Thursday, January 26, 2012

More On Type V

Apparently, over on the "DnDNext" boards on the WotC website, there is a poll on what people want from the new edition. Crazy ideas like "healing surges" and "encounter powers" are winning in those polls, from what I hear. That's neat, but I wonder how WotC expected any other result on boards that have been colonized by 4E as a result of the marketing strategy that Hasbro/WotC has been pursuing.

So, if these polls are taken seriously at all, what we'll end up seeing is just another 4E. If that's a sound marketing move, then why is WotC even embarking in this direction in the first place? If D&D 5E looks like just another iteration of "computer rpg on the tabletop", why would they expect that to go over any better than 4E did? On the one hand, that should make Paizo happy (Pathfinder wouldn't lose any business that way), but on the other hand, WotC wouldn't regain any market share. On the gripping hand, there's OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, and so on, so who cares what happens with WotC? I mean, I'd like to have "D&D" back as a name, but ultimately names are just what we call things, not the things themselves.

I've been thinking about this matter, and here's still what I want from WotC that they haven't already given us: a reprint of Chainmail, the White Box, and the four supplements. That's it. They're already giving us reprints of 1E, now give us 0E.

Not that WotC is going to listen to a little blog like this one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pimping Ponies

The great blogger Erin Palette has written a short set of rules (6 pages), based on the Unknown Armies system and titled Unknown Ponies: Failure Is Awesome, for games set in the background of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. You know that you want to look.


So, I've been persuaded that the spam problem is already contained at the Blogger level. As a result, I've shut off word verification here. If spam becomes a problem, I'll turn it back on, but judging by the reported experiences of others, that shouldn't be necessary.

House Rules At The End Of Time

A game that I am nearly prepared to run, Terra Ultima is a science-fantasy setting, with some mild changes from the basic Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox rules. Here are most of them.

Character Creation

Stats are rolled 3d6 in order. Additional stat: Social Standing.

Only three classes are available for Humans: Fighting Man, Magic User, and Rogue Magic User. Levels above 10 require 2X the number of experience points as the previous level, but humans have no limits. Rogue Magic Users use the Cleric experience chart, but gain spells as per the Rogue in Savage Swords of Athanor.

Skills are taken from Savage Swords of Athanor, as well. Choose one from Group I or two from Group II. Other skills may be available, ask the Referee (specifically, any Secondary Skill listed in the 1E DMG is probably available as a Group II skill, except Trader).

The races available, other than Humans, include Dwarves (who may choose between two classes, Fighting Man - limited to level 6 - and Crafter, a special class limited to level 8), or Elves (who must choose between Fighting Man and Magic User at moonrise each day, limited to level 4 in the former and level 8 in the latter).

Hit dice are rolled at each new level gained, with a minimum number of hit points equal to those previously held. In addition, at first level, take the higher of 1 hit die for "normal man/dwarf" status or the hit dice of first level (so that a human Magic User or dwarven Crafter would roll 2d6, taking the higher of the two, or a human or dwarven Fighting Man would roll 1d6 and 1d6+1, taking the higher result), while elves roll 1d6 for 1st level Magic User and 1d6+1 for 1st level Fighting Man, taking the higher of the two.

Magic Users start with a free spell book containing Read Magic and three other spells chosen randomly. Magic Users and Rogue Magic Users may cast any spell from a list that includes spells from both the Magic User and Cleric lists in the Whitebox rules (at first level, this includes all of those on the Magic User list (except Light, but read further), plus Cure Light Wounds, Light (Dark), and Purify (Putrify) Food and Drink).


Use the Encumbrance by Stone rules.

Money is changed considerably. Most coins are silver pennies or copper farthings. A farthing is valued at one-fourth of a penny. A gold crown weighs as much as five pennies or farthings, and is valued at 240 pennies. 500 pennies or farthings can be carried per bundle, 2500 per stone weight (as noted, a crown coin weighs as much as five pennies or farthings). Starting money is Social Standing x10 pennies. Experience points for treasure are 1 xp per penny.

The equipment cost list will be different than that in Whitebox. It will include some science fantasy items taken from Terminal Space. Energy cells will exist and be expensive, however, and there is no space travel.


Some more changes from the spell lists include Raise Dead being a 6th level spell, and Astral Spell and Restoration (from the Core Rules) being 6th level spells. Otherwise, all spells in the Whitebox rules exist, at the earliest level they appear (except Quest, which is a 6th level spell, and Commune, which does not exist - use Contact Other Plane instead, and use the version of that spell in the Core Rules since the Whitebox one doesn't make any sense at all). If there is a Magic User and Cleric version of the same spell, then the Magic User version takes precedence (except in the case of Light).


Mounted men are -2 to be hit by footmen; +2 to hit footmen; and +4 to hit in the initial charging round. Footmen attacking mounted roll 1d6: 1-3 attack mount, 4-6 attack rider (mounted attacking mounted may choose which to attack).

Charge-round sequence: (1) mount & rider move to lance range, delivering initial attack; (2) mount continues move to first target or one behind it, delivering one hoof/trample/smashing attack; (3) mount & rider continue balance of movement if way is clear.

(I don't recall where I got that from.)

Fighting Men (only) with shields can attempt to take blows on their shield. If attempted, roll a save (after damage is rolled), modified for the shield's magic bonuses. Success avoids all damage from one attack, but shatters the shield, making it useless. Failure has no effect. Magic shields mark one tally on a successful save instead; when tallies exceed the magic bonus, then they shatter. Against magic attacks and breath weapons, normal shields cannot be used in this way, but a magic shield can be sacrificed automatically (given a tally mark, don't roll to save) for an automatic save against the attack. (This is a variation of Shields Shall Be Splintered!)

(Additional edit, 27 January 2012): Fighting Men with shields parry normal missile weapons as above, but the shield does not shatter when so used.

Unarmed combat will be handled using rules similar to System I from Unearthed Arcana (1E).

Morale will be taken directly from the rules in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

A character may fight with a second weapon in his off-hand. This gives a +1 to hit for the character's attack (or attacks, for a Fighting Man of 2nd or higher level attacking 1HD opponents).

Missile weapons are given a range 1/2 that listed (for those in Whitebox; Terminal Space weapons exchange meters for feet, then halve, except for Rifles which have a range of 125 ft). They attack at normal odds at up to Short Range (x1), at -2 at up to Medium Range (x2), or at -5 at up to Long Range (x4).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Imagine That They Said "Boo-Yah!" When Posting The Press Release

I can hardly keep up with the news coming out of WotC lately. It's almost as though they actually decided to listen to their audience this time (yes, those 4E scars run deep).

For the one person out there who hasn't heard yet, but also happens to read this blog (yeah, I doubt that person exists, too), not only have WotC announced a new edition of D&D which, they claim, will be usable by anyone regardless of whether they prefer older or newer styles of gaming, but they have also announced a new printing of 1E AD&D's three core books (PH, MM, and DMG). The new printing will be priced in the same range as the originals (adjusted for inflation, of course), and the proceeds will also help support the Gygax Memorial Fund. The only questionable thing is that they plan to use all-new cover artwork - but the interiors of the books will be using the original art.

Now if they'd only release a new printing of the White Box (and maybe the four supplements).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gah! Not More Inspiration…

So, I was reading a blog on nongaming matters (yeah, I know), and I ran across some ideas for what may be another neat sword & sorcery background. OK, it's really a sort of exaggerated look at the world around us, but it's specifically worded in ways to emphasize the, as the blog author puts it, pulp fantasy nature of the world we find ourselves in. Check these out (from here):
• We live in a world dominated by a vast, slowly decaying empire that gets quite literally superhuman powers by feeding on what we may as well call the blood of the Earth;
• That empire is ruled by a decadent aristocracy that holds court in soaring towers and bolsters its crumbling authority by conjuring vast amounts of wealth out of thin air;
• Backing the aristocracy is a caste of corrupt sorcerers whose incantations, projected into every home through the power of the blood of the Earth, keep the populace disorganized, deluded and passive;
• Entire provinces of the empire are ravaged by droughts, storms, and other disasters caused by the misuse of the Earth’s blood, while prophecies from the past warn of much worse to come;
• Meanwhile, far from the centers of power, the members of a scattered fellowship struggle to find and learn the forgotten lore of an earlier time, which might just hold the secret of survival...
Who is the hero or the heroine who will turn the pages of the long-lost Gaianomicon, use its forgotten lore to forge a wand of power out of the rays of the Sun, shatter the deceptive spells of the lords of High Finance, and rise up amidst the wreckage of a dying empire to become one of the seedbearers of an age that is not yet born?
It would make a good counterpoint, I think, to my Terra Ultima setting. Maybe I'll have to run two different games.

Initial thoughts: magic as technology (needs a magic item creation system); alternate magic system using the black blood of the Earth (maybe similar to defiler magic from Dark Sun?) which makes magic items easier to make, and gives more power to the user than the normal magic system, though not overwhelmingly so; alchemical overlords transforming the black blood of the Earth into gold; and so on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Balance? We Don't Need No Stinking Balance!

One of the things that killed WotC D&D, in my opinion, is the emphasis on "balance". As in, every encounter should be "balanced" to the characters in the game. These metagaming considerations do make for an interesting competitive game, so I won't denigrate that consideration on that basis.

The thing is, though, that adventure games ("role-playing games") are not competitive games.

Now, now, I can hear some people out there already saying that there's been a long tradition of the adversarial DM whose every move was dedicated toward fiendish new ways to kill characters. I'd like to put that rumor to rest and note that it is bullshit (although not unadulterated bullshit, as I'll discuss in a moment), based on hyperbolic writing by some players who wanted to glorify their own exploits. "I got my character to 10th level, even though we had a DM who killed characters with a fiendish glee!" sounds a heck of a lot better than "My character got to 18th level under a Monty Haul DM." Now, when those writers published all of that, some new DMs read it and thought to themselves, "Oh, I guess that I should be playing against the PCs". And so a cycle of abuse was created.

No, what those fiendish DMs were really doing was something else. They were providing challenges to the players, not to the characters. One of the neat things about tabletop adventure games that will be a long time coming with computer versions is that the players can try anything. At all. And, if the designer didn't think of it, they can still try it and potentially succeed. This is an amazing innovation, derived from miniatures wargaming. See, back in the day, miniatures wargaming rules were, uh, a little sketchy. They were designed to cover some basic interactions, but beyond issues like casualties, movement, and morale, they didn't really cover strange situations. In a "friendly" game, the players would work out something between them that would seem to cover the situation, and in a tournament or otherwise competitive game, they'd enlist the aid of a neutral referee to the same end.

Now, this idea developed in early adventure gaming into the idea of the DM, who would design the scenario in which the players would manipulate their single figures (either explicitly, on the table, or implicitly, in imagination), and would also act as an impartial referee, ruling on the outcome of unusual actions (those outside of casualty infliction, movement, or the other issues covered under the rules). The DM would design situations that were interesting, that had no obvious solution (at times, she might even design a situation which had no predesigned solution), and so were challenging to the players. Success, in such a case, is not based entirely on the numbers on the character sheet, but on the skill of the player himself.

In a literary example (which I keep going to, since it is both iconic and therefore well-known, and also philosophically appropriate), Bilbo missed out on the xp for killing Smaug. Bard got those. But the Arkenstone was worth more xp , anyway. And even if Bilbo had worked himself up to 4th level and so hit his level limit, the true value of the Arkenstone was revealed in the way that he leveraged that item into a situation of a peacefully-coexisting dwarven keep Under the Mountain and Laketown. He made a difference in the world, and returned home with enough treasure to ensure his comfort to the end of his days. He didn't need a "balanced" encounter with Smaug. He used his ingenuity to set up a situation in which Smaug was defeated, despite the imbalance of the encounter.

What were his (theoretical) player's "victory conditions"? Not to level up, that's for sure. Not to gain untold amounts of wealth and power. They were to do what he did, I'd guess: make a permanent mark on the campaign world that the player could point to and say, "I had a major hand in that situation being as good as it is. And here is how it happened…" That's how stories come out of gaming, not by being scripted into the game, but by being descriptions of the game.

The Topic Du Jour

OK, so what I want out of the 5th (or 15th, depending on how you count it*) published version of D&D is pretty much summed up by Jeff Rients. (If you agree with his open letter, link to it on your blog or wherever, to boost the Google ranking.)

And that's pretty much all I have to say about something that I haven't seen yet.

*And here's how I count it:

1: 0E: The White Box with its three LBBs
2: 0.5E: The supplements to 0E
3: Holmes D&D
4: 1E: AD&D
5: B/X D&D
7: 1.5E: Unearthed Arcana
8: 2E: AD&D 2E
9: Rules Cyclopedia D&D (though changes from BECMI were minimal, they did exist, notably in the handling of Immortal level characters)
10: 2.5E: Player's Options books
11: 3E: WotC 3E
12: 3.5E: WotC 3.5E
13: 4E: WotC 4E
14: 4.5E: WotC D&D Essentials (thanks to Arkhein for pointing this out to my 4E-deficient brain)
15: alleged WotC 5E

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Demihuman Level Limits?

There's some discussion out there in the OSR blogosphere about demihuman level limits. Some people, as has always been the case, hate them and refuse to use them. Others think that they are a necessary part of the game, and useful to emphasize the humanocentric nature of the sort of swords & sorcery fantasy that is the implied subject of most games with levels. Certainly, the increased numbers of players with demihuman characters in modern D&D games would seem to indicate that there should be some sort of factor to discourage their play. The question is, should that factor be something so seemingly metagame-y as level limits.

It's important, I think, to figure out just what character levels and experience points represent in the game. That is, what are they, besides a game convenience? The normal idea is that levels represent a level of skill and training. This is supported by the idea of training for level increases in the 1E DMG. However, it is countered by looking at what events garner experience points, and by examining some other issues. For instance, a 1st-level Fighting Man is not described as being in training: he is called a "Veteran" in the editions which used level titles. That is, he is someone who has already learned the techniques of his craft and had occasion to apply them in practice. He is a veteran, not a tyro. Similarly, as Talysman points out, the Magic User and the Cleric imply that the starting character has learned what he can from his instructors. And experience points are not given for training, or even for practicing skills. They are given for acquiring treasure and destroying (or defeating, in some formulations) foes.

So, why would a character have experience points in exchange for picking up some coins or for putting a sword through the heart of a goblin? I think that the answer is to be found in another game, Pendragon. In that game, an analogous quantity called Glory is the goal of the players. Glory is acquired for similar (though not identical) reasons as experience points. The amount of Glory gained represents the reputation, temporal power, and spiritual accomplishment of the character. Similarly, experience points (and therefore levels) seem to represent the success and worldly power of the character. That is, it is a concept very similar to the Polynesian, specifically Maori, concept of mana (not to be confused with the appropriation of that term in gaming to mean, merely, "magic points"; as an aside, I'm curious to know where the earliest use of the term in that capacity occurred). That is, it is authority and luck and reputation and power and confidence (both self- and that of others).

Now, given that, it becomes more obvious as to why demihumans, in a humanocentric, sword & sorcery world, have level limits. As Talysman notes, elves and dwarves and halflings are all seen as secondary to human concerns. Not many humans, in such worlds, will subject themselves to even elven kings, much less dwarven or (ha!) hobbit ones. Humans are the measure of all things in such worlds, and it is only they who can reach the highest realms of authority and power, not only in the realm of temporal power and politics, but in the more mystic worlds of arcane and clerical magic. This is further borne out by the later Thief class, which did not limit levels of demihumans, but which is the most mundane class of them all, with little interest in the rarefied realms of political, arcane, or spiritual power.

So, level limits seem important for both metagame reasons (discouraging the use of demihuman characters without artificial "balancing") and for reasons of simulation within the context of the material. It's only those games which didn't share that context that made the limits nonsensical (but, then, there are many other aspects of the rules which wouldn't then fit into those games). This is interesting to consider in context of the WRG Ancients RPG I am working on.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why GURPS Greyhawk?

I was thinking about the matter of converting from one system to another. It's true that I like GURPS, but I also like D&D. So why convert Greyhawk, already well-established as a D&D property, with D&D stats ready and waiting, into GURPS, which is a lot of effort? I have a number of reasons, some of which I want to mention here.

First, there's the matter of tone. D&D has a tendency toward a particular type of heroic, "cinematic" play that follows certain narrative conventions. GURPS, on the other hand, works toward a different style, even when it is used with "cinematic" optional rules. Think of it as the difference between, on the one hand, Robert E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the other. That's not to say that either author represents either rule set, only that there is clearly a difference in tone.

Second, by playing with the stat blocks, I hope to illuminate the ways in which each rule set abstracts certain aspects of the fictional reality they represent. That is, I can look at the factors which make up "hit points" in D&D, but are detailed out in GURPS. Similarly, social structures are abstracted into specific modifiers in GURPS, but are dealt with more subtly in D&D, mainly through adjudication. Mostly, though, I'm trying to work out what a "level" is, what "hit points" are, and so on in D&D. By doing so, I hope to improve my D&D games.

Next, sometimes it's easier to get a game together if it has a particular premise. The idea of GURPS Greyhawk is just plain interesting to some people, and should gather an actual gaming group. I would like that, actually, though I'm pretty sure that my next face-to-face group is going to focus on Swords & Wizardy: Whitebox.

Also, with luck, I'll get some of you commenting on the entries, and providing critiques and suggestions for various matters.

Finally, one of the things about GURPS (or any rule set really, but GURPS specifically) is that it helps to practice using its rules in various ways. This is sometimes called "system mastery", and is useful when running just about any game, not to mention when playing some of them. By working out conversions (and the project as I conceive it is extensive - I hope to eventually provide a stat block for at least every entry on every encounter table in the Greyhawk boxed set and the DMG, for instance), I get to practice using GURPS, which is good for my purposes.

Oh, yeah. And why Greyhawk, specifically? That's easy. Greyhawk was the first fantasy game world I ever read about. I owned the folio edition (the original one I owned has since been destroyed, but I have replaced it, as well as getting a copy of the boxed set). So, it's pretty much nostalgia. However, there are aspects of the Flanaess that are especially interesting to me, such as the general atmosphere of medieval Europe combined with fantasy elements in a particular way. Greyhawk is prototypical of fantasy gaming worlds, and has only rarely been equaled.