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!

                                           **              **
                                           **              **
                                                   **
                                                 *****
                                                ******
                                          **                **
                                            **           **
                                               ** ** **

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 rpg.net 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.

and

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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to have fun with your kids

I swear it had nothing to do with Grognardia talking about dice! Buying crayons was something we had been thinking of doing a long time now. My daughter is very good at painting and drawing, and she haven't gotten any new crayons in a long while. Gamers with memories of yesteryear know that crayons and dice go hand in hand.

This summer I bought a big nice batch of Gamescience precision dice, and I bought them uninked. Since I never bought a boxed set with dice and a crayon it was time for me to have a go at it now.

So, a nice set of orange dice in front of me, I convinced the daughter that we should do some crayon drawings. She was gracious enough to let me borrow the sky blue crayon. While she was drawing a tree, a house and a playground I managed to fill in the numbers on a d4, d6 and a d10. At this point the next generation gamer peeked out of my daughter's face as she asked me what I was doing, and if she could try. Number 2 and number 11 on the d20 was promptly filled in by a proud four year old proto gamer. We even tried the d6 together. It rolled good numbers.

When you wonder next time how to spend time with your kids, try "inking" some dice with wax crayons together! It was fun.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another blogger post about wondrous magic

Since I wrote my post on the missing wonder of magic, we have had another post on the subject of making it weirder. Go check it out, over at Troll and Flame!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gaming and food - a memory of trolls

When you think of gaming, do you think of food? At most gaming tables, snacks will be consumed. The availability of snacks are even codified in many rule books, which state what equipment you need to play the game. Eating and gaming go hand in hand.

I've read that in order for a memory to get stuck in your brain, it helps to have many different senses involved. Just imagine when you take down that big monster, and the pizza you were eating at the time. Big monsters always makes you think of mushrooms. I also have a memory of food and gaming, but not food I've ever eaten.

Back when I was a teenager we didn't eat that much while gaming. Usually we did take a break for some food, but snacks at the table were scarcer. Now when I have gotten older and my metabolism is getting slower, it's far more common with some eating. I figure I'm doing it wrong.

But, I don't have any specific relationship between food and gaming, no must-have snack. I haven't even ever used the pizza matrix on my excellent D&D screen from Kenzer Co! Maybe one of these days. But, I do think of eggs when trolls are mentioned.

Lodged in my memory is an encounter with a troll, when I was far younger than today, at the beginning of my career in dungeon delving. Tingling with anticipation I had bough the Fighting Fantasy solo game book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and I was taking the first steps as a novice adventurer. I explored caverns deep beneath the earth and marvelled at the wonders found underground. There was a troll in one room, and he had a larder. When I had dispatched him, I no longer remember how many tries it took, I searched his storage and found eggs.

Eggs are nothing special, I eat a few every week. But, there was something highly mystical about these eggs. They were pickled. To my young mind nothing could be more exotic and weird than pickled eggs. Are they uncooked? Are they still in their shells? I tried to imagine how and why. Among the food I ate with my family, there were no such things as pickled eggs. They were purely in the realms of fantasy. The wonder of eggs.

Many times have I read about sense of wonder, which in science fiction is that sense that you're not in Kansas anymore and that wide vistas of possibilities opens up in your mind. I still like a good book giving me that feeling. In all the literature of the fantastic that "sensawunda" can be found if you are lucky, and for me the most wondrous thing fighting monsters under a volcano was pickled eggs.

Imagine my surprise when I decades later one day visit my local Loblaws supermarket and found a jar of pickled eggs! I just stared at them, barely believing that they existed. It almost made me want to buy them, go home and start digging a dungeon! Naturally I couldn't buy them. Pickled eggs are Fantasy, and only available as treasure after fighting trolls.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Magic items as mystery and wonder

Today I read something which got the gears turning, over at Inkwell Ideas. For some reason magic potions seem to be a constant source of wonder and mystery in magic, which sadly are missing way to often. Magic items have, at least in D&D, become something more mundane than wondrous. Sometimes the potions start bubbling and boiling, and some fun stuff pour over the rim.

In my old D&D3 campaign I decided to try to make magic items something more than just "another cloak of invisibility" which everyone who ever cracked open a D&D books knows about. My players had to use Detect Magic, Identify and do some experimenting. Guess what happened when I found tables of potion mishaps and odd effects in some gaming magazines? Chaos ensued. I loved it.

Over at the Inkwell, my idea have gotten some sturdier legs. Sadly I never managed to keep track of which potion it was that was green and sparkling, and which was clear and tasted of raspberries. Personally I think it's a marvellous idea not to tell the players what they got, and instead say how it looks, smells and taste.

Long time readers of my blog know that I have bemoaned the fact before that magic items have become less magic than they should. When the first supplement to D&D was published that suddenly became a shopping list, instead of a source of inspiration for new creations. I really resent that. I realized when I started my campaign that since everyone who have played the game for any time at all knows all there is to know about the iconic items, and the only way to make it interesting was to refuse to say what they had found. As always there's a balance between making it hard for the players and making the game fun and run smooth. My biggest disappointment was when they found a staff, radiating powerful magic, but of a slightly twisted and chaotic kind. Naturally they never dared to use that wand, and I never had any use for the d% chart I had with cool random magic effects. I almost feel like sulking, just writing about it.

The major complaint I had from my players in my 3rd ed D&D campaign was that the Identify spell took way to long to cast. In T&T the spell to have, The Omnipotent Eye (have you seen that name somewhere around?), is quicker and easier to cast. Still, even if it's cheap and easy it's a decision if you want to spend the slot/spell points. I like that. It don't have to be expensive, but it should not be free to know all about something like magic. That surely is the way to make it loose any touch of mystery.

Anyone who still haven't figured out that I like to add drawbacks to magic items as well? As an analogy I decided to think about magic like an electromagnetic field. It radiates, and have particles doing the interacting with the rest of the world. Thinking like that and radiation damage is the next logical step. You find a powerful item? Cool! Carry it a while and the longer you do, the more weird shit happens to you. That's magic to me!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to define your game as the anti-D&D, very differently

For those of you who know about John Wick, and keep up with his designs, it's no news that his game Houses of the Blooded is intended to be his "anti D&D". Looking at the core story of Houses of the Blooded, it's crystal clear that this is not the same as in D&D. Maybe John did have managed to design the "anti D&D". I'm going to talk more about that game at a later date, since John is a smart guy, and writes not only eloquently about game mastering advice, he also writes a lot. Not only that. He also writes about player advice. Like I said, I'll get back to that at a later date. Keep watching this blog! Now I'm going to talk about Old School, and anti-D&D.

There is a game, called The Burning Wheel which I long have been curios about. Thanks to a dear friend who lent me his copy, I have read most of it, and feel like I can talk about it a bit more. BW is designed by Luke Crane, and if you have ever listened to a podcast with (or met him) Luke, you know he is a passionated individual! When you visit the BW web page, the title of the page say "Fight For What You Believe". Ok.

Most of us have hear scary stories about this or that game, how crunchy it is, and how hardcore those people are that play it. BW is that game. Even though much of it is written in a chatty tone, it clear that this is a game designed with the idea that everything is taken care of the rules. As soon as you do anything, like expressing feelings or acting "in character", there are rules for rewarding, managing and otherwise just handle the situation. I realize I'm not making this sound very fun, but Luke is a very talented individual, and you realize that this game is a machine of cogs and wheels that works together like a machine, and a machine of sublime beauty.

I did say I was going to talk about Old School, wasn't I? Ok. Most of you have probably heard by now that Back In The Old Days, dungeon masters were less constrained by rules, and had to fly by the seat of their pants. Mostly because the games were less about detailed rules for everything. While I have some problems with that view of history (have you seen a game from FGU? They sure are from the 1970-ies and they sure aren't New School. Not Rules Lite either, at all) there are some merit to that view of things. Also, since so many bloggers today can be found who find retro clones like S&W liberating, I guess authentic or not, rules lite is perceived as the preferred way of doing things.

Since so many people think everything start and end with D&D, let's indulge them a bit and take a look at D&D. Is it rules light? Well, if OD&D is, and AD&D is if you squint, then 3rd ed sure isn't and 4th ed probably not either. So if you want to make an anti-D&D, which one do you oppose? Well, I did talk about core stories in the beginning. Maybe we can say that that element have been consistent throughout all editions. I think it might be true. Then Houses of the Blooded is the anti-D&D, no question about it.

If the true heart and soul of D&D is the rules light game about exploration of worlds of fantasy, then I think Burning Wheel must be the anti-D&D above all. It's about your character's believes and passions, screw the world. It's driven by rules and game mechanics while tell you how to act at every step. I'm pretty sure Luke didn't set out to design the anti-D&D, but maybe that was what he did.

Make no mistake, the surest way to make someone love your game is to be passionate about it. Would I love to play Burning Wheel? Right now? Cool! Would I love to play Houses of the Blooded? Sure! Old school D&D with rulings, and 1 hit point? Give it to me! I love how all these games are so furiously trying to be something different that "that game", and by that passion I get hooked, all the time, and buy a new game that I "have to" play at once. This is why I love this hobby.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Monsters and Monster Rating

Now we have come to an interesting section in the rules, monsters. In some other games, it's well known that stat blocks take up quite a lot of space. In T&T the space needed to describe a monster is minimal, thanks to the very elegant solution of Monster Rating, MR.

From one single number you get the dice a monster will roll in combat, its combat adds and its stamina or CON. Now, while the procedure is simple, it still involves an element of confusion. To get the dice you have to round down, and to get the adds you have to round up. Why? I know that some people have made fun of this tendency in rpgs to spend silly amount of time on dictating rounding. Sometimes I think the criticism is valid. Why on earth can't we just assume everyone learned rounding in school? Well, it's not a fault of T&T, really.

One thing is different enough from former editions to warrant a note in bold letters. The dice rolled for a monster never decrease, like they used to. Now only the adds whittle away as the MR decrease. Small changes in how this have worked, with e.g. full MR only used on the first combat round, have been tested. I think the present system works just fine, and the beauty of it all is that it's dead simple to use any way, in concert.

On thing I really like is that Ken gives us some idea on how to scale the MR of a monster to the strength of the delvers. Some gamers in the OSR contingent sometimes rage against the "decadence" of 3rd ed D&D, where Encounter Ratings and similar calculations play an important part of encounter planning. Personally I find the idea of encounters scaled to the strength of the player characters to be a complex subject. If the players start to expect everything to be beatable, or "fair", I groan and long for the bygone days. But, I also think that having some kind of way to know when you send in certain death is nice, at least it will give me the opportunity to drop hints of the danger before the first character bites the dust. But, back to T&T. I think the advice Ken gives is good, but one of these days I'm going to collect hard data on the importance of combat adds. The characters in my campaign had totally brutal adds, but could sometimes roll quite bad, which changed a lot.

After telling us all about MR, the rulebook talks about monsters. The list of monsters we get in the rulebook is just a list of names, and MRs. Frankly, it's not very useful. I will now turn to one of the other volumes in the boxed set, Codex Monstrum, since it's actually referred to in this section. The monsters in this book is described, are illustrated and have notes about special defences, attacks or magical abilities. The neat thing here is how sixes rolled for attack (which I'll talk more about later) trigger special effects. This is a new addition to the T&T system which I find very inspired. I used similar effects on magic items of my own design, and it worked very fine. The CM is a fine addition to the 7.5 rules. Now I once again wonders a bit about the organization of the rules. Having described the MR system, and how it can be used, I wonder why the idea of spite damage or triggers for special effects isn't mentioned until you turn to the monster book? A list of monsters take up most of a page in the rules, and it could have been better used to just describe all the rules about monsters and how to design them.

There's another thing which I think deserves mentioning. More than once on these three pages we can read how fun it is to create your own monsters, and how the creativity of the individual GM is a fundamental part of monsters. That's the spirit!

Considering how I wrote a few days back about how the world of Palladium fantasy is presented in the rules, I find it notable that the monster section in these rules actually mention Trollworld, and gives us some glimpse of it's fauna. I kind of wish there was more of that in the rules. I will probably write more about that later, though.

Next we will write about fighting all these monsters, in the Combat Rules!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Opinions on the classics, take two

My post yesterday about how some fans relate to the classics seems to have stirred up some feelings. That is good. I sometimes like to stir the pot a bit, and try to be a bit subtle or a bit outrageous. Quite dangerous on the web, I know. More often that not, nobody really get want you want to say anyway. Yesterday wasn't bad, but I think I actually was less focused than I would have wished, so I'll add some to it.

So, Gygaxitis was my word for when some people seem to be so smitten by the words of Gary that they loose a sense of perspective. Now, there are many reasons to respect Gary Gygax. He was a visionary, and a talented scenario writer with a very personal style. I was very sad to hear of his passing, and did even cry. I am a fairly emotional being. It's also true that for those who are interested in an older style of play, like myself (!), it's not only fun but also instrutive to read old rules like those Gygax wrote.

But, when I first encountered the idea of retro D&D, it was mainly on Dragonsfoot, and I felt that the atmosphere there was sometimes just silly. One thing I felt was weird, and after a while even repulsive, was the venom spewed upon some elements of gaming. Most notable was Dungeoneer Survival Guide and its companion piece about the wilderness. You could very easy get the idea that some persons would benefit from playing something else, at least once!

Now, James gave a very good and far more sensible rejection of DSG in my comments yesterday. I have seen far to little of that. Part of the reason I wanted shake up the wasps nest a bit was to get some good feedback, which I got. Once thing he said was that it felt tiring to hear that those who value Gygax get ridiculed and accused of being blind. Frankly, sometimes it's true. That might be why that accusation pops up once in a while! But, there's more than one way to skin a cat. I personally think a lot interesting can be learnt by studying the "ways of old". It don't have to turn into hagiography, and most often it doesn't. When it does, it's very easy to make fun of.

Maybe I should also mention something about ToEE. I started my post by talking about the Temple, but it was just my way of introducing the idea of how expectations differ. I have absolutely no idea at all how impressions of ToEE differ depending on attitude towards Gary. I don't think I care.

One of these days I'll try to say something simple, straight and easy, instead. I have some ideas on game design percolating. We'll see how much sense that'll make when I have put down some words on screen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to look objectively at the classics

Over on grognardia there have started a discussion about The Temple of Elemental Evil. I posted an observation of my own, that most critics of the module seem to have loved T1 as kids and waited with baited breath for the second coming of T2. Now, that's not earth shaking in itself. It has made me very vary about people talking about T1-4, though. Is he thinking the module a failure? Hm, what a coincidence. He is one of those who waited for T2! Those guys just aren't trustworthy witnesses. I don't think they're out to twist truth, I just think they have to much emotion invested in the thing.

Following this train of thought, I come to the next station. I'm thinking of the reviled AD&D sourcebooks Dungeoneer's Survival Guide by Douglas Niles and Wilderness Survival Guide by Kim Mohan. If you read what people at Dragonsfoot write about them, you start to wonder if their favourite dog ate it and died when they were a kid. I have the books myself, and while I can surely see their problems and limitations I find that hatred spewed upon them to be a tad excessive. Are we seeing something like the ToEE phenomenon here?

I probably wont win any friends by saying it, but I have the hyphosesis these people suffer from an overdose of Gygaxitis. It's a common enough affliction caused by expose to High Gygaxian writing at an impressionable age. The symptoms are usually a tendency to consider anything written in High Gygaxian as holy writ, and a stubbornness and inflexibility of the grey matter. No question they get enraged then when someone who is not The Prophet adds things which Was Not Meant To Be, like skills, to the Holy Writ.

So having caused three cases of spastic fits I will stop there. Everything is a matter of perspective, isn't it? What? I have those irrational idea myself? About something else? Nah, don't think so. I'm flawless.

For those who need some help to entangle a big stick of Irony, out of that last paragraph, I'll tell you that I'd love to start a AD&D game myself if I only had the players for it. There you go, now you have something to whack me over the head with.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Tunnels & Trolls convention scenario

Back in spring there was a local convention in Kingston, ON. The convention was called KingCon, and the con site is still available. I was running a few event, most of which never happened due to low interest. But, the T&T session was popular enough! The adventure I used was one I had written myself, and developed a by my friend Todd. It's fairly linear, and not very big. But, it worked decently as an introduction to T&T. Everyone seemed to have had great fun. "Say yes, or roll the dice", and we rolled dice and had fun.

For those of you who were not able to make it to Kingston, or maybe want to have a short and easy scenario to run yourself at a convention I hereby present it: The Tomb of Dipsom Dints. In the tradition from the Greyhawk campaign it is not totally free from word play, puns and general silliness. 

Enjoy!

Many thanks to Flying Buffalo Inc, who have kindly given me permission to use their trademarks and given the FBI blessing on the Tomb. Go and buy yourself a T&T rulebook from them!

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to present a world - the old way

Having been really ill for a while, I'm still not sure I'm on the home stretch yet, but let's hope so. I have started to comment on some blogs in boredom, and now when I can string text together again I'll try to get posting going here again.

So, since I had nothing better to do, I grabbed my copy of Palladium off the shelf. Having read the Rifts rules and chuckled at the over the top silliness, I wasn't sure what level of gonzo to expect. Frankly I was pleasantly surprised by the welcome lack of gonzo. I'm talking about revised 1st ed, if that matters for the details further on.

The first time I really became interested in Palladium was when a friend answered the question about what imaginary world he would like to live in with "Palladium fantasy". I thought it sounded a little bit to adventurous, but at least now I know a little bit more about the place.

Contrary to some newer games where you get a section on the world with just rambling text on the world, totally separated from the rules, you here get it mixed in. I looked in the table of contents and saw that there was a section on the Palladium world, but when I looked I was surprised. Sure, there was a map of the world, and there were short descriptions of all the regions of the world. But, the descriptions were, like, ten lines at the maximum. While I can see the use of that in a product which covers a country or something similar, we here get ten lines describing a major part of the continent!

Those of you who have read older games might want to argue that there are always setting information in the rules. Even the sparse and terse Men & Magic thus can be said to contain "setting". Personally I never liked that. I have always skimmed rules, learnt enough how to roll the dice and get to the fun part. Seeing what is hidden, implied and factored in just isn't something I'm good at or enjoy. Postulating a 200 page tome where 100 of those pages are just text to digest a bout some imaginary lands as the other end of the spectrum, I can clearly see why that isn't popular either. Palladium did something in between, surprising me.

So, not only are there a short section on areas of the continent. There are also in the description of monsters, creatures and playable races a lot of short descriptions and referencing to things like an elven-dwarven war, dead cultures, lost artifacts and just descriptions of how and where these creatures live. It sure works in unison so create a patchwork of images, adding up to a fully imagined world without getting drowned in pages upon pages of dry prose.

Dozens of readers while now, maybe, howl with laughter and say that is not something new, is it. Well, maybe it isn't. But, take a look at AD&D. It's monster book is a separate volume, and maybe (probably) your DM wont even let you open it. Other games from the elder days sometimes also is very heavy on the rules and nothing else. While you might argue that that makes it easier to use the rules as generic rules and the world as something you build yourself, it is an argument that forgets that even those rules have setting ideas in them like I mentioned before.

I no longer own any edition of Runequest, but now I've become curious about how much of Glorantha there actually was in those rules I once read. Tunnels & Trolls is another old game, and one that I think would have benefited from the Palladium approach.

If rules and setting should be tightly coupled or not have been argued to death before. For me this is not a new revelation in that respect, but it was amazing to see how the rules opened up for me, becoming "common sense" and somehow fitting the more the world opened up beneath my eyes. I really didn't expect to like Palladium fantasy as much as I did. I still haven't read it all, we'll see if there are more gems hidden there!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Conan - doomed to drown in mediocrity

Having gotten, and read, this link from James Maliszewski on Facebook, about the new Conan movie I was about ready to tear out my eyes. While I know that Fred Malmberg who owns Conan don't care a bit what is done to the poor barbarian, as long as he gets paid well for it, I still kind of wish there was some kind of quality filter built into that license.

Conan seem to be cursed by mediocrity! Ever since the hacks Carter and de Camp started to deface his memory (and absurdly also saving him from oblivion) it seems only morons and hacks without any sense of style get near enough to make movies or pastisches. It's just so sad.
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