26 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: Gygax Day is Tomorrow!

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

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

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

22 July 2013

Manic Monday: DCC RPG review

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

19 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: Gygax Day 2013

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

15 July 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: A DCC Campaign Idea

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

12 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: DCC Goodness Continues

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

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

08 July 2013

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

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

Patrick R. Cleburne, Savior of the Confederacy

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

05 July 2013

Fantasy Friday: Rethinking Goodman Games's DCC RPG

You’re no hero.
You’re an adventurer: a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen-slayer, a tight-lipped warlock
guarding long-dead secrets. You seek gold and glory, winning it with sword and spell,
caked in the blood and filth of the weak, the dark, the demons, and the vanquished. There
are treasures to be won deep underneath, and you shall have them.
--DCC RPG blurb

These are not Tolkien heroes.

I have found myself reconsidering the Dungeon Crawl Classes RPG by Goodman Games. I was stoked about this when it was announced; the DCC line by Goodman Games was one of three things good to come out of d20 [the others were Necromancer Games ("Third edition rules, first edition feel!") and Mutants and Masterminds]. But as things progressed, I rapidly lost enthusiasm. First, there were the funny-shaped dice, none of which of I own other than some self-made d3s and a d30. Second, I downloaded the Beta rules and was not impressed with the idea of special charts for spells. If I wanted to play with extensive charts, there's always Rolemaster.
On the other hand, there's much in the game to like. Retro 1970's art. Race as class. Gritty feel. The character funnel. Inspiration from Gygax's "Appendix N" in the DMG. But, as I've wrote numerous times in the past couple of years, as I've gotten older, I prefer rules-lite games that are familiar to me, that I can run instinctively if necessary. Swords & Wizardry Complete fits the bill perfectly for me; it is reminiscent of the D&D of my youth in the early 1980's. So, unfortunately, I have fallen into the trap that Richard Dreyfus's character in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead! laments: "The audience knows what to expect, and that is all they are prepared to know."
An actor, the opposite of a real person.
So what has made me reconsider trying DCC RPG? Well, first off, I ran across a really good blog that details a group running 0-lvl characters through the funnel: Lampblack & Brimstone. That game reads like it was It definitely looks like it plays easier than I thought. Now, admittedly, 0-lvls don't have spells and the like, but the mechanics look like they work. 0-lvl play has interested me since I read the AD&D module C3 The Lost Island of Castanamir back in the day. Sometimes, I lose track of the fact that games are supposed to be FUN! Running the cleric or cavalier every time leads to the quote above. With the uncertainty of who'll make it through the funnel, it could very well shake one out of a rut.
The second thing that had lead me to this is the Spellburn podcast. Judges Jim, Jobe, and Jeffrey (the Big J's?) definitely have a great podcast started and they relay a lot of information and clearly have great enthusiasm for the game and its system. Enthusiasm is always contagious.
I know at this point that I'm am going to pick this up. Whether it had long term viability, well, we'll see.
Until next time, gentle readers, enjoy!

01 July 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: Star Wars Volturnus Campaign (d20)

Well, after much soul-searching and reflection, I decided the Star Wars campaign will be d20. So, this weekend, initial planning and character creation began. The timeframe is the Old Republic, set in roughly the same time as the MMO, just before the breakout of hostilities between the Republic and the Sith Empire. The Jedi Council is entrenched on Tython and is sending an expedition to the newly-(re-)discovered world of Volturnus. A previous scouting expedition has not reported in and the council has not reestablished contact. Therefore, in truly dense Jedi fashion, another team is being sent to investigate. As to the location of Volturnus, I'm thinking somewhere between the Hydian Way and the Perlemian Trade Route, in the vague vicinity of Korriban-Yavin-Wayland (which is still a HUGE area).
I don't have a problem with characters starting out at high level; it makes the game more fun and more like the movies. Character level at start is 9. I'm using Mad Irishman's fillable character sheet. Characters to date:

Sgt. Kane "Bane" Deathchant (played by Will), Soldier 6/Elite Trooper 3. On detached duty from the Black Lion Squad (Republic Special Forces), Bane's role is military advisor to the expedition. One interesting thing to note is that I have adapted the shield rules from Saga Edition's Knights of the Old Republic Guide for d20 use. Heavy shields are DR 15, 10 for medium, 5 for light. They're powered up as a free action and last for the combat period; any damage over 15 collapses the shield which cannot be used again in the current encounter. One power cell allows 5 power-ups, whether or not the shield collapses. Crits manage to bypass the shield. Not sure how over-powered it is yet, but I'd rather not kill everyone outright. Surprisingly enough, my son did not want to play a Jedi. His character sheet is found here.
Chamurra (played by my wife, Beth), Scout 8/Bounty Hunter 1. Chamurra is a Wookiee scout who has recently taken up the mantle of bounty hunter. She has worked with both the Jedi and the Republic Armed Forces before. Chamurra has joined the expedition as additional military support; she also believes that the Star Devils pirate gang is based somewhere in the area. Definitely a bounty worth checking  into. Her character sheet is found here.
Daughter #1 (Kat) isn't sure yet. Daughter #2 (Rene') is thinking about a Jedi of some sort. We'll finalize that this week.
I am looking forward to running this game. As play progresses, we'll see who the bigger enemy is: the Star Devils or the Sith. That big battle in SF2 Starspawn of Volturnus might not happen; the plan is that the Sith Empire sends a force to find some Sith artifact or something. But the players might not go that route; it might culminate into a fight with the Star Devil and his pirates. Of course, creatures like the Quickdeath will be Sith creations from long ago, but the Sith Empire does not have to show up.
As an aside, none of the art used in this blog is my own, but was garnered from a variety of places on the net. I make no claim to ownership or creation of said art, and am merely using in my own private game.
Until next time, gentle readers, may the Force set you free!