Sunday, May 31, 2009

Standard Starting Equipment Package.

Ming's Tavern has long been a popluar watering hole for adventuring types, and it usually doesn't take long for the latest group of new friends, well lubricated with Ming's own Fat Lip Lager, to decide they must, at that very moment, set forth and conquer whatever dungeon is most popular at the time. Recognizing this, Ming has started a sort of side-industry, selling "Ming's Essential Dungeoneer's Kits" (or "MEDKits" for short), usually admonishing loudly bragging adventurers as they head out the door, "what're you gonna eat down there, your axe?"

Ming keeps at least a dozen kits on hand at any time, sometimes more during particularly busy seasons. When he makes a sale, he sends his washing-up boy, Cletus the Idiot, down to the basement to fetch however many are needed. Ming's kits cost a mere 15gp and weigh only 15lbs. They usually include:

Flint & Steel
Grappling Hook
Trail Rations (4 days worth)
Hemp Rope (50')
2 15lb-capacity sacks
Iron Spikes (5)
Torches (10)
Oil (1 pint)
Ming's Fat Lip Lager (1 pint)
Wooden Holy Symbol of Ylalla

Ming is a devout worshipper of Ylalla, the Goddess of Healing and Fertility, attending services every Moonday. He thusly includes a wooden holy symbol of the goddess in every Kit, in the hopes adventurers will turn to her worship in their hour of greatest need!

For an additional cost, Ming also keeps 10' Poles (2sp) and Daggers (2gp) on hand for sale, both of which have been blessed by the Ylallan priestesses. In his spare time (which isn't much), Cletus rolls Kiff Cigars from the local pipeweed, and sells them for a mere 1cp each!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Play = Validation

As the latest round of "what is Old School?" winds back down, I'm reminded that the best, most enjoyable, and maybe only way to fully demonstrate what we're all going on about, is to invite new or curious folks to game table and show them. At its heart, this hobby is really the same thing that goes on Friday at the pub with the guys, listening to your co-workers brag about the perfect game or perfect bang, right on back to shivering Cro-Magnon man huddled around the campfire at the edge of a glacier, whiling the dark hours away with tales of how the amazing things in our world came to be.

Story-telling is perhaps the oldest pasttime we have (not the oldest profession, mind you), and I've found that despite the funny names and entrancing dice, gaming can come naturally to the most unexpected people. Its like the tradition is genetically wired into our nervous system. You can't help it. Tell someone they've got a sword, a rope, and a torch, and before them lies a yawning stone portal flanked by obelisks, and they're going to immediately start formulating in their mind how to handle the situation. Really, the only way to stop someone from this is by barraging them with a whole bunch of rules right off the bat.

One thing rules-lite gaming has surprised me with is how much greater the "shared world" experience is. My high-school buddies use their old character names as message-board aliases. From 20-30 years ago. And still remember exactly what they all did. And where they did it. Not just stuff like "yeah, we beat the Temple of Elemental Evil", but stuff like, "remember that shop keeper in Veluna who tricked us into soliciting a succubus after we bullied him into a bad price for those gems?" The little details. Am I the only one amazed by that stuff? I can't remember what my fifth grade school principal's name was, but all this other stuff...

I picked up a book called "Night of Knives" this week, by Ian Esselmont. Its another book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. If you're familiar with these books, you'll note that these are written by Steven Erikson. Well, Esslemont's writing them too, him and Erikson created the world out of their old D&D game from decades ago. Shared experiences and story-telling, nicely demonstrated for all to see.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Emirikol the Chaotic

Emirikol the Chaotic
Chaotic Magic User 8
AC 2[17] HP 33
Str13 Int17 Wis7 Dex15 Con14 Cha11
Spells: charm person, protection from good, shield, magic missle x2; invisibility, phantasmal force, web; fireball, suggestion; wall of fire.
Equipment: Amulet of Defense(AC5[14]), Cloak of Displacement, Dust of Sneezing and Choking, Boots of Levitation, Ring of Regeneration, Wand of Cold(14ch), Wand of Polymorph Other(6ch), Spellbook, 2 daggers.

Emirikol got his start like many other adventurers, delving dungeons on the borderlands of civilization. He helped rid the borderlands of a great evil, a high priest of chaos who was organizing a number of different humanoid tribes to raid human lands from their warren of caves. His greed for arcane knowledge was great, and he unwisely delved into the mysteries of several tomes found among the loot of the dark priest's chapel.

While he did indeed gain much knowledge, his mind was broken in the process, and he ended up pledging his soul to the entities of hell to gain further power. Emirikol now spends his time as a mercenary mage, using the proceeds of his profession to further his research. He has been outlawed in several towns and provinces due to his ruthless business practices, but will risk entering unfriendly areas if the price is right.

Due his pact with hell, his spells often take on a fiery aspect, and he is able to summon up a nightmare steed, Acheriol, up to three times a day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Definition of Old-School

This topic seems to make the rounds every couple of months, both in the blogosphere and on the many old-school-friendly boards. Of course, its usually expressed that old-school is too ephemeral to define concisely, and long lists of what is or isn't old school are surely to follow. I myself enjoy the discussion, because hey, it is the "theme" of this grossly extended play-date we've been enjoying for the last thirty years or so.

Nonetheless, a concise definition would be helpful, at least in terms of introducing new fans (or reintroducing "former" fans) to the hobby, so I would be in favor of reducing the whole blather down to its simplest distillation:

"Old-School gaming refers to content and/or tone that is from, or reminiscent of, pre-1984 Dungeons and Dragons."

Why 1984 specifically? I guess because it gives the "classic" era of D&D a nice, neat, even decade. Of course its arguable that great old-school stuff came out after (and is still being produced today), and that old-school references a much broader genre of RPGs, boardgames, novels, magazines, and such, but I think there's some merit in having a simple response to the question, "what do you mean by "old-school?" Let's not forget, most folks don't even really understand what the hell RPGing is to begin with ("is that like when you dress up at the Ren-Faire?"), so having a simple response can both explain the phenomenon and open the door for further questions and discussion.

How would you explain it to a 10-year-old? Keep it simple. Of course, in lieu of the above bolded definition, one could offer the cover/picture above.

I think it defines the whole thing very nicely.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last Man Standing (Night of a Thousand 20's)

My last S&W Wilderlands session saw the PCs dragging themselves into Oathcoomb to recover from an untimely night ambush by giant predatory bats. Oathcoomb is a small town on the Seithor Bay (Sea of Five Winds region of the Wilderlands) filled with shops of all description. After some tense negotiations with the local money changer (trying to unload the cache of ancient silver coins they carried out of the Smokevelt) they hied themselves to a comfortable Inn and settled in for a nice long week of drinking and recovering hps.

Towards the end of the week, the dubious dwarf Odis became bored (of course) and went out one night to look for some trouble, or something fun to steal. A light rain had been falling for the last several days, making the streets around the shops unusually deserted (and therefore bland to Odis), so he wandered down to the wharves.

Here he found a pair of scruffy guys furtively unloading crates from a small Antillian cog onto a nearby wagon. A reddish glow emanated through the slats from within the crates, and Odis' natural greed set in, and he followed the wagon discreetly once the loading was finished. The wagon clattered dully through the rainy cobbled streets until arriving at a squat stone building at the edge of town. The scruffy guys steered the wagon through a large wooden door that swung open as they neared the building, and the door closed behind them. Odis crept forward after a couple of minutes to see if he could find a way to peek inside. As he did, the door suddenly opened, and the wagon came clattering out again, empty, the door beginning to close behind it.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, Odis rolled through the entrance just in time, to find himself in a large, warehouse-like area filled with an assortment of open crates, and a pungent stench. Creeping towards the back of the chamber, Odis discovered the source of the light: four giant beetles with glowing carapaces, apparently lit from within by some sort of bio luminous bladder. The beetles clacked around in a circle, as if in a trance, and only then did Odis notice a female in brown, voluminous robes humming softly. She looked up at Odis and raised one hand. "Just in time for dinner", she said, sweetly, as sand drifted down from between her fingers.

Odis cursed and grabbed for his dagger, but too late, as the sleeping spell took affect.

When he awoke, he was trussed up, lying on the bottom of a cage in the darkened warehouse. His daggers were gone, but she had not found the small knife or lockpicks he kept hidden in his sleeves. As quietly as he could manage, he escaped his confinement, triggered the door, and was away, running as fast as he could back to the inn, imagining the clacking beetles hot on his heels.

His companions were mildly amused at his escapade, but agreed the effrontery could not go unpunished, and so all three of them headed out to have a word with the bug sorceress. Loathe to enter through the warehouse door again, they scouted around the outside of the building for another means of entry, finding one in a barred window on the side of the building. After a brief display of strength from the mighty-thewed Avalonian Zurka, they were climbing into a kitchen of some sort.

Even adventurers as hardened as these three were sickened by what they found there. A pair of discarded collars told the tale clearly enough: the enchantress was purchasing slaves to feed to her "pets". Doubtless this would have been Odis' fate as well, had he not escaped in a timely fashion.

Navigating a maze of corridors filled with creepy, but mostly harmless insects of the mundane variety, they arrive at last to a heavy wooden that opens into a wide gallery. At the far end the sorceress, sans robes now, reclines upon a rippling, spiky "throne": a giant centipede. Her pretty face contorts with rage and she shouts out some kind of buzzing whirring exclamation, summoning forth two giant furry spiders lurking unseen to either side of the doorway, and siccing them on our heroes.

With his readied crossbow, Odis got the first shot, and rolls a nat 20! On top of that, he rolls max damage, which is then doubled. The bolt affixes the evil enchantress, and pins her now lifeless corpse to her living centipedal throne. Sadly, the spiders get first bite in the melee and Odis slumps to the ground, hopelessly paralyzed. Tesmir is also bitten, but the elf manages to resist the poison. He spits one of the spiders on his blade (another 20! I'm starting to think the players are messing with me at this point...). Zurka flails about with his zweihander to no effect. The surviving spider gets revenge on Tesmer, hitting him with a nat20! (this is getting silly now), and the elf drops to floor, senseless from the poison.

Zurka is now the last man standing, and manages to take down the last spider, in time to turn and face the rampaging giant centipede, which has been furiously dragging its lifeless mistress along with it. It bites deeply into Zurka with, you guessed it, another 20. Zurka resists this creature's deadly poison, but is nearly dead from its scissoring bite. Despite the odds, Zurka at last stands victorious over the centipede and its dead adornment.

After some time has passed, the paralyzed companions recover, and weakly search the manor for treasure, coming up with some nice jewelry, a small coffer of gold coins, and (much to Odis' delight) a fancy crossbow, which Tesmir informs him is magical in nature. They also stumble across several pens and cages containing various monstrous insects. Scattering around a few pints of oil, they set the place afire, and flee before the guard can show up.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fritz Leiber!?

Settled in last night to watch a cheesy 70's horror movie, and was surprised when the opening cast credits included one "Fritz Leiber". "Nah," I thought, "couldn't be that Fritz Leiber!"

When the characters in the movie flipped up an 8x10 glossy of a missing scientist, again I thought, "Nah...looks like him...but nah..."

A quick search of IMDB revealed that yes, it was in fact that Fritz Leiber. Huh, who woulda guessed?

Oh, the movie? "Equinox" How was it? Awful... But like a train wreck, there's no chance of averting your gaze from it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Folly of "Realistic" Rules

One of my favorite things about "simple" systems like OD&D is how deceptively strong they really are. Its a simple truth that the fewer rules a system has, and the more streamlined those rules are, the harder that system is to "break", and the easier it is to rationalize abstract expressions as an in-game narrative.

Many systems have tried to present themselves as "more realistic" than OD&D, but really all they're doing is adding more rules (none of which can ever be true representation of reality) and thereby more complexity. Each rule added will likely demand the addition of still further rules to support the first one, and such rules can typically be added to ad infinitum, the only limit being when the designer grows weary of coming up with these representations. Sound confusing? You bet. Maybe some examples would help.

If you've played Runequest, you are aware that one of the ways the designers tried to make this system more realistic was to include a detailed hit location system for attacks suffered by the character, and a distribution of the character's total hit points among those locations. Like any set of rules, the system becomes less unwieldy with experience, but never really becomes more realistic. There is always the potential to take these rules a step further. Maybe a blunt weapon should do more damage to the head than an arrow. Maybe an arrow through the arm should be more damaging than a slingstone, or leather armor protect better against slingstones than against javelins. You can continue to add rules to accommodate these different situations and conditionals, filling up countless manuals with every possible minutiae of hit location vs damage sustained vs armor worn vs wind conditions, etc.

In the end all you've really accomplished is to delay the narrative of the game, which is really the meat and potatoes of the RPG hobby.

Another example are the standard combat rules of the d20 SRD. Exhaustive, to say the least. Take a look at them. When you've regained consciousness, consider what is actually gained by adhering faithfully to these rules. Take the "Attack of Opportunity" for instance. In theory its a simple concept: "Two kinds of actions can provoke attacks of opportunity: moving out of a threatened square and performing an action within a threatened square."

In practice though, and as you dig deeper into the special maneuvers, feats, and actions of d20 combat, you begin to realize that everything provokes an attack of opportunity. Want to push an orc out of the doorway? Attack of Opportunity. Want to drink a potion of healing? Attack of Opportunity. Everything provokes an attack, except actually fighting with your opponent. Here is a rule, designed to make combat more realistic, that has done nothing but spawn 99 more rules, and completely defeated its own purpose to boot!

The combat round, as presented in earlier editions, is assumed to already take the infinite possibilities of "opportunity" into account. The combat round represents a period (several seconds on up to a minute, depending on edition) of hacking, slashing, dodging, parrying, ducking, weaving, poking, punching, and cursing, and boils it all down to one elegant resolution: a roll to hit versus an armor class. No matter how many conditionals and feats and subsystems you add to the attack of opportunity mechanic, it will never be comprehensive enough to accurately accomplish what its supposed to.

At some point, the designers of a game must agree on a cut-off point, a point at which they will develop no further additions to these randomized abstractions. That cut-off point, regardless of edition, is arbitrary and will suit either the in-game tastes of the designer, or simply fill a necessary page count decreed by one's editors;-)

Keep in mind, the above examples are just that: examples, not criticisms of the games or the folks who enjoy them. Obviously, rule abstraction can be taken too far the other way, I suppose up to the point where "Hero" attacks "Monster" and a coin is flipped to see who lives and who dies. And there are certainly players who enjoy more complex rules simply for fun of having more rules. But like an erector set, it cannot be denied that the more you add onto it, the more elaborate and convoluted the structure, the easier it is to bring it all crashing down, and the harder it is to make heads or tails of what it was supposed to represent in the first place.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I've been peeking in from time to time over on, and it looks like this great project is chugging along just fine.

If you haven't been following it, its an open, free to access (unlike some other, not-so-old-school sites ;-)Megadungeon under construction by the old-school online community, and spearheaded by Jamie from Grognardia. Stuff like this is one of the big "fringe benefits" of even having an old-school online community: great ideas shared by great minds thinking alike.

Even if you don't plan on running the Megadungeon (and does anyone truly not plan on/dream of running a Megadungeon at some point?), be sure to pop in and give these guys credit which is certainly due, and if you're feeling creative, offer to pitch in and help build the thing!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back From the Future, pt2

Yet again, I'm mining the "modern" edition for stuff to use in my old-school games, much like the spells here in part 1.

Belt of Vigor
This chain mail belt enhances the potency of healing spells cast upon you, adding +1 to the result.

Gloves of Piercing
These rippling, scaled gloves enable the wearer to strike, regardless of the weapon held, creatures affected only by magical weapons.

Cloak of Resistance
This cloak imparts a +1 bonus to all saving throws made by the wearer.

Amulet of Health
This amulet imparts a +3 bonus to saving throws against poison.

Shield of Protection
Once per day, for one round, this +1 shield conveys a +3 bonus to AC for you and an adjacent ally.

Catstep Boots
The wearer of these boots takes only half damage when falling, and always lands on his feet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Christmas for the OSR

Check out the Mythmere games storefront at LuLu for some nifty new stuff to spend your recession dollars on. Unlike your weekly Social Security deduction, spending cash on game supplies promises great returns far into your old-age! ;-)

Oh, and enter the code: "MAYCONTEST10" for 10% off your purchase. Take that!, economy...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Goodman Games - Publishing more 1E?

Interesting news in this thread, where Joe Goodman states the possibility of:

"a licensing arrangement to produce more 1E products overall, which will be announced at the North Texas RPG Con."

Very interesting. His 1E Gencon specials so far have been very nice - it'd be cool to see some "official" production outside of cons.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tavern: The Dandy Troll

The Dandy Troll sits near the main gate into town, and is a popular spot for both travelers and locals looking for a bit of exotic conversation and people-watching. The building is three stories; the top two wood and the ground floor old-work stone dating back to imperial times. The ground floor is predominantly taken up with the tap-room, which has standing room for up to two-hundred, but most comfortably accommodates about sixty between tables and bars. While the Troll lets no rooms, it does have an unused barn out back that the owner allows those who have had too much to drink to travel home, or simply can't find anywhere else on short notice, to sleep overnight in for a silver piece.

The Dandy Troll is owned and operated by Leif Amreson (F4), a former sergeant in the local military who religiously saved his soldiering pay for 20 years to do what he does now. He considers it worth it, and lives debt-free, and is turning a tidy profit. Leif does not believe in marriage, and his long-suffering girlfriend Anna nags him incessantly about making her an honest woman, not in the least to end the bastardy of their two sons Amre and Olan. Anna is a skilled cook, and has a knack for the preparation of "unconventional" meats brought into the Troll by adventurers from time to time. Leif prefers to hire only pretty, young, unattached women for his wait staff, and currently has three on the payroll: freckled and sassy Leiu, flaxen-haired and sharp-tongued Blemette, and the darkly mysterious Feyla (MU3)(who, unbeknownst to Leif, is a renegade sorcerer on the run from her Guild in a neighboring country). Leif also employs Rolo the Bow-legged (Halfling2) as a sort of combination janitor/dishwasher/stableman/butt-of-all-jokes.

The usual drinks offered are:
On tap:
Glowering Green Ale - 1cp/pint
Hillsgrim Stout - 3cp/pint
Black Castle Lager - 5cp/pint

Dandy Troll Beer - 2cp/pint (custom-made by a local brewer)
Glenvale Ale - 2cp/pint
Haagen Pilsner - 4cp/pint
Loki Stout - 2sp/pint
Feyhall Blue - 1gp/pint

Farfenhall Red - 5sp/glass, 2gp/bottle
Graven Downs White - 6sp/glass, 24sp/bottle
Silviarmin Finn (Elvish amber wine) - 2gp/glass, 8gp bottle

Dandy Troll Whiskey - 5cp/jigger, 1gp/bottle (Leif's own brew!)
Darkmore Brandy - 1sp/jigger, 2gp/bottle
Tolley's Blackeye Licorice Liqueur - 5sp/jigger, 10gp/bottle
Tanhauser Authentic Wormwood - 1gp/jigger, 20gp/bottle (guaranteed to make you see Fairies!)

And from the Kitchen:
Liver Pastries - 5cp/serving
Sheeps Marrow Fritters - 2cp/serving
Cold Goat in brine with leeks - 6cp/serving
Fresh Fish (usually river trout) - 5cp/serving
Sliced Beef w/cinnamon glaze and peppered roots - 7cp/serving
Roast Mutton w/stewed potatoes - 1sp/serving
Mire Eel Pasties - 2sp/serving
Venison Pie - 2sp/serving
Royal Sturgeon in cream sauce - 5sp/serving
Game Bird, glazed, with fresh greens - 5sp/serving

All of the above served with Anna's own fresh rye and barley bread, wedge of local Monkshand Cheese, and complimentary pint of Dandy Troll Beer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

WotRP Preview: Scoundrel Class

Not all men are created equal, and the Red Planet is a harsh mistress. Some of those men lacking the strength of arm or character to become warriors have learned to survive and thrive on the strength of their wit and cunning and agility. These Scoundrels eke out an existence on the fringes of society, conning and thieving their way to the top. Some even serve as assassins, a dark but surprisingly honorable profession on the Red Planet.

Prime Attribute: Dexterity. 13+ gets +5% xp.
Hit Dice: d6/lvl (max 10)
Armor/Shield Permitted: leather, weapon harness, arm bracers
Weapons Permitted: any

Scoundrel Class Abilities
Scoundrel Skill: Scoundrels have a knack for achieving the unlikely when it comes to things like picking pockets, picking locks, sneaking past or distracting alert guards, bluffing at the gambling table, and such. They have a percentile chance to achieve favorable results determined by their level, and Scoundrels with a Dex score of 13 or higher can add +5%.
Backstabbing: A scoundrel who successfully sneaks up on, surprises, or distracts an opponent can strike with a bonus of +2 to hit, and does double the normal damage. This damage increases to x3 at 5th level, and x4 at 10th.
Agile Fighter: Scoundrels can add their Dex bonus to attacks and damage when fighting with a light, one-handed weapon.

PS. One of these days I'll figure out how to make a chart on blogger that doesn't look all deflicted;-)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Black Magic pt1

Gazolius waded through the throng of battling men and orcs, shoving both friend and foe out of the way with his flaming staff. At last, there he was: Gur Garag, Baron of Carcer Crag. Garag had eluded him for the last time, and this day Gazolius would see to it the villain's soul was sent back to the Abyss from which it came in the most painful way possible, even if it meant damning his own soul.

The Curse of Xurgk
Level 4
Range 90'
Duration 1 round/level
This foul spell envelopes the target in a twisting, gnawing shroud of dark, smoke-like energy. Each round, the spell breaks one of the victim's bones (determined randomly or DMs choice) with a loud snap!, causing 1d12 points of damage, and rendering the affected limb useless. If the affected target does nothing else each round but attempt to fight off the shroud, the target is entitled to a saving throw.


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