Monday, January 30, 2012

Free Edition of Kobold Quarterly

A free PDF edition of Kobold Quarterly is available until February 14. Details here.

Kobold Quarterly is hardly an Old School zine (though this issue has an article for Dragon Age, and so did the one before it, and they promise one or two specifically Old School relevant articles in the next issue), but, having scanned through the PDF, I've immediately seen multiple articles on treasure, codes of honor, moral dilemmas and one on character design (both NPC and PC) by Ed Greenwood that I think will be useful in my game. There might be other useful articles, but I've only given it a quick skimming.

Thoth Razylym: First Dragon in my Setting

So, now that the party in my Skype campaign has had a dragon take notice of them (and send two dopplegangers to try to kill them next session), I need to create a dragon which is doing all of this. I used three resources to create this dragon, plus Swords & Wizardry Core for the final format in which I write up my dragon.

First off, I used this Random Female Dragon Name Generator until I found a name I liked: Thoth Razylym, which I'm deciding, from the options, means "Worm Steel." This is also what helped me decide to have this dragon be female.

Secondly, I used Matt Finch's excellent Tome of Adventure Design to figure out a few things about this dragon:
  • There is some kind of parasite/symbiote/other life form always attached to Thoth's body. I've decided that this will be a Firx, which I'll address in a later post. This is the Dying Earth connection that got me thinking about the topic of my last post.
  • Thoth has some kind of illusion special ability. I decided that her spells will come from the Illusionist spell list instead of the Magic-User Spell list. This also inspired me to decide that the assassins she sends after the party will be dopplegangers. I'll generally try to have her minions be creatures and people that use illusion. Also, though every dragon in my setting can transform into human-ish form, Thoth can transform into many, many forms.
  • Her breath weapon is a large cloud that even envelopes her; the cloud causes those who breathe it to dance uncontrollably.
  • Her obsession is to collect something. This caused me to reject more detailed rolls in the next resource until they came up with something compatible.
Lastly, I used the extensive Unexpurgated Dragon Generator, probably the best way to create a unique dragon that I've seen to date. From it I learned that:
  • Thoth is Neutral Evil
  • Thoth has some kind of "madness"
  • She's young, with 2 hit points per hit die
  • She's large, about 4 meters long
  • Her AC is 21
  • She has 11 Hit die
  • She moves with BMR 3/8 when on ground/flying
  • She has three attacks per round, which do 1d4, 1d6 and 1d10 damage.
  • She has claws of sharpness that sever limbs when they hit on a natural 20
  • She's amphibian
  • Her body type is serpentine- no legs, no wings. This seems to clash with the flying and claws of sharpness. I'm ruling that she can fly without wings by flattening her body (similar to a flying snake), having fins along her sides and because of natural dragon buoyancy and that she's got some sort of sharp claw-like thing on her tail.
  • She's white and brown. I decided that she'll be striped, much like many real-life snakes.
  • She has a 40% chance to be in her lair and a 5% chance to be asleep.
  • She collects maidens and may or may not eat them. I've decided that she doesn't eat them- at least not right away- because that's more interesting, that's more consistent with "collecting" and I can see Thoth having the maidens dance for her with her breath weapon.
I didn't roll on some of the tables, such as about Thoth's intelligence and her ability to use magic, as I'd already decided that all dragons in my setting are super-humanly intelligent and can use magic.

I also needed to find a "madness" for Thoth. The DMG doesn't come out until April, so I can't use the insanity tables I believe are in it, and the OSRIC table only contains very debilitating insanities I don't want to use for a foe as formidable as I want Thoth to be.

Fortunately, I own a copy of Dragontree Press' Handbook of Traps and Tricks, which has more extensive insanity tables. Many of these options are also severe, but that can be remedied by choosing an insanity instead of rolling for one, as many other options are not so bad. Looking through the phobia/philia sub-table, I noticed the entry "paladins." Maybe Thoth has an unhealthy fascination with paladins? Perhaps she's collecting maidens so that a paladin will try to rescue one of them and she will be able to meet, and, hopefully, detain and get to know, him? That sounds very interesting to me and is a nice twist to Thoth. She'll lop the limbs off of a knight or cleric without a second thought, but somehow a paladin grabs her fascination.

The last thing I need to figure out is Thoth's spells. Dragons in my setting all use magic, and I've already decided that Thoth uses Illusionist instead of standard Magic-User spells, but which spells will she have? Upon some research, Illusionists are seeming somewhat complicated (for someone like me who is only used to Swords & Wizardry), what with only seven spell levels and choices to make about spell slot progressions. I'm going to leave off on Thoth's spells for now, saving them for another post.

Finally, here's a Swords & Wizardry compatible write-up, with some added notes so I can use it quickly with my house-rules:

Thoth Razylym, Dragon
Hit Dice: 11
Hit Points: 22
Armor Class: -2 [21]
Attacks: 1 Fin Swipe (1d4), 1 Bite (1d6), 1 Tail-Claw (1d10)
Saving Throw: 4
Special: Breathes Cloud of Dancing (surrounds Thoth to radius of 30 meters, distributes 22 points of damage among victims, save or dance, check save every round), Tail-Claw of Sharpness (severs limb on natural 20 to-hit roll)
Move: 9/24 (flying) (3/8 with my movement system)
Alignment: Chaos (Chaotic Neutral)
Challenge Level/XP: 12 (22/4=5.5, round up to 6, +1 to finish dragon calculation, +1 for irresistible dance facet of breath weapon, +3 for multiple spells 5th level and higher)/2000

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How do you pronounce Cugel?

Creating a dragon has, interestingly, brought me back to Vance's first novel about Cugel, The Eyes of the Overworld. I'm working on two longer posts about that now, but in the meantime, this has bothered me for a while.

Do you pronounce the "g" in Cugel as a j or a gh? Surely the "u" is pronounced "oo" instead of "uh"?

How do you pronounce "Cugel," and did Vance ever weigh in on this?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

… and Sometimes They Go Really Well!

Last night I enjoyed myself greatly running a session of my Skype campaign; it was the kind of game that makes this kind worth playing.

We started slowly, and two hours late (we ended up playing two hours later than planned as well). The party consisted of:

Gunt Vor, Dwarf Warrior (Level 3, I think)
Velmont Pirok, Dwarf Warrior (Level 1, I think)
Sorvana, Magic-User (Level 3)
Firgon, Warrior (Level 1)
Shavasta, Scoundrel (Level 3, I think)

The party went back to an area of the dungeon with irregularly cut, cyclopean stonework where they had discovered two ray guns on a previous expedition. They found their way into a large throne room with rows of statues down both sides and a yellow skeleton on the throne, pointing to the floor in front of it (thank you, Dungeon Alphabet).

Examining the floor, the players found a loose stone and were able to lift it out of the floor with a crowbar and some effort. The stone had been covering a lever, which the players promptly pulled. Blue lights came on near the tops of all the walls… and the 18 statues in the room animated and attacked the party!

This is a combat that I had been concerned about the party encountering when I first laid it out, but I had decided that, first of all, the players had to activate the encounter themselves and that I would stand by the Old School dogma of allowing "unbalanced" encounters that the party should run away from, as heavy-handed as it felt. I did decide that the batteries for these statues wer low so that they would attack every other round, but it turns out that I needn't have worried.

First off, both Gunt and Velmont took advantage of the "Unstoppable" house rule we use, which is fairly common in the OSR. It states that if a Warrior/Fighter kills an enemy in melee then that warrior gets an extra attack that round. Gunt and Velmont both dropped multiple statues in a few rounds.

Secondly, though, I hadn't taken into consideration the unpredictable effects of using Arduin's Class-based Special Ability charts during character generation. Velmont's player had rolled a 77 or 78, the result of which reads: "Roll d6 - Add this number as a bonus with any one weapon type." Velmont's player had proceeded to roll a 6 on his d6 roll and added it to any time he uses axes. This bonus (to both to-hit and damage rolls, I ruled), along with the Unstoppable class ability, meant that most of the statues fell to Velmont's axes.

One of the most fun things I've learned from another member of the OSR is to ask "please describe the [thing your character just killed]'s horrible death." (I learned this from Tavis Allison at SoCal Minicon.) Velmont's player actually started declining to answer the question with more than one word; I asked him if he was sure he didn't want to describe Velmont rocking out in combat, but, once again, I needn't have worried about him losing his spotlight. After it had been established that there were only a few statues left, Velmont started singing "We will Rock You" as he smashed the last of the statues to bits. As the last statue crumbled at his feet, Velmont assumed this stance and belted out "We Are the Champions."

Subtract a meter, add two axes and a beard and you've got what happened last night.
Exploring this throne room, now that the statues were vanquished, they found that the large cyclopean stones that made up the walls all had court scenes depicted in reliefs. Looking at them carefully, they found six figures that stood out from the rest; three figures held coils of rope while the other three bent over and held lanterns to the rope.

There is a secret door here, and the way to open it is to bring a light source near the depictions of rope three times. It's a difficult secret door, and they weren't able to figure it out, but they ended up finding another way to the treasures behind this door, though they haven't taken it yet.

Pulling back the tapestry behind the throne, the party found a much less concealed secret door, made of some kind of silvery metal, without locks or hinges, but which they couldn't open. I allowed Gunt to use his laser-gun to cut out a section of the door; reaching through it, he found a wheel on the other side fo the door, which he turned. After turning it enough, the door opened and they found what looked to be a long-abandoned, dusty bedroom. Looking around and investigating the desk and rotting bed, they still failed to find the treasure hidden in a hole in the wall behind the desk.

The room they were in has three other doors, all with wheels to unseal them. Taking one, they found themselves in an abandoned alchemist's lab. The cyclopean stones in the walls, floor and ceiling were constantly changing shape and size and shifting among each other. They found a workbench covered in broken glassware (Sorvanna was disappointed, as I'd just discussed the usefulness of libraries and laboratories for Magic-Users with her at the beginning of the session) and a cabinet. Investigating the contents of the cabinet, they found three spheres of glass that seem to contain some kind of smoke (when a sphere is broken, it will release the "Outfire Fog," which puts out all fires it comes in contact with) and a bag with powdered roots necessary for the Carcosan ritual "Chaining the Formless Aspect."  If the party encounters a sorcerer, the sorcerer will likely want the contents of the bag.

Moving on, the party discovered an old prison, with many of the inmates' skeletons left in their cells. The skeletons were mostly human, but some had longer, thinner, more fragile bones, bones they didn't recognize and skulls not built with jawbones (mind-flayer skeletons- yeah, the guys who ran this prison were that tough).

Connected to the prison was a chamber with a lever on the wall and a red square outlined in the middle of the room with a large pile of powdery dust in the middle. This was a summary execution chamber. Shevasta's player decided to have her experiment by having Sorvana command her Unseen Servant to pull the lever while Shevasta stood in the circle. Failing her save, Shevasta disintegrated into dust. The party, saddened by this turn of events, decided to leave the dungeon. As they headed towards the exit, however, they met a Spawn of Shub-Niggurath, an three-eyed, toothy worm-like thing that they were able to kill after a less one-sided battle than the fight with the statues had been.

This spawn had 6 HD which means that the party qualified for a roll on the Puppet-Master Machination Tables to see whether a dragon has noticed the party or not. They only had a 10% chance to be noticed, but they "made" their throw, being noticed by a dragon which I'll now have to generate. This dragon, I found out after rolling further on the tables, has decided to get rid of the party by sending some of its minions to rub them out. We'll see what happens; the minions will have 4 HD, so if the party kills them it will increase their chance to be noticed by other dragons as well!

All in all a great session. The loss of Shevasta was severely tempered by the fact that, well, no one, including her player, really liked her (for good reason). Her replacement character, to my glee, will be the first character in my campaign to be a member of the Order of the Green Hand, as I mentioned in my last post. Along with figuring out what will be ambushing the party next session, I need to figure out which spells the Order has. It's going to be interesting to see Magic Users of very different backgrounds interact; Flynn's new character will have access to many, many spells, as a perk of being a member of the Order, while Sorvana, the other Magic User, as the apprentice to an independent master, has access to comparitively few spells; this is complicated by the fact that members of the Order are not allowed to share their magical knowledge without express permission, and such permission is rarely granted.

All in all a very fun session, especially because I'm beginning to see how the party's actions are going to influence how the world treats them from here on out.

Player Map of the Mews of Methas

The mapper in the Skype campaign I run sent me this after tonight's session. It's the map of all of my megadungeon that they've explored. It makes me very happy to see just how big my megadungeon is; I've never taped my pieces together like this before. ^__^

Two other important bits from tonight's game:
  • I've run enough sessions since I added Carcosan influences to my game to be able to say that Carcosa definitely improves it.
  • One of my players started a new character tonight. To my delight, Flynn decided to have his Magic-User be a member of the Order of the Green Hand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Carcosa Race Conversion Chart

In Carcosa, there are 13 races of men and no demi-humans or humanoids (except the space aliens and the extinct lizard-men). The 13 races of men are each a different color, and each color accurately describes the color of their skin; for example, in the US, I'm called "White" even though my skin color is pinkish-tan, but on Carcosa, White men's skin is actually white, like a sheet of printer paper. While "Black" people in the US have skin of various shades of brown, in Carcosa, Black men's skin is jet black. These races can't interbreed, and they exist as 13 distinct races because they were genetically modified by the lizard-men for use in their rituals. Any sorcerous ritual on Carcosa that requires a human victim specifies the race of the victim(s). In addition, different ray guns have different effects on different races, some doing half-damage to certain races, others doing double damage to certain races.

This is very cool and flavorful, but it also represents the main challenge, I think, in using Carcosa to influence a more standard setting, like the one I run, with dwarves and elves and goblins, where humans can all interbreed and there are not 13 distinct races of men.

My solution to this challenge is the chart below. It can be used in two different ways:
  • The first 13 items on the table represent direct conversions from Carcosan races to more standard races. Whenever a Carcosan ritual or ray gun specifies a color of man, simple refer to the chart and substitute the corresponding race. If you don't, say, use Centaurs in your game, choose one of the entries after the first 13 that you prefer and use that instead whenever a ritual or ray gun specifies a Purple man.
  • Whenever a ritual or ray-gun specifies a color of men, roll 1d20 on this table to determine which standard race will be specified instead in your game.
  1. Black–Elves
  2. Blue–Dwarves
  3. Bone–Kobolds
  4. Brown–Humans
  5. Dolm–Goblins
  6. Green–Orcs
  7. Jale–Gnolls
  8. Orange–Gnomes
  9. Purple–Centaurs
  10. Red–Dopplegangers
  11. Ulfire–Lizard-Men (or Troglodytes, or some other reptilian humanoid)
  12. White–Satyr if male, Dryad, Nymph or other nature-spirit thing if female
  13. Yellow–Halflings
  14. Larger Fey creatures, like Leprechauns and Brownies
  15. Lycanthropes
  16. Yuan-Ti
  17. Deep Ones
  18. Trolls
  19. Merfolk
  20. Re-Roll Twice: the offspring of those two races

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Coeurl

Almost a year ago, Aaron of Paladin in Citadel made a great case for using the literary ancestors of Displacer Beasts in a dungeon, and I've done just that, placing a Coeurl's lair on the first floor of my Mews of Methas megadungeon (as the keeper of this trap, actually). OSRIC and Microlite 74 have stats for the Coeurl, but here's stats for running the Coeurl in Swords & Wizardry. They're based off of the OD&D stats for the Displacer Beast, as received through Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets (since I don't have the PDFs), as well as Aaron's ideas and what I got reading "Black Destroyer".
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: 2 tentacles (2d4 dmg)
Saving Throw: 11
Special: Greater-than-Human Intelligence, Create Darkness Ability, Magic (and Electro-Magnetic Energy) Resistance (80%)
Move: 15 (Metric Base Movement Rate: 5)
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1400

Terribly intelligent, always hungry for Id (measured in the square of a meal's hit dice), the Coeurl resembles a black panther with two tentacles - each tipped with seven fingers - rising from its shoulders, thin energy-manipulating tendrils for ears and forelegs twice as long as panthers on Earth. The Coeurl should be played as intelligently as possible, engaging a lower-level party in various schemes and tricks to get them to bring him creatures of higher hit dice than themselves, appealing to whatever motivation it thinks will works, including payment and justice. When a party a Coeurl forges a relationship with reaches a high enough level, the Coeurl will turn on them and attempt to kill and eat them, all while minimizing risk to itself. A Coeurl may hide its identity by creating a sphere of darkness around himself to a radius of 15' (~5 meters). As a super-intelligent being, an individual Coeurl may utilize magic or psionics at the referee's discretion.
And yes, before anyone says anything, the Coeurl is a nasty thing to place on the first level, but I don't intend for my players to fight it until much later in the campaign; if they do, well, they will have specifically chosen to do so and they also have two ray guns that might help (but, per "Black Destroyer, it has a very high resistance against energy weapons). I intend to use the Coeurl as Aaron suggests, attempting to employ the party in bringing higher hit dice monsters from lower in the dungeon to him for consumption. The party got the closest it's ever gotten to meeting the Coeurl last session and they may return that way again tomorrow, so we'll see what happens. I'll be excited whatever happens when they meet the Coeurl: if they lose, it will be entertaining, but if they win I'll get to roll to see whether a dragon takes note or not!

Finally, I have a question for my readers: in the Mews of Methas, the Coeurl's lair has two side-rooms. What would a Coeurl put in those side rooms?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I'd Call This Progress

So, this is totally old news, but WotC is going to be publishing the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, Player Handbook and Monster Manual. This is the kind of good faith steps I'm hoping the OSR and WotC can continue making until we're on decent terms with each other. This is definitely a big step in the right direction. Personally, I don't play AD&D so I won't be buying all of them, but I hear that the DMG is definitely worth getting, so I'll most likely be doing that.

I wouldn't say that this is a full and complete vindication of my attitude about Type V- not yet- but I do think it's a very strong piece of evidence that the hope that is intrinsic to my attitude is not foolish.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Hope Type V Succeeds

I'm an Old Schooler. I'm immensely uninterested in most new-style games. I like quickly generated characters,  sandboxes, the possibility of failure and having to be creative to survive. As a referee, I also place great value on games I run being rules lite.

My players have been swayed in some areas by the Old School gospel I keep preaching to them, but, at heart, there's a part of them that will always be New School. I accept that. I'm willing to play New School, rules heavy games but I am not willing to run them. My players accept that and still play in my games because we're all friends and they have a good time.

Wouldn't it be great if we could all have our way? Wouldn't it be great if I could run an Old School game, more or less, while they played a New School game, more or less? That would be worth buying.

That's the goal I hear WotC setting for itself. Frankly, even having read the Legends and Lore columns that foreshadowed this particular goal, I'm not sure how they're going pull it off, or if they'll be able to. I do know that that's a worthy goal and that I hope they succeed.

Despite my promise to give 5e an honest shot at becoming my go-to game if WotC releases the PDFs for free, I do doubt that 5e, or any one game, honestly, will be able to unseat what I'm running now. If WotC is successful, however, in achieving this goal (but not with becoming my exclusive version of D&D), that will merit adding generous doses of it to the mix of Swords & Wizardry, LotFP, Arduin, Delos, Carcosa, Majestic Wilderlands, ACKS (when it comes out, I've already decided to include it), systems taken from the blogosphere and systems of my own making that I run (or will be running when I get ACKS, to be more precise). And that, by the way, will probably make it worth buying some 5e books.

(I will have serious reservations about buying WotC books if they don't at least make the PDFs for sale and if the license for 5e is closer to the GSL than the OGL, but that's another matter.)

So here's hoping that 5e is a success, because that will make my game better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Three Important Points on Type V

1. Contrary to popular opinion in the OSR, I don't think it's impossible for WotC to release the PDFs. Avalon Hill, owned by Wizards of the Coast and also familiar to many in the OSR, has had the PDFs for Diplomacy available for free download for years. This isn't even a question of an older game competing with a newer edition; it's the same game available at the same time. If one WotC game catering to gamers can do it, so can another.

2. WotC isn't a person you can hold a grudge against. People are people you can hold a grudge against, and people employed by WotC change. Type V D&D is being headed by Mike "I build my adventures using OD&D and play OSRIC with Delta's Target 20 system" Mearls and Monte "I left WotC and wrote my own megadungeon following quite a few principles held by the OSR and then got blessed by the OSR Pope for being such a good guy" Cook. My interpretation of what's happening is that WotC has them in charge because they want to make right what they've messed up; the complication is that WotC has made so many different groups mad that it's going to be difficult to make up to all of them. My understanding is that the people who made the decisions to do a lot of the crumby things WotC did with 4e aren't in charge anymore. It makes sense not to hold the team working on Type V responsible for what other people did.

3. Even if you still want to hold WotC as a company responsible for the decisions that some of their employees made, giving second chances is fair-minded and "three strikes and you're out" is a good rule to live by. I'm not saying that we should mindlessly commit to becoming WotC customers, but I am advocating giving WotC a chance to prove itself. If it can deliver on things like making PDFs of older editions available, its promise to make products compatible with whatever edition of the game you invested in and if it uses something more like the OGL than the GSL, WotC will have corrected its mis-steps. That, just as a moral act by the people making decisions over there, is worth some recognition; that kind of behavior is rare and we should give them a chance to succeed. Why would we want to discourage that kind of behavior in our hobby?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"We both gain a lot of ground if we meet in the middle"

So Jeff has put forward what I think is the best response to Wizards of the Coast's announcement that they are working on Type V.

Here's how I think we can help: We all link to Jeff's response from blog posts of our own declaring what we're willing to do to meet WotC half-way so we can have the PDFs of older editions. Link to his post with links that say "Fifth Edition" so that his post will rise to the front page when people google "Fifth Edition." That way people, hopefully people that make decisions in WotC, will see it. Here's my message to WotC:

I got into roleplaying only a few years ago. I played in a 3.5 campaign, but started getting interested in older editions right around the time that WotC pulled the PDFs of 0e. In the years since, I haven't obtained an electronic copy of 0e, because that would be illegal and, even though I don't like intellectual property law, I respect that that's the way intellectual property works here in the US. I would really like to own my own, legal copy of 0e, even if it's only a PDF.

I've been following the Legends and Lore column for a few months now and I've been encouraged by what I see. It's been great to read references to the game I like to play that are respectful and understanding; at the same time, I realize that you've got people who like to play Basic, 1e, 2e, 3e (surely), 3.5e and 4e that all feel just as strongly, or morso, than I do about their preferred flavor of D&D, so I don't expect 5e to look exactly like- or, if I'm understanding what you plan to do correctly, be able to be made exactly like- 0e. If you did that, well, you could just re-publish 0e, but you'd lose all the players of the various AD&Ds. As a member of the OSR, I also know that I can homebrew the finished 5e just as much as I need to to make it fit me; please don't take this to mean that I don't appreciate you making 5e flexible, however! I just think that you'll find that fans like me can be more forgiving when you write, for example, a Magic Missile spell that isn't to our liking. After you've published the final 5e, if there's something I don't like, I won't write in and complain until you change it; I'll happily fix it myself, and I think you'll find that attitude among many of the followers of the Old Ways. If I've been reading your columns right, you've got that basic attitude yourselves.

But that brings me to what I'm willing to do to meet you in the middle on this issue of 5e and the older edition PDFs. As of this posting, I've already signed up to playtest 5e as my good faith gesture. I don't know exactly when you'll need me to start playtesting, but I'll be ready to when you need me. I also promise not to do any homebrewing that you don't want me to; I understand that that's important to the process of playtesting.

If you, WotC, will make the PDFs available for purchase at a reasonable price, I'll buy them. I'll also be sure to see my playtesting all the way through until either the end of playtesting or my players revolt, hopefully the former. If you make the PDFs available for purchase at a reasonable price, I'll see my playtesting through as far as is up to me, even if I can't stand it. I'll put in a good faith effort to improve your game in exchange for the improvement having a legal copy of 0e will make in mine. As part of my playtesting, I'll regularly blog, as much as I'm allowed to, about my experiences; 5e will have at least one good faith, supportive voice in the OSR at least until it's finally published, if not longer.

What's more, if WotC makes the PDFs available for free download, I will buy at least $100 of 5e merchandise- core books, supplements, whatever I find helpful, but at least $100 worth. So far as I'm concerned, you'll turn me into a customer if you make the PDFs free. I'll also give Type V an honest shot at becoming my edition of choice; if it's built for homebrewing the way it sounds like it's meant to be, it'll have a pretty good chance of making it too.

So this is me, and hopefully the rest of the OSR, reaching out our hands and trying to meet you in the middle. With the flexibility you've talked about and your "Sign Up!" sign on your website, we think we see some signs that you're willing to meet us half-way too. This is me asking you to win us back as your fans; I think you'll find that we'll be forgiving of small stuff if you treat us right in the big ways that really matter.

-Christopher "Staples" O'Dell
author of the Grognardling blog

Saturday, January 7, 2012


In Ascolais and Almery, lands to the west of the Falling Wall, live a group of magicians who have formed an association the better to protect their interests. Their number fluctuates, but at this time they are:

Tchamast, morose of mood, and avowed ascetic, whose distrust of the female race runs so deep that he will allow only male insects into the precincts of his manse…

–Jack Vance, Forward to Rhialto the Marvellous

Friday, January 6, 2012

"You Find… All Your Corpses!"

One of the nice things about running an Old School game for gamers who are at least as sympathetic to New School ways of doing things as to Old School ways is that sometimes they'll make joking (or not-so-joking) guesses of what new unbalanced horror I have waiting for them. This gem came from one of my players while we waited for another player to show up. He meant it as being able to play as ghosts, while I thought of it more as a time travel or cloning device. However you interpret it, I think it's quite inspirational.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In Praise of Home-Brewing

I run a heavily home-brewed version of Swords & Wizardry. Many in my gaming group, as well as myself, enjoy the process of home-brewing, and even those who don't actively involve themselves enjoy at least some of the fruits of our home-brewing. As a result of over a year of home-brewing, we're starting to have a system that fits our group better than any game could when run "as-is," in much the same way that (I hear) tailored suits fit better than any store-bought, "as-is" suit ever does.

In fact, in much the same way that I think New School players are playing (rather than preparing for playing) when they work on their character builds, home-brewing, for at least some of us in the group, is an enjoyable activity in and of itself, not merely preparation for actual play sessions.

There is a downside to home-brewing, though it is, in my opinion, far outweighed by the benefits. This downside is decreased compatibility with just about everything else other people are doing. Probably the best example for my own game is the fact that, as far as I can tell, NOBODY except the publishers of Dungeonslayers and myself uses the metric system in Old School D&D. Distances are usually pretty easy to mess with: five foot squares are two meter squares and a mile is two kilometers- hardly exact, but good enough when exact conversions aren't needed at all. More fiddly is weight, especially since we use a kilogram-based encumbrance system. I generally can just say that two pounds is about a kilogram, but when goods are sold in lengths, weights and volumes, that requires conversion. I've received a refresher course in my middle school Home Ec classes just by having to figure out how to convert different Imperial volume measurements into liters.

The end result of all this non-compatibility that is most an inconvenience, though, is character sheets. With all the systems and rules we've bolted on- a small skill system, movement and encumbrance being done in metric, distinguishing race and class, and only slightly non-standard rules for hirelings and henchmen- plus the fact that no other game I know of uses a single save system like Swords and Wizardry does, it's little wonder that I've had to create a character sheet for us to use. It's nothing pretty, but it works and works well. On a lark, I'm posting a link to it here; it probably won't be terribly useful to anyone but it might be interesting, especially if you've wondered about the execution of some of the home-brewing I've discussed on this blog. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to get my character sheet into a version I can post on this blog, but, thanks to Google Documents, you can find the PDF version here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Two Questions

So, I've got two questions for my readers. The first is a question of style, and the second one is an obscure question about Arduin and prismatic walls.

1. If my players continue along their present course of action, that is, exploring in the same direction on this level of the megadungeon they are exploring, they will find a few Carcosan ray-guns. The PCs will have never have seen anything like them before in their lives. How would you describe a rifle to someone who's never seen one before? I don't want what these are to be immediately obvious to the players; also, how would you adjudicate figuring out how to work the rifles? Roll at-or-under Intelligence?

2. So, in both the lists of prismatic walls in Arduin I and Arduin V there's the Green and Yellow (or Greenish Yellow) wall which works against everything related to dragons. Dragons can't physically pass it, their breath weapons are blocked and even their magic cannot pass the wall. The only way that a dragon can destroy this wall is to cast a "Trigger" spell at it, and that's the rub. Both the entries for this wall in Arduin I and Arduin V reference the Trigger spell, but don't explain it. Arduin I references it in a footnote as "the aforementioned trigger spell," but I can't find where it's previously mentioned; considering that this is the Arduin Grimoire, it's conceivable that this is just talking about the entry of "Trigger spells" (is the plural a typo? it's the only time I think I've seen it plural) in the chart that it references, or that Hargrave forgot to flesh this out, but I'm hoping not, and it's also Hargrave's style to totally explain himself, just in a place you wouldn't expect, like he does with "competence." I've tried looking around and reading anything that seems like it might be relevant, but I haven't seen anything about trigger spells. Does anyone know anything about this?

Thanks in advance!