Monday, August 31, 2009

Dungeoneer RPG: Resource Management

A day or two ago, I mentioned that Thomas Denmark, over at his Dungeoneer blog, had posted a sneak peek of his Dungeoneer RPG game.

I notice that he's done it again! This card is a sneak peek from his new Dungeoneer RPG.

Using cards for resource management has intrigued me of late. One of the interesting things about the Dungeoneer card game system is that it uses cards to represent various quests that you may undertake and other in-game elements. This is an interesting way of tracking what your current adventure is all about.
The Dungeoneer RPG promises to use a similar card system to track your character, quests, and so on.

Playing the Witch in Magic Realm

I think more people would have played the witch character in Magic Realm if her character card had looked something like this.
She needs a black cat in the picture background, since one of her special abilities is possession of a familiar. For some reason they didn't include a chit for this, which I always found odd.

Types of Magic in Magic Realm

One of the 2E innovations that I welcomed was the Wizard specialists.

AD&D added the illusionist (at least I don't recall the illusionist being in OD&D) but it took 2E , published in 1989, to round out the specialist mages. Those other specialists included the necromancer, the evoker, the diviner, and so on.

In many ways, Avalon Hill beat TSR to the punch. Magic Realm was released in 1978, and 10 of its 16 characters have access to different kinds of magic.

There are 8 types of magic in Magic Realm:

I - white magic (divine), cast by the Pilgrim (read Cleric) and White Knight (nee Paladin)
II - grey magic (natural), cast by the Wizard and Druid
III - gold magic (faerie), cast by the Elf and Woodsgirl
IV - purple magic (elemental), cast by the Sorcerer
V - black magic (infernal), cast by the Witch and Witch King (read Warlock)
VI - conjurations
VII - good luck knacks
VIII - malicious tricks
The Magician has access to various types of magic, but he needs different magic items (which supplied him with the mana he needs) in order to come into his own.
I like the approach that Magic Realm uses, as it makes the mechanics for the clerics and the wizards the same, by making white magic just one of the several magic types.
In addition, each character has access to unique kinds of magic, (and is restricted from using others) which is very similar to the specialist approach in 2E.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dungeoneer RPG Sneak Peek

Thomas Denmark, over at Dungeoneering, posted a sneak peek of his upcoming Dungeoneer RPG game.

I see it is now slated for release in 2010.

I am interested in buying this game, as the players handbook, referees guide, and world handbook are reportedly 32 pages each.

Talk about rules-light!

Character Archetypes in The Fantasy Trip

I like archetypes and fantasy tropes.

I know saying that may make me seem backwards amongst many modern rpg players. Modern sensibilities lean towards highly unique, customized characters. No "Elves as class" for them.

The reason I like archetypes and fantasy tropes is it provides a convenient shorthand when role-playing. The inevitable rebuttal can be made ... that's not role-playing, that's sock-puppetry! My response is, when you first begin playing a character in an old-school rpg, you have little idea who this character is, and having those tropes, as a crutch to fall back on, is welcomed.

I make these observations, in relation to The Fantasy Trip. That game system provides a list of just those sorts of archetypes, when discussing the kinds of hero characters a player can be. That list is useful, as it provides "flavor" to a character. The list of "non-wizardly" fantasy tropes from The Fantasy Trip goes something like this: Amazon, Assassin, Barbarian, Blademaster, Guildsman, Leader, Mercenary, Priest, Rogue, Spy, Tank, Thief, Tinker, and Woodsman.

The "Advanced" versions of The Fantasy Trip are heavily skills-based. This may have been one of the earliest skills-based game systems out there. Of course, playing those archetypes, OD&D-style, without a skills system, you might simply state, "my fighting-man character is a former spy" and the DM will let you do certain things because of it.

Murder Mysteries and Fantasy Role Playing

I recently read a blog, wherein the author commented on how to design and run a fantasy murder mystery adventure.

If I remember correctly, that blogger noted that the gathering of clues, and the identification of the culprit, depends on the skills of the players and the DM, in addition to the quality of the clues provided. Sometimes, what seems the obvious solution, to the DM, eludes the players, either because the DM failed to provide certain clues (or gave ambiguous clues), or the players assigned higher value to macguffins or peripheral information, and did not pay attention when a particularly critical clue was revealed.

While the players must play an active role in gathering clues, ultimately, the success of a murder mystery adventure relies heavily on the DM. If the DM does not provide the necessary clues, or misdirects the players with macguffins, the players ability to identify the murder will be fatally impaired.

I have always enjoyed running murder mystery adventures, but my DM skills are mediocre at best. As a cheat, in order to compensate for the inevitable misdirections and macguffins which I inadvertently pass on to the players, I tend NOT to prepare one correct solution.

Instead, I come up with several clues, usually 20-30, that point to different suspects. I sprinkle those about, in various locations, and with various NPCs. The characters must gather up the clues, visiting several locations, and talking to different NPCs. As they gather the clues, they will come up with their own solution. If it seems a reasonable solution, based on the clues gathered, I make that the solution.

This may seem like pandering. Perhaps it is. But to me it results in a far more satisfying conclusion to a murder mystery adventure, since the players still do all the leg-work, gathering the clues, and their solution is based on their synthesis of those clues. The alternative, with the players and the DM staring in frustration at each other because a clue was missed or misunderstood, is less palatable to me.

Of course, a better DM will not have to rely on this method.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Simplifying Resource Management

My original idea for simplifying resource management was to buy Magic: The Gathering Cards, and use those as approximate substitutes for mundane items, treasure, skills, spells and even characters.

The difficulty with this approach was both the time and expense of obtaining the right Magic cards, and the relative approximation of the cards and their accompanying descriptions. I spent several hours, searching through stack after stack of common cards at my local FLGS, The Sentry Box. I did this because they were being sold for $0.10 a piece, which made this solution economical.

The Sentry Box had many boxes of those common cards collecting dust. 99% of those cards were completely unsuitable (being monsters, or in-game effects that had no D&D equivalent). The other 1% were often only barely proximate to the item that I was seeking to match the card to. The flavor text on those cards also differed from the D&D ability or item of similar name. The only thing these cards had going for them was the artwork: you must admit that Magic employs excellent artists.

After explaining my difficulty to one of The Sentry Box employees, he put me on to the Paizo GameMastery Item Cards. These seemed to be a more satisfactory solution, as the cards were precise representations of various adventuring items and treasures that you might find in a typical fantasy role-playing game. The artwork is beautiful. The front of the card has the item description, and there is some flavor text on the back, along with space to writes notes about the item. On that basis, I purchased both Adventure Gear packs, and three treasure packs.

Now that I have had the chance to play with those cards, I have concluded they are not the solution to old-school resource management. I still think they are excellent cards. However, having given this more thought, the cards seem better suited to Pathfinder, or perhaps a 4E game. I will post why I came to that conclusion shortly.

Resource Management In D&D

Resource Management is a much maligned term these days.

Back in the early days of D&D, resource management was critical to a successful dungeon delve or wilderness adventure, and important even during urban interludes. There are probably very good reasons why resource management has been all but abandoned in the recent iterations of D&D. I'm guessing it takes time away from the "fun" parts of D&D, and is seen as just another way for the DM to "screw" the players, by designing an encounter where a particular ignored skill or piece of equipment turns out to be critical to success.

I'm probably somewhat unique in this regard, but I always enjoyed the resource management side of the game, and figured that the DM wanted us back next session, so would "play fair."

My renewed interest in old school D&D got me thinking again about resource management.

The character record sheet is where most of this resource management occurs: as characters obtain and consume resources, they add to, or subtract from, their character record sheet. This is wholly appropriate, but the textual record of ones abilities and possessions is not very interesting (visually) and recording changes in resources can sometimes be forgotten (both to the benefit and detriment of players).

In addition, I had recently been bitten by the brevity bug: I have been forcing players to use a 4"x6" file card to keep track of their characters and belongings. Some players would need a magnifying glass to decipher the information on their file card!

As they say, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Similarly, since I have the game Magic Realm, everything can be solved using one of its game elements. In this case, Magic Realm employs small, 1"x1.25" treasure cards, along with various equipment chits, which a player keeps in front of them to evidence ownership of a particular item. When they exhaust or lose that item, they forfeit and return the treasure card or equipment chit back to the gameboard.

My desire to simplify resource management a la Magic Realm was the impetus behind my search for a suitable set of treasure and equipment cards.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What D&D Experience Are You After?

I had the opportunity, recently, to play D&D with several new players.

I was at the cottage during the summer, and one of my cousins, who plays D&D 3.5, suggested that we organize a D&D game. I was open to the idea, and, coincidentally, had just finished reading a free adventure from Dark City Games, The Sorcerers Manor, which I decided to run. Dark City Games publishes Legends of the Ancient World, which is a free retro-clone of The Fantasy Trip. The also publish several TFT-compatible adventures, two of which (The Dark Vale, and Wolves on the Rhine) I have purchased. I had brought several copies of Labyrinth Lord with me, and convinced my cousin that we would use the Labyrinth Lord rules, rather than his D&D 3.5 rules.
There were 8 of us: me, my D&D 3.5-playing cousin, and one brother-in-law, who had played C&S back in the day, as well as another brother-in-law, 3 cousins and a nephew who had never played RPG's before.
We played the game old-school. Everyone got an index card to keep track of their character, and they rolled 3d6, top-to-bottom stats.
I ran The Sorcerer's Manor, with some conversions to Labyrinth Lord, and we had a blast. And this despite the fact that I am in no way a good DM. The reactions of the new D&D players were what interested me the most: all of them were totally immersed in the story, reacted with enthusiasm, animation and apprehension to every situation, and drew all sorts of interesting conclusions from the information that was given (which I wove back into the adventure). After that first game, every time I went back to the cottage, I was accosted and asked to continue the game we had started.
From talking with several of the new players, what they seemed to enjoy most was the mystery and sense of the unknown. They had no idea whether they were capable of defeating the foes they faced, and they enjoyed role-playing the non-combat encounters, as they were never sure what reaction they would receive from the NPC's. Weeks later, one player was still talking about the terror he felt during their first encounter with a shadow, which seemed unaffected by their attacks.
For me, this is the sort of experience I am after when playing a role-playing game. Facing the unknown, your heart pounding, and your mind racing, as you try to tease out clues or defeat some seemingly unbeatable foe. This is part of the reason I like old-school gaming. I like not having the stats on every monster, or knowing that every encounter is scaled to my power level. The players in the game had the most fun when they were fleeing for their lives, carrying one of their downed comrades, and hoping they reached the manor gates before they were run down by the pursuing foes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Magic Realm: More Characters

I posted earlier about the Magic Realm characters. Here is another one, the Amazon.

Magic Realm contained some wargamey elements. One of those is the rules format: for those familiar with Avalon Hill games, you will know they have a particular rule presentation that follows a decimal format. For example, rule 120.1, rule 120.1.1, rule 120.1.2a, and so on. I'm sure this made good sense to the-then 30-40 year-old wargaming crowd, but I was 12 when this game was first published, and I found the format frustrating and confusing.

The other wargamey element is the use of cardboard pieces referred to as "chits." There are probably 500+ chits used in the Magic Realm game: those represent different monsters, natives, equipment, character actions, locations and clues.

Each character has a set of 12 chits, which represent the move, fight and spell actions that character can perform. Those actions are made up of three parts, strength (or magic type), speed, and effort. There are 5 strengths (negligible, light, medium, heavy and tremendous), six speeds (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, with 1 being the fastest and 6 being the slowest) and 8 magic types (I through VIII). There are also 3 effort levels, represented by asterisks: no asterisks mean the action is effortless; one asterisk means the action is difficult; two asterisks mean the action is herculean.

Taking the Amazon as an example, she had a total of 12 chits, but those are composed of two types of move chits and five types of fight chits. The fight chits are as follows.

L4 - this chit allows her to do light damage, effortlessly, and her fight speed is 4, so she will automatically hit, if her opponent's speed is 5 or 6.

M5 - this chit allows her to do medium damage, with no effort, and auto-hit if her opponent's speed is 6

M4* - since this chit has an asterisk, she will inflict medium damage with an attack speed of 4, but this attack takes some effort.

M3** - this medium damage attack had two asterisks, so it will take all of her effort to perform.

H4** - like the M3** chit, this heavy damage attack will take all of the Amazon's effort to perform.

Combat is unpredictable, as both combatants secretly select which fight, move and spell actions they will play each combat round, and reveal their selections simultaneously. In addition, you secretly select an attack direction (smash, stab, or swing) and reveal that simultaneously as well. If your attack direction is the same as your opponents move direction, you hit, even if your speed is slower than your opponents. This has led to the observation that Magic Realm combat is a bit like rock-paper-scissors.

As you can imagine, since each character has a different set of chits, each performs differently against certain opponents, making each character an interesting challenge to play.

Magic Realm: Characters

Magic Realm was first published in 1978.

The game includes 16 pre-designed characters. When playing the game, each player selects a character to play -- that character then becomes unavailable to the other players. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, and different strategies must be employed by the player, based on the character selected, in order to be successful. The characters are: Witch, Amazon, Woodsgirl, Witch King, Sorcerer, Wizard, Magician, Black Knight, White Knight, Berserker, Captain, Swordsman, Pilgrim, Druid, Elf and Dwarf.

The Black Knight is probably the most playable, right out of the box, as he is strong enough to kill several of the medium monsters, until he collects enough treasure to upgrade to a more effective weapon, and is well-armored so that he can last for many combat rounds without being defeated.

Each character has different abilities for moving, fighting, and casting magic. For example, the Black Knight is relatively quick and strong, but has no magic abilities. Conversely, you have the Witch, who can cast powerful magic, but is weak. And then there is the Amazon, who is fast, but not terribly strong and has no magic.
The 16 characters are archetypes from fantasy literature, which was the intention of the game designer. Of course, those archetypes may seem hackneyed now, but in 1978, many people wanted to role-play archetypes from fantasy literature. If one was updating this game in 2009, i'm sure you would see characters named pyromancer this, and vampire that.

D&D: Chainmail Is Not D&D

The link between Chainmail and D&D is unmistakable. Chainmail was created by Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax. D&D was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Since the two games share a common author, the link is clear.
I understand, then, how it is easy, and convenient, for people to make a leap of logic and suggest that Chainmail is D&D, in its primitive form. This is erroneous.
Chainmail is a set of medieval miniatures rules. It does not contain any of the required elements for a role-playing game.
Conversely, OD&D is not a miniatures wargame. There are some 4E players who assert differently, but I invite them to look past the front cover of the original LBBs and read the text within. They will discover that the use of miniatures was deemed "optional" in the original D&D rules. In addition, the Chainmail combat tables were required, only if the players decided not to use the optional combat table contained within the original LBBs.
I am willing to being corrected on this score.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

D&D: Weapon Damage

I posted yesterday about my issue with the AD&D weapon damage table. I would be remiss if I did not post my solution to this thorny problem.

I took a page from one of my favorite games, Magic Realm, and classifed every weapon as either light, medium, heavy, or tremendous. With a few exceptions, light weapons do 1-4 damage, medium do 1-6, heavy do 1-8, and tremendous do 1-10. I know, your thinking, "what about that much-ignored d12?" Someone really needs to come up with an in-game use for that die...

My abbreviated weapon list looks something like this.

Light: Dagger, Dart, Sling, Club, Hatchet, Javelin, Sickle, Staff (staff does 1-6 but must be used 2-handed)

Medium: Arrow, Crossbow bolt, Rapier, Cutlass, Shortsword, Broadsword, Hammer, Mace, Pick, Handaxe, Spear (spear does 1-8 if used 2-handed)

Heavy: Morningstar, Flail, Battleaxe, Military Pick, Warhammer, Longsword, Bastard Sword (bastard sword treated as a tremendous weapon if used 2-handed), Polearm (polearms must be used 2-handed)

Tremendous: Greatsword, Maul, Mattock, Greataxe, Pike, Lance (all of these must be used 2-handed, unless strength is 19+)

In terms of weapon restrictions by class, my restrictions were that magic users could only use light weapons, thieves could use light or medium weapons, clerics could use any non-edged weapons, and fighting-men could use all weapons.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

D&D: Variable Weapon Damage

I graduated to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons very shortly after it's release in 1977. Of all of the features of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, one that I particularly disliked was the weapon damage table.

My quibble was this: variable weapon damage on that table encouraged min/maxing, which, along with rules-lawyering, were the banes of good role-playing.

As a player, it made little sense to choose a hand axe as your preferred weapon for your character. At 5 lbs, and doing 1-6/1-4 damage, the handaxe was inferior to a shortsword, at 3.5 lbs, doing 1-6/1-8 damage. Therefore to maximize my effectiveness, I would select a weapon that did the most damage, within my class options. This led to nearly every fighter choosing the bastard sword as her prime weapon, even if the player would have preferred a handaxe.

Not surprisingly, this disease has infected every version of D&D since 1978, including 4E: it is expected that a player will min/max, and it is considered bad form to create a sub-optimal character, since you are disadvantaging the entire party by doing so.

For people in the OS community, it's easy to see the solution to this problem. Change the damage table so as not to penalize interesting weapon alternatives. But as an eleven year-old playing with other teenagers, at the time the 'rules as written' were sacrosanct. If Gary said a horseman's flail weighed 3.5 lbs and did 2-5/2-5 damage, who were we to argue?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Fantasy Trip: Melee

After Dungeons and Dragons, Melee was the next game system I was introduced to. I seem to recall it being 1978, and I purchased it at The Sentry Box, which, at the time, was located at the corners of Crowchild and Kensington.

Using cardboard counters, you moved around within a hex-based combat arena, fighting bears, wolves, gargoyles and other opponents.

While fun, the game quickly got old, as your only stats were Strength and Dexterity, and it was strictly a combat game, not much opportunity for role-playing here. However, it was perfect for head-to-head games.

Dungeoneer: Card Game

Dungeoneer has been available since at least 2003. I only discovered this game recently, while searching for a way to combine equipment and treasure card handouts with Dungeons and Dragons. My earlier attempts included using Magic: The Gathering cards, and later, using the new Paizo treasure and equipment cards. Neither solution was entirely satisfying, the reasons for which I promise to blog in the near future.

Having picked up one Dungeoneer card set, I found that it did not solve my basic problem, but it did create a new one: I have yet another interesting rules-light game system to play. I have since purchased 5 of the double-deck Dungeoneer sets.

Recently, Atlas Games and Thomas Denmark (the creator of Dungeoneer) announced that Tomb of the Lich Lord, the original Dungeoneer set, was reprinted and is being shipped to distributors and friendly local gaming stores. I'm looking forward to picking up a copy!

Thomas also promises to print his Dungeoneer RPG, which has been in development for several years. I will be purchasing a copy once it hits the shelves: if his RPG is as good as the card game, it promises to be fast and furious role-playing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Avalon Hill's Magic Realm

I consider Avalon Hill's Magic Realm to be one of the greatest, and worst role-playing games of all time.

It is the greatest because it does several amazing things:

(1) creates 16 fully realized, unique and utterly fascinating characters using just three basic abilities. Fight. Move. Magic. That's right, 16 characters that play completely different from each other, using just three abilities. On the surface, this is as rules-light as you can get. How is this AT ALL possible to have characters with so few abilities, and each still be interesting, you ask? Find someone to teach you this game, and you will see!

(2) allows you to play interesting outdoor adventures. In my 30 years of role-playing, outdoor D&D adventures have never been able to match those played on a Magic Realm board.

(3) rewards both cooperative and competitive play. D&D, particularly in its modern iterations, is designed for, and relies on cooperative play. With Magic Realm, there are advantages both to cooperate, and to compete.

(4) eliminates the need for a referee.

I will post more about Magic Realm, the good and the bad, later.

The Original White Box

My introduction to Dungeons and Dragons happened in 1976 or thereabouts.

My older brother was in middle school, and had fallen in with some wargamer types. Through those middle-school wargamers, he ended up joining several wargaming clubs, one being at the nearby University, and the other at a college across town.

One day, he brought a little white box home from the college war-gaming club, containing several small brown booklets.

Being nine at the time, and curious as all get-on, I got hold of, and read those books. Between the fantastic artwork (crude thought it was) and the idea of playing bold adventurers slaying monsters, I was hooked.

A Paladin in Citadel

By way of introduction, the name of this blog is inspired by an iconic illustration from the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. That illustration, found on page 23 of the original Advanced D&D Players Handbook, published in 1978, is entitled "A Paladin In Hell" and depicts a paladin battling various classic D&D devils. That illustration, along with several others from the early days of D&D, set the tone for the kinds of D&D games that were played "in the day."

I have titled my blog "A Paladin in Citadel" for several reasons. The first is as a homage to that early D&D illustration, considering the impact it had on early fantasy role-playing. The second is in reference to who I am and where I live, being a paladin in Citadel.

This blog has been created to allow me to comment on the rules-light fantasy role playing games which I love to play. In particular: OD&D and its immediate decendants (for example, B/X, BECMI, and retroclones); The Fantasy Trip and it's retroclone, Legends of the Ancient World; Avalon Hill's Magic Realm (perhaps the greatest, and worse role-playing game ever); Dragon Warriors RPG; and Dungeoneer.