Thursday, December 30, 2010


Ahhhhggghhhh.  What a week.  Amazing I made it out the other side.  Seasons greetings, merry Christmas, and happy holidays to all and sundry, nonetheless.  Me, kind of overdosed on merriness and whatnot....nothing bad, just tired.

That said, any religious group wanting to proselytise at my house now have a new and non-negotiable requirement:  the religion, whatever it is, MUST celebrate Christmas or Christmas-equivalent  in some period excluding mid November thru Mid January.  Period.  Elder gods not excepted.  If I have to shop for anything special over this period, anything, I'm sticking to my current cultural arrangement.........I might anyway: Cthulhumas, even  in August doesn't seem like a good trade: Santa claws rises from the depths and agonizingly eats your soul first, so you don't have to suffer thru the end of days when all mankind is devoured by the horrors and the abyss while running mad and free.  Marginally worse than the mall in December, so, sorry, no improvement, no sale. 

On gaming news, I'm going to run Swords and Wizardry for my ten year old  son and some of his friends, as well as one of my friends tomorrow (a sanity anchor, sorta) .  wish me luck !

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swords and Wizardry review, part III : What is in it, and what I like.

Okay. Now that we know why I love it, and what it looks like, let’s see what the heck is in it.
First off, a list of tables in addition to a table of contents. Good work there. Table finding is a perennial chokepoint for games. This should speed it the heck up. Strongly suggests that effort and thought has been put into actual ease of use in addition to ease of rules.

Characters. No Surprises here. All the stats you expect with the usual names. Generation is 3d6 in order or GM moderated move-around. Stat bonuses exist, and are between the LBB minimal effects and the Greyhawk extremes. AD&D as I recall reduced the value of bonuses, but made them easier to get; on the whole, I think this solution is good enough to provide adequate character flavor while not supporting munchkinism. Also, and this is one I really like: only fighters get the to hit and damage bonuses for high Str. AND, this specifically excludes paladins and rangers. Good way to make fighters more unique and less vanilla: when it needs to be hit very very hard, call a fighter.

STR gives penalties for whimps, and bonuses for fighters -real fighters, not rangers and Paladins.  So, expect to be giving your luunch money to the fighter, or be willing to get familiar with the nearest trashcan....This is one of the nicer and more elegant ways to make fighters more than just the vanilla class of gaming. Well done !

DEX: The dex bonus/AC effect is interestingly linked to the fighter, also. Everyone gets a mild bonus to AC for high dex, but only fighters get a special bonus for defensive fighting. What defensive fighting entails is left intentionally undefined (according to a post by Matt). Is it a constant bonus, or one that the fighter can apply instead of attacking? Your call, and that's just fine. I’ll keep it as a bonus used when the fighter deliberately decides to not roll an attack. It’s another cool way to differentiate fighters from the mixed types (Rangers, Paladins).

CON: minor bonus for higher levels, but they have returned to the old “raise dead survival” rules. Roll the number or less, or the raise spell fails, or the major system shock kills you. My opinion is that anything that makes death a bit more of a real risk (rather than just a setback) is good. There are correspondingly good limits to the spell “Raise dead” also. Me, I’m also going to include the “each time you have to roll, if you succeed, you still lose 1 CON” point rule; because I’m mean, that's why.

INT: The rules do include one of my least favorite Greyhawk+ additions, the spell knowledge rules; you know, limits numbers of spells, and chance to comprehend them. I don't like them for two main reasons; first, it’s an annoying chore and doesn't have much positive payoff except pissing off the characters player; and second, its one of the misplaced attempts to balance out Magic users. Why misplaced? Well, because while the observation that Mages are the Powerhouse characters, it’s only later in the game –after 6th level or so, they start dominating the game. Unfortunately, most of the balance attempts are applied at the beginning of the MU’s career (d4, spell knowledge) when they are at their absolute weakest. The net result really is to winnow the weak and stupid MU’s, which on a population level probably works fine to limit the number of them, but from a character perspective, only adds frustration…..and doesn't solve the problem, because the survivors still gain the abilities that let them dominate play. My 2cp anyway.

Wisdom and charisma, well, y’know. Yeah.  Whatever. 
Actually, high wisdom does help that saddest of first level characters – the no-spell cleric. High Wis gives cleric (specifically) an additional 1st level spell.

All the canonical OD&D book and supplement classes are there with the addition of the Ranger from (at the time) the Strategic Review. No illusionists or barbarians, though. I won't miss either cause illusions are always the hardest spells to deal with (as a GM); and I’ve never felt that a barbarian needed to be its own class. Really, ranger works pretty wells for that, or, get this, a fighter with a high dex. (And an all-too rational fear of magic). [Look guys. Conan wore armor when he knew he was going into battle if he had it. If he was sneaking, no, and when he is out on the town? Seldom. When he was fresh from Cimmeria? Didn't have any. Lots of historical warriors couldn't afford armor and never had it. FRPGs tend to make it the exception, not the norm. Enough. Maybe a later rant.]

Basic comments on canonical classes
The list includes Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, MU, Monk (sigh), Paladin, Ranger, Thief. I guess one has to include monks, but really – they just don't fit in a eurobiased setting –which D&D is, no arguments allowed from anyone. I mean, they work great in Asian settings, and even the old west, but semi-hemi-demi-tolkeiny-1300ish Europe-Scandinavia? Really guys –King Fu was great fun, but did it really need to be fossilized into amber as a vital part of D&D? Okay, again, more ranting for later.

Assassins are probably not for my campaign, but so what and druids have a better justification than just a bow to the celty-welty artsy-fartsy dancy-wancy crowd (Hi Kristen!).

Clerics are either Law or Chaos (which is the good old good guys, bad guys axis); no neutral clerics on the fence; those are Druids. Nice flavor. Gods seldom compromise on their views so their clerics shouldn’t either; and neutral isn't just fence sitting for druids: they just do not care what the gods want – not the gods of Man (and demi-man).

Mages: Fine, Vancian fire and forget dudes (no explanation given for why magic works that way, which is fine by me) who cannot use any armor or shields. Why? Because they can’t, pilgrim, and it says so right here.

My take on it (and as I'm sure you know, the correct one) is extrapolated from Larry Niven: no magic user with an ounce of self respect would admit that he needed something as mundane and common as armor to protect himself; his huge intellect and might mystical powers are all he ever needs. Thus, in MU school, any armor-prone student is mocked and persecuted until they give in or quit. And the other Mages always know, so while you may wear underwear of the other gender, non-one, no-one at all, dares wear armor even in secret. End of story.

Thieves. Well, goody, they are there. As thieves, too. Rogues. Peh. Rogues are for thespians and Errol Flynn movies. The mouser stole from the rich and gave it to himself, bartenders and whores. Thief.

Unfortunately, and probably unavoidably, they are still the greyhawk model, which presumes that the thief starts as a much younger and more Noobish character than any of the others. Really, except for climbing, they can’t do jack at first level unless you assume that their “skills” (stop spluttering you OSR pundits) are actually extraordinary abilities, rather than stuff everyone can do. I can’t remember who suggested this, but the essence is that one should read the original thief abilities as written, not just as hyped descriptions of normal skills. In short, hide in shadows really means the ability to be Batman (tm DC comics) and vanish and appear from normal sight; Climbing means going up a glass or ice wall with no tools, pocket picking is the stage magician type that really does steal your tie without you noticing, and lock picking –well, in a medieval society, it's a pretty rare skill, so that works. It’s suggested in the rules, but not explicitly made plain, so, had I written it, it would be different with a great big huge font statement that anyone can hide or climb but thieving abilities are special, above the norm on a par with spell casters special abilities. Are you there Matt? Next edition, MAKE IT SO. Well, y’know, if you want, I guess……

I like the Box about “why play a cleric or fighter”. It highlights that there are some actual advantages to the core classes that the variants types do not get. Good ones, too. Some simple rules on starting a second class which are much more consistent with the AD&D model than the 3e model. I’m agnostic about which is better, and one could easily do either. The rules are simple and clean as given and work well enough.

Okay, good old fashioned racial list (which really should be species, but I digress). They aren't race as class, and have the lovely illogical level limits one would expect. Multiclassing is the forte of the non-human, with stat modified level caps. Interestingly, the actual multiple classes allowed are specifically spelled out – not the infamous “pick any three from 4 classes” mold of the extremely annoying half elf. Actual guidance as to how to manage these levels is given, which is cool. Both of these (specific combinations and some coherent rules for multiclassing) are improvements that Original D&D badly needed, and only got in dribs and drabs, so, Win. Bonus win is the explicit statement that Non-Player versions of the races do not follow the same rules! Yay! And bonus points for not including some fluffy bizarre rationale for why that is. (You should be sensing a trend by now regarding this topic).

Yeah, everything you need is there, based on the D&D gold piece economy. I’m more forgiving about that now that I’ve tried to design a “more realistic one”. Historical economics is….well, insane, hard to do, and barely documented. So, whatever. It works, and this isn't papers and paychecks, or Malls and misadventures, so drive on.

Experience is unabashedly pegged to killing stuff and stealing their flatware just as in the Original game you loved, with the benefit of clarification and streamlining. None of the typical alternates are presented, which probably cut down the page count significantly. Killing and looting is the baseline, and actually kinda sorta makes sense , if you treat this as some kind of epic/mythic kind of story/saga in which great deeds and great rewards always made a hero mightier, if for no other reason than his rep increased, and he could reward the bards more richly. .
I do admit that I’ll probably be adding some balancing factor for simple loot to experience, probably that at higher levels (after about 3rd level seems right), and no more complicated than that if you spend some of it on gear or training upgrades, class obligations, or squandering it perhaps.

Saving Throws:
I like having just one saving throw, so obviously Matt is correct in having only one, but, for those who are incorrect, a good old fashioned multiple save by threat table is presented, along with some recommendations as to how to integrate them.

More stuff:
Weight and movement are covered adequately and concisely –of particular goodness is including cross country movement rates with indoor and tactical movement rates in one place. Score one for a low flip and seek factor in the rules.
Time:  Passses.

Combat, The BIG C, Bloody constraint, WackAnOrc.
Well, here’s the thing. You either love D&D’s roots as a miniatures wargame, or hate em. I’ve seen very little middle ground (not that the internet is any place to find it, I admit.). I am in the first category, but have come out the other side of the wargamers delusion, which is: more realistic equals more complexity and consideration of more variables and modifiers. My rules of choice of Mini gaming has become HOTT/ DBA1.0, as opposed to WRG6/ Tactica/Frappe/etc etc. where it started okay? Combat is important, but really, what we want to simulate is the results, not the process. People need to be able to move, shoot hit and cast in a system that allows basic tactics and cunning along with pure luck, without slowing the process down by orders of magnitude, especially compared to actual combat... That's pretty much all I need, and from my SCA experiences fighting in melee (in armor), works just fine.
So, the combat rules are fine, very close to what one gets with LBB/GH with rationalized centralized interpretations, and lots of clearly identified options. For instance, initiative is presented in three forms: The default one (pretty much pre AD&D), the Holmes one, and a cool one which takes the rules from Eldritch wizardry and makes them playable. I’ll be trying out the phased movement version really soon, but using the basic generic version with those players who really don't care about detail (e.g., my son and his buddies).

Some nice developments in the RPG field of combat are included, such as fighting from a second rank, but not attacks of opportunity. This may be a bit of a wrench for the hard core 3E players, as it’s become so central to the game, but, probably is for the best. Basically, a quick explanation of the issue is provided, with resolution explicitly left up to the GM. This is one are that I would have liked a bit more detail about, but its not like I wouldn't do it myself, anyway, plus, I’m an old school wargamer. YMMV.
Weapons do varying damage by type (only) and aren’t differentiated by armor effects at all. Which is fine. I always loved the idea of weapon vs. armor modifiers, but it always turned out to be more trouble than its worth…always. Sigh.
Armor class is presented both ways, country and western. As an aside, I always liked descending AC because I tied it directly to movement: base move was 4 + AC, with load carried reducing the constant. I may or may not worry about this for S&W.

Combat uses lookup tables by class, not the most elegant solution, but the one in keeping with the subject matter. Yearning for the jump up to a better column was a big part of the original experience, and so here it is, although it’s not as severe. You can calculate THAC0 again, so if you hate lookups, that's the way to go, especially in the absence of Weapon vs. Armor modifiers to hit. Oh yeah. The monsters have their own table, based as ever entirely on HD, and it's a bit better organized. This goes up for every HD, so monsters have much more granular combat progression than ….well, non monsters. Also, I note that 1 1HD monster still has a better to hit than a 1HD character; I suppose monsters always need an edge or they’d just be Victims. And Dungeons and Victims just sounds depressing.
Subdual is spelled out and clear rules presented. Fighting with two weapons and two-handed weapons is covered simply and in one place, the solution is elegant, if a bit flavorless, but they match up with the rules for fighting with a shield, and, remember, I’m a combat rules geek.

Grappling, the eternal pain in the butt (hmmmm….a white wolf supplement?) has rules, (that at least is an improvement over most of D&D pre 2E), they’re simple, and at the same level of abstraction as combat, so if not revolutionary, I’ll call that a success. Plus, they don't seem to be arsed by monks, which is a plus –assuming you allow monks, which is a wrong thing to do, so stop it.
How turning undead works is very clearly laid out, thank the gods; it isn't the most common variant, but it works, and that's that. And note: only LAWFUL clerics can do it. With undead. Heh heh heh.
Damage death and healing are all standard harsh old D&D (0=dead, heal 1/day), with some alternative ways presented. Check.

Morale, as ever is unfortunately shorted big time. Possibly for compatibility, possibly to save page count, possibly just to annoy me personally, it’s basically ignored beyond the usual note that Monsters don't always attack or fight to the death. Well, yeah, true, but everything else gets at least a table. Well, this is probably because D&D’s Ancestor, Chainmail come from a specific era in miniature gaming, that ignored or minimized morale effects, and I don't. I want tables and modifiers dammit, ones that indicate that the standard bearer must be moved back one inch! Take note for the next iteration, Matt ‘cause I just know that my opinions are of greatest possible importance to you! (See my rules for keyboards and bathrobes….)
OKAY. Here we come to an example of play, and so the page count for everything you need to know about creating characters and killing bystanders is……$# pages ! Or, 43 with the shift lock off. That is a wondrous achievement right there. Seriously.
Okay, the rest is five pages of campaign and strategic notes and rules (hiring, building, etc) and okay if not very elaborate (I always hated that there weren’t better guidelines for building strongholds and the like; S&W is a bit better than book 3, but not much –this is kind of a weak spot.

Page 50 starts Magic, and is, unsurprisingly, an adequate list of spells from the LBB/GH books, all in one place, with some nice variants suggested here and there. Each has a summary of crucial game info (Range duration type and level, and the usual blurb. None of the VSM components garbage, which is fine by me. Does anyone ever run a pencil and paper tabletop campaign where that is rigorously tracked? Does any one play in it? If so, does getting on a high dose of anti OCD meds help you not want to?

Pet peeve. Stop mixing up clerics and spellcaster spells, and while alphabetical listing is nice for details, I really prefer alpha by level. Why? ‘Cause I’m a useless old fart, I suspect, but one who has played lots of spellcasters. I almost always know the name and level of any spell I look up, and the level acts as an index to speed it up. There. I feel much better, now, thanks.
Spells take up 23 pages, or about 15-20% of the whole which is better than most rules sets, and is probably an unavoidable result of the convenience of a Vancian spellcasting system.
I’m going to stop detailing things here, because I’m out of steam and time; the rest is a good GM section, with wilderness rules and encounters, a good selection of Monsters, and a very nice dungeon building section.

There are basic mass combat rules, as well as very basic rules for nautical and aerial combat. Both are more abstract than what was presented in LBB3, and even I can’t say if that's good or bad. Nowadays there are so many sets of rules available for this kind of stuff, that it isn't the handicap that it was in ye Oldenn Dayes.

Treasure is handled nicely, with a good hoard generator table and rules, and tan expected set of magic items and the like. One complaint is this: possibly I’ve missed it, so tell me if I have, but I still haven't found any rules for spell research OR creating magic items. It's a shame, because this was (for me) one of the biggest issues with the old D&D rules. Oh well. I can probably graft on the 3E rules which are pretty good; I always like the magic items for experience points system – money was easy to get, but XP? Now that's a rare currency

Okay, that is it. It's the holidays – get offline and get bent on eggnog and cookies, fer criminys sake! GET THESE RULES! They are Excellent. I’m not kidding. I have so many RPG’s that….well, I don't have them all, but I’m closer than I’d like to admit; and these are the ones I’m going to be using to run D&D and teach my spawn how to play. THESE. Matt take a bow, give him a big hand, and somebody local run the game so I can play! THANKS and Merry Christmas to all and sundry, and also my subscribers! (I hit 40, YAY!)

xxxoooo Your gushing fanboy, DocGrognard !

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swords and Wizardry Review Part II: the OCD stuff.

This is a continuing review of the PDF edition for the Complete Swords and Wizardry, first edition.

Part II: The graphics and layout which for some reason always get reviewed despite RPG’s being a frikkin toy, so here you go.

The art is fine, the cover makes it to impressive, and if I have any criticism, it may be that it almosts oversets the bar for the rules.  But, no, at the last minute I look inside, and find that the layoout and graphics are just fine for the content and style of the rules.  The cover is a nice bonus, not a harbanger of selloutitude and graphicbarfing.  . I can live without art or fancy graphics just fine (remember, I’m an old school Traveller player which had....none. ) but some is always nice (sorry Marc) . The S&WC edition has a variety of nice art, various styles, and none of it overwhelms the text; all seems in keeping with the “rich experience, simple structure” of S&W in general. Granted, that is a subjective description of a subjective subject, but its my blog, buddy..

The graphic presentation is fine and easily readable. Two columns with embedded headers works just dandy, and they don't seem to have fallen into the “piece of art on every page regardless of content” trap. There are occasional empty spaces on the pages where (for instance)a table doesn’t fit, and gets bumped to the next page rather than being squished in, or being plastered with some random art fragment (I’m looking at you, Stevie..;) )and that’s fine.

Tables are clean, large full width (ie not column limited) and seem presented in close proximity to the rules. There are commentary boxes, which when not overdone (and these are not) are one of the better developments in gaming rules production, in my opinion. Sometimes, a brief statement of why a rule is as it is can avoid me spending obsessive amounts of time on thinking around it, and often answers common questions (which are usually criticisms on the internet, right ?) up front. Options are laid out separately from the “core” rules, which is fine, but still seems odd to me coming from the heart of the “all rules are guidelines” school of thought (the correct one, dammit). But whatever. Its nice that many of thee address issues and criticisms that the fan community have raised – the reasonable one, at least. For instance, the multi-saving throw school is thrown a nice juicy bone with the inclusion of an alternate saving throw table presented for “comparison”, and adds notes throughout about integrating the change if desired…nice, that. It seems quite well edited for typos and etc; but, I’m a crap editor myself, so I don't let it bother me in others; nonetheless, no complaints.

Font is fine (serif is good for fantasy, in my opinion), and I could not care less about kerning and similar issues in others work, and a PDF can’t speak to the binding or the paper, both of which have been commented on in reviews of other rule sets in ways that suggest that paper weight is an important buying point, so there you go, if it matters.

Next up: some actual text, and content please ?  Sure. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Swords and Wizardry, Complete Edition: SQUEEEEE!, the introductory comments.

Okay, confession time.

 I never really bought into AD&D. 

"Hello, my name is Doc Grognard, and I've been playing the same damn rules since 1976." "Hello, Doc"

See, what I and most of my ilk (or caribou) played at the time was a bastard stepchild that had evolved from the raggedy assed initial release schedule of AD&D. It was this: The three books, plus Greyhawk (almost entirely, Wep v Armor being a hit and miss inclusion, no pun intended) & odds and sods of the other supplements (Druids= YES, Psionics, Monks =NO, Assassins = MAYBE) plus the monsters from the first Monster Manual (with the wondrous Bumper book of all Monsters cover), some of the players handbook, and the combat tables from the Dragon issue that previewed them. An unholy mélange, with odd interaction effects: AC10 messed up all the earlier combat tables a bit, and took some on-the fly-modification; the races and classes were all in the same place (finally) and this was a big help, although the stats, requirements and class abilities differed enough to cause some problems; generally, the PH was used, except for rolling up stats (by purists) ; spells, not all that scattered, weren’t really altered much , and the VSM bits were always ignored except in extreme situations :
”Mage, you’re gagged, tied up, and stripped naked what do you do?”

“Uhhhh…..Cry? “
“Okay, roll for effect”
“That’s not a spell”
“I know…you're checking to see if the orcs think you look cute.."
(Okay, this was the Deep South. The dm actually said “t'see if the orcs think y' cry purdy”)

DMG? Never came out forever, it seemed, so its influence was minimal. The rules question letter to TSR that came back with (among other things) news that they were “reworking the entire system” (in red ink, no less) touched off a lunchtime bitch session worthy of any online forum (which probably says more about online forums than us, I suspect).

Dammit, we liked the version of D&D we cobbled together, and were not only pissed that finally the “all in one” Holmes came out as crippleware (Max level three ? Are we to be forever playing victims ?), but also that it was (to us cynical 16 year olds) sanitized and altered for no good reason (race as class? Yuck)and...kiddified . Basic? Pheh. Basic is for the slow kids, not us advanced students…….

So, really, for me (and my bunch) the main advantage of AD&D was that it put lots of the scattered D&D stuff in one place, even if it still required a fair amount of patching and juggling to make the numbers match (in either direction); no biggie, really – less books (magazines, Xeroxes and hand copied articles) was better than seamless rules in the day. It must also be realized that access, not simply convenience was a big deal; as this was way, way pre internet and barely post copier, some stuff , lots of stuff actually, was absolutely unavailable except as tantalizing rumors….we had one copy of the ranger class specs, handwritten and that from a guy who came to the games maybe twice a year (he had moved away for collage). Illusionists ….who? Bards? fergettit.

That said, this is why I have fallen unashamedly in love with complete edition Swords and Wizardry: It’s all there.

From about 1980 and back, it's the version of D&D I played all in one place, and in one system.

Now, let me hastily add this is not just another nostalgia wank. No indeed; this is unswerving refusal to move onwards. I’ve played almost all editions of D&D, but I’ve never run anything other than the 1979 MD&D (mélange D&D, my new term for the style –you read it here first). I’ve taken breaks from running D&D (Grad school, say, for instance) but it's always been that set of documents defining mashed-together rules, and mainly the same frikking campaign (see earlier posts about the antique wilderness).

Swords and Wizardry Complete is the damned rules set we wanted in 1980. This THIS THIS ! Three books + Greyhawk+ a bit of the other supplements, plus Dragon article classes and such with no need to shift back and forth from AD&D or shuffle a pile of paper, books and notes and with no added complexity or self indulgent fluff (see: Nomenclature of polearms) . YES ! SHOOT SCORE WIN !

 This is without a doubt the most helpful book for my campaign in, yes, about thirty years. The Majestic wilderness came close, as did several other attempts, but ! This actually allows me to use one book and port all the old characters NPC’s and etc over seamlessly. This is AD&D for those of us who didn't need help with the details of the rules mechanics, just with their organization and availability. Which is pretty much the opposite of what AD&D (and all later versions) did. This is The Traveller Book version of D&D !
So. Here I am, dancing around with my copies of S&W Complete (Hardback, and softback, plus printed out the PDF), all fired up to run some games, dude.
And to some of you, I’ll point out that it has THIEVES ! (got that Jeff and James ?) Wonderful petty sneaky self justifying, anti-heroic thieves. So, NYAAA to all you thief haters.
More to come, say, maybe an actual review, as time permits.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

memo from Department of recursive redundancy

Number of distinct entities not having purchased lucasfilms Star wars licence skyrockets with announcements of non-purchase by  Arm-chair General, LoTFP, Crustacian games, others !

Bulletin from the Rumor Control Department

I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and announce that Crustacian Games is NOT the mystery company that has purchased the Star Wars Licence.  Pity.  An all Admiral Ackbar's Race underwater version would be a hot seller, I'm sure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hellholes of the Traveller Universe

So, being busy, sick, and unable to concentrate on ranting about thieves and Why They Are Good and Jim and James are Wrong,  I present from the pages of Traveller forums (Mongoose and COTI) another installment in the Hellholes and dead ends of the traveller universe, showcasing what to do with those really really odd worlds that the random sysgen can spit, it's a rip off of a S&S story of some fame, which should be a gimmie to my sopisticated readers.

Re Dnailz D000161- 6
Type D starport (minimal), asteroid  , no atmos, no hydrospehere, up to 100 inhabitants, captive government, almost no law enforcement.

Re Dnailz is an involuntary colony created by the neighboring world of . was originally a repressive religious dictatorship facing not-unusual dissent of a religious nature. The dominant sect was religiously bound to allow allowed confessed heretics a choice of exile or death, but was unwilling to allow them to get loose in charted space as a whole, or to settle them on nice, worthwhile colony worlds and spread their beliefs. Accordingly, Re Dnailz (“a home for dissent”) was established on an asteroid in an otherwise barren neighboring system. Set up as a no G tunnel habitat derived from an automated mining and fabrication ship/installation, the colony has the minimum tech needed to maintain itself and provide a reasonable living standard (in theory) for the exiles. Bereft of the resources for space travel, let alone star travel, and permanently locked into trying to keep the systems running on a shoestring, the home world rightly judged that they would be too busy to export heretical ideas or indeed to do anything other than mine, fabricate, fix , crack ice, grow food, repeat.

At its height, Re Dnailz has a population of several thousands, however, it is currently fallen to (15-100), due to two issues: the first is that even in the most hardscrabble life, people will find ways to argue and fight, and this was, after all, populated exclusively by extreme and extremist sects; unexpectedly, the murder and “gang” related deaths were quite high. There was limited involvent in keeping order by of the official jailers from homeworld (themselves exiled, but trustees), but this has ended, as noted below.

Secondly, contact with the home world has ended. At home, the Religious government has collapsed in corruption and a very bloody rebellion, at one point installing a very anti-religious revolutionary government; given the damage to the planets infrastructure and the lack of interest in taking care of a bunch of what are seen as religious fanatics, the new government simply and quietly expunged all knowledge of the colony outside of its ruling council; most of whom died in the next round of rebellion and civil war. As a result, the loss of contact caused a massive upswing in sectarian violence, including significant damage to the environmental systems. What remains are the families of three brothers locked in a final feud to the death due to a fatal disagreement over a spouse. Currently only the two distant ends of the station are inhabited, with all habitable areas between being a battleground. Perhaps 90 survivors in two factions remain in Re Dnailz. (Or 15 if you want it really close and personal).

At least one of the anti-religious directorate members and her family fled to the colony for lack of any better idea, and lack of knowledge of how bad the situation had gotten.

An excellent adventure hook would be for the players to have to locate the now criminalized politician , possibly for the new(est) government, possibly for some information only she may have –such as, where is the iridium hoard that the priesthood is known to have had that disappeared in the first civil war and purge……

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why one old fart thinks another bunch of old farts are Wrong about the Thief in OD&D, part 1

Okay, Thieves. For Jeff and James, at the very least.
So, when I first started reading OSR blogs –long before I jumped in, I gradually realized that there was some sort of bias against thieves as part of original D&D. This was absolutely surprising, so I delved and found some reasoning behind this mean awful persecutory bias against the poor humble thief. Which, in case you haven’t realized, Is Wrong, and I say this having played back then. Which pretty much proves my point.
I was tempted to just end the post there, but it did occur to me that some of you very skeptical types may not be convinced by my all too persuasive appeal to my authority, so for you, I’ll continue.
Several arguments against the thief have been put forth, and these I think are the core:
1. It wasn’t in the first LBB(little brown books, Oe D&D) set

2. Something about not being true to the S&S roots of D&D

3. They are self justifying as a class

4. They caused the monstrosity that is the skill system that has been bolted on to D&D, and thus destroyed at least two generations of gamers by not letting them act like adventurers and instead just roll dice and add skill numbers to solve problems. (Yes, I have opinions about the 3/3.5 skill system, did you notice ?)

So, I’ll take these in some kind of order, across several posts. Then I’ll probably finish with a screed about how important the thief is to D&D. By which point, I expect that everyone will be converted to my opinion, right ? Jeff ? James ? Hello?

Okay, first: Thieves weren’t in the original D&D. I note in advance that this is all probably largely a straw man argument, as I really don't see the “wasn’t in LBB” argument being passed around very much and seldom more than casually. However, since this is my Blog, and my lunch hour, I’ll cop the low hanging fruit if I want to…
Yes, they weren’t in the LBB –not showing up until Greyhawk, as we all know. So they fail the Ur-test, which is a test of…..well, purity. Is it the original vision or not. the thief is not doctrinally pure, in other words. NO, I think that this is a bit of an error, and part of that is that it does set the OSR (Old School Revival/Renaissance/whatever) to look like a bit of a purity patrol; please note that I don't agree that OSR=Purity patrol, at all. But, this kind of appeal doesn’t help things. That's a tangent, though, so onward.

I think the argument of inclusion (or not) is meaningless for several reasons. First, GH(Greyhawk) showed up pretty much concurrently with the LBB set for at least 90% of the post 1st print players (me); I got LBB after I had already skimmed thru GH at the local store –and I went back and bought it at the first possible opportunity. (interestingly, BM(Blackmoor) was almost impossible to get for quite a while. I think I finally got a copy after GD&H came out). It fit hand in glove with the LBB rules – I bought LBB because I was a miniature gamer, but I bought GH because of the potential for it to make a minis supplement something more. And that was D&D the RPG.

Also, and I think this is important, I think its pretty clear that EGG always intended these rules to be part of D&D – but they are one of the areas of detail that he and DA differed on; so, the two additional campaign supplements. I’d also note that DA’s campaign specifically had thief types in its BM the Ur-campaign incarnation; that they weren’t included in Blackmoor the supplement is probably more due to avoiding repetition than anything else. I’d also argue (and I’ll do so later at more length), that D&D wasn’t differentiated from a miniatures game before Greyhawk…and the thief.

So, next. Probably the self justification issue and why It Is Wrong; or maybe the S&S angle. Or maybe another Traveller rant. Stay tuned….

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life imitiates art; and bad art, at that.

In the wake of my (apparently) popular post of an RPG lampooning online game criticism and commentary, I thought I'd prove that I'm immune to irony and post a response I made to an involved, and interesting, but ultimately (as I'll point out) moot discussion about the Traveller trade , economic and technology system, and its relevence (if any) to the real world. 

---BEGIN RANT MGTFORUM05122010 ELECTINT[89%]------------------
The problem you point out is one of those odd issues that seems to be part and parcel of RPG worlds -SF or fantasy; insanely old cultures with absolutely static societies and technology. Why ? Literary bias, I think -simply because most seminal works had them, so does everyone. Relevance to topic ?

Well, this: Traveller is at its heart and intent, emulating a literary school - and one which has all those same issues. Partly because the stories, or at least their inspirations were written before the time of accelerated change, and by people who weren't economists, or, even if they were, were uninterested in that level of detail. It didn't help. So honestly, any overlap with "the real world" is just gravy.

The 800lb gorilla then, is this. There are thousand year societies because Piper, and Asimov, Anderson and Heinlein had them, and no other reason. There are trade systems that are only face valid (if that) in the real world but are there explicitly to create play situations like those of Van Rijn and the Foundation Traders. They create a play structure that emulates that style of fiction. If it doesn't work for you, do what authors like Gibson did, and strike out in a new direction; lots of the dystopian SF is a direct contrast to the golden age stuff, and it's available in RPG form in such SF systems as (hold on) 2300 and its cousins, the cyberpunk genre. I would argue that while they often have similar underpinnings, systems like CT and 2300 produce a very different play experience, simply and precisely because they are emulating different genres.

From my point of view, the level of detailed criticism (in the negative sense) presented above, and its opposition, are about as productive as population demographics based criticism of the lord of the rings; or, actually, criticizing traveller for failing to include Tom Bombadil, or original D&D for failing to address issues of implied FTL in spellcasting. The points are basically valid, but they really don't matter in terms of what is being presented. Grafting cyberpunk and information technology onto the foundation series makes it something very different (as we see with the later books in the series, attempting to explain Foundation society and stories IRL terms. )

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail and has always failed for traveler, is because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level. I'd reject many of the very gritty Trade and cartography systems (including those of later CT and MT) not because they are wrong, but because they don't help.

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail for traveler and is why it still hasn't been resolved after 30 years, far more than just the usual observation that times and econ theory changes with it. It wasn't part of CT simply because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level to what is being produced. The literature does not support that level of examination, so one should not expect the emulation to do so. 

---------------------END RANT---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Next up:  I thought I'd alienate my current readership by posting my rant on thieves in OD&D, or, If You Think That Thieves Were Bad for Old Style D&D then you Don't Understand Old style D&D, and , lucky you, I'm here to tell you why you are wrong and should change your mind."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Keyboards and Bathrobes: Five Fold Alignment System

So, much to my surprise, KB&BR has zoomed to the top of my page hits, garnering twice as many as the next most popular page (BMoTU). So, as an avowed attention whore, I succumb to reader pressure and present a long lost supplemental post for KB&BR. I'd come up with a witty name for it, but all I can think of is "SemioticMoor", and frankly, that is obscure and sucks. So here goes: a huge bolus of pretentious text, plus one overanalyzed and extrapolated diagram.  Enjoy, and try not to choke.

Online Game critique five-fold Alignment System.

As is obvious to all, the empowerment of the experience of the game vis-à-vis the actions preformed, or rather Pre-formed by the player-participant will hopefully be informed (or, as is often the case, mis-informed) by an overriding structuralization of a behavioral script divined from continuous self (or character-self) observation and actualization assessment which is the goal of all right minded, forward-looking gamers; or, put otherwise, Alignment. Oft derided by the thespian (or rather Hypocritical Thespian) the characters alignment is not, as is often maintained by the unenlightened an artificial limb upon which a wobbly characterization may be perched like some kind of fantastical long-john-silver impersonator; RATHER, it is a crutch upon which a players character may walk from A to B without having to infuse, or rather pollute (or perhaps homogenize and genericize, thereby dumbing -down the thespio-gaming experience to the lowest common denominator which disagrees with deconstructionist gaming criticism) the actions with preconceived notions of play style and non-historical genre-inconsistent and non-canonical (or, more accurately Wrong ) reactions to the Player-directors shared psycho-imaginational world. Such crutches are absolutely necessary, for the simple reason that all players are inherently lame, and need to be carefully and coddlingly coaxed onto the sleeper car of the phantasmical wonderful plot train of the Game-stewards design. Lord knows mine do ! Thus, one sees that an utter artificiality of behavioral analysis and summation, the alignment, is in fact a necessity and a benefit insofar as it is easy to use to direct recalcitrant players behavior, and the extent to which it makes an otherwise incorrectly motivated player remotivate in proper local terms, as laid down by the immediate rules-interpreter.

Thus, we see that five points on a continuum can successfully and completely define, predict and simulate all behavior of online game critics, which, obviously, is almost entirely an overlapping set with all gamers; and thus, the set of all sets, including the conceptually empty set, is the five fold alignment set.

In general other than food and excretion, all gaming forum critics have two main emotional states: Attack and defense, and unreasonable fear or unconditional love of change; and one centroid state: Cluelessness.

The fear/love axis is defined by the Napoleonic nicknames specific to the old and young guard regiment of the French imperial army: Grognards (old grumblers) and Malenfants (Fussy infants).* The Grognards were the unmoving defenders of the old ways, and the Malenfants the obsessive early adopters of all that was new and shiny. One sees this dichotomy at all levels of gaming discussion, but, while often referred to, does not adequately explain what is observed; in point of fact, the missing element is how a given individual (such as they are) reacts to a challenge to their desired way of things (Stasis or Chaos): Rabid attack or Utter Defense. This is utterly independent of what one's passion for, or abhorrence of change or tradition. One can obstinately cleave to an ancient game or mechanic by constantly extolling its utter perfection and virtue; or one can cleave to an old system by constantly pointing how utterly flawed, fallacious and broken all other choices are. While it is physically and mentally possible for one to both attack and defend, one tendency always predominates; and, as one equalizes ones tendency to either lash out or turtle up, one approaches the state of cluelessness which is also achieved by an unhealthy balance of emotional attachment to change or lack thereof.

Thus, all discussions of gaming can be parsed by this dichotomous set of axes, with the origin being the classic clueless gamer who imagines that while discussion may be interesting, the point of gaming is in fact gaming, and not arguing about how one should game, or, indeed, the ultimate fallacy of considering that actual experience of a game is somehow more appropriate to the nature of games than constantly meta-arguing about how one should discuss gaming.

Thus, in a very real Holmesian sense, keyboards and Bathrobe plarer -conspirators (or rather, experience-gamingists subjects) fit one of five alignments: Grognard-cynic/Grognard-fanboi/Malenfant-cynic/Malenfant-Fanboi, as this simple diagram should make clear, with added reference points of specific fan groups and gaming types added for reference. 

*The justification for this terminology is that I know a lot about this subject, and wish , at some point in my life, to make sure that other people know that I know about it too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Keyboards and Bathrobes" the RPG of online RPG criticism and playtest.

Hello and happy holidays.  For this post, we have an old post, somewhat updated, which prosaically expresses my feelings at a particular online playtest I participated in, and several years of involvement with gaming foums; presented, naturally, in the form of an RPG........
Note: if you think you recognize yourself in one of the character classes, you're wrong: it isn't aimed at you...but seek counseling and psychological help anyway.  ....

"Keyboards and Bathrobes"
the RPG of online RPG criticism and playtest.


This is a roleplaying-simulationist construct derived from intensive multi-generational analysis of current and past character simulation critique systems, (or tropes, if you will) developed after extensive playetest (sic) and editing in my tiny little mind; first pseudo published in 1974 as a self published fanzine amendment to the annex of "Ringmail: WRG campaign micro economics for pre-pattern welded armor skirmish games".
This is the 16th edition, and represents a final revision of the game, bringing it entirely in line with its original contents and concepts while also completely updating all mechanisms and mechanics for the 21st century.

Part I 

You MUST include the following tables or you are not playing the correct game:

Gaming age:
1. Young: too new to gaming to be polluted by the static hidebound conventions of yesterday
2. Young An FNG noob with a big mouth, hopeless affection for the new and shiny and a small to non-functional behavioral inhibition system....
3. Old: a grognard with immense experience and resources, who has great and enduring passion for games, but has seen flash gaming systems come and go, and half assed systems disappoint, rip off and generally discourage the more naive gaming public. .
4. Old: a grognard with fossilized brains, no social skills, neophobia, unmedicated obsessive compulsive disorder and a desire to see only the earliest systems pinned to a board and put under plastic for all time.
5. Just right: an incisive critic, with tremendous analytic abilities, able to accurately dissect gaming systems and suggest elegant corrections for any system, any time, any mechanic.
6. Just right: A bitter antisocial hermit renting space from Parents, who substitutes arguing online about gaming for actual gaming with other human beings, and who is an esteemed magical experts about subjects just from reading the name, or a quick google search.

Character archetemplate Motivational skill package system which isn't simply like D&D crosssed with Runequest and written up for an improv comedy act by a demented lemur. 
1. Bitter Victim:

the designer didn't use your version of character creation, combat and dice resolution systems, despite you repeatededly emailing it to him and every forum multiple hundred times, and knocking on his front door to deliver your ms that the skeptical toadies that insulate him from the real world have hidden from him.
Skill package: Amazing persistence, deep and extensive knowledge of nasty industry gossip.
Power: stupifying stun attack based on long and self involved stories of your unfair defeats.

2. Noble contrarian:
being hated and ignored is a small price to pay for being right; as is research and testing, social skills, politeness and bathing. All failures in these areas are actually you just "being honest , forthright, and Non-PC"....and needing a bath.
Skill package: Absolute immunity to criticism, or distraction attempts based on social skills training.
Power: Derail any discussion with verbose restatements of sophomoric political or philosphical fringe agendas.

3. Expert grand professor of all time space and dimension:
Why do those stupid idiots waste my time with their questions and demands for references ! My huge brain and questionable actual experience with the subject should be and is enough ! Social conventions of polite and rational discourse are just things that happen to other people, and are to be used as exploitable weak points in arguments...
Skill package:
all of em. Seriously. All world knowlege. Immune to any fact based attack.
Power: HyperLoquatious obfiscitory verbiage ; Nuclear sneer.

4. Argument Whore:
being hated, insulted and yelled at is better than being ignored. Especially when ....actually, always. Social maladroitness is in fact what makes me you an unique, and thus superior being. Being unable to be punched over the internet helps too. Otherwise as above, but with less references.
Skill package:
Absolute moral high ground. Truly painful sarcasm and biting personal attacks; immune from same (as with most venomous insects and vermin); cannot actually be punched.
Power. 100 dice froth attack, FGMP-15 level flame attacks
5. Attention Whore:
as above, but will also rely on sarcasm, fiction, stupid parodies and even stupider attempts at humor (often self referential), for gaining attention, and distraction from a sobbing self examination of an otherwise pathetic life.
Skill package:
Immune to suggestions that you are not funny; immune to topic constraints; Can spend any amount of attention and effort on somthing that may, just may get a laugh.
Power: stupifying time-wasting thread derailment.

6. Obsessive compulsive worrier:
My anxieties about life can only be calmed by focusing my attention down to a laser-like focus on minor highly technical details of a game, and ten burying the resulting artificial anxieties under a mountain of increasingly hysterical chapter-length posts.
Skill package:
This one. No, over here. THIS one. Look closer. CLOSER. The one that is KEY TO THE GAME! And...andIS IN DANGER OF BEING changed and ruined and broken FOREVER AND THE GAME WILL BE UNPLAYABLE AND RUIN ITS COMPANY FOREVER DAMMIT ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME ??????????
Power: yes.


A list of stats should be chosen, and then either

a. increased tenfold based on exceptional weirdest case analysis or
2. Reduced to one based on simplest possible mechanic analysis and and/or an idiosyncratic clustering method or
III. Decoupled entirely from task resolution in favor of guided player/GM imagery or
D. integrated into task resolution with such stunning, labyrinthine and byzantine complexity that real life task resolution is abstractly simulated for a specific set of circumstances.
xx. Ignored, or rather, abandoned as task resolution is perforce a simulationist trope with reactionary and obsolete gamingist elements (or tropes) , and antithetical to a interactive synergistic roleplaying resolution trope.
0. made exactly the same as in "Spawn of Fashan", only with cooler names....

Characteristic generation:
Roll some doesn't matter how many, or what type since the stat distributions of all attempts to operationalize characteristics are broken, anyway.

II Experience:
True critiquists (as opposed to simple critics) will find and explicate adequate design commentary regardless of textual content or active assimilation of text ; and , as should be obvious, this applies regardless of previous experience which will guide or, more precisely misguide the active forward looking critiqueist; indeed, one can argue that any attempt to internalize text, let alone operationalize or enstantiate rules structure will hopelessly pollute the necessarily intrusive scalpel of spontaneous commentary in the service of comforting the reader, and so is to be eschewed as a bourgiose affectation and is to be avoided. 

Primary experience level, if such a concept is deemed necessary due to the unsophisticated nature of the players, is determined by the post counts at websites.

Additionally, the total number of responses to a post may be counted if the initial post uses the works “broken , incompetent, stupid,  or fraudulent”. Followup posts with actual obscenities or threats count double; however, exclude all “can’t we just get along” style posts, or actual factual answers to the original post from the count, unless that poster then goes on to later make a threat or quits the site forever. Additional bonuses include being threatened with absolute banning by the admins in an “other topics” or “forum maintainance” thread; causing a thread to be locked or deleted  counts the total number of posts in that thread as a bonus. Provoking similar threats from the owner of the board, company or author of the product under critique allows a bonus equal to the number of words in the specific post, with insults and obscenities counting double. Getting the owner or author  to quit the site is considered a win, and scores experience equal to the post count of the forum in question.

Double the points from websites, blogs and forums one is permabanned from; however simply “leaving forever” loudly and with great finality counts reduce the final score by one-half, unless one almost immediately returns and ignores having “quit forever”.

III. Campaigns

As all written campaigns deprotagonize and disempower the player, whereas randomized crawlist models make reduntant the gamemaster,  it is advised to avoid a campaign structure entirely, whilst eschewing simpleminded table sandboxery altogether. Similarly, as the actual enstantiation of the rollplaying metaphor hopelessly collapses the value of the Xperience(sic), and enforces aand, indeed makes mandatory, the tyranny of limits, fun and rules, all actual play should also be avoided in all situations.  

The end.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brickmasters supplement 1: Gruehawk !

Enjoy a break from turgid discussions of the potato in roleplaying with the brainless silliness of the first supplement for the uberlite ultra-old school OD&D inspired Brick RPG: Gruehawk !

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Logistical Demographics of the Ancient Wilderness, and other snooze inducers...part VI

Freem is a root/tuber plant, with the edible nodes being about the size of an adult fist. Bright blue, highly nutritious and grown underground until harvest, Freem is able to support twice as many people per acre as wheat. It has allowed the small freehold farms of the eastern parts of the Isle to become self sufficient on about five acres, once a dairy animal is added, and even that is not required.

Yes, it's a potato.

Really, and I’m not exaggerating, the potato was the key to this campaign. Not only did allow me to vaguely justify the cities and population centers, but it gave me the population, politics, culture and history. All from spuds. Or rather, from the original question that was answered by the phrase, “Potatoes me lad. Potatoes”

Population issues and Why they do or don't matter
Okay, so I worry about things like population density and support in a given area – keep in mind I was still in high school when D&D came out, and you have an unfortunate picture of a youngster who thinks too damn much. But, if you’re reading my blog, you probably have a hint that it hasn’t gotten any better, right?
I started with the map, and the simple statement of where the castles and towns were, and the need to place a couple of largish (by medieval standards) cities. While it never really comes up in play, logistics and population: how do all those people eat (and….um, UN-eat) seemed important to the campaign.

And, the fact is, it was both crucial and absolutely a waste of time. No one has ever asked how the hell all those people in that city get enough to eat, and why they have the money to pay for it. Never, ever, not even once. Dammit !

BUT, what it has done for me is to shape the fabric of the world that the players move thru.

See, even with very limited or non-existent reference materials (pre internet, remember? Ooooooohhhhh. Scary. If you think trying to look up medieval demographics in a public school library is easy or sufficient, well……yeah), in trying to answer these questions, the Wilderness survival map became a living campaign. . I thought about the people, the institutes, I questioned the conclusions and started over when I found a new book or fad idea about populations. Looking at population and infrastructure issues, even in a very superficial way got me looking at how the inhabitants interact and live, and how one could fit that into an adventuring milieu. Those led to politics, and technology, and from there to cultural assumptions, and why there was adventuring land.

The goals for this excercise, such as they are, or History in the real world, and why Germans and Irish have much in common
So, first, we have a new frontier – but one full of Ruins, and few if any indigenes (human or otherwise) so, some kind of abandoned island, obviously, BUT; it needs lots of food production (for the cities and towns), and no strong political rule (or the monsters and dungeons get burned out –and the adventurers become brigands), plus a steep drop off in population concentration (to give lots of wild and unexplored areas). So it’s on an island, newly discovered, but not yesterday –say seven or ten generations. In fact, it is like some of the large pacific landmasses, or, more accurately, the Atlantic isles (the Azores, canaries, St Helena, etc, expanded and with ruins added). Next, we have to add intensive agriculture for supporting large cities (the City State, Modron) in a limited area: so it can't be the size of the Atlantic isles, whereas Australia and New Zealand are too big. What works? What historically was a balkanized somewhat wild land that could nonetheless support several moderate cities, several kingdoms (or whatever) and still have untrammeled wilderness?

Well….another Atlantic island: Ireland.

Specifically, the Ireland of Brian Boru and before. However, we need more actually unknown land –and historical Ireland doesn’t provide that. So, assume something the size of Ireland, but only first settled (say) a half dozen generations ago. That should give us the population for the cities, but not the wilderness; see, temperate North America filled up damn fast. So, we need slow trickle immigration, and a factor to allow a medieval based civilization to clump up more than it naturally would, and survive. So, a dangerous wilderness, (and by which dangers I mean more than wolves and rattlesnakes), to make people fort up, and high yield agriculture to allow them to feed lots of people at least at subsistence levels on a little ground. This makes farms smaller, defensible, and self sufficient, even with several generations of subdivision thru inheritance. And we get…..well, shucky darn.  Germany in the 30-years war. The dangers weren’t Orcs, although one can argue that Orcs, being simply bandits, would have been less dangerous than what they had: undersupplied , unpaid but heavily armed armies of a time of religious warfare.

Enter the hero of the opressed proletariat, the Potato
See, economy and trade essentially collapsed in Germany towards the end of that period (due to the wars), and large areas were quite literally made uninhabitable by famine, plague, relocation, scorched earth campaigns, and massacre. What allowed some population base to survive, especially in the face of plundering armies, and also to rebuild and recolonize, (surprisingly quickly), was the potato. It's great for a poor land, and for a survival food – it's hard for the nobles to take as tax, yet feeds the serfs who grow the stuff they do take, and doesn't displace the more desirable products all that much. It turns latifundia and estate/bound serf farming into heavily taxed rent farmers –which, despite what it sounds like, is a big step up. Perfect, really.

We already know it takes less land than wheat; it’s also harder to steal, (being as they are
underground before harvest), and quite heavy for the nutritional value compared to grain agriculture. Their harvest is less time dependent, and they are much more resilient to weather and war effects. Add in the fact that potatoes don't keep or store as well as grains, and you have a survival food that isn't all that great for armies or trade, and one that is almost impossible to entirely swipe or eradicate (anyone ever having grown potatoes knows that there’s always another one somewhere.) Travel and trade in the potato was limited due to spoilage, and the fact that there is no good preserved version of the potato in Europe (like flour, smoking, drying, etc) made sure that the farmers generally ate the potatoes, and sold the produce on the extra land they had.

What this meant for the campaign
So, turning potatoes to Freem and adding it to the Isle, we get the pastoral population areas I needed (the Freem valley, and the cantons and freeholds) with lots of midsized towns, a few cities, a sharply divided demographic, clustered populations (as in post potato Ireland, BTW) and low population density areas outside those areas, dwindling to nothing, due to the short time that people have been there, and the slow spread of population. Farms grow Freem for their own use, but also produce more tradable/transportable ag products to sell. Near the cities we have estates and Latifundia, but the bulk of the food is from small self sufficient farms capable of high surplus production. That demographic has kept any kind of organized unification at a minimum, so lots of small baronies, rather than an evil empire (except where needed for plot). Similarly, no huge outside or local powers contending  for dominance (except as etc).  The wild west, plus Ireland, plus early colonial America, plus potatoes. Perfect !

 Note that while similar to much colonization in the real world, the bulk of the Isle was slowly settled by peasants and serfs, not conquistadors ; until….well, dungeons. Yeah, the other resource of the Isle.
Okay, enough about potatoes, and on to gold next time. Specifically, killing people and stealing their silverware. You know. Roleplaying.

Next: There's GOLD in them thar dungeons !

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Histories of the Ancient Wilderness (part V)

I present here the first part of the latest iteration of the backstory for the Isle...From possibly either the late 90's early 00's. The last significant use of it was an extended Tegel Manor run, possibly in 2003 or so when my turn to GM came up in our local group. [Out of character notes will be presented in square brackets thusly]

Introduction and discovery
The history of the Isle is even more unclear than that of the Mainland, while much knowledge and most history of the previous epoch was lost in the interregnum, nothing is known of the Isle before its discovery in NBE 423. With the re-founding of the bright Kingdom in (225), trade and exploration increased dramatically. One result was the discovery of a huge and unknown Island about a weeks sailing to the south east of the Port of Pemboda. There was, and has been no information found about its existence before this date, and it is postulated that the isle may simply not have existed before this time. There is specuation that the Scouring of the Coasts described in the Epic of the Longstrand (probably from -229) may be related to the appearance of the Isle, if one assumes that its rise or appearance displaced the sea that it currently occupies.
The initial landfall was the result of a storm that drove a small group of merchant adventurers off course, and did sufficient damage to the ships to require several months stay before a return could be contemplated. some local exploring was done, and the fishing banks off of (now) Northport [hex 2901] were identified, along with the general excellence of the land for agriculture. Also noted was the fact that it seemed
uninhabited at least as far as a few days march from the initial landing at what is now Faldirk [hex 3101]. Given the lack of trade opportunities, the venturers eventually continued on to their destination, reported their findings to the Mariners guild, and sailed off into obscurity.

First Settlements
What is clear is that knowledge of the existence of the Isle became generally known, more as a curiosity than as a potential resource. What it did seem to provide was the opportunity for a new life free for many refugees of the seemingly endless Slovian wars that erupted in 655. Most took sail in whatever they could build, buy or steal, travelled to the original landing point, and travelled a short distance down river to found Faldirk [Modron from Judges guild]. Most of the refugees had no interest in contact with war torn homelands or in being "returned" to their bound or enslaved status on a lords demesne, so ships were generally destroyed or broken up for lumber on arrival. In time, this secrecy became both required and enforced. Later arrivals were welcomed, helped, supplied and politely but firmly informed that while they could not return, they were free to take what they found inland; given the conditions of the lands they had fled from, this was generally accepted enthusiastically; the few merchants arriving to see if trade was possible quickly were forced to join the settlement, or returned penniless to report a dangerous, anarchic wilderness. The inflow travelled generally moved south east, founding the first steadings of the Freehold and Cantons.

Northport and the Freebooter Shanty Towns
Meanwhile, the seas around the coast became increasingly hazardous with the Long Siege of Pemboda, and essentially destroyed the merchant and fishing fleets of the Pembodan Coasts. The need for a constant blockade of Pemboda required a constant source of resupply, and the fishing banks off of Northport began to provide it, which was originally founded as a Slovian naval base [Verbosh, JG]. As the situation became more chaotic over the next decade, there was constant flow of deserters and escaped slaves and prisoners from Northport to the interior of the Island.

Finally, the descent of the Slovan Navy and the Bright Kingdom and its Allies into outright piracy resulted in the founding of several well hidden pirate enclaves on the South and West coasts of the Island. Once mercantile traffic had been driven away, the Pirates generally turned to longer voyages to newer hunting grounds (such as the Slovian seas), and the southern shanty towns on the Isle were well positioned to support them.

For the next two hundred or so years, until the lesser interregnum, the three areas coexisted largely independently and in ignorance of the others. Escapees from the (eventual) slave fisheries of Northport trickled into the Freem Valley, retired pirates and further escapees into the vales of Grantium, and more and more fled or displaced peasants homesteaded the Cantons. Government was minimal, and land plentiful. And at some point early in the first century, the settlers discover one of the true treasures of the Isle: Freem.

Next up: Freem !

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ancient wilderness Map Part IV

So, to continue, what this became was a framing wilderness where I could put all the cool dungeons and adventures (well, mostly dungeons) I was ran or wanted to run.  So, looking at the Map, you'll find quite a few Judges Guild locations, and some "blackmoor" kind of places. There are some locations from the game Lizards, but the names are well changed: but they are there, for sure.

For me, it really was the first fantasy campaign (FFC, by Judges guild) which guided my thoughts of a wilderness, although it has been suggested by some old players that a sense of whimsy (or possibly brain damage) was what made me cleave to things Arnesonian; probably true, but the environment and atmosphere presented in the FFC has always been my goal.  if I had to describe it, its kind of like much terry Pratchett crossed with catch-22; a loving parody (the Pratchett part) combined with some mean but accurate humor that is interrupted by real world consequences in the midst of a belly laugh....where you go, "HA HA HA...Oh SHIT NOOOOOOO......" (this is the catch 22 part).What the FFC presented was (to my mind) exactly that - a somewhat joking dangerous environment -with lots of very mundane human interactions at all levels.  Also, it was a small kingdom sandbox, which makes it more personal - one can become a king, abeit not king of much...still, that's all there is, so go for it !

As a GM, I'm probably more akin to Pratchett than Heller, (although please note I make no claims as to having similar quality and skills of either author) so I probably err too much on the side of slapstick and post modern irony ("look at us ! We are medieval people played by modern people who act just like modern people who are nothing like us...!) ; but I've always felt that in an RPG, if you can't get yourself killed, you aren't playing an RPG. So, there need to be serious moments -but on the other hand, I've always believed that Serious does not equal Joyless, so there you go. Sometimes getting killed is as important as levelling up; and sometimes, there is no choice but to die well, or at least amusingly.

More later, I suppose. Probably about the history of ReSquIs.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ancient wilderness Map Part III

As the Isle developed pretty much from the very beginning of my D&D career (1978 or so, for sure) , it accreted different bits of what was available from third party publishers; I say third party, since the support for the original D&D wasn’t ever very deep from TSR, and obviously died entirely after B/X and ADD.  In truth, my buy in to AD&D just about stopped when the DMG came out – it was mined, not adopted – really, from about 1980 onwards, what I ran, and have run was essentially OD&D + Supplements + ADD Monster manual and Players handbook.  Yes, I’m aware that that makes me a hideously Hidebound reactionary…but I always tried and played each subsequent edition thru 3.5 just fine; but for running, my first love was that formula, and probably the long running campaign here has lots to do with that.

As regards to third party stuff, two massive influences were both from Judges guild:  City state and First fantasy campaign.   Both of which I had my grubby paws on very soon after they came out, even though it took hitching along on my parents 3 hour trip to new Orleans for their antique hobby/business so I could go to the Hub, an honest to god big ass hobby and game store.  Wonder if it’s still there?  It was as of 1989 or so.

Right.  To continue: city state introduced the whole city genre, and in my mind glued the D&D game to real Sword and Sorcery stuff – the decadent city adventures.   Plus, it showed how the scope of D&D could be HUGE, and yet also presented a way to keep track of that scope in a vey terse format –which relied on the creativity and imagination of the GM to do the rest.  Sort of empowering, really, but a style that wouldn’t do well in the new TSR adventure format, I fear; still, it needs to be pointed out that the ‘describe everything’ did teach an entire generation of GMs their chops; before, it was very hard to just jump in – a background in miniature gaming and some board gaming as well as lots of odd reading was pretty much required to make an easy start of it.  So, the TSR version of adventures was very democratic in the sense of letting anyone start doing it without a big jump –and discovering a knack they had that they might never have if they’d only had the ‘deep end’ model to guide them.  Honestly, good GM’s are made as well as born.   

So, the Barony of Finstierre is the surrounding land of the city-state – simply marked on the map as ‘the city’, pretty much in the center of the island.  The idea was that the city was a tail that had grown to wag the dog; technically the overlord was subservient to the Baron of Finstierre, but in fact, controlled 90% of the wealth and trade of the Barony, which is otherwise a bucolic, heavily farmed area for providing food to the city.   The city was the main ops area for adventurers, and stabilized the center of the island as an 800 lb gorilla will.  This allowed a homeland for the players to come from or retreat to, and some political games, too.

Interestingly, the JG city-state pushed a very cosmopolitan view on my D&D campaign; for instance, while generally assholes, orcs were often paying citizens, and couldn’t just be killed as evil.  Racial animosity, while real, was subjected to law and order, and mainly expressed as personal animosity.  Prejudice, not pogroms, really; possibly having lived many years in the Deep South was also an influence.  The evil humanoids were more unpleasant foreigners (on the level of pirates, perhaps, or Mongol raiders), but had jobs and nations.  In fact, the quest for “ethnic freeholds” became part of the campaign for a while, especially as the first few orc/goblin characters and NPC’s got to high level.  Thus, we have the Orcish Peoples Republic (blatantly swiped from Greg Costykin’s SPI masterpiece, swords and sorcery) and Kobieshold, both dedicated to freeing orclings from domination and slaughter by non-orclings; It wasn’t a black and white issue at all, not an “everyone is nice given the chance” apologetic for the bad guys, either.  What it meant was that the Orclings wanted to be the oppressors, not the oppressed, plus payback for too many generations sacrificed to dark lords and paladins.  Plus, loot and indolence, helped, too.

More to come.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ancient wilderness Map Part II

With actual files added !
Click for embiggened and Endetailingizationed version !

My ancient wilderness campaign map.......

So, about a zillion years ago, I started GMing original D&D, and, as suggested, got a copy of the wilderness survival map (mailorder spare part from Avalon hill; yes I was already a profound gamer-geek in 1975).  I copied, messed with, accidentally destroyed, replaced and redrew it on and off for years.  Its most constant use was as "The Remarkably Square Island" allowing me to run dungeon crawls and associated hex crawls in any overall strategic campaign I wanted, or for impromptu pickups with no particular continuity (Grad school period of my life). 
I was dithering about scanning it when I found a rendering of it online recently here(at Bat in the Attic); so I downloaded that, and modified it according to at least one of the incarnations -as L'isle d' Carre, aka ReSquIs.

Roads and baronies added. More details later. BEHOLD !

(see next post for downloadable and larger version )

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Brickmasters (of the unknown) rpg: updated and improved but NOT expanded !!!!!

For today, we have a new and corrected version of  BMoTU in pdf format, now including money, magic items, enhanced experience, traps, hazards and healing, and more gimmicks. Still on a single two-sided 8.5x11 sheet of paper, too ! Yes, rules uberlight !

In all honesty, the new sections are very terse, but hey.  It's all on  one sheet of paper, darn it! Those of us with limited attention spans and failing memories (i.e a family and a long commute) appreciate that above all else......well, I do, anyway.

Enjoy !  

Monday, November 1, 2010

Brickmasters of the Unknown !

So, my continuing time over at Lego Universe has convinced mwe that there isn't much need for a moderate or higher crunch set of Brick roleplaying rules -it's basically there online.  However, I have been inspired to do a rules lite version of bricks and basilisks, inspired by searchers of the unknown, a marvelous one page OD&D-lite triumph of style over text by Nicolas Dessaux  HERE .  Plus, bunches of variants compiled HERE ,  and the original thread HERE.

Now, my entry, Brickmasters of the Unkown, really doesn't have much left from either OD&D or SoTU, but the style of SoTU absolutely encouraged me to take a stab at the one-page grail for "brick" gaming.  Alas, as I moved away from the structure of OD&D, I lost considerable implied structure, and I had to fudge it, length wise. The result is a two sided single sheet, but it includes spells, monsters and some stuff about tasks and experience, PLUS a combat system. In truth, it lacks explicit dinosaurs, which is a serious issue, although it also lacks explicit bears, so Stephen Colbert should be happy there.

It was a very interesting exercise boiling ones rules down to an absolute limited size; it certainly had me rethinking quite a few aspects of the game for neccessity wheras even with a short booklet I would have just gone ahead and included some fairly redundant stuff.  Also, it does force clarity of writing -or at least brevity.  It isn't Barkerese or International Science Abstract Gibberish, but I think its a lot leaner than it was.

So, for your enjoyment, Brickmasters of the Unknown !

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So, adventurer Beta 2 is about ready to be stitched together and posted ......

Given that, I'd like to seriously request any and all feedback people have - since I'm going to try an move on to some other (smaller) projects, like, say whole traveller universes.......

Maybe this: Lunarion space: solar adventure in the distant future after the third technological singularity...
Maybe this : Red star and rockets: atomic era craziness in orbit.
Maybe this: Brickmasters of the unknown my entry into the searchers of the unknown ultralite rpg family
Maybe this: Brickmasters of the twenty seventh century ! Brain damage, pure and simple......
Maybe this: Roma Ad Astra. Take a wild guess; Gauls in space ?  Check.
Maybe this: The dyson bubble.  want a big campaign ? Check.
Maybe this: Down and out in Outer Nowherea/Foreven: my own sandbox, small ship, balkanized podunk corner of the traveller universe

Ooooh.  The possibilities.

Thoughts ?  No, wait.  Comments on Adventurer ?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oh yes, new file for Adventurer

I've posted part 5. Realms and Riches, the kingdom and city generator - and as it is now posted, I'm noticing that it has some earlier, incomplete  text from the next section posted (towers and terrors), but I'm lacking the time and/or painfreeness to fix that.  Soon, soon.  Such as when I don't have to use crutches to get to the computer.

(UPDATE:  Links disabled.  check latest posts for current version)

CURSES ! Foiled Again !

Apparently, you should stay away from those online games, 'cause they make your ankles break.  still offline (as in not walking, etc etc) after what was supposed to be a routine ankle arthroscopy procedure (they stick in a camera and dremel and grid the joint smooth) which turned up..."lots of unexpected damage which needed extensive work".  So, I've had a vicodin holiday flat on my back since Wednesday, and you know what?  It isn't as fun as it sounds.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


[PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF COMMUNICATIONS INTERCEPT 4223-092010 BEGIN], lego universe pretty much has what it takes to ruin my life as far as hobby things go.......[garbled]......effin maletrom spiders .....smash smash smash ! ......[garbled buzzing noises] Ah ha ! Gotcha.  MINEMINEMINE ! Cool.  What is this thing called grinding ????  BLISS, thats whatit is [unintelligible] HEY.  Smash.  Allright, a gold popsicle !.  MAN.....I wonder if this is what its like to be inside a mi-go brain case ?  [Chanting].....


Thursday, October 14, 2010

This may be goodbye.......

Well, there's a distinct possibility I may be gone from blogging forever.

Three words:  Lego Universe MMO.

If I don't return, tell my family, projects and free time that I loved them....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bricks and Basilisks, the RPG : some more. Ecce Minifig.

So, for today, we have my late lunchbreak and part of the ongoing Bricks and Basilisks RPG
part 1: Ecce Minifig.  

Ecce, Minifig
Intro and character types.

The first step in any RPG, other than ignoring the required “what is roleplaying” polemic (and I’ve done that for you) is creating your character.
B&B concentrates on the fantasy/castle/knights and dragons aspect of roleplaying and bricks; later I'll work on the pulp/modern/SciFi stuff. Needless to say, it will use an entirely different character creation.
This, however, is how you set up a minifig character for B&B. Remember.  This is not aminiature representing a person -you are playing an actual brick minifig. Read the earlier B&B post for details, or if you dont know about minifigs.  Go on and do it now.  Really, you'll thank me for it when you become a minifig obsessed collecter, although your disposable time and cash won't thank me, no, not at all.  Bwaaa ha haaaa !


  1. Decide if your character is going to be a fighter or a person. A fighter hits stuff and shoots stuff, and wears armor and rides horses and dragons and spiked rotating saw blade battle chariots and the like. People do either other specialized stuff, or not much of anything. People can include, Townsfolk,wizards, rogues, (non-martial) children, healers, and the the like. Everyone can fight, but fighters are better at it. A fighter minifig needs a torso with some kind of armor printed on it. Everything else is up for grabs if you are a person. Pick out head, hair and legs that you like. People can choose any kind of hat not specific to fighters or wizards. Note: a hat is different from a helmet. A helmet has an armor value, a hat does not.
    1. If you choose fighter, you are finished with this step; go to choosing skills, you lucky dog…..
    2. If you choose to be a  person, you have some choices, you lucky dog. keep reading.
    3. If you are a person, choose what type of you are
      • Townsfolk/Townie
      • Wizard
      • Rogue
  2. Pick skills
  3. Pick equipment, steeds and companions as available.
  4. Go forth and adventure…

Incomplete list of People still favoring skirmish-style play
People can come in a variety of types: for now, this means wizards, townsfolk and, oh heck, yeah call them , rogues. These descriptions are currently brief, but will be filled out with more of those, whattayacallem rules, discussing why these distinctions matter.

Wizards have to have the beard piece, (but a beard printed on his head will do in a pinch), or wear a wizard appropriate hat. Note that females can be wizards by virtue of either an add-on beard, or a hat. Most prefer the hat, but hey, it's a very accepting world. Wizards have a base move of 10.
  • A mage can only carry a dagger or staff .
  • Only a wizard may take the skills Magician, Necromancer or Summoner.
  • A mage may discard a  staff, wand, cape, cowl, hood or hat to absorb one hit (each).
  • A mage may make a power attack if at punching range (see details).

From the movement and ciombat sections, here for clarity while this is being written
Wizards activate as normal figures, but require an extra activation point be allocated for each item or spell used in any given turn. A character wizard may be unactivated for movement and still cast a spell, if activation points are assigned for that purpose. Note that there are consequences when a mage is not activated (if a non player) or not activated for movement (if a character).
Magic spells require activation points to cast over and above activating the wizardy type.; this can be accomplished by expending gems. Potions and scrolls are single use and only require the user to be activated.

Rogues (sigh.. Gary called ‘em thieves thieves, dagnabbit !) A rogue should have one of the sly or smug expressions, but, as they are rogues, they might decide to blend in with townsfolk. A rogue should have one of : a mysterious hood or cowl, a smirk or knowing grin, a cape, a knit cap or dashing forest man style robin hood hat. Pirate hats and bandannas are good too. The point is that they need to be identifiable for the players. If you point it out ahead of time, alls well.  Rogues have a base move of 12.
  • Only a rogue can take the skill Unobtrusiveness.
  • They can use two daggers, or a weapon and a dagger to add a +2 to their CR. They may discard a weapon to block a hit.
  • If they have access to the uber-cool custom rapier, they can count it as a 2-Handed weapon.
  • They gain a +1 when attacking at throwing or punching range.Townies

Townsfolk (or Townies) do stuff. They wear medieval clothing, carry stuff, make stuff, grow stuff, sell stuff, build stuff drive or ride things, and generally dive for cover when it hits ye fanne. Thus, townies mainly exist as speedbumps and capture flags for the other minifigs. They can use any non weapon or armor gear other than the hat and beard of a wizard. Townies have a base mobvement of 8.
  • If they carry a tool, they are at +2 for any things that they do that can reasonably use the tool for. Some vague guidelines are listed in the skills section, but don't sweat it too much.
  • Townies can’t use armor, but can discard a hat to cancel one hit, and a tool to cancel another.
  • Townies also have the option of taking a knockout at the end of any combat round.  
  • They can use most weapons, but at seriously reduced efficiency.
Note that these limits are overruled by any skills that they may choose. Generally non-character townies have one or two skills; characters have the standard allotment.


 Fighters are a bit different from people (yeah, big surprise there). Fighters are identified by printed armor on their torso, which gives them a base CR of +1 for all fighting at any range.  Only fighters may take the veteran or warrior skills.
  • The printed armor (on the torso, remember?) blocks one hit. Note this by putting a one stud plate (aka a pip or bump) on the figures head. Thereafter, it no longer stops hits, although a fighter always retains the +1 CR bonus.
  • A fighter can use two handed weapons (big axes, big swords, and charging lance) to gain a +2 CR instead of +1, and score TWO hits. Note that unless a skill says otherwise, this precludes a shield or second weapon. A charging lance attack does two hits if the wielder is mounted and has moved at least 6 pips.
  •  A fighter can use a two part helmet to increase CR by +2 and block two hits. A two part helmet includes any helmet with a visor OR plume OR a stud attachment. When hit once, remove the piece (plume or visor of any type) or add a stud to it. After another hit, it is removed.
  •  A fighter adds +1 to hits when rolling a natural six in HTH combat. Real goreheads can have this double the number of hits instead. Watch out for the guy with the zweihander !
  •  A horse ridden by a fighter may charge, adding 1d6 to its unmodified (do not subtract armor) move, but it must be in a straight line. The rider must attack any figure that the horse would collide with, at the maximum range of his weapon or the foot minifigs weapon, whichever is greater. If the foot figure is broken or knocked out, the rider may continue, if not, the rider stops at the maximum range of the foot minifigs weapon.

 Next up:  skills !