Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Pre Game

So, the hype I've been generating for this first session, to kick-off the Solstice: OF&F campaign, might make room one of Ulin Uthor, the Dim Expanse seem like a big let-down.

Room 1: A 10'x10' room with an Orc guarding a chest.

The build-up has reached a crescendo, and then the party of 16 or so will encounter this and I'll just lean back in my chair, put my hands behind my head, smile knowingly and ask that age old question "OK, what do you guys do now?".

I've a feeling I'll be pelted with cheese curls and beer nuts. So that little joke ends right here. Although actually using that room description, and seeing what might possibly be the real story behind such a bland start to a dungeon could be a fun exercise for another time. The possibilities are limitless.

No, Dim X (as I've affectionately tagged Ulin Uthor, the Dim Expanse, since I'm getting tired of typing that out all of the time) is a living, breathing, vital megadungeon with plenty going on behind the scenes in an ever evolving environment. It's weird, quirky, spooky, dangerous, illogical, and downright begging for adventurers to brave it's depths. I promise to scan in the Krawlspace maps once this group has mapped large portions of that uppermost region, and progressed a few levels. For now, though, it must remain a mystery to all involved (except, hopefully, me).

I'm not sure if I'll ever 'finish' Dim X, unless I drastically change my design approach. It's very time intensive, and I have a feeling that after a few levels of this dense, danger-around-every-corner mythical megadungeon, that the players will be looking to stretch their legs a bit and take on some sandbox style encounters in Solstice. I hope to one day call Dim X 'done', or as close to done as a megadungeon can be (as most, mine included, are designed to evolve during actual play).

Here's a snap shot of the designated gaming table before the players all arrive on Saturday. Note the house copies of Men & Magic, and the bowl of funky dice. These are props for my little 'Game Within The Game' bit. I really want the players to forget all they knew about D&D, especially since these will be the first OD&D games for all of them.

Due to the larger than expected turn out, I had to relocate the game upstairs to the Dining Room table and add two leaves to expand it. Originally, my intent was to play down here in the man cave, closer to the bar and the stereo, in a more private environment. If we end up shifting to late night play, we'll probably be forced to do just that rather than keep everyone else in Casa Sham awake.

You'll also notice I am trying to referee this session sans my tried and true 1e DM Screen, which has been replaced now with a lap top computer. I'll still need a secreted area to roll d6's on, but that shouldn't be an issue. Besides, with everyone involved being 40 years or older now (except Derrick, who could at anytime plunder all of my notes, maps and computer files if he really wanted to), I doubt those wandering eyes will be able to even discern any maps or notes that might be in front of the referee.

I haven't decided if I'll ask for the group to name a caller and a mapper. Calling might evolve later, but I'd like all of the players to be active in the early going. Mapping might slow things down too much (on the other hand, getting lost is one of the real threats in Dim X).

So, the soda, water and beer is on ice, the steaks and bratwursts are primed and waiting to have hot flame applied, the table is set, and the doors to Dim X are finally going to be opened.

If I have my wits about me, I'll take a Saturday Post Game pic for sharing later, along with the Session One Report.

Argh! I need to either change the date or remove it from my camera pix. Ah well, I'm too lazy to redo them now. Game On! shortly!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Lamentations of the Media Influences

OK, I'll bite. James of LotFP fame round these parts of the blogosphere has issued a challenge for us Blognards to relate the media influences that have helped shape our campaigns.

This is a particularly difficult challenge for me to participate in. I like to think that most of my dreams, visions and style are actually my own. No, I have to admit that I'm not that particularly original, though, when it comes right down to it. That said, I should still be able to look back and find my personal seeds of inspiration.

First let me say that the inspirations from one campaign to the next have certainly changed. I'm assuming that when James says campaign, he means campaign world, the actual 'make believe' settings that the campaigns themselves take place.

To quote:

So... I challenge the role-playing blogosphere (and I know you are reading... :P) to name the primary influences in your personal game, so we get a flavor not of what set of rules you decide to use, but what kind of game people can expect to play with you! Minimum five. No maximum. Plus include what people might assume influences you that you actually reject. Bonus points for detail and explanation!

Luckily for me there is no upper maximum, because much like my pet projects here at Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog, I'm ALL over the place.

Solstice Influences:

Robert E. Howard: More so now than ever, Howard is influencing my D&D stuff. Although Of Fortunes & Fools has been impacted primarily by the Lovecraftian, weird Howard yarns, and Bran Mak Morn’s dark feel, I am working on another campaign world/setting that is a Bronze Age Post Cataclysm blend that will be all Howard and this next guy:

HP Lovecraft: My favorite author. I go way out of my way to make sure that there is always something weird, alien, foreboding and mysterious just lurking beyond waking perception. Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath heavily influenced my last major D&D campaign, Antholerin, which involved extensive dream adventures. Sham, the sentient golem, and his dungeon called Sham’s Furnace, played a major part in that campaign. Yep, the name later evolved into my internet moniker.

Michael Moorcock: Elric, Corum, Cornelius, the Dancers at the End of Time all influenced my early 80’s campaigns. Moorcock knew how to spin some post-pulp yarns, and as a teenager, I loved them all. Some of Moorcock’s stuff was highly experimental and over the top, and I think this attitude bled over into my own creative undertakings. It’s still there to this day.

Frank Frazetta: If you want to see what Solsctice 'looks' like, this is it. Grim, gritty, bloody, merciless, unforgiving. Photoshop a Gnome in here and there and that's Solstice. Gnomes with attitude...accompanied by busty slave girls in chains. My Gnomes are badass. With pointy red caps.

Edgar Allan Poe: Also figured heavily into my Antholerin campaign, to the point that one particular Sphinx in the game would quote, verbatim, some of Poe’s works, using them in riddles. The feel and mood that Poe could set was amazing, and his writing will always be named as a major influence upon my D&D creations.

L. Sprague DeCamp: I love love love me some old L. Sprague DeCamp fantasy, in particular his Harold Shea (collaborated with Fletcher Pratt) and Jorian novels. I think at one time DeCamp was a major impact on my campaigns, he's still there, just not as vocal. DeCamp is often more known for his Conan hacks than the aforementioned stories, some of which are fine pieces of fantasy as well, but I think he let his style become restricted in Hyboria with Conan. DeCamp was certainly one of Howard’s biggest fans.

Ray Harryhausen: Jason and the Argonauts, the three Sinbad movies, and Clash of the Titans. What youngster could watch these epics of stop motion awesomeness and not be inspired? Harryhausen’s Skeletons are the gold standard, and what I have always imagined Skeletons acted like in my own campaigns.

Stan Lee: I grew up with Marvel Comics. I do believe I buy into the old Stan Lee method of the downtrodden becoming the heroes. Life was never all wine and roses in the Marvel Universe, and all of the heroes are fallible. No mention of Marvel would be complete, for me, without the names Steve Ditko and Frank Miller. Those mental images still often spark the imagination.

Dave Hargrave: The lesson I learned from playing so much with the Arduin stuff back in the early 80’s was that Greyhawk was not the end-all-be-all of D&D. The possibilities were limitless, and the more inventive, the better. Balance be damned. Well, I tend to bring a lot more balance these days, but I love some over the top ideas when they fit into the campaign and aren’t forced.

Not So Much:

While I am a fan of the following authors, they influence my games either less and less these days, or not at all:

JRR Tolkien, Stephen R. Donaldson, Terry Brooks, RA Salvatore, CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll.

I like their stuff, and there’s more than enough there to make some fabulous D&D campaign settings from, but not in Solstice.

Might some of their influence creep in, unbeknownst to me? Certainly. Because the longer I sit here and think about it, the more and more I realize that after 41 years of reading books and watching movies, I cannot even begin to truly narrow down my inspirations. There are simply too many to name.

But the above list is a fair attempt to do so.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

WoAdWriMo '08

Jeff Rients is prepping overtime for the approaching Worldwide Adventure Writing Month. Yep, it's almost July 2008.

Whether you play Encounter Critical or Mazes & Minotaurs or Mutants & Masterminds or ZeFRS, it's ALL fair game! Just write an adventure and submit it to the challenge! Hell, screw the system and make it generic gaming goodness and you might find yourself writing with a newfound zeal.

Jeff provides a nice post here to get you started on your way to selecting a system to write for.

Now, go forth young adventure writers and write like the wind!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, June 27, 2008

Of Dice and Silliness

For the next six days, the top right corner of Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog will be occupied by an innocent little poll, and I'm asking folks to vote on their single favorite polyhedron for D&D. I'm interested to see if the d20 is in fact the most popular D&D die. This poll was suggested by Arcona aka Matthew of The Dwarf and the Basilisk fame, and I had this notion to make a friendly wager with him in regard to the outcome of this oh so scientific research. A Gentleman's Bet, if you will.

Regardless of our little wager, please take a moment and make a selection. If you don't HAVE a favorite die, and value them all equally, just come down off your high horse for a second and form an opinion by selecting one!

I'm not even sure if I can vote or not (edit: I can and did), but you already know which is my favorite. I'm fairly sure I'm in a distinct minority; and I believe that Matthew has a good chance of winning said friendly bet with his pick.

The loser will have to post an article on his blog written with a D&D related theme selected by the winner.

Feel free to comment here in regard to the poll, the wager, or even possible D&D related themes that the winner might want to throw at the loser. Matthew commented that he didn't even know what a cross-blog poll and wager was; well, neither do I, I just invented it on a whim. If this works out well, it might be something us Blognards* can continue as a theme 'round these parts of the Blogosphere.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

*-Blognard: a term yoinked from Ktrey's banner at his blog found here. I can't claim it, but I can use it. I just did. Blognard. There it is again.

6/27 EDIT: 18 hours to go, get your votes in! As it turns out, this poll will close just before my new campaign is scheduled to start, far as the Gentleman's Bet between Matthew and myself, I won't be around to comment or make good on the bet right away. I'm sure come late Sunday or early Monday I'll be checking in again.

Friday Flashback

Friday! YESSSSS!

I'm going way way back today. This little gem is 45 YEARS OLD! I can't believe it myself. This rockin' tune is older than I am, and that's saying something these days. There aren't too many songs I like that actually predate me.

This song, which you have probably heard sometime, somewhere, is like a rocket blasting out of nowhere and exploding on an unsuspecting, sleeping world. It literally altered music as it was known in 1963. 1963! That, flashback listeners, is the granddaddy of all flashbacks thus far, by over a decade.

I'm of the opinion that anyone who desires to enter the music business, who wants to perform for others, make records, or make a name for themselves, should be required to listen to and learn from this little ditty:

The Trashmen, Surfin' Bird, circa 1963 (no real vid, but enjoy the song).

This song still sounds as good as it did...err wait, I wasn't even born then. I'd bet it's safe to say that this song sounds as good now as it did 45 years ago.

It's vital to listen to the last minute of the song in my opinion, that stretch from around 1:10 to the end. It still works on so many levels. Some find it kooky, some silly, some groovy, some edgy, but there's no denying that it's way ahead of it's time.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Junk From My Closet: Egal's Pit

Here's a short background blurb in regard to an adventure my old gaming crew undertook to recover a long-lost artifact. Notice the ALL CAPS phase has ended. I'd date this piece circa 1988 or so, during a different campaign than the ALL CAPS stuff. The dungeon was called Egal's Pit, and all the party knew was that it was rumored to be the vault within which the Silver Chalice of Life was hidden. The Chalice was a magic item from one of the Arduin booklets, which I used as an artifact in my campaign. It provided eternal life as long as it's owner drank from it each night (essentially, the user didn't age at all during the following day after having partaken in the Chalice's life preserving magic).

The dungeon had been designed by Egal to keep out the Prince of Deception and his demonic minions, in order that he might remain reclusive, never aging, and continuing his sorcerous research and studies for all time. Needless to say, it was a well protected dungeon. As it goes on to say, the Demon Assassin accomplished his mission, sending Egal's soul to it's rightful owner. Then, the Demon was ordered to remain and guard the Chalice.

The Demon Assassin was indeed waiting in ambush in the vault, and provided quite a nasty surprise for the brave dungeon delvers, precisely when they were about to nab the Chalice from the depths of a well-built anti-Demon dungeon.

As to the Chalice itself? Silly eternal-life magic is often lost upon players in a D&D campaign. It sat for months in John's Portable Hole. John, I apologize for spilling the beans all these years later...BUT! John's character secretly SOLD the Chalice on the black market for a princely sum. All of the other players had forgotten about the Chalice, and never (until now-if they are reading this) knew about what John's devious character did with it. I can't remember the exact selling price, but it was truly a fortune in rare gems. I'm fairly sure John's character blew it on wine and women.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

The Game Within The Game

The following is a copy and paste of an email I sent out to my gaming group, as a prelude to Saturday's game.

Let’s Pretend…

Your old High School buddy Dave has invited you and a bunch of your old pals over to his house for a day of gaming and socializing this Saturday. Over the past few weeks, he has been emailing you with details and snippets about some strange old game he wants to try, called Dungeons & Dragons. You are beginning to grasp the concepts within these messages, that this D&D, as Dave keeps calling it, is a game using pencils, paper, and imagination. Dave is going to referee the event, which he has promised will be a good time and might last all night, and then be continued in the months and years to come. It’s a strange concept, but one which you have found to be oddly intriguing.

You see, the D&D Phenomenon of the late 70’s-early 80’s never happened. By some strange twist of fate, the game never expanded beyond the borders of a small tight knit war gaming club in the Midwest. Two of those members got together and printed the collected rules for D&D, and planned to ship the boxes off to a local hobby store, but something happened, and the boxes never saw any retail release. So, no one has ever heard of this old gaming club publication called Dungeons & Dragons.

Earlier this year, so he claims, Dave found a shipping box, (still holding the address label with it’s smudged return address somewhere in Lake Geneva, WI.) at a rummage sale. This box held a dozen little wood grain boxes, each containing a copy of the D&D rules, Vol.s I-III. Apparently Dave has become quite engrossed in this unusual game after dropping a few bucks on that lost shipping box, as he claims to have spent hours and days ‘making his campaign’, whatever that means.

Each of you will be receiving a copy of Vol. I, Men & Magic, as well as a handful of funky dice that Dave was able to purchase on eBay from a member of that old Midwest gaming club. Saturday is approaching, and promises to be, at the very least, an interesting day of discovery and fun. Dave explained that Volume I is all you need to play since all of the rules are found within, and at 34 pages long, it’s already complicated enough. Besides, he mentioned something about the other two books having too many secrets that might ruin the game for us. Just more of the weird stuff coming from Dave’s emails lately.

Forget everything you ever knew about D&D. The above is The Game Within The Game in which we are playing. This is my approach to this upcoming campaign, and I trust that playing this way will allow us to enjoy games of D&D in an entirely different manner.

I still might ‘discover’ other lost nuggets of Midwest gaming history, like the Judge’s Guild Ready Ref Sheets, but not much else will be used, simply because the D&D explosion, of which all of us were involved in, simply DIDN’T HAPPEN! There was no game like this before or after, and D&D shuffled off into obscurity. Let’s explore it’s possibilities now, when taken in this context.

So, with 8 extra copies of my Men & Magic PDF printed off, folded and stapled together, and a big bowl of funky dice, my game table will be waiting for Saturday and a bunch of willing victims to try out this old, obscure game, Dungeons & Dragons.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sham on Art

Sham's ramblings on art, or lack thereof, written after reading a few other articles on the topic, found here at Trollsmyth and here at M&M.

There has been much hand-wringing of late in our Blognard circles on the topic of D&D art, specifically old style versus new style. Much of this debating is in regard to the distinct change in artistic approach which can be traced from the early, amateurish OD&D illustrations right through to the slick, professional pieces we see in the WotC publications. Somewhere in between is found each fan’s personal preference. That’s just it, the thing about art, and music (which is another form of art), is that it’s a very personal thing.

Matt Finch goes into great detail covering the specific subject matter differences between the old and the new, and delivers more than a few nuggets of wisdom in his comments to this post at Grognardia. It’s enlightening and well worth the read. It’s also one of the truly rare times that the comments portion of a post outshines the post itself (apologies to James, but I’m sure he’d agree), especially considering it’s location at Grognardia.

While not an expert in the field of D&D art as a whole, I can certainly blather on and on while engaged in the greater topic of art in general. First of all, let me suggest that this topic is one which I find to be somewhat inane. These illustrations are simply the dressing for this grand hobby we all enjoy so much. I do understand the context from which most of these discussions has arisen; that of publication values and the question of aping the classics juxtaposed with the values of glorious modern eye-candy. In that context, I do believe the authorities have spoken and made their decision, and no amount of pining for the old days is going to change the direction and feel of modern D&D art. The topic at hand is D&D art and what that means, whether old or new.

Realistically, those of us who prefer the older D&D art must, at some point, admit that this preference is simply one of associative value. As youths (or more aptly, back in the day, as not all of us were youths back then), we stared at the works of the classic D&D illustrators for hours upon end, to the point that we now associate those works with the game itself. In fact, the game is the game, and, as I stated earlier, the artwork is the dressing. These are not one and the same, but we have inexorably linked these images to our own nostalgic feelings of whatever older edition we enjoyed so much back then (and for the most part, I think that this topic is channeling that AD&D art vibe; the period when the hobby was at it’s pinnacle).

There’s no denying the fact that the modern D&D illustrations are more professional. If we, the Blognards, are removed from the equation, and the various D&D illustration periods are compared, side by side, even a 4th grader would be able to discern which works are the “higher quality” pieces. The funny thing is, we can do this with the rules themselves, but that’s a topic that has been driven into the ground here, and at other blog sites frequented by ones such as myself.

If we are to take a leap of faith and actually consider these illustrations to be a form of art, though, we can agree that nostalgia and professionalism are not factored into our own personal preference. When you begin to think in such a manner, you yourself are becoming an art appreciator. If you truly believe that the modern D&D illustrations are technically superior, and more attractive, you might be missing the boat in regard to the art contained within the vast D&D collection; OR it might simply be that those works speak to your individual art appreciation values. No one can tell YOU which art is better. You need to make this decision.

Each artist/illustrator, and his or her works within the D&D anthology, should be considered individually, and not as simply another chunk of someone’s broad categorization. For example, anime, by and large, is an art form which is completely lost upon this critic. But, I can watch a movie like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and love the art therein. Therefore, I understand that I don’t despise ALL anime, just most of it. Again, this is a personal preference.

As a side note, and as an individual who has studied art to an extensive degree, I’d like to just stop and defend my own stance of calling ANY of these illustrations, or anime, ART. The notion of using the terms art and anime and D&D together in the same article is almost blasphemous. Is it art or isn’t it? You be the judge. At some point the lines between illustration and art become blurred, and I’d defend my words here by simply pointing out that given the amount of discussion which D&D art has generated, then yes, it is art and not simply a collection of illustrations. The illustrators are exercising creative control and often taking their works beyond the scope of the rules themselves. If a bunch of folks are sitting around debating the merits of the illustration, it can safely be considered art. Although I must remand myself in this matter, as I am often one of the blow-hards who declares “That’s not ART!”. Meh. Hmmm, where’s my Cab Sav and room-temp Brie?

So, having established that yes, this is art, and tossed out the notions of professionalism and nostalgia, we can move forward and actually attempt to appreciate the various artists and their works within the D&D anthology. Forget old and new. Look at the works themselves, and decide which ones you prefer. I can tell you which artists I prefer, but each person reading this who might actually give a damn about this topic should be able to reach their own opinion based on the art itself, and not upon what edition it was found in, nor upon the subject matter itself.

From where I stand, art should be evocative; it should move you and it should be creative. Lacking these essentials, it’s nothing more than an illustration. When I say “move you”, I don’t mean bring you to tears or make you rush for the men’s room. I mean it should successfully separate itself from the written work to which it is attached. The piece should have it’s own voice, and not simply act as a pictogram for the module or guide within which it might be located.

Even some of my favorite D&D artists have churned out some clunkers, those pieces that I recognize as illustrations…there was a deadline, there was a spot for a drawing, and there was some mundane text which did little to inspire. Thus, we have a clunker. I don’t think there are too many clunkers in modern D&D art, but then again, as I declared earlier, I am not an expert in the field of modern D&D art. Clunkers aside, there are some wonderful pieces of artwork just waiting to be (re)discovered in the older D&D works, AND there are some works that I feel are simply bereft of artistic talent and value.

From all accounts, God rest his soul and bless his family, I am led to believe that Dave Sutherland was a fantastic friend and all-around great guy. That little DCS III litters the old school D&D landscape, and is an unforgettable footprint through the history of this game. BUT, in my opinion, Dave’s stuff is, quite simply, strictly illustrative and totally lacking in artistic value. Given the omnipresence of Sutherland’s works throughout D&D, I’m of the opinion that these illustrations are the very ones used as examples to show how bad D&D art used to be. There are some DCS works that I enjoy, but for the most part, Dave was a clunk-o-matic.

Now, the above is a fine example of how art is a personal thing. I know for a fact that many of my fellow Blognards like Sutherland’s stuff. And I appreciate their opinion, even if I don’t share it. Further, this is an example of how the old vs. new genre thing loses it’s meaning. I love me some old school D&D art, so how can I loathe 95% of DCS III’s works? It’s not about the categories, it’s about the artist.

If you’re still reading this, you’re either somewhat interested in art, an artist yourself, or unemployed. So take this exercise since you have ample time on your hands:

Grab a copy of the AD&D 1e Player’s Handbook. Take however long is required to leaf through it and look at all of the illustrations within. Now, go back to the beginning and see who the two artists are. Lastly, consider which of these illustrations you might be willing to frame, hang on a wall, and allow guests to appreciate. In other words, which of these would you call art? This is your opinion and nothing more, and neither I nor anyone else can change your preference. It is what it is.

I just wish I appreciated Sutherland as much as I do Trampier. That’s what I really wish, but rather than decry the living and praise the departed, I’ll leave it at that. But DAMN that Tramp could draw. In all fairness, here's one of the select DCS pieces that I do appreciate (and I believe, given time and inspiration, Mr. Sutherland was a fine illustrator and artist, it's unfortunate that this was not always the case).

I appreciate Mr. Sutherland's work for it's nostalgic value, but I must add that I spent more time searching for a suitable image to place here than I did in writing this post. I finally settled on what is perhaps his most famous piece, seen above (I considered A Paladin in Hell as well).

I have seen plenty of pieces from amongst the broad category of modern D&D art that are very well done, creative and evocative. I have seen more than my fair share of poorly drawn old school art, as well. I admit that the older stuff will always carry with it the nostalgic link to AD&D 1e for me, so I will always appreciate it. To me, these old black and white drawings ARE D&D. To others, they are simply crude and amateurish drawings from a time when D&D was a crude and amateurish game. I can convince fans of modern D&D that this older art is fantastic about as readily as I can convince them that the versions in which they appear are likewise fantastic.

It is what it is.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Junk From My Closet: The Donjon

Since this is a good week for me to throw out such lazy posts, I'll continue with more stuff I worked on in the past. With that in mind, here's another one gathering dust in my basement gaming closet of oddities from yesteryear. This isn't quite as old as the ALL CAPS pieces. This map was the next to last level in the dungeon Sham's Furnace. The Donjon was, essentially, my version of S1: Tomb of Horrors in that it was chock full of deadly traps, with only one or two actual monsters. I recall that running this level was a great deal of fun.

I'm not sure where the notes are, but I think room 9 required a pair of keys to activate the portal which lead to the lowest dungeon level. You can see the keys drawn on the map in rooms 14 and 20. It looks like a computer game map, heh.

Like all of my 'best' maps, this level had some water flowing in it. This would've been from my never finished Antholerin campaign, circa 1996 or so. The same campaign that I drew the Devil's Throne map for.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Junk From My Closet: Old '48 and Dethiaous

Here's a double-header of old ALL CAPS pieces from the gaming closet, circa 1981-82 for our crazy teenage kitchen sink campaign of the Reagan Era. First up is something I envisioned would be used for future extra-planar adventures. I'm pretty sure the damned thing was too complicated and ended up getting used in a game a few times at most. The group had pinched the artifact from an extremely nasty Ancient Red Dragon named Belphast. I can't remember the diversionary tactics used to trick the dragon out of some of his loot, but I do remember that the party was always worried that Belphast was going to track them down and melt their faces for stealing his favorite toy, the Magic Steam Engine, Old '48.

There's more on the back about movement and cost in various rare metals to power the engine. Man, some of the stuff I made back then was funky, to say the least. Old '48:

Next up is a scan of an old hand-out from the same campaign. This message is rather confusing to me now, over 25 years after I wrote it.

If I recall correctly, the message was before the next to last room of a long dungeon crawl. The story involved two warring schools of magic who had destroyed one another. Dethiaous Delian (He of the Fearful Thought, and Grand Wizard of the School of the Fearful Discipline) had been entombed by Elan Eurotal (Weaver Lord of the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy, and Wizard to Emperor Toltan). Both Schools were decimated but their legend grew in the decades following the titanic struggle.

Dethiaous was a Lich, and there was a method provided by Elan to 'put to rest' this foul undead being. Doing so would free the Invisible School from the terrible curse which Dethiaous had placed upon them (and allow their own return to power).

Blah, blah...anyway the characters won and all was well.

Just another strange piece of paper turning yellow in my gaming closet chock full of such relics.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Junk From My Closet: Cloudburst

I've dug up some more junk from the gaming closet in the basement. I'm going way back with this piece. If I had to guess, I'd say this one is circa 1981-82 or so. I wrote in ALL CAPS back in 9th and 10th Grades. I think I stopped doing so somewhere in 11th or 12th Grade. So, the relics in ALL CAPS normally clue me in that they fall into the '79-'82 or '83 period.

Anyway, this is typical of some of the over-the-top stuff we were indulging in back then. Artifacts were commonplace, characters were all in their 20's, and we thought that "The Day of the Dwarf" (by Roger Moore, from Dragon #42-sorry can't find a link) was a recipe for succesful campaign play (not really, we got a kick out of that story, though).

Often, the artifacts and monsters I home brewed were meant to 'wow' the players, and make them swoon at not only my creative genius, but also the sheer power of the artifact or monster I was introducing at the time.

So sue me, I was 15 years old.

Sadly, this little gem was never used as more than a situational weapon. That alone should clue you in to the ridiculous power level of that particular long running campaign. Everyone worth their salt had a far more powerful 'Sword of Opposition'. The swords were a collection (whose number grew whenever I took the time to make a new one) of mighty weapons, each a unique artifact, and each taking up both sides of a full page of paper. Yep, two page long artifacts. Heh.

In hindsight, those were some of the best gaming sessions I ever ran. Even if everyone ended up trying to kill one another, and the nigh godlike Swords of Opposition took the limelight. That was their purpose anyway, and the players gleefully let those swords lead the way to annihilation. Somehow, the campaign and our friendships survived.

I suppose I'll have to find some of those swords to scan in sometime.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, June 23, 2008

3d6: IMARS

Looking at the prevalent ability score ranges from those 16 possible results of 3-18, and knowing the odds of the bell curve, we can take the standard OD&D Prime Requisite modifier bonus and see if there is a better method to determine those levels, regardless of the actual scores.

In Prime Requisite terms, there are five levels of modifiers, which I have dubbed superior, above average, average, below average and inferior. If one is considering using such ability range descriptions, I’d reword the cumbersome Above Average to Respectable, and Below Average to Mediocre. Here are the scores grouped by the odds of actually rolling them:

Superior (15-18): 9.3 %
Respectable(13-14): 16.6 %
Average (9-12): 48.2 %
Mediocre (7-8): 16.6%
Inferior (3-6): 9.3 %
Why in the world would I even consider dispensing with my beloved 3d6 bell curve? Simply to show how the numbers are, for the most part, relative to one another and not as important as the modifier that is attached to them. Per the OD&D rules, this five level range of modifiers applies to all but one of the six abilities, CHA. Charisma deserves it’s own post; it’s the most complex, in depth ability, and provides modifiers for Reaction, Henchmen and Loyalty, with seven levels of modifiers (and the only ability were 18 actually means something in game terms). Now, not all five abilities differentiate between Superior and Respectable, or Inferior and Mediocre, but the important break points are there. Specifically, for the three Prime Requisites of STR-INT-WIS, these five levels determine whether the character receives a modifier of any kind to his or her experience gain.

So, in looking only at the percent chance of ending up with the various modifier ranges, we can tackle a method to provide nothing more than the descriptive value for each ability, instead of a numerical value.

If we are willing to round these percent chances somewhat generously, we could convert this system to a simple linear d20 or perhaps a more exacting percentile roll. I’m big on easy to remember numbers, so I’d lean toward a d20 roll myself, something like this:

The IMARS d20 Roll:
1-2 (10%) Inferior
3-5 (15%) Mediocre
6-15 (50%) Average
16-18 (15%) Respectable
19-20 (10%) Superior
If one were to use the IMARS ability method, one would truly be using a more abstract treatment of the D&D ability scores. Simplifying them in such a manner would likewise force a facile system for other non Prime Requisite modifiers and ability checks.

I’m of the opinion that the STR-INT-WIS abilities are perfectly fine doing nothing more than influencing experience. Perhaps some bonus for Superior STR, such as +1 to Open Doors (which I use in my own campaign) would be in order. Per the OD&D rules, we can readily convert IMARS to what those ranges mean, like so:

STR-INT-WIS(No modifier at all unless the below category is the character’s Prime Requisite).
I - Minus 20% from earned experience.
M - Minus 10% from earned experience.
A - No modifier.
R - Add 5% to earned experience.
S - Add 10% to earned experience.

CON (In OD&D, each CON point has a 10% ‘survival’ chance tied to it, but doesn’t explain what surviving adversity truly entails. For IMARS I’ll convert the chances to relative percentages.)
I - Minus 1 from each Hit Die, 25% Survival Rate.
M - 50% Survival Rate.
A - 75% Survival Rate.
R - 100% Survival Rate.
S - Add +1 to each Hit Die, 100% Survival Rate.

DEX (In my campaign, I’d add that S receives a +1 bonus to Sneak attempts and Armor Class).
I, M - Fire any missile at -1 to hit.
A - No modifier.
R,S - Fire any missile at +1 to hit.

CHA (I’ll have to dumb down the OD&D system to make it fit IMARS, I basically threw out the CHA 18 numbers).
I - Max Hirelings: 2, Loyalty Base: -2, Reaction: -1.
M - Max Hirelings: 3, Loyalty Base: -1, Reaction: 0.
A - Max Hirelings: 4, Loyalty Base: 0, Reaction: 0.
R - Max Hirelings: 5, Loyalty Base: +1, Reaction: +1.
S - Max Hirelings: 6, Loyalty Base: +2, Reaction: +1.
Of course IMARS can still be rolled using the simple elegance of the 3d6 bell curve, and I would probably do so if I ever instituted IMARS into my D&D games. I like the system because it deemphasizes the actual numbers that we so often get caught up in while creating characters; on the other hand, it takes away from the abstract descriptive nuances of actually using the numerical values. As I’ve mentioned before, I love those little numbers as they often actually breathe life into the simple collection of six ability scores.

Nevertheless, even if you retain the numeric values, the five ability ranges could still be used in order to simplify the ability score modifiers for your games. In the end, I’d use the 3d6 method, retain the numeric values, but understand and apply the level modifiers as shown above. An IMARS/traditional hybrid, if you will.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, June 22, 2008

3d6: The Rules

There’s something engrossing about creating stat lines for D&D, using the standard straight 3d6, in order, method. The results and combinations that this method produces can give D&D characters a truly unique personality. But what exactly do these ability scores mean? We always bandy about the term “abstract combat” in our Grognard circles, but what about abstract abilities?

Consider the odds of rolling an 18 using 3d6. It’s 1 in 216. Like me, you probably say “Wow!” when a natch 18 is rolled with 3d6 (and an equally emphatic “Ugh!” when a natch 3 is rolled). It’s almost as if the mindset in D&D is that an 18 in any ability is somehow superhuman in nature, but when we look at the chance of rolling an 18, we realize that this is hardly the case. Think of it this way; take a large body of people you have observed in real life…High School or College, or even an arena filled with fans for a concert or sporting event. Now, think of the way you might envision a D&D character with an 18 Strength, and realize that in High School, the chances are that 10 classmates had an 18 STR, in College 140 had 18 STR, and at an arena 350 fans had an 18 STR. Not so superhuman now.

We know that somewhere, there is indeed a human being who could lay claim to the title of the Strongest Person in the World! His STR is 18, too. Does this mean that 1 in every 216 people out there is as strong as the Strongest Person in the World? Of course not.

My use of the Strength ability to prove this point should be expounded upon in these terms. Strength, at least in my campaign, is not strictly a measure of physical might. It could more aptly be called Prowess, but since the might aspect of the score does come into play at times (when opening doors, for example), Strength it is. In my games, it’s more a measure of one’s ability to employ combat expertise.

The same odds exist for every person in regard to the other five abilities, as well. Therefore, Einstein was as smart as every 216th person out there in the D&D world. Either the D&D world is truly filled with exceptional beings, or we must accept the fact that even with the seemingly odd 18’s and 3’s out there, these numbers are abstract in nature; that is, they are a measure of those six abilities as they apply to the gaming rules of D&D, and nothing more. They are and should be descriptive to a certain extent; one of the joys of rolling characters is allowing the six ability scores to help define that persona. What the numbers show us is that these scores are all relative, and that even the extreme numbers aren’t truly rare in the grand scheme of the world in which our adventures take place.

OD&D has a nice simple treatment of exceptional ability scores; there’s really no difference, except in the case of Charisma, betwixt those higher ability scores. All such scores, in game terms, are exceptional and receive a small bonus. I’m not looking for a more detailed, power creep treatment of these abstract ability scores ala Greyhawk and AD&D. It works well as is, and deemphasizes the actual numbers themselves. I don’t want to worry about my Fighting-Man being one of the 1 in 21,600 people that has an 18/00 STR. OD&D’s abstract ability system keeps it simple and logical. After all, should such a person really receive a bonus (+4 to hit and +6 damage, per Greyhawk) that is better than every magic item in the game? Think about it.

All of this is my attempt to point out that the range of ability scores, from 3 to 18, is relative. It doesn’t mean that someone with a CON 3 is an invalid, or that someone with a DEX 18 is Jackie Chan. It boils down to superior, above average, average, below average and inferior; it doesn’t mean superhuman or abysmal at either extreme. As a matter of fact, having a STR of 3 in OD&D will not lower your melee effectiveness at all. It will only reduce your experience gain if you play a Fighting-Man. Clearly, a STR of 3 was never meant to convey the fact that your character couldn’t fight effectively.

We are to assume that any score, whether it’s a INT 3 or a DEX 4, is sufficient for that individual to perform perfectly well on an adventure. How often these ability scores comes into play is entirely up to the referee, but as presented in OD&D, DEX does nothing more than give +1, +0 or -1 on missile attacks. Nowhere in those rules is there a system provided for ability checks. I do allow DEX 15 to receive a +1 on Sneak attempts. I also plan to incorporate Xd6 checks rolled against one’s ability score; in this regard I am making ability scores a wee bit less abstract. That said, such rolls will only be made when the player can convince me that one is deserved.

The method I plan to employ is not my own idea, I actually have seen such a system across the internet at various forums; it allows the referee to set a difficulty level by adding d6 to the roll. The player must then roll equal to or lower than his own ability score with the prescribed number of d6.

I plan on something fluent like this when I even need to resort to rolling dice for such things:

Simple: 2d6
Standard: 3d6
Demanding: 4d6
Challenging: 5d6
Daunting: 6d6

Again, one of the things I enjoy about OD&D is the fact that the referee can ignore or adjust the Crunchy Meter to his own taste.

I doubt I’ll use this roll against abilities method often, but if a player has earned it, I might allow such a thing from time to time.

In this way, I’ve taken the OD&D abstract abilities and added some crunch; some low level impact for those who were particularly lucky when making their character, but nothing that will make them a walking +4/+6 magic sword.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, June 21, 2008

3d6: The Odds

Cubes cubed. A trio of six-siders. Three Dee Six, or Three Die Six. No matter how you slice it, 3d6 is gaming perfection. Some might ague that 3d6’s vastly more popular little brother 2d6, of Craps fame, is gaming perfection, and while I can’t really argue that point, I can say that 3d6 is perhaps more aptly D&D perfection.

Over the past decades, the D&D brand has done a good job of convincing everyone that in fact the d20 is D&D perfection. Sure the twenty-sider is indeed D&D’s famous symbol now. It’s unmistakably “D&D”, and always will be. Let’s be real, though. It’s kinda boring when you get right down to it. Nevertheless, the big bad d20 holds the two most important D&D rolls in it’s chubby little fists; To Hit and Saving Throws. So, I’ll leave Mr. Big Britches d20 alone and focus on my favorite little cubes and the character generation rules so perfectly incorporated into D&D by Mr. Gygax and Mr. Arneson.

What’s so great about 3d6, you might ask. Quite simply, the awesome bell curve it provides. While we are only generating a range of 16 possible numbers, the underlying odds are rather complex. Here then are the actual odds for rolling each and every 3d6 sum, from 3 to 18 (rounded numbers):

3: 0.5% (actually 0.46, or 1 in 216, but rounded off for this table)
4: 1.4%
5: 2.8%
6: 4.6%
7: 6.9%
8: 9.7%
9: 11.6%
10: 12.5%
11: 12.5%
12: 11.6%
13: 9.7%
14: 6.9%
15: 4.6%
16: 2.8%
17: 1.4%
18: 0.5% (as 3’s note above)

Now, maybe you already knew all of this; if so I must tip my hat to your gaming knowledge! Me, I’m just beginning to really absorb it. Rolls of 9-12 account for 48.2% of all rolls, and expanding that range a bit, rolls of 8-13 account for 67.6%, rolls of 7-14 account for 81.4% of all rolls. Only 18.6% of all rolls will be outside of this 7-14 range (an important one in OD&D terms), with half, or 9.3% of all rolls, being 6 or less, or 15 or more, respectively. So, less than a 1 in 10 chance of having superior (15+) or inferior (6-) scores in any given ability. Chances are that one of your six stats will be either superior or inferior.

Let's just stop here a moment and consider that 9-12 range, the 48.2% of all rolls category. The fact that nearly half of all of the rolls fall within this range is pure gaming quintessence. The rules state that this is the average ability score for characters. Lo and behold, this isn't simply conjecture, it's true when using this 3d6 method. Pure genius on the part of Gygax and Arneson. When using this dice rolling convention, we end up with basically one half of all character abilities being lumped together in this average range. Aside from increasing the number of dice (and perhaps making the extreme scores too illogical), is there a better way of randomly determining character ability scores that these two could have devised? I for one think not.

It’s such a grand gaming convention, the process of rolling those innocent 3d6 when creating a character. I enjoy this bell curve so much that I plan on killing characters by the wagon full in my upcoming campaign, just to see the bell curve in action more often. Just kidding! I would like to see the 3d6 roll more often in games, though.

I’d enjoy a RTH or Saving Throw system using these dice, but I think that rolling more than one or two dice all night long might become tiresome. The mini-curve provided by 2d6 has worked well for Craps, and works well in Chainmail and other games. This notion just might inspire me to move forward with my desire to somehow incorporate the Chainmail 2d6 RTH into my OD&D games, but that is indeed a topic for another day.

I prefer this table to just about any other used in D&D, whether it’s a d00 percentage roll, or a d20 RTH/Saving Throw. I’ve crunched up the Solstice RTH, by using my gaming crew’s old tried and true method of rolling a d6 and a d10 together, and I find that the small nuances of that combination introduce a wee bit of definition to the old linear 1-20 rolls.

To paraphrase Mr. Gygax again:

The dice are your tools. Learn to use them properly, and they will serve you well.
The 3d6 bell curve is just begging to be used more. I would welcome ideas or suggestions in this regard.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, June 20, 2008

Entourage: The Cracked-Skull Clan

The first Entourage for Solstice: Of Fortunes & Fools has been assembled. It's not much of an entourage YET, but The Cracked-Skull Clan has taken it's first, formative steps today. I was able to pry Derrick's fingers off of his mouse and keyboard long enough to get him to stop playing WoW, and make his Primary Character and Loyal Follower today.

I know Derrick, who by the way is our 13 year old, is not particularly creative with names, so I quickly jotted down a handful of potential character names. I then threw out about 10 possible entourage titles that HE might enjoy, and he chose the names you see below, and The Cracked-Skull Clan title.

Enter Razgor the Barbarian and Declan the Fighting-Man, Razgor's Loyal Follower. After picking the stat line for each, gold was randomly rolled and spent on gear. Nothing was left for another Henchman for The Cracked-Skull Clan, so it was armor and weapons OR another friend, Derrick picked wisely and got the gear.

Here is a scan of the two newbie characters and the stat block for The Cracked-Skull Clan:

As you can see, the stats were altered slightly by lowering WIS by three to gain a point of STR for each character. This will give them both a slight bonus to experience gain.

As I'm typing this, Derrick has already returned to the WoW grind. I'm hoping he's not disappointed when one of his D&D characters dies, and it doesn't reappear at some magical graveyard as a ghost. In all fairness, he won't be...he's a D&D veteran now, having played through a handful of solo sessions in the earliest stages of Ulin Uthor, the Dim Expanse, using the Labyrinth Lord rules. Yes, it was Derrick who christened that dungeon with it's first fatality. Dak of Remember Dak! fame, the poor Dwarf who fell 90' to his rather messy death through a stone shaft.

Index cards and d6. What's not to like about that?

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

3d6: The Cube

It’s all about the dice. Amazingly enough, I’m finding that my favorite die in the bag these days is the plain ol’ d6. It’s not simply the nostalgic feelings I associate with throwing handfuls of the little cubes while playing Titan and other wargames. There’s something about the simple elegance of the classic six-sider; it’s symmetry of form, it’s stackable nature, it’s use of pips instead of numbers, it’s transcendence of our own hobby. It’s the only one in the dice bag that is bigger than the game we use it for. Virtually every game I can think of, besides D&D and it’s descendants, uses the ubiquitous six-sider. The little cube that could.

D&D broke from standard hobby form and brought about a dice revolution in gaming. The d4, d8, d12, d20, and later, d10, were unleashed upon the gaming world due to D&D’s popularity. So now we have all these funky polyhedral dice to help us determine outcomes in role-playing games. Those multi-sided, unorthodox, colorful plastic dice at one point were synonymous with D&D for me. I know that I always looked at the d6 as the red-headed step child of my collection. In fact, most of them were scavenged from other games. They just didn’t seem to fit. I never really appreciated those cubes before. Now, I realize, that these building-blocks of gaming actually stand above, not below, those other Johnny Come Lately's of D&D in the grand dice pecking order.

I know that I am in the minority in this antipodean preference I have found myself forming since I converted to OD&D this year. Honestly I’ve been trying to think of ways to make an all d6 version of D&D, but I’m aware that this is not a new idea; and in fact there are plenty of solid all d6 games out there as I type this. D&D has strong wargame roots, and it’s rules basis was formed from Chainmail, an all d6 (as if there was any other kind at the time) game.

I’ll never throw out my other dice; well, maybe I’ll toss out those damned d4’s…I never liked those, at all.

The odd bit is that most of the things I enjoy so much about the d6, as far as it’s game uses, could very well be replicated with the other dice. Which brings me back to asking myself WHY? The only thing I can surmise at this point is that I enjoy the simple perfection of those little cubes; how neatly they sit nestled together perfectly in my dice box. Or maybe it’s the pips. I really can’t put my finger on it.

Something magical happens with those dice when you’re asked to roll three of them together, though. So magical that I’ve rolled close to 150 stat lines for characters in my upcoming campaign. That means I’ve picked up, shaken, tossed, and recorded almost 900 3d6 rolls in the past few months. And they say familiarity breeds contempt? I say bull hockey. Now, anyone reading this that thinks I’m a nut job…you’re probably correct. It’s my time, and I’ll waste it any way I damn well please. I just might roll another 20 characters to bring my total over 1,000 and shake my dice filled fist at the nay-sayers.

I know one thing’s for sure, when D&D finally passes on into that great favorite local gaming shop in the sky, the little cube that could won’t skip a beat.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday Flashback

Is it Friday yet? After collecting the data from my in depth poll here at the Grog 'n Blog, I've brought back this little weekly video feature. Here are the results, voted on by youse guys:

Bring back Friday Flashbacks?:

Yes: 13%
Sure: 20%
No: 7%
Friday What?: 60%
The simple fact that Friday What? garnered most of the votes means that either:

A: You guys have crappy memory, or
B: You guys are smart asses.
Either way, Friday What? is as good as a Yes or Sure in my book! It means I need to fire off more videos of songs no one cares about anymore, Yours Truly excepted.

So, without further rambling, I offer the following from what I believe was the ultimately too-short lived pinnacle of that iconic Manchester band, The Buzzcocks. This one clocks in at 2 minutes, so slow down your incessant internet and blogosphere clicking for a short span of musical enlightenment, smart asses! :-)

The Buzzcocks, circa 1976, with Howard DeVoto on vocals, before he buggered off and formed Magazine. Future lead man, Pete Shelley, is the one playing guitar in the shades and pink pants.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

10 Days and Counting

I want to let everyone know that blogging will be light 'round these parts this week. I've a few items that are demanding my attention right now. Not the least of which is Session One for the new Of Fortunes and Fools campaign, scheduled but a mere 10 days from now. A bit of good news of late in that regard; yet another one of our members (Mike) of "That Ol' Gaming Crew" has pledged his desire to grab a chair at the gaming table and join us!

Believe it or not, this brings my 'D&D Email Contact Group' up to eight members. I have commitments for Day One from all but two. Throw in my 13 year old (who has sworn he will be able to hang out with a bunch of 40somethings for 8+ hours) and we're at NINE players!

Now, keep in mind I've implemented the Entourage Approach for this campaign. At the VERY least each player will want to bring his Loyal Follower along; to gain EXP and to be present in case tragedy ensues and he (or she) needs to step to the front lines as a new Primary Character.

Yep, that means, in a (im)perfect world, I'm looking at a MINIMUM of an 18 man-party. For Level One. Wooo! This should be fun. And NO, I'm not widening the halls of the Dim Expanse...10' wide means 2 man marching orders, dammit!

You think I'll be channeling some old school 'them's the breaks' moments? Yessir. I'll be doing that regardless, but trust referee one often has that little voice in the back of your head, asking if a TPK (Total Party Kill) should really be issued to your handful of pals and their finely honed PC's. It's a much easier call when there are one and a half dozen delvers poking around in the deep, dark halls of the underworld. The dice are King, I just roll them.

I LOVE the fact that OD&D, played with over a dozen characters, truly feels almost 'wargamish' rather than 'RPGish'. We have dice; we have monsters; we have traps. People ARE going to die. Otherwise, every Tom, Dick and Harry would be taking on the Goblins and Cultists, and retiring comfortably to a Villa on the coast after plundering the gold and gems hidden away in those locked and trapped chests. Dungeon delving is dangerous business, normally reserved for those who haven't got a future ensured for them already (in other words, the poor and desperate souls of Solstice).

I am virtually clapping myself on the back for issuing each player a stat block of 10 potential characters.

One small spoiler for Krawl's Pace, the upper most region of Ulin Uthor, the Dim Expanse; there is an area specifically designed for 'replacement' characters. Rather than travel all the way back to town, the players may 'hire' a potential PC from one of the Stewards of that level. There's only one drawback. Only Kobolds are available. Yep, those little buggers that roll their six abilities using 2d8 rather than 3d6.

Hey, abilities are overrated anyway.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, June 14, 2008

3d6: Intro

I’ve fallen in love recently with the original D&D convention of rolling characters using the straight 3d6 in order method. This might sound silly, me calling this a recent revelation, coming from someone who is supposedly a member of the Grognard club. Let me explain.

In the past, and when I say the past I mean ALL the way back to the late 70’s and early 80’s when I immersed myself in AD&D, me and my cronies always used the roll 4d6, drop the lowest method. AND, to top that off, we normally arranged those six scores however we pleased. The result? Pretty much every player character was superhuman in original D&D and real world terms. Now, I understand that in modern D&D, it is assumed that the player characters are indeed supposed to be superhuman. I don’t like it, I don’t buy it. I think pretty much everyone involved in my games appreciates the fallible hero theory, that true heroes are those that we as readers or players can relate to, who overcome the odds and along the way become heroes in their own right, regardless of shortcomings. Those very shortcomings that make them ultimately identifiable. I liken it to the approach Stan Lee used back in the early days of Marvel Comics. In the face of Superman and Batman, Stan Lee rewrote the way us teenagers read and appreciated comic book heroes. The Marvel heroes were fallible, and this stroke of genius made Marvel ten times better than DC, until DC latched onto this idea when the AWESOME Frank Miller changed sides and took on the Dark Knight series.

Anyway, I digress. I love the straight 3d6 in order method. Might my former AD&D crew of players shudder and scoff at these initial player ability scores? Yep. Although I have emailed each of them their personal 10 line stat block from which they will create their first 10 characters. The choice is theirs as to whether they will use that ‘best’ character immediately, or wait for a bit. They see the possible stats available to them, and I think they understand that this is not the D&D we played back in the early 80’s.

I’ve been trying to consider other ways that I might introduce the bell curve of 3d6 into my OD&D games. Cracking open what is still my fav-o-rite RPG resource ever, the Dungeon Masters Guide, I refer to page 9-10, DICE. It explains linear and bell probability curves. I’m no mathematician, so I always appreciated such user friendly articles by Mr. Gygax. In looking at the illustrated bell curve for rolling the ubiquitous 3d6, we can see that the most common outcome is 10.5, which is easy to ascertain as it is the average of 1d6 times three. The average of any die is the sum of it’s low and high range divided by two. Simple enough. Based on the fact that my readers are gaming veterans, there is probably no need for me to write this out, but there it is. 3.5 times 3 is 10.5. Got it.

The ultimately relevant point is the actual percentage chance of rolling, with 3d6, a natural 3 or 18. Now, the chart provided in the DMG simply shows this chance as something along the lines of "less than 1%”, and in looking at the chart, it appears to be around 0.50% chance (in fact it’s 0.46%) . Cool. The article then goes on to discuss the almost limitless possibilities of different combinations and applications of dice. Something I think that has been lost in modern D&D. The DM was empowered in this article with the knowledge of exactly how to use the dice as a tool to construct whatever possibility might be desired (something I am doing with my What Price Glory RTH method, which, by the way, is how my gaming group rolled to hit for decades. We just used a d6 instead of inking or using crayon in the days before there was a d10, and we used a d20).

The article ends thusly:

In closing this discussion, simply keep in mind that the dice are your tools. Learn to use them properly, and they will serve you well.
Let’s not loose sight of this little nugget of wisdom proffered by Gary. Thanks to the preceding article, we might move closer to learning to use them properly. I love the fact that this section of the DMG is truly in line with Gary’s preceding work in the OD&D LBB, that we, as DM’s and referees, SHOULD be exercising our knowledge of the dice.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve never been a true numbers cruncher. I can grasp basic understandings and probabilities. If I am doing the math correctly, that chance to roll, naturally, an 18, with 3d6, should be 6 to the third power. That is, 1in6 chance for a 6, then a further 1in6 chance for another 6, then, a further 1in6 chance for a third 6. The dice do not perform in a simple 1in18 chance when used in conjunction, so, the chance of a natural 18 is therefore 1in216. We had 17’s and 18’s all over the place back in the day. It was almost to the point that if you didn’t have an 18, you were somehow ‘inferior’. There’s something wrong with that line of thinking.

And what do you get for such a feat in my Solstice campaign? Not much, unless that 18 is in Charisma, in which case you are able to have up to 12 Hirelings, each with a Loyalty Base of +4 (don‘t laugh, this is a HUGE modifier). Oh, and a cookie.

I love OD&D.

Supplement I, Greyhawk, went into depth in regard to rewarding such unusually high ability scores with various modifiers. Me, I enjoy the simple fact that in the original rules, there are three prime requisites and three character defining abilities, but that the game truly asks for the player to play, and not rely on these abstract numbers while controlling their characters. So, when a player in Solstice reaches the lofty experience level of 6, and looks back at a stat line of 9-13-7-11-8-10, he will know that it was HIM, not the character, that conquered the obstacles in Ulin Uthor.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Very Large Inn

With my desire to push forward with the Entourage Approach for my upcoming campaign, I realized I needed to provide plenty of potential hirelings for the players prior to their actually departing for adventure. So I rolled up 34 such NPC's, who are waiting patiently at the Crook and Cabbage in the North Tower of Bend. Yep...34 1st Level adventurers hanging out in a pub waiting for some would be heroes to cough up some coin and drag them along on missions into the mythical underworld of Ulin Uthor, the Dim Expanse.

Not very realisitic, but these are the levels to which we must stoop in order to provide fodder for seven Entourages.

In fact, not all 34 are in the Crook and Cabbage at the same time, but they are in and about the North Tower, and potentially available for hire. Rather than have the players actually spend time searching for and role-playing with each and every single possible hireling, I am going to simply tell them that in the weeks prior to thier first excursion, each of them took the time to do just that, and here's a list of the NPC's to choose from.

I will of course roll Reaction and Loyalty, and record information in my referee notes when they do hire such individuals, but I don't think my players nor I want to spend three hours hearing me make funny voices before they can actually get down to rolling dice and exploring Krawl's Pace, the upper most region of the Dim Expanse.

So I am going to provide them with the following list, and let them hire directly from it prior to play. Granted, at 100 gold a pop, some of them won't be able to afford a hireling for the first few excursions. Nevertheless, here is the list of the 34 rabble-rousers hanging out and swilling cheap ale at the Crook and Cabbage:

Weerwon Ilk, Dwarf FM
Kel Rinvel, Dwarf FM
Ghiragh, Dwarf FM
Max Mogh, Dwarf FM
Momindy, Dwarf-f FM
Melody of Iron, Dwarf-f FM
Ashwake, Elf FM/MU
Bogbreeze, Elf FM/MU
Duskdirge, Elf FM/MU
Fellwind, Elf FM/MU
Ravenwing, Elf-f FM/MU
Wee Wimley, Hobbit FM
Hamp Tiggle, Hobbit FM
Grimster, Hobbit FM
Scrimshaw, Hobbit-f FM
Bax Bramble, Hobbit Scout
Squeegles, Hobbit-f Scout
Tacto, Kobold FM
Scrunt, Kobold FM
Ratch, Kobold MU
Prodder, Kobold Shaman
Mighty Bucket, Human FM
Shahdrah, Human-f FM
Jack of the Axe, Human Barbarian
Gaylgorr, Human-f Barbarian
Zim of Windy Dale, Human Cleric
Wexwell, Human Cleric
Telltor, Human Cleric
Lesthelda, Human-f Cleric
Som-som, Human Shaman
Dam'Zylah, Human-f Shaman
Banjo Jim, Human MU
Iru'Gah, Human MU
Moximage, Human-f MU
I love character names. They're one of those little intangibles that end up adding so much flair to D&D. I think Gary Gygax had a knack for inventing names when he wasn't using jumbled or altered real life names of himself, his friends and associates.

You'll notice female hirelings in there as well. Maybe I've matured a bit as a referee, but I never used to include female henchmen, and my players never played anything besides men. Is that odd? I'm not sure, I honestly never thought that it possibly might be until now. I do believe that MMO's contributed to me overcoming any such possible prejudices I might have had in the past, consciously or subconsciously.

You might notice that there is a theme to the Elf names in Solstice, an idea I have unceremoniously yoinked from the always inspirational poster at the original D&D Forum, Driver, to quote a blurb he made a while back:

Most NPC Elves will have stereotypical "Treebow" type names, e.g., Darkblossom, Mossmarsh, and so forth. The default NPC Elves in my campaign are closer to creepy folklore Elves than Tolkien Elves.
Anyway, many might find these names silly, ridiculous, awesome, or mundane. I find D&D vastly more interesting when the inventor invests even just a wee bit of time creating such names. Based on the dangers present in the Dim Expanse, I do believe that many of these hirelings might end up as Player Characters before the first session is over; so the names of these hirelings had better be ones I'll enjoy seeing in the months to come.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

TDB Teaser

I'm closing in on putting the finishing touches on my initial draft to be submitted to Fight On! for my handling of Level 3, Spawning Grounds of the Crab-Men. There's a lot more than just Crabs here, though.

Stop reading now if you don't want to spoil any of the surprises in the article!

* * * * * *

A portion of the dungeon has been taken over by a one Quimlin, a demented arcano-tech being (you'll have to buy Fight On! for more about the elusive Quimlin) driven mad by his thirst for power. Quimlin plans to assemble a force capable of assualting the Mysterious Crystal Hemisphere in the caves beneath this level (fellow blogger James of Grognardia is writing Level 4), one abducted and mutated man at a time.

As a teaser, here are a few of the new monsters to be found in the Quimlin's Manse section of Level 3:

The Thing From Beyond! AC 8, Move 9, HD 5. The Thing From Beyond! is an 8’ long amorphous translucent blue, semi-gelatinous blob. This oddly formed monstrosity has three 9’ long appendages, and five great 7’ long eye stalks. Its bulbous pink eyes emit dim white light in a cone 30’ long, and it communicates with whale like mewls and songs as it hovers about, floating 3’ off the floor. This bizarre abomination from another world is a somewhat disinterested and exceedingly bored higher life-form. TTFB! is a reluctant, apathetic, nonchalant servant of immense power. TTFB! attacks as a 10 HD Monster, and can deal 2d6+2 damage per round, but only in self defense. TTFB! will only attack if Quimlin is present and he directly orders the alien to do so. Even then, TTFB! will subdue and toy with foes rather than devour them. It prefers to snatch up opponents and tickle them into submission while attempting to tell them to destroy the Multi-Levered Device that it might devour the crazed Quimlin. Only the possessor of the Multi-Levered Device can actually understand what TTFB! says. Quimlin uses this device to communicate with TTFB!, constant communication has slowly driven Quimlin insane. TTFB! will happily devour Quimlin if the device used to control it is deactivated. TTFB! knows that eventually it will get its wish, and in the meantime it bides its time dreaming of home, wherever that might be.


Lab-Rats: AC 7, Move 9, HD 1-1. Damage 1d3. Giant rabid albino rats with pink eyes. Their bite has an insidious, cumulative effect. Save vs. Poison or begin itching. After two such missed saves, victims must discard armor and scratch in non-combat situations. After four such missed saves, victim is incapacitated, and writhing about trying to scratch, even during combat, duration 1 turn. When Lab-Rats are in a pack of 12, they can form a hive mind intellect equal to INT 5, capable of very rudimentary, high pitched speech. They will single out and eat Quimlin if he doesn’t offer them Liquid Joy whenever they see him.


Speci-Men: AC 5, Move 12, HD 2+1 (*Speci-Men are so drugged up that they get one free attack after they have been slain). These horrific beings are genetically mutated men with chemically enhanced reflexes. Muscular, twitching, crazed, drooling, and wild-eyed, they are addicted to Quimlin’s Liquid Joy. After being abducted, human victims are subjected to Quimlin’s devious arcano-tech concoctions, which erase their minds and turn them into hulking muscular almost ape like men, bristling with savage strength and cat-quick agility. These abominations posses long talon-like nails and preternaturally strong jaws with massive fang like teeth. Semi-intelligent, but given basic commands by Quimlin via Brain Implants.

And lastly, here is one of the rooms in the Tribe of the Claw section of level 3:

11: Crazy Clonk, the Malformed Chosen One: A heavy iron gate blocks entry to this cell. An old iron lever, set into the wall to the west, operates this barely functional mechanism. The guards in room 10 will open the cell to free its inhabitant if seriously threatened, for getting Crazy Clonk back into his cell is a difficult undertaking. Crazy Clonk is a horribly misshapen Crab-Man, formerly one of the Tribe’s most promising Chosen members. Over a year ago, Clonk broke taboo, and picked up a glowing sword from some slain men of light. The sword caused Clonk to become a raving lunatic. Perhaps as punishment, Clonk has had his form ravaged in an unexpected manner by the dark ritualistic metamorphosis normally safely endured by the Chosen tribesmen. As soon as the gate is opened, Clonk will rush out and attack anything that moves. Clonk is severely stooped, with a spiny, lopsided shell, an oddly curved massive claw which drags on the floor, great bulbous eyes, red with rage, on bent stalks of uneven length, and a haphazard, crooked, sideways-lumbering gait. The only vaguely human remnant of Clonk’s former self is a long, sinewy arm, clutching a dimly glowing bronze sword. Crazy Clonk (Crab-Man) AC 4, Move 6, HD 4, HP 17. +1 to hit from Grog the Gladius. Grog the Gladius is a finely crafted short bronze stabbing sword. Grog glows a dim violet when held by a living being. Grog is a Sword +1, +3 vs. Dragons. Aligned to Law, Int 7, Ego 12, with the power to See Invisible Objects. Grog will communicate the presence of such things via Empathy. Clonk was able to survive the initial blast of damage from grasping Grog, but has since been overpowered by the egotistical sword.

I've decided that the map of the level is fairly well fleshed out and detailed at this point, so it's being submitted as is.

Also, keep an eye out for the version of the Entourage Approach which I sent in to Fight On! Hopefully it will make it into issue #2.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mission Statement

I know everyone was saddened to see the end of Friday Flashbacks here at Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog. That short-lived series of seven posts generated a whopping two comments along the way. People apparently aren't coming here to share my appreciation of late 70's/early 80's bands.

I also think that people aren't coming here to read my hackneyed commentaries about old school D&D. I've put my soapbox away for now, as I've said about all I care to say on the subject. Let's have a big Group Hug, all you fans of D&D.

I'll leave the reporting and commenting about modern D&D to other bloggers who care about such things while I remain holed up in my man cave trying to remain gleefully ignorant and disassociated.

What I'd like to continue doing here is thinking out loud in regard to ideas and concepts for D&D and specifically for my own campaign. The D&D notions I throw around here are meant to be perfected with input from readers. Feel free to slice and dice these thoughts when they are clearly over the top, off the wall, or just plain silly.

I'll also scan in some more Junk From My Closet soon, as well as some more Map Design stuff. By July I'll be able to post interesting (hopefully) blurbs about my Of Fortunes and Fools campaign. I have a pair of other projects I've been mulling around that will meet the light of day here before I can call them 'finished'. These being the No Future setting, and my Episodic Fantasy Campaign thingy that hasn't even found it's way into written form yet.

What Price Glory is an example of my thinking out loud approach. I hope to fine tune those house rules via reader input and actual playtesting. So don't take anything I essentially blurt out as a finished work. I like to think that affairs such as this will take on a life of their own as they evolve into a completed, satisfactory state.

My Dim Expanse series has stalled, primarily because I've not worked on Ulin Uthor much at all of late; there's enough there to launch the megadungeon now. I hope to continue writing about my design process on that project which will likely turn into a years long effort.

I'm excited about continuing to work on submissions to Fight On! and the upcoming Swords & Wizardry fanzine. I encourage everyone reading this to consider writing and submitting their own works as well. It's great to know that there are others out there who might share your gaming philosophy and appreciation of stuff you invented.

I'm also planning a new series entitled simply 3d6. What's it about? I don't know yet, but I like the title. I almost wish it was the title of my blog, actually. Yep, that's the kind of 'throwing crap out there' guy I am at times.

So I'll throw this out there as well: Please see the poll I'll be posting in a bit and chime in.

Furthermore, thank you all for the past 14 or so weeks! I'd like to ask that you continue providing input and comments to guide me on my way as I attempt to use this blog as a means to toss around concepts and ideas for the greater gaming good.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Playing With Packets Again

Now that I’ve thrown out all of these optional D&D combat rules packets in What Price Glory, I am beginning to consider exactly which ones I am going to use immediately for the OF&F campaign in Solstice.

1. Hit Points: I like the VIT/FHP balance. Randall has a more logical version, but it’s fairly complicated compared to this easy to implement packet.

2. Damage: Throwing extra dice is fun for the players. As far as Dynamic Dice, I think having a 1 in 12 chance of dealing 7 damage is good, and a 1 in 216 chance of dealing more than 7 damage is balanced.

3. Death: This is just my standard house rule. Pretty simple, and one that supposedly Mr. Gygax used in his own OD&D campaigns.

6. Engagement: Another one of my standard house rules.

7. Roll To Hit: I’ll use this for the depth that the d6 provides on rolls of 1’s and 20’s. The +2, +4 and +6 damage from Critical Hits is a keeper for me.

8. Staggering Blows: These massive strikes will add an element of excitement to melee.

11. Armor: This is simply a slightly different way of handling AC, and adds a level of ablative quality that might save one’s bacon when sustaining a Critical Hit from packet 7.

That’s less than half of the packets. With these I can still maintain a completely abstract round of combat, but add some interesting house rules.

I’m sure there will be more changes to What Price Glory, including minor alterations, and totally new rules packets.

Eventually it might be reworked into more numerous, specific packets (like one for Combat Move, one for Cloven Shields, one for the 4 M’s, etc). Essentially little house rules that a referee can pick and choose from, very limited in text, and modular.

I’d love to see other referees’ house rules that might be readily rephrased into a What Price Glory rules packet. Firstly because I find such house rules vastly interesting in the old school OD&D spirit, and secondly because I’d love to flesh this out even further.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Playing With Packets

Using the What Price Glory packets together can create some combinations that players and referees might enjoy for their OD&D games. It also opens up opportunities for the referee to flesh out the rules to their taste. With certain Packets, some areas are left vague in order that a referee might fine tune or fill in the gaps to suit their campaign.

For example, when utilizing Packet 4, Combat Sequence and Packet 5, Initiative together, a few questions might arise during encounters. The encounter is divided into 5 second sequences or exchanges, each with four steps (the 4 M’s). Initiative covers attacking, but doesn’t go into detail in regard to the Movement or Magic steps of that 5 second exchange. What now?

A referee can handle this however he or she might so desire, but here are some specifics that I would consider. This level of detail begins to weigh down the Packets, some of which are already a bit text heavy.

All combatants receive 1 move and 1 action in 5 seconds, except when casting a spell, using a magic item, or retrieving a weapon (or as defined by the individual referee).

While these various undertakings are divided into four steps, it certainly does not mean that everyone stands around until missiles are fired, then everyone moves, then everyone trades blows, and then finally spell-casters get to do their magic. These are simply the order of resolution, each and every combatant is occupied with some task or purpose during those 5 seconds. There is a constant buzz of activity during an encounter, it’s not simply an orderly dance routine. Amidst the fog of war chaos often reigns supreme. Men screaming, steel clashing, Monsters growling, Mages chanting, Clerics exhorting their brethren, this is the rattle of battle.

The steps are performed nearly simultaneously, but are resolved in a specific order. So, how would I mesh the 4 M’s and Initiative?

I would use the 4 M’s, and allow each step to have it’s own minor notes to see exactly whom has Initiative within that particular step.

Missiles: This is already defined. Range then DEX then Weapon Speed. The winner may elect to Hold Initiative. All combatants with Missile Weapons have the option to ‘Hold Fire’, and wait to loose their missiles until either Movement, or Melee. Spells are declared in this step, and their casting requires the entire 5 second round to complete to resolution.

Movement: So, who moves first? The combatants with the highest Movement Rate may either move first, or Hold Initiative. There are five stages of Movement speed in combat, 15+, 12, 9, 6, 3. Anyone who held initiative must move, if they are going to do so, in that last stage of 3. Held missiles may be loosed at anytime during Movement.

Melee: This is already defined as well. Range then DEX then Weapon Speed. All melee is resolved now. Held missiles may be loosed at anytime during Melee. At this point, combatants who have neither begun casting a spell, fired a missile or attacked in melee may Move, even if they moved earlier during the Movement step.

Magic: Spells resolve now. Spells resolve in order of level. For example, Sleep (a Level 1 spell) will resolve before Hold Person (a Level 3 spell). The referee may decide to specify casting times, or allow the more experienced spell-casters to gain initiative. There is no firing of Missiles, Movement nor Melee in this last step. Combatants who have passed on all steps, and not even moved during the entire sequence, may now resolve magic item activations (this includes potions, scrolls, wands, staves, etc.).

This is simply too cumbersome and text filled for the modular approach to What Price Glory, but is an example of the type of further definition and house ruling that combining these packets might lead to.

Or you can just say to Hell with it, and start rolling dice. Let the gods sort it out. Whatever makes your combat fun for you and your players.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee