Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Linkage Update

I've added some more blogs to my Linkage List over to the right there.


Tankards & Broadswords.


Musings of the Chatty DM.

Check 'em out. They're all chock full of gaming nuggets. Kudos to Jeff Rients and James Maliszewski for linking these on their blogs. Thanks for the heads up, guys.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Ten Times Ten

Ten Times Ten, or One Hundred Words about nothing.

Hats off to Jeff Rients for linking this post from The Chatty DM over at his Gameblog. I actually sat down for a bit and tried to come up with a contest winner. I didn’t write ANYTHING worth submitting yet. Here are some early ones I used in an effort to get the creative juices flowing, ten exactly, a nice neat 100. I think you might recognize a few of them.

1. Giant Legendary Ape terrorizes frightened city, just wants some nookie.

2. Bobby the Paladin keeps dreaming of naked Clerics, blames youth.

3. Boy sells his cow for beans, has a giant erection.

4. Balrogs forge alliance, play benefit concert for convicted Hobbit plagiarizer.

5. Wizards Confuse young Halflings into conducting melee with playing cards.

6. Adventurers keep vanishing, seems the dreaded “Mmo” is consuming them.

7. Umm…Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?

8. Boy saves his city from disaster by fingering a dike.

9. Wizards flog a dead horse, convinced it’s full of life.

10. Grognard takes up his lance, mistakenly charges Windmills. Then Wife.

Yeah, I need to just stop now. G’night and tell Sancho that Don has left the man-cave. Aw screw it, I'm gonna post them. There's some truly hilarious stuff over there.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Solstice Revision

The Solstice Core Rules for an Original D&D Campaign, found at the link to the right, has recently undergone a revision. Over half of the sections have been changed in some way. One of the major changes, which has taken me some time to come around to embracing, is that of a much more Abstract Combat model. I have removed many of the tactical elements in favor of a more streamlined approach to melee.

There have been many minor changes that, when viewed as a whole, have made a definite impact on the campaign setting. Including, but not limited to:

Dwarves are, for now, restricted to the Fighting Man class again. Allowing Dwarven Clerics was a definite step in the direction of AD&D, something I’ve decided I do not want.

Exceptional Strength no longer adds a bonus to hit in melee, but +1 damage is achievable.

The Elf and Kobold races have seen some minor changes.

The Faun was added, a Fae Elf-folk playable race with certain advantages.

The original Attack Matrix chances to hit have been worked back into the rules, and I have ditched the Solstice revamped numbers. Although I still encourage the Solstice RTH Method.

Both the Barbarian and Scout classes had some minor changes.

The Solstice Saving Throw Method has been removed, and for now Saving Throws will be by the book.

The Dungeon Tasks section has been reworded and left simply as a guide that encompasses some of the delving tasks which characters might undertake, gone are the hard and fast numbers used for determination of success and failure.

Some Bronze Age armor has been added to the Armor section, primarily for the upcoming No Future supplemental rules, and for comparison’s sake.

Added the Stanch Wounds option, a house ruled version of the Bind Wounds/Shock Recovery idea gleaned from the Ready Ref Sheets.

Along with other minor edits here and there.

It’s a shame I don’t know how to create this in a PDF for readers to download, but since it’s gone through a few changes already, it might be best to leave it in an easily editable format until I settle on a final version.

Feel free to ask here, or drop me an email if you have any questions or comments regarding Solstice or the Of Fortunes and Fools campaign itself.

~Sham, Delinquent Referee

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wargamers and Wizards

Warning: Sham’s up on a soapbox tonight, in true Grognard form.

I’ve been considering D&D’s impact on gaming recently. More and more I am becoming convinced that D&D, as we Grognards know it, is slipping away into oblivion. I fear that it’s legacy is going to be forgotten, buried beneath piles of revised versions and out dated publications. All in the name of progress. Well, actually all in the name of revenue. The gaming scene, as far as I can tell, is being dominated by two direct descendants of D&D. The Collectible Card Game (CCG) and the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game.

The CCG genre was spawned by Magic the Gathering, a nice little strategy card game designed by an avid D&D player, Richard Garfield. Mr. Garfield’s little brainchild quickly became a gaming behemoth, and a true cash cow. It’s the perfect game as far as revenue generating potential. To stay competitive as a player in MtG, or CCG’s in general, one is required to spend a lot of cash on expansions and new editions. A perfect storm in the gaming industry, to be sure, and it is even a favorite of game and hobby shops for the same reason, as they can also sell single, desirable cards for these games at exorbitant prices.

The MMO genre is more a direct descendant of D&D, and one can trace it’s origins back into the earliest days of computers. MMO’s are basically D&D with no Dungeon Master, with thousands of players in the same campaign. Like CCG’s, MMO’s have completely obliterated even the most optimistic revenue projections, year after year. In particular World of Warcraft has rewritten the way MMO’s operate. At the end of the day, MMO’s are not what D&D is. MMO’s reward one thing and one thing only, time investment. They are the black holes of gaming. Oh, and another example of the perfect gaming model, requiring a nice, neat monthly subscription in order to play in their world. Nice idea, huge cash cow.

Times have certainly changed. We live in an era of gaming never before experienced. An industry of millions and millions of dollars, just waiting to be soaked up by the next big thing. Ladies and Gentlemen, D&D ain’t it. Maybe this new era’s potential is due in part to D&D, but probably more so due to computers, video games, and higher levels of disposable income. I’m not touching console gaming at all in this post. I’m simply not familiar enough with the genre enough to speak to it, and we can probably agree that CCG’s, MMO’s and D&D are in a completely different sphere of gaming. I enjoy my Son’s video games from time to time, but they are, for the most part, not descendants of D&D.

From Day One, D&D missed the boat as far as guaranteeing future revenue from it’s player base. Sure, there were periodicals and modules and campaign settings and character sheets and well, lots of stuff you didn’t need at all in order to play. D&D was introduced to the gaming world in a very innocent manner, published independently by avid war gamers who, at the time, had no idea that it would explode into a gaming phenomenon. Perhaps if they had even the slightest inkling that D&D might become this huge 80’s fad, they would have taken a slightly different approach. As it turns out, the approach taken was the right one, at the time, for D&D in that the game did reach unheard of heights in the industry. It was an honest approach, and the product was an honest product.

It seems that since the late 70’s, once D&D was gaining momentum, the individuals in control of the direction of D&D have been battling this cold, hard business reality. That D&D cannot secure more and more revenue from it’s own gaming public. Simply put, D&D is not a CCG or an MMO. It’s a classic game form, and should be treated as such. Enough is enough, I say. What can possibly be done to improve D&D, other than a streamlined, concise treatment of the rules which embodied the original, classic spirit of the game? That very spirit that made it a worldwide success some thirty years ago.

More words have been written and printed in regard to D&D than any other game in history, I’m sure. It’s not going to get any better than it is now, or has been. My fellow Grognards and Neo-Grognards would argue that it passed the point of perfection long ago. No amount of repackaging or disguising the game as something that it is not is going to bring it to new heights, or even to that mid 80’s popularity the game enjoyed. The title has been milked for about all it’s worth, at this point. Movies, novels, periodicals, computer games, cartoons, collectibles, miniatures, endless accessories, the list goes on. There’s not much left really, is there?

Rather than try to remake the game in it’s own image once again, maybe it’s time to move on. If the goal is to make a game that appeals to CCG and MMO players, make a new game. Take the time to design an entirely new game from the ground up, rather than attach a new engine to the tired old D&D frame. Why not admit that D&D is NOT going to garner those video and computer gaming dollars out there, and be done with it. D&D has already been changed into a more rigid, numbers driven game, to the point I’m afraid now that the rules themselves overpower and hinder the more important aspects of the game. It’s a shame that Wizards of the Coast has continued to tinker with D&D. In their infinite wisdom, the honchos at Wizards are trying to once again improve upon the model. This could very well be the last version, or perhaps D&D will continue to morph into further, unrecognizable editions as it limps off into it’s waning golden years.

It’s almost as if the attitude is “Hey, we made MtG, we know how to make a great game, and we can fine tune D&D to the point that it will become a roaring success again…all we need to do is get some of that MMO money that’s on the table out there.” If all were right with the world, D&D would be getting royalties or kickback from it’s own wildly successful descendants, but such is not the case. So, why chase after these dollars if it means morphing D&D into what it is now? A rules heavy, min-maxers delight, with little room for creativity and that spirit of open ended play that made D&D so popular to begin with? What’s done is done, and the game may never be considered a classic because of a string of poor decisions by the keepers of the D&D brand.

D&D, by all rights, should be mentioned in the same sentences as Chess, Monopoly and Poker. A classic, timeless game that will always be around, for future generations to enjoy. Well, D&D HAD the chance to be timeless, but in this day and age it’s being controlled by an industry that’s still trying to turn a buck out of the aging game form. An industry that, in my opinion, is threatening to drive the product into the ground by turning into something it was never meant to be. At this point, it is likely to devolve into a contrived mess of poor imitation, and slowly dwindle into obscurity.

Here’s to hoping that a true archival version of OD&D sees the light of day at some point. A nice, neat concise treatment of the original game, as written in 1974 by Gygax and Arneson. One backed by the same investment being tossed on the ash can in the form of these new, improved editions by Wizards of the Coast. One that, like Chess or Backgammon, can be picked up and enjoyed by anyone, and not burdened by reams and reams of rules. An edition that serves as a reference point, the game in it’s true form, before the industry took away it’s soul and spirit. It’s a pipe dream, sure. A form of the game that has been fought by the holders of the D&D brand since the beginning, I suppose. A version that requires nothing but your imagination to play.

I decided fairly early on that the Grog ‘n Blog wouldn’t take a stance of elitism or superiority. I accept the fact that all of us, anyone who plays any version of D&D, are kindred spirits. In the right circumstances, I’m sure I too could learn to enjoy the later versions of D&D. Clearly, I do have a preference, though. I believe, that given the chance, were OD&D more accessible and currently supported, many others might agree with me and prefer the most basic form of the original game. The version that should, by all rights, be considered a true landmark in gaming history, and a hell of a lot of fun to play.

I’d like to add that this post has been brewing in me since I returned to D&D this year, and many of the analogies and opinions are derived from various sources across the internet. Fellow fans of older editions of D&D, too many to name, have all anonymously and abstractly contributed to my thoughts herein. Clearly I have absorbed a lot of text over these past several months, and I could not even begin to pinpoint these numerous influences. Specifically, though, I would point readers to an older post over at the Gameblog that I referenced here over a month ago. At the time I was resistant to the message, but clearly, it’s as valid now as it was when it was written. Nothing has changed. I didn’t set out to announce the death knell of D&D. I hope it’s legacy lives on, it deserves that much. For the time being, I’ll be holed up in my man-cave designing my mega dungeon and getting ready for some good old fashioned D&D.

~Sham, Descending From His Soapbox

Saturday, April 26, 2008

And The Winner Is...

When talking about D&D to family members who have never played, invariably this topic at hand comes up. Usually it’s quite innocently, a simple question normally along the lines of “Oh…I see. So, who WON?”

“Well,” says I, “no one actually *wins* in D&D…”, then their eyes either glaze over as they feign interest, or they might ask actual probing questions if such an unconventional concept has piqued their curiosity. At that point I normally make a storybook analogy, explaining that the Dungeon Master* is similar to an author, and the players are like characters in that story, a story that unfolds as the players make decisions and decide their own fate. Why play a game with no winner? Everyone who plays D&D and has fun is the winner! The game play itself is reward enough.

* - Dungeon Master is a term I should probably stop using when explaining the D&D concept, the original term ‘referee’ is just easier to grasp.

D&D, as far as I am aware, and the genre it spawned, is the only game with no terms of victory.

Perhaps it’s a concept which has always hindered D&D, and I would say that this notion of getting together, playing a game and simply having fun is becoming, more and more in our culture, nonsensical. The fun of gaming for many is in the actual competition. Beating your opponent, claiming victory, lording your expertise over him. It’s everywhere in gaming, from sports to cards to darts to war games to board games…you get the idea.

What D&D spawned in role playing is certainly a game, one meant to be a fun way to enjoy some dice rolling, imagination, and actual decision making. The goals in D&D can vary from group to group, from session to session, and from referee to referee. Ultimately, though, the goal is simply to enjoy a social hobby which exercises the imagination. In that way it transcends traditional games. It’s a hobby that just happens to have game elements in the way of rules and dice rolling.

There really is no place in this hobby for players who approach the game with definite goals or a winner take all mentality. These types of players perhaps have a hard time accepting the concept of this hobby, and thus we end up with power gaming munchkins, rules lawyers, min-maxers, and numbers crunchers. I encourage the social aspect of D&D. For my players to succeed, and actually progress within the campaign, they need to work together as a team to more easily overcome the various obstacles I have created, making sound decisions and using logic, imagination, and a little luck. It’s not about winning.

One of D&D’s own descendants, Magic the Gathering is the antithesis of this spirit. I’m sure Mr. Garfield didn’t have this in mind when he set out to create a card based D&D inspired game, so perhaps this isn’t a fair statement. Let me rephrase that and say Magic the Gathering as we know it today is the antithesis of D&D.

Another one of the direct descendants of D&D is the computer role playing game. I’ve enjoyed more than my own share of computer role playing games, but none of them can claim to have D&D’s open ended play style. If anything, these D&D descendants have promoted the aspects of gaming that D&D took us away from in the first place.

Computer games, and MMO’s in particular, reward power gaming munchkins, rules lawyers, min-maxers, and numbers crunchers. And the players of these games seem perfectly content with this fact. In MMO’s in particular, there is a definite spirit of competition, of ‘showing off’. The very nature of such competition is what the industry depends upon to retain it’s player base. Certainly teamwork has become an important aspect of MMO’s, but even then everything is systematic, rigid, and repetitive.

The fact is, no other form of gaming assumes this truly open ended approach, with no terms of victory, and no end to the game, not even it’s own descendants. It’s a game that emphasizes decision making, logic, creativity and luck. Pretty cool stuff when you stop and think about it.

No winners though, imagine that.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Shock Recovery

As I mentioned in my review of the fine Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets, I really liked the idea of Shock Recovery after melee. Essentially, it was suggested that after a melee encounter, the wounded could take a moment to recover some light damage, by way of binding wounds. A simple 1d4 roll would reflect the amount of lost hit points which could be regained right then and there. Only then, and only there, in such a way that is a restrictive bonus, and reflected shock or light damage done in that fight, and that fight only. The assumption being that if allowed to stay open, those wounds might become permanent.

At 1st Level, such a rule would be immensely helpful to the players. Some might argue, too helpful. I’m familiar with binding wounds in D&D, it’s an old house rule I used to encounter quite often, and normally used by DM’s to allow low level Clerics to be useful by having a first aid type skill, which allowed small heals during the course of an adventure.

The actual wording of this rule system, as presented, is what actually struck a chord with me, though. Shock Recovery.

Given the abstract nature of D&D melee, where it is accepted, or assumed, that the actual hit points gained through experience are a reflection of the higher level character’s ability to avoid damage somehow…whether that might be by blocking, parrying, dodging, cunning or just, well, experience, the higher level characters end up being able to take more of a beating.

Realistically speaking, we know that a 1st Level character, and a 10th Level character still take the same amount of actual physical tissue damage to kill. If either of them is impaled through the heart with a spear, a weapon which causes 1d6 damage, they will both perish. D&D’s abstract nature doesn’t deal with such specific tissue damage, though. It just gives the more experienced characters the benefit of the doubt, and assumes that until such a character is damaged to a low enough hit point total, that spear isn’t going to kill him outright.

Once he’s within the same hit point range as a 1st Level character all bets are off. A single spear attack can now become lethal.

The abstract nature of hit points and damage also explains how a higher level character might somehow be able to stand amidst a dragon’s fiery breath and survive. It is assumed that the higher level character is more aware, better prepared, or just plain lucky. Falling damage is a hard one to explain in such terms, but one might argue that the higher level character was able to react faster, sliding down the wall for a distance, landing and rolling at the bottom, and luckily able to withstand the damage that would slay a lower level character.

What might actually represent these extra hit points gained by experienced characters? Shock damage of course. Shock is an effect of violence, not necessarily just the Shock associated with Shock Trauma. In the context with which I am using it, think of it in terms of fatigue, durability, quickness of action. The kinds of things that a prolonged melee might reduce. If a particular melee encounter results in no damage to a character, it simply was not challenging enough to take a toll on this Shock value.

What I am getting at, in a roundabout way, is that aside from actual physical or vital hit points, these extra experience granted hit points are not representative of tissue damage, not all of them anyway. Hit points over and above the beginning six are simply not a measure of actual tissue damage. As such, these hit points could be easier to ‘heal’ or regenerate back.

I’m not sure where I am going with this yet. It’s food for thought at this point. I don’t want to stray too far a field from one of the most basic D&D conventions ever, that of hit points and damage. Maybe I’ll just use the RRS rule as is, up to 1d4’s worth of melee damage may be immediately healed by binding wounds, regardless of character level. It’s a rule that loses some steam at higher levels, but by then the Clerics can afford to cast more Cure spells, and further magical options for healing might be in the hands of the characters, whether it be potions or staves or other miscellaneous items.

After all this musing, I might simply house rule that Clerics can perform the 1d4 binding procedure. I think it’s a nice rule. It’s not too powerful, and won’t necessarily save the party from an untimely death at the end of a Goblin’s spear. It just might allow them to press on one or two more rooms before heading back to town to heal up, and that’s not a bad thing in my opinion.

I’ll save the Shock Recovery idea I have in mind for some future project, along with my goal of a 2d6 combat system based on Chainmail.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Friday, April 25, 2008

OD&D and Rock

Fellow Groggy Blogger James Maliszewski made some observations in this post and linked an interesting article concerning the relationship between D&D and Metal, specifically relating the two in regard to old school attitude, and the modern versions of each.

The article speaks about how Dragonlance heralded this change from pulp action style D&D to a more episodic approach. James agrees, and I too concur with this mindset that Dragonlance forever changed the way modern players think about D&D.

The interesting notion of D&D and Metal being somehow linked has caused me to reflect back upon my own memory of the mid to late 70’s, and early 80’s.

Metal, or Heavy Metal, wasn’t really even called such during it’s developmental years in the late 60’s and early 70’s. As a matter of fact, those early Metal bands are sometimes now not even considered ‘Heavy Metal’ at all, as the term has evolved through the decades. Originally, the term was often used in a derogatory manner by critics of the rock scene. The term itself is traced back to Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone, and further to counterculture author William S. Burroughs.

When I think back to the 70’s, we certainly weren’t using the term Metal, or even Heavy Metal, it was all ‘Hard Rock’. Hard Rock bands back in the day, and pretty much all through the 70’s, had a much broader spectrum of styles and sounds. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss.

It wasn’t until 1979 that a critic in the New York Times actually defined the term Heavy Metal Rock as "brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs,” and as "a crude exaggeration of rock basics that appeals to white teenagers.”

By this time, heavily influenced by the ‘Do It Yourself’ approach of the mid to late 70’s Punk Rock revolution, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was being unleashed upon the world. For whatever reason, this style of music took the USA by storm, and soon a Metal generation was born. Bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were taking cues from more specific influences, like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and the whole Punk ethos, and removing the blues element from Hard Rock, ‘toughening up’ the sound, and emphasizing increasingly faster tempos.

Now, when people talk about Metal, I think the roots go back to these bands, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, etc.

Was there a true ‘Dragonlance’ turning point in Metal? Or, more specifically, in popular Metal? Perhaps the 80’s Hair Metal Bands aka Glam Metal would be the best analogy. Metal by this time had become formulaic, it was a defined sound now, a true rock genre. Bands were actually able to cash in on the Metal phenomenon.

My preference for all things Metal are those earlier, raw sound days of bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. I hated the Hair Metal of the 80’s. Perhaps this is why I relate to OD&D so well, it’s raw, unrefined and visceral, much like those early Metal bands.

I think the primary reason that people associate Metal and D&D is that both peaked at roughly the same time in American culture.

But there’s more. D&D and early Hard Rock were both influenced by Fantasy and Sci-Fi authors. There’s no doubt that the sudden popularity of Tolkien in those days opened up many new creative avenues in pop culture. Fantasy books were hip all of a sudden in the 70’s. A new generation of youngsters was being brought up on Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Pulp fiction, from Tarzan to Flash Gordon, etc was the Fantasy and Sci-Fi of our Fathers and Grandfathers…no this was a different type of escapism, no longer limited to serials, pulp magazines and comic books.

I don’t think D&D and Metal are truly joined at the hip, as some might. They do make for excellent analogies.

If anything, I look back at OD&D and think of the Punk Rock ethos of the mid 70’s. It was a DIY mentality, there were no rules, and anyone could do it. It was not formulaic, it was not backed by the record companies, it shattered the commonly held misconceptions and rules in place at the time. It actually flew in the face of the over bloated, fat on the land, ‘Hard Rock’ bands of the day. This was not arena rock, this was not Pink Floyd or Yes, this was something new that forever changed the genre as we know it today. It’s influences are EVERYWHERE now, but still, for the most part, it is not given proper credit.

It’s much easier to associate the Metal ‘sound’ with D&D, sure, but in attitude and approach, the analogy between OD&D and Punk is quite clear. Punk doesn’t ‘sound’ like D&D, this much I will concede, while Metal, at least the raw, unrefined earlier stuff, does. Early Punk bands didn’t cavort around in faux armor, or associate themselves with swords and sorcery like many Metal bands might, but as far as what it meant to popular culture, D&D was the Punk Rock revolution of gaming.

These analogies do fall apart on many levels, but in terms of actual cultural impact, the analogy between D&D and Punk is indisputable. Both D&D and Punk turned into something else, as did Metal, and as all things that become mainstream are bound to do.

This analogy has really shed some light on my own personal preferences in both gaming and in music. It’s time I faced the music and realized that I just prefer the raw, unrefined, DIY stuff, whether it’s Pulp Fantasy, D&D, Metal, or Music in general, as opposed to the more popular, over-produced rubbish foisted upon us by the industry, like modern D&D and modern Rock.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Friday Flashback

Get ready for the weekend with this blast from the past!

Again, extra points if you can name the lead guitarist, and the bassist/vocalist.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets

With the recent passing of another of D&D’s industry giants, Mr. Bob Bledsaw (pictured to the left), I felt it was high time I jotted down this review I had promised last week.

I’ve had some time to digest much of the information contained within the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets (RRS) PDF I recently purchased. I will focus on those sections I think I will gain the most use out of.

City Based Guides, p. 1-11. Some interesting tables and guides here, but I have to question the usefulness of a lot of this information. Nevertheless, simply reading these pages would probably generate some nice ideas for happenings in an urban environment.

Exchange Rates Table, p. 12. A quick reference for various coin values. I like this little table, and although so far there are but two coins extant in my campaign, Silver and Gold, per the OD&D guides, I will be adding rarer coins on the lower levels of Ulin Uthor. I won’t use Iron or Copper as treasure. Copper does exist, but as nothing more than loose change or peasant type wages.

Gem Types Table, p. 12. I love this table and accompanying information. Now, all of the Gems in Solstice suddenly have some identifiable type, rather than a simple GP value. Also of great interest is the 1in20 chance that per 10 Gem trove, one of those found will be an Unusual Gem. Unusual Gems possess some hidden enchantment.

Characteristics Use, p. 13. This might be one of the earliest treatments of character ability use for determining success or failure. This is a good, simple guide for referee’s to determine a general success rate for certain actions a player desires to undertake. I like the way prime requisites play into this guide, as well. While I normally prefer a simple d6 roll for such tasks (ala the OD&D Open Doors, Find Secret Doors, Surprise guidelines, etc) I can certainly see myself using this simple guide for my games.

Shock Recovery, p. 13. Nice rules ideas for damage and wounds upon player characters. I already have a house rule for negative life totals in Solstice, and what they mean as far as whether a character is dead or unconscious, but the first idea, the actual Shock Recovery system, is perfect for my games. The Shock Recovery idea adds to the abstract melee approach for OD&D, and I will be altering this method slightly to account for abstract hit points which can be recovered more easily/faster. After all, a Fighting Man with 25 hit points and a Fighting Man with 7 hit points are cut from the same cloth as far as any actual amount of tissue damage they can sustain before dying. Those extra hit points gained from experience, in abstract terms, are a measure of the higher level Fighting Man’s ability to parry/block/avoid melee damage, and in my opinion should not be considered actual tissue damage. More on this theory later.

Poison, p. 15. Oh Poison, how I love thee. Simply a great guide to Poison. While I admittedly *just* made the transition to Save or Die for poisons (I used to always give poisons a hit die range, with save for half or no damage in past campaigns), I do believe I will be incorporating this page into Solstice. It provides a guide for various types of ‘brewed’ poison, as well as the effects of monster inflicted poisons. These effects include onset time, damage per round and poison duration, effects upon different sized victims, and distillation costs. Definitely an excellent reference.

Time Required Table, p. 17. This is a simple table showing the approximate time required for the characters to perform mundane tasks while delving in the dungeon. I tend to think of delving actions in terms of whether they require one Turn, or not. This allows me to measure exploration time in Turns, and keeps things on an even keel for time measurement. That said, I’ll be using this table as a reference at times. It’s a nice little table showing suggested times for performing such tasks as breaking out of webs, or ‘Get out & blow horn’. You can’t imagine how often I’ll be using that one, as I have a few players who really enjoy tooting their own horns.

The Wizard’s Guide, p. 19. This is great for handling those situations, while possibly rare, that a MU character wishes to spend some time and coin on making magic items. I certainly won’t allow a MU character to make a Dagger, +4 in Solstice, but still a very useful set of tables.

Sink or Swim, p. 21. Finally, some usable OD&D ‘water as a hazard’ information. I like this a lot. I have a feeling my players won’t enjoy trying to shed their Plate Mail before drowning, though. I do believe there is an error, which I will fix. To quote, ‘Players can hold their breathe (sic) the same number of turns as their Wisdom score.’ Not quite! Turns will be substituted with something a bit more realistic. Even Rounds would be too long, in my opinion. Something like WIS: 3-7: 2 rounds, 8-11: 3 rounds, 12-15: 4 rounds, 16+: 5 rounds. Why Wisdom, and not Constitution? Well, remember that Wise Guys are very familiar with the whole concrete shoes scenario. Anyway, I like this guide, including the ‘2in6 chance of ‘Surprize’ (sic) negating the possibility of holding one’s breath. Watery pits now don’t require a paragraph in my dungeon descriptions to handle sinking and drowning! Sorry, gang.

The OD&D Ref Sheets, p. 23-34. These babies are just nice, neat collected tables of pretty much exactly what a referee running an OD&D game needs in order to not have to fumble through the LBB. They are duplicated and designed to be removed from the original RRS book, in order that a referee might have these handy sheets at his fingertips during play sessions. Also included is the Chainmail ‘Man to Man Melee Table’. I’m still trying to figure out a good way to incorporate Chainmail rules into Solstice. More on this topic at another time.

Wishes and Limited Wishes, p. 36. A decent page long guide for handling Wishes and Limited Wishes. I like this guide because it really hews close to what I think was the original OD&D intent for the power level of Wishes. I’m not so sure I would use the guide as presented, but nevertheless it is excellent food for thought.

Morale Table, p.37. A nice handy table detailing NPC/Hireling Morale in important situations. Includes a nifty Panic Random Action Table. Yeah, Charisma is a valuable ability if these rules are followed. Speaking of which, I’m a bit surprised that character abilities aren’t addressed at all in the RSS.

Campaign and World Tables, p. 38-50. Some very well thought out and detailed tables to be used for various aspects of campaign games, including Caves and Lairs, Searching, Ruins, Terrain, Movement, as well as Flora and Fauna. I would consider using these for overland, hex type exploration by the characters in the wilderness.

Simply put, the RRS is a publication crammed with useful tables and guides. The bulk of the gaming information is very situational, though…but I suppose that’s kind of the point. The RRS covers many situations which deserve some loose, fast rules, that might not have been given in OD&D. In other words, the RRS is a nice reference tool for referees, and I will certainly be using it not only for quick and simple resolution during game sessions, but also, as mentioned, as a way to get the creative juices flowing.

I heartily recommend this collection of tables to any OD&D referee, with the caveat that it’s highly situational usefulness is understood.

R.I.P. Mr. Bledsaw, your gaming legacy lives on, even now, some 30 years later.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Links

An update on a few new links added to my Linkage List.

Clanless Barbarians, an Empire of the Petal Throne campaign blog. This thing is crammed full of high quality campaign reading material.

Need Graph Paper? Just a useful little site for customizing and printing graph paper and hex maps. I use it for the hex maps, as I especially like being able to lighten the hex lines since I fill maps in pencil.

What's Dubcast doing there? My blog subtitle, "A rambling blog about D&D and other stuff". Yeah, this is some of the "other stuff". I'll be limiting most "other stuff" to small bits here and there, and hey, it's my name on the front door here at the Grog 'n Blog.

Linkage is alphabatized now, so if you want your very own awesome OD&D gaming blog at the top of the list, name it accordingly, maybe something like Awesome OD&D Gaming Blog.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

No Future

Imagine, if you will, a world ravaged by it’s own past. A world plunged into a second Dark Age, where Mankind has crawled back through the centuries from the brink of extinction. A world where Mankind is haunted by it’s own history, amidst a backdrop of ruin, destruction and apocalypse.

The mysterious, lost technologies of the ancestors of these surviving men, those very secrets that brought about the cataclysmic events which pitched this world into it’s Doomsday, have left their unmistakable mark upon this world. Now for the most part buried under the rubble of ancient ruined cities, or guarded and secreted away, these lost relics are the very stuff of legend, fear and superstition.

Must be Gamma World, right?

Rather than a nuclear holocaust in the modern age of man, imagine a return of “The Nameless Ones” upon a world of classic fantasy. From the Dread Vault, the Sleeping Gods were roused, devouring mankind and laying waste to civilization. A world shattering event as the curtain of reality was drawn open and the chaos of unreason and of the dark truths flooded across this land, leaving nothing more than a few scattered survivors. Mankind was on the brink of extinction, those that were spared struggled to survive in a world gone mad, tainted by the very essence of unreason.

Mankind now consists of scattered societies, huddled together in large enclaves or nomadic tribes, dotting the landscape like tiny beacons of light upon this world thirsting for heroes, this world of No Future.

Instead of a world of the far future, with mankind fighting mutation and robots, No Future is a world of fantasy, with mankind fighting a mind-shattering past and primordial guardians.

Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits are no more. Man stands alone. The technologies lost are essentially the Riddle of Iron, and the many secrets of Magic, now buried and forgotten. There are no Clerics in this world, for the gods have fled the heavens themselves, abandoning mankind in the process. Magic is present, but raw and unrefined, chaotic in nature and never permanent. The advanced techniques and secrets of this ancestral magic are still to be discovered and understood, or perhaps the very Laws of Magic have changed in No Future, no one is certain.

It’s is a testament to the perseverance of man that they did not also succumb to the near total destruction of life upon this world, instead, dragging themselves out of that near twilight of man, and finally into a somewhat recognizable Bronze Age. It is uncertain if mankind has finally reached it’s pinnacle, amidst this aging world. The threats from within and without seem to grow stronger with each passing Winter.

No Future will be a heavily house ruled version of OD&D, using Chainmail inspired combat and new Bronze Age inspired Classes and items, all set against a backdrop of bloody, gory hack and slash pulp adventure. Alternative Combat might be used in the end, but I’d like to try a dice heavy d6 system.

The setting will probably be renamed at some point, and the entire world will be an ongoing project for me. A small distraction from Solstice when I need a break from mega dungeon design. Just something else I can blog about. As far as Solstice relates to the setting, perhaps No Future is Solstice’s own climactic conclusion, as the remnants of man dwindle into the grim history of this world. Perhaps a new working title could be Solstice: No Future.

No Future is inspired by Howard and Lovecraft, but it will be a game of OD&D in scope and spirit. Rules light, unrefined and open ended.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Flashback

Get ready for the weekend with this blast from the past!

Extra points if you can name the rhythm and lead guitarists.

The Dim Expanse part III

The Dim Expanse part III

Ulin Uthor, in Dwarven, translates roughly to ‘The Dim Expanse’. Within these depths, the so called ‘Deep Down’, the very laws of the world of man become lost and forgotten. The Dim Expanse is a connection between realities, that of mankind, and that of unreason. This series of articles will detail certain facets of Ulin Uthor while I am continuing to plan and design the mega dungeon.

One of the features of Ulin Uthor which is new for me from a design perspective is that I am attempting to make this mega dungeon truly archival. Nearly all of my dungeons in the past, from the late 70’s and up into my last hand written adventure from the late 90’s, were essentially ‘fire and forget’ affairs. My notes were sparse, and were to be normally used in actual game play within a few weeks or a month at most. The exception to that rule was Tower Of The Overlord, a ten level sort of proto-mega dungeon for me. It was fully mapped and described before I ran it, but even that last hand written dungeon was not designed to be used more than once.

Tower was the last D&D campaign I ran, and it was truly mega dungeon in spirit. At that time I called it my ‘Classic Campaign’, as I decided ahead of time to limit it strictly to the three core AD&D hard covers, with little or no home brewing involved. Nearly every session centered on the Tower itself, and the nearby town was used as a simple base of operations. Near the last few sessions a short side adventure was beginning to evolve based upon the actions of the players, but 95% of the action took place underground.

Looking through those notes now I can see all of the adventuring progress which was made by the PC’s. Hit points are crossed off, and hash marks are in the margins. It could certainly be cleaned up and used again, BUT a large part of that campaign involved a story line which severely altered the dungeon itself. The adventure centered around tracking down a group of Magic Users who had taken up residence within those old tunnels and ruins.

Tower would certainly be a great revitalization project at some point, as I enjoyed the outcome of the dungeon and the maps, but what I am getting at is that Ulin Uthor is archival in that the dungeon description itself is permanent. This is one of the hallmarks of mega dungeons, that they are meant to host multiple bands of characters, whether they be controlled by the same, or different players.

To this end, as followers of this blog no doubt are already aware, I am using a system of index cards to detail all of the vital, changing contents of Ulin Uthor. Sure I’ll probably end up with thousands of these 4x6 cards once I put the finishing touches on level 10, but I like the fact that all of the work I am putting into the dungeon itself is permanent. Which reminds me I need to back up my information lest I lose my hard drive!

All of that being said, this method is truly changing the feel of my dungeon(s). Now when I approach the task of filling in a particular map, I give consideration to the overall balance of the rooms themselves. With each level of Ulin Uthor, I am trying to provide different types of challenges for the PC’s. My goal is to add Traps, Tricks, Role-Playing, Melee and Flavor to every region.

Melee comes in the form of Monsters, obviously, and is broken down into Standard, Wandering and Recurring. Standard Monsters are those I rolled up randomly or filled out ahead of time, and are hand written on the individual room 4x6 index cards. Wandering Monsters are to be picked blindly from a stack of prewritten random encounters, also on 4x6 cards. Recurring Monsters are part of the archival description of the dungeon, and their source is considered to be a permanent fixture.

Flavor comes in the form of graffiti, murals, statues, riddles, and other tell tale facets of the dungeon. These are great fun to design, and allow me as author to watch Ulin Uthor’s history write itself. They are nothing more than dungeon trappings, but provide a certain verisimilitude for the players as they possibly try to piece together some of these often meaningless clues.

Traps are self-explanatory, some are annoying, and many are downright deadly. False Doors and Pits are standard fare, and devious room traps are usually unforgiving. In my younger DM’ing days, I typically avoided the more unforgiving Save or Die situations. Not so in Ulin Uthor. Poison kills in the Deep Down.

Tricks are for the most part optional trappings found within the dungeon. Most are strange, magical features, usually with no apparent purpose whatsoever. Tricks can turn into Traps, or might instead aid the adventurers. They are there primarily for experimentation, and do add an element of fun to the otherwise dark and dreary dungeon. Fountains, Pools, Statues, Riddles, Puzzles, etc are all types of Tricks within Ulin Uthor.

Role-Playing is the facet which I need to deliberately remember to add to the dungeon. I’ve inserted certain permanent role-playing opportunities for the adventurers, but for the most part, these opportunities will end up being unscripted and generated by the actions of the PC’s themselves. Not all encounters will automatically end in bloodshed, and I plan to use the reaction table from Vol. III, p. 12 when appropriate. This alone will ensure plenty of ad lib role playing situations for the players.

To this standard fare of dungeon facets, I am adding mapping challenges as well, in the form of overlapping halls, teleport areas, shafts, etc.

While I personally prefer a hack and slash approach to D&D, Ulin Uthor will certainly have challenges of every sort for those brave delvers who dare to explore it’s deep, dark pits.

What follows is a riddle well known in Bend. It is called simply Krawl’s Riddle, and is known to have been brought forth from Krawl’s Pace ages ago, and retold in the form of rumor, tale and song.

One of Gold and Four of Dust
Five of Evil, Five of Lust
Watching all with great distrust
Mortals we, Mortals must
Give our lives for cause

No one knows the message behind this passage, at least, no one in Bend.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

PDF's, What's Not To Like?

So I just added to my meager PDF collection by purchasing a few long out of print titles from I’ve yet to devour these, but I will do so once I’ve had the time.

With my recent posts regarding the OD&D combat system, I felt it was high time I invested in CHAINMAIL. So, I just now finished folding and stapling the laser printed pages into a nice faux original booklet format. I can’t wait to read the Fantasy Supplement section. The scan seems OK, not as good as the LBB OCE PDF, but it will work.

I also picked up for a song two titles I’ve been interested in ever since returning to D&D this year, the D&D Monster and Treasure Assortment, 1-3, and the Judge’s Guild Ready Ref Sheets. Both of which I have laser printed and placed into a new binder.

The M&TA looks interesting, but sadly it’s not confined to OD&D, and I noticed a lot of supplemental monster entries…I’m sure the treasure section also includes supplemental magic items. I’m not sure how I’ll use these tables, but after I become more familiar with them I’ll decide. The scan is decent, probably about as good as one could expect.

The Ready Ref Sheets look to be absolutely crammed with information. I’m sure there’s SOMETHING I’ll use from that collection, and at a measly two bucks who can argue? I’m guessing the RRS will become my casual reading for the next few weeks. The scan leaves a lot to be desired, but I’m assuming that the original was printed on those terrible Judge’s Guild pages like many of their modules I own, so I’m not surprised.

For a pittance of under a dozen clams I got all of this old school gaming goodness. Who says the internet isn’t good for anything besides porn?

Eventually I’d love to have the LBB and CHAINMAIL in original form, but for now I’m looking for a suitable box to put my facsimile OD&D booklets into, along with a handful of dice and some 3x5 index cards.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Dim Expanse part II

The Dim Expanse part II

Ulin Uthor, in Dwarven, translates roughly to ‘The Dim Expanse’. Within these depths, the so called ‘Deep Down’, the very laws of the world of man become lost and forgotten. The Dim Expanse is a connection between realities, that of mankind, and that of unreason. This series of articles will detail certain facets of Ulin Uthor while I am continuing to plan and design the mega dungeon.

An idea which I am going to slowly develop and allow to grow is the notion of a “Pulp Nexus” of sorts in the Deep Down. The idea began with visions of archetypal pulp ‘monsters’ crawling within Ulin Uthor, somewhere in the nether regions, deep enough that I can allow this whacky idea to evolve into something fun but not too campy or out of place. Well, by nature it will be out of place, but that’s sort of the idea.

I jotted down a small list of typically pulpy opponents to throw at the adventurers, Nazis, Ninjas, Aliens, Robots, Mutants, Super Heroes, etc. I am even considering Star Wars and Lovecraft influences for this idea. The whole thing sounded crazy, but it was intriguing me enough that I felt if I could somehow come up with a viable solution which would allow me to work such unconventional foes into the dungeon, it had a lot of potential.

Obviously this is a design project for deeper levels, but…maybe I could work with it enough that it wouldn’t have to wait for five years from now. I’ll need more sorting out on that aspect of the Pulp Nexus to see if I can tame it for low-mid levels.

First of all, I don’t want to unbalance the campaign with MP40’s, Ray Guns and Light Sabres. Secondly, how on earth would a bunch of D&D characters stand a chance against such foes? Short of having an arsenal of high level spells and magic items, the normal D&D party would be mincemeat in the face of most of these pulp foes.

My solution, so far, is to introduce a ‘Toy Box’ of wooden soldiers/action figures/lead miniatures somewhere in the dungeon. Call it the Toy Box of the Gods for now. It’s crammed full of various action figures of the aforementioned pulpy foes. The only missing toys are the barbarian ones. That’s where the PC’s come in. Said collector is looking to add more action figures to this Toy Box. Somehow the PC’s will enter a sublevel which pits all of these various forces against one another.

Each ‘force’ has been accumulated by the collector, and reduced to a nice transportable, harmless wooden or lead version, shrunk to 1/72nd size. Entering this Pulp Nexus would place the PC’s on a sublevel with all of the other miniatures, all suddenly very real and very life sized.

Thus, no one could survive and come away with anything more than useless miniature replica MP40’s, Ray Guns and Light Sabres.

In order to level the playing field, range would have to be minimal, so tight confines, low vision, that kind of thing might aid the PC’s against the high tech foes. The PC’s, would, of course be greatly feared due to their magic potential. Even a well timed Sleep spell could decimate the Nazis.

I have also given consideration to making all of these pulp foes actually Goblin versions. Goblin Nazis? Yeah, I like that a lot.

I’m not sure how I’d add a risk/reward aspect to this. It would hopefully end up being a fun, challenging change of pace, and a good source of experience points. Maybe that’s still enough that it could make for a memorable side adventure or sublevel.

More on this once it grows legs.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

PS - I hate Nazis as much as the next guy, but they do indeed make for good pulpy bashable targets.

The Dim Expanse

The Dim Expanse part I

Ulin Uthor, in Dwarven, translates roughly to ‘The Dim Expanse’. Within these depths, the so called ‘Deep Down’, the very laws of the world of man become lost and forgotten. The Dim Expanse is a connection between realities, that of mankind, and that of unreason. This series of articles will detail certain facets of Ulin Uthor while I am continuing to plan and design the mega dungeon.

Thus far, Ulin Uthor has six defined regions, from upper most to lowest these are Krawl’s Pace (aka Krawlspace and Kraw’s Place), Lahromil’s Demise, The Hundred Pits, The City Below, The Weeping Caves and The Slumbering Vaults.

As of right now, Krawlspace is complete and consists of 115 keyed areas on two dense maps. Lahromil’s Demise is nearing completion. Level One of LD checks in at 187 keyed areas across four maps. Level Two of LD is not yet complete, but will end up in the 180ish range as well. Krawlspace and the top level of Lahromil’s Demise make up Level One of Ulin Uthor. At six maps and 302 keyed areas, it’s downright massive for a top level.

Each of the planned regions will consist of two levels, with possible sublevels along the way. Each level will encompass four or more maps. Thus, The Slumbering Vaults should comprise levels nine and ten of the mega dungeon. Still lower will be as yet unnamed regions, where the risks and the rewards continue to grow. If I limit each level to four maps, and no more than one sublevel average per region, I’ll still end up with a staggering 46 maps. With an average of say 50 keyed areas each, I will be looking at 2,300 keyed areas.

Exercises like this are futile, though, as it becomes just so much mental masturbation. Breaking the ten levels of the mega dungeon down like this does help me think of stages and steps in order to tackle the design process. Thus, I like having the six regions planned out. There is a vague theme to each, and while this theme does not truly permeate throughout the entire region, it’s a nice jumping off point.

So then, instead of thinking in terms of 2,300 keyed areas, I can think in terms of regions, levels and themes. Much easier for me to wrap my brain around. At this point, I would estimate that 15% of the keyed areas are repeated ala copy and paste, whether it’s a pit or a trapped door, it’s keyed but not unique. Another 10% of the keyed areas are basically empty of significant physical description, possibly some trappings or graffiti, but not much else. So, about 25% of the rooms will be easy as pie to finish.

So far, the design process has been a breeze. I think I am beginning to embrace the process within which Ulin Uthor is unfolding. That being an archival typed version, with the actual vital, changing information (such as monsters and treasure) being recorded in pencil on index cards assigned to each room.

I even settled into using my updated version of the Distribution of Monsters and Treasure guide for certain areas. I am happy with the results, and it speeded up the ‘filling’ process somewhat. I like the old school touch, as well.

I still have a laundry list of over 100 ideas to incorporate into the maps as I go. My only concern with Ulin Uthor thus far, is that I might not have enough empty rooms. Crawling through Krawlspace will take a long time, as nearly every room has something in it…and I don’t mean monsters and treasure, but various tricks, traps, role-playing opportunities, or campaign flavor.

My immediate goal is to finish levels two and three, and just flesh out enough of four and five to handle those daring or foolish level one PC’s who decide to brave some of the lower levels. One or two rooms at the bottom of such inter level connections to levels four and five should be enough to send the newbies out screaming, lest they become some fell beast‘s midnight snack.

I’m still staring at a mountain of work to even get to this point.

With this notion in mind, I did add Krawlspace in hindsight, more as a buffer level to allow immediate entrance into Ulin Uthor, and to prevent access to the lower undefined areas for now. I will manually add lower level connections to Krawlspace once I finish levels two and three.

With LD almost complete, I have already begun to envision The Hundred Pits, and while I doubt it will take on my original plan, that of a series of rooms vertically connected by 100 pits, there will certainly be a reason behind the name of the region. I’m excited about mapping it already.

In the meantime, my room ideas list continues to grow and stay ahead of the design process. If this keeps up the only thing stopping me from completing levels 1-10 is time itself.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

D&D Balance

A recent post by a fellow OD&D fan brought me to the realization that at 41 years of age, I had better get off my arse and start Dungeon Mastering again, seriously and soon. As I have already discovered with my recent plunge back into D&D this past January, the creative process is much more demanding on my day to day schedule than it ever was back in the early 80’s. Couple this with the fact that as one get’s older, actually running a game session as a DM becomes much more taxing. This is something I had not considered at all recently. I knew the design process was much more difficult what with a full ‘adult’ schedule including work and family, but I hadn’t given any consideration to the demanding process of Dungeon Mastering itself, running the game, and doing all those little referee duties which at one time were second nature.

As best I can recall, it’s been ten years since I ran a D&D session with more than two players, and eight or so years since I ran one with anyone other than my Wife and 13 year old Son. Not only was the creative process much easier when I was a teenager, but I am assuming now that as one gets longer in the tooth, that refereeing a several hour D&D session would be much more demanding, as well. Call it my DM biological clock, and it’s ticking away.

I’m not insinuating that 41 is old, no. I think what I am hinting at is that the past ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye. I too could be that 67 year old DM who can’t handle more than a few hours behind the screen without becoming crotchety. Our esteemed Mr. Gygax stayed fresh by refereeing sessions on a consistent basis, and I think that’s the approach one needs to take in order for the task to become second nature, such that even in one’s later years the demands of Dungeon Mastering aren’t demanding at all.

Flashback to 1982. Air Florida Flight 90 crashes into the 14th St bridge, killing 78; The 49ers defeat the Bengals in the Super Bowl; The Great One goes on a goals scoring spree; The Falklands War erupts, and ends; Cal Ripken plays his first MLB game; The Tylenol Scare hits Chicago, and the Nation; University of California Berkley beats Stanford with “The Play’; Sony releases the first CD player; Kirsten Dunst is born; Sham is playing a regular D&D campaign every Saturday for 10 or more hours.

My campaign and my gaming back in 1982, and the years just before and after that, was second nature. Knowing that each weekend I’d gather together six or seven fellow teenage D&D players and entertain them for 10 or more hours kept me in a constant state of designing and refereeing. Somehow, between it all I was able to still lead a normal teenage life, get into trouble, play pick up sports, and get my homework and chores done. It was a healthy pastime, with both a creative and social aspect. It taught me a lot about schedules and responsibilities, in hind sight (of course at the time I didn’t view D&D as such). Back then, I probably played 40% of the time, and created 60% of the time.

The result of so much actual time spent in game sessions certainly resulted in a different ‘feel’ to my campaigns back in those days. Things were looser, less defined and involved a lot more free form gaming. I used a lot more published material, and incorporated these elements into my games, things like Arduin and other booklet style supplemental sources. I’d toss a TSR module in here and there, like D3, S2 or C1 (a few of my favorites). Now I shudder to recall the way I ran D3 back then, but it was a fun source of D&D gaming goodness, even brutally mishandled by me at that time.

I used constant influences from my favorite pulp authors that I was reading at that time; Moorcock, Howard, Lovecraft. Amazingly enough, I actually read ten times more often back then than I do now. I wonder now, in retrospect, how I even had time to sleep in the early 80’s.

Would I want to return to those teenage days? No, I’m a very lucky Man now, blessed with a loving family and two healthy boys. Would I want to, if able, warp back to those Saturdays behind the screen at the Rec Club? You bet your sweet ass I would. And Boy would those kids enjoy the campaign of their lives. Of course, things would probably be a bit too tame for them now, what with no Mu-Meson Filament Edged Blades, Mar-Vexian Magi, Critical Hit Tables, Karenghi Devils, Wombats, Swords of Opposition, etc, etc.

Which brings me to the notion that I need to play and referee more, and balance my D&D time a little better. Certainly now I think a lot differently than I did over twenty years ago. I feel as if I go overboard in my campaign prep. Sweating the details, as it were. The results are fantastic, from my own perspective, the best I’ve done. Who knows if the players would agree, though, since no one has experienced anything I’ve created recently. I’d guess I have enough created at this point to keep a gaming group busy for a dozen long sessions, maybe more. Even at a rate of once per month gaming, this would end up being over a years worth of material. Toss in the inevitable obstacles both in game and in real life, and this material could conceivably last twice that long. If I continue to design at this pace, I’ll end up creating material that will never be encountered. I truly want to avoid this scenario.

The only way to avoid this is to spend more time playing and less time designing. As a hobby, the thing that has always kept me entertained with D&D is the actual design process, but, it’s an empty feeling if I can’t actually enjoy running a band of adventurers through the material.

If I continue at this rate, though, I will end up as the 67 year old DM, rusty and unable to sit behind the screen for more than a few hours at a time, with a mega dungeon that no one has seen past level three. Screw that. On the other hand, designing fits into my schedule so easily, an hour here, 90 minutes there…it’s no wonder this aspect is basically all I do lately. Hopefully, things will be changing in the near future.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Monday, April 14, 2008

Attack of the Grogs!

What exactly is ‘Old School’ in D&D terms? Aside from being an overused, tired phrase that has permeated the English language, old school does have meaning and is understood in regard to much of today’s pop culture. But what about D&D terms? What actually constitutes Old School in this crazy pastime we all love so much? At face value, it can mean anything that is ‘older’ or not of the new editions. But that’s a simple way of tossing the term around when one could just really mean ‘old’ or ‘older’. No, Old School has meaning in D&D circles. That meaning, though, is one of personal interpretation. If we break down the phrase itself, perhaps we can identify a more cohesive definition.

Old: distinguished from an object of the same kind by being of an earlier date.

School: a group of persons who hold a common doctrine or follow the same teacher (as in philosophy, theology, or medicine) ; also : the doctrine or practice of such a group. OR a source of knowledge.

Old School: Anything that is from an earlier era or previous generation, typically the very thing that started it all, is admittedly older and is generally looked upon with respect.

Retro Old School: Something that is new, but follows the doctrines of a particular ‘old school’.

With the above information in mind, we can see that it needs to be of an earlier date than the current, or latest D&D version. Technically, anything before 4th Ed is now old. Much in the same way that technically, my 13 year old son is old relative to my two year old son. In a vacuum with just my two sons, my 13 year old is old, yes. He’s certainly not old in the real world. If 13 years constitutes old age, then at 41 I’m a veritable relic. Old is a relative term in most respects. If we are simply establishing that something is ‘older’ it’s more clear. Just because something is older it isn’t necessarily ‘old’. Clearly, 3.5 D&D is not now automatically ‘old’ because 4th Ed is coming out this year. Older, yes…old, no.

I need to establish then what this relative scale of ‘D&D old’ is, exactly. Since we are comparing D&D to nothing other than D&D itself, we will look at 1974-2008. I’ll start with a list of major releases throughout D&D’s history.

OD&D Core (Vol. I - III) 1974
OD&D and Supplements 1976
Holmes Basic D&D 1977
AD&D/Gygax 1978
Moldvay/Cook D&D (B/X) 1981
Mentzer D&D (BECMI) 1983
AD&D 2nd Ed 1989
Rules Cyclopedia 1991
3rd Ed 2000
3.5 Ed 2003
4th Ed 2008

D&D is now 34 years old. At it’s mid point, 1991’s Rules Cyclopedia was released. This was more or less a reedit of Mentzer’s BECMI D&D, though, without the I (Immortals). A better milestone then might be AD&D 2nd Edition, released in 1989. Like AD&D, 2nd Ed had an 11 year reign, so it’s a good milestone in my opinion. Clearly, there are other versions I omitted, mainly because these versions are more or less simply reedited releases, much like the Rules Cyclopedia.

Personally, relative to the fact that I had played OD&D, Holmes and AD&D before Moldvay/Cook B/X was even published, I consider this to be the true demarcation line between what is ‘old’ and ‘new’. This is, though, in D&D terms, and I realize this is a personal interpretation to the actual history of D&D. I think it’s more fair to say that anything before AD&D 2nd Ed is ‘old’, and anything after AD&D 2nd Ed is ‘new’. AD&D 2nd Ed is just what it represents here, neither old nor new. It is the relative center of D&D’s history for the purposes of comparison.

I copied an appropriate definition of ‘school’ for this post. In regard to this subject matter, ‘school’ refers to a doctrine or source of knowledge. I’ll group all of the above releases into categories arranged by ‘school’. Certainly others might not agree with my rough handling of their favorite rules set, but this is, after all, Sham’s Grog ‘n Blog.

Gygaxian School: OD&D Core, OD&D plus Supplements, Holmes Basic, AD&D.
Basic School: Moldvay/Cook B/X, Mentzer BECMI, Rules Cyclopedia.
Post Gygax School: 2nd Ed.
Wizards School: 3rd Ed, 3.5.
Future School: 4th Ed.

Future School will likely be a sub school of the Wizards School, but since it’s not released yet, it gets it’s own little campus for now.

Since I want to define Old School in D&D terms, anything Post Gygax School or later is definitely not Old School. I’ve already established that, in relative terms, AD&D 2nd Ed is not old. OK, so here’s what I am working with now: Gygaxian School, and the Basic School. The fact that the Rules Cyclopedia is lumped in with the Basic School shouldn’t throw you off as it’s a compilation of early-mid eighties rules. I will cull that version for now.

Here then is Old School D&D per Sham’s Grog ‘n Blog:

OD&D Core
OD&D plus Supplements
Holmes Basic D&D
Moldvay/Cook B/X
Mentzer BECMI

Personally, I have a hard time calling the last two versions on the above list Old School, but I could easily be convinced, especially now that I have broken down the versions over the game’s life. All of the above versions are, undeniably, old. They fall into a school of thought, or doctrine, and provide a source of knowledge that differentiates themselves, one from the other. Hence, they are all Old School, best as I can determine.

If you’re reading this Blog, chances are you are already a member of one of these two schools. As I’ve found, amongst us Old School D&D players, there are actually further defining categories. We can all agree, I hope, that any member of these two schools is undeniably Old School in D&D terms. Here’s the thing…even within this Old School category, we aren’t one big family. Nope. We actually have Old, Older and Oldest amongst our kind. The Basic guys are Old, the AD&D guys are Older, and the OD&D guys are Oldest! So, we are either Old School, Older School or Oldest School.

Truthfully, there probably IS a measurement or degree of our Grogginess. We are all, mostly, Grognards by definition (Old Guard Grumbling Veterans of D&D). But there are actual degrees to our Groginess.

Groggy, Groggier, Groggiest.

As you can tell by my other posts, I am a rules tinker. Not just a home brewer, but I dig around in the tool box of OD&D, and tend to apply duct tape here and there, sometimes replacing a leaky valve or tightening a squeaky joint. It’s still OD&D to me. I don’t play any of the Basic School versions, though. I do stick with the OD&D Core, but I home brew and tinker to the extent that I do believe at best I am Groggier, not Groggiest.

Groggy (Old School): Basic School. And players of Retro Old School games like Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, BFRPG, etc.

Groggier (Older School): AD&D, Holmes, OD&D with all the supplements, and guys like me that rules tinker and float a bit between versions are Groggier. This fits me well with my AD&D background and current preference of the OD&D Core.

Groggiest (Oldest School): OD&D Core. These guys are even Older School than Gygax himself, scoffing at the very house rules Gary used in his games. They play OD&D, and they like to play by the book. Rules tinkering is a no-no. CHAINMAIL is part of their OD&D tool box.

I envy the Groggiest guys, but I tinker by nature and end up not quite Groggy enough. I still enjoy rubbing elbows with all of the Old Schoolers out there, even though I’m not afraid to admit that I am not of the Oldest School.

~Sham, the Groggier Delinquent DM

Moron Rolling To Hit

Warning: Superfluities Ahead!

Again with the RTH thing? Yep, then I’ll close that Can o’ Worms for now.

As covered in my last post, the Solstice RTH formula is:

20 minus (RTH + FC) = the AC ‘hit’ with that roll.

As used in Solstice, the above formula assumes a fluid AC and a fluid FC (Fighting Capability). I wasn’t specific about the FC in the previous post, but FC in the above formula is fluid in that it includes the attacker’s FC, plus any bonuses appropriate for that attack (from magic, abilities, positioning, etc).

Once one is able to accept FC as a replacement for Attack Matrices used in older versions of D&D, and is willing to use fluid AC, the simplicity of the above formula is clear. Fluid AC should be easy to grasp, as really the only edition to not use fluid AC was OD&D (the LBB).

Why all the hubbub about the OD&D combat system, rolls to hit, and AC? Well, knowing now what I know about d20 combat and how it actually works, I simply cannot resist improving upon the original model as presented in OD&D. Is it considered an improvement by everyone? No, clearly not. Many players prefer to use those LBB as is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this mindset.

This brings me to the realization that the above formula, the Solstice method of determining hits and misses (which aside from adjusting the FC values, IS OD&D, just calculated differently) is only two steps away from the Attack/Defense model used in 3e and later editions.

As far as I’m concerned, this all started with the design decision to make numerically lower AC values better than numerically higher values. I should really invest in a PDF of CHAINMAIL to gain better insight into this issue, but nevertheless I will stick with my opinion that if the original rules had used the mindset that higher is better for AC, such derived formulae for determining hits and misses wouldn’t rankle old school players as much as they seem to do.

From what I understand, Dave Arneson at one time used an inverted combat system which essentially was the later edition version ‘turned upside down’ so to speak…in other words rolls to hit actually WERE attempting to ‘match’ the target’s AC, but lower rolls on the d20 were better. So, a roll of 4 would hit AC 4, and a roll of 20 was the lowest possible result. Perhaps somewhere in the translation of the Blackmoor campaign into the OD&D rules, only half of this system was properly converted. On the other hand, maybe this is explained better in CHAINMAIL. Nevertheless, it is clear that the method of matching the target’s AC with the roll on the d20 is nothing new.

There’s no need for an Attack Matrix with such a system, and it’s NOT a new idea at all.

Thus I arrive at the notion that the backwards AC system is really at the root of so much teeth gnashing. As such, in order to further simplify the D&D roll to hit method, I need to do one of two things:

Either invert d20 rolls into ‘lower is better’ ala Arneson, OR

Invert AC into ‘higher is better’.

Doing one or the other will distill the above formula into something *cough* resembling newer editions of D&D. In order to invert d20 rolls into ‘lower is better’, I’ll need to make any and all bonuses ‘to hit’ act as a negative instead of a positive. This is how the upside down, current AC system handles Protection, +1, or Armor, +1, it’s actually all -1. That’s accepted.

It seems much more logical to invert AC, and just use protection or cursed modifiers as listed, +X is good, and -X is bad. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Inverting AC is easy with the 20 number combat model, just subtract the fluid AC from 20 to achieve the actual AC of the target. Base AC becomes inverted so that AC 3 = AC 17, and AC 9 = AC 11, for example. This allows for a much more intuitive target value that needs to be matched or exceeded in order to score a hit. And we remove the ‘20 minus’ step of the Solstice formula. The new formula becomes:

If (RTH + FC) is equal to or greater than AC, a hit is scored.

Yep, it’s the later edition method using Attack and Defense values. Converting it is simply subtracting existing AC’s from 20.

It’s lean, mean and clean. And, it’ the natural, logical progression of things. Maybe I’m the moron, since I can’t understand why this distilled system is frowned upon by old school players.

Solstice will still stick with the counterintuitive upside down AC system, leaving the ‘20 minus’ step in the formula. I’ve taken away the tables, but I don’t want to take away the accepted AC system…not yet, anyway.

Hopefully I can retain my ‘Grognard Membership Card’. Solstice is still OD&D, and I can prove this by backing out all of the formulae into the raw components of the OD&D system. Admittedly, I did change the Attack Matrix values, but not the d20 combat model used to calculate hits and misses.

OK, I’m putting the lid back on this can for now.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Friday, April 11, 2008

Please Stop Me Before I Broil My Brain Basket

Warning: Math Ahead

At the risk of appearing to be an anal-retentive, rules tinkering, tee-totaling geek, I’m going to dissect the ‘fine as is’ OD&D combat system. Why? Because I don’t find it fine as is, and I’m the kind of anal-retentive, rules tinkering, tee-totaling geek that’s not afraid to be called such.

Solstice disposes of attack matrices by using a basic attack score (Fighting Capability, or FC), measuring combat prowess by class and level, and adding this score to the d20 roll.

Very un-old school, but hardly new school. Just a simpler method of determining the result of a d20 roll to hit. Simple and elegant. Now, how easy this formula is depends upon how your brain is wired. To some, this is complicated, to others, it’s logical, and simple.

In order to implement this system, I had to define what each class’s FC was based on the OD&D Alternative Combat System, Vol. I, p. 19. This is the first ever D&D Attack Matrix, those little tables that became cumbersome and needless in AD&D. Needless as long as one was willing to use one of the alternative mathematical formulae back in the day.

FC is hard wired into the Attack Matrix, this formula just extracts that core value and implements it without a table. Once you understand the formula used to construct this, and all other D&D attack tables, you can more readily implement such formulae. Using the AC 2 row as an example, a Level 1-3 Fighting Man has an FC of 1. How do we know this? It’s simple if we know that we are using a 20 number combat model. The table shows a 17 is required to hit AC 2. 17+2+1=20. 17 being the roll needed, 2 being the AC targeted and 1 being that magic number (FC) that turns a 17 into a hit vs. AC 2 by totaling the formula to 20.

This gives us one method of determining hits or misses. The above formula requires that the player know the AC of the target, though, in order to solve the formula himself.

Here’s the one used in Solstice. 20 minus (roll to hit plus FC) = the AC that is hit. The player can easily declare he has hit AC X based on exactly one magic number, his FC. Knowing these formulae allows determination of the FC based on the information on Attack Matrix I. If you want to give the players a break, you as DM can do the final 20 minus step for them. Simple Elegance.

As presented in OD&D, FC equals the following values by class and level.

FM 1-3:1, 4-6:3, 7-9:6, 10-12:8, 13-15:10, 16+:13.
MU 1-5:1, 6-10:3, 11-15:6, 16+:8.
C 1-4:1, 5-8:3, 9-12:6, 13-16:8. Some DM’s might add 17+:10.

Now, to add another layer of house ruling, I adjusted the FC progression as presented on the matrix. I simply didn’t like the irregular progression of 1-3-6-8-10-13, nor did I like the fact that MU’s are as good as Clerics in melee at so many levels. So, I moved to a more straightforward approach for FM’s and Monsters of 1 HD (or level) equals 1 FC. MU’s start at FC 0, and gain one every three levels thereafter, up to FC 4 at level 13+. Clerics start at FC 1, and gain one every two levels, up to FC 8 at level 15+.

FM by level
MU 1-3:0, 4-6:1, 7-9:2, 10-12:3, 13+:4.
C level divided by 2 (round up). 1-2:1, 3-4:2, 5-6:3, etc

Seems easy enough, and reflects the fact that MU’s (in Solstice) have virtually no martial training, and are woeful in melee, while Clerics are militant holy-men, prone to smiting their foes with heavy, blunt objects. FM, and Monsters are the crème de la crème, as it should always be. A FM shouldn’t be penalized with a FC of 1 at level three, equal in melee to MU’s and Clerics alike, at least not in my opinion.

All of this being said, even disregarding my own tinkering with the FC of the classes as presented in OD&D, the Attack matrix as written can still be used with such formulae to provide a simple method of calculating the results of a d20 roll to hit.

Of course, this all depends upon how your brain is wired to begin with.

Whew, that’s a bit of over analysis which brings me to a few more points about armor, and OD&D, and another opportunity for over analysis. It seems that a lot of OD&D players and DM’s alike enjoy the simple, cardinal, static Armor Class rules. Armor Class in OD&D describes the actual armor a character wears, simple as that. Bonuses from magic or dexterity are subtracted from an attacker’s roll to hit, they don’t actually alter one’s AC. Sounds annoying to me, having to remember to tell the DM, who just rolled a monster’s to hit d20, and is cross referencing the score with the AC on a table, that he has to reduce the number rolled on the d20 by, say, 2. Hence we ended up in AD&D with a fluid AC, one that could actually change in value based on bonuses, and made this cross referencing easier, as there was no need to call out a number when you were being attacked.

Now, there are some truly fiddly ‘weapon type vs. AC’ tables out there (not in the LBB, thankfully) that list modifiers based on such scenarios. These tables make sense when using the OD&D AC approach, but are fiddly to the extreme in AD&D with fluid AC values. I don’t use them, never used them in AD&D, and won‘t use them in OD&D. That said, I can understand such a static AC system like the OD&D one having some minor use if you enjoy weapon type vs. AC tables. Those who enjoy such minutiae must struggle with exactly how a Unicorn found the Plate Mail and Shield it’s toting around, though.

Amongst the OD&D Grognards I am in the minority. Maybe it’s because magic modifiers are so rare and minor that it’s not a big deal to remember to subtract X from the attackers roll to hit. But why bother when you can simply add the bonuses to the AC itself? Well, for one, values under AC 2 aren’t on the Attack Matrix, and math is hard I suppose. Some prefer to think of AC as a code which instantly tells exactly what the character in question is wearing. In other words, there is only one way to get AC 4 in OD&D, wear Chain Mail and a Shield. I don’t need such information from an actual game play stand point, what I’d rather have is a number expressing how hard it is to hit said target. Besides, after playing D&D for a few decades, one knows what Chain and Shield is, I don’t need a character telling me they have AC 4. I think nearly everyone playing D&D knows that Chain and Shield is AC 4.

Fluid AC means less stuff to track, and FC means even more less stuff to track.

In Solstice, I really get my own fiddly going with Combat Rules. Logical pre game fiddly is good. In game fiddly is not.

If I wanted to get extra fiddly ala OD&D, I could leave AC as is, and introduce Attack and Defense scores. Once you separate AC out like this, it really boils down to Attack versus Defense scores, then adjust the d20 roll by that number, and refer to the Attack matrix. This is exactly what OD&D does. They just don’t call it Attack and Defense, in OD&D it’s the attacker’s bonuses adding to the d20 roll, and the defender’s bonuses subtracting from it. Hmmm. Seems like later editions really don’t stray too much from the OD&D combat model after all.

I’m thinking of an alternate, old school, new school hybridization based upon these mathematical truths. It uses 2d6 to hit, static AC (that old school enough for ya?), and Attack and Defense scores for the 3e in some of you. You hit what you roll, so the lower the better. That roll is modified by Defense minus Attack. If the modifier is negative, you have a better chance to hit, if it’s positive, a worse chance. Now the only task would be defining the FC’s based on a 2d6 model. Sounds easy peasy lemon squeezy. Ah well, another time for that one. It probably wouldn’t be as good in practice as it sounds, since the 2d6 bell curve is wrecked once you start dealing with modifiers.

I think I’ll go stick my head in the oven now. I’m about to throw all of this out and convert all AC’s to 20 minus AC. Just roll and try to hit it. I’d better stop now or I’ll follow the same progression that led to the oft maligned 3e rules.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Trials and Tribulations of the Delinquent DM

I finished stocking two full maps of the Krawlspace region of the upper level of my mega dungeon, Ulin-Uthor last night, using my refurbished OD&D Monster and Treasure Distribution tables. So far, so good. It looks as though I’ll have level one completed tonight or tomorrow.

I can say one thing about Krawlspace, it’s a real meat grinder. What started out as a ‘buffer region’ for newbie PC’s before they had the misfortune of stumbling into the Goblin controlled areas of Lahromil’s Demise has evolved into a two map dungeon crawl that could probably be challenging for the players through third level.

I think my Solstice, Bloody Solstice dead character file will be bulging with deceased PC’s before long. I’ve never been a fan of Save or Die situations, but they seem to be standard fare in OD&D, and as such I have added plenty of deadly traps and poisonous monsters. Careful play will go a long way, but sometimes shit happens.

I’ve made assumptions like this in the past, with what I thought might be nearly impossible adventures, only to see the PC’s pull a rabbit out of their collective hats, time after time, so I will be moving forward at full speed with Krawlspace as written. Let the dice fall where they may.

In the true spirit of mega dungeons, I still need to complete level two, and flesh out areas of level three before the PC’s dive in and possibly enjoy a non linear feel to the dungeon crawl. That said, as of right now it is open for business. It’s been a labor of love bringing life and character to this mega dungeon, and the workload is really just beginning. The 291 keyed areas of level one are all typed out and described in an archival format, and the monsters and treasure are handwritten on index cards and stored in a card file for easy access.

During the creation process, I’ve been using these index cards for prewritten wandering monsters, rooms, room inhabitants, treasure, individual magic items, NPC’s, puzzle pieces, riddles, etc. I don’t know why I never thought to use index cards this way before. All of the defeated monsters and looted treasure will be stacked neatly on a session stack, for easy reference post gaming sessions. Restocking the dungeon will also be a breeze using this method, as I will never have to alter the archival, typed version, simply cross out and refill information of the individual room cards. More on this system once I actually apply it during real games.

This brings me to the topic at hand. Actually gathering my old cronies together for these gaming sessions is proving to be difficult. I have only myself to blame, for letting D&D fall by the wayside for a decade. I got sucked into too many other gaming diversions, Diablo 2, Magic the Gathering, Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, etc. Essentially, MMOs and CCGs did me in. Through these years of instant gratification gaming, I did come to the realization that I am an obsessive gamer. I get sucked into one game or another, and end up neglecting all other forms of gaming while I focus on the game of the month, or year in some cases.

Well, I have come full circle back to the roots of my gaming past, and I am loving every minute of the design process for Solstice and Of Fortunes and Fools.

As a Dad, this is better for family life anyway. I can work on the campaign and dungeon at my own pace, and I don’t find myself asking where the last four hours went as I’m plunking away at leveling some MMO character, day after day, trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. I doubt I’ll ever play another MMO. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast most of the time, but the time investment is insane with these game forms. After years of being an MMO addict, I have come to realize that the only benefit is the social aspect of the online community centered around the games themselves. They are, after all, glorified chat rooms that let us waste time better spent doing something creative or family oriented, or *shudder* something outdoors…oh, the horror.

So then, here I sit realizing that I, being the DM, organizer and designer and basically Head Honcho for my gaming group, am the one to blame for this predicament in which I now find myself. In a nut shell, here’s where I am right now, with a shiny new mega dungeon waiting for delvers to dare the treacherous tunnels and hidden shrines within, wondering if in fact I will ever be able to gather my old gaming buddies together again. Wondering if in fact I am simply whistling in the wind and wasting my time again on a different form of gaming.

Ah well, it’s not all bad, I still don’t waste all of my time sitting in front of the TV.

~Sham, Delinquent DM