Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Make Pits & Perils Lethal Again!

Welcome to 2017 and the new, improved Pits Perilous (same as the previous version, but now bi-weekly)!  And with the holidays behind us and everyone (hopefully) rested and ready for action, there's never been a better time for us to reduce our workload and the time we spend blogging.  What can we say?  Laziness rules...

But it's not all doom and gloom.  We're working on the Opherian Scrolls expansion to Blood of Pangea, which is our little foray into the OTHER sword and sorcery tradition: meaning dark fantasy after Lieber and Moorcock.  You know, the 60s and 70s stuff complete with anti-heroes and wicked, soul-sucking swords?

So yeah, we're keeping busy, which I suppose gives us an excuse!

In the meantime, let's talk lethal.  Those who know and play our games know we value narrative over detailed rules because what happens in the adventure is ultimately more important than the rules used to get us there.  And old-school games make much of player agency and interpersonal negotiation.  We just formalize this with rules that (deliberately) keep things simple and open-ended.

Opherian Scrolls draws
from this sword and sorcery tradition...

Accordingly, Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea, and, of course, our own Pits & Perils, offer somewhat more survivable characters because when role-playing and interaction are prioritized, we can only assume that participation, and not sudden death, is what really matters here.  This is the experience people want...

Except when they DON'T.  And some of you do prefer it lethal!

So here's a little freebie (assuming you haven't developed your own house rules) for variable damage and lethality:


And if you REALLY wanna make things lethal, use the revised hit point rules from The Collected Pits & Perils House Rules from Yerth appendix and watch the heroes fall!  Oh, and enemies are generally treated as combatants, with the possible exception of commoners, although the city guard might be both common AND tough, armed with the right weaponry.  If you want lethal, here's a way to go.

Now some of you are probably using the UNTRAINED rule from the Referee Companion.  In this case, damage is 1 up to 9, adding all applicable bonuses for weapon type.  Easy enough...

Two WARHOGS from the
decidedly more lethal Maze of Memory...
    
We need to emphasize here that individual referees should already know their players and what is takes to challenge them, making these provisions optional.  The ball's pretty much in YOUR court.     

Of course, the above applies to Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea, and Pits & Perils and will appear in the soon-to-be released Olde House Rules Combat Companion, so this is a PREVIEW!  You can expect critical hit tables and alternate rules for magical armor and weaponry to keep things interesting.  So yes, we've been BUSY!

But if you like to kill with careless abandon and want something more along the lines of an elimination dungeon, check out our humble The Maze of Memory, designed specifically for one-shot games, but expandable for campaign play.  It's our first to use polyhedral dice and features character creation DURING play.  Look it up.  

Anyway, we wish everyone a safe and happy year ahead!  Now, if we could just pull away from Netflix long enough to make some real progress on this stuff.  Robyn is good, but I'm starting to discover that I have a favorite chair (50, you know).  Rest assured, though, we're playtesting like mad and promise to get this stuff going...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Blanket Thrown Over the Gears...

Role-playing has two elements.  First, the mechanical and/or quantitative aspects expressed through numerical simulation and manipulation.  But also more qualitative fare, like who, what, where, and when in a living world.  Who wants to inhabit a place of numbers when they can actually do things in a world of cause and effect - and do so in true, fantasy novel fashion?

Simulation gets us there.  But only if we understand gameplay mechanics as machinery over which we throw a clever disguise, much like a colorful blanket of imagination.  Gaming, from the very beginning, exploited this model, and in the capable hands of clever and creative players, the possibilities are endless...   

OK, so let's turn OD&D into a historical game.  Easy.  Make all characters either fighters or thieves.  No magic or non-human races, just humans.  Religion and magic use are social constructs, and magicians, in particular, are either deluded or (rather more likely) conscious charlatans.  The details will otherwise correspond to whatever historical period is ultimately chosen.

And we can prod this forward in time, treating firearms as various bows for damage purposes and assigning ammunition as befits the weaponry in question.  This covers anything from the Victorian era to the early twentieth century to contemporary times, noting that computers and modern vehicles are peripheral elements requiring few, if any, additional rules or new mechanics.

See, all we're really doing here is changing the blanket!

Mechanics make things go, but
without a mask, it's a pretty dull affair...

This enables everything from gangsters to the world wars (and you can take your pick).  But we can also roll back our prohibitions on magic to get something truly Lovecraftian if we want it...

Those having intelligence or wisdom greater than 13 may attempt to read scrolls or spell books, but must save vs. insanity or suffer gradual (and progressive) mental injury culminating in a full-blown malady per the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (page 83).

All such magic is ritual unless sworn to the service of some supernatural entity, whereas they become functional clerics having access to whatever clerical and magic-user spells the DM judges suitable.  Magic items may or may not be available, but will likely be dangerous and require saving dice against insanity as per the above rules, being ancient and of inhuman origin.

Obviously, demons, the undead, and any number of other monsters; whether extra-dimensional or otherwise, can be used.  Perhaps mind flayers and githyanki re-purposed and renamed to reflect a more nihilistic bent.  And those lucky souls having access to the first printing of Deities & Demigods can involve Cthulhu and company along with the assorted demon lords.  The stats aren't hard to find.

We're not saying you shouldn't buy Call of Cthulhu (we highly encourage it).  But we ARE suggesting that it isn't necessary if you have the requisite ambition.  Blankets are fun to make...

Pay no attention to the man behind
the curtain.  The action is really all up front...

Of course, truly ambitious DMs can push the campaign ever farther ahead in time for a futuristic experience.  Non-humans become extraterrestrials, with clerics and magic users being re-imagined as psionic beings with access to suitable spell effects (this can be challenging, but fun).  Perhaps dwarves are a burrowing race hailing from a sun-blasted world and forced to dig underground...

Guns (again) are bows for damage purposes, armor is advanced polymer comparable to its medieval equivalent, and spacecraft are no different from ships and similar vessels in your standard D&D game, subject to whatever additional rules you wish to add!

In many respects, rules are simply a mechanical frame over which colorful skins can be thrown.  Arrows to bullets to blazing plasma thrown from an alien blaster rifle - it's just damage and range mechanically speaking.  But the campaign; the adventures so created are many and varied, and firing blasters at squid-like aliens in some abandoned space station is FAR different from lobbing arrows at the King's Guard in the Halls of Lord Thoth! 

Face it.  This versatility is what made OD&D so exciting in the beginning and goes a long way towards explaining why D&D (through its latest iteration) remains the most popular game today.  Our hobby attracts clever, creative people who'll jump at the chance to throw that blanket over the gears!  And with so many systems now available; each with their own mechanics ripe for the changing, the fun is likely to continue for as long as the gears whirl...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Games We Play #1 (Mount & Blade Warband)...

In the interest of full disclosure, we probably design more games than we actually play, and we haven't been doing much of that lately, although we have some ideas in mind.  However, we DO enjoy computer games and probably spend more time with them because they're generally easier and fun to play, especially when you just want to relax at the computer on a cold Nebraska day.  

So in the first of what we suppose will end up being a series, albeit a broken one, here's the first in our survey of computer-type entertainments.  Now Robyn prefers traditional role-playing with customizable characters (Dragon Age, etc.) and is currently rocking Fallout 4 with such ferocious skill that it's scary (I wanna take her to the range and see how she does)...    

But THIS time we're talking about MY favorite: Mount & Blade, or its great stand-alone update: Mount & Blade Warband!   

Oh, and with the holiday weekend coming up, it's probably a good time to tell you we're taking the rest of the month off and probably going to a bi-weekly format.  But enough logistics.  Let's visit storied Calradia, a land torn by incessant warfare and badly in need of unity and a king to make it happen.  Could that be YOU?       

Warband puts you into the action
instead of above it for total immersion...

This underappreciated gem is a role-playing war-game.  You get to design your own character, right down to a very detailed face generator, and explore the open world of Calradia with its various and constantly warring factions.  You can move across the map, visiting cities and recruiting a band of warriors while fighting bandits on the map or undertaking quests for the local Guild Master or village elder, and do so in first or third person.

Oh, and you can be male or female too, ladies!

But you can also visit the arenas and fight for cash or bet on yourself in tournaments, which is awesome fun.  In time, you'll want to sell yourself (and your company) as a mercenary or distinguish yourself and receive an offer of vassalage from one of the many lords, joining one of five factions (kingdoms) and receiving lands and revenue in exchange for your service.  

And it's here that things start to get interesting, because who hasn't dreamed of conquering a kingdom and bring peace or hear your name spoken in awe.  This is definitely the game to do that!

You can customize your character's
appearance and make an original warlord...

You can manage your castles, towns, and/or villages (each is a separate category), working to make your subjects like you because this generates more revenue in the form of taxes.  Much needed revenue, in fact, because you have to pay your warband and whatever garrisons you have in your castles and towns.  Indeed, staying in the black can be tough because good troops DO cost money.

All the while, you'll be fighting enemy armies and laying siege to their fortresses while defending your own.  And all of this is experienced in first/third person instead of the usual, and boring, isometric view of other games.  You can ride into battle on your steed, arrange your forces, and participate in the fight, going at your enemies alongside your troops.  Indeed, one really exciting feature of the game is the ability to issue commands to your various units; stationing archers on the hill, holding cavalry in reserve, and charging with your infantry.  It's serious fun...

Throughout it all, you'll have a chance to gather companions (NPC henchmen complete with unique personalities and a tendency to squabble with each other) and interact with friendly and rival lords both on and off the battlefield, making friends and, frequently, enemies in true role-playing fashion.  Oh, and you can ransom your defeated foes, making a little extra coin in the process!

Walk the towns peacefully 
or battle street-to-street in sieges...

Now, if all of this sounds like role-playing, that's because it definitely is.  Your character (and your companions) will even gain experience and rise in level, assigning points to various combat skills and becoming better combatants.  And the skill system rivals that of many pen-and paper games, which is awesome...

But there's also a strong element of resource management and overarching strategy.  This has been done before, but I really think Mount & Blade succeeds where others fail because of the decidedly personal (role-playing) aspects.  This isn't just some hero fighting for victory.  This is YOU, the player, at work.  

One interesting feature of the game is that characters, and the various lords, cannot be killed.  Instead, your character is taken prisoner, loses their troops (and some money), and eventually escapes to go it alone (at great risk) until they reach a castle or city and builds a new warband to go forth and exact revenge!

Ultimately, your faction may (or may not) win.  But there's always the option of rebelling against your liege and establishing your own kingdom in a rousing final war.  It's your choice, and I've tried both approaches.  Hey, it really is good to be king...

The upcoming Bannerlord sequel
adds much and looks quite promising...
Computer gamers know that sometimes, especially with more linear titles, the replay value is sometimes lacking.  But Mount & Blade is literally a different game every time because you're approach will surely vary from game to game.  It feels like the goals and projects we undertake in real life, which makes it quite addictive!

I really can't say enough good about this little treasure, and recommend it to any like-minded gamers...  
  
Warning: This sweet gem will widow(er) your spouse or significant other, so proceed with caution!  And like many games, there's a Nexus page to download fan-created mods; some, like the Prophesy of Pendor module, amounting to a complete and total overhaul of the original (vanilla) version (each is a NEW game).

Mount & Blade Warband is available on Amazon or Steam, but it's worth noting that there's a sequel: M&B Bannerlord in the works and visible on Steam.  But until that comes out (I'm drooling on my keyboard), you'll definitely want to pick up the CURRENT version to whet your war-gaming appetite.  The graphics are slightly dated, although a few mods improve things considerably, and there isn't any voice acting.  But I think it rises above all that and RULES...     

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Mushy Middle Strikes Back!

Those who know Robyn and I personally know we aren't all that big into ideologies, but prefer to evaluate specific claims individually and on the basis of their merits.  And the fact that this blog has been attacked from BOTH sides of the ideological divide is a source of pride and a good indicator that we're succeeding.

At some point, we have to just be PEOPLE and respond to each other naturally as HUMAN BEINGS.  Forget ideology and forget buzzwords and politics.  We need to occupy the MUSHY MIDDLE!      

Now we get correspondence and feedback.  Much of it positive, but occasionally, we've been questioned, which is fair enough and actually a necessary GOOD.  We respect these folks, even if we don't otherwise agree, and others might wonder where we stand on topical issues since we don't do topical stuff very often...

So here's where we respond, en masse, to these questions:

One anonymous reader responded to an earlier post about Undoing Gender Limits in AD&D, suggesting that we were just trying to pick a fight SJW style, to which we reply...

Dear Anonymous: Is ANY attempt to be decent, fair, and/or kind to others "social justice warfare?"  And since when did excluding good 
people from a fun pastime somehow become sensible?

The old man gets on his soapbox...

Another took exception to our previous The Real "Problem" with Gaming post.  Specifically, they felt that I was being dismissive of the very real abuse too many women experience:    

Dear Worried: Look at our games and their credits.  Robyn (a bona fide female) is my COLLABORATOR.  I LOVE and RESPECT her as an absolute EQUAL.  And while I sometimes make stupid assumptions, I'm willing to admit my mistakes and LISTEN...

But I stand by my words.  Gamers ARE a subset of the general population, and any problems the hobby has (beyond those exclusive to gameplay mechanics) are IMPORTED from that group.

I don't recall saying this wasn't a problem, and any honest examination of the larger population makes it clear that the abuse of women happens all too often.  I don't think I can make it any clearer that I think this is TERRIBLE...

Oh, and attacking me and calling me an ASSHOLE while simultaneously declaring your moral superiority wasn't very convincing!

Look, I'm not perfect.  But I honestly don't want to hurt or otherwise exclude anyone unfairly.  I'll make mistakes and sometimes fall prey to my own embedded prejudices, but I'm willing to hear others out and CHANGE, and I'd rather be a warts-and-all HUMAN than some artificial and self-aggrandizing (read: insincere) poser.

Oh, and just to be clear, I didn't vote for Trump and don't condone his comments as REMOTELY in the realm of honest mistakes...

Another sexist and non-inclusive
session of Pits & Perils at KantCon 2015! 

Finally, someone (presumably a censor) took exception to our Memorial Day post on Stupid Gor and Foolish Censors.  They claimed that denying someone a platform for their speech was somehow an exercise in free speech!  This was DISTURBING:

Dear Censor: You're just WRONG.  Freedom of speech is utterly meaningless unless it's given to EVERYONE.  Freedom of YOUR speech to the exclusion of all others is selfish TYRANNY... 

Instead of silencing others, try creating YOUR OWN platform and participate in the marketplace of ideas.  Participate in the debate and work to change minds.  Otherwise, be prepared to explain how defending YOUR freedom by censoring others ISN'T selfish.

I think I referred to it as the perfection of narcissism, and your position quite possibly bears this out...

The truth is, we come up against both extremes in the gaming community and have our own thoughts.  On the one hand, you have the guys who predictably come unhinged whenever someone suggests that racism and/or sexism is real and reflexively froth at the mouth when female bloggers call for inclusion.   

On the other side you have the "virtue signalers" who make a grotesque spectacle of their ideology, often by censoring those who disagree with them!  Both are living STEREOTYPES, and we suspect reality favors those of us in the so-called MUSHY MIDDLE! 

That's it for mail call!  We appreciate everyone's comments and feedback and truly respect those who disagree with us.  Gaming has problems because HUMANS have problems.  But we can solve many of them by treating others as we'd like to be treated and acting on our best moral instincts to live (and role-play) well with others...