Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hurricanes, Giant Robots & Graphic Novels

whew! it's been a while, huh? well, i live on long island...and as you may have heard, we got hit pretty hard by hurricane sandy. where i live wasn't so bad - i lost power for a few days but that was about it. many of my friends and co-workers weren't as fortunate as i was, however. some of them lost their houses, some are just now returning to them, and most of us are just now returning to our regular routines. the community that i teach in was devastated.  i have many students that were displaced and are now living all over the place, having lost everything that they owned. it's been rough. last wednesday i drove around LI with the social worker from my school delivering thanksgiving food to many of the displaced families...and seeing some of the conditions they're currently living in...well, blogging about games and stuff was the last thing on my mind.

anyway - being stuck in my apartment for a week back in october (and not having work for close to 2 weeks) led to me reading a whole lot. i've had stacks of graphic novels building up for a while, and not having power for a bit was the excuse i needed to tear into them. now, i've read most of these as they were coming out in issue form, but i find that i get so much more out of them when i read them as one continuous story arc.  so...my hurricane reading list looked like this: MORNING GLORIES, EX MACHINA, DEAD @ 17, ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN, PLANETARY, DEADENDERS, and DMZ (which i'm re-reading now).  before i touch on that, though...i want to discuss what i did BEFORE i read all those funny books: i sat down (with my fully charged iPad) and re-watched an awesome cartoon from start to finish...

SYM-BIONIC TITAN:  ok, so this is a cartoon by genndy tartakovsky. i've noticed that many people have never even heard of this show, which is weird since tartakovsky is a pretty well known creator (samurai jack, dexter's laboratory, powerpuff girls, clone wars, hotel transylvania).  it was on cartoon network but was unceremoniously cancelled at the end of  its first season under suspect circumstances.  recently, it's been back on saturday nights during toonami - which is basically the only way you'll see it for free since it was never released on dvd or bluray (it IS on itunes...and i recommend you get it that way).

it's about two human-looking aliens (lance and illana) and a robot (octus) who are hiding out on earth.  illana is the princess of a planet called galaluna - whose government was overthrown in a violent coup by race known as the mutraddi. the mutraddi are being led by a former galalunian general named modula. he's taken illana's father (known only as the king) hostage and enslaved the planet...but not before the king secretly sent illana away to earth...with two loyal and trusted allies to protect her. lance is a hotshot mech pilot and octus is a prototype robot (with many functions that are unknown to him until he finds himself in certain situations). the trio land on earth, where their entry into our solar system (through something called a rift gate) is detected by the military. after a brief skirmish (illana and lance have battlesuits that they can summon out of subspace) with the US army...

...they're able to escape into a nearby town.  octus taps into the internet and learns and great deal about the culture here, and discovers that kids illana and lance's age go to something called "high school". using a hologram projector, octus manages to make himself look like their father and enrolls all three of them at the local high school (octus has another hologram he uses for his student alter ego, which he calls "newton").  he also manages to procure a house for them to live in, where they attempt to assimilate earth culture.  illana winds up trying too hard to fit in with her "peers" at the school and is soon seen as a weirdo. lance, by virtue of not caring about their disguises (which he views as stupid) becomes a local heart-throb. octus, however, proves to be the true stud - attracting the attention of their hyper-annoying neighbor barb with his "dad" hologram, and successfully wooing the head cheerleader kimmie as "newton". this is them buying the house and meeting barb...
eventually, modula learns of their location on earth and begins to send a variety of gigantic monsters through the rift gate to kill illana. see, her death will extinguish the royal bloodline and crush the hope the galalunians have of being freed from modula's despotic rule. plus, word has gotten out on galaluna of her escape, and her survival has inspired a fierce resistance movement.

during their initial encounter with one of these mutraddi superbeasts, illana and lance learn that they have the ability to combine their suits with octus to form a huge supermech...which the people of earth soon begin to call TITAN:
 inject into all this their interactions with the neighbors and the kids at the high school, the US military looking to take TITAN down, and a secretive spy agency with galalunian tech and you have a very interesting show indeed - it's kind of like the BREAKFAST CLUB/CAN'T HARDLY WAIT meets ROBOTECH/VOLTRON/old GODZILLA movies meets a super hero series. i can't recommend it enough. supposedly, if enough people watch on toonami new eps may be ordered...which, y'know, would be a good thing.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


well, NYCC is in the books. we had some people try out DUNGEON STRIKE on friday and saturday and they all loved it! it's weird watching people play a game that you made...but the early feedback seems to be good so far. everyone seemed impressed with how fast it played (which isn't surprising considering that most of  them were warhammer/40K/3.X/pathfinder/4E types).

i didn't go on sunday - but saturday was RIDICULOUSLY crowded.  now, i've never been to SDCC...but this was insanity. at one point, i decided to leave our booth and walk over to ARTISTS ALLEY. after fighting the crowd to get to the lobby of the javits center, i was confronted with the above sight at the top of the stairs. you see that WALKING DEAD banner? that's what i had to cross to get to AA.  i just went back to our booth and waited a few more hours rather than fight my way through that. luckily, there were still some ATOMIC ROBO t-shirts left when i finally got over there.  but man, NYCC made gencon look small.

anyway, i did get to do some walking around (after all, i had to buy my friends big foam MINCRAFT swords and candy meth) at various points and i noticed that there is virtually NO rpg presence at NYCC...and there are lots of gamers. tons and tons of people came into our booth talking about pathfinder, D&D, and more.  more than a few people were stoked on NUMENERA and asked if our terrain would be compatible with it!  point is - there are gamers there, and outside of us (a terrain company) and the BURNING WHEEL dudes there was basically no RPG presence at all.  that kind of sucks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

i wrote a skirmish game...and it's FREE!

so, i've been down at NEW YORK COMIC CON the last few days.  we went down on wednesday to set up our booth (we're in booth #2180 if you're interested), then thursday for the professional day and then today for day #1.

let's see - so far i've grabbed some decals, a few pins, the GRENDEL OMNIBUS, the new colorized SCOTT PILGRIM book, and a GAME OF THRONES poster. i also chatted briefly with some of the guys at the BURNING WHEEL booth and they gave me a FREEMARKET patch. sweet.  oh, and i walked over to the COMPLETE STRATEGIST today before heading down to the javits center and grabbed REALMS OF CRAWLING CHAOS, the LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS box, and a copy of LACUNA for one of my friends - apparently they REALLY like that game.

anyway...i designed this dungeon skirmish game to play at cons and stuff.  it's quick, easy, and pretty highly fatal for the PC's.  i made it so that we'd have something fast and fun to run at cons.  making adventures and running them for strangers can get to be a grind at some of these jammies - particularly when you have to do them 4 or 5 times for 4-6 hours a clip.  so, i came up with this as an alternative.  we're playtesting it at our booth all weekend.  i ran a few playtests in august at RETCON and so far the reaction has been pretty positive.

the game requires you to have some minis, dice and some terrain or a battlemap. i figure most gamers have these things already. i don't want to make people buy some super-expensive board or figures just to play - use what you already have!  like i said, i made it for cons...and also for people to have something fun to play if their game group can't all get together on a given day.  it's a straight dungeon crawl - i'm playing around with other genres also, but first things first.

anyway - here it is. download it, play it, and let me know if it's good, if it sucks or if it's somewhere in between.  i'm calling it FEAR NO DARKNESS: DUNGEON STRIKE.

i like free games.

Monday, October 1, 2012


hey dudes. sorry i haven't updated in a while.  summer ended and i had to go back to work - ugh.  i've been busy with lesson planning and the whatnot.  i just wanted to pop on here real quick and mention my company LEGENDARY REALMS TERRAIN.  we recently threw our hat into the KICKSTARTER ring - everyone was doing it and we felt the peer pressure.  we're looking to branch out and make some new terrain - sci fi, wilderness and some more fantasy stuff and we're asking for some help to make that happen.  if you want to help us out we'd appreciate the heck out of it. 

here's our kickstarter - check it out!  we'll have a booth at NEW YORK COMIC CON in a few weeks if you want to stop by, say hi and play some games.  ok, posts soon - i'm working on my LACUNA play reports and they should be up soon. i also have a few comic book posts and a some other things half finished. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

M.I.A. - Dawning Star RPG

in 2005/2006 i was itching to play a sci-fi rpg. our group was in the middle of slogging through some D&D 3.0/3.5 campaigns and they weren't really too keen on changing systems. i had tried to run them through a DRAGONSTAR adventure, but one of the guys hated the idea of "elves in space" so much that he went out of his way to be a jerk and single-handedly sabotaged the whole thing.

then i discovered a new d20 setting called DAWNING STAR.  it used the d20 modern and future rules and had no elves, halflings, orcs or any of that stuff.  i ordered the 2 core books - OPERATION QUICKLAUNCH and HELIOS RISING - and totally fell in love with the setting.  the basic version is this: humanity was forced to leave earth in 2196, as a large object was detected hurtling toward the planet in 2184 - large enough to create an extinction level event. in the 12 years before impact, the people of earth band together and build huge evacuation ships.  as the massive fleet departs earth, it makes a startling discovery at the very edge of our solar system...a damaged gateway device (sort of like a mass relay from MASS EFFECT).  the gateway detects the ships nearing and activates - but, being damaged, scatters the fleet all over the universe.

the games focuses on the people who were on board the ship DAWNING STAR, which suddenly found itself alone at the edge a strange star system. nearby was another one of the gateway devices - but try as they could, they couldn't get it to activate.  scans of the system detected several habitable planets in the system - which was hard for the crew to believe. they set a course for the nearest one and touched down - but not before suffering damage. apparently, the upper atmosphere was laced with a chemical that accelerated rust development - and the crew realized that they would not survive a return trip through the atmosphere.  so, they set down, disassembled the ship, built a city and began the long process of establishing a permanent settlement.  they were, after all, carrying 2 million people in cryosleep! the planet is named Eos, and the star is dubbed Helios.

as the settlement was established and the planet surveyed there were several surprising discoveries: the planet was inhabited by a blue skinned race of humanoids called the velin (who are genetically identical to humans), as well as a seemingly primitive race of insectoid beasts that the settlers call "darklings"; the planet is pocked with ancient ruins which appear to have been destroyed in a massive, planet-wide battle; these ruins sometimes contain functional, wondrous high-tech devices; and finally, there are crashed spaceships on the planet that are not ancient - and are obviously of alien origin.

the book HELIOS RISING goes on to detail the entire solar system - which is VERY inhabited.  GM's are given a choice of settings:

1) you can start your players in the year 2251.  the exploration of the planet is first getting underway, and you can slowly introduce all the cool aspects of the solar system and the planet as they adventure.

2) you can start the players somewhere after that date - one where the humans of Eos have learned of the conflict in the Helios system and have discovered/made contact with at least a few of the alien races living in the system. this allows for more of a space opera feel.

now, i hate the d20 system. this game came with a lot of it's own weapons, gear, prestige classes, skills and the whatnot - but you still needed the d20 modern book and d20 future.  d20 future was a DISASTER of editing mistakes and conflicting rules. when i ran this i just flung a bunch of that stuff overboard.

sadly, support for this game vanished around 2007/2008. i was pretty bummed out and a reason was never given.  the website and message board just simply died, and the monthly magazine that supported the game also vanished. i guess most of that was tied to the d20/3E transition into 4E...but damn, i wanted more from this game. i'm not sure how popular the game was - or d20 future, for that matter. i know i saw a few copies of OPERATION: QUICKLAUNCH for sale at GENCON this year for $1...that's not a good sign.  there were a few modules (one of which was supposed to be a 3-parter which would have revealed more about the setting) and a promised sourcebook which would have outlined the STAR CONFEDERATION (the mysterious ancients of the setting) but none of that ever materialized.

personally, i feel like this setting would be PERFECT for the X-PLORERS rpg. it's d20 based - so the conversion isn't all that difficult...i know since i converted a bunch of the races for use in my X-PLORERS campaign.  revising it with an OSR attitude would only benefit the game. 

i did see that BRAVE HALFLING acquired the rights to produce a PROMETHEUS RISING setting for X-PLORERS, and that was also a d20 product.  will they do the same for DAWNING STAR?!?!?  i can only hope!  there was some chatter about making DAWNING STAR into a SAVAGE WORLDS setting...and i guess that would be better than nothing.

Friday, September 7, 2012


ok...i wrote this adventure last year to run at cons. it was written to show off the terrain that we make and sell and as such may be a little too hack/slashy.  oh well.  rich also kept making the map LONGER and as such the plot of the adventure kept "evolving".  still, everyone who played it seemed to like it.  we've run it at ICON, GENCON, DEXCON, METATOPIA, RETCON and DREAMATION...and now that we're done running it i figured i'd post it here so that other people can use it as they will.  enjoy...and BEWARE HIS EYES.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

LACUNA PART I: the creation of the mystery and the girl from BLUE CITY (an rpg)

this past july i was at DEXCON in NJ. we were selling our miniature terrain and otherwise doing our thing when i discovered a booth in the back selling indie roleplaying games (the booth was MODERN MYTHS - a pretty kickass store).  i wound up buying a copy of 3:16- CARNAGE AMONGST THE STARS...and two games by a guy named jared sorenson...LACUNA and INSPECTRES.  you may know him as the guy who created ACTION CASTLE and the other PARSELY games.

both games have interesting concepts and they're both short - which is what attracted me to them. that, and the owner of MODERN MYTHS talking them both up.  i like both games a lot - with LACUNA slightly edging out INSPECTRES as my favorite. plus, i had the chance to run my friends through a LACUNA scenario - so i feel like i can speak on that game a little better than INSPECTRES.

ok, to summarize the concept of the game: it's the near future and mankind has basically wiped out crime (more on how in a minute).  we've also figured out a way to enter an alternate dimension - which also happens to be the place our minds go when we dream.  this is accomplished by placing someone under the influence of various drugs, which then allows their conscious mind to materialize in this alternate dimension. while under the influence of these drugs, people are able to control their "dream bodies" as well as bend the "rules" to manipulate the environment. this dimension/dream state manifests itself to us as an old city, so we've come to call it BLUE CITY.  there are other denizens there that aren't dreaming - they're native to the place, and they may not want us there.

THE COMPANY has discovered a way to remove the violent aspects of one's personality...and they've harnessed this power into something called a LACUNA DEVICE. it looks like a pin with a question mark on it.  these devices are given to Agents that work for the Company. that's you.

your job is helping to keep crime in the real world under control.  in this future, whenever someone commits a violent offense they are investigated by the police and FBI - just like they would be in "our world".  after their arrest and conviction they are brought to the Company - who put them under with those drugs and send their personalities into Blue City.  since they're going in unwillingly, once they're put under the Company loses track of exactly WHERE in the Blue City they are.  so, it's your job to enter the dream state/alternate dimension/Blue City, locate the hostile personality and use your LACUNA DEVICE to permanently remove their violent ways.  this is done by sticking them with the device and turning it to the left.  of course, once in Blue City both you and the hostile personalities have some crazy powers, with hostile personalities often manifesting themselves in horrific, monstrous ways.  completing your mission won't be easy - there are some residents of Blue City whose goals and motivations remain unknown to the Company. there are also other Agents on different missions...as well as rogue agents.  if your mission is successful, the violent offender will awaken in the real world changed permanently. they'll no longer be violent and they can be assimilated back into society as productive individuals.

think of the game as a cross between INCEPTION, the MATRIX and MANHUNT.

it's important to remember that your Agents are not physically in the Blue City during a game session. their physical bodies are lying on "the Slab", hooked up to drug dispensers and medical equipment.  their conscious minds are in Blue City.

while you're in Blue City you're in contact with Control (the GM) and you can request aid or equipment to help you with your mission.  as you interact with the city two things begin to happen: 1) the heart rate in your physical body increases and 2) your connection with Control begins to degrade...and Blue City begins to react to your presence.  this is represented by Static. let's say some Agents begin to argue with each other or they disobey the Lead Agent - well, this triggers Static.  maybe the Agents fail a check or start a firefight - more Static.  as Static builds events are triggered that the Agents must deal with.

Agents have 3 stats - Force, Instinct and Access. these characteristics are what you use to interact with Blue City.  want to punch someone in the face? jump off a building? run up a wall or fire a gun? make a Force check.  want to get a Personality to give you information? make an Instinct check.  you want Control to help you? need a machine gun? need to eject from Blue City before you have a heart attack? make an Access check.  the lowest a stat can be is a 2 and the highest is a 4.

these numbers represent the amount of d6's you roll when you need to make a check. if you have a Force of 2 you would roll 2d6.  you need to get an 11 or higher.  if you fail a check in a risky situation (like combat) you lose a die off your score.  so, a Force of 2 would become a 1.  when either Force or Instinct hits zero your Agent is in trouble - you'll need to make an Access check to eject your consciousness from the Blue City - if you fail you either have a heart attack and die or go insane.

now, this is where the system really shines: whenever you make a check, you total the dice together and add the number to your HEART RATE score.  most characters start with a heart rate around 70 or so.  heart rate values differ depending on the Agent's age. once you get your heart rate up into your TARGET HEART RATE, you can reroll failed checks until you pass.  however, each roll adds to your heart rate, with risky checks removing a die if you fail.  eventually you'll hit your MAXIMUM HEART RATE, which means ANY check is risky (failure means losing a die) and you lose the ability to reroll checks.

there's also some cool character building tools during Agent creation - you have to determine your age, determine your Mentor (who will teach you certain Techniques), choose a Talent and determine your name (all Agents are given random names).

i've purposely left out a lot of setting-specific stuff, as the book assumes that only Control (the GM) will have all the information that the book presents. so, if you want to know about the Nasrudin Institute, the Spidermen, the Conflict, the Lacuna Rift or the Girl you're going to have to grab the book.  don't worry - the setting is very open to your interpretation.  in fact, the whole game is vague and open-ended intentionally - you basically fill in the gaps based on your play style.

one thing that piqued my curiosity that i WILL mention: where the heck is Agent Miner?  Agents generate specific Mentors during chargen - you get a little background on them and all of them are either alive or dead...except Miner.  he's listed as MIA - missing in action.  how the hell can that be? Agents are physically present on Company premises for missions - and they're unconscious! how did he vanish DURING a dive into Blue City? 

you can actually run into Miner as your Static builds during a mission.  now, if his body is no longer in Company hands then he's obviously set up shop somewhere else - AND has access to drugs, medical equipment, and monitors - what the heck is he up to? or, perhaps the Company still has his body and they can't eject him from the City? if that's teh case, why haven't they just killed him?  this is a good example of the open-ended nature of the game - what do you want Miner to be up to? make a choice and roll with it.

overall, the game is very interesting and fun. it's rules-light and moves fast - with cool gameplay mechanics that are new and interesting.  i'd highly recommend it - a print copy is only 15 bucks - so go buy one.

in the next few days i'll post a write-up of our game session...it ruled.    

Monday, August 27, 2012

trip to the ol' FLGS

i just got back from a trip to my FLGS...it's called BROTHERS GRIM.  if you live on long island, chances are you know gil - the guy who runs the place.  good dude.  every single time i go down there i wind up walking out with something.  it's also a place that ALWAYS has some rare, hard to find gems laying around.

take, for example, today.  i went down there with my friend chris. i wanted to grab some old TOP SECRET/S.I. books (as i've had the urge to run that lately) and chris wanted to grab either some old TRAVELLER books or some old PARANOIA stuff. we chatted with gil and michael curtis for a bit (over the weekend chris, mike, and a few other people helped me playtest a simple minis skirmish game i'm developing...more on that in future posts) before perusing the wares.

after hitting the shelves, we decided to dig around in the piles of stuff near the back.  as you can see, we unearthed a TRAVELLER boxed set - the 1981 version. inside we found books 1-3, supplement 4: CITIZENS OF THE IMPERIUM (all in near mint condition), a photocopy of HIGH GUARD, and a ton of character sheets. sadly, it was missing the top lid.  i still bought it for 30 bucks.  we also found a copy of the GREYHAWK supplement for OD&D that was in very, very good condition. next, we discovered the original TOP SECRET rpg box. inside, it had all the original rulebooks, the gm screen and mini-adventure, and the modules OPERATION: FASTPASS, LADY IN DISTRESS, and OPERATION: RAPIDSTRIKE. all in crazy-good condition. i have to admit that i was VERY tempted by this...but i held off. i dislike the original system for TOP SECRET, but man, it was nice looking at all that willingham and dee art.

meanwhile, chris managed to find the second edition of PARANOIA boxed set in excellent condition (which he bought for $20) and a softcover copy of the TRAVELLER book (which he also grabbed for $20).

all in all - a good day for rpg shopping!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


so you'll have to forgive me for neglecting the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER for so long. it's been kind of hectic around here with all the vacation, gaming, and con-going that's been happening (i'm a teacher, so i have the summer off...and since i'm not married and i don't have any kids i can kind of live it up a bit).

with that being said, however - i will now FINISH my review of this very fine gaming product.

ok, so last time i gushed about the random charts at the beginning of the book.  if you want to check that out, head here.

the rest of the book is made up of the things you're probably most interested in: new classes and new spells.  there are 17 new classes...most of which are human classes. don't worry - for everyone that likes to play demihumans (like myself) there are a few cool options like the centaur, the gnome, and the ogre-kin.  some of the stand-out human classes (as far as i'm concerned) are the acrobat, the barbarian, the summoner, and the mystic.

now, don't get me wrong here...all the classes are very well done.  i'm just going to focus on the ones that really grabbed my eye as i read through.  things are kept very simple (in the B/X tradition) while also offering cool options that don't exist in the standard rules.  several of the classes are spellcasting classes, and they mercifully DO NOT use the vancian/fire & forget method.  i'll detail two of those classes below.

here's a brief overview of the classes that struck my fancy:

ACROBAT: acrobats can't can't wear armor or use shields, which makes sense.  they're limited to just the staff. they do gain a bonus to AC based on their level (+2 AC at 2nd level, etc). they can climb walls like thieves and can't really be knocked off their feet.  they have a percentile based skill called PROWESS which allows them to perform crazy stunts (with the DM being the final judge on just what is feasible in any given situation), and another skill called EVASION which allows them to disengage from combat without being attacked.  very interesting.

BARBARIAN:  this is a simplified version of the barbarian class from UNEARTHED ARCANA. barbarians have a ton of HP (d10) and are pretty good trackers. due to their ferocity they gain a +1 to all melee attacks, though they have limited gold at first level to reflect their uncivilized ways.  they can HEAR NOISE and CLIMB WALLS like thieves and can also pull the "halfling vanishing act" while outdoors.  at higher levels they can SUMMON a HORDE of other barbarians.

CENTAUR: the centaur gains 2 hit dice at first level but they are capped at 7th level.  they can use any weapon but are limited to horse barding for armor (though they gain a bonus to their natural AC). they also have 2 hoof attacks that they can use in place of a weapon - until they gain some levels and then they can attack with both hooves and weapon in the same turn.  centaurs can flat out MOVE - they have a 60' combat movement rate...which makes sense since they're half horse.  they can also carry a ton, so if you're playing  the centaur prepare to be coat-racked.  they can also track much like the barbarian...um, or the ranger. which doesn't exist in BX D&D. anyway.

MYSTIC: these guys are loners who have given up on society and turned their focus inward to attune their connection with the physical world.  they don't wear armor and they don't really carry weapons. heck, they don't even really EAT.  they can heal minor wounds though, so that's cool.  they can also detect evil and magic AT WILL (don't have a heart attack, grognards...the game won't break).  and guess what? they are a spellcasting class and they don't use the vancian magic system.  thank goodness.  here's how it works: you can cast an amount of spells per day equal to your level OR your CON score - whichever is lower.  you don't need to memorize anything, either...spells are known innately.  every time you gain a level you choose a new spell off of the mystic spell list (it's a new list with new spells).  they have spells like CURE WOUNDS, INNER STRENGTH (which raises their STR to 18), OMEN (allows a yes/no question for the DM), WATER WALK, and ENLIGHTENMENT (which allows the mystic to choose an object like a sword or a house and know EVERYTHING about it).  overall, a very awesome class and i think i'll be rolling one of these guys up in the near future.

SUMMONER:  obviously, these guys summon allies from "elsewhere". when you create the character you choose 1 of 6 possible specilaizations of summoning - there are demonologists, elementalists, spiritualists, naturalists, necromancers and faerie.  basically, your character makes a pact or bargain with these entities in exchange for power. as they gain levels they can strike new bargains and gain access to other specialty areas, provided they are willing to spend the gold and time required to do so.  summoners can wear any armor and wield any weapons...though they only have d4 hit points. summoners are also a spellcasting class...and here's how it works: they have a number of FAVOR POINTS per day equal to their level. to cast a spell they must expend the spell's level in points. so, a 1st level summoner would have 1 favor point...and since their spell list only has 1 spell per level, they could cast that spell once.  at 2nd level, they'd have 2 FP and could cast a 2nd level spell once or the 1st level spell twice. see how that works? pretty cool.  the spells are also pretty rad - they have stuff like DEMON ARMAMENTS (summon random magic weapons or armor rolled on the treasure chart; summoners of levels 1-3 use the basic book; 4-14 use the expert book; 15+ uses the B/X COMPANION...the weapons radiate evil and magic and to keep them longer than a day you have to spend 2 FP and bathe the weapons in blood).  that's a 2nd level spell. pretty good stuff, eh?

every spellcasting class has a different way of using magic. i'm not going to detail all of them - but  these two classes are a good barometer for the other ones.

the interior art is pretty good - with the stuff by kelvin green really standing out.  the pics of the witch hunter, the summoner and the acrobat are all great.  the other art is good also, but i just really dig his style.  my only complaint about the book is the binding - it's perfect-bound, unlike the original B/X books and the B/X COMPANION.  keeping this bad boy open while i reviewed was a pain in the buttocks...but that's really nitpicking.

overall...well, this is a great product.  you really need to pick it up if you play any amount of B/X D&D, LABYRINTH LORD, SWORDS & WIZARDRY or any of the other 78 clones out there.  here's hoping JB puts out his B/X based cyberpunk/shadowrun game...i know i'd grab it (hint hint).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


well, i'm back on long island. GENCON was a blast - just as i expected. this is only the 2nd time i've been there (last year being the 1st) and so i figured maybe there would be a letdown or something...i'm glad i was wrong.  i went with 6 of my friends (who also happen to be business partners) and we had a booth for our stuff - we're LEGENDARY REALMS TERRAIN and we were right across from POST HUMAN STUDIOS (the people who make ECLIPSE PHASE) and next to ERFWORLD on one side and NIGEL SADE the pirate artist on the other side.  don't laugh - his stuff is sick.

everyone is always so amped up on "news from gencon" and this year i felt  like nothing HUGE was announced.  last year i believe the 5E cat was let out of the bag at GENCON...and my friends and i correctly surmised that WoTC would re-release some of the older editions of D&D.  this year - well...here's what i noticed (it isn't much):

-FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES had a beta-test rulebook for their new STAR WARS rpg. it was $30.  that struck me as weird - paizo AND WoTC released their betas for free...yet you have to pay for a STAR WARS beta? nah, bro. i'll stick to the WEG d6 STAR WARS, thanks.

- PAIZO announced PATHFINDER MUNCHKIN.  hmmmm. i guess the original munchkin wasn't doing a good enough job of mocking 3rd edition powergamers...?

-i think i'm feeling monte cook's new NUMENERA rpg.  rules-lite science fantasy? yes, please.  i just hope it STAYS rules-lite. 

that's about it in terms of "news" as far as i heard.  i'm not really big into board games and i really, really don't like card games so if there was news on that front i'm not your man. plus, i was pretty busy all con and i never had the chance to get my ear to the ground.  i was either wandering the vendor room buying stuff, manning our booth selling stuff, or running sessions of LABYRINTH LORD in the super-ginormo gaming "room". no joke - the area set aside for gaming was bigger than the javits center in NYC.  and that was JUST for games.

ok, onto the swag.  GENCON is crazy - most other cons have booths that i can just ignore - but here i feel like every booth potentially has something that i want...which has proven fatal to my wallet both years i've gone...

this year i picked up:
-TIMBER PEAK: that's the new board game/expansion for the LAST NIGHT ON EARTH franchise from FLYING FROG GAMES.  i debated picking up FORTUNE AND GLORY but i held off.

-TRAVELLER: i grabbed up some of the CLASSIC TRAVELLER books...some of the alien modules, a library supplement and the one LBB that i didn't already have. i also snapped up a reprint of books 1-3.

-INTO THE COSMOS: this is a source book for the COSMIC PATROL rpg which we've been playing a lot lately.

-MONGOOSE TRAVELLER pocket rulebook: while this is waaaaaaaay too fiddly for my tastes, there are some cool charts, gear and the whatnot that can be used with the original CLASSIC TRAVELLER.  plus, it was on sale.

-MONSTERS AND OTHER CHILDISH THINGS rpg: this is a game where you play a kid who has a pet monster. the monster has to be constantly reminded that it's bad to eat people...seems cool so far.

-IN FLAMES rpg: a sci fi game that uses the old WEST END GAMES d6 system.  basically, you were once a god-like posthuman entity...but you've been banished into a normal body and are seeking to return to your godlike status.  i like what i've read so far.

-ATOMIC HIGHWAY rpg: this is a very simple post-apocalyptic game. i haven't really had a chance to dive in yet, but it could be the answer to post-apoc that i've been looking for. we'll see.

-JULIUS: this is a comic by ANTONY JOHNSTON (who also writes WASTELAND - a great post apocalypyic comic series). it's a crime story set in england's west end and the plot is based off shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR.  haven't read it yet - but it looks promising.

-MINIS: many of the booths at GENCON have minis for super-cheap...and oh boy did i take advantage. i grabbed a ton of old STAR WARS minis, some old HERO CLIX and a few others. i don't actually play mini-games, though...we use generic looking minis for rpgs like TOP SECRET, X-PLORERS, TRAVELLER, MSH, etc...so i'm always on the lookout for cool looking generic sci-fi/modern minis.

MAPS: i grabbed a few full color battle-maps...a few sci-fi ones and some modern ones for a TOP SECRET idea that's been brewing in my head for a while now...

i may have grabbed one or two more things...i'll look and post a swag-pic tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


i know, i know...i haven't finished the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER review and i still haven't talked about the LACUNA rpg. i will...i promise.

as for the next few days...well, i'm at GENCON. we just got here a few hours ago... we're going to grab some sleep and then go nuts. more updates as cool stuff happens.    

Thursday, August 2, 2012


so, i'm functioning on 2 hours of sleep. i'm going to start this review tonight and finish it up over the next day or two...i just wanted to get started and i figured it would be easier to break the review into 2 parts - since the NEW CLASSES and SPELLS chapters will require a bit more reading on my part.

ok, so the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER is an rpg book designed to be used (obviously) with the Basic/eXpert D&D rules from 1981 (and also the core LABYRINTH LORD book). with some minor tweeks it would work with most other games from/inspired by that era of gaming.  it was written by jonathan becker, whose excellent blog can be found here.

the book has 5 main parts which i'll talk about individually: random tables, exceptional traits, firearms, new classes, and new spells.  all of the new spellcasting classes shy away from vancian casting...which is a good thing, in my opinion. i HATE vancian casting and we've pretty much dumped it out of our game and it hasn't been missed.

tonight i'm just going to focus on the random tables and the exceptional traits. i'll touch on the firearms rules and then call it a night.

the book starts off with a nifty chart where you can roll for the type of headgear/helmet your character has. this may seem silly and unnecessary - but i think it's a pretty awesome way to add some depth to both your character and the game.  i had the chance to be a part of the "friends and family playtest" for 5E (or whatever it's called) and there was a cool little table in that playtest that allowed you to randomly roll the appearance of magic items.  i kept that table (and tossed the rest of the playtest) and started using it in the games i was running.  i discovered that simple equipment descriptions open all kinds of roleplaying avenues.  instead of saying "yeah, it's a sword and it looks well crafted" because you can't think of anything else...a simple roll on that table led to "you see a sword...it's small, elegant, and seems to have a motif of spiderwebs along the blade. the hilt looks vaguely demonic"...now i had players not wanting to touch it, others who wanted it badly, others who wanted to name it, and still some others who wanted to keep it so that they could trade it back to its makers in a pinch.  anyway, enough about 5E - my point is that tables like this are cool. watch, i'll give the table a random spin and see what i get.  my halfling WORTHINGTON needs a new hat, anyway.  let's see what he winds up with:  helm; masked and adorned; skull face and tusks.  damn, that's badass!

the other table is titled 100 FINE REASONS CHARACTERS TRAVEL TOGETHER.  i had downloaded this a while back and we've been using it whenever we generate new characters.  everyone in our group loves it and we've broken it out and used it during other games as well.  it's a way to give new characters life and the randomness of the chart allows for some awesomely unexpected twists that have really added quite a bit of depth to our sessions.  quite simply - you roll percentile dice and consult the chart.  we usually roll to see how we know the person sitting to our right.  a few sample results:  "met on a ship - shanghied from the same bar while drunk"; "are lovers"; "met in school, hate each other and are plotting each other's demise"; "are from the same small town".  you get the idea.  very fun and very useful.

i'll give you an example of this chart and what it can add to a game from one of our sessions: the last time we made new characters, i decided to make a VAT-SPAWN (a class from the SECRET SANTICORE). one of his abilities was PLEASURE SLAVE (basically, his sweat is an aphrodisiac). we rolled on the chart to see how my character (named ARCHIBALD) knew rich's character. i got "met in prison - busted out by a mutual friend who died in the escape attempt".  we decided that a local official's wife had been, um...using my "services".  he found out and had me thrown in jail. rich's character knew the woman as well, and had been jailed for trying to help her get me out.  eventually, she was able to bribe some of the guards to smuggle us out together, but the husband found out and had her "eliminated".  as we were coming up with this story, i could see that our DM (chris) had developed an evil look in his eye...as if this cool origin we had just concocted was going to come back to haunt us...

one of the ideas i liked in 3/4E was that characters could do cool things that they weren't allowed to do in earlier editions. i never liked the implementation of feats, skills, or powers though. that's where EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS come in...they're like feats or abilities that don't suck, but also don't unhinge the game.  basically, when you make a 1st level character you roll on a table to see what your trait is - each class has 12 options. elves can roll on the fighter table or the magic user table.  dwarves and halflings roll on the fighter table.  at the DM's option, characters can learn new traits as they gain levels.  here are some examples:  if you're a cleric, maybe you can wield a sword or automatically communicate with any creature. if you're a fighter, elf, dwarf or halfling, maybe you have a magic item that's a family heirloom or you have a loyal, kickass pet.  if you're a thief, maybe you're a skilled musician that can earn some gold while playing (and maybe work some magic as well) or you're adept at flipping into position for a backstab attempt.  if you're a magic user or an elf maybe you radiate magic or can cast silent spells.  all of the options are pretty neat. what i really like is that the standard human classes have traits like "elf bastard" or "dwarf exile" that allow you to play a standard class as a demihuman race with some cool benefits - and also some drawbacks. for example, the dwarf outcast (a thief trait) is a dwarven thief...they roll d6 hp instead of d4, take a hefty minus to most of their thieving skills, gain infravision and languages but WILL BE OSTRACIZED BY OTHER DWARVES.  that's just cool.

ok, i'm about to pass out on my keyboard.  as you can see, i like the book quite a bit and we're not even into the classes yet!  i did notice one thing, though - in the firearms section there are no damage dice listed. i guess that's not a problem if you're using the old "everything does d6" damage rule...but i think guns should generally do more damage than a d6. out of curiosity, i looked back on JB's blog and in the original entry he says that firearms should deal d8.  i'm not seeing that anywhere in the book, though. maybe i'm just exhausted.

ok, more later.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

update and stuff

no, i haven't abandoned the blog. i was away on vacation last week with no internet - hence the lack of updates.  i was itching to write a little about my last session before going away but i simply didn't have the time.  anyway, here's what i'll be touching on for the next few posts:

LACUNA: right before i went away i ran some of my friends through a session of the LACUNA RPG and it was awesome. if you don't know what that is, you can check it out here. highly recommended game!

COSMIC PATROL:  we JUST played a session of this game a few hours ago and it was a lot of fun! i picked up the quick start rules on free rpg day and was so impressed i ordered the book (as did my friend dan).  you can check that out here.  it's like a mixture of FIASCO and flash gordon/buck rogers.

the COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER: i had ordered this book right before i went away on vaca and it was waiting for me when i got home.  from what i've read so far it's great!  lots of fun and useful stuff that really adds to B/X without being too complicated.  all the new spellcasting classes seem great; the EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS are very similar (yet cooler and better) to some stuff we had houseruled into the game; and the 100 FINE REASONS CHARACTERS TRAVEL TOGETHER is a great character building tool (we've been using that chart for a while now).  head here and buy one of these if you like B/X D&D and/or LABYRINTH LORD.

more to come in the next few days.      

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

X-Plorers and Aliens

Last summer i discovered the X-PLORERS pulp sci-fi rpg.  i really, really like this game!  it's based on OD&D (ok, it's based on the SWORDS AND WIZARDRY WHITE BOX).  the concept is something along the lines of "what if gygax and arneson had made a sci-fi game INSTEAD of the original D&D..."?

anyway, i've run it a few times and everyone has liked it - chris liked it enough to go ahead and purchase the special box set that BRAVE HALFLING put out. the pdf of the  game is free on the BRAVE HALFLING site, but i'd recommend you get yourself a copy of this game.  

anyway, i whipped up a random alien generator for use with the game.  i've modified it a few times but we haven't actually tried it in play yet (mostly because we've been playing LL and 3:16 so much).  you can use this bad boy to make PC's or NPC's - your call.


Spell Cards

a while back i made some 1st level spell cards for LABYRINTH LORD. my friends and i run LL at a fair share of conventions here in the NY/LI area and this made it easier on us.

 here's what they look like:

maybe one day i'll make the rest...

yes, i'd like to download some spell cards for magic-users, elves, and clerics... 

Crime doesn't pay (at least at low level)...

so, the thief.  in B/X and in LL...he's a little lacking.  granted, he can use any weapon - but as written, the backstab rules are kind of murky and his chances of sneaking up on someone (or, y'know...doing ANY type of thief stuff) are basically next to nil.  so how do we improve this class?

in our group we've switched over the 2d6 Thievery chart suggested here and it's been working for us.  but...still...ugh. i don't know.  chris had said that he liked 2E's idea of giving thieves points to spend on their skill percentages...but for LL/BX that seems like too much book-keeping. 

over the weekend i downloaded the free rules for LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS and i really like the way that handles thieves (or specialists, as they're known in that game).  it's kind of a combination of the 2E way but based on d6's instead of percentile dice.

so i started thinking...what if i combined the 2 ideas?

how about this:  in LL/BX, a thief starts with the following skills set at a difficulty of 11:

open locks
find/remove traps
pick pockets
move silently
hide in shadows
climb walls

in order to succeed, he needs to roll 2d6 and beat his difficulty.  now, at 1st level the thief gets 3 or 4 points that he can spend to lower the difficulty level of whichever skills he'd like.  then every level after he would get 2 more.  with a 2d6 check you can still add in DEX mods and racial mods (for those people using the AEC)...i figure that a 10% bonus would be equal to +1...5% bonuses would get lost (oh well).

i wonder if hide in shadows/move silently should be combined into a STEALTH check...?  or would that make it too easy for thieves to become stealth machines?  maybe the climb walls skill should start off lower than 11 since it's traditionally been the ONE thing that low level thieves were good at...?   hear noise i would leave as written in the books...

i don't know...we're going to play around with this idea over our next few sessions and see what happens.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

what's old is new...again.

so...4E was unanimously behind us and we moved "forward" to 1E. all of us still had our old rulebooks. man, it was nice coming to the table with only three or four books as opposed to the backbreaking amount of hardcover garbage we had been lugging around with us to play 4E.

(NOTE: i feel like i should mention the GARAGE SALE OF DOOM.  in the summer of 2009, chris' (now ex) wife informed us that someone she knew was having a garage sale.  the person's father (or grandfather...i can't remember now) was "into all the same crap we were", so down to the garage sale we went.  well...she was right. i walked out of that garage sale with the following items in absolute pristine condition: the original PHB and DMG, the MOLDVAY EXPERT BOX (which i had never owned), which was filled with these gems when i opened it: the HOLMES BASIC BOOK, B2, B3, B4, and X1!  the dice were still sealed in the bag with the crayon.  i also grabbed all the JOHN CARTER paperbacks from the 60's/70's, all the DOC SAVAGE paperbacks from the 60's, and a bunch of other old paperback awesomeness like A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, DAYBREAK 2250 AD, DUNE, etc.  chris walked out with a ton of FU MANCHU and ELRIC stuff. for all that swag i paid the princely sum of $10.  i mention this only because this happened right as i was at the breaking point with 4E - and now here i was, with all this old school stuff sitting in my apartment, begging to be read and played...)

ok, so we sat down to make characters for 1E.  we decided to do it 3d6 in order, no fudging or whatever else and then we'd see what classes/races we'd qualify for.  rich was allowing us to use UNEARTHED ARCANA for classes only...no other wonky rules.  i wound up rolling pretty well and decided to make a half elf cavalier.  i rolled pretty poorly on the social standing chart so i was relegated to being a 0 level squire.  i decided to make this character the son of one of my old 1E characters from the mid 80's - a paladin named Geoffrey Vannon.  that made sense, since good old Geoffrey had rescued a good aligned drow priestess in one of his last adventures...so we decided that they had gotten married and that he was in the area, still being all paladin-y. the local townsfolk had been horrified at first that he had married a dark elf, but as they got to know her (and later, her son) they saw that she was a good soul as well as a cleric of corellon larethian and stopped worrying.  enter: TEMPLETON VANNON, squire!

chris rolled up a scumbaggy elven thief named malthon briarwood. i liked this character so much that i decided to play his brother when this party was TPKed and we began B2...but i'll save that story for later.  donnie rolled up a dwarf fighter named GUMBA and we were off. rich had discovered a site called DRAGONSFOOT  and had downloaded some adventures to run us through, so we began to play one called "the disappearance of harold the hedgemage".

and. it. was. awesome. everyone was into their characters...we were engaging the NPC's...everyone was into the storyline - and when there was combat...IT WAS FAST.  AND DEADLY. granted, we were playing 1E as we did when we were kids: no weapon speed factors, no spell components or segments during initiative, etc. still - it was great and we finished the whole adventure in one session.  BANG. we all wanted more! we had found our game...

...or had we?

we played a few more sessions with these characters and we were all really into the game. then rich decided to run us through his favorite adventure of all time: THE DESERT OF DESOLATION.  well, it didn't go so well for us. right after we set some enormous ghost-pharaoh free in the desert, we were wiped out by an evil cleric and his cultist cronies.  hold person is a hell of thing - templeton was HELD at the very beginning of the fight and could only watch as the rest of the party was cut down...the last thing he saw was the cleric knocking him unconscious. fade to black...the end. our hirelings probably realized that we weren't coming back after a while.  i hope that they took our cart of treasure and lived happy until the end of their lives! that was a brutal reminder as to how deadly 1E could be.   still, we had a blast! we STILL talk about all that stuff at the table...and we all shudder when rich holds up the module and says he wants to continue it since my character never actually died...

the slaughter was nothing, though, compared to the next adventure chris would run: B2 - THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS.

i had actually never played through this module as a kid so i was excited to play it.  i rolled up 2 new characters - a monk named SCREAMING DEMON and an elf assassin named JASSITER BRIARWOOD.  donnie rolled up a paladin named KURGAN and a dwarven cleric named CLAUSS. there was so much awesome in that module, both with our interaction with the people in the keep and our frequent excursions to the CAVES OF CHAOS that i'll probably write it up in a separate blog entry...suffice to say that it also ended in a near TPK.  screaming demon got his head caved in by an ogre during the first session, kurgan lost his leg at one point and his arm later on, finally getting impaled by a minotaur and flung across the room. clauss also lost a leg...it got to the point where we were so indebted to the church in the keep (for 3 regenerate spells and a resurrection for kurgan, not to mention the copious amounts of healing potions) that it actually became a side adventure. we convinced an NPC bugbear prisoner named BARATTA to join our group...donnie's wife cathy heard us having such a good time that she even came out of rpg retirement and rolled up a dwarven thief named BUSTY STONEHAMMER.  we also had a rotating cast of people who were around for some sessions but not all - rich, anthony, and two new guys who had joined our group: jon and dan.

anyways - B2 came to a grizzly end: busty, talladine (my elf magic user who took screaming demon's place), kurgan, and baratta were petrified by a medusa.  clauss went down trying to engage it in hand to hand with his eyes closed.  while the medusa was busy with clauss, jassiter escaped with kurgan's squire WEMBLEY (who he had been slowly turning into a cold-blooded killer, much to kurgan's dismay) and our 16 year old torchbearer, tricia.  jass gave tricia 1,000 gold and told her to start a new life somewhere else. he then snuck into the keep, retrieved what he could from his quarters, and took off with wembley...hoping the church never came calling regarding the fortune that we owed them...

now - right around this time i played in an OD&D game run by frank metzer at a local con out here on the island.  this pushed me to thoroughly investigate all the older rulebooks - OD&D, the holmes basic, the B/X books, and BECMI.  i fell in love with the B/X books - everything you needed to play D&D was right there in 128 pages.  there was a lot of rules and stuff in the PHB, DMG, and UA that we weren't using and that we had actually NEVER used, even as kids. so why bother playing AD&D if we're not even using half the rules? i wanted to play straight up B/X, but i knew that everyone would resist the whole "race as class" thing that B/X featured...but the books were so good i had to try and convince them.
the B/X or Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks from 1981

it was then that i discovered LABYRINTH LORD. chris had won a copy of the rulebook at the same con where we played with mentzer - so, intrigued, i ventured over to the goblinoid games website. it turns out that LABYRINTH LORD was a clone of the B/X books that i loved...and they had an ADVANCED EDITION book that made the AD&D rules compatible with the B/X ruleset...?  AWESOME. i ordered both books and devoured them when they arrived in the mail.  i explained LL to the group the next session and they were sold...and we've been playing that ever since.

of course, we play other games as well.  we gave MUTANT FUTURE a spin around the block, as well as the 4E GAMMA WORLD. they were fun but no one is clamoring to play them again. i've run a few sessions of X-PLORERS and everyone wants to play that again - we're just going to finish up the BARROWMAZE campaign that chris is running and then we'll dive back into that game. we've also played a good deal of 3:16 CARNAGE AMONGST THE STARS lately...and i just picked  up LACUNA and INSPECTRES and i'm itching to play those as well.

from here on out, i'll be making shorter posts - mostly about the games we're playing, some house rules stuff, and whatever else.  it's been fun reliving my entire gaming life...hope i didn't bore you!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

discovering the OSR

so, 4E came out and we were all pretty excited. the excitement wouldn't last, though.  before i launch into (yet another) negative diatribe about 4E, i'd like to mention 3 things that i liked about it.

1.  upon first glancing through the books, i liked the idea that the characters could DO all kinds of cool things that had previously been either impossible or the province of high level characters.  you could teleport at 1st level? awesome.  you could fire magic rays from your hands whenever you wanted? yes!!!  you could flip over people? run along the walls? THIS WAS AMAZING!!

2.  i liked that players could choose from all kinds of different races like minotaurs, devas, and whatever else.  i had always hated that you were limited to just a few races in A/D&D...and in 3E playing a different race made you eat an insane ECL which made the character too powerful at first (or not...aasimar, anyone?) and super-lame later on. i loved that a minotaur could walk into a town and the residents were (for the most part) cool with it.  so that was nice.

3.  i really liked the "points of light" setting.  i've always HATED the pseudo-medieval default setting of most pre 4E D&D games. why the hell would there be CASTLES when the enemy could FLY?!?! why would armies of 0 level nobodies take the field when a few fireballs (or an earthquake spell) would wreck them?  why would armies need to forage or stay near water when all they really needed were a few clerics to make all the food and water they needed? and since clerics could literally summon food out of nowhere, why weren't they in charge of everything?!?!  "hey, you guys could farm your whole life...or you could help me spread the word of my faith and i'll literally feed the whole town".  i never liked campaign worlds with empires doing battle, kingdoms, duchies, or whatever the hell else. i always wanted things kept simple - a small town, a city, and a wide open world around it...B2 style.  ah well. this is a different blog post.

those were the 3 things that had me stoked on 4E.  the preview books they had released (and the anti 3E marketing campaign they'd launched) had me thinking that 4E was going to be AWESOME!!!

not really. playing 4E was torture.  very soon, all those cool little things that we read in the rules lost all sense when actually running through a game.  it didn't matter that you could visualize your eladrin rogue teleporting across the room, knocking his foe down and then backflipping out of the way, because in game-time 1 round took like a half an hour to resolve.  hell, a typical TURN was something like this:

me: ok, my turn.  i'm going to move here and use CLOUD OF DAGGERS.
DM: oh wait, i forgot that when the kobold king was bloodied all his allies shift one square.  so you can't move there because there's a kobold in the way.
me: ok...hmm (consults a multitude of power cards) i'm going to use BRING THE THUNDER on that kobold in my way... *rolls*...ok, so that's a 14 plus my STR plus half my level...so that's a 23 versus FORT and not AC.
DM: ok, it's a hit, but the kobold king uses his immediate interrupt power SLAY THE UNBELIEVER that allows him smite someone who's just injured his ally. he can do this because he's bloodied.  i rolled a 26...does that hit your REFLEX AC?
me: yes...
CHRIS:ok, then when he hits mike's guy i can use this power called BOWLING FOR GOBLINOIDS that allows me FRIGHTEN everyone in a blast 6 and knock them prone for one round if they all fail their save versus WILL.
DM: what does FRIGHTEN do? look that up...*begins rolling saving throws for all 12 kobolds*
rich: hey, wait a minute...i have the kobold king MARKED...can he attack mike's guy?
donnie: don't forget that all enemies adjacent to me have a -2 on all saves due to my GLOWING HALO ongoing effect.
me: so, do i get to hit that kobold in front of me or what?
DM: hold on, i'm looking up frightened...when you DO hit that guy all the kobolds will have the option of shifting 1 square since they have the SHIFTY ability that allows them to shift when someone within 5 squares is injured...
*everyone starts looking up various different things in the books and the turn begins to lag...meanwhile, i haven't yet rolled damage, used my move action or my minor action* 

4E was like the world's most complicated tactical miniatures wargame ever made.  everyone's turn in combat took around 10 minutes (as we had to look up a million things like conditions, immediate interrupts, effects from being bloodied, conditions that occur when someone gets hit, someone moving adjacent then triggered something else, etc). you constantly had to try and remember who was marked, who had what effect active that enabled various bonuses and whatever else, feats, racial abilities, and whatever else.  the monsters all had abilities that recharged, or went into effect when certain things happened...oooooof. if you forgot to use them the monsters were at a disadvantage.  the DM had treasure parcels to dole out (with no tables to roll on).  even the f*#$ing magic items had daily and encounter powers?!?  throw in the usual amount of rules lawyering and you had a big disaster on your hands.  the game was a nightmare for BOTH players and DMs.

the other thing was that it was almost IMPOSSIBLE for characters to die.  i say almost simply because one of my characters died in the first session when we weren't sure what we were doing. later on i tried to "suicide" a character that i didn't particularly like just to see if it could be done...and it BARELY worked (he expired a round before the other PC's got to him).  and this was me INTENTIONALLY TRYING TO KILL HIM.

my next character was a mute - this was my (silent) protest of 4E. since all role-playing stopped the instant combat broke out, i made a character who just stabbed stuff when the other party members told him to and did nothing else.  no one noticed.   

i'd love to detail some of the adventure stuff we did with 4E, but i don't really remember any of the details or plot points of most of the adventures.  basically, there would be some adventure hook...eventually a fight would break out and that would literally take the entire session to resolve. one fight. the whole session.  after a while no one wanted to DM the game because it was laborious and boring, so donnie stepped up and said that he'd run some module series.  we played all of them...AND I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT THEY WERE CALLED OR WHAT THEY WERE ABOUT.  i think there was a pyramid.  and i totally remember some random rolling magical boulder that messed us up.  that's it.  from june of 2008 until december of 2009 - all i have to tell you about is a magical f*&%ing boulder and a pyramid.  i can tell you all kinds of cool details about the STAR FRONTIERS adventure i ran, or the SAVAGE WORLDS adventure that chris ran, and rich's ALTERNITY sessions...i can tell you all about adventures i played in 1980 - 1990...but 4E was literally giving us nothing noteworthy to discuss. it wasn't even fun - it was like a job.    

one night i asked everyone if they'd be into continuing STAR FRONTIERS. "YES!!!" was the enthusiastic response...we'd pick that up as soon as this last 4E module was done.  that night, as i waited for my turn to come in 4E i ran a search on my phone for STAR FRONTIERS...and i came across an entry on a blog called GROGNARDIA.

when i got home that night i explored the heck out of that blog. it seemed that a lot people were still playing all the pre-3E D&D games.  they were using the old rulebooks and these new ones with titles like OSRIC, LABYRINTH LORD, and SWORDS & WIZARDRY.  my mind was blown.  it was so simple!  just...play the games you like.  huh.

the next day i sent out an email.  instead of playing STAR FRONTIERS or 4E, i asked...why don't we just play the D&D that we like the most?  everyone agreed - and everyone thought it would be fun to play ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS again (i'm talking about 1E here).  rich even agreed to run it.

to be concluded.


wow, so it's been a few months. ok...so i left off talking about us quitting 3E, awaiting 4E, and agreeing to try some new games.  our gaming group at this time was me (33), chris (33), donnie (37), rich (34), and anthony (17 - he's rich's half brother).  for frame of reference, the time is october of 2007.


our friend rich had read the softcover rulebook, and seeing as he had some extras he decided to give one to chris and i to read.  the book was refreshingly thin and the game seemed fun and so we agreed to play.  chris volunteered to run it, and at our next session we sat down to make characters.  chris said he envisioned a "1920's MUMMY pulp" type of adventure, so we made characters accordingly.  we used a few rules from some online sources, but other than that it was straight out of the book.  everyone made regular human characters...except for me: i made a guy who was a son of THOR (the norse god, not the comic book character). he was a big dude with a big hammer...and he could teleport (which manifested as lightning striking him and then striking the area he teleported to).  it wound up working - the adventure premise was that there was going to be this huge opening gala at the museum of natural history in NYC.  my character was celebrated as a hero by a cult of odinists, and they got wind that some cultists of set were going to attempt to steal some ancient relics from the museum - using the party as cover.  so, i headed to NYC and i hired the other PC's to help me stop the cult of set from doing what it was that they were going to do. we had a disastrous meeting with the museum board of directors, another PC wound up "obtaining" an invitation to the party from an NPC, we had to find a forger to make the rest of us invites to the party...there were fist fights, car chases...

...AND IT WAS AWESOME. the game moved fast, there was virtually nothing to look up and we got through the majority of the adventure in just under 3 hours.  WHOA. light bulbs were going off in all our heads. all of us (who were older) all sat around afterwards and we all had the same thought: that this session reminded us of how games felt when we were younger.

as chance would have it, i was at my parent's house later that week and i decided to go poking around in the attic.  i managed to dig out my old STAR FRONTIERS books, my old moldvay BASIC D&D book, the BECMI sets, my old AD&D hardcovers, and the MARVEL SUPER HEROES rpg.  i took them all back to my apartment and began reading the BECMI stuff (if you don't know, BECMI is an acronym for the old Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal D&D box sets).

the following week chris wasn't around, so we wound up playing STARCRAFT on rich's LAN. i mentioned how i had dug all my old books out of the attic.  while we were playing rich mentioned that he had always wanted to play STAR FRONTIERS...and that playing all this STARCRAFT was getting him in the mood to play it. so we agreed to try it the following week.

i put aside the BECMI stuff and reacquainted myself with the STAR FRONTIERS system.  it was very jarring to see a COMPLETE game presented in UNDER 100 pages after around 7 years of playing 3E.  even the SAVAGE WORLDS rulebook was 159 pages. i wasn't complaining, mind you...but that thought would be the set-up for what was to come later.

i decided to run the group through the old CRASH ON VOLTURNUS module. they rolled up characters (which took MAYBE 15 minutes) and something interesting happened. instead of looking for feats, planning ahead for prestige classes, or min/maxing the crap out of their stats...they just made cool characters.  for example - chris had a yazirian who had been a drill sergeant and had recently retired from service. he liked human-made cigars and was trying to adjust to civilian life.  rich had a dralasite anthropologist who was obsessed with ancient human civilization (in particular the INDIANA JONES movies), wore a fedora whenever possible, and was always making terrible jokes. these weren't just NUMBERS and WORDS on a page...they were giving their characters CHARACTER - something which had stopped happening in our 3E games.  anyway, just GETTING them onto the ship that starts the adventure took about an hour, as we were all having fun role-playing the meeting of all the PC's, determining how they all knew each other, and the meeting with the corporate executive who was hiring them to go to volturnus.

all in all - the adventure was a blast. it moved quickly, everyone had fun, and when characters died we found inventive new ways to place new ones on the planet...and the adventure took on a life of its own. in between SF sessions (we couldn't play when someone was absent as they didn't want to miss it) we played some ALTERNITY as well...with similar findings (you know...FUN).  we wound up finishing the SF adventure over the course of 3 sessions.  the module is broken into 3 parts and there was tons of sandboxing going on...so yeah, the game moved fast.  a lot faster than we were used to.

of course, this led them to wanting more...which led to me heading into BROTHERS GRIMM (our local gaming store) in search of the other VOLTURNUS modules...

...which we never got to play as 4E reared its ugly head in june of 2008.

to be continued...

Monday, March 26, 2012

this thing of ours...(part 2)

chris moved to a new town and pretty much immediately found a whole new crew of kids who gamed.  he picked up right where he left off with us and just kept on plugging.  i mention this because the kids he met after moving away would be the guys that i started gaming with again in 1998...

i gave up gaming in 1990. 11th and 12th grade did not see me so much as touch a polyhedral die. i knew that chris was still playing even after we graduated from high school - the dude was like an RPG magnet. everywhere he went he met people who played - it was sort of insane.  new high school? college? didn't matter - chris sniffed out the gamers.

a few times during college i got together with chris and his friends during breaks and played SHADOWRUN and VAMPIRE...but i wasn't really feeling those games. while i was away at college i discovered that one of my friends had played D&D and STAR FRONTIERS when he was younger like i had - we even brought our books up to campus after a vacation - but no one else was interested in getting a group going.

after getting my master's in 1998 i landed a job teaching english. chris had finally graduated from college by that point (he was on the FIVE YEAR PLAN) and he was settling back into life on long island. he decided to get a gaming group back together and invited me to play in it.  i accepted and i was kind of excited - until i saw the behemoth that 2E D&D had become in my 8 year hiatus. instead of just using the PHB to make a character...i was handed a literal tower of books and told to look through everything and to explore all my options. every attribute (strength, dexterity, constitution, etc) was now divided into 2 additional stats...?  non-weapon proficiency slots? kits? setting specific classes? skills and powers? oh boy. i wound up making a bounty hunter character who was technically a thief...but acted more like a fighter. when the game started, everyone wound up arguing about the rules instead of actually playing the game...and the rules all seemed to contradict each other. ugh. i lasted maybe 3 sessions and then used my new teaching job as an excuse to bow out. i figured that i had just outgrown the game.

another few years went by.  when 3E came out in 2000, chris again invited me to check it out. he assured me that  the game was cleaned up and that this group wasn't going to fight like the old group did.  i agreed to check it out - and lo and behold...i liked it! at first, anyway.  for the 1st year or so the game seemed smooth and chris' homebrew setting was fun and enjoyable.  but...our characters started to get more powerful. we noticed that certain prestige classes were closed off to us if we hadn't chosen the right feats at earlier levels. trying to plan prestige classes ahead of time got characters killed as they had feats that were useless. some feats and skills were much, much better than others. the combat began to drag as we gained more and more attacks and abilities. books were constantly being consulted to see if certain feats and skills could be used in one way or another. rules lawyering began to become common. more and more books were being released...and they were loaded with feats and spells and options...it was like 2E all over again. soon, the process of looking things up became a reference nightmare (quite a feat, since both chris and i are professional librarians). chris began to complain that making adventures for higher level characters was A LOT of work. a few of us volunteered to try our hands at DMing and we noticed the same thing.  then 3.5 came out, which made certain books obsolete. all our characters needed to be updated. i felt like we were ready to abandon the game, but at that point my friend donnie agreed to run us through the module RETURN TO THE TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL.

it started off ok as our characters were 1st level and things moved along at a brisk pace. however, as we progressed deeper into the adventure and began to gain levels we fell victim to the trap all over again; all we were doing was combat, making dice checks, arguing over rules and looking things up in the books. the adventure just kind of morphed into an unsatisfying min/max tactical miniature wargame. we finished the module because we felt like we had to and then swore off 3E forever.

shortly afterwards 4E was announced. it HAD to better...right? 

while we were waiting for 4E we agreed to try some different games. our friend rich had recently rejoined our group and he claimed he had heard some good things about a game called SAVAGE WORLDS. we agreed to try it...and when we did, well...LIGHTBULB. but that's for next time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

this thing of ours...

over the last year or so i've given a lot of thought to how i got involved in this hobby of ours. i've also given a lot of thought as to why myself and my gaming group prefers one "type" of game to all the others that are out there. as stated in my last post, we now prefer LABYRINTH LORD/ BASIC-EXPERT DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS to most other rpgs. now, i don't want to get into an edition war - but it's interesting to see how i came all the way back to the beginning after playing all the current versions of the game.

ok...so: my gaming history (this is long as i'm old).

the first time i ever played D&D was also the first time i'd ever heard of it - october 1980 (i was 6 and in 1st grade). i met a kid named jimmy in my 1st grade class and we became friends. he only lived a few blocks away from me so we started hanging out on the weekends and the whatnot. one rainy saturday i was at his house and his older brother (who was in 7th or 8th grade at the time) was in charge of babysitting us. i guess he decided that it would be easier to watch us if he ran us through a D&D session. when he mentioned playing it, jimmy seemed totally psyched. apparently, his older brother only ran games for him once in a while - most of his game time was spent with his friends. they both explained the game as being like a movie where you controlled the characters.

they gave me a piece of paper, a pencil and some weird looking dice and after walking me through the process -  i had created a paladin named geoffrey. my friend jimmy had a character named ARES (and thinking back on it, he may have been playing ares right out of DEITIES & DEMIGODS. check that - he so was). anyway, we played for a few hours - and i loved it! we had to rescue a princess who had been kidnapped by a dragon...and i remember we (somehow) injured the dragon and (of course) drove him off to save the day! 

D&D then became something we did on rainy/cold/snowy days at jimmy's place. we had all kinds of crazy adventures (that were loosely based on fairy tales) - giants, dragons, titans, gods and goddesses. at one point geoffrey had a pet pseudo-dragon who could mind-blast people.

a few times we actually played with his brother's friends and the game had a different tone - more serious and realistic (we also had to use different characters than the ones we used when it was just the three of us...).

a year or so later (when i was in 2nd grade) i was at my friend chris' house...and i noticed a pile of familiar looking hardcover books in his basement (along with some new softcover/three holepunched books that i had never seen before). it turns out that he had been playing for about a year also...except that he was running his older brother and his brother's friends through adventures and modules. i told him that i had been playing with jimmy - and then we started playing at his house as well. chris' games were like the games jimmy's brother ran with his friends...it seemed more mature, was way more deadly and was somehow more satisfying.

keep in mind that at this point i didn't own any of the books or anything. my elementary school library changed all that. in 2nd grade i discovered that the library had all these books called CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE. in 3rd grade they started putting all these other books on the same shelf called ENDLESS QUEST...and they had the D&D logo on them! i grabbed a few (there were four different ones) and devoured them. my favorite one was MOUNTAIN OF MIRRORS by rose estes...and in short order i had a new elf character named landon (i was 8 - cut me some slack). i was also now the proud owner of all four of those books. (the library would order more of them...don't worry).

as 4th grade began we discovered that there was a saturday morning cartoon on tv based off D&D! man, i hated that cartoon.  i sill do.  but - that show prompted my parents into getting me the 1st 2 mentzer sets for christmas (which were confusingly different than the ones chris and jimmy had). chris had gotten a new game called STAR FRONTIERS that we began to play regularly. by the time 5th grade rolled around, chris had a subscription to DRAGON and we were playing D&D, STAR FRONTIERS and also MARVEL SUPER HEROES pretty regularly. as it turned out - MANY, MANY kids in my school were also gamers...and games started turning up at our lunch table pretty much every day.  that's how things would stay until about 7th grade.

our lunch table games in 5th & 6th grade wound up producing the five of us who would stay with the game until...well, you'll see.  when 7th grade started, it was obvious that most of  the kids who had been gaming were now done with it. they were into hair bands, going to the mall, and whatever else.  not the five of us, though. we didn't forsake D&D just to be cool! we kept playing. now we had a tad more freedom since we were in junior high school - and our games got longer as we could play all weekend if we wanted - and during vacations and the whatnot we pulled some marathons. we also began to explore games outside of TSR's catalog. we played chaosium's ELFQUEST (since we loved the comic), FASA's STAR TREK (which chris and i hated), and west end's brand new STAR WARS rpg (which is a whole other blog post).  we were also heavily into computer games at this point also - ULTIMA IV, POOL OF RADIANCE, WASTELAND, LEGACY OF THE ANCIENTS...stuff like that. 

it was around this time (1987-1990) that we stopped cheating. we rolled characters fair and square, leveled up the right way and pretty much played the game as written...sort of. we played a mash-up of AD&D and the BASIC D&D game. we mostly used the PHB/DMG/MM - but we ignored MANY of the rules and sort of used the clearer rules from the basic books...and we assumed that max level was 36th.

2nd EDITION came out when we were in 9th grade and we loved it (except for the loose-leaf format of the MONSTROUS COMPENDIUM). we felt that it cleared up many questions we had about the old rules - and we liked that we could just keep using things from 1E in 2E (like the 1E ranger, assassin, etc). we spent a good solid 2 years with 2E and had some of our best adventures...and then chris (our default DM) moved away at the end of 10th grade.

granted, he only moved a few towns away - but when you're in 10th/11th grade and can't drive...well, what can you do? when he moved away the rest of us stopped playing cold turkey. BOOM. it was just...over. that was in 1990...and i would not play D&D again for eight years.

NEXT ENTRY: chris is an RPG magnet; i come back to 2E in 1998; our experience with 3E/4E; and how we wound up back at the beginning.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

so...i made a blog. now what?

hey everyone! my name is mike...and i've finally decided to bite the bullet and create a gaming blog. i own part of a company called LEGENDARY REALMS TERRAIN ( www.lrterrain.com )( www.facebook.com/lrhob ) and rich (the majority owner/creator) has been bugging me for a while to create a blog where we discuss all the things that go on in our home campaign, our business, the cons we attend, etc. so...here it is.

i'll be honest - i like old rpg games. so do my friends. so this blog will mostly be about LABYRINTH LORD and the game it's based on - the 1981 BASIC/EXPERT version of D&D.

our current gaming group is about 6 people deep - and we're all varying ages (from 21 - 38) with various backgrounds in different rpgs.  there's something about those old rules/games that you just don't get from their modern counterparts...and i'll be discussing that (along with other stuff) on here.

the first couple of posts will be about how i came to be involved in this hobby of ours (back in 1980) and about how my friends and i have stumbled into PROOF that younger kids today actually like the older games of OUR youth moreso than the games of today...

anyway - thanks for reading and i hope you enjoy!