Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jeff's Quick Guide to Judges Guild Links

The Official Website

Judges Guild Cafe Press Store
Buy cool maps and other JG swag!

The joint JG/Necromancer Games website
Devoted to the d20 version of the Wilderlands, but old schoolers should visit the fan stuff and download sections.

Judges Guild forum at Necromancer Games
Good discussion with little sign of Edition War shenanigans.

Judges Guild at The Acaeum
A guide for collectors, with a nice discussion forum.

RPGNow JG store
Selling PDF versions of many classic JG titles.

Adventure Games Publishing
Specializing in the Wilderlands of High Adventure, a modern updating and expansion of the classic JG setting. Great stuff!

Majestic Wilderlands
Personal campaign notes of all-around cool guy Rob Conley.

Bill Owen's Ebay Stuff
Original Guildmaster Owen sometimes sells unique JG items.

Different Worlds' JG section
Buy many old Guild items in new condition at original list price!

It's Shatnerday again

I meant to pass this on earlier

James Mishler's Adventure Games Publishing is having a PDF sale through tomorrow. (For new readers I should mention that Mishler's operation specializes in updated Wilderlands material for Castles & Crusades.) If my review of Adventure Games Journal #1 piques your interest, then take a gander at the stuff in the AGP store at DriveThru. I've checked out every item in the store, though some of them I've only seen in print. Pretty much everything in the store is golden. The only one I consider a bit dicey is Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands I, but only because I find the critter entries a bit on the long side. I tend to like very short monster write-ups I can riff off of, whereas Mishler went with more of a completist "Ecology of..." approach that I sometimes find hard to get into. But people who dig that sort of angle may like Monsters more than I do.

You know what I like most about AGP's products? You can really tell Mishler loves the hell out of this stuff.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm running what in two weeks?

So last night the three remaining members of my current game group gathered for a top level summit to address that perennial issue: What the Hell Should We Play? Over the course of two and a half hours the conversation wandered in many directions, including discussing Joss Whedon's oeuvre and how I think he's over-rated, Stuart's explanation for why he hates the film Top Gun, and me offering to run damn near every game I own only to be shot down again and again. I thought I had a nibble when Doug gave the green light to Pendragon, but then he added "with lasers, in space". I normally love mixing crap like that together, but I personally draw the line at Arthuriana mash-ups. It's just a hang-up I've got. Stuart made things pretty hard for me because he considers random chargen a dealbreaker. That took something like 90% of the games that I own and 99% of the games that I like off the table. And I totally cockblocked Doug's attempts to get Stuart to run Exalted.

But somehow we eventually agreed to not one, but two campaigns. Stuart and I are going to take turns. I'll run a few sessions of my campaign and then he'll run a few sessions of his. My campaign will be run using Savage Worlds and will feature a brave band of astronauts whose Orion capsule mysteriously splashes down into the Future.

Primary inspirational material:

Secondary inspirational material:

Tertiary inspirational material:

Any stupid sci-fi idea I can beg, borrow, or steal. I'm not proud.

So once again I'm taking the plunge and attempting to run a game that doesn't revolve around looting a dungeon key. We'll see how it goes. At least I've got it better than Stuart, who is tasked with combining my campaign idea (The A-Team in Ark II attempts to save Gamma World from itself) with Doug's campaign idea (Death Race 2000 cyborg mercenaries) and putting it all together under Shadowrun.

Note to locals: Now taking applications for Ass-kicking Astronauts of Tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stupid Wandering Monster Tricks

Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when designing a new wandering monster chart.

Pick Dice Wisely

I don't want to hunt for special dice every time I need to dice up a wandering monster., so I pick what I'm sure to have at hand. For D&D that usually means a 1d6 or 2d6 chart. For a more percentage-based game like Encounter Critical I might go with one or two ten-siders. And I try not to pick too many dice, so that I don't have to stop and add up results. I often go with two or three dice, so I get a nice bell curve type distribution. That way I can put the most common encounters in the middle of the chart and the rare weird stuff on the ends.

It's Okay to Reference Other Charts (sometimes)

Often I will include an entry that references another wandering monster chart, just to expand the possible options. Like on a level 1 chart I might include "roll on the level 2 chart" or for a forest next to a mountain range each chart might give a small chance that you should instead roll on the other terrain chart. That way you occasionally get hill giants on the plains or swamp beasties in the hills. Occasionally I will put an entry on the chart like "Roll on the Fiend Folio instead", but I try not to overdo that as I don't want to flip through too many extra wandering monster charts.

Not All Entries Have to Be Monsters

The original Traveller wilderness encounter charts included events on them like avalanches and blizzards. In dungeons I often add sound effects or odd smells to the chart, or events like a gust of wind that might blow out torches. Non-combat encounters with ordinary rats and snakes and such also appear on many of my dungeon charts. Things that players can interpret as omens also make interesting entries.

Not All Entries Have to Make Sense

Sometimes I put a monster on a wandering monster chart specifically because it doesn't appear anywhere else in the adventure. I just want a small chance that a leprechaun shows up, you know? And one time I put the smell of freshly baked cookies on a dungeon chart, without there being any good reason for it.

Keyed Encounters and the Chart Should Interact

Say hex 1234 is deep inside the Forest of Doom and according to your key that hex contains a massive warg lair. It only makes sense to include wargs on your Forest of Doom wandering monster chart. For extra fun, I sometimes make a note on the wandering monster chart "remove from chart if warg lair in hex 1234 cleared". Or maybe I'll note that the result "ogre" really means "ogre from room 23", in which case if the PCs kill a wandering ogre then room 23 becomes ogre-free. Another thing I sometimes do is put multiple examples of the same monster on a chart. Say level 2 is mostly devoted to a bigass gnoll lair. I might make an entry for an alert and agressive gnoll patrol, another for punkass gnoll teenagers sneaking off looking for trouble, and a third for some grumpy gnollwives heading to or from the local watering hole with big clay jugs.

Anybody else got any good tips for wandering monsters?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yo, five links!

Holy crap, you need to check out the re-imagined orc here.

I didn't know Paul Jaquays had a webpage until last week.

Judges Guilds random magic portal side effects chart

6 easy ways to make your next D&D session better

A crapload of Braunstein info from Gen Con

Wandering Monsters

One of my favoritest mechanics in D&D is the wandering monster. For starters, it combines two great D&D elements: the stupid random die chart and monsters. (I know not everyone digs random charts, but who doesn't like monsters?) The random factor forces the DM to think on his feet. What the hell is that troll doing on level three, if the troll lair is on level five? Why is there a flumph in the dungeon at all? You don't always have to have an answer here, but for me half the fun of DMing is riffing off of random crap like that.

Moldvay Basic D&D does a great job putting nifty new game elements on the table because of all the human-type people that appear on the dungeon charts. Why are there d8 Traders wandering level one? Are those the jerks who keep selling oil and poison to Tucker's kobolds? That Noble and his retinue you bumped into on level two, what the heck is his deal? He can't be up to any good.

And once you get talking about people, that leads directly into one of the greatest banes of old school dungeoneers: the NPC party. In my experience few things rile a group of players more than the idea that some DM-run goons might get to all the treasure first. As an aside, on more than one occasion I've rolled up an NPC party and solo-ran them through a dungeon between sessions. "Here's another room with nothing but hacked-up monsters and empty chests. What the hell is going on here? Who is stealing all our xp and loot?"

Wandering monsters help keep the players on their toes and the game moving at a brisk pace. Competent players will quickly realize that if the DM is rolling wandering monsters every turn or two then they need to use their time wisely. Sure, you can search every stinkin' inch of the dungeon for secret doors, but how many wandering monster checks will the DM make while you do it?

Tomorrow I'll talk a little bit about the tricks I use when I gin up a new custom wandering monster chart.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I did not know this.

Lulu does nothing, they're just a middleman. The actual printing is done by ColorCentricCorp. Lulu hosts the pdfs, waits until they have some minimum total order and sends it off to CCC, who then print it, ship it to Lulu, and Lulu ships it to whoever ordered it.

That's why they're expensive, slow, and know very little about the various printing options and requirements - they're middlemen.

-Kyle Aaron on theRPGsite

The Real Ring of Gaxx?

My buddy Pat gave was clearing out his gaming mags and gave me, among other things, a copy of White Dwarf #69. For those of you who weren't around back in the day, White Dwarf wasn't always a Games Workshop house organ. It used to be a neat-o general purpose gaming magazine with lots of great articles for games like D&D, Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu. Issue #69 had a bit of a reputation due to its whips & chains cover:

But I actually want to talk about the inside front cover. Check out this ad:

There's a lot to take in here. A photo of Uncle Gary juxtaposed with an awesome Citadel-style illo kinda freaks me out, but in a good way. I don't think I've ever seen that before. And holy crap, who told Gygax to wear that sweater?

Dungeons get kinda damp, okay?  I don't want to catch foot rot because some pudding or ooze passed this way before me.
I love the pose on this Umber Hulk mini. I imagine him saying "Yo! Scrawny! Hit me with one more magic missile and I'm going to come over there and shove that wand where the sun don't shine!" And the tiny base for each foot makes it look like he's wearing flip-flops.

But now let's zoom in on Gary's right hand:

See the ring? To my eye that ring is displaying a coat of arms, specifically Argent, a Bar Azure, Three Lozenges Gules, a.k.a. three red diamonds on a white field with a blue horizontal stripe. How can I tell the color scheme from a black-and-white photo? How do I know those little dots are actually diamonds? Because I'm guessing we're looking at the same heraldry as seen here:

In the World of Greyhawk three red diamonds on a white field is the arms of the city of Fax, one of the minor city-states along the Wild Coast. Because of this, I always assumed as a kid that the fighter on the DMG cover was a lesser son of the House of Fax. I know the Fax arms because one of the books in the original World of Greyhawk boxed set had a bunch of coats of arms on the interior covers. I always thought that was a neat-o feature. Do any other settings (you know, besides Pendragon) go to the trouble to give you the arms of the various princes and potentates? I bet the heraldry for Encounter Critical knights would look like Chris Sims' family arms. (EC mailing list folk, get crackin'!)

Now keep in mind that I could be completely off base on my guess for that ring. All I'm really working with here is a gut reaction to a grainy photo and a lot of supposition. Does anybody recall seeing Gygax wearing a ring with a coat of arms on it?

Man, I'm tempted to do some googling to try and find someone online who sells rings with cute little heraldic shields on them.

It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.

A couple days ago I got an automatically generated notice from my local library that a book was overdue. The email said the book in question was The Berenstein Bears and The, with the rest of the title truncated. I searched high and low in the Rients family domicile, locating no less than 4 Berenstein Bears books that didn't belong to the library. Upon my third search of my daughter's trainwreck of a room I found the book in question at the bottom of a pile of comics and other picture books.

I guess that didn't work out as I planned.For those Gameblog readers without children, please note that this exactly how parenting is at all times.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

two goofy old illos

First up we have an illustration comparing orc sculpts from various old miniatures lines, from the Dragon article "Will the Real Orc Please Step Forward?" (issue 25, 1979).

I love the orc in the back with the beak-like mouth. And the one in the front with the big smile is awesome. You know that little dude is thinking up some mischief.

Next up is an illo from George R. Paczolt's Rat On A Stick, published by Judges Guild in 1982. I love this module because one of the plotlines you can follow (or not) is opening up and operating your own dungeon-based Rat On A Stick franchise.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The West Marches of Cinder?

In the comments to last Friday's post on my World of Cinder sandbox Joseph asks:
Are you going to be going the full "West Marches" route with your sandbox? Have a bunch of different players who may or may not show up for any given adventure? Or will there be a single main party playing in the sandbox?
Good question. So that everyone here on the ol' Gameblog is up to speed, I'm going to quote Ben Robbins' original West Marches article. Dig it:
1) There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly.

2) There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people.

3) There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that’s now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment.

Ben's point #3 is a given here, since the whole point of this exercise is to run a sandbox game in the vein of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

I like point #2 because I'd very much like to run an "open" campaign, as was more common in the good ol' days. Anybody who wants to contact me for some D&D is welcome to swing a sword in the Midrealm of Cinder. That doesn't just apply to locals in the gaming scene. You're coming through Central Illinois and you have a few hours? Give me a call. I'm in the phonebook. Or you know, email jrients at gmail dot com. Hell, bring your favorite character. No promises that I'll let that 35th level Paladin/Assassin into my world, but I'll do my best to work with something reasonable. I'd even consider allowing characters made with some non-D&D systems. Or we can just throw some dice and whip something up. No big whoop.

Not having a regular schedule and leaving the scheduling in the player's hands has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, I avoid the hassle of being both the guy running the gameworld and the guy organizing the sessions. That's very groovy. On the other hand I've seen lots of games go to pasture without the social glue of This Is Game Night. On the third hand, if I could get a group that wanted to play together every other Wednesday (or whatever) in addition to others playing on an ad hoc basis I'd be very happy to have my cake and eat it too.

One thing that worries me about the West Marches set-up is Robbins' insistence that town adventures are anathema. Check this out from a later post in the West Marches series:
be careful not to change the focus to urban adventure instead of exploration. You can have as many NPCs as you want in town, but remember it’s not about them. Once players start talking to town NPCs, they will have a perverse desire to stay in town and look for adventure there. “Town game” was a dirty word in West Marches. Town is not a source of info. You find things by exploring, not sitting in town — someone who explores should know more about what is out there than someone in town.
When running D&D I usually focus heavily, almost exclusively, on dungeon adventures. The whole point of starting the Cinder project was to get some wilderness and urban adventures in the mix. And I suspect I can avoid the kind of pitfalls Robbins encountered by the simple fact that I really can't run the kind of adventures his players wanted to find in the towns. My idea of a town adventure goes something like blah, blah, blah, there's a fight, and then the town burns down.

It's Shatnerday!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Setting Up My Sandbox

I spent part of the morning stocking my numbered hexmap of the Midrealm, the portion of my world of Cinder where adventurers are supposed to start play. I grabbed my collection of the Dungeoneer, the magazine Paul Jacquays edited back in the day. (He wrote big chunks of it, too.) Most issues have at least one D&D dungeon. I then placed each dungeon somewhere on the map, putting a small 'D' on the map itself and putting in my key something like 1234 - Simpleton's Tomb (Dungeoneer Journal #23). It took maybe 30 minutes to flip through the mags and find spots on the map, and now the Midrealm already has 8 crazy dungeons without me putting pencil to graph paper. I also noted 6 hexes containing Frontier Forts of Kelnore, but I'll have to go back and dice those up with the fabulous Frontier Fort stocking charts.

I'm still trying to figure out how many of my old TSR modules I want to drop onto the map. Some of them I strongly associate with past Greyhawk or Mystara outings. On the other hand, I think I would drop the Keep on the Borderlands and In Search of the Unknown into any campaign if I was starting with a group of newbies. And I've got all the adventures from the pre-Dungeon issues of Dragon magazine on the CD-ROM set. When I was a kid I never used the Dragon adventures because all my players read the magazine as avidly as I did. "The Temple of Poseidon" immediately springs to mind as on Dragon adventure that would be fun to import to Cinder.

Of course, I plan on adding my own dungeons and lairs to the mix. This is just an easy way to get a leg up on stocking a big wilderness map.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thac0: The Movie - The Trailer

More info here.

I gotta show you this map.

(Clicky to zoomify.)

My daughter got this in the instant pirate kit I bought her at the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop. The left edge is slightly cut off because this beauty is slightly wider than my scanner plate's largest dimension.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Old Schoolin': How To Get Started

In the comments section of the last post reader Sam for some advice:
[I] was wondering if you could give some advice for a beginner looking to try out some classic D&D.

I started playing in 2nd edition(think Jeff Easley cover of mounted warrior riding through a desert canyon) and have played plenty of 3.x , so I have absolutely no experience with this great stuff you keep talking about. What would be the best bang for my buck? What books do I need? Would love to know what you would recommend as a starting set.
There's a lot of ways you can go starting some old school action and my answers here will only be one guy's opinions, but I'll take a shot at it. Here's my take on the four key components for embarking into the wondrous realm of kicking it old school.

Component One: Attitude

This is the key to the whole affair, really. If you nail this you could use lots of systems (including the 2nd edition AD&D Sam started with) to produce useful results. To get in the zone I recommend reading Matthew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. It's free and wicked awesome. Not every grognard will agree with everything written there, but it's still great stuff. Get your players to read the Quick Primer if at all possible, so you're all on the same page. The number one lesson to learn here, in my opinion, is that whenever the rules, your notes, or a module are silent about something then it's you and your players job to make something up. And most importantly, that sort of on-the-fly invention is meant to be the best part of the game. Try not to lose track of that whenever something comes up that isn't covered by the rules.

Component Two: Rules

The rules you pick aren't as important as what you do with them, but there's three basic angles of attack in picking a ruleset. The hardcore choice is to go straight to the beginning, with the original version of D&D. For six bucks you can get PDFs of OD&D at DriveThru and here's a link to some great instructions on turning those PDFs into your own Little Beige Books. But if you go OD&D you need to be prepared to do some extra work. You can't just skim over the rules and start playing right away without a lot of heartbreak. This is a work that requires attentive reading and active interpretation. I personally find that very rewarding, but if you are itching to play right away there are better options.

Labyrinth Lord is my pick for the best ready-to-rumble version of D&D currently in print. It's a retro-clone of Moldvay's near-perfect '81 Basic/Expert rules. Some purists will claim that the Golden Age of Old School was already dead by the time Moldvay's D&D rolled out, but personally I rank purity of essence a lot lower than making sure the rules rock the block. You can snag a free PDF version of LL here or swing on over to this Lulu link to buy a print version. I've got the Lulu softcover and it is totally sweet. If you or your players rankle at the idea that Elf and Dwarf are classes as well as races, then the 1st runner-up in this pageant is Basic Fantasy a.k.a. BFRPG (Free download here, print edition here). Unlike Labyrinth Lord, BFRPG doesn't exactingly emulate any particular previous version but it sorta lives in the same neighborhood as several older (A)D&D editions.

The third route to go is to find a d20 game that imports some old school elements. I don't really recommend this route, but I mention it because you might have players still stuck on the d20 stuff. Castles & Crusades is one good d20 option. I personally dig the C&C Collector's Edition boxed set. The rules are slimmer than the full-blown hardbacks but it's an all-in-one affair with monsters, treasures, and a tiny little module. When running C&C try to keep in mind that the Attribute Check rules are just one handy tool, not some universal resolution system meant to cover every situation. Another extremely cool d20 option is the Microlite 20/Microlite 74/Hard Core M20 family of tiny d20 rules.

That's probably more options than Sam wanted when he asked, so here's the short answer: Labyrinth Lord.

Component Three: A Dungeon

I consider it axiomatic that D&D requires both dragons and dungeons. And I don't mean monster lairs with six or seven rooms all rationally designed with complete ecologies, I mean big honkin' crazy ass dungeons. Your absolute best bet is to design your own dungeon, perhaps using the random dungeon stocking charts in your rulebook of choice. If you want to start out with a prefab dungeon, here are some good options, organized by rule set.

OD&D offers several interesting options. Issue #2 of Fight On! has the first level of "The Darkness Beneath", a megadungeon that's being created as a collaborative effort. If you go with OD&D, you're pretty much going to want every issue of Fight On! anyway. Erroneous Grog has a couple of adventure downloads available (scroll down the page a bit). And I wrote a little number called Under Xylarthen's Tower that might do you some good.

For Labyrinth Lord I recommend doing some digging over at Dragonsfoot. DF has some great stuff in the Classic D&D downloads section that ought to be highly compatible with LL. I recommend The Haunted Keep. Honestly, I don't know Basic Fantasy well enough to recommend BFRPG-specific modules. Can anyone offer a little help here?

Castles & Crusades: Castle Zagyg. 'Nuff said.

If you go with M20/etc then looting the rotting corpse of 3.x will get you down the road with this one. I suggest starting with Goodman Game's Dungeon Crawl Classics line.

Component Four: Sandbox Setting

The short definition of "sandbox" is "full of useful, immediately gameable crap". Again, Fight On! magazine should be of use if you go with OD&D. Issue #2 has a great little sandbox by Rob Conley and James Maliszewski. Or if you want to make your own sandbox issue #1 has a great article helping explain how to do so. For Castles & Crusades the Castle Zagyg setting book, Yggsburgh, is pretty effin' sweet. If you can hold off a few more weeks James Mishler of Adventure Games Publishing is finishing up his Southern Reaches gazetteer for C&C. For Labyrinth Lord I suggest downloading The Phoenix Barony. If you can track down the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set and the accompanying Player's Guide they would be a good match for the M20 family of games. And Points of Light would make for excellent setting for any set of rules you settle on.

(Most of these setting book are extremely light on rules and you could mix-n-match beyond my recommendations. I'm pretty sure I could run the Wilderlands with OD&D or Yggsburgh with Labyrinth Lord with little difficulty, to give a couple examples.)

When you settle on a dungeon and a sandbox don't forget to place the dungeon in the sandbox somewhere close to where you plan to start the PCs. Ideally pepper the surrounding landscape with some smaller dungeons as well. Add a dragon lair if neither your dungeon nor the sandbox include any. Trust me on this one. You need a dragon.

Now that I've finished this post I can't tell if I've been helpful or if I've muddied the water by giving too many options. Anybody else have any other suggestions for Sam?

Retro-Future Artifacts of Tomorrowland

I eat this stuff up.

These first two were taken at dusk and while walking. The rest turned out better.


Yesterday my FLGS got in my copy of Rob Conley's Points of Light, the new sandbox setting book published by Goodman Games. I'm about halfway through the book and I'm loving it. There's more gameable stuff to riff on in these slim 48 pages than can be found in some setting books five times its size. Take one of the four detailed sandbox maps and drop in one ore more of your favorite dungeons and you have all the basics for a nifty little campaign. If you're the least bit interested in what I'm saying here, do yourself a favor and check out the free preview.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

more Field Guide madness, part 1

I've talked about Judges Guild oddball Field Guide to Encounters before. One of my favorite crazy ass dice charts from that game is the random starting level chart for NPCs.

LevelDie Roll

I guess this chart explains how Gandalf ends up running around with novice halflings. If I ever run a higher level D&D game at a con I am totally going to make the players roll on this puppy. This same chart is also used to determine the levels of gods. Under the Field Guide all deities are maxxed-out adventurers who now earn levels in the god class. So most gods are 20th level in their original class and 4th level in the god class.

The random level chart and the too-big-to-retype random race charts got me thinking that one could rough out a pantheon using the suggested deific spheres of influence list and the other random deity charts on pages 92 and 93 of volume I of the Field Guide. The one piece of the puzzle missing is a random class chart. So I made one.

% RollClassStat Mins
01-03AcupuncturistStr 12 Dex 15 Psi 90
04-06Amulet MakerStr 16
07-09AstrologerInt 15 Wis 13
10-12BardDex 10 Cha 14 (Mag 95)
13-15ClericWis 12
16-18Crimson SeekerStr 14 Con 14 Psi 90
19-21DemonistWis 18 Cun 15 Mag 90
22-24DruidWis 12
25-27Elemental WizardWis 12 Mag 90
28-30FighterStr 12 Dex 12
31-33Frost WizardWis 14 Con 14 Mag 90
34-36Geo-SageInt 13 Mag 90 Psi 90
37-39HealerStr 14 Dex 14 Psi 90 Mag 90
40-42HistorianInt 13 Dex 12
43-45HouriInt 10 Dex 13 Cha 15 Com 12
46-48KabbalistInt 11 Con 11
49-51MagusInt 12
52-54Martial ArtistStr 15 Dex 15 Con 15 Psi 75
55-57MerchantInt 11 Cha 11
58-60NecromancerInt 15 Dex 14
61-63NinjaDex 15 Str 15 Con 15 Tra 75
64-66RoninDex 15 Str 15
67-69SailorDex 12 Tra 90
70-72Shadow WalkerDex 12 Str 12 Psi 90
73-75ShifterStr 12 Dex 12 Tra 90 Lyc 95
76-78SmithieWis 13 Str 15 Con 15
79-81ThiefDex 12
82-84TrackerDex 10 Tra 90
85-87TrainerDex 14 Cha 16
88-90TranslatorInt 13 Cha 16 Mag 90
91-93VeneficInt 12 Dex 11
94-96WarriorStr 14 Con 14
97-99White WandererInt 14 Psi 90
00Hell, I dunno. Roll again or something.
Character don't need a Magic percentage of 95 to qualify for the Bard class, but they get some additional magic abilities if they have Mag 95+. Crimson Seekers are basically psi-warrior types. "Cun 15" under Demonist is not a typo. That's a requirement of at least 15 in Cunning. I love that the game uses Ronin as a class. If you swear service to a lord you become a Samuri [sic]. Shadow Walkers are psi-thieves. Tra is your Tracking percentile, while Lyc is your Lycanthropy stat. Shifters are basically fighter/werewolves, but if you have a Lyc 95+ you can take a different class and still be a were-creature. Trainers train animals. Venefic is the assassin class. White Wanderers are psi-wizards. This game is an awesome mess.

The non-percentage stats are generated with straight 3d6 rolls, modified only by race selection. At the moment I can't find a rule to tell you what to do if your dice rolls don't qualify your proto-PC for anything. Multiclassing with two or three classes is allowed, but the stat mins for all classes go up. Add 2 to the mins for both classes or a whopping 4 to all mins if you want three classes. So a wicked awesome game-breaking Historian/Merchant/Sailor would require an Intelligence of17, a Dexterity of 16, a Charisma of 15 and a Tracking percentage of 94.

For part 2 of this post I'll use the charts above and some others in the Field Guide to Encounters to outline a random pantheon. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 18, 2008

quick 1/72 update

Will Douglas, the coffee swillin' analog gamer, was nice enough to post a link to this page from Plastic Soldier Review with pics of all the Caesar brand 1/72 fantasy figures. Turns out you can get a plastic version of Gandalf in the adventurers set:The downside here is that four of the 19 figures in the box are random packs and so far I can't tell if the wizard is a sure thing or not.

yet another five links

easy peasy Gnome Stew contest


Paratime Design Cartography

Alive And Out Of Print

Random Combat Event Generator

1/72: the scale of awesome?

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with miniatures in roleplaying games. On the one hand I love toys of all sorts and non-rpg minis games. On the other hand sometimes I can be one of those snobs who thinks your brain shouldn't need precisely arranged plastic dioramas to tell you whether or not Bob can attack the goblin king this round. Before the rise of prepainted plastic I also stayed out minis because I suck at painting them. Over the years I've gotten better, but I still pretty much suck.

But I still have a couple of dream RPG projects that involve miniatures. One of them is a combined Chainmail/D&D campaign with knights and landsknechtes and purple dragons and all that jazz. But 28mm metal for armies of figures can get pricey, especially when on any given day I might not be into figures.

Thanks to a tip on ODD74, I'm looking at 1/72 scale plastic as a solution. By my eye 1/72 is roughly equivalent to the 25mm of old, before Citadel started putting horse steroids in the tin/lead mixture. And it's cheap. 35 Orcs or Goblins can run you 10 bucks. You can even get the humanoids in green plastic, allowing you to skimp on painting if you're not too picky. Several companies offer medieval lines, making knights and archers and poor saps with spears easy to acquire. You can even get Swiss from at least three different sources.

Michigan Toy Soldier looks the the number one place to look for this stuff. They carry a huge array of manufacturers, including Caesar, who make the goblins I mentioned and a few other fantasy sets. Click here and scroll to the bottom to check out the Caesar fantasy stuff. I like the Caesar sculpts a lot. Heck, their goblins look a lot like the way I've always drawn the little buggers. The one thing that gets me about the Caesar figures is their Adventurers set. Dig it:

First of all, that troll is friggin' awesome. My beef here is the lack of a beardy wizard with a pointy hat. Why no Gandalf type? It boggles the mind. But again, 1/72 plastic should work well with smaller/older 25mm metal or perhaps recent/taller 20mm. There are lots of Merlins available in those scales.

I'm thinking my Andorian-style hobgoblins could be done up as palette-swapped Romans, as you can get lots of Centurions in 1/72.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I missed this before

I took some Judges Guild books with me on vacation for light evening reading. I had hoped to crank out an article on beggars of the City State for the next issue of Fight On!, but I ended up mostly working on Encounter Critical stuff. Sometimes I just get that way. I did dash out some rough notes for 6 beggars, so I may still get that article done.

Despite freaking out over some EC ideas I did manage to do some reading in Ready Ref Sheets, still one of the best products ever made for the hobby. The passage below, from page 38 (under the heading 'Population Density') leapt out at me. It was something I had obviously read before, but only this time did its importance sink in.
The wilderness map assumes all hexes are lightly wooded excluding mountains. The woods shown are especially dense, requiring horsemen to walk mounts. The only true clear terrain hexes are those within and adjacent to the names of plateaus and plains. ... When entering a hex containing a village, tower or castle, a 6 on a six-sided die indicates that the feature in question has actually been found, a 5 indicating that a small farm or hamlet (10-60 population) has been found instead. Players following a road, coastline or river that intersects a village, negates the necessity of 'encountering' same.
By "the wilderness map" I assume that we're talking about Wilderlands campaign maps. If so, these sentences go a long way towards making the Wilderlands a lot more wild. A crapload of apparently empty hexes on the maps become Light Woods for purposes of movement and sighting. That should work to isolate more communities from each other, especially when you add in the search rules at the end. "Holy crap we've spent how many days in this one little hex and still haven't found the wizard's tower?"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

by the way, Saturday is now Shatnerday

Let's kick this thing off with a classic.

so what now?

My current game group is in a bit of disarray at the moment. Just before I went away on vacation my good buddy Pat announced that he was moving back to Springfield. That takes the trio assaulting the Keep on the Shadowfell down to a duo and I just don't feel up to it. We were already stretching the module by running with only three and my heart was only half in it anyway. Without Pat I don't want to continue. I wasn't the only one who had been doubting our ability to play through the module with such a small group.

Several plans have been put forth. Stuart has suggested he could run Exalted or Nobilis or something cyberpunky. The idea of getting the band back together for further Lords of Creation antics has been put forth. And dissolving the group has been suggested as one possibility. If it goes the latter way, I'll probably try to get an OD&D sandbox going in the style of Ben Robbins' West Marches ideas and/or distribute this crazy ass Encounter Critical recruitment flier I've been working on.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Howdy, folks!

So I'm back from the family vacation and trying to catch up on a week without internets. I took a little moleskine with me to write down things that popped into my head. Every time I would pull it out and start furiously scribbling my wife would throw me an odd look, like she was silently asking me "What now?" and "Why now?" One time I said to her "I'm blogging!" She just rolled her eyes. Anyway, here's the least gaming-related pages in the book.

Ten Things I Learned On My Summer Vacation
  • Captain Mike's dad is a robot and a headhunter.
  • "Sunlight it made of lava. Lava makes the food grow." -my daughter
  • The icon for lightning in Japanese weather reports look more like an italicized number four (open top variety) than a jagged bolt.
  • Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson will take time to pose for a picture with a kid in awheelchair even if he's otherwise in a hurry. Classy.
  • No form of asking, begging, demanding, ordering, or threatening can induce my daughter to ride Pirates of the Caribbean with her old man.
  • ...But she still wants some pirate toys from the gift shop.
  • Sometimes a Disney World employee will just hand you some Fast Passes to a ride.
  • Chili Cheese Dog plus Several Hours in the Scorching Sun equals Spontaneous Intestinal Combustion.
  • Sometimes you're holding up the line at the entrance because you failed to put your finger on the biometric doo-hickey. Sometimes you're holding up the line because you did put your finger on the biometric doo-hickey and you weren't supposed to.
  • At least one TSA employee is nice and helpful. Thanks for all your help, Janessa!
Bonus One Thing I Learned When I Got Back From Summer Vacation
I can't quite make up my mind whether my next post will contain gaming content or whether I should change formats to Jeff's Shatnerblog.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vacation Week, day... 8?

I have several pictures of the Sunsphere on the ol' hard drive. I was a wee lad when my family took in the Knoxville World Fair and its architectural centerpiece has been a personal object of fascination ever since. Some day I will run a superhero game where the team is based out of the Sunsphere or a post-apoc campaign where the PCs quest to find the mythical Tower of the Sun or something like that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation Week, day 7

This is a pic of a toy designed to resemble a Burgess Shale fossil. In other words something like the monstrosity above once actually lived. If I ever find one of these bad boys I'm going to use it as a mini in a D&D game. And lo, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vacation Week, day 6

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vacation Week, day 5

And unto this, Thar, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Orquilonia upon a troubled brow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vote for Zach

Zachary Houghton a.k.a. Zachary the First a.k.a. Zach of the RPG Blog II is running again to be a judge in the ENnies, EN World's game awards. Zach has got to be one of the coolest gamers I know online. He's always enthusiastic, always willing to lend a hand, and I don't think I've never seen him talking trash about another gamer's choice of fun. Recently Zach was one of the judges in the most recent round of the ENnies. He's running again this year and I'm writing this post to urge everyone to go to the ENnies website and vote for him. Not just because I ask you to, not just because Zach's a super nice guy, but because he's our kind of gamer. With Zach in the mix our part of the Great Continuum of Weirdo Gamers is represented in the judging process.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Vacation Week, day 3

Anyone else remember Below the Root? One of my favorite C-64 games that did not involve electronic violence.

Click on the graphic above for a map of the arboreal game world.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Vacation Week, day 2

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Vacation Week, day 1

Vacation week will feature random pictures from my hard drive. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pick-Up D&D

Back in '81 I started in this crazy hobby with a nerd-inclined psychology and a copy of Moldvay's Basic D&D. One of the hardest concepts for my elementary school/junior high age group was the Ongoing Campaign. For the first couple years we pretty much played D&D like we did Chess or Stratego or that Star Wars boardgame my buddy Dave owned. We'd roll up some characters and I'd attempt to run them through the upper level of the Haunted Keep or part of the Caves of Chaos for an hour or two. Then we'd forget about the nascent campaign, lose the character sheets, and start all over again a couple weeks later.

We had a crapload of fun during that period. When I think about those days I sometimes wonder about all the focus grown-up gamers sometimes place on persistent settings and preparation. How much stuff that DMs do is actually over-preparation? Imagine that an online acquaintance or one of your old gaming buddies calls you. He and a friend are in town just for a day and they want to play something later this evening. What do you do?

When something like this happened to me earlier this year I was able to throw together a fun run with maybe an hour or two of prep time. I wrote an initial situation, half-assedly stocked a dungeon map, we diced up some characters using the rules in the back of my OD&D adventure, and off we went. No big whoop. That session was a resounding success. And it went better than a lot of sessions where I prepared a helluva lot more or planned campaign arcs and crap like that.

So why don't I do more of this? Why don't we just get together to play an RPG, without sweating what happens after that one evening? Do I take the concept of the campaign too seriously? Or is it that I'd feel weird ringing up a DM and saying "Hey, run a one-off for me and some friends"? If, as Jamie Mal is always telling us, D&D has its roots in Pulp Fantasy, then how come we emphasize long form gaming when a goodly portion of our inspiration comes from short stories?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Poor Randy

The following note was found inside a recently acquired copy of Ready Ref Sheets, an old Judges Guild book that's probably one of the most useful things ever published for OD&D. I've used it for several other editions of D&D as well. Anyway, here's the note:

I love finding stuff like this in old game books. It just warms my heart to see evidence of unknown people having some fun God knows how long ago.


My copy of Fight On! #2 arrived in the mail last night. Holt crap, but this thing is packed full of great stuff. You could totally run a decent-length campaign using your favorite set of old rules and the first two issues of this mag, because they are chock full of adventures, wilderness stuff, magic items, and monsters. The ratio of gameable stuff to miscellaneous crapola is extraordinarily high.

Monday, August 04, 2008

every campaign needs one

Few Haunted Swords have such a lengthy history of woe as the blade called the Sword of Unyielding Doom. To bear any Haunted Sword is a dangerous undertaking, but only the mighty and clever can lay their hand on the hilt of Unyielding Doom and live to tell the tale. The Common Tongue name of the sword is one possible translation of the dwarvish name for the blade, Makaz Grimdum. The same phrase could also be read as the Tool of Harsh Darkness. Elven legends refer to the weapon as Úqua Yontamorë, or "Greatest Darkness". The Adelians call it Nænne Mæzz Swaarz, a translation of the elven name into their own tongue.

All sources agree that Unyielding Doom is a broad-bladed sword of some dark substance. Grezerek, the curmudgeonly Sage of Hautville, insists that it must be forged of Greater Obsidian. Grezerek cites as evidence that the blade's earliest recorded usage was in the hands of Ortong the Searer, one of the Lava Lords who purportedly knew the secret of strengthening mundane obsidian until it surpasses steel in all properties.

The goblin-minstrel Kreblek Twelve-Fingers suggests an intriguing alternative. Kreblek composed a series of songs detailing some of the tragic history of Unyielding Doom. The third in the series contains two stanzas flashing back to the creation of the blade. They suggest that the sword was forged during the First Elvish War and that the blade is composed of the secret dwarf-metal oldrakk. At some point or another nearly every legendary magic item is attributed to the First Elvish War, but it is a bold claim to suggest that an elf-smith worked with oldrakk. Though the mythical dwarf-metal is supposed to be as black as an underground eclipse, some bards note that the best explanation for Kreblek's attribution is that the word "oldrakk" fit his rhyming scheme better than the alternatives.

Unlike the Ninny, most authorities on the matter agree as to the known powers of Unyielding Doom. When the blade is held in both hands no cold can affect the bearer, as when the infamous Sir Tergoth turned aside the arctic breath of the ice dragon Umgarn. Occasionally it will leap into the hand of its owner when danger is near, such as the time it came to the instant defense of the third Dwarf-Lord of the Seven Hills when his uncles rebelled against his harsh rule.

But foremost is the blade's ability to cut your soul as easily as it slices your flesh. The shattered spirits of those slain both body and soul are trapped within the blade, and the whispers of the dead can be heard by the wielder. These undead voices can lead Unyielding Doom's owner to great treasure. Other times they trick the poor fool, often leading to a grisly end.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Dear RPGnet: WTF?

Fool that I am this week I allowed myself to get drawn into the latest round of RPGnet/theRPGsite animosity. I'm not posting to comment on that debacle, other than to note that I should be smart enough to realize such antics do neither site any good. Instead, this post is devoted to being completely flabbergasted at an ad that appeared on my computer while I was visiting RPGnet.

I've noted before how little I like banner ads that focus on anonymous female anatomy. But to juxtapose some cartoon chick's rack with a logo that says "RACE WAR"? That's a whole new level of effed up. Do ads not get vetted before being served up on RPGnet's banners? Or did someone think RACE WAR + tits was a great ad for the RPGnet audience? I just don't understand what's going on here, but I sure as hell don't think running such an ad does much for RPGnet's image.

When I squint I can see the word "Kingdoms" in between the words RACE and WAR. And the link goes to some sort of online game called Race War Kingdoms that's probably about elves and orcs killing each other for fun. I'm sincerely hoping that the game was developed by a non-English speaker, because "the upcoming Race War" is one term the goddamn Illinois Nazis and the KKK use for their long-awaited apocalyptic battle between White and Evil. I know that's the first thing I thought of when I saw the words "RACE WAR".

Saturday, August 02, 2008

It's very probable...

...that this is the best thing I've ever drawn.

Drawing?  Not my strong suit.
I was shooting for these goblins to look like they were only a couple more beers away from the "I love you, man!" stage.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Read My Lips: Stay the Course, A Thousand Points of Light, No New Taxes

Later this month Goodman Games should be rolling out Points of Light by Robert Conley (a.k.a. estar on some boards). I'm looking forward to this book for a number of reasons. Rob is a talented and cool guy and Goodman Games is one of my favorite publishers nowadays, so this is the sort of thing I'd probably buy on general principle. More importantly, Points of Light is a modern design (complete with slick production values) of the classic Wilderlands-esque sandbox style of campaign presentation. With four different mapped and stocked settings, no less! And it's systemless, so you can use it for your shiny new 4e or OD&D, anything in between, or some other fantasy system of your choice.

The other day I was telling a fellow fan of the old school gaming scene that I was working on running some old school demos at Armored Gopher Games, my friendly local game store. Demos are supposed to be good for the store, right? They're supposed to get players enthused about a game that they will then presumably buy from the FLGS. The problem being is that as I type this, I know of only two games that I consider old school that are in distribution. Those would be Castles & Crusades and Labyrinth Lord. (I would count Hackmaster as well, but the supply seems to have largely dried up until the new edition is published.) Now, I have nothing against either of those games and I have no objection to promoting them. But those two games are a terribly small slice of the entire old school pie. With Points of Light taking the field, I could pick any crusty old fantasy game or new-fangled clone and still have something that the dudes at the Armored Gopher can sell.

Additional links:
Goodman Games preview page for Points of Light
RPGsite thread with excerpts