Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why OSR At All?

Someone asked the above question at theRPGSite.

I don't usually visit the the various gaming forums (as examples, the above, along with the Knights & Knaves Alehouse and Dragonsfoot) as i'm not really looking to debate the merits of various game systems: I started my blog to write about what interests me, and i'm thrilled (and consider it a bonus) when visitors share their comments. My visit to theRPGSite was prompted by a post on RPG Blog II, responding to criticisms of old-school gaming, old-school bloggers, and the explosion of old-school blog-sites in general. I have certain theories about the real motivation behind those criticisms, which I may end up sharing if it seems worthwhile.

In answering the above question, one of the commenters, Kyle Aaron, provided the following response, which I thought sufficiently succinct to warrant repeating here.

I dunno about being a member of any [Old School] movement, that's a bit pretentious.

All I know is, what I like and dislike. I like simple systems, short cheap books with black and white art, rules and setting descriptions, and useful example characters. And charts.

I like simple systems because most players are too lazy to learn complex systems, and it gets tedious when I as GM have to explain it to them during a game session. I like simple systems because when there aren't rules for everything you get to use your imagination, I hate it when you're in a game session and you say, "I do X," and the GM says, "ah, there's a rule for that... your skill... that's -3, and..." and half an hour later you roll and fail.

I like short cheap books with black and white art, I don't like big expensive chunky glossy magazine-style books.

I like rules and setting descriptions, I don't like flavour fic.

I like example characters the players could have in their first session, not example characters that can't be built within the rules and are just Mary Sues for one of the game writers.

I like charts which give us things to inspire character creation or setting events, so the dice can help our creativity.

And I like snacks. Snacks are important. Some call this Old School. I call it "what I like."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Novice Magic Realm Session, April 3, 2010

I enjoyed playing Magic Realm at Cal-Con 2010. It was a nice change of pace from the usual dungeon-delving and story-heavy adventures of your typical D&D game.

I was sufficiently inspired by that experience to considering running an introductory (novice level) Magic Realm session this weekend, on Saturday, April 3, 2010 at The Sentry Box. This saturday is the D&D Meet-up, so I will have to check with the organizers, to make sure there is an extra table available. But before I bother doing that, I want to gauge whether there is any interest.

Magic Realm is an Avalon Hill boardgame from 1978. It uses 20 randomly placed, large hex-tiles, to build a "Magic Realm" game-map, also randomly populated with Monsters, inhabitants, and treasures. Each player selects one of 16 characters, for example, the Swordsman, the Amazon, the Wizard, the White Knight, the Witch, the Berserker, the Dwarf, the Elf, the Woodsgirl, or the Sorcerer. Then the players move around the board, and co-operate (and often compete) trying to achieve their pre-chosen, secret objectives. There is no referee -- the players negotiate between themselves regarding their intentions and actions, using the dictums of the rules where applicable.

Magic Realm could be described as an end-game for Dungeons and Dragons, or a more sophisticated version of the old classic boardgame, Dungeon!, in that the players move around a map-board (in MR's case, Magic Realm is mostly an outdoor adventure, with a few cave-complexes scattered about), encountering each other, monsters, friendly and un-friendly inhabitants, and discovering treasure hoards. Magic Realm is a more sophisticated game than Dungeon!, in that there is a 100-page rule-book, and each character has her own unique strengths and weaknesses, as do the monsters and inhabitants.

The first session I would run is intended to be an introductory one, and no knowledge of the rules is required, though I will bring some simplified rule-booklets to distribute. Most of the game-mechanics are straight-forward (other than combat and spell-casting), and unless the players want to try the combat rules, the monsters will not be set on attack mode ... they will simply stop any unhidden players from entering and looting their lairs. The combat rules are very different from anything you have experienced before, and they take some getting used to. Combat is essentially diceless: there is a great deal of strategy involved, some in the initial decision to fight or run-away, some in the decision of what weapon and equipment to use, and some in your tactical choices (each player has 12 actions to choose from). In addition, there are monsters that particular characters are unable to defeat (without magic items or extra equipment).

If there is any interest in trying out Magic Realm, I will check with the D&D Meet-up organizers, to arrange for a table. Incidentally, here's the write-up for Magic Realm, that appears on the Boardgamegeek site, via the MR 2nd Edition rules:

MAGIC REALM is a game of fantasy adventuring, set in a land filled with monsters, fabulous treasures, great warriors and magicians. The scene is set in the ruins of a mighty kingdom, now inhabited by sparse groups of natives and swarms of monsters. Beneath it all are the rich remnants of a magicalcivilization , scattered and lost across the map.

To this scene come the adventurers, seekers of riches and fame, to make a name for themselves in this promising field. Swordsman and Dwarf, Magician and Sorceror, the humans and the half-humans come seeking to loot the legendary riches of a lost civilization. Now you can play the part of one of these adventurers, stepping into an unknown Realm of magic and monsters, battles and treasures.

As a player, you will take on the role of one of the sixteen major characters who are represented in detail in the game. You will control where he goes, what he tries to do, how he handles himself in combat and much more. In the course of the game you will run into deadly monsters, tribes of humans ranging from old friends to sworn enemies, and treasures that will enhance your abilities in many ways.

MAGIC REALM is a complex game designed to recapture the suspense and desperate struggles of fantasy literature. The game creates a small but complete fantasy world, where each game is a new adventure with a new map where everything lies hidden at new locations. The game includes many more playing pieces than are actually used in a single playing. The additional pieces are set up and can appear, depending on the directions in which the characters explore, but many of the treasure troves, treasures and spells will still be set up, unfound, when the game ends, and many of the monsters and natives might never be met. The result is an extremely unpredictable game full of surprises, a game that plays very differently each time it is played.

The complete game system includes hiking, hiding and searching, fatigue, wounds, rest, trade, hiring natives and combat between characters, monsters and natives using a variety of weapons on horseback and afoot, as well as many magical effects.

Between exploring a new land where the mountains, caves, valleys and woods change every game, and not knowing what you will find in each place, you will find each game a new and unpredictable adventure, filled with surprises. You will find this like no other board game you have ever played.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Throne Of Bloodstone: Dungeon Set-Piece

One of the addictive things about building one's own dungeon set, out of Hirst Arts blocks, is the challenge of building interesting set-pieces.

A Hirst Arts devotee has started building a set-piece of his own, based on the above illustration from the Throne Of Bloodstone adventure module. After a long, cold winter, it's great to clean out the garage, set up my casting tables, and start creating more blocks from which to create more dungeon rooms, passages and dungeon-dressing.

Check out the Hirst Arts site, and go to the gallery or the message boards, to see more creations.

In the interim, here is that Hirst Arts devotee's Throne Of Bloodstone "work-in-progress" set-piece.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Magic Realm At Cal-Con 2010

I am running an introductory session of Magic Realm -- my favorite RPG/boardgame hybrid -- at the Calgary RPG Convention today (Friday, March 26) at 5:00 pm.

Cal-Con runs Friday through Sunday, March 26-28 at the Radisson Hotel on 16th Avenue, just east of Deerfoot Trail.

I had offered to run a Magic Realm session about a month ago, but had not heard anything definitive from the organizers about them scheduling a Magic Realm table. As I am reviewing the Cal-Con schedule, today, in advance of dropping by the convention, I see that Magic Realm is actually on the agenda, under strategy games.

So I am definitely attending Cal-Con tonight!

I had earlier offered to round up a couple of players, if I was permitted to run Magic Realm, but as I did not realize they had taken me up on my offer, I did not arrange for that. Perhaps I'll be running a solo game...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chainmail Mass-Combat: Wound Probability Table

The next time someone tells me there is no "OSR Community" I will point them to the above table.

I did a shout-out a day or so ago, as I was having trouble completing this probability table. I was looking for someone to help me fill in the rest of a mass-combat "wound probability table" based on the Chainmail and original D&D combat rules, and NH of Troll and Flame kindly rolled his dice over TEN MILLION TIMES to give me a highly-accurate estimate of the probabilities involved (his calculations are noted in red).

Once again, a most sincere thank-you, NH!

Dungeons And Dragons: The Age Of Conan

There are several fellow-travellers in the old-school blogosphere who are posting about and playing Dungeons and Dragons, with a decidedly 'sword and sorcery' bent. Akrasia immediately comes to mind, as does Jason Vey of Elf Lair Games.

Both have posted their FREE versions of sword and sorcery house rules. You can find Akrasia's via a link on his blog.

Jason's version of sword and sorcery rules is a Conan mash-up for original D&D. You can find both his free Conan rules, and a sword and sorcery magic supplement here. Scroll down near the bottom of the page for both booklets.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ADnD Dungeon Masters Screen: Original DnD Lizardman

I no longer own one of these screens, but someone was kind enough to supply a picture on the interwebs.

This, of course, is an illustration from the "original" Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Screen. Remind me, this was a Trampier illustration, yes? If so, more evidence of Tramp's genius.

If you squint really hard, you will see the darkened image of a lizardman, holding a polearm, standing in the foreground, as the dragon breathes fire just behind him.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Faery's Tale RPG

Is there any genre DnD can't emulate? I enjoyed reading Dr. Rotwang's blog-post about his daughter's first game of DnD.

Seeing as how Dr. Rotwang was able to emulate a fairytale RPG story, using microlite20, I began wondering why I had just purchased Faery's Tale RPG. I was inspired to buy it after reading a post, I believe it was on Jeff's Gameblog, recounting a game using the Faery's Tale RPG rules.

After reading Jeff's account of a Faery's Tale game, I went looking for a copy of Faery's Tale at my FLGS, The Sentry Box, but was told the game was "out of print", even though I had visited the Green Ronin website and the game still looked to be in print to me. Happily, I must have asked about it enough times, because they finally had a $20 copy on the shelves when I visited the store last weekend.

I had wanted to buy the game earlier, as my eldest daughter's 9th birthday was fast-approaching, and I thought it would be fun to run a game for her birthday, complete with costumes for her and her friends, and pseudo-larping. As I was unable to buy Faery's Tale from The Sentry Box, we decided instead to do a stuffed animal party, with each child stuffing their own stuffed animal to take home with them.

I brought my newly purchased copy of Faery's Tale home, and I left it sitting on the dining-room table. My daughter and one of her friends came across it, and after I described what it was all about, both girls were eager to play. The original birthday party plans are still on, but I have committed to running a game for them at some future date. Rather than playing pixies, fairies or brownies, my daughter wants to be a mouse; her friend, a butterfly. Why not?


A Math Problem

Well, more precisely, a probabilities problem.

Some of you will already be familiar with my obsessive nature. Assuming you have forgotten same, I will refer you to my recent spate of Harpies posts.

My recent obsession is related to the Chainmail combat tables, and their relationship to original DnD. In ODnD, you are directed to either employ the alternative d20 combat table, found in the first LBB, or use the Chainmail combat tables. If you use the Chainmail mass-combat tables, you treat your heroic ODnD character as multiple combatants, based on the LBB charts provided -- by character class, and are permitted to roll multiple six-sided dice to determine hits/kills. The number of dice you roll increases as you increase in levels.

Thinking about that Chainmail mass-combat system led me to the above table. I was trying to determine the probability of a certain number of sixes being rolled, based on the number of six-sided dice you were permitted. I'm not sure why it matters, i'm just obsessive that way.

Sadly, I do not remember my permutations, combinations and probabilities module from senior high-school (it being several *cough* years since I graduated) so much of the above table was created manually. Horrors!

You read the table thusly: starting on the first row (labelled 1) if you roll 1d6, there is a 83% chance that no six will be rolled, and a 17% chance that one six will be rolled. Going to row 2, if you roll 2d6, there is a 69% chance that no sixes will be rolled, a 28% chance that one six will be rolled, and a 3% chance that two sixes will be rolled. And so on. The "n" in the table is where the probability is less than one one-hundredth of a percent, and I classified that probability as "negligible" (less that 1/2 of one percent is also pretty negligible, but I couldn't bear to drop those probabilities, for some obsessive reason).

My skills (and confidence in my calculations) started to fail me, as you can see by the incompleteness of the table. I'm hoping one of my more mathematically-inclined readers will remind me of the formula to calculate these probabilities, or, even more generously, fill in the blanks...

Incidentally, I was interested to see that the probability of rolling one six diminishes, once you roll more than six dice. That makes sense, since there will be an increasing probability that you will now roll two or more sixes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Old School Products Storefront

Clearly i've been living in a plastic bubble for the last several months. I did not know about this.

Someone has gone, and done-set-up an Old School Renaissance storefront at Lulu, and several of your favorite bloggers and OSR publishers are participating in that publishing group.

What a great way to cooperatively promote the old-school products and approach to gaming!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old-School Gaming: Player vs. Character Skill

In the past, there's been a great deal of speculation in the blogosphere about what makes a roleplaying game experience "old-school". For many, one of the differentiating features of an old-school game is the emphasis on player rather than character skill. In addition to my own cursory remarks on this subject, you can find a couple of other posts on this topic here and here.

I have been giving this matter more thought, as a result of my recent purchase of Dragon Age RPG. On the back cover of the Dragon Age RPG boxed set (for levels 1-5), they make the following, bold pronouncement:

"Welcome to Dragon Age, a roleplaying game of dark fantasy adventure for 2-6 players, age 14 and up ... This is old-school roleplaying, where the story is YOURS to create and the action is driven by YOUR imagination.”

Sometime over the next several days, I will try to share my thoughts on whether Dragon Age RPG delivers on its promise of old-school roleplaying. For now, I want to make a few comments about player vs. character skill.

Many will agree that reliance on Player Skill for problem-resolution is a defining feature of old-school play. By ‘Player Skill’ I mean that the players provide a description of the action they are taking, the method of problem-solving they are using, or they actually roleplay the encounter, and the referee bases the results on how convincing the player’s description was. Sometimes the referee will make an on-the-spot determination that the attempt succeeded, and other times, a probability of success will be estimated and the player will roll to see if they succeeded.

‘Character Skill’, on the other hand, almost always revolves around the rolling of dice, and comparing the result of that dice-roll to a target number related to a specific skill, which is often written on the character sheet.

It can be argued that, even in its earliest iterations, Dungeons and Dragons included Character Skills. For example, opening doors, finding secret doors and listening at doors were three Character Skills, all based on dice-rolls. But before someone grabs that bit of ephemera to demonstrate that D&D has always been a character-skill based system, it should be understood that those skills were universal: any character could attempt any of those actions. When I think of ‘Character Skill’ systems, they have the added feature of specialization: a character can only attempt an action if they have the related skill (some character-skill based RPGs allow you to attempt an unskilled action, but all of those systems still anticipate that a dice-roll will be made to determine your success).

One of the criticisms of old-school play, and particularly in its reliance on Player Skill, is that it disadvantages those who are not ‘quick on their feet’, are unconvincing speakers, or are shy, and that Player Skill is susceptible to referee fiat. Those criticisms are justified, to the extent that, in the past, there were some mediocre referees who were unable to perform their roles as independent arbiters. Among other benefits, Character Skill systems were seen as the panacea to bad DMing: those systems took power out of the hands of those bad DMs, and allowed the players to roll dice to see if they succeeded, rather than having to describe their actions or roleplay an encounter, and depend on the judgment of the referee to determine their success.

And thus was born the comparison between “roll-playing” and “role-playing”.

My preferences clearly lean towards Player Skill, but I understand why some are uncomfortable with that style of play: some have had bad experiences with arbitrary or capricious DMs; others enjoy designing characters as much as they enjoy playing the game; some find comfort and meaning in system-mastery that accompanies many character skill systems; still others prefer the additional certainty that character skill-based systems provide. I’m sure there are many other reasons to prefer character skill-based systems.

I prefer Player Skill systems, because they seem to provide the most opportunity for immersive role-playing. But that is scary for many people (including me) because it requires a measure of vulnerability that can be quite uncomfortable.

As much as I prefer Player Skill, though, one of the problems with Player Skill is its lack of applicability to one significant part of fantasy roleplaying games: combat.

To my knowledge, there has never been any thorough attempt to create a combat system based on Player Skill. I’m not a poker player, so i’m speaking through my hat here, but I imagine a good Player Skill combat system would be a bit like playing poker – knowledge of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, mannerisms and tell-tale clues would translate into your improved ability to defeat them in combat.

There is a measure of player skill currently involved in D&D combat. For example, knowing to use blunt weapons against skeletons, silver weapons against vampires and werewolves, or magical weapons against other creatures. But much of that seeming player skill is really system-mastery, not player deduction. I would love to use a combat system that employs Player Skill, in a meaningful way, to determine success in battle.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Otherworld Miniatures: More Lizardmen Sculpts

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the outstanding Lizardmen sculpts distributed by Otherworld Miniatures. The only thing better than those sculpts would be more lizardmen sculpts.

Here is one miniatures pose that I would like to see produced, which I would buy in a heart-beat: the original Dungeons and Dragons lizardman logo. This fellow predates even "the game wizards" logo.

The above lizardman appears on the inside front panel of the Dungeons and Dragons Greyhawk supplement. The other lizardman image that is forever burned in my brain is the Monster Manual version, below.

One of the two already-produced Otherworld Miniatures lizardmen appears to be the mirror-image of this illustration, except in a standing rather than crouching position. It would be great to have this left-handed Lizardman mini, in a similar pose, to add to the collection!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

ODnD: A Product Of Its Time

In posting over the last several days, about the original Dungeons and Dragons booklets, I have remarked that the original booklets contain a certain style of presentation that is unmatched in the retro-clones. That is both a good and a bad thing.

It is a bad thing in the sense that the Gygaxian style of writing (described by many as being florid), flowing through the oDnD booklets, has been lost in favor of a much more precise and workmanlike method of presentation in the retro-clones. The original oDnD booklets were at times frustratingly vague. Other times the rules were bordering on the inscrutible. But those very features provided room for limitless imagination. The precise language of the retro-clone is like Tylenol: it takes away the fever-dream of oDnD.

On the other hand, there are certain passages in the oDnD booklets which need no duplication. ODnD was a product of its time. It was also a product of a particular sub-culture, which may have been extant within the world of wargaming. This passage, in particular, is, today, absurdly comical, though at the time it may have elicited a chuckle (but more likely groans) from its readers.

"DRAGONS: These additional varieties of Dragons conform to the typical characteristics of their species except where noted. There is only one King of Lawful Dragons, just as there is only one Queen of Chaotic Dragons (Women's Lib may make whatever they wish from the foregoing)." Greyhawk, p.35

That is one passage that the retro-clone authors can safely ignore in their recreationist efforts.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons: Forbidden Lore

Earlier, I mentioned Philotomy's Musings, a pamphlet designed for original Dungeons and Dragons. In my search for a re-statement of Chainmail, I also came across Forbidden Lore. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will find a pdf copy.

Forbidden Lore is a free, 16-page booklet, authored by Jason Vey of Elf Lair Games, and designed to clarify and bridge the combat rules in Chainmail and original Dungeons and Dragons.

Even if you do not own Chainmail and original Dungeons and Dragons, this pamphlet is well-worth a look: it quotes from the original documents, and makes some compelling arguments about the relationship between those two early rule-sets.

Chainmail includes three competing and largely incompatible combat systems: one for mass-combat, another for man-to-man combat, and a third for fantastic combat. The author suggests (and quotes liberally from original D&D to evidence) that all three combat systems should be used, but that use of any particular combat sub-system depends on the situation. An attractive argument, for many old-schoolers, although the rpg game-design history of the last 30 years has been to replace sub-systems with unified systems.

While I have some minor quibbles regarding some of the extrapolations and interpretations Jason has made in Forbidden Lore, overall this is a very compelling analysis of Chainmail and oD&D. This is a valuable (and free!) resource, and should be read by anyone who is interested in the early design of original Dungeons and Dragons.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Essence Of Original Dungeons and Dragons

Access to original Dungeons and Dragons materials was one of the unfortunate casualties of WOTC's decision to suspend the distribution of electronic copies of their intellectual property.

WOTC's decision to suspend electronic distribution of old Dungeons and Dragons materials may simply have been an effort to protect their intellectual property from straying into the public domain. Unfortunately, that decision included a lock-down on electronic copies of the original Dungeons and Dragons booklets: the 3 "little brown books", Chainmail, and the five original D&D supplements. For those interested in the history of Dungeons and Dragons, without access to those source documents, one has been forced to rely, largely, on the on-line commentary and distillations of others, to discover what original D&D was all about.

Dungeons and Dragons retro-clones (like Swords and Wizardry) are a boon to those who lack access to the original booklets, and are interested in original Dungeons and Dragons, as they recreate the early rules of that game. But while they recreate the rules, the retro-clones also lose much of the magic contained within those original booklets (that magic being the 'specific' writing style and presentation of the rules, flawed and ambiguous though that presentation may be).

While the retro-clones themselves are a serviceable (and better organized) substitute to the original booklets, they lack any deep analysis or advice on actually running an original Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Enter Philotomy's Musings. In addition to providing his own insights into the nature and best practices of playing oD&D, Philotomy has culled advice and wisdom from others, and has published his musings on his website. While he makes no claim to being the final authority on oD&D, his insights are penetrating. Even those of us who have visited and been enlightened by his site in the past, will benefit from an occasional return trip to his font of wisdom.

Philotomy's insights, about the essence of oD&D, are sufficiently valuable to be worth printing, and storing with your other D&D materials. Until several days ago, I had not done so, as I find printed web-pages to be inconvenient to store and reference. But in my search to find a distillation of the old Chainmail rules, I came across the Elf Lair Games website. Lo and behold, I find a copy of Philotomy's Musings, in oD&D booklet format (scroll to the bottom, it is one of the last items on the page, under 'other oD&D resources').

Philotomy's Musings should be included in every old-school, retro-clone boxed set, as it is perhaps the most succinct distillation of advice on creating and running an old-school D&D game that I have come across. And it can be printed in booklet format, to fit nicely inside your oD&D game-box!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Swords and Wizardry White Box: Individual Booklets On Sale

John A. at Brave Halfling Publishing is now offering the Swords and Wizardry White Box rules, in individual, easy to digest, booklet-sized portions. My preference for booklet-style rules, and my desire to keep "the moving parts" out of the hands of the players, makes this offering a perfect choice for me. Now, I can pick up 5 extra Character booklets, at the low, low price of $4.oo per booklet, and hand those out to the players, without having to provide them with all the other rules contained within the larger, single rule-book.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Spellcraft and Swordplay

A tip of the hat to Jason Vey, the author of Spellcraft and Swordplay (S&S). In that game, he both asks, and attempts to answer the question, "what if Dungeons and Dragons had developed from the Chainmail:rules for medieval miniatures rule-set?"

Few old-schoolers are brave (or foolhardy) enough to try their hand at parsing and restating Chainmail. There are good reasons to avoid that morass. Chainmail includes at least three confusing, competing and irreconcilable matrices for resolving battles: one for mass combat, another for man-to-man combat, and a third for fantastic combat. Chainmail includes contradictory and poorly-written rules. It's mass-combat morale system is needlessly complicated. It even fails to properly define the six major classes of mass-combatants.

I give kudos, then, to Mr. Vey, for attempting the near-impossible. He tries to rescue much of the essence of Chainmail's man-to-man combat system, by bolting it onto a customized D&D-esque role-playing game rule-set.

In addition, Mr. Vey published one iteration of his re-imagined game in a three-booklet format, with rules collected in separate Character, Combat and Creatures booklets. I don't know whether that three-booklet version is still available, but it is a format to my liking, as I prefer to keep the rules, for the moving parts, out of the hands of the players.

While rescuing those Chainmail rules, for employment in his rule-set, Mr. Vey has also chosen to stray somewhat from the original Dungeons and Dragons canon. That choice may have been made, simply to meet certain requirements of the OGL. Changes may also have been made to "improve" or address deficiencies of the original D&D rules. Had I been advising Mr. Vey, I might have suggested keeping a tight rein on any changes, other than for OGL reasons, and adding those as optional rules to the game.

The material in the S&S booklet on Characters approximates the rules found in other D&D rule-books. You have your standard 6 abilities. The four standard classes (F,M,T,C) are there. Hit points are generated by d6 dice-rolls, with pips added to, or subtracted from, your hit-points, based on the character's class. You also have the four standard races.

However, some of the S&S character rules differ, often in unusual ways. For example, Greyhawk's ‘exceptional strength for Fighters’ rule has been included, but exceptional strength is generated by adding a d6-1 roll to any strength of 18. A ‘weapon mastery for Fighters’ rule has also been added, as a standard rule. Magic user spells are acquired by rolling a d3 and adding that number of spells to your repertoire, at even-numbered levels. And the Clerical power to turn undead is limited to once per day, with the undead making morale checks, rather that the Cleric employing the Undead turning table, found in the original D&D rules.

On the other hand, spell-casting rules, from the original Chainmail game, have made their way into the S&S Character booklet. A prime example of this is the spell-success table: as in Chainmail, any time a magic-user casts a spell, she must roll to see if the spell goes into effect immediately, is delayed by one round, or fails utterly. An appropriate nod to Chainmail.

Another Chainmail (and original D&D) rule appearing in S&S: multiple attacks for player characters. Each character has a number of attacks, closely associated with her level. For example, in both S&S and original D&D, they treat a 2nd level Fighter as two regular combatants, for purposes of attacking, using the Chainmail mass-combat table, and both also provide a +1 bonus to her rolls.

Moving on to the S&S Combat booklet, it employs, whole-cloth, the Chainmail man-to-man combat tables. In doing so, Mr. Vey has chosen to ignore the other two (competing) Chainmail combat matrices – the mass-combat and fantastic combat tables. I am sympathetic to that choice, to the extent that the three tables are largely irreconcilable. For example, on the Chainmail mass-combat table, an armored footman has a 16% chance of wounding another armored footman. Now have those same two armored footman (wearing Platemail and wielding morningstars) face off, using the man-to-man combat tables. Suddenly their chances of wounding have increased to 42%.

Similarly, exclusive employment of the man-to-man combat tables allows S&S to avoid the Chainmail ‘fantastic combat’ tables, which preclude Fighters, below 3rd level, from wounding any fantastic creature. Employing the man-to-man combat table, instead, allows 1st and 2nd level players to wound such fantastic monsters as Ogres, Giant insects and Cockatrices. In dispensing with the fantastic combat table, S&S uses a negative modifier to attack rolls instead, to make some fantastic creatures more difficult to hit.

Though I understand the decision to employ only the man-to-man combat table, I think Mr. Vey missed an opportunity to try his hand at reconciling those three combat tables (as impossible as that might appear).

As for the other combat features of S&S, there are several house-rules and modern approaches that have made their way into this rule-set: (limited) exploding dice on critical hits; two dice (use the highest) for two-handed weapon damage; individual initiative. Nothing terribly objectionable here, and some of it is embraced in many house-ruled old-school D&D campaigns. But those could have been added as optional rules, thus maintaining the S&S rules as a Chainmail/OD&D amalgam while still providing optional rules for those who wished to try them out.

S&S also dispenses with the gp = xp rule. Another unusual choice, given the source material, though not too surprising, given that Mr. Vey opines: “the vast majority of fantasy gaming resolves around battles. Swords flashing. Spells blazing, killing things and taking their stuff. That’s what this type of play is geared towards.” Experience is instead doled out for killing monsters, overcoming challenges, and good role-play. Not insignificant achievements, but not entirely in keeping with the exploration and treasure-hunting goals of original D&D.

There are many other features of Chainmail that made their way into S&S. Their inclusion makes this an interesting rule-set to use, for those who would like to see how the game would have played, had Chainmail been a greater influence on the development of D&D. If that is something that interests you, check out Spellcraft and Swordplay.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Replacing Hit Points With Wounds

I created this table several months ago, for some reason. Perhaps I was suffering from a particularly nasty flu at the time. Delirium can precipitate odd behaviours, such as creating the above table.

This table was supposed to convert hit points to wounds. The idea was that instead of rolling for hit points, and marking damage from attacks against those hit points, each player would have a certain number of wound points. One wound point would equal one successful attack.

Therefore, there would be no rolling for how many hit points of damage a character could take: instead, if a monster successfully attacked a character, she will take one wound. The number of wounds a character could take is dependent on the character's constitution and level. For example, a 1st level Magic-User with a 3 constitution will start with 1 wound. A 1st Level Fighter with an 18 constitution will start with 3 wounds. As the characters go up in level, their maximum wounds will increase.

I'm sure there is a good use for this table. Off-hand, i'm not quite sure what that is.

Perhaps I was reading Chainmail at the time. In Chainmail, Heroes can take no more than 3 wounds simultaneously without dying, while Superheroes can take no more than 7. I may have been "inspired" by that reference to Heroes and Superheroes, in creating this fever-induced table.

Do you think the beginnings of another fantasy heart-breaker are in there somewhere?

Otherworld Miniatures: Lizardmen

Otherworld Miniatures is fast becoming the old-school destination-of-choice for good quality retro-look minis. I finally received my Otherworld pig-faced orc miniatures a couple of months ago, and was impressed by the genuine old-school look, and attention to detail.

Another case in point are these two lizardmen sculpts, which harken back to those early lizardman images, burned in my brain from rule-sets and adventures long past.

The only thing better than these lizardmen scupts: more lizardman scupts! I'd love to see a half-dozen or more of these lizardmen, along with a lizardman leader (perhaps enough to run Module N1, Against The Cult of the Reptile God?).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Zhodani Are Coming! The Zhodani Are Coming!

One of my great pleasures, as a blogger, is in reading the blogs of other old-schoolers. Even when we don't agree with each other, there are pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from what those other bloggers are saying and playing. I don't get to comment on as many of your posts as I would like (real-world responsibilities intrude, unfortunately) but I do spend several hours a week catching up on what people are doing and saying.

In addition to reading the blogs of my current blog-roll, I sometimes discover a new blogger, quite by accident, while looking for the answer to some arcane RPG question. Other times, a blogger will comment on one of my posts, or will start publicly following my blog. In those instances, I will "check them out", and that almost invariably leads to them being added to my blog-roll.

There was some recent unpleasantness in the blogosphere, about old-school bloggers being an insular and elitist lot. While I don't believe that to be the case, any one of us could, on occasion, come across that way. For what it's worth, i'm a populist, not an elitist: I want to see more bloggers talking about OS games, not fewer.

I say this as preface to a recent (reverse) discovery. Trev of The Bits Box started following my blog. Trev has been posting regarding the Zhodani, a topic close to my heart. The Zhodani was one of my favorite Traveller aliens: human, yet so alien to their Vilani and Solomani cousins. Mostly though, I just loved their clamshell helmets, turbaned nobility, and organic looking spaceship designs. Trev has painted up some 15mm miniatures to resemble the troops, robots and grav tanks of a Zhodani strike force.

Almost makes me want to go buy the original Striker rules and play some tabletop Traveller battles.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chainmail Cavalry Combat

Several months ago, I expressed my dissatisfaction with the Dungeons and Dragons Cavalry rules. At the time of my first post, I noted that recent iterations of D&D have little, if anything, in the way of true Cavalry combat rules, to the point where there is little advantage to employing mounts, other than as beasts of burden.

I recently took advantage of "Read An RPG In Public" week, to read my copy of "Chainmail: rules for medieval miniatures" on the train, as I travelled between work and home. As most of you are aware, Chainmail was the default combat system for original Dungeons and Dragons (although an optional "d20" combat system was also provided in the OD&D rulebooks, for those without access to Chainmail).

In reviewing the combat tables in Chainmail, I was reminded of just how much more effective Cavalry was considered to be, in that set of wargaming rules. The Chainmail combat tables themselves are based on different numbers of six-sided dice and required target numbers for a successful attack. I have converted those dice probabilities into percentages, and displayed them in the above table. I am fairly confident in my math, but if any of my calculations are wrong, i'm sure someone will point those out to me.

As you can see, in the Chainmail rules, Cavalry is very dangerous. Take a matchup between a Heavy Horse (your typical Mounted Knight) and an Armored Footman (a well-armored Fighter). Based on the Chainmail rules, the Fighter has a 6% chance of killing the Knight. On the other hand, the Knight has a 55% chance of killing the Fighter.

Pity the Light Foot (your typical peasant militia) being pitted against a group of Armored Knights: the militia is given a 4% probability of killing the Knight, while the Knight mows through the militia 80% of the time.

Using the Chainmail combat tables for wilderness encounters would certainly change a player's view on the attractiveness of obtaining mounts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ignorant Players

No, this is not a post about how terrible some old-school Dungeons and Dragons players are. In fact, TO A PERSON, old-school D&D players (and DMs) are a fine, intelligent, imaginative, pleasant, and humorous lot, who just want to enjoy an occasional evening of casual role-playing.

This post is about one of my assumed tenets of old-school play, one that has gotten short shrift in the blogoverse: players should be largely ignorant of the physics of the game world. That is to say, they should have only the information they need to properly interact with the world.

For example, Players do not need to know that a falling body accelerates at a speed of 9.81 m/s2. They don't even need to know that falling damage in my game world is a flat 1d6 for every 10' fallen. All they need to know is that if they fall a distance of 10' or more, they will be injured, and the farther they fall, the more damage they will take. If the players begin with first-level characters, I should tell them that a fall of even 10' is likely fatal.

I consider this tenet of old-school play to be applicable to magical physics as well: the effect and potency of new magic is best revealed "in play", rather than at the moment the player obtains a new magic item or spell. For example, the bonus of a +1 sword should be revealed only when the character first uses it in combat. Similarly, the full impact of a "new" magic spell should only be revealed the first time it is used.

Some old-school DMs like to provide information about their assumed physics to the players. This is particularly true when it comes to magic items and spells. That magic spells appear in every Players Manual makes it difficult to manage this particular tenet and avoid player knowledge of the effects of those spells. I also appreciate that there is a certain convenience in a more forthcoming approach, as you can then assign the players the responsibility to manage the in-game effects of those physics, rather than having those duties fall on the shoulders of the DM.

I titled this post "Ignorant Players." Part of the fun of being a player is in facing the unknown -- being ignorant of the larger world in which you adventure. Being ignorant is fun, because there is great satisfaction in ferreting-out the secret machinations of your antagonists, discovering the secret passage to the treasure trove, facing and defeating unfamiliar foes, and solving the riddle above the entrance to the Dwarven mine.

That which is freely given is often unappreciated.

I sign off with a little piece of wisdom from the 1983 Mentzer Dungeon Master's Rulebook.

"For now, if you only wish to play and not run games, then -- DO NOT READ THIS (DUNGEON MASTERS) BOOKLET. This booklet contains information for the Dungeon Master. You will have less fun playing if you learn the information ahead of time! A big part of the game is the mystery and excitement that comes from not knowing all the answers."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dogs In The Vineyard: Okay, Now I'm Intrigued

Several days ago, I was decrying the use of the terms "crunch" and "fluff", claiming they were having a pernicious effect on the hobby. My argument was that rules are dependent on setting, and using the terms crunch and fluff harms that natural relationship, by inappropriately elevating rules at the expense of setting. An esoteric post to be sure!

In disagreeing with my post, JB (B/X Blackrazor) pointed to Dogs In the Vineyard ("DitV") as an example of a role-playing game that -- appropriately -- places rules before setting. I am largely ignorant with regards DitV: my only encounters with it have been in ocassional references made on other old-school blogs. I was on hiatus from role-playing through much of the last decade, and, so, missed DitV's 2004 release and accolades.

So when JB replied to my blog, using that game as an example of rules trumping setting, I was intrigued. Having done a little more digging for information on DitV, I came across this exchange, which made me all the more intrigued. Most writers are advised to "write what they know." It is fascinating to me that this is -- in fact -- what happened with DitV.

DitV has been described as a game of "pseudo-Mormon gunslinging-Paladins in an American old-West that never was." I think it would be interesting to boiler-plate this setting to a Weird West or horror setting, thus creating a game of 19th century holy warriors, ministering to the faithful, and battling real-life demons.

Is this a game other old-schoolers are playing? I'm tempted to buy this, despite my discomfort with the whole "Forge" connection. Comments, recommendations, notes of caution?