Sunday, November 15, 2009

Big Thick and Hard

Yeah I know your mind went there. But I'm talking about rulebooks. Although I am big proponent of simple rules, I like big rulebooks. There is just something so satisfing about a big thick rulebook. Its as if maybe the larger the page count the more valuable the book. Thats not the case in my experience but it seems that way. It just feels good to heft one of those 400+pg babies in your hands.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cutting down to the basics

I have been tying to get to the core idea of the D&D system. Despite all the add-on rules of the later versions, one thing is clear. D&D is a combat system. Characters have hit points and attack rolls because they were trained in combat. The origin of roleplaying is wargaming. Before it was characters in a adventure it was models in a scenario. The rules focus on fighting and the DM handles everything else. I have begun changing the way my world works to fit this idea. There are no non-combatant stat lines. NPC's who don't fight don't have stats. They don't have levels. They don't have hit points. I as the DM can decide what happens to them if hit by weapons or magic. I can define character classes by their role in combat terms. The Fighter is of course obvious. What about Magic-Users? They are fighting mages, trained for magical combat. Cleric? Holy warriors, fighting for a cause. But not Thieves. I don't consider the thief a viable class because fighting is secondary to them. I am tossing out any class that doesn't fight as its principal role. By concentrating on only using the rules for combat I can have greater control and streamline the mechanics of each game session. I can let the story move the game along. And give players more control over non-combat actions. Experience is now only for defeating enemies. Non-combat success is measured by bonus points, story points or hero points. I haven't decided if this will work as redeemable points in game or a running total similar to EXP. The running total idea will work this; the more points a character has the higher importance in the world. The more things the will happen for the benefit of the character but also the larger challenges they will face. They can accomplish much with just swordplay but greater rewards lie within the story.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weather or not, the play is the thing

Now that the weather is turning cooler my thoughts drift to nostalgia. Particularly my early days of gaming. I'm sure I did more roleplaying in summer. But there is something about the fall that makes me think more of games past. Maybe its because my early days of roleplaying were inexorably linked to school. School provided the means to find fellow players. I did game with friends but I also made friends with gamers. There were a number of classmates of whom I would have never have gotten to know if not for gaming. Every fall offered new beginnings. New campaigns, new players and new games. The cooler temperatures is motivation to spend more time indoors (the natural environment of the gamer). Its been a long time since the change in the weather meant back to school and back to more gaming. But the changing leaves still make me think about gaming.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old School Renaissance; it ain't like it used to be

Fellow blogger Lizard at Lizardgames makes a very good point about the old school movement. Namely that the brevity of the rule books were not a goal but a necessity of economics. The small fledgling RPG companies had little money to publish large volumes. Notice in the first years of D&D there were constant expansions to the rules. Magazine articles, adventure modules with extra rules and the supplements all added to the complexity of the first set of rules. They published as often as they could afford. Then the money did come. What did TSR do when they did have increased resources ? They published a lot more books. And bigger books with more pages and better artwork. And of course more rules. I don't think they did it because of the money. They did it because it was what we wanted. Back in the early days if a company produced a game and stopped with only the barest of rules framework. And then said "fill in the rest of the stuff by yourself thats it theres no more". They would have gone out of business quickly. My early days of roleplaying were usually dominated by a quest for more realism. I wanted more detailed rules to make gameplay more lifelike. I look back on those days fondly but I laugh at my attempts at real life simulation. I just wanted things in the game to make sense to me. But I wasn't dong anything different from what my friends where doing. No one forced the books on us. We happily bought as many as we could afford. They added new ideas to our games. The devil may be in the details but we willingly danced to his tune.

There have been questions about what old school is. Thanks to that essay I can now give my version.

Old school is a new term for an attitude about the style of a play inspired the earliest editions of D&D and other RPGs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A new expletive

Ok I might not have spelled it correctly. However you spell it I have a new expression for all RPGers everywhere.


An incredulous exasperation for the masses.
I will have to ponder some time on one for Arneson.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

using the numbers

Beyond qualifying for bonuses or allowing you to play certain classes, stats in D&D just sit there on the character sheet. They don't do anything besides helping to visualize your character. But I have an idea to get more use out of them and to make players think twice about dump stats. Say your character is in a bar fight and some burly oaf wants to knock you over. Your strength score is his target number to succeed. He rolls a D20 adding any bonus from his Strength. Just like rolling to hit an Armour Class. Another example; a tricky merchant tries to sell your character some shoddy goods. He rolls versus your Wisdom. If he fails you don't buy it. Or he wins and you come back to the party bragging about your shiny new useless piece of crap. Any situation can be covered. A slippery passage in a dungeon; the DM rolls against each characters Dexterity with any modifiers the DM thinks are applicable. Every stat point comes into play, not just low medium or high. Characters can interact with the environment in new unique ways. And players have new things to think about during play. Like steering the naive Elf away from the shops or watching out for the clumsy Magic-User in the dungeon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

more on-setting stuff

One of the reasons why I like simpler rules in RPGs is how a players choices are dictated by setting rather than by mechanics. I once watched a player scan the weapon list and compared price, weight and the weapon type vs armour chart to pick out a weapon for his character. It was min/maxing. No thought was given as to why his character was using this weapon. This wasn't character creation, it was character engineering. This is not to say that its wrong to do that. Its just I don't like it. It can spoil the setting if it doesn't fit the background. Like a taking a M16 to WWII battle.
Weapons, armour and equipment limits can help establish setting. But so can amenities or lack there of. When the party reaches the Inn and goes to their room they will notice there are no beds in them. Beds were rare in the medieval period. Or perhaps there is only a common room to sleep in. Taverns don't have menus, there isn't any cutlery or napkins. People don't have last names, there are no police and street signs don't exist. A fantasy world can be a very different place rather than just like modern day but with magic.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Its all about the setting, son

For me the draw of roleplaying was the settings. Fantastic worlds to be in and explore. When I was younger my friends and I would recreate things seen on TV or in the movies. Or make up our own stuff. Being the 70's, WWII was still recent enough to be one of our favourite settings. I would become a grizzled pot bellied American Sargent chomping on a stale cigar and toting a Thomson sub-machine gun. This was roleplaying at its original best. We didn't quibble over details. As long as it fit the background it was in. My Sargent carried the Thomson because thats what they used. It wasn't about bonuses or penalties. Or range modifiers. It was about fitting in not standing out.
Nowadays the tabletop substitutes for the playground for me. But the same rule applies. If it fits the background then its worthy. The setting is important for me when I play an RPG. I would never allow a character named Bob. I've met a few players whose response was "Whats it matter" or "Who cares" about the name thing. They are usually only interested in what their characters have not who they are. I proposed once for a game that I the DM would name their characters. After all did you chose your own name? That didn't go over to well. I realized that the players are part of the creation process for the world you are developing. The players are creators also and that should be respected. I will try to compromise with allowing players to choose from a list of names appropriate to the background. For a game I'm planning a somewhat medieval background and I will use the Treasury of Archaic Names from RPG Realms. Names are just one aspect of the environment that can be used to create a rich fantasy. And Bodil the Barbarian sounds better than Bob.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

With your shield or upon it

I was thinking about shields. Many have commented that the +/-1 bonus to your AC is not enough. Historical reenactors and S.C.A. participants will tell you that getting past a shield is hard. Certainly greater than a 5% difficulty. Roleplaying to me however is about storytelling. Heroic combat isn't about cowering behind a shield. Players of course want every bonus they can get. Its understandable given that the origin of the shield rule probably comes from the wargaming roots of D&D. In order to fit as many different types of armour into just the 11-20 range on a twenty-sided die, shields could be just a bonus of 1. Shields Shall be Splintered! is a cool idea where you can sacrifice the shield to negate damage. But I still want some thing that changes the way shields work without adding any complexity. Taking an idea from Mazes & Minotaurs; wherein a player my roll two dice taking the higher score when using their chosen weapon. The double dice idea can be turned around for use a shield rule. When attacking an opponent who carries a shield the attacker must roll two dice taking the lesser score. Its simple applies at all times and provides a substantial bonus but does not make anyone invulnerable. Eliminating the bonus does leave holes in the AC chart but that makes room for custom armour types.

P.S. -longest ever between postings

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The point of hit points

I have never been happy with the use of hit points in RPGs. They are a hold over from role-playings wargaming roots. Armour Class is another, and I will address that later. I don't think they model a living beings ability to handle damage. The concept is used in wargaming for non-living things like warships and forts. Many RPG history buffs might know that HP and AC both came from a naval wargame. Some RPGs do without hit points, but to me HP is one of the four corner stones of D&D. Those would be; Class , Level , AC and HP. So deciding to stick with hit points I tried to understand how I could make better use of the concept. I went through many different ideas, none of them very satisfying. After a long impasse I looked again at the origins of the system. I noticed something, both HP and AC came from the same source. I don't know the title of the game but its a naval wargame. Hmmm..., WARgame, battle, combat, bingo! Hit Points should only be relevant in combat. Hit points are a measure of how tough your character is in a fight. Look at it this way your attack numbers go up every few levels but your HP increase every level. You get tougher and luckier and have more mastery over your chi or whatever. Its the reward for increased confidence and awareness in battle that comes with experience. Combat is defined by me as being able to duck, dodge or defend in a fight. Unaware or incapacitated or helpless characters wouldn't get the benefit of their hit points. In those circumstances I would let the story dictate the outcome (ie what ever makes sense to me). Some traps, poison and magic now can be as deadly to high level characters. Its not all doom and gloom though. The same would apply to monsters and NPCs. And only the last few points of damage would be serious wounds. The rest is "just a scratch" or "only a flesh wound". As characters gain more hit points magical healing becomes less effective as it only restores actual damage. Regaining more hit points will be story based as luck and confidence are a factor. All non-combat damage will be resolved differently. Perhaps a percentile system or based on Constitution. High level fighters no longer have the immunities they once enjoyed. Using Hit Points this way will maybe be more work but I think it could be more rewarding. It can add a touch of realism to allow for high level character mortality. And of course modding rules is very old school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

James Maliszewski is a machine

James Maliszewski is a machine, a blogging machine. His blog GROGNARDIA has some impressive stats. 63 posts so far for March, and its only the 25th. 179 posts for 2009. Last year he posted 449 times. I know its not a competition but first prize goes to him. I can for now only aspire to make the contribution to the old school movement and role-playing in general that he has. Take a bow Mr Mlaiszewski.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lets See What Happens Next

Ok another long gap without posting. However something just came to me today as I was looking through the other RPG blogs I read. First there was , Yes there is an Unbridgeable Gap From Bat In The Attic. I of course had to read, proof of an unbridgeable gap? Courtesy of Jeff's Gameblog. They both refer to, Keep Randomness Out of Your Encounters! From Living And finally Role-Playing is not...what I once thought it was from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. After reading all those something happened to me. Maybe it was the RPG Fairy with a big magical mallet. Smack over the head. And the clouds parted, and the light came through. Story, System, Roll vs Role, hack and slash, munchkins, power gamers or new style vs old school. Gaming is lets pretend. The goal is Lets See What Happens Next. However you accomplish that is your choice. Any way that works for you is the right way.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Anatomy of a post

Its been ten days since I last posted anything. Not that I have nothing to post but sometimes I haven't felt like posting. Its tough to break through my mental blocks that restrict me from posting more often. And when I write I tend to edit as I write. Less stream of conscious more inner struggle. Things that sound perfect in my mind often come out less than stellar in print. Add to the mix my horrible spelling (some times even spell check has no idea what I'm trying to spell) and you have potential disaster. However no art comes to perfection without practise so more time in the rough is needed. My previous post was my longest so far. And I'm proud of that. However I don't think it came out quite like I intended. At the time I wrote it I was feeling less than motivated to start work on my gaming world. Every decision I had to make weighed heavily on me. And perhaps I was thinking to far ahead for my own good. I was attempting to tell how unheroic many systems felt. A certain feeling that was hard to describe. Its not that I'm ready to drop all other games and just run Risus.Thanks for the feedback and suggestions about last post. They made me think perhaps I didn't do a good job at getting to my meaning. Future posts will ramble on about whatever subject I'm thinking of at that moment. But are not meant to be literal. Its a mood I'm setting up not a literal balanced treatise on a topic. A window into my own gaming experience that might provide some insight to your own.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Adventure details, the heroic and mundane

I'm a big picture kind of guy. I lack the patience for details. At least when it comes to action and adventure. Ok maybe I do nit-pick movies a bit for detail errors. Like the wrong car/gun/uniform etc for whatever period the story is set in. Or number of bullets a gun fires. Adventure however is about action not what you had for breakfast. Its not about doing the laundry or taking out the garbage. Miraculous escapes, daring do and edge of your seat action. Ok I'm starting to sound like a movie poster. But movies exude a strong influence on how we tell stories. And they connect to role playing quite well. I frequently visualize the action in a session as how it would play out on a movie or TV screen. A common joke with my gaming group is that our adventures are a TV series. When one the PC's suddenly died we said it was because the actor demanded too much money from the show so the producers wrote him out of the script. D&D and other early games all professed a connection to literary sources. But when I was young and playing War or whatever Cowboys and Indians equivalent, it was movies and TV that were my source material. Graduating to RPGs when I was older, the connection reasserted itself in my mind. When I was playing I wanted things to behave like their on screen equivalents. Likewise when I started game mastering. I struggled to match the game style to my source material. I sought refuge in greater detailed systems thinking that was the problem. I tried things like GURPS. But I soon found that I couldn't handle the details. I was rated at a RPGA event where I ran a game. That I was great at the character interactions and setting descriptions but I wasn't good at mechanics was the group opinion. Running Shadowrun for a few years helped but they kept making the system more complicated. I was always more interested in style over substance. I began not caring about encumbrance rules or how many days rations the party had. I didn't want to worry about every little plus or minus on the hit calculations. I found games like Story Engine. I had some trouble with the rules. And I didn't think I could get anyone to play it. I then discovered the old school games movement. Classic games like Traveller and OD&D. Simple mechanics and open rules. But I still have a sense of foreboding. Even those games still count the bullets or arrows. And how many days rations might be important. I have trouble thinking about the worlds I want to build. How much detail to put in. In war games they call it rivet counting. I really don't want to worry about tracking the group's money or spell equipment. My creativity is cramped by the confines of detail. Maybe I'll just run Risus.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Giddy As a School Girl / A very long wait pays off

I'm giddy as a school girl. A Japanese anime school girl. Ok maybe not quite that much. But man am I pumped about the latest news from Greyhawk Grognard. My favourite cheesy 70's (it was released in 1980) sword & sorcery flick Hawk the Slayer is getting a sequel! The story is a text book example of a fantasy role playing game adventure. A mostly good group joins a charismatic leader to right a great wrong. Joseph @ GG gives a really good review of it so I won't go into more detail. The only trouble I had with it is that the heroes assembled by the leader know him from past adventures. Ok so there is another movie out there about this group and their exploits right? Wrong, a furtive pre-internet search revealed no trace of this mythical movie. Ok maybe they will make one after. I'll just wait and see. And I have been waiting ever since I first saw it on late night TV in '81 or '82. But now my long wait has paid off. I hope.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A fistfull of blogs (links)

I added some of the RPG blog links I regularly check out to the site. Its not a complete list but hits some of the highlights. I'd like to (as the kids say) "give props to my peeps" or whatever they say now. Damn I sound like an old fogey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I don't like them hard and fast

Rules I mean. I don't like hard and fast rules. Once made and set in stone they are don't always work for every situation. The GM is now restricted on what they can do. Take shields for example. In most versions of D&D they grant a bonus of one to your armour class. But what about shield size? Larger ones should be better and smaller ones not as good. And if you are surprised, say you don't get your shield up in time. Or you attacked from the rear. Also I don't think a large boulder the size of a sedan hurled by a Giant would give a shield a chance of protecting you. Can they block a magic based attack? What about what they are made of? Are metal ones better than wood? Do shields wear out and you have to replace them? Now the GM needs a whole bunch of rules to cover all that. In my game they add to your AC but they do more to protect you. How the players will ask? Well depends on the situation I say back. I will judge it as necessary. Hmm... funny remember when Game Masters were called Judges? Players want hard and fast rules do be defined so they don't get screwed by them. They want to know exactly how much each thing will affect their character.They want to be in control. But they shouldn't feel threatened by a GM ruling off the cuff. Its not the job of the GM to kill characters. I give the benefit of doubt to the players and assume they don't take risks with their characters unless specifically stated by the players. It still might make some players uncomfortable not knowing the exact odds of everything. But not everything in the world should be revealed to them. Knowing the players intentions is important for determining the outcome not just some hard and fast rule.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaming, The international language

I don't know what language its written in but its got some great pictures.I check out Demons & Dragons every so often just for the cool pictures.I invite everyone to go check it out.
This one's my favourite,

Thursday, January 22, 2009


In the past few days several blogs have posted about Traveller.
Bat in the Attic, Ratty Ramblings, Tankards&Broadswords, Grognardia and How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less all have posted articles. Some have posted more than one. Looks like we are all thinking about Traveller. Before the internet I thought I was the only one who liked the game. Nice to know I'm in good company.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inspired to start travelling with Traveller

James Maliszewski over at Grognardia has great post about Traveller. Long live the little black books, huzzah! I haven't thought about running Traveller for some time. I have a metric ton of material scooped from the internet. Nearly 500 megs of files from all editions of traveller except maybe the Hero version. The weight of all that information has blinded me to the simplicity of the 3 LBB's . Like all the old school classics, the original game became overlarge and bloated when the designers tried to answer the players need for more detail. Its not wrong to want more (I did to during that era). But the loss of the essence of the game was tragic in retrospect. James' view that the the original game is the best version inspired me to take a fresh approach to my favourite sci-fi RPG obsession. I looked over my hard copy books ;
-the reprinted books from Far Future Enterprises
-The Traveller Book , 1982 soft cover with the binding failing
-The Traveller Book , 1982 hard cover In good shape (for now)
-two of the LBB's , books 1 and 2
- the Traveller reprint, books 1-3 by QuickLink Interactive
The hard cover I want to keep in the best shape possible and the soft covers binding won't last. In keeping with the old school feel I wanted a minimalist rule book so the reprints are out. I am missing the third LBB and don't know when I will find it. That left the QLI reprint. Looking it over I noticed for the first time that there is no extra material in the book. No setting info just the rules. Damn, I could make my own setting just like the olden days! And since none of my perspective players is familiar with the setting, its all good. Creating my own universe allows me to explain why: the computers aren't as good as we have now, there is no nano-tech or biotechnology and why the guns are not more advanced. And account for any other missing tech item the players think of. So after years of acquiring lots and lots of books, files and programs I'm going to go with just the first 3 LBB's.

Friday, January 16, 2009


My latest RPG love is Swords&Wizardry-Whitebox version.
I adore the rules-light bare bones essence of the first issue white box edition of D&D.
Just the basic three booklet rules from the very first edition of the game. No supplements at all. Thats cool I thought, and moved on. But then I noticed something in the Magic-User spell lists.
NO MAGIC MISSILE. Huh, what? The one singular offensive low level spell gone. Sleep is a defensive spell to me. So if the original spell list didn't have it. Then maybe the designers of the game had a different role for Magic-Users? Not death-dealing fire-spitting artillery of the later versions. What then? Well using the same literary sources as the designers. I looked at the mage characters in the books that inspired the game. They were learned scholars with knowledge of great many things. They are the historians and scientists and teachers of their worlds. Peering into the depths of great mysteries and acquiring fantastic knowledge. So now to translate this idea into the flow of game reality.

Fighter: (pulls a sword from a pile of rubble) Hey whats this?

Cleric: (looks over the runes on the blade) Its something evil from the foul pits and should be destroyed.

Magic-User: No wait! (takes the sword from the fighter and looks at it carefully) By the Eldritch lords. This is the blade of Aradior, he used it at the first battle of Holistan. During the the demon siege 1000 years ago. Its blade is rumoured to sear the the flesh of the hell-spawn....

In my game magic-users learn a lot about the world, its history and other subjects while studying magic. Once out in the field they can help the party in many ways. Identifying magic affects and items. Providing knowledge in areas the party has no experience.
I like that better than just another magic-charged cannon pointed at the bad guys.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thulsa Doom was a Cleric

I was thinking recently about classic D&D character classes and their portrayal in the media. Most players I have known base their preconceptions of the classes in the game from movies and TV. With that in mind I thought to reverse the process. By taking a role from a movie or TV show and ascribing a class based on certain attributes.
That way you get a fresh perspective on that class.
In Conan the Barbarian (1982) the character Thulsa Doom is clearly a cleric.
Lets go to the check list.
  • Wears heavy armour? Check
  • Head of a religious order? Check (cult of set)
  • Mystical powers? Check (transforms into a giant snake)
  • Clear alignment choice? Check (chaos or evil as you prefer)
  • Fights using weapons? Check (yes he uses a bow but he's evil)
So now I can look at Clerics in my game with a clearer vision as to where they fit in the world. High level NPC clerics are the heads of the various religions or cults of the land. PC clerics can be members or former members of one of those. I picture these clerics at the head of battle defending their faiths.The combination of magic and martial prowess make them formidable oppenents. Strong leaders who take bold action.Backed up by an army devoted to them they lead the charge. Rather than skulk in the second line handing out CLW's like candy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It has Begun

I did it. By Crom I did it. I've started a blog. A gaming blog with role playing stuff and everything. Now you can listen to an old-school-rules-light grumbler blather on about RPG's and such. After 30 yrs of role playing I guess I might have something to say about it. I make no guaranties as to the length or frequency of posts. But I'm shining up my soapbox and strapping on my bullseye bib and ready to go. And there was much rejoicing...yea.