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OSRIC 2.0 is Out. Get your Free Copy NOW!

OSRIC 2.0 is finally out and at about 400 pages of First Edition retro-clone goodness, it was well worth the long wait. The original version of OSRIC was only about 130 pages. While OSRIC 1.0 seemed to be designed more as an SRD for publishers, OSRIC 2.0 is definitely designed to be played on its own as well as serve as a stand in for 1e for publishers.

You can get your copy here: http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric/

RetroRoleplaying: The Future

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I haven't been around much the last couple of months as real life has kept me very busy. Real life seems to be calming back down (just in time for the holiday season). Therefore, I should be doing more blogging -- and work on Microlite74 and Of Gold and Glory.

I've also decided to make some changes here at RetroRoleplaying. My original plan was to cover as many out-of-print RPGs (and their retro-clones/simulacrums) as I could. I haven't made a lot of progress on this. Therefore, I've decided to focus the site more on my personal favorites: OD&D, Classic D&D, AD&D, Marvel Superheroes, and Classic Traveller. If someone comes along and wants to do a section on another out-of-print RPGs, I'll be happy to provide space and bandwidth but it seems best to focus on my interests and actually make something of this site than to try to cover everything and fail.

I'm probably going to restart the message board sometime in the next few weeks to focus on the above mentioned games, retro-clones/simulacrums, and my own games Microlite74 and For Gold and Glory.

This blog? It will become more active again now that I have more time. I'm just sorry I missed some of the big "events" of the last couple of months. Things like Carcosa And Swords & Wizardry. I give both a big thumbs up, BTW -- despite a few misgivings about the explicit text in Carcosa.

Microlite74 Is Popular

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I've been too busy with political and personal stuff the last month to even think about this blog or Microlite74. I was therefore surprised discover that version 1.1 had over 550 downloads in the month it has been available when I checked last night. Wow. I had no idea it was that popular. That's over 1100 downloads since the 1.0 release in early summer.

Have there been any reviews or comments outside the Gnognard blogs I follow? (If there are, I'd really appreciate links in comments.) There has to be something out there to attract all this attention. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased that people seem to like M74, I'm just somewhat surprised. I figured it would be doing well if it had a few hundred downloads in a year.

Gamer Geek Meets Politics

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I had promised myself that I would not mention politics in this blog, but this is too funny not to mention:

Adventuring Party Politics: The Campaign is Getting Ugly

Microlite74 Release 1.1 Now Available

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Over 500 copies of original 1.0 release of Microlite74 have been downloaded since it was release just over two months ago. Release 1.1 is available for download today in two different forms.

For those not familar with Microlite74, it is a version of Microlite20, designed to recreate the style and feel of that very first ("0e") fantasy roleplaying game published back in 1974 is the simple framework of the Microlite20 rules. Microlite74's rules were written to support the "old school" style, while retaining many of the more modern rules features of OGL games based on the 3.5 SRD. Microlite20 trimmed the fat from the 3.5 SRD, paring the game down to a fast-moving and easy to learn two-page system. Microlite74 takes the M20 system and modifies it for a 1974 style, but leaves most of the basic Microlite20 rules in place.

The original release of Microlite74 included variant rules based on Microlite20, a complete spell list and monster list, and a short designer's note section touching on the differences in style between "old school" and the usual style of play encountered today. Release 1.1 contains minor error corrections, information on other OGL retrogames based on early editions of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game, and new rules for morale, hirelings, and equipment.

Microlite74 Release 1.1 Standard is a six page PDF. Everything you need to play is in the fairly small print of this edition. It is a 112K free download.

Microlite74 Release 1.1 Digest is a special version of Microlite74 formatted to print as a digest-sized booklet something like those of 0e using the booklet printing feature of Adobe Acrobat. The type size is larger and there is B&W fantasy artwork, courtesy of Håkan Ackegård. This file is much larger than the standard file (2.25M compared to 112K) so the art will print with high quality. While the download is free, because of the large file size the file is stored at Rapidshare.

Skills Rule Draft for Microlite20-OSS Edition

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Here is a first draft of my "old school" style skills for my new Microlite20-Old School Style Edition (now tentatively entitled "For Gold & Glory"). As you can see, the rules are fairly close to how Microlite74 handled skills, except that instead of basing any rolls the GM might call for off of level for tasks related to the characters class or level/2 for tasks not related to the character's class, the rolls are based on the character's skill rank in the appropriate skill.

Each class has one skill directly associated with it (physical for Fighters, knowledge for Magic-Users, and Communication for Clerics) which gets a +3 skill bonus. The player can freely select a second class skill -- this makes creating "subclasses" easy. Want a leader-of-men fighter, take Communication as your second class skill. Want a sneaky Magic-User, take Subterfuge as your second class skill. Etc. The player then selects two of the remaining three skills as secondary skills. The remaining skill is the character's minor skill. This allows for quite a bit of character customization without a lot of detailed rules.

Skills
While there are skills in For Gold & Glory, they are not used the way they are in most modern games. Instead of saying “I make my (name of skill) roll,” players are expected to think like adventurers, tell the GM what they are doing and the GM decides if it will succeed in the situation. If the GM decides a random success chance is truly needed, then and only then will a skill roll be made.

There are just five skills in For Gold and Glory: Communication, Knowledge, Physical, Subterfuge, and Survival. Each class has a class specific major class skill listed in the class description and a minor class skill of the player’s selection. A character gets a +3 class bonus to his major class skill. The player then selects two of the remaining three skills as secondary skills. The remaining skill is a minor skill. A player’s skill rank is:

Class Skill Rank = level + any bonuses due to class or race
Secondary Skill Rank = (level/2, rounded down) + any bonuses due to class or race.
Minor Skill Rank = (level/4, rounded down) + any bonuses due to class or race

When the GM calls for a skill roll, he will declare which stat the skill roll falls under and the player will make a skill roll.

Skill roll = 1d20 + skill rank + stat bonus + GM declared situational modifiers (if any).

Roll higher than the GM assigned Difficulty Class to succeed. Unless the GM rules otherwise, a natural roll of 20 always succeeds.

Starting Work on the Microlite20-OSS Edition

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While I like Microlite74 and think it is an excellent conversion of the style of that Zeroth Edition of the world's most popular fantasy RPG from 1974 to Microlite-style rules, it's not really a game I'd run regularly. If I wanted to run Oe I'd either just run it or the new Swords & Wizardry retro-clone.

Therefore, I've decide to write yet another Microlite20 variant tentatively titled Microlite20-OSS Edition (Microlite20 -- Old School Style Edition). This version will aim to be old school in feel but will not try to duplicate the specifics of any edition. Instead it will be the rules I would like to use in my own M20 games. I have no idea if anyone else will like them, but when they are done I will be making them available to any who are interested for the usual M20 price, free.

M20-OSS will start with Microlite74 and make changes. Some of the major new features currently planned for M20-OSS include:

SKILLS: The return of M20's five skills, but used in an old school way where the skill roll is completely secondary to the player's description of what his character is doing. Each class will have two class skills at 1d20+level (one will be determined by character's class and the other will be picked by the player which will allow an easy way to create a "subclass" effect). The other three skills will be at 1d20+(level/2).

CLASS ABILITIES: The special class abilities I usually add to fighters (weapon specialization). magic-users (minor magics), and clerics (healing touch) via house rules will be in the rules.

RITUALS: Rituals are only thing I really like from 4e, they will be added but not as replacements for standard spells (as they are in 4e) but as a way to cast special magics or spells one does not have memorized.

PSIONICS: Psionics are important in my Empire of Arn setting, if I am to be able to run Arn games with M20-OSS, I will need some type of psionics rules. These will be optional.

SPELLS: Will run to 9th level for Magic-Users and 7th level for clerics.

There will be a number of minor tweaks and changes as well. I have no idea how long this will take me to develop and write-up, but I will be making reports here and on the Retroroleplaying forum.

Dan's Diminutive d20 -- New "Minimal" Version of D20

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There's another mini-D20 fantasy RPG out, Dan's Diminutive d20. This is a free 12-page pdf with a unique take on D20 minimalism:

* Generic Classes: 3 core classes (Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard), with easy-to-remember saves and skills.
* Limited Levels, Magic, and Feats: Limited to 12 character levels, 5 magic items maximum, and class bonus feats only.
* Level-Based Skills: No skill points are spent or recorded.
* Equipment in Brief: Your core adventuring needs, with a unique measurement system that makes encumbrance a snap.
* Monsters Redux: All the major monsters, reduced to fit in just 3 pages.
Like most mini-D20 games, Dan's Diminutive d20 is almost entirely OGL material so others can build on this game. Dan's Diminutive d20 has some resemblance to the popular Microlite 20 games, but is based on generic classes from the OGL material in Unearthed Arcana -- and has no clerics! It's definitely worth a look, especially if you'd like something with a bit more crunch than Microlite 20.

Trouble Letting Go -- The Heartbreak of Selling Wrath of the Immortals

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As many readers know, I've been selling off parts of my RPG collection since my marriage. The reason is simple: lack of room -- two forty-somethings each get married, each for the first time, and have to combine two houses worth of stuff into one house. However, I've been keeping many older items like really like, such as my Classic D&D rules and adventures.

Last week, however, I looked at my copies of the Wrath of the Immortals boxed set from TSR and The Primal Order from WOTC and realized that I have never used them and probably never will. I just do not need detailed rules on deity-level NPCs. I run my deities as deities -- plot devices who can do whatever I need them to do within the limits of their areas of power. They don't really need hit points, let alone detailed lists of powers and how many points of divine energy each power uses. And that's what TSR's Wrath of the Immortals and WOTC's The Primal Order do. Sure, Wrath of the Immortals also has rules for a campaign with PCs as Immortals, but I'm never going to run anything like that.

As my wife still says my games take up too much space, I decided to go ahead and sell these. Someone who will use them (or some collector who just has to own everything) can have them. In a way it breaks my heart to sell a Classic D&D item, as OD&D and CD&D are the games I am most likely to run in my "old age," but I have to be realistic. I've never going to use it. The rules aren't anything I need and the adventure changes the Known World in ways I really don't like -- almost as bad as the changes to the Forgotten Realms for D&D4. Logically, I know this feeling is silly, but I still have it. Oddly enough, I have no such feeling about selling The Primal Order even though it is the first RPG product WOTC's published and it is a fun read.

I'd like to know what my readers think of this. Do you have trouble letting go of gaming materials you know you will never need or use?

Adventure Module BL1-2? This Looks Good

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I stumbled on this on the web site of Roll for Surprises! -- a company I've never heard of before. This looks very good -- it will apparently be available for free download in PDF form and in hardcopy from Lulu.

Adventure Module BL1-2: The Ruined Hamlet/Terror in the Gloaming

Into the Unknown! The wilderness around the cave stronghold called Gold Hill Trading Post is dangerous and scattered with ruins of large and small settlements. Will your party find fame and fortune, solve ancient mysteries, or just disappear into the Borderlands like so many that came before?

This module contains underground and wilderness maps that form a detailed adventure and mini-campaign for beginning characters, including an abandoned village, haunted graveyard, ruined church, traders' camp, wilderness encounters, and monster lairs. It also includes a ruined keep and dungeon, as well as a mapped and detailed "base camp" stronghold.

For new characters, levels 1-2. 60 pages.

Download Version Coming Soon!
[In final layout 9/1/08]
I can't wait to see this.

Hidden Valley Towns II (Hidden Valley Setting, Part X)

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Cities and Towns in the Hidden Valley

Longpoint (pop 1700, Girwyllan)

Longpoint used to be the midpoint on a road to Byrne, but the bridges to Byne were magically destroyed during the Kinstrife and never rebuilt. The road between Longpoint and Byrne is now little more than a hard to follow trail. Longpoint is the main staging ground for expedition into the Fens and several small merchant houses specialize in product than can only be found in or made from things found in the Fens. Sir Gillford is Lord Mayor of Longpoint, but he allows an elected council to do most of the ruling. He despises Baron Eden of Thornhold.

Arquay (pop 6070, Girwyllan)

Arquay is a thriving agricultural center centering the towns and farms in the central Goodlands. It is also the home of the Moon Waters Monastery, noted for its healing waters and well-trained medical monks. Arquay is ruled by the Imperial Baron Arquay. The current baron is an elderly man who is well-liked by the people and his subject knights. Unfortunately, his health is failing and people worry than his only child, Elizabeth, is more interested in her many bed partners than she is in the welfare of the lands she will soon inherit.

Ost Caves (pop 4300, Girwyllan)

This town is named for the huge cavern system east of town. The upper caverns are used to farm mushrooms and other fungus. Passages to the deeper areas are well guarded as several times most years horrible creatures come up from below. According to legend the caverns continue downward to the edge of hell itself. The town is also noted for its spring festival which features athletic contests or all types. Ost Caves has been governed by a council of area knights since the death of the last Baron Druse over 60 years ago.

Swords and Wizardry Web Site

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The beginnings of a website for the new 0e retroclone Swords & Wizardry is up at http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/. There's not a lot there yet, but there are some interesting (cover??) illos and the new S&W messageboards.

1KM1KT Retro RPG Find: Tunnel Quest

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Here is another interesting game I discovered yesterday on my first visit to the 1km1kt web site in several months. Tunnel Quest is a short (14 page) and simple fantasy RPG that has a very retro feel to it. It was designed by Paul Elliot (of Zenobia fame) and further developed by Mike Hill, who says this of the game:

The system favours a quick and easy style of play with limited bookkeeping for the GM - a single dice roll for combat determines whether the character hits or gets hit - no rolling for the GM!

NPCs can be described with a single number or detailed with unique abilities - examples are of both styles are included in the text.

This is a low-power low-fantasy game which uses small numbers and only 2 six-sided dice. Paul originally conceived the game to appeal to his young children but my players range from 21 to 48.
Here is a sample of the rules:
The Basics

When the result of a character’s action is in doubt, the Game Master (GM) asks for a dice roll to determine the outcome. The player rolls 2-dice and must get equal to or greater than the Difficulty umber. In a fight the Target Number is the Rating of the Foe. Most tasks can be rated in this way (climb portcullis might be 6). A Difficulty Number of 8 would be a typical challenge; 10 or more would be difficult and 13 or more would be formidable for starting characters, at any rate.

In many circumstances, the character may possess a Skill applicable to the situation; in which case, the player may add the Skill level to the dice roll. The character’s Experience Level is usually added to the roll but only if the GM feels the task warrants it, given the character’s calling.

Example: Yuon the Barbarian is hunting small game with a bow and arrow. Yuon has Archery at +1 and the GM allows his player to add the character’s Level (+2, for a total of +3), as the activity seems like the sort of thing Barbarians get up to. Later, Yuon attempts to use his Repair Skill (+2) to fix the hem on Maid Morron’s court gown. Yuon does not get to add his Level in this particularly un-Barbarian-like activity!
From reading the rules, I really like this little game. It's not quite as simple as Dungeon Squad, but it has a lot more for the GM and players to work with.

Download a free copy of Tunnel Quest.

1KM1KT RPG Find: Sovereign

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I visited the 1km1kt web site for the first time in several months and found a few interesting-looking free RPGs. The first is an interesting riff on the corps of heroes that support a monarch fantasy world, think Lackey's Heralds here, but the world seems a bit more gritty. This is a large game with a 50 page player's book and a 25+ page GM's Guide. It looks somewhat promising, at least as a campaign setting. I haven't looked at the rules closely enough yet to form a solid opinion.

Abandoned

Your parents left you, left you to fend for yourself in the harsh world. Destined for a life of destitution and despair, you had little hope for survival.

The Emperor Rescued You

His servants found you and recognized the faintest sliver of greatness you held. They rescued you, gave you a new home and a new family.

All He Asks for in Return is Loyalty

Trained to be a warrior, to uphold the glory of the Empire. Your discipline is unmatched. Your skills unquestionable. Your word is law, backed by the Emperor himself. All he asks for in return is your unquestioning loyalty. All he asks for in return is that you serve him as a Sovereign.

Sovereign is a low-fantasy game centered on the themes of duty, loyalty, and power. Players take on the roles of Sovereigns. Orphans rescued by the known world’s greatest power, the Empire, Sovereigns are warriors beyond match. They are entrusted with the most dangerous duty in the world, protecting the people from evil and corrupt sorcery, as well as carrying out the will of the Emperor.

Sovereign uses a system that puts the focus and discipline of these warriors at the forefront and contains a setting with a rich backstory. Players should not read the Gamemaster’s Guide as this has the potential to spoil some of the more interesting setting elements.
Download a free copy of Sovereign.

Hidden Valley Towns I (Hidden Valley Setting, Part IX)

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Cities and Towns in the Hidden Valley

Goldcrest (pop 3500, Irillion)

A large town serving as a base and rest and recreation area for a large number of mining camps in the mountains. It has a very "wild west" flavor. The town is governed by a council of mining company representatives.

Byrny (pop 1600, Irillion)

This town at the edge of the Arlynn Fens was originally a fortification separating the Irillion controlled area of the valley from the Empire. A market town grew up around it and remained long after the need for the fortification ended. The fort is in ruins, its stones used to built the town's excellent walls.

Wood Edge (pop 2000, Irillion)

This is a sleepy town on the edge of the Thornewood. It's the main staging area for merchants heading from Irillion to the Empire by way of the Thornewood. It is governed by the decendants of Ejay Buckwood who founded the town.

Thornhold (pop 5700, Girwyllan)

This thriving town is called the Gateway to Irillion and is the staging center for merchants heading to Irillion. Taxes on merchants are heavy, but only apply to good actually brought into or through the town. Unfortunately, bandits can make it hard on merchants to do not avail themselves of the town's walls (and pay the heavy taxes). Some think some of the bandits are actually in the employ of the Empire, or at least the Imperial Baron Eden who rules the town.

Forverol (pop 4300, Girwyllan)

This town is agricultural center serving farms and villages in this part of the Goodlands. The town is governed by Imperial Baron Forverol whose family has governed here for hundreds of years. Villages in the Goodlands closer to Forverol than to any other major town serve under the Baron -- who has appointed them directly since the death of the last Tribune. The current Baron pays necessary lip service to the vacant Imperial throne, but otherwise ignores it.

City of Irillion (Hidden Valley Setting, Part VIII)

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Cities and Towns in the Hidden Valley

Irillion

This is a large, independent city located south of The Ring on the banks of the Long River. Irillion is currently home to some 55,000 people, barely half of its population before the Kinstrife.

Irillion was founded after the Great Exodus by more independent-minded refugees from the Sack of Girwyllan who did not like the very structured life of the Girwyllan Empire. For many years, it remained little more than a collection of hovels beside a ford on the Long River. Then the Hero Wray discovered a fortune in gems on the Shelf. Irillion grew rapidly to over 100,000 citizens. It attracted many adventures and explorers, those few of whom who survived their expeditions to the Doompit founded the great merchant houses which dominated Irillion life until the Kinstrife. The growth of the city also attracted the attention of the large orc and goblin tribes in the Outer Mountains to the north. They repeatedly tried to sack the fledgling city before being finally all but wiped out in "Bscyan's Fist", a great battle that was the final triumph in a 15 year war against the humanoid tribes. Irillion maintained its grandeur and power until the Kinstrife. The Great Plague introduced by the Priests of Celaeno wiped out three-quarters of the city's population, including virtually all of the great merchant houses -- and with them died the secret locations of the gem beds.

With the exception of the six-year reign of the Tyrant Mendelous a generation ago, Irillion (and the Hills of Choth and northwestern portion of Thornewood) has been ruled by a Council composed of 8 elected Aldermen and the current Guild representative and the Guard Commander, one of whom is selected by lot each New Year to serve as Mayor. One Alderman is elected each year at Midsummer for an eight-year term. Any resident of Irillion may vote by paying a 5 silver fee. In the past, each Major House (a merchant house worth more than 1 million silvers) had a representative on the Council and each Great House (a merchant house worth more than 5 million silvers) had a representative on the Council who had veto power. However, there has not been a Major House, let alone a Great House, since before the Kinstrife. The Guilds vote on their representative every third year. The Guard Commander is appointed by vote of the Council. Due to an agreement with the Sorceress Diane dating from the revolt that removed Mendelous from power, Diane has a permanent seat on the Council with veto power. She seldom attends council meetings and has only vetoed one action of the council, an exile/pardon for Mendelous.

The city of Irillion can be a dangerous place to live. Much of the city stands abandoned and empty and the city has a very narrow definition of crime. Murder, tax evasion, breach of House contract, and major theft or property damage are dealt with swiftly and surely. Most other matters are left up to the persons involved to settle as any "fair fight" resulting in death or injury will not bring criminal penalties, although duels and blood feuds are likely results. Justice is administered by ten Magistrates (two for each major portion of Irillion) appointed by the Council to ten year terms. One term expires each year and once appointed, a Magistrate may not be removed from office until his term expires. As each Magistrate is allowed to establish his own court procedures and requirements, which Magistrate hears a case can be a major factor. Cases are assigned by casting lots, but rumor says that an appropriate donation can often affect the way the lots fall. In practice, the entire system is corrupt, from the rawest recruit on the Watch to the Magistrates themselves. One gets what justice one can pay for.

Irillion is divided into five major sections (plus the large open air market): The Commons, Hightown, Old Town, Riverside, and The Warrens. Each section has its own flavor.

THE COMMONS
The Commons is an older section of Irillion, filled with small private houses, boarding houses, shops, and the occasional tavern and inn. It is also the home of most of the city's temples and religious institutions. Of course, many of the buildings here are vacant. The Watch patrols this section once or twice a day.

HIGHTOWN
Hightown is a large park-like setting dotted with the declining and abandoned multi-acre estates of Irillion's merchant houses. Before the Kinstrife, it was beautiful and well-maintained. Now it is, for the most part, overgrown and decaying. Most of the estates were confiscated for unpaid taxes long ago and are rented out by the city to almost anyone who can afford to pay. House Eric, House Arabella, and House Norton (the three largest merchant Houses in Irillion) have directly purchased estates from the city, as has the Wizard Lyndon. The deposed Tyrant has a small estate here, watched and guarded 24 hours a day by elite members of the City Guard. The City Guard also patrols the other inhabited areas of Hightown regularly, but seldom make more than a show of patrolling the uninhabited portions.

OLD TOWN
Old Town is the commercial center of the city. Businesses ranging from the lavish on Gold Walk Way to the money changers on Coin Street to the small, packed shop/residences of the North End can be found here. Many of the buildings seem as old as the city and, like most of the rest of the city, fully 50% are vacant. It's well-lit at night by expensive magic lamps at intervals along the major streets. Most of Irillion's Guilds have their Guildhouses in this section of the city. Old Town is the only part of the city that is actually well-patrolled by the Watch, partly because they are paid well to do so by the Guilds and partly because the Guard Barracks are in this section of town. The Council Hall, the courthouse and the Saucy Sorceress Inn are also located in Old Town. The Saucy Sorceress is Irillion's most popular dining establishment and its largest Inn. Due to the same agreement with the inn's owner, the Sorceress Diane, that gives Diane a seat on the Irillion Council, Diane's rules are the sole law on the grounds of her inn.

RIVERSIDE
This section of Irillion includes the commercial docks on Long River and is mainly warehouses and businesses catering to the river boats and their crews. While the Watch makes its presence felt in this section, they mainly patrol the warehouse areas and leave the sailors and other river rats to their own devices -- unless called in because a major crime has been committed and reported. The area around the southern outer gate is the low rent district: mainly tenements and seedier businesses. The watch makes a token effort to patrol by day, but is never seen at night.

THE WARRENS
A sprawling area of tightly packed buildings that overhang narrow, dark streets, the Warrens are Irillion's ghetto . Only those with no other choice live or work deep in the Warrens -- the smell alone is enough to drive most away. The Watch never enters this part of the city. The outer edges of the Warrens are the home of brothels, feasthouses, and other darker outlets of hedonism run rampant.

THE MARKET
Irillion has a large open air market (big enough for two football fields side by side). While some stalls are permanently owned or leased for a long term, space can also be rented by the day or week. The market is open 24 hours a day, although many (if not most) of the businesses are only open in during the daylight hours. If it isn't sold in the market, it probably isn't for sale. The Guard is present here in small numbers, but well paid to keep its eyes closed. The Market is a paradise for pickpockets and other petty thieves.

Warrior & Wizard Retroclone Playtest Release Available

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Chris Goodwin has been working on a retroclone of Metagaming's old In The Labyrinth RPG system. He has a playtest version ready for people to look at and comment on:
My retro clone game, Warrior & Wizard, has reached what I consider minimally complete for playtesting. There are rules for creating characters, fighting using magic or weapons, and building them up through experience. There's also a minimal bestiary containing every type of creature capable of being summoned by the included spells, plus a few extra (stats may or may not match those in the original game). There's an experience point section that doesn't match the original game.

There's not any rigorous setting building information, and information on noncombat Skill use is a little light aside from what is provided in the description of the Skills themselves.
You can find the playtest draft on Google Docs here and comment on this playtest version in this thread on the RetroRoleplaying Forum.

Pathfinder RPG Beta PDF Available (Free)

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The Beta version of the new Pathfinder RPG from Paizo is now available, for free in PDF format or for $25 in softcover. Pathfinder is Paizo's attempt to pick up the 3.5 mantle for those WOTC D&D players who have decided to join other groups of grognards by continuing to play an out-of-print and out-of-style edition of D&D.

If you get a PDF copy, you can get the game in either of two formats: a single PDF file or a PDF file for each chapter. Better yet, you do not have to choose between them as you can get both. The single DF is a 27 meg download while the per-chapter version is a 32 meg download.

Paizo describes the beta as follows:

This complete stand-alone fantasy RPG takes your fantasy campaigns to new heights of adventure! Backward-compatible with the 3.5 fantasy rules but offering new solutions and options that place it firmly on the cutting edge, the Pathfinder RPG Beta release is the result of the largest open public playtest in RPG history.

* The Pathfinder RPG includes: Revised rules for the seven classic fantasy RPG races
* Updated options for the 11 core classe
* A streamlined skill system that makes things easier for players and GMs
* A host of new and familiar feats, including innovative combat feats and item creation rules
* New equipment
* New and revised combat options aimed at dispelling confusion at the game table without sacrificing versatility
* Overhauled rules for domains, familiars, bonded items, specialty schools, and more
* Dozens of new and revised spells
* Updated rules for NPCs, including quick-generation rules
* New rules for curses, diseases, and poisons
* A completely overhauled experience system with options for slow, medium, and fast advancement
* Hundreds and hundreds of magic items
* AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!

The Pathfinder RPG Beta release is available as a free PDF download and as a 408-page full-color softcover print edition.

I've just downloaded a copy. However, as I'm not a D&D 3.5 fan, I can't comment intelligently on what I've seen other than to say the production values on this beta edition are very high, higher than the production values on fully released games. $25 for a softcover copy would probably not be money wasted for some who wants to seriously playtest the game.

I did notice this note at the end of the Patherfinder Beta PDF:
Although this is the Beta release of the Pathfinder RPG, there are a few rules that are still undergoing significant revision. Here is just a taste of what you can expect to see in the coming months. All of these revisions will be available for free as a PDF at paizo.com.

Prestige Classes

A fresh look at these exciting character options, from the arcane trickster to the shadowdancer.

Cursed and Intelligent Items

A complete overhaul of these classic magic items.

Game Master Rules

An expanded selection of curses, diseases, and poisons, as well as additional rules to enhance the environment.

Even though I'm not a 3.5 fan, I'm following Pathfinder RPG fairly closely as it seems to be the most interesting use of the OGL I've seen: creating an improved version of the OGL fantasy rules with lots of actual player input -- instead of with input only from carefully selected and screened playtest groups playtesting under NDA. As Pathfinder has evolved through three alpha releases to this beta release, it is obvious that Paizo and their main designer Jason Bulmahn are actually listening to feedback and changing things that many players have problems with or even simply do not like. I think that is the right way to design new editions of popular game systems: designer vision tempered by open playtesting and serious consideration of player input.

Hard Core M20

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Alex Schroeder has his "Hard Core" variant of Microlite 20 up available on the web. It uses some of the ideas from my Microlite74 which makes it an interesting mash up of old school and new school. Alex lists the changes he's made to M20 and M74 in this entry on his wiki. There's a link to download a pdf of Hard Core M20 on the same page. I'm glad to see that Microlite74 is inspiring others.

Tarantis, Capital of the Girwyllan Empire (Hidden Valley Setting, Part VII)

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Cities and Towns in the Hidden Valley

Tarantis

[Note: This Tarantis has nothing in common with the Judge's Guild city-state other than the name.]

Tarantis is a large city (about 100,000 people, although there is room for over three times that many -- the city population before the Kinstrife) on the north shore of Unicorn Lake at the mouth of Swithan's River. This city has been the capital of the Girwyllan Empire since the horrors from the Doompit overran the mighty city of Girwyllan itself over 600 years ago. The Girwyllan Empire has always had strict laws and a harsh caste system, but in the smallest towns and the countryside they are often ignored. Not so in the city of Tarantis, the laws are enforced brutally and it seems every other citizen is an informant for the dread Silent Guard. This makes Tarantis one of the cleanest and safest cities on the continent, but comes at the cost of almost all personal freedom. A permit is required to for almost everything, even dying. Conversely, if one has enough silver and clout, one can obtain a permit to do almost anything.

The main reason the system has become so overwhelming and brutal is that while all power and justice flows from the Tribune of the Empire (i.e. the emperor), no Tribune has sat on the Shell Throne since the days of the Kinstrife when the Tribune Marick the Tyrant had his only child, Crown Princess Brandon, assassinated and allowed the outsider Priests of Celaeno into the valley. For the last 160 years the Girwyllan Empire has been ruled by a secretive five member Council of State. In theory, of course, they are only holding power until a suitable Tribune can be found. The Council is so secretive, that only a handful of citizens know who even one of its members are. The Council members are apparently completely out of touch with the citizens of the city or the empire.

One area of Tarantis is different, however. The short, dark twisted streets and alleys of the Jakes is not really under the control of the government. The City Guard will not enter this area except in massive force (and even then only at great need) and few informants for the Silent Guard live long enough to give useful information. The Jakes is ruled by the mysterious Deathless Hand, a criminal wizard whose early crimes are said to have been one of the prime causes of the Kinstrife. His hand is thought to be behind most, if not all, truly major crimes in the Girwyllan Empire. While no one has seen the Deathless Hand in over 100 years, he may be contacted through his agents at The Severed Head, a popular tavern in the Jakes built on the site where executions were performed in the early days of the city.

Magic is barely tolerated by the government of Tarantis. Permits for any type of spell-casting are expensive. For many more powerful magical operations, a permit is only valid for one casting in a particular location on a particular day, often a day that has past before the permit is actually issued, unless heavy bribes are paid. Magic is still available in Tarantis, it simply isn't openly displayed and used in the city as it is in the rest of the valley.

The are many vacant buildings in the city, many of them vacant since the Kinstrife. Unfortunately, all vacant buildings are taken by the city for back taxes and city buildings can only be rented or sold with the personal approval of the Taran. As there is no Taran, none can be sold or rented. For a large enough fee, however, a long-term permit to use a vacant city building can be issued -- although the permit-holder has fewer legal rights than a renter or owner.

Marketing and Management Genius at WOTC

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I've got to love the marketing and management geniuses at WOTC. After one of the worst marketing campaigns I've ever seen a major company mount for their new fourth edition of D&D, they've managed to top themselves. Their online service, D&D Insider, was supposed to be ready to go when the fourth edition of D&D released in early June. Of course, none of the promised features were really ready, except for their online only versions of Dungeon and Dragon magazine -- and a very incomplete rules compendium. Missing were all the major (and interesting features) like the character builder, the character visualizer, the dungeon builder, and the all-important central feature of D&D Insider -- the online gaming table.

It has been an additional two months now and WOTC has made a big announcement about D&D Insider. It's a new feature. No, not a beta version of online gaming table or even the character builder or the character visualizer. The new feature is WOTC is now ready to charge you for what little there is available. No more freebies, it's time to pay them a monthly fee for their lackluster efforts. Admittedly, their post 4e online-only versions of Dungeon and Dragon magazine haven't been bad, but the monthly fee for two PDF magazines and access to the very incomplete rules compendium is just a bit less than I used to be able to get the Dragon and the Dungeon magazine in print for. Pay more, get less.

I hope people stay way in droves, but I'm sure enough people will be happy to pay for PDF only copies of Dungeon and Dragon magazines that the bean counters controlling corporate decision making will see this as a win for the all-important short term investors in Hasbro stock. When will the core features promised for D&D insider arrive? WOTC apparently doesn't know. Nor do they know how much they'll up the price when they do. I'm just not impressed.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part VI

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Places in the Hidden Valley, Continued

Twin Peaks

A twin peaked mountain that separates the Vale of Girwyllan from the the Black Forest. There are no truly reliable reports of the southernmost peak ever being successfully scaled.

Unicorn Lake

This large icy lake is fed by Swithan's River and drains into an underground river. The entrance to the latter was partially closed in the earthquake which ended the reign of Tribune Glisa over 280 years ago, which resulted in the lake expanding to its present size. Large water serpents are sometimes seen in the deeper sections (sometimes with blue-skinned humanoid riders) and an old legend tells of a gate somewhere in its depths to the Plane of Elemental Water.

Unicorn's Horn Mountain

This mountain is so named because its high peak resembles a unicorn's horn when seen from the south. According to legend, the "tip of the horn" is the home of a minor godling. No one has ever been able to reach the peak as the winds and weather prevent climbing or safe flight and the peak itself somehow prevents magical attempts like teleport or even scrying.

Vale of Girwyllan

Before the Great Exodus, this was the best farmland in the valley and is the former heart of the Girwyllan Empire. Currently, the soil seems poisoned and it is overrun by goblins, orcs, trolls, and other nasty humanoids under the control of a powerful being known only as the Shade. A line of small forts separates the Vale of Girwyllan from the rest of the Hidden Valley. This have not been completely occupied (or even maintained in some cases) since the Kinstrife.

Vale of Morin

This valley is a large high manna region within the Thornewood. It is very hard to find and once found, even harder to leave -- or so it is said. According to the writings of the Archmage Irisinholm, it is always summer in the Vale of Morin and strange magical plants and animals are abundant (most of which will not survive long outside of the Vale). It is the home of an aloof tribe (or tribes? or ancient civilization?) of amazons, the Nyghteen People, who have a culture and religion alien to the rest of the valley and who, like other living things in the Vale of Morin, often manifest strange powers.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part V

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Places in the Hidden Valley, Continued

The Ring

This is a large, tall plateau shaped somewhat like an elongated ring. The top is barren and broken. Due to the creatures that live within it, the lower central section is thought to have some underground connection with the Doompit. Flying above the open central section of the Ring, approximately level with the top of the plateau) are four of the Hidden Valley's famous "flying mountains". The writings of Irisinholm report five flying mountains, no one knows what happened to the fifth one. Before the Kinstrife and the plagues, Irillion maintained a large fortress on the south edge of the Ring overlooking the city below for a unit of hippogriff cavalry. The haunted ruins of this fortress still remain.

Ruins of Girwyllan

Also called Old Girwyllan, this is the ruins of the former capital of the Girwyllan Empire. It was attacked and destroyed during the Great Exodus from the Doompit -- and some of the invading humanoids made it their new home. Treasure hunters with more greed than common sense still head for Old Girwyllan to loot its fabled riches. Fewer than 1 in 20 return, but most of those who do return bring with them enough wealth to keep the flow of treasure seekers coming.

Spider Mountain

This small mountain in Kestral is named for the semi-intelligent giant white spiders that supposedly lived in tribes on its lower slopes in ages past. There is no sign of them today.

Thorn Mountain

This steep mountain at the easternmost edge of the Thornewood is the home of dragon sage Tragaug. Tragaug is known for answering questions for anyone who will pay his high price in gems and/or magic items. He is said to affect a nasty, terrible demeanor, but to actually be fairly friendly with those who know him -- and who are careful not to annoy him. According to some legends, the Archmage Irisinholm supposedly gave him copies of every book he ever found or wrote -- including copies of his spell books.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part IV

Places in the Hidden Valley, Continued

Hidden Lake

This large lake is hidden in the arms of the Outer Mountains. Some say that the Black Abbey, the headquarters for all the thieves and assassins in the Hidden Valley is located on the far shore. Before this part of the valley was overrun by evil humanoids during the Great Exodus, the Hidden Lake supplied much of the fish sold in the old city of Girwyllan. Some brave souls mount fishing expeditions there now. Few return, but those that do often become rich selling Golden Drayfish -- a tasty fish rumored to grant amazing sexual potency and fertility -- that are only found in the Hidden Lake.

Hidden Valley

A huge mountain valley very high in the titanic Nagistii Range on the continent of Ermneda. With only one narrow and dangerous pass allowing communication with the rest of the world, the cultures of the Hidden Valley have developed in isolation from the rest of the planet.

Hills of Choth

This hills are supposedly named for a Dwarven nation who first mined the area. The Hills of Choth are very rough terrain and are inhabited by men, dwarves, halflings, and a few things that have crawled out of the Doompit. The area is rich in metals and other natural resources. Most of the humans living here are involved in mining, but some in southern areas where the hills are more rolling waves in a sea of grass farm. The most unusual feature of the area is the Ring, a high, barren plateau.

Hills of M'nor

Also known as the Black Hills and the Unclean Hills, this entire area has been claimed for years by the descendants of the Necromancer Braster. The line has dwindled in recent years, however, and now Braster House is only occupied by the necromancer's great-great-great-grandaughter, Yvonne, who has apparently returned to her ancestor's arts. At least, as in Braster's time, none who have set out to court her or ask her advice have returned, at least with their minds intact. Much of the around around immediately Braster House is known to be a high mana area. With the dwindled of the Brastor line, the area is being settled again -- just far away from Brastyer House and its undead.

Kestral

This is a land of rolling hills and light woods. Although technically a part of the Girwyllan Empire, Kestral has always been ruled by directly the Archbishop of Kestral (who is always the Archpriestess of Alturiak) from the city of Pyre. The Sisterhood of the Moon (a powerful fighting/magical/religious order following the teachings of Alinah in her aspect of Moondaughter) is based in Kestral. For the most part, however, Kestral is a pleasant land of farmers. Those living near the Outer Mountains often see and fight off humanoids and other things that come out of the mountains.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part III

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Places in the Hidden Valley, Continued

Dragonfire Flats

This is some of the best farmland in the valley. The land is generally open fields with occasional small copses of trees. Unfortunately, for most of recorded history it has been "controlled" by dragons who live high atop the Dragonhome Plateau to the west and used the DragonFire Flats as their hunting grounds. As there have been no reliable reports of dragon encounters since the Wizard Binkly's over 100 years ago, people have begun to settle and farm the land starting from the north and east. The Dragonfire Flats are the home of the fiercely independent Abodan tribe, a nomadic group of hunter-gathers who worship the dragons. The lands of the Abodans are mainly in the western and southern portions of the Dragonfire Flats so there have been few conflicts with settlers. This is likely to change if settlers push much further into the area.

Filgiso Forest

A large evergreen forest. An almost trackless wilderness, it has never been explored beyond the end of Tribune's Folly Road. The Filgiso is inhabited by elves and other sylvan beings who value their privacy (and are generally hostile to outsiders). According to an old legend, it is also the home of "the Lone Huntress", a human woman of radiant beauty who turned down the hand of Tribune Deral II and was forced to flee for her life over 325 years ago. According to Archmage Irisinholm, there are several areas of the forest that actually overlap other planes.

Frozen Lake

A large lake in the Mountains of Darkness that is generally frozen over year round. A handful of legends state that this is the home of some ancient (Lovecraftean) evil called "the Snow Lord." Other legends tell of a fierce tribe of fur-covered humanoids that live on the ice itself. There are no records of any expeditions to the Frozen Lake, at least none that ever returned.

Goodlands

Excellent farmland that is the heart of the present Girwyllan Empire. The Goodlands are dotted with small towns and tiny, sleepy villages. The towns are usually ruled by a minor imperial noble while the villages are each ruled by an imperial knight. A few towns hold a old charter from the Tribune (the last one was granted decades before the Kinstrife) and are free of noble control. Seventy percent of the Girwyllan Empire's population live in the Goodlands. The Goodland currently provide most of the food for the civilized areas of the valley.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part II

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Places in the Hidden Valley

Arlynn Fens

This is a large, trackless swamp that is claimed by neither the Girwyllan Empire nor the Irillion City-State, although it has been claimed by both in times past. It is the home of the barbaric "Swamp Folk", a tribe of human cannibals, lizardmen, and many strange creatures and monsters -- most of whom fortunately seldom stray beyond its borders. A few legends claim that a dry island in the midst of the Arlynn Fens is the home of an impossibly ancient and powerful mage who remembers the First Wars.

Black Forest

Hundreds of years ago, the Black Forest was a pleasant wood. Now it is haunted by all manner of creatures who survived the Great Exodus (from the Doompit) lead by the Shadow-Queen. Shortly after her demise, the Shade appeared and took over her residence in an ancient volcano in the southwestern part of the Black Forest. Some scholars believe that the Shade is actually one of the five Wraithlords. It is also called the "Doom Woods".

Cliffhome

This is a palace built into the mountainside high over the Doompit by the Archmage Irisinholm to take advantage of a small area of extremely high mana. It can only be reached by flight, magic, or a narrow, dangerous trail cut into the mountainside. Until the time of the Kinstrife when the line died out, it was the residence of Irisinholm's descendants. For a few years after that, it was "owned" by a small band of adventurers. After their disappearance, the palace was abandoned until Megan. There are constant rumors that someone, or some thing, lives there now. Scholars are doubtful than anything truly evil could reside there due to the magics cast upon the locat by Irisinholm when he created it.

The Doompit

Cloaked from above (except for the area over Unknown Lake) by thick clouds of mist, this area is still largely unknown. The upper portion, called "the Shelf" in Irillion) has been partially explored and mapped by adventurous men and women who worked for the great merchant houses of Irillion in the city's heyday some two hundred years ago and were seeking their fortunes in herbs, gems, and rare woods. The terrain of the Shelf is jungle-like and the temperature is much higher than in the main part of the valley. The Shelf is separated from the rest of the valley by a sheer cliff nearly half a mile high, only a few dangerous trails are known to lead all the way down. The lower area is completely unknown, other than as the home of orcs, goblins, headhunters, and other monsters. According to legend, the Wraithhold, the lair of the five Wraithlords is hidden somewhere in the lower portion of the Doompit. Large numbers of "flying mountains" appear to be floating on the mists covering the Doompit and the towering slopes of Skydeath Mountain rise out of the mists like an island at sea.

Hidden Valley Setting, Part I

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This is the first in a series of posts about one of my two major original campaign settings, the Hidden Valley. The Hidden Valley was a huge valley high in an even larger mountain range. The valley floor was over a mile high and only one pass led into the valley. The valley itself was pretty much cut off from the rest of its world. While the chance of such a thing actually existing is probably fairly low, it made a great campaign setting. I used the basic information I'll be given in posts here in several major campaign and a large number of one-off adventures.

Here's a copy of the 1984 version of the Hidden Valley map -- the version with color. The map shows major features and larger towns and cities. There are lots of villages and small towns in populated areas that aren't shown on this 1 inch equals 100 miles map. I just created them as needed.

Here's the map. Click on it for a much larger version.


In future installments in the Hidden Valley series, I'll post the map key and some info on the deities of the valley -- basically all the information I used for general campaign background. Those used to long and detailed campaign settings will be surprised at how little information I bothered to create on the setting in advance. When I finish, I will probably release a free "Hidden Valley" pdf file with all the information.

One thing you probably need to know upfront, I borrowed the "Tarantis" name from the Judges Guild city, but the "Tarantis" on this map has little else in common with the Judges Guild Tarantis.

Microlite74 -- Over 100 Downloads in 48 Hours

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There have been just over 100 downloads of Microlite74 in its first 48 hours on the web. Not bad at all, in my opinion, for a fairly specialized type of game.

Microlite74 Released -- Download Your Copy Here!

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Microlite74 has been released!

Microlite74, like its parent game, Microlite20, is a trimmed down, sub-miniature version of the Primary Fantasy SRD rules that has been designed to be quick and easy to play. The goal of Microlite74, however, is to recreate the style and feel of that very first ("0e") fantasy roleplaying game published back in 1974.

This five page PDF includes variant rules based on Microlite20, a complete spell list and monster list, and a short designer's note section touching on the differences in style between "old school" and the usual style of play encountered today. Microlite74's rules were written to support the "old school" style, while retaining many of the more modern rules features of OGL games based on the 3.5 SRD. Microlite20 trimmed the fat from the 3.5 SRD, paring the game down to a fast-moving and easy to learn two-page system. Microlite74 takes the M20 system and modifies it for a 1974 style, but leaves most of the basic Microlite20 rules in place.

Those looking for a retroclone of that 0e Fantasy RPG from 1974 will be disappointed in Microlite74 as it makes no attempt to be a clone of the 0e rules, only of the feel and style of Oe play. Those looking for a 0e retroclone should take a look at Swords & Wizardry. Those looking for a way to play 0e adventures and campaigns with rules based on the popular SRD-based Microlite20 system will probably find Microlite 74 well worth the download. It's only 100K or so, what do you have to lose?

D&D Without Level Advancement?

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I have been looking at some of my old classic Traveller campaign notes over the last few days. One of the quirks of classic Traveller was that characters did not improve. They started out with a lot of prior experience and abilities and were played with what they had. If you are used to games where leveling up is the goal, classic Traveller seems strange. As we were used to OD&D, I remember thinking the game wouldn't be any fun without regular character improvement before we started playing. That turned out not to be true. Traveller was a lot of fun to play, you just focused on different goals, goals like paying the monthly payment on your ship or tracking down that patron who had left you to hang out to dry when the Imperium came sniffing around.

Many people seem to find that they enjoy playing D&D most at (or near) a particular level of power. They don't really enjoy working up to that level and once they get too far beyond that sweet spot, they find their interest in the character waning. If your fellow players and DM are willing, why not borrow the "no advancement" idea from classic Traveller and just create characters at your group's sweet spot and play them at that level. They can have goals other than advancement, perhaps moving into or up the noble hierarchy, stopping some great evil, or even just becoming rich and famous from their adventures.

Fixed level characters might also present the players with challenges that they do not normally face. For example, if a powerful monster needs to be stopped and it is too powerful to defeat in combat, players will have to think of some other way to defeat it because they are as strong as they will get, they can't just wait until their characters gain a few more levels where can easily defeat it.

I know this idea needs some fleshing out, but I wanted to get it down in writing before it completely slipped my mind. It should work with any edition of D&D (or any other advancement oriented game system). Comments are welcome.

N. Robin Crossby, Author of Harn, Dies

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This terse announcement at Kelestia.com was not unexpected, but it is still very sad.

On July 23rd 2008, Robin succumbed to his cancer at a hospice in Coquitlam, BC.
After Harn came out, I often dropped the island of Harn into my Arn campaign, replacing a similar sized close group of islands on the original Arn map. What drew me to Harn originally was the incredible coincidence of the name "Harn" and the size of the island (about the size of Madagascar) with my own island of "Arn" which was also about the size of Madagascar. Robin and I even had a brief correspondence over it. (No, not the "threatened lawsuit" type but the "isn't this a really weird coincidence" type.)

However, what kept me using the island of Harn after I got over the weird coincidence phase which made me buy it to begin with was the incredible detail and believability of it all. It was -- and still is -- great stuff. Robin and his unique vision will be missed.

Why D&D 3.5 Will Probably Never Die

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I get the impression that WOTC would really like it if D&D 3.5 would die a quiet death and do so soon. Unfortunately, I don't think that will ever happen as there is now no realistic way to prevent the nearly no cost duplication of all the major D&D 3.5 books. I say someone bragging online about how they had the major WOTC D&D 3.5 books (about 60 of them) and 15 WOTC Forgotten Realms books in PDF format on his computer, taking up just over 4.2 gigs of space on his hard drive.

I have no idea how much these cost him, but probably a lot given that PDF copies of books are not discounted nearly as much as they should be. But at about 4.2 gigs of space, they will all fit on a single DVD. I recently purchased a package of 50 DVD-Rs for $16.99 which works out to about 34 cents a DVD. That (and 10-20 minutes of copying time) is how much it would cost him to give a copy of these 75 books to a new player. That new player would be able to do the same for another new player, etc.

Is this legal? Of course not, but neither is copying music CDs for your friends or the like and people have been doing that for years (as they did with tapes and records before CDs). With the cost of entry for new 3.5 players being effectively nil and WOTC having no way to kill the supply of copies, I expect D&D 3.5 will have many players -- and many new players -- for years to come.

It's always been hard to kill off older editions of D&D as some players just prefer them and were willing to track down used copies for new players to keep their campaigns alive an growing. Between easy to copy PDF editions of the rules and the OGL allowing new 3.5 material to be published forever, I suspect that D&D 3.5 will have a very long life indeed.

Don't Like D&D Fourth Edition? Beware the Moving Goal Posts

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I've been following discussions about D&D's Fourth Edition on various message boards for several months now. I've seen a lot of 4E fans complain that those who publicly state that they don't like 4E (or who discuss things they see wrong with 4E) don't play 4E and therefore aren't qualified to have an informed opinion on it.

On the surface, this sounds like a legitimate issue. However, the goalposts have been moving over the last couple of months. Those who like 4E and make this complaint keep raising the requirements someone who does not like 4E needs to meet to be "allowed" to comment negatively on the game.

Before 4E was published, those who read the preview material and said they would not like 4E were told that their comments could not be considered seriously until the game was published and they had purchased copies and read them cover to cover.

Once the game was published, people who bought and read a copy and still commented negatively were often told that reading the rules wasn't enough to have their "I don't like 4E" comments taken seriously, they needed to play in a 4E session. Oh, and Shadowfell wasn't good enough as it was designed to show off the system, not to be a real play session.

When people play in a "real" session and still don't like 4E, I've seen them told that they really need to play in multiple sessions before they can form a valid opinion of the game.

I fully expect that people who bother to meet this latest "moving goalpost" requirement and still don't like 4E will be told that they need to play through a complete level 1 to level 30 campaign before their "I don't like 4E" comments can be taken seriously.

Not only are the requirements for negative comments to be taken serious constantly moving, but those who state they like the Fourth Edition don't have any requirements for their opinion to be taken seriously. Their "I like it" comments were considered valid even before the game was published and are valid even if they haven't read all the rules, played in one or more real sessions, etc.

Color me "Not Impressed" with the moving goalposts and double standards of some of Fourth Edition's stronger and more vocal online proponents. The opinions of those who do not like D&D 4E are just as much right to state and defend their opinions of those who like 4E do. And if there are going to be extra requirements for having a "valid opinion" on the game then those requirements need to be the same for all.

Microlite74: Release Candidate 2 Available

The second release candidate for Microlite74 is available.

Major Changes from Release Candidate 1:

Major Changes to Races: No stat bonuses, special abilities for elves, dwarves, and halflings similar to those in the first fantasy RPG.
Added simple language rules.
Restored "Flame Demonlord" to monster list
Started Designer's Notes.

Comments are greatly desired -- and, as you can tell if you read the thread, really do affect my design decisions.

You can download Microlite74's second release candidate from the first message in the Microlite74 (Release Candidate Discussions) thread on the RetroRoleplaying Forum. I'm linking to it there not because I'm trying to force you to visit the forum, but so there will only be one place I have to update when new release candidates come out.

Mongoose Releases Traveller SRD under OGL

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While WOTC may wish the OGL would just wither and die, that does not look very likely. In fact, Mongoose has just released the Traveller SRD under the OGL. The SRD looks fairly complete. The major missing items are careers (one sample career is included) and the classic Traveller aliens. As careers are easy to write up and cloning the classic aliens is easy (as they were clones of standard pulp SF aliens), I expect someone will have a retro-clone of Classic Traveller out in the relatively near future.

James Raggi Hates Fun

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I really need to read Jim's blog more often. He wrote an interesting post on old school roleplaying entitled "I Hate Fun" in mid-June and I've just now noticed it. While I don't completely agree with everything Jim said, I think he makes some interesting points. If you haven't already read it, you ought to.

Quick Primer for Old School Gaming

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Matt (Mythmere), author of the new Swords & Wizardry retroclone, has posted a draft of a "Quick Primer for Old School Gaming" article over at Knights and Knaves Alehouse. Even as a first draft, it's a great summary of how "old school roleplaying" is different from current roleplaying. Go read it. Now.

Quick Primer for Old School Gaming

I've already ask Matt is I have put a copy of the final version up here at RetroRoleplaying. I know I'll be including it in my "house rules" copy of Swords & Wizardry as it will be something I want all new players to my campaign to read.

Swords & Wizardry Not Available in .doc Format After All

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The .doc format version of Swords & Wizardry is being pulled from Lulu. When I tried to get a copy this afternoon, I ended up with a .pdf file instead of a .doc file. I figured I had just done something wrong and reported it to Matt. When Matt looked into it, he discovered that while Lulu accepts files in .doc format, they automagically convert them to pdfs for download. Opps. That defeats the whole purpose of providing the .doc file -- providing a file that people can edit with their own house rules before printing. Matt is pulling the file from Lulu and will try to find another way to make it available as soon as he can. I'll report the new way to get it when its available. If you got a ".doc" copy from Lulu, contact Matt and he'll email you the .doc file you were supposed to receive.

On a more positive note, I've skimmed through the "final" rules this evening and am very impressed. Matt has done a great job with Swords & Wizardry. (It would make a great source of detailed spell and monster descriptions for Microlite74 too.)

At Last, The Microlite74 Release Candidate 1 PDF

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It's done! A full PDF of Microlite74 is now ready for you to download and comment on. Rules, spell list, and monster list fit on 4 pages in 8 point type. The 5th page is the license. I had to cut a few monsters to get everything to fit in 4 pages, but folks can easily make monsters. The PDF file is under 100K.

If you are not familiar with Microlite20 (M20), it is a greatly trimmed down version of the 3.5 Fantasy SRD. By removing all the complexity, the entire Microlite20 rules fit in a couple of pages. It's one of the few really good things to come out of the OGL and the 3.x systems, in my opinion. Microlite74 takes the basic M20 systems and changes them up a bit to better emulate the feel and play style of that first fantasy RPG published back in 1974. Unlike M20, it includes spell and monster lists in its core rules, so it is a complete game, playable as is by just about anyone familiar with RPGs.

You can download Microlite74's first release candidate from the first message in the Microlite74 (Release Candidate Discussions) thread on the RetroRoleplaying Forum. I'm linking to it there not because I'm trying to force you to visit the forum, but so there will only be one place I have to update when new release candidates come out.

Swords Wizardry Core Rules Available in .doc Format

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Matt has announced that the core rules for Swords & Wizardry -- an OGL retroclone of OD&D with the GH rules -- is now available on Lulu. The .doc format version is designed for those who want to incorporate their house rules directly into the rules book before printing a copy. There are no graphics and this version costs US$1. A free PDF version will be released once the artwork and layout is finished. You can get the .doc version here:

http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=912860

Matt has also made available (at the same URL) the first supplement for S&W: Eldritch Weirdness Book 1. Matt says:

I have also posted an 8 page booklet (6 pages not including cover and legal stuff) with 30 new spells in it. These aren't retreads - all of them are new. It's really up there to accompany the .pdf of the game once that's completed, but if anyone's interested it’s $1.50.

Early Versions of D&D were NOT Tactical Combat Minis Games

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For some reason, a small number of very vocal people on the Net are pushing the idea that early versions of Dungeons & Dragons stressed tactical combat and used miniatures and battlemats. I suspect this is being done to try to counter arguments that WOTC editions of D&D, particularly the new fourth edition, are more of a tactical minis game than a roleplaying game.

Whether Fourth Edition is more of a tactical minis game than a roleplaying game is debatable. What is not debatable is that early editions of TSR D&D handled combat very abstractly and did not need miniatures or battlemats to play -- even though the game evolved out of the fantasy supplement to a set of medieval miniatures rules. Very few people used miniatures at all in the early years -- there were not even any for sale until a couple of years after the publication of Original D&D. Once they became available, most players did not use them in combat, at most they used them to show their party's marching order.

Miniatures (or counters to replace them) were not written into the rules -- other than occasional mentions how they added visual appeal or could be useful to show where characters and monsters were in combat -- until the Player's Option books were published for "revised" second edition AD&D. There had been D&D-based mass combat miniatures games (Swords & Spells for OD&D, Battlesystem for AD&D), but these were for fighting out battles between armies, not for use in normal roleplaying encounters. Some players who loved detailed, tactical combat adapted such games for individual combat and used those system in place of the normal abstract D&D combat system, but this was unusual.

The rules to early versions of D&D do not support the idea that minis were suggested, let alone required, for combat. Not only is the combat systems used in OD&D, AD&D 1E, B/X D&D, and BECMI D&D very abstract, but those rules and the examples of play therein seldom even mention minis. Here are some examples from the 1970s.

Here is a link to a description of a sample OD&D combat from a FAQ originally published in TSR's The Strategic Review newsletter in 1975.

From a column by Gary Gygax in The Dragon #15 (June 1978):

For about two years D&D was played without benefit of any visual aids by the majority of enthusiasts. They held literally that it was a paper and pencil game, and if some particular situation arose which demanded more than verbalization, they would draw or place dice as tokens in order to picture the conditions. In 1976 a movement began among D&Ders to portray characters with actual miniature figurines.
From the Holmes Basic Set's description of the game:
The Dungeon Master designs the dungeons and makes careful maps on graph paper. The players do not know where anything is located in the dungeons until the game begins and they enter the first passage or room. They create their own map as they explore. While only paper and pencil need be used, it is possible for the characters of each player to be represented by miniature lead figures which can be purchased inexpensively from hobby stores or directly from TSR Hobbies. The results of combat, magic spells, monster attacks, etc., are resolved by rolling special polyhedral 20-sided dice which come with this game.
Later in the book, the author explains why OD&D used inches for distance instead of feet or yards. Note that is only says wargames were used to using these measures, not that they used minis to fight out D&D combats.
Since DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was originally written for wargamers who are used to miniature figures, distances are often given in inches. Inches can be converted to feet by multiplying by ten: 1 inch = 10 feet, 2 inches = 20 feet, etc. This scales the movement appropriately for maneuvering the figures on the top of a gaming table.
My personal experience starting in 1975 was: no miniatures, but as DM I did sometimes sketch the positions of stuff in battle on a blank sheet of paper. I did buy a copy of Chainmail when I bought my brown box set of D&D because it was mentioned in the D&D booklets, but then quickly discovered it was not actually needed as the alternative system in the D&D rule books was better and in the rule books (i.e. one less book to look stuff up in). I played with and knew of over 20 different area groups in 1975-1978 era and only one used Chainmail for combat. Most did not even own a single copy of the Chainmail rules between their players.

By 1977, my group was using miniatures to track the "standard marching order" of characters. However, the miniatures were not used in combat at all. Heck, they were only moved when the marching order of the characters made a permanent change. We had tracked marching order on a piece of paper, but one of the best miniatures painters in the area (he was a Napoleonics gamer) joined my game in early 1977 and had this beautifully painted miniature for his character. He offered to paint a figure for all the regulars if they would buy the figure and give him a couple of bucks for his materials. Everyone took him up on it.

When Melee and Wizard came out from Metagaming, most players in my group liked them and enjoyed playing them while waiting for people to arrive or at other odd intervals. So we decided to try using them to fight out combats in the game. That lasted for one game session. After that experience, we decided that using those tactical games for combat made combat too time-consuming and made the entire session too focused on combat. We went back to D&D's abstract but fast combats. While we enjoyed playing tactical skirmish games as independent games, turning RPG combat into a tactical skirmish game was not the way we wanted to go.

Early versions of D&D were not designed for detailed tactical combat nor did they need minis and battlemats to use their combat rules. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply incorrect.

The GSL: My Opinion

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When I woke up this morning, I discovered that my inbox had three emails telling me that WOTC had finally published the GSL terms and wanting me to blog about it. As I have no interest in publishing anything for 4th Edition D&D and I am not a lawyer, I'm not sure why my opinion on the GSL is of any interest to anyone. However, since my opinion apparently is of interest, here goes:

I would not publish anything under the GSL nor allow use of any of my intellectual property in any GSL product.
The GSL simply gives too much permanent control of my creations to WOTC -- even limiting what I can do with my own creations after the termination of the license -- and WOTC can termination the license at any time and even change the terms of the license retroactively. IMHO, anyone who would publish anything (except possibly for throwaway material they think they can make a very quick buck from) either trusts WOTC more than any corporation should be trusted or really hasn't thought through the implications of the terms of the GSL.

Others are doing much more complete analysis of the GSL so I'm not going to bother, but for those who wanted my opinion, y'all have it. I bet it wasn't much of a surprise.

A Playtester Reviews D&D 4th Edition PHB...

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And does not like the final product. Near the end of a very detailed review, NiTessine says:

This is not Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, I know, it's a cliché, but it's true. This game is not the Dungeons & Dragons that I know and love. It's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures, maybe, and even that’s a stretch. It's a game for simpletons that abandons all pretense of depth in source material and deliberately cuts itself off from over three decades of its own history in order to pander to the lowest common denominator and attract players of online multiplayer games. It is no more Dungeons & Dragons than World of Warcraft is, or Final Fantasy, or Tunnels & Trolls. The inspiration is obvious, but at its root, it is a different game.
I found this review to be one of the most detailed and complete reviews yet.

Trying a New Look

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I'm playing with a new look for this blog. While I liked the scroll look of the original, the text was pretty cramped. I'm looking for a more readable layout. I'm not sure this (Sahara) is it, however.

Microlite74: Second Public Draft Available

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The second public draft of the rules and spell list for Microlite 74 is available on the message board. A few minor rules changes have been made to give the system more of that 1974 first Fantasy RPG flavor and feel and I've started to make the spell effects more closely resemble those of that era. Sleep is as powerful as it used to be, for example.

Microlite74 is intended to be a version of Microlite20 that provides the flavor and feel of that First Fantasy RPG from 1974 using the Microlite20 short, simple, OGL-based rules.

Discussion and comments are welcome.

Judges Guild Arrives at RetroRoleplaying

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I've added a number of Judges Guild products (mainly adventures) to the Original Dungeons & Dragons section of this website. Although there are more to come (like the Wilderlands of High Fantasy), I think this is a good start.

Best Single Non-TSR Supplement for OD&D

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Hands down, the best single non-TSR supplement for Original Dungeons & dragons is the second edition of the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets booklet. In not only has combat tables, but a double-sided sheet with every standard OD&D monster summarized in a couple of lines and all the rules suggestions from the first six guildmember installments. Things like the social level and justice system from the City-State, ideas for advertising for hirelings, poison, enchantment, trade, caves & lairs, searching, prospecting, and much more. I rediscovered my copy last night. It's great stuff.

It's available in PDF form from DriveThruRPG.com for $2.99 (on sale for $1.99 as I write this). Assuming the reproduction is good, that's a great price as my original was $2.99 back in 1978!

Giant Frogs Aren't Scary

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After much searching though old backup CDs, I finally found the text only version of the original Little Beige Books, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry someone had scanned, converted to ascii text, somewhat proofread, and made available on the Internet back in the mid-1990s on a gopher site (the web had barely started). Naturally, it did not stay up long before TSR heard about it and had it removed.

I had forgotten that the scanner/proofreader did not include everything from the Blackmoor supplement. He left out a major portion of the book: the Temple of the Frog adventure. He didn't leave it out because duplicating the maps in ascii would be hard, but because -- let me just quote the read me file:

Sorry, did not scan the temple of the frog stuff in Blackmoor. Too much work for a stupid bunch of giant frogs. Giant frogs? Yes. I said giant frogs. Hip-hop.... Rib-bit... Swallow you alive. Shivering in me pirate boots I am. Silly idea for an adventure. No. Stupid waste of waste of paper. Summary for completeness freaks: Get a map of a big church. Put it in a swamp. Replace altar with big frog statue. Add pools full of giant frogs in the basement. Priests want to sacrifice party to frog statue.

I liked the Temple of the Frog, but it was the first adventure I ever saw written up for D&D. Apparently not everyone finds it as neat and interesting as I did -- and still do. LOL.

What do you think of the Temple of the Frog? Nice adventure or waste of paper?

James Mishler and the 4E PHB

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James Mishler has begun reviewing the new D&D 4E Player's Handbook. It's interesting reading.

4E Player's Handbook Review Part 1 of ?

The Year, the Hobby died

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To the tune of one of my favorite songs, American Pie....

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How these wacky worlds used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That they all could honour Mr. Vance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.
But the last months made me shiver,
With every blogpost I'd deliver.
Bad news on the reader;
It couldn't get much meaner.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The year, the hobby died.


See the rest at The Prussian Gamer...

And sadly truer than I would ever want it to be. Between 4th edition and the deaths of Gary Gygax, Bob Bledsaw, and Erick Wujcik this year really does sometimes feel like the year the hobby (as I knew it) died.

Body Points and Fatigue Points

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, What Price Glory and Hit Points, Dave has an interesting change to hit points in his What Price Glory rules that splits hit points into two parts. I did something similar back in the late 1970s. Here's a brief explanation of how the Body Point/Fatigue Point system we used worked. It's very similar in concept to Dave's rules but somewhat different in the details.

A character's or monster's Fatigue points are equal to their hit points under whatever normal rules you use for determining hit points.

A character's Body Points are equal to his Constitution (plus 1 per level for fighters up to a maximum of +10).

Most monsters have zero Body Points and are considered dead when they run out of Fatigue Points. Important ("boss") monsters can be given Body Points at the DM's option, their Body Points are equal to the number of hit dice the monster has multipled by the monster's "size factor": 1 for smaller than human, 2 for about human sized, 3 for large (horse-sized), 4 for very large (giant or dragon-sized).

Damage is applied to Fatigue Points until fatigue points reach zero when excess damage (and future damage) is applied to Body Points. When Body Points reach zero, the character is dead. Body Point damage recovers at the rate of 1 point (plus Constitution bonus) per full day of rest. Magical healing restores 1 Body Point per level of the spell or the normal dice of healing to Fatigue Points.

Provided the being is at full Body Points, Fatigue Points recover at the rate of 2 (plus Constitution bonus) points per full 10 minute turn of rest and will recover completely with a full night's sleep. If a character has taken Body Point damage, Fatigue Points recover at the rate of 1 (plus Constitution bonus) points per full hour (6 turns) of rest and will recover to their Wound Limit with a full eight hours of sleep. Wound Limit depends on what percentage of Body Points the character has remaining:

76 to 99% BP Remaining -- Wound Limit is 75% of maximum FP
51 to 75% BP Remaining -- Wound Limit is 50% of maximum FP
26 to 50% BP Remaining -- Wound Limit is 25% of maximun FP
1 to 25% BP Remaining --- Wound Limit is 10% of maximum FP

This system makes it more obvious that hit points aren't really hard damage, just the character's ability to not take meaningful damage. Provided the character does not take real damage to his body, fatigue points recover quickly. Real damage, however, takes longer to heal and reduces the character's energy level if he chooses to press on with activities instead of taking to his bed and resting to heal.

Some obvious additions can be made to this basic system if one wishes to do so. For example, critical hits might do damage directly to a character's Body Points equal to the number of hit dice rolled for weapon damage. If your house rules use spell points, you could simply reduce Fatigue Points instead. Etc.

What Price Glory and Hit Points

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From Sham's Grog 'n Blog:

What Price Glory is a collection of Rules Packets for combat. Each collection of rules or packets may be used alone, or with any combination of the other modular pieces of What Price Glory. As a whole, these Rules Packets present a detailed, advanced combat model for D&D encounters. What Price Glory is presented in this segmented, modular format to allow referees to pick and choose from amongst these alternate rules, and to fine tune and alter them to taste.

Dave is presenting five of these small rules packets in each post. Today's post covers hit points, Damage, Death, Combat Sequence, and Initiative. So far, these rules look quite nice to me, that is they could make OD&D (or other early edition D&D) combat more interesting without making it much more complex or time-consuming. I'm looking forward to the next two parts of this series.

His hit points rules split hit points into two parts: Vital Hit Points and Fatigue Hit Points). This is an interesting system, but I think I like my old Body Points/Fatigue Points system a bit better. Go on over and read Dave's post full of interesting rules while I see if i can't put a post together describing the system we used back in the day.

Erick Wujcik Passes Quietly

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From Kevin Siembieda at Palladium Books:


Beloved role-playing game designer, Erick Wujcik, passed away Saturday evening, June 7, 2008. He died from complications related to pancreatic and liver cancer. Kathryn Kozora, his sweetheart of nearly 30 years, and other loved ones were at his side.

Erick was diagnosed with cancer in late November, 2007 and given 6-8 weeks to live. True to Erick’s indomitable spirit and zest for life, he proved the doctors wrong by lasting more than six months. Most of that time was spent with friends and loved ones.

Erick Wujcik’s accomplishments are many.

To the role-playing game community, Erick is best known for his many RPG games and contributions to Palladium Books®, including The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles® RPG, several TMNT® sourcebooks, After the Bomb® RPG and sourcebooks for it, Ninjas & Superspies™, Mystic China™, Rifts® China One and Two, Revised RECON®, Wolfen Empire™ and many others. He is also famous for Amber® Diceless, the first truly “diceless” role-playing game, published under Erick’s own label, Phage Press. Erick also published Amberzine® and founded Ambercon™, a series of conventions celebrating gaming, friendship and the world of Amber, hosted at numerous locations around the world.

Erick Wujcik was also the founder, heart and soul of the Detroit Gaming Center, served as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Game Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2003-2008), and worked in the videogame industry for the last several years, including UbiSoft China and most recently, as Senior Game Design/Writer at Totally Games, Novato, California.

Erick Wujcik’s greatest accomplishment, however, is his contagious joy for life and love of ideas and imagination that inspired people around the world. Whether they were one of his students at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, fellow game designers, or fans sitting in the audience at a convention or seminar listening to Erick speak, to those who had the pleasure of gaming with Erick (he loved to run games at conventions and everywhere he went), to those who knew him best, they couldn’t help but to love him. Even the millions who only knew him through his published works or communicated with him online, considered him a friend.

Erick is survived by Kathyrn Kozora, Kate's granddaughter – his beloved Sara, mother Nora, sister Peggy, his Aunt Mary and Uncle Sam and Nancy, along with dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.

Erick’s last months of life were the same as he had always lived, full of friendship, joy, grace and beauty. He went quietly into the night, like a snowflake falling gently from the heavens.

The Amber Diceless RPG is the only diceless RPG I've ever been able to stand to play or GM. Some of that is because I loved Roger Zelanzy's Amber novels, but much of it is because Erick Wujcik was a very good game designer. Erick is the third great we've lost this year. 2008 is not shaping up to be a great year for long-time roleplayers.

New White Box Retro-Clone: Swords and Wizardry

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A PDF draft of the "player's book" for a new "White Box (and some supplements)" retro-clone is now available for comment at:

http://mythmere.keepandshare.com

The author, Matt Finch, says a draft the GM's book will available in a few days.


Major Differences:
Base 10 AC
Variations in xp tables
One saving throw
Mix of material from supplements but still only 3 classes
Variation in "to-hit" progressions
To-hit is a formula, but I'll add the full table in appendices.

Microlite74: First Public Draft Available

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With Grayharp's prodding and assistance, I've started work on a version of Microlite20 designing to feel like that first fantasy RPG from the mid-1970s. It makes no real attempt to duplicate rules (which are still very much a minor variant of Microlite20), but it tries duplicate the style of play. The main rules change is the removal of skills.

The first public draft of the rules and spell list is available on the message board. Discussion and comments are welcome.

Old School Microlite20

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I've just had an epiphany. If you simply drop skills (all four of them) from Microlite20, you should be able to easily run "old school" style adventures very similar to those of "pure" Original Dungeons and Dragons -- the three little beige books. Dropping skills from M20 leaves all characters with just their class abilities and their player's wits which is exactly what you have in OD&D. Sure the rules will be somewhat different, but the feel of the game in actual play should be much the same.

Original D&D: What Classes & Rules Would You Use?

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Original Dungeons and Dragons is more of a toolkit than a hard and fast set of rules. In addition to the three little beige books, there are additional rulebooks (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Chainmail, Swords & Spells) and important articles in The Strategic Review and early issues of The Dragon magazine (e.g. classes like the ranger and the illusionist, new monsters, etc.) with more rules and options to choose from.

If you were going to DM OD&D, which classes and rules would you use?