Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best and worst of 2009

At the end of 2009, I have taken a few moments out of the family holidays to summarize the year. Tomorrow I will post my vision for the new one. Here we go.

Worst all categories – Outlaw Press
Thinking back on 2009, nothing stand out as clear as the scandal of Outlaw Press. While D&D have seen some support for multiple editions all through the years, T&T have fallen to the wayside since the late eighties. One fan publisher have, using POD technology, been fanning the flame and been publishing a steady stream of adventures and rules. You can see that for us T&T fans, that fan publisher was our pride and a focus of interest and fan writing. Then it turns out that James Shipman, the publisher in question, had stolen materials he published, and reprinted without permission. Also, nobody knows where that art he used came from, and it sure have been stolen, by Shipman or his source. Shipman do have some bad habits so who knows?

Hopefully it will end up in court finally and some sort of restitution made. It's not exactly strange that all that pride and focus of interest have soured, and while the feelings are still strong they have changed flavour. I could strangle that guy! But this is for the lawyers to take care of, and I only hope lack of funds wont stop justice from being served.

Worst game experience – Primetime Adventures
Now, this is an odd one. PTA is not a bad game per se, but it is my worst game experience this last year. The mechanics are well crafted to emulate the way a story evolves in a tv series. But, if you had strong Traits that tied your character into conflicts and relations with the other characters, by necessity all Traits would be used in every scene and conflict. It made the Traits mechanically useless and all conflicts always had the same chance of success. Was this really the intention?

But, what make PTA my worst game is that I played it for social reasons and not because I liked the game. I hated it, but wanted to hang out with my friends, and I really wanted to have a game group to play with. If you wonder why one of your players is kind of vacant and don't seem to really engage with the group, check to see if he might be hanging around for social reasons and would prefer to play another game. I got to play another game later on.

Saddest news – Dave Arneson (and way to many more)
Since our hobby is fairly young, we still have our founding fathers among us. Or at least a few of them. A sad effect is that the hobby have left the toddler stage, and some of the Great Old Ones are getting old. While the death of Dave Arneson inspired me to share my love, hopefully other more joyful happenings can inspire us to share as well.

Best Game – T&T
For me this was the year when Tunnels & Trolls became my gaming focus. Having read about old school gaming, about Megadungeons and how it was the hobby was shaped in those elder days of yore I managed to get some people together to actually play. That, and the fact that the game works so well for what it is intended to do, won it a place in my heart as a favourite.

Best Adventure – The Fane of St Toad
While the death of Dave Arneson was a blow to us all, the memorial session of Mike Curtis' froggy adventure The Fane of St Toad was very emotional for me, but in a good way. It was a victory for T&T as a simple a quick system for on the fly conversion of adventurers written for other games, and a victory of mood and glorious combat against insurmountable odds. Exploding frogs, who can resist that? Thanks Mike! Thanks Dave!

Best news – the OSR publishing effort
Once the hobby was all about making shit up. Then the idea got lodged in the brains of people, as witnessed by Tim Kask, that the company they bought the game from had better ideas than they. Nothing exactly helped people get out of that mindset when Gary Gygax wrote his rants about the true way to play D&D. When I first laid eyes on Pegasus Magazine, and other publications from Judges Guild, I loved them all. That cheap newsprint and the oozing feeling of hobbyists pouring out their love for the game reached that soft spot. Seeing that going on once again, this time as a pdf freebie online, a cheap booklet available from Lulu or somebody's webpage or blog is heartwarming. The publishing efforts in the OSR is one of my best memories of 2009.

Best Game supplement – Fight On! Magazine
Having said that, Fight On! Magazine must be mentioned as a inheritor of Pegasus or Dungeoneer. That rag have the same kind of wild and crazy mix of just about anything. I love it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I don't know how many of you are reading blog today. Now I'm off to be with family and friends and will probably be kind of quiet a few days.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays for all my friends in the blogosphere! Eat food, have fun and try to play some games. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mixing two flavour that don't match? - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

I have known about this line a while, since I read the Daily Illuminator, but I haven't investigated what it meant. Until now.

There's a line for GURPS called GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, and it's supposed to be a way to do dungeon crawling with GURPS. This sounds like everything but a match made in heaven. When I last made a character for GURPS, it took ages to shuffle points around and look through long lists of Advantages and Disadvantages. Can you really do a dungeon crawl that way? With traps? With puzzles and really dangerous monsters? With a real threat of a TPK?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that a dungeon crawl has to be a meatgrinder, but if I ran a game where the experience of making a character was that tiring, I'd be tempted to cuddle the players. That is what I think sounds like a recepie for a boring game. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it just works. Maybe.

It makes me wonder why crazy I am that am talking about Ars Magica, DragonQuest and Mythic Europe. Something odd in the water, maybe?

Fantastic imagery


A small band of heroes, on a montain ledge looking down a wooden vale. Verdant, lush and inviting as the vale is, the band looks down in apprehension, seeing that enormous boot print in that vally, where trees and shrubs have almost oblitterated that giant shape.


A subterran chamber, with carved stone arches and walk ways. Looking down from a small hidden entrace we see an spheroid object in the centre of that hot and humid cave. Multitude of creatures, with cloaks and shawls, assemble around the object, some on walk ways aproaching it reverently, listening to the throbbing beat echoing in the chamber.


A black and inky liquid surface, oily and unwholesome. Ripples of obscene regularity marr the mirrorlike surface as a craft of decrepid state glide towards out heroes. The cloaked figure standing in the boat beckons, showing a hand of silver pointing towards a collection of spires and towers on the far shore.

I really wish I could get some time to get those visions of mine down on paper. They freak me out. Just imagine those scenes in a scenario. Would you like to read/play/buy it? I would.

I'd love to make those scenes come alive in a game. I'll write this Christmas, be sure of it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ars Magica and DragonQuest, same kind of fantasy?

I today sat down and read through the "Fourth book of DragonQuest" AKA Arcane Wisdom. It once again brought forth the feeling I had when I read the 2nd ed rulebook, that this game is made for some more faery tale fantasy. Don't ask me why, but for some reason I get the vision of dark woods, gingerbread houses and monstrous animals when I read DQ.

One reason I once liked Ars Magica was Mythic Europe. The idea of a mediaval Europe where all the legends were true sounded like an excellent world of adventure. Having generated dozens of characters for everything from 2nd to 5th ed, and playing a few sessions I realized that Ars Magica is a game that bores me to tears. It sounds good but is unfun. I still like the idea, though.

I wonder if DragonQuest could be a game that could do Mythic Europe justice? Hmmm.

Trollgod's Party

Last night Ken St Andre hosted a party at his site Trollhalla. It was interesting to sit by your computer, sipping a beer and chatting with your friends and listening to music. Even though none of us where in the same room as anyone else, we had a very good party. It was fun and games and gifts were exchanged. Not only that, but new and unique T&T material was posted for free!

I strongly urge anyone who like to hang out with Ken and other creative and talented individuals to join. You just tell Trollgod you want in, and there you go! While trolls like darkness I must confess that for me the Longest Night Party was as much celebrating that it will now get lighter again. I don't mind the snow, or the cold, but the darkness really gets to me. Longest Night is over, cheers!

Navigating caves

As if he had been reading my mind, Chgowiz posted about describing caves this Friday. I've been thinking of that subject since I once again started to look closer at dungeons as environments for adventure. Just like city maps, which I have posted about before, I find cave maps hard to use.

One of the things dungeons do, as compared to the wilderness or city, is to contain the adventure and funnel the delvers along a path. There might be forks in that path and total freedom in moving about, but nobody will go off on a tangent you as DM is totally caught out by. Using that picture, a dungeon can be considered a flowchart of the possibilities in that dungeon delve. So, what difference does it make if the dungeon is of carved stone, roughly hewn rock or blue cheese?

I remember when I first read the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide for AD&D1, how the underworld suddenly became much dirtier, wetter and muddier than it was in my mind's eye up until then. While it might be realistic, it's not always desirable. Now a few days after reading what Chgowiz wrote about how he found it hard to describe caves, I wonder what they bring to the table that classic 10' corridors don't. Since I have had a hard time with those irregularly shaped locations myself I think that maybe all that muck might be a reason to use them after all.

The reason I find caves hard to use, is that if you describe a irregularly shaped room it is very hard to give a mental picture that even remotely resembles how that cave looks on the map. Like Chgowiz summarized it, there are a few ways to do it, and the only one that gives a good enough picture to make the nooks and crannies mean anything are when you draw for the players. If there is a set of stone blocks that are significant because there's a secret tunnel behind a wall of mud, you either describe them clearly and give a big honking hint they are significant, or you draw it out. Personally I've drawn the map on the battlemap, but it takes time and is really work that should be done by the players.

Can you tell my mind is split about this? I like to have a naturalistic spellunking experience, but, I grumble about those naturalistic details since they mess things up and take time. If we go back for a second to DSG, I think that maybe the best way to do it is to describe the rooms sketchily and and let the dice and game mechanics do the work, instead of having the player tell me where they tap or seek. The muck and mud can be environmental "dungeon dressing" and maybe that will give it enough solidity to feel real, without too many rules to slow it down. Will I learn to love the caves? Who knows, but I do feel tempted to try to DM S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth which have been gathering dust on my shelf a while now. Nothing but caves. Anyone want to play AD&D?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - A Guest Blog on spells and Trollworld!

Today I present to you my guest blogger! Our guest, my friend Paul from Trollhalla, have done a funny and perceptive look at how a spell list can tell us things about the world of the game.  Paul is good at that kind of things and I hope you like it, I sure did! Enjoy!

When I was introduced to D&D, 33 very odd years ago, I immediately fell in love with role playing games. I was less than enthused about the D&D rules. In particular, escalating hit points, armor as evasion (armor class), experience points for gold, and the bizarre Jack Vance slotted magic system (which no one I knew ever actually played) all BOTHERED me. Soon enough, I found my way down the crunchy path through "Chivalry and Sorcery", "The Fantasy Trip", and "RuneQuest".

When I first encountered "Tunnels and Trolls", in the guise of "Monsters! Monsters!", it stuck me as utterly superior to D&D, but a bit too simplistic for my tastes as they ran at the time. Also, the spell names put me off. I had (and have) no problem with silliness in gaming, but hearing someone shout, "Take THAT, you fiend!" during what was supposed to be a heavy dramatic moment made my teeth hurt.

There was also the looseness of the T&T rules. I have since learned that this was a result of the fact that game designer and Trollgod Ken St. Andre is a master improviser who likes to work with loose frameworks and fly by the seat of his pants. This is in marked contrast to me; I am first rate at analysis, cross-referencing, interpolation, and extrapolation, but have only slightly more improvisational ability than a chunk of concrete. I am an effective game master only so long as I know the material inside out; as soon as the  characters ask a question I can't answer, or do something I have not prepared for in advance, the wheels come off of the wagon.

Now, when our host, whom I know best as "Korrraq", of Trollhalla, asked me to do a guest blog in which I analyzed some of the spells in T&T 7.5, I accepted, and then wondered just what I should do next. Korrraq had made the offer largely on my contributions to a discussion on the Trollbridge regarding the "Dura-Spell Battery" spell in which I pointed out (and nominally described) more than 200 permutations that still conformed to the rules. (I had hoped to reach some kind of consensus, but found that there were at least as many conflicting pre-conceptions as there were participants in the discussion.)

I considered posting my fairly extensive "Spell List Gripe List", but decided that would really only point out that the rules were kind of loose, which is already common knowledge. I could complain about the spell names, or some of the weirder spells (Really. Why would ANYONE actually waste time learning, "That's a Natty Beard"? (OK, a small variation on the spell could result in opening the Khazan office of "Hair Club for Men"...)), but that would serve little point.

One thing that really interests me, though, and I suspect might interest many of Korrraq's readers, is the impact that the spell list has on the shape of Trollworld. Therefore, after far too much introduction, I give you a discussion on The Wizard's Guild, Spell Pricing, Teacher, and Soul Mastery.

First, it should be pointed out that Teacher has mutated significantly since 5th ed. The earlier version could ONLY be used to teach spells to rogues; the current version can only be used to teach spells to wizards (and paragons, but since paragons show up less than one every 2000 characters, I don't worry about them much). This is a big deal, on two counts. First, it means there is now NO means in the rules for rogues to learn new spells, and second, it means that there MUST be a significant black market in spells. (For certain peculiar values of "must", as will be discussed below.)

The rules tell us that the Wizard's Guild produces wizards and teaches them spells at fairly exorbitant prices. It is, for the most part, an out of sight, out of mind, background organization. Except... The new version of the Teacher spell means that wizards will, for the most part, trade spells to each other in exchange for other spells, or food, or magic items, or whatever they happen to want.

This is where Spirit Mastery comes into the picture. (Once again, an historical aside is relevant: This spell existed in its current form in 5th ed. as Yassa-Massa, a name that was apparently sacrificed to the gods of political correctness; it also exists in slightly watered down form in the Codex Incantatem (included in the 7.5 rules) as Yes, Master.) Regardless of how you approach this spell, it is the cheapest and most effective mind rape spell that I know of in the entire broad spectrum of RPGs. With a very small amount of creativity, one can easily extrapolate a society in which EVERYONE of any consequence is a slave of a wizard, and the wizards themselves are slaves within an ascending hierarchy. Or, at least, until the wizards learn the 3rd level Dis-Spell, which of course would be tightly controlled, at least until a given wizard gets to 5th level, and starts creating his own spells, and... There is also the fact that, as characters progress, they will eventually be strong enough to break free of a Spirit Mastery that was cast on them as neophytes. Maybe.

The image that forms in my mind from all of this is that the shop-keepers and soldiers and servants of Khazan are probably slaves of the great wizards; the thieves and beggars and general riff-raff are not. Player character warriors and wizards start out as slaves, but gradually break free (exactly when is variable, though 5th level seems a good upper limit). Of course, if your 6th level wizard really wants that 6th level spell NOW, he going to have to talk to the Guild, and we now know what THAT means...

Paul Haynie, AKA Uncle Hyena, AKA G'Noll

Thanks a lot for that Paul! I never knew that about Trollworld, and I wonder if Ken did?  

This ends this run of T&T Friday posts. I will get another weekly feature started in 2010. Watch this space!

EDIT: I previewed this post in blogger and it looked fine. Now I saw that the line breaks looked bad. Arrgghh!! Hopefully fixed now. Sorry.

Actual Play - Battletech

Ever since Chgowiz started to write about Battletech and Mechwarrior, I have once again felt the stirring to play a game of tank fighting. When I first bought the game, back in the day, we sat down on the living room floor at my friend's place. It tooks us 8 hours to read the rules, set up a game, puzzle over the rules and fight two minutes of real action.

Today I sat down again, and once again it took ages to get moving. I think the game is fairly easy, but still I managed to forget firing modifiers for the moving target at our first fire combat phase! We redid it, and it happened exactly the same way as when I needed 3+ to hit, instead of 8+. Kind if fitting.

We fought with one lance each, the first scenario in the new slick introductory rule book. Go and grab it online, it's free! The scenario was really good, with a excellent use of the basic maps and a interesting mix of mechs. We both engine hits, and heat was then a constant problem. I also managed to destroy one leg on one of the weaker opponents. Rolling 9 on hit location table for left leg is something I did all the time. I wonder if I have to re-calibrate my weapons. They all seem to fire way to low and left.

It was my second fight since my Battletech interest was re-ignited. Now I will try one more time before getting serious about it. I think I learned how fun, and frustrating, it can be with criticals, how important resource management is to have fun, and how fun it is to make things go "boom!" once in a while. Hopefully those lessons can be brought to bear in my roleplaying as well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When a game goes wrong, and everything explode

After the session last night I remembered the worst case of blowing things up I've ever experienced. It happened many years ago, but I still remember it, with some fondness. I had bought the Commando supplement plus the Brushfire Wars scenario book to Top Secret/S.I., and we decided to try it out.

We rolled up characters, getting a good mix of experiences and skills. Finally we decided to take them out in the field. I did a short briefing of the case, aeroplane hijacking situation in Libya, and the players started planning and listing equipment they might need.

For those of you who don't know about it, Commando is a sourcebook about playing anti-terrorist units, SWAT teams, spec ops and any kind of military situation of the special forces kind. There's a lot of information on military hardware, specialized skills and descriptions of special forces of the world. When you want a seriously gun focused game, it is just what you need. Don't ask me how "realistic" it is. It is based on the Top Secret/S.I. system which is a bit more cinematic than the 1st ed Top Secret, but still fairly deadly.

So, our SAS heroes were airdropped from high altitude and managed to land without breaking any legs. After a short trek over land, they approached the airport, from the desert side, where a civilian plane had been forced to land by the hijackers. Being fairly sneaky they managed to get into the terminal building, and noted that it was all empty. Mysterious?

Up until now our characters had all been sneaky and quiet. They managed to position themselves overlooking the runways, and now things started to happen for real.

The plane was positioned a fair bit away from the terminal, and closer by was a big bus. It was clearly one of those long distance coach fares, and there was some advertising text on the side. For some reason someone got the bright idea to walk up to the bus and talk to the driver.

Said and done, one guy walks out and realizes that the bus is filled with young children, and the driver looks very suspicious and is armed. Not only that, he notices the player character and draws his weapon. A special forces soldier is probably quite a good shot, and also quite quick? Yes he is. So, the driver is shot dead with two silenced shots to the head, and slumps over the steering wheel. Did I say that the engine was running? Well, it was and the dead guy manage to get stuck on the throttle and the bus starts rolling.

At the same time another character decide to duck down and run out to the plane, since he see that the entrance in the back of the plane is open. He gets there, gets in and is noticed by the hijackers and tosses a stun grenade just before the bus crashes into the plane with a roar. Fuel all over the place, sparks flies and we have a fireball.

They not only managed to get the plane back and the hostage back, they also managed to kill the busload of innocent school children who was there as "security" hostage for the bad guys. Total carnage.

I couldn't decide if I should laugh at the players ineptitude or cry for all the innocents. I guess it's only natural that this session everyone involved remembers as very memorable and fun.

Actual Play: Trail of Cthulhu - The Dying of St Margaret's

Back in September I played the first session of this adventure, and after 10 000 sorrows we finally got together again to finish this scenario. It has hard to remember who we were and what we were investigating. I'll tell you what we did below and everything that follows will be spoilers!

But, we went down to the village to talk to some Sara. None of us knew why, but we had taken notes about going to ask her about... something. It turned out that being friendly with the locals was not always easy, but being of a working class background my character managed to get them to loosen up a bit. Sara turned out to have some personal belongings to one of our friends, who had disappeared. Key was that her husband mentioned an old theatre which had been worked upon at the school. Back at the school we decided to take a look at that one.

Now things happened at a brisk pace. We broke into the theatre, found some papers and a strange machine. Being of sound mind and not very found of dusty old papers we avoided learning about strange horrors and instead started the strange machine. Since it turned out to be quite scary we took a lot of notes and decided to get back.

Decide to get back we all did, individually. In the middle of the nigh. So, Driven by Adventure my character decided to flick the switch again, lock the door and see what the machine really did. Driven by Moral Indignation another character sneaked out and decided to burn the whole building to the ground. Driven by Patriotism yet another character wanted to secure the find for the greater good of England.

So, we managed to die by infighting, burning kerosene and having all the oxygen being sucked out of our lungs by a miniature black hole! One character managed to be insane before that and survived, totally nuts. A fitting end.

Apparently this scenario would have been a Purist one where finding the Horror we should have realized the futility of fighting the Mythos and then resignated ourself to the fate which becomes us. Not us, we died fighting!

On the bus home I listened to My Dying Bride, and got a totally awesome overwhelming feeling of doom and futility. I loved it.

A fitting end.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I love and hate Glorantha

Today I was moving around some of the piles of gaming fanzines I have collected. Glorantha is a game world where most of the interesting things for a long time was published in fanzines, and not by a regular rpg publisher. It's happened a few times before, Warhammer FRP is another good example. Now I found my copies of the Pavis and Big Rubble Companion volumes III and V. Naturally (I am a crazy completist) I felt that maybe it was time to try to track down copies of volume I, II and IV.

For those of you who didn't knew about this wonderful little creation I'd suggest you visit the excellent site Ian Thomson have created in support of the magazine. There you will also find the reason I hate Glorantha.

Did you notice where Ian wrote about his stuff being superseded by Greg's latest thinking on the matter? That drove me nuts. Gobs of cool and gameable stuff was produced, and often with a dash of humour. Much later it would become clear that Greg had been thinking about it, and it would be declared false on a panel at a Glorantha convention or in a much later product from Issaries which usually looked far less like a professionally produced product than the fanzine where the idea first appeared.

Now, Glorantha is Greg's creation, and it is his to do with as he feels like. But, for someone who just wanted to play a game, and not wanting to run into "canon conflicts" with other gamers it was a mess. I have nothing against Greg personally, I have never met him, but this aspect of him as the Creator grated on me. Some Glorantha fans have made it a verb, so to contradict an old fact is now known as Greging. I sometimes, depending on mood, find that hilarious. sometimes I just groan.

The world Greg created contains some very evocative stuff, like the tragedy of the hero Arkat, and the very strange and truly alien trolls. I love that guy Arkat! One of these days I will just try to ignore the hundreds and hundreds of pages of stuff on Glorantha I have on my shelves and just game the hell out of it. I hope.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What use is art anyway?

The Greyhawk grognard have started a very good discussion about a very good question. What use are art in an adventure module anyway?

If you ever have tried to create a sellable game book of your own, you have probably been thinking about it. It's easy to find cheap writing, and if you can't find anyone doing it for you it's easy to imagine your own scribblings to be good enough. For some reason most of us balk at the idea of having our drawing shown to all the world, though.

While that is a sign that most people have no idea how to write good and proper English, it also say something about our perception of art. Line art drawn by a ball-point pen isn't good enough for most of us. I remember when I, almost twenty five years ago, first laid eyes on the 1st ed AD&D PHB. I thought it looked terrible! Later I learned to like it better and these days I have two copies in my shelf.

So, what use are a piece of art in a adventure module? Apart from the aesthetic reasons there are a few. A page layed out without any art at all are going to be a bit tougher to read. Less text, and less text in a big chunk, is easier to get a grip on. Apart from that, which game book do I have that contained good art that made sense?

Take D3 - Vault of the Drow, for example. It has 9 pieces of art. Of those two are of vital importance, since they introduce two new monster which are not even described except for the illustration! One of those make the monster look like a fat guy dressed in a monster suit, though. But, what use are the others? Well, one is depicting a naked woman, which probably meant the difference between a sold module or not for those young men who thumbed through this booklet at the game store back in 1978.

Then there are pieces like the one on page ten of D3. For those who haven't read the purple prose in high gygaxian I feel sad. The "fungi growths in golden and red ochres, vermillion, russets, citron, and aquamarine shades ... The rock walls of the Vault appear hazy and insubstantial in the wine-colored light, more like mist thah solid walls. The place is indeed a dark fairyland." Looking at the black and white picture on page ten, I can see those scintillating colours and the mystery lining the vault is plain for all to see. It's the best thing Gary ever wrote, as far as I'm concerned. The illustration and text here enter a total harmony and complement each other.

So what use are art in an adventure module? Hard to answer, but it's a good question. I can only answer well by example of when it's done well, and manages to include an example of when it's terrible. If I manage to publish something, I hope I can achieve something powerful once, and that's it. The rest is text, baby.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Trollworld p.162-171

Today I wanted to close this series with the last section of the 7.5 rulebook, the Trollworld Chronology.

From page 162 to page 171 we are treated to a long list of happenings on Trollworld. It begins at 100,000 B.K. and ends 1799 A.K. It's quite a long history. What? You have no idea what B.K. and A.K. means? Well, two pages into the chronology it's explained. It wouldn't have hurt to have had it mentioned in the beginning, no.

The history of the whole world is fascinating reading, but kind of useless for actual gaming. Well, maybe I'm too harsh in saying "useless", but it's not exactly brimming with opportunities to use in your regular games either. Frankly, I don't find these chronologies very useful. The worst offender, though, is the books for Shadow World put out by Kevin Amthor. In those the chronologies are even more verbose.

So, what's the problem with chronologies like that? Well, to start with they usually chronicle eras during which nobody would set a game. So what if the world was created 876,023 years ago from grape jelly? I don't care, unless I can go there and game. Also, with a chronology of the whole world, the focus will be on earth shattering events, done by powerful people. Those people aren't your player characters, because this is stuff the designer thought up beforehand.

As chronologies go, this one in T&T 7.5 aren't that bad, though. We get to read some fairly humorous stories about the origin of some monsters, and the reason there are dungeons. Since the big dungeons are fortresses made by mad wizards millenia old for their own demented amusement, I think believability and "dungeon ecology" got handled pretty well. That is a stroke of genius by Ken St. Andre. If you think it doesn't make sense, you're right! But, it's magic so it doesn't matter, since you are there to get rich and have fun. Relax. We are all here to have fun. God knows if someone of us will get rich, though. Probably not.

Apart from this chronology, we don't get much of an overview of Trollworld. Scattered across the rules are small snippets of information, like the fact that leprechauns can teleport at will, and that dwarfs can smell metals. Naturally, the list of spells tells us a bit about the life on Trollworld as well, but not much. For those who hate the over detailed descriptions of modern Forgotten Realms, this of course is a boon. But, those of us who like a good overview of the world and broad sketches of lands we can make our own, are also left out in the cold. There are just too few of those sketches in the book.

Having heard Ken talk about Trollworld I get the impression, reinforced by reading this rulebook, that his game world is not very detailed. Anything goes as long as it is fun, and if you say something different from him it's all because the many magic portals make it just another "version" of Trollworld.

While this leaves a lot of opportunity for the individual game master, it also means that there is little or no shared experience. It's very hard to imagine anyone harbouring any nostalgic feelings for Trollworld like lot of gamers have for e.g. Greyhawk. I'd even go so far as to claim that one reason T&T is not as widely known and loved as D&D is that it never had that focal point of the game as a common game world!

Personally I would love to know more about the world as it was depicted by the "Phoenix Cosmic Circle" in their games, but somehow I'm getting the impression there never was much world building going on. Dig a hole in the ground and go there and have fun. I nothing wrong with that, mind you, I have learnt to love the dungeon. I have my sword, some torches and a delver's pack. Let's go.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A lot of things cooking, slowly

Today I was thinking, with a newly arrived copy of Knockspell #3 in my hand and the memory of yesterday's news about Fight On! fresh in my mind. I thought about publishing your ideas. In the OSR publishing your ideas, and creating not only buzz on a blog but physical products, is a very important thing of the movement. Sadly I have not done much in that vein yet.

Recently when the publishing catastrophe that is Outlaw Press exploded in the face of Tunnels & Trolls fandom, I decided to do something myself instead of that mess. But, I have no group right now and frankly I play way to seldom to get that vital feedback and get the creative juices flowing. It felt like an uphill battle. But, now things are cooking, at last.

Me and a friends sat down this Monday and talked about things gaming, old school fun basically. The result was a scheduled session of S&W. That and me listening to metal on my mp3 player caused ideas for game books to gush out like a flood.

Oddly enough it feels like a dam that have collected water until it just bursts. Now I get new ideas for dungeons and weird traps faster than I can write them, to say nothing of combining them into something playable! My biggest problem now is that I wanted to do something that has never been done for T&T before (at least not that I know), and I would almost like the spring to calm down a bit so I can get some peace and quiet to work on that first idea before I go back down the dungeon. What a problem I've got.

So, "Something Different" for T&T is being written (including support materials), a dungeon of the weird Carcosa style fantasy is being invented (for S&W), a killer dungeon in the Tomb of Horrors vein (for T&T) and a sketch for a new megadungeon are also competing for attention. Guess if that gets all messed up in my head? With luck I will be able to show some of all this to the world, come 2010. Watch this space.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New issue of Fight On! available

I'm both happy and sad to say that there's a new issue out of the excellent gaming magazine Fight On! It's sad because I haven't had funds to buy issue #6 yet and now is #7 already upon us. Go get it!

Everything you wanted to know about Ron Edwards, and then some

Since everyone know that random tables are fun, talking about cthulhu or Ron Edwards makes your visitor statistics go through the roof, I just couldn't resist this randomly generated fact about Ron Edwards.

 There is no Ron but Ron!

Basically that site, Abulafia, is a boatload of random tables. I love tables and some of these are just wonderful. While there might not be any Slime Ladies or Mouldy Hieroglyphs I still think there are some true gems in there.

How about the adventures of the amazing super heroes The Canadianster and The Ebony Squidlass, and working against them are the Venomous Association of the Imperial Mountains that are political assassins, currently playing a deeper game than anyone realizes? A campaign just like that. Too bad I don't do superheroes.

I'll conclude with this random fact. Hilarious!

James Cameron wanted Chuck Norris to play the Terminator. However, upon reflection, he realized that would have turned his movie into a documentary, so he went with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Playing a RPG with a famous literary person

I have the last few days been on a Sherlock Holmes high. Since I managed to score a mint copy of Sleuth Publications The Queen's Park Affair for only $15 I have been absorbed by the Victorian age and its famous sleuth. Now after reading about Holmes I start to wonder about a rpg in that setting.

As far as I know, the only Victorian mystery game there is must be Cthulhu by Gaslight, which never was big seller. I don't think it's been in print for ages. Maybe it's because it's hard to portray the era? But, we seem to think we can play elves, right? Maybe it's because Victorian London just isn't the same without Holmes himself, and then the players will be left out in the cold.

One game I have played a lot is Stormbringer and I never had any problem not including Elric in the game. While it might seem strange I never felt that game was very much about Elric at all, even if it was once published under the really bad title Elric!, including an exclamation mark. For some reason I don't have the same relaxed attitude to a Victorian mystery game. I just couldn't do it without including Holmes. I'd love to hear if somebody have done it, and how it worked. Also, are there really nothing more than Cthulhu by Gaslight out there?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Designing a new dungeon - Named Areas

I have started a bunch of new projects lately. Anger have caused springs of creativity to spring forth, and now I have a few adventures lined up and maybe even a few more ambitious things.

Since I love the exploration style of adventuring in a big and exciting dungeon I started to plan, design and draw with a megadungeon in mind. Maybe I'll scale it back a bit, or it will have to be something I'll tinker with for a long time.

If you have searched the web for articles on megadungeon design you have probably already found much of the solid advice there is, so I'm not going to try to sound like I have anything new and revolutionary to add. But, I'll write about a nice way to invent a few of those places in a dungeon that stand out and feel a bit special.

Anyone who have read of old school dungeons probably have noticed that there are names areas which makes you wonder what might lurk there. The Black Reservoir is one of those names. Now you can make those yourself! Check out this wonderful blog post with some handy Named Areas charts!

I bet you would love to know what The Gate of the Deadly Harem Slime Ladies or The Mysterious Cave Lagoon of Copper Blood is? Me too. I'm making it up, and sooner or later you might find out. Slime Ladies? Yep.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do you read books? About blogs?

I remember that I once heard that some industrious individual had decided to collect the best of rpg blogging and publish it as a book. It sounded a bit preposterous at the time, but since then I have started a blog of my own and have put more than a few on my daily reading list. At this time I consider some bloggers to be friends I visit to see what they are up to today.

So, maybe I shouldn't be too surprised to hear that once again it's time to collect the best there is of rpg fan writing and publish a book. You can nominate texts here if you have read anything you feel is good enough. I have never read the first volume, and now when I publish stuff myself I don't know if I dare to. Nobody would be more suprised than me if anyone felt like nominating my texts, but it still feels like projects like this keeps you honest and focused. Some guys out there are good and nobody wants to look bad in comparison, right? Time to think of favourites I have bookmarked.

A devious trap

Music is wonderful.

I managed to invent a trap today, for one of my projects I'm writing. Now when I have a mp3 player I can listen to music on the bus downtown, or when I'm waiting for a friend to meet me. As I was listening, absentmindedly, I suddenly heard a few words of the lyrics, and at once I knew it was an arcane and interesting thing I had to write about. Where do you get your ideas? Heavy metal lyrics, of course!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Monsters & Magic Book

Today I was thinking of doing a walk through of some of the magic spells, and talk about what they can be used for, how they are cool and how some of them seem to be quite wonky. But, since that is a very complex subject that I just haven't been able to wrap my mind around I have decided to focus on the Monsters & Magic Book included in the 7.0 and 7.5 boxed sets.

The first thing you notice is that the basic rules for calculating MR and adds are repeated. Then we have what I consider to be one of the best additions to the T&T systems since 1979, the Special Damage system. While I have sometimes groaned about how FDP seem to have tossed the game out in the marketplace without editing it at all, and thus felt a bit of dislike for how they have handled the T&T property, I will say this is just pure genius. Ken St Andre posted in the comments earlier in this series of posts and told me that concept was their idea. FDP redeemed a lot of editorial sloppiness by that inclusion! It's excellent. Let me expand upon it a bit.

The basic way monsters are statted is with a single stat, MR. From that you can calculate all the stats needed for combat. If you have seen the stat block for a D&D3 monster, "Goblin, MR20" as the "stat block" is very liberating! But the news with Special attacks is using Spite (sixes rolled to attack) as a trigger for a Special Attack. "Goblin, MR20, 2/Vicious Bite 2d6" is now goblins who will bite their opponent for 2 dice of damage for every two sixes rolled! Not only that, but Special Attacks ignore armour just like Spite does. I had totally forgotten that until I re-read that section today. Ouch. There's even a short section with suggestions for different types of Special Attacks and other Special Abilities. It gives the classic MR based monster a little bit more spice. Very groovy.

Next comes a section that feels seriously out of place. There are rules for balancing encounters, and that talks about a 4 person party, and then there's a section referring to the "Revised T&T rules presented in the Special Anniversary Edtion set" which talks about a standard 4 person party. Which is it? That SAE set mentioned is the 7.0 box, and the Revised T&T rules from that one are not included in the 7.5, which makes it feel odd to have that even mentioned. FDP have inserted a "[released in 2005]" disclaimer in that paragraph so I can't understand why they just didn't remove it. Those Revised T&T rules are better treated with nothing but silence. I have never heard of anyone liking or using them.

We get 24 monsters described in the next section. Illustrated and statted. They are mostly legendary and mythological creatures like the manticore and harpy. They work and I have used them to good effect. Interestingly, what dungeon level they usually inhabit is also mentioned.

The last section of the booklet contains what meagre rules T&T have about magic items. It's made clear that items are for sale, and there are a niche in the Trollworld economy for magic items. Personally I find that having shops where you can buy magic items to make those a bit less fantastic. I have used them in my games, though.

Foci, potions, weapons, jewelry and Other Items are described, with cost and how they might look like. I am notoriously bad at analyzing the economical effects of rules like this. But, there's one potion that makes even me raise an eyebrow.

A healing potion heals 1 CON and costs 400 gp. If you now take a look at your rulebook at p.44 you will find "First-aid kit (5 uses)" and "Second-aid kit (5 uses; cures 5 hits per)". The latter cost 99.9 gp and the former 10 gp. From those prices you would guess (since there are no rules about it) that the First-aid kit heals less than 5 CON. 99.9 gp on the other hand will cure 5 CON five times. That's 19.98 gp per dose and thus 4 gp per CON. Suddenly that Potion which costs 400 gp sounds quite expensive. Actually it seems totally broken.

The other place where the economy of magic items seem odd is the general rules for items, bespelled, enchanted and magical. The odd thing here is that if you want to make an enchanted sword, are the "cost of the spell" mentioned including the Dura-Spell Battery which I assume is powering the item? It seems like these rules were written without full knowledge of that spell. I did ask Ken about who made what, and he said "It seems to me that most of the stuff about magic in the extra booklet was my work", which makes you wonder about that Dura-Spell omission. Frankly it feels like it wasn't tried out, really. Since there were no rules like that in 5th ed, and I feel kind of bad about shopping for magic items anyway I guess I'd prefer just to make it all up. Then it would help to have a longer list of examples to compare to if you're as uninterested in spending time inventing a full economic system as I am.

The only other thing I want to remark upon is the wish that this kind of material would be included in the rulebook. Either that or expand it and incorporate a few of the other booklets in the 7.5 box.

I will try to spend some time with the spell list and post on that last section of the rules. But, since I know my limits, I have invited a guest blogger! It will be great fun to see what we will get to read.

Gaming family

Tonight we manged to play a session in a campaign started by a friend of mine when I was still living in Canada. He had told me I was welcome to join when I moved here, and now I did. Gaming is my hobby, and even though this campaign seemed to be quite different from what I like most, it is still gaming.

There were six of us, and each of us had some kind of family among the NPCs. Many of the other players had been developing relations with the villagers and I think that some are even engaged to be married. I guess you can tell that this is not a game about exploring the world, but playing a social game.

While it's kind of a waste not to go out and explore the world (our game master is a very good world builder, and I'd like to go out and see what he has invented!), it do work as a backdrop and fuels some of the intrigue and social interplay. But, what really struck me as interesting was the logistics of having a shipload of NPCs.

Imagine a village with 5 or so main families, and 5 or so members of each. Now imagine that those are the people you grew up with and have strong feelings about. It's quite a feat to just keep them all in the head, and even more to remember whom you should play a dislike for. Add to that the craftsmen, leaders and factions of leadership. How on earth do you run such a game! I wonder if I could. Frankly, I wonder if I really like people enough to care about them all. Quite different for me, this game.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

That old School metal gaming

I have found the game that must be perfect for us old school metal fans. The game have the totally unlikely, and o so fitting, name Umlaut. Check it out! I think it looks hilarious and am thinking of buying it, just because.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Restarting old campaigns - my first old school campaign

Many of us have fond memories of old campaigns, where fun was had by all and the dice were hot and the action over the top. For most of us, those stay as memories. Then again, you might get the idea to restart that group again. If it was great before, all you need is the same game, players and a set-up for action, right? It should work, it did last time.

When I've read online about restarted campaigns, there seem to be a consensus on how to do it. Don't. But, right now I'm still pondering it. I am bored to tears by the fact that some of my attempts at starting some gaming have failed miserabl, and now something have changed. Somebody have asked  me to run a game.

Back when 3rd ed was new, I had just bought it for the discounted initial price. My intent was to have it for reference, and to make it easier to do conversions. But, on ENWorld there was a thread about each of some of the classic TSR modules for AD&D. I read about the A series, the D series and a few more. Since I had read a review somehwhere of the 2nd ed Slavers module, and bought it, I was interested in the A modules. I got rid of the 2nd ed stuff, bought the older ones and decided that since 3rd ed actually looked like a proper game (it had skills) I should try to actually use it. All those people had fun with A1-A4, right?

Apart from the skill centric game view (I still have BRP in my veins), I missed a few other things. Running A1 was fun, and it wasn't a bad game. It wasn't at all like the stories of how it played back then, but we keept going. It was to be the founding of a campaign that lasted almost five years. My longest, so far. We played a bunch of Necromancer modules (1st ed feel, right?) and had battled our way to Erelhei-Cinlu.

Now I look back at it, and there so much of it that I don't want to go back to. The Attacks of Opportunity, and the enormous amount of data to keep track of for NPCs are two important things. But, it's gaming and right now I'm starved. Should I eat mouldy bread, since it's offered? Maybe it's not even mould, just a funny discolouring.

While I'm waiting for more invitations to games which suit my present taste better, I'm seriously thinking of how I could make a restarted 3rd ed game less painful. It must be possible, right? God knows. Until I make up my mind I'm thinking of writing something about the A series, since I have run them now. I became a better DM by doing it. Some of those amusing stories are now mine to tell, and even if the rules had their problems we did have fun.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tomb of Horrors - the smiley dungeon

This morning as I was eating breakfast, I wasn't reading the morning paper. For some reason I had totally forgot that I have a morning paper for a while, and instead did what a gamer does and read a game book. My four year old stopped her hour long monologue about the adventures of her favourite kiddie show and comic book heroes, and she peeked at the loose cover of the Tomb. She saw the illustration on the inside front cover, and pointed to it and asked me "What kind of happy face is that?"

For those of you who don't have the whole of Tomb of Horrors memorized, that is the picture of the outside of the tomb. It's a mound or hill, and there are stones places on the slope to resemble a skull, with gaping eye sockets and a row of teeth. It looks like a giant smiley. The terrible tomb of the Demi-Lich Acererak!

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I have read about many classic adventures, and some of them I've longed to play. Some, like The Enemy Within, I bought because I wanted to run it myself. Others like Horror on the Orient Express, I've resisted since I've had vague hopes of somebody inviting me to play them, and I don't wanted to spoil the fun. Years go buy and I still haven't gotten many opportunities to play the classics. I don't know if it will become a classic, but I'm very thankful to my friend Chris who took us through Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Finally I got to play one of those talked about campaigns!

Last year I actually started to play ToH, but we only did one session before the launch of 4th ed D&D and our DM suddenly lost interest in favour of the new game. I have long wanted to test my mettle against the Tomb, since it is rightly famous. After that game tanked I resigned myself to the fact that I probably never will get the opportunity, and since I own the module I started to read it for fun and enlightenment instead.

Some parts of the adventure is just plain stupid, and some are kind of clever. Having read everything except the last room, I'm not that impressed. Necromancer Games published one book called Demons & Devils, inspired by the Tomb, and I think it's better. ToH will from now on forever be the Happy Face Dungeon.

Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Swords & Wizardry campaign on the horizon!

For some time now I have been feeling seriously deprived of my gaming fix. While I think role playing a hobby that can be enjoyed by playing solos, generating characters for fun, drawing maps and inventing new spells or building starships and other gear, I still miss playing.

My friends on this side of the pond all seem to be so very occupied it's almost silly! We played one session of a game, and the time for the next session had to be a date four weeks later, because everyone was doing so much else! Four? What the heck are people doing with their "free" time? Sometimes I think those cardiovascular diseases that kills us in the western world have more to do with stress than anything else. How much can you try to cram into your life anyway? It's kind of ironic as well that one things people do which stop them from gaming is probably playing World of Warcraft or something like that.

Anyway. Today I got a phone call from a friend who recently discovered Swords & Wizardry and immediately caught the bug. Like me, he is a big fan of Fritz Leiber, and he felt this was a game where that kind of fantasy stories could be gamed. Imagine my happiness when he told me he has been writing stuff and wanted to send me a inspirational recruitment flyer for the campaign! Wohoo! Maybe I will get the opportunity for some S&W gaming in the future after all!

Wish me luck, considering how it's been lately one of us or our friends will get swine flu and get quarantined from gaming...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Magic p.126-132

We have almost reached the end of the rulebook by now, but there are a lot quirks in the pages ahead. Let's dive in the deep end!

To start off with, we are treated to some description of how magic shapes everything on Trollworld. Here we get a few snippets of information about that ellusive place, and the fact that dwarves can smell metals makes me yearn for more information on this wondrous place. At the same time my brain is filling in the blanks all by itself, because the ideas are so evocative.

Spells, we learn, are categorized in four schools. I'm not sure I know why, but that's how it is. Then it starts for real. Now on page 127 and forward we get the rules for actually casting spells, and some examples and metaphysics of magic mixed in. It's made clear that spells are a psychic phenomena, and that spellbooks thus don't exists. I found that, and the then natural lack of scrolls, to be a stumbling block for me when trying to find treasure to reward magic using characters in my campaign. Think about how you want to handle that in your campaign.

Notable is that when the rules say that your stats will limit your ability to cast spells, it never say anything about your level, except for an example on p.127-128 where Khenn the Wizard casts a spell of a higher level than himself. In 5th ed this is limited by the fact that the Wizard's Guild wont teach those,
and that they cost more energy to cast if you get hold of them anyway. I think I like the new freedom better.

You cast spells by making a SR and you pay for them with the new stat, WIZ. Welcome to the classic weakling wizards! I can't resist thinking of Ars Magica, where all our Magi had maxed out their Stamina. Yes, a physical stat. I think it makes sense to have magic powered by a separate stat.

In the section called Casting Cost we see some slightly confusing things. In the first paragraph we see a mention of tools to assist casting, like a wand. Later in the next column on the same page there's an example of a Wizard casting a TTYF and it's mentioned that he don't have a staff. So, you say, what difference does that make? The thing is that using these tools and how the reduce the cost of a spell isn't explained until yet another three paragraphs, the middle of page 129! Also, in the second paragraph of this section there's a page reference to page 36. This is regarding how the level of the caster also makes it cheaper to cast a spell. Looking at page 36 we see that is indeed where the definition of a level is, but the benefit of levels is on page 39! Just to make it even a bit more confusing nowhere on page 39 is it mentioned that one benefit of gaining a level is that it's cheaper to cast spells! This is very confusing, and should have been edited. It feels sloppy and a bit disorganized. Since I started this project Ken have told me that everything is basically printed in the order he wrote it. It shows, sadly. The most odd thing of all, though, is that the actual rules for the different kind of spell casting foci are in another booklet! At least there are a very clear mention of this in the middle of page 129, pointing out that you have to read Special Edition Monsters & Magic Book.

One important thing is mentioned here, though, that Rogues can't power up spells. Considering all other limitations on their spell casting is mentioned in the Type description on page 12, I'd love to have seen that added there as well.

The rest of the magic rules consists of the most talked about and least liked part of 7th ed, according to my experience. Some metaphysical reasoning is given, and then it's proclaimed that there's a "barrier" you have to overcome to affect a stronger magical force, Kremm, than your own. The end result is that you, and your target both loose WIZ, but you can't get your spell to affect anyone stronger than yourself. This brings out a boatload of problems.

Sure, you can have a team of Wizards casting spells to drain their target while one of their pals is withholding his WIZ (otherwise you will all just decrease in step and never bring down your target below you) until it can be brought to bear. But, frankly. Can you imagine a party of multiple Wizards doing that, when they can just boost a Warrior with something like a Vorpal or Whammy so much easier?

Also, imagine a Target with WIZ 100 and two player Wizards with WIZ 88 at level 7 and another with WIZ 30 at level 2. The latter are going to cast a spell on the Target. They will both loose some WIZ, right? Now the Level 7 Wizard cast the same spell. But, since he is higher level he will use less magic energy and thus affect the Target less! If he uses a focus it's even worse. It feels distinctly wrong that somebody with more magical power will make the enemy hurt less. Can you ignore the level benefit or "exert yourself" in order to hurt the enemy more? Nah, this just is not working.

I like the idea of Spell Resistance, but this is not a good way to do it. It will involve more dice rolling, and thus more chance, but I think some SR based on the difference in power makes more sense. The idea is good, but I don't like it this way. I'd hesitate to add in more dice rolling since it will both slow down play and make Wizards potentially weaker. Considering you didn't have to roll a INT SR to cast a spell in 5th (now you do) I would hazard the guess that for someone coming from 5th ed it would look even less good. Maybe ditch the INT SR and just have a SR when casting on someone with higher WIZ? Don't feel that good either.

Personally I never liked the "auto pilot" system where you just said "I cast a spell", while a Warrior had to roll to hit. Magic should be fickle and chancy. At least as much as the martial skills are. Taking a tenth of the overpowering WIZ as CON hits instead? Heck, I have no idea how to make it work! Can you tell I'm grasping for ideas? I like the INT SR to cast, but the Resistance rules will go next time I play T&T.

Most of the rules in the Magic section are just as easy going and wonderful as tools as the rest of the system, but the new additions above need to mature a bit. The system if fun, and it works. I do like that you gain AP for making a SR to cast, spending WIZ to cast, and for defeating a monster with that same spell! Wizards can be powerhouses for Adventure Points.

Next week: I'll talk about some of the specific spells, and that extra booklet mentioned above, Special Edition Monsters & Magic Book

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On a mission from God - playing Dogs in the Vineyard

Yesterday was a good day. Well, it was one of those days when I was running back and forth and felt like I didn't accomplish much, but I managed to experience a real live game session! I have had a drought since leaving Canada, but hopefully there will be some more precipitation from now on.

We made characters for Dogs in the Vineyard, and all three are interesting. Maybe the young female convert from the East is most flamboyant, but the others have interesting aspects. I like the intellectual sharpshooter, and the doubting theologian as well.

For those of you who have managed to miss it, DitV is a game about "Mormon gunslingers in a West that never was". It's not really about Mormons, and not really about the Old West as it was in our world, but something like it. What it is, is a game where actions have consequences and your morals force you to act and think about it. Everything that's causing brain damage about alignment just works out like it should in real life in this game, it feels real and meaningful. Also, it will blow your mind that you can have that much freedom of action as a player, and learn to feel serious feelings of regret about the consequences of that freedom.

The session was a bit short, but to my surprise we managed to get all three characters done, and initiate two of them. The latter is kind of like the Prelude in Vampire. You play out a scene or passage of scenes which happened before starting play and it will help you learn the game system, and kick start your brain into your newly designed persona.

My favourite scene was probably when one of the characters, who had a illicit sexual relation in his backstory, suddenly chanced upon a couple doing the nasty thing. He started berating them, and when the girl saw his hesitation she yelled "You would do it if you had the chance!" The look on the player's face was glorious to behold. It just became better when she then with a intuitive strike accused him of not being so innocent himself. Never have self doubt been so fun to act out at the game table. You know you have succeeded when a player is squirming on his chair and trying to get out of the mess, while at the same having a smile plastered on his face.

I just love Dogs. Thanks Vincent!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Metalheads, and old school gamers?

I have begun to see admissions and revelations from more than one blogger, last from Nerzenj√§ger's Take That You Fiend! and Scott Malthouse at Trollish Delver as being metalheads. I think you all know James Raggi likes metal, eh?

As I was sitting on the bus yesterday I was fooling around with my mp3 player. I'm not an early adopter and this is my first music playing gadget ever. I have loaded a bunch of stuff into the thing, since I still don't know much about my listening habits. After settling upon an album and starting to listen I almost burst into laughter when the observation above came to me like a flash of lightning. Need I tell you what kind of music I was listening to? Go take a peek at Sirenia's official web page if you like. There's more in that small piece of electronics. I need to get my Judas Priest converted to mp3 soon.

So, bringing this back to gaming, I wonder if we four bloggers with a interest in older styles of gaming perchance have a similar taste in music because of that. As soon as I write that somebody will probably tell me I'm talking out of my butt and say that they have been playing the white box since day one and only listens to jazz.

Whatever. I still think some games just feel energetic, powerful and plain out tastlessly over the top in a way that makes me think metal. I have some of those associations and feelings. My old love affair Chaosium's Stormbringer, is the game to play with Hawkwind on the turntable. Rock on, Elric!

Yeah, you noticed that this is not one of my brainy posts.

I just can imagine what kind of game would make me think of jazz. Sorry, jazz lovers...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gaming Library: DragonQuest

I no longer remember when I first heard of DragonQuest. Did I even then balk at the ugle practice of capitalizing that Q in the middle of the name? I don't remember. I do remember the cover illustration, though. It's one of those that linger, like the one from the AD&D DMG with those big doors being opened (yes, the orange spine printing. I never much cared for the earlier printings). It somehow spells adventure to me.

The first thing you notice when you open up the DQ rulebook is how it's written. Anyone who have ever read a wargame from SPI or Avalon Hill know how it looks. First there are definitions of terms, then there are definitions of procedures. The latter are numbered, and there are more often than not sub cases to the general rule.

In DQ a rule is numbered, and then in bold is stated the main issue, which is then expanded upon in more text not in bold. After that there's usually another sub case, like 3.4 Using Skills or something like that. This makes for very precise, but slow reading. Everything counts and is accounted for. Oddly enough the have managed to make this kind of confusing, since already in character generation you have references to rules in the other end of the book. Sure, they are all numbered nicely, but it makes for slow reading. Add to that the level of detail and it becomes very slow indeed. Written in a more conversational tone, the rules could probably be much shorter. It kind of feels like AD&D. Presentation and organization of rpg rules have become much better the last 20 years.

I have already touched upon the quaint mix of classes and skills. There are more odd things, like the fact that your character have an aspect, which is an astrological influence upon the life of the character. When you get +20% to all rolls at, say, spring equinox it kind of matters! I guess you figured out from that statement that it's percentile based system. Roll d100 and compare to your stat, multiplied with a difficulty number, is the general way to resolve things. Unless you have a skill.

This leads us to the next thing that I get as a general impression from this game. There are quite a few calculations done. There are even a equation reference on the GM screen! Most of it is done before play, but that all and every procedure involve a stat or two, multiplied by different values every time feels a bit jumbled. It makes sense in the end, but sometimes e.g. I wish a rank would give a consistent bonus every time invoked.

Ranks are important. They are basically the level at which you have bought skills, abilities and weapon training. Almost everything you do gets a bonus depending on how many ranks you have. You can even raise your stats that way, even though it's expensive.

Combat is something I've heard was complex, but apart from the initiative rules (does this sound familiar?) which demand that you know which characters are standing in adjacent hexes, it's not that fiddly as long as every value is pre calculated. It's even probably usable without minis if you drop the weird initiative rules. Roll attack (with modifiers) subtract defence (with modifiers) and if you hit you roll damage, and subtract how much armor absorbs. Yes, armor absorbs hits, that's how it work.

Magic is also fairly straight forward. You spend fatigue points and roll dice to activate, just like skills and stat rolls. Interestingly enough, you can buy ranks in spells and rituals as like any other field of knowledge. The list of rituals are well known, especially the summoners which can browse a long list of diabolic entities they might want to summon. Very 1980-ies. Like I discovered, and posted about, there are no lists of magic items in this game. I applaud that, and the fact that the aspect system could be used to creatively add adventures, and journeys to magically charges places, to better enchant your items.

All in all I think the game looks quirky but strangely inviting. If I had a bunch of somewhat more curious gamers around than I presently have, I'd love to take this baby out for a spin. It says something that I had the hex paper out and started to sketch out some wilderness as I was reading the rules. Something about this game demands it to be played.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New projects starting to brew

I have been on an emotional roller coaster the last few days. There have been happy event with my family, depressing news on the web about misconduct and deception in rpg publishing, and sad news like the death of old guard Blackmoor player Richard L. Snider. The usual ups and downs.

Many times I don't feel like a very creative individual. Starting this blog and posting once every other day is one way to force myself to be creative. Now I have gotten some ideas, though. For the first time since I started to run my T&T campaign have I really felt like creating something new. I have a pad of graph paper by my bed, so when I get one of those ideas as I fall asleep I can grab the pad and sketch some dungeon rooms. I'm thinking that some of the sad things might have spurred me into action.

I know that since Knockspell magazine and Fight On! magazine started publishing, and many old school D&D bloggers started to sell their creations, there have been mumblings to the effect that it seems like those venues suck up all the good stuff. The result would be that there are no longer so that people put stuff up for free.

Do you think this is a correct picture of reality? I have no idea, myself. But, it makes me think. I have been saying that I am considering publishing on a more serious scale myself if the conditions can be met. But, at the same time I'm wondering about who would care about my dungeon scribblings?

So, I'm probably going to put some of it up here, and then we'll see what comes of it. Hopefully it will give me some hints on how to proceed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The latest bad news

For those who have missed it, it seems like the Tunnels & Trolls world have been experiencing a landslide the last few day. The dirt just keep piling up.

It started as some dubious use of art on RPGNow, and now it seems like the main fan publisher for T&T stand accused of having used stolen art in products sold for profit. As if that wasn't enough, there are also indications a scenario for D&D have been "converted" to T&T and sold without permission, and also that the free retro game Mazes & Minotaurs once was for sale from Outlaw Press until the writer complained. It's a maze indeed.

How much of all this is true and how far does it go into the abyss?

From what I've gathered from my contacts it's now totally out of the reach of anyone pontificating on the web, and the lawyers have been set in motion. It's a sad day for us all.

Extra sad is the fact that even if it's get all sorted out, James Shipman at Outlaw Press have been seen one time to often in extremely dubious circumstances for me to want to have anything to do with him. Running a business can't be done by playing loose and fast, that's just not the way to do it. Even if you manage to keep your balancing act on the right side of the thin line there are some things you just don't do, like revise somebody's text without telling them, and then going to print.

In the D&D end of the OSR we have seen a bunch of people starting publishing themself, based on the OGL and their imagination. My reaction to all this is that I feel sombody should step up, and bring more fan publishing to T&T. Do you have anything lying around, like new monsters? Spells? Adventures? I'm looking into options and want to get the wheels turning. Feel free to contact me if you want to join in!

If we are lucky, this mess might still have some positive effect in the end. Let's hope so.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Saving Rolls p.99-126

So, now we have come to that mechanic which makes us T&T fans rave so much about the game. Usually I don't talk that directly about rules here. I think you should buy the rules to find out. Today I think I will, though.

What's the fuss all about then? Nothing much, but it has implications. Starting the section on Saving Rolls, we read that sometimes only luck can save a delver. That's when you roll a SR. Rolling a SR is done with two dice, and then you add a relevant stat, like LK och STR. If you meet a target number, depending on difficulty, you succeed. Easy ones, level 1, is TN 20 and then it increase by five per level.

Nothing special, eh? Well. One nice feature is that when you roll doubles, you add and roll again! I love exploding dice, and ever since I encountered it in MERP during the 1980-ies I have loved that mechanic. The feeling when you really need to succeed and you get those two 5 staring back at you, roll again and get two 4 and roll again and get more, is priceless! That's why I couldn't play diceless. Random chance is just to much fun.

Now imagine doing this for anything, at any time, to resolve any crazy idea you get. Why would you? Because of AP.

Just after the section on Saving Rolls, with two very good examples of different SRs, we start to read on Adventure Points. These are used to raise your stats, and you gain them from, among other activities, rolling SRs. Note, you get it for rolling, not for suceeding! There's no reason not to try to do something cool, because you will get a reward in the form of AP, just for trying. This is a game where being active counts. The rules in this section is very well written with many examples sprinkled throughout, this is also true for the section on Adventure Points.

I remember when I first heard of Feng Shui, by Robin Laws. Chinese action movies are something I enjoy a lot, and that game seemed very fun. But, when I read it I didn't feel the love like I expected. I didn't feel the game mechanic inspired me to do over the top action stunts. Removing obstacles is one thing, but providing wires for the wire-fu and bullets for my gun was something else. Then I encountered Wushu - the ancient art of action role-playing. This was a game that gave me what I wanted! For every weird stunt you try, the easier it is to succeed. That, is a stroke of design genius. That is how I feel about the interplay of Saving Rolls and Adventure Points.

Adventure points you can get for slaying monsters, outwitting them, casting spells and any thing the GM feel is worth rewarding. How they are used, and how fast a progression the game will have is discussed in the rules, and more than one way presented for quicker and slower games. In my games my played by the book, and I let my players raise their stats as soon as they could. In the middle of a fight someone would take a look at their stats, ask for a SR and I would gladly allow it and then see them raise the stat and continue the fight. Entertainment was guaranteed when they scrambled for that SR and a few more points.

I will close with one thing our game designer feel is worthy of Adventure Points is Daring. Daring is described as the difficulty and danger of the tunnels and encounters for a session. Exposing your character to danger is worthy of reward if you survive. Think about this quote: "A general guideline is to reward 100 AP for each level of dungeon or difficulty that is overcome".

How do you handle that? If the delvers go down to level 3, do you give them 300 as they set foot on level 2? Going down a chute and at once going up again using an elevator from level 9, is that worth 900? You get no strict advice from the rules. I found this to be a very charming and very old school so I rewarded 100 times the deepest level visited and encountered something, when my players was back in town alive. Combine this with the stable rule, and there are interesting strategic options of resource management available to the game.

Next week it's time for Magic

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to design and populate your dungeon

I have been thinking of starting a new dungeon. Still I am missing an important thing to get my campaign going again, players. But, just for fun and in order to keep some of the creativity flowing I'm thinking of putting pen to graph paper and digging a new dungeon.

Most of you have probably read some hints on how to write an adventure. You should have a plot, a setting, antagonists maybe a McGuffin and some nice scenery. When designing dungeon adventures it's fairly common to start with the location, the windling tunnels. It makes sense. Without somewhere to explore, there will be no place to put the monsters, treasure, traps and wonders. Right?

Since a couple of days I've had my copy of Dangerous Denizens out of the shelf, thumbing trough it. For those of you who don't know of it, it's the Tellene specific monster manual for 3rd ed Kingdoms of Kalamar. I'm a fan of KoK and have many times felt it would be cool to have a game there, but it haven't happened yet. For some other reasons I've also had my copy of 1st ed Monster Manual out of the shelf a few times to look up monsters other bloggers have been writing about. There are quite a few fairly weird monsters out there for D&D, I tell you.

All of this have gotten me to think of a new way to design a dungeon! Some of these monsters just scream out to be used, or at least some of them makes you wonder "how the hell could I use that one to make sense, at all?" Could be a nice creative exercise, right? It would be fun to hear if somebody tried it out?

So, take out a monster book, pick some really odd stuff and try to figure out how to make that monster fit somewhere, or where it would look cool. I'm going to try it out myself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some very sad news

I sometimes check in on a couple of web forums, but usually don't stay long since the flames are frequent and often quite intense. Today I found something which wasn't exactly a flamewar, but it sure is intense.

Some of you might have heard of Outlaw Press, a small hobby publisher of T&T books. Today I found them in the midst of a fairly serious controversy over at concerning the use of art. Apparently some of the art used for cover in OP publications are suspected to be used without permission. Some of the artists involved have been contacted and claim no permission to use their art have been given. Sad and very, very bad.

I really hope that there is a misunderstanding somewhere, like OP bought the rights from some kind of artist repository or agency which the artists aren't fully aware of. But, I'm afraid it don't look pretty.

So, what should anyone care about this, unless you are one of the artists in question? Well, Flying Buffalo who owns the trademark of T&T haven't (for different reasons) been publishing much for the game for a long time, and now Outlaw Press is the main source of Tunnels & Trolls publication. Adding to that the fact that plenty of their products are very nice, and it becomes more and more troubling.

If they are found guilty of theft, and the law is brought into this, it could mean the main source of T&T goodies drying up. Naturally, if someone breaks the law he only have himself to blame when justice knocks on the door. What makes it more troubling for me is that I would love to buy some of that goodies, but right now I don't know if I feel like I could, with a clean conscience, even if nothing comes of it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where are my magic items!?

I read Chapter VI of DragonQuest yesterday. This chapter start Book Two, and is called Magic. The way magic works is interesting. There are Talents, general knowledge spells, general knowledge rituals and then there are special spells and rituals. Just like in T&T everyone knows the general knowledge spells. It sure makes it possible to have options even as a starting character. I like that.

But, having read about all the schools of magic, or colleges as they are called, I was kind of surprised not to find any magic items! Looking around I realized there are none to be found. DragonQuest is a bit oddly organized sometimes, but having read it all I know I haven't missed it. So, there is no shopping list of magic items.

Whatever I felt about DragonQuest before, I surely didn't become less fond of it because of this lack. Frankly, I find the way magic items have become commodity is one of the ways the fantastic have been leeched out of some fantasy games. D&D 4th ed soured on me partly because of that. When everyone can look at that list and see all the details and effects nailed down, where are there space left for wonder and mystery?

So, it might mean you have to work a bit more, but DragonQuest have become one of the fantasy rpgs I feel "did it right". I've often heard that claimed, and even though I doubt this is what they meant, I now join the chorus. Since it's out of print, you'll have to buy Tunnels & Trolls instead. :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Class based vs Skill based vs Someting else

As I have been reading DragonQuest the last week, I've realized it is a very peculiar mix of a class based, skill based system and just Something Else. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. Today I got a small reminder of a sensible way to approaching designing games.

In DragonQuest you usually roll against your stats, but there's also skills. Now, skills are not skills the way I'm used to them. A skill can, for example, be Troubador. The Troubador can charm people, have some ability with magic, plays music and can disguise himself. Don't you think it looks kind of familiar? At least to me it looks a lot like the Bard class in D&D. You pay Experience Points to buy Ranks in the skill Troubador, and gain new abilities for every rank, or increasing the proficiency with the abilities already gained.

So I guess this could almost be described as a class, but one which is optional if you'd rather pay for ranks in your weapons, or buy increases to your stats. Naturally you could also buy ranks in spells, or different skills if you have EP to spare. Now it do sound more like a pure skill based system, or does it?

You might say that I come to my subject with preconceived notions of how a game system is to be constructed. Fair enough, I do have some expectations and they are coloured by how common games look. I don't think I've seen any game before where buying a skill gives you all those effects that buying, say, Troubador, gives you in DragonQuest.

Talking about a common reference makes me think of Tunnels & Trolls. In that game system everything you do involves your stats. Even though there's a lot of rules in DraqonQuest, it explicitly say that you roll against a stat to succeed. Many of the procedures included do just that. So, obviously it's a lot like T&T. But, it still have those skills which at least look a lot like classes. What a wonderful mix of ways to approach roleplaying rules!

When you sit there with your familiar game, wondering why anyone ever would need anything else I think this is the answer. I love to collect and read lots of different games, because something comes around that expands your mind. A designer of games should read at least twenty before starting their own. Try it, it's fun.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Harn, anyone?

After my discovery of the lethalness of infection in DragonQuest, I have become quite curios about this phenomena in other games. Anyone out there know how it works in Harn? That game have a reputation as being for the realism striving gamers, so it sounds like a good candidate for infection, if you see what I mean.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Combat

Welcome to T&T Friday! We have come to those rules which see most use at the gaming table, combat rules. Let's jump right in.

At start a few terms are defined, and the basic idea of rolling your attack dice and comparing them to the opponent's result. Most interesting here is the concept of Spite.

When you roll a 6 on a die in combat, something special happen. You might have found a weakness, or just made a very precise strike. Any dice with sixes total up, and ignore armor! Suddenly even the "tin box" Warrior isn't safe! This is a very good addition, and a common house rule for fifth ed games. I really like it. Apparently the idea to let it be the trigger for special effects was not Ken's idea, but came from FDP. Also very nifty. Talk a walk into House Rule territory and you can have it trigger effects on magic items as well.

Then we have something which I find interesting. In T&T there is a combat turn sequence, and everything that happen in combat happen in a specific order. For many gamers the way you act in combat is all dependent on initiative, and not what you do. Older editions of D&D do like T&T, and Rolemaster have some very involved and quite quaint ways to structure a combat round. Me, I'm most at home in an initiative based round. Still, I like the way it works in T&T.

Worth noting in the section about the round, is the length of it. The official length is 2 minutes! Compare that to GURPS where a round is 1 second! The difference in length of combat rounds never cease to amaze me.

Let's take a look at something Ken writes here, which I think is the core of the whole game system:
Every combat is different, and it is your job as a gamer and judge to adjust the details in your mind so it makes sense. Visualize the fight, and you won't have to be told that Mungo the Hobb did 11 points of damage to the giant with a sneak attack to the ankle. What else could Mungo reach? When the giant falls down, our doughty little warrior might want to start attacking the giant's head. Let him.


The action takes place in your imagination, not in a blow-by-blow manner. And remember, you can try anything in combat, and the DM will deal with it. He may call for a Saving Roll to see how well you succeed, but go ahead, be creative and tricky. The game will be more fun.
Notice how it's phrased. It's your job! The game is a creative endeavour, and I really love the phrase "you can try anything in combat". This is the core of the T&T experience for me. We get a toolbox, and an inspired example of how to invent stuff and have fun. While it's damn obvious I think we need to be reminded sometimes of how essential this is. You know to make the best pecan pie in the world? Make it count in combat. You can.

The last part of this section before we start in Saving Rolls are Missile Combat. Even though the rules have been fairly stable, missile combat seem to change a bit almost every edition. Now it's a DEX (or Talent) based SR to hit, based on range, and that's it. It works.

Next week: Saving Rolls!

The deadliness of combat

I just managed to strike a really good deal on eBay for the old fantasy rpg classic DragonQuest. For some of us it's one of those games which the old grumbling grognards seemed to like, but we never bought ourselves when it was in print. I've been reading it a while now, and it have some interesting ideas, and one of the more verbose ways to present the rules I've ever seen. I'm going to talk a bit about the combat system today.

Everyone have probably heard the criticism leveled at AD&D, that with escalating hit points jumping off a mountain was always an option when a fight with a dragon went bad. Later editions have exacerbated the phenomena, and it sure can get silly sometimes.

Then we have those games where your stalwart hero marches into combat, only to be slain by a fist to the jaw. I own a few of those as well. DragonQuest made me think of another way to kill characters.

How many of your fantasy rpgs have rules for infection and gangrene? Harn probably have it, and maybe you, dear reader, can mention a few more. In DragonQuest the rules say like this:
The Base Chance of infection is equal to 10%. If the figure took any damage to Endurance, add (20 + the amount of Endurance damage in points). If the damage was inflicted by bite, claws, or talons, add 20. Specific Grievous Injuries may rise the Base chance even further.
Tough going! So if a Troll manage to rake you with his claws for 1 point of damage (note that there's less serious Fatigue damage before taking Endurance damage), you suddenly have a 61% chance of infection!  I wonder what will kill most characters, infection or the damage points?

In comparison I decided to check GURPS, which usually have a rule for everything. To my great surprise it was not that detailed, and the chance to avoid infection was a simple HT+3, which for a average human with 10 HT would mean roll over 13 with 3d6. Sounds very doable. I tried to calculate the percentage chance of success on that roll but my math skills just wasn't up to it.

Another game I checked was my old BRP derived Drakar & Demoner which had rules for infection, but far less tough than DragonQuest. 1% per hit, or 3% for dirty or natural weapons, and 5% to develop the infection into gangrene in 1d4 weeks. Those 61% start looking very grim indeed.

I am amazed by these numbers! While I am no longer very concerned by realism in my games, I start to wonder which of these games actually provide a picture of how it really works?

I guess everyone have heard of Papers & Paychecks, the rpg that they play in one illustration in AD&D? I am getting these ideas of a rpg where most of the time is spent is bed, coughing or lying on a battlefield with your guts spilled out, and the big drama is not combat, but the hours spent rolling on tables for disease, disfigurement and permanent injury. A new game called Injuries & Illness, maybe? Grim, is the word. It almost goes into silly territory for a moment there. Still, I find it fascinating.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some ideas about stat checks, from Frank Menzter and me

I peeked in at Dragonsfoot today. Usually it's not of my hangouts, but I felt like seeing what was going on that end of the world. As some of you might now, some hobby Big Names have their own Q&A threads there. Not all of them are very lively, and some are just open house chatting and rambling. Anyway, I checked what Frank Mentzer had to say to the world, being a bit curios about that business plan of his. Nothing new seems to have happened on that, but he was answering questions and pontificating upon other matters. One thing he said was how they handles ability check in his game.

Since the games of yesteryear usually didn't have skill systems, you used some other mechanic when you wanted to do something not specifically covered by the rules. Rolling a d6 (grumbling grognard method), rolling a d20, rolling against a save of some kind or rolling against some stat. Those are the classics.

I grew up in BRP land, where there were skills aplenty. But, if for some reason no skill covered it, it was time to roll against a stat. There's a Resistance Table in the rules, used for e.g. arm wrestling (I promise, it's the first thing I've ever seen anyone use as an example, or used in actual play!) which can be used when pitting two basic stats against each other, so the idea to use roll against the stats are there. Frankly, the stats usually don't do that much in BRP (unless you count the Idea Roll and relatives, recently expanded in the big BRP tome), so sometimes you feel like using them.

There are some fairly interesting ways to roll a stat check. My favourite one is to roll a different amount of d6 depending on difficulty. Try to roll below 13 with 7d6!

Now, Frank didn't do stat checks. He had used "roll a d20, get above 12" as a standard, but also liked the idea of using saves. Personally I find the saves for AD&D to be so bizarre and non-intutive that I get a migraine just trying to remember what those crazy categories are! I think the unified saves in 3rd ed was a stroke of genius. Much have been written about saves and how they work or not. I think they are a mess in anything pre 3rd ed D&D. There, I said it. Anyway. Frank Mentzer didn't use stat checks.

Why did Mentzer think stat checks was a bad idea? Well, he actually had his reasons. However you twist and turn saves on their heads, they are a factor of a class based system. In D&D everyone have saves, and they are set before hand, equal for all. Rolling against a save is same for every 4th level Cleric, but the stats are individual and based on luck. Well, rolling dice is random, of course, but the way I understood Frank's reasoning, he felt the player should bring some skill to the table. Rolling against stats felt like to much randomness, since you would be better at saving if you was lucky when rolling your stats.

I'm not sure I buy that argument, but it's an interesting way of seeing it. Of course it's interesting to compare all of this to T&T, where everything you do will be a stat check. I do think Frank Mentzer have a point about randomness, but I still think it makes sense in T&T. Since there's nothing not based on stats, there will be a common base for everyone. Rolling enough dice will actually make the outcome drift toward the average. I find that kind of weird myself, but I know that the law of averages will make it even out. Also, I have seen by my own game table that smart players go further in T&T.

Choosing when to roll, and make it count when you're in a postion of strength is very important. That's one lesson I learnt from Advanced Squad Leader. If you take every opportunity to roll, bad things happen. Attack from strength, it's a proven maxim. How you roll them bones, that's another kettle of fish. Food for thought.
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