Friday, February 29, 2008

Jeff's Incomplete Guide to the new Retro Stupid

In case you haven't heard, we live in a new golden age of old-fashioned orc-mugging and tomb-robbing. There are now, in print, more good options for dungeoning and dragoning than we've seen since the eighties. For reals. As self-appointed guardian of face-rocking hack-n-slashery, I have decided to provide an easy-to-use overview of the field as it stands today. You're welcome.

Basic Fantasy

The Basic Deal: Basic/Expert D&D tweaked for an AD&D audience.
Where You Can Get It: The rulebook is a free download at the publisher's website or you can get a print rulebook at lulu.
Why pick this one? Perfect for the AD&D player who appreciates the simplicity of Basic D&D, but dislikes some of the stupider parts of the Basic game. Race and class are split, as per AD&D, no funky elf class. And clerics get a spell at first level.

Labyrinth Lord

The Basic Deal: Pretty much a clone of the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert rules.
Where You Can Get It: Free download here or print edition at lulu.
Why pick this one? The 1981 Basic/Expert set is pretty much the perfect iteration of D&D. Seriously, I was just discussing on an old school forum that these rules are so good that they discourage homebrewing and tinkering. Labyrinth Lord takes those two books and seemlessly integrates them into a single text, arguably making this game the Best RPG Ever Written.


The Basic Deal: An Open Game License version of 1st edition AD&D.
Where You Can Get It: Free download at the official webpage.
Why pick this one? If 1st ed. AD&D is your thing, but you don't own the books, OSRIC is a supercheap way to get back into the game. Or if you still dream of publishing a 1st edition module, here's the OGL way to get it done. Does your game group think playing out-of-print games is retarded? Go to Kinko's, get a hardcopy of this printed out, and then beat them with it.


The Basic Deal: The World's Easiest D20 Fantasy System.
Where You Can Get It: The official homepage.
Why pick this one? If you got a smaller rulebook you'd need a magnifying glass to play. The rules will fit in your wallet! Next time one of the indie fans in your group starts nattering on about rules-light gaming pull this puppy out. And you won't cry when you spill soda on your copy, 'cause the little sucker is just one sheet of paper.

Castles & Crusades

The Basic Deal: The love child of 1st edition AD&D and the new d20 stuff.
Where You Can Get It: Your local FLGS or favorite online store or direct from the publisher.
Why pick this one? If you miss most of the fiddly bits of 1st edition chargen but also like the clean resolution mechanics of more modern games, then this might be the right choice. Well-supported with modules, too.


The Basic Deal: AD&D, only more so. More dice charts, more violence, more ridiculousness.
Where You Can Get It: This ones a little trickier, as the print runs on the core books are drying up. You may need to do some online hunting to get everything you need. I'm still putting together my set. Amazon has a bunch of this stuff, so I'd recommend starting there.
Why pick this one? This is the first game I've seen since RoleMaster that takes AD&D's formula of crunchy violence and makes something even better with it. If you've ever been deep into either edition of AD&D and thought "Man, this isn't hardcore enough" then, bing!, you just found your new favorite system.

Encounter Critical

The Basic Deal: You remember that chapter in the DMG that gave the rules for combining AD&D and Gamma World? This game is like that, only sexier.
Where You Can Get It: Click this link now. Enlightenment will follow.
Why pick this one? Of all the Retro Stupid games out there, this one is the retro stupidest. In all seriousness, if you are a regular Gameblog reader, do yourself a favor: Get the free PDF version of the rules and sit down somewhere and read them. Do not skim. You'll miss much of the awesome.

Mazes & Minotaurs

The Basic Deal: What if Gygax and Arneson liked Jason and the Argonauts type movies more than The Lord of the Rings?
Where You Can Get It: Free downloads here.
Why pick this one? If you dig the old school dungeon scene but want a change of pace from medieval times, this is your huckleberry. And the mechanics are super-tight. Also, you can pitch the game to newbies as "like Xena".

Advanced Holmes

The Basic Deal: One man's house rules that elegantly expand the original basic set.
Where You Can Get It: Direct link. You'll also need a 'blue book' Basic D&D (pictured left).
Why pick this one? In four pages the author manages to capture the essence of the Advanced experience without a lot of the cruft. I'm going to go ahead and write the inexplicable words Rules-Light AD&D.

Why not just play the old stuff?

An excellent question! If you're already rocking an older game, please don't stop on my account. I just wanted to bring together all the various links I had to some of the crazy new stuff that supports dungeoncrawling.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Flying will continue this evening as usual"

Last night my game group gave In Harm's Way: Aces in Spades a test fly. This is Clash Bowley's rpg of World War I flying aces. As a GM I generally stumble my way through any game that doesn't involve dungeoning dragons, but I had a good time anyway. The PCs consisted of three freshly minted 2nd Lieutenants in the Royal Flying Corps. MacGregor was a hard-drinking Scotsman, a temperamental artistic type with a bit of a deathwish. Parker was a charming rogue, the kind of fellow you'd buy a drink for and never notice that he failed to return the favor. And Doug played the snotty Prince of Wales. He had spent the maximum number of the points on his dude's social class stat, so why not?

The new lads of Squadron 90 were quickly introduced into a situation involving a captured British aviator. The commander of a nearby German squadron held Lt. Fosdick. He was willing to swap Fosdick (who was eating Jasta 62 out of house and home) for a German pilot currently staying as a guest of the French squadron that shares hangers and airfield with the PC's unit. We never quite completed the scenario. I was looking forward to the part where the British PCs help a German prisoner escape from a French unit.

One of the best roleplaying moments of the night occurred in the officer's club shared by the French and British fliers. Here the PCs found out that the local French squadron had a betting pool on how long it would be before all three new British pilots were dead. Fifteen days was the most anyone gave the group. One drunken French pilot tried to convince Parker that if he could hold out 12 days they could split the winnings. MacGregor, being a moody son of a bitch, put money on himself only lasting one day, with instructions to buy drinks with the winnings.

We spent a good portion of the night involved in an airfight between the PCs in their SE5's and some passing Albatross D III's. The PC's squadron was enroute to drop a reply note to Jasta 62's proposed prisoner exchange when a flight from another German unit spotted them and dived to intercept. MacGregor and Parker got shot up a bit for their troubles, but the PCs each managed to score a kill. My Albatross's kept stalling out during tricky maneuvering. That did not help the Germans at all.

Earlier in the evening we had randomly rolled the conditions of the airfield using the chart provided, resulting in a bumpy patch that increases the chance of a crash by 15%. MacGregor's damaged plane was not up to the task pf coming down in one piece, requiring Pat to roll on the crash results chart. He got the worst possible result, destroying the plane and automatically killing MacGregor. That evening drinks were on him.

We had originally planned two maybe three sessions of World War One flying aces, but at the end of the night we agreed that the session ended too beautifully. You don't mess with a perfect moment like that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Any readers in Chi-town?

Gameblog reader Jesse is looking for adult, non-Catpissy gamers on the North Side of Chicago. He likes HackMaster and D&D. Jesse hasn't played the new editions of D&D but he's willing to give it a try. He also does boardgames and such and is particularly fond of Illuminati, which is also a favorite of mine. Man, I haven't played Illuminati in a long effin' time. Anyhoo, if you think you could maybe play a game with Jesse, shoot me an email (as always, I'm at jrients at the gmail to the dot com) and I'll put you and he in contact with each other.

I made this...

...but I'm not sure why.

also, five links

Kellri on how to best experience weird fantasy in D&D

Five Room Dungeons

The Hall of Badassitude


The Expedition into the Black Reservoir

The vegetable bowls the assembled adjective.

Here's a fun and easy meme-thing from my pal Intruder_W:

1. Get a randomly generated sentence from here.
2. Copy and paste the sentence into the "title" field here.
3. You made an art! Post it to your liveblogjournal doo-hickey and please leave a link in the comments section.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The coolest thing Ray ever did

One of the guys I used to game with was a feller named Ray St. John. I don't always give out full names when I tell old stories, but I mention his full moniker in case any Gameblog readers out west way may know him. I lost track of him after he moved back to his native Washington state to take a job in the aeronautics industry. Tell Ray to send me an email, if you know him. As always, I'm at the jrients to the gmail at the dot com.

Ray was an old time D&D player, getting his start in the Air Force back in the days when D&D was this strange new kind of wargame. But all his years of play experience and general life experience didn't always show through, because he came off as a bit of a lovable goof. He tended to act first and think second when playing and sometimes in social situations as well. As a DM I found that he made an excellent foil to thorough planners and SWAT team dungeoneers. I could count on him to keep things interesting.

Ray was one of the longest running players in my old campaign set in the Bandit Kingdoms, a nasty little corner of the World of Greyhawk. The PCs in that group tended towards the chaotic and evil sectors of the alignment chart. The most socially astute PC in the setting was Doctor (later Baron) Phostarius, a chaotic neutral bard/mage with a penchant for necromancy. Ray played Doc's half-drow half-brother, the evil mercenary captain/cavalier Sir Cleave, the Count of Bronze.

One time I had a gandalf/elminster type (who was really a grey slaad in disguise) send the brothers in search of the Cauldron of Chaos, which was being held by the forces of Niceness in the an invisible double pyramid (stacked base-to-base like a d8) made out of solidified Elemental Air. It served as home to a wide array of Lawful Good monsters. I can't remember the whole cast of the affair, but I recall Corporal Angry and his Hooting Commandos, a group of halfings in WWII togs, and King Artie and his Knights of the Card Table, some chump paladins who drank cheap beer and played a lot of penny ante poker while talking about maybe going out and slaying some badguys.

I set up as one of the meanest fights in the place a bigass Silver Dragon. This is where things got awesome. Ray, out of the friggin' blue, decides to parlay with the dragon. This caught me off guard, as usually this group's idea of NPC negotiations normally consisted of declaring "Everyone still alive is my prisoner" after lobbing some fireballs. Instead, Sir Cleave challenges the dragon to a contest.

Cleave takes from his pack 4 crystal wine glasses and 5 large tankards. He fills the glasses with wine and the tankards with ale. I, for one, am surprised to discover that Ray has anything on his equipment list that isn't a weapon, armor, or a healing potion. Ray proposes a drinking contest. If he can finish off the large tankards of ale before the dragon drinks the wine, the party must be allowed to pass freely.

I suggest to Ray that a small enough dose of poison to fit in the wine glass and pass undetected will do little to a huge dragon. Ray assures me that the wine is unpoisoned. The dragon asserts that only Sir Cleave will be allowed to participate in the contest. Ray states "The conditions of the contest are that only I may touch the tankards and only you may touches the glasses. Anything else results in a forfeit. Agreed?" The dragon consents and the contest begins.

Where Ray was heading with this, I honestly did not know. I narrated that the dragon started quickly downing a couple of wines like shots as Sir Cleave quaffed his first tankard. Ray asks if he has finished his first tankard before the dragon's last glass of wine. "Sure," I say, "the dragon is reaching for his third glass of wine as you finish guzzling your first mug of ale." Ray smiles that smile that players only smile when they've got the DM right where they want him.

"I turn my tankard upside down and place it over the last glass of wine."

On the spot like that, I couldn't figure out a way the dragon could retrieve his last glass without touching the forbidden tankard and forfeiting. Sir Cleave, the party tank, had outwitted an ancient dragon and the party passed his lair without a fight. The dungeon still had plenty of tough fights. I vaguely recall some guardians nagas and at least one shedu.

I can't quite remember whether Sir Cleave shattered his vorpal blade before or after that incident, but I can honestly tell you it was not in retaliation. The dude rolled a crit with it against a clay golem, against whom only enchanted blunt weapons do damage. I felt that something had to give way under the force of such a mighty blow. You should have seen the look on his face. No doubt it somewhat resembled my visage after he outwitted my dragon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

two questions

The following two queries popped into my head on the drive to work this morning.

Q1 Why do hardback gamebooks not come with dustjackets? Nearly every other hardback I buy comes with a dustjacket.

Q2 If they hadn't been lumped into the grunge scene, would Soundgarden be remembered as the rockingest band to come out of the nineties? I think so.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The First Half-Wookey

Here's a scan for Encounter Critical fans and other aficionados of the absurd.

From "The 'Star Wars' Log: The Master Plan for Future Space Films", originally printed MAD #230, 1982 and reprinted in MAD about Star Wars: Thirty Years of Classic Parodies. Which my awesome sister got me for Christmas.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cinder: land of no horses

Cowboys and knights are totally awesome, but I've never really liked horses. It's not that I hate them or anything, they just don't excite me. So I've been thinking that for my Cinder campaign world I would ditch horses altogether and go with something dumber. Idea number one for a horse substitute is big, stupid birds:

I'd probably call them Warks.

Idea number two involves various smelly and ill-tempered reptiles. Isn't that how Tekumel rolls?

I'd love to put up a screenshot of the knights who ride wingless dragons from the old videogame King of Dragons, but I couldn't find one on the google. You have failed me, internetz!

Idea three involves mixing and matching various riding beasts and monsters-of-burden, such that a typical stable would look something like the Mos Eisley cantina but with more hay and fewer Roswell aliens playing electronic bagpipes.

Note that I'm primarily looking for ideas for the PCs races (human, elf, dwarf, hobling), since as the DM I reserve the right to mount orcish knights on giant war butterflies or whatever.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

my module: now less crappy

I've just updated my module, fixing a couple mistakes spotted by the masked delver and a few I spotted myself. I also tried to clean up some layout issues. Most importantly, I added a page at the end giving my halfbaked chargen rules, including the random xp chart that calithena called "brutally OD&D".

The download is still available at the same place: Under Xylarthen's Tower.

UPDATE: I just uploaded a hopefully final version of the module. Turns out I forgot to embed the dang fonts! I wish I had discovered this before I took the file to Kinkos and had them print me a copy. Oh, well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just One Link

Under Xylarthen's Tower - six levels of OD&D craziness by yours truly

Dragons: smaller than you think?

Before the discovery of the existance of dinosaurs and the rise of atomic monster movies dragons were a lot smaller. Dig ol' St. George here:

By our modern standards, that lizard is positively puny. Yet that dude got sainted for killing it. Looking at that picture, I think one of the things the 3e designers got right was spreading dragons over a large range of sizes. Slaying a puny drake like that depicted above could be enough to make your rep on a backwater medieval island, but you need a bigger wyrm to mobilize a whole team of uber-adventurers against you.

Not to knock the Vision's strategy here, but I'd probably send in the God of Thunder and the dude with the supertech platemail.
3e breaks size down along age lines, but earlier editions gave a 3 hit die range as a separate variable. For example, red dragons are from 9 to 11 hit dice, with the 11HD variety normally referred to as a 'large red dragon'. I used to think of the three dragon size categories as basically big, bigger, and biggest. But looking at St. George's foe up there (and lots of other medieval illos like it), I start to wonder if maybe that's a mistake. Maybe dragons should simply operate under the same size rules as everyone else in AD&D: an 11 hit die dragon is larger than man-sized, a 10 hit die version is roughly man-sized (like St. George's nemesis), and the 9 hit die red dragon would actually be smaller than a man. The prospect of a teeny-tiny dragon that is nearly as destructive as it's gigantic 11HD kin amuses me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's good to be Grand Moff

I'm not a big fan of all the various themed Monopoly sets out there. The original Atlantic City version is just fine by me. But a while back I got a Star Wars set as a gift. I hadn't played it in years, but my daughter has taken a liking to it recently. Anyway, here are some of the cards from the Chance and Community Chest equivalents.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

hey, five links

Random Monster Blog

Classic Empire of the Petal Throne charts

Making Dungeons

Stupid Comics

How James Wallis Ruined My Character's Life

coming... soon?

Generally all-around awesome D&D'er calithena has demanded that I email him a copy of my "Xylarthen's Tower" adventure that I ran at the con last Sunday. He's pretty much in a position to make such a demand because a while back he sent me a copy of House of the Axe, his super-nifty Arduin adventure for 3e. That was a load of fun to run.

But rather than just scan all my notes in and fire them off to cal, I think I'll try a make a presentable PDF download out of my mess of a dungeon key. The maps will be scans of my pencil-on-graph-paper originals, since I don't have the foggiest idea how to make a professional looking dungeon map. But the key will be cleaned up so that someone besides me will be able to read the text and know what the hell is going on. I'm planning on presenting the dungeon pretty much as it existed before the PCs from Sunday started plundering it, with the single exception that I simply must include the sickly mule they abandoned on level 1.

So that's my newest gaming project, a free PDF OD&D module. Of course I am now wondering when was the last time someone considered publishing an OD&D module. Are there any others out there on the net? And when was the last print OD&D adventure released?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

a handy tip for CoC keepers, and others

Once many years ago I did a survey of all my CoC modules. I went through every single effin' module I owned and tallied how many times each a roll for a specific skill was called for. I'm geeky that way sometimes. The top three skills by far were Spot Hidden, Library Use, and Read Latin, with Spot Hidden beating the other two by a good margin. More importantly, a fair number of those Spot Hidden rolls were scenario breakers. That is to say, if you didn't find the door leading to the ghoul catacombs (or whatever) the adventure was effectively over. Here's how that would work out in actual play, at least when I ran CoC:

Player: My Spot Hidden is 45%, I rolled a 63.
Keeper: Well you find the secret door that leads to the rest of the adventure anyway.
Player: Then why did I roll?
Keeper: Uh...


Player: My Spot Hidden is 45%, I rolled a 63.
Keeper: You don't find anything.
Player: I guess that means I don't find the slobbering horror, so I move to South America and become a llama rancher.
Keeper: Your llama ranch is successful right up until the day when the stars are right and Azathoth destroys the material universe.

The easy way to overcome this issue is to think of an alternative to bland, everyday failure, an alternative that is, in fact, much, much worse.

Player: My Spot Hidden is 45%, I rolled a 63.
Keeper: Tough luck, kid. You find the secret door because three smelly ghouls open it from the other side.
Player: Aieee!
Keeper: Roll for san loss, sucker.

Note that this method works in any game that is awesome. The engineer aboard the Free Trader blow his roll to fix the engines? Start a build-up to overload. The superhero fail to track Professor Bloodlust back to his lair? Have him walk into an ambush set by the Professor's Atomo-apes.

my morning punch in the gut

Steve Gerber passed away this week. Gerber wrote some of the greatest comics of the seventies (Howard the Duck and The Defenders among others) and had his hand in some of the best cartoons of the eighties (including the greatest cartoon of all time, Thundarr the Barbarian). Gerber was able to produce deeply thoughtful works full of human insight that also included all the awesome of superguys in crazy costumes punching the crap out of each other. He was one of the men responsible for opening the door to modern comic writers like Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. Gerber is one of three writers in comics whose work I will buy without flipping through the mag. If he has the script credit, I know I'll enjoy that comic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter War recap, part III

Sunday afternoon was the appointed time for "Dragons of Ancient Days II", my second go at running OD&D as a con event. Let me tell you, the last day of a con is absolutely perfect for older, lighter editions of D&D. With less equipment, fewer race & class choices, fewer spells per caster, and such it just makes D&D easy for brain-dead dungeoneering. About half the PCs were scrawled on single sheets of a 3" x 3" hotel stationery. Kathleen was asleep for at least a quarter of the run and she did about as well as anyone else at the table! Fun fact: if you stick strictly to the original 3 rulebooks then most players only need to use a d20 and a d6.

We made up characters on the spot, rolling 3d6 in order, rolling up starting gold, and then making a few special rolls. I made a big 3d6 chart for starting XPs that puts most OD&D characters at 3rd or 4th level. Then each player got to roll under their level on a d6 to get a free potion and under their level on d20 to get a random magic item. The only player to get a free magic item rolled up a potion of fire resistance.

I should note here that making the characters was fun and exciting, but 20 minutes into the dungeon we had some late arrivals. I decided to turn them away, which pained me, but we had already spent a lot of time on chargen. Next year I'll bring some ready-to-go PCs, even though were making characters on the spot. Anyway, here's the party:

Sam, human cleric
Hirsuita, dwarf fighting woman
Glarnob, human cleric
George, human cleric
Prince Raspbeary Bere', elf magic-user
Fragg Da Kidd, halfling fighting man
Darb Kalb, elf fighting man
Zobar, human fighting man
Gryndehl, human cleric
Omar, human magic-user

Darb Kalb is a Gygaxian name if I ever heard one. He wouldn't be out of place adventuring beside Fonkin Hoddypeak or Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter.

Glarnob ended up with a lot of screen time because he had the highest strength in the party (a mighty 16!) and was thus the point man on opening doors. Funny thing is, I don't think you get a bonus to open doors under the original three books. But since I was rolling the open door checks, no one else knew that.

The scenario proposed to the party was that a mighty dragon had very recently been killed while out of its lair. Popular belief held that the lizard slept upon a huge pile of gold on the 4th level below the ruins of Xylarthen's Tower. So the party had been hastily organized to bum rush the dragon's hoard before it was claimed by other monsters or worse, another adventuring party. The players generally agreed that the whole of the party had been deep in their cups the night before when this plan was constructed.

Let me tell you just a bit about the dungeon under Xylarthen's Tower. I made use of the random dungeon mapping charts in the old Judges Guild book Ready Ref Sheets to layout the basics of each level. If you are an OD&D fan and don't have a copy of Ready Ref Sheets, trust me when I tell you that you want this booklet. I consider it one of the top three 3rd party supplements for OD&D. The dungeon generator is brief and in no way complete, much less so than the appendix in the 1st edition DMG. But it's also a lot faster than Uncle Gary's charts. I stocked the dungeon mostly using the random method describe in book 3 of the original game, with a few special rooms on each level that were not randomized.

I made 6 levels instead of just the four because this dungeon had a lot of inter-level flow and the party accidentally descending below the target level was a distinct possibility. You ever been in a big, multi-layer dungeon where each level only has a single stairway connecting it to the next level down? I hate that. Getting to level 4 was not supposed to be the hard part of the adventure. Defeating the two baby dragons that momma left behind was. But I'm getting ahead of myself now.

Like I said, getting to level 4 was supposed to be easy. Level one had a stairway down to level 2 that was guarded by an ogre, who worked for the hobgoblin queen. The party killed the ogre, but spiked the door to the stairs without ever opening it and then went on to explore other areas of the dungeon. And the room with the secret door leading to a ladder straight down to level 4? That was the one room on level 1 they didn't check for secret doors. Every other room in the dungeon both elves meticulously investigated. Finally, after the Prince charmed a gnoll they got directions to another staircase leading down to level three, and the nearest stairs from level 3 to 4. But not before exploring 90% of level 1 and burning through most of the time allocated for the session.

I should mention the mules. Four party members bought mules to help haul mountains of treasure out of the dungeon. George the Cleric basically spent the majority of the adventure tending to the mules. Since he had an extra language coming to him due to high Int, I offered that he could speak Mulish if the player so desired. The player jumped on that opportunity and her PC became known as the Mule Whisperer. Prince Raspbeary asked if he could speak Rattish and I agreed, knowing that one of the toughest encounters on level 1 was a large pack of giant rats capable of overrunning the party. When they stumbled upon the rat lair he forgot that he could parlay with the rodents. Thanks to the dice, the good Prince also ended up being the only PC infected with Rat Fever. Curing that cost the party 5000gp, coincidentally the exact value of the single most valuable piece of treasure they found in their first day in the dungeon. That left them with a few hundred silver and a few dozen GP to show for their efforts. Oh, and they were down a mule. It had the Rat Fever, too, and eventually it became too sick to move, so they abandoned it in the room with the poison gas.

Imagine a crack in the floor with the strange smells emanating from it combined with a skeleton that showed no signs of a violent death. I thought that would be enough to tip someone off that the room was unsafe. My key indicated that every turn spent in that room gave a non-cumulative 5% chance of a puff of gas seeping up that would require everyone to save or die. I think I rolled the dice 15 times as the party searched the skeleton, searched the room, and bless their souls they even spent a couple turns trying to make the crack wider. Thanks to their efforts I upped the chances of poisoning to 10% but still no random dungeon death. One player even pointed out the possibility of the smell being poisonous gas but no one paid any attention to him.

But as I said, eventually Gnolly, the Prince's new best friend, shows the party the fast way to level 4. Gnolly even tips off the party that the dragon on level four has a mate that lives on a lower level, so when the party finds the big, ominous Double Doors they go into SWAT mode. Potions of Giant Strength, Fire Resistance, and Flying are consumed. Prince Raspbeary thinks he's going to be clever and hands his Potion of Delusion to Gnolly. "Here's a potion of giant strength for you, too!" So I figure, hey, the poor bastard has to be pretty confident now. I declared that Gnolly tries to kick open the doors. He fails, and the noise wakes up the 2 kid dragons on the other side. So when they do finally get the door open half the party is immediately incinerated. Fragg Da Kidd decides to make a break for it, while the last three party members take on the dragons as best as they can. Hirsuita charges the dragons, but she and Glornab are taken down with a second blast of fire. Darb Kalb flies up to the ceiling of the room, but one of the dragons eventually eats him. Everyone but Fragg is dead at this point, at the end of the first full round of combat with the kiddy dragons.

Fragg had previously announced his attention to flee the dungeon completely and seek out a new party of adventurers to join. I've had a long-standing house rule about quick exits from dungeons: you have to roll at least one wandering monster check for each level traversed on the way out. I rolled that Fragg encountered a wandering monster on the first level. I let him throw the dice to determine his doom. He came up with a single Berserker. It took a few tense rounds, but some lucky rolls allowed the terribly burnt hobbit to overcome the axe-wielding maniac. Since we were 15 minutes from the closing time of the con, Fragg's player was declared the 'winner' of the expedition. Nearly everybody died, but nearly everybody left with a smile on their face. One player even made inquiries into getting his own copies of the original books.

One last note about mapping. I often draw a map for the players myself, but this time I decided to be Johnny Hardass. Not only did I indicate that I would not be mapping, but I pronounced that the mapper's character would be holding pen and parchment in the dungeon. Omar the Magic-User volunteered to tackle mapping. He was played by Dragonsfoot regular rogue attorney, one of the cooler dudes to hang out on that site. Gameblog reader skeleri was also in both my games. Infamous jum, were you also in the game? I knew you were at the con but I never put player and online identity together. Anyway, rogue attorney did an excellent job mapping, which only encourages me to be a bigger jerk about mapping in my regular games. Once the party was surprised by gnoll archers and Omar was hit twice and nearly killed. I declared a 2 in 6 chance that I would confiscate the player map because it was now ruined by bloodstains, but alas Omar made the roll.

So that's the short version of the knuckleheaded adventures of Sunday afternoon. The game went far to confirming my opinion that musty old OD&D still has great value not just out of a sense of nostalgia, but as a fun game in its own right. Next year I might try running for an even bigger group of players.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter War recap, interlude

So Obiwan Shinobi attempted to Command Matter the cave ooze, using Naruto-style ninja finger-magic. He made his roll and transmuted it into marshmallow. Poor Marc. He's a good kid but he's not old enough that he saw what was coming next. The rest of the table promptly started dropping Ghostbusters references, just like the old days. Anyway, to commemorate what happened next, my bud Pat (who watched the session from the sidelines) made this:

In case you can't follow that, the above depicts a wookey pugilist taking out the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, Fist of the North Star style. When you're a yeti boxer that does 4d8 damage with your bare hands crossing the streams isn't necessary.

Winter War recap, part deux

On Saturday afternoon six players and I goofed around with the king of retro stupid RPGs, S. John Ross's Encounter Critical. The session was set on the wild west sci-fi planet where Batman has a laser showdown with the Capricorn Kid. (I can count on one hand the cartoons that are more awesome than Challenge of the Superfriends.) The PCs had each been sold 100% ownership in an Impervium mine by one Harvey Muttonchops, a fellow who was basically Harcourt Fenton Mudd as a halfling. The front half of the adventure was spent tracking Harvey through the wilderness as the little bugger tries to make his way to the starport in Bismuth City. The back half of the adventure was a dungeon crawl through the Haunted Mine ripped straight from Asteroid 1618, my bigass EC adventure module/campaign setting thingy. Incidentally, I was tickled pink that Doug, one of the players and a regular at my con games, had bought a print copy of A1618. Slowly but surely I am identifying the owner of all seventeen print copies. And then the great culling shall begin...

Anyway, back to the game. Three players made use of my pregenerated characters, selecting Obiwan Shinobi, cyaborg elf ninja/psi-with; IG-666 primitive robodroid warlock; and Princess Sweetpollen, bee girl doxy/warlock. Three players made their own PCs, using the rules I posted here on the Gameblog back in October. Doug made Chubali, the cave wookey pugilist. His origin was "What if after kayoing Superman, Ali moved to Kashyyk and opened a gym?" Chubali wears the mighty Golden Gloves of Cassius, which allows him to roll his Melee Attack skill over to Guard. Josh built the Tombstone Kid, a frankenstein warrior packing a pair of demonfire six-shooters. They say he was born when phasic lightning struck the mass grave up on Boot Hill. And Jim rolled up Gronk the Yummy, a cave hobling warlock/criminal capable of summoning giant chickens. Don't let Roderigo Mallard know, but Gronk possesses the fabled Great Grimoire of Gollibard the Gourmet! Sadly, no one played the disco klengon hitman. I'll have to use him again next year.

Over the course of the adventure the party encountered phasic coyotes (which we all decided had disco mirrorball hides), pyrexis hounds, a slime dragon, time ghosts, a spectral doxy, Deloris the Dwarven Doxy (once you go beard, you never go back, baby), the klengon hellfire and brimstone preachin' man, the lizardman sheriff of Bismuth City, a hostile cave ooze, Native Engines (robodroids like this guy), orcish gunslingers, and a mummy wearing a ten gallon hat who put Obiwan in a Byrne Lock. I have to admit that I spent quite a bit of time picking on Obiwan Shinobi. His player earned most of the attention though and took it all in great stride, even the part where he inadvertently found himself married to Princess Laughing Circuits, played by Crushinator in a Pocahontas costume. Two encounters that the party missed entirely were the Exploding Tumbleweed and a run-in with One-Eyed Jack, the cyclops bounty hunter.

The adventure ended on a happy note. The party found the magic Bronze Door, that would take them individually to any place in the universe. Since the Tombstone Kid was a local he used the door just to go back home. Princess Sweetpollen directed the door to take her to her One True Prince, from whom she promptly harvested genetic material and then injected his body with eggs. Gronk the Yummy opted to go to the homeworld of the giant chickens, where they roam free and happy. Chubali attended the Ali-Frasier fight, and was later signed by Don King. (Only in America, folks.) IG-666 used the door to crash a Slayer concert with Anton Lavey and Aleister Crowley. Slayer? Not my first choice, but then again I'm not a robodroid programmed for evil. And Obiwan Shinobi used the door to finally find his lost motorcycle, his honor restored at last. Thus endeth the mighty Obiwan Shinobi Trilogy, making no more sense than when it began.

Winter War recap, part I

This last weekend was my local con. Winter War has been running for as many years as I've been alive. Situated in the heart of grognard territory, it's a storied little event. The offices of Judges Guild and GDW are both about an hour's drive from here. The founders of the con bought their copies of OD&D directly from booth at Gen Con where it was first offered for sale. The guy who runs the auction wrote the very first CRPG. (It was called 'pedit5' because Rusty was attempting to hide this unauthorized use of university hardware. A prof eventually found it and deleted it.) One time Marc Miller brought to the con this new sci-fi game he was about to release. As one of the gang put it yesterday "We didn't like some of it and we told Marc that. I'm not sure Traveller ever got harsher criticism than from the Winter War con staff." Judges Guild even released one of the Winter War D&D tournaments as a pair of adventure modules.

That's the milieu in which I offer my crazy little con experiments every year. Most of the time I don't think about it. But every once in a while I'm working on something like the OD&D game I ran yesterday and I wonder what the hell I'm doing. As one of the snot-nosed Basic D&D kids do I really have any business trying to invoke the atmosphere of the D&D scene as it existed back when I was in diapers? Am I running a fun game or just constructing phantom nostalgia for an era that I will never truly know? Isn't playing swords & elves as they did it in the disco era just a trifle bit meta, like playing a all-holodeck scenario in a Star Trek game? I can be a moody mofo sometimes but the answer to these sorts of funks is always the Six Magic Words: shut up and roll the dice.

So enough background and introspection. Let's talk about the con and what happened this weekend. Friday night I got to play the boadgames El Grande and Ra. The latter was a new one for me. Ra is a charming little auction-based Eurogame with an ancient Egyptian theme. It's designed by Reiner Knizia. I can't think of a game of that dude's that I've disliked, not that I've played all ten jillion games he's made. My favorite bit in the game is that if you have a tile with an Egyptian god on it, you can use it to snatch another tile off the board without paying for it. My god steals stuff for me, what has yours done lately?

During the game my sister, our new game friend Jennifer, and I debated the questions "What the hell is up with stinky gamers?", "Why are some gamers such sexist dipshits?" and "How are the two populations related?" This subject comes up every year, though I'm not sure we arrived at any new conclusions that night. On Sunday the guy in the all-weekend Advanced Squad Leader tournament offered a new data point: in his experience the guys who are looking to mooch off of other con-goers for sleeping quarters are the most likely to be the smelliest. Not the fellow who splits the room fee and ends up drawing the short straw for bed priviledges, but rather the kind of guy that shows up with no lodgings arranged and hopes you'll let him sleep on the floor of your room for free. This latter type, so my source reported, has little use for the niceties of civilized behavior. And you sure as hell don't want to spend all day next to them, separated only by a tiny ASL hexmap.

The big news of Friday night was that the new local game store, Armored Gopher Games, was under new ownership. This was a great development, as the new owner turned out to be Dave "Red-Headed Maniac" Hoover, one of the coolest cats in the local RPG scene. So I suddenly have a new favorite gaming store. Which is nice, because I had given up on the other FLGS in town. I had been avoiding Armored Gopher because I had it from a reliable source that the old owner was a sketchy character.

This venue would be as good as any to admit that I kinda yanked Dave's chain on Saturday. I told him "Hey, man, you're my new favorite game store, but I'm probably going to buy one last thing from [the other guy in town] because you can't get it in." I knew that would totally get Dave's goat when I said it. "What is it and how do you know I can't get it?" was his immediate reply. "The HackMaster player's book. It's totally out of print, dude." Dave pointed out that out of print and out of distribution were not one and the same. Which I knew, I just wanted to see what ol' Dave would do if I laid down the gauntlet like that. So he made some phonecalls and within minutes of our conversation he had hustled up a copy for me to pick up at the store, which I plan to do tomorrow. I'm absolutely certain that Dave didn't make that happen because I'm a friend or because I had challenged him to beat the more established competition, he did it because he knows that to make a game store work in this day and age you have to bust ass.

here's that fumble chart

Again, thanks to my bud Pat for finding this on 4chan's gaming forum. We only had one fumble in my Encounter Critical game Saturday, but we got result #7, so I was quite pleased.

Doctor Aquatic's Fumble Chart

1. You crush your own trachea. Your voice is now two octaves lower.

2. You amputate your own arm. It writhes for a while before falling still. 2 days later, it reanimates as a zombie arm and relentlessly attempts to strangle you.

3. You trip and fall off the nearest cliff, no matter how far away it is.

4. You spontaneously combust.

5. You flail wildly, inadvertently giving yourself a sexy new haircut.

6. You miss so hard that your future self comes back through time to bitchslap you.

7. Your weapon gets completely stuck in the ground. You cannot remove it no matter how hard you try. 5 years later, it has grown into a thriving weapon tree. Centuries from now, the weapon forest will be a natural wonder. And then treants will animate them and destroy us all.

8. You whiff and split an atom.

9. You lose your grip on your weapon. It flies through the air and hits a tree. This frightens a beautiful bird, which soars out of the tree, majestically twisting through the air. As you gaze upon it, you get momentarily philosophical, until your intended target renovates your skull.

10. You lop off your own head. You eventually fall into a rewarding career as a headless horseman, but always wonder what could have been.

11. You miss so hard that your attack travels through time and assassinates Lincoln.

12. You accidentally slash your own wrists. At least, you tell us it was an accident.

13. With a flurry of precision strikes, you somehow give yourself a flawless sex change operation.

14. You put out your own eye. You embrace the disfigurement, beocoming a notorious pirate. For years you terrorize the seas, hording treasure, pillaging ports and murdering innocents. One day, for just a moment, you seem to recognize one of the nameless civilians you are about to kill, as though you knew them, long ago. As soon as it came, the feeling, like their heartbeat, ceases.

15. It turns out you are not holding your weapon, but rather, an angry crab.

16. You give yourself a black eye. Everyone assumes your significant other is beating you. Your significant other starts frequently beating you, because hey, might as well.

17. Your weapon gets lodged in your pancreas.

18. Your pancreas gets lodged in your weapon.

19. Your weapon spontaneously animates. It does nothing but constantly sing catchy songs. At first it is enjoyable and quirky. Soon, it begins to grate. Eventually, in a fit of rage, you shout at your weapon to be quiet. It never sings again. It only sulks quietly, letting out the occasional sigh of pure sadness. Your guilty heart shrivels to the size of a cashew, and you become a lifeless, sullen entity, never again feeling the true touch of joy.

20. You miss. Probably because you didn't believe in yourself. Ass.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

my nerdiest recurring dream

I don't have recurring dreams often, but by far my nerdiest one is my Dungeon Masters Guide dream. Usually I'm at the old brick farmhouse where I grew up and I usually find a 1st edition DMG in my mom's desk. Sometimes those particulars vary, like finding the DMG in a game store run out of the basement of an otherwise abandoned building, or just lying on a table at a game convention. I open this newfound DMG to discover that its contents are radically different from my own copies. Not just "accidentally contains some pages of the Monster Manual" different. We're talking about new charts and rules and Gygaxian rants. In my dream the book always ends up being identified as the lost "original printing". Sometimes I'm told that but other times I just know. The actual contents of this mythical rulebook varies from episode to episode. Last night there was a chart full of lasers and other sci-fi weapons, the Social Level rules from Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets, and a lengthy amount of trashtalk aimed at outlining the 'clear inferiority' of Arduin. The last time I had this dream the book contained secret XP charts for the classes in the Players Handbook, with the implication being that the PHB charts are meant to fake out the players. Another time a new, utterly incomprehensible alignment system added a political dimension to your alignment, whereby your ranger could be Chaotic Good Republican or your thief could be Neutral Evil Libertarian. And one time this phantom DMG contained pages and pages of rules about whales.

I don't know what any of this means. I just felt like sharing.

return of morning video

Here's Cobra Starship with The City Is At War. Cobra Starship is the best new band name I've heard since Dragonforce.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

linkage totalling five

Dungeon Maps I 1-5 - Great old JG maps you can swipe for your own use. (Click on the thumbnails for larger versions.)

Dogma! - "fast and furious (and very silly) D&D variant" Can someone with Perl on their machine confirm that the dungeon generator here is the real deal?

Hall of Belated Fame - Overlooked computer games of yore, some available for download.

The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses - Omits the passage quoted in Pulp Fiction, but still rad.

Lothar of the Hill People - Anyone else hear the rumour that this sketch is named after Mike Myers's favorite D&D character?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Quote of the Day

A little bloodletting and some boar's vomit, and he'll be fine!

-Steve Martin as Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber

It came from 4chan

I don't hang out on 4chan, as it strikes me as wilder and woolier than I want out of a web community. But my good bud Pat digs it and forwarded me the following item from the game subsection of the board. Enjoy.

Doc Aquatic's Random Encounter Chart

1. Thieves break into houses, steal nothing, refuse to leave.
2. Thieves break into houses, redecorate poorly.
3. Threat of orcs.
4. Threat of shooty and choppy orks from distant future.
5. Threat of distinguished and articulate orks from Victorian era.
6. Virgin succubus cursed to never get laid desperately seeks assistance, slowly goes apeshit crazy.
7. Map discovered on back of portrait of hideous man. Turns out portrait is map of Hideousmanface Mountain; map is portrait of guardian Map Golem.
8. Rain of frogs plague town. Man discovers frogs to be competent dance troupe. Man conquers national performance circuit.
9. Local baker seeks perfect ingredients for ultimate cake, secretly constructs powerful Cake Golem.
10. Philosophical zombies ponder meaning of love, pester passersby.
11. Noble wedding interupted by aggresive eel salesmen.
12. Attacked by snakes in wilderness environment.
13. Attacked by snakes in urban enviroment.
14. Attacked by urban enviroment; allies found in form of friendly snakes.
15. Sorcerer, for shits and giggles, trains ethereal filchers to interupt people during sex.
16. Party helps marauding demon warrior realize childhood dream of becoming stageshow dancer.
17. During daily tour, prestigious magic academy looted by goblins disguised as ugly children.
18. Ancient lich seeks new thrills by competing in mixed martial arts tournament.
19. Advancements in magically powered musical instruments climaxes with crew of grunge rock pirate bards clashing with clan of heavy metal viking bards; town threatened by collateral damage from killer solos. Crafty punk rock gypsies armed with enchanted accordians seek to capitalize on ensuing mayhem; all are united in effort to stick it to uptight paladins trying to bring them down. Powerful vibes attract glam rock demons and dirty hippies.
20. Dungeons give chase.
21. Bees get organized.
22. Party endlessly pursued by screaming fans, accompanied by catchy 60s rock.
23. Innacurate historical re-enactment attracts ire of necromancer history buff.
24. Passive aggresive druids extoll virtures of peace, love, substance abuse.
25. Captain Hampton attempts to use violence to stop the Halfling Pirates of Willygoat, who, although they are wee men, have big swords.
26. Dwarves threatened by serial barber.
27. Half-ogre lint merchant and half-drow nobleman's hot jailbait daughter harbour forbidden love.
28. Effeminate prince mistaken for princess and dragon who has kidnapped him harbour forbidden love.
29. Earth elemental and gelatinous cube harbour forbidden love.
30. Society plagued by freakish crossbreeds.
31. Awakened animated door develops delusion of being world-class gourmet and tirelessly hunts for keys to sample and critique.
32. Trio of skeletons discover their bones are pitch-perfect xylophones, start traveling percussion band, overcome prejudice, learn valuable life lessons, get laid.
33. Ancient lich seeks new thrills by competing in biathalon; disqualified for using machine gun.
34. Clinically insane duke hires party to kill invisible bugbears that turn out to be invisible hobgoblins with bad haircuts.
35. Desert-dwelling cactus dryads pine for romance with travellers, endlessly complain about how their spiny bodies prevent intimacy, get kidnapped by group of masochistic yuan-ti in ironic twist.
36. Tornados plan uprising.
37. Volcanos plot revenge.
38. Meteors get their shit together.
39. Fire, Water, Wind and Earth Elementals use lifedraining magic ring in attempt to create Heart Elemental and complete ancient summoning ritual.
40. Kobolds blow it all up.
41. Obnoxious scouts run around hitting people with bats.
42. Elderly grave digger has chance meeting with Grim Reaper; heated weapon debate escalates to destructive duel.
43. Gentlemanly british marksman hunts party for sport using only sheer grit, determination, and steam-powered railgun.
44. Sinister duststorms herald hobo revolution.
45. Party stalked by assassin rumoured to dual-weild katars, in actuality dual-weilds keytars.
46. High priest is secretly complex musical animatronic.
47. Desert warlord sends party to blue dragon's lair to retrieve the keys to his camel.
48. Mass pandemonium ensues when travelling troll barbarians pitch their tent in slightly inconveniant spot.
49. Reformed illithid working as hair stylist falls under suspicion.
50. Threat of mechanical war machines powered by steam.
51. Threat of mechanical war machines powered by clockworks.
52. Threat of mechanical war machines powered by love.
53. Miraculous self-replenshing canned food ration "Salient Blue" challenges ethics when discovered to be made of trolls.
54. Twin beholders come to town and make everyone feel self-concious.
55. Ancient lich seeking new thrills seeks recruits for rock band, records hit single "Hopeless (Nec)romantic".
56. Sinister cult believes key to peace and happiness is painting everything blue.
57. Bored Thor throws killer pool party in Valhalla.
58. Bored Eris throws killer rave on Mount Olympus.
59. Bored Buddha launches aerial raids.
60. Threat of communists.
61. Disgruntled rebel fighters attempt to crash airship into king.
62. Ambitious rebel fighters attempt to crash moon into king.
63. Philosophical rebel fighters attempt to crash king into himself.
64. Undead army ravages countryside with well-choreographed dance numbers.
65. Evil tyrant outlaws eyebrows.
66. Large, upscale inn terrorized by wildly dancing yet stoic man.
67. Gnome enforces guarantee.
68. Fiend hunter paladin declares he must kill all the tieflings; later discovers, no, he is the tieflings.
69. Ancient lich seeks new thrills by becoming ramp-jumping daredevil, succeeds in jumping bulette over 27 ill-tempered kythons.
70. Threat of goblins with guns.
71. Threat of goblins with artillery.
72. Threat of hobgoblins with artillery that launches goblins - who have guns.
73. Eccentric dictator outlaws all weaponry; decrees international issues will be resolved by giving each other high-fives. All world problems are solved.
74. Impregnable floating fortress seiged by orcs with hang gliders.
75. Rogue ties bundles of Rods of Wonder together to create Wonder Shotguns.
76. Powerful sorceror born with single large fang believes himself to be reincarnation of legendary demon king, begins war to end the earth; turns out the rest of his teeth are just kind of small.
77. Powerful barbarian whose moustache grows to look like clock hands believes himself to be the one true clock, endeavors to smash every other timepiece in the world in order to become the Highlander.
78. Powerful cleric who continuously manifests stigmata-like supernatural wounds believes himself to be second coming of a god, incites holy crusade; turns out he's just a clumsy fucker.
79. Empire seiged by macho, sideburned elves; kingdoms fall one after another, as no one believes they exist.
80. Gibbering mouther aspires to become famous scat singer.
81. Master thieves break into museum and steal priceless portrait.
82. Master thieves break into castle and steal crown jewels.
83. Master thieves break into showbusiness and steal our hearts.
84. Ancient lich seeks new thrills by challenging party to race around the world.
85. Face-scalded mad man goes on serial axe-gnawing spree.
86. Barbarian hordes burn down capital city.
87. Barbarian hordes burn down the ocean.
88. Barbarian hordes burn down the sun.
89. Spunky teenagers travel through time to stop cosmic porcupine-looking thing from annihilating planet; become their own grandparents.
90. Gentlemanly cleric sends party on suicide trip to retrieve rare plant, makes world's strongest medicine.
91. Gentlemanly cleric sends party on suicide trip to retrieve rare plant, makes world's gnarliest blunt.
92. Gentlemanly cleric sends party on suicide trip to retrieve rare plant, makes world's tastiest tea; enters berserker rage when one party member adds milk.
93. Nation becomes infested by sandworms who are attracted to things with no rhythm; entire continent becomes perpetual dance number.
94. Fledgling lich captures our hearts with story of ambition, hot blackguards, and flying zombie sharks.
95. Fire-breathing, hammer-throwing tarrasque kidnaps princess; local sewer worker heroically pursues.
96. Party endlessly pursues dastardly villain who wields a bronzed hammerhead shark and bleeds shotgun shells.
97. Halfing monk just starts punching people in the crotch, all the fucking time.
98. Notorious mummy sorceror defeats paladin nemesis by dousing self in lamp oil, igniting, and tackling him into a black hole. Everyone else in universe realizes that this is the most awesome thing that will ever happen, and falls into deep depression.
99. Paladin achieves ultimate power by replacing stick up his ass with immovable rod.
100. All of the above.

Pat also sent me an equally retarded Fumble Chart from the same source, but I won't be publishing that here at least until next week, because I'm going to use it in my Encounter Critical game at the con this weekend.