Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Retro Gear #2: The Silver Sphere

In keeping with our continuing series on Retro-Gear, and with Halloween just around the corner, we present the silver ball from the creepy and excellent Phantasm movie from 1979!  Now if you haven't seen this yet, buy or rent it and enjoy a truly atmospheric experience.  Sure, it's a low-budget movie.  But it's also quite good, and if you take nothing else away from this...

It all begins with the "Tall Men"; a race of extra-dimensional outsiders who appear as large (6' tall) humanoids.  These travel the universe, establishing themselves as legitimate members of society and using the ruse to collect the dead.  That's right.  The Tall Men seek the recently dead for SLAVES; reanimating them through some unknown means and then crushing them down to dwarf size (typically, around 3-4') to suit the gravity of their world.

The dwarfs are shipped in barrels and teleported by means of mysterious metal pillars.  These stand 3' tall and are always found in pairs, having 2-3' between them, with some reports suggesting they operate like a tuning fork, employing vibration to open the way into their red and barren home world...

Standing between these and placing one hand on each pillar is normally enough to activate the portal, noting that those who do so inadvertently can be retrieved by a nearby companion if they can reach into the void within 1 round and make saving dice.  Otherwise, the victim is lost, although, presumably, able to return through some other portal on the other side, and this can signal the start of a new adventure if the referee is willing!

The Tall Men command the silver
spheres and come seeking our dead...

The Tall Men often set themselves up as undertakers or related professionals, exploiting this ready access to the dead for their own nefarious purposes.  Note here that only the most observant characters will notice anything amiss; perhaps their unusually high strength or strange behavior, etc.  Once suspicion this sets in, however, the Tall Men move quickly to silence the curious, whether sending dwarf slaves or dealing with them personally.

DEAD-DWARF (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(claws) LEVEL: 1 (1-3 HP)  MOVE: 40'  SIDE: C 

The dead-dwarfs are squat and deformed, although this is typically hidden beneath simple cloaks.  They are NOT true undead.

TALL MEN (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(*) LEVEL: 3 (3-8 HP)  MOVE: 30'  SIDE: C

Tall men avoid engaging in prolonged conversation, but are highly intelligent and treated as physically strong.  They have total control over nearby dwarfs, but will otherwise use a SILVER SPHERE to hunt down their unfortunate quarry.  Another ability includes regeneration (1 HP/turn), and should any limb be amputated, it will become a CADAVER-BUG in 1d6 rounds and attack the enemy.

These dwarfs are killer.  Well,
actually, they're already quite dead...

SILVER SPHERES are as big as a baseball, but appear as a smooth metallic silver.  These are controlled by the Tall Men and are highly maneuverable, flying 60' and easily turning sharp corners at full speed, possibly under psychic command.  Spheres sprout any number of scalpel-like implements, and upon a successful hit (treat as 6th level for attacks), deliver 1d6+1 hits per round until the target is slain or otherwise rescued...

Assume these are indestructible and unusable by others, although telepathic control should not extend beyond 120'.

CADAVER-BUG (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(*) LEVEL: 1 (1 HP)  MOVE: 90'  SIDE: N

These terrible creatures appear as leprous, bloated flies small enough to fit in the palm of the hand.  These can fly at incredible speed and deal an automatic 1 hit of damage per round on contact with living flesh.  Cadaver bugs are easily contained...   

Once again, it is unclear whether the Tall Men are a magical or technological civilization.  These details are left to the referee, who should have no problem introducing them.  Happy Halloween!    

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's Your Sign?

Astrology was an important part of the medieval worldview, but is underrepresented in many (if not most) RPGs.  So here's a little bit that adds this important element to your old-school games, with an emphasis on common ground between different systems:

First, players must roll 1d12 to determine their SIGN, noting that the actual dates associated with each may vary by campaign and should be left to the individual DM/GM/referee...

                      1 Aquarius       7 Leo
                      2 Pisces         8 Virgo 
                      3 Aries          9 Libra
                      4 Taurus         10 Scorpio       
                      5 Gemini         11 Sagittarius
                      6 Cancer         12 Capricorn

Alternately, players may be allowed to CHOOSE, but then, who really gets to decide their birthday?  We suggest rolling instead...

Astrology was fundamental to the
medieval mindset and can
be explored within RPG campaigns... 

Astrological signs grant abilities as follows, noting that players can decide when to invoke these:

AQUARIUS: Luck; add +1d6 GP to spoils at division of treasure
PISCES: Mysticism; roll saving dice versus magic at +1  
ARIES: Travel; add +10' to movement per melee round 
TAURUS: Well-being; add +1 to healing dice from potions and spells 
GEMINI: Lore; identify any potion/scroll (never magic items)  
CANCER: Reasoning; receive one clue from DM/GM/referee as requested 
LEO: Justice; add +1 to dice for a single non-combat action
VIRGO: Attraction; improved dealing with opposite sex 
LIBRA: Peace; secure favorable response in non-combat situation 
SCORPIO: Vengeance; deal an automatic 1 HP damage if injured in the preceding combat round (must be armed and within range)
SAGITTARIUS: Teaching; add +1 to party actions when the character is in a position to instruct their friends (spy reports, etc.)  
CAPRICORN: Death; re-roll saving dice at +1 in fatal situations  

Note: Powers derived from the above may only be attempted once per game day and never last more than 1 turn, where applicable.

Individual DMs/GMs/referees can add to this and/or develop entirely original systems as their campaigns require.  The stars know all!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Retro Gear #1: Laserblast

Anyone growing up in the 1970s knows it was a special time for geekdom.  Fantasy and sci-fi were present, but far from mainstream, and fantasy fans had to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks and entertain themselves. 

But while such fantasy had not yet become mainstream, there were many movies, some better than others, that benefitted greatly from the innocence of a genre that had not yet become widespread or a product for mass consumption.  These movies were fun fare, but also contained some great ideas for fantasy gaming, which is something we'll continue to explore on this page...

So to get things started, here's a bit from LASERBLAST, a sci-fi film from 1978.  Being a blog of Olde House Rules, everything here corresponds to one or more of our systems, but easily tailored to whatever you happen to use...

The LASERBLAST is a powerful handheld plasma cannon of uncertain, albeit clearly alien, origin.  It appears as a 3' long metal cylinder with a slot on one end to insert the arm and a handle to hold and direct fire with the other, making this a two-handed weapon that precludes double wielding or shield use.

The laserblast irrevocably mutates
its wielder into a homicidal form with an
uncontrollable urge to kill!

As an apparent safety measure, the cannon requires use of a shimmering metallic amulet composed of an alien alloy and probably technological in origin, although without discernable mechanical components.  This appears to impart some basic knowledge of the item and its operation, if only on a subconscious level, such that the weapon is useless without it. 

The laserblast has an effective range of 200' and deals an impressive 3d6 damage.  If used to target any flammable substance, to include internal combustion engines, the judge/referee might assign one of more additional dice of damage within a 30' radius as befitting the conditions at hand, normally +1-2d6. 


An object of alien design, the laserblast does not appear to requires ammunition.  Some have speculated that it draws power from the user itself, although it most likely employs some unknown and highly sophisticated internal fusion...

Unfortunately, and owing to its alien origin, most races cannot handle the laserblast without terrible side effects!  After each day of use (including non-combat practice), the user must roll saving dice at a cumulative -1 per day to avoid mutating (perhaps radiation is involved) and being taken over by the judge.

The Toir-Tois relentlessly hunt down
lost laserblasts and the mutated beings who wield
them, but are apparently benign...

Such mutants become homicidal killers who use their power to annihilate friend or foe indiscriminately, although, otherwise still vulnerable to normal attacks per the system being used.

Laserblasts make their way into many worlds, even crossing other dimensions such that they may appear in fantasy settings, like Blood of Pangea and Pits & Perils, or more mundane (historical) realms, including Barons of Braunstein or more modern games.  In fact, some report that a laserblast was found on Earth in the 1970s, although its final disposition remains unknown.


While the origin of the laserblast is unknown, it appears that an alien species, called the TOIR-TOIS, are actively engaged in hunting these weapons down and, where necessary, destroying their mutated wielders.  These appear as large (10' tall) humanoid tortoises with hand-held blasters dealing 1d6 damage per combat round:

 TYPE: TOIR-TOIS  LIFE: 15   MOVE: 40'  DAMAGE/BONUS: +1 (1d6)

The above is based on Blood of Pangea: Retrospace, although anyone familiar with the source material can easily adapt these to whatever rules are being used.  The Toir-Tois travel between worlds using advanced spacecraft capable of transporting up to 6 individuals and crossing a single system in 1d6 days on notification of activity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Not As Old-School As We Think...

Now we love old-school gaming and have built our entire catalogue around the idea of emulating it.  Indeed, the amateur production and design alone does something to promote this.  And it doesn't stop there, as many of our design choices reflect old-school ideals as we understand them, and will share again:

Our hobby is 40+ years old, so we need to reconcile the current state of the hobby with its history, and old-school is more enduring than recreating any one system.

In short, old-school means enthusiastic amateurs making their own fun, and although we can't create the hobby all over again, original house rules and a DIY mindset keeps that spirit alive.  This fact accounts for the OTHER elements of old-school...

(1) A division of labor between the players and GM,

(2) An emphasis on decision-making, exploration, and role-playing over systems that "automate" these processes, which means that players must explain exactly how they're searching for traps rather than rolling a spot check for success and,

(3) Open-ended gameplay where players are free to innovate, and referees are encouraged (indeed, expected) to add or change anything to suit their own campaign and/or playing style.

This happens around tables all the time, and as it represents the state of the hobby in the early days, it's a throwback to old-school philosophies that survive (and thrive) to this day...

And our products have been fairly transparent about this as a specific design goal.  This goes for Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea, (and Retrospace), and Pits & Perils.

Crappy little rulebooks manually done
in someone's basement?  Check!  Open-ended
gameplay where players have to work
for it?  You bet!  But this stuff is also
quite modern in approach and design... 

But our games are also quite modern...

(1) All feature a consistent core mechanic.  OD&D was rife with competing sub-systems.  Combat was resolved differently from magic, which, in turn, differed from stealth.

(2) Player characters are generally more durable.  Not every encounter is going to be your last.  Instead, characters accumulate injury over time and MAY die if foolish and/or unlucky.  This creates an environment more akin to books, movies, and television, where a stable cadre of "heroes" engage in continuing adventures and death is an ongoing risk that sometimes plays out...     

(3) In the case of Barons and Blood of Pangea, hit points are replaced with LUCK/LIFE/MIGHT that can be spent improving rolls as well as surviving any physical trauma, etc.

So this is our disclosure.  Pure "old-school" might not exist, although varying degrees persist in modern systems, and the best we can do is emphasize its finer ideals.  Moreover, our own products represent a blend of old and new, and for all their old-school leanings (it's there), what we do is also more modern...

Is old-school dead?  Far from it!  It lives on in every session where the GM makes an on-the-spot ruling or whips out their homemade hit-location tables and/or makes the players explain themselves or act out exchanges instead of rolling dice.  Old-school lives on!