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Microlite74 2.0 Special Digest-Sized Edition Available

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After producing a very special one-of-a-kind edition of Microlite74 for the kind person who donated the most to my fund drive last month, I decided to produce a second "Special Edition" of Microlite74 that anyone who donates to the cancer fund can download and print a nice digest size edition. Unlike the "one-of-a-kind" edition, this edition is not personalized or signed, nor does it use professionally done character art of characters in my campaigns for illos.

The Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition is a 60-page PDF designed to be printed in booklet format from Adobe Acrobat. Like the digest-sized version of Microlite74 1.1, the artwork is by Håkan Ackegård. (Visit Håkan Ackegård's Fantasy Gallery on the web at http://ackegard.com/ to see more of Håkan Ackegård's fantastic art.) Unlike that first attempt at a digest-sized edition, the pages in this edition are numbered and there is a table of contents. This Special Edition incorporates the rules from the first supplement, giving you all the rules currently available for Microlite74 in one booklet. The text has been reformated in a single column in a large enough font to easily read.

If you have made a donation to the cancer fund, you can download a copy of the Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition at the same place you downloaded copies of The Grimoires using the same password. If you haven't donated to the cancer fund, but would like a copy, the next paragraph is for you.

To get pdf copies of Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition (as well as The Grimoire #1 and #2, the BECMI campaign house rules and more), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via the Paypal button. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates. While the weird money problem I had last month is over, we still have racked up over $100K in bills for my wife's cancer treatments -- the fun of no insurance in America -- so my wife thinks I should keep the fund going, and she's probably right. If you can donate and wish to, thank you very much. If you just want free copies of Microlite74 2.0, just click on the Microlite74 link in the header. The free rules are the same as the donor rules, only the formatting and illustrations differ.

Old School in D&D Short fan Film

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I've seen this short fan film linked to on a number of blogs and forums, but not many "old school" sites. This is a shame because Old School D&D fans are probably the folks most likely to recognize the illustrations from old adventures and old books that were used in this short. Enjoy.

Real World Dungeons -- Exploring the Moscow Underworld

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This long article describes some people who explore the many levels of sewers, tunnels, and hidden places under Moscow. Perhaps as many as 15 levels and maybe 500 or more meters deep. Show this article to anyone who says the dungeons often explored in Dungeons & Dragons are unrealistic or even impossible.

Here's a description of some exploration from late in article:

It's late afternoon now, and we're seriously lost, somewhere deep under a part of town known as Sukharevskaya, several levels below Moscow's Garden Ring speedway. We're making our way through a cool brick corridor strung crazily with dripping electric wires, wading through a foot-deep swirl of sour-smelling chemicals. Two flashlights have already died on us, and now there's only Mikhailov's headlamp, with its nice fresh batteries, to guide us to the surface.

We stumble across a threshold and the brick corridor opens up into a series of chambers. We've wandered into some sort of extensive hippie hideaway, room after musty room painted with sad, groovy murals: red guitars dancing with musical notes, rainbows, "Peace," "I Love the Beatles."

"These date back to the sixties," Mikhailov whispers reverently, as if we've just stumbled upon some priceless eastern adjunct to the Lascaux cave paintings. But then the sad-sweet hippie atmospherics darken. Charcoaled on a gray, square building support, Mikhailov spots some demonic, if misspelled, graffiti scrawled in English — "satin was here" and "666" — and instantly falls into a deep panic. "Devil-worshipers!" he says. "Shhh! Be still!"

We hear some indistinct droning above. Mikhailov is certain it's satanic chanting, that there's a coven just above us engaged in some sickening rite. He's breathing uneasily, hunting desperately for a way out before warlocks descend, his Russian Orthodox imagination running wild. He brandishes a knife, and we retrace our steps, past an old white stone chimney and central heating system. A shabby-looking elevator looms up from the black depths.
This sounds a lot like some fantasy dungeon expeditions my characters have been on. You can read the entire article here: FEAR ME, Giant Sewer Rodents, for I Am VADIM, Lord of The Underground!

3.5 Resurgent: New School Retrogaming

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Is D&D 3.5 your favorite version of D&D? If your group is still playing and wants to show the world that not only is 3.5 still alive but there a lot of people still playing it, the 3.5 Resurgent graphic may be just what your campaign web site or your blog needs. As many old school gamers have found, community can really help keep out-of-print games alive.

While I am no more a 3.5 fan than I am a 4e fan, I think this "3.5 Resurgent" idea is a good one. Anything that declares you don't have to be playing the latest edition of D&D to have fun is good for the hobby in my book.

Old School: A Style of Play or Just Playing Early RPGs?

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Microlite74 lead to an online reunion with one of the players in the college games of D&D I ran in late 1975 and 1976. One of my early players downloaded a copy and was surprised to discover he knew the author long ago. After a few emails catching up on that last 30 years, John got to asking just what is "Old School" really is. He sees it as a style of play, but over the last few weeks of looking at "Old School" web sites he thinks most online "Old School" players see it mainly as playing old, out-of-print games or clones of those games.

Unfortunately (In my opinion, at least), he sees the majority of online "Old School" movement as "a sad attempt to repeat the last half of the 1970s with rehashed games, rehashed articles about variant rules and classes, and even rehashed debates about role-playing versus rolling playing -- just with much higher production values." Please understand that he considers himself "Old School" as his homebrew campaign runs the player-skill, relatively rules-lite, sandbox swords & sorcery style that online "Old School" proponents advocate. He just doesn't run it with old rules. In fact, some of his rules have very modern origins.

My rules incorporate all sorts of "modern" things that online "Old School" proponents would have a hissy fit over given their reactions to things like ascending armor class or spell points. For example, players get narrative control to describe the results of their hits (subject to GM veto, of course). I discovered that borrowing this player narrative idea from story games makes our combats more interesting to newer players who really like 3.x and 4.x tactical slugfests without the complex combat rules that annoy my long-time players and make a 5 minute combat in my game take an hour in D&D3 or D&D4. However, I've been told by a couple of online "Old School" pundit-wannabes that this alone means my game and campaign aren't really "Old School." The impression I get from online "Old School" proponents is that "Old School" means "I'm playing an early version of D&D and playing it by the book." By that definition most of the people playing D&D or AD&D in the 1970s and early 1980s; the time period the "Old School" movement apparently wants to bring back were not really playing "Old School" games.
While I think John's criticism is a bit too harsh and projects the position of some of the extremists in "Old School" movement on the entire movement, I have to admit that I have encountered the attitude he describes far more often than I would like to. And, IMHO, far more often than I think is good for the "Old School" movement. If "Old School" is to ever be anything more than an small fringe of RPG players, it is going to have to accept the idea that "Old School" is a style of play that can be played with many different rules sets, not just old favorites from the early days of the hobby.

What do you think?

Advice on Sandbox Play

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There's been a lot of talk about Sandbox play on RPG forums and blogs in the last year -- and not just among old school players. In its pure form a Sandbox GM sets up a (usually small to start with) area of the world with encounters, dungeons, and NPCs of varying power levels. The player's characters start in the area and can do whatever they want to do. If they hear rumors of a dungeon, they can find it and start to explore it. If they are more interesting in following up a rumor of an old red dragon with a lot of treasure who lives in a large cave in the solitary mountain to the west, they can head off over there instead even if they are only first level. The world exists as it is and adventures are not adjusted for the current power of the party. Instead the players are expected to gather information, scout things out and decide what they are able to take on. One of the best descriptions of a sandbox campaign are the West Marches series of posts on ars ludi.

A number of people have tried Sandbox games, some with good success, others with poor success. Often poor success seems to be blamed on poor Sandbox design or players who are not used to having to find their own adventures and instead just mill around doing nothing and get very bored. I've ran Sandbox style campaigns since I started playing in the 1970s. Sandboxes are the only type of long campaign I run.  So I'm going to give a bit of advice on how to set up a Sandbox campaign, how to get it started and how to keep it running.  However, I'm not going to repeat a lot of advice I've seen elsewhere so go read what others have to say as well.

Setting Up a Sandbox: There is quite a bit of good advice on this already on the net. However, one important suggestion I haven't seen discussed much is what makes a good base town for the start of the campaign. A small village will not do. You need a minimum of a small town so there is enough there to keep the campaign going. It's tempting to make you base town out it the boonies and off the beaten track, but that's generally not a good idea. You want a living town with NPCs arriving, leaving, and just passing through regularly.

Out on the frontier where there is lots of adventure is fine, but put the town on an active trade route. Even if caravans only come through once or twice a month, that provides the area with a steady stream of "new stuff": troublemakers passing through, people arriving to go adventuring, merchants to attract bandits, new people moving to the area, a way for people to easily leave the area, etc. When I design a base town for a frontier sandbox, I usually keep Dodge City from the old TV series Gunsmoke in mind. Dodge City was small, but active, and a center of trade for its area. Things happened there because there were always people arriving to keep things happening. That's what is needed in a sandbox as well as this will help keep the area fresh and interesting.

Don't begrude the time it takes to develop your base town. After all, unlike encounter areas, the town will be used over and over again. A number of well-developed town NPCS will provide the PCs with friends, enemies, rivals, henchmen, and many adventure hooks.

Patrons: Chances are your players are not used to creating their own adventures in a sandbox. The common style of gaming these days is a preplotted "adventure path" that the players are expected to follow. Often players used to that seem lost when their new characters are dropped into a sandbox world. Always have a few patrons with missions they need to hire adventurers for. These usually aren't world-shattering quests or long running plots, but simple things like guarding a caravan encampment or killing some nasty creature that has been killing livestock. One fun way to introduce players who have no idea what to do in a sandbox to the dungeon is to have their new characters hired to aid a couple of locals on a minor dungeon expedition. Chances are they'll treat their own hirelings better for the experience. It's a good idea to have several patrons ready in case the players aren't interested in the first or second offer. Even if your players jump right in and find their own adventurers, patrons can be useful at any time to provide new possibilities and choices.

Minor Plots: I'm not a sandbox purist. I think it is fine to have a number of background plots going on in the area and to allow the PCs to become involved in them if they wish. For example, in one campaign I ran, one of the NPCs was the bastard son of the former baron. The baron and his family had been killed in a orc raid some years earlier and a wealthy merchant had just assumed his place and used it to increase his wealth. The bastard son wanted to depose the merchant. The merchant "baron" was a thorn in the PCs side. The bastard son and the PC eventually met and the PCs decided to support the son and help him take power. This decision kicked off over six weeks of adventures that ran more like an adventure path than a sandbox but it worked fine. Things like this can make a sandbox more interesting -- but the choice to become involved and on which side should always be the players'.

More to follow.