Saturday, December 26, 2020

quick question

On a scale of one to ten, how big of a jerk is this sorcerer, in your opinion?


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Three Solo Adventures

 So yesterday was my first real day off since the Fall semester began and I decided to spend some of it playing some solo adventures.

The first adventure was "Eye of the Dragon," the solo adventure found in Ian Livingstone's Dicing with Dragons. This book is an introduction to roleplaying and buyer's guide from the 1980's. The solo adventure uses a system I've not encountered elsewhere, but I've never played a lot of solos RPGs. I tried this adventure once in the late 80's and got killed by an orc or something like that.

This time I rolled well on the three 3d6 throws for character generation. Dubbing my new PC Hawkins the Bold, I fought and defeated giant rats, an orc, a goblin, and a vampiress. I won and lost several cool treasures, only to ultimately succumb to poisonous gas.

The Solo Dungeon by Richard A. Bartle dates from 1978. You can bring up to six newly created D&D characters on this adventure. It doesn't specify if it was designed for OD&D, Holmes Basic D&D, or then-new AD&D. I decided to make a half dozen OD&D characters, using just the first three books. Here was my party:

  • Cliffbert the Clumsy (a human fighter with a low Dex)
  • Egelar the Elf (who I ran as a magic-user)
  • Umberto the Unbearable (a cleric with a low Cha)
  • Dimwald the Dim (a cleric with a low Int)
  • Frodric the Foolish (a dwarf with a low Wis)
  • Mortimer the Mediocre (a magic-user whose stats were all 8-12)

Both fighters were slain by wights (yikes!). Umberto was eliminated by a trap. Egelar touched a magic sword of opposite alignment and dropped dead. My biggest victory was when Mortimer charmed a Theurgist, who later slept an ogre. After the adventure Mortimer and Dimwald ditched the Theurgist (who I named Theobald) and then parted ways, as lawful Dimwald couldn't brook neutral Mortimer's cutthroat shenanigans. Still, both came out of the dungeon alive, with a few hundred GP, some nice XP, and a magic-item each. I may take one or both to Dragon's Hall, a D&D solo module from Judge's Guild.

By the way, you can try this adventure for yourself, as the author hosts scans of all the pages online.

My last solo adventure was for Tunnels & Trolls, well known for its solo suitability and large range of solo adventures. I used the 5th edition rules to make a dwarf fghter named Doin the Unlikeable. Armed with a bigass flail and a sturdy shield, Doin set off for legendary Buffalo Castle, the first T&T solo adventure. Thanks to my low charisma, I ended up annoying an orc and we had to fight to the death. Doin went berserk (one of the more interesting T&T rules is that anyone with an Int less than 16 can go berserk in combat) and beat the orc into a fine red paste. This led to enough treasure that I wanted to escape to buy some dang armor before trying any more adventures. But a giant jellyfish blocked the castle exit. Thanks to multiple rounds of berserking earlier, Doin was too weak to effectively wield his flail. So he had to crush the jellyfish with his crowbar, which he could barely lift. That was rad. I never saw anything like that in a D&D game.

Happy Holidays, Peace on Earth, and a Morphistic Quiznox to Our Allies on Rigel 7.

Monday, December 21, 2020

It's the Joe Fighter Cinematic Universe

Remember this guy from the cover of OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk? Well, I guess he survived this encounter with a beholder, as it looks like he later fights a dragon in the pages of the original edition of Advanced Melee for The Fantasy Trip.

I assume he has his dragon-killin' sword out, which he brought special for this fight, and his regular day-to-day killing sword is the extra one at his side.


Monday, December 07, 2020

absolutely no one needs this

Rules for Converting Encounter Critical PCs to Tunnels & Trolls

Key Attributes

  • Strength, Dexterity, and Luck remain the same.
  • Intellect becomes your Intelligence score.
  • Leadership becomes your Charisma
  • You get the choice of either using your Dex score or rolling 3d6 for your Speed, but you must pick before you roll the dice.
  • Either your Adaptation or your Robot Nature score become your Constitution, whichever is higher.
  • Either your ESP or Magic Power score become your Wizardry, whichever is higher.


  • Psi Witches become Rogues, unless they qualify to be a Paragon (f.k.a. Warrior-Wizard), in which case they can be one of those.
  • Doxies, Criminals, Pioneers, and Encountresses can become their choice of either a Rogue or a Specialist.
  • Warlocks become Wizards.
  • Warriors remain Warriors (duh).

Levels Past One

For each level past one, the character gets a bonus number equal to their level which can be spent on any one of the following:
  • Add the bonus number to Strength.
  • Add the bonus number to Constitution.
  • Add half the bonus number to Strength and half to Constitution.
  • Add half the bonus number to any other stat.
When halving for purposes above, any fractional points are lost. Additionally, each level up must be spent individually, e.g. a third level PC must first spend 2 points and then 3 points.


  • Newly converted Wizards get access to all the spells available up to their level, even if they cannot qualify due to low Int or Dex. Exception: If the referee is allowing the Wizard to keep their old Warlock spells, they only get access to the first level list.
  • Newly converted Rogues get one first level spell per every character level they possess.


  • Any item on both the EC and T&T lists may be retained. 
  • If the item in question is a weapon or armor that the PC can no longer use due to new Str or Dex minima, they may take a free downgrade to a lesser but equivalent item.
  • Any items not in both the EC and T&T rules are subject to the Dave Arneson City of the Gods spot rule*: each PC may pick three items to retain. The nature and extent to which they continue to function in the new setting are the sole discretion of the referee.
*Gary Gygax once brought his PC Mordenkainen to visit Arneson's game for an expedition to the legendary City of the Gods. Dave saw the vast number of magic items on Gary's charsheet and was underwhelmed. He immediately ruled that Gary could bring any three of them and a potion of extra healing. A recounting of these events used to be on the intarwebs somewhere but at the moment I can't find the dang thing.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

return of CRPG migration studies

One of the weird thing about playing dungeony dragony computer games from the 80's is the existence of a whole network of games by disparate designers and publishers that allowed you to import characters from other games. My original attempt to map out this phenomenon included 10 different games. But based on the comments to that post and further research, I've added a few more games:

A red arrow indicates a relationship with the whole trilogy, e.g. Ultima III characters can be ported into any Bard's Tale.

The major end states of these progressions are Deathlord (an Oriental Adventures-style adventure), Legend of Faerghail, Dragon Wars, and, inexplicably enough, the sci-fi adventure Centauri Alliance. Adventurers from up to ten different games could end up travelling to the stars! Not all at the same time, though. Not every version of every game (C64, Apple, PC, etc.) supported the same level of character importation. Also, you can't have more than 8 characters in your Centauri Alliance party.

I thought it might be amusing to look at how the different games on my chart above treat characters, in terms of party size, classes, races, and ability score categories. Here's what I found out about this strange interconnected array of games.

Most of these games feature parties of no more than 6 PCs. Ultima IV and Centauri Alliance allow 8, though the latter recommends you leave at least one slot in the party empty for an NPC to join. The Bard's Tale games have a seventh slot that can't be filled with PCs. Two of the games, Ultime III and Dragon Wars, have parties of only 4 characters.

Two of the games above, Cantauri Alliance and Dragon Wars, seem to use skill systems instead of class systems. All the others have between six (Might & Magic I) and an astonishing eighteen classes (Deathlord). All these games feature a Fighter class, but it might be named Warrior, Knight, Senshi, as well as a Wizard/Mage/Magician/Sorcerer/Mahotsukai. With the exception of Ultima IV, there's a Thief/Rogue/Robber/Yakuza available as well. Although most games have Cleric/Priest/Healer/Shisai class, the Bard's Tale uses the Conjuror, which always struck me more as a magic-user class with cleric-type spells. I was suprised to find equivalents to Ultima IV's working stiff classes, the Tinker and Shepherd: the Blacksmith of Legend of Faerghail and the Kosaku (peasant) of Deathlord.

Ultima IV and Dragon Wars have humans as the only race available to PCs. Centauri Alliance has five sci-fi alien races. But most of the games have elves, dwarfs, halfings/hobbits (bobbits in Ultima III), and gnomes. Half-orcs and half-elves are common, but not ubiquitous. (Legend of Faerghail smooshes the latter two races into the single dubious  category Mixed.) Deathlord has all of these but half-orcs, renaming all of them except the Gnomes for some reason, and adding Trolls and Ogres into the mix as well. The Phantasie series allows you to choose among an array of normal PC races or to assign a random monster race to the character you just rolled. You might get a gronk like an Ogre, Troll, or Minotaur. Or you might get a pixie or a kobold or something in between. And then there's the Fuzzies. If Ultima III hadn't come out before Gremlins was released to movie theatres, I would have assumed they were based on Gizmo the Mogwai, because they look like furry little pals:

Every game in this array has a Strength stat, though Might & Magic calls it Might. (Sadly, M&M does not have a corresponding Magic stat.) All of them has an Intelligence/IQ/Intellect score. Nearly all have a Dexterity or Agility stat, but Might & Magic splits that score into Speed and Accuracy. Wisdom/Piety/Spirit is less common, with Charisma and Constitution type scores even rarer. Meanwhile Luck is a stat in Bard's Tale, Might & Magic, and Wizardy. Dragon Wars and Deathlord both have a Power stat. And someone behind Deathlord must have been familiar with Runequest, as it has a Size stat as well. 

So what the point of all of this? Heck if I know. I just like contemplating how, if you played your cards right, a character you made in 1981 for Wizardry could end up spending 1985 and 1986 in the worlds of Bard's Tale I and II. Maybe along the way they team up with your four PCs from Ultima III. Will they all go on to Faerghail? Will some of them go fight the Dragon Wars? Just thinking about those possibilities gives me good time feelings.

But I do think there's a seed of an idea here that could be used in tabletop RPG gaming. Each rectangle on my chart above represents a constellation of places and events. You could build a lifepath system for experienced PCs using a flowchart made in a similar fashion. Each stop on the flowchart would then come with some sort of die chart that would tell you what happened to the PC.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Is marching order grognardy nonsense?

Wizard's Crown was a pretty decent computer RPG of the early eighties. The tactical combat system was robust for its day, using a top-down map with placement and movement mattering in fairly sophisticated ways.  If you played any of the popular "gold box" D&D computer games, you played an upgrade of the Wizard's Crown system with larger and more colorful sprites. 

I didn't get anywhere near finishing Wizard's Crown. As I recall, something about the skill system was too grindy for my taste and it took a long time into the game before any cool monsters showed up. The "vorpal bunny" of Monty Python fame is the one decent monster I can remember right now.

One feature I remember distinctly about the game is the marching system. On the strategic map, the party is represented by a single anthropomorphic icon, as was common in the day. But when moving on a smaller scale map, the whole party is displayed. Like the image below. The party is entering a tavern from the left side of the screen. The box around the one character indicates he has been selected by the player. Any keypress for movement will move that character. The rest of the party follows, but not in an entirely predictable way.

You can see this play out in the video below (from which I grabbed the image above), which I've queued up to the bar scene. One slightly confusing factor to know ahead of time: two door guards come into view only as the first party member enters the tavern.

I very much like how marching plays out. Generally, the party follows the leader in something resembling the marching order desired, but sometimes people wander a bit out of position. For example, a combat can start at an inopportune time when your wizard, normally well-covered by fighters, is a square or two out of position and thus vulnerable to enemy crossbow fire.

Which brings me to the question in the title of this post. With its wargaming background, where pieces move across the board in orderly ways like chess pieces, D&D tends to assume that marching order is a fixed thing. Heck, that is one of the main uses for minis mentioned in early rules sets: using the PCs' figures to set the marching order. But are D&D parties more like marching Prussians or undisciplined skirmishers? 

This depends on the level of discipline that you believe your party can achieve. Unless there's some reason to believe they are  well-drilled professional dungeoneers, I think it is more likely that the party generally resembles the marching order at any given point rather than exactly replicates it. Maybe at the moment an encounter occurs the halfling is examing a small mushroom and is out of position. Maybe the cleric stopped to scratch his butt and is a couple of steps away from where he should be. This makes sense to me given my usual assumption that the typical assemblage of murderhobo types lack a certain level of operational sophistication.

The trick, of course, is how to implement this insight into a tabletop game. Given how much time is spent in my games trudging through smelly tunnels, any new mechanic would have to not be a drag to do four or five times in a session. Would something like this work?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Wisdom from the Past: Tony Bath


So I recently read Tony Bath's 1973 book Setting Up a Wargames Campaign. This guy isn't discussed a ton in old school gaming scenes (though I'm sure if I looked I'd find that Grognardia and/or Playing at the World have already written about him and I just missed it), but he is one of the granddads of miniatures wargaming. His Hyborian age campaign was one of the first, if not the first, attempt to build an imaginary milieu specifically for longform gaming. Today I wanted to share my three favorite bits from Tony's excellent book. The first is a statement fairly early on about the mental attitude with which one should approach the hobby:
It is however true of campaigning, as of so many other things, that the amount of enjoyment to be obtained from it is pro rata to the amount of effort that is put into it This will vary from person to person and group to group according to how much time and interest people have to spare, but the main ingredient necessary is enthusiasm for the project and a sense of responsibility toward the other players.
I really like that last bit. He goes back to that theme once or twice in the book when he describes how rules disputes and weird edge cases were solved in his wargaming circles by simply having adult conversations until a consensus was reached. What a crazy concept! He also mentions in passing his primary means of discouraging cheating: stop playing with cheaters. Keep in mind that Bath operated during a time when the wargaming scene was so small he very probably knew every active wargamer in England. The price of excluding a player was quite high in terms of shrinking the player pool, but Tony was quite willing to pay that price if the player in question was socially obnoxious.

The other two things I wanted to share are game mechanicy. The first is his card-based system for fleshing out character traits for rulers, generals, etc., in his Hyborian campaign.
So, for each person's character you deal out seven cards. The first card dealt will decide upon his or her's most outstanding characteristic: a Heart will indicate Good Nature, a Diamond Love of Wealth, a Spade Ambition, and a Club Lave of War in a man, Patriotism in a woman. The value of the card will determine the depth of this passion, a high card being very strong, a low card relatively weak. The rest of the cards are used individually, and each hasa value of its own, as given below: 
  • Ace: Spade or Club, a disloyal intriguer. Diamond, loyal intriguer. Heart, exceptional good nature. 
  • King: Spade or Club, Energy: Heart or Diamond, Courage · 
  • Queen: Great lover 
  • Knave: Spade/Club, Unreliability, oath-breaker, liar. Heart/Diamond, Merciless, revenge-prone. 
  • Ten: Loyalty, absolute in Diamonds, grading down through Hearts, Clubs, Spades.
  • Nine: Physical beauty, except for Spade, which is Ugliness.
  • Eight: Spade/Club, Cruelty Heart/Diamond, Generosity.
  • Seven: Spade/Club, Personality Heart/Diamond, Jealous of Family Honour
  • Six: Spade/Club, Lazyness Heart/Diamond, Charm
  • Five: Spade/Club, Wisdom Heart/Diamond, Cunning
  • Four: Spade/Club, Stupidity Heart/Diamond, Cowardice
  • Three: Spade Club, Bad Temper Heart/Diamond, Good Temper
  • Two: Spade/Club, Arrogance, Pride. Heart/Diamond, Merciful.

Bath also notes than an upside down Ace indicates some sort of physical abnormality or defect, such as a hunchback. I immediately thought of Peter Dinklage's character on Game of Thrones and Emperor Claudius' stutter in I, Claudius. Anyway, here's how Tony puts these card draws all together:

So, you deal out your seven cards and proceed to evaluate the character. In most cases. this will be straightforward enough, but on some occasions conflicting cards will show up. lf, for instance, you tum up a Nine of Hearts and a Nine of Spades, then physical beauty obvlously cancels out physical ugliness and you discard both cards. An example of a character reading might be a deal of Knave, King, Ten and Nine of Hearts, Nine of Spades, Nine and Two of clubs. This would give you, assuming a male, a very good natured fellow, brave, handsome, very loyal, but a touch arrogant. Of your three nines, two are beauty and one ugliness, so the three finish up as one beauty card.

The final thing I wanted to share was Tony's ingenious method for hidden movement on the campaign map when only two people can play in a campaign:

Where only two people are engaged in a campaign they will have to make do without the services of an umpire, and problems therefore increase. Obviously they cannot both just move pins or counters around a single map; even though the opposing player may not be sure exactly what the pins or counters represent, it will still give him far more information than he is entitled to. Some method of concealment must therefore be devised, and one of the best is the matchbox method. For this, you need a matchbox for every reference point - either hexagon or hexagon face - on your map. It may take you a while to collect this number of matchboxes, but if you appeal to friends, neighbours etc. to collect for you things will go quicker. You then glue these matchboxes together in a square or oblong as shown on the diagram, and number both sides of each box with the map reference it represents. 

Your two players then sit at a table with the matchbox collection placed between them. Each has his own map in front of him, but far enough away to be illegible to his opponent. Each has made his opening dispositions on his own map and provided himself wlth a numbered counter to represent every separate force he is using. Moving alternately, the players now place their counters in the matchboxes and, as the troops move, move them from box to box. In the course of this, if they traverse several hexagons, the player is of course entitled to look in the requisite matchboxes representing the spaces he has moved through. It will probably be best for the player not moving to tum his back while the other does so, otherwise by looking at the reverse of the matchboxes he could possibly gain some unfair indication of where his opponent is moving. [Following this Tony briefly discusses not playing with cheaters.] 

Up till the time that a player finds one of his opponent's counters in a matchbox that he is entering or passing through, no disclosure is of course made of strengths, dispositions etc. When two counters reach the same box, however, some information has to be given... A commander who discovered that he was faced by greatly superior numbers was able ta refuse battle and withdraw; unless, of course, his opponent had managed to cut off his retreat by some method, either by placing a second force across it or by interposing some obstacle. This led to quite a bit of jockeying for position, and encouraged both sides to push out small forces in advance · to feel out the enemy and try to gain a picture of his overall dispositions.

This matchbox map approach is an absolute delight. In addition to the hidden movement element, it would also allow a campaign map full of counters to be easily stored on a shelf in between play sessions.

I love it when I read old gaming texts and find great ideas ready for revival. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

First Casualties in the Disputed Zone

So last weekend my daughter and I spent a few hours painting some crude spaceship miniatures I made out cereal and cracker boxes. It was a fun little craft time with my number one pal.

Today we playtested the first full draft of Disputed Zone, a set of spaceship rules I've been working on. If you're familiar with Full Thrust, Starmada, Star Fleet Battles and Star Frontiers Knight Hawks, there's not much new to these rules. But the specific pastiche is what I like in spaceship games, which is large number of figures zooming around until they explode spectacularly.

But today we only playtested a one-on-one duel. The Brandibuck, a Twilight class light cruiser from the Quazonian Harmony (the purple vessel) encountered the Daggergaze, a Durgozian destroyer of the Swift Vengeance class (a brown vessel barely visible thanks to the rusty-red carpet square). Neither vessel was able to bring its primary weapon to bear, but a lucky shot from the Daggergaze's secondary lasers penetrated the Brandibuck's shields and blew it to smithereens. We only got through one full turn and probably would have done another, but the oven timer went off. The pizza was done. Elizabeth swore that the Brandibuck would be avenged some day.

She took the photos, by the way.


Wednesday, November 04, 2020

the mightiest of torches

Here's an old illo from Dennis Loubet, one of the greats of game illustration in my opinion. You may recognize his style from the Ultima series of games. He also did work for Metagaming and was the illustrator for Steve Jackson's Cardboard Heroes, the first paper minis I ever encountered.

Anyhoo, I wanted to share this particular pic because it shows some members of this dungeon party carrying two-handed torches. You can find historical depictions of these bigass, long-burning torches in late medieval and early modern art, but I think this is the first instance I've found of them making their way into a D&D-type illo. Here's one of my favorite historical depictions:

How might these bad boys be statted up for our games? To be worth devoting both hands (and thus making it one party member's whole deal for the expedition - another good reason to have some NPC lackeys in the crew) the gain in burn time should be substantial, possibly also with a small gain in the amount of light it throws. Maybe 5 times the burn time, with +10' to the radius illuminated? For that, it should cost more than 5 times the price of a standard torch, maybe ten times. The thing to watch out for when pricing for your campaign would be to find a sweet spot between the low cost of a regular torch and the longer burn and better control of a lantern and oil.

PS: Also, note that several people in Loubet's illo are carrying torches. A dungeon crew with just one light source is begging the DM to find a way to extinguish it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

new LotFP video spot

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Greater and Lesser Blorrp

The Krimaxian fleet just priot to the Battle of Aremis IV.

The traditions of the Krimaxians lack the medals, ribbands, commendations, and other post-battle honors employed by other space navies to encourage gallantry in combat. Terran social scientists ascribe this omission to the high value placed by Krimaxian culture on attending to one’s duty, especially under duress. The closest Krimaxian equivalent to typical space navy honors are the Greater and Lesser Blorrp. Taking the form of abstract statuettes rather than worn objects, an old Terran joke refers to the Blorrps as the Oscars for Best Captain and Best Supporting Captain. Immediately after (or as soon as practical) any encounter with an enemy force in which fire is exchanged (i.e. both sides must shoot, Blorrps are not awarded for border incidents involving a trigger-happy gunner losing their cool), the surviving Captains consult with one another to confer the Blorrps. 

Outside observers are often astonished to learn that there is no prerequisite that the Krimaxian forces win the battle. It is a tenet of the insouciant Krimaxian warrior code that no battle is won or lost except in historical perspective.

Rules for Voting

  • Ballots are secret and no discussion is allowed.

  • Each Captain submits one ballot.

  • The ballot records a vote for Greater Blorrp and a separate vote for Lesser Blorrp.

  • You may not vote for the same Captain for both Blorrps.

  • You are allowed to vote for yourself for Greater Blorrp and there is no cultural stigma attached to doing so.

  • You are not allowed to vote for yourself for Lesser Blorrp. In Krimaxian culture that is considered an act of false humility.

  • Any Captain who is dead, captured, or otherwise unavailable for the vote is assumed to vote for themselves for Lesser Blorrp (this supersedes the above rules).

  • Whoever gets the most votes wins the Blorrp..

    • In the event of a tie for Greater Blorrp, the winner of the Lesser Blorrp voting actually receives the Greater Blorrp and then awards the Lesser Blorrp to their choice among the tied parties
    • If the Greater Blorrp is awarded but there is a tie on Lesser Blorrp voting, no Lesser Blorrp is awarded.
    • If both Blorrp ballots tie, the Captain with seniority awards each to separate recipients. It is typical for the senior Captain to give himself the Greater Blorrp. Again, it would be considered an act of false humility to give oneself the Lesser Blorrp.

Traditionally, a Captain receiving their first Blorrp sponsors an elaborate feast for their crew at the next opportunity. If the Captain is dead or missing but the crew survives, the other Captains who took part in the ballot split the costs. If the whole ship was lost the money normally spent on the feast is forwarded to the kinship groups from which the crew were drawn.

The Blorrps themselves are handmade by Krimaxian artisans on the homeworld, so no two are identical. Most known examples are made of a rough pinkish-purplish stone or a polymer designed to resemble such stone, but some are carved from a darkish wood. They typically stand somewhere between six and twelve inches tall. Greater Blorrps tend to resemble the Greek letter Phi with the inner bar missing, while Lesser Blorrps resemble triangles or chevrons pointing down. Both varieties of Blorrp features an opening through the center and either a wide, flat integral base or a tripod structure at the bottom.

Sketches of four Blorrps observed by Lt. Commander
Vance Dillhonker during his captivity on a Krimaxian vessel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Farsiders unite against Xorkaelian tyranny!

So this is the map of the setting used in most Traveller products. Each white rectangle on that map is 24 parsecs wide by 32 parsecs tall (78.2775 light years by 104.37 light years, if you'd prefer). Those white rectangles are called sectors in the terminology of the game and each sector typically contains 3 or 4 hundred worlds you can visit, all of which have been sketched out using one of the greatest game mechanics in RPG history, the Universal World Profile. There's enough material on that level to riff a whole campaign out of a sector's worth of UWPs. The Imperial Fringe does just that. The PCs are hired to survey the Spinward Marches sector.)

Even with all those worlds and all that space, in the greater scheme of things that map doesn't really cover much of the galaxy. Check this out:

That little red blob labeled Charted Space? That's the map above shown in scale to the Milky Way. Thanks to Joshua Bell and his great resource for that view.

At 256 parsecs tall by 384 parsecs wide, the Charted Space map fits neatly into one hex on this map:

This is the board for Federation & Empire, the strategic board game for Star Fleet Battles. The round blue area is Federation space. The grey area down and to the left is Klingon territory and the grey to the right is the Romulan Star Empire. The little dark bit between the three at the bottom of the map is where the Tholians weave their webs.

Each hex on that map is 500 parsecs across. This is really convenient in that the galaxy is maybe that thick along the spiral arms, allowing a 2-d map to accurately describe a volume of 3-d space. However, I've always been slightly annoyed by this scale. Here's why.
This chart proves that I'm
right and the F&E designers
are wrong. Honest.

Star Fleet Battles
is a fork of the Star Trek universe, incorporating the Original Series, the Animated Series, and the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph. The latter is one of the truly great examples of fandom lore. One of the things that Franz Joseph does is define what the heck a Warp Factor is. Turns out that if you cube the number of the Warp Factor, that gives you the speed in terms of units of C, e.g. Warp Factor 6 (the safe cruising speed of the original USS Enterprise) is 6 x 6 x 6 C, or 216 times the speed of light. That means, according to this source at least and my own limited arithmetical skill, it would take Captain Kirk's Funtime Pals over seven years to cross a single Federation & Empire hex. Seeing as how each turn is six months, my guess is that the F&E designers ignore Franz Joseph on this point.

Since Federation & Empire first came out in the 1980's, the lovely folks at Amarillo Design Bureau (who make SFB and F&E) have expanded their universe even more. There's now an adjacent area of space, the ominously titled Omega Sector, with 20+ new polities and hundreds of more spaceships you can blow up. They've also mapped out at least one Magellanic Cloud. But my favorite expansion to Amarillo Design Bureau's expansion of the Star Trek universe is this one:

Companion Games came out of the blue in 1993 or so with it's own chunk of the SFB universe, located on the opposite side of the galaxy. They called it the Far Side and had their own races and spaceships, completely compatible with Star Fleet Battles. As a non-canonical supplement to a non-canonical and super duper complicated* Star Trek game, the Companion Games material didn't exactly set the world on fire. But I'm a sucker for weird little corners of fandom like this. In full SFB tradition, each spot on that map has its own unique navy with its own special weapons. How different ships with different weird subsystems that only one species possess interact is half the fun of Star Fleet Battles.

Anyway, I recently learned that the Amarillo have started mapping out the whole dang galaxy, so I used my limited photoshoppery skills to add the Far Side to the official map:

The blue circle near the bottom is the Federation. What is labeled "Alpha Octant" is basically the Federation & Empire map projected onto a polar coordinate system. It looks like the Far Side overlaps several Xorkaelian Slave Sectors. I don't know who these Xorkaelian's are, but they obviously aren't nice people. Now I am imaging a war of conquest as the Far Siders, used to fighting among themselves for ages, must unite or be crushed by the Xorkaelian menace. I wouldn't use SFB to find out what happens next. My opinion of SFB is pretty much the opposite of Companion Games: I love the spaceships, but can't deal with the game mechanics. There are a dozen or more ship-to-ship games that are faster and more explodey than SFB. Starmada is one of my favorites, though I haven't played the last couple of editions.  
*Seriously, you may think modern D&D is complicated, but full-blown all-the-bells-and-whistles SFB blows it out of the ding dang water. The only comparable non-computerized game I know is Advanced Squad Leader.

Monday, October 26, 2020

I've been looking for this for a long time.

Click to embiggen.

That's the rules for the Waverider (i.e. surfer) class from Teddy C. Ryan III's Exotic Characters & Worlds (1983). Other classes represented include the Ninja, Ryan's version of the Techno from Arduin, and a Time Traveller class. Speaking of Arduin, page 32 of Exotic Characters & Worlds includes a crit chart derived from the glorious Arduin chart, but with a few tweaks, such as a "BODY/split in twain" result. In true Arduin style, this both kills you instantly and does 20-50 hit points of damage. Sadly, my two favorite results, buttocks torn off, and tripping over your own spilt entrails, have been removed from this version.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

stupid d6 tricks

 Some OD&D house rules make use of "roll 2d6, take the lower result" and "roll 2d6, take the higher result." Obviously that would skew the chances of each possible result away from the flat 16.66% chance of each number coming up with a typical roll. But I wanted to see how much that skew would be, so I did the math real quickfast.

Here's the same idea, but using 3d6 and only keeping the result of one die.

But the real interest possibility with throwing three dice is the possibility of keeping the middle result. If you define the middle result to include any roll of doubles (e.g. 3,5,5, is a 5 result) then that spread looks like this:

There's probably a lot of uses for a die mechanic like that. After all, it's not too different from the bell curves we get from throws where we add up multiple dice. I think I once suggested roll 3d6, keep the middle as a way of generating low-but-not-necessarily-first level PCs for a campaign that doesn't want to spend a lot of time on the rat-killing, copper-piece-grubbing world of 0xp. Of course, you could just say everyone starts at 3rd level, or everyone begins with 8,000xp or something like that. But why not roll dice if you can?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Spell Research as Freeform Magic System

One of the reasons I like to go back and re-read the old rulebooks is that I inevitably find something that I didn't notice on previous readings. Or that I forgot over the years,

Want to bend the universe in a way not covered by the rules? That's what spell research is for.

Quote from page X52 of the 1981 D&D Expert rulebook.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Down and Out in Adrianople

(I originally posted the following to the LotFP Facebook group, but I thought I'd save a copy here.)

A Thimble of Online Research, Inc. proudly presents: 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1500* 
Constantinople 550,000 
Paris 225,000 
Naples 200,000 
Antwerp 150,000 
Ghent 150,000 
Venice 135,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 125,000 
Thessaloniki 125,000 
Brussels 100,000 
London 100,000 
Milan 100,000 
Moscow 100,000 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1600* 
Constantinople 700,000 
Naples 350,000 
Paris 325,000 
London 300,000 
Venice 200,000 
Moscow 200,000 
Seville 200,000 
Milan 180,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 170,000 
Lisbon 130,000 
Brussels 100,000 
Prague 100,000 
Rome 100,000 
Amsterdam 100,000 
Messina 100,000 
Palermo 100,000 

(Population figures obviously include a lot of guesswork and estimation.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Fun times in the Ethel System

So I've been having some Traveller thoughts again. Good ol' Trav comes with a clearly defined method of insterstellar transport, the jump drive, and some pretty good parameters for whether or not you'd like to live on any given planet, the Universal World Profile.

Imperial Starfire dares ask the question,
"What if Dejah Thoris was
a birdwoman from Ophiuchi?
But what if these things, method of FTL travel and suitability of worlds for habitation, weren't fixed? There are examples of games where they are variables that impact play. If I recall correctly, Imperial Starfire (Task Force Games, 1993) assigns each player's starfaring race a number to represent their species' biology and you spend a good portion of a campaign look for worlds with a similar designation. My Class M world may not be the same as your Class M world, so to speak. So players may compete fiercely for some worlds but sometimes you may not care if a planet near your empire is poached. You were never going to colonize that methane-soaked dump anyway.

Imperial Starfire was the campagn system for Starfire, the spaceship combat game made by Task Force that wasn't Star Fleet Battles. I played both Star Fleet Battles and Starfire a bit back in the day. For my taste SFB was too cumbersome and Starfire too light. Call me the Goldilocks of spaceships blasting each other to pieces, I guess.

Web and Starship (West End Games, 1984) deals with a scenario where two alien empires vie for control of interstellar space around the Sol system. One player has an FTL drive that allows them to move across the board much as you do any other boardgame, zooming from one space to the next. The other player has a teleportation drive that allows them to bamf across the board, but only to spaces reached by their transit web. I've never played this one, but I assume much of the interest of the game hangs on the asymmetric nature of the movement rules. Web and Starship, by the way, was designed by Greg Costikyan, who deserves more credit for all the amazing game design work he has done. One of his many, many other designs is Bug-Eyed Monsters. To the best of my knowledge it is the only wargame where one of the scenarios involves aliens kidnapping Dwight D. Eisenhower. It also the only wargame I know that needs a bunch of counters that say this:
Nowadays no one should probably make a game where the monsters from outer space kidnap Earth women to take them back to their home planet. Back then, it seemed like a harmless homage to 1950's sci-fi movies where the monster would carry off the leading lady for reasons that never made much sense.

Anyhoo, the thing I've been thinking about is this: what if a Traveller universe had more than one method of FTL transport? We'll call the canonical jump drive method A and posit 5 other methods, B, C, D, and E. Maybe these are all jump drives but they are calibrated to a diver dimension of hyperspace, so that each of A-F can only go to worlds that intersect their respective dimension. Or maybe the six methods use different physics entirely, like Web and Starship mentioned above. Either way, out of any selected patch of the galaxy, some worlds can be reached by each FTL method and others cannot.

Add to this the complication that different starfaring societies crave different things. Call the default human set of priorities class 1 and assume the existence of class 2-6. Maybe the bigger the number the more members of that society differ from humans biologically or culturally. Class 2 entities could be silicon based lifeforms, class 4 could be machine intelligences, etc.

A humble beginning for a
galaxy-spanning empire.
Now you can have up to 36 different kinds of starspanning empires, each with a two digit alphanumeric code. Like this:

Remloth Combine, E3
7th Interregnum, F5
Nation of Joe F1
Ooblaxo Entities D5
The Metalliance, A6
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, C3

I rolled a couple of d6 to get the stats for each faction, then gave them a stupid name. The Remlothi and Thorvacians want the same kind of worlds, but use totally different methods to get there. Meanwhile, the same drive technology is used by both the Nation of Joe and the 7th Interregnum (whatever that is), but they are interested in wildly different planets.

Now, each solar system on your map needs to be assigned a code of one ot more numbers and one or more letters, to indicate which kinds of technology can reach the system and what kinds of desirable planets it possesses. You can then look at your map and easily figure out who wants to go where and if/how they can get there. Here's an example:

Each system is a box with a code in it. So the Eoh System, near the middle of the map, has code CE345. That means there's at least one world desirable to the Remlothi and one world enticing to the Metalliance. Fortunately for both of them, their drive technologies can get them there, so I drew more boxes around the system to mark settlement here (I'm assuming for this subsector that every system that can be settled has been settled). Here are the color codes:

Remloth Combine, brown
7th Interregnum, green
Nation of Joe, red
Ooblaxo Entities, blue
The Metalliance, black
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, yellow

I seeded numbers and letters randomly around the map. I also decided that F-type drives use naturally occuring wormholes and some were present in the subsector with no stars or worlds near them. Thus, although most factions have routes leading offmap to right edge, the Interregnum and Joe have settlement patterns emerging from the 'naked' wormholes Futhorc 01 through 03.

Here's what I learned about the Futhorc Subsector once I mapped out who settled where:

The Thorvacian Qualiocracy has settlements in four systems, Thorn, Eoh, Eolhx, and Ethel. Using Thorvacian technology, Thorn can not be reached from the other three without leaving the subsector and taking a circutous route through off-map Thorvacian systems. Although they don't like the world of the Beorc system, it is an important transit point between Eoh-Ethel and Eolhx-Ethel.

The Remloth Combine has colonies in the same four systems, but since they differ biologically, they probably inhabit different planets. They also have a colony on Rad.The Combine uses a different drive technology than the Qualiocracy, so you can travel from Thorn to Ethel (via multiple routes) on a Thorvacian vessel.

The 7th Interregnum uses the wormhole technology I mentioned. They have 3 settlements, two that reach the rest of the Interregnum via wormhole Futhorc 01 and one via Futhorc 02. I also drew a line from Futhorc 03 to Ing. I had this idea in my head that maybe the Interregnum wants to terraform the class 4 world at Ing to class 5, since no one else is paying attention to that world.

Similarly, I drew lines from Futhorc 02 and Futhorc 03 to indicate travel routes for the Nation of Joe. There are no worlds on Nyd or Ethel that are suitable for habitation, but I had it in my head that maybe the Nation uses the class 2 worlds there as penal colonies or for some other nefarious purpose.

The Ooblaxo Entities hold Peorth, Beorc (the corssroads of the subsector), Lagu, and Daeg. Clearly, keeping the Ooblaxo friendly is important to strategic subsector relations for both the Remlothi and Thorvacians.

The Metalliance have two systems settled, Ior and Ethel.

Speaking of Ethel, three factions have full settlements there, the Metalliance, the Thorvac Qualiocracy, and the Remloth Combine. Plus whatever sneakery the Nation of Joe is up to. Sounds like a place for some adventures!

One of the neat things about this experiment is that I didn't end up with a bunch of blobby nation-states like a typical Traveller map, but rather with a messy set of intersecting networks. I kinda like that.

Old Gameblog posts of meager relevance: two sci-fi fragments, fun with jumpspace

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

much ado about LotFP

As I type this there are about seven copies of my new short work, The Octo-Planetary Blade of Somnambulistic Beneficence, available through the Lamentations of the Flame Princess European storefront. However, you can't buy this crazy pamphlet anywhere. It's a bonus item you receive if and only if you order all four of the other new releases that came out on Monday: Adventure Anthology: Blood, Big Puppet, Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti, and Deck of Weird Things. Personally, I'm super intrigued by the premise of the adventure Big Puppet. And Fermentum yada yada seems to be using a premise I nearly pitched to Mr. Raggi several years ago, so I'm glad someone finally got around to it. And the Deck of Weird Things is exactly what you think it is: a Deck of Many Things analog for LotFP style weird fantasy play.

More details of this big sales event can be found here. Shipping from the dark lair of LotFP in the frozen realm of Finland is usually costly, but if you order the Deck of Weird Thing and use the promo code WEIRD (in all caps) shipping on your entire order is free. Admittedly, the Deck itself is the priciest of the new releases, but there's a lot of good stuff you could also get free shipping on. (Including one of the last copies of Broodmother Skyfortress in stock, for example. Or another copy of the excellent LotFP Rules & Magic book.)

By the way, I called my little book a 'crazy pamphlet' because the production on this item is super wild. Each individual leaf was printed front and back with a reflective silver ink, then the text and illos were printed on top of that. As far as I know, no other roleplaying book has ever been done that way. That's why it looks so weird in the photo.

Anyhoo, buy some Lamentations stuff. It's the only game company that I try to get every release from. The stuff is that good.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

per request

In a comment to a previous post, Scott Anderson asked for a new batch of Vyzor-style henchmen.

Here you go. I hope they serve you well!

I'm pretty sure I swiped this pic from Swords & Dorkery.

Friday, January 24, 2020

the opposite of walls

I haven't used dungeon tiles in years, but I sometimes like to relax by watching people make their own tiles. I'm talking about folks like DM Scotty, Wyloch, Black Magic Craft, The Tabletop Engineer, Professor Dungeon Master*, and DungeonMasterG. There's just something soothing about watching someone turn a bit of corrugated cardboard or some foamcore into a little piece of dungeon architecture. I especially like the painting, where often simple mixes of blacks and whites and greys become a sophisticated dungeony look.

But something has bugged me about dungeon tiles for a long time. They tend to encourage two-dimensional thinking. Sure, we have 3-D figures, and maybe furniture, too. But they all exist in what tends to be a flat plane. And I think the presence of walls on tiles, although aesthetically pleasing, doesn't do much to help in getting the DM and the players to think in three dimensions. Crooked Staff Terrain recently has done some work to alleviate this problem, but today I want to talk about the problem with walls specifically.

I'm going to start with a very simple argument: walls are so ubiquitous in dungeons that, in most circumstances, you don't need them on the playing board. For example, I tell you that the corridor you're going down ends in a T-intersection. I then put down this tile:

 You have a pretty clear idea of where the walls are and where they aren't, don't you? If there is ambiguity, like say the western leg of the T turn's north, then an additional 10'x10' tile should do the trick:

(I've gone to 3 squares for a 10' wide tile because I think that better fits. 2 square wide corridors always seemed super-cramped to me. And Gygax recommends 3 and a third foot squares on page 10 of the first edition DMG. As I recall, Empire of the Petal Throne allows 3 adventurers breast in 10' corridors as well. There's more variability there, though. In EPT you can fit 4 abreast if no one is wearing metal armor, while 2-handed weapon users can only fit 2 abreast. Except for 2-handed sword wielders, who need the entirety of the 10' corridor to operate properly.)

Below is a normal corridor. What if I want to represent that one side of it has no wall, but rather looks down on something below? Since dungeon delves involve piercing deeper and deeper underground, I think that would be a more common scenario than the stacking up that Crooked Staff does in the video I linked above.

Here's one idea how to represent that:

The black part represents the yawning void where the east wall should be. There's got to be other ways of depicting this sort of thing, so that adventurers can better interact with the 3-D dungeon environment. How do I show, for example, that there's more dungeon down there?

(BTW, these tile images were made with the Flagstones font. S. John Ross made it many years ago. It's a pretty great way to crank out a lot of paper tiles quickly. I don't see it currently listed at his store on drivethru, but he has lots of other cool stuff there for sale.)

*Special recognition for Professor Dungeon Master who, in addition to great crafting videos, has some really sound DM advice videos.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

look at these handsome lads

Sculpted by Whiff Waff
Painted by Mark Dixon
The fine fellows are GOB10 Orcs with Clubs from CP Models. I don't know CP Models from the dogcatcher, but I love the vibe I'm getting off their humanoids. Their orc captain looks like a sophisticated gentleorc, while the orcs with spears look like they're grumpy that they had to get up early on a Saturday for monthly reserve practice.

I especially like the guys in the pic above because Basic D&D orcs are noted as favoring "swords, spears, axes and clubs" (page B40), but I'm not sure I've seen an all-club unit of orc figures before.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

on tallking to monsters in BX

Very few canonical BX D&D monsters will automatically attack the PCs. Ghouls attack anything living. Zombies attack on sight. Goblins and NPC dwarves attack each without hesitation. Kobolds always attack gnomes. Tyrannosaurs will try to eat any creature man-sized or larger. But that's about it. (Displacer beasts always go after blink dogs. Frost and flame salamanders will go after each other. But those cases are rarely any of the party's business.)

Nearly every other kind of monster in the official BX rules is fully capable of exhibiting other behaviors at the beginning of an encounter besides attacking. Even berserkers don't mindlessly attack until they make an informed decision to mindlessly attack.

Additionally, unlike AD&D and its successors, the stat block in BX does not have a field for monster intelligence. Some entries specify the intelligence of a creature in the text, but many do not. There are a lot of monsters in the BX rules that I usually tend to assume are unintelligent only because I know their Monster Manual entry. The DM would be completely within the bounds of the rules as written to decide, for example, that an ochre jelly is smart enough to parley with. The text doesn't say anything either way. Even normal animals could talk in your campaign, if you wanted to give it a more fairy tale feel.

Now, consider the existence of the Monster Reactions table (page B24).  Lots of monster encounters, especially wandering monsters, can be concluded without risking violence if the monster can be communicated with.  Furthermore, a roll of 12 on 2d6 gives the result of "Enthusiastic friendship", giving the party a big incentive for talking to a lot of monsters. If you are going to explore a hellish, trap-laden underworld, having some sort of big, scary monster as your friend sounds great to me.

A 12 on 2d6 occurs only 1 throw in 36, but high charisma modifies the die roll. A Charisma of 13-17 gives a +1 on the roll, upping the odds of friendship to 1 in 12. Furthermore, the worst result on the chart, "Immediate attack", is no longer possible. An 18 Charisma allows for new monster buddies 1 in 6 encounters.

So the next time you spot a carrion crawler, try asking it how its day is going.