Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Gaming Resolutions

My New Year's resolutions as far as gaming is concerned are the following:
  • Make a plan of running a game every alternate weekend, and stick to it. Even if only one or two people are able to show up, have something. Temple of Elemental Evil works nicely; Cthulu Dice works nicely; even a video game with good cooperative play, such as Gauntlet: Dark Legacy or Dynasty Warriors: Gundam would be a good way to spend an afternoon with a friend.
  • Read any books I buy (hard copies or downloads) cover to cover. I still need to do this with Basic Fantasy and a few others; sitting down and powering through the AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide (particularly the sections on combat and wilderness exploration) gave me a better understanding of the systems involved.
  • Figure out a good platform for online tabletop sessions. I tried OpenRPG but couldn't figure parts of it out, and Skype is fairly limited in terms of visual display (although a program I found a while back called ManyCam would serve decently). Tabletop Simulator seems pretty cool, although each person would have to pay for it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Random character thought (possibly NSFW)

The harlot subtable got me thinking about something else. In-character as Sradan, I once used the line, "Hello, I have a nine-inch tongue and I can breathe through my ears."

If it's literally true, I have a feeling that this detail might increase the odds of a saucy wench giving out useful information.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Single-book systems

As much as I enjoy leafing through my AD&D 2nd Edition core books, I can't help but acknowledge that a huge part of the appeal of B/X is its compactness. I put the character sheets, scratch paper, and my notes (typed or hand-written) into my large zippered binder, slot the Moldvay Basic Rulebook right next to them (thank goodness they drilled holes in it!), and I'm ready to go. This is a lot harder to do when there are one to three hardcover books involved, although I could manage if I were a player in a 2nd Edition game.

(Speaking of which, I really want to get a hold of one of those "Player Packs" they came out with for 2e. These were a plastic clamshell case with a handle - much like my old Lego boxes - that included a set of dice, pencils, character sheets, and miniatures, and were designed to hold a copy of the Player's Handbook in the lid. Anyone else want one?)

Anyone? Come on!
Back on topic, I'm beginning to see the value in having all of the rules in a single volume. The best example I can find of this is the almighty Rules Cyclopedia, which I still hold hopes of obtaining in like-new condition. Nowadays, though, I'm thinking of making my own, as Timothy S. Brannan has explained how he did so on his blog. Seriously, standard classes, supplementary classes, an entirely optional skill system, a list of classic monsters not included in B/X, rules for high-level play (i.e., what your character does when they get tired of flipping dungeons and crawling around hexes)... the only thing missing from this is the level titles. And if I decide that the game gets too unbalanced after passing out of the B/X level range, I can always just use my DM powers and set a level cap of 14.

Should I ever decide to escape the gravitational pull of the D&D brand, I have one of two major options that I would seriously consider (aside from Basic Fantasy, which is a fantastic modernization of B/X in my opinion - to the point that I'm considering shelling out the $15 for the hardcover in case my $5 perfect-bound copy gives up the ghost). The first is Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game, which I have finally managed to obtain in PDF form, in English. The upsides: simple system, can easily replace the coins with dice, suitable for play with all ages (in case I ever have young ones of my own interested in gaming). The downsides: limitations on player agency written into the rules, limited magic (which might not be a bad thing in all cases, but it'd take some getting used to), inherent limitations on female players. The latter is a characteristic of the time period in which it's set, not entirely the game's fault, but it's still annoying.

The other option I'm thinking of is Halberd, a free RPG by Scott Malthouse that I got a few years ago, but didn't seriously read through until recently. The upsides: brilliantly simple rules system (even more so than PV), ultra-short length, flexibility in creating character classes and races, one of the coolest rules-light magic systems I've ever seen. (Also, the illustration of a druid PC looks a lot like my friend who always plays druids; on that note, happy Yule!) The downsides: no pre-made monsters, it's not D&D. I strongly urge anyone reading this to check it out.

Sorry I don't have a satisfying conclusion to this post; like most of mine, it's written off-the-cuff, just to get my ideas out into the blogosphere.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Would I ever run AD&D?

It's no secret that I have a soft spot for AD&D 2nd Edition, but what about the 1st Edition of the venerable system? Well, after skimming the books in PDF form*, I'll tell you.

Yes, it's a mess organizationally; except for the Monster Manual, there seems to be no logical layout of the contents of the system. Yes, said Monster Manual gives almost no information aside from the combat capabilities of the creatures contained therein. Yes, having the movement rates and distances listed in inches is confusing (although not quite as confusing as 2e's "movement rates"; why the hell couldn't they just use the feet per round/feet per turn numbers that they used in non-A D&D?). Yes, a lot of the limitations on classes and races make little sense (although there are actually fewer restrictions than in 2e; almost every race has unlimited progression as something, usually as a thief). Yes, rolling on a table for every attack sucks eggs.

But if I had grown up with this as the dominant system, and had a similar group of like-minded friends to the ones I had in high school, I'd wager we would have had just as many adventures with this set of rules as we did with the Pathfinder Beginner Box.

When comparing the two, I can see why some people prefer this over 2nd Edition. The removal of assassins and half-orcs (for moral reasons) as well as monks (for setting reasons) is annoying, sure, but there's no reason why someone who owned both sets of rules couldn't just stick them back in. Plus, the Greyhawk book The Scarlet Brotherhood added essentially unchanged versions of the two excised classes, updated for 2e rules, but considering it came out in 1999 I'm not surprised few remember it. The removal of psionics from core is also kind of disappointing, but the psionics system from the splatbook (and the revised version from Player's Option: Skills and Powers) is much clearer in its wording.

Beyond these concerns, the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (sic) is freaking beefy. Admittedly, some of the information therein might be more appropriately placed in the Players Handbook (again, sic), but there are so many things here that were outright omitted from 2e. The endgame is only very briefly detailed in the 2e DMG, and each DM is expected to make up their own random encounter tables for each environment. In contrast, the 1e DMG gives tables for everything... including the infamous "harlot subtable". (If you haven't read this part yet - it's in Appendix C under "City/Town Encounters" - please do so. It is even more hilarious than you think. I'll wait.)

I might be getting the premium reprint of the 1e DMG as a holiday present. Not necessarily to use, you see, but because I want to read it cover to cover someday, and I'd like my copy to be as beautiful as possible.

Anyway, to answer the question in the title: if I could find a group of players with even more time on their hands than me, willing to rise to the challenge of playing this system, I'd be up for it. But with one exception: I would use the Monstrous Manual from 2nd Edition, instead of the 1e counterpart. It's a better book, hands down; not only is the art improved (a minor advantage for me, to be fair), but the listing of each monster's culture and society, and the additional types of dragons included, beat the hell out of the original.

Also, I doubt my players would cower in fear if Ashardalon
looked like he just shat himself after smoking five joints.
* I fully intend to get old copies of the books if I ever play, and as I said above I might be receiving WotC's premium reprint - new. A trip to Half Price Books next time I visit family in Austin will provide me with the opportunity to snag some old copies, which I hear are very durable.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Addendum to "Quick solutions"

I forgot to mention these in this post:

Holy cow! I want one of these so badly; too bad they were apparently hard to find even when they were still being made, around 1999.

There's more information here:

Also, I found out about these initially through a review at

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Watch out where the huskies go...

Just a quick re-post of my comment on Timothy S. Brannan's post, in case the comments on that post ever get wiped due to a glitch or something.

Yellow Snow (slime/jelly/ooze), 2 HD
This crystalline, powdery mass is sometimes formed when a mustard jelly is frozen by an unusual magical effect, or created by a secret arcane spell. It will attempt to force itself into the face of any human, demihuman, or humanoid creature that approaches within 10 feet. On a successful normal attack roll, it deals only 1d3 points of frost damage, but also causes blindness for 2d6 turns. On a natural 20 (or when attacking a completely defenseless creature), it instead forces itself into the victim's mouth; the victim must save vs. Poison or die. The yellow snow is immune to cold and lightning, but takes double damage from heat.

Create Yellow Snow (M-U/E 1)
This spell turns an ordinary amount of snow roughly 1' x 1' into a handful of the deadly Yellow Snow. The material component is at least 1 vial's worth of dog or wolf urine.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Quick solutions for an RPG "fix"

All right, I realize I haven't updated this blog in a while. I'd love to say that it's because of school winding towards finals, but the real reason is that I haven't had as many ideas, nor the motivation to post them. I'll be working to remedy the latter, so any readers should bear with me.

As always, the ever-present struggle of the Dungeon Master is getting enough people together for a game. After a rather nice session a few weeks ago involving a party of four (only one of whom was a member of the original group of three... and the two totally new players did fairly well, to be honest), I scheduled another session for two weeks later. I invited about five people, and eventually three dropped out. With this, I decided to instead pull out my copy of the Temple of Elemental Evil board game (up to this point, only used once). It was pretty fun with three players - since I didn't have to DM - although we got our asses kicked. This is also what happened when I set it up in the lounge at my university about a week later.

This highlights the only major issue with this game, which seems to be shared by the other D&D Adventure System board games: it's pretty difficult. That being said, I love it so much, and am beginning to see where D&D 4th Edition might be usable purely as a skirmish wargame (although even so, I'd probably use 3.5e or Pathfinder for that purpose... and maybe I'd get to set up my set of HeroScape tiles!); the reason I got this one instead of Wrath of Ashardalon is because of the added campaign rules, which remind me a little bit of the old Dragon Strike game by TSR. Considering that the earlier three games in this series are mostly compatible rules-wise - if not entirely visually, since ToEE uses the 5th Edition graphic layout - and each comes with its own selection of plastic miniatures (which are all listed here) which I might use in my D&D campaign, I'm tempted to buy another one of these games.

Of course, carrying around a box full of cards, Dungeon Tiles, and fairly high-quality minis is a bit cumbersome. I always carry my Cthulu Dice set in my backpack (in a smart-looking dice bag that also holds the rule sheet), in case I run into some people up for a simple dice game. At under $8, and available a lot of places (even some chain bookstores, which is where I got mine), it's certainly worth it. Now I'm debating whether I want to get the Metäl version...
This is the one I carry my dice in; the Elder Sign glows under blacklight!
(Also, my FLGS sells this series of bags for $5)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When is it okay to kill PCs?

As I begin writing this post, I have just finished helping an acquaintance make his character for B/X D&D. This session took less than 30 minutes, and highlights one of the major pluses of B/X for me: speed. He has, as far as I know, never played any version of D&D before, although his participation in innumerable games of Munchkin about two years ago has evidently familiarized him with the basic concepts of fantasy RPGs.

I have no qualms about killing player characters in B/X, mainly because of the fact that players seem to be inherently less strongly attached to their characters than in the more "crunchy" games. In part, this is because the time spent creating a character is halved or even quartered. Here's the entire process we went through, start to finish.
  • 3d6 in order: Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha. (My acquaintance actually got average to above-average scores, which is good for a beginning player.)
  • Class selection: since his highest score was 15 Dex, he chose a Thief. (I offered to let him raise it to 16 by lowering his Str or Int, but he declined.)
  • Saving throws: copied out of the table in the Basic Rulebook. (His Dex gives him a +1 on magic-based saves.)
  • Equipment: 2d6 x 10 gp. Normally it would be 3d6, but since the original group started off with almost nothing, I decided 20-120 gp would be fairer to them, while still allowing weapons and armor to be purchased. (Since this character had a -1 AC bonus from Dex, he decided to get extra weapons instead of leather armor.)
  • Hit points: d4. (He rolled a natural 4, thankfully.)
And... time! Half an hour. Since so little time was spent making this character, if he gets killed, I don't think my acquaintance would be too heartbroken; after all, he could just roll up another guy in even less time.

This is why I don't bother trying to run Pathfinder any more (not even the Beginner Box); we spend an entire session's worth of time just crunching numbers, and if the players act stupid - which they will - all that time will have been wasted. I think this is why there are so many rules in the newer iterations of post-A D&D to prevent player characters from dying.

Don't get me wrong, I will still try to give players a chance. There are two systems I have printed out for this purpose: the rule from the Rules Cyclopedia, and the one from the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide. I'll include them below:
Keeping Characters Alive

If you decide to get rid of the resurrection spells, you can also adopt another rule to make it a little harder for characters to die.

For instance, when a character is reduced to 0 hit points or below in combat (or from death spells), he's not yet dead. He's unconscious and mortally wounded; if left untended, he will die.

He must make a saving throw vs. death ray every turn. He makes the first roll on the round he drops to 0 hit point; he makes another every round he takes additional damage, and every 10 minutes (one turn) in addition. If he ever fails a roll, he's dead.

If he keeps making his rolls until reached by a healing cleric, someone with the Healing general skill, or someone with a healing potion to get to him, he can be saved. If the healers can heal him up to 1 hit point or more, or the Healing skill roll is made at a penalty of -5 (regardless of whether it heals him up to positive hit point or not), then the character is alive. He's critically wounded—but he'll survive.
The reason I don't use this one is because I don't use the general skill system, and first-level clerics can't heal. The next one is the one from the DMG, and it fits easily with B/X.
Hovering on Death's Door (Optional Rule)

You might find that your campaign has become particularly deadly. Too many player characters are dying. If this happens, you may want to allow characters to survive for short periods of time even after their hit points reach or drop below 0.

When this rule is in use, a character can remain alive until his hit points reach -10. However, as soon as the character reaches 0 hit points, he falls to the ground unconscious.

Thereafter, he automatically loses one hit point each round. His survival from this point on depends on the quick thinking of his companions. If they reach the character before his hit points reach -10 and spend at least one round tending to his wounds—stanching the flow of blood, etc., the character does not die immediately.

If the only action is to bind his wounds, the injured character no longer loses one hit point each round, but neither does he gain any. He remains unconscious and vulnerable to damage from further attacks.

If a cure spell of some type is cast upon him, the character is immediately restored to 1 hit point—no more. Further cures do the character no good until he has had at least one day of rest. Until such time, he is weak and feeble, unable to fight and barely able to move. He must stop and rest often, can't cast spells (the shock of near death has wiped them from his mind), and is generally confused and feverish. He is able to move and can hold somewhat disjointed conversations, but that's it.

If a heal spell is cast on the character, has hit points are restored as per the spell, and he has full vitality and wits. Any spells he may have known are still wiped from his memory. (Even this powerful spell does not negate the shock of the experience.)
The improvised rule I came up with in our first session is as follows: a character with 0 hit points is unconscious but stable. If an attack reduces them to -1 hit points or less, they must make a saving throw vs. death; if successful, they are stable. If they do fail the save, they can still be brought back to life (unconscious but stable) by giving them a healing potion within 1 turn (10 minutes). I probably won't be using this one, and I'll have the AD&D 2e rule in its place.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Power creep across editions

Reading through the Basic Rules for D&D 5th Edition, I am struck by how much more powerful wizards are at low level. Maybe this is just a reaction to my having spent the majority of my reading on B/X D&D and AD&D 2nd Edition, but the important magic missile spell is a good indicator of the relative power level of these games.

In B/X, a magic missile shoots one magical projectile which hits for 1d6+1 points of damage. A first-level magic-user has one 1st-level spell slot, and so the maximum amount of damage they could do in a single encounter without resorting to melee (pro tip: don't) is 7 points.

In AD&D 2nd Edition (and apparently 1st Edition as well), magic missile does 1d4+1 damage. A first-level mage has one spell slot, while a specialist in Evocation would have two; assuming both of these are used for the same spell, the most damage a wizard could do in one encounter is 10 points. A mage would only be able to to half this damage, at maximum.

In D&D 5th Edition, magic missile shoots three missiles for 1d4+1 force damage each! Also, first-level wizards have two spell slots, meaning that they could potentially do up to 30 points of damage in a single encounter - in addition to damage from cantrips like ray of frost! I'm picturing something like the spaz-lasers from The Lords of Magick, rather than the kind of fearful, fragile wizard portrayed in Dragonslayer.

True, the ability to shoot additional missiles was present even in B/X, but there a magic-user had to wait until 3rd level or higher before being able to launch multiple magic missiles!

It sucks having been the DM by default for such a long stretch of time; I find myself wanting to change things (like nerfing this spell, for one thing) as I read through 5th Edition. The reason I don't is that I want to experience this new version of D&D as a player first, and then as a DM. I feel like the new Starter Set will go a long way toward accomplishing this, but I still have to hold my house-rule instincts in check.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Magic-users in B/X D&D

I was surfing the web a little while back when I came across a post (probably by JB of B/X Blackrazor) that pointed out one of the flaws with the lower levels of the 1977-1991 "Basic" D&D game: until about 9th level, there's literally no reason to play a magic-user instead of an elf.

Let's look at this in more detail.
  • Magic-users have a d4 Hit Die, while elves have a d6.
  • Magic-users are limited to daggers for weapons (although many people house-rule to let them use staves, per AD&D), and cannot wear any armor. Elves can use any weapon and wear any armor, although the latter would seem to prevent them from casting spells; the usual house-rule solution I've seen is to let them wear leather armor only.
  • Elves also have infravision and an enhanced ability to detect secret doors.
The only advantage to a magic-user is seen at higher levels, since elves are capped at 10. The downside of this is that most players would be unwilling to wait that long, since a magic-user in a small party is unlikely to survive even to 2nd level.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Obligatory Alignment Post

To start, here's a brief overview of the major types of alignment categories used in the various version of D&D (in case this is your first time reading anything about D&D):
  • Three-point (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic). Used in OD&D, B/X, BECMI, and RC.
  • Five-point, type 1 (Good, Lawful, Chaotic, Evil, Neutral). Used only in Holmes, as far as I know.
  • Nine-point (LG, LN, LE, NG, TN, NE, CG, CN, CE). Used in almost every edition after AD&D 1e, including AD&D 2e, 3e and 3.5e, and the current 5e.
  • Five-point, type 2 (Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, Chaotic Evil). Used only in 4e and "Essentials".
Personally, I prefer the nine-point alignment system, since it's the one I started off with. It also informs my interpretation of the three-point system I use in B/X; I generally assume that all PCs are in the middle of the Good/Evil axis, so they are either Lawful Neutral, True Neutral, or Chaotic Neutral. One of my players, her play style informed by Pathfinder, chose Chaotic for her character's alignment, and heavily implied that her outlook was Chaotic Good. This is why I generally prefer the nine-point alignment system, if indeed any such system is present.

EDIT: Just realized that I did absolutely no research on Holmes for this, and therefore made a horribly inaccurate statement. I'm leaving it as it stands, though.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

More or less dice?

I have a large collection of dice, of various shapes and sizes, and I know I'm not the only tabletop gaming hobbyist who will gladly buy a die that I've never seen before, if it's in the bin at my FLGS. The most fun for me seem to be those that I know I'll never use. Among these are a pair of d6's that are numbered 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 (supposedly used for bite damage in the old Vampire: The Masquerade); another pair of translucent d6's that each have a tiny d6 inside them; a twenty-sided die numbered 1 to 5 four times; and several "old-school" twenty-sided d10's (two of which I actually use as percentile dice).

Mine are red with white numbers, and white with red numbers,
respectively; this makes them perfect for percentile rolls!

Whenever I decide to work on my own tabletop game, I wonder if I should have it use as many different types of dice as possible (i.e. the normal set of polys), or as few as possible (only d6's or d10's). On the one hand, some people like rolling various sizes and shapes of dice, due to how certain actions have a different "feel" from others. On the other hand, having a game that only relies on percentile rolls and d10 rolls (maybe along with 2d10) would be much more portable, and the idea of a "core mechanic" is not entirely a bad one.

At the extreme of different dice types is Dungeon Crawl Classics, to the point where Goodman Games actually sells a pack of the weirdest dice I've ever seen, mixed in with the standard Platonic solids. They can be found at the bottom of this page:

If anyone reads this blog, any thoughts on dice variety? How much is too much (or too little)?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Flakiness (a rant)

The big issue for me isn't getting people to agree on an edition: it's finding people in the first place. Not just anyone, but someone who's willing to read the rules (at least partially) and, y'know, actually show up.

I've had trouble getting reliable people since I first started GMing. My first group had four players, one of whom would follow exactly the same pattern for every session after the first two or three. I'd announce the time of the next session to everyone several days in advance, and he'd say that time worked for him. The day before the session, I would check with him to make sure he was still coming; he would assure me that he was.

The day of the session? Nothing. No phone call or text to say he wasn't coming, and no answer when any of us tried calling him ourselves.

(I hope it doesn't seem like I'm ragging on this guy; he was fun to hang out with, very knowledgeable about D&D - particularly Forgotten Realms, since he read a lot of fantasy fiction - and overall a good person, but this was a pretty annoying habit he had.)

In my slightly nebulous group that started off playing AD&D 2nd Edition, I was able to get the group to meet a total of one time. This session was never finished; one of the players had a call from "work" (of dubious legality), and had to leave immediately. The others soon followed. The next attempted session, the only group member who showed up was the guy whose house we were playing at. Fortunately, he brought one of his friends, and even more fortunately, I had a pre-made character he could use. Unfortunately, that unexpected friend had to leave unexpectedly.

More recently, a B/X D&D game I attempted to run (one session so far...) collapsed in a perfect storm of unplanned delays and last-minute changes of plan. One of the players wasn't feeling well, one was still out of town visiting friends, one was tied up in some kind of legal matter - a disputed ticket, or something of that nature - and one just plain overslept after a late night. The one guy who did show up went with me to grab some video games for what turned out to be (in a kind of baleful synchronicity) a mini LAN party that failed due to a faulty cable. Considering the work I've put into this so far, I'm wondering if I should try to have another session with the same group.

Speaking of video games, that's probably why tabletop games seem to be played so little. In today's world of blogs, PDF stores and print-on-demand, a game can be made and distributed for minimal cost, and reach a far wider audience than one which would be subject to corporate marketing requirements (side note: I saw a gigantic hardcover copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics at one of my local chain bookstores). The problem is, no one wants to put forth the effort to play in one of these games.

I know I'll probably come across as a disgruntled cynic of twice my actual age, but I see no more obvious culprit for this than video games. A person can sit at home on their computer (or in front of their console of choice, etc.) and immerse themselves in a highly addictive, brightly colored fantasy world with thousands of other people from all over the globe... or they can try to get together with half a dozen real-world friends, have to read stuff - read, as in words in a book! - and roll dice for four hours.

A telling sign? The university I attend has a semi-official League of Legends "team", but nothing in the way of tabletop gaming. I'd wager that there was a group of avid (A)D&D players here ten to fifteen years ago, but no more.

At least another FLGS opened up recently that has table space for RPGs; of the other hobby/game stores in town, one caters mostly to R/C and Gunpla (and consequently has no tables, although they do have some Warhammer and The Hobbit wargame stuff), and the other doesn't allow RPGs to be played at their tables (only card/board/wargames). Every so often when I'm doing stuff there, someone walks by and asks what we're doing. Genuinely curious.

...Maybe I should ask around there soon.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Metal and Plastic Miniatures

As I've been getting back into collecting a small number of miniatures to use in (A)D&D, I've noticed my attitudes changing slightly about different types of miniatures.

First, I've basically abandoned the idea of purchasing pre-painted plastic miniatures, of the kind out for both Pathfinder and D&D now. They're too expensive, especially because the only way to acquire multiple miniatures at once from a local store is to buy the blind booster packs. What's preventing my $18 to $20 (USD) from getting me three to four miniatures I'll never have the desire to use? In addition, I find that super-detailed, full-color miniatures - even the cardstock pawns that Paizo sells - tend to distract my players too much. Of course, I might have a skewed sample, considering that three of my original four players (back when we started with the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box) had either ADD or ADHD; but the other reason for not actively seeking these out is due to the fact that they won't mesh well with the single-colored plastic minis I have a lot of. Currently, the only pre-painted minis that I own are the ones from HeroScape (many of which are poorly suited to fantasy games), and the Lizardfolk Champion I bought back when I was bopping around Golarion as Sradan.

Speaking of unpainted plastic minis, I found myself with a large number of them after buying the Temple of Elemental Evil board game. Not only do I have a decent set of PC minis (even if the dark blue coloring makes the details hard to pick out; nobody realized that Barrowin the cleric was a woman until I called her "she"), I also have a few good generic monsters. The hobgoblins are basically indistinguishable from orcs, and the troglodytes would make suitable, if slightly short, lizardfolk. The bigger 'boss' monsters (a salamander, an ettin, some elementals, and a beautifully sculpted dragon) might come in handy for future adventures, too. Honestly, for about $60, I feel like I got my money's worth on minis alone, even if I may never play the board game again. (Plus, I kind of want to do a random dungeon crawl using the jigsaw Dungeon Tiles.)

Reaper also makes some very nice 'plastic' (10% recycled resin) monsters, many of which are available in three- to six-packs. So far, I have only one set of these, but I definitely plan to acquire more in the future from their "Bones" lines.

Now we move on to metal minis. One of the three FLGSs in my city caters mostly to wargamers (Warhammer, Hordes, etc.) and TCG players; they have the standard selection of D&D and Pathfinder books - including the OD&D wood box set! - but I imagine those aren't their biggest sellers. I went to this store in search of some minis to use for D&D. One that I found was excellent on all counts: 1" square base, no assembly required (beyond gluing the base on), and dirt cheap at a current list price of $6. High off of this success, I went looking for another, but I seemed to have bought the one miniature in the entire store that didn't have to have its arms glued into place. The level of detail on some of these is excellent (even if a lot of Warhammer and other minis have too many gears and guns for straight fantasy), but the prices vary widely, and the assembly is not something I'd like to have to do too often. EDIT: One that I bought had its arm knocked off, which was almost impossible to glue back on since it had been attached to its base (causing it to roll). Yeah, no more metal minis for me.

Nor do I have the desire to paint said miniatures; I don't have the money to buy the necessary tools, and even if I had unlimited money that could be spent only on painting minis, I wouldn't have the patience or free time to do more than a couple.

What ever happened to fantasy miniatures that had built-in bases? When I played in the short-lived D&D 3.5 campaign, the DM brought a bunch of relics he apparently borrowed from his dad. Besides the wonderfully thick and durable Chessex mat, he had a bag of old, probably lead-based minis which were in various conditions. Some had little bits of paint left on them (probably also lead-based; it might actually have been a blessing that we didn't spend more time touching these while eating pizza), and some were partly or completely broken... but overall, they were pretty cool. My half-orc bard even got a figure which vaguely resembled some kind of demi-human in light armor! Anyway, these figures had their own bases, and I wonder why more people don't make minis like this these days. Having a built-in base cuts down on the assembly and prep time needed, and means less gluing for the player. (Reaper's "Bones" resin miniatures boast on the package that they're ready-to-play as soon as you open them, which is definitely a selling point for me.)

P. S.  The plastic minis are one reason I would love to get a hold of a good-condition copy of DragonStrike; having a generic group of PCs and a good variety of monsters would be pretty cool. I'm also partial to square bases, too; for some reason, I feel like they're 'cooler' than the small round ones which accompany modern D&D and Pathfinder minis.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

House Rule: Lizardfolk character class (D&D B/X)


Level                    Title                         Exp. Points      Hit Dice
   1         Lizardfolk Veteran                        0                 1d8
   2         Lizardfolk Warrior                    2000               2d8
   3         Lizardfolk Weaponmaster         4000               3d8

Lizardfolk are humanoids with scaly skin, long tails, and sharp teeth, who are 6 to 7 feet tall and weigh about 200 pounds. They usually live in swamps or marshes, and are carnivorous, sometimes even eating humans and demi-humans in the wilderness. Because of this, they tend not to get along with humans.

The prime requisite for a lizardfolk character is Strength. A Strength score of 13 or greater will give a lizardfolk a bonus on earned experience points.

Restrictions: Lizardfolk use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 8th level of experience. They can wear only leather armor, but can use shields. Their weapons are limited to those which can be made without metal - axes, bows (except crossbows), maces, clubs, pole arms, slings, spears, and war hammers. A lizardfolk character must have a minimum Strength score of 9. Many humans and demi-humans distrust lizardfolk, and will react with a -1 in addition to any normal reaction adjustment by Charisma.

Special Abilities: Lizardfolk have infravision and can see 60 feet in the dark. They use the same saving throws as dwarves and halflings. Although their maximum movement rate is half that of other characters on land - 60’ (20’) instead of 120’ (40’) - they are not slowed by leather armor, and can swim through water at 120’ (40’). All lizardfolk speak Common and their own language, plus the languages of dragons, kobolds, and orcs.

From the AD&D Monster Manual.
(yes, I know he's holding a sword)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cantrips in AD&D (1st Edition)

Looking over these things as they appear in Dragon magazine (issues #59 through #61, also printed in Unearthed Arcana), I find myself wondering why people think of Gary Gygax as some kind of game-design genius, and say that the game went to pot after he left TSR.

I'll wait for the torches to go out, and the pitchforks to rust, before I continue.

As useful as these are mechanically (some more so than others; couldn't bee, bug, gnats, and spider have been combined into a single entry, since they're almost identical in effects?) I find the detailed descriptions of the verbal and somatic components of these 0-level spells to be more than a little silly. For instance, from the description of the quite handy firefinger cantrip:
The caster speaks a word of power over elemental fire (ron-son, zip-po, or the much revered word, dun-hill), extends the forefinger, and makes a downward or sideways motion with the thumb.
(Dragon #60, p. 19)
Good gods! And I thought some of the material components of normal spells were jokey and anachronistic!

A legendary artifact.

Seriously, this would totally ruin the atmosphere of the game if left as written. I prefer to run a game with a modicum of seriousness, and let any humor come from the players or from the natural order of play (such as a rat exploding when hit with a magic missile for full damage). Just imagine a wizard in a fantasy film - if not The Fellowship of the Ring, then at least Willow - distracting a villain by wiggling their fingers and saying "kitchy-kitchy-coo", causing the villain's nose to be tweaked. (No, seriously, this is the actual description of the tweak cantrip.) Using a piece of copper wire for a message spell seems positively proper compared to crap like this.

Maybe Gygax was trying to alleviate concerns about this game being too violent, but turning a game of swords and sorcery into Harry Potter and the Wiggly Wizards seems like a very bad idea in hindsight. (Some people have expressed similar concern about the wild mage class from 2e's Tome of Magic, but at least that has some kind of actual impact on gameplay.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

House Rules: Specialist Wizards (AD&D 2nd Edition)

(Note: Anyone already familiar with 2nd Edition's specialist rules can safely skip the first few paragraphs, and go straight to the "Class Selection" heading.)

The wizard group encompasses all arcane spellcaster classes: the mage, illusionist, and the other seven specialist wizards. Each of these specialist classes is an expert in a corresponding school of magic. Thus, the conjurer specializes in Conjuration/Summoning spells; the transmuter specializes in Alteration magic; and so on. A notable quirk of the nine schools is that one - Lesser Divination - does not have a specialist class (although its advanced form, Greater Divination, does have one in the Diviner class). The spells of this school, enumerated in the rules as all Divination spells of 4th level or below, are essential to the work of any and every wizard, and so can be learned and cast by any wizard class. The 1st-level spell cantrip is also available to all wizards, as it is present in every school.

In addition to their favored school, each specialist class has one or more opposition schools, from which they can never, ever learn or cast spells under any circumstances (barring divine intervention or, at the DM's discretion, a wish spell). Under the standard rules given in the PHB, specialists gain a bonus to learn spells from their favored school (as well as an extra spell slot and a saving throw bonus for such), and a penalty to learn spells from other schools which are not their opposition school.

Diagram illustrating the schools of magic.
From the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook, 1995.
The following are my own house rules to decrease the sameness among many wizards, encourage creativity, and reflect in the mechanics what is constantly put forth in the 'flavor': magic is poorly understood, and those who can use it are rare in the wider world(s).

Class Selection

The mage class is not available to player characters. Arcane magic is an esoteric discipline that requires a naturally strong mind and years of rigorous training; the notion of anyone with average intellect and a cheap spellbook being able to learn magic of any and every school is ridiculous.

All wizards must be specialists. The specialist classes available to a character (depending on ability scores and race) are the same as those given in the PHB; the level limits for demihuman specialists are the same as the ones for mages given in the DMG. Note that to become a specialist, a character must not only meet the ability score requirements for their race (if demihuman) and those for their chosen specialist class, but also have the 9 (preferably much higher) Intelligence required of a mage in the standard rules. Thus, a player hoping to play an elf enchanter would need at least 6 Dex, 7 Con, 9 Int, and 16 Cha, and would have a maximum level of 15 (unless the optional Slow Advancement rules are used). The total unlikelihood of getting all of these in order is one reason why I usually use Method III to roll up ability scores, i.e., 3d6 arranged to taste.

Per the PHB, specialist demihumans cannot multi-class, with the sole exception of gnome illusionists. Specialist humans, however, can dual-class at the DM's discretion; normal dual-classing rules still apply with regard to class groups.

Spell Selection

Specialists can learn and cast only spells from their favored school, or from Lesser Divination, and no others. They can, however, use magic items (including level-appropriate scrolls) from other schools without penalty, except for those which duplicate spells from their opposition school(s).

If 0-level spells (cantrips) are used as they appear in AD&D 1st Edition (Unearthed Arcana and issues 59-61 of Dragon), the specialist is still limited by the school in which the cantrip is listed. For those schools which have no cantrips (notably Necromancy), the players and DM should cooperate to create new ones, without necessitating spell research in this instance. Note that cantrips of the Divination school will be available for use by all specialist wizards.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mapping the Forester's Wilds

As strange as it is to modern sensibilities, AD&D 2nd Edition is still one of my favorite games. I haven't yet gotten to run it, but I've been working on a map of my fantasy world's continent which will serve me well for all of the following:
  • Eventual hex-crawls for my current B/X group.
  • A possible politically-oriented 2e game I'm turning over in my head (and which I'll be posting about once I figure out if it might happen).
  • Reference for the novel and/or short story collection set in this world that I hope to write.
I initially began sketching this out on hexagonal graph paper, at a scale of 1 hex = 18 miles (per the guidelines given in Basic Fantasy). Now, however, I'm doing a more detailed layout on the free version of Hexographer, using the 1 hex = 24 miles scale hinted at in the 2e Dungeon Master Guide. I'm not sure if this scale matches up with the Cook Expert Rulebook, but I figure it's a workable alternative. (EDIT: This is the scale suggested in the Rules Cyclopedia as well, so I'm sticking with it.)

A small section of the map, showing where the party has
been, where I'm sending them for their next adventure, and
where they might decide to go from there.
After this week's usual Pathfinder-style scripted adventure, I'll be doing something I've never done before: opening up the world completely. Using some basic rules for wilderness adventure (cobbled together from AD&D 2e, Basic Fantasy, and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia), I'll let them travel to wherever they wish, encountering random hazards and (possibly) getting lost if they're not careful. Obviously I'll be giving them some hints as to where some randomly-stocked dungeons (per Moldvay Basic) might be found, but aside from that they'll have free reign.

I'm really curious to see how this goes. Out of the four players in this group so far, two are almost entirely new to RPGs, and the other two have never played in a game with me that wasn't scripted and confined (although Rhiannon's player is also in a Pathfinder game; I don't know how that GM runs things).

Also, side note: My FLGS just got in most of the new 5e books, including the Starter Set and DM Screen. I also spotted the former at Walmart, of all places! While I certainly prefer to buy from locally-owned places, hopefully this wider exposure (in the trading cards/Pez section near the checkouts) will lead to more people getting into the hobby.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

5th Edition is looking pretty good

I've read through most of the Basic Rules for 5th Edition, available as a free PDF from the Wizards website. Honestly, it looks pretty good; none of my thoughts are detailed enough to merit organization into paragraphs, so I'll just put some bullet points here.
  • The advantage/disadvantage mechanic is excellent. I love that, whether making skill checks, saving throws, or attack rolls, the means of adjusting the odds remain the same. It reminds me of the guidelines given in B/X that suggest an attack roll penalty or percentile roll for unusual tasks, except that here the DM doesn't have to take any time to think about just how likely it is that, say, a character will be able to swing on the chandelier.
  • The inspiration mechanic follows on from this, and I think it's a good idea. At first, I thought it might get confusing or too mechanical, but it's as simple as can be: when you use inspiration, you get advantage. Being able to give it to other players is also helpful, especially if one person keeps rolling threes or fours.
  • The subraces for demihumans are good, managing to ensure a variety of characteristics and abilities even among characters who might have the same race and class - a bonus, since the Basic Rules only contain the "core four" races (dwarf, elf, halfling, human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard). Ditto for the character backgrounds.
  • Attacks of opportunity have been made even simpler. In 3.5e and Pathfinder, there's a whole table of different Move, Minor, and Standard actions, telling you whether each one provokes an attack of opportunity. One of the few changes that 4e made that I genuinely like was simplifying this, to the point where only two actions provoke an opportunity attack: moving, and making a ranged or area attack. (It still baffles me that Pathfinder didn't use the looseness of the d20 System to incorporate this change; maybe they will if a second edition comes around.) Now, in the 5e Basic Rules, it's only moving that draws an opportunity attack. Making a ranged attack while threatened by an adjacent enemy instead gives a penalty on the attack roll, which is fine.
  • The necessity of the dreaded Grid has been removed, although there is a sidebar giving optional rules as such. This was the thing that pissed me off about 4e; giving distance only in squares destroyed whatever shred of immersion might have been left after the way that everything was divided into "powers". If I ever play this, I'm thinking I'll use a mat and minis, but not lock the combatants into the squares.
  • The default modern method for ability scores - 4d6, drop lowest, arrange to taste - is given here, along with a set of (for this range) average pre-picked numbers. If I were to DM this, I would probably have everyone roll 3d6 and arrange to taste, instead; there are enough ability score bonuses given by race (and increases every other level or so) that there wouldn't be too many below-average scores.
  • The one criticism I have is that there is only one cleric Divine Domain and one wizard Arcane Tradition. While these categories are pretty broad, it seems kind of silly to explain all the details of Domains and Traditions, and then only give the player one possible choice - telling them to buy the PHB if they want more. A couple of extras (such as the three gods and three schools given in the Pathfinder Beginner Box) would have gone a long way toward creating some more variety between the classes. The same criticism could be leveled against the similar systems for fighters and rogues, but the ones given there are broad enough to encompass pretty much anything a player would want to do with those classes.
When I sat down with these rules, the first thought that popped into my head after reading them was: I want to play this. I want to experience a new game from the other side of the table, and I have so many ideas for creating my character swimming around in my head. Hopefully I can find someone willing to DM.

(Side note: the DM screen available at my local Barnes & Noble is four-panel landscape. Nice!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Other Unusual Player Character Species

Apologies for any disjointedness apparent in this post; this is coming straight from my brain to the rich-text composer. (A "gonzo" post, as some might say.)

Thinking back to my adventures with Sradan, I started remembering my other ideas for having a non-traditional player character at my command. Mostly, this is due to a wish to avoid sameness among the members of a party. Playing 3.5e or Pathfinder (and, from what I've read in the Basic Rules, 5e as well), this is less of a problem, due to the proliferation of previously "optional" classes, and the removal of demihuman class and level restrictions.

The Lizard Man as he appears in the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual.

The early editions of D&D had some of this built in: in Holmes' D&D book, dwarves and halflings are explicitly stated to always be fighters, and elves to progress as a kind of split-classed fighter/magic-user (although race-as-class of the kind used in B/X and BECMI wasn't implemented - the class restrictions for demihumans were just really strict). Interestingly enough, though, there seems to have been some expectation even at this early stage of unusually creative players:
At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.

(Holmes p. 7)
I confess that I haven't yet had the opportunity to read any of the original AD&D (1e) books, although I do plan to pick up the original Dungeon Master's Guide on my next trip to Austin. AD&D 2nd Edition, however, is something I'm very familiar with (though, sadly, not experienced in playing or running), and it seems to be explicitly fighting back against modifying demihuman class restrictions:
Allow nonstandard race/class combinations only on a case-by-case basis. If you institute a general rule--"Gnomes can now be paladins"--you will suddenly find yourself with six player character gnome paladins.
Anyway, back to my original point: I had some ideas for unusual characters. One that I definitely wanted to play when I was lost in my pipe-dreams of getting people together to play 2e was the Rogue Modron (from The Planewalker's Handbook). I tend to be a very analytical, left-brain person in real life, so having a sentient creature that is quite literally the embodiment of those qualities appealed to me.

"Does you over-exuberance in attacking these slavers
have anything to do with the fact that it rained yesterday?"
(Pic from The Planewalker's Handbook)

I also thought of converting Sradan for use in 2e, using the info on Lizard Man PCs from The Complete Book of Humanoids. Close examination, however, told me that doing so strictly by-the-book was a very bad idea:
Lizard men are fairly slow and clumsy on land, having a base movement rate of 6.
(p. 42)
Okay, sounds fair. That jibes with the movement rate given in other editions, such as B/X, and is presumably still offset by their base movement of 12 in water. 
Lizard men must wet their entire bodies once a day. If they are unable to find adequate amounts of moisture (a full waterskin is enough), they begin to lose Constitution at a rate of 3 points per day. If their Constitution falls to zero, they die from dehydration.
What the hell?! There is no mention of this in the Monstrous Manual, nor can I find any such references in Holmes or the Rules Cyclopedia. It's possible that there is a precedent for this in a 1e book, but I strongly doubt it.
If food (which could include a fallen friend or foe) or treasure appear during a battle, a lizard man must make a successful Wisdom check to keep his mind on the battle. Failure means he turns away from the fight to feast or gather spoils. This distraction lasts at least one round. Every additional round, the lizard man can attempt to break away from the distraction by making another Wisdom check.
If this was true of them normally - i.e., when fighting them as monsters - it would make dealing with lizard man attacks much easier. As a trait for a PC, it's just stupid. And it isn't as though this is needed to balance out their wide selection of classes; their maximum levels are Fighter 12, Thief 9, and (if using some optional mythos priests) Shaman 7. Crap like this is why so many people hate the AD&D 2e splatbooks (although I must confess that I like some of the ideas in The Complete Fighter's Handbook).

Suffers from dry skin, dehydration, compulsive eating, and kleptomania.
(Pic from The Complete Book of Humanoids)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Demons Have Rectums, Too

As part of the adventure on which I took Sradan, the GM had us up against a demon (for which he used a gargoyle pawn, and had to keep reminding me that it was a demon, not a gargoyle) and his pet hell-hound. The devil dog is a story in and of itself, but the fight with the demon was an eventful one. Apparently, we weren't supposed to kill him just yet, but as one says, the best laid plans of mice...

Sradan struck a good blow on the demon, but because our cleric Carella had used the Bit of Luck power on me, I decided to roll the d20 again; it couldn't hurt, and I might even get a shot at some extra damage. I rolled it - natural 20. Rolled to confirm - success.

Now came the fun part. Since Sradan was doing his fighting with a spear (in lieu of the trident wielded by the miniature figure representing him), the damage on a critical hit was multiplied by 3. I rolled the damage die. I'd love to say it was a natural 8, but I honestly can't remember at this point; regardless, Sradan's various bonuses made the result an 8, multiplied by 3.

Taking 24 damage on a single roll? Even this mighty demon was felled.

Best of all, the GM decided I could describe how exactly I killed this demon with a single thrust. I told him that Sradan, gripping the shaft of his mighty spear, thrust the head deep inside the demon's bowels.

So, aside from prostitution and landscaping, the world's oldest profession (in Golarion, if nowhere else) seems to be freelance proctology.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sradan, the Lizard-Rogue of Golarion

When I decided that I wanted to be a player in the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box, rather than the GM as I had been since the beginning, I wanted to play an unusual character. Our group already had a fighter, a wizard, and a cleric (two clerics, if you count the person who was going to GM for the time being), so I figured a rogue would be in order, as the barbarian class presented in the Beginner Box Player Pack didn't interest me in the slightest.

I didn't want to limit myself to just a human, elf, or dwarf, though. The Beginner Box GM Kit had creature stats for the lizardfolk, and I happened to find a neat Pathfinder mini of one of these guys online. After some tweaking with the numbers, I presented my character sheet to the GM; comparing it with the stats of the rest of our party, and noticing that lizardfolk are typically (True) Neutral, he allowed it. I named my guy Sradan, after a character from a long-forgotten fragment of an RPG Maker 3 creation.

The "Lizardfolk Champion" mini I used. (Note: that's not how you use a trident.)

Here's where things get interesting. The reason lizardfolk tend not to get along well with humans and demi-humans in D&D/Pathfinder is due to their cannibalistic tendencies. I decided to role-play this to the hilt, forgoing standard rations in favor of skinning and roasting the corpses of enemies.

And the best part? One of the other players - the only one who I still have as a player on occasion - is an ethical vegetarian. It got to the point where I would lightly poke fun at her by describing in gory detail how my character would consume his defeated enemies, and asking the GM which parts of different monsters were the best to eat.

And yet, this was still in keeping with True Neutral alignment; Sradan never killed innocent people to eat them, after all.

Maybe one day, I'll bring him back in some form, if I can ever get someone "normal" to DM/GM for me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Adventure Begins (and quickly ends...)

This was the shortest-lived group I ever got together. The one time I got some folks together for AD&D 2nd Edition doesn't count, because that group never finished a single game session. This one did, but not in the way I expected (or hoped).

After meeting up with some acquaintances in my sophomore year of college, I decided that the best game with which to introduce a new group would be the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. After all, it was my introduction to roleplaying games, and the art and design was certainly snazzy enough. I quickly ran into a couple of problems, though.

First, creating characters took way too long. Like, two hours long. This is also why I have never bothered to try running D&D 3.5; a bunch of college students in the Honors program (or equivalent programs at other universities) don't have this much time, and if they did it would be better used playing instead of crunching numbers. We pushed through, though, and got a party of three together.

Second, these players were obviously too used to video games. In the introductory adventure that comes with the Beginner Box, Black Fang's Cave, the PCs can find a wooden toy dragon on the body of a dead goblin. The idea is then to present this toy to the goblin chief deeper in the cave, and he'll let you go freely and call off the attacks by his minions.

Needless to say, one member of the group didn't stop to learn this. Instead, he tried shooting at the goblins as soon as he spotted them. This pissed them off to no end, and thanks to a string of bad rolls (and one player accidentally shooting another one in the head, although I can't remember which it was), I ended up with my first Total Party Kill (TPK).

Henry, Eli, Bob, wherever you are, just know that you will always have a special place in my heart.


Hi, I'm Fuzzy Skinner (aka Skinr, or just Fuzzy). I've been playing and running various tabletop role-playing games since high school - mostly in the latter capacity - starting with the D&D Fast Play Game The Sewers of Sumdall (included on the DVD release of the Dungeons & Dragons movie), and moving on to my first 'real' campaign using the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. Since then, I've also participated in the following:
  • Basic Fantasy RPG (GM and player)
  • D&D Basic Rules, Moldvay (DM)
  • D&D v. 3.5 (player)
I also own, and hope to one day run and/or play, the following:
  • AD&D 2nd Edition (all hail the Apparatus of Kwalish!)
  • Demon: The Fallen (only as a PDF, which isn't ideal)
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (yes, really)
  • HackMaster Basic (also currently PDF-only in my library)
  • The World of Darkness
Finally, there's one game I desperately want to own so that I can play it, and that game is Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game. I've searched in vain for it digitally, but the closest I've come is a beautiful OCR'd PDF file... of the Spanish translation. Yes, really.
On this blog, I hope to share some of my roleplaying game stories, old and new alike.