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Progress Report: Microlite74, RetroRoleplaying Forum, Real Life. etc.

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I'm sorry to say that this blog hasn't been very active recently. That's because May seems to be "real life kicking me in the teeth" month. It started out with my wife getting threatened with a lawsuit (along with all the other unpaid volunteers) at an animal shelter she does volunteer work for. this threat from another volunteer who did not like what the shelter was doing. This stresses out my wife and causes all sorts of sores to appear on her month and tongue. At least that's what we hoped was the cause of it. However, with her tongue cancer history we had to get her in to see her doctor. We finally got in to see her doctor Monday and thankfully he does not think that these month sores are connected with her cancer. Three weeks of stress and a couple of hundred in doctor bills because some lawyer goes overboard and fires off a cease-and-desist or I'll sue letter to everyone connected to a shelter. There are times that killing all the lawyers -- even ones I consider friends -- really does sound like an excellent idea that would improve the world tremendously. Second week of May, my mother-in-law ends up in the hospital with a severe bladder infection that is spreading to other organs in her body. This stresses out my wife even more. My mother-in-law is finally out of the hospital and into a rehab facility to get her strength back. She's in her 70s and has Medicare so she can get treatment -- unlike my wife who can't get insurance unless she could pay more than we make a month for it because of all her pre-existing conditions. As for the shelter, my wife is no longer volunteering there. They seem to have lost a number of their volunteers. What a surprise.

Needless to say, I haven't had a lot of interest in gaming or anything else this month. My apologies as I had several interesting (well, hopefully interesting) blog posts planned and wanted to get a lot more work on Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery done. I few blog posts did appear, but none of the ones I was really excited about and I have made no real progress on M74 this month. I've been exhausted by worry to care. Our cancer fund drive ended yesterday. However, because I wasn't posting to keep it front and center in people's minds, we did not raise the full $1000. However, I'm trying to talk Alexi into giving both items away anyway as we did come fairly close -- and I just want it over and done with. I'm happy to say that we raised almost $600 for Karen's house fund -- a huge success that has really helped her. Combined with other fundraisers, I believe Karen is within a few hundred dollars of the $2500 goal. I'd like to thank everyone who donated to these causes.

On another front, I've closed the RetroRoleplaying forum for non-use. It was open for nine months, had 21 non-spammer members (and over 3000 spammers attempting to register -- a few managed to do so despite registration checks on spammer databases) and a whopping 112 posts -- 52 of them from me. Keeping the software up to date just did not seem worth the effort. Fighting the spammers certainly wasn't worth the effort. If Microlite74 really needs a message area (and given the response I'm not really convinced it does) we might be better off with a "Microlite74 forum" on some larger board.

I hope to be back with some actually interesting blog posts in the next few days -- and perhaps even a new beta of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery in a week or two. That will probably be the last beta before I start doing "release candidates". Egads, I hope I did not jinx anything by saying that. June can't get here soon enough for me.

Update: Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House!

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If you saw my post yesterday (Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House!) you know we are trying trying to raise money to help former TSR designer, developer and editor Karen Boomgarden keep her house. A non-gaming board Karen and I are on has raised over $1200 of the $2500 or so needed thus far. With the permission of item donor Alexi Debois, I'm sharing 50% of the money donated to the current RetroRoleplaying Cancer Drive for about 48 hours (through 9pm CDT Monday evening) to Karen while giving donors full credit for their donation (for drawings and high donor items) just as if all the money went to the Cancer Fund Drive. You can read yesterday's post for all the details.

I'm happy to say that donors have been very generous. This morning, I totaled up donations so far and sent Karen $328.50 via Paypal. Betwen then and then another $160 (minus Paypal fees which I haven't figured yet) has been earmarked for Karen -- although some of this is in echecks which will not clear until later in the week (which isn't a problem). So about 475-480 has been raised for Karen in the first 24 hours of this "Save Karen's House" drive. This puts the total raised between this blog (480) and the non-gaming forum ($1200+) at about $1700. There are still 24 hours left on the RetroRoleplaying Blog end of the drive, so if you can help, please make a donation now and help two decent causes with one stone, err donation. If you can spare a ten or a twenty, or even more, it will help so much. Karen and family might be able to avoid foreclosure and my wife and I will pay off more cancer bills. To donate and help Karen, send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- via Paypal before 9pm CDT Monday evening (May 14th). If you can't donate, good thoughts and prayers for Karen and her family (and that Citi not live down to their reputation) are more than welcome. And don't forget to check my post from yesterday for more info.

Special Note: Because of real life issues (my mother-in-law is in the hospital with a bladder infection and e. coili -- she is recovering but will be in a physical therapy center for 30 days to rebuild her strength starting tomorrow), I am not getting replies/thank you messages out for these donations nearly as fast as I usually do. It may be Tuesday or Wednesday for some, I'm sorry to say. My humble apologies.


The FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive) is on (through May 21, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win (details/rules described in the above-linked post): either FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive TSR's Warriors of Mars, TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha and/or FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. These items are in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Help a Former TSR Editor Keep Her House!

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A good friend of mine who long time D&D players may know from her days as an editor (and occasional designer/developer) at TSR is having a very bad year and is about to loose her house unless she gets some funds. Karen Boomgarden did a lot of editing work at TSR back in the day and was co-designer of my favorite Amazing Engine game, For Faerie, Queen, and Country. Since her TSR days, she's remarried and was doing well until the economy collapsed. She's been out of work for two years and her husband has been out of work for a year. Their daughter fell off a balcony and was injured pretty badly (although remarkably not as badly as she could have been) earlier this year.

Karen and family have been told they will lose their house this summer unless that can raise about $2500 to get current on their mortgage so they can possibility qualify for an unemployment adjustment before their mortgage is sold yet again and they have to start all over trying to negotiate with yet another mortgage company (yet again). They are currently working with Citi (which makes things even harder, I know). On a non-gaming message board I co-admin where Karen has been a long time member, we've managed to raise about 50% of this in donations over the last ten days. After discussing this with Alexi Debois (who is donating the copies of FEZ I and Quest for the Fazzlewood for our cancer fund raiser), we've come up with a way to you can help both our cancer fund and Karen's mortgage problems. For the next 48 hours (say until 9pm CDT Monday evening) any money donated to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund will be split 50/50 (after Paypal fees, if any) between Karen and the cancer fund. Donors will still get full credit for their total donation in chances to win the prizes that Alex is donating and the full dollar amount given will count toward the largest donations for the "high donor" items (TSR's Warriors of Mars, FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age, and TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha). To make this clear, let's say you donate $50 and there are no Paypal fees (as you donated from your Paypal balance), $25 would go to Karen and $25 to the Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund. You'd get 5 chances in the drawings and the full $50 would count toward being one of the highest donors in our current Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund drive.

So here's a chance to help two decent causes with one stone, err donation. If you can spare a ten or a twenty, or even more, it will help so much. Karen and family might be able to avoid foreclosure and my wife and I will pay off more cancer bills. To donate and help Karen, send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- via Paypal before 9pm CDT Monday evening (May 14th). If you can't donate, good thoughts and prayers for Karen and her family (and that Citi not live down to their reputation) are more than welcome.


The FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive) is on (through May 21, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win (details/rules described in the above-linked post): either FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive TSR's Warriors of Mars, TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha and/or FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. These items are in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Caltech's Warlock D&D Variant

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Shortly after D&D was published in 1974, players at Caltech started working on their own "improved" variant. The initial version was published in The Spartan Simulation Gaming Journal #9 in August 1975. A latter version (The Complete Warlock) was published by Balboa Games in 1978. What many people do not know is Warlock continued to be played and developed in the Caltech area for many years. Long ago, PDFs of 9 rules sections of Warlock circa 1999-2000 were made available for free by the designers on a Fortune City web site (http://www.fortunecity.com/rivendell/highwayman/783/). Unfortunately, Fortune City hosting, like Geocities disappeared from the web some time ago taking these files with it. I discovered my copies of these files on a backup DVD from 7 years ago and decided to combine the files into one PDF in a form that could be duplex printed (this involved adding blank pages to several sections so that each section had an even number of pages). My printed copy in just over 200 pages. I've uploaded this PDF to Mediafire where it is available for free download:

Caltech Warlock Rules circa 2000 (200+ page PDF, about 1.4 megs)

The rules are fairly complete including character classes, magic spells/items, special thief abilities and a very detailed combat system. No monsters, however standard TSR era D&D monsters work fine. The basics of the game from 2000 are still very similar to my copy in The Spartan Simulation Gaming Journal #9 -- just greatly expanded. The combat system is a bit more complex than I remember for the 1970s, but it was fairly complex then. If you aren't lucky enough to have access to a copy of The Spartan Simulation Gaming Journal #9 or The Complete Warlock, this version will give you an idea of what these games were like.

There is a lot of material here that can be added to old school games, including Microlite74. I know I used some of the spells from Warlock in my D&D games in the 1970s. A word of warning: The "Caltech" (aka California) style of D&D was one of the high-powered D&D variants that Gygax ranted about at times in early issues of The Dragon magazine. While such high-powered D&D variants work fine, regardless of what Gary thought of them, you will have to be selective about any material you borrow if you do not want a high-powered California style game on your hands.


The FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive) is on (through May 21, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win (details/rules described in the above-linked post): either FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive TSR's Warriors of Mars, TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha and/or FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. These items are in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!


Magic Item: Bowl of Distraction

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Here's a new magic item for just about any version of D&D -- however, it may not be very useful outside of old school campaigns (simply because situations where it might be useful seem to be more common in old school play).

Bowl of Distraction: This bowl resembles other magic bowls. When activated, it creates a full sensory illusion of whatever those who see it want most (generally wonderful food for unintelligent monsters or treasure for more intelligent monsters). It appears to be slowly oozing forth the item in question. This item will automatically distract unintelligent pursuing beings and will distract intelligent pursuing beings unless they save vs magic at -4. 1d3 turns after activating, the bowl will teleport to the person who activated it with 99% accuracy.

My wife suggested this magic item. We have a 16 year old standard dachshund who has gone blind in her old age. After dinner, we put a bowl of leftovers scraped from our plates into a small bowl and put on on the floor in the kitchen to keep her occupied (and not under foot) while we get the other dogs out, clear the table, etc. Donna started calling this the "bowl of distraction." After a week or so of calling it the "bowl of distraction" she laughed at said it sounded like something out of one of my roleplaying games. She's right -- so it is.

The FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive) is on (through May 21, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win (details/rules described in the above-linked post): either FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive TSR's Warriors of Mars, TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha and/or FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. These items are in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!


Unwelcome Side Effects -- or Why Do Old School Players Reject So Many "Obvious" Improvements to D&D?

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Old school D&D players are often accused of being against even "obvious improvements" to D&D rules like unified experience tables and ascending armor class. Often the reason they are against a "obvious improvement" change is assumed to be something like blind stubbornness, nostalgia, or some other equally "irrational" reason.

While it is true that some old school players reject all such changes out of hand because they are "different", many player reject some such changes because they end up changing game play in ways they do not like. These unintended effects that come with some of the rules changes that modern players often think are irrationally rejected are what actually cause many old school players to reject them. What appears at first glance to be a minor or even cosmetic change actually ends up having effects that make old school style play harder -- which is the real reason many old school players end up rejecting the change -- even if they are not good at articulating those reasons.

For example, more than descending/ascending numbers actually changed with the switch from descending AC to ascending AC in WOTC D&D. With descending AC, the game rules greatly limited the bonus applied to the to-hit rolls -- modifiers more than +20 or -20 were generally confined to the worst of Monty Haul campaigns. Once the switch to ascending AC was made, all limit on bonuses seemed to disappear which tended to make playing real "old school play" hard. While this is a separate issue from ascending AC (as games like my Microlite74 show one can have ascending AC and limit bonuses to TSR era levels), it is not immediately obvious that it is.

The change to 3.x style saving throws had a similar side-effect. While the three saving throw classes might have been accepted by many old school players if the saves otherwise worked like TSR D&D, the changes that went with the new saving throws made things like saves versus magic harder if one was saving vs a high level caster broke many old school assumptions (e.g. that a high level character -- especially a fighter -- had the same great save vs spells whether the opposing caster was a first level magic or Elminster himself). Those side effects had major effects on play -- helping to create the godlike high level casters.

One of the things that would make using one unified XP advancement table unacceptable to many old school D&D players is the expectation that all characters in the party need to be the same level all the time which seems to come with it. This silly (to the old school mind) meme seems to have become the common expectation with 3e -- when the single unified experience table appeared. If you can't have the single XP table without many players -- and lazy module designers -- expecting the party to therefore always level up together/always be the same level, then many (perhaps even most) old school players will reject the single XP table idea because it ends up changing the game in ways they find unacceptable.

A single XP table also changes the way designers tend to construct classes. Old school class construction tends to be "organic" in that one writes up a list of things the class should be able to do in the campaign world and designs the class around those abilities with little regard for level by level balance with other classes. When the class is designed one then looks at it in comparison to the other classes and creates an XP advancement table (and -- if needed -- some class limitations) so that is is somewhat balanced vsrsus other classes across the campaign. When there is a single XP advancement table, class design tends to change as a level by level comparison of the new class to other classes as people tend to feel that classes should be about as powerful at the same number of XP points. While some people think the new school style of level by level balance is better than the old school "across the campaign" balance, there can be no doubt that classes are designed differently old school vs new school an that the way XP advancement tables are handled in the rules contributes to this difference.

So next time you think people who prefer older and less intuitive rules to newer and supposedly "better" rules are simply being blind or stubborn, look beyond the actual rule to possible side effects of the rule. It's possible that there are less than obvious side effects to the new rule which result in changes to game play that make the style of play the objectors enjoy harder to do with the newer and "better" rule. The new rule may indeed be better by itself, but its side effects may simply be unacceptable to the "old school" style of play.


The FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive) is on (through May 21, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win (details/rules described in the above-linked post): either FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive TSR's Warriors of Mars, TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha and/or FGU's Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. These items are in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!



FEZ: I and Quest for the Fazzlewood Giveaway (Mini Cancer Fund Drive)

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As regular readers probably know the Leap Month RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drive and Giveaway ended without giving away all of the old school items Alexi Debois donated for the project. (See Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive: The Final Report.) Three of the five items he donated were given away: the Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh (1980), the Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set, and the complete set of issues of The Strategic Review (and the first ten issues of The Dragon Magazine). However, the real stars of the show were the 1982 original version of the FEZ 1: Valley of Trees module and the Quest for the Fazzlewood module. These remain in Alexi's hands as the last goal for the drive was not reached.

At the close of the Leap Month Drive, Alexi mentioned something about maybe trying again after tax season. I did not think he was serious, but it turns out that he is. Tax day in the US was the 17th this and Alexi informs me it was April 30th in Canada. So at Alexis request, we are having a very short "make-up fund drive" to try one more time to give these to items away. This drive runs from now through Monday, May 21st. This deadline will not be extended.

The major items on offer to donors are:

FEZ 1: Valley of Trees: This is the original 1982 version of FEZ I. It is 40 pages long and in a green folder. The more common 1987 version of FEZ I, Wizard's Vale, was only 32 pages long and had somewhat different content. The folder is not in the best of shape. the module booklet is in very good shape. It has pencil marks.

Quest for the Fazzlewood: This was used as a tournament module at Wintercon VII in 1978 and published in low numbers by Metro Detroit Gamers. It was later expanded and modified by TSR and published as O1: Gem and the Staff in the early 1980s. It is 12 loose pages of adventure and a "Player Evaluation Sheet" used to score the player for the tournament, all in a light cardstock folder/cover. The module was designed for one player. It's in good shape but has DM notes/marks in pencil, apparently from when Alexi's cousin DMed the game at Wintercon VII.

These two items will be given away by drawing. Donors get one chance in this drawing for every $10 they donate. Anyone who has donated $10 or more since the start of the Leap Month RetroRoleplaying at the end of January has chances to win. In other words, if you have already donated in the original Leap Month Cancer Drive (or donated between the time it ended in March and now) you do not need to donate again for a chance to win -- however, if you do donate again you will get additional chances based on the total of your donations. For example, if you donated $25 in February Leap Month Drive and donate another $25 during this mini-drive, you'll have a total of five chances to win (instead f the two you started with).

The goal for this drive is $1000. This will allow us to pay off all the bills originally aimed for in the Leap Month Drive plus one laboratory bill that came in months after the fact. If we reach $500, there will be a drawing for FEZ I at the end of the drive. If we reach the $1000 goal, we'll have drawings for both FEZ I and Quest for the Fazzlewood.

I've acquired a few minor old school items for our highest donors thanks to a trip to a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in Killeen a couple of weeks ago. First, a copy of TSR's Warriors of Mars - minis rules for a John Carter of Mars game (published without permission from the Burroughs estate). It was written by Gary Gygax and Brain Blume. It's fairly rare but this copy is a "playing copy" not a "collector's copy." Second, a copy of Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age, FGU's minis rules for Conan's Hyboria, published in 1975 and written by Lin Carter and Scott Bizar. The condition here will not please the true collector, but it is in good shape -- better than Warriors of Mars. Finally, a copy of the original 1976 edition of Metamorphosis Alpha. This copy is in very good shape, while it might nor please the die hard collector, it has definitely been well cared for. The person donating the highest amount during this mini-drive will have his choice of one of these three items. The person donating the second highest amount will have his choice of the two remaining items. The third item will also go to the high donor.

As before, everyone who donates at least $25 during this drive will be listed as a sponsor in the Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery rulebook (except those who wish to remain anonymous, of course) in classifications based the Adventurer class level titles from the game determined by the amount donated. Anyone donating $50 or more may place a tabletop roleplaying ad in the free public version of the game if they wish. This is a great way to plug your blog, product, campaign, convention, etc. Ad Sizes: business card size (donation $50-99), quarter page (donation $100-249), half page (donation $250 or more). These will be scattered through the booklet (instead of using public domain art).

Everyone who donates anything at all (even a dollar) to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund gets access to a few special downloads (like pdfs of two 1970s D&D fanzines, a special edition of Microlite74 Extended, and more) as described on the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund web page. This will also give you access to draft copies of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery (which are released in between the public betas).

If you'd like to donate, you don't need to wait for the official announcement as any donations made now will count. We are trying to raise about $900 which will finish paying off the various bills the original Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive was aiming to pay. So if you want to jump start things, send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Remember, if you donated during the Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive, your drawing chances will carry over -- no need to donate any more to qualify (unless you just want to).

Summary/Call for Donations

To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned giveawy items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Remember, if you donated during the Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive, your drawing chances will carry over -- no need to donate any more to qualify (unless you just want to).

If you would like to help but cannot make a donation, please help spread the word around the blogsphere (and other places). In fact, if you make a post to your blog talking about this fundraising drive and post a link to your post in a comment to this post, we'll give you one entry in the raffle. Note: Your blog will have to have some way for us to email you if you get lucky or we will not be able to get your prize to you. I'm afraid I failed Mind Reading in school. Thank you very much in advance. ()