Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Man, I love these guys.



In my mind the trunk of the car is loaded with backpacks, torches, and battle-axes.

No wonder he was such a pain in the butt.

By the Hoary Hosts of Haggoth!Is it me, or is Robin Hood's nemesis rolling around in Doctor Strange's colors?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Haunted Cities and Swamp Elves

So I've been doing some more work on stocking the wilderness map for my OD&D sandbox setting. I decided to go back to the original wilderness encounter charts to see what they suggest about the D&D landscape. Dig this page:


I added the color boxes to highlight what I wanted to talk about. Let's start with the green box, which is the random city encounter table. According to this chart half of all city encounters will involve Men (meaning bandits, brigands, berserkers and various high-level NPCs with entourages) while the other half of all city encounters involve a run-in with various undead. Obviously this simple chart predates the more elaborate and awesome options in the 1st edition DMG, Ready Ref Sheets/City State of the Invincible Overlord, or Midkemia Press's Cities. And while this particular chart omits the all-important random harlots, I really like the suggestion that OD&D cities are positively crawling with ghosts and skeletons.

Consider for a moment the fact that some cities in our world are thousands of years old and we don't even have elves around. If even a small percentage of the dead return to the world of the living each year, how many will be lurking around a city after ten generations? A hundred generations? Under such circumstances ancestor worship might be a practical necessity, to keep Uncle Lou's spectre from getting out of hand.

Moving on, the purplish oval shows that referring to the "Giant" sub-table is an equal possibility in all terrain types but the city. The blue box contains the Giant sub-table. Looks like this table is the origin of the term "giant class" as a means of referencing the evil humanoids that rangers are extra skilled in beating up. The original "Giant class" of humanoid consists of all the critters on that list starting with Kobolds and stopping with Giants. The last four items on the list, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, and EntsTreants, aren't Giant class because they're the good guys.

So under these rules you can encounter a dwarf in a swamp, an ogre in a desert, and elves in the mountains. In fact, you have an equal chance of finding them there as you do of running into such creatures in what we nowadays consider their native environs. I don't know about you, but this situation immediately suggests to me the possibility of secret races such as Desert Dwarves and Hillbilly Trees. Or maybe elves and kobolds get out a lot more than I normally suspect.

By the way, I can't find halflings/hobbits on any of the OD&D wilderness encounter charts. I think I'm okay with that.

One Brief Observation

I like to keep things as upbeat as possible on the ol' Gameblog, so I'm not going to get too deep into the fiasco surrounding Zachary Houghton's resignation as an ENnies judge. It's a damn shame Zach felt he had to go because, as I said when he was running, he's my kind of gamer. His voice in the process made the ENnies far more relevant to me.

But I wanted to post because some people have decided to call Zach names for his harshing on some behavior of the other judges. That's totally understandable in a situation like this and Zach's a big boy who can take care of himself. He doesn't need me defending him. However, I must object to the one or two interested parties who felt the need to drag Zach's family into the mix. That's across the line.

Let me put it to you this way. I used to repossess cars and foreclose houses for a living. I've been called a lot of things over the years. One time this woman called me an asshole over the phone because she thought she had put me on hold and was talking to someone else on her end of the line. Another guy wrote a letter to my superiors referring to me and my co-worker Laurie as "the spawn of Satan". Once or twice someone told to me to my face that I was ruining their lives.

Never once did anyone bring my family into it. Not once in twelve hundred repossessions, a similar number of court cases, and maybe 50 or so home foreclosures. Anyone thinking that some stupid award for a stupid role-playing game merits that level of jackassery has completely lost perspective.

again, five links

The Best Subsector Map Ever - Thanks BeRKA!

One Million Orc Tribes

Say Yes or Face The Dungeon

List of Melee Weapons That Don't Exist, But Should

Chaos Patrons!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Upcoming Convention News

FlatCon in Bloomington, Illinois is next Saturday, October 4th. It's not officially on the schedule yet, but I've submitted an event for Saturday afternoon (or Saturday morning if they can't fit me in later in the day). The plan is that I'll be running my own idiotsyncratic version of OD&D for up to twelve foolhardy souls. If it doesn't get on the schedule I'll still have my OD&D and Encounter Critical stuff with me. Don't hesitate to ask me to run something if we can find a spot to sling dice. Just look for the guy wearing this:

This is what happens when you combine a massive ego with a Cafepress account.
The Saturday after that I plan to attend I-Con in Springfield, Illinois. I haven't figured out how to submit an event on their bare bones website, but again I'll have my gamecrap with me. If we can find space I will totally run something at the drop of a hat.

Shatnerday again

Friday, September 26, 2008

What's my motivation?

You know the type. You've set up a wicked cool dungeon for your crew to crawl through, dice are thrown for new PCs, equipment purchased, and you're all ready to hit the ground running. Then that guy pipes up: "Why would my puny wizard risk life and limb in a dank, smelly dungeon?" It never even occurs to most of these blackhearted jackanapes that coming up with a reasonable motivation is their own damn problem. Meanwhile everybody else at the table is smart enough to realize that scoring XPs, winning fabulous prizes, and killing orcs are their own rewards. Why is this stupid git harshing the buzz before the game even starts? Is he really that dumb?

Never again do you have to be caught unprepared for such shenanigans. Just instruct the ill-mannered fool to roll d12.

Random Dungeon Motivations

1) PC is obsessed with proving the existence of the Hollow World.
2) PC quests to retrieve bones of famous adventuring ancestor and re-inter them in family tomb.
3) PC has terrible but enticing dreams of sitting on the throne of a vast underworld kingdom.
4) PC owes d6 x 10,000gp to Jabba the Hutt.
5) PC seeks vengeance against the Troll King.
6) Family member of PC afflicted with disease that can only be cured with the waters from a sacred subterranean spring.
7) PC haunted by visions of a beautiful witch/drow/princess/goth chick living on an island at the center of a vast underground lake.
8) PC seeks one segment of the Rod of Seven Parts. Must obtain all seven to save homeland from foretold doom.
9) Evil duplicate of PC (twin? simulacrum? clone?) has fled into the dungeon. One or the other must die before both go mad.
10) PC's true love has been trapped in amber and is on display in the trophy room of Lord Utterdark.
11) PC's parents imprisoned. Corrupt official will release them in exchange for the Star Ruby of Umman-Gorash.
12) PC quests for legendary sword (fighter), archmage's spellbook (MU), or holy relic (cleric).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Also, who the shooting back will do?" part II

Yesterday I ran some numbers on the ever-growing disruption ball weapon featured in Ralph Roberts' "The Gun That Shot Too Straight" (Dragon #94, February '85). My calculations indicated that the fireball shot from Henry's pistol travels at 350 meters per second and grows at .03 millimeter per second. Today I'm going to apply those numbers to some astronomical targets.

First up on the hit list is the Moon, which is usually something around 384,399 kilometers away from us. Looks like it will take about 13 days for the fireball to reach ol' Luna. The entry wound on the Moon will be about 37 kilometers in diameter. I actually think that might be visible from Earth, as 37km is in the neighborhood of 1% of the Moon's diameter. Here's a rough mock-up:

Ouch.
The fireball will take about 2 hours and 45 minutes to drill through the Moon, assuming the shot is angled to cross the centerpoint of the sphere. Time to aim the disruption pistol at our next victim, Mars.

I probably don't need to tell you that Mars is a LOT farther away than the moon. Since both Earth and Mars orbit the sun at roughly similar distances, the distance between the two planets varies greatly. We'll use the middle range number of 1.5 Astronomical Units, or about 225 billion meters. Our slow-moving sphere of doom will need a tad bit more than 20 years to reach the Red Planet. Uh, oh! Mars is in BIG trouble because at that point the disruption energy is about 21,000 kilometers in diameter! The encounter between Mars and the disruption sphere would look a little something like this:

Come in Mars base.  Come in Mars base.  Do you read me?
So Mars is a complete goner and somewhere along the way the disruption effect becomes a visible astronomical object. The initial firing of the weapon produces a light described as "searing bright", so it may be visible on its way to the Moon.

About 50 years or so later the great glowing sphere of doom will reach approximately the orbit of Jupiter. Assuming its flightpath intersects with Jupiter, the resulting annihilation isn't quite as absolute as poor Mars, but Jupiter is still pretty effectively destroyed. I don't see how the planet is going to keep it together in any recognizable form wearing a hole this size:


(I think this point is as good as any to note that I've been assuming all along that the sphere of disruption has no mass .)

Four and a half centuries from the time the trigger is pulled on Earth the deadly orb will reach the neighborhood of Pluto. I'm not going to even bother with a graphic of Pluto's destruction here because the diameter of the disruption sphere will have grown in size to half a million kilometers, or more than the distance between the Earth and the Moon. They wouldn't be anywhere near each other, but here's a scale comparison between the Earth/Moon system and the disruption field circa 2435AD:

Seriously, this is totally in scale.
The next target on the celestial hit list is the Alpha Centauri system. At roughly 4.3 light years away the fireball (still assumed to be traveling only 350 m/s) will take a helluva long time to reach its destination. Roughly 3.7 million years, as a matter of fact. Even growing at a measly .03 millimeters per second, that allows for expansion to 3.9 billion kilometers in diameter, or about 26 Astronomical Units. That means that when the fiery ball o' doom reaches Alpha Centauri it's almost as big as what we normally think of as the Solar System (i.e. the Sun and its planets). If a disruptor ball that size passed through the Solar System on a course centered on the sun everything inward of Neptune would be toast. As you can guess, Alpha Centauri would be in a world of hurt as well. The Alpha Centauri twin stars orbit each other at a distance of about 17 AU, so both could be completely consumed by the fireball. At least if we assume that the 'molecular disruption' effect of Henry's pistol would have an effect on stellar material. Distant companion Proxima Centauri would be safe.


Finally, let's aim this puppy at the Andromeda galaxy and see what the numbers have to say. Andromeda is pretty close galacticly speaking at only 2.5 million light years away. That is a quite a distance to travel at only 350 meters per second. My back-of-envelope estimation puts the time to target at 2,151,162 million years. Not 2 million years, 2 million million years. Under the American numeric system I believe this would mean 2 trillion years.

Over that long of a time scale I have my doubts that the Andromeda Galaxy as we know it would exist to blast, as 2 trillion years from now is over 140 times the present age of the universe. Instead of the present Andromeda Galaxy, when the doomsphere arrives there might only be a thin cloud composed of dim objects like red dwarfs, white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, and black holes. Aiming Henry's pistol at the Andromeda Galaxy would in effect be putting out a hit on a 95 year old man on life support. Just not much point to it.

Of course the big final question is how big the fireball grows over 2 trillion years. The answer is a whopping 2.3 quadrillion kilometers, or 15 million AU, or roughly 244 light years across. Which brings us back around to a case somewhat similar to the Moon above, where the diameter of the fireball is equal to roughly 1% the width of the target. Of course galaxies even in the present era are mostly empty space, so the ravaging ball of disintegrating energy would probably pass right through Andromeda with no discernable effect. Future Andromeda will be even more insubstantial.


Well, I think that's enough slapdash math, crappy graphics, and cosmic destruction for one day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Also, who the shooting back will do?", part I

As a kid I got Dragon for the game-able stuff, not the fiction. But one of my favorite pieces of fiction published in Dragon was "The Gun That Shot Too Straight" by Ralph Roberts. The story appeared in issue #94, February 1985. To sum up briefly, the story hinges on a young genius named Henry inventing an energy pistol that fires tiny balls of energy that disrupt molecular bonds. Henry's uncle, a defense contractor, is very interested in the device until they catch on the news that the test firing brought down a plane on the other side of the world. It seems the ever-expanding fireball punched all the way through the Earth, wrecking an Aussie military jet. The illo that opens the story depicts the event quite nicely:


Near the end of the story the uncle asks "I was wondering, if the energy balls continue travelling, how big will they get and what will they hit?" The young inventor doesn't have an answer. The last line of the story is the title of today's post. Over the years I've often thought about running some numbers on this scenario and today I'm going to finally do it. Please point out any math errors you spot in the comments.

Let's start with the easy one: the velocity of the fireball. We'll assume a constant velocity because we have no evidence of acceleration once the disruption ball exits the pistol aperture. According to the story it took approximately ten hours (36,000 seconds) to punch through the Earth, which has a diameter of roughly 12,742 kilometers. That's about 350 meters/second. Or roughly 390 yards/second, or about 1,200 feet/second, or about .2 mile/second if metric isn't your bag. Or 790 miles per hour. Not anywhere close to lightspeed, but not too shabby in general. By way of comparison that's about 40% faster than the muzzle velocity of a bullet fired out of a M1911 pistol.

Now let's look at the rate of expansion of the disrupting sphere. Again we're working with estimates. All we really know from the story is that the emitting aperture on the pistol is "a barely discernible pinhole" from the point of view of the old uncle. Let's call that a 1 millimeter diameter for our purposes. The fireball that brought down Captain Smythe's plane was described as "the size of a large beachball". I'm going to make the calculations as easy as possible by calling that 1 meter in diameter. So that's a thousandfold increase over the ten hour timeframe. For simplicity's sake we'll assume a constant growth of 1 meter per ten hours, or about .03 mm/second.

Tomorrow comes the fun part. We'll aim the fireball at various celestial objects and determine how long it takes to reach the target and how big the fireball is at the moment of impact. As I type this I'm not sure exactly how these scenarios are going to turn out, but I suspect that the relatively slow velocity is going to result in some pretty dang big fireballs once this baby starts hitting things in outer space.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In which I pick on Ron Edwards just a bit

Unlike a certain inhabitant of Uruguay, I don't hate "indie" guru Ron Edwards' guts. Some of what he writes is intriguing. The fantasy heartbreakers essay helped me tune in to taking a fresh look at crummy old games. And I really like Sorcerer & Sword, his sword & sorcery supplement to Sorcerer. He's way more of a Howard purist than me and I'm not interested in playing his approach to S&S, but I feel enriched by reading the book.

But more than those, I keep coming back again and again to one piece of of Edwards'. It's an essay of his called A Hard Look at Dungeons & Dragons. You might want to check it out before you read the rest of this post, but I'll quote what I consider the key part:
Early D&D as hobby culture
I think that the available discussions, interesting as they are, about Arneson's and Gygax's relative contributions (a) to the hobby activity and (b) to the actual publication of Dungeons & Dragons is overlooking a crucial issue regarding late 1970s role-playing. Prior to AD&D2, the available texts were reflective, not prescriptive, of actual play. Their content was filtered through authors' priorities which were very diverse. Furthermore, any particular area or group had only piecemeal combinations of the texts. In 1978, one might find a group with Chainmail, ten issues of Dragon, and a copy of the Monster Manual; as well as a group with the 1977 boxed set and three or four volumes of Arduin's Grimoire. No one, or very few people, had all of it, and as I recall anyway, hardly anyone knew much about what books "went" when, or made much distinction between TSR products and anything else.

Rob MacDougall stated it best: we are talking about Cargo Cults. Everyone knew about "this new great game." Everyone had on hand a hodgepodge of several texts, which in retrospect seem to me to be almost archeological in their fragmentary, semi-compatible but not-quite, layered-in-time-of-publication nature. Also, although newly-available texts obviously modified local oral traditions, they also arose from them, generating a seething hotbed of how-to-play instructions in print in other locations. Everyone had to shape, socially and procedurally, just what the hell you did such that "role-playing" happened. How did you know it worked? What did you do it for? All of it, from Social Contract right down to Stance, had to be created in the faith that it worked "out there" somewhere, and somehow, some way, it was supposed to work here.

So everyone just did it locally. I consider role-playing to have been constructed independently in a vast number of instances across the landscape, sometimes in parallel, sometimes very differently. Over time, further unifications or contact-compromises occurred, whether through tournament standards, military bases, conventions, or APAs, or simply by people meeting when they converged on college campuses. Full unification never occurred. There never existed a single, original D&D.
Let's set aside for the moment the fact that D&D obviously had an origin point. On my umpteenth re-read of this passage it sunk in why I keep coming back to it: Edwards writes as if the Cargo Cult era of D&D ended. Did it?

Personally, I don't think so. My gut has always led me to run D&D using a frankensteinian hodgepodge of materials. As a kid my group bolted cherry-picked AD&D mechanics onto a superstructure of Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert D&D, which we then filtered through our favorite Dragon articles. Later we played Menzter Basic/Expert modified by Paul Crabaugh's "Customized Classes". My most successful campaign in the 90's involved me using my 1st edition corebooks and modules, and my players referring to the 2nd edition PHB, Unearthed Arcana, and Oriental Adventures. When I ran 3e and 3.5 I kept my Arduin Grimoire handy for critical hits and my 1st edition DMG at my side for moral support. Now that I think about it, I've probably looked up something in the DMG for every D&D campaign I've run in the last 25 years, regardless of edition. And those few occasions when I tried to run a D&D edition "straight" always felt like they were missing a dimension or two.

Which leads me around to why I now suspect that the Forge and the Old School movement, despite a do-it-yourself grassroots approach in each, will always have a wide gulf between them. If I may be allowed to use a sweeping generalization, the Forge folks are trying to engineer games from the bottom up. That's generally not what the Old Schoolers are about. We're tinkering and puttering, crafting by trial-and-error rather than building from theoretical precepts. On some level we accept the tools in the box and try to do something neat with them. The Forge folks construct games, what we do is more like bricolage. Not that I'm trying to run down the Forge or Edwards here.

Well, maybe I'm dogging Edwards just a bit. I'm starting to get the idea that he thinks the way I game is like a Cargo Cult. I'd totally play in a game bound by "Chainmail, ten issues of Dragon, and a copy of the Monster Manual" or "the 1977 boxed set and three or four volumes of Arduin's Grimoire".

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Tome of Mighty Magic

GameScience rules, by the way.So here's a book that I don't think I've talked about on the ol' Gameblog before. The Tome of Mighty Magic is a 48 page book of spells. I own the Gamescience reprint from '92 but the original version was published in '82 by North Pole Publications, which was probably one of those garage outfits where the local game club decided to turn their house rules into a supplement. Twelve different contributors are listed, including what appears to be two couples. That's kinda neat, I think. I'm going to go ahead a quote the introduction in full:
In a hidden land on a distant plane dwelt three lords of incredible power. The wizard Aluap, an evil Arch-Mage, mastered the magics known to mortal men. He worshipped Death and kept his quota gleefully. Lord Eridor was a High Priest of Set. The third lord was Ida, an unusual elf of many talents. With his katana and wakishazi, as well as spells of various types, he defended the forests of the land in the name of the Druids' Council and the power they represented. Though the lords coexisted for many years, their conflicting goals eventually led to a showdown. In a battle which literally shook the earth beneath their feet, all three disappeared. Years later, while on a mission for his wizardly tutor Nimanril, the hobbit thief Tobelin Darver discovered some of Aluap's spell books among some abandoned ruins. Having an intense love of mysteries and ancient legends, Tobelin searched for many years before recovering the various religious scrolls and other writings which make up this text. He never told Nimanril of his find, for fear the most evil of the inscriptions would be destroyed. Instead, he gave them, along with a few scrolls he is beleived to have obtained from his tutor, to a temple of Thoth in return for enchanted scrolls with some of the spells. After many eons, we here at North Pole Publications, Inc., have obtained a copy of the text compiled by the scholarly priests, and the translation is as follows...
Apart from the bit at the end about North Pole Publications, doesn't that sound like the exact sort of thing that could happen in a long campaign? A hobbit finds some spellbooks from the Monty Haul era of the campaign. He can't do anything with them, but trades them to the Thothians for some scrolls he can use.

What follows the intro above is a list by level (and alphebetized within each level) of a couple hundred spells. Each spell has a brief stat block similar to the 1st edition AD&D format and then usually one to five lines of explanatory text. Spell levels range from 1 to 20, with levels fifteen to twenty being reserved as god-spells either used or directly granted by deities. This is the sort of book that I don't usually read from front to back, I just like to flip through and read random spells. They range from low level but useful (a spell that draws your dungeon map for you, for instance) to high level and ruinous (one 20th level attack spell erases the target from existance, as if they were never born). One handy 1st level spell summons a wooden crate that lasts until dispelled. (Start to Crate: .5 pages.) I love the idea of the loot crate being unintentionally dispelled in the middle of a fight, spilling the contents all over the battlefield.

My favorite spell so far has got to be My, What A Large Helmet You Are Wearing. It causes a foe's headdress to grow to comically large size, negatively affecting his performance in combat. The spell even comes with this nifty illo:
All in all, the The Tome of Mighty Magic reminds me of the free-wheeling nature of the Tunnels & Trolls approach to magic combined with the over-the-top craziness of the Arduin Grimoire. I could see myself using this book much as I do the Arduin material: as a way to lightly spice the standard D&D spell selection. This looks like one of those books that are great if the DM owns it but terrible if the players are allowed to use it willy-nilly. I wouldn't use The Tome as the main spellbook for a D&D campaign, but I wouldn't hesitate to drop a few spells from it onto scrolls or into some spellbooks. On the other hand, I would consider using Mighty Magic as the core spells for a campaign ran under The Field Guide to Encounters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Best or worst idea ever?

All gamers should publish something in print form... Any decent print shop, Kinkos included, can make the booklets, so write something, print out 50, mark them up a bit and set yourself up a Paypal button, and spam away on the boards! We're creators and participants, not passive entertainment receivers...
That's from Jim Raggi, at his always-intriguing blog Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I should point out that Jim is no hypocrite on this call to action. He's published the very cool Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra, which besides deserving some sort of award for longest title for a 28-page digest also happens to be a really cool random monster generator. And the designer's notes/manifesto/rantings are about worth the cover price alone. Goodman Games has picked it up for publication in the same "generic" line as Rob Conley's super-nifty Points of Light. The new version isn't out yet as far as I can tell and you can't have my copy! Jim is also working on a couple of modules that I can't wait to see.

Anyway, getting back to the quote above, I suspect it would be a complete nightmare if every gamer published their own supplement. The initial glut of knock-off D&D support and replacements had a lot of subpar stuff. Even Judges Guild (who pretty much got there first and did it best) has some drek in their catalog. And anyone who slogged through RPGNow during the hieght of the d20 boom knows what I'm talking about as well. Sure, eventually the distributed meta-mind of the internets would figure out who was good and who sucked, but how many turds would I personally have to buy to help out the cause? Keep in mind that I'm the kind of guy who sets the bar pretty low when it comes to useability of gaming stuff. But even I have my limits.

On the other hand, there are a lot of cool gamers out there that I'd love to hear from. And writing your own supplement or adventure is not an impossible task. Really, anyone who has a lengthy set of house rules or new stuff (monsters, spells, equipment, adventures, etc.) can clean up their notes and put it out. You don't even have to follow the formula James suggests. Releasing a PDF online (whether you host it yourself or through a cool outfit like YourGamesNow) can get more eyes on your work. And lots of very groovy stuff is coming out on Lulu.

Even though I might buy a few stinkers along the way, in the final analysis I have to come down on the side of supporting Jim's basic assertion that more people in the hobby should be publishing more stuff. I've seen too many situations where people thought my favorite gamebooks were crap to sincerely insist on any objective standard beyond simple readability.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shatnerday

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You Are Here

Hopefully you can follow the way the graphic below snakes around to get from upper left to bottom right. My apologies for the file size.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

a global perspective



You see on the best-lit face that large island in the middle of a hex of light blue sea? Check out the adjacent hex to the upper left with the mountain chains and small peninsula near the smaller island. That hex is where my Wilderlands style sandbox is located.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bard-Priests of Yesterday's Tomorrow

Here's a pic for my fellow Encounter Critical fans. This is the back cover to the self-titled album of the 70's Christian prog-rock group Universe.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In case it gets cut.

Here's one of my submissions to the most recent issue of Fight On!

RANDOM FACIAL HAIR CHART (d20)
by Jeff Rients

Note: Some referees might choose to give male dwarves a bonus of at least +1.

1) Clean shaven - poor bastard
2) Stubble - eternal five o'clock shadow
3) Basic chevron moustache
4) Bushy walrus moustache
5) Handlebar moustache: 1-3 small, 4-5 large, 6 enormous
6) Fu Manchu: 1-2 basic, 3-4 long, 5-6 long & braided
7) Franz Joseph
8) Mutton Chops: 1-3 basic, 4-6 w/moustache
9) Goatee: 1 basic, 2-3 doorknocker, 4 vandyke, 5-6 imperial
10) Beard, short cropped: 1-4 w/moustache, 5-6 w/o moustache
11) Cathedral Beard (shaggy front, cropped sides): 1-4 w/moustache, 5-6 w/o moustache
12) Full beard w/o moustache
13) Full beard w/moustache
14) Full beard w/large handlebars
15) Forked beard: 1-4 w/moustache, 5-6 w/o moustache
16) Braided full beard w/o moustache
17) Braided full beard w/moustache
18) Braided full beard w/large handlebars
19) Extra long full beard: 1-4 w/moustache, 5-6 w/o moustache
20) Extra long braided beard: 1-4 w/moustache, 5-6 w/o moustache

Option: After rolling a beard result with an accompanying moustache, roll d4+2 to determine the specific type of moustache.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

a Dragon memory

Back in '91 or '92 the hot new 2nd edition AD&D hardback was the Tome of Magic. As I recall it was loaded with spells and new character options like elemental wizards and such. It was sort of an Unearthed Arcana for spellcasters, though I didn't see it break campaigns the way UA did when it was introduced. One of the new character types the Tome added to the game was the Wild Mage. The best part of the class was the random Wild Surge table, which basically made the class into a ticking wand of wonder time bomb. Lots of stupid effects to mess with the party.

The problem was that no one I gamed with at the time wanted to play a Wild Mage. And as the guy who usually DM'ed, any Wild Mage I made would likely be killed by the PCs as fast as you can say "roll for initiative". It's a basic law of D&D that the PCs' desire to kill an NPC is directly proportional to the DM's love of the character. (I think that rule of thumb is called Elminister's Law.) So anyway I found no good way to get a Wild Mage into any of my games, but a strong desire to use that crazy table.

As far as I can remember, this was the first time I set down with the idea to systematically attack a problem in D&D. For the first ten years of my gaming career I relied almost entirely on poorly understood Dragon articles, best guesses, ad hoc solutions, and hard-earned lessons from sources such as my local con and my killer DM. But this time I really went at it, filling a whole notebook with different applications, amendments and extensions of Wild Surge effects.

Most of it was crap, but I eventually boiled the first draft down into an article I entitled "Get Wild!", which I submitted to Dragon for publication. I have no idea if I still own the manuscript whipped up on my mom's old typewriter over a three-day weekend. The main jist of the article was a set of alternative uses for the Wild Surge chart, mostly things like spellcasting fumbles, potion miscibility fiascoes, and other situations where the natural order of AD&D magic might go awry. If I remember correctly the article also contained a new Wild Surge chart, a percentage chart with 100 different surge effects. The Tome of Magic was the hot new hardback of the moment and my article was geared toward making the rules in it more widely applicable to campaigns, so I naively assumed that my article was going to be a slam dunk.

But instead of "Get Wild!" signaling my entry into the glamorous world of game design, the kindly folks at Dragon sent it back with a politely worded rejection letter. The manuscript was marked up in red where I made a few punctuation and grammatical errors. That same hand had also taken the time to run a red line through every use of the term "magic-user", with a brief remark that under the new edition "mage" was the correct term. And printed at the top of the article, again in red, was the simple note "Too wild!"

Given that "Too wild!" was the only clue I was given for the rejection of my piece, I was surprised as heck when a few years later they published Joel Roosa and Andrew Crossett's "Even Wilder Mages" in issue #202. That article covers some of the same ground as my "Get Wild!", though my article also addressed a lot of situations were a non-Wild Mage could end up rolling on the Wild Surge charts. But I must note that Roosa and Crossett's article was a lot more polished than mine.

Either way, sometimes I like to kid myself that back in '92 I was actually more cutting edge than Dragon could take.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

some Grenadier box art

Over at Grognardia the other day Jamie Mal posted a cool pic of some hireling miniatures, as a way of demonstrating how much things have changed since the good ol' days. Used to be those little redshirts were considered indispensable by many serious players. Since '99 they seem to have been left mostly by the wayside. I think power creep is mostly to blame. When a 1st level mage now has a boatload of hitpoint and crazy powers, what good is a 1 hit point minion going to do him? Of course, the general de-emphasis of the non-fighty parts of dungeoneering also hurts the henchman cause.

Back when overland strategy and logisitcs we more important you needed people just to carry stuff, relay messages, and guard the horses. When GMing campaigns I generally try to encourage hirelings by often assuming that the redshirts were competent in these simple, non-glorious tasks. Therefore hirelings existed in my games primarily as a way of allowing the PCs to not sweat the small stuff. Usually.

(And then there was that one time where Baron Phostarius was petrified deep down in the Dungeon of Doom and it was up to his stalwart henchmen to carry his stony ass back to town. You know your henchies have been treated well when do that and then they pony up the cost of a stone to flesh out of their own pocket.)

Anyway, I started this post not actually meaning to talk about henchmen and such, but rather to show off a couple of pictures. Seeing the Grenadier hireling figures reminded me of how much I liked some of their old box art. So I went over to the same place James probably got his pic, Stuff of Legends, the premier place were grown men can go to wax nostalgic over tiny lumps of lead shaped like troglodytes. Seriously, you should go check that joint out.

Anyway, here are the pics I've been meaning to show you. Feel free to click for a bigger version.



One of the things I love about these pieces is the way the dungeon itself is almost a character. There's danger all around and the party is doing its best to cope with that. They're looking every which way, they got torches handy, but the darkness is all around them.

Also that wizard in red is totally rad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I like this DM's style

I dredged up the image below from an old post on Dragonsfoot. A previous owner customized the Wandering Monsters chart in one poster's Holmes Basic D&D rules. Click the pic to get a larger version.

Purple pigs?  Subterranean hippogriffs?I'm guessing that "Hydra 3" on the third level chart is meant to indicate a 3-headed version of that beastie.

Imagine for a moment the possibility that out there somewhere is some poor bastard whose first encounter in D&D was with a hostile dungeon chicken.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fantasy in Drag

I think maybe it was my buddy Stuart who once offhandedly referred to post-apocalyptic gaming as "fantasy in drag" or "D&D in drag" or something like that. Being the kind of guy I am, I immediately replied "that's why I like it". I meant what I said, but I thought I'd take a moment to consider exactly what I meant by that comment. Just so we're all on the same page, I should note that by "post-apocalyptic gaming" I mean primarily 1st and 2nd edition Gamma World, Jonathan Tweet's Omega World (a fab d20 reimagining of GW) and Mutant Future. Other games in the same neighborhood include Rifts, After the Bomb, World of Synnibarr, Encounter Critical and Low Life. Here's what I dig about them.

Wild, Wild West - The Western was one of the most popular film and TV genres back when Gygax and Arneson were kids and I've long considered the world of fictional cowboys and Indians to be one of the hidden influences on D&D. The theme of taming the wilderness comes up again and again. More important, though, is the general attitude towards civilization and law enforcement. The typical D&D world is a pretty violent and lawless place where PC's can be either the Solitary Marshal defending the weak or the desperate banditos laying waste to everything around them. Only once in a while do the cops arrive to screw everything up. Gamma World and its descendants usually take this approach as well, which I generally prefer to more civilized modern or sci-fi settings.

Random Chargen - Over the years I've grown to loathe most forms of character 'construction'. I'd generally rather play a twerp I diced up than an ubermensch I had to buy with points. Most post-apocalyptic games make character generation even more fun than D&D by means of that greatest of chargen devices, the random mutation table. I just love rolling some bones to find out what sort of gimpy wretch I'm playing tonight. Some players revel in showing up to the game with the perfectly constructed munchkin PC. I like taking a crappy one thrown together in five minutes and doing something with the cards Fate dealt to me. And sometimes you get to shoot gamma rays out of your eyeballs and totally fry people.

Lasers - I don't always groove on elves and lasers. But three-armed mutants and lasers go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I really don't know what else to say here. I just like lasers. Also, robots.

Heavy Handed Social Commentary Disguised As Stupid Jokes - You know what I'm talking about here. The GM hates football players so he builds a scenario around a ruined city where the inhabitants are ruled each year by one of two political factions, whichever one wins the Big Game. The leader of the winning team and new leader of the city is given the grand title Emveepee. Sometimes things like that are cute, sometimes they are lame. Either way I think such shenanigans work a lot better in a post-apocalyptic game than in a straight D&D set-up.

fivily linkily

Argent Lake - gonzo worldbuilding wiki exercise

Masters of the Universe series bible - By the power of Grayskull!

The Table of Despair - helps motivate your players to get out of the dungeon before the session is up

National Gaming Day - Demoing at your local library, anyone?

Dan's Diminutive D20 - another tiny d20 hack

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Compatible with any fantasy roleplaying system."

Click here to download your own copy of Jeff's Field Guide to 17 Unknown Gods, a new free 8-page PDF pantheon thing-a-ma-bob by yours truly. By using various random charts from the Judges Guild products Field Guide to Encounters and Temple Book I and taking inspiration from Deities & Demigods and Unknown Gods I've spun out something resembling a book of gods useable in any fantasy campaign where the GM has a (lack of) sensibility similar to my own. It's a little raw but I think it's a lot of fun. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

take inspiration from wherever you can get it

So I'm sitting here working on a document tentatively titled "Jeff's Field Guide to 17 Unknown Gods" (as per this post) while my daughter is watching some Care Bear cartoons on a DVD she slipped into the ol' X-box. I haven't really been paying much attention to the TV show, because the Care Bears cartoons are some of the worst animated pablum I've ever seen. For an 80's kiddie cartoon the villain Noheart (see pic) is a pretty decent evil overlord, but other than that it's mostly crap.

However, I really liked the gimmick in the episode that was just on. The Care Bears' cloud-based kingdom of Care-A-Lot was threatened by a Cloud Worm. Imagine a titanic worm composed of green-tinted cloud stuff. It floats through the sky, feeding on clouds. Every chomp it took out of Care-A-Lot sent a seismic tremor throughout the land. All a DM would have to do is drop out the Care Bears part and put in its place a floating island castle. Say the castle was built by storm or cloud giants but they abandoned it and now the place is basically a hugeass dungeon in the sky. Lure the PCs onto the cloud with promises of riches and glory and then have this worm start eating the cloud they're on.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In case you never heard of it.

Star Wars was on the Spike channel last night. Episode IV, as it were. I get my TV programming via Dish Network, and they usually provide a roughly 25-words-or-less synopsis if you press the "Info" button on the remote. Out of curiosity I decided to check out how they summarized A New Hope:
Robots and other allies help a youth and a space jockey rescue a rebel princess and battle dark forces bent on intergalactic rule.
I like how Artoo and Threepio get top billing.

Need an avatar?

Here are two you are welcome to use:


My buddy Pat tore the first one out of an old issue of Juxtapoz or something similar. That second one comes from a nifty one-page comic published in Heavy Metal in the 90's. Click to embiggen it:Now that I think about it, that barfing T-Rex would make a pretty cool avatar as well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

a quick meta note

In case you hadn't heard RPGBloggers.com is a new blogging network full of lots of cool people. It's still going through a few growing pains and back-end issues, but I really like being able to see all those neat-o feeds in one place. I just wish more of the member-bloggers would make use of the Old School tag. Right now it's just me. I know I'm not the only one talking about this stuff!

If you're an old school blogger (or any other RPG blogger for that matter) who hasn't joined the network, I'd encourage you to give it a try. It's super easy to sign on and it definitely adds a little to your traffic.

The Deconstruction of the Techno

The "Techno" is one of my favorite character classes from David Hargrave's Arduin materials. I'll let Dave explain the deal in his own words:
Techno's are specialists that disbelieve 100% in magic, and work from a strictly scientific point of view. They can "figure out" nearly any mechanical or technological item, given enough time and resources. They are constantly dismembering dragons to see where the flame thrower was hidden! Or getting eaten! They dislike intensely all forms of mages but tend to grudging tolerate clerics. They never wear armor unless it's something like a flack jacket. They also never carry anything except technological weapons to fight with. They think warriors are "a bunch of neanderthals".
It's a crazy fun concept. The mechanical execution involves lots of special abilities, many of which are percentage dice based but some are delightfully bare of hard rules. For example, a 15th level Techno gains the ability to construct things like flintlocks, clocks and deadbolts but no rules for how that happens are presented. I like that open-ended approach. Also, 100th level Technos can build spacecraft. What's not to love? You know, other than the fact that the concept of 100th level characters gives me hives.

The second volume of the Arduin books, The Runes of Doom, offered this great illo of a techno encountering a valpyr in a half-medieval, half-sci-fi dungeon. Dig it:

'Runes of Doom' may be the best RPG book title ever.
I'm pretty sure a valpyr is a vampire/balrog. That's just how Hargrave does things. His work is a beautiful combination of mad ingenuity, groan-inducing recombination and shameless appropriation.

Anyway, the one thing I don't like about the Techno is all the fiddly percentage abilities. I'd rather have a cleaner, simpler design that could be dropped into an OD&D game with less fuss. Enter Ken St. Andre, of Tunnels & Trolls fame.

Back in the day Sorcerer's Apprentice was kind of like Dragon for the T&T set. Most of the articles were for T&T, but there was plenty of other stuff. For example, issue 11 contains a short story by Manly Wade Wellman, a nifty statless article on the Cthulhu Mythos, and a great look into the history of mythological Sleeping Champions. But I want to talk the article "Adapting Arduin Characters to Tunnels & Trolls", written by St. Andre with help from Hargrave and Liz Danforth.

The title is slightly misleading. The article isn't so much about how to convert your Arduin PC to T&T stats. Instead, St. Andre gives a T&T build for each of 8 Arduin classes. I'm talking about this article because the Technos is one of the classes St. Andre tackles. And he does a great job of it.

Tunnels & Trolls, if you will recall, was written as a response to OD&D. St. Andre liked the basic concept of fantasy adventuring in stinky underground mazes, but felt that the mechanics were questionable. So he made his own mechanics that were slimmer and a lot less complicated. That's exactly what he does to the Techno class in this article. All the Techno percentage abilities are boiled down to one simple d6 chart.

Techno levelNumber to roll
1-41
5-81-2
9-121-3
13-161-4
17-201-5
21+Automatic

That's more like it! I could graft that simple chart onto a standard Fighting Man. Then remove the ability to use magic and standard arms and armor. The result is a very clean Techno class.

The other thing I like about St. Andre's Techno is that he acknowledges the inherent contradiction in a 'scientific' class that eschews magic. Any decent scientist transported to a stock D&D setting would find plenty of reasons to believe in magic. They wouldn't declare magic a bunch of balderdash, they would study and use it!

So as written the personality of the typical Techno is completely irrational, and that's kinda what makes the class so fun. St. Andre includes the rule "Technos only get one try to figure out an item--if they don't get it right, they'll come up with some bizarre use for or explanation of the technological item which they believe to be correct. This is a fine opportunity for the GM to have some fun with the players." Approached that way, the Techno would make a great class for a post-apocalyptic D&D game of the Thundarr school. In such a milieu the Techno represents someone who reveres technology, even though it clearly failed to save mankind from its present fate.

I'll just end this post with a throwaway line from St. Andre:
Every once in a while I get to feeling crazy, and I throw my dungeon open to a bunch of Traveller characters. Plasma guns against dragons makes for an amusing confrontation. So far the spacemen haven't won yet.

Monday, September 01, 2008

RIP: Killer Kowalski


I just found out from Chris Sims that Killer Kowalski has passed away. He was a legendary heel in his prime and later trained many famous wrestlers. Perhaps most notably Triple H apprenticed under the Killer. I have one match of Kowalski's on tape, an old black & white TV broadcast. You know how heels like to get on the mike and say something to rile up the audience? All he had to do was howl at them and the crowd erupted in boos and jeers. It was beautiful.

I remember the first time Kowlaski came to the ring when I was playing Legends of Wrestling on the X-box. I thought to myself "Well, I'm fucked now." That's how much ring charisma the guy had. This old man could intimidate me through a video game.

Orcish Malingering

Pic swiped from eBay.Somewhere around issue #100 or so White Dwarf magazine magically transformed itself from one of the best gaming magazines ever published into an all-Games Workshop house organ. I've pushed around GW figures a couple of times over the years, but it's not really my bag. So when I stumble across a post-100 issue of the Dwarf I usually flip through it just long enough to look at the pretty pictures. That's what I was doing with issue #110 (February 1989) when I stumbled across this dandy WFRP scenario. I've never owned or played the Warhammer rpg but it looks like a crapload of fun and guys as diverse as the RPG Pundit and Johnny Nexus recommend the game. Still, I need another game about swording orcs like I need another hole in my head.

But this article in WD #110, Paul Murphy's "Morglum's Marauders", could be adapted with little work to any RPG that has orcs in it. Here's the basic set-up:
Morglum's Marauders are the Old World equivalent of the motorcycle gangs which, according to movie lore, terrorise much of the United States' West Coast. Ugly, foul-tempered, and even worse-smelling, they represent the pinnacle of Orcish civilization.

Based in an Orcish mountain-range (located conveniently near to your campaign area), from time to time the Marauders sally forth from their hidden stronghold to terrorise nearby Human villages. Though their exact numbers vary from excursion to excursion, the Marauders are composed of around eighty Orc foot soldiers, a dozen Gobbo Wolfriders and twenty or so Snotling slaves (and emergency food supply).
The tension in the scenario centers around the simple fact that a party of average WFRP characters would get absolutely slaughtered in a stand-up fight against a hundred organized humanoids. Basically, imagine taking out these guys as the mission of a handful of first or second level D&D characters and you can see the scope of the problem. Because Morglum doesn't trust his officers and desertions are common he only occasionally let's part of his army out of his sight. And they only pick on defenseless villages. The players are going to have to be extremely clever to beat these orcs.

Obviously you can easily steal the gist of the scenario and do your own thing with it, but if you get a chance to lay eyes on the article I recommend checking it out. The writing is fun, full of GW's characteristic wholesome black humor, in the "orcs are bastards, but funny bastards" sort of way. I particularly enjoy this random chart for determining what sort of trouble the orcs get up to when Da Boss isn't watching.

Orcish Malingering Table

Roll a D100 on the following table whenever an unsupervised bunch of Orcs fail their Leadership roll.

01-14 Horseplay: Several Orcs are engaged in a fierce brawl, while others place bets on the outcome. The fighters take D3-1 Wounds during the conflict.

15-28 Roughhousing: Like Horseplay, except that the Orcs use weapons. Fighters take D6 Wounds, bystanders take D3.

29-43 Foraging: The Orcs go off and look for something to eat. If guarding the supply train, D6 Snotlings disappear mysteriously.

44-58 Pep Rally: Some Orcs hold a competition to see who can come up with the best derogatory terms for another unit [in the Marauders]. If the other unit comes within hearing distance, see Roughhousing, above.

59-74 Furlough: The Orcs are off somewhere, catching a kip*. They reappear when the GM sees fit.

75-89 Bull Session: The frustrated Orcs plot to kill Morglum and take over the Marauders. Note: they never have the guts to carry it out.

90-00 Sick Leave: The Orcs decide that they have contracted some horrible sickness from exposure to all that unhealthy fresh air and sunshine. They go to Morglum and make elaborate pleas to be allowed to go home and die. Morglum listens sympathetically, knocks a few heads together, and sends them back to their unit.

*Dear Brits: What's a kip?