Friday, October 31, 2008

Freaked. Out.

This month over at Geek Orthodox Reis has been posting a bunch of images of old "cheap mask & vinyl poncho" style Halloween costumes. I remember some of them from back in the day, but not this one:That's a mask, right? For some reason I can't pin down, that mask thing is just breaking me over here. That's the scariest effin' kiddy costume I've ever seen. And the mask tinges the poncho part for me, making me skittish about the whole set-up. Instead of just a picture of a spaceship on a cheap plastic tunic, I now see that the kid dressing as this thing is basically going for Halloween as a torso-shaped hole through which we can see events in outer space.

It's Halloween

a poem by Jack Prelutsky

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Let's Just Be Friends

So a couple days ago I sent a "Dear John" email to the other two members of my game group. For once the old cliche "It's not you, it's me" is totally true. Doug and Stuart continue to be two of the awesomest people I've ever had the pleasure of slinging dice with. But it seems at this point that our tastes just diverge too much. Given the social nature of gaming I suspect that one of the stupidest things you can do is stop playing over something as lame as which game you're going to play. On the other hand I can't ignore the emotional reality that it seems like right now I don't want to play the same games as Doug and Stuart. My gut is telling me that not playing at all is a better alternative to playing games that just are enthusing me. I could try to soldier on, but when has a guy not digging the scene ever added anything but a warm body to the table? And with only three people left in the group one lukewarm player is too much deadweight.

I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen next. The three of us may continue to get together for board and card games. I'm looking at various strategies for generating local interest in a sandbox style game in either a post-apocalyptic or fantasy vein. I may just start setting up a screen one night a week at an empty table at my FLGS. If someone comes by and wants to play, great. If not, I'll spend a few hours stocking dungeons or whatnot and then head home. I've also been kicking around the idea of a "campaign on the road" with a more vigorous con schedule.

a political meme

Copy this sentence into your LiveJournal/blog/whatever if you're in a heterosexual marriage, and you don't want it "protected" by the bigots who think that gay marriage hurts it somehow.

from coeli

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Deck of Stuff

For my last OD&D con game I got out a stack of index cards and turned them into a deck of miscellaneous equipment cards, like this:

As I shuffled and dealt one card to each player I told them something like "As veteran adventurers you each have at least one item not on the standard equipment list. Most of these items have no game mechanics attached them. It's up to you to figure out how to make this stuff useful." I think this worked pretty well as a way of signaling to the players that the mechanics of the game were not my number one concern. And it gave everyone a toy to play with. Below is the complete list of cards.

The Deck of Stuff

long-stemmed pipe & pouch of pipeweed
small flask of poison
polar bear fur cloak
large jug of potent wine
oracular skull: answers a single yes/no question 1/day
dungeon dog: Ac 7, HD 2, well trained, very loyal
2 ninja smokebombs
first aid kit (6 uses)
2 vials of holy water
sprig of wolvesbane
5 silver arrows
3 men-at-arms with chain, shield, spear, sword
steel crowbar
2 blessed crossbow bolts
small sack containing 30 fake gp (thin gold plated over lead)
bag containing 12 caltrops
2 orcs-at-arms with chain, shield, sword, shortbow
henchman: roll 1st level PC as quickly as possible!
75' spider-silk rope & iron grappling hook
11' wooden pole
silver dagger
6 cigars
30' coil of copper wire
12 small candles
small bag of Monster Chow™
rowan shield
partial dungeon map
piece of chalk
5' steel pole
500' ball of string
1 tin of moustache wax
1 Holy Hand Grenade
wedge of very stinky cheese
tiny vial containing 3 angel tears

Monday, October 27, 2008

Critical Encounters on Planet Gamma

One fan we met at a convention later sent us a letter to ask if we'd be designing a game for westerns, for example, or one for spy adventures. Our answer: we already have! Encounter Critical can be used for any sort of role play adventure; simply limit which races and weapons you allow (for example, no mutations and Wooky characters in the wilden west) and the game provides those tools you need for play.
-Introduction to Encounter Critical (Second Corrected Edition)

For my next EC con game at Winter War my plan is to dust off an old Gamma World module which I've done some half-ass conversion notes for. (Full Ass conversion notes would probably be contrary to the spirit of how I run Encounter Critical.) 'Round this time last year I posted some rules for making your own pregen, which several players used to their advantage. The wooky pugilist utterly wrecked the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, for instance. So I figured I'd attempt the same thing again. Here are the draft rules.

1) Roll dice for stats as per the book. Cheaters will be subject to public ridicule.

2) Any race in the corebook is allowed, along with the races in Asteroid 1618, the extra races floating around the files section of the EC yahoo group, and Mike's seven races.

3) All characters are Mutated, with your choice of one, two, or three randomly generated mutations.

4) For your random mutations you can use the chart in the book, Rondo's Severely Messed-Up Mutation Chart, and/or the file "EC mutation expansion" found in the Rules Expansions & Variants files of the EC yahoo group. Alternatively, you can use pretty much any published random mutation chart providing you bring along a copy of the chart and the accompanying rules. You must roll at least one mutation on the chart in the EC rulebook. That way any PC might have edible poop.

5) The poor mutant bastards on Planet Gamma are so backward they have forgotten how to cast spells, so no Warlocks allowed. All the other classes in the rulebook are available, as are the Mad Scientist, Biker, and Wrestler from the yahoo group. The variant classes Pugilist, [non-Mad] Scientist, and Ninja are not allowed. (Yes, I know I wrote the Pugilist. The class is overpowered. When I made it I just didn't give a crap about game balance.)

6) All characters get 3,142 experience points to reflect past adventures. If you want two classes you get 2,094 xp to split and one of the selected classes must be Pioneer. If you want three classes make more than one character.

7) Take the maximum starting gold allowed your [primary] class and double it for your equipment budget. Higher tech items are all considered ancient artifacts that might malfunction when used. Also note that play begins in a radioactive desert, so dress appropriately.

8) All PCs will receive one miscellaneous random item at the beginning of the adventure. Some of these items might even be useful.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No, seriously. What's attacking us?

One of my favorite old D&D books is The Dungeoneer: The Adventuresome Compendium of Issues 1-6, sometimes referred to simply as the the Dungeoneer Compendium. The Dungeoneer was Paul Jaquay's early D&D fanzine (later issues talked about other games, too). The adventure/mini-campaign in the back of the Compendium, "Night of the Walking Wet" a.k.a. "The Realm of the Slime God" is one of the purest expressions of wild-and-wooly old school adventure design you'll find. But that's not what I'm talking about today. Instead I want to share some of the awesomely ridiculous monsters in the Compendium's "Monster Matrix" feature. I've already posted about the Tinfoil Monster. Here's three more critters created and illustrated by the same guy, Mark Norton.

The DNA Monster

No. Appearing 2-20
Armor Class
Hit Dice 3
% in Lair 80
Alignment Neutral
Damage Strike/1-8 25% poisonous

This creature is a huge, enlarged DNA Molecule. It is semi-intelligent but does not speak. This creature has no regular treasure but instead, some atoms in its structure will be gems. The occurence of gems in the DNA creature's body is 15 Percent.

[I'd love to know more about the origin of this creature. Did Mark Norton get creamed on a pop quiz in biology? Is this a commentary on the inhuman nature of our genetic imperatives? Was he high?]

Smoke Creatures

No. Appearing 1-100
Armor Class 7
Movement 18" flying
Hit Dice 2
% in Lair 20
Alignment Chaotic
Damage Suffocation 1-6/turn

These are monsters made of pure, living smoke. Only magic weapons will work against these creatures since the magical weapon is solid on the same plane that these creatures actually exist in. Normal weapons will pass through these creatures and not harm them in the least.

[These critters could be pretty dang scary, appearing in huge numbers and immune to normal weapons. But its a little hard to get too worked up by them given the silly illustration, isn't it? I love the adventurer in the pick. He looks like an ordinary dude with a crappy helmet and some campaign gear. "Oh, crap! My sword don't work on this guy!"]

The Ibem

No. Appearing 1-10
Armor Class 7
Movement 4"
Hit Dice 3-1
% in Lair 40
Alignment Hungry
Not Intelligent
Damage Tentacle 1-6, Bite 1-4

This monster of many arms, many eyes and of course many mouths. It has 4 eyes, 8 tentacles, and 4 mouths. It will attack a maximum of 3 times from any given side that it is attacked from or facing. It will not bite unless its prey is ensnared in its tentacles.

[Because you can never have too many slobbering tentacled horrors.]

Shirtless Shatnerday!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two quick thoughts on char sheets and conventions

1) Over the years I've noticed that most players want to take the character sheet home with them as a momento of the game. I think I'm going to start putting the name of the game, the event, and the con on all pregens, as well as the date and location of the con.

2) No con/demo charsheet should ever be blank on the back. Don't make the character write-up longer than necessary, just put something cool on the other side. A map, an illo, some useful game charts, a manifesto, just something. Don't waste that space. At a con I once found a charsheet for QAGS, the Quick Ass Game System, that had the chargen rules and pretty much the entire system on the back. That was rad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blue Oyster Cult - Flaming Telepaths

The weekend before last I drove to Springfield, IL. That's about a 3 hour round trip. My only company was a pair of CDs, one Blue Oyster Cult and one Black Sabbath. I played both discs all the way through, but this song and "Heaven and Hell" got an extra four or five plays each.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

It has been the author's experience that, unless the game is staged at 1:1, the time scale means only one thing: the number of turns in a battle; and the ground scale means only one thing: the distance a man can move relative to the distance a man can shoot. Therefore no scale is given except in practical application: move distance, missile ranges, and turns in a game.

--Gary Rudolph, Missúm!, a set of minis rules for Tékumel (quote found on The Miniatures Page)

I can't make up my mind whether this guy is crazy like a fox or just plain crazy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Surviving the Chaos Wars

The more I've been kicking around the idea of getting into 1:72 figures the less I've been digging on the original Chainmail as the set to use for mass battles. There's parts I like and parts I don't like, so I've been considering ripping out the subsystems I'm keen on and transplanting them into Chaos Wars. I'm not sure anyone plays Chaos Wars anymore, or even if anybody really did when the rules were published by Ral Partha back in '87.

But I used them for a brief campaign-inside-a-campaign near the end of my hybrid 1st/2nd edition AD&D Bandit Kingdoms game. By that time Pat's bard/wizard was pretty big politically in the Bandit Kingdoms scene. He had bought an almost legitimate noble title and set up shop with a combination mages' school and standard evil overlord tower guarded by orcs and undead. He also had some potent PC and NPC allies, some of whom had strongholds and followers of their own. So I thought I'd try to yank the whole thing out from under him. I broke out my copy of Chaos Wars and invaded Pat's corner of the realm.

We played out three battles over the tabletop. The first was against the forces of the very man who had sold Pat his barony. Some unseen foe had given the dude an even bigger pile of gold to switch sides. I don't recall the opposition in the second battle, but the third and final battle was against a force of monsters, hobgoblins, and amazon cavalry commanded by the inexplicable Doctor Wu.

Doctor Wu had been designed from the ground up as sort of a dark reflection of Pat's character Baron Phostarius. Which makes Wu a pretty bad mofo when you consider that the Baron was a chaotic necromancer! Wu had entered the campaign many sessions earlier as the vizier of Brigandeer Lethbridge-Stuart. I don't remember how the Brigandeer and his brigands came to cross swords with Phostarius and crew. It might have begun as simply as "Hey DM, brigands have treasure types, right?"

Either way, the party ended up fireballing and generally slaughtering the opposition in their usual efficient and bloodthirsty manner. But, unlike most massacres orchestrated by Baron Phostarius, two foes got away that day. One was an inconsequential low level cleric who cast feign death the moment he saw his escape route cut off. The other was Wu, who as a ninja/wu-jen had all the talents he needed to make an effective getaway. But when the battle was over Phostarius had his hands on Wu's spell books. Thus Doctor Wu went underground and began a long, slow-burning revenge that would culminate in war a couple years of game time later.

Anyway, I started this post with the idea of sharing my favorite part of Chaos Wars. Nearly every fantasy mass combat rules I've seen has some sort of mechanic to determine whether your fallen character is really dead or just knocked out. Chaos Wars has the coolest such table I've encountered to date. Dig it:

Fallen Character Table
Die RollResult
2Character's spirit has been captured by a rogue demon. A raid on hell (staged as a battle using Chaos Wars or as a roleplaying adventure) is required to restore his spirit to his comatose body. If raid is successful, the character should return with a small loss in level or skill proficiency.
3Character is indeed dead.
4-6Character was only slightly wounded (25% of hit points). He is still subject to capture [if his side lost the battle].
7Character has taken significant damage (75% of hit points) and is scarred or crippled for life. He is still subject to capture.
8-10Character was only knocked out (no damage to hit points). He is still subject to capture.
11Character is indeed dead.
12Character has been selected by a valkyrie as a noble hero. A raid on valhalla (staged as a battle using Chaos Wars or as a roleplaying adventure) is required to restore his body and spirit to the land of the living. If the raid is successful, the character shoudl return with a small increase in level or skill proficiency.

I absolutely love how the default cosmology of the game is that the campaign world is set between Hell and Valhalla. That's so metal I'm actually typing this while throwing the horns. (And it's not easy.) In one of the battles we played an orc captain of Pat's went down and got result '7'. We rolled a fifty/fifty chance of scarification or cripplage and got scars. So among Pat's entourage is a wickedly scarred ol' orc and we were all there when the pig-faced dude earned them. How cool is that? Sadly, no one was carried off to visit Satan or Odin in any of our three battles.

Remember the amazon cavalry I mentioned earlier? They were commanded by Doctor Wu's daughter and they were one of the few units to get off the board when the final battle didn't go their way. Sometimes I wonder what happened to her and her battle-sisters. But that is another story...

Saturday, October 18, 2008


This post was inspired by the recent ruckus over Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, though I don't really directly address that situation.

Back in the eighties my game group had three DMs. There was yours truly who ended up as DM by default because on the first day of school one fall I showed up to Flanagan grade school with this weird new game called Dungeons & Dragons. No one else knew what the hell it was, so of course I had to be the DM. Later my good buddy Dave did a lot of the DMing and in many ways he was better at it. Later Dave's brother-in-law Jim, who had a separate introduction to the game, ran us kids through many merciless adventures in Greyhawk.

Having Dave as DM was always a little risky. His mom Betty was a 700 Club watcher and she got on board with the satanic panic. Between Betty and one of the teachers at school (the vicious visage pictured to the right) we were always under some level of pressure to give up the game. I think I've mentioned here once before that Betty once threatened to burn all the D&D books in Dave's room. When Dave told me about the incident I kinda freaked out because almost all the books he was using for his campaign were borrowed from me!

My game group, circa 1983.We were protected from the worst excesses of those years by the simple fact that the game group consisted of the most academically successful and least troublesome students at Flanagan Junior High. Had we been less nerdy we might have been shut down outright. Instead, from time to time we were subjected to an ongoing campaign to talk us out of D&D.

One parent in the anti-D&D clique bought her son a copy of Dragonraid as a Christian alternative to D&D. I read the rules, listened to the creepy-weird cassette tape that came with the game, and made a couple PCs. We tried the game once, but the fact that you had to memorize and recite Bible verses to cast spells put most of the group off the game. I didn't mind that so much, as ol' St. Petri Lutheran church spent a fair amount of time on getting its Sunday school students to memorize stuff. I was more frustrated that I couldn't combine the abilities of the ranger-like class with the animal companion abilities of another class to replicate my new Snake Eyes action Designers: if I can't play this guy in your game please go back to the drawing board.figure. Talk about a shoddy and short-sighted design.

Another tactic the Moral Minority tried on us was passing around a tape of the 700 Club hatchet job on D&D. The youtube links have made the rounds of the gaming blogsters and I'm feeling lazy so I won't repost them. When my folks were given the tape they handed it to me and told me to check it out. Either they didn't get that it was meant to be a dire warning to parents or else they trusted me to make my own decision.

It was from either the 700 Club tape or some associated literature that I first became conscious of the existence of Tlaloc the rain god. Oh, sure. I owned the Deities & Demigods, but back then I only really read it for the few new monsters (the two cyclops races and the Egyptian flame snakes being my favorite), the uberpowerful weapons (Thor's hammer and Ma Yuan's triangular stone, for instance), and the naked goddesses. So while Beware the Third Eye of Tlaloc!Tlaloc had a cool illo, his existence largely went unnoticed by this young DM, at least until D&D's detractors called attention to him. Apart from the general beef with a book full of pagan gods, here's the part of the Tlaloc entry they objected to:
At each full moon, a priest of Tlaloc sacrifices a child or baby to Tlaloc. Once a year, there is a great festival held in his honor. Numerous babies are bought or taken from the populace. These babies are sacrificed to Tlaloc, after which the priests cook and eat them. If the babies cry during the sacrifice, this is taken as a good sign that rain will be abundant during the coming year.
I remember getting out my copy of the DDG just to confirm that this passage was really in the book. No big surprise that I had missed it before, considering that Tlazolteotl, the goddess of vice, is illustrated on that same page. So after carefully reading this passage young Jeffy sat down and tried to figure what the inclusion of this baby sacrifice stuff meant in the larger scope of things. I came to the conclusion that the author of the above quoted paragraph (James Ward and/or Rob Kuntz) was in no way encouraging or condoning the sacrifice and/or consumption of infants. To this day that doesn't seem like too far a leap in logic to me.

In the occasional confrontation with the teacher I mentioned above she tried to argue that the mere presence of gods like Tlaloc and the various demons and devils indicated a tacit endorsement of evil. I countered that the game needed the presence of evil for the players to be able to do good deeds. Or as I put it once, "Demons and devils? You're supposed to fight those guys." I've never used Tlaloc in a D&D game, but if I ever did it would be in the form of something along the lines of Dungeon Module Z23: Kick The Crap Out of Some Tlaloc Clerics Before Their Next Festival, an adventure for 4-8 characters level 3-6. Just so all the grubbier PCs were on the same page the Temple of Tlaloc would coincidentally be full of crazy amounts of treasure.

When the team of Ward and Kuntz presented the practices of the Tlaloc cult they offered neither an endorsement of those practices nor a rebuke of such abominations. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that they took for granted that the reader showed up with his or her own moral compass and didn't really need to be told that killing and eating babies is bad. Am I talking crazy talk here? It's not like the DDG spent copious amounts of ink on graphic descriptions of human sacrifice or cannibalism. It's one wince-inducing, stomach-turning paragraph in a larger, weirder work.

It's Shatnerday again!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The mystery beachcomber revealed

On Wednesday I asked the Gameblog readership to guess the age of a comic book character based upon four cropped panels of her frolicking by the ocean. Thanks for all the responses! All those pics came from a single page of Swords of the Swashbucklers, a 1984 Marvel graphic novel written by Bill 'the Thrill' Mantlo and drawn by Jackson Guice. I'm a big Mantlo fan but I'm not particularly familiar with Mr. Guice's art. I pretty much bought my copy of Swords of the Swashbucklers based on the fact that Mantlo's name was on the cover. Okay, maybe the space pirates helped.

Anyway, here's the answer to the mystery, given in a narration box on the same page:

Gameblog reader lisandro gaertner got it right in the very first comment on Wednesday's post. Gameblog regular wulfgar asked for Domino Blackthorn Drake's height, but I have no hard data on that point.

This is page 2 of the book. I haven't really been able to get much farther because this whole age thing snapped me out of the story before I could really even get into it.

It's interesting to note that writer Mantlo once had the reverse problem in that he wrote a character as a teenage girl but the artist drew her looking like she was in grade school. Chris Sims has the lowdown on that incident.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Notable Features of the Dungeon of Doom

The Dungeon of Doom was the centerpiece megadungeon of my mid-to-late 90's AD&D campaign set in the Bandit Kingdoms of Greyhawk. I've run more forays into this sadly-misplaced dungeon than any other D&D environment save the Caves of Chaos in module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.

Much of the dungeon was generated using the random charts in the back of the first edition DMG, with one slight variation. When a monster was called for I would roll a d6. On a 1 or 2 I would then use the Wandering Monster charts from the DMG to determine which critter to use. On a 3 or 4 I would go with the Fiend Folio charts and on a 5 or 6 I'd use the Monster Manual II tables. The result was that the monster mix was skewed heavily towards the original Monster Manual, but with a good smattering of weirdoes from the other two books. Also, I used whatever creature I rolled, no matter how clumsy the mechanics or how little I like the monster. If the dice said the room had 2 vulchlings, then by Cuthbert there were two vulchlings in that room.

As I mentioned, I can't find my notes for the Dungeon of Doom and I fear they were accidentally discarded the last time I moved. But I wanted to share some of my favorite bits. Some of these items are the direct result of following Gary's DMG charts, others are my own invention.

The Hellevator

Level One of the dungeon had a 10' x 10' room that was actually an automatic express elevator down to level 4. Once down there the elevator didn't come back up for six hours. In its first inadvertent use I described the sound of the elevator operation as "chunga-chunga-chunga". The players grew to associate that sound with deadly peril. I don't think any of my players ever discovered the Lower Hellevator, which led from level six to level ten.

Level 2A

This campaign was the first time most of the players in my group ever found a sub-level. Of course they did it the hard way. After a bad go on level three they were desperate to get out of the dungeon. The PCs rejoiced when they found a new staircase that went up a level. Hours later they finally figured out that this particular level two had no access to level one. Exhausted and lost, they were forced to make camp on an uncleared level. They survived a night in the dungeon only by sharing a room with a large band of gnomes that showed up on the wandering monster charts.

The Iron Frogs

Instead of the standard pirate booty box, about one treasure chest in six was a hollow iron statue of a frog with a hinged mouth. No particular reason. I just like frogs. The players were mystified.

The Chapel of Evil

Not far from the Hellevator exit on level 4 was the Chapel of Evil, a little subsection of the level kinda like the Shrine of Evil Chaos in module B2. The big difference: the head cleric was a vampire. After a rough initial encounter with the Vampire Evil High Priest and his minions the party withdrew. They came back with more henchmen (including an ogre trained in the art of sumo who was also an expert with the harpoon, IIRC) and more one-shot magic and wasted the place in an epic battle. Good times.

The Baleful Stone

No player ever discovered this secret, but the dungeon had an off switch. According to my sketchy notes for the bottom level (nothing below level 8 ever had a proper key and map) the lynchpin of the dungeon was the legendary White Stone of MWOWM, which I totally stole from the Book of the Subgenius (or maybe its sequel, Revelation X). The evil vibrations from this artifact were what drew so many demons, devils, undead, etc. to the dungeon. If the White Stone were removed from the dungeon most of those monsters would leave and eventually only a mindless slimes and vermin would remain to haunt the rooms and passageways. I always imagined that if the players got their hands on the Stone they would try to give it to the elves without them knowing what it was. They were that kind of group.

The Pit

On level seven there was a deep pit that led to the level ten lair of a Pit Fiend. Because I am that literal-minded sometimes.

One of Each

Also on level seven, not far from the Pit, was the chamber that served as the rumpus room for one of each type of demon from I to VI. According to the Monster Manual that mix is a legit possibility when encountering demons. I don't particularly like running demons because of all their fiddly special abilities, but I wanted to see the players react to such a grouping. Across the hall was an enclave of mind flayers driven mad by the White Stone. That's right insane mind flayers.

It was scouting level seven that convinced the players it was time for the campaign to shift focus to wilderness exploration and stronghold-building.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An experiment

Audience participation time! Below are four images from a comic book that you've probably never heard of. In the comments section below I want you to guess the age of this character, if you would please. On Friday I will reveal the actual answer.

And if by some amazing coincidence you are actually familiar with this comic, please no spoilers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Spells

(With apologies to Lord British.)

Yupp's Incantation of Insubstantial Elevation
Level 4 magic-user spell

By means of this spell the magic-user and up to one companion per caster level are instantaneously teleported to the nearest dungeon level above the caster. There is no chance for teleportation error and if the space directly above the caster is solid stone the caster (and any companions) arrive in a nearby open space. If there is no dungeon level above the caster this spell fails.

Descendinator of Zdaun the Mighty
Level 3 magic-user spell

This spell works much the same as Yupp's Incantation, but delivers the caster and companions down one level instead of up.

Xitegressa's Prudent Withdrawal
Level 5 magic-user spell

When cast within a dungeon the magic-user and up to one companion per two levels are teleported to the surface entrance where they began their underworld journey.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Answering Ike

New Gameblog reader RPG Ike asked a couple of interesting questions in the comments to the earlier post where I suggest that Hasbro should put out a 'vintage edition' of old school D&D. (An idea I possibly unconsciously stole from T. Foster, it seems.)

So, if it isn't nostalgia, why not just crack the AD&D or older books open and fire up a game, rather than buy them again in a vintage package?

I've got more editions and variations of My Favorite Game* than I'll ever need. Sure, I plan on buying at least two more (Swords & Wizardry and Hackmaster Basic), but that's really besides the point. For me the idea of "Hasbro Presents Classic Dungeons & Dragons" is a larger issue. If we're going to have faceless corporate oversight of the biggest franchise in the hobby, why not leverage that corporate muscle to re-position D&D as a mainstream game? I still don't believe D&D will ever recapture the faddishness of the 80's, but then I doubt Monopoly will ever be the national passion again either. But like Monopoly or Risk, I believe D&D has what it takes to occupy a 'classic games' niche. In short, I don't need a copy for nostalgia purposes, I still have the now-tattered Basic rules I got as a birthday present one summer long ago. But how many of the millions of D&D players of that era can still say that? There's your primary audience for such a product.

And your secondary audience are the kids the primary audience can initiate into our weird mysteries. To go back to Monopoly for a second, consider that back when my parents and uncle taught me how to play back in the late seventies, it was already a nostalgia game for them. And now I've played it with my daughter and nephew (albeit haltingly and with difficulty, they're still pretty young for a landlord simulation). Over the years my sister and I wore out our folks' first Monopoly set, so they bought another. And I own at least two sets and my sister has at least one. I've heard people who know more about the business of RPGs call the Players Handbook 'evergreen' because WotC can consistently sell copies over a few measly years. Meanwhile, Monopoly has sold copies for the better part of a century now. (And it sure as hell didn't get that way by rolling out a new version of the rules every five years. Maybe that's a fine approach for hobbyists like us but family games with multi-generational appeal generally seem to have much more stable rules.)

Now I know a major objection here is that splitting a brand is bad business sense and will confuse the customers. But D&D did alright for itself back when half the products were Advanced and half were not. I'm not even asking for that level of bifurcation. I'm asking for a single family-friendly ready-to-run Basic set for sale alongside the rest of Hasbro's classic games. Something I could give my nephew for his birthday or maybe use an excuse to round up some old players. Labyrinth Lord nicely fills that niche for people still neck-deep in this crazy hobby, but the department store visibility and brandpower of a Hasbro Basic release would easily dwarf LL in potential effect.

I've known about your blog for some time, but just recently started visiting it, so forgive me if this is clear to your regulars. How do you feel about 3E?

My 3E campaign ended abruptly due primarily to me not understanding what a different game the new edition was. I had a horrible grip on how Encounter Levels and CRs worked and when Pat's sixth level cleric started cranking out magic items I freaked out. But my 3.5 campaign was rollicking fun, eventually ending in a party of 23rd or so level uber-PCs fighting Ragnarok in Greyhawk. Good times. Some days when I'm feeling particularly idiotic I waste time wondering if what I was running was "really" D&D, but we had a crapload of fun. I don't think I'd run 3.x again, but I still have a few books from the line.

*Some days Encounter Critical shares that title, but calling D&D One of My Co-Favorite Games sounds a little silly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The New AGP Deal

So James Mishler of Adventure Games Publications has gone public with his decision to alter the subscription program he pitched to all of us. Instead of the scheduled mix of Campaign Installments and Adventure Games Journal issues promised to subscribers, he's going to a format of "I'll write what I want and send it to you when I'm done." That's the short version of the new plan, you can read the complete details here.

I'm an AGP subscriber, so I've got a stake in this turn of events and I just want to let everyone who cares know that I am 100% behind Mishler's decision. While I am a bit disappointed that I don't have Journal #2 or the Southern Reaches Gazetteer in my grubby little hands, I'd rather be patient knowing whenever they come out James will have done a better job for the delay. And frankly, I don't care what the next product in the AGP pipeline is because I'm confident that whatever comes out will rock. By his account James's original plan has tranformed from a publishing strategy to a creative straightjacket. I want Mishler works that were a joy for him to make, not products that weigh like a millstone round his neck.

I'd probably feel differently if James hadn't published a bunch of great stuff while the schedules for the Installments and Journals slipped. But he's demonstrated more than once over the last six months that he can turn out great material at a fast pace.

What I Want from Hasbro

I don't have a beef with 4E. It's just not what I want out of D&D. And Wizards is certainly within its rights to put out whatever game they want. But man, Hasbro could get me to part with some green if they just put out OD&D or a Basic Set as part of their 'Vintage Wood Book Edition' line. Have you seen this line? In my neck of the woods Target department stores have a bunch of 'em in the wall o' games behind the toy section. You can get Life, Monopoly, Jenga, Clue, and several other classic games in this format.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Two interesting data points

So as of today I've visited two local game conventions in two consecutive weekends. Last weekend I was in Bloomington, IL for FlatCon and today I went to Springfield for a taste of I-Con. Both of these are small local conventions with attendance in maybe the hundreds.

At Flat-Con the role-playing section was dominated by the RPGA, with Living Greyhawk 3.5 events winding down the campaign and Living Forgotten Realms well-attended. I talked to one active RPGA friend who boths DMs and plays that said a lot of people he knew were making the switch of both campaign setting and game edition with little difficulty. And my informant was really digging LFR's crazy new campaign rules.

Meanwhile, the roleplaying in Springfield was dominated by Pathfinder, with a smattering of other 3.5 events. Not a single 4E game was scheduled for the weekend. In fact, if you wanted to play an rpg besides 3.5, your choices were a single game of Dark Heresy (the new 40K rpg, right?) and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. And those games were running at the same time, so you couldn't play both.

I found it pretty dang weird that these two cons would be so polarized like that. The towns they're in are only like an hour's drive apart.

What's a wizard worth?

In Gygax and Perren's Chainmail a budget of one hundred points will buy you any one of the following:
  • 200 stinking peasants
  • 66 Swiss mercenaries with pikes
  • 50 vikings
  • 40 hobgoblins
  • 25 elves
  • 20 heavy knights, mounted
  • 10 wraiths
  • 9 ogres
  • 5 heroes
  • 4 heavy catapults & crew
  • 2 super-heroes (Conan types)
  • 1 wizard
A dragon also costs a hundred points. This line of thinking leads me to contemplate experiments where you use Chainmail to fight out encounters between a wizard and a dragon, or a dragon against 200 peasants, or whatever. I don't think Chainmail was designed for those sorts of shenanigans but it still might be fun to see how long those peasants last.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Holy crap!

This purple worm is friggin' awesome!

Otherworld Miniatures
is not screwing around.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Evidence of medieval PC shenanigans

What the Text Says

"trebuchet apparently about to launch a donkey into the defenses [of a castle]"

What I Read:

"Okay, I polymorph into a donkey and load myself into the catapult!"

The pic and text are from Terence Wise's Medieval Warfare (Osprey 1976). Here's another passage where I can almost hear the players coming up with another crazy plan:

What the Text Says

"A great lord advertising his presence by his banner could inspire confidence in the troops around him, but he might also attract unwelcome concentration of enemies, intent on taking him to cause the downfall of his followers, or for his value in the form of ransom, and ruses were therefore employed to confuse observers, especially in the case of a king leading an army into battle. At the battle of Poitiers, for example, there were no less than twenty kings of France on the field."

What I Read

"Hot damn! The king has bought my 'decoy king' plan hook, line, and sinker! Now all we have to do is make sure he and the eighteen other decoys die in the battle. In the confusion I will ascend to the throne of France!"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

my latest method/madness

Regular readers can probably tell that sometimes I just blog about whatever fool thing pops into my head when I'm sitting in front of the computer. But sometimes crazy ideas come to me when I'm not near one of these new-fangled electric calculation devices. It used to be I would scrawl these flashes of dumbspiration onto whatever paper was handy. But recently, in an attempt to keep better track of this stuff, I've started carrying a little notebook, a pocket-sized Moleskine cahier. I get mine at one of the local big box bookstores. You can get blank pages, line rules, or graph paper. Of course I go for the latter so I can make dungeon maps.

Here's the latest thing I did in my notebook. I got it into my head that maybe it would be neat to make OD&D monsters that were scaleable by level, like the way T&T monsters are sometimes expressed as X number of Monster Rating points times the level they're encountered on. This idea came to me at work, so over my lunch break I got out my copy of Rat On A Stick (What? You don't keep yours in your briefcase?) and wrote down the critters on the wandering monster chart. I then attempted to make scaleable stats for them. Here's what I ended up with:

Under this scheme most monsters simply gain Hit Dice. Some monsters gain increased damage, such as a 9th and 10th level Rats biting for 2d6 or the ogre's ever-biggening club attack. Some critters gain additional numbers, listed as a simple "+d6" or "+2d6", while others gain friends (basically an additional wandering monster teams up with them). So a 10th level Orc encounter consists of 3d6 big, burly 2 hit dice orcs being bossed around by some other 10th level monster, while a 4th level Harpy encounter consists of a normal group of harpies plus d6 (presumably charmed) friends.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I've wondered if anybody had done this.

RC controlled tank-gaming!

From Bruce Quarrie's Beginner's Guide to Wargaming (1987). I was at my local library on Sunday and found this beauty and two Featherstone tomes. Huzzah!

Monday, October 06, 2008

will link for hits

Bat in the Attic - Rob Conley's cool new blog

Gygax and the Old School

Kentaro Proverbs - a page of possibly wise sayings

Paul Elliott's 'Tudor fantasy' campaign concept

The Free RPG Blog - both the blog and the RPGs are free

Saturday, October 04, 2008

All Hail Max

The main event of my weekend was FlatCon, a little game covention in Bloomington, Illinois. In its ninth year now, FlatCon is still a new kid on the block in the local game scene. I'm still getting used to the way they run their show, but I admire the enthusiasm and energy of the organizers.
Just under the deadline I submitted an OD&D session to be included on schedule and this afternoon I had the pleasure of running nine players through a nice little chunk of Under Xylarthen's Tower. I pitched three possible adventures, looting the hidden Verbosh family tombs, finding an archmage's spellbook in the Rat On A Stick dungeon, or locating the (supposedly dead) dragon's hoard under the ruins of the Tower of Xylarthen. The three magic-users in the party lobbied hard for going after that spellbook, but everyone else at the table found the possibility of unguarded Type H treasure was too great a lure.

I really enjoyed running UXT again, especially because this group of players ended up exploring an almost entirely different set of rooms than the original Xylarthen looters. Weirdo mummies were turned and white apes slain. Wandering goblins fled through mysteriously disappearing doors. The mutant ape with the enlarged cranium and psionic powers stayed invisible for the entire encounter with him, so the party never saw his true form! Two unfinished dungeon corridors were barricaded by the Greyhawk Construction Company. And half the party even survived to the end to claim all that loot!

But the best part of the whole run was Max. I don't know his last name because on the sign-up sheet he only put down "Max". The other players were all great but man, he owned that session. He didn't over-ego the other players at the table or anything like that. In fact, he was a fairly quiet guy. But whenever Max spoke up he had his act together.

Max approached every encounter as an imaginary situation to be cleverly negotiated, not a set of game emchanics to be beaten down with counter-mechanics. He was truly rockin' that old school spirit. My favorite example is when after a run-in with some "filthy dwarf-types" (kobolds from the wandering monster list) Max lopped off a monster-leg and stuck it in his backpack. At the time, I thought he was just being weird. But later he very effectively distracted some white apes by throwing the grisly limb among them. The apes were much more willing to brawl among themselves over a quick snack rather than fight people bearing torches and swords.

Max wasn't content to let his brief character sheet dictate what he could and couldn't do. He went out there and grabbed that dungeon by the collar and gave it a good shaking. And here's the kicker: Max is twelve years old and today was his first time playing D&D! I've seen it suggested that us grizzled veterans need to unlearn a bunch of cruft to really get back to the heart of D&D. That's the basic tack I've been taking with OD&D for a couple years now, but seeing Max at work really rammed this point home for me.

Happy Shatnerday!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Speaking of Deities & Demigods...

The original DDG has tons of great illos. Here's one by David LaForce that totally blew my mind when I was a kid.

Back in the day I was baffled by those bad guys. Who the hell are they? At one point I considered that they might be an NPC party from some parallel Prime Material Plane where they play a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle/Palladium Fantasy hybrid game. Eventually I settled on the idea that the tiger-headed guy was a rakshasa, the bird dude was a kenku and the boar-head guy was an orcish cleric. Together they formed a sort of dark mirror anti-PC party, a pro-active multi-racial group of badguys to oppose all those mixed parties of goody-goody dwarves, elves, and humans.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Pantheonator Mark 2

Recently I mentioned in passing to both Stuart and Jamie Mal that once upon a time I made up a set of random pantheon generation charts. The basic idea is that you throw some dice to make your own mix-and-match set of deities for your campaign. James requested that I dig up the charts. I couldn't find them so I've recreated them, relying on my memory of the ham-handed method I used the first time around. The source material is the 1st edition Deities & Demigods (a.k.a. Legends & Lore). Back when I made these as a kid I didn't own the DDG with the Cthulhu & Melnibonean mythoi, so I've omitted them here as well.

Since the charts are fairly sizable and I don't like really long entries I've turned the whole thing into this little TXT file.

It's pretty straightforward stuff. Anybody with a DDG could put these charts together. It's what you do with the results that count. For maximum freakishness each deity of your new grab-bag god-gang should follow the general guidelines of its original pantheon. Like if any Sumerian gods show up then their clerics should all shave their heads and wear white kilts with colorful borders. And don't forget the charts in the back of the book. For practical campaign-building the Clerical Quick Reference Chart is at least as important as the separate deity entries.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Looter

UK-based Asgard Miniatures was part of the first generation of mini's makers that specialized in fantasy figures. Several of their sculptors went on to work for more famous outfits. For example Bryan Ansell, the founding father of Citadel, got his start with Asgard. In the 80's the Armory had a deal with Asgard to distribute their figures in the U.S. The Armory was a major Dragon advertiser, often taking out multi-page ads. Unlike most mini ads in the Dragon, the Armory used illustrations of the figures rather than photos. I never quite understood why. Were photos that much more expensive? Did the Armory not own a camera?

Either way, I loved the little drawings. I've not seen that many Asgard figures up close and personal, but the drawings always made them seem ready for dungeon shenanigans. I think it was a combination of lifelike poses and detail work. Here's my favorite example, Dungeon Adventurer number 65, the Looter:

I've never seen the figure but there's a lot here to like. That moustache is awesome, for starters. And the detail on the hand-axe makes it look like an actual piece of equipment, not just a shaft with a blade stuck on it. The pouches on the belt are great. And the dude can pull off wearing an armored skirt in a way that not every guy can. But the pose with the axe and bag is what really brings this figure together for me. You can almost here him saying "this here's my share of the treasure" to someone else in the party. This is one rough character. Also, it doesn't hurt that he reminds me of a great illo from my '81 D&D Basic rules:

I find these sack-lugging dudes so compelling because the sack itself tells some of the story of D&D. Figures with bags of loot or carrying torches put the character into the dungeoneering context. You go from having a generic dude in armor that could be from any medieval historical scene to a bona fide dungeoneer. That's why when Jamie Mal posted the Grenadier hirelings it seemed like a breath of fresh air to me. Those figures aren't just little guys with swords, they're part of a larger world of adventure.