amount of  calories, so that the caster had to consume mass quantities of food and drink every day, or risk falling into a diabetic coma?  I think this could be an interesting way of introducing some non-vancian magic to a campaign.  Someday I'll have to develop an actual system around this concept.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What I learned from LARPing.

I don't know how many people in the OSR have ever participated in a LARP, let alone a combat intensive one.  In the early 90's I was heavily involved in "padded weapon" LARPs in the DC area.  It was a fun activity, and at times provided some cool stories and excellent roleplaying opportunities, not to mention good exercise.  After a few years I got out of it because I had other interests, and was generally tired of the political/personality conflicts in these local groups.  But in 4 or 5 years I did discover several things that I can apply to tabletop games as well. Most of what I learned was about social interaction and roleplaying, but some of it can actually be applied to tabletop rules.  WARNING: I'm not trying for "silver age" realism here. I am trying to put some "real world" experience to good use. I don't want to add overly complex systems to the game, put I do want to examine existing systems and rules in light of my experience on the padded weapons battlefield.

The first subject might not be that obvious, but I can not emphasize enough the importance of morale.  Creatures of any sort of intelligence are not going to get themselves involved in a losing battle, except in extreme circumstances.  Let's take a hypothetical.  An adventuring party of 6 kicks in a dungeon door.  In the room is 4 goblins.  Typically you roll for surprise and initiative and then combat begins.  If the party attacks first, the goblins will engage in combat.  In B/X rules, morale is first checked when the first death on that side occurs.  Under 1e, it's checked when the leader is defeated, 25% of the force is eliminated, or when they are facing an obviously superior force ( which is left up to the GM's discretion).   From my experience in LARPing, people think twice before engaging in combat (even when it is not life threatening), and only pick fights they think they can win. An outnumbered group is going to retreat or surrender unless those options have been taken away from them, or they are absolutely sure that their opponents are inferior.  They also tend to steer clear of the best fighter on the other side, preferring to take out the weaker targets first to get the numbers in their favor. In the above example, the goblins are not going to fight if they see a group of well armed men kicking in their door.  On the other hand if they were to see 6 peasants stumble in, the goblins would probably be up for a fight. Of course, this all depends how goblins view themselves in your campaign.  Maybe they are chesty little buggers that are always biting off more than they can chew, or maybe they are bullies that quickly turn coward as soon as they are pressed.   But no matter what, morale or reaction needs to be considered at the start of the encounter. The takeaway from my experience is that using 1 number to represent a morale rating, or a random roll to determine reaction is probably too simplistic.  It's much better for the GM to take the time to think about the psychology and morale of the monsters the players will be encountering, and figure out how they will react to different situations. Less rules and roles, more thinking.

Missile weapons and combat are a dicey thing.  It's damn hard to hit a moving target, and anyone with a shield is incredibly hard to hit if they are watching you.  Most of the time firing into a melee is pure chance.  An archer attacked in melee is screwed. Your best bet as am archer is to shoot at stationary targets that are not paying attention to you, and stay as far away from the melee as possible.  This often means targeting other missile weapon users and casters.  There are 2 things that I would change in the rules in regards to archery in particular. The first is that shields should count for more than a simple +1 or +2 when attacked from the front.  The second is that crossbows are much more simple to use than others bows. It takes 5 minutes to learn how to reload, and then it's point and shoot.  I longbow takes a lot of practice before the user can shoot straight on a consistent basis, and would require a decent amount of strength to be effective in  combat. I'm still not sure how to represent this in the rules. 3e places them in the simple weapon category, which allows for a wider range of classes to use them.  While this makes logical sense, I really don't like the idea of wizards and clerics walking around with crossbows. Thieves would be ok though.  The best I can come up with currently is a simple +1 to hit across the board for crossbows.  Minimum strength requirements for using regular bows is an option, and could come into play if you use 3d6 in order to generate characters.

I mentioned shields while discussing missile weapons, and this is probably the one area where my experience LARPing changed my thoughts on tabletop rules.  Shields are tremendously undervalued in D&D.  This difference in attacking a person with and without a shield are night and day.  Since 3e was published, I have used the rules for shields found there for all of my games (large shields are a +2, tower shields +4, can provide cover against missile weapons), but even that is not enough in my estimation.  However, the one thing I can't judge from LARPing, is how much protection armor provides (that's a whole other debate).  Any change in AC bonuses from shields needs to be judged against  the AC bonuses that armor provides, and I am hesitant to make shields too powerful, if only for game mechanics.  A +2 for small, +3 for medium, +4 for large (tower) system seems to be a good compromise.  I haven't included bucklers in the discussion because I think they are special case.  I see them more as a specialized tool for parrying, rather than a static defense in the way that armor and shields are considered.  Also, as they more properly belong to the renaissance period, I wouldn't use them in my games unless I was doing something in the swashbuckler genre.

Historically, shields are generally made of wood, with metal and leather used to hold it together.  As you can imagine, when hit with a sharp heavy weapon swung at high velocity they sometimes break.  This is something we simulated in the LARP rules that we used (3 hits to a shield from a polearm destroyed it), but we also encountered actual breakage occurred with shields and weapons.  RPG rules don't normally account for weapons shields and armor breaking, unless some sort of critical fumble rules are used.  I haven't figure out a simple way to account for breakage yet, as I feel that it probably requires the type of rule that adds more complexity or book keeping.

Something that I learned from LARPing that is often touted by MMA practitioners is that fights often end up on the ground.  That isn't to say that grappling becomes a major part of combat, but that in reality people fall down more often than is typically portrayed in tabletop RPG combat.  Some editions of the rules have abilities that can cause a a character to trip of fall over, but what I noticed is that people have a tendency to trip over themselves or lose their footing when the ground is uneven.  As a GM, you might want to think about what type of surface the combat is occurring on.  Something as simple as a forest or a field can be treacherous footing,  Consider the dangers of gopher holes, loose rocks,  and tree roots sticking above ground.

Closer attention should be paid to the terrain in general when in outdoor environments.  For example, small trees, bushes, and other undergrowth can be a real hindrance to movement in a forest, without blocking line of sight for spells and missiles.  In my experience, archers and casters had a huge advantage in the forest environment because of this. Larger shields, polearms and packs easily become entangle or blocked by bushes and low hanging branches.  Again, this is the sort of thing that should be the GM's call.  Not all forests are the same, and neither are all swamps, rivers, hills, grasslands etc.

This post went on a lot longer than expected, but as I was writing, more things kept coming to mind.  There's probably more I could come up with, and if I do, I'll post more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

BattleSystem Skirmishes

We've all had this situation in our game.  A large party of players, possibly with some NPC help, gets into a fight with a large group of monsters. Suddenly book keeping becomes an issue.  Lots and lots of dice are being rolled.  What looks like a fun fight at first bogs down and takes far too long.  So how do you as a GM deal with battles that aren't full scale warfare, but are larger than your normal encounter?

Back in the early days of 2nd edition, we had BattleSystem Skirmishes.  Most of us remember the various versions of the BattleSystem mass combat rules, but BattleSystem Skirmishes was the less popular and now forgotten system that bridged the gap between RPG and tabletop wargame.  Skirmishes represents individual models on a 1:1 scale, as opposed to the 10:1 or some larger scale that is used in most wargames.  In this way it has more in common with today's pre-painted miniatures games like D&D minis and the Clix games.  As a wargame, it really wasn't all that interesting.  In fact, I don't recall anyone ever using it as such.  However, it did do one thing fairly well, and that was simplifying and speeding up combat for 2e AD&D.

Even though the book goes on and on about the rules of combat, and has good size list of monsters spells and magic items, we only really needed about 2 pages of the book.  Those pages provided charts and rules for converting 2e characters to Skirmishes rules, which actually turns out to be a very simple process.  Hit points and damage are now represented as hit dice or just "hits".  A 1 hit die create from 2e had 1 hit in skirmishes.  your standard weapon that would do a d8 damage in 2e did 1 hit.  Skirmishes used Thaco and armor class, just like 2e with just a few other modifiers. Other than that, you could just use all of the other standard rpg style rules. I loved this system, because it got rid of the damage roll, and weaker creatures were either alive or dead.  You no longer had to keep track of 20 kobolds that had taken wounds.  Even creatures with more hits could be tracked with a die or another simple marker (really tiny d6s were great for this).

Even though this was written with 2e in mind, it would work with any old version of D&D once you see how the conversion works.

Appendix N update.

I just saw this article over at Huffington Post that offers some alternatives to John Carter.  Since I have started reading blogs devoted to "old school roleplaying" I have seen several references to "Appendix N".  I had no idea what anyone was talking about.  So I looked it up.  Wonderful thing the internet. For those like me that don't know what "Appendix N" is, it is a section of the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide that lists authors and books that inspired Gary Gygax as he created D&D.  Now, I've had a DMG since the early 80's.  I don't specifically recall this list, but I'm sure I must have read it a few times way back when.  I haven't read most of the material on this list, probably because much of it wasn't widely available.  If it wasn't in stock at Waldenbooks or in the school library, it was out of my reach.  However I did get to read Leiber, Moorcock, Tolkien, and Zelazny.

I've seen a few people post a list of things that would be in their personal version of Appendix N, but I'd like to see what others think should be in sort of "Appendix N Hall of Fame".  It would be those books and authors that have been published since the D&D was created that should be added to Gary's original list.   Criteria should include popularity, influence, similarity in themes to Gary's original list.  For example, Terry Brooks Shannara series might be a good candidate.  On the other hand,  Mists of Avalon or Harry Potter probably wouldn't be good candidates because of how different they are from the material in Gary's list.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More on Unified XP tables.

In an earlier post I began discussing class balance, unified xp tables, and the reasons for and against bonus XP for high prime requisite scores.  In this post I'd like to take some time to discuss the pros and cons of the use of individual xp tables for each class.  Most old school gamers like the old individual xp charts, and I certainly don't mind them, but I think that there are some valid reasons for not using them.

I like the old charts because they add a certain flavor to the game.  With every class having a different chart, the players are each carefully tracking their xp, anxiously awaiting their next level.  Leveling becomes an individual goal, not a group goal.  An argument that is often made in favor of individual xp charts is that it allows you to have unbalanced classes within the game, or in other words you can balance a class by making it more or less expensive to level.  The classic example is the thief.  It can't wear good armor or use a variety of weapons, and gets no spells.  The thief's attack tables and HPs are also inferior to all but the Magic-User.  It does have a access to thief skills, but these hardly make up for all of the other disadvantages the thief suffers from.  Thus the thief levels faster than any other class in the game. 

Another aspect of the individual XP charts that should not be overlooked is something that goes beyond class balance.  You could call it feel, or difficulty, but it's easier to just explain.  Of the base classes Magic-Users require the most xp to level (at least at the lower levels).  Why?  Because being a wizard is damn tough.  Not just anyone can be a wizard.  It takes a lot of dedication.  Most would say that Magic-Users are underpowered at low levels, particularly when xp cost/level is considered.  But they are designed that way for a reason.  Not everyone should play a M-U, and not every M-U that is rolled is going to survive the early levels. In contrast, Clerics level a little more quickly than it would seem like they should, but then again they are favored by a god, and they have the thankless responsibility of keeping the party alive with healing spells.

What don't I like about the individual xp charts?  Despite everything I just said, I find them to be wildly arbitrary.  Just how much xp per level is a d8 instead of a d6 for hit dice worth?  Or a better saving throw?   Sure people have tried to create class construction engines (such as in the 2E DMG) but one can usually exploit these fairly easily.  If you are trying to achieve balance between classes, it seems a little harder to do it with xp.  Secondly, the more classes you have, the more charts you need.  I like classes.  I like sub-classes.  Individual xp charts aren't so bad when you have 3 or 4 classes, but what about 15?  or 40? (Don't laugh.  Look at all of the new classes in the non-core 1e books like UA or OA.  Then add in the NPC classes presented in the Dragon.).  Charts take up space in the rules and you have to look them up.  Minor gripes, but still a negative.

This all leads to a unified xp chart.  First, it fixes most of the problems I have with the use of individual charts.  As a designer and a GM I like a unified leveling system because that is what I am used to working with.  Most RPGs use this sort of system, even if they use a totally different sort of advancement system (FWIW, the MMOs I have worked on and played have also used this system for the most part).  I think it is more easy to balance classes with this system, as you can make direct comparisons between the 2 classes.  Obviously they are never going to be completely balanced, but a unified xp table gives you a good starting point, and a frame of reference.

For me, the most important aspect of using a unified leveling system is that it allows the group to completely do away with xp as a whole.  If everyone earns the same xp per session, and they all use the same xp chart, they will all level at the same time.  That being the case, the GM or the group can decide when the PCs level whenever they wish.  No need for the GM to calculate xp.  No need for the players to track it.  No need to figure out how much a new monster or treasure is worth.  I have both run and played in games like this before, and it has worked wonderfully, with the right group.  Not every group is going to like this system, but I think you could say that about any rule. The major problem comes when you have character deaths, or characters/players that are not present for certain sessions.  In this case, you can keep track of the sessions played, and level those characters when they have played an appropriate # of sessions.  It isn't an exact science, but that's the point.

Now as some have pointed out, some problems arise when you get rid of xp.  Specifically how does one reward individual play.  In a future post, I'll explain a few ideas for simple fate/karma system that not only rewards individuals for excellent play, but livens up the game for the whole group.

Monday, March 12, 2012

0 Level Adventures

I'm guessing that not too many people use 0 level adventures.  Up until now I'd be one of them.  There are a few published modules that use 0 level, but I don't think I've seen anything that I found to be that interesting. I started thinking about the idea after seeing the DCC RPG beta rules.  After giving it some thought I've decided I am going to start my next campaign with 0 level characters.  Here are some reasons why.

The chance to explore the transition from "normal" person to adventurer.  What makes an individual an adventurer?  What events set them on that path?  Where did they learn their trade?  I want to explore these questions with my group.  I also really like the idea of establishing who the character was before they were an adventurer.  The DCC RPG uses a table that reminds me of WFRP, where one rolls % dice to see what sort of mundane existence they had before they started wandering around in dungeons.  Farmer?  Rat Catcher?  Mule Skinner?  Tanner?  All of these are possibilities, and they serve to define what sorts of skills and starting equipment the character has, as well as their place in the world.

I want to have a game with a "tight" economy.  Starting characters aren't going to have much in the way of money or belongings.  I want the first adventure to explain why these characters have the equipment that they have, because a sword and armor of any sort are extremely expensive.  Treasure should actually mean something to the players, and being able to go back to town and get a proper suit of armor and with their first haul should be something to shoot for.

The last reason for me wanting to run a 0 level adventure is a little selfish.  I had decided a while ago that if I was going to start a new game, I was going to use "classic" published adventure modules.  Still, I'd like to run something of my own creation at some point. Since there aren't any published 0 level adventures that I would consider classics, this gives me the perfect opportunity to interject something that I have designed personally.  This also gives me the chance to put to use the wealth of information I have gathered from all the blogs and other resources I have been reading recently.  There is a lot more information around today to help GMs build a good adventure than there was 20 years ago, and I plan to put that to good use.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Class balance, unified xp, and prime requisites.

While coming up with some house rules that may eventually become a full blown retro-clone, I began to take a serious look at the classes.  I quickly realized I was going to have to deal with class balance, and that there are issues with class balance in D&D that I don't have to deal with in MMOs (my day job).  The first issue is individual xp charts for each class, and the second the potential for bonus xp if the character has high prime requisite (PR) scores.

I seen a lot written about unified xp charts, so I'll deal with them in another post.  On the other hand, I haven't seen anyone discuss bonus xp for high PRs.  This seems to be something that people tend to overlook a lot of the time.  Not that they don't use it, every game I've ever been in has used it, but nobody really stops to think why this rule exists or what purpose it serves in the game.

I first questioned the idea of bonus xp for a high PR score when I saw the suggestion that there be bonus xp given based on how you rolled your stats.  (sorry that I can't remember where I saw this)  A straight 3d6 would get you a +15%, while the stand 4d6 drop the lowest and arrange to order gets you +0% (there were other options in between).  I liked this idea, but realized that it was probably incompatible with the bonus xp from PRs.  

It would seem to me that bonus xp from high PR scores is an concept that got its start with OD&D.  In the original game it makes sense.  High ability scores don't immediately make you much better at anything, but they allow you to advance in your class more quickly. In later editions where ability scores give you bonuses, I don't really see the need for the bonus xp.  In fact it creates a situation where the character pretty much has to have those score or they will be gimped.  The concept may make logical sense in that a strong person may be able to increase their melee combat skills more quickly, but from a game sense it create a  power imbalance between the "haves and have nots".  I think that this difference can become magnified if you are dealing with classes that already have high stat requirements to join them, making the chance of having a high enough PR score for bonus xp much smaller.

I've come to the conclusion that I am not going to use the stand bonus xp % in my game.  If I was doing a straight OD&D or Swords and Wizardry game, I would include them, but I am using the -3 to +3 bonuses from B/X.  Also, I will be making everyone use the same method for rolling stats, so the concept of bonus xp for the method used to generate stats won't be in the game either.  By eliminating the bonus xp from my game, I am making the bookkeeping a little easier on everyone.  It's a small point, but an important step in my larger plan to provide the option to remove xp from the game.  But that's another post.

Monday, March 5, 2012

New inspiration from old sources.

Most old school RPG players would be in agreement that  D&D takes its inspiration from Swords and Sorcery fiction and weird tales.  You don;t have to look further than Appendix N to prove this. However, the writers of those stories were inspired by other stories, many by old folktales. Today, most of us are familiar with the Brothers Grimm and their collection of tales.  While they may not directly inspire D&D style adventures, certain elements of their stories do creep into the game.  Certainly the monsters do, and certain magic items.  Other collections of folktales, such as 1001 Arabian Nights, influence fantasy RPGs, but none as much a Grimm's fairy tales.

What would you say if there were 50 more stories that the brothers missed?  How about 500?  It appears that scholars have recently discovered a collection of 500 new fairlytales.  It looks like some are just variations on old classics we already know, but there's a lot of material here that's new to us.  I can't wait to see this in print.