Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stars Without Number to be published by Mongoose Games

It seems that Stars Without Number is going to be published by Mongoose Games. An announcement on the Mongoose site says that the release will be some time in September:
Stars Without Number will be published in September (though copies will be available at Gen Con) with the first supplement, Skyward Steel, following in October.
Stars Without Number, currently freely available to download, is an intriguing neo-clone in that its rule systems are similar to both old school D&D and old school Traveller. But above and beyond that, it has tables and source material very useful to any space-based science fiction campaign, and has eminently usable rules for dealing with factions (worlds, countries, organizations, political movements, secret societies, etc.) and allowing abstract resolution / simulation of conflicts between them.

Congratulations to Sine Nomine (Kevin), and here's hoping that it helps you produce even more products of quality!

Of course, since Mongoose is behind the current incarnation of Traveller and is a publisher of D20 derived material as well, one wonders if there will be conversion material in the future, whether it be setting or system conversions to or from SWN.

What am I hoping to see in that arena? Well, I know that Babylon 5 is out of the question (valiant effort, Mongoose), but certainly closer ties with all the new Traveller material and perhaps some representation in the newly revived "A Call To Arms" tabletop game. And an expanded faction wars system.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On Character Generation and Character Creation

Some game systems have character generation mechanisms -- random elements are used over choice for certain aspects of the process of putting together a character. For the classic D&D systems, this includes random die rolls for stats (which, if done with a 3d6, in-sequence approach, ends up narrowing your choices for your character class as well). For classic Traveller, it determined whether or not you survived that extra tour of duty that would have given you another rank in a skill you were after.

Some game systems have character creation mechanisms -- usually point-buying attributes, skills, and special abilities. GURPS and HERO are the most well-known ones in this arena, given their 'universal' approach to different settings and genres. Less well known are other point-buy systems like EABA, and the incredibly fast choose a template and add 6 dice to skills approach of the West End Games D6 Star Wars RPG.

I like both of these, but now I'm also looking at systems like HeroQuest which I seem to approach character creation as a sort of 'broadstrokes' character definition approach, and then performing some character refinement during play. It is a more narrative-oriented approach, but it does allow for quick character creation in addition to being able to having some wiggle room to give a character something he should already have (but we forgot to buy it) and to allow a character to break the stereotypes and molds that they sometimes fall into.

The main reason I'm doing this: curiosity.

While character generation forced players to sort of adapt to whatever good or bad luck they experienced and character creation forced players to really think about all the capabilities of their character (and possibly be disappointed when they either run of points, or discover that the system doesn't quite reflect their character as effectively as it should) -- what will a character definition / character refinement approach do?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.10 -- The Corrupted Temple

Eris warning the party not to let their
powers flare too brightly in the Underworld
(from Adam Gorightly's Discordian blog)
The party returns to the shoreline to rest and reconfigure abilities. MANTIUS is again whisked off by one of the Warder overseers, in the course of which he learns that the temple they are about to enter is “one of the earliest strongholds of chaos”, the breaching of which was a task originally assigned to Rogelio and his compatriots, who failed. The Invictus Vigilo is credited for initiative in the fight against the blue, and Mantius is returned.

CATALINA checks up mentally on ALINA, who, wearing the Frost Adjutant shard from Rogelio’s set, is assisting the captain in his effort to build a ship. Catalina warns the girl to be wary; and the rest of the party hies off to the temple to face, in succession:

1. two guardians similar to the first one they faced earlier; one bearing a staff, and one a flail
2. four guardians and the underwater creatures that lurk in a chamber of rising water

Following the challenge of the latter battle, the group considers returning to the beach to rest once more, but is given pause by Mantius’s sense, as a warder, that it would be a betrayal of duty and of their shards. They therefore elect to proceed, thereafter dealing with:

3. a series of puzzle rooms involving traps and moveable boulders
4. a spiral staircase on which they are assaulted by the mindless Evicus the Shadow Biter and his insects

Finally, they arrive at a sort of ground level, at which a prayer to Dis Pater reveals that they must pass a battery of tests in order to continue. ALECTO and Mantius face a set of hooded guardians to win their companions the right to battle in the first place, after which ARCTURUS faces a room whose walls close in on him; DUMAS, the famed underworld judge Rhadamanthus; Catalina, a young boy and girl in the game of Karma; and VARIAN, an emotional confrontation with CARNELIAN, in which the former throws away the Gorgon spirit stone.

All manage to succeed and, after answering questions as to what they learned in their tests, witness the unveiling of ERIS, goddess of discord (previously one of the hooded figures confronting Aly and Mantius). She warns them of the greater perils that await them, since they will now be entering the underworld—perils that include the infestation of various denizens, including possibly the lord and lady of Dis themselves. The party remains resolute, however, and, after ascertaining what shards each of them has borne, Eris gifts Aly, as Comitisa Dolor, with a golden apple, and cautions them all not to “let powers flare too brightly” in the realm of the dead.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not Enough Time

It's not my shelf, but I've got a similar collection of stuff. Across several shelves and boxes.
There are so many good things out there in the gaming world. And there are so many things I missed out on the first time around. And there are so many games I would like to read, to try, to house rule, to convert, to run, and to play.

But I just don't have enough time. I don't.

Even if I gave up on Real Life, which -- of course -- I won't and can't.

So it's time to review all the things that I spend my time on in this hobby of mine and see what things I should be spending my time on.

The Short List
News and Feeds
Well, first and foremost I do enjoy hearing about the latest and greatest news and controversies about the hobby. I'm fascinated by the emergence of the Indie RPG, and the developments in the 3.5E / OGL industry space (especially Pathfinder, Castles & Crusades, Stars Without Number, True20, etc.). I'm fascinated by FATE, and all this stuff spurred on by stuff from OSR enthusiasts.

So feeds and blogging and news sites will be important.

Systems
I'll have to narrow down the systems I try to learn, and have some favorite go-to systems if I ever get to run games again. On the list right now are:
  • For the fantasy genre, I tend toward the D20-inspired branch of systems, I'm looking at Castles & Crusades and True20;
  • For the supers genre, I'm looking at Hero System, M&M, and either Icons or BASH;
  • For the SF genre, I also look at the Hero System, EABA, and True20.
Of course, I do like reading up on new systems. But I will have to limit it to a certain number a year. And currently, one of those slots is taken up by Cortex-Smallville.

Settings
I always want to learn more about settings I like. But I really have to temper it somehow. After all, even if enjoy the exploration of various aspects of a setting -- at some point it becomes tedious, or boring, or more simply, enough.

For example, D&D 3E's Forgotten Realms main sourcebook, plus the Lords of Darkness book were enough for me. Other books were nice to have (Faiths and Pantheons and Magic of Faerun, for example), but the fleshing out of other areas started to become too much.

Also, I'm not a total slave to canon either -- I like to retain key elements of settings but would prefer to have space to insert my own ideas into the world.

Right now, my favored settings include: the iconic DC Universe & the iconic Marvel Universe, Forgotten Realms 3E, Mystara, Blue Planet, Fading Suns, Babylon 5, and the meta-setting of Call of Cthulhu (which includes 1890s,1920s, and Delta Green).

Runners up include Eclipse Phase, SF settings like Lightspeed that allow combining Star Wars and Star Trek elements into it, and city-based mini-settings like Lankhmar, Thieves' World, and Freeport.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wars Among the Stars

I hardly ever get to play Science Fiction games. When I do, it tends to be the type of Science Fiction that's mixed with rubber science or even mystical abilities (which I also enjoy, but that's really Science Fantasy and I have Fading Suns for that).

But I do buy and read a fair amount of them (more and more of them in electronic form)! I have stuff from Hero Games and stuff for GURPS. I've got Traveller stuff and the Stars Without Number stuff. I used to have all the Star Wars D6 stuff and all the Cyberpunk stuff. I was going to try to collect all the Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles, and Blue Planet stuff but realized I just didn't have that much money.

And I didn't get to complete my collection of Mongoose Babylon 5 stuff before their license ran out, gosh darn it.

RPGs

Here are a couple of games that I'm looking at picking up, even if it's likely that I'll never run them:

I already picked up the Thousand Suns RPG before, and enjoyed its approach toward creating a space opera type campaign setting with a semi-toolkit approach. The d12-based mechanic is interesting as well, though I will say that I'm biased towards bell curve dice mechanics for resolution. I'm looking at picking this supplement up, which gives even more material on fleshing out your own very special space opera setting -- even if I know that there's a new edition of Thousand Suns in the works.

I guess I'm just interesting in things that will help flesh out the verisimilitude of a space-based campaign setting: the trading, the politics, the logistics of daily life on colonies and space stations and starships. And I'll admit that I've often used these details on adventures set on different Fading Suns planets.

Another RPG of interest is primarily on my wishlist due to curiosity. Some of my favorite Science Fiction RPG adventures in the past have been largely military campaigns (hence my interest in the Stars Without Number supplement Skyward Steel), and this particular RPG -- called 3:16: Carnage Amongst The Stars is really just that ("Out-Veerhoeven's Veerhoeven!" said Robin D. Laws).

Not only that, it's been nominated for, and has won several industry awards, so that speaks well for its quality and hopefully playability.

The copy says: "This high-octane Science-Fiction role-playing game for 2 or more players has your Space Troopers killing bugs all across the Cosmos. You’ll advance in rank, improve your weapons, slay civilization after civilization and find out who you are through an innovative 'Flashback' mechanic."

War Games

Fortunately, I do stand a decent chance of actually playing in a war game. There's a local group of gamers interested in playing them (mostly historical though open to new games) that get together on occasion for one-off gameplay. For that occasion, I'm looking at the following:

Noble Armada: A Call to Arms is a wargame that I've mention in this blog before, primarily due to its chosen game setting(s). The old incarnation of A Call to Arms was set in the Babylon 5 setting (which is in fact where it got its title). I was fascinated by the ruleset's flavor, particularly the manuevers -- which were named using the actual commands of the commanding officers of the ships ("Ramming Speed!").

And now that the new ruleset is out, set in the Fading Suns universe -- taking over where the old Noble Armada miniatures game left off, and adding rules for things like boarding actions, I'm getting ready to jump in! I have no idea what I'll use for miniatures and definitely have no budget for that. But coins and cardboard can be used I suppose.

In another corner, a more generic ruleset known as Starmada -- with fantastically lean yet plausible rules for ships that don't mysteriously stop in space when their thrusters cut out (inertia is retained) -- rules for fleet actions have come out in the very clearly titled Starmada: Fleet Ops.

I've only managed to read through the Starmada: Admiralty Edition rules and tried out some solo simulations, but what I read was enough to sell me on the other material for the game.

I want to get more experience in building ships under the rules (which is actually quite easy to do, but getting the feel of the ships right is similar to any type of point-build system) especially since there are many rules (core and optional) to build most of the types of SF ships you see in fiction. You try to get the ships to play as you envision them. But then again, one could think of these new ships as pathfinders for new lines of ships.

Perhaps someday, who knows?

News about Fading Suns 3rd Edition

In the March 25, 2011 blog post on the Void Transmissions blog, the following interesting tidbits were revealed about Fading Suns 3rd Edition:
  • content for the Player's Guide is with the editors, and once edited and approved, will move to the layout stage;
  • the Gamemaster's Guide is approaching readiness for editing, and will eventually contain
    • mass conflict rules
    • rules on weird threats such as Sathraism, Antinomy, and so on

In the blog post on March 26, 2011 on the Reborn Sun blog, Cybernetic rules and Mutant rules (also known as Misfits or the Changed in proper Fading Suns parlance) are tackled! In it, the differentiation between Misfits and the Changed is made, and a promise of a simplified cybernetic implant ruleset and the possibility of cyber possession (which I will admit, was part of a story arc I hinted at in my former campaigns, so I'm thrilled).

In the April 9 post on the same blog, Angus McNicholl talks about Technology: the modified Tech Levels and descriptions in comparison with others, the default Tech Level for the Known Worlds, the recalibrated damage ratings for weapons and armor, especially in duelling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Inspiration: New Spartacus in old Mystara

From a 'barbarian'
to criminal to
slave to celebrated
gladiator to
revolutionary.
Okay so Starz came out with a series called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and is currently doling out the flashback series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. Aside from all the nudity, all the sex, and all the over-the-top violence and gore, it's very well written dealing with issues of hubris, passion, fate, freedom, and interlocking character motivations, plots, schemes and counter-schemes. And it's also a fantastic point of view of Roman culture different from the very idealistic version we've seen in the past. (The series Rome also did something like, this, more on that in another post.)

We can mine it for the Empire of Thyatis in Mystara, of course. And there are many things to mine!

Slaves and Servants

Slaves can be wed
to others in same
household, according
to the series.
Since gladiators start off as slaves and servants, the first thing to get used to is that they are property. And the show really drives this point home multiple times -- their lives are forfeit should their master wish it, and are only safeguarded by the opinions of their masters (are they too valuable to kill? can I sell them if they're bad? what would my peers think of how I treat them?). Forget 'inalienable human rights here'.

And I can see how Christianity became a 'disruptive' influence in the Empire. A religion that argues that all human lives are precious -- Gentiles, Jews, servants, free men, women, men -- will find some traction in the difficult and numerous lives of the many of the non-citizens of the Empire, not just the slaves with finely honed skills in combat and tactics. But that's another story.

Favorites of a
dominus or
domina can
enjoy protection
and benefits --
but woe to those
who betray that
trust.
The life of a slave or servant can be good or bad depending on the character of the master (or masters) in a household, on the pecking order of the household servants (based on position, seniority, and trust in the eyes of the masters). The prideful and the haughty would have to be exceedingly skilled or cunning to last long without curtailing attributes and activities that their masters would find distasteful.

Interestingly enough, the racial and cultural backgrounds of the servants are varied due to the reach of the Roman Empire. In like manner, an interesting starting point for a campaign would be as servants and warriors of a Thyatian master -- they could come from all corners of the Empire, with various skills until they find themselves shipwrecked on the Isle of Dread...

Gladiators

Some slaves with
potential are chosen
to become gladiators.
The second thing we can tackle is the arena and the gladiators. In the Thyatis-based module DDA1: Arena of Thyatis, we get a glimpse of what Gladiators do in Thyatis and their secret role in policing the underground caverns beneath Thyatis.

Gladiators are a more elevated type of servant, with a potential to become true citizens if they do well enough -- but that's like someone becoming a movie star out of all the actors in Hollywood. And Gladiator wanna-be's are thoroughly hazed until they become part of the brotherhood. And before that they must be thoroughly skilled in the arts of fighting and killing with and against all kinds of armor and weaponry.

But even before they gain superstardom in the arena, minor stardom can net them fans, special status, and wealth from their masters.

Injured in epic battle, but
highly skilled Oenomaus
finds himself elevated to
the position of Doctore,
trainer of gladiators.
Of course, like many athletic professions there is a certain ceiling to one's career. Assuming one doesn't get killed or injured, a gladiator will eventually have to deal with age -- and consequently a change of career. But if one realizes early on that he doesn't have the skill or the flair to gain praise in the arena, he might want to find ways out of his servitude. Perhaps pushing to be traded as a soldier or guard for a caravan bound for the Grand Duchy of Karameikos?

Others may find themselves elevated in status within a household, and rowdy adventurers may be shocked to learn that that servant they're pushing around is a veteran of many arena battles, skilled at fighting despite many disadvantages and pain.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short Fiction on Alternate History Lovecraft

In my other guise, I read and write fiction and I wanted to share this somewhat dated (2008) link to a very short series of... vignettes? I didn't write it, but thoroughly enjoy it everytime I need a laugh.

Well, the title says it all: SELECTIONS FROM H.P. LOVECRAFT'S BRIEF TENURE AS A WHITMAN'S SAMPLER COPYWRITER

Here's an excerpt:
Caramel Chew
There is a dimension ruled by a blind caramel God-King who sits on a vast, cyclopean milk-chocolate throne while his mindless, gooey followers dance to the piping of crazed flutes. It is said that there are gateways in our world that lead to this caramel hell-planet. The delectable Caramel Chew may be one such portal.
Enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Old School Thieves' World Goodness from Chaosium

One of the RPGs I wanted to own, but never got a copy of was the old Thieves' World RPG by Chaosium.

While still lacking in that arena, I've come across information from that old set that makes it all the more interesting: AD&D stats for a lot of the characters from the early books! Thanks to whoever that was who typed out all those AD&D stats -- I heard there were other things in there too, but don't gots the actual pages.

Did you know that Molin Torchholder was an equivalent 8th level cleric? That Tempus was a 15th level fighter? That Enas Yorl was a cursed, constantly shapechanging 18th level magic-user? I didn't. And I know that it's not an exact fit, but it's interesting to see someone's take on their conversion to the old rules.

Yes, I agree with a lot of Green Ronin's take on the setting: no alignments, much multi-classing, and so on. But hey, there's something about seeing these familiar characters through a hazy mirror of time and older gaming sentiments.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inspiration: Thieves World


I've mentioned before my desire to take elements of Mystara as a template for an adventuring setting, mix in other elements of interest like Freeport and the Majestic Wilderlands, and have a slightly familiar, slightly different setting to play in.

And, despite the knowledge that I don't currently have a regular gaming group that would play in such a setting, it's a part of the hobby that I do enjoy working on.

Thieves' World is another element of interest that I would draw from. It was a series of anthologies detailing a city full of cutthroats and worse -- so much so that one character was known as "the only honest man" there.

It was part of a larger Rankan Empire, and as the Rankan Empire slowly eroded and fell, the city -- called Sanctuary -- began to take on importance as (possibly) the center of a new Empire that would grow and change the face of the world.

In Mystara, the Rankan Empire could quite easily by substituted with the Alphatian or Thyatian Empire. Alphatia will, of course, disappear from the face of Brun in the War of the Immortals -- and Thyatis, much weakened, is very much like an evaporating Empire.

Other element of use: different schools of magic (ones that will never be available to PCs due to their rarity and secrecy) like the cursed mage Enas Yorl and the mysterious mage of the blue star Lythande, locales like the Vulgar Unicorn, insight into the dealings of a Prince sent away from his family, and more 'mature' elements of fantasy like the slave trade and the Sacred Band of Stepsons.

Interestingly enough, several RPG supplements have been out for this shared world setting -- though I've never been able to pick one up and indeed only played a boardgame based on it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

HEROic D&D -- Part 5

Out of some weird need for parity, I'm going to refer to pages from the 6E ruleset using the Basic Rulebook for Hero 6E.

So, a fighter. In the world of D&D, there is a particular type of fighter. The strong fighter, tough, and master of weaponry. Of course, in Fantasy Hero there's the heavy fighter, the light fighter, etc. Am I choosing the D&D side?

For now, sort of. I want a 'standard fighter' in the Basic HEROic D&D rules that will blossom into all the valid templates (including pure HERO character creation). If you want to think of it this way:
Basic HEROic D&D = Basic D&D Set
Fantasy HERO 6E = Expert Set / Advanced D&D
Characteristics first, right? Let me spend 15 pts. on them, because it seems to make sense for the fighter to be "stat-heavy". Well, relatively anyway. Gives him some variance in comparison to the skill-heavy Thief and the magic-heavy mage.

Not everyone will build 'em this way, but I figured to go specific for now, and then let other possible fighter builds percolate as I go into the other classes.
Str 15 Dex 11 Con 13 Int 10 Ego 10 Pre 10
PD 2 ED 2 Body 12 Stun 26
SPD 2 REC 4 END 20
OCV 3 DCV 3 OMCV 3 DMCV 3
rationale: standard fighter prioritizes strength (though this may be too much), then constitution, and a quick nod to dex so they can go before the untrained combat masses.

For the first level, the fighter needs Weapon Familiarities, so:
2 pts - WF: Common Melee Weapons
2 pts - WF: Common Missile Weapons
1 pt - WF: choose one unusual Melee Weapon
5 pts - Combat Skill Level: Strike, Dodge, Block and some other manuever

Okay, will come back to you later. Need to wrestle with the Thief and Mage.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Old School Urban Fantasy: Return to the Border

I think the covers had something to do with us picking up
these books too. What do you think?
One of my most prized anthologies dates back to that era when shared world anthologies were common. Perhaps you picked up the Thieves World antho series? Or the Wild Cards antho series?

One shared world anthology that I wished had come out more often was set on the border of our world and the Faeries Realm in a place where the mundane and the magical mix uneasily. My first book was Bordertown, and my cousin coincidentally had picked up the other book out - Borderland.

You've got humans, elves, gangs of truebloods, half-bloods, and reg'lar (but no less dangerous) humans. You've got rock & roll bands and artists, scammers, and all sorts of runaways from both sides of the Border. And let's not forget all the problems that the Mad River gives to that little community.

It was urban fantasy, and not the current flavor of it -- filled with vampires, werewolves, and the like.

And maybe one day I can cobble together a ruleset to run adventures in it.

The difficulty is actually more of the setting -- much of the understanding of the Faerie denizens is a mixture of the mythological and modern, and not your typical "beautiful, arrogant humans with pointy ears" treatment of them -- so a more proper grounding in mythology would be wise. Perhaps learn about true names, and spells, and the works of Lord Dunsany.

Another headache is how magic and technology work -- not at all, partially, or explosively. And don't even get me started about cooking in Bordertown: it may start mundane, but the capricious nature of the place may recognize it as magic and treat it as such. Gingerbread men, anyone?

That and a quick peek at indie band and street culture that I can probably crib from the old Cyberpunk stuff.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reading Room: Various D&D Rulesets -- Combat Rounds

I wanted to take a look at the combat round in various rulesets, sort of to see how it might be handled in my HEROic D&D project.

AD&D Combat Round = 1 minute
Pretty long, eh? So let's check out AD&D 1st Edition DMG which holds forth extensively on the rationale for the combat round:
Combat is divided into 1 minute period melee rounds, or simply rounds, in order to have reasonably manageable combat. "Manageable" applies both to the actions of the combatants and to the actual refereeing of such melees. It would be no great task to devise an elaborate set of rules for highly complex individual combats with rounds of but a few seconds length. It is not in the best interests of an adventure game, however, to delve too deeply into cut and thrust, parry and riposte.
But that's not all! It further goes on to say:
During a one minute melee round many attacks are made, but some are mere feints, while some are blocked or parried. One, or possibly several, have the chance to actually score damage. For such chances, the dice are rolled, and if the"to hit" number is equaled or exceeded, the attack was successful, but otherwise it too was avoided, blocked, parried, or whatever.
And goes on even more to say:
Because of the relatively long period of time represented by the round, dexterity (dexterity, agility, speed, quickness) is represented by a more favorable armor class rating rather than as a factor in which opponent strikes the first blow.
I understand how that combat round is an abstraction, but I'm certainly not in the one-minute combat round camp. Too long, and I find the exchanges and finer points of exchanges interesting (to a degree). And it doesn't make sense given the rate of fire rules in the PHB! Two minutes to fire one heavy crossbow bolt? One minute to fire an arrow from a composite bow? I understand the feint and exchange argument, but in the case of missile weapons you actually mark off ammo.

Fortunately, the PHB actually lays down the law very clearly early on without this very strange (dare I say defensive and unnecessary discussion on the combat round) by saying
In adventuring below ground, a turn in the dungeon lasts 10 minutes (see also MOVEMENT). In combat, the turn is further divided into 10 melee rounds, or simply rounds. Rounds are subdivided into 10 segments, for purposes of determining initiative (q.v.) and order of attacks. Thus a turn is 10 minutes, a round 1 minute, and a segment 6 seconds.
Nice and clean, and the rates of fire make more sense in terms of segments. But wait, the PHB says that the rates of fire should be considered in terms of "melee rounds". Oh well.

OSRIC, here I come. Maybe it's clearer over there.

But first, let's look at D&D!

D&D B/X Combat Round = 10 seconds
What does D&D BX say about the combat round? Well, I don't have my Moldvay Basic Rulebook with me, but my Expert Set book does state
As in the D&D Basic rules, time in encounters is measured in 10-second rounds.
Sweet, yes? Not great for my attempt to convert into HEROic D&D -- I 'd rather go with the 6 second thing so that I can just double it for the 12-segment combat turn of HERO -- but on its own, a nice measure for a combat round. No need for segments, just a small and manageable length for a combat round that fits the whole 'abstracted combat' argument in the AD&D book.

Well, in my opinion anyway.

I'm going to head over to my copies of the various retro-clones to see what they say on the matter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reading Room: AD&D 1st Edition - the DMG on Combat

I remember reading certain portions of the DMG very closely and half-remembered things that would normally be part of a game designer's notes being embedded in the rules. Here's an example from the chapter on combat:

Are crippling disabilities and yet more ways to meet instant death desirable in an open-ended, episodic game where participants seek to identify with lovingly detailed and developed player-character personae? Not likely! Certain death is as undesirable as a give-away campaign.

Based on this, one can surmise that the lack of hit locations, critical hits, and instant death aren't meant to be part of the D&D game. Of course, one would be guilty of taking things out of context. I'm sure that one can come up with spells and artifacts that resulted in instant death, blah blah blah.

The point is, there was a concern early on that D&D combat wasn't meant to be 'realistic' but 'plausible' from a certain point of view. It wanted players to have a decent chance of surviving combat (which by no means is an argument for the 'Challenge Rating' approach) with options of running away as part of the combat sequence. And one might argue -- based on this statement -- that despite the fragility of 1st level characters, D&D PCs are meant to overcome challenges and progress in a well-run (and well-played) campaign.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Adamant Entertainment Declares App-Pricing a Failed Experiment

According to this blog post, the folks at Adamant Entertainment are ending the App-Pricing model. No more PDFs at $1.99.

This invalidates one of my older posts about snagging The Imperial Age for less than $20.

I'm sad about that. Like many, I wasn't really sure about the approach but I wanted it to work.

In the end, I wish Adamant Entertainment well and hope they continue to come out with good and profitable product.

And I'm happy I got all my Imperial Age stuff, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Working Miracles -- A Different Take On Clerics in Labyrinth Lord

St. Pio, also known as Padre Pio, portrayed
in a non-realist manner, but also without
the typical halo. Maybe before he was canonized?
Inspired by this post in Blood of Prokopius, I decided to write down my thoughts on clerics and their 'spells'.

A change in terminology

I'd prefer to that the term 'miracle' be used instead of 'spells'. It's more of a flavor thing, but I think it's important. Rituals and sacraments can be performed by any priest of the faith (with the proper spiritual effect taking place invisibly), but the true working of miracles that create changes in the world come from blessed miracle workers.

However, not all the clerical 'miracles' can truly be considered miraculous (tough crowd!), especially the lower level ones.

Experience levels -- increasing faith and authority

A different way to think about clerics is to consider what experience and experience levels mean to them. For fighters, you could argue that they grow in martial prowess. For mages, you could argue that constant use of their intelligence and spell-casting abilities allows them to refine their arcane techniques.

What about clerics? I'd argue that for most games it's an increase in faith -- with increased faith, they are able to effect miracles of greater impact in the world. Without it, they cannot ask for even the simplest of miracles. But it's not just that! If we follow an organized religion, it can be argued that faith must be backed up by authority -- without the centralized body recognizing the cleric as having the ability to call upon the greater miracles, all that faith cannot be harnessed.

Punishment and atonement

With Faith & Authority as two critical elements for the ability to work miracles, the wily DM can come up with variants on the following themes as to how a loss in the ability to work miracles can arise:
  • the cleric, who constantly breaks the strictures of his/her faith, questions the nature of his abilities and thus suffers a loss of faith;
  • the cleric, who has blatantly broken laws that his/her faith hold sacred BUT believes that his deity will approve anyway, can find their authority stripped from them. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Donating the Dragon (Magazine)

I recently gave away my collection of Dragon magazine.

It was part of the culling of games and books and magazines, and -- quite frankly -- I'm more willing to let go of the magazines than my books.

Part of the reason is the fragility of the medium. I know that you can keep these suckers a long time if you bag them and store them properly, but I can't really justify the extra cost. The newer binding of Dragon magazines (the ones with a flat spine) were friendlier than the stapled ones of old (as in the case of the magazine to the left), because they didn't eventually degenerate into coverless or insertless magazines.

Another reason is the decreasing utility to me. I don't get to play that often, much of what I need is available to me via forums and blogs from the OSR community, and do I really need all that Sage Advice for three different rulesets that I don't play?

But don't get me wrong. I loved Dragon magazine as a periodical. I collected it as best I could during my high school and college years in the U.S. of A., and I went out of my way to find comics shops and magazine stores that carried it during my time in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong when I found my old interest in D&D rekindled by the impending release of 3E.

The art never ceased to inspire a desire to game, various articles opened new arenas of understanding and appreciation of the various worlds of D&D, and regular columns like Sage Advice and Dungeoncraft always piqued my interest as a player and DM. And the comic strips were were always a good draw for me from Fineous Fingers to Nodwick.

Perhaps they'll come out with some fantastic electronic retrospective on the Dragon run some day (if they haven't already). But for now, that's one less bit of gaming in my closets.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.09

Arriving at the site of Brianna’s Palisade along with ROGELIO, the party finds only a featureless expanse of ash. Nevertheless, they use their various abilities to try and find Alina—the only result being CATALINA’S sensing of human sentience somewhere in the vicinity—until ALECTO is distracted by the absence of MARTA on deck.

Going below, Aly discovers Marta on a pallet in obvious pain and immediately alerts the group, who cluster into the small room. Led by Catalina’s intuition, they soon deduce that Marta is pregnant with an infested child, and that her shard, the Lithomagus, is attempting to fight off the infestation by ejecting the child.

Rogelio goes topside to ensure the ship’s safety. He is followed by DUMAS and VARIAN, while the remaining party members are appalled by the sudden spattering of blood as the child is expelled from the womb. Being prematurely born, it is naturally tiny, as well as (perhaps) unnaturally blue and possessing a tail.

Aly sends MANTIUS and Catalina topside with Marta, to remove her from further danger and save her if possible. Catalina tries past all possibility, even after Mantius’s gentle assertion that Marta is beyond help.

Dumas rejoins ARCTURUS and Aly, who wraps the baby in a sheet and puts the infant boy in a basket. Dumas cleans the child, and milk is obtained to sustain him, despite some party members’ inclination to instead kill the (literally and figuratively) blue tinged infant.

The crisis past for the meantime, Catalina draws the group’s attention to her realization of the increased proximity of the human sentience she sensed earlier. ALINA is soon spotted standing on the ash just below and gazing up at the ship. Dumas scrambles down to meet her and finds her transformed, having apparently eaten something that has turned her into an Infested Human. Despite Alina’s summoning others of her kind to rise up from the ash, confrontation is avoided and Dumas manages to persuade his ward to board the ship with him.

Catalina deduces that the equipping of a shard will prevent the spread of blue in both girl and child, so they are accordingly outfitted with such, although some persuasion is again required on Alina’s part. Thankfully, the measure restores her to her old self, in contrast to the frighteningly remote personality displayed earlier.

Marta having been buried and Alina recovered at last, the ship proceeds toward Rogelio’s destination, where the Eye of Pluto may be found. During the three day journey, Marta’s child—named TARAM—continues to appear uncontaminated by all methods of sensing available to the party, yet grows at an alarming rate, attaining an appearance approximating eight years of age and a demeanor well beyond in the span of a few hours.

Following several troubling conversations between Taram and various members of the party, they decide to have a meeting with him to assure him of his place in the group and his rights as both his mother’s son and a human being. Upon receiving said assurance, Taram becomes teary eyed and urges them to leave before his father, whom he has apparently been speaking to, comes to get him.

Heeding his warning, the party members grab Rogelio and Alina and dive overboard, barely in time to escape the huge, terrifying, tentacular manifestation of what is apparently Taram’s father. True to the boy’s words, they find themselves untroubled by either the great distance they fall or the water they land in, and soon arrive on a beach, which they quickly determine to be the very land they had been making for.

Following Rogelio’s anguish at the loss of his ship, he returns to the group, who inform him of the hooded guardian who approached in his absence and admonished them to stay within the confines of their landing area. Notwithstanding this, an agreement is soon reached for the party members (now including Alina) to broach the temple while Rogelio remains to try and build a new ship.

The seven shard bearers therefore approach the imposing structure, where they are soon warned off by the same guardian, whom Alina, using the Custodiaer Vir, tells them is the first of several sets of guardians. They ignore the warning and—with a good deal of difficulty, the necessary retreat of Alina, and the first use of shard accords—are able to defeat the Skelters summoned by the guardian as well as the guardian himself. 

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