Sunday, November 29, 2009

Das Schwarze Auge

In high school, I hung out with a lot of the foreign exchange students. (I was odd like that) My senior year, one of the Germans happened to be a gamer as well, and we spent many hours playing Vampire and Shadowrun with him. However, he always spoke very fondly of his favorite role playing game, Das Schwarze Auge. (Literally, "The Black Eye") In fact, many were the occasions where he told me that if he knew he was going to befriend American gamers, he'd have brought it over and run a campaign for us.

A few years ago, when I was in college, my German friend sent me a CD with PDFs of the DSA books, as well as a program that converts PDFs into an editable document format and a program to translate German e-documents to English. Unfortunately, the translated wasn't so hot with the German grammar conventions translating to English, so I could get only the faintest gist of what the books said, certainly not enough to play.

Around that time, a gaming company (I now forget which) published the core book of DSA in English, as "The Dark Eye." I told my German friend about it, and he lamented that it was an inferior edition that the fans hotly contested (sound familiar?) and that I shouldn't waste my money. I do remember flipping through it at the LGS and not finding it very much to my liking. Also, from what I understand, the American official translation of DSA is dead in the water, with almost no support forthcoming.

I recently found out about an Australian fellow named Jason Hutchings, who created an unofficial English translation of the first edition of DSA and put it up on his website at

DSA is a charming little game. It takes a lot of cues from early D&D, but has plenty of eccentricities all it's own. For instance, elves have a "strong sense of smell" (no mechanical advantage is described except that they can sense dragons) and they cannot fight dragons in melee. The player of a magician or elf must speak pre-written magical words in order to cast a spell, and they cannot look the magic words up if their character is under duress. (In combat, for instance) Character actions are sometimes "assumed" according to the rules (you don't have a weapon drawn while exploring unless you say you are drawing your weapon, you can't attack an opponent you wounded last round unless you are only fighting one opponent, the party and monsters automatically group off as evenly as possible, etc.) This game bears almost no resemblance to what my friend described to me, so I am assuming he must have played a later edition.

An interesting thing to note about DSA: There are no thieves, and there are no priests. I understand these were added later (whether in a supplement or new edition I am not sure), but in the beginning of the game, character abilities tended to fall into the realm of magic or combat, with a simple task resolution system based entirely on ability checks used for literally everything else.

What we have here is a simple game just begging to be tinkered with. (And from what I understand, editions following the first were vastly different) If you hop on over the site I mentioned, you can read and learn DSA in probably thirty minutes or less. know, now that I think about it, DSA seems to take more cues from Tunnels & Trolls than D&D. (It feels more like T&T upon further reading)

I hope that someone, someday, provides a translation of other editions of the game, though I understand this is unlikely. Then again, there's something very charming about the simplicity of this system. My inner tinker says fie on that. Ah, if only I had as much free time as I had back in high school or college.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oops, we have a story (sort of)

During the last session of AD&D, the party had a strange encounter: the future version of the party's magic-user, who had traveled back in time to confront one of the antagonistic NPCs the party had run across and had been subsequently defeated and stuck in a stasis tube. After the session was over, the player of the magic-user expressed interest in the "story" that was developing, at least in regards to his growing sense of rivalry with this NPC magic-user. Oddly, meeting his future self, who has become an arch-enemy to this NPC, seems to have sparked an interest in the player to more actively oppose the NPC. Now, this is hopefully the only instance of time travel in my game, lest I end up bringing the kind of cluster fuck ruination to my game that only time travel can bring.
Still, even if we end up with a "story," it will be only because of interests and goals that the players have developed for their characters as a result of a freewheeling play style where I've allowed my group to wander around and do or ignore things as they please. As a result, the events going on are all that much more satisfying and interesting, as opposed to a canned story along which the players are lured.

It's interesting how much my gaming philosophy and DMing style have changed in the past two years. There are "new school" games on my shelf that I'm not even sure I could run "properly" anymore. I tried a sandbox style game with nWoD and it didn't really go anywhere, though there were also other reasons. Still, I'm not sure a game like The Riddle of Steel is compatible with my newly favored play style. other news, I have ordered a copy of The Grinding Gear through Noble Knight Games. I hope it's as good as Death Frost Doom.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My copy of Mutant Future arrived, not only less than a week after I ordered it (with the El Cheapo shipping), but just in time for me to drop a cyborg commando into last night's gaming session. I am quite pleased with Lulu. I also think I'm going to order a copy of OSRIC, as I am quite tired of navigating through the insanely organized DMG. Many of the things I have memorized by page number because I look them up so frequently, but I'm starting to find some of the organization and High Gygaxian to be less charming when I'm desperately clawing for some information so I can get on with the damn session. I do love my copy of Mutant Future, yes sir.

I must also say that I'm still really enjoying this campaign and my players' contributions to it. Huzzah!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jumping on the Bandwagon

I just wanted to say that I freaking love Hexographer. This is the first fantasy/campaign mapping software that hasn't caused me to lose interest after ten minutes. I do believe I will be getting a licensed version, though for now I am having fun messing around with the online freebie version.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Games I Would Like to Run

This post is mostly introspection. These are campaigns I would like to run in the future. The chance of me running most of them varies greatly, but they're all things I have tucked away in my mind for some future use, perhaps. They are in no particular order.

*A heavily house-ruled game of Cyclopedic D&D, tweaked to fit my perfect idea of D&D.

*A game with the same premise as Metamorphosis Alpha, but run using Gamma World 2nd edition or Mutant Future.

*A planet-hopping game of Mongoose's Traveller, in the vein of the computer game Freelancer or the TV show Firefly...just a crew, a ship, and wandering in space.

*A World of Darkness game in which demons/infernals are the principal antagonists, and the characters are part of a secret group of exorcists or magicians or something similar that opposes them. (Run using either mortals + Second Sight or Mage or maybe even some parts of Hunter)

*A game of, gods help me, Nightbane.

*Deadlands, set in west Texas or in Dodge City. I'd like to try it sandbox style, with the character left to do as they will.

*Rippers, though mainly run as the revival of my steampunk vampire fighting Legacy of Dracula game.

*Palladium Fantasy, straight out the book.

*A sandbox style game of Vampire, probably using the Masquerade setting but with the basic rules of Requiem because they are a bit cleaner.

*A "sci-fi exiles" game, with the characters adrift on a ship of some kind. I'd like to include a lot of resource management for the ship, and ideally the characters would be of positions of authority. I'm thinking things along the lines of Battlestar Galactica, Densetsu Kyojin Ideon, and Ulysses 31 (what very little of it I remember) This could be done with Traveller, Star Frontiers, Savage Worlds, Robotech (part of the Expeditionary Force whose fold device malfunctioned?), or most other systems.

*Carcosa, or perhaps a Carcosa/Mutant Future mashup.

I have other ideas as well... I mean, ideally I'd like to run every game on my shelf. These are just things I have been thinking over lately.

Fiddly Bits

Last night, one of my friends (who has played in the majority of the campaigns I've run since I moved here) tried his hand at DMing. (I actually had no idea it was his first outing until after the session) He knows that I have no love for 3.5, but I played because he's my friend and I always encourage people who want to start up a game. Dungeon Masters are always somewhat in demand, from my experience. I thought he did a pretty good job for his first time; I've been in sessions that weren't half as well run that were done by people with more "experience."

However, I will say that building a 3.5 character and fighting 3.5 combats did solidify what I dislike about the system. My "build" was not efficient, and as such my character was not very effective. You would think that a guy with a big double headed axe would know his way around the battle field, but I did not cross the i's and dot the t's and use three different source books, so I was not as useful as my compatriots who made their character using the so-called "splat" books. I no longer have the patience for juggling multiple source books to make a character whose numbers all click in the right ways. I also forgot how magic-item dependent the game has become... much of my character's effectiveness was derived from his magical gear and not from his abilities. (Or my abilities as a player)

Now, don't get me wrong... there was a time when I enjoyed this sort of thing, but my tastes have changed and I just don't want to spend two hours making a character. Granted, we did make high level characters...I'm pretty sure that I could have rolled out a 1st level d20 character in a much shorter period of time. This does not really change the whole "build" aspect, nor my feelings toward it.

The older editions continue to appeal more and more to me. Roll stats, grab race and/or class (depending on the version), grab gear and/or spells and you're off. I'm even rueful of the bastardized skill system I put in place in my game... next time I might just swipe the prime attribute idea from Castles & Crusades and call it good.

I am not against all games that involve building... I can knock out a Savage Worlds character in fifteen minutes, maybe a bit longer if he's a spell caster, psychic, or other power-user.

It may be just a phase, but for now I find that I long for games with less finicky mechanics and crunch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Penultimate Blog Post

You're ALL doing it wrong, forever.

Good DAY, sir.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rust Ooze

A monster I scribbled up over lunch yesterday and dropped (literally) on my players last night.

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 8
Move: 6
No. Attacks: -
Damage/Attack: -
Special Attacks: Rust, surprise on 1-4
Special Defenses: Hasted by fire
Magic Resistance: 15%
Psionic Ability: Nil
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Treasure Type: nil

The rust ooze is nearly impossible to distinguish from a large patch of rust. (Only a 10% chance when directly observed) They surprise opponents on a 1-4, usually dropping off of a ceiling or wall or attacking from the floor. They attack by engulfing their prey (up to 3 man sized creatures at once) Rust oozes dissolve all readied metal weapons in one round. After two rounds, they dissolve the target's metal armor and shield. After that, they dissolve any other metal objects that are not completely sealed in a pack or bag. The rust ooze causes no actual harm to bare skin, nor to any non-metal creatures or objects. Metal creatures such as robots or iron golems take 8d6 damage each turn they are in contact with a rust ooze, and tend to be singled out by the creatures in favor of hand held weapons or armor. Note that "duralloy" or similar futuristic metal is entitled to a saving throw each round.
If slain, the rust ooze dissolves into a brownish, foul smelling protoplasm that causes no futher damage to any material.
A rust ooze can choose not to dissolve metal that it is in contact with. Typically this is done to hang from an advantageous hiding place. Rust oozes can sense metal within 60 feet.
Damage from fire causes the rust ooze to be hasted, as the magic-user spell, for 1d4 rounds.
There have been reports of giant rust oozes or psionic rust oozes, but these are drunken ramblings of vagrants and braggarts, not to be trusted by wiser folk.

The party lost a scimitar, two laser rifles and a laser pistol to the creature.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Which I Finally Cave

Today I shelled out the money for an actual physical copy of Mutant Future. I don't have a shiny laptop, so looking up information from MF during the game requires me to split my time betwen the computer and the gaming table, which is a pain in the ass.

Another bonus is that Mutant Future is more easily compatible (mechanically speaking) with AD&D than Gamma World is, though I will continue to mine GW for ideas.

Oh, and it will also provide some great material for my revision to The Temple of Zirugar, which I will run at another convention someday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Week 22!

I just realized that I started my AD&D game exactly 22 weeks ago today. To date, we have missed but one session. We play on Wednesdays now, so tomorrow will be our 21st play session. The characters have only advanced about as far as 4th level (depending on the character), though I believe one is nearing 5th. Part of the problem is that they have amassed a large amount of treasure that they have been unable to get home or cash in yet. Still, I find that I am relatively unconcerned with levels, and the players seem to be less concerned than gaming groups are usually. The focus is definitely on exploration and interaction with the enviornment. We even had significantly fewer combats than your "typical" AD&D game (from my perspective, anyway.)

Honestly, I feel like we're just getting started... there are so many places this can go.

19th Century Monster Killin', Canned Campaigns, and the True Meaning of Christmas

I recently picked up Deadlands Reloaded and Rippers, both settings for Savage Worlds. (Well, Deadlands originally wasn't, and Savage Worlds was actually derived, mechanically, from Deadlands, but I digress...) I always did enjoy Deadlands, and Rippers is Victorian monster could I pass that up?

Now, I have to say I love Savage Worlds because it's a clean, simple, fast moving system. There's crunch but not a lot of it. You can make a character in maybe fifteen minutes if you know what you're doing. You can use minis, though the game works just fine without them. Yes, it is inherently cinematic, so I wouldn't use it to run anything, but it remains one of my favorite systems regardless. Oh, another bonus point: it has vehicle combat rules that don't make me want to gouge my own eyes out; I can say this about relatively few rpgs I've read that contain such rules.

...where I diverge from Savage Worlds, however, is in the presentation of their game worlds. Savage Worlds is big on pre-packaged stories (Plot Points, they are called) with a definite beginning, middle, and end. They advertise them as stories "starring your posse." (that one is Deadlands specific but you get the idea)

How boring. How did I ever enjoy this sort of thing?

My tastes have rocketed away from story based gaming, where I come up with the story ahead of time and essentially just let the players navigate it. Gaming, to me, has become the exploration of a fictional world. The players should be free to pursue what they like. I don't want to come up with complex plot lines that they "have" to participate in.

Now, should I start up one of these two games some day (the wife is really keen to play Rippers), I think I'm going to run it my way. I don't anticipate there being much of a problem. I will, however, have to un-Mary Sue the important bad guys in Deadlands, as most of them are specifically mentioned as being immune to all physical and magical attacks, and many of them have a come-back-to-life clause should the characters find some way to thwart them. That's pretty lame. The "story" bad guys are so ridiculously powerful to begin with (most of them ignore rules regarding power points and one of them straight up has every power in the book); it would be a slap in the face to a group that could actually put one down to see him just come back, sometimes stronger than before. I understand that they have a continuity to "protect" (because gods forbid the players have any capacity to change their world), but one of the old Deadlands books did say "if you stat it, they will kill it." It seems odd that they have reversed their old position.

Though I have these misgivings, I must reiterate that I do love Deadlands. I bet both of these fine games will work just fine for an exploration type game. Plus, you could theroetically cross them over, since they take place more or less around the same time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mutant Goodness

Since I am trying to keep the mechanics in my game AD&D-centric,I have decided to make races and classes separte for native Tarraxians. Last night I statted up the mutant race.

There are two options for mutants: The first is Near Human, which means the character can probably pass for human and is only somewhat mutated. The second option is what I like to call Extra Crispy, and the character starts out a lot more randomized and with at least one pretty nasty defect.

Near Human mutants have +1 to a randomly determined ability score and -1 to another randomly determined ability score. (I just have the player roll 1d6 and read down the line on their character sheet.) If they roll the same ability they will have unmodified ability scores. Near Human mutants have one randomly determined Class 2 (50/50 physical or mental) mutation and another randomly determined Class 1 mutation (physical) as determined in Mutant Future. They also have 1 randomly determined Class 1 physical defect.

Now, Extra Crispy... they have +1d4 points of ability bonuses, with each bonus assigned randomly as above. They also have -1d4 worth of negative attribute adjustments, likewise determined randomly. A heavily mutated character will randomly roll one Class 3 mutation (50/50 physical/mental), one Class 2 mutation (50/50), and two Class 1 physical mutations. They will then roll one Class 3 defect (50/50) and one Class 1 physical defect.

A mutant may advance as a fighter (10th level), thief (unlimited),ranger (8th level),barbarian (12th level), or tech rat* (8th)

A mutant may choose the following multiclass combinations: fighter/thief, fighter/tech rat, thief/tech rat

As a native Tarraxian, the character will advance in the modified version of his chosen class. (The classes are a little different on Tarraxian)

*As stolen from Amityville Mike at

There are some mutant "races" on Tarraxian. So far I have created one such race, the Suulians. Suulians are a tribe of mutants who have stabilized into a distinct race all their own. Their numbers are small, numbering around 700, and all of them live in and around the village of Suular in the Red Wastes. Suulians stand 4-5 feet tall and are slight of frame and slightly hunchbacked. Their skins are yellow and scaly with gray spots and patterns. They have small, mostly blunt spines emerging from their skulls and running all the way down their spines to their tailbone. Suulians do not have body hair of any sort. They have distended lower jaws. Suulians live roughly 200 years. Racially they tend towards Neutral Good. Even nongood Suulians typically reject both Law and Chaos, as they blame the war between the two powers for the current predicament of their world.

Suulians receive +1 to their initial Wisdom score and -1 to Strength. Suulians are a strong willed and spiritual people, but their muscles are underdeveloped due to a lingering mutation in their gene pool.
Suulians have the following special abilities:
Detect Radiation 1-4 on 1d6: they can detect radiation up to 60 feet away. Their senses will detect it only as weak (Intensity Class 1-3), moderate (IC 4-6), or strong. (7+) A suulian must spend one round in concentration to activate this ability. If they spend a second round concentrating, they can pinpoint the radiation to a monster, object, crater, etc.
Note that a suulian still has a chance equal to 1-2 on a 1d6 to notice radiation if they pass within 20 feet, even if not actively looking for it.
Suulians have a bonus to save against radiation. This bonus is +1 for every 3.5 full points of Constitution possessed by a suulian. Also, suulians must fail seven saves in a day to gain a new mutation, instead of the usual five. (See the Mutant Future rulebook for details)
A beginning suulian character has a 20% chance to have a randomly determined mental mutation, as described in Mutant Future.

Suulians have different class options available to them that other mutants. A suulian may only advance as a fighter, (6th level), thief (unlimited), or druid (10th level) A suulian may multiclass as a fighter/druid or a fighter/thief.

Suulians speak their own language and the tongue common to this region of Tarraxian. If their intelligence score allows, they may take extra languages from any monster or tribe that dwells in this area of Tarraxian.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

I neglected to mention that in last week's game, we had another PC fatality. (Never bring a bow to a laser fight, kids.) Now, we have an interesting predicament...

There are three players in my game. One of them plays a magic-user from the original campaign world, one plays a former cleric from the same world who has spent his time on Tarraxian learning to be a field medic and tech user, and the last player ran a an elf fighter/druid who is now deceased, and he intends to make a mutant scavenger character. My wife's theoretical character is going to be a native, as is the character of another player who wishes to join. This means that out of a party of five, only two will be from the original fantasy campaign world, and one of those two has abandoned his magic using ways to learn the ways of science and technology. I suppose I forgot to mention the fighter henchman of the late player character, who still accompanies the party. There is barely anything fantasy left in my game, which is now post-apocalyptic science fantasy more than anything else. Though I have dropped hints about a way back the original campaign world, the party seems more interested in looting abandoned labs and military outposts. Hey, I said I was all about player choice, so if they want to stay and play, they can do so... and now that the majority of the party is set to consist of natives, it looks like Tarraxian might be the campaign's permanent location.

This development leaves me wondering... should I just convert the game to Gamma World or Mutant Future and be done with it? I have been drawing heavily on GW 2nd edition for monsters and gadgetry, but I have been trying to make the rules follow the numerical scale of AD&D 1st edition. Perhaps it would be easier to just use GW and find a way to convert (or kit bash) the abilities of the magic-user. Then again, Mutant Future would be an easier conversion since it shares the basic framework the old edition D&D family. The MF saving throws might be more appropriate, since the characters are now on a world where magic is rare, if indeed they find it anywhere at all. I suppose I could also use a mishmash of Mutant Future with some of the "missing" AD&D mechanics... heh, I could call it "Advanced Mutant Future."

I suppose another way to do it might be to just keep using AD&D rules and hope for the best. Still, as things develop, the game continues to be less like AD&D in the traditional sense. (Then again, look at stuff like Spelljammer and Dark Sun...)

If I do end up using GW or MF, it will be the first campaign I've ever run that actually changed from one system to another.

As I type this, I am leaning more towards "Advanced Mutant Future." Of course, I could just run it "as is," since now the entire party consists of humans (with one player wishing to play a mutant), so the race/class divide isn't so important anymore.

This sure is getting interesting.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Tonight, I purged my gaming shelf of all things Fourth Edition, and everything 3.5 except the core books (the wife likes that edition best and might play in a game of it someday). Admittedly, these books sat idle on the shelf since August 2007 (final 3.5 burnout) and November 2008 (the last straw with 4th ed) respectively.
The guy at my LGS who was assessing my store credit (hint: if you buy your stuff on Amazon at discounted prices and the seller assesses the books based on suggested retail price, AND you take store credit, you actually get a pretty fair trade. Shhhh!) and, looking down upon my stack o' books, he asked "So what do you play now?" I was in no mood for proselytizing, so I simply told him that I play "the older editions." He did not respond, and suddenly took a keen interest in the counter top, so I decided not to press the issue.

A few minutes later, while I was doing the kid-in-a-candy-store routine, I overheard the clerk discussing 4th edition with a teenager who was apparently interested but unfamiliar. The clerk suggested that he buy the core rules set that I had just traded in, and then proceeded to point me out to the young man. I decided to tune their conversation out after that.

So, I willingly and knowingly passed up two chances to spread the word about the OSR. Nobody tell Jim... I don't want him to go American History X all over my ass.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bringing in the Gamma World, Part Deaux

Forgive my sparse posting as of late, (and curse my sparse reading...there are a lot of good entries I need to brush up on) but I have been called away by various aspects of real life.

My game is set to continue tomorrow. I've been running for nearly five months and I've only missed a single session. I am quite proud of this.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I want to keep the game AD&D-centric, since the world they are in is only Gamma World-esque, and not actually Gamma World. (That is to say, 25th century North America after the "Social Wars")

I recently discovered an article in one of the Dragons I picked up a few months ago that had advice for crossovers between AD&D 2nd edition and Gamma World 4th, which are close enough to what I am running. Sadly, the article seemed to have too much of a "never the twain shall meet" type of attitude for my tastes. If you're going to give your players fusion rifles, you should expect that they will want to use them. The article seemed to preoccupied with letting the players get a taste and then snatching it out of their hands at the earliest opportunity. The article also says no mutations on fantasy characters, and no magic for Gamma characters. Fantasy characters have no resistance to radiation, and Gamma characters cannot save vs. spells.

Fie on that, says I.

Magic, in my milieu, was brought to the characters' native plane by a dimension traveling race called the Magi. They have died out, and perhaps they never visited Tarraxian... or, perhaps, it could be that Tarraxian is simply another planet on the same plane as the world from whence they came. Magic exists on Tarraxian (and works, though somewhat unstably so), so I speculate that radiation would exist on their home world if they had reached the atomic age.

I have found a good rule of thumb for converting Gamma World monsters is to cut their HD in half and convert the die type to d8. It's not perfect, and it certainly works for some monsters better than others, but it will do in a pinch. I have also started adding my own monsters, so far I have run them up against a parasite that drains energy from energy cells, and grows larger when hit with lasers or similar energy weapons. My brain is churning out ideas for more as well.

I'm really glad the campaign took this direction. More later as I continue to develop and convert things I'm satisfied with.