Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Spellbooks in DCC

One of the things that struck me about the magic system in DCC is the "mythos" of the spells. There are a finite number of "known" spells, they are jealously guarded, and simply knowing that a particular spell exists is a feat. Add to that the fact that each Wizard casts each spell in a manner completely unique to himself, through the Mercurial Magic subsystem. There is also the fact that each time a spell is cast its effect and effectiveness is determined by the casting roll.

If I ever am able to run a DCC campaign, I have an idea regarding Wizards I plan to put into play.

My players will only have access to the casting tables for spells they begin the game with. Spells they gain once the campaign begins, they will need to keep notes on. I envision that each time a spell is cast the wizard's player will note the casting roll and effect. Ideally, these notes will be kept in a notebook of some sort, which will become the "spellbook". Eventually the player will have a complete grasp of what range of effects he can expect when this spell is used.

I don't know if this will work in play as well as I like the look of it on paper. If it does, though, it seems like a very cool way to really engage the player with his character.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Idea of the Century

I want to nominate this referee screen for some sort of Nobel Prize, or at least the Idea of the Century. It is sheer genius.

Toil and Trouble

On page 314, under the heading General Principles of Wizard Spells, you will find the following quote:
Simply learning that a spell exists is a great accomplishment . . .
That simple sentence has captivated me. Elsewhere in the rules it is stated that there is a finite number of known spells. I'm not sure if spell research is permitted by the rules. It is my understanding (based on my woefully incomplete reading) that spells are "given" by powers beyond the kin of the masses, and that this is the way to gain them. If that is correct, then not only is it an intriguing assumption, it definitely means that a count of "spells known to exist" is conceivable.

At any rate, there are very interesting rules for Wizards learning of spells, in order that they may actually learn them and study them. I think that is a completely awesome idea. Upon attaining each level  a Wizard has the opportunity to learn a new spell. This is not simply a matter of the player perusing the spell lists and saying "I'll take this one". During the course of adventuring at the previous level, the player must make the effort to learn of the existence of spells. In fact, this should be as common to the Wizard as seeking rumors of fabled blades of power is to the Warrior. The judge should, of course, concoct these rumors and have them sketched out. Any spells that the Wizard learns of are eligible to be chosen from to be learned at the next level. But it doesn't end there.

If the Wizard knows of the spell through a tome or some other actual record of the spell, he must expend a certain amount of time and make a roll. If successful, the ordeal is over and he can cast the spell.

On the other hand, if he knows of the spell, but doesn't actually possess a "copy" of it, he must obtain such. It can be written, whispered from a demon's lips, or imparted in any creative way the judge can envision. In any event, it may take a quest of some nature to reach the source of the knowledge. There may also be a cost for acquiring the knowledge. Nobody said the path to magical power was smooth or easy.

If, by chance, no knowledge of a spell is discovered, there are tables to randomly determine certain particulars. There are three tables: Where Is the Knowledge Found, What Is the Cost of the Knowledge, and What Components Are Required. So, for example, I just rolled on the tables and discovered that the spell can be found in the purest drop of water, the price of knowledge of the spell is the Wizard wearing his hair in a topknot, in the custom of a sect of monks. Finally, a mother's love for her child is a required component for the spell to function. Of course, it falls on the judge to weave these random elements into something adventurous.

DCC is rife with tables such as these, but it should be remembered that the tables given are more like examples than holy writ. It would be a simple, and fun, matter to develop other results for these categories.

Of Wizards and Warriors in DCC

So, I haven't been abducted by aliens, joined a cult, or had my own private Mayan meltdown. I've been working my ass off. I found a job as a temp driver with FedEx and I've been working all the hours they will give me in hopes of impressing them enough to keep me. Now, as we approach the end of their "peak time" I am waiting to find out if I was impressive enough.

During my hiatus I downloaded the free pdf of Delving Deeper. I am quite impressed. It does what it set out to do, and does so beautifully. If LBB-style play is something you desire, definitely give it a look.

However, as I read it and marveled at the power of its simplicity, my mind kept wandering back to DCC. You see, DCC fulfills two of my most heart-felt desires:

  • Magic is unpredictable. Truly unpredictable. There are a slew of games that require some sort of spell check roll to successfully cast a spell. DCC turns that concept up to 11. Each spell has its own unique casting table. Where the "unpredicability" before was simply does-it-work-or-not, with DCC the result and effectiveness are inextricably bound together. Where there may be fairly static fumbles/criticals on the casting roll, DCC's casting roll is on a sliding scale. Catastrophe at one end, dizzying success at the other, with all other results in between. Variable, random, and undeniably exciting.
  • Warriors are the kings of the fight. No other class fights as good as the fighter. Fighters are truly deadly and not to be trifled with. They have variable to-hit bonuses and damage bonuses that scale with level. At first level their bonus is d3, so each turn they may enjoy a bonus to hit and damage (one roll determines both) of +1 to +3, plus STR bonus, if applicable. At 4th level the bonus has increased to d6, and by 10th, it is d10+4. So, your 10th level fighter will have, on average, a +9.5 to hit and damage, plus STR and/or magical bonuses. Sure, it could be a +5, but it could also be a +14. What really separates Warriors, though, are the Critical Tables. This is another concept where DCC takes a tried-and-true idea and cranks it to 11. Each class has its own crit table. Warriors (and dwarves who roll on the warrior tables, just not with quite as much potential for devastation) have three tables that they progress through as they gain levels. Additionally, Warriors roll increasingly better dice on their increasingly more lethal crit tables as they gain levels. Oh, and one more thing, their potential for crits goes up as they gain levels. It starts at 19-20, and tops out at 17-20 at 9th level.
Of course, there's much more to the game than this. It is incredibly easy to find all manner of reviews and breakdowns of the rules. This is just two of the things that DCC takes to another level, and I am very happy with how it was done.

Now, I'm going to do a post on Wizards' spells. It was some crap I was writing for this post and realized it needed to be its own thing. So, let's proceed, shall we?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Anguish and Abandon

Disclaimer: What follows is not meant as a comparison of two fine games. I am merely using the two games to contrast two different play styles, since they are such iconic representations of their respective styles.

As you know, immediately preceding my current obsession with DCC I had a dalliance with LotFP. There is a fundamental difference in their implied styles of play that I felt like pointing out.

Lamentations is notable for its total lack of a bestiary. There are several reasons that the author chose to go this route, but there is one that matters most to this post. In the implied setting of LotFP there are no "evil races". There are no orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres, or giants. There are no dragons who wear their moral affiliation in their color. This means that every time a character kills it requires accepting that the character is killing. There are no free passes. There are no unrepentant races or groups. There are no creatures that it is OK to kill. In a way, this makes LotFP very story-driven. At least that is how I define such things. The more angst the game promotes, or the more focus a character's internal conflict (or downward moral spiral) is given, the more I tend to think of the game as story driven. For example, in such a game, the killing is often anti-climactic to the fact that the character made the willful decision to kill.

At the other end, we have DCC. With the exception of wizards needing to be ever vigilant of the dangers of their craft, killing is done with wild abandon. Spells can succeed spectacularly, raining death. Warriors can perform deeds of great daring in pursuit of their enemies. While DCC does encourage unique monsters, it also includes the old favorite "bad guys", ripe for the slaughter.

While there is a part of me that can really appreciate the style of LotFP, it's not really the way I want to play anymore. Maybe when I was in my "serious role playing" phase, sure. Now, if I can ever manage to get a game together, I just want to have a few laughs, some hair-raising chills, thrilling adventures, and ultimately kill some monsters and take their shit. And for all the angst-love I have for LotFP (and it is considerable), I want to do all that killing without having to anguish over it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Firstest with the Mostest

"I didn't really talk like a total hick"
Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest is credited with coining the phrase "Get there firstest with the mostest", when asked to describe his tactics. I suspect he said it a bit more intelligently than that, but since he was a hated Confederate general, and the victors write the history books, his words were written as if spoken by a genuine rube.

At any rate, I think his personal philosophy of battle holds up pretty well in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Allow me to explain.

I was reading a forum post over on the Goodman Games forum. It's about combining DCC and AD&D. The parts that I found of particular interest were concerned with using old 1E modules with DCC and the conversions necessary for such. Module T1: The Village of Hommlet was batted around quite a bit. As I read it, my very first thought was to use the fluff and descriptions, but for anything mechanical, just grab the Libram (my personal nickname for the DCC rulebook). It seems pretty straightforward to me. Hommlet is a shining example of Gygaxian naturalism, so subbing in one set of mechanical details for another shouldn't really be a problem. Plus, both games are founded on a core belief that encounters do not have to be fair or balanced. So, if a DCC version of a monster is too powerful, the characters should just beat feet and look for a way 'round.

So, all that sounds fine, up to now. But . . . Hommlet is a 1st level module. What about using more potent modules, like White Plume Mountain? DCC tops out at 10th level. So, Gods forbid the party should ever enter the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. Can you imagine a 10th level fighter with d8 hit dice strolling through the G series? Sure you can, but not very far through it, right?

Which really starts bringing this post full circle. I realized something wonderful about DCC combat. It is fast and deadly. Yes, the characters don't walk around with triple-digit hit points. Their damage potential though is off the charts compared to any other form of D&D, except maybe 4th with its semi-mystical "Powers".

A DCC Hill Giant has AC16 and an attack bonus of +15, doing 2d8+8.They average a crit about every 5 rounds, have 8d10 HP, and roll a d24 for attacks. Yikes! Oh, and their crit table is a thing of terror. So, what about our fighter? Well, he'll have 10d12 HP, not the d10 of AD&D, so that's a start. He can attack up to three times a round. One of those is with a d14, but that is mitigated by the attack die. His attack die will grant him a minimum of +5 to-hit and damage each round. It could be as high as +14, and remember: the single roll applies to all attacks and damage for the round. So, if he gets a +14, and assuming he hits all three times (a very safe assumption with a +14 to-hit also), he will do at least 45 points of damage. That is if none of the attacks crits and all his damage rolls come up 1's. Which brings us to crits. Our fighter's threat range is 17-20, which translates into a 20% chance for a crit each turn, or one every five turns, like his giant opponent. A 10th level fighters crits are the stuff of nightmares.

What does all this mean? It means lots and lots of blood and gore flying around from the start. It means that when the fight is joined the warriors need to wade in and handle business real quick. I haven't studied the monsters yet, but I suspect that each level is challenged similarly. So, the monsters are stone cold killers, more than capable of meting out enough damage to ruin a character in short order. But the characters are also capable of raining down death. A sound plan, when there's time to formulate one will be beneficial, and in some situations crucial. Along with an exit strategy. Always know which way to run. Survival is a matter of who hits hardest and fastest, or avoids getting hit at all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Look

If you're reading this, you already know. I completely revamped the look of the blog. Tim pointed out that it was difficult to read as I had it, what with the semi-transparent background. I made the background opaque, which made it easier to read, but didn't do anything for my aesthetic. I had been batting the idea around for a cleaner look, something more focused on the content. You know, more substance, less style. Of course, that puts the onus on me to provide the substance. Who's idea was this, anyway?

Anyway, if the new look moves you, please let me know. If it is easier or harder to read, which look you prefer (hopefully the new one, cause I really don't like changing it all that much). Please let me know, because even though I may have started this for me, it is more about us now, and we're all in this together.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Gushing About DCC

My reading continues. I finished the Combat chapter last night. Here are some more of my thoughts.

  • The equipment chapter is sparse, but I'm OK with it. It contains lists for weapons, ammo for missile weapons, armor, and mounts and related gear. Aside from that, there is a single table with precisely 24 items of a more general nature. They are all items that are useful, if not essential, to the successful dungeon crawler. There's a geek in me that likes extensive equipment lists, I have to be honest. But I can also appreciate the brevity of a list like this. After all, equipment lists are everywhere in this hobby, and with DCC's stated target audience, it is a certainty that anyone with this game has access to more than two or three extensive equipment lists. I know I do.
  • The writing style is direct without being terse. For example, in many games there is a multi-page section in the combat chapter dealing with odds and ends. Things like fire, falling, charging, shooting into a melee. These things are described in detail, either for those new to the hobby, or those with lawyerly aspirations. Not here.  All of these peripheral combat relations are given a grand total of a full column plus about half another. In that span you will find rules for: Ability Loss, Catching Fire, Charge, Dropping a Torch, Falling, Firing Into Melee, Grappling, Recovering Armor, Recovering Missile Weapons, Subdual Damage, and Unarmed Combat. All that in a column-and-a-half.
  • A lot has been said about the art and layout, so I won't rehash stuff you've probably already read. Both are superb. The thing I do want to say about it (two things, actually) is this: The fonts are outstanding. I'm a total font geek and the ones in this book are near perfect. Easy to read and definitely evocative of an old school experience. The layout is genius. Most of the time it is 2-column, but every now and then it slips out to single column to better wrap a particular art piece. Sometimes the text is part of the art,  as in the descriptions of the fighting orders under the Warrior class. So far, I haven't seen that effect used on anything "crunchy", it has been limited to parts that are implying the background.
  • Back to the writing style, for all it's brevity, it is not dull or lifeless. This is not a technical manual on fantasy gaming. It is a big ass set of guidelines for having a good time playing a gonzo fantasy game. The prose is loaded with dry, sarcastic humor (which is right up my alley). Several times I have laughed out loud while reading.

For my last item, I give you the paragraph on falling damage. I woke my wife up laughing last night as I read this.
Falling causes 1d6 for every 10' fallen. For every damage die that comes up a 6, the victim breaks a bone. For each broken bone, the victim permanently loses 1 point of Strength or Agility (player's choice). The affected limb, rib, or vertebrae never heals quite right and affects the character in some fashion from then on.
OK, we all know that one of the oft-lamented facts of D&D is that a character with enough hit points can jump from a known height without fear of the damage. If I have 83 HP, I can just step off that 50' cliff without a blink because the worst it will be is 30 points of damage. There have been all sorts of work-arounds and house rules for this problem. This particular solution is, to me, pure genius. There is no other rolls, no math, nothing else to consider. Roll the d6's and get on with it. Yet, it introduces a truly sobering random element. Go ahead Mr. 83HP, step off and let's see what happens. I just rolled 5d6 and came up with 19 points of damage, but guess what. One was a 6, so OUCH! That 50' jump was a little more serious than it first looked. In fact, I did that little experiment five times and had broken bones on all but the last time. One time had two breaks. That is a fairly elegant solution, I think.

There you have it. There is a lot more I am loving about this game, but that's all I am posting this time. I think the Mighty Deeds of Arms probably needs a post all to itself. Plus, I'll be digging into the magic chapter today. I am a little intimidated by it, but it is an exciting sort of intimidation, like a rock climber staring up at a formidable cliff face.

Speaking of which, there is one more thing I wanted to say. When I started playing D&D, when I wanted to try to introduce a friend to it, I always said something along the lines of "you can do whatever you want to". Somewhere along the way that sense of derring-do became lost in a mountain of rules designed to adjudicate "whatever you want to". Not just D&D, but pretty much every game out there. Games went from players saying "I want to try to . . ." to them saying "Can I . . .?" That's just no good. Nobody told Indiana Jones that a whip only does d3 damage and he shouldn't waste a proficiency slot on it. Nobody told him he couldn't snap his whip out and wrap it around a bunch of electrical wires and swing around to the room next door, in the pouring rain. He just did it. That's adventure. Trying the shit nobody else thinks of, or would dare even if they did think of it. Too many rules kills that spirit of adventure, that sense of "you can do whatever you want to". Simple rules, elegantly applied, will carry the day every time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DCC: 2nd Impressions

I've finished reading the classes, and I am really digging what they've done. In no particular order, here are some of the things that caught my eye:

  • Clerics seem like a unique class, rather than a sort of Fighter/Magic-user. They are mechanically tied to their deity (and not just with the lame ass areas of power or whatever it was called). There are real mechanical consequences for a cleric pissing off his deity, which I think is awesome. Equally awesome is that the clerics spells are fundamentally different from wizard spells because of the Disapproval mechanic. I have always thought that the cleric shouldn't memorize his prayers like a magic-user does his spells. It makes no sense for the cleric to wake up in the morning and think "Hmm, I think I might need to pray for some food later today. Better memorize the prayer for that. " I've always thought the cleric's spells should be more like very specific god-calls, and that's pretty much the way this game portrays them.
  • The warrior's Deeds die has been talked about a LOT, so I won't go into detail. I'll just say that I love the idea of the fighter being able to try anything. One of the things I detested about Feats was the notion that I had to give up ten things in order to do one. Not so with Deeds. Total flexibility and ease of use. Win-win.
  • Wizards and the magic system ROCK. I can totally see playing an Elric-type character under these rules. Wizards are tied to a patron, whether that patron is an evil god, an elemental force, or a demon from the Pit. They can also call directly on their patron for aid, but at a price. Blood and souls for my lord, Arioch!
  • The race-as-class demi-humans look interesting and, more importantly, fun. Too often they look like an exercise in tit-for-tat, and any real thought about them is an after-thought. These seem fun, but still balanced.
All in all, I am as excited by this game as I have been since I first played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. So far, this seems like a set of rules I could either play or run and never have to worry about being pumped up and ready for the next session. Everything I've read so far just screams FUN! I can't wait to read more.

Friday, October 12, 2012

DCC RPG Follow-up

So, I was going back through the beta, and was enjoying it more than I remember the first time. As I usually do, I started looking at reviews, forums, and general things related to the game. I love reviews, even if it is something I have owned and played for several years. A particular reviewer's insights may draw my attention to something I had missed altogether. But, I digress.

One of the forum topics I discovered described the differences between the beta and final release. Based on how much more I was enjoying the beta, and the changes reported in the final, I decided to go ahead and get the final release pdf. So, hopefully I'll have at least a couple of posts on my thoughts and impressions. It will probably be next week, but there is an off chance something will come out over the weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crumbs and Misconceptions

If you've read even a few of my posts, you'll be aware that I am a stream-of-consciousness writer. Well, it isn't just writing. Much of my life is spent following the whims of my free-wheeling right brain. The specific whim I am referring to in this post is downloading. Sometimes when I start reading reviews or forums, or pretty much anything game-related, I'll start following a winding path of references and comparisons. For example, if a review of ACKS happened to mention that there was a new printing of Swords & Wizardry Core, I would immediately go download it. That might, in turn, lead me to something else, and so on. I may not even pay any particular attention to those downloads at the time.

Sometimes, though, I will pay attention to one of these "tangent downloads". Many times when this happens I'll be a little more critical of it. I think it is because I'm skimming it in the midst of a serious lack of focus, and also because it may actually bear very little relation to whatever led me to it in the first place. If I'm on the trail of old school rules and download something that ends up looking more d20-ish, I'm likely to be unkind. Not necessarily because it is bad, but because it isn't what I thought it was going to be. Unfair, I know, but who said life was fair? Where is that written?

One such download was Dungeon Crawl Classics.I was motoring around the internet some 8 months ago and noticed that the free beta was only available for a short time longer. So, I zipped on over and downloaded that puppy. I was in no particular mood for it at the time, I just wanted it. I started skimming it, and initially like what I saw. Then, my mood started to sour. I made a couple of posts about it. My specific point of souring was with the "voice" in the section on the funnel.

Well, I'm not saying that my opinion has changed. What I am saying is that I recently rediscovered that download and I feel like I am ready to examine it in a more objective light. So, my opinion might change. At any rate, I'll be giving it another go, because it really does look like a fun system. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I'm a Copyleft Type of Guy

I identify with copyleft for a number of reasons. The main ones are monetary (I have several children and hobby money is painfully scarece), the challenge (it isn't nearly as easy as plopping down the money and having the thing), and philosophical.

My computers have run on Linux for at least 10 years, either in dual-boot, or for the last 3 years, 100% Linux. I use Openoffice for my office-type needs. I do my maps in GIMP. Any kind of vector drawing is either Inkscape or LibreCAD. I think you get the idea.

I'm sure you find all of this fascinating, but are still left wondering, "What does this have to do with a gaming blog?"

What it really comes down to is that I feel sort of guilty about working with a game that actually costs money. Guilty isn't precisely the right word, but I can't really pin down a better one. There is a graphic link in my right sidebar about supporting free and open gaming. I didn't put that there because I thought it looked cool, or I wanted to be some sort of "RPG Robin Hood" when it seemed like fun. I put it there because I believe in it.

Many years ago, when the hobby was booming (before CRPGs nearly killed it) I was like a lot of other geeks. I thought I could make a very comfortable living for myself if I could just get my ideas published. I "worked" feverishly on them, and guarded them very jealously. Well, I am almost 51 years old, and with the wisdom of age I now know that I will not get rich, or even financially secure, on the strength of my game ideas.

I have believed for a long time now that if I create something in my spare time, as my hobby, why not just share it? If I forego gainful employment in the pursuit of such things, of course I have the right to compensation, should I desire such. Bear in mind, this is my personal philosophy, not anything I would try to foist on someone else.

This is the reason that I prefer to work with games like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Dark Dungeons, and a variety of other clones that offer free downloads. I prefer the ones that offer everything, rather than hold back some, less essential, parts for the paid version. For example, the downloaded version of Dark Dungeons that I have is exactly the same as the print version I have from Lulu. I'm not busting on games that offer free versions with missing elements at all. The free download of LotFP is perfectly playable without the referee book or the tutorial, and the no-art Labyrinth Lord is complete and playable without the art. It is just the full, natural extension of my personal philosophy to be drawn to the ones that are completely, wholly free.

This is also the reason that games like Crypts & Things draw so much of my ire. I know it has an original setting and mechanical hooks into the setting. I have no issue with the publisher wishing to sell those aspects. What I don't like is that they took something free and charged for it. Specifically, Swords & Wizardry and Akrasia's house rules. Both are freely available. Maybe the publisher tweaked them in some ways, but the heavy lifting with already done. They should have at least made their rules available for free download.

Why do I bring this up? I really don't know, aside from the fact that this blog is about sharing my ideas and thoughts on our hobby. I know this is only tangentially related, so I hope you'll forgive me this indulgence.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Old World Careers in LotFP

I've had this simmering in the back of my head a couple of days now, and here is where I am with it. The Basic Career Classes represent broad-stroke background influences. They'll give a direct mechanical plug into the game. Specific basic careers will give benefits in more specific situations. Obviously, you'll need access to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for this to make sense. So, here we go . . .

Warrior         +1 to-hit regardless of class. This is a one-time bonus.
Ranger          +1 to Bushcraft
Rogue           +1 Additional skill point at 1st level
Academic     +1 to Language skill

I'll admit, these don't seem completely balanced to me. The Warrior is the most useful, especially for characters that aren't going to be fighters. The Rogue career would allow the specialist to place his bonus wherever desired, while the Ranger and Academic get very specific bonuses, which will only come into play in specific situations. Unfortunately, I couldn't really think of another way without getting into either stat bonuses, which would be too much for a background system, or adding skills just so the background system would have something to work on, which is rather self-serving. Ultimately, what that means to me is that the Basic Career Class should be randomly determined. Roll on the following table:

                      Human     Dwarf       Elf       Halfling
Warrior            1-3          1-4         1-3        1-3
Ranger             4-6          5-7         4-7        4-7
Rogue              7-9          8-10       8-9        8-10
Academic       10-12      11-12     10-12    11-12

The iconic Dwarf Trollslayer
When considering this table, bear in mind that this table does not limit or direct the player's choice of class in any way. This merely states the likelihood of the character having pursued a particular career prior to play. A player with a dwarf character who rolls Academic on this table could explain it by saying his character's family is a long line of craftsmen. for example.

As for the specific careers, they can be randomly determined, but I think the player should choose. The choice should be guided by common sense. The further removed from the character's class, the more the player should do to explain the choice. I would be very tempted to not attach any particular mechanics to them. Leave the player to find ways to use the specific career in play.

So, there it is. I tried to keep it mechanically simple. I just wanted a way to hook the characters into the setting. I'm interested in hearing any thoughts, but most especially from anyone that is into LotFP and the Old World.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Collected Thoughts on LotFP

I've read some more of the game (Grindhouse edition), and I have a few random thoughts I wanted to share, in no particular order.

  • I still love the way that fighters are the only class that ever get better at combat. Even though I posted about liking it, there was a snotty-nosed little whiner in me that was afraid to fully embrace the concept, just based on the fact that dwarves should be decent fighters. Then I read a little deeper and saw that there are such things as combat maneuvers. Some of them are pretty basic and anyone can do them. Some however, do require a certain combination of steely-eyed moxy and presumed combat experience from the character. In other words, they are restricted to classes that could be considered "decent fighters". Dwarves, for example. So, with a good Strength and judicious use of these maneuvers, certain classes can manage to fight fairly well.
  • Specialist (read: Thief) skills are known by all. That was pointed out in a comment to my previous post. Specialists, however, are the only ones that can actually get better at the quintessential skills. In a way it is like fighting and Fighters. Everybody can fight, but only Fighters can get better at it. What's more, the Specialist is useful at low levels, unlike the crippled Thief. While I'm not crazy about the name, this is a version of the Thief that I can get on-board with.
  • The power curve seems so delightfully low. I'm a huge fan of the notion that 10th level characters are near-legend, but that there are still things that they should fear. In LotFP all magic items are assumed to be rare and unique. With that base assumption, PCs aren't running around trying to decide which magic weapon they want to use today, and they aren't sporting an AC of -3 at 8th level. This in turn means that their foes don't have to possess a d8/d8/2d12 attack routine with an AC of -5 and a to-hit bonus of +11 in order to be a threat. All that self-serving power inflation is gone. Granted, the lower power curve is common to the older editions that LotFP is based on, but it is taken to another level in these rules.
  • Lastly, for this post, I love the way that the Old World from WFRP (1st edition) is such an awesome fit for this game. The implied setting is late Renaissance/early modern, and just dovetails perfectly into the Empire of the Old World. The game's take on alignments is a good fit with the Old World's views, as well. The careers even provide a ready-made framework for backgrounds. They also suggest possible bonuses, such as a Dwarven Trollslayer getting a combat bonus in certain, very specific, situations. Dwarves are decent fighters, after all. 
I'll leave you with one of my favorite color pieces from the Rules book. This one also happens to scream "Old World!" to me.

A Grim World of Weird Adventure

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Genuine "A Ha!" Moment

I have had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Lamentations of the Flame Princess since I first heard about it some years ago. I think it is bound up with my never-ending quest for S&S in my RPGs. Many of the elements I have blathered on about are present in LotFP. Magic is strange and a little scary, even for the practitioner. Any monster can be a terror, and most "monsters" are bad men. Real monsters are uncommon and unique. For some reason, though, the flirtation can never achieve critical mass, and after a brief reading session or two, I put LotFP back on the virtual shelf.

That changed yesterday when I learned something much more deep, meaningful, and immediate about the underlying design of the game. I don't even recall where I read about it now, but some article brought up LotFP classes. In the game, fighters are the only class that actually get better at hitting in combat. When I first discovered the game I thought that was an interesting idea, especially considering my fondness for the class.

It has always bothered me that every other class in any edition, iteration, or clone of D&D can do what the fighter does. They can all fight, and they all get better at it. Not as rapidly as the fighter, but they do improve. Now, before you start calling me a crybaby and pointing out how inconsequential the magic-user's combat advances are, let me flip this coin.

The flip side of it is that the fighter can't do anything the other classes can do. He can't cast spells at all, not even ineffectively or as a last resort. He can't pick locks, turn undead, or inspire his allies with a song. He can't do these things at all. It's not the same as other classes' ability to fight "but not as good at combat as the fighter". Nothing about the fighter says he can cast spells "but will never match a true magic user" or pick locks "but never be as accomplished as a real thief".

Ok, enough ranting, before I derail my own post. The point is, that was always something I loved about LotFP. Which brings us to the "A Ha!" moment. With the game's focus on bad men being the bread-and-butter type threat, even classes that don't get a lot of combat bonuses as they progress can hold their own. Common men, no matter how "bad" they are, are still common. The +1 attack bonus that non-fighters receive at 1st level should be enough of an advantage against these common foes.

The fighter really comes into his own when we start talking about the not-so-common foes. The creatures with high ACs and lots of HPs are where the fighter earns his reputation. When shit gets real, the fighter is the guy everybody wants to have on their side. He's the guy with the armor and the big ass weapon, along with the balls and skill to stand in and bring down the hurt. It actually smacks of Chainmail, wherein only Heroes and above could even enter into combat with Fantastical Creatures (ie anything not "man-type"). I don't need to tell anyone who reads my posts that I love this. In fact, I have sought (without success) to replicate this aspect many times.

Now that it has finally clicked with me just how much LotFP falls in line with what I want in a game, my relationship with the game may finally get to the next level.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mash-ups (aka, the Frankengame)

In this semi-well documented period of discontent I am suffering, a recurring theme has recurred. A common theme of a severe bout of ADD is that I fixate on something about a game or system I don't like. For example, I may start looking at Game X and be completely turned away by the fact that it calls for a d20 roll for initiative, when I am in a d6 mood. Stupid, I know, but this things are called irrational for a reason.

In a similar vein, I want the game to be self-contained, with everything I like (at least in principle) between its covers. For example, I have been re-examining Labyrinth Lord the last day or so. This, in turn, swept my attention to Dark Dungeons. One of my favorite parts of the RC, and thus DD, is the weapon mastery subsystem. So, I started thinking of bolting the system onto LL. Thus we approach the relevant conundrum.

In the best of times (meaning no ADD), I don't really like wholesale mash-ups. I read all the time about guys taking bits and pieces from here and there and combining them. I wish I was more of a mind to do that, but I'm not. For me, it seems like more trouble than it is worth, in the end. Especially as the referee. I have to remember that the system we're using at the table forks from the book. In the heat of a moment, I could miss the turn (depending on which bit and/or piece we're talking about).

Then, there's the issue with getting all the players up to speed on the changes. "We're playing LL, with the AEC, but I've added the weapon mastery from DD, so here's copies of the pertinent sections, along with the conversions necessary". Bleh.

By now, I'm sure you've realized this post is about as useless as tits on a boar hog. It's just a little gamer-therapy for yours truly. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Page Counts and Price Points

Now that I have accepted my Pathfinder mood, I am doing my usual routine. One of the things I like to do is look at reviews. Even if it is a game I already own, I scour reviews because a fresh perspective never hurts.

Two of the knocks against Pathfinder are the page count and the price point. For sake of reference the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is 576 pages and list on Amazon for $31.31 (new and free shipping). The core rulebook contains all the "rules", essentially a Player's Handbook and Gamemaster's Guide in a single volume. The page count has been deemed intimidating, the cost of entry described as prohibitive. I'll be the first to admit, I like rules that are lite, as well as light. I don't concern myself with my rulebook's ability to function as a bludgeoning weapon. Regardless of that sentiment, though, these two knocks are essentially unfair when Pathfinder is contrasted against its contemporaries.

If one were to purchase D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook and DM Guide from Amazon it would cost a total of $40 (plus almost $8 s/h). Those two volumes would weigh in at 640 pages. Oh, by the way, the price is for used copies.

For further comparison, I looked at 4th edition. The PHB and DMG were $25 combined (plus the $8 s/h) and cover 544 pages. Again, that is a used price.

I don't like to see games criticized inaccurately, even if they're games I don't like. If I'm going to pass up a game based on a review, I want it to be an honest review and assessment. In that light, I like to point out bullshit when I can, especially when it is a game I do like. If someone is going to pass on a game based on a review, I want it to at least be a factual review. I hate the thought of missing out on a great game because of somebody's hate-agenda.

Keeping It Real

Moderation is important. This is also true when it is applied to one's own traits. Myself, for example, I'm not overly moderated when it comes to seeing "the other side" of an issue or argument. I can empathize with both sides fairly evenly. What this leads to is indecision. Of specific import is that this can sometimes keep me from settling on a particular system to work with, thus fueling my ADD.

I have to look at things in an uncompromising light, though, and be real with myself about my actual gaming. To describe my gaming (actually sitting down with other gamers and playing) as "sporadic" would be generous. My wife plays, but doesn't like to put too much thought into it, and hates character generation. She would be much happier just being handed a pregen, but she is never happy with them. My teenage son likes playing, and we've made plans to play, but he's a teen. When you're a teen there is almost always something better to do. My teen daughter likes the idea of playing more than the act of playing. She wants all the cool stories with none of the in-between times.

A great deal of what motivates me to toward the OSR (apart from nostalgia and a genuine agreement with the rules-lite philosophy) is that it seems to be the most likely arena I could possibly get my family into. Character generation is simple, which makes my wife happy. It also doesn't cut into actual playing time, which, let's face it, doesn't need to be occupied with creating characters that may never get played again. It takes an act of congress to get us all together for a game once, let alone regularly. So, a session spent generating characters is just a waste of time.

Yet, the reality is that it has been about a year since I actually gamed. It was that Savage Worlds zombie game for my son and a friend. It's back there in the blog somewhere. Trying to tailor my gaming hobby-time around a potential game with my family that will likely never happen is an exercise in futility. I have talked myself out of a few game moods just because I convinced myself that it was a waste of time because I would never be able to get the family onboard with whatever game it was. Ironically though, they aren't getting onboard with any game, so I may as well be doing whatever the hell I want, anyway.

If it sounds like I'm frustrated with them, I'm not. I'm frustrated with myself for trying to see too many sides of an issue. I end up limiting my own options because I made the decision to keep gaming options open for folks that aren't going to be gaming anyway.

From now on, I am going to mess with whatever game I want to, because I want to. Who knows? Maybe this flirtation I am in with Pathfinder will become a rest-of-my-life obsession. Maybe if (and that's a big if) I can keep my focus, I can keep any rules set I settle on so transparent that I could get them to play it no matter how complicated it is to run. If I can be familiar enough with it to make it simple to play, I think I can reel them in.

There you have it. Another glimpse into the rabid mind of a life-long role player. It ain't always pretty.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blasphemy from My Month of Madness

I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I finally succumbed and now have the Pathfinder Beginner Box. In a way, I feel like a sell-out punk, but this angst ridden month of unfocused gaming energy has lead me to some interesting thoughts.

First and foremost, this little hobby of ours should be motivated by fun, not some slavish dedication to a certain style of play or particular rules set. I know that is an obvious statement, and it has been said before, a lot.

One thing my mind has been coming back to, though, is a more true sense of what it was really like "back in the day". I lived through "old school" when it was the only school. We can look back on it with nostalgia and fondness, and we can have an appreciation for the simple and unfettered way we played back then (which I do). Yet, back in '76 and '77, we were always on the look out for more options. More classes, more races, more spells, more magic items, more monsters, more, more, MORE. We didn't see sparse spell descriptions as a feature. Shit like that frustrated us to no end. It was a real downer to stop the game because someone used a spell that we didn't have committed to memory, take the time to find the spell's description in whatever supplement or obscure fanzine article, only to discover that the description left a lot of blanks to be filled.

I could go on, but I don't want to come off as bashing old school. I love my memories of it, and I love making new memories with the OSR. I only bring up those recollections to comfort my own guilty conscious. For over a year now I have been lauding the ethereal lightness of OSR play styles and rules sets, yet here I've gone and strode boldly into the Pathfinder camp.

The facts of the matter are simple enough, though. If you can manage to pare down the feat lists, tame the population of prestige classes, make the Conditions manageable, and make the nightmare of Attacks of Opportunity return to the Hell from which it sprang, you will find a rather robust, simple, and straightforward engine purring away at the core of Pathfinder. I know, I know, I've waxed poetic about the charm of individual subsystems, and I do love the ambiance they bring. There was a line in the Beginner Box Hero's Guide that struck me, though:

"That simple roll is your doorway to limitless fantasy adventure!" Now, that is a bold statement, my friends. Yet, it made me take notice of a potential virtue of a unified mechanic, a virtue I had not allowed myself to consider.

One of the great desires of most role players is for the system to fade into the background, to "get out of the way" and let the adventure happen. As OSR devotees that is something we always seek in our lightweight rules sets. Well, I have to admit, if the list of modifiers is kept manageable, such a universal mechanic should be largely transparent in play.

Ok, so I've rambled on about paring this and managing that. Yet, no edition of 3.x, whether it comes from WotC or Paizo, is known for its restraint. The base system is bloated and has more bells and whistles, switches and dials than the space station. It is a fine example of rules-lawyer excess, and it seems that no one (outside of some OSR titles, that is) is really interested in trimming the fat and trying to reveal the sleek animal underneath.

Which is where the Beginner Box comes into it. I haven't finished reading it yet, but I have gotten far enough in to be impressed. There isn't a list of feats longer than the Atlanta phone book. Spell descriptions are old-school simple. Take, for example:

Here is the description of the same spell from Men & Magic:
Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than
merely pick up thoughts.

And, finally, from the Pathfinder SRD:

School divination (scrying); Level bard 3, sorcerer/wizard 3, witch 3
Casting Time 10 minutes
Components V, S, F/DF (a small horn or a glass eye)
Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Effect magical sensor
Duration 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no

Clairaudience/clairvoyance creates an invisible magical sensor at a specific location that enables you to hear or see (your choice) almost as if you were there. You don't need line of sight or line of effect, but the locale must be known - a place familiar to you, or an obvious one. Once you have selected the locale, the sensor doesn't move, but you can rotate it in all directions to view the area as desired. Unlike other scrying spells, this spell does not allow magically or supernaturally enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, you see nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, you can see in a 10-foot radius around the center of the spell's effect. Clairaudience/clairvoyance functions only on the plane of existence you are currently occupying.

As you can see, the Beginner Box definitely has a grasp of keeping things simple. It is my sincerest wish that this commitment to simplification holds out. I would love for this set to be something I could be comfortable using as a go-to rather than an introductory experience. I've been intrigued by the notion of E6 style play for some time, but I just don't have the familiarity with Pathfinder to make the necessary cuts and mods. If the essential engine that drives Beginner Box has the necessary cuts and mods, that would be a wondrous thing indeed. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Month Later

If only my "one track moods" were as dedicated and persistent as my ADD, what a world that would be. Alas, this is not the case. The "in betweens" I've been afflicted with are still on me, I'm afraid. There's also the little issue of real life (you know, the place where gaming and all that goes with it is NOT of paramount importance). Ugh! What a way to end a summer. At least the Crimson Tide is back on the field.

Anyway, please accept my apologies for this non-post, I just wanted to say Hi and that I am still fairly useless as a gamer/blogger. At least until this doldrum passes. I do constantly pick things up, read them for a page or a couple of days, then put them right back down. I've even dabbled with Next. Blasphemy! There are some interesting ideas starting to come out of that. My initial reaction is that they are good ideas but that they don't necessarily need to be mechanical ideas.

Like Backgrounds. Some nifty ideas to personalize your character, and it's not the end of the world to provide some sort of bonus to something, but they got a little carried away. For example, the Soldier background. Fairly self-explanatory, right? If I were to use something similar, I might tell the player that it means whatever you think it might mean. You automatically keep your gear in good repair, you know how to make and strike a camp, you're used to long marches, and so on. In Next, though, it could mean those things. But whether it does or not, it definitely means you have three particular skills. Period. All soldiers have them.

In spite of the negative tone, I'm not bashing them. It's still in test, so hopefully they will instill some flexibility into the Backgrounds as the process grinds onward.

So, there it is. My first post in a month. Sorry you had to wait a month for this bit of drivel. Hopefully my attention will right itself soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

All Along the Watchtower

Alright, folks, here it is. The perfect D&D song. I love Celtic, New Age, Midnight Syndicate, and all that sort of thing for background ambiance as much as the next guy. This song though, is it.

This song is forever linked in a perfectly balanced trifecta with D&D and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The very first F&GM story I read began with the duo manning a watch on a city wall. Need I say more? From the very first strains of the guitar, my mind is taken to a decadent city-state, ripe for adventure. The music has a certain dancers-in-a-bazaar sound to it. The lyrics were D&D before there was D&D. I mean, they sound liked the boxed text that says "Read the following aloud to your players".

It just doesn't get anymore evocative than this.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Idea Briefly Described

I have only a very narrow window in time to shove this through, so it will be rather spartan.

I was thinking of porting the career system from Barbarians of Lemuria to OD&D. I'm not sure right now about the acquisition rate. I'm thinking maybe 2 at first level with a bonus based on prime requisite. Then perhaps a point for improvement every three levels, and an opportunity to add a completely new one every 5 levels.

The mechanic for it would be roll 3d6 vs the relevant attribute (roll under), based on the attempt. That way creative players can seek inventive ways to play to their characters' strengths. For example, the Huntsman career should grant some benefit in a survival situation, which may logically depend on CON, but a player could accurately argue that INT is as important. Later, when trying to stalk some prey, the same player could make further use of the career, this time relying on DEX.

The way I see it right now, each point in the career subtracts one from the roll. Unusual circumstances could force the player to roll 4d6, and keep the lower or higher of the three, depending on whether the circumstances were beneficial or detrimental, respectively.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Real A-Ha! Moment

I'm sitting here this morning sifting through some OD&D forums. I see one about combat and Fighting Capability. At some point hit points were mentioned, and for some reason my mind swung off onto a tangent. I'm glad it did, because it gave me a new perspective.

A long time ago I accepted the notion that hit points are not just blood. They are sweat, fatigue, luck, divine favor, and simply the will to continue the fight. We've all had to accept that, in some degree, in order to make peace with D&D, no matter which flavor we prefer. Well, I have a new visually stunning example of exactly how that works. Without further ado, I give you . . .

Remember the scene in the corridor of the castle, when our heroes were assaulted by Count Rugen's men? They rushed in and Indigo cut them down like the 1 HD pukes they were. One attack per man. Bam! Done.

Now, think back to the duel between Indigo and Westley. They never wounded each other (at least until Westley clocked Indigo with his pommel). Westley just wore him down. It took a while, of course, because they were both masters (with a decent number of hit points).

Remember, too, Indigo's duel with Count Rugen. He was stabbed, twice, but dug deep and kept going, because the fight was important to him. The wounds became inconsequential simply because of his will to fight, and his desire for revenge.

So, yeah, even though I've accepted the rationale behind hit points, these little a-ha moments that give me a fresh perspective on them are always welcomed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Without a Compass

I've been back into the LBBs the last few days. I've also been looking over the Traveller Little Black Books. Something struck me. Even though these games have their warts, they have definitely stood the test of time. You look at games like Pathfiner, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and now D&D Next, all of which made extensive use of pretty open beta testing. Legions of games with decades of experience helped locate and smooth the rough spots. The result is a finished game that is playtested and really put through its paces.

LBB D&D and Traveller did not enjoy such diverse and wide-spread playtesting. Yet they are far more robust systems. I think it is also important to remember that the teams at TSR and GDW didn't have 30+ years of RPG industry to help guide them. They were operating in a strange land without a compass. Yet the games they developed and produce are more robust and more tightly designed than most games that follow, even today in the age of open beta testing. Kudos, gentlemen, and thank you.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Selected Bit from the Old School Thread

This is a quote from the thread I linked to in my previous post. It is from an actual-play report, post #65:
There we met some elves (ie: killed three and Charmed two) . . .
This simple statement floored me. I have a vague memory of literally everything you meet as a character being a potential foe. Everything. I honestly can not remember the last time in my playing career that a statement like that would be viable. Drow are fair game, of course, but he said elves. How long has it been since elves could be just slain like any other wandering monster? I would wager that almost any DM running a game not in the old school style would balk at such a turn of events. I daresay that many DMs would actually penalize the players in some way, perhaps even forcing some alignment alteration on them.

I'm having a hard time really communicating my feelings on this. Sorry if it is confusing. If you get it, though, you get it. For me it is a really cool reminder of a really cool aspect of the old school way, an aspect I forgot about and abandoned long ago. I'm very happy to be reacquainted with it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Now THIS Is Old School

I ran across a thread over at It is written by a guy who had never experienced old school play before. I'm not sure what his past experience was, but he seems to have missed OD&D the first time around. Anyway, he has some actual-play posts along with his thoughts on old school play and OD&D. I always enjoy hearing about someone "seeing the light". It seems they spend a lot of time running from shit, which is the #1 survival skill in the old school. One thing I've found interesting is that his group has made some poor decisions, but they survive. Maybe he has a lenient referee, I don't know, but I prefer to think that OD&D characters aren't as fragile as later editions would have us think. This group survives its bad decisions, learns from the mistakes, and heads back into the dungeon. Great stuff.

This is the thread, if you want to check it out. It is very entertaining.

A Wacky Idea

Wacky, because compared to my other ideas, this one is pretty damn simple. My mind has wandered back to the LBBs, so that is what this is for, but usable with anything D&Dish.

A Magic-user can cast spells in two basic ways:

  1. From a scroll or spellbook, which results in the destruction of the scroll/spellbook entry
  2. From memory
As I recall, there are no set rules for how long it actually takes to memorize spells in OD&D, but we pretty much go with the 15 minutes per spell level formula. So, scrolls notwithstanding, if you find yourself needing to cast a spell you don't have memorized, your choices are to take the time to memorize it (IF the referee allows it based on how long since you last rested) or you can cast it direct from the spellbook, but lose the spell. I have another idea.

The Magic-user can "ritual cast" direct from the spellbook, without losing the spell. It takes 1 minute per spell level (I use the 10-second combat round, adjust that casting time to best suit your combat round). Casting in this way still uses a spell slot of the appropriate level, so if you suddenly feel the need to cast Light but have already used all your 1st level spells, too bad.

Obviously, this is not something to be used in combat when you discover that your Fireballs are useless and what you really need is a Lightning Bolt. It does off the Magic-user a little versatility outside combat, though. In my estimation that helps keep the "mysterious wizard" from simply being artillery.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Random Thoughts (Because All My Thoughts Are Random Lately)

So, here we are in Day Whatever of my undefined mood. There is nothing good about it, but there are differences in how I think. For example, when I'm not particularly focused, I tend to think in the abstract/big picture sense. Case in point . . .

OD&D Classes

Being as how Mr. Gygax went to such lengths to stress that the LBBs were guidelines, isn't it possible that the classes given were: (1) Examples (2) Starting points (3) Some barebones to get things rolling? I know I have pontificated about using just the basic three classes. I was thinking about the Greyhawk supplement and the new classes in Strategic Review. It really occurred to me that the main three are starting points, they are the basic classes, the chassis, if you will. Look at all the variants and sub-classes of the fighter. It could be argued that they are attempts to power-up the fighter, but I don't buy that for two reasons: #1 - Why not just power-up the fighter? Why do you have to cook up a sub-type? #2 - The variants all have limits imposed upon them.

That bring me to another thought: How many referees out there stick to the book when it comes to limitations placed on classes? If a player wants to play a ranger, but his stat rolls don't quite measure up, do you fudge things in some way? I always did, mainly because players have always been in short supply and I didn't want to jeopardize the campaign before it even started by being inflexible during character generation. Now that I think about it, though, it's more than a little ridiculous. I'm from the time of Gygaxian Naturalism and my campaign design tends to bear that out. So, here I am trying to detail a consistent and internally logical world, but throwing consistency and logic out the window when it came time to roll up characters.

It is stated here and there in the books that certain classes are rare or uncommon. The rules support this notion mechanically by imposing restrictions on the classes. These restrictions make the class in question either more difficult for a character to take, and/or provide an undesirable counterpoint for the player to contend with. For example, the Paladin. This class requires a Charisma of 17 before it can even be taken. A 17 is a tall order, even if you roll 4d6, keep the best three and arrange to taste. Not to mention that the paladin is a fighter sub-class, so that 17 would be better served applied to Strength or Constitution. Then there's the fact that the paladin must be Lawful (we're talking Greyhawk here), and only associate with Neutral characters for brief, specific missions. If these restrictions are enforced, paladins would indeed be rare, because it would take a certain player and campaign to take the class.

Most of the classes outside the main three have such restrictions, that if ignored, can lead to them overshadowing the originals. I think that is the real strength of the original three classes; their versatility. If you do ignore the restrictions on the sub-classes and allow them to be more freely selectable it kind of wrecks the internal structure that supports the relative power balance between the classes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A New Spin on Magic: Pt 3

An excellent point was brought up in comments on Pt 1, concerning Scribes banking a bunch of scrolls, presumably during downtime. I have thought about it and have some ideas. I want to put them in a new post, though, so the ideas, and comments on them, have their own "home".

Under this idea scrolls are two things: not cheap, and fragile.

Ink is Not Cheap

Encoding scrolls requires special ink. This is an abstract concept, which individual referees may make as detailed as desired. I intend to keep it fairly abstract, as I present it here. It costs 100 gp per level of spell for the ink. Anytime a Scribe is in a town or larger, he may purchase ink simply by player declaration. The player notes how many gold pieces were spent on ink, and that is that. Of course, ink may also be found as treasure, which could be significant at lower levels or further from civilization.

Scrolls Are Fragile

Scrolls may be carried in reasonably durable containers, but they are bulky and make getting the desired scroll in play more difficult. At best, a container could provide a saving throw bonus to any scrolls in it, based on hazard. Unprotected scrolls would be subject to destruction from the most basic of hazards, especially water. Rain, creek/river crossings, or even water based attacks targetting the Scribe (they're not hard to spot) can ruin exposed scrolls. Of course, fire spells disaster for scrolls, as does acid, or anything with that form of attack, such as green slime.

Oops, I Meant to Grab the Other One

Finally, a large number of scrolls will make it increasingly difficult to grab just the right one. Of course, this being old-school play, clever players will describe in detail how the scrolls are tabbed and organized. Yet, in the heat of the moment there should always be some chance of grabbing the wrong scroll. I think that's how it should be handled, too. Not with some sort of fixed amount of time to fish it out, but with a chance to grab the desired scroll. That can then be modified by how they're carried and organized.

Limit the Number of Spells per Scroll

This would be based on level. Say, something like the maximum number of levels spells they can put on one scroll is equal to their level? That keeps the other limits above in play, but isn't too restrictive. Besides, with the fragility of the medium, would a Scribe put too many spells on one scroll anyway? All your eggs in one basket and all that.

These are just some ideas to offset players taking a week or so of game time to craft a library of spells. I'd like to hear others.

And Another Thing

In a similar vein, I think beginning Scribe characters should be allowed to start with one scroll of each spell they know.

A new Spin on Magic Pt 2

Encoding Scrolls

Scribes may only encode a limited number of scrolls per day. Use the Number of Spells by Level, from Table 9: Magic-User Advancement (pg 13). It requires 30 minutes per spell level to encode the spells.
At lower levels the maximum number of spells per day obviously doesn't jive with how long it actually takes to encode the scroll. I apologize if this seems jarring. The plain truth is that if it is represented as taking the entire day to encode the spell slots available, then the class is screwed. It would take an entire day for a 1st level Scribe to encode a Sleep scroll, one turn to use it, then another day to encode another one. Yuck. The other side of it was to just make it a flat number of minutes per spell level and leave it at that. Scribes would be overpowered like that. The same 1st level Scribe could spend the same day encoding Sleep, except he would have a brace of Sleep scrolls at the end of the day. This is my compromise, which I narrate by saying that as the Scribe advances, his mental discipline and ability to concentrate and encode for longer periods of time.
By the way, the player can pretty much call the spells in his spellbook whatever he wants. As long as it is known that Silver Tongued Devil is actually Charm Person everybody will be happy.

Pronouncing Scrolls
This is pretty much the easy part.  Unless it is an invented spell, the spells are the same as in S&W Core. Some may not be particularly suited to scroll work, that is left to individual referees to determine. In any event, spells that are pronounced from scrolls have the same range, duration, etc. They are cast at the level of the Scribe who encoded them.

Other Considerations

  • Scribes may not cast spells directly from their spellbooks. The information in the book describes how to encapsulate magical power in a scroll. It is not actually a spell. Likewise, spells encoded to scrolls may not be transcribed into the Scribe's spellbook.
  • Scribes begin with 3 or 4 spells in their spellbooks. Any other spells must be acquired through play. They do not automatically add spells as they gain levels.
  • All other class information, such as HD, XP, and so forth, is identical to the Magic-User.

That's it for now. I'm sure you noticed that I didn't address clerical magic. I'm not sure how it fits into this paradigm. I'm thinking on it, though. I'm also thinking of something similar, except with potions. I've run into some potential issues with that one already, and it's still in the conceptual stages. I think it could be neat if I can work it out, though.

A New Spin on Magic Pt 1

First things first. This is not a "new" magic system. Been there, done that. It's a fun exercise, but this is different. I'm trying to describe a new way of looking at the mechanics. It's still the same system under the hood. I'm still using Spells Usable per Day, for example, just putting a different spin on it.

One more thing: this is written with Swords & Wizardry Core, 4th Printing in mind, although it is usable with any similar rules set.

Anyway, here goes . . .

Magic-users are called Scribes. Scribes know the ancient languages of magic, called the Eldritch Tongues, and use them to encode magical power and intent into scrolls.  This is the only way magic is practiced. Technically speaking, anyone who knows at least one of the Eldritch Tongues can write spells to scrolls (known as encoding), and cast spells written to scrolls (known as pronouncing). The reality of such an endeavor is an entirely different matter.

The Eldritch Tongues

The Eldritch Tongues are all dead languages. They are very difficult to learn due to their intricate nature. Many subtle nuances of inflection and tone are required to control magical energies. The written language required to communicate such intricacies demands the utmost dedication from one who would master it. Scribes sacrifice the youth of their lives to just such an undertaking. Mastery of the lost languages of magic is not for the dabbler or casual student.

Scribes may use their "Max. Number of Languages" (pg7) to select Eldritch Tongues. Their are eight Eldritch Tongues, so no Scribe will know them all without some form of magical aid. However, knowing only one is enough to encode scrolls, and pronounce any scroll encoded in the selected tongue. Knowing a variety of tongues is useful for pronouncing scrolls discovered in musty libraries and lost temples. Such broad knowledge gives the scribe versatility.

Other classes may select one Eldritch Tongue at character creation. It requires four of their available language slots to do so. Such a character may pronounce any scroll encoded in the tongue they know. They may also encode scrolls in their chosen tongue, however time and material costs are both doubled. It is worth noting that locating spells to encode could be problematic (see Spellbooks below).

Table: The Eldritch Tongues (use d8 to randomize scrolls found in treasure)
(1) Ohlish
(2) Turlian
(3) Vesh
(4) K'Kiri
(5) Molesti
(6) Gazeeri
(7) Banarrian
(8) Hullish

It is possible that certain tongues are better suited to some spells than others. This is left for individual referees to determine.


Scribes maintain books of spells, from which to encode their scrolls. They are very protective and secretive about their spellbooks. They never allow other scribes to "thumb through" their spellbooks. They do not share spells. Rarely, and for great cost, will they sell one of their spells. Those strictures apply to other scribes. Scribes will never, under any circumstances, allow spells or spellbooks be in the possession of non-scribes. They will not sell, trade, or otherwise sanction such. If they come to know of a non-scribe in possession of spells or a spellbook they will pursue any avenue necessary to recover it.

The scribe must have the spellbook at hand in order to encode a scroll. The spell formula are far too complicated to memorize fully. A scribe without a spellbook is completely unable to encode scrolls. Spellbooks are also written in the Eldritch Tongues, so any spellbook found as treasure must be written a tongue known to the scribe to be of use.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Different Approach to Magic

DISCLAIMER: I'm not sure I would ever do something like this. It's just an idea I'm batting around.

So, I'm still in my gaming funk, unable to settle my mind on a system long enough to get anything done. While I'm in this state I do have the occasional idea, I just can't stay focused long enough to develop it to any degree. Which is where this idea comes in.

I was thinking about some of the references to "formulas" in the First Fantasy Campaign. I'm not entirely sure how Mr. Arneson implemented this idea. Thinking about it led me to the idea that spells aren't cast in the traditional sense. Instead, they are cast from scrolls. Magic-users scribe their spells onto scrolls, to be used later. My premise is that casting takes too long to be done in the context of the game session. The whys are undetermined, but could be that magic is too powerful to be used in more than small, carefully controlled amounts. Whatever. The spell can be released from the scroll in a single round, though, since the spell and magic to power it are crafted into the scroll.

One of the limiting factors would be language. The scrolls would have to be written in one of several specific, and dead, languages. I'm thinking eight languages because it is a decent enough number to work with, and easy enough to randomize. That would give an extra, and more immediate, meaning to the Bonus Languages column under Intelligence.

Potions would get a similar treatment, allowing a different sort of thing. Maybe some spells are better suited, or even restricted, to one medium or another.

Obviously, I don't have the mechanical details very well thought out at this point. This is an idea I like, though, and this doldrum I am in has made it difficult to work up enough enthusiasm to post about anything. So, here it is, an idea in the rough. Hopefully I can put some meat on the bones as the week goes on.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Simplicity and the Gentle Power Curve

Disclaimer (for those who don't already know): I'm a Fighter man.

I've been ruminating the last few days on a couple of things. At first they didn't seem related, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw a connection. My frantic ADD swing has led me back to a few of my old favorites. These are games that I know well from repeated readings over the last number of years, or the fact that I've used them. If I were to try to use them now, though, I would have to teach my wife and kids these games. They already know old-school style D&D, but one of these other systems would be a from-the-ground-up proposition. Probably not a very fun one, either.

But isn't that why we game in the first place? Fun? Maybe in a different time, and with a different group of players, it was fun to learn and try new systems. In my here and now, though, that's not where it's at. However, it isn't a case of D&D being fun because it is the only game in my house. It's not fun due to a lack of choice. It's fun because it is fun. Even all the way back to the LBBs (I would argue especially in the LBBs), it is a very tight system. All the parts work well together, and it isn't until "improvements" were made that problems started to develop. In its most simple state, D&D is still an excellent engine for fantasy gaming.

That simplicity began to collapse as the power curve started going up. I have been guilty (in these very posts) of trying to make Fighters more powerful so they are more on par with other classes, Magic-users especially. What I should have been doing was lowering the M-U's power curve, not raising the Fighter's. (I do believe that, as a playable class, Fighters do need more than what is offered in the LBBs. The class offers little fun to the player. A Fighter in the LBBs gets a HD each level and gets 10% better at hitting opponents every 3 levels. Not a lot to get excited about. But, I digress.)

Monster HD go up in response to more powerful spells and class abilities. Monster abilities, even if it is just better damage, go up to keep the monsters a challenge. Our simple little power curve became a self-perpetuating spiral of one-upsmanship.

The sweet spot

I've been reading Adventurer Conqueror King again, and in light of power curves and simplicity, I have to say, it hits a sweet spot. The core engine is simple and elegant, because it doesn't stray too far from the founding principles. The characters are simple archetypes, but there are customization options to keep things interesting. They don't wreck the power curve, though. ACKS has an inherent interest in maintaining the power curve.

That interest is, of course, the endgame. For a fully realized endgame to work there has to be two things going on: a steady progression toward the goal, and relative power levels once the endgame is reached. Considering these points individually:

Steady progression is achieved by concise rules supporting henchmen so that players (not necessarily characters, because it is the players that are interfacing with the systems) can develop an understanding and experience with the building blocks of the domain systems. Learning to handle henchmen, hireling, and eventually mercenaries, are vital components of domain management. Simply waiting until the character reaches Name level and opening the doors to Castle Depo doesn't really work.

The above point is crucial to getting to the endgame. This point is paramount for operating in the endgame. The characters have to be somewhat balanced at the highest level. The game tops out at 14th level for all characters. If one 14th level character is clearly superior, then the endgame collapses under the weight of the imbalance. Either nobody will want to play through to the endgame, or everyone will want to play the unbalanced class so they can dominate the endgame.

Ok, that's another digression, but it was to make a point. The point is that ACKS attempts to have balanced classes from the outset and keep them balanced. That balance occurs along a fairly modest power curve. The modest power curve keeps things simple: player choices matter in the scheme of things, combats are shorter, creative solutions to problems are not only encouraged, they are necessary because there isn't some uber-feat/ability for dealing with the challenge. Simplicity is King.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A DragonQuest Buffet

Some random thoughts about DragonQuest, in no particular order.

The Cover
I love the cover. It's not fancy, especially by current standards. It captures the spirit of the game very well, though. There's not a lot of fluff. A muscle-bound warrior, sword in one hand, severed dragon head in the other. What do you suppose this game could be about?

It should be pretty well known to anyone who reads this blog that I am not a huge fan of skill-based systems. I like the idea, but I can't stand endless skill lists and the fact that it limits players. It looks great on paper. At character creation the world is at your feet. "Any character can do anything!" Once play starts, though, your character can't do anything. He can only do the skills on his sheet. Granted, some games make it tolerable to try thing you don't have the skill for, but it is just human nature to avoid things that aren't on your sheet.

Anyway, some game systems offer a sort of class/skill hybrid. The Fantasy Trip is one, and DragonQuest is another. I know there are more, but citing these two is enough. In those systems there each overarching "skill" encompasses several actions. That is a decent enough concept on its own. What I really like about it, and what I think it brings to the concept of skill based characters, is flexibility.

Take GURPS, for example. Your character concept is a S&S thief. Your character can have the equivalent of Lock Picking, Stealth, Disarming Traps, and Picking Pockets. Each are individual skills, developed independently of each other. The same character concept in TFT or DQ would have Thief (or whatever it is called). It grants thiefly skills. More importantly, though, now in the back of your mind, your character is a thief. Maybe I'm overstating it, but I really believe that the proper mindset can really improve play, and fun, at the table. As GM, I would be very likely to allow the DQ thief to try thiefly things not specifically covered by the intrinsic sub-skills covered by the profession. As player, I would feel more prone to think outside the box and not feel so limited by a narrow set of skills.

DragonQuest is tactical and crunchy as gravel. It has hex grids and facing. Facing! I'm a wargamer who got into roleplaying. Hex grids and facing are biscuits and gravy to me. I know they are not everyone's horn of mead, though. So, don't use them. The earth won't spin off its axis if you play the combat without them. Just play it with scratch paper to mark positions like we always have. Bottom line: Don't let DQ's tactical combat keep you from enjoying a great game. It is much easier to take a tactical game into the Theater of the Mind than it is to add tactical detail to an imagination-driven game.

That's all for now. I'm sure there will be more.