Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fantasy Gaming Made Me Grow Up...

Fantasy gaming is generally associated with a certain childhood sensibility.  One firmly rooted in the innocence of youth, although important to retain going forward.  But for those introduced to role-playing in the 1970s, gaming was actually an adult hobby that encouraged (and to some extent, demanded) that its younger aspirants measure up to adult standards of performance.

Indeed, the basic qualities of the earliest rules actively promoted these very "grown up" aspirations:     

The earliest games had words.  Lots and lots of words.  And approximately none of them aimed at the young.  These games were written by adults for their own amusement, and sometimes they addressed mature themes (one appendix to the Dungeon Master's Guide goes into detail about prostitution)...  

But while it's always been tempting to imagine the "adult" as synonymous with the sexual, these early games were mature in their less salacious details.  These were historical gamers first and foremost, and the earliest rules assumed knowledge of medieval armor and weaponry as well as culture, history, and religion.

Subject matter aside, the early games were simply written to an adult level of reading comprehension.  And young gamers who wanted to participate had to do so on adult terms.

Additionally, illustrations were not only amateur, but also less frequent, meaning that readers were confronted with - well - lots of written words.  This gave the pictures decidedly more impact while simultaneously leaving more to the imagination, which was a good fit with the written words, providing detail while inviting readers to fill in their (ever-present) blanks.

Now, imagine an 11 year old kid back in 1978.  He (and that was obviously yours truly) joined a group of older players and had to make sense of demanding (read: adult) rulebooks.  But this kid wasn't deterred.  Rather, he was EXCITED and found himself WANTING to rise up to the next level and master it on ADULT terms.

Later, by the early 80s, D&D was marketed to younger readers, with its writing retooled accordingly.  This wasn't really that bad, although it made it increasingly less necessary for young readers to measure up, as the writing met them halfway!  The new artwork was likewise greatly improved, not to mention more frequent...

More and better pictures plus fewer words written to a younger audience shifted this dynamic greatly, although role-playing remained a decidedly intellectual (and complex) pursuit favored by intelligent people, and I won't denigrate that... 

Nonetheless, the waning historical references coupled with increasing details pre-imagined by means of superior illustrations and easier-to-read explanations saw the end to an era.

Back in 1978, amateur rulebooks with primitive illustrations surrounded by many words written by (college-educated) historical war-gamers encouraged this blogger to ASPIRE towards adulthood, ironically, through an imaginary world of magic, monsters, and the stuff of childhood fantasy.  It completed his education and even joined him in war, noting that all those imaginary combats on paper taught strategy and problem-solving; adult life in fantasy form!   

Friday, February 26, 2016

We Used to Be in Magazines...

A few years back, when Pits & Perils was new (and just an obscure softcover on the Lulu storefront), we reached out to some fine folks in the UK.  The result was an article they kindly published in a wonderful online magazine entitled Errational Thinking, although we fear that it's most likely ceased production...

The article was written when it was just P&P, although its publishers seemed aware that we'd since released the Fear! Fire! Foes! supplement as well.  At any rate, our promotional stuff postulates a semi-fictional history of RPGs and imagined what might have happened if someone tried to create the sort of thing they would have otherwise only heard about via word of mouth from Lake Geneva in the early 70s.  You get the idea.

As it happens, it was earlier in the game's history, and we were likely more in touch with our intuitions, for we reveal the game for the thought experiment it sort of was (in addition to a game we actually played).  But the article also goes into some detail about what we consider old-school and why it even matters to us.  

So without further ado, here's a link to that esteemed issue...


Anyway, we hope that you enjoy, and while the magazine is out of circulation, we'd still like to thank Melissa Humpleby for her kind support of our efforts to promote the game.  She, along with some friends, like +Sean Wills, have really helped the game take off with British audiences, and we deeply appreciate everyone's support!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fields of Forsaken: A Review

Every now and again, we discover a product and it leaves a real impression on us.  A few weeks back, we picked up Pamphlet I: Fields of Forsaken, by +Thaumiel Nerub and D-oom Products, and now we're gonna review it for you!  So without delay...

Pamphlet I: Fields of Forsaken is a neat little (16-page) pdf available on Drive-Thru and its affiliates.  It offers an afterlife setting for RPGs, because while death is something to be avoided, characters will sometimes stumble into the afterlife, and this should be dark, gloomy, and surreal - almost dreamlike - as compared to the mortal realm, and D-oom nails it! 


Most game settings read like a geographical text sprinkled with numerous charts and tables.  But Fields of the Forsaken presents its imagined world through an almost poetic fashion more at home in a book of modern verse or a horror story.  This is perfect for a dark afterlife where departed souls may fall astray...

Building emotion is a constant challenge for GMs, and the ethereal realms are especially affected here.  The afterlife, more than anything else, is a place fashioned from the very stuff of mortal emotion, and Fields of Forsaken does an excellent job depicting this world on its own terms; a place of despair.


Production is equally gloomy, with a dark, chunky typeset and equally enigmatic illuminations that beg more questions than they answer, all while suggesting the afterlife they depict.

Good GMs are always looking for non-gaming inspirations, and Fields of Forsaken represents an attempt to offer one...

Those faithless who die end up in the
endless Fields. In the middle of the void,
where ever you venture, The Church
stands inviting. But no one can enter,
until the time of judgement...

Overall, it reads like a guided tour through a dark and gloomy landscape where the faithless wander eternally!


Although, presumably, intended for a horror RPG, this is equally suited for sword and sorcery.  Crossing the veil should be a disorienting experience, especially when you go without the blessing of a patron deity, and this smart book leaves its mark...

Modern poetry?  Narration?  Or an adventure setting?  This offering is pay what you want, and well worth dropping a bit to support!  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Holmes As a Complete Game (Eight Points)

OK, so we love Holmes Basic and are obsessed with playing it as a complete game.  Why?  Because the rulebook is so perfect on its own, and we'd like to enjoy it as a full game without introducing any outside elements except those added by the DM...

Now, you might be wondering why this publisher is promoting other systems on their blog.  Easy.  Each game offers a unique experience, and there's room for all sorts of fun!  Other publishers are not competitors, and the day we start thinking that way is the day we've abandoned our finest intuitions.

So here's our Eight Points for Holmes as a complete game:

(1) All characters begin with maximum hit points at 1st level and roll randomly (by class) from 2nd level on.

(2) Should a character die in combat, they permanently lose one level and drop to 1d4 hit points, although these can be subsequently healed (obviously, not beyond their new level).  This represents a serious mortal wound that diminishes the character and reduces their future performance, where applicable.

(3) Any 1st level character who dies is slain...

(4) Characters who lose levels might gain them back through the acquisition of new experience, and this represents the slow process of recovery (and probably a cool scar to show off).

(5) Clerics add +1 per level to all turning attempts, and a 3rd level character can turn mummies and up on a roll of 12 without any bonuses except those from magic items. 

(6) Clerics, elves, and magic users acquire spells on the following, noting that in the absence of levels beyond 3rd, elves simply must be better balanced against human spell casters:

(7) Fighters add +1 to all melee attacks...

(8) Thieves add +25% to all thieving attempts, with additional bonuses for dexterity: 13 or better (+5%), 15 or better (+10%), and any score of 18 (+15%).  This helps keep them relevant.

OPTIONAL: Monsters get a four-sided hit die, except for dragons, introducing other, higher-level fare.

More than anything, this preserves the low-level feel of Holmes, which is doubtless a major part of its charm.  Is it complete or flawless?  Certainly not!  But it's a start, and we fully trust that you, our readers, will have ideas of your own, so keep 'em coming and help keep the Holmes flag flying.  Better still, actually play the game and have fun.  This is what our hobby is all about! 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Little Writing: Mournpaw

Our good friend +matt jackson of Chubby Monster Games has been inspiring everyone to write - just eight minutes a day - to develop their writing skills.  And how could we refuse?  So I took a few minutes last week to write a little, and this turned into 45 minutes spent beginning (probably yet another) unfinished novel.  So, for your reading enjoyment, a bit called MOURNPAW:


There was smoke.  And screaming.  But he hadn't seen in years.  In all that time there was only darkness and his own thoughts.  Sometimes, something moved past him; a momentary fluttering of shadow and weight that pressed against him like an anvil on the chest before moving on to torment some other luckless soul...    

"Mournpaw, you can come out now."  Roonlune lifted the course sackcloth and the bear winced at the sudden light.  A full day hidden in the back of a wagon left little to do but sleep and struggle for air, and Mournpaw inhaled gratefully while his eyes adjusted.
I-I was dreaming." The bear still struggled to form human speech, and the small, dark man pulling at the tarp probably met him more than halfway when it came to communication.  "How long?"
Roonlune sheltered his eyes against the sun, an unconscious sign that he couldn't understand his friend.
"How long was I asleep?" Mournpaw said more slowly.
Roonlune nodded.  "We've been going since the inn at Kinsburg, but I don't know how long you slept."  And then, smiling, "even your snoring couldn't drown out the winds today!"
Mournpaw threw an empty sack at the man and loosed a guttural cry that passed for laughter.  It was a fine moment between friends.
A brief moment. 
Roonlune produced a short length of rope and nodded to his friend apologetically, and the bear stooped to receive his yoke, playing the part they had both settled on, by necessity, shortly after they had started travelling together.  I wouldn't do to have an animal, even a well-trained one, going unfettered in the streets, even during the Merchant's Fair at Rockbridge, where a common black bear would surely be among the less exotic animals on display.
"Sorry," Roonlune said, "all part of the show, right?"
The bear nodded and took stock of his surroundings.  They had come in through one of the back gates; a squalid little quarter serving the poorer merchants and smugglers willing to bribe their way into the city, and doubtless manned by guards who made pains to be stationed there for that very purpose.  They might have easily entered with the richer caravans, but risked attracting the wrong sort of attention and had long since decided it was easier to be overlooked.
And, in fact, they weren't here for the fair at all, and their lack of trade goods might attract suspicion.  A merchant with a bear?  Just a bear?  As if there was any real money in the pennies people threw to watch a beast dance.  These things were usually enticements for vendors selling spices and other luxury goods, of which they had none, and it was better to bribe a guard and avoid such questions.
At least it wasn't a fishing town, Mournpaw thought.  He was still getting used to being a bear.  The new body, difficulty in forming human speech, and, especially, the heightened senses.  Day-old fish would have been too much, although it sometimes made him hungry; a fact that both saddened and worried him.  Would the last of his humanity slip away until he found himself pawing at salmon like a beast?
It hadn't happened yet, and he thanked the gods for it.  But he had been betrayed before.  It was practically all he knew.
Except for Roonlune.

The young man looked up at him, perhaps guessing his thoughts or simply impatient to get moving.  Roonlune had dark features like the easterners who invaded these lands centuries before, bringing their language and customs to the island and forming a new culture from the joining of two peoples.  His magic was local, however, and decidedly rural, lacking any of the diabolism of the invaders.  It was as simple and wholesome as the man himself, and so far, this one had not betrayed him.
But Roonlune was looking beyond him at the horses, who by now were restless at the smell of a bear upwind.  It made Mournpaw feel like less of a man and strangely self-conscious at his nakedness.  He stepped back and let his friend lead them to the stable master, a disheveled and slightly obese man who eyed Roonlune greedily as if to decide how much coin he carried.  Mournpaw knew his type all too well; city folk who thought themselves wise because they had some money and were still alive.
"This your bear?" he asked, never quite taking his eyes off what he supposed to be the smaller man's purse.
"He's mine," Roonlune answered, a bit too nervously.
"Well mind yourself with it," the fat man said, looking truly uneasy for the first time.  "I've heard tell of those things getting loose and killing their masters.  I don't fancy dying today."
"I'll mind the bear," Roonlune answered crossly, "you just see to the horses.  We - I'll - be here for a day."
Mournpaw watched his friend step back, open his hand, and speak some mumbled phrase.  A pale blue light flickered above his palm and vanished, leaving a silver coin in its place.
The stable master was more relieved than anything.  A bear on a rope was one thing, an ensorcelled beast quite another.  "Aye, but I'll be needing another one of those.  There's a war on, and feed prices are up."
Roonlune sighed and fished another coin from what the fat man had guessed to be his purse.  This subterfuge was getting expensive, Mournpaw thought.  He hoped they were right to come here.
They watched the man waddle away with the animals, and for all his repugnance, he was clearly good with them. 
"This wasn't a mistake, friend," Roonlune said as if guessing the bear's thoughts.  "There are people here who can help us."  He fumbled through his pockets and produced a yellowed and carefully refolded note, taking care that he wasn't noticed.  It's words were as cryptic as ever:

Go to the Fair at Rockbridge
and find the juggler.  He rides with
imported wine from Kurn.
- Corynth

"Your friend speaks in riddles," Mournpaw said.  "I hope you know what he means."  Even in his guttural speech, he sounded doubtful.
"Come on, we'll find an inn and get started tomorrow."  Roonlune led his friend through a street already thronged with revelers and merchants waiting for the Fair.  The two of them were, thankfully, less interesting than the prostitutes who worked the crowds and doubtless sought careless marks for their thieving pimps.  And leading a bear on a rope made the small man less approachable by anyone looking for easy money.  
Mournpaw didn't relish another night tied to a stake out back, but he was tired despite sleeping in the wagon and hopeful that things would go as planned for once.  It would be a first in many weeks of wrong turns and unexpected emergencies, and this thought made him doubly tired.
It didn't take them long to find a place, although the innkeeper was reluctant to shelter an animal.  It took more coin that usual to secure lodgings, and Mournpaw would still have to sleep in the back.
"If I had it any other way, friend," Roonlune began, but fell silent when the bear gave him an understanding look.  The rope was specially tied so it could easily be removed.  And who would volunteer to inspect it anyway?  If trouble came, Mournpaw could free himself and at least have a chance at freedom.  This made them both feel better.  "Sleep well," he said at last.  Maybe tomorrow things will start looking up for us." 


There may (or may not) be more of his coming, but it was fun to simply write without having to think about dice, mechanics, and game balance, although we like that too!  Anyway, it was a fun bit...