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R.I.P. Jean Wells

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I've just found out that Jean Wells, TSR artist and the original voice of the "Sage Advice" column in The Dragon, passed away on January 25th. You can find more information here. While I never met Jean, I spoke to her on the phone at least once and exchanged a number of letters with her in the early 1980s -- which all started when I sent her a copy of a short, tongue-in-cheek article in our gaming club newsletter where I took her side in the Female Dwarf Beard "Wars". From my long distance encounters with her, she was a wonderful person. My condolences to her family and her many friends.

The Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive is on (through the end of February 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a one of five items described in the above-linked post: Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh (1980), FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers, Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set, and a set of all of the issues of The Strategic Review and the first ten issues of Dragon Magazine. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. This is 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 Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

As of the time of this post $410 dollars have been donated. That's 13% of our goal and over 54% of the way to the first drawing trigger point of $750 dollars.

Did World of Warcraft Corrupt Tabletop Game Design?

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You've probably heard people who do not like D&D 4e say that it feels like playing World of Warcraft more than a tabletop RPG. How true you feel this is probably depends on how much you like or dislike 4e. There is another way to look at this, however. Even if 4e doesn't feel like playing WoW, perhaps the design needs of WoW slipped over into some recent tabletop RPG designs like 4e. In a post on theRPGSite, J Arcane made an interesting argument that it has. Warning: The quote uses the "F" word and other mild profanity.

I'm telling you guys, this shit is all about the World of Warcraft forums. Sure, the idea of "balance" existed before then, but it was always just a vague and nebulous way of saying "more or less fair," or at worse "roughly equal." Rifts was not a balanced game, most games on the other hand made at least some effort to keep things on an even keel.

But then you have WoW come along, and the mindset is very different. WoW is an MMO, of course, and one with a completely atrophied RP community from the start. It's player base is mostly culled from other Blizzard games, especially the Diablo games. Everything is about the numbers, and about getting the loot as efficiently as possible.

WoW also has PvP, and not the open-world sort of PvP of older games, but arena-focused, almost FPS-like PvP. And with it, a ruleset mostly built for co-op PvE play, suddenly has to be expected to perform double duty, and this forces "balance" to go from casual consideration to front and center, as every motherfucker who loses a game runs screaming to the forums if it looks like another class did more damage than him or somehow managed to kill him. It's never that you suck at the game, it's that the class is broken/overpowered/underpowered/etc.

....[more info on WoW culture]...

So now you've got new players being pulled in, many of whom are guys like Gabe at Penny Arcade, guys who've grown up on video games and whose idea of an RPG is informed more by Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft than it ever will be by D&D or Tolkien. And with them, they bring their WoW-influenced ideas of "balance" and "optimization" and "broken" and all the other memes and ideas that are fucking standard in that culture, but were only ever sidelines before, and before long they're driving the bus while all the original drivers are being laid off by Wizards of the Coast to be replaced by a new wave of guys who'll do what corporate says and suck up to the forumites that are telling them all about how "broken" and "unbalanced" 3.5 is.

And so we get 4e. A game so obviously designed to ape MMOs and MMO design culture that literally, when designing a project to actually convert WoW to tabletop, I inadvertently wind up repeating a lot of the same design ideas, especially vis a vis power design. Making Drums of War was the biggest eye opener for me about 4e design I ever encountered, because in trying to emulate the same source I found myself basically doing a lot of similar things because I'm working straight from the sources, the raw mechanics of the WoW video game.


Read J Arcane's full post here.

Is J Arcane right? I have no idea as I've never played a MMORPG long enough to have an opinion (like most CRPGs, MMORPGs just don't interest me for more than an hour or two), but it is an interesting argument.

The Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive is on (through the end of February 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a one of five items described in the above-linked post: Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh (1980), FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers, Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set, and a set of all of the issues of The Strategic Review and the first ten issues of Dragon Magazine. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. This is 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 Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

As of the time of this post $380 dollars have been donated. That's 12% of our goal and over 50% of the way to the first drawing trigger point of $750 dollars.

Leap Month RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drive and Giveaway

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[Update: Alex has agreed to extend the deadline for the Quest for Fazzlewood special drawing to the end of the drive on March 18, 2012. Also there are now gifts for the highest donors: a 1977 edition of "Classic" Traveller along with first printings of Books 5 through 8. (This is the edition without the Third Imperium setting baked into the basic rules and is in excellent condition) and a complete set of AD&D modules H1-H4 -- the Bloodstone Pass modules -- these are unused and are in excellent condition (even the thin box for H1 looks almost like new). The highest donor gets his/her choice and the second highest donor will receive the other items. I'd like to thank "Jimbo" for donating the Traveller items. The four Bloodstone Pass modules are from my stuff.]

Canadian Alexi Debois contacted me a couple of weeks again to see if I would be interested in designing a special Swords & Sorcery edition of Microlite74 and about donating some early D&D items for a Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund Drive. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you known that Alexi's ideas for a special Swords & Sorcery edition of Microlite74 are interesting -- interesting enough that a number of people seem enthused by the idea. I'm enthused enough that I've already started work on the project. And thanks to Alexi's willingness to send some special items get inherited from his cousin to winners, we are starting a new RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drive: the Leap Month RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drive.

As most readers 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 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, we still owe a lot of it. Over the past few years, people have donated old school items for RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund drive which have helped lower the bills even more.

Alexi's cousin passed away last year from lung cancer, caused by smoking just like my wife's tongue cancer. His cousin introduced him to D&D in the 1970s and often served as a convention DM. He inherited most of his cousin's early D&D stuff and has been giving it to friends as he no longer plays D&D (although he still plays Gamma World, Runequest, Call of Cthulthu, and Traveller). He's donating the Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh (1980), FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers, Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set, and a set of all of the issues of The Strategic Review and the first ten issues of Dragon Magazine.

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. And while I'm working on Microlite75 and donors giving $25 dollars or more during our Leap Month RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund drive will be listed as Sponsors of these Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery. Those donating $50 or more will also be eligible to place a (gaming-related) ad in the public version of the Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery.

At Alexi's request, we will be handling this donation drive a bit differently. First, it has a goal: to raise $3000 by the end of February 2012. $3000 will cover my wife's new bills from her annual CT scan and doctor visits from last November (and pay a bit on the original treatment bill). Second, donor goodies will be given out as the drive progresses. Those who donate early will therefore be eligible for multiple prizes. The drawing for the first item will be held when the first $750 is raised (but no sooner than one week into the drive) and will be for the Daystar Media edition of Pharaoh. The drawing for the next item, Empire of the Petal Throne will be held when the second $750 is raised (but no sooner than two weeks into the drive). The drawing for the issues of The Strategic Review and The Dragon will be held when the third $750 is raised (but no sooner than three weeks into the drive). The drawing for the copy of FEZ I: Valley of Trees will be held when the fourth $750 is raised (but no sooner than the end of February). If and only if $3000 or more is raised by the end of February 2012 this donation drive, a drawing for the Quest for the Fazzlewood module will be held. As usual, donors will have one chance to win for every $10 donated. Donors will be eligible for all drawings held after their donation is received. If the goal of $3000 has not been reached by March 15 18, the drive will end and no further drawings will be held. These items will be shipped from Canada.

Special Donor Goodies for the Leap Year RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drive

Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh: This is the original edition of what later became the TSR module I3 Pharaoh. Daystar Media was a small company owned by Tracy and Laura Hickman. While compatible with AD&D, no mention is made of this in the module and various terms were changed to avoid copyright issues. According to The Acaeum, less than 200 copies were printed. This copy is in excellent but not perfect condition. It's apparently somewhat different than the I3 version.

Empire of the Petal Throne: This is the boxed set from TSR. It's complete and in very good condition. The box has small dings and dents but the book, maps, etc. are basically unused.

Strategic Reviews/Dragon Magazines: All seven issues of The Strategic Review (Spring 1975 - April 1976) and the first ten issues of The Dragon magazine (June 1976 - October 1977). Condition varies, but issues are complete and have no major damage. Some have marks and minor tears. The Snit Smashing game in present in issue #10. This issues include most of the magazine material referenced in OD&D supplements: Rangers, Bards, Illusionists, etc.

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.

As mentioned above, everyone who donates at least $10 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).

Finally, draft copies of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery will be uploaded to the Donor file area with the usual password as I make changes. Anyone who has ever donated will be able to download them. Beta copies will still be available to everyone but beta copies will not be updated as often as draft copies. The first draft copy is available now with some of my initial changes -- including a much reduced spell list. Note that draft copies are even more of a "work in progress" than beta copies.

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 items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. 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.

Beyond the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming

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What is “Old School” Play?
If you are interested in old school gaming, you may have read the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matt Finch. It's "a quick introduction to playing Original D&D or Swords & Wizardry (the 0e retro-clone). This booklet is designed for the modern-style gamer who's planning on taking the old-style rules for a trial run -- because open-ended rules like 0e are USED very differently than rules are used in modern systems." While I think Matt's guide is a good description of how old school play started when OD&D came out, I believe it gives a limited vision of old school play in general. Old School play branched out in a number of directions in the 1975-1979 era. Matt's excellent primer really only covers the starting point. In this primer I want to describe the diversity of play in the 1970s.

If you haven't read Matt's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, you really should. You can download a free pdf copy here: http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374 -- while I think it is a bit limited in what it presents as old school play, it’s a fun and interesting that does a pretty good job of describing how D&D was generally played circa 1973 and 1974. This article assumes that you’ve read Matt’s Quick Primer.

What makes “Old School” Play Different?
Old school play is different from the way D&D is generally played now because some of the basic assumptions of how the game was played were very different then than they are now. Here are some major points where old school play is usually different. Of course, not all of these points apply to every old school game, but in general a large majority of them will apply to most old school games.

Heroic, not Superheroic: Old school play, especially at low to mid levels, is about fairly normal people put in situations where they can be heroes, not about extraordinary people doing things that would sometimes make a four-color comic book superhero proud – and at first level yet. Just like in the real world, the more a character improves his abilities, the harder it is to improve them further, while new characters may advance rapidly, the higher their level the more effort and time (and XP) it takes to advance to the next level.

Achievement, not Advancement. Many modern games are often all about what special feats, extra classes and special game mechanics the players wish to obtain for their characters as they increase in level. In old school games, a character’s abilities are generally predetermined by his character class, so old school games tend to focus on the things that the characters wish to accomplish in the game world rather than on what game mechanics they want to acquire. Level advancement is often much slower than in modern fantasy RPGs which makes in campaign achievements even more important as a measure of character success.

No Skills: Unlike in most modern RPGs, there aren’t any skills in many old school games. Instead players are intended to have their characters act like adventurers. So you don’t have to search your character sheet or the rules for the perfect solution in an old school game. Instead, you just tell the GM what your character is trying to do. Note that you are generally assumed to be competent with all common activities associated with your class and background. If you need to keep a door open or shut, you might tell the GM your character is using a spike to keep the door open or closed. A ten foot pole is your friend for checking for traps. Searching a room means looking in and under objects, not rolling a skill check. While this may seem strange at first, you will probably learn to appreciate the freedom it gives you. No longer are you limited to the skills and feats on your character sheet, you can try anything your character should be capable of trying. You might not succeed, but the rules generally will not stop you from trying.

Limited Magic Items: Modern fantasy RPGs often assume that magic items are easy to buy and/or to create. In most old school campaigns, magic items are relatively rare and hard to create. Generally, only potions and scrolls may be relatively easy to create or purchase. Other magic items are seldom found for sale (and are very high priced when they are found for sale) and are usually very expensive in money and time to try to create – often requiring rare ingredients that the characters must quest to find. Therefore characters in old school games are generally limited to the magic items they find in treasures or take from defeated enemies on adventures.

No Assumption of “Game Balance”: Old style game sessions aren’t about carefully balanced characters (who are all able to shine equally at all times) who only run into situations carefully designed by the GM to be beatable by the characters presently in the party and to provide treasure that fits their current level. Instead, part of player skill is learning to evaluate situations so situations well over the party’s current abilities or which will waste the party’s resources for little gain can be avoided. In an old school campaign, you generally cannot assume that you can beat every monster that you encounter, running away from monsters too tough to handle can mean the difference between character survival and character death. You can also get creative in how you defeat monsters. Perhaps those goblins you bypassed could be talked into (or tricked into) attacking that giant you know you can’t beat, perhaps killing it for you or at least softening it up so your party has a chance of defeating it and living to tell the tale. Also remember that treasure can be turned into XP in many old school games, even if you can’t kill the monsters, perhaps you can still acquire some of their treasure. Part of the skill of playing “old school” style is coming up with creative solutions when a direct attack is likely to fail.

It’s Not All About Combat: Many modern fantasy RPGs have made combat the star of the system, combats in these systems are time-consuming and very crunchy with rules for everything. The combat rules in many, if not most, old school games are designed to a fast-playing and are often relatively abstract. Combat isn’t intended to be the main source of fun in the game. Old school games are generally as much about exploration and treasuring finding as it is about combat. Sure, you are going to have to fight things to explore and find treasure, but always remember that combat may not be the best or safest way to handle every situation. Think before you rush into combat. After all, it’s not the only way to earn a good pile of experience – and monsters don’t have to be killed to be defeated (and get XP for them).

Reality/Common Sense Trumps Rules: Old-school games usually use loose (and often simple) rules that cover average cases and the GM and players are supposed to apply common sense and their knowledge of how reality works to cover the unusual and edge cases. “Reality/Common Sense” as interpreted by the GM always trumps the written rules if they conflict. For example, a character has a magic weapon and the rules for that weapon say it always causes its target to fall prone if hit. The character hits a gelatinous cube moving down the (typical 10 foot wide and 10 foot high) corridor toward them with the weapon. The rules say that the target should fall and be in a prone position. Reality, however, says otherwise. Gelatinous cubes don’t have a top and bottom (so prone penalties make no sense) and a 10 foot cube can’t fall when it is moving through a 10 foot corridor. In some modern games, the rules would be applied anyway and the cube would suffer the effects of falling prone no matter how little sense that makes. In an old school game, the GM ignores the rule because it makes no sense in the specific situation.

Forget “Rules Mastery”: As some of the above points have hinted, player skill in “old school” style games generally isn’t about mastering the game rules so you can solve any problem by knowing the right combination of rules from 5 or 10 different rule books. Old school games generally encourage the GM to make rulings on the spot taking into account specific circumstances instead of trying to hunt up special cases in large core rulebooks or a stack of optional rule books. This is faster and helps players immerse themselves in their character and the game world instead of in rule books. GM rulings will often be based on specific circumstances and common sense, not just on the written rules and prior rulings. Just because it requires a certain roll to jump one 10 foot pit does not mean all 10 foot wide pits will require the same roll. After all, all sorts of variables can affect the roll (terrain, weather, lighting, pressure to jump quickly, etc.). Players need to remember that rules in an old school campaign are merely a tool for the GM. They are just guidelines for the GM, not something written in stone that the GM must obey. If something in old school rules does not work right in a specific campaign (or the GM just does not like a rule), the GM is well within his right to change it. Old School games are obviously not the games of choice for rules lawyers or for those who believe that the game designer always knows what is best.

No Script Immunity: In most old school games, player characters do not have any form of script immunity. Player characters can die, lose equipment, suffer strange magical effects and other often unpleasant consequences if they are not careful or are just very unlucky. On the other hand, there are generally no rules limiting their success. If they take on an adult red dragon as first level characters and miraculously manage to win, there are no rules about level appropriate wealth or level appropriate magic items to interfere with their becoming rich and probably flush with magic items from the dragon’s hoard.

Not Mentioned does not mean Prohibited: Many people seem to read RPG rules and come away with the idea that anything not specifically mentioned in the rules as allowed is prohibited. While this really doesn’t make much sense given that no set of rules could ever cover everything that characters might attempt to do in an adventure, it seems to be a very common way to view RPG rules. In an old school game, this “not mentioned means prohibited” assumption is generally not true: the millions of possible activities not mentioned in the rules are not prohibited, they are up to the GM to allow or disallow based on his knowledge of how reality works and how his specific campaign world differs from reality. Unless the rules specifically prohibit some action, players in an old school game should ask their GM instead of simply assuming it is prohibited because the rules do not mention it. Even if the rules do clearly prohibit an action, the GM might allow it anyway in certain rare circumstances where it makes sense in the campaign world.

Styles of “Old School” Play
If you read some “old school” blogs, forums, and web sites, you might get the impression that there is only one “old school’” style of play: a style with expendable player characters who spend all their time in dungeons designed in the style of the old “Tomb of Horrors” module where an adventuring party is only one slipup away from death. This style of play is often shown in early modules.

What most people forget is that these early modules were designed for tournament play where the party that lasted longest and make it deepest into the dungeon was the winner. While a few gaming groups did run their regular campaigns like this and enjoy it, most people did not enjoy such games and the GMs who ran them were often referred to as “Killer GMs” (who often found themselves without players). Instead most home campaigns were a mixture of the following four styles – some campaigns stressing one or two styles over the others.

  • Power-Gaming: Many players start out playing in this style. Most soon get bored with it and add more and more of other styles. A power-gaming campaign is all about character power. Characters are known by their class, level, special items, and amazing powers and deeds. (“I killed the Demon King with my 15th Level Fighter/Magic-User/Druid. It only took two hits from Thor’s Hammer to knock him out. Then I cut off his head with my vorpal blade.”) There is often a lot of player competition for the most powerful character in campaigns that stress power-gaming. A lot of people look down on this style, but it can be a lot of fun to play a pure power-game in a group of players who all like the style.

  • Wargaming: This is probably the style old school rules were originally written for. The wargaming style of play is a competition between the player group and the GM. The GM sets up tactical battles, puzzles, and the like and the players solve them for treasure and experience. Fudging die rolls and ignoring rules (either for or against the players) is frowned upon as it detracts from the challenge and fun of the adventure.

    Characters in pure wargaming campaigns often were expendable and had little personality or goals (beyond staying live and getting rich) as a character with such might be tempted to do things dysfunctional to survival. Published tournament dungeons like Tomb of Horrors could be considered examples of extreme forms of this style. Once the RPG hobby became known outside of the minis and board wargaming community, pure forms of the wargaming style quickly became uncommon. This is the style of play closest to what Matt Finch describes in his Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

  • Role-Playing: A pure role-playing campaign is almost the opposite of a pure wargaming campaign. Player skill, tactics, and rules aren’t really important. What is important is the player’s character and that character’s life in the game. In a pure role-playing campaign, players create the personality of their characters in great detail and players generally have a large emotional investments made in them and do not consider their characters expendable. Players tend to have their characters act within their personalities and within the beliefs they're supposed to hold – even when doing so is not the best thing to do at the time within the game. The object is to live your character’s life in the campaign world. You “win” be having your character achieve his goals, goals which may or may not have anything to do with the game’s goals of exploring and accumulating treasure and experience points. The modern computer game The Sims is an example of this style of play.

  • Story-Telling: While all campaigns tell a story after-the-fact (that is, you can tell a story based on the characters actions in the game), in a story-telling campaign, the GM has worked out a story in advance and the player characters are the protagonists. The campaign world usually has a detailed background and back story behind it. Knowing this background may be more important than knowing the rules. Some pure story telling campaigns are little more that single-line railroads where the characters play their almost pre-scripted parts in the story. In other cases, things are more free-form with story flow and events created by interactions between the GM's basic outline of story events and the actions of individual characters during the campaign. Some people consider the more pure forms of story-telling campaigns boring straight-jackets while others love the idea of being a major part of a real story.

These four major styles of play appeared early in the history of role-playing games. They were first mentioned in a general circulation publication in Glenn Blacow's article “Aspects of Adventure Gaming” in Different Worlds #10 (the October 1980 issue).

The important thing to take from this section isn’t the four styles or their labels (as there are other systems for describing this with their own labels), but the idea that there were many different styles of “old school” play back in the “old school” days – not just the single style stressed in some “old school” blogs, forums, and web sites. Don’t let those sites make you believe that you aren’t playing old school right if your campaign isn’t strongly in the wargaming camp. Most successful campaigns back in “old school” days were a mixture of all four major styles – and a heaping helping of minor styles.

[Note: This is an expanded and modified version of a post I made in July 2010: Another Old School Primer: A Different Introduction to Old School Play.This is also the 400th post on this blog.]

Microlite74: Swords & Sorcery Edition Design Begins

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The reaction to my recent post on a Microlite74 Edition designed for "Swords & Sorcery" genre play has been very positive. I'm happy to announce that I have started to work on it. So far, work consists on taking a copy of Microlite74 Extended Edition and starting to trim material from the document that will not be needed in a Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Edition and beginning to give some careful thought to what is needed to give the game a more swords & sorcery feel.

Your input will be welcome. As with previous Microlite74 projects, I will be talking about the project on this blog (and eventually in the forum) and draft copies of the rules will be available to download and comment on. Unlike some of the "big company" playtests and open design projects, I really am interested in comments and they influence my work.

G2 Squared: Homemade D&D Module From 1981

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A homemade D&D module from 1981 called G2 Squared: Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord is available for free download at PlaGMaDA. It's typewritten, illustrated, has hand-drawn maps on graph paper, and full of typos (like the one in the module title). It's also full of gonzo fun stuff like a kitchen full of female giants who defend themselves by throwing (giant) kitchen utensils and an introduction that includes this line: "If the adventurers return without sufficient evidence of kills they may be hanged or otherwise executed..." There's also the advice to "Trust no one!" (Years before the publication of Paranoia, but keeping your laser handy would be helpful too -- if you only had one). BTW, the designer was 14 at the time.

Go download this amateur gem now either by viewing the scanned pages at PlaGMaDA or by downloading a PDF version here.

Edit: As noted in a comment below, this PDF was created by mwschmeer at his Rended Press blog. A CBZ version is also available there.

Download and Play D&D4e for Free -- Legally!

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According this a post on the RPGSite from Windjammer, there is an amazing amount of free 4e material on the WOTC web site -- and not behind their paywall. Enough material to play 4e for quite a while -- and without most of the limitations of their basic set. While I'm not a fan of 4e and have little interest in playing it again, I thought the info in Windjammer's post should get wider attention.

With 4E on its way out, I thought it may be helpful to alert people to the sheer amount of free material WotC released for this game over the past year. Basically, they put out all the base classes and quite some canonical monsters on PDFs and released these for free. Throw in the Quick Starter rules PDF and you got a complete game at your hands, and one 'fully up to date' too.

Read the entire post with the links to all the free 4e material you need to play.

Microlite74: How about a Swords and Sorcery Edition?

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I've been asked if I could make a "Swords ansd Sorcery Edition" of Microlite74 by someone who would be willing to donate a few very nice AD&D items for a Cancer Fund drive. He's asked that a Microlite74: Swords and Sorcery Edition have characteristics like these:

* Based on Microlite74 Extended
* Like "E6", be limited to 6th level with advancement thereafter be limited to things like talents and action points.
* Player characters should be human and limited to two classes: Adventurer (think Fighter) and Sorceror (magic-user with access to both arcane and divine magic). Backgrounds could be used to create specialists.
* Magic should be divided into white, grey, and black with different costs for each.
* Only spell levels 1 and 2 (with some level 3 spells as specials after achieving level 6) should be directly castable. Higher level spells should require lengthy rituals.
* Fighters should have some mild mechanical customization something like the Fighter Special Abilities optional rules in Companion 1.
* Sorcerors should not have Magic Dart but can have minor magic. Can use weapons and armor, but casting in armor should be limited.
* No alignment, but virtues and vices might be okay.
* Single saving throw (like in Swords and Wizardry).
* Drop the grand tour of old school games
* Include some treasure

It really would not be very hard to create a Microlite74: Swords and Sorcery Edition that fulfills most (or even all) of those requests. Would anyone else be interested in such an edition? If you are interested, do you have any issues with the above characteristics or have additional requests?

Weapon Mastery for Microlite74?

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We started to try the "Weapon Feats" from Dark Dungeons (don't let the word "feat" throw you, they are similar to the "Weapon Mastery" rules from The Rules Cycopledia and have little in common with the "feats" of 3.x or 4e) in my Microlite74 Extended based Wilderlands campaign last Sunday. These rules can be dropped into M74 easily and serve to make weapon choice somewhat more important and bumping up the abilities of fighting classes at bit. Well, it seems to just be "a bit" at lower levels. I'm not sure how it would do at high levels. Even at high levels, fighting classes are generally able to old their own with spell-casting classes in Microlite74, just as they can in most older versions of D&D.

Player opinion of adding Dark Dungeons-style "Weapon Feats" to the game was mixed. Of course, after only one session with the rules, this is to be expected. It will take a few more before there is a real consensus on whether they add enough to the game to be worth the added complexity. To be honest, they aren't as much "complex" as they are "space-consuming." The initial draft of the M74 Weapon Feat rules is long enough to be a full Companion volume.

If published for Microlite74, "weapon feats" would be completely optional. My question is not so much if they will work, but whether there is any real interest in something like this among M74 fans. Many players today seem to see fighting classes in general (and the fighter in particular) as "second class citizens" with less "good things" than spell-casting classes. The weapon feat/mastery rules give fighting classes a something that allows them to do more damage and even, depending on the weapon, do special things that most others cannot, but I'm not sure they aren't a solution in search of a problem given that fighters aren't pansies in 0e or M74 without them.

What Microlite74 Version 3.0 Downloads Tell Us

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I expected Microlite74 Standard to be the most popular version of Microlite74 Version 3.0. After all, Microlite74 Standard covers almost all of 0e, including material from the supplements and early TSR magazine articles. Microlite74 Basic, on the other hand just cover the original three little 0e booklets. It lacks the higher level spells, additional character classes, and other material that is common to most editions the "World's Most Popular RPG". As Microlite74 Extended was similar to Microlite75 (as it includes late 1970s 0e house rules as a builtin part of the gamesystem), I did not expect it to be all that popular. After all, Microlite75 was not nearly as popular as previous versions of Microlite74.

Therefore, I was surprised to discover that Microlite74 Standard was the least downloaded version with 28% of the downloads at the main download site and Microlite74 Extended was the most downloaded with 39% of the downloads. Microlite74 Basic was in the middle of the pack with 33% of the downloads.

I've very surprised by these results. The are almost the opposite of what I expected. I'm not really sure what this all means, other than my predictions were basically wrong. If only downloaded one version of Microlite74 3.0, why did you select the one you did?

WOTC to Reprint AD&D 1e Core Books to Benefit Gygax Memorial Fund

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The big news today is that WOTC is going to do a limited printed of the original 1e player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide in April with part of the proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund to help made the Gygax monument a reality. The interiors with remain unchanged, but they'll have new covers. I think this is a wonderful idea. The only problem I have with it is distribution is going to be limited to basically hobby shops in North America. Given that hobby shops aren't that common any more and there are 1e fans all over the world, this restriction seems weird to me. I suggest fans outside North America and those in North America but live where the closest FLAGS is a multihour drive write WOTC polite letters complaining about this silly restriction. After all, if the goal is both to help raise money for the Gygax Memorial Fund and to make a nice profit while doing so, you'll think they want to make these available to everyone who wants one. Limiting it to the hobby distribution channel in North America just seems silly.

Bifrost: Anyone Own or Have Played this old UK Fantasy RPG?

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One of the topics discussed during breaks in my Sunday game was WOTC's 5e announcement. Most conversation revolved around what people liked about the various editions of D&D and D&D-like games that they would like to see in 5e. When we were talking about old D&D-like games, one of my players mentioned Bifrost. I was shocked as most people have never heard of it. Heck, most of what I know about it comes from a review of the first book in White Dwarf #7. I believe read a review of one of the later volumes as well, but I could not find that review in White Dwarf issues this morning -- perhaps I missed it or the review was in a UK D&D fanzine or I simply imagined the review.

Bifrost is the game I always wanted to find in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unfortunately, I never saw a copy of any of its four volumes. More surprisingly, I have never found anyone who had seen a copy of played in a Bifrost game. If any copies made it to the US, they must have been very few and very far between. If you check Noble Knight games and RPG.net you can find ictures of the covers and a line or two of description, but not much else.

As far as I can tell, the game never made much of an impression on anyone. Well, except for me, that review in White Dwarf #7 obviously made an impression on me. Part of the reason it went nowhere was probably the way it was published, four volumes (originally planned to only be three) published once a year and from what little I've been able to find out, the weird organization meant that you really needed all four books to play. For example, here's what was in the first volume according to the White Dwarf review: "....Setting Up the game, Game content and Sequence of Action, Choice of characters, individual abilities, Alignment, Gods, and the Hand of Fate, Social position, Prices and equipment, Map movement and symbols, Fatigue, Diseases and illness, Incident locations, Morale and reactions, Weather, Progression, and advancement." Things like combat, magic, monsters, treasure, etc. were left for later books. The reviewer (Don Turnbull) did say that there was quite a bit of material that could be incorporated into a D&D game either because it was material not really covered by D&D or did things somewhat better than D&D did, for example alignment and gods.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has read Bifrost -- or better yet played Bifrost. While I've given up on ever finding a copy (I could not afford it if I could), but I would still like to find out more about it. I'm sure that it was just another early example of what came to be called a "fantasy heartbreaker" but even after all these years I remember that review of the first volume of Bifrost in White Dwarf #7 and wonder what the game was really like. Any readers who played the Bifrost or know someone who did?

D&D 5th Edition Announced

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To the surprise of almost no one, WOTC announced that the 5th edition of D&D is in development and will have some type of open playtest here: Charting the Course for D&D: Your Voice, Your Game. I got off the edition merry-go-round years ago and it will take a lot to get me to even consider getting back on. At a minimum, a new edition would have to have fast combat (averaging 10-15 minutes maximum), minis and battlemats would have to be entirely optional, it could not be built around the needs of organized play, charop players and/or rules lawyers, and it would have to be built on traditional D&D -- a good measure of this would be that it could reuse all the modules published by TSR without a lot of reworking. A requirement for system mastery on the part of players or a requirement for 3.x level DM prep time need to be absent as well Publication under the OGL would likely make me more interested. Somehow, I doubt these are the directions WOTC is going with 5e, however.

Even if I don't personally like 5e, I hope D&D 5e is closer to traditional D&D than 4e was. I also hope it is based more on the needs of actual players rather than what Hasbro thinks is the best way to maximize profits. Note that I'm not against maximizing profits, but the game system needs to be designed around what players need. I think 4e has shown that completely rewriting the IP and trying to require monthly subscriptions and the like hurts profits because it turns off too many players. As Gary Gygax and TSR pointed out in the early days of D&D, players really don't need anything beyond the rules to play forever. Trying to produce a tabletop RPG where that is not true is probably futile.

What do you think of the announcement of 5e. What would it take to get you interested it switching from whatever you are playing now to 5e?

Backporting Microlite74 to OD&D?

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I've been asked more than once if one could take the changes I made in Microlite74 Extended (such as Body Points and Hit points) and use them in Swords & Wizardry or OD&D? The answer is obvious -- at least to me. Yes, you can.

Most of the rules changes in Microlite74 Extended were taken from house rules I used with OD&D in the late 1970s, changed where necessary to make them compatible with Microlite20-based rules like those used in Microlite74. The change most people seem to be interested in using with other sets of rules are the rules for hit points and body points (and using hits points as spell points). This system is needed few changes to convert to Microlite74. In the original, Body Points were equal to the characters Constitution score or 10, whichever was higher. Hit points were calculated as in standard Greyhawk OD&D. Spell Casters had to memorize spells normally, but could cast them as many times as they could power them with each casting costing the spell's level + 2 in hit points. Otherwise, the rules as used in Microlite74 Extended are pretty much what I used in 0e. With a little fiddling, they probably could be used with any TSR era version of D&D.

The Grand Duchy of Karameikos

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Lowell Francis has a review of one of my favorite D&D supplements, The Grand Duchy of Karameikos on his Age of Ravens blog. This D&D Gazetteer set the tone of the entire series. I used it in several campaigns, even dropping in with only a few changes into Arn a time or two. You can read Lowell's comments on The Grand Duchy of Karameikos here. Written for BECMI/RC, it could easily be used with Microlite74 or any TSR era version of D&D (or retroclone). While it isn't cheap if you want a great copy, reading/playing copies are relatively easy to find in my experience, something that cannot always be said of later gazetteers.

New Microlite74 Facebook Page

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I've started off 2012 by creating a page for Microlite74 on Facebook. If you are interested in Microlite74, you can "Like" this page to get updates and info on Microlite74 in the future. I'll admit that the page is pretty basic now, but more will be added in the future.

Visit our new Microlite74 Facebook Page.