17 September 2013

D&D Challenge on Hold!

Just a heads up that I'm skipping all of the "monster type" posts. That does seem a tad silly. I'll pick the blog back up on either the 21st with "Favorite Dragon Type/Color" or on the 22nd "Favorite Monster Overall."
Until then, gentle readers, enjoy the silence!

13 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 13: Favorite Puzzle/Trap

This is another post that'll be short. This is because, much to the chagrin of my OSR brethren, I'm never good at placing traps and coming up with puzzles. I can execute ones that others have devised (thank you, Grimtooth and KoDT!), but never have I excelled at creating them. Heresy of all heresies, let the find traps or INT roll do the player's work!
That said, one I like to use sparingly so it's always a surprise to players (and I'm not sure if it's a trap or just an encounter/obstacle) is to place leather-wearing, wicker-shield-bearing, wooden-spear-wielding kobolds that have rust monsters as pets! Combined with  rope traps and deadfalls (you do know what the Vietcong put on punji sticks, right?), this can make even a mid-level party take note of the little dog-faced pests! 
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, oil your weapons and armor!

12 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 12: Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

It should be apparent to anyone that's read my blog for any amount of time that I prefer sandbox settings. My favorite module for any system is GW1 The Legion of Gold that outlines the Barony of Horn for Gamma World followed closely by B2: Keep on the Borderlands that outlines the surroundings of the Caves of Chaos. And, of course, who can forget T1 The Village of Hommlet? Adventures that have add-ons, such as the wilderness areas for Rappan Athuk or Freya's Crucible (both originally by Necromancer Games coincidentally; RA was recently upgraded to Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder editions by Frog God Games, the successors to NG) fall into the sandbox category to some extent as well. The focus of these modules is, of course, on the megadungeon or the plotline respectively, but sandbox material is provided as well. While last week I stated that Greyhawk is my favorite campaign setting, the Wilderlands/City State of the Invincible Overlord by Bob Bledsaw and the Judges Guild runs a very close second. The setting is very sandbox and gives sparse details on the campaign maps for the DM (Judge?) to develop.
The best thing about sandbox adventures is that it's a lot like a buffet. The DM sets out the food, and the players choose what they want. Admittedly, it is a lot of work for a DM, and he can't be a control freak. The players just might take their players completely off-script. Now, occasionally, the DM will have had a busy and no time to think, much less plan for a game. The players might want to head off for Greyhawk City when the DM has only prepared adventure hooks (weeks before) around Hommlet (where the players are). In a case like this, there's nothing wrong with telling the players, "Guys, I've had a week from Hell. I know you really want to go to Greyhawk, but I'm not prepared at all for that. Could you go after a hook in town? I'll work up plans for Greyhawk City for next week." Most players will understand and go with it; we've all had those weeks.
The ability to improvise is a key skill as well. Maybe the DM is good enough to roll with the journey to Greyhawk and can come up with something on the fly that fulfills the players's expectations. If one can do that, great! Go for it. If the players feel like their choices and input influence the game, they become invested and interested in the setting and will want more! If they don't have that feeling and instead feel like they're on the Plot Wagon (TM), well, they may as well be playing EverQuest 2.
Another ability to keep in mind is recycling and I'm not talking about newspapers and aluminum cans, either. In this instance, it refers to  using adventures that the players have bypassed; this is not railroading, either, but a labor-saving device. Let's assume that in the Hommlet setting mentioned above, the Judge had worked up a goblin warren to the southeast of Hommlet; however, the players have elected to take that journey to Greyhawk. On the journey overland, Fate intervenes and a wandering monster check indicates an attack by goblins. Rather than just randomly rolling the goblins up, the party is attacked by a patrol or raiding party from a goblin warren. The players decide to follow fleeing survivors and find the lair. Recycling in action. And note that this goblin warren is not in the same location; this could be three weeks out on the way to Greyhawk. It has been transplanted, and the DM has a week to work on Greyhawk! Also, be careful not to MAKE the players go where you want. If the players killed the goblin patrol or let the fleers go and don't look for the lair, so be it. But you were ready if they did!
Another good example of this is reusing vintage modules. When I first started the Guardians of the Polar Bear (my God, was that 2004 when Kat was nine and Rene' was seven?!!), I placed the Necromancer's mansion from U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh on a rock atoll about a mile-and-a-half on the road north out of Hommlet. The caves at the bottom opened into a forest clearing. The necromancer had disappeared about the time of the Battle of Emirdy Meadows. The pirates became a detached group of bandits and gnolls from Lareth's moathouse and thus tied into the overall setting in a different way than before. Recycling; learn it well.
Finally, the sandbox DM should learn to use communication with his players. Help them determine a real background for their characters. Ask for their input after a game; see what goals that have and what they plan to accomplish. One can see this in the Hommlet campaign with the NPCs. Elmo mentions his brother Otis long before the players ever go to Nulb. A PC's family can be the source of new characters if the original character falls in battle, such as poor Kane Deathchant. Maybe the character is the young scion of an Elvan noble family from Celene. Upon reaching 4th level, news of the character's exploits have reached Celene and the character's family (or maybe even Queen Yolande herself!) sends the character a gift in the way of a quiver of Ehlonna with 6 +1 arrows. Deus ex machina? Maybe a little; but it does help the characters in game and also helps keep them invested in the story.

Overall, sandbox settings are a lot of work to set up. However, properly excuted, they can create a world that feels as vibrant and alive as anything in the works of fiction and definitely better than a static MMO.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, dream of glory and adventure!

11 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 11: Favorite Adventure You've Run

This is another easy post for me to write as well. My favorite (D&D) adventure is still B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. It's essentially a beginner's sandbox, and it's fun to play with: hooks of all sorts abound just using the material within. The DM can tinker to his heart's content. For example, when I run it in the future, I'm replacing the mad hermit encounter with Brave Halfling's The Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak; it seems like a good fit.
My favorite time running it was a couple of years ago for the Guardians of the Polar Bear, aka my wife and kids. My son, who was 10 at the time, was running a Chaotic fighter (B/X rules in place), and the girls were running a Lawful Elf, a neutral elf, and a neutral dwarf. My wife was playing a Neutral thief. They infiltrated the goblin caves starting out (well, after clearing out the fens of the lizard men) and went straight to the "Bree Yark!" cave. After defeating most of the goblins AND the ogre (!), one of the goblins failed morale and surrendered.
My son's Chaotic fighter (Kane Deathchant, I might add) knew Goblin and decided to converse with the little chap. The elves and dwarf were all for killing the goblin (I must add, my wife was gone to a bathroom break; I don't know if she could have stopped the events that were about to transpire). Kane decided he wanted the little guy as a follower; the goblin's reaction was positive and he introduced himself as Adze-jakon, the lowliest of the low. Kane said he was not sure if he could remember that, so he'd call him "Deacon" instead.
The elves and the dwarf were furious; there was no way the Keep was going to allow a goblin, especially one attached to a fighter with the last name of Deathchant, to enter the keep. Will, to his credit, already had a solution worked out. The goblin could stay overnight in the lizard man caves that the party had previously cleared and Deacon could meet them on the road the next morning. The dwarf, however, had had enough talking and went over and hit the goblin with her axe. Kane drew on the dwarf and all hell broke loose! The Lawful elf backed out of the fight once the goblin was dead, but the other elf and dwarf still continued to fight Kane and he soon fell. Will, again to his credit, handled his first character death pretty well, and began rolling up another character (this was his second campaign, incidentally).
Meanwhile, the party (and the horrified thief who had just stood by while this was going down, because the player was on a bathroom break), in true murder hobo fashion, looted the remaining corpses including poor Kane. And, THEY LEFT HIS BODY IN THE CAVES!!! Upon returning to the Keep tavern, they were faced with Kane's brother, Bane Deathchant, a Chaotic magic-user, who was supposed to meet his brother at the Keep. The Keep's guards had told him that Kane had met with an adventuring party and went out with them that morning. The party prevaricated with the Lawful elf and the thief both wisely remaining silent (and facepalming!) while the other two explained that Kane had fallen in battle, but they were unable to recover his body and were forced to fight their way out.

Now, I had explained to Will that he could not act on player knowledge and had to act only on what Bane learned. What followed next is one of the best roleplaying sequences I have ever seen from either a young or new player. Bane wanted to recover his brother's body, and the party, led by the heretofore silent elf and thief (with glares at the other two) said that would be great and they would gladly assist.
Meanwhile, back at the Caves of Chaos, the goblin chief had learned that a guard post and his Ogre mercenary were dead. Now, in the Caves, any sign of weakness invites an attack so....the chief had the ogre beheaded and the head placed on a pole outside the entrance to the cave and HE HAD KANE'S BODY CRUCIFIED!!! He also had a sign (in Goblin and broken Common) placed around Kane's neck that basically read, "This is what we do to intruders and those who betray us."
This grisly sight met the party upon their arrival at the entrance to the goblin warrens the next morning. Bane was, naturally, enraged and the pogrom against the goblins began!
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, reminisce about your own adventures and days of yore.

10 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 10: Craziest thing that's happened

Ok, short one for today.

The craziest thing? Back in my Army years (late 80's, early 90's), our party came across a sleeping red dragon. One of the guys was playing a gnome. He had a ring of regeneration. He borrowed the magic-user's +3 dagger, greased himself up, and crawled up the dragon's ass to kill him. True story.

09 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 9: Favorite Character Not Played

This is an odd one, so how about the character I never got to play past two sessions?
Going back to Hackmaster again (which I consider an AD&D edition--3E that should have been!), the GM had set up a Hommlet campaign--well sort of--using the hacked version of T1, The Temple of Existential Evil with the twist that party was on the Neutral-Evil Axis rather than the Good-Neutral one. Now, no one else in the group had previously played T1 in any form (I have about 10 years on the rest of CLD). The DM had no problems because, as a fellow DM, he knows that I would never use knowledge of treasure and what's out there to my advantage. I generally hang back on that knowledge and stay out of "party decisions." And, besides, the hacked modules usually mix things up anyway.
Well, I decided to play a cavalier of Hextor, tasked with stopping the rise of Chaotic Evil in the area around Hommlet. Oh, did I have plans! I was going to help train the militia, try to do some conversions on the side, and stop Chaos, all in the name of the Herald of Hell! I knew what I looked like (dark and handsome, like Rufus Sewell in A Knight's Tale!), had my weapons of choice picked out for levelling, pre-thought conversations of how to do with pesky do-gooders questioning my motives, everything!

Unfortunately, we only played two sessions. One of the (now former) members of CLD decided to play Stupid Evil and was screwing up the game purposefully for the rest of us. At the same time, he was trying to break the DM's game. Not cool. So, Sir Demetrios never realized his full potential.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, think of what might have been!

08 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 8: Favorite Charcter I Have Played

My favorite character to play in recent years was my 11th Level Halfling thief, Tomman Willowgrove. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that Tomman was a Hackmaster character, but, as I mentioned yesterday, Hackmaster should be considered a "D&D" game due to its license, mechanics,  and the fact that it is a continuation of the 1st/2nd edition "engine."

Not mine drawing; found on "teh interwebz," but a good representation of Tomman, anyway.

I designed Tomman to be an homage to Bilbo Baggins. A little older in life with really good skills as a tailor (somewhere around 80%!), he was thrust into adventure. Hackmaster is a deadly game, so I had to be very careful with a single-classed thief, not doing much fighting before 4th to 5th and serving mostly as the party's "box man" (trap finder and lock picker). But somewhere around 5th, I started the backstabbing and the sneaking more. Since Tomman was single-classed, unlike everyone else in the party, I was hitting 9th level, while they were all at 6/6. And finally, when my son rolled up his first character, Richard Willowgrove, the backstory was that he was Tomman's son. Tomman had recently died, and Richard had found and read Tomman's adventuring journal. Rich then felt the love of adventure growing in his heart and decided to hit the road and find an adventure like his father.

And there you have it, gentle readers; my favorite PC is a Hobbit. :)

07 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 7: Favorite Edition

Favorite edition? For me that's 1st edition with Unearthed Arcana, followed closely by B/X and the Swords & Wizardry Complete retro-clone.

I don't normally repost my own blogs, but the following is a a blog I posted back in April detailing the various editions and retro-clones. Enjoy, and until tomorrow, gentle readers, pick an edition!

Well, I shall attempt to be brief, but that's going to be hard with today's topic, gentle readers. There are, at last count, 6 editions of D&D (more depending on how you count!) and numerous clones and licensed properties that use the D&D "engine." I also will not mention Chainmail as that is not D&D per se. If I miss some, please chalk it up to a headache I have today!

First up is the edition that started it all: Dungeons and Dragons, also called variously 0e(dition), O(riginal)e(dition), and the LBB (Little Brown Books). The core classes and races as well as statistics are there: Clerics, Men of Magic, Fighting Men (Thieves were added in the Greyhawk Supplement); elves, dwarves, Hobb...er, Halflings; experience points; etc.  Some things are noticeably different from later editions, such as d6 damage for all weapons. This version is not "new player friendly;" it assumes a previous experience with wargaming. One of things to like about this edition is the lack of defined rules. Imagination was key. There were also no hard limits: science and sorcery were mixed in Castle Greyhawk as well as in Blackmoor.
On a sidenote, the impact of D&D was felt in other games. Traveller when it came out, arrived in a LBB (Little Black Book) Edition with a similar division of books: Characters and Combat, Starships, and Worlds mirroring Men and Magic, Creatures and Treasure, and Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.

I'll talk about the next two together. It was quickly apparent as D&D sold rapidly across the country that a hit was on their hands. The deficiency about a lack of instruction was noted. As AD&D was prepared Holmes D&D, a primer on roleplaying that took eh character to 3rd level was introduced as a stopgap measure. Alignments went from three (L, C, N) to 5 (LG, CG, LE, CE, N). Holmes was never intended to be a truly stand alone game but more of a "gateway" game to introduce the game to potential players.  After AD&D was published, D&D Basic and Expert  (B/X or Moldvey/Cook D&D) was introduced. My impression is that D&D was supposed to become the home game that one could tinker with to one's content. AD&D was the framework for the "international" and tournament game, a framework that would allow for greater precision in competition. This is to some extent conjecture, but is the feeling I have. I also like to point put that the blurb on the back of the Basic Book touts it as "family entertainment."  Way different from being a  smelly neckbeard basement-dweller game. There are some important things in B/X: race as class, a return to the 3 alignments, and a less technically precise combat. It is, in many ways, divorced from its wargaming roots; not so AD&D.

I'm using a pic of the current reprints because they are so sweet! For me, this is AD&D. As much as people deride 3.0/3e for becoming a minis game, it is still an important component of first edition as well. All of those fiddly numbers: weapon speed, armor modifiers, the confusing initiative. It is apparent that Gary never really left his wargaming roots. He's the lead author here. B/X and the later BECMI had different leads and therefore way different feels. Here we gain the 9 alignments (LG, NG, CG, LN, NT, CN, LE, NE, CE); more races (gnomes, half orcs and a plethora of elves and dwarves); more classes (assassin, monks, cavaliers, etc.). It can be argued that, like minis, 3e's fascination with "a class for anyone" can be laid at Gygax's feet. And what are the bard and thief-acrobat if not proto-prestige classes. The introductions of skills as "nonweapon proficiencies begins here as well in Oriental Adventures. We also gain most of the campaign worlds: Greyhawk, Toril, Kyrnn, and Ravenloft (as a module, true; it is in 2e that it would become a world).

Basic had a facelift in the mid 1980s. It was truly its own game and a very playable one as well and is termed BECMI (Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal) by fans. BECMI's lead author was Frank Mentzer. The game took  characters from 1st to 36th level and then beyond to Immortal levels. The expanded game setting of the Known World (to become Mystara in 2e) had its own line of gazetteers. No other D&D campaign world has really had this level of attention to detail.

With the ouster of Gary from TSR, the company continued on. In 1989, second edition hit the scene. Love it or hate it, it is still the longest in print version. And, boy, were they prolific! Splat books for the classes and the addition of kits to customize classes. Humanoids as viable PC races (The Complete Humanoid). Even Psionics was revamped into an arguably workable system (although it works best where magic is not present). Planescape, Ravenloft, Mystara/Red Steel, Dark Sun for new campaign worlds as well as revamps of Toril, Oerth and Kyrnn. There was much crying over the loss of many of the core classes like moinks and assassins. However, it was a return to those core four classes (Warrior/Mage/Priest/Rogue) seen in 0e. The other problem players had was with the  "unbalancing" kits. I believe that's due to a poor DM, but opinions vary. I don't play this edition enough. It is a complete system, still readily available with reprints of the core books arriving in May. And it is well integrated and planned out.

In the mid 1990s, we got the Player's Option books or 2.5. It did not supplant or replace 2e, but it allowed for point buy character creation, spell point systems and the like. It was really more of a D&D "toolbox" that had "official" ways to change the rules. I never knew anyone to play this; I did own it and wanted to run or play it. The idea of a creating a wizard who could use a sword or have thieving abilities was novel.

Enter the 21st century and the acquisition of the brand by Wizards of the Coast and Monte Cook. Third edition. D20. There has been much written about this over the years. This version focuses more on the mins and the tactical nature of combat. One could argue that was true of 1e as well; it was really B/X and BECMI that were roleplaying focused without the need for minis. I won't go into the mechanics of 3.0/3.5. Suffice to say, though, that it is still recognizably D&D. The strength and weakness of d20 are the same in my opinion: the OGL. The Open Game License allowed third party publishers to use the engine to create games and supplements. That is good in that we got some really outstanding games such as Mutants and Masterminds and Castles and Crusades. The flip side is that there is A LOT of material for players and especially DMs to wade through, some of which is sub-par and mediocre.

Fourth edition....bored yet? This is the version that receives the most vitriol these days. It is arguably not D&D but a MMO with dice and minis. Some of the ideas make sense to some extent: magic-missile as an "at-will power" makes mages more survivable, but also makes it like hitting the 1 button in a video game. Alignment was simplified and the concept of "unaligned" was brought into play. There is a dearth of roleplaying material; 1e was guilty of that as well, but did have material on hirelings, sages, creation of the campaign world. This was a poor attempt to change the brand to appeal to young computer gamers and a mistake that I believe WotC has realized.

And so, on the horizon, is "D&D Next." From what I have seen of the playtest materials, this edition is going to attempt to become "all things for all people." That might work for a Roman Catholic saint, but I have my doubts as to its viability for a RPG. It would appear that it will be a stripped-down version very similar to D&D basic, but without race as class. There will be a plethora of options so one can ramp it up to something akin to 3.5 or anything in between. We'll see how that works. I am cautiously optimistic.
And, now, bring on the clones!
I want to mention first off M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal. The world of Tekumel first published by TSR in 1975 and using an adaptation of the 0e ruleset. Tekumel is a non-western fantasy world and is much beloved of its fans. If you're looking for something not derived from Tolkien and Howard, this is the game for you! A reprint is available at: Tita's House of Games

The Basic Fantasy RPG was probably the first fan reaction to 3.0, if my internal timeline is correct. This is a wonderful product and I can't recommend it enough. It is essentially a B/X clone that is completely free; print copies are sold on Lulu at cost. There are a lot of add-ons for the game that are fan-produced and available for download in pdf and Open Office formats. Please check them out at: Basic Fantasy Roleplaying
One of the first professional responses to 3.0 was Castles and Crusades by Troll Lord Games. Using the OGL the Trolls created a stripped down fantasy game reminiscent of first edition and it is a great game in its own right. Ascending AC and a version of BAB is used. This game plays like D&D lite. I also enjoy that weapons have abilities reminiscent of the AC modifiers tables of 1e but with out a huge chart. For instance, a bec de corbin "receives a +2 when used against chain, plate and scale armors." Another thing that struck me was that the original printings were the same size as the 1e PHB. They also have the distinction of working with Gary Gygax in an attempt to get Castle Greyhawk (as Castle Zagyg) published before Gary died. Check them out at: Troll Lord Games
Kenzer Company's Hackmaster (fourth edition!) was an officially licensed game that used the 1e/2e core system. It was, in many respects, 1e with some 2e things (kits, wild magic, splat books) tacked on. There was even an inkling of 2.5 with their STP (Skills-Talents-Proficiencies) system that allowed some characterization of classes. As a result of the licensing agreement with WotC, KCo had to use a lot of parody in their language. Ignore that, though, and the core system is sound. WotC did not renew the license prior to the release of 4e. Hackmaster lives on in its fifth (actually 2nd) edition but the core mechanics are drastically different. However, it is worth checking out and they are offering the stripped down "basic" book as a FREE pdf (download here). They can be found at: Kenzer Company
Goblinoid Games offers the Labyrinth Lord game, another company that used the OGL to produce an older-style RPG. This is essentially a B/X emulator and is available in print at Lulu and also as a free pdf download (sans artwork). They offer the Advanced Edition Companion to make the game a bit more like AD&D. They also offer Mutant Future (a Gamma World clone) and own the licenses to Timemaster and Starships and Spacemen (in print again!). Their web site is: Goblinoid Games

Swords and Wizardry is another B/X style game and is currenty published by Frog God Games. These are the guys that produced Rappan Athuk and it is another great game. The Whitebox edition takes it back down to 0e if that's your thing. Their web site is: Frog God Games
Dark Dungeons is a another retro-clone, but this one uses BECMI as its reference point. The title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the horrid Jack T. Chick religious diatribe, Dark Dungeons. In fact, the exanple character that is used throughout the work is Black Leaf, the character who dies in the first panel of the tract. It's always good to have a sense of humor about these things. It is available in pdf form for free and in print for a nominal fee from Lulu. The web site is: Gratis Games

Johnathan Becker's B/X Companion is not a true clone; rather, it is an extension of the B/X game. The public was promised a Companion book to take characters past 14th level when B/X was published, but the rebranding to BECMI meant that the world would never see it...until now. Becker extrapolated what might have been and this is a nice addition for you if prefer the Moldvey/Cook rules. the cover is obviously a homage to the original Erol Otus covers. It is no longer available in print but is available as a pdf at RPGNow. Becker recently released the B/X Adventurer that adds some new classes and magic to the game most notably gnomes, centaurs, and witches (among others). Running Beagle Games is found at: B/X Blackrazor
Finally, we come to the end....and OSRIC. I give these guys a lot of grief, I admit that readily. However, unlike some of the other clones that stay true to their source, this version is not what it purports to be. True, it is AD&D  as it was played in the 1980s; but just because we didn't play with weapon factors, psionics, monks, etc., doesn't mean they're not a part of AD&D. Even Goblinoid Game's Advanced Edition Companion adds the caveat "as it was played." That said, this is a well done work. Even if I disagree with Stuart Marshall's choices, this is a outstanding product. Everything one needs to play something close to AD&D (yes, yes, I can't let it go!) in one beautiful tome with art from James Halloway. It's only $26, so if the $100+ pricetag of the 1e reprints is too much, go here. The web site is: Black Blade Publishing
And that's it! Woo-hoo, finally through. Break out the Faygo! Tomorrow, gentle readers, I shall examine some of my favorite forums!

06 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 6: Favorite Deity

As a DM, I do more "running" than "playing" but my choice here might surprise some of you. However, I promote the worship of Ehlonna in Greyhawk and my homebrew, Toneeze Wurld (aka Hackmaster Association Garweeze Wurld #161!). With my home group (the Guardians of the Polar Bear, made up of family), my kids mostly play halfling and elves and I tend to recommend NG alignment (although I do allow anything, sometimes with disastrous results!). Elhonna just speaks to me, mostly as a Roman Catholic and a lover of Professor Tolkien's Middle Earth. I am reminded in some ways of both the Blessed Virgin and Elbereth Gilthoniel from Middle Earth.
Now my choice as a player is probably equally surprising. As I mentioned earlier this week, I like to play clerics and paladins and cavaliers, usually of a Lawful Good bent. Now admittedly the choices there are a little. . . .vanilla. St. Cuthbert, Pholtus, Hieroenous, maybe even Pelor. In the 3.5 Greyhawk Gazeteer, paladins of Rao are described like Jedi: wearing robes, carrying out diplomacy, only pulling there swords as a last last resort or to protect the weak, etc. No, my favorite deity as a player has to be Hextor, Herald of Hell and Lord of Tyranny. There's something darkly attractive about the bad guys and especially the Lawful Evil ones. They have a plan; they're not mindless, psychopathic killers. Heck, they usually have a rudimentary code of honor, even if it does benefit the strong. This even worms its way into my DMing; for instance, in my City-State of the Invincible Overlord, the Hellbridge Temple is dedicated to Hextor, not the Baleful Eye of Morg. Hextor also takes up a Title as Guardian of the Gates to Hell. But that is another story.
So, there you have it: one goddess of Light balanced by one god of Darkness. Until next time, gentle readers, say your prayers and sleep tight!

05 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 5: Favorite Set of Dice

Ah, an easy one! I am not superstitious about by die. Dice-rolling conventions, "hot zones" on the table, touching, etc. are all silly.
I do, however, have a pair of d10's that I've had about 26 years now. One is yellow, one's black; high impact dice. They come from the first printing of Renegade Legion: Interceptor and Renegade Legion: Centurion. They're still in great shape (I'll have to post a pic when I get home tonight).  At any game I play I always announce, "With these dice, black is always high," so I don't have to say it every time I roll. They're old friends. :)

04 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 4: Favorite Gameworld

I mean, c'mon, can there be any doubt as to my favorite gameworld as much as I idolize Gary? There is something iconic in Greyhawk; even WotC recognized that when the "default" setting for 3E was Greyhawk. And while that idea was honored more in the breach than in the observance, at least some of the Greyhawk deities made into the core rules and are the default gods for many homebrewed, DIY campaign worlds out there. Now what makes Greyhawk so iconic as opposed to a world such the Forgotten Realms (which is a close runner-up in its 1E "grey box" edition)?
First of all, Greyhawk is detailed but not too much. Even GBFR ("grey box" Forgotten Realms) has a TON of information on the NPCs of the world: stats, levels, where they're at, what they're doing, etc. Greyhawk draws a map and gives the DM names and not much else as far as that's concerned. There are plenty of hooks and history to glean and shape as the DM sees fit.
Secondly, that barebones approach can influence the tone of the game as well. With some tweaking, almost any type of setting and fantasy genre can be emulated. High Elven or Seelie court fantasy? Set a campaign at the court of Yolande of Celene and play up the otherworldliness of the Fey with Olvan cavaliers, fairies, centaurs and other sylvan peoples. Dark fantasy? Go to the Great Kigdom and run an intrigue-filled noble campaign where scions of Hextor vie with demon-summoning wizards. Is sword and sorcery more to your liking? Run a gritty campaign set in the Bandit Kingdoms or the Free Cities where the main protagonist is a barbarian from the Lands of Ice and Snow and his roguish companions (maybe a female rogue from the City of Greyhawk and a horse barbarian from the lands of the Nomads?) who become embroiled with the machinations of the Demonspawn Iuz. Arabian Nights? Ekbir and Tusmit. Chivalric fantasy? A group of knights in the Shields Land fighting against the Horned Society. Swashbuckling high seas adventure? A ship's crew sailing the briny deep from the ports of the Sea Princes. I could go on all day like this, but I think you get the point.

Third, although this doesn't really matter in the big picture, many of the classic modules are set in Greyhawk. Even if the adventures of those modules are not used as is, there's a wealth of material that is useful for the setting. The Saltmarsh series, for instance, gives structure and detail to the lands surrounding Saltmarsh (although little about Saltmarsh itself). The Sentinel  and The Gauntlet, the Adlerweg adventure series, adds a pair of minor artifacts but also details another part of the Oerthian landscape. And do I even need to mention the village of Hommlet?
Greyhawk is a diverse land that is easily used for a variety of play styles and adventures. It has a level of detail that is sufficient and does not overwhelm the creative urges of the home DM. In many ways, it is either unappreciated by one group of gamers and slavishly worshipped as "Gary's" by another group. And that's a shame, because there's really much in it to be used in any AD&D campaign.

03 September 2013

D&D Challenge Day 2: Favorite Playable Race and Day 3: Favorite Playable Class

Favorite playable race is a bit boring for me; class segues into it as well. You see, as long as I've played the game, I've always pictured my alter ego as a noble human cleric, cavalier or paladin striving against the forces that are the antithesis of weal. Now, I have played every race at least once and probably several times each, but I've always felt comfortable with humans. Of course, in my darker moments, I've pictured myself as a dark knight or cleric of a god of tyranny such as Hextor.

However, a realization dawned upon me a couple of months ago. I was sitting on my front porch after mowing the lawn earlier in the day and having finished my evening repast (fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, field peas, hot water cornbread, cake, iced tea--all prepared by myself!), smoking a pipe of fine tobacco, and quaffing a frosty mug of tasty beer in my bare feet. I suddenly realized that I'm a Hobbit!
Now, I've played a few Hobbits in my day (or Halflings if you insist). In fact, my first B/X character was a halfling with the most imaginative name of Frodo. I really like the take on the race in DCC as well....luck magnets. And, out of all my characters, Tomman Willowgrove, who made it to 11th level as a thief in Hackmaster 4e, is my favorite character ever to play. So, while I do like and play a lot of humans, I do like Hobbits!

Now, here's where it gets dicey. My favorite class has to be the cleric. I play a lot of these, as I've mentioned. And, while I do end up as the combat medic and medic at times, it's still fun (and the class has the ability) to wade into the frontline to assist the fighters; this is especially true if weapon selection is expanded ala the Dragon #115 article "Hammer of Thor, Spear of Zeus." Plus, the roleplaying potential is there, already built into the class if the DM uses it. Visions, dreams, even servants sent to put the cleric and his friends on the right path (hopefully, the path of adventure!)
So there you have it: Hobbits on side, clerics on the other. And, no, I don't like Hobbit clerics. Some things are just too much to fathom! :)
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, enjoy a mug and a pipe of your best!

D&D Challenge Day 1: How I got started

Well, the weekend derailed my initial plans, but I'll get three up today, I swear!
As I have mentioned in numerous places at various times, I started gaming with Gamma World on Christmas morning, 1981, when I ran my cousins through a horrible adventure of my own devising. Fortunately, I soon discovered the greatest module of all time, Gary's GW1 The Legion of Gold. As far as D&D is concerned, it was only a couple of weeks later that I got to it. A friend had managed to score the D&D Basic set (Moldvay) for Christmas.

Now, I had been aware of D&D for several years by this point, actually. The Kroger's grocery store carried the Holmes set on its toy/game aisle. I had seen and flipped through the 1st edition AD&D hardcovers at Waldenbooks in the mall. But the closest I could come to D&D was to convince my aunt that Gamma World was REALLY what I wanted for Christmas.
A few things that I remember after 32 years. The copy of the rules was misprinted. There was a double sheet of the equipment and we were somehow missing the page that told how to read the funny dice. The d4 threw us for a loop. I remember my magic-user had stabbed something with his dagger and I threw the d4:
          Me: Well, which number is it?
          GM: The one on the bottom?
          Me: Um, 1-2-4, uh, 7?
Everybody was using daggers as their weapon of choice for several weeks after that until an 8th grader corrected us.
Ah, that's another good memory. Several of our parents were against this deviltry, so lots of games took place at school during lunch, on trips to football games, and at all-day track meets in the stands. Having a "sleep-over" or the rare camping trip was great because we could game all weekend!
As I've mentioned before, we had no real concept of edition. We were playing a mishmash of Classic, Holmes, B/X, AD&D, even BECMI after it came out. We had no clue as to how it fit together "correctly." The "Mutants and Magic" section of the DMG was discovered and widely used; my mutant lion even ended up in B2 and started wasting people in the keep with his blaster pistol! We knew there were "other games" and the DQ crit table made it in our games for a bit.
What sticks out most in my memory is that we had fun. I think people nerd rage too much these days and try to make the game all serious by emulating Tolkien a bit too much. It's a game; it's meant to be fun. I have strayed from that dictum myself at times but, in the end, I always return to where I started.

29 August 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge--Upcoming!

Well, work has been kicking my tail, so there has been little time for me to blog. HJowever, now that school is back in session, I am going to kick off with the 30 Day D&D Challenge in September; this is especially good timing as September has 30 days. :)

I shall, of course, answer with AD&D (no 2, no 3.5, no bloody 4) as my game, except where B/X takes precedence (as in "How you got started"),

26 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: Gygax Day is Tomorrow!

Well, the big day is upon us at last! Invites are out and are RSVP-ed, the menu is planned. The day's activities will be a lunch of burgers and dogs and for dessert cake! On last week's blog, Ernie Gygax commented, "If you wish the cake to be one that he would have shared it would have had to be a Dribble Cake. Lemon or white cake with a butter cream frosting with bitter chocolate poured over that and refrigerate." And that's what I'm making. It sounds completely delish!

Gamewise, I'm still not sure. I'm leaning toward Swords and Wizardry Complete and running The Endless Tunnels of Enlandin from Dragonsfoot. There's also the possibility that I might just run the classic B2 The Keep on the Borderlands using the B/X ruleset. I might also do a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel using Paul Fini's DC-1 The Outpost on the Edge of the Far Reaches. Finally, I might decide to run Gary's classic Gamma World module GW1 The Legion of Gold. So many choices, so little time!

Well, that's all until I update the results of the Day on Sunday! Until next time, gentle readers, let the dice fly high!

22 July 2013

Manic Monday: DCC RPG review

Note: I am changing Monday from "Sci-Fi Monday" to "Manic Monday" where I post about "whatever."
It has arrived! Dungeon Crawl Classics is a massive 472 page tome. The rules themselves are fairly simple and straight-forward; I read the whole thing (with one caveat) this weekend. The bulk of the manuscript is the section of spell descriptions at 200 pages (that does not include "patron spells"); there's my caveat. I didn't read every single spell effect chart. I read the spell description only on most of them. No need to go through all of that at the moment! And, for the record, this review is more of a first impressions review. As I play and delve more into the game, I plan on posting reviews on classes, systems, spells, etc.
First impressions: wow! This book is beautifully laid out! The art is solid and old school 1979 (with one exception noted below) ; when eye strain was getting to me, I'd pause and flip through the book examining the art; there were several times I'd flip a page and let out an audible "Wow!" All of the cartoons made me chuckle out loud, as well. Very reminiscent of the 1e AD&D DMG.
Content. I had the Beta test rules and was unimpressed at the time. Maybe it was the lack of polish; maybe I didn't know what I wanted yet; I'll admit to be superficial and judging a book by its presentation. Impressions: complexly elegant. Done correctly, this game has systems that are complex but should not intrude into the game like, say, Rolemaster. The charts are relegated to spell-casters and, to a minor extent the mighty deeds of Warriors and Dwarves. Even then, the deed charts are more an example of what can be created with the system by the players!
Yes, that's another important part of this system; the rule structures encourage player creativity and allow for player agency. For example, the warrior's deed die is essentially just a variable BAB (Basic Attack Chance) modifier. However, the player can use his imagination to attempt a special maneuver without any of that 3e silliness of "Well, you don't have the right feat to do that." If the die comes up 3 or better--wham!--it happens. Well, as adjudicated by the DM. As the rules point out, a 1st level Warrior, regardless of his deed roll, is not going to knock over a Duke of Hell. He might stagger him for a round, though, which is still a mighty deed for that level character. The rules suggest that each Warrior (or Dwarf!) create his own personal set of maneuvers. More on that in a later review.
This ruleset is so dense and not in a negative way. Patrons. Interactions between deity and cleric. The use of luck as a truly variable stat. On that, I think too many people miss that one. I've played Hackmaster Fourth Edition since it came out and it's very reminiscent of the Honor system in that game. In fact, I can see myself adapting, or at least referencing, the honor guideline rules as a benchmark for awarding luck to the characters.
I love the fact that crit tables are not determined by level or weapon but instead by the CLASS of the character. And that makes perfect sense! And speaking of weapons, thank you for allowing wizards the use of longbows and longswords! Common sense; my impression is that "Appendix N" literature is the driving force behind the rules and not some idea of game balance.
Class as race. Really. How the heck does that aid player agency? Well, the three core race-classes (Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling) are different. They're not just a fighter/magic-user, fighter, or fighter. The elf starts play with patron bond/invoke patron, something the wizard might not start out with. The dwarf starts with "sword and board" training (has Joseph ever been in the SCA? :D ); that is, if wielding a shield, he gets a free shield bash when attacking that's not hampered by the dual-wielding rules. The halfling, however, is probably the best example of throwing conventions to the wind and going back to the source material.
I have never really been happy with hobbits in D&D. They also feel shoe-horned into their role as thieves or, in B/X and OD&D, just warriors. We never see a hobbit jimmy a lock, pick a pocket, or disarm a trap despite Gandalf calling Bilbo a burglar. What do we see them, all of them (including Gollum!), doing? Sneaking! And that's a class ability. They're also nimble little buggers described as dangerous even when throwing rocks. Well, DCC doesn't go the D&D route of making them good with slings and bows, but they are able to use dual-wielding better than anyone else! Also, they have a better command of luck than the thief and can use their luck to influence other party members. And why was Bilbo ultimately decided on for Thorin's Company? Because he was the LUCKY NUMBER! Well played, Joseph, well played!
Combat is not all that different from other editions. It leans more toward the d20 with ascending AC as the target number and simplified saves but without a reliance on clunky mechanisms such as attacks-of-opportunity or feats. The crit charts are nothing compared to those of Hackmaster and maintain the humor seen in those of Rolemaster and DragonQuest. In fact, with the use of the Purple Sorcerer phone app, they become even less intrusive.
The modified Vancian spell system is awesome! No need for points, memorization, fatigue or any of that jazz. All the spell selection is handled between games and out of play. Resource management is basically gone. Well, unless your cleric is gaining disapproval and then he has to decide to risk casting. :)
Funky Dice. I disliked these back in Beta. However, upon reflection, I see that was silly of me. Even if you don't have them, they're easy to replicate as pointed out in the "funky dice" section.
Unique monsters and magic items. Whoa. Talking about breaking the OSR mold. I understand why some of the crusty grognards dislike this game; I don't agree but I understand. Some of them want to play just like it was 1975 in Gary's game. I invoke Gary's magic word of BALDERDASH! Gary, Dave, and Bob were constantly tinkering with things and throwing players curve balls. I hate to break it to people, but it's 2013 not 1979. That doesn't mean we can't play in that style, but mechanics and expectations have to grow beyond a mere expansion of a wargaming supplement. I mean, do you really want to drive a 1979 car or something more modern? Actually, I want a 1973 Duster 340 V8 with 4 in the floor, but I  digest (to quote Kelly Bundy). And this is where DCC rises above the morass of cut-and-pasted "retro clones" and really shines: by creating a modern game with that old school feel. I can grok it completely.
Dislikes. There are, naturally, a few. The spell descriptions take up a lot of space. It is necessary, but what I would like to see is a "Spell Compendium" as a pdf. Take out the art, maybe the manifestation line, and try to format as many as possible to a page each (not possible with all, I know). That way a player can print out his "grimoire" for use at the table.
There is also a lack of examples in the book. Now, admittedly, Joseph points out early on in the book that this game really is intended for advanced gamers or at least someone who knows what they're doing. The only real combat play-through is in the section on Spell Duels. Did I mention that's another great mechanic? I had visions of Egg Chen and Lo Pan (Big Trouble in Little China) and the fight between Akiro and the evil sorcerers in Conan the Conqueror.
Overall. Well, I obviously have a new love. My dislikes are really not even worth mentioning. Does this game require a lot of thought on the part of the Judge? Yes, but it is time well-spent. I might just run a funnel using The Portal Under the Stars with my children tonight. I'll let y'all know if I do.
Until next time, gentle readers, keep a watch out for the stars: are they right?
Also, let me leave you with a pic of some of my inspirational reading!

19 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: Gygax Day 2013

Well, Gygax Day is almost upon us. This year, Gary would have been 75, so it seems appropriate to do a little more than usual. CLD's Friday night games will resume on the 26th, so I'm pushing for at least cake. "Hope it's chocolate for me!" (Thank you, Jeff Gaffigan!)
The Guardians of the Polar Bear (my home/family group) is planning it to be a bit more elaborate. I'm thinking a party and celebration of Gary, the man who wanted to be know as the man "who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else." There will be some grilling...just dogs and some burgers, I'm thinking, some baked beans, potatoes chips and some dips, a cake. And then the afternoon will be spent gaming. I've not decided yet on the game. Keep or Hommlet seems a little too cliched; I might go with Gamma World and The Legion of Gold, my actual favorite of Gary's modules. Or I might run the group through a DCC RPG funnel; not Gary's work, but definitely fun.
Hopefully, I can keep it from becoming too maudlin and sappy, as I did in this post: Z is for Zagyg.
A report will, of course, follow on Sunday the 28th. :)
So, until next time, gentle readers, let's get ready to game like it's 1979!

15 July 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: A DCC Campaign Idea

"Wait!" I hear you all exclaim, "The Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG is fantasy not science fiction!"
Au contaire! And allow to enlighten you as to why. First of all, DCC has laser guns and hi-tech "stuff' in it. And this is quite acceptable; think of Arneson's Blackmoor and Bledsaw's Wilderlands, and yes, even Gygax's Barrier Peaks. All had some ray guns and fallen ancient civilizations. Vance's Dying Earth, anyone? Saberhagen's Empire of the East? It's a trope that has legs in the sci-fi genre. And one I'm willing to exploit for my game. This brings us to the second reason: I'm converting a setting.
As I have stated many, many, many times in the past, I started gaming with 1st edition Gamma World. The greatest linear-adventure-combined-with-sandboxy-goodness is GW1 The Legion of Gold by Gary. For all genres and games. Ever. Yes, there is a linear four act plot, but there is also a wealth of background and setting material for the Barony of Horn and its environs. Even after the threat of the Legion of Gold is ended, there is plenty to do in the area. Factions, while not detailed, are hinted at. The university is an enclave of the Restorationists who despise the feudal trappings of the barony but happily take the baron's money. The Baron has knights who are attended by squires who carry the knight's laser weapon for him. The Baron has an armory and a garage, oh, and by the way, it's rumored that his family is really mutant in nature and have gnarly mental powers. Mutants may only enter teh cit through the farmer's gate. Lairs of tribes, family units, and individual creatures are numbered and placed on the campaign map but, again, other than stats and a couple of lines of notes, no detail is given. The whole campaign setting (because that's what it really is, in module form) is perfect for fleshing out. this is B2 The Keep on the Borderlands but polished and refined.
So, how does this setting work for DCC? Well, I already know that it needs work to convert. And, naturually, there will be some stylistic differences...I have to downplay the tech and add the mystical. but I have a skeleton, a framework with which to play. At the very least, it's an idea to play with: DCC in the Gamma World. Maybe.

12 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: DCC Goodness Continues

Well, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I ordered the DCC RPG this morning (Jeff Easley cover), Sailors on the Starless Sea (a 0-level funnel module), and Emirikol was Framed! because, well, Emirikol is da Man! I also ordered a set of "funky" dice to go with the game and, as soon as I get the Paypal invoice, I'll place my order for all 7 issues of the Crawl! fanzine. I am stoked. I haven't been this excited for a game since December, 1981, at my grandparent's house when I was trying to figure out by weight and shaking if the gift from my aunt was Gamma World or the D&D Basic set. Really! I mean, I love gaming and always have, but this feels...special. It really does feel like 1981 all over again!
I'm also the type of person who jumps all into something when I'm sold. I've already printed off 25+ 4-person character sheets using Purple Sorcerer's character builder and have installed their app on my smart phone (Droid, of course!). If the initial game goes well (probably next weekend), the plan for next payday is to buy my wife a hardcover rulebook and 4 sets of dice for her and the kids. The kids also seem really interested in this game--they've already been sorting through the funnel characters and picking out their own "best" sheet for the funnel. Nobody appears to have noticed the Caravan Guards or Nobles (short and long sword respectively) among the pile. :) The next payday after that will involve rulebooks for the kids (although I might wait and see when the 3rd printing of the standard rule book will appear ).
Hmmm, I was just thinking I might want to pick up either The Ruins of Ramat or The Witch of Westfield from Brave Halfling. I'm considering adapting Hommlet and either of those modules would make for a good funnel in the area. The cleric killed in Witch could be Canoness Y'dey. Hmmm, indeed.

Until next time, gentle readers, let the dice fly high!

08 July 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: Cleburne (Alternate Timeline for GURPS Time Travel)

Dixie 14 (aka Cleburne)
There are, not surprisingly, close to a score of known parallels classified as "Dixie" worlds, that is, realities in which the Confederacy won the American Civil War. On the clear majority of these parallels, the South holds strong to ideals of racial supremacy accepting chattel slavery and even adapting it to the Industrial age for slave labor in factories rather than agrarian pursuits. However, on at least one known parallel, history took a different course; that world is nicknamed "Cleburne" to distinguish it from the other Dixies.
Map taken from http://jakarnilson.webs.com/mogdonazia/battle2.htm and used without permission.
In our world, Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, hosted a meeting in which he pointed out the many obstacles the South had to overcome to win the war, even at that late date. The one deficiency the South could address was the manpower issue. Cleburne proposed that slaves who would fight for the Confederacy would be emancipated. As he wrote in a letter dated 02 JAN 1864:
 "Will the slaves fight? The helots of Sparta stood their masters good stead in battle. In the great sea fight of Lepanto where the Christians checked forever the spread of Mohammedanism over Europe, the galley slaves of portions of the fleet were promised freedom, and called on to fight at a critical moment of the battle. They fought well, and civilization owes much to those brave galley slaves. The negro slaves of Saint Domingo, fighting for freedom, defeated their white masters and the French troops sent against them. The negro slaves of Jamaica revolted, and under the name of Maroons held the mountains against their masters for 150 years; and the experience of this war has been so far that half-trained negroes have fought as bravely as many other half-trained Yankees. If, contrary to the training of a lifetime, they can be made to face and fight bravely against their former masters, how much more probable is it that with the allurement of a higher reward, and led by those masters, they would submit to discipline and face dangers."
His proposal was greeted with polite silence and nothimg ever came of it. Cleburne himself would die leading a gallant charge at the Battle of Franklin on 30 NOV 1864.

Patrick R. Cleburne, Savior of the Confederacy

On the world of Cleburne, however, the proposal was met with a more reasoned response and was implemented. There was some immediate resistance and protests made, but as the war progressed, the advantages began to take their toll on the nay-sayers. One of the first responses was the recognition of the CSA by the United Kingdom (and later France). While Britain would not directly aid the South with ground troops, the British navy made short work of the Union blockade allowing the resupply of the Confederacy with war materials. The British diplomatic corps went to work urging the two nations to come to an accord.
On the battlefront, the new freeman of the South made their presence known within months. Grant's Wilderness Campaign and Sherman's Atlanta Campaign were both slowed down due to the influx of black troops. In the Confederate Army, black units were greeted with some skepticism and even outright derision and hostility. However, troops who had fought against units such as the 54th Massachusetts were more than willing to give them a chance and that warrior bond common to all who share hardships would make for some interesting post-war politics.
The US Presidential election of 1864 would see McClellan winning over Lincoln in a very close race. By spring, 1865, the Union would come to the peace table and offer generous terms for the cessation of hostilities. A return to prewar borders became a reality (with the notable exception of West Virginia). Kentucky opted for the Union, Tennessee for the Confederacy. Missouri went with the South and Kansas with the North. The Indian Territory would remain a bone of contention for some  years to come; the South sided with their Cherokee allies for its "independence." It would eventually become reality as well in 1907. As far as the western states, the USA ceded the area that is Arizona and New Mexico in our world to the CSA. In the late 1860's, Maximilian I ceded Sonora and Baja California to the Confederacy in exchange for military backing against Benitio Juarez. The CSA, like the USA, stretched from sea to sea. The New West would see a large number of black settlers escaping racial tensions in the Old South.
And make no mistake, things were not all sunshine and happiness in the CSA. This would come to a head in the 1878 Presidential election when Cleburne ran on the Whig ticket against Nathan Bedford Forrest on the Democratic ticket. Relations with the USA would remain frosty; there were some areas where the two worked together well such as the postwar cattle drives that sold Texas beeves to Kansas markets for consumption in Northern cities. However, it would take the First and Second World Wars for the two nations to warm up to each other once again. By the 1980's (current year is 1987), there was even talk of reuniting, but such is really wishful thinking of some starry-eyed dreamers. However, the two are staunch allies in the fight against Global Communism.
Yes, there is some hand-waving there, but all-in-all, it makes for an interesting setting. Turn the tropes on their heads. With the Indian Territory and the New West, there's plenty of space to make for a different western-themed game. WW2 intrigue is possible. For instance, the German-American Bund really didn't cause problems in our world; what if they did for the CSA? What if the south still had close ties with France; would Dien Bien Phu turn out differently? So much to think about and try.
Anyway, until next time, gentle readers, whistle Dixie!