Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shatner's evil twin

One Halloween I shaved my goatee and went as my own good twin.

He travels the world trying to trick people into spending too much on hotels and airfare, don't you know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

proof my local game store is the best

Ladies and gentlemen, the Armored Gopher Games official Total Party Kill board!  In my defense of my puny score, keeping the tally only begun with the move to the new location and I scored at least 2 TPKs at the old store.  Also, I'm pretty good at killing everybody but one survivor and that's just not good enough to count here.

Someone explained the asterisks by Jared, Chris M. and Jake's TPKs, but I've forgotten what the deal was.

a split fortune

I had some General Tso's chicken for lunch one day this week.  The fortune was wedged tight into the cookie and I ended up ripping the paper and smashing the treat.  It doesn't make much sense, but I can't help but read this thing as two separate documents.  I don't know what "you will enjoy different this" or "doing something coming weekend" mean, but my brain keeps trying to tell me they mean something.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

weirdest death in recent memory

So last night Loric the Bard, Kelgar the Dwarf and the two junior magic-users Orlen and Bob visited the Dungeon of the Unknown (i.e. the dungeon I have located at the Cave of the Unknown on the wilderness map for the Keep on the Borderlands).  They pondered some minotaur poop, visited the halfling political agitators for the Chaos Party (who foisted some lapel buttons and pamphlets upon them) and fought a quick pair of battles with an ogre and a ghoul.

They then entered a 50' by 40' room pretty much identical to the lairs of the chaos halflings, ogre and ghoul but strewn with wrecked furniture and filth.  So of course they start sifting through this stuff.  Some day I really ought to put a dumpster full of garbage in a dungeon, just to see whether anybody would look for treasure in it.  Anyway, they find on the north wall, opposite where they came in, a tiny door.  It looks just like the other doors they've seen so far in this dungeon, but it's only 6 inches high or so and a couple inches wide, with a teeny-tiny door knob.  One PC inquires if there are any cakes or vials labeled 'drink me' laying about and I reply in the negative.

Orlen the Magic-User (played by Nick, who just joined this session) tries to open the door, figuring even though his wizard is a Str 8 wimp, he ought to be able to open the world's tiniest secret door.  Here's the breakdown of the die rolls I force upon Nick:

1-5  Door opens.  Of course it opens.  It's like a friggin' dollhouse door, for cryin' out loud.
6 Roll again, you putz, and see below
       1-3 Door opens despite blowing the previous roll
       4-6 Door is still stuck and you totally suck

So Nick rolls a 6 then a 5, utterly humiliating Orlen in front of his new adventuring buddies.  Kelgar is sickened by this display of weakness and frustrated by the time Orlen has wasted attempting to open the damn thing, so he waltzes over to the door and kicks it in.  Immediately the southern door (where the party came in) smashes open, with the titanic toe of a titanic boot thrusting through the opening.  Kelgar spins around to battle a hugeass giant then realizes a second later that was his toe he saw smashing through the southern door.  Bob's player completely freaks out at the non-Euclidean geometry of the situation.

Let me take you into the mind of the DM for just a moment.  When I built this little trap I had great hopes of poking out the eye of one of the PCs.  They open the tiny door and peer in the mousehole.  I then tell one of the other PCs that the south door has opened and a giant eye monster is glaring balefully at them.  The second PC overreacts and pokes the first guy's eye out.  And a good time was had by all.  The end.  Instead, I manage to doom two PCs with this little magic door.

Though I suppose you could blame Carl instead of me.  It was his PC who wanted to see what would happen if he casually flicked a gold piece into the opening of the tiny door.  Of course the result was that a giant gold coin, the size of wagon wheel, came flying out of the southern door, careening about the room wildly.  Saving throws are rolled and before the titanic shiny disc comes to a rest it pulps Loric and Orlen.  I honestly hadn't seen that one coming.

Kelgar immediately strips Loric of all his cool gear and then tries to figure out how to get the world's largest GP out of the dungeon.  Given the size and weight involved, I am utterly unconvinced he can move it at all.  Eventually the two survivors settle on carving off the biggest hunk of gold they can each carry and putting it in their backpacks.  Of course when they exit the room the shavings from the coin shrink back down to normal size, adding sprinkles of utter futility to the sundae made out two scoops of PC death.

Carl and Nick are good sports are start whipping up some new PCs.  At this point I discover much to my dismay that sometime since last session I have misplaced the Deck O' Stuff, so I can't give them random custom goodies like I normally do.  But I do find index cards with the stats for a white ape and a grizzly bear written on them, so the replacement PCs each get a pet for no apparent reason.  Carl names his gorilla buddy Edgar and later gets him equipped with a kickass magic sword and some oversized chainmail stolen from the corpse of a larger-than-usual orc.

a trap just for you!

So on Sunday I posted a couple of random screen caps. One of them was Eldrad, the villain from the old Doctor Who episode The Hand of Fear.  Here's another look at her.

Dude looks like a lady.

Gameblog reader Jayson Peters commented that Hand of Fear is the worst Doctor Who episode ever.  I don't really dispute that it's a pretty bad episode.  I don't think I've ever been able to watch it all the way through.  When I first saw it on PBS as a kid I'm pretty sure this is the only episode I ever fell asleep during.  When I borrowed it on DVD from the local library last week I did a lot of skipping around because the set-up to get the villain on the stage seems padded out all to hell.  I grabbed a couple of pics of Eldrad because, hey, space babe.  Personally, it's a bit of a turn-off later in the episode when Eldrad transforms into his true form as a rocky, neckless space dude but I still dig the chick in the skintight rock costume and the weird hathead.

Anyway, there is one useful takeaway from this otherwise ignorable Who outing.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane take Eldrad to her/his/whatever's home planet and journey through the underground ruins of his civilization.  It's a dark, spooky, multi-level maze of corridors and traps, i.e. a standard dungeon set-up minus the goblins.  A plot point comes up in that most of the traps have been designed to affect silicon-based lifeforms, so when Sarah sets off a gout of 'deadly' gas she is immune.

Custom traps for specific kinds of beings are a lot of fun, but not something I recall ever seeing specifically addressed.  I'm pretty sure one of the early 'Pages from the Mages' installment by Ed Greenwood (the first published descriptions of the Forgotten Realms) included a write-up of a poison that worked only on dwarves.  My own personal Killer DM (the dude behind the screen during these two incidents) once hit us with a series of ceiling mounted sledgehammers.  If you were a human you got sledged in the gut.  If you were a dwarf, you took it right in the face.  Halflings could walk right under them.  I've used some evil magical traps that only affect certain alignments or that pimp over paladins only.

Organized, thinking monsters could design traps to target specific real or perceived enemies.  An orcs layer sick of troll raids will probably lean on fire or acid for its traps.  A giant wishing to catch bugbears for dinner might use a cage trap with catnip bait.  Paranoid kobolds might always be setting traps for the 'inevitable' gnome invasion.  Wizards who hate dumb fighters in their stupid platemail might set up more electrical traps.  Living monsters with lairs near undead might trade with PCs for their holy water, so they can arm their anti-undead traps.  Inexplicable death rays might affect only characters possessing or lacking certain completely arbitray characteristics.  "All left-handed characters are immune to the Yellow Ray emitters on level 5" seems like the sort of stupid thing I would put in a dungeon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

a mantra for the ages

Think Bacon shirt
Think Bacon by jrients
Many more t-shirts online at zazzle

So I had a dumb idea for a T-shirt, for which my buddy Pat kindly supplied the baconic illustration. Pat also did the drawings in the Miscellaneum of Cinder.  He's a pretty rad dude.

go read Jaquaying the Dungeon

FYI there's a great series of posts over at the Alexandrian looking at the design ethos of legendary dungeon creator Paul Jaquays.  Great stuff.

the look of Tolkien, 1965

Scans from Drake's Way (NSFW warning: In addition to cover scans and interior illos from old books and magazines, Drake's blog also contains tasteful photographs of ladies in various states of undress.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Imperishable Fame, epilogue

Last month I wrote a four part series called Imperishable Fame that outlined some thoughts I had for a campaign set in mythical pseudo-historical Indo-European times.  Last week I got an email from Gameblog reader Nick reminding me that I hadn't quite finished saying everything I wanted to say.  Particularly, I want to talk about Death and Remembrance.

I like a pretty high body count in my RPGs.  Not out of some sense of sadistic glee at killing PCs, but because the threat of death around every corner keeps the suspense taut even in the kind of silly game I run.  To avoid overly bumming people out with constant grim reapering, I tend to try to keep character generation as fast as possible (though I am holding back a radical idea or two about how to make chargen even faster, but that's another post for another day) and when in doubt I tend to give the PCs the opportunity to wriggle their way out of a tight spot.  Or at least I give them a 2 in 6 chance of their cockamamie scheme working.

But one side effect of going through so many PCs plue fast chargen is that folks can become extremely blasé about the party dead. "Oh, you're dead?  Got any good stuff?"  Is the prevailing attitude.  Though I must grant that last run my party showed some proper respect for dead NPCs.  Down in the dungeons under Verbosh they found the corpse of a knight and his henchman.  They brought the bodies back up to the surface and gave them proper burials.  At least the burials were proper if those dead guys were worshippers of Tyr.  Still, they tried.

In my draft Cinder house rules PCs can score XP by giving their dead big showy heroic send-offs.  At the time I introduced that rule no one seemed interested.  Carousing is a much more upbeat way to score some extra experience points.  For Imperishable Fame part of me wants to replace the carrot with the stick, changing the rule to a penalty.  "No XP can be scored until all your dead companions are properly buried."  Something like that.  Burying the dead isn't a happy occassion for scoring points, but a moral obligation the glaunting of which blocks personal development.

That's the Death part.  As far as Remembrance goes, here's my rough thoughts on Remembrance.  When your PC is properly buried or retired from play, roll 1d20.  If you get under your character level (perhaps modified by heroic deeds, bards singing your fame in your lifetime, etc.) then your PC has become one of the Heroes of Myth.  Since fame is a fickle thing, you'd then roll on a chart something like this:

Imperishable Fame Results (d20)

1) A single passing reference in an epic poem.
2) Minor references in multiple epics.
3) Protagonist of an epic poem.
4) Protagonist of an epic poem, but it's a lost work and you're only known via secondary sources.
5) Local hero-cult at your tomb or some other place relevant to your deeds.
6) Widespread Hercules-type hero-cult with multiple tombs and home towns.
7) Annual festival to honor your deeds.
8) Remembered in wildly inaccurate and contradictory tall tales by the campfire.
9) Remembered as the central figure/founder of a mystery cult or secret society
10) Constellation renamed after you
11) Planet renamed after you
12) Remembered as founder of a dynasty
13) Remembered as legendary parent of an entire tribe or people
14) Remembered as legendary founder of a city
15) Your earthly deeds are distorted and/or forgotten, but future generations count you among the high gods.
16) Your legend is eventually re-purposed as the life of a local saint
17) Centuries later you are the subject of a great artist's masterpiece
18) Demographic and political shifts result in you being re-cast as a bogey-man or demon
19) Taken up as hero of the people by an oppressed underclass
20) Get your own comic book like Kirby's Thor

The list of heroes would be remembered by displaying it as one of the panels on my super-rad custom Gm screen, as a real, permanent tribute.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

and now a couple of screencaps

D is for Dragon in an old Sesame Street episode.

Eldrad emerges from the nuclear reactor in the 4th Doctor adventure "The Hand of Fear".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

well, I'll be danged

NSFW WARNING: This post features the return of Gameblog fan-favorite The Minotaur's Weiner.

Remember last week when I was trying to figure out what the heck this thing was?

That's a reproduction of ancient Greek art appearing in chapter 1 of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I finished the book yesterday. Guess what I found in a later chapter?

Perseus goes to the same haberdasher as the Minotaur.  Small world.

last night I dreamed of chess

Specifically, I dreamed of a chess variant where the board consisted of sixteen numbered pieces like the little graphic to the right.  They're laid out four by four to make a standard chess board and the game plays out pretty much like regular chess.  The big difference is that at the end of each black move 2d20 are thrown.  The numbers rolled indicate which two sub-boards to swap in the array, transporting all the pieces on each.

No details in the dream indicated what to do when you rolled more than a 16 on either die, or how to resolve transporting a king into check.  Obviously you could roll a d16 to eliminate the former problem, but maybe a roll of 17 or better indicates that you should skip swapping boards. Maybe if the king finds itself in check the player could be allowed to rotate the sub-board 90 or 180 degrees to move him out of check, otherwise skip the swap as if you rolled a 17+.  Castling, the pawn's double move and en passant capture would probably all need to be scrapped in this variant.  Would a pawn that magically appeared in the last rank suddenly get a promotion?  That would certainly make things wild and wooly.

Being able to respond to white without the boards mutating seems like a tremendous advantage to black.

I don't recall every reading of a game exactly like this on the Chess Variants Pages, but it wouldn't surprise me to discover that it already exists.

together again for the very first time

Shatner to Peoples Republic of China: WATCH YOUR ASS
I would watch the hell out of this movie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

hey, I published a new book

Ye Olde Book of Spells is exactly what it says on the tin.  It's meant to be a handy reference work so that the players don't need to dig through the full size rulebook when looking up spells.  The majority of the text is borrowed via the Open Game License from Labyrinth Lord, with the following changes:
  • Ascending ACs have been added.
  • Where it previously said "save versus spells" I cut the "versus spells" part.  Since some rules use Ref/Will/Fort, I figure the referee can figure out what to roll against.
  • I added my own version of the 1st and 2nd level MU spells that appear in Holmes Basic but not in Moldvay Basic and later editions in that lineage.
  • Three bonus spells come from outside sources: Flame's Bounty and Soulbrand from taichara and Omar's Mistake from Matt Finch's awesome Eldritch Weirdness.
You can get Ye Olde Book of Spells in three different versions.
A5 size booklet from lulu, sold at cost.
Free download from lulu.
Free version formatted so you can print and assemble your own booklet, on scribed.

I hope you dig it!

help me out here, folks

There's this one Strong Bad email where the president of a fraternity asks Free Country, USA's greatest criminal mastermind to come to a kegger he's putting together.  In the space of a few sentences Mr. Bad goes from "Look fratty, I'm not comin' to your party." to "So I guess I'm goin' to this frat party. That's pretty hilarious."  That self-directed disbelief is kinda how I've felt this week.

Monday night's 3.5 game didn't happen as planned.  Half the party couldn't make the game and Carl and I were unprepared to assault the kobold fortress without additional backup.  I just don't trust those wee bastards to stand still while we make a steep cave ascent to the entrance to their lair.  So we ended up talking through Carl's idea for a round robin fantasy campaign, the kind with rotating GMs.  I've participated in that sort of think before and with the right people it can be highly satisfying.

The catch is that after almost 3 hours of knocking this campaign concept around, we can't come up with a better system choice than 4e.  I don't loathe 4e.  It's just not my bag, baby.  Since the PDF fiasco I'm not exactly a fan of Wizards o' the Coast, but I don't feel that obligates me to hate their product.  Heck, I've been kicking around the possibility of getting the new D&D Essentials boxed set when it somes out later this year.  Still, I feel like we painted ourselves into a corner Monday night.  Are requirements are basically that we need a fantasy system for buttkicking adventure in the D&D tradition AND it has to be in distribution such that all participants could get copies through our nifty local game store.  And here's the kicker: Exalted, Pathfinder and the new HackMaster have all already been voted off the island.

I'm not averse to playing 4e if it comes to that.  By my lights good folks can trump system choice in lots and lots of cases.  But I feel like there's got to be some more options out there that we are missing.  Anybody got any ideas?

EDIT TO ADD:  Thanks for all the great responses!  To clarify, we're looking at print products only and the rest of the gang doesn't seem too keen on using an old school game.  They're happy to play in my LL game, but want to do something else for this campaign idea.

Encounter Critical live action!

Well, not really.  But if an EC larp did exist, I sincerely hope this guy would show up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

and now, words of wisdom

Zoot: Zen Master of the Muppet Show
"It is written that a zebra and a geranium should not use the same toothbrush."

the best helmet ever

Saturday, July 17, 2010

ho, ho! what's this?

Today was the family's weekly pilgrimage to local public library. One of the sections I regularly peruse whilst there is the comic book shelves. I am always amazed by how much good stuff they have in terms of graphic novels, trade paperbacks and other combinations of word and image. On this visit I snatched up What It Is by the always awesome Lynda Barry, a mysterious volume called The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 which I selected solely based upon the enigmatically numeric title, and A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman. I'm not really sure who Emma Goldman is, but I've been on a bit of a comic-biography kick. Recent visits to the library found me borrowing graphical bios on J. Edgar Hoover, Malcom X, Ronald Reagan and the Dalai Lama.

As I'm leaving the section to go look for something in the fiction section my eye catches a quick glimpse of a rather thick volume with a familiar name emblazoned thereon.  Dig it:

I already knew that Zak S., the criminal mastermind behind DnD with Porn Stars (NSFW, duh) and "I Hit It With My Axe", was a serious artist by day.  And I already knew that he had done a series of works, one for each page of Gravity's Rainbow, that was something of a hit in the art world.  But I didn't know he had a book deal or that the book had reached the provincial backwaters of central Illinois where on online friend of his could stumble across a copy.  The world is full of strange connections.  Even finding this work in the funny book section is a bit of a puzzler, because as far as I can tell this isn't graphical fiction in any sense.  It looks to me like one would need a copy of Pynchon's novel to make narrative sense of the images.

So I checked out Zak's book and Gravity's Rainbow.  I need two more 700+ books on my reading list like I need another hole in my head, but I think sometimes you need to listen to the signals the universe sends you.

Happy Shatnerday!

Friday, July 16, 2010

things learned this week about the World of Cinder

  • When dwarves build a magic weapon they construct it such that it will function perfectly after a millennium being used as an otyugh's toothbrush.
  • Elves, on the other hand, make uber-powerful magic swords that start to malfunction wildly if you forget to rotate the tires annually.
  • Fire can't kill a lycanthrope, but it sure can hurt it.
  • Most lycanthropes only change into monster form when the big moon is full (as opposed to the two little martian-style jobbies).  Most.
  • Trolls live under bridges because they're the ones who build them.  They usually get a franchise from a local ruler to charge fixed tolls in exchange for rights to build and operate them in choice locations.
  • Dwarves don't brew beer in barrels, they grow barrels full of beer on vines.  Like in a pumpkin patch but for drunkards.  Charles came up with this one and I totally ran with it.
  • The Lawful temple of Tyr will hand out free healing to folks who are fighting monsters threatening the city.  The Chaotic temple of the Spider God still charges full price.
  • Halflings like to hold family reunions in human cities.  The primary activity of the reunion is a multi-day, sometimes weeks-long, pub crawl.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I am freaking out...

...because Settembrini just clued me into the fact that Dave Hargrave, the evil genius behind Arduin, was involved in the making of a sci-fi game!

Purple space chicks dig the mustache.

Star Rovers was a boxed set from Archive Miniatures.  It looks like no materials after Module 1 ever came out, which is a damned shame because the spaceship rules were planned for Module 2.  How the hell could this same mistake happen twice?  When I bought Star Frontiers back in the day I felt robbed because all the ship rules were in the second box.  But at least that got published.

Anyway, I'm just starting into the delightful Mr. Lizard's epic six part review, but anything involving Dave Hargrave and outer space has got to be messed up in all the right ways.

EDIT TO ADD:  HOLY CRAP!  I just realized I've seen that Darth Lizard before!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

found on the internets, author unknown

Back in December '08 the Mish, Settembrini, and I were messing around with similar charts, working off a chart that appeared on the now sadly defunct home of Polish old school gamebloggery, Demons & Dragons.  I think the above chart is easier to read, but Mishler's opus is still freakin' awesome.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

sympathy for the minotaur

NSFW WARNING: Today's Gameblog installment includes a tastefully-rendered classical depiction of a minotaur's weiner.

For a long time now I've been meaning to read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After all Star Wars was deeply influenced by it [citation needed] and Uncle Gary makes a big deal about it in either Role-Playing Mastery or Master of the Game, I forget which.  Campbell is one of the philosophers featured in the excellent non-fiction comic Action Philosophers Giant-Sized Thing Volume 1, which I recently re-read.  The section on Hero is so awesome that I photocopied part of it and glued into my copy of Encounter Critical for easy reference.  And then last week I stumbled across 'A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces', which started life as a internal memo at Disney that directly influenced the making of the animated feature film The Lion King.  The Practical Guide contains the line "Christ, Hitler, Mohammed, and Buddha all understood the principles in the book and applied them to influence millions."  Clearly I need to read this book.

So I just started on Hero but I want to talk briefly about one of the first illos in the book.  Dig it:

Heroic victory? Cold-blooded execution?  Mercy killing?

This depiction of Theseus slaying the minotaur dates to about 470 B.C.  When I first saw this picture I was deeply moved by the expression on the minotaur's face, which seems to combine both bovine innocence and all-too-human fear of mortality.  This creature isn't a bullock-headed smashing machine; it's a wretch, a hideous abomination born of another's sin and confined to a hell of human design.  Why does it consume the flesh of it's victims?  Perhaps only because that's the sole food with which it is provided.  It barely looks any bigger than the bare-faced youth who easily overcomes it with a little gumption and a largish knife.  Based on this illo, D&D has the minotaur all wrong.  It doesn't stomp around using brute strength to destroy foes with sadistic glee, this minotaur stealthily stalks it's victims in the labyrinth, murdering them out of sheer survival desperation.

Anyway, that's what I take away from this ancient scene. 

As a side note, what is that thing in the upper right corner?

The only thing I can come up with is that the minotaur was wearing a jaunty little bonnet, which has just flown off his head in the tussle of battle.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And now for no particular reason...

...a list of books currently on my Amazon wishlist used copies priced at a single penny plus shipping and handling:

  1. Krishnamurti Reader vol I - Krishnamurti was my favorite reluctant messiah until I found out that Raj Patel is/isn't the maitreya.
  2. A Continuing Education - A book about what books to read by Samuel Pickering, an English professor who was one of the inspirations for Robin Williams' roll in Dead Poets Society.
  3. The Art of Faking It: Sounding Smart Without Really Knowing Anything - Perfect title for exploiting the intellectual insecurity of the middlebrow set.  Clearly I am a sucker for having this on my list.
  4. Review of Contemporary Fiction (Summer 98) - contains an article on Milorad Pavic, author of one of my favorite novels, The Dictionary of the Khazars.
  5. Defence Diaries of W. Morgan Petty - A collection of crank letters written under a pseudonym.
  6. Yotsuba&! vol III - I own volume I and have read volume II.  Though I have read other manga, volume I is the only one I have ever spent cash money on.
  7. Alphabet of Manliness - By the author of the Best Page in the Universe.
  8. Schotts' Food & Drink Miscellany - I have Schott's original volume of miscellany.  Despite living in this wild internet age of instant information I am still amused by small oddball reference works such as Mr. Schott produces.  But then I maintain a luddite-like attachment to the codex as the 'proper' medium for a book.
  9. 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know - Another weird reference book, but with a more conspiratorial bent.  Put out by the folks behind if I recall correctly.
  10. How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!! - I'm not sure if there's anything in this one that I don't already know, but I love the title. 
  11. Don't Try This at Home: How to Win a Sumo Match, Catch a Great White Shark, Start an Independent Nation and Other Extraordinary Feats - Remember when the Worst-Case Survival Handbook spawned a brief fad of books like it?
  12. The Action Hero's Handbook: How to Catch a Great White Shark, Perform the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Track a Fugitive, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills - I sure do!
  13. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook - Though I never got the original.
Shipping & handling on most of these tomes is listed as $3.99, so at the moment I could get any one of them for only four dollars American.  Anybody care to share an opinion as to which one I should order later today?

simple math

Princess Freedom!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"I don't like going inside banks...

That's got to be a jar of pennies.

That last line just cracks me up.  From Corinne Mucha's contribution to I Saw You..., a comics anthology based upon the Missed Connections section of craigslist.

I'm glad I got invited to the party, but...

...I keep thinking that bear is flipping me the bird.  Is that paranoia?  An overly belligerent attitude towards forest creatures?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

hey, remember this pic?

As I noted in my Gary Con II report, that's a videotape of the "D&D will make you crazy!" flick Mazes & Monsters and a hammer sold as a single lot in the auction.  Well, I just found this:


Mr. Shatner poses here with Ozzie, the character he voiced in the 2006 animated film Over the Hedge.

Friday, July 09, 2010

more morale, please

I can't really pretend to be objective about the '81 D&D Basic Rules.  They're the rules I started with and the gold standard to which I hold all other RPGs.  On the other hand I'm not so myopic that I can't see why some people would prefer 9 point alignment over Law/Neutral/Chaos, or a class system where an Elf can also be a Thief.  Those are perfectly legit options on the broad spectrum of D&D.

Unlike some old schoolers I'm also willing to acknowledge that some WotC-era mechanics have merit.  Feats or skills a la 3.x aren't deal-killers in my book.  Putting them into the 3.x chargen system grinds my gears, but in isolation both are decent mechanics.  And in my current Labyrinth Lord campaign I am seriously considering switching to either 3-fold saves (Fort/Reflex/Will).  My group as a whole just doesn't seem to grok the old save system and I think Reflex +4, Target 20 would suit many of them a crapload more.  Or maybe I'll go to the single save method from Swords & Wizardry.  I dunno.

But Moldvay's morale rules is probably the one D&D Basic mechanic I don't think anyone has ever topped.  It's clearly labeled an optional rule and it only takes up half a page (B27 if you want to look it up yourself), but man that half-page packs quite a wallop.  I'll summarize for folks who don't have a Basic D&D or LL rulebook handy: Every monster has a morale score in their statblock, rated from 2 to 12.  At the first casualty received in combat and at 50% casualties you role 2d6.  If you roll over the critter's morale score, the bad guys retreat, withdraw or surrender as adjudicated by the DM.

Increase speed, drop down and reverse direction!I probably don't need to tell you how big a difference that simple rule can make in play.  Far fewer fights are to the death.  Smart PCs will boldy strike large groups of scaredy-cats, alpha-striking one poor bastard in hopes of spooking the rest.  And since 1gp = 1xp, you still get most of your experience even if the DM is a stingy bastard who holds back points on routed (as opposed to killed) foes.  Personally I normally consider routed monsters as 'overcome', which per B22 means they're worth full XP, unless the baddies have a fall-back position nearby or an opportunity to regroup.  Either way, the morale rules are a total game changer, especially back when we were all dumb kids and approached combat about as tactically as the aliens in Space Invaders.

In fact, I think the morale rules need to be used more than Moldvay indicates.  I often make a morale check for lone monsters when they are first wounded, extrapolating that the initial hit is to single critters what the first man down is to groups.  I also think that some monsters should be scared of things besides attrition.  For monsters like orcs that have problem with sunlight, a cleric using a surprise round to throw continual light might be enough to scare the bejeesus out of them.  And frankly, lycanthropes should run like hell the first time silver is on the playing field.  The smart ones will strategically withdraw at the first sign of the stuff, while the dumb ones will be completely shocked that something actually hurt them and run home to their mommas.  Similarly, an adventurers boldly brandishing a torch might be able to freak out an entire pack of trolls.  In these cases I might not allow a morale check in the monsters' lair, but I treat a lot of wandering monsters as regular joes who happen to work for Chaos.  What's their percentage in sticking around to face their one weakness?

And maybe weapons that grant a bonus versus certain monster types just hurt like hell.  A sword +1, +3 versus giants may not seem like all that much when you're second level and staring down an 18' tall viking, but maybe it stings so bad that they just won't want to bother squishing you.  Especially if the dude knows that the blade you are wielding was the weapon of choice of a long line of giant-slayers.

Heck, in a lowish magic campaign the party wizard might be able to force a morale check out of superstitious peasant or bandits with a minor demonstration of eldritch badassery.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


One of the oldest and oddest miscellaneous links on the ol' Gameblog leads to Ze Ball Breaker Micro-Heros.  As far as I can tell, once upon a time some dude used one of the online virtual paper doll thing-a-ma-bobs and a paint program to make his own Spider Jersusalem avatar for a Warren Ellis forum.  Some other people, mostly French people initially, thought that was the greatest idea ever and soon were making their own Micro-Hero avatars.  Like this:

Secret origin of Jeff's fondness for purple?

The poses are all stiff, most Micro-Heros are built off a small pool of body templates, and shading is generally limited to a single additional color.  That's why they are hated by many serious comic nerds and precisely why I love the crap out of Micro-Heros.  Like the programming magic of HeroMachine, the design ethos of Micro-Heros makes it braindead easy for normal non-artist types like me to participate in creating superhero visuals.  Grab a template or one of the zillion already-made figures.  Then open it up in MS Paint, hit the Zoom feature and get crackin'. YOU can make your own Micro-Hero.  It's that easy.  The figures are so small you can edit them one pixel at a time and it doesn't feel like superhard work.

So no more excuses as to why you don't have art for your superhero PC.  Hell, there are a few sci-fi and fantasy MH's out there as well if you need help with that sort of thing.  Though if you're looking for Starfleet personnel there's a cute little Star Trek paper-doll sort of thing out there that would be perfect.  Damned if I can find the link right now.

But the Micro-Hero concept goes from 'dumb but cute' to 'totally insano' with the work of this guy named Razer.  He does something called Byzantine style Micro-Heros.  Just imagine the 1990's taking a big ol' dump on the costume of your favorite comics character:

Pretty much every Byzantine character sports shoulder spikes of some sort.  Ridiculously long loincloths also seem mandatory, except for those rare characters who wear floor-length skirts for no discernable reasons.  Weird-ass helmets and from-the-nose-down halfmasks are also common.  This is transcendantal nonsense at its finest, my friends.

There's a real opportunity here for some enterprising supers GM.  Like Paul Czege's use of alternative superhero naming conventions, adopting a Byzantine design ethos could be a great way to customize a supers campaign.  No one would look a palette-swapped Superman, because in your world no self-respecting superhero would dress that way.  "Briefs over tights?  As if!  Everyone knows real heroes wear loincloths!"  Mix-and-matching parts from Razer's extensive body of work would make it real easy to come up with new character designs.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Look out behind you!

Monday, July 05, 2010

you gotta be kiddin' me

Everbody here familiar with Noble Knight Games?  They're a great online vendor with a huge selection of out-of-print gaming crap.  They also carry some new stuff produced by the old school scene, like Jim Raggi's cool stuff.  One of the cool features of Noble Knight's website is a Finder service, where if they don't have what you want in stock they will automatically email you when they get a copy in.  Their database of out-of-print junk is quite extensive.

So since 2007 I've had a search in place over at Noble Knight, for a crazy old book called Exotic Characters & Worlds.  That link is to an old Gameblog post describing the exact place on the awesome/terrible axis you can locate this obscure old game manual.  Just today, almost three years later, I get an email from Noble Knight letting me know they have a copy.  The problem is, they want ninety-five freakin' bucks for this thing.

Now obviously rarity will have an effect on the price of any item, but a rare dog turd is still a pile of poop.  And I've never seen anyone claim Exotic Character & Worlds is any good.  Quite the opposite in fact.  So I'm left wondering exactly how Noble Knight arrived at this $95 price.  More specifically, I am now curious of the effect on the pricing of the fact that at least one person had a search out for this book.

I guess I can think of a couple of gaming items I would spend a hundred bucks on.  This is not one of them.  Maybe that makes me a cheapskate, but I think the real issue here is that despite the big pile of gaming crap I own I've never considered myself a 'collector'.  I don't buy anything unless I am entertaining the notion that I might actually use the item at the table.  My OD&D books are probably the most beat up copies you're ever likely to see, because I bought the cheapest, crappiest copies I could find.  In my mind 'Mint condition' equals 'too good to play with' which equals 'no thanks, I'll wait for a more used copy'. 

I suppose I'd spend a hundred bucks on a mint condition OD&D boxed set, but that's only because it'd be a bargain by an order of magnitude or so.  The Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set is worth that kind of money, despite being a 3.x product.  The Great Pendragon Campaign is probably another item I could see myself dropping that kind of dough on.  Both of the latter are whole dang campaigns in a box, so I guess nigh-inexhaustible material is one criteria I'd use for top dollar prices. 

Then there are the never-published rarities, like the pre-pub manuiscript for OD&D that briefly made the rounds in Lake Geneva while Gary and crew were working the kinks out of the rules.  Or the pre-publication edition of the D&D Companion Rules meant to supplement the original '81 Basic/Expert duo.  I've seen a grainy photo of a circa 1980 TSR convention display that looked like it had a D&D Companion book on a shelf, but that may be wishful thinking on my part and/or a cover mock-up with no content.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Ay plegli ianectu flaggen, tupep like for stahn

The Omega Glory

The internet seems to be seriously lacking a good picture of Captain Kirk and the Yang flag in the same shot.