Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dungeonify this Haunted House

Coming in January, the bigwigs at Dicechucker Enterprises are throwing a bash in honor of 5 years of my life occasionally spent engaging in bloggomy.  For the event, the Powers-That-Be have rented a real, live haunted house on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.  The island was once a fin de siecle summer resort for the wealthy, and is littered with gilded age mansions, but in the ensuing years it has become a disputed territory in the no-man's land between the US and Canada.  The island is claimed by Quebec, Newfoundland, Vermont, and Rhode Island as well as the Akwesasne Nation: dual US-Canadian citizenship, documented Mohawk heritage, serviceable knowledge of French and/or Kanien'kéha  language, snowmobiling experience, and ice-fishing skills may all be helpful in gaining access to the island.  Wearing the appropriate hockey sweater may go far to sway reaction rolls in your favor; though Maple Leafs or Bruins jerseys are not advised.

Given its status as disputed land, the island is a haven for smugglers and outcasts of all sorts, including the Bladerunners--a gang of kids who skate back and forth across the Fleuve delivering hockey sticks and illegal metric rulers to the south, then heading north with packets of hot cocoa mix and unpasteurized cheese curds for the poutine mills of Labrador.   Other factions in the vicinity include a Marxist snowmobile gang, Francophonic Sumo wrestlers, and a colony of rock candy sculptors

But, to the point:  The island is littered with grand old houses that are obviously too haunted for anyone's good. Attached is the floor plan, I'm looking for proposals to dungeonify this here haunted house. The top 5 entries will be granted directions to the island. 

203rd post and the Robo-Stat Blasters

A few posts back I finally hit 200 actual, posted posts.  I mention this now not because I expect anyone to give a damn, but because, last year, when I ran a series of posts riffing on the my inflated post numbers as illustrated on the dashboard, something weird happened: these posts racked up pageviews in record numbers.

These were clearly throw-away posts meant only to occupy my fatuous mind for a few moments while I tried to think of something real to write about, but all three of them* were immediately deluged with pageviews at a rate way out of proportion to anything this blog has seen before or since.  Overnight these banal little posts were racking up over a thousand pageviews.  In the 5 years this blog has been in existence, only two other posts have broken a thousand pageviews and it took many, many months--and a diligent publicity campaign by Grodog--to get there, not a single day.  

Obviously no one wants to read about how many times I've bothered posting to this silly blog, so clearly these hits must have been generated by some robo-hitmonkey in Shangai or Minsk or Cleveland.  But what is it about these silly little posts that made the robo-hitmonkey click itself into a stupor on these content-less posts-in-name-only?  Is there something intrinsically appealing about posts with titles that follow the formula "[# of Posts]th Post!"?  Was it something else about these posts that drew the attention of the voracious, stat-blasting robots?  Has anyone else encountered this bizarre phenomenon?

*One of these posts was renamed to see if changing the name would influence the hit count.  Results were inconclusive.

[EDIT: Two days later, this post has drawn a fairly reasonable 40 hits.  Apparently the formula is no longer appealing to the cyber locusts, or I missed the point entirely. 

Monday, December 29, 2014


Dude!  It won an award!
As my regular reader might recall (hey Dave, how was your Christmas?), there is a longstanding mandate from Dice Chucker HQ that my output of posts in any calendar year must be a multiple of 6.  As there are only a couple o' days left here in '14 and I'm not quite to 30 posts, I'm pillaging my vast store of unfinished drafts for filler.  Case in point: here is a post I started writing back in October but soon lost interest in.  Now I grant to you the opportunity to lose interest in it as well...

I just got an email from ebay telling me that it has been 10 years to the day since I signed up for ebay, which I did for the express purpose of purchasing old gaming books from my gaming heyday back in the 80s.  Which is to say, it's been 10 years since I took my first steps down the rabbit hole that eventually led to you reading these pixels.

But, despite all the crap I've written about on this blog, that first item I picked up on ebay was not a D&D book at all.  It was the DragonQuest 2nd edition rulebook.  And the first thing I did with it was convert L2 Assassin's Knot to a DQ adventure.  Why would I bother doing that?  Beats me. 

The message from ebay got me thinking about the ol' DQ again, and, in particular, how it differs from D&D.  Not in obvious mechanical or aesthetic matters, but in the feel of the game.   Here's a rundown of the perceived differences in how the game plays out, based on my experience:

Parties were smaller: we never had more than 3 players at a time--partly 'cuz if we could get more together we would just play D&D instead. Also, we only ever ran one character to a player, no henchers or hirelings either.  I've always suspected that this was because running a DQ character seemed to absorb more of a player's attention than a D&D one did.

Adventures were shorter: usually they were commando-style raids or heist jobs or other indirect assault maneuvers intended to minimize combat.  Partly this was because DQ adventures were usually side projects played out during lulls in our D&D-playing schedule but also because...

Combat was lethal-er: Although the two-tiered hit point system of Endurance and Fatigue--you had to get through one before you started inflicting damage to the other--made it difficult for even low level characters to die from a single blow, it was certainly not impossible.  A well-rolled strike could leave you with a messy bleeder, a permanent handicap, or quite dead, while "directly affecting endurance" shots bypassed the 2-tier system--as well as any protective value of your armor--and usually left you stunned or dead as well.  Likewise, the monsters were protected by the 2-tier system as well so that even a lightweight kobold-like opponent was probably going to survive at least 2 blows. If you'd already faced a few other opponents that day and run out of fatigue, you were at a serious disadvantage facing off against a fresh enemy of a much lower caliber.  It was pretty unlikely that even powerful characters would remain unscathed if combat lasted more than a few rounds (pulses).  Whereas Friggird the 10th level D&D fighter encounters a gang of 10 orcs: the DM is probably just gonna hand-wave their demise rather than go through the motions of rolling the dice to see how long it takes to kill 'em all.  In DQ, on the other hand, a similarly high level combat-focused character (DQ doesn't have classes in a strict D&D sense) would be a fool to take on that many porkers all by himself: you never know when someone's gonna get lucky and stun you or lay open your aorta.

One of my gaming colleagues never quite got this distinction with DQ and kept sending us through full-on D&D-style dungeon crawls.  He'd get frustrated when, time after time, we'd open a door and see a gang of lizardmen or whoever and either a) slam the door and runaway, or b) start haggling with them, promising to bring them a family of plump halflings for a snack in exchange for, ya' know, not eating us.  Even after several TPKs at his hand, he still didn't understand that the DQ combat rules just didn't support the hack n' slash motif he was going for.

PCs were bigger:  This is a matter of personal perspective, but while I tend to envision my D&D characters as being about the size of the miniatures on the table, DQ characters I think of as being much closer to life-sized.  And covered with scars. I think the fragility of these characters made them loom larger in my imagination than most of my D&D characters did.

No Magic items: Magic items were not standard in DQ--I don't believe they were even mentioned in the rulebook--and, as such, they were pretty much non-existent in the game.  I remember one gang of characters we had spent their entire careers on a quest to find some legendary magic sword. I think the appeal for us as players was that this was a chance to find out how a magic sword would manifest itself in DQ; as of yet we had never seen one.  For that reason we were exceptionally distraught when we finally found the sword, only to have it stolen from our grasp--a la Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"--by the little old man that we had foolishly believed to be a benevolent sage.  Seriously, we spent the better part of a year hunting down this sword from person to person, dungeon to dungeon, but never did figure out what was magical about it.  Goddamn Macguffin.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2014 Resolution Update

With 29 days remaining in the year, I thought I'd better get going on a few of my resolutions from last December.  I've got a big meeting with the stockholders coming up in January; I'd better impress or I'll be looking for a new cave to chuck my dice in.  That sounds kinda' gross, no?  Not a good start.
  1. A. Complete even one of the modules from my publications list   ... or B. make a map of Holmsmouth, the de facto setting of of the ATM and IBS series of urban adventures.  Current Status:  1-A: I think we all know this one aint hap'nin', B: this one was a trick; I already had the map made when I made the resolution.  Assuming I can find it again, this one is in the bag.
  2. A: Dismantle Kickstarter   ... or B: continue to ignore its existence. Current Status: I've done well with 2-B.  So well that perhaps 2-A also came true without any effort on my part?
  3. Compile my Moathouse-Sample Dungeon thesis for my colleagues over at Zenopus Archives et. al.  ... actually this one seems pretty reasonable as is.   Current: Ya' know, I actually worked on this one a few times over the year.  But rehashing my Moathouse thesis into a more cohesive article smacked of revising a dissertation.  There's a reason I don't have a Ph.D.  Don't get your hopes up gang.
  4. Complete the T2-5 Against the Cabal of the Tamaracks series of postmodern Hommlet sequels ... or at least post my T1 modifications. Current: It seems like I have this one half-done somewhere, let me look around...
  5. Pay more attention to G+  ... or convince Rients to get his head back in the blogging business. Current: Nope and nope.
  6. Make DiceChuckathonCon V a reality ... or get the old gang together for the occasional game every now and then.  Sigh.
  7. Achieve global domination ... or submit application for Canadian citizenship.  Man do I hate paperwork.
  8. Finish off my Appendix N reading list ... or finish The Aeneid.  And maybe The Iliad. I read enough of The Aenied to know that I will not ever finish the rest; does that count?
  9. Complete the ol' Gigadungeon ... or hack it up and publish it piecemeal.  I started doing this and then left my notes on the bus.  I'm hoping some homeless dude found 'em and is using the material to run a sweet campaign under a bridge somewhere.
  10. Get in a hockey fight ... or learn to skate backwards.  Holy Shit!! I actually did this one.  Not the fight--I'm a lover, etc. etc--but, at the youthful age of 45, I finally managed to skate backwards.  I'm not ready to play defenceman yet, but I'm getting there.
  11. Complete my revised History of Oerth  ... or re-format my annotated Oeridian timeline.  This one is so close to being done I can almost taste it.  Perhaps...
  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 Hrrummph.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On the Rising Status of Gamers

From The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell:

PISSED-OFF MUSICIAN:     Never performed live to a real audience, have yer?
MUSIC CRITIC:     Nor have I fucked a donkey, destabilized a Central American state, or played Dungeons & Dragons but I reserve the right to hold opinions on those who do. Your show was a bobbing turd and I don't take a word back.

That's right, dice-chuckers rate alongside ungulaphiles and economic hitmen.  We're movin' up in the world!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

U1 Alliterative Secret of Saltmarsh

Not as sinister as you might think.
I haven't had much to say for a while which has me thinking that I may need to obsess about an old module again.  But for the time being I feel that I've plumbed as much as I can from the depths of Hommlet and Restenford; perhaps I'm ready to move on to some new old material.  Which is why, over the weekend, I dug out TSR Dungeon Module U1: El Siniestro Secreto de la Marisma, first of the modules to come out of Merry Ol' Inglaterra back in the 80s.  This oldie but goodie is famous for giving the PCs the opportunity to roll up to a haunted house in their own Mystery Machine and play the role of meddling kids who foil the plans of the nefarious bad guys.  Extra points if you split up the party. 

As I recall from my run through this module as a youth my old chum Byron the Chaotic was at the helm--he was the go-to module guy in our group. Though without a significant town component to the adventure--more on this later--the chaos factor barely cracked the Richter Scale.  Also of note: my halfling fell through the floor and died early-on in the affair.  Then my replacement character, a feeble MU born with only 1 hit point, bought the farm on the Sea Ghost in what would end up being a TPK; a fairly typical outcome of that encounter I'm told.  
Now this looks sinister.

But on reading U1 now, 82 years later, the module exudes a sense of missed opportunity. Whatever points this thing earned for Goth and Gloom and all that Britishy stuff it loses because of one crucial, glaring, egregious oversight that will forever keep Saltmarsh off the list of super-awesome mega-raddest modules of all time: despite all the action that's supposed to go down in the town of Saltmarsh, the authors didn't bother actually creating the town.  

The module pretty much demands that you interact with numerous townspeople including members of the town council, the local guardsmen, and some idiotic poacher, meanwhile insisting that the townsfolk stonewall the party for a few days before they set out for the haunted house. Indeed, the text of the module indicates that the PCs should be dealing intimately with parties in the village not just at the outset of the adventure but repeatedly throughout this and future adventures. For all that interaction between town and dungeon locale you'd think they would have accommodated the DM by actually providing a friggin' village!  Nope. And by not including so much as a map indicating where the town is in relation to the haunted house, the module design actually discourages the DM from engaging the town at all.  

Compare this to T1 where the moathouse and the nearby village need not have any interaction whatsoever; if you cut the module in half and handed the moathouse portion to one DM and the Hommlet portion to another DM, neither would know that he was missing any material.  And yet no one has ever once taken a run at the moathouse without first dallying at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. 

Now, at least one optimist will tell you that the town of Saltmarsh is "given glorious life through its many NPCs". Reviewers of this ilk are obviously more imaginative than I, cuz in my opinion just saying that there's a "web of intrigue" in a town that exists in name only doesn't actually do much to conjure said web. There's no map, no NPC descriptions, no names of establishments to visit... sigh. What there is in great quantity is wasted potential  because even some very basic info on the village and its denizens would have given the DM's creativity some traction to get started. Instead the authors hand you a clean slate and tell you to get to work. Don't get me wrong, I can deal with a clean slate; but I like modules for the opportunity to see other people's ideas on adventure, not to do homework. 

Furthermore, given that at least 4 pages of the module were occupied by meaningless fluff that was clearly intended to do nothing but fill space--2 full-page illustrations--unheard of in TSR modules at the time--as well as the moronically pointless visual aids on page 31 and the entirely blank page on the back of the worthless visual aids, not to mention the out-sized plan and section drawings of the ship that fail to occupy the entirety of the tri-fold jacket maps--there was easily enough room in the book for the authors to squeeze in at least a rough depiction of a town had they been inclined to provide such.  With little effort they could have tightened up the dungeon maps on the jacket leaving enough space for a 1 page map of town. And they could've ditched the space-wasting illustrations, instead providing a keyed list of significant locations, and maybe a table providing summary info on a few prominent NPCs: names, titles, maybe some useful stats, and a tidbit of info. Something like "George Weasly, Human, MU2, shopkeeper at Zonko's Joke Shoppe, twin brother of the Ostler at the Three Broomsticks" could easily have fit into the space vapidly occupied by the aforementioned fluff. 

Instead, the DM is asked to prepare the town "quite thoroughly" and to "be guided by any small south-coast English fishing town of the 14th Century and with a population about 2,000."  A few factors our friendly modulists failed to realise:
  • In 14th c. England only 8 towns in the entire Realm had a population of more than 3,000, and that's including London.  A village of ~2,000 people would have cracked the list of top 20 largest metro areas in the land; this is not a small town.  By way of comparison, the 19th and 20th largest metro areas in England today are Stoke and Wolverhampton.  Which is to say, a town of 2k in 14th century England might very well have supported the Medieval equivalent of a mid-table Premier League soccer team--excuse me--football club.  By the standard of the time, a town of the recommended size would have been a regional cosmopolitan center, not a sleepy backwater. 
  • Making this guideline even more ridiculous: we are informed that Saltmarsh is a significantly smaller town than the neighboring towns of Burle and Seaton.  Needless to say, there were no urban clusters of this nature along the shores of southern England in the 14th century on which to model your sleepy Saltmarsh.*
  • Far more important than either of the previous two points: at the time U1 hit the market the maximum population of municipal areas in D&D modules was about 300 (see: the Keep [B2, 1980], Hommlet [T1, 1979], and Restenford [L1, 1981]; the soon-to-be-published towns of Garrotten [L2, 1982] and Orlanes [N1, 1982] were also in this neighborhood).  Could you reasonably expect amateur DMs who just paid money for an adventure so that they wouldn't have to prepare one on their own to now go ahead and "quite thoroughly" design a friggin' town that is 6-2/3 times larger than any town the professionals had yet produced?  With all due respect to Messieurs Turnbull and Browne: if you didn't think creating the town was worth the effort then why should we?    
Which is why, without exception, every DM who ran this module back in the day skipped all the published hype-material and kicked this thing off by reciting the following:
"Your party is walking along a road when off in the distance you see a run-down house on a cliff overlooking the sea."
*  According to the Wikicensus of 1377 Plymouth (pop. 1700) and Exeter (pop. 1560) were the two largest towns on the southern coast of England though the Black Death of 1348-49 probably brought these numbers down a fair bit from the first half of the century.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Monty Python on the OSR

From a conversation overheard at a booth hawking Old School gaming accoutrements at a recent gaming convention:
REG [booth proprietor]: The only people we hate more than 4th Edition players are the fucking Old School Roleplayers.
OSR [crowd of gamers milling about the booth]: Yeah.  Splitters.
FRANCIS: And the Old School Retrobates.
OSR: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
LORETTA: And the Old School Renaissance.
OSR: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
REG: What?
LORETTA: The Old School Renaissance. Splitters.
REG: We're the Old School Renaissance!
LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Old School Revival.
REG: Revival! C-huh.
FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Revival, Reg?
REG: He's over there. [points to a booth across the aisle occupied by a lone gamer]
OSR: Splitter!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Topics in Comparative Hobbitology: Hairy feet and fearfulness

So, in light of the recent events at Hobbitfest '14, I decided to obsess over the little dudes some more by digging into their RPG pedigree--as opposed to their literary pedigree which is limited to the works of and about Tolkien.  As such, I dug out all my old rule books and dusted off a big stack of PDFs to see how the various renditions of D&D have treated the little buggers over the years.

First off, I should point out that there are some glaring lapses in my collection; notably, in the D&D line there's a jump from 1981 (Moldvay) to 2001 (Hackmaster--the "Never Say Never Again" of Big D), and only one of the numbered editions are included: the recent Basic Rules associated with v. 5.  I'm not a complete Luddite (yes I am), I do have several knockoffs--Tunnels & Trolls, DragonQuest, SwordBearer--and retroclones--Castles & Crusades, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry: White Box and Complete, DCC (perhaps more of a knockoff than a retroclone)--on hand.  Labia Lords was omitted from the study because, with such a silly name, I just can't take it seriously. Also missing: Mentzer; because... well, it's better left unsaid.

There are, of course, some basic similarities throughout the majority of the versions.  For instance, we all know that haffies are about 3' tall, they tend to be dexterous, stealthy, and crack shots with various missilery.  It's also generally agreed that they tend to be hardily resistant to magic and perhaps also poison--usually manifested in a saving throw bonus--and most of the rules include factors such as these in their descriptions of the pesky little critters.

"Hey little dude: What's up with your feet?"
It may come as a surprise, however, that hairy-footedness is generally not mentioned in the early versions of the game.  In fact, prior to 2001's Hackmaster no version of which I am familiar actually mentions their feet at all.  Indeed, there are no illustrations of hairy-footed haffies in the vast majority of D&D rulebooks from the 70s and early 80s. The Monster Manual being the lone exception. And yet, my first ever character back when I was playing Holmes Basic was a shoeless halfling who was forever terrified of inadvertently dipping his naked toes into a pool of green slime, even though there is not a single whiff of text in the book--or a supporting illustration--to suggest that either shoelessness or hairy-footedness are characteristics of the species.  It's conceivable that, without the baggage of Tolkien's hobbits, one might have played halflings for quite some time without ever knowing that there was anything untoward about their feet.  That everyone understood that the hairy-footed dude fighting the owlbear in Roslof's drawing from K. on the B'lands was a haffie does a great job of highlighting the pervasiveness of Mr. T's work on our collective image of the game and, indeed, the genre.  

Also, over time haffie hardiness seems to have migrated quite a bit.  At first they were resistant to magic, then poison jumped on the bandwagon, in the form of heightened saving throws.  Some of this disappeared in some editions and versions, but then, inexplicably it resurfaced in Castles & Crusades and Fiver Basic as fearlessness.  This is in shocking contrast to, say, Moldvays haffers who were described as somewhat cowardly.  While I am deeply and unabashedly ignorant of post-Gygaxian mainline D&D rules, I have read enough to understand--perhaps errantly--that at some point halflings lost there spot as a default player race to the Kender of Dragonlance; the race that single-handedly ruined everything they touched back in the mid-80s.**  Anyway, my point is that I have a sinking suspicion that the fearlessness thing is a kender trait rather than a hobbit trait, which makes me more than a little queasy. On a possibly related note, nothing in particular is said of halfling feet in Fiver.

* The only illustration of a hairy footed haffer in the core AD&D rulebooks that is clearly linked to halflings is the one in the one accompanying the Halfing description in the AD&D Monster Manual. Though there is also a short hairy footed dude in that party of characters in the marginal illustrations in the back of the AD&D DMG
** Delta Dan has statistically proven that the reason Walter Mondale failed so utterly in his 1984 presidential campaign--winning only 2 states, if I recall correctly--is that the Reagan camp leaked rumors that Mondale was "pro-Kender."  More recently, Mitt Romney saw his presidential hopes go up in flames when a photo of him relaxing on the beach beside a now-middle-aged and paunchy Tasslehoff Burrfoot hit the internet. Also: those faulty O-rings that caused the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster?  Manufactured by Kender. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Halflings III: Boggies and Hobbits: closer than you think

Back on Day 1 of what is turning out to be Hobbitfest '14, Leicester provided a bit of text from the Lord of the Rings parody Bored of the Rings to help folks unfamiliar with boggies to understand what they were all about. Here is the quote from Leicester (who was quoting The Harvard Lampoon [who were satirizing JRRT]):
"While there was still a King at Ribroast, the boggies remained nominally his subjects, and to the last battle at Ribroast with the Slumlord of Borax, they sent some snipers, though who they sided with is unclear. There the North Kingdom ended, and the boggies returned to their well-ordered, simple lives, eating and drinking, singing and dancing, and passing bad checks."--Harvard Lampoon, Bored of the Rings

The quote provides a slender glimpse into the uncouth, gluttonous, and devious ways of the Boggie race, but what is beautiful about it is how easily Tolkien's original text lent itself to such an interpretation of his precious Hobbits.  Here's the original text from M. Tolkien:
"While there was still a king they were in name his subjects, but they were, in fact, ruled by their own chieftains and meddled not at all with events in the world outside. To the last battle at Fornost with the Witch-lord of Angmar they sent some bowmen to the aid of the king, or so they maintained, though no tales of Men record it.  But in that war the North Kingdom ended; and then the Hobbits took the land for their own." -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring  [emphasis mine]
Doesn't Tolkien's text already make the little buggers sound a bit shady?  In the ultimate war to save the Kingdom, the tales of men don't acknowledge any assistance from the Hobblers, and yet they took the land for their own in the ensuing collapse. It's as if they made up the whole squad of archers bit to justify their land-grab even though they were really just a bunch of pint-sized opportunists plucking at low hanging fruit left by the defunct kingdom.  Or, worse yet, they made a deal with the Witch-lord to either stay out of the fray or side with his forces in exchange for the lands.  This might explain why, after wiping out the Men of Fornost, the Witch-lord didn't swoop down on the Hobbits and snarf them up as a post-battle snack.  In this light the deviant bastards of BotR don't seem to fall all that far from their literary progenitors.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Halflings II: Other non-fat haffies

Yesterday's undercooked post failed to mention the influence of Jeff Dee's buff little warriors on my conception of haffers though, clearly, if you've read anything on this blog before you'll have guessed that the ripped fuzz-foot from the cover of V. of H. could not be far from my mind.  [Thankfully Leicester came along to correct the matter in the comments section.]  Anyway, I was going to follow up with a splat-post of Jeff Dee's hobbit beefcake, but a quick internet search proved that Scott Taylor over at Black Gate already did that.

Also, B/X Black Razor's Hobbit Love post is in the spirit of the thing as well.  Ages ago, when I started playing thiefless-S&W White Box, I made halfers default rangers, who were basically sneaky fighters.*  Like JB Black Razor--and despite any previous reference to the boggies of Bored of the Rings--I don't particularly care for AD&D's klepto-rific scions to the kender.

*"But S&W White Box was also ranger-less" you say?  Read on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Race as Class: Half-lings--No longer portly

I generally think that race as class can suck it, but, despite that, I've slowly been re-hashing the generic D&D races as more individuated--and pigeonholed--classes.  Today, I'm taking on halflings; my version being based somewhat more on the Harvard Lampoon's shrewd and devious boggies than on Prof. T's paeans to pastoral domesticity.

Some things you might not have known about halflings:

They hate being called "halflings." 
The preferred term amongst their own kind is unpronounceable gibberish to most non-halfling ears, though they'll accept the more politically correct Haffolk.  Terms such as haffies, smalluns, hobblets, knibbites, shire-fiends, li'lfucks, are also common.

They didn't survive as a species by being plump, complacent, homebodies.

To the contrary, they are stealthy by default, dead-eye shots with all forms of missilery, and are masters of the ambuscade.  Quick for their size, they also have developed a form of gang combat that allows them, when attacking larger creatures, to exceed the sum of their parts.  When challenged or in a dangerous setting they actually seem to grow taller--they walk on the balls of their feet when not in a "civilized" setting--and put on a shrewd and even vicious demeanor.

  • small'ns are +3 to hit with bows, crossbows, handguns, rifles, and slings
  • gain an extra attack with such if they gain surprise.  
  • when several Hobblets engage in melee with larger opponents they gain 1 additional attack for every 2 haffies swipin' at the same target.  Your ogre is surrounded by 8 hobblers?  They attack 8 + 4 = 12 times each round.  This rule could be a serious pain in the butt to administer.

Sneaky bastards, knibbites move silently and hide in shadows as a matter of course and are excellent wall climbers as well; perform all those feats as a thief of 3 levels higher than their own ability level.

They always travel in packs.  

There is an adage:
If you see a lone haffie, beware: you're outnumbered 3 to 1.  
It is a  common tactic of the small'ns to leave the bulk of their number lying in ambush and then send a small portion of their gang out to gauge the temperament of a party of travelers.  Anyone displaying distemper toward the knibbite delegates will be subjected to a fusillade of lethal missile fire.

All PC halflings will be accompanied by 1-3 beta haffies.  Beta haffolk are 0-level and equipped with padded armor, sling and dagger.  The PC must provide all other provisions and such.  Betas roll 2d6 + 1 for Str, 1d6 + 12 for Dex, and 2d6 + 6 for Wis.  If the alpha haffie (aka, the PC) should die, the beta haffie with the highest Cha will immediately be promoted to Alpha, and the player may run that haffie as his new PC.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flame Arrow Strikes Back

Everyone who's ever read a spell list has been puzzled by the presence of Flame Arrow on the 3rd level Magic User spells list.  How could a spell that ignites (1/level) arrows, when touched by the MU, thus allowing them, should they hit their target, to inflict one (1) extra point of damage--be allowed to occupy the same stage as Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Fly, Haste, etc.?  Any party with a torch can do the same thing without an MU, so why would any self-respecting Thaumaturge forgo one of the numerous useful 3rd level spells for this turkey?  The answer is simple: no one would and and no one ever has, ever.  So either Flame Arrow needs to be demoted to the zero-level spell list where it belongs or it needs a serious upgrade.

Hackmaster of course does it better, allowing an option that essentially lets the MU cast a firebolt that causes 4 or 5d6 damage; it's sort of a mini-fireball without all the risk to your dungeoneering cronies. But I'd like to take the idea behind the AD&D version of the spell and maybe make it worthy of being a spell that a 5th level MU would opt to have in his pocket.

Proposed upgrades:
  • Not just arrows and crossbow bolts, Flame Arrow will also cause sling bullets, spears, thrown daggers and heaved rocks to turn into incendiary grenades.  Heck, even a snowball will do the trick.
  • No touch necessary, rather all missiles launched from within, say, 1"/level of the MU will burst into flames en route to the target.
  • Enflamed missiles continue to burn for the duration of the spell (1 round/level) after striking their target, causing additional damage or at the least leaving small fires scattered throughout the combat zone, igniting wood floors, wallpaper, fields of dry grass, leaf piles, etc.
  • Piercing missiles--arrows, daggers and the like--will inflict 1d6 additional dmg immediately and will continue to do so until removed or the duration of the spell ends.  Removing a blazing arrow or quarrel in such conditions inflicts and additional 1-4 pts of dmg.
  • Non-piercing missiles such as stones, hammers, rotten tomatoes, would inflict 1 additional point of damage on contact but would not inflict additional damage through the duration of spell unless the target or it's clothing were ignited by the impact.
  • The fire is magical. it does not burn up the missile, nor does it need oxygen to burn, thus it can be used underwater, though it will not be able to ignite other objects in such conditions.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

20 Balls of Fire: Spheres of Blazing Death HackMaster Style

Inspired by Rients' rant about fireballs from a few weeks back--and simultaneously filling in a glaring omission in Delta Dan's Spells Through the Ages Series--I decided to investigate the numerous versions of every one's favorite spell of incendiary devastation in the most beloved of all editions of D&D: HackMaster!

That's right, HackMaster has 20 different Fireball spells, at least 2 are available at each spell level (except 7th, which gets but one).  Yes, there are not one but two versions available to Prestifidigitatarions. And in case you have to ask: yes they're all "volumetric" and you will roast your party and yourself if you cast one in tight quarters.   

1st Level

Fireball barrage: And right off the bat we have an exception; this one isn't volumetric. It lets you cast one single-serving-sized fireball per round per level for a staggering 1d3 pts. of damage.  Presumably, the purpose of this spell is for the MU to light the candles in his laboratory without having to get up from his studies.
Sidewinder Factor 1: sidewinder fireballs can slither around walls and over obstacles to get to their target... where they will deliver 1d6-4 whopping pts of dmg/level of MU. Also, sub-freezing temperatures reduce the range of the spell by 10' per ℉ (5.5m per ℃) below freezing.  So at 22 ℉ (-5.6 ℃) it's effective range is 0 and you've cast it on yourself.  On chilly days you will want to consult a thermometer before casting this bad boy.

2nd Level

Skipping Betty: a single 10' r. fireball skips across the ground until it finds a target and detonates.
Sidewinder Factor 2: as Factor 1 but slightly more damage.

3rd Level 

Fireball: Yep, here it is in all its volumetric beauty. Well, not all the beauty; this version inflicts only 1d4 damage per level damage.  Strange that Kenzer and co. decided to pull their punches on this one.
Scatter-Blast: causes 1d6 separate 10'r. fireballs to go off in a randomly determined direction and distance.  Don't try this one underground... or anywhere else. 
Sidewinder Factor 3: as Factor 2 but slightly more damage.  

4th Level

Landscraper: Before I read the description of this spell, I thought it would maybe create a conflagration that would spread along the terrain conforming to contours sort of like the Sidewinder but the explosion itself would slither.  I was wrong.  Instead, it's just like a normal fireball but the "area of effect is increased by a 5ft. wide by 10' high parallelepiped* that extends back to the caster from the center of the main fireball."  Which is to say, after the blast fills its 33,000 cf of space, it then reaches out a little appendage in one last effort to reach the MU.  No idea why that would make it a 4th level spell, or what it has to do with scraping land. I like my interpretation much better.
Sidewinder Factor 4: as Factor 3 but slightly more damage. 
Volley: Launch one 10' r. fireball per round for the duration of the spell, each does 3d6 dmg.

5th Level

Sidewinder Factor 5: This, the final Sidewinder in the series, inflicts 1d6 dmg/level of caster.
Torrential: Area of effect is doubled to 40' r. sphere.  Does 1d6 per level.

6th Level

Show-No-Mercy: like a normal fireball but dmg is 1d8/level.
Proximity Fused: Spell is cast on a point in space and detonates only when someone approaches within 10' of this point.

7th level

Delayed Blast: just like it sounds. 

8th Level

Death Brusher: "This spell is the same as the 3rd level spell Fireball, except [the casting time is 8 segments instead of 3].  In addition, those taking damage from the Fireball must pass a system shock roll or be instantly slain."  I friggin' love HackMaster.
Maximus: Same as regular fireballs except damage is d10/level of MU.

9th Level

Lava Yield: Damage is 1d12/level and it melts stone within the area of effect.
Nuclear Winter: The spell description reads:"This spell has been rescinded in HackMaster 4th Edition."  And for good reason: the 20-mile radius area of effect, as indicated in the statblock for the spell, would make it more than a little ungainly.

In conclusion, there is no standard, 1d6/level fireball, but there are plenty of variants.

*A parallelepiped, as it turns out, is a rectangular cube, if that makes sense.  A very useful word, but so tragically cumbersome that it should not come as a surprise that the HackMaster rulebook is the only known usage of the term in a sentence.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Average Joe in New Basic D&D, or W. of the C. and I have something in common after all

As you already know, the latest Basic D&D rules abide by the old AD&D standard for rolling abilities: roll 4d6 and take the best 3.  But it also has a rule that, if you can't be bothered to roll your own dice you can just take a default set of "standard" ability scores and assign them to your character.  The standard scores are:
What's really astounding to me is that several years ago--a few years before I started this here bloggery-do--I was trying to devise anti-munchkinry character generation rules for AD&D, when I came up with the exact same idea, to the extent that the numbers are even strikingly similar.  Here's the standard set of ability scores I came up with back in '07:
The only difference is that they lowered the ceiling from 16 to a 15, which is in keeping with their whole "15 is max" ethos.  I'm pretty certain that we used the same approach to determine our standard abilities, whaddaya' think?

I came up with my standard by rolling thousands of sets of characters, ranking each character's abilities from highest to lowest and then averaging the ranked numbers in order to find an "average" character.*  In fact, I called the rule the "Average Joe Rule" and some perk was offered for taking the default ability scores instead of rolling your own, though I don't remember what the benefit was.  Of course, my players were so repulsed by such a notion that they never acknowledged its existence. Oh well.  But if nothing else--and assuming that all this isn't just a colossal coincidence--the Wizard-boys seem to validate my statistics, which is nice.

*Seriously, there were over 100,000 "dice rolls" involved, though Excel did all the heavy lifting for me.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Undead PCs

A few years ago I got into a debate with someone somewhere on the interweb--I think it was Rients--about what happens if you roll a 1 for your Hit Points and your Constitution is in the penalty zone: can a character be dead at inception?  Obviously that's not very satisfying, and yet hand-waving a minimum of 1 HP or re-rolling until you achieve a more arithmetically-pleasing result both seem like cop-outs.

Your new character sketch
Then, suddenly, just moments ago, it came to me in a flash: when your Con penalty puts your brand new, freshly rolled PC's hit point total at 0 or less then he/she is undead: you get to begin your adventuring career as a zombie!  The perks:
  • You get to re-roll your hit points using 2d8 and ignoring your constitution score.
  • No more worrying about things like drinking water, oxygen, and sleep or charm spells.
  • Stick with this long enough and you get to be a freakin' Lich.
And some cons:
  • Your appetite for brains might be a bit off-putting to your adventuring colleagues. 
  • The cleric in your party can use Speak with Dead to force you to reveal embarrassing events from your past.
  • Until you reach 9th level -- Vampire -- you might as well forget about getting laid; it absolutely will not happen.

Monday, July 7, 2014

New Basic D&D

Over the long weekend I celebrated American Independence by watching Copa Mundial on Univision--screw ESPN and its staid British commentary--and reading what other bloggers have to say about the newly released Basic D&D fantasy adventure game.  In order to keep my sheep credentials up to date, I thought I should follow the herd and compile my thoughts on the matter but, as a devotee of Advanced D&D, I can't really take anything called "Basic" seriously.  So, in lieu of my own analysis--which might require me actually reading the rules--I offer this cartoon by  Daniel Clowes:  
by Daniel Clowes, patron saint of outsiders

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Greyhawk: The Iron League

Reggie Dunlop: The Iron League, huh? Lotta' fights? 
Jack Hanson: Nah.
We all know that the Iron League was formed when a handful of small provinces broke off from the southwest corner of the Rauxes-based Overkingdom.  How this was achieved is not obvious until one remembers that the Hanson brothers of "Slapshot" fame were Iron League natives.  Though Jack, Jeff, and Steve had little else to say on their land of origin, one can assume--given their reputation for goonery--that Jack's statement that fighting was not prevalent there must be understood that these sorts of things are, indeed, relative.

Against these dudes, the overking never had a chance.
The brothers, despite their youth and myopia, were big, tough warriors who foiled up their fists before each foray, never backed off from a brawl, and did not hesitate to deliver a low blow to gain the upper hand in a melee.  Sounds like the perfect combination of traits you want in a peoples if your intent is to break away from the largest, most powerful, and most criminally insane regime of the era. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Oeridi-centric Bias in the Gazetteer

You don't have to read too much of the Greyhawk Gazetteer--or the later Guide edition for that matter--to realize that the thing was written by Oeridians.  And not just any Oeridians; more specifically, the author was most probably a member of the Aerdian clan that pushed eastward into the vast plains of the eastern Flannaes--though he or she is not too happy with the current state of affairs in the once Great Kingdom, he or she clearly takes pride in the past achievements of the Aerdi.  Below are a few of the more obvious indicators as to where the author's loyalties lie.

  • Dates are given in CY (Common Year).  This is only done within the current confines of the Great Kingdom.  Most former G.K. states reverted to Oeridian Reckoning--if they ever adopted CY in the first place, beyond "official" ceremony--once they achieved independence from the Overkingdom and non-GK states never adopted the CY reckoning to begin with.  In fact, oddly enough, the Oeridian Reckoning is dominant throughout the eastern Flannaes outside the GK.
  • Chronology begins at year 160 O.R.  Ignoring several millennia of history compiled by the Suloise, Olven, Bakluni, and Flan peoples, the chronicler chose a date very near to the Oeridian people's dubious beginnings as the point of origin of the Chronology and Brief History.
  • Refers to the Realm of the Aerdi as The "Great" Kingdom.  Outside the current borders of said kingdom, it is rare in the extreme to find someone willing to use that conflated descriptor.  Scholars might refer to it--at best--as the Great Aerdian Kingdom or similar.  In Keoland, the term "Large Kingdom" is used mockingly, stripping the name of its grandeur and also including connotations of excess, as in "portly" or "bloated." The wags of Greyhawk take it a step further, referring to the Aerdian realm as "The Overkingdom" which is a knock on the hubris of the monarch's chosen appellation while also implying that the kingdom has surpassed its date of expiry.
  • Assumes that the Suloise migrations into the Flannaes happened over land.  Only the aquaphobic Oeridians would overlook the significance of the sailing culture of the Suloise and assume that they traveled from their southern empire throughout the Flannaes on foot.  In fact, the Suloise had a vast maritime empire for millenia before the Oeridians crawled out of their termite hills in the Steppes or wherever they're from.  Though certainly some large scale movement of peoples occurred through the passes of the the Crystalmist, most major transit of Suel peoples throughout Oerth was by ship.  Certainly the only survivors of the RCF were those lucky enough to escape by sea as only a very small number managed to reach the safety of the mountain passes on foot before being swept up in the conflagration. 
  • Implies that the Common Tongue is a product of the Great Kingdom.  While it is true that the Common Tongue is the official language of the G.K., and it is widespread throughout most of the Flannaes, it is not an Aerdian invention, as the Gaz author(s) would have you believe.  Rather, as the Oeridians moved eastward, their spoken tongue was heavily influenced by the Flannish and Suel languages of the folks they met along the way.  What emerged was a Lingua Franca that is an amalgam of the various tongues and cannot be claimed by any single people or nation. The GK claiming ownership of the common tongue is sort of like St. Louis claiming that it is the source of the Mississippi River. 
  • Aerdians portrayed as conquering hoard. In fact, they merely occupied the vast, empty plains of the central Flannaes which had been passed over by the Suel and Flannish peoples.  The Flan, being agoraphobes, prefer forests, hills, and mountain valleys to the prairies, and the Suel were, early on at least, leery of settling too far from the sea.  
  • Suel portrayed as malevolent slavers. Well, they're not actually wrong; this was true of the old Suloise Empire.  But most of the Suel settlers who came to the Flannaes were refugees fleeing the oppressive regime; a not insubstantial number of them being themselves escaped slaves, and thus, did not carry on the tradition of enslaving others. Often these people were Suel in speech only, having been members of oppressed ethnic groups during their time in the Suloise Empire.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Greyhawk: Guide vs. Gazetteer Discrepancies

From the chronology in A Guide to the World of Greyhawk (1983 Boxed set).  Years are Oerid (O.R.):
187 Oerid migrations east of peak point.
223 Invoked Devastation of Rain of Colorless Fire strike
Compared to the original Gazetteer (1980 Folio edition):
187 Oerid migrations east at peak point.
223 Invoked devastation and Rain of Colorless Fire strike.
These kinds of printing errors are great fun for historians trying to discern past events from copied texts, but anyone who reads "A Brief History of Eastern Oerik," which accompanies the timeline in both editions, will quickly learn that the Invoked D. and the Rain of C. were separate cataclysms, not a single, verbose event.

However, the item regarding Oerid migrations is a bit more of a conundrum.  While the terminology in the old Gaz is a bit ambiguous--it could mean that the volume of eastward migration of the Oerid was at its peak or it could also mean that peak point was a place that the migrants had reached--replacing "at" with "of", as some well-meaning but unknowing typesetter did for the Guide, makes the statement unambiguous: a literal translation of the Guide, as printed, insists that "peak point" be a place which Oeridian refugees were stumbling past sometime in the year 187 O.R.

That said, have any Greyhawkers who grew up on the Guide ever pondered where on the map this fabled Peak Point might be located? 

Where's Peak Point on this thing?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Community Visits the Prime Material Plane

Community's annual animated episode was a trip into the world of GI Joe, the 80s cartoon/toy tie-in show where Jeff "Wingman" Winger becomes the first GI with the capacity to actually kill people.  Pretty good stuff.  I won't belabor the story too much, cuz the point of this post is this: there's a pretty obvious D&D reference. When Abed's GI Joe persona "Fourth Wall" tries to explain the dilemma that Wingman is experiencing he draws this diagram of the known universe:

Need I say more?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Moathouse Friday: The Lareth Conspiracy

A few things we know about Lareth:
Figure 1.  The vizor brings out the chaos in your eye.
  1. Lareth is never seen without a full-vizored helmet [Figure 1].
  2. Lareth is known to some within the Temple as "The Beautiful"--not an adjective typically preferred by men, who find terms like "handsome," "studly," or "well-endowed" more descriptive of their virility
  3. Shortly before Lareth arrived in the Hommlet vicinity, Y'dey vacated the Church of C'bert on her mysterious quest.
If you haven't already figured this out, I'll make it real simple for you: Lareth and Y'dey are the same friggin' person.

Furthermore: It is therefore almost certain that there is a deep-seeded and nefarious connection between the Temple of EE and the Church of St. C., perhaps running as high as the Prelate of Almor him(her)self!

Bonus Lareth Trivia:
"Lareth" is most likely an Oeridian bastardization of "Larix" which is the genus of the larch tree, also known as the tamarack.  It has been established that tamaracks grow in close association with chaos; see the K on the B-lands, as well as V of H, and Sample Dungeon of Evil Terror.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Old School gaming returns to Community

If you've turned on a TV in the last 5 years then you already know that NBC's Community is the only reason that broadcast TV continues to exist.  Brave enough to devote an entire episode to D&D a few seasons back, last week they had the self-acknowledged hubris to do another D&D episode.  For the sequel, instead of averting Fa-- bulous Neil's suicide, they're trying to reunite Buzz "we need a cranky old guy to replace Chevy Chase" Hickey with his estranged, D&D playing son Hank, played by a neck-bearded David "Tobias Funke" Cross. 

Once again Abed is at the helm, this time leading the gang through a homebrewed adventure, the goal of which is to explore the Black Tower and destroy the evil necromancer/phile who lives at the top of it.
 "That's just what I love about role playing games is being told exactly what to do." --Hank Hickey
North is left.
In classic, Olde Skewle fashion, Hank decides to head south instead of crossing the Brutalitops Memorial Rope Bridge--a reference to Chang's decapitated MU from the previous D&D episode--which leads to the tower of the Dark Lord, taunting Abed with "If I walk too far south do I fall off your graph paper there?"  But Abed is prepared, pulling out a thick binder of homebrewed context.  And so the adventure begins...

I won't delve too deeply into the spoilers except to say that when Crouton, Shirley's half-orc druid, dies in a fusillade of hobgoblin arrows, Annie--reprising her role as Hector the Well Endowed--shows some classic PC chops by momentarily mourning the death of her ally before "rifling through her belongings."

Also of note, when the Necromancer eludes the gang, Buzz gets angry with Abed and demands a satisfying conclusion to the adventure, to which Abed--showing his own old school leanings--responds:
"I owe you nothing, I'm a dungeon master.  I create a boundless world and then I bind it by rules."
Here's the roster of characters with whatever details I could glean from the action:

half-orc druid
Spells: Entanglement
Stuff: Horse meat, more horse meat
Player: Shirley

Joseph Gordon Riggs, Son of Sir Riggs Diehard
Protector of the Blade of Diehard
S:9, I:12, W:11, D:13, C:7, Ch:10
Stuff: Armor of Amor, Ring of Bling, Blade of Diehard, Chalice of Potions
Player: Dean Pelton

Sir Riggs Diehard, "Son-slayer"
Protector of the Hilt of the Blade of Diehard
S:14, I:9, W:8, D:13, C:14, Ch:14
Sword, Hilt of Diehard
Player: Jeff Winger

Hector the Well Endowed
S: 19, I:9, W:8, D:12, C:17, Ch:10
sword, shield, horned helmet, Bow, Arrows, Extra large cod piece
Player: Annie (again)

Fibrosis the Ranger
S:14, I:9, W:11, D:16, C:7, Ch:10
Bow and arrows
Spells: Cure Moderate Wounds
Player: Britta

Dingleberry the Troll
Player: Chang

Tristram Steelhard, "Lord of the Sky Spiders"
Holy Cleric with a mace
Spells: Torbin's Flesh of Fire, various cure and/or heal spells, Speak with Monsters, Lightning bolt, Snake to Rope, Flame Strike, Spell of Enduring Speed, Ice Spell
+3 Demonic Eye-look
Player:  Hank Hickey

Tiny Nuggins, "Waterboarder of Goblins"
Halfling Thief
Player: Buzz Hickey

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gormenghastular Vocabulary Quiz

Fine literature in board game format.
A lot of you have been wondering what I've been up to lately since clearly the ol' Blog has been on cruise control since Christmas time.  Well, I'll tell you: I've been reading Mervyn Peake's awe-inspiring Gormenghast novels.  Holy hell.

Though not mentioned in Appendix N, the influence of Peake's tomes on, for instance, Moorcock's Elric--who seems to be perhaps a cross between Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Gormenghast, and Steerpike, the albinic mastermind of malfeasance--seems rather obvious, and even the law/chaos business that pervades Melnibonea is perhaps inferred in these works, though, thankfully, not in any overt manner.  Of course, you shouldn't hold any of this against Peake, he does not abuse his readers with the heavy-handed earnestness that renders the work of his successors so unpalatable.

Much like the vast and crumbling, ivy-covered Castle with its endless corridors and innumerable towers, cells, and chambers, Peake similarly investigates every archaic, obsolete, and encumbering avenue of the English language in search of just the right parlance to impart the tenor of Gormenghast.  The result is a viscous yet invigorating skein of prose that thoroughly envelops the reader... holy Zeus, when exactly did this turn into a book report?

Anyway, my point is that Peake uses a lot of strange words, or uses familiar seeming words in unusual ways making his novels an adventure in--oh, crap, I'm slipping into book report mode again.  Screw it: I challenge all you word nerds out there to a little Peakean Vocab Quiz.  Let's see how you measure up:

  1. adumbrate
  2. abactinal
  3. daedal
  4. fugness
  5. liana
  6. monody
  7. pranked
  8. raddled
  9. susurrous
  10. tare

ANSWERS: 1) You're not even close. 2) Really? Is that your final answer? 3) You might think that was it, but you are obviously incorrect. 4) Not even Webster knows for sure what Peake was getting at. 5) Wrong, fool. 6) That's pretty close, for a simpleton. 7) Can it possibly be that obvious? No, it can't.  8) Admittedly, even Peake was only guessing when he used this one, but that doesn't excuse your tepid effort. 9) Your pallid attempt to make yourself seem smart has achieved the exact opposite effect. 10) a member of Vicia, a genus of trailing or climbing plants.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

OSR Blogowners Association d12 Meeting Minutes


Attendees: Talysman the Ur Beetle, the Zenopus Archiver, Claw Carver, Mandy Morbid, Art Garfunkel, Finn the Human, Cyclopeatron, Lord Vader, two bemused members of the Ohio State Rabbit Breeders Association, Me

Absent: Huge Ruined Pile, Rients, Your Dungeon is Suck, everyone else.
  1. Lord Vader called the meeting to order and opened the floor to nominations for officers.
  2. I nominated Talysman for President. 
  3. In retaliation, he appointed me Secretary. 
  4. Mandy was thanked for attending.  A lone dissenter asked if she even has a blog.  (She does, though the real action is at her tumblr place.  If you don't know who she is, please note that neither site is particularly SFW.)
  5. A motion was unanimously passed acknowledging that everyone thought Art Garfunkel would be taller.  
  6. Cyclopeatron asked Lord Vader to remove his helmet to confirm that he wasn't Hayden Christensen. The motion was seconded.
  7. It was motioned that a monument should be built to honor fallen bloggers.  No one volunteered to approach Malishefski to ascertain his willingness to pose for it.
  8. It was agreed that all OSRBA blogs will be written in Gygaxian Prose.  A portion of membership fees will be allocated toward providing the Lake Geneva Manual of Style to all members
  9. Mr. Vader volunteered to establish a New Blogger Training Gulag. All potential new bloggers must serve a 7 year sentence apprenticeship at the facility after which they are allowed access to a keyboard. 
  10. Mandy was again thanked for her attendance.  I'm beginning to wonder if maybe this  community might be something of a sausage-fest.
  11. The Zenopus Archiver agreed to bring doughnuts and root beer to the next meeting.
  12. Meeting was adjourned.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

OSR Resource: Printable Paper

If you have a stationery fetish like me, you need to visit this website toute d'suite:

You can get PDFs of the standard graph paper and hex paper but also all sorts of odd varieties including octagon graph paper, pentagon graph paper, logarhythmic graph paper, polar graph paper for the next time you go through Lolth's DemonWeb Pits.  Oh man, it just keeps getting better.  Shooting targets, chess boards, comic pages, music composition paper, storyboard templates, columnar pad paper for your accounting needs, knitting templates, calligraphy stuff, light blue paper with whit elines for folks who don;t like high contrast...  And, for you Euro-trashers out there, you can get much of this awesomeness in A4 size!

Did I mention this stuff is all free?  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Combat Progression Table

While fighters get a bump at every level and bigger hit dice, in my mind, Clerics and Thieves are somewhat combat neutral: they get d6 HD just like normal people--they start at +0 and move up only every other level. 

Meanwhile, combat deficient MUs not only start in a hole but dig deeper as they progress in level.  This combat dissipation of the magickerial class is probably the result of tangling with eldritch powers or the painful piles they develop from sitting around blogging in all their spare time. 

Further to the footnote, the same principal of cumulative modifiers applies to T/MU and C/MU multi-classed characters.  Also, everyone knows that the highest level F/MU you could possibly have is a 7th/11th level elf, right? 

Sporadic Blog Hop Challenge D&D Movie: Dragonslayer!

The movie I most closely associate with D&D is a movie that I've never actually seen: 1981's Dragonslayer.

The reasons for my association are obvious: it came out in the summer of '81, shortly after my 12th birthday, when I was 6 months into my D&D career.  In the thralls of early D&D obsession, I was avidly reading anything that even vaguely resembled "fantasy."  Then along came a movie--a real live movie!--about D&D stuff; it was confirmation that what I was going through was a legitimate cultural phenomenon.  Unlike all the obscure books that I was reading that otherwise went unnoticed in the nether regions of the local library's science fiction section, everyone who saw the ads on TV or the posters at the local cineplex was aware that here was a movie about dragons going on: D&D in film format!  And even if no one saw it--it did not do very well at the theaters--it still put the fantasy genre on the cultural map along with James Bond and Indiana Jones--"For Your Eyes Only" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" being two movies I did see that summer.  And even though I still haven't seen the movie, I did read the novelization and the Marvel comic book version. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sporadic Blog Hop Challenge: First character death and getting a life

As I've mentioned before, though I thoroughly disapprove of these sorts of challenges, questionnaires and other group divulgence endeavours, I also can't quite resist them either.  So, while I'm not fully engaging the blog hop challenge, there are a couple of items on the list that I can't pass up.  So please sit tight and listen up, I'm about to tell you the fascinating tale of the death of... Elfrandel the Executor

He was my first ever AD&D character, a high octane elven fighter/ranger/magic user/thief/assassin/bard or somesuch insane combination of classes.  It was the end of summer 1981, 7th grade was only a few days away, and I had been bowing out of D&D sessions with the gang for the last month.  The combination of our hack 'n slash approach to dungeon creation and the omni-classed elves that everyone was running at the time had rendered gaming sessions into tedious dice-rolling marathons. 

But, I was starting to do other things instead of playing D&D, including joining the soccer (futbol) team.  On the first day of soccer practice I came home with a pain in my leg that would turn out to be a season-ending stress fracture, and was unceremoniously informed by my brother that my character, Elfrandel the Executioner, had bit the big one.  I wasn't even there for the event.   I assumed even then that the rest of the players had just gotten tired of running my dude for me and let me have it.  And I didn't really mind that the character was dead--I don't even think I asked how he met his end.

What did bug me is that they were essentially telling me that my D&D membership had lapsed, I was out of the club. Even though I'd been skipping out for half the summer, that had been me bailing on them, but now that they made it definitive, yeah, I was kind of hurt.  But, even though my soccer career didn't even last until school officially started, I still found plenty to do to entertain myself in junior high.  I was a class representative on the school social committee, "played" on the basketball team, though I shot 0% from the field for the entire season, was active in my church youth group(?!), served as a stage hand for the drama club (!?!), and even dipped my toes into the turbid waters of adolescent dating (!!???!); all kinds of  crap that I can't imagine was ever a part of my being.  So in response to how did I handle the death of my first character?  I went out and got a life.

Obviously, however, D&D and I were not finished with each other and it was the nexus of two events that changed the course of history: Christmas and puberty.  That year my mom, blissfully unaware that my D&D "phase" had been over for many months, got me a load of random D&D accessories, including the World of Greyhawk Folio.  The map and gazetteer suddenly grounded D&D in its own world, much like all the shoddy fantasy literature that I'd been devouring for the last year.  It gave D&D a big picture beyond wandering from town to town in search of dungeons so that we could wander from room to room in search of slaughter.  It gave us an idea of what to do with our high level characters.  I was re-hooked.

As for the puberty part, while poring over all my new D&D booty, my height doubled to 8-foot-4 overnight [I trust that my readership will surmise that a Hyperbole Alert is in full effect].  I became a moody prick, distanced myself from most of that extra-curricular crap, let my grades slide, and took a step back from the female of the species for next 4 years.  Instead, I re-focussed my energies on D&D.  And comic books.

In the winter of 1982, while keeping abreast of the X-men's dealings with the Krull, the Marvel's "Contest of Champions" and all the other important goings-on of the Marvel-verse, I churned out nearly 3,000 unfinished dungeons, filled out twice as many character sheets, [again with the hyperbole alert] and meticulously devoured every other word of the AD&D rulebooks; I had transformed myself into a sort of D&D golem using my newfound wisdom to finally crack the code of the enigmatic "percentile dice" that had befuddled our gaming to this point.

Actually, scrap all that.  Now that I think of it, Krasdale the Lizard Man died in action in July of 1981, pre-deceasing Elsinore by more than a month. How did I handle it?  I let fly a series of expletives, including my first ever use of the f-bomb.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A3 Aerie of the Slavelords: Bring the Chaos

It was mid-December of 1982, Donkey Kong reigned supreme at the arcade, Toni Basil's Mickey was rockin' the airwaves, and my old friend Byron the Chaotic was once again stationed behind the DM screens. Five months had passed since the infamous firefight in Hommlet and this time he was serving up A3 Aerie of the Slave Lords for our adventuring fare. Like V. of H., there's a town encounter area in A3, this time it's the hidden metropolis of Suderham. And much like our experience with T1, there's no way that anyone could have planned for the way things went down.  

I don't remember much of the subterranean activity in this module--another similarity to our experience with the V. of H--just something about riding down a salty slide on a toboggan made of beef jerky and finding an invisible sword in a tub full of vanilla pudding. Did that module have a pronounced food theme going on or was I just really hungry at the time?

What I remember most clearly is that, once we walked into Suderheim, some douchebag sidled up to the party and muttered some mumbo-jumbo about going to the “alabaster paladin” or somesuch meaningless bullshit and then slipped away before we could interrogate him further. As most of you know, this is a scripted encounter that is supposed to be just the first leg of a goose chase that the PCs must complete before they can get on with the dungeon.  But we didn't know what was up so we were all “Huh?! I ask him what the hell he's talking about.” and Byron was all, “He’s already gone, lost in the crowd” which annoyed us all, but especially my brother.  You wanna' piss off my brother, toss one of these gingerbread man encounters into your dungeon.*

Now, all of us players thought that we should have a reasonable chance to grab this dirtbag and smack some useful information out of him and, on a normal day, Byron would have agreed wholeheartedly.  But clearly the module said otherwise and, back then, defying the printed word of the Prophets of TSR was considered blasphemy--it was the DM's sacred duty to protect the work of the author be it Lord Gary or, as in this case, Sir Allen of Hammack whose machinations needed preserving. I could sense that our evening was about to be derailed by a prolonged and fruitless debate between DM and players when I suddenly heard myself saying “Why’s this prick gotta’ be so cryptic?  He wants us to go somewhere, why can't he just tell us where we're s'posed to go?**
Two arms, two feet, one eye: Chaos!
I don't want to take credit here for Byron's propensity for anarchy, but it was as if he suddenly realized the potential for mayhem in ignoring the text of the module and allowing us to run this jerk down. The expression on his phace changed from stony resistance to mischievous glee as the 8-pointed sigil of chaos flashed in his eyes and, instead of engaging my brother in verbal combat, he turned to me and said “Dread Delgath spots the bum slipping through a door in a building down the street.”***  The chase was on.
What ensued was a running brawl through the backrooms, alleys, and rooftops of Sonderholm as a mob of angry store clerks, unpaid taxi drivers and humiliated plate-glass deliverymen hopped on our trail seeking redress for our trespasses.  Ultimately, the chase concluded with a showdown in the parlor of a brothel--excuse me, "house of ill repute"-- where we escaped through a trap door with the assistance of the very same cryptic messenger who started this whole fracas in the first place.  When he eluded us again moments later--still without edifying us as to the significance of the "ivory paladin"-- we were too thrilled by what had transpired to notice.  

Which, as it turns out, is just as well because, only on reading the module now, 31 years later, do I find out that this is the very tunnel that the "ivory paladin" clue was, in its circuitous way, intended to lead us to in the first place.  But, rather than wandering around Sodergard, guessing the meaning of the clues, interrogating and bribing our way through a labyrinth of informants, we'd cut to the chase, quite literally.  Once again, Byron pulled off a vast departure from the "script" of the module that put us in exactly the right place to continue the adventure. Maybe it was just a happy accident, or maybe he was a brilliant DM disguised as a 13 year old kid. 

* I think the term was coined on the night in question.  As my sisters were in the next room cooking up a gingerbread house, the association seemed obvious. 
** I was trying out a Brooklyn accent back then.
*** Yep, that's the Dread Delgath of the classic, A-series pre-generated characters; I'm pretty sure the A series was the only published module anyone ever used the pre-jens for.