Friday, December 31, 2010

Old School -- Busting the Myths

As I've been following various old school blogs, I've read various things that I agree with and don't agree with.  In talking with other gamers, quite a few had a negative opinion of the OSR, either from things they've read, or their supposed experiences.  I present to you the most common of the negative comments I've heard or read -- most are simply largely untrue.  The myths and my take on them:

Old School Myth #1: Rules as Written (RAW)
I've heard this time and again.  I've actually experienced it too, when I have to roll a character using the 3d6 method, no assigning of abilities, getting killed just because one dice roll goes wrong (in the GM's hands), etc.  Most of these things annoy me, and more often than not is just an example of rigid thinking that doesn't do anyone any good.

But I think that RAW is just a play style.  Everyone has rules they like, from random chargen to abstract combat, and that's going to happen.  If they didn't like some aspect of the rules, why play?  But I don't think it's particularly Old School.  

D&D3E has a large number of skills and abilities that you can give your character.  In fact, I sort admire it because of that.  Properly implemented, this can give you a solid idea of where you came from or who you are.  Take Howard's Conan; we know he's from a land of ice and snow, can climb really well because of his upbringing, and also can fight well -- a region where the faint of heart would soon be dead.  This could be represented by skill bonuses and bonuses to fight, packaged in a background feat.  But, I digress...  

D&D3E has a great amount of rules.  Rules to see whether you can bluff or intimidate, rules to see whether you can spot something, etc, rules that allow you to do something out of the ordinary in combat.  There's nothing wrong with this, per se, but I kinda felt constrained gamemastering.  Because I would rather there be a way to solve it without skill rolls, and the designers were intent on simply rolling for everything, it seems.  What if I wanted someone to do something to notice something important (like move a cushion, or examine a wall)?  What if I would rather they creatively take out their foe, rather than invoking "Improved Crushing Blow" or some such?  I felt lost as a player, too.

The rules in Old School games for the most part are frameworks.  Each GM seasons his own game to taste.  While all GMs, Old School and Modern, do this to some extent, there's some more "on the fly" rulings that must be made.  No rules system can encompass everything, and a large part of the OSR loves to tinker with it, at least a bit.  If for nothing more than to make sure the next time someone does that, there's not a different set of rules that might hinder the player more or make it too easy.  
Old School Myth #2: Starting out as the Little Guy
Another myth is the beginning character as a schmoe.  Too often D&D is used as an example, but I can say definitively that every game does not do this.  Almost no one can deny that Champions is old (c. 1981), incidentally the same year Tom Moldvay authored his version of Basic D&D.  The characters  in old-school Champions were hardly average, being superheroes.  That also was the theme of Villains & Vigilantes (also '81).   70s-era Traveller was also a game where you were well-trained before you began adventuring.  In the Atlantean Trilogy and Palladium Fantasy your character was well-stocked with skills and class abilities, and you were no slouch in Rolemaster, Tunnels and Trolls, The Fantasy Trip, or even RuneQuest.  In Gamma World you had powers that set you above the rabble, and in Top Secret you were a secret agent ala James Bond.  Need I say more?

For my own part, I consider the "little guy" syndome to be reminiscent of Tolkien, where unassuming hobbits were the saviors of the world.  I like the idea of being able to have characters who aren't invincible, but formidable in their own right.  John Carter, Conan, Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, etc.  

Old School Myth #3: Characters are akin to Checker Pieces
A comment at Playing D&D With Porn Stars mentions that "The (very) old school treats characters like checker pieces - I don't cry in my beer when I lose a checker piece..."  I'm not entirely sure that's the truth.  I think it is a bit related to #1.  All the rules in the world aren't going to instill a personality in your character, or make a campaign playable.  

I've been in those kinds of games -- more power to you if you like that, I'm not particularly amenable to that style.  I'd rather have a backstory for my character and have it be a bit more dramatically appropriate when I pass on, thank you very much.  It's probably the reason I don't care too much for wargames or FPS games, either.  I want to care about what I'm doing.

Now, if you're still trying to wrap your head around all this, or simply do not know what old-school gaming is, pick up Matt Finch's excellent Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.  It's free, and chock-full of great advice.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Santa Motorcycle Pictures, Images and Photos

That's the way I'd travel if I were Santa, except I'd probably have Mrs. Claus in a sidecar :)

So Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Blessed Yule, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Ramadan, etc.  And whatever your traditions, may you game well!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rules Hack - Ability Checks

At some time during the course of the game, a random roll will be required that's right outside the scope of the rulebook.  What if someone tries to haggle with the innkeeper?  What if a Hero is trying to climb to the roof without benefit of a Thiefly Ability (those are handled differently in my game as well, but one thing at a time).  This would be handled using Ability Checks.  Ability Checks are simply d20 rolls against an Ability, such as Strength, Wisdom, Constitution, etc.

Apparently this is not new.  Swords & Wizardry has this, Castles & Crusades has it, 2nd Edition D&D had it (although in a sort of slapdash manner), and Tunnels & Trolls had it longer than any of those.  This, however, is my (hopefully) unique take on it.

As noted above, Ability Checks are used for many actions.  What makes them different in our rules hack is that they are also used for skills and saving throws.

I can hear the cries of "heresy!" and "3rd Edition!" now, but hear me out.

It simply makes sense to have Ability Checks used as Saving Throws.  It frees you from the tyranny of having to justify a Save vs. Dragon's Breath to avoid a lasso entangling you.  Now, instead of that, you can simply ask for a DEX Check.  And you can give certain character Classes and Races bonuses to specific situations (acting as Skills and Saving Throws) instead of making up a new procedure, or having to print yet another table.  A Dwarf and a Wizard might get bonuses to save vs. magical effects.  A Thief would get a bonus to any roll he made while attempting to steal something.  Very simple, very effective, doesn't require a hundred splatbooks.

Very simply, an Ability Check starts at 8 or less on a d20.  The Ability Score Adjustment adds to this (so a +4 would mean a 12 or less on a d20 for success).  Not only that, but as you rise in level, the Ability Checks increase.

Primary Checks
After the initial calculations, then you pick what you want to be your most rapidly advancing Ability Check.  For example, a Warrior might choose Strength.  This is called the Primary Check.  That Check will improve by +1 every two levels, plus add 2 to it in the beginning.  The rest will advance every 3 levels.  Checks follow this Table as you rise in level: 

Primary Check
Other Checks

The various Classes and Races will give you bonuses on some specific applications of Ability Checks.  Some are codified in the text, others are unwritten.  Still others are determined on the fly.  Anytime everyone in the group agrees that a Hero should get a bonus on an Ability Check, he gets it.

Note: Since I run with Ability Score adjustments only (It's not STR 12, it's STR +1), you may have to adjust the base number higher, say an 11 or less to start, instead of an 8. 

Common Situations and Ability Checks
I'm just listing a few, though close to 40 examples appear in my game.

Fear (WIS) - Some creatures instill blind, unreasoning fear into a person, scaring him stiff (cannot move).  Roll to resist.

Leap (DEX) - Horizontal jump. 

Save vs. Paralysis (STR) - Some monsters and spells can paralyze or hold victims, immobilizing them through magical means. 

Save vs. Breath Weapon (DEX or CON) - It's just a bad idea to sit there and let some creature, like a dragon, breathe on you.  DEX is for dodging and diving for cover.  CON is when something like poison gas is being resisted.

Opposed Ability Checks
These are used when two people are rolling against an Ability, and they are competing against each other.  For example, you would use an Opposed Ability Check when two people are racing to the top of a cliff wall, or when one person is trying to grab another. 

Opposed Ability Checks are simple.  Both people roll d20, and the highest roll wins.  That means that if one person had a Check of 18, and rolled a 4, and the other person had a Check of 13, and rolled an 8, the person who rolled the 8 wins.  Obviously, anyone who rolls over the Check fails.   

Critical Success
If you roll precisely your Check, you get a Critical Success, and something special happens above and beyond the effect you were looking for.  So, if you had a Check of 13, and you rolled a 13, you got a Critical.  Critical Successes on Opposed Ability Checks mean that the person who gets the Critical wins, regardless of how high the other person rolled. 

And it's important to note that the Checks don't have an ever increasing difficulty, it's simply make that roll, or not.  There's no adding or subtracting any modifiers except in special circumstances.

Just an idea.  It's what I'm using in my game, at any rate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Way to Handle "Speak With Dead"

I've got a way to handle the Speak With Dead spell narratively.  Now, in the Expert Set (Mentzer Edition) it says this:

Speak with the Dead

Range: 10’
Duration: 1  round per level of the cleric
Effect: Cleric may ask 3  questions

By  means of this spell, a cleric may ask  3 questions of a deceased spirit if the body is within  range. A  cleric of  up to 7th  level may only contact spirits recently dead (up to 4 days). Clerics of level 8-14 have slightly more power  (up to 4  months  dead), level 15-20  even more (up  to 4 years dead). No time limits apply to clerics of  21st  level or greater.  The spirit will always  reply  in  a tongue  known  to the  cleric, but  can only offer knowledge of things up  to the time of its death.  If the spirit’s alignment  is  the same as the cleric’s, clear and brief answers will  be  given; however,  if  the  alignments differ,  the spirit may reply in riddles.

This brings up some interesting questions about the afterlife.  Most real-world religions teach that the body is simply a shell, and that the soul is what animates it.  Once the body is dead, the soul departs it.  In Egyptian mythology, however, preserving the body after death meant that the dearly departed would enjoy eternal life.  So why would a pseudo-medieval society believe that the body had anything to do with the soul after death?

Perhaps in our game we can say that the soul departs within a number of rounds, making it impossible to resurrect.  Now, after the soul goes to its final reward, there is a sort of "remnant" of a soul in the body, that makes it possible to contact the person in death.  Obviously the person will only know what they knew in life.  Again, because the soul remnant is tied to the body, you must be close to the body to do so.  In time, the remnant fades, and is harder and harder to commune with.  You may only pick up an obscure word or two, and that's it.  Eventually, this too is gone.  However, there is still some soul energy left in the body even after that.  This energy is what allows necromancers to summon an army of undead, using the soul energy left in the body to power them.  The more powerful ones may simply be recently dead, and are using a full power remnant as an energy source. 

Obviously, YMMV. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Calendar of Andurantha

My last post was mostly systemless, so I thought I'd continue this in earnest.  I have a world I've been working on for awhile, and this world I'm trying to make as detailed as possible, while having as little to do with Tolkien as I can.  Tolkien is a bit old hat these days, and while a large amount of the populace is discovering Middle Earth through Peter Jackson's movies, the influence on D&D is too pronounced, and I'd rather steer away from that.  My ideas move more towards the Sword & Sorcery genre, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, et al.  So, without further adieu, I give you the calendar of Andurantha.  

A Note of Explanation: The Men of the Dawn were the first humans in the world.  They developed a highly-accomplished society, before betrayal brought about their downfall.  Their magic is ancient and some of the most potent known to any race.     

On Andurantha, they talk of time passing in 28-day cycles called "Moons."  Each moon represents a particular time of the year.

Wolf Moon -- Jan
Hunger Moon -- Feb
Sap Moon -- March
Spawning Moon -- March
Bear Moon -- April/May
Flower Moon -- Jun
Rose Moon -- Jul
Thunder Moon -- Aug
Red Moon -- Sep
Harvest Moon -- Oct
Hunter's Moon -- Nov
Frost Moon -- Dec
Long Nights Moon -- Dec

Wolf Moon - Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howl hungrily outside.

Hunger Moon - Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, harsh weather conditions make hunting very difficult.

Sap Moon - As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation.  It is considered to be the last Moon of Winter.

Spawning Moon - The herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring.  This is the time that the shad swim upstream to spawn.

Bear Moon - This is named for the time when bears begin to appear again most frequently.  Most bears begin hibernation during the Hunter's Moon and rouse themselves about now. They're usually not holed up for the entire time, but are rarely seen before this Moon.  They gain a lot of fat and tuck themselves into a cave or hollow tree.  Cubs suckle from mothers in winter as the mom slumbers.

Flower Moon - In most areas, flowers are abundant everywhere during this time. Thus, the name of this Moon.

Rose Moon - The start of strawberry picking season.  Strawberries are part of the rose family.

Thunder Moon - Normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur.  Thunderstorms are most frequent during this time.

Red Moon - Sturgeon are most readily caught during this month. As Sha'kal rises, it appears reddish through a sultry haze.

Harvest Moon - The Moon of the autumn equinox.  At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of the twin moons.  Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice are now ready for gathering.

Hunter's Moon - With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can easily see foxes and the animals which have come out to glean.

Frost Moon - This is the time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs.  The beavers are now actively preparing for winter. This is when the frosts set in.

Long Nights Moon - During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest.  The midwinter night is indeed long; the Brothers are above the horizon for a long time. The midwinter full moons have a high trajectory across the sky because they are opposite a low Sun.

Each time a new moon comes around, the bells in the cities toll to formally announce it. 

Months last 28 days, based on the lunar cycle, also based on a woman's cycle, because women are the Bringers of Life.

There are 13 months (moons) a year.

Last day of the year (365th day) is called the Night of the Black Moon, when no moons are visible, the Dark Powers are at their prime, and monsters walk free.

Seasons are based on the time of year, on agriculture.  Since farming and ranching feed the populace, this is natural.

Planting...Sap Moon to the Flower Moon
Planting is when the seeds are sown in the fields.

Growth...Rose Moon to Red Moon   
Is when the crops are at full growth.

Reaping...Harvest Moon to Hunter's Moon
Is when the crops are gathered in the fields.

Preserving...Frost Moon to Hunger Moon
Is when grain is stored in preparation for the long months ahead.

Sha'kal and Kerrg, the twin moons.  Sha'kal and Kerrg were brothers.  Sha'kal was good, while Kerrg was evil.  They fought constantly for which one would be ascendant, and during the days of the Long Nights Moon, Kerrg captured the sun, and blanketed the world, known as Isryn, with snow.  Sha'kal eventually won out, and Kerrg was put in his place, further removed from Isryn.  Sha'kal is white, with yellow and black spots some say are the wounds that Kerrg inflicted while they fought.  Kerrg is smaller (as an orange is smaller compared to a watermelon) and it is red, like the color of blood,  striated with black.  Sometimes Kerrg is called "the Blood Moon."  The moons collectively are called "the Brothers."

The names come from the Dawn Times, when the Men of the Dawn were simply scattered tribes.

Major festivals and feast-days do not fall on a day of the week.  Imagine it as:  Monday, Tuesday, Midsummer day, Wednesday, Thursday…  This gives the festivals an extra emphasis, making them stand apart from the rest of the week.  Festivals and feast-days are not normal days, they are important events in the religions and beliefs of Andurantha, and they are far more than an excuse for a day off.  Anyone who expects to find people conducting normal business on a festival-day is going to be disappointed. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

World-building with Blogger Word Verification

Over on his blog, Swords Against the Outer Dark, Shane has posed an interesting challenge: take a handful of Blogger word verification captchas and do writeups for each of them in such a way so they could be used in your game.  Well, now that things have somewhat settled down here, I'm going to give it a shot.

The method I used was just to take some words that jumped out at me, and started thinking what they could be.  There were some on the list that just didn't work for me (mation) and others that were simply obscene (arshl comes to mind). goes...  

Trised (try-sehd) - The city-state of Trised is one made up of concentric rings, each ring is a ward of the city.  Walls between each ward keep them separated, though there is some bleedover at the walls themselves, as populations from one ward spill over into another.  The center ring is the castle ward, where the military governor Schor keeps residence.   

Challys (chall-iss) - Challys is a powerful sorcerer who lives on the edge of civilization, near Trised.  His tower stands forbidding and alone.  No one has actually seen Challys in many seasons, leading some to think he may be dead -- or worse, mutated by his forays into forbidden magicks.  Travellers passing near the tower have heard strange noises and seen flashes of light inside the tower's windows. 

Volut (vohl-oot...rhymes with 'droll foot') - Volut is a star appearing in the constellation Dotholh, and can be seen low in the southern sky in the northern hemisphere during Reaping and early Preserving seasons.  (Seasons are based on agriculture: Planting, Growth, Reaping, and Preserving).  Named for the warrior-poet from Al-Azyan, known for his poems of love and valor, as well as his military prowess.

Dotholh (doh-thole) - Means "the lion" and is one of the 12 constellations visible in the night sky over Andurantha.  The Lion is stalked by the Hunter, and the Lion is hunting the Stag ("The Forest King"). 

Schor (shor) - General Schor is military governor of Trised.  His normally strict, regimented decisions have been erratic of late.  This comes shortly after he led an expedition inside the Vault of Orak'vi, leading some to darkly speculate what he may have encountered down there.

Word list:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rules Hack - Tactical Combat

I've been playing Age of Decadence recently -- the combat demo -- and realizing how fluid the combat system is while still being highly tactical.  Combats don't take long at all, and the winner is determined in the same way as in traditional pen n' paper RPGs: a die roll modified by stats and skills. 

 Age of Decadence itself promises to be a fantastic game, somewhere on the order of Fallout meets Baldur's Gate, and the combat system alone is well done.

There's something to be said about the tactical environment.  While I don't care for 3E's or 4E's version of that, I can think of ways that combat can be made more interesting than just a bonus here or a wearing down of your foe's hit points.

I began thinking about how to easily port the same system into D&D, and realized that I'd have to radically change the initiative model.  Action points in this game can allow multiple attacks.

Spot Rules:
1) Use DEX to figure out "Action Points," which would be determined by the Ability Score bonus.  

Everyone has at least 1 Action Point. 

14-15      2 APs
16-17      3 APs
  18         4 APs

Basic D&D:
For basic, you simply add 1 to the Ability Score bonus.
13-15      2 APs
16-17      3 APs
  18    4 APs     

Action points are modified by the following:
Using a light weapon      -1
Using a medium weapon -2
Using a heavy weapon    -3

Generally lighter weapons do less damage.  Medium weapons do a moderate amount of damage.  A heavy weapon usually requires two hands, and does the most damage. 

Wearing armor can slow you down as well:
Wearing no armor  0
Wearing light armor -1 (leather)
Wearing medium armor -2 (chain)
Wearing heavy armor -3 (plate)

You will never go below 1 AP. 

It costs 1 AP to attack someone. Therefore, someone who has an 18 DEX, uses a light weapon and wears no armor can attack 3 times in a single round. 

2) You may want to double or triple hit point values, to avoid insta-kills in this system.

3) You have four things to take into account, hitting, critical hits, dodging, and blocking with a shield.

 A critical hit is that telling blow that allows something special, like knocking you down or interrupting your attack.
Dodging is getting out of the way of a blow.
Blocking is putting up your shield in hopes of deflecting a blow.

A D&D character in this system would rank these four things in order of priority, higher numbers mean you want to focus on that action more.  Dodging and Blocking are special in that they're mutually exclusive.  A shield will do nothing unless you are blocking, but if your dodge is a higher priority you will dodge instead.  You can dodge and hit in the same round, as a defense costs 0 action points.  So, a typical character might look like this:
4   Hit
3   Dodge
2   Critical
1   Block

This means he wants to hit most of all, but he also wants to dodge a lot.  Criticals are less important to him, and he won't be using a shield.

So, to translate these numbers:
To hit: +4 to hit
Dodge: +3 to AC
Critical: 18-20 (20 - Critical Priority)

Note that "Hit" is only to hit, not damage.

As a defense is separated from the Action Point system, you might wish to allow Dodge and Block to be performed on a successful Ability Check, rather than having them add to AC.

4)  Next we focus on weapons.  Each weapon has something that it does on a critical hit: 
Daggers - x1.5 damage (bypassing armor).
Swords - +1 to Critical Strike, x2 damage on critical.
Axes - split shields, if no shield x2 damage.
Hammers - knock your opponent to the ground.
Spears - interrupt attempts to close in.
Bows - +2 to Critical Strike, x1.5 damage on critical.
Crossbows - knock your opponent down.
Thrown Weapons - x1.5 damage (bypassing armor).

5) One square of movement is going to cost 1 AP.  So if you have 4 APs and you move 4 Squares, that's it for that round.  You must wait til next round to attack.  You may still defend, however, as that takes 0 APs.

Will this flow as well as traditional D&D combat?  I dunno.  I can't imagine that it would take that much longer to complete.  I wonder if it's workable...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Down in the Dungeon

Over at Grognardia, James Maliszewski authored a post about an art book from 1981 called "Down in the Dungeon."  I have zero memories of it, but I love what has been said about it.  I feel almost as if I know it, can almost feel the pages beneath my fingers, and smell that musty smell that old books found in used bookstores so often possess.

Well, I googled it, trying to figure out if there were a way to purchase it through Amazon, perhaps, or eBay.  And I found an interesting item online:

The Monster Brains blog has posted 34 images from the book.  They're interesting renderings, if a bit dated.  The art in Down in the Dungeon is, on the whole, about as good as the cover of the first edition AD&D Monster Manual.

For those of you who have seen the book, enjoy the trip down memory lane.  For those of you who own the book, well, this post does you little good, and I apologize.  For those of you who have never seen the book, hearken back to a time when gaming was still young, and fertile imaginations ran wild.  Enjoy!   

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Gamorrean Guards -- Inspired by Orcs?

When I was younger, I was particularly struck by an image in a storybook I owned about Return of the Jedi.  Despite the disappointing movie overall, there was a pic of a Gamorrean Guard.  The Guard himself reminded me of nothing more than a classic 1e orc!

Now, Gygax himself has gone on record as saying that he didn't like the pig-faced orcs, but nonetheless it's an iconic image -- one that I didn't like 2e and 3e changing, thank you very much.

For anyone who doubts what I'm saying, here's a pic of the Gamorrean Guard:

And here's a pic from the first edition AD&D Monster Manual:

Note that for Star Wars, the G. Guard seems to be rather low tech, something you would find in a more medieval/Hyborian Age culture.  What do you think?

Happy Turkey Day everyone!

The Turkey Dance, errr...what?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Race As Class

Because I love the occasional hot-button topic, I'll be weighing in on the "race as class" debate.  For those of you unfamiliar with the debate, there are two schools of thought in the D&D community: 

One favors the idea of "race as class," that is, if you're a non-human such as a dwarf or an elf, your character type is automatically accounted for and the ability to fight or cast spells is a racial ability.  There is no selection of Elven thief, as you are automatically either a mage or a warrior. 

Another favors selection of race and class.  That is, you can take a Dwarven Cleric, you're not automatically a warrior-type simply because you chose to play a Dwarf.  This would be the more familiar type to modern day players. 

We will now contrast how the various editions handle races and classes:

The LBBs (little brown books)  seem to indicate that if you were one of the non-human races, then you were already in a "class:" 
There are three (3) main classes of characters:

Fighting Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even hobbits. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only. All non-human players are restricted in some aspects and gifted in others. This will be dealt with in the paragraphs pertaining to each non-human type.
It is interesting to note that OD&D never defines the term "class." The LBBs also do not use the term "race." The only idea of race that creeps in is that the non-human player's choice plays differently depending on whether you select Elf or Dwarf, and the Dwarf has a level limitation.

D&D (Holmes Blue Book)
In Eric Holmes' edition of Dungeons & Dragons (blue book, cover by David C. Sutherland III), the trend of using race as class appears to continue.  I say *appears* because the one reference to race on page 7 reads: "the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish)..."  But the classes and races are all lumped together in the experience tables, and page 6 says "any human character can be a fighting man and all halflings and dwarves are members of the fighter class, unless they opt to be thieves." 

The terms "class" and "race" are not defined.  There is a third way Holmes refers to characters, and that is "character type" (page 7), indicating class and race, which perhaps is the term that should have been used in later editions.    

AD&D hardcover Player's Handbook, first edition, is the first clear delineation between class and race.  There you can be one of quite a few races, and you first select your race, then you select your class.  There's also quite a bit of fiddly bits that make little sense, like level limits for non-humans.  But this has been torn apart in many, many magazine articles, so we won't tackle this here.  The interesting thing about the classes is that they now had "minimum ability scores" that you had to roll to be certain classes (like the Paladin).  If you didn't roll it, you had no chance to be that class.   

Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay) & BECMI (Mentzer)
The simple race as class structure can be seen here, hearkening back to the LBBs and Holmes.  The trend continued in Mentzer's BECMI.  In contrast to AD&D, Moldvay had a "prime requisite," which meant the highest ability score you had was used to help determine class selection. 

AD&D2e was, for the most part, a cleaned up revised version of AD&D1e, and the final nail in the coffin for any royalties Gygax might have received.  Race and Class are separate entities, and for the most part resemble their 1e counterparts.  The main difference was in the fantastic settings created for 2e, introduced "Kits" which could be special classes designed for a specific race (like Elven BladeSinger or Dwarven Chanter). 

D&D 3.X
The 3.X naming convention is strange, since its simplified ability bonus tables remind one of B/X or BECMI, but Race and Class are distinct and separate, like AD&D.   Eventually 3.X would ape 2e by doing "racial kits" (like the Dwarven BattleRager).    Dropping the "Advanced" moniker sent a clear message that this was the only Dungeons & Dragons we would see from WotC, and that B/X and BECMI were effectively unsupported.

D&D 4.X

Does the same thing as 3.X, races and classes are discrete groups, and one must select a race and a class. 

My take:
I never had a problem with "race as class" because I'm aware of one of the dictionary definitions.  From
27.  to place or arrange in a class; classify: to class justice with wisdom.
28.  to take or have a place in a particular class: those who class as believers.
The word comes from the Latin "classis," which meant class, fleet, division, army, etc.  So we can infer that the D&D "class" is merely a grouping, and the only thing in the dictionary that implies profession is class as social standing or caste, hardly an ironclad case.  So the snarkiness that I have observed (and been the target of) could have been avoided simply by cracking a dictionary. 

Do I prefer race as class?  For some things it works well.  It gels nicely with the simplified structure of B/X.  In the "clone" I'm working on, I have them separate as of this writing, though I'm thinking of leaning toward the race as class model and giving them different "builds" for race-specific classes.  Time will tell...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I Hate Energy Drain

Over at B/X Blackrazor there is post about how the author loves Energy Drain. Energy Drain is one of the little banes of my existence as both GM and Player.  I don't agree with the rules for it at all.  

It's simply not conceptual.  Why should I lose my skills because my life force is gone?  Simple fact: Energy Drain is stealing your life force.  It is not retrograde amnesia affecting procedural memory.  

It's also a pain in the patootie.  If you reduce someone's level, it could affect attack rolls, saving throws, thieving skills, class abilities, and spells.  That's a lot of bookkeeping! 

I finally figured an easy way to do Energy Drain (even easier than losing a level) and have it be true to what I feel Energy Drain actually is.

Make it a stackable -1 modifier to every roll.  

Even easier than losing levels, and more effective.  Someone drained 3 times would be at Energy Drain -3.  You may only be drained a number of times equal to your level.  If the penalty from Drain is equal to or greater than your Level, you are dead.  Energy Drain can only be "cured" by a Restoration spell or potion.  Since those spells are not only high level in my world but it is necessary to find them in ruins, tombs, etc, it would take awhile to get that life force back.   

Players whose characters were drained would write it on their character sheets, along with the penalty (e.g., "Energy Drain -2").  In the case of percentiles (frex for thief skills), it would be -5%. 

Another option is to have the victim of an Energy Drain make a CON Check (8 or less + CON Modifier) 24 hours after being drained.  A successful Check means a -1 penalty is gone.  Other penalties still remain, so if you were drained to -3, and you healed one, you'd still have a -2 to deal with.  Only one Check can be made each day (or if you want to be cruel, each week).

Obviously, YMMV.  I'm messing with a rule that's been in place for nearly 30 years.  But still, the rule has bothered me for about that long...         

Abstract vs. Heroic Combat

Something that D&D has done in violation of the fiction that inspired it is retain a combat system that doesn't give you much of a "feel" for combat.  Technically, you can try anything, but the RAW (rules as written) DMs were more than likely going to either (A) not let you or (B) give you a high chance of failure.  

Older editions seemed to lean towards a more abstract combat system.  That's great, but I don't want to read that Conan quickly dispatched his foes, I want to read about *how* he did it.  

Recent editions have put a premium on tactical combat.  Move this much, gain this modifier, etc, has become a standard part of modern iterations of D&D.  But, to me, this still doesn't fit the source material.  

What I'm talking about is Pulp Combat.  Pulp combat isn't about kewl powerz.  Pulp combat isn't necessarily saving someone's bacon, though it's certainly possible.  Pulp combat, in this context, has to do with emulation of some of the fantastic things we see heroes doing in fiction.  Think Robert E. Howard, Alexandre Dumas, or David Gemmell (for a more modern take) and you pretty much have what I want.

So, how to make combat more pulpy?  Well, I started in my retro-clone by adding maneuvers that you can do in combat.  I designed them with two assumptions in mind: 1) pluses and minuses suck.  2) I want results *now*.

Now, I'm sure we're out of grade school and can add +1 or subtract 2 or whatever.  But I got tired of that schtick in 2nd Edition, and I sure didn't like it in 3rd.  So I made it go away.  Too, I wanted results that would let the combat march on normally.  I don't want a 45+ minute combat. (Awfully demanding, aren't I?)   So here's an example maneuver I designed:

KNOCK FOE OFF-BALANCE - This is a powerful blow designed to move weapons and shield out of the way.  STR vs STR.  If successful the attacker can attempt to follow up with a quick attack before the defender can get his shield/blade back into position.

STR vs. STR is a from a rule I devised called "Ability Checks."  The check is 8-, and the Ability Score Modifier adds to it.  So if you have a +4 Modifier your Check would be 12- on a d20.  In cases where an opposed Check is needed, the higher roll wins (as long as it falls within the range of the Check).  If the person above rolled a 13, for example, his Check would fail.  

So, quickly put, the attacker and defender roll their STR Checks.  If the attacker wins, the attacker can try to quickly attack and take advantage of this, and the defender cannot parry or block.  If the defender wins, the attack was wasted.  

It's quick and easy.  Here's another:

THROWING YOUR FOE -- You have to win a turn of combat to do this (i.e., do damage, bind arms, etc).  You lift your foe over your head, and throw him into one or more foes to stop them.  They must make DEX Checks to see if they're knocked down.

No zillion arcane modifiers, just the ability to quickly knock down more than one foe at once.

Or how about this one?

INTERRUPT ATTACK -- DEX Check vs foe's attack roll.  If DEX Check succeeds, then foe's attack is disrupted and no damage is done.  DEX Check failure means the attack hits.

These are just maneuvers that I see all the time in fiction, in comics, in films, and for some reason haven't made them into many, if any, game systems.  Some might think that if you include maneuvers, you infringe upon creativity.  I don't believe that -- a list of combat maneuvers with accompany text on how to model them can be a springboard for all sorts of maneuvers.  You can simply roll to hit, but why when you can do cool things like throw sand in your foe's face, fast-talk your foe into making a mistake, bash through your opponent's parry or perform a Leaping Attack (think James Cameron's Avatar).  

Again, if you don't like all that, you can simply describe your action and roll to hit.  But I don't ever want to hear you say "I roll to hit."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Memories: The Atlantean Trilogy

In a recent post I helped explore the meme of 15 games in 15 minutes.  Now, as the mists of time part, one game rises to the fore.  One game that I used to be enthralled with:

The Atlantean Trilogy. 

I first discovered this in 1985 through a friend who was visiting from California at the time.  He had a copy of the Arcanum, the first edition, the cover in living greyscale.  I looked through it, and was enrapt with the game-related art inside.  While not technically fantastic, it was interesting enough, and as I skimmed it, I saw rules that were like D&D, yet were not D&D.  Gone were the nebulous Armor Class rules and attack matrices and saving throws.  Ability saves were used to resist spells.  Given that the hobby was still quite young at the time, it was still shackled to some of the more cumbersome engines, tables for things that would have better used a target number, variable percentages for skills, etc.  My friend told me that he thought that it was D&D, and therefore his campaigns were set there, and used those rules. 

The Arcanum
It had the standard D&D abilities, but swapped WIS for WILL and added Perception.  You didn't just have the choice of Thief, Fighter, Magic-User, or Cleric anymore.  You had Witch Hunters, Astrologers, Alchemists, Witch Doctors and more.  You didn't have the bog-standard choices for races -- you now had Druas (Dark Elves, before anyone else ever did), Aesir (giants), Zephyr (like ordinary people with huge eagle wings), and Andaman (half-human, half beast).  You didn't have the standard array of spells anymore.  Things like Fire Sign and Lesser Invocation of Mars gave the spells a much needed revision.  They separated the spells into nine schools of magic, such as Black Magic, Astrology, High Magic, et al.  All of this gave the game a definite flavor, a "feel" to it.

Skills were given to you based on race, class, level, and what climate you were raised in.  The skill list not only included Martial Arts, several different sub-types of Acrobatics, but also Knife Throwing, which gave you the ability to "call" your shot to any location, including throat, heart, etc.  This would cause the roll to be halved, but a hit to any vital area caused 2x damage and the  target would need to save vs. CON or be incapacitated by the wound.  If I had to quibble with the skills, it would be that some of was percentile, and others were based on attack rolls in combat.  One of my house rules was that each skill was tied to an ability and got a bonus if the ability was "exceptional."

Combat itself was almost rewritten from the ground up, and was a whopping four pages long.  Combat ability was defined by three different ratings: Highly Trained, Skilled, and Untrained.  Each determined to hit bonuses and hit points per level, and each of the classes had one of these ratings.  A straight 11+ on a d20 was a hit, and was modified by DEX, magic, and the bonus from class and combat rating.  Each opponent rolled a d20 -- the attacker and the defender.  Highest die roll + mods won.  The standard offensive tactics were in there -- melee, missile, hand-to-hand, dirty tricks, and called shot.  Defenses included parry, evasion, dodge, or counter (which you wait for your foe to strike first, then you strike him back while he's off-balance from his attack).  Damage was a bit more (such as 2d8 for a two-handed sword), given that hit points were higher (CON + set number from Combat rating).  AC was gone, so Armor actually subtracted 1-6 points from your damage, based on whether it was leather, ring, chain, plate, ad infinitum.  Also, chain, plate mail, and plate armor gave you -1, -2, and -3 on DEX saves respectively.      

Alignment was handled a bit differently, too.  It had only four Alignments: Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic, and Neutral.  Lawful Good characters were committed to honor, truth, justice and mercy.  Lawful Evil characters despised honor, lied, had no sense of mercy or justice.  Devils were LE.  Neutrals uphold and maintain their own beliefs.  Chaotics analyzed a situation and then acted.  The best of these are loners.  The worst lack all conscience (demons).

The spell system was markedly different from the Vancian system.  At first level, all spellcasters get every first level spell from their school of magic.  Any higher level spells must be found, and they offer ways to do that, from private collections to libraries, to learned mages, and adventuring in ruins and tombs.  It is worth noting spellcasters may only cast two spells per day, plus 1 per level.  In combat, it is also impossible to cast anything other than a first level spell, due to the stress and frenzy of battle.  They also had extensive rules for the properties of various plants and metals, alchemical rules, signs and symbols, and spell research.  

I went home the next morning and dug up one of my dragon magazines that had that book in it.  I sent in a check to Bard Games.  They told me that it really cost a buck more, but they'd send it to me anyway.  I soon found the Bestiary and the Lexicon published in one book (I don't recall where -- the now-defuct Crown Books?), and thus began my love affair with the Atlantean Trilogy. 

Of course I houseruled it, I found the AD&D-inspired ability tables lacking (i.e., bonuses all over the place) and so tacked on the BECM ability bonuses, instead.  13-15: +1; 16-17: +2; 18: +3.  Easy to remember, easy to apply and easily consistent.

The Bestiary
This was an interesting book.  The colorful cover by PD Breeding draws the eye, almost reminding one of Don Maitz's work.  The interior illustrations were rendered by comic artist Bill Sinciewicz.  Though I despised his run on The New Mutants (they hadn't had a good artist since Bob McLeod), the illos in the Bestiary were perfection.  His crazy, somewhat manic-messy style fit the tone of the book.  They had an interesting way of handling the monsters.  Each monster was given a class and a level.  From there you could figure out the to hit bonuses.  They also had no orcs, they were lumped under the label "goblin," which would handle everything from the standard D&D goblins to the big nasty orcs.  The other thing is that they had mythical or quasi-mythical names for the monsters.  A mummy was a "sahu,"  a lich was a "yatu," and they had special undead monster types for those who have been slain by ghouls and vampires to rise from the dead once more. 

For those who wish to see a sample of the gonzo art, here's a peek:

The Lexicon
The Lexicon was the atlas of the antediluvean world.  This product was obviously a labor of love, and parts of it resembled nothing so much as Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age (even going so far as to use some of the names, themselves taken from ancient history), but everything was ripped from myth and folklore and ancient cultures.  A giant mixing pot of Greek, Roman, Inca/Aztec/Mayan, Native American culture, and Medieval Europe.  The entire earth is described.    In a nutshell, the world suffered a massive Cataclysm, and Atlantis is a shadow of its former self.  Mu and Lemuria and similar mythic continents all share space in the Lexicon.  All in all, it's a fascinating read.         

This is one of those games I kinda wish had reached ascendancy, but it is a very different game than it started out as.  The first time some of this material saw print was in the "Compleat" series by Bard Games.  The Compleat Alchemist, The Compleat Beastmaster, etc.  Then, Bard Games put out these three books.  And later, Talislanta was born and would change publishers again and again.  If the Atlantean Trilogy is at the dawn of the world, Talislanta takes place at twilight, well after the Atlantean Cataclysms and the ice ages that followed.  A decade later, Death's Edge Games picked up and republished the Arcanum, the Lexicon, and the Bestiary, added some new material and changed the art.  A decade after that, Morrigan Press decides to update and revise the material, calling it Atlantis: The Second Age.  They changed the game to a series of suggested templates, spells that are created from different "elements" that combine to create specific effects, and a different system more based on the one found in Talislanta.  I'm not sure what Morrigan Press set out to achieve, but it has a very different flavor than the original Atlantean Trilogy.  I'm no less intrigued, but I miss the old game.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something interesting about Blogger

I've noticed something interesting about Blogger.  Every time I try to post something, it tends to end up a little wonky.  Typos aside, the formatting tends to get all munged up.  And I don't think I ask too much -- large font, Verdana, single spaced. 

I've since remedied the situation by composing in Notepad, and then copy/pasting into the "Compose" field, and adding links and formatting as necessary. 

Yay! Another Meme!

Perpetuating the meme I found over at Save or Die!, here's my 15 games in 15 minutes:

1. D&D - the boxed B/X and BECM, starting with Moldvay and moving to Mentzer.
2. Gamma World 1st Edition
3. Palladium Games, particularly TMNT, Fantasy, and Heroes Unlimited
4. Feng Shui
5. WoD (old), particularly Vampire and Mage, for better or for ill.
6. Warhammer FRP (1E)
7. Risus
8. Atlantean Trilogy
9. Gothic II (since I'm an avid video gamer)
10. Drakensang (another CRPG, itself based on a P&P rpg)
11. Risen (another CRPG)
12. The Fantasy Trip (first Melee, then Wizard, and then Labyrinth)
13. Baldur's Gate & Torment (more CRPGs, this time based on D&D)
14. GURPS (3e)
15. The HERO System (particularly Champions 1st-3rd editions)

This list could be a lot longer, but 15 was the rule.  I've also been influenced by Ars Magica, Fading Suns, Theatrix, Riddle of Steel, Sorcerer, etc.  The sad thing is that some weren't necessarily all good -- the World of Darkness in particularly seemed almost a parody of itself over time (look at me...I'm so dark).  And some (like Risus or Feng Shui) I wish I could play more.  

Some of them are computer games, as I've long held that some video games have content in them that need to be ported over to the pen n' paper genre.  Of course, this can be way over the top.  I have little love for MMOs or RTS games.  Those games are the way they are for a specific reason, and while I am familiar with them, I don't think they necessarily need to influence much in the way of gameplay.  Flavor?  Yes.  Gameplay?  Unlikely.

Others have pointed how 4E is like an MMO.  While I won't get into that here, it makes me wonder if that's why I don't care for 4E?  I've tried MMOs and mostly what they seem to be is quite pretty Roguelikes.  This isn't to say Roguelikes aren't fun, but I don't have fun with 'em for very long anymore.  

It's interesting to see what you can glean about others from looking at their lists. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gary Gygax and House Rules

I just read a disturbing editorial in The Dragon #16 (what would eventually become Dragon Magazine). Gary Gygax, starting on page 15 in the July '78 issue, blasts Amateur Press magazines and house rules that people have made for D&D. A few choice selections:

"D&D encourages inventiveness and originality within the framework of its rules. Those who insist on altering the framework should design their own game."

"Why can’t magic-users employ swords...On the surface this seems a small concession, but in actuality it would spoil the game!"

"Each character role has been designed with care in order to provide varied and unique approaches to solving the problems which confront the players...This same reasoning precludes many of the proposed character classes which enthusiasts wish to add to D&D. Usually such classes are either an unnecessary variation on an existing class, are to obtuse to be interesting, or are endowed with sufficient prowess to assure that they would rule the campaign..."

"The “critical hit” or “double damage” on a “to hit” die roll of 20 is particularly offensive to the precepts of D&D as well."

"Any fighting man worth the name made it a point to practice daily with all forms of arms....The truth of the matter with respect to weapon expertise is, I believe, another attempt to move players closer to the “instant death” ability.

"...[Amateur Press Associations] are generally beneath contempt, for they typify the lowest form of vanity press. There one finds pages and pages of banal chatter and inept writing from persons incapable of creating anything which is publishable elsewhere. Therefore, they pay money to tout their sophomoric ideas, criticise those who are able to write and design, and generally make themselves obnoxious...they are unprofessional, unethical and seemingly ignorant of the laws concerning libel...When I first got into this business, I felt that the APA-zines might be good for the hobby...Now I know the error of my thinking. They serve no useful purpose."

"Additions to and augmentations of certain parts of the D&D rules are fine. Variants which change the rules so as to imbalance the game or change it are most certainly not. These sorts of tinkering fall into the realm of creation of a new game, not development of the existing system."

"Spell points add nothing to D&D except more complication, more record keeping, more wasted time, and a precept which is totally foreign to the rest of the game."

"Many seek to trade on D&D’s popularity by offering “new” or “variant” systems which fit only with D&D, even though the game is not actually named. Buy them if you have money to throw away, but at peril of your campaign; do not use material which alters the basic precepts of the game."

He uses "framework" and "precepts" as if they are unalterable, or sacrosanct. But what are the precepts of D&D? Roll a d20 and interpret the results the way the rules tell you? Randomly generated ability scores? Experience, level, and class systems? Spell memorization? Some combination of the above, or none of these?

I can understand why a designer might think his design choices are best, but to publicly lambast someone else's design choices is purely unprofess-ional. I may not like AD&D nor the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th editions. I can tell you at length why I do not like them, but I'm not going say that their design choices are bad. I can tell you without a doubt that they are not for me.

What's funny is that, as time progressed, D&D changed:

  • Everyone used the "natural 20" rule, and it made it into 2E as an optional rule, and into 3E as an official "critical threat" roll.
  • Weapon expertise found its way into all editions as "Weapon Mastery" (in BECM), "Weapon Proficiencies" in 1 and 2E, and through various Feats in 3E.
  • Character classes were added, first in the form of "Kits" in 2E, then 180+ "base classes," and over 700 Prestige Classes in 3E (this is according to the Wizards official site).
  • Bulletin Board Services sprang up, host to a number of house-rules, and then this ballooned to blogs and retro-clones, each touting his or her own "variant system which fit only with D&D."
  • Spell Points made it into the Wheel of Time game published by WotC.

I've played with mages who used spell points and found it refreshing and new. It brought a flavor to the game that somehow the spell slot system lacked. I know the way Vance describes it is fantastic, but in D&D it was cut, dried, clinical, and limiting. I've since found variants to make it less limiting and more flavorful, but still use basically the same system.

It's pretty interesting to see Gygax violently defend a game that later on, even under his watch, changed immensely. True, even before 2E, he was ousted and even hunted by TSR's legal team. But it's also strange to see such venom being spewed at people who simply were trying to add rules to a game they loved. It is even more interesting if you consider he had a hand in Castles & Crusades decades later, itself a variant of D&D.

Regardless of the "angry young man" showcased here, we owe Mr. Gygax a debt we cannot repay, and I'm glad that he was able to continue to ignite our imaginations and inflame our passions about the hobby up until the end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Plot Elements in D&D

Recently on the gaming blogs there have been discussions of sandbox vs. railroading, and how a story isn't an adventure.  I maintain that there are elements of a story that can make a classic adventure.  You just have to remember that prompting is good, railroading is bad.  

In this post, we will examine the standard plot elements found in fiction, and discuss how to apply them to a D&D adventure (or any fantasy game, I'll just be using D&D in my examples for the sake of brevity).  This might be especially important for the novice DM. 

For my example of each, I'll use Star Wars: A New Hope in the bullet points.  The italicized text will explain how to use this plot element in a D&D module.  

This shows off the setting, characters, and other things that are needed to understand the story.  It also sets the tone.

- Darth Vader is a bad dude -- snapping the neck of a soldier on the blockade runner
- Luke Skywalker feels trapped on Tatooine
- Ben Kenobi is a Jedi Knight hiding from the Empire
- Lasers make noise in space in the Star Wars universe
- The tech level is ray guns and spaceships. 

This would be simple enough to set up in D&D adventure.  The trappings of the characters and the place they're in would be sufficient. 

This gives you some kind of hint or clue that will figure more prominently later on as the story progresses.   
- It didn't make the final cut, but there was an encounter with Luke's friend Biggs Darklighter, who was heading off to join the Rebellion, and tells Luke how bad things have gotten.
- During the encounter between Han and Greedo in the cantina, both of them mentioned Jabba the Hutt, who is a major character in the third film, Return of the Jedi.  

The way Foreshadowing usually turns up in a D&D adventure is with a dream or vision.  In some cases rumors are gathered.  They could happen on the scene in the middle of a battle with raiders or orcs or monsters.  Or, in some cases, the dark citadel on the hill is enough to foreshadow evil and danger.

This is a person, place, thing, or event that starts the conflict. 

- The Trigger would be Darth Vader and the Death Star.  More the Death Star, though Vader was a compelling enough villain. 

TSR wanted a villain in every module, at least during the days of 2nd Edition.  This is proven by one fact and one anecdote.  Fact: In the Dungeon Master's Design Kit, you need to to know who your villain is.  Anecodote: A friend of mine submitted an adventure to Dungeon Magazine in the 90s, and it was rejected because it had no villain.  Even though it was an excellent adventure, there was no villain, so it couldn't exist in the D&D canon (grumble).   

You don't need a villain for the trigger.  Events, such as war, famine, disease can be triggers.  A place, for example a Wizard's Tower can be a trigger.  Or how about an evil ring, which turns its wielder invisible? (grin)

A struggle of some kind.  For our purposes, the conflict is usually expressed as X vs. X.  Man vs. Nature, Woman vs. Machine, Man vs. Nature, Outcast vs. Society, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Demon, Man v.s the Gods.  I purposely restructured this classic element to help further define the conflict.

- The conflict in Star Wars is the Rebels against the Death Star, the Rebels against the Evil Empire. 

The conflict in a D&D adventure is the main point of the adventure.  Goblin raiders, bandits, warlords, battling against the unknown, rescuing a kidnapped princess, vengeance, sacrifice, errors in judgment, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired monsters threatening to return, etc.  
Rising Action
A sequence of events based on the Conflict,  starting with the Trigger and ending with the Climax.

- Princess Leia Organa is captured, believed to be carrying stolen plans for the Death Star.
- An escape pod is ejected from the Blockade Runner that contains two droids, one of whom is carrying the stolen plans.
- Luke finds the message from Leia in R2, and asks an old hermit, Ben Kenobi, about it.
- Stormtroopers trace the droids to Luke's Aunt & Uncle, and kill Owen & Beru.
- Luke agrees to accompany Ben Kenobi.
- The group, now including Han Solo and Chewbacca take off from Tatooine and discover the Death Star.  - They are drawn in, but the ship remains captured while they look for Princess Leia.
- Ben Kenobi turns off the tractor beam, but is drawn into a fight with Vader.  Ben loses the fight and is killed. 

Rising Action would be the sections in a D&D module where things really get moving.  The raiders beset a caravan and the PCs draw arms and stop them, the disease claims more lives, a kingdom falls, a warlord marches on the town, assassins come after the PCs, etc.

It is vital to remember that in a story, the events take place in the most dramatic order.  It is necessary in a story for this order of events to be maintained.  Not so in a D&D adventure.  The players should have multiple exits from every encounter, so that they don't have to be "herded" from one scene to the next.  Of course, each scene should also contain clues that help move the action forward.  If they find out that their friend was murdered in such and such a district, they could question neighbors present now, possible witnesses down by the docks (for example), enter the local bars to find out if anyone saw anything or knows anything, talk to their friend's former housekeeper, interrogate their friend's former bodyguard, or question the guard commander who didn't seem too interested in solving the crime. 

Not only should you provide multiple exits, you should also perhaps alter the scenario so that it better fits the PC's actions.  What if the scenario called for them to visit a specific graveyard, and yet they end up visiting another?  Maybe you can subtly alter events so that they can do whatever they were supposed to do in that graveyard.  Maybe the scene doesn't call for them visiting a graveyard at all, and they get a wild idea about searching for clues there?  Maybe you can arrange for them to find a clue there (logically placed, of course), or even invent a clue out of whole cloth to put the adventure back on track.  Never push the players, always subtly guide them.  If the scenario is a chariot driven by the player's actions, if they think it was all their idea in the first place, you've succeeded.

The turning point of the conflict, when enemies meet and the intensity level is cranked up.  This occurs before or simultaneously with the climax.   

- The Death Star travels close enough to Yavin to blow it up.  
- The plans are taken to the rebel base at Yavin, analyzed, and a plan is formed to fire blasters into an exposed exhaust port.
- The X-Wing fighters take off and fend off TIE fighters while heading into the trenches to find the exhaust port.

At this point in the D&D module, it's the endgame.  It's when everything comes to a head and sets up the climax.  The heroes enter the bandit fortress, they have dispatched all the minions and the "boss" shows up, they have the cure or the components to dispel the curse and must now race to a particular location to use them, etc. 

The end result of the crisis, and the high point of the adventure.  This is where the intensity level rises to 11.  It's when the outcome can usually be predicted.   

- Luke hears Ben's voice in his head, and uses his Jedi training to hit the exhaust port square.
- Death Star blows up 

The D&D climax is the battle with the boss monster, or the rescue of the princess, vengeance on the big baddie for the murder of their friend, whatever high octane point you want to make.  Everything is fine once the climax is passed.  It almost always takes place close to the end of the adventure. 

Falling Action and Resolution (Denouement)
These are the events immediately after the climax.  Sometimes combined with the resolution for the end of the story.  This is where the hero goes home, couples marry, a ruler is restored, etc.  "And they lived happily ever after" is a classic example of Denouement.

- They are decorated as heroes. 

In a D&D adventure, this is where the heroes celebrate their victory and mourn their losses.   

This is simply a skeleton that a GM can follow when constructing his adventures.   There shouldn't any issues with story vs. sandbox.  Because, just letting the players run all over willy-nilly can get really old after a time, because the game can degenerate into "let's see how much use we can get out of random encounter tables this session."  Plot is important, but it's also important to let the heroes react to the plot however they wish (as long as the intent is not to wreck the plotline, campaign, or the GM's good graces).