Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mongoose Traveller

In an earlier post, I reported my good fortune at discovering I still owned some classic Traveller books, and wondered whether the Mongoose version of Traveller was a worthwhile update to the classic rules.

Last weekend, I visited my FLGS and bought the "Pocket Rulebook" version of Mongoose Traveller. This version is 5.5 x 8.5, the same size as the old classic Traveller little black books.

Having given it a quick read, i'm actually rather pleased with Mongoose Traveller, as it retains the classic Traveller rules and materials almost completely intact. And the price was right, at $20.

My only quibbles -- from my admitedly cursory read -- are that Mongoose Publishing chose to ape the classic Traveller look, rather than putting their own stamp on it ( an understandable decision, considering that they want the product noticed, and purchased, by those waxing nostalgic for classic Traveller ) and they watered down the risk of death in the character generation process. However, they do provide you with an "Iron Man" character generation option in the book, allowing you to risk it all on your survival roll, so the old-school character generation approach is not entirely jettisoned.

Mongoose Traveller greatly expands the available career options to 12, from the original six. That expansion of the career options may have been a feature of MegaTraveller or Traveller: The New Era, but it has been so many years since I last possessed any of those materials that I cannot be certain.

You still have the options of the Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts and Merchants careers. The sixth career, "Other", has been expanded, to include Agent, Citizen, Drifter, Entertainer, Nobility, Rogue, and Scholar. I have no complaints about the expansion of careers, as I don't recall even rolling up a character using the "Other" career path. Providing some definition to that "Other" career path may make that more appealing to players.

Since it's been several years since I last looked at Traveller, I am hard pressed to see any significant differences in the game mechanics between this version and classic Traveller. Thus, considering the modest price, and the handy booklet format, I don't see much downside to using Mongoose Traveller pocket version as your basic Traveller ruleset.

Now, if only I could find time to boilerplate Mongoose Traveller to the 2320 universe near-star map...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sage Advice from Jean Wells, or, My Eyes Just Melted

More questioning goodness from the "Sage Advice from Jean Wells" column, appearing in The Dragon magazine, Issue #32, December 1979.

Question: I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for several months, to the point where I have challenged Asmodeus and won! Is Asmodeus in lemure state now, until he can regain his former status, or is Baalzebul in charge? Answer: Several months? What took you so long? No, you're in charge now. Good luck with that.

Question: I have a female character who has gotten herself pregnant. How should I handle this? Answer: "Time passes. You give the child up for adoption and continue adventuring." Any questions?

Question: I am having a romance with a god, but he won't have anything to do with me until I divorce my present husband. How do I go about divorcing my husband? Answer: I presume your question relates to your D&D game, and are referring to your in-game husband ...

Reality check, reality check. Testing, testing, 1-2-3.

I have to go lay down now.

The Beholder In D&D Adventures: The Fell Pass

The Beholder makes its first appearance in the pages of Supplement I: Greyhawk, in 1975.

We would have to wait until 1979 to see a Beholder appear in a published adventure. That adventure was "The Fell Pass", which was published in The Dragon magazine, Issue #32, in December 1979.

The Fell Pass is a dungeon crawl. It reminds me (a little) of the episode from The Hobbit, where the Dwarves are captured by the Goblins, and Bilbo first encounters Gollum. Since it is a mountain "pass", the party may enter the dungeon from either side, and make (or fight) their way through to the other side.

The Fell Pass is interesting, as it can be played simply as an attempt to make it from one side of the pass to the other, without dying. Alternately, you can also treat it as your standard dungeon crawl, or have a patron assign the cleansing of the pass to the party. In any event, there are no over-arching themes, no BBEG to kill, just some good old-fashioned tricks and puzzles, and mindless hack-n-slashery.

That is not to say there are no challenging adversaries or mind-blowing dangers in The Fell Pass. It is a dangerous module, and was probably informed by the other early modules of the day, including that most infamous of killer-dungeons, The Tomb of Horrors.

As for the Beholder, well, let's just say that Xorddanx is a wily and crafty opponent, and the Players will have a difficult time defeating him, as he uses the terrain and his followers to great advantage.

While The Fell Pass is not an "official" D&D module (you will not find The Fell Pass on any list of officially published adventures) it certainly could have been, it has that early D&D module quality and feel to it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Starfire Novel: Insurrection

I was mentioning earlier that Starfire's assumed universe became so popular that it was eventually captured in novel form. Here is the first Starfire novel, Insurrection, published in 1990, based on that game's assumed universe.

In total, five Starfire novels were published.

Eventually, Starfire was also turned into a computer game, although that computer game bore little resemblance to that initial 1979 Starfire game.

Other than Starfire, Warhammer and WH40k, and Dungeons and Dragons, what other game systems got the novelization treatment? Star Trek and Star Wars don't count ... they were movies before they were novelizations before they were game systems.

Metagaming: Dragon Magazine Ads

I presumed everyone knew about the Metagaming Ads in Dragon Magazine. Seems I was a mite presumptuous.

Here is an example of a Metagaming ad that appeared in the Dragon Magazine. The first thing you will notice is that it isn't a very good ad, from a design perspective. Not that any of the ads that appeared in Dragon were much better.

This particular ad appeared on the back page of the December 1979 Dragon magazine (#32). That was the same issue of Dragon magazine that featured "The Fell Pass", a fan-written adventure, winning the first annual(?) International Dungeon Design Contest.

This particular advertisement is promoting Metagaming's micro-game subscription service. You could become a micro-game subscriber, and have each new micro-game delivered to your door, as it was released. No more running down to the FLGS to see if the latest micro-game was available.

The images around the outside edge of the advertisement are pieces of artwork from several of the micro-games that had already been released, including Ogre, Chitin I, WarpWar, Wizard, GEV, Olympica, and Death Test.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Microgames: Starfire

I have been a microgame player nearly as long as I have been a role-player.

The microgame concept and design philosophy was quite simple. Design and publish a fun, inexpensive game, that can be played in a few hours, that can fit in your pocket. Microgames were popularized by Metagaming, and anyone who remembers, or has seen, Dragon Magazines from the late 70's or early 80's will remember the Metagaming ads that appeared on its pages. Metagaming was very successful at producing interesting, fun little games.

But Metagaming's "apparent" microgame success spurred other game companies to dive into the market. TSR produced at least eight minigames. Task Force Games also joined the market, producing many excellent pocket games. SPI created its own line of capsule games. Steve Jackson left Metagaming and created his own company, and produced several excellent microgames. OSG, Mayfair Games and Heritage Games also joined the fray. The Classic Microgames Museum is a great place to check out the microgames that were produced by those disparate companies.

During those few short years, some excellent microgames were produced. Eventually the microgame market collapsed, but during that time, some classic games were created.

One of those classics was Starfire.

Starfire was first published by Task Force Games in Amarillo, Texas, in 1979 (interestingly, Metagaming was also sitused in Texas). It was the second microgame to be published by TFG, after Valkenburg Castle (another chit-based dungeon crawl, similar to SPI's Death Maze). The picture above is the "boxed" Starfire set, which was published in 1984.

Starfire is arguably the simplest, most elegant starship combat game system ever devised. I have to think that Starfire emerged from a computer programmer's mind. Back in the early days of programming, computer memory conservation was critical, because computer memory was so valuable. Starfire was designed the way a computer programmer might think: every "starship feature" was replaced by a single alphanumeric code, and each starship was represented by a alphanumeric string, called a "control record".

For example, here was a control record for the Destroyer McClellan:

McClellan - DD2 - (2) SSSAAAIHFIWDIII (6)

With (S)hields, (A)rmor, (I)on Drives, a (H)old, and three weapon systems, a (F)orce Beam, (D)efence system, and (W)eapon [missile].

The (2) at the front of the control record represented how many hexes the ship had to move before it could turn, and the (6) at the end was the maximum velocity of the ship.

Ships took damage, from left to right, which is why the shields and armor appeared first in the control record.

The game was designed as a dog-fight in space: you wanted to avoid having an opponent get behind you, as you took more damage if you were attacked from behind.

Sadly, this game suffered from the same malady that inflicted other great gaming systems. It's popularity encouraged rules and supplement bloat. The game, and it's assumed universe became so popular that it was novelized, and eventually turned into a computer game. If you can find a copy of the original game, or someone that owns a copy and wants to take it for a whirl, you will not be disappointed with the game-play.

Legends of the Ancient World: The Dark Vale

I make no claim to being the greatest DM in the world. My skills are serviceable, my style pedestrian. I spend a great deal of time preparing, as i'm not the best ad-libber.

So when I come across a product that will save me prep time, give me tools to better improvise, and add some colour to the game, I tend to be quite enthusiastic about it.

Chgowiz and Chatty put together a one-page dungeon codex, earlier this year. I was pleased, as the one-page dungeon is just the kind of product I find useful. Everything I need to run a dungeon is on a single page. I can review the one page prior to the game, and there is no flipping between pages to figure out what is in this or that room.

I like the Legends of the Ancient World (LotAW) adventure products for a similar reason. You get a complete adventure in a small, 5.5 x 8.5 booklet, with each individual encounter or room, contained within the adventure, being only one paragraph (and that paragraph includes all the monster stats and treasure for the encounter). Dark City Games (DCG) has published 15 adventures (3 of those are free), and each of those adventures follow the "pre-programmed adventure" format that was briefly popular in the early 80's.

The Dark Vale is one of those adventures. The booklet itself is 48 pages (although only 32 of those pages are the adventure, the rest of the booklet consists of the complete LotAW rules, along with some maps and five Appendices). As mentioned earlier, all of the DCG products are "pre-programmed adventures". Those products are specifically designed for solo-play: while a DM can run those adventures, a player can use this product by reading the relevant paragraph, and resolving the encounter herself.

From the back cover of The Dark Vale: "Word has reached the streets of Redpoint that a lost artifact of great power lies to the southwest, in an obscure vale in the ancient Seawatch mountains. It is the Blackstone, a relic of ancient power from a mythic age. There are only a few references to it in the tomes of history: all of them fearful and despairing. The potential for an era of unchecked evil abounds, unless you find the Blackstone first and destroy it."

Pre-programmed adventures are like decision trees. Each encounter will give you several options. Depending on which option you choose, you will be referred to a different paragraph in the adventure. DCG has amplified this format by adding "plot-words" to the game, so that you can go to the same paragraph, again, but the possession of a plot-word will allow you to resolve that encounter differently. You obtain the plot-words as you make your way through the adventure.

I like The Dark Vale adventure for a couple of reasons. First, it scratches my micro-game adventure itch. All of the DCG products are mirrored on the micro-game "pre-programmed adventure" model. I am a fan of the micro-game design model, because that design model forces game designers to provide the best product they can in the smallest format possible. I find the text-bloat of the modern mega-adventure obnoxious.

Second, The Dark Vale is a wilderness adventure. I have preferred DMing dungeon adventures, in the past, because the options are bound: when a party gets to a T-intersection, there are really only 4 choices, left, right, back or stop. Wilderness and city adventures are far more challenging, since the players have a much larger range of choices, making for a more challenging night for the DM. So, when I read The Dark Vale, and found that this wilderness adventure gives the illusion of choice, while still providing the DMing with pre-planned adventures and encounters, I was encouraged. The map, above, is the map for The Dark Vale, and players can go from location to location, having encounters as they enter a new area.

Third, The Dark Vale provides a rich backdrop to the adventure. There are several groups in the Vale, all competing to obtain or destroy the "Blackstone", or prevent its capture. The players can either play the adventure "straight", or they can use those competing groups, by aligning themselves with one, or provoking those groups to fight amongst themselves.

Fourth, the adventure is your typical scavenger hunt. In order to obtain the Blackstone, you must first collect several "plot-words" and items. You might think that this is a bad thing, but once the players twig to this, they will likely get into the adventure, and have a great deal of fun, just like they might in a real-world scavenger hunt.

While I quite like this product, there are several things that could have been done to improve it. First, while I like the pre-programmed adventure design model, those products are difficult to use if being DMed. The traditional "pre-programmed adventure" design requires that the reader jump from paragraph to paragraph. For example, you might go from paragraph 1, to 162, to 37, then to 288, and so on. The point of that feature is to foil the reader from "cheating", by reading ahead in the adventure. Frankly, if a solo player is going to cheat, they are going to do that, despite the game designer's best efforts. Therefore, even though it is against the traditional design aesthetic, these products should be written in a more linear fashion, to assist those who need to read the book in preparation for game-night.

Second, while the map is an excellent tool, I would have preferred to have had two maps. One, for the players, might have signposts or markers to suggest where encounters might occur. The other map, for the DM, would have the paragraph number, and a few words to remind the DM what sort of encounter is to be had at each location.

Third, and this is not a criticism of The Dark Vale specifically, but pre-programmed adventures generally, the adventure design requires the limiting of player choice. Each encounter in a pre-programmed adventure normally limits the players' choice of actions to, at most 3-5 choices. A good DM can mask those limitations, but you should be aware that the design of The Dark Vale, and every other pre-programmed adventure, includes the limiting of player choice. Of course, this is true of every off-the-shelf adventure. The advantage of text-light adventures like The Dark Vale is that there is little to "break" if the DM needs to react to something not anticipated in the original adventure design.

The Dark Vale is a nice product. While expensive, at $13, it is a good example of the micro-game adventure, and should provide for some fun and challenging adventuring.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Fantasy Trip: Legends of the Ancient World

Like OD&D, The Fantasy Trip has benefitted from an interest in all things simple, flexible and elegant.

While The Fantasy Trip, being the books Melee, Wizard and In The Labyrinth, and the various adventures and advanced versions of those gamebooks, are out-of-print, and are now available only in the used-game market, The Fantasy Trip lives on under another name: Legends of the Ancient World, which is available as a free pdf from the Dark City Games website.

Legends of the Ancient World (LotAW) is a retro-clone of The Fantasy Trip. Its game mechanics are simple, and are almost identical to those employed by the original The Fantasy Trip game.

For example, there are only three stats in LotAW: Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. Each of those three stats begin at 8: you get an additional 8 points to spread between those three stats. Your Strength determines how much damage you can take, and how heavy of a weapon you can employ. Dexterity determines how likely you are to strike an opponent. Intelligence determines the potency of your spells, or the number of skills you may possess. Armor reduces the amount of damage you take.

LotAW truly is "rules-light": the rule-set fits onto a scant seven pages. I have printed the free rules, in booklet style, so that each player has their own copy. While this is a true retro-clone of The Fantasy Trip, there are several interesting additions to the game.

(1) LotAW uses a "plot-word" system to track your progress and modify encounters. For example, you may have an encounter. The results of the encounter will depend on whether you have a related "plot-word" for that encounter.

(2) LotAW has added a number of races that I don't recall being in the original game: Tigrans, Ursans, Caprians, Dwarggs, and Snake-men.

(3) LotAW has added a system of Karma and Wish points that allow players to modify their rolls or change the results of encounters. In addition, there are Curses that appear during play, that affect character rolls or ability scores.

This game is not for everyone. I personally find it a little too simple for a full-blown fantasy campaign, and am not a big fan of using Strength both as an ability measure, and also as your "wound" pool (in TFT and LofAW, wounds are marked off against your Strength). In addition, spell-casting is based on a points-system, with stronger spells requiring more fatigue points, and with spell fatigue also marked off against Strength.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a simple (and free) role-playing and/or fantasy game system, this may fit the bill. I play this game with my kids, and it is a good introduction to role-playing.

Is That A Christmas Carol You Are Humming?

I posted a photo, two days ago, showing a picture of some nice pleasant weather we were enjoying here in Calgary. I knew it was too good to last. As of 9:30 this morning, this is what the culdesac looked like. By the time I finished shovelling and taking this picture, and went back inside, the snow was coming down three times heavier, and all my shovelling efforts were for nought. Worse, this is that heavy wet snow that you expect to see in Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, not the light fluffy snow we normally get here in Calgary.

The white blobs on the photo is the photo-flash reflecting off of the falling snow.

The American Consulate and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce both report that there are roughly 80,000 Americans living in Calgary (although some vociferously disagree). Whatever the true number, for you ex-pats, and the rest of my American readers, I give you Why Celebrate Thanksgiving Early, Reason #4:

4. Because you can never get too much turkey, celebrate both Thanksgivings. If you are an American, celebrate Canada's Thanksgiving "as a sign of respect for the Canadian culture." If you are Canadian, tell people you are American, and celebrate both Canadian and American Thanksgivings. Other Calgarians will believe you, since there are so many Americans living here anyway.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Resource Cards: Production List

So far, I have completed and posted seven resource card sheets. That includes two armor sheets, two sheets of gems and coins, two equipment sheets, and a sheet of weapons, for a total of roughly 350 cards.

I have at least 17 more sheets in various stages of production. Many are just cards with item names at the top of the box, although I have populated some of those cards with images as well.

Here are some of the other categories of card sheets I am still in the midst of, or am considering, producing: Equipment, Weapons, Magic Armor and Shields, Jewelry, Lodging, MU Spells, Cleric Spells, Elf Spells, Rumors, Clues, Plot Points, Non-Magical Treasure, Magic Weapons, Potions, Scrolls, Miscellaneous Magic, Whimsy, Spell Components, Hirelings, and Special Abilites.

The Non-magical Treasure cards will include such things as pelts, artwork, spices, cloth, drink, and the like.

The Whimsy cards will be similar to the Ars Magica whimsy cards referenced here.

The special abilities cards may be similar to the 4e feats, or may simply be the special abilities possessed by certain classes or archetypes.

The Lodging cards will represent the sorts of places you might call home, such as a tent, hovel, barn loft, floor of a tavern, common room, Room at the Inn, Room at a House, Run of the House, Barracks, Cloister, Nunnery, Manorhouse, and so on.

There will be several sheets of miscellaneous magic items.

What have I missed?

Resource Cards: Equipment Sheet Two

I have already posted several resource card sheets. The purpose of those cards is to reduce the amount of resource tracking required of the players, and provide an interesting visual representation of their items, among other things.

This is the second Equipment Sheet. The first equipment sheet contained a fairly diverse range of items. This sheet is a little more focussed, in that it contains some of the more common equipment items that characters might possess.

So far, I have done two sheets of armor, two sheets of gems and coins, a sheet of weapons, and two sheets of equipment.

I'm gonna return to my list of resource cards, to see what other cards I have on my production schedule.

Tales of the Bizarre: Bunnies & Burrows RPG

I round out today's resource-card-development-avoidance blogs by posting a blog about another little gem from the 1970's: Bunnies & Burrows.

I tried to find a copy of this cover on the interwebs, so I didn't have to scan my copy of B&B, but I could not find my cover version, only the first printing and the GURPS version. So here is a scan of my copy of B&B, which I presume is the second edition, or perhaps just a reprint with a different cover.

We actually played this game, back in the day, and had a hoot.

Tales of the Bizarre: Space Quest RPG

In an earlier post, Robert Saint John was asking me about sci-fi games that I may have played in the past. There was one very peculiar, strange little science fiction game, that came to mind. It was a "space-opera with monsters in space" sort of game. That game reminded me of some of the more outlandish "monster-filled" Star Trek episodes.

In the moment, while responding to RSJ's comment, the name of the game escaped me, but, since I was in the basement the other day rummaging through my old gaming collection, I thought I had spotted it. Indeed, I had. And when I went and pulled it out of storage, the irony of RSJ's question struck me, as it occurred to me that he had referenced the game, in a blog he wrote some nine months ago.

The game is called Space Quest, and was published around 1977, so it seems to pre-date Traveller. I have the 2nd edition copy, which was published in 1979. Space Quest rpg was published by Tyr Gamemakers Ltd., with authorship credited to Paul Hume and George Nyhen, who hailed from Arlington, Virginia. I say it was a peculiar, strange little game, because (to my knowledge) it never amounted to more than a single 110 page booklet, and it had monsters in space. It was a glorious, inspired, terrible, corny, delicious little game, and was too eclectic for its own good. Paul Hume is credited with producing several other game titles, including Aftermath!, Bushido and Shadowrun. I was a fan of Aftermath! (though I preferred The Morrow Project), but I never played Bushido or Shadowrun.

From the introduction:

"This is a large and confusing game. Hopefully, the confusion will lessen as the rules become familiar, but the size will still be huge! We have here a game operating on scales ranging from two men shooting it out, or even dueling with swords, to the clash of whole fleets or armies. We have developed a scale for interstellar transport, and one dealing with the taboos of a single planet's culture. We have tried, in 110 pages, to create a set of rules allowing campaigning on any level desired for science fiction-fantasy wargaming.

Naturally we have failed in many areas. We have no rules for detailed on-planet adventures, and nothing to deal with the personal scale of 'where in this building am I?' There are holes galore (black and otherwise) in the structure of this book. Much of this is purposeful, for to give a fuller picture would have required us to make the background of our own campaign the basis of the game.

And we won't do that. This game is designed for the growing number of gamers who get off on the creative challenge of building their own campaign, with no premises beyond the mechanics of play, for players to get fat and lazy with."

Based on those comments, it is easy to see that this early science fiction game falls, whole-cloth, into the old-school gaming philosophy camp. Other than the barest-bones of the game mechanics, the game designers assume that each GM will make the game unique, tinkering and modifying to make the campaign her own (and that of her players).

One of the innovations of Space Quest was the use of a 30-sided die. You should understand, there was no 30-sided die available when this game was published (nor was there a 10-sided die), so the idea of using a 30-sided die was very unusual.

The Space Quest role playing game also employed a very well-developed (for its time) skills-based character system.

While this science fiction game certainly had its charms, it also had its share of corny elements. For example, it had 8 pages of deep-space travelling monsters, including a "void-shark" that could fire lasers from its eyes, and space dinosaurs.

My Microgame Collection

I mentioned somewhere, not sure if it was here or in the comments on another blog, that I have a fairly extensive collection of microgames. Here is some of my collection.

Microgames first came out when I was in middle school. They were great for a quick game during lunch, or if you were going over to a friend's house for a couple of hours after school.

The Fantasy Trip: Melee and Wizard were played frequently. After that, the other two games we preferred playing were Deathmaze (by SPI) and Starfire (by Task Force Games).

Deathmaze was a lot of fun, as it was a rules-light Dungeon-crawl, where the dungeon was built out of "chits" containing rooms and corridors, that were revealed, one at a time, as you made your way through the dungeon. The characters and monsters were also chits, and all the stats were printed on the chit. I think it was designed for solitary play, but we would take turns revealing the map-chits, and someone would play out the tactics of the monsters.

Starfire was a great game as well. Starfire was a sci-fi combat game, that used some very simple game mechanics for movement and combat. Each spaceship was made up of a "character string", with each letter or number in the string representing a different structure or ability that the spaceship possessed.

For example, a small frigate might have the following character string: SSAAPXIII

In the example above, Armor was represented by the letter "A". So if you had 2 units of Armor, your ship would have two As in the character string. The letter "I" represented Ion Drives, and the larger your ship was, the more Ion Drives you needed to propel the spaceship at high speeds.

As you took damage, you would mark off the damage, from left to right, so you always wanted to put your shields and armor at the start of the character string. Well, that's not entirely true: there were beam and other weapons that could skip past the front and attack internal systems, but the kinetic weapons usually did damage from left to right.

While Starfire (and the follow-up game, Starfire II) had a set of pre-designed encounters, they also had rules for designing your own ships and playing out your own battles.

We played most of the other games at least once, and occasionally played Ogre and Starfleet Battles, but our go-to micro-games were The Fantasy Trip, Deathmaze and Starfire. They just seemed to have the most re-play value.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Traveller 2300: Near Star Map

Traveller 2300 was only distantly related to classic Traveller: they both shared the Traveller name, and were both published by GDW.

Otherwise, they differed significantly from each other, in nearly every facet of their game design.

For example, while the Traveller star-map was hex-based and the game used jump-drive technology, the 2300 Universe had a real near-space map, and a "stutter-warp drive" technology that limited per-trip travel to a maximum of roughly 7 light-years.

What I loved about 2300 was that near-star map. I had always wanted to play a sci-fi rpg that used actual starmaps. I remember spending countless hours poring over the star-data spreadsheets that accompanied the near-star map, and built my own stutterwarp route map.

I noticed that Far Future Enterprises / Quiklink Interactive announce that they are developing 2320, which is a sequel to 2300. I don't see a lot of evidence that the game or support materials are available yet, though.

Oh, That Changeable Weather

In an earlier post, I was lamenting the appearance of an early snowfall. As is typical for Calgary, we are now enjoying a rather pleasant spell of fall weather. Its, so pleasant in fact, that one of the neigbours has decided to wash his car.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swords & Sorcery: Legends of Steel

I purchased the Savage Worlds: Explorers Edition several months ago, based on some positive reviews on several blogs I was reading. It was probably just me, but at the time I didn't quite "get" Savage Worlds. Part of my lack of enthusiasm was my dislike for skill-based rpg systems. I do intend to go back to SW and have another look at the system. I admit I was in the wrong frame of mind at the time, and was trying not to like it.

I provide those comments as preface to the point of this post: Legends of Steel: Savage Worlds Edition. I have not put my hands on a copy of this rpg, but from what I have read, so far, it sounds like a great game. It reportedly tries to capture the feel of sword & sorcery adventuring, the result being that the players tend to encounter sorcery, rather than being masters of it.

I think that sort of gaming would be fun, as it adds an additional air of danger and mystery to magic, lacking in a traditional D&D campaign, what with Magic-Users, Clerics and Elves all having "mundane" access to spells, and knowing what their foe's spells are, and what they do, once you start describing the effects.

Traveller's Love Child: Diaspora

In an earlier comment, Robert Saint John put me on to Diaspora, published by VSCA, out of (I gather) Vancouver, Canada.

Curious if it would be a good "Firefly" rule-set, and setting?

Classic Traveller

I was surprised, today, to find that I still have a rather large collection of classic Traveller "stuff".

Several years ago, I sold most of my Traveller collection, as I had not played the game in a decade, and the books were commanding a high price on eBay. That collection included what I thought was my full collection of LBB's, all eight of the full-size Alien Modules, a lot of MegaTraveller and Traveller: The New Era stuff, and a number of very nice Digest Group Publications materials.

In rummaging through some boxes in the basement this afternoon, I discovered I still have a quite a collection of the Little Black Books, including the original boxed set, with Books 1 through 5 inside (unfortunately missing my two favorites, Scouts and Merchant Prince, which I no doubt sold), Adventures 1 through 4, Double Adventures 1 and 2, Supplements 1 though 7 (except 5), and Journals 2 through 8. I also found my boxed sets of Mayday, Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning, and about 30 of the 15mm Traveller miniatures.

Traveller has been on my mind lately. Recently, I was looking at James Malizewski's Thousand Suns at my FLGS, but in a moment of nostalgia, purchased the Far Future Enterprise / Quik Link Interactive reprint of the classic 3 LBBs instead, for $12, not realizing I still had the classic Traveller rules at home. I have since read elsewhere that the Mongoose re-imagining of the Traveller rules is very good. I'm curious about the differences between classic Traveller and the Mongoose version, and whether the changes they made improved the game.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fighters: Swords & Wizardry

Fighters are the neglected children of Dungeons and Dragons.

Fighters have been chronically underpowered, compared to the other D&D fighting classes, such as the Ranger, Barbarian, Monk and Paladin.

I'm likely opening myself up for criticism here, but I feel very strongly that there should be some modicum of balance, if not between classes, then between the sub-classes within a class.

I'm not advocating some perfectly balanced, mathematical symmetry, as is trying to be achieved in 4e (though I am not critical of that attempt), but I don't think that a player electing to play a fighter should be disadvantaged in her "in-game performance", as compared to someone who selects a ranger or paladin, having the same ability scores.

In at least one of the iterations of D&D (it may have been AD&D and/or 2e) attempts were made to power-up the fighter class. Those power-ups included weapon specializations rules and extra attacks as you increased in level. You may be able to identify several other attempts.

The Swords & Wizardry Core Rules gives Fighters a special ability to power-up the fighters. When fighting monsters with less than one hit die, fighters get one attack per fighter-level, per round. So, if I am a 7th level figher, and I am confronted by a host of kobolds, I get 7 attacks against the host of kobolds, each round. Of course, if it is a host of gnolls, i'm limited to only one attack per round.

I like the idea of extra attacks for fighters, based on their level, as it is a simple mechanic, that simulates the additional combat proficiency gained as one levels-up. But why should the extra attacks be limited to situations involving monsters of less than one hit die?

The Black Hand

The Black Hand is a notorious guild of extortionists, thieves, con-artists, pick-pockets and ne'er-do-wells. While their membership ebbs and flows, the organization continues to exist from year to year, decade to decade, based on the reputation that name has developed. Even when the entire organization has been captured, and its members executed, there are always unsavory characters that will resurrect and re-use that feared moniker.

In the past, members of The Black Hand tatooed a black hand onto their bodies, as a guild mark. This was greatly appreciated by the authorities, as it made detection and conviction much easier. The Black Hand has since changed its identification system, instead using words and gestures to identify other members of the guild.

Because of The Black Hand's past ruthlessness, a black handmark on someone's door is often encouragement enough to ensure protection money is paid promptly. And some of the more audacious pickpockets will slip a scrap of paper, with a black hand imprint on it, into the pocket of a victim.

Player Characters may begin as a first-level thief, and be a member of The Black Hand.

Those characters begin with leather armor, shortsword, dagger and club, and thieves tools, and start with 1d6 x10 gold.

Priestesses of Celicia

The Order of Our Holy Lady Astra Celicia was established in 559 CY.

Although little is known of her early years, the first mention of Saint Celicia is her appearance, in the Westeven, in 548 CY. Now considered the first Priestess of Solaris (the priesthood had theretofore been restricted to men), she prophesized of the return of Set, and exhorted the patricians and citizenry to repentance and preparation.

The Imperial apostateship from the Solarian Church was reversed due largely to her efforts.

In 556 CY, Saint Celicia disappeared, only to reappear three years later, in 559 CY, with what is now known as the Celician Codex, a scripture some 500 pages long, bound in leather and printed on tablets of wafer-thin metal, readable only with special glasses, and intricately and beautifully illuminated. Along with that Codex, she brought chests overflowing with ancient coins, and a train of foreign craftsmen and laborers, who built her first Solarian Abbess, devoted to helping children and the poor. She also appointed several of her female followers as Knight-protectors and Prioresses, to assist in her efforts.

Shortly after Celicia disappeared again, in 563 CY, rumors of miracles, performed by her Knight-protectors and Prioresses, began to circulate, resulting in a flood of donations, and a declaration of Sainthood for Celicia, by Emperor Perfero Agmentum Aurum.

Saint Celicia is the saint of orphans and the poor. Her Abbesses are ubiquitous, found in nearly any town that also boasts a Church of Solaris.

Any female Characters may begin as a first-level cleric or paladin, and be a Priestess of Celicia.

Those characters begin with a helmet and breastplate, a mace, and a round shield emblazoned with a stylized sun (Paladin) or sunflower (Cleric). They also start with 1d6 x10 gold.

Knights Imperious

Founded in 793 CY, and endorsed by Emperor Anguis Perditus Vispera in 796 CY, the Order Of The Poor Supplicants Of Solaris And The Dispensers Of Imperial Justice, more commonly known as the Knights Imperious, is a military order attached to the Church of Solaris, but only answerable to the Emperor. First established as a fighting order, during the Sepelioserpentis Wars, the Knights Imperious was subsequently transformed into an administrative order by the Emperor.

Barracks for the Knights Imperious can be found wherever a Church of Solaris exists. The responsibilities of the Knights Imperious include protecting travellers, maintaining the peace on trails, highways, and areas outside the confines of free-towns, providing protection to Imperial tax collectors, acting as the personal guards to the Emperor, and rooting out and dealing summary justice to worshippers of Set. In practice, most of these activities are undertaken by local constables, militia, and so on, since the Knights Imperious numbers less than 250 soldiers. However, Knights Imperious always have jurisdiction in those matters, and are empowered to mete out swift justice to those who resist them.

The seal of the Knights Imperious shows the Emperor battling two serpents, one in each hand. That seal is displayed prominently on the shields borne by the Knights Imperious, which are symbols of their authority.

Player Characters may begin as a first-level fighter, cleric or paladin, and be a soldier of the Order of the Knights Imperious.

Those characters begin with a helmet and breastplate, a mace and longsword, and a round shield with the seal of the Knights Imperious. They also start with 1d6 x10 gold.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Campaign

I have had several questions about starting up and/or participating in a new local campaign.

I intend to do that, early in 2010, although I have not yet given a lot of thought to what rule-set I would like to see employed, nor to the type of campaign I would like to play in. I would prefer to play using a retro or rules-light system, simply because I am more of a casual gamer: I don't want to get bogged down with complicated rules.

I am open to suggestions on the rule-set, but do want to use a rules-light system that is also being actively supported with new material, whether that be Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or some other retro system. As for the type of campaign, I am open to having a conversation in that regard. To be honest, my preference would be a sand-box campaign with rotating DM responsibilities.

Unfortunately, my work schedule, and other commitments, prevent my participation in a new campaign before the new year.

I am curious to know whether there is any appetite for a rules-light / retro game in Calgary. And if there is, i'd be interested in hearing some thoughts on how that might work.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fantasy Trip: Death Test

Metagaming was the innovator of the pre-programmed adventure. Those adventures allowed for solitary role-playing games, as you moved from paragraph to paragraph within the adventure module, depending on the options you selected.

The idea of the pre-programmed adventure spawned a whole industry of pick-your-path adventure books, everything from adventure novelizations to solitary D&D adventures.

The Fantasy Trip: Death Test was the first pre-programmed adventure ever published. While that adventure was designed for solitary and referee-less play, a gamemaster could also run it. You played the part of an adventuring party, fighting your way through a labyrinth in an attempt to impress the local Warlord. If successful in exiting the labyrinth, you were offered a job with the Warlord, based on how well you did within the maze.

Death Test was a lot of fun, in the day. I'm sure that was due to the innovative nature of the pre-programmed adventure product, in addition to the fact that this used the simple combat rules of The Fantasy Trip.

Like the microgame "game design", pre-programmed adventures all but disappeared from the mainstream of entertainment and gaming. They were replaced by computer games and, eventually, massively multiplayer online role-playing games. The reasons for that are pretty straightforward. Computers could do what the players did (navigating between adventure episodes, and keeping track of the gaming minutae), and you got pretty pictures, besides.

The downside to those pre-programmed adventures was that you only had a limited number of options to choose from, in navigating the story. This was a problem for those that preferred the game-mastered approach to rpgs, as a good game-master would allow you to do something outside of the pre-planned options. In addition, many of the products suffered from poor editing: you would often find "path orphans", where the editors had either forgotten to direct you to the next paragraph, or forgot to provide the reference to that particular paragraph.

The nice thing about those pre-programmed adventures was that they were very "details-light", meaning they were easy to embellish, change and augment.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Buffalo Castle, for Tunnels & Trolls, was first issued in 1976, and appears to be the first solo adventure ever published, pre-dating the Metagaming products by roughly two years.

Before Metagaming collapsed, they published no less than eight pre-programmed adventures, under the Microquest line, starting with Death Test and Death Test 2, and branching out to other adventure genres, such as proto-historical fantasy (Grail Quest) and Science Fiction (Security Station).

Metagaming popularized the "micro-game" format, with such firms as TSR, Operational Studies Group, Mayfair Games, Steve Jackson Games, Task Force Games, Heritage USA, and SPI all jumping into a format, which ultimated proved to be commercially unviable.

For an interesting trip down memory lane, you may want to visit The Maverick's Classic Microgames Museum, at which hosts cover images of most of the micro-games ever published.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Swords & Wizardry: Reference Sheets

The existence of Reference Sheets for Swords & Wizardry is relatively old news. Michael Shorten of Chogowz's Old Guy RPG Blog fame, edited and published this handy little reference.

I make mention of it, here, because it is part of my inspiration for working on the revised classes and archetypes.

I am thinking of putting a little 16-24 page booklet together, similar to the Chogowiz's S&W reference sheets and Quick Start, but customized for individual classes or archetype categories, complete with map of the town the players start at, a character sheet, a list of items for purchase (and where they can be purchased), an explanation of what the six attributes mean, and anything else that would be useful as a "take-away" resource for new players.

I am hoping it will be fairly straight-forward to create some standard pages, with a few customized pages for the individual classes.

I hope I haven't bit off more than I can chew.

D&D Naming Conventions

Over at Grognardia, there was an interesting post, and discussion, on naming conventions in Dungeons and Dragons.

Being late to the party and all, I did a little digging, to get "up-to-speed" on the Gygaxian naming conventions that were being referred to, and I found this old gem, which I presume many of you are already aware of, listing the derivations of many names from the early Dungeons and Dragons Supplements and Modules.


D&D Attributes: Psycho-Social Matrix

Several days ago, I had promised to post my thoughts on the D&D attributes. I first needed to post some comments regarding the Myer-Briggs and Enneagram typologies, simply to provide some context.

I promise to post a more detailed description of how I view the three psycho-social attributes (Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma). In a nutshell, here is how I see them.

Intelligence: knowledge of things (the physical world)
Wisdom: knowledge of others (the emotional world).
Charisma: knowledge of self (the spiritual world).

This may help to inform my archetype classifications. A more detailed description of those three attributes will follow soon.

Archetypes: Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Typologies

You can find game inspiration in many places. That's why it is often said that being "well-read" and having diverse interests is a boon to creativity.

One of those places to find inspiration is popular psychology. I must admit, I love hitting the bargain-basement bins at the bookstores, picking up pop psychology and "speculative non-fiction" books.

About a decade ago, I attended a party where about 30 of us took the Myers-Briggs test and shared the results. Having know most of those people previously, it was illuminating to discover new things about them, based on that personality test.

Years later, I took the Enneagram test. I prefer that typology to the one used in the Myers-Briggs System, as it seems more prescriptive that descriptive: the Enneagram promotes self-improvement, whereas the Myers-Briggs seems to merely pidgeonhole you.

Bringing this all back to D&D: there are many ways that players can classify their characters. The traditional approach is by character class, whether it be the Fighter, the Magic-User, or some other class. Another approach to character class could be based on Enneagram typologies. You could play the Thinker, the Loyalist, the Motivator, the Protector, and so on. Each in their own way, the classes, archetypes, typologies, or what have you, represent abstractions of reality, and different ways of seeing and interacting with the world. But just because I am a "reformer"in the enneagram typology does not mean I am the same as every other "reformer."

I don't know that I am promoting a switch to the Enneagram for D&D character creation. However, looking at role-playing from a pop psychology perspective would be interesting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Celebrate Thanksgiving Early: Reason #5

In case there was any confusion as to why Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier than Americans, I give you "Snow in Early October".
I've already shovelled twice. According to the news, there were 400 car accidents yesterday, due to the icy driving conditions.
Could be worse. Could be snow in August.
No, that is not my boat. Yes, you can use it whenever you want, just don't mention my name to the police.

Old School Monsters: Beholder

There is a select list of "original" D&D monsters. That list includes the Purple Worm, Umber Hulk, Displacer Beast, Rust Monster, Owl Bear, Blink Dog, Carrion Crawler and Stirge. If what I have read on other blogs and boards is correct, many of those original D&D monsters were inspired by miniature monster figures, that one of the early D&D players bought and supplied to Arneson's Blackmoor campaign.

I suspect that the Beholder (above, from the WOTC Deathknell set) was not one of those figures, and was likely the creation of Gygax. The Beholder first appears on the cover of Greyhawk (OD&D Supplement I), and receives one paragraph of description, and a table listing the functions of each of the Beholder's eleven eyes.

The beholder began as a 3-foot diameter monsterous globe with a central eye, mouth and 10 eye-stalks. Each of the eyes had different powers, for example, anti-magic ray, charm person, disintegrate, telekinesis, and so on. Over the years, the Beholder has been re-envisioned (at least in size), with the Beholder miniature shown above being roughly 10 feet tall, not including the added height of the eye-stalks.

This is one of the older WOTC versions of the Beholder. The most recently WOTC-produced Beholder figure is easily twice this size.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fantasy Character Archetypes: Updated

I have updated my fantasy character archetypes list. In comments to an earlier post, mention was made of a Fencer needing Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. In the moment, it did not occur to me that the comment might be in reference to the "Fence" archetype. I have added Fencer to the list, but wanted to clarify that by Fence, I meant someone who deals in stolen or illicit goods. They would have some ability to circulate with people from different social circles, and would know who was interested in buying what, in addition to knowing what things were worth and being adept at negotiating.

Perhaps I have the wrong word, what would you call those sorts of people?

Any other categories of character archetypes I have missed?

EDIT: I have updated the list, incorporating several suggestions, including Diplomat, Inquisitor, Squire, Jester, Champion, and several others.

Fantasy Character Archetypes: Purpose

I should probably explain my purpose behind creating a list of character archetypes.

The purpose is not necessarily to pidgeonhole those archetypes into a static prime attribute, although some of those archetypes may make the most sense being that narrowly defined, such as "Fighter". Other archetypes might use one of several prime attributes (for example, the "Captain" might use Strength or Wisdom as a prime attribute).

This exercize is mostly to provide new Players with a source of inspiration. For example, if a new Player has a character with a high dexerity, they might look at the list for some ideas of what kind of archetype she could play. And sometimes a single word can be inspiration for the development of a character. In my previous post, The Rusty Battle Axe mentioned "Blackguard" in his comments ... the term Blackguard might inspire someone to play a mercenary, perhaps on the run from his former comrades.

Of course, during the game, the character will evolve and come alive, becoming less of a fantasy trope, but this initial list will give PLayers a reference point when first starting out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fantasy Character Archetypes

Here is the beginnings of my draft fantasy character archetypes class listing, based on the related prime attribute for each class.

Curious, do the characters appear under the correct prime attribute? Am I missing any archetypes?

Resource Cards: Gems and Coins

Still working on my resource card project.

This particular sheet is comprised of coin cards, treasure chests and precious gems.

While I have placed values on the precious gems, the remaining cards are left blank, in order that the actual value of the coins can be written down as the cards are distributed to the players.

Staying with the traditional 1 gp = 1 xp model of OD&D, my thinking is that the players can either spend the coins on equipment and goods, or can turn the cards back in for the experience instead.

I should have my second equipment sheet done shortly, which will include several backpacks, 10' poles, torches, and other common adventuring gear.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Additional Psionic Talents

Psionicists use the same experience table as Magic Users. So, in order to achieve 2nd Level, a Psionicist must obtain 2,500 experience points, and so on.

At each level, after first level, a Psionicist may aquire up to two additional levels of psionic talent mastery. In order to obtain each additional psionic talent, the Player rolls a d20, twice. If both rolls are less than the character's Charisma, the character obtains two new talents. If one roll is less than the character's Charisma, the character obtains one new talent. If neither roll is less than the character's Charisma, the character obtains another level in their wild talent.

Once you have determined how many new talents you have obtained, you a d10 and consult the talent table. 3rd Level Psionicists can roll on the first or second column. 5th Level Psionicists can roll on the first, second or third column, and 7th Level Psionicists can roll on any of the 4 columns. If you obtain a result, but you do not have a talent in an earlier column, you must take the earliest talent in that talent tree, that you do not yet possess.

For example, at 5th Level, the Player rolls on column 3, and gets a result of 3, "Mass Invisibility". Since her character does not have "limited invisibility" or "invisibility" she must take "limited invisibility" instead.

Psionicist Class: Draft


Psionicists are ordinary people who have been blessed (or cursed) with innate powers of the mind. They may have possessed this ability since birth, or may have developed their power more recently, as a result of an accident or other traumatic event. As a result, Psionicists tend to be loners, afraid of revealing their psionic abilities to others.

The prime attribute for Psionicists is Charisma. In order to play a Psionicist, a character must have a minimum Charisma score of 9. If Psionicists have a Charisma of 13+, they receive two +5% experience point bonuses (one for having a high Charisma, and another for having a 13+ in their prime attribute).

Psionicists are otherwise ordinary people. Therefore, they use a d6 for hit points.

They may use any armor, shields and weapons.

Psionicists begin with one "wild talent" at first level. After you have created your character, roll a d10 to determine what your wild talent is, by consulting the following table. However, for every point of Charisma above 9, you may eliminate one wild talent from the following table. If you roll an eliminated result, simply roll again, until you roll a wild talent that you have not already eliminated. Of course, this means that if you have a Charisma of 18, you may pick your beginning wild talent.

Wild Talents
1. Affect Normal Fires
2. Body Weaponry
3. ESP
4. Limited Invisibility
5. Precognition
6. Psionic Blast
7. Shocking Grasp
8. Suggestion
9. Telekinesis
10. Limited Teleport

0e Classes - Starting Lineup

For some time, I have been mulling over re-writing the 0e classes. I have narrowed my initial set of classes down to six, corresponding to the six attributes. My 0e class list consists of the following classes, and the related prime attributes. I am starting with three fighting classes, and three casting classes.

Fighting-man - Strength (includes Mercenaries, Valkyries and Soldiers)
Rogue - Dexterity (includes Catburglars, Swashbucklers, Pirates)
Barbarian - Constitution (includes Amazons, Gladiators, Berserkers)

Magic-User - Intelligence (includes Wizards, Magicians and Witches)
Cleric - Wisdom (includes Pigrims, Paladins and Druidesses)
Psionicist - Charisma (includes Oracles, Pyromancers and Hypnotists)

As I posted earlier, I am intending to tackle the Psionicist class first, simply because it deserves better treatment than it received in the 0e and 1e materials.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Psionicist: Serenity

I missed both the Firefly TV show and the Serenity movie when they originally aired. At the time, I probably believed the critics that panned the show. I greatly regret that, as it was a wonderful fusion of the western and science fiction genres.

One of the characters is River Tam, who is gifted with telepathy, precognition, and several other abilities.

Those other abilities include some pretty spectacular combat abilities. I will have to go back to Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, but I recall there being some physical abilities tied to psionics, in addition to the psychological ones.