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The Devil Rides Out (and into my Horror Campaigns)

A friend of mine send me a link to this long article on Dennis Wheatley's occult fiction novels. I haven't read these in ages, but the ones I read had quite a bit of influence on every horror campaign I've ran -- probably equal in influence to the Cthulthu Mythos stories.

The Devil Rides Out
How Dennis Wheatley sold black magic to Britain

William Blake’s verdict on Milton was: “Of the Devil’s party without knowing it”, and much the same could be said of Dennis Wheatley. He virtually invented the popular image of Satanism in 20th-century Britain, and he made it seem strangely seductive. If the appeal of Black Magic in popular culture was ultimately erotic, then this was largely due to Wheatley’s writing, with its reliable prospect of virg­ins being ritually ravished on altar tops.

By the time he died in 1977, Wheatley had shifted around 50 million books, helped by a massive surge in paperback sales during the “occult explosion” of the late Sixties and early Seventies. By then, his books seemed to be every­where, in a uniform range of black paperbacks, each one featuring a naked woman who seemed to be go-go dancing behind a splurge of flame.

You can read the rest of this long article here while I try to hunt up my copy of The Devil Rides Out before it is time to run my OD&D campaign. Success in unlikely given the small amount of time I have available and the large number of boxes of books to look through.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.

Frustration thy name is AVAST, OD&D Cancer Giveawy goes on

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After a week of setting up my new computer, I find that I get top do it all over again. AVAST decided the main component of Microsoft's update system, trustedinstaller.exe was a Trojan earlier this week. I told AVAST to abort when given a choice between aborting and deleting the file, but AVAST apparently deleted file anyway. Worse I did not notice until this evening so there was no restore point left from before this update -- that's what happens when you are installing all your software. So it is reformat and start all over time (no Windows 7 disk with the system, just "system restore" DVDs). AVAST will never be on my system again. There are times I think anti-virus software is worse than the viruses.

I'd like to thank everyone who has donated to the Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive so far. Donations have been fairly small, but there have been a good number of them. There's a good chance someone will get the Brown Box stuff for a "steal" compared to its worth. There's also a good chance that some of the giveaway "winners" will be selected by results on an OD&D quiz as there are a number of ties at the moment -- over course, there's still about a week to go. Lots of time for more donations which might eliminate some or all of the ties.

Donations are much appreciated. For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).

The Computer Is Dead -- But The Game Goes On

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I haven't posted anything for the last few days because my computer died within an hour after my last post. It was a 2001 model and the motherboard went. I'm now trying to raise enough money to get a new (and inexpensive) computer to replace it. I'm very close to getting all the money I need together and hope to have a new machine in place by early in the week. Jumping from XP to Windows 7 is going to be "fun." ::fingers crossed::

While the dead computer has bought posting -- and work on M75 -- to a halt. My OD&D game doesn't need a computer and will go on as scheduled tomorrow. Without a computer to do real world work with, I've had time to draw up several small tombs and dungeons to add to the game. I doubt any of these will show up this week as my players still have an angry young red dragon to deal with.

I don't know how the cancer donation drive is going because I haven't been able to get online much, but it still has about two weeks to go. Apologies to anyone who has donated and has not yet heard from me. I should have email access back as soon as I can get the new machine.

Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors)

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As all regular readers of this blog probably know, my wife is recovering from oral cancer and that I worked on the original Microlite74 as way to cope during her recovery from 6 weeks of radiation treatment in 2008. We are some of the 40 to 50 million people in the US who do not have health insurance (don't get me going on what is happening in Congress now) and do not qualify for government aid as we live in Texas and have no children. The cancer treatments and related expenses have cost over $110,000 so far. While over half of this has been absorbed by hospital foundations and the like (and more was paid with the help of donors last year), we still owe a lot of it.

We have established a RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund for donations. Everyone who donates anything at all (even a dollar) gets access to a few special downloads (like pdfs of two 1970s D&D fanzines, a special edition of Microlite74, and more) as described on that page. We have had a couple of special donation drives in 2009 and thanks to Jamie G.'s donation of a complete set of Brown Box D&D, Booty & the Beasts and Arduin Grimoire #1 -- as described in this post from last week, Surprise Delivery: Brown Box Original D&D -- we are having another.

Special Donor Goodies for January 2010 (Original D&D Items)

Anyone who donates from January 15, 2010 to February 15, 2010 (UPDATED: extended from original date of February 5th due to two weeks of major computer issues on my end, see The Computer Is Dead -- But The Game Goes On and Frustration thy name is AVAST for details) will be eligible for some extra D&D goodies in addition to the special downloads everyone who donates gets.

First, whoever donates the most during this time period will receive the OD&D Woodgrain/Brown Box special: the three LBB (Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures -- Third printing purchased with their Brown Box box, Supplement I: Greyhawk (2rd printing), Supplement III: Blackmoor (1st printing, I think) and Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardy (7th printing), and Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes (5th printing). Also included are the table sheets from the brown box set, a copy of Arduin Grimoire Volume I, an almost pristine copy of Booty and the Beasts with its Erol Otus artwork, a copy of Chainmail, and a few cut Dungeon geomorphs. You can see these items in the picture below or in the Surprise Delivery: Brown Box Original D&D post from last week. Thanks to Jamie G. for making this possible!

Second, the person who donates the second largest amount will receive a copy TSR's H1 Bloodstone Pass module. It's all there but is well-used.

The person who donates the third largest amount will receive a copy TSR's Dungeon boardgame, 1981 edition. The box is in bad shape, the the game itself in in very good condition. booklet (2nd printing -- I think -- and in nice, but obviously used, condition). Note that this can only be shipped to the USA.

Finally, the next three largest donors will get either a copy of TSR 9590 Kidnapped (an RPGA adventure from 1998 in excellent condition, published by WOTC under the TST logo) , a set of Deities and DemiGods (has Cthulhu Mythos, but is very heavily-used), or a well-used and marked copy of The Rogues Gallery.

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. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates. If you cannot donate but wish to help, please spread the word about my request and offer. Thank you very much in advance.

All donations made from January 15th (the date of the Surprise Delivery: Brown Box Original D&D post) through February 15, 2010 will be eligible for this giveaway

Special Note: First, Jamie would like the OD&D material he donated to go a gamer, a collector, or someone who will sell it to a gamer or a collector, therefore the first gift cannot go to foundation -- which means even small donations shoild have a fair change of getting something and you will not have to you will not have to outdonate a foundation's 3K or 4K donation to have a chance at the OD&D collection as happened last July. Second, in the case of a tie for any item, the tie will be broken by a quiz --a set of OD&D-based questions I will create.

Quick Update: Assassins and Brown Box Cancer Fund Giveaway

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Just a quick update on a couple of things I've been getting email on.

First, Assassins. Several people have let me know that they really want the Assassin class in M75. Therefore I will do by best to get one in there.

Second, since I posted about getting the Brown Box set of OD&D in the mail for a Cancer Fundraiser, I've had emails asking when it would start and even a couple of donations! I will try to get an official announcement up tomorrow announcing that it will officially start tomorrow and run through the first week in February. All donations made since the original post was made last week will count, so you can donate right now if you wish and it will count. Highest donor gets the brown box and extras. There will be additional items for at least 2nd and third highest which I will list in the official announcement. For info on how to donate, see the box in the right column on any blog page.

Combat Balance as the be all and end all of Game Balance?

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By now you have probably seen (or at least heard mentioned) Mike Mearls blog post on combat balance as game balance: The Issue of Game Balance. It has generated a lot of discussion on RPGNet and theRPGSite. Here is a slightly edited post I made on the subject at theRPGSite.

Personally, I think combat balance as the be all and end all of game balance only becomes required when combats become long in real time. In early editions of D&D (up until the skills and powers books for 2e, basically), the average combat was fast. When a single combat encounter only takes 10-15 muinutes, even players who have characters who aren't strong in combat don't really have a chance to get very bored.

However, when combats start to average 20-30 minutes, such players are more likely to get bored. When combats take 45-90 minutes as 3.x combats are often reported to have regularly taken, just about any player who does not find combat the most interesting part of the game and whose character is not a combat machine is going to get bored.

To Mearls and other 4e designers, the solution was obvious: make sure all characters are equally effective in combat no matter what that does to the rest of the game. And this certainly works. No player who enjoys combat will be bored in a 4e combat no matter what character class they are playing. But the operative part here is "who enjoys combat." Combat still takes a long time and because 4e combat almost requires all players to be expert in the combat system or the group may fail, the game is much less interesting for those who do not consider combat to be the most fun thing in the game.

I would have made a different decision to solve the "getting bored during long combats" problem: make each combat much less real time-consuming than in 3.x. This would allow more combats in a session for groups who want their game to center on combat encounters (and more time for non-combat activity in a session for groups who don't want their game centered on combat), reduce the chance that the players of less combat-centered characters would become bored during combat while leaving the option open for players who just don't find combat the most exciting part of the game to play characters whose main strength is outside of combat.

Personally, I think shorter combats are one of the main things that attract people to return to or try older versions of D&D. Long detailed combats are great for those who are really into combat, but they are boring for those who find combat less fun. Making sure their characters more combat effective does not make combat more fun if combat isn't the player's thing. In fact, it can make them less interested in playing if that combat effectiveness means other players suddenly expect them to be sure their characters now pull their weight in combat and/or it if comes at the expense of the non-combat abilities that the non-combat-focused players enjoyed.

Surprise Delivery: Brown Box Original D&D

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I received a surprise visit from the postman late Wednesday afternoon with an express mail package for me. This was quite a surprise as I wasn't expecting anything and did not recognize the sender's address. I opened the package to discover a well-used woodgrain OD&D box staring at me from the packing material. Inside were the three little biege books (third printings), copies of the Greyhawk (2nd printing) and Blackmoor (1st printing, I think) supplements, a copy of Chainmail (third edition), a copy of volume 1 of the Arduin Grimiore, an almost pristine copy of Booty and the Beasts with its Erol Otus artwork, the table sheets from OD&D, a few cut dungeon geomorphs, some notepaper with DM's notes, and a letter.

The letter told be that these were donations for a cancer fund giveaway and they belonged to the sender's late brother who played D&D when he was in college in the late 1970s. I was in shock, not so much because of the surprise donation but because I realized I had exchanged a few letters with his brother back in the 1970s -- and a couple of monsters I created were in those DM notes. The D&D world was much smaller in 1976-1977 so this isn't as much of a strange co-incidence as it may appear. I was so surprised however, that I failed at first to notice the copies of Eldritch Wizardy and Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes packed in below the brown box. These were 7th printing and 5th printing (mislabeled 6th) respectively.

The pictures below do not do the set justice. Our camera does not like dark winter days and my Photoshop abilities are next to non-existent. The 3 LBB, the first two supplements are obviously used, and the Arduin Grimoire are obviously used, but not abused. Booty and the Beasts and the last two supplements are practically new.

I spoke to the donor on the phone for a good while Wednesday evening. He was surprised to hear that I had corresponded with his brother all those years ago. He was very happy to hear I had found a letter from his brother in my files. I mailed that and his brother's GM notes back to him yesterday. He said would like his brother's D&D books to "end up with a gamer who would enjoy them and not some deep pockets foundation who would not know what they are." I will be respecting this wish and not knowingly accepting any foundation donations when I set up a donation giveaway for these items.

Microlite75 Discussion Area Opened

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While the Retroroleplaying forum does not get a lot of use, its prior incarnation saw a lot of use during the M74 design process. As I'm beginning to write rules for Microlite75 set up a new board on the forum for M75 Design discussions. While some things will be mentioned on this blog as the design progresses, must of the M75 design discussions will take place on this new board. If you are interested in M75 and want a chance to influence the design, please join us here: Mircolite75 (aka For Gold & Glory)

Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Second Printing PDF Available

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The free PDF version of the second printing of the WhiteBox version of Swords & Wizardry is now available at either RPGNow or Lulu.

I haven't had a chance to compare this version with the first printing yet, so I'm not sure what chances have been made. Appearance-wise, however, it's probably a home run.

Give XP Only for Treasure?

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In the original edition of D&D, characters received experience points both for defeating monsters and for the treasure they gained doing so. For some reason this was not well-liked -- especially the experience for treasure. Later editions started moving away from this. First, experience for treasure was dropped. Then experience for defeating monsters slowly transformed into experience only for monsters slain -- at least in most campaigns. Additional sources of experience were added along the way (like a few hundred xp for good roleplaying), but most of these additional sources did not provide nearly as much experience as treasure did, so the emphasis of the game slowly shifted from exploration and treasuring hunting to killing things.

Last night, I wondered what might have happened if experience awards had shifted the other way. What would a game be like that only gave experience for treasure collected?

After thinking about this a while, I decided it might make for a far more interesting game than one might expect, especially if the campaign was set up around this idea. Let's establish some interesting ground rules.

1) Treasure is converted to experience by spending it on training. If you need 10,000 XP to go from level 5 to 6, you get the xp by spending money on training. When you've managed to gather and spend 10,000gp on training, you go up a level. Unlike in AD&D 1e, training need not involve finding a teacher and taking time out from the campaign to train, it is just something you can do in spare time.

2) Treasure that you choose to spend on other things (like upkeep, healing potions, equipment, taxes, etc.) does not earn xp.

3) NPC rulers often give bounties on certain monsters killed (a bounty about equal to the xp the monster would bring for killing it). However, you usually have to bring some type of proof that you actually killed the monster (a head, a tail, etc. depending on the monster) to the NPC ruler. Which monsters have a bounty and how much can change with location and time in the campaign.

A campaign using this experience system would put more emphasis on finding treasure or otherwise making money than it would on killing things. Given that bounties are only given for certain monsters, there would be less reason for players to have their characters want to kill everything that moves. Having to bring proof of kills to get bounty money would make some spells (like disintegrate) and some tactics (e.g. pushing monsters into lava) counterproductive with bounty monsters. Finally, by requiring buying training with gold to convert it into xp, there is a somewhat logical campaign world reason for treating treasure as xp.

As you can tell from this short writeup, I have not completely thought this idea through -- let alone tested it in play. I'm interested in hearing what others think of it before I do much more with it.

Microlite74 2.0 Downloads in 2008

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Michael listed his 2009 download figures for his Swords and Wizardry Quick Start and the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules Reference Sheets on his blog here: A look at sales. I don't know if there is much interest in this sort of thing, but for the record here is the download figures for 2009 for Microlite74 and its Ancient Auguries supplement:

Downloaded from the RetroRoleplaying Site:

Microlite74 booklet version: 1921 downloads
Microlite74 standard version: 2220 downloads
Ancient Auguries M74 Supplement: 1211 downloads

Downloaded from Lulu:

Microlite74 standard version: 402 downloads

This means the Microlite74 2.0 rules were downloaded a total of 4543 times since they were released in early March 2009. 1211 copies of the Ancient Auguries supplement were downloaded since it was released in mid-March. Not bad at all, in my opinion.

Microlite75: Plans; Or What Will Definitely Be Included

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What will Microlite75 have that Microlite74 does not have? Here are the current plans.

All the following will be added to M74 as part of the "base rules:"

M75 will have the following additional classes from the 0e supplements and the early magazines: Paladin, Ranger, Druid, Monk, Bard, Illusionist, and Thief. I haven't decided whether or not to include Assassins as the class really seems more suited to NPCs than to PCs. As M75 will include my simple background system if one wants to play an Assassin, one could just play a Thief or a Monk with an "assassin" background.

M75 will have all the 0e spells. Spells through spell level 7 for Clerics and through spell level 9 for magic users. Spells for Druids and Illusionists will also be included. In so far as possible, these spells will be compatible with those used in Swords & Wizardry.

Hit Dice
Hit Dice will probably vary by class as in 0e with the supplements. Characters will continue to get their Strength score added to their HP total as per standard Microlite20. My Body Points/Hit Points system (similar to the one included in Ancient Auguries for M74) will probably be included in the standard rules. It was an early modification to 0e in my campaigns and it makes HP accounting much easier in Microlite20 based games as players do not have to track their HP which come back after an 8 hour rest separately from those from combat damage which heal slowly.

Weapon and Armor
The damage roll will vary by the weapon class (instead of 1d6 for all weapons and most monster attacks in M74) just like it does in 0e with the supplements. Armor class will be ascending just as in M74.

Monsters will have attacks and damage similar to 0e with the supplements instead of mostly doing 1d6 damage. Monsters will have a Morale Rating that works similar to morale in B/X. Monsters will have a Power Level listed -- a number showing their estimated "power" compared to other monsters. This will be determined by a variant of Don Turnbull's Monstermark system from early issues of White Dwarf. I know that it is not perfect, but it is useful for seeing just how powerful a monster is in comparison to other monsters. It served me well for years. More monsters will be included as well -- including, hopefully, some original monsters submitted by readers.

Psionics of some type will be included. It will probably be somewhat different than that included in the third 0e supplement as that system was very complex and, worse, really did not work well.

Alignment will be included a stronger presence in M75 than it was in M74, although I do not yet know which alignment system will be included Good-Neutral-Evil, Law-Neutral-Chaos, or the nine alignment combination of the two E.G.G. used.

Anything important that you thing I have forgotten? (I'm currently think of having a number of "Advanced/Optional" rules as well. More on those later as I have really clarified my thoughts on them.)

Decision 2010: Microlite75 is the Winner

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I've decided I have too many projects in the fire and that I really need to focus on one of them. After consulting with my players, and some of my net friends and associates, I've decided to work on Microlite75. Back when I first released Microlite74, I mentioned that I might do a second version incorporating classes and other material from the 0e supplements.

When Swords & Wizardry came out, I decided to drop this project as I figured the last thing the world needed was another 0e-like game. However, as time has gone on -- and my group has started playing OD&D with all the supplements -- I've changed my mind. I really think there is a place for a simple 0e-style game incorporating material from the 0e supplements, the 0e magazine articles, and even some of the ideas from third party 0e products and my own house rules. While I could do this as a massive supplement for S&W, I'd have more fun basing it on M20 systems and the result would be a game that would be easy to play and familiar to people who have only played D20-style games.

Since my Astonishing Tales ideas crashed and burned over the holidays and I don't have any immediate ideas on how to fix them, I am going to put AT on the back burner and start work on Microlite75.

Microlite75 is the working name. To avoid confusion with Microlite74, I may come up with a new name for the system -- perhaps "For Gold and Glory" since that project never went anywhere and I like the name.