Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to me indeed!

I just got an email from John over at Roleplaying Tips. If you haven't signed up for his newsletter, you should definitely check it out. Unlike a lot of the products and websites that claim to be system-neutral and version inspecific, his newsletter definitely is. It's packed with a ton of great info, and you can get all of the past issues on the site. This is definitely a great resource that any player or DM should use.

Anyway, he's been collecting 500 city encounters for the 500th issue of the newsletter due out next week. Along with collecting, he was running a contest for the people who submitted. I sent in about 25 ideas a few weeks ago. Well, it seems that I've won a copy of The Keep from NBOS Software. Happy Birthday to me!

I used Fractal Mapper for a while a few years ago, and I enjoyed working with the program. I've had my eye on this software for a while, since I'm a huge fan of information management programs for taking notes. Unfortunately, I haven't had the money to get it yet, and I have been relying on lots of foldering and separate files for managing all of the stuff for my game. Now, in a few weeks, I'll be able to use this to start knocking things back in order the way I like. I'll do a full review once I get the software and put it through its paces.

EDIT: And I just realized how appropriate it is that I won this particular software...

Happy New Year

I didn't realize until yesterday how close Gary Gygax's birthday was to mine. Yep, today is my fortieth birthday. It's supposedly a milestone. After the year I've had though, I'm trying to look forward and not back.

Luckily everybody just got done with Christmas in July, so I'm celebrating New Year's in July. Happy New Year everybody! Here's a couple of songs for the occasion.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gary Gygax Day

I'm joining Grendelwulf in celebrating Gary Gygax Day today. I think it's far more fitting to celebrate his life and accomplishments than to mourn his passing. So, I'm celebrating his birthday and enjoying reading some Gygaxian prose today. I'm also going to be participating in Read an RPG Book in Public Week at the same time. Maybe I'll read the DMG at lunch.

Fantasy Wargaming

There are quite a few bloggers doing cover to cover analyses of various classic D&D books. I already pointed out the Holmes series at Grognardia. Well, over at Swords & Dorkery, Mike is doing a cover to cover examination of Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway.

This book made the rounds in my old gaming groups for years but only rarely got played back in the day. About the only part that got regular use was the infamous bogey table, which was adopted for quite a few AD&D games. I've owned a couple different copies over the years. My original, full-size copy got traded to a friend in junior high when I got my book club copy from the Science Fiction Book Club. I lost that copy some time between college and graduate school. Just last year I finally replaced it by ordering a copy from someone on eBay.

Like everyone else I know, I still haven't run an entire game using these rules. I borrowed freely from it for various things and ran a couple of one-shot games, but never an entire campaign. I've read the book several times, though, and definitely do not consider the rules unplayable. They are different than D&D in many respects. They suffer from the poor organization and wordiness characteristic of early 1980s role-playing game books. But, as I recall, they have a lot to recommend them, including one of the earliest attempts to establish a core mechanic for a game.

I'm looking forward to following along. You can check out the introductory post or the first post of the series.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Borderlands Session 1

The party consisted of two fighters, a cleric, a magic-user, a thief, and an elf. I tried to keep things fairly simple for this session so I could get a handle on running a game again and they could get used to some of the mechanics. They all created their characters, and I gave each of them a rumor to give them a hook into the adventure. I had them enter the area in the train of a caravan and get dropped at the travelers inn in Cutter's Ferry. They spent some time trying to get information out of the people in the town (and discovering how non-descript a few farms, a travelers inn, and a ferry can be) before they tramped up the hill to the keep. They did get a couple of hints about some recent events and a little info about Griffon Castle. Most of the latter was of the "it's a really dangerous, spooky place that adventurers go to but don't often return from" variety. It piqued their interest, but they were definitely worried about the stories of the ghost being seen there.

Once they entered the keep, they arranged to sleep in the common room at the inn for the night and then made their way to the tavern. After a couple hours, they hired a mercenary guard (offering a HUGE salary in the process) and managed to contract one of the traveling clerics in the keep to accompany them to the caves in exchange for 20% of the take.

The next morning they gathered their associates and set out for the caves. The cleric had been to the caves previously, so the party was able to skip searching the wilderness to find them. When they got to the valley with the caves, they surveyed the area and decided to explore one of the lower caves. They had been warned that the lower caves generally held less powerful monsters and decided that they didn't want to bite off more than they could chew.

The party started to approach one of the caves (the kobold lair) when the thief noticed some rustling coming from the branches of one of the trees in the valley. Getting closer to investigate the noise, he stirred up a nest of stirges. The stirges attacked the party, wounding the magic-user, one of the fighters, the mercenary guard, and the donkey. The party started to panic and most of them made a run for the cave. As they were running, though, the thief took a fatal blow from one of the stirges. The party then rushed back to recover the thief and defend the mercenary, the hireling cleric, and the donkey. After a couple more rounds, they drove the stirges off and regrouped.

Not wanting to return to the keep so quickly, they ventured into the cave. They did not meet any resistance, but did trigger a pit trap where the entrance hallway met another hall at a T. The elf and the thief both narrowly managed to avoid falling into the pit. The party stepped around the trap and moved down the hallway to the left emerging into a room filled with garbage and refuse. A pack of giant rats surged out of the garbage and attacked the characters, killing the elf and the magic-user and wounding the PC cleric. To top it off, the cleric failed a save versus poison, so he caught a soon-to-be-fatal disease from the rat bite. Recognizing that discretion is the better part of valor, the party retreated back to the keep.

After consulting the cleric at the temple in the keep, they found out they needed 300 gp to cure their cleric's disease. They decided to rest and recover for the night and return to the caves the following day. They paid the cleric a bit of the cash they recovered from their dead comrades and he left the group. The mercenary was happy enough to sleep in the stables and try to recover.

With a few hit points recovered, the group returned to the cave (skirting around the stirge tree). This time, they left the rats in the left passage and turned right. They found a hastily constructed barricade across the hallway. Approaching it cautiously, they found it unguarded. They climbed over the low wall and proceeded down the corridor. At the end of the passage, they found a room with another barricade inside. The room was filled with kobolds, and the party retreated in the face of the monsters' spears.

Once in the hallway, they held a quick whispered conversation, arguing over whether to attack the kobolds in the room or turn aside to another passage they passed to get to the common room. As they were arguing, a group of eight kobolds, four with bows and four with spears, came around the corner behind them. Trapped between the fortified kobolds in the room and the kobold guards in the passage, the party split up and attacked both!

The elf cast a sleep spell on the kobolds behind the barricade, putting 15 HD worth of the monsters to sleep. The magic-user tossed a flask of oil on the archers at the rear of the guards in the hallway, scoring a perfect 20 and dousing all four of them. The thief and one of the fighters made fire arrows to launch into the oil next round, and the other fighter and the cleric charged into the spearmen but failed to damage any of them. The kobold archers fumbled their bows because of the oil, while their fellows attacked with their spears. The fighter took a solid hit from a spear and almost died (1 hp left!). The rest missed with their attacks.

The next round, the cleric managed to heal the fighter a bit, and he cleaved a kobold with his battle axe. Another kobold then finished him off with a thrust with a spear. The other fighter launched an arrow over the kobold archers, missing the kobolds and the oil. The thief shot one of the archers, killing it and igniting the oil on it and its fellows. Three of the archers were killed, and the fourth staggered back wounded and on fire. The elf charged at the guards in the hallway, while the magic-user retreated into the room.

The following round the flaming archer expired, and the party killed another one of the spearmen. The remaining two kobolds in the hallway dropped their weapons and surrendered. The kobolds in the room cowered against the walls, trying to protect their young. The party killed the sleeping kobolds, looted the bodies, and moved the barricade to contain the cowering kobolds before continuing farther into the lair.

The next room they came to turned out to be a storage room filled with all kinds of poor foodstuffs. Not finding any treasure (and still needing a couple hundred more gold pieces to get their cleric cured), they pressed on. Next they found a guard room with a brazier of glowing coals, obviously recently abandoned. The only other exit from the room was a door that was barred from the other side. Chopping the door open with a battle axe revealed a heavy chest of drawers on the other side of the door. When the fighter reached in to shove the furniture out of the way, a battle axe came down into the chest, nearly taking his hand off!

At this point, the party knew they were heading into an ambush with something a lot more powerful than regular kobolds, so they backed off and made some plans. Then the cleric tossed a flask of oil through the ruins of the door and set it on fire with a torch. While one of the kobolds in the room rushed to beat out the flames, the fighter used his battle axe to tip over the chest of drawers and kicked in the remains of the door. The group rushed in to find one kobold with a blanket in hand trying to smother the flames, the kobold chieftain armed and ready with his battle axe, two archers providing cover from the corner opposite the door, and a handful of female kobolds trying to stay out of the line of fire.

The party split up, with one fighter, the magic-user, the thief, and the elf going after the three guards, and the cleric and the fighter with the battle axe going after the chieftain. The kobold archers fired while the elf closed for melee. One of them managed to get a lucky shot, firing an arrow into the elf's throat and killing him instantly. The other missed wildly. The fighter and thief managed to kill one archer apeice, while the rest of the party moved into melee range.

The following round, the cleric and fighter both scored hits on the chieftain, alternately smashing his skull and cleaving his chest. The remaining guard fell under the combined attacks of the magic-user, the thief, and the other fighter. The females, obviously terrified, pushed a chest at the party and then held up their hands in surrender. The thief checked the chest for traps, picked the lock, and opened it. The rest of the party looted the bodies, recovering some coins, a few weapons, and a large gem on a chain. They piled the loot into the chest and left the cave.

When they got outside, their guard reported seeing a couple dozen kobolds fleeing the cave, so the players deduced that the ones they had left in the common room had fled. They returned to the keep, sold the gem, paid the cleric at the temple in the keep to cure their cleric, and spent the rest of the day purchasing new equipment. They also decided how they would split treasure, paid the stables to keep their donkey for a month, and rented an apartment for the group. As far as they know, they've managed to clear out one of the caves, but they noted that they should keep an eye on it in the future in case the kobolds come back or something else moves in there.

Back in the saddle again

The stars finally aligned right over the weekend, and I got to run the first session of my Borderlands campaign. We ended up using the core LL rules to keep things simple. The group consisted of a couple of old gaming friends, my godson, and a few of his friends. Altogether, six players with a character each.

Almost all of the players were completely new to pen-and-paper rpgs, so we spent a good amount of time on Friday night rolling up characters and going over some basics. Saturday I cleared up some more questions, helped couple other players create characters, ran a couple sample rounds of combat to give them an idea of that, and then started running. Although there were a few rough spots (and a few character deaths), the game went pretty smooth and everyone had a good time. I can definitely tell some areas where I need to knock off the rust and get back into the swing of things, but I had a ball!

To keep things running quickly for the first session and because of the high body count, I allowed each of the players to "recycle" their character once. If the character got killed, they could bring in an identical character at the end of that combat. If the character died again, the player had to roll a new character. Only one of the characters died twice (the elf), but we did have three other characters die. Part of that was due to player inexperience, part due to bad die rolls.

The latter were almost exclusively due to a string of high attack and damage rolls on my part. I deliberately decided to roll my dice in the open and let them fall as they may, which resulted in a total of five characters bearing their wrath. The funny thing about that is that I rolled most of the killing rolls on the dice I got at Chgowiz's marathon Keep on the Borderlands session early this year. In that game, I was the one who had the unfortunate distinction of dying fifteen minutes after sitting down at the table. In honor of that particular feat, Michael gave me a purple d20 and a clear red d6. The dice apparently remember that game and took some inspiration from it, because they were particularly deadly to players but absolutely horrible when I was rolling for the NPCs that were accompanying the party.

Because of Gen Con and packed schedules, we're not planning to play again for another few weeks. In the meantime, I'll be writing a recap to post here and working on more background and details for the campaign.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Social status revisited

A while ago, I came up with some ideas for how to use social status as a stat in D&D/LL. I still like the idea of social status being based on a curve and modifying a character's starting money. I've also been thinking some more about how to use a social status stat in game.

I think it should modify reactions, but I don't think it should automatically adjust them in one direction or another. Instead, I think there should be about an equal chance of people from a different social class being negatively or positively inclined toward a character. So I created the following chart to show the reaction adjustment of an NPC toward a PC of a different social class.

To read the chart, cross reference the PC's social status with that of the NPC. Adjust the reaction roll for the NPC by the number shown. There is an equal chance for a positive or negative adjustment due to social class.

Reaction Modifiers from Social Class


The content of this post is open game content per the OGL.

I write like...

Since all the cool kids are doing it, I decided to see what "I write like..." was all about and see what author it spit out for me. Apparently, I write like different people, depending on the subject, the purpose of writing, and the audience. My old English and writing teachers would love this.

I had the site analyze a few of my posts here, a short paper I wrote for graduate school, and a piece of my undergraduate thesis. It came up with these comparisons.

For my blog posts:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For my undergraduate thesis:

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

And, for my graduate paper:

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

What I find interesting, though, is what happened when I put in a few paragraphs from the various authors of the early editions of D&D.

For Holmes, I used the last paragraph of the combat example and the first three paragraphs of the "Monsters" section on pages 21-22. Holmes writes like:

I write like
Mary Shelley

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For Moldvay, I used the "Party Size and Composition" section and the first paragraph of "Organizing the Party" from page B19. Moldvay writes like:

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For Gygax, I decided to use something from AD&D, specifically the "Setting Things in Motion" passage from the section on Campaigns in the 1st edition DMG. Based on that, Gygax writes like:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So apparently I write on my blog like Tom Moldvay and Gary Gygax!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Races of Alnair - Dwarves

Since I finished with the capsule descriptions of the human races for my campaign, it's time to put down some information about the non-humans. First up are the dwarves. So far, I'm not really interested in changing the races mechanically. I want to maintain the traditional racial abilities, but I also want to try to give them some history and background that will help break them away from the Tolkienesque molds they've had for decades. I've also decided to settle the age-old argument about hirsute female dwarves by not settling it. Some do, some don't.


The Duriin are the descendants of two distinct races of dwarves. The Duralnairiin, or black dwarves, were a race of cave-dwelling humanoids native to the mountains and hills of Alnair. They were reclusive people and their territory dwindled with the expansion of Alnairiin tribes into the foothills of the mountains. They maintained a primitive society, hunting and gathering food and using only simple tools. They were competitive with goblins and giants for food and territory.

Durformiin, or red dwarves, were a slave race of the Formiin and migrated into the area alongside their human masters. They were used primarily for mining, working and carving stone, for which they have natural talents. Many Durformiin were also used as fighting slaves in both competitive arenas and on battlefields in the ancient empire.

Although they encountered each other frequently as the Formiin empire spread into Alnair, the two races maintained separation until the War of the Ancients. The Durformiin considered the Duralnairiin to be savage throwbacks, while the latter predominantly retreated higher and higher into the mountains.

When the Armiin arrived and settled in the Iron Mountains, they came into contact with the Duralnairiin. The black dwarves were recruited as laborers and used to help dismantle the colony ship and build the City of the Ancients. In the process, the black dwarves of the region learned metalworking and other advanced skills and achieved a measure of civilization. As the Armiin spread into the surrounding area, the black dwarves went with them. They also fought alongside the Armiin as they encountered resistance from the ancient Formiin.

As encounters between the Formiin and Armiin escalated, more dwarves were committed to fighting alongside their human allies and masters. Eventually this culminated in large Duriin armies being assembled by both sides and used to conduct raiding campaigns in the mountainous regions of Alnair. These mountain armies saw some of the most brutal hand fighting during the war and earned reputations on both sides as ferocious fighters.

When the war ended with the scouring of the Formiin empire, most of these armies were left to their own devices. In some areas, the dwarves settled down peacefully, working alongside their former masters to pick up the pieces from the war and build the new colonial realms. The races intermingled, eventually losing much of their individual qualities over the intervening centuries. In other areas, the two races continued fighting, with or without human generals and overseers, for centuries. These tribes have largely maintained their racial differences, although there is some occasional intermingling between these ancient tribes and the Duriin.

Settled Duriin can be found throughout the realms in Alnair. They are most prevalent in the foothills and mountains that dot the area. They are excellent miners and craftsmen. They tend to have brown or brownish-black skin. Their hair is typically auburn, brown, or black. Their eyes tend to be dark green, brown, or black. They are about four feet tall on average, and females tend to be only slightly smaller than males.

Tribal Duriin are still found in remote areas of Alnair, predominantly in mountainous areas. Because of their broad distribution during the War of the Ancients, there is about an equal chance of encountering either tribal Duralnairiin or Durformiin in these areas. It is also possible to find some isolated pockets of primitive black dwarves in remote mountain areas as well.

Tribal Duralnairiin average around four and a half feet in height with stocky builds. Females are nearly indistinguishable from males. They tend to have dark brown or black skin and black hair. Their eyes are generally brown or black as well. All black dwarves have facial hair. Male Duralnairiin grow long, thick beards. Female black dwarves have thinner facial hair but are also capable of growing beards. Primitive black dwarves appear similar to their more advanced cousins but are slightly shorter and stockier.

Tribal Durformiin are similar to black dwarves in height and build, but females tend to be generally shorter and smaller than males. They have brown skin, with a slight reddish tinge. Their hair is normally brown or auburn. They have green or brown eyes. Durformiin males have thinner facial hair than Duralnairiin, and they normally keep it neatly trimmed and styled. Female red dwarves have no facial hair.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Races of Alnair

A while ago, I posted about the migrations and invasions that have happened in the past in my campaign area. Then about a week ago, I posted about some of the human races that have occupied the area. Here's some information about the other humans that have settled in the area over the past couple thousand years.


The Formiin are the descendants of organized tribes that lived to the north and east of the original Alnairiin. They had a rigid, hereditary caste structure which was divided between a ruling warrior caste, a priestly caste, and several castes composed of different kinds of workers. Beneath all of these were the “casteless,” outcasts, criminals, and slaves.

Ancient Formiin built huge cities in the east and established a vast empire long before the other races developed more than small villages. Expansion of their empire brought them into conflict with the Neumeniin tribes and forced the latter's migrations into the area. Over time, the Formiin continued their expansion, forcing their way into Alnairiin territory. At its height, the Formiin empire covered all of the area from Middlesea to the Black Sea and north and east for hundreds of miles in each direction. The ancient empire eventually fragmented into a collection of smaller kingdoms. The Formiin Empire encountered by the Armiin was a shadow of the realm that existed prior to the collapse. The modern realm of Formiith and scattered tribes elsewhere are all that remains of their once vast empire in Alnair.

Ancient Formiin were slightly shorter than Neumeniin. Men were slightly taller than women. Their skin color was generally light brown or tan, and higher castes tended to have darker, grayish-tinged skin. Their hair color was generally dark, with black or blackish-gray most common. Formiin tended to have sharp features and gray, green, and brown eyes.

Formiin have mixed somewhat with other humans in the area, but they are still largely a distinct race. They currently occupy the ruined realm of Formiith, although isolated families and groups of Formiin are found across Alnair. Upper caste Formiin still maintain many of their ancient traditions, including their traditional xenophobia. They rarely leave their homeland and never mix with other races.

Formiin worship a huge variety of gods and spirits. Most of these entities are part of a vast celestial heirarchy that is even more convoluted than the terrestrial Formiin caste system. Formiin priests, unlike Alnairiin, Neumeniin, and Armiin clergy, venerate many different gods simultaneously. They generally see themselves as mediators between the earthly and spiritual bureaucracies, receiving offerings from mortal worshipers in exchange for action from their divine patrons.


Armiin came here in a great colony ship from another world. They are racially diverse. Although they demonstrated most of the characteristics of modern monoculture when they arrived in Alnair, they have largely merged with the indigenous cultures over the intervening centuries.

Their ship was dismantled to build the City of the Ancients and most of their technology was destroyed during the War of the Ancients. The only other major remnants of their original culture and civilization are the place names that persist in Alnair and the culture of Midoriyoko. The latter was heavily influenced by a splinter of the original colonists that maintained a traditional Japanese-style cultural heritage and fostered its continuation in the new colony.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

LL Reference Sheets

Part of putting together the DM binder has been creating some reference sheets with the tables from the rulebooks compiled into one place. After fiddling with them some more today, I decided to offer them up for other people to use. So far, I've compiled all of the ability score tables into a master table and arranged the class tables, equipment tables, spell lists, and combat tables into sheets appropriate for double-sided printing. I've also included a sheet with the hirelings charts, the XP chart, the monster reaction table, and the chance of getting lost in the wilderness.

The next step is going to be including the treasure tables, including the tables for randomly stocking a dungeon, and a monster matrix similar to the one from the old 1E DMG.

All of these tables are from the main LL rulebook. Eventually, I may do one for Original Edition Characters and/or the Advanced Edition Companion.

You can download the sheets here. I've also added a new area to the sidebar called DM binder where I will keep links to this kind of material so it is always readily available. As always, let me know what you think.

EDIT: I uploaded it to Scribd as well because of the problems with Google docs. If the link above doesn't work, try this one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Full disclosure

Although most of you probably know this, I figure it's good to make it plain. I participate in several different affiliate programs, and a lot of the links here to RPGNow, Amazon, and other stores might make me a little money. These links are especially prevalent in the reviews I do, but also in some of my other posts. So far, no publishers or authors have given me anything for my reviews. If they do, I'll let you know.

So, if you like something I review and feel like supporting my blog, please click on the links here when you go to buy these products. If you just feel like supporting the blog with a donation, please use the donation button to the left. Thanks!

Recreating the DM binder

I've mentioned that I tend to be a top-down designer and a syncretist. I like to have lots of background material and different things in a game both to inspire the players and to give myself something to draw from for ideas. I also like to have lots of tools that I can use for when players pull something unexpected, though. That's where the DM binder comes in. Years ago, I had a crate that contained quite a bit of good source material to use as springboards: history generators, random treasure tables, dungeon generators, the Rogues Gallery and other character lists, and so on. Eventually most of these resources got sorted, pared down, photocopied and put into a large binder.

When I fell out of gaming for a while, the binder went away. I either lost it in a move or threw it out figuring I would never need it again. Now that getting back to running games, though, I've started recreating it. This time, though, I've got a lot more to choose from. I've still got my old Dragon magazines (courtesy of the archive cds), my Holmes (thanks to eBay), Moldvay/Cook, and AD&D 1E books. I've got the 2E books thanks to the Core Rules cds. I've even got my old Rogues Gallery. I've added some pdfs of different things, along with a few printed books. I've rebuilt the crate/bookshelf pretty effectively, whether in print or electronically.

I've also started collecting appropriate blog posts to add. Over on Planet Algol, there's a great post today about keying a hex map that I'm putting in the binder. I've gotten quite a few adventure seeds from various places, like these fairy tale-based ones from Swashbuckler's Hideout. Pretty much anything I find that could help me at the table is getting thrown in there.

Once I get more things organized and sorted in it, I'll post a list of the contents with links (where possible). In the meantime, though, I want to know what other people have in their DM binder (or whatever you use). What tables, charts, posts, and so on do you keep handy for reference when you're running a game?

Gaming Soundtrack - Lords of the Ring

I'm a syncretist by nature. I love to combine disparate things into a larger, more cohesive whole, especially in gaming. I like to get my science fiction in my fantasy and vice versa, along with a good dose of weird pulpy elements. I take inspiration where I can find it. I freely borrow things from literature, comics, and other games when I'm putting together my ideas. I steal things from movies and TV and have also been known to borrow from music occasionally.

The past couple days, I've been listening to a lot of old Styx. I listen to music on the computer and skip around a lot, but I regularly stop the skip and listen to older albums from start to finish. Although I don't get the full experience of flipping the record halfway through, a lot of these old albums take me back to the basement days in the 70s and 80s. My friends and I would get together, throw on some appropriate background music, and game. The music varied quite a bit, but Styx got fairly regular rotation.

The first Styx album that grabbed our attention was definitely The Grand Illusion. "Come Sail Away" and "Castle Walls" fed our desire for more sci-fi and fantasy-inspired rock, and the rest of the album had a solid mix of great keyboards and heavy guitar. The follow-up to Grand Illusion, though, got more play for us as a gaming soundtrack. Pieces of Eight has the same heavy guitar style as Illusion and produced a couple more mainstream hits. One of those hits was "Renegade," which was a great inspiration for a couple of Boot Hill games.

The songs that really got my gaming group going, though, were not mainstream hits. "The Message" is an instrumental piece that highlights the group's prog rock beginnings and serves as a lead-in to "Lords of the Ring." These two songs are the end of side one of the album.

"Lords of the Ring" is supposedly a nod to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but the lyrics have nothing to do with the famous trilogy other than involving masters with a ring. Instead, the lyrics suggest some kind of order that maintains power through a mysterious, supposedly magical power:

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To the magic and mystery they bring
To the music in their story

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To the magic and mystery they bring
To the lands of ancient glory

In the year of the Lords
A message came from above
The heavens opened with a mighty sound
That shook the people in the town

And so we came from everywhere
The young and old, the rich and poor
To hear the legend of the magic ring
And of the powers it could bring, they sing

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To the magic and mystery they bring
To the music in their story

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To the magic and mystery it brings
May we someday wear its glory

And now the message is clear
As I became a Lord this year
And though the legend was pure fantasy
We still need the hope it brings, so let's sing

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To believe is a wonderous thing
May we always sing their glory

All hail to the Lords of the Ring
To the magic and mystery they bring
To the promise in their story

I've turned over a few ideas for an order based on this song in past games. I've had them as an order of knights who use actual magic rings to control people, sort of like the Nazgul before the rings took them over. I've had an order of monks that used an iron ring to symbolize their control over the country folks. In my short-lived 3e game, I planned to use the elan as the core of the Lords, so any character that ascended to become an elan would also become a Lord.

I'll probably use a similar thing for my LL version, even including the psionics. I've been looking for a way to include psionics in the game without them dominating or unbalancing things, and this may be the way to do it. I may change the name (since I can't get Elan from the Order of the Stick out of my head), but the idea of a group that becomes unhuman by a rite of ascension that generates psionic powers is both very attractive and matches the song perfectly.

Since I've already established the City of the Ancients and the colonists, I'm going to make the Lords a remnant of their civilization. In fact, I'll keep the elan's near-unlimited life span and make the elder Lords some of the original colonists. I figure these guys will work in the background, manipulating people and politics throughout the campaign world. In fact, I can use these guys as the ones who control the tribesmen around the City of the Ancients. They'll have a series of secret fortresses across the area, but their main "temple" will be in a protected part of the City itself. Anyone that wants to ascend will have to go to the City after being chosen to undergo the rites. The rites will involve being subjected to a variety of medical procedures that result in a series of physical and mental changes that awaken the character's psychic potential but kill a portion of their humanity.

I'll keep working on the details. In the meantime, all hail to the Lords of the Ring!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NPCs and NPC Generators

I've been working quite a bit on fleshing out some of the NPCs at the Keep and in the surrounding area of the Borderlands, including putting together lists of some NPCs I can use for hirelings and henchmen. In the process of doing that, I've been rolling a lot of dice and using quite a few different resources, some old and some new. To put off publishing more details about these characters for a while, I want to talk a bit about some of the resources I'm using instead.

I've been designing everything assuming that I'm going to be playing with the main Labyrinth Lord rules. I may add the Advanced Edition Companion if the players really want the additional options, or I may just use the additional monsters and magic items and leave the character options alone. If I do decide to add the AEC character options, I should be able to convert most of what I've been working on fairly easily by adding races to some of the human classed characters and classes to some of the demi-humans.

As I mentioned before, I've been using a variety of resources, electronic and printed, to help flesh out these NPCs. Rather than post individually about each one, I'll give a little information about each one and how I'm using it here.

Going back and looking at B2, I was quickly reminded of one of the things that has always bothered me a little about the module. Nothing in the module has a name. None of the places are named. There's no real geographic hook in the original module. Similarly, none of the NPCs are named. The assumption is that the game master would name all of the places and NPCs to suit their own campaign. Now that's fine if you're good at creating names for things and people. I'm not. So, I turned to some generators to help, in the form of Judges Guild's Treasury of Archaic Names
and the Everchanging Book of Names. The former is a 59-page book with a collection of tables for generating different name types, including male and female first names, nicknames, surnames, place names, and so on. It also includes generators for making up totally random fantasy-sounding names. The names are primarily based on old European languages and are definitely realistic.

The Everchanging Book of Names is a small Windows program you can download. It includes a variety of "books" with the program, and there are dozens of other books available to add to the program. To generate a name, you choose the book to use for the base and click a button. The program can be used to generate random strings of names that are more or less realistic and more or less appropriate to a particular culture or setting. Not all of the names are necessarily useful or realistic, but I've been able to generate enough names for fifty NPCs in about a minute. I like this program quite a bit, especially the ability to generate a list of several names all at once. So far, I haven't explored any additional options in the program, because the basic function works so well and really addresses my needs. This is especially useful for generating names on the fly if you use a laptop during sessions.

The Monsterless Manual by Al Krombach over at Beyond the Black Gate presents stats for a couple hundred different NPC types by profession. I've been using a lot of these entries to add minor characters to locations in the Keep and stat up some road encounters for the wilderness. In addition to the profession list, there are two tables in the back of the book that are good for generating personality traits for NPCs. I've been using these tables along with the similar tables in other sources. Overall, this is a very handy resource to have and well worth downloading.

Another online resource I've been using a lot is Meatshields! The Classic Fantasy Hireling & Henchman Generator from Greg Gillespie over at Discourse & Dragons. This is an online program that generates old school hirelings, including torch bearers, men-at-arms, and so on. It's a great resource to have if you use the computer while you're gaming and have an active Internet connection. If you aren't connected to the Internet while you game, copy the results from a few different rounds with the program and paste them into a spreadsheet for use later. I've been using it to generate lists of potential hirelings for the PCs to recruit. One of the best things about this particular generator is the inclusion of the Background, Possessions and Knowledge, and Notable Features columns. These give some great hooks for the characters and provide a lot of interesting character tidbits to distinguish individual hirelings. This particular program is a great resource and well worth checking out.

A lot of the time, I have a set of ability scores and a class or race for a character and just need some personality for them. To get some quick details, I go to the back of the old 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide. The tables on pages 237-238 are a great set of tables for creating enough quick details to flesh out a character on the fly.

If I want more detail, including some history, for the character, I generally turn to Paul Jaquays' and Robert Sassone's Central Casting: Heroes of Legend. I've been using this book since it was originally published, and I consistently go back to it for a variety of things. It's a great resource for randomly generating a full history for a character. You can use it to generate unusual characteristics and personality traits, specific details like hair and eye color, or unusual appearance. It's also good for creating random events in the campaign. If you can get a copy of this, I definitely encourage you to do so. Unfortunately, this book was published in the late 80s (first edition) and early 90s (second edition) by Task Force Games. As far as I know, it's still out of print and the copyright for this is in limbo. (If you know differently, let me know. I would love to see this republished.)

Those are the main things I've been using to help create my NPCs. Let me know if you have any other resources you particularly recommend.

Review - Od&dities 15

Lately quite a few other projects have gotten in the way of me reviewing Od&dities issue 15. Yesterday I finally had a chance to sit down and really read it, take some notes, and process everything, thanks to a quick summer head cold. I spent most of the day in bed, reading articles in between sleeping a lot.

Issue 15 is 26 pages in pdf format, including the cover, contents page, an editorial, and the Open Game License, which take a page each. The remainder of the magazine is divided between six articles and a commentary piece that range between one and eight pages in length. The production values are, as always, excellent. This issue included less interior art than past issues but made up for that with Steve Robertson's color cover. The cover art has a very old school feel and fits the magazine well.

The theme of this issue is Elemental Magic. The editorial informs us that it was changed from Magic-Users because of the dominance of the Elementalist article, which ended up taking almost a third of the page count of the magazine. The editorial also states that Od&dities is accepting submissions for future issues. The planned themes for the next two issues will be Lost World and Into the Dungeon. While I have enjoyed the content of the magazine that I have read so far, I can only recognize that this is probably a good move. It allows more writers to get work published and, more importantly, takes some of the pressure off Richard to write, edit, and produce the entire magazine himself.

The first article in the magazine is “A Touch of Class: The Elementalist.” The article is eight pages long and includes a description of the Elementalist class and a listing of spells usable by that class. The class itself is a magic-user variant that summons and controls elementals and elemental spirits (imps, mephits, and others) and uses other elemental magic. It is an interesting take on an elemental magic system. Some of the more unusual bits in the article are the change in hit dice to 1d3 + 1 per level, rather than the 1d4 of the standard magic-user, the use of elemental meditation rather than spell books, and the association of the various elements with particular alignments. The spell lists for the class are very focused and include some new spells that could be included in a campaign whether the Elementalist was used or not. Although I probably won't be using Elementalists (at least not as an available class for PCs), the article has plenty of ideas that I am probably going to incorporate into my campaign.

”Walking the Dusty Trail” is the next article. It is only a couple of pages long and presents some solid information and suggestions about traveling and road encounters. There are also a few hooks for encounters and adventurers related to traveling. I like this article, and I will definitely be incorporating some of the suggestions into the Borderlands.

The next article is the first submitted article published in the magazine since issue 13. “Resurrection: To Die or Not to Die” is a four-page article that presents some interesting ideas regarding the raise dead and resurrection spells, along with an organization that can be incorporated into a campaign to provide them. The resurrection society idea is unique and interesting. It definitely provides a little added security for PCs. It also prompted me to consider a few other ideas for magical businesses that could exist in a campaign. In the end, though, the magic involved here just is too rare for me to actively consider using the society in my game. As a springboard for ideas, though, I definitely like this article.

The fourth article in the magazine is also an excellent springboard for ideas. “Alternate Alignments” presents a few good suggestions about the use of alignments in LL, along with a consideration of an alternate alignment system based on the elements. I got a lot out of this article, especially given my recent musings on how I want to use alignment in my game. I like the association of the races with particular elements presented here, and I may incorporate that idea into my game. The elemental alignment system, though, reminds me of other systems in the past that have tried to get away from the Lawful and Chaotic, Good and Evil axis system. It presents a system that would definitely provide a different motivation for character personality in the game, but I don't think it is described well enough in the article for me to fully embrace it and use it in my game. It has definitely inspired some more musings on the subject, though.

Following up on elemental alignments is the third and final themed article of the issue, “Elemental Beasts.” This article presents four pages of imps and mephits for elementalists to summon and control or for the game master to use as low level antagonists. These are useful monsters and can definitely fill a small niche whether you use the elementalist or not. I've already got ideas for incorporating these guys into the Borderlands.

The final article in the magazine deals with treasure maps. “'X' Marks the Spot” gives some great suggestions for generating treasure maps on the fly while running a game. There are also some random tables for generating the characteristics of the map, along with its target. I'm going to be putting a copy of this article in my game master folder, as it provides some nice variety compared to other treasure map tables.

Finally, the issue ends with “Mr. B's Last Word.” This time the subject under consideration is why characters always hunt humanoids and a plea for higher role-playing in regards to relations with humanoids than the traditional smash and grab.

Just like the past two issues, this issue is an excellent value and presents some welcome additional information for use in LL games. All of the material in the issue could easily be converted for use with other old school games as well. I enjoyed the issue and am definitely looking forward to the next. You can get issue 15 from RPGNow for $2.00.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Holmes Blue Book Cover to Cover

Over at Grognardia, James is doing an examination of the Holmes blue book from cover to cover. Since this is the book I started playing with BITD (and since I just got my replacement, courtesy of eBay, a little bit ago), I've been following the series for the past few days. He has a lot of small insights about the various rules and, given his deep understanding of the LBBs, a lot of great comparisons between them and Holmes' book. So far he's only covered the first few pages of the rules. I can't wait until he gets a little farther in, particularly to the spell and monster descriptions.

You can check out the series so far, starting with the introduction, and continuing with Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Harvey Pekar (October 8, 1939 – July 12, 2010)

I'm joining Jim from over at Carjacked Seraphim in bidding a fond goodbye to Harvey Pekar, who died today in Cleveland. You might know him from his comics and books or the movie that immortalized his life, American Splendor. You might also remember him from his appearances on Late Night with David Letterman from back in the late 80s. I discovered him in the late 80s on Letterman (when I could still stand to watch Letterman) and rediscovered him with the movies (thanks to my friends Sam and Angie). I didn't know his comics back in the day (although I was familiar with a lot of R. Crumb's work). He occupies a weird place in my cultural lexicon, as well he should.

I rediscovered Harvey Pekar when I was living alone outside of Chicago, working for the VA (like Harvey but in a very different position), and generally muddling through my life. My friend Sam, who also works for the VA, turned me on to the movie. As I recall it now, I was in the midst of recovering from my back surgery, but it may have been before that. I do remember watching AS while I was homebound and on a lot of painkillers from the surgery. I also remember being inspired by Harvey to just let go, live life, and not worry about it. As Harvey might have said, even though it's a crappy day outside, you still gotta go to work, right?

Harvey suffered from a series of ailments and long-term depression. Despite all of the hardship these caused, though, he was a very successful writer and a master of modern social commentary and critique. He helped underground comics to gain a footing in the comics market in the 1970s and 1980s and inspired a generation of artists and writers to explore a different side of life through art. He didn't write about costumed super-heroes and villainous masterminds, but his comics helped shape and redefine the industry. He gave his fans a wry take on life in the midwest, civil service (and work in general), and everyday struggles (including facing cancer) and encouraged them to explore their own everyday stories in comics, film, and other media.

Harvey convinced me that I should get enjoyment out of the things I like, whether other people really enjoy them or not. Harvey collected jazz records. Sometimes he would lend records he enjoyed to friends, and he corresponded regularly with R. Crumb about records as well as his comics. He didn't really care whether anyone else enjoyed them or whether his musical tastes were not in line with everyone else's at the time. I've gotten the same way with gaming, partly from Harvey's example. I play the games I like they way I like. If others want to play, great. If not, so what?

Harvey may have been a curmudgeon, but like most curmudgeons, he honestly cared about people. He might have been critical, demanding, or any of a hundred other things, but he was also insightful, determined and motivating. He held a lens up to middle America and showed us his world, warts and all, so that we could better understand our own little parts. He wasn't interested in making the world a better place, but he did for those of us that could recognize it.

Good night, Harvey. I'll see you around.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Human races in Alnair

Earlier in the week, I posted a little about the movements of various ethnic groups in the area where my Borderlands campaign is taking place. Here is a little more information about the first three types of people.


These were the first documented humans in Alnair. Their name for themselves means “sons or children of the land of Alna.” They dominated the region that is currently known as the central kingdoms (Westreich, Formiith, Victoria, and Starfall). They lived in small, settled tribes that were agrarian and peaceful. They practiced agriculture and some primitive manufacturing. There was some trade between local communities, but very little large-scale travel. Migrations, expansions, and settlement within Alnairiin society happened slowly, normally in response to natural disaster or the consumption of local resources.

The ancient Alnairiin practiced a form of egalitarian communal government. Elders were respected, but each adult was given a voice in matters of import to the whole community. Druids and bards were exempted from speaking in community matters. They traveled extensively between communities, serving as healers, spiritual defenders and guides, or as mediators and historians.

The Alnairiin were shorter than modern humans, normally between 4'6” and 5' tall, and slight of build. They generally had swarthy skin, black or brown hair, and dark eyes.

The Alnairiin were absorbed or displaced by the Neumeniin migration from the north, the Termiin migrations from the west, the Formiin conquest, and the Armiin invasion. Although there are very few physical remnants of Alnairiin culture left in Alnair, almost all of the people in the central and southern kingdoms have some Alnairiin blood. The druidic orders and Heralds Hall are also remnants of these people.


The Neumeniin (old Alnairiin for “children of the north” or “northmen”) were tribal humans who migrated into Alnair from the north. They were originally semi-agrarian raiders and hunters, but developed a strongly ritualized warrior-hunter culture over time. Neumeniin colonization eventually covered all of the central kingdoms, and the southern kingdoms as far south as North Bay and Middlesea.

Neumeniin tribesmen that settled the areas now known as Victoria, Colonia, and Starfall interbred heavily with the Alnairiin there. Neumeniin were also known to interbreed occasionally with Termiin in the west. They were generally competitive with the human tribes to the east, which contributed to their need to expand south.

Neumeniin culture, religion, and history is dominated by the archetype of the warrior-king. A typical ancient Neumeniin village was ruled by the strongest warrior and his lieutenants. As the culture evolved, elaborate rituals were designed for selecting or promoting the warrior-kings. In a few villages, they were chosen by lot to compete for the position. In most, candidates were charged with particular tasks or quests which they had to complete to gain the position. Others held regular or semi-regular contests in which warriors would compete against each other directly for the position, either in sport-like contests of strength and speed or in actual gladiatorial-style bouts. The latter were generally rare, as they often depleted the settlement's strength in the process.

Neumeniin traveled extensively and traded throughout their territories and with most of their neighbors. They were known to keep slaves and servants, who were generally responsible for agriculture and household duties. Slaves were taken from rival tribes among the Neumeniin, as well as from the indigenous Alnairiin, and the rival tribes to the east. In many eastern Neumeniin villages it was a mark of honor to hold eastern slaves, although the easterners were typically very unruly and known to have caused several large-scale slave uprisings.

Neumeniin were exceptional tool-makers and one of the first human groups to work iron heavily. Their homes were traditionally made of stacked logs or worked stone and roofed with timber or thatch. They practiced extensive burial rites and interred favored warriors in barrows or underground tombs. These tombs were typically small, with two or three chambers containing grave goods surrounding a larger central chamber where the warrior would be interred. Sometimes, especially in the case of a particularly powerful warrior-king, a tomb would contain elaborate decorations, dozens of rooms, and vast treasures. These larger tombs were often protected by traps or hidden and secret doors to deter tomb raiders and to prevent the dead from escaping.

Neumeniin were generally about the same height as a modern human. Women were not noticeably shorter than men, and both tended to have bulky, muscular frames. They were light-skinned. Their hair color was typically light brown, blonde, or auburn; and they had light-colored eyes.

Neumeniin have been one of the dominant human groups in the central and southern kingdoms for thousands of years. The majority of the humans in the region bear a strong resemblance to ancient Neumeniin. The many tombs and barrows that dot the landscape, especially in Westreich and the tribal areas north of Starfall, along with numerous ancient buildings and ruins are a testament to the durable legacy of these people.


The Termiin (ancient Alnairiin for “sons of the grass”) people settled into the central kingdoms from the west. They were nomadic tribesmen who followed and hunted the herds on the great plains between the Northwall and Southwall ranges and traded between the civilizations on either side of the plains. Termiin tribesmen settled in the areas currently claimed by Victoria and Colonia, establishing trading colonies along the southern coast of the Golden Sea and the northern coast of Middlesea. New Harmony is built on the ruins of an ancient Termiin settlement. From these settlements, they traded with the Neumeniin, the eastern tribes, and the goblins in the south.

The Termiin worshiped the spirits of the plains, a collection of deities, spirits, and other entities. Termiin tribesmen often wore a phylactery containing small icons or votive items dedicated to a particular spirit bound to their arm, forehead, or shield. These phylacteries supposedly granted a variety of magical effects to the wearer, although most seemed to be geared toward providing strength or fighting prowess, insight, or protection.

Termiin were generally olive-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed. They tended to have sharp, aquiline features. They were slightly shorter than modern humans, and women were typically smaller than men.

Termiin tribes were ruled by hereditary chieftains. When a chieftain died, his tribe would divide itself between his sons or chief lieutenants, with each rider free to choose which new tribe he and his family would ride with.

Outside of their coastal trading villages, the Termiin did not build permanent settlements in the eastern portion of their territory. There are rumors of a vast Termiin city somewhere to the west, across the great plains, but if such a city exists it is carefully guarded by the modern tribes.

The modern tribes on the plains are still almost exclusively Termiin. They trade frequently (and raid occasionally) in Victoria. They still maintain many of their old customs and ways of life, although most of the tribes are now herders more than hunters. They call themselves Harabi in their own language.

Griffon Castle

I've been working on a lot of stuff for the Borderlands. Next weekend I'm going to a big gathering of gamers here in Indy, and I'm hoping to get a few more people interested then. I'm also planning to run some people through a little of the stuff I'm working on at Gen Con. If you're in the area or planning to go to Gen Con, drop me a line if you're interested in playing some LL.

A few weeks ago, I gave you a hint of my Borderlands area map in my Hexographer review. You can see the same map at the top of this post. Since I'm finally putting together some of the info about things outside Cragmoor Keep itself, I've posted the area map on Google docs for you to look at in detail. You can get it here. It doesn't have any of the encounters keyed on the map, because I didn't want to give anything away.

I changed a few things from the map in the module, including adding more wilderness encounters and more named locations. One of those locations is Griffon Castle, which occupies the place of the original Cave of the Unknown. I moved the Cave of the Unknown back into the treeline and put Griffon Castle on the hill between Cragmoor and the Caves of Chaos. I gave you a hint of the surface level of Griffon Castle a couple weeks ago. I've changed a few details from that map, and I'll publish a new one here as soon as I can scan it.

I'm working on expanding Griffon Castle into a large scale dungeon that the players can explore as an alternative or in concert with the Caves of Chaos. With that in mind, I started fleshing out some history for the place to entice them a bit. Here's what I have so far.

Griffon Castle was built toward the end of the Wars of Elven Conquest by Winton and Dorea Griffon. The couple were a pair of adventurers who were commissioned by the King of Westreich to settle the wilderness on the eastern border. They built the castle on the ancient ruins of a Neumeniin road fort. For nearly a decade, the pair patrolled the forests around the keep, driving off the humanoid tribes in the area. Eventually, their success attracted others, and a small town built up around the castle. Adventurers and settlers moved into the area, and the place became a haven for travelers. The Griffons themselves gave up adventuring and settled in to rule their small fief and raise a family. For the next couple of centuries, the Griffon family maintained peace and security in the area.

In 1619, Tolbert Griffon became the lord of Griffon Castle. During his short reign over the castle, he rebuilt much of the structure of the place in Formiin style. He had statues and details carved into the surfaces of the towers. He filled the moat and planted formal gardens. Griffon Castle changed from a traditional border fort to an architectural folly. His extravagant spending for craftsmen and artists should have exhausted the family treasury, but he somehow always found enough wealth to cover the costs of his extravagant plans.

Although a direct descendant of Winton and Dorea, who were almost pure Neumeniin stock, Tolbert claimed to be descended from an ancient Formiin general. He asserted the further claim that he was entitled to the ancient Formiin title of Prefect and sued for investiture in Westreich. He also studied ancient Formiin history, collected Formiin artifacts, and even had a temple to Araloch built in the castle. He claimed to have rediscovered ancient rituals that gave him power over the elder spirits and that he had conquered death and would rule his family's castle forever. The townspeople around the castle claimed that Tolbert was mad and waited for a successor.

Unfortunately, although Tolbert had three natural sons, there was no successor. Just a few short years after becoming lord of the castle, Tolbert was denied investiture. Furious at this slight, he slaughtered his family in a bizarre ritual and burned the gardens around the castle, claiming that the blood and smoke pleased his god. When word of these acts spread to the town, the townspeople stormed the castle and killed Tolbert at the foot of the altar in his temple. As he died, Tolbert railed against the townsfolk, cursing them, their descendants, and the town itself.

Over the next few years, mysterious things happened frequently in the town. Accidents were more common there than elsewhere. Children were born with a variety of birth defects. Plagues of flies and frogs infested the town from the neighboring marshes. Humanoids moved back into the area, and goblins began threatening the town regularly. And the ghost of Tolbert Griffon wandered the streets at night, cursing and screaming in rage.

Although there were cousins entitled to the lordship and castle, none stepped forward to take it. They feared that Tolbert's curse would infect anyone who settled there with the same madness that had claimed him and his family. The town tried to rule itself and struggled to survive in the wake of the tragedy. In 1626, a hobgoblin tribe invaded and put the whole place to the torch. The inhabitants were taken as slaves and shipped north. The castle itself was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.

Almost a century later, Cragmoor Keep was built near the old ruins of Griffon Castle. Since then, many travelers have claimed to see Tolbert's ghost along the Griffon Road. Adventurers have explored the ruins of the castle, hoping to find some of the artifacts he was supposed to have left behind or the source of his mysterious wealth and power. Many have entered the place, only to be turned away by monsters or traps in the ruins. Some have returned with wealth and ancient treasures, but none have yet claimed Tolbert's prize.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yay! Another controversy! Oh, wait...

It looks like there's another controversy brewing about who is or isn't, should or shouldn't be called old-school or part of the Old School Renaissance/Revival (OSR). People are declaring themselves part of the OSR (or divorcing themselves from it), designing logos (or trying to dismiss them), and generally raising a ruckus. I'm not really interested in the controversy, what it has to say about the movement (or Movement, depending on who you ask or read), or about who is or isn't a card-carrying, self-described, or de facto member of the OSR. I've pretty much put away my torches and pitchforks when it comes to version or style flame wars. I don't really care if Rob is upset about being automatically lumped in with the OSR, Jim is upset that people don't want to be described as part of the OSR, or whatever. Christian at destination unknown has a good take on it.

I only bring it up because I am part of the demographic that is considered old school because of both tenure, game choice, and play style. In some circles, I'm a grognard. Some consider me a gaming nerd or a geek. I've been called beardy, as well. Regardless of the particular tag label you want to hang on me, though, I call myself an old school gamer. I've been playing games longer than some of my fellow gamers have been alive. Actually, I've been playing longer than some of their parents have been alive! I prefer 0e, 1e, and B/X to 2e, 3.0/3.5, and 4e. I liked Traveller when it was a handful of little books. I prefer to play with fragile characters in games that rely as much (or more) on player skill than having the right feat-skill-item combos. I like a good dungeon crawl. And I like a game that has as much unofficial material from third-party publishers bolted on as official rules and background. I like to tweak, test, modify, and hack my games. Hi, my name's Bob, and I'm an old school gamer.

I also bring it up because I'm glad the OSR is happening but I'm bored with the flame wars. I'm glad that a lot of publishers are producing materials for the older games. I'm glad the retro-clones and other systems are embracing the idea of modifiable mechanics and non-proprietary expansion. I'm really glad that there are more mega-dungeons to crawl around in! I don't really care if the publishers for these materials use an OSR logo or identify with the movement or not. The fact that the material is there for me to plunder is good enough.

That said, though, I'm going to say that I am disappointed that this keeps resurfacing every few months or so. All that is being accomplished by these kinds of arguments is that a lot of people are seeing old school gamers as petty trolls. And that just makes it harder for some of us to find new players and get them interested in some of the older stuff. Get over it and go play some games, folks. That's what I'm trying to do.

Okay, now that I've taken my shot at the trolls, can I loot the room?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

History and Migrations

In between fleshing out NPCs and tweaking details in B2, I've been working a bit on the history of the area. I am definitely a top-down designer, so I like to start with the big details and then work my way in until I get to the specific stuff. This sort of development flies in the face of a lot of sandbox-style development, where things get fleshed out in broadening circles as the PCs explore and encounter more of the world around them. The latter is definitely encouraged by the original structure of The Keep on the Borderlands.

I like the top-down approach, though, because it gives me some context when designing the particulars. I don't need to know the name and reign of every monarch that has ever sat the throne in Westreich. But I do want to create some history about the most recent few. I also want to have a good idea of the kinds of people who live in different regions and the things that distinguish them from their neighbors. This kind of detail may be extraneous in the end, but it gives me a better sense of how things have developed in the world and how they should interact now.

Like a lot of people, I use the world of Greyhawk as a model for developing a campaign world. I was first exposed to Oerth through the World of Greyhawk folio, and I've owned copies of it, the later boxed set, and several of the supplements that were released since. Now I have the old books from the boxed set and a copy of the mini boxed set that was released for the TSR 25th Anniversary. I still go back to these and look at how things are described. I especially go back and look at the histories and the timelines presented there.

One of the things that always struck me about Greyhawk was the interactions of the major human races. The great migrations and the mixing of the different strains of humans produced a lot of tension in the history of the world, especially as it was played out in later supplements.

Looking at Alnair, I wanted to create a similar kind of racial mixing. I've already established the presence of an alien human race that settled in the colony ship that became the City of the Ancients. Aside from these invaders, I want to have a variety of other ethnic groups that have settled and mixed in the area. After a little thought and some quick sketching, I decided that there would be four invasive human groups, including the aliens, plus one indigenous group.

With that in mind, I named each of the groups, decided on some basic information about them, and started sketching out their migration patterns. The groups are as follows:

Alnairiin: The indigenous humans of the area.
Neumeniin: Northern invaders with a ritualised hunter-warrior society.
Termiin: Nomadic tribesmen, herders, and traders that live on the western plains.
Formiin: Highly organized and rigidly structured military society.
Armiin: Settlers from the colony ship.

Once I had these sort of thumbnail descriptions, I put together some migration maps of their settlement patterns in the area. First, I decided on the extent of the original Alnairiin civilization. From there, I added each of the other races in turn and generated a map showing their movements. Now, I've got a good idea of what the human racial mix will be in any given area of the campaign map.

The original Alnairiin civilization:

The Neumeniin migrations:

The Termiin migrations:

The Formiin conquest:

The Armiin invasion:

I'll try to add a few more details about each of the different ethnic groups tomorrow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The great struggle with Alignment

I've been looking at several of the old D&D and AD&D rules sets, along with the LL rulebook, the AEC, and other sources and thinking about alignment. I know that the alignment system in D&D is one of the more controversial things in the game (and has been throughout its history). Despite the controversies, I definitely want to use alignment, and I also want it to be a relatively important part of the game.

Based on the stuff I've been reading, alignment has been one of those things that defines D&D from the beginning. The rules about alignment aren't there simply to help codify behavior (at least not at first), but they actually help define the cosmology of the game. Alignments, in some senses, are not personal attitudes or moral tendencies, but larger cosmic forces that are championed by people in the game. Being lawful isn't just obeying rules and maintaining regular behaviors, it's fighting against entropy, change, and mutation. Being chaotic isn't simply being random and shifty, it's fighting against the staid machinations of the social bureaucratic machine.

I like the three-part alignment system of Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. I think it can provide a lot of good flavor for a game. The idea of cosmic forces of order and disorder battling it out on the mortal plane really calls to me. And I like that it doesn't include a good, neutral, evil axis. I want players to have something grand and cosmic to champion or campaign against. But I also want them to have the flexibility to define their character's morality through personality and roleplay instead of a few descriptive lines from a game manual.

I don't want them to feel constrained against torturing a kobold because their character is lawful good. I want them to feel constrained against doing it because their character finds it repugnant or barbaric. Aligning with chaos or law will influence your behavior in some ways. Chaotics are more selfish. Lawfuls are more group-oriented. However, a particular alignment towards Chaos or Law doesn't necessarily make your character good or evil. A lawful demon hunter might isn't particularly good when they're torturing a cultist of a chaotic god. Likewise, a chaotic freedom fighter isn't necessarily evil if they're fighting against a tyrannical, authoritarian regime.

The way that I see it, most of the people in Alnair are going to be neutral with lawful tendencies. They don't really care about (or in many cases know about) the great struggle unless it comes knocking on their door (or crawling out of their sewers), but they like the gates to open on time. They prefer orderly society to anarchy, but they also want personal freedoms as well.

Clerics, holy fighters, and fanatics are definitely aligned with either Law, Neutrality, or Chaos. They have particular gods they worship and draw power from, and these gods are tied directly to the appropriate cosmic force. The characters (and their deities) are either committed to order, disorder, or balance. They're actively working to swing things in their favor and depose their opposite.

Other characters are somewhere in the middle. They may be aware of the fight between Law and Chaos or they may not. They may champion a particular god or ethos, or they may not care. It's going to be up to the player to choose how devoted their character is to a particular alignment.

With this idea of alignment in mind, I'm not putting any kind of alignment restrictions on any of the main LL classes. The race classes will tend toward specific alignment allegiances — dwarves and elves toward Law and halflings toward Neutrality — but there is no restriction on what alignments they can choose. So, if someone wants to play a thief that is aligned with Law, they can do so.

If we end up using the AEC, I plan to use the following alignment restrictions. Assassins can be any alignment, but will tend to be Neutral or Chaotic. You would have to come up with a good concept for a Lawful assassin. I can think of a few historical and fictional examples, but I'm putting the onus for this on the player.

Druids must be Neutral. Druids on Alnair draw their magical abilities from the land itself, so they don't worship gods per se. They are invested in maintaining the balance, however, as an extreme shift toward Law or Chaos would theoretically disrupt their own powers. The same goes for druidic bards and heralds. They are committed to neutrality because they draw on the same sources for their powers as druids.

Paladins must be lawful. I may include an anti-paladin or some other holy knight class for chaotics or neutrals, but paladins (in my mind) are always lawful, have always been lawful, and always will be lawful. No exceptions.

Everyone else can choose any alignment. That opens up the possibility for rival chaotic and lawful orders of monks, the lawful rangers versus the chaotic bounty hunters (with the neutral wardens in between), and all kinds of other conflicts.

In cosmological terms, there will be gods, demons, devils, spirits, entities, and other kinds of beings related to all three alignments. I plan to have hundreds, if not thousands, of active cults, religions, and sects working on Alnair. I'm taking polytheism to the extreme. But behind it all will be the great struggle. Characters may worship a dozen different gods, but they'll all recognize that those gods have a role to play in the larger fight between Law and Chaos.

That's what I've come up with so far. I'll definitely be fleshing it out more through play. Let me know what you think.


One of the great things about going back to gaming after several years is that old ideas are much easier to reuse. There has been enough time between then and now that those old ideas can be brought into the game and appear fresh and new. Mostly this is because I will have a new set of players encountering these things. But part of it is that I am coming at them with fresh eyes as well.

I have been away from most of my old gaming notes for at least a few years. So going back through them is like reading class notes from years ago. You remember taking the class, you might even remember a few details, but the notes are often sketchy or incomplete. They don't make perfect sense anymore. They can still be evocative, but they don't have the fullness they did when they were created.

I'm finding this to be especially true for NPCs I created back in the day. At the time, I knew all about them — their history, personality, and abilities. These were all fresh because they were either new or used frequently. Without use, they've faded in my memory and become pretty sketchy.

I'm finding that to be a good thing as I'm working on the Borderlands campaign. I'm able to dust off some of these old characters as historical figures. I figure I'll use what I can recall and not fill in the rest of the details. I'll leave some gaps and mysteries there. After all, I still remember the big events of these characters' lives. I just don't remember the details. That's perfect for a historical figure!

Unfortunately, that means that I'll need to work on a whole stable of new NPCs for the characters to interact with, but that's half the fun of running a game.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Looking for players

I just added a semi-permanent call for players at the top of my page, but I figured I'd send a message for all of you that are following by feed. I'm looking for players for my Borderlands LL game. I'm guessing I can handle up to six players to start. I may be able to handle more in one group later, but I want to knock the rust off first. At this point, I'm open to playing using just the main LL rules or adding the AEC, whichever players prefer. I'm willing to play pretty much anytime at the moment, but the schedule may change when I start working (hopefully soon). If you're in the Indianapolis area (or willing to travel here on a fairly regular basis) and want to play, drop me a line at mordred2 at msn dot com.

Rolling the dice

I've been working on some starting characters in case I need some for when the Borderlands game gets rolling. I'm starting with some basic LL characters using just the core book, so I'm rolling 3d6 in order for stats. I just noticed while doing it how much my mind is geared toward adding 3d6 together. I guess all the rolling through the years has really worn that particular groove in my brain!

I also noticed, though, how much anticipation I had when two dice hit the table as 6s, but the third didn't roll as smoothly and was still unknown. Even though I don't plan on playing any of these characters as PCs, I still get excited about it. Anyone else tried rolling 3d6 straight for stats and noticed a little flutter while you waited that extra millisecond to see if you actually rolled an 18?