Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: beyond Official System Releases

This current version of D&D not only seems to be very friendly towards older D&D conversions, but also -- by extension -- to a lot of the OSR systems that were inspired by those older versions. I think I can see it working for the B/X and BECMI versions of D&D, as well as 1st Edition AD&D -- but I have no real feel for converting the other versions before and after. But it does make it possible to therefore use a lot of (a) old D&D material; and (b) a lot of OSR material.

Unofficial Conversion Document

Fortunately, for people interested in converting older materials (and some OSR systems), James Bowman has produced his own conversion guidelines for D&D 5th Edition.

At the time of this posting, it includes:

  • BECMI to 5E (includes 0E, Holmes, and B/X) - last updated 12 August 2014
    2E to 5E (includes 1E) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 3.5 to 5E (includes 3E and Pathfinder) - last updated 12 August 2014
  • 4E to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
    Next to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Castles & Crusades to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to 5E - last updated 12 August 2014

There's both an in-depth document and a quick reference document for each. Great work, Mr. Bowman.

Old School Style: Geomorphs

I'm always happy to see old school maps and geomorphs online, not only because of the nostalgia factor, but also because of my gamer fascination with maps and the design philosophies behind creating 'geomorph' maps in RPGs and boardgames.

Michael Wenman currently is tackling how to create & design geomorphs on his blog in a fascinating (currently 10-part) series.

OSR Game System Listing

And if you're looking for various OSR systems that you might want to go through for source material and perhaps some cool game mechanic hacks for a one-shot, a short campaign, or a permanent house rule -- look no further than the D&D retroclone / neo-clone listing on Taxidermic Owlbear! Logos and links and short summaries aplenty!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: D&D Basic v2 (for Players and DM)

It seems that there's a new version of of the Basic D&D ruleset out on the Wizards of the Coast website.

What used to just be a single document (in standard and printer-friendly formats) is now a set of two documents -- one for the Players, and one for the Dungeon Master.

Here's what the change log says about the revised contents:
Change Log

This change log indicates significant updates from the previous version of the D&D Basic Rules.

  •     Added acid splash and poison spray spells.
  •     Added noble background.
  •     Added appendix containing the Forgotten Realms deities.
  •     Added appendix containing descriptions of the five factions that feature in the D&D Adventurers League.
  •     Legal text added to the footer to allow reproduction for personal purposes.

Of course, it seems that this only tackles the Player's side of things.

In the DM's book, there's a huge section about Monsters, covering monster types, abilities, AC and Proficiency, and then giving a listing of monsters for use in the game. It also provides NPC templates and ways to customize them to your needs. There's also advice on building combat encounters, rules on magic items, and a short list of them.

Looking forward to future updates!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strike Hard And Fade Away Into The Night: TMNT

There's even a short comic inside this sucker. Awesome stuff. Didn't play this game enough, and probably won't ever again.

And I'm going to give this to a good friend soon, so this is kinda farewell to this game.

Good luck, TMNT RPG. May your new owner use you well.

I remember really being into the turtles back in the day, but then the cartoons started to veer sharply away from the source material in tone.

It wasn't always grim and gritty, after all. There was humor, science fiction, and pizza! But the mixture kinda went a bit weird for me. Oh, well. Good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Eye on the 5th: Bloggers on Basic

I've been enjoying a lot of the posts that have been going up on blogs regarding the current rules release for D&D 5th Edition. At the time of this writing, only the Basic version is up on the WOTC site, but there a quite a lot of blog posts out there that are not just reviewing it, but also posting new material, conversions from older editions, and useful stuff to help run games while we wait for the standard trifecta of books for the game to come out (PHB, DMG, MM).

Here are a few of those posts and links that I've found useful or interesting:

They Got The Math Right by Robb Minneman (on RPGGeek)

A short but informative post about how the math works out for D&D Basic so far. It has a table that displays how calculations were done, and has some interesting observations / analysis about the results:

"First thing to note: Modifiers top out at +11. There's a cap on a PC's ability at 20. Proficiency bonuses do not extend past +6. That means you can't get more than a +11 to a roll, ever. That "nearly impossible" DC 30 check? They mean it. Heck, a "Very Hard" (DC 25) check can really only be attempted once a PC gets up into the level 6-8 range, and even then it's going to be a rare success.

But the math scales very nicely. The fact that bonuses scale gently means that characters get more capable, but the game designers don't have to go through the contortions that the 3e and 4e writers did to continue to make challenges hold up. This is more like the 1e and 2e thief skills: Your chances of success keep going up as your level increases.

That's good! It doesn't break the verisimilitude of your PC becoming more powerful. You can actually try harder things and your chances of succeeding go up. It provides a tangible success meter for characters."

5E Backgrounds by Courtney Campbell (on Hack & Slash)

With character backgrounds emerging as an interesting way to further customize your 1st level character, this series of posts is adding to the available backgrounds by offering up a few new ones. Currently available at the time of this writing are: Torturer, Gravedigger, Farmer, Prisoner.

5E Monsters by Surfarcher (Surf's D&D Blog)

Monsters are always welcome to DMs looking for some interesting opposition to their PCs. We should encourage Surfarcher to complete his 10-part series of D&D monsters as he does some analysis on them. Four of the planned posts are up; check them out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPG A Day: Days 1 through 5

For those of you who may be unaware of +Dave Chapman's call to the #RPGaDay challenge, check out this post on his blog: Autocratik.

Me? I'm a bit late, so I gotta get caught up.

1st Day: First RPG Played

The first RPG that I ever played, believe it or not, wasn't D&D. This is because, growing up as a kid in the Philippines, I was usually trying to get people to play the game -- meaning that I'd be trying to run it, but with a very tenuous grasp of the rules.

Therefore, my first RPG game as a player was another well-known TSR property: Star Frontiers! It was run by a classmate of mine who picked up that boxed set and ran it for us at a class retreat in a beautiful seminary overlooking some of the lovely Baguio scenery.

2nd Day: First RPG Gamemastered

This, without a doubt, would be D&D Basic. This is the Moldvay edition with the Erol Otus cover. I've recounted elsewhere on this blog that I actually first purchased an AD&D module, then was given the basic rules as a gift, and tried to run the game. I remember trying at least twice -- once with my classmates and once with my cousins -- but never managing to really make it stick.

I never stopped cracking it open, despite the fact that I eventually realized that AD&D held the majority of the rules for the modules I'd been collecting from the bookstore, and therefore shifted away from the Basic and Expert Sets to devour the trinity of rules (PHB, DMG, and MM) for 1st edition AD&D back in the misty pasts of my youth.

3rd Day: First RPG Purchased

With my own allowance money? This would be Top Secret. Yeah, TSR was the only real RPG brand we could get in the Philippines (that I knew of). Reconnecting with others when I got back here, I found out that some determined souls had gotten ahold of Champions.

But I digress. Where was I? Top Secret! I remember stumbling through these rules, but having an easier time figuring out what might happen. I had a steadier diet of espionage flicks on TV and in the movie theaters, and my cousins were into them too. We all created characters and tried out a couple of games, but I -- ultimately -- couldn't quite figure out Sprechenhaltestelle.

We did eventually return to the espionage genre with Top Secret/S.I. But that's another story.

4th Day: Most Recent RPG Purchase

All my RPG collecting is in the electronic world these days, as space is costly at home. So my latest purchase comes from RPGnow / DriveThruRPG: a supplement for Sine Nomine's spectacular Stars Without Number -- Relics of the Lost.

Kevin Crawford is a lean, mean RPG writing machine. And he does some interesting work in creating tools for sandbox-style games in the Science Fiction genre. Actually, for multiple genres -- there are supplements for the cyberpunk, post-holocaust, and post-human subgenres as well.

Of course, Mr. Crawford does the same for Fantasy RPGs, and you should just give Sine Nomine a look online to see the full breadth of his work. Then check out how long he's been doing it; you'll be amazed.

5th Day: Most Old School RPG owned

I thought it would be a toss-up between two RPGs: the Moldvay Basic D&D set, and the 1st edition of Champions. I never actually played Champions 1st Edition, as I began playing it with the 3rd Edition. However, I've since traded for a copy of the original rules set, out of a collector's mentality.

However, looking at the release years it turns out that my Oldest Old School RPG owned turns out to be: Traveller. Yes, the classic Traveller rules in those black books by Marc Miller.

It was also the first RPG that I got to play when I was in the U.S. I was a beginning character, playing alongside ridiculously powerful characters, but I was finally playing an RPG with seasoned roleplayers, and I couldn't have been happier (at the time) gaming-wise.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mining Firebirds: Grimjack 01 - The Suspects

In Part 02 of this series for Grimjack #01's story (titled "A Shade of Truth"), we tackle the suspects, revelations, and red herrings encountered while investigating the suicide.

In Part 01, we learned the premise of the story: One Ms. Sondra Grant, former wife of Cynosure's Finance Minister, engages the services of John Gaunt, also known as Grimjack, to discover the true circumstances surrounding the suicide of her daughter.

Through this setup, we also learn more about Cynosure -- a pan-dimensional city where various realities meet and intersect, but not always reliably or peacefully.

A favorite line of mine from the series: "Guns work here. Magic works there. Swords work everywhere."

A great rationale for a setting where swords still have some relevance.

The Former Lover turns out to be an athlete so full of himself as to be instantly unlikeable. He tries to blow off Grimjack with a combination of an "I don't know her" and "Take a hike". This encourages Grimjack to use more physical means to persuade him to spill information about poor Marcie.

John "Grimjack" Gaunt, aware that this young buck would easily take him in a fair fight, uses a combination of cheap shots and overwhelming violence to triumph. He discovers that Marcie was on drugs, but knows that there's more -- more that won't be forthcoming yet.

Firebird 1: this encounter would give PCs a challenge, since the person being questioned is physically and socially capable of defending himself in civilized company (contender for the tri-sector boxing championship; backed by the University). Even resorting to violence, he won't reveal everything given that he'll lose everything if his involvement with drugs is revealed. And a murder is certainly going to bring its own kind of heat on the PCs.

The Father of Marcie, and Ex-Husband of Sondra Grant, is Finance Minister Honesworth -- who has a reputation for honesty. Quite important, as any hint of favoritism would result in a trade war (something we'll see in future issues).

Firebird 2: this type of character is useful to establish as a) a squeaky-clean suspect who is quite powerful on many levels, surrounded by less honest or scrupulous, but very loyal retainers; and b) a future ally or antagonist depending on the behavior of the PCs.

The New Wife is exotic -- an Ethayr woman of a race that exists across separate planes simultaneously. She drops sparse but concrete hints, but seems a bit distant to be a direct suspect.

Firebird 3: mostly a nice way to re-inforce the scope of the setting. Another race, different realities, matched with issues of prestige and power. However, it's also a good technique to drop hints to the PCs if they're floundering a bit.

Firebird 4: this would be a good fit for the Ur-Obun or (perhaps more controversially) Ur-Ukar in the Fading Suns setting. A window into another culture, as well as an insight into how they're becoming more and more integrated into the Known Worlds.

The Friend & Advisor is a dangerous one. Not only does Heinrich Krupp stop Grimjack's snooping around (while Sondra commiserates with Honesworth), but he also gives a powerful thrashing.

Firebird 5: a fantastic way to introduce a heavyweight race into the adventure -- intelligent and dangerous in combat, killing this individual will certainly mark the PCs as dangerous people, and perhaps earn them the enmity of the people he represents and has befriended.

Firebird 6: You go the obvious route, by dropping in a Vorox noble into this role. Alternately, however, you can hew closer to the visual representation of Krupp, by choosing a rare sub-race of the Etyri with serious physical power.

The Candyman is dangerous. He represents the another dark side of society: crime. He reveals suggests that Marcie delivered drugs and acted as his call-girl for a time.

He used to be small time, but now has serious muscle behind him -- muscle that's looking to find some kind of leverage on Honesworth. It seems like he probably would've killed Gaunt if he'd come alone, but the presence of Sondra probably stayed his hand. But perhaps he still has need of Grimjack in some way?

A lot of things will crystallize, and the portrayal of Marcie gets darker and darker, driving Sondra to the edge -- she wants to stop the investigation.

John Gaunt, however, doesn't do that. He has an obsession with the Truth, and must find out what really happened.

Firebird 7: Almost at the end of the trail, the PCs should have a clear idea of what's been going on, and perhaps have some idea of how high the stakes are.

They should also know about the powerful backing of the Candyman -- in Fading Suns terms, this would be the equivalent of a particular Guild getting a destabilizingly exclusive patent on certain services.

Firebird 8: This should also let the PCs know how much they should be ready for the inevitable resolution. Careful planning and sufficient firepower and contingencies would be wise.

Next post: The conclusion!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

RIP: James Shigeta

TaroIsogi01James Shigeta passed away; rest in peace sir.

I knew of him largely from his appearance in Babylon 5's s02 episode "A Spider in the Web". Though I did recognize him in a couple of Outer Limits episodes during a TV marathon years back. I didn't even recognize him in the original Die Hard movie!

I'm placing him in the IDIC Files tag because I did get a thrill from seeing him in major, non-villainous, non-token roles in these TV shows. Despite the last name (and his general appearance) being clearly Japanese, in the back of my mind I often wondered if he was partially Filipino. I can't explain it; his mannerisms and speech patterns triggered 'old Filipino gentleman grandfather' in my mind.

And I secretly patterned some of my old NPCs in my Fading Suns campaigns after him, as a result.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

D&D 5e: Character Sheet Try-Out

Trying out some of the character sheets for D&D 5th Edition EnWorld stuff. I really like the compressed nature of the stats on this one done by Verys Arkon, as well as the layout of the skills grouped into each Stat.

Wish there was a similarly clean way to handle character abilities, but that's another animal.

The variances of the font sizes can't be avoided, I suppose, given the length of the skill names.

The Combat column is nice, though I feel a bit strange about that proficiencies portion. Could the Proficiencies be combined with the Exploration portion? Or perhaps with the skills associated?

Perhaps after a bit more adventuring, there'll be a few more options for useful blocks on the character sheet front portion.

Rinaldo Cardano is my character for the Echoes 2 campaign, being run by a friend of mine. It's in a homebrew setting which doesn't have native divine or arcane magic, so I guess we'll see how my cleric will deal with things. He assures us that I have herbal-based healing abilities; we'll need them based on the feedback from other bloggers on the nature of combat in this edition.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Echoes Book 2: The Echo of Treviso

A Watery Reality

This reality is composed of really quite a lot of water, islands, and approximately five hundred archipelagos, each comprising anywhere from two to thirty, but most typically an average of three to four large islands, with numerous islets.

These archipelagos do not necessarily form countries, but more often than not are clustered into loose collections of city-states, including that of Piacenza.

The City State of Piacenza

Map of the City-State of Piacenza
(by Andrew Drilon)

Piacenza, due to its geographical location, is a crucial waypoint in sea or air travel to many places of the world, and has thus become a flourishing trade city, its population frequently hosting as well as interbred with foreigners of various stripes.

It is composed of fourteen major islands, each privately owned by one of Piacenza’s fifteen noble families. Each family and therefore island is responsible for a certain Mandate of governance, with the fifteenth (or first) family – that of the Doge – enjoying (or not) oversight and a modicum of rulership over the whole.

The assignment of Mandates (and thus home islands) among families is a shifting affair, such that a family may ‘go into ascent’, taking the office of the Doge, thereby forfeiting their previous island and its rights, resources, and income to another family.

The majority of noble families normally do not wish to ascend, as the Doge and his or her kin live on an artificial island that generates no income aside from a percentage of tithes and taxes from the other fourteen, although this can be fairly substantial.

The Doge, however, has the privilege of assigning Mandates and their associated islands among the fourteen, which may be levied as either favor or burden, as the assigned family thus receives not only the potential income and influence, but also the entire responsibility – financial and otherwise – of operating their designated Mandate.

Mandates & Districts

Each Mandate is linked to a specific island and its neighboring islets, collectively referred to as a District. Each District houses a variety of residential, commercial, and government establishments, along with a number of Guild headquarters.

The Guilds, essentially, are trade associations that operate across the archipelago, some functioning directly under particular Mandates, while others are staunchly independent.

Politically, then, authority in Piacenza is held and granted by, first, the Doge, then the ruling Houses of each District, then the Guilds for professional matters and the Councils for domestic concerns, and lastly, very unofficially, the Fellowships.

Councils are subgroupings of five to ten households, which may or may not be related. The Councils handle non-business-related concerns before elevation to the District level, often with support from the Judiciary or, preferably, Diplomatic Mandates.

Fellowships are informal gatherings of friends or allies toward a common cause or agenda. These are formally banned, but nevertheless thrive in secret.

Fourteen Mandates/Districts, along with some of their linked Guilds

  1. Water
    1. Sanitation
    2. Distribution
  2. Resources – No more than three tree preserves exist in all Piacenza.
    1. Forestry
    2. Animal Husbandry
  3. Transportation – Two airships are maintained under this mandate.
    1. Freight
    2. Drivers
    3. Transport Maintenance
  4. Infrastructure
    1. Architects
    2. Maintenance
  5. Public safety
    1. Police
    2. Fire
  6. Military
    1. Veterans
    2. Mariners
  7. Trade
    1. Merchants
    2. Fishermen
  8. Judiciary
    1. Barristers
    2. Judges
  9. Diplomacy
    1. Spies
    2. Linguists
  10. Finance
    1. Accountants
    2. Coral
  11. Sciences
    1. Steam
    2. Clockwork
  12. Communication
    1. Genealogy
    2. History
  13. Far Water
    1. Cartographers
    2. Explorers
  14. Culture – The head of the Culture District is married to a Civita Vecchia native.
    1. Courtesans
    2. Actors
The five most important Guilds include the Jewelers’ and the most powerful, the Guild of Smoke (The Thieves’ Guild).

Given its resource limitations, Piacenza tends to be highly-regulated in virtually in every aspect of life, not least of which is marriage. Since the islands are relatively small, intermarriage is far from unusual, and often even encouraged, as Piacenzans are not generally very fertile. On the other hand, every Piacenzan is, from birth, considered to be an asset belonging to his or her District, so unions between Districts, while ideally welcomed, are, in practice, subject to long and complex bureaucratic processing. (The couple eventually chooses – or is ‘guided’ to choose – one of the relevant Districts to live in and be affiliated with; any children of the union will be citizens of that district.)

Both despite and because of such regulation, Piacenzans by nature tend to be very savvy people – especially about the rules that relate to them personally – and exceedingly devoted to their families first and friends second. They love to celebrate and are extremely fashion-conscious – it’s a rare Piacenzan indeed who does not sport some form of jewelry on a daily basis, and is not able to make a rapid assessment of another’s general social status based on attire. They are quick to take offense, and quick to forgive – situationally, and at times, only quick to appear to forgive.

There are no private armies, no magic, and no particularly-revered gods in Piacenza. Perhaps as a result of this lack of religion, courtesans are publicly recognized and well respected. A notable aspect of the regard in which they are held is that, while married Piacenzans are expected to refrain from affairs once their unions have resulted in children, dallying with a courtesan or three is not viewed as a violation of this – it is merely a transaction with a businesswoman or businessman, as the case may be. Most courtesan houses and private courtesans reside in the Culture District, although there is one powerful establishment situated elsewhere – a subject of some tension.

Other recent unrest in Piacenza is attributed to a suspected underground group partially composed of inhabitants from, or influenced or financed by Civita Vecchia, one of Piacenza’s three main external trade partners. These are:
  1. Savona – which enjoys a long-standing, harmonious relationship with Piacenza, where they have a permanent embassy (real-world equivalent = Caucasian)
  2. Portici – formerly known as Porti, with which Piacenza once had a troubled relationship, but is now under new governance (Middle Eastern & African)
  3. Civita Vecchia – at war with Piacenza as recently as two generations ago, in the course of which two of the three fallen (and since replaced) noble families collapsed; one of these held the Mandate of War. Currently, only the Cultural and Diplomatic Districts interact with Civita Vecchia. (Middle Oriental)

Using D&D 5th Edition: Blowing on the Embers

The emergence of D&D's Basic Rules (5th Edition, yo) has made its way into our normal rules lite gaming habit.

Season 01 of the Echoes campaign concluded last month, and the second season is undergoing some world- and character-building exercises.

Part of that is actually reading the rules for D&D and seeing what we can use for the (for now) magic-free world of Treviso.

Being called on to create much of this world is forcing me (for reasons that will become clear in subsequent posts) to not only become familiar with the ruleset and subsequent extensions (and cribbing from the OSR library, whee!), but to also unearth some great source material from Blue Planet and other RPGs with similar settings.

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