Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trying On Boot Hill

In a continuing effort to expand our (my McKinney group's) gaming horizons, I ran 2nd ed. Boot Hill.  To make things easier, I rolled up 20 characters with the idea that I'd use some of them as NPCs after the group picked their characters.  By game time, I had forgotten that was my plan.  Ooops...

So, the game opened with the stagecoach arriving in Salt Flats, Tx.  Getting off the coach was Jedidiah Sackett (Mike), JB Books (Pete), "Black Bart" Cassiday (Charlie), Buckshot George (Bob), and Drax Hummer (Sean).  The coach driver suggested everyone settle in at the saloon while the horses were taken to the stables and mail delivered.  The place was quiet for an evening with only the barkeep and two card players present.  Movement could be heard upstairs as the girls prepared for the evening's entertainment.  The group settled in for steak or chili for dinner.  As their meal was drawing to a close, three cowpokes came in and headed straight for the bar.  They were with the Circle T ranch and part of a group headed down to the railhead about 50 miles to the south.  They had lost 3 of their number to a stampede a few days earlier and were still a bit upset by it.  Black Bart began to make jokes about the deceased which upset one of the hands.  Words were exchanged, guns were drawn and each managed to shoot the other seriously enough that the "gunfight" essentially ended in a draw.  Black Bart excused himself to go see the doc while Jedidiah asked the other cowhands if their trail boss was hiring.  Leaving the next morning for the herd, the group was readily hired for "$30 or a horse" when they reached the railhead.  The group worked hard and on the third day, as the herd was crossing a river, a group of rustlers attacked and split off about 40 head.  The ensuing gun battle killed four of the rustlers outright while three tried to keep shooting to prevent any of the hands from following.  JB took off immediately after the rustlers, killing two more.  Black Bart followed shortly afterwards, after helping to kill the ones left behind.  Two rustlers managed to escape with about 2 dozen head.  After the other hands were patched up, Tim the Trail Boss sent Black Bart, Jedidiah, Buckshot, and Drax after the missing cattle.  Taking the dead rustlers hats and horses, they followed the trail until Buckshot recognized the country.  He figured they were headed toward an arroyo which allowed for easy access by cattle here and which could be used to move them with the fewer hands to someplace they could be sold.  Approaching the hiding place, the group was accosted by the two rustlers. Words were exchanged, shots were fired, and soon two rustlers were dead and the cattle were returned to the herd.  No further encounters occurred until they reached the rail head, a bustling boom town named Gillespie.

Visiting the sheriff with the bodies of the rustlers, the group earned $250 each for six them...the Douglas Gang.  Visiting one of the many saloons, the Circle T boys were having fun and trading tales with hands from the Rocking S ranch up near Salt Flats.  A poker game with JB, Black Bart, and a card sharp named Peters took part of the evening.  They learned that the Rocking S owner, Clay Allison, was buying up the land around Salt Flats as more people were moving down to Gillespie.  They also learned that the Douglas Gang was accused of robbing a stage coach of $5000 in gold a few weeks earlier which made the cattle rustling look odd.  Also, at least one of the robbers of the coach was left handed.  One of the Rocking S hands at that time suddenly left the saloon.  Jedidiah followed him and watched him enter another saloon and talk with an older hand who was playing poker.  After a few minutes, the first hand left, got on his horse and rode out of town.

Next game in a month.  The group really seemed to enjoy the game.  It's a pretty simple system with a lot of freedom for role play.  I need to watch more westerns though, I think.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Epiphany of My Next Game

I mentioned in my previous post that I had had an epiphany near the conclusion of the last game in which Chris ran us through Mauve Castle.  It may not mean much and it's probably not that great of an epiphany to any one else, but it certainly gelled several things in my mind.

What was my epiphany?  Well, we were sitting there and just talking about rules, players, games and the talk drifted to the NTRPG con in June.  And as we sat there and bandied about names of the "old guys from TSR days" who'll be there and rulesets were tossed around without explanation (Holmes, B/X, AD&D), it just hit me that we were beginning to sound just like snobs.  I don't mean to put us down or point fingers or anything, but I was just suddenly aware of how "elitist" we sounded.  Just like back during the 3.5/4e edition wars in which each side tried to paint the other as elitist.  I could see where it came from, and I could see how to stop it.  Here's what we do: we say "I'm running a non-serious D&D game.  I'm the DM and here's how you roll up a character." Or "here's the characters, pick one."  Then, "get out your dice, I'll tell you when to roll and what to roll.  You tell me everything else you're doing."  Thus, you choose if you want to play or not.  Ask me questions about the game, not the rules.  And as a player, I'll do the same when you run.  I am responsible for my own happiness with the game.  If I'm not happy, I'll not come back.

So, my next game will start off this way.  Roll 3d6 straight down: Str, Dex, Int, Wis, Con, Chr.  (Don't argue with me about their order.  This is my game.)  If you're not happy with what you have, you may reroll two of these, keeping the highest roll.  Your class choices are: Human Fighter, Human Mage, Human Cleric, Elf Mage, Elf  Fighter, Dwarf Warrior, Halfling Fighter.  No, there are no stat changes because you want to play elf, dwarf, or halfling.  Deal with it.  Now, pick either chain, leather or no armor.  Pick one melee weapon.  Pick one ranged weapon.  It comes with 20 pieces of ammo.  Look at the chart here, and pick a pack.  Choose an alignment: Lawful or Neutral.  Roll a d% and I'll give you a past job to help get a grip on your character.  Now, roll a d12.  That's your starting gold.

I guess this attitude is new, or maybe I'm just more aware of it.  I don't know.  Maybe it's because I'll be 50 very soon or maybe I'm just really sick and tired of tone of voice I sometimes hear when folks talk about other editions.  I really don't know.  I just hope I'm not hurting feelings with it.  And I understand the need to compromise in a group setting because it is a very social game after all.  But despite how small our hobby appears to be, it's actually pretty good sized.  Just look at the numbers for GaryCon (over 500 attendees this year), and the numbers for NTRPG have been almost doubling each year.  So, again, why play something I dislike when I can play what I want?  Join me and let me hear your ideas.  I'll probably use them.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This Past Week's Game

I honestly try to post more often than weekly.  Life somehow conspires to prevent me....

Anyway, this past Friday we all got together to play a game.  And by we, I mean the group my wife calls "the grown-ups".  If she could have heard our comments and goofiness for the past two sessions, I think we would have lost that designation.  Especially the long discussion about curtains, drapes, carpets and hard-wood floors.  Let me just say that Victorian London will not be the same again.

However, we had a problem.  Our Savage Worlds DM had a prior and more important engagement to attend. It was his daughter's birthday.  Cool.  We get that.  So, for the week preceding we all exchanged emails of various lengths discussing our options.  It got down to Flambeaux offering to run a S&W/AD&D version of Keep on the Borderlands or me running my variation of Blackmoor Dungeon.  By Wednesday, I could see my week turning south and not having any time to prep.  Thus, Flambeaux got to run the game.  I bought pizza in honor of not having to run.

As we gathered, Charlie regaled us with a story of his S&W game involving "humblebees", magical pollen, a hippy ogre, and a drug addict panda bear.  Charlie has also glommed on a copy of Lankhmar (from 2nd ed) to use as his home base city.  (Good choice, Charlie.)  After laughing until I was almost crying, we begged Charlie to write up his little game summary for posterity.  Hopefully, it will appear in this location soon.

Getting back to our story, we rolled up characters using S&W classes, B/X saves, and AD&D magic tables to equip ourselves.  Thus, the group consisted of a 4th level fighter (Bingo the Naymoh), a 3rd level magic-user (Blanche Artois), a 3rd level fighter (Nuglute the Graceful), a 5th level magic-user (Malxanar), and a 3rd level cleric (Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood of Slolth).  Bingo immediately hired a man-at-arms to help round out the party (Fubar) and got a mule to help carry our expected tons of loot.

We set off for Mauve Castle after talking with various folks around town, hoping to get some leads on places to explore and things to avoid.  We were warned to not mess with any grass which looked "different".    In the morning, we set off for the short trek to the castle's gates.  The drawbridge was down and had been for several years.  We inspected the moat to make sure nothing would try to come up at us and we checked the drawbridge for stability before crossing.   We moved through the gatehouse with relative ease, despite some murder holes above us arguing about our marching order.  We ignored them.

Taking the proscripted "right hand rule" we moved along the right hand wall looking over the interior of the castle's grounds.  The grounds appeared to be cut in half by a curtain wall running diagonally across the square-ish shape as viewed from outside.  One section of the curtain had collapsed inwards and halfway down the curtain wall was a round tower with no visible entrances at ground level.  Scattered throughout were various shacks, buildings and lean-tos in various states of disrepair.  We investigated the first one we encountered and only discovered a cold fireplace and a few bent iron spikes.  Nuglute climbed the broken masonry of the curtain wall to view the other side and reported a well-manicured lawn with small brown things moving upon it.  This sounded like the grass we should avoid, so we did.  Closer inspection gave truth to the initial impression that there were no entrances at ground level to the tower.

Past the tower, we were able to see a large arched opening leading into the other half of the castle grounds as well as two doors into buildings just past the arch.  We also encountered a large patch of unusual looking grass.  Within a few feet of the grass were some objects and we sent Fubar to get them.  He returned with an empty oil flask, a flint and some steel.   Nuglute had a serious brain fart at that time and decided he wanted to dive into this new grass.  Thus, he tied a rope around himself, threw the other end to Bingo and Fubar, and then ran and dived into the grass.  We observed the grass reach up and grab him.  There was a strangled gurgle and we pulled back an empty rope.  We lit torches and attempted to burn the grass, but it must have had magical protection because the torches kept falling short despite the tremendously accurate throws of Bingo.

Wiping away tears for our lost companion, we moved over to the arch wherein we found Auks, another 3rd level fighter looking lost and confused.  He readily joined our group as we moved through the arch to explore this weird well cut lawn.  Since it was so strange, we tried to study it but the lighting was poor at noon and we didn't see much.  We did see some signs in the distance but we couldn't distinguish the lettering.  Moving along the left wall (changing from RHR in the hopes of increasing our chances of finding something worthwhile) we moved along until we came to a door.  Checking to see if it would open we determined that it was barred from the inside.  Blanche knocked upon the door and we heard no response.  Moving further down the wall, we reached a 2nd door with the same results.  This must have upset Malzanar who promptly cast Knock and opened the door.  We observed a corridor stretching off into the distance and curving to the right.  A door could be seen in the right wall about 50 feet down.  At this point, Fubar asked "What does this sign say?"  Blanche said, "It reads, 'Keep Off the BunLawn'."  At this point, we all feared that the grass would turn us into bunnies so we moved into the corridor.  Reaching the door, Bingo and Fubar managed to push it open as the rest of the group were hit with crossbow bolts from "down the corridor".  Thinking we set off some trap when we opened the door, the group stayed outside as Bingo and Fubar did a quick look around.  A 2nd volley of bolts, with poison, killed Blanche and injured the others.  Bingo called them all into the room and closed the door.  Searching for another exit and binding wounds, Bingo determines the only way out is the way in.  So, he hoisted his shield and decided to charge the crossbowmen down the corridor.  Stepping into the hallway, he almost loses his footing on the suddenly oily/greasy floor.  Then, despite his magical shield and magical plate, he took 3 hits with poisoned crossbow bolts.  It's at this time the illusion of a ceiling and curved hallway disappeared.  Bingo could see through the now open ceiling and roof up onto the battlements where the attackers were hunkered down behind cover.  A torch appeared from nowhere setting the oil alight.  Bingo and Fubar ran around the now 90 degree right turn of the hallway and hit a door there in the hopes of escaping the fire and crossbows.  But the door was trapped.  A large fireball engulfed the hallway killing everyone.

Thus ended our adventure into Mauve Castle.  We learned to avoid odd looking grass.  We learned to better quiz a DM who has a large vocabulary but doesn't use it......I'm still won't take a torch from this man. And I learned that Friday night D&D games for guys who are out in "the real world" need to be light-hearted and fun.  I had a bit of an epiphany at the end of the game on how I want to set up my next game.  I'll write more on it in the next post.  Thanks, Chris/Flambeaux......and oddly fitting title now............

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rules for the Next "D&D" Game

No, I'm not going to try to follow what a number of other bloggers are doing; trying to guess or give ideas for the next edition of D&D.  I'm just thinking out loud about the next D&D game I run.  Rules, campaign ideas, plot hooks, NPCs and such.  I don't think I'll put anything too spoiler-ish on here.

First off, which version?  Well, most of my life I played 1st ed. AD&D with some house rules, so I'm most comfortable with that ruleset.  However, I like the simplicity of Swords & Wizardry.  It is certainly easier to roll up a character with S&W as opposed to 1e. Of course, that's a difference of maybe 10 minutes, but it's still a difference.

Stats/Ability Scores - 3d6 straight down is nice, but I really dislike the whining of those from later editions. "My  character sucks because he doesn't have a stat above 13!"  "Ugh, he's a moron with an Int of 12."  "How can he be a useful fighter with only a 14 Strength?"  Makes me want to slap them.....So, what has worked is 2 rerolls after the original 3d6 are done.  I still get whining but now they feel like they had a chance to "fix" the character.

Classes & Races - S&W is really nice with it's simple classes: Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling.  Honestly, I have found that I dislike the druid, ranger and paladin of AD&D.  And long ago, I learned to forbid Assassin from PC choices.  Not worth the trouble.  If I go AD&D (or OSRIC), I might just limit the classes to Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief.  If they can get the proper scores, then maybe I'll relent and allow Illusionists and Rangers. Then I'll limit the races to Human, Elf, Half Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, and Halfling. The original Half-Orc was pretty worthless as a player race because I kept forgetting to play the discrimination card.  Not worth it.  Other classes or races.....I remember reading somewhere that one group allowed the "classes" in the Men section of the MM: Dervish, Berserker, Bandit, Buccaneer, and Caveman.  Maybe for humans only.....

Hit Dice & Hit Points - S&W uses d6's for everyone.  Nice and simple.  Greyhawk Supplement split the HD up to d8 for fighters, d6 for Clerics, and d4 for MU's.  AD&D has d10 for Fighters, d8 for Clerics, d6 for Thieves, and d4 for MU's.  And what about some bloggers pointing out that one interpretation for Hit Points for each level is that you roll all the dice each level.  In other words at 3rd level you rolled 3 dice and that was your HP for that level.  Meaning you could lose HP by going up a level.  Interesting idea but I think the players would balk at that.  Even if I said that if you rolled less, you got to keep your old total.  Nope, too rough on the players I think.  In the past, I have given max HP for just the 1st level and in other campaigns for the 1st 3 levels.  It helps the PC's live longer.....

Alignment - You know, alignment never really played that much of a role in my games.  The players pretty much knew they were supposed to be heroes and thus were supposed to be role models of a sort.  They weren't nasty to townsfolk or went out of their way to be jerks.  At least, not 30 years ago when we started playing this game.  Nowadays, it seems that the players like having their characters do jerky and stupid stuff.  I wonder if it's something which video games have influenced because those games have railroad tracks which won't let you derail so most players try to make the game crash by doing these things.  Hmmm, anyway, maybe I'll just go with Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic as choices.  3 is easier to work with than 9.

Starting Gold & Equipment - One of the choices I have presented for my other campaigns is an heirloom item.  An ancestor was an adventurer and has passed down his favorite magic item to the PC.  It's nice to start with one item that's a +1 whether it's a weapon, shield, ring or something relatively minor.  However, when Dungeon Crawl Classics presented a preview of their RPG (is that out yet?) they had a wonderful list of "Previous Occupations" which included two random items.  These have been much more fun than the magic items so I'm definitely keeping this part.  Also, grabbing the "Ye Fast Pack" list from the old Lost City module (B4) makes outfitting the characters a whole lot easier.  Pick one pack, pick one melee weapon & one ranged weapon, get chain mail if you're a fighter or cleric, none or leather for a mage.

House Rules - there's always a few.  Some were mentioned above.  Magic-users get the same spell bump for high Int that clerics get for high Wis.  Magic-users can also wear leather with a 1 in 6 chance of spell failure.  No weapon restrictions for clerics.  Mages may use a sword only if it's magical.  Spells are gained from spell books, other casters, or scrolls ONLY.  No automatically suddenly knowing a spell like in later editions.  Another thing I liked from a recent game was the GM stating "determine a connection between your character and the character of the player on your (rolls die) left".  That one will be used too.  All rolls on the table and when the DM calls for them: no pre-rolling.  The DM holds onto all character sheets at the end of the game.  If you want to take yours home to "fix up", make a copy at the table and take that.  Originals stay with the DM.  At the beginning of each game, a sheet will be passed around for 20 d20 rolls and 20 d6 rolls.  That'll be my sheet to check for opening doors, finding traps, or determining surprise.  Initiative will be with a d10 to determine in which segment your character goes, so roll low.

Critical Hits & Fumbles - I have used these somewhat in the past.  Usually it helps the opponents more than the players, but the players like the feeling of "doing extra damage" because of a lucky roll.  So, what I've done in the past is if you roll a natural 20, roll d%.  I have a chart which allows for something special 25% of the time, otherwise it's just a max damage hit.  On the opposite side, if you roll at natural 1, I have another d% chart which causes problems 25% of the time.  Otherwise, it's a free attack by one opponent.  I haven't used it in a while and I may need to go hunt it down...or recreate it.

Hmmm, that's enough for now.  Pretty much covers the rules.  Campaign ideas next time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Traveller Last Night

Well, the long-standing gaming group met (minus 3 members, though one showed up later) and we tried to get back into the right frame of mind for Traveller.  However, two of the players had days from hell, one had just started a new job and I (as GM) was winding down my Spring Break. one wanted to do anything serious or math intensive or even overly thought out.  They all wanted to kill something.  So, we spent 2+ hours trying to get the ball rolling, with me trying to express that the planetoid they had been sent to had recently become a "Stepford Wives" style of place (including psionic pressure and headaches for the psionic characters).  And they just couldn't think hard enough to put the puzzle pieces together.

So, about 10pm, we bailed on Traveller and jumped to Swords & Wizardry.  Ten minutes of rolling up characters and setting the scene, and they started at the front door of Castle Quasqueton (module B1 of the original blue box).  In the next hour & a half, they had 4 battles, dealt with two puzzles, and decided that this game wasn't as bad as they thought it was going to be.  Evening salvaged.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Silliness, Seriousness and Wonder

I really do enjoy gaming, as DM or as a player.  It's a nice escape without completely shutting out the world or ingesting poisons or losing money gambling.  And it always involves thinking.

When I'm running a campaign, I like to have an equal balance of silliness, seriousness, and wonder.  I'm not sure if anyone noticed in the write-ups of the previous campaigns how each of those played a part in the world. Typically, the silliness shows up in some of the odd random monster or event rolls.  I have a list of some funny (at least to me) items,  monsters, or scenarios that I like to pepper into the game.  Like the time in the CSIO game when the group was trailing a clue through the sewers and encountered a burglary in progress.  As they came up on the two orcs leading the 6 goblins, one of the orcs said "Well, about time you jerks got here.  We've been trying to get through this door which Two-Toes said you were supposed to have open.  What gives?"  And the orc looks expectantly at the leading PC for an answer.  Or in my version of Blackmoor Castle & Dungeon, when the PCs are investigating the "elevators" and they push the red button.  Two kobolds in orange vests and hard hats show up to see what the problem is.  I've got about a dozen more, but too many of my players read this so I can't list them yet.

As for serious moments, those should flow easily and steadily from the campaign hooks and play.  When I had started DM-ing, finding good serious play moments were difficult.  I wanted something that would get the players as emotionally involved as the characters.  If I let the players just roll up characters, there was nothing to latch onto as a DM.  Having them write up backgrounds helped, but they usually weren't very tied to the setting.  When I started the kobold campaign, I required that they all be members of the same clan.  And that worked.  Later, when I was a player, the DM made us start as 0-level characters from the same little fishing village which gave us all a reason to be together and have a connection.  In the Space 1889 Savage Worlds game, the GM required us to work with the person on our right to find a connection between those two characters.  It was tremendously useful to have something in common to call upon to get the group interested in one of several hooks I would throw out there.

Wonder: that's vital in any rpg.  There must be something to make the players (and by reflection, the characters) say "Wow..."  The failed plot hooks I mentioned previously were one such device.  Using nonstandard magic items is another.  Taking a few minutes at the start of the game to describe some event or person is another.  In the current Traveller campaign, I rewrote the history of the Imperium and added in some aspects of Star Master and Buck Rogers.  I'm still working on getting them to wonder.  They do have a Serious hook and have had Silly moments.  I'm hoping the new alien artifact I created for the game will inspire the wonder.....but first, I've got to break their sense of normalcy.

Anway, I'm rambling.  Maybe there's something useful in here.  Maybe not.  Until next time, remember that it's a game and you should always have fun.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lost link about Megadungeons

Grrr.....Okay, I read a really interesting blog post a couple of days ago but I can't find it now.  It's not one of the usual ones I follow, apparently, because the post is not in my Google Reader.  So, it must be linked from a post of one of the bloggers I follow....but who?

The gist of the post was "take a sheet of graph paper and mark out a 26 x 26 grid, listing A through Z down one side and 1 through 16 across the top.  Then take another sheet of graph paper and mark out 30 x 30 squares.  Each square represents 10' x 10', and matches the One Page Dungeon design.  Label this sheet as M-13....which corresponds to square M-13 in the 26 x 26 matrix.  This gives you the seed for a megadungeon which is 1.5 miles on a side....and that's just one level....."

I think I'm going to use this for a dungeon in the Plain of Cairns in the City State of the Invincible Overlord map in the Wilderlands......

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Interpreting AC and To Hit Rolls in D&D

This is why I shouldn't be allowed to have a blog.  I forget it needs updating.  That's a lot of work...

Anyway, I was thinking today about an older post of another blogger (whom I should probably link to, but I can't remember who it is) who wrote about abstract combat and the original Dungeons & Dragons combat system.  I don't know why that popped into my head today, but it did.  I guess the sermon at church just didn't hold my attention......

Basically, the original combat system was pretty abstract which is what you would expect from a group of wargamers.  If the number you rolled was equal to or greater than the target number to hit the opposing force you were aiming at, you hit and then you rolled damage.  If you rolled under the target number you missed.  The flight of arrows or the catapult shot or the fusillade from the musketeers either found a target or it didn't.  If it found a target, you then either rolled to penetrate the armor value (if it had armor) or you rolled damage which basically meant you figured out how many of the opposing force died.  There were no wounds or armor damage or anything like that.   And guess what that target number was called?  Yep...Armor Class.  Thus, you either pierced the armor and killed the opponent or the armor saved the opponent.

Now, I cannot verify if what he was saying is true or not.  I does jibe well with what I remember reading in Chainmail way back in the early 1980's .  I didn't do any wargaming until the mid to late 1990's when a coworker of mine talked me into playing Warhammer 40k  heavily house-ruled to match his personal experiences as a Navy Special Ops (pre-SEAL) member.  In that game, you rolled to hit, then to penetrate the armor, then the opponent would roll to "save" (meaning, was it a flesh wound or a mortal wound).  The battles were long and a tad bit tedious.  It also didn't help that he either couldn't roll to hit an elephant with a 10' pole or couldn't miss with every shot.

So, when I returned to playing Swords & Wizardry/AD&D 1e/OSRIC/OD&D, most of the other gamers disliked the abstract nature of combat in these old games.  To make combat more interesting, I decided to try to take all these experiences and ideas, shake them up, and synthesize them into the following rule to make the combat more descriptive and interesting.  Since Armor Class begins with 10 (if you use ascending AC, 9 if you use descending), a roll of that number is a "hit".  However, if you're wearing chain mail, then your AC is 14 or 5 (see above) and a roll between the base AC and your armor AC produces a "glancing blow which is absorbed by the armor or shield or helm".  If the roll is equal or above the AC target number, then the blow pierces the armor.  While it may sound like a lot of work, I was surprised at how quickly I picked it up.  And since one of my gaming groups is the school's RPG club, these 12 to 14 year olds really appreciate the visual descriptions.  They've even gotten into explaining their hits and misses this way.  One of  the first steps toward real roleplaying!