Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deathfrostdoom!

I neglected to mention that my copy of the infamous Death Frost Doom arrived on my doorstep yesterday. A small but mighty little booklet, it really clicks with my recent tower scenario and the way that I have been thinking of module design lately.

The artwork is creepy and sort of reminds me of the old Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. (Although maybe not quite as....drippy...) The module is filled with subtly unsettling items, both magical and mundane. (Well, I should say non-magical rather than mundane...very little in this module is mundane.) I won't go so far as to post a formal review, but this is an inventive, crazy, deadly module, and I can't wait to run it at Nuke Con in October. Oh, and it has a neat little cryptogram in the back, which has nothing really to do with the module but was a fun little addition nonetheless.

I will say this in closing: It has been a long time since I read a module that made me say "Holy friggin' crap!" every other entry or so.

Perhaps My Favorite Part of D&D

Last night was session 12 of my Tuesday night First Edition game. Somewhat to my surprise, there was not a single combat. (Well, one character did kill a piercer which was feeding on a dead goblin, but I'd hardly call it a combat.) The only major potential throwdown (a group of albino carnivorous apes) was defused by the cleric's timely casting of speak with animals and a good reaction roll. ("I knew that spell would come in handy!" the player exclaimed.)

The entire session consisted of exploring the various strange floors of Radamant's Tower. The party found many strange things, but bypassed many things as well, as they are chasing an evil NPC magic-user who entered the tower ahead of them. (Due to their nine day delay while the thief recuperated and they chased down a cult of people worshipping a coven of jackalweres.) The party seems very interested in exploring the rest of the dungeon once they catch the magic-user.

I absolutely loved watching them toy with the various strange devices they found in the tower. The exploration aspect of traditional D&D is probably the best part, for me anyway. I absolutely relish seeing what they poke, what they steal, and what they tiptoe around out of paranoia or common sense.

The two highlights of the session:

1. A player told me that he couldn't wait to see what was in the next room or hallway of the tower.

2. That same player has the idea of clearing out this tower and claiming it as a stronghold for the party! I thought it was a fantastic idea, though I told them it will take some cash, (to repair the damaged sections and perhaps dig a more accessible entrance) time, and effort (clearing out the monsters, blocking access to the sunken tower from the underworld.)

This was actually one of my favorite sessions so far. Now, I just need to come up with some ad-hoc experience for them. (Since they killed nothing but a piercer and found relatively little treasure.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Raise the Dead

Recently I have been growing on the idea of removing Raise Dead from future campaigns. I'm losing the ability to buy into a society where the dead can be raised, but where good aligned priests charge more for the service than anyone except the wealthy (or adventurers) can afford. If a peasant man dies in an cart accident and leaves a wife and seven children with nobody to provide for them, is the neutral good cleric going to leave them to starve because they can't pay thousands of gold to have their father revived? This is also making me think about the various spells to remove blindness, madness, etc... but that is another post altogether.

Perhaps I'd leave in the reincarnation spell and/or the high level resurrection, but good luck finding a cleric high enough level to know the latter spell.

Of course, if I did this, I'd probably have to do something to make the campaign a little less deadly...perhaps death at -10 or the Hit Point/Constitution duo method. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I was discussing the removal of a raise spell with my wife last night, and she ventured the opinion that raise dead was an unclean spell that should be avoided by good clerics. In her opinion, such a spell challenges the realm of the gods themselves. We had a pretty interesting debate about the subject, with my general opinion being that the cleric would never be granted a spell that his deity did not approve of. We eventually drifted into the discussion of just what clerical magic is, and by discarding the basic assumptions of D&D, we found we were no longer discussing the game as written. (Not always a bad thing)

Now more than ever, I want to merge the cleric and the paladin into a class that can turn and use paladin-like powers, but with few or no spells. Meanwhile, I want magic-users that either have to pick between light and darkness (cleric/MU lists) or to divide the spells into white/black/gray a la the rules over at Akratic Wizardry. (GO and check them out...worth a read)

Here's a thought.... perhaps a slain character can only be revived if his companions can retrieve him from a mythical underworld, a la Eurydice and Orpheus.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Impressions of Palladium Fantasy

Somehow I managed to read the 300+ page book without ever feeling like I was reading a 300+ page rpg core book. This might be because I read it in chunks and out of order, by the subjects that interested me most. (Perhaps this is the key to get through new core books...)

This feels like someone's quest (Kevin's, obviously) to "fix" AD&D... at least, that is my overall perception of it. We still have Hit Points, Alignment, and Character Classes, and most of the races are pretty bog standard. (Though I do like his take on orcs rather a lot.)

On the other hand, power-glut reputation of Palladium aside, there is a lot to like here. We have several distinct systems of magic, including wizards who use magic through symbols or circles and have no ability to cast spells. The book will gladly let you play monsters, but they emphasize the social disadvantages, larger monsters having to eat huge amounts of food, etc. Combat is slightly more tactical than AD&D, but can still be easily done without minatures. (Perhaps moreso) You have psionics that behave mechanically quite a bit like magic. (This attracts me as a DM, because I hate it when magic and psi in a game are so different that I have to "study" the one I am least receptive to)

One thing that endeared me to Palladium's fantasy game is the author's attempts to explain away various fantasy tropes that are largely a product of AD&D. For instance, wizards and armor: wizards can wear metal armor, but it disrupts their spellcasting and makes them pay extra PPE (spell points, basically) and reduces the effeciveness of their spells. (They can wear leather without penalty, though) Dwarves don't use magic because when their race possessed magic in ancient times, they nearly destroyed themselves and their enemies with the forces they unleashed. While they have eventually gotten over their fear of magic weapons and items, the race has sworn off learning actual magical spells.

I would actually love to run a campaign with this game system someday. I'm not sure I'd use their in-house setting, but I'm not going to rule it out, either. This will have to wait anyway; I haven't even gotten to the good stuff in my AD&D 1st edition game.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Uncommon Display of Self-Restraint

Yesterday I once again found myself at the used book store. Someone must have unloaded their old gaming collection... I found core rules for Alternity, one of the Amazing Engine Games (Khromosome or something... a cyberpunk knockoff), Cyberpunk 2020, Legend of the Five Rings 2nd edition, Quest of the Ancients (which looked absolutely terrible, and also claimed that it could be "The Swords and Sorcery Product of the 90's.), and some universal system I didn't recognize and have actually forgotten the name off. All those systems, and I managed to choke off my bizarre collector's urges and not buy any system for the sake of buying a system. Holy god, perhaps this is the seed of discipline finally germinating in my thick skull.

I did, however, buy Player's Option: Combat and Tactics for five bucks. I can actually feel some of you flinch reading that. I bought it because it is the "missing link" between 2nd edition AD&D combat and d20 combat. In this book, you can see the beginnings of standardized critical hits, attacks of opportunity, d20-style miniature based conventions, weapon reach, and a rudimentary feat system using proficiency slots. (I believe many of the "proficiencies" listed did actually become feats in 3rd edition.) At the same time, there are still older elements like the old overbearing rules and weapon speeds. My interest in it is purely academic. I consider Combat & Tactics and the Alternity system to be the parents of d20. I suppose you could say I bought the book to see where everything started to go so horribly wrong. The book also contains extensive lists of weapons and armor from a variety of time periods, so that might prove somewhat useful.

Oh, on a side note: the Netrunner from Cyberpunk 2020 looks ridiculous, especially looking back from a contemporary world where wireless internet is widespread.

I Hate Wizards of the Coast (More)

My buddy bought a new WotC/Avalon Hill board game, brought it over to my house sealed, and it is missing a bag of plastic pieces and one of the markers.

This is, of course, the latest blood pressure raising event in a string of such events leading all the way back to the introduction of 3.5.

A plague on your house, WotC.

(Yes, I know that AH will send us replacement pieces, but this is just another reason that I've pretty much moved all my spending dollars to other companies that don't have their heads shoved up a certain bodily orifice.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Books Ordered (Le Sigh)

A few days ago I preorderd White Wolf's latest game, Geist: the Sin-Eaters. (The game has a ponderous name, to be sure) These days, ordering the "revolving fourth" game seems to be a reflex for me. I still haven't read Promethean, Changeling, or Hunter in their entireties. I will admit that I am a slave to habit, however, so Geist is on the way.

I was emailed by Noble Knight Games today to inform me that the infamous Death Frost Doom (Deathfrostdoom!) has been restocked, so I ordered a copy. It won't be here for probably two weeks, as I ordered El Cheapo Shipping, but I will be plenty preoccupied in near future, so perhaps it is for the best.

It just occurred to me that I should run Death Frost Doom (deathfrostdoom!) at the local gaming convention in October. (I could do it back-to-back with Temple of Zirugar.) I hope it is half as much fun to read/run as it is to say.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Freaky-Deaky Aftermath

Ok, we didn't make as much progress as I'd have liked, but the characters did get a face full of paralyzing mobile plant action, thanks partially to the Random Esoteric Creature Generator.

Interestingly enough, the guy playing the druid has a most excellent look of alarm on his face as I described the creature.

I can't wait until next Tuesday, when the characters can plumb the deeper depths of sunken Radmant's Tower.

AD&D: Let the Freaky Deakiness Begin

Alright, first off... if you're one of my Tuesday night AD&D players, don't read this entry. As they say in the South: git on outta hyeah!



...now, for the rest of you:

Today I was at lunch, doing some prep for tonight's AD&D swoiree, when I found myself trying to answer the question "How do you have monsters still kicking around in a tower that's been buried for one hundred years who 1.) aren't undead, and 2.) aren't scavengers? All of a sudden, two words came unbidden to my mind:

Stasis tubes

...which was quickly revised to stasis spheres.

Suddenly, the magician's remains at the bottom of the tower went from musty old skeleton to must old skeleton hooked up to a crazy ass planar contact machine, and I'm sure I can find room for a brain-in-a-jar somewhere...

Here we are going into the 11th week of the campaign, and so far it has been pretty bog-standard fantasy. Most of my D&D games don't make it this long without getting at least a little unusual, so let this be the first step.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kung-Fu Wisdom Applied To Gaming (Or, Ryan Learns the True Meaning of Christmas)

Tonight I was at training, and at the end of the evening, sifu had a little chat with us. When I got home, I realized that some of it could also be applied to gaming, and, particularly, blogging about gaming.

There are many different games out there. Each one is different, though all share the same basic concept. You play the game you want to play because you believe it is the best. If you thought there was a better game, you'd be playing that instead, wouldn't you?

So, if your game is really the best, why do people play other games? Because those games give those players what they want. My game has levels, and some don't. Some people aren't interested in games with levels. Some people want to play games where a characters life goals and desires have a mechanical impact on game play, and some don't.

Sometimes, when you advertise or promote something you are passionate about, people who play other games can get their feathers ruffled. Not always, but sometimes they do... some people want to prove that their game is somehow better. We don't need to do that. We don't need to visit the forums of every other game and tell them "hey, my game is better."

But don't get me wrong, never apologize or excuse yourself for what you are passionate about and what you believe in. If you like systems with SDC, if that gives you what you want, never apologize for it. You play what you believe to be the best, and you should never be shy about saying it. Does that mean you have to build your game up by ripping other games down? No. The best way to demonstrate what you believe is to just keep doing what works for you.

Also, remember that you don't just have to play one game. If you take different things from different systems, play as many as you have the time and energy for.

Obviously, in the original context, these words were talking about martial arts styles, and none of this is new advice 'round these parts, but for some reason it struck a chord with me tonight, and I thought I'd share it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I like Fudge (The RPG)

...well, I also like the desert, particularly that of the peanut butter variety, but that is another story.

I first played Fudge at a convention in my hometown somewhere around 2000-2001. I had heard of it before, but never had I seen or played it. The gentleman running it had prepared a scenario based on the TV show G vs. E (which I never watched), and it was such a good time I tracked the book and some special Fudge Dice (not actually made from Fudge, mind you) at one of the vendor booths.

In the eight or nine years since then, I have tinkered with Fudge from time to time, often filling mini-notebooks with campaign ideas and game mechanics. (Fudge is perhaps the must customizable rpg I have ever encountered.) Unfortunately, I have only run Fudge twice: one shots in 2004 and 2006, give or take. One of them was an 18th century monster hunting oneshot where a blacksmith and some brave villagers stormed the castle of a Frankenstein wannabe to save his daughter from becoming monster parts. The other session was a quirky, Quick-and-the-Dead style western, complete with exploding watchtower and squinty eyed bad guy. Both sessions were an absolute blast.

...so why don't I play this game more?

I suppose one reason is the amount of prep time. Fudge has no preset attributes, no preset skills, and only a bare skeleton of a combat system. The GM is supposed to make up the number of stats and define what they are, as well as decide how skills work, everything from depth (is there a Melee skill, or Heavy Blades vs. Light Blades vs. Polearms, or are we talking Broadsword, Longsword, Dagger, Heavy Crossbow, Light Crossbow all as separates?) to whether or not they are packaged (as pseudo-character classes) or separate, etc, etc. In fact, everything is so customizable that all my attemps to create a coherent campaign out of Fudge stall as I get stuck obsessing over a particular subsystem, such as how magic works or how to work out damage vs. wounds in combat. I believe, to date, I have partially developed Fudge rules for a 70's Action/Blaxploitation game, a weird ass pulp/four color superhero game, several attempts at a fantasy heartbreaker(gods do I hate Edwardsian terminology, but I just can't shake that one), a Victorian era monster hunting game, a modern monster hunting game, and conversions of Steve Jackson's In Nomine and Dream Pod 9's Tribe 8. Oh, and a zombie mecha game. (A friend and I were in a rather whimsical mood) I have finished exactly none of these, and aside from the In Nomine conversion, I have long ago lost or tossed the notebooks containing the rest of the material.

Despite the strange ADD that grips me when I fiddle around with it, this game continues to dwell in the back of my mind. The rules liteness, the sheer mutability of it... and of course, if you take the game's use of adjectives to evaluate stats and skills (My Intellect might be Great and my Sword skill Fair and my Compose Improvised Haiku might be Mediocre, for instance)

A haiku for fudge
the dice are many colors
and the stats are vague


(Sorry, after typing improvised haiku I couldn't help myself)

...anyway, the adjectives are also used to determine the outcome of various tasks. I like this because it syncs up with the creed of "rulings, not rules." If Joe gets a Great job on his climb check, what does that mean? We could say he beats the party to the top, or perhaps he is not as fatigued. You could even rule the results of an entire combat using them. If the party is attacked by orcs, you could use the adjective to determine how they come out of it. (Modified, of course, by the monster... going Good against orcs means you come out with a light wound or perhaps a shattered shield, whereas doing Good against an Ancient Red Dragon might mean that you put up a really impressive fight before being burned to cinders.)

I have far too much on my plate right now to run another game (much to my chagrin), but someday I intend to give Fudge the attention it deserves and run at least a brief mini-campaign with it.

Plus, you know....those Fudge dice are just cool and puzzle the hell out of anyone who comes across one when digging through my humble communal dice pool.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Few Other AD&D Thoughts

-One of my players told me of a conversation she recently had with her S.O., who is also a player in my game. They were discussing the difficulty of the dungeon the party was exploring. He told her that his old DM would scale the dungeon if the party is not doing well.
This is something that I philisophically oppose as a DM. Despite the difficulties they have faced, the only monster that is above their hit dice or capability to damage is the lurker, which they have killed. (I must also mention that there was a very simple way they could have avoided the lurker entirely)I would not say the dungeon is "above" their level, but I will not deny that it is challenging.
That being said, I am not going to shrink a dragon by an age category or knock a few levels off the black knight because the party isn't doing well. If they aren't doing well, they need to change their tactics or else run away. I'm not going to cut Sauron's hit points in half if they want to gun it straight for Mordor, you dig?
I am also not opposed to encounters that are "impossible" for the party to take on in a straight fight. However, I will never make such a situation inescapable. Running or being clever or sneaking or bribing... there are ways around a foe who you cannot best with sword or spell.

-Later, that same player was thinking aloud about my game in comparison to WoW. She thinks I have divided my campaign into "zones" and that they need to become more powerful before facing the magic-user in the dungeon outside of town. (They have already made a brief foray into this dungeon)
I certainly hope they don't think that magic-user is going to just sit on his laurels and wait for them to get strong enough to kill him, especially after he is aware of the loss of certain minions...

Tuesday AD&D and Passing Thoughts

Last night was the ninth session of my AD&D game. I am enjoying it immensely. The party actually took a vastly different path than I expected, and so I found that I had to do some on the spot creation of NPCs and such. In my "typical" campaigns, I actually do very little prep work and do rather a lot of improvisation, but for some reason this campaign has seen a lot of prep work on my part. Of course, last night sort of validates why I usually do relatively little prep work: if you map it, they will walk on by. :)
Actually, last night I created an NPC that I like quite a bit: Yozol, a dealer in various types of lotus, orchid, and other botanical pleasures, mostly of an illegal variety. The party druid tried to suggest that the town guard might find out about his operation, but Yozol cheerfully conveyed that the captain of the guard is among his favored customers. One of the characters purchased some scarlet lotus, a powerful stimulant, much to the chagrin of the rest of the party.

I had to ad hoc experience last night, as the party did accomplish some things, but little in the way of monster killing or loot grabbing. I didn't want them to walk away with nothing, so I doled out a few hundred points. It seems that I am resolved to use the rules as written, except when I don't. Rather than go completely ad hoc, I think I will award ad hoc experience in addition to what is earned by killing and looting.

Hey, experience solved.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I Am The Maze Controller!

Tonight I picked up a copy of Mazes and Monsters for three bucks at the local used book store. I just had a screening at my house with the missus (who has seen it many times) and a friend of ours who plays in my Tuesday night AD&D game, who had never seen it. I think part of him just died a little.

Do ye enter?!
AYE!