Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mr Referee I don't really have a 18 charisma.

In a previous post I talked about the utility of a having a high charisma as a paladin. Several people asked how I handle using attributes and skill in play.

In the 30 years I been roleplaying I experienced various methods of handling character abilities and skills Which one works for you will depend on what your goals for the game as a whole. For me it is about immersion, making my players feel that their characters are part of a living breathing and interesting world.

By doing this I hope to do two things elicit "natural" reactions to the situations the characters find themselves in, and to engage the "soap opera" effect where the player want to play the next session just to see what happens next. The way I handle attributes and skills has been honed serve the first goal, to keep the game flowing as natural as possible.

It actually quite similar to one of the techniques described in the Old School Primer by Matt Finch. The players state or roleplay what they are doing and the referee makes a ruling. The main difference between the Old School Primer and myself is that I don't solely rely on the ability of the player to come up with the smallest of details.

I almost never allow a roll without an accompanying description of what being done or the player roleplaying what his character does. What I am looking for is what the player considers are the issues of the character's pending action. Not whether they included every detail. The success of the attribute or skill roll is what determine whether the details are correctly executed. By doing this you can have players roleplay characters vastly different than themselves.

Note that this is not the same as deciding if the players are doing the right things as their characters for the situation. They could execute everything perfectly i.e. make all their rolls but given the circumstances it would the wrong thing to do.

For example the player roleplaying the Paladin decides to distract the Bounty Hunter with some pleasant conversation. In the course of roleplaying the paladin player mention about he just come from the Dwarven Hold and how he had a great time in. Not knowing that the Bounty Hunter despises dwarves. Now the rest of the conversation is pretty much shot even if the paladin makes all his rolls. I would give the player some type of warning and an opportunity to recover as it would be natural for a high charisma individual to pick that maybe talking about dwarves is not a good idea. But if the player misses my cue then that will be that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mr. Referee I have an 18 Charisma!

Paladins in AD&D and OD&D need to have extraordinary high Charisma and this can be a potent weapon in its own right.

In this post on the theRPGSite Cranewings talks about a situation his players were involved in. Basically the Paladin was born in a conquered land and his religion has been taken over the conquerors own religion. He came across a girl that has information that could benefit the remaining faithful. But had the misfortune of running into an Imperial Bounty Hunter looking for the girl.

The encounter wasn't resolved well by his players, and so he posted his story. The replies had some good suggestions but they all missed probably what is the most devastating weapon that Paladin had, his Charisma.

If I was in that situation I would basically just talk pleasantries with the bounty hunter until the sun went down. With my high Charisma I could make the conversation interesting and be able to utter distract the bounty hunter until she had to leave. The paladin wouldn't have to lie, just artfully shift the conversation if the topic comes up. The bounty hunters leaves with the memory of pleasant conversation and none the wiser.

Now roleplaying games being what they are, situations change all the time. So how effective a Paladin's charisma will be greatly depend on the circumstances. But I think it will be more useful more times than not.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What "powerful" in my campaign

Al over at Beyond the Black Gate asks an interesting question about what is powerful in your D&D campaign.

My general rule of thumb was inspired partly by the D&D level titles goes like this.

1st is the initial apprentice level, some body who is newly trained.
3rd is when you are considered a full member of your profession.
9th i.e. name level is when you are considered by most to be capable to handle being a leader of your profession.
16th level i.e. Mage level is consider highly skilled grandmaster level.
18th level i.e. ArchMage means you are one of the top 1% in that profession.

When I played AD&D I went by the populace has level style. In my current S&W/MW campaign I still do that to some extent but because now I have the NPC classes, thank Jeff Rients, they are "leveled" but are considered 0-level for combat. Leveled individuals have the same ratio to the general populace as nobility did in western europe. If you just pick a random person off of the street they will be zero level but if you look at who adventurers normally associate with then the number of leveled people they run into goes up considerably. (i.e. nobles hanging with other nobles).

I may refine the NPC classes further in regardless to fighting classes to better represent society. It is important that I approach this the right way in Swords & Wizardry as the fighter's ability to get 1 attack per level against less than 1 hd creatures is an important class feature. If I was using AD&D, with it's multiple attack per round at higher levels, it wouldn't be as much of an issue.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The best summary of a paladin I read.

By the far the best gamable description of a paladin I seen was given by Elisabeth Moon in her Deed of Paksenarrion series.

Paraphrased From page 579 of the Trade Paperback the Dead of Paksenarrion.

Most think being a holy warrior means gaining vast arcane powers, that they would be nearly invincible against any foe. But truth is that while Paladin are skilled at fighting, that was the least of their abilities. A quest might involve no fighting at all, or a battle against beings no steel could pierce.

Above all paladins show that courage is possible. It is easy enough to find reasons to give in to evil. War is ugly as many know. But we do not argue that war is better than peace; paladin are not that stupid. It is not peace when cruelty reigns, when stronger men steal from farmers and craftmen., when the child can be enslaved, or the old thrown out to starve, and no one lifts a hand. That is not peace: that is conquest and evil.

Paladins do not start quarrels in peaceful lands, never display their skills to earn applause. But we are the sword of good defending the helpless and teaching by our example that one person can dare greater force to break evil's grasp on the innocent. Sometimes that can be done without fighting, without killing, and that is best.

But some evil needs direct attack, and paladins must be able to do it, and lead others in battle. Wonder why paladins are so likable? It is important, we come to a town, perhaps, where nothing has gone right for a dozen years. Perhaps there is a temple there and sometimes there is not. The people are frightened, and they have lost trust in each other, in themselves. We may lead them into danger, some will be killed or wounded. Why should they trust us?

Because we are likable, and other people will follow us willingly. And that's why we are more likely to choose a popular adept as a candidate rather than the best fighters.
To me this is best damn summary of a D&D style paladin I ever read and the basis for how I referee them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wizards needs to take leadership.

Mike Mearls has an interesting column called Legends & Lore . In short the article is about how we are all playing D&D and how we have more in common then we have different. And that it is important to consider where we been while building the future. That throughout its history D&D shared common elements that has appeal to all fans of D&D regardless of edition.

I respect the effort that went into this column but I think it misses the point of the current situation. It boils down to that people want to play D&D with the rules of their choice. Not something like it, or something that feel like it, but with a particular set of rules.

If you want to appeal to fanbase X then you need to use those rules. Otherwise you just facing the same issue as any other RPG company with a new ruleset in building a fan community. The difference between today and 1991 is that we have the Open Gaming License and the d20 SRD. The fans are now in charge of their own destiny and the success of Paizo drives the point home.

So what can Wizards, or anybody owning the D&D brand can do?

In short by taking leadership on ALL editions of D&D. Acknowledge that nothing going change the fact that people are going to play and buy material for all editions of D&D. State that while that while most corporate dollars is going to go into support for the current edition, that older editions will be included in future plans. Creating events on the Internet and in the retail chain where fans of all editions can come together and play D&D regardless of edition.

In the past this would be problematic as the technology of print runs and distribution make supporting multiple game editions costly. But now that we are in the Age of Internet there are lot more choices available making it feasible to have your cake and eat it regardless of edition.

By taking leadership on ALL editions will not mean every D&D players would be playing the latest edition made by Wizards. But it will create a friendly atmosphere like the club, convention, or store where everybody trying all sorts of things at different time. That will make not only easier to sell the current list of product also may find ways of making money off of the older material. For example rulesets or subscriptions for the VTT software.

In one version of this post I had numerous specific suggestions but realized most of them been hashed over and over again. (Like pulling the older PDFs from sale). Posting them would have just obscured the main point, that Wizards own all D&D editions and have customers for all D&D editions. If they want out of their current predicament they need to step up and take advantage of that.

And if they don't others will under other names. (Pathfinder, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, etc)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One DM puts up his entire folder

David McLouth scanned the contents of his folder of vintage dungeon maps and keys and posted it online.

The post annoucing it is here.

The scans can be seen here.

Definitely a minimal dungeon here with much of the details in David's head. The main thing I would have done different is put room titles on each entry as an aide to the details of the rooms.

I haven't read through the entire dungeon but there some interesting things in there starting with the orgy room on Level 1. That something would not have seen in a TSR module.

Thanks David for posting this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Knowledge Illuminates is #1

Knowledge Illuminates just hit the number #1 spot on RPG Now hot list.

You beat me there first you dog. ;-) (Majestic Wilderlands got as high as #3).

Congratulations you earned it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Interesting Review

Carter of Lands of Ara gives a well-analyzed review of the Majestic Wilderlands. But the interesting part is that it is a dual review which includes James Pacek's Wilderness Alphabet. The OSR has grown by leaps and bounds and it is hard to track what everybody is doing. I am glad to have read Carter's review and come next payday I will pick up a copy of Wilderness Alphabet in PDF for myself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Majestic Wilderlands is in the 3 Castles Finals

It just been announced here that the Majestic Wilderlands made the cut into the final 5 for the Three Castle Awards. Now it goes before the the judges panels consisting of Dennis Sustare, Paul Jaquays, Steve Winter, Tim Kask, Robert Kuntz. The award will be annouced at North Texas Con in Irving Texas on June 2nd to 5th.

I must admit I almost didn't send in the Majestic Wilderlands. Not because I didn't respect what the Three Castle Award Committee was doing. I never done well in award competitions of any type so I tend to ignore them. But a combination of an email from the 3Castles Committee and getting a good price on my personal copies from RPGNow PoD made me go "OK what the hell." So I sent them my copies and now I am in the finals. And now I am glad that I did it.

If I win it, will be a win not only for me but for my best friends Tim and Dwayne. For my wife Kelly Anne and my boys. Plus for everybody who adventured and played in my campaigns and made the Majestic Wilderands what it is today.

I am up against some stiff competition. They are.

B/X Companion (Jonathan Becker)
Lamenations of the Flame Princess (James Raggi)
Stonehell Dungeon(Michael Curtis)
The Dungeon Alphabet(Michael Curtis)

Every one of those represents what best about the Old School Renaissance and if I was on the committee they would make my short list as well.

I am also a bit awed that the Majestic Wilderlands will be read by the judges. All of them contributed to making the roleplaying the hobby I love and now I face their judgment. I really hope that nat 20 comes up ;-)

There wasn't a whole lot of submissions this time (ten). I hope more people with OSR products submit next year. While only one can take home the actual award, the triumph is shared by all of us who worked and contributed to revive a game that was said to be dead.

In that we have all won.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A brief history of D&D

The progression went like this

  1. Chainmail was a set of rules for wargaming with miniatures.
  2. People wanted to fight the battles they read about in Lord of the Rings, Conan, and other fantasy novels of the time. So the Fantasy Supplement was added.
  3. Dave Arneson was inspired by David Wesley Braunstein game to create his own version. He used the Man to Man and Fantasy Supplement Rules of Chainmail as the foundation of his rules. The scenario he picked was exploring the dungeon underneath Castle Blackmoor and later the surrounding Wilderness.
  4. Gygax and his friends from Lake Geneva found out about this and went to Minnepolis to play a few sessions of Dave's Game.
  5. Gygax started his Castle Greyhawk campaign with it's own dungeon and wilderness and wrote what was to be the Dungeons & Dragons rules.
  6. The Dungeons & Dragons rules were written with knowledge of Chainmail in mind but presented alternatives in order to use it as a Standalone game.
  7. Greyhawk Supplement I expanded and added rules that transformed the game into the D&D most of us recognize today.

The design choices were mainly in making Chainmail rules more interesting for man to man combat. Chainmail's 1 hit = 1 kill was transformed 1 hit = 1d6 damage, 1 level = 1d6 hit points. The Alternative combat system used a chart indexing level vs Armor Class instead of Chainmail's weapon vs Armor matrix or Creature vs Creature matrix. Spells and the Monster list were expanded. An equipment list was added. The focus of the original game was on dungeon crawling, and the exploration of the wilderness. Plus since this was a group of miniature wargamers rules for constructing castles and building baronies was included.

Original D&D wasn't designed as much it grew out of the piecemeal solutions to the rule problems they encountered while roleplaying their way through the campaigns of the time. While this sound haphazard it was wildly popular in both Minnepolis and Lake Geneva. They were refereeing over a dozen players a session and playing multiple times a week. So they got quite a lot of time in with developing the rules.

I created this to answer this question on the RPG Stack Exchange site.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Knowledge Illuminates

My friend, Tim of Gothridge Manor, has thrown his hat into the publishing ring with the release of Knowledge Illuminates.

It is a small one level dungeon that requires both thinking and hacking. Tim first ran Dwayne of Gamer's Closet and myself through this several years ago at the start of one of Tim's fantasy campaigns. I remember commenting that this felt like a classic dungeon where not only we had to fight but think our way through many of the rooms.

Up to that point our fantasy campaigns were heavy on politics and conflict between different groups in society. Knowledge Illuminates forced to relearn skills that we haven't used in years and it was a blast. The ensuing campaign was great and this dungeon got it off to a great start.

Remember like so many dungeons in our campaigns (Tim, Dwayne, and myself) the real prize isn't the treasure you get but the dungeon itself. It made a great base for us for much of that campaign.

Note that I did the maps both an area map and the dungeon map. The module is written for Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and usable with all older editions of the world's most popular roleplaying game.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ending the Sandbox

James at Grognardia wrote a post called Abandoned which touches on a point I realized that I haven't talked about before. How does a sandbox campaign end?

My experience mirrors my own to some extent. Many of the campaigns I ran just peter out. I think only one or two stopped mid-adventure.

I had only one campaign that consisted of single story arc that just naturally ended with everybody agreeing that the character achieved their goals and really had no reason to adventure. That involved two players; Tim of Gothridge Manor, and Dwayne of Gamer's Closet. Tim played a blacksmith and Dwayne a Black Lotus, the Overlord's secret police. They were given an initial mission to discover what the Duke of Bernost was up to as the Overlord suspected treason. What ensued was a campaign lasting several months where the players uncovered the fact that the Duke was planning a rebellion and that his secret was the use of cannons powered by Dragon Powder (gunpowder). Part spy vs spy and part technical mystery (I used the details of manufacturing gunpowder as a plot element) the mission was the campaign. At it's conclusion the characters successfully returned to City-State at which point everybody agreed that with their rewards and with what happened there was no reason to adventure.

I also refereed a single campaign over five years that had three major halts. It involved Tim and Dwayne again along with other players from time to time. Dwayne played William Enderil a merchant, ship captain, and a reaver of the sea. Tim played Draco-lindus, Captain of Enderil's forces. The first phase ended with the Enderil's ship being wrecked on a beach, the second phase was played with Tim solo as a independent Mercenary Captain in City-State. The third phase was Dwayne joining again and the two winning fame and fortune by conquering a kingdom and Draco-Lindus becoming a Duke of City-State and Enderil a Baron and a powerful merchant prince.

But James is accurate in that it very hard to restart a campaign after a major halt. It isn't the lack of information so much but rather the players losing touch with the feel of their characters. It like the old saying that when you return to your hometown after a long absence it often feels like you can never truly return home.

The vast majority of my campaigns I managed to manipulate the situation so that the players could think of their characters continue to live their lives without adventure in the situation where the campaign stopped.

Part the reason I can do this because I use the World in Motion technique so heavily. So the character lives w like people's live do in reality with quiet times between the adventures. End the campaign on the quiet time it doesn't feel so jarring.

As part of managing the campaign as a World in Motion the players generally have goals for their characters. The initial ones that are generated as part of my pre-game and the later ones that come out of playing. If enough of them have been fulfilled then the campaign can be ended gracefully.

Finally you can have a plot in a sandbox campaign. It specified in the future timeline of events you created at the start not a story. Unlike a story it changes as the characters interact with the locales and NPCs. Well designed plots can't be resolved with a simplistic solution, while the course of the campaign is determined solely by the players choices eventually the players will do what is needed to resolve the heart of the plot. Once accomplished and the intendant awards given that is often a natural stopping point for a sandbox campaign.

For example in my weekly sandbox campaign with Tim, Dwayne, and Rusty BattleAxe I been dropping hints, portents, and visions of a threat involving someone or something with the symbol of a falcon. Until recently most of them landed with all the excitement of a wet papertowel. It not a criticism as each of the players had their hands full with collective and individual goals.

The timeline of events involving the falcon symbol marched pretty much uninterrupted for the past year of campaign play. But then to a combination of events that occurred, and yet another dropped clue, now the players are greatly interested.

Most of what happened before landed in the lap of Rusty Battleaxe Thothian Mage Syrivald. And I deliberately made it a mess of vague vision and unclear clues so it was understandable why other goals were of more immediate interest to Syrivald. But then Ashling, Tim's Elven Mountebank, was killed by a shadow dragon in the Black Taigh.

One Ashling's motivations is that he felt the his people, the Elves, have stagnated. That they sit behind their guardian Taighs walling themselves off from the world while humans and other race spread everywhere. Throughout the campaign Ashling has placed himself in the thick of things but the driving goals have been Syrivald's, researching old magical circles, or Eoleandar's killing the last of the full-blooded Viridians.

When he died he found himself in the Blessed Realm of Silvanus and there in a long conversation with the god Silvanus himself Ashling realized that he been focused on the past. The Viridians, the old circle of magic. That the falcon represents the threat of the future and the true challenge that he and the rest of the party were to face.

Now the weather vane of the campaign has firmly swung south to Tiethoir and the unraveling of what the falcon means and what threat does it represent. The campaign may continue after it's resolution but I suspect this will be the end game as the players are past name level and threat they face is going to be one the biggest challenges they have faced yet. And it has nearly claimed one casualty already due to a teleport spell going awry and low.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Sheppard Polarization and something useful at the end

Making the rounds around the blogs and forums is this post "Why RPGs suck by Malcolm Sheppard. Some, like the Pundit and James Raggi tear his post apart line by line. Others are basically supportive.

I disagree with many of Malcolm's opinions and design philosophy. But ultimately my disagreement is unimportant. Why? Because we live in the Age of the Internet and people who like the type of gaming he advocates exists. The means of "fixing" his issues are within his grasp. And from his site it looks like he trying to do so with various projects.

He has a done a fair amount of writing for RPGs and is involved with various independent publishing efforts. None of the systems or setting he works with are of particular interest me but more power to him for doing what he likes.

So what the deal with Sheppard's rant? Stake out a contraversial position and reap the benefits of publicity such as they are. Not like it hasn't been done before. It could mean extra sales. In short it is a publicity exercise. And I just contributed by blogging about it. (silly me)

Now that I subjected you to a punditry post I need to give you something useful. So I leave you with this excerpt out of my upcoming Scourge of the Demon Wolf.

Cloudwall Mountains
This section of the Cloudwalls Mountains is dominated by Herald’s Peak. 11,000 feet tall, its crown is permanently wreathed in snow. Two orc tribes, the Green Axes and Blood Spikes, dominate the lower mountains slopes. Higher up are the homes of the Rocknut hill giant clan. They are scattered in five steadings of 4d6 hill giants.

Below the summit of Herald’s Peak is a cave that is the home of Telelarn, an ancient elf. He calls himself the Herald of Truth. He has dwelled here for several thousand years and is the guardian of an armory that has been established by Veritas the High Lord and the God of Truth. The armory is to be opened by Telelarn if the Abyss is broken and the demons escape. Occasionally Veritas will call one of his champions here to receive advice and counsel from Telelarn.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I won Dungeons & Dragons and it was Advanced!

The NBC series Community has had an episode featuring a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It pretty good and I think you will get a kick out of it. It does good a job of setting up the characters if you haven't watched it before.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Some days...

Some days you write Lord of the Rings for your campaign and the result is this. (thanks to Kelly Anne, my wife for finding this).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Useful definitions for those who die err... work for you

Hirelings are typically normal men with special skills. Hirelings typically are just hired and are effected by Morale.

Henchmen are leveled characters usually at a far lower level than the players themselves. Henchmens are recruited and are effected by Loyalty. They are typically are owed a small share of the treasure and a small share of the XP to level themselves.

Minions are just another name for Henchmen. It is used mostly for the henchmen of villain NPCs. (the folks that have the treasure you don't have.)

Retainers are the followers of name level Player Characters.