Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Final DBloC Post! I did it!!

This is it! The last day of Daily Blog Challenge. The final post. I did it! I missed the first couple days, because I heard about it a bit late. I missed one other day because the internet was being flaky at home. I made a couple posts after midnight. In the end, I did it though. 30 posts in 30 days. Sean at Reality Blurs started it because he didn't have the time to participate in NaNoWriMo. I jumped on board  because I wanted to kickstart this blog and write more about gaming.

I threw all my posts into a word processor, because I was curious about word count. NaNoWriMo says 50,000 words constitutes a novel. I was curious as to how close I got to that number this month. After stripping out the dates, tags, and other extraneous text, I ended up with almost 20,000 words.Maybe not a novel, but certainly in the "novella" range.

So what did I learn? Well, I learned that I could write something about gaming everyday and have fun doing it. Sure there were some lean days. Days without inspiration or a lot of time, but I forced myself to get something in writing. I learned that at least some people find what I'm writing to be interesting, and people were paying enough attention to actually comment on my posts. I discovered some new and interesting blogs and projects. I ended up buying a bunch more OSR related games and supplements. I learned that I enjoy writing about the games I'm playing and the games I'm interested in playing. I decided that I want this blog to be primarily related to gaming, generally, and RPGs, specifically. I also learned that I probably won't ever be one of those daily bloggers. That said, I think I can keep this thing alive for a little while. I know I'm still fresh and in that window of time where blogs tend to fizzle out.

So yeah...not much else to talk about today. I'll probably take tomorrow off, and maybe the next day, too, but I hope to keep posting. There will be more reports from GASP Game Days, reviews of the stuff I'm reading and playing, and game reports. I hope to use this space to continue the work I've started on my campaign world. Eventually, I hope to post some house rules and game materials for some of those games I'm playing. I even have a game design idea sitting on the back burner. Just a thought right now, really, but if I manage to turn it into something more, you're definitely going to hear about it here.

So thanks to everyone who has been reading, commenting and complimenting me on the stuff I've posted so far...and to paraphrase the Big Boys, "Now go start your own [blog]!"

HEX character generation

Here it is...the eve of the last day of Daily Blog Challenge. Today, I'm going to walk through the process of creating a character using the rules in Hollow Earth Expedition. It's going to be sort of a live blogging experience. Keep in mind, I've only played about a 10 minute demo of the game. I've never seen in played otherwise. I've read most of the rule book, though.

Step 1: Archetype
Since this is my first attempt at character generation, I'm going to go with one of the archetypes in the book. I'm going to go with Soldier, since there isn't an example in the book. The adventure I'm planning on running for my players will likely have some government connection to kick it off, so offering a soldier as a pre-gen makes sense. Apologies ahead of time to any military folks in the audience. My military experience doesn't extend much past watching "The Dirty Dozen" a couple times.

Step 2: Motivation
Again, there is the option to select between the motivations in the book and making up your own. I'm going with a motivation Duty. Kind of cliched for the Soldier, I suppose, but I'm just feeling things out right now.

Step 3: Attributes
Starting characters have 15 points to spend on starting attributes. You have to spread them between 6 attributes. Nothing can be over 5 or under 1 (so essentially 6 of your points are accounted for off the bat). I decided this guy was some sort of sniper, so I gave him a 4 in Dexterity and a 3s in Strength and Intelligence. He's got 2s in Body and Willpower, so he's a bit of a glass-jaw for now, but that's okay. That left me with 1 left for charisma. He's not so good in social situations. Maybe he's a bit "backwoods" or something?

Step 4: Secondary Attributes
Secondary attributes are based directly what you selected for Step 3. You just fill in the blanks. I ended up with a Move and Initiative of 7, Defense of 6, and Perception of 5. I think that works for the character concept.

Step 5: Skills
Here's where you determine what your character is good at. Since I was going with the military sniper motif, I gave his some ranks in firearms with a rifle specialization. He also has Brawl and Melee (with a spear specialization, which applies to the bayonet on the rifle). I also gave him Larceny, with a specialization in Security and Stealth with Camouflage specialization (for entering and hiding in those good sniping spots).

Step 6: Talents and Resources
You start with one talent or resource. I chose to the resource Rank.

Step 7: Flaws
I chose Superstitious. I decided the character has a lucky lighter that he rubs and fiddles with all the time. If he loses the lighter, he's psychs himself out and is less effective.

Step 8: Experience
You start with an additional 15 points to spend, but the skills and attributes aren't as cheap now. Since he's supposed to be a sniper, I spent all 15 to get the Accuracy talent, which allows him to ignore -2 worth of penalty on a called shot.

Step 9: Finishing touches
I equipped the guy with a .30-06, a bayonet, and a Colt M1911 pistol, general adventuring gear including a backpack, binoculars, fatigues, rope, a scope, and a few other things. It's more than $100 listed in the book, but I'm using my Rank resource to justify it. I still need to write a bit of background for the character, but it's coming together nicely.

Step 10: Style
He's going to get a style-point for the flaw. I'll give him a couple more once I write that background.

That's it. Mechanically, I was able to throw this together in about an hour, with no previous experience. That said, I had a pretty well defined, and simple, character in mind when I started. I'm sort of tossing around the idea of letting the players come up with the characters, rather than just jamming pre-gens in their faces, but it could be a bit too time consuming, considering I'm the only one with the book.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What I've been reading...

The end of the Daily Blog Challenge is in sight...This is post number 28. Just two more posts after today. I don't have a plan for posting once December starts. I don't foresee the daily posts. I may end up trying to set up a regular schedule to keep myself dedicated to writing and posting. I think I laid out enough threads over the past month to keep myself pretty busy.

So, besides Hollow Earth Expedition, what else have I been reading?

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary RealmsI'm about halfway through Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, a sort of a combined memoir and exploration of gamer lifestyle. Subtitled "An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms", the books covers traditional table top RPGs like D&D, LARPs, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, SCA events, and gaming and other fantasy related conventions. Described by NPR as "Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac's On the Road," the author, Ethan Gilsdorf, travels the globe, interacting with fans of role playing of all types. He plays with a few legends at GaryCon, swings some foam swords at a boffer larp, and interacts with some interesting people spending their free time exploring fantasy worlds. So far, it seems like he's grasping towards some sort of reason why people gravitate towards these types of experiences, but even at this point in the book, I'm not sure he's really going to find it. It's got to be pretty different for different types of people. Sometimes, it even seems a bit disjointed, almost like he is trying to force some kind of theme across the book. That said, it's been a fast and easy read. It's fun, but in the long run, I don't feel like I'm really going to learn much about my group of friends or myself. It did make me want to attend GaryCon at some point, though.

CoverI also read James Raggi's latest Lamentations of the Flame Princess module, Hammers of the Gods. A stand alone module designed for character level 3-5, it looks like it could be inserted into just about any home campaign pretty easily. I'll probably be using it for a future OSR campaign, so I want to avoid spoilers, especially since my players read this, but I'll point out some highlights. First, I love the list of books held in the library. There are 100 titles, all with descriptions, that are chocked FULL of ideas for future adventures for the players. The alternate history for dwarfs is interesting and can certainly fit within the ideas I've been constructing. Like the other LotFP stuff I've read (the RPG box set, Stargazers Tower, No Dignity in Death, parts of the 4 issues of Green Devil Face), the adventure is steeped in atmosphere. What it lacks in combat encounters, it makes up for with interesting environments. I'm curious to see how I handle his modules in action, since I more used to running highly combat oriented RPGs. I'm also curious to see how the players will react to a significantly more deadly play style than what they are used to playing. 

The B/X CompanionFinally, I've really been digging the writing on B/X Blackrazor, an OSR blog out of Seattle. The author is probably best known for his OSR book The B/X Companion, which provides a continuation/completion of the game presented in Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules and continued in the Dave Cook/Steve Marsh Expert Rules. I haven't read the book, but his writing on the blog has me curious. He recently provided a highly amusing play report of his group playing through the classic D&D module White Plume Mountain. Far too often, I find play reports to be tedious, even if I understand the purpose from the DM & player point of view. I found his reports to be a great deal of fun to read. I need to spend some time digging through his older posts for interesting content. 

That's all for today...See you tomorrow!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The rest of Hollow Earth Expedition

I've been putting this off all day, but here it is...Yes! It is Daily Blog Challenge post 27...

No inspiration yet today. I'm feeling rather spent. I guess it was a long night with one too many beers or something. I watched the Pens win then City of Lost Children. I'm still considering another show this evening, but I don't have much motivation to leave the house this evening. I kind of want to crash out right now...

Since I haven't come up with anything better to write about, and I'm too tired to try to come up with something more interesting, I'll go through the last few chapters of Hollow Earth Expedition. I'm hoping this series of posts will prove helpful for me when I putting the game together. Sometimes writing about something makes it all a bit more clear.

Chapter 6 is on Gamemastering. Rather than assuming the reader has no knowledge of RPGs, the book actually assumes that this isn't your first experience running a role-playing game. Rather than spending a lot of pages talking about the generalities of RPG gamemastering, it jumps in with content specific to HEX. As someone who has read a fair number of gamemastering chapters for different games, it was a nice change of pace. "You already know how to do this. Here's some tips for doing it with HEX." There are sections on genre conventions, HEX conventions, and story structure. The chapter also provides a great deal of good information for forming both short and long campaigns. There are some great story seeds and some examples of developing the seeds into a plan for a game. I think these few pages have given me enough to put something together for my players.

Related to yesterday's post, where I talked about whether or not to use a battle mat for combat, the chapter does actually specifically state that HEX is not a tactical game and is not designed to be played with miniatures. I'm glad to see it in print, as I wasn't planning on running the game in that fashion anyway. There are some great examples given for getting the players and GM on the same page. For example, there is a suggestion for inviting the players over for a pre-campaign party, where you watch one of the films suggested in the appendix for inspiration, then discuss ideas for the up-coming campaign. With this information, the players can make some informed decisions as to what type of character to create. I won't do this for our demo game, but it sounds like a great technique for getting everyone on the same thematic page.

Chapter 7 is a sort of gazetteer for Hollow Earth, offering possible entry ways and a cosmology, explaining "how things work". I know a lot of my players read the blog, so I don't want to give away any spoilers at this point. Chapter 8 is titled "Friends and Enemies". It includes a laundry list of possible friendly and not-so-friendly organizations and NPCs. The NPCs are fully statted-out, and generic enough that they could be applied to any campaign a GM would want to run. There is a section for surface world people and groups and another for Hollow Earth people and groups. Chapter 9 is the bestiary, which features all sorts of dinos, giant animals, and deadly plants! Finally, there is a sample adventure, a pretty good list of pulp resources which includes print, film, comic book, radio, and television, a glossary, and an index.

I'm getting very excited about trying out the game. As I believe I mentioned (probably a few times), I'll be running HEX for my regular game group as soon as our Gamma World adventure wraps. I'll be sure to update with a game report and comments once that happens.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Combat (and more) in the Hollow Earth

Submitted for your approval, Daily Blog Challenge post 26.

As promised, I'm here to talk a little bit about the combat rules in Hollow Earth Expedition. I'm plowing through the rule book to prep for running a demo game for friends. Talking about the game the other day piqued some interest around the table, so I volunteered to try to sort out the rules and give it a go...

The Combat chapter starts with an overview of the combat turn, which should look pretty typical for most gamers. Roll initiative, take some actions, make an attack and defense, calculate damage, rinse, repeat if necessary. Initiative is handled by the players rolling a number of dice equal to their initiative number. The player with the most successes (even numbers on the dice) goes first, then the player with the next highest, etc, until everyone goes, then the next turn starts. There is an optional set of rules for "Continuous Combat" which mimics the initiative rules in Hackmaster Basic and Aces & Eights, where different types of actions take different lengths of time. It helps equalize fast, but light damage weapons, like daggers with slower, big damage weapons, like great swords. Fast weapon fighters might get off an extra attack or two before the slow weapon fighter gets to swing again. It's an interesting concept, but there is no way I'm going to try to include it in my demo game. Too much to track for new players and a new GM.

In combat, players are able to move, attack, and defend each round. There are a wide variety of options for attacking including aiming, calling shots, charging and disarming. It all makes logical sense, but it's a bit more complicated than I would have assumed, based on the 10 minute demo I played at Origins and the flavor of the earlier text in the book. "Complicated" might be the wrong word here? Maybe "crunchy" is the better term. Granted, compared to something like Hackmaster Basic or 4th edition D&D, this looks like a breeze. Certainly not an exercise in tactical miniature war-gaming crammed into an RPG, but it makes me wonder if it will slow down the action at all. I guess I was expecting this section to be a bit more "rules-light", in line with the Rules and Intro chapters. My players don't have the rule book, so explaining all the combat options will be tedious. Hopefully, they will come up with creative ideas that mimic the options in the book, and I can referee as appropriate. I realize I can modify what is here for a more cinematic feel, stripping a lot of the special abilities and actions in combat.

I don't know of there is an intent to use a battle mat in combat, but I don't think so...It's never reference in the combat section (at least that I noticed), but there are a lot of references to distance, both in range of weapons and effects of certain attacks and damage. Maybe I'm just so used to playing with a mat in the newer editions of D&D, that I have a harder time thinking about these things in an abstract sense. I didn't plan on using any minis to play the game, but maybe we'll end up using some if we run into a more detailed combat scenario. I'm certainly not opposed to using them, but I sometimes feel like players get to attached to the minis and it strips the cinematic qualities out of the scenario. It turns into a lot of counting and jockeying for position, rather that high action and adventure.

The damage, wounds and healing sections move back to keeping things fast and loose. Instead of requiring extra dice to determine damage, the character suffers the difference between the attacker's success count and his/her defense success count. If you go below zero, you are dying. If you go below -5, you are dead. Wounds heal slowly (non-lethal = 1 per day, lethal = 1 per week), but medical attention and first aid can speed it up. The chapter also has sections on environmental hazards, diseases, poisons, and other threats to character health (falling, electrocution, fatigue, exposure, and fire, for example).

Following the combat chapter, there is a chapter on equipment, with weapons, armor, exploration gear, vehicles and "weird science". Since damage is handled by taking the difference between the attack and defense rolls, the weapons don't have standard variable weapon damage. More deadly weapons have a higher damage bonus. The damage bonus increases the number of dice added to the attack roll. A scimitar has a damage bonus of 3, where a pen knife has a damage bonus of zero. The "weird science" section only includes some sample artifacts, with the expectation that creative players (and game masters intent on offering up villains of the mad-scientist flavor) come up with their own ideas. The sky seems to be the limit here, allowing the GM to referee the process as necessary.

I'll give an overview of the rest of the sections of the book in a few days. I gotta throw together some food before heading over to Gooki's for the Brown Angel record release show. Heavy...

If you want a basic overview of HEX, without dropping any cash, check out the Exile Game Studio website. They have downloads for the 2008 & 2009 Free RPG Day adventures. Obviously, they've simplified the rules greatly for these demos, but they hint at the basic flavor of the game.

More details when I actually get to play the game and see how I handle it from the GM perspective. If anyone has any experience playing or running HEX, let me know in the comments. Any hints or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Yep. It's true...we're almost there. This is Daily Blog Challenge post 25, and it's Thanksgiving Day.

First of all, a couple thanks are in order. First off, Curt for pushing to get a game together a few years ago (and convincing me to help DM the Gygax tribute games). Mark for volunteering to act as DM (and cooking dinner). You two got me back into the hobby. Sara for hosting (and healing). Thanks to Tim for allowing me the opportunity to see another DM in action. Dave and Allen for volunteering to get behind the screen so we could try out some different games (and playing in just about every game I play in). Jen for hosting (and trying out this totally bizarro hobby). Hickey, Brad and Paul for agreeing to play in my game (and showing up just about every game session). Tim and John for running some OSR games at GASP and GASPCon, giving me the opportunity to relive my childhood a little (and discover a lot of what I'm missing by playing the modern games). Everyone I've had the pleasure of gaming with over the past 5 years...It's way too many to list, but it was all pretty great. Finally, my handful of readers here at Gutter Cult. Thanks for the feedback and support.

On to a topic of sorts. Well, not really a topic....just letting you all know about the sale going on over at Brave Halfling Publishing. The third printing of Swords & Wizardry White Box box set is on sale for $25 (plus $5 shipping). I probably didn't really need another OSR box set, but I couldn't pass up the deal. The set contains 4 rule books (Characters, Spells, Monsters, & Treasure), a copy of the "Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming" (which I feel should be required reading for all gamers -- pdf is free at the previous link), character sheets, a pencil, and a set of dice, all in a game box. The first 50 orders also get two modules, "The Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak" & "Ruins of Ramat." Here's hoping I got me order in early enough. They are supposed to ship Monday, so I'll report back, with opinions, once I have it in my hands.

Contents of the S&W White Box box set
Like I said above, I really didn't need this. This is my third OSR related box set. I also have the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasty Role-playing and the limited edition Spellcraft & Swordplay box. All the content is available via free PDF on the Mythmere site. I even have the PDFs saved on my laptop already. I guess I'm just a sucker for these box sets for some reason. I did really like the presentation, though, and I definitely liked the price.

In case you haven't been paying attention or missed my earlier posts where I talked about it, Swords & Wizardry is a clone of 1974 edition D&D, sometimes called OD&D. They have two versions. The Core Rules cover the three original Little Brown Books (LBB), plus the supplements. The White Box only contains rules from the LBBs. There is also well designed set of Quick Start rules for S&W, for those interested in getting a taste without investing to time to read the full books.

That's all for today. Hopefully, I'll have a bit more to say about Hollow Earth Expedition tomorrow. Gonna start reading some more of the core book right now.

Getting ready for the expedition

Ooh...another late post, but here it is: Daily Blog Challenge post 24. Yes. Technically it is the 25th, but I'm sticking with my plan of at least posting before I sleep for the day, so we're good to go...Fortunately, all I need to do on the 25th is wake-up and drive the 2 hours to Oil City then eat. Not much else going on tomorrow.

As for my excuse for the late post? I don't have a good one today. I did some laundry, watched some Mythbusters and the Pens game, played the demo of Puzzle Quest 2, and did some reading. A fair amount of reading, actually.

Hollow Earth ExpeditionIn preparation for my turn back behind the screen once the Gamma World adventure wraps up, I started ripping through Hollow Earth Expedition. I picked up the book at origins this summer after a quick demo at the booth, but I never really sat down and read it. I have to say, the writing is darn good.

First off, if you are a fan of pulpy adventure stories and that cover doesn't draw you in, you best check your pulse. It is well matched to Hollow Earth Expedition's style: threatened explorers, big-ass dinosaurs, crazy looking scientific equipment. The back cover features some remnants of a ruin civilization. The book itself starts with an introductory pulp adventure story to set the tone followed by an overview of HEX and roleplaying. Pretty standard info here. We're then presented with a sort of gazetteer for Earth, ca. 1936. As the depression continues, the Nazis, Fascists, and Communists are coming to power around the world. There are sections for each region of the world and an overview of fashion, entertainment, and travel in the time period. For someone who doesn't really think about World History all that much, it was quite helpful. In college, when most folks were taking History 101, or whatever, I was studying the history of science. Oh well...

Chapter 2 covers character creation and is loaded with examples for developing the character you want to play. The examples provide a pretty clear thought process for how to develop a character to match your imagination. They also provided 12 complete characters, along with role playing notes and character background. These characters are perfect for inspiring players who need a little push or can be used a pre-gens if you like.

Chapter 3 gets into the rules and explains the Ubiquity system used to run the game. Ubiquity uses a dice pool system, where you have a certain number of nice in each of your attributes in skills. The player is trying to get a certain number of "successes", as determined by the GM. Instead of have a cut off number, such as getting "4 or better" on a six sided die, the players are trying to roll "evens". Every even number counts as a success; each odd is a failure. Sounds pretty intuitive to me. The game also has a system known as "Style Points". Style Points are a bit like Bennies in Savage Worlds. You can use them to get extra dice before you roll, soak damage in combat, or power up your talents. Players get style points in game for roleplaying or benefiting the game. Instant reward system. Nice. Again, there are great examples throughout the chapter to help players understand how to gain and use the style points.

In typical pulp style, I'm going to leave you with a cliff hanger for now. I'll cover chapters 4-9 in a couple days, after I have a bit more time to digest the info. Skimming through, they cover combat, give an example of play (I really love reading examples of play a little too much, I think), equipment, game mastering, Hollow Earth gazetteer, friends and enemies, bestiary, and a sample adventure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A bit of gaming and a bit of building...

Daily Blog Challenge post 23.

Running a little bit late tonight, so this will be posted after midnight, but that shouldn't be a problem. It's still November 23 somewhere, right? Plus, I have a pretty good excuse. We were actually gaming.

Tonight, one of the regulars in my crew, Dave, stepped behind the screen for his first attempt at GMing. He's a total natural. We were playing the newest edition of Gamma World, which is loosely based on the 4e D&D rules. They've simplified a lot, including character generation and resource tracking. There were 4 players. I ended up with a Hawkoid Cockroach name LeRoach McLame (cockroaches have a spitting attack, so I named him after the Ravens spitting full back). We also had an animated giant garbage heap, a doppleganger yeti who bashed people with a barbed-wire covered garbage can, and an electrokinetic swarm of tiny humanoids. Yeah....a little too gonzo for some, but we had a blast with it. Since everyone at the table was familiar with 4e, we were able to jump right in. As I mentioned earlier, Dave did a bang up job, finally getting to take out years of pent up aggression on two of his regular GMs!

I think we decided to go with either Hollow Earth Expedition (HEX) or Savage Worlds Rippers next. I'm planning on starting with HEX first, because I think I can come up with something good with a little less preparation. I feel like the heavy focus on roleplaying and cinematic action in HEX will take some of the players pretty far out of their comfort zone, which is a plus. I think these guys are all up for just about anything, and it will be interesting to see how they react to such a different type of game. For three people at the table, it's unlikely that they've played anything at all like this before. Very exciting.

In other exciting news, one of our other regulars, Allen, who is running the Masks of Nyarlathotep Call of Cthulhu campaign Dave and I are playing in, has offered to run a CoC one-off for this crew. Paul also expressed some interest in running a CoC adventure for the group, once he gets a hang on the system. I'm thinking the round robin GMing and game systems will make for a very healthy group dynamic and help cut back on burnout. We'll be able to try a lot of things with limited buy-in. Should be cool...

So...on to the actual content of the post. Continuing my thoughts/notes/etc related to world building, yesterday I promised some more details on the basic ideas I've presented for my fantasy campaign setting. This is a world, that I want to use for OSR-style sandbox game.

Anyway, something bad happened in this land some time ago. Something really bad. I haven't quite decided what it was, but it could have been a great war, a pandemic disease, some sort of environmental disaster or plague, some sort of curse by a vengeful deity, or, most likely, some combination of the above. It was long enough ago that people don't think or talk about it much any more, but it wiped out most of the human and demi-human populations. Civilization hasn't completely recovered, at least in the area known to the adventurers. Distributed across the land are small, isolated, self-sufficient cities, each with their own forms of government, religion, and commerce. People do travel between the lands and there may be some trading between cities, but it is still quite rare.In most cities, foreigners are not usually greeted with hostility, but they are seen as strange.

Littered across the land are remnants of the former civilization: abandoned cities and towers, decrepit crypts and dungeons, all possibly teaming with treasures (and new inhabitants). Rumors abound of the great treasures and magical and scientific advancements of the dead civilization, but most don't ever travel beyond the relative safety of home to explore further. Treasure seekers are rare, as many see the risk outweighing the potential reward.

In a future post, I'll get a bit more into the specifics of the starting point for the players, a town I've dubbed Mallatrova. I'm planning on starting with the LotFPWFRP rules and probably some of Raggi's low level adventures to populate the immediate surroundings of Mallatrova. I had this funny idea this evening, though. I'd really like to try running Labyrinth Lord at some point. I joked with my potential players that there would be a great ocean, and if an adventurer crossed that ocean, their armor class would magically flip from high to low and they would lose access to all their d6 based skills...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Assumptions about the world

Daily Blog Challenge post 22.

Yesterday, I made a post about world building. Today, I'd like to talk a little more about this world I'll be developing for my future OSR gaming. In this post, I want to present some basic assumptions about the world that will hopefully guide my design. I do not want to define any game systems or rules at this point. I'm hoping to use this world for a variety of gaming opportunities for years to come. Heck, I don't even have a name for this place yet. Different campaigns and one-off sessions could take place in different regions and times, and development would progress as necessary to the players interests.

Anyway, on to laying out some of the assumptions:
  • Gritty post-apocalypse fantasy
  • A single point of light with much surrounding darkness
  • Isolationist, self sufficient city-states. 
  • Deities are aloof and uncaring, if they exist at all
  • Demi-humans are rare, but not unheard of, in human civilizations
Over the next couple days, I'll get more into what each of these means and how I'll use them to develop my world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Building my world

Wow! Daily Blog Challenge post 21. Past the 2/3 point. The home stretch. The 3rd period (for hockey fans). We're almost there, folks.

Lots of ideas floating around in my head lately. One that is really sticking out right now is the idea of finally creating my own campaign setting. It's sort of a rite of passage, I suppose. Gygax had Greyhawk. Arneson had Blackmoor. Greenwood has the Realms. Bolam will have...well, I don't know yet. Those are some pretty lofty company, but that's one of the great advantages of playing table-top RPGs. You get to stand on the shoulders of giants, taking all that you have learned, and make up your own place to play.

From Wikipedia:
A campaign setting is usually a fictional world which serves as a setting for a role-playing game or wargame campaign. A campaign is a series of individual adventures, and a campaign setting is the world in which such adventures and campaigns take place.  [...] many game masters create their own settings, often referred to as "homebrew" settings or worlds.
Since returning to the hobby, I've played games set in Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft. I've played in the Warhammer 40k Universe, post-post-apocalypse earth of Gamma World, the weird wild west, and the 1920s, as envisioned by Lovecraft. I haven't tried my own hand at making a world, though. It's quite a daunting task, but there are some great resources out there to help the designer along.

One key idea that I keep seeing and hearing is "start small". My idea is to start with a single, self sufficient, and slightly isolated town. The players will be from the town, and they will know a bit about  nearby area. The world will be built around the players decisions. If they decide to cross the mountains, then I will develop the area beyond the mountains. If they hit the high seas, then I will develop the area beyond the ocean. Anything unrelated to the adventurers will remain in the darkness until they explore it. It doesn't matter if the players don't ever go there. Essentially this world is for me and my players, not the rest of the world. If everything goes well, together we'll develop this world and it's history.

I'm going to stick with the standard fantasy tropes. I don't see a need to rewrite everything the players might know about dragons or dwarfs, just for the sake of trying to be different. I want to come up with a few general themes and some recent history to help understand why the players are in this world and this town, but I want to keep things as simple as possible to start out.

Here's a few good resources I came across recently that might be helpful. If you know of others, post them to the comments. I'd love to see them. If you have developed a world and have it documented online, I'd like to see that too. Let me know...
  • The Dungeon Master Guys Podcast episode six has a great interview with Micah Wedemeyer of Obsidian Portal. In the podcast, Micah gives a lot of great tips on what not to do with your campaign wiki, that can easily be applied to world building.  
  • Brandan Landgraff from d20 Source also has a great series under the title World Building 101. If you search for that phrase in the Google search widget on the site, they should pop-up.
  • Michael Harrison did a series of three articles on world building on the Geek Dad section of Wired.com. Here's part 1, part 2, and part 3. Part 3 has a great video on using Obsidian Portal to build your campaign. 
Well, the Steelers game starts in 10 minutes, so I better get this posted and hit the couch. Hopefully this is helpful for you other burgeoning world builders out there.

2000 More Maniacs...

Daily Blog Challenge post 20...

Yesterday's post was a bit of a cop-out, right? I just made a list movies that I thought could make for a good scenarios or adventure setting. It's not even a very long list..haha. Well, I've been trying of thinking of some ways to actually use them, and I'll likely turn them into some sort of semi-regular post of the rest of the month. The posts will mostly be loose notes and ideas on ways to use the plots, and possibly some of the characters, in different types of RPGs. There will definitely be some spoilers, so if you haven't had the "pleasure" of seeing all the films from yesterday's post yesterday, you may want to hold off on reading the posts related to those films.

Up first is the 1964 gore "masterpiece" 2000 Mainiacs, by H.G. Lewis!

Six unsuspecting Yankees are lured into Pleasant Valley, a town is in the midst of a centennial celebration. What is unknown to the Yanks, is that the events commemorate the day a band of renegade Union troops decimated the town. The townspeople seek revenge on the northerners.

In a D&D setting, the adventurers could discover a civilization thought to be long dead. It would require a little set-up. It would probably help if the players knew that a certain race or intelligent species no longer existed in the game world. It could be a background part of the campaign setting or something that is revealed in an earlier point in the plot. Try introducing the lost civilization when the adventurers are in need. Maybe they barely escaped a fight and need healing. Or they are lost in the wilderness or dungeon. Maybe they are lost in an unknown location due to some sort of teleportation trap. The adventurers can be taken in, given food, medical attention, and shelter and are generally treated as guests of honor, but something isn't right. They slowly learn that things are not what they seem, just like in Pleasant Valley.

Who are these strange creatures? What do they want with the adventurers? Where did they come from? How do they fit into the extended campaign? That's for you to decide.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Horrific Inspirations...

Daily Blog Challenge post 19. I'm kind of at a standstill here. I'm having a hard time coming up with a topic with which to wax poetic. With that said, I really do want to stick to my plan of 30 posts in 30 days. Seems like quite an accomplishment for such a new blogger. It's not that I don't have anything game related on my mind. Not that case at all, really. The problem is that most of my players are also readers. There are a few ideas that could probably be expanded here, but they would act as spoilers for the guys, and nobody needs that, right?

I'm in the process of reading James Raggi's Death Frost Doom, right now. The adventure takes some of it's inspiration from a classic cult horror film (which I'm trying to keep secret, since I hope to run it for my crew at some point. I have a feeling knowing the inspiration might take a little from the experience). So, since I'm a bit stumped for something to write about right now, I'm just going to make a list of ridiculous horror movies that I'd someday like to rip off for some inspiration for a one-off game setting/scenario:
  1. 2000 Mainiacs
  2. City of the Living Dead
  3. The Beyond
  4. House by the Cemetery
  5. Werewolves on Wheels
  6. Race with he Devil
  7. Versus
  8. Mystics in Bali (actually, I'd run a whole campaign in this universe.)
  9. Demons
  10. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (or maybe not...)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Introducing New Players

Daily Blog Challenge post 18.

I'm constantly talking about D&D around my non-game buddies. It looks like it may have paid off again. Over the past few years since getting back into the hobby, I've made sure to proudly promote the game as much as possible. I sometimes see blog posts where people talk about being uncomfortable about being a gamer. They talk about how they keep it secret from their co-workers and non-gamer friends, fearing some sort of negative reaction. It never made a whole lot of sense to me, but I'm pretty lucky. My profession (librarianship) is filled with nerds of varying degrees. The crowd I run with is already pretty nerdy, too. Many of them grew up as one of the outcasts of their respective high schools, where they learned early that they could survive with out "fitting in". Punk rockers and headbangers, record collectors and comic book readers, musicians and horror fanatics, freaks and geeks of all flavors. So, yeah, they're all pretty accepting of the whole thing. Most of them have some hazy memory of "trying" to play the game at some point...memories that mimic my early experience. It all seemed so cool, but they could never quite get to work out right.

I'm quite jealous when I hear stories of those teenage groups that ran multiple year campaigns. Those groups that got together again on Fall, Winter, and Spring break from college, to run those classic characters through one more dungeon. I didn't have that experience. I both the old box sets and some of the books, but it seemed we never got past that solo night of fun. We never quite made that next step from guys that played D&D during the sleep-over party to guys that scheduled our lives around playing the game. Then punk rock and heavy metal kind of stepped into place and the games were left behind, but that's another story, for another time, maybe.

So, I've got two new people who has progressed from humoring me while regaling of them with game stories to actually inquiring about playing. Both of them are pretty entertaining and creative, so I think they'll be a perfect fit. One of the guys, Ed, is a great writer, and has a lot of potential to be a great DM some day, I think. The other, Ben, is a freak...a total maniac, who has the potential to be a real handful at the table, but I think I'm up for that challenge. From what I know, Ben has never played the game and Ed's experiences haven't been very positive, but they both seem excited about it, so we're going to roll. I think both of them would excel in a looser system where they can use their creativity to their advantage. They'd likely find the tactical combat focus of newer editions of D&D to be stifling. They'd likely have a lot of fun with something like Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds, but since they don't really have a lot of experience with RPGs, they really just want to play "D&D" right now. I'm thinking of putting together a little dungeon delve, using Labyrinth Lord and running it as a one-shot with a couple folks from my regular gaming group (probably the others who haven't had much experience with the older editions) and see what happens.

If everything rolls as planned we might need to find a few more seats at the Tuesday night game...Any suggestions you might have for indoctrinating new players would be nice. I've been through the process a few times, but any kinds of extra hints would certainly be helpful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Dungeons & Weird Tales

Daily Blog Challenge post 17. I have to admit, I've even surprised myself here. 17 blog posts in 17 days. Sure a few of them were posted a little late, and I counted a couple that didn't really have much content, but I'm still going strong and I think it's all improved the way I think about my writing. Knowing that there are at least a couple people out there reading has been helpful (as is all the positive feedback).

Speaking of which, I have to promote a blog I just discovered because the author, Shane Mangus, appeared in my Google Followers list. The blog is called Swords Against the Outer Dark, with the subtitle "Where Swords & Sorcery Gaming meets Cthuliana and Yog-Sothothery". Yowzers. Sounds perfect for the guys in my gaming group. I just took a few minutes to look over some of the posts, and it all looks very interesting. Shane is working on an OGL game which will be released as Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying. The game will utilize the Labyrinth Lord rules and Sword & Sorcery flavor combined with Mythos nastiness.

It seems like there is a growing interest in this style of gaming as of late, with the impending release of Sword & Sanity RPG and the recent release Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-playing. Personally, as a fan of both Call of Cthulhu and D&D, it seems like a natural fit to me; two great tastes that go great together. Taking cues from arguably the two most important and well known RPGs, and developing a new way to play is quite exciting. Where LotFP borrows from the weird tales, to me it still feels a lot like D&D with a twist of Weird, rather than a true blend of the two genres.. This is speaking from limited experience. I've read the books in the boxed set, the blog, and parts of the adventures Raggi has published, so I'm by no means an authority on the subject at this point. Just some first early impressions, really. If you feel significantly differently, feel free to let me know.

I have the feeling from what I've read on SAOD that Shane is looking to create a more blended game. While defining the "Sword & Sanity" role playing style, Shane, proposes the following:
[...]these two types of fiction are diametrically opposed. The heroes you find in Sword & Sorcery fiction are individuals that test their mettle against whatever foe steps across their path, and they always live to fight another day. In the stories of H.P. Lovecraft there really are no heroes in the truest sense of the word [...] The challenge then becomes presenting a story (or in this case a game) that has both elements of Sword & Sorcery, as well as a good dose of Yog-Sothothery, without compromising either genre.
I'm curious to see how he handles this opposition in the game, both with the "fluff" and the "crunch". How will the characters differ from the standard tropes of the D&D and CoC? Could this system work as a great "What if?" scenario as in "What if TSR received the Lovecraft Mythos License, rather than Chaosium?" For more info, check out the blog and the FAQ. Consider me very excited. If I had known about the blog last week while putting together my list of OSR related blogs, SAOD would have certainly made the list. I'm not sure how Shane found me, but I'm glad he did. If you happen to read this Shane, and you need play-testers, consider this my application.

Well, I gotta run to band practice, so I better wrap this up. Not much else to say right now, but I'll be sure to follow what's going on over at SAOD and keep yinz posted.

On being GM and knowing when to screw the rules

I was quite tempted to let post 16 for the Daily Blog Challenge slip by today. It's been a long one...I spent the morning reviewing library digitization grant proposals in Harrisburg, PA. We finished early, which was nice. All three of us were mostly on the same page about the proposals, so it went pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I still had a 4-hour drive in front of me...and it was raining...hard...nonstop...for all 4 hours. PA turnpike + shitty rainstorms + low visibility + big scary semi-trucks = NO FUN!!!

Fortunately there was fun to be had when I got back to the 'burgh. Our bi-weekly Call of Cthulhu game was scheduled, and because I got out of Harrisburg early, I was actually going to be there on time. Bonus points. I've mentioned it here before, but in case you were out of the loop on the whole Gutter Cult scene, we're playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. My buddy Allen is acting as Keeper. The investigators are being run by his wife, Jen, Mark ( the DM from our Ravenloft game), and Dave, who plays in almost every other gaming I'm playing right now. Tonight's game was fun, but I was exhausted from the trip, Jen was kind of sick and I think Dave and Mark both had long days at work. Weeknight gaming can definitely be a challenge, but I think we did pretty good, at least for the first few hours. Then the fatigue started to set in...

Anyway, it took me a while, but I finally figured out what I'm trying to say here. Allen runs the game very rules-lite. None of the players have a ton of experience with the system, so we just kind of wing-it and it's been great. Certain nights it's been more of a storytelling and puzzle solving exercise than anything else. We've lost characters to mortal injury and sanity loss. We've solved a few scenarios and totally botched others. I'm fairly certain that we're not going to save the world. We're going to screw it up somehow and Nyarlathotep is going to show up and wreck shit. There are big swaths of rules we just skip over. We advance our skills every few games when Allen gives us points. We lose sanity and take damage when it makes sense, often without ever even rolling the dice. The whole thing is fast and smooth and it works. Because there is a lot of trust between the players and the Keeper, we've been able to ignore a lot of the fiddly bits. We know he is out to get us, too, because we know there are only losers when you are dealing with Elder Gods and Old Ones. That's why we signed up for this game, dammit. Everyone at the table is having fun while we're telling the story of these investigators. We know we're going to go insane and we're going to die and the world is going to get destroyed and we're having a blast while it all goes to hell!

As a person who is sometimes a bit over concerned about "the correct and incorrect" way of doing something, it took a bit of getting used to, but eventually everything clicked. I don't know if I'd run CoC, that way, but that is what makes it interesting to play with different GMs. You experience different ways of playing. I guess this post is kind of meandering, but I hope I made some kind of point. It just boils down to playing however you want to play. Rules exist for good reason, but they are also meant to be broken, ignored, rewritten, undermined, overthrown, and re-interpreted. Role-playing games should be organic, evolving to fit the needs and interests of those playing. The act of gaming should be the experience, and that can be independent of what's actually printed in any of the rule books.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Coming soon to a table near me...

It feels great to finally be caught up with post number 15 for the Daily Blog Challenge.

As I mentioned a few times in the past few weeks, my regular gaming group is taking a break from our 4e campaign. For a few of the players, this campaign was their first extended experience playing D&D of any flavor. It is also my first experience at running a campaign of this length. In the two years since the campaign started, I think we've learned a lot about our strengths and weaknesses as RPG Gamers. There are a few things that, given the opportunity, I'd go back in time and change. Right now, I feel like I've made the campaign my story, rather than the groups story. Roleplaying is pretty limited, with many of the characters being more of a set of stats on a sheet of paper with an odd quirk or two, rather than having any real personality. I think it's the nature of the world we've created. I was kind of terrified of losing control of the game. 4e is so dense with rules that it is hard (for me at least) to do anything on the fly. I've railroaded and the players went along with it. It can be easier for both sides, that is for sure.

I'm really curious how the players will react to a game which requires more roleplaying and features less tactical combat. Since I'm going to have at least a month of downtime, while Dave acts as GM for the Gamma World, I'm going to try to put together a few things together. I like the idea of putting together a few adventures using different play styles and systems. A lot of the old school systems and clones, and some of the newer pulpy systems like Savage Worlds and Hollow Earth Expedition, are rules-lite enough that the players should be able to pick up on how to play, and get a pretty good feeling for the style of play after just a session or two. Additionally, I'd like to open the table up to an extra player or two. I know a few people that are interested in checking out a game. The ongoing campaign probably isn't the best place to try to indoctrinate these guys into the hobby, but a convention style demo game over a night or two could be perfect.

Once Dave's Gamma World adventure wraps up, I'm planning on throwing together a pulpy monster hunter game using the Savage World rules and the Rippers setting. In Rippers, the players take on the role of Victorian era monster hunters, utilizing body parts from slain monsters to augment their characters, known as Rippertech. Essentially, they end up sort of like a crew of Van Helsings or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or something.

Following the Rippers game, I think I'm going to try running one of James Raggi's adventures, most likely Death Frost Doom, using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules set. I know that most of the players are pretty big fans of the film that inspired the adventure, which will remain nameless as to hold up the surprise for the players. I hope they get a kick out of the combination of old school D&D mixed with a creepy investigative horror.

Hollow Earth ExpeditionFinally, I'm going to try running something using Hollow Earth Expedition. I think at least a couple of the players will enjoy the two-fisted pulp tales of adventure offered by the setting. The game mechanic, using the Ubiquity system, is pretty interesting. Ubiquity, which attempts to offer very cinematic game play, uses dice pools to determine successes and failures. It also stresses that the focus should be on cinematic action story telling over excessive dice rolling and has built in rewards for players who (at least attempt) to pull off exciting feats of daring. The mini demo I played at Origins this summer was a blast and I think we can have a lot of fun with it.

Depending on how those three games progress, we'll make some decisions about what is next. I want to try out Realms of Cthulhu, Low Life, and other Savage Worlds settings. Plus there are all the other OSR options like Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, and Swords & Wizardry. I'm hoping to do a bit of development of a setting for each of these games, allowing us to return and play more adventures linked to the trial game, essentially setting up a sort of sandbox we can return to if we choose. I'm planning on using pre-gens, because I find that creating characters before you really understand how a game is played can be a real challenge. If we do return to any of these worlds, at that point the players would be able to create their own characters or continue to play and develop the pregen. I'd also like to turn over the reigns to other players in the group to take a shot at GMing something if they are interested.

If anyone reading has any experience running any of the games mentioned and has suggestions for making good one-shots or know of good online resources for the games, let me know. Additionally, if you have any suggestions for introducing players used to playing tactical RPGs like D&D 3.5 and 4e to less tactical games which feature role playing.

DBloC Halfway Point

Daily Blog Challenge post number 14.

I'm still a post behind, because I got started a little late. I'm waiting for a day when I get some inspiration after I've already posted for the day, rather than trying to force something, just to catch up. So far, it hasn't been bad getting a post-a-day. I'm sure I won't be able to keep up this pace once the month is over, but it's been a great experiment. It's forced me into writing daily, and based on reactions from friends and others, I'm doing an pretty good job. Building the confidence to post your writing in public has got to be key to having a successful blog, so thanks to everyone who commented or talked to me in person.

Right now, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Harrisburg. Tomorrow, I have to review digitization grants for PA libraries. This is my fourth or fifth year acting as a reviewer, so it shouldn't be too tough. The drive is rough, though. Eight hours in the truck, back and forth, for about 6 hours of work. At least there is an Indian restaurant in the parking lot of the hotel, so I'm going to head over and check that out in a few minutes.

I guess this post doesn't really have much to do with gaming. My mind is a bit fried after GASPCon, where I played about 24 hours worth of RPGs in 48 hours, I think. 5 systems, 3 different GMs. Probably between 20 and 30 different co-players. Lots of talk of game systems and designs. Meeting new nerds from the Pittsburgh area into this stuff. It's all very exciting, but I'm still a bit burned out.

While writing this post, I did get a bit of inspiration for a new post, so I'm going to hit that Indian restaurant then I'll be back to regale you with my tales of adventure planning for the break time from my 4e game.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

GASPCon Day 3

Daily Blog Challenge post number 13.


Day 3 has wrapped. I made some new buddies, played a bunch of games, and got one of the best compliments I've gotten in months, I think. I was talking to John "Evernevermore" today, who ran all the games I played yesterday. I guess his girlfriend said I was the best roleplayer she played with all weekend. *Blush*. I think we played in two games together, Hackmaster and LotFP. In my limited experience gaming at cons, actually getting into the RP part of the game can be kind of difficult. You're sitting around the table with a bunch of strangers, so that can be intimidating. There is also the concern of inadvertently (or intentionally, if you are a jerk) taking the spotlight away from other players at the table. In a good game, all the players at the table will have their time to share the spotlight. So in the past week, I got props on the blog from Sean Preston at Reality Blurs and my buddy Allen, who blogs, mostly about horror films and the related, over at "The boat can leave now" (a reference to Fulci's classic Zombi 2), and now this compliment. I'm walking on cloud 9. 

Labyrinth Lord - Under Xylarthen's Tower
Labyrinth Lord is a D&D clone. The game is going to be run by Tim Harper, who also runs the LL game I played on Friday and the LL Campaign  at GASP game day. This session was based on a dungeon designed my Jeff Reints from Jeff's Game Blog. I've mentioned Jeff's blog on here at least once or twice before. It's a great read for anyone interested in old school gaming. This game was a triple whammy for me: Jeff Rients designed dungeon, Labyrinth Lord rules and Tim's gonzo DM style. Dave and Curt were signed up, as was Jeff from the GASP Game Day campaign. The session was a pretty standard dungeon crawl, with some interesting traps and other weirdness. Treasure was found, saves were failed, characters and retainers bit the dust, but we all had a ton of fun. Great wrap up for the RPGs of the weekend.

I also played Transamerica with Dave, Jonathan, Guy and Tim (who I met at the the Savage Worlds game yesterday). It was some kind of train game. It was kind of cool. Not exactly my thing, but it was fun. The five of us blasted through a couple rounds of Zombie Dice.

There is a huge raffle at the end of GASPCon. From what I can tell, everyone with the gold badge (people who registered for the whole weekend), and were still hanging around on Sunday, got something off the prize table. My ticket was called pretty early, so I had a pretty good variety to choose from. I snagged a copy of the Call of Cthulhu adventure book, Mansions of Madness. Pretty sweet deal! I figure I could use it for inspiration for a one off using either Call of Cthulhu or try converting them over Realms of Cthulhu

GASPCon was a great experience all around. I can't recommend it enough. Thanks to everyone who made it happen, including the guys that ran all the games I played (aka Tim, John, and Tom)!

If you are in the Pittsburgh area and any of this sounds at all interesting to you, check out GASP Game Days. It's sort of a free, mini-con that happens once a month. Game Days occur on the second Saturday of each month starting at 11 AM and going on until midnight at Legions Hobbies and Games on Perry Hwy in the North Hills. If you have questions about GASP or GASP game day, hit me up. If I don't know the answer (I'm a newbie), I can probably direct you to the right person.

GASPCon Day 2

Daily Blog Challenge post number 12. I got home from the con last night and was ready to give my report, but the internet was being flaky at the house, so I had to hold off until this morning.

Saturday 9-1: Hackmaster Basic - The Town of Knarr's Rest
I played a session of Hackmaster Basic at Origins this year and had a blast. It's a great hybrid of old school feel, with very detailed combat mechanics. It's sort of like if they took every alternate rule for combat out there and mashed them together. It's clear the guys behind this game have some sort of innate love for number crunching and data management. Sometimes it seems like it could get a bit unwieldy, but it does have some sort of appeal for me. Anyway, the party was off to an abandoned stronghold near the the Town of Knarr's rest to save some children from from goblins and bugbears. Pretty standard fantasy stuff, but it worked. The DM, Johh, aka Evernevermore on the GASP board, went pretty light with the rules, because he was managing about 8 around the table and most of us weren't totally comfortable with even the basics. Good times.

Saturday 2-6: Savage Worlds - Scraptown Run
Savage Worlds is designed for "Fast, Furious, Fun" game play. I'm glad I'm glad I finally got to jump and play. The adventure, again, GMed by John Evernevermore, used the post-apocalypse Earth from the video game series Fallout. I haven't played Fallout, but it was pretty easy to pick up on the setting. The group playing was great: it was Dave, Jonathan, a friend a Dave's who I met this summer at Origins, a couple of Jonathan's buddies, Guy and Tim, and two other guys that ended up being friends of friends. Kind of crazy coincidence, there. Anyway, we played extra fast and furious, which seems to be John's preferred GMing style, and it was certainly a lot of fun. Essentially the scenario was set up that we needed to get from point A to point B and back, but the John left it open enough that we had had a ton of options right from the start. I was playing a doctor/field medic, who I played as a bit of a wimp. I made sure to stick tight to my "10-4 good buddy truck driver with the big gun".

Saturday 7-11: Lamentations of the Flame Princess - Death Frost Doom Last minute sub.
More OSR madness. Again, John was the DM, and Dave was in the game. Essentially, we spent all day Saturday together. The original DM had to back out so, John volunteered his services. He didn't quite like the pacing of Death Frost Doom for a con game, so he suggested something he developed. Everyone was okay with the sub, so we went with it. The game played like old school D&D mixed with Call of Cthulhu in my opinion. It was dark investigative horror with swords and sorcery. The concept was great and the play was fun. By mid-way, I have to admit I was feeling some RPG fatigue, and I'm assuming some of the other folks around the table were feeling similar. There were a lot of people at the table and it got pretty distracting at times. John kept it all together though, and in the end, we were able to complete the adventure. I can't wait to try this game out with my regular crew.

I picked up LotFP - The People of Pembrooktenshire. I almost didn't pick it up, as it's intended as a supplement to the adventure No Dignity in Death, which I don't have. It's a collection of 137 NPCs from the town featured in the module. I figured last minute to pick it, since I figure I'll track a copy of the adventure down eventually.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

GASPCon Day 1

Daily Blog Challenge post number eleven.

Today I attended GASPCon XI at the Greentree Best Western, just outside Pittsburgh. It was my first time at the Con, and only my second gamer convention ever. Based on my experience today, I'm going to consider more small regional Cons in the future. Today was great. So great, I'm already excited for GASPCon XII, and I'm only one day into number XI. Hah. Anyway, I played two RPGs, picked up some RPG books, and got a free board game.

The Games Played:
Spellcraft & Swordplay - A Bridget Too Far
Spellcraft & Swordplay was developed by Pittsburgher Jason Vey. He attempts to return to the playing style of the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons, sticking with the D6 based Chainmail rules for combat. It's supposed to emulate what might have happened if the game developed down that path, rather than going with the alternate combat rules that ended up being the standard. The game uses a 2d6 + attribute bonus mechanic. The DM came up with the scenario on his own and offered the 4 players a stack of pregens. I grabbed a human priest, Curt went with the elf warrior wizard, the other guys were playing a dwarf warrior and a human assassin. The goal was to deliver our king's daughter and dowry to a neighboring kingdom. I thought the game was great. We were attacked by a horde of goblins and hobgoblins along the road. Combat was pretty deadly, but we made it though alive. After another close call at an inn, we arrive in the neighboring kingdom. The king is concerned that the attacks are coming from within his staff. At the very final moment, we manage to stop an assassination attempt on the princess and the wedding goes off with out a hitch. Everyone survived and had lots of fun. Would definitely play again! For the guys in game with, I do have this game, so maybe eventually I will put a one-off scenario together.

Friday 7-11: Labyrinth Lord - A Pit of Despair
Labyrinth Lord is a D&D clone. The game is going to be run by Tim Harper, who also runs the LL game I played at GASP game day last month. We had a very full table. I think there were 8 or 9 of us around the table, each with a character and a retainer. I ended up with a magic user PC and a fighter retainer. It could have been a real nightmare for a more tactical RPG, but with Labyrinth Lord's old school design, it moved along just fine. Tim ran a one-page dungeon he found online (I'm not sure if the 1-page dungeon Tim ran was included on that page, but it should give you the general idea of the philosophy behind them). Essentially all of the adventurers ended up in this crazy fun-house with very few combats and a ton of puzzles and traps and dozens of ways to die. I got pretty lucky. My retainer bit the dust on the next to last room, but the wizard made it through alive. I managed to solve the very last puzzle that allowed us all to escape, which was pretty rad. I thought the whole thing is was totally amazing. So much fun and so many weird and crazy events that I can't possibly get them all into a blog post. I've got another LL game with Tim on Sunday and I'm definitely looking forward to it.

The Swag:
I picked up the following Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures from Chuck-a-Con online store: The Grinding Gear, Hammers of the Gods, and Death Frost Doom. Charles has a variety of gaming supplies and this prices are pretty good, too. I'll likely be getting more gaming materials through him in the near future.

All pre-registrants got a free board game, too. It looked like there were two possibilities. I got Terra Nova. It's some kind of Euro-strategy game. Looks kind of cool. Definitely into getting it for free.

Like I said, I couldn't ask for or expect a better experience than what I had today. Great time all around. More after tomorrows games. I'll be playing Hackmaster Basic, Savage Worlds, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Check back later for those!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Resources for the OSR Curious

This is, and forever will be post number ten for the DBloC Challenge. I'm 1/3 of the way there and it has been smooth sailing!

In a recent post, I talked about about the Old School Renaissance (OSR) and identified some blogs for those interested in learning more. In this post, I'm going to clue you into the actual games. The games simulations, recreations, modifications or emulations of classic D&D editions. Wizards of the Coast placed an Open Gaming License on the their games in 2000, which permitted other companies to create content using intellectual property owned by WotC, as long as they adhere to the OGL. Since all of the original products are out of print, and often go for high prices on the collectors market, this might be the only way for newer players to experience this style of game play.
S&W Core

All the games listed here are free or exist in a free edition. Just click the links I listed below and dig around on the site. You should be able to find a free PDF. They are also for sale in print from the sites, RPG vendors, and print on demand companies like lulu.com and often in deluxe PDF editions from vendors like RPGNow. I've mentioned it a few times already, but I think it's worth saying again: I don't actually have much experience with these games yet. I've read read the rules for a couple, skimmed the rules for others, and played one of them one time. So...here we go:

Old School Reference & Index Compilation (aka OSRIC)
OSRIC, published by the First Edition Society, is a 1st edition AD&D clone. The product identifies and documents the original, non-copyrightable portion of the old-school rules and puts them into an open license, as permitted by law. The original intention of OSRIC was to act as a reference for publishers interested in creating materials  of 1st edition products.

S&W White Box
I have skimmed the 400 pages worth of rules covered by OSRIC. Every class, monster, spell, magic item, and rule not protected by copyright is covered. It may not be the most readable document, but it definitely covers every aspect of gameplay you could ever possibly consider or imagine.

Labyrinth Lord
Swords & Wizardry
Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Swords & Wizardry White Box are two products released by Mythmere Games. The core rules recreate the the original 1974 edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The White Box takes the old-school flavor one step further, covering only the original three little brown books.

I've read the core rules and skimmed the White Box rules. I'm completely unfamiliar that original edition, but this version of that game makes a lot of sense. I'm certainly interested in checking out a game using this rule set, be it a new adventure or a run through a classic module.

Advanced Edition Companion
Labyrinth Lord
Goblinoid Games, has released two free core D&D retro-clone products, Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Compainion. Labyrinth Lord emulates the rules and feel of the 1981 "red box" edition of D&D rules revision edited by Tom Moldvay. The rules compile the content from the Basic and Expert set into one book. The Advanced Edition Companion allows players and DMs to incorporate rules from the the 1978, first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.

I just started playing in a Labyrinth Lord campaign at GASP Game Day. We've only had one session, but it was a blast. The DM has created a megadungeon for extra old-school flavor. I'll be playing in two LL one-off games at GASPCon this weekend, so I'll be sure to report back on how they go.

Mutant Future
Mutant Future comes from the same company as Labyrinth Lord, Goblinoid Games. The game recreates the rules for the classic post-apocalyptic RPG, Gamma World. I only just discovered this product and only had a few minutes to skim the rules, but they look good.
Mutant Future

I never played Gamma World back in the day, but the concept is interesting. We're going to be playing the new edition at our regular game night starting in two weeks, so it might be an opportunity to try it out Old School style.

Dark Dungeons
Dark Dungeons references the Chick Tract of the same name. In the tract, Marcie, playing Black Leaf, fails to discover a poison trap, and her character is killed. Instead of just making a new character, poor Marcie is booted from the game. Losing her character was too much and poor Marcie takes her own life. But even stranger things are afoot, as we discover that Marcie's Dungeon Master is a practicing Satanist, who inducts her players into her cult, starting with the cleric, Elfstar, played by Debbie.

Dark Dungeons
The game clones the D&D Cyclopedia, which contained rules from the Basic, Expert, Master, and Companion box sets, published by TSR from 1983-1985. Again, I've only skimmed the rules, but I like the concept. The Rules Cyclopedia represented the end of the two pronged approach of AD&D and D&D for TSR. Dark Dungeons includes original fiction and examples of play using the characters from the original Chick tract, which is pretty amusing in and of itself.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing
Lamentations for the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (aka LotFPWFRP) is probably the most highly anticipated OSR release for the second half of 2010. The game, designed by the highly opinionated and often controversial James Raggi IV, is not a true clone, but based on rules from various editions and James' personal house rules.

I picked up the Deluxe Edition Boxed Set, because it was too cool to pass up. It contains the rule book, the magic book, referee book, tutorial book, a couple adventures, a mini set of dice, a golf pencil, character sheets, recommended reading list and graph paper (square and hex) -- everything you need to play. It contains a solo adventure to help get the flavor. James is known for his ruthlessly deadly adventures like Grinding Gear and Death, Frost Doom, and this flavor is not lost on the box set. Even the example of play ends with a total party kill. Amazing. I'll be playing LotFPWFRP at GASPCon this weekend and will be sure to report back on my experience.

Hopefully, this has been helpful for folks interested in Old School gaming. There will be more OSR content on the blog as I continue to explore this type of gaming.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Improving a Poorly Designed/Executed Encounter

Since I missed yesterday, I'm going to do double duty today and make my ninth post for the DBloC Challenge. I'm still a day behind, due to a late start, but I'm sure I'll be able to catch up this weekend with reports from GASPCon.

Earlier today, I gave an overview of a game experience my 4e group "suffered" through this week. Here's the link to that post, in you didn't see it. There is some whining and complaining there. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get with the whole situation. Now I'm not sure if the real problem is with the encounter design or my execution as a DM or the players execution of tactics, but I have a strong feeling we can take a little from columns A, B, & C (plus maybe another column or two I haven't even considered.)

It's my opinion that becoming a great DM or GM or Referee or Keeper or whatever is not something you're born into and it's not some right or passage or secret club. It is a learning process and it requires practice. It requires learning from your mistakes and from your successes. A good DM is humble and realizes when he has had a rough night behind the screen, and as I alluded in my previous post, last night was particularly rough. Some of that can be attributed to my recent growing frustration with certain aspects of 4th Edition, but not all of it. Some of it was directly related to learning what works and doesn't work in a particular scenario with a particular group.

As far as the game went, I'm trying to work through places were things could have been remedied, had I really understood the problems. You get to that point where you know something sucks, but you're so far into it, you feel like you have to finish.

So let's turn this into a learning experience, okay?

The Problems with the Scenario (as I see them):
  • Lack of player control
  • Resolving the problem doesn't end the scenario
  • Too many hit points, not enough damage
  • Too many "effects" floating around
  • No "out" if the scenario implodes
Ideas for improvement?

First off, an NPC is off screen performing a ritual to stop the invasion. Each round the DM rolls a d20. On a 1-2, magic is weakening & more monster spawn. On 19-20, the ritual is completed and no more monsters can spawn. The players can't effect this roll. If I were to redesign, the players would be the ones completing this ritual or acting with the NPC to complete the ritual. On any given round, they would have to make the decision to assist with the ritual, defend those assisting with the ritual, or continue to fight. I think this would likely lead to a significantly more dynamic battle.

Dice Meltdown
Additionally, completion of the ritual only stops more monsters from spawning and has no effect on the existing enemies. In the module, it states that they are on a suicide mission and fight to the death. Completing the ritual, especially if it was built into some kind of challenge, could have done major damage to the enemy, caused them to flee, or destroyed them outright. Instead, it just allowed the scenario to continue to drag. The players even asked about assisting with the ritual, but I hadn't prepared for anything like that, so I said it wasn't possible from their location. Essentially, they ended up becoming meat shields for the city.
The monsters themselves? Well, combining a solo monster with two standard monsters was a bit of overkill. There were too many hit points out on the table. Two of the three monsters screwed you if you stood to close to them and both were pretty hard to hit. There was some pretty heavy frustration brewing around the table as players missed over and over. Some d20s were definitely put at risk for maiming and destruction. Any way, I think the Behir with an army of Hill Giant minions would have provided plenty of challenge for the players. The archon's powers basically just frustrated everyone, because of their ability to take a player out of the action. The minions could still be strapped with bombs, but maybe they would be more like real suicide bombers. You could turn the scenario into a bit of a tower defense simulator, where the players are trying to figure out how to stop the bomb laden enemies before the make it to the wall. Maybe the players could even figure out how to detonate those bombs from a distance to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

Run Away! Run Away! Run Away!
Finally, the PCs were kind of locked into the combat, whether they wanted to continue or not. They couldn't run away. The monsters couldn't run away. It was a knock-down, drag-out, fight to the death, whether anyone was looking for that or not. The idea that completing the ritual would end the scenario could have really alleviated some of this problem. I think changing the monster line-up to be an overwhelming number, rather than being statistically over-matched would have been beneficial here, too. Just that feeling of dread as more and more minions entered the fray could have been amazing. Hell, the monsters could have even surrendered after the ritual is completed, knowing their allies were blocked from assisting. This could allow a savvy group of  PCs a role-playing opportunity to extract additional information.

All that said, the evening wasn't a total disaster, but I know I can do better than what I put out there. I'm striving to do that each time I act as DM.