Monday, August 31, 2015

First JS-2 assembled

I finished one of my JS-2 tanks today while watching something work-related.


- not a lot of flash, but lots and lots of sprue marks to file off.

- I had to cut some of the interior road wheels to make them fit.

- Instructions are mostly clear in retrospect than on first pass.

- Molding is fairly rough.

This isn't terrible for a Soviet tank, though - it does seem appropriately rough but strong. I'll be much more ready to deal with the annoyances on my second tank. Still, I paid about half as much for this tank and that might be showing in the roughness of the model.

Here it is.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Felltower NPCs: Korric and Orrie (Updated)

A while back, we decided to start giving points to the NPCs who successfully complete delves with the PCs. It works out to 1 point per delve. Korric and Orrie, who were first rescued from the hobgoblins in the Caves of Chaos by the PCs in the very first session, are still active in the game. They're increased a bit in ability from their original versions.

Here they are, in their current levels of ability. Also, current spelling - Koric turned into Korric just to make it easier to remember which one had two r's - both have two r's.

Korric and Orrie

ST 13 HP 13 Speed 6.00
DX 11 Will 10 Move 5
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 12 FP 12
Dodge 8 Parry (Polearm) 10 Knife 8 Brawling (x2) 9

Dueling Halberd (15): 2d+3 cut, Reach 1,2* Parry U; 2d+2 imp, Reach 1,2* Parry U; 1d+3 imp, Reach 1,2*)
Large Knife (12): 2d-2 cut (C, 1) or 1d impale (C).

Traits: Code of Honor (Soldier's); Compulsive Carousing (12); Sense of Duty (Rescuers); Wealth (Struggling).
Perks: Reach Mastery (Halberd); Teamwork (partner).
Skills: Armoury (Melee Weapons)-10; Brawling-12; Carousing-12; Knife-12; Polearm-15; Sumo Wrestling-11; Stealth-12.
Equipment: This is their current loadout.

• Mail Hauberk, $230, 25 lbs. with Mail Sleeves, $70, 9 lbs. – DR 4(2).
• Heavy Leather Leggings, $60, 4 lbs., Gloves, $30, neg., Boots, $80, 3 lbs. – DR 2.
• Pot Helm, $100, 5 lbs. over Cloth Cap, $5, neg. – DR 7 (inc. Skull).
• Dueling Halberd, $120, 10 lbs.
• Large Knife, $40, 1 lbs.
• Misc gear, food, personal basics, sack, waterskin with 1 liter of water, etc. – 10 lbs.
67 lbs (just under light).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: The Dungeon Dozen

I like to take the time to review game material I especially enjoyed. This is one of my favorites.

For more reviews, see my reviews page.

by Jason Sholtis
222 pages
$8.00 PDF, $28 hardcopy

The Dungeon Dozen is a book of tables. All based on the 1d12 (all hail the dodecahedron!) And all of the content - except possible the art - is available for free on Jason Sholtis's The Dungeon Dozen blog.

The tables are pretty much whimsical. They're not, generally, there for on-the-fly rolling to see what sounds the PCs hear or what the orcs are carrying. Or maybe they are, if you're really ready to improvise gonzo weirdness that springs from the results. Generally they are things that would do with some time and development.

But they are incredible inspirational. You'll want to use some of the customs of barbarian tribes, encounter some of the knights best avoided, stumble across the odd clues found in the dungeon, or have your ship hove into view of the city going through hard times. I could go on, but it's easier to just flip around on the blog and see what it's about. If you like what you see there, you'll appreciate having them all on your device . . . or in your hands.

You can also get a hard back from Lulu. In fact, I recommend that, especially when Lulu does a hardcopy sale. This is one of the books that's vastly better in hardcopy than in PDF.

It's extremely flippable. It's ideal for opening randomly and just reading all, some, or most of a 1d12 table. It's eye catching and entertaining. It's the kind of book where you re-read the stuff you come across that you've already read. I got a copy in hardcover and it's one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. I keep opening it back up, I keep it handy, I bring it to game to show my players (and then take away, to avoid distracting them with it). I open it at random and just read. And yes, I've used some of the material - never with an actual 1d12 roll, but still, some results are so inspirational I've just snagged them and used them to color my game.

Highly recommended.

Friday, August 28, 2015

My Latest DF book - Soon!

According to Dr Kromm's Livejournal:

"I submitted my final tweaks to the most recent GURPS Dungeon Fantasy volume from Peter Dell'Orto (peterdellorto). Look for that soon."


I can't wait to see it, either. I mean, I've seen it, but there is "pre-production review" and there is "my book, published." I can't wait for others to see it, either. And for people to start to tell me how wrong I did it.* Okay, maybe not that last part, but I am excited about the rest of it.

* Which usually means, "If I wrote the book - which I didn't, and wouldn't - it wouldn't have been that way." ;)


There is a very interesting post over on Power Score about PvP in D&D.

I've played in some games, not fantasy games, where PvP was common. Players and their characters had different motivations, different goals, and very different approaches to those goals. Net result? Lots of character death. I personally caused a lot of them. Maybe the most, person for person - I know I killed or had killed at least three characters (two belonging to the same guy, one a drop-in try-out player who left behind an extremely messy, unreliable, plot-disrupting, and dangerous PC.) It didn't generate any bad blood because we went into the game knowing PvP was part of the deal.

I recall my friends talking with some admiration about how one guy really got the point that Vampire wasn't D&D when he got the other vampires killed for his own personal benefit. It was that moment of realizing, hey, wow, we're dead and he's right, we're not a party of friends but a cluster of temporary allies.

But we've lost players, permanently, to PvP issues - even when one of them was driven to PvP by external domination (via Enslave spell, specifically) by an NPC "ally" of the group who realized fracturing them up and killing them was more affordable than paying them. Even with a logical in-game excuse that the player couldn't control (he rolled badly when it mattered, got captured, got Enslaved), it was still enough to damage the group.

For that reason we generally take a founding idea of the game that it is either pro- or anti-PvP. Pro-PvP doesn't mean we have PvP. Our pirates campaign was pro-PvP, but I can't recall any incidents. It's possible a PC shot an NPC or something (everyone had a lot of PCs and player-controlled NPCs), but I don't remember. Had it happened, well, these are pirates - bound to get some internal crew stresses. Anti-PvP games - our default stance - means you don't go against the group. You always find some reason - in game, on your character sheet, or whatever - to not go PvP even if it would result in PvNPC conflict. Sense of Duty is a common one, as are twists on disadvantages that make valuing your allies a means to an end in the game. The guy with Greed might pocket stuff without informing the group, or make deals for money when the group as a whole would prefer something else, but might also justify the group on the grounds that "These guys help me make so much more money that I did on my own!" That kind of stuff.

As a GM, I'll still happily use domination-type powers and possession-type magic against PCs, but I'm much more inclined to make it short term and immediate. My players don't seem to mind beating down the guy who has been mentally dominated by the King of the Vampire-Lich-Trolls or evil god as much as they mind thinking any normal, non-combat interaction over a longer campaign might a PC turned against the party.

PvP can be fun - it's extremely fun in video games, Munchkin, Paranoia (it's not nearly as much fun without PvP), every board game we play except the occasional co-ops, etc. But it comes with enough stress that we leave it off by default. Don't bring an assassin to the party with the paladin, and don't bring a wizard-hater to the wizard-happy party, and don't make a loner for the group game. Not if I'm running it, anyway. It's just easier for everyone to relax and enjoy the game that way, we've found. We're up for PvP but it's got to be a basis for the game.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pegasus JS-2 tanks

So I had a whole bunch of gift cards with tiny, random amounts of money on them. I recently found out will let you buy gift cards for yourself using other gift cards, from 0.50 and up. So I emptied all of my cards, and with some of the proceeds I picked up this:

I was looking at these for a while, because it's such a good deal for two tanks. They also fit the time period of the other vehicles I have assembled - '43-'45.

One thing that surprised me was the hard plastic molded one-piece tracks. I'm not sure how I'll cleanly get the cut marks off the tracks where I had to clip them from the sprues. But I will manage somehow - a file will do, it's just not going to look as nice as soft plastic tracks can.

I'm going to start putting these guys together ASAP. I figure the best way to go is do them line style - one step at a time, alternating tanks. Once I get them together, I'll take some pictures and review the models as a whole.

I actually think the JS-3 (which didn't see WWII service) is a much cooler looking tank - it's that first tank that looks like the later T-64/T-80 tanks. But they had these, and I do like the JS-2.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

30 Second Magic Item: Shiv of Speed

This is for Tin Shorts, since he apparently is asking for this kind of thing.

Shiv of Speed - this dagger is made for nefarious no-good-niks who pull knives on people and shiv them.

for S&W and Old-School Clones: You always gain initiative on any round you use this dagger. You may declare you are using the dagger after initiative is rolled, and drop another weapon in favor of it. It strikes twice per round, but must strike the same target twice. For all purposes it is a +2 dagger.

for GURPS: This small knife can be readied automatically on your turn as if Fast-Drawn. It gains you Extra Attack (Multistrike) which must be used for this weapon; both attacks must be against the same target. You strike first in any situation of Partial Surprise, and, if using Speed-based initiative, are considered to have a Speed higher than any other combatant for purposes of determining Initiative. It is Accuracy +2 and Puissance +2, both Power 20.

There, maybe that is useful for you Tim. I thought that up pretty much as I wrote it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Random Memories of the Very Old Days

I wrote a post much like this before, called Random Memories of the Very Old Days. But I got to visit my friend, editor, and five-time writing partner Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch this weekend, and we were chatting about what it was like getting gaming stuff when we started out gaming.

So here are some more random memories.

You Got What Was Available. Pretty much, what was in the stores nearby was what you had to choose from.

Not all stores would order stuff for you - and for me, being a pre-teen gamer, "you" did not include "me." The first place I recall ordering stuff for me was what is now Timewarp Comics & Games. Otherwise, it was what was on the shelves. They ordered stuff in, and it sat there until it was purchased. People didn't necessarily differentiate between Basic, Expert, original D&D, and AD&D. So it was all jumbled together, and there wasn't any clear attempt at maintaining a line.

This could be good - I got Eldritch Wizardy, the now-called OD&D supplement, for a few bucks off the shelf of a gaming store. AFAIK that was my first OD&D purchase, followed closely by Blackmoor. Now I have them all.

This could be very good - Ogre and Car Wars were prominently displayed and easy to get.

This could also be very bad - I never saw a single Judge's Guild product until much later, although I remember ads for them in Dragon magazine. We saw Role-Aids stuff, but I wasn't (and still basically am not) terribly impressed by them. They weren't "official" either, would meant we couldn't point to any external authority to justify using them. That was important either as a young kid trying to convince other young kids your rules were the right rules, or when dealing with the occasional older kids who didn't want to game with you either.* Not only that, but I got Fiend Folio before the Monster Manual, at least partly because the Jamesway I bought it at didn't have the Monster Manual. I wanted it more, but I also didn't have the other one around - I remember being really excited to get to take a look at my uncle's copy much later on. It was this mythical tome.

Mail Order Hobby House - I ordered stuff from the Mail Order Hobby House starting sometime later. I'd save up, make the order up, get my mom to write a check for the amount, and send away and wait 4-6 weeks for the stuff I ordered to show up. No drop shipped or POD or Amazon Prime in those days. Sometimes it would come with a refund because stuff wasn't available. Sometimes it would come with a bill because something increased in price since I ordered it. I vaguely recall not paying them $1.~ I owed near the end, or not getting that amount back in overpaying - I can't recall which.

Dragon Ads - Another way to get stuff was mail order from companies advertising in Dragon. I have a couple issues with stuff cut out for that reason. That's how I got my back issues, although I ordered too late to get Dragon #69 (with the Astral Plane adventure featuring Githyanki) and got a refund check for that issue. I also got at least one SJG supplement that way, but for the life I me I can't recall which one. It might have been GEV, maybe. Or Shockwave.

Pre-Painted Minis. I don't know who was doing them, but you used to be able to get four figure packs of pre-painted lead minis. I have what's left of one wizard, now, who I re-painted all blue with enamel paint at some point. I don't know why, either - maybe they didn't seal right and the paint flecked off? Who knows? I tended to mistreat my toys.

That's your random old memories for today.

* If the gaming blog-o-sphere seems a little high school sometimes, with cliques and name calling and spite posting with the names filed off, it's still better than the pre-junior high stuff I lived through in actual reality. Gamers were marginal in school, and we marginalized each other. Hurrah for internecine conflict.
I think I've told the story about how my first scheduled settle-this-after-school fight was over gaming, with another gamer, right? No? Maybe some other time . . .

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is it time to liquidate my Ogre minis?

I'm starting to think about selling my kind of large Ogre minis collection.

A Mark VI, one of the very few I don't seem to have.

I have:

- Deluxe Ogre
- Deluxe GEV
- Paneuro sets 1-6
- Combine sets 1-7, 9-12
- Ogrethulu 1, 2
- assorted minis I bought loose, back when you could buy loose minis and SJG would pay in store credit at 2:1 for articles. Minis made a great way to round out an order.
- some duplicates - Paneuro 1, for example, and probably others I unboxed.

Part of me wants to hang on to these, because they are very cool minis and I'd like to finish painting them some day. The ogres, especially, I did a lot of work on, connecting pieces, filing, gluing, etc. and I find I like to have them around.

A number of the GEVs and heavy tanks I assembled and painted. More I assembled and primed. But as cool as they are, I don't use them.

I may cherry pick out a few display models, or I might pick enough that I could run a scenario or two with minis. But it might be time to admit I don't need all of these sets, and that they have sat unpainted (but opened and inventoried) for 12 years (!) probably means I won't use them. After all, as semi-portable as the boxed Ogre game is, it's less fragile than minis. And I could just use my Ogre minis on the maps and use the counters for the rest. They don't take up any appreciable space - the whole collection takes up only a small portion of my book shelf - less than one section, actually, even leaving them in the VHS boxes they came in.

But I am starting to give more or less concrete thought to selling them off.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Free Game - Barbarian Prince

Actually, it's free games - a number of Dwarfstar games are available for free.

But the one I'm talking about now is Barbarian Prince. Mostly because it came up on boardgame day the other day, and I wanted to make sure I blogged about it so my players would get a chance to check it out.

This is one of those games which I wish was an app or a PC game. I'd play round after round on my computer, where as setting up and playing a solo adventure game is a lot of work I find that - even with a copy printed out - I just won't do. I will soon so I can review it . . . but just looking at it, I'd like to play it repeatedly and offload all of the page flipping, counter moving, and time and resource tracking. Having a physical copy means needing a physical space to play it, and means reading the rules and double-checking to ensure I'm doing it right. Having a computer-arbitrated version means no physical space needed, it's portable, and I can play and learn as I go.

Like Ogre, actually, which also screams out to be a playable one-person game. There was one, but there should be a new one. Along with a PC Barbarian Prince.

Still, I'd pick a physically attractive and well-made reprint of this game up if one were made, especially if it came with a mini I could paint.

Friday, August 21, 2015

4 Games I'd like to Run

Because others I respect have been writing about these, here is my current four in no particular order. Most have five, but I really one have four games I'd really be up for right now. I'm running the other one I'd be up for already.

1) Gamma World - using the setting from 1e/2e Gamma World, pulling partially from Metamorphosis Alpha and seen a little through the eyes of Paranoia.

Probably unfrozen special operations troopers (always a winner), or using an alternative method like the one suggests in The Best of Dragon 1, called "An Alternative Beginning Sequence for Metamorphosis Alpha" by Guy W. McLimore, Jr. of Microtactix, which basically has the PCs generated as clones dispatched to effect repairs. Either way, probably not the usual primitive tribesmen approach, although I like that too.

Obviously, I'd use GURPS. I think GURPS does Gamma World better than Gamma World did, having played the setting with both rules sets.

2) Dungeon Fantasy Gamma - As #1, but with a drop-in group of DF characters. If only to get the players familiar with Gamma World through something they are very familiar with.

It would have to be somewhat powerful DF guys, but wouldn't need to be crazy powerful. Plus, it would really be "depend on what is on your sheet" and not "depend on buying up replacement gear and consumables in town and come back later when the odds are better." You are stuck in Gamma World, deal with it. Use your magic to find out what those pre-loaded hypodermic needles do, and hope one heals 1d HP or restores 1d FP lost to spellcasting.

3) Immortals - our very long discussed but never run game with Immortal characters, run as episodes across history. Inspired by The Highlander and this article in Roleplayer magazine.

4) A short retro-clone campaign. S&W Complete, Labyrinth Lord, or Basic Fantasy. Just to remember what I like about those games and remind me of what I like about GURPS when we get back to it. Maybe even D&D, as in Moldvay, with d6 HP thieves because D4 HP thieves seems like a crazed slap to a class that barely is able to do what it does anyway. It's only +1 HP per level to all of the NPC thieves, anyway - easy enough to implement. Either that or a massive ramping up of their actual thief abilities, so they don't suck at their own job. One of those.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Custom 3-D Printed figures - can 28mm be far behind?

So, I read this article on Forbes . . . about this:

Amazon 3D Printing Store

Serious question - how long before we're getting custom 28mm figures, "painted," and shipped to our houses with Prime in time for Sunday's game session? With multiple poses, so you could swap in a custom prone mini, a custom mini when you change from your greatsword to your composite bow, etc. etc.? All at a reasonable cost?

Those World of Tanks figures are only about twice what I pay for 1/72 scale tanks, and they're finished and colored and customized on top of that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

LJN Action Figures - the N is for Nostalgia

Cleaning out some boxes last night after work, I found these guys:

 photo LJN Figures Small_zpszjhzxg1y.jpg

Mostly intact. Warduke (not sure why people think he's cool, but anyway) has his stuff. Melf's cape broke and he must have had a sword or something. And I know the helmet from the troll king is missing. But the rest is there.

I'll bring them over to my friend's house, where my shambling mound figure lives (minus his treasure sack, which I lost.) I was never careful with my toys. But either way, these guys might find their way home with our newest player, who is way into fantasy gaming and killing monster figures with explosion sounds. Or they'll hang around on the gaming table and we'll debate what Warduke was thinking forgetting half of his armor.

Figured I should take a picture while they're as intact as they'll ever be from now on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

AD&D 2e PDFs begin to arrive

I just got a notice about this:

I know one of my old gaming buddies is running a mostly 2e game, and for those of you who jumped into D&D as I was moving on, AD&D 2e is probably where you started. I'm happy to see more editions of the game rolling out.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Board Game Day report

Yesterday, two of my DF group and I played board games, since we had nowhere near enough for a good DF session in the current state of things.

Instead we played a few games.

Ogre Designer's Edition - two games here, both the basic rules, since neither of the other guys played before. First game I was the defender, and lost - Ogre marginal victory. Some of it was not terribly efficient defense, but a good part of it was my utter inability to hit treads, period. I was shooting far under 1-in-3 against threads so the Ogre had Move 3 up until only a few turn's move from my CP. I managed to keep it from escaping with GEVs, but lost everything else.

On the next game, the Ogre player went against another defender. His luck turned when he got swamped and chose to stay in place, ramming and fighting, and rolled abysmally on some otherwise easy shots, and then watches as his treads were chipped away rapidly.

We moved on to the next game after that, but maybe another time we'll tackle a full Ogre-and-armor game with multiple units on both sides. I do need to reorganize the box, though - it didn't take storage on edge very well, and the counters were all in a big mess, even the large terrain overlays. Less than half of them stayed in their original slots. The ogres and buildings were fine, but I'll bag the counters for the future.

Munchkin - one very long game of Munchkin, using sets 1-5, 7-8, More Good Cards, and Conan (not that any Conan cards came up.) I got to level 9 and fought a tough monster but someone played Dead and killed it, and the next guy up ran up to level 10 because us other two had nothing left after the previous turn. Happens a lot - the only thing that kept me from winning was expended and couldn't keep the next guy from winning.

Vampyre - So I had this plastic box TSR minigame since 1982 or 3. I know I never played it. I punched out the counters, never read the book until today, and that was that. Today, we read it and played it. In the Basic Game, one of the players won by taking out 3 of Dracula's coffins and chose silver crucifix. He died in the Extended Game as we tried to take out Dracula in his castle. I got a taste of my own medicine when I rolled up 6 Gypsies as opponents, promptly rolled a 6, and then consulted the Melee Table and saw they beat me on a 1-6 on a d6. Sounds exactly like me - "You fail on a 3 or higher on 3d" or "Roll until you fail."

I engaged Dracula and got bitten, but the other player was six moves away . . . and rolled a six, ran up, rolled another 6, +1 for his crucifix, and bang, dead Dracula. Hurrah!

Fun game, although the movement rules are utterly wonky - you roll and resolve movement different based on the worst terrain . . . yet it's a hexcrawl, so it's just easier if you assign movement rates to terrain types. We ended up doing that.

Dominion - Final game, Dominion. Never played this. Deck building game, but since you never have more than a handful of cards, all repeats from ones you picked yourself with your resources, it was easy to get a handle on. I won, 31 vs. 26 vs. 25, with 5 Provinces, 3 Estates, and 2 -1 curses. I had enough of an idea what I was doing that I could compete. I was glad to win something after losing the rest of the time.

All in all, fun gaming. I'd play any of those again - Vampyre after we fix the movement rules a little bit, maybe with a "round down, minimum 1 hex move" approach so there aren't so many optimal movement paths and more choices to make.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ogre, semi-portable edition

So I'm packing up some games for our non-RPG filled fun-fest of games today. One of them is Ogre: Semi-Portable Edition.

I mean, Kickstarter Edition.

It is approximately the same overall size as the milk crate I use to bring all of my DF related stuff (most of which I don't use) to game. It's so big I kind of don't want to bring much else.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Get Your Campaign Outta My Beer & Pretzels!

Christopher Rice talked about how his (and other) pure beer & pretzels Dungeon Fantasy games start to inevitably morph into larger, deeper campaigns.

But this doesn't have to be.

If you basically all agree on a Beer & Pretzels game, here is how you keep it from slowly but surely morphing into anything bigger. I think most readers and all of my actual players will agree that my Felltower campaign has been straight-up old-school inspired DF since session 1 and all the way through to our latest, session 65.

Choose Shallowness over Depth

This might seem like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not. Inevitably, as you play in a series of connected sessions, you start answering questions about the world around the dungeon or dungeons. You deal with issues of theology and economics and culture outside of "Can I get healed in town at the church?" and "Can I sell a karkadannan horn in town?" and "Does everyone walk around without pants in your tribe Bjorn?"

When these questions happen, choose the most shallow answer. Those answers should be yes, yes and it's worth $x, and yes. And done.

I'm perfectly serious here.

For a game to stay light and B&P, you can't let it get weighed down with the ballast of inter-church politics, problems of wages vs. coin availability, or cultural nuances between barbarian tribes. The more detail you put on there that isn't a simple answer that lets you get back to the reaving and the slaying and hearing the lamentations of their door hinges as you kick the doors down, the more your campaign gets away from that. This is why my campaign basically has one megadungeon and one town. Oh, sure, there are off-screen places and other dungeons the players can go to. But I channel everything into a small set of adventuring locales to keep the campaign from growing - and inevitably gaining weight and importance that pulls us too far towards Tolkein on the Munchkin<->Tolkein Continuum.

Keep it light. Better "Church of the Good God" and "Evil things live in the dungeon and you can kill them" than complex religious politics and legal issues of subterranean murder.

Confront Expansion Head On

Remember the quandary we had over PCs spreading anti-NPC rumors in town to take the fight from the dungeon to the town? And the solution?

Basically, the players got an idea. I realized said idea would expand the game and undermine a basic simplification of the game. I explained why to the players, and they said, right, let's not do that thing. That's it.

This worked because we pretty simply and directly dealt with the possible expansion of the game from "beer and pretzels dungeon bashing with a safe base" into "dungeon bashing with social conflict on the surface and no safe areas." The former is what we want to play, the latter isn't.

Keep it Fun

Whatever it takes, keep doubling down on the stuff people enjoy in the game. If you introduce an element and it doesn't make the game more fun, take it out or tone it down. Whatever got the campaign started and rolling, keep doing that. Don't let even logical extensions of those elements creep in if they ultimately detract from the issue at hand. Remember the problem of Sequelitis - they're so busy dealing with the fallout of the previous one they forgot what was fun about it (See, all sequels to Pirates of the Carribean). Don't do that. Just repeat the stuff you enjoy and ditch the stuff you don't even if it logically flows from there.

Do this even if you have retcon the things that turn out to be bigger, or more of a drag, than you expected.

Like Minded People

This only works if you have enough like-minded people to sustain the game. And if you're willing to put that vision of the game first. We have that - a core of people who want this kind of B&P gaming. We let people know when they start thinking a little more expansively that this is not the game for that. Generally, that works, because we all know what we're signing up for.

And that's pretty much how you do it. Hold the line, ditch the expansions that take you out of the light and fast elements, and all stay on the same page about what fits this game. 65 sessions and counting. Some players joined, some left, some drifted off, and still others poke at me occasional about coming to try out the game. And it's still as beer and pretzels as it was before, because we don't let it become anything more than we want from it. And if it gets stale, we take a break and come right back to it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Playing on Player Expectations II: Special Cases

This is a bit of a followup to Wednesday's post.

Special Cases

Wednesday I defined a split between player knowledge and character skills. But what about places where the player knows something the character genuinely can't know?

This is one of those cases where you do need to firewall. You know M's guy got knocked out behind the smokescreen, but your character can't see through the smokescreen. You know T rolled an 18 on his Survival check, and then he says, "I found some delicious red berries!"

Then what?

You firewall. You don't use your out-of-game knowledge. It'll become in-game knowledge soon enough (as the guy M was fighting charges through the smokescreen after you, or 1d6 damage later after those delicious berries tasted like burning.) It's generally short term, so it's not a big issue. You don't have to second guess yourself too much, and people generally get used to stating overall intentions ("I'm not eating anything he forages," say) pretty quickly.

We cover much of this by saying that people fill each other in when they meet back up. We make the consequences of things clear quickly so people don't have to pretend. Or I simply don't tell anyone what those consequences are, and leave them wondering. "I though I chose badly on those berries, but maybe that wasn't it . . . "

In any case, I find this temporary dearth of knowledge isn't a big issue with my "use what you know" approach.


What about using the rules? Knowing that X does Y and therefore Z?

Also not as much of an issue. It's like all other player knowledge - you are free to use it, but it can be risky to bet your character that it applies here. That this isn't a special case. That the NPC is following the rules as you understand them (generally true, but exceptions exist.) And so on. Meta-gaming mostly gets annoying when people make rules-based decisions instead of decisions that reflect the character in the imaginary space. But it's not a special problem for this approach to play.

Playing At Cross Purposes

This came up in the G+ stream about my previous post. Basically, I run my game on the assumption that players will use the knowledge they have about the setting and the game to help their characters. In other words, I'm using things they recognize because I want them recognized.

This becomes an issue if a player ignores those cues on purpose, because of concern that their character wouldn't know it, and begins to firewall off that information and not act on it. In that case, I'm deliberately using things you recognize because I want you to recognize them.

Now you can still roleplay a character who is ignorant. You should if you have disadvantages that would run counter to your player knowledge - you're still responsible for playing what's on your sheet. But it's a choice that the GM and players can be on board with - and work both directions if you're all okay with sidebar reveals ("My character is an idiot and doesn't know this, but yes, dragons all cast spells in this setting.")

Mixed Signals

What about when the signs in the game don't match the expectations of the players, but the characters should know?

"You see a black-robed man with crazy eyebrows and a skull-topped staff."
"Necromancer! Get him!"
"Actually, it's your friendly neighborhood priest of the death god, who is widely respected and sought out for funerals and Halloween."
"Oops, can we put his head back on?"

I think in these cases you need to tell people immediately, right out. "You see a black-robed man with crazy eyebrows and a skull-topped staff - marks of the well-respected priesthood of the death god." Tell them three times, if you have to.

This gives you four approaches:

- Use stuff they recognize, and can use player knowledge to deal with successfully.
- Use stuff they recognize, but changed so using player knowledge has unforseen consequences.
- Use stuff they recognize, but which means different things in this setting.
- Use stuff they don't recognize.

If you don't tell them about the changes, you end up with case 2 when you intended case 3.

Overall, though, allowing the players to use what they know about the setting and system, and what they recognize, to feed their actions - it's been a win-win situation for me. No worries about where to draw the line. No real issues with abuse. No strange results. It's been a net positive. And you're always, always, always better off trusting only what you've seen happen in actual play.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Make Magic Items? (DF Gadgets)

Here I'm thinking about fantasy games, fantasy fiction, and gaming in general - and GURPS in specific.

Why make magic items?

On the surface, making magic items is kind of an odd thing for a wizard. It has a time and resource cost (heck, XP cost in some versions of D&D). Magic items are vulnerable. Whatever resources you put into them is much more vulnerable to loss than investing the same resources in improving yourself. Yet they exist, they're all over the place, and wizards in fiction and game alike often stick some of their power into an external object.


I like this explanation, personally:

You have to externalize magic to multiply its power.

That is, if you want a quick and easy way to multiply your power, you take X amount of power and stick it into an external object, and get (X * Y) power in return.

You have to accept risk. Putting some of your power or your soul into an external object is a risky thing to do. It's not safe. As much as you multiply your own strength, you now have a vulnerable weak point that can be attacked, exploited, and used to defeat you.

But no one becomes a world-dominating wizard by avoiding risks. Magic is inherently risky. Summon demons to do your bidding is risky. Selling your soul is risky. But they all come with great upsides. The talented types who fear risk don't ever amount to all of that much on the world stage. They're upstaged by the risk takers whose bets pay off.

GURPS and Champions both do this well - having an external focus for your powers makes them cheaper. Turned around, this means you can do a lot more with 50 points in a wand, staff, ring, etc. because the powers you buy come at a discount.

What about GURPS DF?

One way to do this in DF is pretty simple - allow gadget-based limitations for purchased advantages for spellcasters. Just straight-out allow purchase - a wizard with Magery 3 who wants to stick Magery 4-6 in his staff can buy those levels for 30 points, with the following limitations:

Breakable (DR 4, HP 12): -15%
SM -3 (it's -3 to hit in combat, per p B400): -15%
Can Be Stolen (with a Quick Contest) (and used): -30%
Power Source (Magical): -10%

30 x 30% = 9 points.

Heck, make it unique (for the really brave) and it's -95%, capped at -80%, or 6 points.

6 or 9 points for 3 levels of Magery.

Or get +4 Will in a tiny (-9 SM) unbreakable (DR 26+) gemstone that can only be stolen with trickery or stealth (-20%), that depends on mana levels (-10%). Cost drops from 20 to 14. Not a bad discount for a Gem of Will +4 that you stick into a pocket under your armor and wear around.

You can charge in-game for the items, too, if you like - set a cost minimum for each point. I'd just reverse the Power Items chart from DF1 and say the cost listed for an X point power item is the cost for an X character point gadget.

But you don't need to - sure, wizards might go carrying plain rocks with magic in them, but the temptation to double up and put a piece of your soul, or your next 3 levels of Magery, or +4 points of Will, or whatever in the same amulet that acts as your 20 point power item is strong. Only one thing to protect . . .

I'd stack costs if I did that - an item with a net 20 point cost advantage and a net 5 would need a 25-point item's value to contain both.

The upside of this is that PC mages have an incentive to make magic items, but aren't really in competition with NPC enchanters. They have an incentive to externalize some of their power and thus be a whole lot more powerful in return for some risk.

I haven't tried this, just run the numbers. It seems like it would be a flavorful way to have wizard PCs develop, make for really interesting wizard NPCs (he's a major foe, unless you get his amulet away), and meshes nicely with spells as powers. It does mean PC mages will get more powerful more quickly . . . and you can't give access to this kind of limitation unless you seriously mean to threaten it. A staff of Magery 3 that never gets struck, never dropped, and never threatened with theft is just a free discount on Magery 3.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Playing on Player Expectations: Player vs. Character Knowledge

When I reviewed EX1 and EX2 the other day, I pointed out that those two adventures scream for using out-of-game knowledge. In other words, why use Alice in Wonderland as a game basis unless you want players to use what they know from the books? It's almost trivially easy to disguise monsters, locations, literary characters, etc. so players don't recognize them and must confront them afresh.

So if you use them, it's generally because you want them recognized.

In general - I want my players to use their player knowledge. I'm using things they recognize because I want them to recognize them, and decide if they want to risk betting on what they know was true before. After all, these mind flayers might be magic-using, not magic-resistant. These pink slimes might be edible, according to the USDA, unlike those acidic ones they found a while back. Peter's version of hobgoblins might be different than the book says.

But equally, I might be using trolls that are vulnerable to fire and acid. I may have put that chess puzzle in knowing my players have a chess fan amongst them. And so on.

I did that because I want to take advantage of player expectations.

I draw the line, however, between player knowledge, and player abilities. Players can use whatever knowledge they have about the game, the setting, and other games and settings and whatnot. But they can't leverage their knowledge into in-game invention, in-game skill bonuses, and in-game shortcuts to power.

In other words, I want players to use their knowledge about the game situation and familiarity with the setting, opponents, and problems at hand to solve the problem at hand. I don't want them using real-world skills to replace those of their characters.

Good example: Player A knows that a cranky old witch in a swamp with skull-topped fencing and a strange hut is probably Baba Yaga or close enough. Player A decides to be very respectful and address her as grandmother. OK!

Bad Example: Player B knows how to make explosives. Player B's PC makes explosives, despite having no in-game knowledge to base this off of. Not OK!

I've GMed for players who can code computers, mix explosives, design and build structures, survive in the woods, shoot guns, speak a bunch of languages, draw professionally, play games at high levels of skill, compete in martial arts, fix cars, write books, and more. Their characters don't get to do those things unless their characters have the in-game ability to do so. Player knowledge of this type might help, in that on a meta-level we can ensure believable results and solid game rules and rulings.

I've mentioned this before. It sounds like a fuzzier line than it is in practice. If Player A knows zombies are often vulnerable to salt in games, fiction, and real world myth, Player A is welcome to toss salt at zombies and hope it's a good guess about how these zombies are statted up. If Player B knows how to break someone's arm the easier way, Player B's character doesn't get to use Arm Lock or Wrench with any kind of bonus. If Player C has to roll a contest of Tactics skills against an opponent, and Player C is former military with a great knowledge of tactics, Player C doesn't get a bonus . . . but I'm fine with Player C placing his character on a really good hex for combat using his real world understanding of what hex would be a good one to stand in.

All in all, this is both a fun way to play (challenges player skill, challenges character ability, and challenges your luck with dice all at once), an easy way to play (no firewalling!), and a way to draw off existing material so you can all enjoy the flash of recognition and the gamble of betting on what's not yet confirmed in this particular game. It's also a lazy way to play, in the best sense - no one has to do anything except know what they know, and play with what they have in their head and on paper in front of them.

This is kind of a long way to say, if I use stuff people recognize in a game, it's because I want them to recognize it. Use new stuff if you don't want them to leverage what they know. It's just easier.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Your First GURPS series

I want to recommend a series of posts by Warren "Mook" Wilson, author of How to Be A GURPS GM.

Warren has been doing a series of posts to introduce GURPS and walk through the mechanics of play.

The first post, Welcome to GURPS, has links to the rest of the series at the bottom.

It's an excellent walkthrough of the system and how it works and how it plays. Not only that, it's exactly the kind of stuff I think should be written but I never actually get the enthusiasm to sit down and write. I'm happy The Mook did this and I wanted to highlight it here - especially so I can point new players to it whenever I encounter them.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gnoll and Pirate

Two minis that just needed touch up - so I touched them up yesterday.

The pirate is a Foundry pirate, from the same horde I've been painting from for a while. Colors are basically random - I try to make them visually striking or at least visually identifiable for tabletop use.

The gnoll is a Chainmail Gnoll Ranger. That mini came in - I swear this is true - four parts plus the base. I needed to mount the left arm, right arm, and axe/flail backup weapon combo to the torso. It wasn't easy, either. It took pinning and expoxy to get them on.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Where are the Felltower/Cold Fens summaries?

We've had a bit of a dry spell in gaming, thanks to the difficulty of summer scheduling and my long trip.

The dry spell will continue into early September, sadly. There was all of one day we could get a reasonable number of people together to game, and that day is also the first birthday party for my twin cousins. So we had to push it back until September.

We'll do some gaming in between with a subset of gamers, but not DF. Partly that's because the players see the next session's delve as a serious, straight-up fight with a very tough opponent and don't want to go without all of the regulars.

Ironically, it's this kind of "wait for everyone to show up" issue that the episodic, start-and-end-in-town, delve-and-return game style we chose is meant to avoid. That is, we can always play because there is always something to do.

But since the players have (with good reason) been laser-focused on the "island temple" in the Cold Fens, we really don't have any side missions waiting to be resolved. There are rumors of things - and some I know could be completed in a single session - but no firm knowledge. There are rumors of things that are potentially quite large (lost troll city, lost temple, the dragon, the mysteriously dangerous path "around" the watery part of the fens, etc.) and would become a multi-session project of their own.

Since no ground work has been done on anything except the main dungeon, the players can't just zip over and take care of the side issue. The big main issue is seen as needing a full squad. So, we play when we can get a full squad.

Felltower, in a way, has become such. The players got the idea of using the orcs to ward off the cone-hatted cultists. The orcs took bribes/tolls to protect the place. The orcs got too confident and upped the tolls beyond what the PCs felt was reasonable. The PCs skirmished with the orcs and the compact broke down. Now it's impossible for small groups to go into Felltower - the only entrances the orcs don't hold are way too dangerous for a small group at the power levels of the PCs.* (see Mungo)

So we'll wait. We'll play some other games (and I'll make a pitch for a DF spinoff) in the meantime, because DF isn't why we get together. Gaming together is why we get together. Or gaming is the unifying excuse for us all to get together regularly. But it won't be Cold Fens or Felltower. Maybe something totally unrelated. Like, you know, Munchkin. :)

* Tangent - that's kind of a bonus/penalty situation. The bonus is that I no longer make changes to the dungeon based on assumed NPC adventuring activity. New surface-dwelling types basically don't move into the dungeon - either sapient or non-sapient ones. So the orcs have solved the problem of "other people looting our dungeon" for the PCs. On the other hand, it also means penetrating the dungeon is now a frontal assault vs. a fortified position (the dungeon was built as a fortified underground location, and it is mostly intact). It also means there are few if any rumors about the dungeon except for ones related to the things the PCs encounter, because no one is getting close to the place anymore.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror

I mentioned when I put up my EX1 Dungeonland review that I hadn't run EX2. That's only partly true. I lifted elements of EX2 - discussed below - and used them when I ran EX1.

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
by E. Gary Gygax
32 pages plus a cover with maps inside
1983 TSR

EX2 is the extension (but also easily stand-alone expansion) of EX1 Dungeonland. It details the Tugley Wood, from Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass. It is very silly but potentially deadly.

Like EX1, it's a fairly straight-up conversion of "literary characters" to "things to fight." In most respects the modules are similar - interesting and excellent illustrations, a mix of problems to solve with wits and some with violence (and many possible with either or both), etc. Most of the encounters are in a sandbox layout, but individual encounters tend to be somewhat scripted. It befits the source material, though, to have events just start to unfold despite your actions as well as in reaction to them.

It's not all combat, though. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee are there, hoping for help retrieving their precious items from a "crow" (roc). The walrus and the carpenter are there, wishing for help getting oysters and pearls. Humpty Dumpty as well. There is an interesting chess-based puzzle, complete with a need to fight the opposing piece. It's not an uncommon idea, but it's a well executed version of "replace the piece you kill" with prizes based on what you take out before you exit the board on the other side.

Much like the other half, the adventure screams out for using player knowledge to deal with the encounters. That will work, to a point. But several encounters are different from their literary sources and much more lethal, especially to a party that isn't on their toes.

EX2 has some marks against it, though - one of the major treasures is just listed as a series of rolls to make on the treasure tables, which is annoying (I'd rather have it done and then change it myself). Another is a magic weapon that's pretty much designed to be not-loot, so there isn't even an upside to finding it - and it feels rather heavy-handed.

EX2 marks the introduction of the giant bee, the giant dragonfly, the eblis (an evil bird-man), lightning quasi-elemental, and oliphant. There are also six new spells: Aid, Murlynd's Ogre, Murlynd's Void, Spook, Whispering Wind, and Phantom Steed. As far as I can tell the two Murlynd spells did not show up again elsewhere. The staff-mace, buckler wand, buckler knife, eggs of desire, and shoes of Fharlanghn all show up here as well.

Tantalizing Hints: "The entry point for The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror will be shown on the proper level of the Greyhawk Castle Dungeon series when it is finally done." Oh, if only.

War Stories

I did actually run elements of this, with GURPS, when I ran Dungeonland for my GURPS 1e group. Specifically, they encountered the JubJub Bird (and killed it), crossed the chess board (we used an actual chessboard), and some other bits as well. I didn't run it as a whole, though. Just used pieces. I certainly never got to use the big setpiece at the end.

I also at least partly ran this for AD&D, based on the usual evidence - hand-written notes and crossed out HP. Wow, they killed Murlynd. That's probably where Pete S.'s bard got his Ring of Invisibility (Improved) and Shoes of Fharlanghn, now that I think of it.

Overall: Like EX1, it's a chance to experience Through the Looking Glass only first hand and with potential loot and lethality. If that's what you'd like, you'll find plenty of it here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

New Release: GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery

There is a new GURPS book out, released yesterday.

Basically, if you ever wanted to ditch GURPS Magic and re-tool all of its spells as advantages, this is your book.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Post-Apoc Sports: Deathball (& DF Henchmen)

I was deeply flattered to see one of the supplements I co-wrote with Sean Punch, Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, get mentioned in use over on Northport.

But even better, it's mentioned as the players are getting to use 125-point henchmen lenses to make JUGGERS.

I'm not sure I ever mentioned here that Sean Punch and I also once wrote a tribute to the actual sports we like crossed with the mother of all post-apocalypse sports - the Jugger game from Blood of Heroes.

Rutger Hauer? Joan Chen? Delroy Lindo? Vincent D'Onofrio (post-Pyle)? Post-apocalypic sports? That's a freaking five-fer.

Sean introduced me to the film, and I quickly spread the love (and watched it again and again.) When eventually Pyramid 3.0 launched and I was solicited to write an article, I proposed a post-apoc sport article only if I could co-write it with Sean. Some writing pairs finish each others sentences. Sean and I seem to alternate them - he writes something that makes me write something which spurs him to say, "But would be really cool if we then wrote this!" and amazing stuff happens. True fact: I like to go back and re-read my own stuff and remember how it felt to write it. But I love to go back and re-read stuff Sean and I wrote together and remember how it all came together into some whole far greater than I could have assembled on my own.

Even better, though, is that Deathball is available completely free. The whole article. I've long linked to it on my blog but never really discussed it. And to the long-dreamt-of crossover of mine - post-apoc and Dungeon Fantasy - come to life in a bizarre twist - a post-apoc sport in DF - makes me very happy. It's very inspired to combine the ideas of a post-apoc style sport with dungeon fantasy low-point types. And not terribly a-historical, either.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: EX1 Dungeonland

I was reminded about wanting to review EX1 Dungeonland by a comment Erik Tenkar made about EX1 and EX2 on his blog. I've run EX1 but not (that I recall) EX2, but I may take a look at EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror at some point as well.

For more reviews, please see my review page.

by E. Gary Gygax
32 pages plus a cover with maps inside
1983 TSR

Dungeonland is subtitled "An Adventure In A Wondrous Place For Character Levels 9-12." The introduction explains that this was original conceived of and executed as a Greyhawk Castle dungeon sub-level. In a nutshell, it's "D&D characters meet and kill characters from Alice in Wonderland." (Link to my favorite version)

When it comes to expectations, you can play off them with a twist, or you can serve them straight up. Dungeonland is mostly the latter. It is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, only with (almost) everything being a hostile monster encounter. No Alice, but all of the beings she encounters in the Lewis Carroll story show up and attempt to inflict violence on those they encounter. Mock turtle? Mock dragon-turtle. Cheshire Cat? Magical smilodon. Mad Hatter? Throws random lethal headgear like a warped Oddjob. Baby that becomes a pig? Wereboar. To quote the Afterword, "This module is not, by any stretch of the imagination, aimed at the player or DM who takes himself (and the game) too seriously."

Most of it is pretty obvious, and the only real cleverness is the original concept and how appropriately lethal the encounters are. But like I said, it's expectations served up with the twist being lethality. The adventure is straight-up hack-and-slash, much like G1-3 Against The Giants. Or a lot of early D&D and AD&D adventures, really - a place with monsters to kill, puzzles to solve, and treasure to find.

It features some interesting elements, including a miniaturized adventuring area, complete with a chance to get some tiny magic items to use in it (if you recognize the chance, that is.) You get to explore the gardens, woods, and houses of Wonderland, and deal with their now-lethal inhabitants. There are magical pools and fountains, beneficial and hostile plants, a senile arch-mage, odd distortions of space, and other things that make Dungeonland a really interesting environment. It's nonsensical but not illogical - more spurious logic than random nonsense. That makes it possible for the players to deal with the environment with some caution (they know it's all weird) yet for it to contain all sorts of oddness.

The module screams out for, and seems to expect, meta-gaming. Not the "I have 3 HP left!" kind but the "I read this book so I know the flamingos are for croquet!" kind. Like I said above, it's about playing on the expectations. It's Wonderland gone lethal and violence is an acceptable solution, and that's the core of it. You want the players to recognize things and use what they know, or it loses its charm, like a parody of something you'd never seen in the original.

The NPCs are detailed well enough that they are easy to play and the GM gets enough understanding of what they're for and what they'll do. There is even an in-context amusing Gygaxian admonition - "Play the King with an 18 intelligence, please!") Some of the Wonderland oddness is here, too - some foes can be fought, disengaged from, and then encountered in a friendly setting later - the past is the past in Dungeonland. Playing up that oddness is encouraged and (in my experience) a good idea.

There is one especially scripted bit - a encounter in the Palace with royalty and a trial that's going on. It's not a terrible railroad, in that it just makes the whole thing seem odd. The PCs have a chance to get caught up in something odd that isn't of their own making. Violence or roleplaying can solve this puzzle, too - the violence angle is just a little dangerous even for the levels of PCs involved.

Editing Later: I forgot to add that this was the first appearance of the executioner's hood and the hangman tree, both of which later appeared in Monster Manual II. It also marked the appearance of the hat of disguise and deck of illusions, both which made it into Unearthed Arcana.

War Stories

As modules go, this is pretty much straighforward hack-and-slash. Not a lot of depth.

But I found running it, the recognition the players bring to the table makes it a lot of fun. Rampaging through Wonderland, er, Dungeonland, killing off major characters they know at least a little bit since childhood, has a lot of good points. The baggage that Alice in Wonderland brings along with it, and the expectations the players bring to it, make for a fun adventure.

In other words, it reads like flat hack-and-slash but plays with a lot of enjoyment and some depth because of the source material. You don't necessarily need to add depth to a setting if the players bring their own depth.

At the time, the idea of going Gumby-like into a book but then fighting all of the characters must have seemed especially new and shiny. It was when I encountered EX1 as a teen, too.

I ran it back in the late 80s/early 90s for GURPS 1st edition(ish - 1st ed + house rules + GURPS Update). Instead of the module setup I had a friendly wizard they'd worked for before, Joachim Xavian, magically transport them to the land to complete some task (which might have just been, "Go see what's there.") We had a lot of very memorable moments. Amongst them was the samurai Harada Takashi fighting the white rabbit fist-to-paw in a karate battle on the Mad Hatter's table, a wizard dodging thrown hats (and earlier, dodging smoke rings), chopping up playing card soldiers, and the consequences of my cousin's halfling thief Darren telling the Cheshire Cat to, and I quote, "Bite me." He did. Hilarity ensued.

Overall, it was a great rampage through Alice's world.

How is it for GURPS?

I've run it for GURPS, and it was a blast. The oddness of the inhabitants is easy to model in GURPS (even in 1st edition, which was less flexible than 4th edition.) I'd run it again in a heartbeat, if I could only run it without warning again. My current group includes a veteran of the run 20+ years ago, though, and my players would probably see it coming. I'm more likely to do a variation on this theme than run it directly for that reason. But it was excellent.

Overall: It's a hack-and-slash traipse through Wonderland turned into a lethal dungeon. It's neither more nor less than that, but fun for all of that. Recommended if you like Alice in Wonderland and killing major literary characters with swords.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Gamma World: the Lands Between

Nature abhors a vacuum.

But a glance at either of the "Cryptic Alliances as States" maps out there shows a large amount of uncontrolled space.

How to explain that?

Here are some ideas.

Populations are Small. Let me repeat this. Populations are small. Big cities in GW (at least as of the early editions) top out around 50,000 or so, probably with a nearby robotic farm (or, heh, Gallus Gallus 5/13 run chicken farm) to support them. In the modern world 50K isn't a city, it's barely a large town. There just isn't a surplus population to fill everything. Plus, the need for security in numbers means that people can't just spread out willy-nilly. What scant population there is clusters together in small groups up to little cities, and few of those. There is a vacuum of controlled area because there isn't enough population to control it all. Better to hold a smaller area security than to spread out beyond your ability to project real control.

Radioactive Badlands. There are a lot of these on the published maps. 170 or so years on from the disaster, there are still places with radiation lethal enough to mutate, or kill. Or both, one after the other. While probably not terribly realistic, that's not an issue in Gamma World. Radiation warps and grants powers good and bad, it doesn't just give you cancer and lesions and death. And it lasts a long time, again, unlike reality. I was at the hypocenter of Nagasaki the other day, my second visit to that atomic blast site, and was granted few if any cool mutations a mere 70 years on.

Yet they are there, and in swaths large and small. They significantly reduce the amount of safe areas to expand into.

Enemy Populations. Plenty of areas will be covered with vegetation that actively wants you dead. Some will be filled with lethal mutant animals. That leaves aside crazed humans and humanoid mutants. A wide area of lethal grass or trees is enough to make a land worth ignoring until everything else is taken.

Lands Gone Bad. Lands turned marshy, turned into crater lakes, strewn with rocks churned up into a rocky non-arable badlands, and so on. Lands gone desert-like thanks to previous chemical, biological, and nuclear weaponry.

Forbidden Zones. These places will be smaller but exist, often as a mix of the other types. They might be places you could go, but the locals, such as they are, don't want you to go there. These are off-limits only if you don't have the might to go there.

Surviving Installations. A few surviving installations are out there. They may be largely intact, partly intact, or mostly trashed. But if the defenses exist - patrolling warbots or death machines, security bots linked together, minefields, and so on - they will be impenetrable. A no-man's-land is likely to emerge around such places where it's too dangerous to live, and thus will lie fallow and unexploited. Few communities want to live just on the edge of a warbot's patrol zone. You are very safe until that day the bot decides you look dangerous and lasers you into an ash pile.

Deliberate Vacuum. Around the Cryptic Alliances, especially, you'd probably have a buffer zone. They leave it to nature to discourage approach without spending resources defending lands they can't fully secure and exploit.

On top of this, the land is essentially still at war at a low level. It's not peaceful - it's a largely uncivilized world. Remaining stocks of nasty, nasty weapons are used to settle conflicts, creating new badlands and new radiation zones. There is not a lot of produced tech (albeit more in a 2nd edition GW game than a 1st - 2nd assumes a lot of trade, linguistic standardization, and re-emerging tech.*) It's hard to fill all of the vacuums with civilization while populations are still recovering (and populations are a mix of mutant humans, humans, and mutant animals who may not be able to freely crossbreed.) Without a lot of tech it's hard to fully exploit what is out there.

So I'd expect a lot of choice lands (and easily exploitable installations) would be taken. The ones that are less than ideal would be left until the choice lands were fully taken, except by the occasional hardy adventurer turned freesteader. The lethality of the world would put paid to a lot of them.

So that's how I'd explain the vacuum. It's there because of the above and the inability to have enough people to exploit it. That's the disorder in this post-apocalypse setting, and it's the seam where adventure can happen.

* Stuff like the lexicon, the starting characters with needle guns with Intensity 17 poison needles, muskets and other black powder weapons in production, etc. are all clues about this. The pictures (especially the cover) for 1st edition imply a tech setting but the rules inside assume dirt-poor tech-ignorant barbarism.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

D&D never went off the rails

At what point did D&D go off the rails?

My opinion?

D&D never went off the rails. It never jumped the shark. No book, no Gygax rules-as-written-or-it's-not-D&D paragraph, no spell, no monster, no module, no edition. Never.

What happened, instead is this. D&D kept growing, evolving, changing, and moving. Books kept getting written, modules kept getting purchased and used, new players kept joining and old players kept dropping off.

At some point, you and D&D grew together. The stuff that was out was magical to you. The new stuff was the kind of new stuff you wanted, generally (and what you didn't was small enough to ignore.) At some point, though, what you wanted from D&D either was in a different direction than what was coming out (your tastes evolved) or you didn't need anything new (your needs basically froze.) Then, suddenly, D&D had gone wrong.

But it didn't. It just went elsewhere. It changed from what you wanted into something else. Or you changed from what you were to what you became. More likely, both.

D&D 4e? That was the game some people wanted. Same with 1st edition AD&D, the Greyhawk supplement, 2nd edition, those splatbooks, Unearthed Arcana, etc. etc. etc. If it was what you wanted, you'd mark the date of the death of D&D later than someone who didn't want that stuff. It feels downright odd to have people explain how the system went from great to suck before you experienced your most magical moments with the game. It's like having someone say a band you like was good up to album X, and you got into them with album Y. It's actually kind of insulting, too - you didn't show up until it sucked, so therefore you like the bad stuff.

Personally, I abandoned AD&D when 2nd edition was starting to come along and I found Rolemaster and GURPS fit better with what I enjoyed. Unearthed Arcana is much derided but it was the basis of the single greatest AD&D campaign I ever ran. Yet for some D&D went off the rails and became something "other" when the thief showed up. When you and what was out for and coming out for D&D overlapped enough, it was fine. When you and it went different directions, you just diverged. It didn't start to suck, and neither did you. You just took a different fork in the road.

And that's pretty much my opinion on the subject. "Not for me" and "bad" are not the same thing. Things that change really go from "for me" to "not for me" or vice-versa. I really only find the badly-done to be bad (error filled, poorly written, etc.) and the rest is just for me or not for me.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cryptic Alliances - Rise of the Belief State

Over on Greyhawk Grognard there was a thought-provoking post about Gamma World.

Why no nations in Gamma World?

It's a good question, although one James Ward answered in The Dragon #25. Cryptic Alliances are the nations. I always felt that way myself - you'd have villages, small towns, the occasional "free city" (maybe 2-3 of those across the whole campaign area). But no big states outside of the Cryptic Alliances.

Belief State

In a way, modern groups like ISIS/ISIL are a pattern for a Cryptic Alliance. They're a Belief State. The founding principle of the state is a shared ideological view of the world - something that exactly describes groups like the Seekers or the Red Death or the Knights of Genetic Purity. They fill their ranks with true believers and exploit those in their area they can. In areas where the other power structures are stronger than the C.A., they act as small anti-establishment groups working to destabilize the area and gain control or to gain recruits and power for the base area.

I'd call these Belief States, since they aren't Nation-States (no "nation" or shared culture per se) but do share a world outlook.

Cryptic Alliances Acting As States

I think the C.A.s make good states. The big, land-grabby types (Ranks of the Fit, the Zoopremists, the Created, etc.) would have grabbed land. They'd also send out wild-eyed believers to new lands to gather recruits to bring back, to found new lands, or to loot for valuable artifacts.

Some of these states would work in a typical direct land-grabbing fashion. They'd expand their overall borders, pushing out as they had more ability to absorb neighboring populations.

Others would just be nomadic groups, and move as a large group with many affiliated small groups that splinter off or get sent off on their own.

Some of these states would go off of the "ink spot" theory. That is, send out a group to a likely place for a state. With all of the radioactive badlands, scorched lands, areas overgrown with nasty hostile vegetation, still-dangerous military fortifications operating on "kill anything that approaches" mode, wandering warbots, etc. you can't just expand quickly and evenly. You need recruits, you need weapons, you need the ability to colonize or extend supplies across the badlands to rich liveable lands. But you can send out colonies to especially rich or valuable spots and see if they can't make it on their own.

You would still get some non-C.A. states but they would be small and easily taken over by the larger, more organized, and more belief-centered alliances. Hard to run a tiny little democratic state when the Red Death rolls through or a large group of Zoopremists show up and tell you how its going to be.

You'd also get traders willing to go between the alliances and the non-allied (possibly tributary) areas. Some would be C.A. members (openly or secretly), some independents, some part of the minor power structures that are villages and towns.

You'd also get C.A. members all over the place - the self-declared allies, the deliberately sent out colonists, the looters, the recruiters. And the non-landed groups would do the same because they don't have a land to stay in.

Why Cryptic Alliances as States, and not just States?

Part of this is just Gamma World - the basis of the end of the world is a series of belief states fighting each other. The idea that the rise of the next is a warped and irradiated version of the same fits the apocalyptic feel of the setting. The Created and the Ranks of the Fit are not so far from the League of Free Men and the others who started the whole shebang.

You could relegate most Cryptic Alliances to just secret societies that exist within existing secular states. But I think it's a lot more fun to have the lands that belong to the Ranks of the Fit than to have the Kingdom of Loosyanna with some scheming sub-groups in it. It makes the land feel more threatening if there are only a limited amount of places you can go if you aren't part of some group. And it makes either joining a group - or founding your own - a bigger challenge. Most of the Cryptic Alliances just don't accept that other people's beliefs are valid too. That would also make the few free cities worth the name valuable prizes for all sides, dangerous pits of trouble, really interesting places to visit, etc. Being the exception (non-C.A. allied large power structure) not the rule (C.A. controlled) makes them really interesting. Like The Free City of Krakow in T2K.

And that's how I'd run Gamma World.
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