Monday, February 28, 2011
While most of you were busy playing Dungeons and Dragons as youngsters, my go-to games were of the microgame variety.
Microgames like Melee, from Metagaming -- a rules-light, man-to-man (as well as beast and monster) fantasy combat system. Or Wizard, Metagaming's follow-on game, where you played a magic-user.
We played the heck out of those microgames during our lunch breaks, while attending middle-school back in the late 70's/early 80's. The entire Microgames line was touted and renowned for its' speed of play, and most of the early microgames had significant replay value.
Metagaming's line of microgames were reasonably popular during that company's heyday. Metagaming published at least five editions of Melee, before it was finally retired in favour of Advanced Melee. Pictured above (from my microgame collection) are the first, fifth and second editions of the game. The cover illustrations for those Melee editions are by Liz Danforth, Roger Stine and Clark Bradley respectively. I always preferred the Clark Bradley cover illustration, on the right. Not because it was in color, but because it captured the adventurer-party spirit of role-playing, while still retaining a look, unique to The Fantasy Trip, and apart from the Dungeons and Dragons art being promulgated at the time.
You may be asking why I could possibly need three copies of Melee. Hello, different artwork! :D
The Melee boxed set with the Stine cover is in the centre. I was never a big fan of his Melee and Wizard covers, nor of his covers for Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard and In The Labyrinth. Yes, with those covers, you knew what game you were playing, but the hyper-realism and plasticity of the figures in his illustrations was simply not my cup of tea.
As for owning four copies of Wizard, three of which are exactly the same, I really have no excuse. In my defense, you can never have too much of a good thing, and those three feature Clark Bradley's cover art.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
If you are, or are contemplating, playing an RPG based on Burroughs' Martian Chronicles, this is one ruleset you should give serious consideration to.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Several weeks ago, I posted some illustrations and photos of the famous Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, Le Puy. In my post, I mentioned how much I would love to get the floorplans to that Chapel, to use it as the entrance to a megadungeon.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Here is a picture of the easel pad sheet taped to the wall, providing the rules for character actions. Having that sheet taped to the wall as a reference felt a little like being in a brainstorming session at work.
There were three 200-page rule books at the table (the Rules Compendium and two different Player's Handbooks) and I believe our friend also purchased a Dungeon Master's Kit. Having not already been familiar with the contents of those three books, it was a touch overwhelming, and we seemed to spend a fair amount of time refering to the rulebooks during combat.
We played through 3 combat encounters, and visited the local town for rumours, all in four hours of gaming time.
I enjoyed spending time with our friends. The DnD experience itself? Sure, i'd play the game with them again, but I find 4E to be too mechanical and combat-centric for my tastes.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
I love the off-camera character, on the right side of the illustration, pointing at the giant spider, with the halfling beside him displaying a stunned or horrified look.
The rest of the party is clearly oblivious to their imminent doom, instead focused on some other off-camera dungeon feature, and only vaguely interested in the sticky web barring their way, with the fighter lazily attempting to cut through the strands. Or perhaps the magic user and dwarf are cautioning the fighter against or encouraging him into using the torch on the web.
Note that the fighter is not your buff, plated superhero, but looks to be rather modestly furnished with a backpack, sword and scale or chainmail armor. The dwarf seems to be wearing splint mail and has a shield strapped to his back. I think its also interesting that the fighter is the party member carrying the torch. Did it get passed to him just before the events depicted in this picture?
Another fine example of implied narrative from Tramp. How will this scene resolve itself? Will the party be surprised, and the fighter felled by the poison of the Giant Spider? Or will they notice the spider lurking above, and succeed in defeating it and collecting its treasure?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
We've got a shelf-load of old-school board games that get a regular rotation at our house. Among those is Stock Ticker, which, like Monopoly or Payday is heavily governed by chance.
Still, there is an element of strategy to this game, and teaches those people playing a very important lesson about investing.
In Stock Ticker ,there are six investment categories: grain, industrials, bonds, oil, gold and silver. The movement of the investments are completely random, with one six-sided die determining which of the six investments is affected, one which determines the quantum of the change (5, 10 or 20), and one which determines whether the investment is going up, down, or paying dividends.
Because the movement of the investments is completely random, the player who puts all her money in one investment risks going completely bankrupt, if that particular investment goes bust.
In playing Stock Ticker, I have found very few games are won by players investing heavily in one, or a few investments. It is generally the player who has positions in all of the investments who wins.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Displacer Beast is no ordinary old-school monster. Simply describing the Displacer Beast as a monster fails to do justice to the Displacer Beast's potential.
The Displacer Beast is a fascinating addition to the DnD universe, appearing very early in the bestiaries of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. The Displacer Beast dates back to the 1975 Greyhawk D&D supplement and is based on an antagonist created by A. Elton van Vogt in 1939. That creature is the Coeurl, and appears in the story "Black Destroyer". It, along with the Ixtl from van Vogt's "Discord In Scarlet", provided inspiration for the Aliens Movie cycle.
In Dungeons and Dragons, the Displacer Beast is described as a black, six-legged, puma-like creature, with at least two tentacles sprouting from its back. The original 1977 AD&D Monster Manual does not tell us how big it is. However, it has six hit dice, suggesting that it is fairly large.
In the DnD mythology, the Displacer Beast and the Blink Dog are described as mortal enemies, not surprising since Displacer Beasts are evil and Blink Dogs, good. Pictured above is a pack of Blink Dogs, chowing down on a dead Displacer Beast. This looks to be a David Trampier piece, but someone can correct me on that score. The bottom illustration from the 1977 Monster Manual is definitely Trampier.
I say that the Displacer Beast is an underutilized villain, because the creature on which it is based makes for an interesting denizen within the first three levels of a dungeon. To give you a sense of its potential, I give you a passage from a review of Voyage of the Space Beagle, from The Quill & The Keyboard:
"Coeurl (the Displacer Beast) tries to pass himself off to the Earthmen as an animal worthy of study, but his insatiable hunger, criminal nature, and contempt for the primitive visitors exposes him to suspicion after he murders one of the crew. Soon it is a battle of wits as Coeurl keeps the Earthmen guessing while the explorers try to determine the alien's guilt and the extent of its incredible powers."
Not all dungeon denizens are meant to be fought, at least not initially. In the case of the Displacer Beast, this creature is better utilized as a source of adventure hooks.
In Voyage of the Space Beagle, the Coeurl needs to feed off the id of its' prey. What if the id is analogous to hit dice, and the Displacer Beast gets more bang-for-the-buck from those with higher hit dice?
The Displacer Beast may promise them rewards for doing so, and may be a reliable source of information, so the players acquiesce to the Displacer Beast's requests that they capture and deliver monsters to him. Eventually, however, the players should discover why the Displacer Beast is doing that, or they get to a sufficiently high level that the Displacer Beast views them as a tasty meal.
To protect the Displacer Beast from harm, at least initially, I would suggest that the Displacer Beast be able to create a field of darkness around itself, from which it parlays with the adventurers. Hints as to who is speaking from the darkness may be dropped, by occasionally having a tentacle wave from the darkness, and allow the dispel magic, light or dispel darkness spells to interfere with this creature's field of darkness ability.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Legends tell of an abandoned monastery that was founded by an ancient order of warrior monks, who were tasked with the responsibility of containing some evil presence found beneath the site of the monastery. Over time, the monks either became complacent and abandoned their posts, or were corrupted by the evil they were charged to contain.
Now -- years, decades, or centuries later -- the evil beneath the abandoned monastery has grown to proportions significant enough to come to the attention of the players or their benefactors.
The players travel to the site to determine the threat posed by said evil presence and, if necessary, eliminate it.
The above illustration would be a neat hand-out, to present to the players as an illustration of what they see as the approach the abandoned monastery. But why use a black and white illustration, when you can hand them a photo of the actual freaking chapel!
This is the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel in Le Puy-en-Velay, France and was built some time around 962 A.D.
The entrance can be reached by climbing up 268 foot-high steps, carved on the exterior of the basalt extrusion that forms the mountain beneath the chapel.
Imagine having to climb that mountain every time you intended to begin your dungeon delve.
I would love to get the floorplans for this Chapel, and use it for an entrance to a megadungeon, with the dungeon proper following some endless staircase driving deep into the basalt extrusion and far beyond.
You could make the "endless staircase" the centerpiece of the dungeon architecture, with various levels hiving off, spoke-like, around a central staircase, complete with bottomless pit at its centre.
Reciprocity is a powerful concept, and is something that most of us learn without ever having to be explicitly taught it. The example used in the magazine article: your 10 year-old daughter is celebrating her birthday, and invites a child who she otherwise never plays with. The reason? "Because she invited me to her birthday party." Your 10 year-old understands reciprocity.
Now, to the whole issue of followers. As many of you will already know, i'm a populist. I believe in democracy, that everyone has something to contribute, and I believe in the power of collective action. Being a populist, I'm all for the encouragement of discourse, disclosure and the open exchange of ideas. The more we are talking, explaining, discussing, the more likely we can arrive at better ideas.
One of the ways I can encourage people to share their ideas on old-school gaming is to click on that little follow button, when I come across their blog. Why? Because by declaring that I am following someone, I am saying "your voice deserves to be heard", "you have interesting things to say", and "you matter."
That small act is very likely to be reciprocated in ways far beyond my simple click. That person is likely to continue blogging, since they are getting positive feedback through the follower tool. Through their blogging, they may post something that I can use in my game. And all it cost me was a 3-second click on the follower button.
Cyclopeatron and Tao of DnD make some excellent observations about what it means to be or have followers. I guess my point here is that, while what they say has merit, I will continue to publicly follow new blogs, without shame and without expectations, because I prefer more dialogue, more voices and more democracy. And since I understand the Rule of Reciprocity, i'm confident that my small act of generosity will be reciprocated in the future. So pay it forward, folks.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Despite its continental location, it appears to also supply to North America. Here is an image from the Thomarillion website. It is a picture of five treasure piles, one of which would be fun to place in the corner, as a placeholder for whatever treasure is in a particular room the characters are exploring.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
And here is a classic music box track, from "For A Few Dollars More." The great thing about music box tracks are that as the music slows down, the tension builds.
And finally, here's a music box track that is probably too familiar ... the Davy Jones / Calypso theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. More wistful than scary, though I think it could be used to amp up the tension by having it be a trap that must be disarmed, otherwise it springs once the music stops.
One idea would be to have a trapped music box where there are three dials, each with the letters A-Z on them. You need to spell the word "BOX" with the dials, and press the stop button before the music ends. Seems simple, but will players figure it out, with the music playing in the background, and the clock ticking down?
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Wizards of the Coast has announced that it will no longer release prepainted Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures sets. According to Bill Slavicsek in Dragon #395:
"We have made the decision to depart from prepainted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this. Moving forward, we will continue to explore more options for players to represent characters and monsters on the tabletop, including Monster Vault and other D&D products that feature monster and character tokens."
Scott Thorne at ICv2 is not entirely surprised:
"I can actually understand the cancellation of the miniatures line. The rise in oil prices has driven up the price of plastic and the D&D Miniature line is not as hot a seller as it when the company promoted and supported it as a stand-alone product line. Though sales have remained respectable, with some stores I know reporting sales of several thousand dollars a year of the product line, movement of the product is nowhere near as large as it was two to three years ago."
What Thorne objects to however is an announcement buried further in Slavcsek's article:
"The Heroes of Shadow product, originally scheduled for March and presented in digest-sized, paperback format, is moving to April to accommodate a change to hardcover format. Additionally, three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook. While this means fewer books, we plan to deliver just as much great content for players this year through other formats, including board games, accessories, and digital offerings. I’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest releases each month as we go along."
"Say what?" asks Thorne:
"Cancellation of an entire product line and three planned releases for the D&D line is something that should get announced to retailers directly, not second or third hand through a buried article on the WOTC website...The problem is the lack of communication. Retailers did not have any indication of this turn of events. During WOTC’s presentation at the Alliance Open House last fall, every indication was full steam ahead on the D&D Miniatures line, with a release of a new set of miniatures once a year and a full slate of D&D book releases. Now, less than 4 months later, no more miniatures line and a third of the promised D&D books will not hit the shelves until 2012 at least. This could be a good thing, if it increases demand for the scarcer releases but is also worrisome."
The new Dungeons & Dragons film was also announced in the Ampersand article:
"We just wrapped up a contest tied to the new Syfy Original Movie Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness. We’ll announce the winner shortly, and that lucky individual will get to play his or her D&D character in the film. Our own Dungeon Master to the Stars, Chris Perkins, has been consulting with screenwriter Brian Rudnick and helping to get the D&D details right."
The drastic change in Wizard of the Coast's production schedule has sparked speculation that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is on the horizon. George Strayton, a D&D blogger and closely affiliated with WotC as playtester, and co-writer of the new D&D film mentioned above, speculates that 5th edition will be announced on GenCon this year and released in 2012.
Strayton admits this is largely conjecture, but his opinion carries some weight due to his credentials:
I'm not shocked by the cancellation of the D&D Miniatures Sets line. The fact that they cancelled the D&D Miniatures game reduced the demand for the miniatures, in the prior blind, collectible format. That was compounded by the subsequent and confusing changes in the delivery method, release delays, a perceived drop in value/quality and increases in price-per-mini. Is it possible they will be re-tooling and selling the minis as themed sets, for specific adventures? That's something I would be interested in seeing, depending on the implementation.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Last weekend, in recognition of my son's 12th birthday, we bought him a copy of Spore, a game that is all the rage with his contemporaries at middle school. His two sisters, meanwhile, bought him an old-school crpg game, Diablo, in battle-chest form, which includes Diablo's I and II.
I've mentioned before that during my hiatus from D&D, Diablo was one of my favorite computer games. Released in 1997, I remember playing the heck out of this game, prior to my son's birth. If I remember correctly, we lent that game to one of my spouse's work colleagues, and it was never returned to us.
The arrival of another copy of Diablo into the house provided the opportunity to play Diablo once more. I suspect my spouse enjoyed more Diablo screen-time over the last week than I, but I did finally manage to wrestle the game from her, and fight through the first four levels and attain 12th level as the Warrior.
Even after all these years, Diablo does not disappoint. The graphics, though somewhat rough by today's standards, provide enough realism and interest to keep me engaged. Looking at the scenery makes me want to get out my Hirst Arts molds and cast and build some walls, stairs and floors, in homage to the look of Diablo.
As part of the birthday celebrations, I also ran a six-hour D&D session for my son and 6 other pre-teens. I played the music from the Diablo Dungeons levels while we played, and the kids were freaked out by it, even though they've never played Diablo, and there were no scary images accompanying the music.
Goes to show the power of that early Diablo soundtrack, that even without the images, the music can still evoke fear and discomfort.