Friday, December 20, 2013

d12 Dice Chucker Resolutions for 2014

Following Hill Canton's lead, and borrowing The Dungeon Dozen's format, here's a list of highly unlikely projects that I am endeavoring to complete in 2014 ... along with a consolation project that's just maybe a bit more likely to happen. 
  1. Complete even one of the modules from my publications list   ... or make a map of Holmsmouth, the de facto setting of of the ATM and IBS series of urban adventures.
  2. Dismantle Kickstarter   ... or continue to ignore its existence.
  3. Compile my Moathouse-Sample Dungeon thesis for my colleagues over at Zenopus Archives et. al.  ... actually this one seems pretty reasonable as is.
  4. Complete the T2-5 Against the Cabal of the Tamaracks series of postmodern Hommlet sequels ... or at least post my T1 modifications.
  5. Pay more attention to G+  ... or convince Rients to get his head back in the blogging business.
  6. Make DiceChuckathonCon V a reality ... or get the old gang together for the occasional game every now and then.
  7. Achieve global domination ... or submit application for Canadian citizenship.
  8. Finish off my Appendix N reading list ... or finish The Aeneid.  And maybe The Iliad.
  9. Complete the ol' Gigadungeon ... or hack it up and publish it piecemeal.
  10. Get in a hockey fight ... or learn to skate backwards. (see #7 above)
  11. Complete my revised History of Oerth  ... or re-format my annotated Oeridian timeline
  12. Rave like a madman about some oft-ignored quirk of the AD&D rules  ... or--wait a minute--that's what I do all the friggin' time. Who put this one in here?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bilbo Tittlemouse: Beatrix Potter and the Unexpected Party

So my kid recently brought home a Beatrix Potter book called The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse from his school library.  This book is remarkable for a few reasons, one being that this particular copy has apparently occupied the shelves of his elementary school library since at least 1971--it's rare to find books there that have been on the shelves since the late 90s, much less the early 70s.  However, another aspect of this book is even more noteworthy to me and perhaps some readers of this here blog: the story is a near-exact blueprint of the first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

It's the tale of a woodmouse--the titular Mrs. T--who finds numerous uninvited guests mucking up her tidy home in a hole under a hedge.  The interlopers--mostly bugs of various sorts, though also a bloated, inconsiderate frog--make all manner of ruckus, demanding food and/or shelter and leaving footprints all over her well-kept home.  Eventually she expurgates them all and spends an entire fortnight cleaning and securing her domicile against future invasion.  Once she's accomplished this feat she throws a party for her other mouse friends, which the frog attempts to crash with only partial success.

The comparison with Thorin and company is obvious, but it's really the description of the house itself that is most evocative of Bilbo's home, describing the tidiness and vast number and purpose of rooms littered throughout the subterranean passages.  Significantly, her home is described as sandy, something which Bilbo's hole full of larders and parlours and pantries was described as most certainly not being.  Also, her description of the spider seems like it might have had an influence on the malevolent rendering arachnids received in Tolkien's work.

The book was published 27 years prior to the publication of The Hobbit.  Seeing as Tolkien fathered several children in the intervening years, and since this was probably the only children's book available in England back then--besides the other 400 books in Potter's catalog; apparently she was the Dr. Seuss of the pre-war era--it seems entirely unlikely that Tolkien was not intimately familiar with this story.  Maybe the academics have already chewed this connection to pieces, but if not, here's a freebie to any student of 20th Century British Literature looking for a thesis topic.  You can thank me in cash or money order.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

200th Post!

As some of you may recall, I fraudulently hit the 300 post mark a few weeks back thanks to's practice of counting as-yet-unpublished drafts towards your total.  It took me a while, but I've finally managed to whittle down my bloated library of unposted drafts so that I now only have 200 posts!*  If I keep at this, this whole blog will have ceased to exist by the time the puck drops for the Winter Olympics.

* For those keeping score, this is actually my 172nd published post.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Incidental Christmas Movies

WARNING: This post has jack-squat to do with D&D.

Are you in the Christmas swing but you don't want all the treacle that usually comes with Christmas entertainment fare?  Or perhaps all the Yuletide flicks have vacated the shelves of your local Blockbuster? More importantly, why do you still have a Blockbuster card?  Don't you know that the last store shutdown during the Taft administration?

Anyway, next time you settle in for a wintry night's entertainment, try one of these Caveman's Classic not-really-Christmas Movies out for size.  None of these movies is really about Christmas; in fact, you may've seen 'em all and never noticed that they take place during the Season of Greetings at all. 

First Blood (1982)--I must've seen this one 23 times before it dawned on me that there were Christmas decorations up in the police station--can they do that anymore?  Also, before he went all dicklord on John Rambo,  Sheriff Dennehy was running around town wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)--Again with the Christmas decorations, and I vaguely recall that, before she crossed paths with Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway was supposed to be heading off to Vermont to spend Christmas with her dude.
French Connection (1971)--Gene Hackman explores the darker side of the Yuletide by going undercover as Santa Claus.  Also: if anyone knows of a better car/subway chase than this one please clue me in.
The Conversation (1974)--Hackman and Fredo Corleone* spy on Shirley Feeney while Christmas carols play in the background.  Later, Hackman goes to a Christmas Party with Terry Garr.  Han Solo also makes an appearance in this one.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)--Yes, even Bond almost got into the Christmas Spirit once.  This was the first Bond flick to acknowledge the snowier climes--notably, it took Lazenby to get us there; was it in Connery's contract that he would only film in the Caribbean?  Anyway, the ladies up at Blofeld's mountaintop allergy treatment clinic decorate a Christmas tree at one point. 
Batman Returns (1992)--My wife insists that the second Batman installment of the Michael Keaton era took place at Christmas time.  It did feature the antarctic-themed villainry of Danny DeVito's Penguin so it seems appropriate that a wintry Gotham City serve as backdrop. 

* Here's some Imdb wisdom for you: John Cazale, who played Fredo in Godfather I & II, only appeared in 5 movies; Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter completing the quintet.  All 5 were nominated for best picture Oscars.  Dude was batting a thousand before his untimely demise at age 42.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Hobbit: Nori the thief

From the Lord of the Rings Wiki, some background on Nori for the ongoing films of The Hobbit
"Perhaps the most elusive member of The Company of Thorin Oakenshield, Nori is often in trouble with the dwarvish authorities... Nobody ever quite knows what the quick-witted and wily Nori is up to, except that it's guaranteed to be dodgy and quite possibly illegal."
This is interesting to me because in my post on the use(ful/less)-ness of all the dwarves from a while back, I postulated that Nori was merely the alter ego of Ori, who was a con man trying to swindle the rest of the dwarves out of an extra share of treasure.  Apparently Peter Jackson and Co. smelled something fishy about Nori too.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

XPs for Other Stuff

I've gone on record as an XP for GP maligner and, while I've come to accept that the principle has its merits, I still don't see it hap'nin' at my table.  Partly because hanging at a table full of scavenging, haggling bean-counters seems like it would get old after a while but, mostly, because none of you advocates has come up with a solution for its biggest drawback: who wants to count all those stupid GPs? 

So how do I propose levelling-up the sorry chumps who have the great misfortune of sitting down at a game table with me?  Here's how: XPs are awarded for surpassing certain milestones in your quest for adventure.  For instance, the first step in getting to the next level is getting off your ass and doing something: the first milestone worthy of XP award would be partaking in an adventure of some sort.  Below is laundry list of achievements which could be rewarded with Points of Experience at the MC's discretion.

Please note:
  • Underlined items denote this XP is mandatory to raise level.
  • Nominal, excessive, nefarious, or gratuitous application or interpretation of any of these achievements to the player's benefit will result in the offending player's character  permanently losing 2d8 levels.  Surplus lost levels beyond 0 are to be applied to PC's ability scores.  A second offense will result in the player being pilloried and banished.

  1. Seek out and/or enter a Dungeon--"Dungeon" here meaning "place of known or presumed danger and/or treasure." 
  2. Engage in an Encounter of Note--you have to interact with a potentially significant  NPC, trap, or other encounter such as a parlay with a bandit chief, negotiations with an informant, brawl with a press gang, faceoff with the goblins, whatever.  The success of the endeavor is not important, merely that it was initiated.  Law of diminishing returns applies.
  3. Survive a life threatening situation--so you engaged the encounter, could it have gone ugly pretty easily?  The best way to tell if a situation was life threatening is...
  4. Lose a party member*--party member has to die or turn to The Dark Side or something tragic and final.  No gain if Thad the Destroyer disappears because his PC failed to show up on game night.  Subtract 1 XP if the party kills off one of their number.
  5. Half the party killed*--1 XP for every 2 PCs killed to a max of 3 XPs.
  6. Sole survivor*--receive 1 XP per offed-PC to a max of 5 XP.
  7. TPK*--if your entire party dies, each PC receives 12 XPs/PC killed.
  8. Outsmart the Big Bad--Dupe the hooligans into raiding a decoy town several miles distant, dump the ring into the crack of doom, convince Galactus to spare your planet and accept your girlfriend as his new herald, etc. More than one XP may be offered depending on the stupendousness of the feat.
  9. Hire a hencher--Hire a hencher.
  10. Establish a stronghold--I'd allow this at pretty much any level though the "stronghold" must be commensurate with character's class and level; i.e. 8th level fighter builds a palisade around a tent = not quite buddy.  But a 2nd level fighter could get credit for building the same defensive installation.  A 4th level MU could build a Laboratory of Thaumauturgical Arts, say, or a 5th level thief might establish an insurance brokerage, etc. Upgrading a previous "fortification" also counts.
  11. Party like it's 1992**--This was covered in a previous post, except I'm expanding it from solely a capstone-type event to an XP-worthy achievement in itself.   
  12. Impress me--do something so badass that the MC is taken aback. 
  13. Anyone got any suggestions?  

* These XPs are forfeited if any "lost" PC is raised, resurrected, reincarnated, regenerated, robo-copped or otherwise resumes living in some manner. There is no statute of limitations on this rule; one of those bastards comes back to life during your lifetime, you lose the XPs.
** '92 was a good year for me; I think I made it to 9th level.  You may want to select an alternate year as your benchmark. 
Obviously, if you had to accumulate XP-worthy achievements in the thousands--a la traditional XPs--you'd need the lifespan of an elf to ever hope to see second level.  So I'm resetting the scales.  These haven't been playtested or anything; just a recommendation to get things started:

XPs per level:
Thief: 5
Cleric: 6
Fighter, Assassin: 7
Ranger: 8
Druid, Illusionist: 9
Magic User, Paladin, Monk: 10
Bard: 0.5 

Best idea ever, right?  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Advanced Gimmickry: Building Suspense

I recently downloaded a module that shall go unnamed because it looks very well-produced and the authors obviously put a lot of work into it and many people will like it and it doesn't deserve to have me crap all over it, especially since it was almost free.  That said, the thing isn't flawless.  In particular, the author(s) have this to say about traveling to the dungeon:
"The game master should use the travel time to build suspense and danger.  Some suggestions follow:
● Make sure that the party gives you a marching order while travelling.
● Randomly roll dice at key moments behind the screen to give the illusion that they are in a dangerous area.
● Ask the party how specifically they will set up camp and watches through the night.

Seriously?  You build suspense with cheap, metagame chicanery?  Sure, we've all used these tricks for exactly that purpose a zillion times, but that just makes it seem extra lazy for a published module to be passing off intro-level gimmickry as advice.

Now, if you really don't want to be bothered with coming up with in-game devices for building tension, here are some advanced gimmicks for the lazy MC:
  • Periodically check your phone and frown as if someone is texting you worrisome messages.  Perhaps go so far as to have an off-site friend send you actual disturbing texts to heighten the realism.
  • After about an hour, ramp up the suspense by abruptly interrupting play, telling your players that you have to make a call, then leave the room. Surreptitiously order a pizza. Before returning to the gaming table, splash some water on your face to give theimpression of a cold sweat. 
  • Tell the players "It's nothing; everything will be fine" repeatedly. Repeat the last part under your breath several times. While avoiding eye contact.
  • Periodically look out the window as if you heard something.  Try to seem more and more agitated as the evening progresses.
  • When the inevitable hand of doom/pizza knocks at your door, emit a shriek of terror and cower in the corner.  Insist that it's a demon here to collect the souls of all convened and it can only be exorcised if everyone at the table contributes $5.  And that there's root beer and sprite in the fridge if anyone wants some.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Carousing for XPs

Rients, as you all know, made carousing for XPs famous years ago, and it was universally acknowledged as the best idea since fermented grain juice.  But I'm going to go screwing it up and add my own twist.  Rather than an optional activity, carousing shall be mandatory to advance level, much like training was in certain versions of Big D.

Say your theurgist wants to upgrade to thaumaturgist.  After acquiring the appropriate XPs, you're gonna need to party your face off for a number of days equal to the level you hope to achieve, and he or she must spend at least 100 GPs per level per day.  That is, your aspiring thaumaturgist (4th level MU) will need to rock out for 4 days, dropping 400 quid per day, minimum.  

But the player doesn't just scratch the required gps off his or her character sheet and call it good, no sirree. Rather, your daily expenditure is determined randomly by rolling a 20-sider and multiplying by 100 for each day.  So it's quite possible that your almosturgist could drop the 1,600 bucks he allotted for raising level on day 1--if he rolls a 16--and still have 3 more days of partying to go.  And lets say Brad--all thaumaturges are called Brad--rolls a 3 on day 2; that's only 300 GP spent, not enough to qualify for advancement so it does not count toward the total.  He still has at least 3 more days and 1200 more GPs of partying to go before he 's done and he's already dropped 1,900 Deutschmarks!  Poor bastard.

To make matters worse, once the bacchanalia is engaged, the player cedes all control over their character's spending until they have achieved the next rank.   As you can see it is entirely likely that the PCs will find themselves in debt to a bevy of taverners, bail bondsmen, prostitutes, bookies, tattoo artists, haberdashers, etc. and will be wanted by a retinue of cops, con men, goons, and pimps. They may very well be sent on a quest to satisfy some or part of this debt, leaving behind a substantial collateral such as their most potent magical items or a beloved henchperson.  On the other hand, they may also find themselves suddenly in possession of several fabulous new suits, front row season tickets to the hippodrome, a menagerie of exotic animals, several acres of swampland, or even a new spouse.

Folks will notice that it is virtually impossible to spend enough money in a place like Hommlet to raise beyond 2nd or 3rd level.  Of course, carousing in the V. of H. or that drab old Keep out on the borderlands is not going to build you much of a rep, so obviously you're going to have to go somewhere more cosmopolitan to ratchet yourself to the next level.

Beginning at name level, the PC has to host an extravagant banquet in their stronghold including tournaments, court jesters, and all the tiresome pageantry that goes with being a douchebag in a castle.  Cost goes up to (Level + d20) x 1,000 rupees per day.  Though the cost fluctuates on a day-to-day basis and is always gonna be a lot higher, the PC now has control of the length of the affair: a 13th level wannabe-lord can schedule his bar mitzvah to last exactly 13 days. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

3 Adventure Hooks Dice Chucker style

It's inconceivable that any literate soul would give a shit about my answers to Zak's latest Pornstar questionnaire so instead, this will be my Onanistic OSR Offering of October (OOOoO).  

If you ever find yourself at my gaming table, these will give you some insight into how the night is likely to begin: 
  1. It's evening in Portown and you're walking through the Cheese Grater District when you hear someone yell out “Hey, smurfdick!”  You look around and see a bushy-haired man of small stature who seems to be staring right at you even though he has his pointy wool hat pulled down over his eyes.  “Yeah you-“  He then loudly mocks your [clothing/appearance/etc] so that there can be little doubt who he’s talking to.  “You fistfuckers lookin’ for somethin’ to do?  Cuz if you are, yer fuckin’ it up big time.”  You notice that he is standing in front of a bookseller’s stand with a papyrus sign tacked to it which reads: “Treasure maps for sale 50 gold ea. 100%  money back guarantee.”  Sure enough, the odd looking dude who runs the place has numerous maps for sale, an abridged list of titles includes:  “Orc stash”  “Lich cache” “Eagle Eryies” “Smaug” “Capt. John Swallow's booty"
  2. You walk through the crowded tavern to the one free table near the center of the room  [DM rolls percentile dice at least once for each party member, glances meaningfully at the PCs, but says nothing].  A barmaid shows up, plunks a mugful of sudsy ale in front of each of you, and brusquely demands payment.  After checking your pockets each of you realizes that you haven’t a copper on you.  You’ve been cleaned out.  The wench is getting pretty steamed, and several gents at nearby tables are starting to scowl menacingly at you.  Your way to the front door is blocked, but you could probably make it to the window near the hearth before the crowd closes on you.  But what lies outside the window?
  3. You’re en route to the Roosevelt Island tram when suddenly an enormous fucking bird swoops down at you, its gigantic claws large enough to carry off a draught horse and cart in each talon.  Roll for initiative.  [A successful strike by the bird means it has clasped on to one of the party members.  Once it does so, it flies away.  As the party watches, futiley launching arrows at its diminishing form, the bird flies off across the East River to that big-ass tower in the middle of Queens.]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Appendix N: Part of a balanced breakfast

So I just returned from my final trip to the local used book store, which is closing its doors at the end of the day.  I wish that I had had more time--and cash--to spend on the trip, and a better idea of what I wanted to look for, but alas, I managed only four tomes: The Song of Roland, an Elric saga, a calculus textbook--I'm spending my free time re-learning calculus, what of it?--and an abridged volume of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Though I spent a goodly portion of my time pondering the extensive Fantasy/Science Fiction section of the store, I started to think about all the Appendix N-ish books I've purchased off the shelves of this store over the years.  Poul Anderson's Three Hearts Three Lions, several A. Merritt tomes, some Avram Davidson, Ursula K. LeGuin, L. Sprague de Kamp, CAS, Vance, Zelazney, etc. etc.  And I thought about the numerous books of this ilk that line the stacks of my library, how many of them are marked with old receipts, odd business cards, and torn-off grocery lists standing watch at the frontier, patiently awaiting my order to advance into unread territory once again.  I wonder if they realize that I've deserted the cause.

It seems that more and more when I turn to Appendix N tomes, it's not for the enjoyment of the read, but to exercise my D&D credentials.  Reading Appendix N tomes has become the equivalent of heading to the gym after work*; I don't do it because I like it, I do it because I believe that if I keep at it, I will gain something from the effort.  Specifically, my sorties into Appendix N are mostly an effort to uncover the roots of The Game, to give myself a broader understanding of where it all started. Sometimes the evidence is satisfyingly obvious such as Anderson's Tres Hearts, Trois Lions; you'd have to be comatose to miss all the elements that were co-opted into D&D.  Other times a books contribution is more of  a sense of exploration or a particular tone of adventure, not a specific monster or character class or justification for some rule or other.  For instance, I've found few, if any, direct, concrete elements of A. Merritt's work encoded in the game, though my reading of his work is less than thorough.  Merritt's works tend to be of the Lost World variety, a subgenre that for some reason I just can't get into.  I've been tackling The Moon Pool and The Face in the Abyss off and on for several years with little chance of finishing them.

* It should be noted that my gym membership lapsed several years ago.

Except for Conan--who I read mostly in comic book form nowadays--I rarely read "fantasy" just for the fun of it.  Rather, when I venture into the genre there's always this underlying sense that I'm researching the genre, and it becomes sort of like doing homework.  I can't say for sure if it's the books that are failing to engage me enough to overcome the sense study, or if I'm letting  my studies prevent me from truly engaging the books, but the end result is that I kind of have a lukewarm view of most Appendix N tomes.  Now some of them truly suck--this is blasphemy I know, but I find that most Elric books, with all the dreadfully serious pawns-of-fate stuff that dominates the story, are unreadably dull--but others such as Jack Vance and... someone else... seem lighthearted enough that I should be enjoying them more than I do.  But it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to return to the fray.

Friday, October 18, 2013

D4 Thieves Can Suck It Revisited

It would seem that my endless back-linking to this post from last year has finally sparked a debate--yes, around here, a single comment constitutes a debate.  
Ugh. Not him again.

In a nutshell, folks generally seem to agree that the thief class's fast level advancement compensates for their sub-prime hit dice.  I don't agree with that. Sit tight and I'll tell you why.

I'm of the school of thought that your hit point potential (aka hit dice) at the outset of your career--which is to say at level 1, not level 4--are a product of your background, and therefore there is some basic assumption about your background that justifies your hit points at inception.  For instance, Fighters are hardened from combat training and perhaps even actual warfare--especially if we take the "veteran" level title literally,as some do--and thus warrant heightened hit dice.  Magic Users, meanwhile, earn their pathetic pyramidal hit dice either from a sedentary life of study, or from contact with the soul-sucking arcane forces of the universe, or some other wussifying factor.

But what is there about the thief class that should make them universally sub-normal in the HP-category?  Sure, some of' em--even a lot of them--might be underfed pipsqueaks who stole their last meal from a fruit cart.  But even so, thieves are out-and-about, actively sneaking around, climbing stuff, and, if they come from the illicit branch of the class, they're probably even getting in more than their fair share of fights: administering beat-downs on deadbeats and narks when they're not rumbling with rivals; whatever it takes to get ahead in the world.  They are survivors.  All of which should at least allow for a normal hit point potential at the outset; but saddling thieves with d4 HD negates this sort of thief.  While there is definitely room for malnourished street urchins, why should they be the sole model for the class? 

Admittedly, my counter-argument assumes that a Normal Person gets 1d6 HP, a tenet of AD&D that might not have existed in Basic.  Holmes, to the best of my knowledge, was mum on the topic; the only corollary I've found being the bandits in the monster section, though they get 1d8 hit points, making them actually better off than their AD&D compatriots--and making d4 thieves look even more pathetic by comparison.  I can't speak to the Original rules or the Moldvanian or Mentzerian versions; they may very well insist that all normals get d4 hit dice.  If such is the case, you may ignore everything I just said.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Holmesian Non-system: or Who cares how you roll intiative?

I gotta be honest with you: the Holmesian initiative thing I prattled on about the other day doesn't really evoke a sense of Holmeliness to me at all.  Not in the least.  Indeed, this sort of granular rules-tinkering in general seems to defy all-that-is-Holmey about Basic D&D.  To me, no particular rules could possibly evoke Holmes, because when I played Basic D&D back in the day, the rules were only vaguely understood and were almost irrelevant to the experience.  All you needed was a rough grasp of the core concepts of a> role playing and b> using dice as arbiters of action.
By Source, Fair use,
What made that old blue book special to me was the sense of adventure it evoked.  Just look at that cover; I distinctly remember the feeling of awe I had when I first laid eyes on it: the way the dragon was looking right past Malchor the magicuser and Bruno the battler, right at me.  You got the sense that you were part of the party facing the dragon and that if you didn't think fast you were going to be toast.  I think this image made it clear what "role playing" was all about in a much more meaningful way than any Intro to any rulebook in the genre has ever accomplished.

As the Holmes set we used back in the day came without dice, we often got our D&D on using only 6-siders plundered from board games.  We ditched the silly chits as too cumbersome--plus, by the 3rd or fourth session, several chits had gone missing.  As I recall, a 4 or higher on a d6 was considered a hit, regardless of the attacker's hit dice or the target's AC and everything did d6 damage (true to the Holmesian rules, coincidentally).  We may have cobbled something similar together for Saving throws, or perhaps ignored them entirely.  And we assumed that a 1st level magic user could cast each 1st level spell once, 2nd level MUs could cast all the 2nd level spells, etc.  It seemed completely obvious that that was how magic was supposed to be handled, there was no need to delve through the text to decipher the precise meaning of the author.  Basic D&D was a means of exploring the world in a brand new way, not a collection of rules to be tampered with and argued over by a pack of middle aged men with ADD.

Advanced D&D changed all that.  Daddy Gygax made it clear that our free-wheeling ways were the wrong way to play, and we were only too happy to absorb the new, more sophisticated rules.   We quickly digested the hardcover tomes, though, like everyone else, we couldn't swallow a few things like psionics, segments, speed factors, and about two thirds of the DMG.  But sadly, we were no longer explorers in the ways of gaming, now we were more like middle managers toeing the corporate line while foisting grief on our underlings.

So when I say that Holmesian Basic is the Official Rules of Record for the Holmsmouth Urban Megadungeon Project, it has nothing to do with how you determine initiative, how fast zombies move, or even--amazingly enough--what type of hit dice thieves get to roll.  It has more to do with a feeling fostered by the sometimes--often--cartoony artwork of Tom Wham and the Daves than by how many seconds are in a melee round.  Or with the sense of old school horror brought on by the Thaumaturge with the caged ape in his lab and the green flames that engulfed crazy old Zenopus's tower all those years ago, which was a big change for us kids who were still giddy from watching "The Empire Strikes Back" in its original run.  We were exploring not just a new genre--fantasy--but also a new way of playing games.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Holmes-ish Inititative

I've been using Holmes Basic as the Official Rules of Record for my systemless Holmsmouth Urban Megadungeon Project cuz, well, it's in the name, among other reasons.  But despite having cut my teeth on Blue Book Basic back at the dawn of the 80s, I really haven't played it since.  So I've been brushing up on it lately, and, of course, there are a few things that I've gotta mess with.

Initiative is going to be the first target of my tinkering. (After thief hit dice of course).  For those not in the know, Holmesian initiative is a straight-up comparison of Dexterity scores of the combatants.  This means that Holmian initiative is individual--not team--based.  And, once established, the order remains fixed: no re-rolling each round since there's no rolling to begin with.  And it also means that if you have a high dexterity you are likely to get in the first blow every time.  And, probability being what it is, there are going to be a lot of folks tied-up around the 9-12 range.

But what it also means is that you're going to have to roll up a dex score for every orc, kobold, and displacer beast that decides to take on the party.  And then you'll have to track each one of your uniquely dextertied critters throughout the combats.

That, for me, is a deal breaker in itself. But there's still one more nail in the coffin: the implied assumption that the 3-18 ability range that we use for  humans and their ilk would be applied universally for all creatures from purple worms to pixies, zombies to giant ants.  [Actually, maybe not zombies; isn't their a rule that they always lose initiative? Or is that in AD&D?]  Who ever heard of a cat with a 7 dexterity?  Impossible right?

I want a score that:
  1. Reflects all the various things that go into making you quick on the draw; things like your size and your general quickness, and, most importantly
  2. It has to already exist in the rules; I don't wanna be making up new statistics here.  You figured this out yet? 
Movement.  Think about it, it already takes into consideration things like your size and quickness.  Long legs allow you to cover ground more quickly, but at some point the cumbersomeness of your limbs starts to slow you down.  As illustration of this principle, famous sprinters you have heard of are pretty much all between 5'8" and 6'2" tall; at 6'5", Usain Bolt--the current 100m world record holder--is an outlier.*  Giants have very long legs, but have far surpassed the optimal balance between size and quickness, thus they move at the same rate as humans even though they're twice as tall.

*Hence yesterday's post, in case you were wondering what brought that on. No idea how tall that Tiritelli dude is.

So your move in olde school "inches" will be the baseline.  Actually, Holmesian basic lists movement in feet, e.g. elves move 120', dwarves = 60', etc.  Just drop the trailing zero for the same result.  You're going to get an awful lot of ties though, since every dude in chainmail and every orc are going to have the same initiative value.  So we're going to add a couple of variable to the mix: your dex adjustment (In Holmes it's +1 for dex of 13 or greater, -1 for 8 or less, I believe) and a randomizer, also known as a roll of the dice.  But, in keeping with the Holmesian method, you don't re-roll every round; just once until the combat comes to a meaningful ending.

The Holmesy-Dice Chucker Initiative Formula:  

Initiative = Movement + Dex adjustment + Randomizer (d4,d6, or d8 based on hit dice)

Yes, the initiative die rolled is dependent on your hit dice; MUs roll 4-siders, fighters roll d8, thieves and clerics d6 (thieves only get d4 in Basic D&D,you say?  Then you haven't been paying attention). In fact, I'm thinking of extending HD to also include damage rolls: fighters would do d8 damage with whatever they use as a weapon, thieves (and clerics I suppose) do d6, and MUs will always plop down the pathetic pyramid for combat results.

Anyway, this puts encumbered folks at a serious disadvantage, which I'm ok with.   At least this is a matter of players deciding how to allocate resources rather than a result of a single die roll made during k-jen that will haunt/bless your character for the rest of eternity... or until they die on the 2nd level of Skull Mountain

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Matt Tiritelli: Wiki Record Holder

This is why I love Wikipedia:

From wikipedia 100 metres, October 8, 2013, ca.3:45 PM PST, but it won't last long.
Who is Matt Tiritelli, you ask?  According to wikipedia, he's the fastest man on the planet.  This dude ran so fast he didn't just shatter Usain Bolt's record by an entire second, he caused an anomaly in the space-time continuum that rippled all the way back to 2009 and negated Bolt's achievement altogether!  Damn, that's fast.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Big Changes at Dice Chucker Caverns

No, not a management shakeup--we're still squirming under the iron thumb of Timrod the Tyrant.  And no technical upgrades either; I'm mooching off the neighbor's wifi as we speak.  But we have, finally, removed the hyphen from Dice Chucker in the title.  That makes things seem a lot less... hyphenated around here.

Also:  we're hoping to release the first of many modules based on the famous Holmsmouth Urban Megadungeon campaign. Thanks to all of you who funded my k-starter drive to get that project fired up.

Actually, if someone could come up with a way to donate time instead of money that would be awesome.  I don't mean time as in "Sure, I'll spend a few hours inking your maps for you."  Rather, I need to set up some sort of temporal stasis account where I can just spend so many hours working on creative endeavours without having to worry about real life concerns like eating, sleeping, aging, etc.  Anyone figured out a way to do this?

Friday, September 27, 2013

30 Second Challenge

These self-indulgent 20-questions type circle-jerk posts usually make me feel rather slimy when I take part in them, and the 30 day challenge is even more repugnant because it's, ya' know, dragged out over an entire month.   But since I like to talk about myself as much as the next guy, I'm jumping on the bandwagon anyway.  I haven't got a whole damn month to dedicate to this wankfest, so I'm going to crank the whole thing out in just 15 minutes.  That gives me 30 seconds per question, so here goes:

  1. How I got started: Holmes, December 1980; I was 11.  I had a halfling with a crossbow.
  2. Favorite playable race: Sub-half gnomes
  3. Favorite playable class:Thief.  Are there non-playable classes?
  4. Favorite Gameworld: Fronteirs of Alusia.  when I'm not trying to be obscure: Greyhawk
  5. Favorite set of dice/individual die: those waxy clunkers that came with basic D&D sets back in the late 70's and very early 80s/the 12-sider being the best of the bunch
  6. Favorite Diety [sic]: South Beachy
  7. Favorite edition: Hackmaster.  Haven't actually played it but any game that has barding for your dolphin on the equipment list has struck gold in my book.
  8. Favorite character played: My favorite character was a female elven f/mu.  She was the only femail character I ever had, was one of very few spellcasters, and she was an elf: I hate elves.  All those together made her pretty unique in the pantheon of my characters.
  9. Favorite character I haven't played: Finn the Human
  10. Craziest thing that's ever happened: no time for this one
  11. Favorite adventure you have ran [sic]: I "have ran"?  Who edited this list?
  12. Favorite Dungeon type/location: Urban Adventure
  13. Favorite Trap/Puzzle: Mouse/Jigsaw.
  14. Favorite NPC:Yahweh
  15. Favorite undead: the lowly skeleton
  16. Favorite Abberation: is Abberation an aberrant spelling of aberration?  Again with the editing.
  17. Favorite animal/vermin: Shrieker--I know it says "animal/vermin," but they don't have a fungal category--or an ooze/slime category for that matter.  Which makes me think maybe those things fall under "Abberation"?
  18. Favorite immortal/outsider: Uhhhh...  huh?
  19. Favorite elemental/plant: zzzzz ... next.
  20. Favorite Humanoid/natural/fey: Brownie.  No, pixie.  Ah, who cares.
  21. Favorite Dragon: Brass, cuz no one gives them any respect.  Seriously, can you name their breath weapon without looking it up?  Also, they tarnish easily.
  22. Favorite monster overall: Bulette.  I love anything that eats hobbits.  Ankhegs too.
  23. Least favorite monster overall: Drow. They might be more appealing if they regularly dined on hobbits.
  24. Favorite energy type: That wave-generated shit seems pretty cool.  Geothermal is nice too.  Solar would be awesome if we could count on the sun to be more present.
  25. Favorite magic item: +1 sword, sorry running out of time.
  26. Favorite non-magic item: Ballista
  27. Character I'd like to play: Thundarr the Barbarian
  28. Character I will never play again: Ookla the Mok
  29. Number I always seem to roll on 20-sider: 21.  Yes, I'm that awesome.
  30. Best DM I've ever had: Your mother. Boo-yah!
 And that's a wrap.  Thanks for stopping by everyone; have a safe ride home.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Great Mysteries of Greyhawk: The Invoked Devastation

It has long been known that the Rain of Colorless Fire was wrought upon the Suloise in return for the Invoked Devastation which befell the Baklunish.  And all along we've assumed that it must have been the Suloise who Invoked The Big D, but if you read the histories, this conclusion is far from certain.  Check out the actual quotes on the matter of the Devastation from the World of Greyhawk Gazetteer (Gygax, 1980).

From the Brief History:
“When the Invoked Devastation came upon the Baklunish, their own magi brought down the Rain of Colorless fire in a terrible curse” p. 5
From description of the Dry Steppes:
“Once the area of was well-watered and fertile... but it was destroyed by the Invoked Devastation in the war with the Suloise.” p. 21

From the description of the Sea of Dust:
“In return for a terrible magical attack, the Suloise lands were inundated by a nearly invisible fiery rain...” p. 26
And that is all that the Gazetteer has to say on the matter.

What's clear is that a not-insignificant portion of the Baklunish lands were devastated by a terrible curse, and that the Bakkies* let loose an even more thorough and complete devastation on the Suliemen in the form of the Rain of Colorless Fire.  But nowhere is it definitively stated that it was actually the Sulies who Invoked the Devastation that started the Great Cataclysm Race, leaving open the possibility that a third party was responsible for The Big D.  But who?

*Is it racist to call them Bakkies?

Well, how about the Oeridians; they were also victims of Bakluni expansion, the turmoil of the war having forced them to flee their lands and head east into the Flannaes.  As there is no mention of the Oeridian homelands in the gaz, could it be that any evidence of their native lands was wiped out by the Devastation?  Perhaps Oeridian mages left a curse upon their fertile homeland which was triggered by the departure of the last Oeridian peoples.  And, not wanting to incite a rain of colorless fire on their own asses, they decided to keep mum on the topic.

Or was it the Flann?  They too suffered heavily from Bakluni expansionism as their once peaceful lands were stampeded by refugees of Oeridian and Suloise stock alike.  Perhaps Flannish devastationists teamed up with dwarven demolitions experts, gnomish telemarketers, and elven poets to unleash the Devastation in hopes of stemming the flow.

Or even the Bakluni: The text from the Brief History in particular seems to lend itself to the interpretation that the Devastation was something that the Bakluni may have brought on themselves.  Perhaps while developing their apocalyptic technology they accidentally unleashed the Devastation on their own lands.  Undeterred, they sharpened up their game and let fly the Rain on their enemies. Or maybe it wasn't an accident; maybe they went all Guernica on some minority population in their realm--like the Oeridans--and then took it a step further, blamed it on the Suel, and used it as provocation for unleashing the Rain del Fuego sin Color, sort of like how Poland provoked Nazi Germany into starting WWII. 

Or, indeed, it might have been the Suloise all along.  The cataloguers of the Gazetteer may have been restrained in ascribing the Devastation to the Suloise because the RoCF was so thorough and widespread in its destruction that no Suloise who were in-the-know about the Big D survived to take credit for it.

Gygax, E. Gary. World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, 1980. TSR Hobbies, Inc., Lake Geneva, WI

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Rain of Colorless Fire

Everyone's familiar with this famous photograph taken by one of the only survivors of the Rain of Colorless Fire on his way out of town:
What have we wrought?
Look at this dude's posture: he seems calm, one hand resting on the battlements, the other covering his downcast face.  Is this the posture of a man in shock or horror at the holocaust he is witnessing?  To me, his demeanor has always suggested that the Suel people knew that they'd earned this fate.  After the centuries of exploitation and tyranny and the Devastation they'd just Invoked, this dude's demeanor was evidence that the Suel knew that the time of reckoning had finally arrived.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gygaxian Dungeoneering: Put on the uniforms

Check this out:
The Hommlet lacrosse team takes the field .
"These places are the roosts of 23 gargoyles... These creatures greatly fear the Drow, and will attack no creature with a Drow or wearing Drow garb" -- D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, pg. 9, room 8.

"OGRE...has been instructed to guard the room against any creatures who do not wear the symbol of the new master" -- T1 Village of Hommlet, pg. 15, room 7.
"There will always be 8 zombies...Anyone entering will be attacked unless they are robed in temple garb." -- B2 Keep on the Borderlands, pg. 21, room 53.
Three Gygax penned dungeons agree: if you see someone in uniform, steal his clothes.  It should be noted that the Ogre in T1 also required that you flash Lareth's gang sign or he would attack regardless of your outfit.  Presumably EGG's players, by that time, had caught on to the pacifying effects of a man in uniform.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Crappy Dice: Some things really should stay in Vegas

So I just read Noisms post about superstitions and dice that he wrote-up back in '82.  While I don't really have any dicey superstitions that I'm aware of at the moment, I definitely tend to believe that some dice are better than others for certain purposes.  For instance when I roll up characters, I always pick out the same 3 dice--out of the 20-odd sixers that litter my table at almost all times.  These particular dice are dark and glossy with rounded edges and deep, golden pips.  They're aesthetically pleasing but also exude an aura of sophistication and competence that neither the classic black-on-white nor any of the glow-in-the-dark, outsized, transparent, weirdo dice in my collection can measure up to.  I'm not fool enough to believe that they turn out better results than any of the others, but the gravity of character generation demands serious dice; you're making people after all.

On the other hand I did once have a set of six-siders that were acknowledged by my entire gang to be objectively terrible. These cursed cubes were a set of casino dice my parents brought home for me after a trip to Las Vegas way back when.  They looked pretty impressive: they were translucent, red beauties, and they were huge compared to normal sixers.  Their sharp edges gave them a look of sleek precision and even lethality, especially when compared with those crappy dice made of tempered wax that came with your Holmes set.  But when it came time to roll, those sharp corners dug into you fingers something fierce.  These dice were clearly meant to be hucked the length of an Olympic-sized craps table, not shaken vigorously in the cupped hands of an 11-year old.  My palms bristled with sharp points of pain after each roll.  And clearly the dice didn't appreciate these tight quarters either; they always came up tepid when they were needed most.

Sure they occasionally rolled well, but usually only when nothing was at stake; your 8th level ranger is sadistically launching arrows into a fleeing pack of goblins?  Fives and sixes every time.  But when the game was on the line, all of a sudden the weight of all those pips on the high numbers seemed to push the ones and twos up to to the top.  It got to be so bad that any time I picked up one of those garnet-beauties to roll initiative or damage, the other players groaned audibly.  And after the inevitable shitty result, I was bombarded with insults and 4-siders.

The last time I used those badboys at the game table my 5th level thief was backstabbing an ogre or giant or somesuch who was giving the party a lot of grief.   I rolled a 19 to hit--cheers erupted around the room--then those Nevada Gaming Commission rejects puked up a sorry-ass 1 for damage.  Even with the tripled  backstab damage, the giant was pretty unimpressed with my efforts.  My older brother, whose character stood to suffer the most as a result of my inept backstabbery--picked up that vile 6-sider and heaved it across the room, taking a divet out of the wall in the process--but also turning up a 6 of course.  Piece o' shit dice.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Foundation and Star Wars: Episode II

It seems I jumped the gun with my last essay on the topic of similarities between Asimov's Foundation Series and the Wars Among the Stars films of Geo. Lucas: here's another scene from Second Foundation that even more closely resembles jedi mind trickery:

The set up (aka SPOILERS): Arcadia, a 14 year old girl from the Foundation, is pursued by the police force of Kalgan's First Citizen when she, literally, runs into kindly Preem "Obi Wan" Palver and his wife, at the Spaceport.  They take her in and help her escape the planet.  This exchange occurs when the Five-O catch up with them and demand Arcadia's papers (it should be noted that Asimov refers to Preem and his wife as Pappa and Mamma):
Helplessly [Arcadia] reached out and let the documents change hands.  Pappa fumbled them open and looked carefully through them, then handed them over.  The lieutenant in his turn looked through them carefully.  For a long moment, he raised his eyes to rest them on Arcadia, and then he closed the booklet with a sharp snap.
"All in order," he said.  "These are not the droids we're looking for."

Weird, right?

Also, a little later on, there's this Yoda-esque dialog between Preem"Pappa" Palver and his wife Mama while they eat breakfast: 
"It's bad enough they pay you what I'm ashamed to tell my friends, but at least on time they could be!"
"Time Shmime," said Pappa, irritably.  "Look, don't make me silly talk at breakfast, it should choke me each bite in the throat."
Oddly, this is the only occasion on which Mamma and Pappa Palver use the Yoda-speak.  It could be because it is the only time they are talking just between themselves and not in the presence of others, so they let slip the Yoda lingo.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foundation and Star Wars

This essay is written to satisfy the requirements for Delta Dan's Summer Sci-Fi Seminar on Asimovian Hyper Space. This essay assumes the reader has knowledge of the events of both Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and George Lucas's film series about Wars among the Stars.  Which is to say: HERE BE SPOILERS!

First a disclaimer:  I may be  a pretty big nerd--I do, after all, have a blog about D&D on the internets--but when it comes to Star Wars, I'm pretty much a civilian.  I've seen the original three movies of the franchise 3 or 4 times each over the 3+ decades since their release; respectable, but, for a member of my demographic, not very impressive.  My record for the follow-up series released around the turn of the century is much worse: I have seen those films not quite one time each and have only very general memories of them.  Here's my synopsis of Star Wars II: The Second Trilogy:
  • Renton from "Train Spotting" cleaned up his act and learned how to use a light saber, 
  • Yoda has no patience for CNN,
  • there was a detrimental proliferation of people named Darth,
  • same goes for Fett, and
  • Nathalie Portman had a crush on some short, irritating wuss who then falls in lava and turns into Darth Vader. 

Anyway, there I was reading Foundation and Empire, the second book of Asimov's Foundation trilogy--which, not unlike G. Lucas's classic movie series, was bloated into a sextology decades after the original books were published--when I get to the part where Lathan Devers, a trader/agent of Foundation heads to Trantor, the capitol of the dying Galactic Empire, which is a completely urbanized world:
"The lustrous, indestructible, incorruptible metal that was the unbroken surface of the planet was the foundation of the huge metal structures that mazed the planet."
and I thought, "huh, sounds kinda' like the deathstar."

I thought little else of the matter until I got to Part II of the book wherein a dude known only as "The Mule" is running rampant over the the provinces on the perimeter of the galaxy, threatening the existence of the Foundation.  The Foundation calls upon a gruff military intelligence officer to find out more on the matter; that officer is named Captain Han Pritcher.  How Asimov described this guy is pretty much irrelevant because in the mind's eye of everyone who's read this book since 1977, Captain Han Pritcher is Harrison Ford; am I right?

Ok, so we've got a character who looks like Han Solo and a planet that looks like the deathstar.  Now consider the story line of Foundation and Empire: The once benevolent and democratic Foundation has become a hereditary autocracy trying to suppress a rebellion whose forces hide out on barely inhabitable planets throughout the reaches of space.  Sort of like a certain Empire in the Wars among the Stars.

Now back to this Mule dude; rumor has it that he's a mutant who never lets anyone see his eyes and that he can kill you just by looking at you.  As it turns out, these are just rumors--mostly--but still, it sounds like the force is pretty deep with this one.

And then when we get to Second Foundation, the third book of the trilogy, wherein the Mule is seeking out the Second Foundation--a fabled colony set up on the opposite end of the galaxy, where folks who have spent centuries secretly mastering the psychic sciences in much the same way folks on the First Foundation have mastered physical sciences.  Finding the titular Second Foundation, the Mule encounters its First Speaker, a man of considerable mental powers himself.  During the ensuing psychic tete a tete the First Speaker strikes the winning blow:
In the despair of that moment, when the Mule's mind lay open, the First Speaker--ready for that moment and pre-sure of its nature--entered quickly.  It required a rather insignificant fraction of a second to consummate the change completely.
The mule looked up and said: "Then I shall return to Kalgan?"
"Certainly. How do you feel?"
"Excellently well."  His brow puckered: "Who are you?"
"Does it matter?"
"Of course not." He dismissed the matter, and touched Pritcher's shoulder: "Wake up, Pritcher, we're going home."

Can you say Jedi Mind Trick?  If only Yoda had pulled this on Darth Whoever in the "Phantom Melange" we coulda' saved ourselves a lot of trouble.  I'm just sayin' is all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Race as Class: Elves are Weird II

So with all the furor over Random Wizards Troll questionnaire, I got to thinking about race as class a bit.  I'm an AD&D (and ADD) type of guy so race-as-class has never set very well with my worldview, and I've really never seen anyone put up an argument for it that went beyond "I like B/X D&D."  Which is fine, but it's not very intriguing to outsiders. 

I'd be much more interested in Race-as-class if the races were more interesting.  But as is, the B/X race-as-classes boil down to fighter with a few racial abilities that amount to little more than window dressing--except for elves, who get to be magic users who can use plate mail and two-handers.  It's telling that, in the Moldvanian rules, the formula for level titles of the race-as-classes goes like this:
Race name + Fighter level title = Race-as-class level title

Elves manage to be even less interesting:
Fighter level title + MU level title = zzzzzzzz
If each non-human race is going to be a class unto itself, I want them to be much more unique.  So without further ado, here's my proposal for a more elfy elf class.  Bear in mind that I'm using an AD&D chassis for these bad boys.  This also assumes my previous thoughts on weird elves.

  • Fight as clerics, except when using bows--with which they fight as fighters
  • Sneak/hide/climb walls like thieves 
  • Can cast enchantments from MU or Druid spell lists.  This includes such mind-fappery as Charm/Hold Person or Plant or Animal or Monster, Feeblemind, Confusion and Finger of Death, but also, strangely but not inappropriately, Pass without trace, Trip, and Snare.   
  • Will not wear metal armor--including helmets--except elfmail, which--spoiler alert--turns out not to be made of metal at all.
  • Elves max out at 11th level.

Elves, in order to maintain some modicum of what we humans call sanity over their egregiously long lifespans, tend to forget a lot of stuff pretty quickly.  As such, unlike human MUs, they don't memorize spells or study spell formulas in arcane librams or what have you.  And none of that praying or calling upon deities garbage either; being soulless, elves are the least pious of all races.    Rather, in keeping with the Tolkienian approach to elf magic, the elves don't consider it magic, it's just the way things are done.  Once acquired, their spell-abilities become innate powers.  They can use each ability once per day, and they get a new ability every other level (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.).  They don't need to track down some elf to teach them the way, but they do have to return to their native glade or hollow tree or wherever they're from to pick up new abilities.

Here's a complete list of Druid and MU enchantements from which Elves may choose:

Level 1: Animal Friendship, Pass sans trace, Charm Person, Friends, Sleep
Level 2: Charm Person or Animal, Trip, Forget, Ray of Enfeeb'ment, Scare
Level 3: Hold Animal, Snare, Hold Person, Suggestion
Level 4: Hold Plant, Charm Monster, Confusion, Fire Charm, Fumble
Level 5: Feeblemind, Hold Monster

So you get an elf who fights reasonably well--especially with a bow--but is limited by light armor and low-ish hit dice, and has limited spell-like powers, though the ease of accessing their magic is a boon.  Also, they've got advanced reconnaissance skills to boot.  It does rather pigeonhole the elf race, but at least the pigeonhole is more distinct than the F/MU-with-pointy-ears scene.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

LotFP (hee hee hee)

For better or worse, I've never paid much attention to Raggi's blog for the same reason that I don't bother reading many blog posts with the word "Kickstarter" in them: marketing copy rarely makes absorbing reading.

As such when people throw around the acronym "LotFP", it carries a very different meaning to me.  Everyone knows from Tolkien that "L.o.t.-" means "Lord of the-" and as for F.P., I direct you to the following discussion between office manager Michael Scott and Ryan the Temp from season 2 of The Office (U.S. edition):

Michael: For emergency contact put down Todd F. Packer. You know what the "F" stands for?
Ryan: Fudge?

As such, I snicker like a sophomore every time I see "LotFP" in print.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Starting Equipment and Class Abilities

So the last thing I read before I went away on a camping trip last week was 9n30's post about universal first level characters (WARNING: no internet access + lots of time thinking by the campfire = 1 overcooked blog post upon return to civilization).  The timing was crucial, as just the day before I had been reading the Holmes and/or Moldvay rules and noticed that fighters in the Basic rules are not actually any better than anyone else at hitting stuff.  The only thing that sets them apart as combaticians is their unrestricted access to armaments and an increased potential for taking a beating--can you spell cannon fodder?  The Original rules are even more exacting on this point: at first level, Fighting Men are not even better to hit than Normal Men. Normal-freaking-Men!  And yet we call these chumps veterans?

So for those who live in the OD&D or B/X domains, Fighters are defined not so much by their prowess with arms but by their access to them.  This sort of dovetails somewhat with my recent obsession with starting equipment: since buying a sword essentially makes you a fighter, what if, at 1st level, you could pick up extra-classular abilities as part of the starting equipment allotment?  Like Talysman’s notion, everyone has access to the other class’s specialties, though they would only advance in those abilities related to their chosen class. But you’ll need to apportion your limited resources, which means that you’re not likely to have every other class’s stuff without unleashing the old jack-of-all trades-master-of-none maxim.  Rather than just picking what you want or buying the skills with an allotment of build points or gold pieces or what have you, you would roll 4 sixers on Table 1.01-f (below) and apply two of the dice to the column most pertinent to your class, splitting the rest of your dice amongst the other columns as you see fit.  
*For spells, roll again on a table that would look something like this:

Monday, July 1, 2013

How much iron is in your rations?

If you're like me, you don't really have much of an idea what the hell iron rations look like, much less what they're made of.  As a kid I assumed they were cakes made of compressed Product 19; that assumption hasn't changed much in the intervening years.  [Does Kellogg's still make Product 19?  I don't think I've seen it since the 80s.]

Anyway, my recent foray into Equipment Theory has led me to seek out a clearer image of what sort of food my PCs are noshing on down on the 5th level of Adventure Module FU2 Abyss of Tumescent Malice.  Here are a few options I've discovered:

Dungeon Pucks—Unpalatable crumpets of dwarven manufacture, they are comprised of rendered catoblepas lard and quarry dust; only the truly hungry can bring themselves to eat one of these. It is said that rats turn up their noses at these biscuits and no known mold can find purchase on its dense surface.  Each provides one meal worth of sustenance, though it is a mean existence; after a week of consumption, save vs. Will to Live or sublimate into wraith-form.

Cialembas—Sickly-sweet tortillas made of acorn flour and pixie semen baked in an oven made of sugar cane, they provide lite yet satisfying fare, can be carried in great quantities without impinging on encumbrance, and cause prolonged erections. Extended use may result in cavities and/or spontaneous gender reassignment. Beware: acquisition of these wafers requires interaction with high elves of exceptionally tiresome demeanor.

Uruk-hooch—Foul but invigorating liquor made from goblin adrenal glands and Wild Turkey.  Small doses allow for improved strength and stamina; prolonged use causes psychosis of the liver.  Highly corrosive to metal, must be stored in glass or ceramic containers.  It is rumored to be an antidote to some of the side-effects of Dungeon Pucks and Cialembas.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tramp on Combat Recuperation

Combat makes a body thirst.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Elves: Weirder Than You Think

Elves are weird.  Weirder than most players realize when they first sign up for a character of the pointy-eared persuasion.  Here are a few facts about elven ecology that might give you pause before you roll up another Legolas:
  1. Elves are born wearing hats.  And the hats grow up with the elf.  As half-elves are born without hats, they are often called "hatless ones" by true elves.
  2. Elves are the byproduct of human heroes fornicating with nymphs.  See Odysseus and Calypso, Odysseus and Circe, Odysseus and your mother, etc.  Seriously, if your character is an elf, odds are pretty good Odysseus is your daddy.  Of course nobody is aware of this since nymphs don't waste a single second of their eternal lives being maternal.  Rather, shortly after copulation, they wander off to some private spot in their grove, glen, glade, or grotto, lay an elf-egg, and never give the matter another thought.  Instead, 
  3. Elflings are raised by sprites or pixies or some other faerie-type beings who collect the nymph eggs and tend to the baby elves until they outgrow their surrogate parents.  At which point the elf-in-training gloms on to the community of elves that inevitably crops up around every nymph dell after Odysseus passes through town.
  4. Elves are androgynous in appearance.  In size, build, and, often, in temperament, both male and female elves closely resemble adolescent boys, minus the acne and boners.   Incapable of growing hair on their excessively angular faces and emaciated bodies, and with high, often squawky, voices, they're sex appeal to humans is more limited than you might think.  
  5. Elves are capable of expressing only 3 emotions: amusement, disinterest, and sarcasm.  And at least one of those is not actually an emotion.  As a result, Humans and most other, non-fey races find the company of elves to be unsettling if not downright obnoxious.
  6. Elves cannot procreate with their own kind.  Or maybe they find the company of other elves just as off-putting as the rest of us do.  In any event, the offspring of elves are always half elves, fathered by humans, gnomes, mind flayers, whatever; so long as their mate is not elven in any way. 
  7. Those eyes are creepy. In the immortal words of Phil Hartman, to whom this blog is eternally* indebted:
Hartman: The eyes, the window to your skeleton.
Straight man: Don't you mean "soul"?
Hartman: If you have one.

* Not so eternally after all since I changed the name of the blog in summer 2014.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Art of the Monster Manual Part II

Other Things I learned from playing Dis or Dat:

  1. DCS drew all the freakin' dragons!  How did we not get even one iconic dragon illustration out of Tramp?  DCS also did all the Dinosaurs and most of the Demons--with the exception of Juiblex.  Tramp, on the other hand, got all the devils except Asmodeus.  Man, the D section is loaded.
  2. Dispater (Arch-devil) has mismatched feet: one human-seeming foot and one cloven hoof.
  3. The doomed fighter in the Violet fungi drawing looks like he might actually have detached his rotting right arm.
  4. Another DCS trait: screwing with the frame.  See the rust monster, right, but also leprechaun, hippogriff, fire elemental, dwarf, chimera, and probably a few others.
  5. The knight fighting the hobgoblins (p. 52) might very well be the Paladin in Hell from p.23 of the PHB.  And possibly the same dude who's watching his friend get chowed by giant ants back on page 7.
  6. Has anyone ever made any sense out of the illustration on p. 57 showing the ki-rin tangling with Quetzalcoatl? 
  7. TSR re-used the satyr drawing from the MM on page 187 of the DMG, next to the "Faerie and Sylvan Settings" random encounter table, appropriately enough.
  8. Rakshasa: Suave-ass Mofo.  Not a revelation, but it's still worth saying. 
  9. DAT's elves, p. 40, are sufficiently weird looking.  DCS's elves on the previous page are too uptight for my tastes.
  10. The flesh golem is an enigma.  It's clearly the work of Tramp--just look at those metacarpals!--but the columns in the background lack the confidence typical of his work.  Note the wobbly lines and the clumsy hatchwork of the pillars compared with the smooth curves of the halberd blade and the dude's forearm.  I'm wondering if Tramp drew the foreground but, pressed for time, handed it off to another artist named Dave to help finish it up. The blotchy hatching of the Golem's pants are also more typical of Dave S.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Art of the MM: DCS Black Leg Syndrome

So I was looking through the Monster Manual the other day playing a game of DCS or DAT (pronounced "dis or dat") wherein I look at all the illustrations in the MM and guess whether each was drawn by Dave Sutherland (DCS) or Dave Trampier (DAT).  Anyone familiar with the artists in question probably knows that this is not a particularly difficult task.  [The works of DCS and Tom Wham--who also has a number of illustrations in the MM--on the other hand, are actually much harder to discern.]

You play this game a few times and you begin to pick up a few traits of each of the artists. Trampier hands, for instance, have long fingers and prominent metacarpals, while DCS, well, is no Tramp.

One distinctive feature of Sutherland's work is that he often drew the far leg of people and critters in silhouette.  See the troll on the left below for an idea of what I'm talking about:

Indeed, while DCS does this all the freakin' time, Tramp--the master of fine hatching--never uses this technique.  Nor does--to the best of my knowledge--Tom Wham.  From Baluchitherium through Yeti, if you see a leg, wing, arm, or other extremity filled in completely in black ink, it might as well have "Sutherland" written across it in flaming letters.  Check out everyone's favorite pig-faced orc, below; he gets the silhouette treatment over the entire right side of his body:

But right there on the facing page of the orc you'll see Jean Wells' Otyugh illustration featuring a fully blackened rear leg as well as a mostly blackened hind tentacle. 

Now I know with absolute certainty that this is a Jean Wells drawing because none of her illos appeared in the earliest printings of the MM, and the copy I had as a kid was, apparently, one of those early printings, cuz whenever I see the violet fungi or the giant rat or that bellicose otyugh I'm still taken aback by these newcomers.  Fortunately for the DCS Black Leg Theory, a not-too-close inspection quickly reveals that the femur sticking out of the muck-pile is signed "Jean & Dave" so, presumably, DCS had a hand in this after all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Starting Equipment Revisited

Over the weekend I ran 10 consecutive 6-hour sessions of Horror in Emridy--my bizarro-Hommlet mega-doom adventure--at Marathon-Dice-Chuck-a-Con IV; which, for structural reasons, was relocated to sunny, downtown Ballard at the last second.  Still, we had a decent turnout and raised enough rupees to tip the pizza guy. 

As Horror in Emridy is a bit of a meat grinder--on avg., there were 1.3 character deaths per player*--speedy character re-creation was essential to smooth action.**  Which is to say, I was able to put the new starting equipment rules through the paces.  Players had roughly 3-1/2 minutes--as measured with a sand timer nabbed from some old, long lost board game--from the end of the combat or other situation which resulted in their character's death to create a new character, or they lost their spot at the table.   

*At 6 players per session that comes to 7.8 kills per session.  Huh, it seemed higher than that.
**Others might argue that my speedy character generation rules exacerbated the death toll.    

The gist, for those uninterested in going back to the previous post, is that each character rolls 4 six-siders and, instead of adding them up, he or she assigns the value of each die to one of the columns in the table below:

e.g.: the aforementioned Fobbins the Fighter rolls a 5,4,3,2.  He slaps the 5 on armor for chainmail, then grabs a short bow with the 4 and a morningstar with the 3 and slaps the 2 down to get a satchel full of dungeoneering goodies from the next table:
You can either select items at your leisure or, if you're in a rush or just a fatalist by nature, roll for your possessions.   Or you can just put it all in silver: Fobbins's 4 satchel items could be converted to 16 pocket items (1 satchel item = 2 pouch items = 4 pocket items), which he could cash in for 16 x 5 = 80 SP.  This is handy if you're heading into an urban adventure, not so much if you're wandering around the tomb of horrors... with your first level character.

For those wanting the dungeoneering tools mentioned under satchel:
 And for critters and other companions:
And go here for the weaponized livestock table.

Magic Users consult Spell Table below for spell selection.  E.g. Moggins the Magicolator, brother to Fobbins in the example above, is also similarly endowed in starting equipment dice rolls; he gets a   5,4,3,2.  He wastes no time on weapons or armor, snagging himself a freebie staff and moving on to spells.  He adds the 4 and 2 for a 6 which gets him to the A list spells and rolls a 4, netting shocking grasp for his spellbook.  He then takes a B-list spell with the 5-er: rolls a 1 for hold portal.  With the just the 3 remaining, he can either roll for a spell on the D list and rely on the bounty of his pockets to get him through the dungeon, or spend it on a backpack full of goodies. Or he can use it to make a scroll of one of his two spells.  Not a bad option, really.


Here is a bunch of verbiage about the rules that will make them seem extra convoluted.  You really don't need to read them, but maybe you want to.  Your call.

0-pip Weapon Rule:
A character may select a staff, club, or sling with 12 sling stones for 0 pips. 
As MUs were foregoing any and all weaponry in order to save their precious pips for spells and scrolls, this afforded them at least some form of mundane self defense.

But it lead to people stockpiling slings and clubs, so I added the

No Stockpiling Free Stuff Rule:
0-pip weapons may only be selected if that weapon is the only weapon the player selects.  
If you're happy with a club as your only means of defense, so be it.  But if your thief wants a short sword and a sling, say, you're going to have to drop 1 pip on the sling.  On the positive side, it'll come with bullets--better range, more damage--instead of stones.

You may stack pips from multiple dice in order to improve your selection options. 
MUs were using this incessantly to get at those A-list spells.  Which is why they had nothing left for daggers--which are admittedly expensive in my new system.

Surplus pips:
If you buy below the value of your dice, you can use the surplus, but only in the same column.
That is, you roll a 6 for your weapon but only want a long sword (5 pips).  You can spend the surplus pip, but only on another weapon; you can't use it to get a shield or a pouch or an F-list spell. Arguably, fighters may use the extra pip to get a shield.

1 pip can buy you a shield or padded armor
Basically, I shifted the whole armor column up one slot, so now a 6 gets you chain & shield instead of just chainmail.  This was done because it irked me that leather armor (AC 8) only has a defensive value of 2, yet it cost 3 pips.  This way, you're buying 1 AC improvement with each pip.  Much more pleasing.  It should be noted that Padded is AC9 in my game.

An elf who assigns two 6's to armor may acquire elven chainmail.
In my game, elves can wear only padded, leather, or elven chainmail.