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New Project: Microlite74 Supplement Darkmoor

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I'd like to announce I've started a new Microlite74 project (in addition to Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery), a campaign setting supplement I'm tentatively calling Darkmoor. This will be a reworking of Robert Conley's entirely OGL open game content Blackmarsh setting. It's an interesting setting, but I have some different ideas for its history and wish to expand it a bit to make it something a new Microlite74 GM can pick up and run with. I'll talk more about this as I work on it. Naturally, Darkmoor will be free like everything else M74 related I publish.

Monte Cook leaves WOTC/5e Public Playtest to start May 24th

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Monte Cook has left WOTC. Posted on his Livejournal today (April 25th):

Last week I decided that I would leave my contract position with Wizards of the Coast. I am no longer working on Dungeons & Dragons, although I may provide occasional consultation in the future. My decision is one based on differences of opinion with the company. However, I want to take this time to stress that my differences were not with my fellow designers, Rob Schwalb and Bruce Cordell. I enjoyed every moment of working with them over the past year. I have faith that they'll create a fun game. I'm rooting for them.

Mike Mearls gives gives a sentence or two to this news here while announcing the public 5e playtest will start on May 24th.

I'll be honest, the news that Monte Cook has left WOTC and the 5e design team changes my opinion of 5e from "skeptical but interested" to "extremely skeptical." While I have a number of issues with Monte's Cook's D&D 3.x design work, he was pretty much out of the 4e design loop which I consider very important for my interest in 5e. Given I consider 4e the worst edition of D&D ever published for the way I like to play (and have played since 1975), having one of the lead 5e designers be someone so out of the 4e design loop that many "4vengers" loathed him was a good thing in my book.

M74 S&S PCs versus a Dragon, Dinosaurs, and Cancer Fund Drive News

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Microlite75 Swords & Sorcery Playtest: My Sunday game was very small, only 4 of my 9 players could make it. What to do? Turn the session into a special playtest. All four players created 4th level characters (3 Adventurers and 1 Sorcerer), I handed out a few magic items to represent prior adventuring, and sicced the PCs on an adult dragon that had been terrorizing a frontier area. Naturally, the PCs had a pack of hirelings and a unit of town militia to aid them. The object was to find out just how much a mid-level S&S party could successfully take on.

A frontal assault would have been suicide, of course, and these players knew that. But with the limited resources available to M74 S&S characters, they had to be very inventive. They spend a lot of time scouting. Too much time as the dragon attacked another village while they scouting and planning and the local authorities began to pressure them to DO something. They decided to set up an ambush at the entrance to the dragon's cave and attack it as it exited. A good plan, but they were not awake that the dragon had a second way out nor that the dragon has just decided to take a long nap.

Two days go by and no dragon. Needless to say, the hirelings and militia are relieved but are also starting to be less effective due to the long wait. One of the PCs, the Sorcerer of all people, decides to sneak down and spy on the dragon. He sees the dragon is asleep and decides to retreat and get the rest of the group. They abandon their ambush plan and head down to attack the dragon. Some of the hirelings and militia types fail morale checks and run away when they first see the sleeping dragon. One of the player's must have failed his (the player's) IQ roll as he tries to sneak up on the dragon and attack his partially exposed underbelly -- which will require crawling under the dragon via a hollow in the rock behind him. When he strikes his blow, everyone else will attack.

Amazingly, he manages to crawl under the dragon and attacks. I rule the attack an autosuccess as all the PC has to do is thrust upward with his sword +2 (the best melee weapon in the group). This hurts and annoys the dragon making him move -- which squashes the PC under him, failed save and dead. Opps. The militia under the leadership of one of the PCs fire arrows at the dragon with minor success. The annoyed dragon breathes fire roasting the militia and toasting the PC badly (but he would survive). Most of the rest of the hirelings fail morale checks and run or hide. One of the two remaining PCs manages to hit the dragon in the eye and it heads for the second exit the PCs were not aware of and escapes -- mainly because we had run out of play time.

Lessons learned, mid-level M74 S&S characters can take on a dragon, but it will take very good planning and some good luck to actually beat that dragon in combat. And there will be a lot of death and destruction before that dragon dies. All four players had a good time and found this situation far more exciting than a dragon encounter in my regular M74 (non-S&S) campaign. Perhaps the best lesson learned, however, was that proper prior planning can only prevent piss poor performance if you stay with the plan.

Dinosaurs are coming to the Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery monster list. I've had several requests for dinosaurs, so I'll add them to the monster list. Although after seeing 4 PCs against a dragon, I'm not sure I'd want to see anyone take on a T. Rex.

Cancer Fund Drive News: When the Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive ended without giving away the FEZ 1: Valley of Trees: and the Quest for the Fazzlewood: modules Alexi donated, he mentioned something about trying again after tax season. I did not think he was serious, but he is. Tax day in the US was the 17th this and Alexi informs me it is April 30th in Canada. So at Alexis request, we will have a very short "make-up fund drive" to try one more time to give these to items away. The official announcement will be later this week (as I have to write it up) but everyone who donated in the Leap Month drive (or who donated this month just to help move M74 S&S along) will be eligible for the drawings for these last two modules provided the goals for this mini-drive are met from new donations. Here are descriptions of the two items Alexi is offering for this "make-up drive", both are relatively rare items:

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.

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

Who really needs D&D 5e?

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In a comment to my Why D&D 4e "Failed" -- My Theory post a few days ago, Argent said:

I fear for 5e. Many of the people who loved 4e, me included, are concerned right now. I think it may just further fracture the base. The 3.5 and legacy players have got on fine without 4e so why do they need 5e? Us 4e players have tons of material and a game we broadly enjoy so why do we need 5e?

In my opinion, the only people who really need 5e are WOTC. Every D&D player I know or know of is happy playing the version of D&D that they enjoy the most now. They really do not need a new edition, especially another new edition that is likely to be fairly incompatible with everything that has been published before. WOTC's D&D "division" seems to exist by selling new editions of D&D to more or less the same set of players every few years. They mine their player base for all the money than can get selling core rules and supplements and then when sales wane too much, they redesign the game in a way that is incompatible-enough with previous editions so they can basically sell the same books rewritten for the new rules to their player base again.

Unfortunately, the number of people making the switch to the latest (and supposedly greatest, at least to people doing the marketing for WOTC) seems to decline with each new edition. When TSR published the D&D, this did not really matter much as all of their (many) editions were pretty much compatible enough with each other that adventures and campaign settings published for their current edition could easily be used with any of the other editions TSR had published. Conversion was generally simple enough that most DMs could convert say, a D&D Basic game adventure to AD&D 2e rules (or vice versa) in their heads as they were using the module in play. There was no need for hours of conversion work before the "foreign edition" module could be used, they could just run the module. Therefore, even players not using the current edition often would still buy setting and adventures published for the current edition. WOTC, however, seems to do their best to make each edition very different from all previous editions, so they really need almost every D&D player to adopt the new edition the instant it comes out as people playing older editions are unlikely to buy any of the adventures and settings from the new edition to use with their older editions -- so they cease to make any money at all from those playing older editions.

The WOTC edition treadmill is not helping the hobby and probably isn't doing anything for WOTC's long-term bottom line, either. Unfortunately, American businesses seem unable to do anything that will help them long-term unless it also boosts their stock value right now, so I don't see WOTC getting off this spiral of diminishing sales the edition treadmill creates as it does boost sales short term every time they release a new edition.

In summary, who do I think needs D&D 5e? Outside of WOTC, practically no one really needs it. Heck, outside of WOTC, practically no one really needed 4e or 3.5 either.

Why D&D 4e "Failed" -- My Theory

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There are many theories as to why the 4th edition of WOTC failed to interest many D&D players and apparently failed to meet the sales goals WOTC set for the game. My theory is simple, 4e's lead designer Rob Heinsoo wasn't really designing a new edition of D&D, but a game that played the way he thought D&D was going to work back in 1974 when he was ten years old and had read about the game in Military Modeler magazine, but had not yet seen -- let alone understood -- the rules to D&D. Rob starts off a "Spotlight Interview" on the WOTC web site (March 13, 2009) clearly stating that in response the first question of the interview about that changes he wanted to make to the D&D system when he designed 4e:

My goal designing 4th Edition was to make a game that played the way I thought D&D was going to play, back before I understood the rules.

I read about D&D in 1974 in Military Modeler magazine and bought the game by mail order. I'd read The Lord of the Rings, but not The Hobbit. I was ten years old and I didn't fully understand the D&D rules for another year or two, but I loved the feel of the game and its fantastic open-ended universe. I wanted epic battles and characters who could fight like Aragorn or Legolas or Gimli or Gandalf using powers that suited those characters. I wanted my 'fighting man' to be as tough and heroic as John Carter of Mars.

Given Heinsoo's stated design goal for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, I don't see why so many people have trouble understanding why many D&D players found that 4e just did not feel like "D&D" to them. Heinsoo admits he wasn't trying to design a new version of D&D, but a set of rules that played the way he thought D&D should be played before he understood how it really was intended to be played. This would be like someone who expected soccer when he first heard of American football revising the rules of American football to be the game he always thought it should be. While many people might like the new rules, there would likely be a large number of people who did not think the new game felt much like American football regardless of the fact that it still used the American football name.

Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Edition Beta 2 Available

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The second beta version of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery is available for free public download. Draft copies of "between betas" work will still be available to RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund donors. This beta incorporates feedback from donors and from members of my Sunday group of players. However, the rules are still "very beta" and will be subject to many changes based on further thought on my part and feedback from those who download the betas and choose to give me comments and ideas.

New material for this beta version is mainly in the monsters and magic items area, although some new/modified rules material is included. For example, as bound spirits are expected to the main form of "common" magic items in the average campaign, the spirit rules have been expanded somewhat. In the average campaign, most normal 0e-type magic items are expected to be rare items from ancient and/or lost civilizations that no one in the current campaign era knows how to create (except for potions and scrolls).

As with all beta versions, suggestions on anything and everything are welcome.

Download your copy of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Beta 2 from the Mediafire link below. It's 444K PDF file.

Download Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Beta 2

Updating the RetroRoleplaying Web Site Today

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I'm about to start a major backend upgrade on the RetroRoleplaying web site. I'm moving from a Drupal 6 backend to a Drupal 7 backend. With luck, this will go smoothly and everything will just work. On other web sites I've updated from 6 to 7, this is sometimes true and sometimes not. I'm keeping my finger crossed. The main site will be in maintenance mode shortly and will remain that way until I have it at least semi-usable. Fortunately, this blog runs on Blogger and will not be affected. I'll update this post if I have major issues and/or when the RetroRoleplaying web site returns. Thank you for your patience as I try to make my Drupal update saving throw yet one more time.

Noon Update: The Drupal 7 Update appears to have gone well. The RetroRoleplaying web site is available again. The Google Custom Search box broke and is hidden until I can get it working again. Everything else appears to be working okay, at least from doing some semi-random page checks.

Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Beta 2 Coming Soon

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Real life has made progress on Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery much slower than I liked the past few weeks. However, I have just uploaded a new draft to the Donor's File Area (Draft 8) and I hope to have a Beta 2 release available in a few days. Major work is still being done in magic items, both the ancient lost civilization type (that is, "standard" 0e items) and the more type of magic items made by binding spirits. More detailed rules for poisons and disease are also in the works given that poison and disease are often more important in S&S settings than in more standard 0e/1e settings. Spirit rules have also been slightly expanded.

Download a Free Old School Gothic Fantasy Compendium

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Jack W. Shear of the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog just released a free 100+ page PDF entitled Tales of the Grotesque and
Dungeonesque: A Gothic Fantasy Compendium for Old-School Fantasy Role-Playing Games
. Jack says:

Here's what you get in the compendium: an introduction to Gothic Fantasy, my home campaign setting, three new classes compatible with old-school fantasy games, my house rules, 44 monsters, 26 spells, 7 magic items, and more random tables that I cared to count. Much of this has yet to see the light of day on my blog.

Believe it or not, there was actually publisher interest in some of this material. However, I've decided to release this into the wilds for free under a Creative Commons license in the spirit of DIY gaming. The best gaming material I've seen since I started blogging has been freely available on OSR blogs; consider this my way of saying "thank you" for all the inspiration and good gaming you've all given me.

I've made a quick pass through this volume and am impressed by what I see. It many ways it reminds me of the first Arduin Grimoire. It's an interesting eclectic collection of material on a homebrew fantasy world. In this case, the "World Between" which is heavily influenced by early gothic literature. If you aren't familiar with gothic literature, Jack talks quite a bit about it in the introduction. Perhaps the most interesting part of it from a "do I want to download this" point of view is this paragraph as it explains the feel of a gothic world:

Gothic literature is filthy with the following generic conventions: an imperiled heroine whose life and/or virginity is often at stake, a Catholic setting (generally either Spain or Italy in the early Gothic novels); a focus on terror (psychological fear) or horror (disgust) or both as affect; a long-buried secret from the past that can no longer be repressed; monstrosity (whether human or inhuman) or villainy (often a patriarchal figure of power); violence and sexuality that passes beyond the border of the socially acceptable; incest; doubling (doppelgangers, mistaken identities, etc.); a decrepit castle, monastery, fortress, dungeon, or other medieval structure as part of the setting; the Inquisition and the misuse of religious authority; specters, ghosts, or phantasmal visions (remnants of the past that cannot be repressed); mysterious veiled women; fragmentary narratives (framed narrative, missing text, etc.); enclosure, premature burial, and imprisonment.

Jack has taken this and translated it to a polytheistic (and definitely "old school") fantasy setting: the World Between. I find it fascinating and well worth the download. The rules are based on Labyrinth Lord, but could easily be adapted to any set of old school rules. You can download a free copy from Google Docs.