Monday, May 31, 2010

Natural Terrain Hazards

Just this weekend, I visited a state park called Tonto Natural Bridge.

While I was there, I couldn't help but think what it would be like to actually 'adventure' in a location like this one.  The terrain was extremely rugged and often slippery.  There were very few flat places one could engage an enemy.  There were many, many areas where foes could attack from a distance or with the advantage of cover.  There were also many smaller caves where small enemies could hide and strike taller foes with abandon.

In short, this area would probably be a death trap to all but the most powerful of heroes.

Made me realize that I'm often way too easy on heroes when they enter a dungeon or a cavern.  I rarely take into account the uncertain footing or how difficult it would be to clamber over large boulders in heavy armor.

At one point, my group had to double back because we couldn't find a suitable way up and over a large boulder.  The place was filled with dead ends, false starts, strenuous climbs, rushing water and deep basins.

I don't have any rules or guidelines (yet) on how I might handle the situation, but it's food for thought.

I hope you enjoy the pictures below.  If you are ever in AZ, be sure to stop by this place.  It's fantastic.

Check out the people in this pic for a sense of scale!


Monday, May 24, 2010

d20 as 2d6

I've been searching for mini, tiny, itty-bitty little d20's on the interwebs and they (apparently) do not exist.

I'm bummed because years ago I owned two -- but now they are long gone.

Anyway, I wanted them to put into a tiny little clear plastic box as a handy-dandy DM's randomizer.  I was planning to put them in the box with a few little 5mm d6's that I got from the Pirates CCG.

That way, I'd just pick up this $0.77 box from Hobby Lobby and shake it -- instant results without the need for a DM's screen.

I already had this box in the works when I read this post about an Arnesonian chart.  Perfect timing - this is just the table I need.

I like the % version, but I'd prefer it as results on a d20.  Presto!  Here you go if you are interested.

I've printed it small and I've tucked it into the bottom of the box.  Now I just calculate the needed "to hit" number after AC and bonuses/penalties, then shake the little box to roll 2d6.

I've also got 4d6 in the box for quick attribute generation.  Here's a movie I recorded from my gaming lair.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Role of the Gods

I don't remember much from my HS Mythology class, but I do remember a little bit about the Greek gods.

They were micro-managers.  They were very involved in the lives of their heroes and woe unto those who offended them.

Well, where am I going with this?  I was on the eBay last week and I was able to win a copy of the Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets (made of actual paper!) and a copy of "Fantastic Personalities".

pic borrowed from BoardGameGeek

From the front cover:
"Included within are 85 characters, complete with background information, religious inclinations, personal quirks, magic items, favorite tactics, magic spells, and more... 85 characters to spice up any fantasy campaign, a must for all judges."

The connection I'm making between HS Mythology and Fantastic Personalities is this.  The authors must have envisioned the "Judge" running their campaign with a hyperactive/expansive pantheon.

Each NPC has some sort of note about their religious leanings.  Gods are drawn from multiple mythos (like Greek, Egyptian, Norse and others) and they are referred to as if they might actually turn up during the next bar fight or dungeon crawl.

This is interesting to me because it is very different than the way I've always portrayed the "higher powers" in my campaigns.  They exist.  They have real impact on the lives of characters, but they are distant.

The meddling entities are usually demons and devils.  Dark forces who tempt or corrupt man.  Man must find a way to defeat them (with a little help) but not direct intervention.


I'm enjoying this product because (to me) it reads like an addled fever dream.  The characters are a hodge-podge of motivations, alignments and backgrounds.  Often there's no relationship between the statblock and the background of these characters.  It's as if you had one guy writing the text and another guy coming in behind him rolling 3d6 and statting these NPCs up in order.

Here are a couple of examples:

On p. 34 we have an 18 year old warrior (lvl 7) who has successfully slain an ancient Green Dragon.  His highest attribute is 15 and he actually has a 6 CHA.
On p. 35 we have an "officer in the guard of the World Emperor's Commanding General".  He's 9th level, but he too has a 6 CHA.  Not really leadership material.

Some of the art is nice, but a lot of it is sketchy at best.  I don't mind though, because the whole thing just oozes an Old School vibe.

Should I succeed at starting an Old School campaign, I'm looking forward to squeezing a few of these gem NPCs in there "as is" just to see what happens.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Old School, meet iPad

The newest technology makes it's appearance in the OSR.


They seem just fine together!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ruminations on the Rust Monster

In all my years of DMing (about 27 of them at this point), I don't think I ever used a Rust Monster.

The reason was that I never wanted to.  I never saw the need to take away the armor/weapons/etc that the PCs had worked so hard to find.  I guess my group never suffered from Monty Haulism and I largely looked at the Rust Monster as a way of setting that particular malady right.  (Same goes for the FF's Disenchanter)

I also house-ruled "energy drain" a number of years ago to mean STR and CON drain.  This was permanent and usually coupled with a severe and immediate whitening of the PC's hair.

Why?  I guess that I didn't feel the need to take away the levels that my players had worked so hard to earn.

All that being said -- I stumbled upon this post today by Noism --
I like Rust Monsters; they're one of the very few D&D creatures who can actually generate genuine fear and excitement in players - the others usually being level-draining undead.
and a light went on in my head!  I've been missing a real opportunity to raise the blood pressure and adrenaline levels of my players!  I also read this over at Trollsmyth --
Older players don’t mind so much because the core of the game way back when was exploration and logistics. Losing equipment was a logistical puzzle; do you continue on without it, or risk the dangerous road back to civilization? Pushing deeper into the dungeon without that sword or plate mail might be dangerous, but those random forest encounter tables in the back of the DMG could dump the party into the lap of a green dragon. If you risked going deeper, you might get lucky and find replacement equipment. If you go back, you’ll certainly be able to buy new equipment, but that choice isn’t without serious risk, either. Making those decisions was the fun of old school D&D. The rust monster didn’t interrupt the game. The rust monster was the game.
Wow!  What a revelation!  Now I have a legitimate reason to use Rust Monsters in a way that isn't "curative".  Now I know why Gary and Dave created this idea of "energy drain" in the first place.  Fantastic!

(I'm loving the experience of re-exploring these books and materials again!  In some ways, its my first time -- an undiscovered country.)

Part of me feels very sorry for the new kids coming up these days who will experience 4e with a total lack of Rust Monsters.  These comments made by Mike Mearls really make me profoundly sad --
Unfortunately, the rust monster's mechanics could use some work. Within the context of a single encounter, they're a lot of fun. But once your weapons and armor are rendered useless, the next encounter becomes that much more difficult. If you’ve invested thousands of gp into metal items, you better hope your DM is ready to hand over a ton of extra treasure to make up for your losses. At the very least, he needs to understand that the party's power level (especially for the fighter-types) is now behind the curve.
The rust monster carries a big sign that says, "Stop adventuring or die!" 
One of development's goals is to facilitate play. We want people to get in multiple encounters each session, whether these are combat, roleplay, puzzles, or whatever. The rust monster brings any prospect of a balanced combat encounter to an end. 
First, if you are having fun then the loss of your weapons and armor is part of the experience, part of the ADVENTURE, not some kind of unwarranted hostile action on the part of the DM.  "(T)he next encounter becomes that much more difficult" is kinda the point.

Second, this kind of "entitlement" on the part of players, that you'd better "hope your DM is ready to hand over a ton of extra treasure to make up for your losses" is crap.  You want more treasure?  Go out there and find it!  That's the only thing your DM owes you is the opportunity to succeed -- not a guarantee!

Third, the statement that the DM "needs to understand" that the party's power level has taken a hit -- not the DM's responsibility at all.  If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.  Learn to run away and use your wits to survive.  The expectation that every fight is fair is a crappy way to run a game.

"Stop adventuring or die!"?  if your definition of "adventuring" is straight-up combat against a monster that can destroy all your stuff, then, yes, I guess you'd better go back to town and become a farmer.  There are other ways to defeat this beast -- find one!

"Balanced encounter"?  Who ever promised that?  Run away if you must!

In sum, all hail the humble Rust Monster (and its equally humble beginnings).  I'm looking forward to placing this little beastie somewhere strategic in my adventures!  Wights too!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Moldvay Basic - Turn Sequence

I am embarrassed to admit that I have owned the B/X books (Moldvay/Cook) for all these years and *I have NEVER really read them!*  I am ashamed.  :(

I have an excuse though and I doubt that I'm the only one.

You see, shortly after buying the boxed sets, I bought the 1st Edition Players Handbook, DMG (from the Sears catalog!) and the Monster Manual.

I set these blue and red masterpieces aside and never looked back.  Until now.

The good news is that I have the pleasure of experiencing them for the first time through older, more experienced eyes.  Eyes that can find the hidden treasures within.  Eyes that matured during 2nd Ed. AD&D and turned away during 3rd Ed.  Eyes with discrimination.

So, I've pulled both of these books off my shelf and I will be reading and dissecting them for days to come.  I'll probably post some of my revelations and questions here on this blog.  I hope that those of you who read it will be willing to share your thoughts and reflections with me.

In the spirit of discovery, I post the "Combat Turn Sequence" chart from p. B24 of Moldvay.  There's a lot to digest here, such as the movement rules (Defensive Movement) and the order of the round (Missile - Magic - Melee).  Good stuff.

One thing caught my eye and I thought I'd ask all of you about it.

"DM rolls damage"

Do any of you do that?  My players always roll their damage.  I roll for NPCs/Monsters/Traps but they roll their character's damage dice.

What say you all?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tegel Manor and Microlite20 - first blush

This past Saturday, as a tribute to Gary, Dave and Bob, I ran a Microlite20-modified version of the great  Tegel Manor.

Players arrived at 1:30p and we started rolling up characters around 2p.  I had copied Dirk's excellent character sheet in advance and gave two to each player.

They "warmed up their dice" and then dove into rolling their character's in earnest.  My buddy JD suggested the best method which was to roll 4d6 (drop the low) seven times and then use the best six for the two characters.  Kudos.  Another friend, Ryan, who arrived late had rolled his characters up as a a "team", pooling their money as a knight/squire.  Also a good method.  In any case, I played it fast and loose and one half-orc character ended up with a 21 strength (!).

In the end we had the following party:

  • Half-orc fighter
  • Half-orc wizard
  • Gnome paladin
  • Hobbit rogue
  • Lizardman fighter
  • Cleric (not sure about the race)
  • Gnome illusionist
  • Elf ranger
  • Human knight
  • Human squire
In the near future, when we continue the scenario, I'll add two players and four more characters to this mix.

I began with a reinterpretation of the backstory, explaining to the heroes that they were working for Rudi Rump, a ne-er do well non-undead member of the Rump family.  He had hired them to "clean out my ancestral home" and to return a certain "signet ring" to him.  The heroes were free to keep ANYTHING of value that they found inside the Manor.  In addition, they would receive a considerable sum as a reward when the job was complete.

The heroes proceeded into the Manor, eager to take on the challenges and strangeness that awaited them there.  (It is at this point that I will cease describing the adventure in case anyone else might choose to run or explore it).

I did make great use of the "Startling Statues" table that is included in the adventure.  Great fun!  I also chose to include the dreaded "Tin Foil Monster" in a battle with some zombies.  LOL!

Suffice to say that Tegel Manor is HUGE.  It has over 300 rooms and many of those are left to the referee's discretion.  Bob Bledsaw has a fun way of referring to the reader as "'O GM" when he tells you that you must fill out the description/contents for yourself.  It's quaint and it connects you to him in a way that you are not connected to modern adventure writers.

As for M20, I was disappointed in only one way.  It wasn't nearly lethal enough.  :)  I was sincerely hoping for some PC fatalities during the adventure and (perhaps it was luck or the nature of the encounters) I was unable to kill off even one.  :(  I even warned the players that this would happen and they seemed prepared for it.

Perhaps the next time I will be more successful!