The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack now on Drivethru RPG!

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it.

What is the Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack? (And here I begin just quoting the blurb:)

An historical supplement on pilgrimages, relics and religion in the European Middle Ages.

The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack is filled with painstakingly researched essays on religious life (and death) in the middle ages. It lets you use relics and pilgrimage as the basis of an alternative conception of clerical magic. Also included are details on travel, burial customs, catacombs, and the business of relic theft. A travelogue of shrines and other pilgrimage sites, detailed rules for relics and reliquaries, and a listing of historical miracles (corresponding to familiar clerical spells) make this 128 page sourcebook a treasure trove of inspiration. Dozens of adventure seeds and tables for generating encounters on the road, graves and grave goods, and randomized catacomb generation and stocking round out the contents. A new class, the Palmer, provides a novel take on religious adventurers. 
But wait! Don’t take my word for it. Here’s something someone said:

An excellent and necessary supplement if you’re wanting your campaign’s religious culture to feel more European Medieval and less the polytheistic/pantheon style used in mainstream D&D

– James Raggi, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pages from a rutterkin’s notebook

The gaming group is has been pretty irregular over the summer, what with work schedules, vacations, and assorted BS.  One of our players is going to start an indefinite AD&D 1e game though — first we’ll try out a module with 5th level PCs and if we’re enjoying it, we might continue with him as DM for as long as he can stand our shenanigans.

So we each making two PCs, and naturally one of mine will be a half-orc fighter-assassin. 4th/4th then, and any equipment normally available in the PHB, but no poisons, elfin mail, strong bows or magic, as those are all the purview of the DM.  Sticking to BtB AD&D 1e, with only the MM, PHB, and DMG should be interesting.  That’s how I started D&D thirty+ years ago.

But who can resist poring over the books looking for a loophole? Not I. So I discovered some obscure AD&Disms that I had mostly never really understood or taken note of before.

ITEM: Belladonna and wolvesbane.  These two herbs are for sale in the PHB and easily overlooked.  In the real world, both are poisonous — belladonna (or “deadly nightshade”) is the most toxic European plant, and a single leaf or a handful of berries could kill, though it was also used medicinally and cosmetically.  Wolfsbane is also poisonous if eaten, but you’d need to eat a fair amount.  Belladonna was also supposedly used to make arrow poison at some point in history but I forget by whom or how effective it was — even I would not push that.  Anyway, Gornor stocked up on a few sprigs just in case he could feed it to something or someone in the game.  But then I started looking for rules related to them and I found that the MM and DMG both give somewhat contradictory information about how they are used to prevent lycanthropy.  The important bit for an assassin is: eat some belladonna, and there is a very small (1%) chance you’ll die.  But in any case you will be incapacitated for d4 days!  (MM, p. 63) I assume that is a very bad trip, given belladonna’s reputed hallucinogenic properties.  Still, no save is mentioned, so that makes it pretty useful.  There is no explanation of how wolfsbane drives away weres as it does in B/X.  DMG p. 220 only mentions that it is reputed to be a sedative and drive away werewolves.  NPC clerics use it (along with belladonna) in lycanthropy cures though (DMG p. 22).

Belladona image

Atropa Belladonna, from Wikimedia.

ITEM: Assassins can set traps pretty darn well.  The DMG (p. 20) clarifies that the Find and Remove Traps (FART) ability can be used to set traps, and that assassins set traps as thieves two levels higher than their level, not level minus two as with most abilities.  So my 4th level assassin sets traps as a 6th level thief, 45%, plus 5% for being a sneaky ass half-orc, or 50% chance of success!  Not too shabby!  Time to dig out my Grimtooth’s books.  🙂

Church trap. Source: Aaron Muzalski,

ITEM:  Assassins attacking with surprise and who choose to assassinate rather than backstab automatically cause weapon damage (it is not, however, multiplied as if it were a backstab).  So with surprise you might try the assassination table with a chance for automatic death and guaranteed damage, or go for a backstab, risking a miss but causing somewhat more damage.  We used to play that you had to make a backstab, and if you hit you roll on the assassination table, or something like that.  BtB looks like an improvement.  On the other hand the chance of an assassin moving silently or hiding is pretty weak at low levels so you’re really not likely to get a lot of surprise opportunities without careful planning.


Surprise! Zarak attack! From the D&D cartoon & action figure line. Source:


Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Dungeon World

<This post has been sitting idly by while I tried to come up with a conclusion, gave up, and forgot it, and we got into another game. But by group, before starting the current game (ACKS in Barrowmaze), played a few sessions of Dungeon World. >

The mechanics are ok — most actions fall into one of several categories: attacking (“Hack & Slash” for melee, “Volley” for missiles), defense (“Avoid danger” for most saving throws and dodging, “Defend” for standing your ground/gritting your teeth or protecting someone else), informational (“Spout lore” to know things, “Discern realities” to notice something), and a general “Parley” which is sort of a “social combat” action, trying to gain some advantage or reaction from an NPC.  These are all 2d6 rolls, modified by a relevant attribute. A total 7-9 is generally a “partial success” (you accomplish the act but there is a complication or drawback); a 10+ is full success.  Class abilities add more actions, with various results for partial or full success.  Then there are a dozen or so “advanced” actions that are more specific to tasks like travel, or else do not involve rolling at all (like recovering or leveling up).  That’s mostly fine, although some players in my group really hated how abstract this made combat.

The other significant thing is a mechanic called “bonds.”  You make a list of sentences describing some interaction of your PC and another PC  — “I want to keep X out of trouble” or “X knows incriminating information about me” or whatever.  These “bonds” come into play two ways: first, when you attempt to “aid” another PC, each bond your PC has with them adds to your roll; secondly, “resolving” bonds is one of the ways you gain XP.  Whether or not a bond is resolved is basically up the PC who takes the bond (the GM might veto this though).  It was strange that each PC would have four or five bonds that the other PCs were not even necessarily aware of.  This made the bonds seem a little forced and unnecessary.  During play our GM had the insight that the whether or not a bond was resolved should probably be up the other PC, not the one with the bond, which we all agreed would make more sense.  Adopting this change to “bonds” would probably help. (It would also help to keep a record of “resolved” bonds!  Because otherwise they are plot points that we throw away as soon as they resolve.) Still, I have a problem with the assumption that the bonds are somehow creating a story in a sense that just playing a game without them would not.  This is something I am probably being obstinate about but I just don’t agree with the theory that game-mechanics-driven-story-construction work, or work as well as just letting story emerge naturally from interactions at the table.  DW (and all the indie games) seem to try to “hard wire” storytelling into the game.

Another thing about that I’m ambivalent about is the style of DMing Dungeon World encourages.  The DW rules explicitly tell the DM to be very hands-off about giving players different avenues to explore, and in fact to prepare as little as possible.  The intent is to avoid wasted efforts and to allow as much room for improvisation as possible, I think.  I’ve seen this outlook praised fairly persuasively.  So I think the idea is well-intentioned, but I’m not sure it works, at least with my group.  The players are expected to come up with adventure seeds.  This is probably very empowering for a certain kind of player who wants their character to be central to the “story” of the game.  One could say, “Oh by the way, I almost married the bandit king’s sister but broke it off because she’s a werewolf, let’s go talk to her”.  Or: “Hey, there’s an ancient catacomb under East End. Let’s explore that.”  I don’t find that quite as satisfying as interacting with an environment that is “there” whether I explore it or not.  It seems to me that DW is more like kids playing “let’s pretend” than what I’m used to doing with D&D.

It took us a couple of sessions to really get the mechanics down, but once we did it was not bad.  My main gripe would be that the system makes it a little too easy to fall into the rut of going around the table with each player rolling to “spout lore,” “discern reality,” etc., and paying more attention to the applicable skills than to the situation the PCs are supposed to be in.  I’m not sure you can really blame the mechanics for that, or if it is laziness on the part of players, but in my experience, I am more motivated to come up with descriptions, look for clever stratagems, role-play interactions, and so one when there is no “base” chance for things to “just work” because of some numbers on my sheet.  DW certainly falls on the lighter side of rules systems when you look at the amount of math, modifiers, and dice rolling, but even so the broad categories of the rolls you can make still seem to steer players into the kinds of patterns that completely turn off to 3rd and 4th edition D&D.

TL;DR: Dungeon World is pretty good, and could use a little tweaking in how “bonds” work, and I’d probably play it again, but my group didn’t really love it.

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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non-D&D qns part three

16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.
Probably GURPS.  The default system uses ‘power points’ that come from the PC’s Fatigue.  This is equal to the Strength stat, so most mages have a limited pool of power points, and casting spells causes the mage to be weaker with clear mechanical implications.  Very nice.  More skilled mages spend fewer points.  It’s pretty elegant; the only downside is some of the spells are too powerful and some are too weak.  There are lots of optional magic systems for GURPS, but my favorite is the ritual magic system introduced in the Voodoo supplement.  It is perfect for more historical or “realistic” settings as the magic is mostly indirect, affects probabilities rather than making big booms so it can be explained away by skeptics, and mirrors a lot of real world occult ideas about invoking spirits.
17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?
I am not much of a fan of high-tech stuff but I would, true to form, say GURPS does it the best.  During a heavy GURPS phase, my brother and one of our friends got a Guns Digest type book and converted used the information there about muzzle velocities etc. to stat out EVERY FRICKING GUN in production.  GURPS could tease out some subtle differences.  And yet a gunshot will probably kill you period.  Gritty as hell. Plus don’t forget Steve Jackson Games was raided by the government while working on their Cyberpunk book.  🙂
18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
I think “crunchy” means “has rule for everything”?  D&D 3rd edition, and no it was not.  If “crunchy” means “has calculations that will cause you to learn all the functions on a scientific calculator in order to level up,” probably Rolemaster with “All options” in play from the Companion books.  They got a little out of hand.  We still enjoyed it once character generation was done though.
19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?
I don’t understand this question.  I hear “fluff” used a lot of different ways. If “fluffy” just means rules-light, I tried some FATE and it was pretty good; it is just not my choice for fantasy, and fantasy is my preferred RPG style.  I think I’ve heard “fluff” used to mean all the stuff that is not in the “mechanics” of the rules, in which case I’m not sure how to approach the question — does it mean which game is most interested in background and setting over rules?
20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?
My last D&D campaign, set in the ruins of a previous campaign setting (Telengard).  Because I made it up.  The setting I enjoyed most as a player is hard to pin down.  Maybe the semi-historical Norman England game I mentioned last time.  The setting was interesting and dangerous.  We mostly fought humans with complicated motivations rather than simply going after monsters.  And our characters often had to make major sacrifices — some dying horribly — to prevent worse things from happening to the NPCs.  We were very “immersed” in the story, is what I guess I mean.  The fact that my brother, who was running, really understood and communicated the period to everyone helped a lot.  No anachronistic characters for one thing.
21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?
“Over the edge” — Atlas Games’ weird mix of film noir, William S. Burroughs, and the X-files-before-there-was-an-X-files.  Or maybe Call of Cthulhu set in the 1920s.  Both were so specific and so strange that it was probably too much to ask of any player.  I don’t know if the GMs enjoyed them but both were very short-lived.
22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?
Ha!  This guy I know, Chip, who is both intentionally and unintentionally strange on every level, ran what he called “Wacky World.”  It was GURPS with every sourcebook in play — Space, Supers, Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Ice Age, whatever.  The player characters were ridiculously min-maxed.  One PC had robotic legs (“crazy legs”) and neural implants and martial arts that basically made him capable of wiping out the entire crew of the Enterprise using two force swords.  Which he did.  Single-handed.  Another carried around a laser cannon that could destroy anything.  My character was a sharpshooter who could shoot things — from the ground — that were in orbit.  He needed to because the galactic police decided to nuke us from orbit.  It was mostly played for laughs.  Chip loved imitating various political figures as NPCs.  We laughed, but we were probably stoned too.
23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?
I honestly object to calling any system “broken,” but the two stand-out stinkers IMO are Gamma World which fails to deliver the game I expected based on the art and the early 80s zeitgeist about nuclear war, and Battlelords of the 23rd Century, an incoherent mess that was basically ‘alien supersoldiers with big laser guns’.  I could never run GW now, it just has too many silly things going on.  Battlelords I tried back in college.  I believe the author was running it, and he had lots of enthusiasm but it was just stupid.  Couldn’t get past character generation.  (Sorry Larry!)
24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?
Fantasy Wargaming.  I still think there is something worth salvaging in that confused mess of a game.
25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?
Maybe Dungeon World, or FATE?  Not really to my taste though. 
26 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?
None, dammit!  I honestly have never enjoyed an IP-based RPG other than the old d6 Star Wars, and that was really in spite of the IP.  We just had a great GM who loved Star Wars but loved it enough to mock and humiliate the setting some too.  Star Wars, being a mess of tropes from science fiction and fantasy, works the same way D&D does — it just taps into a million themes you’ve seen elsewhere and assembles them into a gamable state.  Sort of the opposite of Tolkien-based games, where the IP/setting so carefully tied to a plot that you feel like a minor character in someone else’s story.
27 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.
Oops, already answered that.  More details: the gaming group was some of the nicest, funniest, smartest people I’d played with; one player was totally new to RPGs and was having a Freaks & Geeks experience (10 years before Carlos the dwarf).  I went through at least four or five PCs, all of them dying gloriously, except for the last one, Lothar of the Hill People.  My Gomorian killed a damn AT-AT. Bitchin.
28 What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.
The “Optional Resolution System” in “Out where the buses don’t run”.  (Is that a free module?  I got it free for helping with proofreading.)  You have a d6.  When you try to do something, you need to roll a 4+.  If you get hurt once you are kicked don to a d4; hurt again you die.  Simple and elegant and you could play blind drunk.
29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain how.
1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  The skill and encumbrance systems are still one of my favorites for D&D, and the whole thing is a great re-imagining of what D&D could be.  2. Every other retroclone of OD&D or Basic, for giving more fuel and examples of workable revisions.
30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.
The whole family of GURPS sourcebooks, especially the historical/cultural ones, like Vikings and Swashbucklers and Old West. They have the perfect amount of research, focused on how to game the settings.  My own blog posts on finding D&D-fuel in unlikely books is inspired by their examples.  I am in awe of them.
31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?
I have no answer for that, because almost everything I can think of is back in print or has been “cloned” in some form or another.  I could gripe that nothing quite recreates B/X, I guess.  Oh wait a minute — maybe Boot Hill.  The original was great and there was a second or third edition that fleshed out the role-playing rules that I liked.  I have not investigated other Old West options though.
Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 10:01 am  Comments (1)  

nonD&D qns part 1

So there’s another set of daily questions for March.  I sort of missed the bandwagon, but it’s still March, so here’s some answers.  The questions?   Here they are.  I think it shouldn’t take an entire post for each question; I’ll do a few at a time.

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?
Boot Hill, after D&D.
2 In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?
Did I stutter? Boot Hill.  It was very different, as we assumed there was a lawman to keep on the good side of (until you could out-draw him!) and while we did consider the town map to be a sort of “dungeon” to conquer, we figured you were supposed to go after some bounties on outlaws, then build up the resources to plan and pull off your own bank robberies and shootouts in town.  We ended up taking over half the buildings and running the place.
3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?
Least enjoyable for me was Champions.  The points just killed the joy after a while, too much min-maxing and exploiting loopholes.  The most enjoyable for me was probably Gamma World, just because it was so random and you got so many hit points!
4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?
Steve Jackson and the stable of GURPS writers kicked ass in the GURPS sourcebooks of the 1990s onward.  They could actually explain things in clear English, even if some of their “facts” were a little questionable.
5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?
The Fantasy Trip.  I never met anyone who played it back in the day, and by the time I discovered it, it was dead and supplanted by GURPS.  But as a simpler cousin of GURPS, I think it had a lot of potential.
6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?
Chaos beastmen and Chaos warriors  from Warhammer.  Why? John Fucking Blanche.
Published in: on March 18, 2014 at 3:02 pm  Comments (3)  

13th Age playtest

I haven’t posted a session summary or much of anything about the campaign I’ve been running lately, although we’ve been playing pretty much every week.  I just haven’t had a lot of time and one of the players has been keeping a log of the sessions that he sends around via email.  I really ought to have been posting those — they are funny and concise, and it might be interesting to add the DM’s comments where they are not spoilers.

Anyway, having been swamped with work and stuff around the house and so on, I decided to put the campaign on hiatus for a while and take a break from DMing.  In the meantime the group will be trying out a bunch of games, and I hope someone will take over DMing at least for a while until I get my DM mojo back. (Time will go on in the campaign world though so that the player’s various building projects and such can proceed — the bard is building a bardic college, the paladin is starting an orphanage/madrassa,  and other PCs will probably come up with other ways to spend their ill-gotten loot.)

So the first game we tried was 13th Age.  Some of us were very skeptical when it was first announced (“The people who tried to turn D&D in a CCG or MMO bring you the 13th Age”) but the finished product is actually not so bad.  We used pregens made up by John, who DMed, and just had to personalize the characters with the handful of things that are unique to 13th Age: backgrounds, icon relationships, and “the one unique thing about my character” (I am not sure I am calling these by their technical names).

The “Backgrounds” were the thing we liked the most.  Instead of a predetermined skill set, you choose 2 or more areas where you have some experiences beyond your race/class stuff and invoke them for rolls that they would be relevant to, by distributing eight “points” (maximum of 5 on any one thing).  So if you took (as I did for my wizard character) “Secretary of the Forbidden Lore Club in warlock academy: 3” I might add 3 to any roll where that comes into play — knowing the names/quirks of other wizards who might have been in the club too, knowing stuff they don’t teach you in Wizarding School, knowing about secret cults or curses, finding a school chum who might be willing or able to help the party, etc.  The rules encourage something very specific rather than general, as this both makes the skill flexible and fleshes out the campaign world.  Old schoolers might see this as an echo of the optional “background skills” from AD&D 1e, but instead of being limited to professions they can be anything.  As I said, we really liked this skill-less skill system and will likely steal it for any future D&D type games we play.  It is about as simple as you can get while still attaching a number to skills.

The “relationships to icons” (or whatever it is a called) involves selecting up to three of the thirteen gods/demigods/heroes that rule the game world, and deciding if they like you, hate you, or have a conflicted relationship with you.  Some of them are “good guys” (The Archmage, the Emporer), some are “bad guys” (the Diabolist, the Orclord), and some are ambiguous (the Elf Queen, the Shadowmaster).  This basically takes the place of alignment.  In fact it really hearkens back to the origins of “alignment” in D&D, meaning whose side you are on, only in this case you might be on more than one side, or opposing one or more sides.  I think of Treebeard telling Merry & Pippin that he’s not altogether on anyone’s side….  There are some consequences of this choice in play, and the starter adventure in the book notes that certain information or goals might come up according to whether or not any PCs have relationships with specific icons.  We did not delve too deeply into this in our playtest.  It looks OK but I see it as a double-edged sword.  Either you use the 13 godlings presented or you replace them with your own pantheon, which means you need to decide if you’re buying into the whole game-world or not, and supplements or modules for 13th Age will presumably use these icons as important plot points, so if you decide the “icons” present are not for you, you might have to excise a lot from any future materials.  I am not opposed to games with specific settings (MERP and  WHFRP are both awesome games IMO) but I do prefer D&Dish games to be more world-neutral.  Then again if you don’t rely on extras anyway you won’t have a problem.

The last bit is choosing something unique about your PC.  Part of me groans a little because that should be something that develops in play, IMO, but remember the game is catering to new-schoolers too, so I’ll let that pass.  Again there are no specific limits (except it can’t be a combat bonus), but the DM should probably treat this a bit like a wish: get too greedy and it will be a mixed blessing.  I took “I can understand the language of animals” (but not speak it) which seemed like it could be interesting but not too overpowered; another player took “Everyone believes whatever I say” (which did not actually impact the session, as there was little role-playing).  The DM excluded logical impossibilities, and pointed out that it could mean the PC cannot lie at all.

Other than these three areas, the character sheet looks a lot like a stripped down 4e character.  There is AC, and a “mental defense” and “physical defense” for avoiding other attacks.  Class abilities might be at-will, daily, or “cyclic” — the last meaning once per “battle” or encounter, but possibly rechargeable during a battle as the “escalation die” increases.  More on that in a second.  Some abilities are “triggered” by certain events or rolls, for example if your roll is even, or you hit last round, or when you miss.  This I think is a refinement of something in 4e but I am a little fuzzy on 4e now, having not played it much.

The escalation die is the main mechanical innovation we saw.  You use a die as a counter, starting at zero, and increasing by one every round until it hits (and stops at) “6”.  This number is added to the PC’s attack and damage rolls as the fight slowly gets more “climactic”.  Our DM, who actually read the book and some of the discussion online about this game, thinks the idea is to avoid the “all or nothing” first round of 4e games.  It certainly does seem to encourage defensive play in the beginning rounds and it does give the PCs a big advantage later on, if they last!  The weird thing though is that it is anti-realistic (in real life you’d be getting fatigued by a fight, not getting stronger like the Hulk), and an example of what you’d still call a “dissociated mechanic” (a thing in the game that does not really make sense within the game-world).

Monsters looked like they were fairly simple stat blocks — HP, AC, MD, PD, and base to hit/damage are all they really need, plus a few notes for any special stuff.  BIG IMPROVEMENT here.  Movement is not really bothered with since there is no “grid” and really no need for minis, which is a big change from WotC D&D, but we still used minis to keep track of the action.  We just didn’t need to measure or count squares, and put them on the bare tabletop.  That was nice.

Anyway our consensus was that the game seemed pretty good.  It is definitely on the “heroic” side: my 1st level wizard had five spells, and could take three good hits from a goblin before dropping.  And yet there is some danger, and our fighter type guy went to zero hp or lower in both fights we played.  The combats lasted about half an hour to an hour, which considering that we were learning the rules seemed OK.  We worried a little that the escalation mechanic would encourage longer combats generally, but it is still a long way from 4e, where we rarely completed more than one fight in a session.  We only played one session, but agreed it was probably enough to get a sense of the game and what we liked about it & didn’t.  So caveat emptor there — a longer playtest might reveal more good or bad or more likely both.


Does this game feel like D&D? Yes.

Is it rules-light enough for casual gamers? Maybe.

Is it crunchy enough for engineers? Yes.

Would I play it again? Yes, but it would not be my choice for a campaign.

Would I run it? Well….probably not.  There’s still a lot of 4e stuff, and you start out as hero rather than becoming one.

What would I steal from this game? The “backgrounds” skill system for sure.

In a sentence? This is still 4e, but pared down in light of the most common criticisms it faced and with a few improvements actually that make it a better game.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Top ten trolly troll questions answered

All the cool RPG bloggers have already answered these so now I join the dogpile.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?

Yes. But I am reconsidering now and sort of wish I’d made multiple racial classes (dwarf fighter type, dwarf thief type, etc.).  It’s one of those areas where I discovered that my players have very different preferences from me.  I’d be happy with four classes and race as a non-mechanical trait; they’d like to have rules for ensuring no two fighters need be “the same.”

 (2). Do demi-humans have souls?

Maybe halflings do.  It hasn’t really come up in play.  I like the idea, as an alternative to level limits, that nonhumans can’t be raised or need extra steps to be raised, or just use different means like reincarnation, but in the heat of the game I just let Raise Dead work for everyone.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?

Ascending.  The one innovation of 3e I think makes total sense.  Don’t get me started on bonus inflation though.

(4). Demi-human level limits?

I caved to my whiny players, so no limits.  But my Platonic ideal of the game limits hobbits (and most humanoids) to 4th, elves and dwarves (and half-orcs, half-elves, and most monsters) to 8th, and humans ONLY to 12th.  OK I guess a dragon or giant PC could hit 12th maybe.

(5). Should thief be a class?

Of course.  And thief skills should be either things you almost never roll for, or things that are super-normal like 1980s ninjas. 

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?

Sort of.  Class abilities and a few bogeys you roll might give you a talent of some kind.  Next time around I think I’ll try something like traits or backgrounds instead.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

Eventually.  Depends on how smart the players are and what magic items they have mostly, but high level MUs can do some seriously outrageous stuff.  Actually at third level things begin to shift because of Invisibility, but in my campaign the wizard really began to shine at 5th with Fireball.  Would be a different story if the fighters weren’t protecting him though, and the fighter types tend to make it out alive more than anyone else, so based on actual survival rates, I’d say dwarves are the toughest.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?

No, but I don’t find them all that wonky, just depends on the setting.  I think of them as dialects of Common that immediately identify one as Other or Us, and there would just be Chaotic and Lawful, no Evil, Good, or Neutral.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)?

Yes! Actually I started with the former and slowly shifted to the latter.  Low-level play should use gold = XP, mid to higher level needs to stop that or it gets crazy.  Mostly now I give XP for player-defined objectives and monsters defeated. My players may not realize they are setting the goals though and think there is a ‘plot’ they are accomplishing.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E DD, 4E DD, Next ?

For a free-wheeling DM: ODD or Moldvay

For the OCD DM: 1e or 3e.

For a role player: Moldvay, 1e, or maybe 2e

For a min/maxer:  3e

And so on… best for who?

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?

Individual.  Thieves should shoot up levels, paladins and wizards need to  go more slowly.

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ships ‘n’ Ships

A year or two ago I had my nieces & nephews over (I think it was a birthday party) and at one point the kids all went downstairs to play with my figures.  If you told me ten years ago that I’d let any kids handle my figures, I’d have laughed myself apoplectic, but I guess I’ve mellowed.  The oldest came up with some rules for playing a ships & sea monsters game, and wrote down some notes titled Ships ‘n’ ships, but it was nothing I could quite figure out.

Out of the blue a couple of months ago, my daughter wanted to break out the ships again, and seemed to suddenly have a lot of recall about what the rules were (much more than she remembered the morning after the original game; go figure).  From her memories and my interpolations, we came up with a workable if somewhat simple game that engaged all my Man-o-War ships (well, the less breakable ones, and a bunch of card ships I’d been hoarding) as well as the sea monsters.  The goal of the game was to land on an island with a lighthouse, that was guarded by two vampires; defeat the vampires and you win.  Along the way you might be attacked by sea monsters and sunk and/or capture additional ships.

The original game had most of the players running ships and one player serving as the adversary (” the Merpeople”) who controls the sea monsters, but for two players I suggested we just take turns  moving the sea monsters, so that it played a bit like Zombies!!!

We used a large blue battle mat one of my players brought over for D&D, and that was the board; wargame hills served as the starting island and goal island; the lighthouse is from a decoration; a few small islands were marked with flat cards.


The mouse was not part of the game. I didn’t even realize it was there when I took the picture.

We set up with the two player ships touching the ‘start’ island, and all the ghost ships and sea monsters were off-board until placed.

The turn sequence was:

  1. Move your ship (or 1 of your ships if you have more than one)
  2. Place or move a ghost ship
  3. place or move a sea monster

If your ship comes in contact with a small island, it can beach there and be safe from sea monsters.  If it comes in contact with the lighthouse island, you have to fight the two vampires in succession (one per turn) to win.  If your ship contacts a ghost ship, you claim it for your fleet.  If a sea monster contacts your ship, you have to fight it.  If you contact another player’s ship, you can fight it as well.

Sea monsters and ghost ships may be taken from the ‘reserve’ pile and placed anywhere on the board, but they must be at least 9 squares away from any player’s ship(s).  If there are none left in the reserve piles, you can only move ships or monsters already in play.

All movement is d6 squares, except that the sea monsters that take up more than one square can always move at least their base’s length.

Combat is just a roll-off of d6’s (high roll wins; re-roll ties).  Defeated player ships are returned to the start island or to the stock of ghost ships; defeated monsters go to the sea monster pile; defeated vampires are just removed from play.

A game took 15-20 minutes, and was actually pretty fun in a simplistic way.  Maybe some day we’ll add event cards to spice things up.

For want of other entertainment, I uploaded the above picture to Google Drive and inserted the rules in some text boxes and voila, a one-page minis game.  I’d LOVE to see more games like that which

  • fit on one sheet of paper
  • are suitable for playing with young kids
  • use a picture of a set up game to provide examples/diagrams/explain the rules

I don’t know if there would be enough interest to do this properly but what I’d like to see is a one page game contest or something. Any takers?  Surely you can do a better job than this: Ships’n’ships (link is to pdf file).

Published in: on May 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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The OTHER Fantasy Wargaming — not an Obscure FRPG Appreciation Day post

This was going to be saved for the May 30th “Obscure FRPG Appreciation Day” suggested at the blog Mesmerized by sirens.  But the cutoff for that blog circus is games from 1989 or earlier, and this is bit too new.

A good while back I wrote a series of posts on Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming.  (A compilation is in my “Pages” area but lacking the comments that you have to search the blog posts for!)  That was published in 1981 by Patrick Stephens Limited (PSL), a publisher that also published a number of wargaming books by Bruce Quarrie (one of the contributors to the first FW and an editor at PSL before the firm was bought by Rupert Murdoch and dissolved).

In 1990 they published a new book with the title Fantasy Wargaming; this time by Martin Hackett.  The credits indicate he mainly thanks his parents for helping with photography and typing, and his gaming buddies for playtesting etc.  I’m not familiar with anything else he’s written apart from the revision/sequel, Fantasy Gaming, which came out in 2007.

But Fantasy Wargaming is an awesome mess.  There are copious illustrations, both line drawings (sketches of figures — a real joy to identify) and photographs of figures and set-ups.  There is also a set of maps.  There is a plain “outline” map, a copy of it overlaid with hexes (“players map”) and a second hex map with a simple key indicated the dominant terrain of a hex (for setting up battles, etc.).  Very cool.

The photos of figures show a nice overview of the state of the art of fantasy miniatures.  I think the golden age of fantasy miniatures ended in the early 1990’s, when the lead scare, changes in the RPG and gaming industry, etc. changed the field immensely.  A lot of companies went under or floundered about.   Styles and fashions changed.  New sculptors entered the field.  Execution and mold-making evolved enough to attain a new look, and the use of more tin and even zinc alloys increased the strength of the castings, making more delicate poses and features possible.  The stuff that followed was not necessarily bad, but it was different and more standardized and more conscious of belonging to ‘product line’ with a uniform look.

But Fantasy Wargaming shows a great survey of everything from the golden age:  early Minifigs (who have character but must be admitted to be very crude in same cases) to Citadel slotta-based minis, as well as scratch-builds and a few conversions, and even plastic toys suitable for use in wargames.  There is a lot of terrain pictured.  And even period RPG books.  It’s quite a visual feast.  The only thing I complain about is the poor quality of the black and white photos, and small size of all images.  I wish this were a folio rather than an octavo.  The later book has better photography and better reproductions in the book, but far fewer and not many are old figures.  It really documents the changes in the state of fantasy minis — not something the author necessarily intended, but fascinating.  You can see some more details about the book (and images) here.  The reviewer there is not as enthusiastic as I am!

As to the game, the rules are spread across a number of chapters that also provide some background information on the hobby.  It suffers the same problems of presentation that the first FW had, although the two books are hard to compare really.  In all honesty I have not tried the rules out.  Hackett says that the later book presents an improved version of the game and I’d be inclined to try that first. But FW has some interesting ideas for inspiration.

There is d100 table of ‘campaign events’ for a fantasy wargame campaign.  Things like:

  • 5 trolls from the nearest hill attack each hex until killed.
  • Horses struck by mystery illness. No movement for this move.
  • New mine discovered, produces 50 credits for three years.

Sure they are kind of generic but there are 100 of them.  Likewise there are brief guidelines and tables for creating regions, filling a hex map with terrain types, settlements, and monsters, and generating the rulers of areas.  There are simple army lists for various cultures and monstrous races.  There is also a gazetteer for a fantasy land, with random encounter tables and so forth for hex-crawling with an army.  That sounds like a hoot. He has a bestiary of traditional and original monsters, but their descriptions, game stats, and other factors like move rates are dispersed through the book.  Some of the new creatures are interesting, for example the “Lubin” (a wolf-goblin were-creature); but all are very loosely defined.  There are 100 magic items (some apparently cursed) that are mostly original (e.g. the Staff of the earth that lets you talk to plants, a magical talking wolf, and similar) and many are clearly designed to be of use in a wargame rather than RPG campaign (for example a magic mirror that reveals enemies in neighboring hexes).  There are some simple economics guidelines with costs for supplies, construction, and recruitment in “credits”.     

The RPG part of FW looks very simple and appealing.  There are five primary abilities (Power, Fitness, Agility, Luck, and Learning) and three secondary abilities (F.A., M.A., and Stealth).  There are three “Fighting Ability” categories: Piercing, Staff, and Missile.  Then there are six skills: Craft, Fauna, Flora, Languages, Literacy, and Perception.  The sample character is an elf and has a list of ten spells (there are many later in the rules) and two languages (elven not included; presumably you don’t need to list your PC’s native tongue).  The primary abilities and skills look like they are 1-100; the others are mostly single digits, and all under 20.  But the actual rules are not given; we are left to infer the game from the character sheet.  (The “sequel” does indeed provide the missing rules, and we learn that “F.A.” is fighting ability and M.A. is “magic ability,” as well as being treated to details on the races, classes, and even level, er, rank titles.  I love that the various different races have different titles for the same rank in a class.)

There is a concise review of Fantasy Gaming over here for the interested.  It made me rather interested in trying the RPG rules out.

As an RPG, you really need the second book to flesh out the game, and the wargaming rules are much more coherently presented in the second book as well.  I suppose the first volume is obsolete as a game manual, but it is certainly the more interesting of the two to skim for ideas and pictures of old miniatures.

The first book reminds me of a number of old RPG books — Arneson’s First fantasy campaign (because it is disorganized but filled with wonderful little ideas here and there); Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming (because it attempts to survey the hobby and then offers disorganized rules); Dicing with dragons and Holme’s Fantasy Roleplaying Games (because of the glimpses of one man’s journey in the hobby, and the discussion of moral and educational aspects of gaming).  Like all of these, it is clearly a labor of love. And like the first two, despite it’s obscurity it has some detractors.  Still, as an artifact of a bygone era in gaming, and a reminder of what might have been had the industry not consolidated so much in the 1990’s, it is a joy to read.  For a miniatures lover like me, it is worth owning just for the pictures; for a role-player, it is possibly less useful now unless you plan to run a ‘domain management and war’ endgame.  It also makes me think of the original Warhammer rules — the first edition battle rules that were also a simple RPG.  But what I know of WFB 1st edition is mostly just gleaned from the Citadel Compedium and a few White Dwarf ads; I’ve never seen the original.  I discovered Warhammer when the second edition came out, and although it provided a bit for skirmishes the RPG side was gone.

Copies of both of Hackett’s books turn up fairly regularly in the used book market, and both are for sale on Amazon through ‘Amazon partners,’ so you can find them pretty cheaply if your curiosity is piqued!

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Free clysters and pottage!

That’s right, Burgs & Bailiffs is now available for free download! (Click here)

Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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