Wednesday, October 18, 2017
But it's not intended to be that way. Back in the earlier editions of the rules, especially for cursed swords and armor, the rule was that if you could get the curse removed, the item then reverted to a beneficial item*. So curses were a means of providing an adventure hook.
If a player found a cursed weapon or armor, at low levels they had to deal with it until they could find a high level NPC to remove the curse (requiring paying large sums, a quest, or both), or go on a quest of their own to a location (in a dungeon or far out in the wilderness) where the curse could be removed. Getting a curse was a means of providing the players with a goal - remove the curse. And there was a reward to it besides just elimination of the penalty. The weapon or armor that was previously lowering combat efficiency would improve it instead.
Yes, this post is inspired by my 5E gaming. It seems like newer gamers just don't see the value in things like curses, save or die spells (a double edged sword, yes, but also fun!), or dwindling resources. And WotC seem to also have this mistaken idea that any sort of hindrance is unfun. Everything is awesome! Everyone is special! All the time! Well, to tell the truth, that's NOT fun. Getting cursed and then having to jump through hoops to get rid of the curse is fun and satisfying! Getting cursed (or level drained, or finger of deathed, etc.) adds spice to the game if it actually affects you. If you just need to have the party Cleric come over and cast a spell and it's over, what's the fun in that? Where's the challenge? Where's the satisfaction?
Probably more to come along this line of thought if I have time to blog again soon.
*Yes, cursed scrolls, potions, rings and miscellaneous items don't have this benefit. But it's easily house ruled for the permanent rings and miscellaneous items, isn't it?
Thursday, September 21, 2017
So it's time for me to get serious about a cover design. I also will need to figure out layout and stuff for print and pdf versions. The pdf will have convenient hyperlinks while the print version will have references to "see page XX". That should take some time. Luckily, we have a 10 day super-Chuseok holiday this year. Plenty of time to work on this stuff then.
The publishing plan for Chanbara will be a full color pdf version and a color cover/b&w interior print version in soft cover (print on demand). I want to keep the print version as economical as possible. I may put out a full color hardback deluxe edition if people want that, but at less than 70 pages, I don't think many would. I may have a local printer do up some as a vanity project or to send out as thanks for people who helped along the way.
I'm just glad to finally be nearing completion on this. Two of the editors have mentioned maybe publishing mods for the game, one to make it more anime style, another to play up the weird Japan angle. I'm likely to put out an expanded monster book for the game as well as try to work up my play test notes into modules. So hang in there, Chanbara fans! I'm really close to done!
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
But a few months back, I started DMing a face-to-face game again, using 5E. My son wanted to play in a game, and our normal Saturday night G+ games are too late for him to finish. So I started up a West Marches game using 5E. And while it's not a bad system, I keep constantly saying to myself, "Why didn't I just try to run this with my Classic D&D houserules, or Labyrinth Lord?"
Basically it comes down to a few points. I may elaborate on each later in their own blog posts (I need some impetus to get back into blogging semi-regularly). For now, it's just a list with a bit of commentary for each based on my WM game.
- Lack of Morale rules. I've been estimating what I think a creature's Morale score should be, and rolling 2d6 like in Classic D&D. Yes, I could just wing it and have creatures flee or surrender when I feel like it, but I like the uncertainty of the dice.
- Not much variety in treasure. There's no risk/reward analysis when it comes to deciding to face a monster or not, it's simply a threat assessment.
- Spell lists are too combat focused. This is actually something I chafe at as a player as well. It's hard to plan interesting encounters where magical utility spells might make the difference between an easy encounter and a too tough one (something I like to do) when there are so few utility spells, and spell durations are for the most part just not that long. As a player, it's hard to come up with that creative solution with a well-used spell when most just do damage.
- Too much player rolling, not enough DM rolling. Maybe some DMs like that. They can focus on the details of the adventure, the NPCs and monsters, the "plot" and whatnot. Let the players make all the rolls. As a DM, though, sometimes I want to build suspense by making the roll myself (and having the option to ignore a result I don't like). This applies to things like getting lost or foraging in the wilderness.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Don't get me wrong, there's some good stuff here. But I wasn't expecting it to be what it was, which is basically all setup. The entire four episode "season" is basically just all Act 1 of the drama. And because of that, it's a bit unfulfilling. I'll break it down episode by episode, but avoid spoilers as much as I can while doing so.
Episode 1 tells us of Dracula's motivation for unleashing his army of monsters on Wallachia.
Episode 2 introduces Trevor Belmont and explains his family's background.
Episode 3 introduces Sypha Belnades and explains why her people, the Seekers, want to help.
Episode 4 introduces Alucard and why he wants to defeat Dracula.
And that's it. There are some cliches from horror movies, some of which seem to contradict things in the video games a bit, but mostly it keeps the gothic horror vibe of the games. And Trevor teaming up with Sypha and Alucard (but no Grant Danasty) to defeat Dracula is what Castlevania III is all about.
I read on Wikipedia that originally it was set to be a feature length movie. The switch to a series was probably a good idea, but I guess it would have been nice if Netflix had had enough faith in this project to fund the whole thing in one 10 or
12 episode series, rather than split it up. Still, I hope it gets enough viewers that Netflix doesn't kill it. I think my opinion of it will go up if they can ramp up the action in the next season.
Basically, watch this so that they keep making it. But it will likely be more satisfying once the show is complete and you can binge-watch it from start to finish.
Oh, and before I sign off here, if you're a parent wondering if there's "cursing" in the show? Yes, quite a bit. And plenty of animated gore and dismemberment. It's a horror themed show based on a horror themed video game, after all. I won't be letting my older boy watch it for several years yet.
Monday, June 26, 2017
What I'm proposing is a bit different from my perception of DCC's spell system, but somewhat similar. I'm not sure how well this would work in play, it's just a random idea I had. But enough blather, what was my shower thought last week?*
So, using a TSR version of D&D, or a retroclone of the same, here's an idea for Magic-Users (I probably wouldn't allow it for Clerics, but then again, maybe I might) that might give them a bit more oomph. Once they've cast all of their prepared spells for the day (or if a situation calls for a spell in their spellbook but not prepared), they can cast it, but need to make a roll using the Chainmail spell chances (2d6 rolls) to see if the spell goes off or fizzles.
Probably too powerful if it's just "cast or fail" so (like DCC) it would need some chance of misfire of some sort (Wild Magic tables? Reverse effects or targets? Page in the spellbook is burned and the spell is lost?) to make it a gamble to keep casting spells when you've exhausted your spells per day or are casting something you didn't prepare. Higher level spells would also incur a higher chance of a negative effect besides just not casting the spell.
It might be fun to try this some day.
*Or was it 2 weeks ago? I'm so behind on blogging. We've had two sessions of Dean's game that I haven't posted about. I've also been doing the West Marches for 2 months now, and it's going well. Chanbara is nearly ready for publication. And I've seen a movie or two I could review. No time for any of that recently.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Today was a good day. During my breaks between classes, I rewrote some sections of Chanbara, and I think really improved what I had.
I mentioned in the last post that I was cutting out theoretical blather (that can and should go here on the blog) and replacing it with more concrete tools that should make Chanbara easier to run.
I'm not always trying to reinvent the wheel here. If subsystems from Classic D&D work, I'll copy and slightly modify them for Chanbara. But one thing that is very different, and vital to get a distinctly Japanese (Confucian) feel to the game is the Allegiance system.
This replaces alignment, and gives your PC some ties to the game world. It also has an effect like sword & sorcery carousing rules. To get XP for gold, you need to turn it over to one of your lieges. I like it, because it dispenses with bean counting 'honor' systems like in the original OA but should serve the purpose of making behavior have consequences. My new work today gives some solid guidelines for that, I hope.
So I'm more confident now that Chanbara will be worth people's money. All the delays...and they have been numerous...have given me the time to get this right. Or at least pretty dang good, if not exactly right. So for those of you following the blog and my work on this, thank you for your patience. I hope to amply reward you with a kickass game.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
As you probably read, if you follow this blog, I lost my USB that had the most recent updates to the game on it, and I'm slowly rebuilding the draft, trying to remember what changes I'd made and how I made them. It's coming along, if slowly.
And one thing that has actually been a bit of a blessing is it got me to re-read the previous version more closely. I've noticed, especially in the GM Section, that I have lots of sections where I outline a philosophy for gaming, rather than give the reader useful tools for running the game. While I think the game will play best in a certain way, it's not really what most people want when reading an RPG rulebook. It's not like many novice GMs are going to be finding and playing Chanbara, after all. Most of you are gaming veterans. And a rulebook is not a blog.
So I've been trying to excise those sections, and replace them with useful stuff you can use (or ignore) when running your own Chanbara games. A lot of it is getting cribbed from BX and BECMI D&D, because why not? The systems there work well. Right now, I'm revising the Dungeon Exploration section, and getting rid of the philosophical/theoretical banter and replacing them with charts and tables and guidelines. In the lost draft, I'd done that for Wilderness Exploration, but not for the Dungeon Exploration section. It's being done now.
So maybe losing that USB was a good thing after all. It's slowed down my progress, but similar to my decision to keep plugging away at the game while doing my dissertation rather than rush the version I had two years ago out, this will only make the game better when I finally get it published.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Flynn had a Dragonborn Monk and Richard had a Human Monk. Michael came with three or four PCs prepared, and decided to play a High Elf Rogue.
After I explained a bit about the campaign concept (it's of course my own spin on the West Marches idea) and introduced the main points of interest in the home town. Rather than ask around at any of the locations I'd just described for information or leads, they headed straight across the bridge and into the Wilds for their first adventure.
While still in the first hex, they stumbled upon a baboon lair. While the more experienced players were content to just let them be, Flynn decided to sneak up behind one and pull its tail! And he succeeded on his rolls! Once he yanked the tail, of course it set to screaming and scrambled up atop its large pile of deadwood lair, along with all its companions, which started pelting the party with sticks and stones. Taking a bit of damage, they retreated back to town to heal up.
BTW, I'm doing 5E rests similarly to Dean. Rest up in town, and it's just like in the book. All hit points, hit dice, and abilities are back to full. Take a long rest in the wilds, and abilities refresh, as do half of your hit dice, but no hit points. I need there to be some risk/reward trade-off to continuing to explore vs. camping all the time.
They made a second expedition, and encountered some giant rats while crossing into their second hex. Not finding much of interest in the hex (there's stuff there, they just missed it due to rolls), they again went back to town to rest up after having been slightly wounded by the rats.
The third expedition was much more eventful. They managed to penetrate to a third hex and discovered a ruined "scorpion" temple with a bit of loot. They also fought kobolds on the way, scaring them off after getting the drop on them, killing one with an arrow and wounding another, plus taunts and threats to intimidate them. At the temple, they discovered some loot, as I mentioned, and had to fight some more giant rats. Exploring just a bit more, they encountered a pair of worgs, and Richard's monk was taken down to 0 hp.
BTW, the rules for surviving at 0 hp are pretty generous. You can make saving throws at DC 10 to stabilize, and need 3 successes before you get three failures (so 3 to 5 rounds). During that time, any healing magic, or a DC 10 Medicine check (or untrained...Wis? Int? check) stabilizes the companion.
Long story short, Richard's monk was stabilized by Michael's rogue, and they made it back to town without further incident. Richard was moaning that they'd need to spend their sparse hard earned loot to get him healed up, but I reminded him that he only needed to rest to get his HP back to max. PCs can get healing at the temple, but only need to pay for it if they're in a rush and want to get back out quickly, or need a Lesser Restoration or similar magic cast on them.
My thoughts? I've been sorta mixing in some BX hex crawling rules to use, but they don't really mesh that well with the players' expectations. Rather than wander through several hexes at a time, they were carefully exploring each hex. And some hexes are pretty much empty, and none so far have more than 2 non-random encounters in them. So I may need to redo my system for finding things in a hex. Instead of BX/BECMI style random rolls, I may instead leave it to the 5E skill system, where they can roll things like Nature, Survival, History, Perception, and the like to discover certain facets of the hex (ruins, monster lairs, resources that could be exploited, oddities).
Or maybe I'll do both. Random rolls for them to just stumble across something interesting, and if they call for the above rolls or describe their actions in a way that would seem to call for one, I can have them roll to also find whatever it is they're looking for.
Also, next session, I need to make sure they talk to some of the people in town. There are bits of information that may lead them to more profitable locations, and warnings of dangers...if they bother to ask.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Most of my recent (as in the past 4-
5 years or so) gaming has been online, via Hangouts, with the Busan Gamers and/or Dean's Eberron campaign.
Man, I really want this campaign to go well, so my son can have a blast playing. And I know I should just relax. I've been DMing for longer than some of my new players have been alive. I got this.
But it's also a 5E game, so a somewhat new system for me. I've got a fair amount of player experience with 5th, but not DMing. So, there's a bit of background anxiety in my head.
Once the first session rolls around this Sunday afternoon, and things get going, I'm sure they'll be fine. But I've always had somewhat low self-esteem (a nerdy D&D player with low self-esteem? Say it ain't so!) and I just need to resist the urge to over plan everything. I've got enough hexes plotted out, I've got a system that will allow me to improvise if the manage to get beyond the first few areas outside the home base. I've got decades of DMing experience to fall back on if things go unexpectedly (and surely they will!).
It's not weird that we put so much pressure on ourselves as the DM. Despite what a recent Kotaku article reviewing a book about Gary would tell you, in any edition of D&D the DM really is the most important aspect of the game. The players can and should take an active roll in the game. We need players to play in the game. But without the DM, there is no game at all.
And apparently I've got a bit of a reputation as an awesome DM here in Busan, but I'm thinking to myself, "Nah, I'm just an average DM who isn't afraid to let the games get silly and isn't afraid to have fun when I DM."
So, what do you folks think? Anyone else suffer from "new campaign jitters" when you know rationally that you have no reason to be nervous? It's just a game, after all, and a game we love.
Anyone want to take contention with my stance that the DM is in fact more important than the players? I don't mind hearing opposing viewpoints.
Any words of encouragement so I can snap out of this funk?
Saturday, May 6, 2017
As you can see, I borrowed lots of ideas from Jeff, but made it a bit different to fit a wilderness hex crawl. I wonder how some of the players will react to it. I mean, as long as they can make a return trip to town (or another safe haven) by the end of a session, they don't need to worry about it.
2 You perished attempting to return. Escaping party members know the location where you fell, and your gear may be recovered there. Roll up a new character.
3 You were slain and raised as an undead creature (or polymorphed into a monster of some type), haunting a random hex. Your former gear and loot is now the treasure you guard. Roll up a new character.
4 Lost and presumed dead with all gear and loot. Roll up a new character.
5 Lost in the wilds, DM determines a random hex where you can be found with all of your gear but no loot.
6 Petrified, trapped in a crystal cave, put into a magical slumber, charmed by a dryad, or the like. Escaping members have no idea where you are trapped.
7 Petrified, trapped in a crystal cave, in a magical slumber, charmed by a dryad, or the like. Escaping members know the general location where you are trapped.
8 Captured! No one is sure what captured you, or where it might be located.
9 Captured! Escaping party members know what captured you, but not where its lair is located.
10 Captured! Escaping party members know where you were captured, but do not know exactly what captured you.
11 Held for Ransom! Humanoids demand 1000gp x your level to release you. Local thieves can arrange the payoff (1 in 6 chance the money never gets delivered).
12 Taken in by friendly creatures. You have all of your gear and loot, but are located in a random hex and in no hurry to return home.
13 Wild Man or Woman of the Woods. You've gone mad and wander in a hex known by any escaping party members. They will need to heal your insanity to convince you to return to a life of adventure.
14 Wandering in the wilderness for weeks before you manage to find your way back to town with your gear but no loot. The player must use a different character for one session before playing this PC again.
15 You return to town! Or do you? Something about you seems different. Replaced by a doppelganger or some other shape-shifter. DM rolls again secretly to learn your true fate.
16 You contract a disease, get poisoned, or fall victim to a curse before returning to town with your gear and half of your loot.
17 You crawl into town, with nothing but the clothes on your back. And those clothes are torn to shreds.
18 You make it back, barely. All loot and half of your gear is gone.
19 You gave up your loot to escape your enemies. All gear intact, but no loot.
20 You lucky dog! You make it safely back to town with all gear and loot!
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Yesterday I lost my USB.
And I hadn't saved a back-up of the file on my work computer. I'm pretty sure I also didn't save a back-up on my home computer. But I'll need to wait until I get home from work this evening (and get the boys to bed) before I can check.
Yes, today, I kick myself.
Never fear, though. I more or less remember what I'd done. It'll just take time to re-do all of that.
Oh, and I'd copied the weather chart to use in my upcoming face-to-face 5E West Marches game, so at least I've got that.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Having brought our raft as far up the river as it seemed possible, or way being blocked by rapids and waterfalls, we took to the shore to continue our progress. The ground was rocky, and the black rocks sharp as blades. Having experimented some with the magic items gained from the Serpent Queen's treasure chamber, Yuv the Cleric of Bahamut donned a mask which allowed him to float into the air. Connected to myself by a rope to prevent him from blowing away in the winds, I borrowed the clawed gauntlet of the ghoul-enforcer from Jade and began to work my way up the treacherous cliff. While still climbing, a pair of demon-monkeys, which had been watching our progress, attacked viciously. One would scramble down, claw and bite, and then leap to relative safety, while the other continuously pelted us with sharp stones.
With Yuv and myself suffering these attacks and ineffective in returning paid to the enemy, Flagan the Halfling Monk scaled the cliffs with magical boots and joined the fray. Jade, Makarak, Thorvald, and Rhea offered some support with spells and missiles.
Then a third monkey, red, entered the combat with its evil eye. Whenever its foul gaze landed upon one of us, we could feel our magical prowess diminishing. Before her magic was totally drained, Rhea cast a spell on Makarak the Half-Orc Barbarian, transforming him into a gargantuan ape. In ape form, the barbarian quickly scaled the cliffs and turned the tide of the battle. The two white demon-monkeys were dispatched, although the red one escaped. Makarak, in ape form, assisted the remainder of the party up the cliff, and we crossed some dangerous territory before settling down to camp.
Monday, April 17, 2017
I started stocking the map over the weekend, and decided it would be nice if there was a good randomizer for deciding the contents of a hex if I didn't already have anything special planned for it...and then it hit me. I've had one for years! It's the random dungeon room contents chart in the Basic Set.
For a wilderness setting, it breaks down a little differently, and in addition to potential treasure there's also a potential for discovering an exploitable resource (if the players bother to look for that sort of thing). My revised version looks something like this:
Roll a d6 for Hex Contents:
3 Hazard (quicksand, rock fall, lava flow, sentient thorn bushes, whatever)
4-5 Lair (animal den, monster lair, human or demi-human outpost, etc.)
6 Unusual (all the weird unnatural stuff, special ruins relating to the backstory, etc.)
Then roll another d6 for Valuables
Empty: 1 Treasure, 2 nothing, 3-6 resource
Hazard: 1-2 treasure, 3 nothing, 4-6 resource
Lair: 1-3 treasure, 4 nothing, 5-6 resource
Unusual: 1-4 treasure, 5 nothing, 6 resource
Not quite exactly the version passed down from Gygax, Moldvay and Mentzer, but close enough.
I've got some tables from an old hex crawl that I can use for determining chances to locate the above contents/treasures/resources in a hex when passing through, depending on how much time the party spends interacting with each hex. Just passing through, not much chance. Spend most of the day there, you're nearly guaranteed to find something.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
A while back, I made several posts about running Dragonlance as a sandbox campaign in 5E, thinking I'd run that for my son and whoever else. Dragonlance because the world does have a lot of neat elements to it, and I read tons of the novels when I was a kid, so I know it pretty well. 5E because that will make it easier to attract other players. Sandbox, because I'd rather not introduce my son to playing group games by making him ride the DL module railroad.
But then I thought, why not save myself a lot of time, and just run it with 1E AD&D? It may be harder to get players, but easier to run the game. It would be even easier if I ran it using my BECMI houserules but with race and class separate. But again, getting players might be a problem.
Then, last week, I found a game on RPOL.net with an old school DM running a West Marches game using 5E, and I joined it. And I've decided to copy that rather than set my game on Krynn. Part of the decision was a bed-time discussion with my son, before I got the answer from the local DM, about what sort of character he'd like to play. I gave him a run-down of the 5E races and classes, and he thought a Dragonborn Monk would be fun to play. Not very DL, at least not pre-War of the Lance. So something more open, less defined, and with plenty of options might be in order.
So, I'm thinking how I'd run my own West Marches style sandbox game. There's a bit of a desire on my part to try my saltbox Maritime Campaign from a few years ago, but that's more work for me. With a more standard West Marches type set-up, I can plop down TSR modules, old dungeons I've made, free downloads from WotC/Dragonsfoot/the OSR community, and the like throughout the wilderness, and let the players explore to find them.
I say "West Marches style" because I'm planning to only run it with this one group, meeting regularly. It will be pretty open ended, but since there's only the one group, I'll probably need to lay down lots of rumors and the occasional mission/request for the townsfolk to get them motivated to explore, at least in the beginning.
So now we get to the nitty-gritty of this post. What do I need to run a West Marches style hexcrawl sandbox?
1. A Map: Of course, I need a wilderness hex map. The home town is on the far eastern edge, in the middle, and players have free reign to explore to the west, northwest, or southwest of the town. But if you go east, you're entering into retirement in the civilized settled lands of the Empire.
I'll probably start with a small scale map at 6 miles per hex, with various Basic level dungeons scattered here and there, and a few tougher dungeons and monster lairs. Later, if the campaign lasts long enough, I can create a larger scale map (24 miles per hex).
2. Wilderness Encounter Tables: These are most important, since from the beginning the players will be exploring the wilds trying to find dungeons or monster lairs with treasure. I don't have the 5E DMG yet, just the PHB and MM, and I don't remember if there are wilderness encounter tables in the free Basic Rules DM download, so I may have to just use the Expert Set ones, or make my own custom ones. Custom ones would be a better West Marches fit, so that each area of the wilds can have its own flavor, so I'll probably work up some custom jobbo.
3. A Home Base: In the RPOL game, the home base town is really more of a hamlet, with about 30 residents, not including adventurers. That's easy enough - the town just has the basics needed by adventurers and nothing else. But I may use the "home town" I've been developing for years now, Silverwood, just because I know it and the NPCs there well. I'll likely scale it down in size from around 5,000 residents to merely 500 residents for this game, but the various inns and shops, the mayor and town officials, the temples and thieves' guild, will all remain the same. Like I said, I want this game to be easy for me to run.
4. A Few House Rules: Just exploring for the sake of exploring may not really interest the players. Like I said above, unlike the original West Marches campaign, I'll need to bait the hooks with rumors and missions to get the players out of town and where the action is. Old school games do this well by giving XP for gold. 5E, however, has a very very fast progression rate compared to BECMI or AD&D, so I'll need to tinker either with the amount of treasure worth 1 XP or else with the advancement table.
I think 5E works well getting PCs to level 3 quickly, so that everyone can choose their specialization early on. I'd like to keep that. So I'm thinking I'll give out 1 XP for every 1pp (10gp) in treasure, plus use monster XP from BECMI. That might actually give more XP for higher level monsters, I'd better check on that. Also, the old school "no more than one level per adventure" rule must be implemented.
5. A Jeff's Gameblog style Triple Secret Random Wilderness Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom: Even though I'm only going to be running this game with one party, I'd rather not leave them out in the wilderness between sessions. There will be "safe haven" locations on the map, which can be used to rest and recuperate, resupply and maybe get a bit of information, and of course the players may set up more of their own if they attempt such. If they don't get back to town or to one of these safe havens by the end of the game session, I'll roll and see what happens to them.
6. Dungeons (and dragons, too!): I've still got the Caves of Chaos 5E conversion from the Play Test, and the Isle of Dread, and maybe there was another adventure in there? So I have some stuff already with 5E stats and the like to use. I've got plenty of old TSR era and 3E WotC era modules/adventures on the computer that can be easily converted to 5E, I think. And it's not hard to whip up a few 5 to 10 room ruins, caves, and the like. So I can scatter those around the map, plus leave clues/rumors to other locations in each. I'll also need to decide on a few "pockets of danger" like dragons, undead, or other tough beasties who have a known (or easy to recognize as a more dangerous place) lair in some of the easier areas closer to the home base.
Goodman Games is apparently releasing classic modules with 5E conversions soon, but I'll likely just do the work myself instead of waiting for them to get around to it. The good thing is that I can put a few things I already have near the town (like the Caves of Chaos...in fact, maybe I should use Castellan Keep instead of Silverwood as the home base...), and work up or convert other stuff, as the players get closer to them in their explorations. I could even use those Dragonlance dungeons I was planning to convert to 5E anyway!
That should do it!
Monday, March 13, 2017
Obligatory Warning: Is there cursing in the movie? A little, but your kids probably won't notice unless they're already swearing when you're not around to hear it.
On to the movie. It's a giant monster movie, so you shouldn't really expect an amazing, painstakingly crafted plot, or fully three-dimensional characters. You basically go to these things to see the monsters destroying things and fighting other big monsters, and the human cast trying to survive. And that's what you get. It's not the worst giant monster film I've ever seen, but it's not the best, either. There are plot holes large enough for the star attraction to walk through, unnecessary characters, inconsistent characters, and cheesy dialogue. I was entertained well enough by the CGI spectacle, but some of the other choices made with the production of this film left me nonplussed.
The good points revolve around Kong and the various monsters that inhabit Skull Island. The creatures are interestingly designed, and the monster fight scenes are fun. There's a big cast of human characters, many of whom don't make it to the end of the movie (I don't think that counts as a spoiler, because I won't tell you who). Oh, and seeing soldiers thinking they're on their way home from the Vietnam War only to find out they've got one more mission that involves giant monsters? That was well done.
The bad points include the premise for why no one's visited Skull Island before (ridiculous pseudoscience meteorology that might have worked in a 1930's milieu but seems out of place in a movie taking place in 1973). Characters that mysteriously appear with no introduction in Act 2, serve no important plot points, and are pretty much just there taking up space (although one, Jing Tian's character, does provide some nice eye candy and provides a second female character in a very male dominated cast). Oh, and then there are characters who seem to have no idea what sort of work their job descriptions require. There are veteran soldiers who seem to have no sense of strategy or tactics, a photographer who sees a giant creature rise up in front of her party and after a minute remembers to take ONE photo then lowers her camera, scientists who don't really seem to have much background in science...
There were a few interesting things from a world-building perspective that might be inspirational for a game. That's one reason I love B-movies and big budget but stupid films like this. Somewhat tangential to the plot is a Hollow Earth theory to explain where the monsters come from, that could possibly be a set-up for a sequel.*
There's some cool stuff in this film, and while there are lots of weak points I could point out, you do get giant monsters, Samuel L. Jackson/John Goodman/John C. Reilly putting in amusing performances, and people trying to fight kaiju with M16s and M60s. I'm glad I only paid matinee prices to see it so that I don't think it was a waste, but I'm also thinking maybe I should have left home a bit earlier and seen Logan instead.
*Edit - Just found out that I completely missed a post credits scene (I typically stay to the end of the credits regardless, but really had to pee after this one so left early). Also, this movie is in the same fictional universe as the American Godzilla movie produced a couple years ago and IS setting up a sequel.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Having rejoined my companions Rhea, Yuv, and Makarak outside of the Snake Queen's lair, Makarak noticed the trail left by the snake-tail of the Queen through the jungle underbrush, and we set out in pursuit. As we went, we could hear her singing her foul magic songs again in the distance when suddenly, to our surprise, the jungle around us seemed to come to life and reach at us from all sides with grasping vines.
Cassius, my trusty mount, was entangled, as was Yuv. To our horror, we then saw that Cassius and Yuv were being drawn into the grasping maw of a feminine plant horror, the Venus Fly Trap. As she sank her fangs into my faithful andrewsarchus, I set to with my axe. Makarak was quickly at my side with his own axe, and Rhea assisted Yuv in escaping the clutches of the botanical beast.
But, the strange adversary had more and more vines, an inexhaustible supply, so it seemed. I was wrapped up repeatedly, but managed to slash through the vines as Cassius disappeared into the plant's jaws. Yuv and Makarak were also entangled, and Yuv drawn into the creature's waiting maw next. It was a mighty struggle, but in the end we slew the creature.
As I pondered our situation -- we were battered and bloodied but as yet undefeated -- unbeknownst to me, Makarak beheaded the Venus Fly Trap and placed the severed head, both claws, and several of the grasping vines in Rhea's Bag of Holding. We decided to return to the Snake Queen's lair to find the Rod of the Giant High Priest, if we could, as that was or true goal.
Returning to the lair, we searched the tunnels until I noticed a crack in a wall where none should rightly be. Using our artifact magic rock drill, Makarak made a tunnel past the secret door, causing a minor cave in, but opening our passage. At then end of the corridor we came to a finely worked door, covered in the demonic symbols of the Demonic Invaders of the Ancient Past, of whom my sect the Greensingers allied with the Gatekeepers to defeat long ago. The door was of stout workmanship, possibly bound with spells in ancient times, but after several hours of axe-work by myself and Makarak, the door was breached.
Inside was indeed the treasure chamber of the Snake Queen, but much of her "riches" was made of worthless (to us) sea shells, polished rocks, and the like. We did locate the Rod, as well as a Giant's Battle Axe (too large even for Makarak to wield), a magic wand of undetermined use, a broken lute also magical in nature, and three carven masks which also detected as magical. We decided to rest then, and examine our newly acquired loot as time allows on our way north to the City of the Giants, where with the aid of the Rod, we hope to wake the slumbering Mountain Spirit.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Having ascertained that the Rod of the Giant High Priest was being held by the Serpent Queen in the eastern mountains beyond the Great River, our band, consisting of Rhea the Human Witch, Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Bahamut, Flagan the Halfing Pugilist, Makarak the Half-Orc Barbarian, Thea the Elven Storm Cleric, Jade the Half-Elf Archer and myself, sought out the serpent lair and managed to locate it, and dispatched the land-based crocodilian guardians outside the entrance. Yet, flying reptile creatures still guarded the entrance, circling above it in the air. After much debate in which I staunchly urged my companions not to desecrate the corpses of the slain guardians, we managed to distract the flying creatures and made our way inside.
The cavern led us to a pit full of snakes. Thousands of serpents writhed around in what I can only describe as a most likely delicious and nutritious mush of confectionery dinosaur cream. Unsure how to best proceed, I called up on the Greensong to let me converse with these snakes, who informed me that their Mother would not want us to cross, and that we should leave. As they would not willingly let us pass to treat with the Serpent Queen, we used flaming brands to create a pathway through their midst, and crossed to the other side.
Shortly thereafter, we came upon the Queen's Chamber. I attempted to negotiate, but the foul beast was already singing her own foul magic songs, which were affecting my companions, forcing them to stand helpless, or even transforming them into serpent creatures. Our band set to, and met her guardians in battle. These guardians consisted of an enormous serpent which swallowed Flagan whole at one point, and several crocodilians armed with poison darts. Our spells and weapons proved superior, and the guardians fell dead while the Queen made her escape out the back.
The escape tunnel was much too narrow for Yuv and myself to follow in our armor, but the remainder of the party crawled up the tunnel, and were pelted with rocks, acid, and other forms of hindrance before they reached the top. I set to work looking for the treasure trove, as the Giant's Rod was our goal, not slaying its guardian. Yuv doffed his plate-and-mail and followed after the others. As they reported back to me later, they followed her trail to another chamber with an entrance to the surface, where she escaped into the jungle.
I had no luck in discovering her treasury while my companions were so occupied.
This is actually last month's session. I forgot to write it up. The write-up for this past weekend's session will be posted tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
I was a bit hesitant, though, because here in S. Korea, they've oversaturated the market with ads for the film. I mean, try to watch anything on YouTube, and you have to sit through a 10-second ad for the film. I've got a bit of a contrarian streak from my dad. He hated Elvis and the Beatles back in the 60's when they were super popular (he prefers Elvis but doesn't mind the Beatles today). Because of the annoyance, I almost just waited to watch it on VOD later. But I thought, hey, I'm kinda the intended audience for this sort of film, so I'll go see it.
The basic story, if you haven't been over-inundated with ads, is that a pair of foreigners arrive at the Great Wall to "trade" just on the eve of a monster attack that happens for a week once every 60 years. And since the main character, William (that would be the Matt Damon character), is an excellent archer, he helps out. Oh, and it helps that he thinks Commander Lin (Tian Jing) is cute.
So yeah, it's not really wuxia, but it does play out a bit more similarly to how my Flying Swordsmen games have actually turned out in practice. Lots of combat, some cool stunts, monsters here and there, but not really a lot of interpersonal relationship development. In that department, it's more like a typical Hollywood film, although as far as the visuals go, it's very Zhang Yimou. This is a hybrid film, designed to try and appeal to both mainstream U.S. and mainstream Chinese audiences, after all.
And finally, my opinion of the film? I liked it well enough, but I can't say it was great. The beginning was pretty solid, but when the Nameless Order (the Chinese army defending the Wall) are first introduced, the very brightly colored armors looked like something out of a Koei strategy game. But again, it's Zhang Yimou. He loves to play around with colors in his films, and in this one the backgrounds were pretty stark, leaving only costuming as an area to use colors symbolically. The first attack of the creatures (tao tei) was fun to watch. Commander Lin's Crane Corps was very wuxia.
The second half of the film, though, was a predictable and not so exciting playing out of a typical Hollywood cliche. I don't want to spoil things, but we've seen this plot a hundred times, and they didn't really bring anything new to it. It's by the numbers.
I did appreciate that at the ending, they used a more traditional Chinese style ending than a traditional American style ending.
So, not the best film I've ever seen, but not too bad, either. A more creative plot would have really helped this film, along with a bit deeper character interaction (William and Lin spar about Western individualism and Eastern communalism, General Shao and Strategist Wang spar a little over how to deal with the tao tei, William, Tovar and Ballard disagree about how to get what they want and escape, but it's all fairly tangential to defeating the tao tei).
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I'm not 100% sure this is the best way ever to handle poisons in game, or anything like that. But it is a bit different, allows for a few different types of effects of different poisons, and tries to remain simple enough. It does require a bit of reference-checking for me still, but I think if I played with these poison rules long enough, I'd probably get them down in my head without needing to look them up.
I have divided poisons into four types (the names are not really relevant to their real world meanings, necessarily). Each does some damage over time, but also has another "side effect" such as sleep, paralysis, sensory deprivation, pain/vomiting/diarrhea/other hindrances, mental stupor, and yes, instant death. It may require a bit of extra book-keeping, but it also allows GMs to ignore any of the types they don't like. If you don't want Vizzini to just keel over a few seconds after drinking iocaine-laced wine, don't use the deadly poisons in your game.
|No save-or-die poisons? Inconceivable!|
And to quit rambling on about it before anyone besides me really knows what I'm talking about, here are the snippets of rules from the draft. First are the players' side prices and types of poison commonly available (at least for criminals or Shinobi) from the equipment lists (mon is the standard silver coin of the realm, equal to a normal D&D gold piece).
The actual game effects are kept "behind the screen" so GMs can choose to add a bit of uncertainty with respect to duration/damage dealt when PCs use poison on monsters if they choose. Or, if they want they can reveal the mechanics behind the poison to the players. Those mechanics are (as they currently stand) found in the Combat Rules section of the text:
A few notes: AC is of course armor class, TD is Tactical Defense - like AC, but for special maneuvers like disarm/trip/wrestle etc. (borrowed idea from Pathfinder). TN is target number.
*Save or die is simple. There's not really much you need to worry about remembering during an often messy, chaotic battle, or typical rambunctious RPG session. You get bitten by a giant spider and test your luck. Done.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
If you're unfamiliar with it, the book takes place in the near dystopian future, where peak oil and global warming have pretty much ruined everything. But the world's first true persistent VR, the OASIS, has become for most people their means of escape from the hell Earth has become. It has its own economy, and game credits translate into real money. People work there, aside from just playing. Pretty much every internet service is delivered through it. And from the way it's described, it's amaze-balls awesome.
The original designer/coder was a geek roughly the same age as me (born in '72, I was born in '73) and loved to throw in all the stuff he could referencing pop culture from the late 70's to the early 2000's, but mostly from the 80's. Within the VR there are countless planets. Some allow high technology. Some allow magic. Some allow both. As with any MMO, there are PvP zones and safe zones.
There is a zone with planets based on Star Wars, another on Star Trek, one on Firefly, etc. Every D&D module has been coded in there as a 3D environment you can explore, most on the planet Gygax. There are giant Japanese robot worlds and cowboy worlds and Middle Earth, Zork, Hyrule, etc. Whatever cartoons you grew up watching in the 80's? There's probably a world in there for it.
|Acererak challenges you to Joust (by J. Delgado)|
Basically, it's the Mother of All Kitchen Sink Settings.
So I'm imagining (some day, when time is no hindrance, which will probably never come) setting a game there. Players would start with Classic D&D (or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) on a D&D style planet, but once they've got the funds or means to teleport or travel through space, other worlds open up, and each world has the potential to add new options for the players' character races, classes, equipment, spells, etc. based on other OSR rule sets.
So visit the world of Tombstone, and Go Fer Yer Gun or Boot Hill cowboy characters, sixguns, etc. become available. Visit Gamma Terra, and mutant characters and recovered high tech "artifacts" enter the game. After visiting planet LV-426 (if you survive the face huggers), colonial marines and pulse rifles enter the game. Visit Smurf Village and um...try to catch them and turn them into gold like Gargamel? Or something.
Basically, I'd just be giving myself cover to throw in any sort of interesting pop culture references I feel like. And I'd be forcing myself to actually read through and implement stuff from lots of these OSR games I've collected on my hard drive, but haven't bothered to look at other than a cursory glance or two.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
If you've got Flying Swordsmen, the Jade Islands, or Yu Archipelago as the Zhongyang Dalu residents call it, is in the upper right hand corner. Here's the zoomed in version I finally completed last night. The coast lines, mountains and rivers are all hand drawn. Everything else I added to it using GIMP.
I've also been using this completely hand drawn map in my games. It's of Enzan Province in the middle of Tatsuo Island (18 on the map above). I'm including both maps in the game, with a brief overview of the nation as a whole, a few notes about the Spirit Realm, and extra details about Enzan, which has been fleshed out a bit from my two play test games.
It's not a very detailed rundown of the setting, but that's intentional. I think I've mentioned before that the bits of the "Known World" from Mentzer's Expert Set (Threshold and Karameikos) and X1 The Isle of Dread (a paragraph or two about each nation on the map) was enough to run years worth of games in that setting.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
I've made a few minor class edits based on play tests. I've added a couple of monsters, and changed speeds of characters and monsters to match up with Classic D&D. I made some changes to poisons based on an old post of Alexis' from last November at The Tao of D&D (if you're reading this, it's not exactly your method, but the new system was influenced by yours). Oh, and I've got wandering monster and wilderness encounter tables! It's one thing I completely forgot to add to Flying Swordsmen.
I'm thinking of possibly splitting the book in two. A player's book and a GM's book. Maybe. The draft text is sitting at around 70 pages, but there are some more things I could add (like more monsters and magic items, more examples of organizations that can serve as allegiances for PCs), and a few things I might cut (like the campaign setting, which I could expand and release separately). If I go with the two book approach, they'd both be pretty short though, even if I use ample amounts of art. And I have collected ample amounts of public domain art to use. But I doubt I'll be making any box sets, so I'll probably stick to the single volume approach.
Tonight, I pulled up GIMP and noodled around with a more simplistic (Zen) cover idea, trying to make it look like an old Japanese block print rice paper book. Lee Barber, if you're reading, I could use your graphic design criticism on this!
Friday, January 20, 2017
Anyway, enough rambling. On with the list of films I think will be worth watching this year (not that I'll get to watch them all, and a few others that are currently under my radar may pop up).
January -- Nothing really grabs me this month. xXx might be something to watch if it's on cable TV or something. I enjoyed the first one well enough way back when, but not enough to keep up with the series.
February -- My son will likely want to see LEGO Batman, so I'll probably take him to see it. I'm more excited to see The Great Wall, which looks like Flying Swordsmen RPG the Movie. Matt Damon as a European mercenary in [Tang? Song?] China, battling an invasion of monsters from Mongolia? Count me in. And trust me, having foreign mercenaries in Medieval China isn't as far fetched as some people believe. Tang China was pretty cosmopolitan. There were Christian churches and Muslim mosques in the capital in the 9th Century. The Silk Road was active since Roman times, Marco Polo is just the most famous of the Western and Middle Eastern merchants who visited China in pre-Modern times.
Two movies look like ones I'd like to see in March. Logan, the possibly final Hugh Jackman Wolverine solo movie, looks bleak, and might possibly be the best X-Men universe film to date, if it lives up to the quality of the trailer. Fox's X-Men films have been hit or miss, but usually at least entertaining (and yet, none of them seem to live up to the potential shown in the old 90's Fox cartoon version). This one may be different. At least, I hope so.
The other is Kong: Skull Island. I love me some King Kong. I love lost world dinosaurs and stuff (Isle of Dread is a top module for me). I'm also always interested in Vietnam War movies. I grew up in the 80's, when it was popular in film and TV. My Dad had a draft deferment and joined the Peace Corps, but several of his friends served, and a few died. The war of my parents' generation has always fascinated me. Mash them together, and I'll go see the film, even if it may not be one of the best movie experiences of my life.
Again, nothing looks like a must-see in April, but in May there's probably my #1 must see movie for the year (yes, more than Star Wars!), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The first was just a super fun movie, and I'm excited to see the next installment. Also in May is Alien: Covenant. I love the Aliens series, and yes, after the first two they kinda became crap, but they're still guilty pleasures of mine. So I'll be watching this one if my wife and I can spare some time away from the boys (Son #1 is still not old enough for these films). Oh, and there's another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They're fun films, usually. So while not a must-see, it's one to check out if time allows.
In June, there's the Wonder Woman film. I really hope this is good, but I've been disappointed by both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. I doubt I'll go see this one in the theaters, unless it gets some amazingly good reviews. Still, I hope it's good. I'd like to see DC comics doing well on the big screen the way they are on the small screen.
July brings us Spider-Man Homecoming. I liked Tom Holland's take on Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Civil War, so I'm hoping this will be a good, fun movie more like the MCU movies than the "Amazing" line of a few years ago. Also in July comes the first installment of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. It's not an adaptation of the books (which I love), it's a continuation. That seems like such an awesome idea, because the film makers and show runners have all the stuff in the books to use as reference, but aren't bound to slavishly follow the plot of the novels. If you've read the book series to the end, it makes total sense to do it this way. If you haven't read the books, they're up there among King's best work.
August and September have nothing catching my eye, but in October, there's the new Blade Runner 2049. I'm again optimistic about this one. Yes, it could just be a Hollywood cash grab, with no real effort put into making it good, but hopefully it'll tell a good story set in the Blade Runner future.
November brings us Thor: Ragnarok. Of the MCU movies, I've found the Thor movies to be a bit weaker than the others, but with Bruce Banner/The Hulk teaming up with Thor for this one, I'm optimistic. Also, it's Ragnarok, so you know things should be getting crazy in it. Also in November is Justice League. See my comments above about Wonder Woman. Same apply here.
Finally, in December, yes, we have Star Wars Episode VIII. The Force Awakens has a lot of problems, but watching it, I didn't really notice them. It was a rollercoaster ride with the feeling of the original trilogy (although a few too many call-backs/fan service). Rogue One was even better. Hopefully, Rogue One has raised the bar, and Ep. 8 will rock.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Frank starts out this section of the book by defining a dungeon as "any place where monsters and treasures may be found. A dungeon is usually a group of rooms, connected by corridors. It could be a castle (new or ruined), some caves, or anything else you can imagine" (p. 46). I do like this definition, as it frees up the DM to go crazy and not worry too much about needing to stick to subterranean mazes (although those can be really fun). This is followed up with a reminder of the basic risk-reward scheme of the dungeon, the "level" where higher levels mean tougher monsters but greater rewards. It's a bit brief, but described in more detail below.
Types of Dungeons
This section is more about dungeon level orientation than type of location that could be used as a dungeon. Levels increase in number as you go down, or up, or farther from the entrance. Multiple entrances, especially entrances straight to higher levels, is a good thing. Frank closes the section suggesting to stick to traditional vertical dungeons at first, and gradually experiment, possibly after looking at a few modules.
Good and Bad Dungeons
Here, Frank is defining a "good" dungeon as a logically constructed one, and a "bad" one as a random mismash of rooms, monsters, traps, etc. "A good dungeon is reasonable. Its design is carefully thought out, and the monsters and treasures are placed for a reason" (p. 46). Of course, he does admit in the next paragraph that a randomly generated dungeon could still be a good dungeon if it has some sort of theme tying the otherwise random encounters together, and monsters that should logically be found in that sort of location. He admits that the Solo Adventure isn't really a "good" dungeon, since it was designed to help new players experience a variety of game mechanics and situations, but with a few changes could be made better.
I'm not sure that I agree with Frank 100%. The random, nonsensical dungeon can still be a lot of fun. And since people have a natural desire to see patterns when none exist, players will often construct a more logical narrative from a random experience. Frank does mention that dungeons shouldn't just be places to fight monsters -- it should have other forms of entertainment like puzzles and RP situations as well. And on that I fully agree. If I just want to grind through some random monster battles, I'll go fire up Dragon Warrior on my NES emulator.
Step By Step
This is the heart of the section, as Frank gives a six step process to create a dungeon. Of course, the above description of dungeons and levels seems to assume a "mega-dungeon" setting, this step-by-step section assumes dungeons as one-shot type deals, made specifically for that adventure (like in many modules). This did color my early dungeon crafting. I stared out with fairly random multi-level caves, then moved on to smaller, mission-specific dungeons as I grew as a DM.
1. Choose a Scenario
By scenario, Frank means both a theme for the dungeon, and a hook to get the PCs to explore it. He lists several good rationales for adventure. The only flaw with the presentation is that it left me assuming that the DM would just provide the players with their motivation, rather than letting players dictate their motives and me as DM creating the dungeon in response. I think this must have been fairly common (maybe it still is) due to the number of "You've been captured by..." adventures DMs love to spring on players. Yes, I've been guilty of this in the past as well.
The scenarios listed are: Exploring the Unknown, Investigating an Enemy Outpost, Recovering Ruins, Destroying an Ancient Evil, Visiting a Lost Shrine, Fulfilling a Quest, Escaping from Enemies, Rescuing Prisoners, Using a Magic Portal, Finding a Lost Race.
I do like how a lot of these don't require the PCs to go in guns blazing to complete the objective. I really think something like this, slightly modified, presented as a "Reasons to Adventure" advice section in the Players Manual would have been useful. As I mentioned above, this section seems to assume the impetus for adventure is on the DM. "Hey players, I wrote up a dungeon. Wanna run through it?" rather than "Hey DM, we want to do this next time..."
2. Decide on a Setting
This gives us a short list of potential dungeons (expanded in the Expert Set to include wildernesses, but for here it's fairly traditional): Castle or Tower, Crypt or Tomb, Caves or Cavern, Ancient Temple, Abandoned Mine, Stronghold or Town.
That covers a good amount of adventuring locations, and provided me with enough fodder for dungeon creation for years.
3. Select Special Monsters
Before making the dungeon map, you should have a few ideas about what monsters live there. In other words, make sure there's some thematic monsters to face that are appropriate to the scenario and setting selected.
4. Draw the Map
There's some general advice on dungeon map drawing, starting with setting the scale, defining the general shape/style, and finally filling in the details. It references the dungeon symbols on the inside front cover of the book, and again these did help inspire me to create more interesting dungeon maps than simply a connected series of rectangular rooms and 10' wide corridors.
5. Stock the Dungeon
Fill up the map key! First place the Special Monsters and their treasures, then select or randomly roll for monsters and what not in the rest of the dungeon.
6. Fill in the Final Details
Now that you know what monsters are where, you can add details about dungeon dressing, sounds, smells, etc. Frank gives some good advice to keep it simple, as players get bored by excessive descriptions. Just give them the feel of the dungeon. This is one area I could improve on, personally, as I'm often a bit too sparse in my dungeon keys, and rely on improvising such things in play, which means I sometimes for get to give enough description, or useful clues for players to work with.
Frank also suggests making Wandering Monster charts for each dungeon to fit the scenario. I used to do this often, but more recently I've gotten lazy (with the exception of my Megadungeon). I need to make wandering monsters a more important part of the games I run, especially Chanbara. It (and Flying Swordsmen before it), lacks that in the rules.
This section (and the original version in Moldvay's Basic Set which developed a very simple system in OD&D) has rightly received much praise from various old school bloggers over the years. It's a simple system of rolling two six-siders, one of which determines room contents, the other treasure. The OD&D version simply said roll a d6, with a 1-2 being a monster, anything else is an empty room. Another d6 roll then determines treasure (1-3 for monster rooms, 1 for empty rooms IIRC). The same basic system is presented here, but fleshed out (by Moldvay) so that:
1-2 Empty Room (1/d6 treasure)
3 Trap (1-2/d6 treasure)
4-5 Monster (1-3/d6 treasure)
6 Special (usually no treasure)
This means that, aside from intentionally placed monsters (and treasures), about one third of all rooms are inhabited, one third have dangers or oddities, and one third are empty. Approximately one third of all rooms will also have some treasure.
We get a Random Treasures Table for use with this system as well. In my early days, and even up until more recent years, I tended to ignore this table, and just use the Treasure Types tables. That meant that sometimes fairly small groups of monsters would be guarding fairly large treasures. Sometimes that's not a problem, but it does make monster encounters more of a lotto style. Using this Random Treasures table, small amounts of treasure will be found more often, and every now and then there will be a jackpot. From what I've read about modern game design, that's a winning method. When I revamp my Megadungeon, or if I go ahead and prepare the 5E Dragonlance game I'm thinking of trying to run, I'll probably use this table more often.
This section gives advice and suggestions for Traps and Specials indicated by the random stocking method described above.
We tend to think of D&D traps as killers (Tomb of Horrors casts a long shadow), but Frank is explicit that traps should not usually be deadly, or at least not always. He defines traps as "anything that could cause damage, delay or a magical effect to occur" (p. 47). He mentions that Thieves are good at finding and removing traps (failing to mention Dwarves' special detection ability), and that while an area may have a combination of traps, they shouldn't be too dangerous. "Deadly traps are not recommended until the 2nd level of a dungeon (or deeper) is reached" (p. 47).
He then gives us a list of types of traps, and some possible variations, and while many do result in damage, poison, etc. there are quite a few non-lethal traps as well. He lists out:
Blade (damage), Creature (attacks with surprise), Darts (damage, paralysis, poison, curse, etc.), Explosion (damage), Falling Item (damage), Fog (strange but non-damaging effects), Illusion (as phantasmal force), Light (temporary blindness), Pit (damage, or chute to lower level), Poison Gas (damage or instant death), Poison Needle (unspecified).
A lot of the fun of D&D, and many memorable encounters, are with specials, which Frank defines as "anything you place which is not normal, but is not a trap, monster or treasure" (p. 48). He provides a list of these as well:
Alarm (summons a monster, opens a door, or just makes noise), Illusion (a dungeon feature or creature is not really there), Map Change (shifting walls), Movements (shifting rooms), Pool (lots of strange potential effects), Sounds (moaning, screaming, talking, etc.), Statue (may be treasure, magical, alive, etc.), Transportation (hidden doors or stairs, elevators, magical portals, etc.), Trick Monster (examples are either variant normal monsters, or pun monsters), Weird Things (flying weapons, reverse gravity zones, shrinking/growing zones, etc.).
Basically, specials are there to add complications, mysteries, unexpected twists, or just plain old color.
The final textual section of the book explains what wandering monster encounters are and what they are for, and how to run them. Having some monsters on the move makes the dungeon feel more alive. They also serve as a subtle reminder to players to keep things moving, although the book doesn't lay that out explicitly here.
Frank gives some advice on deciding when to have wandering monsters appear. Check once every two turns by rolling a d6. On a 1, wandering monsters appear. Noises, curses, or special areas may increase the frequency or probability of monsters appearing. Wandering monster numbers are typically less than a full room encounter, but the monsters rarely have treasure with them.
The inside back cover has wandering monster tables for dungeon levels 1 to 3, along with some Dungeon Master Reference charts (all saving throws, including for Fighters up to level 12 for use with monsters, and Monster Hit Charts up to 17+ hit dice).
For the Wandering Monster tables, there isn't much rhyme or reason to them. There are of course plenty of normal animals/giant insects, humanoids, some undead, and a few oddities on each level. While there are a few tough encounters on the first two levels, the third level chart does up the danger a fair amount with medusa, wererats and shadows making appearances. One handy thing about these charts is that it lists the page number on which each monster can be found in the book.
The back cover of the Dungeon Masters Rulebook gives us an index of both volumes, with entries listed as P# for Players Manual entries, and D# for Dungeon Masters Rulebook entries. It's pretty useful to have, but I don't remember using it that often. I read through these books so often that first year I had them that I was able to find anything I needed so easily for years afterwards. But it is nice to have a good index in the book.
And there you have it, folks! Mentzer Basic D&D, cover to cover. fin
Monday, January 2, 2017
Of course, you could also ask a high-level NPC magic-user, but you'll need to fork out cash or complete some service first. This is a good thing, of course, because it provides a hook for adventure. If your magic item is cursed, it's a spur to adventure (at least until higher levels when a party Cleric or Magic-User can take care of that for you). If you want to take the safe (and slow) path of asking an NPC to ID the item, you'll need to complete some sort of adventure.
The next short paragraph just explains that some magic items are permanent and others temporary. Then, there's a slightly longer section on using magic items. Items that require concentration to make them function have a caveat that is important, but I often forget due to it not being a factor in more recent editions: when you use the item, "the user may not move, cast a spell, or take any other action during that round" (p. 42). Wands aren't like in Harry Potter, where they're a magical replacement for guns (or more accurately, Green Arrow/Hawkeye quiver of arrows). No John Woo stunts allowed.
Finally, we get a short explanation of charges in magic items. The rules say there's no way for the character to learn how many charges are in a charged item, but I always found this difficult to rule in play, especially since in the earliest days my two best friends and I co-DMed the same world. I've always just been open with players about how many charges were in their magic items. Not telling them makes them less cavalier about using them up, and while it might be kinda fun for them to gamble with their magic items, letting them know how many are left allows them to make informed choices about their use, which I think can also be fun (and probably more fun for the player). Oh, and there's a note that charged magic items cannot be recharged. I've recently overruled this for my games (not that it's easy to accomplish) because it can be a good spur to adventure if it's possible.
We get some basic information first. The 'plus' adds to hit rolls and damage rolls. Some of the swords get a better bonus against specific opponents. Weapon restrictions for classes still apply. Then, we get information on the two swords that can cast Clerical spells, with a note that other Cleric or Magic-User spells may be placed in swords. It's a nice way to let the Fighter, Thief, Dwarf or Halfling have a bit of magic. Oh, and then we are told that most magic swords are normal swords, but occasionally short swords or two-handed magic swords will be found, and the DM can select the type as they like or roll randomly.
Swords can, of course, be cursed. There's a 15% chance any sword will be cursed (roll 1-3 on d20). The cursed sword will appear to be the type rolled until used in combat. According to a strict reading of the rules, no matter what type was rolled, as a cursed sword it will be a sword -1. It doesn't mention if special powers, like additional bonus vs. specific types or spell casting ability still functions, but the implication is that they don't. One thing I have often overlooked is that a cursed sword, once uncursed, reverts back to the type rolled originally. Getting a cursed sword isn't screwing the player over that badly, as they can go on a quest to remove the curse, and then have whatever sweet swag they were expecting to have. Delayed gratification is a good thing, right?
This is a short section, as other weapons pretty much follow the rules for magic swords. For players who do prefer other weapons besides swords, there is a small silver lining (I mentioned in the previous post how the chances to get other magic weapons are much lower than swords). Other magic weapons are only cursed 10% of the time (1-2 on d20).
There is a chart for magic armor that is somewhat unnecessary. Since only armors of +1 value are given in this set, though, instead of explaining how the plus lowers your AC, there's a chart that shows the AC for non-magical armor, magical armor, and an encumbrance adjustment for wearing magical armor. The encumbrance adjustment is really the only useful part of the chart once you move beyond the Basic rules. And since shields can get a +1 or +2 enchantment, Frank had to explain the system for magical AC adjustment anyway. Maybe the chart is a hold-over from the days when the Chainmail combat system was standard, and AC had a slightly different meaning.
Cursed armor works similarly to magic weapons, in that a cursed item is -1 (adds 1 to AC). There's a slightly higher chance to get cursed armor than other weapons, but slightly less than magic swords (1 on d8).
There's a bit of description of potions first, then we're told how long they last (typically 7-12 Turns), and only the DM should know for sure. If you want to ID a potion, take a sip. To activate the potion, chug it! Also, unlike in AD&D (1E for sure, maybe 2E as well), there's no fun potion miscability table, just a note that if you drink a potion while another is in effect, you get sick for 3 Turns (no save) and neither potion has any more effect. Healing potions are exempt from this as they have no duration.
The potion of diminution is interesting in that it specifies that while shrunk down you cannot damage creatures bigger than 1' tall (you're not Ant-Man). It doesn't specify how you damage small creatures like that (roll damage normally? Do minimum damage?), nor does it mention hit point adjustments. It does say it will negate a potion of growth, so there's one exception to the "no mixing potions" rule.
The potion of gaseous form is specific in that gear is not made gaseous. It also notes that while gaseous you are AC -2 and only magic weapons or spells can harm you.
The potion of growth, unlike its counterpart above, does let you know that you deal double damage while giant size, but your hit points don't change. The exception to the sickness with potions of diminution is noted again here, as well.
Invisibility potions have an interesting optional rule which if you're going to use it for this potion, you might as well use it for others as well. At the DM's option, players may split the potion into six doses which each have effect for 1 Turn. That's nice for setting up an ambush, or group escapes.
Finally, potions of poision, even if just a sip is taken, can cause instant death! Yes, you get a save, and similar to the previous advice on poison, there's a note that the DM can have the potion deal damage instead of causing death instantly.
We get a bit of description of scrolls and how they function. There's a not that only spell-casters of the appropriate type can cast spell scrolls, but any character can use a Protection scroll or treasure map... but this forgets that characters of low intelligence have trouble reading, or can't read at all.
For spell scrolls, there's a 25% chance the scroll is for Clerics, otherwise it is for MUs and Elves. The scroll can have one to three spells, and at this level the spells may go up to third level (due to there being some higher level Cleric/Magic-User spells in the book. Especially for MUs/Elves, since they need to collect spells for their spellbooks, this is a good thing, because it adds a bit of tension to having a scroll and never using it so that it can be added to the spell-book later, or use it when it may be of help.
Cursed scrolls affect you just by looking at the scroll, so unlike magic swords, weapons and armor, the removal of the curse does not revert the scroll to a beneficial magical one, it just ends the effects. There are some curses suggested, and the fourth one is level drain "as if struck by a wight" with a note to avoid using this item in a situation where the characters are 1st level as level drain would kill them. I think if this were the curse, I'd give a saving throw or something. Even a poison potion allows a saving throw.
Protection Scrolls are one of my favorite magic items. I'm not sure why, but I think it's the fact that any (literate) character can use them, and they have some useful effects. There are only two in the Basic Set, Protection from Lycanthropes and from Undead. There are more in Expert (don't remember off hand if the Companion Set added any), and even more in AD&D (Unearthed Arcana/2E at least). They create a 10' diameter -- as a kid I interpreted it as radius, but it says "10' across" (p. 44) -- moving circle of protection that prevents a certain number of creatures from entering. The number affected is rolled randomly, though, so if you roll low, or there are just a lot of that type of creature, some can get through. Still, when fighting lycanthropes or undead, preventing the whole pack from mobbing you is still not bad, although keeping them all away is best.
One thing that is unclear is how to rule the effect if there are more than one type of the creatures together. So if there are werewolves (1-8 affected) and weretigers (1-4 affected) together, do some of both get hedged out? Only the weaker? Only the stronger? DMs can determine it as they wish.
Treasure maps -- I mentioned before how I think these are kind of out of place -- may lead you to normal or magical treasure. You as DM should also prepare treasure maps ahead of time, which is a good idea, if you have plenty of prep time and your players really need accurate visuals. Frank suggests that foreign languages may be used on the map to make it difficult to read the map without magic.
Anyone who's read or seen Aladdin or The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings knows what the first section tells us: that the ring needs to be worn on a finger to have an effect. The game does explicitly tell us that you're limited to only one ring per hand, two total, or they all stop functioning (except a cursed Ring of Weakness). Also, anyone can use a ring.
The ring of animal control is (for me at least) an overlooked gem of an item. Maybe I just never had a PC that acquired one, and if any of my old players did, they never took advantage of it. I know I haven't had any rolled up in my recent dungeons or other adventures. The ring lets you control 1d6 normal animals or a single giant animal, as long as they're in sight, for up to one turn. That can take care of a lot of deadly encounters with especially poisonous creatures with little or at least lessened risk to the party. The down side is no movement while concentrating on the control. Also, the rules are worded a bit unfairly -- only one 1/2 hit die giant rat could be controlled, while 1d6 sabertooth tigers or cave bears could be controlled by a strict reading. And when you get dinosaurs in the Expert Set... Obviously some DM judgment is required.
There's not really much to say about the rings of fire resistance, invisibility, or protection +1. The first two work like the spells (fire resistance permanently, invisibility once per turn), and the ring of protection +1 adds to AC and saving throws continually. Nice, but nothing unusual about any of them.
The ring of water walking leaves me with one question (and of course, it's up to individual DMs to decide the answer). The description says "The wearer of this ring may walk on the surface of any body of water, and will not sink" (p. 44). How is that controversial, you ask? Well, what about other non-water liquids? Can you cross a river of vinegar or a pool of oil? If you have glass slippers could you cross acid? Can you pour some water over a pressure plate, then walk on the spilled water without setting it off? Lots of potential for fun with this one!
The cursed ring of weakness is last. It lowers your Strength to 3 within a few rounds, and lasts until the curse is removed. And unlike magic swords/weapons/armor, removing the curse doesn't revert it to a useful magic ring. I may add other cursed rings that affect other stats, or maybe just roll randomly what ability score gets drained, or have it affect the Prime Requisite, because most of the time a Magic-User or Thief with this ring isn't usually overly burdened, except that they can only then use one useful ring at a time. A ring of feeblemind, or ring of sickliness would be a fun change up every now and then (although magic rings being rare, compared to other items, and there being lots of types especially by the Companion Set/RC tables, they wouldn't come up often).
Wands, Staves and Rods
This is the only class of magic item that doesn't have any cursed items (at least in the Basic Set...I'll have to check if later sets add some). We get a bit of description of all three types of item, and a note that at least for the items presented here, only MUs and Elves can use wands, only Clerics can use staves, and anyone can use a rod. Also, wands will have 1d10 charges only when you find them.
Wands of enemy detection (and later the enemy detection ability of intelligent swords in the Expert Set) always seemed like a fairly useless item to us when we were kids, because (as I've mentioned countless times in this series over the years), most monsters would just attack in those early games. However, there is an ability of this wand that actually makes it super useful even after combat starts -- hostile invisible creatures get lit up, so everyone can see where they are. Hidden creatures like thieves or troglodytes also appear.
The wand of magic detection is a great item to have, as it frees up a spell slot, or speeds up identification of magical loot, and occasionally can be used to confirm that locks/traps/strange things are magical or not.
Wands of paralyzation are nice, they shoot a ray 60' long, 30' wide at the end, and anything in it must save vs. wands or be paralyzed for one whole hour. If there were a spell that had the same effect, it would probably be 4th level, or maybe 5th, since Hold Person, which affects 1 to 4 humanoids only, is 3rd for a magic-user. In fact, compared to Hold Monster, this wand's effect would maybe be a 6th level spell... And here it is in the Basic Set.
The staff of healing is nice and simple here (it gets optionally much more complicated in the Companion Set). It can cast cure light wounds on any number of creatures, each once per day. Any army or settlement's Cleric would probably go to great lengths to secure one of these items, as it can take care of most of that community's injuries without resorting to spell slots.
The snake staff is another (for my old group at least) overlooked gem. It's a staff +1 in melee (and we get melee stats for a staff here before it's provided on the weapons lists in Expert), and on command changes into a snake that automatically (no save) ensnares the target of man-size or less. While it does have hit points in snake form, and becomes non-magical if killed, that's a pretty good way to take a creature alive.
The rod of cancellation is the item any character can use, and none of them want to! Why? Because it turns what would otherwise be your magical loot into a non-magical item. Kind of a last resort, unless you're using it to remove an unwanted cursed item. This description does give us the concept of "Touch AC" which was enshrined in 3E. To hit an item with the rod in combat, you only need to hit AC 9 (unless, as Frank notes, the item is currently being wielded, which should provide it a lower AC).
Miscellaneous Magic Items
In general, I'm also a big fan of miscellaneous items, many because again any class character can use them (at least of the ones here in Basic), and they all provide some fun effects, some of which can only be achieved through these items.
The bag of devouring is technically a cursed item, although there are no restrictions like being forced to keep it. It appears to be a bag of holding, but if you leave items in it for too long (7 to 12 Turns), the items disappear. So once it's determined that this is a bag of devouring, you need to empty it out once per hour and refill it. Unlike the bag of holding, however, it doesn't list a maximum weight limit (although many DMs would likely imply one from the bag of holding's limit). A strict reading, however, gives unlimited capacity, but just the need to empty it and refill it once per hour.
As just mentioned, the bag of holding has a size/weight limit of what can go in it listed here, and it tells us that when full the bag only weighs 600cn (so the same as a loaded large sack). Unlike in AD&D, there's only one size bag to worry about. A must-have item for any adventuring party, and since it's available from the Basic levels, it's somewhat likely a party may end up with one or two before they get too high in levels.
A crystal ball is (again, for me) another underused item. While it only works 3 times per day, it can give you an idea of what's happening anywhere you want to look. Great for scouting or spying.
The elven cloak and elven boots are nice, in that they make you almost (2~6 on d6) invisible and (2~10 on d10) silent, respectively. Great for sneaking around and surprising enemies. It makes me wonder about other sorts of demi-human attire that could be found with magical effects...halfling cravats, dwarven caps, gnomish knickerbockers...
Gauntlets of Ogre Power give you an 18 Strength. If you already have an 18 Str, they're more or less useless to you, although they do allow you to punch creatures for 1d4 damage at a +3 bonus to hit. Again, later editions have added other items to increase other stats, and that could easily be copied for Classic D&D based on the rules presented here.
The Helm of Alignment Changing is a cursed item, and once put on can only be removed with spells or other curse removal means. And it changes your alignment, randomly, to one of the other two. But since there are no alignment restrictions in Classic D&D, it's more of an annoyance than an actual hindrance.
The Helm of Telepathy is a nice item. While you need to concentrate (which means not moving or taking any other actions), you can have a mental conversation with any willing creature, even if you don't share a language. You can also snoop on their thoughts without having to send a message, if they let you or fail a save.
The medallion of ESP, on the other hand, is kind of a chump version of the helm. You can only read thoughts with it, and you have a 1 in 6 chance to broadcast your own thoughts to everyone in range instead of reading the target's mind. If you have a choice, take the helm over this one!
Finally, there's another staple item many parties crave, the rope of climbing. Like the elven cloak and boots, it takes its inspiration from The Lord of the Rings. It can also hold up to 10,000cn weight, but I don't remember regular rope giving a weight limit. I'll have to look it up later. Still, that's pretty good, as you can use it to climb (of course), grab items that are out of reach, and several other uses.
And that's it for magic items. Next up, Creating Dungeons, which will probably get divided into two posts, with the end matter (back cover) being included in the second post. Two more to go and this series is finished.