Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Now for something completely different.

Sometimes I miss these guys.

How the game was played, Part II: Megadungeon

This post over at Roles, Rules, and Rolls got me thinking about my experiences with 2e.  Up until that point I had never encountered a megadungeon, but one of the first 2e games I got involved with was based in WGR1-Greyhawk Ruins.  Two things stand out about this campaign.  First, the rules were pretty much "by the book".  To my recollection, most of the 2e games I played used the rules as they were written. Of course this was long before there was a glut of material for 2e.  Secondly, or most importantly, this was what came to be called "the short people's campaign"  as the party was comprised almost entirely of dwarves, with a halfling thief and a gnome illusionist thrown in to round out the party.   It was also the largest group I ever gamed with, ranging from 8-10 players each session.  The game lasted several months, as the party slogged its way through the first several levels of the Tower of War.  The game broke up after one particular incident involving a new player and his unique character introduction.  He had special permission from the GM to play a half-elf, as we had begun to see the need for more variety in the party.  This had already caused a problem with some of the players, but nobody was ready for what came next.

GM:  Ok, the party comes around the corner of the hallway, and sees this guy.  Describe your character.
Newb:  You see an elven figure with dark purple skin and white hair.  In his hand....
Party full of Dwarves (in unison):  A Drow!!!
Trigger-happy Dwarf:  I shoot him in the head with my heavy crossbow!
GM: Roll to hit
Newb:  But, but....
Trigger-happy Dwarf:  Natural 20! (I saw the roll.  Everyone did.  It was a 20)
Newb: Huh?!
GM: Are you wearing a helmet?  How many hit points do you have?
Newb:  What? Uh, no helm, I'm wearing a hood.  Why are you shooting at me?!
Trigger-happy Dwarf:  Too late now.
GM:  Let me see you character sheet son.
Newb:  (Cries) But I'm a good Drow.
Dwarf #2:  The only good Drow is a dead Drow.
Dwarf #3: Well, I guess that makes him a good Drow after all!

The new player's friends weren't happy either, and it did break up the game, but it was soooo worth it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Creating Magic Items. Part I

One of Untimately's 20 questions was about the creation of magical items.  This is one of the areas where my tastes probably differ from most old school players.  I actually like item creation as it exists in 3e, with some  modifications. Under 1e, wizards have to wait until 11th level to create items, and under 2e they have to wait until 9th.  In 3.x, Wizards can get the scribe scroll feat at level 1, brew potion at level 3, and create wand at level 5.  This seems like it would be a total game changer at first glance, but I find that incorporating the 3.x item creation feats (these 3 in particular) into an old school game can serve to balance out the Magic-User at low levels.

There is some controversy with the 3.x item creation feats (beyond the level they can be purchased), most of which stems from the rule that requires the expenditure of XP in order to create the item.  Frankly, the XP cost is so small that I just ignore it.  For the more powerful magical items I think the idea makes sense (ie Sauron forging part of his power into the One Ring), but not for simple things like scrolls.  The other controversy that has come up in games I've been involved in is the creation of permanent items, liked a sword +1, or a ring of protection, or a bag of holding.  Under 3.x, characters can start making these sorts of items as low as level 3!.  I agree that having characters running around at level 3 creating permanent magic items could be a problem, but  rather than forcing magic-users to wait until a higher level to create these items, I just make the creation of such items more difficult than what the 3.x srd states.  But that will be another post for another day.

To me, the most important item creation feat is Scribe Scroll. By allowing low level Magic-Users to scribe scrolls, you no longer have to worry about them not being able to cast enough spells per day.  Every Magic-User should have at least 1 scroll of every spell that they know.  They are fairly cheap and quick to make.  In my game I even make most low level (level 1-3 spells) scrolls available for purchase.  The limiting factor for PC M-Us is that they have to have the spell they wish to scribe prepared.  So a level 1 M-U can either cast 1 spell or scribe 1 scroll a day.

At this point I should mention something that many GMs overlook when dealing with scroll and potion use in combat.  I don't recall very specific rules for using scrolls and potions during combat in early editions of the game, but 3.x simply requires a Move Action to ready the scroll or potion, and a Standard Action to use it.  While I don't have an problem with how using the scroll or potion is handled (unless the character is being attacked), I think that allowing characters to freely ready whatever scroll or potion they want in the middle of combat is overly generous.  Ever tried to find that exact thing you need in you bookbag or purse?  I don't have any hard and fast rules for this yet, but if a player is carrying around a bunch of scrolls or potions, they better explain how they are organizing them or it is going to be difficult to find the correct one during combat.

Which brings us to wands.  I don't want Harry Potter taking over my D&D any more than you do.  However I like the idea wizards having access to a low level combat spells (like ray of frost or a 1st level magic missle) that they can use pretty much at will.  I've been toying with the idea of giving M-Us a wand of Ray of Frost (d3 damage, ranged touch attack to hit, no save) as standard starting equipment. In my 1e games the low level M-Us just ended up throwing darts or daggers, so I don't think the cheap low level wands would unbalance things.

I've still got some mixed feelings on potions.  Creating a scroll doesn't really require a lot of material, just some paper, ink and quills, and a quiet place to write. Potions really need a laboratory.  I like the idea of low level potions being readily available to PCs (for a price), but I don't see most low level PCs having access to a lab.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Untimately's 20 Questions

Since everyone else is doing it, here are my answers to Untimately's 20 Questions

Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, or arranged to order.  I leave this up to the group a a whole.
How are death and dying handled? Per 2e.  0 hp and below is unconscious. -1 hp per round.  -10 is dead.
What about raising the dead?  Per the raise dead, reincarnate and resurrection spells.  If you want an NPC cleric to raise a PC it is really going to cost you.  In most cases the PC will have to undertake a quest for the NPC in exchange for the service of raising the dead character.
How are replacement PCs handled? New PCs enter the game 1 level below the average level of the party.  Or the player's character had any henchmen, they can take over one of those characters as a PC.
Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Individual.
Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? If the group agrees to it.  Natural 20 is max damage.Fumble depends on the weapon used.  It generally means they dropped the weapon.

Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?  I don't track helmets unless they are particular magic helms.
Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? Yes.
Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?  Yes.  Some encounters can not be beaten through brute force.
Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Yes.
Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Yes.
How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?  Not very strictly, unless the situation calls for it, such as a travelling through a desert.
What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? I leave this up to the group when the game starts.  I like training, but generally players don't.
Do I get new spells automatically? Clerics yes, Magic Users no.
Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? If we go for the no training option, it can happen in the middle of the adventure.
What do I get experience for?  Anything I as the GM decide to award experience for.  This includes defeating monsters, gaining treasure, getting past traps.  I reward extra points for critical thinking and good roleplaying.
How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? Description + dice roll.  No description of how they are checking lowers the chance of finding a trap.  The closer the description of the search is to matching the actual trap, the bigger a bonus I give on the roll.
Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?  Retainers are encouraged, if the entire group wants them.  Morale is based on the charisma of the PC that hired them, modified by current working conditions.  Morale is checked when I feel that it should be.
How do I identify magic items?  Scrolls can be identified via read magic. Common potions can be identified by a wizard.  Armor and weapons through use.  Wands, staves and rods need a keyword, but one it is know item is identified.  Only unique magical items really require the identify spell.
Can I buy magic items?Oh, come on: how about just potions? Low level potions and scrolls can be purchased.
Can I create magic items? When and how?  Yes.  Generally I give Magic users the equivalent of the 3e item creation feats, though I do not require XP costs.  Scrolls can be scribed anywhere there is the Magic User has some privacy (a room at an inn) as long as the have the required materials.  Everything else requires a permanent laboratory.
What about splitting the party?  I allow it, but if some people stop having fun because they are left out, I'll have to stop it.

I'll have to expend on some of these answers in other posts.  The questions on magic items, retainers and traps are of particular interest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My obsession with "lite" rules systems

I admit it.  I am obsessed with "lite" variations of D&D.  For anyone that has played the game extensively in any form, you don't need hundreds of pages of rules.  If you ignore spells, monsters and treasure, you only need a few pages of rules to play the game.  Even if you and some spells monsters and magical items, you can make a decent variant of the game in under 20 pages.  Some of my favorites so far include:

  1. Searchers of the Unknown
  2. Microlite20/ Microlite74
  3. Heroes of the Mythic Age.
These rules systems, and other like them are inspiring me to write my own variation and to keep it simple.  So many systems are overly burdened with rules that are rarely used.  Better to leave it out of the rules and let the GM make a ruling a later time if needed.

My next game

It's has been a long time since I have been involved in steady tabletop RPG group.  Too long.  So I have decided that for the first time in decades that I am going to start running a game of my own.  I don;t consider myself to be very creative, and I don't have a huge amount of time to devote to creating my own campaign setting and adventures.  Therefore, I decided that I want the game to revolve around classic D&D and AD&D modules. Originally I was just going to use 1st edition AD&D rules, or OSRIC since I know that not everyone has the 1st edition books.  But after looking at all of the retro clones that are now available for free, I think that there are better options than a vanilla 1e game.  Problem is, after reading through the retro clones, I think that I can do something equally as good myself.

So my next game is really going to be my game.  Does there really need to be another D&D retro clone?  No, but I feel like writing one anyway, because I have certain problems with the original game that other have not addressed in their games.  I'll be posting some thoughts on my house rules, and I'd love to hear some feedback.  In many cases I have a couple of solutions to a problem, but I haven't decided which way to go.

How the game was played. Part I

Many of the retro RPG blogs I've been reading have discussed the fact that most players never used all of the rules exactly as they were written in the books. We have an exact history of the rules from old games, but more people need to discuss how they actually played the games back in the old days. This has got me thinking about what went on in the games I was involved with in the 80's.

My first RPG was Moldvay Basic set. First game session was Keep on the Borderlands. We obviously didn't know what we were doing because I distinctly remember attacking the keep. After that experience, I think I paid more attention to the rules and the text in the modules. I'm fairly certain that I followed the rules in Basic fairly precisely. However I quickly moved on to AD&D, which is a whole other story. There are so many rules in 1e, that there is no way that we ever used them all. We used all the character creation rules and charts. We used the spells. But we used the combat sequence and general combat rules from Basic. The rules from AD&D we just to confusing, and most of the time people couldn't agree on them. I remember one DM making players roll to hit twice; one to see if they hit, and once to penetrate armor. I blame the gigantic weapon vs. armor chart in the PHb (though the wargamer in me now loves the thing).

Next time, 2nd edition AD&D.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gnoll Train?

This blog isn't just about pen and paper RPGs.  Since I work in the MMORPG industry, it is a fairly difficult for me to ignore the goings on in the realm of computer RPGs.  In addition to the announcement of a new D&D game, Sony's announcement that the original Everquest would be going "free to play" has hit my nostalgia button.  While I never played EQ for very long, I do have some fond memories of the early parts of the game.  I looking forward to giving it a look again, for the first time in over 10 years.  Anyone that ever went through the Blackburrow zones should know what a gnoll train is.  Once March rolls around, I'll get some screenshots, and maybe a video of the infamous Blackburrow Gnoll Train.

First Post!

Rather than make some bloated post about why I started this blog, or a 5 page summary of my history with games, I’d rather just jump right into what’s been on my mind recently.  Since the announcement of yet another addition of D&D, I started thinking about what I would fix with the previous editions of the game.  It’s been a few weeks now, and I have come to some conclusions:
  • There are things I really like about all versions of D&D, though that  doesn’t mean I actually think that each is a good game.
  • There are better ideas coming from gamers than from the major RPG publishers.  Just a few hours looking at blogs on retro roleplaying proves this
  • I’m willing to give 5e or whatever they call it a try, but I won’t be running out and buying the books.  There are already too many great games available to play, many of them are free.
  • I want to start keeping track of some of the crazy ideas and house rules I come up with, and share them with others.

  • So the announcement of 5e has been a catalyst.  Let’s see what happens next.