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Monday, January 30, 2012

Gary Con!!

I got my event registration finished and I'm just figuring out flights (I'd already reserved the hotel room). Less than two months until old-school gaming goodness in Lake Geneva! Wheee!

Friday, January 27, 2012

RMA (Random Monster Assessment): Grizzlies

I selected –more or less at random– a lesser used creature from the monster section of the LL core book to ponder how to use them in a game. Today's selection is:
Bear, Grizzly
Bears are a quintessential forest creature. Weirdly, it's not listed as a random encounter in LL. Compared to some of the things that ARE on the wandering monster charts, it sounds almost blasè.

GM: "There's a rustling in the brush and out walks..." PC: "..A WHAT?! A wight? A green dragon?!" GM: "A shaggy red-brown bear."

A bear? As in a single woodland critter? Yawn.


In Labyrinth Lord, the Grizzly Bear stats are-
Hit Dice: 5
Armor Class: 6
3 Attacks PER ROUND (claw/claw/bite, 1d3/1d3/1d6)
Morale: 8
Save As: F2
Move: 120' (40')
No. Appearing: 1 (1d4)

"These large bears average 9' tall, and are more aggressive and interested in meat than black bears." (LL65)

So, chances are you are only going to encounter one of these shambling terrors. As GM, if it were a multiple beast "in lair" encounter, if I were being NICE, I'd say you've hit upon a mother bear and cubs situation (only one adult, but no morale checks). If I wanted to be evil, I'd say it's a couple males fighting over a mate and everyone is feeling really aggressive. Even those extremes aside, bears are territorial critters and mislike guests.

At 40'/round, a bear is moving faster than most PCs who are armored or encumbered. It can outrun and outclimb you. It can smell and hear better than you, but its eyes are so-so, but that just tends to make a bear grumpy. If a bear had a real-life alignment, it would be Neutral Hungry. They are some of the true omnivores of the temperate world. They are ALWAYS looking for food. Now, it's morale is not so hot, so you might spook it. On the other hand, you might just tick it off.

As a 5 HD critter, it's hitting pretty often, and it is immune to the ubiquitous Sleep spell. Its hide is equivalent to freakin' SCALE MAIL. It's dealing approximately one PC's hit die worth of damage every round it hits.

I wouldn't expect a single grizzly to wipe out a party of even 1st level PCs, but a PC death (or two) wouldn't surprise me either.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aligning things properly

George posted an interesting summation of "old-school D&D" alignment over at his blog the other day. It got me to thinking about how I handle this in my games, so in the spirit of the blogosphere, I will now inflict my ramblings upon the unlucky souls who stumbled across this intertube backwater.

I use the three alignment model found in B/X (Law, Neutrality, and Chaos). Why no good and evil? Well, two reasons mainly. First of all, I dislike the idea of "inherent" good or evil (except in cases of supernatural origins). Secondly, I don't emphasize alignment in my games (For example, I do not use alignment languages.), but I do want players to pick a general viewpoint for their PCs. This is mostly a roleplaying aid more than a game mechanic for my games. Here's how I describe the 3 alignments. The following concepts are entirely IMHO.

60-70% of people you meet are going to be Neutral. They are primarily motivated by reasonable self-interest. They understand that things like laws and customs help a civilization function, and thus improve their lives (or preserve it), but most people are only deeply concerned about "me and mine." Life, Family, Property, etc.

Lawful people tend to be ideologues. They are dedicated to some group, cause, or belief. They believe in these things firmly enough that they will (sometimes) put their ideals ahead of their well-being. Not every lawful person will lay down their lives for a group or cause, but those who do are almost always lawful in nature. Because lawful people put a group's interest ahead of their own, they are also more likely to eschew needless violence or destruction when their "cause" is part of the status quo. The idea is that such acts are inherently disruptive and counter to the maintaining of "order." Ironically, a "freedom fighter" that burns down the magistrate's office of an "oppressive regime" may consider himself quite lawful. Two lawful characters do not always agree.

Chaotics are not "evil." Rather they dislike rules and authority. They prize personal freedom and often rebel against so-called "normal" behavior. A chaotic isn't untrustworthy if you understand his motives, but to count on him playing fair because that's what "nice" people do is just naive. Also, a chaotic person is not utterly selfish. They may be intensely loyal, but their loyalty is based on their own choices, not some outside standard or rule.

Using the 3-point alignment system can be tricky when dealing with things like protection from and detect spells, but if you look at the spell descriptions in the old rule books, it's fairly easy to adjudicate. Detect Evil registered things like hostile intent, not that the alignment of some NPC (though I would allow DE to ping on something like sentient undead or a demon or similar). Likewise Protection from Evil blocks things like summoned creatures. Maybe that Fire Elemental isn't EVIL, but it's certainly an alien/other being.

Frankly, I see it as a case of poor wording for the spell names, but I don't think the gang at Lake Geneva really anticipated the hordes of rampaging fan-loons that they ended up with, picking over every comma.

Monday, January 23, 2012

B/X encounters

"One of these days, the dire dice of destiny are gonna land on you with both sixes down!" -Wormy

Please forgive the brief foray into a "Let me tell you about my campaign" tangent.
A couple weeks ago, a PC died fighting 3 trolls. Not surprising since he was only 4th level, but certainly not how the party wanted things to turn out. Six of the creatures attacked as the party was camped out in the Karameikan foothills making a wide loop around to approach Xitaqa from the north. Three of the trolls were dropped and burned, the remaining three surrounded and tore the fighter apart as the rest of the PCs fled.

[end tangent]

The sad part was that the death was completely unnecessary. Not because of bad rolls or poor tactics or not having posted a sentry, but because the trolls were not part of the adventure at all. They were a random, wandering encounter.

Wandering monster rules can be a polarizing concept in D&D. Some love them, some hate them, but nearly everyone seems to have an opinion about them. For the purposes of this post, I'm referring to the Moldvay/Cook Basic & Expert (B/X) version of the rules. In a dungeon environment, there is a 1 in 6 chance of a random encounter every other turn, or every 20 minutes. In the wilderness, encounters are rolled for 1-4 times per day, determined by the GM. As a default, I tend to roll once for the daytime and once for the night. If the party is moving very slowly, or through a more densely populated area, I may increase the frequency slightly. While the chance of the encounter is less than 17%, the point is that the more time the characters take to get where they are going, the more likely they are to run into something.

Some players like this. They think it means a greater shot at experience points and possibly treasure. If nothing else, it might result in an interesting RP opportunity or a fun little fight. The truth is, it's a game of russian roulette.

A random encounter is just that, random. You never know what is going to come around the bend or through that door. While it's true that in dungeons, the charts as written are scaled somewhat for the level you are on, but even those hold a few nasty surprises. For example, Level 1 in Moldvay's charts contains the possibility (albeit slim) of encountering three different creatures with "Save or die" attacks: 1-6 Spitting Cobras, 1-6 Killer Bees, or 1-4 Crab Spiders (the numbers assume these are "wandering" and not in their lairs). Considering most XP comes from treasure in B/X, not combat, and only the Crab Spider has any loot (in its lair, not on its "person"), fighting such creatures is a low-return investment. Wilderness encounters are even worse. They are organized by terrain type, not by "power level." A party traveling through open grassland has the same chance of encountering a manticore as a merchant!

These rules may seem capricious, but I have found that they serve a very useful purpose. If one pre-supposes that the objective in a game like B/X is exploration and treasure-hunting, then it makes sense that successful parties are the ones who waste little time and minimize such encounters. Spell-casters who foolishly wasting their magic so that they need to rest sooner cost the party time. So does a fighter that needlessly pursues a combat and loses hit points that then need to be healed, thus using up a cleric's spells. Endlessly searching every square inch of wall and floor for traps or secret doors can cost hours (or more). The list goes on, but you can see the trend.

In the tangent at the start of this post. The players were "unlucky" that day because they had a daytime and a nightime encounter. Earlier in the day they had met a hill giant. Fortunately for them, it wasn't immediately hostile. Unfortunately, the attempt to negotiate passage with a gift of horseflesh resulted in an abysmal reaction roll and the fight began. The PCs dealt with a lone giant fairly quickly. The trolls were the nighttime encounter and a tough one, to be sure, but straight off the chart. It was a fair result, even if harsh. But that's life in the Old-School.

MORAL: Don't fiddle about. Know what you're goal is and stay focussed. Dragons are on some of those tables, too! I can't think of anything worse than being attacked by a red dragon flying out over you on the plains, getting half your party killed before defeating it, then having no way to track it back to its lair where the treasure (and the bulk of the XP) is!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Color me nonplussed

Everyone in the "Old School" RPG crowd has been talking about WOTC re-releasing the 1e books as a limited run to support the Gygax Memorial Fund. This is fine, but frankly it has failed to raise much interest in me. Michael Curtis has posted some interesting thoughts on the subject, as have others, but it's largely been a non-issue for me. Perhaps I'm in the minority on this, but what WOTC does has little impact on my gaming these days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Straying off the reservation

I don't know about other gamers, but I personally find myself sticking to one particular genre of game (in my case, fantasy) nearly exclusively. Oh, I'll play the occasional Cthulhu adventure or some such, but rarely do I find myself playing, let alone running, a science fiction, supers, or historical game. I'm not sure why this is. It's not that I don't like things like movies or books set in those genres, it's just that I rarely game in them. Perhaps it's that I am usually the GM in my games and I'm used to running fantasy. Sometimes I think I'd like to stretch my wings a bit, so to speak, but there's also the risk of "gamer fatigue" from a group; where the players are just not interested in learning a new system or setting AGAIN. It's understandable, I'm as guilty of it as the next person, but I worry it sometimes pigeonholes a group and limits the potential for fun.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not dark enough

Apparently today the blogosphere was "going dark" in protest over SOPA. While I think it is a poorly thought out piece of legislation and have signed petitions against it, I frankly didn't know about the blackout when I started this blog today. Oh well!


I've been "professionally" publishing RPG products for about two years now. And by that I mean that people pay money for them, not that it's my day job. The OSR/Indie scene is a weird sort of limbo for the semi-pro. It may the whole RPG "industry" is like this, but I wouldn't know. On the one hand, I definitely feel that my adventure writing –and my writing skills in general– have been pushed up a notch since Faster Monkey kicked off. The standard to which I need to hold what I put out there with a price tag on it is much higher than some crawl I might just chuck on the table for a Monday night game. It is also gratifying (and ego-stroking) to see people actually plunk down a couple dollars for something with my name on it, not to mention any favorable reviews that might crop up. The incremental boost to "geek cred" is nice too.

On the other hand, it truly is a labor of love in that what we do at FMG would never actually support anyone as a full time income, let alone the three of us that are involved. Faster Monkey pays for itself, and gives us a few dollars to spend, but it is miles from paying us for the time we spend on getting a product out the door.

Another "occupational hazard" of the semi-pro status is that –much like GMing instead of just playing– it can color your gaming experiences in general. Sometimes it's hard to justify time and energy spent on gaming when they aren't directly related to "work." Also, what might be a cool idea for an adventure might be passed over for something else because properly developing it into a product would be too difficult, or wouldn't have as broad an appeal as something more straightforward.

I say all this not to complain, but because I've had a few people ask me about publishing modules, etc. over the last several months and what's involved. While this isn't a complete explanation, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it in general.

Trying to get organized

Well, it's yet another blog for the intertubes and also for me. This time I'm trying to consolidate some of my various online presences into one junction or leaping off point. I will try to keep this pretty much RPG-related, but no promises. For other examples of my ramblings and RPGisms, check out the links over on the side.