24 December 2011

Review of Battletech: Ideal War

Ideal WarIdeal War by Christopher Kubasik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm currently re-reading Ideal War. It is one of my favorite Battletech novels; however, among most fans it gets less love. Why is that you ask?

Well, first of all, Ideal War is set in the Free Worlds League that is lead by House Marik. The vast majority of fans prefer the Federated Suns and House Davion. Davion's enemies are the Chinese-Russian Cappellan Confederation (Liao) and the Japanese Draconis Combine (Kurita). The Federated Suns itself is a constitutional monarchy similar to England under the reign of the three Georges; that is, the monarch has more power than Parliament. Most of the novels are set with the scions of House Davion as the heroes of the Inner Sphere.

The FWL, on the other hand, is a loose democratic confederation headed by the Captain-General of House Marik. For over 300 years, since the beginning of the Succession Wars and the crisis that entailed, the Captain-General has ruled as a military dictator under the provisions of the legally-passed Resolution 288. Fortunately, the Captain-Generals have, for the most part, been benevolent and somewhat idealistic in their stance. The member worlds of the League still meet in Parliament and finance the military and can even refuse to send their own troops if they feel necessary; it is not a one-way street with the Captain-General in absolute control. In fact, he really only has a full say in matters of war and foreign policy. Enter the current Captain-General, Thomas Marik.

Thomas Marik assumed the Captain-Generalship when his father and older brother were killed in a terrorist bombing. He himself was wounded in the attack and half of his face was horribly disfigured. He was originally a member of the quasi-monastic ComStar, the organization that maintain the Hyper-Pulse Generators that allow interstellar communication. He is also an idealistic and has a plan.

You see, the Inner Sphere is gained better technology and, as a result of that technology warfare is beginning to target civilians again. Thomas is worried that total warfare will result in the total destruction of human civilization as it almost did before the Ares Conventions (think the Geneva Accords) were enacting, The Ares Conventions limit warfare and make it more of a battle of maneuver and skill rather than brute force. With the new technologies and economies of the Inner Sphere gearing up to full production for the first time in centuries, Thomas is concerned that once again the other four Successor Lords will use people like pawns in a chess game. To create a shining beacon of hope (and also to cement his control of the member-states of his League), Thomas creates a romantic vision and forms the Knights of the Inner Sphere, an order of Mechwarriors who swear personalty to him and the ideals of Chivalry.

The book focuses in on Paul Masters, the leader of the Knights on his first mission to a world named Gibson. and this is why most fans do not care for this book. Kubasik is obviously drawing on memories of the Vietnam War. Mercenaries in battlemechs are fighting guerrillas attempting to win their freedom. Masters is there to help the planetary government against these rebels. Things like body-counts, use of mechs against the civilian population all hearken back to Vietnam. Masters has to come to grips with the grittiness and horror of the war and determine a course of action that will fulfill his obligations while helping the oppressed population.

This is definitely worth reading and is most assuredly not in the vein of the usual action-adventure motif of the other Battletech novels.

View all my reviews

21 November 2011

Greetings, Mechwarrior!

You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Inner Sphere from the Clans!

Oh, wait, wrong series!

Well, Last week, I played Battletech with my second oldest daughter (Rene', 13 y.o.). I was using the 1st scenario from the 3e boxed set. 3025 Tech, a Wolverine and Stinger against a Wasp and Griffin. there was time spent explaining things; she's been gaming since she was 8ish, so it wasn't  too hard to get some of the important things across...heat, movement, etc.

The two medium mechs are built on the same basic chassis (armor and internals) but have different weapon load-outs. All four mechs are jumpers.  The Wolvie is a close-in scrapper (with AC/5 and SRM/6 backed up by a medium laser) while the Griffin is a sniper with a PPC and LRMs backed up by a medium laser. The Wasp and stinger are similar enough to be near identical (SRM/2 vs. MG, both with medium laser).

Another difference is heat buildup. Jumping and firing all weapons with the Griffin is Not Good (tm). Rene's AC/5, however, does minimal heat and that also told in the encounter once she closed.

The first few rounds, Rene' was pretty cautious, trying long-range shots with her Wolvie against the Griffin. I had the advantage and fired a few times scoring minor hints. She sent her light off to fight my light, so I obliged. I even tried a "Death-From-Above" attack with my Wasp against her stinger to show her why this is a Bad Idea (tm) with light jumpers. almost snapped my fool leg off.

Finally however, she decided to close and I was in trouble. The PPC and LRMs took penalties close-in while her AC/5 and SRMs didn't. Once she got in close, with identical movement (and she kept winning initiative!), it was impossible to shake her. the only thing that saved my mech was the fact that she had to leave for a party at school.

Anyway, a fun time was had by all. The next scenario, that we'll play this week, pits a Thunderbolt against a Crusader. Yep, it's a heavy mech slugfest. We'll play it twice, switching mechs to get a feel for the two.

18 November 2011

Goodreads | Anthony Emmel (Overton, TX)'s review of Warrior: en Garde

Goodreads | Anthony Emmel (Overton, TX)'s review of Warrior: en Garde:

'via Blog this'

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warrior: En Garde is the first installment of the Warrior Trilogy of the Battletech fiction. first published in 1988, it was one of the first Battletech novels.

3 stars. The writing is solid from a technical standpoint, both from a descriptive standpoint and also from a translation standpoint (i.e., rules/game play converted to fiction). There are a few problems in the translation (firing arm-mounted lasers immediately after a punch, for instance), but, in general, things follow the rules of the miniatures game upon which this fictional universe is based fairly close.

Much as I like Michael A. Stackpole's writing style, he suffers from a major problem. There is way too much deus ex machina and coincidence in the story. House Kurita just happens to attack the Kell Hounds on Pacifica at the same time that the Bifrost is hijacked? The Kell Hounds techs are able to "hotload" a jump engine without blowing it up just before a Kuritan patrol can reach them? They then jump to the system where the Bifrost is located and where their old nemesis, Kurita Yorinaga, is leading his newly-formed unit in an attempt to capture the Bifrost.

It just seems this subplot in particular is driven by happenstance. If one thing is out-of-whack, the whole house of cards falls apart. Not good, in my opinion and makes the whole things seem implausible.

The other problem I have is the "fade effect" that both Kurita and Morgan Kell exhibit throughout the series. It just feels too mystical in a universe that is fairly hard sci-fi. Yes, there are giant mecha and jump ships; there are mystical ki abilities used by some characters, but nothing really beyond the normal (current) human experience. This is an ability which effects electronics and that is a difficult pill to swallow.

Please do not get me wrong, though. I enjoy this book. There are excellent subplots in espionage and action that make for the problems I have. But the things that are wrong are so disturbing to me that this book in the trilogy does take a rating hit.

17 August 2011

Movie Challenge Day 5 - A Film That Reminds You of Someone: Some Kind of Wonderful

OK a little behind on blog posts; the weekend was a little hectic. The one's I missed were Day 3- A Film You Watch to Feel Good (Rocky III) and Day 3- A Film You Watch to Feel Down (Old Yeller). Rocky III rather than I or II becuase it was the first I ever saw in the cinema; Rocky IV with the Soviets run close for that one. Old Yeller, is of course, the classic "sad" movie. But on with today.

Some Kind of Wonderful. Full movie in the above link.

This is a John Hughes high school movie, one that frequently gets overlooked because it came out in 1987 after a whole series of these movies. It follows the same basic plot of all of Hughes's movie. Basically, a lovestruck outsider who wants a popular person in school; typical romantic high school movie. However, the twist is a that this time, the outsider is a guy going after a girl. Essentially, it's Pretty in Pink with the sexes switched. 

Actually, it's a pretty good movie. If anyone wants to remember the 1980's, this is essentially the film to go for. The music, the clothing, the cliques, etc. It reminds me of high school (I graduated in 1988). And this brings me to the reason for my choice. 

This film doesn't remind me of any one person, but it does remind me of my friends in high school and the way everything was: the "romantic" crises, hanging out at Monaco's, detention, the clothes. It's just very nostalgic for me. Feel free to check this one out; it's really quite good and fun.

13 August 2011

Movie Challenge Day 2

Day 2. Your Least Favorite Film. The Good German. 

This one took some thought. But this is what finally popped out for me. 

I really wanted to like this film /it had a cool gimmick; it was filmed on back lot sets using vintage camera equipment in B&W just as if it were shot in 1945. It had a stellar cast: Clooney, Blanchett. The plot seemed reminiscent of an early Cold War Casablanca. But then it all fell apart.

The acting was horrible, wooden. Was I watching Portman and Christensen in Attack of the Clones trying to act romance? No, I was watching two seasoned, accomplished actors trying to act romance. There was no real chemistry, no "magic" between them. It was horrible!

What really blew it for me is the scene where the "bad guy" of the film, Tobey Maguire (!), has Clooney on the ground kicking him and whining, "I'm the bad man!" repeatedly. In what possible universe could Tobey beat up Clooney?!! Dear God, I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe.

Probably what killed this movie for me is the fact that I watched on the same night that I watched Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Those two make this one seem, well, cheap and tawdry. Well, regardless this one is my least favorite film.

12 August 2011

Movie Challenge Day 1


Ok, I've decided to do the 30 Day Movie Challenge. Each day, you're supposed a post a picture of a movie based on a list. I'm going a step farther. I'm also going to watch each movie and then blog about it. Loads of fun!

Anyway, Day 1 is "Your Favorite Movie." After thinking about it I have to go with:

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Version.

This movie sis my favorite for several reason. Peter Jackson did a great job creating Middle Earth. The locations look real, the detail is astonishing. For instance, Bag End has soot marks, not just over the mantle of the fireplace, but over the candle sconces on the walls. The clothes look worn. One of teh problem with many fantasy movies (Eragon comes to mind) is that everything looks too new, clean and unused. This is true of science fiction as well. Compare the Star Trek universe to the Aliens universe. Which one "feels" real?

PJ has hit criticism for two things that stand out to me in the movie. first, Tom Bombadil is gone. I can understand why, though; in a movie this epic, some things have to be cut otherwise, it would become unenjoyable to watch. The extended version is pushing the limits of watchability as it is. I have no problems with this deletion for that reason. It can be argued that Bombadil highlights one of the features of Middle Earth (i.e., the role of quasi-deities therein), but is it necessary? Probably not.

The other is poor Glorfindel. If you've not read the books, Glorfindel is an elf lord sent out by Elrond to find the hobbits and Strider when they are travelling between Bree and Rivendell. PJ replaced Glorflindel with Arwen. Fanbois seem to take this personally for some reason. First of all, the romance of Aragorn and Arwen is covered in the appendices of LotR. However, added that to the screen broadened the appeal to a wider audience. Heck, even the Bakshi cartoon in the 1970's replaced poor Glorfindel with Legolas.

On to other things. Fellowship is the perfect D&D movie, in my opinion. There is a quest, a dungeon crawl, a big fight. The fight in Balin's tomb reminds me of how chaotic our dungeon crawl melees are supposed to be. We have to pause and go round by round; in reality, that confused melee is what it looks like to the characters: a vicious struggle for life and death.

What really makes this movie King for me is the feelings that it produces. The idea of teh shire, a place where hobbits live in safety and harmony, the children chasing Gandalf shouting for fireworks, the sadness of the Fellowship after Gandlaf "dies," the noble sacrifice and honor shown by all...it all evokes a certain sentimentality in me. I have long believed that this movie was so successful because of 9-11. At the time, our country had suffered a tremendous tragedy and the movie spoke to us about honor and sacrifice. it resonated with us.

I didn't include the entire trilogy in this, and not because I didn't want to watch them all in one sitting, either! The other movies are good, but...PJ starts to diverge from the source more. We get Legolas riding a shield down stairs in Helm's Deep like it';s a boogie board, shooting the arrows the whole way. The battle scenes become even more over the top. the message remains the same, but it gets a touch more Hollywood.

Well, that's all for now, kids. Tomorrow is "the Movie You like the Least." Until then!

03 June 2011

Remembering Gary

Well, I'm getting ready for game night....it's the new "evil" game (Hackmaster 4E) in which my character is a LE Cavalier devoted to the god Hextor, Herald of Hell and Patron of Tyranny. Tomorrow we're day-tripping to North Texas RPG Con in Dallas, an OSR gaming con.

But it brings to mind Gary. Three years ago when Gary died, my 14 y.o. daughter (11 at the time) did the following pencil sketch:

I think she captured the essence of old school art with this one. It's a shame, though; the scan doesn't do justice to the original.

Tomorrow is also International Gamers Day, so it's very appropriate that we'll be slinging dice tomorrow. Have a great weekend, people. May all your hits be crits.

11 May 2011

Ah, Free Time Abounds

Well, seeing as how I'm going to be unemployed by the end of the week, I should have some free time opening up. I've been thinking about what to do with some of that free time. Part of it will be spent working on my expanded Hommlet campaign and getting it up and running again. And, yes, some time will be spent looking for a job, but that won't start until June; thank you, Rick Perry, for screwing up education in this state. Until the legislature figures out the education budget, all ISDs and state universities and colleges are on a hiring freeze.

Anyway, I'm thinking about making Isungr Games a reality. Maybe working up some OSR modules for Swords and Wizardry, seeing if I can pull off some POD/PDF sales on Lulu. It's not like I'll make a mint or anything, but it's something I can do. And I have a resident artist these days as well. I have an idea for a fane. Now, where did I put those notes?

05 May 2011

On a Quest for Good TV....

Well, I've decided to re-watch the Babylon 5 series. This is, naturally, due to gaming. I'm currently in the process of reading the Stars Without Number RPG, a scifi RPG loosely based on the 0E D&D engine. The game uses the familiar six stats (ST, IN, WS, DX, CN, & CH) as well as HP. There are three classes (Expert, Psychic, Warrior). Experts are, well, experts, usually in technical matters; as a class feature, the player can re-roll a failed skill check once per hour. Psychics are the only class that can use psychic abilities; the way these are arranged remind me of Classic Traveller. The categories are: biopsionics, metapsionics, precognition, telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation. Warriors get to ignore a hit against them once per melee (they have mad combat skillz!).

Skills are fairly broad in scope and few in number. They rely upon the use of specialties to flesh them out. The skill roll is a simple 2d6 + skill rank (-1 to +4) + attribute modifier (-3 to +3)  against a target number of 6, 8, 9, 11, or 13 based on diffuculty. Skills appear to be there to apply some tension, but not in the "do or die" level of a game like Spacemaster.

Combat looks like it'll be quick and potentially deadly. Kevin Crawford does away with cumbersome charts but his attack roll (d20 based, of course) isn't quite the same as 3.0/3.5's. First of all, AC is still descending, not ascending. To hit, the player rolls 1d20

+ target’s Armor Class
+ attacker’s Combat skill
+ attacker’s attribute modifier
+ attacker’s Attack Bonus

If the total is 20 or greater then the attack hits. A natural roll of 1 always misses, and a natural roll of 20 always hits. Damage is in the standard 1d6 to 2d8 range. Primitive armors are available and still have AC similar in rank to the modern ones. However, TL3+ weapons ignore primitive armors (a nice touch that).

I've only skimmed starship construction and combat. Construction appears to be fairly modular (as is to be expected). Space combat really needs a test run before I can comment. (I've played enough D&D and its variants to make a snap judgement about personal combat!)

What does this have to do with David Warner as a Grail Knight (from the B5 S1 episode "Grail") up there in the lead off picture? Well, the default setting in in A.D. 3200. Human space is recovering from an event called the "Scream" about 600 years ago when a wave of psychic energy came through and either killed the psychics are drove them insane. Humanity had become dependent on the use of psychics in interstellar navigation and civilization fell apart and is only now recovering.

It's seem like the type of place Babylon 5 could have become if the Shadow War had played out differently. That's the feel I get. I think that SWN could emulate B5 quite well, actually. It has that gritty, below decks feel but with a hint of optimism in it. There are hidden secrets that could destroy Humanity or lift us up to the highest levels.

Stars Without Number is available from RPGNow as a free download; it is also available as a POD product in soft- or hardcover. There are also several free (optional) rule add-ons (called "Mandates"), an adventure ("Hard Light") and "Skyward Steel" a supplement that expands naval characters/campaigns.

Also, note that Mongoose Publishing has picked up Stars Without Number for publication so it'll be in the mainstream distribution channels, hopefully by the end of summer/beginning of fall.

03 May 2011

A-to-Z Challenge: Reflections & Plans

Well, I pulled it off. Some of posts where pretty sparse at times (just a monster conversion or a short rant!), but they were there. I tripled my post count in a month, quadrupled my followers, and feel better about writing again. comments are still sparse, but a lot of what I write is not so comment-able. I do read the traffic reports so people are reading. I just hope that people are using and enjoying my few monster conversions for S&W. I purposely chose ones that fit in one paragraph, just like in the Whitebox booklets.

So, what did I learn? Well, I really like how easy it is to convert 1E monsters "down" to 0E/S&W. Quick and easy. Of course, that should surprise me; I converted 3.5 modules like Tomb of Abysthor on the fly for Hackmaster. I also learned that I can write quickly and well if I have the need. But, conversely, I need to watch for those little errors I chide my students on when I do write quickly.

And what are my plans? Well, I do plan on writing 2-3 times a week as the mood strikes me, or even if not. It's about the discipline of writing. To butcher Frank Herbert, "Mood's a thing for cattle or loveplay, not for writing." I do plan on more S&W topics. I need to start a campaign journal for CLD (player) and Guardians of the Polar Bear (DM). I also want to get back to Palladium and V&V as well. So much good stuff out there these days.

Well, it was a fun April and I definitely learned some things. Now, upward and onward.

01 May 2011

Z is for Zombie!

It was a long Saturday, so I'm running a little late on my blog...go figure. But we made it! The final post has arrived.

Zombies. Everybody loves zombies, right? If the series The Walking Dead is any indication, I think that's a resounding "Yes!" Maybe it'll finally do something about the lame-ass vampire craze that's going on. Sparkling vampires...indeed!

I find it someone ironic because the vampires of medieval myth were more like zombies and not suave, urbane aristocrats like the one portrayed in Bram Stoker's Dracula. They did return to their graves, yes, but they also gorged themselves on Blood AND Flesh, in some sort of profane, satanic mockery of Holy Communion. When found, they were undecayed, but they were also described in monstrous terms..."bloated like a tick" is the phrase that springs to mind, even if it's not a direct quote. They were creatures that frequented charnel houses and abattoirs, not Victorian parlors or 1980's discos. Remember this fellow? Not a medieval vampire at all.

Some literary historians point put that the "medieval" vampire (zombie?) is a symbol of the fear of death by disease that was so prevalent. They go on to say that vampires in the Victorian era were symbolic of repressed sexuality and the fear of conditions like syphilis or unmarried pregnancy. Since we're no longer all that afraid of those things (due to abortions, birth control, and antibiotics), we're reverting to something more primal in our fears...death.

Who knows? I'm just a regular historian. I do know that zombies should cause a bit more consternation among players and not just ones with 1st and 2nd level characters who don't have the benefit of a cleric, either. And so, I submit my final monster for the A-to-Z Challenge. Enjoy!

Zombie, Juju

AC: 6 [13]                                   Special: Immune to sleep, charm
HD: 3+12                                    Move: 9
Attacks: Punch or weapon           HDE/XP: 5/240

No one is exactly sure from whence these souless husks come, but they are definitely stronger than the normal zombie. Like standard zombies, they are immune to the effects of sleep, charm, and other mind control spells, They are immune to effects of magic missiles, electricity, and cold; fire only does 1/2 of normal damage (save for 0 damage). Acid and holy water have full effect. They have great strength and whether they use fists or weapons, they cause 2d6 damage per attack; they also attack as 6 HD creatures. They are agile and intelligent enough to hurl javelins or to load and use crossbows. They can climb sheer surfaces easily and are not hampered underwater, either. Only magical weapons (+1 or greater) can affect a juju zombie and even then piercing and crushing weapons have difficulty getting through their tough skin and only do half normal damage (cleaving weapons cause full damage). Finally, juju zombies turn as spectres.

29 April 2011

Y is for Yeti!

A short one today. Lots of work up at the Uni as the semester winds down...more like free lunch for this starving professor! So, enjoy the yeti statted up for Swords and Wizardry Whitebox.


AC: 6 [13]                                   Special: Surprise, immune to cold, squeeze
HD: 4+4                                      Move: 15
Attacks: Claws (2)                       HDE/XP: 5/240

Arctic cousins of the lowland Sasquatch, the yeti is almost impossible to spot in the frozen North due to its stealth and natural camouflage. A character has a 5% chance of spotting the yeti for each level of experience above the 1st; thus, a 4th level character has a 15% chance of noticing the yeti before it attacks. If the yeti does manage to surprise the characters, they each must save or be paralyzed for 3 combat rounds as they meet its fearsome gaze. A paralyzed character is automatically struck by the claws and squeeze attack. If the yeti scores a natural 20 on either of its claw attack, it has managed to grapple with the character and automatically does an additional 2d6+4 damage.

28 April 2011

X is for Xenophobia and Xorn!

Well, I noticed that several other bloggers are using xenophobia today; however, there are only so many "x-words" and I had decided that this last night, so here we go!

As a historian, xenophobia has a special significance for me, although the phrase used in the literature is usually "the fear of the Other." All cultures exhibit this fear; "Humans destroy what they fear" is an old saying and frequently reused in literature and cinema such as X-Men. This is not merely confined to European cultures, either. For example, the name that each american Indian tribe used for itself translate as "the People." Other tribes were not really "People." This allowed for fighting between neighbors.

Part of the fear is instinctive; humans are actually fairly conservative creatures fearing change. Also, our minds work in loops that start with observation and move to contemplation. A decision is made and implemented. Confronted with something that was experienced previously (or at least similar to something known), this operation is practically instinctive. Faced with something odd or unique or radically different, fear and indecision set in as we try to cope with new input. The easiest solution is to destroy.

This explains propaganda in warfare. The enemy must appear "unhuman" to effectively convince the populace to kill. It taps into that fear of the other; confront with something different, it is easier, best, safest to kill it.

"What does this have to do with gaming?" you ask. Good question, and I don't really have an answer. I've wracked my brain looking for a connection, maybe something about how parties seem to slaughter orc children all the time or argue about whether it's a LG chore or not. But if one's brain is hardwired to work in this way (and remember that our instincts frequently short circuit and bypass our reason), is it even a moral issue?


AC: -2 [21]                                  Special: Surprise, immune to fire/cold
HD: 7+7                                      Move: 9
Attacks: Claws (3), bite                HDE/XP: 9/1100

Xorns are a race that is native to the Elemental Plane of Earth, but they occasionally travel to the deep places of the Prime Material Plane to search for the precious metals that they enjoy as snacks. A xorn is able to adjust its molecules and pass through solid stone as if it were air; it can also do this to attack by surprise (5-in-6) from underneath or out of a solid wall. Its claws do 1d6 damage, but its powerful bite does 4d6 damage! A xorn is also completely immune to fire- or cold-based attacks and takes no more than half damage from electrical attacks (if it saves against an electrical attack, the damage is 0). 

A xorn does have special weakness to some spells. Move earth stuns the xorn for 1 round, in addition to knocking it back 30 feet. Transform stone-flesh or transform rock-mud drops the xorn's AC to 8 for 1 round round and effectively stuns it (losing its next attack) since the xorn must readjust its molecules. A passwall spell causes 11-20 damage.

Fortunately for most adventurers, xorn are relatively peaceful. They will merely demand a "tribute" of precious metals (copper, silver, gold, etc.) from any groups they encounter and will then allow the party to pass on without incident. Note that they can smell precious metals from 20 feet away, so the party can't lie about what metals they have.

27 April 2011

W is for "Woot!" and Water Weird


"Woot!" is the "Hoody hoo!" heard at my gaming tables. As both a player and a DM, I LOVE woot-moments. For us they usually occur whenever we pull off a great moment. You know the one. You have this elaborate, by-the-numbers "Dirty Dozen" scheme all planned out. It's not quite working. Every one is on the edge of their seats and then...it happens! The scheme is pulled off and everyone makes it out alive and richer than Croesus. And someone, sometimes everyone, lets out a raucous "WOOT!!!"

A perfect example of a "Woot" game: Father Jupiter Smiles On Us Pt. I

Or an example with my kids:  And Second Session
especially with the fight that begins at:

"Once again they slaughtered the little horrors. They opened the doors to go down the corridor and, at the next intersection, a goblin patrol!" 

It's these "woot" moments that make the game better than a computer game, even an MMO. It's that human element where everyone connects emotionally and in person at a real table, face-to-face. For me, this is gaming and this is why I continue gaming even after 30 years. Once again, I have to say, thank you, Gary, Dave, and Bob.

Water Weird

AC: 4 [15]                                   Special: 1 pt. from sharp, 1/2 or 0 from fire
HD: 3+3                                      Move: 12
Attacks: Drowning                       HDE/XP: 5/240

These is a strange lifeform from the Elemental Plane of Water that occasionally hides in fountains or pools; in general, they cannot be destroyed and loss of all hit points merely disrupts their forms and they re-form with full hit points in two rounds. Sharp weapons do a mere 1 point of damage; blunt weapons do full damage. Fire spells automatically do 1/2 damage or 0 if the water weird saves. A purify food and drink spell destroys it immediately. It attacks as a 6 HD creature and a struck target will be dragged into the water and begin to take drowning damage on the next round and every round thereafter (1d6/round). Water weirds have a 3-in-6 chance of successfully controlling a water elemental.

26 April 2011

V is for Victim and Volt

Victim. That's one thing that characters should never be. They're supposed to be heroes by God, not a meal for a rodent with nasty, sharp, pointy teeth!

Just saying....


AC: 3 [16]                                   Special: Immune to electricity
HD: 2+1                                      Move: 6
Attacks: Bite and tail                    HDE/XP: 3/60

A volt is a weird, floating, bug-like creature that latches onto the neck of its target (d6-1 damage). Once it hits, the volt is attached until either itself or the victim is dead; it will continue to do d6-1 damage per round automatically by sucking blood. Its tail has to roll to hit but gains a +4 to hit; if it does connect, it does 2d6 electrical damage. The volt is completely immune to all electrical attacks.

25 April 2011

U is for Uniformity and Umber Hulk

Uniformity. In the Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 7), Gary states, "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." In my opinion that's part of the problem with the OSR movement. Everybody seems to want to come out with their version ("vision") of the old rulesets. If  Labyrinth Lord  is adequate, what need is there for Swords and Wizardry, Complete, Whitebox or other?  If B/X Companion rounds off Moldvey, why even bother with  Dark Dungeons (yes, I know, DD is a BECMI emulator)? Or, ultimately, with so many copies of the original rules on Ebay or even pdfs (mostly pirated, admittedly) why even bother with "clones" at all?

This is not to disparage any of the "clones." It is clear that the authors all have an excellent grasp of the system and the material. But they're all slightly different and not ~exactly~ compatible. As Gary goes on to say on the same page, "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."

I probably worry for nothing, but I am concerned that the movement will  subdivide into a group of mutually antagonist people. Feel free to prove me wrong.

Umber Hulk

AC: 2 [17]                                   Special: Confusion
HD: 8+8                                      Move: 6/1-6 (when burrowing)
Attacks: Claws, bite                   HDE/XP: 9/1100

Despite their lumbering, beetle-like appearance, Umber Hulks are actually an intelligent subterranean race that culls ankhegs, cave fishers, hook horrors, young purple worms, and the like for food. Their exoskeleton protects them better than plate armor and their large mandibles can cut through armor for 2d6 damage. Anyone who meets the gaze of the Umber Hulk must save or become confused for 2d6 melee rounds.

23 April 2011

T is for Tekumel and Two-Headed Troll

Ah, Tekumel. One of the earliest campaign worlds. And one of the most detailed. And also, one of the few that's not Tolkien- or European-derived. I must confess, I've only, in 30 years of gaming, only played in Tekumel once, using the old EPT rules. But I have devoured everything I can about this world.

Imagine a world where metal is a scarce item. So, all weapons, armor, etc., are made from chlen-hide. Imagine a beast like a giant buffalo that can be "sheared" periodically of its hide. There are no horses or other beasts of burden, and chlen are too slow to be used as such. Porters travel on a triple-tiered highway system.

The land is ruled by a strict caste system that is also part of a clan system. There are 12 gods each with a "cohort," a minor deity or demigod in its service. So, 24 immortals essentially. Half are gods of order, half are gods of chaos. They are not good or evil per se. There is merely correct and incorrect behavior.

This is an alien world, settled in the far future by humans after recovery from a nuclear war. The world, however, eventually feel through a wormhole into a pocket dimension, cut off from the rest of reality. Aliens allies and enemies were also trapped on the planet as well. And the native life is high inimical to human life. The climate is a very hot tropical, and further changed human society..

There have been 4 different "official" rulesets for Tekumel, none currently in print, plus a host of fan-created ones for GURPS, Hero, etc.

The best primer on Tekumel is at the offical site: http://www.tekumel.com I could ramble on forever, but check it out. It's worth your time.

Troll, Giant Two-Headed

AC: 4 [15]                                   Special: Regeneration
HD: 10                                        Move: 12
Attacks: Claws, bites                   HDE/XP: 12/2000

Some deranged wizard caused an unholy union between an ettin and a troll, resulted in these two-headed monstrosity that combines elements of the two. The two-Headed troll can attack up to four targets in a round: 2 separate claw attacks (1d6+1 each) and two bite attacks (2d6 each). They are only surprised on 1-in-6 chance and regenerate as trolls (q.v.) but only at a rate of 1 h.p. per round.

S is for Sandbox and Sandman

Note: This is the first of two posts for today, because I "fasted" from the Internetz for Good Friday.

Sandbox. The term gets thrown around a lot in the OSR, but what exactly is sandbox play? Well, simply put, sandbox play is less centered around modules and more about allowing the players to go and explore whatever they want to. This is not to say that the DM cannot prepare ahead of time, but he doesn't railroad the players into one adventure by starting with "Ok, you say show up at the entrance to the dungeon. What do you do?" Instead, the DM presents a series of hooks for the players to examine.

For example, in the classic T1 Village of Hommlett, the DM could place hooks like these (all taken or inspired from the ToEE video game):

1. One of the farmers has a daughter who has disappeared. He thinks she might be at a Deklo grove that's rumored to be the lair of some giant spiders.
2. Ostler has a problem. Furnok of Fyrd, a professional "treasure-hunter" has set up a gambling table and is fleecing the patrons for a lot of coin. No one has caught him cheating. Can the PCs help?
3. The local wainwraight's wife was travelleing to visit her sister in another town and is overdue in returning from her trip. Where could she be?

Etc., etc. 

Now this only helps in a single regional area. Suppose your players decide instead that they would rather leave Hommlett and head off for Greyhawk (the city)? Well, you're either going to have to adapt some hooks on the fly or be a really good improviser. Of course, maybe you have a file folder with adventure seeds and ideas in it for just such an emergency.  

However, let's say you've prepared 5 or 6 hooks in detail and the players still want to go to Greyhawk. But it's been a long week at work and you're not on your A-game. You can run something prepared, but improvise? Not today, no way. There's nothing wrong with stepping out of the game for a second and telling your players something along the lines of, "Guys, I really don't have anything set up for Greyhawk today. I'm not trying to railroad y'all, but could you try to do something in Hommlett tonight. If, after tonight, you still want to head off for the City, I can get something for you for next week." I think most players would be like, "Hey, no problem. Let's rescue that farmer's teenage daughter. Maybe she's cute!" ;)

Another good idea in sandbox play is to allow the players to assist you in creating the world; this takes some of the burden off of your shoulders. Let's say a player wants to play a barbarian, but you haven't really given much thought to what the barbarians are like in your world. I mean, you know where they're from and you know their culture is similar to that of the Frost, Ice, and Snow Barbarians of Greyhawk (ref., Unearthed Arcana, p. 20).

Ok, so you let the player create the bare outlines of what his tribe or clan is like, why he left his homeland, etc. Maybe his tribe was wiped out by slavers when he was a child and he was raised in captivity and trained to be a gladiator. Or something like that.

Or, back to Hommlett, maybe the player's are trying to get in to see Burne and Rufus and are rebuffed by the guards who don't want their masters disturbed. One of the players pipes up with "Hey, I'm a fighter, right? And even a 1st level fighter is considered a 'vet,' right? Maybe I know one of the door guards from a campaign or something...." Don't let this one get out of hand, but it can enhance the game and help the player out. Plus, it can make the world seem alive. For those who find it implausible, I ran into someone from high school when I was in the Army on the other side of the world. I didn't even know she had joined the Army! Later when I was out of the Army I ran into a guy I served with, who was California, not Texas, in my hometown. He was going to a local college. So, it is possible. :)

So, that's a few thoughts to keep in mind when working up a sandbox campaign. 


AC: 3 [16]                                   Special: Sleep
HD: 4                                          Move: 9
Attacks: Touch                            HDE/XP: 5/240

Weird, extraplanar creatures that are made out of flowing sand granules, sandmen have some unknowable purpose in the world; they do attack humans on sight, however. A creature of any level that comes within 20 feet of a sandman must save or fall asleep. If the sandman touches someone, they need to save again (using a weapon against one does not count as a touch).

But not this guy...

or this one.

21 April 2011

R is for Rust Monster

Note: Tomorrow is Good Friday, so I'll be off the Net tomorrow. I'll post 2 blogs (S & T) on Saturday.

Rust Monster

AC: 2 [17]                                   Special: Corrodes metal
HD: 2                                          Move: 18
Attacks: 2 Antennae                    HDE/XP: 2/30

Rust monsters are strange creatures that like to eat metal. They generally cannot cause damage to living beings. They have 2 long, whip-like antennae that atack independent of one another. Any ferrous metal (incl. iron, steel, adamantium, mithril, etc.) that they touch (normal to hit roll) automatically rusts and corrodes it making it useless.  Magical items have a percentage based on its "plus" to avoid being corrode. A +3 Vorpal Sword has a 30% of not being affected. If an item has two plses, use the higher of the two (i.e a Sword +1, +3 vs. giants). 

20 April 2011

Q is for Queen and Quaggoth

Queen. No, not Queen Yolanda of Celene or the Queen of Hearts or even Queen Elizabeth of England, but these guys.

For whatever reason, Queen was the gamer band. At least in Longview, Texas. It's not just the Highlander soundtrack/"It's a Kind of Magic" album. Take "One Vision" from the "Iron Eagle" soundtrack. Ever since I started playing Rifts when it came out, it just feels like an anthem for the Coalition States. 

Some of my best brainstorming for gaming and creating adventures comes from times when I'm listening to Queen. Of course, I also get similar vibes off of Nightwish, Blind Guardian, and Hammerfall.



AC: 6 [13]                                    Special: Immune to Poison
HD: 1+2                                       Move: 4
Attacks: Claws or weapon             HDE/XP: 1/15

Quaggoth are a large (7'+) degenerate race that are covered in white, shaggy fur. If they are armed when encountered, the weapons will be either two-handed swords or battle axes. If they are not armed, their claws strike  for 1d6 damage (count both claws as a single attack). Quaggoth are totally immune to poison.