30 July 2011

Procrastination's a Bitch

I looked at my old posts, and realized that I haven't created anything, game material or otherwise, since this time last year!

Oh time, where have you gone?

On the plus side, nothing makes you more eager to release something than the brutal reminder that you haven't actually released anything in an insanely long time, so I guess I'll get to work on something to show you guys.

This picture is unrelated but sufficiently silly.
I'd really like to be able to start writing up short location-modules and release a little blitz of them, and maybe I will. It's the locations that interest me, after all- the monsters and treasures and reasons to be somewhere are really something that you should be making up yourself, you lazy people.

26 July 2011

Demi-Human Level Limits

This is such an old subject that I'm sure that nothing I have to say will be new in the least.

But still, I forge on!

If you haven't heard, I plan on using Microlite 74 to run Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits the next time my buddies are up (whenever that is), and I'm actually kind of excited. I love the fact that Microlite 74's rules are maybe five sheets of paper, folded in half, including the monster and spell listing. I love the fact that there aren't specific saving throws, and that the optional rules contained in it are genius. Its brevity is compelling, its concision is great.

But it has demi-human level limits in it.

This is a problem.

The module I plan on running is for characters from levels 10-14, which is fine because Microlite 74's recommended max levels are 12-14. Cool, looks like we're about evening it out and besides, how much more powerful can you get than invading a god's homeworld and attempting to beat her up? Makes sense to me.

Given that, I can only assume that max level for a Dwarf and roughly max level for a Human Fighter should be equivalent. But it doesn't make sense. The Dwarf isn't hitting for as hard and doesn't have as much health, in exchange for the fact that he can detect doors and is resistant to magic. Makes sense to me, honestly-but why on earth will he have half the health of said level 12 Fighter? This game fiction is telling me that both Elves (with a max level of 8) and Humans are tougher than Dwarves. If you'll pardon my french, c'est merde.

What I'm thinking of is giving it a little tweak, by using the very excellent Ancient Auguries and letting Humans (and humans only) choose special abilities from the list given, with such cinematic choices as "dodging", "cleave", and "leadership". I like it a lot, not in the least because it helps fix Dwarves (and Elves too, I guess) right up by giving them a little something.

So my house-rule for Dwarves and Fighters is:
At 3rd and 6th level, a Fighter may choose a Special Ability from the list provided. Each Fighter ability may only be chosen once.
At 6th level, a Dwarf may choose a Special Ability from the list provided. Each Dwarf ability may only be chosen once. 

And I'll write up some Dwarf Special Abilities later, or something.

The other course of action I could take would be to change the Experience Base from 20 to perhaps 22 or 24, making the Dwarf naturally level slower than his companions, and then giving the Elf an Experience Base of, say, 24 or 26 to make up for its natural advantages.

I guess that's what really gets me- the Elf gets better powers and gets a higher level, too. Well, no more of that! Equality for Dwarves! Or something!

EDITOR'S NOTE: I guess I looked over the part that said to give Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings an increase to their Experience Base if you don't like hard level limits (which I don't), but I'm still going to give Dwarves a lesser bonus to their fighting stuff. I guess honestly, once you give them a level penalty, they're basically fighters except slower-learning, with a couple of cool abilities, but I'll have to put more thought into it. I kind of like the way I have it, where Dwarves have a lesser experience penalty due to the fact that they only get one bonus special thing, but Elves have a pretty serious penalty (being two classes and all). Halflings seem fine to me, especially when you give them a miniscule penalty to round out their smallish benefits.

25 July 2011

Minor Magical Items

One of the things I'm trying to get away from as I populate my magic item list I mentioned in the last post is something I've talked about before: Boring Magical Items.

For the purpose of this discussion, we're not talking about boring things like Healing Potions or Wands that aren't much but placeholders for having actual wizards and clerics around, or things that just aren't very exciting like the Boat of Folding. We're talking today about the venerable, boring, blank +1 Sword.

"This is a generic magical item," is what Boring Plus One Sword says to you, "I have no backstory and do nothing but give you a bonus on your attack and damage rolls. I am otherwise a normal sword."

The problem, if it wasn't obvious, is that you have the phrase "generic magical item." There shouldn't be a "generic magical item" any more than there should be "stereotypical dwarves" or "boring-ass wizard" in your game. It doesn't mean that every sword that you find has to be a +4 Holy Avenger or a +3 Sentient Flaming Sword. We're talking about making items interesting, not making them "awesome" or "cool" to the point where everybody's running around with high-powered items and you've gone from Boring to Overload.

Let me give you an example I particularly like (if I may be so bold as to post my own work):

Leaf-blade Arrows (Unique): This bundle of ten +1 arrows was crafted by an elvish wizard and are made entirely of wood, with a leaf-shaped head. They are as hard as iron and will not burn.

And there you go. You now have interesting +1 Arrows. Not super interesting, but there's a couple of things in there that mean that these arrows have a history. They have a purpose. They're magic. 

Another example, this time from the basic Labyrinth Lord book:

Sword +1, locate objects: The wielder may locate objects as the magic-user/elf spell one time each day, to a range of 120'.

You have a sword that's still a +1 sword at its core, but now you have a magic item with, again, purpose. The wizard who made this clearly had a spelunking, tomb-raiding accomplice he made it for. Or maybe somebody who kept losing his spellbook? You can picture the guy who made it, you can imagine who he gave it to, and most importantly, it reminds you that this weapon is magical. You can have really sharp, really mundane sword, but how many swords find your car keys for you?

24 July 2011

Microlite 74 & Queen of the Demonweb Pits

I plan on running Queen of the Demonweb Pits using fresh 10-14th levelled characters using the Microlite 74 rules, because I am a silly person and also a glutton for self-inflicted punishment.

See, there's a reason I'm not using Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC or Swords and Wizardry, and that reason is: I hate making high-level characters in those games. I tried, one time, to have our group make high-levelled characters using the Rules Compendium pdf that I had (it's still kicking around somewhere, on a mislabelled folder in an unused and forgotten hard drive, I'm certain), and we crumbled somewhere between trying to figure out henchmen and getting magical items. The rules are notoriously vague concerning higher levelled characters, and it took me way too long to decipher, by which time our enthusiasm had petered out and it was late, besides, so we ended up having a couple of drinks (if I remember correctly) and playing something else.

But my desire still remains. Using what I've learned about myself and my group's (totally understandeable) impatience with character generation, I'm going to take a couple of steps towards making it easier and faster, so we can unravel the mystery of that wierd-ass magical egg thing and also delve deeply in Llolth's quivering demense. (That sounded so dirty!)

You would be surprised at the amount of softcore
spider-woman images you can find.

1) I'm going to use the Microlite rule to get character generation done in absolutely record time, and worry about the minor niggling incompatibilities with the rules in Q1 later. Because I'm a DM and I'm going to make something up when we get to it.
2) I'm going to pre-generate the magical items, make them unique to the game-world, and then go from there. All I need now is some sort of way to determine what the "average" level of magical items would have been for characters that would have gotten there "organically", by playing through them. I might see if I can find the pdfs of the rest of the series, tabulate how many and of what quality the magic items would have been, and then go from there.
3) I'll probably also pre-generate the characters, because it won't take me much longer than it'll take my players, and as long as I leave the items, name, origin, and all of that off the character sheets, it really can be just about anybody and there's not much to it, anyways.
4) I'm gonna make a binder that will house Q1 and also the character sheets and the magical items (which I might put on index cards, because that's one thing about 4e that I thought was totally ballin'), and that way when it comes time to finally run this thing (next month? I dunno), I'm just gonna whip out the binder like KCHYAAAA and there's some ass-kicking right there, look at this shit, it's so fuckin' great.

So couple of questions:
1) How much, and what sort of magic items would you give to a newly-generated level 10-14 guy?
2) Any advice on running it, you sage veterans?
3) What was my third question going to be?

Thanks in advance, guys. O-)

That's a smiling cyclops, if you were curious.

23 July 2011

Rant: "Skill Rotations"

I know that the roleplaying audience skews a little older than the MMO audience, so bear with me while I explain everything to the other side. K?

Let me give you a brief history of where this topic came from: I was looking at my Steam page at the games I'd bought over the past couple of years when I landed on Spiral Knights. Clicked on the news thing (1 million registered users, hey not bad), and then read the article and the read the comments. Got through a dozen or so neutral or negative comments (mostly complaining about the time limit in the form of "energy", which I totally agree with), until I get to one comment that said something I really like.

He said, in short, that the reason he thinks a lot of people don't like Spiral Knights is because it can't be reduced to a spreadsheet, and that it's all about player skill. In most games you just need the correct gear and you win, but not in SK. Which is true, both ways.

One dissenting comment said, in essence, that's not true: it's about skill rotations. Skill rotations. Let me explain by way of picture. By my (admittedly and proudly dated) knowledge of World of Warcraft, I'm here to tell you that this is the skill rotation of an average tank (defensive warrior-type who "grabs" the attention of the enemies by some wierd-ass formula).

To some millions of players, this is all it takes to make a compelling game. This is what skill is, is recognizing the right values on a spreadsheet, to know what skills to cast and in what order while standing two feet from a dragon and pounding it on the snout. This is what "roleplaying games" means to some millions of people.

And, most annoyingly, this is what some people call "skill" in a game. This is not skill. "Rotating" abilities by managing cooldowns is not skill. It isn't difficult. It's why World of Warcraft has so fucking many players. Protip: It's because it's not hard. You're rewarded with shiny loot and new spells and bigger enemies and glowing level-up shinies and more badass things to ride for, essentially, knowing when to press 1 and when to press 2, and pressing 3 when 1 is unavailable due to cooldown and 4 when 2 is on cooldown.


What kind of bizarro world do I live in, where people honestly think that this is a difficult game? You don't think I know? I've played a lot of MMOs, and it's the reason that I flat-out refuse to play any MMO that has more than two of the following:
a) automatic "tab targetting" (where you hit tab to select the nearest enemy, so that you can hit 1 and run over to him and hit him with something)
b) a focus on PvE (grinding fetch quests until you're mighty)
c) standard fantasy races or classes (please do something new)

That, of course, is totally outside the point, but I don't think it's too much to ask, really.

And I think it's pretty obvious how this applies to roleplaying games, which tend to be pretty good about it (it being the resolution systems, that is). There has been no successful roleplaying game in which the resolution system is uninteresting and cumbersome. There has been no successful roleplaying game in which success can be guaranteed by superior gear and levels to the point where most challenges can be rendered moot (until recently, anyways.)

I guess all I'm saying is keep this post in mind when somebody claims to be "inspired" by MMOs, and feel free to shudder a little or throw up in your mouth. Most modern MMOs are fetishistic rehashes of concepts that have been bastardized, cannibalized, and misunderstood by computer games in a bizarre feedback loop (that I might get to talking about later). There's no reason to bring them into computer games.

Sorry about the post, I've been drinking beer again.

D&D as a Party Game

If you're wondering, yes, it works swimmingly, and I heartily recommend it to everybody.

This (generally minus the character shuffling, although sometimes with it) is how I've been running games for the past five years or so, and it's worked great every single time.

Seriously, go do it. I didn't even know that it was uncommon until I saw the unusually enthusiastic response Commodore Rients got from it. Good stuff, guys.

I know it's a short post but you have no idea how out of it I feel.

22 July 2011

The Magus

This is kind of cool: http://www.sacred-texts.com/grim/magus/

A link to The Magus (by Francis Barrett) reproduced entirely via hyperlinks and web-pages and all that jazz. Although it's a little late to be applied to the medieval era most of us seem to be playing around in, it's still pretty interesting reading, if you're into esoteric stuff.

17 July 2011


 Good fucking god, if there's anything I hate more than trying to decipher ancient currency systems so that they make sense to my ruthlessly post-modern mindset where the idea of having a unit of coinage that's to be exchanged in the thousands for a chunk of silver that may or may not be actually the weight it's supposed to be, or made of pure silver instead of whatever else, in a non-standard shape, for no appreciable reason...

It's about enough to drive me up a wall. It might not be so damn complex if I was an ancient Chinese guy, but I'm not. I'm used to money that doesn't actually mean anything and is issued by a central bank and people take it just because.

And I guess that's the way I'm going to have to deal with money in ONI PUNCHER. Yeah, I know it's not actual silver, and I know that in real life it was more variable but it doesn't matter, does it? Shut your face up.

16 July 2011

Task Resolution in ONI PUNCHER

Not the most exciting subject possible, but bear with me.

Barring any major change in my attitudes between now and probably mid next-week when the basic rules are written in their semi-permanent form, ONI PUNCHER is going to be resolved in a roll-over with 2d6 type way.

Couple of big reasons:
1) 2d6 has a brief and easy-to-comprehend bell curve on it. It's extremely predictable, and helps granularity around the middle while reducing it at the ends. Let's say that the average number you're aiming for is 7 or higher (because it is, by default in ONI PUNCHER). With no bonus, you have a 58% chance of succeeding. If you have a +1 bonus, your chance jumps to 77%. With a +2 bonus, your chance is at 83%. +3 is the mighty 91%. It's actually more likely for you to succeed than to fail. And I like that. I like that a lot! It gives me some design wiggle room and lets me keep mental math to a minimum while still keeping the world in a "human scale". I'll explain what I mean by that later.
2) Everybody has 2d6- bust open your Monopoly game, or run down to the grocery store and pick some up, right next to the packs of cards. You don't have to look around for weird dice or anything. Plus, you can use those little bitty wargaming dice that I love so much.
3) Small bonuses have weight and large bonuses are relatively less useful. Your +1 rocks, and the fact that an Oni could have +5 might doesn't mean that you'll necessarily lose in an arm-wrestling contest, since the highest result you can get is 12. If you roll a 12 and he rolls a 7, you win, because natural 12s always win. Congratulations- it's now possible for you to do the impossible.
4) I don't know where the rest of my dice are right now (WHOOPSIE).
5) I like rolling boxes.

15 July 2011


So as a means to playtest my SKELETON PUNCHER rules with my buddies who are coming up today (already?!? shit...), my brother noticed me looking at my Oriental Adventures rulebook the other day.

Our conversation went like this:

Him: "Oh man, I'd like to play something Oriental."
Me: "We can play Oriental Adventures if you want, I don't really care.
Him: "No, I mean like, something with samurai and stuff. I don't like OA because it uses the 3e rules."
Me: "Oh right, heh. Well, I can make up some rules real quick for it. Wanna see? It's easy!"
Him: "What?"
Me: "I'll just use the rules for that SKELETON PUNCHER game I was writing, I was gonna make it Nordic but we can do Samurai!" 
Him: "Alright, cool."

Now I'm gonna be totally honest- the things I know about Samurai and Oni and all of that come entirely from my girlfriend's anime collection and things like Tenchu, Onimusha, and Samurai Warrirors. I mean, that's not the point- the point is to take the parts that are awesome about Samurai and make it into a game where you're high-fiving people and going "Dude, nice oni murdering!" instead of worrying about bonuses and stuff.

Motherfuckin' dragons up in here, don't know who they're messing with

So the challenge for me is to make a game that takes the idea of badass cowboy samurai dudes, puts them in a situation where they're doing cool samurai stuff, and then going off with it. Again, we're going for the same level of historical accuracy as D&D does with medieval Europe- that is, uses it as a setting and then totally ignores what sorts of effects that all the monsters and magic would have on a world like that in favor of the important stuff, which is the players, and how cool it is to be a honorable warrior where people are banging on taiko and plucking koto and composing poetry about cherry blossoms and stuff while you're over across some haunted-ass forest slaying up some spirits and stomping on the scroti of those weird tanuki things

Seriously, what the fuck is this even supposed to be?

Anyways, that's what I'm doing today; making the rest of a half-done system that was originally designed to be used by nordic type guys who could either be sorcerers or warriors, now being adapted to a game that doesn't really have roleplaying-styled magic like that. I suppose there's got to be some sort of equivalent mystical tradition, probably in the form of shamans or some such. I dunno, I'm really more worried about making the battle system robust and fast enough that it's over in a couple of rounds but still has opportunities for players to do their thing.

I don't know anything about monsters or items or anything more than surface knowledge, but I think that'll be good enough to get these rules written and then I can totally ask about some serious stuff. After all, making it play like reality+ is the real goal here. I don't care if real Samurai were just regular noblemen, generally foppish and inept at combat and carrying their swords around because it was the right thing to do any more than I care that in real life, witches were fucking charlatans and couldn't actually control the weather. Or that King Arthur was just a regular king. Or that Hannibal Lecter isn't real. It doesn't matter.

Anyways. ONI PUNCHER. Look for it. Love it. Roll some dice. Do it.

14 July 2011


I try not to post multiple times one after another, but one of the things that I love (and have always loved) are frog-men. There's something about their squat, bizarre bodies that screams "pathos", and, well, there's just something about them.

I might be biased- some of my happiest memories are of me standing near one of the various lakes or creeks or streams of my childhood and catching up some frogs. I only mention this because my girlfriend apparently hates frogs with a passion, and would probably run in terror from a frog-man the way I'd probably run from a spider-man (but not the superhero. Don't be silly!)

So regardless, Frogmen will probably make it into the next retroclone I play, in some form or fashion. They can be tougher but a little clumsier, have a little less force of will but be able to make some mighty fuckin' hops when they want to. I could see them in articulated plate-mail with large halberds, leaping in concert at their foes and crashing their pole-arms on the heads of their enemies. I could see them wearing robes with blasphemous symbols and casting death on their enemies. I could even see them tenderly caring for their friends, applying ointments and balms under the guise of Great Kaadraak, Froggen god of Mercy.

I think they might even be a central part of a campaign premise- what if ape-men (humans) and frog-men (these guys) both evolved parallel to each other? They could be the only two intelligent civilizations in the world, and much like in real life, they'd mostly get along. They wouldn't have too much of a struggle over natural resources after all, since the Frog-Men and Humans don't really eat the same things (insects vs pretty much anything but insects, ideally), they don't have the same habitats (forests and plains for humans, swamps and lakes for Frog-Men), and they probably wouldn't have the same cultural values.

You could really make the argument for Frog-Men being both more independant and more group-minded than humans. Naturally speaking, frogs aren't very social. They hang out in an area, croak a little, and seek insects through camoflague. They seem to enjoy being around other frogs, but not too closely. It's said that humans gathering around a fire after a successful hunt is one of the main reasons that we have language, so maybe the Frog-Men aren't much for talking. After all, what's there to talk about?

But then men aren't apes any more than Frog-Men are actually frogs, so maybe they'd realize that they're a lot stronger in groups than individually and go from there. After all, frogs aren't especially quick or dangerous, so once they'd gained intelligence, I could see them beginning to form bands, especially where the protection of their eggs and tads would be concerned. Much like in humans, protecting the next generation is the single most important thing available. Unlike humans, the identity and paternity of an individual Frog-Man would be difficult to discover. With most Frog-Men females laying their eggs in similar, protected places, perhaps the question would be irrelevant, leading to a society without real parents and without the problems of psychology that would arise. The tads would be raised by the community, perhaps in a socialistic society where a band of educators and leaders would take care of children. While we're on the subject, there would be no such thing as sexual pairing, either, leading to a race that is entirely unaware of the concept of a nuclear family or a mate, other than as vague concepts such as the person one is mating with/has mated with/will mate with and the tads that have been descended from such a pairing.

I think I'm far too interested in this for my own good, and will leave it be for now. But beware! More Frog-Men psychology and cultural analysis will come!

Snippet: Pets

Not "pets" in the sense that MMO players think of them (as little tamed monsters that run around and do your bidding), but, well, kind of.

A thought that regularly occurs to me when I think of my cat is that I have made a friend from a small, fanged, bizarre monster. Have you ever had a cat hiss at you? It's really scary- your fluffy, lazy, whining fuzzball turns into a spiky ball of fangs and horrible eyes. Holy shit, what is this fucking nonsense? I mean, she's even got weird powers- she can see in the dark, she's agile, she has multiple rending claws on the end of fairly nimble paws, she's got a mouth of nothing but tearing fangs...

But she's a sweet goofball. And a monster.

I think that the next game of D&D I play, I'm going to have some dude with a Displacer Beast or a Manticore or something, and they get along and you see some big ol buff guy wrestling with his monster that he's taken as a pet. Maybe it sounds silly, sure, so maybe they've domesticated a variety of some horrible monster and now they're not regular Manticores, but Manticats, and they're dog-sized manticores that are fantatically loyal and also kind of stupid.

That's all I've got, thank you and good night.

13 July 2011


There's something strangely compelling about Shedu here, and I can't explain why. According to Wikipedia, they're protectors of the people and apparently common household spirits. I think it'd make me, personally, to feel a lot better about going out of town if I know that a sizeable winged bull-man was watching my place.

I think that they might make an appearance in SKELETON PUNCHER, and furthermore, that SKELETON PUNCHER might need a real name some day.

10 July 2011

I was talking about roleplaying games with my buddy, Steve, and he randomly started talking about swords.

He's the kind of guy who is always looking online about swords, and drawing swords, and has a couple of replica swords in his room, so this is nothing new. We have to keep him away from laptops when we're gaming or he'll look at websites about swords instead of actually playing. I know, right? So him talking about swords apropos of nothing isn't earth-shattering.

But I'm listening anyways and he said, basically, that there isn't enough difference between weapons. What, said I, between like arrows and axes? No, he said, between individual swords.

I'll skip the number-crafting and all of the stuff that I'd just get wrong anyways and skip to the part that was a pseudo-epiphany- that weapons should be unique.

The system he suggested would be a clunky fit onto your standard retroclone, if you could make it fit at all, but the general idea is pretty sound, and reminds me of an interesting project from one of the guys in the OSR, the idea that all magical swords are unique.

But that's a bit post-modern for me. Back in the day, the secret of steel was a highly-guarded bit of mysticism, much like how medicine was equal parts science and religion and how people were attempting to scientifically study alchemy and astrology. It's not that magical swords shouldn't be unique, it's that the fact that you just created a metal blade out of chunks of ore is magical in and of itself. The very process is magical. Gods were smiths, and in their powers were not just blacksmithing and silversmithing, but the creation of life itself, sometimes.

This sort of "every sword is unique" play probably depends on the campaign setting. I could see it fitting into a faux-Asian setting with ancestor worship and all that, and in a very European one, where the people are poor but a good blacksmith is worth his weight in gold and swords and axes are passed down through generations and eventually become symbols in their own right.

It probably wouldn't fit so well with pulpier settings- Conan discards his weaponry and armor and jewelry at fantastic rates, and so do his less famous contemporaries.

But it's an idea to keep in mind nonetheless.

04 July 2011

Happy America Day

-Benjamin Franklin

As much as we've screwed up (and boy, have we), I still have hope that America will be as beautiful, free, and marvelous as the Founding Fathers always thought it would be when they penned the most important document in our country's history. 

Here's to a couple hundred more years of America. Here's to hoping we fix ourselves up before it's too late.

03 July 2011

Red Cliff

I watched Red Cliff the other day. You can look it up as easily as I can, but I'm a nice guy so I'll tell you what I remember about it.

The movie takes place in the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" era of China which, according to a wikipedia article, puts us between 169 and 280 CE. It's an incredible story of heroism wherein a tyrant named Cao Cao is apparently trying to usurp the Emperor by way of personally gathering up as much power as possible, and he's been fairly successful. The man is apparently a genius as well as a powerful warrior, so he's currently got more land and soldiers than both of his main rivals (Liu Bei and Sun Jian) put together. But all is not lost.

Cao Cao is an unpopular man, despite his army, and Liu Bei is a great leader and is able to attract powerful generals to his army. Sun Jian owns good land and has capable generals as well. But they're outnumbered and very likely outmaneuvered as well.

The movie follows the tactician, Zhou Yu, who defeats Cao Cao's overwhelming naval forces at the Battle of Red Cliff, which the movie is named after. It's a pretty good flick- the audio is in Chinese but the subtitles are clear and easy to read. The action is brisk, the dialogue is good, the actors show a lot of emotion, and the fighting is badass. I know it's the style over there, but the over-the-top action is pretty cool to watch. I'm not normally a big fan of martial arts-style movies, but Red Cliff is what's up.

It's on Netflix, go watch it. Seriously, it's really cool.

01 July 2011

This made my day.


If you're squeamish about links (who isn't?), it's a man who  has replaced the sound effects from the matrix lobby scene with a multitracked vocal soundtrack.

Or something like that. However you make it sound technobabbly enough to understand it is no concern of mine. As long as you watch it.