Tuesday, August 30, 2011

random non-magical scrolls (d20)

1 - Formula for a random magic potion - following the formula requires at least d6 days, d6 x 100gp, a well-stocked lab (d6 x 1000gp up front) and at least one special ingredient (see original DMG for suggestions)
2 - Partial map of a heretofore unknown island or continent
3 - Recipe for preparing a seven course meal using the components of a single monster (randomly determined) for all dishes
4 - Cipher key for a code used by the Assassin's Guild or some other secret faction
5 - Steamy correspondence revealing the indiscretions of a local lord
6 - Sheet music for a popular folk song adapting it to tablature needed for a three-handed mandolin player
7 - An awesome list of treasure, no location given but marginalia gives a clue as to the identity of the writer of the list
8 - The Tale of the Nymph and the Acolyte, bawdily illustrated
9 - An apocryphal holy text used by an infamous heretical sect
10 - Anatomical diagram showing the weak points in an exotic subspecies of monster (e.g. rock trolls, purple dragons, three-eyed toads), careful study over 2d6 weeks and an Int check will yield a permanent +2 bonus to hit such creatures
11 - Letter from local merchant to another in a far away city establishing a new caravan route and setting  timetable for starting the journey
12 - Plans for the king's castle revealing both the location of the treasury and a secret door in the queen's bedchamber leading to a secret dungeon below
13 - Plans for the Sailing Chariot of Stevenus, a wind-powered land vehicle capable of carrying up to six.  Only really works on windy days across flat plains.
14 - Ten or twelve sentences translated from Common into another random language, with phonetic spelling for the latter.  "Surrender or die!" and "Where's the treasure?" top the list.  33% chance inaccurate
15 - Partial list of the command words and functions of a lesser known artifact
16 - Map of a nearby duchy marking three places as prospects for new gold mines
17 - Ransom note from bandits holding captive the heir of a local lord.
18 - Diagram of the hollow earth showing major access point below nearby city
19 - Seemingly ordinary grocery list except for next to last item, "1 pound elf flesh".
20 - A two column list, monsters in one column and gem types in the other, suggesting some sort of relationship between owlbears and chalcedony, trolls and amber, etc.

Mr. T tames a ferocious beast

Thanks to my buddy Carl for sending me this one.

IMPORTANT T-RELATED UPDATE: The year I set aside for annoying you with weekly Mr. T pictures ends soon!  I have a couple ideas for replacement features, but if you'd like to suggest a ridiculous celebrity in the comments here please do so.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

my favorite Elmore cheesecake

Elmore's not one of my faves, but something about the combination of swordbabe plus little weird dude both in front of a landscape begging to be explored just works for me.

a pic and a link

Roger at Roles, Rules & Rolls has a interesting little piece up today, using as his springboard my favorite non-cheesecake Elmore painting. Check it out.

I've always loved this piece for its utter ridiculosity.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

answering my own dang questions, part 2

11.Where can I hire mercenaries?
Small numbers of Welsh bowmen, Flemish crossbowmen and desperate untrained peasants are readily available for hire. Mustering larger numbers or locating other types of troops will require significant travel.
12.Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
The main issue is that spellcasting or being a spellcaster is not illegal, but Black Magic is a serious crime. Black Magic is defined as casting a spell intending to harm another.
13.Which way to the nearest tavern?
Bad news, my thirsty friend. There are no taverns in fake 12th century Cornwall. The only taverns in the setting are leftovers from the old Roman road houses and the Roman construction crews never got this far. But you can find alehouses fairly easily. These are simply peasant hovels where the wife and daughters brew extra ale. You can only visit them when weather is good, since all the seating consists of stools or benches set up in front of the place. But most peasant households brew their own ale, so flash a little gold and people will literally come a-running with a bucket of ale to sell you.
14.What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Bodmin Moor is said to be haunted by some sort of cat monster, possibly an undead cat monster or a cat monster from Hell.  Reports vary.

Also, the last known dragon in 12th century pseudo-England (which does an even better job of keeping Cornwall oppressed than the Normans) lairs somewhere in the dungeons below Castle Dundagel, which is literally right next to the Caves of Myrrdin.
15.Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Besides the ongoing conflict between King Stephen and Empress Maude, lots of pettier conflicts are in the offing. Any land hex on the map could be in the middle of some level of warfare when visited.
16.How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
Not that you know of. Gladiatorial contests are condemned by the Church as pagan and barbaric.
17.Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
Much of the sinister agenda stuff seems to be going on right out in the open in these wicked days.  Satan has his own underground (often literally so) church.  Imagine Anton LaVey as a pope made of anti-matter and you have the gist of it.
18.What is there to eat around here?
Since you're staying at a monastery, probably lots of porridge and coarse bread with a tiny bit of meat.  Fish on Fridays if not more often than that.  Once you have some ready cash poachers will no doubt sell you fresh-caught game at a mark-up.
19.Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
Due to the semi-historical nature of the campaign you can probably think of some yourself: Excalibur, the spellbooks of Merlin and Morgan le Fay, the Shield of Hercules, the Ark of the Covenant, etc., etc.
20.Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
See question 14.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Caves of Myrrdin visual aid

See the three dark openings in the cliffside, down near the water?  Those are the dungeon entrances, folks.  The cave on the right in this picture we'll call the Big Cave.  The one in the center is the Small Cave.  For our purposes we'll assume it's a bit less than 10' wide once you get inside.  And the one on the left is the Wet Cave.  Twice a day water pours into that cave at high tide.

Those ruins up above the cave are what's left of Castle Dundagel.  I'm not quite ready for explorers up there, but I'm working on it.  The remnants of four round towers up there might be worth checking out.

Monday morning I'll email the first 4 brave souls to visit the Caves.  First run will be next Friday.

canonical BX to-do list: Halflings

Halfling To-Do List
Level 1
Pal around with up to 39 fellow halfling roustabouts
Join a Basic NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community*
Level 2
Join a Basic NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve in the Militia of a halfling village
Lead a halfling village
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community*
Level 3
Join a Basic NPC party
Join an Expert NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter level 7 to 10
Lead a halfling village
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community*

Level 4-6
Join an Expert NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter level 7 to 10
Lead a halfling village
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community

Level 7
Join an Expert NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a halfling village
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community

Level 8
Join an Expert NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a halfling village
Build a stronghold, found a new halfling community
Become Sheriff

*By the book, halflings of any level that can afford it may start a new halfling community, but the option is introduced in the Expert rulebook.  I'd probably rule you need at least 4 levels to have the necessary prestige to found a new community.

an Encounter Critical treasure chart (d20)

This was made for an EC session where the players didn't find either location that had a pile of treasure.

1. Scratch Off Ticket for the the Cosmic Lotto (roll 3d8, if you get triples win 10,000 GC)
2. Klengon to Succubese phrasebook
3. Monofilament Yo-Yo (if played with roll Dex or less on d100 or lose random limb/head)
4. Cool Shades of Protection (75% vs. gaze/blinding attacks)
5. Eulg (the opposite of glue, disassembles whatever you smear it on)
6. Coupon good for free small fries at Soylent Burger
7. Shaq-Fu for Dummies (book on tape)
8. Axecalibur, +15% Black Hole Metal Axe, you are rightful king of Space Camelot
9. Freeze dried astronaut food, includes Tang (d6 days worth)
10. Souvenir margarita glass from Wrigley's Pleasure Planet
11. Impervium knuckles (like brass knuckles but +10%)
12. Phasic socks (matching pair, argyle)
13. Slorg egg, almost ready to hatch
14. d6 gold teeth (worth d6 GC each)
15. Box of donuts, d12-1 remaining
16. Platypus skin hat
17. Infrapink goggles (invisible things are visible, but also vice versa)
18. Atomic Zippo
19. class ring for the Green Lantern Academy (no powers)
20. Runeputer, holds d6 spells

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Why on earth are you starting at 4:30 in the morning?"

I get up about 4:30 in the morning most days anyway.  This goes back to growing up on a farm: at some point as an adolescent I started getting up at O-dark-thirty with my dad.  We wouldn't say much.  He'd sip coffee and read the morning paper, I'd eat some cereal and do my homework.  Nowadays it gives me a couple hours before the rest of the family is up for quiet reading, knocking about the internet and simple utterly selfish solitude.  A vast number of the posts on this blog were drafted out before 6 in the morning.

Along with already being up anyway, the practical advantages are twofold on my end.  I can borrow my wife's kickass MacBook without inconveniencing her and I don't have to worry about my daughter's needs, since she's asleep. 

But I like the suggestion that I'm selflessly sacrificing my morning to run games for folks thousands of miles away in the spirit of international gamer brotherhood.  So if asked again maybe I'll go with that.

Anyhoo, don't expect any game to go longer than 2 hours.  At 6:45 I need to be in the shower or the rest of my morning schedule will be shot to hell.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

answering my own dang questions, part 1

Several people seem to think that this post was one of my better ideas.  I thought maybe I should follow my own advice.  These answers are intended for players looting the Caves of Myrddin.

1.What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
You're probably a medieval Catholic type Christian who is theoretically answerable to some bishop.  A Jewish cleric would work as well.  Or you can play a Satanic anti-cleric.  I could write more on this later and probably will.

2.Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Enough adventurers are visiting the Caves that the stuff on the chargen price list is generally available, but you're also remote enough that the DM may roll d6 to see how many days it takes you to get completely supplied.  Merchants come through here, but not everything is available the day you want to purchase it.

3.Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
No dice.  Platemail hasn't been invented yet.  Chainmail custom made for a monster will probably require you to travel to Exonbury, some 90 miles to the east across some pretty treacherous countryside.

4.Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Didymus Ashlar, the Wizard of Wessex.  By all reports he spends most of his time in the southwest corner of the map, well away from Cornwall.  But occasionally he shows up in the area of the Caves of Myrddin, presumably searching for for the same magical secrets that draw so many PC magic-users.

5.Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
King Stephen is well known for personally kicking a good deal of ass.  Two supporters of Empress Maude are also held in high esteem as fighters: her half-brother Robert, Earl of Gowan and the so-called Scourge of the West, William de Mohun.  But some people dismiss Robert of Gowan's personal prowess and attribute his success in combat to his magic sword Morglaien, which once belonged to the legendary Sir Tristan.

6.Who is the richest person in the land?
Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen and a powerful Bishop.  That cat is loaded.  Chera of Wintoncester, a Jewish moneylender, is also noted for her wealth.

7.Where can we go to get some magical healing?
There are no inns in the vicinity of the Caves of Myrddin.  Most adventurers stay in an outbuilding on the grounds of the nearby Abbey of St. Emmet.  A few of the brothers are Clerics of level 2 or higher.  Cure Light Wounds and other first level cleric spells are generally available for a 'donation' of 250gp.

8.Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
The Abbott can personally cure some of these things, with 'donations' of up to 1,000gp.  Harder cases will be referred to the Bishop of Cornwall, whose seat is about 60 miles to the southeast.

9.Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
The Invisible College of Thaumaturgy is a secret sixth college of the University of Christminster and serves as the closest thing to a Magic Guild in the setting.  Any MU that starts play knowing Latin can consider themselves a student of the Invisible College.  N.B. the journey from the Cornwall to Christminster is not trivial.  The route stretches across much of the campaign map.

10.Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
Possibly in Exonbury, previously mentioned.  There are definitely sagacious and alchemical types at the University of Christminster.  Abelard of Sulis is the foremost sage of the realm.  Sulis is over 200 miles away, though closer than Christminster.

Caves of Myrddin chargen

Here is a first stab at a chargen document for the Caves of Myrddin.  Please let me know what bonehead thing I forgot to put on there.  A few omissions were intentional, like two-handed swords and platemail, but I probably forgot something along the way.  Also, all FLAILSNAILS pcs are welcome, though anyone over 3rd level will roll on the gimp chart, at least until I have a bigger dungeon to plunder.

It's totally not too late to get into the player pool.  Since each party will consist of randomly selected people from the pool you aren't hosed by signing up late.  Again, just email jrients/gmail/etc with the header [Friday dungeon].  It looks like the first session will be a week from Friday at 4:30 in the morning my time (CST, which I believe is UTC-6).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Into the Caves of Myrddin

Are you interested in a G+ based BX D&D dungeon crawl on Fridays for an hour or two starting at 4:30am CST (UTC-6)?  If so send me an email (jrients/gmail/etc) with tag [Friday dungeon].  You aren't committing to every Friday or anything like that, you're just putting your name in the player pool.  Assuming more than four people are on my list, each week I run I'll roll dice to get four names from my list of players and email them on Monday to see if everyone is available.

This will be a FLAILSNAILS game designed for levels 1-3.  More information to come.

please watch your language, Mr. T

I wasn't looking for Mr. T pictures at all when I found this via google image search.
(I was looking for unicorn pictures.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

an old joke in the mighty Marvel manner

Marvel's version of Wonder Woman is atrocious, but then most of Wonder Man's costumes have been dubious at best.  Gender-swapped Luke Cage looks pretty dang awesome.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

FLAILSNAILS non-cumulative XP (Article 3)

Since last week's release of the FLAILSNAILS cross-campaign rules one section has caused more confusion than any of the others. Here's the section:
Article 3 PCs will level up at a number of experience points appropriate to the system of the last adventure they played in before such time as they were eligible to level up in that system.
I must admit that I was asleep at the wheel when that was being knocked around in draft.  The following is intended as either as a clarification or correction, depending on whether I'm reading this right or not.

Article 3 Revised: No one cares how many total XP you've earned.  All we need to know is your level and how many XP you've gained since making that level.  If you level up according to the rules used for the current adventure you are playing, advance your character one level and zero out your XP.
So Morgan Ironwolf earns her two-thousandth experience point.  That's enough to make level 2 in Wessex.  She advances to level 2 and resets her XP to zero.  I often allow for advancement in the middle of the game and Morgan earns 232 more XP before the end of the session.  The next day Morgan is in Vornheim.  She earns a big ol' pile of XP, but whether she advances to 3rd depends on the chart for fighters in Zak's game.  Hopefully he'll have handy his own version of the charts below, which are the BX charts reworked to eliminate tracking total XPs earned.

Is everybody following my proposal? A few XP are bound to be wasted along the way if we zero out the totals at every advancement. You could instead subtract the XP needed from your current total. That's only slightly more complicated.  If you subtract rather than zero out completely, the charts above are exactly the same totals as the Expert rulebook, only expressed differently.

fear itself

Is anyone else bothered by "save or flee in terror" type effects?  We don't subject PCs to morale checks, so why is this sort of thing okay just because the effect originates from a spell or some sort of horrible, slobbering undead?  It undermines player agency, which is a cornerstone of traditional RPGs.

I think maybe all fear-or-flee attacks targeted at PCs should include a choice to made by the player.  "If you fail you must either flee immediately or roll 1d4.  The result on the d4 is your penalty to-hit and damage as well as your chance in 20 of spell fumble for the duration of the fear effect."  Something like that.

Being paralyzed with fear doesn't bug me as much.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

the mysterious mercenaries of Sark

The AD&D toyline of the 80's had 3 basic types of toys in it.  The most prominent were the articulated action figures, similar to the G.I. Joe and Star Wars toys of the era.  Less well known were the bendable and solid PVC sublines.  I owned a bendy Grell and it was hella sweet.  Though it had eyes and everyone knows canonical grell are giant beaked and betentacled brains with no eyes.  The solid PVC figures were mostly monsters like trolls or mummies or NPCs like men-at-arms or wood elves.  It's this last category, solid non-articulated NPCs, that I'm talking about today.

As a kid this duo, the Sarken Mercenaries, was one of the great mysteries of AD&D toydom:

Dig that sweet polearm and the archer with his ninja-esque facemasque.  Anyway, the thing that bugged me as a kid was "Wear the hell is Sark?"  I couldn't find it on the map of Greyhawk or the Known World, the only two settings that mattered to me back then.  Back then I couldn't resolve the issue.

Yesterday for no particular this question popped into my mind for the first time in decades, so I hit up the Wikipedia to see if there might be a real world Sark involved.  Clearly these guys aren't from Sark, the tiny Channel Island.  But maybe they're from Särkland, a Viking term for the Abbasid Caliphate or maybe Sarkel, a Khazar city.  I really like the latter idea, but then I'm a big fan of Milorad Pavić's novel The Dictionary of the Khazars.

Check out this link for a sweet customized Sarken mercenary action figure.

Friday, August 19, 2011

a Moldvay oddity

Under the BX rules anyone can play one of the four human classes.  No matter how poorly you roll, you can still play a Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric or Thief.  AD&D has minimum stat scores necessary to get into these classes, which meant you couldn't play a clutzy thief or a foolish cleric.  Being a big fan of characters who suck, I'm all for allowing PCs to be terrible at their jobs.

The one place this great idea hits a speedbump is for magic-users.  Dig this chart:

You could squeak by on an MU with an Intelligence of 4 or 5, as spellbooks aren't necessarily written in Common.  But an Int 3 magic-user can't read his or her spellbook and has trouble pronouncing the words of the spell correctly.  Maybe the rare Int 3 MU is an idiot-savant, barely functional except for a natural talent at reading and speaking Magicese.

draft Wessex henchmen/hireling rules

To recruit you must be somewhere with an oversupply of manpower.  Most towns and cities should do just fine, as will some villages.  A town or city near a war front may already have every able-bodied person already conscripted into the army.

Each attempt at recruitment costs d6 x 100gp (as suggested in Holmes) but this covers both the costs of the recruitment process and the initial cost of hiring the NPCs rolled below.  If you come up short on cash (e.g. you roll a 5 and only have 423gp) subtract one from your d6 roll below for each 100gp or fraction thereof you are short.

d6 Roll    Result of Recruitment
2 or less  Hopeless Loser: 0 level forever, no particular skills
3             Likely Lad/Lass: 0 level, but at the end of every session survived roll 1d6, on a 1 they join a class
4             Specialist: roll 1d6, 1) cook/brewer 2) pack animal handler & packing expert 3) equipment maintenance & repair expert 4) herbalist/hedge doctor 5) horse tender 6) generally competent dogsbody
5             d6 mercenaries (in Wessex these will tend to be Welsh bowmen or Flemish crossbowmen)
6             1st level adventurer: roll 1d6, 1-2) Fighter 3) MU 4) Thief 5) Cleric 6) Halfling

In general the PC will need to supply appropriate equipment, though mercenaries and adventurers have a 2 in 6 chance of possessing some basic gear and a hedge doctor will usually start with a supply of herbs and bandages.

Recruited first level adventurers will generally expect a half share of the treasure while mercenaries will expect cash bonuses when rendering extraordinary service, such as fighting horrible inhuman monsters.  Past these requirements, henchmen and hirelings are paid on a quarterly basis.  On each Quarter Day the employer must roll a new d6 x 100gp for each henchman/hireling and either pay them that much or dismiss the henchman/hireling from service.  The traditional Quarter Days are Lady Day, Midsummer Day, Michaelmas and Christmas, which fall on March 25, June 24, September 29 and December 25.

If the date of recruitment is too close to an upcoming Quarter Day for the prospective employer's comfort, you can offer to hire the NPC on Cross-Quarter Day terms.  The Cross-Quarter Days fall roughly in between the Quarter Days.  They are Candlemas (February 2), May Day (May 1), Lammas (August 1) and All Saints Day (November 1).  In order to hire on these terms the employer must roll a reaction check.  An unfavorable result indicates that offer is refused and the PC is out the money spent on recruitment.  If the offer is accepted expect a lot of grumbling on Quarter Days when all the hireling's friends are getting paid, especially at Christmas.

Players generally run their hirelings but all the usual admonitions about abusing hirelings and the rules for hireling morale and loyalty still apply.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Erol Otus Shrine move

I'm finally moving the Erol Otus Shrine, one of my oldest web projects, to a tumblr account.  Hopefully that'll make updating it a heckuva lot easier.  You can find the new shrine here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

treasure: what's the deal?

This interesting approach to overhauling treasure types has gotten me thinking about the subject of treasure and how it's supposed to work in D&D.  I think treasure has a six-fold function in D&D and any revised treasure system needs to take all six factors into account.

1.) The abstract concept of treasure appeals directly to the players, by tickling their normal greedy impulses.  This goes back to my thinking that D&D is about providing an acceptable venue for expressing one's less civilized urges.  I.e. if a scenario doesn't invoke at least one of the Seven Deadly Sins, you may need to rework the premise.  Greed is one of the easiest ones to work with in D&D thanks to all the gold pieces lying about the dungeons.

2.) Treasure is a way of keeping score.  You ever try to explain a sport to someone without telling them how you score points?  The game you are explaining won't make any sense without that information.  Treasure as the way of scoring points makes for interesting risk/reward calculation.  Do we try to attack that dragon, knowing he has a hoard in his lair?  Or can we figure out a clever way to get that treasure without having to face down that pyro-lizard?  What play would Craig T. Nelson call?

3.) A big pile of treasure provides an additional logistical challenge.  You only get to spend gold pieces that make it back to town and I only allow xp to be score for treasure brought out of the dungeon.  Most everyone here hates dealing with encumbrance rules.  Me, too.  Instead of totally ignoring or simplifying the rules another perfectly viable alternative: only be a dick about encumbrance when the players are trying to haul craploads of treasure out of the dungeon.  Suddenly they'll realize that mules and hirelings are a good idea.  (Enforcing the encumbrance rules is also great when they're trying to get a fallen comrade to treatment.  Especially if the casualty has been petrified and weighs a few hundred pounds more than usual.)

4.) Treasure can lead to interesting inter-party tension.  One mistake lazy DMs (including me) make is allowing the players to value everything in gold pieces and then divide the total so that everyone gets an even share.  Forget that crap.  That's far too easy.  Instead, after a haul get in the habit of asking players "Okay, which of you took the silver cup and which took the pearl necklace?"  Some smart guy will pipe up "Can't we just sell that stuff in town?"  Sure, you can.  But at what percentage of the total value?  50%?  d100%?  Maybe you only score xp for the sales price of cashed out items, so keeping those items is worth more points.  Suddenly who gets what matters a lot more.

5.) Good treasure leads to further roleplaying opportunities.  Long ago one of my PCs knew an adventurer named Amber.  She was a kinky girl who dressed in skimpy leather armor and specialized in using a bullwhip in combat.  I'm going to surprise you now: Amber was not played by a dude.  Anyway Amber's player insisted that every time gems came up on the treasure charts that we had to roll to see what kind of stone they were.  Because of her PC's name she claimed all the ambers and any other yellowish gems.  I once played a ranger who built himself a cabin on the edge of town.  He gladly scooped up ordinary household goods (pots, pans, cups, chairs, etc.) while his buddy the swashbuckler took his share in coinage, which he used to have stuff custom-made for his swank mansion.  Long story short, who gets what treasure should be a roleplaying decision beyond "the fighter gets the magic sword, the wizard gets the wand".

6.) Treasure can lead to further adventures.  The treasure map is an obvious example, as are "gotta catch 'em all" treasures of the Rod of Seven Parts variety.  Or what about a Ring of Invisibility that has a strange inscription on the inside?  Or imagine a painting, a well executed portrait of a long-dead king on his throne.  For a long time it just hangs on the wall at the PC's house until the day arrives that he has an audience with the current king in the same room as depicted in the painting.  Only where there was a door in the painting a tapestry now hangs.  Why is the current king concealing that door?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm sure it's the same guy...

Thanks to Mike Shorten, the Chicago Wiz, for sending this one my way.  Stay awesome, dude!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The FLAILSNAILS Conventions

We the GMs of the DIY RPGing, in Order to form a more perfect Ruckus, establish Justice, insure intercampaign Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and Play some Games, do Ordain and Establish this set of Free Location And Inclusion LawsSupporting New And Interesting Leisure Situations (FLAILSNAILS).

Article 1

Any PC that began play at 0 xp (or less) and level 1 (or less) on or after July 26, 2011 may move freely from their native campaign (or any they have participated in subsequently) into games of a like genre run by any GM subscribing to these FLAILSNAILS conventions whether via electronic media or in real life provided the player can get a spot in the game. That's the point of them.

(Like, if you made a PC for Arcadayn's Swords and Wizadry game, you can move it to my D&D game since I subscribe to the FLAILSNAILS conventions. If he does, too, you can bring it back to his game the next day, and then take the PC over to your Uncle Chippy's game if he is down, and then bring it back to my game and then...you get the point.)

Article 2

As stated, PCs may be imported/converted from any game of roughly the same genre and system as the new GM's game, however the new GM is free to determine precisely what "roughly the same" means. GM and Player shall negotiate any complex translation issues regarding system-specific mechanics or powers.

In the case of D&D and similar games, any TSR D&D system or retroclone (Labyrinth Lord, Castles and Crusades, Swords and Wizardry, etc.) is considered acceptable in FLAILSNAILS games, plus, at the individual GM's discretion, refugees from Pathfinder, 3.5, 4e, Rolemaster, Tekumel, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, LOTFP, Harn, GURPS, Pendragon, etc. providing the PC's stats can be translated into terms sensible in the new system. (And vice versa.) Ask GM if your PC is ok.

Same thing goes for other games--like if you want to run your levelled-up Shadowrun PC in my Gigacrawler game, I'm down because fucking FLAILSNAILS.

The details are up to the GM's discretion, but the purpose of the FLAILSNAILS conventions is to encourage sharing of ideas, rules, and funny stories across groups of gamers, so whatever can be done to encourage and facilitate PC immigration (writing Palladium-to-D&D conversion rules for instance) is encouraged.

Article 3 PCs will level up at a number of experience points appropriate to the system of the last adventure they played in before such time as they were eligible to level up in that system.

Jeez that's hard to understand. What we're saying is: if you gain 200 xp so as to total 1100 xp by the end of an adventure and that adventure was run in a system where you level up at 1000 xp, then you level up, regardless of what system your PC was "born" under or where it's going next.
A level is a level. While in a world you abide by the conventions the GM there uses for characters of your class; but likewise, when your PC gains a level he or she has earned it, even if he or she subsequently enters a world where a like number of experience points would not have earned you that same level.

For purposes of clarity, think of and talk about your PC's xp as follows: "I am 300 xp into 2nd level". Since, for example, a PC levelling up in vanilla 3.5 needs 1000 xp to get to level two, a 3.5 PC who has 1200 xp is "200 xp into 2nd level" in ANY system. S/he does not "have" 1200 xp in any system but 3.5, s/he's just "200 xp into 2nd level" in Labyrinth Lord.

If this creates a situation where a PC would automatically level up merely by starting an adventure in a new system (i.e. you're 3000 xp into 4th level and suddenly start an adventure in a system where you only need 2000 more xp to get to level 5) the GM may ask you to recalculate your progress as a 
percent of progress toward the next level in the old system.

If you want to make shit real easy for everybody, GMs can just look at the levels of the PCs involved and reward xp in terms of "percent towards the next level" for those PCs. Like say "congratulations, you all earned 30% of the xp you need toward level two or 20% of the exp you need toward level 3, go do math."

At some point we may come up with a unified xp table, but, like, Jeff or somebody can do that. 

Article 4 FLAILSNAILS GMs may run adventures designed for specific levels of PCs, just like anybody else. Since waiting around for every other FLAILSNAILS-eligible PC to level up as high as your barbarian did during that week you spent off school when you broke your ankle is boring, we have established optional rules for importing "overlevelled" PCs into lower-level games...

Each FLAILSNAILS GM is free to establish his or her own "handicapping" rules for such situations, however these are theDefault FLAILSNAILS High-Level PC Handicapping Rules For D&Dish Games... 

Roll d100 per level above the accepted maximum your PC is to see what disasters befell him or her during the long journey to the foreign domain wherein their next adventure takes place.These handicaps are temporary--results only apply during the adventure in question (if you survive your season of "slumming", you get better):

(penalties cannot take PC below minimum score for the system in question or below 4 hp)

1-3 Blinded
4-6 Deafened
7-9 Gone mute
10-12 Lost an arm
13-15 Lost a leg
16-18 Gone mad: 25% chance of doing the exact opposite of intended action (after action is
declared) each round during times of stress
19 Cursed: Slowed
20 Cursed: Laughs continuously and uncontrollably--must make a wisdom check to speak an
intelligible sentence
21-23 All equipment lost.
24 One of your items is now cursed--new DM secretly decides item and specific curse
25-Sex change. Armor doesn't fit now. Re-roll charisma.
26-28 Disease: halve your hit points
29-31 Disfiguring disease--charisma is effectively the minimum, no henchmen
32-34 Brain damage: lose d6 from charisma, intelligence and wisdom
35-36 Major brain damage: lose d8 from charisma, intelligence and wisdom
37-39 Too much light reading during your trip: lose d10 intelligence
40-42 Culture shock--lose d10 wisdom
43-45 Disease: lose d6 from strength, constitution and dex
46-48 Major disease: lose d8 from strength, constitution, and dex
49-Curse: kleptomania
50-51 Pregnant or melded to useless siamese twin -2d6 dex
52-PC smells terrible, scent is obvious to any foe at 100 yards
53-55 PC is on a bender and won't sober up until adventure ends
56-58 PC has become grotesquely obese: -10 dex, always last initiative no matter what system is used
59 Curse: PC can't see weapons, claws, teeth or fire. 50% chance s/he doesn't know it
60 Curse: 17 and 18 are cursed numbers for PC--rolling either # is a fumble
61 Mutation: roll on baleful mutation chart of DM's choice
62 Artificially aged: -d10 constitution -d10 dex, -d6 str, -d20 hp
63-65 Fugitive: extremely thorough authorities are following you everywhere
66 Shrunk to 1' tall
67-69 Hungover: -3 to all rolls
70-72 Type 2 hangover: hearing and vision are only 25% relaible
73-75 Having an Elric phase: can only go 4 rounds without needing to smoke/inject/inhale some exotic substance.
You will run out of it after d4 days.
76 Curse: in any round, all attacks will be against our PC until at least 2 have been successful
77 Curse: if any of your companions fall victim to a spell, you will, too
78-79 Haven't been eating properly on your trip--lose d12 hp, d8 con and d6 str
80 Depressed and pining for home. -5 to all saves.
81 Infected wound. -d6 constitution and -3 to attack rolls
82 Roll twice ignoring redundant results
83-85 Limping. -5 dex, movement is 1/3 normal, blows doing more than 2 hp will knock you over unless you're
braced against a wall
86 Paralyzed from the waist down, you have a wheelchair, though.
87-88 Just tired from all that walking: -d4 to all rolls
89-90 Frostbite on the way-lost 3d4 fingers.
91 Partially possessed by minor demon. Wisdom/will roll in times of stress to avoid aiding forces of evil.
92 Just loves it here! PC spends all free time writing a travel journal or sketching the landscape--cannot rest properly at all.
93-95 Can't speak what they call "common" around here.
96 Can speak it but finds the local dialect intensely grating-especially the way the locals pronounce the words "go" "if" "to"
and "get". Use of those words will cause the PC to attack the speaker for 1d4 rounds.
97 None of these hicks can understand you through your accent
98-100 Your blood is too thick for this climate. You shiver or sweat all day--minus 2 to everything. 
Article 5

Overlevel magic spells, spells not native to the new setting, unusual powers (such as psionics) and imported magic items may generally be used in the new game, however, the new GM is free to determine the exact details of how such things work. Spiritual conditions and mortal-deity compacts differ from domain to domain.

i.e. Use that crazy wand Jeff gave you in my game and it might no longer work the way you think it does, at least until you get home.

If such powers, abilities, or items are forbidden altogether by the GM s/he will make an honest effort to warn the player first. Neither GM nor player shall be a dick about this.

Article 6

The ontological status, authenticity, and rationale behind allegedly 'unique' items imported to settings where identical items already exist shall be determined by whoever's GMing during the time wherein the paradox appears.

i.e. If you go on an adventure to find the Wand of Orcus with Calithena GMing and show up at the pub holding the Wand of Orcus (because you got it in an adventure with Ian) then it's up to Calithena to explain this shit and he can make up any crazy thing he wants.

Article 7

When you post a new Costantcon game, say whether you are down with imported PCs or not.

Article 8

There are no in-game "hoops" to jump through in order to move a PC from one game to another--i.e. you don't have to have your PC sail in-game over the North Sea to get from my Vornheim campaign to Jeff's Wessex campaign.

However it is acceptable (and maybe fun) for GMs to create mini-"crossovers" in order to do fun, gimmicky things between campaigns. Like Jeff could say "first 3 PCs to kill the a sea dragon in Vornheim get to be in my Wessex game on Thursday".

Article 9

Players have the right to construct their own PCs "timeline" to justify how s/he ended up in place A on monday and place B on thursday. However:

-Once a FLAILSNAILS PC dies, you can't use that PC again in real-time, no matter when in the "timeline" the PC died and...

-If you gain items or level up over the ceiling for a given adventure in the middle of that adventure by doing a "side quest" somewhere else, it's the GM's discretion as to whether you now have the items or are considered "levelled up" during subsequent parts of that adventure.

Like: if I am level 5 and do part one of Evillossia Dungeon (adventure for levels 3-5) with DM Biff and we leave off with me alive in a pit, then the next day I go play with the same PC in DM Jed's campaign and kill an owlbear mastermind and level up to 6--(so high I'm no longer in the suggested "range" for Evillossia Dungeon), and then I pick up the next day in the pit in Evillossia, it's up to DM Biff whether I immediately level up to 6 for purposes of this adventure in Evilossia or whether I have to wait until that adventure ends.

Article 10

All this stuff, plus a calendar of FLAILSNAILS games on Google + and pages for individual FLAILSNAILS-friendly campaigns and PCs will all be on a webpage at some point. Or so we claim. Hey, Calithena's working on it. He's a busy guy.

Players will get xp rewards for pitching in with administrative bullshit on that site if and when we get it going.

Article 11

To speed things up, individual GMs might wanna post a blog specifying exactly what their conversion and/or overlevel handicapping policies are that they can put up whenever they're running a FLAILSNAILS G+ game.


We, therefore, the representatives of the Old School Ruckus, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Referee of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these campaigns, solemnly publish and declare, that these united domains are free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent gameworlds may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to FLAILSNAILS our dungeons, our spare time, and our sacred honor.


Representing Vornheim: Zak S
Representing Wessex: Jeff Rients
Representing Ilthar: Calithena
Other signatories here.
Sign yourself up there or here. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

reaching the end of the world

So I'm working on a new dungeon.  The kind of dungeon to which serious DMs might append the prefix mega-.  It's in the preliminary phases of thinking about who built it (no one; some dungeons are just places where the midgets from Time Bandits did a crappy job stitching the world together), who lurked there in the past (Morgan le Fay and her satanistas, Egyptian wizards fleeing the monotheistic purges of pharoah Akhenaten, Joe Mama) and who might lurk there now (the last known dragon in England, the shattered psyche of Willaim Blake's Orc, aquamutants from the future, Joe Mama still). 

You run a dungeon of this scope unfinished, because if you wait until you are done you kill the creative spark of it.  That means once in a while the players will reach a door or passageway that leads off the map.  In the past I've had four basic strategies for dealing with this when it comes up:

  1. Just be honest.  Tell the players the dungeon is unfinished here and ask them to explore elsewhere this session.  I've never seen anyone refuse to play ball and demand to go down that unfinished corridor.
  2. Stay cool, make crap up on the spot and after the session ask players if they can tell when you went beyond your preparations.  Sometimes they don't notice.  This is a harrowing way to go, but it can also be a crapload of fun to make stuff up on the spur of the moment while under the threat of being discovered.
  3. Tell people we've reached the end of the map.  Call a five minute smoke/drink/bathroom break and start rolling on random tables like there's no tomorrow.
  4. Describe blinking sawhorse-type signs and yellow police tape labeled "Greyhawk Construction Co. DO NOT CROSS".  This is good for a laugh and most players will take the hint.  A few will tear away the tape and press on.  I often let the latter folk fall in a pit or get crushed by falling ceiling blocks. The survivors usually turn back.

The construction sign idea was inspired by "The Search for the Forbidden Chamber", which first appeared in Dragon #1 but which I first read in the original Best of... collection.

Anyway, I've come up with a fifth idea: reward/bribe the PCs.  Congratulate them on reaching the current edge of map and give them, say, 200xp times the dungeon level each when they turn back.  They can come right back and claim the same amount the next session if I don't get off my lazy ass and finish that section of the dungeon, which obviously would help motivate me to complete that section.  And they get a little benny for reaching the limits of the unknown and staring into the blank void just beyond Creation.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gygax arms sighting

Found another instance of D&D art incorporating the heraldry of the House of Gygax.
From Dragon #63, July '82.
For more info, check out this old post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

canonical BX to-do list: Fighter

1st level
Join a Basic NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC
Serve as Retainer to a minor Noble (F3) with up to 9 F1 friends
Serve as a Brigand
Serve as a Buccaneer
Serve as a Pirate
Serve as a Dervish
Serve as a Merchant guard
Serve as a Mercenary
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Get religion, go serve a Matriarch/Patriarch (C9+) at their new castle
Build a Castle

2nd level
Join a Basic NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Serve as Squire to a minor Noble (F3)
Get religion, go serve a Matriarch/Patriarch (C9+) at their new castle
Command up to 20 Brigands
Serve as sergeant in a Merchant caravan
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Serve as Retainer to a Magic-User 7-10
Command up to 25 Nomads
Build a Castle

3rd level
Join a Basic NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Serve as sergeant in a Merchant caravan
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Serve as Retainer to a Magic-User 7-10
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter 7-10
Command up to 10 level 1 retainers and 1 F2 squire as a minor Noble
Build a Castle

4th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Serve as Retainer to a Magic-User 7-10
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter 7-10
Command up to 40 Brigands
Command up to 30 Buccaneers
Command up to 30 Pirates
Command up to 40 Nomands
Build a castle

5th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Serve as Retainer to a Magic-User 7-10
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter 7-10
Command up to 50 Brigands
Command the guards on a Merchant caravan
Captain a Pirate ship with up to 50 Pirates
Command up to 100 Nomads
Build a castle

6th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Serve as Retainer to a Cleric 7-12
Serve as Retainer to a Fighter 7-10
Build a castle

7th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Captain a Buccaneer vessel
Build a castle

8th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Command a fleet of up to 100 Pirates
Lead a tribe of up to 300 Nomads
Build a castle 

9th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Command up to 300 Brigands
Command a Buccaneer fleet
Build a castle
Rule a Barony 

10th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Build a castle
Rule a Barony 

11th level
Join an Expert NPC Party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Build a castle
Rule a Barony
Rule a fleet of Pirates as the Pirate Lord 

12th-14th level
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead a gang of up to 30 Bandits
Build a castle
Rule a Barony

this amused me (NSFW?)

While I'm feeling extra ornery and opionated, let's talk about movies. I don't go to the movies much. Basically, unless the word "Star" appears at the beginning of the title I'm happy to wait for cable. Maybe you haven't noticed, but 99% of all films released are crappy in one or more ways. Even ones of the Star [blank] variety. The new Conan movie will probably be crap, too. And I'll probably hate the 3D technology. But judging by the trailer this flick certainly seems to be firing on all cylinders in the sex and violence departments, which is a hell of a lot more important to me than whether Howard was properly aped. But I still think the first Conan movie was one of the greatest films ever made, so what do I know?

(Remixed trailer found via comicsalliance.com, which is a pretty good general clearing house for all sorts of nerd genre stuff.)

Dungeons & Dames

Mostly today's post is an excuse to show you this kick-ass valkyrie picture I found.  But it reminded me of a point I wanted to make regarding pseudo-historical D&D.

One of the neat things about running a pseudo-historical D&D game instead of a strictly historical RPG is that one is not tempted to be that guy.  The one who gives female players hassles over the way women were treated back in the day.  A few thick-headed DMs can't seem to figure out that having fun in a fantasy setting is not helped by whacking the player over the head with endemic sexism, racism or homophobia.  Apparently it never occurs to these knuckle-heads that even in our relatively progressive society people put up with more than enough of that crap in the real world and that fantasy gaming is meant as escapist fun.  If you want to play some narrativist hippie indie game where exploring these issues is the whole point of the operation, more power to you.  But D&D seems to work better for most people when it is about reckless adventure, gratuitous violence and flaunting societal convention.

You can still use these issues in your D&D games, but for plot fodder rather than a hammer beating down your players.  One of the reasons Empress Maude is denied the throne of England is because *gasp* [clutch pearls] she's a woman.  And Siffrid, Bishop of Chichester, is still deposed from his church office in 1145 because apparently the dude was gay.  Clearly an enterprising DM could make some hay out of these facts.  But in my campaign those events didn't just happen because everybody back then mistreated ladies and queerfolk.  They happened because some people mistreated ladies and homosexuals using a variety of pretexts and bodies of law written by previous generations of misogynists and homophobes.  In other words the problem isn't 12th century English society, the problem is that some people are douchebags.

You can build an argument that I'm making my game less realistic by compromising my simulation of southwest England during the Anarchy, but I've already got Cornwall terrorized by a dragon and an advisor to King Stephen who is a tenth level magic-user.  And if I'm accommodating the players who enjoy Gandalf or Legolas knockoffs, not making room for other players and their characters would just be rude.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

old figure art from Dark Horse Miniatures

I've always liked the windswept robes look on wizards,
like they're out on the moors casting spells at the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Maybe this guy is Heathcliff, the Warlock of Wuthering Heights.

 Ranger dudes get pet doggies and sweet mustaches.
Is that a grenade in his left hand?

Lady rangers get attack cats instead. 

This guy is an elf according to Dark Horse.
I'm not sure I believe that, but I love this figure either way.
He looks like a member of the medieval version of the Village People.

Baby dragon sucking its tail cracks me up. 

Best cleric ever.

FYI I probably swiped all these images from Stuff of Legends, one of the best places on the internet to research old figures.

75% casualties

Zak did slightly better in this morning's DCC game.  He got two PCs out alive. Thanks to Shawn Sanford for running a fun session!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

two items from Paul and Paul

Anyone else having trouble leaving comments on blogspot blogs?  For the last week or so about 50% of the time I get stuck in a captcha/login loop.  That's why I'm writing this first part here instead of over at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully, where on Monday Paul Gorman turned an eye towards an old Judges Guild map.  In the comments to the post Paul says this:
I'm ambivalent about non-rectangular rooms. They make maps look more interesting, but rooms that take too long to explain piss-off the mapper and bore the other players.

The maps I draw for actual play tend to have something like one odd shaped room for each eight or ten rectangular ones. I'm not above sketching such rooms for the mapper to keep things moving.

I wonder if the maps in published modules tend to be spruced-up with more irregular rooms than the authors might use in their own private games.... 
I think Paul is on the money here.  To avoid bogging down the mapping, here is a simple technique: After sketching out a weirdly shaped room, try explaining its dimensions out loud to an imaginary mapper.  Do this and you'll probably find yourself simplifying your more elaborate rooms without omitting them altogether.  And/or you'll get better at describing room dimensions during play.

Also I think Paul is right that some maps in modules are clearly designed to be appreciated as cartographic art rather than as tools for play.  Its very easy to flip through a module and end up turned off by a bland dungeon map, so it should be no surprise that publishers respond to that.

Meanwhile, over at the blog of another dude named Paul we get this lovely GenCon item:
After a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, we headed off to the convention center where my first game was at 10. We arrived pretty early, so I was seated at my table 15 minutes ahead of time: Sagamore Ball Room, Open D&D Area, 8-9. I found table 8 which was empty, and sat down to wait. And wait. As 10 rolled around I started to worry that I was the only person there. I went downstairs to find out if it was moved or canceled, but could find no such listings (really, I swear they posted that stuff in the past, but I couldn’t find it anywhere). I went back up stairs and asked one of the volunteers, as this “Open D&D Area” bit confused me. There was no label for such an area, but then again when I made a circuit of the room every table had a unique number or letter.

Ah, that’s the problem, it turns out the lettered area was the “Open D&D Area”, and I was supposed to know somehow to translate table 8 into table H. Only they weren’t there either. They were at table I. I eventually found them and made it into my game by the skin of my teeth.
Scheduling fubars can happen at the best-run of cons, but this business about having two different numbering systems for the same tables is the sort of stupid bureaucratic thing that can only happen at really big conventions.  One of the things about small cons that I like is that either the people at the reigstration desk are in charge, or they can put you in touch with the people in charge.  Who is in charge at GenCon?  How many layers of personnel stand between you and them?  I had fun Saturday, but I did so while swimming upstream in a river of Too Big For Its Own Good.

easy peasy demihuman clan relations

When two dwarves meet do they fight or do they buy each other drinks?  Obviously individual personality quirks come into play, but you can juice up your campaign a bit by introducing clan relations.  Make this easy on yourself: generate 6 clans and start their names with the letters A, B, C, D, E and F.  That way when J. Random Dwarf shows up you can throw a die (who doesn't have a d6 handy?) and you'll remember that 3 equals the clan that starts with C.  Give the clans names you and your players are likely to remember.  Like this:

1) Axehammers
2) Bogbeards
3) Coalfists
4) Dragondungs
5) Electrumeyes
6) Flintdoodles

This is how the clans get along:

Red lines indicate grudges.  You can make this up ahead of time or throw it to the players when it comes up.  Do your best to make sure the grudge cuts both ways.  Instead of victims and victimizers, shoot for mutual jerkiness.  Examples:
  • The Bogbeards live in dank, substandard caves because the Axehammers drove them out of their ancestral lands.  But the Axehammers never would have invaded Bogbeard territory if the latter had honored the Treaty of Blackanvil and supported the Axehammers in Goblin War VII.  The Axehammers lost and now goblins live in their halls.  Both sides are haunted by grumpy ancestor spirits, who constantly complain their grandkids have abandoned the ancient homelands.
  • When the Dwarf Throne sat empty 7 centuries ago the Electrumeyes and Flintdoodles both made plays for the kingship and both ended up ruining each others' chances.  Now every time the fortunes of the Electrumeyes clan goes pear-shaped they all remind themselves that they'd be living the easy life if those jerks the Flintdoodles hadn't interfered, and vice versa.
Green lines represent allied clans, if only because they both loath the same people.  Clans with no direct connection are generally apathetic to one another.

Now, in addition to a little extra texture to dwarf-on-dwarf encounters, you probably also have the makings of one or more epic quests.  Any PC that can unscrew centuries of dwarven grudgery deserves mountains of accolades.

The same basic system works for halflings, but make sure the grudges are over the smallest, pettiest stakes possible.  E.g. the Bottomrumps and the Dingleberries argue every year over who is in charge of the Christmas pageant.

more fun with Mr. T coloring book pages


Monday, August 08, 2011

canonical BX to-do lists: Thieves

1st Level
Join a Basic NPC party
Join a Bandit gang with up to 29 other 1st level thieves, led by a 2nd+ level human of any class
Serve as a Retainer to a PC
Travel to a new Master Thief's Hideout to join his gang
Serve as retainer to a minor Noble (F3)

2nd Level
Join a Basic NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

3rd level
Join a Basic NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

4th level
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

5th and 6th level
Join an Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

7th and 8th level
Join an Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

9th and 10th level
Join an Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Build a Hideout, attract 1st level thieves

11th through 14th level
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Build a Hideout, attract 1st level thieves

Sunday, August 07, 2011

the GenCon haul

So I went to GenCon yesterday mostly for the shopping.  I'm sure there were a ton of people there that would be fun to play some D&D with, but I just didn't feel like navigating both the convention and the bureaucracy needed to sign up for a game.  And is it just me, or is the portion of the GenCon site devoted to con listings a total piece of crap?  I couldn't find jack or squat there.  Anyway, here's what I bought at the big show:

A couple old issues of White Dwarf from the eighties - Found at the auction area second chance consignment shop.

The Dragon Tree Spell Book - Yet another vintage book of spells from some folks' campaign, also from the auction shop.

TSR module UK3 The Gauntlet - My best buddy Dave ran this and UK2 when we were kids, so I never read it. Also from the auction area.

The Swords & Wizardry Core Rules Reference Sheets booklet - I could run a pick-up session of something like D&D with no books at hand, but this represents pretty close to the absolute minimum written rules I would need for a campaign.  Bought at the excellent Old School Renaissance Group booth.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing boxed set - Also from the OSR Group booth.  The free PDF rules excerpt convinced me that Raggi knows how D&D is supposed to work mechanically, maybe better than any of the rest of us.  The GM advice in the referee book proves that he doesn't just understand the rules, he understands the game.  The gross art doesn't freak me out.  Most of it is a less whimsical version of the sorts of things that happen to adventurers in nearly every dang illo in the HackMaster line.  The only thing I don't like about the art direction is that everyone seems to be wearing clothes about 5 centuries too modern for my medieval tastes.  My recommendation to everyone: get over the art if you can, as this is one of the best versions of the Game ever made.

Cheers, Gary - This book of compiled Gygaxian wisdom was being offered as a fundraiser for the Gygax Memorial.  It's neat to have a new source to cite for the periodic "Let's pretend we know what Gary was thinking" dramafests.

DungeonMorph Font from Inkwell Ideas - It's a damn shame that Joe Wetzel's sweetass dungeon geomorph dice were delayed, but at least I now have a new font full chock o' geomorphic goodness.  I did get to see the prototype dice up close.  They looked pretty rad.  They were bigger than I expected and the geomorphs were etched in, not just inked on.

None of these purchases were unexpected in any way.  I didn't know exactly what I was going to get at the auction, but it was definitely going to fall into the categories of "old" and "cheap".  This last item was a complete surprise for me.  Some of you may be familiar with my fondness for the Savage Worlds brand customizable GM screen, as pictured in this old pic of a session of mine:

The three panels are laid out landscape style, opening up a little extra space compared to standard screen design. And the front and back of each panel is a transparent pocket, allowing you to custom make your own insert sheets. It's the only thing in my game collection that's almost as universally useful as my dice.

Hammerdog Games, who I had never heard of before, was at the con selling four panel versions of both the landscape and upright customizable screens.  But what caught my eye was their nifty mini-screens.  Each panel only measures 4 inches by six inches, but there are six panels instead of three or four.  I love it.  With it I should be able to have at least six charts handy and still have a security blanket on the table, but on a less obtrusive scale.  And the size of the panels are just right that I could jot a chart or map or whatever comes to mind into one of my ever-present Moleskine pocket notebooks, then later tear it out and slip it into the screen.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

because I am an idiot

Will the dude known as arcadayn in some places and something totally different on Google+ please send me an email to jrients/gmail/etc?  I have some recollection of committing to a game with you, but I cannot find where I wrote down the details.  And if I missed the game already, please accept my apologies.

Friday, August 05, 2011

since the ENnies suck donkey balls...

I hereby nominate Zak S. as first recipient of the Old School Ruckus Award for Vornheim: the Complete City Kit.  Do I have a second?
The prestigious OSR Medal of Yavin with Skywalker Jacket, the highest honor of our fellowship.
It will be awarded annually until the ENnies leave that poor donkey alone.

how to run a crappy old game at your local store

Here's an email I got yesterday from Aplus, author of the blog People Them With Monsters.
I am working on preparing for a monthly megadungeon-style game using B/X at my (not quite) local game store. I was hoping I could talk you into posting some tips, tricks, and observations about running such a game, since I understand you are running or have previously run a Holmes game in such a fashion. Here are the things I am most interested in.

  • logistics issues of running an out of print game (if players want a rulebook, the fact that the store won't have it, etc.)
  • how to keep the game awesome, promote player creativity outside of the boundaries of rules
  • how sessions are broken up
  • dealing with alignment and/or inter-party conflicts, douchebag players, etc.
  • house rules (do you document them, or just go with the DM is the boss and that's that!)
  • scroll creation and other "downtime activities" - do you do this sort of thing in game store games?
  • anything else important I may have missed
A short guide of how to run a successful out of print D&D game in a public setting, based on your experiences is basically what I'm looking for.
Whew! That's a lot to handle in one post, so I'll start by giving brief answers and Aplus or anyone else can ask for expansions on any particular thread.  And hopefully some smart people will be along to provide their own answers to this stuff.

Logistics on running an out of print game:  First, allow me to congratulate you on choosing BX D&D as your game.  It is objectively the best RPG ever created, which can be proven by the fact that it is the version I started with.  QED.  But in all seriousness, I recommend that you consider switching to Labyrinth Lord.  It does an excellent job of emulating BX play with only a modicum of minor changes.  And it solves two basic problems for you.  1) Your players can get both shiny new hardcopies and free PDFs.  And 2) your host store can be the one who sells the hardcopy to them.  On the other hand, you can get some people in the store interested in your game just because they see your crappy ol' rulebook out of the corner of their eye.

This first issue can be overcome.  Prices have inched up a bit for BX rulebooks on the eBay, but even the 10 to 15 bucks (plus shipping) that seems common now is a steal for these excellent manuals.  PDFs of  the B/X originals can only be aquired illicitly, which I would never, ever, ever recommend.  The second issue, the game store, you will have to judge yourself.  I'm lucky in that I've known the owners at mine for 20 years and they are official Cool People.  A less cool owner might not understand that any gaming in their store gets asses through the door.  These types will feel put out if you don't run something they can get through distribution to sell you.  Of course, if you preach the good word of Zocchi dice to your players you might earn some goodwill with the owner.  I went into the GM/store relationship a little bit more here.  I also cover how to deal with douchebag players just a bit in that post.

Promoting player awesomeness:  Sometimes the direct approach works.  For example, I had two new guys at my last Boot Hill session.  I held up the ridiculously slim rulebook and said something to them like "All this covers is how to shoot someone and how to get shot, at the simplest possible level.  To be better at shooting and less likely to get shot, make something rad up.  I will play ball.  At worst, you'll get a die throw to see if your cool idea succeeds.  If I really like your ploy, we'll skip that part and go straight to you being awesome."  Sometimes you get players thinking by the ol' pressure cooker method: make the game too hard for their stats to win on auto-pilot.

Structuring sessions:  For a drop-in, drop-out casual store game you really need to enforce the rule that every session is self-contained.  Start at the tavern or just at the entrance to the dungeon, end back at the tavern or at least say "And then you leave the dungeon."  If a player insists on ending a session in the dungeon make them roll on the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom.

Interparty conflict and douchebag players:  Really, I don't care if the PCs hate each others' guts.  I run a hostile enough game that they cooperate anyway most of the time.  Douchebag players?  I recommend not playing with them.  Nothing wrong with a polite but firm warning the first time they cross the line, but if you allow multiple offenses they are running the game and not you.

Documenting House Rules:  I'm now going to hurt the feelings of some GMs, but what I am going to write next is God's own truth: Regular players don't want to read our crappy houserules.  We as GMs take this shit several quanta more seriously than they do.  They are much more interested in things they can use to their advantage right now or unanticipated obstacles to wealth and glory.  Use as many houserules as you want, but it is incumbent upon you to know them backwards and forwards and to remind players of them well in advance of their application, each and every time that they might come up in play.  Eventually the regulars will remember some of them.  I've even got some guys who routinely brief newbies about my crazy d30 rule.

Downtime activities: Check at the beginning of the session if anybody wants to make scrolls or anything like that.  That's another good reason to start each session at the tavern.

Anything else:  Invite anybody who walks by the table to join you.  Bring your own charsheets, extra dice, plenty of pencils and a pencil sharpener.  You might also want to come with some pregen PCs as sometimes you can lure slightly hesitant people to your table with "I have a PC ready to go; You can drop in right now."  Don't despair if no players show up on any given night, just bring along a book or something else to do.  For all you know four new players might walk into the store an hour later.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

canonical B/X cleric to-do list

1st level
Pal around with up to 19 fellow Acolytes, possibly led by a Cleric 2-5
Join a Basic NPC party
Serve as a Retainer to a PC
Serve as retainer to a minor Noble (F3)

2nd level
Join a Basic NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Lead up to 20 Acolytes (C1)
Serve as under-cleric to a C7-12
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

3rd level
Join a Basic NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Lead up to 20 Acolytes (C1)
Serve as under-cleric to a C7-12
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

4th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Lead up to 20 Acolytes (C1)
Serve as under-cleric to a C7-12
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

5th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Lead up to 20 Acolytes (C1)
Serve as under-cleric to a C7-12
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level

6th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Serve a Fighter of 7th to 10th level
7th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

8th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Join a band of Brigands
Join a band of Buccaneers

9th level
Join Expert NPC party
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Hang out with Nomads
Build a castle, attract followers
Make clerical magic items

10th level
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Build a castle, attract followers
Make clerical magic items
Lead up to 300 Dervishes on a holy war

11th-14th level
Lead up to 30 Bandits
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Build a castle, attract followers
Make clerical magic items

a mental journey

I've long been annoyed by the cleric class.  Their level titles suggest the medieval church hierarchy and many of their key spells are based upon the miracles of the Bible.  There things don't fit into vaguely pseudo-Hyborean or gonzo far future science-fantasy settings, which is where I tend to run a lot of my games.  And theologically I've never been cool with the fact that the miraculous powers of clerics were so dang reliable.  In my world miracles and reproducible results seem to be the opposite of each other.

And then there's the issue that most players I've met only agree to run a cleric, they don't really want to run one.  Everybody acknowledges the need to incorporate some healing and undead turning into the party, but ofttimes playing a cleric seems to be more about taking one for the team to a lot of people.  This despite the fact that an easy argument can be made that the cleric is a totally kickass class in many editions.  You can stomp around in the heaviest armor you want, your hitdice, to-hits and weaponry choices are a close second to the fighter types, you get some darn useful spells and on top of it you can tell the undead to sod off.

At some point I decided to kick clerics to the curb.  I've been just as down on thieves at times, but nothing about them seemed to undermine the cultural or spiritual integrity of my campaigns, so they've remained.  A running gag at the game store is that I hate clerics.  That's not really true.  I dislike dealing with the campaign implications of the cleric as written when trying to run a campaign where the gods may or may not exist.  And I don't like that magic is forever bifurcated in D&D.

Then I started in with this Wessex setting, where the medieval Catholic church is a factor and not some half-assed Crystal Dragon knock-off.  Sure, I have a little wiggle-room with half the map being Celtic and I can always exaggerate the differences of the Usage of Sarum for effect, but that doesn't change the overall issue that in my latest campaign the capital-C Church should be a big effin' deal.

The problem is that the Church's power is primarily cultural.  And players, being the bastards we all love, either ignore or gleefully flaunt such power.  Players only understand things like cultural constraints when you use game mechanics to beat them over the head with them.  If you want regular type players, the kind who who show up to games to roll dice and kill things, to respect something like a church then you have to give the church some power they can fear.  One of the few in-game consequences players anticipate is retribution.

One idea I had was to up the number of kickass Templars in England well beyond what one would expect so soon after the founding of that (in)famous order.  Bunches of burly swordsmen all answerable to the Pope would do the trick, but that also seemed crude.  Then I got another idea.  Lately I've been doing a bit of reading to try and get a peasant's-eye view of the period.  My two key texts in this endeavor are Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley and Fief by Lisa J. Steele. The latter is aimed specifically at gamers and is published by S. John Ross's Cumberland Games & Diversions. Get the PDF here or the Lulu print version here.

These two texts have really changed my thinking on the relationship between man and church in the middle ages.  To wit, the primary job of the real medieval cleric was that old Confucian goal: proper ritual observance.  Are the dead properly mourned?  The fields blessed before harvest?  The sins of the community properly confessed and absolved?  Have we crossed all the i's and dotted all the t's so that God doesn't get mad at us and sends us blessings rather than curses?  These things are a distant second: showing compassion to the flock, teaching theology, converting the rare non-believer.  Clerics are in the business of the manufacture and distribution of Holiness, the universal mana of Claude Levi-Strauss.  At least I think it was Levi-Strauss.  Maybe I'm thinking of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.

So I've completely turned around on clerics as written, at least within the context of this particular setting.  The cleric as Miracle Technician actually seems to map pretty well onto the Catholic priest of the period in question.  And the magical powers of the class give the Church something that ordinary players want on their side, so they will be less likely to wantonly mess with this pillar of medieval society.  Not that I'm against the players breaking anything in the campaign they want.  I just like it when such actions have interesting consequences.  Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out what the return of the cleric means for future Wessex gaming.  One of my biggest issues is that the clergy, being the most learned men in the land, are a great source for Magic-Users.