Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monster Manual Comix

I was thumbing through my Monster Manual the other day (as well as Monsters of Myth, the Fiend Folio, and MMII) in search of a low hit dice flying monster for my entry in the 1 page dungeon contest (not that I'll finish it in time or anything). I didn't have success, but thought how it might be fun to attempt drawing some cartoons based on some of the more silly entries (for some reason, the FF always seemed most ridiculous, perhaps its the fact that it was U.K. made and back when it was published I was watching too much Monty Python). Once again, I've been beaten to the punch, as evidenced by Monster Manual Comix.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An RPG for the Extraterrestrials

Where's the RPG where you role play aliens visiting earth? You could have various species/classes to choose from, each with their own technology, motivations for visiting, and relations with other species.

Adventure ideas might include: first contact or random contacts with humans, interactions and battles with other species, contact and intrigue with various earthly governments, and home planet internecine conflict.

I haven't bothered to look to see if there already is such a game, being the (aforementioned) slacker.

One of the first sci-fi RPGs I played was Star Frontiers. I remember getting it (for Christmas I believe) as a kid, and really being freaked by the notion of what amounted to intelligent extraterrestrial monkeys (Yazirians). Even at that age I recognized this as a totally ridiculous element. Star Frontiers is actually still available, now for free, via download. I don't remember if I'd bought the original (multi-booklet) Traveller by this time or not. Either way, shortly thereafter it was readily apparent that the two were about as similar as an episode of Lost in Space and the movie Blade Runner. Which isn't to say it couldn't be fun or that I don't appreciate the effort to keep it alive and on the net, but simulationist, it is not. In some ways, Traveller was the game that took me away from the joyful roots of old school D&D, towards ever increasing complexity and supplementation (even with its beautiful d6 system). Down that road were computer programming manuals, Chilton's guides to auto repair, and senior high school textbooks. Again, nothing wrong with those in and of themselves, but, well, what about the fantasy role playing dammit? :-)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Help for New (Old School) Players

I was thinking of putting together a quick help guide for my wife (and any other new to role playing game players I might GM for) and re-found Matt Finch's "Quick Primer for Old School Gaming" via this Ancient Vaults blog entry today.

Being a slacker and a little short on time, I was glad to see it re-posted in an edited form there and am printing out the relevant "Tips for Players" portion for our next session.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wifey plays Labyrinth Lord

(Much of this post is actually taken from a comment I left over at Chgowiz's blog)...

Tonight was my wife's first play (of any role playing game actually), and she really was at a loss. It was up to my 8 year old nephew to rescue her from this - the root of the problem was that she really, truly felt she didn't know "what to do" - they were at the very beginning of an adventure, just settling into a tavern scene which I'd briefly sketched out as the result of the two of them meeting due to (largely) needing employment (we'll skip their individual backgrounds here) and journeying to the same town of any size in their area in search of same. I thought it ironic yet understandable that my 8 year old nephew (perhaps as the result of playing in Nintendo's Zelda worlds) took quite naturally to the gameplay environment. He quickly saw the potential and need for hirelings, as well as listening for rumors/lore. I'd assumed that my wife would rise to the role of "caller" so to speak, if not that of at least mapper, but now see that her younger may well show the way!

Afterwards, I asked her how she felt about her first opportunity to play, and found out she was really bewildered about what she should and could do. I had to explain to her that some of the awkward silences during actual gameplay was due to me simply refusing to hint or guide her in any way to anything that might move the narrative forward... I've said it before, but the sheer infinite number of choices available to a player can be overwhelming, and the idea that they might have to elucidate specifically what they're aiming for with a given action can be at first shocking to the players! I really do think this is a quickly overcome hurdle though, esp. as the consequences of running on auto-pilot become obvious!

Camille did some theatre in college, and I tried to bring up some ideas I've had before with her, such as the improvisational nature of the game. "Picture yourself on stage trying out for a part - the part of the dwarf character you rolled up earlier. I'm the director. Now, there's no script, so just improv. Your sister is missing, you're out of work, you overhear some other travellers in the tavern discussing searching an old and deserted temple for treasure..." to paraphrase some of what I said to her. That seemed to help her understand. It's hard to believe now that I assumed she would just get it (or that anyone necessarily would). I guess when you've played a whole bunch, it just becomes so natural that the notion of even having to describe the process seems silly.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Renaming the Blog?

When I initially starting writing this blog, I wasn't really sure what my focus would be or how long I'd be interested in the overall subject. Over the last few weeks though, it's become clearer to me that my primary interest in RPGs all along has centered around the fantasy genre, and in particular the "old school" D&D games and the so-called retro-clones that re-publish the early editions of D&D rules.

So, I'm not really happy with the name & URL of this blog, and am trying to think of a new one. At some point I'll replace the poll with some ideas, but any suggestions are appreciated. I'm a big fan of word play and puns, so hopefully I can come up with something painful for everyone!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Labyrinth Lord Character Sketches

I got a kick out of my nephews' recent character sheet sketches and thought I'd share them here. It's great knowing I've helped inspire their creative sides even a bit.

I love the peace symbol on the Lawful Dwarf! Not sure where the fangs or thin mustache idea came from, but I did point out to him that his original peace symbol was actually the Mercedes logo... Shadow Shark, the (ostensibly human) fighter is unmistakeable with his Superman-esque "S"!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Way Out is Up

Another picture from Shasta Caverns...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Creating 1st Level 0e-1e Adventures - Tips?

Creating an adventure/module for 1st level 0e - 1e characters is challenging - perhaps the most challenging situation I've found since returning to writing rpg material again. Not only are you potentially dealing with complete newcomers to the game, with no sense of the dangers that await them, but you also must create a scenario that is both somewhat realistic and not so dangerous that the player will be put off by the quick fatality of their character. How to balance introducing traps to the game, monsters (in numbers and hit dice that are appropriate), and yet still engage the individual players?

An easy way to navigate this territory is to insist upon a large party of 1st levels - strength in numbers! This way, although PCs will die, there will always be others who will step up to the plate and be able to quickly carry on. Still, this seems a bit of a cop out of responsibility of the DM to fairly match the players with the scenario, and definitely removes any incentive for the players to create backgrounds for their characters or become at all attached to them. I'm sure many would say that this is a good thing, but the fact is that given the amount of time it takes to create a 1st level character, and the disproportionate amount of time it takes to kill them, a very fatiguing process for the new player can take place of having to roll up yet another 1st level character who is also not likely to live long.

For my part, I've opted to always give the players' 1st level characters either their full hit point potential or else just one point shy of it, based on a die roll, and then add or subtract any Constitution bonus. At least in this way they have a slightly greater chance at progressing. This motivational inspired RPG themed picture always springs to mind when I think of how it could be otherwise...

Does anyone have any tips that they'd care to share re: the creation of suitably challenging yet realistic/entertaining 1st level scenarios?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Labyrinth Lord in TN - Gameplay Journal

While visiting family in Tennessee, I played some Labyrinth Lord with my nephews. They'd never played anything like D&D, although they're familiar with it from others playing it at school. Will is 11 and Jamie is 8 - a bit young for the game, but I toned down the scary descriptions and violence a bit. Will naturally became the "caller", and Jamie followed his lead.

It took a long time to roll up their characters, and this was a detraction from the game (esp. since 1st level mortality rate is so high) - I made a mental note to always have more pre-rolled characters available. Fortunately, I had made two non-player characters to accompany them: Thirsty Fiefel 's brother, the magic-user "Fiesty Thirfel", joining to search for him. Another was a female dwarf they named "Gorga Dorg" (they were highly amused to discover that female dwarfs also had beards). Gorga was out of work as her silver mine had recently been shut.

Will rolled up a dwarf he named Zok, and along with Jamie's character, a human fighter he christened "Shadow Shark" (!), met the others in a village inn. Upon hearing Thirfel grousing about his missing brother, they all agreed to go out to the Iron God's temple ruins and see what they could find.

On their first trip out, they entered cautiously, undeterred by the enchanted goblin head at the main entrance warning of doom (raised eyebrows and stinkeye from their Mom in the other room). Will kept a map, and they decided to go straight whenever possible, noting passageways but not entering them. Upon encountering their second door though, they decided to open it, and surprised a bunch of giant rats amongst some smashed barrels on the other side. Combat ensued, and Zok was badly bitten when finally Thirfel cast a sleep spell and the rats all laid down for a snooze. At this point, Thirfel suggested that they kill the rats in their sleep, but the kindly Will, or rather, his Lawful character Zok, declined. Afraid to waken the rats by searching, they carefully left the room and firmly shut the door behind them, and went back to town to search for a cleric to heal them.

After donating to the cleric's church, being healed, and resting for the night, they went back to the temple again. Zok continued with his map, although I could see its accuracy was waning. They continued much the same way, avoiding the room with the rats this time. Having proceeded fairly deeply into the 1st level, and for some reason not wishing to explore side passages or open doors, they finally plucked up the courage to open a door and enter another room. Unfortunately for them, it was the personal chambers of the evil priest. He'd overthrown the original head of the temple and been subsequently turned to an iron statue as punishment by the Iron God himself.

The statue became animated and attacked the party... during the ensuing battle, Shadow Shark rolled a natural "1", and his weapon (a flail) failed a roll to see if it broke. He switched to a hand axe and continued battling. Thirfel cast his Sleep spell again, only to discover that it was completely ineffective against animated statues (which, after all, never sleep). Gorga was causing the most damage via her spear (somehow), and Zok was getting badly hurt. Suddenly, Zok decided to flee the battle! He left the lantern and bolted from the room using his infravision to guide him. Shadow Shark almost fled at that moment too, but decided to stick it out, even though it meant the party would be split up in the dungeon.

I asked which way Will would have Zok flee, and reading back from his map, he attempted to navigate his way out the way he came. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn due to a map mistake, and fell right into a pit trip (which left him with 1 hit point after the battle). At this time I had to explain that as a dwarf, he was just too short to climb out on his own. Not only that, but he didn't have any rope, and was pretty sure the others didn't either. To make matters worse, the now known to be shoddy map was still in Zok's possession, making his comrades escape from the dungeon more difficult, assuming that they didn't die first from the iron fists of the animated statue.

Back at the scene of the battle, things were looking up: the iron statue of the evil priest was beginning to wobble and was severely chipped and dented. The party began to believe that they might have a chance - even the magic user was successfully hitting. Will was sure he would never live it down if they survived and were able to rescue him - but still hoped they would. Then, the iron priest rolled a natural "20", and it was all over for Jamie's PC, Shadow Shark.

At that point, their Mom intervened as it was time for bed. I told them we'd have to pick it up later, although when that would be, I'm not sure. It was about five years ago that I last saw them! I plan to roll out the rest of the battle to see what happens and let them know the fate of their PCs. I did a morale check before we called it a game and both NPCs passed, even though one of their number had fled and another had died. It's now up to them as to whether Jamie's character (at exactly zero hit points) is somehow revived and whether Will's character is rescued from the dark pit where he lies, full of shame and on the brink of death!

This game held a number of lessons - I felt a little slow while referring to combat tables, would have liked to have made map making a bit easier, and have a new perspective on the perspective of younger players! I did all dice rolling out in the open, something I never did when I was younger myself. Back then, I wanted the anonymity of dice rolls to allow myself and the players the luxury of sparing them the harshness of their results, or whatever deficiencies of the game I thought existed. Now I'm keen to really see how well the adventure writer and rules makers thought out their respective designs. Was the adventure really suited for 4-8 1st or 2nd level characters? I think Matt Finch did a great job in this regard - I didn't modify the module very much - only reducing the number of rats in the first encounter and randomly rolling their numbers (it came to 4 instead of the written 8), but this seems fair given the smaller size of the party and the lack of any clerics with their healing abilities. I was surprised to see how well the party did against the iron priest monster (I've still to roll the result of that encounter).

The kids both said they had a lot of fun, and were disappointed that it had to end... I'm not sure how we could possibly continue, but maybe the older of the two (Will, ie. Zok) would be o.k. continuing to play in a play by post manner on the web. I've already got a forum up for this purpose - anyone who cares to make use of it, just let me know. I've never attempted a play by post game, and am unsure how dice rolling would be handled, although some options definitely come to mind. Nick and I have discussed doing this in the past, which is where the forum came from, though originally for a Call of Cthulhu game. As he's planning on moving to the Czech Republic, I don't see how else we could proceed.

My sister, that is, my nephews' mother said how she can already foresee having to buy Dungeons and Dragons books. She mentioned that there's a group at their school that plays, and that she'd try to pick up the books at Barnes & Noble or some such place. I told her that she really won't be able to find Labyrinth Lord there, and that I could help her find cheaper and better options, but she seemed to think that since the kids would be most exposed to the newest and most available version of D&D (ie. 4th edition), that that's what would make the most sense to get for them. I tried to tell her that they weren't ready for the level of rules sophistication they'd find there, but she's very much a "it's a Windows XP world - we're not going to get a Mac or learn Linux!" girl. Still, she did say before I left that her next computer will probably be an iMac, so there's hope. Nothing against Windows necessarily folks, just making a point here...

Update: Out of curiosity, I decided to see how the NPCs fared today. The female dwarf was killed in only one more round of combat. Thirfel fled for his life out the door, making a right turn and guided by the lamp he'd left in the iron priest's chamber, but becoming disoriented quickly due to a lack of infravision and panic, so the dice rolls said. A wrong turn was taken (putting him about 30' away from Zok, still in the pit, at his closest) which placed him into a large chamber with a single door. However, as he couldn't see the door and was being chased, and as he appeared to have no alternative, he turned to face the statue - won initiative due to it's slowness, missed hugely in his attempt to strike it with his meager dagger, and was promptly hit with the full damage of the iron statue's fists due to another natural "20" being rolled by the monster. He died twice over. At least the end was quick!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Off to TN - Brief Hiatus

I'm off to rural Tennessee to visit with some family - hopefully I can at least make some progress on the one page adventure (see earlier post re: contest), and maybe even convince my nephews to play a round of Labyrinth Lord.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RPG Fonts

Here are some quick links to some font resources you might find of use next time you whip up an adventure for your favorite RPG, or write one yourself...

The Art of Dave Trampier (again!)

(With apologies to experienced old school bloggers for Yet Another Whatever Happened to Dave Trampier Post)

Fans of early Dungeons & Dragons will of course remember the art of Dave Trampier - perhaps best known for his cover of the 1978 Player's Handbook. From 1977 to 1988 his art was found throughout D&D books and supplements, including the regularly appearing "Wormy" strip in Dragon magazine. You might think he was still making fantasy art - but you'd be very wrong...

Some time in early '88, Dragon announced that Wormy would no longer be appearing in the magazine (without a storyline conclusion). That was the last anyone really saw of his work - rumors circulated about his disappearance from the scene, with some saying he was no longer alive, and others that a business disagreement was the cause (incidentally, my friend Vince has posited that he had a sudden conversion to a conservative branch of Christianity).

Years later, new rumors circulated that he was in fact working as a cab driver with no interest in the role-playing industry, and Wizards of the Coast released a statement in 2003 that he was alive but not working in comics or games any longer.

While I'd love to see a Trampier art compilation released, I'm not holding my breath. I hope Dave is alive and well, and at least we can find an (incomplete) archive of Wormy on Angelfire's pages, and enjoy his various images found in TSR's published materials via Google.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One Page Dungeon Contest

ChattyDM and Chgowiz have announced on their respective blogs a contest to create the best one page dungeon for use with any edition of our favorite fantasy rpg. There's a great bunch of prizes for the fantasy rpg hobbyist... I'm tossing around a couple of ideas, both of which aren't exactly "dungeon" settings, so I'll have to read those rules a bit closer, but it sounds like a fun and inspiring exercise.

Update: The Free RPG Blog is also running a contest (write an RPG in 24 hours)...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Labyrinth Lord - first play

I attended a hand-fasting ceremony in California this last weekend, and had to drive down from Oregon to get there - a friend Vince was coming along, and we stopped off at Shasta Caverns on the way.

Having some time to kill at a hotel, I brought out my recently purchased Labyrinth Lord hardcover, and we quickly rolled up a couple of characters - a neutral thief ("Thirsty Fiefel") and a neutral fighter. We really should have spent more time rolling up more characters, but Vince was eager to get playing.

We were using Matt Finch's "Tomb of the Iron God" module, and when Vince insisted upon going straight to the temple without a party of more than 2, I had the (wiser and more intelligent) thief insist on finding some hirelings in town to provide more targets and a way for them to carry more loot out.

Of course, this expedition was totally doomed from the start, as 4-8 characters are recommended, of levels 1-2, not just two of level 1 and three of level zero, but as he was being impulsive and just wanted to start as soon as possible, I ended up indulging this madness.

He immediately found a secret room in the very first chamber, and they dived down into the first level. He made out the embalming chamber and tools for what they were and proceeded to start exploring the level without benefit of making a map of the party's progress. The thief then fell into a pit trap and on the brink of death, they returned to town for a couple of days. Though the thief wasn't healed, the party returned again to the temple as money was running short and the hirelings were going to leave if it ran out.

Returning to where they'd left off, they found stairs leading down. Another foolish decision was made, this time to proceed to the 2nd level without finishing even a fraction of the first (and with a half-dead thief and a small low level party mostly consisting of zero levels!)... At this point a Gray Ooze (similar to Green Slime) fell from the roof above the entrance to the stairs. Although there was plenty of time for flight, Vince decided to stick it out. They all died very quickly - the thief first, then the fattest and dumbest hireling, followed by his 2 brothers who amazingly passed a morale check twice, followed by the slow witted and impulsive fighter.

It was a short game, and though hurried and little explored, we had a good time. It was fun to see how quickly a game could be arranged and how the ad-lib, on the fly nature of dungeon mastering an early edition game came back to me. Our first game in twenty-five years or more! I think Vince might have been indulging me, a little, given how recklessly he played the party. Of course, the large amount of beer might have been a factor. Still, I'm encouraged and know I'll be more confident the next game I referee.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Drow Sorceress on Etsy

I was curious to see what enterprising, crafty folk might have created in the way of fantasy role playing game accessories or who knows what... so I searched for "dungeons". Among a host of various jewelries incorporating polyhedral dice was this impressive Drow doll. A bit too large for use in my campaign/with my miniatures! Still pretty cool in it's own way. Good job Sheila!

Other items of potential interest: Ye olde "Bag of Holding", chainmail dice bags, and various other items printed with arguably clever/humorous genre related phrases.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Map Making tool: free online graph paper

Incomptech has free graph paper, including hex graph paper. Might come in handy for your underground/wilderness map making needs...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

OSRIC copyright passes to S&W creator, non-profit to be formed

Stuart Marshall has passed the copyright of OSRIC over to Matt Finch (creator of Swords & Wizardry). Stuart went up a level, so to speak, in his day job, and no longer felt he had the time to dedicate to stuartship (sic - sorry, coudn't resist) of the OSRIC project. In addition, Matt is looking into forming a non-profit with the purpose of publishing the rules and "fostering free-form gaming" of 0E-1E, and retro-clones.

Matt has said in the forums at Swords & Wizardry that he intends to get OSRIC printed quickly - great news to those of us who look forward to a 1E core rules compilation in one volume, with the better organization and clarity of rules than the original various and dated TSR books! Preserving these original rules that truly began the modern role-playing game culture is a noble and appreciated cause. I'm glad to know that new players will have access to the same core rules without having to buy antique, out-of-print books that are falling apart. I'm still trying to get the cigarette smoke smell out of my eBay bought copy of the Dungeon Master's guide... Kids, don't ever sell your game books - you'll just want 'em back as you (re-) approach middle-age(s)!