Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Campaign Recap

Last night was another session of my Wild Times D&D campaign. The PCs defeated Baalnephagor the Three-Headed Devil-Dragon and his associate the dread Mr. Snugglewugglekins, some security robots (souped-up iron golems) were suitably trashed, and Robilar was rescued from imprisonment in his own dungeon. For their next adventure the players had to choose between retrieving the Crook of Rao from the Snake Pit of Doom and confiscating some silver swords from a band of renegade Githyanki. Angus the Half-Orc really wanted to go to the Snake Pit first, but the rest of the party apparently really wants to face a horde of angry Gith.

Stuart gave me an early birfday present, a copy of Races of the Dragon. Thanks, man! That's the third hardback I've managed to snag since I instituted the "you buy me a copy, it becomes legal in my campaign" rule. To be honest I was only kidding around when I said that, but I can't let the players call my bluff, can I? That would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. DM weakness is to players as blood in the water is to sharks. Or maybe that's just me. I can be hard on wishy-washy DMs.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mail Round-Up

I got a few items of interest in the ol' e-mail box recently. Stuart, one of the hoopy froods in my Tuesday night campaign, was sporting enough of a chap to warn me ahead of time that his sorcerer can now cast Limited Wish. That's pretty awesome, but it will not deter the machinations of the Infernal Legion! The Wild Coast will bow before its diabolic might! Muah hahahah! But seriously, this campaign has come a long way from the point where Fireball is the baddest spell on the block. I'm still not entirely used to that fact. But then some days I'm still not used to Elf no longer being a class.

Bill Brasky, Chief Ne'er-Do-Well over at Animalball Games, saw fit to challenge me to an online game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. He wrote in his challenge:
A simple gentleman's duel-- a game of rock, paper, scissors. Can you handle it, or is the power of Brasky intimidating you? I picked rock-- there! Are you satisfied? I actually told you what I picked? How can you refuse such a challenge?
For those of you not in the know, RPS is not merely a matter of randomly throwing scissor, paper, or rock. It is a deeply psychological game of bluff and counter bluff, akin in many ways to poker but starker in its simplicity. Brasky here offers the classic line of attack: telling your opponent your next move. It's unnerving to anyone not familiar with hardcore RPS play. Brasky is almost begging for me to go paper, so that can't possibily be the correct answer, can it? But then he's not going to be so obvious as to go scissors to counter a possible paper, is he? No, the correct answer is he's really throwing rock and has the monster balls to tell me that up front. So my correct move is paper, which I threw and thereby won the challenge. We'll see how we do in the rematch.

And finally Zachary from the excellent RPG Blog wrote in to ask me some Traveller questions. He referred to me as a "Traveller Guru", which was nice but leaves me feeling a tad ill at ease. I've been mucking around with Trav since only about 1999 or so, when the Classic Reprints started to come out. Lots of other folks on the Traveller Mailing List or Citizens of the Imperium have a better claim to the title Guru. There's plenty of hardcore old timers with 22 years of experience on me! And for the record Don McKinney is my Traveller Guru. Still, I'm always happy to help out where I can and did my level best to answers Zachary's questions. If you don't already read his blog I highly recommend it. He's a good guy with a level-headed view of the hobby.

Friday, May 26, 2006

New avatar

Many moons ago I swiped this image from a java'ed-up adbar over at RPGnow, if I recall correctly. This little goblin guy came with a bunch of different suits of armor and weapons and such you could drag onto his body. Of course I was drawn to this pink tutu and 8-ball-on-stick ensemble. I've been using this graphic as an avatar for a while at some places, like RPGPundit's blog. I'm switching it to my default avvie from my little half-orc assassin.

I feel pretty,
Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty
and witty and bright!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Alidor and more

I'd like to thank all my friends that have come out of the woodwork to offer to lend me DVDs and videotapes based upon yesterday's post. You guys rock! At last night's World of Alidor session Doug put a copy of Pirates of the Carribbean into my hands. Stuart promises to bring me up to speed on Serenity. And Pat is digging though his collection, too. Doug also handed me a Player's Handbook II, which he bought for me. Awesome! When I said I would allow players to use stuff from whatever books I owned, I never really expected anyone to start buying me shiny hardbacks.

Last night my mighty hero Dolph and his half-brothers Dix and Arthandrial faced off against the fanatical metrosexual soulknife/wizard orcs from the lost tortoise city. I gotta hand it to Jon, the DM. With these guys he really made me take orcs seriously again. When an orc with perfect hair and a manicure whips out a psionic lightsabre you sit up and notice. So now in this campaign we've beaten a dragon and some orcs. My guy could die next session and I'd still be happy as a clam.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

movies I haven't seen

This is a lead-up to a 'My Favorite Movies' post I've been thinking about doing. I wanted to give some sort of context to why my fave movie list might contain a lot of old crap. I just don't get to the movies that often, basically because I have an unending hatred for other movie goers. And I don't rent movies. Ever. I don't have a Netflix account nor a membership at a movie rental joint. Anyway, here's a small sampling of movies that a lot of geeks talk about but I've never seen them:

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • any X-men flick
  • Chronicles of Riddick
  • Boondock Saints
  • the Matrix sequels (saw the original on DVD last year)
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf
  • I've seen part of Spider-man on cable and nothing from the sequel
  • Equilibrium
  • those flicks where Bruce Campbell goes apeshit on zombies with a chainsaw hand
  • Pirates of the Carribbean
  • Serenity
  • Star Wars

Okay, I was just fucking with you on that last one. We have three copies of the Original Trilogy in our home, and the Sequels on DVD. But the rest of the list is legit.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

nifty science

Here's an old quote from a fellow named Leonard Erickson, responding on the Traveller Mailing List:
*Please*. Do not use "unknown elements". That's Star Trek BS.

In the Real World any element (or mixture thereof) is easily identifiable starting at around TL 5 or 6 (1910 technology).

Add in the fact that properties of elements are actually quite deterministic (that's how the periodic table was discovered in the first place!) and it gets sillier.

What works *far* better is to let them try and then tell them that even though the duplicate is an *exact* duplicate as far as they can tell, it doesn't work.

Why? Because there's something about it that their current technology can't even *detect*, much less duplicate.

An example would be someone from the 30s trying to duplicate a transistor, or worse yet an IC [integrated circuit]. As far as *their* technology can determine, the transistor is *absolutely pure* silicon or germanium (orgallium arsenide, or whatever). Their technology isn't up to detect the parts per *trillion* doping that makes it work.

With the IC, they can see that there's some sort of structure, if they use the best microscopes. No idea what it means, nor how to create such fine details. And without the theory, they can even determine *what*the structures should be.
I first read this quote a few years back and it greatly impacted my approach to alien technology in gaming.

Monday, May 22, 2006

fear the wiki

My descent into Traveller-fueled madness continues, inspired by Treasure Tables' two-part article on Wikis for GMs and this strip from Shortpacked!. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Gateway Quadrant Wiki, the internet's newest obsessive Trav website. Dedicated to the Traveller material published by Judges Guild in the 80's, this wiki is guaranteed 100% incompatible with the official setting materials for Traveller d20!

My plan is to use this wiki as a player resource for my next Trav campaign, which I plan to start no later than upon the publication of Traveller 5th edition. That's currently scheduled for release in June of next year. With Marc Miller at the helm, I'm hoping T5 will resemble Classic Traveller more than other previous incarnations of the game.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I guess it had to happen eventually

Some of y'all probably know of my dislike for Ryan Dancey, the engineer of the D20/OGL movement. I still feel like he ought to be tarred, feathered, and run out of the hobby on a rail for the whole GAMA election fiasco. But that doesn't mean everything the guy says or does is wrong. I'm not so small minded to think that just because a guy is a jerk that he can't be right. Here's Mr. Dancey responding to a comment on Mike Mearls's livejournal:
but my nearest FLGS that stocks minis is about a 45 minute drive, and there's
> no guarantee that they have what I want

Here's 20% of the systemic, unfixable problems with brick & mortar hobby game stores. 5 years ago, most people would have treated a 45 minute drive to a game store stocked with cool stuff with money in hand and intention to buy as "Sunday afternoon fun". Today, the FLGS isn't generating enough value vs. the other options to get a guy who works in a game company and who knows how fragile the game store channel is to get there and go shopping. That is absolutely not an attack on Mike in any way; it's symptomatic of the whole problem: B&M game stores *DON'T* offer more value (in many cases) to the other options, and market forces are reacing accordingly.
I agree completely with Mr. Dancey's assessment of the situation. It used to be that my friends and I piling into my mom's station wagon to drive 45 minutes to Adventureland (RIP) in Bloomington, Illinois was an event. Now that same three quarters of an hour would just be a pain in the ass. Adventureland may be gone, but you can still find stores like it. Heck, it's been a month, maybe two since I've been to the FLGS that's a two-minute walk from my office. Why is that? Because on one hand I have online vendors that make shopping from them cheap and easy and on the other hand I have a filthy, overcrowded stinkhole with boxes on the floor that I'm constantly tripping over. What do I gain by that two minute walk? Not a whole lot past the ability to pick over the used section. And in most instances the prices in the used section do not compare well with eBay. Maybe if the play venues at the local stores were better I'd feel different. I'd like a place where I could down and play a nice RPGA event and not feel like I was slumming.

So anyway, let it be noted that on this point I agree with Ryan Dancey. I still think he's a jerk, but in this case he's not wrong.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

creature feature 2: electric boogaloo

Here's the leader of the gang of miscreants that seized Robilar's tower. She didn't last long after the bear-shaped druid got hs paws on her, but at least I got off a pair of lightning bolts.

Medium Monstrous Humanoid
Hit Dice: 9d8+11d6+28 (118 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares), swim 30 ft.
Armor Class: 23 (+2 Dex, +11 natural), touch 12, flat-footed 21
Base Attack/Grapple: +14/+20
Attack: Claw +20 melee (1d4+6)
Full Attack: 2 claws +20 melee (1d4+6)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Spell-like abilities, weakness, mimicry
Special Qualities: Darkvision 90 ft., spell resistance 18
Saves: Fort +10, Ref +11, Will +16
Abilities: Str 23, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 17, Cha 12
Skills: Concentration +21, Craft or Knowledge (any one) +13, Hide +9, Listen +11, Spot +11 Swim +12, Spellcraft +5
Feats: Alertness, Blind-Fight, Combat Casting, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Brew Potion, Spell Penetration (+2), Improved Spell Penetration (+2), Skill Focus (Concentration)
Environment: Temperate marshes
Organization: Unique
Challenge Rating: 15
Treasure: Standard
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Advancement: By character class
Level Adjustment: —-
Green hags are found in desolate swamps and dark forests.
A green hag is about the same height and weight as a female human.
Green hags prefer to attack from hiding, usually after distracting foes. They often use darkvision to their advantage by attacking during moonless nights.
Spell-Like Abilities: At will—dancing lights, disguise self, ghost sound (DC 11), invisibility, pass without trace, tongues, water breathing. Caster level 20th. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Weakness (Su): A green hag can weaken a foe by making a special touch attack. The opponent must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or take 2d4 points of Strength damage. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Mimicry (Ex): A green hag can imitate the sounds of almost any animal found near its lair.
Skills: A green hag has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. It can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. It can use the run action while swimming, provided it swims in a straight line.
Spells: 3/4/3/3 0th: create water, touch of fatigue, detect magic 1st: burning hands, command, protection from good, protection from law 2nd: see invisibility, scorching ray, web 3rd: bestow curse, lightning bolt (x2)
Equipment: Rod of Metamagic: Quicken, Lesser; Luckstone; Ring of Energy Resistance (Electricity 10)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Quote of this lifetime or any other

From Settembrini, in this thread at RPG Pundit's blog:
Hell, the forgies don´t give me no tools. They don´t give me nothing.

I want mysterious places, insidous traps, intricate scheming, ressource management, being there, play my character, act out my character, make a speech, roll for diplomacy, build a trade empire, be imprisoned, build my starship, draw deckplans, explore new worlds, be awestruck by the might of the Emperor, be a Hero, be a Villain, have a party, be terrified, fall in love, learn to hate, seek revenge, seek reconciliation, roll a crit, die, live, find a magic sword, destroy the precursor artifact, learn about magic, destroy a planet, study fake histories, make history, be history, travel back in time, travel to the future, fight the future, see the aliens, prove they don´t exist, receive gifts, be poor, be rich, help the those in need, become a god, become mortal, win, fail, struggle, hack a computer, build an arch, be an arch, destroy the arch, bomb the palace, find the terrorists, use a minigun, fly a helicopter, ride a dragon, slay a dragon, kill Kyuss, and take his place, mock the Lady, see the Planes, save the planes, teleport the fighter next to the enemy Magic User, raise dead, slay living, talk to trees, surf on a ley line, survive Nuclear attacks, die from radiation, rebuild civilization, use a shotgun, drive a tank, be a tank, meet Han Solo, play a Ninja-Dragon, laugh about Ninja-Dragons, be immortal, be a commoner, learn about history, forget reality, learn about my fellow humans, mock my fellow humans, spend time with friends, pwn n00bz, help out n00bz, munch my crackers, recite the Conan introduction, use my death grip, high five with my friends when it works, be impressed by my friends, impress my friends, stop the Old Ones, or die trying, shock the DM, lickspittle the DM, curse his dice, cherish mine, make a new character, level up, roll save vs. death, play the character I rolled up, roll up a new one, cause I didn´t made the survival roll, spend a brownie point, receive a brownie point, be a Vargr, fight the Sollies, fight the Impies, strategize, dramatize, be a part, be seperate, uncover the plot, cover up the act, bomb Dulinor, talk to Splynncrith, see the desert of despair, travel the mockerson gap, defend Constantinople, be a machine gunner, play an instrument, be smart, use player knowledge, abstain from using it, read a spoiler, stop after first sentence, flip through books, look at illustrations, talk about books, buy books, shove around minis, do without, be a juggler, kill the mime, see the seer, ride a magic carpet, be rational, eat big kahuna burgers, meet at a tavern.

In short: Gimme adventure! Where does theory help me? In no way, I say.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Star Wars Miniatures Starship Battles

Ogre Cave is passing along a Gaming Report item with an update on the new ship-to-ship Star Wars game coming from Wizards:

Starter Game Includes:

•Two exclusive, non-randomized figures
•Ten randomized figures and stat cards
•Game map

Boosters Include:

•Seven randomized figures and related stat cards

Due In November

Starters To Retail for $39.99
Boosters To Retail for $19.99

I want this game out in time for Christmas so bad my balls ache.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

creature feature

Here's one of the customized monsters I used for my session last night. Against a bunch of 12th level Gestalt characters they can't do much individually, but put 30 of them on the board and they were awfully fun to push around.

Medium Outsider (Evil, Extraplanar, Lawful)
Hit Dice: 6d8+12 (39 hp)
Initiative: +1
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares)
Armor Class: 15 (+4 natural, +1 Dex) touch 11, flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+8
Attack: Claw +8 melee (1d4+2)
Full Attack: 2 claws +8 melee (1d4+2)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: -
Special Qualities: Damage reduction 5/good or silver, darkvision 60 ft., immunity to fire and poison, mindless, resistance to acid 10 and cold 10, mindless, see in darkness
Saves: Fort +9, Ref +8, Will +8
Abilities: Str 15, Dex 12, Con 14, Int -, Wis 13, Cha 3
Environment: A lawful evil-aligned plane
Organization: Solitary, pair, gang (3-5), swarm (6-15), or mob (10-40)
Challenge Rating: 5
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always lawful evil
Advancement: -
Level Adjustment: -
A smoldering lemure looks much like a larger version of its more common cousin, standing about 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds. They stink of sulphur and putrid bubbles in their flesh are constantly popping and emitting vile smoke.

Smoldering lemures are mindless and cannot communicate, but they are sensitive to telepathic messages from other devils, typically obeying a devil's mental commands.

Smoldering lemures surge toward anything they meet and try to claw it apart. Only a telepathic command from other devils or the complete destruction of the creatures can make them stop.
A smoldering lemure's natural weapons, as well as any weapons it wields, are treated as evil-aligned and lawful-aligned for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Mindless (Ex): Immunity to mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, and morale effects).
Burn (Ex): When a smoldering lemure hits with a claw attack, the opponent must succeed on a DC 20 Reflex save or catch fire. The save DC is Constitution-based. The flame burns for 2d6 points of damage for 1d4 rounds if not extinguished sooner. A burning creature can use a full-round action to put out the flame.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

blast from the past: metal PCs

Back in the eighties my schoolchum Dave would occasionally paint up some figures for our D&D and BattleTech games. He had a real talent for it. Nowadays I mostly use prepainted plastic thanks to the official collectible D&D minis line, supplemented by some MageKnight and HeroScape figures. Sometimes I really wish I could paint worth a darn so I could add some Reaper figures to the mix. I love those sculpts. My friend Pat almost has me convinced that I just need to get some supplies and paint a whole bunch of guys. My first figure will look like ass, but my twentieth or hundredth might not suck as much. I dunno.

Anyway, as I was brooding over this situation for the zillionth time I recalled a couple of figure lines from back in the day that I really liked. The first was a little run called Custom Characters, from the nice people at Rafm. There were maybe ten or twenty figures in the line. Each figure came with empty hands and a gaping hole where there head should be. Packed with the figure proper were three choices of head and a bunch of weapons and equipment. Even better, most of the stuff in one pack would fit on the body of another figure in the line. Here's a bad scan of a photo from an old Dragon ad for the line, showing the different things you could accomplish with just one pack:

I especially like the non-weapon stuff available in the sets: backpacks, torches, wineskines, etc. Rafm is still in business, with a website here, but I don't see any Custom Character packs for sale there. Ebay doesn't have any for sale at the moment, either.

Ral Partha also had a nifty little line called 3 Stage Characters. Each pack had three figures representing the same character at low, middle, and high level. I thought some of these guys were wicked awesome. Check out this cleric:

See how his armor and weapons improve as he goes up in levels, but the ankh-like motif remains the same? Pretty cool. I've been a big fan of ankh holy symbols ever since I got Ultima IV for my Commodore 64.

I'm also very fond of this 3 stage wizard:(The middle wizard is not in scale to the others.) See how his staff, hat, and robes become more elaborate? And his beard gets bigger, too. I imagine him painted with a black beard in the low-level version, greying at mid level, and white-haired at high level. Keep the robe color scheme the same in all three versions and you end up with a trio of figures that highlight both the changes and the continuities as the character grows in might.
I found one of the 3 stage packs on eBay.

Ral Partha has been reincarnated as Iron Wind Metals. They don't sell the 3 Stage packs, but many of the figures are sold individually. There's a lot of neat stuff for sale over at the Iron Wind site. Ebay has a 3 Stage barbarian dude for sale here.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How to Be a Traveller Heretic

Anybody can take the Traveller rules and use them in another setting. To be worthy of excommunication, you need to work within the system to subvert the system. I came up with the following list while planning my next Traveller outing.

1. Charted Space? Your using the wrong chart, bub! Using the canonical Traveller universe is just giving the PCs too much information. I'm going with the Gateway Quadrant, a group of four sectors from Judges Guild. Other options included the two Paranoia Press sectors (the Vanguard Reaches and the Beyond), the Islands Clusters back when it was accessible via Jump-6, or use the map from Dark Nebula. And don't forget the timeless option of using a random subsector.

2. Cantinas full of aliens. Why use a human when a three-eyed reptile will work? Don't limit yourself to the Major Races either. Get GURPS Traveller: Aliens 4 for a lovely mix of minor races, sprinkle in some GURPS: Aliens dudes, and maybe spice it up with one of the random alien generators published in Dragon back in the day.

3. To boldy go where no human has gone before. I don't care how long humanity has been aomng the stars. Somewhere there have got to be some cool planets that humans have yet to visit. What self-respecting adventurer wouldn't want to claim a planet for the homeworld, and maybe name it for themselves?

4. Blow some shit up. The PCs and their archfoes should leave a trail of destruction behind them that leaves Kei and Yuri of Dirty Pair jealous. We're not talking simply fragging some space pirates or shoot-outs at starport customs. Whole planets need to explode. Stars should be set to nova. Heck, someone needs to use a corbomite device and wipe out a whole subsector.

5. More zap guns, please. Shotguns in space are dandy, but no match for a good blaster at your side, kid. And what PC doesn't want a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range?

6. Xenocidal War. I'm sorry, but the Fifth Frontier War is as dull as dirt. We need bug-eyed monsters lusting after our women! We needs wars of annihilation! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

7. Interstellar Stakes. Skulking around doing wetwork for megacorps has been coopted by the Shadowrun crowd. This time the PCs have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada. Now you must save whole civilizations between commercial breaks.

8. Space monsters and cackling villains. Most foes in Traveller are human or plausible alien sentients with psychologically sound motivations for opposing the party. We need more berserk robots, atomic zombies and Denebian slime devils. And don't forget the Evil Space Overlord and his faceless minions.

9. Hauling freight is for losers. If the PCs end up on a space tramp that fine. But it needs to be a helluva lot more Millenium Falcon style shenanigans and a whole lot less endlessly rolling on the trade charts.

10. Two words: Light Sabres

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Don't Eat The Fish

Last night was another weird and exciting adventure in the World of Alidor. If you ever happen to be near the haunted ruins of Brunarn, don't fish in the stream that runs nearby. The party's peasant lackey pulled in some trout while we were in the dungeon. My guy was cheerily chomping on a campfire-roasted filet when our yokel mentioned that the fish continued to squirm long after he chopped the heads off. The taste of zombie trout will haunt me forever.

You'd think it'd be hard for the DM to freak us out even more after that, but Jon pulled it off. We're in a small boat looking for the local equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster in a lake of unknown depth. And we're stupid enough to be wearing our armor when the monster attacks our little boat. Were taking on huge amounts of water as we try to beat down the underwater monster. Turns out the Wookie Hole lake critter was a small black dragon. Who knew? So after a harrowing throwdown on a sinking rowboat, we are now officially Dragon Slayers. We all agreed that we should pose for a shot with it just like that great illo in the 2nd edition Player's Handbook. Anyone else remember that one? And I got to conjure up a Celestial Porpoise, a summoned monster that I never actually expected to use.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Actual market research?!? Egads!

Ogre Cave is reporting that GAMA and The Wargamer have joined forces with Dr. Prabu David of Ohio State to produce a rigorous survey called "Experiences of hobby game players: The what, when, where and why of their motivations and choices to play". If you've got 20 minutes or so, please consider taking the time to complete this survey. The industry desperately needs this sort of hard data.

It's nice to see GAMA making some sort of effort in this field. I've harped on them from time to time and will probably continue to do so, but I really appreciate what they're doing here.

3.5 without a net

Next week I'll be attempting something new. I will be running an adventure for my D&D campaign without using a published module. Over the years I've run homebrew adventures a gajillion times, but this will be my first go making something completely from scratch for these 3.5-powered 12th-level Gestalt engines of destruction. I've spent the last week or so tinkering with NPCs, adding class levels to monsters, and tweaking critters using the methods outlined by Mike Mearls in the opening chapter of FFG's Monster's Handbook. Another product that has proven helpful in this endeavor is the PCGen character creation software. Due to my ham-handed approach the resulting builds will probably be a bit crude and the adventure will be simplistic, but I'm pleased at the prospect of whipping together a whole session of material starting with nothing but a couple goofy ideas.

Here's a teaser for my players: there will be robots.

Friday, May 05, 2006

random thoughts on new editions

The advent of 2nd edition AD&D was the first time I really cared about various editions of a role-playing game.  I avidly followed the discussions of what 2nd Ed might contain in the pages of Dragon and Polyhedron.  I think I'm going to have to go back and read those issues, because I think the game as eventually published looked precious little like the concepts they were trying to sell to the Dragon readership.  Before all the talk about revising the Big Game, me and my game gang barely understood that games went through multiple editions.  Sure, we had both the Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer iterations of Basic/Expert D&D, but we treated them as the exact same game.  And when I got my 4th edition Call of Cthulhu book, it looked like little more than a repackaging of my 3rd edition boxed set.  But then I feel that way about my 5th edition CoC rulebook, too.
It probably wasn't until I got to college that I fully realized the fact that some games seem to be constantly under revision.  The HERO System players I hung out with were always whinging about the new 4th edition, when they weren't too busy complaining about the changes in the Captain's edition of Star Fleet Battles.  I heard rumors that the folks behind Shadowrun had actually managed to create a workable game in some edition after the trainwreck that was the original.  Gothic clove-smokers could be attracted or repelled with the single word 'Revised'.  I didn't take most of these Edition Wars seriously.  Heck, my one sustained 2nd edition AD&D campaign made almost as much use of first material as it did the new stuff.  In recent years I've gotten finicky enough that I can discuss the merits of the various editions of many older games at length.  But, to paraphrase Billy Joel, it's still D&D to me.  I'm not going to turn my nose up at the prospect of playing in a D&D campaign simply because the DM uses what I consider to be an inferior incarnation of the game.
But there are a few games where I do care about the edition.  I'd give a fair shot to playing any edition of Gamma World, but as a GM and collector I've never seen much that interests me past the 2nd edition of the game.  For all practical purposes Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space was the second edition rules for Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn.  I like some of the setting fluff in Zeb's Guide, but the new skills rules and resolution chart leave me cold.  And then there's Traveller.  There's no Edition War quite like a Traveller Edition War.  Each version of the game radically altered both the setting and the system.  Over a decade later there are still grognards stinging over Traveller: The New Era, which destroyed the Imperium of Classic Traveller and replaced the core game mechanics with the system from Twilight: 2000.  Outright flamewars over Trav editions have died down over the years, largely due to the fanbase growing up and settling down, I think.  But I don't really have a horse in that race, since I started playing Traveller around 1999.  I favor the original game, but I'm more than happy to cherry pick stuff from later editions.
Some folks are bitterly disappointed or alienated by a new edition of their favorite game.  My group glommed onto 2nd Ed AD&D eagerly, but plenty of other people stuck to the original version of Advanced.  D&D 3E left some longtime fans feeling the game was no longer the same.  Sometimes I agree with them.  At times over the past seven or eight years I've felt like Dungeons & Dragons has become a brandname attached to a set of mechanics only incidentally related to the game I started playing in the 80's.  The introduction of the 3.5 edition only heightened this sensitivity.  Still, this latest version is the game all the kids are playing, so I feel I have to give it the old college try.  And while I'm not happy with every design decision made in the 3E/3.5 upgrades, you can still sword orcs for dollars.  And isn't that what's most important?
For a while I tried to follow all the 4th edition rumour mongering that started like the day after 3.5 was announced.  But I quickly got Idle Speculation Fatigue.  With Mike Mearls on the staff of Wizards these days, I have hope that he will be given a key role in 4E, whenever they decide to do it.  If Mr. Mearls can make prepping for a session feel less like doing homework, I will gleefully buy yet another 3 corebooks.  Even if the interior art is full of rejects from Goth Night at the local gay bar.  Marc Miller, Traveller's Lord and Saviour, is working on a new edition of Trav.  That's the only other rpg with a new edition on the horizon that I can be bothered to give a crap about right now.  T5, as they are calling it, is one of the few games I intend to buy and run even though right now no one really knows what it's going to end up looking like.  Heck, all the pissing around I do with a Trav setting is basically driven by my desire to have a T5 game up and running within days of getting my hands on the books.
Any new edition of a game save your soul or break your heart?  Looking forward to a new edition coming down the pipe?  Tell me all about it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Swiped from RPGnet tangency

Someone please tell me this is from an actual comic book:
Also, if you have been at all following the latest Palladium Books nonsense, please click here.

replacement PC insertion techniques

You're several levels deep into a festering pit of evil when one of the party members bites the dust. No raise/resurrect magic is available. That PC is going to stay dead until you get back to civilization. What is the player going to do? Anybody who putzes around in dungeons long enough will probably encounter this problem at some point. Rather than have the player of the dead PC sit on his hands until their dude is breathing again, here are some methods for getting that player back into the game as soon as possible.

Video Game Style "New Player Added" - Just like playing Gauntlet, new PCs pop in whenever available. Not every campaign will sustain this kind of abuse, but it's the easy way out if it won't make people at the table wince. The World of Alidor campaign suggests a way to use this technique without bending the universe. In the Alidor setting the Elan (a PC race from the Expanded Psionics Handbook) simply pop into existence fully formed, as they are something like the solidified thoughts of giant tortoises. I'm not sure if they only appear close to the titanic turtles or not. If they can appear anywhere in the world, I intend to whip up an Elan psion as an emergency back-up PC.

The Prisoner - This one is almost as easy as kicking it Video Game style, but puts a lot less pressure on the suspension of disbelief. Simply chain up the PC in the next available room and stash their equipment in the next room over. (Just be kinder about it than my old DM.) Unreasonable players may try to glom onto the new PCs stuff before they re-equip. I avoid this problem by not gaming with those sorts of people.

Solo Adventurer - The party stumbles upon a lone PC that is willing to team up with the party. Works best if the new PC is a sneaky type like a rogue or can teleport, as it dodges questions like "How did your plate-clad warrior get down this deep without setting off an alarm?" Again, problem players may decide to exploit the situation to their advantage. ("I say we kill him. Our guys don't know he's a PC and have no reason to trust him.") But why are you even playing with jerks like that?

If you're going to use any of the above three options to beam in a new PC, make sure to plan ahead. DMs need to let the players know that dropping in a new PC is an available option and make clear to the players exactly how he wants replacement PCs built. Players need to take time beforehand to whip up a back-up PC. Even if you only use your new guy until your main PC is ressurrected, it would still behoove you to show up with another dude ready-to-go. That way you aren't wasting time during the session throwing together a half-assed character build.

If you don't have a back-up PC ready or if the DM isn't going to allow any PC paradrops, you still have at least one more option to explore.

Brevet-PC - Take an NPC already associated with the party and upgrade that character to PC status. This contingency was half the reason to have henchmen under older editions. A cohort makes a fine choice, but a role-playing oriented player may well have a good time playing a familiar or a follower. In my present campaign when Uther the Justiciar died in mid-adventure the player took his own cohort and re-statted him as a full-strength PC. It looks like Odolan the Ex-Cohort will now be a regular member of the team. Always look for opportunites even where no decent character is available but a raise dead is just around the corner. "Hey DM! Can I play the ogre that the wizard charmed until my fighter is back online?"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another House Rule for my D&D campaign

Robert Wiese's potion miscibility rules are now the law of the land in my campaign. Layering multiple potions effects at one time just does not sit well with me. Blame it on the earlier miscibility chart from the 1st edition DMG.

I really ought to get all my crazy house rules put together in a handout for my players. Maybe I could throw in a definitive section on replacement PCs.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Three Little Letters

Tonight's session of my D&D campaign fills me with a heady mixture of anticipation and fear. Anticipation because tonight is the big payoff, the throwdown with the Big Bad. Our own little Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, as it were. Will our heroes prove victorious, or will Oerth overflow with a diabolic horde summoned by the forces of the despicable Red Claw Cult? Truly, this has been one of the most epic plot arcs I've ever run, right up there with the Return of Doctor Wu in my old Bandit Kingdoms campaign. Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

But I'm also a tad bit scared, because the party's safety net is looking pretty threadbare. The previous two (three?) sessions were a nonstop orgy of violence, with no opportunities to rest and recover. The final dustup will be tough, even for a full-up party. All the players will need to have their A game on tonight or the whole thing could end up a Total Party Kill. As a DM, I try to remain calm and aloof. I don't go gunning for the PCs. The same can't be said about the evil bastards lurking on the other side of those massive enruned stone doors. They're not gonna let four or five rat-soup-eating, no-business motherfuckers ruin their evil master plan. Not without a helluva fight, at least. These guys will pull ever lowdown dirty trick in the book to keep the party from stopping them.

It ought to be glorious. But times like this really underline the inherent conflict in my approach to Dungeon Mastering. On the one hand I am totally rooting for the party. I want the good guys to win and the players to go home happy. On the other hand I can't reach a satisfactory payoff without doing my darnest to make life hell on the PCs. And there's no better way of making a win credible than by setting up tough opposition and letting the dice fall where they may. The problem with this approach is that sometimes the whole thing goes down the toliet. I don't allow do-overs. If the dice go sour or the PCs screw up, then they're dead. We may joke about it, but if they all die Thor isn't going to materialize and give the party some 1-ups to finish the job.

But even if every member of the party croaks, we will honor the dead as heroes. For ten levels they have fought tirelessly to stop the Red Claws. And I can think of no better way for a PC to check out than with his hands clutched around the throat of his greatest enemy.

...that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

--Lord Tennyson