Saturday, May 30, 2009

Order of the Trehean

This is an excerpt from a project I am working on. It is designed to work with Swords & Wizardry. It is inspired by 3rd edition's Sorcerer class but I feel the background is a better fit with tone of older editions than the dragon blood of the Sorcerers.

Wizards, Order of the Trehaen Magic-users may choose to start as members of the Order of the Trehaen. Members of the Order are known as Wizards.

• Wizards Gains 1D6-1 HP/level
• Cannot use any Armor/Shield, permitted to use dagger, staff, and darts.
• Can cast spells limited times as day without preparation. (see below)
• Can cast rituals equal to ½ highest level cast. (see below chart)
• At 11th level a Wizard can establish his own Circle and attract a group of fellow Wizards to follow him.

The Order of the Trehaen has the singular ability to cast spells without memorization. This results from their focus on a deep understanding of magic. The price is that the number of spells at their disposal is limited compared to the other Orders.

The Order of the Trehaen is the oldest order of magic still in existence. It traces its heritage to just after the Uttermost War. It tradition of magic was learned from the elves and has continued nearly unchanged for 8,000 years. It focus on deep study allow the Wizards to cast spells with no preparation or reliance on spell books.

The Order of Trehaen organizes themselves in Circles. A Circle is a loose fellowship of Wizards in a small region. Circles don’t generally maintain a central hall or building. Instead they will meet in secluded groves for a weekend long meeting to exchange stories and knowledge. Often various members of a Circle will specialize in one aspect of magic. When an issue arises involving that area of magic; the other Wizards of the Circle will consult with that specialist.

Wizards from 1st to 2nd level are considered Apprentices in the Order of Trehaen. When they successfully master their 2nd level spell they are now considered Evokers and encouraged to journey in order study with other wizards. When they mastered the 5th level spell (at 9th level) they are recognized as a full Wizard. Those who master 6th level spells are known as Seers. Finally those who reached the lofty heights of 7th level spells and higher are granted the title of High Seer.

In most regions this tradition has been supplanted by those taught by Magic-users An immortal elf would think nothing of taking the next century to relearn another spell. Shorter lived humans began to adapt the Trehaen tradition to allow a greater number of spells to be cast in an exchange for reliance on spellbooks and scrolls.


Spell Chart

I am sure some of you are wondering about the meaning of the ritual column more on that next post.

Friday, May 29, 2009

From the Attic: Favorite TSR Modules, Hommlet

There are a couple of TSR Modules I used over and over again. I consider them my utility modules. TSR had plenty of other good modules but these have elements that allow them to be incorporated easily into my Majestic Wilderlands.

The Village of Hommlet is one of my all time favorite. The was the only module I took the time to convert fully into GURPS. I liked however every inhabitant was listed in the module. One thing I did in my conversion was add a little plot to the town itself.

The construction workers are having issues with the regular villagers who view them as "outsiders" who cause trouble. The construction workers live in a temporary settlement of mud and wattle huts near the castle.

Tension is mounting as the workers attempted to erect a tent to serve as a pub. The resulting protest from Ostler Gundigoot forced the Brewer not to sell any more kegs of beer and ale to the workers. One of the workers is currently in jail because he tried to steal a keg from the Brewer. Much of this is inflamed by the two Traders who are secretly evil agents.

Typically the way the events unfold when I run this are as follows
  1. The PC comes into Hommlet gets a room at the Welcome Wench
  2. That night a rock is thrown into their room shattering the window.
  3. The PC track down the kid and find out about the problem between the two groups
  4. They get interested and start talking to everyone to find out what really going on.
  5. They start seeing that the two Traders are way more involved than they should be and investigate them. Usually by breaking into their establishment.
  6. The workers for a mob intent on liberating the jailed worker
  7. Evidence in hand the PC expose the trader and help forge a compromise between the two sides.
  8. They interrogate the Traders finding out about the moathouse.
  9. Goto the moathouse and clear it out.
In general I don't use the Temple of Elemental Evil but instead tie it to the Slaver series which is part of my Set in City-State plotline. In the Majestic Wilderlands Hommlet is located on the Tharian Coast. Northeast of Elixir and halfway to the Coast. (Map 1 (old)/Map 5 (new)).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Star Trek the Roleplaying Game

I did a few things that greatly enhanced the fun of my players.

Since my game was set during the Original Series, when I ran off the character sheet I made sure they were the correct color!

I had to try a couple different shades before I found the right red that was readable. The yellow was Goldenrod.

Most of my game was set in a Amundsen Class. It was about the size of the Reliant and used as a general purpose exploration ship. As a warship it could pack a hard hit as it was loaded with the best photon torpedoes that could fit on it's frame. A quirk of the Ship Construction System was that photons gave a lot of bad for the space. Probably a lot more than it should have been.

But the best part was that FASA's game system use quarter inch squares as it's full scale (15 mm for you grognards). This made mapping the ships very feasible. Also in these pre desktop publishing time we were lucky that FASA had the entire Enterprise laid out in the full 1/4 inch scale. So we could photocopy what we needed and make NEW deck place.

This is the deck just below the Bridge.

Half of the saucer section that shows the intregretion of pencil and paste ups we used.

These decks were a group effort with four of us working on them. The guy who did the pencils was really good and particularly proud of his work.

One thing that grated on me on GMing any sci-fi game is what I call the parrot problem. When the sensor, comm, computer, etc officer was dealing with something. I would say what they say and either they repeat what I said or just pretend I am putting words in their mouth.

Frankly it was not fun and took away from the immersion. FASA had a nifty solution to this in the form of the Tricorder/Sensors Interactive Display.

Basically they had four decoder wheels. The GM would give you the code for one or more the wheels and you would turn them to read the result. The GM had a table in front of him with the codes. You could tailor the results to give more or less information and you avoided the parrot effect. Plus it put some of the burden back on the player to use the display correct and intrepet the results.

Of course it was high geekiness.

Here some picture of it in Action. The player made a good success with his roll so I told him A21, B10 C11 D11. Read off #15 on Tricoder Strip B for further information.

So the player saw an Approaching Energy Source Solid Lifeform and Topaline was involved. The player was up on his Star Trek lore he would know that Topaline is used in life support system and interferes with sensor readings.

This is the starship sensor side.

The neat thing about using this that player remember certain codes so as they get more experienced they didn't need to fiddle with the dials and just gave the result. This also added to the immersion. Today I would probably just use a chart and the player can read off of it as the dials are fiddly to use.

Imagine what the sensor/hand scanner chart would look like for Encounter Critical!, Gamma World, or Mutant Future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fromt the Attic: The best damn game I ever played.

I told the story of the best game I ran here but that wasn't the best game I played. Tim of Gothridge Manor recounts the game here.

I can't add too much to his account. The whole guide thing with a women dressed as man really did throw me on a couple of levels. I figured that the reason Pam was playing a man was because of the Arthurian genre. Another is that I am 50% deaf. My deafness effects different tones differently. My hearing aids help but I often miss things in a general conversation. Half of me was wondering what I missed. But it was really cool once I got over my confusion and explain a lot why she defended me verbally a couple of times.

One moment I remember clearly was encountering an ice palace in the middle of the realm we were in. It wasn't much of an encounter but Tim did such a good job describing it, it still sticks we me today.

I remember the sacrifice as a zen moment. I seen this happen to players as well as myself. There is a moment with all the threads come together and you just KNOW what to do. The sacrifice was one of those moment. My death was made more shocking because I figured it out a step before everyone else. (Not the usual case for me as a player.)

My only regret was that this was a one-shot. The plot couldn't be anything else. However in a later campaign ran by Tim I got to reprise a slightly different Hawk but that is a different story.

So that my story of the best damn game I ever played.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Offically chastised and enjoying it.

I stand officially chastised ;)

This is pure gold. Thanks to Amityville Mike.

Where that Old School Feeling is Important

Feeling does come into play when you are trying to SELL products to the Old School markets. Because the experience of the game is very much dependent on which rule set you use. The Old School market has currently settled on rule systems that take their core concepts from a selection of games developed in the 70s and early 90s. I wouldn't create a dungeon and try to market it using the full D20 rules to this market no matter how much it adheres to the principles in Old School Primer. I would pick OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, or one of the other rule sets out there.

Remember that the Old School market isn't a narrow niche of dungeons and old rulesets. Games like Encounter Critical and Mutant Future are considered part of the Old School market. The former because it looks like it ought been published in the late 70s and the latter because many perceive it as Gamma World done right and it is based on the Labyrinth Lord rules.

In terms of settings it was the original 1974 rules that spawned Barker's Empire of Petal Throne. Carcosa shows there are still people thinking of presenting unique settings using the framework of the 1974 rules. This the area where my own interest lies with my Points of Light series, Wild North, and Majestic Wilderlands.

There is a lot of room to creativity within the Old School Market. However you have to take its personal preferences into account. For example in adapting the Majestic Wilderlands for one of the old school rule systems I made sure that I stayed within the spirit of the rule system. The result isn't quite like how a character is created in GURPS for the Majestic Wilderlands but the point isn't to make OD&D work like GURPS but present the Majestic Wilderlands in OD&D terms. It helped that GURPS 4th edition went into templates in a major way and so did I.

So if you are planning a product for the Old School market plan on using one of the older rulesets. Don't try to market your product as Old School in feel and use Exalted, GURPS, etc as the rules. You will wind up appealing fans of that system and not the Old School market as a whole. You can get away with using D20 as long as you limit yourself to what in the older rules and limit your stat blocks.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Old School is an attitude

Here James M at Grognardia talks about the definition of Old School gaming. I seen the Old School feeling argument made before and I see where James is coming from in that part of his post. However both sides are missing the point. It not about feeling, it is about attitude that makes a campaign old school. This transcends rule systems and setting.

I am not saying that ANY setting and ANY rules system can be used for old school gaming. Some are indeed easier to use for old school than others. But the concepts outlined in the Old School Primer can be used with a pretty large selection of Games and Settings that are out there.

Part of this stems from my experiences. Superficially my experience seems typical of many who write or sell for the current Old School market. I started with Holmes D&D, played AD&D, switched to other game systems (Fantasy Hero, GURPS), tried D&D 3rd, and finally came back to the original material.

Understand while the rule system had changed, the fundamental way I ran my campaigns has not. Instead of ditching what I did in favor of whatever the rule system advocated I adapted the rule system to my campaign. It just I prefer a more detailed combat system from being an avid wargamer. Today I have a lot of fun writing and publishing stuff for everybody in the Old School market. I never left and it is finally good to have a group to share my stuff with and a market to sell to.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Majestic Wilderlands Overview Map

I am working on a bunch of project at the moment and decided to try to update this map

This map had a torturous history.

It started when I needed to do some historical maps to work out some elements of the Majestic Wilderland's history. Writing is all dandy but sometimes you just need to map it to see if what you are describing is possible. So I what I did is took the overall map of the Wilderlands from Tarantis and shrunk it down. I then used a homemade lighttable to pencil a tracing. After I double checked the tracing I inked it and had my master for photocopies.

Around 95, I acquired CorelDRAW and had release 12 of AutoCAD, which sill ran under DOS. I also had a tablet. A tablet works similar to a mouse except that if you lift the pointer up and put it down elsewhere the cursor will snap to that point. Artists still use them today.

So I put my master on the table. Luckily I had a 12 by 12 tablet so it was easy to get the letter sized map taped down. I then used AutoCAD to click around the coast and mountains. After that I exported it as a DXF file into CorelDRAW and made what you see.

Needless to say the map isn't very accurate having several generations of copying done to it. However in 2001 I made a highly accurate map using Campaign Cartographer. I that by eyeballing the coastlines hex by hex. It isn't as hard as it sounds but it is tedious.

The problem up to this point is that Campaign Cartographer stinks at getting it's data out in a vector format. DXF or EMF (Enhanced Meta File) should work but don't. Over the years I cleaned up the original CC2 drawing isolating the problems one by one. Finally I bite the bullet last week and got into CorelDRAW. There was still a lot of cleanup to do but it was a lot faster than redrawing the thing.

Now that I had a accurate version I can start revising some of my base maps. Here is the first one. Once I have some of the other projects finished I will start making more.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thanks Dane and all my other customers.

Over here at Jeff's Gameblog he is trying to help his friend Dane with getting started with 2nd edition AD&D. In particular a good string of modules to use from 1st level onwards. Dane replies later thanking everyone for their suggestions and out of the blue, at least for me, mentions that he will be using Points of Light with the modules.

Thanks Dane for being a customer.

And thanks to all of you who have bought Points of Light .

Points of Light II will be out in stores any time now. Plus I am working on some independent project that should see the light of day by summer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trek

One of the reasons that FASA's Star Trek worked so well for me is that at the time all there was the original series, and a handful of movies. There was a sense of freedom and adventure in FASA's Star Trek that wasn't present for the Decipher and Last Unicorn version. The weight of Canon intimidates a lot of players and GMs. Perhaps unfairly.

It will say that both version has some pretty good writers creating their Narrator's guidebooks. Although the late John Ford did a kick ass job with FASA's Klingons. I was happy when Enterprise's solution to the differences between the TOS Klingons and the later Klingons was resolved using elements of Ford's solutions. (The TOS Klingons are the result of genetic manipulation of the Klingons by the Klingons themselves).

But since the positive reception of Abram's Star Trek now I see talk about refereeing Star Trek all over the place. Having seen the film a second time with my son, it is still a darn good film that was just as enjoyable to watch the second time as the first. It's most important aspect is that is restore the sense of adventure back to Star Trek and that anything can go. This make the setting a lot more appealing to referees and players.

Right now the only Star Trek RPG out there is Prime Directive by Amarillo Design Bureau. Which has it own unusual history. Luckily for fans of the new Star Trek it geared solely towards the Original Series. It comes in several flavors so you have your choice of system.

I think I will take mine in GURPS, loose leaf, three hole punched.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From the Attic: The Best Damn Game I ever ran

Even though it was designed by wargamers the fact it was Star Trek meant a lot of role-playing came along for the ride. Some of the best campaigns I ever refereed was using FASA's ST:RPG.

The best adventure I ever ran involved the players starting out on a milk run dropping navigation warning buoys around the time-space distortion that nailed the USS Defiant and nearly got the USS Enterprise. The ship, the USS Challenger, was refitted with a emergency anti-matter injector that could give a short burst of Warp 9. It was done in case there was a problem with the ship falling into the distortion.

I went all out for my Star Trek games. I used what computer tech I had at the time and creative photocopies to create orders, manifests, and other in-game documents for my players.

When they were halfway done, the distortion starting grew unexpectedly and caught the Challenger. The Engineer made his skill roll and injector worked pulling them out. When sensors came back on-line the Science Officer reported a Klingon D-7 bearing down on the Challenger with shields up. The players had a tough fight but the lone D-7 was no match for a Consitution Class Starship and it fled.

During the course of doing Damage Control after the battle, Comm Officer reported the Subspace Network was down. The Science Officer, Engineering and Comm Officer worked together to determine what was going on. The Challenger equipment was OK but the Subspace Network was simply gone. Even nodes near the Federation's Core were not on-line. However when they started searching for the other races they began to pick up a unknown network centered on Andoria. They found the nearest node and warped to it.

When they got there several weeks later they found a Starbase of unknown design. When they made first contact they discovered it was a Starbase on the frontier of the Andorian Star Empire! By now it was obvious they were thrown in some parallel timeline.

The players were able to find out that the Andorians had no record of Humans or Earth. The only record was that they found a dead world destroyed by nuclear weapons. As a consequence the Federation never developed and the Andorian Star Empire now dominates this region of space contending with the Klingons and Romulans for power.

They were able to secure permission to proceed to Earth. When the players got there they beamed down and started combing through the ruins for any records of what happened. They were surprised by Klingons and a firefight ensued. Meanwhile in orbit the Challenger was attacked by a D7 hiding behind Earth's Moon. It was a tough fight but the players won both on the ground and on land. The D7 was destroyed in the aftermath.

The players were able to determine that the nuclear war occurred around October 1962. Apparently in this timeline the Cuban Missile Crisis exploded into World War III engulfing the entire planet in nuclear war leaving on the cockroach as the highest lifeform.

From the wreckage of the D7 they were able to find out that the D7 was sent to the time-space anomaly that the Challenger was mapping and was able to use it to go back into time. They launched a nuclear missile at the US Fleet blockading Cuba. Both sides blamed the other and the crisis spiraled out of control into full scale war.

A smart player checked and it turned out the Challenger had the data on-board to execute a time warp via a slingshot around the Sun. What followed was some of the best roleplaying I ever seen as the players debated among themselves whether it was ethical to go back and restore the time line. This debate elevated a pretty good session into a game that emulated it's source material perfectly. Both sides had strong points in favor of the arguments. Both arguing with the passion that only college age fans could bring. In the game billions of lives were at stake on the decision. The player of the Captain actually started sweating at having to make this decision.

In the end the decision was to restore the timeline. The Challenger slingshotted back to 1962 and hide behind Earth's Moon. When the Klingon D7 warped into Earth orbit the Challenger surprised it and was able to destroy it before it launched the missle the ignited World War III. Then it warped back to the 23rd Century back into a future where the Federation existed.

And that was the best damn game I ever ran.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From the Attic: Star Trek's the Roleplaying Game.

There has been a lot of talk on the various forums about roleplaying in the new Star Trek continuity. The sheer energy in the new film has invigorated interest in Star Trek Roleplaying. I refereed a lot of different RPGs but there are only a handful that I am good at. FASA's Star Trek the Roleplaying Game was one of them.

In the mid 80s FASA was one of the hot 2nd tier RPG companies by breaking away from it's Traveller roots and coming out with Battle Tech and Star Trek the Roleplaying Game. The initial version of the Game was strictly Original Series. It was very much a RPG put out by wargamers with a rules heavy combat system using action points. Character Generation echoed Traveller as you generated a history of your service in Star Fleet as well as your character.

The best part of the game was the Starship Combat System. It runs down a similar path to Star Fleet Battle in that you have damage tracks for various system and weapons do points of damage that have to wear down shields before hitting the vital stuff. Where it genius comes into to play is that unlike Star Fleet Battle is is deliberately designed so that multiple players perform vital ship functions.

For years I wondered how the simulations of space flight could be any good at various Space Camps as their computer hardware and props were often primitive to say the least. Then I was able to participate in one a few years back and found out why. The main issue isn't the tech, although it important, it is communications. Getting everybody working together to solve problems in real time. Being in mission control trying to get the guy on the other end of the line to take a reading on the meteorite detector while he too busy playing with the remote arm.

This what make the starship combat system of ST:RPG so golden. The captain players is giving orders, the enginneer is allocating chunks of power to each station, the individual players at the stations have to take these chunk and try to do what the captain is ordering. The actual rules of the combat system is far more basic than Star Fleet Battles and easily grasped by players of any skill level. Fun chaos erupt as Captain realizes that phasers aren't firing that should be firing and fine out it because the enginneer forgot to give the 1 extra point that was needed. When everybody clicks and start working together there is a real sense of accomplishment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marcus, Alec, Marcus, Alec, and Marcus (again)

Some people just make the same character over and over again. While everybody entitled to have fun in their own way I found that long-term interest dwindle a faster in these players as at some point they just wind up doing the same things again, and again.

If you try to ask them or try to require them to play something different they wind up not coming at all. I had players wanted to play nothing but elves who had Silver in there name, another guy who named his characters alternatively either Alec or Marcus

My trick for overcoming this was to "give up" and let them have their way in the character generation. However in my Majestic Wilderlands setting there are clear tangible benefits to having a fleshed out background. Here is where I sneak in stuff that I hope get them to move beyond the one character they have been playing. I try to ensure that the background is different for every version of their character.

So the Silverring turns out to be a vastly different character than Silverwing. The same for the 1st Marcus against the 2nd Marcus. Because their initial circumstances are different resulting a different experience with each character.

After about two or three iterations of this the players began to think of other possibilities to play as the different experience expose them to different ideas about what they could play.

P.S.Years later we found out the second guy named one of his kids Marcus. When
we teased him about it, he turned red and asked us not to tell his wife about it as she didn't know the source of the name.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alternative Histories and your setting

Game designers are at a disadvantage with alternate histories as they are usually developed fromthe perspective of a limited audience. If I was to seriously consider a alt-history background I would look at the forums at maybe submit it to be criticized.

Subjects like the South winning the civil war and Germany launching Sea Lion have been discussed so many times that you really learn what the possibilities were.

The most interesting timelines written are those that start from an otherwise uninteresting Point of Departure. For example Jared's Decades of Darkness has a PoD of the death of Thomas Jefferson in late 1808. This change leads to an extended Embargo Act, leading a more widespread succession movement in New England, A war of 1811 where New England along with New York and New Jersey leaves the Union, the resulting Union is dominated by slave holding states, which leads a slaving holding, debt peons dark United States in the 20th century that is powerful nation dominating the Americas yet is a pariah among the rest of the world.

The way these timelines work is that you start out with a short story or a series of vignettes, people comment on them, you modify any implausibilities, and then post the next step. If you take this seriously the result is a plausible timeline that been vetted by many eyeballs. Avoiding the pitfalls that plague backgrounds of this kind.

For example you would do something like

What if while in his early teens Mohammad converted to Christianity and stayed in Syria living as a Monk. Then you post a series of vignettes about Mohammad as a Christian monk. Perhaps your initial plot is that Mohammad instills a missionary zeal/conversion by the sword attitude in Byzantine Christianity as result of his experience in the wars with the Sassanids. (they held Syria and the Holy Lands in the 620s) This in combination with Heraclius as Emperor led to the Eastern Roman Empire recovering before the Sassanids.With eventually leds to a Roman Empire that survives into the present era dominating Europe. Along the way Steam came into early widespread use because of the increased traffic resulting from a stable eastern empire. This ignited an early industrial revolution somewhere in the 16th to 17th century. Some tech is more advanced (metallurgy, steam, coal, etc) while other are still at OTL (Our Time Line) levels.

You could use this as a background for some weird steampunk RPG. By working it out first with outside input you can create a plausible chain of events to get to your "present." The plausibility helps to allow your audience to accept the background as part of the setting.

The techniques that the alternate history folks use help with standard backgrounds for fantasy and science fiction games as well. You start with a initial set of premises and work your way to your setting's present making sure each step is plausible. This helps with game balance with extranormal rules systems like magic and psionics. You can spot elements that have undesired effect and fix it before releasing the system. For example having a Create Metal spell has a radical effect on fantasy societies and probably would make medieval/feudal societies implausible. You could eliminate the spell or fix by saying the metal being created doesn't last for then the spellcaster's level in days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hairpins and Hairsticks for the Longhaired Gamer

Kelly Anne, my wife, has started releasing hair pins and put out some new gaming items including branching out to d12s! So now you barbarian players can wear your hit dice.

You needn't be a barbarian to wear this d12 stick! The green glitter-infused die is accompanied by antiqued golden bead caps and three types of gorgeous swarovski crystal--apple green, aurora borealis, and clear in butterfly form. The sturdy wood stick is a matching Forest Barbarian green.

This stick is 6 1/2" in total length, with 4 1/2" usable.

The link to her store is here and to this item here.

From the Attic: Blackmoor redux

Around 1990 I decided to redraw the Blackmoor map. This would be done in the hand drawn harn style that I have been doing for City-State. One thing I wanted to experiment with was the Labeling machine my father got. He is a incessant inventor always puttering around with new gadgets. I finished the map but alas it was lost save for this one photocopy that I managed to save.

(Click to see a larger view)

Friday, May 15, 2009

From the Attic: Origins of Map 19 the Wild North

Every project has a beginning. Map 19 the Wild North had it is origin in a map I drew in 1982 using one of the blank wilderlands parchment maps. I never wrote it up but I think you find the names pretty self explanatory if you can get beyond the misspellings. Of course like many young DMs I threw in different thing just because I could; like Larry Niven's Kzintis roaming the eastern steppes. Click for a larger image

Thursday, May 14, 2009

From the Attic: Monster Cards

Here James talks about the old AD&D Monster Cards. I currently own 1 1/2 sets of the cards. One was my original and is about 80% complete. Various cards were lost over the years. The other was recently given to me by Tim (of Gothridge Manor) and has all the cards.

I can add little to the details of James' post. The reason they weren't a smash hit with me is that they were not complete enough. The choices were scattered throughout all the MMs of AD&D and the mix never reflected the mix of monsters I used in my campaign.

James commented about AD&D stat block easy to remember. Sure that true, to a point. With 400+ monster floating around there was a lot of note taking or page flipping for me. The monster cards should have focused on the monsters covered in a particular manual. Then it would have seen greater use.

After my experience with D&D 4th edition I would probably use a version of them today as I found cards to be useful for playing sandbox style. Not only they can act as a reference but also as a random table by pulling cards out of a deck.

We did get good use out of it as a sort of a trivial pursuit game. It was considered a fairly impressive feat to remember the name of every monster on the cards.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek Review

I went to see Star Trek with my old son this weekend. Over all I give it a A-. It was a good film and one I will probably see again. The plotting was pretty weak but it just didn't matter. The characters rang true and the overall concept was good enough.

Kirk - Kirk comes across young, very young. Not sure I would have entrusted the Federation's latest starship in his hands. But he is directly responsible for saving Earth. There are occasional flashes of Shatner's Kirk so I am willing to wait until the next film to see how he works out.

Spock - Looks good, doesn't sound like Nimoy but definitely got Spock's mannerism. I buy the added emotionalism based on the original pilot of Star Trek. (Spock smiled in there

McCoy - Urban really nail this one down. Definitely channeling the original here. The one McCoy-Spock exchange they had in the film was also note perfect.

Scotty - More funny and more grim at the same time. Has a rougher start the original Scotty but Simon Pegg nearly steals every scene his in. His little companion is pretty good as well.

Sulu - The sword fight (not really giving anything hear) was cool. It was surprised how well it played out. Didn't get much character development so we will see in the sequel how the new Sulu plays out.

Uhura - the original was good but under utilized, they made the new Uhura a stronger presence and gave here an interesting new role too boot. Some people have expressed disbelief but I think it will work especially in light of some of the events in the film.

Chekov - Very different than the original. I think the new role can work but like Sulu it will sequels to see if this character gets his due.

Security Officer Olsen - Color coded red on the monitors. All you need to know about his story.

Christopher Pike - Bruce Greenwood projects a strong presence as the Enterprise's original captain. His speech to Kirk about joining Starfleet I thought was very good.

Enterprise - I liked it, the iBridge I think will become as dated as the original bridge but it works for now. Engineering has replaced jefferies tubes and crawlways with a maze of piping.

Plot - Doesn't drag down the film but man writers need read the plausibility manual for the sequel.

I kinda was disappointed that the plot involved saving Earth at one point. Because this means the sequel will be about ... God. You don't believe me?

STtMP - God and Earth, the first one was a twofer.
ST 2 - Neither really which probably why it is considered the best.
ST3 - Life after Death, God of course
ST4 - Earth again.
ST5 - God
ST6 - War between the Federation and the Klingons is averted. Probably why it is consider the 2nd best with the original Crew.
Generations - About the quest for Paradise God again
First Contact - Saving Earth from the Borg.
Insurection - The quest for immortality, God again
Nemesis - Earth yet again.

In the end the characters are what carry this film and they do so triumphantly over the goal-line. I haven't feel so pumped after a film since I saw Fellowship of the Rings. I really want to be able to sit down next week and watch the next episode of Star Trek with these guys in it instead of 2 to 3 years form now. The only redeeming thing about the wait will be that Chris Pine will be older perhaps look more like a seasoned Starship Captain.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I am Neutral Arneson and proud of it.

James Mishler of Adventures in Gaming has created a cool alignment graph of game styles here.

I am firmly wedged on the Arneson-Roleplaying axis. Neither tending towards High Adventure or Story-Teller. The reason for this is that while I run my campaign sandbox-style, role-playing and immersion are very important to my campaigns. The immersion tends to make my games more focused than a free range, anything goes style campaign focused on adventure.


Stuart asks a good questions "What is the difference between Arnesonian and Jacksonian"

Roll-play versus Roleplaying. It not so much an attitude towards the mechanics. I am a true Grognard myself. It is more an attitude to character development.

To some people the character is no more personal than a plastic piece in a monopoly game. Their "roleplaying" is primarily themselves interacting with the setting.

The polar opposite is the person who creates a background for their character and immerses themselves not only into the mechanics of the game but the personality of the character. Similar to what a good actor does

(like Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy in the new Star Trek vs Tom Cruise in... well just about anything he does)

As a GM, I long stopped worrying about these opposite styles. Where me being Neutral Arneson comes into play is that my games is that pure Jacksonian player need to think about the long-term consequences of his actions and not just whatever works to achieve his immediate goals. So things like flaming the guards and burning the village tend to cause the character to wind up as a donkey offering rides to whoever approaches the city gates.

On the flip side I tend to like to referee RPGs with tactically rich combat rules. So I guess that means that I am not wedged up on the high end of the Arneson but perhaps a 1/3 or 2/3 of the way towards true neutral.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shorn of their roots, Rangers in D&D editions

James M at Grognardia has been running a series of posts about Rangers here and here.

Rangers are a powerful image from Tolkien's stories that often makes the leap into other people's fantasy campaigns. Probably one reason that the Rangers are one of the few cool things that humans get to be in the Lord of the Rings. Another is that various portrayals of Aragorn are so damn cool including the one from the fan made Hunt for Gollum.

Elves are not Rangers because the Tolkien Rangers are the Dunedain the descendants of the Numenorians of Arnor. Their bag of features/skills are products of a specific culture at a specific time.

This is the heart of the problem Rangers have with various D&D editions. The core D&D classes are designed to be of general use. I think any campaign would be enriched by cultural specific classes but would not be good in a core rulebook.

The OD&D and AD&D ranger really don't make sense without the context of Tolkien. Shorn of its root, the Ranger is a class in search of a home. The evolution in recent editions have been to turn the class into a generalized hunter, or a fighter that specialized in two blade fighting styles. All of which should have been made fighter options if you are going down the feat, power and skill route.

The interpretation of the Ranger I liked the best is the one I created. I know that sounds conceited but hear me out. Like Gygax and other authors, I faced the problem how to work them in to a setting that lacked the context of Lord of the Rings.

One of the cool things about Tolkien's rangers is that they helped a lot of people without them knowing. Mainly by guarding their borders and hunting down evil or monsters that threatened them. Rather than re-imagine them as hunters or specialist fighters, I instead focused on this aspect.

I always felt that D&D's stable of demi-humans was portrayed as very cosmopolitan. Multi-racial adventuring parties were common. True that the rules had an animosity between the dwarves and elves. But in practice games were a mixed bag of races.

I combined the two to create my version of the Rangers. It is a pan-racial group of people dedicated to defending all of the good-aligned races against the monsters encroaching from the wilderness. Their specific approach is to go into the wilderness and deal with the problem before they emerge.

I feel this interpretation ties together the desperate powers of the original Ranger in a nice package. It is also generic enough to be useful in any fantasy campaign that has multiple races running around and adventuring together. How together or influential this organization it up to the referee but I feel it would be applicable to just about any fantasy campaign based on D&D.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Endless Star's Gear

I mentioned several times that I was a long time LARP player.

This is me as Endless Star. While NERO Larp didn't have paladins specifically I role-played him as one. This picture was taken around 2000 and shows me with my full set of gear.

From the top to bottom I am wearing

A cloth coif under a chainmail coif that has a two color braid tied with leather throngs through the links. The cloth is blue which is why it looks like I have a blue cap on. But there is chainmail over it. It not particularly heavy and as for weather comfort it is all about the cloth coif. In the summer I wore one that was more absorbment of sweat and in the winter I wore a heavier one to keep my head warm.

The Chainmail would provide some protection in real life as I found out. We were running up a path after a "monster" when we all tripped and fell on each other. There was a huge pile up on the bottom. I felt this enormous pressure on my head which then slid off. When I got up everybody was staring at me. Apparently there was a dramatic rip in the chainmail on my forehead as well as enough mud to show an outline of a footprint. Apparently somebody stepped full force on my head during the pile-up. All I can say after that was "Go Armor!".

On my upperbody I wore a white "Olde Tyme" style shirt that I picked up at a ren faire. Over that was a "plate" breastplate. I put "plate" in question marks because it was made out of the same thick plastic that plastic barrels are made out of it. I do have real armor in form of a "coat of plates." Which are 4" by 6" metal plates riveted to the a thick leather tabard along with two shoulder guards. I been whacked by a 2 by 4 wearing that and aside from the pressure pushing me I felt nothing from the blow. Note this was at home and NOT part of a normal LARP event.

Over this is my surcoat which has my coat of arms. A white eight pointed star of chivalry on a blue background. There are eight tenets of the code of chivalry in NERO hence the star of chivalry.

Over this was a belt on which I would hang a fairly large leather pouch. I kept my spellbooks, spare spell packs, string, a penknife, and some other small useful gear. Slung bandolier style is a leather strip that was a saddle belt. From this I hung my weapon holder, the black mug looking thing on my left at my waist. It is a thick cardboard tube wrapped up in black duct tape that a NERO weapons can be slid into. The one time I wore a real weapon (for a photo) I hung the scabbard of this. Also when I am going out in the field for a while I would hang a sack off of this with supplies. Once when I went to a site that we had to camp instead of using cabins I used this as the foundation for carry my gear in on my back. I can also take it off and untie it and use it as a rope to help pull somebody out of a trap.

On my arms I wear a pair of leather vambraces. Never owned anything more protective than that.

Underneath my surcoast there is a part of "plate" leg armor. They cover my thighs and knees and hang off a interior belt I am wearing. They are made of the same barrel plastic as the chest armor.

Finally I am wearing my "Go anywhere" boots. While not very period in construction it is important to have good footwear when doing strenous outdoor actitivies. They work in all kinds of conditions and I love them.

The comfort and manuveurbility of the whole thing? During the summer as long as kept moving I was OK. The layer flexed and flapped providing ventaliation. But if I had to stand for a while, ugh! The flexibility was good, the important thing was to keep the straps in good shape and pay attention to the tightness when putting this stuff on. If you did that you could do backflips in the outfit (Which I did exactly once, still not sure how). However it was heavy and if you didn't have the raw strength you would be quick worn out. A lot of my early versions of this outfit was spent swapping parts in and out to get the right mix. The bucket plastic was a god send in this regard.

I hope you enjoyed this little insight into adventuring gear.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Soldier Class

I been working on various projects this spring including some of my own. This is the Soldier a sub class of Fighter. It is designed to work with Swords & Wizardry by Matthew Finch.

Note that this class is clearly BETTER than a normal fighter in terms of game mechanics. Roleplaying and immersion are important aspects of my referee style. The three sentences about drill are critical in balancing this class in relation to the fighter.

If you pick the Soldier to be your class in my game then you are also telling me that you want your adventures to largely focused on ... being a soldier with all it's advantages and limitations. If you are not happy doing this then you are better off being a fighter.

For this reason I am generous with re-writes at the beginning of a campaign. Sometimes the players think his concept would be a lot of fun but finds in actual play it doesn't work out. So I allow him to change it within reason during the first couple of sessions.

How this works with Sandbox play is that it directly effect the initial contacts, duties, rights, and obligations that the character has. In my campaign I try to make intangible rewards just as valuable as the +1 sword or the wand of fireball. It may be a pain in game terms having to take orders from a drill sergeant from time to time but you have the advantage of having that sergeant watching your back.

I also try to make the consequences of the player's decisions about his character interesting and fun. Yes the Captain give the character orders but they led to all kinds of interesting adventures for the character.


Fighters may choose to become Soldiers. Soldiers excel at teamwork in combat. Their training in the guard or the army has given them bonus abilities when they work with other fighting men. Soldiers can be of any alignment and must possess a Constitution of 10 or better and an Intelligence of 8 or better. A soldier must report for at least one day of drill every month or revert back to a fighting man. Spending an extra day at drill allows the soldier to skip next month’s drill. And if two extra days are spent at drill the next TWO months may be skipped. This is the maximum bonus that can be gained.

  • Gains 1D6+2/level
  • Use any Armor/Shield, any Weapon
  • Any character standing on the shield side of a Soldier gains the Soldier’s shield bonus to his AC.
  • If using the shield block rule, a Soldier may choose to sacrifice his shield to block any blow hitting a target on his shield side.
  • A Soldier may attack through other characters from the second rank without penalty or fear of hitting other characters on a miss. A Soldier may do this from third rank if the weapon is a pike.
  • The Soldier may elect to interpose himself and take damage from a weapon strike or a spell meant for another character 1/day. The target must be within 10 feet.
  • Against creatures with less than 1 HD, the Soldier makes one attack per level per round.
  • At 9th level, the Soldier may become a Captain and attract a band of loyal mercenaries. Along with this a parcel of land or a substantial herd may be granted for years of service.

Soldier Advancement



Hit Dice

Saving Throw







































+3 hp




+6 hp




+9 hp




+3 hp/level


Friday, May 8, 2009

Reflections on the First Fantasy Campaign (and First Dungeons)

My appreciation of the First Fantasy Campaign (my review in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) didn't really strike until a decade after I bought it. While I like the "window" it opened on the early days, as practical product it left a lot to be desired. But then after a few years of GMing I found myself with same collection of jumbled notes for the Majestic Wilderlands. They meander through different topics, most incomplete and sadly holes from lost fragments. After that realization I appreciated the First Fantasy Campaign a lot more.

The First Fantasy Campaign illustrates a theory of mine about why most of the classic dungeons were never published. If you look at the Blackmoor dungeons they appear little more than a sketch with a map. The key to how it worked is in the section on magical protection points which looked to be used by Dave and his co-DMs to "stock" levels. Only a few rooms were actually highlighted in detail. It appears to me that what happened was that as players roamed the map the referee making up the details with help from tables or "Magic Protection Point" guidelines. So Blackmoor is much fuller than it appears in First Fantasy Campaign.

Probably the clearest example of this style is the original Tegal Manor. You simply can't run that module without reading the notes on the map about the various rooms. If you try to run it with just what in the book the result is somewhat bland.

The module as we know it , came out of the need to run AD&D tournaments at conventions. If you look nearly all the oldest modules originated as tournament modules. They also had the advantage of being readily publishable as they already were formatted to be distributed among dozens of referees.

Because of this the layout of tournament modules became the style for nearly all published modules. Keyed maps with all the keys fleshed out in the text by the standards of that RPG. Today that philosophy has led to the encounter style format for 4th edition.

The advantages of the format of Tegal and Blackmoor is that the referee has a lot more creative freedom to interpret the dungeon while still saving him prep time. It is a more compact format which means in theory it can be as expansive as the AEG's World's Largest Dungeon but not be the World's Largest RPG Product. Replay value would be higher as referee rework the rooms after the PC clear them out.

Thinking about this causes me to wonder if the tournament style is the only format the modules could have taken. Certainly the presentation of Tegal Manor and the Blackmoor dungeon leave a lot to desired. But I think it could be vastly improved yet not lose it advantages. When I wrote Points of Light s I had improvements I wanted to add to the Wilderlands format to make more usable to the modern referee. Perhaps the same can be done for the module as well. I think this can cut across editions and apply equally well to OD&D, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

From the Attic; The Sorcerer's Supply House

In the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, the first city ever released for a RPG circa 1977, you can wander up Regal Street look left and see...

The Sorcerer's Supply House,

where various magical ingredients and items are sold.

Over at the Bard of Valiant, they are talking about how magic is too common here.

I agree that an over abundance of magic items is not the best for most campaigns. However unfortunately Bard of Valiant is wrong about it being a defining characteristics of Old School Gaming. From the beginning it was always a point of contention whether magic items should be able to be bought and sold. Or remain mysterious artifacts woven in myth and legend.

The very first city detailed for RPGs had a magic item shop. Viridistan the City-State of the World Emperor had several.

My own solution is to allow COMMON magic items to bought off the shelf. +1 Arrows, amulets that give +1 to saving throws, certain potions, and scrolls, etc. Maybe a +1 sword will find it way into the shop.

The market or high end magic items I treat similarly to how high priced art and collectible are treated today. They are sold in auctions where only select bidders are allowed. A small group of brokers scattered throughout manage these auctions. These brokers also work hand and hand with the Overlord and other rulers to insure dangerous artifacts don't fall in the wrong hands.

Magic items can be commissioned and these have to be arranged through the various magic guilds. +1 enhancements are relatively easy to commission however more sophisticated enchantment will mean showing that you have some money in the bank.

I find the plausibility of the system tend to have players accept it. Players become reasonably satisfied. They can get useful "magic tech" to aid them in their adventures, and gain a outlet for the items they acquire but do not find useful.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Future of RPGs? One more piece fell into place

Today Amazon is announcing the release of the Kindle DX for this summer. Unlike the Kindle and Kindle 2 it is designed with full page 8.5 by 11 PDFs in mind. You can read about it here. When I got wind of it two days ago I was talking about it with my wife, Kelly Anne. The first words out of her mouth, "So when are you saving up for it." She know I am a huge fan of my Kindle. Yesterday a co-worker teased be as for the first time in a couple of month I was reading a real book.

Anyway I told her well I will be tempted if it is under $500. I was expecting it come in somewhere between $500 and $700 based. These devices are driven by the cost of the e-ink screens. They come from one manufacturer who is still low on the economy of scale curve.

And then came the formal announcement. $489.

I am doomed.

Despite my enthusiasm for the Kindle it is still no iPod ... yet. The Kindle DX is an important milepost to what will be the future of RPGs. This device will leap the barrier between paper and electronic PDFs.

Yes there will always be book only readers just like there are people who play acoustic instruments vs electronic instruments. However for the average person a device like the Kindle DX will be gold.

There are two remaining hurdles to overcome; color and price. The reason why the Kindle is no iPod is because the price is too high for the average user and just barely in reach for a middle class technology geek like me. When the small version drops below $200, and the large version under $300 I foresee wide scale adoption on the scale of the iPod. Adding color will seal the deal.

When I get my Kindle DX, this summer there will be no difference for me between using a PDF product or the paper version. Like using a virtual tabletop for gaming there are tradeoffs. I will be giving up the ability to have multiple books open. However I gain the ability to put custom bookmarks and notes as well as the ability carry dozens of PDF on a single device.

My current Kindle library is already approaching ludicrous levels between the various books I purchased my subscriptions, converted PDFs, and free e-books I downloaded.

After a year of using my Kindle I say I now read about twice as much as before. I can't begin to say how convenient it is especially compared to paperbacks. The ability to adjust text and lay flat while I am eating is just pure gold.

Eventually these device will be extended to allow application to be run. I fully expect that the tabletop of 2020 will be a bunch of people gathering around a Surface computer with a spiritual descendant of the Kindle displaying a character sheet with hotlinks to specific rules. The Surface will be using icon tokens or RFID encoded minatures linked back to the "Kindle".
For intenet the same device would interface through Bluetooth or wireless USB and worth through a Virtual Table Top sporting 3D maps as well as the 2D variety.

These "Kindles" won't be manfactured as we understand it now. Instead they will be "printed" and then encased in a protective covering and be as flexible a stiff piece of paper. Along the sides will be thin bars housing the electronics along with wireless and ports. You will be able to plug these into a docking port that has full size peripherals like keyboard and mouse attached to it and function as your regular computer.

Welcome to the future.