Sunday, September 29, 2013

OSR 30 Day Probation – 25 to 29

25 Fave Magic Item

A well-played Runesword is without doubt my favorite magic item. I stress “well-played” because all too often rune weapons are run poorly by DMs who don’t want to strip away a player’s agency. Taking Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer as the model for the runeblade, we see that making the hero a pawn of fate is exactly what a runesword is intended to do. This is why in D&D runeweapons had their own Intelligence and powers the DM was supposed to keep secret from the players and use to undermine and manipulate them. The French rpg Bloodlust actually has the weapons themselves as characters, while even games like Stormbringer and the old Palladium FRPG had better depictions of the duplicity and menace of rune weapons. Basically, if a player is happy to get a rune weapon, you’re running it wrong.

26 Fave Nonmagic Item

Iron spikes, how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways:
Stopping doors for sleep at night
Or opening them to let in light
Dropped down a well to gauge a fall
Tapped in at intervals for climbing walls
For picking locks with DM’s permission
Or thrown to get rust monster attention
These examples are but a few
Of the reasons why I do love you

27 Character You Want To Play in Future

I’ve never sat down and just played a mage. This is partly because I dislike the vulnerability at lower levels, and partly because I find the D&D spell system an unwieldy and Byzantine nightmare. I figure that although my impressions are correct in general, I may have missed out on some insights by not having given the mage its due. I guess that’s my New Year’s resolution – play a mage in the next game of D&D I sit down at.

Whenever that will be. Sigh…

28 Character You Will Never Play Again

Probably a ranger, because although I love the IDEA of the class, the execution always leaves something to be desired. Either his outdoor skills are useless in the dungeon, or he’s out of his element in the city, or on another plane, etc etc. I once played a ranger who was a failed druid, and that is now how I always see rangers – nature lovers who were just not good enough to unlock the mystical bond with nature they needed to protect it.

29 The Number You Always Roll on a d20

Thirteen or twenty, rarely anything in between. Sounds like my life – some unlucky setbacks, no major fails to date, and the occasional big win.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Heart of Dorkness Day 23-24

23 Least Favorite Monster

I touched on this earlier, but plant monsters suck. Or more accurately, I have no idea how to DM them.

With any other monster, they move as do the PCs, and so encounters are a collision of forces. Plants… not so much. They’re just there. If you enter the garden/jungle/arboretum, you have willingly stepped into their territory. Most murderhobos at this point go Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore and tell the DM they’re on double secret alert and start dropping napalm everywhere. If anyone wants to share how they DM plants, feel free to tell me below.

Although I probably still won't use 'em....

24 Favorite Energy Whatnow?

This is some reeeeal non OSR post-2E sheeot going on with this question. Alright, I’ll let Johnny Rotten reply for me:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Day Late & A Dollar Short – 30 Day Thingamajig, 19-22

19 Fave Plant/Elemental

Plant or Elemental? Plemental? I think Shambling Mound (a la Swamp Thing) is the only thing that fits this definition. I also think whoever started this 30 Day OSR Hot Mess might have wanted to save some monster categories for next year. ; )

Oh well, let’s go with plant monster. Can’t beat Myconid (mushroom men). They’re there underground, minding their own business, tending to their mushroom fields, then someone pisses them off and BAM spore attacks, healing shrooms, etc etc. Fun stuff.

I always had problems DMing ‘normal’ plant monsters – tell players their characters are in a garden or jungle and they insist they’re always on alert, or start lobbing flaming oil or chopping at every vine. Besides having a stationary plant monster guard a treasure or small passageway (and again being burnt out), I never found much use for them.

20 Humanoid/Natural/Fey

Again with the multiple post-2e monster taxonomy. I dunno what ‘natural’ even signifies, and as a proud grognard I ain’t about to find out.

Let’s go with fairies, specifically Sprites. Aside from the good soft drink associations, whenever a sprite randomly cursed a player character back in the day I felt like D&D was actually fulfilling its promise of emulating fantasy literature and escaping its wargame roots. Alas, the cure was often a few thousand GP to the local cleric, when a quest would have so much more fun and added magic to the playing experience. Oh well, when I DM I try to put as much unexplainable magic and wonder back in my games, and quests to break enchantments beat the vending machine mentality of getting an X level poobah to cast a spell any day of the week.

21 Dragon

I disremember if this existed in D&D, but I loved the Shadow Dragon from Darksword Adventures (remember that paperback-sized game by Hickman & Weiss based on the novels? Always wanted to run/play that…). As the colors multiplied, D&D dragons kind of lost their ethereal, force-of-nature quality, and became another set of attacks and abilities. Shadow dragons were part of shadow, and shot down stars from under their wings if I remember correctly. Good, atmospheric stuff.

22 Fave Monster

Favorite monster overall as opposed to all the categories of monsters we’ve traipsed through already? Yeesh!

OK, my favorite monsters are those that the players cannot beat in a stand up fight. In video games like Resident Evil (specifically 2 & 3), zeds and lashers soon lose their menace, but those hulking horrors in trenchcoats that can’t be stopped? When you hear their BGM your pulse races. Ditto The Thing for movies – you can kill parts of it, but if even a cell escapes, the world is toast. The old Deities & Demigods even made gods mortal by giving them stats, which I found a terrible thing, and would use to represent avatars, not the deities themselves. The book also gave killable versions of Lovecraftian & Elric Mythos’ creatures, while Chaosium kept them in their primal, unbeatable and thus more fearsome form. In Stormbringer, if you see a herd of colossal metal oxen come your way, hear the dread voice of Bellbane in the mist or the tentaculared horror of the Kyrenee, you run, regardless of whether you have demon arms and armor or not. Even in Call of Cthulhu, access to the awesome destructive power of guns and explosives will most likely only hasten your demise.

These unbeatable threats not only keep the thrill and uncertainty alive, they also force players to be more creative in finding solutions and can also further the narrative. Want to stop a Tarrasque ravaging the kingdom? You could quest for a Wish and all the other junk you need to kill it, but you might need to find a sage first to find this stuff out, or you could just try to lure it through a gate to another plane, or find its natural enemy (a la the Grahluk and Elenoin from Elric), or any other number of solutions. As a DM, just keep quiet and let players run through a number of plans – they may surprise you and add some invaluable, magical adventure to the game. Look at the end of Death Frost Doom – no way the players can fight what they’ve unleashed head on, so now they’re forced to think waaaay out of the box to solve the problem they’ve caused.

(Or move to another continent and take up mushroom gardening…)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Month O' Blogging Defiance – 16, 17, 18

16 Favorite Aberration

The nomenclature here is a bit puzzling, and I suspect that players of later editions are more conversant with the rigid stratification of creature types and templates, but I take an aberration is a monster whose very alienness marks it as monstrous. In that case, although the otyugh and aboleth are strong contenders, I’d have to go with the unsung doppelganger.

Dopplegangers aren’t that tough head on, but add in their shapeshifting, the magic items they’ve stolen or claimed from victims, and the general mayhem they can cause, and they have serious potential to wreck an entire gameworld or turn it to their whims.

DMing a doppelganger sometime soon? Go and watch John Carpenter’s The Thing, then read The Things by David Watts. That’s the level of headgame mindfuckedness you should be aiming for.

17 Favorite Animal/Vermin

Animal or vermin, which is it? Once again, my D&D knowledge roll is a failure. I’ll go with animal and say I always liked the idea of cave oxen, herds of musk ox-like herbivores roaming the ginourmous caverns of the underdark. Adventurers are prone to see them as a food source, that is until a stampede of these creatures cause a TPK or something near it.

18 Favorite Immortal/Outsider

I have no idea what an outsider is (Ralph Macchio’s Pony-Boy comes to mind), but as for immortals, there was a monster that looked like a blue-skinned Mr. T from 2e D&D that I loved. I forget the name, but they were like the cosmic merchants called the Devourers from the old Fafhrd & Grey Mouser tale ‘The Bazaar of the Bizarre.” 

Although some of my friends didn’t like idea of some mystic giants setting up stores and cafes in a dungeon as it was ‘unrealistic’, I think unrealistic is a critique that falls pretty flat in a game about dungeons and freakin’ dragons. It was also a fun way to have a ‘save point/store’ in the middle of a tediously long delve.

Ever Wonder Why Monsters are Bigger and Tougher the Deeper Down You Delve?

Monsters get bigger and stronger the deeper down you delve. Every adventurer knows this to be true, but few speak of it.

Capture a koubalt at the entrance to a cave or labyrinth, take it down a level or two and stake it there. A month later, you’ll have a g’noll. The same with an orkh – bring it a few levels lower and you’ll have an ohger. Whole parties have been massacred by giant beetles they unknowingly brought in their packs, or spiders.

No one knows why this happens, and why men and their fellows are immune. I’ve heard at least a dozen theories, though.

1 The old scrolls tell of radioactive ruins of pre-cataclysm civilization that lie in the darkest depths, the eldritch energies from their broken war-engines permeating the subterranean environment and changing its denizens.

2 Actually, I read that an antediluvian meteor created the crater that later became the dungeon, and brought with it an alien microscopic spore. The spore colony is still buried beneath the tunnels, and is the epicenter for these mutations.

3 Fools! At the bottom lies a hellmouth from which all these monsters are spawned, and as they recede from it so too does their infernal power diminish! Going back they replenish themselves and take on stronger forms.

4 Horsepiss. A dreaming god lies forgotten at the bottom of the dungeon, Its dreams invading and warping reality more the closer you approach to where It sleeps. If you find It, you’ll get your greatest wish granted.

5 Nah! A sage told me there’s a gateway to another dimension at bottom, and what is evil on this side is good on the other and vis versa. Monsters and demons on this side are transformed angels and fairies from the other.

6 You’re all wrong. The ancient unknown builders used non-Euclidean geometry to make the maze, and it distorts reality by amplifying monsters the closer they get to the center.

7 You’ve got it backwards. Deep dwellers are actually normal – it’s the sun that distorts and weakens them. They get their power from the anti-sun at the center of the world, which replenishes them when they near it, just as our sun sucks the life out of them. Just like vampires.

8 If you’d studied natural history you’d know it is simply a polymorphic side-effect of abiogenic underground gases which makes lower lifeforms like worms and rats spring from the earth. It’ll warp you too if you’re down there long enough.

9 Well, I heard from an old dwarf that mystic crystals lie in the depths, and their vibrations cause the change. That’s why all adventurers carry dwarven charms and metal, to throw off the harmonics and stay unaffected.

10 A cleric told me that the crucibles of the gods, where they begat Life, still lie scattered deep in the earth. A crucible rejuvenates whatever creatures are aligned with its maker, so whatever god left his crucible down there must have been a nasty one.

11 Everybody knows that underground time flows in reverse, and these monsters are just regressing to primitive leviathan state. It’s why all adventurers stay looking so young.

12 Nah, it’s all in the mind. As you get into deep darkness, your other senses and powers heighten, and these creatures are psychically beefing themselves up to face the terrors of the abyss. Just ask a psion.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

30 Day Challenge 14 & 15

14 Favorite NPC

This is a toughie, as none really sticks out in my mind. I guess Fafhrd in a Lankhmar game I once played in my teens. 

He showed up when I was trying to get my character lucky with a barmaid under the table in a bar (I know, lame teenage gamer move), and Big Red smacked my character upside the head and gave him a lecture about treating the ladies. Sure it was a Mary Sue moment, but well done and a bit of a ‘life lesson’ inside the game about how we should comport ourselves outside it. The DM ran it well and it sticks with me as a good example of how to use famous NPCs especially – not to steal the limelight from the heroes, but to make them even more heroic.

15 Favorite Undead

Has to be Liches. Zombies and skeletons are really iconic at low levels, but when you’re ready to face a lich, you know you’re in the big time. 

I have a dim recollection of sitting in on a session at the end of Tomb of Horrors, running a thief and being exhorted by the other players to throw a gem at the lich to finish him off. I still dunno why this worked, and thought this a bit of a lame meta gamey deus-ex-machina, but overall the idea of a lich or crypt-thing waiting in their tomb, plotting and evilly intelligent is one of the scariest concepts in the sometimes absurd world of fantasy games.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Encumbrance Rules

So Tenkar asked what we do about encumbrance.
I've used this in BRP and if running D&D again, I'd port it to D&D in a sec.
You can carry as many Items as your STR score.
Item size is indicated on the chart below. A character can carry a number of ready to use Items equal to their Strength score. For every Item over the Strength score, reduce the character’s Move by 1. They also lose any Dex bonus to AC or missile weapons. Characters can carry up to 2 STR in Items.

1 handed
1 handed
1 handed
2 handed
2 handed
Ancient weapon
Knife, brass knuckles
Short sword, machete, pistol
Staff, greatsword
Damage or damage reduction
D8 or 2D4
D12 or 2D6
Modern weapon
Rocket launcher
Clothing example
Shirt or shoes
Greatcoat or suit of clothes
Diving suit or animal costume
Suit of armor
1 Item
2 Items
3 Items
4 Items
5 Items
 Packing - If Items are packed away (i.e. not ready to use but requiring a minute or two to ready), they count as half size.
Coins & Bullets – For tiny objects such as old coins or bullets, a number of objects equal to the character’s Strength equals one Item.

30 Day Challenge Catch Up – 11, 12 & 13

Favorite Adventure You Ran

The only published scenario I have ever run faithfully is ‘The Hall of Risk’ for Stormbringer. Wish I still had a copy.

I tried some small D&D dungeons (forget which ones) but there was no spark. When I ran ‘Hall’, it was like lightning in a bottle.

‘Hall of Risk’ is a gonzo ‘special episode’ type of adventure that is far removed from the dungeon. Adventurers go to the gaming hall of Balo, Jester of Chaos, and play such games as craps, chess using themselves as pawns (about 15 years before Harry Potter did it), and some other things I disremember, for the chance of getting Chaos-tainted powers.

It was a laugh riot, a micro-dungeon that really hit the aesthetic of Moorcock’s Elric novels and allowed Stormbringer to step out of D&D’s shadow, which prior scenarios like ‘Tower of Ykrth Florn’ did not. It also showed me that my mind worked better with freeform mini-sandboxes, which basically describes the adventures I have successfully run since then.

Favorite Location

Which brings me to my next answer – NOT the dungeon. I don’t loathe dungeons, but I don’t run them well, so don’t often try. My mind works better grasping a whole gameworld or even multiverse loosely than trying to get the details right of a small locale like a dungeon. My players seem to enjoy when I do this, as do I, and I even enjoy playing in someone else’s dungeon. But I don’t usually run them. I am hankering to run B2 or White Plume Mountain just for the experience, but more drawn to sandboxes like Isle of Dread.

I even submitted an adventure to Chaosium back in the day that was kindly rejected by Lynn Willis. In it, players worked for a treacherous exiled Melnibonean nobleman aiming for the throne of Imryyr, and had to travel from Melnibone, to the Plane of Air, to the Shadow Realm, to World War Two Italy, and one or two others I forget to get materials needed. The scenario is lost to time, but when I read Rogue Mistress I thought how much better my adventure would have been.

Favorite Trap/Puzzle

I guess another reason I dislike running dungeons is that I feel old D&D traps are somewhat cheap or gimmicky. Roll or die. Lose three PCs on a chest with 30 copper coins in it. Fall in a pit. Yawn, isn’t this supposed to be a game/fun? Grimtooth’s traps were fun to read, but drew cries of ‘Unfair!’ when they mashed adventurers to a pulp with no real chance of escape.

I think for traps/puzzles to work (i.e. to add to the enjoyment of the game) they need to have two elements, namely 1) risk and 2) reward. And as the risk gets bigger, so should the reward. The pit in the 1st cave of B2 is basically roll or fall in, with no real reward and lots of risk. That’s lame.

Which takes me back to ‘Hall of Risk.’ It has both these elements, and players willingly risk their characters for the chance of a reward. In other words, the puzzle/trap of ‘Hall of Risk’ is a mini-game itself, and players who know the rewards will willingly throw themselves into it again and again. In D&D, the dungeon itself is a successful trap/puzzle itself, drawing adventurers who risk death for coin and experience. Where D&D sometimes falls down, in ALL editions from what I’ve seen, is posing arbitrary traps with little knowledge of what’s at stake and the chances of success.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quick Roll Character Tables for Older D&D

Quick Roll Character Tables
Want to roll a character all at once without having to look at the rulebook? Tired of players poring over the equipment & spell lists, or agonizing over which class to take? Need some NPCs in a jiffy? Have a late or lazy player that wants to jump in with a character quickly?

Simply roll 3d6 nine times and mark down the results! (Sorry, Blogger wouldn’t let me make it long sideways, so I’ve cut it in two and stacked it below)

1) STR
2) CON
Easily Winded
3) DEX
4) INT
5) WIS
6) CHA

1) STR  Average
2) CON  Average
3) DEX  Average
4) INT  Average
5) WIS  Average
Quick Witted
6) CHA  Average
8) Fighter

Peasant tunic & breeches
Peasant tunic, breeches, rusty axe (- 1 to damage)
Peasant tunic, breeches, longsword
Dirty rags
Dirty tunic, cloak & rusty short sword (- 1 to damage)
Dirty tunic, cloak, sack & short sword
Scratchy hairshirt & rope belt
Threadbare robe, rope belt, & improvised bludgeon (breaks on a roll of 1)
Threadbare robe, rope belt, cudgel, wooden holy symbol
Soiled robe, no spellbook
Threadbare robe & blank spellbook
Threadbare robe, , spellbook with 1 random spell, dagger

Good tunic, breeches, boots, backpack,  a day’s food, longsword, small shield or chainmail, 12 torches,
1-6 gold pieces
Good tunic, breeches, boots, backpack,  2 day’s food, longsword, small shield, leather armor, 20 torches, 10-60 gold pieces
Fine tunic, breeches, boots, backpack,  a week’s food, chainmail, shield, choice of weapon, lantern & oil, unsaddled riding horse, 20-120 gold pieces
Princely tunic, breeches, boots, backpack, 2 week’s food, choice of +1 weapon, normal armor, shield, riding boots, lantern & oil, backpack, 2 week’s food, a silver comb, saddled warhorse, & 100-600 gold pieces
Good tunic, cloak, soft shoes, thieves’ tools, sack, a day’s food, 50 ft of rope, 1-6 gold pieces
Good tunic, cloak, soft shoes, thieves’ tools, sack, 2 day’s food, 50 ft of rope, 10-60 gold pieces
Fine tunic, cloak, soft shoes, thieves’ tools, sack, 1 week’s food, choice of 2 weapons,  100 ft of rope & grappling hook, donkey, 20-120 gold pieces
Silk tunic, cloak, leather boots, choice of a +1 weapon or boots of sneaking, 1 normal weapon, normal leather armor, thieves’ tools, sack, 2 week’s food, 100 ft of rope & grappling hook, full wineskin, saddled riding horse, 100-600 gold pieces
Good robe, belt, sandals, 10 ft pole, sack, a sausage (1 day’s food), 1-6 gold pieces
Good robe, belt, sandals, 10 ft pole, sack, 2 sausages, 10-60 gold pieces
Fine robe, belt, sandals, 10 ft hooked pole, sack, 7 sausages & a wheel of cheese (1 week’s food), choice of weapon & armor, mule, 20-120 gold pieces
Ceremonial robes, mitre, daily cassock, boots, 20 ft extending hooked pole, choice of weapon, + 1 armor & normal shield, barrel of beer, horse & wagon, 100-600 gold pieces
Good robe, shoes,  backpack, 1day’s food,  a mirror, spellbook with 1 random spell, dagger, 1-6 gold pieces
Good robe, shoes,  backpack,  2 day’s food, spellbook with 1 spell of choice & 1 random spell, dagger, 10-60 gold pieces
Fine robe, pointy hat, pointy shoes,  spellbook with 2 random spells & 1 spell of choice, dagger, choice of weapon, 20-120 gold pieces, riding ostrich
Impressive wizarding robes, shoes & hat, spellbook with 2  spells of choice & 2 random spells, illustrated Kama Sutra, choice between + 1 dagger / ring of protection +1 / or minor bag of holding (up to 100 lbs), wand of continual light, horse & 2-man buggy, 100-600 gold pieces

* If you want to use demihumans, use 3 for Halfling, 14-15 for Elf, and 18 for Dwarf. Halflings get gear as a Thief, Elf gets hear as Wizard or Fighter (choose one), and Dwarf gets gear as Fighter.

Here is the first schmoe I rolled, ready for adventure!
STR 9 CON 9 DEX 8 INT 12 WIS 11 CHA 10
Chaotic or Neutral Evil (7)
Wizard (rolled an 8)
Good robe, shoes, backpack, 2 day’s food, spellbook with 1 spell of choice & 1 random spell, dagger, 10-60 gold pieces (lucky 13)
20 gp

Not too shabby. Well call him Kabra the Mystic and we’re ready to make our way in the world.