Saturday, July 24, 2021

Minor Miracles

Well. I'm not ready to talk about the fire, I am ready to start counting my blessings. My whole family made it out of the house with no major injuries. My in-laws have stepped up and taken us in for the short term. My oldest is in school with the Air Force. Of course, they take care of their own, too. So many people have stepped forward to help. 

To be honest, this level of support is completely overwhelming.  We are humbled by the response and more thankful than we can or could ever convey. Really, it's a lot to take in and process. 

Our home is nearly a total loss. The walls stand, but that is close to it. Amazingly, I found our Fracture and rescued it. This is a digital painting I did for my wife on our 19th anniversary. It's printed on glass. Somehow, it survived the 1000° C heat. Our windows blew out under the strain and the heat but this thing made it. 

If a piece of glass can survive, we can too. This is not a testament to Fracture or an ad, this one of those random things that happen. A thing that is meaningful because it beautiful or amazing or both. 

My wife got my daughter out in the nick of time. Luckily my boys and I were not home. I just thank God that the kids were old enough to act on their own. Thank God we were not asleep. If the children had been infants or if any us were asleep, not one of us would have made it out. 

Enough of that. Let me end with a whole hearted thank you, to God and his good people who didn't just come to offer help, but the people who are always there to help those in need. All of you didn't just decide that we were important, this is the way you are everyday. Thank you. Bless you. 

Just speaking to you, sitting with you, hearing from you is tremendously helpful. Thank you all. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pitching Ideas - Return to the Inside Out

I just got a call from my friend Doug. He wanted some help with a project for his classroom and I did what I could do help. Then went for the important business, getting players for a new campaign. 

I did my elevator pitch, "A Druid, a Unicorn, and a Space Marine are going to save the world from technology so high, it's indistinguishable from magic, Rule set, AD&D." 

He's in. 

If that sounds a bit familiar, it was a one shot I did last year for the wife and kids. It went over like a lead fart because the setting was post-apocalyptic in the middle of a pandemic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least I didn't pour tons of money in the TV show based on The Stand by Stephen King. 

Every DM has ideas kicking around their brains to build a world. Most DM's I've played with will tinker with a variety of setting. I am not built like that. Every D&D campaign I run is in a post-apocalyptic. The one thing I am good at is dropping in anachronistic ideas in ways that don't disturb the players. 

My campaign settings diverge from reality in the mid-eighties with the development of fusion power. There was the Outreach, where every country in the world dumped resources into a multi-nation space program. This idea was based on "The Great Awakening(s)" that happened between the 18th and 20th centuries. Except instead of being based on spiritualism, it was based on exploration. 

There was a period of upheavals as fusion tech was deployed. This was followed by the Outreach, a world wide space program using Space Fountains to deploy probes, then ships and colonists around the solar system. This went on for a couple hundred years. It pretty much distorted all nations so they no longer existed as we know them. The goal as DM in this step was to completely divorce the setting reality by making the question "What happened in/to country x" invalid or at least unimportant.  

The next goal in the Outreach was to get to other stars. Back in the 80's, we didn't know and didn't assume most stars would have planets, so the effort to find them in this setting to centuries by sending out probes. This created a situation where the Space Fountains used to reach the solar system needed a massive upgrade. And this is where everything went wrong. 

Obviously, such a system needed to massive infrastructure built. And this was done. However, the second step was a computer based solution. They wrote a massively complex program to handle the upgrade from the first generation of Space Fountains to the truly titanic interstellar Space Fountains. It was a very rough AI. 

That AI had a glitch. It did things too efficiently. It reprogramed the Space Fountains to launch a few tentative research ships. Then instead of creating many, many waves of ships to the stars, it sacrificed everything for just one giant wave. The effort destroyed or impacted every high tech item on Earth, leaving the planet's technological systems to collapse. 

Centuries of high technological items didn't disappear in an instant, they slowly brokedown. As people tried to hold on, they used the technology to change themselves and the world around them. They were morphed into different species, elves, dwarves, goblins and so on. Some people unlocked technology so high it replicated magic. Others messed with probabilities, opening up gates to different universes where our rules didn't apply. 

The Inside Out is a defense against the AI which has collapsed to a single underground location. The locals have banded together to construct a veritable castle around the entrance. 

The creatures coming out of the facility are interpreted as undead, demons and devils who's vast technology appears as magic.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Review - This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover

Title: This Time of Darkness
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1980
Pages: 161 page booklets
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Born in 1935 between Canton and Alliance, Helen Mary Hoover was the daughter of teachers and naturalists. Her ventures took her from sea to shining sea, from LA to NYC before she settle down in Northern Virginia to write. 

This Time of Darkness is yet another book which sits in the middle YA fiction. It was published in 1980. Of all of Ms. Hoover's books, this one withstands time perhaps because it follows a simple formula of place and becoming. 

Meet Amy and Axel, two 10 year old citizens the City. Or maybe they're 11. Doesn't matter, no one in the City cares for these children. In one moment, they make a choice to escape the City, to go outside. In the rain. The City is like Corrasant turned literally on its head. Amy and Axel must use all of their resources to escape. As they climb the ramps and prowl the halls and corridors looking for the tunnels that lead outdoors, they discover the many secrets about the City and themselves. 

They are pursued by the Authority, Crazies and secretive Watchers on their quest to escape this dysphoria life and explore the great Outdoors. 

This Time of Darkness is a dark, but quick read. As you can tell from the description, this tale could be a sourcebook for 1984 or the Paranoia RPG.  

Books by H. M. Hoover on AbeBooks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Draft Review - Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set

I ordered this Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set to do a review.

Title: Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 2 64 page booklets
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my reasons for purchasing boxed sets of any kind is to get a condensed ruleset which allows me to sample the goods before making a larger investment. This box set comes with the rulebook and an adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak. Additionally, it contains: 

  • 11 dice, 
  • 6 character sheets,
  • DM screen,
  • poster sized map, 
  • 81 cards, 
  • a organizer box for the cards 
  • and codes for digital content.  

These rules are neat and well organized. The adventure is good, a rock solid entry into the world of Fifth Edition. I will probably do a review of that on it's own. The DM screen is perfect, with the DM facing size containing all of the tables and information needed to run the game easily accessible.  

I'm not used to having cards included with a D&D set. This is not some weird Magic The Gather fusion set. Most are cheat sheets for the players, including combat review, magic items, spells effects, and NPC info. 

The game works with the idea that this boxed set will be opened right away and used. While labeled for 2-6 player, the sidekick and NPC rules will make playing with just two people a joy. These additions are well thought out. If you actually had 6 players, the sidekicks can be put away or added in to pump up the action. Meatshields, GO! 

The digital content is coupon for 50% of a digital version of the PHB, a digital version for Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure and supplementary content for the adventure. 

At $20 bucks, I felt it was a steal before I realized all of the digital content available.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

With a One-Two Punch

I'm working on revamping my offerings on DriverhruRPG. What I noticed is I don't list my house rules which change a fair bit of how these products work. I also discovered I don't consistently apply my own house rules. 

One house rule I have is for unarmed attacks. A punch does 1-2 hp of damage. I hate the AD&D e1 unarmed combat system for grappling and simply don't' allow it. 

So here are my general rules for non-lethal combat for punching and kicking. Every character can throw a combo of punches, the classic one-two punch. Roll two d20 and each hit does a point of damage. If you roll at 20, your opponent makes a save vs. petrification to avoid going down for 1d4 rounds. 

If a punch downs a character by hit point damage, they get back up in 1d10 rounds. 

If a punch puts someone on the ground either by loss of hit points or a failure to save, that damage is not recorded. It's a nod to not tracking too much stuff. When they get up, they simply have whatever hit points they had before being knocked down. 


When using B/X rules fighters, dwarves and elves can add strength bonuses to damage. No one else can. 

Thieves who meet the backstab requirements can throw a single sucker punch for 4 points of damage. There are no to-hit bonuses or damage bonuses. It is also a single attack roll making this all or nothing. 

When using AD&D e1 rules, not much changes. Rangers, Cavaliers, Barbarians, and Paladins add their strength bonuses like fighters. Assassins can sucker punch. Monks and Mystics can retroactively decide to use these rules AFTER the attack roll. This can change a lethal hit to a non-lethal blow. 

Kicks use the exact same rules but do 2 points of damage in a single roll and no one can perform more than once per round. 

Fighters, monks, mystics, and assassins can make a coup de grace strike barehanded. No one else can. If someone attempts to finish off a downed creature or character barehanded, it will take 5 rounds. Generally, these types of finishers are chaotic, evil, or both which the characters are aware of before they make the attempt. 

This will help me clean up some stuff for the character classes I am writing for sale on DriveThruRPG. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Looking at Updates - Wacky Character Types

For the past year I've been saying to myself, "Update my Swashbuckler Character Class" on DriveThruRPG. I'm working on that now. I have some refinements for that class, but I also want to convert this offering into a pack of wacky character classes. You've seen The Monomach, The Unicorn and The Hoodlum class here on These Old Games. I've playtested these characters plus two others The Veteran and The Space Marine. The Veteran is a 1970's era soldier, while The Space Marine is a technological character. 

The Hoodlum, Space Marine, and Veteran all have the exact same issue. They have firearms that are wildly different than anything else in B/X or AD&D. The original DMG features guns, but the rules are wildly unbalanced and totally wrong for budding or growing characters. They also presuppose ownership of Boot Hill and a familiarity with those rules. 

They are rightly killing machines, but a good character that does not make. For B/X and its "I go, you go" style of combat, one shot per combat round is for the most part fine. For AD&D where some characters get multiple attacks, guns get crazy. 

One way to address this is to control what the gun does. 

Of course, it should do damage. For B/X that's a flat 1d6. If you use variable damage or AD&D, then they do damage based on the weapon type. 1d6 for pistols and shotguns, and then 2d4 for rifles. I don't see a need to adjust anything for a laser pistol or rifle over a slugthrower. That's not much better than the melee weapons offered in each game and it shouldn't be better. 

When used as a pointy or blunt weapon, rifles and shotguns should do 1d6 points of damage, and pistol whip should be like a punch with a +1 for having a chunk of steel in your hands. We are still right in line with standard melee weapons, except for the pistol which is about as useful as a brick in melee.  

What I need to weigh is the fact that a select class of characters can fire more often than someone can swing a weapon. I would link that to level. A first-level character is going to be more cautious about throwing away ammo when they can't get ammo. At higher levels, they will be freer with bullets because they have grown into someone who gained other skills. 

Tracking ammo is a beast so it really shouldn't be done. A soldier might be carrying up to 20 pounds of bullets, maybe more or less. That's like 150-300 shots. With prudence, a character should be able to wipe out a 75-150 Hit Dice worth of critters. That should land them in Class Title territory. 

To address ammo constraints, I would use the rule that if the player rolls a 1 they need to reload before they can shoot again. 

I would also provide a morale bonus to the player with the gun. The noise and fire may drive off monsters and men. I would impose a normal morale check the first time a gun is fired. This would occur for every combatant that has not seen a gun before, including friendlies. They might just want out. Other morale checks come at the normal triggers, the first casualty then 1/2 of the force being lost. These should be done at a -1 and -2 respectively. They are going to bug out faster in the face of gunfire. This is an interesting dynamic because it robs the players of loot in some cases. 

Now, some people and creatures are not subject to this adjustment or even the first fire morale check. True fighters would be nonplussed by gunfire. Dragons and snakes, too. They are wary, but not threatened any more than any other type of attack. 

Magic-users would need to make a saving throw vs petrification to continue casting with someone blasting around with a gun near them. They startle and need to control that reaction. If the spell was foiled by gunfire, the magic users don't lose it they just need to start over. 

What advantage does a gun give? They aren't better than melee weapons, but they do have some effect by forcing morale and shock. By removing the capabilities of a firearm from the device itself and moving those abilities to the character, you get a nice even approach. 

Check back for some of my next moves to get these characters published. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Module Review - MCMLXXV by Bill Webb

Title: MCMLXXV (1975) 
Author: Bill Webb
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 21
Number of characters: 4-6 characters
Levels: 1-4
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second review of an Fifth Edition D&D product. I selected this as it was the first module I picked up with a Humble Bundle and it's says things I enjoy. This module attempts to fused old school D&D and the latest version. It also highlights what e5 is. This edition moves backwards, to a simpler version of the game where the dice are used to control the dynamic of play without overwhelming what is meant to be. Classic D&D. 

The module has a simply premise: Have map, find treasure. Basic, easy, old school. And deadly. 

One of the main issues with D&D or any role playing game is, once you grasp the reality of the situation, you might not want to be in that reality. For example, a huge rat could have 2 hit points. Easy enough to kill. Now multiply by a couple dozen, a couple hundred a couple of thousand... No character wins against that sort of thing. Reality and rats, bite. 

That's what makes old school old school and MCMLXXV gloms on to the idea. The monsters are both mundane and challenging, depending on the DM's point of view. Are the characters going to grab that hook or swing on it? It all depends on choices. 

This module is no slayfest like Tomb of Horror, but it could eat characters for breakfast if the DM plays the monsters to their smartest abilities. And if the players don't grasp the nature of the threat. Nothing in this module is railroaded or unavoidable, which is the perfect balance for the DM. If the character's refuse to act sensibly, they die. For example, if they take on a creature that doesn't seem to further the goal of finding the treasure, then there could be some consequences, which could be merely painful or completely deadly.

Much of the adventure or module is made of up of the Encounter chart. I generally make my own encounter charts and this one is excellent. I feel like I'm at Mr. Webb's table, playing a long with his players. This chart is remarkably detailed, running 3 pages and brings each event to life. The players will find these encounters run as a challenging obstacle for the players or to their benefit depending how the situation is played. The creatures play smart and are well linked by theming, which makes them embodies the wackiness that old school monsters could be. 

Then comes the Dungeon. The dungeon is rather small, but fitting of something on a treasure map. There are some good surprises and bad. The end battle can be tough or easily depending on the circumstances. Some players may live or die by happenstance. The treasure is all right there, at the end for the brave adventurers to find... or not. 

1975 contains great materials for running a quick side quest maybe taking a couple of nights to play out. 

While I have reviewed the e5 edition of the module, there is a second one that is for use with Swords and Wizardry available on DriveThruRPG

You don't have to take my word for it, go check out Ten Foot Pole's review by Bryce Lynch on the module. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Reading 'round the Web Wednesday...

I stumble across some cool stuff this week and wanted to share. 

First up, Ruins of Murkhill. This is a group of players with the mission statement: 

"Original Dungeons & Dragons the Old-School way. We are here to discuss ALL OLD SCHOOL table top role-playing games with a focus on OD&D; however, we also discuss Classic D&D and other TSR games and non-TSR games, Arduin, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Retro Games; Clones, Retro Clones, Emulations and Old School inspired games, Classic Traveller and other Science Fiction games." 

They have 3 bases on the web: The Blog, The Forum and a page on Mewe

I've jumped right into the forum and have been loving it. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a better resource for all things old cool gaming. I purchased a book, The Castle Guide from an offering in the forum. This week, it was my leading review post

Speaking of excellent resources, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Campaign Wiki. Not only is a wiki, it's a massive RSS feed of old school blogs. You need to check this one out and if you're blog doesn't appear on the list, get it added

In other news, the users of DriveThruRPG went crazy and download many copies of my offerings, Kobold's Folly and the AD&D Character Sheet for Unearthed Arcana... at full retail price. I am extremely grateful to you guys. All of my titles are Pay What You Want, so this was amazing. 

To close it out with an off note, check out The Revolution's podcast. It's like someone doing read at you or to you. Mike Duncan has a new book, Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds coming out. He's kindly taken the time to read Chapter 4 as a preview on his podcast. This is part where the story gets good, Lafayette is shipwrecked on arrival to American and makes some interestings choices on the way to Philadelphia. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Game Review - AD&D Second Edition - DMGR2 The Castle Guide

Title: The Castle Guide
Editor: William W. Connors
Year: 1990
Pages: 128 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a real love hate relationship with Second Edition AD&D. I had always played a mix of B/X smashed up with 1e AD&D. When I started picking up 2nd Edition books at Walden's Books, I found them mystifying. They didn't have the same rules as my AD&D. But some of them made perfect sense, like The Castle Guide book. 

This book published in 1990 could easily be used to upgrade or improve Keep on the Borderlands, guide high level characters into domain level play or simply be a guide for the DM to have consistent castles. 
Why does it work? Because it really doesn't include any new rules. Where it does include rules for Warfare!, those rules are framed in terms comparable with both the original DMG and the ship rules from B/X. It's not a bridge to far to mash em up. 

In retrospect, I know it was meant to tag team 2nd edition and Battle System, but since is it so non-specific, it does neither very well. TSR utterly failed to market this a vehicle to a new game system by missing those details. And that actually makes it a good guide book for any system.   

To this day, I am of the opinion that the second edition guides are perfect companions to any edition of D&D and maybe some other game systems. The ones with Connors' name as editor are particularly fine editions to own for any fantastic setting. Connors follow a great formula for editing dissimilar writer's work into a see less product. One author's voice is used to amplify and enhance other writer's ideas. The Guides edited by him are excellent. It could be his authors didn't have access to the newest, latest edition and were a bit circumspect, which is great for guide. 

This particular work introduces a Quick Resolution system that could easily be used for high level domain games today. I believe that it is a part of the Battle System, but in this form is pretty vague. Like the warfare section, it seems to call back 1e's DMG or perhaps the warfare rules in B/X. B/X had a fleeting love affair with ships as they appear in many titles. Those could be worked up into sieges and castles with very little effort.   

The artwork is good, but typical 90's fare. There are several color plates which could be paintings or digital art, it's hard to tell. Many of the interior pieces are thick lined with simple styling. 

Others are worked entirely into circular medallions, which I find interesting. 

It's a steal at $9.99 from DriveThruRPG

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Film Review - Thor (2011)

Title: Thor
Publisher: Marvel Studios
Year: 2011
Rating: 1 of 5 stars. 

Yeah, I review movies now. 

Thor is my all-time favorite Avenger. A Thor comic book was the first I ever bought. My favorite superhero, in general, is Beta Ray Bill, who is just a different sort of Thor. So it is with great shame that I have to admit Thor is one of the worst films in the MCU. Not the bottom, but close to it. 

But because of this film, this is what I do on Wednesday. 

And here lies the rub. 

Everything wrong with Thor has nothing to do with the story, the production values, or the actors. The name is wrong. It should have been called "Loki". For that one little change, I would give this exact same film, 4 or 5 stars. 

The title is the only problem. It's not about Thor at all. It's about Loki. Where the titular hero should be the one who grows, he does not. He's frozen throughout the film. In fact, not only is Thor not the protagonist, he's not even Thor for most of the film. Thor is full of great things and of himself. Which does not make a good film or character. 

A character needs to be brought to life by more than the light of the projector. In this movie, who's origin story do we get? 

Loki's, right from the first 10-15 minutes. 

When Odin is preparing his children to be king, who doesn't want to be a childish warlord, and who wants to be a ruler? Loki. You can see even young Loki knows better than Thor how to deal with people. You don't go around picking fights, even when you have an excuse. 

Who had flaws to be corrected? Thor who stands before the assembled court of Odin or Loki who is in Thor's shadow? Well, Loki. Thor doesn't realize that his large ham behavior is not valued by Odin. 

But Loki's flaws are bigger. The disapproval that Odin has for Thor is interpreted by Loki to extend to himself. He is a bit of the definition of a narcissist but had a few atypical traits such as self-reflection. Additionally, you can see that Loki knows his father is not entirely comfortable giving his own child, his firstborn the title of heir-apparent. Of course, Loki being Loki thinks he isn't even in the running. He is overwhelmed by Odin's disdain and worries. 

Loki evolves, Loki changes. Thor does not. Sure, Jane and Thor had a love story, which is as hamfisted as Thor is. There really seems to be no chemistry between the characters. He also takes a moment to assume the role of protector and guardian to the townspeople, but even that seems contrived. 

However, Loki's defense of his people is more nuanced. He becomes more like Thor, doing things that make him feel good at the moment as opposed to actually being good or wise. In the end, Loki was in it for the win, which by his own standard, he did. He crushed every obstacle in his path including Thor and Odin. Yes, it appears that he dies in the end, but that is exactly how a narcissist behaves. He suffered nothing and left everyone else wondering "what next?" And wham! does he deliver.  

It's why Loki is an anti-hero as opposed to a villain and why Thor makes a lousy hero in this film.

You should do yourself a favor and get a Disney Plus subscription. Personally, I have the bundle with Hulu and ESPN which is about the same as buying a DVD a month. It's well worth the price. While I receive remuneration when I share some links, I get zilch from Disney for the same. It's just good, free advice. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Tek - June 2021

In June, my DriveThruRPG downloads suffered a slump. It's really time to make updates and changes or write another book, which I already knew. 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 1
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 0
Kobold's Folly: 0
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 4
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 1
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 0

Webstats were "blah!". I shrank a bit, but had a huge pickup mid-month. 

Google Analytics Pageviews - 1,222
Google Analytics Sessions - 720
Pageviews per Session - 1.69 

My reviews have slacked off, but at this point, I am still ahead of schedule. 

I am probably going to end The Tek series, with a solid 3 years of data. This is July 1, 2019 to current. 

Google Analytics Pageviews - 28,310 (25 reads a day, or 786 a month)
Google Analytics Sessions - 18,227
Pageviews per Session - 1.55 

To round it out, here are downloads numbers for the same period: 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 97
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 167
Kobold's Folly: 154
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 120
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 151
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 115