29 August 2010

Reworking Abjurers and Crusaders: Thought Process

One of the ways that I'm not satisfied with Aremorican Addendum is that it treats Crusaders and Abjurer's prayers almost exactly the same. To wit, Abjurers are the men of the cloth who conjure divine aid through concentrated effort, like a holy sorcerer. Crusaders are more of the typical cleric role, wearing thick armor and hefting sharp tools to slay their foes, like a combination of paladin and cleric. To digress a bit, I've always found the cleric to be a poor fit in my game. He's a pretty formidable package, in that he levels faster than the fighter, can wear the heaviest armor, and casts the most useful spells in the game (and anybody that denies that parties live or die based on their ability to cast Cure X is either lying or possibly a heretic). Essentially, the cleric is a fighter / priest, which is unusual, since the paladin is a cleric/fighter, or, depending on the particular game, simply a difficult to qualify for "fighter +". That's not cool.

For a mere 18 Charisma, this too can be yours.

Not only does it make for an odd game concept, but it means that they're treading on each other's toes. In many cases, the cleric not only treads on the toes of the fighter, but tramples all over him- it's easily arguable that a cleric brings more utility to the table than a fighter at any level. The guy's ability to fight passably well combined with his thick armor and ability to heal means that clerics are always more welcome in a party. And the paladin, as written, is simply poor design. What's the point of him, anyways? Does he represent a holy warrior, because we have one already. Does he represent a knight? We have that already too, in the Fighter.

So something has to give. The cleric is simply too awesome, he's always a good choice. So I made the long-coming decision to snip him into two: the Abjurer and the Crusader. The Abjurer is a master of prayer, but cannot use good weapons or any armor. He fights abysmally. His hit die is small. But he is able to level up quickly, to counteract his various flaws, and his ability to Pray is extremely useful.

The Crusader, on the other hand, is the cleric melded with the best bits of the Paladin. He's a powerful fighter, but cannot wear as heavy armor. He also doesn't get the small bonuses the Fighter's been rewritten to receive, such as the additional hit points. In exchange, he gains small bonuses in the forms of a couple of prayers.

But the Crusader and the Abjurer can't really share the same spell list. They have totally different roles and totally different needs. To an Abjurer, it doesn't matter if he spends the round praying, he's not really doing much else, so it doesn't matter if he has to stand there and pray. He at least can choose from a wide variety of useful, "buffing" prayers, and a couple of damaging ones, and a couple of general purpose utility ones. It doesn't matter if his prayers don't last long after he's done praying, since it's entirely possible for him to stand around and do it some more. He's like a wizard, in that he's not supposed to be doing anything other than casting spells, ideally.

But the Crusader can't stand around praying. He's got stuff to do, people to slay, shields to bear. He needs to be able to run around and do magic at the same time, just less potent magic. He needs to be able to have prayers that last a little longer, since they're the only thing that separates him from the generally more capable Fighter.

That, and the love of the ladies.

So I'm thinking of separating the spell lists, and giving the Crusader his own mechanic, possibly something in the realm of either an "aura" type thing, where he basically asks for divine intervention and it affects everybody around him, which lets him pray before battle and then spend the rest of the time kicking ass, or possibly instead of a prayer, an invocation. This fits the theme, in that crusaders should invoke their gods whenever the times are rough- i.e. "By the frost-bitten beard of Aurgelmir, I smite thee!" The only limiting mechanic that comes to mind as to how many times you can shout about your god and have it be noticed would be like a more penalized Prayer system. For example, your first invocation is free, the next one fails on a roll of 1, the next on a roll of 1-2, the next on a 1-3, and so on.

This would create a system where the Crusader's first invocation of the day always works, since the god hasn't heard from him in a bit and is probably curious. His second is also likely to be heard, but by the time his third rolls around, his divine guidance is wearing thin. So it means that the Crusader is allowed to have his protective magic, but he's got to be careful as to when he uses it, lest it go entirely to waste.

27 August 2010

Aremorican Addendum: Playtesting!

Today's the day that I get to take my recently released Labyrinth Lord supplement, Aremorican Addendum Volume 1: Player Option for a test drive! Exciting, right? It's a good chance to see what works and what doesn't, and to see what character options are the most popular. It's been a metric of mine for a long time that if you can't decide what class to be, then the classes are all awesome and your job is done. Keeping in mind player preferences, that is- there's no accounting for taste, right?

Anyways, it's going to be a group of four, with T. Hamingston being one of the usual suspects, and also my girlfriend and his as the other two. Three PCs isn't bad, especially not if you consider that half of the time, I'm DMing for two PCs instead of three. It's exciting, because Ham's girlfriend has never played any sort of roleplaying game before, isn't really into sword and sorcery and hell, doesn't even talk that much. So hopefully we can have a good session without me running her over with my evil, evil killer DM instincts. That's sarcasm, by the way. I know we're going to have fun, since we always do.

The module of choice in this situation is going to be none other than my own Servants of Plague module, mostly because it's the one that's freshest in my memory and all of my attempts to sit down and read through one of the more classic modules like Keep on the Borderlands or the Outpost on the Edge of the Far Reaches (available free from the Warlock's Home Brew, if you've missed it) have failed for a week straight. This is due to my personality, mostly- in case it doesn't come across in the blog, I'm an excitable fool, always chattering and thinking and writing and tinkering and all of that fun stuff. I'm not particularly good at sitting still unless it's at my computer and even then I'm not very good at it, preferring to write a couple of hundred words all at one sitting, without any particular foresight or direction. My girlfriend jokes that I'm bipolar sometimes. That just shows you how cruel she is.

But back to gaming! Servants of Plague is actually a pretty good module, assuming that your tastes in fantasy run towards B-movie zombies, nastiness, and a little bit of grit. For example, the first time I ran the game, the players made it to the first room of the keep, where the garbage pit lies. I looked at my skeletal notes, and decided that a couple of plague orcs were there, looking for scraps to eat or possibly any sorts of missed treasure. The players rode in on their horses, and the plague orcs, surprised, burst out from underneath and beside the piles of garbage. A deadly game of hide and seek broke out, as the plague orcs used the enormous filth piles to hide behind, while hurling straight lengths of rusted metal as javelins and smaller chunks as slingstones. One plague orc leapt out and attempted to use his own intestines to dismount a player!

The players did eventually win, though we weren't able to complete the module. It's for that reason that I'm using it again on poor Ham, since he had only gotten roughly halfway through. There's plenty of secrets to be had, even if I played it "by the book" both times. That's the real secret to using the Servants of Plague and something that I think marks a difference between old-school and new school; old-school gives you the bones and says "make something of it, or just steal from it, whatever" and new school says "I know better than you, if you don't run this as written you're doing it wrong."

But I digress. Heavily.

26 August 2010

Grab and Go: The Ten Item Rule

One of the things I like least about Labyrinth Lord and any other Classic Fantasy Game is character creation. Specifically, buying equipment.

The rest of the game is so straighforwards and easy. I took my girlfriend, one of the people who's going to play Friday in my Aremorican Addendum playtest, and we made a character in just a couple of minutes. Hit points, armor class, weapons, everything. It took almost literally no time at all, thanks to one of the least controversial and handy house rules I ever forget that I have:

The Random Demon Generator?
I call it the "Ten Items or Less" Rule. See, you can get basic items and armor for free (that's up to light armor and any one-handed item) for free, because they're practically free anyways and I'm not really picky. I don't require dynamic encumbrance counts, for one. Math at the table should be limited to figuring out one's hit rolls by subtracting THACO from the die roll, or by figuring out how much gold goes where at the end of an adventure.

But for two, you get ten items from the equipment table for free. You can have a bedroll, two torches, waterskin (water), flask(rum), two 50' ropes, tent, blanket, and 10' pole. Or you could have a hammer, 50' rope, waterskin (water), two blankets, three days of rations, a bedroll, and a tent. For free. Seriously, don't even count them, it doesn't matter. I'm not looking over your math anyways, just take ten items, stick them in a backpack, and spend your gold on weapons, armor, ammunition, that sort of thing. When you're done, though, all your gold is gone. Instead of keeping it, you get 1d6x10 silver. That's 10-60, roughly a month's wages for a skilled laborer. 

See, this rule does a couple of things. Firstly, it means that players aren't agonizing over whether to spend their 5 silver on ropes at character creation. There are more interesting times to worry about gold, and that's at the table, not when we're trying to figure out who's bringing what and how. Second, it's essentially a starting package for you- you have some odds and ends, and it encourages creativity. So you've already got food, water, shelter, and light. You've got another item to bring. Should you bring parchment? What about a quill? Will we need pitons? That sort of thing.

Should have brought pitons.
And lastly, it means that characters start out kind of poor. You know, the driving motivation behind half of what Conan does (the other half being revenge), and all of what people do in Theives' World. It's the simplest, and easiest motivation in the world. If a night in an inn costs 1 gold, and you currently have roughly 1/6th of one gold peice, you're going to need to make back the investment you guys just now made into all of that shiny armor and weapons and stuff. Hey, night's falling. You'd better get moving, the town guard doesn't take kindly to vagrants.

All of these things are good things. You still have to spend money outside of character creation, of course, so that the rope and pitons and stuff you brought will be more expensive next time. With any luck, of course, you'll be coming back to town with 500-600 gold, so maybe it'll be time to upgrade that plate armor for once, and then spend time in town recuperating and training and all that. Without any luck, you'll come back into town broke and half dead, with the blood of henchmen on your boots, but that's neither here nor there. Come back with your shield or on it, as they say!

25 August 2010

Otyughs and Saving Throws

Saw this picture on rpg.net the other day, in a post about posing "old school" images, or rather, images that suggest old school to you. This one struck me as particularly hilarious, and very, very telling.

One of the things I tell my players before every session (especially when they're new, or we haven't played in a while) is that I'm not going to fudge rolls, that some monsters may be too tough for you, and that you may very well die in the first battle you get in. There are traps in the dungeon that might slay you, and there is a very real possibility that you'll all be ambushed and killed by a band of kobolds. And looking online, it feels like I'm in the minority.

To be entirely honest, the online place I was thinking of was Enworld, which is perhaps not the best source of information, but it is an enormously popular site and the topics that (when they aren't OMG LOOK AT THIS NEW DRECK WOTC IS PUTTING OUT HOW MANY COPIES WILL YOU GET) are at least brain-tickling, even if for the wrong reasons.

One of those brain-ticklers is the debate between save or die, and how apparently they're a horrible, horrible blight on the state of roleplaying. Anecdotes on both sides abound, while my tiny comment goes unnoticed. I said, and I quote:

"Saving throws are your last chance as a player to survive, given to you when you messed up so bad that you deserve to be dead, paralyzed, or worse."

Obviously, the debate went right around me, since people were more interested in point-by-point debating over what amounts to either semantics or preference in playstyle than actually talking about save or die effects, but that's fine. Let the little pedants have their fun because I know what I'm using.

I'm using, and have been using, save or die effects in my games, and I can't think of why I wouldn't. I asked one of my longtime players, the man known on here as T. Hamingston, and he said he liked them for the same reasons I did: They let the player live. They give the player another chance, when they should have been caught by a fireball, or incinerated by dragons' breaths, or horribly disintegrated. And that's something that's overlooked.

Which is sad, because that's pretty much the whole point of them. That's entirely what they're for, and for nothing else. Some of the people on there get upset, saying, "It's just not fair! Players shouldn't be able to die from random monsters, they should be the heroes! Heroes don't die from basilisks!"

Not even a 20 foot tall basilisk?

But that's another subject for another day, about why people need to play the world-saving heroes in a system originally designed to simulate tomb-robbing, mercenary rogues. We'll get to that. Today, it's about Saving Throws. Show me the part in any of the player's sections in any game where it says "The players are Heroes and deserve better fates than to be eaten by Otyughs in a nameless dungeon at third level." If there is a part like that, I've been playing it wrong all these years. Silly me! I've been making my players earn their heroism. I wasn't aware that players need to be coddled, protected, and handed big piles of gold and experience or they won't want to play. I must have been confusing my players with adults, who think that things that aren't earned aren't worth anything (to reuse an analogy, picture the award you got from winning a footrace against five-year-old children).

But seriously, what is it with everybody wanting to be an epic, save-the-world-before-breakfast hero these days? Half of the posters on EnWorld expect their players to be on a slow march towards inexorable victory, and view any sort of deviation from the inevitable end-game campaign as some sort of mean-spirited deviation. What? Challenges are unfair? Expecting players to be intelligent is mean? I think I'm going to release a game today: if these whiny 4th edition DMs are any indication, it'll be the most popular game in the world.

If you're the DM, roll 2d6. If you're the player, you can roll whatever you want, because you're going to win anyways. Sit still while the DM tells you how cool it was.

That's two of them there
square fellers.

2: Tell the players about some cool stuff they did. For example, they descended through the center of the earth, drop-kicked a dragon into a black hole, or talked a king into letting them ride griffons around the world and into the next dimension! Don't forget the Rule of Cool: Everything needs to be awesome, at all times.
3-5: Play a two hour game of watered down Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Make sure the encounter is balanced or the players might lose, and you'll have to contrive a victory out of it anyways!
6-8: Skill challenge time! Roll a d20 at least five times. If you get more odds than evens, they win! If you get more evens than odds, try again.
9-11: Time for some loot! Let your players write the loot from their "Wish List" onto their character sheet, and then have them write a new "Wish List." It can be whatever they want; after all, they've earned it!
12: Uh oh, time to save the world! Roll a d20 behind your DM screen. Whatever it was, tell the players it was a 20, and that they've saved the world! Congratulations!

Wishy-washy DMs look out. I've just rocked your world through subtle sarcasm.

23 August 2010

Music to Game By: The Sword

There must be music when gaming. This is an absolute, can not be denied rule. Without music or some other sort of background noise, player and DM voices alike tend to get swallowed up into the void and everybody's hesitant to say something, like they don't want to break the silence. It make voices sound alternately too loud, and too silent. There absolutely must be music for a game.

Plenty of people simply play whatever it is that they're listening to at the moment, and that's cool too. When I was running a game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark (the game 4th edition is trying to be), I would play Static-X, Pantera, that sort of thing. Also when we were playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle Roleplaying Game, since it was at least one person's first game. 

But even better than random metal is something that fits the theme. Let me give you a quick tip:

If you're running an old-school game (and if you're reading this then you probably) are, you deserve to take a look at the Sword.

Their songs are epic in the Black Sabbath sense, with a mixture of doom metal and power rock- awesome vocals over a deep guitar, shaking and moving with the awesome stride of giants. Their subject matter alternately references Conan (Beyond the Black River), post-apocalyptic fantasy (Fire-Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephrians), and George R.R. Martin (To Take the Black.) Every single song is about cold wastelands, evil wizards, ancient pacts, and the mysteries of the deep forest. 

And it absolutely fits the atmosphere. If your gaming is anything at all related to any of those, you owe it to yourself to at least try and give the Sword a listen. I did, and it really helps the atmosphere of any game.

22 August 2010

Arabic Mountain Dew and Other Cultural Factors

Ujiglo Glc: Drink of Champions
Lately, I've been missing Arabic mountain dew or, as we used to call it sometimes, "Hadji Dew". I really apologize if that's offensive, by the way.

Anyways, it was better than American mountain dew, not only because the art on the can was much cooler, featuring a gigantic swirl and what could possibly read "Ujiglo Glc", but it seemed to have a higher sugar content. And possibly, made with real sugar. It tasted more like the Mountain Dew Throwback, again made with real sugar, than the artificial crap that all of our fizzy drinks seem to be made out of.

I hate artificial sugar. It's too sweet, and too false. It doesn't satisfy like real sugar, and it just isn't the same. At all. I've had to try and make do with "Citrus Drop", a cheap knockoff brand from my friendly neighborhood Kroger, and it's just not the same. Anybody who's had this overseas soft drink can tell you that it's just that much better. Those and Rip-Its. Oh, good god. But we're not here to discuss what soft drinks kept me in a jittery state for nearly fifteen minutes when I was lucky. We're here to talk about the serious business of roleplaying games, right?

Hey, quit rushing. We're getting to it.

One man's preference to one kind of soft drink over another is a cultural thing, or even a personal thing. Some bigwig decided that Iraqis or possibly Afghanis prefer the taste of a different kind of sweetener than the thin, fake shit we've gotten used to over time. And they're probably right. And that's culture.

Similarly, one passage in Terry Pratchett's Diskworld series concerning one Rincewind, his fellow Twoflower, and one wandering idiot Creosote, the drunkard Creosote wonders why people from cold places drink mead and beer cold, and people from the desert drink liquor that makes your eyes burn and sets your throat on fire. While that is a really good question, it's just culture, I suppose. And it takes touches like that to make your world seem real.

The big strokes, they're important too. Whether your people live in blocky stone houses, or mud and thatch ones, or adobe with angular signs cut in a pattern on each wall, or in raised earthen mounds, or in Russian-esque monuments, or in open, airy communal buildings, these things matter. But nothing says culture more than the little things.
Like dancing with devils while picking your nose?

For example, men from the Aremorican city of Siculus will make a warding gesture when they mention the dead by name in hope of avoiding bad luck, and men from Thatica consider it rude to look another man in the eyes, preferring to speak to beards, feet, and hands. Gretican men are pious, invoking the name of their local god Siegdrythen in their greetings and leavings, and many other times besides.

It could even be smaller touches than that, to be honest, but you get my drift. I'm personally guilty of it myself, where the big picture details get relayed to players and then nothing of the people themselves, what they're wearing, how they smell, what they're carrying, how they sound when they talk, and unusual mannerisms. It can be hard to think on your feet, but it's almost always worth it when you can pull it off.

21 August 2010

Fatigue, a Bidding Mechanic for Combat

Since the horrible people outside are power washing the wood directly outside my window and jack-hammering concrete (?), my efforts to sleep in have been for naught. Alas, alas, my kingdom for a lass, right?
Pictured: Your author
...anyways, something that's been going through my head recently is tied into the only fighting game I've plated recently, the very fun UFC Undisputed 2010. If you're not into the sport, it's a real-life mixed martial arts event where two young men are in a very lightly regulated cage match, where the goal is to either knock out or put your opponent in a hold where he must submit, typically by nearly breaking his arm. The video game is pretty good, and can be a lot of fun with your buddies, or with people who've never played before, heh.

One of the things that makes the game a pretty serious mind game is that nearly every move has either a counter or a way to block or nullify any move. If you try and punch somebody, he can weave and counter-punch. Or he can grab your arm and try and throw you, judo-style. Or he can get you in a Muay-Thai clinch and put his knee in your face.
The point is that the game punishes you for making mistakes, provided that your opponent chooses to capitalize on them, or you've made yourself obvious enough. And it makes the game more cerebral, or at least as cerebral as a game about two dudes punching and kicking each other to death can get, anyways. It's a cat-and-mouse game of trying to land punches while not getting countered, of preventing your opponent's actions while getting your own through.

And then it dawned on me: That'd make a pretty good combat minigame. Now, there's absolutely no way that it'll fit into standard Dungeons and Dragons or Labyrinth Lord or even most other games, although it could probably be bolted on. The problem is that in D&D, combat is abstracted somewhat. An attack either hits or it doesn't, and the reasons why are absolutely up to you and your DM. If it misses because the guy blocks with his shield, or because he knocks your sword away with his gauntlet, or because he parries, or because he simply weaves a little and your sword goes whizzing by, it's irrelevant.

But it could possibly work in a different game, assuming it's not already. See, the rough draft goes something like this:

Fatigue = Opposed Bidding

Can be used to stop enemy actions, i.e. you are in Close range with an enemy (grappling, more or less), and he attempts to draw his dagger. You spend one fatigue to stop his hand, but he spends one fatigue to keep going. Do you try and spend more fatigue and risk tiring yourself out, or do you let him draw his dagger and possibly kill you?
One of the theoretical results I'm fairly happy with is that at some point, both combatants will inevitably do what we always see done on TV, when real people fight each other- both of them will be tired, and their attacks and motions will get weaker, and slower, and easier to dodge or avoid. Tell me you wouldn't be tired after getting in a grudge match with this guy.

Pff. I could take him with my eyes closed.
I know it's a variation on a bidding mechanic and that some people don't really enjoy them, but it's one that should honestly be explored more, especially since it's because that's more or less the way fights are ended. People aren't fighting at full capacity for very long, if at all- we're always tired or hurt from previous days and from the simple act of exerting ourselves. This is in direct opposition to all sorts of games, obviously, and we could easily go into why copying D&D while changing what made the game make sense (such as abstracted combat, a focus on exploration, and gold for experience) is a horrible idea, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is: Fatigue is a currency for player actions, and, importantly, can be used to stop other player's actions. Are there any other (free, or reviewed, preferably) games that use a similar idea, and how did it work? Did it encourage the desired in-game behavior, or was it abused and meta-gamed?

20 August 2010

Iä Iä!

Thanks for all the madness.
Rest in Peace.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft turns 120 today. Let's all have a moment of frothing madness in honor of both his exceptional life and incredible writings which served to reveal that we are nothing more than scum on the bottom of Shub-Niggurath's writhing tentacle-mouths.

19 August 2010

I get it, you like Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien (right) apparently cackling?
It can hardly be said that worship of Tolkien is primarily a roleplayer's affliction, at least. The movie versions of the tomes were enormously popular amongst the general public, and it was unusual for a while to hear people who'd never rolled a polyhedral die in their lives talk about dwarves and elves and goblins and stuff. And hey, it was a really good movie. Nobody denies that.

But there are so many other influences that could have been taken by fledgling roleplayers, that it's simply a shame. There are the sword and planet novels of the likes of J. Vance, the pulp fantasy worlds of R. E. Howard, the dark cosmic horror of Lovecraft, to name but three. All three have more life, more energy, and more interesting features than Tolkien, but Tolkien's features are still by far the most popular.

Elves that are beautiful and near-immortal, dwarves that are gruff craftsmen, hobbits with hairy feet and skill with slings, evil and enraged orcs, small and cunning goblins- it's almost as if D&D, and by extension, the entire world of fantasy is just another Tolkien rip-off.

Before I get further, I'd like to point out that the real reason it's as annoying as it is, is that every game from the beginning has been influenced /heavily/ by D&D. It's no joke. Every game has the exact same player-to-DM relationship, and in some cases the exact same mechanics. But don't take my word for it. Take the word of the inestimable and occasionally divisive Ron Edwards, via his essay, "Fantasy Heartbreakers." It's a good read, and covers what would take me at least a couple more paragraphs. It ties in, I promise.

The real point that I guess I'm trying to make is that Tolkien is ok. He's alright, but his version of fantasy is overplayed. If I see another elf/dwarf/halfling player race combination, I'll probably go insane. It's gotten so bad that people who do "homage" his works are regarded as "generic fantasy." Seriously, you knew that. Every game that has pretty-boy elves, bearded ass-kicking dwarves, green-skinned brutish orcs, and tiny pastoral hobbits is considered stock fantasy now. And why? There are so many more races to choose from, so many more ideas that have yet to be mined. For example, and this is off the top of my head, you can take the "stout and trustworthy" aspect of dwarves and make a race of people made literally of stone, a la the Herculoids. You could go the other way with Elves and turn them into literal immortals, detached watchers like those one guys whose name escapes me in the Marvel Comics. The Sentinels, I want to say, but I think that's the name of those gigantic purple (?) robots.

But the point is the same, really. Don't copy Tolkien any more. We get it. You like the Lord of the Rings for some reason. So have the other fifty guys before you. Quit it.

Not pictured: Generic fantasy
I want to take a moment and point out an excellent fantasy game that was in no way Tolkienesque- "The Mark of Kri", a Playstation 2 game. The entire game was based around Polynesian myth, if I remember correctly, and was so much more interesting and vibrant than another pale shade of Tolkien that it makes me literally angry that nobody else bothered to get the memo. Is it really that hard not to blatantly copy the name of the biggest and most famous fantasy author in the english-speaking world?

Am I really the only person who would rather look at the Mark of Kri than another Lord of the Rings-styled game?

17 August 2010

Hamingston and the History of Our Game

I think one of the most important aspects of roleplaying is the character creation process. I probably think that because of the experience Ive had playing for many years with my good friend and your author, Mister Wright. We have always had me and him, but who wants to play a RPG with one other person? That elusive third person would show up from time to time and we would game.

But by the next time we met #3 again, we managed to either lose the character sheets or forget what we were doing anyway. So we would reroll, and reroll again the next time. Which isn't a bad thing unless you have some sort of byzantine rule system to try out, or have to write down all those silly powers (I'm lookin at you 4e).

Muttonchops included.
But it really is something when you find a system that you can take a little bit to make a character, then get the details in what we are all here for, which is roleplaying, and not making characters. I think it goes without saying that I have made many, many characters over the years. I have an image and a name that I usually use, for convenience sake. The character I play is how I would really act (with some exceptions) in that world. Given that I don't see a need to develop pages upon pages of back history for my character, he is what I have been roleplaying for so many years.


Character Building?

Thank God I took three levels in Ropeclimb Bowthief.
One of the things that always bothered me when playing WoW, LoTRO, and especially WAR (because WAR was my favorite, see), was that people refused to call their characters that. They were never characters, they were always "toons". "Gotta reroll my toon", one guy would say, or "Just rolled up a new toon today, trying out Choppa," or "Don't play Bright Wizard, I know a guy that has a BW toon and he hates it."

I never understood it. Why would you pick possibly the dumbest name for a "character" and then compulsively call it that? I understand the part about "rerolling" (since it comes directly from D&D, something that the average mouth-breathing MMO player may not know) but not about "toons."

And so my confusion extends to this obsession with "character building." I've complained about Enworld before, but why is it that everybody and their mother wants help building characters? It's dozens of people not asking about cool character concepts or interesting personality traits, but how to make the most powerful character in combat with a certain example. And people will respond,

Oh, start out with 3 levels of Cudgelmaster Nogginbane and then pick up a couple ranks of Swank and then multiclass into Tremulous Spidereater so you can have a base attack bonus of +7 and be able to jump at least 20 miles into the air as well as gain a +70d3 damage bonus against anything with two or more legs.
Or something along those lines. I dunno. And it doesn't really make sense to me. When did roleplaying a game about looting stuff and splitting skulls turn into this wierd competitive mathematics? I'm not playing Labyrinth Lord so that I can try and put together the most classes so that I can deal more damage than you, I'm playing it because I like you, and I want to hang out. That's it.

It's not interesting to me to do differential mathematics with a side of trigonometry every time I sit down to roll up a new half-orc fighter. I'm working on my degree in electrical engineering, the last thing that sounds good after a long day in classes is, hey, more math! Yes, please let me flex my wonderful system mastery so that you can know where exactly to get a +5 coincidence bonus to your attack rolls that stacks with other attack rolls. It's right here in Player's Handbook VII, did you not pick it up? HEATHEN.

Reminds me of some advice I heard recently, on the Atlanta D&D pickup forums. A guy was asking what books he needed to play 4e, and some dude sagely said, "All of the players handbooks not connected to a specific campaign guide."

Oh, all ten of them? Player's Handbooks 1-4, and then all of the "X Power" books, so Divine Power, Martial Powers 1 and 2, Arcane Power, and Primal Power. You need ALL of these to play 4th edition? Isn't asking me to pick up 9 books at $30 apeice a little much? Who is spending $270 to play a game revolving around pieces of paper and plastic dice?

But I digress.

The game shouldn't be about character building, can't be about character building, especially since in this case, your character is a collection of powers and skills with a thin veneer of character by way of explaining how in the holy shit you thought to combine 5 levels of Paladin with 6 levels of Sorcerer.

15 August 2010

Aremorican Addendum: Vol. 1 Released!

Another Labyrinth Lord supplement by
your friend, N. Wright
Today is the day I'm releasing the Aremorican Addendum Volume 1: Player Option. It's a roughly 30 page document that gets you, roughly,  three new spellcasting systems, 9 classes, weapon and armor tables, and a little bit more.

Quick blurb:

"These classes are designed with the idea of replacing the regular default classes from Labyrinth Lord in my next game of Labyrinth Lord. The idea is a long-percolating one, coming from the long-standing dissatisfaction of race-as-class, not for whatever reason dealing with the idea that not all elves are fighter/magic users, for example, but for the fact that it is more fun to have the dwarf class represent a dungeoneer. Why let the fun demi-human classes go to waste just because one habitually runs a humans-only game? And what about the other classes, while we're thinking about it? Something always seemed funny about the thief class, and why is there a cleric class but none for the regular robed and fragile priest, and why are all magic users the same... You get the drift.

So out of the Unknowable Void comes the Aremorican Addendum Volume 1: Player Option, the only Labyrinth Lord companion piece you'll ever need, assuming that you only need one companion for your Classic Fantasy Games and their retro-clones. You'll need that game to play, to be sure, but when it comes to choosing a class, feel free to ditch it and look here. You'll find rules for mage-seeking warriors, demonologists, elemental summoners, crusading knights, and more. It's everything you need for a human-centric game that doesn't lose anything by losing out on boring, trite, and overused demihumans."

So, in a nutshell, it gives you 9 new classes in 30 pages, including spell lists. It runs a little wordy, but has plenty of period-accurate art inside to break up the double-column text. And, as a big bonus, it gets rid of fire-and-forget magic and introduces a couple of ways to destroy the "15-minute adventuring day" as well. It's free, and, if I may speak honestly, not a bad work for Labyrinth Lord fans. Volume 2 will likely contain more in the way of hex maps, locations, organizations, and possibly more advanced spells, being aimed at a sort of Dungeon Master's Guide to Aremorica.

Please note that this is an early version; no extensive playtesting has been run through this bad boy like it really deserves, so feel free to try it out and let me know how it goes!

Get your copy today, before the internet runs out!

8 SEP 2010:
Update time! Added more spells to the Diabolist lists, updated the mechanics for Sorcerers and Abjurers, and changed Crusaders from having Abjurer prayers to their own style of Invocations! Not bad, right? It's still free, and still less than thirty pages, so try it out and see what you think!

New Class: The Sorcerer

A foreward: The Sorcerer is one class from my in-progress work on, essentially, reworking all of the basic Labyrinth Lord classes. It's something that's really a lot of fun, and something that's definately getting used by my group the next time we meet. The formatting's almost done, which is always cool, and the classes are all pretty different than the generic fantasy classes. Well, not all of them, but they're definately different than the Way It's Usually Done in classic fantasy gaming, which is to keep the underlying structure of magic, for example, and just add some more spells and maybe a theme or two. Not enough is done to accomodate more literary influences or the simple fact that in LL, resting directly after a fight is about the only thing that makes sense to do, whereas Conan, Aragorn, Elric, and the like don't bother to wait for their paltry wounds to close, since they didn't take any- and neither did the people in D&D.

Naturally, this goes hand in hand with my house-rule for Wounds which I posted recently. So here's the Sorcerer, influenced by a certain Melnibonean, Lovecraft, and (believe it or not), White Wolf's old Werewolf game. Here's the write-up, and after that, a link to the pdf.

Agrindan and his bound Fire Elemental.


Sorcerers delve into the very raw materials of creation, seeking to reshape the world as they see fit. Using the secrets of the arcane circles they've gleaned from years of study into the bizarre and blasphemous books of the wizards of old, Sorcerers take what knowledge they've plundered and turn it into raw power. Sorcerers tend to be aggressive, as they are dealing with raw energy and absolute power. Their powers are more suited for searing their foes with gouts of fire and creating great cracks in the earth than subtlety.

Though just as many sorcerers are indifferent to the affairs of the gods as not, there is a strong current of faith in amongst them. They tend towards worship of the Unknowable Ones, a cthonic mystery cult dedicated to the creators of the world itself. They hold that the gods of acolytes and laymen alike are but scavengers on the corpse that the Unknowable Ones had created, and that they deserve no more respect than the flies on the corpse of a mule. The true worship goes towards the Unknowable ones, and the result of their worship is the blessing of the Bonded Elementals.

To a sorcerer, their elemental is not their servant or their slave, but a minor deity in and of itself. They do not demand for their elementals to do their bidding, but rather request it upon them. And the elemental, for its part, often complies.

The elementals themselves are highly variable. A stone elemental is as likely to be an ambulatory boulder or a man made of mud, and fire elementals can be anything from a pillar of burning ash and smoke to a salamander composed of molten lava! Very few elementals are to be found in the stereotypical “anthropomorphic” style, tending instead to be as variable and bizarre as the elements themselves.

Hit Dice: d4
Allowed Weapons: One-handed weapons only, sling
Allowed Armor: None
Class Requirements: 11 Charisma
Prime Requisite: Charisma

Special Features
Elemental Binding, Summoning Circle

Elemental Resistance

Raw Power

Elemental Mastery

Tower Master / Sage

Sorcerer Features
Elemental Binding
At 1st level, a Sorcerer has the ability to bind elemental spirits to do his bidding. While not true “elementals” in the monster sense, elemental spirits provide magical assistance to the sorcerer. The Sorcerer must spend his turn psychically commanding the elemental to do his bidding.

The Bound Elemental has as many hit die as the Sorcerer who summoned it has levels, and is both ethereal, and invisible to those who are not Sorcerers or do not have some form of magical vision. A Sorcerer can have only one Elemental spirit summoned at one time.

Elementals can be healed if they're exposed to a significant amount of their primary element. For example, a fire elemental can be healed by allowing it to bask in the roar of a great fire, and an earth elemental can be rejuvenated by allowing it to rest in an area with plenty of earth, but little other, bordering elements, such as in a narrow earthen tunnel. When a Bound Elemental is reduced to zero hit points or less, the Elemental is returned to its plane of existence and a new elemental spirit must be summoned.

Summoning Circle
Sorcerers have knowledge of Summoning Circles which can be used to summon elemental spirits and bind them to their will. The ritual depends on the background of the player, but it never takes less than one hour and is always physically and mentally draining, requiring at least an hour of rest afterwards.

Elemental Resistance
The sorcerer's close bond with the Elementals has bolstered his personal toughness to those who would use the elements against him. He takes one less damage from fire, electricity, acid, and cold.

Raw Power
Bound Elementals summoned by a Sorcerer of 5th level or greater lose one less health when they exert themselves.

Elemental Mastery
At 7th level, the Sorcerer's elementals have an additional Hit Die when summoned.

Tower Master
At 9th level, the Sorcerer may build a tower. Typically this is built without permission of the local lord, and no permission is required. Few interfere with the affairs of powerful wizards! Once a tower is built, 1d4 low level magic users will come to the tower to learn the ways of the Sorcerer.

A Sorcerer who does not build a tower may choose to wander further as a Sage, ever seeking more and more knowledge to further his power. In many social circles, Sages are accounted the very highest of respect.

14 August 2010

The V2 Dungeon Map: First Draft

The Louvre should be calling any day now.
This is the first draft of the V2: Dark Skies Above Us dungeon. It's made in the medium of crayon on lined notebook paper. It's a little known fact, but Monet was an advocate of this medium, and often insisted on doodling in crayon before painting directly over the waxy drawing. I dunno, he scraped it off or something, don't ask me.

Just thought you guys might be interested in looking at it. The "S" designates a secret door, and the lines designate passageways. The entire complex is built out of the local stone, probably granite although I haven't decided, seeing as how a little more research on rock formations is going to be necessary. Hopefully for the rough draft I can at least remember to draw on unlined paper, right?  How will the crayon-drawers amongst us be taken seriously when we're held back by the distinctly amateurish blue and red lines on our paper?

Servants of Plague Translated!

Something seems different about you,
Servants of Plague.
In case you are more comfortable in German than in English, the fine folks at Herr Der Labyrinth have translated my adventure, Servants of Plague into German. I know, right? How cool is that? In addition, their maps are better looking and cleaner than mine, so it deserves a check out even if you don't speak German.

Seriously, they did an awesome job and I couldn't be happier that they've translated my work. Thanks for everything, guys! You guys are awesome.

Here's to productive partnerships with our German brothers and sisters in the future.

13 August 2010

Houserule: Wounds

Lord Chivalrous suddenly wonders whether
he left the kettle on.
One of the things that's bothered me for a long time is the treatment of hit points in D&D; specifically, how hit points are simultaneously health and not-health. They represent your ability to not get killed, luck, divine intervention, and sheer pluck. They also represent your ability to take hits, roll with punches, and sheer stubbornnes.

And there's nothing innately wrong with that. There's no real reason that you can't be the final arbiter of your character's skill, that two Fighters with 10 hit points can't be narratively different, with one not even noticing the stab wound in his arm as he kicks the orc in the chest, and the other skillfully dodging under the minotaur's clumsy, overhand hack and body-slamming the brute. Mechanically, according to D&D, there's no difference. And that's pretty cool, actually.

But there is something innately dissatisfying with the idea that this abstract representation takes so long to heal up. 1 hit point a day? Seriously? What am I "healing", anyways? Conan famously requires nothing more than breathing room and a swig of wine to ignore his wounds, and that's the sort of thing we should emulate, not Final Fantasy time and money drains.

In short, I've been considering adding Wounds to Labyrinth Lord, and they'd work fairly simply. You keep track of your Wounds separately, with each one reducing your maximum hit points by one. You take a wound whenever you get damaged by something. (Alternately, you could take a Wound for every 4 damage you take. Or, if you like, damage equal to half the class' hit dice size- so every 2 points for wizards, 3 for clerics, and 4 for fighters. This helps your tougher classes stay in the fight longer, if you're so inclined.) In this way, a hit means a hit, and Wounds represent real, physical damage. Whether you get hit by a stray arrow, an orc's sword, or the like, Wounds hurt, and they need to be healed.

To make up for your rapidly dwindling health, you regain all of your Hit Points by simply catching a breather of a minute or two. But not your Wounds. Your Wounds disappear at a rate of 1/level every time you get a good night's sleep. So, in other words, your Wounds represent the very real scrapes, cuts, bruises, gashes, concussions, and other sundry ailments that a life of hardship and pain brings. It represents the fact that even a knife cut hurts.

Clerics and other sources of healing magic can heal Wounds at a rate of 1 Wound per 5 HP healed, if they so choose. Of course, their healing is still useful, as it keeps a man from dying in combat, and is extremely useful for bringing a man up from the prone position, so to speak.

So you're tougher, and you can fight for longer in a day, but you still can't fight forever like some adventurers in "other games" can. But you're not any stronger in a straight fight than generic LL, so it's not like you have to redesign fights, encounters, or any sort of adventures. It puts a higher cap on what you can accomplish in a day, and that's always a Good Thing.

12 August 2010

RPG Flowchart

This from DWD Studios' blog.

First, visit the link:

Although it's labelled "Old School RPG Flowchart" that sounds like a new-school RPG flowchart to me. Combat, combat, then some more combat. Oooh, a treasure parcel! Then, back to combat, combat, combat...

I'd like to get your attention on the beautiful character sheet that they've produced- for that, I can excuse the obvious mis-interpretation of our beloved game. ;)

11 August 2010

The Two Potential Covers

This was supposed to happen with the Servants of Plague cover, where I posted two different options for consideration, but if that project stalled anymore, it'd go straight into a death spiral, ending only when it smashed into my head and severed into hemispheres. Nobody wants that.

So in the interest of continued sanity, here is a new prototype I'd been working on. I'm not too terribly sold on either one, but the first one is the layout I'd been using, and the second one is the one I've been working on. It's not a finished prototype, but there are certain things I like about them both.

The current "look" of the V series of modules produced
by yours truly.
Option One
This one is the basic, utilitarian version. It's got a black bar, then a picture, then some description text. It's simple, and unpretentious. It emulates the modules of old without assuming prior knowledge of them. It's clean, and is composed of sharp lines and straight edges. It's got a timeless look to it, as proved by the fact that it's how most adventure modules have looked since, well, adventure modules started looking like adventure modules.

On the other hand, it's fairly basic looking. There hasn't been a lot of innovation in module design, and it mostly looks like this. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, and it certainly beats some modern designs. There's a lot of modules that look like this, and that's kind of a problem. Mostly, because any comparison of my hobby's products will pale in imitation to the original greats, or especially anything that the OSR comes out with. Much like any other form of lazy presentation, it makes one wonder as to the effort made inside. If they can't be bothered to create an original and appealing cover for their work, what makes anybody think they put any effort into the inside? Of course, that's vastly unfair to those of us who are not artists by any stretch, but such is life.

Option Two
The potential new "look" of the V series of
Labyrinth Lord modules.
This cover keeps the solid background and the emphasis on text over art, but adds a splash of color in the corner and a little beveled text boxes, two things which help the cover stand out at least a tiny bit in comparison. In addition, there's room for a silly little woodcut graphic of a knight, an image I like very much.

The cons? Well, I'm not sure about the red, or the bevelled box for the title, or the fact that it cuts over the image. In addition, I'm feeling that the "V2" text should be white, not black. Other than that, it's ok. It seems perhaps like it tries a little hard to have a "new and improved!" feel, when it's really impossible to improve over the balanced and classic design of the originals.

What do you think? Emulate the originals, try and improve on them, or try something else entirely?

EDIT: Hybrid Option
This is a hybrid design, taking the rounded box and font of version two and keeping the more reduced aesthetic of version one. The knight on the lower left is still there because, after all, he's still pretty cool. The attribution could stand to be a little bigger, and the knight image a little smaller, but still, tweaking isn't such a bad thing.

If this ends up being the final design, then it'll be absolutely no problem to edit Servants of Plague to conform to this standard, since these templates are made in Inkscape, which is about the best format known to man, as far as ease of use goes.

I kind of like the hybrid, to be honest with you. It might end up being the "final draft" so to speak.

10 August 2010

Dark Skies Above Us

A Crayonian Sorcerer, perhaps?
You may not have noticed, but I've started working on V2: Dark Skies Above Us. It's in extremely preliminary stages at the moment, little more than a couple of ideas floating around in my skull. With any luck, it'll have more juicy goodness without all of that overly crunchy crap, and it'll probably be a little more dungeon-crawly. V1: Servants of Plague didn't have much dungeon crawling at all, featuring a more open-ended, go wherever you want sort of area with slight limitations. (For example, I added a key to get above the giant garbage pit of the first floor that was being carried by the patrolling Orc Sergeant, since my players blitzed the keep and I didn't want them to ignore all the rest of the stuff.)

Since this seems like as good of a place to say it as any, my Player Character Hack is also almost done. It really needs a name, which is unfortunate, since nothing really seems to fit it well. There's just something about names... If my home campaign world had a name, it'd be easier, since then it'd be "GAMEWORLD COMPANION" instead of being called absolutely nothing, or worse, "Crayonian Classes." How pretentious can you get?

Anyways, the part that's taking so long is replacing the art I'd taken from sources on the internet and from my hard-drive's art archives, and replacing it with free, open-domain woodcut art. It takes a while, especially when there isn't really any art for wizardly type guys unless they're being hauled off by demons or some other such silliness. I suppose that could work, technically, but I'd be much happier with some other line art like the art I've been using, such as the nice artwork that I've used at the beginning of this blog post. Anybody know any kind-hearted fantasy artists?

09 August 2010

The Best Retroclones

Since my other post was extremely (excessively) negative and it didn't let me stretch my writing wings hardly at all, here's another post to tide you over, one with a little more positivity. Yes, it's time to write about the Best Retroclone.

It's a distinction with highly subjective statements that may or may not apply to you, my gentle, well-mannered, and undoubtedly attractive reader. You may howl in rage at my gross miscalculations, and scream in impotent rage at my idiocy. Bear with me, as my opinions are not without reasons.

4th Best Retroclone: Basic Fantasy
Basic Fantasy: Old-School, redesigned
I'm not a big fan of Basic Fantasy. It's an old-school game bolted onto the chassis of 3rd edition gaming, and it shows. It's better than 3rd edition, but it diverges in order to make efforts to "improve" the game and make it more "modern" while still having the spirit of old-school. The spirit is admirable, and it's a good effort, make no mistake. But there's something about it that just isn't for me. I wish I could articulate it. Maybe a greater mind than myself will be able to do so?

I suppose it might be the way that it takes the trappings of all editions and bundles them together which throws me off a bit. I may be in the minority, but there are distinct flavors of gaming between AD&D, oD&D, BECMI, and the like, and each flavor is delicious in its own right. But some things aren't meant to be mixed together?

3rd Best Retroclone: OSRIC

OSRIC, the AD&D retroclone

OSRIC almost got chosen as my favorite Retroclone. This is from a man who has played almost no AD&D, who is notorious for ignoring vast swaths of rules he doesn't like. But it was the first retroclone I discovered.

I can't remember how or why I discovered it, but I do remember why I liked it so much: It has half orcs, and assassins, and rangers. Half-Orcs are awesome; they have a mixture of sadness and raw power, a sort of sullen majesty. They're men of mixed descent, looked down on in most "civilized" society for faults which are not their own. They didn't ask to be born of the mixture of man and orc any more than other men asked to be born of two men, or of two dwarves. But still they are sneered at, mocked, and unwelcome. This sort of pathos appeals to me, and ensures that half-orcs get a spot at my gaming table where few other demihuman races do.

But as a game, OSRIC suffers from the same faults that AD&D does as a whole. It's a little clunkier, a little more obtuse. It has non-weapon proficiencies, secondary skills, sub-classes, and the like. Much like AD&D proper, it simply feels like it's been cobbled together from bits and peices.

Still, it's a good game. A very solid choice for anyone, though my heart lies elsewhere.

2nd Best Retroclone: Swords and Wizardry
Swords and Wizardry: A 0e D&D retroclone.
Swords and Wizardry is a fantastic game, and always draws me nearer and nearer to its clutch every time I read about it. It's simple, eloquent, and easy to modify, which is the whole point of old-school games.

You'll notice that the image is of the S&W Whitebox, rather than the S&W proper. That's because of the two, I prefer the Whitebox for its open-canvas feel. Both of the editions are spectacular, and are covered in evocative art, excellent writing, and clear statements. It has "optional rules" that have become standard features in other games, such as Strength increasing your damage scores, or Dexterity improving your Armor Class. It also features a single Saving Throw, which is nice and easy to remember, and still allows for plenty of customization (by, for example, allowing Dwarves a bonus against saving throws for poison). Swords and Wizardry is a beautiful, beautiful game, and the Knockspell magazine published by the same company is a great companion.

Best Retroclone: Labyrinth Lord
This writer's favorite retroclone.
If you didn't know I was going to say this, welcome to Lawful Indifferent. This is a blog about retroclones, old-school games, and wargaming.

Bad humor aside, this is my favorite retroclone. Not only does it emulate one of the most popular editions of old-school D&D, it does it well. Beautifully, I might add. It retains the race-as-class feature, multiple saving throws, and easy to digest and understand formatting. The layout is heavenly and the interior art is awesome.

I prefer the purple and black cover of the older edition, but I also supported getting the full-with-art interiors for free, so what do I know? Despite the new free to get edition not having any interior art, this version is still my favorite. It just plain plays well!

In addition, it has the extremely useful and very well received Advanced Edition Characters, or AEC that adds the Ranger, Druid, Assassin, and other classes into the game. It's like taking the best of AD&D and sticking it directly into basic D&D. Not to mention the Original Edition Characters, another "expansion" of the core rules that emulates the "Little Brown Books" of oD&D. I don't have much experience with them myself, but they seem to have gotten fairly high marks from those that have used it.

There's just something about Labyrinth Lord that really gets my creative juices flowing, and the spark in my belly fired. It makes me want to create endless campaigns and design stuff until my fingers wear grooves into my keyboard. You really need to try it if you haven't already.

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...