Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reflections on the Fiend Folio

I never had a lot of problem with the FF.  In fact, I have very fond memories of the book and many of the monsters within it.

My mom took me to Tri-City mall, must have been within a week or two of the book's release, to buy it at the toy store.  I remember the excitement of being the first in my group (I think) to buy it.  I remember reading it all the way home.  It was cool.

Many people get down on the art (Enveloper/Dough Boy) but I think much of the art has a unique style and it has grown on me over the years.

I think the artist that epitomizes the FF is Russ Nicholson.  He drew such personal favorites as the Blindheim, Dark Creeper, Dark Stalker, Ettercap, Flind, and Githyanki.  I've used all these monsters in my Queston campaign and the picture had a lot to do with me giving them a chance.

I have other memories of FF monsters as a player.  I remember "Blinker" (he had to be a Blindheim) from the depths of Bellicose Keep.  I remember him as a fun NPC ally.

I remember a time when Tweens were running amok in our group.  Everyone had one.  We ruled that they canceled each other out when two heroes with Tweens were close together.

My first exposure to Drow was from the FF.

I was looking through the old White Dwarf issues and I came upon the original "Sheet Phantom".  This is one of the FF monsters that has a silly picture.  Upon finding the original picture and description, I don't know why they decided to change the visual.  Decide for yourself.

The pic on the left is how the Sheet Phantom is depicted in the FF.  The posting on the right is from the original WD article.


They also changed the nature of the creature from being a kind of ghoul to being a form of wraith that becomes a ghoul if it smothers you.  I think the original was fine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Special Easter Egg...

I found this reference in White Dwarf #10:

On Saturday, 28th October 1978, at Seymour Hall,
London W1, Games Workshop held i t s fourth
GAMES DAY. To say the event was a success is a
bit of an understatement! Some 2,500 people turned
up on the day to participate in all the fun and games....

For the first time at GAMES DAY, there was a special guest
of honour. We were very pleased to have Scott Bizar, director of
Fantasy Games Unlimited, fly over from the USA specially for
GAMES DAY. Scott was available all day to answer gamers'
questions and also handed out the prizes to the competition

Why is this an Easter Egg?  Scott Bizar used to own and run my FLGS, Waterloo Games.  It closed about 2 or 3 years ago, but I've been able to buy his Fantasy Games Unlimited stuff from him via the interwebs.  He even delivered it to my work on his way home.  Cool guy.

I even found a picture!  :)  He's second from the right.

Make Your Own Minis!

In the early days of D&D, I guess there was more of a DIY spirit out there than there is today.

I'm guilty of buying the cheap, easy stuff myself.  I own TONS of plastic pre-painted minis.  Some are of the new D&D variety and others are MageKnight figs.  Most of them are pretty cool and they are A LOT faster than painting them yourself.

In the past, I've been known to make my own miniatures out of Sculpey and then set them upon heroes (a certain eye tyrant comes to mind), but I've never seen anyone else do it.

I was reading through an old pdf of White Dwarf (Issue #8 Sept 1978) and I found this cool article on how to make minis using wire, damp tissue and filler.  The monster stats are in an old issue of the Dungeoneer.  Maybe I'll try to make one sometime.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Words that never were... until D&D

Found this cool article online and I thought I would share.  Its about words that were "made up" or had their meanings enhanced through play and development of D&D and other games.

I'm sure the article is old news to many, but I found it to be interesting and I couldn't resist putting it here.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

GM Tip: Spell Special Effects

I just found this online and I am VERY EMBARRASSED that I didn't think of it myself.  You can find it here at Philotomy's OD&D Musings -- along with a lot of other great stuff.  Here's the tip:
Spell Special Effects 
In my OD&D game, spell-casters enjoy the capability to produce minor magical effects related to the spells they have currently memorized. For example, a magic user who has fireball memorized might be able to light his pipe with a small flame from his thumb, or make smoke come from his ears when annoyed. A sorceress with gust of wind memorized might have her hair constantly blowing in an otherwise non-existent breeze. Using a special effect does not cast or use up the spell it is related to; they're not so much "spells" as they are tangible evidence that the magic user has a spell memorized. I do not codify these effects, but rather rely on the players to suggest or request an effect, which I then approve or deny. While I do not have a hard-and-fast rule against special effects that have a mechanical game effect, special effects are always minor, cantrip-like effects.
I like this house-rule for several reasons. First, it adds to the weird otherworldliness of magic users, and I love weird and fantastic elements in my D&D game. Second, it gives low-level magic users something arcane and archetype-supporting to do without using up their memorized spells or abandoning the concept of Vancian magic. Third, it's just cool to play a wizard that can make his eyes glow, or make his smoke rings come out different colors, or whatever. I know that players enjoy the special effects, and also enjoy trying to figure out what spells an NPC caster has based upon what his special effects reveal. The only real danger is allowing effects which are too potent, which could erode the feel of the Vancian magic system. It's up to the referee to make that call on a case-by-case basis.
I will definitely be using this rule in any future game I play.  Too cool and very playable/logical.  No need for cantrips if you interpret the spells a wizard has memorized in this way.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I'm thinking about stripping the Savage Worlds rules down to their bare minimum and creating a rule-set I'll call SavageLITE.

I guess this was inevitable. I'm an inveterate rules tinkerer. I really like certain things about SW, but I want even more simplicity.

Just a short set of core mechanics and perhaps some way to "bolt on" D&D magic. There's just something about adventurers finding "spellbooks" that I love about D&D.

Right now, I have a couple of thoughts floating around in my head -- I'm not certain that they're at all related, but I'll list them just the same.
  1. Savage Worlds caps attributes/skills at d12 and then "adds on" numbers. Like a giant might have Strength d12+8. I'm thinking about just adding on more dice. By my way of thinking, that giant would have 2d12+d4. The 8 would translate into another d12 (subtract 6 - half of 12) and another d4 (for the 2). More on this later.
  2. I like the SW "damage" spells, like Blast, Bolt, and Burst. I just want more effects. I think there is some good stuff in the SW Fantasy Toolkit. I'm also thinking that there's are other ways to "jazz up" magic. We'll see.
  3. I've always liked Michael Stackpole's 8C's of magic from the Blade Citybooks. The only thing I didn't like was having to remember the difference between C1 and C2, and so on. I'm tinkering with a list of magic "types" that use a unique string of letters. Perhaps ABCDEFG or similar. That way, you'd know what the D stands for, cuz it's the only one. You couple this with Fudge descriptors and you've got a neat way to quickly build a "rules neutral" wizard.
Well, we'll see what happens. :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3D Dungeon with Grandson

A few months ago, I ran a totally free-form game for Matt, Brian, Sara and Maddy. Jeanne was out of town at her mom's and I wanted to game.

I made up a super-simple system with about three attributes, five skills and one resolution table. You always roll 2d6 for challenges. Damage was 1 to 3d6.

Simple and fun.

Here are some of the pictures from the dungeon adventure I made up on the spot. I just kept grabbing cool minis out of my MageKnight boxes (no, I don't play MageKnight -- I bought them in huge lots for use with DnD or Savage Worlds 0r Fate -- any RPG).

It was a fun night and I think everyone enjoyed it.

Enjoy the pics!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Creating 4e Monsters is kinda like a calculus exam!

I want to say up front that I don't know who Joshua Kitchens (aka Draconas) is. I'm sure he's a fine person and I applaud his entry into this contest.

Also, I have nothing against the judges of the contest. They're just judging based upon criteria and that's fine.

Now, check out this link and then come back for my rant. :)

The issue I have, and it's just personal bias I'm sure, is the mechanics inherent in the design of the monster itself.

Who in the hell wants to reference and cross reference other monsters to develop any given monster? I don't.

I don't care what it's CR (challenge rating) is. I don't care if you want to call it an aberration and I want to call it a magical beast. I don't care if its HP are too high. Or its perception skill. Or whatever.

Gawd! What a bunch of hooey!

This is my favorite (or least favorite part):

Compared to other creatures of the same CR:

For this section, I'll try and choose a variety of same CR creatures.

Senses: you gave it darkvision 60ft., perception +17
…..Dire Lion (large animal): low-light vision, scent, perception +11
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): darkvision 60, low-light vision, scent, perception +11
…..nightmare (large outsider): darkvision 60 ft., perception +12
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): all-around vision, darkvision 60ft., Perception +12

Conparison: on the low side of average

Hit Points: you gave it 52
…..Dire Lion (large animal): 60
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): 57
…..nightmare (large outsider): 51
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): 46

Conparison: within the acceptable range

AC: you gave it 19
…..Dire Lion (large animal): 15
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): 17
…..nightmare (large outsider): 19
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): 19

Conparison: on the high side of average

Damage reduction/immunities: you gave it none
…..Dire Lion (large animal): none
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): immune- cold (vulnerable- fire)
…..nightmare (large outsider): none
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): amorphous, DR 5/bludgeoning, immune-critical hits, precision damage

Conparison: Your churjiir is right on target. (gibbering mouther has negatives that make up for it’s defenses)

Speed: you gave it 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., climb 20 ft., swim 20 ft.
…..Dire Lion (large animal): 40 ft.
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): 30 ft.
…..nightmare (large outsider): 40ft., fly 90ft (good)
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): 10ft., swim 20ft.

Conparison: You are above the average here.

Attack Bonus: you gave it +6, +6, +6, +6
…..Dire Lion (large animal): +12, +13, +13
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): +10
…..nightmare (large outsider): +9, +4, +4
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): +7

Conparison: the attack bonuses start to get very diverse at this CR. I think you are within the acceptable range.

Max possible Damage/Round: you gave it 24
…..Dire Lion (large animal): 41
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): 36 ( breath weapon, reflex half)
…..nightmare (large outsider): 32
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): 24 (+ 2 con)

Conparison: you are below the average.

Spell like abilities: you gave it 2 at CL 10
…..Dire Lion (large animal): none
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): none
…..nightmare (large outsider): 1 at CL 6
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): none

Conparison: a little high, but acceptable.

Special Abilities/attacks: you gave it disease, flea swarm, necrotic wound, rat paramount, and telepathy
…..Dire Lion (large animal): pounce, rake
…..Worg, Winter Wolf (large magical beast): trip, breath weapon (see above)- reflex DC 17
…..nightmare (large outsider): smoke
…..gibbering mouther (medium aberration): blood drain, engulf, gibbering, ground manipulation, spittle

Conparison: you are on the high side of average.

I also love the word "conparison". I don't know if the author of the comment is trying to be funny (he does use compared correctly) but it's used too often to be a typo.

This kind of game element design is too much work to be fun.

Oh and PS: Wow. What a statblock for a single creature. It hurts my brain...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What the hell happened to playing a game a day?!?

Life happened.

It seems an easy thing to play a different game each day, but it's not.

Maybe things will change in the near future.

In the meantime, I'll keep posting as regularly as possible about "game related" things.

I hope you find the posts to be interesting. :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Memoriam - Tom Moldvay (1949 – March 9, 2007)

Who's Tom Moldvay, you may be asking?

He was a giant in the RPG industry. Here's a quick cut and paste from Wikipedia that illustrates my point:
As an employee of TSR, Inc., Moldvay authored or co-authored landmark D&D adventure modules such as Castle Amber, Isle of Dread, the rewrite ofPalace of the Silver Princess,[1] and Secret of the Slavers Stockade, all published in 1981. Of these, X1 - Isle of Dread was one of the most widely played modules of the time because it was distributed inside the D&D Expert Set rules.
I loved Secret of the Slavers Stockade. It had one of my favorite monsters of all time in it - perhaps created by Tom himself - the boggle. I remember begging my friend Alan Kent (my DM at the time) to let me 'tame' or 'befriend' a boggle so that my character, a monk named Belloq, could have a pet. He gave in and it was great.

Another fond memory that I have wouldn't have been possible without the work of Tom Moldvay.

In 1980, my dad was working in Las Vegas. He had to travel a lot in my youth to find work. He was a union electrician and most of those jobs in the '70s and '80s were in the construction of power plants. In the early '80s, that construction was in Nevada, not Arizona, so he would work there during the week and travel home on weekends.

During the summer of 1980, my good friend Brian Eells had introduced me to this crazy game, Dungeons and Dragons. He had DM'd a good portion of The Keep on the Borderlands for me and I was totally enamored of the game. I'd saved my money and had convinced my mom to take me to Tri-City Mall to buy the Basic and Expert Sets.

The Basic D&D set came with The Keep, which I'd already explored. The Expert set came with a new module - The Isle of Dread!

The Isle was cool for many reasons. Foremost of which was the 'overland' exploration of the island. You see, the Isle had this cool, colorful hex map of all the island terrain. I think there were even rules that guided exploration and took into account the fact that you might make a wrong turn and get lost. Very exciting.

There was also an underground temple (I think) and it was full of marvelous treasures, not the least of which was a black pearl the size of a bowling ball!

So, there I was with a cool module (that I knew too much about!) and no DM. What to do, what to do?

Draft Dad!

Somehow, someway, I convinced my dad to run the Isle of Dread for me over the weekends when he was home. He probably would have preferred to do something else with me. Maybe golf or movie viewing, but he sucked it up and ran the adventure. He even did a pretty good job of hiding his suspicions that I knew a little too much about the adventure. Looking back now, it was obvious he knew I was "peeking", but then he was a good sport.

Thank you Tom Moldvay. Thanks Dad!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Creativity is HARD!

I use the Google A LOT. At work, at home, for fun, for necessity -- I use it all the time. I can scarcely remember a time when it wasn't available for use.

Well, I was looking for stuff - game stuff - and I stumbled upon Microlite74, which I wrote about in a previous post.

At the same time, I stumbled upon "One Page Dungeons." Fantastic!

I have said to my colleagues at work that any idea, that's any good, can be expressed on a single page of paper. One side of that paper is best (8.5"x11"), but I'll settle for both sides in a pinch.

Suffice to say that this concept of a "One Page Dungeon" resonates with me. I wasn't always this way, but when I run an RPG, I like to improvise. A 1PD (my new abbreviation) is a great shorthand for me. It's a framework and (I believe) it's all I'll need to write up to prepare for an adventure. Here's one of many links you can find. Here's another.

So, this weekend I took on the task of building a 1PD for myself.

The first part of my experience was creating an "old school" blue dungeon map for my document. I used GIMP to pull it together and this great tutorial. It took a long time, but that was mostly due to my rusty skills using GIMP. After awhile, I had it down.

Next, I exported the map as a .jpg and dragged it into a 1PD Word template.

That's when things really got challenging.

How can you have writers block when all you need to write is one page?

I slogged through creating this 1PD for a good part of Saturday and even in to Sunday morning. After a brief nap on Sunday, I got up with some fresh ideas and I finished the thing off.

No, you can't see it. Yet. I need to unleash it on my grandson during spring break.

Mwah ah ahhhhh. :)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dungeons should have no Ecology!

I was reminiscing about one of my favorite dungeon experiences today.

The first time I ever played Tunnels and Trolls, I was a participant in an adventure called "The Dungeon of the Bear."

I only remember it in "images". I remember that there were trolls with crossbows in giant violin cases. I seem to remember a forcefield holding the ceiling up on a room.

I remember being turned into a badger, by the infamous "Badger Diamond".

Good memories.

Dungeon adventures should be filled with delightful impossibilities, puzzles and treasures.

I don't care if the dragon IS stuck in the room. I don't care if the orcs have no food source. I don't care if the trolls live right next door to the zombies.

Dungeon adventures should be fun and mysterious. Period.

Sometime in the future I'll reminisce about "Bellicose Keep"!

Old School Gaming - in 10 pages!

Those of you who know me (I think that's everyone reading this blog!) know that I'm no fan of these "modern" rpg rulebooks.

Sure, they're pretty and have high production values. They're chock full of amazing artwork and evocative fiction. They often have hundreds of pages and there's usually a set of 10+ that you'll need just to play.

They're also full of RULES that you are expected to LEARN and REMEMBER! Who has that kind of time? Teenagers. Not me.

Last night I was searching around for some RPG adventure ideas and I came upon a cool, bare-bones rpg system called Microlite74.

It's not fancy. It doesn't adhere to all the new RPG ideas of character development, player control, etc., but it does look like it would handle a good old dungeon crawl without any fuss or muss.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Here's how yesterday's game ended today. Ugh. I should have quit right away! :)

Jeanne - 353
Jim - 282

B2 - Keep on the Borderlands - SAVAGED!

I've been playing an intermittent game of Savage Worlds with my wife, stepson and his family. They are enjoying the simplicity of the mechanics and I'm enjoying the way I run the game in a freeform manner.

The rules are crunchy enough to allow characters to feel different and to have different abilities, without being so cumbersome as to be prohibitive.

Tonight (in the absence of an actual game) I spent some time converting the "Temple of Evil Chaos" to Savage Worlds.

I busted out my stamp and I made a few stat blocks on the inside of a manilla folder. I had previously printed the Temple part of the map and I spent some time making notes about each room on the map.

I'm not going to give much details (after all, I don't want to ruin the surprise for the players) but I'm pretty happy with the work I've done.

Next task - Savaging Pathfinder and the Rise of the Runelords!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Alien City -- FAIL!

Tonight, for the first time in a long while, I busted out my Piecepack.

For those of you who don't know, a Piecepack is a sort of "generic, all-purpose" set of board game tools. Think of it as a deck of cards for board games. You can play many, many different games with the same old deck of cards. Well, you can play many, many different board games with a Piecepack.

If you are interested in buying a Piecepack, I recommend Blue Panther as a reseller. If you want to make your own, there are pdf files on the website. You need only print and play.

One of the most highly rated games on the Piecepack is "Alien City." I've read the rules several times, but I've never played. It's a kind of real estate grab game like "Tigris and Euphrates." (I'll play that in the future!)

I dug the rules out and I counted out all the pieces we'd need. I sat down and read the rules to Jeanne and she looked perplexed. I said, let's give it a try. We'll talk about each move as we make them. No since overthinking it at the beginning.

The game requires that you play one of two types of structure, a tower or a dome, each turn. Each space on the game board is color coded based on what "guild" it belongs to. You must play domes on squares the same color as the dome.

The rules for the placement of towers is a bit looser and that's key. Each player is able to claim a total of three towers during the course of the game. These 'claimed' towers are the ones that earn you points.

You earn points based on the total number of customers that are close to a given tower. The catch is that customers must be a different color (or guild) than the tower in order to score. They must also be connected by a road.

This is where things went horribly wrong.

You see, all the empty spaces on the board are roads. You must be careful not to block any given structure in. Each structure must have access to a road and that road cannot be cut off from the other roads.

Simple in theory and easy to understand, but when both players are a bit tired and you've never played this game before -- it's easy to block stuff in. :(

We tried twice. It was interesting. I could start to see strategies developing and then you'd look down and, damn, that dome is blocked in. Who did that? I don't remember.

I put all the pieces in a bag. We'll try again soon.

You've GOT to be KIDDING ME!

So, Jeanne challenges me to a rematch. She passes her first turn. Innocent enough.

I play SPEND.

She comes back and plays BRUNETTE, emptying her rack and using my E!


Guess I should have done VENTS or VENDS... Ugh.

I played ENVY as my next word. Just seemed like the right word to capture my feelings at the moment.

PS: I guess it's kismet that I started off with Scrabble, given the name of my blog. You figure it out. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

My First Game of the Year

Woke up this morning. It's my birthday! 43! A friend said to me today, you're just 23 plus two decades. That's one way to think about it. :)

Was planning on making my first game something major; something colossal; something epic. Nope.

It's gonna be Scrabble.

Why? Well, my entire family seems to be OBSESSED with Scrabble at the moment. This includes the grandkids (Matt especially) and that's a good thing.

Jeanne and Mannie have always played it against each other. They're pretty evenly matched. When I play with them, I'm usually third in points. I've learned to live with it. They are both naturally good at rearranging letters in their heads - plus - they both do the crossword puzzles regularly. Those two facts alone make them formidable opponents.

I'm not at all good with Scrabble or the Jumble. Just can't rearrange letters mentally. I find myself fidgeting with the letters on my rack just to arrange them into something that reminds me of words.

Tonight I am writing about ONLINE Scrabble. You can play Scrabble with friends within Facebook in an asynchronous manner. You start a game (give it a name) and then invite friends. You each take your turn and when someone plays their last letter - the game is over just like regular Scrabble.

The online FB version has a a few advantages for a guy like me.

First, it has a built in dictionary. You can try words and see if they are real words. Handy. If it is a real word, Wikipedia or another online dictionary is just a click away if you are interested in building your word power.

Second, it has a two-letter word listing. All the allowable two-letter words are there and you can click on any letter to narrow the list. Very handy when you're trying to build a word right next to another word.

Here's a screenshot of tonight's game. Jeanne played some massive words - actually cleared her rack for INNOVATE!

STIRRING was hers as well (for a Triple word score).

Amazingly, I still came out on top 338 to 306.

Gotta love technology!