Monday, March 30, 2009

OA: Where's the Maiden?

My copy of 1st edition Oriental Adventures arrived today in the mail. Table 73 provides Daily Events for parties out and about. One of the events listed, Maiden, may be encountered while in a Court, City, or Town... but the event is not described. (All the others are)Mysterious...

Also, karate as written is impossible to create on the martial arts style creation tables. Ponderous.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

S&W, Session 7 and semi-finale

To summarize:

Josh and Andy died. Again. They made new characters, who were killed maybe thirty minutes later. All the hirelings died except for one, who I suspect survived only because of GM pity. Cedric the Pious survived, got all the loot, and became level 3 from the sheer amount of treasure-based xp he received. We finally cleared the dungeon out, though our initial reason for entering the dungeon became irrelevant long ago after the first set of characters were wiped out. (Other than Cedric, of course)

By the end of the session, we started to run out of steam and become fatigued. After losing his second character for the night, Josh asked if he could just make the same character again, since he lasted maybe twenty or thirty minutes of real time. Even the DM started hurrying us through things, forgoing wandering monster rolls even after I traveled back to town. Our of fatigue and player frustration at the module, Cedric killed the roadside innkeeper and his wife, though they did swindle him repeatedly. I'm willing to accept an alignment change. The fire seemed to have gone out of our game and the DM suggested that we play something else next week and put S&W on hiatus. I was half tempted to retire Cedric, since I don't see how anyone would want to continue adventuring after losing seven companions and four hirelings to the same dungeon. For now, the game is definitely on hold and Cedric is safe within the folds of my notebook.

Some thoughts I'm having from today's session:

-The lethality of this module is a little ridiculous. Yes, it is traditional D&D and it is supposed to be fairly lethal, but the number of "gotcha" insta-death traps got to be a little aggravating, especially since there were traps that had a random chance of killing you no matter how intelligently or cautiously you are playing. I didn't even bother to learn the names of the last two player characters, which is good because they were dead before the characters they replaced even got cold.

-Having to react to every treasure chest, sarcophagus, and closed door like you are the bomb squad and/or SWAT team also starts to get a little tiresome. I can actually see why people wanted the "dungeon specialist" that eventually became the thief class. Yes, after we've shown that we know how to carefully navigate a hallway or get a chest open, sometimes I wished we had a character who could just throw some dice and do it automatically.

-I don't know that this level of mayhem and death is inherently part of older editions of D&D; I started off with basic D&D and I don't remember it being nearly this deadly. Is "skilled play" something that we just don't get?

Now, I was very fortunate to have my character survive these past seven sessions, when every other character seemed to have a life span of 1-3 sessions. I did get lucky on several saves against poison. I wonder what fun is there to be had if you're going to lose character after character? I did notice that after awhile, replacement characters had a randomly rolled name and really no personality traits.

That all being said, I am sorry that our S&W game is being shelved for now. We were but seven sessions in, and six of those were spent inside the dungeon/module. I was hoping to pursue some other rumors and interests now that we have the cash to make travel a little easier. (Ah, yes...we originally raided the dungeon to get the money to buy a proper boat) I had also thought we were climbing that learning curve, although now I am not quite so confident. Still, the DM laid out a world where there was much to do aside from dungeon crawling. He did say that we could well return to S&W later, so perhaps Cedric the Pious will ride again...hopefully this time with more hirelings and better luck.

I'm not sure what we will be playing when we reconvene. The DM had suggested Sorcerer, which is decidedly not old school but I have been curious to try. (He admits that he's more of an indie guy when it comes to rpgs, whereas my own tastes, while not strictly old school, tend to lean towards more toward the 80's and 90's style of rpgs.) I could go for some sci-fi... I'd really like to play something like Traveller, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Mutant Future, Star Siege, etc. etc. Perhaps he can run Burning Empires and we'll meet somewhere in the middle.

In the mean time, I do have some thinking to do about traditional D&D, old style module design, playability, "skilled play", fun, etc.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

AD&D Goodies

So, recently my reading of OSRIC inspired me to get my hands on the old AD&D books. Thanks to one of my favorite websites of all time, Abebooks.com, I was able to procure the PHB, DMG, MM, and OE for about $25, with the vast majority of that cost being shipping from four different vendors. The MM arrived today, with all of its Lurker Above Dick DM Monster Goodness. Hopefully the rest of them will arrive during the week... the missus goes out of town next weekend and I'll have plenty of time to pour through them.

I'm contemplating going after the MMII, Fiend Folio, Wilderness and Dungeon Survival guides... probably not Unearthed Arcana, which I never owned but have yet to hear many good things about.

I would also kind of like to get my hands on the four Hackmaster "class" books, but these are long term goals, as I have no plans to run any old school fantasy in the foreseeable future. (Though I must admit I've got that itch in the back of my mind.) I figure I can collect them slowly over the weeks and months.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Carcosa: The Movie

A friend from back in college sent me a link this evening. He told me that this is how he would run Carcosa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz-yLWGaIxM

You can also watch the whole thing on Youtube. I got about twenty minutes into it and I'm really enjoying it, but I must away to bed for the evening. I will definitely try to finish this during the week. No robots so far, but it does seem very Carcosa-esque. I'm kind of surprised I'd never seen or heard of this before.

World of Darkness Sanity/Morality, Part II

Ok, I did a post about this already, but I need to nail something down because my chronicle supposedly starts this week.

I have a problem with the Morality system, as I have stated. If you're not familiar with NWoD, it works this way: You start with Morality 7. If you commit petty theft or worse, you make a degeneration roll, using a number of dice determined by the "severity" if what you've done. You get a number of dice to roll, and the worse the crime, the fewer dice you get. If you succeed, your Morality remains the same. If you fail, you lose a point of Morality and then you have to roll to see if you gain a permanent Derangement. Yes, that means that if you knick someone's wallet, the average person does have a chance (however slight) of being driven insane by the experience.

Seriously? I find it easier to believe that the character inhabit a world full of vampires, Frankenstein monsters, and werewolves than I do the notion that you can lose your marbles by stealing a car stereo.

My other objection to the RAW regarding Morality comes from the Asylum source book. Most of the patient characters who have Derangements (keep in mind this is a book about mental asylums)have Morality scores lower than 7. I find this kind of repulsive. So crazy people are immoral/immoral people are crazy?

That's some straight up Victorian shit, yo. Can I take a specialization in Phrenology for my character's medicine skill? Ok, I can see a violent psychopath or sociopath having a "lower" Morality score, using the hierarchy of sins as described by this book...oh, fuck this. Morality mechanics in a game suck. Morality adds nothing to a World of Darkness game.

I think this pretty much seals the deal that I am kicking Morality out and creating a Sanity score. It works much the same way: it starts at 7. Your Sanity is checked when you encounter a traumatic situation or something otherworldly. You roll Willpower (Resolve + Composure) at a penalty appropriate for what you have seen: -2, perhaps, for a grisly ritual murder, maybe -5 if you catch a glimpse of a Lovecraftian horror. I'm not going to codify the table because I don't want Sanity loss to be something that is easy to predict. If you lose a Sanity point, you check to see if you get a Derangement, much like you do for the RAW check for loss of Morality.

In the RAW, it is possible to go above Morality 8. I don't think it is possible to be "saner than sane," so likely I will not allow Sanity to go above 7. I might allow Sanity to be regained under special circumstances, and probably by spending experience points along with it. Characters who are patients can choose to have a Sanity as low as 5 to start, but unlike the RAW with Morality trade in, you do not get experience points for giving yourself lower Sanity; this is a choice players will make entirely of their own will. (If they wanted to play someone sane, they could play someone who is wrongfully admitted to the hospital, or a staff member.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

S&W, Session 6

One of our players was a no show today, which is unfortunate. We lost two hirelings, one to a trapped door that we didn't check, and one in combat against a monster that was designed with the Random Esoteric Creature Generator.

I have three thoughts from today's session:

1. The sleep spell is so damned useful that a 1st level magic-user or elf is really sort of foolish if he doesn't memorize it. It has saved our bacon repeatedly. No saving throw and 4d4 monsters are instantly put down and may be captured or killed at the party's leisure. I believe there are rules sets where it is only 2d4, and I know it doesn't work against undead or anything with 4+ hit dice, but I'd say its head and shoulders above charm person and magic missile in terms of sheer utility. I wouldn't dream of toning this spell down, because several times it has turned a random encounter of a dozen monsters from a TPK-in-waiting to a fair fight.

2. Checking for traps in every hallway and on every door and wall and unusual dungeon feature is an intelligent way to play; it is also occasionally tedious. Okay, so we've checked every single door we've found, and the one we don't check kills a hireling. We also cannot move down a hallway without 10' poles or polearms tapping every square inch of floor. It know it's supposed to be old school and everything, but at some point is it reasonable to assume that the guy with the pole is checking the floor, and that we check a new door? I like the game, but occasionally I do tire of saying "the guy in front checks the floor" for the 14th time in an afternoon.

3. There is no shame in running and/or hiding from an encounter when the wandering monster tables serve up a red dragon or a band of trolls to a party of mostly first level characters. Our party is rapidly becoming squeamish about traveling outside of towns.

Also, the game was moving in the direction of a Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord hybrid. However, the last two sessions we haven't touched LL. I think we're becoming more comfortable with winging most things, as S&W is far more rules lite. One thing I don't dig, however, is that S&W doesn't seem to have any polearms, and I arm my hired fighting men with nothing but polearms.


Edit: How could I forget? I also saved vs. poison. (Successfully, thank goodness)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Random Esoteric Friday!

As you may already know, Jim Raggi over at Lamentations of the Fire Princess (see my blog roll) wrote a little book with a big title: The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Roleplaying Games and Their Modern Simulacra. It has been reviewed several times in the OD&D blog community, so rather than try my own hand at reviewing it, I will summarize: if you have eleven bucks to spend on what is essentially a giant random table for creating crazy-ass* monsters, or if you just like random tables in general, go and buy it.

Here is my first random creation, rolled up on the bus ride home from work earlier this week. (By the way, it is difficult to roll dice on a bus and some people look at your strangely) I humbly present: The Zygorax, presented using AD&D 1st edition stat block format

Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 4
Move: 13" walk, 13" wall-crawling
Hit Dice: 6
% in Lair: 20%
Treasure Type: C
No. of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 2d6/2d4
Special Attacks: nil
Special Defenses: Immune to crushing damage
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (15' tall)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Alignment: N/A (Or Neutral if you really must have one)

The zygorax is an unnatural abomination. It is possible that it resulted from the experiment of some mad sorcerer of ages past, or perhaps it was brought to this world by a summoning spell gone awry or a gate to a nightmarish demi-plane. The creature is encountered so rarely that the answer may never be known.
The zygorax has a pink, fleshy body covered with plates of black chitin. It's unarmored head looks similar to a hairless rat, with gleaming red eyes and a gaping maw. It stands uneasily on six legs of uneven length which jut down from its torso, and has a very long prehensile tail with a stinger on the end. Where the flesh is exposed, there are vestigial, catterpiller-like legs that twitch uncontrollably. the creature moves with a tottering, shambling gait due to the unusual, unstable shape of its body.
In combat, the zygorax attacks with thin, nearly tentacle like arms that it uses to blugeon opponents. In addition, it can use its tail sting for an additional attack every round. (The sting is not poisonous) The creature seems to be able to sense weakness and always attacks the character with the fewest current hit point total to the exclusion of all other opponents. The zygorax hates all natural creatures and will attack them on sight, only fleeing if badly wounded.
The zygorax can move across walls and ceilings at full speed, and can cling to them as if under the effects of a spider climb spell.
Perhaps most freakish of all, the body of a zygorax is actually made of a flexible, cartilage-like substance. The creatures's body is filled with a viscous purple fluid in lieu of organs. Because of this unusual anatomy, the creature is completely immune to any damage from crushing/bludgeoning sources.


...and there you have it, a random and esoteric creature. Thanks, Jim!

*Crazy-ass: I'm talking like Lewis Caroll/H.P. Lovecraft slash fic.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

S&W, Session 5

Highlights:

-Nobody died, not even any hirelings!
-We got a pet robot!
-Just when we were starting to worry about sandbox ADD, we find a portal to another world.
-Nobody died!
-At the rate we are going, I will be level 3 well before the elves are level 2.
-I am really glad OD&D does not have the Good/Evil axis on alignment.
-Seriously, nobody died.
-Cedric the Pious cast his first spell ever. It was, of course, cure light wounds.

Too Many Games

I have too many role playing games. I think I have about thirty-three, if you count different editions of D&D as different games (which I do). I have more than that if you count various free games I have downloaded such as Labyrinth Lord. I have more games than I will ever be able to play or run. In many cases, these games are redundant. For instance, different editions of D&D... multiple superhero games, two different Star Wars games, and more White Wolf than you can shake a clove cigarette at.

I'm not sure why I buy so many games. I know one of my big interests is to see how each different game handles mechanics. It is interesting to me to see the different tropes valued by different game designers. I also think that some part of me wants to write my own homebrew rules system someday, and by reading different systems, I get a sense of what I like in game mechanics. I also like seeing different takes on the same type of game... The Riddle of Steel is a totally different ballgame than Cyclopedic D&D, even though they are both "fantasy" games.

There has been some rotation on my old gaming shelf. New games come and I get rid of old ones, though the rotation has decreased as adult life has siphoned away some of the time and money I used to be able to invest in buying and reading gaming books.

I think, to an extent, I am also suffering from "new edition fatigue." In the last few years, I have seen just about every one of the "big" gaming companies toss out a new edition or reboot of some kind: D&D 4th edition, Shadowrun 4th edition, GURPS 4th Edition, the new World of Darkness and all of its new game lines, and so on. I've largely given up on buying source books or supplements of any kind, since roleplaying games seem to have settled into a cycle of obsolescence worthy of video game consoles.

System curiosity aside, how much mileage do I get out of any given game on my shelf? The answer would be "depressingly little" for most of them. In light of that, I don't think I'm going to be adding any more material to my gaming shelf, unless I can see myself using that material within several weeks of purchase. No more new systems, no more splatbooks. I think this is the year that I go completely DIY as far as pen-and-paper gaming is concerned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New World of Darkness: A thought

My upcoming NWoD game is going to be set in a mental hospital besieged by supernatural forces. I think that this is the perfect setting to do what I've always wanted to do with the Morality system; namely to kick it the hell out.

I am replacing Morality with a Sanity score. As I discussed in a previous post, I don't like alignments or other attempts to measure the ethics of a character. I also think that, for this particular chronicle, a character's sanity (or lack thereof) is much more important.

I'm looking at one of two ways of handling this:

1. Use the Morality rules but change it to be Sanity based. That is, characters have to make rolls to avoid losing sanity when they encounter horrible, mind bending shit. The number of dice they roll will depend on what they encounter; an awful but non-supernatural encounter will roll more dice to resist Sanity loss than, say, coming face to face with something out of Lovecraft or just encountering the obviously supernatural for the first time. For ever point below Sanity 7, they will gain a Derangement or a pre-existing arrangement will become more severe. I might borrow somewhat from the Clarity rules in new Changeling.

2. Have Sanity as "mental hit points." Perhaps Sanity is equal to Resolve plus Composure. (Though I realize this would make it equal to Willpower) On the other hand, perhaps the character adds a base number to the lower of Resolve or Composure. (Perhaps the base is three for patients and five for staff members, or the same for everyone.) Supernatural or horrible encounters have a certain number of dice associated with them that roll "damage" against a character's mental health levels. If they are reduced to zero, the character gains a Derangement or an existing worsens. A character who takes too much mental damage during one session might run the risk of going catatonic. In fact, the campaign could be run in such a manner that only mental hit points are used for damage. (Eh, that's a little too Forgie for me)

I'm launching this game in about a week and a half, so I'd better nail this one down quickly.

Re-inventing the Wheel

I haven't been blogging a whole lot lately for a couple of reasons, but I will try to get better. (Because I know there are teeming masses of readers who hinge on my every word!)

One of the reasons is that I've been playing a play-by-blog game of homebrew AD&D run by Alexis over at The Tao of D&D. (Which you can access off my blog roll.) I'm posting as Kazimir. It's been a lot of fun so far even if our group is off to a rocky start. (We've already killed our employer's henchman for admittedly no goddamn reason, for instance) Though we've barely gotten off the ground, the game has been quite educational. I always like to see how other DMs do their thing, plus the world is quite historical. I feel inspired to do a little research on medieval society for my next D&D or AD&D campaign. (Which admittedly is a long ways off)

Another reason is that I've been working on a modification of old D&D. Over the past month or two, there has been much wailing and gnashing of classes in blogland. People have been dissecting and/or banishing the thief and cleric. It got me thinking...

So, my rewrite is going in one of several directions. These are just some preliminary thoughts I scribbled in my notebook while riding the bus.

1. Two basic classes, fighter and magic-user, with sub-classes of each. It would look something like this:

Fighter (Ranger, Paladin, Barbarian, Raconteur)
Magic-user (Sorcerer, Priest, Channeller, Sage, Druid)

The Raconteur would be sort of a roguish character; the sneaky and glib aspects of the thief and bard without the trap disarming and whatnot. (Though he'll likely have pick pocket, sneak attack, and maybe some kind of disguise) I was considering giving him a little magic, as well. This class was inspired by the Gygax idea for the never-was revision of AD&D, plus characters like Grey Mouser and Cugel, plus the fact that I want the option of a "sneaky" character in the game.

The Sorcerer would be a summoner/pact type caster, similar to the Carcosa class but probably not going the Cthuloid route. (Maybe demons or elementals or something)The mechanics might be based on the evil cleric's ability to command undead.

Priest will basically be a magic-user with clerical spells, and perhaps Turn Undead, either as a class ability or maybe I'll make Turn Undead into a spell.

Channeller (Probably a different name) would be the spontaneous caster, an idea I liked in theory but not in the way it was presented in 3rd edition. This would essentially be a "spell point" caster who can harness magically. I might give them Druid spells, or maybe make this the default way that elves cast spells and give them a hybrid magic-user/druid spell list. This is just a basic idea and might get axed.

Druid wouldn't have the crazy ass 9th level cleric requirement. It might literally just be a magic-user with an alternate spell list and maybe a couple special abilities.

Sage would be a class that can cast any spell and probably have some legend lore abilities or the ability to analyze magic items. Option on naming this scholar, with maybe sage being the name level title.

This route was inspired by Carcosa (just fighter, just magic-user) and by the original Final Fantasy Tactics, where there were basically two routes you could go (fighter or caster), but many different branches of each. Sub-classes would all have ability requirements of some kind.

2. A modified version of the "four point" system found in the old OD&Dities fanzine. Basically, it broke characters down into five areas: hit dice, combat abilities, wizard spells, cleric spells, and thief skills. You put points into each one and that determined how good you were. It was possible to recreate any of the classes normally, if I recall. There was a different table for each race. (Dwarves had to invest a lot of points just to be crappy at wizard magic, for instance, and all the races had different possible spreads of hit die.) I'm thinking I would merge the two spells into one category, but force the character to choose "white" or "black" magic. Also thief skills would probably be replaced with some kind of d6 based "skill" system. (For hearing noise, sneaking, etc.. everyone would have some ability in it, but you could invest points to be better at it) Not sure what I'd do about races yet.

More on this as it develops

Monday, March 2, 2009

Alas

The names of all the new classes in the 4e PHB 2 were released today. It seems like not long ago I was anxiously speculating with a friend as to what they would be.

I really did want to like 4th edition. I had hoped that, somehow, the game would start going in a direction that I would be interested in again.

I also wish I had finished my 4th edition campaign, as the players really enjoyed the story, (oh no, the "s" word!) but ultimately we ran out of patience with the mechanics of it all.

In the FLGS that hosts the S&W/LL game I play in every weekend, we sit at a table located under a Worldwide D&D Game poster for 2009. The poster has a big goliath barbarian with an axe that seems to be made of purple crystal, and next to him is a petite shifter druid (or maybe shaman, since her animals look like spirits), and it just sort of looks...I guess "dungeonpunk" or whatever. This is not a flavor that appeals to me, unfortunately.

...it's sort of like my recent reading of the story and characters of Final Fantasy XIII and wondering how it could possibly have anything in common with the games I played that had black mages with floppy hats and chocobos.

Ah, screw it...anybody know of any SenZar games starting up?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

S&W, Session 4

We hired ourselves three fighting men and one thief. We ran into a cockatrice on the way to the dungeon and the fucking thief got petrified. The thief was actually the hireling I wanted most. I swore a lot. On a brighter note, Cedric the Pious reached level 2 and can now cast spells. Well, one spell a day, anyway.

Our DM continues to flirt with the idea of going full on Labyrinth Lord, since we seem to have to consult it several times a session. The discrepancies between armor weight and cost between the two games is sometimes quite eye-popping. Also, there do not seem to be any polearms in S&W...and we can't have that, precious. The DM seems to dig on the one saving throw concept in S&W, so I think the game will remain a hybrid for now.
Also, max roll on new hit points. Holler.