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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Changing the Table Ethic

The old game is a different game than the new game.  There's still dice and elf talking and a DM and so forth but the particulars of what constitutes table time and the emphasis of the rules on different activities will probably seem very strange to people who grew up with Pathfinder and White Wolf.

So how do I say that to people in a short, enticing way?

The first step towards understanding is to figure out what the right question to ask is.  This is a big "DUH!" moment when you see it in the rear-view mirror, but it always surprises me each time that I realize it in different learning situations.

You see, I've been asking the wrong question, and of course then getting the wrong answer.

This is how I said it in the Foreword to Treasure Hunters Prolix:

This is not a game of skirmish & volley! This is a game about Exploration, Acquisition, and Reclamation first and foremost; and about the heroes who undertake these challenges. 
Occasionally there is no alternative but to skirmish, so rules for skirmish are included. But make no mistake: this is not “Fantasy Street Fighter II”; this is “Fantasy Oregon Trail.” 
This is most jarring to those who come to RPGs through those composed the modern way. "When do we get to the good stuff?" asks the modern edition gamer, because to the modern eye, the game "should" focus on tactical simulation. Often table time is dominated by skirmish, which puts the squeeze on all the rest of the game. This is by the design in the modern game: over time, the game genre has evolved to emphasize and reward this kind of play. 
The older game is a game of resource management. The heroes have scarce resources: game turns, Hit Points, rations, torches, &c. The player is to manage these and turn them into other resources: gold, personal power (experience points), and in-game knowledge, thereby growing the hero's ability to manage the former through application of the latter. 
The several players should make their heroes to be self-directed within the game world the Referee provides. In setting goals, overcoming obstacles, and reaching those goals do the characters grow, & Adventures surely will transpire.

This is long (prolix) and certainly not how I would say it, face to face, to another human being. These words do not roll off the tongue!  So how do I say it?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Roll the Dice and Get On With It!

Over on, Mike Mornard gave a two part pitch that seems about right.

First he said to try, "I'm running OD&D and looking for players." And that that has never failed.

Then he talked about a younger player of his who told him, "I like that I say I sneak up behind a guard and knock him out, you roll some dice, and we get on with the d**game."

And that sums it up for me - Roll the Dice and Get On With the Game!

Elevator Pitch, Take 2

Based on suggestions I got from the G+ community, I'm going to take another run at pitching OSR to modern edition players.

Please take a look at tell me what's good and what's bad!

Also, here's a totally off-topic joke: 

"Hey!  Aren't you that guy who is always mistaken for someone else?"

Anyway, here's the pitch:

What if we went back to the beginning of D&D and used different assumptions and watched the game evolve in a different way?

The Old School Renaissance is about finding what's good about the D&D we played 20 years ago and longer and DIYing our own rules and experience out of those rules-light editions.

1. Rulings, not rules.  You don't have to stop to look up a rule; just make up something cool.
2. Your man can try anything.  You don't need a feat or a skill.  You may not succeed, but you can try it, just like in real life.  You just have to trust the Ref to be fair.
3. Play face-up, with the other players instead of face-down with your nose buried in your character sheet.
4. Open-ended, player-driven play rather than story path railroads where you are a content tourist.

Rules you recognize, gameplay you don't.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tracking Ammunition STINKS!

Tracking arrows and other ammunition in a RPG stinks.  Your paper gets all messed up with little tick marks, and besides, people will sometimes just stop doing it because it's such a drag.

In a one-minute combat round like the ones in the very oldest versions of D&D and CHAINMAIL*, an archer or slinger will probably take many shots.  He will only get in one telling blow, like a melee guy does, but who knows how many arrows that takes?  Therefore tracking individual arrows makes little sense.

For these reasons, we should look for a system that feels good but doesn't require granular arrow tracking.

What we could do is this: buy arrows by the "bundle" rather than by twenties.  A bundle is whatever you can jam into a quiver.  So one quiver holds one "bundle," which is the new unit of measuring ammunition.  Same for a bolt case or a handful or rocks, but we can call it a quiver for consistency's sake.

Then we can say you will have enough arrows to use for the next instance of combat.  But after that instance, roll 1d6.  On a 1, you have run out of arrows!  That quiver is empty.

If you have some ability that allows you to fire off two arrows in a round, (the Haste spell, for instance, or if you are a Royal Archer), then you are out on a 1-2 on 1d6.

The exception to this rule is for magic ammunition.  Magic arrows and so forth are always individual entities and must be tracked individually, even if you have a quiver full of them.

This is a pretty swingy rule and some people might not like this level of abstraction.  But I think it is analogous to rolling Hit Point damage from a sword swing or a Saving Throw or even generating a treasure hoard.  So if you like those things, you might like this too.

Some people might find a 1-in-6 chance of running out of arrows after his first instance of combat to be too harsh.  If you like, you could make it a 1d8, 1d10, or 1d12 roll instead.

This system can also be used for other resources that might run out, such as bandages, a crumbly old holy relic, or lock picks.  The possibilities are interesting!

What do you think of this rule?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Game Night Saturday 6:30 EDT

Tomorrow is a big day - my wife and son are going to go see the new Spider-Man movie.  Then tomorrow night, my daughter, son and I are going to go to the Magic draft tournament.  GEEK OUT!

Even better, on Saturday, the three of us are going to go visit Steve's house and play with his wife, son and Steve the DM, and hopefully finish Castle Caldwell.

My little gnome Fighting Guy with 2 hit points, who's name I honestly forget (never get old, kids), and his brother, the Thief with 7 hit points, are looking to pick up some loot.  So far, a party of 6 only has about 400 GP worth of treasure.  We had the choice to fight an NPC party with heavy treasure bags, but we let them pass because we're civilized folks.

"I have a name, you know!"

Hopefully my gnome guy can 1) survive and 2) make enough treasure to get to level 2 and 3) carouse himself up a girlfriend.  My goal for him is to start his own town, and for that, you need a big family to support your political aspirations.  Maybe in 100 or 200 years, he will be the Mayor of a little gnome town - but it all starts right here on Saturday night!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Making Shields More Valuable

Xion Sieghart by OdysseyArt on DeviantArt
I've been thinking more about shields these past couple days.

A class feature of Fighting Men and Clerics is that they are allowed to carry shields.  That means they can get one additional point of Armor Class.  But the opportunity cost for that is pretty steep.  A shield weighs the same as 150 gold coins (give or take) and it ties up a hand that could hold a lantern, ten-foot pole, or something else useful.  That's a lot to give up for one point of Armor Class!

So how do we make shields better?  Better shields will help Fighting Men and Clerics keep up with Magic Users.

Shields can be splintered of course.  How did we ever play without this rule?  It's like getting several additional hit points when things are really hairy!  This is the rule that makes shields really worth the weight of carrying them.

You can try a Shield Wall - two or more adjacent figures with shields grant each other an additional point of AC.  Qualitatively you might give figures behind them (relative to the attackers) additional AC versus missile weapon attacks.

You can say Shields Ward Against Missiles - A shield grants +2 AC to +4 AC versus a missile attack from the appropriate facing (or from any facing if you want), or 50%of missile attack hits will impact the shield harmlessly instead of doing Hit Point damage.

Which rules, if any, make sense for you in your game?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Shields as Offense

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans and to freedom-lovers 'round the world!

I love the shield throw and the shield bash!  And as a kid I loved Captain America.  In 3.5, they had a feat chain where your man could learn to throw his shield just like Cap, but it was a lot of feats for very little payoff in the end.

Of course in old D&D, you can try to do anything you want to try.  So I think it's perfectly OK for your man to use his shield to bash a bad guy.  

King Klong

Shield Bash:
If you use variable damage dice, a shield is probably a 1d4 weapon, maybe a 1d6.  But I would go with 1d4.  You can still use your shield for AC bonus when you shield bash.  And you don't get an extra attack.  If you use some rule that gives extra attacks, you can alternate between your shield and your other hand freely.
Maybe you give a -1 to hit because it's an unbalanced off-hand weapon.  But in a pinch, it might just do the trick.


Shield Throw:

You can't throw a tower shield as a weapon without exceptional strength (it's just too unwieldy), but you might be able to throw it to trip or belay someone.  Throwing it is probably a two-handed affair.

The range of a thrown shield is 1/2/3, and you get a -4 to hit because it's really not meant to be thrown.

In the case of hitting a lever or wedging open a closing door, it might be your best bet.  And of course, there could be situations where you need something heavier than an arrow or sling stone to get the job done.

A thrown shield does not bounce back to you; you have to go pick it up.