Monday, November 30, 2009

Coup de Gace

In a Dungeon Magazine editorial from last year Chris Youngs talks about how Chris Perkins loves to use the coup de grace. He also talks about how it makes the enemies more memorable and satisfying to defeat. I couldn't agree more.

In D&D, regardless of the edition, death is the threat that gives the game meaning. The threat of your character dying is what makes the game fun to play, it is the other side of the risk/reward balance. D&D is not Burning Wheel or WoD, the players do not assign soft goals that have mechanical meaning to their characters. The goals of D&D are to find monsters and make their stuff your stuff. Though in recent editions the scope of the goal has been narrowed to killing monsters and making their stuff your stuff. Either way the reward is for putting yourself in physical danger and surviving. If you are never in actual physical danger the reward is meaningless.

I often have the monsters stop to kill a KO'd character. Do the players get mad? Yes. Do they really hate that guy and go after him with a vengence? Hell yes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gaming with Kids: My Nephew's First Quest

On Thanksgiving my nephew, 7, brought Risk with him so I could teach him to play. As expected it started out fun but eventually devolved into mindless dice rolling as giant armies clashed in lopsided conflicts. By halfway through the outcome was obvious and he was getting bored. He insisted on playing on to the bitter end, but was ready for adventure.

In the past I have played Descent with my nephew and during our vacation this summer we played through The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game. This is an introductory RPG that follows the plot of the Fellowship of the Rings through three battle scenarios. We completed it and he even explored deeper into Moria. I did not have Descent with me and since playing another made up adventure in Moria would basically be playing D&D, I drug out the D&D 3.0 starter box. Sir Kevin was born!

Sir Kevin was hot on the trail of some unicorn stealing goblins when he came across their cottage outside of town. He crept up to the splintered wood door and pressed against it to listen. He could hear the sound of goblins talking inside. Kevin stepped back and charged the door, intending to break it down with his shoulder. He bounced off and was knocked off his feet into the black mud.

As Kevin struggled to his feet, rubbing his shoulder in pain, the goblins pored out of the house. He took off running with the goblins in hot pursuit. As the goblins gained on him, spears clattering of the path, Sir Kevin saw an abandoned farmhouse with a well ahead. Putting on a final burst of speed he dove head first into the well.

Kevin knifed into the cold, dark water far below. He started to struggle, his heavy armor was pulling him down! As Sir Kevin sank to the bottom he saw an opening off to one side with a strange glow. He pulled himself into it. After pulling himself up the side passage he found the water was not deep here and stood up into a strange chamber.

The walls were rough hewn rock and firelight sparkled off crystal shards in the ceiling. There was a small campfire off to one side and an old man was cooking a rat. Kevin called out to the old man. A brief discussion revealed that the old man had fallen into the well over 20 years ago and had been surviving on rate ever since, he could not find his way out of the maze like cave. Politely declining the offered rat, Kevin set out into the cave with only his sword and a torch.

As Sir Kevin ventured deeper into the cave, he became sure that something was following him. He could barely see some glowing eyes just out of range of his torch. Before long the cave opened into a large chamber, there was a fountain with a statue of a mermaid grasping a spear. Kevin carefully approached the statue and slid the spear from its hand. Suddenly the eyes were closing in on him, there were hundreds of them.

A strange figure stepped into his torchlight. A mushroom with legs, eyes, arms, and a mouth. It lowered its spear at him and said "Glarspink!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Reading

Looks like I have a pretty good pile of stuff to read through this weekend.

Fight On! Issue 5
Fight On! Issue 6
Knockspell Issue 3
Stonehell
Hackmaster Players
Hackmaster GM
(I found the two Hackmaster books in a used book store for $15. They look like they have never even been opened)

I will probably cheat and read Knockspell first because I am excited about it. I hope to get my Fight On! Issue 4 review up, one for the Knockspell issue and maybe, if I am lucky, get caught up with Fight On!

I am currently working on an inn to use as a home base in my OSRIC game that starts in January. If I get that finished I will get it up. Then I will work on setting some of the elements I want in the Outdoor Map

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anticipation

I pre-ordered The Dungeon Alphabet and ordered Stonehell today. These are both from an author, Michael Curtis, whose work I have enjoyed online and in magazines. I also ordered WHFRP 3rd edition today too. I think Stonehell will show up first and I can't wait to see it. Since I will be running my first megadungeon soon I hope it will be helpful.

Fight On! Issue 3

I am going to preface my review by saying that this issue was not as appealing to me as the first two. My main problem with it was that much of the content is specific to old Judges Guild stuff. It is well written and much of it I could still use in some ways, but I kind of feel like I am missing something when I read it. I realize that this magazine is aimed at the OSR and I am somewhat outside that target group. My review will be coming from that viewpoint. Frankly, I think that Knockspell and Fight On! are the two best gaming magazines out there right now, even if you are not in the OSR.

I no longer go through the issues article by article in my reviews, although I do read the magazines from cover to cover. I think you can get an idea of what the overall feel for these magazines is from my other reviews. I will just hit on the articles that really stood out for me.

The Wild North by Rob Conley. I point this one out because I enjoy Rob's work. I have both of his Points of Light books and read his blog. This is a well written hex key with some interesting entries. The problem is that it is an add on to the Wilderlands setting, and I don't know anything about it. You don't need to know anything about Wilderlands to appreciate the article, but I feel like a lot of it is lost without being able to put it in perspective.

Khas Fara by Jason Morningstar is a neat little adventure and breaks the usual dungeon crawl mold for these magazines. There isn't even an interior map and it is very character driven. This could be a fun one to just throw into a hex on my world map.

County of Haghill and Environs by James Mishler is another Wilderlands addition. This one works better for the uninitiated though. There are some cool NPCs, a neat fort and a kickass picture on pg 33. This one just feels more self contained than Rob's.

Tables for Fables is good in this issue it covers NPC parties met in a dungeon. I am fond of having my players come across rival/ally groups of adventurers.

Spawning Ground of the Crab Men is the next level in the Fight On! megadungeon, The Darkness Beneath. It is a neat level with two factions for the players to play off each other. There is also intrigue within one of the factions that can be exploited. The crab men are also really creepy.

The columns on Bob Bledsaw were cool since I knew nothing about him. I would have liked an "Introduction to the Wilderlands" piece though.

There are some demons for Empire of the Petal Throne. I know nothing about this setting and it is not really useful to me.

Gabor Lux is as productive as ever in this issue.

There is a level of Hell expansion to an old Judges Guild product. i don't really have a frame of reference to put it in.

The next two parts of the Wilderness Architect are cool, it is always interesting to see the ways that other GMs build their worlds.

I had no interest in the fiction. Sorry, I always skipped these in Dragon. It was a good story, just not what I am looking for in a gaming magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Plastic Imitation of the Amulet of Yendor

Most evil thing in a game ever. If you know what I am talking about, then you know.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mutant Future Game 1: Postponed

Didn't get a chance to play Mutant Future. This will actually give me a chance to flesh stuff out more and get a few more people together for the first game. I did wind up getting a chance to make a map and key I am pretty happy with for the battleship New Jersey.

I also got a chance to develop some things that we be ongoing threads in the campaign. The first is the Multipass. The Multipass will be a combination EZPass, PATCO Freedom Card (public rail system), and admission pass. The idea is that the pass gets you through just about any gate you might have to pay to pass through. At some time in the distant past the country was basically run by corporations and Multipass basically had a monopoly on the pay portal business. They also installed killer robots for people who jump the turnstyle. There is the added benefit that few geeks can resist the word "Multipass".

I also decided that the currency for my world will be Skee Ball Tokens.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mutant Future Game 1: Prep

I am preparing to start my Mutant Future game on Saturday. The game will be set in and around the City of Camden in NJ. The game will be starting with 1 player. This works out well, he is the guy I started gaming with. It will be easy to test out the new system in that setting.

While the campaign itself will be a sandbox, I find it is best to start things off with a bang. I am going to use Grodog's suggestion and have the battleship New Jersey be in the hands of pirates. The player will start as a prisoner in the brig of the ship. I will leave the rest of the evening up to him. He can try to escape, join the crew, take over, or whatever else he can come up with. This means for the first session I will need a map of the ship, some NPC's, and a land area for him to escape to if he manages to get free.

I am struggling with the map, but I found some game stats (Robotech) for the ship here.

I am going to use Jeff Rient's Slimy Lake map from Fight On! Issue 6 for now if he gets ashore.

I can grab Kordon, Queen of the River Pirates to use as the captain.

I can throw in some of the Savage After Worlds encounters if he gets ashore

I am not usually this lazy, but I like to use the resources available if I can. Plus, I want to concentrate on getting the rules right for now. If it goes well I can put in the time to flesh things out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Started

I am going to talk a bit about what I think is missing for people starting out in the hobby. To set things up I am going talk about how I got started in the hobby.

I first learned about RPGs through gamebooks. Gamebooks were like Choose your Own Adventure books with a conflict resolution mechanic. The first one I had was a Car Wars gamebook purchased at the school book fair. At 10 years old I was a Tolkein nut and it didn't take me long to learn that there were Tolkein Quest gamebooks. I grabbed the two availabe (they have a sordid publishing history) at the time and was hooked at once.

I have learned in the years since that these are considered by many to be two of the best gamebooks ever made. They had a full color hex map for overworld exploration and there were entries in the book keyed to the map. When you entered a hex you flipped to the entry for the hex and from there choices might lead you to another numbered section of the book. Underground sections were entered this way.

The books had a combat system of their own but they also had stats for something called MERP. What the heck is MERP? My friends and I started to ask around about it and found out that it wasn't available anywhere near us, but we were told it was just like a game called Dungeons and Dragons. We wanted that.

Sadly it was 1988 and D&D was forbidden by our parents. The level of penetration that the smear campaign against D&D had is amazing. My family is not even religious and they managed to scare my parents.

My friends and I managed to figure out that D&D was like gamebooks but with just the rules, you made up your own adventure to go on. We did the next best thing to getting D&D, we made our own game by taking rules out of gamebooks. We played this for several months before our parents decided that D&D was like Tolkein (safe) and we were allowed to play it. Enter the Red Box.

The smartest thing done in the Red Box was to make the instructional section like a gamebook. We picked it up right away without any trouble. We were literally playing by the end of computer class.

Now I will turn to the topic of how to introduce new players to RPGs today. It seems to me that there are two main geek kid markets at this point: computer games and Japanese manga/anime. Probably the best chance to grab these kids is through the manga section in Barnes and Noble and World of Warcraft.

I think that Fantasy Flight Games is on the right path for grabbing the WoW kids. They make pseudo-RPG board games that have mechanics very similar to a MMO. Descent and the WoW board game are great bridges to RPGs. Their upcoming Warhammer RPG also looks to be a great bridge game. I think that in the early '90s HeroQuest played this role, although in that case it was bridging the gap between traditional board games and RPGs.

I think that one way to grab the manga kids would be through gamebooks. These would have to be gamebooks laid out in the manga format, involving known manga properties, that are illustrated and sold right on the same shelf in B&N as the manga books. I think it would be great if these gamebooks were tied to things like the WoW manga or another property that already has a large draw to kids disposed to gaming.

The key is that today's kids are not going to be interested in a gamebook where you pretend to be Conan or John Carter. They don't want a board game where you take a barbarian and a Middle Earth elf and raid a dungeon with them. That is not their fantasy, that is their dad's fantasy. These products have to be designed to draw on the modern pulp fiction aesthetic not one from the first half of the 20th century.

I still think that a gamebook like product is the best way to explain the hobby and get people into it. I would love to see a Swords & Wizardry introductory gamebook, or a line for Labyrinth Lord. I would love to see an eastern animation style S&W gamebook even more. To kid young people you need to have something that looks familiar and put it on the shelf next to the books that they are already buying. I think the dream of some magic, modern, basic set in a box is for yesterdays market.

Fight On! Issue 2

I am not going to step through every article on this one, just call out the ones that stood out for me.

Patrick Farley's Penguin character race reminded me of the old Dragon Magazine races and classes that sometimes just cam out of nowhere. It is wacky but seems like it could work. I am thinking about throwing them in as NPCs and seeing how it goes over. If it flops we can just not come back to it.

The Darkness Beneath is going to be Fight On!'s community megadungeon. I will probably not use any specific levels from it, but as I am starting work on my first megadungeon it is cool to see what they did.

Shields shall be splintered offers an optional rule system for shield where they can be used to basically cancel a hit. I like this a lot and it is likely to be the first rule I add to my OSRIC campaign after the first session or so if my players want more detailed combat.

The Entourage Approach by David Bowman adds depth to the henchman system. He creates a head henchman that becomes the primary character in the event of death. I love this idea. One of the main dangers with old school gaming is that it is... dangerous. As a whole I see this as a plus, but it can lead to players feeling disconnected from the action if they have a few bad sessions. I will be implementing The Entourage System from the start in my OSRIC campaign. This is just a plain cool idea.

James Raggi gives us a really cool random inn generator that is packed with great stuff. As I have said before, these "idea" articles are my favorite. The whole time I was reading this I was thinking, "I could do this... and this... and this." You can use the table here to make a really dynamic feeling inn as your players' base. This one is going right into the game too.

James M.'s Outdoor Map is one of the prime contenders for the backbone of my OSRIC game. The other contenders are all from Rob Conley's Points of Light books, Rob also drew the map for this one. Usually I would make my own setting up, but law school could put me in a position where I can't keep up so I am going to go with help where I can get it. One of the main advantages to this map over the others is that some of the areas get developed on Grognardia so I have an additional source of inspiration in a bind.

Victor Raymond's Wilderness Architect article is a good read. I have never really done things that way, but it is interesting to see how he works.

The articles on Dave Arneson are fun, and of use to me since I plan on slipping Castle Blackmoor into my game.

A couple of issues:

This becomes more of a problem in later issues (I'll get to them), but Fight On! runs a lot of stuff specific to some really old campaign settings. In this issue it is Empire of the Petal Throne. While this is cool to an extent, it can be a bit much. I don't know enough about Empire of the Petal Throne to really follow those adventures. There are some later issues with a lot of old campaign specific stuff in them. I am torn on these, on one hand it is cool. On the other, it can make large parts of the magazine hard to follow.

That said, I am not really part of the Old School movement. I may not be their target audience. I enjoy that style of play, but I also enjoy White Wolf, GURPS, 4th edition, and other games.

One thing that Knockspell is doing much better: At the end of each article Knockspell gives you a little blurb about the authors, including their websites. Both of these magazines are community magazines, this aids in that feeling.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Knockspell Issue 2

Issue 2 continues the strong run for Knockspell. It opens with another good From Kuroth's Quill. This entry in the series deals with dungeon dressing and gives some cool things that can be done with doors. As I have said before these idea articles are the kind I get the mist use out of. I often times find myself putting down the magazine when reading an article like this and spending 20 minutes just thinking about the possibilities.

The next article is Dungeon as Mystical Underworld. This is a good read and deals with dungeons in a way that I never have in my games. My dungeons have always been small and geared towards realistic layouts.

The next section presents some views and class definitions for thieves. I know there is a lot of debate about thieves but I have no dog in that hunt. It was interesting, I may try my OSRIC campaign without them just to see what happens.

Next up is another setting description by the insanely prolific Gabor Lux. You will understand what I mean if you also read Fight On! Seriously, this guy is a bottomless pit of good locations.

This is followed by a series of articles with the retro-clone articles. I was especially happy to see the one with Dan Proctor. I think Labyrinth Lord is the most well written of the retro-clones and could function the best for people who had never encountered the original source material. I also appreciate that it does not have the adversarial tone that Swords and Wizardry (which other than the tone I really like) has.

The jousting rules are interesting to me since I just worked out jousting as a skill challenge for 4ed earlier this year. A totally different approach, obviously.

Next up is an article on dungeon oddities by Michael Curtis. At this point I am willing to say that if Curtis is writing it, I am going to read it. I have enjoyed his articles and his blog. The Stone Womb is going in my game.

I think you have the idea by now so I will just hit on a few more highlights. Surviving Old School Dungeons by Sean Ahmed, and Magic Swords and Treasure Maps by Philotomy are can't miss.

Overall I found this issue to be even stronger than the first.

City in the Worm

For centuries Noxxe was the most powerful city on Ocama. It was the seat of the great Xnips empire and the center of technological innovation. It was a gleaming metropolis of steel and concrete. That all ended when the Chaos Worms attacked. Four hundred years ago giant worms rose up from the earth and began devouring the works of man. Noxxe fell victim to the Chaos Worm god, the World Worm. The World Worm swallowed the city of Noxxe whole. But the city was too big for even the greatest Chaos Worm. The World Worm choked to death on the city of Noxxe and the Chaos Worm invasion ended. Few have dared to enter the body of the World Worm to plunder the lost city of Noxxe, and fewer still have returned with tales of their adventures.

The first stages of the journey to Noxxe will be the descent into the tunnel that the World Worm retreated into before dying. This will be a natural cavern exploration and the characters will have to deal with the standard cave dwelling monsters.

The second stage will be inside the dead body of the worm itself. The body has been preserved by its magic, so the characters will be travelling inside an organic complex. The characters should face bizarre enemies here. Standard Monster Manual opponents should be avoided in favor of mutations and organic weirdenss.

The final stage of exploration will be Noxxe itself. What has survived? Have people continued to live in the city for all these years? Have the organic monsters from the worm moved in? What remains of the high tech society?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Religion in my upcoming campaign

All of the following assumes a campaign world where there are multiple gods, who are real, and are actively involved in the running of the world.

One thing I want to avoid in my upcoming campaign is modern style religion. Clerics' prayers are actually answered, the gods walk the earth in the form of men from time to time, many gods are known to actually exist, and they kind of act like children. This will make for a different kind of religion. In fact, by modern understanding, it wont be religion at all. It will be science.

Faith isn't needed in a world with a traditional fantasy pantheon. A god's followers are not taking his existence on faith when he can show up and lightning bolt someone. Clerics' prayers are actually answered. Religion in a world like that isn't about faith, it is about reacting to reliable evidence and things you directly observe. Religious people are not the ones sticking their heads in the sand denying verifiable phenomenon in a fantasy world. Furthermore, you know that all of the gods are real, not just yours.

Conversion will work differently too. It will not be about getting people to stop believing in their god and start believing in yours. It will be about convincing people that making sacrafices or praying to your god will be more effective. They are going to expect you to back this up too.

The idea of "my god" will be blurred in many ways. Some people may have a god that they are more loyal to than others but everyone has to deal with all the gods. If you are going on a boat trip you will make a sacrifice to the sea god, even if you are a cleric of the war god. The idea of a personal relationship with a god will be very different too. It will not be based on some personal interpretation of what the god means. The people of the world will have a pretty good idea of what their god want, they get feedback.

Since interpretations of what a god said 2000 years ago will be less important, people will not be able to use them to gain as much power over others. If someone was using an interpretation of what a god says to force others to do what he wanted, and the god did not agree with that, he could make it very clear. Any time someone is saying that a god told him to do something chances are he will be right or will be dead very soon.

With real gods, people get feedback and responses from their actions. They will record the response and attempt to connect it to their actions. They will develop theories about what causes gods to act the way they do, theories that can actually be tested. Clerics will have to take a far more logical approach to religion, it is likely that religion and science will not be at odds with each other in a society like this, but will actually be closely intertwined.

In a game with fantasy gods, religion would be nothing like the religions in our modern world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Upcoming Campaign

My plans for my next campaign have changed. It looks like I have a group of pretty experienced players who want to play D&D. I managed to convince them that AD&D was the way to go, so we will be using OSRIC. I am planning on starting with just the core OSRIC rules and tacking on weapon speed and some other things as we go. I anticipate working in a count initiative system with Hackmaster-like movement eventually.

I am seriously considering using the entourage rules I saw in Knockspell. I really like this as a way to make old school death sting less without having to nerf the difficulty. I also like how it ties the players more to the setting in a continuous fashion.

I will be running my first megadungeon in this campaign. Now I just have to figure out how I want to go about that. I will likely set this in either a setting from one of the Points of Light books or James M's outdoor map from Knockspell (or was it in Fight On!)