Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Thoughts on the World of Rifts

I'm getting set to sit down and spend some quality time with the BRP core rulebook and the Rifts Ultimate Edition, Gamemaster Guide, and Book of Magic. In so doing, as I indicated in my last post, I'll be making quite a few tweaks and changes, some minor, some probably major, to the setting and background.

What those changes will be exactly is still somewhat foggy and ill-formed, and I expect that I'll arrive at some more definitive ideas as I get into the conversion process. But I thought I'd just throw some of my half-baked noodlings against the proverbial refrigerator door and see if any stick, and at the same time lay out some over-arching objectives for what I want "my" Rifts world to look like.

A brief aside on the standard history of Rifts, in case you're a bit fuzzy on the details. About 100 years in the future mankind has reached a point of near apotheosis. Technology has conquered many of the world's ills, war is but a distant and unpleasant memory, human enhancement through cybernetics and genetic engineering is the norm, etc., etc.

Then all Hell breaks loose. The nations of the world are plunged into a world war of unprecedented devastation. This sets off the Mother of All Chain Reactions; because every time someone dies, their psychic energy is absorbed into Earth's magical network of ley lines, the network overloads on the sudden influx of the hundreds of millions of souls destroyed by nuclear war. The ley lines surge with energy, and where they meet they rip tears, or rifts, in the fabric of reality, opening gateways to other worlds. One of the biggest gateways literally rifts back the lost continent of Atlantis. The sudden reappearance of this large landmass causes massive tsunamis, coastal flooding and global eruptions, causing yet more deaths, further overloading the ley line network and opening more rifts. Then the aliens start pouring through...

A three to four century "Dark Age" ensues, during which humanity is nearly wiped out by plague, famine, and the reappearance of monsters, demons, and other intelligent races. It's only over the past hundred years or so that things have started to stabilize somewhat, with the re-emergence of centralized power structures such as the Coalition States in North America.

Looking back over that, it occurs to me that I'm only going to be keeping the bare-bones minimum of that background. First to go, as I mentioned in my previous post, is the "official" version of the coastline rise. I've always thought it was way too conservative to begin with, and since I've decided that I want to bring back all the "lost worlds" of myth, not just Atlantis, I got to bring the seas up to a much higher level: about 300 feet. I was quite pleased with how this came out, as it ate up most of southeastern US, an area that had been consigned to utter wilderness anyway. There's still enough land to fit in the awesome "dinosaur swampland" that the South has become, but it's a more manageable size now, if that makes any sense. I also went ahead and made California an archipelago, blaming it on the murky "geological upheaval" that came with the reappearance of the lost continents--and after all, the "island" of California is arguably a lost land in its own right!

Next on the chopping block for my version of Rifts Earth is the period of the Dark Ages. Being a fan of Gygaxian Naturalism, I've been increasingly bothered by this period, which seemed somewhat unnecessarily tacked on, especially in light of the fact that most descriptions of Rifts Earth, both official and unofficial, seemed to want to portray it as a post-apocalyptic world. I'm sorry, but four centuries is a lot of time, even for a relatively static world. Think about what's still around from four centuries ago, and how much has changed, and now think about art like this, that would be fitting for a game set in the immediate aftermath of a the Great Cataclysm, as opposed to hundreds of years in the future, when there'd be little recognizable artifacts of the previous world left. In effect, the world of Rifts as written should constitute an entirely new world with only the dimmest connections to the previous world, more Dark Sun than Twilight 2000.

My mind was made up after I read The World Without Us, which, as a thought exercise, examines what of humanity's legacy would disappear, and how quickly, if the world were to be purged of humans tomorrow (Mount Rushmore and diapers in landfills have about the longest shelf-life, in case you're wondering). If you don't want to read the whole book, check out the magazine article that inspired it. In short, things would fall apart pretty dang quickly, and that's even without nukes, volcanoes, and resurgent demons to help things along.

I say all this to say that, since I love post-apocalyptic flavor anyway, I'm ditching the Dark Ages concept and saying that the calendar used by the Coalition, which sets the Cataclysm at about 100 years in the past, is correct. The more I thought about this decision, the more I realized how little I'd have to change. I think a century is plenty of time for nascent polities to reemerge from the ashes of near-destruction. It's also plenty of time to allow the spread of magic and psionics, and their study, yet still leave things relatively new and little understood, which is how the RAW setting pretty much presents things anyway. After the wholesale destruction wrought by the Cataclysm, I really don't think there needs to be a long Dark Age to make people forget about the old world. In short, getting rid of the Dark Ages just feels right.

But now I'm thinking of going one further, and having the Cataclysm occur in our immediate future. Maybe jump on the silly 2012 bandwagon--hey, Shadowrun did it, so can't I? 2012: magic and dragons return with a vengeance. The nations of the world panic, bringing on global nuclear war, and you've got your Cataclysm.

Benefits: a slightly more "realistic" (and suitably post-apocalyptic) tech level, with way more chemical slug throwers, which I happen to find much cooler than laser guns anyway. But then we miss out on a lot of the high tech goodness that's there to counterbalance the magic and psionics. Where do the mechs come from, for example? Or the nanotech, or cybernetics? Hmmm. I'll have to think on this one. One idea is to have the tech come out of Area 51. That's essentially canon anyway--the Coalition basically got its leg up by finding a bunch of pre-Rifts technology and copying it. Another idea is to have the high tech stuff come from dimensional travelers; they don't all have to be demons and primitive humanoids, after all. Or, I could just scale back the tech side of things and have stuff like mechs, Juicers, cybernetics/bionics, and such be emergent technology...hmmm...

Even if I go with the standard Rifts timeline of having the Cataclysm strike at the end of the 21st century, I've already decided I'm going to make absolutely no effort whatsoever to emulate the MDC damage system in my conversion. Even when I was running Rifts with the Palladium system, I used some house rules I found online that brought MDC weapons down from their lofty perch and made them just slightly better than non-MDC weapons. The lack of granularity in the system always bugged me--you shoot a deer with a non-MDC rifle and it puts a hole in it; you shoot a deer with an MDC pistol, and the thing is atomized--and just led to power creep anyway. BRP's default approach of making lasers only slightly more damaging, and better able to penetrate armor, works a peach for me.

The other big question mark still remaining for me is how to approach magic. For one thing, I'm not sure yet whether I want to try and convert the myriad systems of magic and psionics wholesale, or just BRP's generic "magic" and "sorcery" systems. I'm of two minds on this, and will have to do some more reading in the Rifts Book of Magic before things start to gel, I think. The other thing I'm sort of tossing around is how I want to approach ley lines.

In the standard setting, you've got ley lines criss-crossing the land like rivers of magical energy. I've never found this imagery particularly captivating, and in fact I've found it a bit tiresome to integrate into my games. So I'm thinking of ditching them. Perhaps Rifts are just ancient dimensional gates that were always there, constructed by "the Ancients" that had used prehistoric Earth as a sort of interdimensional truck stop. After the mysterious departure of the Ancients billions of years ago, the doors slowly swung shut, deprived of the magic energy required to keep them open thanks to the movements of the heavens--if I go with the 2012 schtick, it could have been the end of the First Age or somesuch. With the coming of the new age, the Great Cataclysm, in effect, became the massive human sacrifice required to re-open the doors. I suspect my decision on how to handle magic systems in my conversion will largely determine how I decide to handle ley lines and rifts.

Oh, I might ditch the Glitter Boy as well. Especially if I go with 2012 tech levels. More on that in a future post.

In the end, my objectives for this project are to ground the world in a post-apocalyptic Gygaxian Naturalism, without losing sight of the gonzo "metal" flavor of the world. Shouldn't be too hard. I'm going to hew mostly to the material presented in the earlier books, largely ignoring the developments presented in the Coalition War Campaign series, if for no other reason than I'll always love the early Dead Boy armor designs.

I'll post some notes on my BRP conversion as I get into it. (Of course, I probably can't be too specific lest I risk the wrath of one of those famous Palladium "cease and desist" orders--I swear, within an hour of Palladium going out of business, whenever that may be, the Internet will be flooded with fan conversions.) Something I'm particularly excited about is that I've suddenly made my Rifts game 100% compatible with Call of Cthulhu! Oh yes, I'll be using Sanity for sure...

Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Workin' on Rifts

Since putting my Rifts campaign on hold to convert it to BRP, I'm taking the opportunity to fine-tune the setting as well.

Taking a page from Scott's Wilderlands OD&D--and since I'm shifting the setting over to a new system--I've decided to put my own personal spin on the world of Rifts, making it a bit more "Gamma World" in flavor.

For one thing, I've decided to have the timeline reflect the "post-apocalyptic" calendar literally--it has been only 100 years since the Great Cataclysm, rather than the 100 years plus the three to four century "Dark Ages" in the canonical setting. The more I thought about it, the less need I saw for those Dark Ages, and placing the Cataclysm closer to the current time allows a distinctly more post-apocalyptic flavor to overshadow the game, definitely a good thing in my book.

I'm also playing around with the world's geography. I've decided that Atlantis shouldn't have all fun, and to bring back all the legendary sunken lands of myth: Lemuria (which I'm placing in the Pacific, near Easter Island), Mu (in the Indian Ocean), Ys (off of Brittany), and Lyonesse (a new addition to the British Isles). With all these new land masses, I went ahead and raised the water level that much more, resulting in a satisfyingly re-made coastline.

I also decided to make a proper sand box map, with 100 mile hexes that I can then detail individually using the good ol' Wilderlands hex maps. The results:

I'll post more thoughts on my changes to the world as I get into my conversion work.

Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dungeon Lounge

I've long been a fan of background music for gaming. I don't use it every time I run a game, or even most of the time. But when inspiration strikes, I don't hesitate to lay down some tracks on the trusty MP3 player and let 'em play, soft and low, in the background.

Primarily I've utilized background music for horror-type games, but thanks to a recent post over on The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope I had a revelation. Here's what I wrote in the comments:

Oh. My. God. ...That's a great theme song not just for encounters with oozes, but dungeon crawling in general. In fact, now that I think about it, "elevator music" might just be the best mood music for descending into the depths. I am completely serious about this.

Last night Alex came over and he, Des, and I had another exciting installment in our City State sandbox game--but first I played them the themes from The Blob and The Green Slime and explained my mad scheme. And they totally bought into it!

So, after a trip to my local library, I am now hip-deep in 60s lounge music, wading through the tracks and selecting only the choicest cuts to include in my "Dungeon Lounge" mix, which will now play in the background whenever my intrepid players descend into the depths.

I'm surprised by how "right" this feels. What that says about me and/or my players we'll leave for the analyst's couch. In the meantime, just picture yourself proceeding down a dank, darkened corridor, ten foot pole extended ahead of you, as this gem plays in the subliminal background...

And wouldn't making a saving throw against mold spores be much more palatable if this was accompanying your dice roll?

And don't get distracted when you're listening at a door by accidentally listening to this gem instead...

If you want to follow in my footsteps, I heartily recommend the "Ultra-Lounge" compilations that were put out about 10 years ago. In particular, the volumes "Mondo Exotica," "Organs in Orbit," "Bossa Novaville," "Space Capades," and "Bachelor Pad Royale". And anything by Juan Esquivel is pretty much golden too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Scribbler of Superiority +1

Hot dang, I went and won me an award! And from none other than James "Grognardia" Maliszewski himself. (Could this have anything to do with the fact that I have a James M. quote in my header? Flattery will get you everywhere...)

Here's what the man himself wrote:
Dave/Sirlarkins comes at old school gaming from a different background than I, which I consider a good thing. Every time I read this blog I am reminded that there are many different approaches to our common hobby and we all benefit from taking full advantage of them. It's an important thing for me to keep in mind and I'm very grateful to Dave for his role in helping me do just that.
And this is what I wrote in response:

Wow, thanks very much James! Like you, I tend to downplay my own role as a blogger and still think of myself primarily as a reader. To receive recognition, and particularly from someone I have the utmost respect and admiration for...well, that just makes my day!
And I mean every word of it. I mean, sometimes I forget folks actually read this thing...

Now, on to the rules of the game, as it were:
  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List (scroll down). That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
  • I...can't really read the list of people who have already won this thing, so I'm just going to throw five names out there. If you've already been recognized by another blogger, then consider this icing on the cake.

    Like the redoubtable noisms said over on Monsters & Manuals, "I should say first of all that I would ideally nominate every blog I read for an award; that's why I read them, as opposed to the horrendous shite that gets purveyed around much of the blogosphere." Couldn't have put it better myself! Now on to the awards ceremony, presented in no particular order:

    How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less: To me, Odyssey is a living example of the "go play" attitude--seems she's always plotting or scheming about a new campaign to map out or a new system to take a creative monkey wrench to. I can definitely sympathize. Yet, here's the thing folks--she manages to run games too! Too many would-be GMs, I think, fall victim to what I like to call the "Stanley Kubrick syndrome," getting caught up in the perfectionistic quest to perfect every set, shot, part, and line of dialogue. Sometimes you just have to grab your camera and start shooting. Odyssey shows us you can have your cake and eat it too.

    RPG Blog II: Ever since Zachary started commenting on this humble blog, I've felt his were the closest to my own erudite interests. Our being co-founders of the Order of the d30 would seemingly just confirm his nomination--were it not for the fact that he also writes a truly exceptional blog, full of all the things I look for in my daily reading: reviews, ponderings, the occassional house rule or rant. If I ever meet Zachary in person, I'll be sure to give him a high five.

    The Tao of D&D: Alexis has to be the most gonzo--and the grouchiest--old school DM (none of that "GM" foolishness here, thanks!) I've ever seen. And that just makes me love his blog all the more. I mean, who else do you know who spends two years creating a detailed map of the trade routes and economic interactions of the various polities in his game world? Fascinating and inspirational.

    Trollsmyth: Although the blog is undergoing a brief hiatus due to outside events, I have every faith that Brian will return to the world of blogging. Even if he doesn't, however, his blog will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was there that one of my articles was first linked by an outside party, alerting me to fact that someone other than myself was reading this thing. When he's in full swing, the Trollsmyth's blog is an outstanding combination of linkage to worthwhile articles elsewhere on the Web and eminently gankable original content, such as the immortal "Shields Shall Be Splintered!" house rule, of which I am an outspoken fan.

    Kellri: Readers of the forums over on the RPGSite will probably know Kellri for his always-opiniated commentary, but if you didn't know, he's also a netbook author par excellance. Why, just this week he's produced a netbook on generating a sci-fi/cyberpunk city "hex crawl style"--something I've been explicitly looking for of late--as well as a weird science gadget generator and a random fantasy terrain generator. Although he saves most of his commentary for the forum boards, Kellri's blog is always worth a look.

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    GURPS I hardly knew ye

    I never thought I'd see the day. But it looks like I'm ready to hang GURPS up. Or at least relegate it to that "thrid tier" of game systems I'll occasionally dust off for very specific one-shots or short campaigns. Ironically, this is the exact category GURPS has always occupied in my game group, but the fact that I've now willingly placed it there (as opposed to trying fruitlessly to redeem it from that purgatory) is pretty major for me.

    This abrupt sea change is due to a variety of factors, but the catalyst can be laid at the feet of Kurt Wiegel and his review of Basic Roleplaying.

    I'm a big fan of BRP-derived games, Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon being foremost in that category. And despite my long-standing allegiance to GURPS (readers will perhaps recall that it was the second RPG I ever bought, some months after picking up the Mentzer Red Box), I've long felt a sense of vague dissatisfaction with the system, particularly since the Compendia came out about ten years ago. So I've kept my eye out and my ear to the ground, looking for a universal system that would really work for my needs. And I found it in BRP.

    I may not have come to this conclusion quite so quickly were it not for a unique confluence of two campaigns.

    On the one hand, we have my semi-regular Rifts hexcrawl with Alex; on the other hand, a long-awaited GURPS Banestorm campaign I was going to run for Des. The former campaign was being run with Palladium's house system, but heavily house-ruled (mainly in the realm of MDC, which I've never particularly cared for). The latter campaign got two sessions in before it was put on pause due to Des's hectic grad student schedule and my own issues with running the game using GURPS.

    In the case of the Rifts game, I realized soon after picking up BRP that I'd finally found my system to use in running Rifts. I've tinkered with GURPS and BESM conversions for Rifts in the past, but BRP has just the right balance between simplicity and crunchiness that I'm looking for these days. And it's a system that's, in its basics, familiar to me, one that I'm comfortable with. So Rifts got put on hold so I can work on a BRP conversion (thus the City State games I'll be running for the near future).

    I might have been satisfied with letting BRP and GURPS co-exist, but the Banestorm campaign finally convinced me to give GURPS the old heave-ho. (When we resume the Banestorm campaign, I'll use BRP for that as well.) It finally occurs to me that GURPS is every bit as guilty as D&D 3.5 in its insistence on having a rule for everything--and the commensurate demands that places on the GM's prep work. The excess of prep work is what finally turned me off of 3.5 for good, and it's done the same for GURPS.

    Of course, GURPS was never a "rules lite" system--at least not if you wanted to utilize the full possibilities of the system--but ever since Steve Jackson Games brought on a particle physicist as line editor, well, things have gotten decidedly more...crunchy. And not in a good way.

    Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Sean Punch (or David Pulver, for that matter), but they definitely changed the "feel" of GURPS. I'm using the old Harkwood supplement to kick off the Banestorm campaign, and back in 1988, the year that product was published, you could fit a GURPS NPC's statblock into about three column inches, tops. Now it's not uncommon to see a stat block (not counting the NPC's background and description, mind) take up a whole column, and sometimes even a whole page!

    A quote I ran across on an RPGsite post (in the middle of an otherwise headache-inducing rant against AD&D) summarized how the mighty fell:

    AD&D belongs in the same category as Starfleet Battles, GURPS, Palladium, Advanced Squad Leader and Car Wars as being a ruleset based on a decent core game until the creator decided to make more of EVERYTHING and do it in a way that made the game, slow, cumbersome, obtuse, and confusing to all but a small subset of people. (Who in the grand history of selling things to a devoted subset eventually fade away with very few replacements effectively killing your sales into a niche. See American comic books, the SHMUP videogame genre, and hex and chit wargames as notable examples.)

    My last defense of GURPS was the chargen system, particularly the use of advantages and disadvantages to help flesh your character out and ensure "balance". Kurt Wiegel even faults BRP in his review for its lack of an advantage/disadvantage system, which he says makes the rules seem "old fashioned." Well, call me old fashioned too, I guess, because I've come to the conclusion that advantage/disadvantage systems are utter bollocks, so to speak. Why? Because you end up with a laundry list of terms that you have to memorize what they do, when you can use them, etc. And as a GM, I can hardly be bothered to figure out what spells a wizard has memorized in D&D, let alone keep tabs on an NPC's advantages/disadvantages. When to roll for this, when you get a bonus for that. The fact that advantages and disadvantages are always "on" makes them far more troublesome than spells, say, which you only have to look up the details for when you want to actively use one. Since it's so easy to forget about who has what advantage or disadvantage, during our Banestorm sessions I found myself playing the NPCs like I wanted them to be played, never mind their quirks and drawbacks.

    I've seen several people online (including Sean Punch--what's up with designers not using the very systems they designed?) say that the GM shouldn't bother with advantages/disadvantages, that they're just a tool for players. Apart from the obvious question that raises ("Then why do you publish full NPC stat blocks in your books?"), I say why bother the players with the system too?

    Anyway, this all just reflects my shifting interests in how I want to spend my gaming time, etc., etc. It's just pretty remarkable for me, personally, since I've championed GURPS since I was in junior high.

    In the end, this quote I snagged off a forum post (I neglected to note the author or link) sums things up nicely:

    One thing about advantages and disadvantages is that they're yet more tweaks and special cases. I'm OK with GURPS but the plethora of advantages/disadvantages gets overwhelming. Feats and especially Powers in D&D are "exception-based" rules run amok. Even Stunts in Spirit of the Century get a little confusing at times; a former character had Inner Strength, and I kept having to look up exactly what that meant.

    Away with all of it, I say! Play your character the way you want, and I'll do the same with my NPCs!

    I can still see using GURPS for a few things, so I'm hanging on to my Basic Set and a few of the choicer 3rd edition sourcebooks, but I'm selling off all of my 4e hardbacks and some 3e books too. Take a look if you or someone on your holiday list is a GURPShead in need of some cheap books. :)

    Now I've got some work to do on my BRP Rifts conversion...

    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    Old School Fun in the City State

    I put my new AD&D folder to good use today--Alex came over and we ran his gnome thief through the City State of the Invincible Overlord. My intention is to have the City State function as a sort of city-based West Marches campaign, with PCs coming and going, sometimes teaming up, most of the action player-driven, etc. It was a whole buncha old school fun--essentially just bouncing around the City, picking pockets (using an old Dragon Magazine article), seeing what the random encounter tables threw the intrepid thief's way...

    ...and man, did he get a lot thrown at him! Maybe it was our new Gamescience dice that arrived this week ensuring a broad range of results, but that poor gnome had a giant leech drop on him from a water-clogged rain gutter, accidentally killed a passing merchant during the ensuing struggle, failed two pickpocketing attempts (and barely got away), had a dead body fall on him from a second-story window (yeah...), and was finally arrested by the city guard (ironically he was picked up for a crime he didn't commit--"Yes, they're hanging Joe Bean for the one shooting that Joe Bean never did...."), and, after a series of disastrous dice rolls during the ensuing appearance before the magistrate, was sentenced to be drawn and quartered!

    We left off there. I figured Alex's gnome deserves a chance to escape or get rescued (Des has a fighter she wants to bring into the City State--great chance to bring him in, I'd say!). Alex and I were talking about the old school approach afterwards. He said he felt both disturbed and strangely exhilarated by the whole experience, and was looking forward to more mayhem in the future.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    So what *is* D&D exactly?

    My friend Tim is probably the biggest "pure" D&D fan I know. AD&D (2e) was his first RPG, and it's about all he wanted to play for years. To this day, nothing would make him happier than the prospect of playing nothing but D&D for all the rest of his gaming days.

    When 4e came out he ordered the three volume slipcase. Shortly after going over the new rulebooks he pronounced Fourth Edition "the best version of D&D yet." I knew at the time what he meant. He was speaking in a strictly linear fashion--1e begat 2e begat 3e begat 4e. I know that's how he meant it because, despite his fandom, he's not really all that into "the industry" side of the hobby. There's a big part of him that, I think, still looks at D&D the way we all looked at it 10, 15 years ago, when it was this monolithic FRPG that everyone wanted to emulate but couldn't quite do directly (and thus you have the fantasy heartbreaker phenomenon).

    Today I linked Tim to a post over on RPG Blog II about the layoffs at Wizards, in part because I figured he hadn't heard about the WotC layoffs yet (not being plugged in to that side of the gaming hobby, after all), but specifically because I wanted to point out that the gutting of Wizards' digital team means that, in all likelihood, D&D Interactive is indeed vaporware. Which is a shame, since Tim was basically planning on using DDI to run a campaign...once it came out.

    But I digress.

    All this talk over on Zachary's blog of the various options as we look towards an uncertain future for 4e got me thinking about Tim's view of D&D and its linear evolution. Certainly there was indeed a linear evolution from 1e to 2e (but even then we're conveniently ignoring the parallel evolution of "Basic" D&D). And one could argue that the 1e/2e monster led to the "simplification" that was a primary design goal behind 3e's initial release. But thanks to the SRD, we started seeing mutations. Initially, these were viewed as mere variants or mods of the D&D, the "real thing." But I'm thinking now that those mutations have become full-fledged species. And it occurs to me now, as I posted in a comment over on the RPG Blog II, that there no longer is a D&D. At least not in the way we used to understand it. It is no longer a question of authenticity, but availability.

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Dragon Warriors: the Follow-Up, Part I

    Looks like Mike Mearls bought and read Dragon Warriors--geez, that was fast; I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks--and he has this to say:

    My impression:

    1. Take the D&D 1983 Red Box.
    2. Clear out all the goofy, arbitrary things in the rules and replace them with reasonable alternatives (like explaining what happens when a spellcaster puts on armor).
    3. Add a spell point system with several different types of magic.
    4. Kill the thief's skill system and instead add general mechanics that let all characters do most of those things.
    5. Add a vivid, imaginative setting.

    He also throws down this gauntlet at the old school community:

    In a way, it resembles something that I really wish the retro gamers would at least attempt: take classic games and apply to them lessons learned through playing them. I had the vivid impression from DW that the authors either played a lot of early 80s D&D, or thought long and hard about its shortcomings, and set out to systematically address the game's issues while preserving the feel of a fast, easy, and digestible game.

    That seems to echo a sentiment I've seen 'round the old school blogs, actually.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    I Need Another FRPG Like I Need Another Hole in the Head

    I've got a couple actual substantive posts (as opposed to simply embedded YouTube videos) in the pipeline that I've been meaning to put up, but it's "deadline time" on the work project I'm currently involved with, so time's been a bit sparse of late. Things are finally clearing up, and I can once again get back to the important things in life, such as grousing about games I want to buy but probably shouldn't.

    (Could it be something more than mere coincidence that Zachary the First over on RPG Blog II just posted about gamer ADD?)

    At any rate, as I said in my comment to Zachary's post, I've largely quelled my personal gamer ADD demon, but occasionally it does rear its ugly head. The latest incident was inspired by a post over on Mike Mearls' LJ, in which he asks about this Dragon Warriors RPG that's now out and available. Now, as the subject of this post might indicate, I'm really, really not in the market for a new FRPG. I mean, I just put together my uber "AD&D" folder, for the love of Pete! And yet, when I saw this comment:

    If you like things like the TSR UK output of the 80s, the old Robin of Sherwood TV show, or the movie Dragonslayer, it's more than worth your while.

    ...I pretty much had to restrain myself from instantly ordering the damn thing.

    I love me some 80s British fantasy. As much as I love old school pulp fantasy, I have to say that the real special place in my heart is reserved for the imagery that came out of the Lone Wolf game books, or movies like Time Bandits. So this sounds like it's pretty much right up my alley.

    Apparently a PDF of the rulebook is "coming soon," so I may compromise and pick that up. At the very least, I can justify the purchase from a Gestalt level, and just use the setting. (Not that I'm necessarily in the market for a new FRPG setting either!) Sort of depends on how much of the book is setting and how much is rules. Judging by the character sheet, it looks like a fairly "rules lite" system. We'll see, we'll see.

    Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy in Three Minutes

    Since it seems that gonzo post-apocalyptic science fantasy is on the upswing 'round these parts of the Interwebs, I thought I'd chip in with a little visual inspiration...

    As one of the commenters on that video sagely put it, "You know you've screwed up when you break the MOON."

    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Ah, the benefits of an RPG education

    I'm playing a game of Scrabble online with a friend via Facebook. It was my turn to go, so I logged on, looked at the board, looked at my pieces, then spelled out D-O-X-Y. My girlfriend, who was watching me do my thing, was surprised that that was a real word. I knew that I knew it from somewhere, but I couldn't quite place it...

    I looked up the word: "prostitute" was given as the meaning. And then it clicked. The random Harlot Table from the 1e DMG! I grabbed the tome off the shelf, and sure enough there it was: "expensive doxy." So, thanks to Gary and his voluminous vocabulary, I just scored 30 points on a double word score. Boo-yah!

    Friday, November 28, 2008

    Order of the d30

    "I now declare the Order of the d30. You and Zach are both authorized to go forth and be awesome in the name of the thirty sider." --Jeff Rients

    Anyone else who wants to take this coat of arms and post it on their blog, by all means do so. That is the sole requirement for membership in the Order. Your sole duty? Go forth and be awesome in the name of the thirty sider.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    How I Spent My Thanksgiving

    I made this:

    Well, in between turkey-cooking and watching a Dance Party marathon on TV, of course...

    What we have here is what I'm calling my "AD&D" folder. It's a self-contained collection of rulebooks, supplements, forms, and pretty much anything else I'll need to run D&D romps in the Wilderlands, which is my go-to choice for AD&D-flavored fantasy. (Uresia is my go-to choice for "Basic" D&D-flavored game worlds, for which I'll use Labyrinth Lord and may very well put together another, somewhat slimmer binder.)

    I've been planning to do this for a while now; the motivation finally came in the form of an impending chance to run some sessions in the City State--both Alex and Des have expressed an interest in bringing in characters they've made for past D&D one-shots I've run, which delights me no end.

    Here's the front-end of the binder. I like to hold on to player's character sheets, just in case. Particularly since Alex has a long and lamentable history of losing his character sheets, often many times over. First up in the binder is a print out of the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook. As I've written about previously, I've considered doing a C&C/2e hack in the past, but ultimately I decided I'd be better off with C&C plus house rules (more about that shortly). I've heard C&C called 2e the way it should have been. Although I wouldn't go that far, it definitely captures the 1e/2e feeling nicely. Plus, this way I can use James Mishler's excellent Wilderlands supplements straight from the page, as it were.

    Next I have a section for campaign forms--session logs, time records, calendars, NPC forms, etc.

    The next section is a bit of an "adventure cookbook" (which, ironically, does not contain the old AD&D supplement of the same name). 

    A mix of both old-school and new-old-school products...

    The next section is my houserules, which I'll reproduce in full below. I owe about 95% of the house rules to the bountiful wonder of the Internet; I've included bits of Hackmaster, courtesy of the CastleHack houserules; some of Jeff Rients's fantastic Cinder houserules; Trollsmyth's "Shields Shall Be Splintered," which deserve to be integrated into all future versions of D&D, if you ask me; and a few others from here and there and sundry, and maybe even one or two of my own. Also included in this section are the multiclassing and secondary skill rules from Castle Zagyg, classes and races from the famous "Colin Sez" document, and a couple Mishler Wilderlands documents.

    The last two sections are collections of random encounter documents. First up, and I expect to use this section quite a bit in the upcoming City State games, is the City Encounters document from Mythmere Games, which is just absolutely chock full of heady goodness. I also printed out some CSIO "web enhancements" from the Necromancer/Judge's Guild website--generic NPC stats, a guide to coinage of the realm, and so forth.

    Last but not least is Kellri's excellent "Old School Encounter Reference," which is just about the most impressive, useful, and comprehensive such document I've ever come across. (It kind of delights me that my folder contains a document by Kellri and one by JimLOTFP, two guys who don't exactly see eye to eye on the messageboards, to say the least. Seems to say something about the old school community, but I'll leave the pontificating for another day.)

    And now, without further ado, my C&C Wilderlands houserules:

    Generating Attributes
    Attribute scores are generated by rolling 4d6 and discarding the lowest die roll. The player then orders them any way he chooses. If the player does not like the results of the die rolls, he may choose to substitute all the die rolls with a standard score package of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8, ordered as desired.

    The player cannot choose to keep some rolls and discard others. Either all the rolls are accepted, or none are.

    Attribute Increase

    Attributes slowly increase as characters level up. Each attribute now has a % listed after it (for example, Str 14/57%). When that % reaches 100%, the attribute increases 1 point. Starting characters roll d100 for each attribute to see its starting percentage level; when characters level, this percentage increases by an amount determined by class.





































































































    Use the rules from the "Castle Zagyg" supplement.

    Secondary Skills

    Same as above for Multiclassing.

    Daily Spell Lists for Wizards and Illusionists
    Each day a spellcaster prepares a list of spells for each spell level that he can cast 'spontaneously' as he chooses. For example, a second level wizard with 15 intelligence can cast 4 0-level and 4 1st-level spells per day. He would thus choose a 'list' of four cantrips and four first level spells, and could cast any combination of those four cantrips and four first level spells that day (though cantrips cannot be cast in place of first level spells, and vice versa). For example, say the wizard prepared for his first level spells burning hands, charm person, identify, and spider climb. He could then cast each of those spells once that day, cast identify four times (and not cast any of the others at all), or cast burning hands twice and spider climb twice. This option obviously makes spellcasters a bit more versatile, but is balanced by the fact that many spells will be unavailable. 

    As a side effect, wizards can cast "special effects" based on spells that they've prepared. These are minor effects that do not cause damage, distraction, or otherwise impart any other significant advantage but can serve as useful utilities or simply help make the spellcaster seem a bit more mysterious or "wizardly." The special effects are left to the player's imagination, but some examples might be: being able to create small flames (equivalent to a cigarette lighter) for a wizard who has prepared fireball, or instantly chill a drink for wizard who has prepeared cone of cold.

    Wizard Staffs and Illusionist Wands
    Arcane spellcasters require no material components or normal 'spell books'. Instead, the wizard's focus is his staff. The wizard can choose one spell from each spell level known (i.e. one 0 level spell, one 1st level spell, etc.) that he can cast without his staff, but for all other spells he needs his staff. Moreover, all arcane magic is rune-based (so scrolls and books found typically contain runes of spells). As the wizard learns more spells, he carves these runes into his staff, so the staff serves the role of a 'spell book'. The exceptions are those spells he can cast without his staff -- those are tattooed onto the wizard himself (his hands and arms). As a consequence, the wizard is heavily dependent on his staff (this is the main constraint he faces, to balance the increased flexibility gained from the 'spell list' house rule I am using, and to keep the sorcerer more or less balanced with the wizard). The wizard's staff is considered a magical item, and has a spell resistance of 15 + the wizard's level. Spells like 'shatter' and 'warp wood' would have to overcome that resistance to work. Illusionists are like wizards, except they use multiple wands instead of a single staff (and normally try to conceal their wands 'up their sleeves' and whatnot).

    Priest Spheres

    Clerics and druids choose two domains associated with their deity (see attached document). The domains grant a special ability, but no additional spells. 

    Clerical and Druidic Healing Spells

    Both classes may trade any unused spell slot of any level to cast either Cure Light Wounds (Clerics) or Animal Friendship (Druids). Either class may trade Level 0 spells for First Aid.

    Bonus 0 Level Spells

    A character receives as many bonus orisons or cantrips (0 level spells) as they do bonus spells of all other levels combined. For example, a Wizard with an 18 Intelligence would, at their first character level, receive one bonus 1st level spell and one bonus cantrip. At their third character level, they would receive a bonus 2nd level spell and another cantrip (for a total of two). Upon reaching their fifth character level, they would receive a bonus 3rd level spell and another cantrip (for a total of three bonus cantrips added to the five they would normally have at that level).

    Hit Point Kicker

    All characters (and medium-sized monsters!) start with an additional 20 hit points. Small monsters receive +10 hit points; large receive +30 hit points. 

    Serious Wounds

    If a character (or NPC/monster) takes half his Hit Points damage in a single blow, he must immediately make a Con check or fall prone and be unable to act, as he is rolling around in pain and otherwise embarrassing himself. He can recover by successfully making a Con roll at the beginning of each turn.


    Enhanced Damage

    Certain dice rolls “explode.” Anytime maximum is rolled on a damage (including a critical damage die--see below), healing, or attribute advancement die (see above), the player can roll again and add, subtracting 1 from the bonus die. This continues until the player stops rolling maximum! For example, if a player armed with a battle-axe rolls 2d4 damage, and rolls a ‘3’ and a ‘4’, he’ll roll a bonus die. If it comes up as a ‘3’, he’ll do a total of 9 damage--7 for the initial roll, plus 2 (3-1) for the second. Add any bonuses from Strength, magical weapons, criticals, et cetera at the end!

    Initiative Modifiers

    Initiative is rolled once at the beginning of combat. The roll is modified DEX or WIS if that is the character's prime, and by the speed of the weapon or the spell being utilized that round.

    Shields Shall Be Splintered!

    Shields provide the usual +1 bonus to AC. However, they may also be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the shield.

    Shields may also be used against any attack that allows a save for half damage, such as a fireball or dragon's breath. In that case, the shield is destroyed, as above, and the save is considered automatically successful, thereby guaranteeing half damage.

    For magical shields, each +1 enchantment bonus gives a 10% chance of surviving a damage soak.


    Critical Hits and Fumbles

    Anytime a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Most classes do an additional d10 damage on such a hit. Rogues and assassins do d12 bonus damage, and wizards, clerics, and illusionists do only d8 bonus damage.

    Likewise, if a player rolls a natural ‘1’ on a to hit roll, it is considered a fumble. Typically, this means the combatant hurts himself, drops his weapon, breaks his weapon, or just plain falls down – GM discretion.

    Enhanced Primal Fury

    In addition to the normal benefit, barbarians in fury critically hit on a natural roll of 19-20.

    Sweep Damage

    Fighters only. If you kill a monster, any leftover damage from that blow can be carried over into an adjacent monster.


    You Shall Be Avenged!
    Horus, the God of Vengeance, was slain some time after the fall of the long-gone Venuzian Empire. Yet somehow a trace of his power lives on. When a party member dies and the party causing the death is not immediately slain, a fellow party member may try to invoke the Vengeance Oath. Swearing “by the Dead God” that their friend’s death shall not go unpunished, the party member(s) roll d20. On a 1 they are filled with the Horus-Power. They are immediately under the effect of a quest spell (no save), but d6 statistics of their choice are temporarily boosted to 18 until they achieve their vengeance! Promoted sidekicks and heirs can take a Vengeance Oath, but non-heir replacement PCs cannot.

    The Silver Standard

    All references in the rulebook to "GP" shall be considered as "SP" instead--the silver piece is therefore standard monetary unit. References to SP become CP, and CP are read as BP--bronze farthings.

    "I Spent My Reward on Ale and Whores"

    Treasure grants 1 experience point per SP value, but only if spent on "wasteful" exercises like carousing, lifestyle upkeep, or expensive (masterwork) clothing, weapons, or armor. Treasure donated to an institution, treasure used to purchase useful or replacement equipment, and the treasure lost to any required training do not convertinto experience points. 

    Bonus XP

    Bonus XP are earned for outstanding scores in one's Prime attributes. Bonuses are based on a class's prime attribute, modified by levels in the character's other primes (one or two, depending on race).

    Designate one prime as secondary, the other as tertiary. The secondary attribute is reduced on a 2:1 basis, the tertiary on a 3:1 basis, for every point above 9. These are then added to the prime requisite attribute in order to determine the XP bonus as per the chart below.

    Example: Your human fighter's Prime Requisite is STR (14). You designate his DEX (12) and CON (15) as his other primes. You decide that CON is secondary, DEX is tertiary.

    So, your effective STR for XP purposes is [14+(15-9/2)+(12-9/3)]=18, yielding a 15% bonus.

    Prime Requisite

    XP Bonus








    No bonus


    The two-page encumbrance system in the rulebook is far too fiddly for my tastes. As such, it will be ignored and if how much a character is carrying becomes an issue, it will be dealt with intuitively.

    The Big Emerald D30 Rule
    Once per session each player may opt to roll the referee’s big emerald d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the big emerald D30 must be made before any roll. The d30 cannot be roll for generating character statistics or hit points.
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