Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: eBook Published!

Well, I've done it again!  If you don't want to buy a dead-tree version of my "Wilderness Alphabet" book, you can go on over to Lulu and purchase an eBook version.

Just click here!

The price is less and you'll be able to download it immediately.

Also, in an effort to optimize the book for you favorite PDF reader or iPad, I've gone through it and bookmarked all the letters, A through Z, and I've bookmarked some of my favorite "extra" tables as well.

I've also gone through the book and "over hyperlinked" it.  I've added links that don't exist in the paperback version, just to make various tables more accessible electronically.

I hope you enjoy it and I hope that all the links are helpful!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The D-Total

I admire Mr. Zocchi for his entrepreneurial spirit, but I don't want to pay $24 for one die -- even if it can replace all the dice in my bag.

See the post at RPG Blog II here.

Instead, grab a d20 and this handy-dandy chart.  You're good to go.

If you don't want to "re-roll" I've put in what would be a fine approximation for me.  YMMV.

I think the variance for the d9 is to great to "guesstimate" so I'd re-roll on the 10 or 20.  Also YMMV.

Here's one if you have a d24 (doesn't everyone?)  LOL!  Again, YMMV.

In both systems, if you want to roll a d30, d40, d50, d60, d70, d80 or d90 -- just roll the d20 or d24 and read the dN where N is the tens place.  Then roll again using the d10 for the ones place.  Easy peasy.


EDIT: Now that I think about it -- if you just have one d20 and one d24 -- you're in really good shape.  Only 7's and 9's will give you any trouble at all.  I recommend the d24 for the 7's and the d20 for the 9's.  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: Published!

Well I've done it.  I've published my own book, "The Wilderness Alphabet".  You can find it here.

Thanks again to Michael Curtis for giving me the go-ahead to run with my idea after I discovered his excellent work on "The Dungeon Alphabet".

Thanks to my wife who has put up with me hunched over my computer for weeks.

Thanks also to my two proofreaders, Norman Harman and Dave Bargman.  I appreciate the feedback from both of you!

The book comes in at 65 pages, but about 5 of those pages are blank (I wanted some padding in there aesthetically).  I've culled the interwebs for some interesting public domain art to make the tables and the book more visually appealing.  I've put in several of my own amateur art pieces.  I'm not terrible, but I'm not a professional artist either.

The book has many standard "roll a die" tables, but I believe that each entry has some interesting flavor text to go with your roll.  I did my best to come up with as many unique and creative ideas as I could.  I hope that you find them useful (if you buy the book!)

If you run on over to Lulu, you can see the tables for A-D.  They're pretty straight forward, but I think that the entries are fun and will get your GM juices flowing.  Some of the other tables involve rolling multiple dice and cross-referencing, but I'm keeping those secret!  :)

There's still 22 more letters AND a set of several bonus tables that aren't available in the preview.  :)

(PS: I went with the green cover for the paperback -- I couldn't find a red that I liked with the cover art)

Edit: here's a Wordle of the text in my book.  I think it's kinda interesting...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Random Geomorphic Dungeon Map Generator

A person named "Leaf" who owns/runs a site called "dizzydragon.net" just put up a Random Dungeon Generator using Dyson Logos' geomorphs.

He redid all the geomorphs using Inkscape and it's a pretty cool project.

The generator is here.

Thanks for sharing with the community, Leaf!  Much appreciated!

Here's a sample map:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Well, look what arrived today...

It's a copy of my "Wilderness Alphabet Book"!

It's a hard copy, cuz it's my first book ever!  It will be available as a perfect bound (thin) paperback at Lulu soon!  I need to give it another serious look over before I'm satisfied.

Here are some pics!  Hope you like it!
The cover on the paperback will be REDish (in honor of the Moldvay Basic Book)

Sorry it's blurry -- I haven't eaten dinner yet and I'm taking the picture with my phone one-handed.  ;)

Ugh!  I'd re-post but it's MEGADUNGEON nite and I've got to get ready!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another 4e Observation

I'm not posting this to bash on 4e.  I actually play it sometimes.  It's just a very different game.  For me the jury is still out as to whether or not I actually like it.  I'm still working on that.

I'm posting this as a way to help "figure 4e out".

One thing that I'm figuring out is that "everything is relative" in 4e.  Character progression is merely an illusion.  You get better - the world gets harder.  Not just the monsters -- that I can live with -- I have more dangerous monsters in my game too.  Low level characters are well advised to know their limits.  Not in 4e.  There are no limits.  Everything is "manageable" and "comparable".

Let me illustrate by sharing a story.  I'm a teacher.  There was this other teacher who used to work on a different team.  One day, I learned a little about how she graded.  Every daily assignment was worth 20 points and every test was worth 100 points.  At the end of a 90 day semester, students in her class could reasonably expect to earn over 2000-2500 points during the semester.

One day, I shared with her that assignments in my class were 5 points per day and that my typical test or quiz was about 25 points.  Students in my class could expect to earn about 400 to 500 points during the semester.

She told me that I wasn't assigning enough work if the students only earned 500 points.   :)

We'll, in 4e it seems like with every level you earn; every skill that's improved; every bonus that's added to your character sheet -- even the mundane things get harder.  It's a constant battle for balance.  You have more HPs, so now everything does a little more damage to take your HP advantage away.

Here's a snippet from the 4e DMG and a table (click to embiggen):
Example: Shiera the 8th-level rogue wants to try the classic swashbuckling move of swinging on a chandelier and kicking an ogre in the chest on her way down to the ground, hoping to push the ogre into the brazier of burning coals behind it. An Acrobatics check seems reasonable. This sort of action is exactly the kind of thinking you want to encourage, so you pick a moderate DC: The table says DC 14. If she makes that check, she gets a hold on the chandelier and swings to the ogre. Then comes the kicking. She’s more interested in the push than in dealing any damage with the kick itself, so have her make a Strength attack against the ogre’s Fortitude. If she pulls it off, let her push the ogre 1 square and into the brazier, and find an appropriate damage number. Use a normal damage expression from the table, because once the characters see this trick work they’ll try anything they can to keep pushing the ogres into the brazier. You can safely use the high value, though— 2d8 + 5 fire damage. If Shiera had used a 7th-level encounter power and Sneak Attack, she might have dealt 4d6 (plus her Dexterity modifier), so you’re not giving away too much with this damage.
I think that it is safe to assume that if Shiera was 1st level, the Acrobatics check for that same chandelier would be 10 and the damage from the brazier would be 2d6+3.  Of course, she'd be fighting something weaker than an ogre so that the relative decrease in the damage from the brazier would be about the same effect on that creature (proportionately) as the damage that the ogre takes in the above example.

When Shiera is 30th level, that chandelier will be a check of 28 and those ogres whatever is stronger than ogres will  take 4d8+10.

I guess the chandeliers earn XP from all the adventurers swinging on them...

Damage Changes by Character Level?

... this is from the 4e errata over at Wizards.
I don't play 4e, but apparently if you are 1st level and fall in a pit, you take 1d8+4.

If you are 16th level and fall into that same pit, you take 3d8+11.

It makes my head hurt.  It *really is* a very different game.  :)

"Blind Descent" a couple of stories about Supercaves


I was driving today and I was listening to NPR.  I was only able to hear a short portion of the first story, but I wanted to put it out there for others to hear.  This exploration of "Supercaves" is totally OD&D.

In the first story here on Here & Now, James Tabor talks about exploration in recognizable D&D terms.  Awesome.

EDIT: At one point Mr. Tabor talks about cavers seeing "floating skulls" and "demon faces" in the dark!  Sounds like a mythic underworld to me!

He's interviewed again on All Things Considered.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Ability Checks

Like many Old School DMs, I like to let players try just about anything.  I make a ruling and we roll with it.  I try to remember what my ruling was (and if it was a good one) so we can use it again.  If it was a bad ruling -- I try not to repeat my mistake and to do better the next time.

Skill checks and attribute checks are pretty common.  Often "roll d20 under your attribute" is the standard default.  Maybe there are modifiers.  Maybe there are difficulty levels.

Some other bloggers are doing some interesting work on this too.  Check here and here.  They have great ideas.  I put in my $0.02 here as well.

Here's a simpler update.  I want to have both modifiers AND difficulty levels AND I want to keep things relatively simple.  Some kind of "target number" that can be noted down at character creation and used throughout play.  

Here's my proposal.  It hasn't been tested in play -- YET -- but I have a Megadungeon campaign running, so it won't be long.  If you try it out; let me know what you think.  I think the system has great potential.

Target number (or less) on d8
Modifiers to Target Number (may apply to one or both dice – DM's option)
In your “idiom”
+1 for every fraction of 5 levels
(E) Easy
(S) Standard
(D) Difficult
(V) Very Difficult
(A) Arduous
(N) Nigh-Impossible
A roll of 1 will always succeed (otherwise why are you rolling?) A roll of 8 (the Ocho) always fails.

Single Attribute Challenge: roll 1d8 and see if you roll less than or equal to your target number. If you do – you succeed. If you don't – you fail. No big deal. If you roll an 8; roll again. On another 8 – something of a notable calamity has occurred (fun, but not necessarily deadly).

Dual Attribute Challenge: roll 2d8 (color coded for each attribute). Must roll equal to or less than your target number for each die. Thus, if a character was climbing a slippery, steep incline (STR and DEX) and their STR was 13 (Target 4) and their DEX was 11 (Target 3) If one die fails – the character fails. This may suggest the nature of the failure and the consequences. If you roll double-eight (Crazy Eights), something calamitous has happened beyond mere failure (should be interesting, but not necessarily deadly).

Multi-ability Checks (somewhat simple)

First, over at Eiglophian Press, G. Benedicto made a great post about ability checks using d6.  Then Cyclopeatron added to the discussion by proposing a system for rolling against two ability scores.

I think these posts are great, but I'm just going to chime in with my own system, based upon their systems.  :)

I would propose the following:

One Ability
Two Abilities (summed)
(E) Easy
Roll 2d6
Roll 4d6
(S) Standard
Roll 3d6
Roll 6d6
(D) Difficult
Roll 4d6
Roll 8d6
(V) Very Difficult
Roll 5d6
Roll 10d6
(A) Arduous
Roll 6d6
Roll 12d6
(N) Nigh-Impossible
Roll 7d6
Roll 14d6

My reason for using only d6 instead of the d12s that Cyclopeatron proposes is this.  Each attribute should generate at least one point of result on the roll.  If you use d12s there is a possibility of rolling a "1" and that makes skill checks using two attributes a bit easier than rolling against only one attribute.

Adding the dice up might be too arduous (I haven't used this yet -- so I'm just in "theory mode" right now) so I'm thinking about how I could create a dice pool slash count successes system.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GM Helper Cards

A few weeks ago, I posted my Polyhedral Adventure Cards.  You can find that post here and you can find the cards on the side of this page if you'd like to download them.

At that time, a poster named "user@example.com" made a few suggestions and they got me thinking.  This new deck of cards is the result of that post.

Here are the cards:

They print four per Letter page, so they are a bit bigger than standard cards.  Some of the graphics got a little pixelated during the pdf render -- I'm sorry -- I can't figure out why that happens.  :(

Here's what all the areas are for:
  1. Random names -- as I said before, I know they are funky, but you can use them to give you ideas for NPC names and such.
  2. Last names -- I've always been fond of the "compound word" last name.  There are many on these cards.
  3. A place, An archetype and an NPC characteristic.
  4. A sound and a smell
  5. A geomorph.  Special thanks to RisusMonkey for giving me permission to use his geomorphs.  I also used a few from Dyson Logos.  He hasn't given me explicit permission (yet -- I sent him a note).  If he objects, I'll take this deck down and re-tool it.  
  6. A trap/trick and a "combat tactic" for NPCs or monsters to use.
  7. A magic item.  Here's a neat trick -- draw three cards and combine the three parts -- or use the item as written.  
  8. An "atmospheric suggestion" to add to your descriptions of places and events
  9. My adaption of Moldvay's "Monster Reactions" table (B24)
  10. Three pictures, so there's 3000 more words...
  11. A plot suggestion and a plot twist
  12. A magic spell or effect -- draw more cards to mix and match!
  13. The card number in case you want to note what card has what info...  There are 81 different cards.   You may want to only print the first 80, cuz that last one is on a page all alone.  (There are 81 because I use a version of this deck for FUDGE and that's the correct number for 4dF probabilities.)

MIT d20 Memorial

I just stumbled upon this tribute to Gary Gygax and I thought I'd share.  Maybe some of you haven't seen it yet either.

I know it's years old, but it was news to me.  :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

OD&D as a Game of Player Skill not Character rolls

In the The Best of the Dragon #1, James Ward writes a very interesting article about being a successful D&D player.  He says in his first paragraph:
I have been traveling around dungeons for a considerable period of time now, and in that time I have thought up and copied many little tricks that have gotten me out of some tight spots. 1 am setting them down in the hope that some will profit by them. It also wouldn't hurt if others sent their little tricks in, remembering that sometimes we need all the help we can get.
He refers to his experience in the first person.  These tips got "him" out of some tight spots.  Not his character.  He goes on:
The first is the creation of a continual light wand. This small baton will give a heatless light in a 24 foot area. It is much better than a torch because you can throw them in an unknown room and they don't go out. It is only a second level spell so it is easy to make. The baton can be kept in a leather holding pouch if darkness is desired. To carry the concept one step further, you coutd put the spell on arrows and when they hit those monsters used to the darkness the effect would be near blindness.
I always liked these "Continual Light" tips.  I think they harken back to an earlier time when you actually cared if you could see in the dungeon because "Light" wasn't a "class feature" of being a wizard.  Oh, and now you can buy an "Everburning Torch" or "Sunrods" down at the local mercantile.   Here's more:
Everyone knows of the usefulness of the ten foot pole in many tight places. The use of a five foot steel rod is even more useful in those light places. You can hang from it and it will not break like the wooden version. It is great for the stopping of those sliding walls. Last, but certainly not least, is its use as a lever of great power.
Nowadays, I can't even find a reference to poles of any length, unless they are polearms.  Why would you need any kind of pole?  Just make the appropriate check.
While we are on the subject of steel, the use of steel potion bottles almost completely ends the chance of breaking them when you fall into a pit or get hit. 1 say steel, because if you make them out of iron, you could get poisoned. They might be expensive to make but so is your potion.
Mr. Ward then goes on to discuss the merits of using "garlic oil" against vampires rather than the garlic itself.  Where's the rule for that?  Further, he talks about using "polymorph" as a two-way attack spell,  In his example he polymorphs a cockatrice into a snail.  Then he captures the snail.  Later, he throws the snail at his opponents -- followed by dispel magic.  Instant cockatrice.  Clever.  Not sure what that does to "Encounter Level" statistics and balance.  :)  He goes on at some length about magic users:
Then there is the poison on the dagger trick, which every judge is always trying to stop. I have been told that poisons evaporate, poisons exposed to the air lose their effectiveness, or the most used of all, in your area there is no poison strong enough to kill the things you want. I suggest to all you players and especially the magic users that can use only daggers, that any amount of money and effort spent in the procuring of a really effective poison is worth it. I spent over 90,000 gold and haven't regretted a copper piece of it.
All you magic users out there should devote some time and effort to the creation of new spells. It requires money and time, but when you have succeeded you have a sellable item, in the form of a spell only you have. I made a fourth level cold ray that really works great against all creatures and especially those fire types. 1 particularly like what it does to red dragons. The list of possible spells to be made is endless, with the only limitation being your imagination.
Poisons are a completely different beast these days.  Can't find a "save or die" poison at all.  Spell research is likewise absent, but I can find the word 'research' in the rituals section.  Seems like descriptive dressing rather than actual character action to me though.

All in all, the advice that Mr. Ward offers sounds like the advice a person would give "to get the job done."  Practical advice that normal, albeit heroic rather than superheroic, individuals might use to succeed in a difficult, dark place that is inimical to their survival.

So, am I bashing the latest flavor of D&D?  Nope.  Just acknowledging that it is a significantly different game.  The character sheet reigns supreme now.

In OD&D, it was the stuff between the players' and DM's ears.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: Status Update

Lulu just sent me an email today, letting me know that my bound and printed (dead tree) copy of my "Wilderness Alphabet" book is ON ITS WAY!

I'm extremely excited about this.  It has always been a dream to write a book (of some kind) and that day is nearly here!

Once I've proofed it and am happy with the book, I'll be making it available at Lulu for any and all who are interested.  I'm planning on dead tree and PDF versions -- but I want to make sure that the PDF is printer friendly AND appropriately bookmarked, so the printed version will probably be delivered first.  I think the book can be a great reference for DMs who are running a sandbox campaign.  It's just chock full of ideas and random tables.

As an aside, just so everyone knows, I reached out to Michael Curtis (of the excellent Dungeon Alphabet) and asked him if he had plans to expand the franchise.  He said no and encouraged me to give my ideas a shot.  Thanks Michael!

Here's a pic of the Table of Contents so you'll have a sense of what's inside the covers.

Special thanks to a couple of proofreaders (and readers of my blog) Norman Harman and Dave Bargman for their assistance!

Monday, July 12, 2010

RIP - Harvey Pekar

I can't say that I was a regular reader of his work, but I knew of it.  I've read some of it and I found the autobiographical movie, "American Splendor" to be quite interesting.

He wrote about normal people -- not superheroes -- in his comics.  Very OSR to me.

Article here

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mad Archmage Updates

Episode 1b was just posted over at my other Mad Archmage blog.

You can find it here if you are interested!

Teaser: flaming jello shots!

Dragons at Dawn

Look what just arrived at my house...

I'm looking forward to reading it.  It fits right in with my Moldvay, Cook and Holmes books.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mad Archmage Updates

If anyone is interested, I just posted a bunch of stuff from the first session of CotMA over at my other blog, http://madarchmage.blogspot.com/.

There are spoilers, but there are also adventure updates...

Enjoy if you are interested!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I am the very model of a modern Major.. eh... DM

Last night, ran the first session of "The Castle of the Mad Archmage" and I thought I'd give everyone a peek behind my DM's screen.

So, what's there?

Well, I have my iPad -- it has TONS of RPG pdfs on it (S&W Whitebox, Kellri's books, my Wilderness Alphabet, The Dungeon Alphabet, etc.)  Plus, it has wifi, so if I need something on the interwebs, I'm good to go.

I have a pencil (gotta have that) and a printed copy of level 2 and a map that I pieced together using tape.  How old school is that?  ;)  Also some pre-generated Henchmen and some tables I borrowed from the blogs like this one and that one.  

I also have my dice -- I have a bunch of color-coded RPG dice.  I often have new players and my grandkids, so it helps to be able to say "roll 3 green ones" if I have to.  Sometimes it's hard to describe to untrained eyes how a d8 looks different than a d10 or d12.  

I have some plastic chips (just in case).  I use them for luck points or fate points or whatever.  Uses for potions.  Charges on some 1/day items.  Whatever.

I have my bag of Scrabble tiles.  Very, very useful for NPCs, monsters, etc.  I use a battlemat, so I have some wet erase markers too.  You can see the corner of my DIY battlemat (grey) by the iPad.

Finally, the plastic trays hold a variety of pre-painted plastic minis.  Mostly humanoids and undead (my faves).  The screen is from 3e and it has no info on it that I use.  It just has pretty pictures on the other side and it was $1 at the used bookstore.  I plan to replace the interior text with info from S&W -or- I may glue clear plastic pouches on the interior so I can swap the GM info out when needed.

In the Dungeons of the Mad Archmage

Last night we started exploring "The Castle of the Mad Archmage" by Greyhawk Grognard.  I've started a separate blog to post recaps, updates, ideas, characters, etc.

You can find it here: http://madarchmage.blogspot.com if you are interested.

Spoiler Alert:  Secrets Shall Be Shared!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stephen Colbert on Dungeons and Dragons

Mike (over at Swords and Dorkery) mentioned this morning that the Wikipedia article of the day was about "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks".  So I headed on over to give it a read. 

After reading, I started clicking around and went over to the Stephen Colbert page at Wikipedia.  From there I clicked on a reference about D&D and went to this GameSpy interview where he talks about his years playing D&D and the "Thieves Fortress of Badabaskor".

I've heard of this adventure, but I've never played it.  The old Judge's Guild stuff really interests me now from a historical (and wild ideas) perspective.  Back in the day, I didn't buy much of it because I didn't have a lot of disposable income.  That's not so true today.  :)

I haven't read through the adventure yet, but it does have a cool cutaway map.  Here it is for your viewing pleasure.
Enjoy the articles.  I may post about TFoB in the future, if I get a chance to run it. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Creating a Dungeon with my grandson Matt

Last week, I grabbed a few resources (JG Ready Ref sheets, Dungeon Alphabet and my big bad Ultimate DM's binder [1]) and headed over to my stepson's house to do some D&D work with Matt.  I bought him a ring binder, some graph paper and some 3x5 index cards so that he'd have some ready DM materials on hand.  I also printed up two copies of the S&W Whitebox rules for Matt earlier in the week.

I printed up a sample map for this event.  I decided that we could more easily work together on filling up a dungeon, rather than drawing it.

I chose Dungeon #1 from Paratime Design as our dungeon de jour.

Matt had a friend over named Justin and all three of us sat at the kitchen table and got down to work.  I spent a little time talking about the symbols on the map, the scale of the map, and a bit about Moldvay's "Stock the Dungeon" table.  The boys seemed excited so we began to take turns choosing rooms and deciding what the contents should be.

Justin was extra excited and he chose room #27 and began to describe what he thought should happen there.

He explained that there were monsters, asleep, behind the pillars.  Glowing orbs of some kind.  He said that you would have to be very quiet to sneak across the room without waking them up.

Matt chose room #58.  He said that this room is the exit from the dungeon (it is) and that the door to the room would be magically locked.  He said that the key would be hidden somewhere else in the dungeon.  He chose room #31.  He said the key would be on a chain around the neck of an ogre in that room.  

The ideas kept coming fast and furious after that.  One great idea involved ghosts and a special lantern, but I'm keeping that one to myself just in case I want to use it.  

At one point, the boys discovered that some rooms have statues in them and I mentioned the "Startling Statues" table from the Ready Ref sheets.  We had great fun rolling dice and statting up the statues around the dungeon.  Room #38 has eight statues that turned out to be quite "startling".

I have to say that these boys had a knack for threading chains of events together.  At one point, your character would need to find about five different objects in order to slay a wolf that had a key to open a vital door.  I don't know where they learned this (I'm thinking video games) but they were really putting a complicated and interesting dungeon together and I must say I was impressed.

In the end, it was quite a successful first attempt.  I hope that I can work with Matt again to do some further dungeon design work.  Maybe next time we'll draw maps!

[1] I'll have to do a post on it sometime.  It's a couple hundred pages culled out of many, many different reference works.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: Status Update

Well, I've been working like an obsessed crazy person, but it's done!

At least it's done enough to upload to Lulu and plunk down some cash for a proof copy.

I'm really happy with the results.  It's 57 pages and they have tons of random tables on them and lots of adventure hooks, ideas and red herrings.

I think that there's enough meat in this book that you could probably use it to pump up a sandbox campaign and that's kinda what I was hoping for.

When I get my copy, I'll post some pics and blog about my reactions.  Should take about two weeks.

I plan to make it available as a dead-tree book AND as a pdf once I'm completely satisfied with the proofing and layout.

I'll keep everyone in the loop.  For now, here's a look at the cover.  Hope you like it!