Saturday, May 13, 2017

 (Warning in advance: this brief post has strong language, and probably won't make any sense to anyone who isn't either me or an obsessive scourer of my previous posts.)

Fuck it; Duemerans aren't Anglo-Saxon any more, they're Mediterranean. There don't need to be two subraces of white humans; I've already got German dwarves, Irish halflings, and elves who speak Greek with a Received Pronunciation accent.

From this point forward, in my campaign, the default "Imperial" human ethnicity is one closer to ethnic Greeks and/or Italians in the "real world". This makes sense, since it was the Greeks and then the Romans who had major empires, only followed centuries later by the English - and the stereotype of Romans speaking with a "British" accent is 100% an artifact of the English idea that they were the successors of the Romans, much like the Romans (and the Byzantines, but that's a whole other kettle of fish) thought of themselves as the successors of the Greeks.

(Case in point: one of the free steampunk RPGs I downloaded years ago was titled Pax Britannica.)

There will probably be some artifacts of Anglo-Saxon stuff in the Duemerans. They will still speak English (as I am only fluent in English... although I might convert the elves to being French if my aptitude in the language increases sufficiently), and they'll probably have a Dark Ages tolerance of homosexuality, particularly with the pansexual polyamorous high elves and wood elves running around. Unless, of course, the aromantic asexual grey elves get their way.

Rambling now. Woke up too early after 4 days with no sugar (and therefore, no caffeine). It's 3:03am local time as I'm typing this, but I wanted to get it down in writing before I forgot.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Brief update on the Fuzz

So, it has been almost two months since my last post. There are several reasons for this, but they all stem from university life; dealing with finals, as well as trying to keep the tabletop gaming club from imploding, have left little time for running or playing games, let alone blogging about them. Fortunately, I now have good news on both fronts: I should be graduating with a B. A. in English, and the club's first major transition of power went well enough that some of the new executives bought me The Complete Wizard's Handbook for 2e as a graduation present!

In other gaming-related news, here's a brief summary of my gaming activities over the past two months.
  • One of my friends has been running a regular Pokémon game using the Pokémon Tabletop United ruleset. It is, to use the favorite expression of one of my fellow players, a shitshow.
  • I finally got a chance to run Halberd. Character creation was indeed fast, and play was similarly fast; the downside is that the rules are so loosely written and sparse (to the point of lacking equipment prices aside from weapons and armor) that I had to make a lot up on the spot. Way too much for my comfort. Sadly, I will probably not be running this one again, though I'm glad I gave it a shot.
  • I bought Underground, a fairly obscure 1993 pseudo-cyberpunk/pseudo-superhero game by Ray Winninger. The art and the setting are amazing, but the system will take some figuring out; worst case scenario, I might end up chucking the system and running the setting using Savage Worlds. The PDF is available at DriveThruRPG (at full cover price, though it's currently discounted to $12.50) for anyone who's interested.
  • On a related note, I was dismayed to find that there was no PDF of the character sheet available online. I sent a request in to the DTRPG people, and they soon provided one and made it publicly available - a huge "thank you" to Steve W. for doing so!
  • I finally got to run AD&D 2nd Edition again after having zero opportunities to do so during the semester. Even better, this was a long session, lasting from around 7:00pm to 2:00am, though we hung out and talked until well past 4:30am. One of my best friends - who was unable to attend any other games this semester, due to an especially harrowing calculus class - was even able to attend, and I got one of my friends who had previously sworn off the system (as well as most fantasy games) to agree to play. Fun was had by all, although...
  • I used Alexis' XP system once again, as I had done with my original "comeback" session detailed here. The issue that cropped up was one of balance; the players breezed through enemies that had previously given most of them a great deal of trouble (and resulted in one TPK). They also played smart, which meant that the elven thief with 19 Dexterity was up on the roof shooting two arrows per round, and went from 2nd to 3rd level in a single session. Meanwhile, my friend who I convinced to rejoin - playing a fighter with 18 Dexterity and good armor - had rotten luck with the dice, meaning that he could neither deal nor receive damage in most of the fights, and therefore got very little experience. As much as I like Alexis' XP system, my players demand a more balanced awarding of XP, so I will probably go with the individual class-based awards in the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide.
  • This will also be necessary because I might soon be running a group of my two best friends and some of their LGBTQ+ friends - a veritable "Queer D&D" as they call it - and they plan to focus more on exploration and social stuff. Since a common complaint in my games is that it takes forever to level up (an issue of monster balance; either they breeze through and get very little XP, or they struggle and nearly get wiped out), I'll have to keep XP from non-combat-related achievements in mind. I also bought a very nice, discontinued Chessex vinyl mat to use as a wilderness map as they explore.
  • Finally, I managed to get my gray-market PDF of the HackMaster 4th Edition Player's Handbook printed and bound at a local copy shop. I realize that actually running this would require my violating part of the Player Code of Conduct (no distributing scanned or photocopied HM books), but since 4e is no longer legally available new in any form, I don't feel bad about it.
Now that I'm done with school for several years, and will only be working a part-time job (if any), I should have more time for gaming - and for blogging about such.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thoughts on Chainmail

A lot of ink has been spilled, and pixels inverted, on just how exactly the Chainmail miniature rules are meant to be used with the original Dungeons & Dragons rules. I've decided that I want to give them a try, if for no other reason than the presence of some cool-looking jousting rules.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order. Keep in mind that I'm using the 3rd Edition of Chainmail, as that's the only PDF I've been able to find (and the only one that's available for sale right now). I would normally attempt to use the earliest iteration of something possible, but this was published back in the days when "edition" meant "an error-correcting and possible expansion of the work", instead of "a completely new thing with a similar name". I will also be frequently referring to Jason Vey's Supplement VI: Forbidden Lore, and the multi-authored, Aldarron-edited "Using Chainmail to Resolve OD&D Combats".
  1. According to Vey's interpretation of the Man to Man combat system, the pluses of a character's Fighting Capability score would refer to extra attacks, so a 1st-level Fighting Man would get 2 attacks per exchange of blows. This not only provides a boost to characters of all classes (although Magic-Users and Clerics obviously progress more slowly), but would make combat run much faster in general against humanoid opponents. It would be pretty easy to assume that, for instance, all orcs would be wearing leather armor and wielding clubs; I could just as easily change the entries for "No Armor", "Leather or Padded Armor", etc. to the corresponding AC values as detailed in Greyhawk.
  2. The Troop Type system seems pretty impractical unless actual mass combat is taking place, so I probably wouldn't be using it for a while yet.
  3. The fact that a combatant can't even attack on the Fantasy Combat Table (against dragons, giants, etc.) unless their Fighting Capability is equal to a Hero - or at least Hero -1 for some of the weaker opponents - is another good reason for me to consider starting characters off at 3rd or 4th level. This would at least allow fighters to use this system. Then again, I might as well just use the Alternative Combat System from D&D.
  4. Jousts seem pretty integral to D&D from the way they're described in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, and as I develop the wilderness of my planned game, I'm making sure to take jousting into account. (This leads to some interesting complications, given that one of the possibilities for the guards of a Superhero is a group of Heroes riding on rocs; one of my wilderness castle-dwellers is particularly fond of aerial jousts...)
  5. Hobbits are still present in the PDF that I have of Chainmail, as are ents and balrogs. I have no qualms about keeping these as their names in the campaign itself. If I had ten bucks for every time this conversation happened, I'd be rich:

    Me: "You can play as a human, or a dwarf, elf, or halfling."
    New Player: "What's a halfling?"
    Me: "A hobbit."
  6. I need to get together with one of my friends and try out some of the Chainmail systems on their own, just to figure out how they work in play, so that I could better present them to my players.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Spell Scrolls By Way of 10Rogue

So, continuing on from my previous post, here's my examination of how scrolls work in 10Rogue, and how I've been applying it to my various D&D games.

In the original game, the player can find scrolls with magic words written on them. Similarly to D&D, each can be used only once (no multiple-spell scrolls here). When initially found, the scroll is only distinguishable from other scrolls by the particular nonsense words written on each: there appears to be no pattern or hint. The only way to figure out what a scroll does initially is to read it aloud, which still doesn't always reveal its effects initially. For instance, after reading aloud a scroll, the player might receive the message "You hear a high-pitched humming noise", and is given the option to name the effect to be able to distinguish it again later.

The only way to identify scrolls with certainty (unless the effect is immediately obvious, such as a scroll of sleep) is to use a scroll of identify; this is also the only way to figure out what a scroll, implement, or potion is without reading, zapping, or quaffing it. But the primary difference between 10Rogue and old-school D&D is that past experience is a reliable guide to the future, whereas D&D encourages DMs to vary the appearance of their magic items in order to yank their players' figurative chains.

I think that initially there shouldn't be clues, so as to encourage experimentation, but after that there should be some amount of consistency and repeatable results. The two exceptions to this are poisons and cursed items, which by their nature should be designed to fool the unwary. After all, if the players just shotgun every blue potion they see - without bothering to check the consistency, scent, opacity, etc. - it would just be natural for their cavalier approach to give bad results once in a blue moon. "Nope, upon closer inspection, the potion does not smell like peppermint; it smells like garlic. It's also thick and chalky, instead of thin."

Anyone have any feedback as to whether this would have good, bad, or sideways results in a long-running campaign?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Magic Items, By Way of 10Rogue

Brief bit of background beforehand: I have been playing a small, little-discussed game called 10Rogue off and on since middle school. A classmate was playing it, and I asked for the name, interested as to what such a primitive-looking game might be like; when I downloaded it and started playing, I was hooked. Even though it took the better part of 5 years to understand most of the mechanics (mainly due to the fact that Googling "10rogue" mostly brought results about MMOG players discussing how best to optimize their rogue character builds... and now those people have taken up D&D 5e), I still found it fascinating. I took it for inspiration when I tried to make a pen-and-paper version of it, until I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and learned that I had been essentially reinventing the wheel.

For those who aren't familiar with it, 10Rogue is a freeware clone of the original Rogue, the game that spawned an entire subgenre of "roguelikes". I'd be tempted to call 10Rogue a retroclone, except that it came out in 1984 - less than 5 years after the introduction of the original. It simulates a randomly-generated dungeon crawl, with the primary divergence from old-school D&D being the lack of a distinct class or race system; the player's character can use any weapon, armor, magical implement, or scroll, and can search for secret doors. The main reason that I prefer 10Rogue over the original Rogue is that the interface is very stripped down and streamlined (you can use the arrow keys or the numpad to move). The ASCII graphics are also a huge plus, as any version of Windows prior to 8 can run it in a command prompt window, although I still prefer to use DOSBox so that the save/load and scoreboard features work properly.

Here's one example of Rogue; graphically, it's almost
identical to the version that I play regularly, 10Rogue.

Getting back on topic, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that 10Rogue cemented in my mind the way that RPGs should work. It definitely comes from the old-school way of thinking about dungeons: monsters are there to kill or be killed; the only way to learn what an item does (aside from using a scroll of identify) is to use it, with potentially deleterious effects; and if your character dies, they're dead. The only flaw with 10Rogue is that having a party of multiple characters - essential for any old-school D&D session - is impossible, which means that the odds are stacked against you from the start. But this is part of the reason I pull no punches as a DM of B/X. Your character died? Do you want to pay/go on a quest to have them raised? You can't? Oh well, better make another one.

(I also haven't pulled any punches when I've run the original West End Games Star Wars, but that's for an entirely different reason; it's damned difficult to kill characters in that system!)

The main thing that I like about 10Rogue mechanically, though, is the way magic items are handled. When you find an implement, potion, or scroll, you don't know anything about it other than what your eyes tell you. This staff is made of mahogany; this potion is blue; this scroll has the words "jujmon lij dodlom" written on it. Unless you have a scroll of identify, the only way to figure out what an item does is by using it - wave the staff or wand, quaff the potion, read the scroll aloud. After this is done - and if the effect is immediately obvious, which it isn't always - then other items of the same appearance are automatically "remembered" as being of that particular type. The appearances are consistent from item to item, within the same game - but when you start a new game, everything changes.

This process of risky discovery is what I want to capture in my B/X sessions. I personally don't like the rule that every single potion, even one with identical effects to another one, is a different color (and presumably scent, opacity, etc.), so I decided to make them uniform. This doesn't mean that a potion couldn't be deliberately adulterated to resemble a different one - indeed, poisons almost always are designed to resemble beneficial potions - but in general, two blue potions of identical size, scent, and viscosity will have the same effect. This allows the party to gradually discover more about the world by experimenting.

I didn't want to just haphazardly assign color values and materials to magic items, though, nor did I want to give too many cute clues (a red potion heals, a transparent potion confers invisibility, etc.) to the players. Since I quite enjoy the system of the eight "schools" of magic in AD&D 2e, I decided to use them as the basis for a unifying scheme of colors, metals, woods, and gems. This was partly inspired by my research into Alchemy and the Hermetic Qabala, but I was careful to not apply them too similarly out of respect for the traditions. (Not like I could, anyway; most Western esoteric systems are based on 3-, 7, and 12-part schemes, whereas magic in AD&D 2e has eight divisions.)

Yep, an eight-part color wheel. At least it allows
for opposition, unlike its seven-part counterpart.

I won't go into too much detail about the specific attributions I used, in case some of my players stumble across this post. But the advantage of using the schools of magic in this way is that it allows me to assign specific color values, as well as corresponding materials, for both main types of magical effects - thaumaturgic (arcane/wizard spells) and theurgic (divine/priest spells) - because the designers of AD&D 2e were helpful enough to include the appropriate school of magic even in the priest spell descriptions. This does mean that not every potion or implement is unique; there are obviously multiple potions in B/X whose effects fall under the school of Necromancy or Alteration, for example. But I still like this system a lot.

As for scrolls... I'll have to deal with those in a separate post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Duemeran Species: Elves

The elves, or erev in their own language, are a demihuman species that live all over the Continent. The Sylvans (or "wood elves") and Varlans (or "high elves") are found throughout the Kingdom of Duemerus, while the Thelvi (or "grey elves") live mostly in the Principality of Le'var to the west.

Elves are outwardly very similar to humans, standing five to six feet high at maturity (20 years) and having soft skin in a human-like range of tones, with Sylvans tending to be darker and Thelvans having ash-grey or white skin. Their primary distinguishing features from humans are their much lighter frames, pointed ears, and lack of facial or body hair. Upon closer inspection, however, even the "hair" on their heads and brows is not actually hair, but very thin feather-like growths. Their extremely light weight is due to having a hollow bone structure; these traits suggest that the elves may have descended from birds rather than land animals.

A close-up of kiwi bird feathers, which have
a texture resembling the "hair" of elves.

Although elves are shorter than most humans initially, they do not stop growing in height after they reach physical and sexual maturity. Because of this, and their extremely long lifespans (often up to 200 years), many elven elders stand well over seven feet tall.

There is virtually no difference in appearance between male and female elves, and in fact their culture holds no difference socially between the sexes aside from the roles played in procreation; attitudes are virtually identical regarding same-sex relationships as heterosexual ones. With an increasing number of elves living in human-dominated cities, same-sex relationships are increasingly seen as desirable among the younger generation who do not want to raise families. A number of elves also have an androgynous persona, which is also normalized by their native language having no grammatical elements of gender.

Despite having very different physiologies, elves do have a limited amount of reproductive compatibility with humans, although the resulting offspring (being of two different species) will themselves be infertile. A sexual relationship between a biologically male elf and a biologically female human is extremely hazardous, however, as the longer gestation period of elves - about twelve months, compared to humans' nine months - will usually result in the mother dying in childbirth. This, coupled with the "half-elf" having a lifespan shorter than their elven parent, but longer than their human one (typically about 120 years), leads many half-elven offspring to have trouble fitting in to whichever society they choose to join; it has been suggested that this is a reason why many adopt the nomadic lifestyle of the adventurer. There has been no evidence suggesting that elves are reproductively compatible with dwarves, gnomes, orcs, or other demihuman or humanoid species; fertilization could hypothetically occur with halflings (due to their physiology being almost identical to that of humans), but such would not result in a child being brought to term, as the mother would die of the strain on her body if a miscarriage did not occur early in the pregnancy.

Elves' hollow bone structure makes them much lighter and more maneuverable than the average human, giving them a +1 bonus to Dexterity; it also makes their bones more vulnerable to breakage, giving them a -1 penalty to Constitution. Half-elves tend to have "chambered" or semi-hollow bones which make them lighter in weight, but do not affect their agility or durability to a significant extent.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AD&D 1e PHB Available on Print-on-Demand

Well, it looks like the AD&D (1st edition) Players Handbook is now officially back in print. I believe the DMG and MM are also available in this fashion.

It's currently on sale, so if you want a high-quality PDF along with the book, I'd grab it soon.

I'm sorely tempted to pick one of these up, as I don't yet own the PHB. If I do, I'll write up a post about it, comparing the physical quality to my genuinely premium-reprinted DMG.

Happy gaming!