Saturday, May 30, 2009

Health issues

Just like some other bloggers, I've had close encounters with viruses lately. My wife and daughter are both feeling unwell, and it might mean a little less time for me to blog. I really hope I can avoid getting ill!

Hang in there dear reader, and I hope to be a bit more speedy at posting soon (unless our unborn child, due any day now, decides otherwise)!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The weight of encumberance

One thing that used to bug the hell out of me was the fact that D&D used to measure how much you could carry in coins. Not only that, the equipment list didn't even list things in kilos, only coins! I thought it was unrealistic and focused the game only on grabbing money, which I thought was a baser form of enticement for adventuring. Pretentiousness in its base form, really.

Now I've realized that this is a design feature. The fact that you get experience for gold, actually emphasize the fact that you're better of fooling monsters out of their treasure than slaughtering them.

In the Swedish RPG Drakar & Demoner [Dragons & Demons, original, eh?] which I grew up playing, the curious invention of Encumbrance points saw the light of day. They were supposed to include not only the weight, but also the volume of things. Naturally, some of these numbers felt seriously wonky.

So, when I started my present campaign I decided to toss all kinds of encumbrance. In T&T there are something called weight units which one tenth of a pound. Why on earth invent a new unit if it's just a bunch of kilos/pounds with a new name?

What kind of campaign will benefit from encumbrance rules? I've been thinking about that a bit, and realized that the only kind of game that I intuitively feel would benefit from it is a post-apocalyptic one. In such a game where resources are scarce and where barter for high tech might be reasons for adventuring, I can fully see the need for a system that keeps track of stuff. Traditionally games about plunder, i.e. classic dungeon crawls, seem to be candidates for that, but now I'm not so sure.

In my last 3rd edition campaign (which I'll probably write more about at a later date) I once put in a pile of loot, with the idea that encumbrance would stop them from hauling it all home. Since there was a table in the DMG that told me what amount of treasure a party of a specific level "should have", the game suddenly ground to a halt when one of my players was inventive enough to figure out a way to haul it all home! Now what I do? Let them have it, or curb the invention? The mother of this dilemma of course the idea that I did the stupid thing of showing them all the stuff they couldn't have, and teasing them. That is not only cruel, it's bad manners and bad game mastering. Let's just silently sidestep the crazy idea that there are a level of treasure a PC "should have", and focus on good game mastering.

Good game mastering is about facilitating fun, and letting the players do what they want to test their wits and stretch the resources of their virtual personas. Counting on rules for encumbrance to limit the players is just laziness. Give the players meaningful challenges and they will surprise you with their inventiveness. It will be fun! In my game now, we all ignore weight and how much the characters can haul about. Will it break the design feature that it was intended to support? No, I don't think so. I have begun to like the idea of giving experience for gold, but since I'm not using that rule I think the best thing you can do about those "weight" entries in the equipment lists is to toss them out. If someone finds a dragon hoard and defeats a dragon, then they probably deserve to bring it back to town. No matter how unrealistic it is.

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - undead and romance!

Tonight we had a new recruit (my game is a walk-in game, so if you're in downtown Kingston (ON) on a Wednesday night, visit us at The Minotaur and join in!) and he made a splash at once.

I had very vague plans when I inspired by the megadungeon thread on Dragonsfoot decided to draw some sketches for a dungeon and let it grow in play. Now we have a city of Khazan which I'm evolving based on what's been written about it before, a wilderness around the dungeon, and relations between the characters and NPCs. Thanks to Jeff Rients magnificent Carousing Mishaps table in Fight On! #4, more and more hilarious events keep happening. Tonight our dwarf, who was turned into a eunuch by a trap a few weeks back, suddenly got himself a very insisting girlfriend. A draconian girlfriend. He has a CHA of 1, and is now almost engaged! I never could have planned that.

Before I have always introduced the game fairly quickly, and tossed the new players in the deep end for them to "play the game" from stage one. Today I went for a more involved introduction and since one of the other players was curious about what had happened to him after his carousing, we had two threads that could be fun to entwine. It worked out marvellously well. The chutzpah shown by that new lady rogue when she faced a dark elf wizard of far superior stats and skill, charmed more than just the characters. Add to that the fact that I got to introduce (fleetingly) some pirates, makes it even better. My daughter is crazy about pirates, so no ninjas in my game. Only pirates. Arr.

Those of you who read my musings about how to make undead scary, might be satisfied to know that they were indeed scary. A bunch of skeletons never last long when you've left the first tier of delving, but they at least made an impression. I really liked how the players reacted to the special attacks of the skeletons and made smart adjustments to their tactics. Abstract combat or not, there's still tactics. They took one claw attack to the eyes, and then realized if these guys go for close combat brutality, we'd better hit them hard and from afar. For those who have been reading my posts about combat smarts might want to head over and take a peek at the Combat Trick discussion on the Bridge.

All in all it was a fun session where both the world and the characters evolved a bit in new and organic ways. What I really like about this campaign is that it's never solidifying to much, since we seem to get a nice shakeup once in a while. Fight On!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to make undead scary again

I've been thinking about undead lately. Since I started my campaign before I really had planned much, I just wanted to get going, I never had much of a theme to my dungeon levels. Now I have started to think more of that. I know that we have had much fun, and I have actually imposed some sort of overreaching feel to what I've designed so far, even if the theme is not so strong. Now I have decided upon a theme for level three. Undead.

For those of you who have played D&D and know what to expect from undead monsters, let me tell you that there are no clerics in T&T. No turning. None. Scary enough?

So, how do you make undead scary anyway? Think about it. They are the very essence of a world of wrong. You know what is cold and what is warm, what is day and what is night. The undead challenge all that and cross the most definite border of all, i.e. death. I remember how I once read a scenario for Chill, about a small Caribbean island overrun with zombies when it hit home. Suddenly the very idea of a dead person walking again overpowered me and I felt a deep sense of dread. The reality of "undeadness" had kind of sunk in. I really which I could get that feeling again, and even better if I could convey it in gaming.

Since T&T isn't primarily a horror game, and I don't play it deadpan serious, I'm not going to aim for that kind of effect. But, it would be nice to break out of the 1 HD skeleton trap.

  • Skeletons - These undead are very mindless, but also kind of vulnerable, so I think they should probably go for the soft spot at once. Every combat round they try to grab hold of you and them rake you with their clawlike hands, tearing out your eyes. Make a SR on SPD to avoid being grabbed. MR 20, 2/claws out an eye.
  • Zombies - Zombies are most known for their resilience, since they keep coming until you make a head shot. Let them come in hordes, and allow a SR DEX of twice the PC level to use a ranged weapon and take one zombie out flat. MR 35
  • Wights - These are undead that are only half corporeal so they need soul stuff to maintain their existence and not fade into the void where they belong. MR 60 and can Drain Life for each 2 Spite. They drain 1d6 of primarily STR, secondary CON, etc. Immune to non-magical weapons unless they are made of silver.

What do you say? Nasty enough? If I can't accomplish anything like real dread in the player I can at least aim to make them respect the undead as dangerous opponents.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I've been assimilated!

Now I've joined the network of RPG blogs, as you can see from the stylish banner left of this post. I really like the idea of collating all kinds of gaming goodness created by people just like me out there. There's a lot of information out there, and a meta-feed like the RPG Bloggers Network is a splendid idea.

So, what's up in the near future? I plan a few longer pieces about game design, and things which have annoyed me over the years. I'm also considering offering a small download of rules and tweaks. With some luck I might get some official blessing to even offer something playable. You can bet I will continue with my regular T&T play reports, and I will talk more about what makes me tick and often from a T&T perspective.

Thanks for coming along, dear reader!

Monday, May 25, 2009

What the heck is this "old school" anyway?

A big discussion has erupted over at Grognardia. James opened a can of worms when he stated that "old school" is not just a feeling but something more tangible, and some very differing attitudes were revealed amongst the readers. I posted some of my own thoughts, and after doing so I wonder if I made myself clear. Sometimes when someone posts something which makes the cogs and wheels turn it takes awhile for it to run it course even though I often have to put it to print before that can happen. I decided to take another stab at it.

I think my way of arguing was really fuzzy! Old school is something tangible, but it is not a usable term in a discussion amongst two parts who don't know the intricacies of their opponents taste. Fairly useless, in most cases.

Matt Finch probably focuses on the key issue, that term old school is a loose term to ground any extended argument on. It falls apart. It's a phenomena.

So, I still content the thesis that system does matter for a specific feel or effect. If there are things you claim are essential for that elusive feeling you think is essential for old school you'd better use a system to support that.

Maybe the best way to think and talk about it all is to state clearly what one is talking about instead of slapping on a un-precise and so loaded a term as "old school". I probably will do it sometimes anyway, when I think people know what I mean by that.

To dismiss another gamer as an old nostalgic coot or a brash whippersnapper without respect for the forefathers, are both unjust and unfair. We game to have fun, all of us. Some of us are way to fond of delineations and demarcations, and plays the "definition game" too often. Let's discuss what we like and why. Sometimes we toss around labels so much they lose their meaning.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yet another post about combat actions

I just read a most intriguing blog post about actions and stunts in combat, over here at Ragnorakk's blog Tran Eskoor an Doon.

It's nothing new that many players only do what they are explicitly told they can do. Using that and actually putting some cool stuff in front of them takes adding 1 and 1 and not getting 4. I'm bad at maths, Ragnorakk isn't. Cool stuff!

Even if this just about T&T solo gaming, I think this can be used for more than that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Gaming Libray: Buffalo Castle

Today I've decided to take a look at a classic, Buffalo Castle from Flying Buffalo, copyright 1976.

Buffalo Castle is the first of the solo adventures which T&T is so known for. I don't know if this is the first solo ever, according to Rick it might very well be. The designer of this dungeon is Rick Loomis, and it is one of the few adventures by Rick. There's one in a FreeRPG Day booklet as well. Being the first solo it is very charming to see so many of the tropes that later became staples of dungeon designs everywhere. We have odd games of chance that can lower or raise your stats willy nilly, we have teleporters, monsters to fight and treasure strewn for grabbing which look ominously unguarded. Last but not least is my favourite, a grassy plain with a big herd of buffalo! What! That's some castle.

I love this little adventure! I got mine as a pdf in the 7th ed box, and printed it out and played it a lot. Sadly I noticed first afterwards that the original was significantly smaller that letter size, so I only have tiny print in the middle of the page. The illustrations are all drawn for the adventure and they depict some of the denizens of the castle, some treasure and signs you might find, and similar things. They are all done by Liz Danforth and all have that "Danforth feel" and atmosphere her pieces are well known for.

This solo takes us back to a time when the hobby was very young, and in the introduction Rick Loomis describes the idea behind it as a way to try out T&T and see what it's all about. Incredible enough he also says "or for Dennis Hall, who lives in Alaska and doesn't have enough people nearby to play group games like T&T". Very informal, indeed.

All in all it's a marvellously fun romp. Unlike Keep on the Borderlands it's not very usable as a start of your own campaign, but in the minds of all T&T delvers it compares as the first place where they encountered fame and fortune. Some later solos took the art form in multiple advanced directions, and some of them had both intriguing stories and locales usable for campaign play (like City of Terrors, for example). This on the other hand is at the core just what good old exploring for fame and gold is all about, it oozes fun out of every pore.

I've saved the best for last. Rick Loomis have generously put The castle online, for free! Try it out and have some fun!

How to make combat interesting - addendum

I felt I still had some thoughts about fighting and cool manoeuvres, that didn't sort themselves out in my head when I posted the original post. This will be a bit rambling, and I haven't finished this train of thought yet. Hop on for a ride while the train is gaining speed...

Having just quit a D&D 4th ed campaign (and started to play Call of Cthulhu instead, wohoo!), I realized that the idea of making cool stuff is there. The problem is they have just taken out everything that matters. The effect.

See, when I was playing a dwarf fighter in D&D4, I had a cartload of small cards with "powers" that had funky names like whirlwind strike or dizzying blow and stuff like that. Nothing wrong with some whirling and dizzying, eh? Well, if only I had been able to do that!

I know a lot of people grumbled about how in 3rd ed you couldn't do anything cool in combat unless you had a chain of feats. Sure, I bitched a bit about that too, but at least you could do those awesome things when you got the feat.

The problem which made me quit D&D4 was that even if I had, say, dizzying blow nobody became dizzy!! I just rolled more dice of damage! That became boring after a while. I never understood that while I was playing. Oddly enough. This makes me think of a couple of conclusions about combat rules.

  • Combat rules can be very crunchy, or very rules light. Anything goes. But, there has to be an effect to what you do. It can be either a simulation of what could/should happen or something that makes narrative sense. But, it must matter.
  • The combat rules must be there for a reason. If the combat is used show off the muscular warrior battling hordes of monsters, it better have a mook rule. If it's there to inject a sense of danger or daring it better be able to make the player feel a little bit tense (AKA known as the fear of death or the fear of having to go through an involved character creation process again)

I still haven't thought about what it all means, and what game systems work and not. I'm thinking maybe Jared Sorensen's three questions are involved in this. You can count on me getting back to this. It boils down to this: Combat should be interesting, otherwise why spend so much time on it?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Playing the Dunegon of Voorand - traps and tricks

Having had little time to prepare, I came to today's session with the intention of delaying my players. Sometimes it comes like a natural thing when the delving expands out of the dark, and the outer world gets involved in the adventure. It happened somewhat last week, when one of the PCs capable of flying decided to fly high over the mountain of the dungeon and scout the area. He found some standing stones, tracks of cattle rustling orcs and enough to entice him to explore some more. This week I actually didn't have to delay much, since the taster of wilderness adventure and wider and wilder lands made further exploration and research about the surrounding lands something they took on voluntarily! Add to that the fact that another player had decided to use some of the NPCs he had recruited and start some serious carpentry down the dungeon to build bridges and stuff. I love when my players get creative like that!

I couldn't really resist using the awesome Carousing Mishaps table by the inventive Jeff Rients, from issue four of Fight On! magazine. So, they did not only get the opportunity to chase down facts about the countryside, they also was tempted to spend some hard earned gold and get some fun to happen. Maybe getting 1 Adventure Point per spent gold was a bit generous, but whattaheck! Our brave dark elf partied like there was no tomorrow and ended up without any clothes or memory in the temple of the Earth Mother, where the angry priestesses chased out the defiler! Fun was had by all.

When they finally entered the dungeon they decided to go down a hallway where I had basically drawn a long empty corridor and then just filled it with odd traps. I made it fairly clear to them that they were traps, and it's impossible to surprise someone that's so lucky like their rogue. But, it turned out that even if it would have filled me with glee to see some tense moments when the traps went off, we did get some good moments out of them anyway. You see, they didn't just roll a couple of dice and them moved along, and they didn't have to think their way through a mental headache while they were trying to have fun with their friends. I managed to do something different.

Leave a trap out in the open, and players will spend time on it. They will take it apart, prod it with ten foot poles, try to circumvent it and then understand what it could have done when they are finally safe. Remember the fun you had when you put it there for them to solve? Just watch your players as they carefully reassemble the machinery so that they can feel that satisfaction when they come back and see that some other delvers have triggered it! I noted that even if the players hadn't understood how the mechanism worked (and I didn't actually give then all the information needed), they still spend a lot of time safeguarding themselves if the trapped would do this or that when they out of curiosity wanted to test it out after they passed it by. Having the whole party kibitzing and taking different precautions was a very interactive way of handling a trap. Playing a game where traps are a thing unto themselves is a mindset, and my players are good at it.

Talking about minds. I was actually fooling around with their minds a bit today. I had hinted that there was a tavern down on level two, and today they found it! It's not just any tavern, though, and I messed with their heads a bit and placed the Tavern out of Time (AKA The Come Back Inn) from Dave Arnesons Blackmoor in there! They seemed scared by time travelling and plane hopping taverns and left quickly. I hope I learned something from Dave of how to keep the players on their toes.

There was some fighting, and they used some of the stuff I posted about combat, and effectively halved the combat adds of a golem by knocking the not so dexterous creature over! It takes a lot of power to challenge these guys in a fight now. We'll see how long they'll stay on level two. Well, they now got one of the colour coded keys I've left in the dungeon, and some rumours about other areas and the pool of the black one down on level five. We'll see where they go next time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fight on! How to make combat interesting

I've read more than once about Tunnels & Trolls that people think it's a neat game, but that they get tired of rolling buckets of dice and that the abstract combat system don't work well for them. I'm a bit surprised that the dice pool system is much of a problem, considering how popular that kind of game mechanic is, and also how easy it is to manage by some shortcuts. Today, though, I'm going to talk about the combat system, and how you can get it to sing. Note: these ideas work for any game system! If I get a bit rambling, bear with me and see if I might have some cools ideas in here after all.

In his very enjoyable book Play Dirty, author John Wick writes about a lot of cool things to use at the gaming table. Naturally, he also writes about combat. Some of the tricks he writes about, I'll show you here as well and talk about other stuff in the same vein. When I attended the Ad Astra convention in Toronto earlier this year I listened to a panel about how to write combat scenes. When reading Play Dirty I was reminded of that, since in that book John wrote the same thing those panelists said. First off, a real fight is quick. Real quick. I remember making fun of AD&D when I was younger, because the game turn was so ridiculously long but you only got one attack in! In T&T a combat turn by the book is two minutes. Obviously these games are not good aproximations of real combat. They don't need to be, but if you really want to end a combat quick, here's how to do it.

So, if all those game turns is just waiting for a killing blow, and all the circling and shuffling about is just wearing each other down, then let's go for the kill. So, let's feint and kick him in the groin or poke him in the eyes. Then, when he is down, kick him until he wont get up.

Feint – SR on DEX or LK. Why not take the average? Level? Well, I use the level of the dungeon as a general metric, but otherwise use his level, or MR/10 if no level is applicable. You're playing D&D? Roll as many d6 as the difference in level between you, add then and try to get under your DEX.

Groin kick – SR on LK or STR or maybe the average. You don't need to give him 2d6 Spite damage, just say he's out of the fight. In D&D you can call for an attack against a tougher AC and call it a day.

Poking eyes – Make a SR on SPD to see if your opponent manage to deflect your attack. You are going to do something in the middle of his field of vision, so it won't be easy. Say, level based on MR/10 with a bonus of +2? Maybe base it on his SPD/10 if he has one.

One thing to notice here is of course that T&T have a very cool mechanic, the Saving Roll, which can be used for anything. This is important so I'll say it again, it can be used for anything. I wonder if people who claim T&T combat is abstract and unengaging have understood that they can do anything. It's in the rules, pal! Let's get back to John Wick and Play Dirty again.

John notes one thing I find really spot on. He writes “Never let your players say, 'I roll to hit'. You know what they're doing, you want to know how they are doing it.” That's not only amusing, but also very true. Nobody will roll to miss, so why bother “rolling to hit”? So, following John, a DM should ask “where”, “how” and “when”. Good players will catch on, since you'll be giving them a bonus for each of those three. Imagine the three maneuvers mentioned above, but with a hefty bonus because the player said he was crouching down as if hit, kick out just as that other NPC/PC character shoved the target off balance (hey, if it's a minute or two it will happen all the time as people scuffle around). Beautyful and grim. Also, quite fun. All this about bonuses makes me want to bring up Wushu. In that game there are no penalties, only bonuses. I have read many games that talk about cool maneuvers, but they all have penalties. Not so in Wushu. The more cool stuff you say to try, the easier it is to succeed. Now, I fully understand that not everyone wants their fantasy games to be like an over the top wuxia movie, but take a long hard look at the idea that you award stunts if you really want to spice up combat in your game. Penalties are telling the player "don't even try it, boy".

Now, you might not want to go that far, but there are still a few tricks left. One interesting suggestion from the panel at Ad Astra, was that since the fight will be very much waiting and then a few short blows before it's over, you have to make it interesting in some other way. The method that stuck in my brain was the idea that you can always describe the event from the viewpoint of another character. Since you only have one character as a player in a RPG, you'll have to make do with that. Try to describe you're next maneuver in combat by mentioning how you get caught up in the successful attack by the player before you in the initiative (or something like that). That player gets to shine once more and will hopefully reward you with some inspired narrative next turn where your character is in the spotlight. Make combat fun together. Having fun together is why we play roleplaying games, right? I would even suggest that if you treat them nice, you could probably borrow a creature from the Game Master if you promise to return them in decent shape. Go wild.

I'm not always very good at following my own advice in this post, but I'm trying and will see if I can't manage to collect some real life drama from my game table some time. Oh, and buy John's book!

Fight on!

Monday, May 18, 2009

When I entered a real Dungeon

Edit: The paragraphs had been terribly mangled. Now it should be readable again. Sorry about that.

A real dungeon!

Many sheets of graph paper have been covered with tunnels, depicting shrines, tombs and other kinds of underground complexes. One very good rationale for underground tunnels is of course mines. Now have I finally been down into a real, dark and muddy mine and thought about sharing some of my impressions. Maybe you have read the Dungeon survival guide that TSR put out for 1st ed, and think that was good enough, or just not the territory you wanted to take your game. I'm not going to try to cover that territory again, instead trying to focus on my feelings and impressions of mines as an environment, which might give some idea what you waht to do with underground complexes in your game as far as general feel is concerned.

The first thing I was thinking about when I stood in a small steel cage that was rushing down into the depths of the earths was how claustrophobic it felt. It was also a very , very quick elevator. I don't think I've ever travelled an elevator at such a breakneck pace before. That will of course be of relevance for a gaming situation. How will you enter the underground? It's probably very far deep down, and that whole in the ground is probably not made for comfort, but for some other purpose (like hauling ore).

When I first stepped out of that metal cage, two things struck me. The noise down there, and the heat. Now, most people thing of the underground as cool and wet. While the latter might be true up to a certain depth, depending on the kind of rock, the fact that a mine actually gets hotter as you go down is maybe not that obvious. If your dungeon is a mine, where people actually dig after ore, I think it might give a better impression of realism if your delvers will find either creatures equipped for handling extremely hot working conditions either by technology or my natural abilities. The mine I visited was ventilated and had cooling equipment, but it was still very hot. The natural ambient temperature was 42 degrees, Celsius! I was told that gold mines in South Africa are as hot as 60 degrees. Murderous environment!

The noise then. In a modern mine there are fans, cooling radiators, ducts of cool and warm air that flows in the tunnels. I have no idea how they did that back in the bad old days, but the wind can, if you end up in the wrong tunnel not only blow you off your feet, but also been scorchingly hot or maybe bring with it dust and sand which will be just as bad as end up in a sandstorm in a desert.

Those hazards brings me to another topic. When I draw dungeons, they very often end up far to regular. I've written about that before, how my dungeons look way to much like the downtown road network of a north American metropolis if I'm not careful. In a mine, or any other kind of underground, there will be hazards galore. Especially if there's monsters fair an foul wandering around. So, there's probably a lot of small niches, dead ends or other short tunnels and alcoves only used for hiding when something nasty comes down the tunnels. Make sure you include some of them in your own dungeons, I sure will do in the future.

I know I've read many times about how classic old school dungeons might have signs or chalk markings left by former delvers or inhabitants. That is also something that was very obviously present in the mine I went down into. If there was a compressor for the air vents, it was labelled. Also, big grey housings for the electricity down there was labelled Danger and “13800 Volts” and similar. “Foul Air, beware” was another one. Apart from signs there was also a lot of chalk markings, mostly numbers and arrows. This of course brings home the fact that many of the signs down below will only make sense for the intended recipient. Some might be general warnings, and other might be very cryptic. Obvious usage of that kind of things is to give players a hint of the friendliness of the inhabitants of an area. Are they expecting traffic, and someone who might need guidance? This is an area where I see intelligent delvers succeeding where foolhardy ones might not. Make sure you see the signs, subtle and obvious, and act accordingly.

A few more things struck me as interesting down there. Since the air, even when the whooshing air fans had brought it down, was a bit stale and it was tiring to walk far when the air was more saturated with CO2 and has less oxygen that usual. Also, the amount of muck and mud down there was amazing. The idea of bringing a spell book down there boggles the mind! It's very dry 6800 feet down, since it's below the ground water, but the dust is there. And when you have water, there's mud everywhere! It might not be fun to consider all the details like humidity, sulphurus air, dust and what effects they have on swords, leather and spell books. But, make sure you tell your delvers that they look like they have been crawling in mud, or that they are dusty and dirty. They might get some of those utility spells that way, and will feel at least a tiny bit more real.

A mine is a very moody setting for adventure, and a very different environment. It's very deadly, very confined, very hot and very mucky. And loud noises everywhere from wind or equipment. It's wrap up with a short atmospheric piece. As I was going along one of the big tunnels, I passed a smaller side passage, and turned my helmet lamp in that direction to see what it was. There it was, a small tunnel, with uneven floor and with very varying height so would have to stoop down to just get through. Far up ahead I saw a fork in the road, where the tunnels moved on, smaller and smaller, and a rusty chain hanging across one of the passages with a sign sayign “Beware” and the rest illegible. A maze or twisty passages, indeed. I went on following the main tunnels.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: Green Devil Face #1 & #2

Green Devil Face is a fanzine, and a community project. "It is intended to provide traditional fantasy RPG referees with game material that can be inserted as-is into their games" is the way editor James Raggi presents it as. I have in my hand the first two issues and here are my impressions:

GDF #1 is a small booklet, A5, 28 pages. The only illustrations are the cover illustations, a medieval one with a knight on the front and a anatomical picture of a posing skeleton on the back. There's one map, which looks like it's done on a computer and it's clear and usable. The grid is a bit too dim, but that might get better now that James have a new printer.

It starts with a history of the module, a short paragraph of background story, and a short note of usage. Then we're treated to a random encounter table before the numbered entries on the map are described in order. Clear, classic and well done. All in all the visual impression is nice and proves how good looking something like a basic fanzine can be these days.

So, time to dive in and read! The first sentence was puzzling for maybe five seconds, and then I started to giggle. I was reading GDF in bed and my wife had already fallen asleep so now I had to supress some of my giggling because soon I felt not only like chuckling, but for some serious guffaws. Everyone get's to be in this one! Well known game designers, bloggers and web forum inhabitants are satired and made fun of. Not one to take himself to seriously, the author himself can be found if you look for him. It's not to hard to find things to make fun of in this hobby, and especially in the old school community there are enough odd balls and crazy people for a work like this. Nothing is mean or downright cruel, but the humor is spot on when it light upon some of our silliness. Considering some outburst of moralism and downright rude attitudes I've seen, I think this is a well done way of handling controversy! We're gamers, so instead of writing endless tirades and arguments we should make our point by writing something that can be played! Top marks to James Raggi for that!

The adventure itself is a classic romp with some odd NPC's that can be interacted with in a limited fashion, weird substances to imbibe and treasure to be found. I do like the fact that almost nothing is what it seems, and investigation is both needed, fun and sometimes fatal! This might be a joke, but it is a very playable joke.

Anyone in the old school community online will get a couple of good laughs out of this one, and as if that wasn't enough you get a very devious dungeon to boot! It's cheap, it's fun and it used to be called Fantasy Fucking Vientnam so what is there not to love?!

GDF #2 is also a small green booklet, A5, 24 pages. It have the same kind of old illustrations, but this time only the back cover is from mideval times, since the front is only a little more than 100 years old.

This issue contains 12 different traps and mysteries. A lot of them are one page, and some more involved are 2-4 pages, with examples of usage and longer description of setup and effect. The quality is overall high, and even if some are more clever than others, they are all intriguing.

The idea of having the trap out in the open, and let the delvers make of it what they will is good. There are item traps, water and darkness. Interestingly enough, I think the simpler traps are probably the best ones. Another thing worth noting is that many traps have ideas for tweaking, so the 24 pages are filled more goodness than first apparent! Many traps are very brutal and will take some careful delving skill to handle. I'd love to encounter stuff like this as a player!

All in all I'd recommend GDF#2 to anyone with a interest in puzzles and traps. James have collected some really good contributions and I really hope he gets some more submissions for further issues. Writeup those traps you have designed and send them off! Published glory await you all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The One-Page Dungeon Contest ended, and now some self scrutiny

UPDATE! THE DEADLINE IS EXTENDED! New deadline is May 21st at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time (US)

The time is up, folks! I was thinking a lot about this contest, and as I was sketching more of the third level of my Dungeon of Voorand, I realized that I probably wouldn't be making it.

Much have been said about dungeon design, and many words of praise have been heaped upon the one-page template. For some it seems to work like a catalyst for the imagination, but apparently not for me. Now, it's not just the 30 x 30 one page limitation that hinders me. Frankly, I think I have understood some of the limitations of my own attitude toward game mastering and crafting adventures.

I began my career behind the screen mostly by chance. We had decided a couple of friends to share game mastering duties, but since I started I kind of got stuck at it. One thing which have struck me as I've read about other people's campaigns, is that the classic campaign which is home grown from character generation and onward, is not really my thing.

While the idea of creating a world is interesting, I have always worked mostly from "canned" adventures and settings. Laziness aside, I think the reason it has worked well for me is because I am fairly good at adapting stuff and wing it, if I have a starting point! I am better at patching together a "story" of adventure and exploration from a pre-packaged adventure and the meanderings and wild goose chases that players let themselves get carried away by, than preparing stuff whole cloth. I'm not creative if I have to be original, but if I get to take all that buzz around in my head from other sources and just throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, I usually pick fairly sticky stuff.

I sat there with a 30 x 30 grid and wondered what I should do. Having started a few chambers and corridors I realized that if I just connected those by 10 feet passages I would have a dungeon that's as good looking at a map of downtown Toronto, or a chessboard. It's obvious that I create my dungeons in a different way. Now I'm getting curious how!

When I think back to how I've done my megadungeon, I've basically taken all the kind of weird shit I've ever read of, and just thrown them together. Dungeon ecology really isn't my thing, since I don't have the ability to focus on more than one room at a time! Maybe it would be a good idea to get some grasp of how ones creativity works. I've read many times of writer's block, and this small contest have given me new insights about how I write and design. Scary, and hopefully useful later on. Maybe it's something worth thinking about for you, dear reader? If you one day sit there with a 30 x 30 grid and don't know what to put down, it might help to know by what process it used to work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - threats from above and below

Tonight the game went well! Everyone was having fun and we had one character get below zero hit points! They had encountered a room before with water and some kind of hungry monster, that had killed a PC before. This time they were intrigued enough by the three doors on the opposite side of the water filled room to decide to "do" this room tonight.

The room was filled with water, and had poles sticking up with some wobbly planks of wood on them. Since T&T is what it is, they of course have a fairy PC, so she flew into the room to investigate, and everyone else had actions ready to fry anything that moved. It moved. A swirling mass of slithering flying eels attacked and tried to knock the intruder into the water. A minute later it was clear that when prepared, the PC will succeed at what they try to do if they get information and are prepared to act upon it. Fried eel.

Now it became interesting. How do they try to make the crossing safer? It was by no means an easy task just because nobody was trying to push you into the water. Having tied ropes, and also having the flying member of the party steadying along the way did a lot to alleviate the danger. Now it went from interesting to downright scary. Crossing a wobbly plank was a third level SR on DEX or LK. With a rope I reduced it to second level. With someone to hold your and, to one. Our poor human warrior rolls a 1 and a 2. I'm thinking they have really done their homework preparing, so I rule he is still holding on to the rope, but have to make a STR check to pull himself to safety. He rolls a 1 and a 2. Piranhas feeding frenzy ensures and they finally manage to extract the whole party from the room, bleeding. I love fumbles!

Now they get to explore what's beyond that mysterious room. They map a few corridors, open a few doors and find (amongst other things) garden gnomes that makes you dance and a really nice magical axe with a Gristlegrim rune on it in a big chest. They also find another trap.

This time I was almost smiling when they methodically observed the corridor trap, searched for triggers and on the spot invented half a dozen ingenious way to make a trap like this. Then one player decided to just walk down the corridor with his axe at the ready. Gristlegrim will protect his own.

Now, I'm not saying Gristlegrim doesn't protect his own, but sitting at the table hearing the players figure everything out and how to safely disable the trap, I was amazed when one of them decided to just go in there! I love seeing things like that.

In the end they got him up from the spiked pit and decided it was time to head back home. Guess what happens when they go back to the piranha room? I am lost for words when I see a 1 and a 2 hit the table. Same player, same character. They get out, finally, by the skin of their teeth. One character decides to stay in the dungeon and wait for the hyenakin (oh, yes Paul. There are hyenakin in my dungeon!) tribe. He defeated the chief in combat and his second in command runs the tribe while he is delving.

One of the funny things that was said tonight was when the player who rolled fumbles repeatedly tonight levelled up and got a new Talent. He said roughly "I'm taking Carpentry! If I take that I will have to be inventive and find a way to bring it into play!" Good thinking. He got some Adventure Points just for his attitude.

Next week we'll see if they decide to go down one of the mysterious stairs they've found. Will they almost die on level five next week? Level three? We'll see.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Microrules, now for T&T

Visiting the Trollbridge, I found a very cool and fun hack of T&T called Micro T&T. It is of course a relative of the other great micro game, Microlite20, which is a ultra slim re-interpretation of the D20 D&D rules. The man behind Micro T&T, "Hogscape", calls it a work in progress so he probably welcomes your feedback! I think it looks really cool. Check it out!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Green Devil Face #1 and #2 has arrived!

Today when I checked the mail I had gotten a envelope with the two issues of Green Devil Face, formerly known as Fantasy fucking Vietnam. I kind of liked that name, actually.
The first issue is one setting, by James Raggi, and issue number two is by James and a bunch of contributors.
I can tell you this much, they are hillarious!. More details after I've read them both.

Traps, weal or woe?

We have had some discussion over at ChattyDM about traps. Chatty started to talk about how to judge the one page dungeon contest, and what the difference between the old school and new school is. Soon we started talking about why traps should be interactive.

It struck me that the reason some people think a traps just means "send in the thief, roll some dice and get on with it" are not because they don't like the idea of traps, but that they have encountered situations which conditioned them to that reaction. Maybe that conditioning even turns them off the idea of traps altogether!

As someone who likes traps, and would like to see them used and enjoyed, I think I have to think more about how I deploy them in my own game. I think I will try to put down my philosophy of traps and their usage, and to stretch my wings a bit maybe I can make it accessible for gamers of any editions or game. Maybe it's to bold a project. We'll see.

Lastly, read this amusing narrative of a close encounter!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Impressions of the latest T&T, and a minotaur!

Dyson over at A character for every game have published a T&T character, in his project to post a character for every system he owns. It's interesting to read about his impression of the character generation system.

In case you didn't know it already, I have already published a review of Tunnels & Trolls 7.5 on the web. There you can read about my impressions of the 7.5 ed. You can find it here!

I'll post some more about oddities and their solutions at a later date. I'm right now trying to make sense of magic item creation, for example. More on that.

Enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Appendix N - gaming influences

You might have seen that Zack on his blog RPG Blog II is asking people to list the books, TV and other influences that have been important to your campaign, like the list Gygax made in the AD&D DMG.

I love lists of all kind, so here we go!

  • Robert E Howard: Conan
  • Fritz Leiber: the "swords" series about Lankhmar
  • Michael Moorcock: all his fantasy, but especially Elric and ErekosĂ«
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Glen Cook: the books about The Black Company
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Pat Mills & Simon Bisley: Sláine
  • Clive Barker: The Books of the Art
  • Jack Vance
  • John Ford: all his western movies

Without a doubt is Moorcock the biggest influence on my gaming. Not only have I played a lot of the marvellous 4th ed Stormbringer from Chaosium but the idea of the multiverse have influenced all my gaming immensely. I did start my career as an adventurer in Middle Earth, but after that I've called the whole Multiverse my home.

Some of the titles above are quite specific in how they have influenced me. I'd like to highlight the raw verve of the visuals of Simon Bisley as something I always come back to when I want to see the fantastic for my inner eye. Jack Vance on the other hand does the same with words. I'm not sure there is a theme, but compared to e.g. Gygax list it is a lot less centred on classic science fiction and science fantasy. While I do enjoy reading those yarns, they are not influencing my gaming much. Space opera is a special case, since I love to read it and would love to try to play something like it. But, for some reason science fiction gaming have never really worked out for me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - The lure of liches

Today's game was interesting. It was not very heavy on fighting, none at all in fact, but the threat of it hung in there all the time. I dangled the carrot while wielding a big stick.

They decided to stay on level two a while longer, since they knew now that it was far bigger than previously thought. Going down through a "back door", they avoided paying for their entrance. A while back they encountered a bunch of scalykin (a term from our playtest of Vincent Bakers Storming the Wizard's Tower, basically kobolds) and bargained for passage down the stairs to level two. They now have few free passes and they decided to take another route this time.

Down at level two, they went mapping some areas formerly explored and found some interesting stuff. This is where the design of the dungeon becomes interesting. I have drawn two corridors on parallel, and as they go east-west they are connected by passages going north-south. In between those were a space where I fit a bunch of small rooms, all with wooden doors. Basically it was a bunch of "a maze of twisty passages, all alike", but more interesting. Now, they were empty (since I actually try to keep a decent amount of the dungeon open for improvisation) but the doors were interesting. I had planned it so that if you were mapping carefully you would at last notice that the last room was bordering one of the parallel corridors, and the door in that wall couldn't lead to those since there was no door on the other side. One way doors, and false doors, are things I use sparingly but it was my homage to Rob Kuntz and Gary Gygax. For some reason one way doors or false doors for me is a Kuntz thing. I really have to study more of Rob's dungeons one of those days. Suggestions welcome.

Well, they mapped closely, and realized that this was a dead end. What I really liked, though, was that one player decided to bash it with with warhammer to prove a point. Intelligent playing to map and realize it was a dead end, and a sense for when brute force is just plain fun.

They main event for the night, though, was the tomb. I had decided to place not only a jungle environment, a magic shop and a tavern on this level, but also a tomb of a high level wizard/knight. They entered it, scouted around and looked really longingly at the skeletal guardians of the tomb, sitting in their niches with rotting robes bedecked by jewelry and crowns of silver and items of magic. Two things were really fun here. One of my players was really torn. He would have loved to plunder the magical riches, but his fear of fighting powerful undead was tangible. Seeing the player and the character become one, roleplaying at its best, was the kind of sweet moment of indecision which makes it so fun to be the DM. I was very curious myself what this could lead to! I was as much in the dark as they! Throw in some cool stuff and watch the players run with it. I love it.

The second thing was more gritty. In the tomb there was this altar, a magical Rubik's Cube, which was set up to refold itself and open up a small compartment when someone put an offering on the table. In a moment which sits up there with some of the most hilarious and funny stuff I've read in campaign journals, one of my players decided to - wait for it - sit! on the altar! So, it folder into itself while he was sitting on it. I had never imagined anything like that to happen, and had to scramble for an idea of what would happen when an altar was chewing on someones arse! The poor dwarf was castrated and the he not only managed to roll 2,1 on his SPD save, but also roll a 6,6 (spite, of course) on damage inflicted! The image of his misery and the clash of mental images people got from him with a squeaky voice and the full dwarven bearded manliness caused a -10 CHA reduction. He is at 1 CHA right now. Poor sod.

So, they feared undead more that they were greedy, and after s short peek down some stairways to another level, they got back to town and got their 200 AP for surviving 2nd level! They did defuse a couple of other traps as well, and talked somewhat to some other delvers they found but for me the Tomb was the funniest.

So, once again the idea of exploring as central part of the game was proving fruitful for fun. Also, the idea of weird and unscaled encounters proved it's worth. Seeing delvers really fear undead brings back to me the image of Conan, followed by wolves and seeking shelter in a cave which turns out to be an ancient tomb filled with creepy feeling. Sword and sorcery at its most atmospheric. I love this game!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Periodicals galore!

I was very happy when I came home from the local drug store/post office today, since I had in my hand a pile of Alarums and Excursions! Last year I decided to do some research about old APAs, and A&E was one I was curious about. Then Grognardia had an interview with Lee Gold who runs the APA, and I got the kick in the butt I needed to get myself a few issues to read. Not only that! I have also ordered Green Devil Face! From what I've read of this project, it's something I'd enjoy a lot. I'll post more when I have read some of them.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who am I? And why am I doing this?

Now when I have gotten this blog going, and have posted some stuff I hope have at least some value as entertainment, I'm going to do the classic first post. Who am I? What are my intentions with this blog?

I first encountered rpg blogging in a style I enjoyed on Grognardia by James Maliszewski. He has a very personal style and he so prolific that I sometime wonder if he does it for a living! About a year ago I also happned to encounter Trollgod's Trollhalla and these two sites together gave me the idea to start a blog. The latter site, a hangout for friends and fans of Ken St Andre (and T&T), and my copy of the new edition of Tunnels & Trolls made me think that the world needed more blogs about T&T. At the same time I had enjoyed what James were doing at Grognardia, and wanted to be able to write about a broader theme, like the history of the hobby.

My history as a gamer harkens back to the middle 1980-ies (I don't think the rest of my personal history is that interesting. If you really want to know, post a comment to the effect!). Back then a Swedish company published a game, Drakar & Demoner, which was a translation of the fantasy game based on Basic Roleplaying, and specifically the Worlds of Wonder boxed set, that Chaosium had put out. It became very successful and spawned the hobby in Sweden. I played that one and their translation of Pacesetter's Chill and most importantly the translation of Iron Crown Enterprice's Middle Earth Roleplaying. The first session we played I felt the treasure was kind of cheap, so I added a mithril chain shirt and a couple of thousand gold pieces. After that we almost never adventured for monetary reasons, since I had made the characters so rich they didn't need it!

After this me and my friends bought a lot of games, sold them to each others or on convention auctions and then bought something new again. If we didn't have anything else to do, we would make up character for a new game system. I never understood how people could be content to only play one game, say D&D, all the time! This have shaped my attitude toward gaming a lot. My tastes are very eclectic and I love getting new games.

Nowadays I read a lot about how gaming was done before, and also about the latest developments in the indie scheme from e.g. The Forge. In between those two ends of the gaming spectrum, where some tries to re-create a old way of doing things and those who tries to do things nobody have did before, a lot of interesting stuff gets done. I reads and plays both ways.

This blog is intended to be my explorations of what can be done, and what I like and don't like. Since every comparison needs a foundation, I'm going to compare a lot of things to Tunnels & Trolls. It's one of the first RPG ever (some say it's the second oldest game ever) and it's also still in print and plays a lot like it always did even in its latest edition. I like it because it's both old school and new school at the same time! Perfect as a comparison to everything.

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