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4e "Old School Style" One Shot Report

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We had the the "4e "Old School Style" One Shot" Sunday afternoon and evening. Sadly, it wasn't as successful or as much fun as Bill had hoped. I'm held off writing about it for a few days so as not to jump on it too hard.

The main problem was combat. Although playing without minis and a battlemat worked well for the most part, it still took far too long. The main problem was keeping track of all the various short term effects and modifiers. Bill had to write everything down that affected each monster. This was a time-wasting pain-in-the-butt. It was bad enough just keeping track of these things for my own character.

If the bookkeeping could have been done away with, Bill's 4e combat without minis and battlemats could have been as much fun as combat in 1e. One thing that helped make the combat interesting was that we played just like we would in 0e, that is we did what we thought would be most effective, not just what was on on the power cards. Had we stuck with just listed "powers" combat would have been slower and even less interesting. I know 4e has rules for this, but they seldom come into play in the few straight 4e games I've played and never seem to be more used that the powers on the cards. Some powers were effectively nerfed by the lack of battlemats, but as we knew that going in, we avoid those powers -- or came up with interesting ways to use them that Rules as Written gamers would probably not like.

The general consensus was that the combat system needed too much bookkeeping to be fun -- and that all the bookkeeping made the combats last 5 to 8 minutes longer than they really should have. That's as long as some entire combats in early TSR editions. I would have hate to see one of our combats without the reduced hit points we used. Verdict: needs more work -- a lot more work.

One thing that really did work was the "general class skill." Because of this, most classes felt like they had in every other version of D&D. Rangers could track. Rogues could steal and pick pockets. The major exception was the Magic-User. The general class skill could not replace the variety of spells that pre-4e magic-users had. Even three little books only 0e had more spells variety available. Verdict: Except for MU-type classes, great.

Trying to break out of the encounter format worked, but not too well. Too much of 4e is based on everything being an encounter. There's more to it that recovering powers. GM Fiat worked great for that aspect, however. Trying to remove the focus on encounters is apparently harder than it looks. Or perhaps I was expecting too much. Verdict: So-So. May not really be possible to fix.

Dropping skill challenges worked fine, but then there is no reason why it would not have. Solving non-combat situations with roleplaying and a few die rolls has worked since 1974 with most D&D groups. 4e's skill challenges always seemed to me to be a poor-designed solution to a problem few groups really had. Verdict: Great.

The general consensus of players was that Bill might be able to talk us in to trying it again sometime, but only if he can eliminate much of the combat bookkeeping along with the minis and battlemats. Next week, back to the City-State.

Goblinoid Games Acquires Starships & Spacemen

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Goblinoid Games has acquired Starships and Spacemen, a science fiction game by Leonard H. Kanterman originally published by FGU in 1978. This was one of the earliest Science Fiction RPGs published and while there were many SF influences, it can best be described as Star Trek with the trademarks filed off. A PDF of the original is available from RPGNow as I write this for $4.95 and will be available in the near future in print (on demand).

Of its furture plans for Starships and Spacemen, Goblinoid Games says, "In the near future, we will release a new revised second edition of Starships and Spacemen, expanding character information and planet-side adventuring. The system will be adjusted slightly to make it fully compatible with Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord. If you are a big fan of the original rules, have no fear. Those rules will remain in print, and future modules and supplements will have stats for both systems (though they are very similar to begin with)."

I own a copy of the FGU version and its a good game, but definitely "old school" in that it depends on the GM to make rulings and design adventures and campaigns. I'm interested in seeing the Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord compatible version. I hope it will be OGL and mainly open game content like other Goblinoid Games rules.

The Microlite20 RPG Collection (Free Download)

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A large number of Microlite20-based games and Microlite20 variants have been published over the last 3 or 4 years. I was testing PDF combining programs for a client today and decided to test them by making a combined PDF holding all the free Microlite20 basic, variant, and complete game PDFs I had on my drive: over 40 plus some characters sheets and the like. There free Microlite20-based fantasy games, science fiction games, modern games, superhero games, and after the holocaust (or the zombies) games. The final PDF file was about 400 pages (and 17.5 megs because some of the PDFs had illos). I figured that after I'd created this, I might as well make it available. If you'd like to have a single PDF file with the rules for Microlite20 and many of its variants, you can download it from Mediafire via this link: [link removed as I've uploaded a revised version -- See this post: The Microlite20 RPG Collection - Revised (Free Download).]

By the way, the winning PDF Combine software (of those I tested) is also free and open source: PDF Split and Merge (PDFSAM). PDFSAM was the only software I tried that did not abort on one or more of the 50 or so files I was combining.

Microlite75 Playtest Version 0.2 Available

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The second playtest draft of Microlite75 is finally available. Monsters have been switched to d8 hit dice and supplement type damages. Combat has been expanded. There are some new spells. A simple alignment system is present. Spell HP costs have been changed. Weapons classes to different damage. Many minor changes and things I have forgot to mention. Comments and proofreading welcome. I will try to get version 0.3 out more quickly.

Download your free copy of Microlite75 Playtest Version 0.2 from Mediafire: http://www.mediafire.com/?3o2nxj2y2yz. It's a 350K PDF with about 21 pages of rules, spells, and monsters (plus a cover sheet).

4e "Old School Style" One Shot

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The players in my OD&D game finally got to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord yesterday -- with their newly subdued young dragon. Now all they have to do is find a buyer for the dragon and they'll be rich. Or so they hope.

Next week, however, we will be taking a break for my campaign for a one shot "4e Old School" adventure one of the group wants to run. He really wants to like 4e but playing in my OD&D campaign has reminded him of all the things 4e no longer supports well -- that older versions of D&D do. So he has tried to change it up to make it possible to run something loosely 4e rules-based in an old school way. We're very skeptical but are willing to be guinea pigs, especially as it gives me a chance to play instead of DM.

His version of 4e sounds like it will eliminate many of the problems I have with the game, but in doing so it sounds like it will only be 4e in the way characters work. We've been promised:

* No minis or battlemats will be needed. He swears that while combat will probably not be as fast as OD&D/1e, it will be 50% to 70% faster than 4e.

* The game will NOT revolve around encounters. There will be encounters, but they will not be a unit of game play to the extent they are in 4e. Encounter-based powers recover when the GM says they do.

* No skill challenges. Out of combat stuff will be handled like it was in previous editions. Skill rolls will use a slight variant of the system I described in this post: Old School Gaming and Skills.

* Sandbox style monster and treasure placement -- ignoring the encounter levels and treasure packets advice in 4e.

* Magic items will be flavorful things like in TSR editions, not just math modifiers to make the encounter level system work.

* Game Reality trumps powers. You can't trip a Gelatinous Cube no matter what the power says.

* Reduced hit points for PCs and monsters, both to speed up combat and to be less superheroic.

* Character races and classes are limited to the standard classes/races from 1e. All characters will have a general skill named after their character class which gives them all the standard out of combat powers of the class from 1e. Rangers can track. Thieves can steal, etc.

* A few more changes that I've forgotten.

I have no idea if I will enjoy this at all, but I don't mind doing a one shot playtest. I just need to download the free version of the character generator from WOTC and create a first level character.

OD&D Wilderness Campaign: City-State Ahead! (Finally)

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My current OD&D campaign set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy has been running almost every week since the end of September (See New Campaign: OD&D Set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy). The group started in Thunderhold and was traveling to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. I expected two to three sessions of travel, but the party has been side-tracked by small dungeons, bandits, THE Goblin Horde, a dragon, treasure maps, people to rescue, etc. They should finally reach the City-State today, some 16 or 17 sessions after I expected. Sandbox campaigns are truly unpredictable.

I say that they should reach the City-State today, but there is on major event that needs to happen first. They reluctantly entered into the service a of young (and very dumb) dragon as his "official treasure finders and sacrifice cooks." (See OD&D Wilderness Campaign: Hired by a Dragon at a "Generous" 15% of Treasure Found for more info.) They've been plotting to subdue their "boss" since February so they can sell him in the City-State and become really rich. Today they try. It's either going to be a success or there will be a lot of dead or maimed PCs. Given the dragon's low intelligence and youth, they actually stand a fairly good chance of success as they've worked out a good plan. I can't wait to see what happens.

Microlite75: No Ransom but Cancer Donor Sponsors Accepted

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Several people suggested have suggested over the last year that I publish my next game on a "ransom" model where I select a large cancer bill and hold up publication of the game until enough donations have been received to cover it. While this might be an excellent way to pay off a bill, it's just not something I can do. In the first place, it sounds too much like blackmail to me. I know it isn't really blackmail, but it is still not something I feel like I can do. In the second place, what would I do if I never received enough donations to cover the bill, never publish the game? Right, anyone who knows me at all knows that I would never be able to do that. I want the game out so people can enjoy it. I'd publish it eventually no matter if the ransom was met or not.

So I've decided that while I can't ransom Microlite75, I can accept sponsors for it. Sponsors will not only get all the downloadable pdfs that all donors to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund receive but will be listed as a sponsor in all version 1.x editions of the game -- including upcoming playtest versions.

  • If you donate $25 or more you will also be listed as a Bronze Sponsor of Microlite75 in the final edition of the Microlite75 rulebook.
  • If you donate $50 or more you will also be listed as a Silver Sponsor of Microlite75 in the final edition of the Microlite75 rulebook.
  • If you donate $100 or more you will also be listed as a Gold Sponsor of Microlite75 in the final edition of the Microlite75 rulebook
Some of the currently available downloads include:
  • pdf copies of the two issues of The Grimoire I published in the late 1970s (which I blogged about here: The Grimoire #1 and The Grimoire #2
  • pdf copy of The Second Grimoire of Pharesm the Bright-Eyed, a set of house rules for a BECMI campaign I ran at a game shop in the mid-1980s.
  • Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition -- 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 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 reformatted into a single column in a large enough font to easily read.
When finished, a special edition of Microlite75 will be available for download as well. To get access to these downloads, send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund via Paypal at this link:

And during April and May (or until the final version of  Microlite75 is published), donations of $25 or more will be considered Microlite75 sponsors as described above. M75 already has two sponsors, hopefully more people will feel that it is something they can and want to do.

If you'd like to help in other ways, stay tuned this this blog as there will be other (money-free) ways to help sponsor Microlite75 related projects.

Special Note for those who have no idea what the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund is all about: my wife is recovering successfully from oral cancer. 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. Worse, we do not qualify for government aid as we live in Texas and have no children. The cancer treatments have cost over $110,000 so far. While some of this has been absorbed by hospital foundations and the like (and donors to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund have chipped away at more of it), we still owe a lot of it. We accept donations to help us pay these bills.

Spell Changes in Microlite75

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The next playtest version of Microlite75 will include some new lower level spells taken from other editions of the world's most popular fantasy RPG. Most old school type games spend a long time at lower levels, so I think it would be helpful to have a slightly larger selection of lower level spells. I'm trying to select spells that can be useful but with not cause "that's too powerful" debates. Goodness knows but there are enough debates about Magic Missile, Sleep, Invisibility, etc. now.

Speaking of Magic Missile, I'm thinking of removing the spell. Given that all magic-users have the Arcane Blast ability, Magic Missile seems somewhat over-powerful as a first level spell.

Alignment in Microlite75?

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How should I handle alignment in Microlite75? I handled it in Microlite74 by simply ignoring it. While that does work and is how a minority of campaigns handled alignment back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it probably does not represent the old school feel all that well. There are many possible ways to put alignment into M75, here are a few:

1) A Good - Neutral - Evil axis. This is probably the easiest set of alignments to understand although it does lend itself to arguments over what actions are good and what actions are truly evil and whether good is an absolute or only in the eye of the beholder. It probably lends itself best to campaigns with a "high fantasy" good vs evil feel.

2) A Law - Neutral - Chaos axis. This can either be interpreted with law as "civilization" and chaos as "barbarism" which has a sort of swords and sorcery feel or as a conflict between the gods of law who support the world and the gods of chaos who want to destroy it with mortals as their pawns.

3) Use both the Good - Neutral - Evil axis and the Law - Neutral - Chaos axis as most versions of D&D and games based on it did. While this is standard and what many people thing of when they think of alignment, it is fairly complex and can be hard to implement well in play.

4) Replace alignment with a series of different goals and have players select 2 to 4 goals they strongly support. Deities and organizations within the campaign also support some of these goals (and might strongly oppose others). I used something like this to replace alignment in some of BECMI games in the 1980s. It works well for PCs, NPCs, and religions and organizations in the campaign world, but does not make much sense for monsters. As many GMs use monster alignment as a fast guide to how the monster will react, this may not be the best option for "alignment" in a generic set of rules.

Or I could just ignore alignment completely as I did in Microlite74. How would you like to see alignment handled in Microlite75 and why? Options other than those listed in this post are welcome too.

Randall's Essential Classic Traveller Supplements

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As I said in another post, discovering the Traveller Starter Set is available for free yesterday convinced me to look around and see what other interesting Traveller goodies might be available. GDW is offering almost everything they published for Classic Traveller in PDF at very low prices. All 13 Supplements are available. Here is a list of the ones I consider almost essential to running a sandbox-style SF campaign with Traveller:

Supplement 1 - 1001 Characters Currently $2.00
"Contains 1001 pre-generated Traveller characters ready for use as non-player characters, quick characters for a spur-of-the-moment game, or to supplement the work of the referee. Plus a bonus of nine characters drawn from science-fiction. 44 pages." This sounds like a boring book and it is boring to read. However, it is great when you need an NPC on the fly. All the characters have stats, skills, and are ready to use. I used my print copy in just about every Traveller game I've ever run.

Supplement 2 - Animal Encounters Currently $2.00
"This supplement provides a general set of animal encounter tables for use in most common situations. 48 pages." Like Supplement 2, Animal Encounters is just as boring to read as it sounds. Given how much of a pain it can be to create an animal for an encounter on the fly in Traveller, it's one of the most useful supplements GDW published for Traveller, especially if you run a sandbox style campaign instead of running pre-written adventures. Like 1001 Characters, I've used this supplement in just about every Traveller session I've ran over the years.

Supplement 4 - Citizens of the Imperium Currently $2.00
"Character generation for twelve new character types. Wet Navy, Orbital Forces, Barbarians, Belters, and more. Plus 40 pre-generated examples of each. 48 pages." This supplement fleshes out the "Other" character type for player characters and the 40 pregens for each type are every bit as useful as the ones in 1001 Characters. Complete character generation tables are included for Pirate, Belter, Surface Navy, Diplomat, Docter, Flyer, Barbarian, Bureaucrat, Rogue, Noble, Scientist, and Hunter character types.

Supplement 6 - 76 Patrons Currently $2.00
"Sixty separate patron encounter situations for everyone from a single adventurer to a dozen or more, each one with three or more possible resolutions. Plus 16 mercenary job offers. 48 pages." This supplement is great for creating patron encounters and the adventures taking a patron up on his offer might generate. Just flipping though the book generates ideas for adventures. While this book is somewhat less essential than others on this list, it's still a book I would not want to try to run a Traveller sandbox campaign without.

Supplement 7 - Traders and Gunboats Currently $2.00
"Detailed deck plans for common starships within and without the Imperium. Plus, High Guard statistics for each starship. 48 pages." This supplement includes plans and details for Scouts, Subsidized Merchants, Free Traders, Close Escorts, System Defense Boats, Xpress Boats, and small craft. You probably could live without it, but it makes it far easier for you and your players to use common ships in your adventures.

Most of the other supplements are less useful as they are either something most campaigns will not need (Supplement 9 - Fighting Ships, for example, is full of High Guard stats for huge naval vessels) or only useful in campaigns set in GDW's Third Imperium. One of these other supplements probably is worth the money, however. Supplement 3 - The Spinward Marches details the Spinward Marches sector which is the home for most of the adventures GDW published for Classic Traveller.

Classic Traveller Paranoia Press PDFs Available

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Discovering the Traveller Starter Set is available for free yesterday convinced me to look around and see what other interesting Traveller goodies might be available. I was surprised to see that the old -- and hard to find in print -- Paranoia Press supplements are available in PDF form. Quite inexpensively, too. Paranoia Press produced a number of supplements for Classic Traveller between 1980 and 1982. They were very good, but had fairly limited distribution. Even back in the early 1980s, a lot of Traveller players never saw a copy. I have seen copies sell for $30 to $50 each on eBay. Now you can get all five supplements in PDF form on RPGNow.

PP1 Scouts and Assassins Currently $3.00
Includes an expanded Scout Service character generation system; the new character class of Assassin; and full size scout ship deck plans. 16 page booklet plus insert.

PP2 Merchants and Merchandise Currently $3.00
Features an expanded Merchant generation system and over 15 new items of merchandise. 24 page booklet.

PP3 SORAG Currently $3.00
A detailed description of the secret intelligence branch of the Zhodani in the Vanguard Reaches including character generation, sample charactersand special equipment. 26 page booklet.

PP4 Vanguard Reaches Currently $3.00
Statistical and library data on sixteen new Traveller subsectors. 28 page booklet plus insert: (separate 17x22 sector map as PDF and JPG).

PP5 The Beyond Currently $3.00
Statistical and library data on sixteen more new Traveller subsectors. 32 page booklet plus insert: (separate 17x22 sector map as PDF and GIF).

Or you can buy all five Paranoia Press supplements in PDF form in a RPGNow Paranoia Press Bundle for $10.00 and save $5.00.

I've used all of these in Traveller campaigns over the years. All are interesting, although SORAG is really only useful if your campaign is set near the Zhodani frontier in the Third Imperium. The other four supplements are more generically useful.

Traveller Starter Set Examined

As I noted last night, the Classic Traveller Starter Set is available for free in PDF form from RPGNow.. As I had owned the original Traveller boxed set, the Traveller Book, etc. for years by the time the Traveller Starter Set arrived on the scene, I never really looked at this set back in the day so I did not really know what to expect when I downloaded it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how complete the Traveller Starter Set is. It contains everything you need to play published adventures or even create your own, including rules for starship, subsector, and world creation. Character generation is limited to the six basic Traveller character types (Navy, Marine, Army, Scout, Merchant, and Other), but this is enough to create matching most common character concepts. While I haven't had time to compare versions in detail, it looks like the 64 page Core Rules booklet contains almost all the material from the three classic booklets, although in the revised form of the latter printings which rewrote some material to insert the "Third Imperium" campaign setting. If you want to play Classic Traveller, the free Starter Set contains all the rules you really need.

The second booklet is 24 pages of tables needed to play the game. It is very nice having them collected in one place instead of scattered through three booklets of rules. I'll print these out before I play Traveller again.

The Third booklet, Adventures, contains two classic Traveller adventures, "Mission on Mithril" and "Shadows" reformatted to fit the larger page size. "Mission on Mithril" deals with a scout ship crew trying to get their ship repaired on a frontier planet. "Shadows" involves exploring a strange, possibly alien structure on a sparsely populated planet. These are the best Classic Traveller adventures GDW ever produced, but they will get a group started or show a referee some of the possible ways to do Traveller adventures.

It's really great to see Classic Traveller available again, especially for free. If you are looking for some old school science fiction gaming, you want to visit RPGNow and download your free copy. Remember, the linked download is only the Core Rules booklet, you'll need to check your email or view the order from the "My Accounts" section of RPGNow to get the links to download the Charts booklet and the Adventure booklet. My hat is off to GDW for making the a complete copy of the classic Traveller rules available for free.

Classic Traveller Starter Set Free on RPGNow

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The Classic Traveller Starter Set is available for free in PDF form from RPGNow. Go Here.

Note that you will need to view the order in "My Account" to download the Charts booklet and Adventure Booklet.

Microlite75 Gets Its Own Page on RetroRoleplaying.com

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Microlite75 now has it's own page on the main RetroRoleplaying.com web site. This will provide a central location when people can find out more about Microlite75 and download the most current playtest draft. You can find the Microlite75 page here:


New M75 playtest drafts will still be announced here, of course, but the new page is available for those who like a page with a fixed URL that they can check.

Microlite75 Playtest Version 0.1 Available

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As promised, I now have the first playtest draft (version 0.1) of Microlite75 ready for download. Unlike the awful mishmash Gyphons and Grognards draft I uploaded early in the week, this draft should make sense and be fairly easy to follow. Only the monsters section has not had any updates (yet) in the conversion from Microlite74 2.0. There are new classes (including some optional classes like Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Warlord) and all Magic-User, Cleric, Illusionist, and Druid spells have been added. Numerous other changes have been already been made and more will be made in future drafts. There are numerous optional rules as well. Comments on this draft are welcome and desired.

Download your free copy of Microlite75 Playtest Version 0.1 from Mediafire: http://www.mediafire.com/?moyjwjyywyz. It's a 250K PDF with about 19 pages of rules, spells, and monsters.

OUBLIETTE 1 & OD&DITIES 14: New Old School Magazine Issues

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Two magazines aimed at old school roleplaying have released issues recently. One is a brand new magazine, the other is the second new issue of a revived magazine.

OUBLIETTE Issue 1 from Gold Piece Publications dells for $2.00 in PDF format.

OUBLIETTE - A monthly magazine for old school fantasy roleplayers.

32 jam-packed pages including: a 10 page adventure, new rules, original fiction, reviews, artwork and more ...

Plus 2 free sheets of stand-up, full-colour figures to supplement the adventure.

Written for Labyrinth Lord but also ideal for use with any Basic/Expert/Advanced original or clone with little or no adjustment required.
This issue includes articles like Developing House Rules for Labyrinth Lord and Halfling Proof Fense, an adventure for Labyrinth Lord.

The second new issue of Od&dities (number 14) is also available for $2 in PDF format.
The second issue of the OD&DITIES relaunch, number 14! Containing 25 pages of old-school material, including an in-depth look at the old stalwart of many a campaign, the Thief. Learn why you can't turn your back on him! Also a new class, the nefarious Puppeteer, and much more!
Good stuff at rational PDF prices.