Sunday, June 19, 2011


Continuing my previous post...

We sat down to actually game, this time using a laptop instead of my beleaguered smartphone, which apparently was just not fast enough to keep up with the demands of roleplayers.  Again, part of the idea was to test out my retro-clone, Sorcery & Steel, so it was important to factor in just how much time was spent in confusion, as well as how much time was spent actually roleplaying.  

Truly, it wasn't the smoothest experience.  Probably because of the following:
1) My ill-preparation as Dungeon Master.  I need to be on the ball and ready to go at a moment's notice.  I have not run a game in several years.
2) I kept having to flip through the PDF to refer to the maps.  And the maps have too much black on them to print without blowing an ink cartridge -- I'm looking at you Goodman Games!  Fail.
3) My 7-year-old son did not feel like he was involved enough, and so kept running off and doing his own thing.  While tangentially related, that was off-putting, and distracted everyone else.
4) The pauses in the scenario while I figured out where they were in the module vs. where they were on the map.

I thought it went pretty fast, but we have someone in the group who is quick to whine, therefore I try to eliminate bitching for my own piece of mind.  So, I resolved to fix these things for next time.  Especially involve my son more, as an absolute newbie it is essential he enjoy himself fully, so that he becomes a gamer and enjoys gaming on its own merits.  Actively give him choices, so that he has a louder voice within the group. 

I would like to unveil more complexities to combat, such as the combat maneuvers.  Having more things to do than just endlessly trading blows with monsters in a war of H.P. attrition should help.  Being able to disarm a nasty foe, or knock him down, ad infinitum is part of what makes Sorcery & Steel great, IMHO, and should be extensively used.  

What did go right is that the players seemed to understand what was required of them, and didn't raise a fuss about this or that rule.  Which is a good thing.  If a rule doesn't make sense, new players can jump on that immediately and it makes the game less fun.  

And another thing that went right is that, barring my son toward the end, everyone had fun.  

So, with that in mind, and the adventure not yet finished, we must say: To Be Continued!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gaming in the Digital Age - Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about running roleplaying games with current technology.  I'm not talking about computer programs that organize every aspect of your game, from initiative to combat to how many spells have been cast, etc.  That's was old when my Apple IIe was around.  I'm referring to referencing PDF rulebooks, using pencils, paper, and real dice.

The game I am running is Basic D&D, heavily house-ruled (my retro-clone).  I wanted to test the efficacy of the system and how easy it was to make characters.  The speed of character creation was diluted somewhat by having to explain things orally to relative newbies, including a complete newbie: my 7 year old son.  

I was using my Motorola Cliq, an Android phone (cuz I haven't been able to stand Apple proprietary devices since they introduced the iPod).  

In retrospect, a laptop would have been better.  The PDF reader I was using was the best there was for free, but I had to wait for pages to refresh which only increased the amount of time character creation took.  

Still, we got 3 characters up and running, and we need to set a time for the game.  Something that meshes with everyone's schedules.  That will be harder than actually sitting down and bench-testing both the digital era plus my homebrew D&D.

Part II coming soon!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Summer is not officially here until Jun 21st, but here's a photo of my environs.  It is not my photo, but only because I do not have a telephoto lens to make the background stand out.  On my digital camera, Mt. Rainier washes out, and seems to be indistinguishable from the skyline.  We've got beaches, forests, lakes, mountains and cities.  No place on earth like it!

Mt Rainier from Commencement Bay; The City of Tacoma is in the foreground.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Goblins & Orcs & Things Oh My!

I don't know what it is about them, but goblins and orcs seem to be fastened firmly in the D&D psyche.  Judging by the fact that a lot of my fellow old school bloggers seem to have re-designed goblins and orcs, and I have my own take on them as well.

Orcs in my world go by a different name, Ugruk, and they are considered to be one of the "goblinoid races."  I have read that Gygax didn't really care fpr the pig-faced orcs, so I don't use them.  Ugruk have brown, gray or greenish skin, glowing red eyes and are able to see in darkness.  They are typically strong and hardy, possess a keen sense of smell, and are able to catch the scent of other hostile beings at a distance of 20 miles, even if they cannot tell what type of creature they are smelling.  They are excellent warriors, driven by animal instincts and an aggressive nature.  When two Ugruk disagree, they meet in the pit.  The survivor is the one who is "right."  

Some Ugruk have adapted to the cities, and live among humans.  They are brown-skinned, and much more civilized than their greenskin cousins.  It would not be uncommon to see a brown-skinned Ugruk as a blacksmith, bartender, or builder.  There are no "half-ugruk" (or half-orcs) as humans and Ugruk are completely different breeds.   

The typical Ugruk is taller and broader than a human, with short legs and long arms much like an ape.  They have massive heads which come directly forward on their necks, and their heads are batlike, with protruding ears from which hair sprouts.  On their faces are small snouts and a wattle of a chin that descends into a powerful chest.  They have tough, thick skin which is highly resistant to pain.  They can sustain grievous injuries yet still stay in the fight.
Goblins themselves are much smaller and weaker than Ugruk.  The two species detest each other, and wars between them are as common as alliances.  In general, when the two races do team up, the Ugruk act as leader, Goblins are treated litle better than slaves. 

Goblins are very spindly and cowardly.  They are quite short and nearly emaciated.  Goblins, however, are very fast, and can rapidly attack from a different angle than they did a moment ago.  They have an annoying ability to be elsewhere by the time you're ready to strike.  They also throw small "bombs," gourds that break apart when they hit you, causing d4 damage.  If the bomb doesn't hit, then it churns out choking and blinding dust (Save vs. Dragon's Breath) or be blinded for d3 rounds.  A successful save means you're not happy, but still ready for action.  

Goblins have also developed a penchant for ambush, as they know they would lose in a stand-up fight.  They hang out in trees and bushes, or hide in holes in the ground, and try to pick off the slowpoke in the back of the party.  

Both Goblins and Ugruk organize themselves into clans.  These clans often have distinctive names like the Bone Gnawers or Bloody Hand.  Here's a handy table to generate a clan name quickly.  To use it, roll 4d10 twice, once for a first name, and once for a last name, and rearrange or mangle to suit.  The parts in parentheses are alternate forms of the name, Mud(dy) could mean either Mud or Muddy.  Here's the table:

So, rolling my 4d10, I come up with 22 and a 10.  Putting them together, it's the Blood Drinker clan.  Another set gives me a 21 and 38.  The Muddy Claw clan!  

Have fun with this!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Story-based Experience Points

The main Experience Point (X.P.) awards discussions seem to be based around two things: Either you get X.P.for finding treasure or you do not.  I tend not to give X.P. for treasure, but I also tend to award experience a little differently that what it tells you in the rules.

The TSR days (and various editions) of Dungeons & Dragons all awarded X.P. for two things: finding treasure (especially magical treasure), and slaying monsters.  Now, while not bad in and of itself, this led to some players doing very bad things (like slaying townsfolk or other PCs) to get experience.  The sad thing is, there were some Dungeon Masters who let them get away with it.  It says normal men are worth a certain amount of X.P. in the Monster Manual, so those who went by the book just awarded the experience, threw up their hands, and wondered what went wrong. 

Well, aside from the fact that those Dungeon Masters needed to put their collective feet down, and the "angry mob rule" from Original D&D never made it into the later rulebooks, it seems as if some campaigns degenerated into "kill the monster, take its stuff."  As if one single part of the rules had become the whole point of the game. 

Certainly many computer RPGs pretty well took that route.  There were several articles and letters in Dragon Magazine (in its early days, at least) that dealt with the hack and slash aspect, and whether it had a place in D&D.

But interestingly enough, around the time of Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition (2e), 1989, there was a computer game called Baldur's Gate, loosely based on the 2e ruleset.  In this game you had various tasks to perform, and the rewards included XP.  I had never seen that before, but it made sense to me.  Torment did the same, as well as Icewind Dale, which is why those games appealed to me despite my dislike of AD&D.  At that time, I was playing Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk, Warhammer, RoleMaster, etc. 

Time passed, and 3E was released.  Even its experience system, with its Challenge Ratings, was skewed in much the same direction as its TSR predecessors.  According to designer George Strayton, WotC stuck to the "kill 'em all, take their stuff" philosophy when designing 3rd Edition D&D.  They did add one thing, you received experience for disarming traps, but still their X.P. system felt woefully incomplete. 

Looking at Rolemaster and Palladium, the way you gain X.P. is far different than in other similar games.  in RoleMaster you can gain experience for adventures, and some of the equations to calculate experience are overblown.  Likewise, Palladium gives out experience for planning, and you get more if your plan worked, and less if it failed, etc.  Both of these are germs of a good idea.  What if, like Baldur's Gate (and the much more recent Gothic series), you got experience for doing things?  Bring a nobleman back his amulet from the brothel he left it at: 50 xp in Baldur's Gate, for example.  In the PC game Gothic 2, the reward could be 3 times that.  Reward players for actually doing things in the adventure, instead of just mindlessly killing. 

This is not as radical as it may seem at first. Tournament adventures are scored in a similar manner. Why not transplant that into an actual game?

So, I propose this system, scaled to D&D: 

You get experience from two broad categories.  The first is a larger experience award, the major objective.  The major objective is the whole point of the adventure.  You might get 1,000 points for it. 
- Exploring the Unknown
- Investigating an Evil Outpost
- Removing the effects of an evil curse
- Recovering Ruins
- Eradicating a force of raiding goblins
- Destroying an Ancient Evil
- Fulfilling a Quest
- Escaping From Enemies
- Rescuing Prisoners
- Finding a Lost Race

The minor objectives are things that you did during the adventure.  They're worth anywhere from 100-500 points, though not more than 300 points should be given unless the objectives took more than one session to complete.
- Following a trail of clues to the next part of the adventure
- Searching around a town's taverns to find a guide
- Bribing a guard (or quietly rendering him unconscious) to gain entry
- Killing or overcoming a monster that is preventing the Heroes from progressing further.
- Using a Magic Portal to go someplace (or come back, or both)
- Travel to a shrine that has been lost for ages, in order to remove the curse.

These are base Experience Awards, and they increase as the Heroes rise in level.  A good rule of thumb is to multiply the awards by the Heroes' level.  So if the Heroes are 3rd level, they might net 600 X.P. for the last group of monsters they killed.  Or, after exploring the ruins to find the foozle they might get 3,000 X.P. 

Obviously, you can increase or decrease the base experience award as you see fit.  A slower progression might see 500 for a major objective, or even 250!  You might even flatten the rate, so even at 5th level the PCs are getting the same amount of X.P. as they did at 1st level.  Part of the advantage of this system is the sheer control.  You can tailor it to the exact number of adventures you want your players to go through before they level. Also, set up this way, hack and slash actions are not rewarded unless you want them to be.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mutant Future setting: Sorcerers & Cyborgs

The Time of the Ancients was a magical time, an era where metal birds carrying many flew across the skies, one hundred times a day.  The continents were crisscrossed with hard roads on which wheeled horses traveled, carrying men from one end of the land to the other in a matter of days.  Science had progressed to a point where nearly anything was possible -- robot servants aided the Ancients in various tasks, various inventions (such as nano-reassembly-units) had practically eradicated poverty.  The world had long since run out of fossil fuels, necessitating a focus on renewable sources of energy.  The Earth practically ran on solar power, but this wasn't enough for some.

Scientists, pushed ever onward by new discoveries in string theory and quantum universes, breached the barriers between dimensions.  They pushed harder, spurred on by scanners that detected vast amounts of an unknown type of energy.  When they ran further tests, the barriers between dimensions broke, gateways were opened to a host  of monsters not native to our Earth, and magic began to change the face of the world.  Coastlines were flooded, fissures in the earth swallowed cities, entire chunks of continents were ripped away to fuel more tsunamis, and when it was all over, everything had changed.

Centuries passed.  People clawed their way out of the rubble of their cities, and a few were quick to seize armories and march across the land, adding to their armies.  They called themselves the Combine, ruled by a mad emperor who believed the only good mutant was a dead one.  His government is set up dictator-style, with secret police and a certain cabal of officials call the shots.  There is no democracy, and his is the only rule.  They immediately siezed all scientific installations from the time of the Ancients, and began to rebuild, with a monopoly on technology and super-science.

Monsters prowl the globe.  Dragons can be seen in the skies.  Demons and vampires and worse have made this place their home.  Many have found they had a talent for magic or psychic powers.  Still others make their way with guns, or machine parts grafted to their bodies, or simply by their wits.  Most of these are not under the rule of the Combine.

The Combine doesn't want them existing, and feels that all should be under their heel.  Anyone not under their rules should be crushed.  The Brains search the truth, and some teach that truth to others.  The Golden Death Armor pilots should work for them.  Wanderers should be tamed, and brought into the fold to work for the good of the Combine.  Anyone with military skill should be added to their armies.  And psychics and users of magic should be dead. 

This is the world that folly has made, and it will take a hard man to tame it.    

Welcome to my "mod" for Mutant Future entitled "Sorcerers & Cyborgs!"  

This setting was somewhat of a challenge for Mutant Future, as there is no magic, and super-science is what a typical character in Mutant Future would be lucky to encounter.  So I had to work with the setting and tweak it some.  It also has some of my rules hacks to make combat and characters more dynamic.  If there's one criticism I have of old-school games, it's the tendency to make rather cookie-cutter character types -- one fighter looks exactly like another fighter at the same level -- which is a bit boring.  And I like my combat to be less abstract -- think Conan, rather than Squad Leader.  

Obviously, there are a few revisions and clarifications to be made, but this is the first draft:

Radiation is a bit rare.  Now mainly found among areas that the Combine has abandoned after something went wrong...

Roll 4d6, take the best 3.
Divvy up 6 points between the abilities. Abilities range from +1 to +4.  This eliminates the Ability Bonus, and just uses the Ability itself as a bonus.

Subtract the armor's AC from 11, and add 5, no DEX mod.

Ex: If you have AC 1, subtracting it from 11 would be 10. Adding 5 would give a new AC of 15.

If AC is increased by anything (like, say, Increased DEX, simply increase his Defense Roll.

Hit Points are rolled a bit differently:
- If you're using a standard character type, roll hp as normal.
- Magic-Users, Psychics, Brains, Chop-Docs, Docs, Fixers, Speed Tribers, and Wanderers roll 1d6 x CON
- Armsmen, Borg, Curs, Deathwing Armor, Golden Death Armor, Nature Boy, Pharmboy, Ronin, and Super Soldiers roll 1d8 x CON
If ranges from +1 to +4 are used for Abilities, then total (10 + 2x the ability) x the die type for the character type.

For combat, roll a d10 for Initiative and subtract your DEX mod.
Attacker rolls d20 plus level plus STR adj. (melee) or DEX adj (ranged)
Defender rolls d20 plus level plus DEX adj, declares whether he's parrying (with
weapon), dodging (getting out of the way), or blocking (with shield)
Attacker roll > Defender roll and AC = damage done
Defender roll > Attacker roll = no damage done, attack parried, dodged, or blocked.
Attacker roll < AC = Attack bounced off armor

Used in place of Skills.  Just make a check on the relevant ability.
Use Abilities such as STR, DEX, CON, etc.
Roll 11 or less, plus Ability Adj. (so, 13 STR has a +1 adj, meaning the STR roll would be 12-).
Choose one of these abilities as Primary, to get a +2 (so the STR roll above would be 14-)
Primary Ability Checks go up by +1 at levels 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, etc
Other Ability Checks gain +1 at levels 4, 7, 10, 13, etc
Rolling exactly the check (rolling a 14 on a 14- Check, frex) means the check critically succeeds.

ARMSMAN (Includes Combine Grunt, Combine Military Specialist, Combine Technical Officer, Scout)
The main difference between all these is that the GRUNT believes his government to be good, despite being oppressive and racist.  More specialized Grunts include the SPECIALIST (espionage and recon), and TECHNICAL OFFICER (trained in either Communications, Electrical or Mechanical Engineering, Technician, Weapons). SCOUTS are trackers who love the thrill of combat.
- Pure Strain Human

Men and women who have replaced a large portion of their bodies with machine parts.  Some of these unfortunates were too poor and too unskilled to be of service, so the Combine put them to good use in their armies.   
- Basic Android

Suffer from an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and this thirst drives them into trackless wilderness in order to uncover the planet's mysteries, and the unknown past of humankind.  The ruins of once mighty cities of the Ancients and the monstrous life forms that now stalk the Earth are their bread and butter.  Brains usually have some survival skills, and know how to use two weapons.  In many cases, they are more like your average Merc than a scientist.  Some Brains are hunted by mobs, who believe that the secrets of the Ancients are best left buried.
-Pure Strain Human

A chop-doc is a doctor, surgeon, or scientist who is proficient with the implantation of bionics or cybernetics.  "Chop-doc" is the slang term for the most notorious and disreputable among them.  They can make minor repairs to Androids and Borgs, as well.
- Pure Strain Human

Mutant dogs engineered and empowered by the Combine to kick in doors and take names, arresting not only psychics and mages but those who harbor them.  They can track by psychic or mundane scent.
- Mutant Animals
- Natural Weapons (teeth, claws)
- Increased Sense (Smell)

Developed by the Combine in response to the Golden Death Armor (q.v.), the Deathwing armor is inferior in most respects.  It is essentially Scout Encasing Military Armor with some superhuman capabilities.  Weapon systems include a standard, military-grade Rail Gun, and a Mini-Missile Launcher capable of firing Plasma rockets as well as ordinary artillery.  Perhaps the most significant difference is that the Deathwing Armor can fly or hover, giving it a signficant battlefield advantage.  The wings have metal blades on them, allowing the pilot to inflict damage if forced into a hand-to-hand conflict.  Deathwing Armor will only work for Pure Strain Humans.
- Pure Strain Human with Scout Encasing Military Armor (AC 2)
- Military Grade Rail Gun (1d4/1d4x10 burst)
- Mini-Missile Launcher (1d4x10/1d6x10 (PLASMA))
- One additional handgun or rifle
- Can hover stationary or fly
- Full optical systems, including laser targeting, telescopic, passive nightvision (light amplification), thermo-imaging, infrared, ultraviolet, and polarization.

A medical doctor (M.D.); a person who can fix or heal the human body.  Most are, by now, versed in Xenobiology.  It was usually knowledge gleaned in the field.  They can heal Mutants as well as humans.
- Pure Strain Human

Mercenary repairman who can fix just about anything.
- Pure Strain Human

The energy-resistant paint of this power armor unit has a strange side-effect -- it glitters a bright gold color.  Thus the name of the armor.  10-feet high, it is not only powered armor, but an environmental suit, filtering impurities from air and water.  Standard issue is the "BFG", a huge railgun mounted on the shoulder armor plate.  The BFG is an entirely electric gun, that accelerates a few hundred metal projectiles along a set of magnetic rails faster than Mach Two.  The net effect is mass destruction. 

The pilots inside Golden Death Armor have either been issued them by the military (and then gone rogue), or been lucky enough to find one and have it fixed up.  They love combat, and often fight just to experience the thrill of combat, and to hear the fantastic sonic booms that accompany the use of the BFG.
- Pure Strain Human with Heavy Encasing Military Armor (AC 1)
- BFG-2000 -- Hyper Accelerated Rail Gun (3d6x10)
- Full optical systems, including laser targeting, telescopic, passive nightvision (light amplification), thermo-imaging, infrared, ultraviolet, and polarization.

- Mutants
- Use Magic-User & Elf spells from Labyrinth Lord
- Most will be structured around a theme.  Some samples:
WIZARD - Some like to concentrate on summoning spells, others have attack & defense spells, spells that aid in stealth, and so forth. 
TECHNO-MAGE - Combine magic with technology.  Use Elf and Magic-User Spells from Labyrinth Lord, but instead of spells they are items, with the same limitations on uses per day.

Nature Boys are those who have learned to live off the land.  They know about all the benefits and dangers of various plants, know how to recognize and avoid dangerous animals, how to tell the weather from the clouds, how to build shelters, how to find food and water, how to navigate in the wilderness, signalling techniques, and how to build an effective fire.  Generally how to survive in any wilderness.  He can also pass through any wilderness area without leaving any trace.  Some look like Davey Crockett, others look more primitive.  To protect against the cold, most Nature Boys apply a coating of bear grease to their bodies.  Keeps them warm, but smells quite bad...
- Pure Strain Human

The Pharmboy is another casualty in the quest for the super-soldier.  Drugs are injected into his system by sophisticated nanodevices, which regulate his mood.  These drugs enhance his combat alertness and physical capabilities.  These nanodevices also monitor his physical condition, and mobilize to heal injuries 4 times faster than ordinarly healing.  The Pharmboy has one code: live fast, die hard, which is oddly prophetic.  The maximum lifespan for a Pharmboy is 5 years, after which the drugs they take to enhance their abilities will burn them out and kill them, as their bodies cannot take the strain.
- Mutant
- Increased STR, DEX, CON
- Acute Hyper Healing
- Body Adjustment
- Combat Empathy
- Limited Lifespan: 5 years

- Mutants
Most will be structured around a theme.  Some samples:
MIND MANGLER - Force Screen (Greater), Mental Barrier, Metaconcert, Mind Reflection, Mind Thrust, Neural Telepathy, Empathy, Possession, Precognition, Psi-Blade,
MYSTIC - Ability Boost, Body Adjustment, Sense magic/psychic powers, Empathy, Psionic Flight (when in Lotus position only)
ENERGY MASTER (choose between fire, electricity, magnetic, sound, light, radiation, force)- Reflective Epidermis (for his energy type) Energy Ray, Energy Retaining Cell Structure, sense energy type, extinguish or increase energy type.

They are the wanderers of the post-apocalyptic world, righting wrongs wherever they are found, whether it's the oppressive Combine or a supernatural monster that entered through one of the magical gateways scattered across the globe.
- Mutant
- Can create a psi-blade, a scintillating weapon of psychic energy, and may look like a staff, axe, mace, sword, or any other weapon. (Acts like Energy Ray, no range)
- One Random Mental Mutation

Members of criminal gangs in cities, mostly have a hard way of life.  These are not the suit-wearing Yakuza, these are the gangbangers, drug-dealers, and thieves, providing "protection" for shopkeepers on their turf.  They know how to survive in the shady underbelly of the city, choked with garbage and vermin.
- Pure Strain Human

Special Forces troopers skilled in the arts of combat and athletics who have tiny electrical devices wired to their brain.  This has the unfortunate side-effect of making them crazy.
- Mutant
- Increased STR, DEX, CON
- Heightened reflexes, agility for bonuses to combat (+1 to hit)
- Increased senses (Vision, Smell)
- Intellectual Affinity (Martial)
- Acute Hyper Healing
- Suffers from delusions and insanity.

The best of these are curious minds and happy with their lot.  The worst are aimless drifters, with no sense of life, purpose, or hope.  They are the ones who slipped through the cracks.  They have no education to speak of, and tend to live by their wits.
- Pure Strain Human

A suit of body armor, including military-issue. A set of caste-appropriate clothing (surgical gowns for doctors, leather and denim for Speed Tribers, robes for wizards, sturdy travel clothes for adventurers, combat fatigues for soldiers, etc), personal effects (such as music/vid players, wallets, combs, goggles) and camping equipment. Most characters will also have 1d3 Energy weapons (pistol and rifle if more than one), and 1d6 E-Clips. You get a +1 to those previous amount rolls if you are a military type.

- A thief will have lock picking tools, pry bars, and glass cutter, as well as a set of conventional tools.

- An assassin will have a bolt-action rifle and an energy rifle with four extra E-clips.

- A hacker will have a portable, hand-held computer and a full size computer and printer.

- A Doc will have a kit full of surgical gloves, bandages, painkiller, antibiotics, scalpels, automedical kits, and a portable lab.

- An Operator would have a portable tool kit with an electric screwdriver and additional interchangeable heads, wrenches, etc, large tool kit, soldering iron, laser torch (for welding), a roll of duct tape, 1d3 rolls of electrical tape, pen flashlight, and a large flashlight.

- Brains may possess any or all of: specimen cases, specimen dishes, 1d6 test tubes, 1D4 jars, microscope slides, portable microscope, scalpel, pins, and tweezers, magnifying glass, telescope, and books on various subjects.

- A Chop-Doc would have a combination of a Doc's equipment and an Operator's equipment.

- A Speed Triber gets a wheeled motorcycle and drugs (at GM's option)


Heavy Infantry Armor
Military Issue Environmental Armor
AC 2/9
Full Environmental Armor
AC 2/9
Composite High-Impact Environmental Armor
AC 3/8
The Champion
Full Fibre Environmental Body Armor
AC 3/8
Light Pilot/Police Armor
Military Issue Environmental Armor
AC 4/7
Full Padded Environmental Body Armor
AC 4/7
Assassin's Plate Armor
AC 4/7
Plate and Padded Armor
AC 5/6
Plastic Warrior
Full Plastic Environmental Body Armor
AC 5/6
Prot = Pts of damage the armor protects you from each hit.
AC is given in descending (before the slash) and ascending (after the slash) values.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Son's Birthday

satan by steelcaress
satan, a photo by steelcaress on Flickr.
It was my son's birthday Thursday the 24th, and on Saturday the 26th we're going to have his party -- at our place. So I've spent the past few days cleaning the heck out of the townhome, and should be resuming normal posting in a few days, after I recover.

Regrettably, unlike Paladin, I probably won't be doing any gaming for my son's birthday party. His cousins are usually invited, and my sister is a hardcore Christian who believes that D&D, Pokemon, Harry Potter, and other assorted things are Satanic.

It truly saddens me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hot Elf Chick, Slightly NSFW

I thought I'd post the pic first  :)  

As part of James Smith's fiendish plan to attract more followers to the Old School Renaissance, he suggested we do this.  Many bloggers have taken up his suggestion already, and I'm following suit. 

I realize some people don't particularly care for Larry Elmore's art, but I'm not in that camp.  I think, barring some of his later paperback covers, he is an incredibly talented artist, easily up there with Joe Jusko, Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo, and others. 

Welcome to my blog!  :)

To the point, however, you are now on a site of a rabid pre-Y2K gamer, one who prefers the older flavors of D&D to the new stuff.  However, the current owner, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, has seen fit to pull all their reasonably priced PDFs of their old games down, so it would be hard to find anything other than at Ebay collectible prices.  Fortunately, the work of a few talented individuals has made this much easier, and many are free.  If you have ever had a hankering to be a wizard and cast earthshaking spells, a mighty warrior cleaving your way through evil hordes, or even a freebooter exploring dark labyrinths where danger and treasure lurk, then check these out:

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

Made to emulate Basic and Expert D&D books by Moldvay and Cook published in the very early 80's, with more modern innovations

B/X Companion 

This is an imagining of what could have been, if the Companion volume for Basic D&D had been released for the Moldvay/Cook version. 

Big Brown Book
A supplement to D&D-as-wargame. Every roll is made on a d6.

Dark Dungeons
Based on a later iteration of Basic D&D, the one authored by Mentzer and organized and edited into the "Rules Cyclopedia" by Aaron Allston.

For Gold & Glory
A pretty incredible version of 2nd Edition D&D.  If you played D&D before 2000 and after 1987, this was likely the version you played.

Labyrinth Lord
Another Basic D&D clone, this one hews more closely to the original rules.

Labyrinth Lord: Advanced Edition Companion
This "updates" Labyrinth Lord to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition), which many prefer. 

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Aimed at more Lovecraftian and Clark Ashton Smith influences, but still D&D.

Microlite system
Randall has designed many free iterations of D&D, all trimmed down and made very easy to play.

Myth & Magic
This is a clone of 2nd Edition D&D, updated with more modern rules to replace what the author wanted to fix.

This is a clone of first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  It is nearly identical to the original. 

Swords & Wizardry
Mythmere games has designed a few brilliant clones of OD&D

I'm sure there are some that I missed, but this will get you started!  Now, if I've reignited the fires of your youth (or if the pic did it), go forth and grab a rulebook, grab some dice, and reclaim the golden age of roleplaying!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Celebrating Gygax

Today is the anniversary of Gary Gygax's death.  If anyone doesn't know what a Gary Gygax is, you need to look it up.  Jeff Rients on his blog mentioned some homework:

"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."

Done and done.  Except for publishing any of it.  I'm still in the process of writing a clone, but it's not finished as of this writing.  A short blurb:

I wrote this because I want a different "feel" for D&D, one that I don't believe the mechanics support well in their current form.  I want to bring the violent action and feel of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and David Gemmell to the mix.  I want the otherworldly horror of Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft.  I want to renew a sense of wonder to the player, when you sat down and played your first game of D&D.

Choose from 10 unique races, not just another variation of elf.  Some are the same as you're used to (shaken and stirred a bit), others are very different.  Humans are now distinct by nationality and race. 

You are not your stuff anymore.  Your damage increases by class and level, not by acquiring a higher-damage weapon.  This is logical and consistent with the pulps we are emulating.   

No skills!  Your character is unique and does have abilities all his own, and the rules allow anything to be attempted without fiddly rules.  The Thief class is now more useful and fun than in earlier iterations of That Fantasy Game. 

Experience points and Treasure are more logical, consistent, and reward actually doing things.  Magical treasure is now something to be truly in awe of -- not because of raw power, but because of the effects.

New combat mechanics allow for any action to be taken, with instant effects -- not just “+2 to Armor Class!”  Unhorse your foe!  Throw your opponent into a group of enemies and bowl them over.  Hurl your sword at someone and have it pierce him like a spear!  Shatter weapons and shields!  Simple, quick grappling rules allow you to wrestle with your enemy in style!  46 Combat Maneuvers make the Fighter class fun again! 
Almost infinite variety.  We have 43 character classes with different types of Spellcasters and Priest-types.  Unique mechanics allow selection to be a breeze!  Get a character up and running in 10 minutes!  Variety like you've not seen in either kit or prestige class!  Yet easier than any edition!

New spells, contained in the same Vancian spell slot system, but now with full power over your spells and how they're cast!  Options for variants allow for a richer magic system!  Eight different schools of magic are detailed, and clerics now have access to “Prayers,” instead of spells.  It works the same, just renamed!

New monsters!  Old monsters with a unique twist! 

All this together with a unique fantasy setting.  Make a name for yourself in the magical land of Andurantha!

Not Old School, not New School, but rather Alternative School.  Backwards compatible with most editions of D&D. 

Optional rules allow you to play it your way! 

Getting anyone to playtest this might be interesting.  Most people have fallen under the sway of WotC or Paizo, and have little patience for anything else.  A weekly game?  I wish!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Handling Fame and Infamy

Reading a post at RPG Blog II I was originally mentioning how I handle renown through roleplaying, somehow vaguely tied to level.  And as I thought about it more and more, I began to realize that having it codified might be beneficial.

Generally, the thing you will be most known for is your character class.  An elusive thief, a valiant warrior, a devout priest, etc.  However, there will be deeds that will stand out above others, and there also can be alignment fame (or infamy, if particularly evil or chaotic).  Most basically, the character will be known, for good or ill, by what he is and what he does.  Slay a band of marauding goblins -- fame.  Burn down an orphanage -- infamy. 

Here is a rough chart of the levels, and the amount of fame they correspond to:  

1st-4th level
Relatively unknown. If of noble birth, it is extremely minor or hidden
5-8th level
By this time has proven himself a hero/villain. Educated men and bards will know of his deeds, but he will not be widely recognized.
9th (Name)
Known by all in his state/province. Can set up some sort of headquarters and attract followers.
11th level
In/famous throughout the country. Could possibly have a place at court.
13th level
Known throughout the continent.
15th level

Known the world over. His deeds will be spoken of in distant lands

Of course, your fame/glory/renown/infamy could result in other actions being taken.  Being known as an amazing warrior might have others challenging you for the title.  Being infamous might mean a price is on your head, and so on.  The player and DM are encouraged to be creative.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rethinking Combat

Combat in D&D (pre-2000) seems me to be a bit uninvolved.  Sure, there's the whole "I'm down to my last hit point" or "I used up all my spells" resource management type thing, but otherwise there's just this: roll dice to hit, roll damage.  For some reason, it felt a bit wrong to me, especially when I was exposed to other systems.  In GURPS, you roll to defend yourself.  In Marvel Super Heroes, you roll to dodge.  In Palladium, you also have a dodge, block, or parry roll.  In Storyteller, you roll to try and mitigate your foe's successes.  In Tunnels & Trolls, each opponent rolls.  In Rolemaster, you use some of your offensive ability to add to your defense.  Heck, even in Risus you roll.  Games with relatively static target numbers in combat just feel erratic, and in some cases erroneous, to me now.

Imagine this: if your buddy aims a punch at you, and you see it coming, you're not likely to sit there as it comes at you.  I know D&D and other games are supposed to take that into account, but I don't visualize it happening, for whatever reason.  It just feels like I'm sitting there, waiting to be hit. 

Check out this clip from the 7th Voyage of Sinbad:

While not technically from Appendix N, I can't imagine no one kept Ray Harryhausen in mind when designing D&D. 

The sad thing is, I don't have combats in D&D that play out like that clip.  It just seems like two people standing there bashing each other's heads in.   Even defensive maneuvers or shields tend to simply add to AC, they don't really reflect what's really going on as combat proceeds.  Now, I realize that it was developed from a naval wargame.  I realize that naval ships cannot dodge, parry, etc.  Be that as it may, we have grown older, and better ways have been found to do certain things in the 37 years since D&D was born.  And I do not care for the complexities of D&D3 or 4 -- if you enjoy them then more power to you, but I can think of easier ways to simulate what happens in this scene...and beyond it.

To do this we have to overhaul the system slightly.

Armor Class remains, but we have to adjust depending on what system you're using.  Armor Class no longer stands for your entire defensive capabilities, but now simply straight armor.  No bonuses for Dexterity are added into it.  In my system, 5 is the base, and armor adds to it.  It's ascending.  For descending AC, you'd have to subtract that from 11 to get the bonus, and add 5.  A roll under this number (still called Armor Class) means you hit the armor and no damage is done.

Next we determine what the bonuses are to hit.  Usually this is STR bonus + Level for Fighters, and everyone else would need to know their Base Attack Bonus.  Now in the case of matrix-based combat, this is relatively easy.  Find the worst AC on the matrix (for Basic this would be 9, for AD&D 10), cross-index class and level, and subtract that number from 10.  That is the bonus to hit.  Enterprising players will already have these numbers written down, to avoid looking anything up.  This can be done for monsters as well.  

So, as an example, we have Gorthon, and Ral.  Gorthon is a level 7 Fighter with 17 STR, and Ral is a level 9 Thief with a 13 STR.  They are coming from a matrix-based game, and both Gorthon's and Ral's chance to hit AC 9 is 5.  10 - 5 = 5, meaning they have a base attack bonus of 5.  Gorthon, with his 17 STR, has a +2, and Ral has a +1 to hit.  Gorthon is wearing Chain, and Ral is wearing Leather.  So, to summarize:

Gorthon, Fighter: +7 to hit, AC 11 (Chain)
Ral, Thief: +5 to hit, AC 9 (Leather)

Next each combatant has 1 attack, and 1 defense.  One person attacks, the other defends.  The attacker declares his intent (special attacks, etc), and the defender declares his actions (parry, dodge, block with shield, or something else).  To hit you simply roll a d20, and whoever rolls higher wins.  If the attacker wins, roll damage.  That's it.  If you roll under the AC, your attack simply bounced off.  Then, when the defender's initiative comes up, that's when he makes his attack, and the other guy becomes the defender. 

The narrative is dependent on the actions being performed.  Obviously, if the defender declares that he is dodging and his roll is higher, you don't say the attack bounced off the defender's shield.  He ducked or jumped out of the way. 

There are other things we saw in that clip as well:
Fighting from higher ground might grant a +1 to the attacker.  

Ducking behind something could give a +1 to the defender.  

Also the winner of a combat round might want to force the loser back a pace.  

Too, you can have knockdown or knockback effects if you want, such as when Sinbad knocked the skeleton off the staircase with his sword, though again that could be simulated by having the loser forced back a pace, and falling off because there is no other place to step.  A knockdown effect can be simulated by rolling attacker's STR vs. defender's DEX.  If the defender fails, he's either pushed backwards, or is knocked to the ground, and must spend his next action standing.  He may parry (or block, if he has a shield), but cannot dodge. 

For disarm, you could simply have the attacker declare that instead of damage, he has knocked the weapon from his foe's hand.  Obviously, that wouldn't work with tooth or claw, but with swords, axes, maces, etc it works just fine.  

And did you see what the skeleton did when disarmed?  It threw the shield at Sinbad and went for its sword.  That could be an attack or defense, and a WIS roll might be needed to not lose your action.     

The system is fairly versatile.  Taking a page from Swords Against The Outer Dark, you could say that 11 minus your AC is a penalty to your dodge roll, thus representing that heavy armor can slow you down.  I would probably rule that way for chain, not plate, since there are even YouTube videos showing people doing aerobics in full plate. 

All this doesn't take that much longer than a normal combat, simply because there is a clear winner.  It's not like the guy parrying or dodging will be successful all the time.  And, I feel, it's more visceral, because as the defender you are responsible for making sure you roll higher than the other guy, rather than just waiting to see if you get hit. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rules Hack - Mass Combat and Trade

Reading Telecanter's Receding Rules was inspiring.  At the end of his house rules, there was a request thread, of sorts -- "requesting elegant solutions" for various in-game situations.  So...challenge accepted!  I don't know if these are elegant enough, as they are sort of off the top of my head...

Simple Mass Combat Rules
First of all, each side rolls a d20.  This is modified by:
Combatant has monsters in his unit
Combatant has elite members in his unit
Combatant has a legendary hero (ala Conan)
Combatant has a magic user
Combatant has double the amount of foe's army
Combatant is holed up inside a fortress*

* = one side only -- this would represent a siege.

Then roll.  The side that gets the highest number wins. 

For more granularity, you could say that each successful roll reduces the foe's army by half.  So, if you had 500 foes, a hit would bring you down to 250, then 175, then 90, then 45, 25, 12, 6, 3, 1, and 0.  

You might wish to divide the combatants into units, that way more soldiers get wiped out in a single attack.  So, for example, if the above combatant had 500 men, 500 divided into 10 units of 50 men each, you could simply have the units engage in combat.  Start with 10, first hit brings it down to 5, then 3, then 2, and 1, and finally the battle is won in five rolls instead of ten rolls as shown above.

Simple Trade Rules
First you figure out if you're trading by land or by sea.  Trading by land is shorter, but you get less of a return on your investment because pack horses cannot carry much.  Trading by sea is longer and riskier, but you get more of a return on your investment because ships can carry all sorts of things, and you can trade for exotic goods from all over.

Then, you take some of your gold, and put it into an investment in trade goods. 

Trading by sea means you roll 1d6 to find out your profit margin.  If you roll a 1-5, that is the amount you invested multiplies by.  So, if you invested 100 gold, rolling a 4 means you make 400 gold.  A "6" means the ship was lost at sea, along with the profits.  The roll is also for how many game months the ships were at sea.

Trading by land, you'd roll a 1d3 for profits.  Multiply what you invested by that number.  It also takes that many game months for your pack horses to make the journey. 

I'm still working on Simple Political and Social Intrigue rules.  Those rules are more difficult since intrigue is quite complex.