30 April 2013

2013 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge: After Action Report

Well, here we are at the end. We made it. Life intervened a couple of times and I had a short post or two because of it (20 April, I'm looking at you!), and I accidentally posted today's post yesterday. However, all-in-all, it was a success.
This year, I dedicated the challenge to AD&D, first edition--no 2E, no 3.0/3.5, no Next, no bloody 4th. Some of my posts did wander into more generic roleplaying territory, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. My "E is for Editions" post showed what came before and after AD&D in an attempt to show where D&D  came from and to whence it is has gone. Because of a post-start event coming up, "O is for Oriental Adventures" became a review of "Ruins and Ronin" in support of Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day.
Did I learn anything? Probably not. I vaguely structured my posts as I went along and some I had no idea what I was going to say until I started typing the title. Until yesterday's fiasco, I did not write ahead of time, either. So, if I did learn something, it is to possibly plan my writing in a more structured manner and write some ahead of time.
One change to come from this idea is that I will now ave theme days to post at least once a week. I have changed up the order from an earlier post. First up, I'll have Sci-Fi Monday, a hodge podge of reviews, thoughts about RPGs or MMOs, whatever catches my fancy or attention. Expect to see Mutants and Masterminds, Villains and Vigilantes, Battletech, Stars Without Number, Traveller, SWTOR, and various other topics on this day. Midweek will be Warhammer Wednesdays--not the bloody miniatures game that changes rules every two years, but the original, first edition RPG. This is a game that I have not run or played in years, but it is still a game that I hold close to my heart. Expect the occasional post about my DIY WH40K Marine Chapter, the Blood Cross. Finally, I'll close up the week with Fantasy Friday, anything from book or movie reviews or ruminations on whatever fantasy RPGs are catching my fancy at the time. This is could be AD&D, B/X D&D, DragonQuest, Hackmaster, whatever. It might even include urban fantasy such as the works of Charles de Lint or Kim Harrison or "modern" games like Vampire: The Masquerade. And the first Warhammer Wednesday is tomorrow! Woot! No rest for the wicked.
Finally, after yesterday's post, "Z is for Zagyg," I am dedicating this Challenge ex post facto to the memory of E. Gary Gygax, the man whose words sparked the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of worlds.
Gary Gygax, 27 July 1938-04 March 2008

29 April 2013

Z is for Zagyg

Zagyg the Mad Archmage, Demigod of Humor, Magic, Eccentricity, and Unpredictability
Has it really been FIVE years already? Gary has been gone so long it seems. When he passed, I wrote the next morning on Dragonsfoot, "A tremor is felt as Zaygy ascends to the higher planes once more. RIP, Gary. We'll miss you for now and meet you at the Inn later." Hard to believe that I'm tearing up again thinking about it.
I never met Gary in life. We corresponded by email, oh, probably since 1996 or so until his death, and I sent the occasional birthday or Christmas card to his home. He always mentioned them in his emails and he always gave me the salutation of "Howdy!" I never knew if that was a standard greeting for him or he just used it because I'm a Texan or because my first emails to him were asking about Boot Hill. It's something I would have asked him had we ever met. And I did have the opportunity. There were several conventions I could have attended where I could have met him, but I always put it off with the thought, "There's always next year." And then, there were no more tomorrows for Gary. I missed the chance to meet a friend.

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

--J.R.R. Tolkien
The good Professor's poem sums up my maudlin and sentimental feelings as I write this post. Incidentally, I want this poem to be read before my rosary when I pass on some day; it is bittersweet and captures the feeling of life and death superbly.
There has long been a bit of friction between adherents of Gygax and Arneson over who is the "Father" of D&D; Bledsaw's contributions seem to be ignored in the scuffle, and there were plenty of others involved as well. But I bring up Zagyg for my final post of the 2013 A-to-Z Challenge because I focused on AD&D specifically for this run. And, say what you want about early D&D, but AD&D was Gary's. It has the indelible stamp of Zagyg himself all through. The charts, the fiddly bits, the "High Gygaxian" prose--will anyone ever forget Gary's ability to turn a memorable phrase as in "perforce, as the killing of humans and other intelligent life forms for the purpose of profit is basically held to be the antithesis of weal"--the amalgamation of disparate fantasy and mythical traditions etc. AD&D was truly his magnum opus, more so than anything that preceded it or followed it. It is Zagyg's. It is his.
I'm actually writing this on Monday afternoon since I have some free time. I want to proof it again (and again and again and...) so it is nigh perfect (it never is). There is little more I can say. Tonight, after my youngest daughter's softball game, I'm going to go home, fill a pipe with fine tobacco and pour myself a mug of a tasty adult beverage, probably a stout German one. Then I'll sit on my porch, watch the stars come out, and reminisce about my friend Gary and the worlds his words have inspired. And finally, I will contemplate his words, "I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else."
Good night, Gary. See you at the Inn later.

Y is for Yuan-Ti

"Yuan-ti Anatomy Study" by Chris Quilliams

These last few letters of our Roman alphabet are always the hardest. Therefore, I have used tenuous connections at best to discuss concepts in abstracts. So, please bear with me. :)
Last week, I briefly mentioned that some gamers want to exclude influences derived from Tolkien in their AD&D game. Maybe the idea is to create a more Lovecraftian or Howardian feel something that excludes orcs and the like (for that I cannot help but recommend Realms of Crawling Chaos). In my mind, that is what the Yuan-ti represent. If one peruses the monster books of AD&D, especially Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II, one will find plenty of what 3.5 calls "abominations" and "outsiders." There is plenty to use in a grittier non-Tolkien game.
Let's examine the Yuan-ti (MM2, p. 130). Inhabitants of tropical jungles...well that can be changed. While Lovecraft focused mostly on marine life (deep ones!), Howard's Cthulhu tales had serpent men under England and Oklahoma! They were a degenerate race from prehistorical times that hates the "monkey races" that have since dominated the surface of the planet. The weakest are the 6 HD (!) purebloods. They can pass as human 80% of the time and have some minor reptilian features such as scaly hands or forked tongues. Also, "Purebloods normally handle affairs with the outside world and may travel far and wide doing so." This brings to mind the "strange monks" (robed Draconians) in the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and also the degenerate inhabitants of Innsmouth with their batrachian appearance. Sinister and mysterious, they could lure heroes to their doom as in the opening story to the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. The half-breeds have a single snake-like feature: a snake's head, the lower body of a snake, whatever. Here is where the horror begins. And finally, the abominations are all snake or have, at most, a single human feature. Note that the race has innate spell abilities as well.
A whole campaign could center around the return of the "snake-men," taking the party into the Depths of the Earth to confront the yusn-ti's bleak temples and end their horrid rites. The polymorph other ability could be used to transform victims into half-breeds or even abominations to bolster the ranks of their growing armies. A desperate fight into the dark places of the world, possibly by adapting the Vault of the Drow or a similar adventure.
Bullywug Warrior.
There are other creatures that are not necessarily abomination could be tweaked as such. I direct you to a April, 2011, post on the bullywug that in which I tweaked the description for a more dark feel. This can be done with several races. Take that stock horror the owl bear. Describe it's clacking beak and its fiery eyes to the players. Make them feel its hot breath and hear its shriek of rage. Another something that is not Tolkien. :)
In all, the ability to excise Tolkien from the game is not difficult; it merely takes a little research and some substations. Oh, and imagination, always imagination.  Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when I wrap up the 2013 A-to-Z Challenge!

27 April 2013

X is for Xylophone

Xylophone: a weird looking instrument that really doesn't fit into any other category; it usually gets lumped in with percussion although it is not a percussion instrument. I'm using it here as an example of something that is out of place and does not belong. "How does that apply to AD&D?" you ask.

The PHB (p. 118) states the following concerning bards: "He or she must always have a stringed instrument." Note that it specifies a "stringed instrument." I bring this up as an example of the differences between 0E and 1E. As I've read different blogs of the OSR over the past month, I've noticed the fact that the pre-AD&D rules were truly more of a set of guidelines; AD&D was more structure and more defined, maybe excessively so. Gary did intend for AD&D to be the "tournament ruleset" that clearly defined gameplay so people at conventions would have the same base from which to play and interact. "Dictums are given for the sake of the game only, for if ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is to survive and grow, it must have some degree of uniformity, a familiarity of method and procedure from campaign to campaign within the whole. ADVANCED D&D is more than a framework around which individual DMs construct their respective milieux, it is above all a set of boundaries for all of the "worlds" devised by referees everywhere. These boundaries are broad and spacious, and there are numerous areas where they are so vague and amorphous as to make them nearly nonexistent, but they are there nonetheless." (Gary Gygax, "Preface," DMG, p. 7)

"More like a set of guidelines, really."
"Basic" D&D, both B/X and the later BECMI were not really intended to be "gateway" games; they were the continuation of 0E as the ruleset for causal home games. AS the blurb on the back of the Moldvey Basic set says, "The rules have been reedited and organized so that people who have never played the game before will be able to begin playing with a minimum amount of preparation. The entire family will enjoy a Dungeons and Dragons adventure." If B/X was intended as a "gateway" game, it would have remained organized as Holmes D&D was: a limited amount of levels. B/X was to have been a complete game in its own right designed for new and casual gamers. It was never completed as such because the rebranding of  TSR created Mentzer's BECMI and it is definitely a complete game! It even goes into realms that AD&D never really did: PCs aspiring to deity status!

And thus, the humble xylophone. Playing strictly by the rules, as AD&D was intended to some extent, the player who wants a bard is really out of luck. The dictum is in place: stringed instrument. But, with D&D, have fun. An, yes, i know there are TSR assassin squads who would break down by door for fiddling with the AD&D rules, but I do firmly believe that there was this intended dichotomy in the early 1980s.

Until Monday, gentle readers!

26 April 2013

W is for Weapons

When 0E was released, the default damage for all weapons was 1d6: dagger, arrow, long sword, axe, whatever; it did not matter. By the time AD&D was released the idea that damage should be variable and based on weapon type was firmly entrenched. AD&D would add more detail to weapons including an amazing fascination by Gary with the myriad types of pole arms; pole arms alone account for 21 of 50 (42%!!) of all melee weapons on the chart; that number includes spear, trident and the like as well. that's still a pretty impressive number.
Length and space required was and is useful to help decide if the most effective weapon is even usable in the dungeon complex. Another interesting change was the division of damage into small.medium opponents and large opponents. This move changed the damage dynamic to the extent that some weapons were more or less effective against "larger than man-sized" creatures.
The biggest (and probably most controversial and ignored) addition was the modifiers vs. armor type.It makes sense if we view the evolution of AD&D from a stylized wargame to a focused personal skirmish system. In a wargame, a unit of pikemen is a unit of pikeman. On a personal scale those different types of pole arms should mean something other than a costume or style choice. At least, that's the way the thinking went.

AD&D Players Handbook
Personally, I have never understood the animosity towards this table. The biggest complaint is that it adds too much time to consult during combat. I invoke the magic words BALDERDASH and POPPYCOCK. The easiest way to handle this is use the section on the PC sheet that has the weapons and the row of ACs. Rather than putting a THACO total, for each weapon and AC add total bonuses to hit from STR, etc, and the modifier from the AC/weapons chart. then, during play, all the DM has to say is, "Roll a d20 modified by AC 3," and you're done. Not that hard, in my opinion.
Anyway, gentle readers, we're in the short stretch to the finish line now. Only 3 more to go! Join me tomorrow for X is for Xylophone!

25 April 2013

V is for Villains

"Villains of Fantasy" Larry Elmore.
As I mentioned yesterday, there is something enticing about villains. It's not only their appearance and mannerisms; a clear villain focuses the plot whether it is a novel, a movie, or a game. A strong, despicable This is really evident in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. The lack of a villain with clear motivations and evil intent for the protagonist to sharpen himself against keeps the plot drifting and lackluster in feel. Contrast this with Star Wars IV: A New Hope and its opening scene. It is clear from the onset that the Galactic Empire is powerful with a long reach and Darth Vader specifically is not someone to annoy. I would suggest watching the Red Letter Media review of Phantom Menace for a more in depth treatment of this (as well as an entertaining look at what is wrong with the prequels). Be warned: the whole review is over an hour long, so set aside some time to enjoy it.
"If this is a consular ship, where is the ambassador?!!"

The long and short of it is that a good villain can railroad the players and direct them without the DM having to force the players to go the way he wants. Want to motivate the players? The best way is to have a villain that they cannot stand. And I'm not talking about the characters but the PLAYERS themselves. Get under their skin. Be careful, though; do not use GM knowledge. One does not want the players thinking the DM is the one screwing them and not the NPC.
A good personal example was when I ran the d6 Star Wars module Tattooine Manhunt when I was in the Army. I had a detailed timeline of when and where the rival bounty hunters would be and what they would do. In game time, the players where consistently 10-15 minutes behind the antagonists. At one point, I was worried that I was the one pissing off the players, but they assured me that that wanted to kill these guys not me. They caught them in time for the final confrontation.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when I shall blog about Weapons!

24 April 2013

U is for Unholy Warrior

Frank Frazetta's iconic 'Death Dealer."
I have long held an, shall we say, unholy fascination with the concept of the dark knight, the cavalier that is a noble warrior (possibly) but who allies with the side of Evil rather than that of Good. Let's face it: we all do to some extent. Vader or Yoda, who's "cooler?"Isis the cool outfits or the feeling of power? Here's someone who will take what he wants, conventions be damned.
That said, in AD&D I have longer cringed at the "anti-paladin" and, from 0E, the "anti-cleric." The anti-paladin from the pages of Dragon was a travesty: he was the exact opposite of the paladin. Not very original there. One would think that the forces of evil would be a bit more. . . . intelligent in how they grant power to their champions, and, yes, they should have champions. Why should the forces of Law and Good get the only champions in existence? Actually, the novel  Dragonlance: The Second Generation gave players the "Knights of Takhisis," a group of (apparently) Lawful Evil cavaliers pledged to the service of the Queen of Darkness and Evil.
3.5 gave us the Blackguard but the prestige class was best used to represent the fallen paladin and note a dedicated servant of evil. The best treatment was in the Unholy Warrior supplement by Green Ronin. That book has the distinction of being the only 3.5 supplement (I actually, I believe it was for 3.0) that I purchased outside of WotC's core rules and splat books. (Oh, and the Everquest books, but then I was a big EQ nerd.) One of these days, I will adapt the class as presented for AD&D, or possibly S&WC.
One of the problems is that the gods of Evil rarely work together; one of the tenets of the Kyrnn setting is "Evil will always turn on itself." Another is that, while they are somewhat different, the Lawful Good deities tend to have the same portfolio: crusading warfare, chivalry, protection of the innocent, etc. Even among deities of the same alignment, such as Chaotic Evil, the portfolios could well be vastly different: Disease, Decay, Destruction, Undead, Death, Insanity, Butchery, etc. Unholy Warrior realized this and gave a variety of specialized classes depending on who the unholy warrior's patron was. Of course, this makes it difficult to standardize and tends to become the sort of thing that each individual DM must tailor to his table, even more so than deities and their relationship with clerics.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when we shall examine villains more closely.

23 April 2013

T is for Tolkien

Professor Tolkien. Would we be playing AD&D the way we do without his influence?
Much has been made out of "Appendix N" the past couple of years. The success of Goodman Games's Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which bases its feel and setting heavily on Appendix N sources comes to mind as a prime example. Gygax himself is dismissive of the Professor's work in early issues of Dragon. There is a long-running thread on Dragonsfoot about removing the influence of Tolkien from one's game.
Admittedly, there are other influences on AD&D other than the good professor. Vancian magic springs to mind. There are Lovecraftian roots as well, and not just a pulled section from the DMG either; Tharzidun and the Temple of Elemental Evil, dimensional travel and races like the githerzai and githyanki (which might even be influenced by Moorcock as well). Speaking of Moorcock, what about Law and Chaos with Neutrality as the Cosmic Balance? The mighty-thewed barbarian class is straight out of Howard and Lieber.
That being said, there are many things taken for granted that come straight from Tolkien. There are the blatantly obvious: halfling-hobbits, Balor-Balrog, treant-ent. Some not so much: the divide between high/grey elves and wood elves, the animosity between Dwarf and Elf, Half- Orcs (a shady character in Fellowship of the Ring that hangs out with Bill Ferny is described as having the look of some goblin blood in him) and Half -Elves (Elrond Half-elven, anybody?). What about the existence of a ranger class? There is the clear relationship between the tier of goblin-orc-hobgoblin that mirrors that of goblin-orc-uruk-hai in Tolkien. What about the idea that elves are the First Children and that their kingdoms are places of light, fortresses that hold out against the evil? In that respect, Greyhawk itself has the feel of Tolkien in it. Should we compare Iuz and his lands with Sauron and Mordor? How about Hommlett to Bree? The Kron Hills to the Shire? The Lortomils to the Misty Mountains?
While it is clear that AD&D is a amalgam of information from many sources, much of it is clearly influenced by Tolkien. Whether or not that is a direct connection or one from fantasy literature in general is for my gentle readers to decide. But the connection is there.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when we examine Unholy Warriors.

S is for Save or Die!

Well, I had a horrible migraine yesterday and did not crawl out of bed until sometime after two in the afternoon and was worthless even after that. Whoever wrote up the migraine flaw for Hackmaster got it right, I must say! Therefore, I will do two posts today. So let's get started!
See? The Joker rolls old School!

There has been some discussion on some of the OSR Google+ communities lately about the "save or die" mechanic. It essentially boils down to the argument of "letting the dice fall as they will" vs. "coddling the players by fudging the rolls." Now, admittedly most of the discussion focuses on 0E and its clones, but the attitudes hold forth for 1E as well and some of its later iterations such as 2E or Hackmaster. It is interesting to note, as an aside, that there is blasted little dying in 3.5 from level drain, resurrection, poison, etc.; mostly it's ability loss. However, that keeps characters (and thus players) in the game. But, to quote Kelly Bundy, "I digest."
Random Hot Girl Pic of the Day
A close examination of AD&D, however, reveals that there is little in the way of save or die. "But what about poison?" I hear my gentle readers asking. Good point. However. an examination of the poison tables in the DMG (p. 20) shows that only the most expensive of the insinuative poisons (Type D, onset time of 1 segment, 1500 g.p. per dose!) is save or die. The type A poison allows a +4 save, has an onset time of 2-5 ROUNDS, does 15 damage, and costs 15 g.p. per does; this is the one that should most often be encountered at lower levels. (For comparison, a +1 sword "costs" 2000 g.p per DMG, p. 124.) While 15 h.p. will kill most first level players outright anyway, there are characters that could survive that at first level (it is possible for a barbarian and ranger to max out at 20 hp at 1st level). Even natural poisons are not that deadly. Per MM1, a giant spider's poison is save or die, but that creature has 4+4 HD and AC 4 making it as deadly as an ogre to a first level party just by way of fortitude!
What about polymorph? Even a character with a constitution score of 10 have almost a two-thirds chance (65%) to survive. Petrification? Stone to Flesh. Magic? Most magic does directed damage with a successful save allowing for half damage.
So, it would appear that save or die, as such, is actually more connected to 0E and stems from a wargaming mechanic "ported over" to original D&D.
And speaking of such, I must recommend the Save or Die! podcast if you have any interest in 0E, Holmes, B/X, BECMI, or any of their myriad clones. They're always entertaining and I say that even though DM Mike and DM Liz are friends that I have known about 25 years. Please check them out at the link below. Also, I have posted links to Roll for Initiative, a 1E Podcast and  THACO's Hammer, a 2E podcast.

20 April 2013

R is for Roleplaying

Roleplaying is what is supposed to happen in our games. But do our expectations equal the reality? Probably not, but as long as we're having fun, does it really matter?

[This is a short one because I'm leaving in five minutes to take my daughter to Houston for a college meet. I should have planned this post better. lolz]

19 April 2013

Q is for Quincey P. Morris, Esq.

A Texan, a British Lord, and a British Doctor...which one is out of place?

Mina: What is that?
Lucy: It's a Texan!
--Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
I'm drifting into more generic roleplaying territory today as Q is a difficult letter. So, onward!
There's always one in any group. You have a nasty Chill RPG game set set in Victorian England, but there's a guy who wants to play a Texan with a big Bowie knife always at his side. Or maybe you're running Star Trek, an original series Federation campaign, but someone wants to play a Klingon or an Orion pirate! Or you're planning a campaign in your custom game world that doesn't have monks and, by the way, it's a "humans-only" game. So what happens? Yeah, you got the picture.
Brother Silence, a most troublesome monk who is NOT an elf!
So what does a good DM do? Does he stick to his guns or does he cave? Personally, I like having players with the QPMS (Quincey P. Morris Syndrome); they might make things difficult, but you know what? The player is ENGAGED; he's INVESTED in the game. Maybe he likes his characters to stand out and not fall into the background. Let's face it, Quincey is one of the more more memorable characters in Dracula; he's also the one that actually deals the mortal blow to the vampire...WITH A BOWIE KNIFE!!! Rarely have I seen a player with QPMS actively try to derail the game; it's usually just a fellow trying to have fun, and you know what? This is a game; we're supposed to have fun. I think some people lose sight of that fact at times.
The odd man out is actually a trope in most forms of literature. Sometimes he just stands out and is different from the herd (Quincey). At other times, he's unique in his plainness in an otherwise flamboyant group and serves as lens for the audience: Bilbo in The Hobbit, for instance. Bilbo is the one who allows the audience to understand the narrative. What this means in the roleplaying context is that as a DM you have a player who is accessible; you have a hook to use. So work with it.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when we reach R!

18 April 2013

P is for Parley

A Meeting of Parley
Parley. Not something most players ever use. apparently, Gary didn't think much of it either as there is only a paragraph in the DMG (p. 63). To wit:

Upon encountering another party, the party with initiative can always
elect to attempt some form of communication. This can be a friendly
gesture, a throwing down of arms, offering of treasure, or some spoken
word or phrase. Just what this effect will be is determinable only by the
DM considering the prevailing circumstances. It is safe to say that a group
of elves attempting to parley with a red dragon will find their efforts
generally unsuccessful unless they also have some obvious advantage
which the dragon is aware of. It is common for player characters to attack
first, parley afterwards. It is recommended that you devise encounters
which penalize such action so as to encourage parleying attempts -- which
will usually be fruitless, of course!
The last sentence is not one of Gary's best. Why should parley "usually be fruitless?" Not always, but occasionally it should work and work well. To penalize the players for not parleying and then penalyzing them for parleying is, well, dickish. It's like a game of oneupmanship.
Does that mean that a parley, especially with evil NPCs, should turn into a mutual admiration society meeting? Not by any means; expect the evil characters (and the players too!) to try to jockey for their advantage, possibly stabbing the party in the back just before the conclusion of the pact. I could see a cleric or cavalier of Hextor teaming up with a mostly good party to fight the return of the Temple of Elemental Evil in Hommlett. Said cavalier might be evil but he would have more in common with a Lawful Neutral character than with a Chaotic Evil one. Sometimes, there truly ARE greater evils!

17 April 2013

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Yay! I'm averaging about 10 views per day!

(Except for F is Forums which has a 149 views to date for some odd reason.)

#depressed, #whydoibother

O is for Oriental Adventures (S&W Appreciation Day!)

My initial plan for this post was to talk about Oriental Adventures. However, I'm taking a slight detour to participate in S&W Appreciation Day. So, instead of justifying NWPs or the existance of monks and martial arts, I'm reviewing Ruins and Ronin by Mike Davison. It is available from Lulu at a nominal cost of $1 as a pdf and $11.25 as a softcover. Lulu pdf listing
Ruins and Ronin (hereafter R&R) is designed as a S&W Whitebox product. Therefore, it has a very old school feel as to mechanics: very smooth and easy-to-run without  much detail. There are no super samurai. The fighting-man, man of magic, and cleric are all recognizable with name changes; nothing overly different here. Armor Class, however, is treated in a fashion similar to the 1E Oriental Adventures book. The o-yoroi, that is, the complete suit of "samurai" armor, is the ultimate form of armor and is a work of art itself. However, the individual pieces can be bought separately and increase the overall AC value by a factor of 1-2 points. The o-yoroi's AC is better by 1 than the sum of the individual pieces.
The monster section has a few specifically oriental monsters for flavor. But as, far as setting goes, there is nothing. There is also no two page spread of weapons and armor as in the 1E Oriental Adventures. Now, this is in keeping with old school design aesthetics, and it is not 1974, so I won't belabor this point. There are plenty of oriental-themed games to steal ideas and settings from these days: Bushido, Oriental Adventures, Legend of the Five Rings, etc.
Overall, I give this product 4 of 5 polar bears with the caveat that it is not a beginner's game due to the lack of background and setting information. More artwork, notwithstanding old school aesthetics, would have pushed it to 5. The price point is excellent as well. And allow me to add the fact that I purchased the print version.
There are a couple of free resources for R&R at the S&W page. First off, Davison himself put out a pdf titled 100 Bujin. It is a list of 100 bujin and their stats and equipment for use in random encounters or the like. Sean Wills has a 1 page pdf  for randomly generating a scenario start using all of the polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20).

16 April 2013

N is for Non-Lethal Combat

And everybody was Kung Fu fighting....

Non-Lethal Combat. The more I look at rules in AD&D, the more I realize that figuring out how an attack of opportunity in 3.5 operates is really nothing! The adjudication by the guidelines in the AD&D DMG is a tad convoluted. True, a PC's base attack can be calculated ahead of time, but the use of the charts and tables to make the determination is still a bit much.
Appendix Q in Unearthed Arcana provides a quicker alternative. Method I is simpler and is good enough for those times when it happens out of the blue. Method II is a more streamlined version of the DMG system; again, it's quicker and easier to handle.
Of course, the question is, why use Non-Lethal Combat at all? What if the players want to capture someone? That's the obvious reason. Note also that humanoids can use NLC as well. That's not farfetched, either, nor is it not a mere cop-out to avoid killing characters. How do you think the hobgoblins in B2 captured the men-at-arms and the merchant? The bugbears in the same module have slaves as well. I'm pretty sure they didn't stab and slice them to unconsciousness!
I am reminded of some Star Fleet Battles players I ran into in the 1980s. (SFB was still in the Commander's Edition at this stage.) They argued that, until the General War breaks out, Federation players should always use Non-Lethal Combat. In SFB terms, this is a combat style that focus on engines and command centers of a ship, disabling its ability to fight while minimizing casualties to the crew. "This is in keeping with the highest standards of Star Fleet and the Federation!" 
And maybe it's in keeping with the highest standards of the Free Peoples of Goodness and Weal. I don't think we should be emulating "murder hobos" (who coined that term, anyway?). Watch Unforgiven sometime and think about the lifestyle of the average adventurer in the context of that movie.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when we detour from AD&D from SWORDS & WIZARDRY APPRECIATION DAY!

15 April 2013

M is for Miniatures

Early Grenadier miniatures for AD&D.
Miniatures. Little lumps of lead (or some sort of pewter or plastic these days). Some consider them essential. Other consider them the Antichrist. However, to those who say, "D20 ruined D&D and turned into a tactical minis games," I invoke the magic words "BALDERDASH!" and "POPPYCOCK!" These people are intellectually dishonest.
I say so because they have forgotten the history of the game. D&D's inspiration came from the fantasy chapter of the wargame Chainmail. It's very roots and conception arose from wargaming. What Gary and Dave came up was different from wargaming, but it is hard to picture D&D without miniature figures. I have always had the impression that one of the reason that high level play breaks down is that we're playing it incorrectly. . . .or at least not way the creators intended. while the dungeon crawl and the mega dungeon have their place and are fun, few people pay attention to the creation of the realm and military campaigns at name. Gary and Dave were both wargamers; Bob's Wilderlands campaign was also wargame-focused at times. could it be that the campaign events were used as a wargame scenario generator?

Judges Guild. Always good for fun.

Now admittedly, this is all speculation on my part. However, please also note that it was not until BECMI (1983-1986) that a comprehensive set of higher level rules  was published by TSR. And even then, there was a set of wargame rules available (the War Machine). What does surprise me it that the Battlesystem rules were not published for AD&D until 1985. It was never well-received. I know that I bought a copy at the time and no one else was interested in it in my circle of friends.

And now, 2013, it's a great time to be a miniature enthusiast! These are not little 20-25mm lumps of metal that have little detail. These "new" 28mm minis are awesome! There's Reaper with its multiple lines, all of which are excellent. I can only think of one or two "ugly" minis that they've done since expanding their production over 10 years ago. Does one want old school feel with modern production techniques? Otherworld is the way to go then; their pig-faced orcs are the best. Center Stage Miniatures is another company working from an old school paradigm as well; they've recently started working in resins. If one is interested in wargming, there's a whole plethora of companies offering 15mm fantasy lines that work nicely for that purpose.

Pig- Faced Orc Tribe by Otherworld

All-in-all, miniatures add much to the game. the problem most have is that they "slow" down combat. Personally, I feel the initiative system is what slows it down and turns it tactical. Using a a different initiative system has the effect of keeping all of the players involved and does not allow them time to study every move.

Until tomorrow, gentle readers!

13 April 2013

L is for Lizard Man

This will be interesting post because I'm doing it from my phone. Therefore it should also be short.

Lizard man not lizard folk. Another example of what is wrong with gaming today-- too much political correctness. There's nothing wrong with the term lizard man; these are not humans. we do not need to humanize them in this fashion. Is not sexist to call them Lizard Men.

Secondly lizard man are usually a missed roleplaying opportunity. They are listed as neutral in alignment; therefore, they are not morally opposed to the free peoples of the campaign world. Take for example the lizard man in module B2. They're not harassing merchants on the road or attacking the keep. In fact the only interact with the players if the characters walk across the top of their mound. They are protecting their territory and their young.

Could not the players interact with them diplomatically? Maybe they have information about the caves. Maybe they have information about the bandits; maybe they will assist the players in the fight against the cave of chaos. This is actually highlighted in a D&D in the salt marsh series. The players do not interact correctly with the lizard man then the town of salt marsh could will be destroyed by the sahaugin.

Well, until Monday,
gentle readers, think about parlay first fight second.

12 April 2013

K is for Knightly Orders

Knightly orders. Orders are practically a necessity if there is a cavalier in the party. Unearthed Arcana states, "In order to become a cavalier, a character must be in service to some deity, noble, order, or special cause," (pg. 14). Even without cavaliers in the setting, orders are a nice support group for a fighter to join; a secular order is the equivalent in many ways to a guild and is more accurate than the generic "adventurers guild" of many games. My focus is on religious orders, primarily because I am a religious person in my personal life. Your mileage may vary.
Knightly orders provide structure and are not necessarily religious in nature. Looking at Greyhawk for inspiration, there are religious orders that are similar to Earth's Templars such as the Brotherhood of the Lance Unbroken (Heiroenous), the Order of the Six Severed Hands (Hands), and, as a historian one of my personal favorites, the Knights of the Book (Delleb). However, other orders are secular in nature, such as the Knights of the Hart.

11 April 2013

Upcoming Changes in the Blog

A quick post to say that I'm really enjoying my second time working on the A-to-Z Challenge. Last time (2011) I participated in an attempt to become a more frequent blogger and, after the challenge , I fell back into my habit of posting every three months or so. I have determined that the problem is a lack of structure. Therefore, I am announcing that I will now have three themed days a week on which I will post.
First off, leading the charge is Fantasy Monday. This could be anything from book or movie reviews or ruminations on whatever fantasy RPGs are catching my fancy at the time. this is could be AD&D, B/X, DragonQuest, Hackmaster, whatever. It might even include urban fantasy such as the works of Charles de Lint or Kim Harrison or games like Vampire: The Masquerade.
Next up for midweek I'll post on Warhammer Wednesdays. Not, not the bloody miniatures game that changes rules every two years, but the original, first edition RPG. This is a game that I have not run or played in years, but it is still a game that I hold close to my heart. Maybe I'll be able to convince my gaming group,  CLD, to give it a try.
Now, having said that Warhammer Wednesday will focus on the FRP, occasionally a post about my DIY WH40K Marine Chapter, the Blood Cross, might pop up. So, be prepared for that eventuality. :)

Finally, I'll end up the week with Sci-Fi Friday! Like fantasy Monday, this will be a hodge podge of reviews, thoughts about RPGs or MMOs, whatever catches my fancy or attention that day. Expect to see Mutants and Masterminds, Villains and Vigilantes, Battletech, Stars Without Number, Traveller, SWTOR, and many other topics on this day.
Of course, my AD&D theme for the A-to-Z challenge preempts this and I plan on starting up on 01 MAY 2013 with my first Warhammer Wednesday post. I can't wait. :)

J is for Jewlery

The Hope Diamond, 45.52 carat deep-blue diamond.

"Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed...." 
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, British author. Sherlock Holmes, in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891).
Jewelry, the settings for gems. This is another area that Gary obviously put a lot of thought into for AD&D.  He devotes about two pages, give or take (DMG, pp. 25-27), at the beginning of the book, not in the back with the magic items. That does highlight the importance somewhat. True, he was attempting to follow the outline of the PHB, and that would indicate his thoughts about gems and jewelry as money, a means of exchange. But there is more to it than that.
First, there is the idea of jewelry as "easily portable wealth." That is a double-edged sword, however. What is easily transportable is also easily stolen. Tied in with this is the idea of jewelry as experience points. 1 ep for every gp value of treasure taken. Note, however, that the PCs should never receive full g.p value when they fence their jewels: 60-80% seems to be the standard rate of exchange for fences in modules that Gary authored (Cf, "The Village of Hommlett" and "Keep  on the Borderlands"). Buying jewelry is also at 100-120% usually. So, the PC buys a ring worth 1000 g.p. in Hommlett with the 1100 g.p. he carted out of the ruined moathouse and then later sells it in Verbobonc for 600 g.p. Ouch. That of course, assumes that it's not stolen on the road thither!
The Star of India, a 536.35 carat star sapphire.
Second, jewelry and magic: a stunning combination. AD&D does not focus on magic item creation as much as 3.5 did, but there are extant rules for such, if the players at higher level wish to pursue them. One line of particular note is thus, "He or she commissions a platinumsmith to fashion a ring of the finest quality, and pays 5,000 g.p. for materials and labor." I would allow players to use "harvested" jewelry as well, but the point is that magic items should, in general, be flashy, opulent, luxurious. I firmly disagree with the line in the DMG that states, "Furthermore, all magic rings look alike, so that determination of a given ring's magical powers is very difficult." I invoke the magic words "Poppycock!" and "Balderdash!" against such knavery! In fact, I would go so far as to say that the "ring" of protection +1 doesn't need to be a ring at all; how about a nice gorget necklace? change it up; make it different; customize the game to suit both your own style and the style of fantasy literature. Not every bloody magic ring should be a plain gold band like the One Ring!
Necklace of Protection +1!
Third, jewelry serves a roleplaying function as well. Who will people take more seriously and treat with respect and deference: a scruffy looking ranger and a wizard (Aragorn and Gandalf the Grey) or a properly attired "noble" with a jewels on his fingers and at his throat? And think of the other possibilities! Meeting with a  recalcitrant official, one could easily say, "Look at this lovely emerald ring. It would be a shame if it slipped off my finger and I didn't notice."
All-in-all, jewelry is another important area of the game that is often neglected and merely seen as a money grab. Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when I shall lecture about knightly orders!

10 April 2013

I is for Initiative

Initiative. Is there anything else in AD&D that is tinkered with as much in the history of the game? More so even than level limits and spell slots, this is the winner. I loved Gary to death, but the writing on initiative was not his best. One can argue that the way speed factor is described in the DMG that even a thief can get 3 attacks off before an attacker with a pike can.make his first! So how does that work exactly? Does it take 3 rounds? Does the thief actually get "extra attacks" that he is not entitled to? It is somewhat...bewildering at times.
Speed factors in practice!
[That said, I cannot recommend more highly DM Prata's ADDICT document that breaks down the AD&D initiative system by steps if one want top play initiative BtB (By the Book). ADDICT pdf]
I like to tinker. I believe I have said that before. Well, Hackmaster 4e did a really good of merging the AD&D and 2e initiatives together. I played with a variant of that one for a while. Now Kenzer Company, in Hackmaster 5E, has adapted their Aces and Eights Western RPG system for initiative. And this is the current system I'm tinkering with.
First of all, there is only one initiative roll at the beginning of combat to determine when each character begins acting. The combat is measured in "tics" and counts up until the combat is over. Once a character begins acting each action takes a number of tics to complete. There is nothing random about it. So, let's start the adaptation.
First up, surprise. The DM will determine surprise. Sorry, but that's an adjudication call. It's insane to have a 34% chance (2 in 6) of being surprised each and every combat. If surprise is warranted, the surprised character(s) or side begins acting once everyone else has started.
Each player is rolling for each character; no group init (the DM can, of course, roll for groups of monsters for ease; this does actually give the players a bit of an edge. Roll d6, add reaction adjustment for DX. The player begins acting when their number comes up. What are the actions?
1. Spells. The player starts casting. If material components are required, 1d4 is added to the count to grab them if they are readily available. Exception: a girdle of many pouches (or the like) only adds a one. Spell components might already be in hand (like an archer with a drawn bow) add nothing. The next spell occurs in its casting time plus a d4 if components are necessary. 1 Segment = 1 Tic. 1 Round =10 Tics. Note that wands are very powerful and can be activated every TIC unless an item description says other wise (Cf.,wand of fire, "pyrotechnics," DMG, pg. 135) ! One will, of course, run through charges really quick in that instance!

2. Missile Combat. Weapon-in-Hand goes on your first tic. After that, Rate of Fire 3 weapons, 3 tics. RoF 2: 5 tics. RoF 1: 10 tics. RoF 1/2: 20 tics. Exceptions: A Quiver of Ehlonna (or the equivalent) subtracts 1 Tic. A crossbow of speed halves the Tic count (i.e., light in 5, heavy in 10). A specialist bowman with a drawn bow still fires before initiative is rolled.
3. Melee Combat. Now it gets a little complex. The first attack with a weapon is easy. Adjacent to foe and swing. After that, the speed factor comes into play: that's the Tic count. Ah, but what about fighters with multiple attacks. Subtract 1 Tic from Speed for every extra attack the fighter has. The same works for cavaliers with weapons of choice or weapon specialists. Alternatively, one can allow two attacks with the weapon when the count comes up. If the charcater is dual wielding, use the rules in the DMG (pg. 70), but note that the off-hand weapon has its own count.

If you disengage, that is, you have active enemy fighters around you, your weapon "resets": move and attack normally when adjacent to a foe.

Monks are a interesting case. Open hand speed factor is 1. Their numbers of attacks per round is based on level. It's best just to go with one attack per tic. That either makes them uber or gives them a bit of an edge, depending. However, they have a lack of AC and, if using AC modifiers to hit, they're balanced in that way as well.
4. Movement. 1" of movement (10') per Tic. Other actions (within reason) can combine with this, such as changing weapons on the run, grabbing spell components, etc. Not that to begin casting or to fire a weapon, the character must not be moving. Exceptions: Wands or crossbows can be fired on the run. Bows (of both types) can be fired from a moving horse, as can wands; crossbows (despite evidence in the movie LadyHawke) cannot be reloaded on horseback.
5. Psionics. If one uses psionics then, rather than stop the combat and play it out, each action is a Tic. The DMG (p. 79) states "psionic combat tokes place very quickly - in segments rather than rounds." Since this system 1 Segment = 1 Tic, there is no reason to stop. Take that, Illithid scum! Or not....


6. Other actions. Grabbing a potion from a pouch and quaffing it: 1d4 tics. Drawing or sheathing a weapon: 1 Tic. Dropping an item in hand: 1 Tic. Using an "at will" power or ability: 1 Tic. Remember, Tics = Seconds. Also, some actions can combine with movement; use common sense.

All-in-all, there are two things I like about this system. First, the lack of rolling speeds thing up and makes combat more fluid. Two, it keeps everyone engaged; no one is sitting there, twiddling dice, and waiting for the end of the round. things could change rapidly.

Until tomorrow, gentle readers.


09 April 2013

H is for Heroes

A cavalier in action! A true hero!

Heroes. I find the concept is alien to many gamers these days. I say that because, one of the worst things to come out of the 1990s and even the late 1980s is the skill/power concept. No, it did not begin with D20/3.0 (although that was the penultimate expression of the concept). What I mean is two ideas. First, there is the attitude of "If I don't have the skill I cannot attempt to perform a certain action," and its close corollary, "If I fail the skill roll, I miss it all." The gaming community is ripe with stories of failed notice rolls and the inability of the character to see the door in front of him. It's even become a running joke in some webcomics:
Elan fumbles a Spot check.
Second, there is the attitude that the abilities completely define the character. Followed too far, and this leads to 4.0-type skills that are just the "pushing of a keyboard button." At the other extreme, it leads to the ossification of the archetypal system that is a strength of old-school gaming and (1e) AD&D in particular. Allow me to elaborate on this last point.
Old-school gamers are quite pleased with the four "archetypal" classes: the armored fighter wielding  a sword and shield, the wise cleric healing and turning back the forces of Undeath, the skulking thief armed with quick-wit and ready blade, and the mysterious magic-user summoning arcane power to slay. In B/X and BECMI we also have the concept of "race as class": the sturdy dwarf fighter, the bright-eyed elf who combines steel with sorcery, and the resolute hobb-, er halfling fighter. These are clearly defined images. Anyone who has lived in western culture can equate these to literary and mythical figures: Lancelot, St. Francis of Assisi, the Grey Mouser, Merlin, Gimli, Lord Elrond of Rivendell, and Samwise. They work.
Some might say that the multiclassing in AD&D muddies the waters a bit, but not really. An elf fighter/magic-user is no different from a B/X elf. Even "new" multiclasses are acceptable: isn't Frodo more of a fighter/thief? And opening up new classes to demi-humans is good as well for the same reasons; Bilbo is probably just a straight up thief, for example. New specialty classes open up archetypes; as long as one doesn't go too far, it doesn't dilute things much. Rangers, monks, and druids, o mai! Even brand new classes from dragon are adapted from other games/editions are fine as well. Necromancer? Yes, definitely an archetype.
"We don't have a cleric...somebody is going to die, dude!"
If everyone is an archetype with their own little niche, what does one do when that niche is empty. So, how does a fighter climb a wall? How does cleric get rid of the trap his spell discovered if the thief is already down? The answer: very carefully! The character is not defined by the character sheet and its stats; the character is defined by the PLAYER!!! Both of the situations above can be solved without a thief. the thing is, the thieving abilities work (by my estimation) in a combat round (lock picking) or without extraneous equipment (wall climbing). Take note of the scene in "Conan the Barbarian." When climbing the Tower of the Serpent the two fighters (Conan and Valeria) are using a rope; the thief (Subodai) is climbing the wall freehand.
If the party had to disarm a trap without a thief, it would take them at least 15 minutes. They would describe their plan, and I would assign a chance, usually less than a thief....DEX as a %, add a racial modifier if applicable (a dwarf removing a trap, for instance), possibly doubling it if the plan was solid, halving it without a plan. Easily done.
What about other skills? Well, previous profession would be a guide (Secondary Skills Table, DMG pg. 12) and roll a % based on an applicable stat doubled or even tripled. Also class would. A fighter might not ride as well as a cavalier, but he should have some proficiency. As an aside, the reason I do not use the non-weapon proficiency system from DSG/WSG is that it leads down that straitjacket road too easily. Try anything; I'll give the player a chance.
I have wandered far from my intended post, but that's ok. Let me wrap up by saying two things. First, the PCs in AD&D are a cut about the average. Of the four archetypal classes, three have more starting hit points than normal men. If one looks at some of the expanded classes, it is possible to have way more than the norm; a ranger or barbarian with the right stats and rolls can start the game with a max of 20 HP at first level! Second, Kevin Siembieda writes in several of his games that it always amazes him that people forget they're playing HEROES! They complain that the character is not normal or realistic. Well, duh! You are a HERO!
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, keep the sword blade sharp and the components near to hand!