Saturday, December 31, 2011

TSR Silver Anniversary Boxed Set - score!

Today I lucked into something I didn't even knew existed, but wanted to own the second I opened it up and saw inside:

TSR Silver Anniversary Boxed Set

To quote that page:

"This high-end collector's box contains:

A facsimile of the original B2 - Keep on the Borderlands
A facsimile of the original G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
A facsimile of the original G2 - The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
A facsimile of the original G3 - Hall of the Fire Giant King
A facsimile of the original I6 - Ravenloft
A facsimile of the original S2 - White Plume Mountain
A history of the AD&D game including a retrospective essay by Gary Gygax
A recently recovered, never-before-released 1st Edition adventure - L3: Deep Dwarven Delve by Len Lakofka
A specially created, frameable art print by Jeff Easley

And - not listed there but included - is a copy of Holmes D&D.

Plus, for whatever reason, this copy included a copy of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. Not something I really wanted, but it's nice to have it. I have almost all of this stuff - not the Gygax retrospective, obviously, or the Easley print, or L3, but the others - yeah, have them. But it's cool to have a whole new dungeon and to see the original monochromes of G1, G2, G3, and S2. I'm quite pleased.

It's in such perfect condition it doesn't look like it was ever used. It even cost less than cover price - which is great, because this is a "like to have" not "would die without" kind of purchase. I met the guy who owned the stuff originally, and all of his books look barely used but he's very familiar with them. Obviously he didn't treat his books the way I treat mine.

I got this here: Fantasy Games & Hobbies. Lucky me, I live close to one FLGS, fairly close to another, and my MMA coach lives around the corner from the one above. I stopped in a on a whim, since my goal is find some 30-sided dice that won't cost me 3x their retail price in shipping, thank you very much. They are moving and packed up their dice, so I didn't get any. But still.

I haven't read any of this through yet - getting ready for New Year's Eve. But it was a great find.

If anyone is interested, they have a lot of older stuff on sale. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition D&D, Off the top of my head, it includes the Ravenloft boxed set, the Planescape boxed set, Dark Sun, a pretty good condition copy of S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, most of a run of Dragonlance modules, a bit battered but complete Monstrous Compendium binder, the Greyhawk Adventures hardback, Wilderness Survival Guide, and a few others. I'm passing this along because I have the stuff I want already, and I'd hate to see this stuff sitting on a shelf while someone else in NJ (or elsewhere) is pining for a copy.

And I came home with this and my Jeff Dee picture came (it's in the envelope in the back - thanks Jeff!)

Friday, December 30, 2011

My megadungeon mapping "best" practices - Part I

Or at least what I've been doing. I can't show you evidence of these because putting my maps up would be giving out in-game information, and at least one of my players reads this blog. I don't know this is really great advice, but it's working well for me.

Side View First

Check out this very cool side view I found on the Mythmere site, or this cool variation. It tells you a lot about the dungeon, I think, in a way that a top-down map just cannot. Levels in a big dungeon stack, so decide how they stack. This really helps tie it all together, and gives you a chance to see what connections "need" to be between levels.

Corollary: Showing the connections is important.

My first thoughts on a seeing a bunch of maps is "How do these connect?" and a side view does that visually. Not to bash on this sideview, but the one at bigdungeon is cool but doesn't show connections. So to me it looks unfinished. If I can't see the connections I can't do my little mental maze game of "How can I get to the bottom? Can I get from here to here? What levels are isolated?" They are all isolated until you put on some connections.

Corollary: Leave whitespace for more levels.

Pretty simple. Don't fill all the possible spaces for levels on your first pass. Leave room between the levels for sub-levels, room on the side for cul-de-sac levels, room below for deeper levels. Don't box yourself in. A good bit of the coolness in a big dungeon is that feeling of "holy crap . . . this could go on forever!"

Plus you want to leave room for "oh cool, I can put that dungeon level I just found on the internet . . . here."

Level Connections

Do a quickie overview of the levels on paper, and write down what those connections are. You can change this later, but start with some ideas. I have notes like:

Level 1:
3 Entrances
- Main Gate
- Stairs down from ruined tower
- Secret entrance from the Evil Shrine

4 Exits
- Stairs to Level 2
- Pit to Level 2
- Trap Door to Level 2A
- tunnel exit to Level 3

This at least gives me a starting point. What is an entrance and what is an exit is arbitrarily top-to-bottom. Comes in from the surface or an upper level? Entrance. Goes deeper into the dungeon? Exit.

Corollary: Map the connections on the level map first.

This gives you a bit of structure. You can always change them later, but it's a pain to erase a whole section of map because you didn't line up the entrances with the exits from the previous level.

Map Early and Often

Write and don't erase (unless it's an obvious error). Don't scrap and redraw. Just draw. Themes and commonalities (see #3) will emerge just from your own style and preferences emerging over time.

If possible, draw a room or two or ten every day. Twice a day. I've got one and a half levels done and part of two more. How I do this is simple - the same way I write books. I just write down everything, and I make myself draw a room or two everytime I see the map. It fills in quickly that way.

Corollary: Random rooms are fun.

Steal an idea from Vornheim and just dump some dice on the graph paper. Where they land is a room. The pips on the dice indicate the size of one dimension. Roll again (or roll another die, your choice) to determine the other dimension. You can orient them to the map or just say screw it and draw the edges with the dice.

Corollary: Leave whitespace.

Again, leave some places to explore and add stuff. You might need it later. That which is defined is limiting, so leave some places undefined.

That's all for now, more another time as I come up with them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Art for the Chronicles of Siala

I just stumbled on some really cool art.

The home page of the author of the Chronicles of Siala books (Shadow Prowler and Shadow Chaser and the not-yet-released Shadow Blizzard) has a great gallery of pictures. Many of them relate to the series, but others are just by the same artists, Oleg Yudin and Vladimir Bondar.

I'm much more wowed by the Oleg Yudin pics. The color pictures remind me of Larry Elmore, but a lot less posed and static feeling. The b&w pictures bring to mind Russ Nicholson, although I can't exactly tell you why.

There are lot more of these in the link above:

I discussed the awesome dungeon foreshadowed in this series of books a while back - Hrad Spein.

Shadow Harold is pretty cool looking, although I imagined his crossbow a lot smaller.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mapping my megadungeon

I've been busy mapping Felltower aka the Ruins aka Grak Yorl ("the Boneyards" or "the Black Fortess" depending on who you ask).

I've printed my own graph paper because I didn't like the scale on the pads I already had. I've been busy; my requirement is to draw at least 1-2 rooms on the page every time I look at an unfinished map, and every morning and evening. If I bring the map with me to work on between classes or whatever, I make myself draw a few more lines on it. That way it's begun to fill out pretty quickly.

One thing is, I hate all my own maps. Seriously, my maps always look cruddy to me when I finish. Neat, well-drawn (or well-enough-drawn), but somehow sucky. Like the end result doesn't match the vague image in my head of what it should be.

Now, I'm not a big draw-and-erase kind of guy. I keep working at at, because ultimately quantity of finished rooms and stocked monsters will trump design. It doesn't matter so much if the dungeon isn't the most functionally and architecturally perfect place it could be. The players won't see the whole thing even if they map 90%+ of it. This section kinda sucks? Too bad, make the next section better. Those rooms will have monsters or not, treasure or not, tricks and traps or not. Onto the next section! Good enough is good enough.

But man, I look at it and I think it's a mess. This happens with my old dungeons - I look at stuff I did for other games and think, okay, this is also a mess. With one exception, where I really had a great idea, ran with it, and was able to keep it a cohesive whole from one end to the other. But it's not that big (a mere 8 or 9 levels, depending on how you count, and not very wide) nor very portable to this game.

One good thing I did is a sideways map of the main levels, and quickly sketch on paper the "idea" of the levels and the entrances and exits. That way I don't have to decide on the fly how many egresses and entrances there are, just place them.


Are there good guides to mapping dungeon levels? I've looked at a few more generic ones, but hints that would stop me from drawing too-easy transits to the bottom levels and nonsensical stair arrangements would help. Ones that give me an idea of how many rooms I might want, or which direction doors normally open, or ideas for forestalling "we always go left" and so on. Just hints on execution rather than planning. I have a plan, even if it's not a perfectly realized whole. It's help with, okay, so if these are storerooms, what's a good way to lay them out - that kind of stuff.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas is about presents

As the boys realize here, in Jesus vs. Santa, Christmas is about presents. Not ham, not goodwill towards men. Presents.

And fantasy gaming is about treasure. Delvers aren't wasting their time in deep dark holes that don't have treasure laden monsters.

Let's take a look at some evidence, shall we?

Moldvay D&D: ". . . heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures." (p. B3)

Holmes D&D: "The party then enters the underworld, tries to capture the maximum treasure with the minimal [sic] risk and escape alive." (p. 41)

AD&D DMG: "Wealth abounds; it is simply awaiting the hand bold and strong enough to take it! This precept is basic to fantasy adventure gaming. Can you imagine Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser without a rich prize to aim for? Conan without a pouch of rare jewels to squander?" (p. 91)

Rolemaster Creatures & Treasures: "One of the chief goals and rewards in fantasy role playing is 'treasure': money, valuables, and magic items." (p. 1)

Dicing with Dragons: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games: "In the short term, players will act co-operatively in pursuit of some common objective, such as the accumulation of wealth and power . . ." (p. 6)

Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers: "But something else resonates with nearly every gamer. That's the thrill of taking a powerful, faux-medieval adventurer down into a cave . . .and seeing lots of monsters, killing them, and taking their treasure." (p. 3)

Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables: "Reduced to its essentials, the dungeon fantasy genre consists of sword-and-sorcery heroes with cool powers killing things and taking their stuff." (p. 1)

The Dungeon Alphabet: "It is for gold that the brave or foolish venture into these unwelcoming subterranean locales." (p. 13)

Oh, sure. You have your fight against evil, and your heroic rescues, and your exploration of the deep dark. You have your reindeer and elves and lights and religious observances and being of good cheer, too. But you're shopping for and exchanging presents, and adventurers are delving for treasure.

Merry Christmas, and may all your opponents have 100% of Treasure Type H.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holmes D&D readthrough, with modern eyes

Just some random thoughts on Holmes D&D.

This is the first time I ever sat down and read it all though way through. My uncle had a copy of 3rd edition (December 1979) Holmes D&D that I inherited, but we never played it, so that'll explain why I never read it through. Plus my uncle really like to underline stuff a lot and seemingly randomly, which drives me nuts. I wouldn't buy used textbooks for that reason, and for the reasons so well articulated by Mr. Thornton Mellon.

It's clearly got a lot going for it as a game, and I can see why a lot of people like it. But there is a lot of "what the-?" moments in there for me. Some are just strange sentences. Some are just odd rules, or inconsistent ones. Others are lessons for rules designers, IMO, for things to do or not to do. Even more are things that make me wonder what it's like to run it without access to the AD&D books it was meant to lead you to. There is a lot of criticism in this post, and I expect it'll really anger some people. But like I said it's not really my intention. I'm criticizing as a way to learn and understand; I'm doing it to Holmes because I can approach it "fresh" since I never read it through or played it (that I can remember, anyway). And it's a good example of a re-take of an older, opaque work (the white box) that is being made more clear. But some things seem missing, so the book feels incomplete to me.

So Zenopus, please don't kill me. Holmes fans, don't flame me. I'm just reflecting on a lot of weirdness I found that - I hope - will lead me to write better books. If I missed some explanation
within Holmes for something I think is missing or stated badly, let me know!

Random weirdness

"At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. [SNIP] Thus, an expedition might include, in additional to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halfling-ish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese samurai fighting man." (pg 7) - Er, what? There are no rules for this, which wasn't helpful when I was nine and not much more helpful now that I'm decades older. Nevermind that's the first and last mention in the book of either samurai or centaurs. I know the OSR ideal is rulings not rules, but this is a bit much - there are no real guidelines for doing this. Even the unhelpful section in the DMG was more useful, even if admonitory instead of encouraging (which this is). Even a line like "Such characters would start at 1 hit die and progress as fighting men (or as magic-users if they use magical spells), but otherwise have normal stats for their kind" would have been awesome. Yeah, maybe I'm undermining my case here with a ruling, but this is a beginner's set, and I think it's fair to ask that if you tell me I can run a monster PC you give me at least a starting point like that. It's done for encounters, treasure, magical item distribution, adventures-to-leveling time, etc. but not there, where there is this tempting throwaway.

Also, "his or her" is nice, but it's followed by "him" and "his or her" doesn't come up again.

The AD&D rules, it says, have rules for two magic-user subtypes - illusionists and witches. Witches never made it into AD&D, not officially anyway. Always fun to find artifacts of a discussing-a-future-product situation like this.

There are only 5 alignments - Lawful (Good or Evil), Neutral, and Chaotic (Good or Evil). Alignment languages show up here, too. But the book later has at least one neutral (evil) creature, the displacer beast.

All characters use the same hit tables, and weapons retain the white box D&D rule of doing d6 damage, no variation for type.

High charisma doesn't have any game effects. In one or two places it's noted that it could help, but it doesn't help mechanically. Charisma 3 or 18 or anything in between, you get the same reactions from NPCs and monsters. Huh. Wordcount is spent on this stat but it's use is vague at best. Oddly characters of a higher level than the PCs cannot be hired, but if you run into them in the dungeon and roll high on the reaction table, they might volunteer to join you!

"When a character is killed, the lead figure (if used) representing his body is removed from the table, unless it is eaten by the monsters or carried off by his comrades to be returned to his family." - Does anyone else parse that to mean if the lead figure is eaten by monsters or carried off?

Encumbrance - I'm not sure, but it looks like only treasure weighs anything. And everyone can carry 60 pounds of treasure encumbered. In any case, weapons and armor do not have any listed weight.

There is no armor cost or weight anywhere that I can find. Armor Class is easy - check the hit location tables - but not anything to buy. This makes me wonder if the book was really intended to work on its own, or if they expected you to have the white box or AD&D books and use this to figure out how they work.

Sleep has a duration of 4-16 turns, but the next sentence says creatures sleep for 2-8 turns. Probably errata more than weirdness, to be fair, but it struck me as a glaringly obvious error when I read it, so it made me look at the spell description to see if there was more that explained the difference. Nope.

Audible Glamour says it takes a fourth level wizard to make the sound of a lion's roar, but a second level magic-user can make the sound of a giant snake slithering. Except that AG is a 2nd level spell, and a 2nd level magic-user doesn't get second level spells. Aargh!

The Strength spell increases a fighter's strength by 2-8, a thief by 1-6, a cleric by 1-4. But the strength stat doesn't do anything in Holmes D&D except increase XP for fighters if it's at a certain level or above. I suppose a third level wizard could help his buddy get +10% XP with this spell. Heh.

Wizard Lock can be bypassed with Knock "without breaking the wizard spell." So it stays magically locked if you let it swing shut? Interesting. I kind of like that.

Cure Light Wounds works on hobbits. Missed a reference during the Tolkien purge? Barrow wights get mentioned later, as do Nazgul, so perhaps this was before TSR got dinged for copyright issues.

There is a whole list of 3rd level spells, but no rules for them - "They are listed above to give some idea of the range of magical possibilities." You need the AD&D Players Handbook here for sure.

Flaming oil gets a whole section (Fire, p. 19). Some oddness here - "To hit with such a missile [a thrown flask] assume that a base score of 11 or better is required." Then it comes with a pile of bonuses and penalties for dexterity, size of the target in feet, and if it is stationary or moving. Then oddly it says "Treat the oil flask missile as a handhurled axe." From later listing it's clear that's for range but why not just give it a table entry? It does seem that flasks of oil are not dependent on level for their to hit chances, regardless of if you are a Normal Man or 1st-3rd level character, the two listings on the to hit table.

Huh, you need to roll Dexterity for all monsters so you can determining initiative. Monsters don't come with a default dexterity. The combat example on p. 21 has the DM rolling during the fight, since you don't roll initiative until melee has started. You can shoot bows and spells off at range without determining initiative. It seems like something you'd ideally want to do when you rolled their HP, just to save time in play (for the same reasons you'd roll HP ahead of time).

There are a lot of monsters you could never take down with unlimited 1st to 3rd level characters. Storm giants, purple worms, djinni, etc. Advice on lowering them down via injury, magical accidents, youth, etc. is given, but they see out of place. I expect that's why they ended up in the Expert Set when Moldvay had his shot at an intro book for D&D.

This book could have been paired with that copy of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands that I have that has different magic items in it and lacks notes about revisers. But I also have an early copy of B1 In Search of the Unknown that seems to go with his (and is sadly beaten up and incomplete, just like that copy of B2.)

Random Coolness

"Monsters killed or overcome by magic or wits are worth experience points . . . " (p. 11) - Nice! Victory doesn't need to mean butchery.

Magic-users can write scrolls of their own spells for a (fairly minimal) cost. Very nice! If that rule was in any other version of D&D or in 1st edition AD&D, I never noticed. I was too awed by the incredible amount of odd stuff you needed to write a scroll that Gygax listed in the DMG.

You can parry, instead of attacking on your next turn (p. 21). I thought that was a first in AD&D, but here it is in Holmes! Cool, and simple.

"Melee [. . .] must be imagined as if were occurring in slow motion so that the effects of each blow can be worked out. [. . . ] the hand-to-hand battles must be fought out one at a time and then the result imagined as if all were going on simultaneously." (p. 18) - Yeah, that's a very good explanation, and I wish I could implant the understanding of this concept into people's heads when they first start gaming. Combat in RPGs is dice-before-description - you roll the dice and then determine if you hit, if the opponent stopped it (system depending), where you landed your blow, how hard of a shot it was, and how the injury affected the guy. Only after all that rolling do you know what you just did. Then you can describe it. Other actions? Describe what you are doing first, because it's much more likely to succeed or fail based on your description. This difference is non-obvious at first.

The sample dungeon (p. 39) cross-section has a domed city in it. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!

"Once the game begins, try to keep the action moving at a dramatic pace." - Yes, yes, yes. All my game table ideas are centered on making the game run faster and smoother.

"Many gamesters start with a trip across country to get to the entrance to the dungeon - a trip apt to be punctuated with attacks by brigands or wandering monsters or marked by strange and unusual encounters. The party then enters the underworld, tries to capture the maximum treasure with the minimal risk and escape alive." (p. 41) - Other than the "maximum vs. minimal" bit that drives my ESL-teaching heart crazy, this is a very apt description of my Dungeon Fantasy game. Dangerous trip, and then exploration with intent to loot, rather than extermination or exploration for the sake of exploration. It's not like these guys are trying to find the Northwest Passage or something; they want to find the best looting grounds! Space Vikings eat your hearts out, these are Dungeon Vikings! Valhalla I am coming!

Random Design notes:

"The experience points for the kill are multiplied by a fraction: monster level/character's level." (p. 11) - Also nice, since it forces characters to hunt more powerful creatures, and not just play Kurgan and hunt down the weak guys. AD&D had a similar rule. An example would have helped, though - if a 2nd level Fighting Man and a 3rd level Thief and a 1st level Magic-User kill 3 x 1 hd monsters (30 xp), what's the divide like? The downside to this kind of rule is also that you need to really track a running total of what was killed, so you can divide it down. "Okay Bob, your guy is 3rd level, and he killed 3 orcs at 30 xp total divided by 1/3 so it's 10 xp, that 2 hd green slime so that's 20 x 2/3 equals 13 or 14 points . . . " etc. No word on what 1+1 HD divided by 3 gets you. I think that's why we never used this in actual play with the AD&D version. And if you simplify it by "top level guy" then first level guys really never benefit from their 2nd level buddy - all the XP for the "easy" monsters is halved!

You are surprised on a 1-2 on a d6, and then if you roll a 6 after being surprised you "may" drop whatever you are holding. Generally I think it's bad to change the "bad" numbers. Pick one - roll low (Surprised on a 1-2 on a d6, then roll again and drop what you are holding if you get a 1) or high (surprised on a 5-6, drop stuff on a 6). Wandering Monsters do this to - they appear on a 6 on a d6, and then you check for surprise (roll low) and dropping stuff if surprised (roll high).

"If the archer is firing at long range his dice roll for a hit is one higher than the score for hits with any other weapon, and is read off the table under the opponent's armor class. At medium range the archer uses the score as shown, and at close range he adds 1." (p. 20) - That's a very, very long way to say "+1 to hit at Short Range (the actual range band name on the table), -1 at Long Range." My uncle (presumably) felt the same way and markered up the tables with +1, 0, and -1 next to the range names. Lesson learned: Don't spell out bonuses if you can put them on the table with a label. Also there is some oddness - thrown axes, spears, and daggers have no medium range, so they always have either a +1 or -1 to hit.

Light weapons get two attacks a round, heavy weapons one every other round. But damage is the same for all, which means there is a huge disincentive to use anything but a dagger. If you create an imbalance, it's best to address it in some way - if two-handed weapons do more damage or get a to hit bonus, maybe it's worth it. But strictly by the book it's a bad idea to use anything but a dagger (two attacks, and all weapons do 1d6).

Using letters instead of numbers on a map (p. 42) is probably not a good idea; it's fine for a very small spot but for larger locations you're just screwing yourself.


You want to run a thief? You utter bastard.

Holmes D&D lets you know that you are one, for certain.

"Thieves are not truly good and are usually referred to as neutral or evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's monsters." (pg 6)

"Neutral characters, such as all thieves . . . " (pg 8) So no chaotic evil marauding thieves? Contradictory and confusing. It makes me think a good approach would have been to say that neutral thieves are profit-oriented treasure hunters or helpful burglars like Bilbo (who is probably Lawful, really, even with all the hiding in shadows and moving silently and climbing he does). Then you say chaotic types are untrustworthy bastards. I mean, a neutral thief should be more trustworthy than a chaotic anything else, right? But by the book . . . he's not.

"If for some reason, one character gets more of the loot, such as a thief stealing gems from the saddle bags on the way home, then he should get the additional experience points." (p. 11) - Okay, okay, you don't like thieves. They aren't team players. Geez, I get it. No wonder some OSR folks hate them, the books tell you how horrible they are. Rules lawyers can point to the rulebook to say, hey, I'm supposed to be stealing your stuff, guys!

Overall: Interesting stuff. I really need to find a readable copy of the original B1, and a better copy of this book. It's a fun and quick read, but again, I wonder how people made out if this is all they owned and tried to run it. The explanations of how the game worlds seem clear now, but then again, I'm thirty years older than I was when I first started playing, and even Moldvay really confused me. The weird not-OD&D not-AD&D not-Basic D&D vibe about this makes it really unique and interesting.

(Quick edit later: I forgot to include the pictures of my mangled, underlined, colored-in Holmes D&D set)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ersatz Doomchildren minis + thinking about pre-painted minis

Not by design, but these guys are going to make some awesome, awesome Doomchildren (from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons). Basically, the fetishes from Diablo 2. Knife-wielding demons. (The blowgunning types are more like Horde Pygmies from DFM1).

Sure, DF2 doesn't say doomchildren are smiling and green. But it doesn't say they aren't . . .

I need bunches of these. Which is good, because people will probably be selling them off in lots on eBay when they end up with too many.

I'm glad to see more plastic minis coming around. I love, love, love metal minis. I love to collect them and paint them. But they don't travel so well, I don't have as much time to paint, and mini for mini they cost more. So pre-painted plastic is really handy if I can get minis in bunches for fodder types. Do I need a "character" mini? No, I have them. I need goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, rats, spiders, demons, etc. in bunches. Bunches of bunches, if possible. I can only hope Reaper does more varieties of its line.

I'm not a big fan of booster packs and random minis, though. I understand it - just off the top of my head, random means less SKUs to stock, vastly less risk for the store since any given pack could sell, collectors need to over-buy to get all the stuff they want, creates a big secondary market (which causes potential buyers to spread their risk by buy packs and then selling the bits they don't need, which means more sales*), and encourages that "one more pack" gambling instinct.

I totally get it.

I'm more firmly in the secondary market . . . although the Pathfinder guys look so good that I might pick up a block of boosters or two if I can get them for a reasonable per-mini price. I'd have more of the D&D minis if I could find an FLGS that was selling them without an eye to "price reflects rarity and game power." Not to me it doesn't. I couldn't care if it's common or rare, it's what it could represent in my GURPS game, and how much is too much for that.

Still, I like the pre-painteds. My players are unlikely to break them, travel is unlikely to break them (I don't game at home anymore), and they are done out of the box. Although I do usually add distinguishing touches, re-paint, and touch them up, it's a job of minutes not hours.

Wow, that went far afield from my point - which was, I love the look of those goblins and they'll make great ersatz doomchildren. Heheheh.

* I did this myself, when I needed the boars from some Savage Orc Boar Boyz. I bought the box on eBay, used the boars, sold the orcs to recoup most of the cost. The guy who bought the orcs needed the orcs for biker variants, but not the boars, and my auction cost him less than buying as bitz. We all got a good deal, and in the end GW sold an extra box of minis they wouldn't have sold otherwise if we couldn't spread the pain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Supplement VI - The Majestic Wilderlands

Disclaimer: I've never read any of the famed Judges Guild wilderness setting. The awesome name of The City State of the Invincible Overlord aside, I know nothing about the setting. That may show in my review.

I also know Robert S. Conley as an online acquaintance from the SJG Forums, and he's one of a few people who posted a review of one of my books. So there is a friend-of-the-author bias possibility here, too.

Supplement VI - The Majestic Wilderlands
By Robert S. Conley
Published in 2009 by Bat in the Attic Games
140 pages

Supplement VI - The Majestic Wilderlands is "A supplement compatible with the Swords & Wizardy rules and all editions based on the original 1974 roleplaying game." Because you can't use the trademark "D&D" or "Dungeons and Dragons" in these kind of books. But everyone will know what you mean. Swords & Wizardry is a retro-clone that replicates white box D&D from 1974 plus a couple supplements.

The supplement is a set of character rules, expansions to the magic system, and races for S&W, as well as details on the setting of the Majestic Wilderlands. This is the game world of The City-State of the Invincible Overlord, as seen through author Robert S. Conley's eyes and those of his players. From the forward, it's clear that it's been a well-used setting, evolving through multiple editions of D&D, GURPS, and Fantasy Hero. Whew!

The book contains a number of new classes, all aimed at adventures outside the dungeon. Knights (mounted fighters), Paladins of Mitra (holy knights), Myrmidons of Set (unpleasant but Lawful holy fighters), Mountebanks (con men), Burglars (thieves), Thugs (heavies for the Thieves' Guild), and a plethora of sub-classes of magic users and clerics. Even a cloistered cleric type, the priest, for those holy men who don't whack monsters on the head with maces for some reason (NPCs for obvious reasons). Each of the classes is well detailed, and its relative balance and utility is obvious in each case. New races are here as well, from Reptile Men and Lizard Men and Serpent Men to more prosaic (but uniquely interesting) Orcs and Goblins. There are also new magic items, new rules, and new monsters (albeit only two with stats).

I especially liked the punchy racial descriptions. Goblins? Goblins are obsessed. The rest of the color text reflects this and details it, but I read "Goblins are obsessed; it is the defining characteristic of their race" and I have a handle and a hook. Orcs? Aggressive. And the setting details? Enough to run a game, with clear notes by the author so you know what something is there to do. No guesswork, it's clearly stated what sections of the setting are meant for what types of characters and adventures.

There is also a skill system, er abilities system, complete with a simple but consistent resolution system, broad skills (er, abilities), and details on what your margin of success means. There seems to be a fair amount of hate for skills systems in the OSR world, at least from my cursory glances. As someone who used to play a class-and-level-and-skill system (Rolemaster) and now plays a skill-based system (GURPS), I don't see a problem with having something to roll against besides saving throws and to hit tables. The author makes a case for it, which might have seemed oddly defensive if I didn't know about this dislike for skills in some quarters. The abilities system presented here looks quite workable, and if I played a class-and-level system again I'd really like to have this system in it.

There are bits "missing" though. Oddly, some races don't get a description in the color text section - no Reptile Men entry, for example, or Lizard Men. Are they too rare or culturally backward? It's not clear. And other things feel like they need more exposition - werewolves and vampires were created to kill demons, and are servants of the goddess Kalis. Okay, so are they natural enemies of humanity, or natural allies? Will the goddess get mad if I whack the local vampire or am I helping things along? This may be a clever conflict (vampires suck people's blood, but also fight the demons who'd happily trash the world - moral dilemma!) but it didn't spring out as clearly answered in the text. Some contradictions seem to occur, too - like secret Mitra worshipers in a place where they're building a cathedral to Mitra. Er, a secret cathedral?

One layout concern I had was that the descriptions of the gods - such as Set or Mitra - and the races - like dwarves, snake men, and orcs - come at the end. Yet class/race stats come earlier. While I found out a lot from the race descriptions, it sucked to read about what goblins are like after I spent a bit of time puzzling out their nature from their stats. It felt like it would have been easier had I gotten the overview and then thought, okay, how does that work out in stats? Same with priesthoods and gods. I understand the approach, though, because when you write a book sometimes the division feels better as "color after rules" and other times as "rules after color." I just felt like I missing something.

The book is really attractive, though. Enough white space to make it easy to read, but not so much you feel like you're staring at empty pages. A minimum of spelling errors and typos and page reference errors; although they do occur they don't impede understanding. Some of the art is really good, some is so-so, but it doesn't detract when it's so-so and it adds were it is good. The maps are clear and it's well printed. The cover is also cool. The book doesn't feel like it's an amateur production, but rather a small-publisher professional production.

How is it for GURPS? Robert S. Conley used to run GURPS in the Majestic Wilderlands, and it shows. Conversion should be pretty simple. Some concepts practically scream "GURPS" - magic immunity, for example (Magic Resistance, Improved, with Switchable is a good start), or Reptile Men, which you could just use straight-up out of GURPS. You can see direct influences in spells , too - like Scryguard, one of the new spells, or Magic Staff. Or you could look here, too, where Robert has a lot of notes on the subject. They seem to be for 3rd edition, but it'll be close enough to convert quickly. Even the rules had me nodding and thinking, yeah, I can see why a GURPS player would want that in his D&D games if he switched back.

Content: 5
out of 5. It's complete, it's got all the stuff you need to run the setting, and it's put together well.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. This how professionally published books should look, nevermind self-published. The maps are excellent, the typeface is easy to read, the layout makes the text flow well. Spelling errors exist but don't detract from the product.

Overall: If you need a whole-cloth setting for your old-school D&D clone, this is a great one to start with. If you need an ability system, this isn't a bad place to go find one to lift. It's also a useful source of examples of world-specific example classes, magic items, races, and monsters. It's not a bad GURPS setting, either, since so much of the GURPS influence shows through. Good stuff - recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Orc women and Goblin kids

The blogger who writes The Yaqqoth Grimoire posted about B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and so-called Gygaxian Naturalism. That's the term for Gary Gygax's details in adventures and monster books alike for the number of women and kids in a tribe, what monsters eat, how monster X gets to the surface to hunt, etc. Like real critters, hence naturalism. Although it doesn't extend to toilets, oddly - I had to put in latrines in B2 because my PCs reasonably wondered where that all gets done. Anyway.

As you can see from the post above, his players handled the women and kids with Molotov cocktails and the justification that the monsters are, well, monsters. He took out the women and kids from that point on. That's a fair solution, but what if you don't take them out? If you get rid of them, you get rid of an interesting moral, ethical, and tactical dilemma.

Whacking the women and kids. Yeah, just makes you squirm, right? Bring the genocide aspect of dungeon crawling right up. "Clearing the dungeon" and "Defeating a chaotic outpost" really are just euphemisms for genocide. The only good orc is a dead orc. But there you are, faced with females of the goblinoid species you just fought in brutal combat. Young, too. Let them live and more orcs come, and orcs are bad guys in this simplistic world and they're damn well going to raid farms, take slaves, and eat kids. Later they'll armor up and have swords and whatnot, but these guys are at your mercy.

What do you do?

It's a tough call. Do you whack the women and kids, or spare them? Is killing Chaotic orcs okay when they are adults, but not when they are kids?

Do you show mercy and potentially open up the chance for surrenders and parlay and so on, or kill them all and ensure a fight to the death?

Do you spare them and suffer the consequences later, or do you molotov the women and kids because you know they'll knife you if you turn your back?

My players are doing B2 right now, and their solution has been to kill anything that fought them, but spare anything that didn't. Female hobgoblins and gnolls fought them and died hard. Some female hobgoblins didn't fight, and got spared (not even robbed, just ignored).

So non-combatants of any age or sex get spared . . . and they feel it's what let them negotiate with some of the goblinoids. They are purely profit oriented, so avoiding fights saves them money and resources and potential injury, while massacre gets them nothing extra. They rescued a berserker barbarian and let him join them, and he gleefully murdered three gnoll kids he discovered. Hey, gnolls captured him and tormented him and then were going to eat him, he's got no sympathy. But Vryce, the party's tactical leader, told him not to with the explanation that sparing hobgoblin kids is what made it possible to negotiate a non-aggression pact with the hobgoblins and potentially get them as allies if they need them later. Plus it meant expending zero resources rooting out diehards who know even kids don't get spared by these home invaders.

My players did joke that "in a week, they'll be adults and fight us." Maybe they are right, and they're just asking for more trouble later. But the solution felt right - the adult goblinoids who raid, pillage, and kill get killed. The young are spared the blade and if they survive and come for revenge, well, the blade is waiting for them.

Get rid of the females and young. This fits well with that mythic underworld bit that AFAIK Philotomy articulated best (and heck, maybe first, I don't know). Orc kids? Are there orc kids in Mordor? Were there weeping mother boogie men? If you don't have mamma demons and mamma slimes, why have mamma gnolls? Without women and kids, they are truly monsters. Motherless spawn of evil. No tactical wonder about prisoners and women and kids - Evil, evil, evil. Even Nazi prison guards have moms, but in this method orcs don't. They may spawn from pure evil, be tortured into form from humans and elves or dwarves (irreversibly, of course, so killing them is mercy), made in some hideous fashion like golems, or summoned from beyond. Kill, kill, kill! Your ethical problem is killing them fast enough, your moral problem is their existence, and your tactical problem is not getting killed back in the process.

I know from that summary it sounds like the first method is the "good" method, but I'm not really favoring one over the other. That moral/ethical/tactical quandary is interesting but it can derail play, potentially takes some joy out of the game sessions (It's all fun until you have to kill goblin kids, or not), and misses out on the underworld bit. Which seems mroe fun - the dilemma of females and young (and any other non-combatants - do you kill autistic orc or the feeble old gnoll?) or the horror-shivers of "orcs used to be elves until they were tortured into that form . . ." or "I can become that." You know, the zombie-as-contagion or ghoul-as-punishment-for-cannibalism approach.

I went with the former because I wanted to run B2 out of the box. But it had opportunity costs in mythical coolness.

Pick your poison.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One-on-many fight advice

Over on The Mule Abides there is an excellent discussion on anti-climactic "boss" fights. Specifically, many-versus-one "boss" fights.

Many versus one doesn't work so well in GURPS, either, unless you're one of the many.

Why is that? A few reasons. Amongst them:

Realism. In any system, being outnumbered isn't helpful in reality. Do you know anyone who's been in a multi-opponent fight who'd do it again by choice? Especially if they had the choice of outnumbering their foes? Even SEAL teams come in with overwhelming firepower, they don't decide that they're better than their foes so what the hell, let's give them odds. No way.

Players know the odds. It might not be a problem in a medium like comics or in a kung-fu movie, but it's a big problem in games. PCs don't take their turns fighting the boss monsters or main kung fu master or super villain one on one. They know how the story turns out - they lose one by one, and then they realize they need to work together and then they do and then they win, hurrah! - and skip right to that part. They mass up and jump the guy. They take out their biggest weapons and smash the bad guy as hard as they can immediately. And they sure as hell save up something special for him, so even resource-depleted they have something to whack the boss with.

Rules. For example, in GURPS, you roll to hit and then the defender rolls to defend himself. Multiple defenses generally are at cumulative penalties. So a large number of attacks increases the odds that later attacks get through - and what's an easy way to get a large number of attacks? Many-on-one. Beats (from GURPS Martial Arts) transfer from one person to another. You can grapple an arm and preventing retreating or parrying. Blocking spells are limited. Etc. Outnumbered is bad, unless you vastly out-gun the opposition or are using genre rules to force one-on-one fights or weak mooks, and even then, that doesn't help NPCs any.

So what can an outnumbered foe do? You want the boss orc or the head wizard or evil high priest (the dreaded EHP) or the dragon or whatever to put up a good fight.

From the point of view of the

Fight a fight you can win. If you can't win, run. Don't even enter a fight you can't win unless you have to. If the PCs run down the EHP after killing his guards, banishing his demons, and dodging his traps, and corner the guy, he should die miserably. But don't fight outnumbered to see if you can win. A PC wouldn't do that, what's your problem? How did you get to be boss orc by fighting outnumbered and against powerful foes?

Don't fight alone. Why is the boss orc or head wizard or evil high priest outnumbered, anyway? Bring friends. Have guards, summoned monsters, clones or simulacra, and allies of all kinds. Don't be outnumbered unless you can't help it. Don't spare them, either - an evil foe should be sacrificing henchmen and flunkies and fodder as needed. Spend them like arrows as long as it gets the job done.

So have henchmen, or be multiple opponents. A dragon with five different attacks, attack immunities (to limit its exposure to damage), high DR, and piles of high defenses can help mitigate the effects of being outnumbered, but it's even better to be multiples. Use spells to duplicate yourself. Be a hive mind. Put up mirror images that have to be uncovered and dealt with. PCs know these things exist, but a kagemusha isn't any less annoying to deal with because you know one isn't real.

Don't be a pile of HP. This is huge. If all the big boss consists of is a pile of HP with good defenses and some DR (or low AC and a high level in a D&D clone), the big boss is just going to get whittled down. Just like everything else. Ten gnolls have more HP in GURPS DF than one gnoll chief, and probably take more killing (and get 5-10x as many attacks). If a wizard is hard to hit but dies when hit, whoop-dee-doo, he's just as hard to deal with as a stirge (hard to hit, dies when hit). In D&D clones you can give them more HP but it's just a question of whittling them down until you win. Boring. But if you've secreted your soul in an object and can't die until it's destroyed, well, now it's an interesting fight. If the Evil Wind God is unkillable but destroying all five of the summoning stones sends him home, and the PCs don't know that coming in (but could have found out, or have skills to check for hints, etc.) it's an interesting fight. It won't just be settled by the Knights and Barbarians doing 3d+whatever cutting damage and dropping it. If you're mortal and just hard to hit or take a lot of damage, you're just bigger fodder. Sean "Dr Kromm" Punch wrote a good post about this a while back in a whole thread on this subject.

Don't fight fair. Narrow cliffs so people have to fight one on one, trapped rooms, reinforcements, anti-magic spheres, whatever - don't even remotely fight fair. Fight like a PC would if they had your stuff and your smarts.

In my experience in GURPS, many-vs.-one fights meant a dead "one" pretty quickly. So my enemies stopped fighting by themselves, or at all if they couldn't hope to win. I recommend the same!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Random Thoughts

Nothing really coherent, just a few thoughts.

- Re-reading the AD&D Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and these posts on AD&D has reminded me of just how many rules AD&D had. GURPS gets a lot of flack for being rules-heavy, but I don't think it's got more than AD&D did at its peak - maybe less. Rules for everything are in AD&D somewhere, tucked in some corner (the DSG has rules for how many rounds monsters are distracted by diversions, and which IQ levels it works on, for example). AD&D really got fiddly. The base was seemingly simple, but it wasn't really meant to be modular even though we all picked and chose the rules we used.

- I hate figuring out how big something needs to be on the surface so it matches up with things under the surface. I dunno, is a 300' keep big? The Keep on the Borderlands is that big, so should my ruined upper works of Felltower be larger or smaller or what? Gah. What if my mountain is too small to fit my cool level idea? This part of making dungeons sucks. I remember why I ran so many modules and Dungeon Magazine adventures.

- I found my complete, hand-written (and dot-matrixed printed) notes for the Dungeon of Death - a spot my 1st edition GURPS players delved into in a horrendous series of trips. My players picked "The Dungeon of Death" off the map because it sounded like the coolest place to go. I tried to make it so, and since I have no players from that campaign in this one, perhaps I can recycle bits of it . . .
20 years on, I can look at the map and tell you what's in a room before I look it up. Scary.
(This was written and played years before they ever made that official supplement about the place. Probably didn't have duergar commandos and shadow demons and fights on railing-less walkways over a lava pit, either. Heh).

- I also found my A1-4 Slavers series notes for my 3rd edition GURPS game. I wonder if I can legally post that kind of thing, since it uses names of noteworthy characters from copyrighted material. I should find out, not that I have a server to stick it on. And notwithstanding it's full of house rules, bizarre spelling errors, and it's generally useless. But I found it.

- Yeah man, art from Q1. I ran that module in 4th grade, and Lolth was killed with a retributive strike from a Staff of the Magi.

- it looks like no sessions of DF on the Borderlands until January. So the PCs can have yule-tidings with the Castellan, perhaps, if they're all good this year. If not, Santa Orc will bring them stockings full of garbage. (Yes, I ran that using the Ork! RPG rules. Fun.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

GURPS Hommlet over at Bat in the Attic

Robert Conley is posting up some of his 3rd edition GURPS T1 The Village of Hommlet meets the A1-4 Slave Lords series files.

Here are the NPCs.

Not that I play 3rd edition GURPS anymore, or use Hommlet, but I have to link to a GURPS conversion of an old module, don't I? Especially after I badgered him into it over on the SJG Forums. He'd probably have done it anyway, of course.

Looking back on it, I never ran the moathouse or used Hommlet in GURPS. Damn near everything else, though. Somewhere I still have my notes from my 3rd edition GURPS game using the Slave Lords. We never finished it, as everyone got beaten half to death (or all the way to death) in the dungeons of A1, and the survivors were sold into slavery. Led to an even better game, but yeah, the slavers did get to live and the game ended up in the far, far south of the game world. I'd post my notes but so much of it is a straight copyright problem it's not worth the time to sit and untangle.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

DF: XP Awards house rules

I use a mishmash of the experience point awards suggested by Sean Punch in Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level and my own idea of what's awesome.

GURPS normally hands out character point awards in a manner largely left up to the GM, based on pretty broad guidelines.
Hey, it's a toolkit, go DIY.

DF provides some (optional) concrete suggestions modeled on old-school games and video games (and who knows where else), with points for killing monsters based on relative power, points for exploration, etc. I'm not a big fan of points for killing things. It makes killing monsters, in maximum numbers and frequency the whole point. I prefer to reward exploration, profit, and getting home alive. So here's what I do, as written to my players with a little expansion.)


We will use a modified version of the Advancement rules from DF3, pg 42. I won't give out points for killing things. I don't care if you kill stuff or not unless it's part of some mission or quest. I will give out points for getting things done and so on.

Completion (from DF3 pg. 42): "At the adventure's end, everyone gets 5 points if the party returns to town [or the Keep, or a safe base, etc.] with enough loot to pay off any sponsor, rest for a week ($150), and recharge all power items completely."

There are adjustments for insufficient loot to do this (-1), dead PCs (-1 each), minimal exploration (-2 or more), discovering quest item(s) requested by a sponsor (+1), finding hidden or special areas (+1), etc. Minimum is 0 points for the session.

"Enough loot" doesn't count expendables, so don't worry about expended arrows, food, paut, etc., just paying your bar tab, sponsors, and to replace power.

Roleplaying: If you find a way to make your disadvantages and quirks matter in the game in an especially disadvantageous and/or entertaining way, you will get between 1 (minimum) and 3 (maximum) bonus points. If your disadvantages help you, you don't get a bonus for them that session - getting an advantage from a disadvantage is sufficient bonus! Physical disads and flat-out stat reductions (reduced Speed, for example, or Hard of Hearing) don't count here, as they have constant in-game effects.

Awesome Bonus: If you do something especially clever, cool, or otherwise awesome, I will give the whole damn party bonus points. Encourage each other to be awesome. "Awesome" is not a die roll, its a memorable action that makes the game better.

Most Valuable PC: Every session, at the end of the session, the party can vote at the end on who gets a bonus point just for being the most useful, best roleplayer, best dresser, brought the best beer, whatever. It's up to you guys what it's for and who gets it. I'd be disappointed if you give it someone as a "you need this to get another level of sword" bonus though.


How has this worked in play? Pretty well. The PCs have been averaging 5 points a session, although they took home 4 for the session where Volos died, and Honus took home only 4 for his solo trip (he did a lot, but in a much-shortened session and he didn't go all that far, so I cut the rewards down a bit per "insufficient exploration.") No one is complaining of a slow pace of growth and it doesn't seem to be too quick, either, so I feel like I'm in a sweet spot at the moment.

No points for killing things means no one sees monsters as targets per se, just as obstacles to exploration and getting money. Mostly money - more than one expedition has been extended to "one more room" to get enough money to ensure they turn a profit, although I doubt that's solely due to a desire for points (in fact no one has mentioned points as a reason). This also means the players seem open to bribing monsters, hiring goblinoids, and other such fun stuff in order to get more loot.

This system effectively makes treasure worth points, as well as being its own reward, but not on a D&D-style value-for-xp basis. Either you turn a profit and get a base 5 point or you don't, and you get a base 4 points, and if you failed to turn a profit because you went home early, a further -2. The need for money for upkeep and new gear and carousing and whatnot is so high that no one has failed to scrabble for treasure, as I mentioned above. Plus I'm iffy on rewarding behavior you want to do anyway, instead of punishing failure to do stuff. This seems to act more like punishing failure - if you don't make a profit and barely explore and run home to keep your guy safe, consider yourself lucky if get some character points. Take risks and play the game as intended and you'll get a steady improvement to your character.

In practice, I haven't been awarding roleplaying bonuses, because I pretty much expect you'll roleplay and my players pretty much do so. Everyone has been roleplaying their characters in an entertaining way. But no ones disads have come up in such a way to make me think extra points over and above the ones they got for taking them are warranted. I'm keeping it on the books in case someone does something really amazing that falls in this category.

No Awesome Bonus yet, but I'm sure it will come.

MVPC voting has been fun, and I'm happy to get direct input from the players and they seem to enjoy it too.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

DF Caves of Chaos - Answering Jeffro's questions

Over on his excellent (mostly Car War oriented) blog, Jeffro posed some interesting questions about B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.

Keep on the Borderlands: Things Gary Gygax Never Told You.

I decided to take a crack at answering them. These answers are not 100% complete because I had to omit things my players don't know yet. They are all campaign-specific to me. These are not the "right" answers, only right for my game. Feel free to plunder them yourself.

Why are there so many monsters of differing types in the Caves of Chaos?

Answer that and you need to answer the question of why dungeons are loaded with many different monster types and, heck, why the rainforest is filled with hundreds upon hundreds of different types of critters. It's biodiversity. ;)

For my game, there is a better question - why hasn't one group dominated the caves?

These aren't apex predators. These aren't highly organized, large groups of humanoids. Like the folks at the fort (see below), this is the frontier. The highly organized, large groups of humanoids don't sit on the borderlands. They sit in the heartlands - the trackless wastes, the Misty Mountains, the depths of Moria, the benighted realms of the far north. They aren't crammed into the shallow caves near the human lands.

So who is there?

The losers, the outcasts, the fresh young would-be chieftains and their followers, the shattered remnants of bigger tribes, the pocket tribes of ill-organized goblinoids. You're not dealing with the Great Hobgoblin King here. You're dealing with tribes not strong enough to thrive in the heartlands, and willing (or forced) to risk the edges of human civilization. Some are there to make it big, some out of desperation. They're the mirror of the humans who come to raid them. They're greedy, murderous kidnappers. Murder Homeowners instead of Murder Hoboes, to quote sir pudding over on the SJG forums. They don't wipe each other out because they aren't powerful enough to do it, and none can trust the others to really help.

Why doesn’t the Castellan just send a detachment down to the Caves and clean them out?

My keep was built in response to a much earlier threat. Ten to twenty years ago, there was a big problem in this area. It was "cleared" and the threat was contained with a spiffy new fortress that was constructed. Now it's completed, but the threat has long since faded from the forefront of concerns. Wars elsewhere have distracted folks, etc. So the keep is there, but it's barely funded and it's a backwater posting. You don't get posted to the keep because you are elite, but because you just happen to be handy when they need someone and haven't shown yourself valuable enough for private service.

If the Castellan clears the place with a "detachment" that's great, but he can't replace losses or afford much danger pay. If it suffers defeat, he's screwed. Try explaining that - "I launched an expedition to raid the Caves of Chaos, which barely had enough goblinoids in it to bother us, and it suffered a TPK. Can I have some more guards?"

If he just leaves it alone, and adventurers happen to show up and raid the place and he lets them base out of the Keep, well, that's even better. It's a frontier fort, and replacements aren't handy, and it's easier to wait for a tilt in the balance of power than to try to force one. Plus, inevitably, he's got other duties - patrolling that road, keeping the civilized areas nearby patrolled and safe, etc., not expanding the empire.

How can low level characters hope to make a difference if the high level NPC's are unable to do anything?

What "high level" NPCs? In my DF game at least, the 250-point PCs aren't the top of the food chain but they aren't the bottom, either. But the real ass-kicking hero types, if they are out there, aren't going to spend a lot of time clearing the caves for the paltry loot within. And the world isn't littered with high-level NPCs like the Forgotten Realms or other published settings often are.

Even if that was an option, the NPCs are all busy - see the answers above. The Castellan? He's no major league asskicker with clout and an army. And what if he runs into something he can't handle and leaves the borderlands unprotected? Not a good idea.

Why does the module include precise details of the defenses and strength of the Keep itself?

In my opinion, it's a base and a model. A well-detailed base means you're ready for anything from errant thievery by the PCs, to monster attack, to modeling your own PC's fortifications. It also makes it pretty clear that the base is safe - lots of heavy weaponry and armed guards means the goblins aren't going to chase you home and massacre you while you sleep. So you can run a simple game of "raid the Caves, go back to safety and greet new adventurers to replace your casualties." I've seen the "the Keep is the target" argument and it's fun, but Gary Gygax also wrote out every stupid detail of Hommlet and my players spent a grand total of 20 minutes there in decades of gaming and at least a dozen run-throughs of the moathouse. Why? I dunno, why did Gary write up minutia about stuff people don't care about? Because he did.

And I appreciate it here, because now when my players ask me what the Castellan is wearing or who lives in the apartment marked 7b or what was in someone's pockets, it's all written out. And I have a handy keep just in case I need it for anything. Thanks for that, Gary.

By the way, Jeffro is running his kids and his friend through B2, using the original rules it came with. It's really entertaining and if you think my DFers nailing gnoll hides to the wall at a rate of two per second isn't Old School enough, maybe running Moldvay is. Great stuff and it's fun to see his kids get into Basic D&D the same way I did.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

GURPS Martial Arts in Korean

Dayspring just put out a translation of GURPS Martial Arts, co-authored by Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch and yours truly.

Here is the announcement.

Steve Jackson Games got some copies, and they nicely passed a copy on to me. Sweet! My first translated book copy.

GURPS Martial Arts (Korean),
(Sorry for the fuzzy image, I couldn't get a better shot of it)

Can anyone read Korean? I'm half surprised my computer can even do hangul, but I guess it comes with my native Asian font set. I'm wondering how you say the title and pronounce my name once it's become hangul-ized.

Now I know how people feel when they see my Japanese books - it looks like a massive text error and not words at all. But it's still so very cool. Thank you Dayspring, and thank you SJG!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rolling the wrong dice

. . . every time I hear someone beat on a game system, say game X sucks or aspect of game Y sucks, or not rolling D23s for "to hit" is bad or rolling only Dwhatevers is magically special or good or any kind of nonsense, I think of this rant.

I don't want to lose that link, so I'm posting about it here.

Chad Underkoffler
(great guy, and amusingly a former "adversary player" via email in my previous GURPS fantasy game) coined the term "Hurting Wrong Fun." Basically, he was mocking the idea that there is some inherently wrong with people who play in ways you don't like or with games you don't like. If they're having fun and expressing their own creativity and enjoying the game, does it matter even an iota if you wouldn't like it?


From that rant, above:
"It's about having fun, because if you're not having fun you've discovered the only way possible to fuck this up."


Now back to killing owlbears with 3d6.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

DF Game, Session 5 - Honus Solo

Honus's player couldn't make it last session, but he was in town this weekend. No one else could make it, so he ended up going on a solo trek. Not foolish enough to either brave the caves of chaos or the cold mire, he headed out to investigate the massacred merchants and then to hunt down some owlbears.

Keep in mind that I've scaled up the map of the Keep on the Borderlands and changed it significantly. So if details and distances don't match, it's probably because squares became 1/2 mile instead of 100 yards, and I re-routed the road, expanded the swamp, and added or moved encounters.

Saturday, December 4th, 2011

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (260 points)

Honus returned from his last trip to the caves, mourned his lost brother Volos, and headed out camping and fishing like he usually does. After a week and a few days he headed back, only to find he'd missed his friends who already left for the caves.

So Honus bought himself 10 days of rations and headed out at dawn on a brisk day to investigate the massacre. Carefully approaching the site off the trail and with the sun to his side instead of his back, he snuck up on the spot. He found where the attacker - singular - lay in ambush. A humanoid of honusian proportions (Honus is 7' and a lean 285) with cloven hooves, stinking of cattle, and covered with brown cow-like hair had found a dip in the ground almost 30 yards from the trail. It had rushed out, killing the two mercenaries with the merchants before they moved more than a step or two, then the older merchant, and then ran down the fleeing mule and young merchant, killing them one after the other.

The bodies were long gone but not the bloodstains and prints on the rough dirt road, which Honus easily read (Honus criticalled Tracking twice, once cleanly and once due to bonuses.) There were marks from where the mule had been dragged, three copper coins overlooked by looted and the patrol that found them, and a broken knife tip. Honus decided to carefully follow the drag marks and what he decided must be a minotaur. Not the Lord of the Maze, though, as he had been thoroughly killed.

Honus tracked the marks to the edge of the woods. As soon as he entered the woods he found where the mule sat for a couple days, and drag marks off to the side. There he found an owlbear, bent over the dead mule and eating. Honus snuck on it with Stealth and the owlbear (unbeknownst to Honus's player) rolled a freaking 18 on hearing, so it wasn't noticing anything as it tucked in. Honus snuck up to cover 15 yards away, aimed his bow and fired at the vitals (15 skill, +1 AOA (Determined), +3 Acc, +2 aiming, +2 size modifier, -3 vitals, net 18 skill!) and hit but rolled a paltry 4 damage. It was enough to wound the owlbear seriously and send it crashing away through the brush. Honus pursued, but slowly. This cautious approach saved him.

See, owlbears aren't stupid. They aren't smart like men but they are smarter than the average bear. Wounded and angry, the owlbear led Honus on a merry chase. It headed back towards its den, but after a few miles of pursuit it stopped to wait for Honus. He spotted it, half-crouched behind a large fallen tree trunk, between two tight clumps of trees - one uphill and one downhill, near the stump of the fallen tree. He took aim, but suddenly the owlbear reared, roared/hooted, and crashed into the uphill stand's cover. Honus missed (it Dodged). Honus advanced to the log but although he could see the owlbear over it, a short distance away and waiting, he couldn't shoot his longbow over it. So he started to go around the downhill side. The owlbear rushed up and slammed the fallen tree and shoved hard, then turned and ran. A pair of (mated) wolverines, nesting temporarily in it, rushed out at the interloper - Honus! They attacked furiously but were no match for Honus. He got a few cuts from teeth but otherwise was unharmed. He smashed one to death with the Flail of the Gales and then kicked the other one off his foot and over the log. When it ran back he killed it, too. Then he stopped and skinned them. As he finished, he heard humanoids approaching. He hid and watched as three goblins, bearing bows and spears and sticks impaled with foxes, squirrels, muskrats, and more squirrels, stopped at the game trail and muttered in goblin and common about the blood trail they saw (from the owlbear). Honus waited until they left and started in on the pursuit.

He followed the owlbear's trail (blood and paw prints) and found it had crashed off the trail through a bush. He followed, watching the ground carefully - which again paid off. The owlbear had stepped directly across an old, rusted, but functional saw-toothed animal trap - monster size. The owlbear clearly tried to lead him onto it. He avoided it, checking for secondary traps, which was unnecessary but a good idea.

He kept on pursuing, passing up another game trail to follow the blood marks of the owlbear. Suddenly he came over a rise and spotted it, and it charged. He engaged it with shield and morningstar. They duked it out for a few seconds, Honus getting slashed with a claw (and disabling the paw in return) and then bitten with the beak. He pounded the owlbear with his morningstar until it dropped senseless. He quickly cut the arteries around its groin and bled it out, then spent the afternoon cleaning it, cutting out choice bits of meat (heart, paw meat, etc.) and skinning it. He ended up with a the fur and a skull and plenty of meat to eat when darkness began to creep up. So he headed up the trail where more owlbear prints were - and found its cave den.

He lit his helmet lamp and looked in - two baby owlbears, little guys all of 300 pounds or so. Honus tossed some dried meat down, and when one scampered out, he whacked it with his morningstar! The fight was brief - both attacked but he took them in turn and killed them in short order. Then he bled them, skinned them, and camped out. He hung the adult's hide over the "doorway" and lit a fire, and had roast owlbear for dinner. He also looted the place. Amidst remnants of prior meals (aka people) he found a book on wilderness survival, a load of fox furs, some coins, some gems, on a nicely made kilt. He took the lot.

Honus slept in the cave, woken occasionally by the sounds of critters taking bits of his abandoned owlbear kill. In the morning, he breakfasted on more owlbear and headed out, carrying a few hundred pounds of extra stuff! He avoided the game trails, and any real encounters. He had to scare off a bear at one point, and avoid a trapper's fox lines, and found a skinned fox a little later. But in the end he got back to the keep. He disposed of his loot (getting serious coin for his 3 owlbear pelts, actually) and settled in to rest and recover from his wounds.


Fun session, and interesting too. Barbarians are ideally suited to solo wilderness adventures, something no other of the party could do. But even so, I was rolling 2d+lots cutting attacks for that owlbear, and one or two better rolls and Honus would have been owlbear food. His caution helped immensely, and saved him from "extra" damage from the wolverines or bear trap, too. But again the game is set to "lethal" so death was right there waiting for him. Good play and clever uses of his skills, plus a stubborn refusal to stop checking his rear, his flanks, and his visibility, kept him alive.

Plus now the group has some clues about that massacre . . .

Thanks to Jim Ward, who had some of these tactics used by the owlbear in an encounter in the Book of Lairs, and I shamelessly stole them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Weird species

More game inspiration: weird animal species discovered in 2011.

The cyclops shark is pretty awesome, but I think I like the cannibal jellyfish and and fanged tadpoles and the ant-mind-controlling fungus. So myconids making zombies out of giant ants and kobolds and whatnot wasn't nuts after all.

Time to stat giant versions of these for game . . .
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