Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mr. T fears but one man

Big thanks to Ricardo for sending me this pic!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anybody heard of this book?

"When high school sophomore Jessie's long-term best friend transforms herself into a punk and goes after Jessie's would-be boyfriend, Jessie decides to visit "the wild nerd yonder" and seek true friends among classmates who play Dungeons & Dragons."

I'm getting this info from my local library's inter-library loan database.  It's listed as juvenile fiction but no copies are in the network.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

a few more Holmes expansion thoughts

In Sunday's post about expanding Holmes Basic, Gameblog reader Gratuitious Saxon Violence (one of the best handles ever, by the way) suggested that all characters gain +1 to-hit every three levels and that superior Fightery could be represented by giving the Fighters an extra attack at the same time.  I like that a lot.  It's very straightforward.

An analogous situation is the Magic Missile spell, which gets more missiles at higher but the details are unspecified.  The easy answer is that Magic Missiles work just like Fighter attacks.  You get a second Missile at 4th, a third at 7th, etc.  A more ridiculous way to do it would be to roll dice.  You get d4 missiles at 4th level, d6 at 7th level, d8 at 10th level, d10 at 13th, d12 at 16th, etc.  Sounds excessive but I kinda like the idea of high level MU's raining craploads of magic arrows down on people.  Especially when in Holmes you have to roll to-hit for all those missiles, something I made a mistake about when running last Wednesday.

I've also given some thought to the eighteen listed but undefined 3rd level MU spells.  Rules for some of them can be found lurking elsewhere in the text:

Fire Ball - have this spell work exactly like the Wand of Fire Ball (i.e. all Fire Balls do a flat 6d6 damage)
Fly - functions just like Potion of Flying
Haste Spell - just like Potion of Haste
Hold Person - as per 2nd level Cleric spell Hold Person
Invisibility 10' - as per Invisibility, but area of effect like a protection scroll
Protection/Evil 10'- as per Protection from Evil, but area of effect like a protection scroll

Infravision and Water Breathing are pretty simple to do.  All you really need are a duration and number of creatures affected.  I'd probably default to d6+6 turns, just like standard Holmes potion durations.  Is there any real reason to grant the effect to more than one person?  I'd extrapolate from spells like Levitation (caster only) or Invisibility (caster or one target).

Monster Summoning I gives you one roll off the first level wandering monster charts, creatures appear and obey caster for d6+6 turns, then leave.  I might limit this spell to dungeons only.  Rather than appearing anywhere in a puff of smoke, these guys just come from around the nearest corner or through a handy door.  At the end of the spell they go back to watching TV or playing tiddlywinks or whatever.

(Speaking of dungeon-only spells, you know what else would be a better spell if limited to just the underworld?  Continual effing light.)

Slow Spell is the opposite of Haste.  Half moves and attacks every other round.  No big whoop.

Dispel Magic is mentioned in the text of a few other spells (as a way to negate Hold Portal or put out Continual Light, for example).  Should it be limited to countering spells that specify it in the description or be more general purpose?  It could cut both ways.  For a campaign setting with a lot of techno-magical crap you probably don't want a single madman (e.g. an standard PC) to be able to bring your civilization down by running around casting dispel on all your lightning trains or undead vending machines or whatever.  For my more pseudo-historical/The Magic Goes Away flavored game, I think it would be neat to have the PCs erasing everybody else's free standing miracles.

So for my game Dispel Magic ought to have a chance to undo pretty much all spells (including negating attack spells as they are being cast), magic items and even things like golems.  I'm thinking the base chance of success could be 50% plus the MU's Int score and level.  Note that the level of the caster of the original magic does not figure into the formula, as I hate having to stop the game to try to figure out who the heck wizard locked the ancient treasure chest in room 24.

It's pretty obvious that Lightning Bolt is an attack spell.  Should it work like the wand-based magical attacks, doing a flat 6d6 damage, save for half?  Should it have an area of effect.  My gut instinct answers are no and no.  The area of effect of a L-Bolt has never sat well with me.  I see it as an unnecessary artifact of the miniatures origin of the game.  In my mind's eye a lightning bolt zaps just one target, unless metal conductivity is brought into play.  As far as the damage output is concerned, I think the lightning bolt could do less damage, say only 3 or 4d6 but no save for the damage.  Instead the target must save or be stunned for d6 rounds.  Failure to save would also indicate the target is smoldering and covered with cartoonish black scorching.

Those are the easiest spells.  I'll tackle Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Explosive Runes, Rope Trick and Suggestion in another post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

all I want for Tmas

The original 3 3/4" A-Team action figures were kinda ugly, with the Mr. T in green being the least hideous of the lot.  But they were the same scale as both the GI Joe and Star Wars lines, which is clearly an invitation for the greatest crossover in toy history.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Expanding Holmes

Here are some thoughts on expanding the rules in Holmes Basic, imagining how someone with only that rulebook might plot out class info beyond level 3. 

XP and Levels
There's no evidence in Holmes alone that the XP charts double each level.  A totally legit reading is that Fighters need 2,000 points for each new level, M-U's 2,500 and Thieves 1,200.  Example:

Fighter XP Chart
Level - XP Needed
1 - 0xp
2 - 2,000xp
3 - 4,000xp
4 - 6,000xp
5 - 8,000xp
6 - 10,000xp
7 - 12,000xp

Hit Points
No topping out.  Add one hit die every level, forever.

Thief Abilities
Climb sheer surfaces +1% per level up to 99%.
Open lock, remove trap, pick pocket, hide in shadows all gain +5% per level until 85% is reached, +1% per level thereafter up to 99%.
Hear noise 1-3 on d6 for levels 4-5, 1-4 on d6 for levels 6-9, 1-5 on d6 for level 10-14, 88% at level 15 and +1% per level thereafter up to 99%.
There's nothing to suggest that read languages ever goes up past the 80% you get at 4th level but I suppose you could follow the other percentile abilities and go to 85% at level 5 and +1% thereafter until 99%.
Whether you advance read languages or not, under this scheme all thief abilities would top out at 30th level.

Turn Undead
Expanding the chart is an easy extrapolation.  Note that a cleric of 9th level and above can automatically turn all listed forms of undead.

To Hit Charts
Anybody else annoyed that a 2 hitdie monster has +1 to-hit over a 2nd level Fighter?  Shouldn't they be on par?  But that doesn't matter in this exercise since I'm building from established rules rather than trying to innovate.

Idea #1 is that since all characters level 1 to 3 have the same to-hit chart, everyone gets better to hits every three levels.  Fighters get +2 to-hit at levels 4, 7, 10, 13 and 16.  Magic-users get +1 at the same levels.  Other classes alternate between +1 and +2 pushes, getting the small bonus at 4, 10, 16 and the large bonus at 7 and 13.  The best possible to hit is Thaco 9, just like monsters of 11+ HD.

Idea #2 riffs off a throwaway line on page 6 of the rulebook (3rd edition, Dec '79), in the section detailing Fighters: "After they reach the fourth level of experience they also increase their ability to get hits on an opponent."  I think this is a reference to the multiple attack rules in AD&D, and the source of the mysterious multiple attack non-rules in Encounter Critical.  But we could read it as an indication that only the Fighter class gets better to-hits!  Maybe everybody else just stays at Thaco 19 their entire career.

If we don't use Idea #2 here then we need to figure out what "to get hits on an opponent" means, because this is apparently an exclusive Fighter ability.  Since Holmes does not variable weapon damage, howzabout increasing the size of the fighter's damage die?  At fourth level all weapons in the hands of a fighter do d8 damage.  At 7th it becomes d10 and at 10th damage would increase to d12.  Fighters of 13th level and above would do d20 damage with their weapons.  Or give out additional d6s.  2d6 at 4th, 3d6 at 7th, etc.  I kinda lean toward the latter, as it could allow individual dice to be directed at different foes (an EPT style sweep attack, in effect).

Saving Throws
I think the simple thing to do here is to take a hint from Idea #1 above and give a bonus at every three levels gained.  +1 to all saves at 4, 7, 10, 13, etc., regardless of class.

This is probably the hardest part to tackle.  Here are the known facts:
  • We have a list of known third level MU spells (p14 bottom of 1st column), but no write-ups for them.
  • MUs of fifth level and above can cast 3rd level spells (last paragraph, page 16).
  • Clerics of 4th level and above can use the listed 2nd level spells (1st paragraph, page 17).
  • The 4th level MU in the sample adventure makes no sense to me.  He 'knows' 4 first and 2 second level spells.  Either he way's got too few spells in his spellbook for his Int 16 or else the implication is that going from 3rd to 4th changes your spell output from 2/1 to 4/2.  I wasn't thinking about this aberrant dude when I wrote my draft MU charts.  Incorporating that datum would totally screw with my "Your level = Your Number of Spells" symmetry.  Here's a draft revision base upon this line of thought, but I'm not sure it really helps my game.  I don't normally assume NPCs wizard follow the exact same rules as the PCs anyway, so it's probably better just to write off that dude as an outlier.
  • The first paragraph of the section labeled "Magic Spells" (starting on page 13) mentions in passing the existence of a 5th level that will conjure a water elemental.  How many spell levels does the game need?  I've gotten through a crapload of games where no caster every got past the ability to throw spells in the 3-5 range, so I have trouble believing that spells of level 9 or more are really necessary to the game.  OD&D's six spell levels seems quite sufficient.  In fact I've got a spreadsheet I've been working on that so far contains about 130 new spells (levels 1 to 6) in it, written specifically with this campaign in mind.  I somehow managed to include a 5th level water elemental conjuration (the '3rd Enchantment of Azariel') before I even decided to use the Holmes rules.  Nice how that works out.
Somebody else will have to work out clerical spells.  I just don't care.  I only tackled turning undead above because Turn Undead is a standard MU spell in my campaign, as per Ultima IV.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

my fellow Americans: remember Chazz?

D.B. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants is pretty much the authoritative text on the subject. I couldn't tell you how many Chessvariants.org pages reference this work.  I've never read Prtichard cover-to-cover but it's the sort of oddball tome I love to flip around in.  Yesterday I found an interesting item in the Addenda.  The variant Chazz is described as a pretty straightforward variant of standard FIDE chess.  It plays on an 8x8 board with only kings and pawns in the initial array:

Pawns in Chazz may make a non-capturing move one step backwards as well as forwards and they promote only to Rooks, Bishops or Knights.  Pritchard notes that Chazz in normally played on a fast clock. All this is well and good.  Nothing particularly remarkable about Chazz in the wild and wooly world of chess variants.  Most variants I putter with involve nonstandard pieces and ridiculously-shaped boards.  Here's an overwrought derivative that I've been working on for several years off and on:

It's basically Gygax's Dragonchess playable in two dimensions.

Anyhoo, the reason I bring up Chazz is because Pritchard (who I should note is a Brit working in that mysterious era before we could all surf the net while sitting on the crapper) claims that this variant "is said to have swept America 1991-2".  Now obviously no chess variant became a full-blown fad in America in any decade I've been alive.  Our popular culture just isn't that awesome here.  Among gamer nerds the only chess variant I recall gaining any traction in the 90's was Knightmare Chess from Steve Jackson Games, which was basically a set of exception-based mechanics cards and a rule pamphlet for how to use 'em with a normal chess game.

But the main place that chess variants get played is in chess clubs.  I've never been a chess club member, so if it was even a little bit popular in that scene I could have completely missed it.  So here are my questions for the inhabitants or former residents of the New World reading this:
  • Have you ever heard of or played Chazz?
  • What context (where?, with whom?, in a club?) did you play it? 
  • Was it a single game or did it get played regularly for a while?
I'm just curious whether Pritchard had good information on this point.  He's clearly hedging his bets with the "is said to have swept" language, but chess variants do sometimes become something of a local phenom.  Gala, a.k.a. Farmer's Chess, was a popular local variant in the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany up until maybe the 18th or 19th century.  A 20th century variant with hexes on the board instead of squares (allowing, among other things, for rooks to travel in 6 directions instead of four) has its own international federation of players centered on Hungary, if I recall correctly.

The 800 Pound Bugbear of Inish

In comments of my most recent session report JJ of MORE&BIGGER LOOT! asks "The 800 lb bugbear in the room: how are you handling initiative?"  JJ asks this because the Holmes edit of D&D has an idiosyncratic initiative system not seen before or afterward in pretty much any game.  Here's Holmes inish as I understand it:

  • Actions are in order of Dexterity
  • EXCEPT when any 2 Dex scores are within 2 points of each other, then roll d6
  • The DM is supposed to roll 3d6 to determine the Dex scores for all monsters
We tried to implement something close to this, but not quite exactly the rules as written.  What I did was roll 3d6 once for the entire group of monsters.  Everybody with three or more points of Dex above the badguys all acted immediately.  Then the baddies and everyone within +2 to -2 of their Dex rolled d6 to break the quasi-tie, everyone beating the monsters d6 going as a group, everyone with the same roll acting simultaneous with them, everyone lower going after that.  Finally, everyone with 3 points of Dex less than the baddies acted.

Everybody rolling the d6 every round proved to be a bigger pain in the ass than I expected, so it was eventually proposed by one of my players that we roll once at the beginning of the fight and cycle through the same order every round.  The went a lot smoother.  Still not as braindead easy as my usual reliance on d6 group initiative, but better.

The fact that the system considers an 11 Dex and a 13 Dex effectively a tie is interesting to me.  From it you could easily extrapolate a general stat vs. stat subsystem.  Say two characters are playing chess.  We'll call that an Int vs. Int test.  If one of the players has 3 more points of Int than the other then there's no real contest.  If they are within 2 points of each other, they basically have equal chances of prevailing as determined by the d6 roll-off.  You could similarly compare Con scores to determine who holds their breath longer or use Str vs. Str for an arm-wrestling contest.

Extrapolating one step further, let's look at a petpeeve I have about dungeon doors.  Hurgolf the Mighty (Str 14) fails to open the door to room 23.  Should Fimbar the Puny (Str 7) really have a chance of opening the door?  I'm not so sure.  Maybe only someone with a Str of at least 12 should have a chance to open that same door.

Friday, December 17, 2010

in case anyone cares

Here's how my small scale map of the Little Kingdom from Farmer Giles of Ham fits into my larger map of Wessex.

Obviously this is just roughed out with MS Paint, but it's sufficient for my purposes.  Working with two nested hexmaps with the grids oriented 90 degrees from each other is not something I can recommend to others.

A Surfeit of Lampreys, session #1

So Wednesday night I started a new campaign set in the pseudo-historical Wessex milieu I've been blogging about for a while.  Two weeks ago the PCs in my Encounter Critical/Star Wars game blew up the all the bad guys and I completely forgot to blog about it.  Either way, that session seemed to get the EC/retro-Star Wars thing out of my system and I was ready to go back to D&D.

And I really do mean Dungeons & Dragons.  Not Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry or any other late model retro-clone game, as cool as they are.  So I broke out the Blessed Blue Book of Holmes the Physician and used that as the basis for the new game.  I chose the Holmes version for a variety of reasons.  It's short.  The lack of information for play above 3rd level gives me a void I can fill with whatever suits my fancy.  It's got a lot of interesting rough edges.  It was near at hand when it occurred to me earlier in the week that I really needed to figure out what rules I wanted to use.  Etc., etc.  But I think the main motive was the simple fact that I have never run a Holmes game.  I started with the later Moldvay Basic rules and played pretty much every edition since (excepting 2.5 and the new Essentials rules).  And I've run a few OD&D games.  But Holmes was a hole in my experience of the game.  And like I said, hey, here's the rulebook right on the computer desk, so why the heck not?

But I can't run the rules exactly as written.  That would be too straightforward and clearly not in the spirit of what I'm shooting for setting-wise.  So I cut some stuff.  No non-humans, at least until I have my changeling race rules worked out.  Platemail and several weapons are eliminated as inappropriate to the period.  There's a bit of a debate about whether longbows are actually a factor yet.  I don't think they were but I'm not confident on the point so I rule that we will be using a single weapon styled the Bow, Undefined.  Clerics are cut, all the cleric spells are merged into the MU list and Turn Undead also becomes an MU spell.  (Carl cites this decision as further proof that I simply hate the cleric class.)  I'm sticking with the OD&D xp rule of 100xp per hit die of foe overcome, rather than that pain-in-the-ass look-up chart.  The draft magic rules and consolation prize weapon rules are provisionally adopted.  My carousing rules will probably be used at some point, though I think I may revise them a bit.
I let each of the five players make 2 PCs a piece, to ease my conscience a bit when they start dropping like flies.  Here's the initial party.

Pierre (T)
Captain Wimpy the Klutz (MU)
Skaldagrimm (F)
Grimmson (T)
Bodger Evans (T)
Gimpy Evans (T)
Fred the Mediocre (MU)
John Smith (F)
Ermlaf the Saracen (MU)
Jean Claude (F)

Grimmson is Skaldagrimm's son.  Skaldagrimm tried to raise him up as a warrior but it just didn't quite take.  Bodger and Gimpy are brothers and Welshmen who got the heck out of Wales when the uprising against the Normans went pearshaped.  Thieves by trade, their cover is that they are mercenary archers.  Ermlaf is an Anglo-Saxon named found by opening up my copy of Beowulf to a random page.  That's not his real name, but all his English friends can't pronounce it right so they started calling him Ermlaf instead.

Here's the initial overland map I put in front of the group.
Every good medieval map has at least one pizza sauce stain.

I explain that the group is holed up in the village of Hammo.  It's the Feast of St. Alban, June 22nd, 1139.  Empress Matilda, Queen of the Romans, recently landed forces in an attempt to overthrow King Stephen.  No one in the party wants a piece of that action, I explain.  Rather, they plan on using the general panic in the countryside to cover their plundering of the ruins of Worminghall, a fortress that centuries ago served as the headquarters for a minor local king.  Skaldagrimm is particularly seeking Tailbiter, an ancient magic sword owned by one of the lords of Worminghall.  Another PC owes Jabba the Hutt 10,000gp, but I don't recall who it was.  That's the sort of thing that happens to you if you ask my opinion as to why your PC is crazy enough to go down into a dark, dangerous dungeon. 

A classic cover in the 'Oh no! Monsters are stealing our dames!' genre.Worminghall is one of those ruined pile sort of affairs.  The top level uses the map from  TSR's 1985 non-classic Castle Caldwell and Beyond, a module that I've run at least once but never particularly liked.  The map is not particularly inspiring, but works just fine as the ground level of a dungeon.  I'm pretty sure I was working off a cleaned-up scan of the map posted a while back by ze bulette of Dungeons and Digressions.  Most of the grunt work of stocking the level was done using the incredibly awesome Dizzy Dragon dungeon generator.  I also used the Dizzy Dragon to rough out the first few levels of the dungeons below the castle.  Random dungeons are a lot of fun and it really doesn't take much work to breathe a little life into them.  For example, I decided the wolves were made of smoke and the Trader in the first room of level one is a clockwork robot.  It only takes a few touches like that to turn generic random results into something memorable.

The party only explored a few rooms, as can be expected from the first expedition of the first session of a new campaign.  Important facts the party discovered:
  • Level 1 can be access by a secret stairway under a statue.
  • The goblins and imps are not immediately hostile, but work for a demonic master named Belial.
  • Belial owns a fiery whip and can put curse/geas type effects on you.  Like the dwarf who was doomed to stay in a room, stacking coins until they reached the ceiling.  He did not have a ladder or enough coins to reach all the way up, so the poor bastard was just plain stuck there, stacking coins forever.
  • The tomb of King Aegidius is somewhere on level 3.  The sword might be there.
Loot was pretty meager as well.  I think they collected 54gp total and Fred the Mediocre wound up with a runestone that has some sort of lightning magic.  So far all he has been able to do with it is zap himself, but maybe next session he'll be able to zap an opponent instead.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dude, have you seen these weird sixers?

Just found these moments ago.  They're from some sort of collectible dice game and they look cool as all get out to me.  More info here.

it lurks

I'll tell you about last night's D&D game in another post.  Right now I must instead warn the world, for I have seen it with my own eyes.

One of the regulars at the Friendly Local Game Store is Tim.  He's seems like a nice guy.  He was playing in my game for a few sessions when a schedule shuffle at the store but another game in conflict with mine.  Too bad, as he always struck me as the kind of player every DM loves: dude never hesitates to get himself and by extension the entire party in trouble.  When he and Wheelz dropped out in favor of another game a few folks seemed worried I would take offense, but I run my games specifically with a low buy-in and no major continuity hang-ups so stuff like that is no real problem.  I feel everybody should play in the game they want to be in and not worry about bruising my precious little ego.

So anyway, back to Tim.  This evening he has with him a forboding black-bound tome, maybe as thick as a metropolitan phone book.  Easily 800 pages in girth, maybe closer to a thousand.  It is presented to me as soon as I enter the joint with everyone already in attendance sporting a grin of repressed mirth.  Engraved on the cover are five sinister silver glyphs:


Some sick, demented friend of Tim's printed the entire game, had the wretched thing library-bound and gave it to him as a gift.  The Seventh Seal is broken.  The Rough Beast slouches towards Bethlehem.  The world has come undone.

For those of you not in the know, FATAL is one of the three worst RPGs every written.  I am not kidding.  There are exactly three worst rpgs ever written and this is one of them.  One of them is Hybrid, which was written/is always being written by a schizophrenic.  Some places in the text seem to make sense, but any attempt to digest the whole thing makes it abundantly clear that it is the product of the mind of a literal-as-in-he-has-a-diagnosis madman.  The second one is Racial Holy War, an incomplete manuscript designed for nazi skinhead fuckwads to play out their sick, twisted fantasies of shooting people with darker skintones than their own.  The third is FATAL, the game that dares ask "What if Beavis got hepped up on caffeine and tried to write a fantasy heartbreaker?"  It's racist, sexist and simply horrible.

There are lots of broken, badly written games that I will defend.  Back in the 90's on RPGnet World of Synnibarr and SenZar got heaps of abuse but I think both have a lot of neat stuff in them.  Lot's of third tier material has good stuff in buried under half-formed ideas and poor execution.  FATAL is just shit.  If you want more info you should follow one of these two links.  Here's what you need to know in a nutshell: there's a rule for determining your potential anal circumference, i.e. how big your asshole will stretch when things are jammed into it.

So Tim says to me "You know, you could run that tonight if you wanted to."  I reply "That is a statement of fact.  I could run FATAL tonight if I wanted to.  I could also run out and get a Prince Albert but that ain't happening either."

You know what about this scenario really gets me?  It's not that someone killed a tree to bring this abortion of a game into material existence, just for a goof.  It's the library quality binding.  Pretty much every other game (except two) better deserves that treatment.  Makes me want to get some good books rebound, like an all-in-one DMG/PHB/MM/FF.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter War

Winter War is my local game convention and the next one is coming the last weekend in January.  So all y'all are invited to come play some games here in Champaign, Illinois.  Here's the schedule so far.  I'll be running Encounter Critical and the original you-play-the-bad-guys rpg Monsters! Monsters!

Have you mailed your Tmas cards yet?

Frank in Germany sent me a link to these bad boys. Thanks, Frank!

Friday, December 10, 2010

draft Wessex MU rules

1) Normal rules apply except new rule outlined below.
2) No spell may be memorized more than once in a single daily payload.
3) Memorized spells may be cast multiple times by means of an Overcast Roll on the second and subsequent usages.
4) Unmemorized but known spells may also be cast by means of the Overcast Rolls.
5) Known = in your library of spells
6) Failure of an Overcast Roll locks out that spell’s further usage that day. A memorized spell may not be cast for the rest of the day. Failing to Overcast a merely known spell locks out all further Overcasting of spells of that level.
7) An Overcasting Roll may also be used to read an unknown spell out of a spell book. Such castings, unlike the other uses of Overcasting Rolls, are subject to the possibility of Fumbling the casting.
8) Memorized spells remain memorized until the caster re-memorizes a new spell. If you memorize Fireball today you will remember it tomorrow, whether you cast it today or not.
9) As a consequence of rules 5 and 8 most MUs do not carry there spellbooks about with them, as they only need to be consulted when the memorized spells need to be changed.
10) Unless otherwise specified newly minted PC magic-users will be assumed to have a spooky chambers in some lodging, a crumbly old tower or a Batcave located in someplace convenient for the present adventure, such as the town the party is based out of.
11) Most spells require sonorously intoning a verbal formula and use of the proper gestures.
12) Magic Words represent a special class of spell. They can never be memorized in the mechanical sense; they can only be Overcast. This is because virtually no effort is required to memorize them, the trick is understanding the specialized vocalization and cogitation required at casting. Cf. Crowley’s use of Enochian or the Weirding Way of Dune. Hearing another MU use a Magic Word is all that is necessary to learn and begin employing it.
13) Ritual Magic represents a second special class of spell, in that they require some sort of material and/or procedural component that must be prepared prior to casting.

Charts here.

You know what would be really cool?

It would be really cool if someone made a video game like this. I'd play 3-D Badass Gun Fu Short Order Cook with Explosions and Classic Rock Soundtrack until my eyes bled.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

a simple thought experiment

Begin by reflecting upon the function of the 3-18 stats in your favorite version.  Then write down six new stat names that fit the function of the stats but perhaps change the tenor of them.  Let's look at the standard arrangement:


Now imagine if we kept all the mechanics as written, but instead used these labels:


Suddenly it seems more likely that a well-informed idiot could be a magic-user or that a foolish but holy-minded person could be a cleric.  And changing Charisma to Beauty clearly makes that stat veer off in one direction.  Renaming Charisma as Leadership would give it a totally different trajectory, and calling it Social Standing would lead to a whole 'nother interpretation.

And what if we renamed Strength to Brutishness?  It still does the same stuff but suddenly a high Str score doesn't seem like the greatest thing in the world.  Instead it highlights what one actually uses that score for: manual labor and violence.

EDIT TO ADD: JD over at Aeons & Auguries wrote on this same topic last year.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

five links, all wiki

It's been a long time since I did an installment of Five Links.  This time I thought I'd share some of my favorite wikis.  I can get lost in these things for pretty much any amount of time.  Feel free to share your own fave wikis in the comments.

Homestar Runner Wiki

Wookieepedia - Star Wars wiki

Muppets Wiki

The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom - wiki for the Ultima series of crpgs

Uncyclopedia - If you haven't been in a while then do yourself a favor and click through to see the banner ad.

I was thinking of listing Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki) instead of Uncyclopedia, but it seems to be down at the moment.  I don't have to give out links to Wikipedia itself or TV Tropes, right?  We're all hip here?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Mr. 'Tis the season

'A ouija board?  How about a nice football insteas, fool?'

In case you are too young to remember this surreal incident in U.S. history, please note it is First Lady Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. SanTa's lap there. The oddness of the eighties knows no bounds.

Monday, December 06, 2010

and now, a screencap of some D&D dorks

from Bender's Game

Semiprecious Stones, base 50gp value

Bloodstone, a.k.a. Heliotrope

According to wikipedia when the inclusions are primarily yellow instead of red the stone is sometimes called a Plasma.  But if I told my players they found a Plasma Stone they would assume it could shoot beams of ionic energy or something.


Cairngorm is a specifically Scottish variety of Smoky Quartz and is normally listed under that category in the charts.  It's a cool name with a specific look, so I gave them their own category here.


Darker, harder carnelians are often called Sard (see below).



The bluer varieties tend to be the most valuable.


Morion is a particular dark or even opaque variant of Smoky Quartz (see below).

Onyx comes in a variety of colors but black is common.

Rock Crystal

I could see a scenario where folks not well versed in gemstones could be tricked into thinking a cut rock crystal was actually a diamond.


A darker, harder variant of carnelian.


Sardonyx is literally layers of sard and onyx.

Smoky Quartz

Star Rose Quartz

This is just plain cool.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


  • The artifact book all y'all contributed out is coming along slow because I am a lazy butt.  Sorry for the delay.  My plan is to have a PDF version out before Christmas and the whole project done before class starts (yay!) in the second week of January.
  • I started work on a section by section read-through of the original Arduin Grimoire.  That dropped off the map not for lack of interest, but because I misplaced my copy for several weeks.  Embarrassing, but true.  Now that I have that booklet back in my grubby little hands expect the next installment later this week.
  • Hey, it looks like some people found yesterday's post about ornamental stones useful.  Commenter steelcaress of Roll 'Em even made an nifty expanded PDF version you can download here.  Since that post went over so well, I think I'll eventually do similar work for the rest of the gem spectrum.  However I've got plenty on my plate already (see above), so if someone else wants to tackle one or more gemstone categories please feel free.  Just let me know (with linky please!) so as to avoid duplication of effort.
  • In case you haven't heard, a new edition of Mutant Future is going into distribution by the end of the year.  Pester your local game store owner to get you a copy!  Check out the rad new cover:

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Ornamental Stones, base 10gp value

Azurite, a.k.a. Chessylite, ancient Greek Kuanos, Latin Caeruleum

"Heating destroys azurite easily" - Wikipedia

Blue Quartz

Eye Agate

Those shiny black rocks in gift shops that are magnetic and stick together?  I'm pretty sure that's hematite.

Used by the ancient Egyptians for scarabs.

Moss Agate

"when cut in one direction it is jet black; in another it is glistening gray" - Wikipedia again

A blue variant is called Hawk Eye.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Whence scrolls?

by Charles Keegan
Is there a literary precedent for the scroll as a single charge spell device?  I always assumed it was a Gygaxian extension of the basic logic of Vancian magic, but it occurred to me earlier today that maybe somewhere lurking in the seedy underbelly of Appendix N one could find a tale of derring-do that actually uses enruned paper that self-erases upon activation.

Any ideas?

Classes of Wessex

Fighter - The class of knights, members of the lower class whose efficiency in acts of brutality are sufficient to allow for some upward mobility in these trying times and foreign mercenaries (principally Welsh archers and Flemish crossbowmen). These folks will work exactly like you'd expect, allowing for some extra flash along the lines of yesterday's post or maybe the Empire of the Petal Throne multiple attacks rules.

Magic-Users - Start with the standard MU in all its Vancian glory, revamp the spells available (including the addition of many effects previously reserved for clerics) and add in an overcasting system whereby you can cast more spells than memorized and/or spells you can't otherwise cast. I'll probably do a separate post on the latter.

Scoundrels - I'm not a big fan of the Thief as implemented, but I like the idea of a class for the have-nots of society, whereby wits and trickery replaces swordplay or spellslinging. Still thinking about how to approach this mechanically.

Changelings - The class for fairy folk raised by human parents, humans raised by fairies, cambions, half-elves, half-orcs, descendants of the Nephilim and etc. Meant as a single class catch-all to replace the standard halfling, dwarves and elves. This class will probably end up with some spells, but they won't use spellbooks or Vancian magic.

Clerics as a class will not be allowed. Priests may or may not have a mechanical function, depending if I implement something like the Sin Point system previously proposed. But conjuring up miracles on command is not the province of the clergy, especially during a period so miserable that one chronicler note that Christ and his saints seemed to be asleep. For miracles you need someone like a Miracle Max or perhaps a Hildegard Von Bingen.

I'm also thinking of abolishing/modifying the normal weapons and armor restrictions. If I stick with d6 damage for everything, who really cares if the local Gandalf has a sword or not? I'd even allow armor to be worn, with the following penalties:
  • helmet & coif (which, owing to the lack of platemail in the period, will be worth +1 AC) - Can't listen at doors, 1 in 6 more likely to be surprised.
  • shield - Forget about spellcasting with that thing on your arm, buddy.
  • chain hauberk - Must rest twice as often.  Also, the fighters will be able to outrun you. If the whole party is being pursued by the Legendary Black Beast of Argh guess who gets eaten?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mr. T's Day

Ah, the Mr. T cartoon.  One of the least explicable shows on Saturday mornings circa my childhood.  Mr. T is the coach/bus driver for a band of cleancut multiracial mystery-solving teen gymnasts.  Bobby the Barbarian from the D&D cartoon dresses just like the star and tries to act butch.  Instead of a unicorn there's a dog with a mohawk.  And here's a big shocker: the asian chick is really smart.

one of the odder posts I've made in a while

Last night I drifted off to sleep while watching some Fraggle Rock with my daughter.  I could probably get a post out of the strange ecology at work in that show, but if someone else want's to tackle it, please go ahead.  Anyway, someone woke me up with a phone call.  I don't remember the name but the dude was trying to track down rights to one of the pics I used in a Shatnerday post.  This one, I think.  Anyway, I hope I wasn't rude to the guy, as I barely remember the sleep-addled replies I gave him.  I asked him to email me the query but maybe I screwed up the addy.  Either way, I don't know who created the picture or who owns the rights to it, but for everybody at home here's a tip courtesy my buddy Pat: tineye.com will look this crap up for you.  You give tineye a picture file and it conjures up places on the web where it can be found.  Mystery caller, I hope one of those 8 links gets you where you need to go.

Consolation Prize-based weapon mechanics

A great source of player disappointment occurs when, upon finally hitting that jerk with a tough AC, they then roll minimal damage.

So many people are opposed to non-variable weapon damage (i.e. 'everything does d6 damage') because there is no other mechanical distinction made between swords and daggers.

It would be nice if the Fighterly types could do cool things with weapons that are beyond the ability of other users of implements of death.

New rule: Every time a Fighter type rolls a '1' for damage, consult the list below.

Axe, Hand - roll Str or less to chop any wood-hafted weapon

Axe, Long - roll another d6 of damage

Bow - fire another arrow immediately

Club - foe must save or be stunned, losing next action

Crossbow - roll Dex or less to do trick shot

Fussart - weapon breaks

Glaive - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack

Knife - start grapple with foe, free stab each round grapple continues

Mace - smash foe's helmet or shield, if no helm or shield then stun as per club

Quarterstaff - parry next attack but if long axe, knightly sword or big monster then staff breaks

Spear/Lance - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack

Sword - choice of reroll damage or parry next attack

Shortsword/Dagger - choice of parry next attack against medium or small weapon or start grapple as per knife

Winged Spear (a.k.a. boar spear) - foe with shorter weapon -4 to-hit on next attack, parries spear/glaive/quarterstaff

Definitely not worth forgoing the shield.Note that the above list is restricted only to those weapons that I give a crap about right now. Since I'm working on a pseudo-historical setting I have the luxury of ignoring many weapons.

The Fussart is basically a glaive with a handle too short to be useful as a polearm. I'm not sure it existed in England c.1140 (or even at all) but it's in the Maciejowski Bible  a century later.  More to the point, it's clearly too dumb not to use. I want a weapon even less useful than the club and the fussart neatly fills that role.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Boy, I suck at close-up type shots...

...but I wanted to show you these guys anyway.

IG-666 is an original Kenner IG-88 with hat made of Sculpey and robe made of a foam sheet from a craft store.  The tiny rubber chicken I found in an art store for a dime.  It fits in his claw perfectly.  I'm going to take another shot at crafting a decent hat and robe.  If I can produce satisfactory results at this scale I'll probably make the same get-up for my twelve inch IG-88.

The Shockmaster was made from a figure of the fat guy who weeps when the Rancor gets it in Return of the Jedi.  The trench coat with single shoulder pad was swiped from some Expanded Universe jabroni, while the helmet comes from one of the few Stormtroopers that are issued with removable headgear.  My buddy Pat put this guy together for me.  He also gave me the 12" IG-88 a few years back.  Dude's a pretty cool cat.

Mr. T's Day

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tygers of Fyre

If I had a time machine the second thing I would do is arrange for William Blake to work for Marvel comics.
by William Blake

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Perceval is a goon with an axe, Lancelot is a blonde bishi and Arthur has a sweet beard.  Together they fight crime.
In the old CapCom sidescrolling fight game Knights of the Round there are one or two sections where you fight these tigers that burst into flame when you kill them.  They don't explode for points of damage or anything; they just evaporate in a halo of fire rather than blink out of existence like all the other badguys.

I'm not trying to make a big point with this post.  I just think that tygers made out of fire are cool.