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 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 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 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 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! 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. 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 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...