Sunday, May 15, 2022

Abandoned Project Circa 1988

Back in 1980s, Battle Tech was my favorite tabletop game. It was quick and easy to play. However, I was baffled by the plot line and story. I'd make up my own stories that covered the bases. 

What I really enjoyed was Robotech, I totally understood that plotline. At some point, I collected all of the Palladium game books. However, I was baffled by the difficulty in using the rules. It could take hours to kill one opponent. 

Then it hit me. I could use Battle Tech to play Robotech themed battles. Back then, the Unseen were common mechs between Battle Tech and Robotech. They had the Veritechs, they had the Maurader which was an Office's Battlepod. 

But what they were lacking was a standard Battlepod. If I could mash up Battle Tech and Robotech, and devise my own stories, I could certainly make a Battlepod. 

Yeah... I'd kitbashed some models together, but whipping up a figurine from scratch was beyond me. 

I dug through my models and stuff, trying to come up with something. Legs were easy, I used the Maurader model for those. The hips need to be reworked out of wood. Sculpting the engines were simply two U-shaped pieces of balsam. The feet were plastic beads. 

But what about the body? 

I found a skull ring that was about the right size. I shave it down on the sides and bulked up the chin with that green fill used for models. The central eye was a wheel from an airplane model, 1:144 scale. The guns were antennae and wheels from helicopters. 

I had done it!

Given it had taken me hours and hours to build the thing, I realized I could have exactly one. The bottleneck was the skull ring, something I got from a vending machine. Where Robotech depicts odds of 50 Battlepods to each Veritech, I had the opposite. 

How unsatisfying. 

A friend came to my rescue with a handful of bullets and a can of air vulcanizing rubber. It didn't go smoothly. The rubber reacted with some of the plastics and while it took the shape I needed, it melted the original. 

Tonight, I found the results of my experiment. There were a lot of blowouts. Sometimes it was the small details like guns. Other times, it was in the hip/leg joints.  

For the life of me, I cannot remember why I abandoned this. Unfortunately, half of the mold is missing. 


But I do have two useable models to start again. Maybe someday.  


Friday, May 13, 2022

Garden Images

Last year, I attempted a raised bed garden. It didn't really have a chance, but this year will be better. 

I have a few survivors from last year, a pair of strawberries, thyme, and 3 dill plants. I added purple basil and rosemary. 

Tomorrow, I will mulch and plant the rest the garden. After that comes some backbreaking work in the flower beds around the house. 

I need to figure out a table and chair set for the back. We have really nice lights so we can sit out and play games in the evening. I can't wait. 

Note to Self: Mistakes were Made...

I've known about this for years, but there is a way to turn off the keyboard on a laptop. About once every 3-5 years, one of my cats walks across my laptop and the whole keyboard goes dead except for a couple of navigation keys and the Fn keys. 

Maddening. 

Since it doesn't happen that often, I never remember the keystroke necessary to fix it. 

For the record and for the next time, the keystroke is Control+Alt+L. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"Passion is inversely proportional to information had."

The above quote is from Gregory Benford. And it's a truism for RPGs. While I build beautiful worlds in my notes, very little of that makes it through to the players. I might know precisely why a gang of whatevers are doing whatever they are doing, but the players are satisfied with the idea that they are merely jerks. 

It works. Players like to have that room to grow, and they can't grow if smothered with too much B.S. 

There is nothing better than the party discovering some sort of detail that just works for them, but there are many cases where they have no opportunity to gain such information without a data dump. Some things just go to the grave with the player's antagonists. It's fine. 

But sometimes, I like to give information. For example, I hope that every player knows how to use the to-hit tables and can calculate their own bonuses or minuses. It makes my game easier. In fact, I often have the players throw dice for even the monsters. It cuts down on paperwork, but sometimes it is an opportunity to give them a hint about something outside of combat. 

For example, if two equal-level fighters are side by side, shooting arrows at a target and both roll the same number, both should hit or miss the target. However, this is a good place to drop a hint about other stuff. Obviously, two great fighting men should know how good they are. For example, someone might have a cursed weapon or a magic weapon. The target may have some magical device that only applies under certain circumstances like once per round. Once the party is aware of some weirdness, they can start ruling stuff out by logic, just like the real world. 

It's probably magic. 
It saves on the "+1 magic sword" crap. 

There are times to hide some rolls, such as surprise or hiding in shadows. But even those rolls can give information. 

One of my favorite tricks is when the party is surprised, I'll drop a die out of sight and say, "You hear a noise." Surprise is a surprise, there is very little you can do to mitigate it due to the mechanics. However, it isn't very fun to be surprised. By making that announcement and letting the party act accordingly, I am cranking up the pressure AND pushing agency to the party. It creates an environment of anxiety while allowing for possible (slight) mitigation PLUS it allows the players to set a standard of expectation that can easily be read. 

For example, if a party thinks they are in an ambush situation, they may try to arrange themselves in such a way as to defend high-value players like Clerics and Magic-Users with meatshield Fighters and Rangers. On the other hand, if they never do this, you can set a different dynamic where those players are captured or incapacitated and the party is looking at a hostage situation rather than a TPK. It's up to the DM to receive the party's intentions or style and react accordingly. 

One of my favorite experiences was a Thief who decided to sneak up to the walls of a fortification for a little recon. The whole party seemed to support the idea. I rolled for his hide in the shadows and move silently attempts. Each time, I rolled amazingly well. No one saw or heard anything. They were such good rolls that I showed the player her the results. Obviously, these should have been secret, but they were so perfect so I decided to show her. 

Then, disaster. The player of the Barbarian was having a little sidebar with another player when he suddenly realized stuff was happening and asked, "What's happening?" 

Once the party explained the plan, the Barbarian nodded sagely and bellowed, "Look out! I can see you!" 

Well of course you can see him. He isn't hiding from you, you twit. 

The sneaking Thief got this "Oh, shit" look on her face. I leaned over and showed her that the dice indicated she was still not visible to the people on the castle wall. 

To add to the merriment, I decided that the Barbarian's actions would be taken literally. The lookout on the wall answered: "Oh geez," and stepped back out of sight. 

"How about now?" asked the lookout. 

The party was gobsmacked. I gave them a few minutes to work out a plan. The Barbarian was drooling dumb and for once, his actual ability score matched the player's actions. The party adapted to the situation and everyone climbed the wall while the Barbarian offered unhelpful tips to the lookouts. No one intended this possibility, but damn it was fun. 

You can't hide everything all of the time, but you also can't data dump on the players too much. Even if it is mechanical in nature. Also, you shouldn't try too hard to hide certain bits of data. 

As a DM, you build a scenario, a story if you will, but you can't know how it will be received and interpreted. Information from the DM to the players is a fluid thing. You are effectively trying to merge the player's fictional actions with the player's visceral need for information. The DM needs to decide from the get-go what information is worth hiding and what is not. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons and Amusement Parks

For years, I have wondered where my brain linked up D&D and amusement parks. 

Well, dang. It's half here: 


And the other half is right here at Darien Lake: 


From 1981 to 1987, I was a member of a church youth group. I wasn't that interested in the churchy aspects of the events, but really enjoyed the camping, trips to Darien Lake, and several other events. I mention Darien Lake and camping primarily because they involved games. All kinds of games. 

(Editorial note: My parents were church shoppers, I dug in my heels with this choice as the young group. It was something I really appreciated even if the religion was not my own. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. There are a ton of ministries that have excellent outreach to any and all who have at least some of the same beliefs. It's always worth a look. ) 

On one of the first trips with the youth group, someone busted out a brand new copy of Top Secret. We thought it was like D&D. 

Nope. 

Bang. Dead. Start again. All rainy weekend long. 

The girls didn't get it and neither did I. Eventually, we all ended up in the park. 

Future trips were a lot better. A kid named Ethan pulled out a game called Toon. Unfortunately, this was somehow mixed up with a copy of Bunnies and Burrows and the insert to Bone Hill but no cover/map. No one could make heads or tails of it, I can't even say we had a whole set or multiple sets. Obviously, it was an older siblings' boxed set.  

However, I did get the references as Watership Down is one of my favorite books. Being 12 or 13, I knew I wanted the girls to play, and soon there were a dozen of us kids sitting at the table playing a game half-imagined by me and completely bought by the others. Somehow, I made pine cones and rocks become creatures, and chips, pretzels, and chocolate kisses were resources. 

I knew I was winning when the Reverend asked us if we wanted to go on the rides and three of the girls said, "No." Invariably, we would play games until it was "last call", when the adults told us there would be no more time for rides and roller coasters. We'd cram in a handful of rides just to say we did. 

I eventually fell away from that particular church for one of my own choosing, but the memories of that youth group were amazing. And has shaped how I choose to play. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Lego TIE Fighter


At Christmas, I picked up a replacement X-Wing and TIE fighter lego set for my son, Nate. Amusingly, I also got a TIE fighter for Christmas. It took a couple of months to open it and put it together. 

I figure this is a good way to test a new way of displaying images from a Google Photo Album. It sort of looks like a Youtube Video, but if you mouse over it, you will get a controller to flip through the images. Additionally, you can simply wait 5 seconds for the image to change. 

If this works out, I probably use it for all of my photos. 

Anyway, I should mention that I am giving Rankuten ads one more try, so scroll to the bottom of the post if you need to purchase some Lego Products like this T.I.E. Fighter. 



As promised, here is your advertising link. Click the image to go to Lego.com.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Building a Better Shelfie

I have six shelves to fill. I thought it would be interesting to make a post about each one as I fill them up. 

Today, I filled shelf five. Why start at five? It's at eye level. 

The books are a favorite of mine. The image is blurry, but the title reads: "The New Junior Classics". 

Volume 1: Fairy and Wonder Tales
Volume 2: Folk Tales and Myths
Volume 3: Tales From Greece and Rome
Volume 4: Heroes and Heroines of Chivalry
Volume 5: Stories That Never Grow Old
Volume 6: Old-Fashioned Tales
Volume 7: Stories of Courage and Heroism
Volume 8: Animal and Nature Stories
Volume 9: Stories of To-Day
Volume 10: Poems Old and New; Reading Guides and Indexes 

It was published in 1912 by Collier as an answer to the 51-volume set of Harvard Classics. They are contemporaneous publications, one for adults and one for children.

My grandfather purchased a set for my father in the 1950s and of course, my dad gave it to me. While mine was lost, I have made an eBay investment so that my children may each have a copy. It is not as pricey as you'd think, but even at 10 times the price, I'd do it. 

Just reading through the titles of each volume sparks ideation. I can't tell you how many ideas have leapt off the pages and into my D&D campaigns. They are really good for that sort of thing. My personal favorite is Tales from Greece and Rome. 

On the right side of the shelf is a family favorite, rug checkers. The story about it is here in a post from September of last year. 

I mentioned this post to my children and they issued a correction. Darien Lake, both the theme park and the State Park has a set of checkers like this. So do all of the Boy Scout Camps we've ever visited. 

Yes, this simple checker set gets a premium spot on the shelf. 

I should be emptying boxes for weeks to come. As I find more stuff for the shelf, I'll update the blog. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Returning...

We have returned home. 

I'd like to show off some of the features of the all restored house, so of which didn't go off as planned. I asked my wife for a shelf for my games and this is what happened: 


On the bottom shelf, to the right of the cat is a set of 12 travel-sized board games. So, I guess I got my way. Down in the basement, there is plenty of room for shelves. This is plenty of room for books and knick-knacks. I play on arranging it very similar to what we had at the rental house, with a mixture of gamebooks, board games, and other things. 

I am very excited about the walls, which look like garbage right now. Since they look so poor but have a great surface, my wife has granted permission for a themeing. My daughter and I have picked Alice in Wonderland for the theme. It's a great idea with warrens, castles, and forests. A lot of dissimilar pieces could fit there. 

For example, few weeks ago I purchased a collection of stock art by Jermey Hart which we plan to print and use detail pieces for the room. 

In addition to that, we picked up a great conversation piece: A rabbit named Bo. 

What else would you need for an Alice in Wonderland space? 

This was a carefully considered option, one we jumped at due to the time of year. Sadly, two weeks after Easter the SPCA is overwhelmed by surrendered bunnies. A rabbit for easter is a cute idea but often very poorly executed. 

My wife and I have 3 kids: two 17-year-olds and a 19-year-old. I extracted a promise that each of them would spend at least 30 minutes a day with the rabbit. 

Rabbits also need a large space for living and play. At the moment with have a 7 by 10 area in the basement which will be supplemented with an outdoor pen space for playtime. Since we have hawks in the area, unattended outdoors time is not going to happen. Because of this, when time permits, I will be lifting the hutch area of the basement floor, to allow more space for him to play. I'm shooting for 2-3 feet off the ground. 

Right now, we are acclimatizing our other pets to the rabbit. One cat, Shinobu, has zero interest in the rabbit. Saraphina is rather afraid of the rabbit. And Tori, our dog barks and barks at it. 

Since we can segregate the animals from one another, I expect that things will eventually settle down.

Back upstairs, we have a couple a family slash gaming spots. The living room has a massive furry ottoman while the kitchen breakfast counter will feature 3 stools. Behind the counter space will be a table with seats for up to four other people. We haven't received the table and seats yet as they are on backorder. About 2 weeks. 

Anyway, the ottoman sits between a nice chair and a sofa, if no one wants to sit on the floor. We have a tray for food and rolling dice. Along the far wall is an electric fireplace for atmosphere. This fireplace features orange and purple flames. There is no way to mistake it for a real fire. 

In addition to that, I picked up an oil defuser. This particular one is Disney themed. We have scents that smell like the Confectionary on Main Street, the Christmas Tree Shop, Space Mountain plus a few others. If you can't do incense or candles, this is the way to go for aromas.

I can't wait to get back to play. But given I have just moved back home and need to get things settled, it could be a while. 

Edited to add pictures of the sofa and chair. 



Color Palette:








Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Ghouls

Several postings I read today hit me like a blast from the past. I used to write more often and post stories to my blog. Before that, wayback in 2010, I launched my blog about a game called Myst. Oh, so long ago.

Larry Hamilton's post about a short story, named "Call to March", and Reverend Fox shared a link about Myst. Clicking those links will get you MeWe, Larry's Blog and Youtube. 

Tonight, I realized that all of my stories fell off the blog and are hanging around in draft mode. I figured I'd bring one back. This one doesn't have a title. It's a little Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with a smidgen of horror. I suppose I should do more, but I am short on time. I could spend some what little time I have restricting these old posts and stories. 

Even if you don't like the story, I hope you enjoy the embedded document from Google Drive. It was a fancy trick I accidently learned from Mike and Shell "Presto" from their superhero website. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Hop, Skip and Jump Over the Shelf

Time isn't just flying, it's hopping, skipping, and jumping. If you look at the time to the right, three days came off this morning as our scheduled move-in date changed for the better. 

This morning, I began prepping some of my games for transport. But before I did that, I took a shelfie to share:

You can't really see what's there, so I will describe some of it. On the front, left edge of the shelf are my lucky orange dice plus my Dollar Store dice.  Next to that are three more important things, my watch, my glucometer, and a copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. The Prophet is the first book I bought for my wife on our first date. It was the first book I ever read aloud to her and the first book she purchased for me after the fire. 

(Editorial commentary: After the fire, we discovered that my wife had a copy of the Bible in her glovebox and I had a copy of "What is Dungeons and Dragons?" in mine. After the fire, we each a copy of the Bible and "What is Dungeons and Dragons?" in our cars. Just covering the bases, you can't be too prepared.) 

On the next shelf are tools: flash drives, a Chromebook and bookmarks. I'll skip the third shelf for now and move to the fourth, pictured to the left. 

These are some classic books that I am sure everyone will recognize. Clearly, I love old-school AD&D, Star Frontiers, Battletech, and Star Wars. I have a few other interesting books there, too. 

On the far left are my sketchbooks, I typically burn through one every 3-4 months, so this meager stack is more than a year's worth.
 
On the right side of the shelf are more books. These are relatively new to my collection and the ones I have been looking at recently. 

The far right-hand side of the shelf holds my notebooks and journals. They are all grid paper. I burn through the spiral and perfect bound books about once a month. 

I am much more careful and conservative with the black faux leather-bound books. I use one of those every 2-3 years, so I have a decade or more of writing material in them. They go everywhere with me, like the lucky orange dice, which I guess makes them lucky, too. 

The first leather-bound book contains a handwritten copy of all six books I have written and offered on DriveThruRPG, plus notes for the next six. 

I only write important things in these faux-leather books. On March 6th, I wrote down some interesting notes while at work. We (the teaching staff) received word that there would be some sort of State of Emergency in the next few hours or days. I wrote it down as if I would forget. 


Like anyone would forget... Nothing was written again until March 20th, when I labeled the section "Pandemic Friday" and noted the stay-at-home order. COVID is the reason I write so sparingly in these books and keep a large supply of sketchbooks on hand. I ran out of supplies during the pandemic. 

Let's circle back to the third and most important shelf. 


On this shelf are some really great items, aside from my all-important reading glasses. The top box is "5 Minute Dungeon". Underneath that are print-at-home books, presumably from DriveThruRPG: Master of the Rogue Spire Volume 1 and Volume 2, a copy of both the 1981 basic and expert D&D rules, and the notes I took in my last B2 Campaign before all of this mess. 

What makes all of these so great is someone I'll call "Blackrazor" read about the problems we were having and gifted me these books, plus dozens of more. I have yet to say, "thank you" enough. These items were well-loved, providing many hours of entertainment and distraction for me and my family. 

As time permits, I will probably comment more on these items. But in the meantime, the gaming stuff goes into boxes until the move is complete. 

Again, thank you all. For everything you have done and will do. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

How Ability Rolls Came to My Table

Even dusty old thieves   
are cool.
It's been a bit since I posted, so let's have an update. The counter to the right displays 25 days or 209 if you jumped into Old School Essentials' Kickstarter. I find myself putting stuff away lately rather than reading or gaming, which obviously decreases my post count. 

In my last post, I talked about table trouble. This one could have been called "Theif Envy", but the concepts are one and the same and tie back to OSE. 

I used to alternate between D&D and Star Frontiers campaigns (links go to DriveThruRPG). The idea of rolling against a skill is baked into Star Frontiers but is an add-on to D&D. Thieves have an array of skills that no one else has. Sure races have percentage skills for detecting doors and sloped passages, but a dwarven Thief character is like no other. 

It makes other class players envy those skills. 

Now I actually remember when the idea of rolling for certain actions came to my table. The party was at the last door in the dungeon and had plenty of warnings that the exit door would be trapped. The Thief took the lead and easily detected the dart trap in the oversized, dragon-shaped door handle. Then THE PLAYER got cocky. 

"I'll detect for poison!" he shouted. 

"You found some!" I shouted back. 

It was too good to pass up. I made him roll against his constitution score. He failed and was paralyzed. The party escaped, dragging the butt hurt Thief behind them, but as they closed the door on the dungeon, I could not close the door on "ability rolls". 

Oh, man. What a can of worms. Not because it's hard, but because it's so easy. Like being pelted with dice. 

Perversion is too many die rolls
in a role-playing game.

"I'll roll for this..."

"And I'll roll for that..." 

The one thing that could have stopped this from happening was a simple and clear acknowledgment of the player's humor vs. the character's intent. There was no way that character was that stupid. Or funny for that matter. Every other social encounter this character and player had was decidedly taciturn or even sour. 

I shouldn't have let it happen, but I happen to like this style of play... To a degree.

If a character needs to do something that can be described easily and doesn't invoke any sort of fantastic ability, the die roll itself is suspect. As much as some people can be funny like the aforementioned thief, some people's reactions to situations can be just as good. 

When the player of the Fighter hears a threat from an opponent and puts on their game face, the perfect, bone-crushing game face, he or she shouldn't roll for anything. They are not intimidated and perhaps turnabout happens where the mouthy NPC has all of his buddies fail a morale check right from the start, leaving the Fighter and the Mouth to work it out. 

You see how that's different, right? A morale check is hardcoded into the rules. But an ability check isn't. What would I have a Fighter roll against for bone-crushing aggressiveness? 

No idea. 

In all cases, I believe the characters should be able to do whatever they want when they want. It might not work out, but you know, I let them try. Unless someone proposes a task that maps directly to an ability score, I don't want the roll. 

A trivial example is leaping on or off horses. I'm not rolling for that because 99.99999% of the time, the action is merely flashy and not necessary. The times when it's necessary, eating a face full of dirt is better than what would happen. 

A not-so-trivial example is when the party or player comes up with the perfect plan, one that seems to have no flaws or problems and is delivered with confidence and flair? So long as all of their assumptions are correct, what is a roll going to do to improve the situation? 

Nothing at all. 

I can give a hysterical example of not rolling. I had a Magic User with a fly spell that he used all of the time. He got his hands on a ring of delusion, which he believed was a ring of flying. 

"Oh, shit," muttered the rest of the party. 

In talking this out with the DM, we decided that it was really a ring of double delusion. Not only did my character believe it was a ring of flying he would also be deluded into forgetting that he cast a fly spell to make it work. So the ring appeared to be a ring of inconsistent flying. 

This was preferable to making a saving throw against the ring's influence. We kept track with a token, when I cast my one and only fly spell or invoked the ring's power, I handed over the token to the DM. Without the token, any attempt to fly would fail, usually with disastrous results. 

My character would suggest ariel solutions to every problem even if it wasn't reasonable to fly at all. Again, this is a ring of delusion after all. 

In Old School Essentials, you generally have a 1 or 2 in 6 chance of pulling some random activity for a skill that isn't quantified. That's a great compromise because usually, these events don't map at all to a skill. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

AD&D e1, Dealing with Trouble at the Table - Part 1

Today, we go behind the 
curtain on my style of play.   
   
I ran e1 AD&D for as many as 12 players back in the day. 

Needless to say, a lot of trouble popped up at the table due to a large number of players. The obvious and primary problem was attendance. My way of dealing with this was not to run dungeons all the time and encourage the party to exit a dungeon whenever possible.  That at least opened the possibility of missing players' characters being left behind in a place of safety. It didn't always work out, but it significantly reduced the possibility of myself or someone else running an extra character. Wilderness and town settings are best for depositing a PC in a safe place. 

My "solution" was less than ideal. I would run the character in the background as an NPC and adjusted threats accordingly. It was rarely a good idea, but its what I did. 

The next major issue was the introduction of Unearthed Arcana to our campaign. I personally love the book, but I can count on one hand the number of times someone decided to be a Barbarian, Cavalier, or Theif-Acrobat. My players were far more interested in the new racial subtypes, spells, and weapons that were never a problem. The details in this tome are far more helpful than the mechanical changes. 

One thing I flat-out ignored was Fighter, Ranger, or Paladin as a subtype of Cavalier. No character class was a subtype of any other class in my campaigns. What helped in this regard is that I used to play B/X and let players use B/X characters in AD&D. You could be an Elf, a Fighter who was an elf, or whatever else was described in either set of rules. B/X characters tend to have lower stats, but when you're the DM who imposed the rule, you know that already and adjust accordingly. 

Cavaliers have so many new mechanics that are horrible for gameplay. Abilities or new mechanics based on alignment suck because that is the domain of Paladins or Assassins. It is too wild and inconsistent for players to remember. Starting at level 0 for one specific class is stupid. Tacking on a paragraph to the Cantrip descriptions kind of implies that Magic-Users and maybe Illusionists also start at level 0. 

Why not every character? Because it's stupid and adds nothing. Just weaken the party with a disease at level one if you want that. Worse, this book also lead to the idea that Magic-Users might have had three levels of level 0. It wasn't all that clear. 

What the hell? All I wanted from this book was to have Eric, Bobby, and Diana from the cartoon, not a tax audit form and root canal.  

To get around this, I completely eliminated the concept of level zero. In discussing this with the players, they all wanted that little bit of padding for their Hit Points at level 1. Ok, sure. What I wanted was a simple ruleset and a Cavalier that behaved more like a non-lawful good Paladin. 

I created a collection of "professional classes" which imparted a backstory, a field of special knowledge, and 1d6 HP to any player character class. There was also a slight chance that someone received a +1 with a tool-like weapon or the ability to wield a different type of weapon in lieu of a single weapon normally assigned by the main character class description. For example, a mason-turned Cleric received a +1 to hit with a hammer or a hunter-turned Magic-User knew how to use a lasso or perhaps a light spear instead of a quarterstaff. 

I even wrote a book about it called Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. The "Zero" in the title secretly refers to my "no zero-level characters" edict. This is a trivia-like spoiler. No place in this title do I suggest to the reader not to use zero-level characters. Since I want to rewrite this book, you might want to wait to download it. 

My campaigns tended to be high magic, so tacking on a few extra HP to every character did nothing special, except weaken spell casters. The deal for spell casters was also more power, I permitted first-level characters access to their bonus spells right out of the gate. In my campaigns, a super wise Cleric could unleash an extra, higher-level spell at first level. I also used the same chart for Magic-Users, Illusionists, and Druids. 

Who cares? 

I gave every PC Fighting man an extra 1d6 HP. Let the power rush to everyone's head while guiding the squishy magic-using types away from florentine style dagger fights which ends them so quickly. 

One tale of woe stands out in my head. A case of pigheadedly ignoring mechanics. A player was having a difficult real-life and decided to burden me with his troubles by lashing out with a Paladin that wouldn't stick to his alignment. The rule on this is pretty simple. The Paladin loses their abilities and some experience until they conform to the class requirements or changes class and/or alignment. 

The reason for this rule is simple, to prevent mechanical abuse. 

As you can see, I play pretty fast and loose with mechanics anyway. I couldn't let the abuse continue but I didn't feel like removing powers from someone who was already suffering from a real-life loss. It was the wrong answer. 

When the first couple of abuses happened, I merely told the player that his character felt different about his chosen class. I didn't have an instant solution on the spot. When it happened in the next session, I addressed it in the same way. By the third session of abuse, I was ready to unload on him. 

And boy, did I. 

Instead of striping the Paladin of their powers, I assigned him an invisible angel NPC. Only his character

Cavaliers are dicks... and awesome.
saw it and heard it. I had a series of notes preplanned to handle many eventualities. The angel was not much of a burden, but was not especially helpful. 

The other player and characters glommed on to the fact that either the player or the Paladin was going nuts or really did have an invisible friend, but what it was exactly was a mystery. 

At first, I dealt with things by having him read sections of the gamebooks. Deities and Demigods - about his chosen god in particular. This seemed to reduce the amount of abuse by a good bit. Rather than engaging me in a challenging fashion, he was engaging with an NPC who operated under very strange rules that he didn't know. It's hard to violate rules you don't know. 

One huge problem was when the Paladin lost his warhorse. It was shot right out from under him and died. The hostile behaviors came right back until the player realized I already had a plan for this possibility. Initially, I provided a regular horse and a few strange, mystical events to set the player back and stand the character back up for the win. A Paladin without a steed is at a disadvantage. The rest of the party either had to accept these mystical events or guard him against himself. 

At various points, a stag, a dog, a cat appeared to assist him when needed. The angel confirmed that this was his God softening the blow and putting him on the right course to find a new warhorse. 

Amusingly, the player tried to suss out the exact rules I was using for providing animal guardians. He entered a cattle pen during combat, only to have the angel proclaim: 

"These are normal cows, son. This isn't how we should end." 

Ironically, the warhorse problem resolved itself when the Paladin had it resurrected via a wish spell meant to rescue a different party member. Amazingly, the Paladin wrote out a wish that fulfilled both issues, that was also not abusive and seemed very sincere. As a Paladian would, the player ascribed the wish to his diety and pleaded for his horse and teammate's lives.   

Some of these ideas I cribbed from Infocom games. Not the details, but the humorous tone the games used to get the player off the wrong track. Other times they inspired spur-of-the-moment gambits. More than a few scenarios came from fantasy novels, like the Damiano series. But the best one was preplanned from the get-go of deciding how to deal with this troublesome player. 

For example, lot of people play AD&D with the idea players don't die at 0 HP, they slowly fall to -10 before expiring. I decided to mess with this idea. When the Paladin, who already had a lot of HP to begin with, dropped to 9 or fewer hit points, his guardian angel intervened. The angel would envelop the Paladin with his wings and at the end of the round, would physically merge with him. The Paladin would have access to flight and two flaming scimitars, but his hit points were still at 9 or less and dropping one point per round like a character at 0 HP. 

Tick-tick-tick...

It took a year for this eventuality to happen. That's 52 weekly sessions where I needed "A PLAN". Real-life losses hang around for a good bit, so having "A PLAN" for the table is helpful. Hopefully, it doesn't involve kicking someone out of the game. 

(Although, that can be a plan, too. You should approach this like ending a marriage, with or without children. Because other players may act like children. Don't do it lightly. ) 

After dozens of sessions, most of the party realized that there was something strange about the situation.  When the angel finally revealed itself, the party cheered. There were half a dozen mock, "I knew it!" exclamations and applause. They really enjoyed the reveal. 

The important bit here is creating a bit of mystery and investment for the other people at the table. Otherwise, it smacks favoritism and Mary-Sue'ing. One portion of this was explaining the mechanic, not the consequences of the mechanic. 

No one, not even the Paladin's player knew what would happen if the combat lasted long enough for him to drop to 0 HP. I didn't state what would happen so as to drag the party into the event. They all needed the combat to end in less than 9 rounds. I didn't say that, but that's how life works. I honestly had no idea what would happen and luckily, the party rose to the challenge and now we'll never know. 

While I loved the experience of dealing with this troublesome player in a creative way, I only wish to bring the inspired magic (and maybe an invisible angel) back to my table. Troublesome players are often not fun.  

Jeeze. I didn't mean to burn through 2000 words on one tale of table trouble. I have appended the words, "Part 1" to this title as I can see I will be back to discuss other problems another day. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Five Point Friday - March 18th, 2022

 

This isn't much of a Five Point Friday, at least with respect to gaming. 

A lot has happened this week. I started a new job on Monday. The massive increase in activity has kicked my ass. My blood sugar readings are all over the place but trending positively. Despite the exhaustion, I feel great. 

I guess I'll start point one. I love John and Hannah's Red Dice Diaries. I've been plowing through them at half speed. For every episode I listen to, they upload 2. I loved the episode about stat'ing up NPC and Old Books. 

Point 2. I wish to revisit my DriveThruRPG offering, Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. I want to add a few more professions, sample character sheets with drawings of the character, a couple of charts for random NPC encounters. One of the things I would like to do is create a map for location in my campaigns, The High Booth. It's a church/temple/bar where extraordinary things happen and a great place to meet NPCs. Obviously, readers would be welcome to adapt or replace it with their own meeting place for NPCs. This addition would go hand in hand with charts of who one might meet in a similar establishment. 

Point 3. I'd like to read for an hour or so each night. I did pick up a copy of three Thieves' World books a few weeks ago and it has sat untouched. That bothers me. Good books are there to be enjoyed. As I get my feet under me at work, I probably get the time. 

Point 4. The house is coming along nicely. This weekend, I need to pick up a pool table, drawer pulls, and handles. 


We are waiting on countertops and such. As you can see, the dog is a little nervous visiting "home", the place that burned. As we all are. Anyway, we had a great day when the appliances were delivered. 

Point 5. I picked up a nice little OSR machine, a Lenovo 10e. It's what I am using for this post. On the 10-inch screen, gamebooks look nice. One thing I cannot do is manipulate images in blog posts as touching the image scrolls the screen. I'm working on some workarounds for this and I have a few ideas. 

The image to the left is from DriveThruRPG's app and even old titles look amazing. I'm not sure if I can read them without glasses, but I can't read much without glasses anyway. 

This little device is amazing and I hope to do a review on it soon. 

Since I have been alternating between dropping hints of reviews and flat out telling you what I'll be reviewing, let me share this image:





Sunday, March 13, 2022

Website Updates

In the last two weeks, I have made quite a few updates. Three reviews for Iron Buffalo Gaming and Coffee, and one for the 2005 Serenity RPG. 

For my next three/four reviews, I will be going down a fantasy run. I finally obtained a copy of  Sanctuary from the 1980s. This book is a collection of three different books of short stories which take place in the Thieves' World setting. This book is very different from the 2003 novel of the same name. This will be three different reviews of each book, Thieves' World, Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, and Shadows of Sanctuary. 

This series of books was created by Robert Lynn Asprin as a shared universe. The authors of the stories used the same city as the settling and created their characters to exist there. It was a simple and ingenious idea that has been used for many other books.  

There has been another change behind the scenes. I have lost my Amazon Affiliate Ads. The reason for this is rather simple as much as it is baffling. The Affiliate system is not meant to be a personal or friends and family discount. By using social media, including responding to comments on the blog itself, Amazon has taken the point of view that those interactions make us friends and family or perhaps business associates. 

Ok, sure. I'll accept that. So the Amazon Ads are no more. 

As a replacement, you will see different ads for groups like Abe Books and DriveThruRPG. Since I am not doing webstats anymore, it won't be obvious what that means. Actually, it means very little. I receive the lion's share of income from DriveThruRPG. By a factor of 10 over Amazon. I don't know why this ever came to be as Amazon is such a big company. I guess the answer is this blog is 90% about games and 10% of all things that come from Amazon. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention two other things readers should be aware of. The privacy policy has been updated noting that Amazon ads are in the past tense. I feel that I should be offering links to Amazon's privacy for a while. I will be revisiting that policy in the future. 

The second item comes about from my sharing of my collection of Bandai Star Wars models. This collection of 1:144 scale models used to retail for about $9.99. At the end of 2021, the sets became unavailable and the prices in the secondary market, such as Amazon skyrocketed. 

I have recently spotted these sets back at physical retailers with a more modest price bump of $2.00, or $11.99. The main physical retailer for these sets in my area is Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby frequently has sales at 40% off, which makes them the cheapest source for these sets. 

If you are looking for these sets online, both HobbyLobby.com and The Big Bad Toy Store. I haven't really noticed these models elsewhere, but if you know another source let me know in the comments. 

Hobby Lobby, when running a sale seems to have the best prices, even if you order online and pay to ship. However, The Big Bad Toy Store has a special web feature that is kind of special. You can select items and place them in "My Pile of Loot" to be shipped at a future date. I find this is handy when ordering items on preorder, alongside products that are currently available. This option saves on shipping. 

I am also starting a new job tomorrow. I suspect that I will be quiet for a while, until I get my feet back under me. 


Friday, March 11, 2022

Review - Serenity RPG (2005)

As hinted at before, I am reviewing the 2005 Serenity RPG which was made in conjuncture with the movie. I've had very good luck when it comes to movie-based content, the 2000 Star Wars RPG book comes to mind right away. These things come with glorious artwork, suitable for a film because they are a supporting project for a film. 

So, I guess I can ignore the artwork in this one, even though it is particularly good. The reader should understand that this is a work from 2005, the Cortex rules have evolved since then and perhaps this is the only way to get an enjoyable Firefly fix as it doesn't seem like the show is coming back in any recognizable form having been acquired by Disney. 

On the plus side, you can watch the TV show on Hulu, which isn't a bad thing to do. 

Title: Serenity Role Playing Game
Author: Jamie Chambers
Rule Set: Cortex
Year: 2005
Pages: 230
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★★★

This particular set of rules uses the Cortex system, which is unlike D&D and has some great attributes. It is meant to create characters with a thematic flair, a collection of skills and traits, both positive and negative define the player. Players assign attributes by die, so a strong character has d12 for strength and a weak one has a d4. 

One of the gems of this system that is not mentioned in this particular book is the idea of "hitches". It does come up in later versions of Cortex as "a feature, not a bug". A hitch is a roll of 1, which indicates "something bad happens". It's softly defined in this particular ruleset but easily understood that someone with a d4 die is going to roll a 1 more often than a character with a d10 ability, but both will eventually roll a one. It does appear as "botching" on page 143. 

Were this any other setting, this soft definition would be a serious problem. However, with the very limited set of live scenarios (14 TV shows and one movie), the concept of "hitches" is hardcoded into this 'verse. 

This is like Wash blasting down the canyon trench, only to have the enemy pull up and glide gracefully above the canyon, casually popping off cannon fire at the Serenity. Even a talented person can have these moments. Since they will happen so often, they are not like the evil AD&D fumbled attack roll tables, which are inherently punitive (and stupid). With the softness allowed, a player could come up with their own hitch that the Game Master merely needs to rubber stamp. Players of this game will be those kinds of people to let the rule of fun, evil, irony rule the day. 

This book does share a lot of superficial characteristics of D&D 3.5. Full-color pages, great art, a table of contents, and an index. And for Cortex, this is where the rules get their first ding. The order of the book is an introduction to the setting and the character crew of Serenity, followed by stating up the characters, traits and skills, money and gear... and so on. Exactly like 3.5 D&D. 

Here is the first ding. It's the wrong order for Cortex and it doesn't have to be. Stats come after traits and skills in Cortex, unlike D&D. You can't assign stats until you've tallied the pluses and minuses for traits and complications. It's not a big deal, but it was irksome to have most of a character fleshed out only to have to circle back to the beginning. 

This is a great character sheet! 

Character generation is relatively simple. You don't roll dice, you pick off a chart like a points buy. It also allows the player to explore a flawed character without that flaw being so powerful that it's an impediment to play. For example, a character may have a complication or flaw that requires him or her to leave no one behind. That's powerful, but not something that would prevent gameplay. There are some dubious ones like "hooked" which is an addiction. Clearly, the author meant to go beyond the Serenity universe and incorporate some harder complications that appear in other sci-fi. It's a very nice system because having a complication can push up stats and positive traits in an easy-to-use trade-off.

Equipping the characters becomes a little dicey because the equipment list contains things that are the properties of the ship as opposed to the property of a given character. For example, space suits. 

But space ships are characters in this game which is amazing. There are only two faults with this arrangement, one is annoying and one is just a bad arrangement. The ships have traits and skills like human characters and they use recycled names from the character traits and skills. So "Heavy Weapons" ends up meaning "Automatic Targeting". They should have a different name, a different list. 

The second "fault" is the book provides excellent floor plans and schematics of the ships available in the game but then leads with "Aces and Eights", a firefly variant that is not the titular ship. There seems to be no particular order to the ships, so I can't even say, "Well, it's alphabetical". The first time I flipped through, my eyes settled on the Aces and Eights page and my brain balked. For a second, I thought that perhaps the author had never seen Firefly. It's not a horrible flaw... but it is. 

The second major ding cycles back to the table of contents and is continue throughout the entire book. There is a lot of quaint, laconic doublespeak in the text. The rule section in the TOC is labeled "Keep Flyin'". 

What? Reading 200+ pages where subjects, nouns, etc. are consistently, inconsistently dropped is maddening. It's like reading the Life and Times of Yosemite Sam. 

Nathan Fillion is a great laconic double talker, but he uses it sparingly like a good weapon. When he does it, it's in character AND universe. People clearly don't understand what he is saying until they parse it out. By that time, he's doing something they do understand and they react in panic. This is not a good way to present rules and procedures. 

Dings and flaws aside, this system beautifully captures the style of the series for a whole host of reasons. Many of the flaws of the presentation of the game revolve around Cortex RPG rules only being a year old at the time of publication and the author trying to present the rules laconically. Remove both of those and you have an excellent 5-star system. 

I picked up my copy locally, but you can check out Abe Books to see if they have it in stock: Serenity Role Playing Game at AbeBooks.com

Alternatively, you could get a pdf of the game but I couldn't find a listing on my favorite site,  DriveThruRPG. 

Five Point Friday - March 11, 2022

Welcome to this week's Five Point Friday. I haven't been keeping up because so many things are happening around here. Today marks 50 days until we go home. In just 2 weeks, we got new floors, windows, kitchen cabinets and a lot of other stuff. 

50 days is going to go fast. My main issue is all of the changes at home. I might have to skip restoring my basement office. That's ok. 

My daughter has plans for a rabbit hutch and a reading area. My wife wants the PS4 down there, too. My son Paul's room will be down there. 

In the kitchen area, we have a nice table picked out which will be great for homework and blogging. Additionally, we'll have a nice passthrough area between the kitchen and dining room with room to write and draw. We already have the stools picked out.  


For point one, on the gaming side, I jumped into the Old School Essentials Kickstarter. It seems very popular. At the moment, with 14 days to go, they crossed the $650,000 range. They are deep into the stretch goals but shy of the $800,000 point to do physical dice. They are projecting that the Kickstarter won't make it to that. 

Ah, well. Can't have everything. But by sharing their campaign, maybe we can have everything. :) 

Just what I need, more dice. 

For point 2, I stopped off at Iron Buffalo Gaming for a book and some excellent coffee. I really enjoy this place and they have a great thing going there. 

I spoke with the owner and listened as he did an interview with a local news crew. I haven't seen him on the news, I suspect I missed it.
 
But anyway, I did manage to snap a picture or two of their D&D e5 setup.
 


I want my shelves to look like this. We'll see. 

Point 3 is I discovered that Hulu has the Firefly TV show. For some reason the film, Serenity is elsewhere in the streaming universe. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan on watching an episode per evening. 

Four. More sci-fi. 

I picked up the Serenity RPG from 2005. It looks impressive, I've been reading through it and building characters to work out the rules. I really enjoy reliving Firefly. 

My last point is on ads, media, and swag. 

I lost my Amazon ads a week or so ago. I'm not sure why. Anyway, that is why you won't see ads for them here anymore. I am still heavily into the Amazon ecosphere, so don't think that just because I don't run their ads that they have bad products. 

As a replacement, I have been including Abe Book ads with each book review. Additionally, I have some swag links available. Over on Redbubble, you can grab some great coffee mugs created by me. I am trialing putting ordering information in posts, but I'm not sure that is the way to go. I need to figure out how to present them nicely on the blog. 

Another simplification is I have eliminated my Facebook and Twitter share campaign. Redbubble is kind of pressuring me into using Instagram, but I don't use it much. The data doesn't support using Facebook, so flipping to a new platform seems... well... bad. Facebook was good for a while, but it wasn't giving me the returns I was expecting. What I found was, 38% of my readers are coming directly to the blog either by typing the name or using a bookmark. Also, only 4% of my readers came from Facebook and that number is falling. 

But... Wow! 38%. That is awesome. If I knew how to get that higher, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But 38% is amazing name recognition for a website with a wacky name. 

I am looking at all of my social media accounts and trying to decide what else can go. No matter what, I plan on keeping my MeWe and Dice.Camp accounts running. 

Anyway, thank you for reading.