Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bits and Mortar

I bought three products from Rogue Games at Gen Con. After I bought Shadow, Sword & Spell, the folks at the booth had me fill out a form so they could email me a pdf copy of the book after the show. That a pdf was included with the physical book was one of the big motivators for me to go back and get copies of Thousand Suns and The Cursed Chateau. I received the emailed pdf of SS&S a few days after the show, along with coupon codes for the other two at DriveThru RPG. I've now downloaded all three, giving me print and electronic access to these books.

I have since learned that Rogue Games is one of the publishers involved in Bits & Mortar, an initiative to give away free pdf copies of game books when you buy a physical copy of the book. Evil Hat and several other small publishers are also involved in this.

I love this program! I just hope that game stores will see the benefits and jump on board.

I have been a big fan of the pdf revolution since its inception, and I have quite a large collection of pdf-only game books. Using pdfs makes it easier for me to prepare a game, since I can use the search features of the pdf to find information quickly. I can also print portions of the book for reference.

I still prefer a printed book at the table, though. It's much easier to hand a player a book and say "flip to page 53" than to try to do the same with a netbook. Having a bound game book also makes it easier for players to flip through and read rules during lags in the session. A bound book also prevents the inevitable loss and reprint of the equipment list.

In the past, I've either had to make do with one or the other or somehow justify the cost of both. Now, with the publishers involved with Bits & Mortar, I don't have to choose. I encourage you to check out these publishers and point your FLGS toward Bits & Mortar.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making the best of things

I want to thank everyone that left comments to my last post. I ended up deleting the post because I want to focus on more positive things here. I have to deal with the offline crap, but that doesn't give me an excuse to fling it around at all of you. I definitely appreciate the support, though. It means a lot to me to know there are people that really care out there. If we meet in person, I owe you all one. I was in a pretty dark place yesterday, but your comments really brightened things up for me. Thanks.

I'm running a game later today. I'll try to post a recap tonight or tomorrow. Other than that I've got a couple more reviews coming in the next couple days along with some info about elves.

In the meantime, though, I've been working on some ideas for a random dungeon generator. Here are a few of the ideas I had about magical doorways.

Magical Doorways

The GM should determine the exact nature of magical entrances. In most cases, a magical entrance will only open when specific requirements or conditions are met. Some examples include:

1.The entrance only opens according to a set schedule. Otherwise it is sealed and will not open. The schedule is left to the GM to determine. It could be as often as every ten minutes or as infrequently as once a decade or century. Generally, the more often the door opens, the shorter it stays open.
2.The door requires a magical key to open.
3.The entrance is passable only when someone says a password or magical command.
4.The door opens only if threatened.
5.The door only opens if asked politely.
6.The door speaks a riddle and only opens when the correct answer to the riddle is spoken.
7.The door will only open if a particular puzzle is solved correctly.
8.The entrance will only open for a member of a particular group. This could be a character of a particular race or class, a member of a particular family or organization, a follower of a particular god or religion, or some other group. Others may or may not be able to enter with the person that opened it.
9.The door will only open if it is given gems, coins, or other treasure.
10.A blood sacrifice must be performed to open it. This could be as little as a small quantity of blood or as great as requiring the sacrifice of an intelligent being.
11.The door will only open in the presence of light or darkness. It may require that the light or darkness be magical, such as that caused by a spell or magic item.
12.The door requires that a particular spell or effect be cast before it will open.

In rare cases, the entrance will produce a magical effect on anyone passing through it. These effects could apply only to someone passing the entrance in a particular direction. For example, a door could bless anyone entering a dungeon or cast a healing spell on anyone leaving the dungeon. These effects could also be limited in some other way, similar to the opening requirements suggested above. The exact details of these effects should be worked out by the GM before play. Some example effects include:

1.Anyone passing through the door is blessed or cursed.
2.The door heals or causes damage to anyone passing through it.
3.The entrance grants temporary bonus hit points.
4.People entering gain a temporary bonus or penalty to an ability.
5.Using the entrance grants protection or causes susceptibility of some kind. This could be against evil, an element, magic, poison, or a particular creature.
6.Anyone using the entrance glows with magical energy.
7.Characters gain the ability to magically sense something by entering the doorway. This could include evil intent, secret or concealed doors, treasure, thoughts, or some other effect or item.
8.The doorway increases or decreases a character's movement.
9.Anyone entering the doorway and all of their equipment are magically cleaned.
10.Entering the doorway gives a character magical vision. This could include the ability to see in the dark, telescopic or magnified vision, x-ray vision, or something similar.
11.The doorway grants the ability to speak with or control animals.
12.Characters passing through the doorway are temporarily rendered invisible and/or inaudible.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Adventures in Oz

Nope, not Australia, but the homeland of the Wizard, the Wicked Witches, the Munchkins, and so on. Today Google is celebrating the 71st anniversary of the release of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. I remember watching the movie every year growing up, and I read a few of the books when I was really young. My tastes in fantasy quickly moved to things like The Hobbit and Conan stories, but Oz, like Narnia, still has a fond place in my heart.
It is still one of the better-realized fantasy worlds and has a lot to recommend it. The movie is a breathtaking fantasy vision on screen, even though it did make some major changes from the books. Most particularly, it toned down a lot of the weirder elements of Oz to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Even toned down, the flying monkeys and wicked witch are pretty scary for a little kid, and I remember the combined thrill and fear of watching them attack Dorothy and company. Great stuff!
To celebrate, why not watch the movie or check out some of the original books. You can also check out an Oz-based rpg.

Review - GameMastery Plot Twist Cards

Paizo's GameMastery Plot Twist Cards are definitely one of the more generally useful items to be produced in the GameMastery line. Unlike the item cards and some of the other products in the line, they are easily convertible between game systems. They are an excellent tool for players and game masters alike. The deck includes 51 plot twist cards plus two cards with instructions printed on both sides. Additional cards include an OGL and an advertisement for the GameMastery Item Cards and GameMastery Pathfinder RPG Condition Cards.

The cards are printed on heavy cardstock and have the same weight and feel as regular playing cards. They are sealed but do not have a heavy coating, so they probably will not stand up to heavy shuffling. Although sleeves would protect them, I prefer to leave mine unsleeved to allow me to use the original box for storing them. I just plan to be gentle when shuffling them.

Each of the plot twist cards has a unique picture, under which is printed the particular plot twist of that card. The cards then have a mechanical game effect the card can cause. All of the game effects are primarily for the D&D 3.x/Pathfinder system, but most can be easily modified for other systems if desired. Finally, each card lists four possible descriptions or events that could coincide with the particular twist.

For example, the “From the Shadows” card shows a menacing shadow above the card title and includes the game effect that “Target receives a +10 insight bonus on opposed Perception checks for 3 rounds.” It also lists the following four possible events:

  • ”A deadly hunter stalks you in the night”
  • Deadly missiles fly from the darkness
  • A ray of light reveals what was hidden
  • Dealings yield questionable boons

The directions for the cards suggest handing them out to players, one at first level and each level thereafter. The players can then play them during the game to influence the events in the game. It is up to the game master to interpret how they impact the game and what effect, if any, they have on a particular situation. I like the idea of doing this, as it gives the players some control over the flow of the story and provides a tool they can use to influence situations that would normally be outside of their characters' control.

In addition to allowing players to use them, though, they also make a handy tool for the GM in designing story and plot elements. I plan to use them to generate possible story twists as I design adventures. I also plan to use them to generate interesting events or characteristics for NPCs. Finally, I plan to use them for generating unusual occurrences if a session is dragging or the party gets stalled somewhere in an adventure. I am sure someone else will come up with other uses for them as well.

Regardless of how you use them, they are a great tool for sparking some creativity or simply throwing a wrench into the clockwork patterns of your campaign. You can get them from Paizo or your FLGS.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review - Chessex Alignment, Dungeon, Treasure, and Trap Dice

This year I got a lot of dice at Gen Con. I didn't plan on getting so many, but I kept finding more that I really liked. I stopped collecting dice decades ago, and I lost my original dice collection about fifteen years ago. After that, I bought some dice to replace some of my original sets, but I controlled my urges to start collecting again. I figured I had enough dice to game with, and I didn't really need more.
Like most gamers, though, I always keep an eye out for new and original dice that meet particular gaming needs. I also like the idea of getting a few new dice at a convention or when I buy a new game. Somehow, those dice bring back memories of the show or feel particularly tied to that game.
Since I was at Gen Con, I definitely met the second criteria. And I got a few of the Gen Con dice from the swag bag, a Gen Con Forum Stink die, a die from Scotty's, and a die from I also got a bag of 12-siders to use with Shadow, Sword & Spell and Thousand Suns. I got a new 30-sider to replace my old one, even though it's not marked 0 to 9 thrice, with plusses and minuses to note ones and twenties. I even got a pair of soft plastic 20-siders marked 0 to 9 twice to replace the pair I had in my original dice. The d6, d8, and d12 that Mike gave me with the Basic box for my birthday were an added bonus.
The dice I like best from the show, though, are the unique ones I bought from Chessex. Even though I could easily draw up a table to approximate each of these dice, I think they're great to have for doing some random game elements in a pinch. All of them are high-impact white plastic with carved, black-painted markings.
The first die is a simple six-sided alignment die marked with lawful, neutral, and chaotic twice each. The lawful sides have a traditional serif font and also show a pair of interlocked gears. The neutral sides use a plain, sans-serif font and have a pair of scales on them. The chaotic sides use a handwritten, free font and have an eight-pointed chaos star. I've seen numerous takes on alignment dice, but for some reason I've never had any of my own. I got this one because I liked the combination of the different fonts and pictures on the faces. They help to capture the feel of the alignments for me.
The random dungeon die is an oversized (28 mm) twelve-sided die marked with corridor and room shapes as well as numbers. Although I have plenty of random dungeon generation tables, I really like the idea of this die. It's a quick solution for when players go off the map and I don't have my tables at hand. The die was a little pricey, but it should get plenty of use.
The random treasure die is similarly sized to most of the twelve-sided dice I have in my dice bag. It is marked on all twelve faces with a variety of types of treasure, including mundane items, coins, gems, art, and magic items. Different treasure types occur more frequently. Coins, for instance, are on four faces, while magic items are on one. This makes a nice alternative when I don't feel like using the tables from the random dungeon generators or dungeon stocking rules from Moldvay or LL.
Finally, I got a random trap die. This is another twelve-sider. The traps include acid spray, arrow, blade, boulder, crushing, death ray, fireball, lightning, monster, pit, and quicksand traps. The only one missing is poison gas. This is a good go-to if I can't come up with an innovative trap when I'm working on a dungeon. I don't think it will see as much use as the others, but it's a good idea spring when I need it. The only downsides to this die are the frequency distribution of the traps and the size. I can get over the fact that there are eleven different trap types that thus have a pretty even frequency of occurrence (or totally equal if I use poison gas to replace one of the duplicates). Unfortunately, the print and pictures on the die are very small. That means I have to really look at it to be able to read it clearly. Obviously, being able to read the die quickly isn't as much an issue as it is with other dice, but it would be nice to have an oversized die with larger pictures and print.
I couldn't find any of these dice on the Chessex website. If you're interested in getting any of them, you can definitely get them from the Chessex booth at major conventions. Your FLGS may also be able to order them from the major distributors or Chessex directly.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I survived Gen Con

I've spent the last week living and breathing all things Gen Con. Because I was volunteering for the con, I started last Tuesday when I checked into the hotel and ended on Monday when I checked out. So, for me at least, the best four days in gaming was actually the best week in gaming and a lot more!
I've volunteered for Gen Con for several years, working in different areas of the convention, but this was my first year back after a few years off. I worked as one of the Captains in Badge Registration this year and had a great time. From what I could see, the online registration really helped to cut the lines in badge registration down this year. There was quite a long line for Will Call on Wednesday and Thursday, but everyone seemed to be in fairly good spirits and I didn't hear about too many problems.
Syl, Beth, and Tod, the other Captains and main volunteer at Badge Reg were great to work with. We also had quite a few good temps from Talagy that were handling the cash stations, and the Talagy managers really helped us get the best crews available. Everyone was a joy to work with, and I'm looking forward to coming back next year if I can work it out.
After I got done working on Wednesday, I ran a pickup game of Labyrinth Lord at Scotty's Brewhouse. Even though there was a huge meet-and-greet event going on at the same time, we got seated fairly quickly, had some good food and a good game. Seven people played in the game, and we closed the place down after about four hours of gaming. Even though I was still a little rusty behind the screen, I had a great time. I'll be writing a more complete report on the game in the next couple days.
The group that played in the game on Wednesday included a few of my old friends from Chicago. In addition to the time gaming on Wednesday, we got to spend a little time hanging out together through the rest of the con. Unfortunately, we didn't see each other as much as I would have liked, but we all enjoyed ourselves so it was okay. We did get to go to Steak 'n Shake for a late dinner one night, though. Aside from the group from Chicago, I ran into some old friends from Indy I hadn't seen in a few years. Turns out they have a fairly regular game night happening, so I'll be hanging out and doing some gaming with them in the near future as well.
Aside from old friends, I got to meet quite a few new people as well. Father Brian, Greg, Jared, and Vaas played in my LL game on Wednesday. I finally got a chance to meet the designer of Hexographer, Joe Wetzel, in person at his presentation on Saturday morning. I also met Zack and Jeff from the RPG Circus podcast at the presentation. Zack also writes RPG Blog 2. I met several of the Paizo writers and passed along greetings from Johnn over at Roleplaying Tips. I met some of the people involved with Gamers for Humanity both at Scotty's on Wednesday and at their booth in the Exhibit Hall. I'll probably be getting involved with their group soon, since they're looking for more Indy locals to help out. I spent quite a lot of time talking to one of the gentlemen that was manning the Rogue Games booth. Unfortunately, I didn't get a card and I've forgotten his name, but we had a great conversation about games and game groups, converting stories from film and TV into games, and different sci-fi systems. On his recommendation, I ended up going back to the booth on Sunday to get a copy of Thousand Suns. There were quite a few other people I met long the way, and I apologize to anyone I forgot to mention.
I didn't do too many events during the con. I went to the aforementioned Hexographer seminar with Joe and did a True Dungeon run. The seminar was great, and I learned quite a bit about the program that I didn't know before. I'll be diving back into it now to explore some of the things I learned. It was also nice to be able to pass on some suggestions to improve the program. Finally, I got to learn about a lot of new features that are coming for the program in the next batch of releases. There are quite a few exciting functions coming, but I want to confirm it's okay to talk about them before I give any details.
In True Dungeon, I did the Evading Hilt as the monk. There wasn't a lot of combat in this one, but there were a few good puzzles. Our group managed to get through the whole thing pretty much unscathed and then died at the end because we couldn't finish the final puzzle on time. It turns out I was a few clicks away from solving it. I just couldn't get my fingers to work fast enough. Oh well, there's always next year. I did gain a level and get some more good gear, though.
This year was pretty good as far as swag and loot went. Here's the take:
  • Four buttons:
    • True Dungeon Monk
    • True Dungeon Victim 2010
    • Paizo button with a smiling goblin and a d20
    • Red Dragon Inn button with one of the characters from the game on it
  • Gen Con Captain 2010 pin
  • a pair of steampunk-looking optical loupes I can clip onto my glasses
  • 3 Gen Con 2010 dice
  • Gen Con Forums Stink 7 die
  • Scotty's purple die
  • die
  • set of 10 d12s from Rogue Games (because I couldn't turn down a big bag of d12s!)
  • 2 soft plastic d20s (marked 0-9 twice) from Gamescience
  • big green d30
  • six-sided die marked Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic twice each
  • d12 marked with various rooms and corridors in addition to numbers
  • d12 marked with various treasure items in place of numbers
  • d12 marked with various traps
  • Gen Con glass mug
  • Gen Con travel mug
  • 2 Gen Con t-shirts
  • Gen Con volunteer t-shirt
  • 100 Gen Con 2010 True Dungeon tokens
  • Gen Con badge holder
  • Werewolf: Predator & Prey novel by Gherbod Flemming
  • Almuric by Robert E. Howard from Planet Stories
  • Primers for Shadow, Sword, and Spell and Colonial Gothic from Rogue Games to give to friends unfamiliar with these games.
  • The Cursed Chateau by James Maaliszewski
  • Shadow, Sword & Spell Basic Core Rulebook
  • Thousand Suns rulebook
  • Paizo's GameMastery Plot Twist Cards
  • 4 Gen Con mini notebooks with pens
  • 2 Dragonball CCG sample decks
  • Monsterpocalypse Series 3: All Your Base monster booster
  • Abel Limited Edition figure for Rackham's Confrontation
  • Sacred Vestals Attachment box for Confrontation
  • Confrontation: The Age of Rag'narok rulebook and Temple army book
  • 3 Dungeons & Dragons comic books
  • 2 copies of Legacy of Disaster, an adventure for the Legend of the Five Rings rpg
  • a Hexographer mouse pad (thanks Joe!)
  • Gen Con messenger bag
  • 2 Gen Con reusable shopping bags
  • 2 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning t-shirts
  • quick start version of bezzerwizzer
The second best thing I got at the con, and better than all of the stuff listed above, though, was a present from my friend Mike — a copy of the Moldvay basic book, complete with the box, a few of the original soft dice, and most of the original ads from the boxed set. Thanks again, Mike!
Finally, the best thing I got from Gen Con this year was the combination of a great experience and the chance to spend time with friends new and old. I had forgotten how much fun I have at Gen Con, since the last time I was at the show was in 2006. That year I didn't have a very good time. This year made up for it many times over. I'm definitely looking forward to going back next year and for many years to come.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Updated LL Ref Sheets and Monster Matrix

I've been working on adding more things to my DM binder in anticipation of my game on Wednesday night. I added a lot more information to the Reference Sheets in the process, including my social class tables, the treasure tables, the dungeon stocking table, wandering monster tables, and the NPC party generation information. I also incorporated a few suggestions from the Goblinoid Games forums.
I was going to add a monster matrix to the sheets similar to the one in the old Dungeon Masters Guide, but it didn't format well in the other document. So I made a separate document with the monster matrix.
I have uploaded both documents to Google docs. You can find the links to them under the DM Binder section in the sidebar or right here:
Labyrinth Lord Reference Sheets (version 1.1): Google docs
Labyrinth Lord Monster Matrix (version 1): Google docs

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Random Dungeon Generator

As reported on Dragonsfoot and by Lord Kilgore, there's a new random dungeon generator available.
I've punched up a few to see how it looks, and it's pretty good. The geomorphs are a little wild at times, producing some unique (and difficult to map) arrangements. That the generator stocks and dresses the dungeon for you, though, is brilliant. You could definitely use this for a quick, on-the-fly dungeon to drop some characters into. Very nice.

First Principles

Over at Huge Ruined Pile, Scott has a post about some of the practical theological ideas he uses for his world. That got me thinking about theology and philosophy and how we use them in games, which in turn got me thinking about how we could use them in game design. That led to me writing a huge post in which I considered how game design is essentially an exercise in philosophy. This isn't that post. This is a post about the tension between assumptions and stated principles when designing a world for a game.

I've been designing worlds for games for over thirty years. I've talked before about how a lot of those old ideas are being recycled into my current game world. Even the name of the area, Alnair, is lifted from a world I created over twenty years ago. In order to make these ideas fit together, though, I have had to tweak them and rework them to fit with the basic ideas behind my current world. Those basic ideas, in turn, have been twisted and rearranged a bit as I've worked on things. In the process, though, I've been slowly deducing the first principles I am using as the basis for my world.

When I started working on my current game world, I approached it with a few assumptions. I decided I would use the Labyrinth Lord rules, so I started with the assumptions built into that game. Namely:

  1. There are multiple intelligent races, humanoid and otherwise.
  2. The technological base of the area includes remnants of bronze age technology alongside proto-Renaissance designs and items.
  3. Magic works, is derived from a variety of sources, and takes many forms.
  4. Characters advance and become more powerful by challenging and overcoming obstacles in their environment.
  5. There are multiple planes of existence, and some of the other planes have life forms inimical to beings on the material plane.
  6. Etc.

To these I added a few more assumptions of my own:

  1. Humans are the dominant race.
  2. The main area in which the campaign takes place has had multiple human cultures that have interacted there.
  3. Non-human races interact with humans regularly and are integrated into human society to varying degrees; non-human ghettos like the Shire, Moria, and Mirkwood are rare or non-existent.
  4. Non-human races need to be de-Tolkienized.
  5. Not all dwarves are short bearded Scotsmen or Norsemen in chainmail with axes and hammers.
  6. Halflings are not jolly little Englishmen who garden or eat all day and then pop round the pub for a pint.
  7. Elves are closer to Elric than Elrond. They are an alien race that have infiltrated and subjugated a portion of the campaign world. They are long-lived, but not immortal, and they have an affinity for magic, but cannot master the most difficult spells.
  8. Some humans are the remnants of a colonial group that came to the world on a generation ship.
  9. Most of the technology from the generation ship was destroyed or consumed during a great war with the planet's original inhabitants.
  10. At least one ancient civilization was destroyed leaving vast ruins and other mysterious artifacts behind.
  11. One of these civilizations was mostly destroyed by a large-scale, tactical nuclear or magical strike.
  12. Most of the current realms in the campaign area are a mix of indigenous humans and alien colonists that have evolved a late medieval or early renaissance-style culture.
  13. There are many gods, deities, spirits, entities, etc. that are concerned about and involved with human and non-human affairs. Some are worshiped, and some are not. Cults and religions abound and are more or less tolerant of each other.
  14. There is at least one group of beings that comes from another dimension, is bent on destroying or consuming the material plane, and is derived from pure chaotic energy.
  15. Law and Chaos are cosmic forces with which a character can ally. Good and evil behavior are not dependent on particular alliance.
  16. There are some groups that actively work to maintain a balance between Law and Chaos, and there are some cosmic-level entities that champion Neutrality.
  17. A portion of the campaign area is dominated by an oriental-style culture created by colonists from the generation ship. Because of mixed acculturation on the ship in transit, it is not historically accurate to a particular oriental culture but is a mixed and idolized version of many of them. It also has some cultural trappings similar to Western Europe mixed into it.
  18. Young or new dragons conform to the normal game rules. There are older dragons that all have the ability to polymorph into human form. Old dragons often have human class abilities and like to involve themselves in human affairs. Some have bred with humans and other races in the past.
  19. Psionics exist but are very rare. They are primarily an acquired talent, not an innate ability.
  20. There is a system of magical portals and dimensional pathways that intersects with the material in various places. Some parts are commonly accessible, and others require magical keys.
  21. Etc.

If you go back through my posts so far, you can see how I've fleshed out some of these ideas. I'll be posting more about the rest of them as I get them developed. You can also see, though, how some of them have evolved into new ideas as I've developed them. The City of the Ancients came from the colony ship idea and has absorbed and been combined with other elements along the way, for instance. Other ideas, especially those I have incorporated from past worlds, have been altered to fit better within these design ideas. I have changed the Lords of the Ring to better fit these assumptions by making them a remnant of the human colonists that has managed to use their advanced technology to awaken psionic potential.

The advantage of having these kinds of first principles in a design is that it gives a framework to creation. You have a skeleton to hang the flesh on. Without it, you end up with some kind of amorphous thing that's all eyes and teeth like a gibbering mouther. You may have to make tough decisions to leave things out or be forced to develop a lot of extra material to make an idea work, but the world and the game are both stronger for it.

Getting ready for Gen Con

The past few days I've been getting everything squared away for Gen Con. I have been going over all of the last minute plans, getting everything in place as far as the volunteering goes, and trying to figure out all of the things I want to do when I'm not working. I'll be checking into the hotel on Tuesday and staying all the way through until Monday. Even though I'm local, it's nice to have a hotel to stumble to when I'm done for the night.

I have one Labyrinth Lord game planned for Wednesday night at 10pm at Scotty's. It will probably be a little loud there, but it should be a good time. I'm planning on running the group through something of my own I've been working on lately. Nothing too big, but it should be a good time for a few hours.

Other than that, I'm going to try to get into one of the big Dawn Patrol games. I've been a huge DP fan since TSR published it, but I haven't been able to play in years. One of my great grandfathers was a pilot in WWI, and I found a lot of his memorabilia a few years ago. Since then I've been fascinated with that period and trying to get some Great War gaming happening. I picked up a copy of Dawn Patrol a year or so ago, but Gen Con is the first time in recent memory I may actually get to play. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm planning to go to a few seminars, including either the design theory one or the OSR one on Friday (I'll be in the OSR one if it's still happening), the Hexographer seminar on Saturday, and a few writing seminars on Sunday. I'll probably spend some time wandering through the dealers' hall. Since I don't have any extra money to spend, though, that will probably be limited. I'll probably spend a little time in the open gaming area if I can find some people to play LL. Otherwise, the rest of the time I'm just going to hang out, talk to people, and have a good time.

If you're going to the con and want to jump into the game on Wednesday, want to set up a game for some other time or just want to hang out for a while, drop me a line at cats (dot) teacher (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll let you know how to find me. Otherwise, look for the overweight guy with super-short hair. When I'm working I'll be in Registration or Customer Service. Otherwise, I'll probably be carrying a tan leather backpack with patches and other stuff on it. (If you're familiar with Boy Scout patches, I have the World Scout Emblem sewn onto the middle pouch flap.)

I'm going to try to do some writing and blogging from the con, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have. If nothing else, I'll get some more stuff posted before I go and I'll definitely be doing a big post-con wrapup. See you all at the con.

Races of Alnair - Halflings

In between getting ready for Gen Con, doing some contract work, and working on the LL Ref Sheets, I've been fleshing out the Borderlands a little more. I've been developing some of the area around the Keep, including some more of Griffon Castle, and jotting down some ideas for what to do with the kobolds that fled from the caves. I've also been writing more about the various races of Alnair.

This time around, I've got some information about the halflings, or Laltermiin. I wanted to get away from some of the Tolkienesque ideas and give them some unique flavor.


The Laltermiin are one of the oldest races of Alnair. They appear often in the oldest Alnairiin records, so they have been traveling in the middle kingdoms for at least a few thousand years. Despite their time in the area, though, there are few physical signs of their residence.

The halflings, as the Laltermiin are called by the Neumeniin, are traditionally nomadic. They travel throughout the middle kingdoms in family groups that range in size from a few to as many as several hundred members. They use elaborately decorated and painted barges when traveling by water. Those groups that travel overland normally use ponies or large riding dogs. The latter are favored by most Laltermiin, as they aid the halflings in hunting and provide protection as well as transportation.

Laltermiin dogs are huge, thick-coated brutes. They have broad heads and thick muzzles, similar to a mastiff. Their tails are long and bushy. Usually their coats are fawn or gray. Some rare dogs have brindle coats. The rarest of the breed, the so-called Prince's dogs, have solid black or dark gray, brindle coats and a light gray or white blaze on the chest. These dogs are said to confer luck on their riders and masters and are generally reserved for the best warriors or huntsmen in a particular halfling group. The dogs are generally trained for riding, hunting, and guard work. The halflings do not train their dogs to perform tricks as a rule.

Tradition has it that the Laltermiin are cursed to wander Alnair until some event happens or they achieve some particular goal. The stories vary on what must happen before they can settle. Some stories say that they are waiting for the return of a particular deity who will lead them to a promised land. Some stories say that they must appease the spirits of an ancient family that was wronged by their ancestors. Other, wilder tales have been told as well. Regardless of the veracity of these stories, very few of the Laltermiin have settled in any particular place. Those that have are regarded with a mixture of curiosity and worry by other halflings.

Because of their nomadic lifestyles, they have built very few lasting monuments. Those that they have built tend to be related to travel, such as lighthouses, locks, or waystops. The waystops are semi-fortified camps that dot the countryside in Alnair. They usually consist of a palisade, a few huts or small houses, a stockade or kennel for their animals, and a large central cooking and gathering area. Although the waystops are rarely guarded or inhabited, they are not frequently molested or taken over by other intelligent races. Tradition holds that anyone who enters a waypost uninvited will be cursed by the halflings. These curses take a variety of forms, but normally involve being forced to wander the countryside, becoming more savage and bestial over time, until eventually devolving into a giant, savage, black-coated rat.

Although they trade with almost everyone, Laltermiin do not often associate with other races for extended periods. They are frequently mistrusted by more settled races and, because of their nomadic ways, often taken for bandits or vagabonds. Although this is normally not true, there are some halfling families that revel in this supposed notoriety.

Laltermiin stand about three feet tall and weigh about 60 pounds. Females are slightly smaller than males. They tend to have dark hair and eyes, and their skin is typically tanned and coarse. They have broad feet and hands.

Laltermiin love music and stories, especially the traditional family tales told among their own people. A typical halfling will gladly take any opportunity to gather and tell new stories or compose or perform a new song.

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...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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 many 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.

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. 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 I'm 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. 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 Jennell 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.