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Rules Can't Replace Imagination: An RPG Rant I Can Agree With

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Kevin over at Kore RPG has a problem with the way some modern RPGs are designed that is very similar to one of my major pet peeves with them. He has a great rant that says what I feel much better than I could: Just one more formulaic CRPG-ification bullet into the imagination at the heart of RPGs. Go read it!

Frog God Games and Swords & Wizardry? No Thanks, Not for Me.

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Matt recently announced that Frog God Games will be producing Swords & Wizardry in the future. See this post on the Swords & Wizardry Forums: Frog God and Mythmere News!. At first I thought this was a good idea. Then Chgowiz, Bite The Bulette, and RPG Blog II pointed out a statement of Frog God's "about us" page which is very disparaging of the hobby that supports and created Swords & Wizardry....

We are not the guys who are going to offer bargain basement junk for a quick buck. We won't sell you hand drawn maps and clip art laid out by amateurs and posted up on Lulu.com as a cheap book that you look at and discard.

No thanks. I've already seen what companies who think hobbyists should be ignored in favor of "the pros" have done to the RPG hobby. I will not support another company who thinks great layout and high production values trump all. It's hobbyists who made Swords & Wizardry and hobbyists who make up most of the market for Swords & Wizardry products. Statements like the above at not the way to win friends and influence people in this market.

I sorry to say that I will not be purchasing or recommending to others anything produced by Frog God Games. They can have their apparent "we're pros and so much better than hobbyists" attitude. I want nothing to do with it as I've already seen the damage this industry attitude does to the hobby. Thank God that the Swords & Wizardry rules are OGL so anyone can change the name and produce their own version. The hobby lives, no matter how much the industry does not seem to like us (although they seem to like our dollars just fine.)

Natural Defense in Microlite75?

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Someone commented that they thought high level fighters had it too easy in Microlite75. The commenter pointed out that a 20th level fighter could easily have a +20 to hit (+10 from level, +5 from fighter bonuses, and +5 from magic items/other bonuses) and that very few monsters had very high armor classes. This meant a very high level fighter could expect to hit almost every time. Personally, I consider this a feature, not a bug. Very high level fighters should be able to hit just about anything they aim at most of the time. This helps to them "keep up" with high level spell-casters.

However, while thinking about this comment, I realized that Microlite75 doesn't really have that many ultra-powerful monsters intended to challenge very high level characters. This is pretty much standard for 0e and 1e as campaigns simply were not expected to regularly reach such high character levels. I figured I probably should add a few more high level monsters as high level play is much more common now than it used to be.

However, I have problems with ever-increasing armor classes. Monsters and characters with an AC of -10 (about 30 with ascending AC) are unbelievable enough in my book. Going higher just to make monsters tougher for high level fighters just doesn't make much sense to me. After a while, I came up with the idea of "Natural Defense." If you naturally roll (i.e. before any modifiers) the target's Natural Defense or less on the D20 attack roll, you miss. Except for extremely powerful beings, Natural Defense is always 1. As a natural roll of 1 always misses under the rules now, there is no change to the game for the vast majority of combats.

For exceptionally powerful monsters, however, having a Natural Defense of more than one reduces the chance of high level characters hitting them without having to raise their AC to the point that no one but a high level fighter has any chance to hit them.

For example, a powerful demon might have a Natural Defense of 4 and an AC of 25. Without the Natural Defense, a very high level fighter could easily hit 95% of the time (any roll but a 1). With the higher Natural Defense, the same fighter could only hit 80% of the time. However, as you don't raise the AC to get this reduction in hit chance, less combat-oriented characters still have a chance to hit the character.

Remember, there are no fumbles in Microlite75 (fumbling on a roll of 1 would mean one fumbled 5% of the time which unrealistically high for a trained character even at 1st level). All rolling a 1 (or below Natural Defense with the rules change) means is that you missed. You don't drop you weapon, stab yourself, or accidentally cut off your friend's head.

I'm going to try this rule in actual play next weekend with some high level NPCs my players will get to temporarily play, if it works it will be added to the M75 rules. It's only a few additional words in the Combat rules:

Attack Rolls: Add attack bonus to d20 roll. A natural roll equal to or less the target’s Natural Defense (which is 1 unless otherwise stated) always misses, otherwise if the result is higher than your opponent's Armor Class (AC), it’s a hit.
The bolded words above simply replace the words "of 1". A sentence about Natural Defense will be added to the rules for creating monsters and a few monsters will be added with a Natural Defense higher than 1.

Blog Problems and Campaign Updates

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I haven't posted in the last week because I've been having major problems with Blogger -- specifically, it's editor. Editing was normal so long as you did not preview or post. Line and paragraph breaks showed up fine while editing, but I'd publish the post and go from many paragraphs to one massive, unreadable block of text. It seems to be working right today, hence this post. However, I'm seriously thinking of moving this blog to the Retroroleplaying main site and running it through Drupal if this happens again.

I haven't had a campaign update in a few weeks. I'll try and post one today or tomorrow. For a brief summary, the players decided their characters would stay and defend the town (as they did not have to defend the vampires). (See Evil Vs Evil -- with the Party In the Middle) Things went so-so as they had trouble identifying the hired assassin/vampire hunter. The vampire hunter ended up capturing two children from the vampire-run school -- the son of one powerful area noble and the daughter of another -- in an attempt to draw the vampires out. They had to rescue them from the vampire hunter. They could not catch him in the process but they at least identified him and were later able to drive him away. They got a reward, an abandoned manor they can use as a HQ, from the father of one children they rescued. This, of course, turned out to have some drawbacks no one expected....

Thanking Microlite75 Sponsors; or Who Needs a Ransome Model?

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With the release of what I hope is the final playtest draft of Microlite75, I think it is time to formally recognize the people who have so far stepped forward to sponsor Microlite75 with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund or $25 or more. While there is still time to donate and get on the sponsor list, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the following individuals and groups who have sponsored the production of Microlite75 thus far:

Bronze Sponsors
Kristian Collins, Kevin Donovan, Robert Fisher, John Gaunt, Dennis Kadera, Michael McMenamin, Shane Morales, Ronald Pehr, The Reliquary, Martin Thomas, Richard Tongue

Silver Sponsors
Matthew Cooper, Marcelo Paschoalin, Scott Sandy

Gold Sponsors
Harry Duncan, www.miniaturewargaming.com

Platinum Sponsors
Sebastian Dietz, North Texas RPG Con, Jim Madale

Diamond Sponsors
Catherine Belaire, Ben Sugermann

In addition to the wonderful people listed above, there have been several additional sponsors who asked to remain anonymous. Thanks to you too -- you know who you are.

If you'd like to add your name to the list above (which will be published in all copies of Microlite75), there is still time to donate, however time is beginning to run out. If you'd like to sponsor Microlite75, get the usual donor downloads, and be listed as sponsor in Microlite75 and Advanced Microlite20 OSS, please donate now. $25 or more gives you are bronze sponsorship. $50 or more silver. $100 or more gold. If you want to donate a lot more, talk to me about platinum and diamond levels.

In addition to all the usual Retro-Roleplaying Cancer Fund goodies sponsors get (along with being listed as a sponsor), I also have a few NEW freebies to offer sponsors. I have a copy Holmes Basic Edition (booklet only) from TSR, one copy each of Modron, Verbosh, and the Gencon IX Dungeon from Judges Guild, and one copy of Apple Lane from Chaosium that I will be giving to randomly selected sponsors via a drawing held at my first Sunday game after the final release of Microlite75. Bronze sponsors get 1 chance, silver sponsors 2 chances, gold sponsors 4 chances, platinum sponsors 6 chances, and diamond sponsors 10 chances in each drawing. No person can win more than one freebie, however.

If you'd like to join the list of Microlite75 sponsors, you can donate via to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Paypal.

Download the Microlite75 Final Playtest Draft

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What I hope will be the final playtest draft of Microlite75 is now ready for people to download. No major changes in this draft, other than splitting the game into two books and adding an optional Vancian "Fire and Forget" magic system.

The first book is the Characters and Magic book. This book has the complete rules of the game, the spell and equipment lists, and an intro to old school play for players. You can download a copy from Mediafire here: Microlite75: Characters & Magic.

The second book is the Options and Monsters book. This book has the optional rules monsters, and advice for the GM. You can download a copy from Mediafire here: Microlite75: Options & Monsters.

Microlite75 is basically done rules-wise. I don't plan to add anything else or make any major rules changes. I'm going to go through this draft carefully and clean up any mistakes or less than clear text I find, then turn it over for proofreading. So if you have any rules issues, speak up now please.

Sponsoring Microlite75: If you look in the latest Playtest version, you will see that Microlite75 has a number of sponsors who have donated to the Retro-Roleplaying Cancer Fund. There is still plenty of room to list more sponsors, however time is beginning to run out. If you'd like to sponsor Microlite75, get the usual donor downloads, and be listed as sponsor in Microlite75 and Advanced Microlite20 OSS, please donate now. $25 or more gives you are bronze sponsorship. $50 or more silver. $100 or more gold. If you want to donate a lot more, talk to me about platinum and diamond levels. You can find out more here or donate via Paypal.

Help Design a Beginner's Microlite75 Dungeon

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As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I thought it might be fun to create a "starter" dungeon for Microlite75 as a group. Just take the next room in a comment and go to town, following the basic format I use for the first room.

Here's the first level of the dungeon. It was created with the "Random Dungeon Generator by drow" at http://www.bin.sh/.

Here's a map of the first level. My only complaint is the room numbers are fairly random. Room 1 is nowhere near the stairs into the dungeon. But we'll go with these numbers for now. I'll renumber for actual use.

This dungeon was built by a wizard under his tower ages ago. In recent years it has been used by goblins and later a small band of bandits. The bandits group was destroyed 8 years ago. Who knows what has moved in since.

Here's room one to start things off. If you don't have the M75 stats for monsters handy, don't worry. I'll add them in. Don't forget to include how you want the room credited in your description. Descriptions will be considered open game content.

Room 1: This secret room is full of broken bits of old furniture and other debris, including very large rat droppings. Webs fill the far half of the room. 2 giant spiders live in the webs (AC: 13 HD: 2d8+2 AT: bite +2 (1d8) ST: 17 MR: 8 S: bite causes paralysis via poison, surprise on 1-5). Chest in back of room appears to be trapped, but trap no longer works. (holds rotting clothes, 70 cp, and a jade pendant worth 50gp). [Room designed by Randall Stukey, http://www.retroroleplaying.com]

Microlite75 Help Needed

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I need help. There are several things I need help with.

First, I'd like to do a sample dungeon level for Microlite75. And I'd like to "crowd source" it here on the blog. I'd post a map from one of the random dungeon map generators (perhaps with a little editing to make it work better) and I'd post the first room. Then readers would post the "next" room in comments. (That is, if you saw rooms 1 through 10 done, then you'd post room #11.) Everyone would get credit for their room (including a link to their blog/web site if desired) and the dungeon level would be published (under the OGL) with Microlite75. Would there be any interest? Let me know if you'd be interested with a comment. If there is enough interest, we'll start this later in the week.

Second, I'm looking for simple (and generally small) line art for Microlite75. If anyone would like to donate a piece of art or two, please get in touch with me.

Yes, this means Microlite75 is getting pretty close to being done!

Finally, if anyone was thinking of donating to the Cancer Fund, now would be a great time to do so. (Thanks folks -- the immediate problem mentioned here yesterday is taken care of.)

The DDI Character Builder -- Why It is Not For Me

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Many people look at WOTC's DDI Character Builder and think it is a great idea. Even many people who intensely dislike D&D 4e like the idea of the DDI Character Builder and wish there were one for their favorite RPG. At least as implemented by WOTC, I disagree, it's a horrible idea -- at least for the type of campaigns I run -- and I would never allow its use in a campaign I ran.

A recent podcast with people from WOTC shows why something like the DDI Character Builder is a horrible idea. Here's part of a message on the RPGSite on this podcast:

It appears the whole "is Essentials a new (half) edition?" issue that vexes the forum is the wrong question to ask. Instead of asking what Essentials is when compared to 4.0, the question ought to be - what happens to 4.0, now that Essentials is coming out. The answer to that in the podcast is striking, and as follows.

Every power currently in the DDI will be brought in line with the Essentials bench mark. A huge swath of "updates" will ensue once Essentials is out. Every power will be screened individually and be brought in line. There will be mostly nerfs, or leaving powers untouched, but power-ups will be far and few between. In short, 4.0 will be removed from the DDI whole sale.

At that point someone in the audience asked about Magic Missile. Basically what's described in the previous paragraph is exactly what happened to an individual power like Magic Missile already. What no one knew so far - this is going to happen to every power in the game. The question was a very good one, as it applies not just to Magic Missile but to the Essentials overhaul across the board:

"Why do you change powers to line them up with Essentials? Why not have two powers on DDI, say Melf's Magic Missile and Evard's Magic Missile, so people on DDI can choose which one they want to use?"

To which Bill Slavicsek answered:

"There were two goals with Essentials. One is to introduce new players. The other is to make 4E a simpler, more streamlined and more accessible game. Having 17 versions of magic missile in the DDI runs counter to that."

If I ran a 4e campaign, this would be why I would not allow the DDI to be used to generate characters. I don't want to play in the WOTC D&D world. I want to run campaigns set in my homebrew world. To do that I need stable rules that do not change at the whim of WOTC (as at least some of those changes might affect/change my world in ways I don't want).

I've never been a slave to the published rules -- let alone the errata/updates to the published rules. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, using the DDI Character Builder makes you a slave to both. House rules can't be added easily and WOTC errata/updates replace original rules whether you want them to or not.

A software character builder can be be a great idea if done right, but the DDI Character Builder transfers control of the rules used in the campaign from the GM running that campaign to the company designing the game. While that may be great for some GMs, it is the last thing I want. A good software character builder would make it easy for the GM to add house rules (or rules from third party products) and would never change rules already in use just because official errata or updates had come out. A really good character builder (i.e., one I would be willing to pay money for) would handle rules errata and updates as like "revisions" in a wiki. If the GM did not like a change in a rule he could roll back the change for that rule to any previous version or replace it with a homebrew rule.

I realize a lot of people like the DDI Character Builder for 4e and would not try to run a 4e game without it. To me, it takes far too much control of the game from the GM to be allowed in the type of campaigns I run. I hope that other companies thinking of doing a software character builder for their game will remember to leave the final say over the rules used to the GM.

Free Microlite75 RPG Playtest Draft 0.5 Available Now

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The latest playtest version of the free Microlite75 RPG is now available for download. There aren't a lot of major changes in this version, other than Saving Throws, but there are a lot of small tweaks and minor changes from playtesting. Most of the rules are now in place. Planned additions are down to a few more spells and monsters, optional fire-and-forget magic rules, and an optional clerical turning system closer to the original 0e version. Once these are place, M75 will be ready for final playtesting and proofreading! I even have a volunteer proofreader in the wings.

You can download a copy of the version 0.5 playtest from Mediafire (a 430K PDF) here: http://www.mediafire.com/?eg2ejvzbcv7k1q8

D&D Essentials: Will It Make Me Take a Second Look at 4e?

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Several readers have asked me my opinion of the upcoming D&D Essentials from WOTC and if it would make be consider playing D&D 4e. I wasn't planning on talking about D&D Essentials, but as several people are asking my opinion, I will say a few words.

First, I have the original three D&D 4e books and I have played in a few games. Reading the books and playing in a few games only confirmed that I liked 4e even less than I like 3.x. My major complains about 4e are (and have been):

* Class abilities are almost entirely limited to combat, most of the non-combat abilities that classes had in every previous edition of D&D are gone.

* Combat takes far too long. In the old school versions of D&D I enjoy, the average combat takes 5 to 10 minutes. Most groups report D&D 4e combat takes as long or longer than 3.x combat, averaging 40 minutes to an hour, even longer for some groups.

* Combat requires all players to learn fairly detailed rules and use those rules tactically. Players who have little interest in doing so (or just aren't good at applying rules tactically) have no simple "I roll to hit" options that are effective enough given the assumptions in encounter design that all players will be optimized fighting machines nor any easy way to play a non-combatant character.

* Combat all but requires minis, battlemats, and lots of status markers.

* The rules are so "gamist" that lots mechanics are completely disassociated from the game world. Some people like this, I can't stand it.

From what I've read of the D&D Essentials line from the PR stuff WOTC has been releasing on the product line, D&D Essentials does little or nothing to fix any of the issues I have with 4e. Therefore, D&D Essentials is unlikely to interest me at all, let alone enough to play 4e. Does this make D&D Essentials a bad product? No, it just makes it a product I have no interest in buying or playing -- like 90% of the other RPGs on the market.