Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

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...

Monday, November 7, 2016

RPGs Weren't Originally War-Games...

Last week, we talked about combat tables in D&D and wondered why things didn't start out simple and gradually evolve into the greater complexity that really appears to have characterized the earliest editions of the game.  But we also acknowledged that systems tend to become more streamlined over time, implying that the earliest state of the hobby looked more like its middle period MIGHT have; simple at first, clunky in the middle, and more streamlined at the end.  

This time, we'll delve a little deeper...

Now, many readers (rightly) pointed out that the combat and other tables were derived from the original war-games from which our hobby was born.  This is accurate, sort of.  Anyone introduced to the pastime in 1978 couldn't easily escape this fact and probably learned from people who still played historical simulations and had a table in their garage or basement complete with rolling hills and model terrain.  Indeed, an eleven-year-old me remembers playing in a friend's garage on a Saturday night in August of that year.  "Kiss You All Over" by Exile was booming on someone's car radio, and we debated the wisdom of missing our 70s television lineup.  But this game, which already seemed to have a long and storied history (an impressive four years on the market), had us hooked!

War-gaming was always an important part of D&D's development.  So much so, in fact, that it might come as a surprise that role-playing DIDN'T ACTUALLY BEGIN AS A CONVERTED WAR-GAME...

No, role-playing sprang from David Wesley's original Braunstein game(s), which were every bit as free-form and simple as I argued the first RPGs SHOULD have been.  For the uninitiated, and because we like the story, here goes:  Back in 1969, Wesley took a break from his usual Napoleonic games and prepared something a little different.  The game was set in the eponymous German town of Braunstein (Brown Stone), and the table was set out with model buildings and railroad parts in typical war-gaming fashion, although here's where the similarity ends.  Each player was given a prepared character, perhaps the town mayor or a student radical, complete with their own motivations and conditions of "victory" in a game that emphasized role-playing and personal interaction over combat and the formal imposition of history on their choices.  Indeed, there were no charts (beyond the notes Wesley prepared for the session) or personal statistics.  The characters were described QUALITATIVELY, and their abilities and aptitude for certain tasks were derived from THIS as a judgment call.

At what point did gaming become
a technically complex and convoluted mess?

Knowing Wesley as a friend has yielded sweet fruit, as he's a great person and a veritable font of gaming wisdom that's always fun to hear.  So we'll quote HIM on this matter:        

"I would resolve most doubtful questions by letting the player roll dice: The banker jumps into the river to escape the angry student mob:  I say “roll 2d6: being a fat old man, you need a high number”.  He rolls 7, and I say “Do you drop the bag of gold?” and he says “Oh yes” and I say “Roll again” he rolls 12 and I say “you grab a floating body and it keeps you from drowning while you drift downstream away from the falls.  You lucky devil” or he rolls a 5 and I say, “Too bad you didn’t drop it before you dove in.  Your body will be found in a few days.”

Now, this left much to the referee's rulings, but these were DEFENSIBLE rulings because they cited the qualitative facts of the character.  Of course a fat old banker isn't going to swim as well as an athletic young student, especially when weighed down with gold!  This is standard fare, in fact...

But there are TWO important points here.  First, this was an ORIGINAL concept almost completely divorced from traditional war-gaming with all its charts and tables.  At the same time, even the SIMPLEST attempt to formalize its mechanics would have resulted in the kind of ultra-simple system we advocated for!  

Our rhetorical question has already been answered.  Gaming DID start out simple.  Super-simple, in fact!

Our attempt at a basic timeline
totally open to revision, dear readers!

So how did war-games, with all their complexity (and we mean charts and tables here), come to predominate in the early hobby?  Once again, there are good reasons for this:

(1) WESLEY JOINED THE ARMY because Vietnam was still a thing, and he was called to serve, leaving his regular Braunstein games to his friend, Dave Arneson.  And boy did he run with it!  

(2) ARNESON'S BLACKMOOR was a "medieval" Braunstein that introduced fantastic elements to the game and was also, incidentally, a play on its naming convention (Brown Stone, Black Moor), which you may or may not have noticed.  And yes, Grey Hawk follows in its footsteps!  Out of sheer necessity, special powers and abilities were introduced, both for monsters and the player-characters, and more effort was made, in general, to distinguish the characters from one another.  Inevitably, this led to greater complexity.  How do you simulate these things?  Luckily, traditional war-games already had the necessary architecture, and this was happily incorporated into an exciting new concept.

(3) GYGAX'S CHAINMAIL offered a separate attempt to create a medieval war-game and introduce fantastical elements.  Indeed, many of D&D's trademark flourishes are found here, making this required reading for anyone interested in the history of everyone's favorite role-playing game!

(4)  WHEN GYGAX AND ARNESON got together to develop a commercial product, they (inevitably) drew elements from both sides, and since each had a war-gaming background, charts, tables, and the general complexity of that hobby weighed heavily.  The minimalist game that MIGHT have been, sadly, never ended up happening...

Although, to be honest, we're tried like hell with our own products, including a Licensed Braunstein RPG! 

Of course, that was then, and the trend towards simpler, more streamlined systems is evident, especially in the latest iteration of the game, which continues to strive for the optimal balance between complexity (always needed to support mechanics which, in turn, support the many powers and abilities present in a fantasy world) and ease of play.  After all, it's HUMANS pretending to be elves and wizards, and sometimes, the BEST complexity really does come from their personal interactions!  See you next week...     

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chart-less Combat? What Took So Long?

Back in the day (OD&D and AD&D days, that is), we took it for granted that combat tables were necessary.  And how could it be any other way, really?  Seriously, how ELSE were we supposed to hit a monster clad in chain mail armor?  It was how we did it...

But combat tables were a pain in the ass, too.  We got good enough at using them, especially if we had the excellent DM's screen to guide us through the exercise (it also saved much wear-and-tear on the Dungeon's Master's Guide, which was a nice bonus).

Hey, fight enough foes and you'll practically MEMORIZE the tables, at least it'll feel that way.  But it STILL bogged things down.

This approach wasn't inevitable, however, and other systems were already experimenting with something much faster.  And to be honest, table-less combat should have been GROUND ZERO for RPGs...

DISCLAIMER: I understand that things also tend to become better consolidated and streamlined over time, and highly suspect that the general clunkiness of early D&D stemmed from its evolution out of historically accurate war-games.  But I wonder. 

In a hypothetical, ultra-simple game using only 1d6, combat could be resolved as follows (a chart, yeah, but you could memorize it with absolute ease, and NO ONE would have to read it ever):

                    ARMOR WORN*         1d6
                    Light           4 or better
                    Medium          5 or better
                    Heavy           6 or better

*Or its equivalent, per the referee.  Oh, and you could use this for Pits & Perils, but it'd actually be MUCH MORE complicated!

Now the above table doesn't take into a magical armor, and damage is assumed to be 1d6 across the board, but it works.  Moreover, it represents what would be the simplest and ground-level approach to combat resolution.  And I sort of wonder why it wasn't.

Oh, and then there's Rolemaster, with a separate table for each weapon (luckily, optional), which makes me wonder if these guys had girlfriends during the 80s (that's a JOKE)...

Enter 2nd edition and THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class Zero), which benefited greatly from an intervening decade of gameplay and seemed to recognize this problem.  Their solution here?  List the number needed for an attacker to hit armor class zero, which varied by class and level, and subtract the target's armor class to find the number needed to hit.  This was chart-less, alright, but it required calculations, albeit very easy ones, to use at the table.

This was a nice evolutionary step, and I imagine the designers felt like it transitioned nicely from AD&D by retaining the original armor class values.  But it defeated its purpose ever so slightly by requiring internal calculations, which slowed play somewhat.

Finally, 3rd Edition D&D decided to make armor class a target number on the roll of 1d20, which tells the whole story up front and with minimal fuss.  What do you roll to hit AC 16?  Uh, 16...

Now, intuitively, things start out easy and become more complicated over time.  But D&D almost seems to have evolved in reverse in Benjamin Button style.  Once again, probably because the original war-games were generally simpler, and D&D, out of necessity, grafted on more details (and more complexity) from the start.

We'd LOVE to hear everyone's thoughts on this particular issue... 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls...

As Halloween approaches, we've been enjoying the music of the incomparable Ghost, a Swedish metal band that is surprisingly mellow and psychedelic, recalling a mix of Blue Oyster Cult, ELO, and similar acts from the 1970s.  And, refreshingly, their vocals aren't of the tired cookie monster variety either!

Their pseudo-satanic lyrics aren't to be taken seriously or, alternately, should be enjoyed in the spirit of Hammer horror films, if you catch our drift.  This band has a unique stage image, with all of them wearing masks to preserve anonymity and to elevate the music beyond individual personalities.  And so their lead singer is Papa Emeritus, an undead Pope-like character, with the rest being mysterious and nameless ghouls!  This implied history has potential and is excellent fodder for fantasy role-playing games...

So this Halloween, we offer you Papa Emeritus, and since the music tells the story, please visit the external links!

Papa Emeritus is a gaunt and skeletal figure, which suggests an undead origin, although this is uncertain.  He is a clerical figure, appearing in papal robes and bearing the staff of his office, for Emeritus is head of a mysterious and quasi-religious order that has ties to the highest levels of the government and seeks to steer human events towards some mysterious and unknown end.

Papa Emeritus is head of a
mysterious and subversive order...

It is said that Papa was a mortal man invited into the highest circles of the oligarchy only to refuse and be struck down, falling violently From the Pinnacle to the Pit, dying and rising again in his present (and presumably undead) form.  Predictably, he is feared and vilified by the political elites as a heretic and dangerous 
subversive.  Even so, Emeritus is powerful and moves freely through all levels of society preaching his message...  

The deity (if there is one) Papa Emeritus serves is a fallen, rebellious spirit roughly analogous to Lucifer, although this might be a fabrication on the part of his enemies, for the principal gospel of this faith holds that the gods have enslaved mortal men in exchange for a dubious afterlife.  Instead, humans are extolled to seek enlightenment (a Secular Haze) and indulge their earthly whims before succumbing to the cold oblivion of death.  This philosophy, not surprisingly, is feared and reviled by the other gods!

It is left to the individual referee as to where Papa stands on various moral issues, but his ultimate goal(s) should be inscrutable and subject to much debate.  Likewise, while largely reviled and denigrated as wicked, Emeritus is admired by many, especially those struggling under social oppression, and moves freely through all levels of society, often assuming a bohemian demeanor and dressing as a dandy when appearing at important social events.

Alternately revered and reviled,
Papa Emeritus is both a savior and subversive...

Statistically, Papa Emeritus defies description, for he has the power to come and go at will, vanishing when the tide of battle is turning against him and cleverly doing so well in advance of any serious danger.  This makes him virtually impossible to overcome in those rare instances when he confronts his enemies, for he much prefers to work behind the scenes and manipulate others as his needs so require.  Uniquely, he is not subject to clerical turning.

Papa Emeritus (OSR)

Armor Class: 2
Move: 12"
Hit Points: 84
Damage/Attack: 1d6 (staff) or by spell
Special Attack: Spells
Special Defenses: Immunity to clerical turning, teleportation*
Magic Resistance: 50% 
Alignment: Neutral
15th level cleric/druid/magic-user
STR: 12  DEX: 16  INT: 18  Wis: 20  Con: 15  CHR: 18

*Per the spell, but with perfect accuracy.

Emeritus fights with a +2 magic staff and enjoys AC 2 with his clerical vestments.  He always teleports away when more than half total hit points are lost, noting that he avoids confrontation whenever possible, casting all magic-user spells like a cleric and enjoying access to the entire spell list, where applicable.

Some have even suggested that Papa is actually a strange variety of ghost, If You Have Ghosts in your own campaign...

Papa Emeritus and some of his
Nameless Ghouls bearing the order's symbol...

Papa Emeritus (Pits & Perils)
Demigod (cleric/magician/charisma)
Attacks: 1 (staff)
Level: 15 (31/+10 HP)
Move: 50'
Side: Neutral 
Faith Points: 8
Spell Points: 16 (all spells known)

Per the above, Papa attacks with a +2 magic staff and wears vestments that add +10 HP and function as golden robes of the adept when worn, noting that he enjoys clerical hits and possesses knowledge of all spells on the magician list.  His teleportation ability extends out to 1 mile, and he heals as a demigod, regaining some 1d6 hits per round plus immunity to all disease.

Occasionally, Papa Emeritus will seek a mortal champion, perhaps some player character, to act on his behalf.  These must be of neutral or evil alignment, noting that good or lawful converts risk an alignment change when doing so!  These will be granted the legendary Square Hammer, a powerful relic dealing 3d6 in lightning damage against avowed enemies of Emeritus' cause.

Papa is attended by any number of NAMELESS GHOULS all wearing identical ceremonial masks, but possessing cryptic names like Omega and Water and signing correspondence using special signet rings inscribed with a unique symbol.  Each of these are treated as 3rd level fighters with full hit points by level, full magic resistance, and the same teleportation ability, making them deadly!

Once again, we love Ghost, and the implied story behind them literally oozes with ideas for a Halloween session, so check out the videos we've linked to, support the band if you like them, or just steal their image and our ideas for your own campaigns.  Either way, have a SAFE and HAPPY holiday and beware of the nameless ghouls! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Best Value for Your Buck...

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that tabletop role-playing is one of the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUES ever, and point to my own experiences from a time before the hobby went mainstream and computer games were just barely new... 

For two years, between 1980 and 1982, I had only three role-playing books; The AD&D Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual (OK, four counting the Fiend Folio, although I roll this one in with the manual).  I had all the classes and magic spells I could ever want and plenty of monsters to stock my dungeons and keep things moving because, after all, freshness isn't about having a new monster every adventure, but rather, having challenging situations.  Oh, and evil NPCs make the BEST villains!

And the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide offered a LIFETIME supply of excellent DMing advice.  My only other accessory was the DM's screen so I didn't have to consult the tables in-book.

This was enough.  More than enough, really.  You could go forever with just the contents of these books, although I was encouraged to add or change anything, and did so with regularity.  Indeed, this element was the very definition of "value-added" and built upon the initial investment.  It was THE emergent property of the hobby!

Of course, I needed dice and had plenty.  But these lasted long enough and eventually become eroded plastic balls I parted with only reluctantly when I had to.  A small expense that hardly registered against my (really quite modest) early-80s allowance.      

Fantasy Gaming is a treasure
that gives back more than you spend...

Otherwise, I needed paper (including graph paper) and pencils, including colored pencils and ink pens.  But these could easily be rolled into school supply purchases and I never had to buy this stuff myself.  Miniatures were available, but they never really took off in my circles until years later, when Robyn and I wanted to introduce a more visual element into our own games.  So paper and pencil rounded out my modest needs, and I got these free!

Everything else was stuff that money couldn't buy and, really, shouldn't have to buy.  The choices and decisions of the characters in the heat of battle and that truly organic feeling you get when everything goes off the grid and the scenario writes itself through many unpredictable responses.  Once, I had an adventure set in a village festival and made an off-hand comment about a firedrake tied and put on display for the modest sum of 2 SP.  This was too much for the party to bear, and one cantrip later, the beast was released to great chaos!  This little detour took the WHOLE session...

And was BETTER than ANYTHING I had planned!

Of course, we already know this about role-playing.  But my point here is twofold: First, that the best aspects of gaming are totally free and, secondly, that with a MINIMAL INVESTMENT UP FRONT, we enjoy a literal LIFETIME OF ENTERTAINMENT.  With so many products competing for our dollar, there aren't many that can make this claim and live up to it.  Tabletop gaming stands ALONE here...

The immortal Dave Trampier knew
how valuable gaming as a hobby could be... 

Imagine buying a DVD that becomes a different movie every time you put it in.  Or perhaps a book that tells a different story every time you thumb through its pages.  Of course, superior books, music, and literature are timeless and well-worth enjoying again, but our hobby; the ROLE-PLAYING hobby, is ALWAYS something new.

This is because role-playing is a SIMULATION scripted by people, meaning the PLAYERS, making on-the-fly decisions.  And it certainly helps that the action takes place inside the participant's heads instead of on a printed page or other static medium (modern computer games, for all their greatness, are still inherently limited).

I saved some money, bought some rulebooks and some dice, and proceeded to ask my folks for VERY LITTLE game-related for the next two years, not even at Christmas.  Oh, they recognized that this gaming thing occupied much of my free time.  But they also seemed to understand that it didn't require much more than an over-active imagination, and I remain grateful for their support, because it was the 80s, after all, and the Satanic Panic was out there...

This aspect of the hobby might be SLIGHTLY problematic for an industry that needs to market new products.  Remember, I did't buy much (except perhaps Dragon Magazine) for TWO YEARS, and spent a full DECADE playing a game that Robyn and I made up together, which underscores my point.  Once you've found a role-playing system you're happy with and feel comfortable house ruling, you've stumbled upon the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ANYWHERE.  So check out the many games available, find some you like, and make adventures happen!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Perspective (What Really Matters)...

I remember my first day posting on  The original poster requested OPINIONS on something (I believe it had to do with in-game decision-making) and I found myself VICIOUSLY ATTACKED by a total stranger that lasted through several angry exchanges.  We ended up agreeing to avoid one another's threads (like the plague) because it clearly wasn't going anywhere good.  Not the best intro...

A year later, I'm enjoying MY FIRST DAY on Google+, when someone decided to attack our post about a P&P character sheet.  This quickly devolved into an angry exchange, and I accept more than a little responsibility because I took the bait.

Welcome to the internet, right?  I mean, I totally get that and understand what the anonymity of the web can do to people when they think they can hide behind their avatars.  And I TOOK THE BAIT.

But I ended up feeling bad for both of them, especially on the receiving end of my own anger.  I was a military officer for a good decade of my life and can rip ass with the best of them (and won't hesitate to do so, which ISN'T to my credit here).

I'd like to think I'm doing better.  But what really bothers me is what set these people off in the FIRST PLACE...

I had a DIFFERENT OPINION ABOUT GAMES.  That's right.  My personal opinions about GAMES were seen as a terrible personal flaw and an affront to all right-minded people, which suggests a disturbing lack of perspective about what's really important in this life.

Now obviously, I LOVE gaming and game design.  But if I were told that I had to give it up to save Robyn's life, I'd do so in a heartbeat and feel happy for the privilege, because while gaming is fun, people are ALWAYS more important, which is to say:


Heated, enthusiastic debate?  Sure.  I'll happily offer my own preferences for simple, open-ended game systems.  But I'll never say that people are STUPID or DEFICIENT for thinking otherwise...

I'll debate IDEAS while not attacking PEOPLE, and not just because mere civility demands it.  No, not liking your favorite system doesn't make me (or anyone else) the equivalent of Hitler marching into Poland and doesn't merit ANY KIND of hateful rebuke.    

Gaming is great, but it doesn't define my own character or the character of anyone I care about or respect.  It's creamy icing on the cake, obviously, but that's all.  And when people can attack each other over what amounts to subjective personal preference, they can attack for just about ANYTHING, which is scary... 

For a full year (between 2014-15), Robyn cared for her dying mother and helped her through her final days.  Full-time nursing care is very expensive, and putting her in a home would have been out of the question even if we could have managed it.  So Robyn bravely fought grief and lack of sleep learning (and providing) this care around the clock for an indigent parent who was utterly dependent on others for EVERYTHING.  I'm PHYSICALLY DISABLED and of LIMITED help.

Robyn is a cancer survivor.  I almost lost her.  People everywhere have SIMILAR stories, and they're ALL more important than whether or not we prefer class or skill-based systems.  And given what all of us struggle with at all times, gaming is one hell of a stupid reason for attacking or denigrating others when we should recognize the basic humanity in one another and act on it always...

Luckily, the online community is OVERWHELMINGLY positive, and Robyn and I appreciate the friendship and awesome ideas for everything from food to role-playing.  And, sometimes, it's help for each other when life happens, because life DOES happen to everyone, and human contact (and civility) is our BEST weapon against the online trolls!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Our Tips for "Colorful" Hex Crawls

Ah, the hex crawl.  Those fun and random things that feel like genuine exploration because they're so unscripted that even the GM doesn't know what's gonna happen next.  And they can certainly reduce the GM's workload.  But they can also be challenging when multiple charts are consulted, and the randomness can sometimes work against any sense of an abiding, living world.

So in the interest of compromise and the best of both worlds, we present our hex-crawling tips...


That's right.  Color code your map to delineate different geographic regions, like green for plains and brown for deserts.

You might also consider region-specific restrictions to movement, like 10' per round in bogs or whatever.

Color coding means you can quickly and easily break down regions without looking up names.  And you can color code any corresponding tables as well for (much easier) reference during gameplay.


This might be a legendary dragon known to reside on a distant mountain peak or a terrible band of robbers with a den deep in the primordial woods, etc.  See what we're getting at?

Dave Arneson's famous Blackmoor map...

Design the lair and stock it accordingly.  These are "little modules" of a sort, but try to keep it to just one or two per region to ease your own workload.  It doesn't have to be all at once.


Color coding helps here.  Now you can make region-specific encounter tables that are not only shorter, but still capable of substantial variety consistent with the geography in question.


Potions and scrolls (and other disposables) are fairly common and relatively "mass produced" as it were.  But other things, like enchanted weaponry, should be somewhat unique.  We suggest a general table that emphasizes only the most common objects and refers the user to region-specific tables for more unusual items. 

And when an item is found, CROSS IT OFF THE LIST!  You can add new stuff later, of course, just wait awhile...

Note that this allows the GM to play with the probabilities of locating something if they don't like the list that comes with the system they happen to be using.  Make this your own!

Altitude (and latitude) makes a
big difference and present many challenges... 

Once again, color coding regions makes it easier to reference whatever charts the GM comes up with and actually makes them easier to use during play if you color code the tables too!  


Cities, towns, etc.  This is the VERY HEART of world-building!


Weather happens, even in a fantasy world.  And various factors, including elevation and latitude, will profoundly impact how these things manifest locally.  Crafting region-specific daily weather charts is challenging, but generally worth it.  

Now you might not know it, but yours-truly is a semi-retired meteorologist, and we've made a weather chart available for free as part of our P&P Wilderness Worksheets.  You'll probably need to tailor the impacts slightly to your system of choice, but the chart otherwise tracks the movement of mid-latitude weather systems and accounts for tropical weather, which isn't subject to the same rules by any stretch.  We encourage research in any event!

So that's it.  Subdivide your map into meaningful divisions, customize smaller random tables that are easier to manage and more regionally specific while simultaneously inserting permanent and semi-permanent features of the landscape...   

Hex crawls deviate from the usual pre-stocked dungeon and enable spontaneous exploration.  Even so, a truly thriving world DOES exhibit permanent features and occupants, and these should still be prepared in advance to underscore this point.  But with the right balance, you can maintain both randomness AND creative depth!