Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land

Gaming needs to be weird.

We have enough derivative, sanitized content for our games. The family friendly, all-ages part is covered. We need more singular visions and high concepts, and less creation by committee. This is where Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land comes in.

On the surface this supplement for your D&Desque game of your choice is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland meets Bram Stoker's Dracula, where they get into a sort of first fight, but the complexity in this book is much more than that. There are vampires, and there are weird creatures from beyond the Looking Glass, but there is much more to this book than a rehash of Dungeonland or Ravenloft.

Our group just came off of a six month campaign using this book as one of the inspirations for our game. Instead of D&D or a retroclone, however, we used the classic Marvel Super-Heroes game that TSR put out in the 80s. One of the central conceits of A Red & Pleasant Land (RPL) is that there is a "slow war" going on between vampiric factions in what may, or may not, have once been Wonderland. I interpreted that in our game as the vampires being sort of "unstuck from time," and not experiencing it in the same way that others (in our case the player characters) experienced it. In fact each powerful vampire that they encountered experienced time differently from the others.

Good RPG supplements/adventures are toolkits, whether they are intended to be or not. You should be able to slice and dice a well done RPG supplement and repurpose it to do what you want. RPL passes that test with flying colors. In fact, for many people it is probably for the best that they do dig into the book and make the pieces fit with the sort of games that they run, and the sort of world that they want to create. There is a lot of weirdness in this book, and it isn't all in easy to digest chunks. Smith assumes that there will be some level of remixing done by a GM and presents his material in such a way to make changing the text accessible. He may not make it easy, but he does provide the tools.

Much like in his more explicitly toolbox book Vornheim, RPL has a lot of random tables that allows for the quick creation of random content on the fly. Since players are notorious for zigging when they should zag, it is good to have some back up that allows you to create things as you go. The Alice character's player in our game got extensive use out of the Random Objects table, when she decided that the Alice would be able to randomly pull things from the pocket of her pinafore apron. It is tools like this that makes a GM's job so much easier at times.

In the book Smith gives you all of the pieces that you need to run the "slow war" of the setting. You have all of the important, powerful NPCs and their various "warring" factions. It is easy to take all of these pieces and repurpose them for the game at hand. Don't want to set your game in a loose, fantasy Eastern Europe? Take all of the factions and drop them into a 1970s New York City instead. Use the Pale King and the Colorless Queen as the overlays for famous people of the era and have them play out their strange, involved intrigues against the backdrop of the 70s nightclub scene instead.

Now, if you're playing a D&D game you really don't have to worry about how you're going to fit the pieces of the book into the puzzle of your game, at least not as dramatically as we did for ours. All of the monsters will fit fairly easily into a campaign, and many of them aren't all that much stranger than a lot of the creatures that you would see in the early days of RPGs.

One of the absolutely biggest selling points for me is the Alice class that I mentioned earlier. It is sort of like a Fighter, and sort of like a Thief (Specialist if you play Lamentations of the Flame Princess), with the wit and mercurial nature of Carroll's signature character rolled into the writeup. I like the random special abilities that the character receives at leveling up, because it fits well into the conceit of Carroll's Alice. And, really, are there many other characters who are as ready for the strangeness of a fantasy RPG campaign as Alice?

A Red & Pleasant Land is as much a mimetic weapon pointed at your campaign, infecting it with rogue ideas and strange, impure thoughts, as it is a game supplement. Putting this setting into your game will change it into something that you may not recognize, and that is a good thing. Instead of the stale old dungeon crawls, explore the castles that can jump and shift when your characters are turned around. Where up can be turned into down without you realizing it. If you want a more "social" campaign in your game, there are the factions of the Red King, The Red Queen, The Colorless Queen and all of their servants and creatures aligned, and unaligned, to explore and interact with. The social structures are given as many rules and details as are the monsters that you can fight in the game.

Definitely check out this book and bring it into your games, either in part or in whole. I think that you are going to like the variety that it brings to your game. A Red & Pleasant Land is one of the best books to hit gaming this year, and it is probably one of the best books for gaming in a very long time. Side by side with Smith's earlier Vornheim and his "redo" of James Raggi's DeathFrost Doom you can get a world of gaming that is outside of the ordinary.

Also, be sure to check it out when voting time for the 2015 ENnies happens.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

And Where Is The OGL (Or Some Facsimile)?

One thing that was mentioned with the launch of D&D 5e was that there would be an OGL (Open Game License), or some equivalent released. When do we think that will be?

There have been mis-steps along the way of the launch of the new game. Delays in releases held up getting the core books out. Books were cancelled and turned into PDFs (along with claims that they were never announced). There have been the usual edition wars and hurt feelings on the internet, and Dungeons & Dragons moved into a new edition.

I think that one of the few things that gamers can probably agree on is the fact that D&D 3.x greatly benefited from having the OGL and 3rd party support. We can probably also agree that the glut of third edition materials that came out because of the OGL may have also hurt the game in the long run. That's neither here nor there.

This new edition possibly has one of the lightest release schedules this side of AD&D 1e. It has been a while since new material has come out for D&D from Wizards of the Coast. Gamers are getting restless, and there are already people claiming that the launch was a failure or that fifth edition is dead. Personally, my gaming isn't built around how much material I can buy, so this trickle of material doesn't really bother me that much, but it does bring up the question of what happened to the OGL (or equivalent) that was promised? Mike Mearls mentioned that it was

The lack of direct OGL support for D&D 5e hasn't stopped some publishers from using the existing 3.x OGL to fill in some blanks and put out support for the game. One of the things that hampers these coming, but still no hints of glimmers even.efforts is the lack of ability to claim support with the new edition. The one/two punch of the 3.x OGL/SRD and the d20 Logo License opened up a lot of potential in the market. Not only could you use the mechanics from D&D 3.x as is (yes, I understand that game mechanics cannot be copyrighted, but when going for compatibility with a specific game being able to use the exact wording of the mechanics is helpful) but you could put on the cover of your book that it was compatible with Dungeons & Dragons. That alone was worth using the licenses for a lot of publishers.

Yes, I get that some people think that they don't have to use the OGL, and that is fine, too. This discussion isn't about that.

Just speaking as a gaming fan, and sometimes designer, I would like to see any open content from the fifth edition rules releases under the same OGL as third edition. Why? It will facilitate the pollination of material between the editions, making it easier for the good 3.x material to be brought over to the new edition. This was a problem with 4th edition, because the licenses wouldn't allow easy conversion of material from one system to the other. I think that it will be interesting to see how some of the player bits from the new edition (the stuff that I really liked) will work out with some of that material. Or maybe we can see the addition of things like advantage and disadvantage, and Backgrounds, worked into some of the material forked off of the 3rd edition material (like in retroclones). There is so much potential for material that, and I think that it wants to get out.

So, the question remains: Where is the OGL for Dungeons & Dragons Wizards of the Coast?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Are you one of the people who didn't back +Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes on Kickstarter who is on the lookout for a good module for your old school D&Dish games? Well, you are in luck because the PDF is now available via fine purveyors of RPG materials online.

This is not your cookie cutter adventure. I really liked the weirdness of the adventure (War bear soldiers? Yes, please.) and Kutalik's use of a Moorcockian influence that wasn't Elric. I am not hating on Elric, it is just that there is a lot of good stories by Moorcock that didn't feature everyone's favorite albino sorcerer. It is good to see some of them making it into the inspirations for a role-playing adventure.

Written for Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord retroclone, you can easily fit this into a campaign for any game build around similar mechanics to those of the early editions of D&D. With a little effort you could probably even run this with D&D 5e.

There are also a couple of new race-as-class Classes for Labyrinth Lord, and a couple of interesting new spells as well. The adventure is interesting and flavorful, and the book has some great art to it. I particularly like the back cover piece (at right). The weirdness of the module is enough to make it stand out from other adventures, without turning into a kitchy weird for weird's sake that can happen in the hands of a less skilled writer than Kutalik.

You also get a selection of interesting new monsters, pulled from Slavic mythology (according to the author) and filtered through the setting, these are more than just reskinned creatures or knock offs of older monsters. They are well thought out and not over powered for the character level of the adventure.

I recommend that anyone interested in modules that are outside of the same old, but who aren't looking for anything that is too out there and that can easily be slotted into an ongoing campaign. Whether you want to use the Slumbering Ursine Dunes as the start for a campaign, or as a sidetrack for characters  looking for new excitements, there are things for you in this module. Reasonably priced at $9 for an adventure with new creatures, classes and spells, there is a little bit for everyone in Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ptolus In The Bundle of Holding

It is a good thing that a Bundle of Holding is so big, because it takes a lot of space to hold Monte Cook's Ptolus: City By The Spire. Arguably the biggest single shot setting for gaming (I don't really consider World's Largest Dungeon a setting), Ptolus comes in at more than 800 pages. For $19.95 you get the core book AND all of the following: the Chaostech supplement, the Banewardens and Night of Dissolution adventures, the first issue of the Ptolus comic and a couple of character journals.

With the new edition of D&D rolling out, a lot of people are looking for settings for their games. Why not go for Ptolus? The conversion between 3rd and 5th editions look to be fairly minimal and you get a top flight setting that embraces the paradigms of 5th edition D&D, primarily exploration.

You should get all of the setting you will need for a hundred campaigns out of this book.

If you want to level up for the bonus material (which while cool isn't as compatible with the 5th edition rules), you only need to pay a few more dollars ($26.53 at the time of this post) you can also get the Complete Book of Eldritch MightBooks of Experimental Might I and II and Books of Hallowed Might I and II. You will also receive another adventure that you can adapt to your 5th edition games (Dark Tidings) and Secrets of the Delver's Guild, a series of articles originally written by Monte Cook to explore the world of Ptolus.

So, for less than the cost of a copy of the Player's Handbook you can purchase the last setting that you may ever need and use it for your 5th edition games.

This Bundle expires on September 16, 2014.

Friday, March 28, 2014

David Trampier, 1954-2014

It has been reported and confirmed that iconic TSR Games artist David A. Trampier has died. This is the last known picture of Trampier, from the Carbondale, IL Daily Egyptian newspaper:

Probably best known for his AD&D 1e art, as well as art on the early editions of Star Frontiers and Gamma World, Trampier has a quirky idiosyncratic style of art that helped to define the early D&D experience, along with artists Jeff Dee and Erol Otus.

For those of us whose earliest gaming experiences were formed by this man's art, I can say that he will be missed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking At & Magazine

Every now and then I'll nose around what the people in my Google+ circles are doing outside of that site. A kind of recent follower of the last few months has been the +& Publishing Group. They do a zine (electronic only, it seems) about AD&D. Not OSRIC, or any of the many retroclones. They talk about AD&D and their AD&D games.

I downloaded the first issue (they're up to seven issues at the time of this writing) and gave it a look. You can see the cover to it in this post. This zine is geared towards the OSR fan, and those who might want to become fans of the OSR.

The layout of this issue of & Magazine is simple and utilitarian. I don't consider this a negative, on the whole, but in this case it does make the reading a bit monotonous on the screen. I will have to look at some other issues another time in see if this has improved. The issue about the Inner Planes does look like it would be right up my alley.

The focus of this issue is low level and starting characters. This is something that I would like to see tackled more often because the fragility of old school D&D/AD&D characters at low levels can be a hurdle for some, particularly those who have never played old school games. Advice from those experiences with play of the game is even more handy.

The article "Tactical Studies Reviews For Novices" has some practical advice for creating low level parties. Combined with the "Keeping 1st Level Parties Alive" article, you get some great advice on how to put together a group of adventurers that will survive (at least their first level) and at least survive to another day. The advice ranges from weapon to spell selection that will optimize your party's chances of survival. Since not every group may have that special player who can do this for the group (as +Josh Thompson does in our weekly group), having someone explain these procedures will really help a lot of starting old school players. Obviously, some may not like some of the advice (like "pull your punches against the characters") but, honestly, this is an activity where everyone is gathered to have fun. I doubt that "fun" for a lot of players entails the wholesale slaughter of their characters over and over. When we were playing Swords & Wizardry I kept things from getting fatal on a number of occasions. or I would at least provide the tools for recovery (if the players saw fit to use them). Of course I have also been gaming for almost 35 so I know when to fold up, and when to hold up, in a game.

Death happens in role-playing games, but I am of the opinion that when it does it should be because of heroic sacrifice or something similar, and not because of stupidity or randomness. I am, however, weird in this regard.

However, as I said, I really liked giving this advice to players and GMs. I would like to see more "primers" on old school play that address survivability in this manner.

One flaw, particularly in the "That Savage Kobold" article, is something that is much too prevalent among elements of old school gamers. That is the whole "grognard" (a word that I don't use in a positive way) idea that "these new kids don't know what they are doing." Combined with a fundamental lack of understanding of how businesses work (which is at least missing from this article) can create a toxic environment. Change is good, my friends. While this article is well enough written, it seems to take its entire basis from a number of misconceptions that could otherwise be done away with.

The article on point buy character creation was also a good one, and fit well into the theme of making survivable first level characters. I like the handling of purchasing high ability scores, it seems like it would help fight min/maxing at that level of the character creation. Balanced? Well, we know my feelings on "balance" in role-playing games. Balance is really just a myth, and a lot of what gets bandied around as being a discussion of balanced character creation has a lot more to do with spotlight time than anything else. There are always going to be occasions when a character is better at something, this is part of the nature of niche protection in games of the D&D stream. Despite this, the article is a good one, and has some interesting ideas that can be integrated into people's games. For people who do not like random ability score generation, point buy can be a good alternative to that, when handled properly.

The rest of this issue is rounded out with the usual fun things: equipment. new magic items and monsters. In this regard, the magazine does not disappoint. I enjoyed the ecology (even though I rarely use these sorts of things in my dungeons) and writeup for the carrion crab. From a GM's view, it seems like a fun little monster to bedevil characters with. I loved the idea of the equipment packs. This is something else that more old school games should embrace. There is nothing as tedious as combing through the equipment lists trying to find the right pieces of equipment and balance out the encumbrance. Bam! Buy a know what is in it and get a pre-figured weight. Your character is ready for spelunking.

Over all, this was a solid issue and a good start. I look forward to browsing through the site's archives and seeing what else & Magazine has to offer. With solid writing, backed by the experience of play, this magazine has a good foundation to start from, and the few shaky philosophical misconceptions can be worked around. You definitely need to check & Magazine out and download some issues.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gygax Memorial To Honor "Father Of RPGs"

In 1974, the world changed forever when Gary Gygax introduced the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The legacy of his innovative ideas continues to influence games to this day, forty years later. As Wizards of the Coast prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the brand in 2014, the “Father of Roleplaying Games” will be honored with a memorial statue in his hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin via a partnership between Wizards of the Coast and the Gygax Memorial Fund. Read more about the memorial at and
To further honor the memory and work of Gygax, Wizards of the Coast created limited edition premium-covered reprints of his original three Dungeons & Dragons tomes that were released over the course of the last year. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of these monumental books was set aside as a donation to the Gygax Memorial Fund, in addition to a sizeable contribution from Wizards of the Coast to help further the development of the memorial.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Perrin Conventions

The place where OD&D and Runequest merge and overlap are in the Perrin Conventions. Originally a set of house rules for the play of D&D in his games, Steve Perrin wrote up what became known as the Perrin Conventions. The house rules became popular in many California-based campaigns and also lead to inspire the creation of the Runequest system (of which Perrin was also an original designer). You can also see how these inspired the Holmes revision of D&D as well.

It is interesting, also, to see an era thought of as preferring rulings over rules as generating house rules that add quite a bit of complexity to the D&D system. Like anything, there was a lot of variance among gamers and no real standard of play. While some have always liked lighter approaches to the rules, there have also always been those who are interested in heavier, more detailed rules for play. A part of the reason that I decided to post these houserules is because I periodically think about the use of them (or more likely portions of them) in my own Demon Codex game, or at least rules inspired by them. I really like the idea of Perrin's Dexterity roll, but that is probably because I have liked the idea of it in various BRP games over the years as well.

Anyway, posting them can start discussion, so perhaps something will shake loose that will inspire me and my design.

After this point are the Conventions, enjoy!

Per the introduction to Chaosium's All the World's Monsters, vol. II: "Steve Perrin's CONVENTIONS have been used entirely or in part by fantasy role-players in the San Francisco bay area and beyond since they debuted at DUNDRACON I in March 1976. They are revised and expanded here for all those who want to know how people fight these monsters. While the ideas start from D&D, much of the material can be used with any system."

Many thanks to Steve Henderson. Clint Bigglestone, Nioolai Shapero, Jerry Jacks, Michael McNeil, Owen and Hilda Hannifen, Dave Harqrave, Dan Pierson, and the many contributors to Alarum & Excursions: may your characters have close shaves and your dungeons be hairy.

In a melee round, (which takes up 10 seconds), each character can perform one or more of the functions below, unless he is busy bleeding his life away and is no longer interested. The functions below are listed in the order to be followed, even if some of them can be thought to be simultaneous. For those wishing to subdivide movement into seconds, the approximate seconds within the round during which the action may occur are shown in italics after the description of the action.

Anyone attempting to use missile or spell when melee cannot use them, and will strike last in that melee round (see the description of combat for the usual strike order) if he manages (via a dexterity roll) to get a hand weapon free. Otherwise, he will have no strike at all for that round, and must take the punishment if his armor fails.

(1). Monster Motivation. The DM determines what his monster will do in the coming round. No melee time (MT) spent

(2). Declaration of Intent. Players declare their character(s)'s intentions for the coming round, including specific target and the nature of missile or spell. Target can be ''first one to come through the door," "the last one in line," etc. Once declared, the character may follow through or abort, but not change his target or objective. But alternate targets can be chosen as a contingency plan. No melee time (MT) spent

(3). Preparation. The undertaking of something to be completed by the next round or of the end of the current one. Involves complicated procedures such as finding a special item in a full pack, changing dissimilar weapons, pouring oil in front of the character to make a barricade, etc. It should be an activity which will last the whole turn. A DM can vary the speed of completion because of various characteristics. MT: 10 seconds base.

(4). Missile Fire from Prepared Weapons. This refers to crossbows, guns, bows, wands, spells, etc., which already have been aimed. Missile weapons can be fire at this time only if the same target was fired at previously or if the character has prepared (see 3. above) opportunity fire for a specific area, such as a doorway or corner. MT: 2nd second

(5). Movement Up To 30'. If characters meet within this space, missile fire or spells at one of them after this phase may hit the other, unless their sizes are disparate. MT: 2nd-5th second.

(6). "At Hand" Missile Fire. At-hand missile weapons which were not already aimed may be fired at an obvious target. The intention to fire at an obvious target must have been declared during the Declaration of Intent. MT: 6th second.

(7). Movement Up To 30'. More movement available for those not already engaged in melee. MT: 6th-9th seconds

(8). Melee Resolution. Fought out for all who came next to an enemy after the first movement (see 5.). Those who came next to an enemy during the second movement (see 7.) do not have time to strike a blow for this turn, must take any fire from at-hand missiles (see 6.), but prevent even a prepared missile (see 4.) from being used on them next turn. MT: 4th-9th seconds.

(9.) Spells and New Missile Fire. This can be done by unengaged characters who have not moved more than one 30' movement phase. MT: 7th-10th seconds.

(10). Bookkeeping. Take this time to add points regenerated, subtract spell points, updating the cheracter for the next round.

MOVEMENT - from the basic ''armored man moves 60 feet." The phases of a character who can move 120' (12") can be done as two movement phases of 60' (6") each. The derivations and possibilities are obvious.

PREPARATION TIME - time required for complex tasks can be based on a dexterity roll. For every 10% of a roll better than the needed dexterity, a character completes the task one second earlier. Example: a character with a dexterity of 12 rolls a 23. He needed 60, bettering the roll be 37%, or three increments of 10%. His task could be done within 7 seconds instead of 10, leaving him free to meet an attack. If he was spreading oil of Slipperiness in front of himself and an enemy came next to him on the second move phase, that's one enemy down. The dexterity roll would not work on anything which takes a set period of time, like gathering energies for a spell. If the character had rolled an 83, that would put him 2 increments of 10% over what he needed The task goes 2 seconds into the next round.

MISSILE FIRE - a wand or stave takes a certain time to be ready for another burst, so only one charga could be expended a melee round. Missile weapons have other limits, which follow.

Heavy Crossbow: one shot per two melee rounds, always to be fired in the same missile phase the first one was, unless purposefully delayed. Cannot move.

Longbow, Composite Bow, Light Crossbow: two shots per melee round. First either at Prepared or Ready phase (assuming either applies), and then at the New Missile Fire phase. If moving, forsake one shot for every 30' or fraction thereof moved.

Short Bow, Modern Guns: three shots per melee round if Prepared for the first one and there is no movement. Lose one shot per round for every 30' or fraction thereof moved. Thus a user of such a weapon could fire a Prepared shot, then run 60' in that round. The same applies to the user of a wand or staff or a Prepared spell or device.

Early Gunpowder Gun: one shot per three to six melee rounds, depending on just how ancient the piece is. No movement allowed by firer in a round in which the piece fires.

DEXTERITY - the term "dexterity roll" appears throughout these conventions. The ability to do many things, especially combat and magic, as well as complex actions such as changing weapons, turning and firing, opening a box and jumping back, closing a door quickly, etc., depends on a combination of dexterity and experience. Success in the percentile dice roll depends on the following: the basic dexterity roll is a simple roll of 5% per point of dexterity, A dexterity of 3 always has a 15% chance of succeeding; a dexterity of 18 always has a 10% chance (91-00) of muffing it.

The type of armor worn can decrease the effectiveness of dexterity. For plate, subtract 2 from the dexterity bonus; for mail, subtract 1 from the dexterity bonus; for bare skin, add 1 to the dexterity bonus. This could be offset by experience.

(1). First strike in any sltuation, whether melee combat, spell casting, or whatever depends on who has the highest dexterity. This does not apply to surprise situations, unless it is mutual surprise. Hasted or sped conditions do count. Haste doubles dexterity in this connection. (Wayne Shaw Option: once the first strike dexterity is determined, all haste bonuses, etc., are figured, roll 2D6 for each character and add the result to the dexterity. This will give a little variety to just who gets to strike first.) (Further Modification: a character with a long weapon or a long reach and a dexterity of at least half of his opponent's will have first strike.

(2). When a character takes more than 10% damage, and each time he takes damage thereafter, the percentage of hit points he has left shall be found and precentile dice rolled. If the percentage or less is not rolled, the character is knocked back(if less than 50% down) or knocked down (if 50% or more damaged). If not knocked down, roll again to see if the character is knocked back.

Knocked Back: a character must make his dexterity roll in order to get in a blow if he has the lesser dexterity and therefore must strike after being hit, or retain his place of first strike on the next round if he has the higher dexterity.

Knocked Down: a character gets no strike on that turn (if he has the lesser dexterity) and must make his percentage to get a strike on the next turn. If he does get a strike, it will be the last one of the turn. If left alone, he can regain his feet on making a percentage roll, but if pressed he will stay down, defending himself as best he can, continuing to get in the last shot.

Remember: a character must make his percentage every time he takes damage, after the initial 10% damage is taken.

(3). One-to-one combat cannot be broken off unless an opponent has been knocked back or down, or the higher dexterity fighter makes a dexterity roll. If the higher dexterity fighter makes his roll, the lower dexterity fighter may pursue, getting first shot, if he makes his own dexterity roll.

(4). A combined strength, dexterity, end level score of 30 is necessary to allow a character the use of two weapons in melee combat (and strength and dexterity must each at least be 11). Anyone useing two weapons without the necessary total will add the difference between the necessary total and his total to the number needed to hit his opponent. A dexterity roll must be achieved to use the second weapon in any melee round.

(5). When using two weapons, the first weapon strikes according to the wielder's dexterity, and the second weapon as if his dexterity were halved. EXAMPLE: a character with a dexterity of 16 is fighting someone with dexterity 12. The 16-man will get his first weapon in first, then the 12-man will strike with his, and then the 16-man will get in with his second weapon as if his dexterity were 8.

(6). A two-weapon man may up his armor class by one by using one weapon as a shield in man-to-man combat. Despite any pluses on the waapon, it acts as a simple shield. Of course, if used as a shield, the second weapon cannot be used to strike.

- Steve Perrin
Oakland, California

November, 1977

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day: Pre-Mortem

The Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is coming on April 17th. For me, this is a day that has been months in the making. Last summer an online friend decided that she wanted to give tabletop role-playing a try. Unfortunately, she was in California (still is, actually) and I am down here in Florida. That would require a really big tabletop. Then G+ started up their Hangouts, a way to do browser-based video chats that was tied in to your Google account. It was good. I was surprised, honestly. I had avoided online play for a long time because I had believed that it wouldn't be the same sort of experience as face to face gaming. It turns out that I was wrong (which isn't something that I announce very often) and the gaming was a lot of fun. I think that luck had a lot to do with it, finding the right mix of people that worked well together.

I've never really considered myself a part of the OSR, or any old school movement. When I decided that I wanted to run this game online I started looking around for a system to use. Free was the first consideration. This was a game for someone who might not actually even like it. I didn't want her to go out and spend a bunch of money on a game, or hobby, that it might turn out that she wouldn't like. Simplicity was the next consideration. I am, at heart, a pretty rules light kind of guy these days, and games with a lot of crunch really aren't really my thing anymore. Even with those two considerations, that still leaves a lot of games as contenders.

Eventually I narrowed it down, and I ended up settling on Swords & Wizardry as the game to use. I liked the clearer explanation of the rules from the original (and better organization). I had hoped that it would make it easier on someone who had never gamed before to be able to get into the rules. We start with Whitebox, because of all of the available versions of the game, this was the simplest of them. It seemed a good starting point. The game clicked for all of us, and the mechanics were mostly easy enough to understand for her as well. She had a few difficulties understanding some of the finer points that those of us in the group who were more experienced with gaming had come to grips with long ago, but some further explanations (and none of us being afraid to look stupid helped a lot) smoothed things out eventually. However, one of the things that seemed to help her out the most was when I reccomended that she read Matt Finch's (that's the creator of Swords & Wizardry) Quick Primer to Old School Gaming. I don't agree with all of it, and I certainly never played all of the ways that are talked about in it, but it is definitely a great resource for understanding this style of play, and it helped her to better understand a lot of the things that already made sense to the rest of us.

Over time everyone fell into their characters and the idiosyncrasies of my style of GMing, and we all had a lot of fun. Battle were fought. Scars were earned. Narrow escapes were made. Along the way we even playtested a few things, and my friend wrote her first adventure and tried her hand at GMing herself. Really, not so bad for about seven months of gaming.

As I said at the beginning of this post, Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day is coming, and there are going to be a lot of bloggers talking about the game around the internet. It is very cool and I am glad to be a part of it. This is just another step the journey of gaming that I've taken over the years, only now I have at least one more friend who is walking on that trail as well. I've also made some cool new friends and gamed with them. I've also discovered an awesome game in Swords & Wizardry and I see myself getting a hell of a lot of mileage out of it over the rest of my life.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Norse Mythology-Inspired Monsters For Swords & Wizardry

This post is taken from some notes that I made for a campaign world for Swords & Wizardry inspired by Norse mythology. Norse myths were one of the first that I got into when I became interested in mythology as a kid (I think that the copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology that I received from a grandmother was to blame for all of that). The ideas that I have had for this world are probably the most "metal" of my D&Dish ideas, being inspired by Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Jack Kirby's Thor: Tales of Asgard and the myths themselves. Maybe one day I will get to expand this into a full setting. Characters would be Aesir and Vanir warriors, roaming the Nine Worlds looking for adventure.

I think the fact that I picked the version of Immigrant Song from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie is telling that I'm not going to be all that traditional or "metal" in my interpretations. Keep in mind that this isn't intended to be a strict historical or mythological interpretation, so liberties have been taken for the sake of fun and gameablity.

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

Fenrir (also known as Fenrisulfr or Vanagandr in the Northern tongues) is a monstrous black wolf that bedevils the Aesir and Vanir of the Nothern Lands. Fenrir is close to the size of a full-grown bull elephant and is covered in dark, mangy fur. The wolf is highly intelligent and is prophesized to be one of the forces that will take part in the world's end.

Many adventurers have claimed to have brought the end to the wolf, including many Aesir and Vanir warriors, but still the beast comes during the night to raze and kill.

It is said that the wolf can move freely among the Nine Worlds.

HD: 8
AC: 2 [17]
Attacks: bite (1d10), 2 claw (1d8)
Saving Throw: 8
Special: reforms within 6 days of being killed (roll 1d6 to determine the number of days), hit only by magical weapons
Move: 20
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1400

Also known in the Northern tongues as the Hrimthurs, the Jotunn are a race that plague the Northern Lands from their ice and mist-filled lands of Niflheimr. The both fight against the Aesir and Vanir, and sometimes work along side of each other as well. The relationships between the three races is complicated and it is not unusual for them to interbreed. While called giants, because of their large size, Jotunn are in fact not Giant in size (as the S&W game thinks of giants). They tower over the Aesir and Vanir, by a foot or more, and are exceptionally strong.

Jotunn are either extremely beautiful, sometimes rivaling even the most beautiful among the Aesir and Vanir, or monstrous in appearance. The monstrous Jotunn are chaotic and twisted in their appearance, with claws and multiple limbs and heads. The Jotunn are an older race than the Aesir or Vanir, being the offspring of Ymir, the first being.

There is another race of Jotunn that live in the land of Muspell and are known as "fire" Jotunn. Like Fenrir, they are prophesized to take part in the end of all things when they raze the Nine Worlds with their fires. "Fire" Jotunn are not often seen, and do not wander the Nine Worlds, like their brethern. Referees may want to use the Jotunn as a template and add fire-based abilities to that to simulate these fiery giants.

HD: 5
AC: by armor worn (which has to be specially made to fit their larger bodies)
Attacks: punch (1d8), by weapon
Saving Throw: 12
Special: --
Move: 15
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1-10, plus a 6 HD leader if more than three
Challenge Level/XP: 6/400

Not strictly monsters, the Einherjar are the heroic dead picked by the Valkyries to reside in Valhalla until their need in the battles at the end of days.  They look as they did in their lives, like strong and brave Northern warriors. They spend their time waiting in Valhalla, drinking, eating and practicing their fighting with each other. Any Einherjar killed again in combat rises up again in Valhalla the next morning.

Einherjar are very rarely encountered outside of Valhalla, but sometimes Odin will entrust one or two of them to Aesir that are on particularly important or dangerous missions.

HD: 4
AC: 5 [14] (ring mail and shield)
Attacks: by weapon (typically battle axe or bastard sword)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: if killed, return to life in Valhalla the next morning
Move: 12
Alignment: Law
Number Encountered: 1-3 if guarding, 1-100 in Valhalla
Challenge Level/XP: 5/240

These so-called swart or black elves are probably closer to what fantasy games think of dwarves than elves. They are the craftmen of the Aesir and Vanir and dwell in the lands of Svartalfaheim. Their disposition towards the Aesir and Vanir tends to bad, as they have put up with generations of being ordered and threatened by the two races. Jotunn tend to be on slightly better terms with the Svartalfar. They tend to stay to themselves in their caverns of Svartalfaheim, creating great items and artifacts and tending to their forges. For enough money (which is often a lot) or pledges of favors, the Svartalfar will work their magics and create items for the Aesir and Vanir. If attacked, or organized into war parties, they will be carrying powerful magical weapons and items that they have created.

HD: 3
AC: 9 [10], 3 [16] if armored
Attacks: by weapon, always magical weapons of at least +2
Saving Throw: 14 (+2 against magic)
Special: --
Move: 10
Alignment: Chaos
Number Encountered: 1-6
Challenge Level/XP: 4/120

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Bone Hill Remix Adventure

In a conversation with +Wayne Humfleet over on G+ he pointed out the old Internet Archive pages for WotC. Nosing around I found the pages from when they put up some of the old AD&D modules for free download. Nothing is ever lost on the internet.

+Zak Smith has been doing some cool remix projects, both on his blog and over on Google Plus, and one of the items that I found via the Internet Archive made me think of what he was doing, and how something cool could be done with it. Obviously this is still copyrighted material, so all of this is done as homage or parody or fair use...whatever gets the blog into the least amount of trouble.

So, what I found (and that I totally had forgotten about) was a Rich Text File of the text from the AD&D module L1: "The Secret of Bone Hill," along with some maps and a few interior pieces of art. And then I thought that this would make for a cool remix project for people. Go to the link, and the files are just underneath where it goes. Then do a search & replace, or cut and mix the text into something new, cool and fun. Then release it into the wilds so that everyone can share your cool adventure.

The quality of the images isn't great, but there are some great tool to create something new and weird. Just remember: no OGL or publishing these things, because we don't really own them. If you have questions, ask over there.

Once you have your remix, link it in the comments on this post or over on my G+ post and I'll gather them all up and link to whatever you do with them. This could be some fun, I think Go remix Bone Hill!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dungeons of Dread: The Classic AD&D S-Series of Modules Reprinted

Updated with some thoughts on the actual product.

 Out today, according to the Wizards of the Coast website:
Dungeons of Dread is a hardcover collection of four classic, stand-alone Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules -- S1: Tomb of Horrors, S2: White Plume Mountain, S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth -- complete with original black-and-white interior art.

S1: Tomb of Horrors: In the far reaches of the world, under a lost and lonely hill, lies the sinister Tomb of Horrors. This labyrinthine crypt is filled with terrible traps, strange and ferocious monsters, rich and magical treasures, and somewhere within rest the evil Demi-Lich.

S2: White Plume Mountain: It has always been a subject of superstitious awe to the neighboring villagers. People still travel many miles to gaze upon this natural wonder, though few will approach it closely, as it is reputed to be the haunt of various demons and devils. The occasional disappearance of those who stray too close to the Plume reinforces this belief. Now, the former owners of Wave, Whelm and Blackrazor are outfitting a group of intrepid heroes to take up the challenge of recovering these magical weapons from White Plume Mountain.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: From the preface by Gary Gygax: "This module was begun early in 1976 when TSR was contemplating publication of a science fantasy role playing game. Jim Ward had already shown us some rough notes on Metamorphosis Alpha I thought it would be a splendid idea to introduce Jim’s game at Origins II, and introduce the concept to D&DO players by means of the tournament scenario. I laid out the tournament from old “Greyhawk Castle” campaign material involving a spaceship, and Rob Kuntz helped me to populate the ruined vessel."

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores of adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage—if you live!
Item Details

Release Date: March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Price: $39.95
ISBN: 978-0-7869-6461-1
It looks like it is going to be reproductions of the original modules, put together in a single hardcover. I'm looking forward to seeing these because the only one of these modules that I saw the first time around would be Barrier Peaks. I'm looking forward to giving these a spin with my new Swords & Wizardry Complete books (just arrived yesterday). I will post more when the book arrives.

Now that I have a copy of this in my hands, I have to say that this is a physically impressive product. Except for what appears to be scanning troubles in a few place (with fuzzy, low rez pictures on a couple of pages), the art is very well reproduced and the slick paper causes the black and white art to pop off the pages.

I will be honest...I never played any of these adventures the first time around. In our gaming neck of the woods in the 70s and 80s, adventures were hard to come by (no real local gaming-related store until probably about 1984), so we never played published adventures. I'm sure that this probably gave us a completely different D&D/AD&D experience back then, but we liked it. Seeing this volume of classic adventures shows me some of the things that I missed out on.

These are some brutal adventures. Tome of Horrors is considered by many to be the example of a killer dungeon. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks introduced science fantasy (in an official way) to AD&D. This is some formative stuff right here.

As someone looking at these adventures with a fresh, and contemporary, eye, I think that they have held up well. I can see running these here and now for a group of players. Obviously, it would take the right group of players. These adventures are challenging, and can grind down a party of characters. Not everyone is cool with that approach and some will be upset about having characters killed. That's all a part of the cover charge for something like this, and that is all right by me. Of course, I would be the GM so it is easy for me to say that it would be fun.

If you have never experienced these adventures, I definitely think that you should. Buy this book, run these adventures and kill some characters. This is the old school, unadorned by any of the modern add-ons of the Old School Renaissance. If you have experienced these adventures, maybe it is time to do so again. None of us are 12 any more, and it could be interesting to see how modern us reacts to these adventures, with a few more years of experience under our belts. Regardless, Dungeons of Dread is must have in the library of any GM with an interest in older styles of play.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unearthed Arcana Returns

I know that it isn't a favorite of everyone, but I liked the book and thought it had some cool bits to it.

Starting today, D&D fans can check out the latest Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition reprint: Unearthed Arcana! The original 1985 release of Unearthed Arcana changed Dungeons & Dragons forever by introducing new races, classes, magical items, and rules written by Gary Gygax. This new printing will appeal to nostalgic D&D fans looking to add this classic to their collections, which has been faithfully reproduced in a new premium edition with gilded pages. The cover design mirrors that of the premium reprints of the 1st Edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual, and this reprint includes errata originally published in Dragon magazine.

From the book's foreword by Gary Gygax:
As the original volumes of the game system (Monster Manual,Players Handbook, and Dungeon Masters Guide) have altered from their first editions, so the game has changed in form and substance. This new material grew from my own campaign, articles published in Dragon Magazine, and input from many Dungeon Masters and players also. The book has a single purpose: Unearthed Arcana brings new dimensions to the AD&D game system. The compiled material which lies herein offers fresh new approaches to play without materially affecting any ongoing campaign adversely. This work does not alter former “laws of the multiverse,” but it does open insights and vistas beyond those previously understood and seen…
Every Dungeon Master who has created a campaign milieu out of whole cloth, so to speak, can certainly understand that the more one learns, the more one comes to understand how little he knows. So too the multiverse of this game system. The farther afield one goes in exploration and discovery, the greater the realization of how vast is the realm of unknown knowledge which awaits discovery, as it were. However, such as with our actual world, the expanses of the game multiverse will always have frontiers and unexplored territories. This fact, indeed, is what makes the AD&D game system so wonderful and appealing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dorkland! Roundtable with Monte Cook

I studied journalism through high school and college. I worked on the various papers of the schools that I went to, and as a blogger I have tried to utilize the skills and training that I picked up while studying journalism. When I was in high school, still living in Indiana, my mom manager to wrangle my getting to interview (then) local morning radio personalities Bob & Tom. It was a big thrill, but I think being a full of himself teen took the edge of of the awe that I felt in talking with them.

Yes, there is a point to this.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to interview +Monte Cook for my Dorkland! Roundtable. I think for the first time since I have been interviewing people, I was nervous during my interview. I tried to work around it. Who knows, hopefully (if I wasn't telling all of you about it now) it won't be noticeable.

Monte Cook was one of the designers of D&D 3e, the game that brought me back into the D&D gaming fold after so many years of wandering in the role-playing deserts of the world. Monte also was given the opportunity to not only revamp the World of Darkness, but he was able to convert it into a different gaming system. Of course, we talked about all of that.

Monte also had a big Kickstarter for a game that he is working on now, a science fantasy game called Numenera. I didn't back the Kickstarter, but I am looking forward to when the game comes out.

One of my big regrets of my many years of not playing D&D is that I missed out on Planescape, one of the big second edition settings. Honestly, from what little I do know about it I think that I would have really enjoyed playing in the setting. That's also probably why Planescape, despite being one of the things that Monte has worked on over his career, gets so little mention in our interview. Maybe one day I will find the books for cheap and I will get to see what was such a big deal about the game. Until then, I guess that I just have my imagination. I hope that you all enjoy the interview.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Random Old School D&D Class Generator

What's that? Not enough classes in your old school game, or you just want something weird and different? Check out the custom class generator page.

This is a class that I got, now I need to find a use for it:

Requirements: DEX 9
Prime Requisites: DEX, WIS

Members of this class must have at least 13 in one or the other prime requisite to get the 5% bonus to experience. If both prime requisites are at least 13, members of this class will gain a 10% bonus to experience.

Hit Points
LevelHit Points

Members of this class may wear leather armour and carry a shield.

Members of this class may only use swords.

Members of this class roll to attack as a magic-user.

Magic Items
Members of this class may not use any magic items.

Magic-User Spells
Members of this class can cast magic-user spells as a magic-user of 70% of their level - that is:
Spell Level


Turning the Undead
Members of this class can attempt to turn the undead as if they were a cleric of their level.

Thief Skills
Members of this class have the same skills as a thief, but to a lesser extent. They gain the normal bonus when attacking unnoticed from behind, but their percentage chance with other skills is only 90% that of a thief of the same level. That is:
pick locksfind/remove trapspick pocketsmove silentlyclimb wallshide in shadowshear noise

Members of this class save as a fighter of their level.

LevelXP required

As yet, I have no name or background for this class, but I definitely want one. You have a suggestion, put it in the comments here or over on G+.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Talking About Role-Aids -- Demons For AD&D

I don't think that I've ever made a secret out of the fact that Demons from Mayfair's Role-Aids line (and the rest of the Demons series as well) is some of my favorite gaming material out there. The Demons series comes from that sad period where TSR was downplaying the infernal in their D&D materials because of the whole Satanic scare gripping the hobby. So, of course, semi-official third party publishers would pick up the ball and run with it.

The Role-AIds line was a series of supplements, modules and even campaign settings writing with the AD&D rules in mind My box says "Presented by the editors of Role Aids for use with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game." Some of the early Role-Aids stuff was officially licenses, but apparently that relationship had ended by the time that this line of supplements came out.

I've used swipes from the Demons stuff in my online Swords & Wizardry game. There is a lot of interesting material in this boxed set (and all of the others as well): demonic monsters, delightfully twisted new spells (admittedly a lot of which have to do with summoning and unleashing the nasty new creatures to be found in this material) there is even a new class and a new race.  They are even nice enough to describe a cosmology into which these new revelations fit (as well as future ones in the other supplements). All of this in about 100 pages, or so. Succinct.

The material in Demons is courtesy the imagination of Mike Nystul. Yes, the Mike Nystul who has a D&D spell named after his real name rather than a character. Also, the same guy who created Whispering Vault and did a bunch of stuff for Mayfair's other game lines, and worked on Shadowrun as well. That gives Demons quite a pedigree.

If you hunt around eBay or places like Noble Knights or Troll and Toad, you can find copies of stuff from the Demons line for fairly decent prices. I do need to track down a copy of the Apocalypse boxed set, I think that is the last thing that I need for this line (one of the very few game lines that I am kind of completionist about).

I think that Demons is ripe for someone to make an "homage" to the material. I would probably do it myself if I had a good enough of an artist that I could afford to pay out of pocket. There's nothing more old school than having a bunch of demons and demon hunters to stomp all over them. Just writing about it makes me want to run that sort of campaign. Needless to say, I really enjoy these supplements and think that you should check them out as well, if you haven't already. There is some really cool stuff that can perk up your campaigns to be found in all of these books. Not too many random tables, but a pack of interesting monsters, spells and a demon slaying class can be found for you in this box. Not to mention a new look at a universe that you've been gaming in, but that still has some new secrets for you.

Oh, and a slight disclosure. When I was still with Seraphim Guard I did spearhead an attempt to purchase the rights to the Role-Aid line from Mayfair Games. I thought the original material would be of use to people still gaming with the old systems, while at the same time brand new material could be spun out of all of these great books for people and their games now. Sadly, it turned out that Mayfair no longer had the rights to this line. Apparently in their legal battle with TSR over the copyright/trademark issues over the Role-Aids line, the rights had been transferred to TSR. That means, someplace in a WotC archive all of these lovely Role-AIds supplements are mouldering away.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From The Fevered Imaginings of Rafael Chandler Comes The Teratic Tome!

Looking for cool monsters for your old school games? Look no further than Evolved Grottoes & Griffons: Teratic Tome from +Rafael Chandler. This volume of new and original monsters was created for use with OSRIC, but as we all know it can easily be adapted to any old school game, with a little bit of effort.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eldritch Enterprise's The Forest of Deceit in Review

I received a PDF in my email recent, a module from Eldritch Enterprises called Forest of Deceit ($7.50 in PDF form over at RPGNow). This is part of a series of modules that feature contributions from names that should be familiar to fans of Old School D&D: Frank Mentzer and James Ward. Forest of Deceit, however is by Christopher Clark, rather than either of those two men.

Forest of Deceit is intended as the introductory or "set up" module to a series of interlinked adventures that flesh out an area of the setting. According to the module, there are three more "chapters" or adventures for this setting yet to come. This can be good or bad for GMs, because if the adventures don't catch on (or there are long delays between each release) then that can adversely impact the campaign.

While designated as an adventure, what Forest of Deceit really is would be a series of short woodland encounters, intended to be used as the adventurers travel to the city of Namar (to be outlined in an upcoming adventure). The encounters are interesting, and are linked thematically by being in a wooded area. There's nothing that really ties these encounters to the Forest of the title, so a GM could easily drop them into any sort of woodlands encounter. As a matter of fact, I may use one or two of these encounters in my own Swords & Wizardry Whitebox campaign.

My main complaint with this adventure is that a lot of pages are wasted by reprinting the monsters. Each encounter is self-contained, with its own monster write ups, but each of these write ups is then reprinted in a six page bestiary section. Those six pages could have been better utilized with another encounter or two. And while speaking of the monsters, I have to say that I found the "shorthand" used to give stats to the monsters in this module a bit confusing, since they don't exactly sync up to any of the old (or new) school fantasy games. Since most of these monsters are fairly common, finding write ups for them in your system of choice shouldn't be hard, but I think that I would have preferred if they had gone with using the stats from an existing Old School game (anything from Castles & Crusades to Labyrinth Lord to Swords & Wizardry) rather than this approach. The OGL has made it so much easier to create compatible materials for so many games that this would have been so much easier to make something compatible than to come up with yet another way to reinvent the wheel of monster write ups.

Is this module worth the money? Well, that's a tricky question. I'm sure that someone will find a use for the material in this module, so for some that answer is an obvious yes. However, at $7.50 (for the PDF) for 34 pages of text and front and back covers, I am not sure if this is worth the money as it is. I think that this module could be much more successful if the encounters from it are integrated into a book with more of the Namar setting information integrated. That way GMs and players won't be left hanging when they finish these encounters but still do not have the city that is supposed to be their destination. With these couple of flaws, I can see this PDF being worth more in the range of $2-$3, rather than the $7.50 that it costs. There's too much introduction and not enough follow up to really make this worth the price of admission.

Hopefully this module does not set the tone for other Eldritch Enterprises modules. I would like to think that Ward and Mentzer have a lot more experience at setting up these sorts of modules, but only time will tell.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Dogma of Appendix N in Fantasy Gaming

One thing that I never thought that AD&D/D&D was very good at was simulating the fiction of the fabled Appendix N. I don't think that it really needed to because, even as a kid, I always felt that the books in Appendix N were meant more as a guideline to inspirations than what the game was actually supposed to be about. This is supposition, but in hindsight I get the impression that after D&D came out Gygax & Co. were surprised to find out that their tastes in reading weren't as universal as they thought that they would be and that is what led to the inclusion of the Appendix N in AD&D 1e. It seems almost to be an early example of the geek social fallacies in action.

Here's the problem. What might have been intended as a "here's where our head is at with fantasy fiction, some stuff that we like that might make your D&D games cool" has been turned into a near dogmatic "THIS IS WHAT D&D IS SUPPOSED TO BE!!" by more than a few fans and publishers (who are obviously fans as well). The cries of "Appendix N Gaming!" seem to be calling for a game that never was, or at least a game that I can say that I never saw. I do think that if we are going to call for more Appendix N games, we definitely need to have more games inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Recent sad performances in the Box Office aside, Planetary Romance and Lost Worlds styles of games are sorely underrepresented in published RPGs. I understand the reticence of publishers, considering the overzealous nature of the Burroughs Estate when defending what it believes to be its rights.


I guess what I am saying is that we need to look at things like Appendix N for what it was intended to be: an inspiration upon the games of those who might not have read the same books as the Founding Fathers of gaming. The books listed therein are not the destination of a fantasy game, but they are the journey towards it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tweet and Heinsoo Craft 13th Age As A 'Love Letter' to Their Favorite Dungeon-Crawling Fantasy Game

13th Age, an upcoming RPG (currently in playtest) to be published by Pelgrane Press and designed by Jonathan Tweet (designer of Ars Magica, Over The Edge, Talislanta 3e and Lead Designer for D&D 3e) and Rob Heinsoo (who has designed and/or edited for Nexus: The Infinite City, Over The Edge and D&D 4e) is already gathering buzz and interest around the internet. A press release here has some of the details of the upcoming game.

A couple of interesting quotes from the press release:

"Our goal with 13th Age is to recapture the free-wheeling style of old-school gaming by creating a game with more soul and fewer technical details," said Tweet, who spoke alongside other game industry veterans on panels at Norwescon 35, a fantasy, science fiction and gaming convention in Seattle.

Tweet continued, "13th Age makes the play group’s campaign the center of attention, with a toolkit of rules that you can pick and choose from based on the kind of game you want to play. The mechanics of 13th Age draw from classic games as well as newer, story-based games."
Although they can't yet share details about 13th Age with others, playtesters have been enthusiastic about it on online message forums. Playtester Adam Dray said, "Tonight, the one player who comes to the game for mostly social reasons said after a test combat, 'That was fun!' and engaged with her character in a deeper way than she ever has."
 Another playester, Eric Provost, said simply, "I want to play this until I can't play anymore."

I am sort of surprised that there isn't more buzz going on about this game. This sounds like the sort of thing that Wizards of the Coast is attempting to do with their upcoming edition of D&D. I'm about to do something uncommon for Bloggers in RPG circles and say that I can't really comment or compare and contrast these two games because I haven't seen the playtest documents for either. To see which of these games actually reaches these goals, I am going to have to wait for each of them to come out...just like the rest of you. I am curious to see what comes about with The 13th Age, if only because Tweet has created two of my favorite games in Ars Magica and Over The Edge.

A poster at the Something Awful boards did have this to say:

So yeah, there is a playtest going on. For awhile the NDA was simply don't distribute the files and a bunch of information was posted (see every post after this one). Now, it's don't talk about the game beyond the broadest of terms. Here's some of those broadest of terms. Keep in mind this is playtest and everything could change next round.

  • I am enjoying this playtest.

  • The playtest document is 200 pages of text, and extremely put together for such an early draft. The underlying framework is very exposed. There's a monster on a business card section as well as instructions on how to tweak monsters in general.

  • There's lots of advice on how to play the game; everything from which classes have the least fiddly bits to track, to "this mechanic ties into our design goals this way; this mechanic ties into D20 traditions this way."

  • The whole thing is riddled with optional rules. There are tons of "this is the rule, don't use it if you don't want to. Rob certainly doesn't," and, "if you ignore this rule, do X to fix the math."

  • Combat is simplified. Maps are still used, but distances are relative and broad. Minions are faster to run, status effects and modifiers are simplified, combat moves faster after each round.

  • This isn't a complete revision of D&D traditions (at least not yet). Alignments, ability scores and binary skill checks are all in, but have been reduced in importance, modified, or their most obnoxious elements have been otherwise diminished.
So, some interesting stuff. Let's see what happens with it, as it develops. I did manage to grab an exclusive look at a piece of pencil art from the upcoming game. This is an Orc Lord, which I am assuming is going to be a bad guy.
Hopefully we will hear more about this game in the months to come.