Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

No Clouds Above, No Men Below...

Ageism might be the last acceptable predjudice; and given the young/old divide implied by the OSR, you definitely see this in the gaming community. Case in point: last week on Facebook (because it's always Facebook), some grognard posted a meme waxing nostalgic about their younger days and marathon sessions. No putting anyone else down, no ugly edition warfare, just reminiscing about a happy childhood. Well along comes the inevitable contrarian, who suggested it sounded like "old man yells at cloud" stuff...

Really? Also, absurd. So here goes. Simply (1) being old, (2) preferring older editions of whatever system, and (3) enjoying happy memories doesn't make you the proverbial old man (or woman) yelling at clouds beyond the rather thoughtless imaginations of some. By this reasoning, every grognard should immediately burn their rulebooks and rend their garments over these false memories of happiness. If you're denigrating the younger generation and their rulebooks, you are this guy. But simply liking your favorite stuff is far from it.

I get it (and rather suspect it's tit for tat). The young are denigrated ad nauseum for being born decades too late. Their games, famously forgiving, are too soft (as though generation X stormed the blood-stained beaches at Normandy). It's Marxism. Storygamers are entitled swine (take that, Forge). This is old man vs. cloud multiplied, and every bit as ridiculous as the reverse. Games are played for fun, and each offers a different experience. Unless a ruleset involves bona fide homicide, it's hardly Hitler's invasion of Poland...

But it's not all bad. Last year (also on Facebook) someone posted a gag module called Against the Grognards. I pointed out that grognard implied the aged, broad brushing them as stereotypical Boomers who resist everything. What they meant was Gatekeeper, a sadly universal phenomenon transcending generations. And you know what? My Facebook friend agreed, changing the title and making it all the funnier. Laziness is easier than nuance, accounting for much confusion. But preference and nostalgia alone are no offense.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Action: Reaction Rolls, Take Two...

Reaction rolls seem pretty old-school to me. It's just the sort of sandbox, create-the-world-as it-happens provision that early gaming thrived on. But like the grappling tables, it might be one chronically ignored by later generations who inevitably simplified their new hobby through selective application. It happens. Don't like [insert mechanic here]? Vote with your feet and leave it out, all the easier if it seems extraneous to being with. Monsters are the bad guys, so roll for initiative already. That's my experience anyway; yours may vary...

But if you want to incorporare reaction rolls and keep it simple, you have options:

Take One: Assign predispositions to enemies in advance. Most are irredeemably hostile, doubtless explaining why so many have abandoned (or otherwise ignored) the idea straight away. Those foes amenable to bargains or bribes can be identified in advance, with terms and conditions spelled out. The Goblin Chief is wicked, but appreciates bribes of 100 GP or more per the GM. This is implied in certain rulesets and bears elaboration.


Take Two: Once again; the above, in some form, is close to standard practice, with countless iterations befitting the milieu. Another approach, for the adventurous, is to rework a game's entire system, merging combat initiative and enemy reactions in a single roll. One player rolls for the entire party (a rotating duty) with enemy reaction and initative as indicated:

2-4      Hostile; enemy takes initiative and attacks immediately
5-7      Negotiable; monsters hold initiative, but may pause for sufficient overatures
8-10    Hostile; party holds initiative and may attack or attempt to bargain
11-12  Negotiable; characters win initiative, but the enemy displays hesitation  

Of course, any openess to negotiation is lost with hostile action from the party, noting that superior players will already know to inquire about an enemy's non-verbal cues, saving themselves needless bloodshed. The GM will still need to establish temperment in advance, adjusting accordingly. This approach has the added benefit of being easy to remember in battle, and easy to tailor to conditions. Reactions are only positive when conditions are met, meaning that Take One (above) still applies. A great choice for Mydwandr.

Some enemies are always hostile, others always amenable to negotiation. In these instances, dice indicate potential attack order only. The rest comes down to the fine art of game mastery. That's because while the dice can generate outcomes, only a seasoned referee can translate entries on a table into a natural and seamless narrative where player decisions matter. Reaction tables are old-school because old-school rests on a sandbox stocked with random outcomes seasoned by strategy. But it needn't be difficult...

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Spotlight On: Wyrdwarden...

Some of you might have heard about the Mydwandr Supplement License allowing you, the community, to publish your own content for the game, with great leeway to fill in its various (and by design) gray areas. But what you might not know is that it's already bearing delicious fruit with Wyrdwarden, a Solo Campaign Exemplar by newcomer Tim Fox.

Now as the name suggests, it's primarily designed for solo play. Create your heroes, roll to decide exactly where in the world they begin, and proceed through a series of adventures well in keeping with the spirit of the setting. Spanning enemy fortresses and remote villages in need of able assitance, it's more than just a module. It's an entire campaign that clearly understands the soul of Mydwandr. If you pine for solo play, this is a great start...

But here's the fun part. While ostensibly meant for solo play, it's useful for traditional referees as well, and with little to no additional effort. From a gazatteer's reckoning of the seasons (something not covered in the core rulebook) to random tables for everything from wilderness features to place (and character) names, among others in keeping with Mydwandr's unique linguistics, it's a ready made campaign reference in the style of the old days.

The adventures are speedily converted to traditional tabletop, with the aforementioned random tables filling in many a blank. Referees willing to put their own spin on things will find lots of space to do so, aided by the product's strong foundation. Setting the above aside, there's an abundance of original content in the form of new monsters (hazards), which might be worth the price. Insectoid Antwyrd? Check. Fungal Mycanoids? They're all here...


And in great detail. More than for our own monsters actually, with more details about the creatures from the core rulebook. What do Urku look like? There's a table for that. The roving Woodwandr are a mystery no longer. This is a master class in making the game your own, rendered in glorious manual type. What it lacks in interior illustrations it more than makes up for in its 214 pages. Imagine finding a campaign notebook from 1974. This it it.

Now all of this is held together with a series of creative exercises to set the mood, a concept underutilized across the gaming hobby and most welcome here. Wyrdwandr comes in a digital version (a bargain at $4.99) or a spiral-bound printing in the style of old and easier to use in the heat of play. Mydwandr fans should definitely consider giving this a look...

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

AD&D's Front-Loaded Dilemma...

AD&D has some front-loaded demihumans. From dwarven saving throws to elven attack bonuses (and infravision, among other useful abilities), non-human characters enjoy substantial advantages up front. Humans get the full range of classes with no level limits, but nothing more. Add multi-classing, and demihumans have undeniable advantages. Casting spells wearing plate armor is nothing less than the best of both worlds and a powerful combo humans lack and won't make up for until advancement most won't reach...

So how do humans balance the ledger? Multi-classers divide hit points, so a character with 8 fighter hits and 2 magic-user points would get 5 (8+2/2), which is almost half those fighter hits, and well within a longsword's d8 damage. Add slower level advancement and humanity sees faster progression. But this is apples and oranges, especially considering those non-human abilities. AD&D's solution, and all of early D&D, was to impose level limits, which may come up short because in old-school gaming, low(er) levels are the only sure thing.


Humans have unlimited level advancement. But is this effective? Early editions were notoriously lethal; and setting violence aside, most characters probably didn't reach those lofty heights. Indeed, most online (i.e., Reddit, etc.) polls settle on 8-12th as the mean maximum level attained. A 3rd-level fighter/5th-level magic-user has some 8 combined levels, plus racial abilities, putting them on par with most high-end human achievers, who balance the proverbial scales only when it stops mattering in the scheme of things...

Which has inspired Robyn and I, as game designers, to give human characters their own racial abilities*, or in the case of race as class, counterbalancing abilities, with unlimited advancement (where applicable) or identical limits otherwise. Now none of this is to say that AD&D got it wrong. Far from it. But B/X and BECMI, its close cousins, embraced race as class and missed an opportunity to better achieve balance; and given the fun these games continue to offer, level limits are a trivial thing, but maybe one worth reexamining.

*Basic Fantasy, a personal favorite, has been doing this for years...