Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Psionicist: Phenomenon

"George Malley is an ordinary man, who is about to become ... extraordinary."

This horse is probably long-buried, but I keep coming back to the idea that Psionicists are just ordinary people, who somehow find themselves with a special gift (or curse). In the case of the character, George Malley, played by John Travolta in the movie Phenomenon, that special power is telekenesis, along with some other interesting powers.

Telekenesis, Firestarter, Precognition and Invisibility are four of the 10-12 "wild talents" that i'm thinking Psionicists might start with. I'm picking away at other ideas for talents, and am always open to suggestions.

I'm still trying to work out the way that Psionicists improve their wild talent, and gain new talents. It seems obvious (at least to me!) that gaining those talents should follow level-progression, but how to keep a Psionicist balanced against the Magic-User and Cleric (the other two "casters") but still give the Psionicist class its own "flavour", is the challenge I am currently wrestling with.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Old School Monsters: Orcus

Over at, you will find a very nicely painted copy (pictured here) of Reaper's Orcus figure. I much prefer the Reaper figure to the one produced by Wizards of the Coast.

I would suggest heading over to the WOTC website to compare them yourself, but they have done some sort of retooling to their website and the old miniatures galleries have been moved or lost.

For now, you'll just have to enjoy the Reaper version!

Psionicist: Firestarter

Here's another film, Firestarter, from 1984, based on the Steven King novel of the same title, about a girl who develops Psionic powers. In this case, she has the ability to start fires. The approach I am thinking of using, for the development of a Psionicist, is to come up with 10-12 "wild talents", one of which a Psionicist will start with, at first level. Precognition, Firestarter, and Invisibility are three of the wild talents that I intend to allow for first-level Psionicists.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Dungeoneer RPG: Using MTG Cards

Dungeoneer is a multi-player fantasy adventure card game, that simulates dungeon and wilderness adventuring. The author of that card game is currently working on a related RPG, using the same game mechanics. I really enjoy the game-play, environment, background and characters in Dungeoneer, and look forward to the RPG.

MTG also has some interesting characters, monsters, and environments. Just thinking out loud here. I wonder how difficult it would be to boilerplate some of the MTG cards and mechanics onto Dungeoneer.

At a minimum, it would be interesting to mine some of the ideas from MTG and house-rule them into a Dungeoneer game.

Resource Cards: Adventuring Gear Shortcut

Why have I been wasting all this time creating resource cards for basic equipment?

Here's all I ever needed, and its a "common" card, to boot!

I kid, I kid. This Magic The Gathering card is great and all, but as a resource card, it's a little too general for my tastes. I like my adventuring gear to be more specific. I'm an old-schooler, after all.

Magic The Gathering: Multi-Player Role Playing

I'm not a Magic: The Gathering fan.

I've never played the game, and it doesn't really interest me all that much. Don't get me wrong, I like competitive games, but head-to-head games, not so much. I prefer the competitive dynamics that develop during multi-player games, the shifting alliances, sudden treachery and so on.

Still, I can't help but appreciate the great artwork, and interesting characters and environments that exist in the Magic: The Gathering card game.

WOTC recently produced their new core MTG set, Magic 2010. Even though I am not a MTG player, I purchased a (relatively) complete set of those cards. All in the name of science, people! I bought them as part of my "resource cards" project. I enjoyed the artwork, and it did inspire me regarding the creation of spell resource cards.

Now WOTC has published their new set of cards: Zendikar. While I am unlikely to purchase a complete set of those cards -- I am a big "fantasy tropes" fan, and there are few cards in this set that represent those -- this card set is interesting, as it is has an "adventuring" theme.

Here is the promo text, from the WOTC webpage:

Deadly Perils, Priceless Treasures!

Enter a plane filled with deadly perils and priceless treasures. On Zendikar, mana works in ways never before experienced. This mana is Zendikar's unique treasure, one that planeswalkers from across the Multiverse risk their lives to acquire. Dare to join them.

Zendikar is a world of adventure and reward for those with the courage to brave its perils. Learn the value of allies, complete quests, set traps (and avoid them), and take advantage of landfall and kicker as you confront Zendikar's hostile environment.

If only WOTC moved MTG in the direction of multi-player role-playing game. I might reconsider my lack of enthusiasm for it.

Resource Cards: Basic Equipment

I posted earlier that I intended to have several iterations of the same items on a sheet of basic equipment resource cards, particularly those that are the common adventuring items.

This sheet of basic equipment resource cards doesn't have that, to any significant extent, but I will do that on the next sheet I do. That resource card sheet will have several backpacks, 10' poles, torches, and other common equipment, that every adventurer tends to carry.

I am having a problem with pictures of rations. Does anyone have, or know where I can find, pictures of standard and iron rations? I am thinking some pictures of bread, cheese, dried fruits and meat, in a cloth napkin, and so on.

Resource Cards: Weapons

I have been working on this sheet of weapon resource cards over the last several days. Here it is, as a work-in-progress. I am happy with about 80% of what appears on this resource card sheet, but there are a couple of images that seem a little light or grainy.

Additionally, there probably need to be more swords. I only have one bastard sword and one great sword on this sheet, while there are three maces. Since I intend to do at least one more weapon sheet, I will need to balance out the weapon selections between that and this sheet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Magic Realm: Activities In The Realm

Magic Realm is a fantasy role-playing board-game, in which the Players compete (or cooperate) to fulfill their chosen victory conditions, by collecting gold and treasures, discovering new spells, defeating monsters and Realm inhabitants, and becoming famous or notorious.

Each Magic Realm game consists of 28 turns, which corresponds to an adventuring month. Each turn (day) a Character can do a certain number of activities.

Typically, each Character can do four activities per day. You may be capable of doing more activites each day, if you obtain certain treasures. You may also have fewer activities (for example, while cave and dungeon-delving, you only get two basic activities instead of four).

There are several types of activities you can perform each day.

Move: you can move from one board clearing to another. Each move, from one clearing to another, counts as one activity. So, you could normally only move a maximum of four times in a day.

Hide: you can attempt to hide. Hiding is important, as you need to be hidden in order to move through a clearing that is occupied by a monster, without having that monster "block" you.

Alert: You can ready your weapon or spell, in anticipation of a battle. Alerting your weapon or spell is important, as it makes it more likely you will strike with your weapon or cast your spell before your opponent.

Rest: Magic Realm Characters get fatigued and wounded. Each turn of rest allows you to recover a certain amount of your strength and wounds.

Search: Searching allows for the possibility that you will find such things as treasure hoards, secret paths, and hidden Characters.

Trade: this allows you to attempt to buy from and sell items to the Magic Realm natives. You can buy and sell or trade with other Characters without having to use a Trade activity, as long as they are in the same clearing as you.

Hire: the hire activity allows you to attempt to hire natives, to give you a better chance of fighting the monsters or other denizens, or to give you some additional treasure-seekers.

A Magic Realm game actually moves fairly quickly. This is because all Players simultaneously write down what activities they intend to participate in, prior to the beginning of that turn (day). When your turn comes up, you simply do the activities you recorded. This makes the game move along, as you do not need to consider each possible activity during the four activity phases of your turn.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Psionicist: The Dead Zone

This movie came out in 1983. Starring the incomparable Christopher Walken, and directed by (surprise, surprise!) David Cronenberg, this movie tells the story of Johnny Smith (how much more everyman of a name can that be!), who develops precognition, as a result of a terrible car accident.

I wanted to share this, as it is yet another influence on my views of the development of the Psionicist class.

Again, this supports the idea that "anyone" can be cursed with the development of a psionic ability, thus allowing for psionics to be added to a D&D campaign, without having some insurmountable dice-roll for the character to obtain psionics.

Magic Weapons: Scalable Weapons

Over at The Game table, there is an interesting post on designing scalable weapons. Those are weapons that increase in power, as the player adds "skill points" to mastering that weapon.

I have been thinking about how that sort of mechanic might be applied to an OD&D game, since in OD&D fighting-men do not have skill points to assign to their weapons.

One possibility is to increase a particular weapon's power, based on the number of levels that the character is in possession of that sword.

For example, the character finds Blackrazor at first level. It is a +1 sword. As long as he continues to possess and use that sword, it increases in power, or extra damage, at certain intervals. The Game Table post suggested the following power scale:

1 skill point = +1
3 skill points = +2
6 skill points = +3
10 skill points = +4
15 skill points = +5
21 skill points = +6

Rather than tying this to skill points, you might instead tie this to the number of levels. The required number of skill points would, instead, be the current level of the fighting-man. So, if the character found Blackrazor, at first level, when the fighting-man reached 3rd level, the Blackrazor would a +2 sword. At 6th level, it would be a +3 sword. At 10th, +4, and so on.

I'm not sure this completely solves the problem, but I think it is a solution worth looking at.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Psionics: Alternate OD&D Approach

Over at Savage Swords of Athanor, there is a recent post regarding Psionics.

While the proposed psionics ability in that post hews closely to the original OD&D approach to psionics, I found some interesting views on what sort of psionic powers might be available to those gifted characters.

Dragon Warriors RPG: eFanzine

Good news for any of you Dragon Warriors RPG fans, or those of you who like your fantasy a little more proto-historical.

The new Dragon Warriors RPG eFanzine, Ordo Draconis, is available, as a free download, over at

I just recently downloaded it, so I have not had a chance to review it in detail, but you can read the write-up here.

Tales of the Bizarre: The World of Synnibarr

I am pleased to say I own a copy of this game.

Not because its a good game. Not because it is a classic. But because it is an infamous example of a fantasy heartbreaker.

I came by this game quite by accident. The parents of a friend of mine called me, several years ago. The friend in question is now a professor of pure math, in Italy somewhere, if I recall correctly. Anyway, they were clearing out some of my friend's old gaming stuff, and gave me a call to see if I wanted to buy it. He had quite a collection, and I let his parents name their price ,and took the whole lot.

Among the many gems in his collection was this stinker. I can't bring myself to part with it, even though I am careful to keep it separate from all my other gaming materials, lest it pollute the rest of my collection.

A scathing review can be read here. I must admit I have not read the thing myself, so I cannot say that it is as bad as the reviewer says. It's reputation as a game design and setting disaster is well-established, however.

A cautionary tale, for us tinkerers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Psionics In 0e: Inspirational Reading

One of my earliest introductions to psionics was through Larry Niven's A Gift From Earth, first published in 1968, which I highly recommend.

This book heavily informs my views on RPG psionics.

It tells the story of Matthew Keller, a human miner/colonist, on a planet ruled, in perpetuity, by the descendants of the ship's crew that brought the colonists to that planet.

The story's protagonist is the stereotypical 40 year-old virgin. While not an unattractive man, the ladies always end up losing interest in him. The reason? Unbeknownst to him, he has a psionic power that allows him to become (effectively) invisible to others. His power is a little more complicated than that, but this should give you a general idea of his psionic power.

The novel tells the story of how, through the use of his psionic power, he is able to infiltrate the headquarters of the planet's rulers, and overturn the oppressive order imposed on the colonists.

My preference on the operation of psionics in a RPG setting mirrors the idea of an everyman (or woman) who has some vague idea that they are "different". That difference is the possession of latent psionic powers.

In an earlier post on psionics, one of my readers made the following remark:

"Follow me here... In a fantasy setting, I could conceive of a non intelligent, unwise, uncharismatic player or npc possessing wild and dangerous psionic ability (like a child or some hermit or crazy hillbilly). I always thought some of the most fun, interesting, and terrifying, aspects of psionic power was the unpredictability it may have in the hands of a person who doesn't really know how to handle it (think firestarter, carrie). I don't think psionics should be seen so much as an art form to be learnt (like wizardry), as an organic occurrence that a character has or not. Whether they can learn to control, direct, or fully make use of it is another question that may be determined by the balance of their intelligence, wisdom, etc."

I agree about the wild, dangerous psionic ability, although I would tie the class to an attribute, in this case, Charisma. In A Gift From Earth, Matthew Keller has a psionic talent, of which he is largely unaware, and has difficulty controlling. Through the course of the novel, the Protagonist discovers and perfects the use of this psionic talent, and discovers further applications of that talent (ie. additional psionic talents).

The Psionicist class in my 0e supplement would start as their own class, basically an everyman (woman), and would incorporate the idea of a latent psionic talent. I call this the Psionicist's "Wild Talent", and would be the psionic ability that the Psionicist starts with, at first level.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Psionicist: Prime Attribute

From Original Dungeons and Dragons: Men and Magic, published in 1974.

Intelligence is the prime requisite for magical types. Intelligence will also affect referees' decisions as to whether or not certain actions would be taken, and it allows additional languages to be spoken.

Wisdom is the prime requisite for Clerics. Wisdom rating will act much as does that for intelligence.

Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, and so forth. It's primary function is to determine how many hirelings of unusual nature a character can attract.

Thanks for nothing, Gary. The Original Dungeons and Dragons attribute definitions are of little help in determining the appropriateness of Charisma as a prime attribute for Psionicists. In fact, the original definition of Charisma hurts the argument! It makes sense to use one, or a combination, of Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, but how to justify Charisma as THE attribute?

Turning to the AD&D Players Handbook, Gary offers a few more scraps from the table.

Charisma: Charisma is the measure of the character's combined physical attractiveness, pursuasiveness and personal magnetism. A generally non-beautiful character can have a very high charisma due to strong measures of the other two aspects of charisma.

Better. I like the pursuasiveness and personal magnetism angles, but can those be leveraged into a justification for Charisma as the psionic attribute?

Finally, I turn to the wikipedia, which knows all.
Charisma: from the Greek word "kharisma" meaning "divine gift".

Although difficult or even impossible to define accurately (due to an abundance of wildly diverse criteria in regard to the trait), charisma is often used to describe an elusive, even undefinable personality trait that often includes the seemingly 'supernatural' or uncanny ability to lead, charm, persuade, inspire, and/or influence people. It refers especially to a quality in certain people who easily draw the attention and admiration (or even hatred if the application of such charisma is perceived to be negative) of others due to a 'magnetic' quality of personality and/or appearance. Related terms and phrases include: grace, exuberance, equanimity, mystique, positive energy, joie de vivre, extreme charm, personal magnetism, personal appeal, "electricity," and allure, among many others[1]. Usually many of these specific qualities must be present within a single individual for the person to be considered highly charismatic by the public and their peers.

Thank you wikipedia. Based on that definition of Charisma, I am far more confident using Charisma as the prime attribute for Psionicists.

Psionicist As Class In 0e

I've never liked the treatment of Psionics in D&D.

To me, it was just too complicated and too inaccessible. In OD&D, the psionics rules appeared in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, published in 1976. Those rules were badly edited, with psionics rules appearing helter-skelter between descriptions of monks and druids, demons and optional combat rules. They were too complicated, with all sorts of saving throws, table lookups, psionic power recovery algorithms, and new and vague spell-like powers, attacks and defences. Psionics was also too inaccessible, with there being only a rare chance of aquiring psionics (since in OD&D you need a 15 in any one of intelligence, wisdom or charisma, and the chances of rolling a 15 or more is slim to begin with, using the traditional 3d6 method).

Several years pass, and Psionics ends up being relegated to an Appendix in the original AD&D Players Handbook, and receives scant treatment in the AD&D Dungeons Masters Guide. Little surprise then, if it ends up receiving little play at the gaming table.

That was a shame, and a missed opportunity. If Psionicist had been developed as a class, rather than a add-on to the existing classes, it might have gotten more play, and would have helped promote the earlier development of other specialist casters.

But there is a challenge in developing Psionicist as a class. What prime attribute to use? OD&D and AD&D give us at least three potential attributes: Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma. In OD&D, a 15 (or 16, in the case of AD&D) in any of those three attributes allows for the possibility of psionic aptitude.

You could allow a high score of 16 in any of those stats to permit the Player to select Psionicist as the character's class. I am philosophically opposed to this approach, because selection of any of the "standard" classes does not require a high prime attribute. I have posted earlier regarding my opposition to the specialist class, Paladin, that requires high attributes to select. I do not like the specialist class restrictions, and think all classes should be accessible to any player with at least a 9 in that classes' prime attribute: the fact that they have low stats in the prime attribute simply means they are not well-suited to that class.

In addition, Intelligence and Wisdom are not appealing to me, as a prime attribute for Psionicists in an old-school D&D system. Not because it doesn't make a certain amount of sense to attach psionic aptitude to those attributes. Rather, it is simply because they are already the prime stats for Magic Users and Clerics.

The only other stat left, of the initial three attributes, is Charisma.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Old School Monsters: Owlbear

From the Original Dungeons and Dragons Supplement: Greyhawk, 1976.

"OWL BEARS: Creatures of horrid visage and disposition, Owl Bears will attack whatever they see and fight to the death. They deliver a hug, just as a Werebear, for example, as well as great damage from beak, tooth and claw."

This pleasant fellow appears in the old-school adventure B2, Keep On The Borderlands, and is a particularly ferocious opponent.

This WOTC sculpt is particularly nice. I have seen other non-WOTC versions which also do this beast justice.

Magic Weapons In D&D

Lately, I have been rethinking the mechanics behind magic weapons in Dungeons and Dragons.

Take the ubiquitous Sword +1. Certain monsters can only be wounded by magic swords, so having a magic sword, even of the +1 variety, is important once you get past first level.

But the extra damage that accompanies the Sword +1 is relatively insignificant. Particularly if you are using the variable weapon damage rules.

For example, your typical d6 shortsword will have a boost of 16% if it is of the magical +1 variety. But you can get the same average damage from a d8 longsword.

Even with a +2 or +3 weapon, the additional damage only makes a minor difference, once you start facing monsters with 6, 8, 10 or more hit dice. At that level, the magic user is taking out those monsters long before the fighter even begins making a dent in its armor.

Of course, that is part of the implicit design of 0e: magic users start out as "glass cannons" but ultimately surpass the fighters (if they can survive long enough to obtain those high-level spells).

One of the criticisms, though, of 0e is that the combats become slogfests, and that the game becomes unbalanced between the fighting and magic-using classes, at higher levels.

I played 3e, a couple of times before I lost interest in that version of D&D. I understood that late in 3.5's life, attempts were made to balance out the fighting and magic-using classes, by "powering up" the magic swords available to the fighters.

I wonder whether it would be valuable to mine that particular vein? Thoughts?

Magic Weapons: Truesteel

Any discussion of Truesteel, amongst Magic Realm players, is bound to elicit one of three responses.

(1) It will provoke a lengthy reminiscence of "where were you when you first discovered Truesteel?"

(2) Tears will well up in the eyes of those players who actually found this magic sword.

(3) Players will tell a wistful tale of discovering the Enchanted Meadow (within which Truesteel rests) and spending the rest of the game in a fruitless attempt to locate this sword.

By now, you have got to be thinking that Magic Realm players are nuts. Think of it this way. The D&D equivalent of Truesteel is the best sword in the game. It's the equivalent of the holy avenger, vorpal blade, red dragon slayer, and every other ultimate D&D sword you can think of, all wrapped into a small cardboard chit with orange ink and strange black symbols. This is Magic Realm's excalibur.

It's more than that, though. Any D&D magic sword (even the most powerful variety) is doled out by DM fiat. If you have a generous DM, you may come into possession of one of those D&D magic swords. In addition, there could be any number of other powerful magic swords in your DM's D&D campaign, so finding the holy avenger does not preclude your discovering a vorpal blade, or a sword +10, god-killer, for that matter.

In Magic Realm, Truesteel is it. There's no better sword out there. And there's no DM fiat to obtain it. In Magic Realm, since there is no DM, you have to obtain this sword on your own, no hints, no help, no fudged dice rolls. As they say, by the sweat of your brow and the strength of your heart.

Sure, there are several other powerful swords in Magic Realm.

Bane, the greatsword.

Devil sword, which only the purest and heartiest of characters dare wield.

Living sword, which dances in the hands of the nimbler characters.

Awesome swords, all.

But for pure killing power, in the hands of a broad spectrum of Magic Realm characters, nothing compares to Truesteel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Murder Mystery Manual

Check out this great post on running a murder mystery role-playing game session.

Resource Cards: More Armor

As I was mentioning earlier, I have been working on a second armor sheet. Here it is.

This sheet contains several different pictures of leather, studded leather, cloth and chainmail armor, in addition to several different shields and helmets.

The purpose behind this is to give the players a wider variety of choices, when it comes to what their armor looks like.

I am still working on a sheet of weapons, and two sheets of other equipment (backpacks, 10' poles, rope and so on).

I have also started several sheets of magic items, but those are going to take quite a bit longer, and may require some specialized artwork.

Character Record Sheets For Graduates

Before I resolved to develop a resource tracking system, using small cards, we were using two sizes of character record sheets.

I was attempting to make the character record sheets as small as possible, and at the same time ensure that all of the necessary information was on one side of the sheet, thus making it easier to find the information you were looking for.

This is the larger (5" x 8") character card that was devised.

I ended up creating two 5" x 8" cards, since the one, above, does not have a great deal of space for skills and spells. The other card scrimps on the space for equipment and treasure, in order to provide more space for spells.

Friday, September 18, 2009

D&D Ability Stats and Psionics

Several times over the last year, the topic of Psionics has come up in the OSR community.

I will make no bones about this: I am a huge critic of the 0e and AD&D approach to psionics. I think the approach to creating psionic characters, as presented by Tim Kask and Gary Gygax in 0e and AD&D, was flawed and unsound. On the other hand, I think psionics should play a more important role in D&D.

James Mal at Grognardia has posted several times regarding a reworked psionics system. He has given that a great deal of thought, and has tried to streamline and clarify the original rules. But the problem with simply re-working the psionics system is that you never deal with the fundamental flaw of psionics in D&D. Psionics in 0e and AD&D is employed as a subsystem, rather than using the tools that are already available in the core character creation rules. As such, it merely boiler-plates something that employs none of the mechanics that players are familiar with, and as a consequence, makes psionics rare and difficult to implement in the game.

The possession of psionics skills occurs rarely, and then by happenstance. Regardless of whether you use the 0e or AD&D rules for psionics, you have a (generally) very low chance of possessing psionic abilities. For example, in AD&D, in order to have the potential for psionics, you must have an Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma of at least 16. And if only one of those attributes is a 16, your chance is one in a hundred of having psionics.

Compare this to, say, a magic user. All you need to be a magic user, and use spells (many of which are similar to the psionic powers) is to have an Intelligence of 9.

In a way, 0e and AD&D try to use the existing ability stats to determine psionic potential. In 0e, if you have an Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma of at least 15, you have a 10% chance of having psionics. Period. Thus, your original ability scores do affect whether you will have psionics, but to a limited extent. The problem is, if you have psionics, your psionic ability score is completely unrelated to your standard 6 ability scores. Instead of using one of your ability scores, you roll a d100 to determine your base psionic ability. Whatever you roll on the d100 is your base psychic potential. That's right, this ability does not follow the standard 3d6 ability score determination.

I feel that psionicists should have been more accessible as a class, rather than being superimposed and boiler-plated upon the existing classes. However, doing so would necessitate a different treatment of psionic abilities, to align their use more closely with the vancian spell system that is employed for the cleric and magic-user classes.

Magic Realm: Game Chits (Take Two)

As was mentioned earlier, Magic Realm uses "chits" (cardboard counters) and small cards to keep track of monsters, equipment, treasure, characters, abilities, spells, and so on. Here is another sheet of chits for Magic Realm.

The top two rows on this sheet are the character markers. As you move around on the Magic Realm map, you move your character markers from one "clearing" to the next, and these character markers indicate where you are on the map. This side of the character markers is the color "tan", and indicate that you are unhidden: the reverse side is green, and indicates that you are hidden. The other three markers on the second row are two sets of regular armor, and one set of magical armor.

The next two rows are horses that you can purchase from the inhabitants (alternatively, you can simply kill the inhabitants and take the horses -- that's what the Black Knight would do). There are three kinds of horses in Magic Realm. Ponies (which double your movement), Workhorses (which allow you an extra move each turn), and Warhorses (which make you well-nigh invulnerable to the smaller monsters, but give you no extra move bonuses).

The next two rows of red chits are the "mundane" weapons. Every character starts the Magic Realm game with certain equipment and weapons, and the remaining equipment and weapons are controlled by the inhabitants. Again, you can buy additional, or better, weapons and equipment from the inhabitants, or, in the case of the Black Knight, simply kill them and take their stuff.

The last row of chits is the armor: helmets, shields and breastplates.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Settlers Of Catan: Mighty Empires Tiles

I posted earlier about using the new GW Mighty Empires tiles to create a D&D sandbox game.

I also think they would be great to build a Settlers of Catan board. The Mighty Empires tiles snap together, and this would make it easier to build a board, as the Settlers of Catan game usually needs a frame to hold all the tiles in place.

Someone had the same idea, and posted their version of the Mighty Empires / Settlers of Catan hybrid board over at boardgamegeek.

Great minds think alike.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dungeoneer: Character Motivation

Over at Dungeoneer, TD has posted another update on his Dungeoneer RPG game.
His most recent post describes his alternative to alignments, which he calls "callings."
Those callings are summarized as follows (Thomas goes into more detail on what each calling entails here:
(1) Belief: Live according to your calling, you specialize in Sacrifice Quests.
(2) Curiosity: Explore the Map, you specialize in Chance Quests.
(3) Honor: Eradicate evil, you specialize in Slay Quests.
(4) Justice: Save those in Peril, you specialize in Escort Quests.
(5) Renown: Gain Glory, you specialize in Threat Quests.
(6) Revenge: Find and destroy a foe, you specialize in Search Quests.

Board-making in Settlers and Magic Realm

Settlers of Catan and Magic Realm share (at least) one game feature. Both use hexagonal tiles to create the game board.

While they share this feature, they use those hexagonal tiles very differently.

In Magic Realm, the game is played on the tiles themselves. Each tile has a number of "clearings", and the characters in Magic Realm move from clearing to clearing, along pre-determined roads. You cannot move from one clearing to the next, unless there is a road between the two clearings, which is part of the interest of the game: you must sometimes take a rather circuitous route to get where you are going.

Compare this to Settlers of Catan. In Settlers, the game is played along the edges of the tiles, rather than on the tiles. You build your roads along the edges, between two tiles, and you place your towns and cities at the intersections of three tiles.

Both use hexagonal tiles, but use them in completely different ways.

In D&D I have always used the interiors of the hexs themselves, when mapping features, roads and settlements. It never occurred to me to use the edges of the hexes to locate the roads, rivers and settlements.

This would be an interesting was of using the hexes.

Old School Monsters: Purple Worm

I remember reading some background, attributed to Gary Gygax, on the development of the purple worm. Sorry, nothing terribly "blue" about its origins.

Several miniatures companies have done their own versions of the purple worm, but for sheer massiveness and energy, you need look nay further than the one developed by WOTC.

This fellow stands easily 50% taller than its cousin, sold by Reaper. I love Reaper miniatures, but my vote goes to the WOTC version of the purple worm (the Reaper miniature for Orcus outclasses WOTC's though ... I will feature the Reaper version of Orcus in an upcoming post).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Versimilitude And Other Naughty Words

Versimilitude is a word that I find neither easy to spell, nor easy to say. Nor do I find it easy to read in other people's posts. So much so, I think it should be banned from the vocabulary of gamers everywhere.

Why? Because it has become misunderstood and fetishized among rank-and-file gamers to the point where it has lost its value in gamer discourse.

I say this because, while it is a perfectly useful term for game-designers to use and apply, its adoption and abuse by those people, like myself, who intend to play games, not design them, has reached noxious levels.

The standard definition of versimilitude is that which exhibits the appearance of truth or reality. Versimilitude, if properly understood, should be considered more the former (truth) than the latter (reality). That is, something can exhibit the appearance of truth, but may not reflect reality, and still have versimilitude.

The problem is that many gamers tend to focus on the "reality" portion of versimilitude, not understanding that games, by their very nature, are fractured images of reality. The point of games is to abstract reality. If I want to experience reality, I don't need a game for that, I simply walk out the front door. But games that are well constructed can both exhibit abstractness and versimilitude. A game does not have to mirror reality in order to exhibit versimilitude.

For example, Live Action Role Playing games ("LARPS") are among the most realistic role-playing games. What could be more realistic that actually "being" the character, rather than abstracting it to a set of attributes? I don't roll dice to see if I hit, I take a swing at you. I don't tell the DM what I say, I say it to the other LARPer.

That does not mean that a LARP has more versimilitude than, say, Tigris & Euphrates, which is a very abstract game.

A game can exhibit versimilitude, and be completely abstract. That abstract game can be said to have versimilitude if its game mechanics are internally coherent, and is tells "truth" about a particular facet of reality.

I also see versimilitude being fetishized by some gamers, using the term as a sort of "litmus test" for whether a game is worth playing. Risk is a game that, in my estimation, has a very low level of versimilitude. What truth is Risk trying to model? However, this would not prevent me from playing, and enjoying, that game.

Similarly, I see a few in the pro and anti 4e communities still arguing for and against 4e on the basis that it demonstrates, or fails to demonstrate, versimilitude. I'm not interested in injecting myself into that debate. Frankly, i'm not terribly interested if it does or doesn't. Role-playing games are very complicated models of reality, and I do not believe there will ever be an RPG rule-set that meets every gamers version of reality.

Are you enjoying the game you're playing? Then just play it. If there is a rule that fails to exhibit versimilitude, then change it. It's your table!

Verisimilitude Is Over-Rated

Why? I'll wade in on the subject later this evening.

Magic Realm Tutorial

Here's a great resource for those who have a copy of Avalon Hill's Magic Realm, but have no idea what to do with the darned thing.

Over at, they have tutorial videos of actual Magic Realm gameplay, using various characters .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

4-Page Character Record Folio

Over at A Character For Every Game, that blogger has published his LBB-sized 4-page character record folio (pictured here).

While my tastes run towards the smallest possible, single-sided character record sheet, I very much like the look of this 4-page version. As i've said before, a character record sheet is a very personal thing. As long as it is serving the players' (and the DMs') needs, they're all good.

Magic Realm On The Web

Incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about Magic Realm, there is an excellent website devoted to that game here.

There, you can find a "quick-start" copy of the rules, entitled "The Least You Need to Know to Play Magic Realm" which is available as a pdf download. Those quick-start rules are a scant 8-pages, a far cry from the 100-plus pages of the full Magic Realm rules.

Also, over at BGG, I believe you can find links to a build-it-yourself copy of the Magic Realm board and playing pieces. You can also buy the game, second hand.

Magic Realm: Game Chits

As was mentioned earlier, Magic Realm is a hybrid board game / role-playing game.

Magic Realm also has clear wargaming roots, revealed in many of the game mechanics. One of those game mechanics is the use of "chits". Chits are cardboard pieces which (in wargames) are used to represent military units (such as platoons, companies, and divisions). Those cardboard chits normally have a symbol representing the type of military unit printed on the counter, along with the most salient tactical abilities of that unit.

Magic Realm also uses chits, although in that game the chits represent elements in the game, such as monsters, equipment, character abilities, characters, and treasures. I do not know exactly how many chits are included in the game, though I opined earlier that it may well be over 500.

The sheet of chits shown above is from Magic Realm. The top row of chits represent some of the equipment and treasures found in the game. The first four chits of those are the magic swords, followed by three special armor chits, which are found in one of the treasure hoards. The other four chits are (non-magical) staves and breastplates. The next two rows of chits on this sheet are the tremendous -- and most dangerous -- monsters in the game, along with the dwellings where the inhabitants of the Magic Realm can be found. The remaining three rows of chits on this sheet are the horses that are owned by some of the inhabitants of the Magic Realm, and some of the less dangerous (but still deadly) monsters.

Resource Cards: Armor Cards

I posted my first sheet of resource cards a little while ago. Those were the first of two gem and coin cards.

Here is my first stab at a set of armor cards. Sorry about the quality of the this scan, i'm still working out using the scanning technology, and the best way of re-producing these cards (i'm thinking pdf, but I just havn't got to that point yet).

As you can see, there are different versions of the same type of armor, several different sets of plate armor, different shields and helmets, and so on.

This is the first of two sheets of armor cards. The second sheet is near completion.

I'm curious to know if this seems like a useful resource.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Old School Monsters: Pig-Faced Orcs Part II

Over at Back In '81, there is a discussion of old-school miniatures. Lo and behold, he has posted his painted Pig-Faced Orc WarBand (pictured above).

Those are awesome miniatures, and they boast a very nice paint job.

I have just put my order in with The Sentry Box, and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my set of figs!

Tales of the Bizarre: A Fistful of Turkeys

I gather there were some hard feelings when Steven Jackson left Metagaming, in the early 1980's, to set up Steve Jackson games. Steve Jackson had developed The Fantasy Trip, along with several other microgames, if I recall correctly, and it must have been a bit of a blow for Metagaming to lose that talent. I don't know the full story of the split, but I have always been curious.

If we knew the full story about the departure of Steve Jackson, we might forgive the production of this microgame. Was this game produced out of malice, or was it simply good-natured ribbing?

A Fistful of Turkeys is, I presume, both homage to the movie "A Fistful of Dollars" starring Clint Eastwood, and a send-up of Steve Jackson's "trade-dress" and game design style.

I've never played, nor seen a paper copy of, A Fistful of Turkeys, although I have quite a collection of microgames. If it is actually worth owning (for it's gameplay) please let me know.

As for the Steve Jackson microgames, I had Steve Jackson's "Car Wars" game back in the day, but that perished in a garage fire, and was one of the games that, while I enjoyed it as a teenager, I never felt the need to re-establish it in my collection.

Resource Cards: Semi-Precious Stones

For the last couple of weeks, I have been working on a set of resource cards, as part of a resource management project I envisioned. I posted earlier that the purpose of this project was to reduce the amount of resource tracking required on a character record sheet, and to reduce the level of abstraction of various possessions.

I presumed that one of my armor card sheets would the first out of the gate, but I got a second wind on my gem card sheets (thanks to the marvelous gems tables in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

This is my first sheet of gems cards. The second gems card sheet will include the precious gems (diamonds, rubies, emeralds) along with more treasure chests, sacks and purses of coins and treasure.

Once this gets pdf'd, one simply has to print the sheet, and cut out the cards. Each card is roughly 1"x1.25". For my test file, I printed the cards on 110 lb. card stock.

Let me know what you think. Unfortunately, this will be a very much fits-and-starts project, as I now have a list of approximately 30 more sheets of resource cards I want to create.

The Fantasy Trip: Wizard

The Fantasy Trip: Wizard, was published in 1978. It was the sixth game in the Microgame line of products, produced by the long-defunct Metagaming company.

I have fond memories of The Fantasy Trip, and the Metagaming products. If you are feeling nostalgic, take a quick tour of the Microgames Museum. They have a comprehensive image library of all of the microgames ever produced, whether it be by Metagaming, TSR, or any of the other publishers that jumped into this market in the early 80's.

If you are feeling really nostalgic, and want to get that old TFT vibe, visit Dark City Games. Not only do they have some interesting new adventures, but they also have a free retro-clone called Legends of the Ancient World, available as a pdf document.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Otherworld Miniatures: Pig-Faced Orcs

Speaking of Pig-Faced Orcs, here is what I believe is the artwork for the boxed set of pig-faced orcs from the Otherworld Miniatures line of D&D figures.

These will make a great addition to a retro, old-school D&D game.

Before B2: The House On The Borderland

Before B2: The Keep On The Borderlands, you have The House On The Borderland.

To quote Wikipedia,

"[The House on the Borderland] was first released in Britain by Chapman and Hall, Ltd. London in 1908. Its most popular version was by Arkham House Press, Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 1946 as part of The House on the Borderland and Other Novels, the same publishers that brought out many books by other authors of weird fiction, such as H. P. Lovecraft."

There are several interesting things about this book.

(1) It was reprinted in 1946, in Wisconsin, by the same publisher that printed weird fiction, in the Lovecraftian vein.

(2) The House on the Borderland left an impression on, and likely influenced, H. P. Lovecraft's writing, and Lovecraftian writing influenced the development of D&D.

(3) It features a protagonist who explores a cave, after having visions of devils and "swine-men" (pig-faced orcs?). He battles several of those swine-men in the cave.

I don't recall seeing either this author, or this book, listed in the infamous AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide "Appendix N". Perhaps it is mere coincidence that there is an early D&D module with a similar name, and that the early D&D orcs are pig-faced.

But I have a hard time believing that there is no link between this book and the early development of D&D.

B2: The Keep On The Borderlands

Back in March 2009, JM over at Grognardia wrote a retrospective of Module B2, The Keep on the Borderlands. JM provided a fine retrospective of that module, I certainly recommend that you read his comments.

Several weeks ago, a young poster on the WOTC website provided his own review of B2, which he had converted to, and reportedly played using, the 3e/4e rules. He also provided a reference to his website.

Here is an excerpt from his WOTC review.

"First thoughts: I like the Erol Otus back cover painting with the adventurers approaching the keep in the sunset. But the module is pretty… well, “basic.” One player told me an unverified rumor that a proofreader at Wizards (sic) back in the day was reading “The Keep on the Borderland” and marked it all up with red ink, saying “This is the stupidest adventure ever! It’s just a list of all the low-level monstrous humanoids in the game, living in caves right next to one another, waiting for the PCs to come in and kill them!” Apparently he didn’t notice that the author byline read “Gary Gygax” and he didn’t last much longer at the company."

I have never heard this story before. Considering that B2 was published in 1979, and the principals at TSR were well known to each other, it seems unlikely that this actually occurred. Interesting and fun urban legend though. His review got me thinking about what might have inspired Gary Gygax to write this early D&D module.

Now i'm going to create another urban legend of my own.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dungeoneer RPG: Cultures

Thomas Denmark, over at Dungeoneer, has posted another update on his Dungeoneer RPG game (currently in development).

This time, his post is about how a character's culture impacts their abilities.

This is an interesting game mechanic to add depth and variety to the characters. And I like the fact that the character's culture can be assigned randomly (perhaps this means their will be a set of culture cards?)

Old School Monsters: Behir

I was mentioning earlier, that the Giants of Legend mini set was, in my estimation, the zenith of the D&D Miniatures line. To be sure, there are some great iconic sculpts from later miniature sets, but this set is where the D&D minis line finally hit its stride.
Here is another iconic monster, made into a miniature in that Giants of Legend mini set: the Behir. He appears in the D&D module The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, which was first published in 1976, then revised and re-published in 1982.
This is just one of several of the larger monsters that WOTC "did right". That includes the way that they sculpted this figure to fit on a round base.

Greyhawk's Paladin

It's always wise to check your facts before putting anything in writing.

This is good counsel, as, in the case of my earlier post, on the Paladin, my thinking was wrong. While I presumed the Paladin first appeared in AD&D, she actually appears in Supplement I: Greyhawk, in 1976, two years prior to the AD&D Players Handbook.

In Greyhawk, the Paladin is not really a class of its own. It has no separate experience table, nor does it have any of the intermediate named levels that mark the other classes. Instead, a figher can, if she has a Charisma of 17 or higher, and is lawful from the commencement of play, opt to pursue Paladinhood. The Greyhawk Supplement is vague on the method of attaining this station.

The actual text from the Supplement.

"In addition, certain lawful fighters may opt to become paladins."

"Charisma scores of 17 or greater by fighters indicate the possibility of paladin status IF THEY ARE LAWFUL from the commencement of play for that character. If such fighters elect to they can then become paladins..."

The text goes on to chronicle the restrictions and advantages of this station, much of which appears in the AD&D Players Handbook.

It's interesting to again discover that much of what appeared in AD&D was already in OD&D, in primitive form.

I'm still not a fan of the class as written, though. Not even in OD&D.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Resource Cards Progress

I do want to assure you, I have not abandoned my resource cards project.

Unfortunately, this project just keeps growing. I'm now up to some 1200 potential resource cards and counting.

I have roughly 100 armor cards near completion, and about the same number of gem and coin cards.

I am trying to put the finishing touches on at least a couple of cards each day. Once I get my first card sheet completed (probably one of the armor sheets) I intend to jpeg and post it.

Dragon Warriors RPG: Magic Users

On Monday, I posted regarding Magic User fantasy tropes. I like the fantasy tropes in Magic Realm, as they seem grounded in common understandings of what each magic user type represents in fantasy fiction and common word usage.

I should preface this post by saying that I like Dragon Warriors RPG. I remember seeing it back in the mid-to-late 80's, as a friend's aunt would send him this kind of stuff all the time from the UK. Back then, I thought Dragon Warriors was fresh and innovative. While I don't have quite the same feeling about it today, I still like the atmosphere, and the different take on combat and magic items.

The approach to defining magic user classes leaves me cold, however.

For one thing, the name-classes of magic user seemed neither accurate nor terribly familiar. Perhaps they were going for unfamiliar. I don't see that as a particularly effective way to draw new players: at least at the beginning, I presume you want the game to be immediately appealing, familiar and intuitive, to encourage buy-in by the players and referee. After achieving that, it makes sense to mix things up a little. Of course, i'm no game designer so what do I know?

Dragon Warriors RPG has four classes of magic users. Elementalist, Sorcerer, Mystic and Warlock.

In DWRPG, Warlocks are defined as magic users who use their magic to enhance their combat prowess. I presume this is akin to the more aptly-named Swordmages of D&D 3.5. But common usage and fantasy tropes surrounding the term Warlock define it as a male witch, imagined to have special powers derived from the devil.

In DWRPG, Mystics are defined as magic users who are attuned to nature, or to the power of the mind. Again, in D&D, these characters might by Druids or Psionicists. Common usage of the term Mystic however, has overtly religious connotations, often meaning someone who practices occult rights or has knowledge of religious mysteries, which seems more suited to a Priestly or Clerical class.

DWRPG defines Sorcerers as those who draw energy from other dimensions to fuel their spells. This might seem like a run-of-the-mill magic user, but the term Sorcerer again has a definite "black magic" connotation that do not mesh with the definition for the class used in DWRPG.

Finally, the Elementalist class is a very specialized magic user class, that harnesses the raw elements (fire, water, air, earth, darkness) to cast spells. I suppose this could be the pyromancers and other elemental based magic users of the more modern fantasy gaming. This is a fantasy trope that I have little familiarity with, and it therefore failes to evoke any imagery for me, which is important for me as a fantasy tropes enthusiast.

I like Dragon Warriors RPG. It has an interesting, if perhaps too derivative, gameworld, and great atmosphere, to name just a few of the features that I find appealing.

I'm no fan of its magic user classes, however.

What To Do While Visiting The Magic Realm

Magic Realm is a boardgame / roleplaying game hybrid. It uses a set of hexagonal tiles to create a random world map, within which you spend your time adventuring. Since the map is put together by the players prior to play, each time you play, the map will be different, as will the location of the monsters, treasures, and inhabitants.

So what can you do, while visiting the Magic Realm? One of the interesting things about this game is that all of the players can win. That is because, at the beginning of the game, you secretly determine what your objectives are. If, at the end of the game, you meet your objectives, you win.

The objectives are broken down into five categories.

(1) Find ancient Treasure. There are many treasure troves hidden throughout the mountains, forests and caves of the Realm. You can choose the discovering and looting of those treasure troves as your objective. The Dwarf might choose this objective.

(2) Discover new spells. This objective is often taken by the more powerful magic users. There are spell books and other items that supply spells scattered throughout the land. You can spend your time in the Realm trying to locate and learn new spells. The Magician, Sorcerer or Wizard might pursue this option.

(3) Become famous. Killing monsters and undertaking quests can score you fame points. Some players will go monster hunting. or assist the inhabitants of the Realm, to establish their characters' reputations. The White Knight, Pilgrim or Captain might choose this route.

(4) Become notorious. A player can, alternatively, have their character roam the land, wantonly killing monsters, inhabitants AND OTHER CHARACTERS alike, in which case, they would score notoriety points. Characters like the Black Knight, the Witch or the Witch King (Warlock) might choose this objective.

(5) Become rich. There are lots of lost treasures in the Realm. Players can locate those treasures, sell them to the inhabitants, and retire in style. This is an option for any of the characters.

Magic Realm is a game where cooperation and competition are both viable strategies. There are certain characters, such as the Black Knight, Swordsman or the Elf, who cannot be trusted to cooperate (their game-designed "personalities" make it disadvantageous for them to form any long-term alliances, it is easier for them to win by competing). On the other hand, there are certain characters who, when working in concert, can achieve far more than they could individually (for example, the Amazon and the Dwarf).

With so many characters, board combinations, and game objectives, it would take a long time to exhaust all of the possibilities of this role-playing adventure game.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Old School Monsters: Snurre Ironbelly

WOTC's Giants of Legend D&D Miniatures Set probably represents the zenith of WOTC's miniature production quality, and contains some of the more iconic D&D personality miniatures. This is sad, considering it was only the 4th of 17 miniatures sets, prior to them changing their miniatures set format. In my opinion, subsequent miniatures sets never met the high standards created with the Giants of Legend set of miniatures.

Case in Point: King Snurre Ironbelly, the BBEG from the final module in the classic "G" series of early D&D adventures. Few miniatures could be more iconic than the heroes, and evil leaders, from the early modules. Not only did WOTC capture the feel of the original G3 artwork in this pose, but the paint-job is first rate.

Now compare this to the Aspect of Vecna, found in the fairly recent Dangerous Delves set of miniatures. Considering how iconic to the D&D mythos Vecna is (Hand and Eye of Vecna, Vecna Lives, Die Vecna Die, and Vecna Reborn), you would think they would have lavished more care and attention to that sculpt, and the related paint-job.

Tales of the Bizarre: Dat's My Leg!

Why, oh why, did I not buy this game when I saw it at The Sentry Box, lo these 20 years ago. According to BGG, the game description is as follows.

"The Trollsome game of Bodybuilding. Trolls are stupid! I mean , really, really thick. Quite often, they leave bits of themselves lying around in troll holes. A troll almost never notices he has lost a leg or even his head! He soon grows a new one anyway, so he doesn't care two hoots! Players move their Gobbos around the board, trying to collect enough "Troll Bitz" to make 2 complete trolls.
From a line of 4 kids games
Games Workshop Ltd. released so that the kids would have something to play while you and your mates played Warhammer. Each included a Trollish Tunes tape which included silly songs sung by Trolls."

Retroclones: How The Original White Box Got It Right

I've become a big fan of old-school gaming.

I started playing D&D back in the late 70's, and followed the game as it progressed through its various incarnations.

When the original AD&D manuals came out, I quickly abandoned the old D&D to play the new and improved version. In fact, I scorned the later B, X, DA, and other "basic" Dungeons and Dragons material, thinking them suited only for those whose tastes were not yet refined enough to graduate to the better (advanced) rules. I followed D&D through 2nd Edition, where I began to lose interest, D&D 3.0 and 3.5, where it just became too complicated, and into 4E, for which I had high hopes ...

Having now returned to the old-school style of gaming, making use of the retro-clones appeals to me, for several reasons. First, I sold my original D&D boxed set, so the actual rules from the original set is largely unavailable to me (I do still have a copy of Greyhawk, though it's usefulness is limited due to the absence of the original three little brown books). Second, the editors of the retro-clones have done an admirable job of clarifying the original rules. Third, the retro-clone rules are available in pdf form, so it is fairly easy to obtain copies.

Of the retro-clones, my preference leans towards Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. White box and OSRIC are appealing, although I prefer to use OSRIC as a resource rather than a rule-set, and White Box, while tempting, just feels a little too light (I quite enjoy the optional rules sidebars in that retro-clone however). I have heard some love for Spellcraft & Swordplay, but have not yet investigated that rule-set.

The one thing that the original White Box has over the retro-clones is the separation of materials into players' and gamemasters' books. From a publishing point of view, I suppose it makes sense to include the entire rule-set into one book. However, from a gaming point of view, particularly when trying to introduce new players to the original D&D, I would much prefer to have separate players' manuals and gamemasters' manuals.

It may just be me, but I still think part of the enjoyment of role-playing games is that the players do not to have perfect knowledge of the rules of the universe, nor about the monsters and treasures that are to found as they explore their game environment. I know one can split the Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry pdfs fairly easily, to create a players document, but if the editors intend to publish paper versions, I would love to see those published as separate players' and gamemasters' booklets.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Dungeoneer RPG Cover

Here is the "in-development" Dungeoneer RPG Cover. I like it.

Dungeoneer RPG and Magic Realm

I am quite interested in trying out the Dungeoneer RPG once it is published. It sounds like an interesting "rules-light" fantasy role playing game.

I just noticed some interesting (if not terribly deep) similarities between Magic Realm and Dungeoneer RPG.

1. Both use fight, magic and move as their core abilities.

2. Both have very similar covers, of a party of adventurers battling a dragon on the right side of the illustration.

I promise to write something a little more profound later.


Spell-casters and Fantasy Tropes

I like fantasy tropes, as they tend to create a shorthand that allows players to immediately understand character and context, without going into a great amount of detail.

Fantasy tropes can be tricky though, as sometimes what you think is a clear fantasy trope is not necessarily shared by all RPG players.

The Magic Realm game has several magic-using characters to choose from. Those include the Sorcerer, the Wizard, the Witch King, the Magician, the Witch, the Woodsgirl, the White Knight, the Elf, the Pilgrim and the Druid.

To me, there is a clear shorthand (fantasy trope) attached to each of those magic using characters. I'm not so sure that shorthand is shared by others, however. Here are the Magic Realm fantasy tropes, as I see them.

The "Wizard" is your typical Gandalf Character.
The "Elf" is a woodland sprite, playing sometimes deadly tricks on passers-by.
The "Sorcerer" is akin to the Sorceress in Sleeping Beauty.
The "Witch King" (Warlock) is attuned to the demonic, infernal powers.
The "Witch" is the same, but is the female equivalent, and has a black cat and flying broom.
The "Magician" is a dabbler in magic, doing simple tricks and occasionally stumbling onto powerful magic.
The "Woodgirl" is a friend to the woodland sprites, and is given access to their magic.
The "White Knight" is a Paladin, deriving holy power from on high, when he earns it.
The "Pilgrim" is a Cleric, who takes up a weapon to defend the faith when the need arises.
The "Druid" carries a sickle or dagger to harvest herbs, and derives his power from the natural world.

I find each of those characters to be clear fantasy tropes.

On the other hand, the Dragon Warriors RPG has four magic using characters. I find the magic using characters in that game to lack clarity as fantasy tropes, compared to the Magic Realm magic characters. Those Dragon Warriors RPG magic-using characters are Elementalist, Sorcerer, Mystic, and Warlock.

What do those four words mean to you, in terms of fantasy tropes? Interestingly, Dragon Warriors RPG has no Cleric-equivalent character (just in case you were thinking the Mystic was some kind of holy person!)

The Paladin

I've never played a Paladin.

Pretty hard to believe, I know. After all, who hasn't played a Paladin, at least once in their D&D career?

Honestly, the character never interested me. Sure, I played more than my fair share of Bards (the Bard was the ultimate multi-tasker, having spells, thief skills and being okay in combat) and I played an awful lot of Clerics. You're thinking, the whole idea of the Paladin is pretty cool, what's not to like about him?
For some reason I never got into the Paladin, though. I always felt he was (1) unnecessary because a Paladin is basically a Cleric with a sword and (2) part of the general power creep that started in AD&D and never stopped.

I posted earlier about my character creation method. As long as the sum of your character's ability scores is between 63 and 69 (average of between 10.5 and 11.5 per ability) we're gonna get along just fine.

Here's the problem with my 69-sum character generation method and the AD&D Paladin. In order to be an AD&D Paladin, you need the following minimum stats:

Str 12
Int 9
Wis 13
Con 9
Dex (no minimum)
Cha 17

Assuming you actually roll these scores, and the 69-sum ability score method is adhered to, then, based on the above minimum stats for a Paladin, the maximum Dexterity you can roll will be a 9. And using the 69-sum method already has a built-in power-creep factor of an extra point on every ability score (average 11.5 instead of 10.5).

In addition, in order for your Paladin to get the 10% experience bonus in AD&D, you need a Strength of 16 and Wisdom of 16 (ability scores in excess of 15). So to get your experience bonus, you either have a Dexterity of 2, or you need at least a sum of 70 to have a Dexterity of 3. Is this why all Paladins are bumbling pretty-boys?

Frankly, i'm not even sure why a Paladin needs a minimum Charisma of 17. There does not seem to be any Paladin AD&D ability tied to the high Charisma. He does not get any special leadership advantages for being a Paladin. He doesn't even get a retinue of followers or men-at-arms at name-level.

The Paladin, as defined in the AD&D rule-set, raised the bar for every other player, as in order to be competitive with the player playing the Paladin, you had to have your own stats at his level as well. And so power creep was institutionalized in AD&D, and all the D&D iterations that followed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

CharGen: So You Think Can Dance With A Purist?

Back in May 2009, Shamus Young, over at Twenty Sided, wrote a blog regarding the distribution curves that are generated as a result of different character creation methods.

The table you see, above (from Shamus' post) is the distribution of the die-roll results based on the traditional (purist) 3d6 method of character generation. As you can see, the results of a 3d6 character generation method are heavily skewed to the 7-14 score range, with the mean (average) score being 10.5. Most people that have been playing RPGs for some time, are well aquainted with distribution curves, as we tend to pay attention to the related probabilities in our metagaming.

I got a chuckle out of Shamus' opening paragraph to his blog post:

"Based on the comments in the previous post, it seems like many players generate their characters using the following method:
1. Roll 4d6
2. Discard the lowest number
3. Add the remaining three together
4. Wait until the DM isn’t looking
5. Write down whatever numbers you want.
6. Make sure one of them is a 9, just to keep yourself honest."
To avoid this tendency among players, a DM, who is an OD&D purist, might insist that she see every character generation die roll, and that the player record them, in stat-order, for good or ill. But what DM has the time, or inclination, to do this, and where does that leave the trust level between the DM and her players?
In addition, despite what the distribution curve tells us, there are times when someone will have a particularly bad or spectacularly lucky run of dice rolling, and will have either a hopeless character or a super character. Recent versions of D&D have tried to smooth out this variation by implementing the "point-buy" system for character generation, which I think is both a terrible way to create characters, and a contributor to the general diminishment of the art of role-playing.
I promote the 3d6 in stat-order method of character generation. However, I also recognize that players may occasionally be unlucky, lucky, or dodgy in their character generation. My solution, which is definitely NOT purist. is to modify the character stats, after the character is rolled.
If the dice rolls have come up according to the standard distribution, the sum of the scores of all six character stats should be 63 (average score of 10.5 x 6 character stats = 63). If the sum of the character stats are less than 63, I let the player roll the same number of d6's as her character's stats are short of 63.
For example, if the sum of her 6 character stats is 59, she would roll 4d6, one d6 for each point below 63. The number rolled on each d6 corresponds to the stat, in whatever order they are written down. If Strength is in position one, then a die roll of one means strength, if Intelligence is in position two, then a die roll of two means intelligence, and so on. In this example, if she rolled two "1's" and two "2's", she would increase both her Strength and Intelligence by two each.
If the sum of a character's stats are between 63 and 69, I let the player play that character without modification.
However, if the sum of the character's stats exceed 69, I apply the same method (used to improve the below-average character) but in reverse. So again, say the sum of the character's stats are 75, then the player would roll 6d6, since 75 is six higher than 69. The digit rolled on each d6 would correspond the stat holding that position on the character sheet. The player would reduce their score, in each stat, by one point for each time that number was rolled on one of those d6's.
Most people would be okay with a DM allowing the improvement of a "hopeless" character, but why would you penalize a player who got lucky with their dice rolls? The most important reason is to unsure game balance between the players: it's not fun when the characters with average scores are outshone by the super characters, simply because of ability scores. The point of having random dice-roll modifications to the hopeless and super characters, is that it fits with the OD&D philosophy, that you don't pick your stats.

So now you know. When it comes to character generation, I am not a purist, I can house-rule with the best of them.