Monday, December 31, 2012

Obligatory 2012 Retrospective- Just the Highlights

 Rather than bash out a rambling retrospective, here are some highlights of my gaming for 2012. I'd say that overall, it was a pretty good year for gaming.
Stuff I Got To Play in 2012:

-AD&D 2nd edition Vikings/Sort-of Hellfrost
-Stars Without Number (Mindy's game)
-Stars Without Number ( Dan's game)
-Deadlands Reloaded
-Beyond the Supernatural 2nd edition

One Shots:

-AD&D 2nd edition at KantCon
-Lady Blackbird at KantCon
-Ingenium at KantCon
-Stars Without Number (Dave's game at OSFest)
-Mutant Future at OSFest (Dave's)
-Dungeon Crawl Classics (Dave's. OSFest)

Stuff I Got To Run in 2012: 

-Stars Without Number (July-August)
-Stars Without Number Spin-off campaign (August-Present)

One Shots:
-Pathfinder (with the missus and her friend)
-B/X D&D "Citadel of Evil" module (At Nuke-Con Aftershock)
-B/X D&D "Death Frost Doom" at KantCon
-B/X D&D "Realm of the Technomancer" module at OSFest

Stuff I Worked On in 2012:
-RIFTS-to-AD&D conversion (Which I'd say is 80% finished)
-World of Darkness heartbreaker (Which I just have barely started work on)

Conventions Attended in 2012:
-Nuke-Con Aftershock Game Day (March)
-OSFest 5 

General Highlights: 
-At one point, I was playing in three different games per week
-Met new gamer pals this year
-Did not have any long periods of no gaming
-SWN Spin-off Campaign is the best thing I've run in a long time
-Conquered some of my own self-identified DM hang-ups

General Low-Points: 
-Had two campaigns fizzle (Pathfinder wasn't supposed to be a one-shot)
-Didn't finish my RIFTS project (can't fault myself on the WoD project since I started it mere days ago)  
-Did not attend Nuke-Con's actual convention

  Thus ends my fourth year of blogging. It was the year I did the most gaming, but also the year I blogged the least. (Hmm...imagine that.) I don't really have any plans for 2013...this blog is primarily just a way to express my thoughts and to think out loud. Beyond that, I have no agenda. I guess here are some goals for 2013:

-Finish the RIFTS thing
-Finish the WoD thing
-Keep running SWN
-Run something fantasy as well
-Buy less stuff (fah!)

Here's hoping the New Year brings good things for you all. I know I'll be starting it off right by running another session of SWN. May your save vs. poison always be successful. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Old Gaming Group "Farewell Concert"

So, one of my longtime pals and gaming buddies (as well as occasional commenter on this blog) is moving away this week. I think he's played in everything I've ever run since 2005, with the exception of the all-ladies steampunk Savage Worlds game I ran a bit last winter.

My wife, being the clever one that she is, decided we should have one last D&D game. (It will actually be Pathfinder at his request, but my wife is ok with that since it's close enough.) We're calling together gamers from our two old D&D groups- including one group that we were all in before my wife and I were even dating- and they can remake any D&D character they have ever played under me. (Turns out Josh and my wife both have their character sheets from my last two d20 campaigns) I will be spending tomorrow trying to create a suitably epic adventure to send him off.

I freely admit that I'll be winging parts of it; Pathfinder is simply too crunchy for me to digest anymore and it's been some time since I "studied" the rulebook last.

Things have changed, and not everyone from the old groups is around, or in contact with us anymore. We might have one person playing via skype (or maybe hangouts). Regardless, it's going down this week.

It's not all bad, though. He will now live within spitting distance of a gaming convention I was planning to attend in 2013.

His departure does mean that I will probably never run anything d20 again in my life, save for possibly some PF at the request of the missus.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I like boxed sets and I cannot lie...

I was at the LGS today and chanced upon a copy of the Barsaive boxed set for Earthdawn 2nd edition. I snapped it up because it was only five bucks. This thing is in excellent condition: the cards are unpunched and it even comes with the mail order slips from days of yore.

I also picked up a copy of CJ Carella's Armageddon RPG, also five bucks and in absolutely pristine condition. I very much doubt that I'll ever run it, but I enjoy Carella's work a great deal... and copies of this start at fifty bucks on Schmamazon, so I guess if I really dislike it I can sell it and actually make a few bucks.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Christmas Day, 1990- I'm in third grade. An imaginative kid, my grandma decides to get me a copy of Hero Quest, from Milton Bradley. This game was basically my introduction to roleplaying (the way we played it, it bordered on a crude rpg) and my introduction into the Warhammer universe. (Although I wouldn't realize that until a few years later) Christmas Day is basically the anniversary of my entering into the gates of gaming nerdhood. Christmas Day is also the anniversary of my introduction to various new rpg systems I received as Christmas presents: Gamma World (the 4th edition published in the early 90's), GURPS (3rd edition revised), and others I can't think of at the moment.

This year, the wife got me an rpg and two rpg-related gifts. More details on those to follow...the egg nog is calling me.

Best of the holidays to you and yours.

Pipe Dream Conversions

So I've done a few conversions. I did a quick and dirty Shadowrun-to-SWN on this blog a year or two ago. I have an almost-playable RIFTS-to-AD&D sitting on my hard drive, and now I've got this bug to create a WoD Hearbreakerclone.

I think I've mentioned this before, but there are some great games out there that have rule systems I either don't like or don't have the patience to learn.

While I am on the subject of rebuilds and such, this is my list of pipe dream conversions that I will never get around to, but sort of hope someone else would. Presented in no particular order:

*In Nomine- I'd like to see this converted to World of Darkness or FUDGE.
*Heavy Gear- Stars Without Number
*Alternity- Stars Without Number (The races, etc.)
*Gear Krieg- Savage Worlds
*Jovian Chronicles- SWN
*Tribe 8- Savage Worlds or FUDGE
*Fireborn- World of Darkness
*Dragon Star- Pathfinder (believe it or not). I guess you could also do it with D&D/SWN
*Star Frontiers- SWN!
*Nightbane/Nightspawn- World of Darkness

My WoD thingie is underway as a series of scratchings on my note pad. (Like, a real, dead-tree-paper note pad) Right now I'm trying to decide which bits of the OWoD mechanics I like and which on the NWoD mechanics I like. The frustrating part is that both systems having things I like and things that really get on my nerves. The trick will be coming to a happy medium between them.... but that's another post for another time.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

WoD Rebuild and After Sundown

I've been reading through a roleplaying game called "After Sundown," which seems to be a World of Darkness "heartbreaker" (god I hate that term, got to come up with a different one...) that also attempts to make WoD concepts with Shadowrun-esque mechanics.

All in all, this is probably not a game I would run. This is, however, a game I would gleefully steal from.

One thing I like about his re-do is that all monsters basically use the same mechanics. The differences between the types of creatures (vampires, lycanthropes, etc.) is what powers they start with. The book has a huge array of powers (called disciplines), and your starting package is pretty much predetermined. The basic capabilities of each creature are handled by their starting powers.

Another element I liked is that all monsters simply have "power", and that is what fuels their various disciplines. The thing that differentiates monsters is how they get power back. (Vampires drink blood, etc.) 

I'm not sure if I'll even finish reading the PDF in its entirety, but this does have my gears-a-turning as to how I could make kind of a generic OWoD game without having to come up with X number of stat sets, where X is the number of character types available for play.

Good stuff

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rebuilding the WoD

Okay, so I've been playing this MUD that is kind of like the WoD. It's simpler and it makes me pine for old-old-old WoD before you had 13 clans and a million bloodlines and anti-tribut and..... you get the idea. By the end of the OWoD, it was getting pretty crowded in there.

I'm thinking I'll use the chassis of the old WoD (d10s, attribute+skill@difficulty) and figure out some way to standardize all the "extra" stats.

In the OWoD, I figured there were a few types of extra stats-
*Fuel Stats- Powered your supernatural powers
*Power Stats-They determined how high up on the supernatural totem pole you were. (Generation, Rank, Arete, etc.)
*Anchor Stats- A morality/sanity type thing, which you wanted to keep from going to zero (Humanity) or you wanted to keep as low as possible (Angst, Paradox)

The OWoD didn't have any symmetry regarding this at all, since each game line was standalone. Werewolves had two Fuel stats (Rage and Gnosis) and three Power stats. (Glory, Honor, Renown) In Orpheus, you could actually tap your anchor stat for extra energy (at the cost of possibly raising it permanently, and it was a bad stat you didn't want to raise)

New World of Darkness tried to standardize this by giving each type of supernatural an Anchor stat that worked the same way (don't let it drop or you gradually become unplayable) and a Power stat that worked the same way (determined you overall power level)

Standardization is cool in that it makes it easier to run multiple types of supers in the same game. On the other hand, taken to an extreme it can become like 4E, where every class feels like it plays the same.

Types of creatures I would want in the game:
Vampires, shapeshifters (were-whatevers), mages, psychically gifted, supernaturally-imbued monster hunters, demons (perhaps just half demons), changelings/fae, projectors (like in Orpheus)

I'm also kind of keen to include some kind of angelic-based character type and to include dragons (reborn in human form) because I really liked the *idea* of the Fireborn rpg, but I wasn't a big fan of the system.

Some deliberate design goals:

-None of that gothy stuff. Over it.
-Horror or Urban Fantasy. Let the GM decide what vibe his game gives off.
-No PC behavior regulated by game mechanics.(Removal of anchor stat?)
-Have a variety of supernatural creatures, but don't overcrowd the world. (Might already be too late, looking at my list above.) Perhaps come up with some whack ass excuse to have them concentrated in certain areas.
-Anchor Stats represent a "devil's deal" kinda thing. I want to model it after Spite in Orpheus.... you can tap it for extra power beyond what you can normally dial, but you may have to accept a temporary or permanent consequence for doing so. I figure this will be my "morality" system, rather than having some stupid ass, arbitrary set of values that determines if you are eeeeeeeeeeeevil or not.

Edit: Since I've started working on this little project, I've come across a "WoD Heartbreaker" and am currently studying it for things to steal
inspiration. Obviously the tone of this game is much lighter, being that it has a "Table of Awesome." I'm going for a lighter tone in that I want this game to be more modern/urban fantasy and not so much GAWTHPUNKZ, but the tone of this particular game is a little too light in some spots. Anyway, it should make for interesting reading.
Yes, my RIFTS-to-AD&D game is still not quite finished. Maybe I'll finish it off over my winter break.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Role Reversal

Tonight I got to switch roles and play in SWN. It's been awhile since I had the chance to experience the game as a player.

Dan ran a game set on one of the worlds in Hydra sector. I ran multiple characters. We got involved in a conspiracy involving the ultra-creepy Shibboleth from the SWN corebook.

I still like running games much more than playing games, I have to admit.

I also gotta say that I don't like running multiple characters. (I've blogged about that before, though) It's weird that as a DM, I can keep track of lots of different NPCs, even when they're all around the players, but when I'm a player, I have serious trouble getting into more than one character.

I did like having to lasso a dinosaur, though. Legit.

I also like mixing Mayan/Central American mythology with science fiction. I like when Dan busted out his map of a huge ziggurat and said "You know what THIS is, right?"

We'll continue the adventure over break, since our regular SWN game will be on hold for the holidays.

I have also received two different requests from other gamer pals to run stuff over the break. I'm going to do my best to accommodate everybody. Plus, you know, gaming is fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Now I Know My ABCs...and TPKs.

I mentioned this briefly before, but I bought a copy of The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis....

...from  my LGS.

I guess if you don't know me or live in my town, you might not understand what a complete and utter shock this is. I would have expected to find a live unicorn, a wish-granting monkey's paw, or a copy of Maid on the shelves before I would ever find something that came out of the OSR. My only guess is that he mistook it for one of the 3.5/4e compatible products that Goodman Games put out in relatively recent times. I combed the shelves looking for any DCC rules system modules, but to no avail.

Anyway, Dungeon Alphabet fits in nicely with my recent tendency to use randomly generated stuff to stitch my games together. I'm not going to write a review or anything, but I will say that I found it pretty imaginative without getting into the higher-than-high weirdness of something like Anomalous Subsurface Environment. I'm more likely to use stuff from DA as-is in my game. (Though there is plenty of weirdness in there, don't get me wrong.)

Hopefully I'll start seeing things like People of the Pit or the Emerald Enchanter show up at the LGS. It would certainly make my trips there less of a depressing morass.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


On occasion, I find that disparate elements in a sandbox game come together seemingly of their own volition. Stories and plots rise organically out of a motivated, involved party.

This is why I love my SWN game. Though I only have two players, they take things in directions I don't expect, and this leads to greater things than I have previously thought of.

I like leaving parts of the map blank, literally and conceptually, so this kind of thing can happen.

(Yes, guys, if you are reading this, I am intentionally being vague. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for next time, right?)

I've also decided to take a page from DCC for this SWN game. Having grown very attached to an ordinary hireling, the PCs wanted to know what they had to do to promote her to a 1st level character. They already pointed out that she's survived captivity by space pirates and other perilous events. I decided that she, being effectively a zero level character, needed to survive an adventure. Turns out that surviving a dog fight with an alien spacecraft that blows your ship halfway to hell counts as surviving an adventure.

I embrace the idea that PCs and NPCs don't play by the same rules. I think this Right and Proper. Trying to fit everyone into the same mold leaves us with absurd crap like 12th level commoners in 3.x. That, however, is another post for another time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The AD&D 2e Questionnaire

 ...or, "If You Think AD&D 2nd Edition Sucked, It's Your Fault For Not Filling This Out."

I thought I'd post some of the questions on the AD&D 2nd edition questionnaire I accidentally came into possession of over the weekend. You could white out the title of the document and it could almost be titled "Stuff OSR People Blog About."

Rather than post the entire questionnaire, (it's over 120 questions) I thought I'd just post some of the talking points that get floated around here every so often. It looks like these were things people wanted to change back in the day, but were either in the minority or were overruled by TSR.

(These questions ask the reader to rate them from 1= strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree)
22. Add special rules to make each weapon different
23. Drop some of the obscure pole arms
24. Cut longsword damage vs. large opponents 
40. The value of money should be changed so copper is worth something
41. The value of money should be converted to a decimal system to simplify math
42. The gold standard should be changed to a silver standard.
43. The "boom town" economy should be changed to something that works for a stable kingdom.
44. More ideas on how to take money out of the campaign should be added to this section.
45. Rules for incorporating gunpowder should be added
46. Rules for incorporating SF/high-tech should be added.
47. System crossover rules are needed for other TSR rule sets (TOP SECRET game, GAMMA WORLD game and others)
48. Any rule that gives an automatic adverse result should be revised to give at least a small chance of success. One that gives and automatic favorable result should be revised to give a small chance of failue. 
 50. Character classes are too restrictive and contrived. They should be replaced with a proficiencies that allow you to choose the abilities you want your character to have.
51. I hardly ever look at the rules while I'm running a game. I make things up according to what I think is right instead of following the rules.
52. Characters should be generated by rolling 3 dice with no re-rolls. Any other method creates super characters.
53. There should be character classes for every profession, PC and NPC, since this is the only way to measure character abilities.
55. The combat system needs a lot more detail: critical hits, exact hit location, shock, knockdown, and more special rules to make each weapon different.
56. Peopl who enjoy playing a Monty Hall campaign or have characters of 50+ levels dont' understand what the AD&D game is about.
57. The AD&D game is too confusing. There are too many different tables and systems. They should all be resolved by a single table to resolve everything.
58. Player characters need better reasons to do things than just killing monsters and getting treasure.
59. Alignments are stupid and without redeeming features. They should be removed from the game.
60. Too many people forget that the idea of playing the AD&D game is to have fun. They become too involved in their characters and the rules.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There are questions on how long combat should take, how long character creation should take, how long you should have to play before you reach 9th level, how experience should be doled out, spell points vs. Vancian, etc.

The apparent moral of this story is that we spend a lot of time bitching about stuff that we still bitched about in the 80's. (Well, I didn't then because I was like five in the 80's and D&D was just another Saturday morning cartoon to be enjoyed over a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal.) 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My SWN Toybox Pt. 1

Here is some slightly customized gear in my SWN game world. I'm not 100% on the costs yet, and cost tends to vary greatly in my milieu anyway.

Dan, one of my players, also game up with some gear for the game. I have a few more items as well that I'll drop into a second post.

Qotah Ceremonial Armor Cost: 300 cr    AC: 7   Enc. 0 TL 4
The warriors of the Qotah craft a form of light, flexible, attractive looking armor. This armor stands up to high-teach weaponry and does not encumber the user at all. (It should never cause any penalties to an Athletics or Stealth roll, for instance) In addition, it's bright colors and intricate patterns mean that some cultures don't even recognize it as armor, thus allowing Qotah to sometimes wear it where armor is normally not permitted.

In my game, Qotah are allowed to start with this armor for free. The price is listed in case a replacement suit needs to be obtained. The armor is hard to find outside of Qotah space, as they generally do not sell it to outsiders. The armor is tailored for Qotah physiology and cannot generally be worn by other species, unless they have some kind of shapeshifting ability or have a physiology very similar to the Qotah.

GMs, bear in mind that the Qotah receive +1 to their Dexterity bonus, meaning the average Qotah warrior will actually be AC 6 when wearing this armor.

Hochog Heavy Battle Armor Cost: 1,000 cr  AC: 3  Enc. 2/3 TL 4
This armor looks a lot like low-tech metal plate armor, only it tends to be dull gray, green, black, or some patterned combination of the three. The armor is actually made up of modern polymers and advanced carbonites, thus granting the wearer full protection against high-tech weaponry.

This armor is bulky, designed with the hochog frame in mind. The armor counts as three encumbrance when worn by non-hochog. A forgiving GM might rule that a big burly alien of another species might be able to wear the armor without penalty.

Despite the name, there doesn't appear to be a hochog light battle armor. Most hochog who are asked about light armor laugh like you made a joke or were being sarcastic.

Advanced Shield Cost: 100 cr  AC: (-1) Enc. 1 TL 4+
This device is a small bracer worn on the forearm. When activated, a telescoping disc of advanced materials spirals out of a raised cylinder on the bracer, forming a shield. This shield lowers the AC of the user by 1 and is effective against high-tech materials.
When the shield is active, the user cannot use a two-handed weapon without foregoing the AC bonus for a full round. At the GM's discretion, an active shield might also get in the way of a task that requires fine manipulation with that hand. 

The "plus" version of this item does not create a metal disc, but rather a disc of barely-visible force that lights up when struck by an attack. This version of the advanced shield is much more compact and often overlooked as armor, but it requires a Type A power cell for every 24 hours of operation. (GMs who don't feel like keeping track can just make the PC recharge it every week.) This version is technically TL5, but it is relatively simple and has become so widespread that it can be purchased on many TL4 worlds.

Hochog "Liquid CouRage" Combat Drug Cost: 150 cr per dose   Enc. 3 vials= 1  TL: 4
Part steroid, part painkiller, and all bad news, this is a cocktail used by some hochog in battle. The drug must be applied via syringe or autoinjector. It lasts for 2d6 rounds. While drugged, the user has +2d4 bonus hit points, +1 to hit in melee combat, +1 to all damage rolls, and +2 to any saving throw vs. Physical Effect or Mental Effect. Non-Player Characters have their Morale increased to 12 while under the influence of this drug. The character also takes 1 System Strain. If the character is at maximum System Strain and injects the drug anyway, he falls helpless with seizures for the duration of the drug's effect instead of gaining any bonuses.
Characters who are on LCR are able to distinguish friend from foe, but they must attack an enemy each round. That means they will fire into melee, run after fleeing enemies, etc. They can choose to disregard fallen opponents. If there are no enemies remaining, the hochog will generally take his aggression out on nearby inanimate objects until the drug runs its course.
After the duration of the drug ends, the character will get "the shakes," suffering -1 on attack rolls and skill checks for 1 hour. The character must also make a Physical Effect save or get hooked on the drug. The saving throw has a +4 bonus, -1 for every dose the character has taken in the past week. Non-hochog likewise suffer an additional -2 to the save.
A biopsionic can use Purge Toxin to end the drug's effect early. Unwilling subjects must be struck in hand-to-hand combat. The user still experiences "the shakes" and also suffers an extra System Strain (beyond what the power normally inflicts) as the drug is violently expelled from his system.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Quick Thought About Randomness in Preparing and Running Games

Of late, I've found that I very much enjoy preparing my games using various randomizing tools. Maps, monsters, gimmicks, whatever. For some reason, my brain isn't coming up with much on it's own, but give me some random data points and suddenly the ideas are pouring out. I'm sure some would think it means I've become a lazy DM. I find that my stuff is refreshingly out of character for me as a DM. Forcing myself to bridge a gap between two (or more) seemingly incompatible results is keeping me on my mental toes, certainly more so than taking everything to a "logical" conclusion. Making myself build concepts from random generation makes my SWN milieu feel like a universe with many unique places and cultures, rather than a bunch of stuff that was all thought up by the same guy.

If this all makes me lazy, then so be it...some of my favorite things in this campagin (and things I can't wait to use) were inspired by random data points.

Monday, December 3, 2012

SWN Session Prep

Tomorrow's session is pretty straightforward: The PCs were hired by a corporation to sterilize a compromised bio-tech research lab and to retrieve the data core from said lab.

Helping me to create this "Lil' Lab of Horrors":

-The sci-fi map generator from the Wizardawn website
-My dusty but serviceable copy of "The Random Esoteric Creature Generator."
-My vague high school memories of the "Bio-Research Lab" dungeon from SaGa Frontier. (a PS1 game)


ASE Lv. 2 and 3

ASE 2-3 might be just a little too gonzo for me to use it out of the box. That doesn't mean that I won't steal from it liberally, though.

I think my favorite thing is the Scientist character class. I think the class is really more of a Cyborg than a Scientist, but some of the lore-type abilities might combine nicely with the Techno-Rat class from Sword+1's "Resistance" B/X hack. It also gives me an idea on how I might revise the Headhunter and implement the Combat Cyborg in my RIFTS-to-AD&D conversion that sits mostly finished on my hard drive.

If there's one thing that I truly take away from ASE, though, it's the variety of stuff in the rooms. There really is never a dull moment in ASE. I would totally play in an ASE game, but I'm not sure if I would ever run one.

....well, except at a convention, maybe... or a "we want to play but don't have enough people" type of thing.

I still think it's money well spent, though. There's a lot to observe about dungeon design and making rooms memorable.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I discovered Champions in 8th grade. (Er... the summer before 8th grade I think) It was in its 4th edition back then. I had already been gaming for several years. I ended up really hating the way the system ran and gave the book to my best friend, who ran it sporadically throughout high school. I loved/hated those games. We did end up creating a pretty solid continuity in our superhero world. (The city of Megalopolis) Taking heavy doses of inspiration from the X-men cartoon from the early 90's, the Spider-Man cartoon from the mid-90's, and whatever shit we happened to be interested in that week, our heroes battled a bunch of insane villains with really shortsighted plans. I present to you the good and bad guys spawned by our 14-16 year old minds:

The Good Guys (?) 

Nightcloak- A naked ripoff of the good guy from the computer game Noctropolis, only with invisibility thrown in and a ludicrously high DEX score. I am sorry to say this was my character.

Darkblade- He had liquid darkness for armor. He was like, but not exactly like, the Guyver. Brutally killed off when his player moved away.

Jade- Take the Punisher, make him a girl, give her a green suit instead of a black suit. Managed to convince the other heroes that their "don't kill the villains" policy was misguided. Showed up like twice.

Arcanus- My second character who only ran in solo games. He was basiclly a D&D wizard. He made potions and had psychic powers and lived in a stone tower outside the city.

Black Dragon- Was a white guy who was a ninja. He seemed unable to do any significant damage for some reason. Player decided he hated Champions and stopped showing up. 

The NPC Good Guys Who Were Really Just Liabilities and DNPCS We Got No Points For:

Prism- She could create rainbow force fields. Yup. Mostly just hid behind them, too.

Mezmer- know, I really can't remember. He had US Army bodyguards (who were useless), some kind of mental powers, and he got captured a lot. Despite us hating him, we found that we were often railroaded into rescuing him.

The Bad Guys

The Jokester- He was the Joker, only with superhuman strength and futuristic body armor.

Golem- Clayface, only with...wait, no. Clayface. He has the distinction of being the only villain to ever die.

Inferno- A guy with fire powers who was apparently mentally retarded. Psychically liked to...

Glacier- Inferno's brother, a guy with ice powers. Also apparently mentally retarded. Together, they could fuse into...

Antipode X- Aside from being named after a spell from the video game Chrono Trigger, AX was pretty badass. He had fire and ice powers. Stopped showing up after Jade blew him in half with a rocket launcher whose flame rounds nearly killed Glacier, who was unfairly saved at the last second by....

Wonder Man- Superman, only evil. He had the ability to buy airtime and run anti-hero propaganda commercials. He was loved by the populace of Megalopolis, despite being a total douche and regularly causing fatalities among its citizenry.

Quiver- The Green Arrow, but British. An evil corporation had his sister captive, so he had to be evil. He rejected offers of our team to attempt to rescue his sister. His leather armor also saved him from a thirty story fall one time.

Samurai- He was a Samurai. He ended every sentence directed at someone else with "Dishonorable Cur." His sword also just did normal damage, rather than killing damage, so usually it just knocked you out. Was actually pretty dishonorable whenever combat was going against him. Infuriated if dishonorable behavior was pointed out.

Meander- He could shoot an "unluck" beam at you, which basically meant that all your own die rolls somehow fucked you over for the next several turns.

Crusher- He had one arm and a huge psychic attack. His name was NOT short for "Mind Crusher."

Arch-Lich- Undead. Uh, I think he had magic. The only power I know he had was the ability to brew up some mind control salsa to hypnotize the patronage of a local, family owned Mexican eatery so his supervillain team could rob it. No shit.

The Druid- Was a Forgotten Realms druid. He was an eco-terrorist, but operated on a pretty small scale. (Like, the local lumberyard)

Hot Elf Chick- Not actually her name, surprisingly enough. She was named after some elf chick in some Forgotten Realms novel. She shot arrows. I think we knocked her out in one hit. She helped the Druid shut down a local lumberyard.

Ninjas- Ninjas showed up a lot. They had bows, but also laser rifles and an armored hovercraft with a mounted laser cannon on it. I don't remember what the ninjas ever wanted. I think they stole some computer stuff once.

Necromancer- The arch-enemy of Arcanus, and really the only bad guy Arcanus ever fought. He never seemed to show up in any of the group stories. He invested all his power in magic items of a thoroughly non-necromantic nature, most of which were eventually stolen by Arcanus, creating balance problems and relegating Arcanus forever to his own continuity.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

SWN Campaign: Who is the Emperor of Galaran?

In my SWN milieu, war is brewing in Ceres Sector. The ruler of the planet Galaran has crowned himself Emperor and annexed several nearby planets with the might of his Pre-Tech space fleet. He has now turned his sights on the rest of Ceres Sector.

Relatively little is known about this mysterious Emperor of Galaran, but he has become the subject of much worried speculation. Character inquiry into the Emperor will require a Culture/Spacer, Culture/Criminal, or Culture/Traveler roll, depending on where you are. If the characters are on one of the Four Worlds (a faction that opposes Galaran), the roll is at +2. If they are on one of the worlds that have been subjugated by Galaran, the roll is at -2, and failing it by more than 3 will prompt attention of the local authorities within 1d6 hours.

If the roll is successful, the PCs can make a second roll to see what piece of information they glean about the enigmatic Emperor of Galaran:

1. The Emperor adheres to some ancient mystical religion. Some say he has psionic powers such as telekinesis and the ability to throw lightning from his hands.
2. The Emperor is actually one of the original Mandarins, kept alive all these centuries by Pre-Tech nanites.
3. The Emperor is a withered husk, kept alive by a machine that can only sustain him if it is fed copious psychics.
4. The Emperor is actually a massive ancient computer.
5. The Emperor is a foppish figurehead, and the aggressive expansion of Galaran is plotted by a sinister conspiracy.
6. The Emperor is a feral psychic who has the ability to completely dominate the minds around him due to an ancient and powerful Mandate discipline he has mastered.
7. The Emperor strides around naked. Anyone who points this out is executed.
8. It is an Empress, not an Emperor.
9. The Emperor was an ordinary noble until he was corrupted by a horrible alien artifact.
10. The real Emperor was a benevolent and kind man. He was clearly assassinated and replaced by an evil shape-shifting Solphir.
11. The Emperor is secretly trying to unite Ceres Sector against a horrific alien menace of incomprehensible power. If he doesn't succeed, all sentient life will be surely destroyed.
12. The Emperor is just a man with delusions of grandeur.
13. The Emperor drinks human blood.
14. The Emperor drinks alien blood. (Or the closest equivalent)
15. The Emperor is merciless.
16. The Emperor survives by having his brain patters transferred to a new body every century. His most recent transplant was partially unsuccessful, making this incarnation recklessly aggressive compared to its more calculating predecessors.
17. The Emperor fell in love with a beautiful Queen from another planet. He has started this war in order to take possession of her. (Which planet she is on varies widely and should be determined more or less randomly)
18. The Emperor is an AI Godmind whose interstellar war is a front for some other, likely baleful, agenda.
19. The Emperor is long dead. Galaran was a peaceful planet. The invading fleets look nothing like Galaranian ships and its soldiers remain obscured behind enclosed helmets. All footage of the Emperor looks like it is from several decades ago. There is some kind of invasion going on, but Galaran is clearly not behind it.
20. The Emperor is dying,and he simply wishes to take as many people and planets with him as possible before he goes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sub-Genres Without Number

I continue to run my little two player SWN game on Tuesdays. I find that I can accommodate my "Gamer ADD" in SWN by sprinkling the vastness of space with different planets that reflect the different flavors of science fiction. The campaign has already gone through a leg of "dungeon crawling in space" and a leg of "Traveller style commerce" and is now in "Cyberpunk 2020" mode. I mean, I could set up a campaign like this with really almost any sci-fi game, but I find the simplicity of SWN to be endlessly attractive as a GM with limited time to prepare the game.

I find that I have ideas for some Big Ass Space War (a la Star Wars), weird pseudo-fantasy (a la Empire of the Petal Throne), and plenty of other ideas that I want to be vague about. (My players read this blog)

I'm pretty excited about this setup, because we can keep the game fresh and switch it up when we start to get tired of Shadowruns or Keep on the Borderlands in Spaaaaaaaaaaace  or whatever.

I rolled out the Combat Cyborgs I posted recently. The party chewed through the first group, but ran into some problems with the second could've been a TPK if not for a few lucky/unlucky die rolls on both sides.

This Tuesday: the group is considering taking a job that involves "sterilizing a compromised biotech facility." That sounds totally legit, right?

There are always other jobs if they decide not to. The joys of sandboxing, right?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blackest Friday

(Sorry, stole the pun from the local comic shop/coffee bar)

On their way to me:

*Anomalous Subsurface Environment Levels 2-3 at 30% off.
*Sailors on the Starless Sea- FREE NINETY-NINE. 

I got some other nerd goodness today, but they are not gaming related and thus beyond the limited purview of this blog.

Carry on, gamers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Old School D&D Threads

Today I was at my favorite comic book store, and I saw a flyer for "official" D&D apparel. I have to say that I will have trouble resisting the urge to buy a t-shirt with the Holmes Basic cover picture on it.

Other models include the minotaur from Keep on the Borderlands and a t-shirt that has the old "dragon ampersand" that TSR used to slap on products back in the day.

I'm still not going to buy D&D Next, but I will totally rock the Holmes Basic shirt.

That is all.

Another good idea from the internet

One phrase recently used to find my blog: "using dinosaur swamp with mutant future."


I've actually thought about such a project in the past. The PCs would probably be lost Coalition personnel, stranded in Dino Swamp after a mission gone wrong. Dinosaurs and lots of big lasers and rockets to shoot them with, and no pesky ass tour guide telling you to get back on the metal path.

It might be a fun thing to run over Winter Break...if any of my local gamers have some time off during the day. (Dan, Mike...looking at y'all)

I'll always stick to my (mega-damage) guns that RIFTS books make better source books for games other than RIFTS.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jack in, chum- er, wait.. wrong game.

In preparation for further jobs on the cyberpunk-ish planet of Guangxi, I have been listening to nothing but Lazerhawk, Com Truise, and Power Glove for the past several hours.

The pros: I have a boat load of ideas for cyberpunk style jobs.

The cons: I wish I was running Cyberpunk 2020, and I now pine for the 80's with a deep, pervasive longing.

New fact about Guangxi: the farther you get from the "surface" levels, the closer you get to the aesthetic of a 1980's that never was.

Stats: Corporate Cyborg Hitman (Stars Without Number) Note: Whimsical, but only partly so

Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4+4
Attack bonus: +5
Damage: 3d4 combat shotgun, 1d8 fist
Skill Bonus: +3
No. Appearing: 1-4
Saving Throw: 13+
Movement: 30' or 60'
Morale: 12

Cyborg Hitmen usually appear as fairly generic, if well-muscled men, with close cropped hair and dark eyes. On Guangxi, they appear to be of Chinese decent. They typically wear big dark coats or finely tailored suits.
Cybord Hitmen typically employ heavy shotguns in combat, though their fists are formidable as well. On the roll of a natural 20, a Cyborg Hitman will heft a character up by his neck, peer soulessly into his eyes, and then throw him bodily into a wall, plate glass window, or conveniently stacked group of objects such as barrels or crates. This inflicts 2d6 damage and stuns the character for 1d4 combat rounds. A successful Physical Effect save halves the damage and simply results in loss of initiative the following round.

Combat Cyborgs are equipped with advanced optics and halve any penalties for range. They do not suffer from darkness penalties.

Cyborg Hitmen move at the same rate as a normal human when being directly observed. When not being observed, they are capable of moving at double the speed of a normal person, usually moving ahead of their target so they can come out from a sudden corner, door, or other "gotcha" spot. They will sometimes use their enhanced movement rate when pursuing vehicles.

Combat Cyborgs reduced to 10 hit points or less typically have their metal endoskeleton exposed. They also receive +2 to attack and damage in this state until repaired or destroyed.

A Combat Cyborg reduced to 0 hit points dies instantly, and his internal computers wipe any and all data with regards to his manufacturer or mission. Valuable secret technology also fuses inside of him, leaving a smoking and ultimately useless metal skeleton.

Combat Cyborgs receive +2 on all saving throws vs. psionic attacks. They cannot be healed or enhanced by biopsionics. They are considered to be maxed out on System Strain for all purposes.

To De-Whimsify This Monster: Remove the enhanced movement and choke throw special ability..also, write I AM LAME on your arm or forehead in black marker.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Darn Cool Resource

If you haven't been by Wizardawn, you really should give it a gander. There are quality map and content generators for OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition LL, Mutant Future, and more. I find this site particularly handy because, while I don't mind mapping dungeons and interiors, I don't really like mapping cities or large wilderness areas.

Oh, and the 8-bit aesthetic sported by the website is just plain neat, 'specially to a child of the 80's.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

SWN: Voyage of the Albatross

I am presently running a little side campaign using Stars Without Number. "Voyage of the Albatross" isn't actually the campaign's name, but it's not a bad point of reference.

I have only two players. Their characters are:
-Eaverin Raideen  (5th level Psychic), a noble who belongs to one of the Hydrin Clans.
-Vrinn Hollow (5th level Qotah Expert), a former intelligence agent/hacker who joined the Clans.

Their NPC henchmen:
-Gustav Volkovic (3rd level Warrior), a mercenary rescued from captivity and hired on by the PCs.
-Dane Kestra Pedrana (3rd level Warrior), a Dane, or House Guard, of the Raideen Clan. She is the sworn protector of Eaverin and has been ordered to accompany him on his wanderings.

NPC Crew Hirelings:
-Sofia Lucullo,  skilled pilot/navigator, rescued from the same pirates who held Gustav.
-Adler Spiel, an engineer/mechanic who served on the same ship as Sofia. He was rescued from being turned into a zombie by a bizarre alien mold he accidentally unleashed while exploring some ruins. 

The game is sandbox style. We're on the second "leg" of the campaign right now. Having completed an expedition into an alien culture that gained the attention of Houses Raideen and Sashara, the party has been granted a small vessel, the Albatross. The party is currently docked at the starport of Guangxi. They've run a job on the planet and discovered how morally...flexible...operatives are expected to be. The party was hired to reclaim an asteroid belt mining/processing facility for a corporation, only to find out that the opposition were slave miners who had risen up against their captors and a group of unusually altruistic warriors sworn to help them. Thanks to clever party, they managed to complete the job, save the miners, and befriend the warriors... (frankly, I expected them just to blast everyone, take the money, and run.) We'll see if they're able to navigate their next job as adroitly.

I was skeptical about running with such a small group at first, but it's growing on me. At any rate, being a GM is in my blood; I'm just not truly satisfied unless I'm running something. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Concede: Sometimes Skills are Pointless

Alright, so I'm currently playing through Fallout 2 on my PC, having finished Fallout 1 a few weeks ago. The old Fallout games are traditional rpgs with skill and talent-based character development.

I'm usually an advocate for skills in an rpg because I think that some characters should be better than other characters at certain things.

Playing Fallout 2 sometimes makes me think that the anti-skill camp is on to something.

Case in point: there is a point in the game where you have to learn some fairly vital information from a computer terminal. Successfully accessing this information requires the game to check against your character's Science skill.

...there is no consequence if you fail, aside from a boring "you can't figure it out" screen.

...but... you can try again. You can try again and again and again.

What does this produce? Me hurling every expletive that I can come up with while bitterly clicking the skill screen and then clicking on the computer terminal over and over again until I get the information.There really is no point, it seems, in investing an skill points in Science. Yeah, I had it at 60% and it took me three or four tries. If my skill was 10%, would it just have required ten or so tries until I got lucky? If this information is vital to my continuing the game, why not just give me the goddamn information already? I could understand if the information lead me to some kind of bonus item or xp award or Optional MacGufffin or whatever, but this is information that is required to progress through the game's main quest.

 So, to all you skill haters in this corner of the internet...sometimes, I can totally see where you guys are coming from. 

X-Plorer Style Skills Pt. 2- A Few Basic Ideas

In a recent post, I toyed with the idea of using X-Plorer style skills in a D&D game.
TL/DR? Skills are baked into classes and work like saving throws. (d20, meet or beat) Fighter types have combat bonuses.

Since I want to begin tinkering in earnest, I'm setting out to make a list of skills for each class. When you create a character, you get X choices for skills.

I haven't made any decisions yet about cross-class skills or skills for multi-classed characters; for now I'm just trying to get a list hammered out. I'm sure I'll be paring this down.

My end goal is this: I want characters to be able to do things better than some other characters at certain things. Yes, I love the "anything goes" attitude of a skills-lite system, but I also have stated that I think a fighter who is imagined as a ranger should be better at certain stuff than a fighter who is imagined as a cavalryman. 

Classes will assume those found in B/X D&D. 

-Weapon Specialization
-Martial Arts
(These two are straight out of X-Plorers and all Soldiers have them)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Feat of Strength (Basically like a bend bars/lift gate "heroic" burst of strength)
-Wilderness Survival
-Favored Enemy

-Open Locks
-Find/Remove Traps
-Climb Walls
-Move Silently
-Hide in Shadows
-Pick Pockets
-Hear Noise
-Read Languages/Use Scrolls
-Appraise Item

-Religious Lore
-Demon/Undead Lore
-Field Medicine
-Inscribe Scrolls
-Mix Potions
-Turn Undead
-Clerical Magic
(I'm not for-sure in having the last two count as skills. Or I might and simply say that clerics are required to take them. Ditto with the creation of magic items)

-Magical Lore
-Monster Lore
-Ancient History
-Read Languages
-Inscribe Scroll
-Mix Potion
-Enchant Item
-Analyze Magical Item
-Cast spells

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to axes, hammers, or crossbows)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Feat of Strength (Basically like a bend bars/lift gate "heroic" burst of strength)
-Favored Enemy
-Detect Traps
-Appraise Item

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to bows and non-two handed swords)
-Repair Arms/Armor
-Wilderness Survival
-Favored Enemy
-Magical Lore
-Monster Lore
-Ancient History
-Read Languages
-Inscribe Scroll
-Mix Potion
-Enchant Item
-Analyze Magical Item
-Cast spells

-Weapon Specialization (Restricted to sling only)

Mystic (heck, why not?) Three picks?
-Ancient History
-Field Medicine
-Feat of Strength
-Martial Arts (required)
-Weapon Specialization


Saturday, November 10, 2012

SWN: Guangxi

Below is the first draft of the planet I originally created from a name and some random die rolls. 

Guangxi (Ceres Sector, Hex 0005)

Atomsphere: Breathable Mix
Temperature: Temperate
Population: 972,713
Tech Level: 4+ (Specialties in cybernetics and computer networking)  
Tags: Badlands World, Secret Masters
Reason for Colonization: Trade Hub
Government: Initially Military Dictatorship, evolved to Republic, devolved to Corporatocracy
Conflict: Freedom
Cultural Flavor: Chinese, Cyberpunk
Societal Traits: Factious, Ambitious

Guangxi was originally founded as a hub for the Terran Mandate. The idea is that Guangxi would supply the surrounding colonies. Governance was left to Mandate military commanders. After the Scream, the military broke into two factions, with civilian "contractors" forming a third. Pretech weapons were brought to bear on each other, rendering much of the planet uninhabitable.

After the dust settled, the new ruling faction found that it has earned only a Pyhhric victory against the other would-be regents of Guangxi, and cooperation with the civilian companies and means of production were necessary to the survival of all of Guangxi's inhabitants. Over the years, the planet formed something resembling a Republic.

In recent decades, the more wealthy and powerful tycoons and corporations have essentially subdued the elected bureaucrats through wealth and an endless system of lobbying and favor currying. The citizens are beginning to feel the effects of this, so the corporate occupied government has began to promote a hedonistic consumer culture among the middle and lower classes.

Guangxi excels in the fields of cybernetics and computer technology. Most of the implants in the Polychrome supplement have a near-equivalent on Guangxi.

Guangxi is currently officially neutral in the major conflict of Ceres Sector, which is a self-proclaimed Emperor being opposed by a loose confederation of independent worlds. Guangxi is selling weaponry and cyber-warfare countermeasures to the independent worlds, as well as enacting a number of plans to cause economic instability in the new "Empire" of Galaran- Empires are not good for business, after all.

Guangxi is a potentially lucrative venue for wandering adventurers. The corporations often oppose each other using covert, deniable contractors for discreet operations against each other's interests. 
(Shadowruns, baby.)

Guangxi never quite recovered from the ecological disaster of the Silence years. The people of the planet currently live in just a couple of large metropoli that are built upwards. The lower levels remain structurally sound, but the infrastructure is compromised in many places and it sends to be a honeycomb of slums ruled by gangs and third-rate companies that lost out in the dog-eat-dog corporate wars.

TL;DR: Chinese Shadowrun planet with cities like the big one from Final Fantasy VII.

Music to listen to when picturing Guangxi:
  Dizzying overhead view of ultra-modern Guangxi city (a la Blade Runner)

Running an op for one of the corporations

Slick but menacing business district where lives are bought and sold

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

SWN Milieu Map

 My SWN universe takes shape on some grubby graph paper at Village Inn. I did end up making some changes, but this is more or less where my campaigns take place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sci-Fi Bad Guys

Sci-Fi has a lot of excellent bad guys. You should steal these bad guys for your Stars Without Number, X-Plorers, or Encounter Critical games. Hell, you can drop them into D&D if you're feeling feisty.

1. Darth Vader- You know who Darth Vader is. You know exactly why your game needs a plasma sword-wielding cyborg with evil magic/psionics.
He can work as-is in a gonzo enough fantasy game. Otherwise, make him an anti-paladin or evil fighter with psionic powers and a badass magic sword. 

2. Sovereign (Mass Effect 1)- A sentient capital ship who is millions of years old. He is also the vanguard of an entire race of sentient capital ships that wipe out all advanced organic life every 50,000 years as part of a bizarre cycle of order that they choose to impose on the universe.

In a fantasy game, Sovereign might be a big ancient dragon, heralding the reawakening of a  race of big ancient dragons. (or Krakens, or whatever) As above, if your game is gonzo enough, he can still be a big mean spaceship with a hate on for organic life. 

3. His Divine Shadow (LEXX)-A self-proclaimed Divine Ruler who transfers his essence into a new body every century. He keeps the preserved brains of his previous host bodies as a sort of weird oracle that he consults for advice. He destroys planets in the name of Order.

I can see him working in a B/X game as a cleric of Law gone horribly, horribly wrong. Perhaps he creates a militaristic theocracy. Although he gives off a great Evil Wizard vibe, he doesn't seem to have any magic powers, besides of course the preserved brain oracle collective.. 

4. Jean-Baptiste Immanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element)- Psychotic tycoon who owns a multi-planet weapons manufacturing firm. Secretly serves a cosmic power that wants to annihilate earth. Has a particular knack for megalomaniacal/pseudo-philosophical rants and for berating incompetent subordinates.

Zorg could easily be a petty baron, or perhaps a wealthy arms merchant. He's actually such a monstrous dick that when you find out he is in league with some sort of space monster/deity thing, it's actually not that much of a surprise.  If nothing else, his twisted logic that his place in the universe is necessary can make for an interesting bad guy.

5. GLaDOS (Portal/Portal 2)- Insane computer that runs a scientific testing facility. Obsessed with testing. Attempts to deceive test subjects with obvious falsehoods and maintains a persona of being friendly and helpful while attempting to kill escaping test subjects. She has several personalities (benign, murderous, etc.) that she seems to oscillate between.

Ha...the idea of dropping something like the Aperture Science testing facility in a fantasy game makes me grin. GLaDOS would work great in a Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World style game, or as a remote outpost in a non-apocalyptic sci-fi setting. I guess if you're a fantasy purist, you could make her into some kind of magical construct that was designed to assist a long dead wizard. In his absence, the construct continues about her business..."interpreting" her orders as best she can. 

Aside from Darth Vader, I tried to go with non-obvious choices. They don't have to be gonzo if cleverly re-skinned... it all depends on what flavor your game is. My SWN universe could only fit a few of these without seeming silly, but it does give me some ideas....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

X-Plorer Style Skills

I downloaded the free version of X-Plorers a long time ago, but I never really gave it a serious read through. JB recently posted a glowing review for the game, so I gave the PDF another look-see.

While I'm not sure this game will ever supplant my undying love for Stars Without Number, I do like the way they handle skill- by baking them into the character class.

Every class in X-Plorers has a four pretty broad abilities that all members of the class possess. Skills are checked by rolling a d20 and trying to meet or beat the character's skill number. The roll is modified by the appropriate attribute bonus/penalty. (Ability score modifiers are understated, capping at +2/-2 at scores of 4/17) Skill numbers decrease (rather like saving throws) as a character advances in level. I should note that the Soldier class is an exception- of his four skills, two of them are actually combat related bonuses (number of attacks, unarmed damage, etc.) that simply improve as he advances in level; you do not roll to check these skills.

I really like the basic idea here, which is making skill mechanics nearly identical to saving throws. I also like that a character class has skills attached to it. I always liked the idea of character class implying the different areas of a character's expertise.

If I ported this into D&D, I would probably change a lot of things about the implementation while leaving the basic mechanic intact. I'm thinking that classes would have some skill choice- it bothers me slightly that every Soldier in X-Plorers has training in demolitions and every scientist is also a doctor. I see the potential here to create variant fighters, thieves, etc. without creating new character classes for everything. Imagine there is a class skill list, and you are allowed to take X many choices at character creation. You could take Tracking and Favored Enemy to create a "ranger", or maybe Tracking and Stealth, etc.

I imagine many players would want there to be a little bit of potential for "cross-class" skills. D20, of course, did it. Even AD&D 2nd edition allowed you to take NWPs that were outside your class group if you paid extra slots. I'm thinking of two ways to do this right off the bat:
1. Cross-class skills cost two skill choices, rather than just one. (Consider that in X-Plorers, each class has only four skills.)
2. Cross-class skills cost the same number of skill choices, but they improve at only half the rate of class skills. For X-Plorers saving throw-style skills, this means that cross-class skills improve only every other experience level, rather than at every level. It means that combat skills would only improve once every four levels. Hmm...that seems rather harsh. I'd be tempted to say every three levels.

Thieves, of course, would get the most skill choices, and their success rates would be converted to X+ on a d20 (with starting rates more analogous to the Scout class in X-Plorers) Perhaps they would receive 6 or 8 while the other classes received four.

This is where it could potentially expand beyond where I had intended it to go. Perhaps magic-users would only receive three skill choices, with the use of magic counting as one of their abilities. Would clerics deserve the same treatment? (Spells and they receive only two skill choices?) Does this mean that a class could take magic-use as a cross-class ability? You could create a Bard or a Grey Mouser style character by playing a Thief with magic-user spells as one of their skill choices.

I think I'd have to reign it in a bit there. If we're getting that abstract, why not remove character classes entirely? (Short answer: because I like character class as a part of D&D) I'm thinking that magic-use or other supernatural abilities might cost double and advance at half rate, while more mundane skills like Horsemanship or Legerdemain would cost normal and advance at half rate. After all, you can easily argue that learning how to cast magic spells is probably a smidgen harder than learning how to move quietly or gather food in the wilderness.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Good idea, internet...

So a recent term used to find my blog was "OSR Al-Qadim."

I'd love to see something like this come out of the OSR.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stars Without Number: The Hydrin Clans

The Hydrin Clans are a loose confederation of tribes that wander the galaxy in a community of scavenged ships.

Most who are familiar with the Hydrin Clans think that they originated in Hydra Sector (because of their name). The Elders have removed the details of their homeworld from the Clan Sagas, a highly allegorical series of poems that relate the history of the Clans. According to the Clan Sagas, they Hydrin Clans are all that is left of their homeworld, which was destroyed after being betrayed by their allies against something called the Dragon. The Hydrin Sagas state that they slew the Dragon and that the traitors suffered a fate worse than death, but that the Clans had to leave their homeworld behind forever.

Although the Clans originally consisted only of refugees from the same planet, they are known to accept vagabonds, refugees, and drifters- even alien ones- as long as they swear loyalty to the Clans and receive their mark. The Hydrin Clans are loyal only to themselves. Betrayal is the direst crime in the Clans.

The Hydrin Clans survive by being professional mercenaries. They are not just warriors for hire, but also engineers, medics, mechanics, and other services. However, Hydrin will not fight other Hydrin, even if they are hired by opposing forces. The Clans will quit the field before they engage one another.

The Clans have spent the last hundred and fifty years wandering Atragon Sector, serving as foils in the unending conflict between the sector's two major polities: the Arcanian League and the Technocratic Unions of Runaris. These two powers also have enough infighting between their members that they sometimes hire the Hydrin Clans in their internal struggles as well.

While outsiders consider the Hydrin to be barbarians, they are actually a fully modern Tech Level 4 civilization. Their code of honor is also far more civil than many of the so-called "enlightened" worlds of the Arcanian League. The Clans also pride themselves on their reputation for getting the job done, and on their reputation for taking revenge on those who attempt to set them up or manipulate their code.

I've used the Hydrin Clans as a great way to start off a campaign. Players from any walk of life could have joined the Clans, and their work as mercenaries can give PCs lots of opportunities to explore a sandbox, plus give them a base to come back to between excursions. Players who want to be a member should take Culture/Hydrin among their starting skills. Any background, class, and even race is permissible within the Clans. 

Two examples of Clans within the Hydrin:

House Raideen- The Raideen are one of the oldest Clans, claiming that their ancestors were among those who organized the exodus from the original Hydrin homeworld. They have a great deal of hereditary wealth and a strong warrior tradition. Elite soldiers of House Raideen, called Danes, are among the fiercest warriors in the fleet.
The Raideen have taken a sacred bird of their homeworld as a totem. Raideen nobles often dress in feathers and their armor is often decorated with avian motifs. Among the Clans ships is an aviary that contains species of birds not found anywhere else in the galaxy. (The Elders say many are species rescued from the original homeworld.)
Although there are not many psychics in House Raideen, they have a strong tradition of precognitives among their number. The Hydrin see psychic abilities as a form of divine sorcery, and much of their psychic training is clothed in superstition. Many Raideen psychics resemble vagabond witches and soothsayers like in the stories of old.

House Sasara- This Clan is composed entirely of ssath (detailed in the SWN core rules.) This particular group of ssath were feral until the Hydrin encountered them. Impressing the Hydrin psyche upon themselves, they were lifted out of their hereditary madness. They took the mark of the Clans and became a Clan unto their own right. Sasara is a small Clan and mostly they keep out of Clan politics. They have a soft spot for alien vagabonds and refugees who seek solace among the Clans. They boast more psychics than any of the other Clans.
The Sasara have a strong tradition of hospitality. When they entertain guests of a non-human species, they often assume the guest's general form as a gesture of welcome and respect.

                                                                                           Artwork by Frank Frazetta

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Used Bookstore Trip

I hit up the used bookstore again yesterday.

I ended up adding Assassin Mountain, a boxed set for Al-Qadim, to my collection. I've heard good things about it, and it was written by Wolfgang Bauer, whose works I have enjoyed in the past. Plus it was less than seven bucks.

Also there was White Wolf's rare and out of print Street Fighter roleplaying game, but the idea was too ridiculous, even for me. (The artwork was also terrible, so it would have added nothing to my collection anyway.)

There was a ridiculously cheap set of GURPS 4th edition core books, and I did actually consider them for a moment...but then I flipped them open and remembered why I hate GURPS so much. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SWN Broad Milieu Outline

I'm going to be posting more of my SWN stuff. I'm still trying to throw off a nasty upper respiratory infection, and my current workload is brutal (grading mid-terms for five sections), so I will begin with very general outlines  and gradually add detail.

In my SWN universe, human space in the post-Silence era is composed of four sectors. I shall describe them in extremely brief terms and broad strokes:

Atragon Sector: Decadent Squabbling Technocracy locked in a perpetual semi-cold war with the Greek City States in Spaaaaaaaaace. A clan of wandering space-barbarians fight as mercenaries for both sides. In one corner a small religious tanshuman cult pursues a creepy hidden agenda. In the middle are a bunch of tomb worlds that everyone squabbles over. Atragon sector is considered backwards and anachronistic by the rest of human space. To be fair, death by sword is still a somewhat common occurrence on many of the worlds here. 

Ceres Sector:
Evil Space Empire is trying to steamroll plucky individualist planets. One of the planets is a crazy Chinese Cyberpunk planet that does not want to play nice with anyone. The corporate masters of Guangxi believe that Evil Space Empires are bad for free enterprise, so they're going to have to cooperate with the independent planets to keep things nice and capitalistic. There are also Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace Orcs, but they aren't bad guys once you get to know them. 

Nirvana Sector: Ancient India, Ancient Babylon, and Ancient Africa in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace. Slightly more mystical than the rest of space. Home to some strange and esoteric psychic disciplines. This sector of space has advanced pre-tech nanotechnology as well. 

Hydra Sector: Detailed in the SWN corebook...just in case I wanted to use any of that stuff. Hydra Sector is considered the melting pot of human space. 

More details to follow. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No Replacement for the Real Thing

I think I may have lost interest in the MUD I was playing.
While I initially saw it as an approximation of fantasy gaming, I was sorely mistaken.

-As I mentioned, people tend to run their characters through scripting programs. If the game is so repetitive and game play is so unsatisfying that most people run their characters on programs most of the time, there's a problem.

-Zero roleplay. Nobody plays in character and the NPCs have incredibly limited scripts, often that don't seem to work the way they're supposed to. While you can interact with the other players, they speak of the game only in game terminology, and often in such heavy game-related slang that the game, already abstract in nature, become so abstracted as to become a meaningless wall of ASCII text.

-Zero immersion. Players generally name their characters thinks like Mr. Stupidface or Iluv TheLakers or Dark Darkness.

-Quests are few and far between, often level dependent and far apart. You get your first quest at 10th level, but you aren't eligible for another until you reach 15th level. The levels in between generally consist of wandering whatever level appropriate area you can find and just killing the same monsters over and over until you level. To the game's credit, there are at least several level appropriate areas per group of levels. Most of the game consists of an endless grind until you get something worthwhile to do.

Edit: I guess I should add in a bit about what I was expecting. Given the non-graphical nature of a MUD, plus a healthy dose of rose-colored nostalgia, I was thinking that perhaps the player base of a MUD was a more imaginative sort of creature who liked to read descriptions and imagine the game in their head a la tabletop gaming. I thought the MUDs would be a reasonable approximation of D&D and similarly styled games. I suppose it was foolish of me to think that modern games that have graphical interfaces somehow stunt imagination and that textually based games somehow promote imagination. Online games are a different entity than tabletop games, even when they wear the same clothes. You can play an Elf Mage in AD&D and on a MUD, but there really isn't anything in common between the two experiences besides the involvement of the words "elf", "mage", and perhaps "lightning bolt."

I wonder if a certain amount of disappointing play experience at the tabletop comes from players who assume that MMOs and tabletop games are similar play experiences and vice versa. That's another can of worms for another night, however.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Campaigns Without Number

Anyone who has read this blog more than once probably knows how much I love Stars Without Number.
People seem to be doing a lot of awesome stuff with SWN as of late.

Over at Rather Gamey,  Arkhein is running a "Redshirts" style campaign at the local gaming store. (In retrospect, this is probably what I should have done with my unreasonably huge SWN game earlier this summer.)

At  Pilgrims Guide to Zeitgeist, ApisFurioso is running an SWN Space Fantasy game where the players are about to dock at one of the Orbital Gods of the delightful Anomalous Subsurface Environment.

While I do not have the good fortune to be in their neck of the woods, their blogging allows me to be a fly on the wall.

Their games are a bit more gonzo than I run my SWN, though I had considered an SWN game based on the premise of the novel Expendable by James Alan Gardner. Who knows? I've run all kinds of different D&D games. Maybe my next SWN game will be a little more fantasy/gonzo.

In the meantime, it's nice to see SWN get some love here in Blogaria.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Latest Crazy Ass Purchase

Surfing on Drive Thru RPG, I chanced across a collection of house rules used by a college gaming club from 1981-1987. It includes the races, classes, spells, and optional rules they used for a very long running campaign. The purchase set me back two bucks.

Holy crap this stuff is nuts. They seem to be the quintessential DIY Old School gaming group: stables of characters, gods with silly names, bizarre classes (some culled from Dragon Magazine, some likely from a night of binge drinking), inside jokes... it's a very interesting artifact to study.

Some of this stuff is definitely worth a look: they revised the monk class in a way I found pleasing, and they presented a simplified AD&D weapon table. They also created a psionicist character class, though they seem to still use the AD&D1 psionics rules. There is a critical hit table that greatly rewards the wearing of helmets and the use of shields, often negating the horrid anatomical side effects of the crit.

On the other hand, this bundle also contains what is essentially a prostitute character class, and samurai who can cast illusionist spells. A mixed bag, indeed.

I love seeing how other people do things. I might print some of the pages out to put in a binder.

Monday, October 15, 2012

SWN House Rules (Advanced)

Being a collection of house rules I intend to use for my SWN campaigns. Races will probably be different for every campaign.

Character Creation
1.) Players may play Warriors, Experts, or Psychics. (Artificial Intelligence PCs are not allowed at this time)
2.)In addition to humans, the following alien races are available as PCs: hochog, ssath (SWN core book), qotah (Mandate Archives), and three races of my own creation: eldreth, ti'zi'ri, and solii.
3.) 1st level PCs begin with maximum possible hit points.
4.) Experts may treat Dexterity as one of their Prime Abilities if so desired.
5.) Warriors and Experts may take a variant special ability in lieu of their class' default special ability.
6.) Psychics receive a bonus based on their chosen primary discipline.
7.) Players may use material from the following SWN supplements to create a character: Skyward Steel, Darkness Visible, and the Mandate Archives (Martial Arts, Qotah, Red Sangha Mercenary Corps.) Material from any other source must be cleared by me first.

Character Advancement
1.) Additional hit points are determined by rolling a single Hit Die, modified by Constitution, and adding it to the character's previous total. (In other words, we roll hit points like standard D&D instead of SWN's rules.) Warriors may re-roll a 1 or 2 on a Hit Die. If a second 1 or 2 is rolled, it stands.

2.) Every character may have one skill at which they are a natural, chosen at character creation. The character does not need to train in order to increase this skill. Note that this must be a specific skill: a character who is a natural at Combat/Projectile still needs to train Combat/Energy, etc.

1.) The roll of a natural 20 may be a critical hit: on such a roll, the PC makes a Luck save. If successful, the attack inflicts double damage and a setback (determined by GM fiat: lose next round, armor damaged and AC worsens by 1, weapon disarmed, movement rate decreased, etc.)
Note: if the PC ordinarily cannot hit an opponent mathematically, (due to negative armor class, etc.) a natural 20 manages to hit the target, but there is no chance for a critical hit.

2.) The roll of a natural 1 may be a critical fumble. The PC may make a Luck save to avoid catastrophe. If the saving throw is failed, the character suffers some kind of setback determined by the GM. Typical examples including falling over and losing the next combat round, accidentally shooting a friend near the target (a separate attack roll should be made, as the comrade's armor may save him), the weapon jamming (requiring a 2d6 skill check of the appropriate Combat skill to clear), etc.
Note: If the attack would hit the target automatically (a very high level character shooting an unarmed opponent, for instance) the roll of a natural 1 is still a miss, but there is no danger of a critical fumble.

3.) Unarmed damage is only 25% real, with the rest being "subdual" damage that fades at the rate of one point per ten minutes. Characters using a martial art should consult the GM; some martial arts are far more brutal. Characters using kinesis wraps or armored gauntlets inflict ordinary damage.
At the GM's option, some weapons may be used to subdue instead of kill. This typically imposes a -4 penalty to the attack roll, and some weapons may inflict 50% real damage or just be impossible to subdue with. Ranged attacks cannot typically be subdual attacks.Stun rods (described in the rulebook) inflict 100% subdual damage, and similar weapons may exist.

Experience Points
1.) Points shall be awarded for combat: 100 xp/HD die, with special abilities (multiple attacks, poison, extremely low natural AC, psionics, etc.) adding an extra 25/HD/ability.
Example: 1HD space pirate- 100 exp
               3 HD transhuman cultist with psionic ability and two attacks per round: 450 xp.
Creatures that surrender or are otherwise "defeated" without being killed are worth xp.
Creatures that are no threat to the PCs are worth nothing.

2.) Points shall be awarded for artifacts taken from ruins: 1 xp/credit sold for. Ships are not worth any xp.
3.) XP shall be awarded for "quests" or major goals completed; typically expressed as a percent of the "average award" in the SWN rulebook. (25%, 50%, etc.) 
4.) Jeff Rient's carousing table may be used to spend credits for additional experience. Use at your own peril; no ability which allows re-rolls can alter the results of the carousing table.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sifting Through Fallout

Gaming Related Experience #2: Computer RPGs

Right, so I kind of touched on this a few weeks ago when I said that player choice is really damn important. The most open world has boundaries at some point. However, I think some rpgs are immersive enough  to scratch some of that gaming itch. Right now, I'm playing through the original Fallout on PC. (I picked up a bundle of Fallout and Fallout 2 for five bucks at the used bookstore)

 Incidentally, I thought I once read that Fallout was originally supposed to be a GURPS game. I don't know what happened to that, but you can see some similarities in the game's mechanics: modest attribute numbers, varied and granular skills, and a system of "perks" not unlike the Advantages, Merits, or Edges of your favorite character building game.

Although I'm only partway into it, Fallout seems to have a pretty interesting world with a lot to do. The game seems to frame three basic approaches to your quest: combat, stealth/thievery, and diplomacy. They offer three pre-generated characters that epitomize one of the three approaches. (Though you are free to alter them or even scrap them and make your own character from scratch.)

My experience so far tells me two things:
1. It's usually possible to solve a quest through any of the three paths, with a few exceptions.
One of the first quests you can take involves rescuing a girl held prisoner at a camp of raiders. If you are a badass, you can just shoot your way in and kill everyone. (You can also challenge the leader to go mano a mano with you if you're a martial artist type) If you are super sneaky, you can sneak in the back way and pick the lock on her cell. If you're diplomatic, you can barter for her freedom or even bluff the lead raider into letting her go.

2. You really should specialize in one of the three paths. I've found so far that being sort of sneaky leaves you unable to really sneak into any place. If you aren't a stone badass, combat often does not go well for you.The speech options on the game are entirely reliant on what your Speech skill (and sometimes your Int and Cha) are. You end up like the poor Red Mage in Final Fantasy III, where you can do everything...and you suck at all of it. I'm trying to make a character who is sneaky and good at martial arts, though I find that I'm tempted to learn to use guns... even if I'm good at these three things, I'll be terrible at the laundry list of other skills...I find that I want to just keep restarting with a new character so I can see what capabilities I'm missing out on, or so I can tackle a quest in a different fashion. I had this same problem with Arcanum, but to a much greater degree.( Combat? Magic? Science? Thief Skills? Social Skills? Of magic, which of the sixteen schools? Of science, which of the eight disciplines? Do I want to be a melee fighter? A gunslinger? Throwing weapons? Arrrrrgh)

I guess this is one reason I like character classes so much. I have a thing that I can do, and (in theory) nobody does it better than me. Of course, a proliferation of character classes tends to lead to games where there's a sourcebook or two full of guys who do what you used to do better than you. (3.5 Tome of Battle, anyone? RIFTS? White Wolf? -"Yeah, we're the True Brujah, biyotch.")

I know you can specialize in point-buy systems, but I always feel tempted to try to cover all my bases.

It's funny; when I run a game, I like to give my players lots of options. I like to include sub-classes and things. On the other hand, my tastes as a GM and tastes as player often have weird discrepancies.

A final disclaimer: one of the two times I tried to run a campaign of Pathfinder-a game that has something like 20 classes last I checked- my party was literally a fighter, a wizard, a cleric, and a rogue. Go figure.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


So this blog is dedicated to tabletop gaming, but I did want to discuss two related experiences.

Related Experience #1: MUDding

So earlier this year, I started playing an old school text MUD. It was kind of cool...I had to make maps and use my imagination. I died a lot, but it was fun regardless. The world had some pretty cool stuff in it. Then the guy who administrated the thing had to get serious about finishing his PhD and shut the thing down very suddenly. I was pissed. (Also, is it like, hand-cranked internet or something? Why not just leave it running?)

A few weeks ago, I found a replacement MUD. This MUD has quite a few differences from the one I played previously. The two experiences sort of remind me of different editions of the Game, or old school vs. new school. Some thoughts: ( I shall refer to the deceased MUD as MUD A and the current MUD as MUD B)

Races- MUD A had only six races (the AD&D set minus half-orcs), and race only provided bonuses to certain saving throws and a *slight* nudge toward combat or magic; so slight that you still saw plenty of Elf Warriors and Dwarf Necromancers.  MUD B has something like a dozen races, including weird shit like "gaunt ones" (zombie dudes?) and Japanese cat-people.Race affects all of your stats and your potential to be stealthy, and the game actually tells you which races are best for which classes and will not work for others. (You can do a Dwarf Mage in MUD A, but in MUD B this character is going to be pretty ineffective and unable to roll in level appropriate zones.)

Classes- MUD A had five classes. (The standard F/M/C/T quartet, plus Necromancers) The non-magic classes had some pretty interesting skills; thieves could trip in combat and fighters could interpose themselves between monsters and weaker party members. (Or take the heat off another fighter who was wearing down on hp.) The spellcasters had cool non-combat spells: invisibility, infravision, various detection spells... necromancers could send a ghostly herald to deliver a message elsewhere in the game, etc. The skills and spells lead to some pretty interesting tactical decisions in combat, which was pretty cool considering that combat would otherwise be a scrolling wall of multi-colored text.

MUD B has something like fourteen classes. You have your standard AD&D roll call, including a version of the monk. Beyond that, the game has a number of "combo" classes like the warlock (fighter/mage), the missionary (thief/cleric), the gypsy (thief/mage) etc. The game also has classes that are essentially specialized versions of "standard classes": the witch-hunter is a fighter will greatly increased combat ability and magic resistance, but who is unable to use magic weapons and whose resistance blunts allied/friendly magic. The ninja is a version of the thief with much better stealth and backstabbing abilities, plus cooler weapons, but decreased lock/trap abilities.

There are a lot of witch-hunters and ninjas, and very very few warriors or thieves. Just sayin'.

PvP- MUD A has lots of PvP, though the game's system of informal alliances made PvP a somewhat dangerous prospect; you never knew who was friends with who. I killed a character who was annoying me, only to find out he had a high level mage buddy...of course, I was rescued by my own high level pals when said mage charmed me and lead me out into a dangerous area to leave me there naked and temporarily blind.

In MUD B, PvP is forbidden, as is stealing from other characters. You aren't even allowed to loot the corpse of a player that you may find in some forgotten dungeon. This isn't enforced in the game's code, but you will be banned. I was given a warning for grabbing the rare and powerful weapon of a friend of mind when he died on a quest with me. (I wanted to get it back to him quickly) My email explaining that it was for my friend (and that I couldn't even use the weapon in question) was ignored.

Helping- In MUD A, life is tough. High level players will give you advice, but the game does not allow players with more than three levels of disparity to exchange money, items or assist each other. That means that if you're level 5, you can't roll with level 1 characters or level 9 characters. Players might give you directions to get to a place, but nobody shares maps.

In MUD B, high level characters will often run a low level character through a dungeon to level him fast. They give you loot. They give you powerful weapons. The maps are posted online.

Cheating- In MUD A, you cannot play more than one character at the same time. You cannot play the character with a scripting program.

In MUD B, most people script most of the time. This perplexes me. Is the game so boring that you'll actually use a program to play it for you? If the first twenty levels are not worth playing manually.. maybe your game sucks.
I think lots of players run parties of characters at the same time, often all scripting together.

Death- In MUD A, death is not permanent, but you lose *tons* of xp for dying. Dying sucks. A lot. You can get your gear back by making a deal with a sinister NPC, but he often takes a magic item or two for his troubles, and your stats are drained for a day of game time. You can permanently lose items as well if you wait too long.

In MUD B, you can actually permanently die, but only if you die nine times in the same experience level. Dying means loss of property, but your high level buddies will run you to your body or just give you more money. Death is a minor hassle.

Game World- In MUD A, dungeons and zones had widely variable monsters in them. You might b have been whopping ass on level 2, but when you got down to 3, it was a different story. Some dungeons kept you occupied for many levels as you dug down deep into the depths. Dungeons were often a long ways away from towns, often through wilderness that held monsters of varied level. (At the bottom of a dungeon full of orcs was a temple full of demons, including a boss that nearly killed me in one shot.) In MUD A, running into a monster you'd never met before was always potentially cause for alarm.

In MUD B, dungeons are usually pretty near town. (Not always) If they aren't, you can use a GOTO command to pretty much zap yourself there. Monsters are usually around the same level, with the occasional boss that is a bit tougher. In this MUD, running into a monster means that monster is probably roughly as tough as the monsters in this dungeon have been thus far.

I'm not sure if MUDding is for me, especially with MUD A being gone. It feels strange to play a game where the actual playing of the game is widely seen as a chore best handled via computer program.

Friday, October 12, 2012

 Recently, there's been a lot of talk about Player Agency. I even talked about it a few posts back. I think there's a second side of the issue that I haven't addressed, however.

When I run games now, there's an unwritten understanding between me and the group: I will let you explore wherever you want and generally pursue whatever interests your characters, so long as you pursue something that is interesting.

You want to explore ancient ruins? Cool. Want to blow off the ruins and see what's over that horizon? Cool. You want to research some obscure, throw-away lore I never planned to develop? Cool. Want to start a crazy mercantile enterprise? Cool.

Want to be a bunch of feckless assholes who antagonize normal people and commit petty crimes, even against those who did you a good turn? Well....if you can do it in an interesting fashion, cool. Cugel the Clever was a right sonofabitch, but he was charming. The Joker is a psychotic murderer, but he was fascinating. It has been my experience that most of the time, PCs who decide to be "bad guys" are not charming or fascinating*.

My current work situation and the presence of other obligations in my life doesn't leave me with enough free time to do things I don't find interesting. My time is valuable to me. If you want to go commit a bunch of random crimes, go play GTA. If you want to commit a bunch of random crimes with a sword, go...I don't know, play Skyrim or something.

I presently have the good fortune to play with a group that does surprising, interesting, unexpected things. When they do unlawful deeds, they are intriguing deeds. They are not asking me how much xp townsfolk are worth. They are not planning to rob the innkeeper's lockbox because the innkeeper wouldn't give them half-price rooms for no reason.

Player Agency (as it is bandied about in this corner of the internet) is awesome, and it makes RPGs worth playing. Remember, though, the the DM is also playing this game to have fun; he is not there simply for the aggrandizement of your character.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Brick in My Wall of Boxed Sets

A few weeks ago, I snagged a copy of one of the older printings of the Castles & Crusades PHB for two bucks. Today I was prowling the used section of the LGS when I found a smashed, beat to hell copy of the C&C "Collector's Edition" boxed set. The box was so mangled that I had to pry it open to look inside, but the booklets were in perfect condition and the dice were pristine and "uninked." They had it marked down to five bucks. so I figured why not? After all, now I have the complete game system. The box will likely have to go, unless I can beat it back into shape. If the stuff inside hadn't been in such good condition, I'd have given the whole thing a pass.

Just for fun (fun being a relative term), I colored in the numbers on the dice using the red crayon included in the boxed set. I ended up breaking the crayon. I have to say that pre-inked dice, for all their supposed inaccuracy, are my preference by a significant margin. I get the nostalgia angle they were playing for, but damn those are some ugly ass dice, even more so with red crayon filling in the numbers.

I also picked up a used but absolutely pristine copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics #9: Dungeon Geomorphs (also five bucks). My mapping skills are admittedly not my strong suit, and after awhile I start to fear that my dungeons get very "samey", so this will be a welcome source of modular map bits.

Granted, I'm not actually running a fantasy campaign right now, but I'm sure this stuff will come in handy in the future.

Monday, October 1, 2012

You Spoony Bard!

I've had bards on the brain lately.

Bards have been in D&D for a long time. I like 'em, a lot of people don't. What bewilders me, though, is how disputed and constantly revised the bard class is.

Okay, how different is the OD&D fighter from the AD&D or 2nd ed or OSRIC fighter? Even with feats, is the d20 fighter really that different from his predecessors?

Bards, on the other hand, have changed constantly throughout the history of The Game. The original AD&D bard was a hot mess and sort of a proto-prestige class. Old editions of Dragon featured two complete rewrites of the bard. AD&D 2nd edition modified the bard. The bard of 3rd edition/d20 is similar to 2nd edition, but has been changed again. (I have to confess I have no idea what a 4e bard looks like) Around the OSR, the bard is constantly getting a facelift. Alexis over at Tao of D&D had his own version. I've posted my own version. Lots of OSR products have rewrites of the bard. Castles & Crusades changed the bard.

Now, contrast that to the fighter. You don't find many reinterpretations of the fighter. The fighter in OSRIC and the fighter in Labyrinth Lord are 95% the same. The magic-users 'round these parts are fairly homogenous. 

There are a few things that most versions of the bard can agree on. Call them the Bard Conventions, if you will.

1. The bard is at least somewhat better in combat than his rogue-ish cousins.
2. The bard is has access to modest magical ability.
3. The bard has a few thiefly skills.
4. The bard has abilities based on influencing others, usually through music.

Though these basic ideas hold up, they are subject to wide and often jarringly different interpretations:

1. Combat- The bard often has better weapon choices that the thief, and often better armor, though using said armor may impact or preclude his thief skills. Sometimes he attacks as a fighter, though most later incarnations put him on even footing with the thief/rogue. C&C even gave him d10 for hit dice, though this is definitely an outlier.

2.  Magical ability is all over the place. Bards started with druid spells. I've seen one write-up that gives him most druid spells and most illusionist spells. (The latter being from Dragon Magazine) In 2nd edition, the bard used magic-user spells. In 3rd edition, the bard had his own custom spell list. The Delving Deeper OD&D conversion could read scrolls but couldn't actually cast spells, while other write-ups disallow the use of scrolls by a bard. Sometimes his spells must be kept and cast like that of the class he mimics. (A 2nd edition bard has to keep a spellbook) Sometimes bard spells are actually magical songs and require him to sing/play rather than cast a spell "properly."

3. The bard usually seems to have 3-4 thief skills, though which skills he has varies widely. Sometimes he has move silently and hide in shadows. (Not in 2nd edition, though)

4. The bard's influence ability range from an innate charm to the ability to shift NPC reactions on a chart to just having the Diplomacy skill. Sometimes it requires the bard to sing or play.

In addition to this, the bard often has a number of abilities that may or may not appear in any given writeup: bardic lore, countersong, inspire allies... I'm sure you can think of a few more.

No other class, except perhaps the ranger or monk, seems to have this much variance in different interpretations.A 2nd edition thief and a 3rd edition rogue may have their mechanical differences, but their basic capabilities are still pretty similar.

I suppose my question is: why? I have a few fledgling ideas in mind:
A. The bard is an unnecessary character concept, largely kept around because he has become a "sacred cow" in D&D cosmology. They did away with the assassin by reasoning that anyone who kills for money is an assassin. Is not anyone who becomes a musician potentially a bard?
B. The bard has been presented as a jack-of-all trades and a musician, and these two concepts seem to be vying for dominance. Each writer seems to favor one side of the fence over the other.
C. We are trying to "small tent" the bard. The original Fighting Man was supposed to be able to represent a cavalier, archer, samurai, viking, cossack, barbarian, or whatever. Just as the fighter has been split into a million sub-classes, prestige classes, and whatnot to suss out every possibility as a mechanical variant, the bard (skald, scop, minstrel, jack-of-all-trades, troubadour, orator, etc) keeps getting steered in the direction that the author wants him to go. (The C&C bard seems very clearly to invoke a hulking skald type dude,whereas WotC-era bards are definitely more minstrel-looking... bards of the spoony variety, if you will)

Personally, I like the bard and I want to keep him around. That being said, I don't think I'd use the version of the bard I posted back in 2009 for my last AD&D1 campaign. I can't even really decide what the bard is, or what it should be, or even if it should be in the game at all. I think the multitude of different bards, and their often wild dissimilarities, are proof enough that I am not alone in this conundrum.

                                                             Above: All the same character class?