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Unreasonable Reactions to Character Death?

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My wife and I had to make that last trip to the vet with Brenna, our almost 17 year old dachshund, yesterday. We've known it was coming, as she was extremely old for a standard dachshund and had inoperable cancer. but that hasn't made it any easier. If you've ever had to do this, you know how bad it can feel. We were emotionally drained yesterday and still our today. We are just going through the motions of life because we have to.

What does this have to do with RPGs, you ask. Characters die in RPGs. If the character is a "red shirt" or one is playing through the first few levels old school style where beginning characters die left and right, it is probably not going to have any real effects on the other characters. However, what if the character who dies in a long time friend of the rest of the party, someone who has been on many adventures with the group?

Surely the characters aren't going to easily shrug it off and keep right on going, at least not all the time? If they are in the middle of a dungeon or on a mission to rescue the prince before the Evil Archmage (tm) sacrifices him to the lords of Chaos in two days, they will probably have no choice but to press on. However, in more normal circumstances where they can abandon what they are doing for a while and mourn, shouldn't they? Sadly, I've been gaming since 1974 and I can only remember a few times -- even in the most character-oriented campaigns -- where characters have been so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of one of their long-term co-adventurers that they have taken a few days off to mourn.

Given how the death of a "mere" pet can affect us in real life, I really think that may be a case of bad roleplaying. What do you think? Note: I'm not suggesting that mourning be required by rules or any such nonsense, just that it might be good roleplaying to have have characters mourn the loss of their friends when circumstances allow.

Old School Acquistions

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I picked up a few new "Old School" items today: PDFs of the first three issues of Fight On! and a PDF copy of Jason Vey's Spellcraft & Swordplay. I haven't had a chance to do more than skim through them, but they look great at first glance. I'm really amazed at the amount of material packed into each issue of Fight On!. Even the first issue -- at only 31 pages -- has several early issues of The Dragon worth of material packed in. The second issue has 90 pages and the third issue has over 150 pages. The Fight On! crew has a lot to be proud of.

Where No Man Has Gone Before -- D20 Style

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Where No Man Has Gone Before is nicely-formatted 70 page PDF rule book for a Star Trek: The Original Series RPG using D20 rules. It is very well done and could be considered "rules light" except for the relatively complex ship combat system. While I haven't played it, it reads like a better game than the various commercial attempts at a Star Trek RPG I've seen and/or played. The designer, Mike Berkey, deserves a round of applause for pulling this off. The free 1.56 mb PDF is well worth the download if you have any interest in Star Trek roleplaying. The web page and downloads are hosted the Mike's home computer, so if the link above leads nowhere his computer is probably off.

Old School Gaming and Skills

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Many people will say that the old school style of play does not work well in game where characters have skills. According to this line of thought, players tend to limit their thinking to the skills listed on their character sheet and soon tend to substitute making a skill roll for player problem solving. However, character skills do allow players to play characters who are good at things the player is terrible at.

There is, however, a way to use skills that is compatible with the old school style of play. While it is simple in play, it is a bit hard to describe well in words.

Players are never allowed to say "My character makes a skill roll" as a response to a game situation. They have to describe what their character does to solve the problem just as if their were no skills listed on the character's sheet. Once the player describes what his character is doing, the GM calls for a skill roll under the regular skill rules for the game for dice rolled, target numbers, etc.

The results of the skill roll are not determined by the game's standard rules, however. Instead the results are determine by the GM's opinion of the action described and the skill roll. There are basically two situations:

In the first case, the GM feels that the player has a good plan that should likely succeed. Therefore it will succeed regardless of the result of the roll, but how well it succeeds is determined by the skill roll. A failed skill roll is a minimal success, the character succeeds, but just barely. A successful skill roll means the character's plan succeeds without any major hitches. In games that have fumble rolls and critical roll, a fumble means that the plan barely succeeds but there are minor problems or setbacks the players have to deal with while a critical means the plan succeeded with noticeably better results that would normally be expected

In the second case, either the players obviously knows less than his character does about the situation or just comes up with a bad idea that the GM feels is unlikely to work. Therefore the GM lets the skill roll decide the result according to the normal rules of the game in question. A failed roll means the plan fails, while a successful roll means the plan somehow worked after all, but probably not perfectly.

Players who refuse to even try to come up with some type of rational statement about what their character is actually doing but just want to let the skill roll decide automatically fail.

This method of using skills preserves the old school standard of rewarding player skill while allowing players to play characters who are better at some things than they are.

Random B/X/Labyrinth Lord Character Class Generator

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Paul Crabaugh wrote an article on customizing character classes for Basic/Expert D&D which was published back in Dragon #109. It actually worked fairly well, although it was best if all characters used to customized class system if any did due to the high number of experience points classes created via the customized system required.

I've discovered a web page that generates a random customized character class using Paul Crabaugh's system every time the page reloads. I'm not really sure how useful this is as randomized seems the opposite of customized, but it is really neat to use.

http://www.apolitical.info/webgame/ddcc.php

Chgowiz's One Page Dungeon Templates

Chgowiz has produced a "dungeon sheet" -- a one sheet dungeon template. The top of the page has a grid to draw a small dungeon (or area of a larger dungeon) and an area for a map key and any needed tables (e.g. wandering monsters) to the right of the map area. The bottom half of the page is for your room key. While this room key area is far too small for the stat blocks needed for WOTC versions of D&D, it has plenty of space for room descriptions and monster stats for older versions of D&D (and retro-clones) as well as for games like Microlite20 and Microlite74.

This is a wonderful idea that is as useful as the old Judge's Guild Campaign Hex System was for outdoor mapping. More useful, in fact, as there is room for map keys and location descriptions on the sheet. The small area covered by the map may seem like a limit, but it is actually a plus for me. I can complete a dungeon area this size in about an hour -- and a complete small dungeon (or completed section of a larger one) is far more useful in play than the huge dungeon one never has time to complete.

You can find the link to a zip file with Word and Openoffice versions of the template linked from Chgowiz's blog in this post: One Page Dungeon Level Templates. There's also a link there to pdf of an example dungeon to show how to use the template: The Wizard's Ruined Tower, Level 1.

Great work, Chgowiz! Like the above mentioned Judge's Guild Campaign Hex System, this is something I'll probably still be using years from now.

New Year, New RetroRoleplaying Site, New RetroRoleplaying Message Board

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Happy New Year!

RetroRoleplaying.com is celebrating the new year with a new web site design and a completely new message board. I've moved the site into the 21st century, its now using the Drupal content management system insted of static HTML. This means I can easily allow others to help create content for the RetroRoleplaying web site.

The original incarnation of the RetroRoleplaying message board was on SMFForFree. While SMFForFree tries very hard and is free, their servers are often overloaded and slow or even down with strange php errors. The new version of the RetroRoleplaying Forum is still an SMF message board, but it is hosted on a VPS and should be much snappier -- not to mention that I can install whatever mods the board needs.

Unfortunately, there was no way to move the messages from the old SMFForFree board so we have a blank slate to start over with. If you had an account on the old board, you'll have to create your account again on the new board. One good thing accounts on the board and the new Drupal version of the web site are linked. When you create an account on the message board, you will get that same account on the main web site. At the moment, the Drupal side of your account doesn't give you much, but it will in the future. What are you waiting for? Go create a RetroRoleplaying.com account and help jump start our new home with a few posts.