Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random Update Tidbits

-Our youngest player rejoined my AD&D1 game last Tuesday. He never intended to leave the game; he just had a date for that particular night. I'm glad.

-My AD&D game is transitioning back into fantasy mode, having spent the last three months or so in a Mutant Future/Gamma World crossover of sorts. The dungeon they are in is rumored to have many planar gateways, and one of them must certainly lead back to their home world, right...?

-WFRP1 did not run this weekend, but given that it is a pick-up game, I have no worries.

-I managed to successfully put aside some time for the perusal of gaming materials this weekend. I read most of Rob Conley's Supplement VI, and on a lark I read some of Requiem for Rome. More thoughts on that later. (I'm taking a brief break from grading papers. My, they do tend to pile up, don't they?)

-I think I'm going to set aside (or at least, try to set aside) thirty minutes each night to read gaming materials. It might not seem like much, but I have a lot of material yet to read and without a schedule I'm unlikely to read any of it.

-I had misplaced my newly acquired copy of Al-Qadim, only to find it under a stack of grammar quizzes. Lovely.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some Thoughts on Supplement VI

Today I sat down and read about 85 pages of Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands. I don't know if I'll be able to sit down and read the other half until next weekend, but I have enjoyed reading the first half immensely. A few key thoughts:

-I really dig the way Conley does sub-classes. For the most part, the classes are easy to qualify for, unlike many of the classes of old AD&D. However, each sub-class generally has a set of rules that one must abide by, or at least some kind of routine/maintenance. For instance, members of the various orders of magic-users must often be tested to advance to certain levels, and the soldier sub-class must spend a certain amount of time doing drills to maintain his abilities. While many of the sub-classes are specific to Conley's campaign, they could easily be adapted to just about any campaign. The only thing I didn't like about the sub-classes is the weird animal buddy that Myrmidons of Set get.

I do have one question about the Berserker, so Rob, if you're reading, can you answer me this: if I am reading the rules right, must the berserker attain 3rd level before he can rage? The rules state 1/day for every three levels attained. The other way I could see it interpreted is that berserkers can rage 1/day at levels 1-3, then 2/day at levels 4-6, etc.

-Conley isn't really about balance, and believe it or not, that's okay. A race of demons is not going to be perfectly balanced against, say, gnomes, and that's just the way it is. I am a firm believer that game balance is impossible to attain without inviting the ludicrous into your games. (Then we get games where you can hit insubstantial creatures with an ordinary weapon for half damage, or where you can trip a cube-shaped monster, but I done beat that dead horse) I like the asymmetry between the races.

-Though many of you old-schoolers hate skill systems and shake your fists at them, Conley has implemented something very light and unobtrusive. Conley also addresses how skill systems work in his style of play, and the commentary is much appreciated. This skill system doesn't leave much room for min/maxing or the build mentality. I'd say it gets the job done. If you don't care to use it, however, his rogue character classes are not going to work as written in your game. Most of them are easily adapted to whatever structure your thief-type classes operate on, with the exception of the merchant adventurer...I'm not sure what you'd do with him if you didn't use a skill system of some sort.

-Rituals are something I like the idea of, but my nitpick is that any "ordinary" spell can be used as a ritual. I'd be more inclined to make rituals their own thing. If I included rituals in a campaign, they'd likely be the remnant of the wizardry used by an ancient race, rather than just different ways to cast spells from the spell list.
...on the other hand, it might be interesting to try a campaign where this is the only way to cast spells. At any rate, the ritual system included in the book gave me some food for thought. (Though I could say that about just about anything from the book thus far.)

The remainder of the book is dedicated to descriptions of the various regions and cultures of the setting. Anyone reading the "crunch" section of the book will glean some of this history and flavor, as it is mentioned in an anecdotal fashion in the descriptions of the races and some of the classes. I am less likely to implement any of the setting elements wholesale, but I am always eager to see how other DMs set up their campaign worlds.

In the end, I'd say this book has a lot of good ideas and is a shining example of how to take the game and make it your own. I'd say it is definitely worth a read, even if you are a fan of DIY campaign worlds. I will likely post my opinions of the setting once I finish the book entirely.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Swag'd

Earlier this week I was contacted by Mark Plemmons of Kenzer & Co. He offered me a free PDF copy of HackMaster Basic, a book I had been contemplating several months ago. I graciously accepted, and shall post a review once I've had a chance to peruse the file. This will be the second PDF I have received from a publisher as the result of my blogging. Typically I don't do formal "reviews," but I have shared my thoughts on many of the products I've purchased since I starting this thing. I do want to publicly thank Mr. Plemmons for sending me the gift. I have flipped through a hard copy of HMB that is in stock at my LGS, but I have not had time to properly dig in. I will give HMB the dubious honor of being one of about three books in the "current/new" section to actually pique my interest. (As an aside, I'm seriously looking forward to seeing OSR stuff on the shelves, because my trips to nearby gaming stores are becoming increasingly shorter and more disappointing, what with 4E, WFRP3, Pathfinder, and a slew of other things I will have no truck with.)

Speaking of which, I received copies of both Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands and Jim Raggi's No Dignity in Death. I find myself exceedingly strapped for time due to my recent change in vocation, but I shall make a concerted effort to reserve some time this Saturday morning for the sole purpose of reading my new gaming materials.

I will provide a bit of feedback from one of my AD&D players regarding Rob Conley's book: after flipping through it, he said something to the effect of "this is definitely it's own thing." (I do believe he intended this comment in a favorable light.) I am already quite taken with many of the sub-classes. Further thoughts shall follow when I have time for more than a quick once-over.

Game on, everyone!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Burning through that text book money

I'm still waiting for my copy of Rob Conley's "Supplement VI." It shipped a few days ago, so I suspect I'll get it on Monday.

Tonight I went to spend some more of that book money, and bought myself a copy of Mr. Raggi's No Dignity in Death. I then went to purchase a copy of the infamous Carcosa, only to find that it is no longer available in hard copy. I don't like PDFs, so it looks like Carcosa and I are not meant to be. Bummer. Maybe someday McKinney will produce some hard copies again.

The world building bug

I have got the world-building bug something awful. With the addition of Al-Qadim to my gaming collection, and the fact that I am currently teaching Beowulf to two of my classes, I find myself wanting to sketch out new fantasy worlds.

Fortunately for me, most of my current campaign's world has been left undeveloped or vaguely sketched out; the only environs that got much detail were the town of Ersel and the areas of note immediately surrounding it. (These being mostly dungeons: the old cemetery, a nearby crumbled fortress, Radamant's tower, etc.)

Another thing I have been thinking about is racial magic. That's a can of worms I'm not sure I want to open with D&D, but perhaps with another system. Rereading Beowulf, I was caught up by the fact that magic and spells are mentioned, but generally only used by non-human entities. (Grendel has spells on him that make him immune to normal weapons, and Beowulf kills Grendel's mother by using a magical sword crafted by giants.) Perhaps dwarfs and giants can only enspell metals or earth... a dwarf couldn't summon a demon but could potentially make a magical hammer or axe, or perhaps magically sealing mithril gates for his clan's keep. Perhaps dwarves and giants use similar magic, which might account for some of the enmity between the two races. (Did one steal the magic of the other?) One of the very, very few things I liked about 4e is that all the monster races had idiosyncratic spellcasters... goblins had spellcasters who used hexes and curses, whereas hobogoblin war mages attacked with blasts of force, etc, etc. Of course, all monster magic was effective only in terms of combat, but I liked the basic idea.

I won't be changing the magic system for my current campaign, but it might be time to fill in some world details a little more. I find that I like this blank slate approach more than my usual "got to map it all" approach.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For Shame

I canceled my AD&D game session tonight. My new responsibilities are leaving me quite drained for time, and while I am gradually doing a better job of balancing out my time, today was madness and left me quite drained. In addition, there was a freezing rain advisory issued for my county, and one of my players lives in the neighboring city across the river. I also think I might be coming down with a cold.

I don't feel that bad, because this is only the second time we've canceled a session, and the campaign has been going since June 9th, 2009. I might be able to get in a make-up session on Thursday or Sunday to keep our sterling record sterling. Besides, I get cranky when I don't get my AD&D (though the surprise session of WHFRP on Sunday will stave of the shakes, for a time.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Al-Qadim!

I was at the LGS this evening, since I realized I have not left the house in two days. I was fortunate enough to discover a copy of the main Al-Qadim book for five bucks. I find that much of the material is easily converted to 1st edition, and if I ever ran this (or included a Middle Eastern type land in my game) I could make some of the kits into full-fledged subclasses to replace some of the less appropriate classes. The AQ book has some very quality, evocative artwork in it. I'm very pleased with my find. I think I sometimes perplex the shop owner in the way that I blow past the new stuff and spend most of my time digging in the used game boxes, but dammit, that's how I roll. That is, of course, unless you OSR guys can get some product into distribution and onto shelves this year...

Quick thought- magical halflings

So I was watching Willow today, and now I'm thinking that in my next campaign, halflings will be able to use magic. (That is, they can advance as magic-users) I'm kind of tired of hobbits, and I want nothing to do with the scrawny, dreadlocked halflings of contemporary editions.


...you know, I could even make this change in my present campaign if so desired; we have no halflings in the party as of yet, and I don't think the characters have even met any halfling NPCs.

I think I'm going to play up the "wee folk" aspect of halflings and make them semi-magical creatures like leprechauns, brownies, etc. It might make for an interesting campaign world detail.

Doomstones of Doom

Tonight we started a pick-up game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st edition. One of my AD&D players is running it, and the two players are me and one of the other AD&D gents. We're running through the infamous Doomstones campaign. I know how Doomstones ends, but I'm enjoying myself anyway.

One thing I have always loved about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st and 2nd editions) is the character generation. There is something about it which is fun and satisfying to me. I could crank out WHFRP characters all night. In fact, I just cranked one out during this blog post. (Human raconteur!) I think I enjoy taking what the dice give me and making it my own.

I think my tastes are gravitating a bit more toward WHFRP 1st ed. The 2nd edition is a little cleaner, mechanically, and I like the magic system better. However, 1st edition WHFRP has a flavor I like a lot more, plus the asymmetry of the system has some of that old school charm to it. There are things about it I'd house rule (2nd edition parry rules come to mind, and perhaps 2nd edition advancement costs), but in most categories I think the original iteration comes out on top.Luckily, the first two editions are similar enough that material can be converted between them with very little fuss. Well, very little fuss, that is, except for the magic system. I'm still working on something that combines the flavor and variety of 1st edition with the mechanical improvements of the 2nd edition.

This should be fun. I look forward to the next session.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lulu is having a site-wide 20% off sale this weekend, so I think I will reach into my mostly empty pockets and buy Rob Conley's Supplement VI. I was thinking about a copy of OSRIC Unearthed, but reading James M.'s review of it at Grognardia, it doesn't sound like something I have much use for. I was considering purchasing Xplorers, but I already own several sci-fi RPGs (Traveller, Star Frontiers, D6 Star Wars, Dark Heresy) and I don't really see the utility of adding more. Still, the sales goes through the 18th and I may yet change my mind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Easy Come, Easy Go

Well, our youngest player has discovered the fairer sex, and found one of them that wants to play video games with him, so I'm afraid he is likely lost to us. Still, we wish him well, and for the time being the party has an NPC druid, their current sole source of healing.

The party has entered the Citadel of Chaos, the final stop before they use the Chaos Gates to (presumably) return to their fantasy world, thus ending the "Gamma World/Mutant Future" segment of the campaign. Time to figure out what happened in the year or so they have been gone. (Time flows differently on Tarraxian, after all)

Oh, and one final thought: sometimes, players are able to avoid a nasty death simply by being prudent; not every hazard needs a saving throw to avoid.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Another note on Dragon 109

One bit about 109 that I didn't cover in my previous post: the author suggests that if anyone is allowed to play a customized character class, that everyone in the group should be customized. Using the article as the author intended, this does give an edge to someone who rebuilds one of the standard character classes, as they advance faster using the formula in the article.

I'm going to have to tweak these numbers to produce something more usable... or I suppose I could just trust my instincts and build new classes on my own. (Imagine that)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Messing Around With Dragon #109

Ok, kids...

Dragon 109 seems to get a lot of attention around Blogaria, mainly because of the article concerning customized character classes. I happen to have a copy of 109, purchased last spring from the LGS. Tonight I've been dickering around with the math to create some custom classes, and I must admit that I am on the fence regarding the numbers. I have produced a few classes:

The Sage
Hit Dice: d4 through level 9. Beginning at 10th level, the sage gains but one hit point every other level
Armor Allowed: None, no shield
Weapons Allowed: Dagger, Staff
Magic Items Allowed: Magical weapons (only those of the type they can usually wield), Potions, rings, misc. magic items, wands/staves/rods, protection scrolls, spell scrolls
Saving Throws: As a magic-user
Specialties: Sage
Hit Progression: As magic-user
Magic Spells: Table VI Cleric spells, Table VI Magic-user spells, Table V Druid Spells
Multiplier: 855%

Analysis: Here's a class that gets three spells a day at level 1, can use just about any spell in the game, and can do hardcore research for the party. He requires 3,420 experience to reach 2nd level, doubled each level after that. Is this class overpowered? I don't think so... at higher levels, the experience discrepancy between the Sage and other magic-using classes is going to widen significantly.
If I allowed this character in my game, I'd probably require Intelligence and Wisdom scores of no less than 13, granting bonus experience only if both scores were 16 or higher. I'd probably also require the sage to be neutral due to his access to druidic magic. (Oh, if only all scholars were neutral...) I wonder if the higher xp value really offsets all that this character can do. I would be tempted to actually allow this class in game to see how it works out. I might also level cap him at 12 or so, since a sage will eventually retire from adventuring in order to dedicate all his time to the pursuit of all things scholarly.

The Templar
Hit Die: d8 through 9th level, 2 hp/level afterwards
Armor: Any plus shield
Weapons: Swords only
Magic Items: Magic swords, armor, potions/rings, protection scrolls, clerical scrolls
Saves: As fighter
Hit Progression: As fighter
Spells: Cleric, Table II
Other: Turn undead
Multiplier: 515%

Analysis: These are basically warrior-clerics. The only weapons they use are swords, seen by their order as an honorable weapon that symbolizes justice. They have minor cleric spell ability and the ability to turn undead.
...I'm on the fence. This class is much better than a fighter, but requires only 60 more experience to attain 2nd level. They have spells and turning... the only compromise is that they are not allowed to use any weapon but a sword. I would also require the templar to be Lawful and to abide by a code of honor/ethics. I suppose some players might consider the alignment behavior restrictions to be balancing factors, but I consider the templar to be a mechanical failure of the custom class system.

The Archer
Hit Dice: d8 through level 9, +2/level after
Armor: Leather only
Weapons: Bows, sword, dagger, sling
Magic Items: Weapons, armor, potions/rings, misc., protection scrolls
Saving Throws: As Fighter
Hit Progression: As fighter for melee weapons, every 2 levels for ranged weapons (approximate value: 75)
Multiplier: 415%

Analysis: Okay, it's a fighter who has better hit progression with bows and has very limited selection of weapons and armor. He needs 1660 to advance to level 2. He advances faster than a fighter, but has little in the way of special abilities other than improved hit progression with a bow. I suppose I could add in some special abilities with the bow. I think the class is workable but I find myself unexcited about it. I would change prime requisite to Dexterity, of course.

Cossack
Hit Dice: d10 through level 12, 3/level thereafter
Armor: Shield only
Weapons: Axes, Daggers, Swords, impact weapons
Magic Items: Weapons, shields, potions/rings
Saves: As Dwarf
Hit Progression: 2 levels
Multiplier: 550%

Analysis: Ok, he can't used ranged weapons or armor, but he has obscene hit points (for basic D&D) and hit progression. He levels about 10% slower than the traditional fighter. I'd probably forbid Lawful alignment and require a Constitution of 12. (Strength would remain the prime req, though)

Now, here's the part that disturbs me... the cossack requires more experience to level than the templar does. Which class would YOU play at 1st level?

I know that the system isn't perfect, and I think these classes show that the system needs a lot of TLC before it produces campaign ready classes. Case in point: on page 11-12 of Issue 109, the author recreates the basic character classes, and many of them require significantly less experience to advance.

...also, what's with catapult as a weapon choice?

Sharing Narrative Control With Your Players

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hoo. Hee. Oho. Ahem.

Sit your bitch ass down and save vs. poison or die. Survive and you may claim a randomly rolled treasure. If you don't love it, go play Dogs in the Vineyard with your hippy Forge friends.


-This post brought to you by reading too many blogs at two in the morning-

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shadowrun

Today I joined a Shadowrun group I had seen advertised at my LGS. They were playing the 4th edition, which I am not familiar with. (I played plenty of SR3 in college, though) I went with a friend of mine who also plays in my weekly AD&D game, as I don't like to go blindly into these sorts of things by myself.

The group seems nice enough, if a bit noisy. The GM complained of a schism with his other group, which plays a different game on Tuesdays. (Which conflicts with my own game, so I shan't be checking them out)

I had forgotten how exhausting it is to make a character for Shadowrun. The most agonizing stretch of the creation process is the enormous shopping list of gear every Shadowrunner has to buy. About an hour after reading through character creation stuff, I decided to just play one of the templates provided in the book (the Occult Investigator, for those of you playing at home.)

Mechanically, SR4 seems to be cleaned up quite a bit, though the game is still far crunchier than my tastes run these days. I will still give it a shot, but I'm not sure if this will end up being a long term thing for me. I was somewhat irritated to see that a system of Advantages/Drawbacks, much like that of GURPS and Savage Worlds, is now an inherent part of the game, which leans the game in the direction of the "build" mentality that I so dislike. In the previous edition of Shadowrun, advantages/drawbacks were an optional rule introduced in a supplement. I'm not familiar with any edition older than that, so I can't say for sure if this is really as recent as I think it is, but I still think it adds an unecessary level of fiddliness to an already fiddly game.

More than anything, tonight made me year for the days of my old SR group, though all of us have been scattered to the four winds, and a reunion is almost astronomically unlikely given our various life circumstances.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Laser Pistols?! This is not the same game I left..."

We had one of the original crew rejoin my game tonight, now that he has moved to town and no longer faces a grueling daily commute. His arrival was fairly last minute, but I have joined him to the party as they prepare to leave Tarraxian behind. Most of the new characters in the group are, shall we say, "involuntary expats" from the original campaign world.

Still, tonight's session was one of those endless logistical sessions where players buy and pack and prepare. I must admit I wasn't at the top of my game, as my new student teaching gig doles out work I must do at home and I haven't quite adjusted my routine to compensate. (I will, though, I just need to get used to the flow of my new typical day.) I find that such "preparatory sessions" do crop up once in awhile in nearly every game. As a player, I find them wretchedly boring, so my apologies to any members of the group who did not have extensive gear/preparation plans. The party is aimed at a new dungeon for next session, one that they believe will take them home. (Of course, for some of the characters, centuries have passed since their departure, so not all party members will have a happy homecoming.)

Oh, and for a combat of NPCs on NPCs, I used Risk combat rules for resolution. I don't know if I should praise myself for a quick way to settle things or to be horribly ashamed at my laziness. I just couldn't think of any "reasonable" way to settle a fight between three combat robots and a gaggle of giant, two headed ants with radiation eye beams and scales like armor.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Guilty Pleasure

After having it recommended by my mother**, the missus and I started watching the Legend of the Seeker TV show. I have never read any Terry Goodkind, and actually the thickness of the books are something of a deterrent. (I do not have the patience for long winded, long running epic fantasy series that I did twelve or more years ago) I find that I enjoy the TV series immensely, even if it is rather predictable. We finally have a decent fantasy TV series that isn't a parody or that keeps the tongue planted firmly in the cheek. (Well, except for the BDSM/Disciplinarian-Red-Leather-Gestapo chicks.) I can also tell that my recent pulp fantasy readings have been influencing me, as I now consider the altruism of the heroes to be quite hard to swallow at times (and yet, compared to the behavior of the average RPG player character or Cugel the Clever, it is somewhat refreshing.)

**Seriously.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bard Spell List

Here is the spell list for my version of the bard. Though it draws from the spell lists of the cleric, druid, magic-user, and illusionist, the spells are cast, function, and are regained as druid spells. Also, see my previous post for rules on the variations to spell components.

Level 1: Bless, Command, Remove Fear, Detect Magic, Animal Friendship, Speak with Animals, Comprehend Languages, Friends, Sleep, Ventriloquism, Change Self

Level 2: Chant, Detect Charm, Hold Person, Know Alignment, Cure Light Wounds, Detect Invisibility, Detect Evil, Scare, Shatter, Deafness, Misdirection

Level 3: Dispel Magic, Prayer, Speak with Dead, Hold Animal, Haste, Slow, Suggestion, Tongues, Fear, Paralyzation, Rope Trick

Level 4: Detect Lie, Cure Serious Wounds, Animal Summoning I, Call Woodland Beings, Confusion, Dispel Exhaustion, Emotion

Level 5: Commune, Dispel Evil, Quest, Commune with Nature, Hold Monster, Feeblemind, Chaos

A couple notes: I excluded charm spells from the list because they are better covered by the bard's natural charm ability.
Also, recall that read magic is not necessary in my campaign, hence it's exclusion from the list. A bard can read druidic spell scrolls if he learns the druidic tongue. He can cast any druid spell he can read even if it is not normally on the bard's list. I am considering giving the bard the ability to read magic-user or illusionist scrolls as a thief (10th level with a chance of mishap) but I am on the fence about this.

Please let me know if any of the spells don't fit, if you think there are spells missing, or if the whole list is crap. I have not yet picked through Unearthed Arcana, so consider the list as version 1. I might also pick through HackMaster to see if there is anything appropriate to add. I will likely skip over AD&D2.

Blog-O-Versary

It was one year ago today I started this blog, after about two months of reading the blogs of others. The first was Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which I found after doing a google search for "Old School D&D" one day shortly after ending my 4th edition campaign and washing my hands of all WotC incarnations of the game.

So here I am, one year later, with 172 posts (including this one), 46 followers, and a very different philosophy of running and enjoying D&D. I've purchased some wonderful OSR products (OSRIC, Death Frost Doom, Grinding Gear, Mutant Future), read many others that are generously available free in PDF form, (Xplorers, various incarnations of S&W, etc) and generally just enjoyed the hell out of this corner of the internet. I have my own weekly AD&D/Mutant Future game that has been running for nearly seven months with only one session missed (a near-miraculous feat in this neck of the woods.) Yes, 2009 was a good year in gaming for me.

Thanks to everyone for your insightful posts, thoughtful comments, helpful suggestions, and excellent material that you've published or shared. May you always roll a successful save vs. poison (or death magic, or whatever.)

-Ryan

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Gamers: The Dorkness Rising

I try to keep reviews few and far between, as I consider myself a rank amateur critic at best. I will mention, however, that the wife and I found this movie to be quite entertaining. The number of tropes and stereotypes that I had personally experienced were more numerous than I would like to admit, right down to the cat-on-the-gaming-table fiasco. (My current AD&D game does not use minis or battle mats, but one of my cats often does his best to lay across various character sheets, notes, etc.) I'm not saying it's Citizen Kane or anything, but it was good for a few laughs and I knew all the in-jokes, so fair play. The special effects were reasonably well done for the low budget I imagine they had to work with.

Oh, and Happy New Year to all you out there in Blogville.