Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Speaking of quizzes.

Adventure Construction Creation System Sets

Back in the day I played a ton of games on my Commodore 64 computer. I've mentioned before that Ultima IV remains my alltime favorite computer game. Anybody else remember the Adventure Construction Set? Designed by Stuart Smith and put out by Electronic Arts back before EA turned White Dwarf into an all-Warhammer magazine, it was basically designed to allow you to build your own Ultima-style adventures. I messed around with ACS a lot as a kid, though I finished very few or no adventures without resorting to the 'finish adventure' button, which simply filled out the rest of the adventure with randomly generated crap.

The graphics were even more crude than Ultima IV, with fewer colors and no animation. The tiny little animations of the waves on the water tiles and the moving people really brought the world of Ultima to life. I understand the Amiga version of ACS had somewhat more sophisticated graphics.

Recently I encountered a newer program directly inspired by ACS. Written in 1995, it's called the Adventure Creation Kit. Unlike ACS, it's easy to find for free download and no emulation or other fiddling is needed to make it run on a more modern machine. I have no reports on running it under Vista, but last night I was messing around with ACK on a Windows set-up. No sound is available unless you use DOSBox, an emulator designed to make old games run more smoothly on newer machines.

One thing I have yet to figure out is whether this new toy makes executables, like the old ACS did. A game made in ACS comes out as a single .exe file that can be shared with people who don't have to own a copy of the game creation software. Ken St. Andre of Tunnels & Trolls fame used to maintain a fan club of people who swapped and bought/sold disks of completed games. Personally, I'd love to be able to create a little Encounter Critical themed adventure I could share with the folks on the EC mailing list. Last night I made a Theskian Dagger item and a rough draft map of Blacksteel Isle. That's a start.

In fact, it was Encounter Critical that got me thinking about digging up Adventure Construction Set. An ACS adventure just struck me as the kind of obsessive EC-related fanboy activity that I would enjoy, the same way I tried to learn to make online quizzes so I could whip up the Which EC Character Are You? thing-a-ma-jig.

It's Halloween

a poem by Jack Prelutsky

It's Halloween! It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night:

Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls,
Grinning goblins fighting duels,
Werewolves rising from their tombs,
Witches on their magic brooms.

In masks and gowns
we haunt the street
And knock on doors
for trick or treat.

Tonight we are
the king and queen,
For oh tonight
it's Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Top Ten Halloween Cartoons

10) The Case of the Stuttering Pig - Not technically a Halloween cartoon, but a horror movie spoof, this 30's era black-&-white Porky Pig short featured a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character stalking Porky and his siblings. The Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes bunch did a lot of good spookified material over the decades, but this one is probably my favorite of the lot.

9) "Pink Eye" - The South Park episode where Worchestershire Sauce-induced zombification is misdiagnosed as pink eye. Chef as Evil Kneivel killing zombies with chainsaws was rad.

8) SpongeBob SquarePants Halloween - This is a multi-episode compilation tape. The Halloween-themed "Scaredy Pants" has some great moments, particularly SpongeBob and Patricks's attempt to prank the Halloween party at the Krusty Krab. But "Frankendoodle", the tale of a pencil drawing come to life, is both funnier ("Finland!") and creepier.

7) Billy & Mandy's Jacked-Up Halloween - Not the best of the longer Billy & Mandy cartoons, but I'm a sucker for a villain with a pumpkin for a head. Add in an army of undead jack o'lanterns and I'm a fan for life.

6) The Trouble with Miss Switch - The two Miss Switch afternoon specials had a genuine sense of magic and mystery to them. And Miss Switch is probably one of the cutest witches in all of animation. Either this show or the sequel also featured a computer that was a witch. That concept still blows my mind.

5) "The Headless Horseman of Halloween" - A huge quantity of Scooby-Doo cartoons make for good Halloween viewing, but this one has the advantage of being set at a Halloween party at the Crane family home. That's "Crane" as in "Ichabod Crane", the most famous victim of the Headless Horseman. The presence of Scooby Dum will grate on some nerves, but the inexplicable airplane sequence at the end more than makes up for it. While I'm going on about Headless Horseman, I should really mention the 1980 made-for-TV movie version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow starring Jeff Goldblum as Crane. It's really not bad for what it is.

4) Disney's Halloween Treat - An old clip show from 1980 that featured a lot of creepy Disneyana mooshed together. My favorite segments are the climax of the animated Legend of Sleepy Hallow and the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia. Nearly impossible to get these days, as this show hasn't seen a video release since like 1984.

3) Ed, Edd, & Eddy's Boo-Haw-Haw - Most days I can take or leave Ed, Edd, & Eddy but their Halloween special is fan-frickin-tastic. Cartoon Network has run it several times this month and I always try to catch it. Set on Halloween night, the big deal is that Ed, the stupid one, is having a total mental breakdown. He spent the days leading up to tricking or treating watching grainy old monster movies nonstop. And now when he sees someone in costume he freaks out, thinking they're the real deal. Truly, one of the creepiest things I've seen in a Halloween special.

2) Garfield's Halloween Adventure - I'm not a fan of the original comic strip, I've not seen the films, and, apart from the U.S. Acres back-ups, I didn't really like the series. But this Halloween special rocks on toast. Lou Rawls sings some of the songs, for crying out loud! And the ghost pirates that appear in the third act scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. I don't think I've seen creepier ghost pirates anywhere, and not for lack of looking, either.

1) It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - Where do I even begin? You've got Linus waiting for the great Pumpkin, Lucy reading the issue of TV guide that features herself on the cover, Charlie Brown's humiliation both trick-or-treating and at Violet's party, the Red Baron, and the classic music. Everyone recognizes that piano tune, but for my money the best music in this show is the eerie jazz flute piece that plays as everyone abandons Linus for the final time.


Last night was Trick-or-Treat night at the local shopping mall. Don't worry, I'm taking Elizabeth on a for-reals street haunting tomorrow night. We just did the mall thing as an additional fun Halloweeny activity. The mall had a pretty good gig going, with lots of candy and carnival games and some circus performers from the currently touring Cirque de Soleil troupe. Elizabeth liked the juggler dude.

I always like to see what all the kids are wearing for Halloween. At night on the streets its not easy to identify all the costumes, but the conditions here were ideal for ghost-watching.

Superheroes looked to be the favorite choice for the boys. Spider-Man, in both traditional red-and-blue and edgy black variants, seemed to be most popular, but Batman was also well respresented. Power Rangers of various stripes also appeared in numbers. Only three or so kids had Superman costumes, which underlines the weakness of the recent movie I think. I also saw a single Robin and a lone Wolverine (yellow and blue version).

The girls seemed about evenly split between princesses (including my daughter) and witches, at least if you lump the various nebulously defined scary and/or gothy girl's outfits in with the witches. Some of them might have been intended as vampiresses and at least one otherwise witchy costume had fairy wings.

Wolfmen, mummies, and white-sheet ghosts were pretty thin this year, but skeletons and grim reapers could be found in solid numbers. Plenty of Draculas, too. My wife got sick of me calling out "Look, another Dracula!" but I just couldn't help myself. Something about kids dressing up as Dracula just warms my heart. I only saw a single Frankenstein, a teeny little toddler in facepaint with his shirt stuffed for 'muscles'. Too cute.

I could spot only a couple knife/axe/etc wielding maniacs, unless you count the Scream costume. How many kids got that costume because it was a ghost outfit rather than a serial killer from a movie franchise? I dunno. One dude was dressed up exactly like Jason Voorhees Michael Myers from Halloween. He was big enough to be a small adult or an adolescent, was not in the company of anyone, and had no bag for candy. He just wandered around the mall, creeping me the hell out.

Only saw one Darth Vader this year and two Clone Troopers. Just a couple years ago at another such event there were several Vaders and a Yoda or two. At least two kids went as Optimus Prime, one of whom had switched out the cheap mask for the cool voice changer helmet toy. Ninjas remain popular, as all good children know that ninjas are awesome. I saw at least four kids in army guy camo outfits, which made me kinda sad as my first thought was to wonder how many of those four kids had a parent on deployment.

One of the coolest things in kids' costumes this year? The pirates. Not only were there a lot of swashbucklers on the loose, but they were pretty evenly split between boys and girls.

Friday, October 26, 2007

3 unrelated items

Today is my sister's birthday. Happy birfday, Jenn!

This here blog is getting attacked by robo-spam, so I had to turn on the verification thingy. Email me at jrients at the gmail to the dot of the com if you have trouble leaving a legit comment.

The original Halloween was on the TV yesterday. I'm not a fan of slasher flicks, but that one is a classic.

Don't fear the goblin

My alltime favorite children's book is It's Halloween, a collection of fun little rhymes written by noted children's poet Jack Prelutsky and delightfully illustrated by Marilyn Hafner. You can check out a few pages for yourself thanks to Google books.

Every October I read the book aloud at least once, I usually post the title poem to my blog on the 31st, and this year my daughter has gotten into it as well. When I tried to read it to her last year she resisted, but this year when she saw me flipping through my copy she demanded that I read it aloud to her. That made me more happy than I can tell you.

Here's one of the poems from It's Halloween.


There's a goblin as green
As a goblin can be
Who is sitting outside
And is waiting for me.
When he knocked on my door
And said softly, "Come play!"
I answered, "No thank you,
Now please, go away."
But the goblin as green
As a goblin can be
Is still sitting outside
And is waiting for me.

The goblin in the accompanying illo is a harmless looking little fellow with a pair of spectacles perched upon his nose. Even when I was younger I always thought the kid in his bedroom, hiding under his bedsheets, was being a big ol' wussy. Last night I wrote a new second half, something I've wanted to do for years.

There's a goblin as green
As a goblin can be
Who is sitting outside
And is waiting for me.
When he knocked on my door
And said softly, "Come play!"
So I packed a bindle
And we both ran away
Into a world of weird
Revel and dark delight.
Now I'm forever marked
As a child of the night.

A little rough, but maybe not bad for a few minutes work while my daughter and I were watching Halloween cartoons.

Prelutsky wrote several other books of children's verse. At least two of them, Nightmares and The Headless Horsemen Rides Tonight, cover similar subject material but are more spookified for an older audience. I really need to get copies.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


My coworker says that over lunch today she saw a pair of these flying low overhead.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

a public service note

Guido the Gypsy is one of the higher volume rpg sellers on the eBay. He has some great out-of-print stock and over the years I've bought more items from him than I can remember. Last month for the first time I had a problem. An order he shipped me never arrived. Guido was very apologetic and he refunded me without any hassle. In the world of customer service anybody can do a good job when everything goes smoothly. You can tell a good guy from a bottom feeder when things take a turn for the worse. Guido is one of the good ones. He gets my highest recommendation as an online seller. Just FYI.

Comments Response Day

I always get some nice comments from all you lovely Gameblog readers. Today I'm going to put a few reponses here up where everyone can see them without digging through old posts.

Regarding my post on playing a pirate game at a con, Chris recently asked "Do you have any info you could pass on about how the Playmobil game was done? My son would get a kick out of playing that." Chris, the rules were a somewhat simplified and modified version of Savage Worlds. You can get a free Test Drive version of that system down at the bottom of this page. I like Savage Worlds a lot. I've played a fantasy campaign with that system, ran a Prohibition era gangster minicampaign, and a con one shot that was sort of an X-Files/Men In Black jobbie. The dude running the game had simplified range and movement by eliminating the use of inches. Instead all distance measurements were in 'hands' and you just used the tip of your thumb to the tip of your first finger. Needless to say, I did all the measuring for my team. But even with that simplification, it was a much more robust system than needed for the number of figures involved, the broad cartoony comedy of the game, and the wide age range of players. Had it been my game to organize, I probably would have ginned up some easy sleazy charts using a single d6 for all actions and simplified the card-based initiative. But that's just the con GM in me nitpicking. Now that I think about it, that's exactly what I should do if I run my rubber dinosaurs versus plastic army men con game again. I love Tom Moldvay's Dino WARS! rules, but they aren't very kid friendly.

My last installment of five links got a great reply from norman:

Couldn't find a way to email you. So, here are two more links.

I bet you've seen this game but if not...

"It's based on the SRD so there's no further need to reference the SRD. It's designed to be as close as possible to a very early edition of D&D. He never mentions "D&D" for fear of a lawsuit, but it's basically just like an early edition of D&D from the 1970's."

Learned about it from this thread

But I doubt you know of Brutal aka "Big Bad Ball Busting Bloody Battles". If that title doesn't get you mashing the link with your mouse then you're not the gamer I thought you were :)

Basic Fantasy is good stuff in my book. My specific tastes lean more towards Labyrinth Lord, but I don't turn my nose up at other variations. It's one thing to have an opinion and another thing entirely to be a system snob. If I can roll some dice to kill an orc and steal his pie, then I'm pretty much down with it. Treasure Tables is a totally awesome blog and I should definitely hang out on the TT forums more than I do. I'm pretty sure that I visited Brutal's website early in the games development. I can only imagine that they had not yet developed the "Big Bad Ball Busting Bloody Battles" tagline at that time, otherwise I would have downloaded the sucker and posted about it! I've got a zillion things to do this weekend, the main one being an overnight visit from my nephew the ninja, but I'm gonna try to flip through the game and report next week. Thanks for the link!

Just yesterday I got two comments on the recent unveiling of the OGL version of FASERIP, 4C System. First we get the Evil DM (author of another totally awesome blog) asking the simple question "So what are your plans for it?" I should note here that I got the announcement of the release of 4C System from his blog and forgot to attribute him yesterday. Sorry, o Evil one! Anyway, the obvious answer as to what to do with 4CS would be to run some sort of con one-shot at Winter War in February and maybe tackle my on-again off-again New Bronze City project seriously. Of course, I need more con game ideas like I need another hole in my head. I'm already for sure running Encounter Critical and my 'maybe' list includes OD&D, Forward... to Adventure, and the dinosaur game I mentioned above. That's a lot of stuff to run in one weekend! With some work I could maybe do a PDF mini campaign setting of New Bronze City, assuming Jeff Hebert would be cool about using HeroMachine illos in a gamebook. (N.B. The new expansion to HeroMachine is out! I did not know that! Cool!) But then I'm also kinda thinking that the world doesn't need a new and even more stereotype supers setting, especially for a game that already has a more-than-fully fleshed out one built right in. My other idea is a crossgenre fiesta in the vein of Tom Moldvay's Lords of Creation, but more lowbrow and fisticuffs-oriented. Something less like Moldvay's carefully researched mythopoetic work and more like my own attempt to run LoC.

Finally, an anonymous reader reports that the free PDF version of 4C System lacks the crucial color chart that power pretty much every die roll. I went and nabbed the freebie version myself and he is right as rain. The chart got dropped somehow. That really sucks. I dug up an email address for Phil Reed and sent him an email. I can't think of any good reason why this problem would be easy to correct. That's one of the great things about electronic books: updating doesn't require a new print run.

UPDATE: Just heard back from Phil. He says he just discovered that Lulu likes to remove the cover of free downloads and that a corrected version should be available by Friday or so.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

a FASERIP happy ending

Last month I was a big grump about the slow progress/lack of progress/lack of communication from Phil Reed on his OGL version of the old FASERIP system from the original Marvel Superheroes game. But it looks like Phil has made good on his promise with 4C System, and I am thrilled. Not only can we put that unpleasantness behind us, but here's a new, free, OGL version of one of the best game systems of my youth. Click here to zip on over to Lulu for either a free download or dirt cheap softcover.

yet another five links

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish Recipe - I've made this a couple of times. Great stuff!

Garfield's Halloween Adventure - My second favorite animated Halloween special. (My favorite features a beagle fighting the Red Baron.)

Mark Hughes RPG pages - Opinionated jerk? Curmudgeon with a heart of gold? You be the judge!

The Falkirk Wheel - Engineering at its raddest.

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #13 - "In 1975, Marvel came up with four new titles in one lunch."

Monday, October 22, 2007


For the next Winter War gaming convention I will be running the final installment in my Encounter Critical epic, the Obiwan Shinobi Trilogy. Not that I'm through with EC or anything, I'm just going to be done milking the name Obiwan Shinobi for session titles. "Obiwan Shinobi in the Wilden West" will be set on the faraway planet Tech's Arcana, a rootin' tootin' outerspace cowboy planet. With ninjas and warlocks and stuff. I'm going to be making up some pregen PCs like in the past, but I've decided that I am going to allow folks to bring their own characters as well. Here are my draft rules for making your own PC.

1) Roll stats using the methods outlined in the EC rulebook. Obvious cheaters will be declared both nonscientific and unrealistic and subject to the full disciplinary measures of the International Journey Master's Association. Whatever those might be.

2) Your character receives 6,321 experience points if they choose a single profession. For characters with two professions split 4,213 points between the two classes as you see fit.

3) In addition to the races and classes in the main rulebook, the new races (Cyclops, Hutt, and Duckoid) and the new profession (Pugilist) from Asteroid 1618 are legal. To download a copy of A1618 visit either the Wordwide Adventure Writing Month archives or the Files section of the EC mailing list. The new races are on page 79 and the Pugilist rules are on pages 76 and 77.

4) You receive twice the starting gold allowed to first level characters with which to purchase equipment. You may buy any items from page 29 of A1618, the EC equipment charts, and the official armor table. Everyone gets a free suit of Western Duds, Cheesey Sci-Fi Apparel, or some unholy combination of the two.

5) You may select one unpriced item from A1618 or EC rulebook for free, but unique items will be subject to roll offs if two players pick the same unique item. For example, if two players wish to possess the Demon-Christened Sword of Teneblarr then they will roll dice to determine who gets the blade. Pick a back-up item just in case. As an alternative, simple create your own special item and see if the JM likes it or not.

6) Warlocks get one spell per level in their grimoire/wand/crystal ball/whatever and may select any spells in the rules. They may totally make up one new spell, but it needs to be in line with the samples provided in the main rulebook.

7) Warriors may start with a unique weapon of their own devising, subject to JM approval of the stats.

8) Go ahead and make some crazy stuff up. Maybe I'll like it and allow it.

9) Feel free to make more than one character. The Wilden West is a deadly place.

Anything I'm missing?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reader challenge: interpret this chart!

In my experience, the Encounter Critical mailing list/yahoo group thing-a-ma-bob is the grooviest, most low key gamer hang-out on the whole of the internets. The people are all nine shades of awesome and the vibe is just laid back and friendly. Of course, the list is also highly specialized. We normally only talk about this one game, you see. But sometimes we talk about the musty old stuff that inspired Encounter Critical, or games like it but that aren't hoaxes.

Lately we've been talking about Legacy, this weird old RPG that cool guy Christian Conkle (a.k.a. the Evil Schemer) recently found at a garage sale. Christian quoted one passage from Legacy that has me totally fascinated:

Take a circle divided into 10 concentric circles and 10 pie slices. Each sector on the resulting circle represents a member of a tribe. Each sector should be color-coded to represent the age and sex/gender of the individual. Proximity on the chart indicates common interactions between the two individuals. Individuals on opposite sides of the chart are enemies.

I've been trying to make sense of that passage for days. Eventually I had to try my hand at making one of these charts. Dig it:

Click for a large, more legible version.

I was working with MS Paint and my own ineptitude, so I ended up with 8 pie slices instead of ten. And I labeled each person in the tribe with a two-letter name. Now that I've made this chart, could someone please tell me what it means? I'm kinda thinking that slices of the pie might represent families within the tribe and that pie slices pointing at each other are in opposition. I dunno. The color scheme is pretty much random, by the way.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

well, I feel like an ass

I just screwed up big time over at theRPGsite. As many of you know, I'm an admin there. My post is more social engineering oriented than technical, but sometimes I get it in my head that I can handle the technical end as well. So, for example, when someone edits a post to read nothing but "please delete" I usually oblige. But this time I goofed and axed the whole damn thread instead of the one post. Crap. And it was a beefy thread too. Hopefully the actual techies can fix my mess.

good book

Original D&D Discussion member stonegiant recommended this book a few weeks back and I found it at my local library. There are lots of real-life inspirations for dungeons: the catacombs of Paris, the interior of the Great Pyramid, the steam tunnels at your local University, etc. But Tom Mangold and John Penycate's The Tunnels of Cu Chi is the first time I've come across detailed accounts of combat in an underground environment. The man-to-man fighting between the Viet Cong and the Tunnel Rats of the U.S. Army will only be directly adaptable to D&D if you riddle a dungeon with corridors so small that crawling on hands and knees in single file is the only option. If your DM uses Tucker's Kobolds, then maybe you could root them out using the methods described in this book. The Army could only score small local successes against the tunnels until the later phases of the war, when they just bombed the hell out of the Cu Chi area with B-52s.

This is just a small sample drawing meant to exemplify many features of the VC tunnel system. The South Vietnamese guerrillas had miles of miles of tunnels, most of which linked up so that you could travel from the Cambodian border to Saigon via tunnel crawling. And almost all of it was dug by hand with tools no different than those medieval sappers would use to undermine castle walls. Fighting in the tunnels, knives and bamboos spears were almost as important as pistols and AK's. The troubles of light sources and the danger of traps were constant issues. Running out of oxygen was another major problem.

One great thing about this book is that the authors were able to interview people from both sides of the conflict, and I think they did their level best to be politically neutral, given the polarizing nature of the conflict. You get to see the tunnel warfare from both the eyes of the intrepid G.I. tunnel invaders and the Vietnamese fighters who lived long stretches of their lives in the tunnels.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

con game ruminations

I've been kicking around how to run a Pokéthulhu adventure for a con game. One problem for approaching the game has always been that I don't feel a strong connection to the Pokémon phenomenon. Half the jokes go right by me. I needed some additional material to hang an adventure on, some source where children go on ridiculous but creepy supernatural adventures. I think it was upon my daughter and I rewatching the dvd's for like the seventh time that it finally sunk in where to look:

The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is a show chock full of total gamegeek fodder and it happens to be one of the best cartoons to come along in years. I suppose you could even set the adventure at Toadblatt's Summer School of Sorcery, the Harry Potter takeoff in the show, to riff off the dueling academies in the Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon.

I think the whole concept could be made to work, but I don't really think I'm going to pursue it. I've really grown to like con games where I can hand out character sheets and we start playing immediately. The thought of going over the basic deal of Pokéthulhu and then going over the basic deal of Billy & Mandy and only then playing kinda fills me with dread. I'd much rather hand out utterly inexplicable Encounter Critical charsheets, announce "you're all playing mutant robot hookers exploring a dungeon underneath the Face on Mars" and then start slinging dice. Some games get me into that groove and others do not. (Ridiculously, I think running an entire Billy & Mandy-themed campaign of Pokéthulhu would be more fun than struggling with the learning curve of a one shot.)

I also like con games where characters are rolled up one the spot. That works great for games where you mostly throw some stat dice and look up silly charts. I've gone that route for my OD&D and Basic/Expert con games in recent years. For games with point buys, long skill lists, or heavy math formulae this method doesn't work so well.

Hmmm, I think this whole post could be summed up as "I like stupid games. No, no! Even stupider than that!" No big surprise there. Usually when I try to run something smart and sophisiticated it blows up in my face. But honestly and unabashedly dumb games work for me with much greater frequency.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cinder map rough draft, v3

So I redid one of the rivers, added some mountain passes, and marked a couple possible sites for large urban areas. The westernmost mountain pass would be heavily guarded against incursion by the forces of the Necromaster, while the eastern pass would be important to trade through the Big City to and from the Eastern Empire. I feel like I'm just about ready to put pencil to hexpaper. Thanks again for all the great comments!

Mightiest Monsters: Chainmail

Chainmail, the precursor to D&D, doesn't use hit dice. So instead I'm going to go by the point value of the various monsters. Normal figures like elves and orcs and such all have point values of 5 or less. Here are all the monsters listed at 10 points or more.

Basilisk (not rated, see below)
Dragon (100)
Troll (75)
Giant (50)
Lycanthrope (20)
Roc (includes wyverns and griffons) (20)
Ogre (15)
Treant (15)
Wraith (10)
Wight (10)

Elementals are not given a point value because they can only be brought into play when a wizard summons one, but they would easily make this list otherwise. Basilisks are unrated because their devasting stone gaze is considered beyond the scope of the point system to measure. That puts them on the top of the food chain, in my opinion. Trolls come in very strong with 75 points, more than a standard Giant and almost twice as many points as a Super-Hero. That's because they are effin' hard to kill. In the rulebook the entry for Trolls lists the two subcategories Ogre and Troll (True), making Ogres non-regenerating trolls. In my old Greymoor Campaign (my 3e campaign nominally set in the World of Greyhawk version of Blackmoor) I had some special stats made up for True Trolls. They were a sort of Super-Troll and meant to be one of the tougher encounters in the campaign. The party never fought one. I may have to use the True Troll in Cinder.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cinder map, take 2

Thanks for all the great comments in the last Cinder post! Here's my changes based upon that feedback. The red squares are known volcanos. If I did my math right, a Judges Guild map at 5 miles per hex is roughly the same size as Indiana rotated 90 degrees.* That should give you a rough idea of the starting scale of this map, at least for those of you who have any idea what the heck an Indiana is. Not to imply any dunderheadedness on anyone's part. I just know that if, for example, Settembrini wrote "this map is roughly the size of Prussia" I'd have no idea what that meant.

*Given the central location of my dungeon, I guess that makes it the Dread Pit of Indianapolis.

a Halloween tale of terror

The Great Old Pumpkin

By John Aegard

25 October 2004

You must know, Doctor, that I did not choose to seek psychiatric help. I have no faith that I shall exit this room a healed man; I know now that I have been destined for the asylum since childhood. No mere conversation with you can steer me clear of that fate. That said, let us proceed with this court-compelled farce before my mad prattle provokes your crabbiness further.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mightiest Monsters: 1st ed. MM2

Again, I'm omitting unique entities from this list.

Hangman Tree (61hp/year old)
Mold, Russet (12-16 hp per 10' square)
Pseudo-Undead (varies)
Pyrolisk (43 HD but see below)
Solar (177 hp, i.e. ~39HD)
Planetar (144 hp, i.e. ~32 HD)
Bloodthorn (5-30 HD)
Choke Creeper (25 HD)
Kraken (20 HD)
Phoenix (20 HD)
Time Elemental (12-20 HD)
Willow, Black (12-19 HD)
Verme (18+18 HD)
Modron (1-1 to 18+18 HD)
Froghemoth (16 HD)
Demon, Cambion, Baron/Marquis (9 to 16 HD)
Para-Elemental (8-16 HD)
Afanc (15 HD)
Demodands (11-15 HD)
Daemons (6 to 14+28 HD)
Shedu, Greater (14+14 HD)
Dragon, Cloud (12-14 HD)
Dinosaur (various ) (10-14)
Giant, Formorian & Firbolg (13+ some points HD)
Death, Crimson (13 HD)
Marid (13 HD)
Baku (12+12 HD)
Barghest (6+6 to 12+12 HD)
Lammasu, Greater (12+7 HD)
Aurumvorax (12 HD)
Behir (12 HD)
Squealer (12 HD)
Thessalhydra (12 HD)
Annis (7+3 to 12 HD)
Quasi-Elemental, Lightning (6-12 HD)
Foo Lion (11+11 HD)
Brown Pudding (11 HD)
Dragon, Mist (9-11 HD)
Behemoth (10+5 HD)
Oliphant, domesticated (10+5 HD)
Wereshark (10+3 HD)
Apsis, Cow (10 HD)
Basilisk, Greater (10 HD)
Gorgimera (10 HD)
Mantis, Giant (10 HD)
Miner (10 HD)
Tenebrous Worm (10 HD)
Galeb Duhr (8-10 HD)
Catfish, Giant (7-10 HD)
Quickwood (5-10 HD)

The body of a Hangman Tree gets a flat 61 hit points per year of age, or about 13 or 14 Hit Dice worth of hp. The text for the Tree considers the possibility of specimens in excess of 150 years old. That would work out to 2,038+ HD. I kinda suspect that we have a typo here and the intention was for 6 hitpoints (roughly one hit die) per year of age. Even that would make an ancient Hangman Tree pretty badass, but more in line with the Bloodthorn, Choke Creeper, and other floral menaces of the MM2. Another case of a typo is the Pyrolisk. 43HD is just plain wrong for this fire-themed cockatrice variant. 4+3 HD is probably correct. But imagine a world where nigh unkillable magic fire chickens sit on the top of the food chain! Pseudo-Undead, living humanoids that mimic the undead in appearance, have the same hit dice as the undead they mimic. So where they fit into your campaign depends on what your biggest undeader happens to be.

By the way, the Verme and Afanc are giant fish. Giant fish are cool.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cinder map 1st draft

Before I put pencil to my Judges Guild brand numbered hexsheets I wanted to rough out the larger features for my 5 mile/hex wilderness map.

The names might be changed in later versions.

This is the central region of the campaign world, tucked nicely between the Overlord of the Occident, the Empire of the East, the Necromaster Up North, and the Sultanates of the South. Between those various powers is a squabbly region that just can't get its act together. That's where the adventurers start.

Does anyone with a better eye for geography see anything that is obviously wrong with this map? Any opinions on how many active volcanoes I can get away with? Should the Littleass Swamp shoot fire and be home to Rodents Of Unusual Size? I'm thinking yes. Or possibly HELL YES!

links totalling five

Fear and Loathing in the Arduinian Wilderness - recollections of session run by Dave Hargrave

Wikipedia's list of self-sufficient webcomics - I was surprised by how many of these I read regularly or are at least am passingly familiar with.

The Halls of Tizun Thane - a 3e update of a classic White Dwarf adventure. I must get the original! Also, go up the local directory for more cool stuff.

Wild West - Free legal HTML version of the old FGU cowboy rpg.

Map Maneuvers by Farrand Sayre - one of them there google book thingies

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rebel Scum, session 2

When a professional wrestling returns from a long absence a common occurence is what is called 'ring rust', an initial period of less-than-optimal performance. Man, I had ring rust last night. Not running a game while I packed up and moved the family really took the oomph out of my GMing. Or maybe I just sucked last night. Even putting my notes through the adventure funnel didn't seem to help me as much as I had hoped. I just lacked oomph.

Either way, I wasn't very happy with the job I did. It was great getting together with the guys on a social basis, though. I hadn't seen Doug in far too long. And we all got to talk about games, what we wanted to do as this campaign develops, and movies. Doug was shocked that neither Stuart nor myself had seen Ocean's Eleven or The Italian Job. And we all expressed dismay at not getting into the 4e playtest.

Meanwhile Our Heroes navigated the treacherous skies of Vudrak's Nebula, narrowly avoiding both an old Clone Wars era minefield and a close range encounter with a Star Frigate on anti-piracy patrol. A Star Frigate is the short bus version of a Star Destroyer. At least in my head that's what it is. The party then almost fell for the Kobiyashi Maru trap despite the fact that I literally said "This is the Kobiyashi Maru, we've struck a gravitic mine." But they dawdled so long on planning a course of action that the Star Frigate responded to the distress call faster. Queue a running gun battle between the Impies and the pirate ship that sent the fake SOS. The party tailed the battle long enough to get navigation data on the minefield the pirate vessel flew through and to watch the Star Frigate hit a mine and 'sink'.

They finally made their rendezvous with the Tantive IV deep inside the nebula. My notes indicated that Captain Antilles was paranoid of any intel operations that don't go through the Bothans and also that he is generally a cranky-butt. So rather than permit Green 13 to dock, a ship's gig was sent to search the vessel first. That's how the party met Krato Vesbek, random Rebel Trooper guy. He was dressed just like the guys that got slaughtered in the hallway at the beginning of Episode IV, except he had a red shirt on.

Princess Leia also had a brief cameo, just before the klaxons went off due to three Star Destroyers incoming! The PCs and Krato hightailed it back to the gig and made it back to the Green 13 just as the shooting started. Krato opted to stay on the ship, as he would be a sitting duck trying to zoom through a warzone in a little shuttlecraft. And anyway his ride home just took off, with two of the Star Destroyers in pursuit. The last one decided to pick on the PCs. It was a short running battle with the Y-Wing getting away, but it was very tense at one as I rolled a successful ion cannon hit on the tiny craft. Only a last minute maneuver from Boyd (Doug's clone pilot) saved the ship from ion overload and subsequent capture.

Their mission completed, the good guys prepared to hyperjump to the coordinates where they could hook up with the Rebel carrier that serves as their base of operations. But I tell them that they are arbitrarily almost out of fuel and need to stop over at a filthy mining colony for more space juice, or whatever the hell makes Star Wars ship go zoom. So they are hanging out in a bar described as the Mos Eisley cantina, only with zero-g go-go dancers, when in stroll two space bear bounty hunters. Space bears look like polar bears, only they have opposable thumbs and big bug eyes. One of them has a pokédex that identifies Pat's character, Cee-Lo, as being worth 1700 Cr to the right party. So we have a big shoot out in the bar. Red-shirt Krato takes a gut full of blaster for his trouble, but barely survives thanks to Kip (Stuart's Jedi) administering a medpack. Kip uses the force to bang the two polar bear dudes into each other and then Cee-Lo hit 'em with a grenade. Boyd sets up another round. End of adventure.

Later, while we were discussing what to do next, Doug says that he really wants to wander the galaxy and get some more Han Solo action into the mix. No one objects to this idea, so I decide that the space bears were operating out of a ramshackle YT-1300 freighter with some custom modifications. The PCs jack the bear's ship and Krato flies the Green 13 back to base. Actually, I said it was a YT-1000 freighter, because I couldn't remember the exact designation for the Millenium Falcon. There's an almost assuredly non-canonical but cool-looking YT-1000 on this non-English Star Wars page. I'd totally use that vessel if the players were game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Religion in Cinder

My World of Cinder uses the primordial 3 alignment system of Law/Neutrality/Chaos and the three main religions fall out roughly along those lines.

The Church of the Gold Dragon

Alignments: Lawful, Neutral.

There are no good/metallic dragons in the World of Cinder, only neutral and chaotic ones. The Church of the Gold Dragon is basically the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope taken to its illogical conclusion. I don't normally use this kind of faux medieval Christianity in my games, but I'm trying to step beyond my normal Howard-esque sword & sorcery roots to allow for pious knights and clerics and grailquests and all that sort of Arthurian stuff. But the Church isn't all gumdrops and lollipops. The faith supports the social classes of early feudalism, going so far as to divide its sacred texts into Copper, Brass, Silver, and Gold Codices. Only the Copper Codex is used in the presence of the peasantry. Nobles are given access to the revelations of the Brass Codex. The Silver Codex is reserved for clerics. Only the Patriarchs of the Church may read from the Codex of Gold.

The Twelve

Alignments: Any

Your basic Greek/Norse/Kirby New Gods mash-up pantheon with a Mother Earth and a Father Sky and a sea god and all that standard stuff. Not necessarily opposed to the Church of the Gold Dragon, but open conflict between the two is certainly possible. The priests of the Twelve are losing ground in the long, slow competition for faithful followers, as the Church is better organized and the chaotic dudes (below) promise quicker results and more fun. Some priests of the Twelve are getting all apocalyptic on everyone's asses, claiming that falling away from the Old Faith will only hasten the end of the world.

The Frog God Cults

Alignments: Neutral, Chaotic

Slaad worshippers. Chaos cultists in the tradition of Warhammer. Dudes in black robes wielding wavy-bladed daggers. Naked witches. Etc. In some areas a Frog God might be worshipped openly, but in many regions this faith has gone underground. The Frog Gods are not necessarily evil, but they are opposed to many of the institutions of Cinder society. And their propensity for human sacrifice puts them outside the law in many areas. Totally metal.

Those are the three main faiths of the land. Jesus is a dragon, Satan is a frog, and Thor still speaks crazy faux English. Other religons exist, such as localized mystery cults with weird initiations, heretical off-shoots from the Church, the odd non-amphibious chaos cult, and minority cultural groups with their own secretive ways.

Gary Gygax, Rasslin' Fan

With inspiration from so many written works, radio dramas and motion pictures too, it was no wonder that I found little on the new television set to interest me...aside from Victory at Sea and wrestling. Don't laugh, I was just a boy and prized my autographs from Verne Gagne, Wladek Kawalski, Leon Hart and others gained from the locker room at Marigold gardens in Chicago.
-EGG, from "How It All Happened: Variety is the Spice...", appearing the latest issue of The Crusader.

Verne Gagne is a legendary wrestler and promoter. He founded the American Wrestling Association, a very influential promotion in the years prior to the rise of Vince McMahon, Jr. Mr. Gagne was the top star and champ of the fed for many years. Wladek Kowalski is better known as Killer Kowalski, one of the all-time great heels of wrestling. He actually became a heel by accident, starting his career as a fan favorite goodguy. But he accidentally ripped an ear off an opponent and the crowd turned on him. According to the legend it was the fans that gave him the 'Killer' moniker. Mr. Kowalski went on to found an influential wrestling school that he runs to this day. His most famous graduate would probably be WWE superstar Triple H. I don't know who Leon Hart is. Maybe Uncle Gary is misremembering the name of Stu Hart, father of Bret 'the Hitman' Hart, trainer of many wrestling stars, and a legend in his own right.

Mightiest Monsters: Rules Cyclopedia

I like the Rules Cyclopedia a lot, but parts of it can be pretty weird to players used to AD&D. The skill system and weapon mastery rules are decent rules, but they don't feel like core D&D mechanics to me. And the monster list varies a lot from the MM. Behold! The baddest dudes in the RC:

Elemental (1-80 HD)
Gargantua (25-51 HD, but see below)
Dinosaur (1-40 HD)
Roc (6-36 HD)
Whales (6-36 HD)
Dragon Turtle (30 HD)
Nightshade (17-30 HD)
Dragon (6-22 HD)
Horde (3-21 HD)
Archon (20 HD)
Drolem (20 HD)
Giant (8-20 HD)
Golem (2+2 to 20 HD)
Beholder, Undead (20 HD)
Hag, Black (11-20 HD)
Efreeti (10-20 HD)
Greater Phoenix (18 HD)
Spirit (14-18 HD)
Aerial Servant (16 HD)
Mek (11-16 HD)
Giant Crocodile (15 HD)
Djinni, Greater (15 HD)
Purple Worm (15 HD)
Elephant (9-15 HD)
Hsiao (Guardian Owl) (4-15 HD)
Athach (14 HD)
Haunt (12-14 HD)
Cyclops (13 HD)
Frost Salamander (12 HD)
Sphinx (12 HD)
Phantom (10-12 HD)
Plasm (6-12 HD)
Hydra (5-12 HD)
Hydrax (5-12 HD)
Actaeon (Elk Centaur) (11 HD)
Beholder (11 HD)
Nuckalavee (11 HD)
Giant Sturgeon (10+2 HD)
Black Pudding (10 HD)
Great Boar (10 HD)
Giant Manta Ray (10 HD)
Revener (10 HD)
Spider, Planar (5-10 HD)
Grab Grass (1 HD per 5' square)

Grab Grass, like the Holmes version of Yellow Mold and the Fiend Folio Enveloper, is another monster with no theoretical upper limit. The hit dice range listed for Gargantua actually refers to sample creatures. The Gargantua is actually a pre-3e example of a template, though the terminology was not yet in use. IIRC any creature can be made into a Gargantua, which results in 8 times normal hit dice, with any bonus hit points turning into additional hit dice. So a Gargantua Giant Sturgeon would be (10 x 8) + 2 = 82 Hit Dice. I guess that means the biggest RC creature (aside from from a prairie full of Grab Grass) would actually be a Gargantua Elemental of largest size, weighing in at a whopping 640 Hit Dice!

Bronze Age Vertigo

A Trout in the Milk is one of those comics blogs that I don't read very often because, to be quite frank, I'm not smart enough to always follow the level of discourse there. But with their focus on Steve Gerber, one of my favorite Bronze Age Marvel authors, I have to check up on the place every once in a while. The latest Trout essay, "How to Complete", is more dense than I can fully process. But at least one section of the piece that helps explain why I find Gerber so intriguing. Here's a partial quote:

Of course it’s not much thought-of these days, but in the Seventies the comics-publishing world came with a lot of funny strictures (and perhaps today we would even consider them quaint), that artists and writers regularly had to work around, if not exactly with. This was a whole other country, then, from the one we live in now. And I’m not talking about the Comics Code Authority. I’m talking about the genre of superhero comics being actually very much more closely identifiable, at that time, with the medium of comics itself. Not that you didn’t have Tintins and Freak Brothers, or even Peanuts and Broom Hildas and Mads — even Heavy Metals — because you did. Don’t get me wrong. And not even that people just mistakenly lumped the idea of “comics” together with the idea of “superheroes”, because they did that too…but the funny difference in those days, as I understand it, is that certain types of serialized comic-book narratives, that we can now easily and comfortably set off from “superheroes” in our minds, were functionally incapable of being separated in the slightest degree from the superhero books and the superhero publishers. All the stuff that you, perhaps, as a young writer, can today see yourself writing for Vertigo and possibly selling to goth girls in college…that stuff would all have had to be crammed into a Spider-Man comic, once upon a time. You would’ve had to make it about Spider-Man, to make it at all. You would have needed four pages of fight. Sure, maybe in the Vertigo story of your imagination, you wouldn’t need to harp on superpowers as such, or costumes as such, or on superpowers or costumes at all, instead being able to drill down immediately to the symbolic stratum hidden underneath the layers of supervillainy and long underwear…

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

stuff to download

Somewhere between the folks who buy game stuff and the professionals who make it is a world of amateur designers who labor primarily out of love of the hobby. Or maybe its the thrill of seeing their byline on a cool gamebook. Either way one of my favorite folks in the amateur scene is Dave Bezio, known on certain messageboards as grubman. Ol' Grubby has a new book, called The Phoenix Barony. It's a setting book for Labyrinth Lord and/or Basic/Expert D&D. You can get it for free download or at-cost print-on-demand over at lulu.

Mightiest Monsters: Mentzer & general commentary

So there aren't a whole lot of differences in the monster lists going from Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert to the Mentzer version of the game. The big dogs in the Basic rules remain unchanged. Mentzer Expert actually drops three monsters from the list, the Titanothere, the Whale, and the Dragon Turtle.

If memory serves, sea travels are given more screen time in the Companion rules, so I bet the latter two reappear later in the BECMI sequence. But I can't say for sure. I haven't owned the Companion, Masters, or Immortal rules in a long time. I do have the Rules Cyclopedia and that will get its own entry in this series.

Also absent from the Mightiest Monsters listing will be the 2nd edition of Advanced. I don't presently have any monster books for it. I really need to get a Monstrous Manual one of these days. That always struck me as a great critter book. I wish the Wizards had kept the Monstrous format for 3e. It was much cleaner and more user-friendly, in my opinion.

Just to let everyone know, I plan on covering the MM2 for 1st edition, the Rules Cyclopedia, and the Monster Manuals for 3e and 3.5. And maybe I'll offer a final general commentary post on this little project. I dunno.

In the Fiend Folio entry Gameblog reader jer left the following comment:
So, as a companion piece to these, have you thought about doing a comparison of the low-level monsters in each of the books (3HD or less)? I'm going to have to break out my Fiend Folio and see what a group of starting adventurers would be fighting in a campaign where it's the primary monster book (as opposed to "running away from in terror", which is what these posts have been showing).

Does that interest anyone else? Sounds like even more work than the present deal, but it might yield some interesting insights.

The Invocation of Eris

Tornadoes to the North...

Flash Floods to the South...

Fire Snows to the East...

Leprechauns Astride Beaver-Tailed Babies to the West!

Man, I love The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mightiest Monsters: 1st ed. Fiend Folio

Time to see who rules the roost in one of my alltime favorite monster books. Again, I'm omitting unique creatures because it's non-controversial that Lolth is one tough cookie.

Slaad (7 to 15+7 HD)
Giant, Fog (14 HD)
Dragon, Oriental (5-13 HD)
Nycadaemon (12+36 HD)
Eye of Fear & Flame (12 HD)
Giant, Mountain (12 HD)
Mezzodaemon (10+40 HD)
Lamia Noble (10+1 HD)
Retreiver (10 HD)
Troll, Giant Two-Headed (10 HD)
Enveloper (3+ HD)

The Enveloper has no upper limit to its hit dice. A truly ancient Enveloper could easily be the most badass monster in your FF-powered gameworld. That would be even weirder than the Hundred Headed Hydra that stomps around the Holmes Basicverse. More than once I've argued for the ultimate awesomeness of a world where the Fiend Folio is the primary monster book. And looking at the scant list above I'm actually kinda leaning towards the idea that the FF better fits with the 3 Little Beige Books than the Monster Manual. What would a game world look like where the original daemons and the slaad were the primary extraplanar foes? A world where the Eye of Fear & Flame was the number one undead baddie? Where people feared fogbanks because they might contain the mightiest of giants? Sounds pretty effin' cool to me. Maybe it's time to put my money where my mouth is and use the FF (but not the MM) for the World of Cinder. Though I may have to keep Taylor's suggestion in the last post for dino-riding titans. That's too rad to ignore.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mightiest Monsters: 1st ed. Monster Manual

I finally figured out to move the graphic out of the way of the list.So here's all the creeps of 10 hit dice or more from the first edition Monster Manual. I've omitted unique entities. You don't need me to tell you that Asmodeus is a badass mofo.

Whale (12 to 36 HD)
Dinosaurs (3+3 to 30 HD)
Titan (17 to 22 HD)
Roc (18 HD)
Golem (9-18 HD)
Aerial Servant (16 HD)
Elementals (8-16 HD)
Purple Worm (15 HD)
Giant Shark (10-15 HD)
Giant Turtle (10-15 HD)
Giants (8-15 HD)
Beholder (45-75 hp, ~14.5 HD)
Balichitherium (14 HD)
Dragon Turtle (12-14 HD)
Remorhaz (7-14 HD)
Pit Fiend (13 HD)
Mammoth (13 HD)
Giant Rhinoceros Beetle (12 HD)
Ki-Rin (12 HD)
Mastodon (12 HD)
Giant Slug (12 HD)
Giant Squid (12 HD)
Titanothere (12 HD)
Trapper (12 HD)
Eye of the Deep (10-12 HD)
Roper (10-12 HD)
Neo-Otyugh (9-12 HD)
Sphinx (8-12 HD)
Naga (7-12 HD)
Treant (7-12 HD)
Dragons (5-12 HD)
Hydra (5-12 HD)
Lich (11+ HD)
Type IV Demon (11 HD)
Ice Devil (11 HD)
Elephant (10-11 HD)
Manta Ray (8-11 HD)
Black Pudding (10 HD)
Type III Demon (10 HD)
Efreeti (10 HD)
Ettin (10 HD)
Ghost (10 HD)
Lurker Above (10 HD)
Wooly Rhino (10 HD)
Shambling Mound (8-10 HD)
Giant Sea Snake (8-10 HD)
Mimic (7 to 10 HD)
Lizard, Giant (3+1 to 10 HD)

Holy crap! This list is long! The power creep from OD&D to 1st edition Advanced is pretty obvious, given how beefier the opposition gets here. Dinosaurs and Titans sitting next to each other kinda makes my head spin. How do creatures from 63 million years ago fit into the same world as the titans of Greek myth? I love that these sorts of obvious contradictions are part of the implied setting of D&D. A foolish consistency is the low hitdie humanoid of little minds.

N.B. Even as early as this book, the first Advanced tome published, the direct relationship between hit dice and raw power is starting to come unraveled. The Type VI demon, the Will O' Wisp, and the Rakshasa don't make the 10 HD cutoff for this list, but would you really expect them to have much trouble dispatching a Giant Lizard or a Hydra? Special Ability Creep is a particular bugaboo of mine, as I have tons of trouble tracking all the abilities of demons and such when DMing. And as editions develop, more and more creatures are little more than a pile of special abilities.

FlatCon pictures

This weekend I got over to Bloomington, Illinois for FlatCon, a young and enthusiastic little convention. My very first con experience was in Bloomington, at the Frontier Wars convention held annually right up to around the time that GDW went under. That was a good little con. I got hooked on BattleTech there, bought my original Call of Cthulhu boxed set, and even played in my first AD&D tournament at Frontier Wars. I also played my first game of Traveller at Frontier War, which went so badly I didn't touch the stuff again for a decade or so. Ah, the opportunities missed.

Anyway, this was the first game convention both my daughter Elizabeth and my nephew the ninja were allowed to attend. we all played a great minis game called The Battle of Playmobiletoyetic. The three of us played the ghost pirate faction. Cameron killed a shark with a laser beam made of octopuses. Elizabeth and I wound up at the bottom of the ocean, visiting our old pal Davy Jones. Cameron traded the treasure he had found for safe passage from the vikings, who won the battle after sinking both the British Frigate and the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Upon our arrival my daughter insisted that we immediately hit the snack bar for a hot dog, which she considers to be the food of the gods.

Playmobile Bay prior to the start of the game. We ghost pirates took out the French garrison in the small fortress and pressganged the piratical prisoners in their dungeon. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire. One of the three prisoners, the disheveled fellow I had dubbed Pirate Pete, was later marooned on the scary face island in the middle of the map.

My daughter swears vengeance upon the opposition.

The game was played using simplified Savage Worlds rules and you got an extra benny if you wore a silly pirate hat. I opted for the mask instead of the Long John Silvers hat.

You can't really tell from the pic, but this Death Star had to be at least 4 feet in diameter. Those two little thingies just to the left of the main emitter dish are TIE Fighters from the collectible minis game. The whole thing had been constructed with magnets or velcro or something so that a 2-D space battle could occur on the spherical surface of the station. My sister says the same guy who did this also has a globe where they play Risk the same way.

The shopping was better this FlatCon than the last one I had attended. More game stores in attendance, fewer niche outfits and anime vendors. (Nothing against the hardcore anime fans, I just want game crap at my game conventions.) Cool Illinois game shops Castle Perilous and the Game Room both showed up with a hearty selection of gamer crap. The nice folks from the Game Room had the two Knuckleduster books I was wanting to get on sale, so I snagged 'em both. I'm totally digging the Knuckleduster Firearms Shop. Yay, cowby gun porn! The oddest thing about the vendors were that between three or so places they had 2 complete copies of Avalon Hill's old fantasy RPG Powers & Perils and two modules for it. I'm not sure I personally know anyone who has even read that one, much less played it. Yet at this particular FlatCon if you were into P&P they could hook you up.

One other cool thing happened at this con. As we were heading out to dinner Colin Orendorff was heading in to the con. I hadn't seen that dude since maybe 1993. He was part of my original grade school/junior high/high school game group and we plain just lost contact after graduation. It was cool seeing him. Stupid me, I forgot to get his email address. My sister stayed later than I did and on the way home my wife called her and asked her to track him down and get some contact info. I hope that panned out.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mightiest Monsters: Cook/Marsh Expert

In my mind, it's the Cook/Marsh Expert set where the judge finalizes the divorce between AD&D and 'Classic' D&D, so to speak. And the monster section is where this separation is most obvious. Absent are the Gygaxian Icons such as the beholder, mind flayers, etc. Here are the highest hitdice baddies in the '81 Expert rules.

Roc (6-36 HD)
Whale (6-36 HD)
Dragon Turtle (30 HD)
T. Rex (20 HD)
Golems (2+2 to 20 HD)
Elementals (8 to 16 HD)
Purple Worm (15 HD)
Mastodon (15 HD)
Giant Crocodile (15 HD)
Giants (8-15 HD)
Cyclops (13 HD)
Frost Salamander (12 HD)
Titanothere (12 HD)
Hydra (5-12 HD)
Stegosaurus (11 HD)
Triceratops (11 HD)
Giant Sturgeon (10+2 HD)
Efreet (10 HD)
Black Pudding (10 HD)

Who knew Giant Sturgeon were so nasty? I love how many of the critters listed here are basically wild animals on steroids or dinosaurs.

Rebel Scum: not dead yet

In a previous post I was asked if my new sandbox OD&D campaign was replacing my Star Wars Saga Edition campaign. The short answer is no. Wednesday next week will be session 2 of Rebel Scum, wherein the crew of Green 13 rendezvous with the Tantive IV to deliver the crucial Death Star data. We had to put the campaign on hold as I packed up my game room for last weekend's big move to the new Rients family residence. Last month there was a two week period where I couldn't even tell you where my dice bag was. That was weird.

I'm seriously considering starting a second biweekly campaign for the all-new World of Cinder. Voting just closed and I'm sticking with the clear winner. Thanks to everyone who voted! I think by keeping the rules for Cinder light, I can keep up with running a game every week. But I'm still mulling that over.

As usual, I've also got a armful of other games I'd like to run soon. Right now the hot list consists of Forward... to Adventure!, In Harm's Way: Aces in Spades, and Aces & Eights. I'll maybe run one of those as a con game in February, but I'd really like to try Aces in Spades for at least a couple sessions before I review it. And Aces & Eights looks just too damn awesome to run merely as one-off.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Levi is being Levi again...

...exploring the interface between internets technology and traditional RPG play. His latest project is dragonish rpg deal called Hoard. I'm not sure I want to follow him down that particular rabbit hole, but I'm a sucker for stupid quizzes with bloggy thing-a-ma-bobs.

Mightiest Monsters: Moldvay Basic

Here are the biggest critters (by hit dice) in the D&D rulebook with which I started my roleplaying hobby.

Dragons (6-11 HD)
Great Cats (3+2 to 8 HD)
Bears (4-7 HD)
Minotaur (6 HD)
Lycanthropes (3-6 HD)
Giant Lizards (3-6 HD)
Ochre Jelly (5 HD)
Owlbear (5 HD)
Rust Monster (5 HD)
Living Statues (3-5 HD)
Snakes (1-5 HD)

I don't remember Sabre Tooth Tigers being so bad ass, but at 8HD they were mightier than some dragons! Imagine how freaked out the PCs would be if they stumbled upon one of these big cats chewing on a freshly killed dragon! Cave bears and Polar Bears are also high up on the food chain, which I think is totally awesome. I think the record will show that I am firmly pro-bearmauling in my games.

If you compare this list to its predecessor, you'll note that the HD trend lower with the exception of dragons. The Moldvay edition may be the secret origin of the "OMG! Dragonz R teh best!" design trend over the last several editions. If the people who built the stats for the 2nd and 3rd edition dragons started playing with Moldvay Basic, of course they would assume that dragons are supposed to be the toughest monsters in the world. That runs counters to the assumption that because dragons are in the name of the game, they should be ubiquitous as well. Thus you end up with the situation in 3e where dragons range from tiny lizard babies at CR -2 to Godzilla level CR 57,000 threats. Personally, I'm not of the opinion that dragons have to be supergiganto to work in D&D. They should be too tough for low level adventurers to handle, but high level people should be able to subdue them and ride them around like firebreathing skyponies. That's one of the advantages of being high level!

The other thing I notice about this chart is that, aside from dragons, there is no overlap with the Holmes list or the OD&D list. Adventurers coming up in the implied setting of Moldvay's version had a very different world than the earlier incarnations of D&D. Perhaps Moldvay's vision of the D&D world was more inspired by lost civilizations struggling to survive the extinction of the ice age? That would go far to explain all the giant bears and sabre tooths and bigass snakes.

Mightiest Monsters: Holmes Basic

One of my favorite posts from OD&D blogger Delta is this great analysis of the baddest mofos in the original game, looking at hit dice as the primary indicator of raw power. I've decided to look at other D&D books with a similar eye, just to see what monsters rule the roost in various editions. I'll be starting today with the Holmes version of Basic D&D, the so-called 'Blue Book'. So here are the toughest monsters in my copy of that venerable tome:

Hydra (variable, see below)
Yellow Mold (variable, see below)
Purple Worm (15 HD)
Giants (8-15 HD)
Dragons (5-11 HD)
Black Pudding (10 HD)
Chimera (9 HD)
Vampire (7-9 HD)
Djinni (7+1 HD)
Griffon (7 HD)
Hellhound (3-7 HD)
Troll (6+3 HD)

Under Dr. Holmes's rules Hydra's possess one hit die per head, like most other versions of D&D. However, no range for the number of heads is given. A one-headed hydra is a legit encounter under these rules, as would be a hundred-headed hydra. Now that I think about, that would be awesome. Maybe that bigass hydra doesn't really have a hundred heads, but it has so freakin' many that people call it the Hundred Headed Hydra. It would be the Tarrasque of a Holmesian campaign world. Similarly, Yellow Mold gets 2 hit dice for every 10 square feet of contiguous growth, with no upper limit. By my math if the Humungous Fungus were a yellow mold it would have over 18 million hit dice!

Even setting these weird special cases aside, for a book designed for levels 1 to 3 the upper end of the competition is pretty dang steep. My gut tells me that run as-is a group of Holmes players would spend a lot of time running away from the monsters listed above.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

a setting needs a system

I am seriously considering using Original Dungeons & Dragons, the three Little Beige Books, as the baseline for my new not-quit-named campaign setting. I definitely want a system in or near the direct line of D&D descent, with all the attendant clichés. The other primary contenders are BasicExpert D&D/Labyrinth Lord, 1st edition AD&D/OSRIC, Castles & Crusades/C&C Collector's edition, the Rules Cyclopedia, MERP/RoleMaster, and Holmes Basic/Advanced Holmes. Any of those games would work for what, at its heart, is just another DM's rearrangement of the familiar elements of orcs and swords and such. And I'm not ruling out running session set in the World of [insert name here] with those or any other systems that catch my fancy, like Forward... to Adventure! or Encounter Critical or some Palladium mishmash.

OD&D has my eye right now for several reasons. That's where all this dragoning and dungeoning nonsense began and if I'm going to build an old school sandbox from the ground up, why not start with the tools that my predecessors wielded back in the day? And unlike my beloved Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert combo, I can approach the rules without nostalgia. Seriously, I have trouble finding any flaws in the '81 Basic/Expert rules and that's an unhealthly attitude to have towards a system you actually intend to run. And the wide-open, not-ready-for-prime-time nature of the original books really appeals to me. I can tack stuff on from 1st edition Advanced or some old magazine article or another system entirely and not feel like I'm daring to disturb the universe. In fact, I want to add a bunch of other stuff. I'm not looking to be an OD&D purist.

Another reason why I want to go with OD&D is that chargen is super easy. 3d6 in order. No swapping stat points around. 3d6 x 10 gp and a short equipment list. 3 classes. 4 races. 3 alignments. That's about it. I want players to be able to bring a friend and start playing as quickly as possible. This ties into another reason to go with a lighter incarnation of D&D: for this project I'm not interested in the concept of "rules mastery", whereby dominance in the game is achieved through knowledge and deployment of intricate rules. I want players to succeed by judiciously and imaginatively interacting with the fantasy environment. I don't want the players to look for rules-based solutions, I want them to do cool stuff! For this campaign I'm working within the context that the rules are there primarily for when imagination fails. OD&D supports that approach. All-encompassing editions work against it, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More on a name

Now that I'm moved and can start serious work on this new sandbox campaign, I really need to pin down a name. The new poll has a shorter voting period.

Within the context of the campaign itself, I could really see myself using both names. The vaguely Gaelic folks who are native speakers of Common/Westron call the world Cinder. The Adelic-speaking invaders/occupiers/ruling class call the area Andrivøld, because even a generation or two later they still consider the place a whole different world from back home. Tolkien can do those linguistic bits with more aplomb, but seeing as how my whole setting will be more hamfisted than Middle Earth, I think I can get away with it. Whether the official name for the whole setting is Cinder or Andrivøld then takes on ethnic and social dimensions.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Solidarity with Galador

Back on the grid.

Big thanks to all the folks that helped my family and I move over the weekend: Pat, Leanne, Laurie, Andy, Stuart, and Angela. You are all solid awesome in my book. And thanks to my pal Tom for his sage advice on rewiring the dryer with a four-prong plug that fits the outlet at the new place. Amy and I freaked out when we saw that the outlet was incompatible with our old-but-not-ancient dryer.

It looks like I may have to cut down my book and game collection even more. The shelves I have set aside for gaming stuff are nearly full and I don't even have my d20 stuff unpacked yet! Criminy!

On a tangentially unrelated note, right now on eBay somebody else is selling their copies of Encounter Critical and my EC module, Asteroid 1618:

I've had auto searches for EC running since before it was known to be a hoax.

I keep my softbound edition of EC in my briefcase. I often re-read it when I go to court for work. I make it a point to arrive early so as not to miss an appearance so I usually have 15 or 20 minutes to kill. A little phasic insanity fills that time nicely.

Note to collector types: That copy of Asteroid 1618 is one of seventeen in print. For reals.