Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mr. T's Day

Ah, the Mr. T cartoon.  One of the least explicable shows on Saturday mornings circa my childhood.  Mr. T is the coach/bus driver for a band of cleancut multiracial mystery-solving teen gymnasts.  Bobby the Barbarian from the D&D cartoon dresses just like the star and tries to act butch.  Instead of a unicorn there's a dog with a mohawk.  And here's a big shocker: the asian chick is really smart.

one of the odder posts I've made in a while

Last night I drifted off to sleep while watching some Fraggle Rock with my daughter.  I could probably get a post out of the strange ecology at work in that show, but if someone else want's to tackle it, please go ahead.  Anyway, someone woke me up with a phone call.  I don't remember the name but the dude was trying to track down rights to one of the pics I used in a Shatnerday post.  This one, I think.  Anyway, I hope I wasn't rude to the guy, as I barely remember the sleep-addled replies I gave him.  I asked him to email me the query but maybe I screwed up the addy.  Either way, I don't know who created the picture or who owns the rights to it, but for everybody at home here's a tip courtesy my buddy Pat: tineye.com will look this crap up for you.  You give tineye a picture file and it conjures up places on the web where it can be found.  Mystery caller, I hope one of those 8 links gets you where you need to go.

Consolation Prize-based weapon mechanics

A great source of player disappointment occurs when, upon finally hitting that jerk with a tough AC, they then roll minimal damage.

So many people are opposed to non-variable weapon damage (i.e. 'everything does d6 damage') because there is no other mechanical distinction made between swords and daggers.

It would be nice if the Fighterly types could do cool things with weapons that are beyond the ability of other users of implements of death.

New rule: Every time a Fighter type rolls a '1' for damage, consult the list below.

Axe, Hand - roll Str or less to chop any wood-hafted weapon

Axe, Long - roll another d6 of damage

Bow - fire another arrow immediately

Club - foe must save or be stunned, losing next action

Crossbow - roll Dex or less to do trick shot

Fussart - weapon breaks

Glaive - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack

Knife - start grapple with foe, free stab each round grapple continues

Mace - smash foe's helmet or shield, if no helm or shield then stun as per club

Quarterstaff - parry next attack but if long axe, knightly sword or big monster then staff breaks

Spear/Lance - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack

Sword - choice of reroll damage or parry next attack

Shortsword/Dagger - choice of parry next attack against medium or small weapon or start grapple as per knife

Winged Spear (a.k.a. boar spear) - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack, parries spear/glaive/quarterstaff

Definitely not worth forgoing the shield.Note that the above list is restricted only to those weapons that I give a crap about right now. Since I'm working on a pseudo-historical setting I have the luxury of ignoring many weapons.

The Fussart is basically a glaive with a handle too short to be useful as a polearm. I'm not sure it existed in England c.1140 (or even at all) but it's in the Maciejowski Bible  a century later.  More to the point, it's clearly too dumb not to use. I want a weapon even less useful than the club and the fussart neatly fills that role.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Boy, I suck at close-up type shots...

...but I wanted to show you these guys anyway.

IG-666 is an original Kenner IG-88 with hat made of Sculpey and robe made of a foam sheet from a craft store.  The tiny rubber chicken I found in an art store for a dime.  It fits in his claw perfectly.  I'm going to take another shot at crafting a decent hat and robe.  If I can produce satisfactory results at this scale I'll probably make the same get-up for my twelve inch IG-88.

The Shockmaster was made from a figure of the fat guy who weeps when the Rancor gets it in Return of the Jedi.  The trench coat with single shoulder pad was swiped from some Expanded Universe jabroni, while the helmet comes from one of the few Stormtroopers that are issued with removable headgear.  My buddy Pat put this guy together for me.  He also gave me the 12" IG-88 a few years back.  Dude's a pretty cool cat.

Mr. T's Day

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tygers of Fyre

If I had a time machine the second thing I would do is arrange for William Blake to work for Marvel comics.
by William Blake

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Perceval is a goon with an axe, Lancelot is a blonde bishi and Arthur has a sweet beard.  Together they fight crime.
In the old CapCom sidescrolling fight game Knights of the Round there are one or two sections where you fight these tigers that burst into flame when you kill them.  They don't explode for points of damage or anything; they just evaporate in a halo of fire rather than blink out of existence like all the other badguys.

I'm not trying to make a big point with this post.  I just think that tygers made out of fire are cool.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Minor Magic of Mohney

Dragon #57 (January 1982) includes an one-page article by Pete Mohney entitled "Random magic items".  It's little more than four short percentage charts designed explicitly for dicing up inconspicuous lesser items that might be found on random NPCs.  Below are six examples I just rolled up.  The raw results are Mr. Mohney's, while the flavor text is mine.

Exchequer's Sword - The small sword-shaped tin charm hangs from a cheap chain of small length.  Anyone placing this cursed charm around their wrist instantly loses 10% of all monetary wealth.

Macaroni of Melchak - A plain chapeau of the kind worn by peasants, decorated with a sizable but rather drab feather.  While worn the owner of this item is granted one additional hit point per level.

Juju Box - A tiny box (2" x 1" x 1/2" deep) of plain wood, with it's unhinged lid attached via a bee's-wax seal.  A nonsense word (e.g. "arglebargle")  is painted on the lid.  If shook shifting sand or powder can be heard and felt within.  Saying the word while holding the box in either hand raises the wielder's prime requisite to 18 for one turn.  The Juju Box has d10 charges.  Opening the box ruins the magic.

Fiona's Fibula - A plain bronze brooch of the classic circle-and-pin type.  While used to affix a cloak and displayed prominently the owner gains +2 to all saving throws.

Phial of the Perverse Polyglot - A small (1/2 oz) container of some unknown purplish liquid on a lanyard.  When worn around the neck the owner may speak the language of any evil humanoid race.  If the container is opened the liquid instantly vaporizes and the magic is lost.

Triple Charm of St. Nezrat - These three intricately carved ivory sticks have the same dimensions as a chopstick.  Any cleric or druid possessing all three will have a random ability score increased by one point while worn.  Separated the sticks radiate magic but have no function.

I don't recall seeing the name Pete Mohney in any other game product.  A quick search of the net turns up a couple of hits for a computer programmer in Alabama named Pete Mohney who happens to be an Admiral in the Starfleet, the official type Star Trek fanclub.  I'd say the chance of him and the author of this article being the same dude is roughly one zillion percent.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

an exemplary campaign hand-out

The History of Britannia as told by Kyle the Younger is one of the goodies included in the original boxed set for Ultima IV, one of my favorite computer games from the 80s.  In 36 digest-sized pages it tells a newbie pretty much everything they need to know about the setting.  Here's how it breaks down:

Chapter I: Political History - 2 pages - an overview of the action of the previous installments in the series and brief outline of the current status quo.

Chapter II: Geography - 4 pages - describes some of the key places on the map (a separate handout) and what you might encounter at them

Chapter III: Fellowship - 4 pages - outlines each of the eight player character classes in a paragraph or so each

Chapter IV: Mercantile - 4 pages - where to go to spend your gold and what you can buy

Chapter V: Transportation - 3 pages - talks about the usage of horses, ships and moongate transportation, describes the kind of terrains to be traversed

Chapter VI: Weapons and Armor of the Realm - 3 pages - a paragraph for each item of offense and defense available for purchase

Chapter VII: Magical Arts - 2 pages - brief description of the magic system, there's more in a separate booklet just for magic

Chapter VIII: Bestiary - 8 pages - a paragraph describing monsters from Bat to Zorn, with a separate page for those extra wicked dudes, the Balrons and Devils.

Chapter IX: The Skills of Combat - 2 pages - some of this is mechanical (e.g. advising the user to put the armor on before rushing into a fight) but there's also some good stuff on fight-or-flight and the ethics of combat.

Chapter X: Modern Civilization and Our Universe - 3 pages - a discussion of the themes and goals of the game

Afterword - 1 page - put the central quest of the game square on the shoulders of the reader

Not a bad model to follow for a tabletop game, I think.  For many systems you could probably squeeze in a chargen section and not run over 48 pages total.  Add a map in the center of the book and you're good to go with new players.

Something I can't really share via the internet is the appeal of the tactile experience of handling and paging through this book.  The cover is done in a faux leather sort of finish and the interior pages are heavy and with a pebbly feel not completely unlike an original Judges Guild map overland. 

And the brown-on-cream color scheme of the insides is pleasing on the eye as well.  Here's the first interior page:

That illo is how every adventure should end, with a little touch of romance and skull-faced castle melting in the distance.

Nowadays these sorts of booklets aren't hard to make.  All you need is a long arm stapler and a PDF program that will Print to Booklet.  Or just take you manuscript to Kinkos and they'll do it for you.  I have yet to walk into an office supply store and see paper as awesome as used in The History of Britannia, but it's gotta be out there somewhere.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sin and Sin Points draft

Here are my first unrefined thoughts, morning shower inspired, on how to use some mechanics to get into the Western medieval mindset.

Sin Points - These work just like Hit Points.  You have a bunch of them.  When you sin you lose d6 of them, unless it is a minor sin (-1 point) or a giant-sized one (2d6).  When your character dies, their soul goes to heaven (no SP damage), hell (0 SP) or purgatory (anything in between). 

Only PCs in Purgatory are subject to Raise Dead type effects.  PCs in Heaven may occasionally help out their living pals through some miraculous intervention rule and PCs in Hell may mess with them at the DMs discretion.  Those in Purgatory might haunt the party from time to time, especially if PCs don't give them a proper burial and insure their estate is disposed of properly.  Perhaps a PC can be moved from purgatory to heaven if the surviving party members build churches and establish monasteries in the deceased's name.

How does SP damage heal?  Does it come back like HP if one says ones prayers?  Maybe communion is worth 1d6, confession and penance 2d6, absolution restores all SP?
Sinning isn't just the DM yelling 'gotcha!' at bad behavior and docking SPs.  PCs can opt to sin to score more XP.  Maybe 100xp times level once per session for a Deadly Sin.  At chargen each PC rolls a d8 to determine their key sin:

1) Lust
2) Gluttony
3) Greed
4) Sloth
5) Wrath
6) Envy
7) Pride
8) Roll again twice, rerolling further rolls of 8, but both sins at half XP value.

In order to earn the XP bonus the sin committed must cause actual havoc in play.  For example, a Slothful PC could doze off on guard duty, allowing the wandering monster to attack the party's camp by surprise.

No XP may be earned in this way by folks who are already hellbound (0SP).

Whaddya think?

Happy Life Day!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's Mr. T's day!

Is that a man purse dangling from a weightlifting belt?

I don't believe I've ever seen this movie all the way through.

Monday, November 15, 2010

self-indulgent meta-update

Howdy, folks!

New posts have dropped off around here and I thought I'd let all y'all know why.  I just got accepted into grad school, which at least initially I am going to attend part time while working full time.  It has been almost 15 years since I participated in the ritual appreciation of Important Literature™ as observed in the Orthodox Church of Academia, so I'm trying to bone up on my main man John Milton before class starts in January.  I still plan on continuing with my game group, but I'm not sure if I'll have time enough to do that and yammer about gaming on the internet.  Going back to school may not turn out to be the life-altering disruption that it seems right on the cusp of the operation, but I wanted to make sure that anyone who cared was in the loop.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

this blessed plot

When I close my eyes and imagine an overhead view of Britain in my head, this is what I see:

Britannia is a fun game, but the detail is a bit lacking as a basis for a campaign map.  So I went over to boardgamegeek.com and did some judicious searching.  Turns out issue #11 of Wargamer Magazine included a game about Simon de Montfort and the unpleasantness between him and Henry III.  Someone was kind enough to scan in the map, which cropped to the area I care about ends up looking more like this:

Click to get a better view.  There's a little more Wales than I wanted on this map, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I wouldn't have minded a large area that incorporated more of the English Channel, the Channel Islands, a little Normandy and the Isles of Scilly but there absolutely nothing preventing the occasional venture off-map.  Sea travel should be mysterious and perilous anyway.

Things I have yet to do to get this map fully operational:
  • Finish re-labeling stuff to fit Thomas Hardy's Wessex stories and/or new made-up names.
  • Figure out a labeling scheme for the hexes.  I'm thinking the bottom left hex is N1 and the upper right partial hex is A20.
  • Stock hexes.  Given that they're obviously bigger than 5 miles across I may have to develop a new format.
  • Figure out what the crap the scale is.

OD&D spell list

Here's an alphabetical list of all the spells available in OD&D volume I Men & Magic.  I've been thinking about using a hacked OD&D for my A Surfeit of Lampreys campaign concept, so I wanted to tackle the magic system.  ACL = Anti-CLeric, by the way.

Animate Dead - MU5
Anti-Magic Shell - MU6
Bless - CL2
Cause Disease - ACL3
Cause Light Wounds - ACL1
Cause Serious Wounds - ACL4
Charm Monster - MU4
Charm Person - MU1
Clairaudience - MU3
Clairvoyance - MU3
Cloudkill - MU5
Commune - CL5
Confusion - MU4
Conjure Elemental - MU5
Contact Higher Plane - MU5
Continual Dark - ACL3
Continual Light - CL3
Continual Light - MU2
Control Weather - MU6
Create Food - CL5
Create Water - CL4
Cure Disease - CL3
Cure Light Wounds - CL1
Cure Serious Wounds - CL4
Curse - ACL2
Dark - ACL1
Death Spell - MU6
Detect Evil - CL1
Detect Evil - MU2
Detect Good - ACL1
Detect Invisible - MU2
Detect Magic - CL1
Detect Magic - MU1
Dimension Door - MU4
Disintegrate - MU6
Dispell Evil - CL5
Dispell Good - ACL5
Dispell Magic - MU3
Feeblemind - MU5
Find Traps - CL2
Fire Ball - MU3
Fly - MU3
Geas - MU6
Growth/Animal - MU5
Growth/Plant - MU4
Hallucinatory Terrain - MU4
Haste Spell - MU3
Hold Monster - MU5
Hold Person - CL2
Hold Person - MU3
Hold Portal - MU1
Infravision - MU3
Insect Plague - CL5
Invisibility - MU2
Invisibility, 10' r. - MU3
Invisible Stalker - MU6
Knock - MU2
Levitate - MU2
Light - CL1
Light - MU1
Lightning Bolt - MU3
Locate Object - CL3
Locate Object - MU2
Lower Water - MU6
Magic Jar - MU5
Massmorph - MU4
Move Earth - MU6
Neutralize Poison - CL4
Part Water - MU6
Pass-Wall - MU5
Phantasmal Forces - MU2
Polymorph Others - MU4
Polymorph Self - MU4
Projected Image - MU6
Protection/Evil - CL1
Protection/Evil - MU1
Protection/Evil, 10' r. - MU3
Protection/Evil, 10'r. - CL4
Protection/Good - ACL1
Protection/Good, 10'r. - ACL4
Protection/Normal Missiles - MU3
Purify Food & Water - CL1
Putrefy Food & Water - ACL1
Quest - CL5
Raise Dead - CL5
Read Languages - MU1
Read Magic - MU1
Reincarnation - MU6
Remove Curse - CL3
Remove Curse - MU4
Sleep - MU1
Slow Spell - MU3
Speak with Animals - CL2
Speak with plants - CL4
Stone-Flesh - MU6
Telekenesis - MU5
Teleport - MU5
Transmute Rock-Mud - MU5
Turn sticks to snakes - CL4
Wall of Fire - MU4
Wall of Ice - MU4
Wall of Iron - MU5
Wall of Stone - MU5
Water Breathing - MU3
Wizard Eye - MU4
Wizard Lock - MU2

That's 107 spells in total, which seems to me like enough for most trouble-making PCs.

Conjure Elemental is an interesting case to me, as one spell conjures any one of all four elements (though no more than one each per day).  This contrasts with the "Wall of" spells, which require a spell for each element.  And now that I'm thinking along these lines I suddenly realize that Fire/Ice/Iron/Stone might make a sufficiently crazy alternative to Fire/Water/Air/Earth.

Stone-Flesh and Transmute Rock-Mud are also intriguing, as they are not reversible in the way that Light or the various Cure spells are, but the spell descriptions note that if you have the spell memorized you can say the incantation in reverse to undo a previously cast spell of the same type.  So Stone-Flesh can't be used to turn a rock into a rather unsettling meal, but maybe it can be used to help your buddy who looked the medusa in the eye.

I'm adding at least one spell to this list, a Turn Undead spell.  I'm ditching clerics but want to keep the ability.

pitying well-known fool

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Surfeit of Lampreys follow-up

Thanks for all the great comments to yesterday's post about running D&D during the Anarchy in Thomas Hardy's Wessex, especially to all the nice people with book recommendations.  I love it when people take the time to say 'hey! you should totally read this book I dig!"  That's groovy.  I did want to respond to some of the other comments.

Folks recommended some non-D&D systems for this campaign concept.  Pendragon, Chivalry & Sorcery and Ars Magica were mentioned.  Personally I think HarnMaster, MERP and Bruce Galloway's Fantasy Wargaming would also be pretty good options.  However, the genesis of the campaign concept was an attempt to fish around for an interesting period to run a more historical version of D&D, so if I got this baby off the ground it would probably be with Labyrinth Lord or one of the umpteen other versions I own.  Though whichever D&D I went with would be hacked up a bit.  Platemail would get the boot as it is inappropriate to the period.  Magic-Users would probably be tarted up a bit to put conjuring demons front and center.  And the Cleric as a class would be gone.  Period.  Most members of the priestly caste would be Normal Men, except for those Bishop Odo types who go about kicking ass as Fighting Men and the sketchy scholars practicing Magic-Use.

Gameblog reader cr0m asks a key question about the campaign concept:
What do you imagine the characters doing? Fighting in the political struggle, dungeon exploration, or something entirely different?
I can't run Dungeons & Dragons without having some dungeons in the mix.  For a more historical type game, I think I would hide most of the crazier monsters there.  I don't mind having fairy tale type stuff like dragons and unicorns on the hex map, but the flumphs and gorbels would definitely stay in the crazy ass underworld environ.  Basically the idea would be to play the campaign fairly straight on the surface, but cut loose with my usual wild self once the PCs go down the steps to Level One.  Sure, that means that at some point one of the players will try to change the course of British history with a laser rifle they pried out of the cold dead hands of a cyberbalrog inexplicably dressed like Pee-Wee Herman, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Seeing the PCs participates in the vast fiasco that is the Anarchy would be nice, so I hope they would get swept up in historical events.  Though they may not entirely like the results of such intrigue, as I tend to imagine that it would go about as well as Clint Eastwood and Tuco's encounters with the U.S. Civil War in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Surfeit of Lampreys

So for many years I've been vaguely interested in doing some pseudo-historical D&D.  Something with real historical figures as NPCs and a timeline of actual events that would take place should the PCs not muck things up too much.  Back in the first half of '09 I hashed out an idea for just such a game set in quasi-fictional Japan in the 13th century, right around the time of the attempted Chinese/Mongol/Korean invasions.  The thing is, I don't really know until I've worked quite a bit through a campaign concept whether or not it revs me up enough to actually run or not.  That's one of the reasons (alongside the usual limits of scheduling and player interest) I blog about more campaigns than I run.  Until I get my thoughts typed out I don't really know if the campaign concept is going anywhere.  So here's a go at another such campaign.

I first stumbled across the period of English history known as the Anarchy (1135-1154) back in my undergrad days.  I was taking a class on the Romantic poets and in the back of a volume of Keats' verse was King Stephen, an unfinished play written along the lines of a Shakespearean tragedy.  We weren't going to talk about it in class, but I read it anyway and every couple of years I come back to it.  Keats never got past Act I, but what he wrote features several battle scenes.  The titular king of England is captured and brought before his enemy Empress Maude.

The basic tension in the period starts when Henry I's only legitimate son is killed in the White Ship disaster, which is kinda like 'What if the Titanic had  on board the heir to the throne of England?"  Then Henry goes an gets himself killed by gorging himself to death on a "surfeit of lampreys", his favorite food.  I find that detail sublimely ridiculous, hence the title of the post and the campaign.  Between these two disasters good ol' Henry makes his barons and various churchmen double pinkie swear that upon his death Matilda (a.k.a. Maude), his one legitimate daughter, will become queen of England.  Most of these douchebags totally go back on their oath when Henry bites the dust and his nephew Stephen of Blois hauls ass to England and gets himself crowned king.

The result is a total fiasco as Matilda and Stephen go at each other over the throne.  Stephen ends up fighting brief wars against Scotland and Wales as well as Matilda and her kin.  The whole country goes to hell in a handbasket.  Stephen is captured (as depicted in the play) but later set free as the result of a prisoner swap (!) and things start right back up.  Matilda blows her chance to be crowned queen by being a jerk to the citizens of London.  Dogs and cats living together.  Mass hysteria.  I.e. a perfect time for adventurers to get into shenanigans. 

But I'm no expert on English history, so I've decided to give myself a little wiggle room.  Any historical campaign is going to run into problems with 'accuracy' and 'authenticity' before we even talk about adding orcs and magic missiles to the mix.  So to put the fact that This Ain't Your Momma's England front and center we're going to run a pseudo-historical campaign in a quasi-real region of that Blessed Plot.  Namely, the game will be set in Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy's classic boxed set, Wessex.

For purposes of eight novels, a book of short stories and a volume of verse Hardy rubbed the serial numbers off southwest England and rebranded them as the Wessex counties.  Exeter becomes Exonbury, Oxford becomes Christminster, etc., etc.  Hardy's work is set in his own period or slightly before, so the main things he would contribute would be new names and some plots that can be reworked to include more warlocks and unicorns.  Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire county is pretty much the same idea as Hardy's Wessex but smaller.  I haven't ruled out trying to cram it onto the north edge of the above map, perhaps right under the label "Thomas Hardy's WESSEX".

So that's the basic concept for A Surfeit of Lampreys:  A dozen or so years set in a not-quite-real corner of England.  Put some dungeons on the map for standard D&D fun but occasionally ruin the player's plans with wars and rumors of wars.  Give them the opportunity, if they so desire, to muck up history.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mr. T & Star Wars, part deux

I had this issue as a kid.   Good times.