Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, Dave Hargrave


Some purists do not like to introduce any character or monsters into their game world unless they have a medieval or "Tolkienian" flavor or base. This really limits their play possibilities as far as I am concerned, for what better world to accept aliens than ones that already have a myriad of other strange and weird creatures as residents? Sure, it would be hard for a town like Peoria or Indianapolis to accept strange alien creatures, but would it be so hard for people that probably have elves, dwarves, hobbits and the like living down the street from them? I think not, for what i stranger, the alien with the blaster or the multi-tonned dragon that breathes fire? Think about it, and I think you'll find that logic supports the use of aliens in fantasy games, and that playability supports their inclusion as well. They are fun, challenging, and very novel as characters and as monsters. I can still visualize the pair of Vegan space travellers trying to figure out how a wand of fireballs worked after they had traded their stunner for it. They ran every test imaginable, and their computer kept telling them: "This item does not compute!" Still, it worked when that funny looking guy in the purple robes sold it to them. . . .

You get the point, I think, but let me just say one final thing on the subject and we'll go on to other things: The very essence of fantasy gaming is its total lack of limitation on the scope of play, both of its content, and in its appeal to people of all ages, races, occupations or whatever. So don't limit the game by excluding aliens or any other type of character or monster. If they don't fit what you feel what the game is all about, don't just say "NO!", whittle on them a bit until they do fit.

-from Welcome to Skull Tower (The Arduin Grimoire vol II), page 99

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

How to Ruin A Perfectly Good Subsector

As we all know, Encounter Critical can be used for any sort of role play adventure. Any setting from any rpg, wargame, book, film, TV show, comic, play, wrestling promotion, toy line, or cereal box can be used as the basis for a series of EC adventures. Why just last week I was playing in a rousing game of Encounter Critical based upon the Meredith Wilson classic The Music Man. My fellow adventurers and I failed to retrieve the legendary Golden Medallion of Aught Five, but at least we defeated the Four Headed Barbershop School Board of Doom. (Okay, I lied. I just made that up. But I would totally play that game.) Since the primary, but by no means only, influences on EC are fantastical and science fictional in nature, those are the best places to go to start looking for campaign fodder. The path of least resistance for making an Encounter Critical campaign probably involves taking a fantasy setting and adding more robots and lasers and mutants. I say ‘more’ because any fantasy campaign worth its salt has at least a handful of those things, or could have them and nobody would blink. Today, I’m going to look at another option: starting with a sci-fi setting and tarting it up with fantasy.

My victim for this exercise will be Drexilthar Subsector from Traveller’s Charted Space setting, a.k.a. the 3rd Imperium and environs. Drexilthar isn’t one of those better-known subsectors like Regina in the Spinward Marches, but it’s one of my favorite in Trav canon. The book A Pilot’s Guide to Drexilthar Subsector is one of the many, many cool things created for Traveller by the legendary Keith brothers. What I like about Drexilthar is that by devoting a whole standard-sized Trav booklet to a single subsector, you get a nice write-up for each planet. I find that approach much more user-friendly than the sector book approach, where you get sixteen times more planets, but most of them are nothing more than a string of Universal World Profile digits. By the way, you can still get A Pilot’s Guide to Drexilthar Subsector, and several other awesome old rpg books, from the Different Worlds website. But feel free to pick another subsector for your EC galaxy. For other subsector data to abuse go here or here. Or BeRKA of the Zhodani Base will be happy to randomly generate one for you.

Anyway, here’s one method for putting your selected subsector to work for you as an EC campaign. For starters, don’t get in a hurry to alter any of the UWP data, that just ruins the point of stealing UWPs to begin with. (Of course you can do anything you want with your campaign; I’m just telling you this one method.) Instead, try interpreting that Universal World Profile through a crazy-go-nuts EC lens. So take the world of Kraan as an example. The Pilot’s Guide tells us Kraan’s UWP is C501456-8. That breaks down as an average starport at a smallish world with no atmosphere but polar icecaps, inhabited by about a thousand or so people with a representative democracy where everyone carries a shotgun. Yee-haw! Okay, so Encounter Critical thinking was starting to seep in on that shotgun bit. The Law Level of the planet indicates that shotguns are the only weapon you can legally carry. That doesn’t mean that everyone always walks around with one, unless you want it to. That highlights one of the core tenets of my thinking on EC: plausibility is for amateurs.

So let’s think about the UWP for a little bit. Why would anyone live on an airless turd of a world like Kraan? In Traveller the default answer is ‘economic advantage’, which is Marc Miller’s secret code phrase for ‘to make a buck’. Following Miller’s logic the usual reason a colony is set up on these vacuum worlds is to mine radioactives or mysterious sci-fi mumbo-jumbo minerals and sure enough that’s the route J. Andrew Keith took in his write-up of Kraan. Keith also puts an archaeological site on Kraan, which coincidentally sits on a big lanthanum vein. Lanthanum is the most important mineral in the Trav universe, as it is a key component of FTL jump drives. I can’t speak for your brain, but mine immediately starts thinking along the lines of the Lanthanum Pits of Kraan, a dungeon full of robots that can teleport around the room like blink dogs led by a cyborg lich with an atomic heart. After centuries of preparations the lich is finally ready to move against the surface dwellers. Soon they shall all be his cyber-slaves! [insert villainous cackling here]

Let’s go back to those 1,000 or so surface dwellers menaced by the minions of the Cybo-Lich. Why does a mining town of 1,000 need a representative democracy? For a community that small a direct democracy could easily work, with an elected mayor to run day-to-day government business. The text says that traditionally four mining outfits own all the mineral rights to the planet. But what if they licensed those rights to smaller outfits, because the ore veins are scattered about the planet in a way that makes large scale mining less profitable? Maybe those 1,000 people are split up across the face of the planet in ten or twenty smalltime operations. They usually all leave well enough alone, but they all have a vested interest in the lone starport, so some sort of centralized government is needed. Each mine camp sends one rep to the planetary council at the starport/capitol. So with just a thousand people on the world you’ve got all sorts of possible dynamics between the four companies, the archaeologists, the mining camps, the starport authority, and the planetary council.

Now let’s give those thousand people some EC color. For starters, the world ‘people’ could means lots of different things in Encounter Critical. A mining colony immediately suggests dwarves, but let’s put that aside as too pat an answer. Maybe the dwarves, being so skilled in mining and well-capitalized, can afford to only work large scale operations on planets with amenities (like atmospheres). Maybe the four companies who own the mineral rights are dwarves, but for a third-rate operation like Kraan they bid the rights out to others. Maybe the composition of each of the outlying camps merits a roll on the Race Determination chart on page five of the EC rulebook. That way some of the mines are run by klengons and some by hoblings and maybe even a few by plain, ordinary humans. A planetary council meeting should look like the League of Non-Aligned Worlds meeting in the Mos Eisley cantina.

For one last bit of UWP-generated Encounter Critical weirdness, look at the tech level of the planet. Normally, the tech level of a planet indicates what goods are readily available for PCs to buy, but for EC we can squeeze a little more mojo out of that number. Kraan is rated at TL8, which the UWP key in the Pilot’s Guide lists as ‘Circa 1980 to 1990’. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m thinking a starport festooned with breakdancing wookeys carrying ginormous boomboxes and vulkin doxies dressed like early Madonna videos. I’m thinking TRS-80 computers and Pac-Man arcade games. I’m thinking criminals from Beat It and the living dead from Thriller, both ruled by a mysterious half-zombie who wears red leather armor and a glowing magical gauntlet.

That’s enough on Kraan, I think. Looking at Drexilthar in general, I think a lot can be achieved by simply remembering to add more dragons and wizards. That’s what most players seem to want when you talk about fantasy gaming, so why not just give it to them? And don’t hesitate to steal from Star Wars and Star Trek. Go ahead and make the Imperium into the evil galactic empire of Star Wars. When you’re playing Encounter Critical you don’t need to be shy about such things. A couple star destroyers wandering the hexmap commanded by an evil psi-witch named Darth Something-Or-Other will keep the PCs on their toes. Canonically the Drexilthar subsector is relatively close to Aslan space, but Trav’s catmen have never suited me (I’m more of a fan of the K’kree and Hivers). I’d probably just swipe Niven’s Kzinti as they appeared in that Star Trek cartoon, pink spacesuits and all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things I Am Thankful For

1) A happy and healthy daughter

2) A good relationship with a wonderful wife

3) A roof over our heads and some food to eat

4) An incoming administration that gives me hope we can get the country and the world back on the right track

5) My great Gameblog readers. You folks are all awesome!

6) The OD&D Discussion boards, Fight On! Magazine, the retro-clones and this whole damn old school movement we’ve got going

7) William Shatner

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This one falls under "and stuff"

When my family wants pre-fab spaghetti sauce we have taken to preferring the marinara with Paul Newman’s face on the jar. I sometimes slide some garlic and/or onion into the pot to pretend that I made it myself, but for sauce from a jar it gets the job done pretty well. Prior to the last jar I hadn’t really noticed the label, apart from the floating head of the movie star. But this time as I was waiting for the water to boil up for the pasta, I checked out the jar more closely. What I found so dazzled and confused me that after supper I peeled the label off and scanned it in. Behold!

Usually I find those “story of our product” narratives you find on the back of stuff to be utterly banal, but not so with Mr. Newman. Dig this stream-of-consciousness spiel:

I love how the piece is signed P. Loquesto Newman, just so we can be assured of the creator's authentic Eye-talian heritage. I wonder how many fewer jars the company would sell if this product were called Loquesto’s Own? But the thing that really caught my eye and led to this post were these two words:

The idea of industrial strength spaghetti sauce seems… unsettling. Industrial Strength Paul Newman would make a pretty cool band name, though. At least until the band got signed to a major label and the legal department made them change it to avoid hassles with the Newman estate or the folks who make the sauce. Maybe they could switch to Industrial Strength Loquesto.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dungeons & Dawn Patrol

I seem to be getting older every damn day. It used to be that I wouldn’t think twice of starting a six or eight hour session of D&D at 8pm or later. Now I can turn into a big grumpy butt if I don’t get to bed before 10 or 11. When a session runs late I reach a point where I just want to stop, no matter what is going at the table. At some point into the night I’m no longer interested in bringing the session to a logical stopping point. Finding a ‘good place’ to end the game invariably involves at least 30 more minutes of play. And by the time I start thinking about ending the session I’m already starting to run out of steam, so those last 30 minutes will probably involve the shoddiest GMing of the night. Clearly, there’s got to be a better way to bring a session to a close.

Back when I ran my gonzo 3.5 game there were a few sessions where near the end of the night I found myself fading fast in the middle of a bigass tactically-crunchy five-foot-stepping ‘combat’. ( I put the word ‘combat’ in scare quotes because the more distance I get from WotC’s idea of how battles work the less I see rules for fighting and the more I see some sort of hideous Kabuki Improv/Extreme Chess hybrid that has little to do with the blood and thunder I want out of a combat system.) So what I did back then was to arbitrarily declare the combat over: “And then the bad guys run away. End of session.” Not exactly the most dramatic of methods, but it got the job done.

With Labyrinth Lord and most of my favorite iterations of D&D long drawn-out combats aren’t that big of an issue. The combat system moves along at a better clip and the badguys actually do run away regularly thanks to the morale rules. I still don’t get why 3e/3.5 lacked morale rules. Moldvay and Mentzer had great morale rules, so much so that I’ve actually penciled Moldvay’s morale ratings into my copy of the OD&D monster book. AD&D’s morale rules were more fiddly and I could rarely find them in the DMG when I needed them, but they worked. Second edition’s morale rules were an improvement over first edition, but as I recall a sizeable chart of situational modifiers kept them from being as clean as Tom Moldvay’s version.

My real problem with old school D&D at the end of the night is the dungeon environment. What do you do if it’s past your bedtime and the players are still on level seven of the dungeon? In a modern set-up you could just freeze frame the game, make a note as to the room and level the party is on and pick back up in the dungeon next session. I have three objections to that arrangement. First, between sessions many players get ideas about things they want do at the start of the next game. If a player comes up with something pro-active like that I don’t want to tell them no unless absolutely necessary. Second, my plan for my next campaign is to run a no-commitment-required open table at the friendly local game store. Under that arrangement I can’t guarantee that session five’s table will have any of the players from session four.

Third, I don’t like the impression stopping in the middle of the dungeon gives the players. If we’re talking about a canned adventure or a smallish dungeon that they’re trying to clear in one go then I don’t mind too much. But for big honkin’ campaign-centerpiece mega-dungeons I just don’t like the message sent by stopping in the middle of the complex. Sure, the players all understand that the game is halted as if you pressed paused on a video game. But alongside that rational knowledge of metagame time management is the subtext that their characters are just hanging out in the dungeon for a couple of weeks, completely safe from harm until the players next sling dice. It’s not that hard to imagine the adventurers hanging around some dismal chamber, smoking cigs and playing cards until the players get back to the game. While pretty funny (especially if you imagine the monsters joining in the card game), that’s not exactly the image I want in my players’ heads. I want each visit to the dungeon to be a desperate battle of wits with half-illumined horrors, where just getting out alive is a victory.

All of three of these objections to ending a session deep in the dungeon have led me to consider some sort of half-baked house rules. I want to provide the players with a reason not to try “one last room” when we’re twenty minutes from the appointed end time for the session. OD&D Discussion Board regular korgoth offers a great take on solving the problem with his excellent Table of Despair. Dig it:

The Table of Despair

Directive: Roll a ten sided polyhedron and weep, mortal.

Lachrymose Catalogue of Results:

1-4: Thy flesh is consumed by underworld denizens!

5: Thou art lost to time and space.

6-8: Naked and bereft dost thou escape the nightmare below.

9-0: Thou emergeth unscathed!

I love that chart, but it’s designed for Empire of the Petal Throne. I’m told EPT tends to have pretty wicked dungeons, closer to the Tomb of Horrors or an average Call of Cthulhu hellhole as opposed to delightful little romps like the Caves of Chaos. So I’ve been kicking around other approaches to achieve the same basic effect. Enter Dawn Patrol.

Mike “St. Carmichael” Carr’s Dawn Patrol, originally known as Fight in the Skies, is a game of World War One dogfighting. When I’m feeling ornery I like to make the claim that “Triggerman” Carr actually created the first RPG product, not that Johnny-come-lately duo Gygax and Arneson. I feel half-justified in making such pronouncements because Fight in the Skies places a lot of emphasis on the pilots in a way that looks very familiar to modern role-players. Pilots are given individual names, tracked over multiple sessions and as they rack up experience they gain bonuses in combat. The pilots can also earn medals, promotions, and the opportunity to fly newer, better planes. But for my purposes here the most important part are the rules for being shot down over the front.

In Dawn Patrol if you are shot down over the front you have a 50% chance of escaping into friendly territory. Otherwise you make a d6 roll to see if you are captured or killed: 1-3 captured, 4-6 killed. If captured you get one roll at 1 in 6 odds of escaping capture to return to play. If you blow that roll your dude is a P.O.W. for the remainder of the war. Here’s where it gets interesting: “If a plane … is about 70% of the way to safety, then the chance of being killed or captured is only 30%”. I read that to mean that there’s a sliding scale of danger based upon how close you are to enemy lines. The default assumption of the game is that you’re dogfighting directly over No Man’s Land, so a downed plane could end up being controlled by either side at equal odds. But the closer you are to your own lines the better your chances of getting out alive when you’re shot down.

So for my new campaign I’m proposing that at the end of each session any character still in the dungeon must roll to see if they escape No Man’s Land. The basic roll is 50%, corresponding to situations where the character level matches the dungeon level. Each level’s difference alters the chances by 10%. So a fourth level character on the third level of the dungeon has a 60% chance of getting out unscathed, while a first level PC on level 3 only has a 30% chance of making it. A roll of ‘01’ always succeeds and ‘00’ always fails. A character with a greater than 100% chance to survive can share the love with lesser compadres, lowering their own chances to 100% and distributing the extra points as they see fit. Fly, you fools!

If you fail the percentage roll to escape, then you are sent to the table below:

Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom (d20)

1. You lucky dog! You manage to somehow escape the dark forces of the dungeon. You return to civilization, naked and half-delirious.
2. Waitaminute, Lefty’s not right handed! Situation appears to be #1, but you’ve been replaced by a shapeshifting badguy.
3. Maimed. You escape but suffer the effects of a random critical hit. Also, 50% of your stuff is gone, randomly determined.
4. Alas, you are no more. If any comrades escape they are able to bring your remains and your stuff back to civilization.
5. Pining for the fjords. If any comrades escape they are able to bring your remains back to civilization, but your stuff is lost.
6. Dead as a doornail. The general location of your body is known to any surviving comrades.
7. Your stuff has become part of a dragon’s hoard and your body part of a dragon’s supper.
8. That is an ex-character. The location of your body is unknown to all.
9. Bought the farm. Your body and possessions irretrievable due to dragon fire, ooze acid, disintegrator beam, etc.
10. Also dead. Your body is irretrievable due to dragon fire, ooze acid, disintegrator beam, etc. but your stuff is still around for some other jerk to nab at a later date.
11. Held for ransom by seedy humans. A member of the Thieves Guild can arrange release for 1,000gp per character level. 1 in 6 chance the money disappears.
12. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the level you were captured on and the type of monster holding you captive.
13. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the level you were captured on, but not the type of monster involved.
14. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the type of monster involved, but not what level to search.
15. Captured by monsters. Unseen monsters spirit you away to an unknown location.
16. A fate worse than death. Drafted into the ranks of the monsters. Roll d6: 1-2 undead, 3 lycanthrope, 4 charmed, 5 polymorphed, 6 other.
17. You and your stuff are sacrificed to the loathsome Frog Gods in order to gate in d6 Croaking Demons that are added to the dungeon key.
18. A gorgon or somesuch has petrified you. Escaping characters know what level to search for your statue.
19. Lost in the dungeon. GM sets your location each session. Re-enter play if the party finds you.
20. Opportunity for betrayal. Pick one other character who got away safe. Roll 1d6, 1-4 he takes your place and has to roll on this chart while you escape, 5-6 you both suffer the fate rolled by your victim.

Results 4 through 7 on the chart allow the surviving members of the expedition to swear vengeance against the killer(s), as per the You Shall Be Avenged! rule in the Cinder draft house rules. Result 3 offers the same option if you make it out of the dungeon only to succumb to some lethal critical hit effect.

Anyone who is captured gets one chance to escape on their own power. The base chance is 1 in 6, increased to 2 in 6 if their character level is higher than the dungeon level of their prison. Treat successful escapes as result ‘1’ on the chart above. If more than one PC is trying to escape, all escape rolls are at 2 in 6 (3 in 6 for higher level characters). If you don’t escape you must be rescued or maybe ransomed. For each session of play that you languish in captivity or wander lost there’s a 1 in 6 chance of some worse fate befalling you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Welcome to Carcosa

Here's a typical village from the sandbox section of Geoffrey McKinney's awesome Carcosa:
Village of 430 Green Men ruled by "the Speaker of all Truths", a neutral Swashbuckler.
I love, love, love the evocative titles assumed by most of the leaders in the world of Carcosa, as it lends an air of opulent decadence to what would otherwise be just another village bossman. But there's just not quite enough in those village write-ups for me to grab hold of. Thus was born an idea for a random chart to give each village a little individual character.

Random Situations for Carcosa Villages (d30)
1. The villagers have suffered predations from a local (same hex) band of bandits. The bandits are men of a different color and the villagers will be extremely suspicious at best or outright hostile to visitors of that same color.
2. The village is run by Amazons, who will attempt to enslave men of the same race and slay other men. Women of the same color will be recruited into the fold if willing, while women of other colors will be allowed to go in peace. Men of any color without mutations or other physical flaws may find themselves conscripted into the village leader's man-harem.
3. Villagers worship a local god (1-2 Spawn of Shub-Niggurath 3-4 horribly malfunctioning Robot 5-6 other) and a sacrifice is due soon.
4. Villagers work a small mine of a random element. If the element is not hostile to the locals their spears and knifes will be composed of the stuff. If the element is hostile to the locals the leader of the village will have a sword or axe with a blade made of it.
5. The village contains many mutants (1-2 sizable minority 3-4 majority 5-6 all inhabitants) and there's a 1 in 6 chance that the mutation is due to some local condition (background radiation, strange elements in the water, etc.) that might affect the PCs.
6. The inhabitants of the village hate mutants, going so far as to expose infants with obvious mutations and drive off or kill inhabitants who mutate later in life. Strangers with obvious mutations will be attacked on sight.
7. The ruler of the village is a cyborg with an addiction to fresh organic parts. Some villagers are missing eyes, limbs, kidneys, etc. The ruler will attempt to harvest the PCs for spare parts if possible, not being picky about color if a particularly strong arm or sharp eye can be appropriated.
8. A rumour is going around the village of a secret sorcerer among their own. Sorcerous village leaders will want the rival eliminated but also greatly desire any books or paraphernalia in their possession.
9. In addition to the stated inhabitants he village has a racial minority of another color equal to about 10% of the main populace. 50% of the time this minority is a repressed underclass, the other 50% they're outright slaves to the majority.
10. The main agricultural product of the village is a local fruit that is deadly poison to another race of men (1-3) or a specific monster type (4-6).
11. At least half of the village is ill to some degree or another. Rumours abound that someone has been poisoning the well.
12. The villager has a very skilled healer. Under the ministrations of this person wounds heal at twice normal rate and other harmful conditions can be relieved at the referee's option. It is 50% likely that the ruler of the village considers the healer a political threat.
13. The village has had some success domesticating a species of dinosaur to serve as beasts of burden. Because of the enormous agricultural benefits the dinosaurs provide they will part with these creatures only for powerful artifacts or other great boons.
14. The power in the village is a Space Alien Computer that advises the ruler.
15. Somewhat friendlier than many villages, the folks here are willing to trade with men of any color. Because they are willing to work with wandering traders many different types of goods might be found for sale here and the citizens enjoy a better standard of living than most places.
16. Other visitors are in the village, perhaps an NPC party seeking their own adventures, traders on business, or a sorcerer up to no good.
17. The village is in cahoots with a band of slavers. Visitors will be captured in the night and held in a root cellar or iron cage for 2d6 weeks until the slavers return looking for wares to buy. 50% chance that a party consisting entirely of the same race as the villagers will be safe.
18. The villagers have a local supply of one type of lotus. Only the leader of the village and d4-1 elders will know the secret of making the raw plant into working lotus dust.
19. The villagers are all gone. Where did they go? Will they return?
20. The village is built amongst the sprawling ruins of ancient inhuman city. A handful of villagers know of a secret entrance to the strange tunnels below the ruins.
21. The leader of the village is a different color of man than the other inhabitants. An ancient law of the village requires each leader of the village to be a different color in turn. Randomly determine the next color leader the people are expecting. If any of the PCs are of the proper color the leader will consider him a threat while at least some of the villagers will greet their new savior with open arms.
22. One of the villagers (5% chance all of them!) is afflicted with a curse and when the stars are wrong turns into a horrible leprous monstrosity.
23. A local festival is set to begin in d6-1 days. The party is welcomed to stay and participate. During the drunken orgies any male party members of the same color as the villagers will be surreptitiously married off to suitable brides. New husbands will be expected to stay.
24. The village possesses d4+1 working artifacts of alien technology, some of which might even be useful.
25. The village has suffered a very recent attack (d6-1 days) from either other men (1-3) or some sort of monster (4-6). The men of the village believe they know the location of the lair of their foe, and 3d6 of them are planning a counter-attack.
26. The leader of the village is a dying old man, not expected to last more than 4d6 days. The leaders d4+1 children are all vying to be the next ruler and some of them might try to enlist the aid of the party.
27. A wandering unholy man has taken up residence in the village, preaching a new law of blasphemy and pain.
28. The villagers are cannibals. Either men of different color will be considered food or else they have a taboo restricting them to eating members of their own race. 50/50 chance.
29. Part of the economy of the village comes from fishing a nearby lake, river, etc. A minority of villagers are members of a Deep One cult, with a 2 in 6 chance of the village leader being a cultist.
30. Either the leader of the village or a local "witch" (50% chance each) possesses psionic powers. Strangers will be subjected to psionic surveillance to determine their intentions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So I finally got myself a copy.

Smarter dudes than I have already covered Geoffrey McKinney's Supplement V: Carcosa at length, which affords me the luxury of only hitting a few random bullet points.
  • Wow! This thing packs in oodles of imagination! I'd rank Carcosa right up there with Adventure Games Journal #1 and Encounter Critical in terms of setting fire to my brain and putting me on edge to want to play. I'm definitely putting Carcosa on my Medieval Rim sector map, in an otherwise ignored corner of space where horrible things can happen because the planet is so remote from the main lines of galactic civilization.
  • The random raygun charts are even better than that old Pegasus article from Ken St. Andre.
  • I can totally sympathize with the folks put off by the dreadful ritual descriptions. Personally, I find slasher flicks to be unsettling to the point that I pretty much don't watch them. But I'm not in a big hurry to condemn the people who make or enjoy them.
  • That being said, you know what I like most about the rituals? As a player I could go around slaying sorcerers like there's no tomorrow and feel as morally justified as Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw. Seriously, your average Carcosa sorcerer is just about the worst goddamn son of a bitch you're likely to encounter in a game of D&D. I can work with that.
  • The city of Carcosa is left as an undefined dot on the map, forcing the referee to figure out what to do with it. That's awesome.
  • I totally see what the wonky dice rules are attempting to do and I don't disagree with the design goal, but I just think there's got to be a more elegant way of making life more unpredictable than constantly altering the size of the hit dice and damage dice.
  • The sandbox section is fantastic. As I was reading the random Spawn of Shub-Niggurath charts in the monster section I was thinking "Man, someone just needs to roll up ten or twenty of these critters and share 'em on the net." Then I get to the hexmap key and hidden all over the map are a bunch of already pre-generated Spawn. Cool!
  • The only thing I would have liked to see added to the sandbox section is a d20 or d100 chart full of random ideas for taking a village or castle and giving it a unique spin. I just might write such a chart myself. I don't have any other plans for tomorrow's blog post.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb here and disagree with the esteemed James Maliszewski on one point. He concludes that Carcosa doesn't really line up with the original Supplements I through IV. James will no doubt set me straight if I'm incorrectly reading him, but here's the specific section of his lengthy four part review with which I quibble:
    In form, Carcosa has much more in common with 2e era boxed campaign settings than with OD&D supplements. Not only does it actually present a setting, something no OD&D supplement does, but it also replaces large chunks of the OD&D rules rather than merely providing additional options from which to choose.
    I just don't see it that way. Like the other OD&D Supps I see a whole bunch of stuff I can waive or adopt as I see fit, using the whole to make a specifically Carcosan game or swiping bits to add chrome to another set-up. And frankly I don't see how a book with random robot charts and mummy brains ends up anywhere in the same neighborhood as 2e. Maybe James has read different 2e boxed sets than I have. I'll admit to steering clear of a whole crapload of second edition. But more to the point, I just don't see that great of a difference between the Egg of Coot, Tharizdun, and the evils of Carcosa. And the crashed alien spaceships fit in right along with the City of the Gods and the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Hell, I could probably get a whole 'nother post out of comparing Carcosa to Arduin.
  • Carcosa is much more what I had in mind when I bought that copy of Chaosium's Dreamlands all those years ago.


Friday, November 21, 2008

draft Cinder house rules, part 2

Thanks for all the great feedback on part 1! Hear are my tweaks to the magic system.

Home Is Where the Spellbook Is
Magic-users, elves and other arcane spellcasters are not required to carry spellbooks on their adventures. After six or more hours sleep and a brief period of meditation a wizard is able to realign their neural pathways into the patterns needed to focus spell energy. This allows the caster to recharge the previous day’s load of spells. Studying a spellbook is only required for initial memorization and to change the wizard’s spell selection.

No Double Dipping

Memorizing the same spell twice sets up destructive interference in the brain of a wizard. Thus a second level magic-user (who can cast 2 spells per day) may safely memorize sleep and charm person, but not two sleeps or two charms.

Membership Has Its Privileges
Newly minted level 1 magic-users and elves are assumed to have apprenticed in the traditions of the Sorcerer’s Guild of H’Kaag, an ancient city ruled by a council of magic-users. As a benefit of belonging to this long line of wizardly inheritance, new PCs begin play with a spellbook, written in the language of their choice, containing the mystic formulae for all the first, second, and third level spells taught by the Guild (see attached list). However most of these spells are not yet fully understood by fledgling mages of 0xp. The player rolls d6 plus their Intelligence modifier (minimum result 1) to determine how many spells they actually understand well enough to memorize and cast. The rest of the spells in the spellbook are not fully understood and may not be memorized.

Each time a new level is achieved the player may attempt to understand more spells by making an Intelligence roll on a d20. If the roll is under the Intelligence of the character, the spell is completely understood. If the number is higher than the Int score, the spell remains incomprehensible and cannot be used. If the roll exactly equals the Int score the spell is partially understood and may be memorized and used if the character is brave enough. Dice are then thrown only for spells that the character could possibly cast. The player may then pick one additional unknown spell or two partially-understood spells that are now automatically understood by the wizard.

The Alchemist Option
The automatic spell(s) learned upon leveling up assume that the magic-user has been studying spell formulae during the course of gaining the level. Alternately, a wizard may opt to putter around with potions instead. This option costs 2d6 x 500gp in laboratory expenses, paid at the time a new level is gained. The decision to take this option must be made before the dice for cost are thrown and if the magic-user cannot afford the cost what money they have is forfeit and nothing gained by their efforts. If the cash is available, the player must roll lower than their character’s Intelligence on a d20 to gain knowledge of a random potion formula. Potions are created at a rate of money and time set by the Labyrinth Lord, but typically around 500gp and 2 weeks. Roughly 1 in 6 spellbooks include a potion recipe. (And 1 in 12 spellbooks contain miscellaneous useful arcane knowledge.) Elves may not select the alchemist option.

Scrolls for All
Magic-users of any level may make scrolls of any spell they can understand. The cost is 250gp and one week of time per spell level. Up to three spells may be inscribed upon a single scroll. Starting at 9th level the magic-user can roll to understand spells of levels higher than they can cast, which allows them to make scrolls of spells they could not otherwise use. Elves follow the standard scroll creation rules.

Books or Beer?
Magic-users and elves must choose between being studious scholars of the magical arts or carousing with their adventuring buddies. Taking advantage of the Ale & Wenches rule makes the Alchemist Option impossible and cancels the die rolls for comprehending new spells. You still get your automatic spell pick, though.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

draft Cinder house rules, part 1

Here’s a first stab at house rules for my upcoming Labyrinth Lord campaign. Part 2 will cover tweaks to the magic system.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances
Character statistics are rolled 3d6 in order. The human classes do not require any stat minimum to qualify, so you can play a stupid Wizard, foolish Cleric, klutzy Thief, or puny Fighter in the dice rolls go that way. If you are unhappy with your character to the point of considering kamikaze attacks, at least get killed as smartly as possible by absorbing some hits that might land on better qualified adventurers.

Random Bonus Languages
The additional languages granted by a high Intelligence score indicate starting languages only. See the [not yet] attached random bonus language charts to determine additional starting languages. Anyone, regardless of Intelligence, may attempt to learn more languages in play.

Fast Equipment
[I plan on using some pre-made adventuring packs for people who don’t want to take the time to buy equipment.]

Shields Shall Be Splintered!
[‘Nuff said.]

Critical Hits & Fumbles
A natural 20 on the ‘to-hit’ roll indicates a potential critical strike. Another 20 on a confirmation roll calls for a percentile roll on the Labyrinth Lord’s Super Secret Critical Hit Chart of Doom. Similarly, a natural 1 indicates a potential fumble, with another roll of 1 confirming, sending the poor character to the Double Secret Probationary Fumble Chart of Wailing, Moaning and Gnashing of Teeth. (Hint: Arduin Grimoires may be involved.)

It’s All in the Wrist
Two handed weapons only automatically lose initiative when the optional Individual Initiative rules are being used. Which won’t be often.

One Last Breath
Any time a PC runs out of hit points that character is allowed a saving throw versus Death if they haven't already failed a saving throw to get 0hp. If the roll is made the character is at 1 hit point. At the Labyrinth Lord’s discretion they may also be stunned, unconscious, comatose, feverish, nauseous, mangled, bleeding, or otherwise in a world of hurt. If the saving roll fails, see the rules for replacement PCs below.

Hi! I’m the new party member!
Replacement PCs will be made just like starting PCs (3d6 in order, 0xp). A new PC can join the party immediately if the player desires. Alternatively, the replacement PC can be designated the heir of the dead PC, and as such is entitled to the old PC’s non-magical treasure (minus a 10% inheritance tax) and one magic item of the player’s choosing. However, the heir can only join the party when it returns to civilization or at the start of the next session, whichever comes first. Heirs must be of the same race as the deceased.

Every hero needs a sidekick
To avoid the hassles of starting over with 0xp and rolling up a new character in the middle of a game, the players are encouraged to recruit henchmen. Henchmen earn experience at half rate and normally expect a half share of treasure. They are generally loyal and normally the player runs them as secondary characters, though the Labyrinth Lord reserves the right to step in when needed to protect the interests of the NPC proletariat. If a character with a henchman is incapacitated, the player may immediately promote the henchman to full PC status. The new PC may be bumped back down to the ranks of the sidekicks should the original PC be raised from the dead or unpetrified or whatever.

Friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of Bob’s cleric. What was his name again?
When an adventurer dies and the party is unable (or unwilling!) to have them raised from the dead, a promoted sidekick (see above) may opt to give the corpse a Heroic Sendoff. This requires at least 24 hours and something cool like a bigass funeral pyre, the raising of a burial mound, or a funeral ship floated down the river. The corpse must be armed and armored for combat, as appropriate to the class of the character. Each party member may donate up to 100gp times the level of the stiff as additional grave goods, the amount being spent is converted to bonus XP for the donor. Each party member may also donate one magic item to the grave. Scrolls, potions, and other one-shot items net a bonus of 250xp, while more permanent items get you 1,000xp. Magic items that would have been unusable by the deceased do not count.

You Shall Be Avenged!
Horus, the God of Vengeance, was slain some time after the fall of the long-gone Venuzian Empire. Yet somehow a trace of his power lives on. When a party member dies and the party causing the death is not immediately slain, a fellow party member may try to invoke the Vengeance Oath. Swearing “by the Dead God” that their friend’s death shall not go unpunished, the party member(s) roll d20. On a 1 they are filled with the Horus-Power. They are immediately under the effect of a quest spell (no save), but d6 statistics of their choice are temporarily boosted to 18 until they achieve their vengeance! Promoted sidekicks and heirs can take a Vengeance Oath, but non-heir replacement PCs cannot.

How do you afford your Rock-N-Roll lifestyle?
At the beginning of each session all PCs will be assessed living expenses for themselves and their henchmen, at 1% of their XP in gold pieces, minimum 1gp.

Ale & Wenches
Optionally when paying expenses as per above a PC may opt to ‘live it up’ by spending 1d6x100gp on general debauchery. The amount spent is converted into bonus experience points. However, rolling above your character’s level of experience indicates a roll on the Secret Carousing Mishap Chart. The 1d6 x100gp figure only applies in backwater burgs like the town near the starting dungeon. Should you travel to bigger towns or cities you can roll a larger die when raising hell.

Alternate Monster XP Rules
Each gold piece worth of treasure brought back to civilization still earns you 1 experience point. For defeating monsters will yield 100xp per hit die. That makes low level monsters worth a lot more but high level monsters score fewer points. Also no bonus XP are gained for special abilities, so a four hit die ogre is worth as many XP as a four hit die wraith that drains levels and is impervious to normal weapons. Pick your foes carefully!

The Big Purple D30 Rule
Once per session each player may opt to roll the Labyrinth Lord’s big purple d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the big purple D30 must be made before any roll. The d30 cannot be roll for generating character statistics or hit points.

Pick a Faith
Cleric’s must belong to one of three religions in the setting. Lawful clerics must choose between the Church of the Great Gold Dragon (a faux medieval Catholic sort of thingy) or the Twelve (a ‘pagan’ type pantheon with a dozen or so gods and goddesses). Chaotic clerics must choose between the Twelve or the Frog Gods (slimy, grinning amphibian demons). Neutral clerics can opt to be priests of the Gold Dragon, the Twelve, or the Frog Gods. There aren’t a bunch of mechanical differences between the three faiths, but it can make a difference when dealing with NPCs. Other PCs are encouraged to pick a religion, even if they aren’t particularly pious.

Dungeons is Dangerous
Ending a session inside a dungeon requires a roll on the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom. Make sure you get out before the session ends!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fight On! #3 is out!

The third issue of Fight On!, the coolest magazine in the hobby, is now available for sale. Among other stuff, this issue contains entirely official Wilderlands of High Fantasy material available nowhere else! And since Fight On! is sold via print-on-demand you can also still get issues #1 and #2. And while you're at the mag's lulu storefront be sure to grab the free download of Wilderlands map #19.

pillaging the gods

When I first started kicking around ideas for religion in my Cinder campaign I came up with this concept where the gods were basically fake but the divine force behind gods was real. The main idea behind that concept was that I wanted clerics to exist as written while keeping meddlesome uberbeings out of the setting. But more recently I’ve wondered whether this was just being different for the sake of being different. Meddlesome gods are a staple of much of the fiction and myth that forms the narrative underpinnings of D&D type fantasy adventure. In fact, I think the mysterious cloaked stranger in the tavern hiring PC parties for random tasks is probably little more than a watered-down, bastardized version of the patron deity sending a chosen hero on a great quest. When you’re first level and hungry for adventure there’s not much difference between the local Gandalf knockoff and Odin.

And truth be told I’m greatly amused by the prospect of PC ascension to godhood, as outlined in games like SenZar, World of Synnibarr, and Lords of Creation. The various quests for immortality proposed by Mentzer for D&D Masters-level play are pretty cool, too. The old Deities & Demigods even touches upon this subject. But for Cinder’s pantheon known as the Twelve* I’m inspired by the god mechanics of The Field Guide to Encounters. In those rules the gods are powerful but they can be killed through physical, magical, or psionic violence. So tough enough adventurers can kill gods and take their stuff. In order to keep the pantheon from going extinct the gods of the Field Guide automatically draft adventurers of 20th level into their ranks. 95% of the time apotheosis isn’t entirely successful and the mere mortal is killed by the process. The one in twenty who survive are welcomed into the club.

On Cinder I decided that the rate of replacement of gods (from old gods being killed, but new gods being inducted into the fold) tends to keep the pantheon normally between ten and twenty gods strong. Twelve is just the traditional number associated with the group, in much the same way that the local Big Ten football conference now has eleven teams, but the name remains. At the present date in Cinder there are seventeen deities in the Twelve, though four gods form the sub-pantheon of the Four Elemental Lords and one goddess is considered an unwelcome nuisance by the rest of the group (Omnia, who is partially inspired by Eris of the Principia Discordia).

So the pantheon of local gods always has roughly twelve members but over the eons gods die and new gods join the gang. During the course of the history of Cinder the whole pantheon has been replaced multiple times, but never has the entire pantheon been killed in one fell swoop. Instead you have a situation where the seniormost gods remember the good old days when they were the freshmen of the pantheon, while at least some of the new young bucks are trying to figure out ways to get the oldsters killed so they can move up the divine hierarchy. If only some dumbass adventurers could only be convinced that the head of the pantheon was plotting some great evil…

All of which finally brings me around to why I’m currently reading my copy of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. I seem to have wrote myself into a campaign world littered with the corpses of dead gods. Where did all their cool stuff go? Clearly items like Mjolnir are buried deep in some dungeon, ripe for the taking! Peppered throughout the text are lots and lots of weird uber-powered stuff that would never make an appearance in a more respectable campaign world. Some of it I’m going to reserve for the current pantheon. Clearly they would have a vested interest in keeping this crap out of the hands of adventurers. But they can’t account for every shiny doo-dad in the book.

And then there’s the spell-fodder. Lots of gods have really neat abilities that can’t be duplicated by mortals. Until now. Taking inspiration from 3.5’s Ur-Priest prestige class, arcane casters who hijack divine powers, and the Soul Hunters, those guys from Babylon 5 who collect the souls of the dead, I’m positing a cabal of magic-users who are able to siphon off deific power at the time of a god’s death. So for example the sun-god Tonatuh can summon d4 fire elementals per turn. Upon Tonatuh’s death these wizards might have been able to steal this ability to make a new spell, maybe I’ll call it Word of Tonatuh, that achieves the same effect. Obviously, that’s going to be a pretty high level spell, maybe even higher than ninth. But these weirdos can make scrolls of it anyway.

*More properly this pantheon is called “the Twelve and the Four”. Although the shortened version is common in everyday speech, priests of the Four Elemental Lords get annoyed at their gods being truncated in the name of brevity. Sometimes the pantheon is called “the Twelve and the Four and the Thousand” or “the Twelve and the Thousand”. The Thousand are lesser not-quite-gods. Local spirits and fairies are lumped in with them, as are demons. The Thousand have no organized clergy (unless, like some faithful, you consider the Frog Gods of Chaos to be members of the Thousand), but they are sometimes mentioned in some liturgies and honored at special festivals and local holy days. This business about the number twelve, four, and one thousand explains why the number 1,016 is considered sacred by the faith.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Egypt no man may kill a cat.

(Apologies for the fonts jumping around in this post. The HTML for this post is all screwed up.)

So last night I started going over my copy of Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes, the OD&D precursor to Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore. In tomorrow’s post I’ll explain what I had in mind when I pulled out this particular book. Today I want to talk about the Egyptian pantheon. As presented in GDH, the gods of Egypt are by far the most hands-on of the deities. Look at all the cool ways they can interact with the PCs:

There is a 5% chance that Set is watching when a being does a highly evil act (judge’s option) and if he is he will give the being 2-20 Minions of Set with no strings attached being confident that the being will only do evil with them.

Minions of Set are bad mofos who run around in plate mail and can turn into giant snakes. What’s not to love? Below is a pic of them from the Deities & Demigods, which makes sure you know the plate mail is black and also gives these guys the power to turn into giant scorpions, crocodiles and cave bears as well. Radical.Moving on:

This God [Osiris] is very aware of his priestly worshippers and if one does a great deed for the religion (judge’s option) the priest is given a wish.

Ptah enjoys new ideas and devices. When a being creates a device that is highly useful (judge’s option) there is a 10% chance that the God will reward that being with a Thet.

The book describes two kinds of Thet, one which allows you to go ethereal once a week, and one that projects an anti-magic spell that the wielder can cast through without difficulty. How cool is that? No clue is given in the text as to what the heck a Thet looks like. (I guess the amulet on the left in this picture is a Thet, if you're curious.)

Horus is very aware of any avenging person. If a lawful person seeks revenge there is a 15% chance that the God will aid by increasing the being’s categories to 18’s until revenged.

Bes looks favorably upon all gambles and the greater the risk the better he likes it (judge’s option). There is a 5% chance the God will, if really pleased, give the being a luck stone, no strings attached.

She [Isis] understands the fashioning of magical charms as no other being and is able to form these so they resist the effects of one spell only. She gives these to any being she favors of the lawful or neutral alignment. The giving of the charm does not depend on any action, just her whimsical nature.

Goibnie, Blacksmith of the Celtic gods, can make similar devices but there’s no note of him giving them away.

The God [Anubis] hates all thievery of any type and when a tomb is being robbed there is a 5% chance that he will come and kill the robber. If one of his statues is in the tomb there is a 25% chance he will appear.

Obviously I need to put more statues of Anubis in my dungeons.

She [Bast] is the protector of all cat kind and there is a 40% chance that she will see a being killing one of the cat race. When this happens she does one of 2 things: either she comes and kills the slayer, or if the being is very powerful she demands that he or she raise the cat to life and devote one half of the rest of their life to Bast.

I wonder how that “one half of the rest of their life” thing works in practice. Do you worship Bast every other day? That would put a major crimp into any longterm adventures. “I’m sorry but I can’t fight trolls with you today, as I have to glorify Bast. Yes, all day. Yes, I know you told me to leave that cat alone.”

It [Apesh, dragon turtle god of greed and evil] is very fond of allowing maps to its many treasures to be found by lawful beings and then taking a personal hand in killing them when they try to take the gold.

Being an adventurer in mythic Egypt is a pretty tricky business. A divine dragon turtle surreptitiously slips you a map to his lair just so he can eat you for lunch. Maybe the lair’s hidden in an old tomb, so Anubis shows up to kick your ass as well. And in the course of the fight don’t accidentally fireball a kitty cat or Bast might join the fracas. Meanwhile the good twin of the last villain you iced has sworn revenge, so he’s hunting you down while super-charged with Horus-power. Oh, and coincidently Isis gave this guy an amulet that protects him from your favorite attack spell. On top of it all, any random bad guy might have twenty thugs that can turn into giant snakes. Good times.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weapon vs. what?

This here post is a reply to "Weapon vs. AC" over at Grognardia. I wanted to show some charts I wanted to talk about, so I'm posting here rather than commenting there. First, let's take a look at the Man-to-Man melee chart from Chainmail:

This chart predates the concept of characters having levels or stats, so the only variables that determine the chance of killing a man is what weapon you've got and what armor the other dude is wearing. I really like this chart. You roll 2d6 and if you get high enough your foe is dead meat. Also, you have good reason to carry multiple weapons, even though they all do the same damage. Sometime I kick around the idea of using this chart with OD&D, at least when fighting man-like foes capable of wearing armor and wielding weapons.

Now let's look at a rather infamous chart from AD&D, the weapons vs. AC chart on page 38 of the first edition Players Handbook. Dig it:

As much as I like the original weapon versus armor mechanic in Chainmail, I'm pretty much convinced that this chart blows goats. And the reason why is that somewhere along the way the armor system was tweaked without anyone noting the implications for this chart. In a world where each AC corresponded to exactly one type of armor, this chart could be made to work. But AD&D isn't such a world. Most of those single digit numbers in bold at the top of the chart represent more than one kind of armor. AC 7 (or more correctly, Armor Type 7) is the stand-in for no less than four different kinds of armor: leather & shield, padded & shield, studded leather, and ring mail. Similarly, Armor Type 4 is chainmail & shield or splint mail or banded mail.

Maybe I can buy that leather and padded work the exact same way for purposes of weapon vs. AC. Ditto studded leather and ringmail. Most days I can't even remember the crazy differences between splint and banded, other than banded gets you three more inches of movement. Heck, I'm not even sure if either of those two armors ever actually existed. It's when shields get added to the mix that my sense of versimilitude goes out the window. I just can't see how, in terms of armor penetration, a suit of leather plus a shield always automatically equals a suit of ringmail. It just doesn't add up in my head.

And why the heck aren't wooden and metal shields treated differently? If I made a suit of platemail out of wood, would you expect it to block weapons the exact same way steel plate does?

I don't mind things not making sense in my games. In fact I tend to encourage it. However, if we're going to go to the trouble to get down-and-dirty with this level of combat detail, then I expect it to hold together logically. I'd much rather ditch weapon versus AC entirely or go with something more hardcore (like Arms Law's doom-laden charts). The PHB version dwells in a wishy-washy middle ground where it only makes half-ass sense to me. I guess cutting the number of armor types down would also be a way of making the PHB system work. Not too many players give a crap about anything other than leather and plate anyway.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday funnies

From today's installment of Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine.

Demos & Distro

So nobody showed up to my Castles & Crusades demo yesterday. My wife was afraid I'd be heartbroken but it's hard to be down on the heels of two successful demos. Besides, I knew I was swimming upstream by scheduling my game for 10am Saturday. I'm sure half the gamers in town aren't even up by then, as they were gaming late the night before. So instead I spent about an hour shooting the breeze with one of the owners, mostly comparing editions of D&D. For a few minutes before I headed out we discussed the possibility of me running a regular game at the store.

I call the idea I pitched "low impact D&D". I was inspired by Ben Robbins' West Marches campaign, this post by James Raggi, and one of my own old posts. The basic idea is to run a pick-up game that is also a campaign. On my side of the screen is a big crazy megadungeon set in my persistent sandbox campaign world of Cinder . On the other side are all comers. Folks would be welcome to drop in and out as they please. Play would be episodic, with adventures generally ending the same night as they began. That way not showing for two months would mean little more than your PC was back at the inn running up a bar tab the whole time.

The longer I mess with the various versions of D&D the less I care about which particular ruleset I'm running. However, I believe it's considered polite to tell potential players what system is being used for your campaign. While the owners of Armored Gopher are willing to host campaigns using out-of-print rules, I feel like the smart thing to do would be to run a game that they could actually sell. It creates the potential of a direct benefit to the store, and it gives players who like the game an easy opportunity to buy their own copy.

So out of the myriad of D&D editions, retro-clones, and other similar games on the market, I'm looking to pick from the subset of retro stupid games that are available through normal distribution channels. Since [pick one->Runequest/Dragonlance/Vampire/3.x/4e] ruined the hobby most of these kinds of games are either long out of print, electrotechnotronic PDF releases, print-on-demand by Lulu, or sold by the author from a box in his hall closet. In fact I know of only three retro stupid games 'in distro', as I once heard a game industry dude put it. Let's look at the candidates.

HackMaster is totally, ridiculously awesome. But it's way more game than I would want for this project. I'd certainly try running HackMaster for a small group of hardcore dice-jockeys, but key components for this project are newbie-friendly rules and quick chargen. HM loses on both points. And the print run of the current edition is going dry. I'm not sure how much of the game is actually still available through distributors. I'm hoping to get some HackMaster action going when the 5th edition rolls out. I've been wanting a HackMaster Basic for years and with 5e the nice folks at Kenzer are finally going to grant my wish.

I would describe Castles & Crusades as 'workmanlike'. It's a reasonable compromise for group that contain fans of both 3.x and 1st or 2nd edition Advanced. The SIEGE Engine resolution mechanic is a quick and useful system for resolving stuff not covered by other rules. I wish I was as enthusiastic about this game as Doc Rotwang!, but I'm not. The various class abilities are more fiddly than I want for rules light play, but not heavy enough for serious mechanical wonkery. And most of the time I don't want a clean universal resolution mechanic. I much prefer the dynamic tension of a system with moving parts that don't quite fit together. C&C is a good system and I'd certainly play it, but I just don't feel that oomph that I get from other retro stupid systems. It works in my brain but doesn't speak to my heart. (Though I must note that as long as James Mishler keeps using C&C, it will always have a place of respect on my game shelf. It's like how I'm not usually moved by country music, but Johnny Cash is friggin' awesome. James Mishler is the Johnny Cash of rpgs.)

So that leaves Labyrinth Lord. I'm led to understand that it was only via herculean effort by Dan Proctor and his fans that LL got into the book distribution network. Well, my deepest appreciation and congratulations go out to them. As a retro-clone compiling the '81 Basic/Expert rules of D&D into one volume, the folks at Goblinoid Games have gotten one of the best versions of D&D ever made back into print. And thanks to getting into distribution, you can even get a copy at Amazon.

As regular Gameblog readers know, I started with '81 Basic and consider Tom Moldvay, its editor, one of the great unsung heroes of the hobby. So no arm-twisting is required to get me to run this Labyrinth Lord. That being said, I find it a little disconcerting that so many other great retro-stupid games cannot be easily purchased at the local game store.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

classic Shatnerday