Sunday, October 31, 2010
Anyone know of some other lines of miniatures the combines foppish outfits and hats with swashbuckling weapons?
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I was on hiatus from Dungeons and Dragons during the 1990's, so I was only vaguely aware of the TSR death-spiral, ascent of Magic: the Gathering, and eventual sale of TSR to Wizards of the Coast.
Most of my game-time was filled with computer games, my favorite being the original Diablo, released sometime around 1997.
This game scared the crap out of me. I seem to recall that the backstory was revealed intermittently throughout the game, and so for me it was a game of discovery, albeit a rather bloody, monster-laden one. I loved that there were dark shadows around the edges of the screen, and that the music instilled a sense of dread, horror and foreboding. The game-play was very claustrophobia-inducing.
I never got into Diablo II. Some of the mystery of the original Diablo was lost. It may have been the different music, or the fact that you knew what to expect, having played the original Diablo, but Diablo II didn't give me the pulse-pounding experience of fear that I got from the original game.
How does Diablo relate to old-school gaming? Like Diablo, part of the fun of role-playing games is not knowing what is going on, having incomplete information, not knowing if the monster is killable or not, and not knowing whether or not you will survive.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
One suggested setting for that upcoming B/X campaign are the dank and horror-filled catacombs, crypts and tunnels beneath an ancient, sprawling and corrupt city. This setting possesses a certain appeal to me, as I am currently reading several of Jack Vance's The Dying Earth novels, and that setting reminds me of Kaiin, a crumbling city, whose abandoned outskirts and underground tunnels hold mysteries and danger. The idea behind the campaign is that the DM duties will rotate amongst the participants. If the other participants were up for it, that would allow each of them to develop their own portions of a shared world, and link them all together in a more-or-less coherent framework.
Another option is to create a Caves Of Chaos styled campaign, where each DM takes one of the cave entrances in a box canyon or valley, and develops it, allowing for later linkages between the complexes. The above art is inspiration for the later suggestion. The art is by Michael Komark, and is from the D&D 3.5 Players Handbook II.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
I have mixed emotions about Synnibarr's departure. At 475 pages, it is far too long to qualify as a game of imagination, since that many pages of rules and setting sucks the imagination out of any game.
Instead, it is better thought of as a historical document, representing the imagined universe of Raven c.s. McCracken, flawed though that universe may be.
Still, letting go is hard to do, as Synnibarr is a signpost in the history of role-playing games.
Admittedly, that signpost is buried deep in a dark and boggy valley. Raven's own personal history is also rather storied, which is why i'm hesitant to throw any large rocks at him, or his game.
But both the World Of Synnibarr role-playing game, and most of the accompanying art, is pretty mediocre.
There seems to be little that is novel, either in the game design or in alternate visions represented by the artwork.
I call this illustration two moons (in reference to the two moons in the sky, and not for some other less tasteful reason). It shows two Amazons, being surprised by a black panther. This illustration is notable for the same reason as the other illustration, in that it has a very ancient greek vibe to it, which is not in fitting with the assumed setting of Synnibarr, which is a planet/spaceship, includes modern weapons and science fantasy and super powers. This illustration also possesses some interesting energy, as if the two Amazons have been caught quite unawares by this large cat.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
And you may ask yourself,
Is that my favorite Paladin singing?
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack;
And you may find yourself in another part of the world;
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile;
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house...
With a beautiful wife...
And you may ask yourself,
HOW DID I GET HERE?
Saturday, October 16, 2010
How many have you seen? How many do you own? And what's your favorite?
Friday, October 15, 2010
I've mentioned in the past that I was fortunate to come across a large collection of old paperback fiction. Not all of it was of the swords and sorcery variety. I also obtained some old science fiction novels from the 60's and 70's. One of those novels was Ensign Flandry, by Poul Anderson, which was published in 1966. This is not the first published Flandry novel, but comes earliest in the chronology of the series.
If a Traveller Appendix N does exist, I imagine Poul Anderson's Flandry series ranks as one of the more significant inspirations. Here are a selection of quotes from Ensign Flandry, which may have been inspirational to the Traveller designers.
"Everyone knows the Empire was won and is maintained by naked power, the central government is corrupt and the frontier is brutal and the last organization with high morale, the Navy, lives for war and oppression..."
"The sky illumination had now formed a gigantic banner overhead, the sunburst alive in a field of royal blue..."
"They crowded into the flier. It was a simple passenger vehicle which could hold a score or so if they filled the seats and aisle and rear end. Flandry settled himself at the board and started the grav generators."
"People say 'hyperdrive' and 'light-year' so casually. They don't understand. A series of quantum jumps, which do not cross the intervening spaces, therefore do not amount to true velocity and are not bound by the light-speed limitation..."
"'Lord Hauksberg is continuing to Merseia in another couple of days,' said Commander Max Abrams, of the Imperial Naval Intelligence Corps. 'I'm going along in an advisory capacity, so my orders claim. I rate an Aide. Want the job, Ensign?' Flandry goggled. 'You've shown yourself pretty tough and resourceful. A bit of practical experience in Intel will give you a leg up, if I can convince you to transfer to the Intelligence Branch.'"
"The starship Dronning Margrete was not of a size to land safely on a planet. Her auxiliaries were small spaceships in their own right. Officially belonging to Ny Kalmar, in practice, a yacht for whoever was the current viscount. She did sometimes travel in the Imperial service: a vast improvement with respect to comfort over any Naval vessel. Now she departed orbit and accelerated outward on gravitics. Before long she was clear enough into space that she could switch over to hyperdrive."
"The ship whispered. Powerplant, ventilators, a rare hail when crewmen passed each other in the corridor."
"'Come, come,' Hauksberg said. 'A galactic government is impossible. It'd collapse under its own weight. We've everything we can do to control what we have, and we don't control tightly. Local self-government is so strong, most places, that I see actual feudalism evolving within the Imperial structure.'"
Well I could go on, but I think you see the picture. The Ensign Flandry series is not the only science fiction source from which GDW may have drawn, but it certainly captures the flavour of many of the Traveller game elements, such as character generation, assumed setting, equipment, organization, starship design, and government and nobility.
Edit: You can find a recommended reading list from Space Frontiers on Dennis' What a horrible night to have a curse blog.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Now it seems it is potentially off to a good home.
The World Of Synnibarr is liberally derided by many. Having read, but never played the game, I admit my perspective is somewhat shallow.
I've heard vague reports that Raven McCracken's campaign was not unlike that of Dave Hargrave's.
But while Hargrave is hailed as a hero of self-publishing and gonzo D&D house-ruling, McCracken is mocked for his World Of Synnibarr setting.
Interestingly, one of the criticisms of World Of Synnibarr is this: "McCracken is, incidentally, addicted to the percentile dice roll, and not in the good Unknown Armies / Call of Cthulhu way; he'll use them for everything. You'll see more of this later."
Is McCracken's material that bad, or does he get unfair rap?
Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: Wait 'til I get going! Now, where was I?
Man in Black: Australia.
Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're just stalling now.
Vizzini: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.
Vizzini: IT HAS WORKED! YOU'VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!
How I would love to have a Dungeons and Dragons combat system that emulated the battle of wits scene in The Princess Bride.
One of the touted features of original D&D is its' encouragement of player skill. But many people find the old-school combat system lacking in that area. The main criticism of old-school combat is that deteriorates into an endless exchange of blows. While the criticism is somewhat misplaced, (after all, players should be using their player skills to either avoid combat or ensure that the battlefield is of their choosing) once combat is joined, players are at the mercy of the dice, and the vagaries of the DM, who may be permissive or not when it comes to the players' improvised combat tactics.
Some 'modern gamers' point to the 4E combat system as a solution, as it provides myriad tactical combat choices, providing some measure of player control in finding synergistic combinations of combat abilities to defeat the monsters arrayed against them. But the 4E solution feels completely artificial to me: the combat abilities rarely reflect real combat tactics, and so their selection and employment, in my mind, are examples of system mastery, not player skill. After all, if you look at the example of the battle of wits between Vezzini and the Man In Black, Vezzini is using real-life knowledge (basic psychology, geography, recent events) to try to deduce the mind of his opponent.
One of the great strengths of Avalon Hill's Magic Realm combat system is its' focus on player skill. The system itself is rather straight-forward, and uses the following 'real-life' combat principles:
- Weapon length: longer weapons hit before shorter weapons.
- Weapon speed: faster weapons hit before slower weapons.
- Character speed: faster characters act before slower characters.
- Armor: armor absorbs blows, but can be damaged as a result.
- Weapon harm: heavier weapons do more damage than light weapons.
- Attack Direction: there are three attack directions that correspond to the three dimensions: smash down, swing to the side, and thrust ahead.
- Manuever Direction: there are three manuever directions that correspond to the three attack directions: duck down, dodge to the side, and charge ahead.
- Fatigue: characters are able to perform certain exceptional actions, but doing so causes fatigue, which constrains future activities.
For example, in Magic Realm, the Dwarf is very slow. His only fast movement, that does not cause him to become fatigued, is his ability to duck down (which makes intuitive sense, since he is short). Another player, knowing this about the Dwarf, would select a smash down attack against the Dwarf, knowing that the Dwarf is most likely to use the duck manuever. Of course, in true Vezzini fashion, the Dwarf knows that other players are aware of his reliance on ducking, and so may employ one of his other manuevers, thus avoiding the smash down attack of his opponent (even if it meant accumulating some fatigue as a result).
I would be interested to learn if others have devised a way to insert player skill into their old-school combat systems, so as to transform them into a battle of wits between the players and the DM.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
- "Weed-killer", this spell withers weeds -- handy for clearing out an overgrown area;
- "Andrea's Rambling Clew" -- the material component is a ball of yarn, which unrolls as it provides a trail towards your intended destination;
- "Gordian Knot" -- a spell for ensuring theives cannot untie a knot to raid your backpack or sack;
- "Snap, Crackle, Pop" -- a spell which creates tiny globules across a flat surface, which make loud popping sounds if walked upon;
- "Foghorn" -- allows a player to amplify her voice, so she can address large crowds;
- "Percival's Phosphorescence" -- enchanted items collect sunlight, and can thus be used as no-fire torches underground; and
- "Brother Bertram's Body Bag" -- a corpse placed within the body bag will cease to decay, useful when you want to resurrect someone but it will be several days before you can do so.
There are some interesting and useful spells in The Spell Book. But the real value to be derived from The Spell Book is within the first 27 pages.
Those first 27 pages provide a summary of Newton's Principia Arcana, an ancient tome that reveals the four types of magical mana, from which are derived five magic systems. The derived magic systems are:
- Memorization System -- similar to the Vancian system of spell-casting employed in Dungeons and Dragons;
- Local Mana System -- similar to the system used in D&D's Dark Sun setting, or Niven's "The Magic Goes Away", there is a certain amount of magic power within a given area, and spell-casters who use up the magic power in that area, must then move to another area in order to continue casting;
- Personal Mana System -- each spell caster has a certain amount of magical mana within himself, and can cast any spell until his personal mana is exhausted. Then he must eat and rest for a certain amount of time to restore his personal mana;
- Percentage and Fumble System -- magical essense is abundant, but hard to control. Spell casters can cast spells, but there is always a chance that a spell will backfire or result in some catastrophe; and
- Impromptu Magic System -- spell casters can make up any spell, but their chances are dependent on certain laws of spell casting. Those laws are identified in the Impromptu Magic System, and adherance to those laws affects the chance of spell success. This system is similar to DeCamp and Pratt's magic system, as described in The Compleat Enchanter.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
I like the platonic solids: d4, d6, d8, d12, d20. My favorite? The d12, partly because it gets so little play at the game-table --and is thus the red-headed step-child of the number-generator family -- but also because I made a d12 out of paper, long before I knew anything about D&D, in some elementary-school craft project, to which I pasted pictures of 12 influential people -- what their achievements were, I can no longer recall.
I'm not a big fan of either the d10 or d100. Oh, they are useful, if uninspiring, dice. But the d100, in particular, seems over-used to me. The d100 often gets used, when a d20 would suffice.
Take, for example, Dave Hargrave's Magical Phumble Chart, from Page 18 of The Lost Arduin Grimoire IV. The table has 13 magical phumble entries. Except for two (4% and 1%), each magic phumble entry has a 5, 10, or 15% chance of occuring. A little pet peeve of mine, but if each entry has a probability that can be expressed as a multiple of 5%, then a d20 will work equally well.
I know some people have a fetish for the d100. But i'm a big fan of economy, whether it be in my written communications, or the dice employed in my role-playing game.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Dying Earth is composed of six short stories, some of which are cleverly interconnected. Those short stories are: Turjan of Miir; Mazirian the Magician; T'sais; Liane the Wayfarer; Ulan Dhor; and, Guyal of Sfere. The accompanying picture is Joe Bergeron's depiction of a confrontation between T'sain (the twin sister of T'sais) and Mazirian the Magician, beneath the waters of Sanra, the Lake of Dreams.
While Mazirian the Magican and Liane the Wayfarer both ultimately receive their comeuppances, many of the other characters in The Dying Earth enjoy a better fate.
Jack Vance's Dying Earth series is well-known as the basis for the D&D magic system. In The Dying Earth series, most Magic Users can employ only 4 or 5 spells, much fewer than the number permitted for middle-to-high level spellcasters in earlier versions of D&D.
In Vance's Dying Earth series, only some 100 spells remain, from the thousand or more that existed in earlier times. Among the spells still know are the Charm of Untiring Nourishment, Call to the Violent Cloud, the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Phandaal's Gyrator, the Spell of the Slow Hour, the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere, the Spell of Immobilization, and Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell. Looking at the spell lists in early versions of D&D, and those in some of the Arduin and Delos rulebooks, one is struck by how often the Vancian naming conventions were employed. A credit to Gygax, Hargrave and others, who treated the source material with respect.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I must admit, the idea of player characters as Phantoms has a certain allure. I am reminded of the old 1978 film, Heaven Can Wait, if in title only. In that film, the incomparable Warren Beatty plays a narcissistic and reckless football quarterback, whose guardian angel transports him to heaven before his time. Due to the mix-up, Beatty's spirit is sent back to Earth. Unlike the Phantom class, where he would exist as spirit, he is placed in the body of a wealthy, recently-murdered industrialist, until St. Peter can find a suitable replacement body for Beatty, with hilarious and sexy results.
Friday, October 1, 2010
But I was gifted with something at least as entrancing: 41 more paperbacks for my Appendix N collection.
Included in my birthday haul:
Zothique and Poseidonis, both by Clark Ashton Smith;
10 Books by E. R. Burroughs, including 4 from the Mars series;
10 Books by Jack Vance, including the complete Dying Earth cycle;
10 H.P. Lovecraft/August Derleth titles; and
9 other books, from William Morris, Joy Chant, Hannes Bok, Ludovico Ariosto, Lord Dunsany, David Lindsay and Lin Carter.