Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comment to Raggi at LoTFP

No, not a rant about gaming morals, I just can't post comments due to a work firewall.  Here is what I wanted to comment about his post on the rule of one in six.

Do keep in mind that with a 1/6 per turn chance of a"screw around event", means that there's a 2/3 chance of at least one per hour. (.667 for purists ;)  )

Yes, I'm a Nerd.

 Thank you for your attention,

The Mgt.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!  You utter, utter BASTARD !  How dare you make us all be so old !  HOW DARE YOU !

How can that naive ingenue from tatooine BE AS OLD ENOUGH FOR AARP FOR GODS SAKE !

....I don't even want to know how old Alec Guiness was in The Movie.  Not at all.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bilbo, and your spacey little nephew, too !

Where ever you two are, enjoy yourselves; this shoefoot is going to celebrate by meditating on mushrooms and big pies. Maybe even, Big Mushroom Pies !

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dead Simple One-Page RPG: a review that barely escapes being longer than the rules…..

In all honesty, I’m not a classic OSR guy –in fact, I never stopped playing  Oe since about 1975 ; I’m a living fossil.  What I am entirely enthusiastic about is the minimal rules component of RPG development that OSR has shined new light on. I think I found the OSR sites thru searching for microlited20 stuff.  I love the idea of minimal rules.  My son does, too, and getting kids interested is  about the best thing a rules set can do. 

So, what ones do I like ? my current favorite is the Dead-Simple one page FRP rules developed by the creators of FUBAR , itself a great set of  one page miniatures rules.  The author clearly cut his teeth designing an excellent one page future/ultra modern miniatures set, and did a marvelous job; unsurprisingly, the same general zeitgeist carried over to an honest to god FRPG.  I say unsurprisingly, because, as we all remember, D&D is the mutated offspring of lead pushing miniatures rules ; in all honesty , dead simple does tread the line between a skirmish game and an RPG, but, especially in the latest iteration, it is clearly on the RPG side (character focus, persistent game environment, experience system etc) .  It is a simple rules-lite classic RPG in the old school tradition– in one page.
 It has spells, combat and experience progression, items and a skill system all on one page.  Revisions have been aimed at making more room for progression/advancement, and making initial builds  They have done a marvelous job of catching all the necessary tropes for a D&D experience, in a very elegant set of rules.  And note:  the rules are concise, not compressed.  Compressed rules often assume a more than basic knowledge of the topic (RPG or miniatures); whereas concise requires clarity and ease of access.  The fit clearly in the latter case;
It comes in at least three variant versions, covering different genres: space Opera ,Oriental adventures, steam punk and reformation)…four, sir. Well, five including Busiris, which is the version set in a homegrown setting.   And six, a gonzoish goblin world version.  Really very portable.  Also available  are a series of one page supplements that allow one to expand the framework beyond the bog standard elf/dwarf/hobbit/human/fighter/mage/cleric and barbarian/ranger, which are a pretty good set of guides on being a DM in general.  The whole site is good stuff, and includes lots more than dead simple..  Check it out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Continuing my break from the cold war…a review of Engines and and Empires !

So, I thought I’d do some fanboy reviews of games that I’ve fallen in love with. First up, Engines and Empires.

How bout a quick summary before you start blathering ?

Okay.....Engines and Emrires is a BEMX/Holmes inspired set of rules via Labyrinth Lord, and allows play in a fantasy milleaux that is technologically similar to the pre or earlier victorian era.  Mainly self contained setting and rules. It seems pretty much play-out-of- the- box ready, possibly with some need for LL in the spells. Whatever, nothing a competent DM or creative noob couldn’t handle. 200 + pages with no crucial part being overlong.  Rules, spells, campaign equiptment, chargen mass combat, extras, options, you name it.  All there. Vampires, Elves, lightning cannon, fireballs and rifled musketry, man.  Vampires and lightning cannon, man ! Hobbits with muskets ! With muskets ! Yowsa !
Authors blurb:
ENGINES & EMPIRES is a campaign setting designed for use with the LABYRINTH LORD fantasy RPG. Sitting at the crossroads of heroic high fantasy and Victorian gaslight romance, E&E pits magic and science against an ancient darkness intent on once again enveloping the world of Gaia... along with all the Free Folk that now dwell thereupon.
John Higgins , 257 pages. 
Free PDF,and  very reasonably priced print available from Lulu, here.

Now, the froth and fluff part.

 Okay, here’s the deal, I am of the firm opinion that the further one gets past the pseudo medievalesque setting, the less sense class and level systems make; the same with different class membership and abilities by race (which really should be species). Plus, I’ve always cordially dispised " race as class" from its first presentation in Holmes (which, with BEMX I’ve always shunned). That said, E&E would seem to be a long shot for me to obsess about and fall in love with. But it is….fantastic.

Possibly its becuase it's vaguely post Napoleonic,early Victorian setting exactly defines the last period where class/level systems work (for me); possibly because it’s an actual non-dark/dystopic steampunk (gaslight, actually) setting or possibly because its a different take on human and non-human coexistence in a game world – but probably because it’s so well written, presented and a hell of a hoot.  Heck.  I even forgive it for Class as level because it makes it work (see below).

But Doc, why have you gone over to the dark side of emphasising setting over rules ?

Because E&E is  that rarest of rare things, a rules set+setting that is well presented, flavorful, creative and not just another world of Greyhawk with or without some kind of edgy tweak. Unusually for me, the setting is a big part of the attraction, the rules are fine too, but there are lots of rules in the world. The rules work for the setting, and don't require a vast investment of time in learning the authors new d17-d4 action resolution skill and trait based semi-level system. And the setting rocks, and not just becuase it's edgy gritty or has cognitively dissonant elements merged together (Spelljammer anyone ? Mechs in Creeks and crawdads ?)

And how is it not just another D&D elfy welfy eurocentric greyhawk only with mecha carved out of Ents and trains that run on spellpoints drained from gelflings ?

Well, primarily, the setting is self-contained and almost unique – early steampunk without as much punk, also known as a gaslight romance –except that romance now pretty much means relationship romance, and not fantastical. What sets it apart from lots of steam inspired RPG’s is that steampunk usually either pushes magic in an almost modern world (Falkenstein,most vampire/werewolf settings) or focuses on the crazy science (1889, most of the steam mecha). E&E does a good job of including both; magic is old, but science is new –it’s the exact overlap of gizmo invention and academic magic and spiritualism.
Also, whereas much steampunk has been edging closer to 1900, E&E drops back to clearly before the 1860’s, probably to 1820ish (Crimean war ?) with some anachronisms. Inventors work with steam and chemistry, electricity is a new and yet to be tamed force, cap and ball rifles and revolvers exist alongside swords and suchlike, people ride horses, sail in clippers or steam side-wheelers, and flight is reserved for balloons and creatures with wings. Oh yeah –plus the undead and magic, both of which have a much more Victorian penny dreadful flavor.

AND, it’s not just set in an earth alternate. It is similar physically to earth, but it is a world where lots of the non-human species (elves, dwarves fey,niads,centaurs,halflings) coexist as equals and humans are just another kind of race. Humans don’t dominate, nor are the other species declining. Even the frikkin hobbits have a kingdom or two, and IIRC, a napoleon analogue is a gnome. (Laugh at the committee for public safety, if you laugh at me, monsieur).  It has a history, and a gazeteer of the kingdoms at a reasonable level of detail, with lots of places and plaothooks for the GM to use.

Finally, while it clearly is shoving a Gygaxian fantasy world into a later setting, its fairly well thought out, and isn’t just an attempt to represent a particular modern or SF trope only this time made using steam and cocoanut shells (any fantasy/steam age star trek or mecha game, I’m looking at you)

And lots of cool hand drawn maps !  Did I mention the maps ?  I love maps. 

Any actual discussion of mechanics besides fanboy love ?

Like, what else do you need ?  Okay, okay.
The rules are Labyrinth Lord derived, with custom classes and all the basics of Old style D&D mechanics and feel are there. It has the defining race as class mechanisms of the Holmes/BEMX family of games, and is scaled for a 36 level character track, paralleling the basic/advanced/master/expert kinds of plateaus. Usually these would be problematic , but the class level works well enough, and has the benefit of similar non-humans have different classes –so, an elfy character has some options, just some are called Fey, and etc. Similarly, the 36 level scaling (who the heck has time for a 36 level campaign now that we are out of middle school….) seems much more doable with an custom advancement scheme that avoids XP altogether, and is based on game session. I think the assumption is that a character should level up every4-6 sessions. That’s still a long way to level 36, but doesn’t involve having to kill Gods to get enough XP to level up….. Chargen is bog standard. Combat is very abstract, but with options for old farts like me to use to complicate things. Of note is a skill system that is simple, and not very granular – much like the d20 lite systems use. If you like the skill granularity to be very fine, this may not work for you, but it is very consistent with the style of the game.

The basic D&D classes are there (Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Thief) in some campaign appropriate disguises, with some different skills and abilities. New classes include the inventor, a requirement for any steampunk/gaslight setting. Clerics are scholars (kind of a cross between VanHelsing and Seminary trained types), mages use charisma, fighters are soldiers, monks are Boxers (Fisticuffs AND Marquis of Queensbury, wot!), Thieves are experts/professionals, and inventors have a fully developed set of rules for tinkering, gizmonics and infernal device creation.

How does it play ?

Overall, the style of play seems fast, but not truly cinematic, if you accept that john Wu films are the baseline for cinematic RPG style. Remember, it’s a world where the fastest communication is still birds, and the fastest land transport is a horse. Whereas a cinematic game simply cuts to the action and then to more action with a brief prĂ©cis of between the scenes events, the action in E&E would seem to be fast, and frequent but with a fair amount of development of the intermediate play sequences. Yes, you get to fight cannibal apes, but you also get to role-play a court feast and negotiate a treaty with the king of the gnomish cannibals.

The rules are simple and familiar enough to be essentially transparent.  One plays the game, not the rules.

Anything to look out for ?

I sorta wish it was available in an 8.5 x 11 size, and/or hardback.  But , one can print the PDF that way.
It really doesn;t have any sandbox rules, although encounter tables and world detail is provided -but no Judges guild style hex contents genrator tables - but thats fine, as it comes with a dandy setting already installed.
 If you are expecting high graphic hex bases map projections, the ones provided will not satisfy. The art is (I think) entirely period B&W clip art; you'll either love it or hate it. Combat isn't very granular, but if I want that, I have Frappe or Colonial age skirmish.
Liking a rules set with 36 levels, post medieval class and level and Holmsian  race as class makes me experience cognitive dissonance.

Oh yeah.  Gnomes are treated as if they were worth existing.  Can't support that. next thing you know, it'll be sapient ducks........

Anything else ?

E&E is a different RPG using familiar tropes and rules.  Its exactly what I think is the goal of the OSR -not just cloning, but developing from the neccessary clones. Its all to easy to become  obsessed with the basics (ie rules cloning) and lose sight of the fact that it is not an end in itself.  Or, more academically, "Don;t convert vital ideological praxis into rarified ideology. Get out on the barricades !"

Anything else that doesn't hint at absurdist mockery of GNS games theory ?

Yeah.  Who the hell are you, anyway ?

Look. I love it. It’s honest to god adventure from the last age of explorers, Burton and Speke, guns and mystic mysteries vs. the glory of science, all in a world different enough that it need not be haunted by the dark side of steam (such as colonialism, satanic mills and factory cities, and…well, the killing floor of world war one). Full marks. . I have the free version, and two copies of the print version, and I’m a known cheap bastard.


Other reviews are to be found here and here .

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I think the thief is hated because he got way better in 3E.

So, in essence, to the OSR antithief lobby, I guess they seem like collaborators ? 

Really, although I dislike the way they did it (the skill system is a bolt on kludge, and very finicky to keep track of), 3E does make useful thieves that are about as usefully unrealistic/heroically exaggerated as the other classes from level one; which, as I've noted, is one hell of an improvement. 

In fact, I like playing thieves in 3E (and 3.5); but then, I also think that in many ways, 3E is the logical goal of the style of gaming that D&D got its base from:  hard core miniature and board gaming players; which includes me...and Gygax and arneson, FWIW.  My main complaint is that unless one plays it all the time, the rules get foggy in ones head, and rules spotting and searching really starts to get in the way of play.  Kind of like Star fleet battles, advanced squad leader, and vi. ( I pretty much had to give up playing SFB when I went into grad school, because there wasn't room for both.....not time, room. As in, my hard drive was over full. )

That said, the best parts of 3E for the thief are really twofold: feats, and not starting off as a bumbling fool.  The implementation of skills is lacking, but on the whole, it makes thieves (excuse me: Rogues) quite effective out the gate -sure they have corresponding gaps, but that's what being a specialist is all about.   And feats are one of the big things I like best about 3E. Really, I think that but for feat bloat, the feat system could absorb the skill system, and give a very nice system for  customizing classes. Wonder what that could offer to a rules lite or )D&D sensibility style set of rules.

Okay, that's enough for tonight.  BTW, hello to the new readers and commenters !  Nice to get an anonymous comment that isn't tying to sell me viagra.... ;)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The thief is, however, incompetent

So, what is the problem with the thief ?  Well, simply put, except for climbing, they suck at about everything thiefy. Which meant, under ODD&ADD1, to have any hope of not getting your hand cut off the first time you try to pick a pocket, and get caught, you end up needing to play a non-human thief with an 18 dex.  They do excell at backstabbing, true, but just try and get into position by being bold....or moving.  No, you pretty much have to mail yourself to your intended victim and hope that he is facing the other way when you burst out.  You could climb a wall, and wait for someone to walk below you, I suppose (piercer costume optional), and hope that they aren't looking up, cause with a 10% success chance, you are not going to be hidden; and with 1d6 hit points, you ain't gonna get as second chance.

See, the problem isn't that the thief broke D&D, it's that the thief is broken.  Its a great addition to D&D conceptually, and in keeping with a start small grow tall approach to character development, but it seems like it is the only class that got saddled with a truly untrained first level. Look....the fighter can hit a random peasant 50% of the time, right ?  The Mage can put him to sleep.....the cleric ...well, strictly speaking the cleric can't cast a spell, but he still has a good chance of smashing his head in or, even better, if its an undead peasant, making him run away. The thief ? He can...ummmm....hide from him one time in ten; or alternately, sneak past or pick his pocket one time in five.   He could, to be fair, hear him pretty well.

So, the solution we used back in the day was this: a first level thief started with a base chance equal to 30% +/- 5% per dex point above 14 or below 7.  Then, simply add the greyhawk percentages at each level, incldung the first.  A non-thief could try any of them, but only using one half the base number.  A thief using the wrong armor simply lost all this level bonuses. Done. 

It gave a nimble thief about a 50/50 chance of success for most thiefy things - not great, but way more in line with the other classes, who are moderately pathetic at level 1, as well. 

Nowadays, for the basic thief skills* I use a modified quickNez stat check:
4d6 roll<=dex+level to succeed. 
Works great, and the 4d6 bell curve is a nice change that allows higher level or more nimble thieves less variability than (say) a d20 roll.  I still use 1d4 for HP  - one should be able to clean the slimy little sneak's clock, after all  - possibly what made him turn to theft in the first place....and so the great circle of life continues.

* picklock, disarm trap, pick pocket, sneak, hide.  I exclude climb  as a no fail with the right tools; and search as it makes for lazy players -which I note isn't something a thief does in OD&D anyhow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Thief is not guilty, part 3

So, I wanted to post some reviews, and I noticed that a common theme was: "great, except for the idiosyncratic refusal to include the Thief class".  So, heres my final(ish) thoughts on that.

This belief in the neccessoity for exclusion of the thief is puzzling, and it seems to be part of the OSR zeitgeist; the reasons range from the thief not being in the original three books, through them being a self referential class that creates the challeneges it is supposed to deal with, through being responsible for the glut of skills and feats of later editions.  Support or rejection of this idea seems foundational to the whole bubbling stew of the OSR.  So, since the thief excluders are wrong,  guess which side I'm on?

I've discussed (ranted about) these arguments before, expressing my opinion that they are, indeed, quantifiable as the merest hooie*. To sum up:

1. the number of people who started D&D with only the original 3 book set and not greyhawk either at the same time or immediately thereafter is vanishingly small and as such, it doesn;t represent a change of direction with regard to D&D as an RPG.
2. Gary wrote Greyhawk (well, yes with others) and obviously included the thief intentionally in his campaign, and thus the gygaxian vision of D&D; QED for the purists, I think . 
3. Fighters and the attempt to de-vanilla-ize them via weapon proficiencies and skill based subclasses is, in my obviously self inflated opinion, the real cause of the skillsystems and sorcery style of play, not thieves.  Note that GG resisted weapon proficiencies for quite a while as a bad idea that would lead to skill systems.
3. Its soooooooo swords and sorcery. Plus, Bilbo.

So, anything new ?  Well, yes, and here is my core argument.  
The thief is what made D&D more than just a skirmish miniatures game. 

We all know that it began as one -and that now it isn't just one.  A main difference between a skirmish wargame and the ur-RPG is this: Skirmish games  often are at the scale of the one figure = one man, but the player is still a disembodied commander moving pieces around, and all pieces are judged by their resource value in winning the game; an RPG changes the scale to one figure = you, and you alone. Playing a single fighter was still something that one could do in a skirmish game.  Fighters killed other units, Mages were artillery, and clerics were either recovery units or specialized anti -undead killers.
The thief was a big deal because as a class it had no useful place on the battlefield of a skirmish wargame, whatsover.

Really ?  Well, almost none of the thief skillset is useful in a skirmish -playing one is a waste of time.  Scouting is irrelevant on a real sand table, especially given the rules of that time period, and swiping was even less useful. Climbing and sneaking are options, but since one cannot do anything useful, so what ? Reading scrolls ?  Play an apprentice wizard. Possibly they could eliminate commanders and such, but that was really the role of assassins, a type specifically included in the original skirmish model of D&D.

Why then, amidst all the other detail of Greyhawk, most of which could simply be additions to a skirmish game is a useless unit specifically included ?

Because the thief had every utility in the dungeon game,  and the dungeon game created the role playing experience; and also, the thief in many ways defined the nature of the adventurer.  Remember, 1973.  Fantasy models are  not what they are today.  Heroes were sneaks as much as brawlers, often antiheroesm and in many ways, that is what made them a literary character, rather than the subject of a soldierly autobiography.  They solved puzzles, got into tight scrapes and conflicts by themselves; this I see as the real genesis of roleplaying.

So, given that, we see that the thief is the character of the dungeon crawl, and from there the Urban adventure or the indoor raid.  And those are the types of settings that set D&D apart from the skirmish game.  And thus...the father of the RPG, the causus bellum, the missing link -the neccessary part of the final result. 

No thieves =no role playing games. 

So, suck it up*, Grognardia and all you reactionary revisionists* ! Apologise to the thief right now ! Take him to lunch and make it your treat; you may as well, you'll be paying for it either way .

* I say this in the most loving caring  and compassionate manner possible..;)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A break from the cold war......

So, I've run up against the current limits of what I enjoy doing on this blog - and am into areas of the story that I haven't thought thru all that well.  So, I need to take a break fro the ponderous faux history writing, and see what happens.

The game development itself seems to have hit a plateau; one day a couple of weeks ago I realized somthing: unless this is just an Alt.history blog exercise, I need to figure out where the players can fit in.

The biggest problem with the setting so far is that there really only is room (thus far) for adventurers who are still part of the space forces -in the military, in other words, since the world I'm designing certainly doesn't have room or resources for private enterprise (or corporate enterprise) in space. Regan/Bush capitalism isn't going to flourish in the world of retrospace -both sides have tightly planned, militarized economies. And while a WWII or cold war game on earth has lots of room for espionage, clandestine ops, semi-private adventurers and maverick warbands, the space war requires serious resources and official cooperation from the governments or you can't get there; plus, up to the time of the first orbit war, things are pretty obvious, and the goals are pretty circumscribed.  Blast off in single-seat rockets, shoot down satellite or enemy interceptor.  Infiltrate the three-man saluyt station ?  Ummmm.  No ?  Especially as the entire orbital battlefield has, on both sides, maybe twelve soldiers in it at any one time ?

So, where the players ?  The problem is, a "you are in the army here are your orders" campaign, while easy to run, isn't (in my experience) the most popular amongst the players, who do matter, somewhat.

It looks like there will need to be a couple of breakpoints for the backstory that can generate different campaigns. 

Lets see what I come up with.  In the meantime, I think I'll do some shilling for my current faddish RPG infatuations (six level D&D, Engines and Empires, Busiris, Epees and Sorcery), or post  some stupid game rants. (thieves, idiot fans, get off of my lawn).