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Innovation in RPG-Land Part 2: The Process and the Innovator

The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 04/26/2020 - 11:03
People actually asked for this (okay, one person ... but Part 1 received generally good and encouraging feedback). That said, I wouldn't want to force it. It's a strange and complex topic, and although I didn't go very deep into it, I think I laid out the basics okay. It's just that it all was left rather abstract (and intentionally so), so there is a lot to explore if opportunity (or inspiration) arises. Which actually happened (as I seem to be almost back to form), so here we go, building heavily on what was established earlier ...

Chuang Tze contemplating a waterfall [source]The Process (beyond craftsmanship)

I'd like to kick this of with a poem by the famous Daoist philosopher Chuang Tze. It is called The Woodcarver and it goes like this (translation seems to be by on Thomas Merten):

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits. The prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set my heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain or success.
After five days, I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days I had forgotten my body with all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”This is among the earliest descriptions of how creators push beyond craftsmanship while opening themselves for inspiration (roughly 2.100 years ago) and it is quite remarkable for several reasons.

You will find sentiments similar to this among various (if not all worth the label) artists of all kinds. Tom Waits is on record for telling inspiration to go somewhere else when he's driving a car, to name but one more famous example (just don't ask me which interview it had been ... I'm at a loss right now). Inspiration comes to the artist. They are kissed by muses, something speaks to them, they saw it in their dreams ... artists describe inspirations always as something disconnected, as something given to them.

One way to describe this would be that they tap into what Jung called the Collective Unconscious. How to get there is another matter altogether. Meditation, fasting, drinking (as many authors seem to do), other drugs, just taking a walk ... there seem to be as many individual solutions as there are artists. What they have in common is far more interesting, though: it all describes a form of disconnection from what is most commonly referred to as the "ego" (the thing in you that claims to be "I").

The brain getting flooded with impulses ... [source]It definitely also needs the tools to express those impulses artists receive, so that's craftsmanship. It's where you start, and in a sense it is a different thing altogether. Good craftsmanship needn't be inspired, it is useful and fulfilling on its own.

That's also a very important distinction to make, for the very reason that creativity is connected to the Big Five personality trait Openness as well as to intelligence (interestingly enough, using psychoactive drugs is one of the few things one can do to alter a score in Openness, and it seems to be very hard to change those personality traits at all ...). In other words: people are more or less creative, or even not creative at all (which seems to be an unpopular thing to say, although the science speaks for itself in that regard).

And yet, it doesn't matter (in that sense that it is not an universal and you don't lack anything if you don't have it), since learning a craft is all about dedication and practice, and that's only related to personality in as much as preferences go*. Although Conscientiousness might have an impact on your progress (among other factors). But still, that just determines your approach, not how good you'll get. Right?

If you need a good example for that, look at the cultural implementation of something like Martial Arts in Japan or Yoga in India. Everyone is encouraged to do it, age or social background don't matter, everyone has access to some degree or another (this is somewhat generalizing, but you get the idea).

High craftsmanship is achievable, transcending that might be something else altogether and less connected than generally assumed. Less connected, because craftsmanship has two separate functions: perfection and conservation of an established form (creation of the perfect table, for instance) and innovation beyond the established through creativity and transfer (making a better wheel, for instance).

It's also important to see all this within a spectrum, of sorts. If it's all individual journeys to express inspiration through craft, we are all at different steps in our personal development, sometimes even unsure where we are going or where we'll end (if at all aware).

And while we take our individual dips in the collective unconscious, fishing for inspiration, we are sometimes reduced to being spectators. But that's another thing that's interesting in the process (and very Dao, I might add). We, as a group of individuals, are able to recognizes art, especially over time, although the process for this almost seems as mysterious as inspiration itself. The importance of art, in that sense, can be measured as the time a culture keeps it around (or more precise: the time it carries meaning in a culture).

Within all those complex patterns emerge works of art that alter cultures permanently, and while we could debate the importance of the waves of innovation our little hobby produced so far (see Part 1), the impact of that first game on all cultures that got hands on it, is undeniable and still echoes through all aspects of many cultures as I write this. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure we are not in the least aware how big of an impact we are actually talking about.

As far as the process goes, we see the same pattern emerge that I described above. Simply put, a group of enthusiastic college level war game hobbyists pushed their hobby to a degree where some of them transcended the given parameters out of the necessity to allow for single character games instead of units. Looking back, it seems like a natural development. However, it took some creative minds to tackle the problem (Gygax, Arneson, and so on).

As you'll always have with things like this, many tuned in, either working together, or even being unaware of each other (again, collective unconscious describes best what exactly they tuned into). and the result was what generally is referred to as the first edition of D&D today**.

Famously, this also led to feuds that go on to this day. Who came first up with it, who's the creator, who deserves more praise, all that petty bullshit people fight about over the corpses of those who helped putting the game together. That, however, is a whole chapter on its own ...

Now, what about the innovators?

Did Tesla invent the light bulb or was it Edison? Actually, 22 inventors are listed that made attempts in that direction, and Edison's just was the most successful***. Or did they already have "light bulbs" in old Egypt? They had batteries back then (so-called Baghdad Batteries in Persia, which is mind-blowing in its own right), so what did they use them for?

Light bulbs in Egypt? Check out the Dendera Lights**** [source]Did the Americans invent Pizza, or was it the Italians. Same for noodles: China or Italy? Are hamburgers a purely American invention, or was it European immigrants inventing short-cuts to sell their fast food better? And what about the Romans? They had a thriving fast food culture, among that selling a beef patty with minced meat between two buns, so they had hamburger over 1500 years ago.

What's more, focus shifts names of inventors change to regions change to nations, and then get forgotten. How many appliances do you have at home with no idea who came up with it? Give it a couple of decades and people may reduce the origins of roleplaying games to America. Give it even more time and it just might end up being a staple like chess.

This is the usefulness and tragic of innovation, actually. The inventor is channeling and manifesting something, with craft, ingenuity and time, and with luck, it ends up resonating with enough others to have an impact. Again, a spectrum, it may be a bestseller that'll be forgotten in a couple of years, it may be penicillin, it might be the thing that inspires the guy that will invent penicillin.

There aren't high chances for success, but if a creative endeavor turns out to be successful, it has a measurable impact. High risk (because you believe in your ideas and invest into realizing them), but equally high reward (if something blows up, it blows up proper).

Sometimes you catch the fish, sometimes ... [source]Yet, this is just one side of the coin. The other side is that if a creator is channeling, it gets difficult to claim ownership. Sure, you wrote the book, you designed the game, you painted the picture, but in a sense you made the collected conscious manifest. You made it conscious in others, so it becomes a thing of it's own, in a sense.

Insert here the years old discussion about fandom and how much influence a creator has after the creation resonated with the public. Especially with huge successes (I explored that specific rabbit hole in another post not that long ago, and you can join me doing so here). Some can keep on the pulse they created, some try to send new impulses and fail (The Matrix Trilogy comes to mind as a failed example, but there are also enough successful series proofing that the opposite is possible).

It's everyone's game, and it needs to be. As I said in part 1, innovation needs a critical mass to emerge from. If a pattern gains enough interest, lots of lesser successful attempts on it allow for some to hit it out of the park in a way that also encourages others to conserve the attempt through playing with the pattern while repeating it (which, incidentally, is another reason to let go ... and also very Daoist).

There is also the small side of the coin that deserves a bit of contemplation: if creators channel ideas from something that is potentially accessible for all, and manifest those ideas through the established methods of a craft, the whole disconnect created that way between the art and the artist means you really don't have to like the artist (or know them, for that matter) to appreciate the art (or the innovation). Individual expression will always find a way to make itself known, but it is clearly distinguishable from the innovation or the artwork.

Actually, the less you find of the artist in the art, the longer it will last (if it was a success). Look at all the classics. The older they are, the purer they are in their form. Shakespeare is a perfect example for this, imo. Art so powerful, pure and innovative, its impact is felt to this day, 400 years later. Does it matter who he was? Well, of course people want to know who he was and how he lived, but does it matter? No. Not at all.

That doesn't mean artists or innovators don't deserve compensation, mind you (as some seem to think that if you are merely channeling and if what manifests isn't "yours", you didn't seem to do anything special ...). But that's like in that sad joke about the guy asking the other guy why he should pay 200 gold for something that took only ten minutes to make:

See what I mean? [source]And that's just that. Years of dedication will make you good at what you are doing, and speed is just one indicator how good someone became. You see in the example above that you'll have to remind people of this even if you are only talking craft, with art it gets even less clear cut (the high risk, high reward thing discussed above) as recognizing the possibilities of a thing is not as hard as creating it, but still very hard.

There where cultures that honored the artist for the attempt, for the way of life they chose to (possibly) create something all may benefit from. We don't seem to live in a culture like that.

The only consolidation an unsuccessful artist has, would be that their creativity keeps them entertained. Going that way is a goal worth in itself (which, again, is a very Daoist thing). However, the tragic truth is that a culture that not only ignores spiritual growth (which this all is, obviously), but actively dismisses and denounces it, will also make it a rather privileged endeavor to explore your full potential (or a hard decision).

To end this on a more positive note, though, I'd like to point out that it doesn't stop people from trying and hard decisions are made more often than not ...

And this leaves us where, exactly?

Well, I think that leaves us at a potential part 3, as I still kept this as abstract as fuck :D However, while you might say that this isn't as specific as talking about creating a roleplaying game, it very much is about that very same process. For now, you could think of this as something more like a school of thought than a concrete guide. Maybe we'll go further down that road ...

Learning any craft, being it writing or game design or carpentry, is hard work and takes years of dedication. Furthermore, exploring the outer limits of a craft can be seen as a spiritual journey and manifesting your findings needs you functioning on all the levels described above.

If you recognize this as a possible truth, you will also see where we are at in our hobby. You'll gain an awareness of what is trying to conserve and what's trying to innovate and even, what's couterproductive. To one degree or another. You'll also know one approach to go that way or at least where you are at in the great scheme of things. That's not nothing.

I know it's a struggle, and I'm barely what you'd call an artist. Spiritual, yeah, I'd claim that I dabble in that, but ask me to what end, and I'm somewhat at a loss. I read too much about it and don't live enough of it (mostly because I can't afford to, but partly because it is also very hard to let go). This blog exists for almost 9 years now. I monetize very little (I published a thing that is PWYW ...), because it's a process for me, a way to learn. I'm finally at a point now where I will try my hand at earning a bit more with this. Just a little bit.

See what I mean? 9 years of work here, with years of work before that, and now I feel like I might be in a position to actually earn a buck or two with it. Might still fail, mind you, and I somewhat dread the jump (my first rpg is almost publishable, but I hesitate, and not only because of the pandemic).

Still worth it, though. I regret nothing and I really do believe that taking the journey is worth it. Doesn't matter where it ends, it brought me here, didn't it? So I hope you enjoyed reading those musings and ramblings of mine about what makes art and what doesn't and how innovation is connected to it all. Creating something and sharing it with others at least has the chance to have some stranger leave a bit richer than they had been before, and if nothing else, there is value in that.

The Poor Poet by Spitzweg sums it up for me. [source]
*Here are some thoughts about the Big Five and what they mean for a person. It is important context, but not so important for what I'm writing above. First, we all seem to be primed the way we are from very early on. So much so, that we seem to be born with a specific set of traits (roleplaying gamers can relate: you get what you roll) and we need a big part of our life to come to terms with that (I'm going with Schopenhauer here, in that people don't change, they just change their behavior). This "coming to terms with our personality" will always be a very individual journey, and by no means successful for everyone. If someone is too open and their parents are more of the opposite, that can create conflict. The type of conflict you will see in dramas all over the world. Sometimes people get damaged, sometimes they arrange themselves with something not in sync with their nature. Sometimes extraordinary circumstances force us to be a more rudimentary version of ourselves to function ... It is a very complex subject, as one can easily see, so we think in ideals when we talk about the Big Five. Ideals, because it assumes a person is fully aware of their potential. I just wanted to point out that there are also those people that can't even begin to express themselves (or only when reacting extreme themselves, like getting drunk to write, or cutting off an ear?), because their surroundings don't allow for it. Going this way can be difficult.

**Nothing is that easy, obviously. However, in terms of patterns, we see this all the time, for instance with music genres (Grunge would be a good example, I think). 

***Again, the same pattern emerges ... Just saying. 

****Not necessarily as fact, but as an interpretation or a possibility. We are clever monkeys, after all, and it just took as a couple of 100 years to get where we are today, technologically speaking. It would just take as long to lose all that again, with almost nothing left to proof our technological sophistication. So who's to say what the ancients where capable of? It's a fascinating thought experiment, imo.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The AD&D Death Dial

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 04/26/2020 - 01:00

After four sessions in a row with no player character deaths, something just did not seem right. And I am not talking about the players’ mysterious capability to roll high whenever I ask for a save versus poison and I can’t watch them roll, either!

In a real D&D game, you are typically going to have one or two character deaths every couple sessions. Zero deaths after four sessions is pretty nuts. That sure makes it seem like that AD&D is completely pathetic when compared to Moldvay Basic! What’s going on here?

Well, turns out that if you thought that AD&D was a game where ALL the player characters could drop down to -10 hit points and stay in the game, you’ve got it all wrong:

Notice that the “drop to -10” rule only applies to characters that were dropped to zero hit points exactly. That -10 rule is really more of a clock that can run out if the combat the players are in starts to drag out. Note that Gygax gives Dungeon Masters latitude to allow this special case to be extended to include hits that drop characters down to the -1 to -3 range.

So if you want to dial back the meat-grinder you get in the early levels of D&D, crank this setting up to -3. If you’d like a game where player characters die at rates comparable to those in #BasicLevel games, then leave it at zero!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Walk through Harnmaster - Introduction

Bat in the Attic - Sat, 04/25/2020 - 15:14
Columbia games is running a kickstarter to reprint the Harnmaster Boxed Set and improve the graphics.  There is a couple of days left and I figure it would be useful to run through the system so you have a better idea of what the system is about.

Harnmaster is divided into loose leaf articles meant to be placed in a 3-ring binder. There were a few exceptions but the whole line was published like this after the mid 80s.

Circa 2010

Circa 2020IntroductionThis is a 2 page article outlining the system and their philosophy. The basic gist is stated in this sentenceHârnMaster is a fantasy role-playing game in which players assume the identities of characters who explore and experience a fantasy world.The Gamemaster (GM)Their view of the role of the gamemaster is summarized belowThe Gamemaster (GM) is apart from the players and functions much like a referee at a sports event. Among many other things, the GM controls weather and climate, societies and institutions, and deities and religions.The GM stands between the fantasy world and the players, describing and explaining it, and operating the denizens that hinder the PCs’ lives. But the GM also operates Non-Player Characters (NPCs) who can befriend and assist PCs and should never, therefore, be viewed as the “enemy.”The introduction also includes this about the playersThe players’ challenge is to explore the fantasy world, meet it on its own terms, and succeed according to the goals they set for themselves.The sidebar explains the other products in the Harnmaster system.
General InformationThis is a short section explaining all the terms, conventions, and abbreviation used in the rules.
Rob's CommentsOne of the reason I like Harnmaster and product is that their view of how to run a campaign closely aligns with mine. Most of their products I found highly useful for my Majestic Wilderlands setting because of this.
Next Characters

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The High Moors

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 04/25/2020 - 11:11
Stephen J. Jones Unsound Methods 5e/OSR Levels 1-9

The High Moors beckon… Little is known of the Ieldra – a race of cruel and depraved elves that once ruled the northern tableland called The High Moors – and no one has seen an elf in living memory. Their civilisation is dead, destroyed by an incursion from the Far Realm brought about by their hubris. The ruins of the High Moors have lain undisturbed for centuries. With news from a successful expedition, people have finally considered the treasures waiting to be discovered in the forgotten north.  A number of expeditions have now been dispatched to bring back magic and riches. Unfortunately, danger, horror and madness awaits most of them.

This 198 page “adventure” is actually a mini-campaign setting, taking characters from level one through about level nine by way of a hexcrawl with about seventy location of varying depth. It’s above average, as hex crawls go, in terms of the situations developed and the adventures support for it. For $10, you get an entire campaign … not a bad deal at all!

So, a campaign setting. This means gods, races, leveling, coin systems, and other details have been changed. This hex crawl makes sense in the world that it lives in and would be quite the challenge to move it, unless it’s a pocket dimension, etc. It is such a Of This Place that conversions are going to be difficult. It’s a Gold=XP system, for 5e (and easily enough older school D&D) that also has attached to it unique roles for dwarves, elves, goblins, halflings, demons, giants, and a myriad of other races. It’s going to hard to fit this in without some effort … but … it does contain enough adventure in it to handle levels one through nine. So, why fit it in at all? Just start a new campaign using this, make it the centerpiece, and off you go!

The core of the adventure are the hex locations, about sixty scattered across three maps, each of which is about 11 hexes by 15 hexes, with a 1 hex=12 mile scale. These tend to stretch out to a page or so, especially where stat blocks are involved. In spite of this, they entries are relatively well organized. Each one tends to starts with an overview, what you might see from a distance as you approach, and then additional detail as you get up closer. Finally, the individual elements of the “up close” view get their own little bolded section that describes what it going on with them in a format that is relatively easy to scan. These locations have SUBSTANTIAL mysteries to solve, things that are missing, NPC’s to interact with, and so on. There is definitely some potential energy in the vast majority of the encounters.These are not the static models of Isle of the Unknown, but rather something more akin  to the newer Wilderlands, that had more detail and the old Wilderlands. Interactive, lengthy, but generally easy to follow. There’s only so much you can do, though, via a pig-man village and the intrigue therein without running the words the top of the bowl. The same with the ruins, or mini-dungeons prevalent throughout the hex crawl. There’s just a degree of abstraction that you have to accept with a hex crawl. The hexes need to do a good job to inspire the DM because there’s just no word budget for detail. Nor should there be.

A substantial element to a hex crawl campaign is getting the players crawling and keeping them exploring. Numerous hooks are suggested, both more generic ones and then also more race-specific ones, which come off a little like secret society missions. Combined with the need to explore for coin purposes (you spend your coin, one GP to train for 1 xp) and magic then you get a nice little loop of coin, hooks, and missions you pick up out in the wilderness/hexes. It’s good. I think it more than adequately covers the pretext needed to play D&D tonight.

I’m pretty happy with this. The setting has a lot going on, factions and the like, along with some substantial “game world” mysteries to resolve. There are numerous opportunities to screw things up “Broodmother Skyfortress”/Rients style. There’s good cross-referencing, generally, and good imagery. The setup for the various sites seem interesting and more than throw-away sites. At one point there’s an invisible chain, going up in to the sky, that you can hear but not see. Climbing up it reveals a platform and a building to explore. It’s done very well. And almost everything is done well in this. There are significantly more highs than lows. 

It feels like this was done in word, or some such, with a 2-column format used. This FEELS off, in place, maybe a little amateurish? I appreciate the singular effort of a designer, but the product could have been better with good layout. Not that it’s bad. Maybe it just REMINDS me of the look of products that ARE bad?

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages, but not very good. It’s just the first eleven pages, which cover a bit of the overview. A few of the hexes would have been a much better preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

25% Off Coupon Code Extended

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 04/25/2020 - 01:50
Well if we have to stay home anyway...
Use the coupon code 
and get 25% off of your order.
Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

AD&D Session 5: Altar of the Beast-women

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sat, 04/25/2020 - 01:22

In the intervening week since last session I revisited my sewer dungeon and touched it up a bit. This mostly consisted of deciding what treasure was well and the status and posture of what was guarding it. The players were quite alarmed by the dog men’s incremental improvement in coordination and tactics.last time and suggested the possibility of coming in through a different entrance in order to be less predictable, so nailing down what the sewers were like in every direction seemed like a sound use of prep time.

Game night arrives and (per Gygax’s direction) we no have a full week of game time to catch up on. This is a truly stellar rule as the monster’s have a chance to lick their wounds, injured players have time to recuperate, and players have have a chance to attend to all the stuff they don’t do when they’re own adventures. If you don’t play the “one real day = one game day” rule, then the focus of play becomes entirely and ONLY about the adventure. Flip that one switch and the campaign gains a chance to breath, everything has a chance to grow organically.

The party’s cleric that serves the hilarious proto-god Issek is, for example, spending his off time begging on The Street of the Gods. (He put a few coppers in the tin in order to make people think people are giving.) The paladin meanwhile spent the entire week praying and fasting. (When asked which the holy symbol of his faith was he immediately replied that it was a cross. Good man!) Everyone else was presumably chasing trollops.

Word on the street is that your mom is a changeling.

The ranger was a special case, though. I had a rumor I’d been sitting on for weeks because no one would talk to my NPC ranger in the tavern. (If you knew what sort of humiliations they’ve endured at the hands of new school DM’s that have stripped them utterly of any kind of agency, you would grasp how this sort of thing can happen.) Then last week, the PC ranger was wanting to buy a horse. Inspiration: why not let the player be that guy that finds out stuff? PROBLEMS SOLVED! Even better, the fact that the players literally have the reigns of the campaign shifted even further into their control. That’s how you win are rpgs right there, y’all!

One other thing we clarified here was that Keebler Khan’s mom is not part of anything like some sort of broader elf culture. There’s just not that much in the way of any kind of demi-humans in the realm. Occasionally a human child is replaced by what people believe to be changelings. Many of these freakish children end up abandoned, consumed by the streets of Trollopulous. Pretty sad! Not a whole lot of perks for the odd demi-human freak in this world.

Anyways, I start the game with the ranger’s player’s scouting run. He suspects the dog men are coming and going to the city from some other entrance. I tell him he sees the sewage pass out of the city into a swamp to the west, but that it’s covered with metal bars. The players want to know about other entrances into the sewers besides that and I say that there are other manhole covers to the west, the south and the northeast– kind of randomly, really. Almost as if the city were randomly built on top of something else.

I ask the ranger what else he sees on his scouting, hoping he would improvise some random details I could incorporate into the game. No such luck! Turns out nobody knows anything about the world outside the sewers. I tell them there are jungles to the north, which surprises them. There are wild men to the south, a sea to the southeast, and mountains to the southwest.

I tell them the ranger came across some tracks heading south. Maybe 20, 30, 40 (?) creatures… big…. Some of the players want to follow them. Others say that they are afraid to go back and tangle with the dog men. Why would they tangle with something bigger and more numerous? The players debate a while and finally decide they want go find where the tracks came from.

This is of course in a place where I have spent next to no time prepping. I surreptitiously roll on a random table in the back of the Fiend Folio while the players start planning their excursion and shopping for mules, pith helmets, etc. They travel a day to the jungle’s edge and we stop to double check that this is even according the rules. It all comes down to how much it’s rained in the past week. Like how many hours even.

Anyway, I rule that with the ranger’s help they can follow this trail. They make it to these cyclopean ruins at about five o’clock in the evening on the second game day of the session. They’re at a big outer wall. There’s places where it’s fallen in. Up above they can see a temple in amid the huge ruined pile. The paladin suggests tying the mules to the wall so that they can go up and investigate.

As the party nears the temple, they hear the sound of drumming. Inside there is a naked woman on the alter. She is surrounded by ape-men. One of them is about to sacrifice her. The party attacks with ranged weapons and takes out the guy with the knife. The ranger rushes in Errol Flynn style but there is an earthquake the rest of the party is blocked off from him.

The other players decide to disbelieve the illusion. Three of them walk through the rubble and inside the temple. Inside, everything has changed. There are two beast-women inside, each with the body of a lion and the torso, arms, and head of a woman. There is a fight and gradually the players elect to retreat back through the illusory rubble.

Moments later it dissipates and they see everything’s changed again. They hear screams for help from a passage beyond the alter, but can’t tell whether it is from the left way or the right. One of the clerics immediately declares that he is pushing the alter, because there is always a secret passage underneath them. It budges and there is a staircase down. Keebler Kahn leads the way with his predator-vision. There is one beast-woman down there with the ranger! The party rolls in and the paladin finishes her off with an epic blow while the ranger protests.

The players collect 5000 electrum from the scene, camp in the vicinity, and then head back to Trolopulous for a well earned rest.

I was thinking that one of the clerics would have enough experience to level after this game, but double checking the rules this long heralded event is going to have to be postponed. The cleric’s experience point total is frozen until he can come up with enough gold– 1875 piece– to pay for his training!

He doesn’t even have a third of the necessary funds.

This game is unreal!

Keebler Khan was knocked down to -2 hit points again. With two clerics and a paladin in the party, there was little chance of this being life-threatening. With the exception of the initial total party kill, there have been no player character deaths even with  several saves versus poison having to be made. While AD&D is absolutely punishing with its training requirements for leveling, the negative hit point rule combined with the large amount of healing spells make the player characters practically indestructible when compared to their B/X counterparts.

Still, the ranger very nearly didn’t make it out of this one!

Characters in this game:

Arthur the Gallant (7 hits) [Delves 2, 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 122 + 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 2046

Hans Franzen the Swoleceror (2 hits, Burning hands, Jump, Message, Read Magic) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 1924

Torin the Runner (7 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 = 1924

Aulis Martel the Acolyte (8 hits) [Delves 3a, 3b, 4 and 5] XP: 753 + 351 + 54 + 766 => [Frozen at 1500 until he levels!]

Keebler Khan the Veteran/Prestidigitator (5 hits, Charm Person, Spider Climb, Write, Read Magic) [Delve 3a and 5] XP: 753 + 766 = 1519

Gregg the Acolyte (10 hits) [Delves 4 and 5] XP: 54 + 766 = 820

Note: These XP totals do not include any bonuses due to high prime requisites.

Experience and treasure:

2096 XP for killing monsters plus 5000 electrum gives a total of 4596 XP divided six ways for 766 each!


Day 1: The Hole in the Sky

Day 2: The Thing in the Sewer

Day 7: The Big Score part I

Day 8: The Big Score part II

(Day 9-14 — player characters all carousing¹; Keebler Khan fully recovered) <—- I day of real world time = one day of game time!)

Day 15: The Drums of the Dog People

(Day 16-21: More carousing, fasting, panhandling.)

Day 22-25: Altar of the Beast-women



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of the Splintered Realm Now Available

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 04/25/2020 - 00:54
Tales of the Splintered Realm, the Complete Rules has been released.
Welcome to the Splintered Realm. Don your armor, heft your weapon, and prepare your magic. Adventure awaits.
In this fantasy roleplaying game, you will play a heroic player character in a fellowship of other heroes, taking on the role of your character. You will use these rules, an assortment of dice, and your imagination to help build a shared tale of the Splintered Realm.
This game is released under the Open Game License, with original content released under a Creative Commons Share-Alike License. You are free to take, adapt, modify, and re-publish this work as you see fit.
All you need is this book, a stack of graph paper, a pencil, and some dice that you fill in with a crayon, and you’ll be ready to play.
A print edition will be available by May 15; you will receive a code to take $4.95 off the cover price when the print edition is available (getting the print edition for $10.00 instead of $14.95).

Review & Commentary On Castles & Crusades Expanding Classes By Mark Sandy

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 20:11
"Most everyone wants an edge, an angle that allows them to take that extra step, achieve that extra goal, to surprise the enemy. This angle, in hard fought battles with certain loss, can turn and snatch victory from the jaws of disaster. Expanding Classes is just that angle. Herein we delve into the 13 standard C&C classes, and the Rune Mark, and unleash the power of multiclassing, enhanced Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sinbad's Seventh Voyage Mapped

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 11:00

"Unfathomable" Jason Sholtis clued me in to this cool map from the Dell Comics' adaptation of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It seems perfect for an adventure or island crawl.

1d10 Random Magical Caskets of the Damned & Unclaimed For Your Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 02:47
The Three Caskets, Plate 2, Stories from Old English Poetry In ancient temples, ruins long forgotten, & dungeons undreamt of by man there are objects of occult power & supernatural violence that exist in forgotten corners. They hold the bones of the damned & saints of the unholy whose voices have been forgotten by history itself. The oceans have drank the continents & the seas have eroded Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Play Test Report Part B

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 21:06
Got to play test the warden and the bard, and learned some cool things...

The warden is actually overpowered. He had nearly as much firepower as the magic user, but also gets some healing, some defense, better armor, a fair weapon attack. He has got it all. The warden is definitely my answer to the B/X elf. I like the difference between them, though - it's a totally different set of magic you have as a warden than as a magic user, even though there are comparable effects. I had originally built the warden magic as 1 die back from comparable magic user stuff - if a tier 4 area of effect is dealing level d10 damage for a magic user, I had it as level d8 for the warden. I have pulled that back another die, so now those effects are level d6. You are still a viable offensive caster, but you are not packing the punch of a magic user.

The bard was AWESOME. Loved it. Simply fantastic. He doesn't get the high damage spells, because they don't kick in until tier 3+ (fireball), but that is no good against a fire giant, so I skipped it, and went with utility: hastes, slows, levitates, shield... this battle was about using magic to support a levitating bard raining arrows down on frustrated (and slowed) fire giant.

One other thing was that the timing of spells, with a turn being only a minute, and consisting of ten rounds, was perfect. I had to consider strategy with spell rotations - had to stop firing the bow a round before I wanted to because the levitate was wearing off and had to re-cast it, and once haste dropped, it was more effective to start throwing arcane darts (a guaranteed hit) than to keep up with the bow. 3 bow attacks with a 50% chance of hitting and 7 average damage were better than a guaranteed average of 10 at first... but not after haste dropped and it was 2 attacks. I felt a little bit like I was racing the clock - I did NOT want slow wearing off on that giant and for him to start throwing a boulder every round. I expected the bard to get owned; he was actually pretty awesome.

Niche Characters

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 15:01
I do my best thinking while doing dishes and mowing the lawn. Truly.

And I just washed a big ol' sinkful of dishes.

In thinking about the warden and bard, and how to distinguish them a little, I had a few revelations that I'm excited to test.

For the warden, I realized that I had left the classic ranger idea of the hated enemy out of the game. I'm not sure how that happened - it has been part of most fantasy game engines I've toyed with over the last several decades, yet somehow it eluded inclusion in this version. It makes sense for a warden to have a hated enemy, and it makes sense for the warden's ability to ramp up considerably. A bonus of + level to all rolls against that enemy makes sense to me, and is VERY powerful, but also very niche. I'm going to play test with it vs. giants. Yeah. He should be excellent against giants. But I would think he'd be pretty mediocre against the giant without it. I'll probably simulate both just to see. I like this a lot - it allows the warden to really shine and dominate in certain encounters, but to be a support character the rest of the time. (I would think 'humanoids would be an enemy against any humanoid of small or medium size, while giants and their kin would be against large or bigger humanoids... thinking on this further).

For the bard, I realized that he doesn't shine during combat. He shines before and after it. It's in those quiet moments when nothing is really happening, but we're either recovering from or preparing for adventure. I am thinking of these sorts of things:

- Your song allows all allies within 30' to add your CHA modifier to their resting healing rolls.
- Your song protects the fellowship from any chance of a random encounter while you are singing.
- Your song allows all casters (yourself included) to recover a certain number of slots of spells. You may have used up your daily spell limit, but the bard can sing you into a few extra spells today. It would be small - maybe CHA modifier slots total. Hey, one extra tier 2 spell today is a help.
- Your song protects those within 30' from scrying, crystal balls, and arcane eyes.
- Your song reveals the presence of all traps within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all magic within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all enemies within 30'. (this one could be REALLY powerful if used in the middle of a packed inn). As you string your lyre and prepare to sing, that shifty dude in the corner makes sure to get at least 31' feet away from you... I'd call that a tell.

You would get to use your song your level times per day, and each time you use it you could stack in a number of effects equal to your CHA modifier (minimum of 1). So, a bard 3 could sing 3x per day. If he has CHA 14 (+3) he would be able to stack 3 of these effects together at once. In combat, the bard is okay, and can basically back up any caster in a pinch. Outside of combat, he makes your fellowship much more durable and resilient. You wouldn't be able to sing twice in a row; I'm thinking there has to be an hour cool down between uses or something.

I REALLY like this. It's much more of a roleplaying thing, and makes those quiet moments between combat important, too. It FEELS more bard to me, which is nice.

And THAT... is why we playtest

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 12:51
Yesterday, I threw together a set of level 5 characters with solid gear and good abilities, to represent what a level 5 character of each class might look like. I made them all human, and gave them the same attribute distribution (albeit in different attributes). I gave them max hit points. A tried to balance abilities and magic for efficiency.
And then I had each of them fight a fire giant. I got through the first four, and I'll play out the other two today.
It was... interesting.
The fighter was the most straight-up battle. He just kept hitting the giant hard, and the giant would hit him back harder. It was a straight-up slugfust. The fighter won in 8 rounds. It was a 2-hand fighter; I might try a sword and shield fighter as well, just to see the difference. I'm starting to think that 2-hand might be underpowered, or that sword and shield is overpowered. We'll find out. As it is, the fighter's higher AC and excellent damage output meant the fight was never really in doubt. He missed an unusual number of times as well, so the fight should have probably been even quicker than it was.
The magic user was a rout. He dropped ice storm, then hold monster, then a few more ice storms. He used up all of his tier 4 spells, and finished with an arcane dart to seal the deal, but once the giant failed the hold monster resist Feat, it didn't matter. Six rounds total. If the giant had made the Feat to resist hold monster, it MIGHT have been a different situation... but the magic user still had a few big guns to pull out if needed. There was a whole layer of potential strategy to prolong the fight if he had to. But it was never needed.
The thief was where I learned a lot. As written, the thief is pretty weak. Only one attack per round with a dagger and a pretty meh sneak attack. The sneak attack was successful, but only dealt an extra 11 points of damage. Against a foe with 100 hp? Not gonna matter. And it didn't. There was the possibility of an instant kill with assassination, but it's a small chance that didn't happen. The thief kept hitting, but he just could not match the damage output. Not that he SHOULD, but he should at least be competitive. I went back and added options for two weapon fighting and archery to the thief, making him a viable backup fighter (but still not nearly as effective as a true fighter), and upped the damage die on the sneak attacks from d4 to d6. It also made me revisit poison damage, which had all been level d4s. A wyvern sting deals an extra 6 points? Nope. Not a real threat. I have changed poison throughout to D6s, which are still not automatic kills, but at least they feel a little worse. I might end up going to D8s, since you get a Feat to resist. I mean, if a wyvern is going to sting you, you should have a risk of dying from it. 3d8 means you could sustain up to 24 points of damage, and that makes more sense than the 12 point cap that is currently in place.
The friar was, far and away, the most fun. He was able to deal consistent damage. He had a lot of options during the fight. He dropped sanctuary twice, allowing him to rest, cast healing spells, activate spiritual hammers, put up some vigor, and jump back into the fight. It went 17 rounds, with the friar almost dying twice, and he managed to whittle away the giant over time. He had to use a blade barrier strategically coming out of his second sanctuary to hem the giant in (and deal some quick damage) and ultimately took home a victory. I love everything about this class.
Today I will test the warden and the bard. I have a few predictions:
The warden will feel midway between the magic user and friar. His melee is weaker than the friar, but his spells are able to take bigger chunks of damage. He doesn't have the "I win" button that the magic user does, but he can still do more offensively than the friar regarding magic.
The bard is kind of a mess. I LOVE the idea of chants, but I can already see that they are going to be relatively innocuous in actual play. I mean, the idea of regenerating 1 point of damage per round all the time feels good, except when faced with a foe who can deal an average of 20 points per round. The idea that you could compel him to listen to you during combat is nice, but what are you going to do once he's compelled? It's not like you have any way to really deal significant damage. The bard is the ultimate support character and jack of all trades - that is both his strength and his weakness. I've already revised so that he takes a tier of magic every level, and will always end up with 2 tiers each of arcane, faith, and nature. I might change this so that you can take any tier you want, but you are limited to tier 3 - the thing is that I don't want a bard keeping pace with another caster. If I set a limit that you cannot learn the same spell type two levels in a row, that solves it. You can alternate between arcane and faith, for instance, and ignore nature altogether (if that's the kind of bard you want), but you still will never be as good as a magic user or friar in their arena. The bard is also going to default to the bow as the go to weapon. He's going to get archery, giving him two attacks per round when he's not casting, which will be helpful. Again, he's the ultimate support character. He's going to get owned by the giant. I just want him to be able to do a few things before he dies.  
I've spent twenty years trying to get chants into the core of the system. I may have to wait another twenty before I really figure out how to do it well.

Hero Forge in Color

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:00
The beta of the color version of Hero Forge is available to those of us that backed the Kickstarter, and I have been having fun playing with it. It really has a lot of options. Here are some of things I've done so far:

This is a Demonlander (Tiefling) Sorcerer from my Land of Azurth campaign.

Here's another character from that campaign. He has a shield with a hole to a void between dimension affixed to it. Maybe once the decals are added, I'll have a better way to represent that.

This is a recreation of an 80s Remco action figure, The Jewel Thief (part of there Conan line). The toy was made of translucent plastic, so I gave his body a red jewel color/texture, which turned out pretty well but may not come through so well in the picture.

I'm interested to see what the color will look like printed for the characters from my game.

Troll Lords Castles & Crusades Unboxing & OSR Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 19:57
A week or so ago there were several issues in my personal neck of the OSR. I went to look around for some books that I've been missing in my personal Castles & Crusades collection Expanding Classes, Classic Monsters & Treasure 2nd Printing, & Castles & Crusades Character Classes.  These  books were holes in the C&C collection especially the two PC books for expanding the player's options. Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Classes and Flavor

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:38
The core rules have six classes available, and I wanted to find a balance between presenting the classic tropes, and reflecting this world. Classes are where you kind of put your stamp on the game, since it's the most visible flavor piece from a player's perspective.

So, there are three classic tropes: the fighter, the magic user, and the thief. These hew as close as possible to the source material, while still being the best fit for this game. They, and their abilities, are directly inspired by B/X.

But, the three others are unique to my world, drawing from multiple sources.

The warden is inspired by the druid, but it's not really a druid. It's more of a cleric of the wilderness, if that makes sense.

The bard is more aligned with role playing. Bards get chants, which work different from the other three kinds of magic. I have wanted to put chants in the core rules for a long time, and I found a simple way to layer them in. They are nifty and different. You don't lose anything by not using bards (and ignoring the class altogether if you really want to), but they add a different layer to the game that I like.

The friar is the last one I solved. Originally, it was just a re-skinned cleric, but I have shifted it subtly to be a bit more monkish. The friar has light armor and weapons, but gets to carry a quarterstaff. The friar attacks twice each round with the quarterstaff, damage increases every level, and it is always considered an enchanted weapon - so a friar at level 1 can hit anything with it.

The friar and warden reflect the religious realities of this world. The true goddess has died, and other things have stepped up to fill the void. There has been a return to worshiping nature, and the warden has emerged as an important religious leader that is trying to fill that gap. Friars hold on to the past, looking to restore the goddess. It's sort of a reversal of a classic paradigm. The contemporary worship is in the past, while more pagan beliefs are coming to the fore. The idea of a temple in town where a bunch of priests are sitting around isn't really a thing. The temples are old, many relegated to the role of museum of the distant past, with a few lonely caretakers.

The Ghoul Prince

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:06
By Zzarchov Kowolski DIY RPG Productions DCC Level 3

Behold the gripping terror of the GHOUL PRINCE, bargain your very skeleton to the unsettling BONE LADY, and claim the powers of the mysterious DEMON IDOL.

This 22 page adventure is a stunt dungeon that uses four pages to describe the same dungeon in five different ways. Decent map for its size, nicely evocative interior, interesting monsters (as all DCC creatures should be) and good magic items combine with some pretty good interactivity. An interesting project that proves the point it trying to make.

Sometimes designers have interesting ideas and want to explore them, and this is one such case. Can you take a standard dungeon and write it in such a way that you can retheme it easily/ Can it be written so that it can be a desert tomb, or an alpine mausoleum, or an iron-age bog tomb? Can you seperate the theme from the specifics and/or do it in such a way that it can serve several purposes? That’s what Zz is trying to do here, and what he succeeds at … at least in a dungeon of this size.

So, twenty rooms and four pages in a 22 page adventure … something is up, right? Eight or so pages are concerned with the specific theming. For each of three environments, plus your own, two pages are spent on what the various elements are themed as. What do magic symbols look like in a desert tomb as opposed to a bog tomb as opposed to an alpine mausoleum. What is does the trap on the chest consist of? What type of sword is the magic sword, and so on. There are a few more pages explaining the stunt concept and then a few giving some background on the guy whos tomb you’re about to rob, and his relationship to a new patron. The end of the book as new magic items, new monsters, a patron, etc. 

The idea here is that you are going to take the two pages specific to the theme you’ve chosen and have then ready as a reference as you run the four pages of the actual dungeon. Here’s an example of how this works with the dungeon rooms. The entrance, body, wards are all described in the theming page, with the bodies being described as “Leathery bog mummies.” 

A: Entryway

A sloping set of stairs lead down from the [Entrance]. A [Body] is curled into a foetal position at the bottom, surrounded by crudely made [Wards].

Monsters and magic are good, exactly as one would expect from a game with no monster manual or magic item list. Everything is nicely unique, with their own non-standard abilities. The lack of standard monsters and magic items is one of the things that makes DCC great, and Zz does a good job creating some new monsters and items to fill in nicely. Terrifying, unique powers, and objects of desire.Keeping the players on their toes, never knowing what the monsters abilities are, no monster manual to memorize and therefore remove the fear from a terrifying new encounter. No mundanity and victorian-era lists to catalog and remove the wonder of discovery from new items. 

The map is a small dyson one, with twenty rooms, but one of the better ones. There are a couple of places where one section crosses over another, or same-level stairs, details are nicely placed on the ma and it looks suitably rough for an old tomb. I’ve been down on Dyson maps in the map. Too often a designer will take a small uninteresting one and try to build something around it. He does do good ones as well, even at this small size. I wish people would gravitate towards those instead.

So, put it together and you’ve got a pretty decently themed dungeon, with good interactivity. It’s got a nice villain to chase you around, Jason-style, things to use in the dungeon against him, mysteries to unlock and lots and lots of ways to die. All in a package that is four packages in one. You could take any one of themes and have a pretty good dungeon exploration with it. I DO think, though, that the format is going to wear a little thing in larger dungeons. There’s only so many ways you can say “magic wards” and have it come out inspiring and well. T some point the two page reference sheet will grow longer and at that point the utility will break down. For these smaller style dungeons, though, sure. Three dungeon themes to fit your specific campaign world, plus a couple of blank sheets to fit in to your.This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see the intro, background, and part of a theming page spread. Ok, but a room encounter would have been nice as well.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Harnmaster Kickstarter

Bat in the Attic - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:09
Columbia Games decided it was time to spruce up their Harnmaster boxed set and order a new printing. You can get on the action on kickstarter.

Harnmaster has long been one of my favorite RPGs. You can read a detailed account of a session in my 911 call from the Attic post.

It a skill based system that uses a d100. It oriented heavily towards the medieval side of fantasy compared to other fantasy RPGs. It combat system is without comparison for how realistic it feels yet remaining playable. The key is a set of well laid out charts that make resolution a snap and bloody.

It also a combat system without hit points. Characters suffer injuries which reduce skills levels as well as a force a saving throw. The saves are where the bad things happen like shock, stumble, fumble, and of course the dreaded kill result.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kobold Den

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 22:07
In play testing, my character found a map (it was a random treasure) in the lair of a giant bat. I decided this would be an area beyond the secret door in the starter dungeon for the core rules. This will ultimately be the first expansion for the game (because I'm already working on THAT). The idea is that I'm going to build a mega-dungeon over time. This is part of level 1, where it connects to the sewers under Stalwart Keep. I have learned to appreciate the value of secret doors - you can have a whole lot of things happening right next to each other if one side is not aware of the door.

In this case, a pack of kobolds set up shop in what was an abandoned start to a mine. They sneak into the sewers to hunt rats and spiders. It's fun. But then the gibbering mouther that lives in the muck pit (former start of a mine) in the middle drove their clan chief mad. And he started to sacrifice bigger and bigger things to it. And they tried to give it a rot creeper as a special treat. But the creeper wasn't as dead as they thought it was. And it ended up killing their chief. So now, they are holed up in the northwest corner, the creeper patrols the south hall, and a few guards have been forced to stand watch in the east, behind a barricade of garbage, to keep the creeper at bay. And there's a living statue that knows not to attack the kobolds. And that mouther just keeps screeching all the time, and everyone is a little on edge about it. And nobody knows that there has been a well-hidden secret door in the southwest that leads to dungeon level 2 there the whole time.


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