Sunday, July 23, 2017

Holmes Basic D&D At 40

Dr. J. Eric Holmes was the first of us into the OSR.  In the mid-70s, he offered to revise the original OD&D game for a mass market audience, combining elements from CHAINMAIL, OD&D and his home game to make a streamlined game that stands on its own - and still stands on its own today.  Gary and the rest were smart enough to hire him and make this a TSR project.  That is a very good thing.

On July 22nd 1977, Dr. Holmes premiered his version of the D at Origins III, a convention in Staten Island, New York.  It was well received and consumed voraciously.  Although the game was revised again in 1981 (Marsh) and 1983 (Mentzer), the Holmes version was still for sale at the time the latter revision was published.

I never owned Holmes.  I did own the Marsh Basic set and the Menzter Basic and Expert sets, and learned to play with the Mentzer set.  I have subsequently been able to play Holmes with the help of the great BLUEHOLME retroclone from Dreamscape Designs.

The Holmes game is very special because it serves as a nexus or touchstone for OD&D, Basic D&D and Advanced D&D. And it also touches CHAINMAIL because Dr. Holmes used that game to fill in details like order of combat and simplifying encumbrance. 

For a great overview of the history and importance of Holmes D&D, visit Wayne Rossi's Semper Initiavitus Unum blog.

For more information about Holmes D&D and for great modern documents meant to round it out, you can visit the Zenopus Archives blog, which deals almost exclusively with Holmes Basic.

For more information about the history of the hobby and about the origins of D&D, visit Jon Peterson's Playing At the World blog.

Dr. Holmes DMing in the great early days

Friday, July 21, 2017

This Flyer

I posted this flyer at the friendly local games store.  Do you think I'll have many takers?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Game Play Novelizations

Recently the Chic Santorian was asking me in the comments section about the novelization of actual play reports. Like, why not turn their adventures into fun works of fantasy fiction?

Short answer: It's hard to write compelling fiction and I don't like working hard on that aspect of the hobby.

Longer answer: no matter how hard I try, there's no way I could write a fictive tale of value in the same neighborhood as some of the greats of the OSR.  You can put lipstick on a pig, as they say, but you'll still end up in the mud after the barn door closes on your eggs.

Allow me to instead recommend this post on Dragons Gonna Drag, a novelization of the continuing misadventures of his table of blundering PC slobs. Very funny!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Deadly Sardonian

I was reading the dictionary today (don't judge me) and came upon the word Sardonic.

Sardonic means "Characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering."

A good word!  And one that about half of English speakers know.

It originated between 1630 and 1640.  It's from a Middle English word sardonian influenced by the French word sardonique, which in turn comes from the Latin sardonius, which they borrowed from the Greek sardonios.

But what is Sardonios?  Well, it appears to be a plant which when eaten produced convulsive laughter ending in death!

THIS IS TOTALLY SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE IN D&D!  THE DEADLY SARDONIAN! Can you imagine spiking someone's salad with the Sardonian, which should probably look like some leafy green ground plant?  That would be devious!  And during a rip-snorting party and feast, who would think of poison if someone laughed and laughed and keeled over dead?  They just overdid it is all!  Right?


So here's the Sardonian plant written up for your old school game:


The Sardonian plant resembles rhubarb, with dark leaves and a slight hair.  Its stalks are maroon to red, warning fauna of the danger it poses to those who ingest it.  Sardonian is slightly bitter but edible, and blends nicely with edible leafy greens.  However, when eaten, the Sardonian plant (leaf, stalk or root) produces convulsive laughter ending in death!

Onset for convulsive laughter is one Round. This lasts 2-5 Rounds, during which the victim may make no action other than a half move.  Upon the conclusion of this period, he makes a Save versus Poison.  A successful save results in 1d6 damage and 1 day of discomfort (all rolls at -2).  A failed save results in death.

Assassins, apothecary, alchemists and wizards will cultivate this plant in small amounts as ingredients for their carious concoctions.  Beware eating from their gardens, for death "stalks" every plant!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Schedule of Combat and Combat Cards

Someone on Dragonsfoot, I don't remember who, used to say that Initiative and Morale are the Kobayashi Maru test of D&D.  In other words, no amount of player skill or PC stats can "win" these tests consistently, but you can learn to endure them with dignity and minimize the damage they can do to you and your party.

Here's how we do combat Rounds in Mythical Journeys.  They are one minute long and intended to be quite abstract.

The key steps here are 2 and 3: we declare our actions before we know who is going first!  This is makes it so combat feels chaotic and keeps people from "cheating" in some ways - gaming the system.  It's fun and kind of swingy.  There's something akin to rock-paper-scissors going on at the start of every combat Round.  You have to guess what is going to happen.

Mike Mornard said that he had done it like that some in the old days too, and it made sense to him.  I remember reading about something similar on the Lord of the Bling thread on Big Purple years ago.  I don't know whether I read it right but it seemed like they declared before initiative.

What else might jump out at you is there are very few categories of things to do during combat: move, missile fire, magic spells, melee attacks, and other things (overturning a table, drinking a potion, binding wounds.)  That is, there are only five categories of actions to take.

Combat Cards

What I tried a while ago, and it didn't work perfectly, is to write out Combat Cards, each of which has one category of action written on it: Full Move, Melee, Spell, Missile, Other.  

Each player would the select his card and hide it;
I would secretly choose what the monsters would do; 
The players "lock in" their action by revealing their cards;
Then we roll for initiative, 1d6, by sides.

When combat actually happens, the several combatants choose their targets or where they are running to or whatever, but within those action categories.  It didn't really work the way I wanted it to because the players were not as enthusiastic about it as I had hoped.  (I love the old game shows Match Game and Price Is Right; in my brain, this mini game would be fun like those games, oh well.)

I want to try the Combat Cards again.  Do you see any issues with this that I can clean up before I roll it out at the table?  Or do you think I should just try it and hope for players willing to work with me?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Game Report - Castle Caldwell Explorers Session II

15 July 2017 6:45 - 9:30

The DM was Steve.  He does a good job of moving things along. It's been a month since we were together.  A month!

Adventuring Party by Artikid on DeviantArt

The players were

  • Ethan, Steve's 13 year old Son.  He played Ronin, a Fighting-Man.  Level 1.
  • Simone, Steve's wife.  She played Raven, a level 2 female half-elf Cleric of Men
  • my daughter Julie, just turned 13 nest week, who ran Vuvier, the Lvl 1 Thief who loves poison.
  • my son Nate, just turned 15, with Gruffle the Halfling Thief, Level 1.
  • and me, I ran Vuvier's twin brother Yaspar, the Fighting-Man with 2 Hits.  GRAH!!!

The rule set was modified 1E.  1E, but we could only have one character class. Raven the Cleric had gotten to Level 2 in a previous adventure.  18 hit points and chain mail made her the WRECKING BALL of the crew!

We were rolling through Castle Caldwell.  We got to an old kitchen and my fighter Yaspar tried to loot the tableware to everyone's amusement.  There was an old leather chest.  We poked it with our 10' pole (MVP of the dungeon by the way) and found it to be safe.

So Julie's thief, Vuvier, opened the chest, only to be POISONED!!  She lost her Magic-User, Emma, to poison last session.  She didn't die though and a healing spell restored her.

The next room had a snake in a bag.  Yaspar poked all the bags with the 10' pole until the snake popped out and hit him with spitting venom!  He had two hit points!  He was a goner!  But it turns out he only took 2 hit points damage, and was saved again by healing magic.  Later on we came back, doused the room with oil, threw in a torch, and burnt the snakes into snake bacon!

We fought with a whacked out cleric of Lolth who we were not supposed to be able to kill, but we did.  Ronin, who struck the final blow, claimed her +2 Chain armor as his own and almost made level 2 on the spot.

Finally there were two fire beetles that managed to paralyze 3/5 of the PCs.  Ronin and Yaspar were able to make good attack and damage rolls at the last minute to save the day.  Yaspar palmed a potion he found in a hollow book.  It turns out, it was a potion of Climbing.

His second potion of Climbing!

An animated statue helped us a little, and there's still the mystery of the magically-sealed door.  We will have a hireling Wizard in next session to cast Knock for us.

PROPS: Simone for suggesting we just burn those nasty snakes out.  It worked perfectly!

SLOPS: The dice, which were 1000000% against us all night.  We're totally buying new dice before the next game.  These dice hate us!

MVP:  Ronin, who despite whining and threatening to run away all night, saved the day against the evil cleric and the fire beetles.  He's very brave once he's got no other choice!


And just gonna leave this here:

"When I first started playing back in 1980, we quickly learned the value of Fire Beetle glands. Harvested them. Used them as exclusively as we could underground.
Wham! no smoke, no runny eyes/noses, no smell warning creatures that we were mucking about. Lasts up to 6 days, emits illumination 10' radius. Put that in a bulls-eye lantern!

P.9, AD&D Monster Manual. 1st print 1977 (mines a 3rd though).
Perfectly use able in the OD&D system.

Matter resolved. "

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Shield Rules Proposal

Really, really: I think shields are way overcosted in OD&D. This has bugged me forever! At least in 3.X, you can choose to carry a large shield that gives you +2AC.  But you also have to deal with unbounded accuracy, making armor pretty feeble at the high levels.  I don't think we ever played past about level 12, but even then the skill and stat inflation was just silly.  

So we've been working on different shield ideas over on ODD74 and I've come up with the things I want a shield to do.

First of all, shields are constructed of thick wood with a metal rim and metal boss in the middle. They weigh 15 pounds (150cn) and are about three feet across.  This means fighting men can stand at most three abreast in a dungeon corridor, but two of them can seal it off.  The player may decide whether it is round, heater, or kite-shaped, but round is default.  Scuta and bucklers are outside the scope of these rules, but I guess we should address those at some point.

This is not meant to be historically accurate. Various epochs had fighting men who used shields in a great variety of weights and sizes. It's just a game approximation.

Optional Shield Rules for Mythical Journeys to be included in the Referee's Guide if I ever get around to writing it.

1, Armor: Shields grant a +1 to Armor Class versus melee attacks.  Facing is important - shields only protect from the left and front.  Versus missile attacks, shields grant +3 to Armor Class.
2. Shield Wall: two or more adjacent figures, each carrying a shield, grant each other a bonus of +1 to Armor Class in addition to that provided from his own shield.
3. Saves: Shields provide a +3 to any Save versus traps or breath weapons of an appropriate type (Referee's option.)
4. Shields can be splintered as usual for old-style games.  I would disallow the splintering of a buckler I think.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection no, shield facing should not matter in most cases. In one-minute combat rounds, the shield is much too abstract to worry about facing. But the Ref is within his rights to say that in a particular instance, such as a secret sneak attack, that shield facing does matter.

What do you think of these rules?  I'm going for "simple" and useful.  Do they go too far?  Are they too complicated?  The  name of the game is keep it simple for me and for new players - that's why these rules would be in the Ref's Guide as optionals rather than under the regular equipment or combat sections.