Saturday, August 6, 2022

Counting the Days... New OSE Character Class for a New Campaign

The counter says 86 days until the OSE books I backed are shipped. I have no special knowledge of the workings of this Kickstarter, I simply set the countdown to October 31st. I hope they start shipping October first, but that is just whistling in the wind. Kickerstarter merely lists an October date as a due date. They could ship on November 1st for all I know and it would still be close enough for me.  

Anyway, I am targeting Thanksgiving weekend for the kick-off of a new wacky campaign. This one uses several new character classes I have in mind: Unicorn, Veteran, Hood or Hoodlum, Kobolds of three kinds, and Monomachus. Of these half dozen or so classes, the most brain power and testing have gone into the Veteran. 

I visualize this character as a Vietnam-era U.S. soldier. The reason I picked this archetype is their depiction in the media is a rather well-documented reality breaker. This type of character often appears with standard-non-standard equipment, anything from WWII to the Aliens franchise, all based on what the prop department had at the time. Oddly, there are records of soldiers of all kinds using anything from spears to Thompson machine guns and everything in between. What is uniformly absent is the host of high-tech gizmos that modern troops need batteries and electricity to operate. 

Then there are the magic numbers. While researching soldiers, I got two numbers: 70 lbs and 210 bullets. This is the number of things soldiers can have. The gist of these two numbers is, that soldiers have to weigh protection vs. lethality vs. mobility. Soldiers pick underwear or bullets or food. It's really simple and apparently, soldiers have been doing it for more than 2000 years. So, while I am picturing a U.S. soldier, it could apply anywhere. That's actually nice. 

I have already posted about guns and bullets. I'll talk about what playtesting showed me about guns another day. 

In this post, I'll share what I noticed about soldiers in general, which allows me to set some standards for abilities and capabilities. Since I know soldiers can carry a lot of stuff, their prime requisite is Consitution. Not only do soldiers use it every day they also are immunized against all manner of things. They start their career through a vetting process which means they are on the higher end of the stamina scale. 


Next, soldiers are trained for combat. They receive both a small historical curriculum of knowledge paired with modern tactics. They are adaptable and wily. For this reason, I can pair physical equipment with knowledge to give them a bonus of 2 on their AC without getting tied up in actual equipment and what stats they should have. A modern soldier has better protection and training to avoid or capitalize on specific historical styles of combat. At least better than any pseudo-medieval type character. This is everything from physical protection like a helmet and body armor to situations one should avoid. Plus 2 sounds reasonable.  

Soldiers have a lot of physical training so they are amenable to using virtually any weapon. They have proficiency but do not have any bonuses for their training. Where they do get a bonus of 1 is in the case of avoiding surprise, which is a combat-non-combat skill. They are always on the lookout for ambushes. 

The other part of their training is time management. This skill allows the soldier and his party to move 5% to 20% faster than typical over a day. They aren't running or moving faster, they are simply making sure everything moves more efficiently. I.E. a five-minute rest stop doesn't turn into a 15 or 30-minute break. This bonus only applies to walking movement. If animals or wagons are thrown into the mix, the physical limits of those things take precedence. Another piece of this ability is soldiers have watches and compasses which are helpful for travel.  

I had considered a number of other skills but decided against them. In particular, I thought about tracking, detecting, and healing. Not every soldier can perform these tasks beyond what an average person already. If I wanted to do that, I wrote a whole book on that subject - Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. This book provides professional character types like a healer, a scout, etc. which either extend the normal character classes with some new professional skills or allows the creation of a fully formed non-combat orientated professional character. The other advantage of this is this Veteran class doesn't steal any function from any other class such as tracking from rangers or trap detection from thieves.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Ah... August

For some reason, everything slows down on the blog in summer. I have a ton of things going on apparently. The garden is rocking, there are five family birthdays and an anniversary in July and August. 

We worked in a concert or two and wine tasting. 

In the next few weeks, big gaming things are happening. Looking at the countdown, there are only 90 days until my OSE books are shipped. After that, I plan on launching a campaign for the kids. They have never played old-school D&D and OSE is kind of my go-to set to play. 

I've already started writing the scenario. I'm hoping to have 7-12 players for a couple of months as a playtest. There will be at least 6 non-standard classes for them to use plus all of the regular ones available in the OSE books. I can't wait. 

I hope to develop this campaign into a module or three.  

Recently, I decided to open a new social media channel on Locals. I call it The Map Bag, but there is little to nothing about gaming there. It's actually named after the bag I carry around for art supplies and computer junk. It will be a good place for many non-gaming posts, like this one. It's a tip jar of sorts. I don't play on paywalling any posts, but the built-in pay feature is there. 

I do poorly marketing myself and it has been a very long time since I have introduced a new product. I hope that changes because I have some ideas kicking around. I just won't have time for a while. 

So, here are some links to the products I do have. 



Swashbuckler Character
Class for D&D and AD&D


Swashbucklers for D&D and AD&D
Zero to Hero:
Uncommon Heroes

Zero to Hero
Zero to Hero
Character Sheet
for AD&D

Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D



Kobold’s Folly
Mini Setting

Kobold’s Folly
Kobold’s Folly
Compass Rose
Inn Mini Setting

Compass Rose Inn
Compass Rose Inn
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack

I'll see you around at the end of summer. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Return to Brookmere by Rose Estes

Today, I'd like to look at a bit of nostalgia. The title is Return to Brookmere by Rose Estes. This whole series of books was one of my favorites. 

Title: Return to Brookmere
Author: Rose Estes
Year: July 1982
Pages: 153
Rating: ★★★★ 

In this title, you take the role of an Elf named Brion. The story starts with a multi-page character sheet, the description begins with your height, weight, and appearance before moving on to clothing, weapons, armor, and gear. Of note, you seem to be wearing elven chainmail and have a magic necklace. Your mission is to scout your former home of Castle Brookmere. 

Back in 1982, I would have been 10. This style of storytelling made quite an impression on me. It was a merger of Choose Your Own Adventure and classic D&D. Each entry usually ends with 3 choices to pick from to progress the story. It wasn't at all like the open-end D&D sessions but it was pretty close. Often you hit the "The End... go back to the beginning," which usually meant you did something careless. 

I have mapped out whole adventure games like Star Smuggler. It is rather unnecessary for this title as it's so brief. There are 12 endings, good or bad. There are 24 choice pages and 15 or so jump pages that ask the reader to move to a new page without a choice. I like to call these tension pages as the reader will flip through several pages of text before having to hop to another page for a choice. It's a neat trick. 

Jousting Tourney - An Unusual Game

I am tearing through reviews this month, figured I take a break and talk about something else I enjoy. The first game book that I have extensive experience with was Chainmail. My dad was a huge fan of wargaming and back then it was all WRG. It's a 'tich hard to teach a 3 or 4-year-old the ins and outs of morale, light vs. heavy troops, average dice, army point systems, and the like. 

So on the weekends, Chainmail was our go-to game. My personal favorite section is the Jousting Table. If you don't have a lot of time, The Jousting Table is always there. It's a diceless system made up of a simple pair of tables and a shield schematic. Pick a position and target, compare and there are your results. 

Being my dad, we had 25 mm figures for every entrant in the Tourney. Even better, my dad cribbed lines from books and movies like Ivanhoe, The Lone Ranger, and an amazing number of Errol Flynn movies. The results were not simply "kill", "unseated", etcetera. It was a full-on color commentary on the action. More akin to hockey than jousting. 

Every once in a while, I like to throw a wildly different mechanic at my players. The more complex the rule system, the harder it is to integrate a completely new mechanic. I have simply written ruleset for sprinting, I call it the Movement Game. It is less than one page long, has a picture or two to help, and is largely based on AD&D's regular movement system. It is also remarkably non-lethal and covers a range of scenarios. The danger of it is players will try to invoke it when things go to hell in combat. It's relatively harmless when player-invoked. 

I probably came up with it while thinking about the Jousting Table from Chainmail. Instead of a table, every character has a figure or chit and can move an inch, one right after the other. Dirt simple. 

For my next session in November, I am brainstorming a mechanic called "Evil Eye". A character who has the center position on a gameboard can impose a status effect like "freeze", "fall" or "flee" on enemies. The central player can only affect a 30-degree arc of the playing area, so keeping enemies away is difficult because the players are surrounded. Exactly who is giving the orders really depends on the party, who realizes the center of the board is important, etc. So it could be the Super Amadeus Arch-Machiavellian... or the cook he hired. 

It's so much fun to bring something simple to the table. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Thieves World Short Story Review - Sentences of Death By John Brunner

Title: Sentences of Death
Author: John Brunner
Year: 1978
Pages: 23
Rating: ★★★★

Ah, John Brunner. Between 1970 and 1975, Brummer penned 9 novels. Some of the finest works of SF.  In 1978, his short fiction work, Sentences of Death was the first short story of the first book in the Thieves World collection. And what an open piece it is. 

We meet Sanctuary's gritty streets and self-made fortunes through the eyes of scribe Melilot and his young protege Jarveena. Using forgery, blackmail, and mistranslation, Melilot fits right into Thieves World with his stable of scribes for hire. Through Melilot's exploits, the reader is introduced to what makes Sanctuary tick and what those ticks do to the people in the city, young, old, and in the middle. The children are the core of commerce in Sanctuary, much of which is exactly what one with think of trade in children. Jarveena is dragged right along with her master's plots. 

It's grim. 

Jarveena, Melilot's latest scribe has business and vengeance on the mind. A chance encounter pits her against the captain of the guard, Aye-Gophlan and his men who took everything from her. Jarveena craves vengeance and boy, does it work. As if having the criminal mastermind of Melilot at her back wasn't enough, she encounters the mage Enas Yorl who simply seals the deal for her.  

The story revolves around a magic scroll that none can read. This little monkey paw of a device winds a tortured path through the story, running from a street urchin scribe all the way to the Prince of the city. 

As per the typical fare for Thieves World, winning isn't always a good option as Jarveena and Enas Yorl discover. Sentences of Death is artfully crafted and while grim, is an excellent primer for Thieves World. 

In the review of these stories, I'd like to link them back to classic D&D. While scribes don't exactly fit as a class of D&D character, the function could be fulfilled by Magic-Users, Clerics, and of course, Thieves. Enas Yorl is accursed, which is an interesting take on a magic-user. Some of the other magic in the story hints at Dimension Door and Polymorph (large writ) while Aye-Gophlan's behavior and beliefs tend to model closely to poor characters just trying to get a leg up while being deluded as to their station in the story. 


Monday, July 4, 2022

GURPS Uplift

Title: GURPS Uplift, Second Edition
Author: Stefan Jones and David Brin
Year: 1990
Rule set: GURPS
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Pages: 128
Rating: ★★★★★

Ok, I am taking a break from novels and switching to games to review. This one is a trick review. I don't play GURPS, I've never played GURPS. It's not that I don't like it or anything, it is merely outside of my experience. 

Having said all that, I'll point to that 5-star rating right now. 

Here is what I know: GURPS or the Generic Universal RolePlaying System is one of the most, if not the most successful RPG using a common rule set for a variety of settings. To get the most out of this book, you'll need The GURPS Basic Set, and players will find a lot of help from GURPS Space and Ultra-Tech. All of these are available through the links at DriveThruRPG. 

Hopefully, from my reviews of Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War, you have gotten a sense of the types of stories David Brin weaves in his Uplift double trilogy.  From David Brin's forward, Brin is an avid gamer and was interested in doing a series where players' actions were complicated and nuanced. This was written in 1990, but as I flipped through this work, I see that there is information that would not have been available to those reading the novels at the time. It's not a huge amount, but it is interesting. Gene raiders, Jopher, and E-space come to mind. 

The author, Stephan Jones breaks the book into 8 sections, starting with The Uplift Universe and moving to more and more detail with characters, which include some pre-generated characters from the novels. From there, we dive into the culture in the chapter Family, Friends, and Foes, before digging into the concepts of Uplift. The last four chapters cover the various forms of technology and travel plus two chapters about campaigning and adventures. 

The entire book has dozens and dozens of pictures, all of them pretty standard for the 1990s. The main advantage of these images is it depicts what Brin described in the book. I don't foresee a series of movies based on these works, but Xandar in the Marvel films is kind of close. 

While I already mentioned that I am probably unqualified to rate the rules in this set, I do want to focus on some of them because of the setting. In Brin's Uplift series, the sophonts are living on the bleeding edge of technology and biology. 

The cover depicts a dolphin in space, after all. 

In some ways, there is little to differentiate technology from biology and dolphins are a prime example. They have walker shells and manipulator arms that they wear on land or in space. They suffer very little from their environment, although they can't climb trees. The rules make sure that some of these odd cases are outright disallowed but in some edge cases are perfectly plausible. For example, Chimpanzees are rotten swimmers in real life, therefore Chims in the Uplift world don't swim at all. 

Brin stuck to the basics of reality when coming up with these limitations and they are all well thought out in this book and the novels, even the fantastic ones. Jones continues that in fin fashion. Dolphins were known to use tools back in the 80s, so robotic arms are not so fantastic. Chimpanzees were once thought not to swim, but it appears that they may not be the strongest swimmer but can if they desire. They also possess an ability that humans don't have, they can sink to the bottom so they can walk and hop through deep water, like a human in a wave pool. It is unclear if Uplifted Chimpanzees can or can't swim, the ones depicted in the novels don't like to get wet and usually take to trees rather than going down into major water obstacles. What is interesting in the books is, so Chims are mortified if they startle and jump in a tree or other perch for safety while others view it as a tried and true escape tactic. 

These approaches to games are great. I've almost sold myself on a set of GURPS books. I hope I sold you, too. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Uplift War by David Brin Review

Title: The Uplift War
Author: David Brin
Year: 1987
Pages: 462
Rating: ★★★★★ 

"Sometimes I wish I could boldly go where no man has gone before... but I'll probably stay in Aurora." Garth. 

Sorry, wrong Garth. 

Garth is the next world we visit in the Uplift Trilogy. As the hunt for the Snark Class Streaker expanded, the war cut off Earth from its colonies. Garth was one of those colonies. Predominantly populated by Chimps or uplifted Chimpanzees, the planet must fend off the invading Gubru, a vicious avian clan of galactics. While Garth had a large population of Chims, many other clans were represented. The story uses the word Chims collectively, so I will stick to that moniker for the rest of the review. 

In order to secure their hold, the Gubru indiscriminately used hostage gas on the planet. Any humans who breathe the poison were forced to turn themselves in for an antidote. The client Chimpanzees find themselves without their patrons and allies. 

Of course, no plan is perfect and a handful of heroes escape the planet-wide gassing. Fiban, a Chimpanzee officer loses his spacecraft in the brief battle for the planet, crashlanding in the wilderness. Robert, a human child of the planetary council members escapes with Athaclena, the daughter of Uthacalthing, the Tymbrimi ambassador to the planet. Uthacalthing himself was shot down fleeing the main city with Thennanin ambassador, Kault. 

These unlikely compatriots engage in a certain type of warfare which shall not be named, using ambushes and diplomacy to wear down their Gubru invaders. As the story plays out, Athaclena and Robert work with the Chimpanzee irregulars while Fiban's team performs recon for the ah... guerrilla force. Uthacalthing ran the Gubru and Kault through the countryside on a wild goose chase for a legendary pre-sapient species never before seen on the planet. 

Garth is a sad backwater planet granted to Earthclan for ecological recovery. Humans have a talent for ecology having pulled themselves back from the brink of planet-wide pre-contact disaster. Poor Garth's previous tenant devastated the planet by hunting most species to extinction. Rumors of the pre-sentient species in the wild are a type of improbable, magical thinking that seems to attract all who wish for order and better outcomes for Garth. 

Whoever restores the ecological balance to the planet takes not only the planet but also gains a client species for their clan, a great honor to all of galactic society. Unfortunately, Bururalli, the last tenants of the planet destroyed any hope of restoration with planet-wide slaughter. There was no way any large, pre-sapient species could have survived the holocaust. 

Where Sundiver gave the reader a host of alien species and Startide Rising expounded on their way of thinking and beliefs, The Uplift War really digs deep into the ways and minds of Humans, Chims, Gubru, Timbrimi, and Thennanin. 

The reader will be surprised as to what Humans have become in the face of these threats and delighted by the charm of the Chimpanzee heroes. Through Robert and Athaclena's leadership and love, the reader is given yet another study of both the humanity and alienness of the world he describes. The prank-loving Tymbrimi possess almost superpowers with their powers of adaption and a nearly biological form of empathy or weak telepathy, which is distinct from actual psi powers in this series. Both the Gubru and Thennanin are conservative, dour enemies of Earthclan. 

In the Startide Rising, the antagonists are portrayed as ruthless and bloodthirsty. In The Uplift War, the Gubru and Thennanin are revealed to have passions that drive them. While the Gubru are honor driven, the Thennanin are impassioned by service and preservation of all life forms, great and small. At least in theory. As these plays of honor and love of all play out, the aliens seem more frightening for all of their similarities to Earthlings rather than their differences.  

In my past few readings, I cannot help but notice how unfixed certain tropes are in time. If I wanted to pin the idea of jaded, sarcastic, carelessness on a time period, it would be the 1990s. This trilogy has that in spades in the middle of the 1980s. The Thieves World books show some of the same from the late 70s. Clearly, ideas take time to foment. 

I only mention this because this novel appears to have a serious moral/values dissonance depending on the reader's outlook when reading it. The Gubru strip the Chimpanzee's patron and allies from the picture in the hopes that a young client species will relent and surrender to an obviously powerful patron class invader. The author, David Brin takes an extreme form of "show, don't tell" which can leave the moral of the story very ambiguous. If you read too much into a single plot line, it will appear that the Gubru are correct that chims are a lesser species ripe for domination without their patrons, however, there are several other plotlines and details which lead to the other opposite conclusion. 

I've read this book several times and often wonder which group is snider: humans, chimps, or alien zealots. It's hard to tell some days. It's odd when the author embroils a reader so deeply into the universe that the whole meaning and moral of the story is really in the eye of the beholder. 

Of all of the Uplift books, I like this one best as it contains a coming-of-age story similar to any of H. M. Hoover's works. The best part of my childhood was taking a rank of some real-life skill, and most often these rank takings were most memorable when I was young and coming of age myself. I love that sense of self-discovery. 

Again, if you can't find this title at a local book store, you can find The Uplift War at AbeBooks. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Startide Rising by David Brin Review

Title: Startide Rising
Author: David Brin
Year: 1983
Pages: 462
Rating: ★★★★★

Startide Rising was the book that introduced me to the series. Being that this novel is not expressly linked to the first one left me confused as to where this series was going. 

Anyway, Brin starts this book in the middle of a mess. The Earth ship Streaker was running for 10 different kinds of trouble. Crewed by 150 dolphins, seven humans, a savvy and wise AI and a socially awkward chimpanzee, the Streaker's mission was to research data provided by The Library, an alien font of all known knowledge. 

The Library is an interesting piece of technology sold to Earth Clan. It was advertised as a completely unbiased cache of all information known to the citizens of the Five Galaxies. Brin's use of this device to drive the plot was excellent. The machine is persnickety, offering a deluge of information not really pertinent to anyone's needs. Its reactions to who asks the questions and how came across as maddening. 

It doesn't take long for humanity to grok that the Library was a great booby prize that came at a greater cost. Captain Creideiki's mission was to pick away at the cache's information and find flaws. He immediately scores a win for humanity with the discovery of The Shallow Cluster, the resting place of thousands of ancient alien ships, many of which have mummified crews. During the course of the mission, the Streaker suffers its first loss when the Captain's Gig was destroyed in an accident, claiming the lives of many brave fins. 

Even in their loss, the crew make wonderous discoveries and transmits their discoveries to Earth. The answer was as timely as unexpected: 

“Go into hiding. Await orders. Do not reply.”

Soon the Streaker and her crew are fighting for their lives. Thennanin, Soro, Brothers of the Night, Tandu and dozens of other fleets of battleships engage the tiny Streaker. Creideiki orders the Streaker to a distant, fallow system named Kithrup to hide and make repairs. Kithrup, a water world offers mobility and safety for the dolphin crew while exposing them to the danger of metal-rich poisons. Their refuge was also a death trap. 

As the fleets hammer away at each other over a period of a month, the crew succumbs to primal urges and fractures. The array of responses are both typical, fight or flee and unusually, devolve to presentience or mutiny. The humans and the Captain struggled to keep everyone in line as they hatch a plan to escape. 

Under a sky of enemy ships, the Streaker made repairs and ploys to allow them safe passage from the system. As if the original discovery wasn't enough, the Streaker's crew unlocks several mysteries of Kithrup's past. As the battle rages around them, the crew bravely draws their opponents to the surface before making a heroic attempt at escape.  

Startide Rising is a strong second novel in the series, one of the strongest follow-up works I have ever seen. Brin does world-building on an epic scale while amplifying the sense of frustration and isolation of the claustrophobic Streaker. 

This was one of my favorite novels when I was younger. I'd love to say that this one was my favorite of the Trilogy, but the next novel in the series is my hands-down favorite. Both are excellent reads, hence the tied score of 5 of 5 stars. 

Again, your best place to find this title is a local used book store, but if you can't find it there, I suggest AbeBooks. Click this link to search for Startide Rising on AbeBooks. Results are sorted from lowest price to highest.