Saturday, June 30, 2012

a couple of scans

Up first is a page typed up by my buddy Dave back in the 80's. We got into MERP for a while and he put all the Experience Points charts together. In MERP you get XP for just about anything interesting you do: crits to baddies, travelling overland, casting spells, maneuver rolls, killing monsters, even having a good idea.

The blank space in the bottom left has some mostly-erased chicken scratched totalling XPs for Tom, Chris, Eric and Colin.  That's all the regulars in my high school game group except Dave and me.  I think the handwriting is mine, so these numbers probably go back to my run of the starter modules in the back of the MERP rulebook or Bree and the Barrow Downs.  Chris ran some sort of warrior who was always scoping out poisons to put on his spear and Eric had an elf tricked out with max Dex, max bow skill, a crossbow and a single mithril-tipped bolt.  Their master plan invariable involved ambushing the monsters, Eric shooting the most dangerous-looking foe and then Chris poisoning the rest of them.  That campaign only ran maybe 4 to 6 sessions, but it was a lot of fun.  The players soured on the game after running into an enemy sorcerer who knew both Spell Store and Fire Ball.  The result was the entire party taking a C heat critical.

The gang murmured about switching games, so like a bastich I ran Call of Cthulhu next.  That actually went well until Chris's big game hunter used a Yuggothian freeze ray on the warp core of Tsathoggua's spaceship.  Dave's professor was the only one to escape the ensuing explosion.  He got away by throwing himself in a river, but then drowned in the rapids.  Good times.

Next up is a page from Steve Jackson's Fantasy Gamer, issue #3 (1984).  I don't have a story here, I just thought folks would dig a one-page character class that focuses on strangling people.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sudrai, City of Ten Thousand Wonders, part 1

The most important think you need to know about Sudrai (called Sudraal in some records, and referred to by local farmers as Sudderly) is that while this sprawling city is fixed in time and space like any normal place, its harbor is not.  On any given day most of the ships along the docks of Sudrai are perfectly ordinary medieval merchant cogs and fishing boats, but scattered among them will be a handful of vessels from other times and places.  For example, some of the most exalted families of the city trace their lineages to refugees from the destruction of Atlantis and the sinking of Lyonesse, but ships from those lost civilizations make regular visits to Sudrai.  In the spring the swan ships of the Sidhe will often glide into port, the eldritch barges of Melniboné have been known to trade at Sudrai (often en route to even more enigmatic destinations), and, on certain nights when the moon is full, silent galleys manned by turbanned satyrs will drift down out of the sky.

How this happens is a great mystery, but the why of it is well-established: mithril.  All other known mithril mines are controlled by tight-fisted dwarves who keep all of it locked away in underground treasuries or deep-time elves who think nothing of spending a millennia or two properly smelting it to absolute purity.  The tiny trickle of mithril coming out of Sudrai's mines represents the only known source of the stuff available to the highest bidder.  Thus goods and gold from all over the multiverse pour into Sudrai, creating a glittering metroplis in the middle of what is otherwise an unremarkable island in a crapsack corner of a dung-ridden medieval world.  Peasant farmers living within spitting distance of the walls of Sudrai suffer the same miserable existence as they do everywhere else.  The citizens of Sudrai explain this is because the magic of the harbor extends only so far, but probably they're just selfish bastards who keep all the loot for themselves.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

If you hate Rust Monsters and Disenchanters...

...then you'll probably hate this monster too.

Its wordless wail will haunt your nightmares.
Invisible Monster a.k.a. Isaiah's Folly
Hit Dice: 8 
Armor Class: 0 [20] but 4 [16] if visible
# Attacks: 1 baleful eye (30' range)
Damage: d12
Move: 90', ignoring/blasting through many obstacles 
Morale: 10
Save As: F4

This blobby sci-fi creep wanders around, blasting holes in stuff and sucking the energy out of technological devices.  And like a big jerk he does it all while completely invisible.  Rayguns and flashlights and similar small devices take but a single round of his horrid glance to be completely drained.  If they are being held or worn by a character a save versus Death Ray is allowed, but at -4 due to the creature's invisibility.  Larger power sources like big 70's sci-fi computers or giant robots will take d6 rounds to de-power.

The baleful eye power of Isaiah's Folly cannot punch through stone of greater than 1' thickness and the creature probably can't cross water more than a couple feet deep.  Other than those limitations, it is an unstoppable juggernaut of energy-hunger.  In some campaigns this creature might be considered a native of the Negative Energy Plane, which might mean something.  Maybe it can be turned?  Hell if I know.

If you do not recognize the accompanying illo then I charge you with the mission of tracking down a copy of the Jonny Quest  episode "The Invisible Monster".  It is seriously one of the coolest cartoons ever made.

This monster is dedicated to all the FLAILSNAILS referees who had to put up with Philip the Bloody stinking up their campaign with the phaser he found in the Dungeons of Dundagel.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wizardly Wednesday

...then there was this time that SpongeBob turned into a Rock n Roll Wizard
and saved Bikini Bottom by singing a song about 'goofy goobers', set to
the tune of Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock".

Friday, June 22, 2012

55 Small Ads

Back in the day,"Small Ads" was the classifieds section of White Dwarf magazine.  This was back when WD was a general gaming mag.  I don't know if they still put classifieds in the all-GW version nowadays.  The Small Ads ranged from zines and modules from garage outfits, players looking for players (include quite a few painfully obvious 'looking for a D&D girlfriend' ads), clubs announcing meeting times, people looking to buy, sell or swap game crap and help wanted ads for game companies.  A minority of the Small Ads were written in-character, including a few that were obviously campaign communiques from one character to another.

I've lightly edited the 55 most interesting in-character ads and listed them below.  Perhaps the PCs in your campaign could find some of these items posted on the wall of a tavern.  Some will need a little editing, as I left in a few place-names and an occasional mention of a ruleset.  And dates or contact info will need to be added to make some of these work.
  1. Celldorin the Great and Highly Unstable would like to announce that Phedia the Red is a fraud and not worthy to be a barbarian.
  2. Magic-User seeks halfling to experiment on, also fellow adventurers in the Irvine/Ayr area.
  3. Helva. Warning, reversal of forthcoming union with mouse = danger.
  4. Loki's daughter and a valet without hindrance; together they will prove your equal.
  5. The Kulgarian Empire wishes to open trade relations with the peoples of the galaxy.
  6. Meaty Bovril seeks fun but intelligent party in Fareham area.
  7. Ashmire the Terrible, King of Thieves is slain. The Underworld Guild is finished. Victory to Ronin Stormhammer, Barbarian Lord of Gulgaros.
  8. Felin Khuzkill can nobble the fool elf any day. Omar better watch his back as well.
  9. Zinnlead the Assassin for hire to AD&D, RQ, Traveller or any other worlds.
  10. Rogue seeks other rogues (females?) in Ipswich area.
  11. Grendel is finally and completely dead. RIP. Celebrations start next month. Bad luck Mark.
  12. Help! Old Alchemist with experience in both Traveller and D&D living in isolated hollow without transport.
  13. Frantic addict begs to be attacked by adventurers following involuntary exile.
  14. Under-Achieving Dwarf seeks opportunity for advancement
  15. The Great Weapontake of Barad-Dur - Small parties of six requested to take part.
  16. Help - Phoenix II is wandering helplessly through Av-Kodar, and experienced help gratefully received.  Only just heard of Glovers resurrection.
  17. Wanted - Female barbarian needed to help kill things in various West London dungeons!  Own cave and magic sword to talk to.  Apply Tolvar Halflip.
  18. Emigrants from Wessex seek new roles.
  19. Glastor the Bloody needs help - This noble paladin calls for any adventurers in the St. Albans area.
  20. Applicants for God Empress of the World now being accepted.  Also needed -- Generals, Mercenary Captains and Orc Warlords.
  21. Recruits Wanted - The Blue Regiments are looking for recruits anywhere in the country.
  22. Overworked druid seeks adventurers in the Nuneaton area.
  23. Serak the ex-illusionist has defected.
  24. Honesty, a female halfling thief recently transported to Orton, seeks dungeon adventurers in Ptersborough area.
  25. Help! Small mercenary company needs more recruits and someone to fight for!
  26. Recuits Wanted! Lord Capell's Regiment. Pikemen, Dragoons, Musketeers and Camp Followers are required.
  27. Crasimoff's get rich quick scheme!  Would you like to take part in the sacking of a town?  A castle?  Want to get rich quick?  Send details of your party (size, spells, position, etc.) to Morlock's Marauders.
  28. Magic-User requires other participants who would like to form a group.
  29. Azaqual, Lord of Belegost, skilled engineer/miner, has retired at last to design any complex wanted.
  30. Dragons on the Hill near New Cross Road.
  31. Wanted: Spells. Rooneo Redno has a complete set of magic-user and illusionist spells.  She now wants to get hold of all the new spells out and about.
  32. Dragon For Sale - serious offers only
  33. Experienced giant killer seeks adventurers
  34. Help!  Grom the nimble and young gnome illusionist/thief seeks adventurers
  35. Whoops!  Small group misuses Amulet of Planar Travel and loses itself on the Elemental Plane of Air.  New ideas and personnel required urgently to bring them down on earth.
  36. Elven magic-user and monk looking for fellow adventurers to help destroy evil in Kilmarnock area.
  37. Sons of Sammy Hughes - Hail Na-Stobe and Karleck - Nia Gib laughs at you in his temple whilst time accelerates. Bring your water boots. Emain Brule.
  38. Hail Mantas... The Overlord awaits you in the Citadel of Death. Load up your bolt pistol and fly to victory. Seek knowledge from the Master Valkyrie. Heed my call. Macross.
  39. Lord Cashtack (leader of men) requires dwarves to torment. Massacres and tortures a speciality.
  40. Challenge! Ogawa Yatsuburo, a great silver petal bushi of Iajima Province and son of O Yoshimura, scourge of mongol fiends, desires revenge upon the micreant inhabitants of the barbarian ronin's mansion.
  41. Help! Desperate group of plunderers seek new comrades in Berkhamstead area.  Ezrad's a maladjusted psycho, Mahni's missing an arm and an eye, great company!
  42. Challenge! - We Immortals challenge all adversaries to a tournament.  Battle against Grendel, Thor, bane of all things nasty, Obsidian Dragon Slayer and Thorongil the Necromancer.
  43. Greetings, noble lords and ladies. Newly ordained cleric seeks gallant allies to defeat vile monsters, to strive for right, and possibly, to start a group in Croydon.
  44. Mystic Crystal - Thought they sought to bind me with incantations most foul and magics whose roots rest in the black bowels of hell, they could not hope to prevail.  For I, Basalneep the Mysterious, did possess a tome of wondrous wisdom, Mystic Crystal.
  45. Royal Decree.  Duke Amorcaller of Porxan declares that it is time for a festival.
  46. Can anyone help a lonely Lord and Rune Priest exterminate the local hordes of evil?
  47. A quiet spell in life. Are there any older sorcerers out there looking for an apprentice?
  48. Announcement! Valian, watch Rodnar, it is in the near future. Be on your guard in the Seven Heavens! You too, you members of the Black Chasm!
  49. Obituary. In memorium of Randulf Scutter, beloved of the Glericion family, who dies tragically at the hands of thieves whilst in the service of Vardis Glericion, Knight of the Holy Crusade. He will be greatly missed.
  50. Announcement!  Thador (the Blue) Clearsoul would like to publicly announce that Koran Skullsmasher's mother was a half-bred orc with a limp and an embarrassing birthmark which I (due to a payoff to a dubious assassin) know that she has passed down.
  51. Thoggin Slytongue hereby declares two deaths, one regretfully and t'other long overdue. Celrond Goblinsbane, fellow adventurer, assassinated by the Scarlet Brotherhood, and that pig Aranen Silverleaf, killed by mine own gnomish hands. Rot in Hell, Arabonc.
  52. Belated Anniversary Greetings Congratulations Ranorah and Berni on your first wedding anniversary. All the gang wish you many more. Remember Wersi and the black gem?  Have you tired of the quiet life? Join us next month. Tarsha, Gollum and Tymore.
  53. Sorry!  The Rheinrhelm Travellers humbly apologize for the accidental annihilation of the City of Greyhawk in CY578 during dragon training. We console them with the knowledge that the twelve dragons involved passed all their tests.
  54. Hail Worthy Paladins, Honourable Cavaliers If though be in dire need of a goodly companion, why not scribe to Tancred the Templar?
  55. Loegre.  Caliburn King of Arms is commanded to announce Dundalin Tournament, Chivalry please attend. Sir Donaud le Dense, bring your varlets.
Pretty cool, huh?  There's scads of adventure hooks and NPC concepts in these tiny items.

Finally, here's a scan of my favorite gaming club listing, with the contact info clipped.

I may have to use the Church of Yurinn in a campaign sometime.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Contest for You!

Have fun!  Win fabulous prizes!  Enjoy the respect of some guy and the folks who read his blog!

The Lamentations of the Reskinned Princess Art Fiasco Contest!

Step One: Go get the free 'no art' PDF version of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing: Grindhouse Edition Rules and Magic book.  Here's a direct link.

Step Two: Find either a single page or a two-page spread (even page left, odd page right) with some text and some empty space for art.

NOTE 1: You can't choose entirely blank pages or the pages that just say "Dwarf", "Elf", etc., but are otherwise blank.

Step Three: Get some art all up in there.  You can print, draw on it and send me the scanned results or do the whole thing on your computer.  You may do original work or appropriate some appropriate material.  Do not alter the text.

Step Four: Email me the results: jrients at the gmail to the dot com.  By doing so you are granting me the rights to post what you send here on the Gameblog.

Step Five: Get judged by me!  Things I will be looking at include: do I find it aesthetically pleasing?  Does the art fit the selected text?  Would substituting this stuff into the rulebook make LotFP author/publisher Jim Raggi's head asplode?

NOTE 2: I will be grading on a bit of a curve here: if you botched the placement of a graphic a bit or there's some jpeg fuzz I won't toss it in the bin if the idea is clever.

NOTE 3: The point is to produce alternatives to the horrific art in the full-fledged edition (as mocked here), not to emulate or outdo the real art.  I want to be amused or intrigued by your submission, not grossed out.

Step Six: Win a prize (or don't).  I will be awarding at least three prizes, a minimum of one in each judging category:  Amateur Original Art,  Amateur Appropriated Art, and Pro/Pro-Am Original Art.  Or as I like to call them, Crayon Doodle-Horrors, Sucking Up To Jeff Via Ripping Off Erol Otus, and Hey My Art Appears In Real RPG Books But I Like Prizes Too.

The prizes consist of grab-bag type gobs of gaming stuff, mailed to you by me.  (Yes, I will send the prizes to Foreignlandia.)  Here's what I've got so far:

The Boxed Set Bonanza - Four boxed sets and one hardbound book, all slightly used but in excellent shape, all for D&D type things.  Pick a set of rules and you could run a pretty wicked campaign using this stuff all together.  Since the box to hold all this crap is slightly to large, I've also thrown in like eight or nine trashy fantasy and sci-fi novels that I bought for a song at various secondhand joints and have never gotten around to reading.

The Hardbound Hoard - Four or five (I forget) hardbound D&D type books in great to near-mint condition.  There's rules, campaign materials and monsters.  Also, there's a boxed set of another entire RPG, because hey, why not.  Again, the padding consists of various old genre novels.

The Minibox of Mystery - This is a smaller box, so I put smaller stuff in it, i.e. digest sized.  There's a could three small but complete roleplaying games, a couple of wargamy things, some enigmatic cards, a few dice and even a couple of collectible items.  No novel since this box is so small.

What'll happen is that the Amateur Original Art winner will get first pick of the grabbags, the Amateur Appropriated Art winner will get second pick and the Pro will get third pick.  If I scrounge up some more boxes maybe I'll award some additional prizes.

NOTE 4:  This contest not associated with or approved by Jim Raggi.  Also, he is not allowed to enter this contest cause that would be weird.  Sorry, dude.

NOTE 5: All submissions must be in my mailbox by one week from today, so get crackin'!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Simplified Wound Weeds & Hit Point Shenanigans

"Wounds and Weeds: Plants that can help keep characters alive" by Kevin J. Anderson appeared in Dragon #82, February 1984 and was reprinted in one of the Best of collections.  It had some good ideas in it for using detailed herbalism in a D&D setting, but was just a bit too cumbersome for my tastes.  Here's my attempt to cut it down to a manageable size.

Adder's Tongue Tea - Doubles natural healing for the day consumed.  25gp buys enough to make into 20 cups of tea.

Birthwort Poultice - Grants a second saving throw against poisons if applied within one round, magic poisons and venom from weird or magical monsters excluded.  15gp per poultice.

Comfrey Root - Heals d4 damage to one wound if applied within one round. 10gp per root.

Dried Bogmoss - Doubles natural healing for up to d4 days. 10gp per bunch.

Garlic Juice - If applied bodily has a 50% chance of repelling insects.  Applied locally it heals one point per each insect sting or bite.  May ward off vampies.  7gp per vial.

Juniperberry Paste - Mash into mouth to grant d4-1 points to any character that is unconscious or at death's door, but further strenuous activity that day will do d4 more damage.  Elves are affected as if by a love/lust potion unless they save versus poison.  15gp per per dose, worth 10 times as much to some elves.

Kingscandle Flowers in Wine - A vial of this painkiller will remove 1 hit point of damage from d4 wounds.  8gp per vial.

Marshwort Leaf - Cures d3 damage, cuts and punctures only. 5gp per leaf.

Saintswort in Wine - Pour onto a single wound, which will be healed d4 points.  10gp per vial.

Sweetweed Poultice - Heals d2 damage on a burn-based wound. 5gp per poultice.

The prices are completely bogus, by the way.  Anderson didn't give any so I just plugged some half-assed numbers in there.  Assume they include a ridiculous mark-up for rude adventurers flush with cash.  Also, don't assume that all herbs are equally available everywhere.

To make some of these work hit points need to be tracked on a 'per wound' basis.  Here is how that would work.  Get out a separate scrap of paper and mark it up like so:


slashed by orc scimitar 4
punched by angry jester 2
torch to face 6

Now you know that Marshwort Leaf can help with the orc-inflicted cut an Sweetweed applied to the face will soothe what ails you.  Magical healing should probably be applied to one wound at a time.  If you heal a whole wound, any overage can be applied to the next one. Natural healing is distributed randomly.

A five point Cure Light Wounds might be shown like this:


slashed by orc scimitar 4
punched by angry jester 2 0
torch to face 6 3

Thorgar's player is obviously expecting that Marshwort to help with the orc-slash.

Optional Rule: Any single wound of six points or more is considered a severe wound and incapacitates the character for a -1 to-hit and saves.  The penalty is removed when the wound is reduced to 5 points or less.  That ought to give the players an additional complication to worry about when healing people.

For even more fun track the wounds received and healed on a single record you keep for an entire campaign.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Mutant with the Bionic Nose

Here's a crazy chart from Brian Blume, written for when your Metamorphosis Alpha mutant wanders into an operational bionics lab.  This is one of those tiny little quarter page articles that appeared in the earliest issues of the The Dragon.  In this case, it's issue #13, April 1978.

Die Roll/Replacement/Hit Points/Effect
1-3 One Arm 10 Increases strength. +1 die of damage
4-6 One Leg 10 Increases strength. -1 for opponent to hit. Double speed if both legs.
7-8 One Eye 5 Infra Red & Ultra Violet vision. As Heigh. vision if both eyes.
9-10 One Ear 5 May hear above & below normal ranges. As Heigh. hearing if both ears.
11 Nose 5 As Heigh. smell.
12 Heart 5 Reduces fatigue. 
13 Lungs 5 May extract oxygen from water.
14 Digestion 5 May live on rocks, sand, etc.
15-17 Brain 10 50% chance to forget any given fact or item’s operation each occasion (defect).
18-20 Torso 30 -2 to hit for both player and his opponents.

I don't have a copy of MA in front of me, but Heightened Vision, Hearing and Smell are undoubtedly on the mutations charts.

Does anyone else love how getting a bionic brain is a bad thing?

Monday, June 18, 2012


As requested by Zak's Magic RPG 8-Ball.

1. SIDEWAYS IN TIME - Always reincarnates into new form d6 turns after death. Perhaps a Time Lord can assist in cleaning this mess up?
2. ALREADY DEAD - Not a lich, this S.O.B. actually clawed his way back from UltraHades.  Will have to be escorted back to the realm of the dead and incarcerated in Hellking Plutodaemon's Black Adamantine Prison.  But will the Hellking let the PCs back out?
3. DOOMBOTS - The real villain is safely in his lair in the middle of their own personal postage stamp country, somewhere across the ocean.
4. HYPERDIMENSIONAL BODY - What the PCs see is simply the 3-D limb of some fourth or higher dimensional jerkwad.  The 3D body has no vital organs in it.  Perhaps True Seeing or Etherealness can help find a stabbable hyperspleen lurking in N-space.
5. EVIL VIRUS - As villain dies they cough up blood on nearest PC, who becomes the new villain after 2-3 days of flulike symptoms.
6. TRANSGENDER NAZGULISM - Prophecy says villain can be killed by neither males nor females.
7. THAT KRISHNA IS SUCH A CUT-UP - Villain is actually some high-ranking cosmic being trying to teach one of the PCs some obscure point about karma or honor or the circle of life or some crap like that.
8. SOME CRAZY POMO META STUPIDITY - Villain removes mask to reveal he is a fictional character from some novel.  PCs will be unable to kill the villain until they come to terms with their own fictionality.
9. SERIOUS X-MEN SERIOUSNESS - Villain is secretly one of the PC's ancestors, brought to the present by giant time-travelling robots or something.  Kill the villain and the PC ceases to exist, totally wrecking the whole dang campaign world.
10. ACHILLES' JAZZ - Only a critical strike to one secret place will actually hurt this dillweed.  You ever see the kung fu movie Invincible Armor?  The villain could use his kung fu to pull something similar and actually chose to leave his nutsack vulnerable.  That did not end well.
11.  ME AND MY VILLAIN - The villain is actually the shadow of the beardy old wizard or whatever that sent the PCs on this crazy mission seven sessions back.  Maybe they will need to figure out a way to sharpen the shadows of their swords, create spells like shadowball and shadow missile, etc.
12. AWWWWW - Villain is secretly a cute little puppy.

Scrambling for the Loot

Keith Davies has a great post on card-based looting, written in reponse to a Google+ comment of mine.  My basic concern is that I want some quick and easy rules for how long looting a place takes and how much can easily be hauled away, particularly when the scenario involves some sort of time constraint.  Does the party grab whatever is handy?  Do they focus on the obvious high-ticket items or poke around for concealed treasure?  If the player says "I dump my pack and quickly refill it with whatever I can grab" then what ends up in their pack?

The latter case I thought quite a deal about for the Caves of Myrddin expeditions.  There was a reasonable chance that the dragon's hoard could be found while the beast was away, but it could come back suddenly.  I actually worked out ahead of time the proportion of silver to gold to platinum that a hastily filled pack would yield.  A spreadsheet could make that an easy task for any big treasure pile: plug in the numbers and Bob's your uncle.

Keith's deck-based solution sounds fun, though filling out a bunch of index cards ahead of time would be a bit of a chore.  And I kinda like the idea of having a big ol' stack of cards that I would break out for special occasions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Doom of the Jaredites, session 2

First, a message from Barry Blatt:

Brief report from expedition 2 - look out for the giant parrots dive bombing camp at night though. There is a road out to the west, follow it south and there's a temple thingy, just play it cool and you'll be fine. Natives are stone age reptilians who speak 'Snakish', friendly enough.

Here's the updated map:

Okay, that's not really an airplane.  It's the site of a crashed Jaredite Air Chariot.  Important difference.

In the first session the party consisted of newly minted characters made specifically for the campaign.  The party this week was a trio of FLAILSNAILS veterans:  Harold the Adequate (F3, Adam Thornton), Noggin Three-Teeth (dwarf F4/T5, Barry Blatt) and Corkin Gaul II (Bard2, Zzarchov Kowolski).  Harold and Noggin showed up with sufficient coins from previous adventures, so they rolled on the local henchmen chart.   Noggin ended up with a Hopeless Loser he called Colin, which is almost certainly not his real name given the setting.  Harold rolled a Pack Ape, which he named Moar Lut.  Later when he got back from his little jaunt in the wilderness he got it a shampoo and a poodle doo, possibly with ribbons in its fur.  Adam Thornton is messed up in all the right ways, I tell ya.

The survival of Colin the Hopeless Loser is pretty close to miraclous.  He's sporting some large wounds from where a giant bird grabbed him with its talon and some broken ribs from the fall he suffered when he was 'saved'.  Between grunts of pain he also mentions some sort of sword-wielding snake-woman with hypno-eyes, somewhere near "the magic cube".

Traveller session #3

Ran two games this week, Trav from 7:30 to 10pm on Wednesday then I got up for Doom of the Jaredites at 4:30am the next day.  That was unwise; I was a bit of a wreck yesterday.

The Traveller session was graced by the return of Dane.  Dude had been much missed in recent weeks, as he passed his bar exam and moved to anther town to take up lawyering full time.  It was great to see him and even better to add his particular maniacal style to the session.

Play resumed at the monastery of the Techno-Monks of the Seven-Pointed Star, whose small brotherhood keeps the paranoid, backwards, theocratic Belgardian Empire running.  Their operation on planet Eleson is the Empire's only source of lanthanum, a key element in jump drive technology.  The friendly brothers explain that maintaining the lanthanide mine is a holy duty they regard as a great honor, even if the monks on the planet all eventually die from radiation poisoning from working the mines.  No one in the landing party even flinched at the hint that they were in danger from background radiation, but they ended up not staying long enough to pick up a harmful dose.
Things got interesting not long after the party inquired how often a Belgardian vessel came by to pick up the lanthanide ore.  "Every three months or so."  "How long since the last vessel was in-system?"  "About three months, that's why the nav beacon you used to find us was on."

Cut to the bridge of the Leviathan, in synchronous orbit over the monastery.  Two blips are detected on short range scanner, heading for the planet of the Techno-Monks.  They're only 200 displacement tons apiece, so the Leviathan almost certainly outguns them, but the Captain is a careful man.  He doesn't want to take any unnecessary chances, knowing that even a small ship can put a lethal hole in your vessel.  He orders silent running mode, powering down as much extraneous equipment as possible to avoid detection.

When in doubt throw in a Space Pope.
When I rolled a random encounter with two Belgardian Lancers (what passes for military ships in their crapsack empire) I decided that Belgardian standard operating procedure was for one ship to put down on the planet for the pick-up, while the other vessel stayed in orbit scanning for enemies.  The Papal Admiral of the Belgardian Empire maintains power over his subjects based on the paranoid idea that the 3rd Imperium is always just about ready to invade.  Sort of a North Korea of outer space only more pathetic because the 3rd Imperium doesn't even know the Belgardians exist.

Anyway, what happens next is the sort of thing that can only really happen in games with dice.  The dice showed snake eyes for the Belgardian's scanning roll, the worst possible result for a 2d6, roll high system.  Not only did the Belgardian vessel not spot the Leviathan, they placed themselves in a parking orbit ridiculously close to the PC vessel.  Meanwhile the Lancer heading down planetside clears the cloud coverage and spots the away team's boat sitting on their landing pad.  Nick, playing the pinnace pilot, is quick-starting his vessel and getting the hell out of there in classic Han Solo Out of Tatooine fashion.  Some laser fire lights up the landing pad right where the pinnace was sitting moments ago as the second Belgardian vessel breaks orbit.  The Captain puts his ship into action mode as threats from both sides are mutually ignored via radio.

Space combat in Traveller uses 10 minute turns, so at some point we switch to what the crew members in the monastery are up to.  Kirk's PC has been in the radio shack atop the monastery, trying to determine if anything clever is to be done with the beacon.  He's joined by a frantic monk, who grabs the mike and begs the Lancers to cease fire.  Dane's guy has taken the rest of the monks hostage, with the support of a couple of well-armed buddies.   This time the dice don't go the PCs' way: a quick roll suggests to me that the Lancer crews consider the monks and their tin shack monastery to be expendable.  The home planet has more monks and more tin, denying the enemy their expertise is more important than their measly lives.  I got a 6 on the "how dickish are these dudes" d6 roll.

The monastery erupts in laser fire.  The radio shack takes a direct hit but Kirk's man survives.  He's a blackened mess that spends the rest of the expedition in sickbay.  He'll be haunted the rest of his days by visions of a frantic Techno-Monk suddenly evaporating before his eyes, but at least he's alive.  The rest of the landing party comes out of the wrecked and exploded monastery with hardly a scraped knee among them.

While this is going on, the pinnace has come around and is firing its one measly laser at one Lancer.  But a lucky hit sends it crashing down, forming a large impact crater on the Mars-like surface and spreading debris over a 20 square kilometers.  Meanwhile the combat computer on the Leviathan is revved up and the Selective Fire program is run, allowing the Captain to order the gunners "take out the other ship's power system!".  Three of four turrets bearing put their lasers right into the ordered bullseye while the fourth goes astray and wrecks the ship's computer.  It was leaving orbit, so it veers off on a hyperbolic course as its engines go dead.  Three lame-ass escape pods pop out of the vessel a few minutes later.  They're the majority of the crew, the prize crew later find the captain in the bridge with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  He couldn't remember how to activate the self-destruct sequence and killed himself out of embarrassment.

A week's worth of tinkering with the captured vessel render it spaceworthy with a working computer and Jump-1 capabilities, but that isn't enough to get them anywhere in this thinly-populated subsector.  So they hid the vessel among the minor asteroid in a trojan point, estimating that it might be worth 4 to 8 million credits even with outdated technology and shot up.

The rest of the session is rather tame in comparison.  They run into a Jump-3 capable free trader from the Marrakesh Free Trade Association, a pocket empire two or three subsectors spinward.  While half the party seizes the opportunity to open trade relations with a new multi-system market, the other half is trying to figure out how to seize the NPC vessel.  But after requesting and receiving a tour of the Marrakesh vessel they realize that any boarding or hijacking attempt will be met with stiff resistance.  So they make friend instead.

They also befriend the Gollerians, a "feudal technocracy" on a nice little ag world.  Feudal Technocracy is one of those little pieces of Trav lore not often seen in other sci-fi RPGs.  The concept is borrowed from an old SF novel (H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, maybe?) and suggests a world where the masters of technology rule by consent of the governed.  For my purposes I interpreted the world as some sort of far-out Techno-Geek Eco-Libertarian Utopia (no, that doesn't really make any sense).  They run a just pre-interstellar society at near maximum efficiency, with a Right Tech for the Right Job approach to technology.  Thus they are able to quickly produce replacement parts for the Belgardian vessel, which the PCs trade to them for a sizable credit line for future company vessels entering the system.  So they ferry a crew of Gollerians back to the system of the Techno-Monks.  Incidentally, these Gollerian astronauts become instant heroes once back home, as they are the first of their people to visit jump space and return.

The final encounter of the night is with the Shigu, the other Leviathan-class working the subsector, which the party had encountered previously.  This time the Shigu was sporting serious damage.  Just prior to a previous jump they ran into the killer encounter that the PCs had managed to dodge: a Zhodani frigate carrying ten fighter craft.  The Zhodani are major rivals of the 3rd Imperium, fighting a cold war with them that sometimes goes hot.  Fortunately the Shigu had already refueled when the Zho spotted them, so instead of being completely screwed they were able to jump out once they were outside any local gravity wells.

That about wraps up our time with Adventure 4: Leviathan.  Through a combination of cautious play, the occasional wreckless move and some good dice throws, the Leviathan makes it back to home base a little ahead of schedule, with information on most of the subsector, good prospects for company expansion into the region and friendly relations with most of the local polities.  Not too shabby.

I wonder what the heck we're going to play in two weeks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wizardly Wednesday gets skeptical

Here's the Amazing Randi, one of the rare real-world examples of a Wizard of Science.

class-based XP shenanigans

The following concept is meant to give the party something to argue about in the context of a wide-open sandbox style campaign, or at least one with more than one possible adventure at any time.  Note that it includes XP awards for more than just slaughter and coin, some of which I might have just made up on the spot.  Please feel free to suggest more ideas in the comments.

Double XP for single combat, including jousts, gladiatorials and other forms of combat-as-performance.
Double XP for defeating any monsters that are already the subject of Song or Tale.
Double XP for any treasure taken as spoils of war.
Half XP for books, lab paraphernalia and other items of scientific or educational nature.

Double XP for books, lab paraphernalia and other items of scientific or educational nature.
Double XP for befriending or enslaving supernatural entities.

Double XP for destroying undead.
Double XP for directly opposing the foes of the faith.
Double XP for visiting Places of Beauty holy to the faith.
Half XP for treasure not immediately donated to the church.
No XP for looting tombs of believers.

Double XP for all non-magical items featured in Song or Tale.
Double XP for all treasure recovered from use of a treasure map.
Half XP for monsters defeated, excepting backstab victims.

Double XP for visiting Places of Beauty.
Double XP for learning Songs and Tales.
Double XP for jewels and other items of aesthetic value.
Double XP for fighting drow.
Half XP for fighting fellow fairy creatures.

Double XP for gold and gems recovered.
Double XP for dwarven items recovered.
Double XP for defeating monsters inhabiting ancient dwarvish strongholds.
Double XP for visiting underground Places of Beauty.
Double XP for defeating orcs, goblins and hobgoblins.
Half XP for pearls or silver recovered.
Half XP for any voyages across water.
Half XP for visiting surface Places of Beauty.

Double XP for an items of domestic utility (a golden bowl, a bejeweled chalice, etc.)
Half XP for loot that is neither cash nor a domestic item.
Double XP for attending a Heroic Feast.
Double XP for giving gifts.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ideas for new 3d6 Stats

These aren't intended to be all used at the same time.  Today I'm just exploring the idea of adding additional stats to the traditional six.  Some of the mechanics below are aimed at LotFP.  Since that's what I'm running right now that's what I'm thinking about the most.


STATFind Secret or Hidden Stuff
3-51 in 10
6-81 in 8
9-121 in 6
13-152 in 6
16-183 in 6
Additional: Roll Perception or less on d20 to avoid being caught flat-footed by an ambush.


STATStupid d30 Rule UsageAll Saves
6-81 per session-1
9-121 per sessionnormal
13-152 per session+1
16-182 per session+2
I don't really like Luck as a stat, since I tend to think of Luck as entering the game when you roll the friggin' dice. But since it has a long pedigree going back to T&T, I thought I'd give it a try.

Social Status
STATStarting ClothesFree StuffContacts
3-5pitiful beggar ragschoice of random disease or random bad limbbeggar, madman, leper
6-8filthy peasant garbdagger or woodaxeblacksmith, hedge witch, poacher
9-12respectable yeoman dresslongbow, quiver, 12 arrowslocal priest, forester, publican
13-15sturdy merchantweard6 x 10 extra starting goldship captain, magistrate, scribe
16-18minor noble finerysword, dagger, riding horse w/kitmercenary captain, bishop, alchemist
Contacts: PCs have a total number of usuable contacts equal to 3+Cha modifier.  The listings of contacts for each social strata are meant to be suggestive.

Attack Skill
STATBAB, fighterBAB, other
I was reading WFRP 1st edition for the first time this weekend, which uses Weapon Skill and Bow Skill as primary stats for characters rather than deriving them from other properties like class levels or hit dice.

STATUnarmored AC
The Dodge stat is intended for genres where most people run around showing a lot skin: Barsoom, a campaign based on Frazetta paintings, etc.

Magic Aptitude
STATMU/Elf SpellcastingMU/Elf Miscellaneous
3-5Int roll to cast any spell above 1st levelStart with only one random spell in book
6-8Int roll to cast any spell above 3rd levelStart with only two random spells in book
9-12Int roll to cast any spell above 5th level-
13-15Int roll to cast any spell above 7th levelFree Detect Magic 1/day with Int roll
16-18Int roll to cast any spell above 9th levelFree Read Magic & Detect Magic each 1/day with Int roll
The Int roll for Spellcasting applies to scrolls and devices as well as normal memorized spells.

STATCleric/Paladin SpellcastingCleric/Paladin Miscellaneous
3-5No duplicate spells in the same month.Can’t cast spells while wounded or under any fear type effects.
6-8No duplicate spells in the same week.Can’t cast spells while under any fear type effects.
9-12No duplicate spells in the same day.-
13-15One pair of duplicate spells per day.Free Turn Undead 1/day.
16-18Two pairs or one triplicate spell per day.Free Turn Undead and one other random* spell 1/day.
The Spellcasting Column hear is meant to work with my No Double Memorization house rule.

*How random is that other random spell?  Gonzo version: any spell in game.  Non-gonzo version: Roll on highest level chart cleric can cast.  Sucky version: Random 1st level.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

I think we're getting Dissociated Mechanics wrong

Justin Alexander recently updated his work on Dissociated Mechanics.  I suggest you go read that right now, because I think it's great work in the rewarding field of Trying to Figure Out Why Us Grumpy Oldsters Didn't Dig 4e and also because the rest of the post won't make sense without proper background.

Okay, let's get into this.  When Justin first rolled out this stuff I thought he was doing a pretty good job of describing one of the things bugging me about 4e when I tried it.  At the time I said "People have accused D&D of being a minis game or a video game in RPG drag. To me, it looks a little bit like a Euro style boardgame: an exquisitely balanced abstract game about nothing in particular with a whitewash to give it a little context."

But here's the thing: The more I think about it, the more I realize that our reading of this phenomena needs to be more nuanced than "4e has dissociated mechanics, and therefore it sucks".

Dissociated Mechanics aren't inherently wrong.  Like I implied above, Eurogames make use of a crapload of them.  I think a lot of popular crazy hippy indie RPGs employ them all over the place. And older versions of D&D probably have some dissociated mechanics that are invisible to me because I've been trained by decades of play to make connections that aren't really there.  Even my own house rules have some dissociation, as pointed out by Spawn of Edra at this Lands of Ara post:
Okay so Mr. Big Purple d30 Jeff Rients says a healing surge is a bogus abstraction, and you say it has no game-world logic, then what's the difference between a healing surge and a once per session d30 roll where you can have a damage surge once per session? And that's once per session, not once per game day? How dissociated is that?
The answer is because the d30 rule is awesome. But why is it awesome and the healing surge sucks?
I agree that both the abstracted heal surge rules bite the donkey's ass and that my own d30 house rule is pretty keen.   I also agree that both seem to be dissociated.

So what's happening here?  I think there are at least three important vectors at work:

  1. RPGs of the type I like to play need to lean towards associated mechanics.  For a good associated mechanic to work player intent, character intent, player action and character action need to be analogous.  You can map "I need to kill this fucking wizard" with your PC's thought "Damn, I hate this wizard. I think I'll stick my sword in his belly." and your action (roll to-hit) with the PC's action (poke wizard with sword).
  2. Dissociated mechanics can be incorporated provided they are infrequent, low priority and/or they give the players a fun special advantage.  One of the reasons players love my d30 rule is that they feel they are getting away with something other D&D players aren't able to do.
  3. A well-established play community will not take new dissociated mechanics sitting down, especially in the D&D community, where old dissociated mechanics can be tolerated or explained away with long, boring blog posts about Jack Vance.  Innovative dissociated mechanics are not tolerated, because they innovate away from that analogous play experience outlined in #1.
So I think I'm not against dissociated mechanics per se, I'm against dissociating things that were associated in previous editions.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Giants in the Dying Earth

Once upon a time there was a great gaming magazine called The Dragon, published by a long defunct game company called TSR.  Although its main focus was D&D, in its heyday The Dragon was the definitivee magazine for the entire RPG hobby. Man, those were the days.  During this long-gone golden age there was a regular feature in the mag called "Giants in the Earth".  The title is a Biblical reference, in Genesis chapter 6 these mysterious giants in the earth father a race of half-humans, "the same became mighty men who were of old, men of renown". The articles, which ran from about the mid-twenties to issue fifty-something, as I recall, did not deal with literal giants. Rather they statted up legendary figures from the popular fantasy novels of the era. Nowadays you couldn't get away with that in a legitimate journal, what with our society's growing obsession with intellectual property.  But those were different, weird times.

Anyway, today I wanted to share with you selections from a couple installments in the GitE series, particularly the two instances where Jack Vance's characters are written up in D&D terms.  Since Vancian magic is and pretty much always been a hot button topic in D&D fandom, I find it interesting how some actual Vance characters, and, more importantly, their magical abilities, end up translated into D&D terms.

That's a friggin' Napoleonics
game featured on the cover.
Truly, 'tis a lost era.
First up is Cugel the Clever, star of the third book in the Dying Earth series, Cugel's Saga.  He also appears in Eyes of the Overworld, I believe.  I've never read that one.  Cugel's uncredited (probably by Lawrence Schick and/or Tom Moldvay) write-up in The Dragon #26 (June '79) pegs him as a Thief level 14 with 18 Intelligence and Dexterity.  I believe this article might be the first installment and it really sets the high-power standards for the series.  Also in the article is a version of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, done as a Fighter 30/Magic-User 20/Assassin 14 with 2 eighteens, a seventeen and a nineteen in his stats.  Anyway, dig this neato passage:
Cugel once had access to the notebooks of lucounu, the Laughing Magician, and managed with great effort to memorize three spells. These are: Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell (treat as a hold person), Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth (by which the caster can be neither seen, heard, nor smelled) and Thasdrubel’s Laganetic Transfer (or The Agency of Far Despatch, which places a hold person on the target until a demon comes and carries him away to some specified far land). Unfortunately, Cugel doesn’t always get the spells right and there is a 50% chance that any spell he uses will backfire and cause the opposite of the intended effect. Every time he blows the Laganetic Transfer he himself gets carried away somewhere else, which is probably how he came to the D&D universe in the first place.
Dig those neato spell names.  Cugel's peek at Iocounu's spellbooks is one of the origins of the thiefly Read Scrolls ability, along with similar shenanigans from the Grey Mouser, if I recall correctly.  The other thing to note here is that not only are the spell descriptions super-brief, they have no level assigned to them.  For an oddball NPC thief that may or may not even have these spells in memory when encountered, this isn't exactly a big deal.  But I always look at articles like this for things to steal for my campaign, so as a kid this lack of detail annoyed me.

Issue #29 follows up with stats for Iucounu the Laughing Magician himself.  This wee git is represented by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay as an MU 20 with an Int 18.  More importantly, despite his level he will only know five spells when encountered, rolled up from the following kickass chart:
1-2: The Charm of Forlorn Encystment: this is the same in all respects as the 9th level magic-user’s spell imprisonment.  
3: The Charm of Untiring Nourishment: by speaking this charm, the magic-user need not breathe, eat or drink while the spell lasts. Duration: 1 turn/level. Casting time: 2 segments.  
4-5: The Excellent Prismatic Spray: This is the same as the illusionist’s 7th level spell in all respects save casting time, which is only 3 segments.  
6: Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell: a paralysis spell. Range: 1”/ level. Duration: 1 round/level. Area of effect: 4” diameter sphere. Casting time: 1 segment. Saving throw: neg.  
7: Gilgad’s Instantaneous Galvanic Thrust or the Instantaneous  Electric Effort: this is the same as a lightning bolt in all respects save  casting time, which is only 1 segment.  
8: Houlart’s Blue Extractive: this spell is used to remove a being from its refuge or concealment. If the target fails to save, it will simply fly from its hiding place and land at the feet of the caster. Any being so treated will be stunned for 2-12 rounds. Range: 1”/level. Casting time: 5 rounds. Saving throw: neg.  
9: Houlart’s Visceral Pang: the recipient of this spell will be totally incapacitated by excruciating pains in the abdomen for 1-3 rounds. Range: 9”. Area of effect: 1 creature. Casting time: 2 segments. Saving throw: none.  
10: Lugwiler’s Dismal Itch: the recipient of this spell is cursed with a continual itching over every square inch of his or her epidermis. When in this condition, armor class is two levels worse, all fighting is done at -5, and spell use is impossible. Range: 6”. Duration: until dispelled (remove curse will also work.) Area of effect: 1 creature. Casting time: 3 segments. Saving throw: neg.  
11: Phandaal’s Critique of the Chill: this is the same as the cone of cold spell in all respects save casting time, which is only 3 segments.  
12: Phandaal’s Gyrator: the unfortunate target of this spell is levitated into the air and spun about at any speed the caster desires. At the fastest possible rate of spin, the spinner will take 10 hit points of damage per round due to the centrifugal forces involved. Controlling the spell requires great concentration on the part of the caster. If the concentration is broken, the spell dissipates. Range: 6”. Duration: 1 round/level.  Area of effect: 1 creature. Casting time: 5 segments. Saving throw: none.  
13-14: Phandaal’s Mantle of Stealth: the caster of this spell is rendered invisible, inaudible and odorless; virtually indetectable save to true seeing, a robe of eyes or a gem of seeing (and touch). Any attempts at offensive action on the part of the recipient instantly negate the spell (as with invisibility). Duration: 1 round/level. Area of effect: creature touched. Casting time: 2 segments.  
15: Rhialto’s Green Turmoil: the recipient of this spell is overcome with a violent nausea which totally incapacitates him or her for 2-20 rounds. Range: 5”. Area of effect: 1 creature. Casting time: 2 segments. Saving throw: neg.  
16: Spell of the Macroid Toe: in this specialized polymorph spell, the big toe (or similar extremity) of the creature affected grows to the size of a small house. Range: 4”. Duration: until dispelled. Casting time: 4 segments. Saving throw: neg.  
17: Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere: this combines the effects of the magic-user’s spell anti-magic shell with those of a cube of force. It is a near-total (but non-mobile) protection for the caster. Duration: 1 round/level. Area of effect: 10’ diameter sphere. Casting time: 9 segments.  
18: Spell of the Slow Hour: this spell is similar to the magic-user’s spell, slow, except that it is twice as efficient, and slows the affected creatures to one-quarter the normal or current rate. In all other respects (range, duration, etc.) it is the same.  
19: Temporal Stasis: this spell duplicates the 9th level magic-users’ spell time stop in all respects save name.  
20: Thasdrubel’s Laganetic Transfer or the Agency of Far Despatch: when this spell is uttered, the recipient is bound as if by a hold person spell. A nycadaemon appears (i.e., is gated in), grasps the held recipient and flies him or her either to a point designated by the caster or 10-100 miles in a random direction. Range: 3”. Area of effect: 1 creature. Casting time: 1 round. Saving throw: none. 
This part of the article was obviously written by Law Schick, as that guy is the only person I ever heard of who ever really cared about segments of action.  Well, maybe Len Lakofka liked 'em, too.

Some, off the top of my head uses for the chart:
  • Spells for Encounter Critical, which eschew levels already.
  • Third level spells for a Holmes-only campaign.
  • Spells that appear on ancient scrolls that pre-date spells being divided up into levels.
  • Random crap bad guy wizards can throw at the party, the same sort of jerks who use the coolest random chart ever written.
Any other ideas?