Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paths, Portals, and Keystones

Alnair is home to a nexus of interdimensional passageways that have existed for thousands of years. Known to most magic-users as the Paths, these passages are accessible through magically charged portals scattered around the continent. The portals are normally sealed to prevent access, but they can be opened by performing particular magical rituals, casting a portal spell, or using a magical keystone.

The Paths vary in appearance. For example, travelers have reported portions of them that appear to be caverns, mist-shrouded hallways, forest pathways, or murky rivers. They may change appearance abruptly or smoothly, depending on the portion of the network being traversed at any given time. Occasionally, a portion of the Paths will shift or change for no apparent reason.

Portals also vary in appearance. Many appear to be stone archways that have been bricked closed. Other examples include a small circle of blue standing stones outside Avalon, an ancient stone zigurrat in the ruins of Darkhold that is said to have a separate, unmarked portal on each step and face, the Face of Westmarch that holds a portal in its mouth, and the Well of Worlds at Heralds Hall. Although some of the more famous portals are highly decorated, the lesser-known portals are often simple and relatively non-descript. There are even reports of a small girl traveling through a portal that appeared to be a large rabbit hole outside of Canterbury.

The portals and, presumably, the Paths themselves were created before human civilization on Alnair. There are some records that were discovered in the Formiithian ruins that suggest that they were created by an elder reptilian race. Other records from the same source, however, suggest alternative sources including extradimensional forces or beings or an ancient elven race. Some have even suggested that the Paths are tears in the fabric of reality caused by the forces of Chaos and that the portals were created to seal or cap them and prevent access.

Regardless of their origin, however, they have been used by humans and other races on Alnair for at least the past two thousand years. They were used particularly heavily by magic-users and cultic priests in Formiith prior to the collapse of the empire. The elves of Starfall have also used them extensively. They have also conducted studies of the Paths and portals and claim to have discovered or created no fewer than fourteen alternate planes or dimensions accessible from them.

Some scholars studying the Paths have suggested that using them may be dangerous. They point to the appearance of Chaotic entities in the vicinity of known portals, and the occasional disappearance of travelers in the Paths. Elven Elders in Starfall and Chateau d'Anges have warned against using them to travel. They have forbidden travelers from opening the portals in the Crystal Garden in Starfall and placed them under heavy guard. Anaril Blueraven of Heralds Hall has mapped several of the Paths and traveled them extensively. He has presented several reports to the Hall of powerful Chaotic creatures encountered in the Paths, unusual distortions of time and space, and the appearance and disappearance of numerous planes or dimensions. He noted that most of these unusual phenomena seemed to occur when he was accompanied by larger parties of companions, retainers, and servants.

Despite the warnings, however, many people still use the Paths regularly to travel from place to place. The dramatic reductions in travel times between very distant points normally outweighs any concerns that travelers may have. Those that are concerned hire guards and mercenary spell-casters for protection. Because of the concerns and rumors, some of the inns and way-houses near portals are seeing increased business from sellswords and adventurers.


Traveling on the Paths requires an open portal. A few portals normally remain open, including the Well of Worlds at Heralds Hall, two known portals in the ruins of Darkhold, and the King's Gate in Freistadt. Because of the recent rumors and the appearance of Chaotic creatures through these gates in the past, these portals are all under constant guard. Access to them is normally limited to authorized travelers. Other portals may be opened or closed with the appropriate ritual. Very few details of these rituals are recorded, and characters will normally need to consult sages or perform extensive magical research to discover them. Portals may also be opened or closed by using the portal spell or a keystone, as mentioned previously.

Traveling the Paths is similar to traveling overland, but travel times are normally substantially reduced. The reduction varies considerably, depending on the entry and exit portals used. Some trips through the Paths appear to be instantaneous, while others could take hours or days. The exact travel time between points will be determined by the game master.

The Paths open between dimensions and can be extremely dangerous at times. Chaotic creatures are known to travel in the Paths and are attracted to the presence of life in the ways. Single travelers are less likely to attract their attention than large groups. Generally, for each hour spent in the Paths, the game master should make a check to see if the travelers are noticed by a Chaotic creature. In most places, the chance for a Chaotic encounter should be 3% per traveler in the group. The referee can increase this chance for particularly dangerous sections of the Paths. For example, because of the Chaotic activity around Darkhold, the chance of an encounter with a Chaotic creature in the Paths near there could increase to as much as 10% per traveler per hour. The details of the creatures encountered are up to the game master but could include anything from minor demons to Chaotic gods or avatars.

In addition to the possibility of Chaotic encounters, it is possible for travelers to get lost in the Paths. Characters entering a portal are advised to research their route carefully before departure or hire an experienced guide. Even with an appropriate map or guide, there is still a slight chance of being misdirected due to the changing nature of the Paths themselves. Any party entering the Paths has a 10% chance of getting lost. If the travelers have not taken adequate precautions or done appropriate research, do not have a guide, or have an inaccurate map of their Path, the chance of being lost is doubled. A party that is lost in the Paths may exit through a random portal or attempt to find their original destination. If they attempt to return to their original route, their travel time will be doubled (60% of the time), tripled (30% of the time), or quadrupled (10% of the time), with an appropriate increase in the number of encounters.

Guides are normally experienced (6th level or higher) magic-users or elves that have traveled extensively in the Paths. If they are not of sufficient level to cast a portal spell, they will normally carry a keystone. A rare few guides are characters of other classes equipped with keystones.


Level: MU5
Duration: Permanent
Range: 30'

This spell allows the caster to open or close a single portal within range. A permanent portal is not affected by this spell.


This item appears to be a large stone or gem covered with ancient runic carvings. It can be used to cast a portal spell up to four times per day.

Greater Keystone: This item functions as a normal keystone. It also decreases the chance for a traveler to get lost in the Paths to 1% per trip.


The gray text above is designated open game content per the OGL.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rolling Ability Scores

Over at Grognardia, James made a quick post about how AD&D didn't have the option of rolling 3d6 in order as an acceptable method for generating ability scores. Instead, the DMG presented several alternative methods. These included the ever-popular roll 4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired (the most enduring rule from the post title).

Lots of people have commented and run down the statistics of the various methods, pointing out the ways that the different methods skew the probabilities for particular ranges of ability scores. Some people have pointed out the need for higher ability scores, given the generally increased power curve of AD&D and the increased focus on ability score adjustments. These are all good reasons for not including 3d6 in order as a method for generating ability scores. Another good reason, though, is that the only edition of the game that included only 3d6 in order for generating ability scores was OD&D. The other editions have all used alternate schemes for creating ability scores. AD&D presented multiple different ways to generate scores in the DMG and then offered even more in Unearthed Arcana. The Holmes rules and all of the Basic D&D rules since have used 3d6 as the base method for generating ability scores, but then allowed players to increase their character's prime requisite by modifying their other scores. There have been different formulae for doing so, but the rules are there.

So, since the Holmes edition of the rules, there was a recognition that player characters should definitely be above average in their prime requisite. In the AD&D generation models, the characters are more powerful overall. In the B/X generation model, characters are more powerful in their prime requisite at the cost of being less powerful in other areas. Interestingly, in all of these adjustment models, Constitution and Charisma can never be adjusted, and Dexterity can never go down. Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom are malleable, though.

The AD&D model allows some player choice in all but one of the schemes in the DMG. You can arrange your scores as desired in the first two models, and you choose the set you like best in the final model. In the third model, you are rolling six sets of 3d6 for each ability and taking the highest each time, so you don't really need to choose how to arrange your scores. You're normally generating a super character by that method anyway.

In the adjustment scheme in the Basic rules, you roll your 3d6 in order and then choose your class. After that, you can lower other scores to increase your prime requisite. The choice becomes not so much how you want the scores arranged as how you can tweak the scores to best match the character you want to play. Ability scores don't give as many adjustments in B/X, so it's not as debilitating to have average ability scores. Since the prime requisite does affect earned experience, though, it's important to be able to increase that as much as possible.

Back in the day, most of the folks in my gaming groups played AD&D and wanted to play a particular race and class. They needed their character to have particular scores to qualify for those combinations. In most of our games, we used the 4d6, drop the lowest to accommodate that. We still ended up with fighters that were frustrated wanna-be paladins with 14 Charismas, but the system worked and did what it was supposed to do. It increased the power curve a little for the PCs and allowed players to play the characters they wanted.

When we played B/X in the beginning, we were strictly by the book most of the time. In a few games, we were allowed to arrange the scores the way we wanted before adjusting, but this was pretty rare. Normally we rolled the dice, took our chances, pumped the prime requisite as much as possible, and then looked for anything (magic pools anyone?) that would kick up those scores. Our characters weren't necessarily more powerful overall, but they were definitely more iconic. Our fighters were the strongest but not too bright. Our clerics were wise and our magic-users were super-intelligent, but both tended to be fairly weak. But that iconic style seemed to fit B/X a little better, IMO.

I've been thinking about how I want to have players generate their character's ability scores for my Borderlands game. Originally, I was thinking about just using 4d6, drop the lowest and calling it done. The more I think about it, though, I think I want to match the generation method to the ruleset. And I think that may be what EGG was trying to do and why AD&D has different methods than B/X.

The character class choices in B/X (as they are in core Labyrinth Lord) are iconic. Humans are distinguished by their class. Demi-humans are distinctive simply by not being human. They have abilities beyond human norms that make them what they are. Ability scores provide small adjustments and increase earned experience for high prime requisites. High ability scores make your character more of what they are, rather than necessarily increasing their general performance.

The class and race combinations in AD&D (or in Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion) allow almost anything to come together and define the character. Any race can be a fighter or thief, and most can be one of the magic-using classes. Only the most iconic classes are restricted to humans—paladins and monks. Ability scores provide more benefit overall and more distinction in a field of mixed race/class characters. You can better define all of your characters attributes under these rules, and that starts with the base ability scores.

Originally I was planning to use the Labyrinth Lord core rules with the Advanced Edition Companion for the Borderlands game. I figured that the broader choice of race/class combinations would draw in a few more of my old AD&D group. And I was planning to use the 4d6, drop the lowest rule for ability scores. The players I've talked to so far, though, have given me some indications that they would play with just the core LL rules. If that's the case, we'll be using race-as-class characters and 3d6 in order with adjustments to the prime requisite. I'm going to leave it up to them to decide which way to go.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Zines and the renaissance

I started playing roleplaying games in the late 1970s with the Holmes basic set, but I didn't completely dive into the gaming frenzy until the early 1980s. At that time, I started playing AD&D fairly regularly with one group of gamers and played quite a few different games with another group. We worked our way through all the TSR classics at some point or other. Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers – we played them all. Over time, we moved on to other companies' games, but we were always TSR faithful back in the day. And we stayed faithful throughout the 80s and into the early 90s, playing through most of the classic module catalog, a number of home-brewed campaigns, and lots of off-the-cuff stuff in between.

In the middle 80s, like so many gamers at the time, I also got into punk and metal music. The music of Dio, Ozzy, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, the Dead Kennedys, the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and many more were the soundtrack for quite a few gaming sessions, if not the inspiration as well. My gaming friends and I grabbed these albums and tapes almost as fast as we did Unearthed Arcana, the latest Dragon magazine, or the latest modules. We devoured these bands' music right alongside our feast of gaming material.

One of the things that tied both together at the time was the zine. I remember going to the local gaming club or the FLGS at the time and seeing several home-made or semi-professional gaming zines right alongside Dragon and White Dwarf. In our local game stores it often seemed like the zines had better circulation than some of the professional magazines, given the spotty international distribution of Games Workshop at the time.

Over at the record stores, it was the same. If you went to the right stores, you could find some local zines talking about the newest metal bands or which punk shows were rolling through the dives in town next week. You could read a review of the Circle Jerks show and the latest Corrosion of Conformity album.

In both cases, the zines were often poorly written, had little substantive content, and had inconsistent release and distribution schedules. Sometimes, you could find a good zine for a month or two, then they would fade into obscurity. Sometimes, you would find one that was mediocre that would hang on for months at a time. Normally, it was something between the two. They were made on copy and mimeo machines at the local high schools, or they made their way out of the newspaper offices at IU, Purdue, and Ball State after hours.

Despite the poor production values, though, the zines served an important function for us. They made us feel like we were part of something big. They made us feel personally involved. And, if we were especially lucky to be the first to find a particularly good rag, they gave us some bragging rights in our personal cliques.

In the case of the gaming zines, we took everything printed in them with a grain of salt. Sometimes, though, we would find a real gem tucked inside those hastily typed, mimeographed pages. These treasures, often a new monster or spell of exceptional and spectacular lethality, would make the rounds of the local gamers and then fade into obscurity as their novelty wore off. Once all the groups at the Dragon's Lair had thrashed a bog beast (Dude, it's totally not hurt by edged weapons! Like who carries a mace besides the cleric anyway, man?!), he slouched back into the swamp and got lost in the mists of time.

In the early 90s, gaming and music zines seemed to fade away as more and more people started going online for information. Gamers tuned into the golden tubes of the interweb earlier than many, and most of the things that used to go into the zines got put onto personal gaming sites and newsgroups. Suddenly, what you used to be able to send out to a couple hundred gamers in your local area, you could send out to every gamer in the world. Awesome!

As we turned the next decade, we moved out of the newsgroups and onto forums and blogs. Now we were able to interact with each other more and develop the content together. If someone thought the bog beast was the coolest thing since a triple Espresso shot, they could give you some feedback. Maybe they'd suggest that edged weapons wouldn't damage it but had a chance to chop off a smaller bog beast. Maybe they'd say it was the worst thing they'd seen and you should give up your hapless attempts at designing altogether. Either way, we got an idea of what people thought about what we were throwing out there in a way the old zines never did.

Now as time marches off into another new decade, the zines are making a comeback. This is especially true for the old-school games, but also the case for newer games and gaming types. Computers and the Internet have made it possible for anyone to put their ideas and experiments, news and commentary out there for the world to see. Some of them are better than others. Some are more timely than others. Some flare up and fade away, and some have been going for years. A few have gone past the zine stage and become full-fledged magazines with professional artwork and design, paid writers, and solid, regular distribution. Regardless of the differences, zines are back.

I think this is a great sign for the gaming hobby. More gamers are going back to the idea that it doesn't matter if you have the backing of a big game company, that your ideas can be just as good as any of the big-name designers. Using the OGL or Creative Commons, a lot of gamers are putting out some solid old-style zines with great content. Computers have kicked up the production value, and the Internet has broadened the distribution. Thirty years of history has improved the quality and depth of the articles, too.

A few months ago, I heard Jim Pinto of AEG say in an interview on Fear the Boot, "The renaissance of gaming is over." I think he was talking about the explosion of content we saw following the start of the D20 revolution and the creation of the OGL. Sure, there were a lot of companies that released a ton of material, and that did reinvigorate gaming. But I tend to think the renaissance is still happening now.

Jim is right that a lot of companies have dropped off since the move by Wizards of the Coast away from 3rd edition to 4th and away from the OGL. Outside of Paizo's Pathfinder and its supporters, there aren't a lot of companies holding onto 3.5 nowadays. But that doesn't mean that the renaissance is over. On the contrary, it could just be beginning now.

The word renaissance means rebirth. Even though D&D, as officially named and produced by Wizards of the Coast, has moved away from its roots in many ways, people are playing it, and more people start playing all the time. At the same time, lots of people are still playing the older editions. And if you include the retro-clones, more new people are playing these older editions as well. Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and all the other retro-clones are bringing new gamers into the hobby as much as 4th edition or other "mainstream" games are.

Part of the reason for that, I contend, is the resurgence of the zines alongside these games. I got excited about a lot of punk music back in the day by reading the zines tucked by the register at the independent record shops. I got excited about gaming again and the retro-clones by reading a lot of the player-created content that was posted online the last couple years. In both cases, I felt like I was onto something new, exciting, and visceral because someone had the passion and interest to put this stuff together, even though they weren't necessarily being paid for it. Old-school punks and old-school gamers poured part of themselves into those zines, and that gives them a kind of energy that none of the more polished magazines will ever have.

Good zines, then and now, have energy and a kind of life. They may not have much substance, but they've got passion. And more often than not, they're a reflection of real-life gaming, not something polished in a game writing think-tank in the offices of a big game company. That life may be chaotic, unruly, unpolished, and disorganized. It may be amateurish and unprofessional. But that's the way this hobby started! If Gary Gygax and friends hadn't put out those type-written booklets, stapled together and hand-labeled in that basement in Lake Geneva, we wouldn't be playing roleplaying games at all. Zines have the same kind of energy that those little brown books had. And the fact that zines are making a comeback in electronic form tells me that we've rediscovered our roots and that the hobby is being reborn as we speak. The real renaissance is happening now, and its happening in the form of all of those forums, blogs, and especially zines that are floating through the net right now. Gaming is dead, long live gaming. The zine is dead, long live the zine!

Review - Od&dities issue 13

As I mentioned in my Old-school goodness post, I had not read any issues of Od&dities before I bought this and the following two issues. I noticed them on RPGNow, read the description, and took a chance. I am definitely glad I did in the case of this issue.

Issue 13 checks in at 25 pages, including the cover, contents, and open game license. The remainder of the issue is divided between seven articles, 2 tables, an editorial, and a commentary piece that closes the issue. It is available through RPGNow for $2.00. The overall production value is very good with nice artwork throughout. The text is well-edited and laid out in a dual-column format. This definitely improves readability in print, but caused me to have to scroll a lot to read it on my netbook. On my laptop, I did not have to scroll nearly as much and reading the issue there was almost as easy as reading it in print.

The articles are solid throughout. This particular issue was advertised as being focused on the Keep on the Borderlands, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Two of the articles in the issue are somewhat focused on that, but more of the issue seemed to be focused on the illusionist class.

The first article, "Building the Keep on the Borderlands," presents several good points for a game master to consider in regards to player characters building strongholds. I particularly liked that the article suggests that the first step is to find out, well in advance, whether your players even want their characters to do it at all. The rest of the article talks about setting up an appropriate area for the stronghold in the campaign world, some of the issues that may arise while planning and building the stronghold, and a few possible references for more ideas. I would have liked to see more references for additional material, but this is still an excellent little article.

The second article, "Designing the Keep on the Borderlands," is another article for GMs. This time, though, the article focuses on building a keep the characters can use as a base, Keep on the Borderlands style. It includes suggestions for determining the function of the place (other than as a PC base), designing the keep itself, populating the surrounding area, and developing the NPCs that are there. I especially like the idea of drawing the initial construction and then adding later construction to the map to give the place a sense of history. This is another excellent article with plenty of good material, and I plan to use a lot of the ideas here to flesh out the Keep and its surroundings in my Borderlands game.

"A Touch of Class: The Illusionist" is a write-up of an illusionist class for Labyrinth Lord and other B/X games. The class looks fairly balanced, with a decent selection of spells. Including the perceive illusion and minor illusion abilities gives this illusionist some useful, unique abilities. This class would be a welcome addition to a Labyrinth Lord game that uses just the main rules. It might also make a nice variant in campaigns that already use the illusionist in the Advanced Edition Companion.

"Introducing New Classes to the Campaign" is a very short article (less than half a page) that gives some great advice about different ways to introduce new classes to a game. It is one of the best features in this particular issue, despite the short length.

If you like dogs in your game, the next article is going to be indispensable. "Man's Best Friend" includes stats for a variety of dog types – guard dogs, trackers, riding dogs, and so on. It also includes rules for training dogs, dog-related equipment, and even a speak with animals spell. I will definitely be using this article, since one of my players is already planning to have a dog-riding halfling for her character.

"Surviving the DM's Wrath: Party Formation" is the next to last article in the magazine and, in my opinion, the weakest. It gives consideration to each of the main LL classes, the illusionist class presented in this issue, and the expansion classes for LL published by Brave Halfling. The article compares the relative merits of each of these classes as part of a party of adventurers. Although the article presents a thorough and fair comparison of the merits of the classes, I don't really see how it is going to be useful for me or my gaming group. Even the relatively new players I have don't really need this kind of comparison. YMMV, but this isn't really my cup of tea.

The final article, "Magical Miscellany: The Rings of Altar," presents a few magical rings of use to illusionists. These might have been better presented in closer correlation to the illusionist class, but the separation does showcase this as a separate part of the magazine. If you do not use the illusionist class, either as presented in this issue or in the AEC, these items will not be that useful, as they are definitely tied to that class. For an illusionist, though, they are interesting and have a lot of character.

The two tables in the magazine are both fun. "20 Reasons the Guardsman is on patrol alone at night" is quirky but useful. It reminds me of some of the tables in Judges Guild's old Ready Ref Sheets or AEG's Toolbox books. "20 Things you may find in a Kobold's Pocket" is probably less useful but no less quirky. I will still probably use it, but I'm going to change a few entries on the table before I do. Both of these tables represent some of the best aspects of old-school randomness, by the way, similar to what James Maliszewski noted in his retrospective on the Ready Ref Sheets.

Finally, the commentary piece at the end, "Mr. B's Last Word" presents some good comments about first level in old school games.

This magazine is a great resource and a great value. Although the content is designed for Labyrinth Lord, it is easily useful for other old school games (and easily converted). The advice articles are great for any edition. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading future issues.

Od&dities 13

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gen Con update

It looks like I will be in Registration while I'm working at Gen Con. Right now, my schedule is set for 1-9 in the afternoon/evening, but that may change depending on how the area is running. This will be good, since I'll be better able to schedule the rest of my time around my hours there.

As of now, I've got one True Dungeon run scheduled Thursday night with some friends from the Chicago area. Otherwise, I'm going to check out the exhibit hall to see if I can find some more old school goodness and just have a good time.

If anyone is interested, I'll try to squeeze in a couple of one-shot LL games in the open gaming area. I've got quite a few old modules, or I could put something together over the next couple of weeks. Either drop me an email, leave a comment here, or drop a post on the LL forums.

Old-school goodness

Yesterday after I put some more things up for auction, I was poking around eBay for a while and found a copy of the Holmes Basic book for under $8, including shipping. So in a few days I should have a replacement physical copy of Holmes in my hands. Even though I've been trying to get rid of the extra stuff I don't need, I'm still trying to get physical copies of the old-school stuff I love. This is one of those things that's been on my short list for a while. Needless to say, I'm waiting anxiously.

In the meantime, I also picked up copies of Od&dities numbers 13, 14, and 15 and Original Edition Characters for Labyrinth Lord. I wasn't familiar with the magazine before, but a quick search turned up an archive of old issues. I'll definitely be catching up on my reading over the weekend. Expect some reviews as soon as I do.

I've also got a few people interested in playing in the Borderlands game, so I may be able to get things started in the next week or so, depending on how schedules work out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Almost Map a Week

This week I've been busy getting a lot more things ready for auction on eBay, so I haven't had as much time as I wanted to work on a new map. Rather than try to knock something out in a hurry, I'm going to give a few details about some ideas that I have for Alnair, the home of my soon-to-be Borderlands campaign. I posted the map for the region where the campaign is going to take place a couple of weeks ago.

Most of the names on that map are derived from English, German, and Japanese, with a few French names thrown in for good measure. This is because the majority of the humans in this region of Alnair are descended from a multi-national colony ship that settled the planet over a thousand years ago. Since that time, the colonists in most of the region have evolved a culture similar to late medieval Europe. This includes the countries of Colonia, Victoria, Westreich, and Starfall. (Note that Westreich wasn't labeled on the original map. It's the country in the west-northwest portion of the map.) Midoriyoko and Kuroheiya have a pseudo-Japanese culture, heavily influenced by the "european" flavor of the surrounding nations.

Colonia (Colony A), Victoria, and Westreich were three of the original colonial expanions. As the colonists settled or conquered more territory, they set up small nation-states reminiscent of their ancestral homes.

Starfall was, at one point, another colonial settlement. It was conquered by elves a few centuries ago. Chateau d'Anges was a provincial settlement established by one of the elven warrior families. It has recently declared itself an independent city-state.

Formiith is the remains of an empire that once covered the entire region that was slowly dismantled over several centuries by clashes with the colonists. The original inhabitants of Formiith were human-like and interbreeding has slowly eliminated the distinctions between the species.

The City of the Ancients was the site of the first colonial settlement on Alnair. The colony ship that landed here was dismantled and used to construct a city structure from which the colonists could expand. This city was built based on plans for a proposed ecologically sound super-city. As humanity spread across Alnair, the city was largely abandoned. It has fallen into disrepair, but still houses a fairly large human and animal population.

The inspiration for the City of the Ancients is the "Ultima" Tower, designed by Eugene Tsui. This tower city is designed to hold millions of people within its own biosphere. When I saw this, it seemed like a great way of establishing a colony on another planet, especially if the ship that took the colonists there was dismantled to build the city.

After over a thousand years, the city has fallen into disrepair and is currently home to a struggling remnant of humanity, a strong population of mutant plants and animals, and some remaining robotic workers and guards. In game terms, the city is a huge, anthill-shaped construct in the middle of a freshwater lake in low mountainous terrain. It has fifteen primary levels with eight secondary levels each. Each secondary level has various sublevels and hab divisions.

The city is largely isolated from the outside world by its remote location. It is also protected by local tribesmen (who think the city is inhabited by gods and demons), the lake (which is populated by several large predatory species), and the security systems and defense robots on the ground levels. It is possible for adventurers to enter the city (especially by magical means). Residents of the city rarely leave, and when this happens it is normally due to a catastrophic accident rather than their choice.

In the Borderlands, anyone who knows of the City of the Ancients knows it as the realm of the gods and home of the ancestors. Few have ever seen it, and fewer still have ever entered and returned from it. Player characters may have a chance to go there. If they do, I'm planning to use Mutant Future to flesh out the denizens of the city.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I need a cool title banner

Like the title says. I really like the Erol Otus picture on the back of B2, but I don't want to use copyrighted material without permission. I don't really have the drawing skill to do anything worthwhile. On the other hand, being unemployed, I don't have any money for a commissioned piece of artwork either.

So, are there any aspiring fantasy artists out there willing to work with me on creating a title banner for eternal gratitude and maybe payment sometime down the line? If you're interested, drop me line at mordred2 at msn dot com.

ChicagoWiz is back

For those of you who missed it, ChicagoWiz is back. I think this is great news. His blog was one of the things that got me excited about gaming again, and his marathon drop-in Keep on the Borderlands game using the Holmes rules convinced me to jump back in and run the Borderlands for my own game. I have enjoyed a lot of his articles, and he and I share a lot of ideas and attitudes about gaming. I'm looking forward to seeing what he has in the works and almost wishing I was still in Chicago to see some of the sandbox stuff he mentioned.

Welcome back!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Miniature Dragons

One of the first science fiction series I read was the first Pern series by Anne McCaffrey: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. I was introduced to the series by one of my uncles and quickly fell in love with the idea of fire-breathing dragons destroying the inimical threads that fall on the planet. I quickly incorporated this theme of defending dragons into several games back in the day. By the time I got to high school, I developed a smaller dragon species that lived alongside the traditonal colored dragons of AD&D and showed a lot of the characteristics of Pern's dragons. These miniature dragons were a big hit with some of my players back then, especially if they were lucky enough to subdue and train one. Here they are for Labyrinth Lord.

Dragon, Miniature

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (Fly: 120')
Armor Class: 1
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 3 or 1 (2 claws, 1 bite, or breathe)
Damage: 1d2/1d2/2d4
Save: F3
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI
XP: 80

Miniature dragons look like three-foot-long green dragons. They have leathery wings, four legs, and long necks and tails. They are distantly related to the larger, traditional dragon breeds.

Miniature dragons normally attack with claws and teeth or with one of their breath weapons. All miniature dragons can breathe a cone of fire 30' long and 10' wide three times per day. This breath weapon causes damage equal to the dragon's current hit points, just like a larger dragon's breath. They may also breathe smaller jets of flame an unlimited number of times each day. These smaller jets have a range of 10' and cause 1d4 points of damage to a single target each. A successful saving throw negates damage from this lesser breath weapon.

Miniature dragons are not as intelligent as their larger cousins and do not learn to use spells. They have an innate ability to fly and may blink (as the spell, see AEC pp. 56-7) three times per day. They are often found flying in forested areas, hunting small game. They collect some treasure, but do not acquire vast hordes like larger dragons.

Miniature dragons have occasionally been subdued and domesticated by humans, demi-humans, and humanoid races for use as hunting and guard animals. Training a miniature dragon takes a period of six to eight weeks of constant work and attention.

All game content in this post is open game content per the OGL.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Should I use minis?

I've been going through a lot of my old gaming stuff and clearing things out. In a gaming career that spans a little more than three decades, I managed to accumulate quite a trove of gaming goodies. Over the past couple years, though, I've been trying to cut down on the things I have just laying around the house. I'm getting over my packrat tendencies and trying to minimize the stuff I own.

Lately, most of what I have been getting rid of are miniatures and terrain. I've played quite a few miniatures games in the past, and I've got more models than I could ever need for them. So, I'm cleaning house and letting most of them go to eBay and elsewhere. If you've seen my posts about putting things for sale at auction, you've seen what I've been moving out. I'm finally getting to the end of the most recent round of auctions, and I'm hoping to post the final batches by next week.

In the process of clearing things out, I'm also finding things that I really want to keep. I have a couple armies that I want to finish painting, even if I never play games with them and just auction them immediately afterward. I have been looking forward to painting them, so I'm keeping them to paint. I'm also holding onto my Necromunda gang. I've got some friends I may be able to talk into playing a league. If not, I'll throw the models into a case until I can find a good store league to play in. The same thing goes for my old-school inquisitor and retinue, and a variety of other models I've painted nicely and don't feel comfortable selling. I'll either hold onto these or give them as gifts to friends I know will appreciate them.

Then there are the handful of models I have that I could use for RPGs. I sold off the collectible D&D minis I had a few years ago. The models I'm talking about are a few Reaper characters and some miscellaneous monsters I've collected in my painting box over the years. I got these models because I wanted to paint them, and I could just do that and put them on a shelf or in a case. I'm a fair enough painter that I would feel comfortable displaying my models.

For example, the pic at the head of this post is a stone spike model I painted in a couple hours the other night. I think I did a good job on it, and it would look good in a shadow box. On the other hand, it would look great in a 3-D dungeon, facing off against some well-painted character models, too.

I got started building models in the late 70s with a Life-Like models World of Stegosaurus kit. It was molded in purple plastic and featured the dinosaur about to be bashed in the head by a caveman with a big rock! I remember this being my first "glue" kit. I quickly followed it with a British Spitfire and a couple of model cars. I put these kits together, but didn't really do too well painting them. At the time, I was using enamels from the Testors starter set. This was definitely not the best way for an eight year old to start painting models.

These initial forays into modeling were about the same time I started playing RPGs. My first miniatures had to wait a couple years. For Christmas in 1980 I received a blister each of the Grenadier bugbears and lizardmen. I still have no idea where my grandmother found these, but they were definitely the best present I got that year. I loved these little lead beauties. Over the next few years I added a small collection of minis from several manufacturers. Basically I grabbed whatever minis struck my fancy without any consideration for whether they were useful for gaming or not.

In the early 80s, I didn't use minis for gaming at all. They were a way for me to picture the monsters and characters, and I loved painting them, but we never really considered using them in a game. Part of that was that nobody, including me, felt really accomplished as a painter. We saw the painted models at the game store and in the magazines and didn't think we could ever measure up to that standard. Also, our idea of combat was pretty free-form and open. We didn't really care where particular characters and monsters were in relation to each other. We just assumed that anyone was in range of anyone else or could be in the course of a round. No big deal.

Years later, when I was trying to run a game using D&D 3rd edition, I tried to use minis for combat. At the time, I was primarily using the D&D collectible minis, but I always had problems with them. First, I hate the idea of collectible minis. I want to be able to go to a store and buy the mini I want, not a box that might have the mini I want. Second, I want my minis to look great on the table, and the collectible minis weren't up to my standards. Over time they improved, but not much. Third, I noticed that when we were playing with minis in 3E, players tended to concentrate on the mechanics of the combat and forget anything else. The game devolved away from a role-playing game to a plain tactical minis game. Fourth and finally, I didn't like having a lot of models that took up space and stayed in storage most of the time. I want to be able to use the stuff I have, not have it packed away.

Now that I'm planning to get a Labyrinth Lord campaign going, I am trying to decide if I want to give minis another try or not. On the one hand, I've got the painting skills to produce some nice models. I also think that minis would open an aspect of classic game play that I missed back in the day. On the other hand, there's the problems of storage versus use and the cost of buying the models. I don't really want to have tons of models lying around that I only use occasionally, and I don't think I can afford to buy all of the models I would want. So I'm really torn.

So what do you do in your games and how does it work out? Do you use minis? Not use them? Sometimes yes and sometimes no? Why or why not? And if you are using them, do you have any suggestions or advice as I mull this over?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Map a week - Griffon Castle

In my Hexographer review, I posted a small picture of my map of the Borderlands. On my version of the area, what was originally the Cave of the Unknown became Griffon Castle. I haven't finished deciding what all Griffin Castle is going to be yet, but I decided that I wanted to start with an old map that many of you will recognize. When I found this in storage today, I knew I was on the right track.

This map is one that I created over a decade ago with Campaign Cartographer 2. I started with the sample tower in the back of the Moldvay Basic book, which is unchanged, and filled in the other tower with several rooms and a stair going down.

Interior areas are numbered, following the original scheme and adding new numbers for the other tower. Letters are used for outdoor encounters. I don't have a key for the map anymore, but I know that the original rooms were kept as they are in the Moldvay Basic. The other tower had some goblins led by hobgoblins as I recall. The outdoor encounters included a guardian goblin at A, a ghoul at B (that the goblins and hobgoblins kept at bay with regular sacrificial feedings), and maybe a trash pile or something at C. Take those suggestions and run with them or figure out what to put in there on your own.

BTW, the quality isn't the greatest because I had to take a picture of the printed map. I don't have access to my scanner at the moment. Once I get a good scan, I'll replace the pics with scans.

Here's the map in a large version and a small version. Enjoy!

Parrying and elegance

Last night I was reading my AD&D 1e Players Handbook and came across the rule for parrying on page 104.

Parrying disallows any return attack that round, but the strength "to hit" bonus is then subtracted from the opponent's "to hit" dice roll(s), so the character is less likely to be hit. Falling back is a retrograde move facing the opponent(s) and can be used in conjunction with a parry.

I couldn't find anything about parrying in the Dungeon Masters Guide, and I don't recall ever using this rule back in the day. That is probably because it was buried in the back section of the PH that includes all of the rules for players aside from races, classes, equipment, and spells, but that's beside the point. It seems that, like helmets, there is an appropriate parrying rule in the AD&D rules that we just ignored or (could it be true?) never read in the first place.

In the Advanced Edition Companion the parrying rule (along with the rule for helmets) makes an appearance as an optional combat rule on page 142. And I'm going to use it in my game, along with the rules for helmets, subdual damage, and two-weapon fighting. These rules add some options to combat encounters to make them more flavorful without bogging them down in extreme detail, and I love any rules that can do that.

The parrying rules in AD&D and LL with the AEC are simple, straightforward, and elegant. They give a character with a strength bonus an additional benefit besides causing more damage and being the door opener. They also give a character a chance to demonstrate that they do not have violent aims in a combat encounter, without simply having the character get pounded. They also remind me of something I've been relearning a lot lately.

The old D&D rules sets we used back in the day did not have a coherent universal mechanic for resolving situations or actions. There are different mechanics and rules for doing different things. You don't have a parry skill or feats that allow your character to parry X number of weapons per round, or whatever. You don't have to dig through six different supplements to put together your defense rating when parrying. Instead, you have a rule that gives you your strength bonus to defense in exchange for your attacks that round. That's it. It may not be realistic (although I think this parrying rule is more realistic than most of the feats and skills since 3e), but it works and allows the game to flow without a lot of math and book-waving. It's elegant.

Unfortunately, not all of the old rules had elegance to them. The infamous unarmed combat rules are not elegant. They are cumbersome and difficult. Also, many of the old rules were either mentioned in passing, like the parrying rule in the PH, or included in unusual places, like the starting spell selection rules for magic-users in the DMG. Holmes both relied on the LBBs and anticipated AD&D. The Moldvay Basic didn't include rules for outdoor encounters; you needed the Cook Expert rules for that.

Despite these issues, though, we more often than not found what we needed. If we couldn't find it, we'd make something up, fiddle with it until we thought it was balanced, and use it. If we couldn't find the right rule, we'd hack something together. No problem.

What I'm finding out a lot recently, though, is that we didn't need to hack the systems as much as we did. Reading through the rules as presented in Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and especially Labyrinth Lord, I am realizing how many of the things we house-ruled BITD were already in the rules if we just noticed them tucked away in the corners. We were creating a lot of variants, hacks, and make-dos, when we already had good rules in the books. With the reorganization and representation of a lot of these rules in the retro-clones, they're a lot easier to find and use. Even for the complicated rules (I'm looking at you unarmed combat), the clones make things easier to use simply by organizing the rules so you can find them in the book when you need to reread them.

So, chalk this up to another reason why I like the RCs, especially LL - they take the variety of systems I know and love from the old games and make them readable and understandable, exposing a lot more options that were already available in the old rules. They're organized and elegant.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More auctions posted

After fighting the weather and my computer for most of the day, I finally managed to get some models finished and posted on eBay. I put a ton of terrain up for auction, along with a fully painted Valhallan Imperial Guard army. You can check out the stuff I have posted here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More auctions and other stuff

I've been working on getting some more things ready to auction, drawing some new maps, and getting back in touch with old friends, so I haven't been as busy here the last few days. Once I get things a little more settled in real life, I'll be starting the Borderlands game. Right now, it looks like that's going to be in August after Gen Con, though. In the meantime, here's what I have coming up.

Later this afternoon I should be putting up a lot more stuff for auction on eBay. This time I've got a painted Valhallan Imperial Guard army, lots of terrain, and a few individual figures. I'm taking a break from writing the item descriptions to post this, so expect to see these go up in a few hours. When they do, you can find them on my eBay page.

I've been working on some regional maps for the Borderlands campaign and figuring out some of the background for things. I hinted about some strange things in my Map a Week post with the overview map. I'll be explaining some of the strangeness in articles here soon. I've also been rereading B2 and fleshing out a lot of the area around the Keep and tweaking things a bit. I posted a small version of the map without the GM-only annotations in my Hexographer review. I'll be posting a larger version of the map with a lot more details as I get things written.

Finally, I've started digging through a lot of my old gaming notes, and I found a cool little spell I created years ago. Here it is for LL:

Web of Thorns

Level: MU 3
Duration: 48 turns
Range: 10'

This spell functions exactly like the magic-user spell web, except that creatures trapped in the web will be pierced by thousands of tiny thorns. Unless the character or creature is wearing plate armor or has a natural armor class of 4 or better, it will take 1d4 points of damage per round until freed from the web of thorns.

This spell is open game content per the OGL.

Cap and the Invaders

Over on Nerd Lunch, there's a quick post about the Invaders being included in the Captain America movie. Here's my response:

I was just talking about the Cap movie on Saturday with a friend and suggesting that it might be cool for some of the other WWII heroes to make an appearance. I agree that Cap should be the star hero in this movie, but part of what makes Cap great is his ability to lead a team, especially when the rest of the team overpowers him. Also, it is difficult to conceive of Cap without a team in WWII, even if that team is composed of a platoon of regular GIs.

For decades we've seen Cap shine as a leader in the Avengers. From the time he thawed out, he was taking over the team. He has gone up against almost all of the cosmic level baddies in the Marvel Universe and survived simply by hiding behind the shield and getting his allied heroes in the right place with the right powers. I love Cap and will defend him to the end, but his best powers are dodging, throwing the shield around, and his tactical abilities to lead a team.

If you have Cap on his own through the whole movie, most fans will be disappointed. Sure, Cap will look awesome trashing a bunch of nazis and going one on one with the Red Skull, but that won't show us the core of the character. Giving Cap a team to lead does.

Now, as far as what characters to include, they could do worse than some of the Invaders. In some of the retcon story lines, Cap works alongside Wolverine (as Logan) in WWII. Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos are going to pop in, so why not include the Invaders? Bucky, Namor, Union Jack, and the android Human Torch could make a good addition. Here's my take on each.

Bucky is a definite. If you don't include Bucky, you lose the whole scene that puts Cap in hybernation for twenty to seventy years. Besides that, even without retconning the story line, Bucky is a staple of Golden era Cap.

Namor is possible, even if you think about the old green swimsuit. Marvel (and the other studios that have handled Marvel movies lately) have done well at changing up the costumes enough that the characters generally don't look too silly on screen anymore. In one of the X-Men movies, they even had Wolverine make a joke about the old spandex suits. So they could definitely come up with a version of one of Namor's costumes that looks good. As far as powers, Namor is basically a brick-type character that can breathe underwater. He can throw nazis around all day. Also, Namor is a definitely a hothead, and Cap needs someone to keep in line.

Union Jack definitely makes sense, as well. Although he was retconned into the Cap storyline and joined the Invaders after the others, he is the UK in the same way that Cap is the USA. There's no better way to represent the alliance between the nations than with the alliance between their superheroes.

Finally, there's the Human Torch. This could be troublesome, since Chris Evans played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies. Or they could use it as a way to poke some fun at that. All it would take is a line or two, and they could position Evans as the past Human Torch and the current Cap and give Cap a little humor in the bargain. They shouldn't play it up too much, but they shouldn't dismiss it either. Evans played the Torch, now he's playing Cap. So what. Also, including the original Human Torch allows a solid basis for having Ultron and Vision in a later Avengers movie (yespleasethankyouverymuch).

The only character I left out is Toro, who everyone seems to forget was an Invader anyway. Besides that, he's another flaming, flying guy so it makes sense to just combine him and the Torch the way that most people already have.

As far as other characters go, it might make sense to include some of them, but not if you want Cap to ring true. Spitfire may fit, and may even make it into the movie, but then why not include Lady Liberty as well? Why not the other Golden Agers that tramped through the various Invaders storylines. I'm sure all of them could make appearances, but that would definitely dilute Cap's role. Including the core Invaders, though, reinforces his role as leader and center for a team, building up the idea of Cap as the First Avenger.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Hexographer symbols

RedKobold has put together a beautiful set of icons for Hexographer. They're done in a calligraphy-like style and look great. You'll need to have the Pro version to import and use the new icons.

Check out the forum entry with download links here.

Random Dungeon Generator

Inkwell Designs (the maker of Hexographer) has a new random dungeon generator available. It's fairly simple - go to the page and the dungeon is generated automatically. For a different map, refresh the page. Joe has plans for adding random stocking, cave-based tiles, and other features in the near future as other projects allow.

Check out the generator here.

Check out the announcement about it on the Inkwell Ideas blog here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Map a week

The past few days I have been thinking quite a lot about maps as I have been working on the maps for the Borderlands, the ant nest, and my overland campaign map. I remembered that Wizards of the Coast used to have a feature on their site called Map a Week that would present a new gaming map every week. They had lots of different styles and definitely showcased the talent and originality of some of the Wizards artists. I took a look at their Map a Week archive and found that they have compiled all of the maps into single-year and complete compilations. These are a great resource for map junkies, since you can normally find something useful for a game there.

Then there's the Map of the Week blog. This is a collection of different maps with discussions of what makes them unique or interesting. Some of the maps here have great gaming potential, others not so much, but they're all generally interesting.

From Map of the Week, I found a link to Strange Maps. A number of old-school gaming blogs have linked to the post here about Secret Caves of the Lizard People below modern LA, but that's just one of the many gems on the site. There are all kinds of cool maps here to use for inspiration or as full-blown gaming maps on their own.

These are just a few of the places I go for mapping inspiration. If there are others you think I should check out, drop a comment and I'll see what's up. In the meantime, though, these sites combined with my recent work on campaign maps has inspired me to start working on a regular feature.

I am going to try to publish a new map every week on the site for people to peruse and use. I'm going to start with the large overland map that I've put together for my Borderlands game, and we'll see where it goes from there. I'll probably use a variety of different techniques and programs to work on them and, if possible, I'll describe a little of how I did them.

If anyone has a suggestion for a map they want to see, either leave me a comment or drop me an email. I'll see what I can do.

This is a section of the continent of Alnair, the home for my Borderlands campaign. I put it together using Hexographer and GIMP. I created the map, including all of the text labels and key using Hexographer. When the map was finished, I exported it twice as a png file, once with hex sizes 48 x 42 and once with hex sizes 24 x 21. I then opened each of the png files in GIMP, added a white layer behind the map, flattened the image and saved it. I also saved each flattened image as a jpg.

When I was entering the text on the map, I started playing a little with Hexographer's text features. One thing I noticed was that it was easier to scale the text for different things by scaling the map. I adjusted the hex sizes between 48 x 42, 36 x 32, and 24 x 21 as I was labelling and just used the standard text settings to create all of the labels on the map. The smaller the hex size, the larger a particular text setting looks at that resolution.

The names for the various places are a mix of English, German, French, Welsh, and Japanese. For the Japanese labels, I used some tips from Thayer Watkin's Japanese Place Names site. The others I relied on either Babel fish or my own memory to get reasonable names. Some of the names probably look fairly strange or simple, and the addition of Japanese into the mix will probably seem completely crazy. They all make sense given the cosmology, mythology, and history behind the place, though. I'll reveal a little more about that soon.

So, without further ado, here's the map:

small png file

large png file

small jpg

large jpg

Dungeonographer preview

As Joe noted in the comments to my Hexographer review, he has a preview of Dungeonographer up on his blog. I've been anxiously awaiting this since I started playing with Hexographer. The preview makes me even more excited because the program is going to include a feature that will export a one-page dungeon. Awesome stuff!

I also forgot to mention Joe's other tools in the Hexographer review. He has a random inn generator that includes floorplans, a coat of arms designer, and a tool for randomly generating the contents of a magic item shop. I have spent some time with the coat of arms generator, and it is an excellent program as well. I'll post some of the things I've done with it once I start publishing more of the info for the Borderlands campaign. I plan to do some experimenting with the other two as well, and I'll post some results as soon as I do.

What should I be reading?

You can see from my list of links most of the blogs I read and the forums I'm following. I only read a couple of web comics - Girl Genius, Rusty and Co., and Order of the Stick - and a couple of screen cap comics - DM of the Rings and Darths & Droids. Most of these have something to do with old-school gaming. Some are new-school focused with an old-school feel. But you get the idea. I like the old Gygaxian/TSR style stuff more than the new WOTC-style stuff.

So what am I missing? What's the coolest thing that you think I should be reading?

Hexographer review

I have been using the computer for mapping for quite a while. I started mapping on the computer using MS Paint in the early 90s, migrating quickly to Photoshop and specialized mapping programs. When TSR released the Core Rules CD, I used the Campaign Mapper tool, a sort of Campaign Cartographer light. Eventually, I graduated to using Campaign Cartographer 2 with its various add-ons exclusively for mapping. At one point, I considered myself a fair mapper with the program, even contributing some maps to the Forgotten Realms Atlas project.

Now that I'm getting back into gaming regularly, I decided to take a look at the mapping software that is available. I needed something I could use fairly easily to produce good quality, usable maps for my games. Eventually being able to produce publishable maps would also be a plus, as I am hoping to develop some of my adventure ideas and publish them.

Being familiar with Campaign Cartographer from past experience, I decided to upgrade and try CC3. I quickly realized that this was not the same as CC2. The program produces beautiful maps, but the learning curve is much steeper than I remember, even with the excellent help of Allyn and the rest of the folks at the forums.

Next I tried uninstalling CC3, reinstalling CC2, and going back to what I know. Once again, I was intimidated by the learning curve involved. Apparently, I have forgotten too much over the past ten years to really use CC2 effectively right now. And, although I can probably relearn that stuff, I'm not sure I want to. I don't really want to spend that much time relearning how to make passable maps. Again, I was in a quandry.

Finally, after checking out some of the blogs online, I found Hexographer. I tried it a few times online, and then decided to spring for the license so I could use it offline. To put it plainly, this program does everything I need an overland, hex-based mapping program to do. It allows me to produce high-quality, visually appealing maps with a minimum of effort and a very small learning curve. For the mapping I have done and for this review, I am using version 1.40g+, which I believe is the most current version.

Hexographer is a java-based hex mapping program designed by Joe Wetzel of Inkwell Ideas. It allows you to produce old-style single-terrain hex maps, overhead battlemats, and more.

I started using the program on my old desktop, which has an AMD dual-core processor and plenty of RAM. Unfortunately, my monitor went belly-up a few weeks ago, and I have reinstalled it on my old laptop. Said machine has a Pentium 3 850 mhz processor, a 12 gb hard drive, and only 384 mb of RAM. Not exactly a screaming beasty, but it handled the program fine. It took about 30 seconds to load and then worked smoothly throughout all of the mapping I have done so far. The largest maps I have worked on have been 80 x 60 hexes, with each hex having 48 x 42 pixels, but it has handled them well, including scrolling, resizing, and zooming. So, needless to say, at least on my system the program has not been a big resource hog. This is a dramatic difference from most of the other graphics programs available which, if they would even run on the system, would be severely hampered by the lack of resources.

When I first opened the program, I was a little bewildered by all of the settings available. I'm not really big on reading instructions or doing tutorials, so I just jumped right in and started pressing buttons.

I soon found out that from the first control, you determine most of the characteristics of your map. You can control the width and height of the map by number of hexes and the width and height of each hex. You can also decide how you want the hexes oriented on the page. (I generally stick with True Columns, since that gives good vertical lines of hexes like the old Greyhawk maps, but I have seen some great maps that use True Rows as well. Just the fact that the option is available is great.) Under terrain settings, you can opt to have the program generate a random map based an three preset configurations, generate a random map based on your own calculations, or generate a map with one solid type of terrain, including blank. Finally, you have the option of loading a map that you or someone else has already created and/or impoting a png image of a map as a background to trace.

Once you decide all of these factors, you get into the meat of the program. A new window opens, displaying the map based on the settings you chose on the first control. In a sidebar on the right, you have tabs with the options available for placing terrain; placing symbols for various settlements or points of interest; a set of cosmic symbols for drawing star maps; drawing lines for roads, rivers, elevation, shipping lanes, etc.; placing text on the map; or other items.

Placing terrain is as simple as clicking the symbol you want on the Terrain tab and then clicking the hex where you want the symbol. It's possible to adjust the size, color, placement within the hex, and even the graphic used for each terain type by digging into the menus at the top of the window. I ignored these customizations for the most part, because the symbols available are fine for most of the mapping I need to do. I did add a new terrain type for the ant lair map I made, and it was simple and intuitive to do.

The Symbols tab gives plenty of different symbols you can throw into the map over the terrain. Unless you change the default settings, the symbols are scaled to fit inside the hexes and over the terrain. You have the option of putting any symbols you place on a GM only layer in your map so you can hide them from your players. You can change the color of symbols, as well.

The Cosmic tab functions like the terrain tab but has map symbols for space-related items like black holes, various classes of stars, nebulae, etc. You can customize the colors of these elements, and there's also the option to give them rings in various colors. These can be placed on a GM only layer as well.

The Lines tab has specifically-styled lines for borders, coastlines, roads, rivers, trails, elevation, and shipping lanes in both freehand and snap-to-vertex styles. It has controls for inverting hashes on the lines (good for inverting the slope of elevations), starting a new line, removing the last point placed, and so on. To place lines on the map, you click the kind and style of line you want and then start placing points for that line with clicks on the map. If you want to start another line, simply repeat the process. The lines tab also has a sub-tab available where you can develop your own styles of lines for your maps, including the color, width in pixels, style (dotted, hashed, etc.), and type (political, infrastructure, or natural). I generally did better using snap-to-vertex lines, but I was drawing my maps using a touchpad on a laptop. I'm sure I could have done better freehand using a mouse or pen tablet.

The Text tab has some preformatted styles of text or you can go to the sub-tab and generate your own custom text. For text, select the preset or describe your text, then type the text you want on your map in the available text box on the tab. Then click on the map where the text should go. Where you click is the bottom left of the text. Once it is placed, you can move it or rotate it. You can also change the content of the text by changing what is in the text box. Once you have what you want, you click save and it locks it in place on the map.

The Other Items tab is primarily for making overhead battle maps. There are a number of features available for including in the map, including various buildings, trees, rocks, etc. You can also add your own elements by using the customizing features in the program menus. Anything you add can be scaled, recolored, and textured as well. This looks like a great feature set in the program, but I'm not at the stage where I need battlemats, so I haven't really used it.

That's the gist of the program right there. Each tab also has a Delete button. To get rid of anything on the map, simply go to the tab that controls that item, click the delete button and click what you want to remove.

As I said in the beginning, this program does everything I want it to. It generates old-style solid hex terrain maps quickly and easily. I tried a few experimental maps to get a feel for the controls. Then I generated a couple of maps with it from start to finish. Overall, the most complex map I generated (my Borderlands map shown at the top of the post) took me about three hours, including figuring out some of the controls I hadn't used before. Once I finished mapping, I was even able to use the program to export my maps as pngs for use elsewhere. I exported my maps as pngs, filled the transparent areas with white using GIMP, and then saved them as jpgs for posting. Easy as pie.

You can use the program for free at the Hexographer website. You can also pay to get a Pro version license that allows you to run the program offline and gives you a few extra features like map notes, map keys, and more. At the time of writing, a one-year license is $9.90 USD and a lifetime license is $28.75 USD. Joe will email your key to you within 24 hours.

There is a forum for the program, and the support from Joe is outstanding. I didn't have access to my old key file when I switched computers, and he emailed me the file in a couple of hours. Excellent support in this age of general apathy.

There are a ton of other features available in the program, but you get the idea. I love this program and will definitely keep using it. It works well, looks good, and costs almost nothing. Get a lifetime license, already!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Auctions at the great Bay of E

I've got quite a few things up for auction right now on eBay, and I hope to be adding more in the next day or two. You can find my stuff here. Most of it is for Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, like I mentioned before, but I have (and hope to add) some other odd stuff in there too.

Oh my! It worked!

Blogger has been having problems for a couple days, and it looks like most of the Middle states in the US and parts of the rest of the world were affected. I haven't seen posts on a lot of the bogs I follow from people located in the "flyover" states, so I'm guessing they got caught in the storm as well. Supposedly, Google was installing some updates to the service. I know I saw some different things when I was in my dashboard one time, but I'm not positive these updates/upgrades caused the problem. (I'm thinking maybe so, though...)

Anyway, with the service down for so long, I've been working away on other things. I posted a ton of auctions on eBay and worked on a few maps with Hexographer. I'll be putting up separate posts on each. I've also gotten a few more things done on my LL adventure featuring the giant ants. I'll be putting up a few more details on that in the next few days as well.

(Assuming, of course, there's not another blogout...)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gen Con in August

It looks like I'm going to be volunteering at Gen Con again. I'm not sure exactly what area I'll be working, but I'll definitely be getting my badge and hotel covered so I can go. If I can, I'm going to try to squeeze in a couple of sessions of LL while I'm there. I'll post more details as I learn them.

Why I'm not on Facebook (and a new magic item)

I don't have a Facebook account. I write here, and I follow a couple forums, several blogs, and a few online comics. For some reason, I'm not really jazzed about other online networking.

Still, I've been thinking lately about how I keep in touch (or not) with a lot of my friends and considered for about half a second getting an account. I quickly changed my mind and have started sending emails and making phone calls instead. I just prefer face-to-face interaction. Otherwise, I prefer talking on the phone. At least that way I have some voice inflection to go on to know if someone is joking, being serious, etc.

These other forms of communication also have the advantage of not being isolating. I think too many people use "social networking" online as a way of not having to associate with other people on anything other than the most superficial level. They spend hours and hours sending messages back and forth online and never get together.

All of that got me thinking how characters keep in touch with each other over distances in-game. Magic-users have a couple spells that help out, but there really aren't a whole lot of good communication spells for characters to keep in touch with each other. And, if your character isn't a spell-caster, you're just out of luck.

To address this deficit, I decided to create a "social networking" magic item. It allows characters to keep in touch over a short distance. It also has a slight potential for disastrous consequences if overused.

Book of Faces

This item is a well-made, leather-bound book that has obviously been handled extensively. The cover page of the book features a picture of a wizened old man with an intent, almost obsessive look in his eye. The remainder of the pages in the book have portraits of numerous people. Some of the pages toward the back of the book are blank.

When a character looks at a blank page of the book and utters a command word, the book stores an image of the character on that page. Images are stored permanently in the book, unless removed by use of an erase spell. If this spell is cast successfully on a page, the page will become a normal blank page again.

Whoever holds the book can use these pictures to contact or look in on the characters pictured. Three times per day, the user of the book can cast a message spell to contact one of the people in the book. The spell has a range of one mile and lasts for five rounds. Three times per week, the user of the book may cast an arcane eye spell with a range of one mile. The eye will always appear focused on the person in the book but can move around as per the spell after being summoned.

Character may use these spells more often. If the character attempts to cast either spell more often than

described above, they run the risk of having their mind permanently trapped in the cover page of the book. Casting message more often causes a 1% cumulative chance per casting of being trapped. Casting arcane eye causes a 3% cumulative chance per casting of being trapped. These percentages accumulate together. For instance, if the character had already cast arcane eye four times during a given game week, and then cast message a fourth time in a given day, they would have a 3% chance of being trapped in the book. A character trapped in the book is treated as if under the effects of a feeblemind spell and can only be restored by a remove curse, limited wish, or wish.

The book of faces can be used by characters of any class.

All gaming content in this post is open game content per the OGL

Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Life Resolutions for Gaming

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but I am pretty fond of New Life resolutions. In one of my past lives, I did some personal coaching. I liked working with the idea of my clients starting a new life when they started coaching sessions. I would have them develop a list of resolutions that they were going to work on over a particular period, normally the next few months to a year. We would then use the list as a way of checking their progress.

This is a similar exercise for me, but in terms of gaming. Since I've been away for a while, I have a lot of things I want to work on. This is a way for me to see how I'm doing.

Gaming Resolutions

1. I will start a new Labyrinth Lord campaign set in the Borderlands by the end of the calendar year. I am really looking forward to getting a game going as quickly as possible. I decided to give myself a good amount of time on this one, though, because I may be away for the rest of the summer with people who don't play RPGs. If I can convince them to play, I may start something while I'm away. If not, I'll keep putting ideas and adventures together until I get back.

2. I will continue to post regularly here and on the forums in which I participate actively. In the past I have drifted in and out of a variety of forums. Now that I've gotten active again, I am going to keep up as well as I can. Keeping up with the blog here should go without saying, but I believe in being explicit and vocalizing goals. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with as many posts as I've started with, but I'll definitely keep posting regularly.

3. I will focus on a single miniature/modeling project at a time and finish the current project or sell it before I start a new one. I have had a bad habit of buying miniatures I intend to paint or starting terrain projects I intend to finish only to find them sitting in a box months or years later. I'm selling off most of the old projects and not starting any new ones or buying new models until I paint or sell what I have.

4. I am going to work on individual models and smaller projects that strike my fancy. I'm going to focus on single projects and see them finished instead of trying to do everything at once. As much as I would love to see a whole company of space marines or a gigantic, modular Necromunda board, I am going to work on painting my Cawdor gang and character miniatures for LL instead. As much as I'd like to write a huge encyclopedia detailing my whole campaign world in intricate detail, I'm going to flesh out the Borderlands area a little at a time as I need something for the game.

5. I will only buy games that I intend to play immediately. I know this is sacrilegious to most gamers, but I have enough games to keep me going for a long time, if not the rest of my gaming life. I have a few games that I love and will never sell or give away, especially my 1e AD&D stuff, my Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert books, and others. I will never get rid of my trade-sized copy of Fantasy Wargaming or my old Traveller stuff. Those are the things I cut my teeth on, gaming-wise. But I don't need to get a lot of new games that are just going to take space on my shelf and gather dust. Game time is limited, and I would rather spend it playing the games I have or that someone else wants to run, developing material and writing articles for a game I'm running or my blog, or painting miniatures I will use to game. I don't want to spend a lot of time reading new games and rules just to read them.

6. I will only buy a game if there is not an equally good free game available, but I will support the games I love by buying PDFs or physical copies even if the rules are free. I've been looking at a lot of games over the last year while I was trying to find what I want to play. I am very impressed with the free games that are available now, especially the retro-clones and supplements. Although I don't have the money to buy all of these games right now, I am going to buy copies as I can. Most of these will be PDFs, since I'm trying to declutter my life right now. But I will be sending my money to the designers and publishers of the games I enjoy so they can keep producing them. I will not send my money to a publisher so they can clutter my bookshelf.

7. I will go to Gen Con and at least one other convention or large gamer gathering this year. I used to go to a lot of conventions, and I got out of the habit. I also used to volunteer at Gen Con and participate heavily in the Indy Mavens. When I moved to the suburbs outside of Chicago, I stopped doing that because of work conflicts and some health issues. Now I'm committed to making sure that my work doesn't completely curtail the things I enjoy. That way lies madness.

8. I will run at least three demo games of Labyrinth Lord at local game stores, conventions, or gamer gatherings by the end of the year. Along with sending my money their way, I want to support Goblinoid Games by getting the word out. I think a lot more people would enjoy rules-lighter fantasy RPGs, but they just haven't been exposed to them. I'd like to spread the word.

9. I will actively work to meet new gamers in my local area. I have been friends with a lot of my old gaming group for decades. As much as I love those guys, I want to expand my gaming circle and meet some new people, play some different games, and see some new styles of gaming. I may be able to do some of this through conventions or local gamer meetups.

10. I will actively work on developing a professional gaming product for publication. I have wanted and planned on trying to get some of my gaming stuff published since I was in high school. (Parachute pants were in style when I started thinking about this particular goal.) For a variety of reasons, I never actively pursued it. Now that I'm a little more mature and have a better handle on writing and developing ideas, I'm going to pursue it again.

That's it – my top ten gaming resolutions for the next however so long it takes. Now you can all keep track of how I'm doing.

Decluttering... and selling stuff

For the past couple of years, I have been working on getting rid of things. I have been trying to reduce the number of things I consume and the amount of waste I produce. In the process, I have also been realigning my priorities and focusing on those things that I most want. That includes both material things and experiential things, including hobbies.

One of the hardest parts of that was recognizing that I will never have enough time to complete all of the hobby projects I have thought about for the last thirty-odd years. I cannot accomplish all of the things I want to do with miniatures, games, terrain, painting, drawing, sculpting, etc. So, I've been working on clearing away the clutter and focusing only on those projects that I am really excited about and that make sense for me to pursue.

That's a big reason why I've come back to roleplaying. I used to have a blog where I would show off some of the terrain I was working on and present ideas that I had for miniatures projects. I had a hard time motivating myself to keep posting, because I wasn't getting any feedback or traffic. So it languished, and eventually my modeling projects languished as well.

With this blog, though, I've already posted about a dozen times, and I have ideas still coming fast and furious. I'm excited to write and put some of my roleplaying ideas out there. I'm excited to run games, play games, and generally get back to what got me going in gaming to begin with. I don't plan to get out of painting, modeling, and playing miniatures games altogether, but I am shifting my focus.

With that in mind, I'm selling off a lot of the old gaming stuff (especially miniatures) that I have in storage. Most of it is for Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, but I have a few other odd things floating about. I will be putting a lot of things on eBay, and I will drop a note here when I post new auctions. If anyone is interested in buying some miniatures or terrain, leave a comment or drop me a line at mordred2 [the symbol above the 2] msn [you know what goes here] com. I'd be happy to send some pics and a list of what I have.

Also, if anyone is interested, I'll try to bring in some of my old modeling and painting articles and posts. Drop a comment if that is something you would like to see. If there's a continuous, resounding silence, though, I'll simply file those things away elsewhere.