Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beynac Castle Walkthrough

Here's the text from a handout given to those taking a self guided tour of Chateau Beynac in the Dordogne - it isn't copyrighted and was probably created by the Ministry of Culture. I've been on the lookout for an actual blueprint or plan of the place for some time but it's proven very elusive. Perhaps it's due to the fact that the castle is privately owned - the owner still lives there and doesn't wish to see it turned into too much of a tourist attraction.

I saved my copy of the handout as a memento and scanned it for a fellow blogger who's also been searching for a layout. Maybe it will be of interest to someone else out there as well...
Please pass through the door in the second line of walls, dating from the 12th century. You are now entering in the lower courtyard of the castle. On your left stands the 12th century keep with the master’s chambers on the top floor and his family’s lodging on the lower floors.

On your right, the ramp leads to the upper courtyard and you are passing along the 17th century stable, the building date of which is engraved in the keystone (1650). This stable will be roofed again in the next few years.

When arriving on the upper courtyard, on the WEST side, you’ll see the extension of the 12th century wall, which fell down in the 19th century and is part of the restoration programme initiated in 1980 to last until 1995. On the SOUTH side the former manorial chapel, built in the 13th century with some additions in the 17th century. It is covered with a flat stones roof (local name : lauzes). This chapel, even though it is located on the estate, is presently the parish church and is open for Services every Sunday. One has access to it from the outside of the castle.

Lower donw flows the Dordogne river which has been the border between the French and the English possesions in the 13th century. On the opposite side at the foot of the hill, the castle of FAYRAC, on the shoulder of the second hill : CASTELNAUD. On the same bank as Beynac, on your left another castle : it is MARQUEYSSAC.

Now, please enter the castle through the door of the 14th century machicolated keep, probably built by the English. As a matter of fact, the castle had been taken by Richard lst of England (the Lionheart) in 1189 and was kept by him until he was killed during the siege of Chalus (next to Limoges) in 1199. The castle then retumed into the hands of the French until the signature of the treaty of Bretigny in 1360, when it was occupied by the English until the French victory of Castillon-la-Bataille which brought the 100 years war to its end.

Here you are in the guards room. In the left comer of the back wall, the narrow and steep 13th century staircase used to connect all the different levels of the castle (do not use it, it is blocked by works under process in the upper levels). Just next to this staircase, in the lower room of the keep, were kept the battle horses. Moving back to the large window (it will shortly be replaced by the original 13th century slit) three steps and a door on your right will lead you to the l4th century section of the castle. Full restoration of this section has just been completed. The floor of the first room is a beautiful “pisé” (paving made of toothlike shaped stones which are nailed vertically into a bedding of clay and lime). In the second triangular room, 13th century latrines may be seen.

Please climb up the wooden staircase to the second floor where you’ll see a beautiful spiral staircase recently rebuilt in solid oak, according to the rules of the art of the time : one man, one tool (the adze). This staircase leads to another floor where restorations are under process, not yet open to the public.

Leaving this 14th century section, please proceed to the large mediaeval state hall, remodelled in the 17th century (large windows were opened and a fireplace built) to become the meeting room of the States General of Perigord. This is the place where the nobility of the four baronies of Perigord used to meet : BEYNAC and BIRON who controled the South, BOURDEILLES and MAREUIL the North. Their flags may be seen on both
sides ot the fireplace.

Opposite the fireplace a small oratory has been opened in the 14th century tower and frescoes painted at the same period. These frescoes are presently under restoration by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

On the back wall a large crucifixion dating from the end of the l8th century. On its left, the flag of the BEAUMONT-BEYNAC who owned the castle until 1961. On its right the English banner of CASTELNAUD, direct rival of Beynac for over two centuries. Facing this back wall, on your right, walk up the 16th century staircase (totally rebuilt in 1902), to the top levels of the castle : keeps and terraces. Walk carefully along the curtain (WATCH YOUR CHILDREN) and step in the l4th century keep (PLEASE DUCK, THE DOOR IS VERY LOW). Go through the little guards room and step out on the southern terrace. Lean over the wall at the extreme end of the terrace : you are 450 feet above. the river and facing one of the most beautiful panoramas in Perigord.

Moving back to the large staircase. Half-way down, through one of the windows, you’ll notice a charming Florentine Renaissance staircase built in the 17th century in the center courtyard. It leads to various 17th century rooms, presently occupied by the owner (these will be opened later to the public).

All the way down, you’ll step in the center courtyard : the heart of the castle. Here all the rain water falling from the roofs and terraces was collected, filling large underground tanks, still in function, which were the only source of drinking water in the feudal times.

Originally the center courtyard had only one door and one opening. The door is next to the stone water basin and opened to the guards room and to the only staircase serving the various levels. The opening, presently under the Renaissance staircase, was much larger and allowed to ride to the center courtyard without dismounting, thanks to a ramp which climbs through the 12th century kitchens.

All constructions posterior to the 12th century has been dismolished in this large room and all the levels and floors will be reestablished as they were originally. The exit will be enlarged back to its original size, which may be seen from the inside and the draw-bridge will be rebuilt. This large door and the draw-bridge were the one and only entrance in the castle in the 13th century.

Looking up, we see two hoardings projecting out on corbels, where archers and crossbowmen were stationed to defend the ramp (the only entry to the fortress). Left of the iron-shod door by which we have left the barbican, we notice openings through which boulders and quicklime were thrown on enemies forcing their way through.

You have just read a few explanations about the feudal fortress of Beynac. We have tried to make clear the goal of both the owner and the Ministry of Culture and Communication : reestablish the three main periods of the life of Beynac : 12-13th centuries, 14th and 17th.

The inside restorations and the rebuilding of the outside line of walls will extend to the end of the present century. The historical reconstitution of the lower and upper yards will take place in the early part of the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Old School (Arcade) Games on the Local Rebound?

I've only recently heard about the Vintage Arcade Museum in the Whitaker neighborhood here in Eugene, OR. I hope to get down there and take some video before too long - this old school pencil & paper gamer's heart is warmed to hear that someone wants to keep these old arcade machines alive!

The nearness of the Ninkasi Brewery and Izakaya Meiji (whom I've previously posted about here) is convenient - some brief liquid encouragement and its off to the arcade! Oh yeah. Right down the street from some excellent soul food, I should add...

Thursday Update: KVAL (local TV station) picked up this story for their 5 and 6pm news broadcast. They have some pictures up on their website, including this one - looks like they've applied for a liquor license. Nice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm All Out of Bubble Gum

Wow, it’s been nearly two weeks since my last post… Not a lot of excuses really - a little more work than usual, the same bug that everyone’s had recently… watching way too much DS9 (see previous post) which still feels a bit silly. Things are starting to pick up in season 3 for sure - Jem’Hadar and all. Oh, and I actually bought Duke Nukem Forever, which so far is pretty terrible. I had no idea that Duke’s line “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” was taken from John Carpenter’s “They Live”… Or was it the other way around? Stumbled on the below clip recently…

In other news, we finally managed to play a short session of S&W where I was able to introduce Sir Froig. The PbP game also continues at its glacial pace, which I've come to enjoy on its own terms; it's a very different style of game and I appreciate the additional time to really think about descriptions and the various possibilities between exchanges.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Avoiding Monsters in OD&D

At the risk of going over some well trod territory, I thought I’d share some notes I’d jotted down as something worthy of investigation - The section entitled Avoiding Monsters in the Underworld and Wilderness Adventures book (volume 3 of the original D&D booklets). The rules laid out there are very specific - some of them I’ve used and some of them I haven’t (probably since I originally started playing with Moldvay’s rules). Now that I play S&W: Whitebox, it’s interesting to more closely examine the beige books’ idiosyncracies.

One item of note is that monsters in OD&D will automatically attack and/or pursue unless their adversaries are obviously stronger and the monsters would know better. This is versus Moldvay, where some monsters always act in the same way and attack, but the reactions of most vary: “The DM can always choose the monster’s reaction to fit the dungeon, but if he decides not to do this, a DM may use the reaction table…”

So basically, Moldvay says “Use your best judgement” whereas OD&D says “Monsters are monsters - their raison d’être is to attack you. If it was otherwise, they’d be potentially dangerous animals or perhaps intelligent beast-men. We’re not on a zoological expedition kids, we’re monster hunting.

Also, Moldvay has a Reaction Table but OD&D has a Random Actions by Monsters table. In Moldvay, the monster might even become your friend! In OD&D, the monster might respond positively to something, but we can still assume that it wants to kill us. This seems contradicted by the inclusion of neutral and lawfully aligned creatures listed in Monsters and Treasure (volume 2). Maybe those should just have been listed separately as “Other, Non-human Beings."

One might conclude at least a couple of things from this reading: First, that OD&D as written is decidedly more hack and slash. Second, that there isn’t as much moral ambiguity in OD&D as there is in later editions. Maybe it was the fact that the game was becoming popular with kids and criticisms were being raised at the time that led to these particular rules being revised. Nobody wants to be accused of teaching children that there are intelligent beings not worthy of moral consideration precisely because they don’t consider you worthy of moral consideration (they just want to kill you). But…that’s just what monsters are - that’s what they do.

Maybe all subsequent hand wringing about goblin baby killing could have been very easily avoided if the term "monster" had simply been better defined. Or maybe it’s not that easy... just easier to let the dice be the judge.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Illustrious Josh Kirby

Some scanned artwork by the late Josh Kirby - I love the old school feel of these black and white illustrations from the '86 T&T paperback.
Here's a couple more. Kirby did the covers to the whole set of paperback T&T releases, you can see them here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Season of the Witch - Paper Mini

The small town of Belves is host to a coven of witches which meets there at least four times a year. There are currently eleven members, led by the redheaded enchantress Lucienne.

The coven is divided into four groups of three members, each group corresponding to one of the four seasons. Each of these has a member aligned with one of the forces of law, chaos, or neutrality - though the members frequently argue and scheme against one another, they also see the wisdom of periodically coming together to pool their individual magical powers and support the current season’s three members.

Every year they elect a leader whom they then gift potions and various abilities. In this way, though they’re considered an equal, their leader is also more powerful and better able to resolve any serious disagreements.

Several years ago though, a dispute within the coven led to a leader being exiled. Known as Hecatha, she was eventually overtaken and cast out by the others when she refused to relinquish the power with which they'd entrusted her… To this day, the Great Druid still searches for a cure to her self-inflicted curse, which manifests in both physical deformity and madness.

With the witches’ number and power now diminished by the loss of a member, Lucienne seeks someone to fill Hecatha’s shoes. She fears what might happen if Hecatha was somehow able to regain her mind and former power… and Hecatha’s season approaches.

click the thumbnail image above for a closer look or to download the 4x6" (index card formatted) paper mini PDF
see also: Hecatha and Witch and Watchers minis

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Sorceress Lucienne

Ludwig Hohlwein paints a pretty hot sorceress.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Deep Space Nine and Thieves

I’ve been watching a lot of Deep Space Nine on Netflix over the last month. Back when it premiered, sitting through the CGI intro wasn’t so bad - after all, it was only on screen for a few minutes once a week. Now though, when watching an episode every other day or back to back, having to wait for the music and opening credits to finish is painful. Or rather, it’s painfully obvious that the whole sequence is ridiculously overdramatic. The wormhole’s depiction begins to seem less like a triumph of computer special effects and more like a giant bowel movement, opening up as it does to drop a spaceship deuce from time to time. Consider that the Bajorans' prophets live inside the wormhole - apparently talking out of their ass.
How much edgier it could be with the proper soundtrack...

Aside from that initial unpleasantness, it’s sometimes fun to take a short nostalgic trip back and watch this show. DS9 is less of a hex-crawl, if you will, than the other Star Trek series. Supposedly it was more critically acclaimed than those other series too - I wonder how much this has to do with the ability to create more complex and interwoven plots due to the stationary setting. I keep making mental notes to use this or that element in a Traveller game I'll never actually play. One of my favorite episodes is when a priestess from a fundamentalist branch of the Bajorans’ religion has a fit because they’re teaching kids on the space station that the wormhole is host to aliens (rather than “prophets”). Then someone blows up the school with hilarious consequences.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition” could be converted fairly easily into a Thieves Guild’s (or a god of thieves’) Rules of Wisdom. Just change “latinum” to gold and “sale” to “theft” and you're halfway there...

Corrno’s Lesser Rules of Wisdom

1. Never allow family to stand in the way of theft.
2. A man is only worth the sum of his possessions.
3. Keep your ears open.
4. Greed is eternal.
5. Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
6. A deal is a deal - until a better one comes along.
7. Nothing is more important than your health - except for your money.
8. There’s nothing more dangerous than an honest thief.
9. She can touch the family jewels, but never your gold.
10. Theft is its own reward.
11. Never trust a man wearing better clothes than you.
12. The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.
13. Never ask when you can take.
14. A good set of tools is as good as gold.
15. Keep your lies consistent.
16. Home is where the heart is, but the road is made of gold.
17. Enough is never enough.
18. Nature decays, but gold lasts forever.
19. There is no honor in poverty.
20. Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack.
21. Even a blind man can see the glow of gold.
22. There’s nothing wrong with charity, as long as it winds up in your pocket.
23. Let others keep their reputation - you keep their money.
24. Underlings are rungs on the ladder of success - do not hesitate to step on them.
25. Always know what you are stealing.
26. Gold lasts longer than lust.
27. More is good… All is better.
28. A wealthy man can afford anything but a conscience.
29. Never allow doubt to tarnish your love of gold.
30. When in doubt, lie.

Of possibly related interest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Yogi: A New Class for Swords & Wizardry

For a while now I've tossed around the idea of a PC class that is explicitly non-violent or that derives experience from things that aren't related to combat or treasure. I'm not wholly convinced that such a class can work in the game, but I think offering it as an option to players might be an interesting experiment and a way to coax perhaps otherwise reluctant players to join. Uncomfortable with bashing in skulls? Try the Yogi class! I can see some serious humor potential there. Also, since writing up the Yellow Order of Freyse, I've been thinking about how a player might actually want to join it and how that would work.

So, I submit here the Yogi class - nothing too complicated, but certainly very different from every other D&D class. Some qualifiers - the "yogi" as cultural phenomenon is open to many interpretations. Why should the one here be so ascetically oriented? What about the karma yogis, or bhakti yogis - not to mention such "chaotic" yogis like Milarepa? Well, I had to limit the scope of possibilities to keep it simple and in line with the lightness of the OD&D/SW:WB rules. Creating a number of subclasses of the Yogi sounds tempting though...

The Yogi Class for S&W Whitebox

The yogi (or female yogini) is concerned with three things: overcoming the illusionary and temporary nature of normally perceived reality, freedom from desires and attachment which lead to suffering, and reconnecting and merging with the source of all creation.

While most yogis respect and observe devotional practices associated with one or more deities, some worship none - or else just ambiguously refer to an omnipotent and omniscient God, Creator, or Spirit. What distinguishes yogis from clerics is their belief in the practice of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and also that their salvation depends primarily upon their own willpower and mental focus rather than faith in supernatural beings.

Yogi Advancement TableCharacter Class Abilities and Restrictions:

Yogis must begin as lawful in alignment and remain so or else lose the special powers given to them.

Possessions: Yogis are severely limited in the amount of possessions they may have - they may never possess more than what they can carry on their person, they avoid contact with gold or jewelry, and may not carry more than the equivalent of 1 gp worth of other types of treasure. They may not use magic items.

Weapon and armor restrictions: Yogis practice nonviolence - they are forbidden from using any weapons. They shun the use of armor or shields, believing that these encourage the use of weapons and threat of violence. The DM will have to be creative in awarding the yogi PC experience points - deeds which produce “good karma” for the character or party are suggested as an alternative to experience gained in combat or through treasure. Another option might be experience granted after successfully carrying out missions under a guru's direction.

Spell casting: A Yogi gains siddhis, or mental powers which correspond to some cleric and magic user spells. In order to obtain these, the yogi must spend one hour in meditation per spell, per day.

The following siddhis may be chosen:

All cleric spells except spells against Law and the following: Hold Person, Sticks to Snakes, Insect Plague, Quest, and Raise Dead.
• Magic user spells: Read Languages, Detect Invisibility, Knock, ESP, Levitate, Darkvision, Fly, Protection from Normal Missiles, Water Breathing, Wizard Eye, Contact Other Plane, Passwall, Telekinesis, Teleport, and Anti-Magic Shell.

In addition, at 3rd level the Yogi may Simulate Death, lowering his heart beat and body temperature, and appearing not to breathe. This state can be maintained for d6 turns per level, once per day.

Saving Throw: Yogis receive a +3 bonus on saving throws vs. poison and paralysis.

Banishing Undead: Yogis can use their holiness to “Turn” the undead, causing them to flee. They do not require the use of a holy symbol for this purpose.

Charisma Bonus: At 2nd level and every level thereafter, Yogis add 1 point to their charisma score, up to a maximum score of 19.

Obtain devotees: At ninth level, the Yogi will attract a large number of loyal followers who will swear fealty to the character and wish to do good deeds in his or her name.

Experience Bonus for Wisdom and Intelligence: Wisdom and Intelligence are the prime attributes for Yogis. However, due to the Yogi’s restrictions against combat and treasure, these will only be used to calculate experience bonuses if the DM decides to codify specific examples of activities that generate good karma and to use these for experience point calculation. In that case, Yogis with both Wisdom and Intelligence scores of 15 or higher receive a 10% bonus to experience.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post-historic Graffiti

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

H.G. Wells' "Little Wars"

A video posted over at Mutants and Magic shows Peter Cushing playing with his toy soldiers "according to the rules laid down by H.G. Wells in his famous book Little Wars." How's that again? While probably very old news to serious wargamers, I didn't know about this... I've only just perused it but already see two great things going for it - it's rules light and in the public domain. You can download it from or Project Gutenberg. There's a short companion text too.

Have any readers actually played this? It seems like it might be a great introduction to the hobby for kids.

Of possibly related interest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In the Spirit of Shields and Hirelings Will Be Splintered...

The Yellow Order of Freyse

A short distance from Veyrines in the southern Dordogne lies the monastery of the Yellow Order of Freyse. Its few members are easily recognized by their yellow robes and well known for preaching the doctrine of “Sahima” - a spiritual practice which values nonviolence, abandonment of material possessions, and belief in the supremacy of mind over matter.

The order’s size would leave it largely unknown in the valley were it not for an unusual initiate requirement. True faith in Freyse is said to be best proven by demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for another. By itself, this seems an honorable and commonly held belief. For the order’s members though, self-sacrifice isn’t something to be done only when the opportunity spontaneously arises. Rather, such opportunities are actively sought out by younger monks with the encouragement of their elders. Indeed, monks cannot progress to higher levels of authority within the order without having demonstrated their faith in this manner; senior monks bear their scars and broken bodies as symbols of their deep faith and status.

The Yellow Order came into existence in response to the Long War between the Ocks and Ogleds. At the time, the only way to avoid conscription was to enter the monastic life. It became obvious to both the king and the priests of Freyse that something had to be done to stem the loss of potential soldiers and the rise in deceitful applications for priesthood. An agreement was struck, and the Yellow Order created - any that applied for membership in the priesthood during times of war were relegated to the order, where they were required to sacrifice themselves as human shields in defense of the kingdom.

These days, the origins of the order seem forgotten - or perhaps conveniently ignored by the senior monks and head. Peace has reigned for over forty years and the order’s numbers (difficult to maintain even in times of war) are dwindling. New applicants are accepted without hesitation - be they mentally defective, debtors hoping to escape prison, or the rare but actually faithful. However, the stipulation that nonviolence be followed and self-sacrifice sought out are still seriously enforced. The only exception to the practice of nonviolence that’s allowed by the order is in the punishment of monks who refuse to obey their seniors - and renunciation of membership entails a death sentence.

Young yellow-clad monks can occasionally be found looking for “work” and it’s rare for locals to take advantage of them since most also count themselves as one of Freyse’s Flock. For adventurers new to the valley though, the presence of these monks is a positive boon... diminished only by the fact that they refuse to carry treasure.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Image from Holmes

Copyright © 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures

Not that Holmes - the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I won't go and see it (haven't been to a movie theater in years) but this still from the official preview caught my eye. Nice looking fortress... Must be a bitch to shovel out though. I especially like the utterly useless battlements facing out over the valley. Or maybe they're there for protection against archers on griffins or pegasuses?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Parade of Ghosts

An annual parade held in the town of Beynac is both a celebration of the changing of seasons and a macabre spectacle of local justice being meted out. “The Parade of Ghosts” begins at nightfall on the same Autumn day every year. Prisoners from the dungeons of Lord Aubry are bound in shackles and covered in white sheets, then marched up and down the avenues for an hour or so at sword point until finally ending up at the central square and gallows tree.

All landowning citizens are required to enter a lottery, the winner of which must point at a “ghost” of his or her choosing. The unlucky prisoner is then drowned in a barrel, hanged with the sheet still covering them, and left to swing until morning when they are brought down and their identity revealed.

Serious criminals are not the only ones subject to this fate - anyone currently imprisoned at the time of the parade is forced to participate. It’s thought to be an effective deterrent, coming at a time when the poorest residents become increasingly likely to take desperate measures due to the approach of colder weather.

The only downside that the Constable and other authorities have noted is the amount of superstitions being spread associated with the ancient oak tree where the criminals meet their end. While most residents worship the goddess Suthak, Lord Aubry still follows the older druidic ways and will not tolerate discussion of the tree’s removal. In addition to this, though the tradition of the Parade is enjoyed by most townsfolk, some lottery winners claim to be haunted by their pick - with at least one having committed suicide as a result.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eddnic's 3d and 2.5d Paper Minis

Eddnic's fantasy paper miniatures are amazing! They're free too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hungry Ghosts

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Baseball, Board Games, and D&D

Right around the same time I was getting into role playing games, my older cousin was getting into Strat-O-Matic. Basically, you roll d6’s and consult player cards for the result of the at-bat. There are rules variants depending on how complex you want it to be, and of course you can play solitaire. To get a sense of it, you can try out a flash version of an at-bat here (just click the green circle to get started quickly).

I haven’t really played the game in decades - I’d like to, but don’t have a copy - probably it's only something hardcore fans would be interested in playing… or maybe gamblers. The prediction accuracy is excellent, allegedly having a batting average variance of only .015% (.007% for homerun average). Of course, that would be for last season, so its value for the current one is arguable.

Strat-O-Matic has its competitors, the most popular of which might be APBA. Avalon Hill also produced baseball board games. Way back in ’62 they came out with Baseball Strategy. It uses “Fast Action” cards instead of dice to randomly determine outcomes. I recently picked up a much later version that AH released in 1980. Here are some scans if anyone's curious.

I’ve been been tossing around some of my own ideas for a baseball board game - admittedly much less simulation and much more gonzo. It’s a mash up of D&D and basic baseball rules, something I call Goblinball. I first began thinking about it when I attempted to improvise a game during one of our regular S&W sessions. That didn’t quite go the way I’d expected when the party brazenly attacked the hitter and catcher and all hell broke loose from both bullpens. I'd expected that to eventually happen, but hoped there’d be some bets and baseball drama first (bad calls, taunting, hit by pitches, etc.)

What’s interesting to me about the process of trying to hack them together is realizing how much they already remind me of one another. There’s the battle between pitcher and hitter, with each side “rolling” to see if they succeed against the other. There’s the saving throw of the defensive players who must catch the ball or tag the runner out, or perhaps dexterity checks on either side to accomplish their aims (or skills if you must).

The flow of a baseball game reminds me of D&D. A typical game can last hours, and occasionally goes longer than anyone expected (without a set end time). The storytelling is something like each person briefly becoming a radio broadcaster and relaying the game action. The DM is both pitcher and umpire, throwing the group various curveballs. I like how everyone has their own moment to shine when at bat; each individual describes his character’s action and makes a combat or other type of roll. When the party is in the field, they’re shouting defensive information and advice.

Describing and simulating actions in baseball and D&D also seem similar because of the limits of the field of play itself. In baseball, you can’t stray from the running lane and must move through the bases to score. It’s exactly this structure that makes the game easier to simulate. We don’t need to explain how the player goes to first, the player just indicates what his move is and we both make assumptions. He doesn’t have to describe every step - we both understand that there’s only one place to go and that the critical move was made a moment ago. The pitch and bat swing is analogous to the “What does your character do?” and “I do this.” exchange. In other words, it’s a linear, storytelling game.

Compare this for example to soccer (another game I enjoy)… Imagine describing the action in detail here. Sure it can be done, but it's painful: number 14 receives the ball, she dribbles 10 feet west, turns 30 degrees and moves a few feet forward, now back 4 feet, etc. The playing field is literally a field, whereas the baseball field is a field of probability and a track.

Hmmm, maybe I’m not describing that quite right. How about this: the randomness and uncertainty of a soccer ball or player’s location at any given moment is much higher than what can similarly be found in baseball. It’s this greater certainty principle in baseball that allows us to better design tools to simulate and measure the actions that happen there. D&D is a more linear game, based on the nature of back and forth discourse that moves the action forward. We aren’t all moving forward together in that field, we’re generally waiting for one described action to inform the next.

Just some pre-beer/game thoughts - in closing: Go Tigers!
Update: Facepalm.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pigeon Towers

I thought of these today when I was reading through Matt Finch’s new book, the Tome of Adventure Design. There’s a great table entitled “The Bill of Fare” and I got to drooling over some of the menu items listed. Pigeon Pie…mmm. (If you’ve never had squab you’re missing out on some really good stuff, but if you ever try it and it’s not practically bleeding on the plate, send it back!)

It’s funny, but that table inspired adventure design ideas that have nothing to do with tavern fare. Pigeon towers? What about stirge towers? Here’s a bunch more… Maybe all those cubicles had haunted urns in them...

Below is a modern pigeon tower in England, built in 1910. I like the idea of rooms above the pigeon chambers… obviously where the wizard works.
And of course, pigeonniers in France…
One in Toulouse.
One blasted apart by magic.

A tower for those on a budget...
So the next time you map out that town or village, don’t forget to drop a pigeon tower or two in there.

Friday, October 7, 2011

This Trampier piece always seems washed out in print and online...

I bet the original version was something more like this:Just saying. I mean, it seems like the internet record of it should better reflect the original artwork than most untouched scans of the 1977 book. No? (A more typical representation for example. Eesh!) Just a pet peeve I guess.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fiery Dragon Makes a Fine Tunnels & Trolls Box

I’d been wanting to buy a copy of Tunnels and Trolls to replace my battered, second hand store one, so last month I visited Flying Buffalo’s website to see what I could find. Being a total T&T newb, I found the T&T product page a bit confusing. Apparently I have version 5, there never was an official version 6, there was a version 7, and there’s a version 7.5 which I think is just a re-box of 7.

I ended up getting the Fiery Dragon produced 7.5 box. I’ve heard that a few oddities in the 5th edition rules were cleaned up and that it’s fundamentally the same game (unlike say the changes between D&D 2e and 3.5). For what it's worth, about 80% of poll respondents here indicated that they preferred or played 5 vs. 7.5.

The boxes were on back order and I was lucky to get mine for $35+$3 for shipping. The price has since gone up to $50 but I’m amazed at the quality of what you get even at that new price.

The smallness of the box and books themselves is not for everyone - personally, I love it. The main books are all spiral bound and lay flat, with the rules being slightly smaller (4.75 x 7”) than the monster and spells books (5 x 7.75” each). With these are included three booklets - two adventures and a monster/magic expansion. There's also monster and PC cardboard tokens which are sturdy and use very professional art. The dice are small (I’ve already lost one) and four PC record sheets were included.

Flying Buffalo’s website is very Web 1.0 and DIY, looking pretty much like it did when it first went online about 15 years ago. It has a certain old school charm, but there’s a lot of stuff there and it could really use a make over to show off some of their products better. Below are some photos of the T&T 7.5 box I received in case anyone goes there and wants a better idea of what they might be ordering…

Box BackRules Book (next to MM for scale) • MapSpells BookMonster BookMonster & Magic ExpansionDice (next to a Gamescience d6 for scale) • TokensPC SheetsSolo Adventure • GM Adventure (forgot to take a pic!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Return of the Giant Hogweed

The half-animal/half-plant creature known as the hogweed resembles a large ornamental shrub that’s been trimmed to look something like the farm animal from which it gets its name. What makes the creature even more remarkable is that it uproots itself when physically disturbed or closely approached during the daytime. When this happens, the hogweed will blindly run about in circles for ten minutes or so before settling down again and re-rooting itself, usually bumping into and setting off the others around it in the process.

The hogweed’s leaves and flowers produce a poisonous oil whose effects are activated by natural light and which can last for several years, causing severe burns to the skin of those who come into contact with it, as well as blindness if transferred to the eyes. Those exposed at night often don't know they’ve come into contact with the oil until sunrise, when the light activated oils begin to burn.

In the Dordogne river valley, the creatures grow in densely packed groups of up to a hundred or so, where collectively they appear as normal shrubbery. About once every seven years though, a Giant Hogweed will grow from the seeds of its smaller relatives. These larger specimens can reach heights of up to fifteen feet tall, are far more sensitive to nearby disturbance, and have a rudimentary intelligence and sense of direction.

Hogweeds are not native to the region and have been eradicated from the populated areas of the valley, but still crop up from time to time in more rural places. Foreign travelers hoping to avoid bridge tolls along the Dordogne often encounter hogweeds by seeking out their own crossing points. Petitions to nobles on both sides of the river to stamp them out are not infrequent, yet never seem to result in full extermination. Rumor has it that the ongoing enmity between the north and south is in some way to blame; there’s no doubt that the existence of hogweeds along the border are a useful (if minor) deterrent against enemy incursion.

Hogweed: No. Appearing: d100, HD <1, AC 8[11]; Atk 1 trample (0-1 hp + Special); Move 15; Save 18; CL/XP B/10

Giant Hogweed: No. Appearing: Up to 1 (% chance = number of hogweeds appearing), HD 5; AC 6[13]; Atk 1 trample (2d6 + Special); Move 12; Save 12; CL/XP 5/240

Special: Both giant and normal sized hogweeds attack by attempting to trample their victims and transferring their contact poison. Smaller hogweeds are easily fled from, but giant hogweeds will pursue targets as far as a hundred yards from their smaller hogweed companions. Fire attacks against them are at +4 to hit and +1 damage but if they’re set ablaze, attackers within 20’ (60’ for giant hogweeds) must save vs. poison (gas) or suffer d6 damage per day until cured.

Poison: Contact causes d6 hp of damage per day in a victim if the body part(s) affected is exposed to natural light (roll to see what part of the body was hit - the oil also will penetrate clothing in one day if not washed). Cure disease will remove this affliction. Head or face contact may require a saving roll against blindness.

Sites where hogweeds are disturbed are prone to large population blooms due to their seeds being shed and distributed in the process of their running about. When safely handled they can fetch a good price on the black-market.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Just How Fat is the Tome of Horrors Complete?

That fat. I was really on the fence about it when it was first announced but I've no regrets now. Slick.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Still Breathin'

I'm still here. Just taking a break and catching my breath...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Goolomps - Paper Minis

Here's the paper mini follow up to the goolomps post of last week. 4x6" PDF

Update: the source image:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two for the Kids - Puzzle Post

A couple more word search puzzles for the kids - Find the cleric's spells... Click the preview image above to download them or for a closer look.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Among the Many Jobs I've Had

For a time I worked at a blood bank. I was a blood components tech - the guy who takes your blood donation, spins it down in a centrifuge, and turns it into different blood “products” - red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. It was occasionally unpleasant, but the pay was decent and I could walk to work.

On the morning of 9/11, I was preparing to enjoy my day off. I received a phone call just after turning on the TV and seeing news of the attacks. My boss wanted me to come in because there was a line of donors out the door and into the parking lot of the blood bank.

So I spent most of that day processing their blood. A call to the media had been made that there was an urgent need for blood for victims of the attacks. Many people felt powerless and wanted to do something, anything, to help. All over the country, people were doing the same thing in their towns - racing to blood banks to give their blood for their fellow countrymen. The young were especially called upon, since their blood was likely to be more pure.

Of course, in the end, most of those donations were never used for anything. There was a glut of blood in the banks on that day and in the weeks that followed - and no survivors who could benefit. So it was poured down the drain, so to speak. Autoclaved, really. The chronic shortage of available blood for hospital use was alleviated, for a short time - some blood was shipped from small towns to the cities where it was needed more. In the end, there was nothing to do about it; blood has a shelf life of a month and a half or less.

By early 2003, I’d burned out on that job and moved on. For some reason though, I occasionally still think about all that wasted blood.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Living Bridges

Via the Daily Mail.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The clumsy and nearly blind Goolomps occasionally teleport to our world in small groups. Their appearance here is accidental, caused by a planar coordinates typo found in a widely distributed vacation brochure. The unwitting Goolomps believe they’re zapping over for a quick dip in the Mud Baths of Porpadomp - only to discover themselves deep underground with nothing but a towel.

Goolomps are very suspicious of anyone they encounter and will immediately use their innate ESP ability to uncover a party’s motivations. They can communicate telepathically and psychically attack an adversary if need be. Desperate for a way home, they’re eager to converse and trade with anyone capable of interdimensional travel. Their own method involves the use of teleporting machines - hence their predicament. Goolomps* are not above the use of violence and the theft of magic items if they believe it will aid their quest. They are averse to collaborating with humans and elves (whom they regard as stupid and ugly).

Goolomp: HD 2; AC 8 [11]; Atk 1 claw or bite for 1 hp damage or preferably Special; Move 9; Save 13; CL/XP 3/300; Special: ESP, Telepathy, Ego Whip per combat round for d6 damage (Save allowed, target goes to sleep with nightmares of inferiority for d6 turns if HP reduced to zero or less; thereafter HP returns to normal). In addition to Ego Whip, they can emit a Psychic Screech once per day causing Confusion (per the spell).

* My wife chose the name Goolomp here after I showed her the above artwork and asked for a suggestion. She swears she's never heard of the Castlevania monster of the same name.

Text of this post licensed under the OGL; “Goolomp” art above is public domain - tidied up with the GIMP a bit. Original source image from a forgotten Golden Age comic from the '50s.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Interactive Maps with the GIMP

Using the GNU Image Manipulation Program, you can easily create interactive maps for use in your game - just for your records, for the players' use in an online video conference game, or maybe as a solitaire dungeon where the player advances on the map and clicks on numbered areas as they proceed.

To start, open an existing image with the GIMP - perhaps a wilderness or dungeon map. For this example, I'm going to recycle an old side view "dungeon" I posted here last year. Then choose Filters - Web - Image Map.

That's going to bring up the image mapping editor.

From the mapping menu in this new window, choose your selection shape. I use the rectangle (it seems less wonky). Use it to select parts of your image, just as you would with the toolbox's rectangle select tool. As you make selections, new layers will appear in the sidebar on the right. You can edit the information in these entries as you go along or come back to edit them later by double clicking them in the sidebar.

In the above example, I've selected the number 3 on my map and now am choosing what will happen when the 3 is clicked on in the image - in this case it will take the user to a new web page with a description. If the link is relative, it means that the destination web page is located in the same directory as the original image. The "ALT text" area will display hovering text on mouse over if Internet Explorer is used (other web browsers will not use it).

Once the image is mapped, in the image map window, choose save - GIMP should append a .map to the end of the file name. Change it to .html now or after saving. The image mapping editor will disappear and you're back to your original image.

To test, put the image file in the same directory and double click your newly saved .html file to open it in your browser. Quick and dirty image mapping! Click the numbers on my lazy example to see it in action.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

X-Plorer Paper Minis and Pre-Gen Cards

A little while back (and with Brave Halfling's blessing), I put together a set of paper minis and pre-generated character cards from the artwork and PCs listed in the back of the X-Plorers rules. It seems like the box sets should be arriving any day now so I thought I'd post it up here in case anyone can use them. Formatted for 4x6" index cards - they should scale to Letter size pretty well if you don't want or need minis but can still use the character records.

Click the thumbnail image above for a closer look or to download.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Always on the lookout for new and especially low level monsters, I spotted these creeps in an old comic book from the '50s. Scanned and cleaned up a bit, there's one on the right. They should serve nicely as an occasional generic stand-in for goblins etc...

A lonesome wizard’s experiment gone very wrong, mouthies have managed to reproduce and can now be found in many dark and desolate places. The creatures have a ravenous appetite for human flesh and are difficult to outrun. Fortunately they’re quite stupid and lack grasping appendages - vertical escape is often the best course of action.

Mouthy: HD 1; AC 8 [11]; Atk 1 Bite d4, Move 13; Save 18; CL/XP B/10

Friday, August 26, 2011

Feeds and Followers - Blogger Weirdness

I've been having some problems with the feed widget over there on the right, so I finally just deleted every single google cookie from Firefox. Now I notice that every site I go to where I was formerly a follower (sorry, "member" is blogger's new term), I'm asked to rejoin. Then after doing so, I have to be sure to choose site settings next to my own icon and choose to follow using a web profile - then choose blogger if I want to show up as ze bulette again.

Anyhow, it appears as though somehow this may have unsubscribed me from some other bloggers. So if you see a follower drop or a long time follower suddenly un-follow and re-follow, maybe that's what happening. On the plus side my feeds are working again correctly so far. Oh yeah, and the little scarlet "G" on the ze bulette icon has finally been banished.

Probably just a speed bump on the way to Google reconciling its G+ accounts with its blogger users' desire for anonymity.

Correction: Crap, the RSS feed widget is still broken. The one thing that does seem to fix it is editing the widget's settings, removing one or more of the items that it shows and re-saving. Then if you go back in and edit again putting the original items back (such as post snippet, time of update, etc.) and save, it will work again for a bit. Anyone else having that problem? Emptying the cache and clearing cookies doesn't help and apparently might cause its own set of problems.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Planet Comics Covers from the Golden Age

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bourbon Schmourbon

I don’t know precisely how one goes about acquiring a sore throat in the dog days of summer, but I seem to have managed it. I blame the rug rats at the local ball game I attended the other day.

It seems an appropriate time to discuss my preferred method of treatment: the frequent application of whiskey. This evening I’ve managed to do a fair amount of damage to two different bottles of bourbon - one “Buck”, a small batch 90 proof which bills itself as a Kentucky whiskey but is bottled in San Jose. The other is George Dickel’s No.8, an 80 proof distilled in Tennessee and bottled in Connecticut.

Both of these I picked up for between $25-$30 each from the same shelf, which makes sense since they aren’t far off from one another in quality. The Buck at 90 proof is a bit paler than the Dickel No. 8, and predictably has a smaller nose. Its bottle is sexier at first glance, which should always make one slightly suspicious. In terms of medicinal value, the award would have to go to Buck, but I definitely prefer the Dickel No. 8. It just has a lot more going for it, although I wouldn’t say it’s terribly sophisticated - it just knows its way around. The Buck bills itself as the drink of cowboys and blah blah blah. The No. 8 didn’t feel the need to explain itself with a small card attached to its neck by elastic band.

I suspect a lot of bourbon is shuttled around and mixed by bottlers from the same half dozen distilleries. At some point, there’s not much point in reviewing the stuff unless it’s a very small batch. Bulleit is a good example. It's one I've thought about reviewing, but the difference between it and these other two I find pretty marginal. I suppose it might be good for a GIMPing and rebranding as “Bulette” though. I really need to get back to single malts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Linocut Stamps and Maps

I’ve been looking through an old book of German expressionist woodcuts lately and it inspired me to dig out my linoleum block printing kit. The strong lines in the works of Trampier and other early TSR artists have often reminded me of medieval wood block prints - maybe they'd unconsciously encouraged me to try my own hand at such prints in the first place.

Castles, cathedrals, mazes and goblins were favorite subjects long ago...

Once I had my carving tools out again, I started thinking about how I might be able to use them to create something for use in the game. One idea was that I could make maps on the spot, using small stamps. I cut out a one inch hex, got an ink pad, and proceeded to stamp away. It looks a little funky, but it might work. Next, I thought I could carve small symbols into similar hex pieces - castles, mountains, forest, etc. Linoleum is pretty cheap stuff though, it might be difficult to get the level of detail I’d like.

Stamp experiments, small linocuts glued onto corks.

What’s the point of this versus just using a pre-printed sheet of paper or battlemat? I’m not sure. Aside from the quick and simple pleasure of stamping out a crawl as it progressed, I suppose one could stamp a map on different surfaces. For instance, I have some strips of suede backed faux alligator skin. It might work well as a wilderness/ treasure map made out of a monster’s hide - a game prop I could give to players.

In addition to experimenting with making map stamps out of linoleum blocks, I’m going to try to make my own “Deceased” stamp to ceremonially mark dead PC cards. It could be fun to slam one down at a game table. Bam! Officially dead. It seems like there might be other game uses for DIY stamps like these though.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Musical Intermission

Got bored and put this together. Joy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Undead Pinniped

Telecanter's visiting for a few days so I took him out to the coast to show him the Sea Lion Caves. Stellar sea lions have a great sounding growl, very different from the California variety. Barely managed to escape this guy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

S&W Sessions Journal: Pub Life and Missing Men-at-Arms

Our short game over the weekend consisted of a lot of paper work. But between character card updating and role playing mundanities at the local tavern it was really a pretty fun time assisted by a number of whisky shots and beer. I’d done a little more than my usual amount of preparation and was ready for the second level of the dungeon to be explored. That never happened, but I was more than happy for the reprieve and a chance to flesh it out a bit more. A quick trip up, out, and back to the usual tavern HQ was decided upon.

The little hobbit Pikmit (the blind magic user’s guide) was hauled out of the dungeon slung over the shoulder of Wagstaff the Thief and slammed onto the bar. Stebbins (their employer) was sent for, as was usual whore of Henri (their newly one armed men-at-arm). An earlier sample of their now large haul of strange mushrooms had been analyzed by Stebbins' superior and deemed Magic Mushrooms of Underwater Breathing. At least, Stebbins said his employer was pretty sure that’s what they were. We all had a good laugh at the thought of how this might play out later in the game (as the party decided to keep a handful), but a fat sack of 100 gold was handed over to Wagstaff as leader to distribute as he saw fit.

Stebbins was usually in the habit of taking only Wagstaff through the kitchen and into the place where livestock were butchered in order to discuss business. This time, Gulch the assassin was also invited to join them. Stebbins introduced himself and mentioned that he knew of several associates of his at the guild in Haldane far to the West. It seems his services could very well be required of Stebbins’ employers and so he was glad to have made his acquaintance.

Wagstaff relayed how a dwarven friend of his, Aleger, had recently rejoined their party only to be killed by goblins recently in the dungeons of the abandoned chateau. Stebbins offered another sack of gold in compensation for this loss (later discovered to be 50gp), and encouraged the group to acquire more men-at-arms if they could as future expeditions would likely prove ever more perilous for some time.

Inquiries were made as to whether there were any treatment options for their blind magic user. Stebbins told them them that there was a strange man-like creature to the northeast across the river who called himself Sir Froig. He was said to be highly knowledgable of healing herbs and magic. A low hanging dark cloud which never moved in the sky hung continually over the place where they might find this creature. He said that there was also an alchemist in Sarlat some distance further away who might also be of assistance, and that he could send a courier there (for their smaller sack of gold he’d just paid them) if they wished more information from there.

Leaving Stebbins, the night soon faded into a spinning fog of forgetfulness until the next morning when the group regathered on the ground floor to plan their next move over breakfast. It was decided that the still near dead and recuperating halfling would be left to rest at the Turnapeak for awhile, while the rest of the party headed northeast in search of Sir Froig. At this point, everyone demanded to be paid their share of loot and reward - Wagstaff ripped off everyone including even Gulch who’d seen exactly how large the sacks of gold had been. Wagstaff privately conveyed that Gulch should not worry as his extra share would be coming shortly as long as he didn't betray Wagstaff’s confidence.

The two local hired men-at-arms, Gerard and Henri seemed a bit miffed but asked if there was time for them to nip off to the village near Castelnaud to repair or upgrade their armor and weaponry and otherwise re-equip. The rest of the group waited at the tavern, but after the appointed time of a couple of hours, the two had not returned. The party waited another hour, and then another again, but there was no sign of the two. Finally, it was decided that the group would head to the village itself to see if they could be found.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Late to the Party, Brought My Dice

Above are the dice I currently use. The white Gamescience dice I proudly inked and use the most - simple and clean, like my favorite rpg rules. On the left is a home made paper d8. There's also a "die" that came out of a Magic Eight Ball, and of course the Gamescience d30. I obviously don't need this many for regular use but I like to have one everywhere I look when one is needed.

Below are some d10's in the collection which never get used but were fun to design, make, and test. (If you want to try your hand at it yourself, a while back I put up a bunch of PDFs here.)

Below are dice that never get used but that I bought for some reason or acquired when I bought a guy's whole game collection. There's another huge bag of assorted weirdness around here somewhere but I'm too lazy to look for it right now and never use them since they were someone else's to begin with... Can't risk the vibes. I think that bag of different colored dice came out of the Brave Halfling box set.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Rings of Velav

The distrust between the Ogleds and Ocks has spanned several centuries. The river Dordogne that separates the two ethnic groups from one another along with its guarded bridges and frequent inspections has been a major source of irritation to the non-aligned segments of the valley’s residents as well as its smugglers. As a result, numerous means to traverse the border have been devised and used, including tunnels, zip lines, and makeshift watercraft.

During times of war, several of the accomplished magic users of the region developed more advanced methods to make the crossing - devices which they would loan or rent to those deemed reliable enough to return them. Among these are the creations known as the Rings of Velav.

It’s unknown how many of these rings the wizard Velav has crafted, but their magical value is the same. The rings are made of an unknown heavy metal, and come in two colors - each with a matching rune. When removed from the finger and thrown, they will expand after landing to some three feet in diameter. At this point, their center will appear to contain bright lights and fog, corresponding to its original hue. Any item or individual that enters one of these hoops will exit from the other.

The value of Velav’s Rings is diminished by their range - they need to be thrown by an ungloved hand in order to function properly.

The Rings of Velav

The rings come in one of two colors: green or red, with matching runes. When thrown by hand, if landing on a flat and large enough surface, they will adhere to it and expand to a 3’ diameter hoop. Items or individuals entering one hoop will exit the other hoop at the same velocity and with the same inertia as when entering it. For example: A green ring is thrown onto a surface 60’ below, and a red one onto the ground some 10’ away at the same level as the thrower. If the green ring is then jumped into, the jumper will exit the red ring at the original angle of entrance and at the speed of someone falling 60’ (with possible resultant injury).

The thrown and enlarged rings will lose their adhesion and revert to normal size after d6 turns. They cannot be picked up or moved beforehand once enlarged.
A thrown ring cannot be entered until its counterpart has been thrown, its center remaining solid until then.

The rings do not like the timid - those tempted to test the enlarged opening with a toe, stick, etc. will find that the object will protrude from the opposite ring, but after one minute of being penetrated in this manner, both rings will close, perfectly severing anything that was inside.

Clever players or NPCs may discover it’s possible to throw one ring onto a surface and another directly above it at some distance, creating a trap where an individual who falls into the first hoop exits from the second and falls back again into the first, continually falling in this way until the rings once again revert to normal size.

A ring can be thrown into its enlarged opposite. If this is done, both rings will instantly disappear, returning to the laboratory of Velav where he recharges them. The rings will similarly disappear once their last charge has been used -
they typically have 3d6 charges when found.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Two for the Kids - Puzzle Post

In the interest of encouraging kids to take up pen and paper games, here's a couple of word search puzzles - find the B/X monsters (some will be reversed). Maybe this could come in handy for those long vacation car rides or flights? Click the thumbnail image to download them or for a closer look.

Last week's crossword post has been updated with the answers.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bavarian Gnome Tunnels

"There are more than 700 curious tunnel networks in Bavaria, but their purpose remains a mystery. Were they built as graves for the souls of the dead, as ritual spaces or as hideaways from marauding bandits? Archeologists are now exploring the subterranean vaults to unravel their secrets."

Photos and more at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alternatives to Capitalism in Our Games

The rules of D&D operate under the assumption that the economy of the game setting is more or less like the real world’s - that the PCs’ culture values money, and in fact really revolves around it. Acquiring it is one of the primary character motivations, and it’s directly connected to gaining experience and leveling up. But what would D&D look like if we stripped this component out of it and replaced it with something else?

I started thinking about this last year when considering an island hopping campaign with the PCs being fairly “primitive” natives, rather than typical D&D characters from a medieval and European background. I was reminded of it later when I thought about running D&D in a prehistoric or ice age setting, and then again more recently when I thought about what it would be like to play solely as Native Americans or some kind of equivalent, in a world where Europeans never show up and technological innovation is glacial.

What would we use to replace the monetary system that we’re so familiar with in our games? Is D&D even the same game if we remove that, or are we playing something else with certain D&D mechanics?

Barter isn't unknown to those other cultures, and there would definitely be items with greater value due to relative scarcity. Take for example a good horse. Also, things tend to wear down quickly - so new furs need to be acquired and successful hunting takes time and isn’t guaranteed.

Rarer and more valuable still would be those things that have a symbolic value and are dangerous to obtain. The scalp of an enemy, for example. Or perhaps something similar to an eagle feather, instead derived from a monster. I’ve explored this just a bit in my current games, with monsters themselves being the treasure (see Claude de Sarlat, monster eater) - though in that case they’re commodified by being turned into gold pieces when sold to Claude’s chef. A better example might be the Makemanu, undead parrots whose feathers of different colors might easily fill in for gold, silver, and copper.

One issue with using these kinds of replacements is that they likely aren’t anything that can be hoarded, or rather, nobody in those cultures would want to do such a thing. In a hunter/gatherer or early agrarian society, what does one need to amass wealth for? Food to last a winter or in case of crop failure maybe, but not excess wealth - of what use is too many sheep? They’re just more difficult to guard and one can only eat so much mutton. But if there’s no giant treasure hoard, how am I to build a castle or establish a guild? My end game is buggered.

In these pre-capitalist societies, probably what’s more important is your status within the tribe - how high up on the totem pole you are. There may be beads and trinkets traded, especially with outsiders, but it seems like people of stone age cultures would be much more aware of the transitory nature of life and possessions (and place a greater value on relationships accordingly). Defending family and tribal honor, earning a good reputation amongst the tribe, or spiritual interests might all stand in as game incentives. Maybe the end game is helping the tribe find the perfect, peaceful, and fertile valley - maybe level progression involves achieving certain tasks and overcoming enemies that prove one’s bravery and honor without the need for shiny metals.

Looking back now, when I started playing D&D as a kid, I had all the time in the world. Marathon late night sessions could easily happen with friends staying over. I think a part of the game’s appeal was in the adult-like aspect of our characters having responsibilities and jobs (albeit as monster killers), as well as our ability to manage sums of their imaginary money - to spend as we saw fit without any parental supervision. Now that I’m older, I wonder if my interest in playing in a D&D world where money doesn’t figure so prominently hinges on the real life pressure of having to earn and manage it. Playing a caveman protecting the clan from cave bears and not worrying about paying for medical insurance or taxes on a castle would occasionally be a pleasant diversion.