Thursday, March 31, 2011

missed opportunities & brain strangeness

So in the run-up to GaryCon I told all-around cool dude and notable beard enthusiast Adam Thornton that I would run a pick-up game of Encounter Critical for his crew. Like the year before, we never were on the same page schedule wise, partially because I was only day-tripping the con, partially because some event slots seemed to overlap and partially because I am an idiot. Next year I'm just gonna submit a game ahead of time and get on the ding dang schedule.

As the date of the convention approached I started occasionally thinking to myself, "You really need to come up with an adventure, dude."  But nothing would pop into my mind.  By the day before the con I had convinced myself to run something already written, either the sample adventure or part of my Asteroid 1618 module or one of the many weird things in the Files section of the EC yahoo group.  So I printed some stuff out and shoved it into my gaming bag, fully intending the next day to pretend that I had a coherent adventure ready to go while actually pulling random EC-related documents from my bag.

But then something happened.  I don't know if it was the trouble I had sleeping, or the gin I drank not long before bedtime or just my unconscious mind working on the problem, but I woke up Saturday morning with a question fully formed in my mind:

"What the heck is an Omnitron?"

My wife's laptop was handy so I hit up wikipedia looking for an answer.  I'm not sure why I chose wikipedia rather than google (or, which I find to be better than google for simple searches) but I wasn't fully awake yet and maybe in my hypnogogic fugue I was just dead certain that A) an omnitron was a real thing and B) it had its own wikipedia page.  Turns out I was right on A but wrong on B.  The Omnitron was a particle accelerator that was designed by Albert Ghiorso but never built.  Ghiorso is cool as heck because he was a Manhattan Project physicist who co-discovered every element from 95 to 106 on the periodic table.

After reading Ghiorso's wikipedia entry I took out my little pocket Moleskine notebook, which I carry pretty much everywhere in case I get an idea or need to write down the name of a book.  The following adventure synopsis poured out onto the page:


Omnitronic Joe
   one of the Immortobot line
   now reduced to talking
   arm & pile of lesser components

   seeks party to retrieve
      his right ankle

Hyperdog X-14
      like Krypto but
         a little pug
      opposes Joe.

   must visit the Great Hive
      Oracle to learn
         Guarded by Bee Girls

   must ride the great
      mauve mega maggot
      to center of Vanth


fight giant electro neuronic
   slime dudes

   who are enslaved by
      Necranna deQuire
slinky warlock babe
with radioactive third

   she and her wookee
sidekick Mr. Balls (owns
   chainsaw x-bow & roboclaw
      hand) are casting
         a big long ritual
         spell: animate planet

(I'm pretty sure the part about the fire-breathing parrots was already on the otherwise-empty page when I started, but I was totally going to use that.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

an interesting case from Dr. Holmes

Thanks to interlibrary loan I was able to to track down a copy of J. Eric Holmes's Fantasy Role Playing Games (Hippocrene Books 1981).  I just started reading it, but there's a great insight into Holmes's idea of DMing on page 26:
Using percentile dice as described above, one can ask, "What is the probability that this hideous orc we've captured is carrying a key to the cell door?" or "What's the probability that my sneaky thief can sidle up to the captain of the guard and pick his pocket?" The Referee thinks for a moment and says "Twenty-five percent." The two dice are then rolled.  Anything less than a twenty-six means "Hooray! I've got it!"
The second case (the sneaky thief) is a well-understood game operation. It's the first case that I find a lot more interesting.  The thinking here meshes nicely with the main idea in my favorite paragraph in Holmes Basic.  I think Holmes views the idea of exploring the imaginative world of rpgs as a joint player-GM effort.  It's not as one-sided as "You make PCs, I make the world".  The players don't necessarily have "narrative control" in the modern indie game sense, but their ideas and input should be respected by the GM.  And the GM, under the Holmes interpretation, should be flexible enough to allow some of these ideas to have a serious impact upon the campaign.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mr. T is delicious, fool!

Not a candy from back in the day, rather this chocolate Mr. T is a new creation once for sale on Etsy.  I really dig the yellow choco-jewellery.

alt Dex

A couple weeks ago I came up with a simple alternative rule for the Strength stat.  I'm reviewing/revising every stat in my campaign this way.  Today, it's Dexterity that is up to bat.  First up, clear your mind of any consideration of missile attacks or armor class bonuses.  My basis is for my current house rules if the Dr. Holmes version of D&D, which does not take either idea into consideration.  Instead, Dex has one very important function: initiative. If you've got 3 points of Dex on a dude you will always go before him in a normal combat round.  If you're closer than that you're supposed to roll off with a d6.  A natural consequence of this rule is that every monster needs a Dex score, which you are supposed to roll on 3d6 just like the PCs.

Now, if I used individual initiative I'd probably go with something like this:

Dex 12 or less - roll d6 for initiative
Dex 13-15 - roll d8 for initiative
Dex 16-17 - roll d10 for initiative
Dex 18 - roll d12 for initiative

But instead of the rules as written I use this simple inish method: each side rolls d6, ties favor the PCs.  Why do ties favor the PCs?  Because resolving simultaneous action is a big pain in the ass and I'm a big ol' softie.  I used to call for ties to be rerolled but one night years ago the reroll was a tie and the roll off for that was a tie and then we tied one more time and I just said "Fuck it! Take your turn!"

So instead of looking at this Dex/initiative as strictly when you can go, let's broaden the concept just a little bit.  I'm particularly thinking about two types of action.  The first is slow and fast weapons.  One of the incongruities in the Holmes rules is that by the book daggers strike twice a round and two-handed weapons always strike last.  I can't bring myself to use this rule in a world where all weapons do d6 damage.  My players would all wield daggers and beat up people with any other type of melee weapon. 

In my post about Strength I just set weapon damage by the Str of the wielder, but I think there's room to modify that further.  Maybe say badass two-handed weapons (mostly just the battle axe in my current campaign) bump the die size, while the lightest weapons (dagger, club?, handaxe?) shrink the die one size.  Or use "roll two dice, take highest" and "roll two dice, take lowest".  So now slowing down two-handed weapons and speeding up daggers makes a little more holistic sense to me.

The second type of action that I would consider tying to Dex/initiative is an action that I might generally refer to as "retrieve and deploy special device".  Getting out and drinking a potion.  Unrolling and reading a scroll.  Pulling out, lighting and throwing a molotov cocktail.  That sort of thing.  I often suspect these sorts of operations should be bigger pains in the ass than I let fly in my games.  Letting only higher Dex folks get away with instantaneous flaming oil lobs might work for me.

So putting these concerns all together, here's a draft alternative Dexterity chart.

Dex 9 or less - two-handed melee weapons only strike every other round
Dex 10-12 - two-handed melee weapons always strike last, retrieve and deploy special devices every other round
Dex 13-15 - retrieve and deploy special devices at the end of the round
Dex 16-18 - retrieve and deploy special devices as normal actions, extra strike with dagger at end of round

There's no real reason you couldn't also follow the simple Holmes missile adjustments (Dex 9 or less, -1; Dex 13+, +1) but they don't do much for me.  I don't like that missile weapons can get a to-hit adjustment and melee weapons can't.

Monday, March 28, 2011

a few GaryCon III images

My camera pooped out on me, so I only have stills today.  I got a little video with my wife's camera, but I haven't had time to review it yet.  Anyway, here's some info on GaryCon III, which I visited for a while on Saturday.

I dig this program cover.

This Troll Lords ad from the inside cover of the program perplexes me a bit.  I enjoy pictures of hot fantasy ladytypes as much as the next straight dude, but in the far future world of 2011 it's really odd to see the male gaze feature so prominently in both the illo and the ad copy.  And C&C doesn't really fit any definition of "harder" that I can think of.  It strikes me as a legit middle-of-the-road option in many ways.  Advertising, what can you do?

Kenzer, on the other hand, seems to have this stuff down pat.  Here's some monsters, here's a cover of our monster book.  And look how awesome we are:

One of things I wanted to do at GaryCon this year was to get in on one of the HackMaster 5 demos being run this weekend.  I own the basic rulebook but it strike me as the sort of game that maybe runs slicker than it reads.  But when I got close to one of the tables I saw them plotting out movement on a one inch:five foot tactical grid and all interest in the system immediately left me.

The other game I wanted to check out this weekend was the forthcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics rpg.  "Glory & Gold Won by Sorcery & Sword" is a great new tagline for this game.  And check out the covers of the modules.  Somebody has been going over old editions of books listed in Appendix N, because those babies just screen "lurid 70's fantasy".  Here's a close-up of my favorite:

Holy crap, that bad guy rules!

The DCCrpg ad was a flier rather than part of the program book.  Above is the flip side.

So I got into one of the DCC demos again and I am totally digging the way this game is shaping up.  Here are some of the handouts I got:

The spell charts are possibly both the best and worst part of the system.  On the one hand I found using them to be a ton o' fun.  On the other hand, I kept imagining how newbie unfriendly they could be.  And will there be a separate spellbook?  My 3rd level MU (see below) needed like 8 pages of these charts just to do his wizardly job.  Still, the results in play were pretty dang awesome. 

So above is my guy from the demo run by Harley Stroh, author of the module with the awesome eyeball monster up above.  The other players included Michael Shorten, the Chicago Wiz.  It was great to see him again.  He's a hoot to game with.  He was playing an elf wizard-astrologer he names Carls Agan.  At one point he took a crit that resulted in "+d8 damage and loss of that many teeth", which tells me everything I need to know about this game's critical hit system.  For the rest of the game Mike said all his in-character lines with a mushmouth.  Meanwhile I got a natural one on a spellcasting rolls, which sent me to some sort of totally metal Magic Corruption chart, resulting in my poor orphan-wizard growing a pair of horns.

My favorite incident of the game came early on.  Jim Skach brought his two kids to the con (ages 9 and 11 or so) and all three were playing.  These two kids were really fun.  The whole party was traversing an iceflow when a monster errupted up from the water below, wildly tilting the ice.  Jim's daughter immediately announces that her big strong warrior is jamming her spear into the ice and holding on.  My puny little wizard is standing right behind her, so I tell the GM as I fall over I'm grabbing onto the warrior.

GM: Tiny Tim, you're hanging onto the boot of Christina the Warrior for dear life.  Christina, what do you do?

Christina: I take off my boot.

Stone.  Cold.  I end up sliding down almost to the water.  Meanwhile another PC is already drowning but I can't quite reach him, so I use the boot.  "Here grab this boot."  Unfortunately, that guy is too heavy for my Str 6 MU to pull out, instead he pulls me in.  Mike has help both of us out.  Good times.

The vendors included Troll Lord Games, Black Blade Publishing and Kenzer & Co.  I only bought three things.  Black Blade was selling these great pads of graph and hex paper.  At the moment I don't know the exact dimensions but they're bigger than standard 8.5" x 11" so I could not resist.  I got the above book from the Troll Lords.  It's 28 pages of random dungeon stocking charts and advice.  I probably don't need another set of random dungeon charts and the advice is clearly aimed at novice DMs, but it was only seven bucks.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Write random tables, win fabulous prizes!

Details here.  I'm helping judge the entries of this contest, so that ought to be fun.  Note that even if you don't want to submit a dice chart (or if you hate winning prizes), you should still click that link to check out the cool illustration.

dual class THIS!

You think old school D&D has some kickass level titles? Here's a chart on the wall of my Masonic lodge:

For five years or so I spent a fair amount of time on leveling up both sides of the ladder.  Got to Knight Templar on the one side and 32nd degree on the other.  One night not long after my daughter was born one of the brothers took me aside.  He was a long lean fellow who rarely said much but laughed often, flashing one of those easy smiles only unassuming regular folk can give.  Like most of the brethren who showed up regularly he had several decades on me in terms of age.  Anyway, dude looked me right in the eye and said "Here's some advice: Don't come back to lodge until your daughter is good and grown. You only get one chance to raise her and you don't want to reach my age wishing you had spent more time with her."

I haven't been back since.  Maybe when Elizabeth is a teenager and hates my guts I'll start going again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

check out this awesome Gandalf

It kinda looks like the dude looted a keffiyeh and a string of beads off some wandering hipsters, but I still dig the look.  The above sketch is by Sam Bosma, found via Comics Alliance.  Don't miss this fetching elf lass and his unbelievably dapper hobbits.

A Surfeit of Lampreys, session 7

So last night Kirk, Dane, Charles, Carl, Ryan, Joe and I gathered once again at the Armored Gopher for some D&D action.  For the third session in a row the party tromped about James Maliszewski's "Ruined Monastery" and for the second session in a row they explored Gabor Lux's "Tomb Complex of Ymmu M’Kursa".  Both are from Fight On #1.  Jamie Mal's dungeon is one level with stairs down, so when I needed another level I just turned the page to Gabor Lux's level.  They work pretty well together, if you don't mind the fact that some of the monsters in the "Tomb Complex" are wicked hard for the second level of a dungeon.

For example, the big fight of the evening was with RAMM, a centuries-old vampiric entity whose mind has wandered too long among the voids between the stars.  He had eight hit dice and the ability to pretty much kill a party member each round.  Fortunately the party had a couple of advantages against this wicked awesome dude.  First off, this wasn't one of those modern type parties with one PC per character and that's it.  No, these guys run around as an old school dungeon clearing mob:  Some people run multiple characters, a few have hired spear-carriers and Wat Tyler the bard has these four skeletons he charmed.    Not that many of them could harm RAMM, who is only affected by magic. Still, between Kirk's changeling throwing magic missile and the Phalange of St. Gaxyg (a relic from "The Ruined Monastery" that I souped up a bit) and Dane's recently-purchased Holy Symbol of St. Thurstan and the kickass magic sword Tailbiter they were able to put the hurting on him.  My favorite part was when Dane's snooty French paladin garroted RAMM with the chain from his magic holy symbol.

Poor Fenchurch didn't make it though.  She had started life as a hireling bodyguard for Charles' MU but when that didn't quite work out and the MU bit the dust, she was promoted to full on PC.  She was also the first character to blow a carousing roll in this new campaign, so I will always remember her as the Drunken Loutess of Christminster.  Her failure to debauch safely was overshadowed a bit by Wat Tyler blowed roll, who woke up in prison, with 6,000gp in fines, damages and bribes needed to get out.  Dude rotted in the pokey for three days until he was able to use his bardish wiles to charm his way out.  Returning to his residence, he found the rest of the party there, sitting around, drinking his beer and half-assedly discussing jailbreak plans.

That's just the way these guys roll.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

today's challenge to all Gameblog readers

  1. Find a post at some old school message board or blog (doesn't have to be mine) that contains some really fun, useful or just kick-ass house rules or advice material.
  2. Copy the link and add it to the OSR Links to Wisdom wikipage.   
It's pretty dang easy to do, so dig up those bookmarks and share!

I added an advice piece from Mr. Raggi that I have long cherished.  It took me like 10 seconds to do it.  All I did was hit the 'Edit this Page' link at the bottom and followed the super-simple formatting as demonstrated by the other links already on the page.

Looking for ink

On Monday I ginned up a little post about copying new spells into spellbooks in AD&D.  In it I mentioned the write spell, which is used for copying spells you don't yet understand.  One of the things that has always bugged me about that spell is the note in the DMG about finding the special ink required.  The rule Gygax gives is that every apothecary or alchemist in a town has a 10% chance having it in stock.  Those same business have a 20% chance if located in a city.  The part that grinds my gears is that there's no suggestion given for how many of those places one can find in a typical burg.

Sure, you can come up with this sort of thing on your own, whether by fiat ("The city of Mauvecrow has 6 apothecaries and two alchemists.") or by some rule of thumb ("Every town has d6-1 apothecaries and d4-2 alchemists, cities have d6/d4 respectively").  But I thought this would be an opportunity to break out some of my favorite city-stocking materials to see what they say about the subject.

My first stop is a classic article by S. John Ross that every DM should read, "Medieval Demographics Made Easy".  It does exactly what it says on the tin.  Apothecary and alchemist aren't on S. John's list of business, but magic shops of the "get yer spellbooks & components here" variety are.  That sounds like a great place to get write-compatible ink.  In fact, I'd probably give such an establishment double the listed chances of stocking what is needed.  S. John rates magic shops at 1:2800 inhabitants, so all you need to do is take the population of your town or city and divide by 2800.  That will probably get you some whole number and a decimal fraction.  Roll the decimal fraction as percentage dice to see if there's one more shop than the whole number indicates and you're good to go.  So a village of 500 inhabitants has a 17% chance of including a magic shop among its businesses, while a town of 8,000 souls would have 2 magic shops for sure and an 86% chance of a third.  Ross gives ratios like this for a whole crapload of businesses.

Next up is the Midkemia Press classic Cities.  If you like crunching numbers like I'm doing in this article, track down this bad boy.  It also has some groovy wandering city encounter charts and a section that's kinda like the Pendragon Winter Phase for down-and-dirty fantasy gaming.  Apothecaries aren't listed in Cities, but alchemists are.  Giving the chance of finding an alchemist in a settlement of less than 1,300 people involves dice and chart look-ups, but for larger communities it's just a math formula.  There's a little wiggle room here, as many constants in the formula are actually narrow ranges, but I'll skip the fiddly bits and tell you that the basic answer is that for any town above 1,300 in populace Cities suggests one alchemist per 800 people.

That's a lot of friggin' alchemists if you go in for larger cities in your setting.  Personally, I think that would work just fine as a ratio for apothecaries if your campaign world has city populations in the tens of thousands.  Or you could run with that number and suddenly there's a good explanation for why your world has so much of the shiny yellow stuff: alchemical goldfarmers!

Back when I was a kid I did not have access to either of the above resources, so I relied instead on an article from Dragon #54 entitled "Ruins: Rotted & risky - but rewarding" by Arn Ashleigh Parker (who had a few other articles in Dragon, according to this database entry).  "Ruins" also appeared in Best of Dragon volume V.  Parker's article focuses mostly on adventuring through ruined cities, but I found this table very useful for the non-ruined variety of urban area:
Again no apothecaries!  I guess no one remembered that Gygax specified them as part of the implied setting of AD&D.  The 1000:1 ratio for alchemists is pretty close to the Cities number, so I guess Parker also likes having plenty of potion-mongers around.

Anybody else have a go-to resource for this sort of thing?  Am I the only one who thinks the latter two include way too many dang alchemists?  Does anybody actually buy write ink at apothecaries?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Night Elf Mohawk

This commercial was the first thing that ever interested me in World of Warcraft.

a neat little piece I found

Evening Standard, on the 9th of February, 1946:
George Orwell in his Saturday Essay
tells the secrets of his favourite public-house

The Moon Under Water
My favourite public house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.
Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of "regulars" who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.
If you are asked why you favour a particular public house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its "atmosphere".

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull's head over the mantelpiece-everything has the solid comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.
Quiet enough to talk
In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars, and the Victorian lay-out of the place gives one plenty of elbow-room. There are a public bar, a saloon bar, a ladies' bar, a bottle-and-jug for those who are too bashful to buy their supper beer publicly, and upstairs, a dining-room.
Games are only played in the public, so that in the other bars you can walk about without constantly ducking to avoid flying darts.

In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk. The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind.
The barmaids know most of their customers by name, and take a personal interest in everyone. They are all middle-aged women-two of them have their hair dyed in quite surprising shades-and they call everyone "dear," irrespective of age or sex. ("Dear," not "Ducky": pubs where the barmaid calls you "Ducky" always have a disagreeable raffish atmosphere.)
A good, solid lunch
Unlike most pubs, the Moon Under Water sells tobacco as well as cigarettes, and it also sells aspirins and stamps, and is obliging about letting you use the telephone.

You cannot get dinner at the Moon Under Water, but there is always the snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a speciality of the house), cheese, pickles and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them which only seem to exist in public-houses.

Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch-for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll-for about three shillings.

The special pleasure of this lunch is that you can have draught stout with it. I doubt whether as many as 10 per cent of London pubs serve draught stout, but the Moon Under Water is one of them. It is a soft, creamy sort of stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot.

They are particular about their drinking vessels at the Moon Under Water and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry-pink china ones which are now seldom seen in London. China mugs went out about 30 years ago, because most people like their drink to be transparent, but in my opinion beer tastes better out of china.
The garden is a surprise
The great surprise of the Moon Under Water is its garden. You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden with plane trees under which there are little green tables with iron chairs round them. Up at one end of the garden there are swings and a chute for the children.
On summer evenings there are family parties, and you sit under the plane trees having beer or draught cider to the tune of delighted squeals from children going down the chute. The prams with the younger children are parked near the gate.
Many as are the virtues of the Moon Under Water I think that the garden is its best feature, because it allows whole families to go there instead of Mum having to stay at home and mind the baby while Dad goes out alone.

And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children tend to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children-and therefore to some extent, women-from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.
Do you know of one ?
The Moon Under Water is my ideal of what a pub should be-at any rate, in the London area. (The qualities one expects of a country pub are slightly different.)
But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There is no such place as the Moon Under Water.

That is to say, there may well be a pub of that name, but I don't know of it, nor do I know any pub with just that combination of qualities.

I know pubs where the beer is good but you can't get meals, others where you can get meals but which are noisy and crowded, and others which are quiet but where the beer is generally sour. As for gardens, offhand I can only think of three London pubs that possess them.

But, to be fair, I do know of a few pubs that almost come up to the Moon Under Water. I have mentioned above ten qualities that the perfect pub should have, and I know one pub that has eight of them. Even there, however, there is no draught stout and no china mugs.
And if anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as the Red Lion or the Railway Arms.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Answering Chgowiz

I'm going to attempt to construct my own answer to the ChicagoWiz's query: "Copying a spell into a spell book. How long does it take and how much does it cost? Go ahead, look it up in the three core AD&D/1e books."  I haven't looked at the comments, so you can compare my answers to other folks and see what we come up with.

Unearthed Arcana, page 79 explicitly notes that putting spells into spellbooks costs 100gp per level of the spell.  That falls outside the parameters Chgowiz established, but I thought everyone should know that.  Time is not specified.  I'd check the official errata for UA published in the Dragon, but then I might be tempted to look in the Sage's Advice column for more info.  That way lies madness.  And Skip Williams.

There's no explicit answer to the ChicagoWiz's inquiry as far as I can tell, but there are two useful vectors for coming up with your own answer.  The first one, which he correctly identifies, is the scroll manufacture rules on page 117 of the DMG.  A scroll takes one day per level of the spell.  I think that would mark an upper limit for spell transcription times, as making scrolls is clearly meant to be a pain in the ass.  For crying out loud, you need a basilisk eye and three cockatrice feathers to make a scroll of protection against petrification.  I need the ding dang scroll before I collect that crap, not after!

The other vector is the write spell (PHB 69, DMG 45).  Write is designed to make it possible to transcribe spells you don't understand.  Like weapon speed factors or training costs, you can tell whether a campaign is hardcore by whether this spell ever comes into play.  Anyway, write identifies both time and cost for using this spell to copy other spells.  It takes one hour per spell level and you have to pay for the ink.  A vial of ink good for 2-4 spells costs 200-500gp, if you can find it.  Each apothecary and alchemist in a town has only a 10% chance of having the right kind of ink in stock.  In cities the chance is 20% per location.

(If you can't obtain the ink at a store, you can make it yourself.  No direct guidelines are given for this, but the scroll manufacture rules indicate that giant octopus or squid ink is a necessary component for scroll ink so that's a good place to start.  Incidentally, Hacklopedia volume VI lists giant octopus ink at being worth 400gp.  Say what you want about HackMaster's tone, the guys who wrote it have a really strong grasp of lots of little fiddly bits of AD&D.)

Write puts the caster into a trance, which you could argue allows them to transcribe a spell much faster than the normal method.  But I think that if Gary intended the spell to double as a quick-copy for understood spells he would have noted so.  Therefore, I submit that once a spell is read and understood it only takes one hour per level to put it into your book.  The trance is solely for the caster's holy guardian angel/unconscious mind to do the heavy lifting of comprehending the spell sufficiently to avoid transcription errors.

Similarly, I think the special ink for write represents a hard limit on the cost of normal transcription.  Is the same ink needed for both types of copying?  That would probably result in wizards spending more time hunting giant squid than any other activity, which cracks me up but doesn't sound plausible.  No, I think significantly less awesome ink will do.  Unfortunately, I can't find ink is on any official equipment list prior to Oriental Adventures (where it costs 3 tael, i.e. 30sp, for an unknown quantity).  We're left with a best guess at this point.  So here's what I would rule if attempting to run pre-UA AD&D as written:

Cost: 20-50gp for ink, which lasts for 2-4 spells
Time: one hour per spell level

That's a lot faster and cheaper than I expected when I started cracking open books.

Here's a chart that I think about too much

This chart can be found in both OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk and Holmes Basic, along with the modified version (basically cutting all entries for Int scores less than 9) in the 1st edition Players Handbook.  I like the pre-AD&D version because, by lack of the Int requirement, it demonstrates that any idiot can become a magic-user.

I think this table clearly shows a three phase process in the development of Gygax's ideas for MU spells.

Phase 1 - Here's the spell list, kid.

In the beginning Gygax drew up his draft spell list and all MUs had access to all the same spell list.  That seems to be the least tortured reading of OD&D Book I: Men & Magic.  If my guy can cast third level spells, he can choose from any third level spells in the rulebook and/or research his own.

Phase 2 - Too many dang spells!

Several possible pressures led to a revision introducing the above table.    Perhaps some of the players in Gygax's campaign started reaching higher levels and the sheer volume of available spells was upsetting the balance of the game.  Or spell research and sharing increased the number of spells available to PCs.  Or the fact that all MUs cast sleep and fireball was getting boring.  Or some combination of all these factors.  Either way, the result was that now everyone had to roll to see if they understood each of the spells on the official lists, with a minimum and maximum number available to each caster.  Now all but the smartest MUs had a more reasonable number of spells (and like the more infamous 18/% strength, there's suddenly a new reason why high stat scores mattered).

Phase 3 - Spell as commodity

The next phase is seen in the publication of the 1st edition DMG, with its charts for starting spells.  Under this system each MU starts life with Read Magic and a handful (3-5) other spells.  At each level the budding magic-user may add a single spell to their book automatically.  The rest they have to find within the milieu (i.e. via purchase, discovery, reaserch, etc.).  Spells are also commodified in the rules in Moldvay Basic and its successors, where you start out with a single spell and spellbooks only hold as many spells as you can actually cast in a day. 

Suddenly with phase 3, the Minimum column on the chart above makes a lot less sense to me.  What does it mean if my first level magic-user begins play with an Int of 17 but only 4 spells in his spellbook?  The chart says I should know a minimum of seven first level spells.  Where are those other 3 spells?  I suspect that the transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3 happened between the publication of the PHB and DMG.  The Minimum column only applies to Gygax's Phase 2 thinking, which was outdated by the time he penned the starting spell charts.

Note that I think that each of these three phases makes for a perfectly acceptable spell system.  Phase 3 encourages a more Vancian model, where a major activity of successful MUs will be tracking down new spells to add to their book.  Phases 1 and 2 basically imply that in your setting we are all one big happy magical society; everyone who graduates from Hogwart's gets the exact same education and as they advance the Wizard's Guild doles out the standard spells.  Phase 2 rewards the talented and punishes the mediocre, but the Phase 1 model is easy as pie to implement.

In some ways I really like the Phase 2 approach and that's what I've been using in my current campaign.  But there's one big drag: I hate forcing the players to sit down with the spell list and roll percentile dice umpteen times just to get their 1st level MU ready to go.  I want chargen to be super-fast and painless, but the Phase 2 approach is clunky as hell.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Realm of Darthon

Regular Show rules.

another creepy new spell

This one came to me in a dream last night.

Desanguinate Foe

Level: 5
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: 30' cone, 20' wide at far end

While chanting the words of this spell the caster digs their fingers into their own belly, ripping open a wound from which erupt thousands of thin, purple tentacles.  Anyone caught in the area of effect must save versus death.  Failure to save indicates that all bodily fluids have been drained from them, which should prove lethal for many lifeforms.  The wound closes the following round, after the tentacles return into the caster's gut.

If the caster succeeds in draining at least one creature of halfling size or larger they will be visibly bloated for 1d6 turns after casting, during which time they shuffle about at half speed.  If struck by any piercing or edged weapons while bloated, they will spew blood and other fluids like a cheap horror movie.  Casting this spell a second time while still bloated causes the magic-user to explode messily.

Friday, March 18, 2011

so hey, I made this diagram

I made this chart because I'm trying to figure something out.  I have two contradictory impulses when it comes to rules for Magic-Users.

1) I like the simplicity of "Here's your list of spells known, pick 2 from column A and one from column B that you have ready to go."

2) I also enjoy seeing magic-users track down ancient tomes to try to glean new spells from them, wrenching every last iota of power from those faded glyphs and obscure charts.

Anyhoo, step 3 above is the basic mechanic of the Vancian system.  Step 2 often ends up working via fiat in my experience, unless your DM actually uses the "% Chance to Know" chart from 1st edition AD&D/Holmes Basic/Supp 1 Greyhawk.  I like the idea behind the % to Know chart, but the implementation is dry and sparse.  Step 1 and Step 2 have a pretty interesting implementation in Call of Cthulhu that might be worth ripping off.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

totally optional campaign specific name charts

Players are free to name their characters anything they think is appropriate.  These charts are mainly in case they get stuck.

Male Names
1-3 William
4-5 John
6-7 Robert
8-9 Richard
10 Roger
11 Ralf
12 Thomas
13 Henry
14 Geoffrey
15 Walter
16 Hugh/Hugo
17 Gilbert
18 Peter
19 Adam
20 Simon

Female Names
1-3 Matilda
4-5 Alice
6 Joan
7 Agnes
8 Emma
9 Isabella/Isabel
10 Margaret/Margery
11 Rohesia
12 Juliana
13 Cecily/Cecillia
14 Avice
15 Beatrice
16 Amice
17 Sabina
18 Sarra
19 Mabel/Mabillia
20 Albreda

[The probability spread on these are based upon a couple of items I found online looking into naming patterns in English documents in the 13th century.  I'm also working on an extended table, mostly for NPCs.  Most players don't even need a chart like this, but I often strain to come up with good names.  The extended list currently has almost 1200 male names on it.]

Bynames (substitute 'of' for 'de' as desired)
1 de Naimes
2 d'Aigremont
3 d'Evre
4 de Giens
5 de Didol
6 de Yair
7 de Mordpellier
8 de Morven
9 de Valneres
10 de Nointel
11 of Midwich
12 of Lufton
13 of Barset
14 of Hoggle
15 of Framley
16 of Worsted
17 of Greshamsbury
18 of Marling
19 of Puddingdale
20 of Sodor

Rolling a 1-10 on the table indicates you come from the other side of the Channel (i.e. France), from a region on the Norman/Angevin border.  Locations 11-19 are all in England, somewhere vaguely to the north of the campaign area.  Item 20 is an island in the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and the Isle of Man. 

[The explanatory text at the end is a pack of lies.  Items 1-10 are places on a map of Poictesme, the fictional province where James Branch Cabell set some of his fantasy fiction.  Item 11 is from the sci-fi/horror novel The Midwich Cuckoos, which was made into two films, both titled Village of the Damned.  Items 12-19 are based upon locations in the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope and later Angela Thirkell.  Sodor Island is from the kid's show Thomas the Tank Engine.  The point to all this rippery-offery is to provide authentic-esque locations off the map that suggest something useful in terms of color without tying anything down to actual history.]

a couple items re: stuff to buy

Issue #11 of Fight On! is out, with all the usual neat stuff.  I've got a couple of stupid dice tables in this one, including a chart for random computer devices found in an otherwise normal dungeon.  Also:  Holy crap!  Erol Otus has a credit for the magic item section!  Available in print here and PDF here.

You can't buy it yet but the folks at Paizo are coming out with a Pathfinder Basic boxed set.  And unlike certain other crippleware-esque approaches to the concept, this one is designed to go up to fifth level.  I'm not a Pathfinder fan but more decent introductory boxed sets in circulation is definitely a good thing.  More info here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Simple Str Alternative

My current campaign uses Holmes Basic as the starting point for its rules.  This creates an odd situation with weapon damage and strength:

1 - All weapons do d6 damage.
2 - Str does not modify melee damage.
3 - Except an 18 Str gives +2d4 damage in melee (as per the description for Gauntlets of Ogre Power, which grant the +2d4 and also specifies the wearer gains an 18 Str).

Here's the new rule I'm considering for next session.

Str 12 or less - all melee weapons do d6 damage
Str 13-15 - all melee weapons do d8 damage
Str 16-17 - all melee weapons do d10 damage
Str 18 - all melee weapons do d12 damage

I'm planning on revisiting all the stats for my campaign.  Right now I plan on keeping the total number of stats at the canonical six, but I might rename Wisdom and/or Charisma.  I previously touched upon the idea of renaming stats in this post, which got a lot of great comments worth re-reading.  They'll all stay on a 3-18 scale, though I have been kicking around adding percentiles like in HackMaster and 1st edition Cavaliers.  I had the same idea as HackMaster (i.e. all stats get percentiles, slight increases at each new level) back when the original Unearthed Arcana came out, as I'm sure lotsa DMs did.  But I never quite got around to implementing it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This installment of Mr. T'sday was delayed because I spent most of my free time Tuesday putting the finishing touches on/freaking out about an in-class presentation.  The prof then pushed it back a week for no discernible reason and ended class eartly without explanation.  Serves me right for taking a simple oral report so damn seriously.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

two brief items

1) Ladies and gentlemen, photographic evidence that LARPing is more than a century old!

'traditionally inaccurate' is my new favorite phrase

(Discovered in David Horspool's King Alfred: Burnt Cakes and Other Legends, Harvard UP, 2006.)

2) My wife needs a computer game recommendation.  She likes the SimCity-esque qualities of the Facebook game Cityville, but she's not digging on the social aspects of it.  Can anyone suggest something similar with more single-player oriented action that can be played on a Mac?  I haven't played anything along those lines since the original SimCity.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

some cool map details

Over on Wikipedia I found a cool map by Ortelius, one of the greats of cartography, showing the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts.  You can see the whole map in all its glory here.  I found two bits particularly interesting.

I love, love, love inset illos like this on maps.  Game cartographers take note!  I think the colorist dropped the ball on those bulls, as they're probably supposed to have bronze hooves and mouths and that smoke should look more fiery.  Those guy are almost certainly the kick-ass robo-bulls that Hephaestus made for King Aeetes.

That dragon is pretty wild.  Here's a close-up:

Head of a wildcat, wings of a bat, tail of a serpent, body of camel.  That's classic heraldry-based monster design right there!

The other detail I'm digging on is this tiny larger-scale map in the corner:

Lots of great stuff going on here:  If you didn't know better you might conclude that Evro and Pa were neighboring realms.  Conan the Barbarian comes from the land just north of the Immense Forest.  And Great Britain is call Peuceassa.  I don't think I've ever heard that one before.  I think Ortelius was Dutch, so maybe that's where the name comes from?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

new spells for your consideration/consternation

The first one I'll blame on John Milton (Paradise Lost, Book 2, lines 648 ff.) but the second one seems to be all my fault.

Brood of Sin
Level: 3
Duration: 2d6 rounds
Range: Self

This spell causes the abdomen of the caster to distend and contort in agony for one full round, at the end of which the caster gives birth to 2d6 Hellhounds.  These monsters obey the caster's commands for the duration of the spell.  At the end of the spell's duration any surviving Hellhounds will return the way came, gnawing on the innards of the caster for one round, which causes d6-1 damage.

Males casting this spell must save or die.  A successful save indicates 2d6 damage upon giving birth, as well as total destruction of the caster's generative organs.

The summoned Hellhounds will not fight Arch-Devils, Demon Princes, Balrogs or Cthulhoid Entities, returning to the caster's womb early rather than facing such foes.

Face of Terror
Level: 1
Duration: d6 turns
Range: 120'

For the final somatic component of this spell the caster rips their own face off, revealing the grinning, bloody skull beneath.  Up to 3d6 foes of one hit die or less flee in absolute panic with no save or the caster can direct the effect at any single foe of more hit dice, who is allowed a save.

If the caster loses their face somehow (stolen by gremlins, burnt up by a fireball, etc) it will grow back in d6 days.  During this time the caster's Charisma is halved and they cannot recast the spell.

Two casters who both know this spell can use it to swap faces, but only by targeting each other and both successfully saving.

Update: Ed over at Esoteric Murmurs has provided a cool illo for Face of Terror.


March is MODOK Madness Month among sophisticated comic webnerds, resulting in things like a Mr. T version of the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer microreview

Today I played Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer with my sister Jenn.  She whupped me of course.  Anyway, if you dig the deckbuilding-without-collectibility aspect of Dominion, this is the same sort of thing with two key differences:

1) You don't have to thing as hard about what order you do things in when your turn comes up.  You can pretty much but not quite show all your cards and figure out what happens simultaneously.

2) The theme is fantasy heroes beating up weird monsters.

When I was a kid I was a sucker for anything involving monsters, but nowadays one can be picky/choosy and insist on good mechanics too.  Ascension delivers on both a good theme (with cool art) and some interesting mechanics.  One amusing detail is that if there are no monsters on the main field of play then your heroes can always go beat up crazy cultists for minimal points.  Death to all fanatics!

The only thing I don't like about it is that there's no real sense of urgency in fighting the monsters.  Victory is basically a race to win more glory by defeating more badguys.  If there was a provision in the rules whereby the monsters could win the game (and all the players lose) that would add some juice.  You know, like Arkham Horror ot Betrayal on the House on the Hill.  I think Republic of Rome had the same basic idea, with Hannibal standing in for the monsters.  The old GDW card game Red Empire also had a neat "everybody loses" mechanic: the game ends with no winner if you spent too much time skulldugging the other players and ignored governance.

recommended linky

Yesterday Tavis over at the Mule Abides posted a really good piece I urge everyone to read.

Friday, March 04, 2011

three years gone

Previously on March 4th I would re-post a list of thing you can do to keep Gary's name alive.  You can go check it out here if you'd like.  This morning it seems that perhaps yesterday's post was motivated at least as much by maudlin sentimentality as anything else.  However, I'd like to clarify a few points based upon the comments here and elsewhere in the blogosphere:
  • I'm not proposing anybody write, publish, sell or run a game called "Ampersand", "OSR", "The Joyous Game" or anything else.  If you're already happy with the rules you're using, please stick with 'em.  If not, there are already a multitude of options available.
  • Nor am I proposing we start using any of these terms in casual conversation in the game store or anywhere else.  That would just be arch.
  • What I would like is a handy term that means "OD&D, its direct descendants, clones of those games and new games based upon them mechanically or thematically", which I would gladly call simply "D&D" except that the folks who own the term D&D clear think about the term differently than I do.  I woud like such a handy term so that when I'm on the internet everybody will know what the crap I am talking about without having to do a little dance every time and probably annoying fans of WotC editions in the process.
I'm not paying the Joesky tax on this post because on this day of the year you should be making up your damn stuff rather than using anybody else's.  In fact, I'm going to assign homework to everyone reading this instead: Start with a core set of rules, the older and crappier the better.  You can use an RPG but some half-baked wargame works even better.  Produce a two or three page document with suggestions for improving the rules/adapting them for RPG play and an outline for a campaign.  Expand this to a 50-100 page book.  Use the latter document as the basis for all your campaigns for the next decade or three.  Run one to six  games a week, refining your work as necessary.  Publishing any of it is entirely optional.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Gameblog reader FASERIP asked that I expand a little on my thoughts on a post over on Doc Rotwang!'s blog o' righteousness.  He recently wrote a little piece called "D&D is Dead." that I recommend everybody read.  Rotwang's point, if I'm reading him right, is that he's personally reached the point where there's no clear connection between WotC's trademark for whatever it is that they do and whatever it is Doc Rotwang likes to do with that crappy ol' game from 1974 and its direct descendants.  I feel much the same way.  D&D as a brand legally belongs to Wizards but I just don't have interest in a vast swath of what they are up to.  The Essentials boxed set intrigues me just a hair, but that may just be the box art over-riding my good judgement.  The new Gamma World looks like a ton o' fun, and I've seen plenty of good reviews, but the old Gamma World and Mutant Future integrate nicely with the older versions of D&D.

Anyway, here's my comment from Doc R!'s post:
I'm on the same wave lately. I've seriously been considering full on dropping all direct references to D&D, coming up with a name for my own houserules and refering to the general concept of the game as Ampersand or something like that.
This thinking is why I recently swapped out the old TSR art triptych at the top of my blog for a new approach.  I think the new graphic needs improvement, but its good enough for now.  I think the next version will be wider and less tall and maybe only feature the Big Purple d30 and IG-666.  But anyway, the point of the change was that I don't need to be ripping off pics that WotC probably owns in the rights to, especially when I'm publicly doubting that we need those guys anymore.  Let 'em have the Dungeons and the Dragons and all the stuff they are entitled to as the owner of those rights.

Please understand that I'm not calling down a pox on WotC's house, or urging everyone to shun them.  My simple point is that I'm doing this thing over here and they're doing that thing over there.  Joesky the Dungeonbrawler makes much the same point in his own lovable style in this post, though he's both more agressive and much more humorous than I am feeling right now.

But ceding "D&D" leaves a big ol' hole in discourse about the versions of the game I care about.  I want a handy catch-all term for Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry and Jim Raggi's game and Brave Halfling's game and all the myriad other versions, whether published or not, that cleave closer to the original vision of the game.  Because I'm not going to pick one over the other and hold it up as the standard bearer.  That's why I was kicking around the idea of a new term that's shorter than The Game As We Know It In All Its Myriad Incarnations.  "Ampersand" seemed like a non-threatening, non-specific callback.

Thomas Denmark over at Original Edition Fantasy was thinking along similar lines yesterday.  He suggests we all adapt to OSR logo that Chad Thorson of Maximum Rock & Roleplaying developed:

I'm not 100% sure what Chad or Thomas meant for the letters OSR to stand for.  Maybe it was Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance or even Old School Revolution. 

Personally, I think it would be useful if we used OSR to mean Old School Rules.  If you want to tell newbies and strangers that you play D&D, that works well.  But for purposes of hobby discourse like in all these here nerd blogs, I say let the nice folks at Wizards of the Coast have their trademarked terms.  We don't need them if enough of us can agree on a catch-all alternative.  And by continuing to use "D&D" to describe what we do, we're both muddying the waters and offering free advertisement for a game most of us don't play.

There's at least one big objection to this scheme.  In my mind ass I type this piece I can hear  a certain Prussian screaming "Fool! You're locking yourself up in the ghetto!" and "Idiot! You're making your opinions irrelevant!"  We're already irrelevant.  Pulling the PDFs was WotC firing us as customers.  As far as I can tell they've got a different demographic they want to sell to rather than greying weirdoes who remember life before 1999.  That's okay.  They have the right to make whatever they want and call it D&D.  That's why we need an alternative.

I have been rightly chastized for posting such incendiary content without following the joesky rule of including gameable material.  So without further ado, four potions.

Potion El Fantastico - Gain all the powers of Mr. Fantastic style stretching for d6+6 turns.  At its simplest, this allows one to melee people up to 6" away.  But obviously there are a crapload of other uses.

Potion of Satanic Tracks - Even sipping a single drop of this potion causes the imbiber to leave cloven hoofprints of black char wherever they step.  One drop lasts d4 turns.  Downing the whole thing results in 3d4 turns of hoofprints, which smoulder and reek of sulphur.  If the PCs can't figure out a good use for this then they aren't trying hard enough.

Potion of Selfish Healing - Cures a whopping 5d6 hit points of damage, but all other healing potions within 3" are rendered inert.

Potion of Omniscient Metamind Swapping - Forces the player of the imbibing PC and the DM to swap roles for the rest of the night.  I.e. you get up and go sit behind the screen and run the rest of the session, the DM plays your dude.  Good luck.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Inhuman Future

I've been kicking around an idea for my next Mutant Future campaign: humans as an endangered species.  The folks that do all the important stuff in the campaign would be plants, animals and robots.  In some areas of the world humans would be considered mythical while in other places they might be second class citizens or treated as animals like in Planet of the Apes.  Other communities might never have heard of humanity.  The PCs might care about the fate of humanity and the campaign could even be about that, but humans (mutant or otherwise) are not what the milieu itself is about.  The world of 2525 (or whatever) just doesn't give a crap about humanity anymore than the world today cares much about any of a hojillion extinct species.  They're dead and we've moved on.  Later we're dead and they've moved on.

There'd still be morlocks somewhere, of course.
Would this set-up annoy you as a player?  I'd certainly be open to letting folks play PCs who were some sort of the last remnant of humanity, whether that means mutants slumming about radioactive ruins or cryogenically preserved pure strain humans.  But I wonder if this sort of heavy-handedness might make the game ungrokkable to some players, especially the neebie types.

Illo courtesy Dresdan Codak.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

is Billy Idol a fool?

Did Mr. T swipe the Mandarin's rings?

Mr. T wonders.