Saturday, November 30, 2013

AD&D 1e: a confusing game?

Yesterday, while trying out new games at my FLGS, I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintence. It started with me saying something like: "You know, I expected The Wrath of Ashardalon to be more like 4e. I've played 4e, I don't like it, but I understand the basic mechanics. But the wording rulebooks for the boardgame was just confusing. 4e is fairly straightforward.

He said something like: "You know what's confusing? AD&D First Edition."

I said: That's blasphemy! How dare you besmirch the holy words of the Great Gygax! I excommunicate you from ever joining the ranks of the OSR! Tremble before me and despair! 

Actually, I thought about it, shrugged my shoulders and could see his point.

The AD&D Player's Handbook only contained rules for the character classes, spells, and some advice. It doesn't even show you any methods of how to generate ability scores--that's in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Oh? You want secondary skills? Dungeon Master's Guide.

Combat Tables? The table for Turning Undead? Saving Throw charts? Dungeon Master's Guide. Unless you were adapting rules from Basic D&D, you needed the DMG to run combat.  

After the Player's Handbook debuted in June of 1978, Don Turnbull said gave it a 10 out of 10. He said, "whereas the original rules are ambiguous and muddled, the Handbook is a detailed and coherent game-system and very sophisticated." What?

Several years ago I did run a short-lived AD&D campaign. It was fun, but most of the players couldn't stand not having access to all of the rules. I tried using Thac0, but that confused some of them, so I just used the tables in DMG. But even then, for some reason, they subtracted their combat bonus from their "to hit" number.

"No," I said. "Don't do that. Because you don't know when you'll get a penalty. Just stick with the original numbers."

Each time somebody leveled up, it was kind of a chore, because I had the DMG and had to tell them their combat modifiers and new saving throws.

Eventually the campaign ended with a hilarious case of intra-party killing. (Which I might share some other time here on d20 Dark Ages).

After that experience I could see why old school players just used the Basic rules as starting point and cherry picked stuff from AD&D.

Yet in defense of AD&D: somehow it worked. 

People were still buying the AD&D Player's Handbook after Second Edition came out--leading to print runs through 1990.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Trying New Things: Wrath of Ashardalon, Dungeon Command, et al.

Today I went down to Treefort Games and participated in an afternoon of board game demonstrations. I showed up with an open mind, wanting to try new things. I got to play four games for the first time: The Wrath of Ashardalon, Dungeon Command, Small Word: Underworld, and Bang! (a card game).  So, what follows are mini-reviews of each.

From Wizards of the Coast
The Wrath of Ashardalon
The store owner wanted people to help demo boardgames. So I showed up early to learn the rules to The Wrath of Ashardalon. I was impressed with the number of "bits" that came with the board game. 

Almost too impressed, once I tried to figure out how all of these cards and critters work within the rules. They had a "solo" adventure. I studied the rules for about a half-hour, still couldn't figure out certain things like movement and actions in a turn. Read and studied for another 15 min, because I was supposed to eventually teach this some somebody else.

But I do have a general rule. I don't get the gist of a board game within a half-hour, I put it away. Maybe it'd have been better if I'd learned this with other players, but I only had myself. Once somebody offered to run Small World: Underground, I moved on. I'd hate to sink The Wrath of Ashardalon, since it seems a lot of people enjoy it, but its seems unnecessarily complicated. (You can blast me all of you want for that).

Smallworld: Underground
I enjoyed this game. We played the short two-player version so I could learn the rules.

The goal of the game isn't world domination, but to collect as much gold from your underground civilizations as possible. At the beginning of the game you chose a race (which costs gold) and then you use that race (mummies, gnomes, kraken, drow, etc,) to carved out an underdark civilization. The more territories you get the more gold. Races often get more gold depending on terrain time (Mushroom folk like the fungus coverns and so on).

At some point, you'll want this civilization to go in decline so you can start another one. You still get the gold and other resources from your old civilization. You have a certain amount of turns to collect as much gold as you can and try to stymie your opponents from doing the same.

This game was a lot of fun. It sort of spoofs fantasy/gaming culture, like having the One Ring as a artifact or the ghost of "Tomb Raider" hanging around. The game is produced by Days of Wonder.

BANG! The Spaghetti Western Card Game
I really didn't get to play this game long enough to have a postive or negative opinion of it: I didn't survive beyond my first turn.

You randomly draw a "character" and a "role" from a deck of cards. This determines your goals. You can be the sheriff, deputy, renegade, or outlaw. The sheriff has to kill the outlaws and renegade. Outlaws have to kill the sheriff and the deputy. The deputy has to make sure the sheriff survives. The renegade has to be the last one standing.

I was the renegade--the first to die. The only things I got to do was remove a card from somebody else's deck with on of my own card and then release a stick of dynamite around the table. Then I got shot twice by an outlaw, and finished off by the Sheriff.

So much for that. I'd like to try it again though.

Dungeon Command

From Wizards of the Coast

While the Wrath of Ashardalon caused me to furrow my brow in a vain effort to understand, Dungeon Command fairly straight forward and fun. It was a two player game, mixing miniatures from The Curse of Undeath and The Tyranny of Goblins. The miniatures themselves are fairly well done. I particularly liked the Lich Necromancer figure. I also liked the dungeon tiles.

Once thing that surprised me was how simple the rules played. They're sort of a mix between 4th Edition, the old 3.5e D&D Miniatures game, with a touch of Magic: The Gathering (you "tap" figures and cards--there's not a single die to roll. It's a steak and potatoes game that easy to learn.

Our only stumbling block was trying to figure out movement (can you double move like in regular D&D--or not. The language in the rulebook was a little ambiguous.)

Each player choses a commander--but the commander doesn't actually get a figure on the battlefield. But the commander does determine certain effects for your warband. You want to pay attention to your commander's morale and leadership ratings. Leadership allows you to bring in reinforcements. Morale is integral to the game--if you drop you zero morale because your minions die, you lose the game.

You get four phases on your turn: Refresh (untap your troops), Activate (have your troops take actions), Deploy (put new miniatures down--if you can), and Clean-up (resolve end-of-turn effects, etc).

I really enjoyed this game. I'm glad that I didn't dismiss it as some kind of 4e-lite game.

Even the price isn't too shabby: $39.99 per faction box, you get 12 figures and some dungeon tiles which are compatible with games like The Wrath of Ashardalon. 

The Moral: Try new things. That way you'll know what you like and don't like.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's your ideal RPG campaign you'd love to play in?

Say if the stars aligned just right and you got to join the perfect campaign, what would that campaign be like?

For me, this campaign would...
1. Have 4-6 players, friends and acquaintences.
2. Be tabletop, not onlline.
3. Have fairly straightforward objectives, with very little sitting around debating what to do next and wasting valuable game time. (While I like investigative adventures from time to time, they seem to bog down in debate--or the players just can't figure out a key clue).
4. Be low magic fantasy with little or no "generic" magic items.
5. Have a dash of horror, like Ravenloft or a bit of Call of Cthulu.
6. Have a dash of swords & sorcery, high adventure.
7. Give the PCs a chance to be heroic and fight small hordes of minions from time to time.
8. Feature villains who aren't stupid cookie-cutters--they've somehow read the "If I was an Evil Overlord" list. And they can gain more power if you don't foil their plans.
9. Have no children at the tabletop, or players who act like children, or have somebody place some stupid Jar-Jar Binks-like outlier character or NPC attempting to provide comedy relief. (I know to all of the parents out there the first part might be offensive since we're all getting older, but I'd help pay for a babysitter).
10. Rules-lite/OSR. (Pre-3e, AD&D 1e or 2e with Ascending AC, or a "clone" like S&W, but I'd really like to play DCC RPG).

So that's my top ten criteria. What's yours?

Monday, November 25, 2013

5e and Forgotten Realms

I've been somewhat keeping up on the latest news with 5e. It seems like the Forgotten Realms is going to be the default setting, given how much the Sundering has played major part in the "pre-5e adventures" like Murder in Baldur's Gate (is it true it's not a complete module, that you have to download NPC and monsters stats on WotC's website--oh say it ain't so).

While I don't wish to be a naysayer, I'm going to one anyway, because I feel that WotC marketing plan was to get the OSR to quiet down by offering many of the old modules and rulebooks again while they proceeded with play testing 5e and pitching the Realms. "Here, we've given you want you want, now go play in the corner."

The Edition Wars seem to have quieted down: for better for worse.

I'm not even sure how much reception 5e and Forgotten Realms are getting out there. The novels are probably selling fairly well.

I admit, my concern is purely selfish. Down the road I'm just hoping the OSR spreads so I can play in an old school game, instead of having the choices of 5e and Forgotten Realms, or Pathfinder.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Man I'm itching to play an Old School Game

Today I had some fun gaming at Treefort Games. We played a First Crusade scenario using the Impetus rules. It's not a bad set of rules, I just haven't played it more than a year. It seems like kinda hard to inflict damage on units (in both missile fire and melee, you need 6s or double 5s to hit and then the opponent gets a saving throw). But overall it worked out okay. I played the Muslims and we won after a lengthy game.

Then things broke down into RPGs and CCGs. I friend of mind ran his homebrew Babylon 5 RPG, there were a couple of Pathfinder groups. I just hung out and worked on various writing projects.

All in all Treefort attracts good people--its just they don't play what I'm interested in. I didn't really get into Babylon 5 when it was on TV, but I can see the appeal. As for Pathfinder, well, I'm thinking about playing it because it seems to be only game in town. 4e is pretty much gone. The Pathfinder Society has a lot of influence in the area. I guess it'd be better than nothing at all.

I need something to do to help get me out of the gaming doldrums I've been in. I just can't make the time to run a game anymore. I'd love to play one, something Old School. I wouldn't care if its a retroclone or AD&D 1e or 2e using Thac0. Though I'd prefer DCC RPG.

I spent part of the time perusing through the Dragon Magazine Archive on my computer. I can't help but be amazed at the creativity packed within those pages back in the day. Post 3e Dragon pretty much stopped being a magazine about the hobby, and more about introducing new rules, feats, classes, etc.

Once again I asked myself the question:

Why did gaming seem to get so complicated? Or am I just showing my age?

An acquaintance of mine, who was trying to get me to play Pathfinder tonight, couldn't help but buy the Combat Tracking Pad for the game. He kept looking it over before plunking down $19.99 for it. Whatever happen to just writing down on a piece of paper or at most a dry erase board?

Oh well, I'm sure I'll find something soon to feed my Old School hunger. Right now I'm going to get back to finish watching Ghostbusters. :D

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Axe of Morgosh -- Free Bad Adventure PDF from ENWorld

As you may know, I've been taking trips down memory lane on ENWorld recently. Morrus has thread-necromancied a couple of classics. I'd almost forgot about these, even though they're hilarious.

Examples from the Worst TSR Adventures Module(s) ever published: where the ENWorld community proceeds to bash The Forest Oracle, an AD&D 1e module written by Carl Smith. It got to the point where people were posting large blocks of the text--which sort of went against ENWorld's policy--so people started writing their own bad encounters. Which led to...

Let's Write a Bad Module. Wherein the ENWorld community came together and wrote a bad module: The Axe of Morgosh, filled with encounters that don't make sense, railroad the players, automatically failed saves, and contains back story that has no bearing on the adventure whatsoever.

ENWorlder Olgar Shiverstone compiled all of the entries into a single document and made it available for download for free here. EDIT: Apparently you have to be an ENWorld member to get the free product. Hmmm...

Why I am pushing this module? Certainly, there is some nostalgia involved. I still find each of those threads funny. Heck, I even own and have run The Forest Oracle, so I know how screwball many of the encounters are. TSR did put out some bad modules in its day.

But here's the real reason: I'm always looking for ideas--even bad ones. There's something truly liberating about throwing out all conventions and just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it'll stick. The Axe of Morgosh features a Cryohydra in a volcanic cave and only The Axe of Morgosh itself can defeat it, but the item can only be found underneath a bed back in encounter #2.

Why is there a creature of ice and cold in a volcanic cave? Why can only the The Axe of Morgosh defeat it? Why the hell did somebody leave a potent magic item underneath a bed?

Yes, the scenario defies logic.

But let's throw logic out the window. Let's just have cool stuff happen. Let's just make the game our own. Instead of "A Cryohydra in a volcanic cave? That doesn't make sense! Bad DM!" let's have "A Cryohydra in a volcanic cave? What's going on here?"

The Forest Oracle itself was like this. Some stuff didn't make sense but I could see the author trying to have "cool stuff" happen. The problem was execution. The Axe of Morgosh is a spoof of a lot of those TSR modules that just railroaded the player-characters into situations just because "the story" called for it. The Forest Oracle could almost be played like a sandbox, but many of the encounters just override player choice. You can read about them on ENWorld link. Or you can purchase the module in pdf at DrivethruRPG.

I'll probably take another look at the The Forest Oracle and review it. I've found you can learn more about adventure design from mediocre or lousy adventures than good ones. The interesting thing about the The Forest Oracle is that it has a neat premise, but the execution isn't sound.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The World of Dante

World of Dante

Deborah Parker at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities has apparently spearheaded turning Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy into a multimedia project called  "The World of Dante."

Anybody who's a fan of The Divine Comedy needs to check this website out. Any DM who wants to run a game set in Hell or in Italy should also take a look.

First, you have the art gallery, featuring the works by Gustave Dore and others.

Third, here's the music--yes music--that Dante refers do in the Purgatorio and Paradiso.

Fourth, there's also a timeline of the events in Dante Aligheri's life.

There's also a number of other resources like search engine, stuff for teachers, and so on. 

But here's what really fantastic about this website: 

Each Canto features both the original Italian and English translations side-by side. There's also a menu on the right that cross references all of the people, monsters, deities, music, and other stuff related to that particular Canto. 

I can think of all kinds of uses for this at the gaming table (and, of course, scholarly research).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In Retrospect: Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News

If you haven't seen it already, EnWorld's put up a link last week to the old Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D Third Edition News Archive. I've been checking it out. It's brought back a lot of memories from that time--can you believe its been over 13 years since D&D 3e came out?

I remember when I first stumbled upon that site, I was like: "Yeah, right, like anybody from WotC was going to tell some random guy on Internet what 3e is going be like."

Well, it turns out WotC wasn't giving much information to Eric Noah, if you read those early posts, WotC was already blabbing about 3e elsewhere. Eric Noah was just smart enough to create a website to compile all of that information and suddenly a new online community of gamers was born.

I visited that site quite a bit. Like so many, I was nervous where D&D was headed. None of what Eric's posted really assuaged my fears. I didn't like the sound of "Attack of Opportunity." The idea of "Whirlwind Attack" brought to mind Xena spinning in circle with a couple swords doing that "aiyaiyai!" battlecry.

Then, of course, just as news of 3e started circulating, Hasbro stepped in and bought WotC, and then we learned that GenCon would Milwaukee.  Talk about interesting times.

Dragon Magazine, of course, gave updates--but Eric Noah's site related all kinds of interesting tidbits, like experience point charts, what a character sheet might look like, and even what Gary Gygax thinks about the upcoming edition (later on, however, his true opinion would be known). Here I first learned about "Adventure Paths," how WotC would focus on creating rulebooks instead of lots of adventures, and, of course, the Open Gaming License.

I'm not going to post a bunch of links, because just on page in the archive you can find month's worth of interesting tidbits.

Apparently, the reason Eric Noah handed over the reins to Morrus as because of time: he wanted his life back.  (Scroll down to August 18, 2001). Even so, Eric still hung around on En World for awhile. For years, the general policy for the message boards was not to say anything that might "upset Eric's grandmother."

I'm glad that EnWorld brought back these archives, apparently they went away after the website got hacked almost a year ago. Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News lasted for only two years, but it played an important roll in the big D&D revival brought on by 3e in those days.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Wicker Man (1973)

There's seeds of an adventure, or perhaps an entire campaign, within this movie. If you haven't seen the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man, then I suggest you do so. 


The Plot: a police sergeant is sent to the Scottish village of Summerisle in search of a missing girl. There he discovers that the island inhabitants have developed some rather... shall we say... unorthodox customs. As his investigations continue (with little help from the island's strange populace), he discovers that the missing girl is part of an elaborate rite. 

The movie is a part Gothic horror, part mystery, even part musical (believe it or not). It has a way of lulling a viewer into a false complacency. It's not hard to see why. You've got beauties like Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland in this film. Even a younger Christopher Lee has his sonorous and lordly voice. There's folk music all the way through it. 

So what can be taken from this film for an RPG game?
--Villagers participating in a carnivalesque rite were they don animal masks and pop up in windows and over low walls to spy on the PCs. 
--Children leaping over the fire in the center of a stone circle.
--A drinking song: "The Landlord's Daughter."
--A labyrinthine series of caverns on the cliff overlooking the sea. 
--The whole movie is an example of how different religions interact. The denizens of Summerisle aren't evil, but they need their ritual to be successful or dire things will continue to happen to the island. 

My only problem: PCs won't be a determined as the main character in the film. At some point, they will realize that the village is against them and perhaps leave. The villagers would really have no incentive to keep the PCs there (unless the PCs threaten to come back with reinforcements).

Perhaps a good hook would be a cleric character investigating the recent disappearance of one of his brethren? Sort of like a "sequel" to the movie.

Overall, The Wicker Man is one of my favorite movies. I'm sure modern audiences might find the movie a bit slow going. But there's a seduction going on here, and it takes time. This kind of seduction often missing in modern horror films (such as in the 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage). Believe me, the ending is worth the wait.

Travel Tip: Don't get mad if the villagers sing and dance while you die.
It's just their custom.

Friday, November 1, 2013

1000 page views in a day? What?

So, something weird has happened. Yesterday d20 Dark Ages got over 800 pageviews. Today d20 Dark Ages is topping 1000.

Has anybody else witnessed a spike in their blog activity? Because I was lucky to get 300 views a day, and that's back when I was posting on G+.

Or are the spambots going into overtime?

EDIT: I've checked under "Pageviews by Browsers." It looks like the vast majority of these excess hits are coming from Firefox Web browsers. I have no clue why? Some kind of glitch or hack?
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